Military History Blog Carnival Submission Open

First off, what the heck is a Military History Blog Carnival?

Well the folks over at History News Network host a listing of recommended military history blog posts. So it’s sort of like a nudge to other blog readers about something worth reading.   Of late, the carnivals have been less frequent.  But at one time these were a monthly run.

In the latest installment, I suggested XBrad’s series on the Falklands and Continental Air Defense (and a few of my Civil War posts got on the list).  However I was concerned that the nominations were somewhat small in number when the “Why I can’t teach U.S. military history” made the list.

That said, here’s the submission page for the next carnival:

The deadline is February 27.

Hello, is this Santa? : NORAD’s Xmas Eve Chores

Tis the season, and XBrad has been writing a lot about NORAD lately, so I figure this is a good segue.  Every year around this time NORAD takes on a “special task” supplying updates about the progress of Santa Claus across the North American airspace on his Christmas stops for all the good little boys and girls.  Certainly good public relations, and it fits the NORAD mission protecting the airspace right into the Santa lore – almost seamlessly.

For many years I’ve thought it more an apocryphal tale about how NORAD got stuck involved with this “special task.”   According to the story, this advert ran in a Colorado Springs newspaper around Christmas in 1955:

English: Sears and Roebuck Ad that led to NORA...

Typical promotion of the time period.  Only trouble was that the phone number, ME 2-6681, was not ringing the “Santa Desk” at Sears.  Instead it was ringing the watch desk at the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), the predecessor of NORAD.  So in some super-uber-Top-Secret war room, Colonel Henry Shoup picks up the “red phone” with an official professional military greeting.  In response, Shoup hears “Are you really Santa?”

Shoup, at first thinking this was a prank call, asked the child to repeat the question.   Of course, by then the child was breaking into tears on the other end of the line.  Shoup had the presence of mind to figure out the newspaper error and start a cover story.  You see… CONAD was actually drafted to help Santa along that Christmas Eve in order to ensure he got to all destinations without interference from other air traffic (or that big Russian Bear!).   Shoup and his staff fielded phone calls from anxious kids and gave updates on Santa’s progress.

Ah…. thus started a tradition….

The historian in me wants to see duty logs, staff reports, and the full investigation file explaining how some highly sensitive phone number ended up in a newspaper advertizement!  But that would be “grinchy”….  And to quell any doubts, the story appears on NORAD’s official web site.  So it must be legit right?

Government Book Talk has a good writeup on the story also.  (Oh, and I am expecting a copy of “Guarding What You Value Most: North American Aerospace Defense Command Celebrating 50 Years” under the tree this year… not naming any names….just dropping loud hints!)

The task of tracking and reporting on Santa is now a volunteer effort – fielding a few phone calls still but more so emails and other electronic messages.  The effort includes “Santa Cams” and a full dose of social media.   As the official NORAD Santa website proudly proclaims, this year you can track Santa on Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps, smart phone…..all thanks to that other Cold War derived technology – the internet.

So from those threatened skies of the Cold War came an update to the ages old Christmas Story, all working within the framework of the continental air defense system!

Some history, some rayon, and some ‘splodie

On this day (September 19) in 2005, demolition teams imploded the Avtex Fiber boiler house in Front Royal, Virginia.

Front Royal sits at the forks of the Shenandoah River in the famous, picturesque Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  Famous for its farms, pastures, orchards, and… battlefields… many overlook the industrial history, dating back to the early days of the United States, of the Valley.  One story in that history is the American Viscose-FMC-Avtex facility that stood at Front Royal.   In the 1930s American Viscose built a factory there to produce rayon, one of the “wonder fibers” of the 20th century.

During World War II the plant supported the war effort supplying fabric for parachutes, uniforms, and other applications.  Military applications increased during the Cold War.  The plant also supplied materials used in the space program (lead in for Roamy here).  In 1976 Avtex purchased the plant.  But the switch to new technologies and materials rendered the old plant obsolete.  By 1989 Avtex was in the red and closed production.  Fifty years of industrial activity made the plant location an environmental hazard.  So the Environmental Protection Agency designated the old plant a superfund site.

I know… yadda… yadda… yadda… Who cares about that rayon stuff and dump the history commercial.  What does this have to do with the Army?   Where’s the ‘splodie you promised?

Well the Norfolk District, US Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for much of the cleanup engineering work.   Price tag for the work totaled around $23 million.  That included the implosion of several buildings.

So, here’s the ‘splodie:


The Corps of Engineers posted some still photos from the implosion:

Avtex Fiber Boiler House (050919-A-1111A-014)

Avtex Fiber Boiler House (050919-A-1111A-001)

Avtex Fiber Boiler House (050919-A-1111A-017)

Avtex Fiber Boiler House (050919-A-1111A-021)

Nope, I didn’t know the history of all that rayon and stuff before sitting down to write this… just saw a cool ‘splodie video and noticed the “Army” angle.   And we’ll stand by for a comment or two about the EPA….

Uniformly Stupid? Part 2

See Part 1 here.

I’m on the road, so I’ll be doing some “best of” posts. Right now, this is the most searched for post. 

While most people in the Army spend just about all their time in a working uniform like the ACU, there are occasions when something a little more formal is needed.

Since the late 1950s the standard Army Service and Dress uniform for most soldiers has been the Army Green Uniform. Folks in the Army almost universally refer to it as “Class A’s”.

When the uniform jacket is removed, the Army Green Uniform can be worn as the Class B uniform, suitable for most office environment jobs. When I served as a recruiter, most days we wore the Class B.

No, that's not me...
No, that's not me...

The problem with the Army Green Uniform was simple. It was ugly as sin in church. There was an alternative, however, one with a great history dating back practically to the first days of the Army. The Dress Blue Uniform.

Female Officer and Male Enlisted Service Dress Blues
Female Officer and Male Enlisted Service Dress Blues

There’s a reason why the trousers are a different shade blue from the coat. Back in the days of the Old West, when cavalry troopers wore the blue uniform as there work clothes, they would routinely remove their coat, roll it up and carry it strapped to the back of the saddle. The trousers faded from the sunlight and wear and tear, but the coat didn’t. Hence the difference.

Service Dress Blues were always an optional item for enlisted personnel. You could buy them, but you didn’t have to. Since they cost a lot of money and there were relatively few occasions to wear them, most junior folks did without.

Back in 2005 or so, the Chief of Staff of the Army made the decision to do away with the Army Green Uniform and modify the Blue uniform to replace it.The new variations are shown below.

The Army Blue Uniform
The Army Blue Uniform

Personally, I wish they had done this about 25 years ago. I always hated the Green Uniform, and as soon as I could, bought a set of Blues. And anytime I had a chance to wear them, I did. One fairly common occasion was the “Dining Out”. A Dining Out is when a unit, typically a battalion, has a formal banquet, with spouses and sweethearts invited*. This is a social occasion run on military lines- the colors are presented, the chaplain gives the invocation, there are a couple of (usually brief) speeches, and maybe some awards and recognitions. Then there is usually some dancing. The important thing is, your best girl gets a chance to put on her best dress and go out to be seen. Chicks dig that.  Since a lot of guys didn’t own Dress Blues, they made do with the Army Green Uniform with a white shirt and a bow tie.

Your author, center, in Dress Blues, flanked by two friends in Class A's.
Your author, center, in Dress Blues, flanked by two friends in Class A's.

Incredibly, I managed to save this picture, but lost the picture of my date. You’ll have to take my word for it that she was stunning. Really. The two guys in the photo were great friends and fellow warriors, but neither was all that attractive….

*You could invite your spouse, or your sweetheart, but NOT your spouse and your sweetheart…

So ROTC is not Allowed?

Last week, Neptunus Lex ran a short post discussing the ongoing issue with Stanford University and ROTC.  That set off a slow burn on my end.  There are too many points made by ROTC opponents in the base article to simply let things lay were they sit.  And the burn prompted this long winded post.  The most insulting points, and those also highlighted by the Lex, come from Professor Barton Bernstein:

And they worry about students who receive ROTC scholarships, then change their mind and are penalized — a policy that one professor called “financial coercion.”

History professor Bart Bernstein, who helped lead the movement against ROTC 40 years ago, disapproved of ROTC for several additional reasons. “It requires that the faculty be appointed by the Pentagon, not by the university. Secondly, the course content … is not as rigorous, not as demanding, not as deep and does not require the same level of analysis.”

Bernstein’s third objection: “Students in ROTC courses are not as intellectually free as they are in Stanford courses — for instance, they are not allowed to criticize the president of the U.S., foreign policy and military action.”

“One can accept and endorse the military,” said Bernstein, who joined ROTC as a teenager, “and still believe ROTC is inappropriate and propose that officers be recruited and trained in other ways.”

Let me start by saying that indeed I received my commission through the ROTC system, and received a degree in history.  It was in the 1980s, not too far removed from the curriculum offered in the 1970s.  (And I know this, because, as a good historian will do, I’ve researched the background and evolution of Army policy in this regard.  If the book would sell, I’d send the manuscript off tomorrow.)

First off, let’s expose this “financial coercion” tact for what it is – a class warfare code word.  All students who attend college with the intent to graduate are under some form of financial coercion.  Student loans, academic scholarships, and heck even sporting scholarships all have strings attached. How is this different for ROTC?

Oh, the old “pay back” stipulation the professor alludes to.  Well, in all my time in and around ROTC, there is only one case I’ve seen where that stipulation was exercised.  In most cases the military opted to wave the pay back in order to expedite resolution of the issue.  You see, most times when a cadet opts to give up that scholarship, something has occurred to make military service unlikely – injury most often, but occasionally misconduct.  In the very rare cases where a cadet experiences a change of heart, I’ve seen the military rather willing to simply write things off the books.  Better to be rid of someone who doesn’t want to be there, than to retain them to the misery of all involved.

BUT regardless, when you sign on that line, then you have agreed to a contract.  A little does of reality here.  In the real world, when you sign a contract, you are obligated to honor the stipulations of that contract.  I really don’t want to replay my house loan.  But it is not “financial coercion” for the bank to send me statements every month.

Professor Bernstein complains (and has long complained) that ROTC offers little to the Stanford student.  The instructors, assigned not by the Pentagon (yet another code word if you are following here), but rather by the military branch managers.  And these instructors are chosen based on their background and performance.  It might be desirable to chose instructors from the university faculty.  But frankly, on campuses like Stanford there is a great lack of the essential knowledge and experience required to teach ROTC classes.

Quite the opposite of the rather pedestrian characterization offered by Professor Bernstein, ROTC classes must blend instruction between art and practice.  No where else on the course catalog will you see the mix of “theory” with “practice” to the extent applied in ROTC classes.  Cadets must master the “hard science” of the trade (ranging from basics such as map-reading to delivering field orders).  They must also understand the “art” of soldiering – morals, ethics, and the big one…. LEADERSHIP.

Yes, leadership.  Stanford is, in the words taken from their web site, “… dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world.”   So how does that look in the course offerings?  Lets see what we find in the course catalog:

  • Athletic 405: Outdoor Leadership – “Skills needed to lead basic multi-day backpacking trips. Classroom sessions and wilderness trips. Topics include group dynamics and leadership, technical skills, and wilderness first aid.”
  • BIO 318: Communications and Leadership Skills – “Focus is on delivering information to policy makers and the lay public. How to speak to the media, Congress, and the general public; how to write op-eds and articles; how to package ideas including titles, abstracts, and CVs; how to survive peer review, the promotion process, and give a job talk; and how to be a responsible science advocate.”
  • CLE 147 and 247:  Cases in Personality, Leadership, and Negotiation:  “Case studies target personality issues, risk willingness, and life skills essential for real world success. Failures, successes, and risk willingness in individual and group tasks based on the professor’s experience as small business owner and construction engineer.”
  • CSRE 203A:  Civil Rights and Education Strategies for the 21st Century – “For students with leadership potential who have studied these topics in lecture format. Race discrimination strategies, their relation to education reform initiatives, and the role of media in shaping racial attitudes in the U.S.”
  • EDU 126X: Introduction to Public Service Leadership – “Offered through the Haas Center for Public Service. A foundation and vision for a future of public service leadership. Students identify personal values and assess strengths as leaders. The ethics of public service and leadership theory.”
  • EDU 254S:  Leadership in Diverse Organizations – “This course is designed to help students improve their capacity to exercise leadership and work effectively with others within the context of culturally diverse groups and organizations….”

That’s what I see about five to six pages into the catalog.  But I noticed several trends.  Several of these classes are offered pass/fail.  Second, there is emphasis on ethics, strategy formation, and public presentation. Lastly, much is made of the “professor’s experience” in these courses.  Sort of reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield’s encounter with the economics professor in “Back to School.”

I would offer that ROTC classes, particularly where leadership instruction is the topic evaluated, are perfectly in line with the Stanford definition of leadership. And certainly ANY ROTC class will rise above the intellectual level of that “Outdoor Leadership” upper division course offering (trying hard not to make a joke of that one!).

Not demanding and offering little discourse?  Let me pull again from my personal experience.  There is no instructor in the world more demanding than an Army Sergeant-Major or Navy Master Chief.  Those guys “know” what right is, and have no inhibitions making the student learn what right is using any and all techniques possible.  And as for criticism of the President, policy, or such, have you ever known any E-9 to hold back?

In my personal experience, after four years of ROTC I was thrust into a “sink or swim” profession.  I had to demonstrate mastery in a range of fields and an adaptability to learn new skills on demand.  Within 12 months of graduating college, I was in charge of a team consisting of 45 personnel, equipped with devices that could effectively destroy a small community.  Within 24 months of graduation, I was responsible for an $8 million budget (that would be what in 2011 dollars?) and maintenance of in excess of $150 million worth of equipment.  My world was one of “zero defects” – a bad decision on my part might result in injury or even death of a member of my team. How many of my Stanford peers reached that level of responsibility, even given double the “swim” time?

I had to be proficient at the trade of soldiering.  Let’s be frank about this.  Professor Bernstein provided a good summary in another interview, stating ROTC’s focus is “…preparing students for war and training them to kill, and that is fundamentally unacceptable at a university.”  Soldiers are required by society to fight wars, and where necessary kill.  Because the act of killing another human being is so averse and opposite to what we are taught as members of a society, it is necessary for the soldier to understand the nature of that act.  The soldier must understand the fine line between killing and war (which arguably Professor Bernstein himself lacks the ability to differentiate).  Where better to gain that understanding than a school of higher learning?

The last line from Bernstein’s response brings me to evoke a skill I learned from my ROTC training.  When receiving any information, I was taught to analyze it from multiple perspectives.  Apply some “discourse” if you will.  Often one must consider the messenger as much as the message itself.   So I remind readers just where Professor Bernstein stands as he speaks.

The article notes Professor Bernstein joined ROTC as a teenager, but doesn’t indicate if that was JROTC or college ROTC.  Just a bit of web queries reminds us that he was in college at the time of the Vietnam draft.  Many, of course, went to college and joined ROTC as a shelter from the draft.  And as soon as the draft transformed and eventually dropped off, most of those sheltering in ROTC left the program.  While I’d be interested to hear exactly how much time Bernstein spent in ROTC, I seriously doubt it was enough for him to speak with any authority on the subject.

Also discussed was Professor Bernstein’s actions in the 1970s to drive ROTC off campus.  That action was a reaction to student protests against the Cambodian invasion.  We know, from the vast amount of source material, that those protests weighed heavily on decisions made by senior leaders to withdraw from Cambodia.  The American withdrawal opened a vacuum filled by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.  Logically we have only a few steps to make from the Stanford protests to the pile of skulls in Cambodia.  Indeed, it takes a good person, perhaps one well schooled in morals and ethics, befitting from quality classes in leadership, to admit contributing to such a terrible event.  Often in those cases an individual not ground with good leadership skills resorts to extreme, irrational interpretations of the facts and projection of their failings onto otherwise innocent persons or groups.  I will let the reader decide if that is the case here.

But since the professor brings up criticism, discourse, and disagreement as proper components of a rigorous and demanding education, I am reminded of the only time I’ve seen him interact with an audience.  Professor Bernstein is somewhat an authority on the bombing of Hiroshima.  Interpretation of that historical event became a hot topic in the 1990s when the Smithsonian began revising an exhibit of the “Enola Gay” (see here for a short summary of the issue).  I watched a panel discussion on that topic which included the professor.  At one point in the discussion, a student brought up evidence that shattered the professor’s interpretation of events.  You see, Professor Bernstein contends the estimate of US casualties for an invasion of Japan in 1945-6 have been grossly exaggerated.  The student offered up primary source materials that refuted the professor’s position.  Yet, in the end, the student was told, “you are simply unaware of all the information I have on the subject, and should just simply accept my [the professor’s] estimates as factual.” Dissent is all in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

In my ROTC leadership classes, they taught me to speak out when I came across invalid information.  I was taught to both reject it for planning purposes and bring it to the attention of my superiors, as the situation called for.  And I was also taught to have the moral courage to “dig in my heels” when someone dismissed my observations without proper examination.  And certainly NOT to simply accept anyone’s opinion, even a superior’s, without proper supporting evidence.  Moral courage – isn’t that part of leadership they teach at Stanford?

I’d submit that ROTC coursework is far more useful, rigorous, demanding, and critical than Professor Bernstein is willing to admit.

Apologies for the length of this rant.  But it really got under my skin.  Craig.

Three Story Lines from Tuscon..

… to consider:

Consider the story of Retired Colonel Bill Badger:

“There was just a series of shots and I heard the shots and my first reaction was a firecracker, they were extremely loud,” Badger told CBS affiliate KOLD in Tucson. “He’d already shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords and was shooting the people sitting in the chairs, coming right towards where I was standing. Everybody was hitting the sidewalk and I turned to my left and started to drop and I felt the stinging in the back of my head.”

That sting was a bullet wound. But Badger pressed on.

“The shooting stopped and I raised up and didn’t realize it, but he was right beside me. Right in front of me. And I got to my feet and one of the individuals who was there to see her was on the other side of the walkway, you know, right where he was walking and that individual took a folding chair, folded it and hit him on the back of the head and he moved his head forward so much of the blunt of it came right on the shoulders of his back and when they did that his left arm came out and it was my opportunity,” Badger told KOLD.

“I grabbed his left arm and started to twist it back and grabbed him on the shoulder with my right hand another individual grabbed his right hand and together we pushed on him and he went right down on the sidewalk.”

Badger and the other man pinned the suspect to the ground until police arrived.

“Anytime he would even start to move, I would tighten my grip on his throat, and the other guy would put more pressure on his neck to hold him down,” Badger said. “And he’d holler, ‘Oh, oh, you’re hurting me! Oh, oh,’ – like that. And that guy said, ‘I don’t give a [expletive].'”

Badger’s wife added – “The only thing that would have surprised me is that if he would not have done this.”

Also, there is the story of the trauma surgeon, Dr. Peter Rhee, who worked to save Representative Gabrielle Giffords – “Dr. Peter Rhee, a 24-year military surgeon who has treated “hundreds and hundreds” of battlefield injuries during stints in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Rhee, 49, chief of trauma at University Medical Center in Tucson, said his work in the Navy tending to injured soldiers and Marines and teaching the next generation of battlefield medical personnel unquestionably played a role in his ability to treat Giffords and direct care for the 10 other victims who began arriving in his unit Saturday morning.

“There’s no doubt,” he said. “I was in the Navy 24 years, and I trained to do nothing but battlefield casualty care. When I did go to Afghanistan and Iraq, I wasn’t in a hospital. I was in very forward surgical units, so I was very accustomed to working with very little gear and people and personnel, very little resources, with wounds that are very different than civilian injuries,” Rhee said Sunday. “Did it prepare me? I would say of course it did. And that makes it so that when we have a mass casualty of 11 people here, it’s really not as bad as it can get.”

Rhee said he handled “hundreds and hundreds” of battlefield injuries in two war deployments beginning in 2001. He was one of the first battlefield surgeons to be deployed to Camp Rhino, the first U.S. land base in Afghanistan, located in the remote desert about 100 miles southwest of Kandahar. In 2005, he served in Iraq.

“This doesn’t compare,” he said of his university hospital environs. “This is not really a mass casualty. I have all the gear and people I could possibly want. This is luxury for me. This trauma center, this is about as good as it gets.”

In contrast, within in a few hours (or was is minutes) of the shooting, State Senator Linda Lopez was quick to associate the assailant with the Tea Party and even identify him as a “Afghan War vet.”   I’d link in a web site here for the time stamp and exact quote, but remarkably the news item has been pulled from most sites.  The only place I find it today is on posts calling for an apology from Lopez.

I see three people, each responding to different aspects of a tragedy.   Each responding in their own way.

I don’t want to assume anything here, and would certainly give the benefit of doubt to Senator Lopez.  If I were Lopez, I’d at least want to hold a press conference to clear some things up.


The Second Siege of Sadr City: The US Military Vs. Sadr’s Militia

Nothing like a little ‘splodey to start the day.

Sadr  City is one of the infamous slums of Baghdad. Back in my day, the Army had no realistic doctrine for fighting in cities. We paid a little lip service to it, but in reality, tried very hard to avoid it.  Heavy units- mech infantry, and armor, especially tried hard to avoid combat in close terrain like cities. In 7 years in mech units, I never once trained in a built up area.

Reality, however, has a tendency to intrude upon fantasy. The fact is, much of the terrain worth fighting for in large parts of the world in in the cities. American forces fighting in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities quickly learned to adapt the barebones doctrine that existed to the reality on the ground. They used the massive firepower available to them to minimize exposure to enemy fires. They quickly learned how to minimize exposure to enemy anti-armor weapons. And they learned how to integrate the fires of heavy weapons and air support with the agility of dismounted troops.

There’s a huge pool of US troops that are extremely well versed in this most difficult of fighting- city fighting.

**some NSFW langueage**

[vodpod id=Video.4829755&w=425&h=350&fv=]