Checking in on Army ROTC at CUNY


It has been two years since Army ROTC returned to CUNY, its headquarters at City College.

When I was a student veteran at the school and spoke with officials about the possibility of Army ROTC returning, many said that no one would join. I was often told I would have to show that there is a real demand from students to create real momentum for its return. I argued that it was “if you build it they will come” kind of thing. Former Secretary of State and retired General Powell famously says that he learned about ROTC at City College simply by walking past the office.

When ROTC returned in 2013, I think many people thought it would fall flat on its face. With a downsizing military, Army ROTC at CUNY wouldn’t attract the right numbers to justify its existence.

Last April I had the privilege of attending the second CUNY Army ROTC end of semester ball. The program is just starting to commission its first batch of new Second Lieutenants, and most of them were choosing to serve in the Army Reserves locally in New York. Speaking with some of the officers and NCOs who run the program, they energetically championed the urban program as one that is attracting a unique type of leader, with different experiences than your typical ROTC/USMA cadet.

The program is still “boutique” in its offerings. It doesn’t produce the massive numbers of officers that it did in the early 20th century when it was one of the largest in the country, but it also isn’t designed for that today. The program is set to expand to offer at CUNY’s community colleges this year, which will likely expand the overall number of CUNY cadets.

On social media, I see CUNY ROTC participating in events and adding a touch of military professionalism where there really was none.

Besides the benefits to the Army that we get from attracting CUNY students to the military, the presence of an ROTC contingent at CUNY schools helps to normalize (not militarize) the relationship between the military and the citizenry. Understanding the military, and especially understanding that the military is made up of real human beings, is much easier achieved if you have had some contact with the military, even if its just an ROTC student you share a class with two days a week.

That, to me, is much better than the alternative.



video games

Metal Gear Solid and 1960s Green Berets

Big Boss Drinking canteen

I just started playing Metal Gear Solid V. I’ve always been really fascinated with the series. I was obsessed with it for Nintendo when it first came out. It was unique and interesting.

I played it again when it came out for Playstation. I really enjoyed reading through the military lore of that game, and uncovering the deep background of Solid Snake and unpacking what the hell was going on.

I kind of stopped playing after that one. I purchased the second MGS for Playstation 2 but never made it past the opening boat scene. A buddy bought me Snake Eater but that game remained in its wrapper. I was busy with work and just never had the time to get into it.

Despite not playing the past decade of Metal Gear, I’ve kept up with the trajectory of the game through the internet. I know the series has bounced around and has revealed a comically ridiculous plot line.

Still, if there is one thing I’ve enjoyed through the series, it’s Hideo Kojima’s reverance for special operations through the past century. Because the game bounces through time, and you always play some kind of elite soldier, operators from the 1960s are held up against operators in the 2000s. With the exception of some fantasy, a lot of the field gear is accurate. The picture of Big Boss drinking from a Vietnam era canteen (still used today, by the way) is what spurred me to write about this. In the same opening scene, Big Boss is wearing an old “butt pack” on his web gear, against, consistent with the timing of this game (mid-1980s).

With the game spreadout through time periods, and weaving in and out of different eras, it makes me wonder what the real differences are in special operators and one end, and typical soldiers on the other. Is a 1960s era Green Beret similar to Persian Gulf War era Solid Snake? What about the 1980s? My guy instinct says that special operators today are much more advanced in the realm of developing physical fitness with increased knowledge and availability of nutrition and training information, but I have no way of knowing if this is actually true. And I never see old pictures of fat special operators.

What about field craft? My gut also tells me that old school operators probably practiced better field craft than modern operators, partly because they were not so beholden to technology, and partly because they came from a different generation.

The picture of Big Boss drinking out of a Vietnam era canteen spurred me to write this. Besides getting me thinking about comparisons between eras, Hideo Kojima has always been good at getting gear generally right. In this same scene, Big Boss is wearing an old school butt pack on his web gear. On the absurdity level, he had just finished escaping a hospital while being chased by a flame monster on a unicorn.

And since I’m on the topic of Metal Gar, there’s a part of me that thinks that the whole series is complete bullshit. That the original Metal Gear for Nintendo was a stand-alone military game that featured  a prominent stealth option. When they made a second one, they bolted on more of a story and then again and again as each iteration came out. I just have a hard time believing that Kojima had this nearly century long timeline and idea thought out back in the late 1980s.



Women in the Infantry Redux: Queen of Battle


A few of years ago, when the seedling of integrating women in the infantry had been planted at about the same time I rejoined the Army, I began thinking critically about it and writing about it, mostly here on this blog. Ultimately it led to writing a three part series titled “what is the infantry” as a way of exploring whether or not it is a good idea to enact full integration. It was a strange writing experience, as I really didn’t do much research or reflection – it was mostly a stream of consciousness brain dump of what I felt at the time.

Plenty has happened since then.

While I’ve generally been in the “if she can hump the weight why not” camp, I’ve never claimed to have an absolute answer on the subject because as close as the infantry is to me (I’ve been an infantryman most of my adult life), I don’t own it. I’ve readily shared articles both for and against integration, for the readers’ consideration.

For the past couple of years, I’ve mostly retreated from the debate, mostly because it’s gotten too obnoxious, but also because I was too busy actually leading infantrymen.

The past week has seen a re-emergence of articles against the case for integration (The Best DefenseWar on the Rocks), and so I thought I’d revisit the topic to see what – if anything – has changed.

If you read through the entire “what is the infantry” piece, you’ll notice I don’t really come to a firm conclusion. I lay out what I see and what others have seen, and I kind of let it sit there.

The thing that has stuck with me upon further reflection, is the infantry as a profession is about youth. Infantrymen are young – teenagers and twenty-somethings. The everyday language of the infantryman is couched in youthful bravado and to some extent, immaturity. That’s not a knock, it’s just a reality of being young.

With that, I’m also of the mind that if women were to integrate in the infantry, the infantry would be changed, if only slightly.

One of the great takeaways I got from watching the full press conference a few weeks ago at Ranger Training Brigade (RTB), was when one of the journalists asked what value the female advisors added during the process. COL Fivecoat, the RTB commander, said that the major thing they influenced was the culture of the course. That is, the female advisors who assisted the Ranger Instructors (but didn’t grade) didn’t influence the standards of the course (which remained the same), but they did have an influence on the culture of the course. If I was to take a stab at what was meant by that, I would guess that the change in culture manifested mostly in language, as that is the means in which information is communicated. Anyone who has been in and around the infantry knows what I’m talking about, and it’s thing in which I tried to nail down in part III of “what is the infantry.”

That led me to think, what then would be the effect of integrating women in the infantry? Would the culture of the infantry also be changed?

And ultimately, would that change mean anything?

I don’t get too worked up about hard to measure pseudo-benchmarks like “unit cohesion” or “unit effectiveness.” I’ve referenced the spookiness and voodoo of the infantry before in a mostly reverential way, but I’m not sure that those things are gender specific. It just takes a special person – male or female – to want to do it.

And in the end, I have a hard time believing that as an Army we will ever lose because women are a part of the infantry, and taken further, that America will fall as a result. To prevent those things seems more a function of adequate numbers, resources, and training. That is, have enough men or women to fight, bigger and better guns, and a force trained to use them. That’s how you win. It’s unlikely, in my opinion, that this republic will fall because women serve in the infantry. And if it does, then, as my 7th grade Spanish teacher would say, “tough tidly-winks.”

When I joined the Army back in 2001, I remember scrolling through the Army’s website looking at the different jobs available. I’m not from a military family and really didn’t know much about it. When I looked at infantry, I remember seeing in paranthesis next to the the word infantry, “closed to women.” I wasn’t bothered by it, but if I’m honest and think hard, I do remember having a very slight reaction of “hmm, that’s weird,” only because for something to be outright barred to an entire gender, even at the tender age of 19, seemed strange.

Months later, under the hot Fort Benning sun, I remember shouting the “Infantryman’s Creed” at the top of my lungs. It’s a thing you say at infantry school, and it’s one of the better Army creeds. It’s supposed to capture what it means to be an infantryman, and with the sole exception of the title, it is not gender-specific. It captures a belief.

Adding women to the mix changes nothing.

I am the Infantry.
I am my country’s strength in war.
Her deterrent in peace.
I am the heart of the fight…
wherever, whenever.
I carry America’s faith and honor
against her enemies.
I am the Queen of Battle.
I am what my country expects me to be…
the best trained soldier in the world.
In the race for victory
I am swift, determined, and courageous,
armed with a fierce will to win.
Never will I betray my country’s trust.
Always I fight on…
through the foe,
to the objective,
to triumph over all,
If necessary, I will fight to my death.
By my steadfast courage,
I have won more than 200 years of freedom.
I yield not to weakness,
to hunger,
to cowardice,
to fatigue,
to superior odds,
for I am mentally tough, physically strong,
and morally straight.
I forsake not…
my country,
my mission,
my comrades,
my sacred duty.
I am relentless.
I am always there,
now and forever.



Flash-to-Bang: Nonsense on the internet, hearing it from soldiers


Smoke Grenade

Just about everyone I meet in the Army has a Facebook account now. It is more odd to not have one than to have one. Whenever I am up, standing in front of soldiers, I automatically assume I’m being Snapchatted. Social media is out there and exists. There’s no putting it away.

There are loads of military themed sites that vie for the attention of service members and veterans. Years ago, it was soldier blogs that made waves, giving others a peer inside the world of the military. Those have mostly died off, replaced instead with aggregate sites that allow many more voices to be broadcast to a much wider audience. These are sites like Task & Purpose, We Are The Mighty, The Rhino Den, Havok Journal, SOFREP, etc.

Then there are the strictly social media landing spots – Power Point Ranger, U.S. Army W.T.F. Moments, Gruntworks, Doctrine Man, etc. The list goes on and the low barrier to entry – an internet connection and an idea – allow these sites to rapidly proliferate and compete for the attention of its audience.

While aggregate sites allow for the display and dissemination of partially to fully formed ideas, the social media sites are pure candy. They post clickable, shareable, rage-baiting images and ideas designed to trigger an emotional response. Some of it is hilarious. A lot of it is nonsense.

Last week, before the media event and graduation at Ranger School, I heard soldiers speaking with confidence to one another that the outcome was pre-determined because of the Havok Journal article that claimed the President was going to be at the graduation, so ipso facto, the women got a free pass. In the circles I heard the claim, no one made a correction. No one said it was nonsense. It was read on the internet, disseminated, and settled.

A couple of months ago, when this article about the demise of Army leadership began making the rounds again, I was approached by a good soldier asking me why he should stay in the Army, because that article resonated with him.

Back in Afghanistan, I watched junior soldiers grow enraged over the ARCOM awarded to MSG Moerk because they saw a thousand memes on it. I could never imagine why a junior soldier – or any soldier – would be so interested (and outraged) at an award a senior NCO gets at a post, far, far away.

I’m not sure I’m shedding any new light on this. I’m sure in institutions all over the world social media is having a similar effect. I certainly see it in politics. It’s just something I’ve noticed a lot more in the military recently.

There is still this assumption that what happens online, stays online. That is an outdated understanding of the internet. What happens on Facebook, Twitter, and the like, interplays with conversations in morning formations. That funny picture I clicked ‘like’ on before PT becomes the actual thing someone references during the run. Only, out in the wild, removed from its original context of a funny thing on a goofy military site, it might not be so funny.

Related: The Military Meme Machine. I’m not a fan.