Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Shut Up and Sing

Steve Earle is one of those guys whose worldview (at least as revealed through his music) is so diametrically opposed to mine that we probably couldn't even start, let alone sustain, a conversation. Still, Warrior is one of my favorite songs, for reasons that ol' Steve could probably never fathom. It's the song that wakes me up when my iPod goes off at the ass-crack of dawn. Below, first and last verses:
This is the best time of the day—the dawn
The final cleansing breath unsullied yet
By acrid fume or death’s cacophony
The rank refuse of unchained ambition
And pray, deny me not but know me now,
Your faithful retainer stands resolute
To serve his liege lord without recompense
Perchance to fall and perish namelessly
No flag-draped bier or muffled drum to set
The cadence for a final dress parade
But it was not always thus—remember?
Once you worshipped me and named me a god
In many tongues and made offering lest
I exact too terrible a tribute

Oh, for another time, a distant field
And there a mortal warrior’s lonely grave
But duty charges me remain until
The end the last battle of the last war
Until that ‘morrow render unto me
That which is mine my stipend well deserved
The fairest flower of your progeny
Your sons, your daughters your hopes and your dreams
The cruel consequence of your conceit

Monday, April 27, 2009

Quote of the Day

Usually, I'm at least one remove from news on the domestic front. However, I was home for the outbreaks of Tea Party protests across the country. Leaving the question of the legitimacy of the Tea Parties aside, I was shocked and appalled at the coverage provided by our supposedly non-partisan, impartial, and objective press. The only apt descriptor for the overwhelming majority of press coverage of the events is "sneering." I've never seen the like, with regard to protests (although, I'm not sure that I've ever really seen coverage of "conservative" protests, as conservatives don't seem to protest too much). It brought to mind this quote, from Federalist #1:

An over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretense and artifice, the stale bait for popularity at the expense of the public good.

Hydrate or Die

Pre- versus Post-mission. Mission was not real strenuous, wearing full kit, 6-hours (give or take) duration w/temps NMT 89 F; every effort made to stay hydrated.

And yeah, it's gross. Gross is what I do. Plus it's, like, 60m to the latrine trailer.

Bringing a Knife to a Knife Fight

Adam at Low Tech Combat and Juggernaut were recently analyzing knife fights, or at least defending against a knife attack; they both posted quality entries that provided some good food for thought. A couple of additional points that I thought I'd submit for consideration:

-Once again, Mongo's Rule #1: If you don't have a gun, you're chum. This is an easy philosophy for a Yank to adopt. MA brethren in Australia and the UK may find it problematic, though. Even in the States, even in a concealed-carry state, if one wants to conduct oneself 100% in accordance with the law, one finds freedom of movement pretty severely curtailed. It has always amazed me whenever there is a school shooting event or a fast food restaurant massacre, there's never a single law abiding, armed citizen present to abrogate the situation. Oh, wait a minute, that's because law abiding citizens are not allowed to carry in those areas. Gosh, those statutes really helped out, eh?

-There are some habits that are so ingrained with me now that not adhering to them are actually physically discomfiting. One is arming myself, either with a firearm or an edged weapon (another, just to illuminate the phenomenon, is wearing my seat belt in a motor vehicle). So it is very difficult to imagine facing a knife-wielding assailant with no weapon whatever to hand. I do get the heebie-jeebies imagining being present in an event involving a mad-dog active shooter armed with only a knife because I obediently followed the law and Mr. Mad Dog didn't. My training with a knife is pretty decent and maintained, so while the knife-to-knife scenario isn't necessarily the way I'd like to spend a Saturday night (when assaulted on my way to church, of course; where the hell else would I be going on Saturday night?), it doesn't really give me cold sweat nightmares. I'm relatively confident that, in either a military or civilian scenario, I'll be the better trained, more capable participant, under the "tigers don't hunt tigers" operating principle. Yuh, I know: pride goeth before a fall, but there's a couple thousand training hours behind my "pride."

-Both Adam and Juggernaut extol the benefits of the avoidance/run away course of action; I heartily endorse that mindset.

-In those situations where I am un(fire)armed, and reinforcing the run away COA, the assailant better be able to stick me pretty good, and out run me, and be able to block me getting to my truck. Because no matter where I am, once I get to the truck he just brought a knife to a gun fight. (As an aside, if I am carrying a firearm, I've got the same philosophy; my pocket pistol--my favorite being my little Kel Tec P3-AT--is just to cover me back to the truck, where the heavy artillery is (securely) stored but quickly accessible.)

-One point that should be considered in performing a mission analysis on the appropriate reaction to the knife wielding opponent is: in the scenario, is the knife a bargaining tool, or is the assailant intent on actually inserting it? Bargaining tool: See my knife? Give me your wallet or I'll use it. Actually intent: YAARGH!!! This bifurcation of possible uses of the knife, to my mind, generate two separate sets of options and reaction times.

-There are two environments for use of the knife that I've been trained in. One is civilian, the other is on the job. Civilian is wearing street clothes and using my dominant hand with, most likely, a tactical folder. On the job is with my entire panoply on, using my off-hand with a fixed blade. Both environments have their advantages and disadvantages, but they are definitely separate and distinct and require different training regimens.

-Awareness of the two different paradigms of knife employment. Most 1st World personnel (to include 1st World scum) are going to be "linear thinkers." Most pax coming from a knife culture--think South America and Pacific Rim--are going employ a circular blade-use paradigm.

-Adam and Juggernaut both eschew going in-depth on counter-knife techniques (actually, Juggernaut eschews the use of the term "technique") but in discussing the potential dangers of counter-knife training, they bump up against the age-old question of: which is more effective, a definitely lethal technique that I've never used full-force, or a non-lethal technique that I've practiced a thousand times against a live opponent? I'm going to come down decisively right in the middle, and posit that if you're not training a blend of live Randori and partner collaborative drills, you are probably not matriculating a functionally sound and reliable response (whether you're training for an armed, knife, or unarmed confrontation--or more realistically, a mix thereof). An edged weapon confrontation, two- or one-way, calls for an immediate body-mind-spirit response. Juggernaut accurately describes a victim thinking, repeatedly, "this can't be happening to me," which is a pretty common response to a violent encounter. You can refuse to believe it could happen or be happening to you right up to the instant that you finally bleed out. Believe it. As Laurence Gonzales put it in Deep Survival, Be Here Now. To quote Musashi: Make your cut and die.

-I've never, thank God, been in a knife fight. But I was in a pretty serious knife retention situation one time. I was on a job in a very politically sensitive area, where we had no Status of Forces agreement (basically, if I got nabbed by local law enforcement--who at the time were looking for the chance to nab an American under any pretext--I had the same protections as a tourist, i.e., none) and a whole bunch of things went wrong. I got swarmed by a bunch of (four or five) guys intent on relieving me of everything I had of value. Within the first fractions of a second of the "incident," I realized:
1. I was not being personally assaulted, these guys just wanted my stuff. If they'd been intent on shivving me, they definitely could have when they initiated their attack,
2. They were just kids (16-18),
3. I really didn't want to hurt them
Number 3 above sort of surprised me, even as the event was unfolding, as I've always thought my philosophy was "old enough to play, old enough to pay." Guess not, or at least not always. However, it would have been decidedly professionally embarrassing to get killed by my own knife, so while watch, wallet, cellphone, shades, and even belt were getting ripped at with an enormous amount of ferocity, I had to concentrate on keeping possession and control of my knife. Interestingly, this is the only event I've ever experienced (thus far) that left me with any degree of what could be considered PTSD. While I rationalized that I had acted in the appropriately mature manner in the interests of mission accomplishment (and in the interests of staying out of some hellhole dungeon), it really irked me for weeks that I had had to submit to the attack without conducting an ad hoc blunt trauma clinic. I finally resolved that when the good Lord offers you an object lesson in humility, gratitude is called for, so thank You, Big Guy.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


R&R was great. Did mostly nothing, and did it well, if I do say so myself.

Getting back took a little longer than for most returning troops; air all over Iraq was shut down due to sandstorms. I figured that my happen; the Mungadai began documenting the spat of weather here. Few things in life have as high a suck factor as getting stranded at Camp LSA, in Kuwait.

Hopefully, once I get caught up from being gone, I'll be posting again with something approaching regularity.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Getting in Touch with My Feminine Side

Okay, it's a cheeky title for a serious post (pun intended). I've already been accused by Adam at Low Tech Combat of androgyny, or something akin to it. Probably because I don't say "fuck" enough. There's been a dearth of posts on this site the last week or so because I've been enjoying being with the family, reveling in being home, and despite posts to the contrary, going out of my way to not think deep thoughts. Too, I don't want to get charged with BUI, and sober moments have been pleasantly few and far between.
So on Friday last, I was working out (practicing agility and kinesthetic precision by poring beer over corn flakes) when the Boss' Lady called from work, saying that she'd gotten a text from a friend saying, in effect, BM is home right? He wasn't in Mosul for that latest attack?
Damn. I pulled up Google news on Mosul and saw that there was an attack on "a National Police Headquarters located in Southwest Mosul" that killed 5 US troops and 2 INP, with 17 more wounded.
Now I am, for lack of a better term, shitting bricks.
I pulled up my Army e-mail account to send out a frantic call for "SITREP!!" and already had an e-mail from Top saying "we're all good to go, weren't there when the SVBIED detonated." The attack was, though, on our NP HQ, where we work pretty much every day. The damage caused by one SVBIED truck loaded with (we think) 10K lbs. of explosive is extensive. Buildings we work in every day were dropped, hard broke. Buildings that were still standing all suffered some pretty extensive damage. 9 vehicles (to include Iraqi armored Humvees) were totally destroyed.
Again, all the Mungadai were okay. But for a short span of about three minutes I was exposed to the terrible fear and anxiety that Army wives (typified by the exemplary Mungababes) go through for a whole year. And it sucked.
I've spent more than my fair share of time sitting in Command Posts and Operations Centers huddled over a radio, trying to keep the fog of war at bay while the on-scene Commander works to resolve the situation. Countless times on this current deployment, I've been around the corner or up the street from an explosive or small arms attack, deliberating do we move to the sound of the guns? Or stand by ready to support while it works itself out? But the stress generated by sitting in a comfy stateside abode, with no immediate threat but no situational awareness of what was happening downrange was worse to a degree that can only be described as geometrically superordinate. And I was once again humbled by what Army wives deal with on top of the bills, the kids (sports, grades, church schooling, band, peer pressures) the pets, the homestead maintenance, the vehicle maintenance, the Tri-care negotiations, and extreme climactic events--take your pick: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc.
Enduring that for a whole year? Instead of three or four minutes? Nah. I'd rather get shot at and blowed up, thanks very much.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Capoeira Comment

Tgace is looking at various Martial Arts and developing an interesting commentary on MA versus combat effectiveness.
His last look was on Capoeira. So I thought I'd contribute the following clip.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Zero Sum Game

Okay, I've been trying to figure out, after reading posts at SWJ and various and sundry milblogs--upfront Starbuck at Wings Over Iraq--who keep reiterating the importance of advanced academic degrees dispensed by our elite academic institutions and administered by academic elites. I've been doing some soul-searching (okay, I'm on leave, I've been doing some heavy drinking and trying to look at things through a fresh perspective--that of someone who's had about nine Oilcans). But, is my distrust of our most hallowed and revered academic institutions just knee-jerk obstreperousness? Readers'll be shocked, I know, but I'm a little bit of a contrarian. My natural inclination is to poke holes into whatever plan or operational paradigm I'm exposed to. This is usually a good thing, but hey, sometimes a good idea is just a good idea.
So, I've been thinking about my almost reflexive distrust of the military putting its trust into academic institutions to help "round out" our officers. First, of course, I've got to calibrate my reflexive distrust of the military, then ask whether I'm being imprudent in reflexively distrusting academia. Okay, so when in doubt, look to someone smarter than oneself to articulate the crux of the matter. I'm a huge fan of Victor Davis Hanson, I think that Carnage and Culture is a book that every officer should read and reflect on (okay, read all his stuff, but this book made the biggest impression on me).
So, from one of VDH's blog entries, here's his explanation of the danger of relying on elites that, I think, represents my own misgivings:
...elitism is the deliberate deprecation, in active or passive fashion, of the other world of physicality and pragmatism. The true elitist values his books, his music, his refined taste in furniture, food, and fashion to the neglect of how one makes a book, to the absolute uninterest in the construction of a violin, a chair, a fig, or a pair of pants. The elitist always fails to appreciate, (1) that his existence, and his much cherished rarified world, are impossible without others that are as smart and as skilled as he, and thus due commensurate thanks and acknowledgment, and (2) that in the zero-sum game of life, hours spent at the piano, Smyth’s Greek grammar, the Sunday morning opera, or the Guggenheim Museum are a tragic trade-off in which one forfeits commensurate time invested in the physical challenge of chain-sawing limbs, the aesthetic sense of accomplishment in weeding an overgrown garden, or the satisfaction of re-roofing a house. The elitist, in contrast, simply cannot imagine that such tasks are as necessary as his own, or that such muscular experience can reflect upon character and knowledge as much as those interests of his own softer and more sophisticated world. Again, knowing how to chain-saw or hammer may be more valuable in dealing with Chavez or Putin than distinguishing Virgil from Horace.

So, in the case of life--and officer development--we're dealing with a zero-sum game. Do we really want to expend the limited time we have "rounding out" an officer locking him up in an ivory tower? Damn, I can't re-build a carburetor, and with my priorities in life I probably never will be able to, but I consciously made the decision to spend my time in other endeavors. I guess all I'm saying is that let's not think that there is a magic "Harvard elixir" that'll help us build a better officer corps.
Dredging up a paraphrase from memory, like the smart kid said in Good Will Hunting, are we assuming we have to expend the time and expense on an Ivy League education for what we could get for $7.37 in library late fees?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Haven't been posting. Will try to pick up my POSTEMPO, but not making any promises. Busy thinking deep thoughts and whatnot.