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The Real SXSW

Fort Irwin NTCSXSW starts today. No, not that SXSW. The real SXSW.

It’s a pity too. Last year I had just arrived at Fort Hood and didn’t get to experience that other SXSW. This time, I’ll be in the box.

I’ll be away for the next month or so. I’ll be unable to respond to anything going on in the world or get back to anyone leaving comments or sending messages.

See you on the other side!

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Budweiser Hangover

Monday’s post on Budweiser’s “Hero’s Welcome” Super Bowl ad attracted a lot of attention for the blog. If you’re a new reader, welcome.

The post struck a chord as some people found it offensive while others found it charming, and were in fact offended by other people being offended.

The blog was highlighted by Alex Wagner on MSNBC’s ‘Now with Alex‘ and friend of the blog Wes Moore gave me a shout out, which was pretty cool. The conversation quickly moved from the ad to veterans issues, as per veteran advocate SOP.

I also saw that the BBC linked to the blog as well.

Kind of like my infidel posts, this one is popular because it gets at something deeper than what we’re actually seeing. It’s a culture war. And nothing gets America more fired up than a good old fashioned culture war. The Budweiser ad and everything in its orbit fits into this or that person’s narrative of the world, and to challenge it is to challenge that narrative, which pisses people off.

For the thinkers, however, it’s an interesting spot.

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So, now what?

Lest there be any confusion, I’m not shutting down the blog. Last week I wrapped up ‘Iraq: Ten Years Ago‘ and I heard from a few people that they were sad that I was stopping the blog. That’s not the case, I’m just not recounting that experience anymore.

For the past year, that was the meat of the blog. The readership grew exponentially as a result and it gave people a reason to come back to the blog every couple of days or so.

To be honest, the Iraq posts really didn’t garner a lot of heavy traffic. My longer, reflective and analytic posts are the ones that make the most waves, and they are actually a lot more satisfying to write. With Iraq over (nothing is over!), I can focus more on those pieces. Going forward, I think I’ll average one or two posts a week. But they’ll be good.

Work has me pretty busy for the next few months, and likely the next year, but I will do my best to keep new stuff coming. I’ve been socking away article ideas for the past year that I just haven’t been able to get to.

Now, I will finally be able to get to that crazy article on how Cloud from Final Fantasy VII suffered from PTSD and committed Stolen Valor.

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Two years of Carrying the Gun

I realized the other day that I missed the two year anniversary of the blog (July 9, 2011). Like I did on the one year anniversary, here’s some stats:

Most popular posts:
1. Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff. Seriously, stop.
2. Army Myths: The .50 cal will kill/harm/maim even if you miss
3. Why we fight

Top search terms:
1. troll
2. major league infidel
3. drill sergeant

The post I wanted to be more popular than it was: Veterans on the Set of World War Z.

You can read about the day I started the blog here.

From the Introduction:

The blog is centrally about soldiering, writ large. Sometimes, I’ll write about things only remotely connected to soldiering, but there will be a connection there, somewhere.

I’ve decided that I’m going to drop the ‘Soldiering, writ large’ line. I’ve found it constraining, and a commenter recently pointed out how annoying it is. I typically do write about things in the soldierly orbit, but not always. So, on this, the two year anniversary of the blog, it’s just ‘Carrying the Gun.’ I’ll write whatever I want.

 

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This is not my Army

Be all you can be.

Worth saying up front, this is my personal response to some of the craziness that’s been in the news over the past couple of weeks. It does not reflect the official view of the Department of Defense or the United States Army.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty terrible for the military in terms of press. Right after a massive report on sexual abuse within the force was released, a wave of arrests and investigations were announced on individuals whose job it was to lead and fight these problems in the military. Terribly ironic and symbolic.

Sexual assault and harassment is only the latest in what has been a steady stream of bad news for the military. After a decade of war, we’ve read over and over about PTSD and the mental health stigma, suicide, unemployment, and extremism within the ranks. Without question, as a military, we have some issues, some things we need to address and fix.

But the things that I read about on a daily basis – all of these problems – while real and important, do not reflect the reality of what I live and what I see as a soldier.

In other words, this is not my Army.

Yes, we’re growing as an organization. We’re learning. We’ve been at war for over a decade. We’re trying new things and adapting to a rapidly changing world. America’s expectations of who we are and who we should be are also changing. With that, problems are bubbling up to the surface that have been long ignored – and we are addressing them.

But this fractured force that I read about full of misfits and miscreants is not my Army.

The Army I serve in is composed of brave men and women who joined the force during a time of war, fully knowing they will likely be placed in harm’s way. They’ve seen the images of veterans coming home with missing limbs and those who struggle to transition back to civilian life and still choose to sign the line. These are men and women who are unafraid to be patriotic at a time when doing so is uncool and out of fashion. These men and women live the Army Values, and are just as shocked to learn about the scale of the problems we’re facing as a force – and as a nation – as the rest of America.

And we want to get better.

But this group of broken and sorry soldiers, fumbling along being victimized is not my Army.

The Army I serve in shows up and works, focusing on their daily drills, with a watchful eye on far away global hotspots, listening to the talking-heads non-chalantly discuss “boots on the ground,” waiting for the call to be whisked away again to some far off place. Talk of an “Asia Pivot” or a return to a “garrison Army” falls on deaf ears for the family tearfully saying goodbye to their soldier at the departure airfield heading to Helmand province for a year.

This is not to make light of the difficult problems we face. They are real and need to be fixed – and I believe they are, because I see it on the ground.

No, I’m writing this because even with these problems, the men and women who serve in our armed forces represent the absolute best our country has to offer. They are our greatest resource – the less than 1% who choose to do a hard, often thankless job. They sign up, really having no idea what they are committing to – a complete investment of mind, body and soul that they can’t possibly understand until many years later, after careful reflection and hard earned wisdom. Only an inkling of an ideological pull exists that carries them forward. A nagging yearning to do more. A precious gift that too few give to their country.

I’m writing this because I don’t think that we are getting a fair evaluation. Or, rather, the heavily slanted negativity simply does not reflect what it is like to serve. It is an honor and a privilege. I am daily surrounded by the most amazing Americans I have ever known. I don’t show up to work in the morning and dig myself out of mental health issues, suicide, unemployment, sexual assault, or whatever else becomes the issue of the day. Yes, those things are there, but they are not the dark cloud that colors my experience as the media would make it seem. Rather, these represent another piece of the giant puzzle of military life.

America expects us to be the best, and at the risk of sounding pompous, we’re pretty damn good. Yes, we have our problems. And we will fix them. We will fix them because that’s what we do. We learn. We get better. We take care of our own. We don’t simply ignore our issues. They’re out there. They’re public. We’re working on it.

Change is coming and it’s probably going to hurt a little. That’s fine. Through it all, I know that I am serving with special men and women who make this country great and will do so long after they take off the uniform.

Hooah.

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Bye Bye Benning

fort-benning-35464802_std

It’s wild to think I’ve been at Fort Benning for over a year, just to get back into the Army. But that’s the case.

Memories:

30th AG Reception Battalion: Looking like a football hooligan because all I had to wear for four days was a pair of black swishy pants and a black windbreaker, both with white piping. A Drill Sergeant with tattoos that ran up his neck called me some pretty nasty names for it.

OCS: Ascots. The OCS alma mater. Singing. Lots of classes. An ever present fear that you’d get in trouble for something and dropped from the course and kicked out of the Army, no commission for you, and a one-way ticket to needs of the Army. Getting sucked into the stupid hierarchy of “you’re better than me because you have a blue ascot and she’s better than you because she has a white ascot.” Branching day. Coffee privileges.

IBOLC: Heavy rucks. Experience tailored by the cadre, not the course. A terrible feeling that you were being graded on something you haven’t been taught. An aviator who taught his class wearing flight gear, helmet and all.

Basic Combatives Course: Sore elbows and knees and waiting to get punched in the face. Getting tazed.

Stryker Leader Course: Morose. PMCS. Lay out all of the B.I.I.

Ranger School: A tragedy in three acts, but you’re the character that gets killed in the first.

Time spent at HHC: Trying to steal diamonds from an angry, sleeping dragon.

I really enjoyed my time at Fort Benning. I met great people and have a ton of new friends. The post is beautiful and Columbus isn’t that bad either. Atlanta and Savannah aren’t that far away and they provide nice outings if you just have to get away.

The entire experience has been a positive one, warts and all. I’m looking forward to the next step, to see how things have changed (or haven’t) in the ‘real’ Army.

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Post Ranger School Roundup

Literally and figuratively.

Literally and figuratively.

OCS
IBOLC
Ranger School 
Stryker Leaders Course
PCS

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same”

After eight months of throwing myself headfirst into the wall, my Ranger School journey ended suddenly and unceremoniously with a med drop. I’m fine, by the way, but will have to heal up before heading back to finish what I’ve started.

I have nothing but good things to say about the course and the officers and NCOs who run it. I’ve learned tons over the past few months about doctrine, tactics, leadership, fieldcraft, hunger, exhaustion, and most importantly, myself. I would have preferred a more favorable outcome, but I’m thankful for the experience.

I’ve spent more time than any young lieutenant ever should poking around Columbus/Fort Benning. I can barely step outside without spotting an RI or CSM. Next step is to PCS and head to my first duty station. Heal up, get healthy, work hard, and destroy whatever is in front of me.

By the numbers: Over the course of eight months, I did four IBOLC mini-RAP Weeks and three real-deal Ranger School RAP Weeks for a total of eight 12 mile foot marches (96 miles), eight 5 mile runs (40 miles), 7 land navigation courses (~70 miles), 3 Combat Water Survival Assessments (one in the cold), three 2.1 mile buddy runs (6.3 miles), 3 miserable romps through the Malvesti obstacle course, hundreds of pushups, situps, and flutter kicks, 2 airborne operations (the first after having not jumped for seven years, and the second landing me in a muddy pond and garnering two Major Minus spot reports – both without jump pay), a handful of ambushes with a sprinkling of recons, miles and miles trekked through the woods up and down Camp Darby’s infamous erosion ditches, dozens of rolled ankles, a half dozen painful OPORDs, dozens of recitations of the Ranger Creed, hundreds of shouts of RANGER (with a few mumblings of the same on an off day), 6 weeks spent assigned to Vaughan’s Platoon (purgatory for Darby Recycles), books and books read, and lots of reflection on times past and times present.

All in all, a fantastic Army training experience. I can’t wait to go back.