Intro: The Hero’s Journey Home

The progression of the hero’s journey in movies and myths. Hopefully, for the vet it ends at home.

By: Peter Sessum

I am participating in a project with the Seattle Veteran’s Administration (VA) called the Hero’s Journey Home. While I will keep some of it private, I thought since I have this forum I could share some insights that some fellow vets might glean something useful from.

The theory is based on Joseph Campbell’s work on the hero’s journey. The reader’s digest version is that all stories from Homer’s Odyssey to Star Wars and the Matrix all share a similar path. The hero starts out in the known world, feels the call to adventure, enters the unknown, meets mentors, is tested, faces darkness, receives some form of reward and starts the return journey home.

The working theory that we have been working with is that this is a cycle that normal people repeat in their lives. Home is familiar then you go to school which is unknown. Teachers are mentors, get the diploma and return to life after high school. College or the job world is another move from the known to the unknown. These cycles in a sense repeat. For the purpose of the group, we are saying that a military career is a more dramatic cycle than the ones civilians experience and that makes the return to the known, or the journey home, more difficult than the average civilian job change.

There are some hiccups in translation. Hero is a loaded word to veterans. Many have heard the saying “I’m not a hero but I have served with some.” I think most I know feel this way. In this context it doesn’t mean someone that committed heroic acts but the hero of the story. I think a more accurate term might be the path of the protagonist but it doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.

We are all supposed to be the hero of our own story right? But this got me thinking, there is a division between protagonist and hero. In the movie Taken Brian, played by Liam Neeson, is the protagonist. The guy we are supposed to root for. But if you look at the story from the perspective of his daughter she becomes the protagonist but he is the hero. I am starting to think that making the distinction is important. We are the protagonist in our own story but someone else might be the hero. It might be worth discussing at the next meeting.

There is one little issue I have had with the theory is the lack of completion in the examples. Odysseus does indeed return home, only to leave shortly after. But in the other examples, Luke Skywalker and Neo don’t return home. It makes the incomplete examples to emulate. Neo doesn’t get plugged back into the Matrix, he stays in the “real world” which I think is something that veterans can relate to.

Some of us truly leave the civilian world behind in our time in the military. Travel around the world, see and do things that no one back home can relate to makes it difficult to “plug” back into life back home. Life in a small town isn’t the “real” world. It is a nice little pocket of life that changes little.

Trying to explain to someone back home about life overseas is like Neo trying to explain to someone in the matrix what Zion is like. Not just how they live but the dichotomy of thinking the “machines” are evil but using machines to combat the enemy that is itself a machine. If the Matrix is bad, why plug back into it? But how can it be bad if people don’t know any different? The discussions would be maddening. Just as they are with veterans and sheltered civilians. (I make the distinction because there are some who have been outside their safe little bubble that have a broader understanding of the world at large.)

These stories, while a good representation of the journey of the hero, none of them cover the hero’s journey home. However, for the first week, being able to step back and see how these patterns repeat and being able to put the military experience into a context that everyone can understand is a good starting point.

Unfortunately, they are just stories and there are some aspects that do not translate into real life. In the movie of our military service it would end with a soldier in dress uniform dropping a duffel bag on his mom’s porch, DD214 in hand, and walk through the door before the fade to black. If it was a movie about the deployment, the parting shot would be the trooper stepping of the plane. For those of us who have returned home we know it isn’t that easy.

The_Hero's_Journey_Final

Another look at the hero’s journey. I think this is more of where the conversations will be going.

He took a run down the trench of the Death Star, dropped two photon torpedoes down the exhaust shaft without a targeting computer. Somehow shooting womp rats in Beggars Canyon doesn’t hold the same appeal. But that is the most exciting things those other kids had done. Just looking at them he sees his own youth and how cocky he had been before the mission. His first mission fighting a real enemy. Sure, it worked out for him, but how many died trying to complete the mission? Whole squadrons were blown away in hopes that one ship would complete the mission. Hard to brag about your exploits under those circumstances.

What a return home for Luke Skywalker might look like

If Luke was in a bar near Tatoonie University you know there would be some undergrad that would love to tell Luke how what he did was wrong. After all he senselessly murdered 1.7 million people and 400,000 droids. He is not a military leader, in fact, Luke was just another farm boy from a dirt planet a week ago. What made him qualified to decide those people needed to die? The word of the crazy old hermit and an imperial prisoner that claimed to be a princess? It would not be long before Luke left that place and never returned.

How many vets have been in a bar and been held accountable for whatever decisions the government has made? Some vets keep a low profile when using their GI Bill to avoid the faux intellectuals on any given college campus. Troops don’t make policy, but we are the instruments of the government’s policy yet somehow we have to answer for it, even decisions made by two administrations ago.

Unlike Luke, many vets want to return home. If not the place they grew up, at least the country the defended. That journey home can be difficult. Hopefully, by chronicling my time with this project hopefully some vets will find something useful from it.

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Don’t Thank Vets on Memorial Day

It is not my day.

By Peter Sessum

This is one of those things that drives veterans crazy, admittedly some take it too far. Civilians don’t see why it matters and while they don’t intend to offend, some do not fully grasp why it bothers veterans so much. I tell people it is like wishing me happy birthday on my dead brother’s birthday. Even though I take time to respect the fallen, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the day off.

Not so happy birthday

Bob: Happy birthday!

Tom: It isn’t my birthday, it is my brother’s birthday. The brother that passed away years ago.

Bob: Doing anything cool for your birthday? I like to go party.

Tom: Some family and I are going to visit his grave.

Bob: Well that’s cool too. Happy birthday anyway.

Tom: It isn’t my birthday. It is my dead brother’s birthday.

Bob: Close enough.

That would be a horribly insensitive conversation, but that is how it feels when someone thanks me for my service on Memorial Day. Granted, part of that is because of what specifically Memorial Day means to me and other vets. It isn’t as insensitive to say “Thank you for your service” on Armed Forces Day, the weekend before Memorial Day. It is incorrect, but not insulting. At worst, it might sting for the person who wishes they could still serve.

*I should probably stress that this is just my opinion and not that of every vet. I know a guy that thinks he should be thanked on Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day as an entitlement. I very much disagree with that thinking and so does every other vet I know.

In case you needed a visual of what day is for who.

Take time to respect the fallen…or don’t

I served on the post color guard for a while back in the day and performed a ceremony on Memorial Day. Now, as a vet, Memorial Day is my busiest weekend of the year. I place flags on the graves of vets at a local cemetery, I help pass out poppies with the VFW and attend multiple ceremonies, often being part of the rifle salute. It is what I do to respect those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and those that are no longer with us.

That is what I do, but I don’t expect everyone else to do the same. I find it kind of annoying when vets get all up in arms and scream about how it isn’t national BBQ day. No, it isn’t but it also isn’t national be sad on your couch day. We served so our country could be free, not so that we would be revered. And people should have the freedom to do what they want on any given day. If we have to act a specific way, or if someone dictates how we should act that really isn’t freedom.

Memorial Day, for me, isn’t just for those that fell in combat it is for all of those that served that are no longer with us. I am one of the lucky ones, not just because I came home without any holes but because I don’t lose anyone really close to me. The only casualty during my tour was from the unit I was attached to for the deployment. While tragic, I didn’t know him. I served in the same mortar platoon as a man that was killed in Iraq about a decade after the last time I saw him. I didn’t even know he was KIA until a year or so ago when I saw his name on a list of the fallen.

I do, unfortunately, know an ever growing list of veterans that are no longer with us. I use my Memorial Day to pay my respects to them. Just because they survived their tour, or tours, doesn’t mean their passing is less of a loss.

Drinking and grilling while stationed in Germany. If we did it then why is it so bad that people do it now?

When it is my time, I have my own expectations

While I plan to live forever, and so far so good, there might be a time I am no longer around. In which case I don’t want the people I care about to spend three days sulking. If I am not around I want them to have fun for me. Drink some beers, cook some ribs, go watch the sunset on the beach, do the things I would do on a sunny day.

To be honest, if my body is not lit on fire and set out to sea with large men doing a haka on the shore while people gather around a keg telling stories about me while I burn then either my friends have failed me or I did not live the kind of life I have strived for.

Sitting around and being sad is not how I spent my time in the military. Yes, you should BBQ, it what we did in the military. Yes, you should drink. Once again, it is what we did in the military. If someone is having a sale, you should tactically exploit that and save a few bucks. It is sound military strategy. If you want to sit around and hate the military, it is a free country, you are free to do that and I won’t fault you. I defended your right to think what you want, even if it isn’t what I think. I won’t tell you how to celebrate, just please don’t thank a vet for his or her service. It isn’t our day, there is plenty of time to thank us November 11. Instead of thanking us for our service, join us in remembering our lost. I know I would appreciate that.

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You fight on your terms but you win on their terms

No matter how you fight, you only win if the enemy says you win.

By: Peter Sessum

Why did the U.S. win WWII? it wasn’t because we coordinated with the Soviets to overrun Berlin or we dropped a couple atom bombs over Japan. That is how we fought the war, we won because both Germany and Japan surrendered. That is how it works, no matter how you fight, you only win if the enemy says you win.

Unfortunately, not many American military minds understand this very simple concept. Too many people in charge think winning looks like what they think winning looks like. It is this narrow perspective that is costing the deaths of so many young Americans. What winning looks like to us and what it looks like to our enemies is vastly different.

Pajamas and Kalashnikovs, it is the uniform of those we fight for the past 50 years.

Pajamas and Kalashnikovs, it is the uniform of those we fight for the past 50 years.

American arrogance

This is one of the biggest hindrances to modern warfighting. How many times have you heard someone say that we are fighting a bunch of backward, tribal, goat fuckers? We are the most technically advanced warfighting machine in the world yet we have been basically been fighting guy in pajamas with AK-47s for the past 50 years.

So there I was, on FOB Salerno, no shit. Captain Brooks chuckled at a report that he heard that said the Taliban were going to occupy Khowst City for a few days. He thought it was funny because by his estimation it would take about 1,000 men with tanks and fortified positions to be able to hold the city for any amount of time and our helicopters would see that many people moving across the desert and we would blow them away before they got within five miles.

What he didn’t understand is that “occupy” might mean something different to the Taliban. I said that it would only be a handful of men arriving by white and yellow Toyota corollas. They would sit in the back of an Afghan’s business and watch convoy after convoy roll by. They would tell the owner that if he said anything that he would be killed and that they had friends in the crowd so that even if the one Taliban they knew about was captured, another would kill the man’s family.

In that moment, who is more powerful? The hundreds of Americans patrolling the area or the one guy in the back of the shop? If they just had 20 men do that they could claim they “occupied” the city and there was nothing the U.S. could do about it. The captain dismissed my idea because that isn’t what occupy meant to him. He only sees things from his perspective and discounts anything else.

Fight on your terms

The U.S. is good at this. We are big on the whole “the only fair fight is the one you lose” mentality. I have heard some troops think that fighting with IEDs and mines is cowardly, but we have drones piloted from half a world away and the C-130 Spector so who are we to judge?

We are pretty good at fighting on our terms but not winning on their terms. It was a four day road trip to get to Bagdad. We took the capitol pretty quickly. So we won right? Nope, we didn’t have Saddam. Then we pulled him out of a spider hole so now we won right? What about putting him on trial and executing him? Nope, at every stage there was some asshole still fighting. No matter who we kill there is always someone out in the desert saying, “You didn’t get me.”

Seriously, do they wear anything else? Maybe we should consider going to the next war in our pjs.

Mullah Omar was dead for two years before most of the world knew. Yet somehow he kept putting out massages. When it was found out he had been dead for a while his people just shrugged like it was worth a shot and went back to business as usual. There is no winning because there are no victory conditions. There is no central head of the Taliban that can surrender and stop all the fighting in Afghanistan. As long as there are two assholes with AK-47s that are pissed about something we will still be scouring the desert looking for them.

We fought on our terms in Vietnam and even the most conservative numbers say we killed about a half million enemy. The Tet Offensive was a massive tactical failure but in the aftermath Walter Cronkite called the war unwinnable. In that it was a complete success. Ho Chi Minh knew he couldn’t fight us on our terms so he fought on his. He knew that if he won in the media he would win the war. Make war so distasteful to Americans that they demand we leave and that is pretty much what happened.

Now, everyone tries the same thing. Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, they all understand to try the same tactic. No matter how many we kill, they just have to kill enough of us to make it seem not worth it to Americans. After all, it worked pretty well in Somalia.

The future of warfare

No one is ever going to face us on the field of battle and try to go toe to toe with us. They are going to blend in with the local populace and fight guerrilla style. Lately, people who should really know better are laughing at the fighting ability of North Korea. Basically, they are thinking of how they would fight a war against North Korea and know that since North Korea couldn’t fight them that way so they feel safe. We would take out their bombers long before they could get to U.S. shores. They seem to lack the long range missile ability to launch a nuclear attack so people laugh at them. No, they might not launch a missile into downtown Seattle, but they could hide a device in a container and have it detonate in the port. Or load it on a fishing trawler. Or smuggle one into Malaysia and load it on a private plane. Coming up with a half a dozen ways is not difficult. While we are focused on missiles, they could have a nuke on the way to our shores.

I was talking to another vet recently and he joked at the state of their military readiness. Some military blogs are laughing at them because they know that they are outmatched in training and technology. But remember the pajama guys with AK-47s? Putting this in terms everyone can understand, if zombies were real they still wouldn’t be that scary because they are slow and stupid. But fast zombies would be scary because they take away one advantage. Fast zombies with pistols would be the stuff of nightmares. An undead thing that never sleeps, could be anywhere, will fight on equal terms and never stop coming is a scary thought. That will basically be North Korea. Only North Korean troops might be packing chemical or biological weapons.

This is how North Korea is going to invade. Or at least their first wave.

North Korea isn’t going to line up on the DMZ in uniforms and attack. They are going to use tunnels to sneak into the country dressed as South Korean military and police. Think of the chaos they could cause with just 50 men. Now think what they could do with 100 or 1,000 or even 10,000. That is going to be the first wave. It will be Koreans, dressed as Koreans, in Korea and running around the Korean countryside. While someone from the south can recognize when someone is from the north, do you think PFC Snuffy can? They are going to attack the north facing DMZ defenses from the rear and while we are trying to figure out who is friend or foe the rest of their military will attack.

Oh, and thanks to the geniuses in the military who are always ready to fight the last war but not the next one, we got rid of a lot of our ground to air defense capabilities. So their air power will be able to do some initial damage unchallenged. Sure, our fighters will end them in short order, but I don’t think that is going to be much consolation to the bodies on the DMZ.

I know it goes against conventional thinking but we need to stop looking at war from our perspective and see what fighting, and victory, looks like to the enemy. If that seems like unconventional warfare thinking it is because unless China or Russia want to mix it up with us we have fought our last conventional war. We can still fight on our terms, but we have to do what it means to the enemy that we have won. Clearly what we are doing so far in the Middle East isn’t achieving that.

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Why the Marines United situation is so messed up

Some 30,000 people joined the Marines United Facebook group to share porn or images of women without their consent and to name and harass the women who appeared on their site. After it was successfully shut down, MU 2.0 formed up, giving a big FU to the “haters” and telling members not to be Blue Falcons and snitch on them.  (They are now on version 3.0+) There has been some press about this whole situation and talk about “boys will be boys” and sexual harassment but what the Marines United people don’t understand that it is they who are the blue falcons not the people reporting them.

Disclaimer: I don’t usually do this but this article isn’t the typical DTC post. While we do talk about issues from the veteran’s perspective, this might be a little too raw for some people. If you are easily offended by harsh language, you might not want to read this because I will be filling up the swear jar with this one.


If you choose to continue to read you can’t complain later since you had the chance to fuck off and didn’t take it.

I am going to let Task & Purpose or mainstream media cover the high points, this is going to be straight up grunt talk about how messed up this situation is. Let the rest of them have the adult discussions, I’m going to talk about how fucked up it is from one grunt’s perspective.

Credentials: Another thing I don’t usually do but when Task & Purpose posted a Facebook Live video, many comments were questioning their authority to talk on the subject calling them POGs and some other bullshit. So before you fuckers start that, I am true blue Infantry, forged at Fort Benning’s Sand Hill at Charlie Company 1/50th. I was a true believer thinking us grunts were all life takers and heart breakers that lived by a higher standard and our service was directly defending our country and way of life.

I joined before stress cards, cell phones and “zero week.” My dogtags are old enough to buy beer, my jump wings were pounded into my chest by a guy that jumped into Normandy, I have combat patches and boots with Afghan dust still on them, been in 11 countries in uniform and more than paid my dues so you know I am not going to be impressed by some slick sleeve leg still wet behind the ears or some chapter loser trolling my post with douchebag comments. Now let’s get to the nitty gritty.

Boys will be boys

This phrase has been floating around a lot in the news. In every arguments one side uses it to explain away male behavior and the other side uses it like a slur to lump men into a group of sexual predators. In truth, it is somewhere in the middle.

Saying “boys will be boys” is like saying “bless his heart” in the south. For those northern inclined it bascially means “boys are idiots.” Anyone that disagrees has never met, or been, a young boy. Seriously, as a gender we are lucky to have survived this long. But boys will be boys is not a blanket statement. There is a very obvious line. Boys will be boys is only applied when a guy is doing something for fun and while he may be hurt in the process, he isn’t out to hurt anyone else. It works like this.

Why do boys wear holes in their socks so fast? Boys will be boys.

Why did Tommy jump out of the tree holding a bunch of bungee cords tied to a branch? Boys will be boys.

Why did Brock Turner do what he did? Because he is a fucking rapist and should not be running loose in society. His family, his friends and the legal system failed him and our entire country.

Why do I have to tell Johnny every day to change out of his school clothes before playing outside? Boys will be boys.

See how that works? Just because a male is involved doing something he thinks is fun doesn’t mean it is covered under boys will be boys. One thing that does fall squarely into boys will be boys is why do guys like to look at boobs so much? Guys are visual, and boobs are awesome. Speaking in broad strokes (no pun intended) when guys are rubbing out, they like visual material. Not that women don’t, but it works for us.

So yes, a bunch of military guys would naturally want access to porn. Especially when overseas where many sites are blocked. While they might not have access to adult sites they would have access to Facebook. Sharing porn while overseas is a good thing. Deployments are stressful and being able to decompress is a positive.

I knew a spec-4 overseas that had a terabyte of porn back when a terabyte of anything was considered more memory than you would ever need. If you brought him any portable storage device he would fill it up. That young man was doing the Lord’s work. It was all stuff made by professionals, with their consent and a full understanding of what it was going to be used for. I am sure that Brazzers and Bang Bros and others did not intend for their paying customer to give their downloaded videos out to many service members but hey, boys will be boys.

Higher Standard

The idea of passing images and videos through social media that would get past the military censors overseas was brilliant. I thought that it was a good idea to get content on the sly. But that is where the good intentions ended and what Marines United members did past that is what violated who we are and what we stand for.

Posting images of an ex without her consent or knowledge. Finding the Instagram of a fellow Marine and posting her pictures. Posting identifying information about the women that were illegally loaded onto the website and sending them harassing messages. None of those things are what true warriors do. Considering women to be things that you can do what you want to against their will is what the Taliban and Boko Haram does. The Marines United people are closer to Mullah Omar than Chesty Puller.

Marines literally have a theme song about being the first to fight for right and freedom and keeping their honor clean. Anyone that supports Marines United does not have clean honor. You can’t talk about your Corps having a higher standard when you lack integrity yourself. Any NCO that engaged in any of the dishonorable behavior associated with the group should be ashamed of themselves. How can you expect troops to live by a code when you don’t have one yourself?

And who was the fucknut that sent a Marine a message asking where women like her were when he was in and how he would gladly fuck her? In the history of pickup lines, has shit like that ever worked? I would like to hear from any woman that will happily jump into bed with a guy that says crap like that. (Women paid to sleep with douchebags are excluded from that.)

I remember exactly one sexual harassment brief from my time in the Army. Despite having them every year both on Active duty and on the reserve side the only briefing I remember is the one delivered by Drill Sergeant Buress. He talked about sexual harassment and how even though we were Infantry, someday we might change our MOS and be in charge of women and how we won’t use our position to coerce a subordinate into performing sexual acts for favorable treatment, awards or promotions. I don’t remember the entire thing but one thing stuck with me.

“We are Infantry,” he said. “We don’t do that, POGs do that kind shit, we live by a higher standard.”

There was more but that is what stuck with me. I never needed another briefing after that. I live by a higher standard. There was nothing that has been said since that day to supersede those words. And that is what I think about the people from that group. They have no honor because people that lived by a higher standard wouldn’t do or support the things Marines United members do. Also, men of honor own up to it when they get caught, they don’t send death threats to the man who outed their behavior or threaten to do harm to his wife and young daughter.

And I know some of those people are moto fucks that post shit online like “I’m a veteran, my oath never expired.” First of all, yes it did. That oath of enlistment ended when you got you ETSed. Even if it didn’t, in that oath they swore to follow the orders of those appointed over them and follow the UCMJ. So they already broke the oath. Even mother fucking Mad Dog said to knock that shit off. I’m an Army grunt and even I believe that anyone that doesn’t do what Mattis says should turn in their cammies and stay home Nov. 10.

I reiterate because some people skim or forget a good point that was made earlier. I have no issue with having a little spank material. You want to rub one out, go for it. But that is where the line ends. There is so much free porn out there on the Internet that there is no reason to search Instagram for bikini shots of fellow service members and harass them.

I’ll even dumb it down for some of you knuckle draggers out there. Sharing porn of consenting adults to get through a deployment = good. Sharing porn without someone’s knowledge and/or contacting them and harassing or giving out information so they could be harassed = bad. Which brings me to my last point.

TLDR? Here is a picture for you. Which guy are you?

Marines United are a bunch of Blue Falcons

When they were busted out do you know what their defense was?

“She shouldn’t have taken those pictures in the first place.”

Jesus Herbert Walker Christ! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? That is the biggest Blue Falcon move I have ever heard. Tits are awesome and I know you know that because you created an entire system to share pictures of them. You are bigger Blue Falcons than the assholes that took screen shots of snap chat pictures. Thanks assholes, you ruined another good thing.

The number one concern of women who are willing to show their boobs have is of the pictures ending up on the Internet. The second is a guy showing all his friends. Snapchat developed a system that took away those fears. A picture could be set to disappear after a couple of seconds so even if his buddies were nearby a guy would have to make the choice of appreciating the picture or showing his friends. But screen capture ended that.

And now we have a bunch of Blue Falcons that are sending the message that not only are the pictures you once sent free game, but now your personal information is too. So guys who see a woman naked feel like they can contact her and harass her. Seriously, what the fuck guys?

The message should be “your images are safe with me.” That is just the minimum standard, there should be a whole lot going on but obviously baby steps with some fuckers. You see, what we want to do is encourage women to show their breasts, not discourage it. That should be a thing, flashing boobs not sharing photos. I love boobs, legal age, consenting boobs are practically magical. We need more boobs not less.

You know how awesome it would be if women randomly flashed more often? I would love it if I was walking down the street and a woman said, “You look like you are having a bad day, how about a little pick me up?” I can guarantee that would make me smile. I would be less bothered about waiting for fries if the woman at the drive through showed me tits to make up for screwing up my order. I know that sounds crude, trust me I know, but it would be awesome and I am not alone thinking that.

Here is the caveat; guys can’t make it weird. There is a joke where a shop owner sees a kid and tells his customer that he plays a game with the kid every day and the kid is stupid. To prove it he offers the kid two $1 bills or one $5 bill. The kid takes the two bucks and walks away. “See, I told you the kid was stupid.” The customer catches up with the kid and asks him why he takes the $2 rather than the five. The kid says, “The day I do the game is over.”

To make it relevant, if a woman shows you her tits and you make it weird, she will stop. Just appreciate them like the work of art they are and move on. Now Marines United is telling women to cover up, that is Blue Falconry of the highest order. If they brought the ban hammer down on the guys posting personal information and displayed the slightest amount of respect for the female gender they might have had women willingly post pictures. There are many, many sites where people post their own stuff. Some even get past the deployment censors. It would not be difficult to encourage women and couples to post their stuff to grateful Marines.

Annnnnd, some of them are this guy.

Simply put, these guys had a good thing and took it to a bad place. What started out as boys being boys became something sinister. Once they stated breaking laws, harassing women and threatening people they crossed all kinds of lines. I am sure that somewhere a few enlisted guys are going to get busted, some officers will pat themselves on the back and the Marines United guys will keep going. I hope we get this right.

If you need images that bad, drop me a line, I’ll task the DTC network to hook you up. Just don’t go down the path where you compromise yourself or your integrity.

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ROE and why civilians scare me

While not official ROE, when it comes time to get into a gunfight, it s a good tip to follow.

While not official ROE, when it comes time to get into a gunfight, it s a good tip to follow.

By Peter Sessum

People tend to think that other people think like them. So when a civilian says he is worried about vets becoming violent I know it is not because he has an insight into the military mind. It is a reflection on him that he thinks that if he had our training and experience that he could kill a lot of people. But that is part of the problem, he doesn’t have our training and experience, especially our training with Rules of Engagement (ROE) and that is why civilians worry me.

ROE is the cornerstone of military action. While ROE can differ from theater to theater, and in some cases operation to operation, it is what determines when deadly force is authorized. It separates legal action from war crimes. That is why I am more worried about civilians, they don’t have ROE.

ROE is not something that is glossed over for military members. Before a soldier is allowed to pick up a rifle he or she has had a numbers of classes. One of those classes is the Law of land Warfare. What everyone knows as the Geneva Conventions. (And if you think that it isn’t plural you know less than you think.) So before a grunt has learned how to use his primary weapon he knows when not to use it.

In a movie when the troops are ordered “don’t fire unless fired upon” that is part of their ROE. It means even if a person has a gun you can’t shoot them unless the other person shoots first. I am going to be honest, from a grunt’s perspective that sucks. It means the bad guys get a free shot. If he is a good shot* it means you or one of your friends might die before you can do anything about it.

CENTCOME ROE card. In the military ROE is more specific than "shoot everyone that doesn't look like you."

CENTCOME ROE card. In the military ROE is more specific than “shoot everyone that doesn’t look like you.”

There are a number of different levels of ROE. The worst that I have heard is the United Nations (U.N.) where deadly force can only be requested through the headquarters by radio after taking hostile fire and is sometimes denied. Of course that is Peacekeeping. War is on the opposite end of the spectrum and ROE is much different. There is no radio calls to higher HQ, each individual can determine if conditions authorize deadly force. Authorize does not mean require. Just because deadly force is authorized does not mean it has to be used. Every vet I know has stories where deadly force was authorized but not exercised and restraint was the better decision.

So there I was, in downtown Kabul…no shit. We had just left the NATO compound and was at a checkpoint to drive through another secure area. It was just the one vehicle and I was in the back pulling security. This was one of the first checkpoints that one would take to either go to a military base or to the president’s compound so it was a target.

As the driver was talking to the guard a vehicle started coming up on us quickly. At the time, the ROE authorized deadly force for “hostile intent” so if a threat was perceived we could act on it. The intelligence had told us to look out for suicide bombers in cars. Specifically, a single person in a large vehicle or a vehicle made for multiple passengers. Our position was between two large military compounds and where traffic was usually pretty slow because it was funneled through hard corners. So a van with only a driver speeding towards us was a concern.

This was one of those time started to slow kind of moments. I quickly did the math and it added up to him being a possible threat. I tracked him through my rifle sights and he just kept coming. I picked a spot on the ground, my point of no return. if he did not slow down or turn before then I was going to fill the cab full of lead.

I had just flipped my selector lever to fire and took a sharp intake of breath, the kind you take right before you yell. I was going to shout for my driver to go and  then start firing. Just as I inhaled, the van turned right and sped out of sight. Truth be told he really should not have been speeding in that area. Security is high and people are on edge. I am glad i held until the last moment because I would not have liked to kill a guy who might have been on the way to the hospital because his wife was in labor.

What is the connection between civilians and ROE? Simple, civilians don’t have one. There is no training or schooling on when it is OK to use force and when it is not. Outside of their layman’s understanding of the law, the only thing they have to guide them on is their own morals and I am not willing to put a lot of faith in that. I don’t trust it that because there are too many examples of a civilian killing people over trivial things.

Last year, not far from my home,  19-year-old Allen Ivanov took rifle he bought a week prior, went to a party and killed three people, one of which was a girl that in his head wronged him. Somewhere, in the back of his mind that was an acceptable course of action. With all the random shootings I feel like we haven’t gotten a clear reason as to why they did it other than it seemed like the thing to do at the time. Even when a gun isn’t used, I feel like there is very little reasoning into why a civilian uses violence.

Even though I am no longer in the military I still have a set of rules that determine if force is necessary. When it is, the minimum amount of force should be used to resolve the situation. Those rules are:

  1. Is it a direct, physical threat to me, my family or those under my protection?
  2. Do I have the means and legal expectation to address the threat?
  3. What is the least amount of reasonable force needed to resolve the situation?

There are some important words in there. Direct is a big one. If I don’t think the person or persons in front of me are an immediate threat to me or mine then there is no real danger. Simply put, a direct threat is someone walking towards me saying they are going to kick my ass or taking a swing at me not walking away and saying that their big brother is going to come fight me.

Means and expectations also matter. I am not a law enforcement officer or someone with a hero complex. How often has a vet heard someone say they are happy the vet is there in case something happens? I know people have said that at places I have worked at. My response is usually “what do you think I am going to do?” Unarmed, without intel on who or what the threat is my plan is to lock my office, turn out the lights and take a nap out of the way until the cops arrive. If a gunman kicks in the door it’ll be on because I have nothing to lose, but I am not clearing a four story building with four entry points and multiple stairwells against an unknown threat with only a pen and my wits.

If it does come time to use force, the least amount of reasonable force should be used to deescalate the situation. The most important words is not “least” but “reasonable.” I have had a lot of silly conversations with untrained people about application of force. If a cop has a gun drawn they are not going to shoot a knife out of a suspect’s hands. Cops, and military, are trained to aim center mass. Aiming for the center of the torso gives you the most area to hit the target. Think of it like aiming for the bulls-eye when you only have to hit the dartboard. Aiming for the outer ring might mean you miss the board entirely. This is also why they don’t aim for the head, too small and moves a lot when running. If the suspect rushes the cop they are not going to holster the gun and then pull out a taser. Here is a video illustrating why.

 

ROE is not just specific on action but also on where it is applied. Anything outside the direct threat is collateral damage. As we all know collateral damage is bad, in the military we go to great pains to avoid it. Even though I am no longer in the military there are a certain set of conditions that must be met for force to be applied. Civilians don’t have that. How did Ivanov decide that his ex-girlfriend moving on with her life was a good reason to take a rifle to a party and start shooting? Aaron Ybarra was “mad at the world” and was upset that his friends didn’t respect the threat he and his shotgun posed so he went to Seattle Pacific University and started shooting. He has 112 years to figure out how that math doesn’t add up.

In the civilian world it is all collateral damage. Unfortunately, video games don’t often penalize for hurting innocent people and in fact some encourage it. When there is no criteria for differentiating threat from non-threat then everyone is a potential target. When the intent is to just hurt people, there is no difference between a person that should be attacked, like an armed terrorist, and someone that shouldn’t, like a child. That is why they can shoot people in a school or church so callously.

I also worry about people that haven’t really suffered because they have no coping mechanism for the when things go bad. I am sure for Ivanov being dumped was the worst thing he had ever experienced in his life. But the rational response is not to go and shoot people. Somehow, in his head that was the proper course of action. I sympathize, I have been dumped where it feels like your heart was ripped out of your chest. But the worst thing I ever contemplated was to sleep with all her friends. Not exactly an adult reaction, but it is far better than shooting up a party and it keeps me out of jail. Here is a video to lighten the mood.

That is why civilians worry me more than veterans and the civilians that worry me the most are the ones that claim to be afraid of vets. Because you know that if they had the means and the training that they would hurt people. As much as they don’t want to admit it to themselves, the reason they think someone is easily capable of violence is because in their heart they are. So if you think as a vet I am dangerous know that it is because of what you have going on inside your own head. Don’t put it on me.

 

* Good shot is relative. Your average, and I mean middle of the road average, rifleman should be able to consistently hit a one meter target at 200 meters. That is the distance of two football fields, including both end zones, away with iron sights or without magnification. For comparison, a sniper should be able to make a shot at five times that distance.

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No matter what you think you are made of, you are most likely wrong

How I would watch The Selection.

How I would watch The Selection.

By: Peter Sessum

The History Channel recently completed the first season of The Selection, their social experiment where they took 30 civilian through a mock special operations selection course. I know it wasn’t their intention, but my veteran friends and I found it hilarious. In the end, people got to know what they are really made of and I am sure that unless they are deluding themselves, most are not liking what they found out.

Unlike other reality shows there is no voting anyone off, no tribal councils, no alliances, there isn’t even a prize at the end. The intent is just to embrace the suck until you can’t take it anymore or your graduate. Everyone is assigned a number and at any time they can take it off their shirt, hand it to an instructor and say “I quit.” The instructors are all former Special Forces, Navy SEALs or Rangers so they have little sympathy for people whining in a watered down selection course. The show follows the basic five phases of military training.

Phase One: Weed out the quitters

Watching the show I was constantly reminded of a line from a Mighty Mighty Bosstones song. “I’m not a coward I’ve just never been tested. I like to think that if I was I would pass.” Some of the people on that show had never been tested, not really tested, and they all thought they were going to ace the course. I have often said that you don’t know what you are made of sitting on a beach sipping a drink with a little umbrella in it. It is only when you are cold, wet, tired, hungry and miserable do you learn something about yourself. Do you still drive on or give up?

Looking at the group you can spot the cross fitters and mud runners. The ones that Instagram at the gym and tweet #WOTD, #personal best and #crushedit. They are under the mistaken idea that just because something requires effort that it is challenging. Just because you work out doesn’t mean you aren’t a POG. Paying to run through 5k of obstacles or tossing around some kettle bells for a couple of hours takes some effort, but that is playtime compared to boot camp as these people quickly learned.

That is what Day 1 was. Basic training, and not Infantry basic training but how we all think of Air Force basic training. The instructors weren’t even really yelling at the candidates and I don’t remember any swearing. The people that quit the first day were not tested, that was like the aptitude test to see if you qualify for the course and those people didn’t qualify. Day 1 drops are quitters, pure and simple. They have no heart. I don’t care how much you can bench press, if you can’t handle one day of exercise for a show you volunteered for then you are a quitter. As a person that did that for real, I laughed with each patch turn in.

One of my favorite quits is when the instructors come in banging metal trash can lids at stupid thirty in the morning. One guy has the presence of mind to get vertical, get dressed and rip off his patch. It is good to know your breaking point, and if your breaking point is not enough beauty sleep then I think you know what kind of person you are. The cattle car out of 30th AG is full of people that think they can handle basic training and some of them are wrong. This guy must have talked himself into thinking he has more intestinal fortitude, but when it comes down to it he quit. It was humorous because I never had that option. Downrange you don’t get to decide you “just aren’t feeling it right now.” You do it because there isn’t an option not to.

maybe this is more your speed.

For the Day One quitters, maybe this is more your speed because you don’t have what it take to earn a Ranger Tab.

Phase Two: Weed out the ones that physically can’t do it

This one is less fun to watch because you are rooting for someone and they are just unable to do it. Watch the Discovery Chanel series Surviving the Cut where they film actual military members going through actual special operations schools. In the episode on Ranger School there is a guy that is trying to keep up. They are working them over with extreme physical training on little sleep. This guy is pulled aside by the medics because he is looking a little off.

The medic asks, “Do you know where you are?”

“Hashbrowns.”

To this day it still makes me smile. That guy just physically couldn’t hang. Maybe he over trained before getting there, maybe he was just having a low energy day but he gave it his all. He was on his feet and wanted to stay there but his body broke down on him. That guy was not a quitter and I feel for him and people like him who are dropped because they physically can’t do the job. Being really, really tired and having your body shut down on you are two very different things. I also feel bad because for the rest of his life he will be known as Hashbrowns.

Phase Three: Weed out the people that mentally can’t do it

Mike Tyson said “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.” Along that same vein, everyone is tough until they get zip tied and a black bag pulled over their head. One guy quit after being in a bag for two minutes in the back of a van. Other times, the Instructors would randomly pull people aside, zip tie them, throw a bag over their head and lead them into the interview room. A lot of tough guys had tears running down their cheeks when the bag was taken off. Two instructors would stare at them stone faced for a moment and ask them three questions. What is your name? What do you do? Why are you here?

This is the only time it is recognized that the candidates even have a name. Every other moment in the show they are called by their roster number. (Not going to lie that part felt familiar.) Everyone gives the same canned answer. Some version of wanting to see what they are made of or to test themselves. That was fine for the first few times, but the instructors started calling bullshit after a while and making the candidates look deeper into themselves. I doubt many were expecting the mental challenge. I guess gym rats are not ready for head games.

Day Two Roster Number 12 showed he had what it took to pass the mental games. After spending a long day in the surf and rolling around in the sand he and the other candidates were linked arms and shivering, the men were shirtless and the women in sports bras. I don’t know where he was, but it was another place. He was standing there telling everyone to feel the sun warming their bodies. He was a glass 1/10 full person at that moment but he had what it took to keep himself going and pulling along a few other people with him.

On the flip side Roster Number 11 was more of a loner the first couple of days. He is lucky none of the instructors were my drill sergeants. When he said that he has been good at everything he has ever tried they would have eaten his lunch right then and there. Every task that he did well would be a chance to remind the other candidates that they were not as good as him. It would be singling out by excellence. I wonder how he would have felt knowing that he was making things more difficult for the rest. Anytime anyone passed him 11 would be reminded that he is supposed to be the best. Had they wanted to they could have broken him in a day.

Not that the instructors needed to. Candidates were dropping on their own. The mentally strong had to face an abbreviated SERE training. When talking about the show with vets when we got to the SERE episode every one, as in every single one, asked how much the instructors hurt the candidates. After all, you can dislocate one joint and break a minor bone in SERE right? For the record, they didn’t and didn’t need to. Put a bunch of people in the stress position inside a wooden box with the sound of a baby crying coming over the speakers and some will quit.

Yes, it was a big bag of suck, but who could they complain to? They were fully clothed and only put in the box for a max of 75 minutes. That was a cakewalk compared to what their instructors went through at actual SERE school. Try 24 hours, naked in the box with harassing noise coming out the speakers. And that isn’t even the worst stories I have heard. It was actually a common theme among the candidates, this might have been the toughest experience of their lives but it is a normal Tuesday for some of the instructors.

I will say this, when roster number 3 was taken out of the box she seemed a little out of it. The instructors aren’t trying to kill anyone so they asked if she was OK. Her response had a little bit of edge on it when she said, “I’m not going to quit.” There was just a touch of “fuck you” in it. Good on you trooper.

Tweet a couple weeks out from the end.

Tweet a couple weeks out from the end.

Phase Four: Teach the survivors cool stuff

Everyone wants to fast forward to this point, but like everything else good in the military, you have to earn it. Before they teach someone how to blow stuff up and evade detection the military wants to make sure the person isn’t a psychopath or terrorist. The military also wants to make sure the investment in training is going to pay off. So they want someone that is going to actually finish the course and not teach valuable skills to a bunch of washouts.

So after a certain point it becomes less about PT to see who will quit and more PT with a purpose. The pool training isn’t to see who can physically do it, but to see who won’t panic. Water is an equalizer. I have seen hardcore Infantrymen get scared when it is time to do drown proofing. In Panama, at the Jungle Warfare School we had a guy hugging his life vest like it was going to fly away before he hit the water. For The Selection the standard is the standard. If you can’t pass, you gotta go.

The candidates were also taught some basic combatives. They were then turned on one another to see who the best was. Again, no prize, not trophy or money and not even a respite. Good job, you won, now put on this 50lb rucksack and move out.

This is another part which brought back too many memories. Of course, at this point in the season I had taken to drinking a beer for the candidates while watching the show. They had a moment I could relate to all too well.

So there I was, at Fort Benning…no shit. We were rucking some stupid amount of distance after spending a few days in the field. Once we hit familiar roads we knew we were close to the barracks. We could almost taste the hot chow. They marched us right up to the sidewalk, and right past our building. You could hear hearts break. They kept us moving another few miles and into a new bivouac site. To make it worse, it rained so hard that everyone’s gear was soaked and made the next day miserable.

The candidates had a similar experience, they were taken on a road march in formation. When they got back they were told to do it again at an individual pace. I honestly don’t know what any of them were thinking. Why were they heartbroken? The course wasn’t over, but you could see one of them break at that moment. As one of the instructors said, the candidate planted a seed of doubt, the instructors watered it and it grew into a nice little quit tree.

Phase Five: Put everything they have learned together

Special Forces has Robin Sage, Ranger School has an extended mission to take an objective, every school has a final push where everything they learned up until that moment has to be put together to be able to pass the final test.

Those, however, are qualification courses and this was a show about a selection course. The candidates may not have understood that at the start, but the show isn’t the hooah course that makes you high speed, it is the selection course that determines if you have what it takes to go to the hooah course. This isn’t the Olympics, it is the Olympic trials. It is kind of funny watching a candidate say that they want to see if they have what it takes to be a Navy SEAL but this isn’t the metric. It is just the placement test. And like many placement tests, many of the candidates are not going to like how they scored.

Want to be Special Forces? You have to endure three weeks of Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS). The Day One dropouts proved they don’t have what it takes to make it through SFAS, so they have no shot at the Q course. As much as they complained about physical exercise on little sleep, try Ranger School. Ranger School is two months of suck. Every day of the selection is like Ranger School only on the show they got more sleep, ate more chow and did less exercise.

tl;dr: Here are what I got out of it:

Thirty civilians volunteer to “see what they are made of” in a mock special operations selection course. Instructors are Rangers, SF and SEALs. Just like first formation at boot camp, everyone there thinks they are going to last to the end, most are wrong.

Just because you did stuff that wasn’t easy, like CrossFit, doesn’t mean you have ever been tested. CrossFit is jazzercise compared to the life of a grunt. When you pay for them, mud runs and Spartan trots are fun, when you are a grunt, dirt and exercise is a way of life.

Integrity checks matter. The candidates were told to run a circuit and do 50 repetitions of an exercise at every station without the instructors. One candidate only did 48 burpees. Why does two burpees matter? Because if you can’t be trusted with the small things you can’t be trusted with the big things. I have never seen a blue falcon suddenly step up when the time came. They always let the team down. No big deal if you work at BK, but kind of a big deal when overseas.

If you are thinking “this sucks” you are not miserable. It isn’t until you start to question why the entire history of human existence has led you to this exact moment and how can a loving God can exist if He would allow this level of suck to exist do you truly know what misery is. Roster Number 11 hit point and it was amusing to watch. I know it sucked bro, but you had to go there to truly grow.

It is not OK to quit while you still have strength left in your body. Watching the show I was thinking that if a person has the ability to rip off a 4×4 patch of but-did-you-dieVelcro they have strength to keep going. I didn’t see a single person puke or pass out and quit, they all did it on their feet. When I would see a quitter I would think, did you die? Then keep going. And this is coming from a guy that has puked on runs and kept going. I once stopped on a run because my entire torso seized up and an SF medic doing his own PT made me stop and ordered me to walk back to my unit.

It is OK to mentally quit as long as you don’t tell anyone. I touched on this in a post about Airborne School but this show reminded me of a personal story.

So there I was, at Fort Benning…no shit. Drill Sergeant Wadsworth decided to introduce the platoon to Fartleks. He took us to the quarter mile track where we would sprint the straightaways and Airborne shuffle the curves. Simple enough. I quickly learned that space, as well as time, is relative. After the first all-out sprint the curves seemed long and the shuffle too slow. But after the first mile the straightaways were super long, the curves very short and the shuffle too fast.

Six sprints into it I was smoked. By eight I knew I was done. I was barely hanging on. I was shuffling on the curves knowing that I couldn’t do another sprint. We had already lost half the platoon, one more wouldn’t matter. I had no idea how long it was going to go on. Eventually, everyone hits their limit and mine was on the last straightaway.

Each time a curve ended I promised myself that this would be the last one. One more and then I would quit. After all, this last sprint will take us to the starting point so that might be the finish line right? When we would shuffle past it and onto another curve my heart would sink a little. More privates fell out, their hearts just weren’t in it anymore. Hanging in was a matter of will. Because like the candidates in The Selection, there was no extra reward for staying in, just pride. However, when it feels like your legs are going to buckle at any moment and your lungs are going to burst out of your chest, pride is the farthest thing from your mind.

The cycle continued, I would promise myself that this would be the last one. Just what I needed to hear to give one last push. Then another sprint and curve and I would promise that this one would be the last one. My body was trying to quit and my mind was just trying to hang on and hoping to make it to the end. Like when you are driving in the middle of nowhere, your gas gauge needle is buried on empty and you are praying you make it to the next exit. My body was the car, and I was the driver hoping for a miracle.

Finally, we stopped. Drill Sergeant Wadsworth told us to look around. Dutifully we did, and he told us that we were the survivors. The platoon had dwindled down to less than a third. I have never heard a more motivated HOOAH than that moment. Suddenly I had all kinds of energy. In the end we had done 2 miles of that and I had been smoked after one. I did that last mile sure I was about to quit. So as I watched the candidates on The Selection quit when they still had juice or quit because it was too hard I had little sympathy. As did the instructors who had each been through far worse than those civilians ever had.

I am hoping there is another season. Please let there be another season. History Channel, don’t make me beg! If there is, I am going to do weekly viewing parties and invite every vet I know. Because even though it was the hardest thing these particular 30 people ever went through, it paled in comparison to what those of us who did it for real ever went through. I want to be an instructor. Not because I was special operations, but my decade as PSYOP makes me want to crank up the head games to another level. You know people watching the first season are going to be ready for what they have seen, the show needs to throw in something new.

I have already told an instructor that if he, or any other instructor, is ever in the area, the first pitcher or three is on me. Truth be told, I would also buy a drink for Roster Numbers 2, 3, 11, 20 and 30 because hard work should be rewarded and I would be interested in talking with them about the experience.

As for me, I have been tested, I know what I am made of. Some of it I am proud of, some of it needs work, but like a lucky few, I know and most importantly, I have no delusions. Watching The Selection I realize that many don’t know. Some people are better off not knowing. There are some that have looking deep inside themselves and don’t like what they saw because it doesn’t measure up to the vision they have of themselves.

 

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Sometimes the military does some good

Maj Parker, a good guy despite being a field grade officer.

Maj Parker, a good guy despite being a field grade officer.

BY: Peter Sessum

Every veteran I know has stories about discussions with young, idealistic civilians that didn’t go well. At some point we have all been lectured about all the babies that we are killing, all the countries we are invading and how we, specifically, are why the rest of the world hates us. On the flip side of that is the war junkie who wants to talk about all the guns we shoot and things we have blown up. If you ask either group about the good we have done overseas you will get a blank stare.

I guess we can blame the media and video games. Not to attack either industry, but stories of digging a well just aren’t very sexy on the front page, especially when a Kardashian might be showing side boob out there somewhere. As for video games, there is no Call of Duty: Civil Affairs but maybe there should be. So while it isn’t getting a lot of attention, there is a lot of good being done by the military in the world, here is some of what just one team did.

So there I was, in Kandahar…no shit. We were breaking the wire six days a week conducting village assessments. Our team was made up of a mix of Psychological Operations (PSYOP) and Civil Affairs (CA) and would visit three villages a day. The CA side, led by Major Parker (Now a retired Lieutenant Colonel), would ask questions to see what their reconstruction needs were while one PSYOP soldier would ask questions about how they receive messages and the other would talk to locals about the PSYOP product we were handing out. This was 2004 when the Afghan government was trying to stand up the Afghan National Army (ANA) and for a while they joined us as our security so an ANA officer could talk to the villagers about joining up.

Testing one of the new CA provided wells.

Testing one of the new CA provided wells.

While I only did that for about six months of my tour it was the time where I had the most positive interaction with the locals. Sometimes I would sit outside the meeting with an interpreter and Sadiq, our guide, and talk to the locals. From time to time we would sit in a field with a farmer, cut open some melons and have some really interesting conversations. That was the best way to better understand the the people, country and culture.

The CA troops I worked with were very dedicated. The “Hearts and Minds” campaign always came off as disingenuous. It is like the waitress flirting with you to get a better tip. What that team was doing is more like a person bringing you soup when you are sick. One is being nice to get something and the other is being nice for the sake of being nice. The mood of the team wasn’t to manipulate the locals into liking us, but to help with reconstruction efforts. People who sincerely wanted to help. It also made us a lot of friends. Who would you trust more, the Taliban guy holding a gun to your head or the one that is making your life better and asking for nothing in return? That is why CA efforts are such a threat to the enemy.

It is also kind of difficult to hate a person that comes to you with respect, gives you access to more resources and leaves without compensation. It was a very rewarding time for me. Being a former grunt, it was good to actually mingle with the locals rather than look at the country from behind a gunsight.

We also got to see a lot of good being done. Parker had a formula for how much aid a village received. Simply put, find out how many people were in a village, find out how many wells they had, if they didn’t fit the ratio, have more wells dug. We visited a couple hundred villages in all and we would visit each one about every 40 days or so. That gave us the opportunity to check on the progress of the well or see if the water was good. Unfortunately, it was not a fast process and in some areas they found salty water  at one depth so they had to dig deeper. While not instant gratification, it did feel good to get out, meet the people of Afghanistan and help them in some ways.

Not everyone had those opportunities. Major Wilson, a supply officer with the 25th ID, and his people had never been outside the wire and they didn’t want to go home without feeling like they had done some good. They wanted to help refurbish a school but didn’t know where to go. As the resident expert on the local villages Parker was consulted on which village to help. He selected New Salo Kalay, a village that was supporting of the coalition and progressive in that they insisted their girls go to school.

Maj. Wilson inspecting the work he and his troops did. It was so hot gear had to be dropped.

Maj. Wilson inspecting the work he and his troops did. It was so hot gear had to be dropped.

Normally we would visit three villages a day, not stay too long and vary our routes in and out to minimize the risk of enemy contact. Parker was tactical savvy and wanted to keep us safe. He was also a good leader in that he tried to make things suck less for his troops. We would break the wire early and be back before the hottest part of the day. Something I still appreciate him for.

Unfortunately, this was not going to be one of those days. We spent eight hours in that village, during the hottest part of the day. When we got back it was reported the temp topped 140 degrees that day. It was hot and miserable but everyone hung in there. At the end of the day they had built a wooden floor for the school so the students wouldn’t have to sit in the dirt anymore.

Pashtun hospitality. For many it was their first time eating local food.

Pashtun hospitality. For many it was their first time eating local food.

Overall it was a good experience for the soldiers. They got to do some good and the village hosted them for lunch. If you have never experienced Pashtun hospitality you are missing out. They fed the entire platoon so they wouldn’t have to eat MREs. It was good for the soldiers who got to get outside the wire, eat with the locals and do some good. They felt productive and like their deployment was about more than handing gear to soldiers.

I wonder how many of those people who lecture vets would feel if they saw what happened that day. Would it change their minds about soldiers? Knowing that not only had American soldiers volunteered to help a village, but that is one that we had already installed wells to give clean drinking water to the village. Every time we visited we also would drop off humanitarian assistance, school supplies, radios and even stuffed animals.

A kid coloring a PSYOP product tell them to stay away from military convoys.

A kid coloring a PSYOP product telling them to stay away from military convoys.

Few Afghans will remember our names but many will remember our actions. Men like Parker brought clean water to villages around Kandahar. He helped so much and did it without asking for anything in return. Somewhere in Afghanistan there are people that remembered what Americans did for them. They remembered that we endured the heat to help rebuild their school. There are men in Afghanistan that are now giving the stuffed animal I handed them, maybe the only one they have ever had, to their own kid.

We only focus on the negative, but there is a lot of good being done by the military. It isn’t sexy or cool, Michael Bay isn’t lining up to make a movie about it but that doesn’t take away the good that is happening. Hopefully, more people will share those stories so others will know it isn’t an isolated incident.

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Suicide and Support: Don’t Be an Elitist Asshole

Some contractors are former military, like this one, but some are in harm's way without the same consideration as those that swore the oath.

Some contractors are former military, like this one, but some are in harm’s way without the same consideration as those that swore the oath.

It’s been over a year now since I wrote the first draft of this article. Reading over it is pretty excruciating, it reads like a poor attempt at controlling an angry rant. Probably because that’s what it was. The initial article was written shortly after a good friend of mine, Keith, committed suicide on Veterans Day last year. I know the mantra. You can’t blame yourself, you can’t blame other people. Ultimately, if a person is going to take his or her own life it’s going to be their choice. But fuck that. You may not be able to change the final outcome, but at least you can try. It’s obviously not that the veteran community isn’t trying. We all know we are. My issue is who we consider to be part of the veteran community.

Keith’s story isn’t that unique. He spent years serving his country, deployed more times than I kept track of (six since we met), and ultimately came home to a world that had moved on without him full of people who didn’t understand him. That’s something that most, if not all, of us can relate to. What set Keith apart is that he had never been in the military. I never did quite understand how he ended up where he did (a long running joke between us, but completely true). He was employed by a defense contractor shortly after 9/11 and by the time I met him, sometime in ‘06 or ‘07, he had served multiple tours in combat zones and racked up an impressive history. Still, he wasn’t technically a vet.

All of this meant that the resources that are made available to vets weren’t available to Keith. I’m not talking about the VA or crisis hotlines, but the actual people who had gone through similar experiences. When it seems like the world has gone to shit, and you don’t want to try to spell out what’s going on in your head to some well-meaning but clueless friend or shrink, the people you turn to are the guys who have been there and get it. Your fellow vets. But as a contractor you’re not one of them, and no one wants to be the outsider asking to be let in.

Ford F250 being driven by contractors that was hit by a suicide bomber outside a FOB in Helmand Province.

Ford F250 being driven by contractors that was hit by a suicide bomber outside a FOB in Helmand Province.

Keith and I had a lot of conversations over the years about the loneliness and isolation of not fitting in to the veteran or civilian communities. When you’re a vet you get the benefit of being able to claim that title in an attempt to surround yourself with like-minded people. To some extent, more support is available to the guy who spent 4 years as a cook in the army than to a guy who spent 10 years risking his life for his country but never took the same oath. There is a lot to be said on the difference between having gone through the process involved in joining, training for, and being active in the military versus those who have not; but, for the sake of the point here perhaps we can avoid the inevitable debates on that topic for the time being. Personally, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that support is available to me because a few times a year I ran around in a uniform and not because of the far more active (and more risky) duties I performed in a civilian role in service of the same government.

Two U.S. contractors were in this vehicle that was hit by a VBID outside a FOB in Helmand Province. The armor saved them but would vets value what they went through.

Two U.S. contractors were in this vehicle that was hit by a VBID outside a FOB in Helmand Province. The armor saved them but would vets value what they went through.

We need to do a better job of defining our community and being there for the people who really need it. Support networks, whether organized or just a bunch of people who have come together, are critical for many of us to get through tough times. Knowing that there are people out there who understand the things you’ve seen and experienced, who get where you’re coming from, who can empathize without needing to talk everything through, can literally be the difference between life and death on some days. It’s bullshit not to extend that support to the men and women who have spent the same time away from family in the same shitholes around the world facing many of the same dangers because they can’t show you their DD-214.

Being a member of any branch of the military is a culture in of itself. I’m not for a second suggesting that being a contractor or DoD civilian deployed to a combat zone makes all things equal. I’m definitely not suggesting that the rules need to be bent so civilians can be a member of some exclusive club and avoid having their feelings hurt. I don’t think civilians should start getting the GI bill or receiving financial benefits. All I’m saying is that if you served an active role in defending this country you are my brother or sister. We need to recognize that sentiment more widely when it comes to offering each other support.

We’re conditioned to think in terms of us vs. them, military vs. civilian; and with good reason. We think, speak, and act differently. A lot of the time we have trouble relating to each other. Then there are these people who fall in the middle, in some weird gray area. They’re not ‘us’ by our traditional definition, so by default they must be ‘them.’ But let’s be real. Our experiences line up pretty neatly. They’re close enough to being one of us that having their backs should absolutely be our concern. Maybe that would have made a difference for Keith, maybe not. More importantly, maybe it’ll make a difference to someone else in a similar situation who might, with the right support, still have a fighting chance.

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Protesting the national anthem distracts from your cause but you have the right to do it

Kaepernick is getting an early start to warming the bench.

Getting an early start to bench warming.

As patriot, proud of my service, I can say without reservation that I don’t give a good damn if a football player stands for the national anthem or not. In fact, having the choice to stand or not it is one of the ways I know I am free. But if it is used as a form of protest you are distracting from your cause and the message will not be about your protest but about your right to remain seated.

I addressed this last year when apparently it was cool to disrespect the flag. Like then, any American symbol has a number of different meanings that are individual to each person, but as soon as you disrespect the symbol it only represents you having the freedom to express your beliefs and not whatever meaning you try to assign it. Colin Kaepernick’s actions shows how truly free he, and every other American, actually is. In fact, it is only through the expression of unpopular opinions that we know how free we actually are. One of the very benchmarks of freedom are protesting openly and protesting a national symbol. Try that in North Korea or Russia and see how far it gets you.

Quarterback for the 49ers, so easy a Specialist can do it.

Quarterback for the 49ers, so easy a Specialist can do it. Image from a previous Military Appreciation Day by the Chargers.
Photo by” Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jennifer S. Kimbal

He has every right to remain seated during the national anthem. As a veteran I served my country and believe I defended that right. I will continue to defend that right to my last breath. I don’t have to agree with him to know that he retains his rights and freedoms as an American citizen. In fact, I think he is a huge douchenozzle. And that is my right. I get to express my freedom of expression by saying that I think Colin Kaepernick is a huge douchenozzle and there is nothing that he or anyone can do about it. Unlike Captain Douchenozzle, I earned my rights and freedoms with blood and sweat in distant lands. My tab is paid. I get to say that it doesn’t take much courage to sit on your ass, protected by venue security and police officers where you will be escorted on and off the field and if the team decides that he is not performing (which he isn’t) he is still guaranteed more than $11 of his $19 million contract this year.

Can you honestly think of a lazier protest? The only way he could have been lazier is if he stayed at home. The result would have been exactly the same. He could have instagrammed in his PJs that he wasn’t going to suit up as long as there were people “dying in the streets.” In fact, with all the sitting he is going to be doing this season maybe standing for a few minutes wouldn’t hurt. In the quarterback rankings I could quickly Google he didn’t even make the list of the first two and on another site he is listed as the backup quarterback on the last ranked team. It is a lazy protest by a mediocre player.

Now I get it, he doesn’t like a lot of what he sees in the news and neither do I. But instead of lending his celebrity to put a spotlight on the issue he is distracting the conversation away from his protest and making it about his right to protest. I have seen more posts about whether there is a requirement to stand than about what he is staying in his seat for.

This is the Charger's response to the national anthem, cover the entire field with the flag.

This is the Charger’s response to the national anthem, cover the entire field with the flag.

That is the inherent issue with protesting a national symbol. The conversation becomes less about the cause protesting for and more about the right to protest. Truth be told, the national anthem is a poor symbol to protest. The reason being it doesn’t represent just one thing. It means s many things to so many different people that the very cause you are trying to support will not be the focus. Many people have been breaking down the meaning of the words of the anthem to include the verses that are not sung at the start of football games. All of this analysis is not on the issue Kaepernick is trying to champion but on the object of his distain. I would think that a song about resilience would be a good one for him to get behind. This oppression he speaks of will be survived and we will come out the other end better and stronger. Which is kind of the American way. We fight tyranny and oppression and are stronger for it.

Kaepernick is pretty much the embodiment of the American dream, you would think he would support any symbol of the country that has taken such good care of him. He was adopted by white people, had a full scholarship to college, and up until a couple of years ago, was at the top of his game and hugely successful. Even as he rejects the nation that has given him so much he is still guaranteed $11 million if his team cuts him for sucking at his job and $19 million if they allow him to warm the bench for another season. If he was a few shades lighter he would be the epitome of white privilege and not the champion for black people everywhere.

I don’t think he is an idiot because of the cause he chose to champion but the way he tried to champion it. What he should be doing is something that doesn’t distract from the cause. Celebrities are finding ways to protest the North Dakota pipeline without turning the conversation from the issue. He is also giving other teams ammunition to use against him and his team. For example, the San Diego Chargers had a freedom orgy all over the 49ers during the preseason game. Teams are going to continue to have fun with this because it will be good to get in the heads of the 49ers.

Kaepernick should have participated in a protest, or even led one, to gain support for the movement. Since he is lazy he could have just flown out the family members of black people killed by police like Beyoncé did and had them sit in the front row of games. There are much better ways to use his celebrity to advance a cause and the mechanism he is using it not very effective. So yes, Kaepernick is free to be lazy and sit for a couple more minutes per game. Just as I am free to call him a doucenozzle.

 

Full disclosure: I was raised in Seattle and have long been a Seahawks fan so I have thought Kaepernick was a douche for a long time. I am a black man, born and raised in the U-S-of-A. I am also a veteran forged in the Infantry with a couple deployments under my belt. I was the true believer grunt. I was the guy that believed that the service of the men and women to my left and right were defending our country and way of life. As a patriot that has seen flag draped coffins and performed funeral honors for both active duty soldiers and veterans I respect the flag and do not think it represents what  he thinks it does. I do more than lip service about veterans and veterans issues, I am so passionate about veteran’s issues that I created this website where I express my rights and freedoms. Especially the right to call Kaepernick a douchenozzle.

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Don’t be a Dick on Veteran’s Day

I guess we should take down the Medal of Honor memorial. We wouldn't want anyone to be bothered by this display of appreciation.

If this is the standard for ‘hero’ then we will all fall short.

I have been seeing articles popping up lately by vets about Veteran’s Day. Some are insisting they are not a hero and some are pissed that some furniture store is having a sale because this day is about sucking up to vets and not buying a couch. Whatever your deal, stop being a wet blanket and messing it up for the rest of us.

The ‘not a hero’ vet

I get it, we all were just doing our jobs and only a few are Medal of Honor recipients. Anyone compared to them will come up short. Some people that insist they are not heroes do so because they think of the person that didn’t make it home and want to canonize the fallen as the heroes and the rest of us as people who returned from war. Or some people joined the military with the idea of fighting terrorists and ended up in an MOS they hated and didn’t feel they did anything heroic.

I understand, I don’t think I am a hero. I didn’t return a live grenade or fire a .50 cal from a burning tank like Audie Murphy. I came back with no new holes and that is a good thing. But my standard of heroic is not the civilian standard. Just spend a day on a college campus and you will see that for some people standing straight while being yelled at takes more intestinal fortitude than they can muster.

The attacks on 9/11 united the people of this nation and everyone knew that something had to be done. Some wanted to be the person that did something and joined the military while other people wanted to sit back and let someone else take care of it. The people that live in a nice little bubble that we protected think that just the act of stepping up is a big deal so let it go. No, you are not a hero by your standards, but civilians don’t have a word for “person that rose to defend the nation and endured a lot of hardship and sacrifices and was lucky enough to make it back all while I sat at home and went to college and played Halo.” Know that they have the best of intentions and just say, “thank you for your support.” If not for you, then for the real heroes out there.

The ‘don’t thank me for my service’ vet

“I am so glad that we got to avoid all the people throwing praise at us and I feel so sorry for you young vets,” said no Vietnam vet ever. If you can’t appreciate the support for yourself, accept it on behalf of the people that never heard it.

I know the military sucks and some couldn’t get out soon enough. There are a number of reasons for that and I’m sorry if you had to deal with it. Some people had serve traumatic experiences and I am not just talking about combat. Some people just had bad experiences that made the day-to-day life in the military miserable. I can relate, I was a hard charger and loved what the military was supposed to be but hated what it had become. Like so many others I got out with mixed emotions. I don’t see my time in the military as special especially since I know people that did more.

And of course there are the people that see the outpouring of support as being false or lip service. Trust me, I get that too. If every company that said they wanted to hire vets actually hired vets there would be no unemployed vets. Starbucks wants to hire thousands of vets but I don’t think many of them are high paying jobs and I don’t think being a barista is considered a step up for someone that used to lead men into combat.

With all the things that civilians have to think about in their own lives learning about the true military experience is something they just don’t have time for. They are trying to show support and a simple “thank you for your service” is a nice gesture. It is not going to make up for whatever you are personally feeling and snapping at them will not be productive. When someone tries to do something nice it is appropriate to be nice in return. Just say, “thank you for your support” and go about your day. If veterans start snapping at well-meaning civilians they will quickly stop being so well-meaning. We need the civilians to keep pressure on the VA to encourage them to overhaul their system. If civilians take the “they don’t need our help” position then the VA will be able to do whatever it wants and no one will care. We need civilian’s help to resolve veteran issues so let’s all be nice to them. So be grateful for the support or it will go away. If you don’t think you are deserving, say “thank you for your support” on behalf of the vet that is.

Just because I don't go after the free stuff doesn't mean it is wrong, just be cool about it.

Just because I don’t go after the free stuff doesn’t mean it is wrong, just be cool about it.

The ‘attention whore’ vet

Not all vets that are a dick on this day hate the attention. Some love it a little too much. You know who you are. I know guys that would map out all the places that advertised free stuff for vets and planned their Veteran’s Day around it. Instead of a being people that benefited from a kindness on a special day, they are the freeloaders that come to your wedding to drink up free booze and hit on bridesmaids. If you are going to be that guy, just remember you tip off the original price and not based on what you were actually charged. Don’t be the dick that gets a free meal and tips off the cost of his soda.

The world doesn’t owe you anything. I know some love the attention of walking around in the old uniform or military inspired shirts and hats. There is actually nothing wrong with that. Crossing the line from attracting attention to demanding it is where people go wrong. I am proud of my service too, but I don’t expect other people to recognize it.

Last year I was wearing a shirt that said “Army” on it and the waitress asked if I was a vet. When I said yes she said my lunch was free. When our bill came my food was on there. I didn’t ask for a correction because I appreciated the gesture the restaurant was trying to extend and I wasn’t going to make the difficult job of a server any more difficult by asking her to fix the bill. Also, it felt like it would be a little sad of me to ask.

The respect the day vet

I too believe that the military does a very important job and I am proud to have served next to some of the best that the country has to offer but we can’t call ourselves defenders of freedom if we dictate how to be free. The people that do this are the same ones that complain that Memorial Day is not just a free day to BBQ. I personally don’t know what is more American than getting drunk and grilling meat but that is just me.

No, people don’t have to go to a memorial cemetery to pay their respects and they don’t have to shake the hand of every vet they see. In fact, some vets wouldn’t like that at all. The best way to honor the sacrifice that vets have made is to take a real day off to be truly free. If that means sleep in that is fine. If that means lounge on the couch and get caught up on the DVR that is cool too. Or if you want to go to a local Veteran’s Day ceremony I can respect that. Whatever people want to do that is legal they should be able to do because they are in American and therefore are free. Part of being free is not having to acknowledge how free you are.

The contrary civilian

Actually, according to reputable, credible  journalists he didn't. Doesn't mean invading was a good idea but they did exist.

Actually, according to reputable, credible journalists he didn’t. Doesn’t mean invading was a good idea but they did exist.

Look pal, I get it, you watched a lot of Jon Stewart growing up and you thought it was real news. Or you thought “I can glean what is really going on through the jokes” and I am going to tell you that you can’t. The New York Times did a great story last year about Iraq’s chemical weapons program and a couple of months ago Stewart was still saying that there were no chemical weapons in Iraq. I am not saying that means the invasion was a good idea, just that some of your information is wrong.

So while it seems like a good day to put on your “Bush lied” shirt and correct some vets on their life choice, I am going to say don’t do that shit today. This isn’t the day we talk about how much fun it was to kill people it is a day to get together and remember the good times we had together. We are trying to honor our service which is a part of who we are and trying to ruin that by quoting some douchebag college professor is not forward thinking of you it is being an asshole.

You have 364 days to give us a piece of your mind how about we have one day to ourselves? And by the way, no veteran I have ever met will say that they had their perspective changed by some white kid in dreadlocks yelling a bumper sticker slogan at them. I know that this might come as a shock, but there are a lot of veterans that opposed the war. Many actually didn’t agree with the president. Contrary to popular belief, all soldiers are not mindless robots. So next time you want to give a vet some crap ask what he or she believes and actually listen to the answer. But don’t do it today, give us a day off.

To the vast majority of veterans I say that I was proud to serve with you even though we have never met. As a person that has enjoyed freedom his entire life I say to all vets I appreciate all you have done for this great nation. To the minority of veterans that are vocal about not being heroes and not wanting to be thanked for their service please give it a rest. Just say “thank you for your support” on behalf of those that are deserving and move on. To the guys heading out the door for some free nachos, don’t forget to tip properly and enjoy your free meal. While it is not what I am going to do I am not going to fault you for doing it just don’t be a dick about it.

For the record the irony of telling someone what to do on a day that is about freedom is not lost on me. So this is more of a request than a demand. Please don’t be a dick on this day. But if you are, know that it is a veteran that made it possible for you to do that and yes, you vets have earned the right to be dicks about your service but please don’t. It ruins the day for the rest of us.

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