The Black Magic of the Infantry

8657967805_c671651da9_oCBS Sunday Morning ran a fantastic story today about Army photographer Charlie Haughey who served in Vietnam and packed away his photos from that infamous war in a shoebox for decades. Those images were recently pulled out and printed for display. They are really amazing.

Vietnam used to be a war I really didn’t want to know anything about. I was more curious about World War II and the heroes of that war. Lately, I’ve found myself reading more and more about Vietnam. Completely fascinated. It’s its own special time. There it is.

This haunting image was the one that left me frozen on my couch. There is something about the photo, the smoke, and the white eyes looking right back at me that captures something ancient about the infantry.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the special qualities that makes an infantryman an infantryman. A lot of it revolves around darkness, and letting go of your own humanity. It’s scary stuff. And this image comes close to exposing it.

Here is a link to the photographer’s website. And here is a link to his Flickr page. It is well worth exploring. Every photo is magnificent.

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Gen. Powell: “Military Service is honorable.”

Amazing photo of the JROTC Color Guard on the stage in the Great Hall. Photo by New York Times photographer Damon Winters.
Amazing photo of the JROTC Color Guard on the stage in the Great Hall. Photo by New York Times photographer Damon Winters.

Returning to City College for the ceremony welcoming back ROTC was beautiful and surreal. It was strange to walk in the Great Hall and see so many military men and women criss-crossing the floor in sharp uniforms, and I had to remind myself at times that I was one of them. I felt uncomfortable like one would when inviting two friends to dinner that you know don’t get along, but are forced to be cordial. I studied the faces of faculty members whom I knew were at best, skeptical of this endeavor.

The ceremony began with a the posting of the colors. The Francis Lewis High School JROTC Color Guard did the honors and looked superb.

The President of City College, Lisa Staino-Coico began speaking, then CUNY’s Chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, followed by the ROTC Cadet Commander, Major General Smith, all discussing how great it is that ROTC is returning and thanking those who had a role in bringing it back.

Then Gen. Powell, the guest of honor, was called to the stage.

He thanked the Color Guard. He spoke briefly on how important and how formative ROTC was to him. And then he began to wrap up his remarks.

He took a deep pause.

“Military service is honorable,” Powell said. “We may disagree with the politics or the policies of it all, but military service is honorable.” (Jeff Mays, DNAinfo)

That, I believe was Gen. Powell’s way of addressing the lingering apprehension among those who believe ROTC does not belong on campus.

Military service, is honorable.

Over the years, I imagine that Gen. Powell has thought long and hard about military service – with all its trappings – and how that service can be reconciled with our democracy. His war was Vietnam, and his school was City College. His formative years were spent at City College at what was once one of the largest ROTC programs in the country. His alma mater would later boot the program off campus. No longer welcome. He must have felt betrayed.

Somehow, he had to reconcile this all in his mind. Military service is honorable. That is where that reconciliation ended.

And I agree.

More poignantly, and in a barely quivering tone, Gen. Powell said that as proud as he was at this achievement, seeing ROTC return to City College, he only wishes his City College ROTC buddies who never made it back from Vietnam were there to see it. It was interesting to see a man whose influence stretched much further than the rice paddies of Vietnam, go back there for a moment. I could tell that he meant what he said. And I was reminded that Gen. Powell is still a soldier.

The ceremony concluded with us singing the Army Song in the Great Hall.

After Decades, Boots Are Back on Campus (New York Times)
R.O.T.C. Returns to New York’s City College More Than Four Decades After Removal (New York Times, At War Blog)
ROTC Returns to CUNY (CUNY Press Release)
CUNY brings back long-lost ROTC program (New York Post)
Colin Powell Helps City College Re-Launch ROTC Program (DNAinfo)
Army ROTC returns to City College of New York (Army Press Release)

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At War: R.O.T.C. Returns to New York’s City College More Than Four Decades After Removal

ROTC high crawl

I wrote a short article for the New York Times At War Blog about today’s ceremony welcoming back ROTC to City College. This has been long in the making, and I’m personally looking forward to learning how it all went down.

The team at the New York Times did a great job digging up some photos from the late 1960s showing students mocking ROTC drills on the campus. Perfect find for the piece.

I’m really proud of this article and especially proud that ROTC is returning to City College today.

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Uniforms: Ankle rolls and Army boots

Ankle sprain
This is what happened. Over and over and over again.

I’m going to keep this short. This is related to my post last year about what size boots I’m supposed to wear.

If you are prone to ankle rolls, it might be because you underpronate like I do. Underpronation is when your foot strikes the ground on the outside edge of your foot first. It is typical in people with high arches.

Because of this, minimalist shoes are a no-go for me. I’ve tried retraining myself to not underpronate to no effect. Instead, I wear running shoes and inserts that provide cushion and stability. This prevents me from getting injuries when I run.

Underpronation also affects the way that I walk. I’ve always been “prone” to rolling my ankle in the Army, and as a result, I’ve suffered some pretty devastating ankle injuries in the past. I used to think I just had “weak ankles.” A lot of these injuries are because of the high heel in standard Army boots. When I walk, the outside of my foot strikes first. When I’m carrying a heavy rucksack, the entire weight of my body and gear can come down on just a tiny portion of the outside of my foot, and if the angle is right, cause my ankle to roll further, potentially causing injury.

To correct this, I have switched the boots I wear in the field to something with a lower profile and shorter heel, like the Nike Special Field Boots.

Wish someone would have told me this a long time ago.

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Army Myths: Confirmed kills

Confirmed Kill

I’ve checked and double-checked my ERB and ORB. There is no category to record my “confirmed kills.” The term “confirmed kill” gets thrown around a lot, especially in sniper circles. The whole idea of a “confirmed” kill suggests there is some process or that there is a forensics team that descends on a body after a shot was fired to confirm unequivocally who gets the credit.

That doesn’t happen.

Most Confirmed Kills
People really want to know.

As far as I understand, there is no way of keeping track of individual kills. Individual soldiers may ‘confirm’ to themselves that they are responsible for a kill – but there is no official way of tracking that, no process. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some award citations out there where you might find the term ‘confirmed kill,’ but that is a reflection on how pervasive the term has become, not an indication of an official policy or process.

Hollywood and the media have latched onto the idea of the “confirmed kill” and use it as a way of displaying the individual skill and prowess of a soldier – usually a sniper. Journalists have no problem throwing the term around without checking to see what the term means or how a confirmed kill is actually confirmed, often taking military folk at their word.

So if someone tells you they racked up X amount of “confirmed kills” you can blow them off. Or better, ask them how those kills were confirmed and who confirmed them. If he (or she) says that they did it themselves, you can nod and smile at them. Then walk away.

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A note on Blue Falcons

From *Mewberries @ deviantART
From *Mewberries @ deviantART

While in basic training, I became quickly aware that the Army had its own specialized language. Special words and phrases flowed freely from the drill sergeants to be quickly appropriated by us privates and used liberally like we had only ever spoken them.

“Good job, that’s squared away.”

“Well would you look at this muldoon!”

“Go wash your booger pickers and get ready for chow.”

“Don’t be a buddy f@!%er!”

That last one was especially important in basic training where the group was often punished for the sins of the individual. If someone messed up, brining the wrath of the drill sergeants upon us, he would often be deemed a “buddy f@!%er.”

Not once through basic training or Airborne School do I remember hearing the term blue falcon as another way to say buddy f@!%er without being as vulgar.

And then I was assigned to 3d Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment (Blue Falcons). 1st Battalion was the Red Falcons and 2nd Battalion was the White Falcons. We were the Blue Falcons.

It still didn’t register with me because I had never heard the term before. Then, one day while waiting in line at the Blue Falcon Dining Facility, someone explained it to me. I was completely dumbfounded. I wondered how long the term had been in use and when our Regiment chose its naming convention.

Today, I hear the term Blue Falcon used all the time. People are having fun with it. 3/325 AIR has since been re-designated 2/508 PIR (this occuring during realignment in the mid-2000s).

Still, whenever I hear someone throw around ‘blue falcon,’ I use it as an opportunity to give them a quick history lesson on what was once a deadly airborne infantry formation.

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Ghosts on campus: student-veterans of the Vietnam era at City College

I’ve been doing some research on the ROTC at the City College of New York and came across this piece in The Campus newspaper. It’s called “College: a vets’ eye view” and the author interviews some of the student-veterans on campus about their views on the war in Vietnam. I am completely sucked into these pieces because all of this happened at my alma mater. The same things I experienced at City between 2007 and 2010, student veterans faced forty years ago, and probably sixty years ago too after World War II.

But I never really knew. None of us did. All of this information is lost. Ghosts of the past walk the campus, experiencing the same things over and over and over again. All this gnashing of teeth and tormented thoughts. The answers all there, buried in texts from the past. This has all been done before.

Most of the veterans, although they agreed that anti-war protest is important and necessary, felt that they were somewhere to the political right of most students, if not in their attitudes, certainly in their actions. It’s possible that is because most of them are married and working at least part-time, and feel that they have a greater investment in the “system” than other students have.

For the same reason, most of them felt that their attitude toward their education was somewhat more pragmatic than most other students’. Several said that their only interest in the school was to get a degree as fast as possible.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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College: a vets' eyes view
Returned veterans speak out