Thursday, December 18, 2014

War may be politics by other means, but so is military acquisition.

When I left active duty, I accepted a civilian job working in the Navy's Mine Warfare (MIW) field.  No, not a minefield, but close.  This is very different from my previous career in Naval Aviation, but not too different considering a couple of non-flying jobs I had.  During my “Joint” tour, which has nothing to do with California's favorite recreational herb, I served as an Exercise Planner and the Readiness Officer for US Central Command in Tampa Florida.  A joint job is at a Combatant Command where all four services are represented.  Maybe 5- I think we had a Coastie or two running around. 

As the Readiness Officer, I coordinated with all the Task Force and Functional Component Commanders under CENTCOM to put together a bi-annual report to the Joint Staff, which was many pages of me complaining about all our shortfalls.  Each deficiency then listed what “stuff” we needed to improve those capability gaps.  This was in the mid-2000s, and we were just starting to realize how difficult it was to simultaneously fight an insurgent force and nation-build at the same time, so that report was long.  We pretty-much got everything we asked for back then- Counter IED equipment and jammers?  Check.  Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for ISR?  But you’ve got every Global Hawk and Predator we own.  “Ok, then we need more- everything you have is still not enough.” An Admiral who I came across later in my career was familiar with my reports and told me that within the Pentagon, they thought that CENTCOM was like a fat crying baby in the corner, everybody feeds it, but it still cries and so it keeps getting fed more and more.

During the next tour, after deploying on the USS PELELIU (LHA-5), I ran an annual conference to develop a “Top-10” list of stuff the Amphib Navy needed to support Naval Aviation. 

Three Minesweepers underway.  Must be an old picture.
My current work is similar- I keep track of the problems faced by our legacy MIW force and work to bring about the next generation of systems to improve our MCM capability, advocating for another list of "stuff."  By “Legacy” force, I’m talking about the AVENGER-Class Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Ships, and MH-53E Sea Dragon Helicopters.  These ships and aircraft are aging and oft-broken.  Heck, they aren’t aging, they’re already OLD, and by old, I’m talking like 210 in dog-years.  30 years is the average lifespan of a Navy ship, but that’s the average for an average ship- Cruisers (CGs), Destroyers (DDGs), and Frigates (FFGs).  That doesn’t include our Aircraft Carriers of course, which are built and maintained to last into their 50’s, but I digress.  The MCM ships and MH-53s are far from “average” because the level of support they receive doesn’t make it a level playing field.  Average would mean something that the Navy cared about, like a front-line ship or aircraft.  Our MCM "stuff" came out in the 80’s to early 90’s and has never gotten the care and feeding it deserves, so the ships and aircraft look very tired and worn out.  The oldest of the ships, which have already been decommissioned, were about 30 years old, but looked far worse.  If you want to keep something nice, you have to take care of it.

We're spending a lot of money to maintain these boats, but they still look a bit strung out, and rehab can only do so much.  Think of a 30 year old Buick - any chance of it still running if you didn’t maintain it well when it was younger?  And good luck finding parts for it.  All those shipyards are long gone by the way. It's the same for our helicopters.  They were taken care of a bit better than the ships, but the mishap rate has been less than good over the past few years.

MH-53E Sea Dragon conducting magnetic sweep with the Mk-105 sled.

MIW is just one of those warfare areas that big Navy doesn't really pay attention to.  It’s a matter of priorities, with Air Warfare, Surface and Anti-Submarine Warfare always being at the top of that list, and maybe rightly so.  Is MIW next in line? Well, yes, after Ballistic Missile Defense, Special Operations, EOD, Cyber-Warfare, and publicly reporting the latest CO firing.  The Navy has always found it easy to defer and delay maintenance to ships that don't have CV, SS, DDG or CG in their designation, and hardly any of those letters are in MCM.  The fact that there were only 14 of the ships, and 30 of the helos makes MIW even more of a bastard stepchild.  MIW is just one of those warfare areas that you don’t need, or at least you don't think you need, until you really need it.  So it’s been easy to underfund, especially with all these expensive wars going on. I could get all snarky here and complain about CVNs, CGs, and DDGs asking those crews when was the last time they actually did any real Anti-Air or Anti-Surface Warfare, but I’d be digressing.  MIW might not be a cool, sexy mission area like the others, but if one insurgent terrorist fisherman drops a cheap drifting mine in the gulf, just watch what happens to the price of oil.  And I was so enjoying gas under $3 a gallon.

So when the old stuff is gone, we’ll have a cool new sexy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) with a bunch of critters doing MCM.  The ship isn’t going into the minefield, but some unmanned systems will.  The ship has has it’s fair share of problems throughout its development, with both mechanical issues and some horrible press.  The LCS has also had more than its fair share of political opponents.  Nevermind that it was a political decision to build two different LCS classes, keeping two shipyards fully employed, but that was a different politician.

I know some of the bad press is deserved- we buy a brand new ship that was very late to the showroom, way over-priced, and it breaks down minutes after we drive it off the lot- that's not good. But many of our weapon systems have had problems during development and tended to be a wee bit more expensive than the lying liars in the defense industry told us they would be.  One of these, which also helped accelerate the S-3B Viking Sundown, was the Super Hornet, which had a serious wing-stall problem until the wing pylon stations were redesigned.  Remember the MV-22 Osprey? That one killed a bunch of good Marines before we got the bugs worked out of that program.  Now, both aircraft are vital to the Navy-Marine Corps team and are doing a great job.

As will this one if it gets the chance:

It really deserves to.  The LCS is a great concept- build a ship from an existing commercial design (the trimaran LCS-2) that can have its mission packages swapped out depending on what we need it to do.  And if technology advances, we don't need to send the ship into drydock, or take it off the schedule for an extended yard period in order to upgrade the systems- just swap out the boxes. Sure, it's expensive, but that price would have come down (it already was) as we committed to more ships and stabilized the design.  It was supposed to be a much cheaper ship though, until the Defense Industrial Complex and the Navy's Acquisition Process got a hold of it. And it's not like other systems haven't had massive cost over-runs.  Anybody ever hear of the F-35 and CVN-78?

But the voices of all the detractors rose to a cacophony, and enough of them found the ears of Secretary of Defense Hagel.  Because of all the bad press, and stronger political voices than the ones that chose to buy the LCS, SECDEF decided earlier this year to hold the planned number of ships to 32 (from the original 52) as we evaluate the design.
“I am concerned that the Navy is relying too heavily on the LCS to achieve its long-term goals for ship numbers. Therefore, no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward...”
Hagel has instead directed the Navy to, “submit alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, consistent with the capabilities of a frigate.”
The Navy is to consider options that would include, “a completely new design, existing ship designs and a modified LCS. These proposals are due to me later this year in time to inform next year’s budget submission.”

Then on Dec 10th, Secretary Hagel made these remarks updating DoD's plan for the LCS.  I'll summarize the one page memo:  "We're done with it."
I approve your plan to procure a small surface combatant (SSC) based on an upgraded Flight 0+ LCS, and direct the following actions to be taken:
  • Develop an Acquisition Strategy to support design and procurement of new SSCs no later than Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 19), and sooner if possible. Provide this Acquisition Strategy to the USD(AT&L) for review and approval no later than May 1, 2015.
Holy Fast Frigates Batman!  We're going to supposedly design and build a new ship in 5 years?  So instead of a light and fast modular ship, we're going to start buying Frigates again, and quickly!  I tend to be a bit cynical, and expect that a bigger, heavier, more traditional ship will make somebody a ton of money, and that probably won't be the Australian company that is building the LCS-2 Independence Class.

If any procurement program in recent history offers any sort of indication as to whether that is possible, please let me know and I'll stop this blog post right now...

Anyone?  Nah, I didn't think so.

Captain John Paul Jones

Hagel must be prescribing to the quote by CAPT John Paul Jones-
"I wish to have no connection with any Ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm's way."
One of the complaints of the mainly aluminum LCS, is that it supposedly can't survive in combat. Although it can definitely get there quickly.  MCM is mainly conducted in or close to enemy waters, but we rarely, if ever, operate in contested waters.  And what the hell do people think our 30 year old minesweepers are made of?  Steel?  Nope, guess again.  Good old homegrown American timber; typically oak, Douglas-fir, or Nootka Cypress - coated in glass-reinforced plastic.  Not exactly bulletproof.  And did I mention that the LCS doesn't even go into the minefield!?

Navy leadership has accepted his decision almost without argument.  I would rather they prescribed to the quote by CAPT James Lawrence:
"Don't give up the ship!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Void

A star forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, perhaps the closest Galaxy to Earth's Milky Way.
NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team, Public Domain
As you can see, there is a lot going on in that photo. Magnificent isn't it?

The wonders of Creation laid out for us to see.

Unfortunately, the Tiny Cranial Cloud (the post forming region in my brain) is devoid of any activity this AM.

Believe me, I thought long and hard (well, okay, long) about what to write about last night and went to bed with nada, bupkis, rien.
Yup, Nothing. A big, fat zero.

It's as if a great void has formed between my ears and all rational thought has collapsed to a singularity. A very dense singularity.

Who knows, maybe something will spring forth later today. Until then, read those folks over along the starboard rail (the sidebar for you non-nautical types).

Continued prayers for my blog-buddy, mentor and fellow Air Force Master Sergeant Buck, the Exile in Portales. He's in the hospital and it's not good.

Keep him in mind, stop by his place and leave a note. His sons are with him and will let us know as things happen. Prayers for them too. Buck raised a couple of good lads there.

Sarge, out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Festival of Lights

The 8th Night
by Dov Harrington CC
To all of my Jewish brothers and sisters...

Happy Hanukkah!

Die Wacht am Rhein

Elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper advancing in the Ardennes
(United States Army Center of Military History)
At 0530, on the 16th of December, 1944, in the quiet, fog-shrouded hills along the German-Belgian border, the early morning stillness was shattered by incoming fire from 1600 artillery pieces and 955 rocket launchers. The Germans were coming.

The American lines were shattered and confused. This was supposed to be a quiet sector of the front. A place for used up units to recuperate and for green units new to Europe to get a little taste of war.

Three German armies, two Panzer and one infantry lurched out of the forests on the German side of the frontier to give those green units their taste of war. They got more than a taste, the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's last throw of the dice in the West, was beginning.

Seventy years ago today, the German 5th and 6th Panzerarmeen and the 7th Armee rolled out of the fog and mist and slammed into the lightly held American line in that area of Belgium and Luxembourg known as the Ardennes. A place once thought to be impassable to armor, which the Germans had disproved in 1940 and were about to disprove again. Difficult for armor yes. Impassable? No.Thousands of American GIs, British Tommies and German Landsers were killed and wounded. Thousands of innocent Belgian civilians lost their lives as well. Many murdered by units of the Waffen SS.

Die Wacht am Rhein (The Watch or Guard on the Rhine) is the title of a German patriotic anthem. It was also the German code name for the Ardennes offensive, chosen deliberately to make the Allies think that the Germans were preparing to defend the Rhine. Not attempt to counter-attack in the Ardennes.

The German goal was to drive a wedge between General Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group (which was posted in and south of the Ardennes) and Field Marshal Montgomery's 21st Army Group (north of the Ardennes). After a hole had been punched in the Allied line, the Panzer spearheads were to drive on to Antwerp and cut the 21st Army Group's supply lines.

On paper the plan looked very good. However, the German generals knew that they did not have the necessary strength to make that happen. Most of them felt that reaching the Meuse River was stretching their limited capabilities. But der Führer was insistent. So the attack was planned and the attack was launched.

Google Maps

Back in December of 1998, two of my fellow sergeants approached me about taking a little field trip down to the Ardennes, on or about the actual start date of the battle. The 16th was on a Wednesday, the middle of the work week, so we couldn't swing it that day (for one reason or another). We were able to convince our immediate superiors that we could be spared from our critical NATO duties on the 17th, a Thursday.

So we got up very early on Thursday (well before sunrise) and headed off to Belgium. The following map shows our initial path.

From Geilenkirchen, Germany to Krinkelt, Belgium. About 53 miles.
(Google Maps)

At the border between Germany and Belgium, we stopped at a small crossroads, marked on many maps as the Wahlerscheid Crossroads. Just before the Bulge, the 2nd Infantry Division had been attacking towards that area. The next photo (taken in weather completely different from December of 1944) shows the area of the crossroads from just inside the Belgian border.

Google Street View

To the left in the photo is a feature common to this area, a firebreak. When you have large tracts of forest, you also get forest fires. So, firebreaks. The narrow road is also typical of roads in the Ardennes. This road did have a hard surface in 1944, though I doubt it was in this condition. (Another odd thing, may mean nothing. But go to Google Maps, zoom out to the 100 mile scale and then grab the little street view guy. Top left, in orange on the zoom scale. Grab him and drag him over the map. Notice anything odd about Germany? But, you guessed it, I digress.)

Our first planned stop on the journey was in the twin villages of Krinkelt and Rocherath, near the town center is a memorial to the American 99th Division.

99th Division vehicles moving through Wirtzfeld en route to Elsenborn. Vehicle in foreground belongs to Service Battery, 372nd Field Artillery Battalion. To the right, an M10 tank destroyer covers the column's movement.
US Army Center For Military History)

99th Infantry Division Patch

We paused there, to pay our respects to the men who had gone before. Something we would do many times that day.

The road to Büllingen
(Google Street View)

I remember the view on that road above, the day we were there was overcast. It was not really the mental picture I had of this particular area of the Ardennes. It almost seems like good tank country, but winding roads, muddy fields and long vehicle columns do not make rapid movement very easy. In fact, many accounts of the battle talk about the long columns of German vehicles. Long traffic jams were the norm on the first day of the offensive. Having been there, I can see why.

After some more driving we came to the Baugnez crossroads. To many folks that name does not ring any bells, perhaps because the event which took place there, on 17 December 1944 takes its name from the larger town of Malmedy, not quite a mile north of Baugnez.

Aftermath of the Malmedy Massacre
Public Domain (S)

For reasons which may never really be understood (according to some) on Sunday, 17 December 1944, elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper, an armor-heavy detachment of the 1st SS Panzerdivision came across elements of B Battery of the American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion negotiating a turn which would take the column to St. Vith.

The SS troops opened fire. destroying the first and last vehicles in the convoy, trapping the remainder. These GIs, with few other options and no means of effectively fighting armored vehicles, surrendered. 
While the German column led by Peiper continued on the road toward Ligneuville, the American prisoners were taken to a field, joined with others captured by the SS earlier in the day. Most of the testimonies provided by the survivors state that about 120 men were gathered in the field. For reasons that remain unclear today, the SS troops suddenly fired on their prisoners with machine guns. (W)
Eighty-four bodies were recovered in January of 1945 when American forces recaptured the area. In addition to these murders, Kampfgruppe Peiper was thought to be responsible for murdering 362 POWs and 111 civilians during its time in the Ardennes.

When we arrived at the memorial to the dead of Malmedy, it was apparent that a ceremony had taken place there that very morning. Fresh wreaths had been laid and as it was the anniversary of the massacre, that made perfect sense. The Belgians in the area do not forget the events of World War II.

The Malmedy Memorial, very close to where the massacre occurred.
(Google Street View)

It was sobering to stand there, now it's just a normal town, with normal people going about their business. 84 Americans lost their lives in an act of senseless violence, in a war most Germans knew was lost, on that very spot. Sobering to reflect on that even now. There is no glory in war, never has been, never will be. But against that monstrous regime the fight was necessary and justified.

Another thing which has always struck me regarding the weather in the opening days of the battle is that everyone pictures lots of snow and cold.

That came later.

American tank destroyers near Werbomont 20 Dec 44
(U.S. Army Photo)
The picture above shows weather very typical of the area in the late fall and early winter. Cold rain, lots of fog and, off the roads, lots and lots of mud.

Having lived not far north of the Ardennes, and having traveled through the Ardennes many times in all four seasons, I can vouch for the rain and the cold. Fog is also a serious problem, visibility can be reduced to yards, even feet.

I have also seen snow in the Ardennes. It is pretty when you're driving down a freshly plowed road in your nice modern car.

Try doing it in an open jeep or truck, with people shooting at you. There is no warm bed at the end of the day, unless you're a rear area type. Nope, you get to sleep in a foxhole. Again, with people trying to kill you.

Seventy years ago today, many American soldiers, some exhausted by the race across France and then the hard slog up to the German border, some brand new, barely out of training, barely off the troop ships, faced the Hell of combat roaring out of a winter's morning.

The blasts of artillery, artificial moonlight provided by searchlights reflected off the low clouds, German infantry (barely visible with their white camouflage) screaming out of the forests to the east, firing as they advanced. All in the cold and the mist.

The war was not over, not by a long shot, but on that day, though many did flee to the east, enough American GIs stood their ground and fought back. delaying the German spearheads long enough for the generals to get reinforcements moving to the front to stem the German tide.

At first many GIs died or were taken prisoner...

American POWs being taken to the rear.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J28619 CC

But in the end, the Germans paid a heavier price.

German soldiers who attempted to storm the 101st Airborne command post in Bastogne, Belgium, lie dead on the ground after they were mowed down by American machine gun fire. The tanks, behind which they were advancing, were knocked out also. This photo was taken while Bastogne was still under siege. (S)

German POW's captured by the U.S. 82nd Airborne division in Belgium
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Within six months the war in Europe would be over. But on this day, seventy years ago, it seemed that the war would never end.

Three members of an American patrol cross a snow covered Luxembourg field on a scouting mission. White bedsheets camouflage them in the snow.
Left to right: Sgt. James Storey, Newman, Ga.; Pvt. Frank A. Fox, Wilmington, Del., and Cpl. Dennis Lavanoha, Harrisville, N.Y. (30 Dec 1944). Lellig, Luxembourg. (S)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Customs, Courtesies and Beanies

So,  There I was……* Flying the F-15 at Kadena and a pinned on Major and Flight Commander.  I’ve spent the last 3 weeks deployed to Kwang Ju AB ROK to provide Air Defense for the Seoul Olympics.  I was in charge of 6 pilots, a flight surgeon and a maintenance detachment. Our mission was to ensure if the Kim family wanted to provide an airshow on international television, that there would be an F-15 in close formation and another one in trail with locked on missiles.  A future post will provide more details about that deployment. 

Not exactly  the formation we'd have flown.  the farside guy would have been directly astern, just outside min range for each missile. The near side guy would have been close enough that it would be difficult to get a TV shot without him in it
This post will be about a comment I’d made on one of Sarge’s posts which went “the only thing more dangerous than a 19 year old with a gun is a 19 year old with a gun, a badge and a beanie.”  There was good discussion on that post about peace officers vs police and good police officers vs “badge heavy” members of the police.  As Sarge says, go read it, I’ll wait. This post describes the incident where I came to realize the truth in my "gun, badge, beanie" statement.

It’s Sunday morning, 4 of the 5 Eagles had redeployed the day before, but one had a problem on start and had taken the rest of the day to fix.  We had gotten it fixed, but it was too late to deploy so we spent an additional day.  I stayed behind and will be flying the jet back.  It’s a beautiful day and I’m making good time.  Got the radar run out to max range, and as far as I can tell, I’m the only person airborne in the whole world at this time.  Ahhhh!  I’ve been handed off to Fukuoka control and diplomatically made contact.  After a Time, I’ve been handed off to Kadena’s Approach Control.  I can see the island and the runway from a long way away, so am intending to do an overhead and land.  I’m about 15 minutes out, so contact the tower and let them know I’m coming in and would they contact maintenance and customs to let them know, please?
A 67FS Eagle at Red Flag AK (Aim-9 on Left Outboard, AMRAAM on left inboard and an ACMI pod on right outboard)

Pitch out and land, through dearm and back in to the shelter.  Crew chief marshalls me in, and gives me the shutdown signal.  I cut the throttle and when the last engine winds down, turn everything off and climb down the ladder handing my A-3 bag down to the crew chief.  We discuss what had happened to the jet and what it’s status was for the flight down, and he starts to do whatever it is that crew chiefs do to get the airplane ready for what’s next.  I glance at my watch, it’s been about 10 minutes since shutdown.  No Customs.  Not unusual, though, they sometimes get busy with inbound MAC flights.  I hadn’t seen anything on Radar, or heard any radio, but…

The crew chief finishes putting the jet to bed, and the line chief comes by in the bread van to pick him up.  Offers me a lift, but I tell him I can’t, customs hasn’t come by.  Would he mind giving them a call when he gets in to the maintenance shack, please?  No problem.  Now been 30 minutes since shut down. 

I sit down on my A-3 bag and cool my heels for a bit, when I see a car drive up in the squadron parking lot and my wife and 4 year old son get out.  They walk up to the red line and ask what’s happening.  I respond with BTHOM, I’m waiting on customs.  It was not unheard of that customs would not show up.  It had happened a time or two.  I decide I’ll give them another 15 minutes to make it an even hour.
Where it all went down, at the cross intersection in front of the shelter.
Source: Google Maps

I ask her how everything’s going, she says little Juvat is running a fever, ear infection or something.  As the clock is ticking, one of Kadena’s famous torrential downbursts is headed our way, I tell the wife to get back in the car and then sprint back and climb under the jet.  It provides some protection, but I get wet. 

Well, it’s now an hour.  I grab my bag and walk off to the Squadron.  As I exit the flight line, a little blue truck comes speeding up and slams to a stop right in front of me and out jumps this spiffy A1C.  All shiny boots and beret creased to adhere to the side of his head.  He asks me where I think I’m going and why did I leave the secure area before being cleared by customs AKA himself?  How was he supposed to make sure I hadn’t brought back drugs or any other contraband?  He was afraid he was going to have to detain me. (In Well Seasoned Fool’s vernacular, he’s “badge heavy”.)

I think I smiled before responding.

I stated that if he detained me, that would raise questions about where customs had been for the last hour and ten minutes. Since he had stated that making sure Pilots didn’t bring back drugs or other contraband was their mission, didn’t that absence represent dereliction of duty on his part. Clearly had I wanted to smuggle drugs, his not being present to intercept them meant he had failed in his duty.  I then responded, if he wanted, he could inspect my A-3 bag, otherwise, I was proceeding to the squadron.

Walk in to the Squadron, hang up my flight gear and notice the Boss is in.  Knock on his door and ask if I can have a moment of his time.  I explain what had happened.  He tells me to go home and not worry about it.  Well…

I get home, and as we walk in, the phone is ringing.  It’s Sgt Schmuckatelli, the NCOIC of the customs detachment.  He requests that I report to the detachment for customs evasion. I call the Boss who’s now at home.  He tells me to come over while he makes some calls.  We share a back yard, it’s not far.  

His wife lets me in as he’s on the phone.  His side of the conversation goes like this “Bob, how long should my guys have to wait before customs shows up at the jet…..Yeah, I know they shouldn’t, but suppose a MAC flight had just landed?....10 minutes… would 15 minutes be out of line?.....How about 30 minutes?...It would?….How about 45?.....One of my guys just waited over an hour……”

The conversation devolved from there….

He hangs up and says “Listen Up…Report to the Customs Det.  Do NOT sign any papers.  Do not give them your ID or anything of yours.  Do not make any statements.  Do not answer any questions.  Do you have any questions about the directives I've given you?”

No sir!

I show up at the detachment, and the NCOIC says “Give me your ID!”  I look at him quizzically.  He says “What?”  I respond, “Last I checked, I’m an officer and you’re not.  I haven’t been charged with anything, so protocol would say you should amend that last statement to be “May I have your ID, please sir?” 

Well, if you’re going down, go down fighting.

He says, “May I have your ID, please…sir?”

I respond “Unfortunately, Sergeant, my Commander has expressly ordered me not to give you my ID or any other items.”

“Well, we’ll need you to sign this statement.”

“Unfortunately, Sergeant, my Commander has expressly ordered me not to sign any papers whatsoever.”

“We need to ask you some questions!”

“Unfortunately, Sergeant, my Commander has expressly ordered me not to answer any questions.”

“Would you please wait here while I get this straightened out, then?”

“Of Course”

I’m sitting there cooling my heels when I notice a gym bag by the desk with my favorite A1C’s name on it.  It’s open with some Gym clothes spread out, drying off.  Hmmm.  I also notice the Sunday Stars and Stripes beside it.  I grab it and start reading the comics.  

Finish them and begin the NY Times crossword puzzle.  In ink.  In walks the Airman.  He says, “What are you doing?”  “The crossword puzzle, how was your run this morning?”  His eyes flash to the bag and gym clothes.  Mumbles something under his breath and walks out.

 Shortly thereafter, the NCOIC comes in and says I can go, but “don’t do this again.”  I briefly consider asking what “this” was, but decide discretion is the better part of valor and wish them a good day.

It got very stupid from there.  A few weeks later, we deploy to the PI.  On RTB, I fly via MAC and go through customs at the terminal.  They squeezed the toothpaste out of the tube.  The next deployment, I fly back, they open up all the panels on my jet.  The following deployment, having had about all the fun I can stand and since I’m MAC’ing back, I pack all my laundry in to a box and mail it back to Kadena.  At the time, overseas APO to APO mail didn’t cost anything.  In fact, I recognized the box on a pallet in the back of the same 141 I was riding home.  I get off the jet at the terminal, and walk right up to the processing line.  An Airman says, “Sir, you can’t go through yet, the bags haven’t been unloaded.”  I respond, “I don’t have any bags.”  “How long were you gone?”  “2 weeks”  “Where’s your laundry?”  “In the mail”  “How are we supposed to inspect that?”  “Not my problem!”  and walked out the door.

I’m not the only guy getting the treatment, and the rumblings are starting to get loud.

 Again, we deploy to Cope Thunder.  Towards the end of the deployment, there’s a bit of a security hubbub.  Seems one of the classified avionics boxes is missing from the nose of one of the jets.  Nobody can seem to find it.  We redeploy the next day and my wingman is the one star Air Division commander.  No big deal, within the structure of a Major to Brigadier General relationship, he’s a pretty nice guy.  A good stick, he just wants to fly wing today.  
This is obviously not 24 Eagles, nor would they use this formation on Initial, Just thought it was a cool picture.

We bring the entire squadron down initial pitch out and land.  Dearm and instead of heading to the shelters, we’re directed to park in front of the tower.  


Lot’s of vehicles in the area.  We get the jets all shut down, unload our bags and are looking for the bread vans to take us to the squadron.  Instead we get told to form up with our bags, we’re going to get searched for the  missing equipment.  I’m standing next to the General, and look over at him, he gives me the stay quiet sign.  I nod.  

The Airman works his way down the line.  Opens my bag, he doesn't see the 4’ X 2’ X 1’ 125 lb box in amongst my dirty laundry and proceeds to start patting me down.  Strangely enough,  he doesn't find it on my person either.  
This is from an F-15 E, but the layout is similar to the C model.  The circle is a bit larger than 4' in diameter,  The missing box is from the bay behind it.  It is NOT going to be found in a flight suit pocket.

The General is standing right next to me, his bag on the other side, so the Airman begins patting down him down.  As he progresses up his leg, side, under side of his arm, top side of his arm to his shoulder where he notices a star and goes white as a sheet.  “Sir, you don’t have to be here.” 

“On the contrary, Son, there is nowhere on earth more important for me to be than right here, right now.”

“Would you do me the courtesy of passing a message to your Commander, your OIC, NCOIC, and the OSI Detachment Chief, inviting them to my office tomorrow morning at 0700, please?”

We never had a problem with Customs after that.

* War Stories begin this way, and while these events all happened, minor details may have been lost to memory.

**BTW to the US Postal Service.  Important note:  re: your current commercial. This is not Your Season! 
It belongs to a child born 2000+ years ago, who proclaimed "Love the Lord, Your God, with your whole heart, your whole mind and your whole soul, and love your neighbor as yourself."  It's a hard discipline, but would more people adhere to it (it's the second part that negates the first), the world would be a better place.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Google Street View
Home is where the heart can laugh without shyness.  Home is where the heart’s tears can dry at their own pace.  - Vernon Baker (S)

I have lived in many places in my life.

As a child I lived with my parents, two brothers and a cat. We laughed there, we cried there, we learned there. When I think back on the love in that place, it almost breaks my heart that it is gone.

It's gone because we boys all grew up and moved outward and onward. We carved out our own homes in the world. Married, raised children of our own. In my home I always tried to recreate the atmosphere of trust and love I had when I was growing up.

We succeeded, I think, mostly through the efforts of The Missus Herself. She is something.

Beauty, an iron will, intelligent, compassionate and a great sense of humor.

I won the lottery right there.

Over the years we've lived in apartments, condominiums, duplexes and now a house of our own.

Google Street View

Fort Collins
Google Street View
Google Street View

Looking across the fields at our home in Waldfeucht, Germany.
Google Street View

Our three kids have all moved on now and have families of their own. I now understand the tears in my parents' eyes every time I left to go somewhere. For I spent my career thousands of miles from my parents and where I grew up. The closest assignment I ever got to home was Omaha. Fifteen-hundred miles isn't exactly "just across town," is it?

Now our kids live in California (two) and in Virginia (one). In terms of my assignments in the Air Force, The Nuke, down in Virginia, is practically next door. ("Only" 450 miles, give or take a yard.)

So where is my home now?

I have a home with my wife, our two cats and a koi pond.

I have a home with my Mom. Whenever we go to visit, it feels like home to me.

I have a home with each of our three kids.

All of these places, I feel at home. I feel like I can kick my shoes off, speak freely, laugh often and cry when it's appropriate. I can even belch and scratch should the need arise, but only when the ladies are in the other room. Though honestly, The WSO can belch and scratch like a pro, must be the naval aviation background, am I right?

Any way you look at it, home is what you make of it. It's also a place where there is love. Because without that, why bother?

Home is here as well, in a very real way.
Google Street View

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Game

Indeed, it is that time of year, the only college football game I care about.

I'm not sure when I started following this game as I do now. Probably when The Naviguesser went off to college where he donned the uniform of an NROTC Midshipman.

Now with two daughters and a son-in-law still on active duty, and The Sea Lawyer still in the Reserves, all proudly representing the U. S. Navy, my love of this particular event has grown.

But Sarge, you might ask, did any of them go the the Trade School on the Severn?

Why yes, yes one did. The Sea Lawyer is a proud alumnus of Annapolis.

So, with all due respect to my Army brethren and colleagues (a good buddy of mine from high school went to West Point, as did one of The Nuke's high school classmates) I just have to say...

Aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4)
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jon Rasmussen


You heard me...

And I never argue with Dragons!

Final Score
Navy - 17
Army - 10
Hard fought, but Navy wins. That's 13 straight versus Army.
A great game!