Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Hallows' Eve

Snap-Apple Night (1833) by Daniel Maclise (Source)
Most, if not all, human cultures have festivals marking significant events during the year. The end of the harvest season, the winter solstice, the beginning of a new year, and the beginning of spring are all pretty common examples. Many of these events in Western culture were "Christianized" in the early years of the spread of that faith. Rather than take away a society's favorite rites, rituals and practices, make them part of the Christian tradition.

One such time was known by my ancestors as Samhainn. This marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the "dark" part of the year, winter. (Winters in Scotland can be pretty bleak and dark from what I know. They can be that way in New England as well!)

I don't know much about Samhainn other than what you can find online. None of my living relatives ever practiced such a thing, we were all good Congregationalists and Catholics back in the day. Just wanted to mention the event as a tip o' the hat to my forebears.

Of course, what was Samhainn is now Halloween in these modern times. (Though as our culture continues to be denigrated and destroyed by idiotic progressivism, will Halloween still exist a hundred years from now? For that matter, will we retain any of our traditions? Will we slowly degenerate into some gray, soulless society which is about as much fun as a convention of Stalinists and Maoists? Geez, I hope not!)

Halloween, for those of you who didn't know, is a contraction of All Hallows' Eve, which is itself a contraction of All Hallows' Evening, which is the day before All Saints' Day, November 1st. So we're talking the 31st of October. (Just to clarify for those of you who have led sheltered lives or who perhaps are not familiar with Western culture.)

One thing I did not know (among the many thousands of things I do not know) is that there is something called "Allhallowtide", which includes All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Day, and the 2nd of November, also known as All Souls' Day. Here's what I found on that -
Allhallowtide, Hallowtide, Allsaintstide, or the Hallowmas season, is the triduum encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Hallows' Eve (Hallowe'en), All Saints' Day (All Hallows') and All Souls' Day, which last from October 31 to November 2 annually. Allhallowtide is a "time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians." The present date of Hallowmas (All Saints' Day) and thus also of its vigil (Hallowe'en) was established for Rome perhaps by Pope Gregory III (731-741) and was made of obligation throughout the Frankish Empire by Louis the Pious in 835. Elsewhere, other dates were observed even later, with the date in Ireland being 20 April. In the early 11th century, the modern date of All Souls' Day was popularized, after Abbot Odilo established it as a day for the monks of Cluny and associated monasteries to pray for the dead. In the United Kingdom, the Church of England, mother church of the Anglican Communion, extended All Saints-tide to include Remembrance Sunday in the 20th century. W
As Buck was wont to say, "I had no ideer..."

Truly I did not, but it's finding little tidbits like this which make me love history. There's lots of it and most of it is interesting. Well, to an historian it's interesting and I consider myself to be one, though of the unpaid variety.

I have to say, I like the idea of having a day set aside to honor the memories of those who have gone before. I found this painting online and it moved me, deeply...

All Souls' Day (1888) by Jakub Schikaneder (Source)

There's something very evocative about this painting. The old lady stands in silent contemplation after she has placed a wreath on the tomb of a loved one. No doubt remembering the good times they shared, perhaps even the hardships they suffered together. It's a good thing, remembering those you loved and who have passed on. Since I became an adult (stop laughing WSO), this time of year has had this element of remembrance and sadness for me.

Now growing up I knew nothing of these things. I was young, immortal, and invincible! All I knew was that at Halloween I got to dress up in some sort of costume and go Trick or Treating. I mean free candy, come on, how special and cool is that?

Yes, there was always a Jack O' Lantern out on the front steps as well. Carved by my Dad, lit from within by a candle, and heavily guarded. Why guarded you ask?

Well, there was a certain set in town who loved to smash pumpkins (no, they did not grow up to form a band). The preferred method was to roll the pumpkins down one of the steeper streets in town. Okay, they didn't so much smash them as they did roll them. The trip down the hill would actually smash the pumpkin. But (you guessed it) I digress.

This certain set was generally composed of high school males. High school males with access to motorized vehicles and who had a certain penchant for high spirited antics (what in this day and edge might be termed anti-social behavior). At any rate, my Dad vowed to "shoot any sumbitch who tried to make off with my kids' pumpkin!"

I'm sure it was all bluster but Dad might have been serious. At any rate we never, to my knowledge, ever lost a pumpkin to a pumpkin roller / smasher. (Nor did we lose any pumpkins to future band members, just to clarify.)

 No, I never smashed (or rolled) a pumpkin. I find the practice abhorrent.

Now costumes, what did we dress up as?

For nearly every year, save one, my friend Bruce and I would dress up as partisans. Think guys who sneak around at night blowing up Nazi trains and rendezvousing with the British commandos who resupply them with guns and explosives in dark fields in France. We would go from door to door with our toy tommy guns, faces darkened with burnt cork, wearing subdued civilian clothing of a military cut. I doubt any of the residents of the neighborhood felt threatened by us as we collected our tribute. (We did think of it that way. In our young minds we were collecting for La RésistanceA bas les Boches! Vive la France!)

The evening would end at the elementary school where there would be a Halloween party. Back then the adults had the balls to actually call something what it was, not this pusillanimous crap we have nowadays. Dammit, we had Christmas parties too, not end of the year holiday parties!

The last time I dressed for Halloween was when we were stationed in Germany. A friend decided to have a Halloween party, a costume party no less! The Missus Herself went as a French maid, I was a German soldier, complete with authentic WWII helmet and camouflage smock. There was a contest for best costume.

Juvat would no doubt not be surprised to hear that the French maid won. Hey, I got one vote! (I also had the following said to me by our host, a captain and graduate of Texas A&M, yes he did the military side of things there: "Nice costume Sarge. Did you forget we're in Germany? Really a German from WWII? Are. You. Insane?" That last bit was rhetorical, everyone knew that I was a bit loopy. All those years of loud Dash-60s, roaring J-79 jet engines, and breathing fumes from jet fuel will do that to a fella. Ask Russ!)

One year a certain American lady of our acquaintance (wife of the JAG and she spoke excellent German) living in our little German village, convinced our Teutonic neighbors that we should "do" Halloween. The German parents (good Catholics all) were a little hesitant but the kleine Deutschen all thought it a wondrous idea. Come on, free candy! Sofort, lass uns gehen!

So one year, in the small village of Waldfeucht, in Kreis Heinsberg, in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, we had about ten American kids and roughly 30 German kids going door to door shouting "trick or treat" and holding out bags to receive their just due from their elders.

I mentioned to one of the wee Germans, "Uh, where's your costume, shouldn't you have a costume, ya know, a disguise?"

"Ja, ich versteh. I am wearing a costume Mein Herr! I'm pretending to be an American!"

Heh. I slipped the kid an extra candy bar, he earned it.

The kids don't come to our neighborhood anymore. They get loaded into soccer mom vans and get driven to the wealthier neighborhoods. Sure, the candy is probably better and it is probably safer and it certainly saves me the need to buy candy for the trick or treaters. Still and all, I kind of miss those days. The old days.

It's probably very politically incorrect of me, innit?

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Independent Air Force

An F-15C Eagle, piloted by 1st Lt. Johnathan Pavan from the 144th Fighter Wing out of Fresno, Calif., takes off from 5 Wing Goose Bay, Canada, while participating in exercise Vigilant Shield 16 Oct. 20, 2015. From Oct 15-26, approximately 700 members from the Canadian Armed Forces, the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air National Guard are deploying to Iqaluit, Nunavut, and 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland Labrador, for Vigilant Shield 16. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Senior Master Sgt. Chris Drudge)

Dr. Robert Farley wrote a book (Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force) in which he makes a case for getting rid of the United States Air Force. Not the aircraft mind you, just the organization which owns those aircraft. This topic was being discussed in my circles last year when the book was first published and it's back again. No doubt because of the A-10 and F-35 debacles which have occurred recently.

To be quite honest, when I first heard of this book I consigned it to the nether regions and wondered what could a political science guy know about anything. That was pretty much a "shoot from the hip" reaction based solely on my 24 years service in that Air Force.

Then a guy I know in Chicago, for whom I have a great deal of respect, mentioned that he'd read Dr. Farley's book and thought that the good professor had made some pretty good points in that tome. Again I pooh-poohed my friend's opinion as being uninformed and not relevant as he'd never been in the military.

Then I read this and found myself questioning my own opinion. (I know, I should have listened to you Spill!) This is what happens when one goes with feelings and not with facts. Damn, how very progressive of me!

In light of some of the embarrassing things my Air Force has done lately (all documented by Tony over at John Q. Public) I've really had to think about this topic in more depth. Toss out the opinions and the emotions, just consider the facts, as it were.

So here goes.

Airpower was first used in World War I. Early aircraft were primitive and were typically used for reconnaissance. The airplane would fly over enemy territory and the crew would observe and make notes. Once back on the ground they would tell the ground commanders what they saw. Useful but not decisive in the early days. Aircraft were used much like light cavalry, as scouts and observers.

As the aircraft became more sophisticated it was used more and more in a ground support role. A nation would also have aircraft whose purpose was to deny the air to the enemy's aircraft, so your guys could bomb and strafe unmolested. Strategic bombing, though used to some extent, was militarily insignificant.

The British or French were not going to quit because zeppelins or primitive bombers bombed them. The payloads were too small and the means of delivery were woefully inadequate and inaccurate.

In the interwar years, some airmen began to dream big, really big. Billy Mitchell demonstrated that aircraft could sink ships. Which won him no friends either in the Army or the Navy. (I'm sure some admirals began thinking about getting their own aircraft to protect their ships around that time.)

Giulio Douhet in Italy had even bigger dreams. Fleets of bombers would wander over the enemy's country laying waste to their industries and training camps. Bombers would be fast and well-armed, so much so that enemy fighters would be useless against them.

As it turned out, Douhet was wrong. Fighter aircraft kept getting better and faster. Bombers got bigger and more heavily armed but in order to truly have an impact on a target, you needed quite a few bombers. Flying in formation they were extremely vulnerable to enemy fighters and anti-aircraft artillery.

The Luftwaffe and the Eighth Air Force discovered this the hard way. The Luftwaffe's aircraft had been designed to support ground forces and were nearly completely inadequate to perform strategic bombing. While the Lancasters, B-17s and B-24's of the Allies carried big enough payloads to perform useful work deep behind enemy lines, the war wasn't won until Allied infantry and armor went ashore at Normandy and Russian grunts planted the flag of the Soviet Union over the ruins of Berlin.

Airpower was useful but not decisive in Europe.

The Pacific was another matter. Even though American airpower devastated Japan, it was the U.S. Navy's submarines which cut Japan's supply lines. Airpower made things tough for the Japanese but didn't really defeat them. Putting the Japanese merchant fleet (and much of the Imperial Navy) on the bottom of the ocean, and the Army and Marines kicking them off the numerous islands they had seized were the decisive element.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki notwithstanding, airpower played a supporting role, not decisive in and of itself. (The atomic bombs detonated over those two Japanese cities made the Japanese government see that their situation was indeed hopeless. They were already defeated, the bombs made them see that. It also spared thousands of lives as an invasion of the Home Islands wouldn't be necessary.)

Somewhere along the way, the bomber generals convinced themselves (and others) that airpower had been decisive in and of itself. (How they figured that still baffles me, while attacks on German oil supplies really hurt the Germans, production of tanks and aircraft continued to rise even under the bombs of the USAAF and the RAF. Many bomber generals still insisted on bombing factories, not oil supplies!)

While airpower had proved decisive in isolating the Normandy beachhead from the interior of Europe (preventing the Germans from reinforcing and resupplying their forces in Normandy), Eisenhower had to go to Churchill and FDR to order the bomber generals to give him control of the strategic air forces!

After the war many theorists were convinced that nuclear weapons had changed everything. What need did we have for an army or a navy, just send in fleets of bombers loaded with nukes to defeat the enemy. No one in their right mind would start a war if the air forces of the free world could nearly literally destroy an enemy country. Picture Hiroshima and Nagasaki writ large!

I guess a lot of people bought into that because in 1947 President Truman signed the National Security Act which, among other things, created the United States Air Force. A service on an equal footing with the Army and the Navy. A separate service no longer under the command of the Army. A separate service built around bombers and atomic weapons. There was talk in some circles of disbanding the Army and the Navy as useless expenses. After all, we could use the Coast Guard in our waters and who was going to mess with us? We had a monopoly on nuclear weapons, we were untouchable militarily.

Then on 29 August 1949, the Soviet Union detonated their own atomic bomb. We were no longer the only nation on the planet with nuclear weapons. Ruh-roh.

As time went on we came up with this whole Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) concept. If you blow up our half of the planet, why then we'll blow up your half. So there.

The Air Force had bombers and missiles in silos, the Navy had missiles in submarines. The Army had...

Um, the Army had...

Oh yeah! Nuclear artillery! Atomic Annie! Big guns...

Okay, look at the gun then look at the mushroom cloud. Would you want to join the artillery and have that job? Talk about danger close. They'd be like the old Soviet Northern Fleet, glowing in the dark.

Seriously though, we had what was a fairly standard ground war in Korea from 1950 to 1953. No nukes, no strategic bombing. Just lots of infantry (with some tanks) with lots of close air support and standard non-atomic artillery.

Whatever strategic strikes there were were mostly deep strikes behind the Communist lines against logistical targets. Not factories but rail lines, supply hubs, troop concentrations and the like. We weren't trying to bomb North Korea out of the war, in fact after Inchon it was mostly a Red Chinese fight, the North Korean army was pretty chewed up retreating from Pusan after MacArthur landed at Inchon, deep behind Communist lines.

No strategic bombing of China either, though MacArthur really wanted to, I believe he even recommended a nuclear strike which no doubt had the Air Force bomber mafia salivating. Fortunately (I guess) cooler heads prevailed. (Though to this day I wonder what would have happened if we'd destroyed the portion of China bordering North Korea. I'm sure the Russians would have been pissed but I doubt that they would fight for China. After all if we nuked the Chinese we'd probably nuke the Russians. I'm glad we didn't find out. Dad could have been called back to the Army with that sort of escalation and who knows what would have followed. Some think the Red Army would use that excuse to cross Germany and head for the Channel. After all, we were kind of busy in Korea!)

Strategic bombing was tried in North Vietnam, not really against factories as the North Vietnamese got most of their stuff from the Russians and the Chinese. Air strikes against infrastructure mostly, targets chosen by the "geniuses" in DC to "send messages" to the North Vietnamese leadership. The air strikes didn't really become effective until Nixon turned American airpower against Haiphong harbor and really began pounding Hanoi. That got the North's attention and got them back to the negotiating table.

But where were the Air Force generals in all this? They weren't calling the shots by any means. The F-105s and F-4s flying out of Thailand were all directed out of Washington DC by LBJ and his pet "genius" McNamara. Neither of them had a clue, I don't recall any generals resigning in protest over the running of the air war. Nope, as long as their budgets stayed up they were happy.

In my opinion, the Vietnam air war was a colonel's war. The wing commanders made the tactical decisions and they and the men below them did the flying and the dying. I don't really see the need for an independent Air Force in that context.

Back in the day air commanders were worried that their forces would be wasted by ground commanders who didn't understand air power. That might have been true before 1940. Now I think any ground commander worth his stars wants (and needs) to have air power on tap. Ready to go at a moment's notice and not routed through some Air Force higher headquarters. (I know the admirals like their carriers, I like 'em too but in my opinion our submarines are a much more effective weapon. You can tell if a carrier battle group is not there. With submarines you never know.)

One thing makes me hesitant to do away with an independent Air Force and that is the experience of the German Luftwaffe in World War II (which really was only good for ground support). This was an air force built solely to support the army. It couldn't really do anything on its own. Making the Air Force part of the Army again could tend in that direction.

Having an independent Air Force though may be impossible given what appears to be the sheer bull-headed stupidity (IMHO)  prevalent in the higher ranks of my Air Force. It's why we can't have nice things.

Seriously? Get rid of the A-10? The Bone (B-1) can provide close air support? Are you kidding me? The F-35 can replace all those other aircraft in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps? First of all it's too damn expensive and is beginning to look like it can't do some of the missions the Air Force claims it can. If you criticize the leadership you're a traitor? Really?

I'm starting to see Professor Farley's point of view. The Air Force track record lately isn't so good.

And don't get me started on drones. I know Tuna likes them, I don't. Good for reconnaissance and deep strike if you have air supremacy. I wouldn't trust them for close air support and if the other side has manned aircraft and knows how to use them (which the Russians and Chinese do) then our drones will be swept from the skies.

Manned aircraft will be around for some time to come. (And the F-35 needs a freaking gun, didn't we learn that in Vietnam with the Phantom?)

I'm not sure if the current Air Force leadership is up to the challenge of future war.

Breaks my heart, but there it is.

Maybe Dr. Farley is right.

Anyhoo, that's...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Reinforcements Are On The Way!

Das Lauenburgische Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 9 bei Gravelotte by Ernst Zimmer (Source)
The sergeant is looking out over the ramparts and down the road leading to the nearby ridge. The garrison has been waiting nearly two months for the column to return. They had gone west in early September, it was now nearly November. The weather was worsening, supplies were low and morale was abysmal.

"Sergeant!" cried an alert sentry.

"What is it Jenkins? What do you see?" asked the sergeant.

"A single rider!"

He reached down for his telescope and bringing it to his eye looked towards the ridge. Sure enough, a single rider. Not hurrying but not dallying either. But definitely one of our boys, in fact the sergeant was fairly sure that it was Abercrombie, or Fitch, he never could tell them apart.

"You there," ordered the sergeant, "open the gate!"

Moments later the rider was through the gate, by Jove it is Fitch, thought the sergeant.

"Fitch! What news?"

"I'm Abercrombie, Sergeant, Fitch is a full inch shorter!"

"And how am I to tell when you're on horseback?" queried the increasingly agitated non-commissioned officer.

"We don't even look alike Sergeant!"

Climbing down from the ramparts the infuriated Sergeant bellowed, "Abercrombie, Fitch, whatever your bloody name is, WHAT NEWS?"

"The column Sir, they're returning! And they've brought reinforcements!"


The cheers rang throughout the small fort on the small bay in the wilderness of New England.

"We're saved," thought the grizzled old sergeant, "we're saved!"

Okay, that's perhaps a bit melodramatic. But I beg artistic license and all that.

Bottom line...

Had a dispatch from The WSO yesterday.

The Missus Herself returns today!

No more of just me and the felines conversing in grumbles, squeaks, meows and purring. I'll have my better half back at home, I'll get to reconnect with the love of my life.

What's more, I won't have to suffer through my abominable attempts to provide sustenance for myself. For The Missus Herself is an incredible cook. Me? I'm the guy who Gordon Ramsay would be continually yelling at. Until he threw me out of the kitchen grumbling about fire trucks and something about "bullocks," or something...

I have no idea where (or what) the chef is hollering about. Je suis paumé dans la cuisine.

But The Missus Herself will be home this very evening. How do I feel about this event?

Yeah, something like that...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Full Moon

'Tis said that the full moon is when all the loons and crazies come out to play.

Yes, I'll be out and about (that would be "oot and aboot" in the Great White Up) to dance in the moonlight, howl at the moon and consume mass quantities of mead and ale.

No, not really. Though we actually did that once or twice way back in the day. There was always that place out in the boonies in Vermont (pretty much the entire state) where we could gather, light a bonfire, quaff adult beverages and indulge in all sorts of risky behavior.

Yes, I liked mead, back in the day.
Mead is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water, sometimes with various fruits, spices, grains, or hops. The alcoholic content of mead may range from about 8% ABV to more than 20%. W
I recall liking mead a lot, perhaps more than I should have when I was a feckless youth. However, those days are long past and I lead a more sedate lifestyle these days. Haven't had a drink of mead in years. I wonder if they sell it locally?


Anyhoo, things have been a bit drear and drab in these parts lately. My bad. (Do the kids still say that, I hated that phrase when I first heard it. Don't know why, don't mind it at all now.) I do get all melancholy from time to time, it's my nature.

The lead in photo was taken Monday night just after moon rise. It was still fairly light out and I hesitated before rolling out the Canon. After all, the full moon was on Tuesday, not Monday. However, knowing New England as I do, I reckoned that it could be cloudy on Tuesday and moon shots would be iffy.

Well, Tuesday just after moon rise looked like this...

Kind of cool and eerie looking but not much of a view of the full moon. I'm glad I took the shot Monday night!

Zoomed back you can see my neighborhood, all softly lit and rustic looking. I really like the way this camera takes photos. Good job progeny! (Recall that this camera was a birthday gift from my chilluns.)

Not much else to talk about this fine day. I found a most interesting World War II reenactment video. Germans, Americans, tanks and aircraft. The rattle of machine guns, the thump of cannon and the "mournful mutter of musketry." This is something else I did in my halcyon days. Miss it I do. The cost I do not.

To quote XBradTC, "here's your daily dose of splodey..."



It's how they "play army" in Indiana. The Old AF Sarge approves!

(Yes, some of the Germans are saying stuff in German. War stuff, perfect German it ain't. Better than in some movies though. Oh yeah, the uniforms and equipment get high marks for authenticity, no farbs on this battlefield! Though some of the bolt action crowd need more range time, my grandmother could get rounds off faster than that! Of course, she was a hunter of some note.)


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Just One More Day

From a question posed to me, or Aviators in general, last week here on the Chant after the loss of a fellow San Diegan,  Major Taj Sareen, I started thinking.  Normally that's a dangerous thing, getting me to think about one subject or another.  It's not risky or dangerous in the real sense of the word, but if you ask me something, chances are I will write about it and bloviate for my Tuesday post instead of something a little more entertaining.

But in all seriousness, the death of a fellow warrior, and especially one that was known by one or two of those here at the Chant, can cause a guy or gal to take stock in their own lives.

For me, that's a wife, 2 kids, a 16 year old Jack Russell, a decent house in a decent neighborhood, a timeshare, and a few dollars in the bank.  When distilled down to a simple list, as a bean counter or actuarial might do, it doesn't seem like much.

But it is of course.  It's my whole world, and I can't really put a dollar figure on the first 3 items on that list.  I have never thought too long and hard about my own mortality though.  Unless you have an illness or you've gone through a scare that's a little too close to home, someone my age probably wouldn't have. But just because I haven't thought long about it doesn't mean I haven't considered it at all.

Early in my career the SGLI we were offered when I was first commissioned was raised from $200K to $400K.  Some of the guys in the squadron put some serious though into whether or not to accept the higher amount, because that would cost them an extra 8 bucks.  "Cheap bastards" I thought to myself.  For a lousy 8 bucks, my brother and sisters would have a nice little windfall, there'd be one hell of a wake, and I'd be buried in style.

I was a little more forward thinking than that of course.  I knew I'd be getting married, changing my Page 2 (Next Of Kin list in my personnel record), and would have a wife and family to take care of someday.  But that's just how I saw it- an easy and cheap way to take care of my family.  Not everyone does.  I've heard some people say they "don't believe" in insurance.  WTF?  Don't believe in it?  It's not like it's some intangible ghostly apparition.  I just don't understand that thinking.  But anyhoo.  I didn't think I'd die soon, but that's what the life insurance was for- peace of mind in case the worst happens.  When it's your time it's just your time, and I wanted to be prepared.

The Military services are quite good at helping us prepare for the possibility- having SGLI, almost forcing us to get a will and update our Page 2, usually before going out on deployment.  The first 200K in SGLI was automatic, but it wasn't until later in my career that I found out it wasn't mandatory.  I'm sure there are foolish men and women out there that not only declined the additional coverage, but rejected the base amount.

Remember this story?  Well, that crash resulted in the deaths of two pilots.  It's a tragic story of course, covered well elsewhere, but there's now more to the story.  Last month, their wives decided to take action over their deaths, citing negligence.  From The Navy Times:

The widows of two helicopter pilots tragically lost at sea in September 2013 have filed a lawsuit against the Navy, arguing that the accident that tore their husbands' still spinning helicopter off a destroyer's flight deck was foreseeable and caused by a well-known defect.

If you read the article, you would find that the senior of the two pilots declined his SGLI!!!  I really can't comprehend the shortsightedness of that man, a family man, who flew Naval Helicopters in what is inarguably one of the most exciting careers a person can have, but one that can also be very dangerous and not without risks.  Might that be part of the reason she's suing?  I have no idea, but his lack of concern for his family, his desire to have maybe eight more dollars in his pocket, has possibly left his family destitute.

Do deceased military members become retroactively eligible for the Survivor Benefit Plan where your spouse gets about half of what would have been your retirement?  I don't know.  Maybe I should ask my neighbor across the street.  She and her 14 year old daughter seem to be doing well, even though the girl doesn't remember her father.

The decision for me was easy.  Eight bucks was cheap, and I wanted to be covered.  As I built a family, and my son was diagnosed with Autism, I was glad I opted for the higher coverage.  No, I still didn't think I'd die because of Naval Aviation, but one never knows.  Because of my career, and moving every few years, my wife couldn't have her own career.  And due to my son's special needs, having her home with our kids (and therefore able to take him to what was once 4 or 5 appointments each week), there was no way my wife could hold a job, much less have a career.

I realize that cartoon might be seen as me making light of the two mishaps I've already mentioned, but I'm using it to illustrate a point- one that is mentioned in every pre-flight brief, we always have a backup plan.  I flew an aircraft that had two engines.  Yes, both were needed, but if one went out, the other was your backup plan.  If we had to eject, the parachute would automatically deploy and inflate, but there was also a D-Ring as a backup.  If we made it to our destination, but it was socked-in due to weather, we always had an alternate field- yet another backup plan.

Living until I'm old and gray (ok, until I'm really old and gray) is my primary plan, but life insurance and the SBP is the backup.  After I retired, I replaced the SGLI with even more insurance.  Am I over-insured?  Not according to my agent.  How much is enough?  Enough to keep my wife from feeling like she was backed into a corner financially.  Keep her in the house?  Check.  Pay for the kids' college?  Check.  Help support my son a little bit through adulthood in case he's unable?  Check.  My wife working isn't impossible, but after 10 or 20 years out of the workforce, starting a career which would provide enough to support her and my kids would be a challenge, hence the coverage.  If the house and kids were taken care of, the SBP would provide my wife enough income from my retirement to make things easier for her.  If she dies first, it would supposedly be wasted, except for the piece of mind it gives me.  Although, as it turns out, my son will benefit from it since he will always be a dependent.

Here's the exchange that took place with one reader when Sarge wrote about Taj:
But I will have to say that based on my knowledge of the fighter jocks I knew in the past, I have a feeling that if God was to tell Taj that he could re-do his life but he would have to choose between being a fighter pilot and knowing how it could end or not flying in his new life, I bet he would still choose being a fighter pilot!
Maybe Juvat or Tuna could better address this but just my thoughts.
And my response:
I remember Lex stating at the very end that he'd rather be fighting snakes in the cockpit than having the best day in cubicle hell. I absolutely loved it and wouldn't have traded it for anything, although the thought of risking my life and leaving my family without a husband/father terrifies me now. I never thought about that risk when I was a JO, but definitely did when I was a DH with 2 kids. It's a purely hypothetical question of course, but you do it because you love it and the risks are mitigated by our training and safety factors, which is why we continue. Those factors are not a guarantee though. If I had a crystal ball and knew decisively that I would crash in a jet in England, then no, I wouldn't have chosen to continue, but that's impossible. However, I might have just flown and not gotten married! I was an NFO though and almost always had enough faith in either the pilots abilities, or my own ability to keep the pilot from doing something crazy. That doesn't work for a catastrophic failure of some part, bird-strike, etc., but there was faith in the maintainer as well.

Where am I going with all this?  Did you notice the pictures?  Other than this last one, which I took last year, they are all photos of the sunrise here in San Diego last Sunday.  It's sort of an admittedly forced metaphor for one more day.  Seeing the sunrise means you made it to another day.  No one knows when they are going to die so you have to be prepared in case it's your last.

If you did know that it was your last day on earth, what would you do?  I don't have some bucket list for that day.  I think I'd just want to spend it with family.  Did you ever see Stephen Spielberg's "A.I."?  I enjoyed the movie, and the last scene reminds me of that.


The child just wanted to spend the one day he was given with his mother.  I kind of know what that's like.  When my own mother passed away, I was unable to make it back to Oregon in time to be with her.  One more day would have been nice.  If that helo pilot had another, I'm sure he'd choose to protect his family.  Major Taj Sareen, even when he was facing death, ejected late in order to keep his stricken jet away from a residential area.

I have never unreasonably thought about my own mortality, but I've tried to prepare for the worst.  I'm not sure I'd want to know it was my last day, but if it was, I'd want to know that I lived a life well spent and that I did right by my family.  Flying Naval Aircraft and having a back up plan gets me most of the way there, in case there is...

just one more day. 

Monday, October 26, 2015


So..., there I was *  back in school, this time at the Army's Command and General Staff College in lovely Ft Leavenworth, Kansas on the banks of the Missouri River.  My son and I had completed 1st grade together there.  He as a first grader, I as a first time experiencing Army Training.  Pause for obligatory Army Training Video.

Now that that's done.  We'll get on with the story.  My wife and brand new daughter had remained on at Kadena for an additional year while I was at school. Our thought process was that we would then be looking for an assignment at the same time, making it much more likely (not certain mind you) that we could get assigned together.

Then, as with all military plans, the enemy ( in this case the personnel folks) got a vote.  Since she'd been promoted BTZ (below the zone, early, marked for great success in future career) and she was a personnel officer, the personnel brass wanted to ensure her career stayed on the fast track.  So, they selected her to go to the Army's Command and General Staff College.

That screwed up our plans, two years separation followed by an out of sync assignment, we'd be lucky to take leave together.  Then I came upon an opportunity.  The Army had a one year follow on program called School for Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) where they produced Jedi Knights.

I applied for the school and was accepted.  This was right at the time that Saddam had vacationed in Kuwait and been evicted.  SAMS graduates had been a big factor in planning the right sweep while at the same time the Air War had been highly successful.  

No, Sarge, I  do not believe Air Power won Desert Storm, nor do I believe the ground forces could have done what they did with out the success of the Air Campaign.  The US led coalition won and the politicians, as usual, threw it away.  Anyhoo enough on that.

After Desert Storm, the Army was very interested in studying the role of Air Power in the war, and the Air Force was very interested in studying ways to better coordinate the integration of air and ground combat.  (No, Sarge, not a discussion of JFACC either, but I did have to write a monograph about that. My advisor was a Marine O-6 select infantryman.  I'm sure you can imagine our discussions.)

The Air Force also decided they needed their version of SAMS, and stood up SAAS.     So, they were enthused that I was selected also.  I was enthused because my family was going to be together again. 

The first three months were called the Book a Day club.  Classes were held in the morning and we were released in the afternoon to prepare for the following day.  By prepare, I mean we were given a Military classic, such as “On War” and told to read and understand it, in time for discussion in the morning.  By the time this section was over, we were pretty tired and looking for a way to relax and blow off steam.

My wife and her class had a similar situation in that they had just completed the operations portion of CGSC and were similarly tired.  One of the aspects of that section of training was a tour of the Disciplinary Barracks, the formal name for the military prison on the Fort. Since Army Officers sent to CGSC were typically going to command positions on graduation and would have judicial authority over their subordinates, it was considered useful that they would have visited the facility.
USDB at the time,  since torn down, this will always define prison for me.

That visit went a long way towards keeping me on the right side of the law.

Anyhow, it's October and the curriculum pace has lightened, actually not, we were just learning how to cope, which was exactly the point of Staff Officer training.  Perfection is the enemy of Good Enough. 

But as we perceived a lightening of the load, the Air Force Students decided that we should have a  party.  A couple of the guys, single at the time, had rented a large house and offered it for use.  The original party theme was to buy some beer, bring some food and sit around and drink and eat and watch football.

The wives vetoed that idea.  No, we would have a costume party.


We'll have some beer, eat some food and watch football in a costume.  We decided that we would have a contest with some trophy for the best male and female costume.  Voting would be taken from the opposite gender.  The women would pick the best male costume and vice versa.  The wives knew that injecting a bit of competition would encourage a more active participation on the part of the guys.

The winner of the best female costume came dressed as a nurse.  Nurse Goodbody to be precise.  As soon as she came in the door, there was a collective groan from the crowd.  The women because they knew who won, the men because  well…

The winner of the best male costume was a much closer held decision.  The trophy was eventually handed out to the wearer of an orange jumpsuit with a brown ski cap.  This was the uniform worn by the Disciplinary Barracks Trustees as they performed chores on the post.

You could get your car detailed for about 5 bucks by them.  They did all the lawn mowing. You could even get your groceries bagged and carried out to the car by a  convicted murderer.  They were always very polite, because even the slightest complaint meant loss of trustee status and back into the cell.

In any case, the Ladies thought that costume showed imagination and effort and so awarded the gentleman the trophy.  Shortly thereafter the party breaks up and we head home.

One of the attendees is driving home when he drives over a nail or something and has a blow out.  He's busy changing the tire when a police officer happens to drive buy and shine his spotlight on him.  Seeing the winner of the trophy in his bright orange jumpsuit with Prisoner stenciled on the back and a brown ski cap on (it was cool, he was trying to stay warm!),  well, let's just say things got exciting for a bit.  And he didn't get much sleep that night.

The following Monday, the Commandant felt it necessary to put out a memo stating that the trustee uniform was in fact a uniform and not a costume, and if someone felt the need to try one on, that could be arranged.

Now, in this day and age, an incident like that would be the death knell for a career.  However, this guy is still on active duty and is wearing three stars.  No, I won't name names, He's a pretty good guy.

On a personal note, I'm going to be on vacation for the next 3 weeks.  In fact, by the time this posts, I'll be in the air.  I've decided I've had enough of Fall, so we're going where it's now Spring and the locals tend to say G'Day instead of Howdy.  

I've got my Monday posts scheduled although I'm changing the nature of my posts for a bit.  I hope you will enjoy the change.  I've learned a lot in doing the research.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Trees and Stuff

The maples just down the street from me. Starting to turn they are.
There's been a nip in the air around Chez Sarge lately. I've scraped the first frost off the wind screen and some folks claim to have seen snow in the air last weekend. I can't claim to have seen that but who knows? Perhaps I just wasn't paying attention.

On the way home from work on Friday I noticed some colorful trees in the neighborhood so I broke out the cell phone camera and hung my arm out the window. Point and shoot I thought, keeping my eyes on the road, unlike some, I also stayed at or under the speed limit. Which is 15 miles per in these parts. Well, in my neighborhood to be exact.

So there I was, photo recon Sarge, driving up the street, cell phone swayed out to port, thumb held down on the virtual button which takes the photo. Can't say many of the pics turned out all that well, but a few did and are worthy (in my own estimation) of sharing here at the Chant.

Every year when the trees lining this street change I try to remember and bring something to take a picture of them with. They are such a stunning mixture of red and cold (er, gold - bit of a subconscious slip that) that I am always impressed.

So much so that it drives the idea of using my cell phone camera right out of my little pumpkin head. But not this year! For the first time in sixteen years I remembered to deploy my camera.

To the right of that white van is where I saw the deer a week ago. Remember?

I want to announce that there are going to be some upcoming changes to the blog. Maybe. I'm thinking about reformatting things a bit, it's something I like to do from time to time. There are also a couple of young fellows I want to put up there in the Pantheon (which is what I call the header, ya know, that there fancy picture up at the top).

I also need to figure out why some folks accessing the blog via the iPhone have troubles. As I understand it, it seems the dang thing will shrink everything over to the left of the phone's display. I've seen some oddities on my Android accessing the blog from Facebook on my phone. (Hey, when I'm at work I like to check what's going on with my friends, don't judge me. Besides it's how I get pictures of my grandkids!)

So you may or may not see some changes to the layout, I'll try not to make it suck. Your feedback is always welcome. Even if I don't always act on it.

Now I gotta go do laundry. Seems the inexhaustible supply of underwear The Missus Herself provided for me has finally run out. Didn't see that coming!

Anyhoo, my sources indicate that the love of my life returns to Little Rhody before Halloween.

Am I excited about that?

You betcha!

Sarge will be rolling in hot!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Channeling My Inner Geek

(Back to our regularly scheduled blogging, this was originally scheduled for Thursday last...)

When I was nobbut a wee lad of thirteen, Star Trek was aired for the very first time. Did I watch it? In all honesty I don't actually remember whether or not I saw the first episode. I can say that once I started watching the show sometime during that first season, so long ago, that I was pretty much hooked.

As you might (or might not) know, the show lasted three seasons, 79 episodes in total, not counting the pilot, I think. (Sensor readings are somewhat confused Captain...) When it was cancelled, well that just sucked. I didn't care that very few people (according to those Nielsen people) actually watched the show, other than some hard core sci-fi fans.

When it ended in 1969, there were other things on a young fellow's mind. Vietnam loomed out there. The media made it sound like those of my generation would be off to war and that many of us wouldn't come back. That did tend to make us want to do other things than sit around and watch television. Live fast we thought, odds are we would die young.

But that didn't happen to me, or to anyone else that I knew. For far too many young American men, that war was the end of the line. The country seemed to be going to Hell in a hand basket. I'm sure the kids in Aristotle's time felt the same way.

Time rolled on, Star Trek became a memory. For me it did spark an interest in science fiction that hadn't existed before. I read Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land was a favorite, can you grok that?), Asimov (think the Foundation series - The Mule was scary) and Herbert (Dune was a particular favorite, the books by Herbert, not the later books, not saying they're not good, just never got to them. Call me Muad'Dib, I dig the spice).

Then in 1979 the first Star Trek film came out, I was in Korea, I didn't get to see it until I got back to the States but I liked it. I still like the original characters in particular, though to tell the truth Picard, Worf and Data kind of grow on you. I do like the new Star Trek movies, the actor who plays Dr McCoy (Karl Urban) is perfect, even though I thought it would be tough to match DeForest Kelley, Mr Urban does quite well thank you.

But I guess I out grew the genre in many ways. I have read some Orson Scott Card recently, Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead I found very entertaining, A colleague of mine at work (former enlisted nuke FWIW) loaned me the former, eventually I got my own copy and found the latter for free. Can't beat that.

What about Star Wars you ask? Well, I confess to liking the first three movies. I guess that would be parts IV, V and VI. Though I watched the latest ones I didn't like them as much. Along with many other folks from what I hear. (I really didn't care for the Gungans, nor did many others from what I understand. Go figure, meesa thinka not so funny.)

Luke, Leia, Han and that lot were great characters. As for Yoda, like him, I do.

Do I read much science fiction now? Not really, I tend towards military history and books of that ilk. While I have an inner geek, the real me prefers things that go fast, cause things to go boom and blow things up. Yup, I'm an aircraft geek mostly.

But is that truly geeky?

I confess to having a Pukin' Dogs t-shirt, one of my proudest possessions (The Nuke got it for me when she was on the Ike). Ditto t-shirts and/or polo shirts for VFA-103, VFA-2, VFA-106, VFA-32, VFA-136 and the odd ball cap here and there.

Oh yeah, The WSO got me a Tailhook polo shirt as well.

Okay, so I'm a Naval Aviation fan-boy.

Guilty as charged and don't care who knows it. Just fill up my Bounty Hunter beer mug and move along. Dan Hampton's book, Viper Pilot, ain't gonna read itself!


Friday, October 23, 2015

Contemplating Eternity...

I had a post queued up to be published yesterday. I went to bed confident that I was ready for the morrow. That's when I received a message from my daughter.

I had heard about a Marine F/A-18C going down in the U.K., I didn't have any details as work (and life) have been rather busy as of late. The knowledge of that event hovered just beyond conscience thought. I needed to look for news of that crash, I don't know many Marine aviators, but I do know a couple. I only knew one who flew the Hornet.

Taj Sareen.

The message from my daughter indicated that she did know the pilot. With some trepidation I had to ask, I recognized the name immediately. I knew him too, but only in passing, having met him at Oceana some years back.


So it's been a sad couple of days. I have relatives and many friends in the aviation business. Most of them in Naval Aviation. Any crash or incident quickly ripples through the vast and intricate web of those tied to those brave men and women who fly for the Navy and the Corps. Bad news travels fast.

A dear friend of mine (Marcia - I hope you don't mind me calling you that) remarked today how small the world really is. The Marine Hornet crash occurred not 15 miles from her sister-in-law's house. Her brother and her husband had both served in the same Marine squadron as Taj. Back in the day when the Red Devils flew the mighty Phantom.

Small world indeed.


Upon returning to the manse after my labors at my place of gainful employment, I thought that I might just relax Thursday evening. I mean I had a blog post in the hopper, queued up and ready to go automagically on Friday morning. This is not that post.

I'm not ready to be funny or clever just yet. Though I had written the post before learning of Taj's passing, it didn't feel right to publish something along those lines the day after writing about his passing.

Perhaps I'll be humorous on Saturday, it just feels too soon right now.

Coming into the house on Thursday, after checking on the koi pond, I saw that sky in the opening photo. Made me think it did.

Life can be fleeting, ephemeral. Those we know and love could be around for years to come, or not. One never knows.

So stop and smell the roses, enjoy life when and where you can. Be with family and friends as much as you can. Eternity won't wait forever.

Sarge sends...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gone West

CAPT Taj "Cabbie" Sareen of VMFA-232 "Red Devils" from MCAS Miramar stands next to his F/A-18 C Hornet at the 2015 NAF El Centro Airshow. (Source)
The United States lost a good man this week. More importantly, a lovely lady lost her man, a little girl lost her Dad. A family is in mourning.

I'll let ABC News out in San Francisco (where Taj was from) give you the details.

I met Taj once upon a time, everything said about him in that video rings true. When he entered a room, you noticed him. His smile, his sense of humor, he seemed larger than life. He and my son-in-law Big Time were good friends.

The WSO sent me a message late last night indicating that she knew the pilot who's jet had gone down in the U.K., I don't know many Marine aviators, Taj was one. In fact the only one I knew personally. When she told me it was Taj who went in, stunned described my emotions pretty well.

Capt. Taj Sareen, a Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 F/A-18 pilot, shows Jared Hyams the model fighter jets pilots use during briefs. The Make-A-Wish foundation granted Hyams his wish to attend the 2009 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show Oct. 1st.
(02 Oct 09, Source)

He was one of our finest. Mourn him yes, but also thank God we had him for a time. He was special, he was loved.

Fair winds and following seas Taj.

We'll see you on the other side.

Taj Sareen, USMC
Son - Father - Friend
Marine Aviator

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Civil Discourse, Fanaticism and Opinion

The Fanatics of Tangier by Eugène Delacroix
1. a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause.

synonyms: zealot, extremist, militant, dogmatist, devotee, adherent;

informal: a person with an obsessive interest in and enthusiasm for something, especially an activity. "a fitness fanatic"

1. filled with or expressing excessive zeal. "his fanatic energy"

mid 16th century (as an adjective): from French fanatique or Latin fanaticus ‘of a temple, inspired by a god,’ from fanum ‘temple.’ The adjective originally described behavior or speech that might result from possession by a god or demon, hence the earliest sense of the noun ‘a religious maniac’ (mid 17th century). (Source)

Well, I was going to address an incident which occurred on Facebook over the weekend, but Tuna covered that pretty well yesterday. Rather than come up with a completely new topic (something my brain just isn't capable of these days, lack of sleep, Mama ain't home yet, blah, blah, blah) I decided to go ahead and get semi-political, semi-philosophical today anyway. Blame Tuna, actually blame the trolls, which are (knock on wood) rare around here. So buckle your seatbelts, ensure your seats are in the upright position, and your tray tables are stowed, it could get bumpy.

In my opinion, I daresay that 75% of the world's problems are caused by fanatics of one flavor or another. Another 20% are caused by stupid people who are not fanatics but somehow get to positions of influence. The remaining 5% are due to random chance.

a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. "I'm writing to voice my opinion on an issue of great importance"

synonyms: belief, judgment, thought(s), (way of) thinking, mind, (point of) view, viewpoint, outlook, attitude, stance, position, perspective, persuasion, standpoint; sentiment, conception, conviction "she did not share her husband's opinion"as I see it, to my mind, (according) to my way of thinking, personally, in my estimation, if you ask me, for my money, in my book "in my opinion, the green tiles clash with the yellow walls"
  • the beliefs or views of a large number or majority of people about a particular thing. "the changing climate of opinion"
  • an estimation of the quality or worth of someone or something. "I had a higher opinion of myself than I deserved"
  • a formal statement of advice by an expert on a professional matter. "seeking a second opinion from a specialist"
  • LAW - a formal statement of reasons for a judgment given.
  • LAW  - a lawyer's advice on the merits of a case.
Middle English: via Old French from Latin opinio(n-), from the stem of opinari ‘think, believe.’ (Source)

Opinions are like                      .

Yes, that was the first ever "fill in the blank question" here at Le Chant du Départ.

Far too often I think we all get wrapped up in arguments over opinions and not over the facts. If I say, "The weather is very nice today." that's an opinion. You could disagree with that opinion, perhaps you think the weather is either too hot or too cold. What suits me meteorologically may not suit you. Neither opinion is wrong, neither opinion is based on objective fact.

Now if I say, "It's raining outside" and you say "No, it's not" that is something that can be measured objectively. It's either raining or it's not, it's not something that can be argued.

Yet people will often argue about opinions. For instance, I think the current President is a complete idiot and has no more business leading the United States than I would have playing quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. My kid brother, on the other hand, along with numerous friends of mine, would vociferously disagree. They like the guy. I do not.

While there may be objective facts one could use to measure his success as President in comparison to previous Presidents, most often the arguments boil down to personal feelings and beliefs.

In 1933 a majority of Germans elected a leader they thought would be just peachy and do great things for Deutschland. While it didn't turn out that way, at the beginning who knew? There were facts which would lead an objective observer to deduce that the man would be an absolute disaster for Germany and Europe, but one had to be paying attention. Hitler made no bones about his plans in Mein Kampf. The facts were there, few paid attention.

No, I'm not comparing the current occupant of the White House to Hitler. I merely cite Nazi Germany as an example of what happens to a people who are either not paying attention or are letting their own desires and opinions stand in the way of rational thought.

For a less violent example there is my own opinion of the New England Patriots hiring Bill Belichick as their head coach back in 2000. I expressed my opinion that that would be an absolute disaster. He came from the Cleveland Browns, who arguably sucked at playing football. (Opinion, though there are certain facts supporting that. Like their record under Coach Belichick.)

I think it's safe to say that I couldn't have been more wrong. Six Super Bowl appearances, four Super Bowl wins and damn near in the playoffs every year (save one) since he was hired. My opinion was fact-based, but it was only my opinion. When you also consider that the Belichick Browns eventually moved to Baltimore and have been competitive ever since, perhaps Coach B wasn't that bad there either.

Again, facts showed I was wrong. (For those who whine / complain about the Patriots "cheating," put on your big boy pants and go read this, they all cheat. That's a fact. Sure I root for the Patriots as I'm from New England. I also root for the Broncos because I went to college in Colorado. I still have a great deal of warm feelings for Green Bay as well, I was a Packer fan as a youth. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I was a fan of Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer and Jim Taylor, et al. Times change, personnel change. Loyalty to a sports team is, for me, fleeting. My loyalties are to family, God and country.)

When I go up north to visit family, we don't talk politics, we all have differing outlooks on des affaires politiques. It's better if we stay away from that topic. Which we do and we get along just fine. Only a boor would bring up politics in a social setting or familial gathering. It's that whole "things not to be discussed in the wardroom" concept. In order to have a polite society there are rules to be followed.

Unfortunately, in this Old Sarge's opinion, we don't seem to have any rules these days. I don't know who to blame, perhaps the media is too easy a target. No doubt my late Dad would blame the Beatles, long hair and all that followed.

As I get older, I often wonder if he might have been right to some extent.

Anyway, that's