reaction

Weaving the Crusader Quilt

red-drone

Through the magic of hyperlinks I found myself on the personal blog of David Perry. I read what I came to read, and then just before I clicked away I saw a “Crusaders in Iraq” link floating off to the right. While I’ve focused my efforts on continuosly exploring and unpacking the self-identifying ‘infidel’ movement in the military, there is another corollary which revolves around “crusader” imagery.

I clicked the link.

It’s interesting to see other folks who have also caught glimpse of this trend and find themselves troubled by it.

Like I’ve written before, the strangest part of it is the legacy it’s leaving behind. As we extract ourselves from Iraq(?) and Afghanistan, there is still a large swath of both the military and civilian population that self-identifies as infidels and crusaders through imagery, social media, or by brandishing knives forged in pigs blood. Of course, there is a growing number of businesses that have stepped up to fill the space and provide an ever growing supply of infidel and crusader inspired gear for a demanding public.

While free speech is protected, military members who fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice come dangerously close to falling into the “extremist organization” orbit when they brandish these things.

I continue to think that the esoteric nature of understanding the crusades and the Arabic required to really know what the hell you’re talking about when it comes to defining what an ‘infidel’ is and how that may or may not be a helpful term, is the reason there isn’t a more hard line on managing the phenomenon within the military.

@dongomezjr

memorial

The Faces on the Wall

I love Army breakfasts. During my enlistment, just about every battalion had its own Dining Facility (DFAC). Generally speaking, I ate most of my meals at our battalion’s DFAC, which was conveniently located in the same building as my barracks.

After awhile, it became a fun treat to explore other DFACs across the Brigade, Division, and post – to see how the other side lives. If we were feeling especially adventorous, we might even drive all the way across post to the Air Force side to eat in their DFAC. After finishing a wonderful lunch, I remember standing up with my tray to bring it to the turn-in when my much wiser comrade gently placed his hand on my tray, pressing it back down to the table. “The Air Force waiters come for it. There is no work for you here, brother.”

Maybe it’s cheap nostalgia, but I feel like our DFACs today just aren’t like they used to be. More likely, is I’ve become more picky as I’ve gotten older.

At Fort Hood, I’ve searched for a long time to find a great DFAC. While I haven’t tried them all, the one I prefer the most is the OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) Memorial Dining Facility. It’s over on the 1st Cavalry Division side of post, and as the name implies, it is in honor of 1st Cavalry Divison soldiers who died serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Inside the main cafeteria, the walls are lined with photos of the fallen. The pictures are mixed; some are official Army photographs displaying stoic faces, others are candid shots from deployment, the soldier usually smiling widely, the picture slightly pixellated.

They completely surround the room, hundreds of them.

Soldiers go on enjoying their breakfast.

Eating there a couple of weeks ago, I was a bit struck by how far we’ve come from the heyday of that war. The deaths, deployments, and knocks at the door.

It all kind of just slipped away. And the Army goes marching along.

@dongomezjr

update

Four Years of Carrying the Gun

IMG_5499

Today is the fourth anniversary of Carrying the Gun.

Top posts:
1. Why We Need West Point: Painfully Written by an OCS Guy
2. Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff. Seriously, stop.
3. Army Myths: The .50 cal will kill/harm/maim even if you miss

Top search terms:
1. plexiglass boards army (see this post)
2. combat infantry badge (see this post)
3. how to make a map board army (see this post)

Anniversaries are a pretty good time for reflection. I’m surprised that I’ve managed to keep the blog going, and the readership growing along with it. Every now and then I wonder if it is worth continuing, and I always come back to the idea that it is, because if nothing else, it allows me to work out thoughts and ideas in a way I just wouldn’t if I weren’t writing.

While I don’t go around telling everyone I know I have a blog, I’m still surprised when people I know approach me and tell me they liked something I wrote. It’s always best when they say they thought one way on a subject, but now see it another way as a result of something I put up here.

Outside of the blog, I wrote a piece on the problem with Lieutenant’s who write that was published on the Company Command and Platoon Leader blog. I wrote it while in Afghanistan, and less than 24 hours of it being posted, some of the superior officers and NCOs I was working with found it, printed it, and were passing it around a small camp in Jalalabad. It was a kind of surreal moment, sitting there, watching a grizzled NCO read something I wrote in an operations center. He liked it, though.

I also published a piece in Military Review, Operational Resilience in the Infantry Rifle Platoon. For anyone who is wondering, publishing there is a very long process. I think I submitted the piece in October or November of 2014 and it didn’t publish until May-June 2015. It was a good experience though, and the editing process was painful (but useful).

Also, the Military Writers Guild launched, which is a consortium of military writers. I’m a proud member and glad to be a part of a community inside the military that is working towards expressing and sharing ideas.

There’s been an explosion of conglomerate military writing sites that sprung up over the past year(s), like Task & Purpose and We Are The Mighty, among others. Those sites provide a great outlet for military and veterans to get their thoughts down and out there, but don’t necessarily want to manage their own blog.

The lone blog seems to be a dying species. As I’ve written about before, I’ve never been very interested in documenting the day-to-day of what I do, for a bunch of reasons, but I do it sometimes, and I think it adds more character to a blog than listicles and clickbait.

Here’s to another year.

@dongomezjr

reaction

The Military Meme Machine

When the whole Brian Williams thing went down, I wanted to chime in because my read of the situation was that the story he was telling slowly morphed over time, the way all war stories tend to do. Honesty is obviously a chief value in a journalist, and to betray that is wrong. But I didn’t think that Brian Williams deserved the hate being thrown his way, if for nothing else, because he has been a friend to the veteran community.

I chose not to comment though (much), because the horse, as it were, had already left the stable. The veteran community had already decided that Brian Williams was an exaggerator and a liar of the worst kind. Ranger Up, a kind of barometer for the vibes running through the veteran community labeled him the “Douche of the Week.”

Every comment thread on military-themed pages filled with Brian Williams memes.

It was already over, and the outrage machine had done its job. To try to get in front of that would have been futile, and suicide by meme.

In private conversations with many other veterans, a similar sentiment was shared, that he was wrong, but the pitchfork and flame treatment was largely overdone.

Related, I recently read something about Seth MacFarlane, who was being criticized for jokes about Caitlyn Jenner. He captured the idea I’m trying to get at as “the outrage industry,” which I think is accurate.

When asked how the jokes came about during a recent “Ted 2″ conference call, “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane told The Huffington Post he’s “too savvy to comment on the issue to the media.” He explained, “Once the outrage industry shuts down, I will be happy to have an adult conversation about all of this stuff anytime anyone wants, but, even though I’m on the side of support, I just don’t think there’s any way to … you just got to play it safe because the climate is just too charged. Anything I say can and will be used against me.”

On top of this is last weekend’s Star-Bellied Sneetches back and forth on who is the bigger asshole, combat veterans who put signs in their yards asking for respect when it comes to fireworks, or combat veterans who get annoyed with those combat veterans, or combat veterans who call out those combat veterans (and on and on…).

It’s all kind of sad, because I think a lot of reasonable voices avoid getting involved in many different conversations (especially online) out of fear of being dredged through the digital mud.

@dongomezjr

books

The beloved captain and the infallible leader

250px-Donald_HankeyOne of the benefits of having a CTLT cadet attached to your hip for a few weeks is you get invited to a bunch of events that lowly lieutenants would never get invited to. As the saying goes, the biggest demotion you get in the Army is when you graduate from West Point and pin on Second Lieutenant. Or so I hear.

During one of the half-dozen mandatory briefs/discussions, the III Corps Commander was talking about officership and mentioned, half-dissmingly, A Message to Garcia (which I’ve only recently even learned of myself). Where that tome is supposed to imbibe the young officer with the propensity to find his own way in things, the general recommended another book that he thought would be worth reading called The beloved captain. He spoke about it for a moment as I made a note to check it out later.

Weeks later, after the CTLT experience had ended, I googled it and ordered a copy. It’s not really a book, it’s more of an essay. Actually, three short essays written by Donald Hankey who served and was killed in World War I.

I finished them all yesterday. The story is told from the perspective a junior recruit, and begins with initial training and ends in the war. The recruit is writing about his “beloved captain” who was just a junior platoon leader when he first arrived, learning how to soldier just as the rest of them were.

Then he started to drill the platoon, with the sergeant standing by to point out his mistakes. Of course he made mistakes, and when that happened he never minded admitting it. He would explain what mistakes he had made, and try again.

The idea of the leader admitting his mistakes is one that I know a lot of junior leaders shy away from, instead going for “the infallible leader.” I’ve received much unsolicited advice to always be the hardest one, always have the right answer, never mess up in front of the men, never let them see you sweat, and on and on. The advice comes from the right place, to ensure that you are capable of doing the things you ask of your subordinates, but it also seems a bit inhuman and realistically unachievable. Like most “advice for platoon leaders” it boils down to be great at everything at all times and you’ll be good to go.

Instead, as the recruit notes here, a leader who admits shortcomings and actively works towards getting better gains the respect of his subordinates.

The recruit also writes about the importance of physical presence:

No trouble of ours was too small for him to attend to.

Being phsyically present at the shittiest detail or most uncomfortable activity is probably the best piece of advice I received from a senior officer. It’s not always possible, but being present has an effect on a number of things; discipline and morale being the chief two. It also sends the message that whatever it is you’re doing is important.

The beloved captain is a super-short read, and worthwhile because the advice seems counter to what is popularly understood as good company grade leadership, i.e.; the infallible leader. You can read it for free, here.

@dongomezjr