Tuesday, June 29, 2004

It's always tough when you first come home after being away for awhile. There's always the temptation to try to do it all in such a short period of time. Combine that with the jet lag of recovering from a seven hour time difference and you get some serious disorientation. I got home ten days ago, but it seems like I just got home yesterday.

Last week my kids had their end of the year awards ceremony at school. Since I was on leave, I made it a point to go. It was the first one I had ever attended.

I also stopped in at my office (civilian employer). I BS'd with my boss and co-workers. I gave them my tentative return date (July 12) and went to lunch with a friend of mine.

Over the weekend, I took my daughters up north to attend my niece's high school graduation. I wasn't feeling up to the trip, but I didn't want to disappoint her. My wife couldn't attend due to a previous commitment. The ceremony was nice (and short!).

Yesterday I took the kids to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. They had seen it before, but wanted to see it again. It was good. A bit darker than the first two (this one had a new director), but well worth a couple hours of your time, if you like Harry Potter movies.

Tomorrow, it looks like we're going to the beach. The rest of the week looks like it may be less hospitable, weatherwise.

I'll have to start getting caught up on the news in the near future. If I'm going to continue blogging, I'm going to need something interesting to say. If I just blog about my day-to-day life, I'll wind up boring myself. Life's too short to be bored.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

While well worth the effort, my journey home was far from snag-free.

I arrived at the airbase three hours prior to the rotator's (a plane chartered by the military to ferry troops into and out of the theater) scheduled departure. I was informed by the airman at the check-in desk that the "bag drag" for my flight was completed hours earlier and that the luggage was already loaded and all passengers had long since checked in. I was told that I probably wouldn't be able to take this flight. Rotators must be booked weeks in advance and commercial was out of the question (I was transporting a weapon). I was unhappy, to say the least. My transportation office never told me that I was supposed to be there six hours early.

The airman got his supervisor. Her response was about the same as his. I asked if there was anything she could do. She made some phone calls, talked the ground crew into loading my gear, and checked me in. Thinking outside the box and making things happen is the sign of a true professional. I hope that the powers-that-be at the passenger terminal at Al Udeid AB know how lucky they are to have MSgt Russell working for them.

I boarded the plane and found myself seated in a middle seat between two big guys. I'm not small myself, so the trip was less than comfortable.

We stopped in a European city to change flight crews. We landed, taxied to a stop and waited. And waited. And waited. I walked toward the front of the cabin to get some fresh air from the open door. I chatted with one of the flight attendents. He told me that we were waiting for the other crew to arrive. It seems that no one bothered to tell them that they were flying today. Eventually, they showed up. Then we waited some more. A flight attendent announced that we were waiting for ice to be delivered to the plane. Ice. We couldn't take off because there was no ice for the beverage service. BEVERAGE SERVICE!?!!?? IT'S ONLY AN HOUR AND CHANGE TO OUR NEXT STOP!!!! SCREW THE BEVERAGE SERVICE!!! KICK THE TIRES AND LIGHT THE FIRES; LET'S BLOW THIS BURG!!!! Since I was not the Captain of the aircraft, my advice went unheeded. I am not an airline pilot and I don't play one on TV. Hell, I didn't even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. So we waited. The ice came. We took off. They served beverages. I had a Coke....with ice.

We arrived at Rein Mein AB in Germany. Some of the passengers were not continuing on. We had about an hour in the terminal before takeoff. I sat and watched the clock, occasionally looking out the window to admire the cloudy, rainy day (not many of those in the sand box). Having had an icy cold beverage on the plane, I decided not to seek further liquid refreshment during my layover.

We boarded the plane, along with new passengers flying Space-A (space available) back to the states. Many of them had children with them. I returned to my middle seat between two new guys. These guys were smaller, but hot and sweaty, nonetheless. I was hot and sweaty too, so I fit right in. Not comfortably, though.

Being seated near the bathroom, I got to see each child on the flight approximately forty times, figuring five trips per hour for an eight hour flight. Children seem to use the bathroom more than adults (I'm a dad, trust me on this). Traveling children need to use it even more. When you factor in the fact that bathroom has a folding door that you need to SLAM when you close it, you come up with a place that that sits midway between McDonalds Playland and Disney World on the average kid's fun-o-meter. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep on this leg of my trip.

I arrived at the airport in the US (we all cheered when it touched down on our native sod) tired, but happy. After an interminable period of baggage claim and Customs checking, I carted my gear to the ticket counter for my next flight. As it turns out, two of my bags were too heavy. Apparently the seventy pound per bag limit given to me by the military does not apply with Continental Airlines on domestic flights. I spent the next few minutes playing musical bags with my gear, trying to find the right mix.

Once checked in, I rushed to the security checkpoint so I could board in time. I got into line behind millions (ok, it was probably really only a couple hundred) of people to be screened by TSA personnel, who look suspiciously like the contract security personnel who used to do the screening, but with cooler uniforms. After I was thoroughly screened, I ran to my gate as my flight was already scheduled to be boarding.

When I arrived at the gate, I was told that the flight was delayed another hour. Another hour? How would I make my connecting flight?

My connecting flight was cancelled. Sorry, no more flights until tomorrow. WRONG ANSWER!!!!

The lady at the Continental desk called around until she found a flight with another airline that had a connection to my final destination. She got me the last seat on the flight. She then graciously called to make sure my bags would be transferred. (Note to Continental: Brianna at BWI is top shelf). My new arrival time was now three hours later than originally scheduled. I called my wife to let her know when to pick me up.

The plane, a twin engine turboprop, arrived late. We boarded late and took off late. I had a window seat with no one in the seat next to me. There was no icy cold refreshing beverage, but a good flight nevertheless. As long as I didn't miss my connection, that is.

As we were landing at LaGuardia, my boarding time for the next flight came...and went. We taxied around the airport forever. OK, it wasn't really forever, but the taxiing did last as long as our flight.

I got off the plane as my next flight was supposed to be taking off. I went to the desk at the gate and asked if I was too late. Nope. The plane wasn't even there yet. At last a delay that worked in my favor.

I boarded the plane (a puddle jumper, even smaller than the previous plane) and took my seat. We taxied out toward the runway. The pilot announced over the PA that there would be a delay, as we were sixteenth in line to take off. The cockpit door was open, allowing us to see out the aircraft's front window. Fifteen planes looks like a lot when they are all lined up in front of you. The line looked as long as the security checkpoint line I had gone through earlier.

Eventually it was our turn. The pilots wound up the rubber bands as tight as they would go and released the propellers. We took off and headed north. An hour later, we touched down.

My wife and oldest daughter were there to meet me. Our youngest was at a sleepover. We claimed my bags, which (surprisingly)arrived, undamaged no less. We hit the Wendy's drive through and got some homestyle chicken strips (with the southwestern sauce, of course). After eating, I hit the sack. In my own bed. It was all good.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

At 9:30 p.m. last night, which was about four hours late. It was a long and frustrating trip. More on that later. For now, it's just good to be home.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I ran across the following tidbits while riding the cyber-surf:

Matt Drudge gives us this interesting look at our would-be first lady.

Michelle Malkin takes Paul Krugman to task over his recent column on AG Ashcroft.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Check out these pictures of a June 5th rally in (surprise! surprise!) San Francisco.

Massachussetts Governor Mitt Romney is calling on Senator Kerry to resign while he pursues the presidency. "Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, a Republican, said Kerry has missed 64 percent of last year's roll call votes and 87 percent this year, including a vote on banning Internet child pornography."

David DeBatto has an excellent column in Defensewatch about what President Reagan meant to the military.

Monday, June 14, 2004

A large group of Taliban soldiers are moving down a road when they hear a voice call from behind a sand-dune.

"One Australian SAS soldier is better than ten Taliban".

The Taliban commander quickly sends 10 of his best soldiers over the dune whereupon a gun-battle breaks out and continues for a few minutes, then silence. The voice then calls out "One Australian SAS soldier is better than one hundred Taliban".

Furious, the Taliban commander sends his next best 100 troops over the dune and instantly a huge gunfight commences. After 10 minutes of battle, again silence. The Australian voice calls out again "One Australian SAS soldier is better than one thousand Taliban".

The enraged Taliban Commander musters one thousand fighters and sends them across the dune. Cannon, rocket and machine gun fire ring out as a huge battle is fought. Then silence. Eventually one wounded Taliban fighter crawls back over the dune and with his dying words tells his commander, "Don't send any more men, it's a trap, ...there's actually two of them."

Seen at ozjokes.com.
My time here in Qatar is growing short. I will be picking up my tickets at the transportation office tomorrow. This time next week I will be home. I can't say it hasn't been interesting, but I'll be happy to be out of here. I miss my wife and kids more this time than I did last time I was mobilized.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this blog. I originally started it to document some of my experiences while deployed. I had volunteered for a job that would have taken me all over the region. When I arrived here, I was told that I was needed here in Qatar and would not be traveling. Since I wasn't going to be posting about my travels in Iraq or Afghanistan, I used this blog to comment on the various issues in the news that caught my attention. If nothing else, maintaining this blog gave me something to do in my spare time here.

I guess I'll wait until I'm home to decide what I'm going to do. Until then, I'll try to post again before I leave, time permitting.

Friday, June 11, 2004

I received this from a coworker via email yesterday:
CBS News Anchor Dan Rather, NPR Reporter Cokie Roberts, and a U.S. Marine were walking through the desert one day when they were captured by Iraqi insurgents.

They were tied up, led to the village and brought before the leader. The leader said, "I am familiar with your western custom of granting the condemned a last wish. Before we kill and dismember you, do you have any last requests?"

Dan Rather said, "Well, I'm a Texan, so I'd like one last bowlfull of hot, spicy chili."
The leader nodded to an underling who left and returned with the chili. Rather ate it all and said, "Now I can die content."

Cokie Roberts said, "I'm a reporter to the end. I want to take out my tape recorder and describe the scene here and what's about to happen. Maybe someday someone will hear it and know that I was on the job 'til the end."

The leader directed an aide to hand over the tape recorder, and Roberts dictated some comments. She then said, "Now I can die happy."

The leader turned and said, "And now, Mr. U.S. Marine, what is your final wish?"

"Kick me in the ass," said the Marine.

"What?" asked the leader. "Will you mock us in your last hour?"

"No, I'm not kidding. I want you to kick me in the ass," insisted the Marine.
So the leader shoved him into the open, and kicked him in the ass.

The Marine went sprawling, but rolled to his knees, pulled a 9-mm pistol from inside his cammies, and shot the leader dead. In the resulting confusion, he leapt to his pack, pulled out his M4 carbine, and sprayed the Iraqis with gunfire. In a flash, the Iraqis were dead or fleeing for their lives.

As the Marine was untying Rather and Roberts, they asked him, "Why didn't you just shoot them? Why did you ask them to kick you in the ass?"

"What!?" said the Marine, "And have you liberal jerks call ME the aggressor?"

Thursday, June 10, 2004

I received an email from a friend who tipped me off to a story in the New York Post about the media coverage of the death of President Reagan. Apparently, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw think that the media has over-covered the story. According to Rather:
"There is other news, like the reality of Iraq," said the "CBS Evening News" anchor. "It got very short shrift this weekend."

I have to say, I do agree with Dan on that one. The problem is that when they do report the news from Iraq, they tend to miss the stories that don't show the administration in a bad light. It's no accident that the number of Americans who know who Lynndie England is dwarfs the number who know who Chief Wiggles is. England's story is more sordid than the Chief's, but there is no doubt that his efforts will have a more lasting effect on the Iraqi people than England's. Negative stories play better, and the Reagan story is one of optimism and triumph over adversity.

While the coverage of President Reagan's death may be a bit much, there is no denying that he had a major impact on America and that he is held in high regard by many. That may be the real point of contention for Dan & Co. I think Reagan's successes still bother them to no end. I don't recall hearing any such complaints about the wall to wall media coverage of the death of JFK Jr. I remember one of the cable networks showing the ship that buried his remains at sea going back and forth, back and forth for what seemed like forever. No comments from the media about that one. Kennedy was the son of a Democratic icon. Reagan was an icon of the "extra chromosome right wing".

My advice to the "big media" types out there is to just zip it and gut it out. This too shall pass. America will mourn the loss of a great man. Many will praise him and his achivements. Eventually, we will move on because that's what he would want us to do.

Then, Dan, Tom, Peter and friends can get back to reporting on Iraq. Heck, they may even give Chief Wiggles some more coverage. Unless, of course, more Lynndie England pictures turn up.

(Thanks to DS for the heads up on this story)

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I have added comments links to my blog. Actually, I did it last week using the template provided by Blogger, but it wasn't user friendly. Today, I switched to Haloscan. Haloscan, which seems to be very popular in the blogosphere, also has a trackback function.

-Peggy Noonan pays tribute to President Reagan. She sums up the Reagan foreign policy quite nicely:
Ronald Reagan told the truth to a world made weary by lies. He believed truth was the only platform on which a better future could be built. He shocked the world when he called the Soviet Union "evil," because it was, and an "empire," because it was that, too. He never stopped bringing his message to the people of the world, to Europe and China and in the end the Soviet Union. And when it was over, the Berlin Wall had been turned into a million concrete souvenirs, and Soviet communism had fallen. But of course it didn't fall. It was pushed. By Mr. Know Nothing Cowboy Gunslinger Dimwit. All presidents should be so stupid.

Noonan is an excellent writer. She also knew (and worked for) President Reagan. Her column is worth a look.

-Michael Reagan pays tribute to his father.

-Michelle Malkin, one of my favorite columnists, has changed the look of her homepage and added a weblog.

-Thomas Sowell has an excellent column today examining the differences between doers and talkers. Doers are the people who are out there getting things done. They're the ones who are constantly under a microsope. The talkers are the ones looking through the microscopes. When you think of talkers, think of congressional hearings and the various commissions that are always competing for time on the cable news channels.

Monday, June 07, 2004

RONALD REAGAN, 1911-2004
In 1984, I did something I had never done before. On the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, I walked into a booth, closed the curtain behind me, and voted. The election that year wasn't just any election, it was a Presidential election. The first person I cast a vote for wasn't just any politician, he was the man who inspired my personal political philosophy. That man, Ronald W. Reagan, died over the weekend at the age of ninety-three.

I was only sixteen during the 1980 election, two years too young to vote. In spite of my age, I was a Reagan supporter, through and through. I was first exposed to Ronald Reagan's politics during his campaign for the Republican nomination in 1976 (that's right, I was already a political/news junkie at twelve). I remember being disappointed when President Ford, an honorable but uninspiring man, won the nomination that year. I just knew he would lose to Jimmy Carter. I took no satisfaction in being right about that.

In 1980, Reagan finally got his chance to run in the general election. He ran as a different kind of politician. He fought for his beliefs, but did not appear to have a combative nature. He was maligned by his detractors, alternately portrayed as an evil mastermind and as a kindly but clueless old man. In spite of the brickbats hurled his way, Ronald Reagan never responded in kind. He was always gracious. The man had class.

In an era of post-Watergate, post-Vietnam cynicism, Reagan was always the optimist. He saw America as a "shining city on a hill", while his opponent saw a land beset by a plague of "malaise". An unshakeable faith in the American people was the Reagan way. Ronald Reagan was proud to be an American. He made it o.k. for the rest of us to be proud again, too.

I am proud of my vote to reelect President Reagan in 1984. I am equally proud to have worn the uniform of my country's military during his tenure as Commander-in-Chief. There will never be any doubt in my mind that we won the cold war (and we did WIN, by the way) because of the policies of Ronald Reagan.

I will miss President Reagan, as will many Americans. I am saddened by his passing, but glad he was finally released from the hellish grip of an insidious disease that destroyed the keen political mind that he possessed.

If there is one thing I am certain of, we are a better country for having known Ronald Reagan. Goodbye, Mr. President. Thank you for being there for us.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Last night was a good night. After an uneventful shift, I went with a couple of the guys to a neighboring base to shop in the exchange. Their exchange isn't that much better than ours, but they have different stuff. I needed to buy some souveniers to bring home. My wife likes shot glasses, and the other exchange has a better selection than the one on our base. I also needed T-shirts for the kids. Afterwards, we stopped at Pizza Hut for dinner and then brought a guy to the airport.

Once we got back to the base, a few of us went our for drinks. We hung out and drank our three beer limit (three more than you can get in much of this part of the world). A few of the folks were playing cards, a couple guys were smoking cigars, and our supply NCO was playing his guitar (he's pretty damned good, too). I heard several guys who were on R&R from Iraq discussing how good it felt to be outside without helmets on. When midnight came, the MP's came and sent us on our way, as they do every night. Not an exciting night by "back in the world" standards, but pretty good for the Middle East.

I walked back to my room and turned on the TV. One of the news stations was doing a biography of former President Reagan. I had read a report earlier in the day on Drudge's site that his health had taken a turn for the worse. As soon as I saw that report on TV, I knew that President Reagan had died. A sad end to an otherwise happy night.
Sixty years ago today, allied forces mounted the largest amphibious assault in military history. The Normandy invasion spelled the beginning of the end of Hitler's reign of terror in Europe. In addition to the massive assault from the English channel, thousands of paratroopers were dropped behind the German defenses. The drop was done in darkness. A number of paratroopers were injured in the drop. There was no medevac for those who needed it. Units were scattered over wide areas. Many an officer or NCO could not find all of his troops after the drop.

In addition to amphibous assault craft and parachutes, gliders were used to move troops and equipment into Normandy. Of the gliders launched for the invasion, less than half landed intact. The glider and airborne assault tied down the German reserves, preventing them from reinforcing the coastal defense during the allied amphibious assault.

According to a story on the FOX News website, the number of troops killed in the invasion is still unclear.

Bodies disintegrated under bombs and shells. Soldiers drowned and disappeared. Company clerks who tallied casualties were killed. Records were lost.

The final number is estimated at between 2,500 and 5,000 killed on D-Day.

I watched Saving Private Ryan on AFN earlier this week. I find the ending of the movie to be particularly touching. A much older James Ryan visits the grave of a fallen comrade with his family. He asks his wife if he has lived a good life, if he is a good man. Ryan hopes he has been worthy of the sacrifices made by others so that he could live. This scene is a metaphor for all Americans, of our obligation to be worthy of the sacrifices made by others for our freedom.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

"…if you are going to use military force, then you ought to use overwhelming military force. Use too much and deliberately use too much… you’ll save lives, not only your own, but the enemy's too."

Gen. Curtis E. LeMay

I often wonder how General LeMay's philosophy of war would pan out in our war on terror. I know that it wouldn't be too well received by the hand-wringers among us. Curtis E. LeMay was a controversial figure in his day. He was the first commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). He is said to be the inspiration for the war-mongoring "Buck" Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. LeMay believed that the only way to ensure victory was to destroy the enemy's ability to make war. This was the philosophy of the day during World War II.

Large bombing raids were mounted against the enemy with the goal being to inflict massive damage not only on his military, but on his industrial capability as well. In the process, massive civilian casualties (what we call "collateral damage" today) were inflicted. Massive losses were also incurred on our part as well. In a single bombing raid mounted on the German cities of Regensberg and Schweinfurt, over six hundred men and sixty aircraft were lost. That day, October 14, 1943, went down in history as Black Thursday. General LeMay was later quoted as saying "What other method in modern warfare could be used to destroy that much of the enemy's war effort with the loss of 600 men?" A harsh attitude, to be sure, but one that was right for the times.

While I'm not advocating the carpet bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan, there may come a time when we have to return to the "total war" philosophy of WW II. Will we have the will to do it? I honestly don't know. If our country's future depends on it, I hope so.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

H. N. OShannasey is the pen name of an active duty Marine Corps officer. In her latest column on Defense Watch, she takes a hard look at how our news media is serving us. One important issue she addresses is the "public's right to know."

Is it my right to gawk at a distraught father and son embracing on their front lawn, upon hearing the news of a brutally executed family member? Is it my right to watch Iraqi people desecrate the bodies of slain American contractors? Is it my right to stand next to a Marine sniper on a rooftop, breathing down his neck, analyzing his every move? Should I really be playing judge and jury to the actions of every service member in the heat of combat while I sit on my couch glued to the television?

This is something that first occurred to me during the OJ Simpson trial. Defense attorneys and the news media were picking apart every action of the police and declaring every discrepancy proof of a frame-up. Could anyone survive extreme scrutiny of their every move with their reputation intact? Not likely. Come to think of it, the media hasn't fared too well under scrutiny either.

You can read the rest of this excellent column here.

No reading list would be complete without at least one Michelle Malkin column. Today I have three.

-The ambulances-for-terrorists scandal exposes a tactic that is becoming more common, especially in Iraq. You wouldn't know it by reading this bit of "journalism" by the BBC.

-This column looks at Islamic extremists behind bars.

-Breeding Terror looks at the spread of Islamic extremism in America's prison system. Scary stuff.

FOX News is reporting that the Army is going to implement the stop loss program for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Someone needs to go to DC and tell those political types that we need the same size Army we had in the 80's. We don't need more stop losses, we don't need the draft, and we don't need to keep all of the reserves on active duty indefinitely. We need a bigger Army, and it's going to cost more than what we've been spending. It's time to admit that the Peace Dividend was a bust. We got conned into blowing our money on the fiscal equivalent of junk bonds. Lesson learned (?).

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone. With the war on terrorism underway, the day took on special meaning to many. The dedication of the World War II Memorial also served to give special meaning to the day.

Since I had Monday off, I decided to go out on Sunday night and drink a few beers (three or less, according to base regulation) with some of my fellow troops. The conversation turned to the subject of Memorial Day and to the WW II Memorial. The question arose as to why it took so long (nearly 60 years) to erect a monument to the crowning achievement of the greatest generation. America's WW II veterans played the decisive role in defeating the spread of tyranny. Why did it take so long? I thought about this for a bit and the answer I came up with is this:

The veterans of World War II are a humble lot. Considering what they accomplished and the obstacles that they overcame to accomplish it, they have every right to bask in the glory that comes with such an achievement. In spite of this, they aren't prone to bragging. I've known a number of WW II vets. While I never met one who wouldn't answer any questions put to him by an inquisitive (sometimes annoyingly so, I'm sure) young man, none of the vets I knew would bring up the subject on his own. To these guys, the war is something that they just had to do, a job that needed to be done. Forty years ago, it probably wouldn't have occurred to any WW II vets that they needed a memorial.

As time has moved on, we've begun to lose the members of this generation to whom we owe so much. Too many of our young people aren't familiar with what these veterans did and don't understand the debt we owe them. It is high time that we have a monument to these great Americans. In the end though, the true monument to our World War II veterans isn't the structure in Washington that was dedicated last weekend. The United States is the true monument to these great Americans; our strength, our prosperity, and our freedom. Without their courage and sacrifices, we wouldn't be the country we are today.

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