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 tram. 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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Random Memory: The Power of the Sham Shield

Getting to this image on FB inspired this post. Pretty legit but there is so much more to the E-4 experience. Check out Grunt Style for more funny stuff.

Getting tagged on this image on FB inspired this post. Pretty legit but there is so much more to the E-4 experience. Check out Grunt Style for more funny stuff.

By Peter Sessum

A recent post on social media about the attitudes of the enlisted ranks in the Army prompted me to write this. The breakdown of ranks were pretty accurate but I thought the Specialist one was too limiting to fully capture the E-4 experience.

There are two kinds of Specialists in the Army, the hard charger trying to get some stripes and short timers waiting to get out so they can grow their hair and smoke pot in college. While there are varying degrees that pretty much sums up most E-4s in the Army. It isn’t just about avoiding work, it is the creativity that goes into avoiding work. Some troops put more work into getting out of work than they would have done if they had actually done the work. For them it is more about the principle than the effort and for some it is about general amusement.

General shamdogs

If you want to see a productivity vacuum, take away all the NCOs and privates and leave the E-4s alone for a day. If you leave one Sergeant, the soldiers will have to pretend to work and if there are Privates around they will have to set some form of positive example. Either that or they will mess with him, but even that would be doing something. But if there is no one but a bunch of Specialists, they will do fuck all. It would be like putting a bunch of adults in a room without bosses, spouses or their children. Don’t expect a lot to happen.

The I-Corps Color Guard is a prestigious unit that represents Fort Lewis and the Army in the community. A former NCOIC had been a Tomb Guard at Arlington and rewrote the SOPs for the Color Guard. On paper they were the best that the Army has to offer but in reality they are still soldiers. When the troops were allowed to do PT on their own the E-4s would go to the gym and a few soldiers would nap under the bleachers while a couple would stretch and keep look out. Unsupervised, most Specialists will do a whole lot of nothing.

Creative laziness

When there are people around, expect the same laziness with some creativity thrown in. How many times has an E-4 taken a nap with a military manual in his lap? There is no better prop for a public nap than a military manual. An NCO might overlook the nap and give credit for reading the manual. The best place for such a nap is in the driver’s seat of a mechanized vehicle. You can’t be seen unless the person climbs up and that will make enough noise to wake you up from a strategic catnap. Even if they are fast, the view is from above and the brim of a cap will shade the eyes so they won’t know if you are sleeping or looking down. This is one of the many drawbacks of the widespread use of the beret.

I knew a guy that was short timing his entire time in the Army. He was like a Jedi at convincing people that didn’t know him into thinking he was a decent soldier. I remember that even though he had been at the unit longer on at least three different occasions I wondered who the new guy was when I saw him in formation. On a work detail he was the first guy to jump into action to get work done.

We were setting up GP medium tents and he grabbed the sledge like he couldn’t wait to get started. After a few enthusiastic swings the NCO told him to not wear himself out and to give someone else another chance. Immediately, he passed it off to another soldier. I found him sleeping in the cab of a deuce and a half a few minutes later. But he got credit for working right off the bat before he disappeared.

Next level shamming

The Specialist has been in long enough to know the rules. In the Army, the rules can’t be broken, but they can be bent. Or at least interpreted liberally. For example, at the time AR 670-1 which governs Army dress and appearance said that a soldier could dye their hair as long as it was a natural hair color. This would allow for a female soldier to dye her hair blonde as is common, but I don’t think anyone factored that a black male soldier would do the same. It was done for entertainment and maybe a little bit of rebellion. As long as it was a hair color that existed in the normal human spectrum it was legal.

It is A natural color but doesn't have to be MY natural hair color. This is what troops do when they are bored. There was no good reason for doing it but at least the platoon sergeant thought it was funny.

It is A natural color but doesn’t have to be MY natural hair color. This is what troops do when they are bored. There was no good reason for doing it but at least the platoon sergeant thought it was funny.

There is a downside, if not allowed to cut or color the hair while in the field it will look matchstick red pretty soon. That would be a violation and almost got me in trouble. Of course, they have changed the regulation now but for a time there was fun to be had.

When trying to get out of work a good Specialist needs to be quick-witted. Everyone knows that the way to get out of an after duty hours “hey you” detail is to get out of uniform and crack a beer before anyone can knock on your door. But how do you get out of a detail given on the fly? By a Command Sergeant Major? For that, you need a piece of paper.

A soldier with empty hands could be up to anything or nothing at all. But a soldier with a folded up piece of paper is a man on a mission and this brings us to the story that the post reminded me of.

So there I was… in Germany… no shit. I was walking near the battalion HQ when I saw our Command Sergeant Major. The downside of my Spec-4 Mafia efforts was that I was somewhat infamous in that unit and everyone E-8 and above knew who I was.

“Hey Sessum,” CSM Brown yelled.

Being our CSM I had no choice but to stop.

“I have a detail for you,” he said.

“Is it more important than this,” I asked holding up the piece of paper before quickly correcting myself. “Nevermind sergeant major, what do you need?” I lowered the paper to show it had lesser priority.

“No, nevermind, I’ll find someone who doesn’t have something to do.”

“Are you sure sergeant major,” I asked dutifully, “because I will put this aside to do what you need.”

He assured me it was fine and dismissed me. I stepped out like I had to make up those seven seconds and headed back to my barracks to take a nap and he went on to find a sucker that wasn’t smart enough to have a piece of paper on him.

That situation was set up by me sitting in the mortar platoon CP wasting time. A good Specialist can tell when there is nothing going on and someone is going to think up a detail so I did what any good shamgod would do, I went to my squad leader.

“Nothing is going on, can I go do that thing,” I asked.

“What thing?”

“That thing I told you about that I need to do.”

“What thing?”

“If you ask, you lose all deniability.”

“Oh that thing, sure.”

The entire exchange was to give me permission to take off and he maintained the illusion of accountability of his soldiers. If asked he could claim that he couldn’t remember what I was doing and if I was caught doing something wrong I would take the fall and he could claim that I was supposed to do something legit and had abused that trust. My plan was almost ruined by CSM interference.

When I was in charge of troops I tried to return the favor by telling them to “go do that thing” when things were slow to get them out of the AO. Unfortunately, I had a knucklehead Private who didn’t know to disappear and instead asked “what thing?” But what are you going to do? Eventually he caught on.

The best part about being a Specialist is not being treated like a Private anymore. All privates are worthless. It is just a fact. They are like puppies, they don’t know anything until taught. The only thing they have going for them is their enthusiasm. A lazy Specialist is practically a cliché but they have paid their dues and are given opportunities to show they are ready for the responsibilities of leadership. Knowing how to navigate the enlisted system as an E-4 is essential to good leadership.

It isn’t that being lazy makes a person a good leader but taking those first few months in the rank  to be a true Specialist will help a person be able to recognize the differences between a worthless soldier and one that isn’t properly stimulated. A regular soldier can become stellar troop with good leadership. An important part of leadership is knowing when someone is trying to get one over on you and being a proper shammer will help a person recognize from personal experience. Having been a good Specialist made me a good Sergeant and makes me a good leader in the civilian world.

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The Duality of the American Veteran

By: Peter Sessum

Serving in the military is one of those few jobs that brand you for life. No matter what you do, you will always be a veteran. It is one of the few professions that stays with you long after you leave it. In the civilian world your current job is what you do, but once someone identifies you as being former military that is who you are, you will always be a vet first in their eyes.

Veteran is a title some wear with pride while others try to hide, but like it or not, the civilian world will often not let us forget our former lives and treat us negatively and positively at the same time. There is this duality in how we are perceived when it comes to our experiences and how we fit into civilian society.

Post 9/11 reactions

This is one of the biggest dualities vets face. I don’t know a single vet that hasn’t been held accountable for the invasion of Iraq and yet I also don’t personally know a single person that was involved in any part of that decision making process. This is is especially experienced in college. The brother of a literature professor was deployed with the Marines the quarter I took her class and I paid for it almost every day. Even though I was Army, I embodied the organization that had put him in harm’s way like it was my fault he chose to join or I had any hand in deploying him.

College can be tough for identified vets because there are no shortage of young intellectuals that are happy to regurgitate something a professor said or something they heard on the Daily Show. Don’t tell them about The New York Times article that went into great detail about Iraq’s actual chemical weapons program because they will lose their minds.

On the flip side, there are people that appreciate that we defend the nation so much that it makes some vets uncomfortable. The genuine support is appreciated but most vets could do without the lip service. Every company and corporation says they support vets but none of them are going to hire a person just for being a veteran, the vet has to be the most qualified person. So in other words, there is no benefit to veteran status in getting a job. The only time there is a benefit is if the job requires the person to carry a weapon.

A stress shoot range might seem cool to civilians, but brag that it makes you cool in front of vets will get you mocked.

A stress shoot range might seem cool to civilians, but brag that it makes you cool in front of vets will get you mocked.

A particular set of skills

The best recorded shot I ever took was in basic training. I say recorded because they put a large dot on the target where the bullet hit. At a distance of 300 meters I hit center mass so that means at the distance of three football fields that round would have hit a man in the heart. I tell that to civilians and it seems impressive.

I have qualified expert with every weapon and weapon system I have ever put into action. In my lifetime I have easily fired tens of thousands of rounds at paper or steel targets. All of that sounds cool unless you are a vet.

The same story that would impress a civilian is laughed at by veterans. A center mass shot at 300 meters? That is pretty much expected for Infantry. A question I could get asked is “only 300 meters?” Snipers are mocking me as they read this right now. I know people that fire in a year the number of rounds that I have fired in my life and there are some out there that shoot that in a month. There are people laughing while they read this because shooting small arms is cute to them but it can’t compare to hellfire missiles. In military circles my training, skills and experience are no big deal. I consider myself pretty middle of the road, maybe slightly above average because most military jobs are support roles and I spent my time tactical. As a vet I am nothing special but I am the most dangerous person some civilians have ever met.

Dangerous vets

The idea that all vets are dangerous is almost comical to those who have served, and not just because an overwhelming majority of the jobs in the military are noncombat related. A student in one of my classes liked to think that all soldiers were these robots waiting to be ordered to kill. We would kill anyone at any time if ordered to do so.

I am pretty sure some civilians think this is true.

I am pretty sure some civilians think this is true.

“Soldiers are trained to target children,” he said in class with no supporting evidence.

I stood up, took over the class and talked about Rules of Engagement (ROE), the law of land warfare and answering any questions for about 20 minutes. ROE is the difference between self-defense and murder and the military does prosecute murder. An unlawful order by an officer does not overrule ROE or the Geneva Conventions and following such an order is a war crime. Another vet in the class clearly didn’t agree with the student’s beliefs but didn’t want to self identify so he let me fight alone. This guy did what all people like that do when faced with the truth of their own losing argument, he went personal.

He said that because I had been to Afghanistan I had Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and that was why I was getting mad. This is how I know that the people that think vets are dangerous know that we are not. He pushed me and walked away unscathed. Simple ROE, I was not physically threatened so I didn’t physically react. But like many others I think he wanted me to. Either he gets to take free potshots at me or I prove his point.

When civilians do that they are not standing up to someone strong, they are being the bully. I am sure he told all his friends about how he stood up to a big bad vet, but the truth is he was the one that needed to be defended against. Antagonizing a vet in public is like throwing rocks at a Pitbull. In their heads the people are stopping a vicious animal that could easily rip their throat out but when the dog is behind a fence, chained up and asleep the rock throwing isn’t that heroic and is actually very cruel.

Because of our “breed” we can be attacked without provocation. We are dangerous so any attack on us is justified. We also can’t express any passion or emotion or will be seen as someone about to snap and go crazy. On more than one occasion I have been treated like I was going to hurt people just because I raised my voice. Sometimes it is I am black, sometimes it is because I am a vet. Both are scary to civilians in this area. Of course they feel bad about thinking that about a black man, but thinking a vet is dangerous is treated like it is prudent thinking.

We are these dangerous animals that can snap at any moment, but if things do go bad, you can guess who they want with them. There are plenty of examples when a vet has been the person to respond in a time of crisis. Most recently, on a train in France and a college campus in Oregon vets tried to stop someone with murderous intent. The duality of being both crazy people with PTS and heroes in waiting never ceases to amaze me.

Airman Spencer Stone was on vacation with friends in France when Ayoub El Khazzani boarded a train with an Ak-47, a 9mm pistol and some gas. Stone was the first to rush the attacker with his friends close behind. Fortunately for him, the rifle jammed and he was able to tackle the gunman without getting shot because with the restrictive avenues of a train car his actions would lead to certain death. This plan relies on pure luck, which he had, or having enough momentum that your dead body falls on the attacker and your friends are able to disarm him.

When they called for someone to step up in a dynamic and dangerous situation it is a vet that answers the call. Mintz survived seven shots and lived to smile about it.

When they called for someone to step up in a dynamic and dangerous situation it is a vet that answers the call. Mintz survived seven shots and lived to smile about it.

When shots were fired at Umpqua Community College a teacher said that someone needed to warn the people in the library. Note that he didn’t go himself, he said someone else should. Chris Mintz, a veteran, rose to the challenge. After warning the people in the library, he ran outside and told a young woman arriving on campus that she needed to stay away, he then went back in to confront the gunman.

He could have gotten away, no one would have blamed him for escaping when he had the chance but he didn’t, he went back to confront the gunman getting shot seven times in the process. On the news a couple of days later they celebrated a couple of police detectives who were first to arrive on the scene. They were heralded as heroes because they approached the situation without vests but Mintz confronted the man without a gun. Hit seven times and he still survived? Mintz is hardcore.

When other people fun away, we run toward the danger. Not only do we do it, but civilians expect us to. Why didn’t the teacher at UCC run and warn other students? Because he is a civilian and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he was safely outside when Mintz was getting shot.

I don’t understand how people can reconcile in their heads that they want vets far away from them so as to not be murdered but want the vet right next to them to protect them from murderers. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that there are students in Mintz’s class that thought he was ready to snap at a moment’s notice prior to shots being fired.

The soldier family man

One of the most difficult dualities is the one at home. It can be difficult to be the person your family needs and the person you need to be overseas. You can’t be the guy that picks up your kid at school in a firefight and you can’t be the guy that has to drop the hammer on a bad guy when picking up your kid from school.

It isn’t easy being a person that has seen the worst in people and what they can do and still be positive with a young mind you are tasked with molding into a productive member of society. Few people exist in the same reality as the one veterans have experienced and it is a struggle to determine how much of that to share with family and friends. Case in point, I had a friend tell me that my world was too real and she was not sure we could be friends anymore and our conversation barely scratched the surface. Some people really don’t want to know what the world can be like outside our borders.

Vets are forced to compartmentalize who they are at work and who they are at home.

Vets are forced to compartmentalize who they are at work and who they are at home. The same man in two very different worlds.

Maybe one of the most difficult aspects is balancing the idea of being the strong veteran and the broken human in front of the family. When a man is seen as an invincible hero to his children he might find it difficult to be vulnerable and needing help. Getting help is what is best for the family and the vet.

Being a veteran means walking a tightrope of expectations and dealing with a number of perceptions from civilians. Some appreciate our service while others see us as the embodiment of a government or foreign policy they hate. There are people that see us as protectors and some that see us as the oppressors. Depending on our personal actions we fall somewhere in the middle of the different perceptions. Some of us are the best people you have ever met and some are the worst but as a whole, military service members and veterans are some pretty decent people with good values and that is why I tend to surround myself with them. They fit another duality of veterans, and something General Mattis said about Marines, no better friend – no worse enemy.

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Who is to Blame for 9/11 a Veteran’s Perspective

Shouldn't we be blaming the terrorists and not a president for this?

Shouldn’t we be blaming the terrorists and not a president for this?

By: Peter Sessum

This has been in news lately as names have been thrown around and the blame being passed like a political hot potato. I thought it might be fun to weigh in, not the political part because we try to stay out of politics on this site, but the blame game. When assigning blame should it be the president that was in charge, the one that could have stopped him or the one that started it all?

The president at the time

It makes sense, he was in charge at the time so the buck stops there. But did he really have the information handy to stop the attacks. I don’t believe the conspiracy theories that he knew and let it happen so we could invade Iraq. Mainly because someone that sinister would have had a better attack plan and could have drawn the 9/11-Iraq invasion connection better and would have had a better plan than “attack and take Bagdad and see what happens.”

Some people argue that he had some intelligence and could have done something. These are also the same people that claim the Intel used to invade Iraq was faulty so the intelligence services can’t give bad Intel when it supports one argument and great Intel when it supports another.

There is also another hole in the “Bush knew” theory. There really are no secrets in America anymore. China and Russia have our launch codes, the only successful secrets we have are the recipes for coke and the 11 herbs and spices and even those have been reverse engineered. In a time of Manning and Snowden there are too many people willing to blow the whistle. By now, someone credible would have brought out documents showing how Bush or Cheney orchestrated the whole thing. Give me a credible source and I am on board.

No doubt that Bush had all kinds of interesting intelligence briefings. I am sure there were reports of all kinds of threats. But he had only been president a few months and unless those attacks were planned, funded and put into action that year, someone else should have seen it coming. If he did know when it was going to happen I am sure he would have been in a better location than a school classroom. It would have been better for the cameras if he could have been on a military base or somewhere that would have been good security and a great backdrop for the news conference cameras.

The president that could have stopped it

Like it or not, al-Qaida is part of Clinton’s legacy. There is the World Trade Center bombing, millennium plots, embassy bombings, the bombing of the U.S.S Cole and poor Rules of Engagement (ROE) which helped Osama bin Laden get away a few times.

You forgot about this didn't you? Trying to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993 should have been an indicator.

You forgot about this didn’t you? Trying to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993 should have been an indicator.

I also guess that everyone has forgotten that a month after he was sworn in as president al-Qaida set off a truck bomb in the World Trade Center. The truck exploded in one of the parking garages killing six and wounding over a 1,000 more. Maybe if he had handled the first terrorist attack of his presidency better there would not have been an al-Qaida around eight years later to hijack planes.

The millennium plots were a series of attacks that were supposed to happen around New Year’s Day 2000. A couple were failed attempts. There was a boat that sank in the same harbor that the Cole would be in a year later because it was overloaded with explosives. Alert border guards also caught a couple suspicious men trying to enter Washington State from Canada. They had explosives and plans for the Space Needle in Seattle. Their plan was to blow it up at midnight New Year’s Eve. The closed down the Needle but had the normal fireworks go off. I was a couple blocks away watching the fireworks and remember the story in the news. I might not have been so close if I knew it was part of a larger plan.

I don’t remember Clinton being blamed for the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in 1998. Sure bin Laden had made declarations to attack the west but the attacks were planned in secret. He did have a decent cruise missile response but it didn’t eliminate the terror group.

Obama is clearly bored with them discussing who is to blame for 9/11 every time they get together.

Obama is clearly bored with them discussing who is to blame for 9/11 every time they get together.

The fact that someone tried to blow up a ship in early 2000 should have been an indicator, but the Cole was in the same waters a year later. This is a serious lapse in judgement or ignoring the lessons of the investigation. It also carries over into the ROE issue. Petty Officer John Washak was reprimanded for pointing an M60 at a small boat approaching the fantail of the Cole less than 24 hours after the attack. To a rational person it might look like a repeat attack but the ROE was not changed to protect the boat from follow up bombing, something that I don’t think would fly today.

The issue of ROE extends to when bin Laden hid out in Afghanistan. Ahmed Shah Massoud was fighting the Taliban and was working with the U.S. because of the similar goals. Massoud was laughed at the ROE that the U.S. imposed on him. They wanted bin Laden captured alive and when approaching they could not fire unless fired upon and still had to take care not to kill the terror mastermind. Of course it was ridiculous but for the U.S. too give his group the intelligence on the enemy’s location he would have to play by our rules. Keep in mind, if SEAL Team Six had the same ROE they would not be alive today. Of course if Massoud had the same ROE as SEAL Team Six then the al-Qaida head might have been killed in the late ‘90s.

Killing the mastermind would only have prevented the attacks on Sept. 11 if he was killed before the plan was formed and funded. Any time after that and the plan would still have gone forward. So unless we can pinpoint the exact date of the funding and planning we might be able to pin the attacks on Clinton. Maybe we should blame the guy that pushed a madman over the edge.

The president that started it all

if this pushed Osama bin Laden over the edge, he must be spinning in his grave knowing that there are female Rangers.

if this pushed Osama bin Laden over the edge, he must be spinning in his grave knowing that there are female Rangers.

This could be placed on Bush Sr. After all he did something that made bin Laden really mad. He was the president that allowed girls to drive in the Holy Land. To some, an inexcusable crime. It of course started with Iraq invading the friendly nation of Kuwait. Naturally Saudi Arabia was worried that they might be next and called in the help of a coalition of nations. It kicked off Desert Shield and the barely 100 hour “war” of Desert Storm.

It could be said that the president should not have deployed females to the Middle East because it would insult the sensibilities of some of the locals. Since I am not an idiot, I am not going to get into the discussion of if not deploying females into areas that oppress females encourages those behaviors, how sexist it could be and the obvious issues of equality and military readiness but feel free to discuss with a broad range of people and let me know how it turns out.

No matter the reason if he didn’t think about it or decided to deploy females anyway, it was a point of contention for Osama bin Laden. Saudi Arabia is the home of Mecca and there were women doing things only men are allowed to do, like walk around without hair and face coverings, driving, holding jobs and generally not having babies which is just wrong to some people. It could have been the first sign of the apocalypse for him and we had to be stopped.

I am pretty sure this is how bin Laden imagined it.

I am pretty sure this is what bin Laden thinks they do. How dare she sit there not having babies?

I wouldn’t point the finger at H.W. Bush because he didn’t anticipate one of what is no doubt on a long laundry list of things that pushed bin Laden over the edge into stepping up his terror game. A guy that crazy can’t be reasoned with. He considered the U.S in his home country and invasion of the Holy Land even through it was at the request of the government and what was most likely seen as a good move for the nation. The only thing that got Iraq out of Kuwait was a coalition forcing them out. That and a 40-day bombing campaign.

So Bush Sr. might have contributed to the madness of the 9/11 mastermind, Clinton didn’t do all he could to kill the man and didn’t prevent future attacks and Dubya was in charge on Sept. 11 and had the benefit of the knowledge of historical events. Everyone knew how dangerous al-Qaida was but couldn’t stop them due to the secretive nature of the terrorist organization. If the U.S. would have known what they were planning they might have been able to prevent Massoud’s assassination which would have most likely led to him being president of Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban and the region would look a whole lot different.

Pointing fingers is easy and would be great if there was only one indicator to place responsibility. Unfortunately, what everyone could have done would have had political ramifications. There is no way congress or the American people would have been on board with invading Sudan after an embassy bombing or an attack on a single ship in the Middle East. Maybe if the American people would have supported more than just airstrikes then Clinton would have taken greater action but he pulled troops out of Somalia and most likely didn’t want a similar situation like Mogadishu that hurt his predecessor.

Instead of trying to figure out who to blame for an attack 13 years ago for camera time, I want to know what a future president is going to do to prevent the next 9/11. Ayman al-Zawahiri is still out there and I am sure he and his friends are planning something.

Breakdown for the comic book geeks: Is Spiderman responsible for the death of Ben Parker? Peter Parker had a chance to stop the thief but didn’t. The thief, a man he didn’t know to be a killer, later shot his uncle in a robbery gone bad. If he would have known the future he would have for sure put in the effort to stop the thief, but lacking that information he took no action because it seemed appropriate for the given situation.

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You Can’t Cherry Pick Your Oath

By Peter Sessum

oath enlistment armyI was really hoping to let this die, but since Kim Davis is back in the news I just have to vent a little about the situation. What drives me crazy is how she disagrees with part of her job and instead of quitting, she just refuses to do it. That is a luxury that military members do not have. Unlike her oath of office, soldiers can’t pick and choose what parts of their oath of enlistment to follow.

On Oct. 10, 1995, Specialist Michael New was in formation in regulation BDUs and a soft cap. He was out of uniform because he refused to wear the United Nations (U.N.) baby blue cap. We were in the same brigade in Germany and I remember the story. His unit was tasked with a six month peacekeeping rotation to Macedonia. Peacekeeping is the mission of the U.N. and since the U.N. doesn’t have a military, member nations provide the troops. It was considered a pretty cake duty depending on where you were stationed.

This is the headgear New decided to wear that got him a big chicken dinner.

This is the headgear New decided to wear that got him a big chicken dinner.

New decided that since he did not join the U.N. the order to deploy was therefore unlawful and he wouldn’t go along with it. Or more specifically that he wouldn’t deploy as a member of the U.N. and so wouldn’t wear the baby blue hats or berets that soldiers wore. He considered the U.N. a separate power and asked, “Where does my oath say that I have to wear U.N. insignia?” I am hoping his command said, “Right next to where it says Third ID patch.”

His command understood and respected his beliefs but a lawful order is a lawful order. They tried to convince him to wear the hat and go because it would all be over in a few months and it wasn’t considered a combat deployment. He refused so they kicked him out for disobeying a lawful order.

Military members have to obey the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It is the legal system of the military but it is also in the oath of enlistment. Just as he promised to follow the orders of the president of the United States and the officer appointed over him. He might have had a case if he was forced to actually join another country’s military but in joint operations sometimes there is a foreign officer somewhere in the food chain which is what New was debating. Unfortunately, the oath of enlistment does not specify American officers so he had no case.

Ironically, New is now part of a group calling themselves the Oathkeepers. He also has written a book and spouts conspiracy theories, mostly targeting the U.N. and of course celebrates the day he historically stood up against the Army. But is historic if history doesn’t remember you?

People that were in their MOS school on Sept. 11 joined a different military than the one they graduated into. Anyone that joined Sept. 12 or later should have known that deploying was a possibility and anyone that joined after the invasion of Iraq should have known that a trip to that sandbox was in their future. Ehren Watada was one of those people. He joined the Army and became an officer a month after the U.S. invaded Iraq. So he wasn’t a dumb 17-year-old private.

Only after a WARNO to deploy did Watada decide to research Iraq. Even for an LT that makes him slow on the uptake.

Only after a WARNO to deploy did Watada decide to research Iraq. Even for an LT that makes him slow on the uptake.

He was good with his decision during training, during the year he was stationed in Korea and even during his time a Fort Lewis, now Joint Base Lewis McChord, and it was only when he received the Warning Order (WARNO) to deploy to Iraq did he suddenly have a problem with it.

After the WARNO he did his research by reading book on the history of the region and he decided that the Iraq War was unjust and that deploying would make him guilty of war crimes.

My issue with Watada is twofold. First, he joined the Army after the invasion of Iraq had already kicked off. The invasion was not a sneak attack, so there was a lot of press leading up to it. He had to know at that point that joining might make deploying a possibility but he still joined. Second, his decision that the war was unjust came after being told his unit would deploy. Only then did he decide that the war was wrong. After three years of enjoying Army pay and benefits, he suddenly didn’t want to play anymore. Soldiers can’t play Army until something happens they don’t want to do. Doing stuff that sucks is kind of what the military is all about. If you could quit at any time or refuse to do things you didn’t agree with the military would fall apart. The solution is simple, if you don’t want to do that shit, don’t join.

As Americans everyone has the right to do believe what they want. There is a huge difference between these two men and Davis and it isn’t that her beliefs are spiritual and not political. The monumental difference is that she can walk away at any time. There is nothing forcing her to stay.

New and Watada had military contracts to fulfill. They had the UCMJ to follow and a chain of command to answer to that extended all the way up to the president. Davis can just walk out the door and not show back up to work. The only negative downside for her is the lack of a paycheck. But I am sure she can get a job at the pizza joint that won’t cater gay wedding receptions.

As an elected official she must have some form of oath of office that she had to swear to do the job she was elected into. Yet she is deciding not to do that job. Regardless of your political or religious beliefs, you have to agree that not handing two dudes a piece of paper is not the same as invading another country without an exit strategy.

John Boehner is proof that elected officials can walk away from their job. If the man that is third in the line of succession to be president can deuce out, so can a woman in Kentucky in a county clerk’s office. Watada and New had two choices, follow 100 percent of the orders given to you or get booted. That is what bother me about the Kim Davis situation, there is nothing stopping her from quitting, she just doesn’t want to.

There is nothing about her religion that forces her to have a government job. If she doesn't want to do it then she can quit.

There is nothing about her religion that forces her to have a government job. If she doesn’t want to do it then she can quit.

Even more infuriating is that her reasoning is wrong. In an interview her husband said that “five judges making a decision doesn’t make it a law.” Yes, you country ass motherfucker that is the very definition of a law. A Supreme Court decision is literally the law of the land. They are not the only ones who makes laws, but when they make a determination, it is no shit legally binding. It is called the Supreme Court because there is literally no higher court in the country.

I wish she would just quit her job and fade away, but with the claims that she met with the pope during his visit she has jumped back into the news. She has a job, she has to do it. Just like we all had to do our jobs whether we wanted to or not. There are a lot of orders I would have loved to disobey, but you can’t ignore orders just because they are stupid, they have to be clearly unlawful.

Until she can show me the passage in the bible that requires its followers to hold a government office, she is not following her religion by staying. She is violating her oath of office and it drives me crazy that she can do that by choice when so many of us couldn’t. Too bad there isn’t a UCMJ for elected officials.

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