Katniss Could Have Carried Peeta: Catching Fire, PTSD, and Women in the Infantry

Last year I kind of reviewed The Hunger Games shortly after seeing it because I enjoyed it so much. Shortly thereafter I borrowed the book from a friend at IBOLC and bought the other two, read all three, and now I consider myself a fan. I’m glad I didn’t read the books before seeing the original movie because it made the original viewing experience much richer.

Catching Fire was fantastic, but only because it met my imagination and expectation – not because it surpassed it.

I’m not going to do a full on review of Catching Fire, but I will mention a couple of things that stuck out to me that seem relevant to write about here.

If you haven’t seen the movies or read the books, you will find spoilers below Caesar Flickerman.

caesar flckerman

Very early in the film, we see that Katniss is suffering from her role in the 74th Hunger Games. She has an early flashback of killing one of the contestants and is obviously disturbed by it. She also dismisses any help offered by those around her when they recognize that she is suffering. I’m not the first to point out that she’s likely suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Haymitch (Katniss and Peeta’s mentor) also seems to be suffering from PTSD and is often found self-medicating with alcohol. The same can be said for some of the other ‘victors,’ specifically the ‘morphlings‘ from District 6 who, upon winning their games, turn to drugs and become addicts.

One of the most powerful scenes in the movie (and certainly the book, when it came at a complete surprise) was when President Snow announces that the tributes for the 75th Hunger Games would be reaped from the remaining victors. When I first read it I remember my stomach sinking and wanting to throw the book across the room. In the theater, that reveal had been numbed since I already knew it was coming, but I could hear the collective gasp from audience members around me who didn’t know. The Hunger Games is such a traumatic and terrible event, that only the thought of a peaceful life of luxury afterwards seems appropriate. To have to do it again, fully knowing you’ve passed an almost impossible test and will be tested again feels like a powerful punch right in the gut.

While not quite as dramatic as having to fight in the Hunger Games a second time, the concept of having to do it again reminds me of the repeat deployments soldiers often endure. The reactions of the victors are the same reactions I’ve seen (and felt) in the faces of friends I know. While there are some who relish the opportunity to go and prove themselves again (District 1 and 2), there are some who feel like they are getting screwed (Johanna – “Fuck that!” she screams. “And fuck everyone that had anything to do with it!”). Then there’s Katniss and Peeta, who just won The Hunger Games in dramatic fashion, and are going right back in (stop loss/combat tour extended).

There was one specific scene in the film that ensured I would write about the movie, and that came when Katniss turns to Finnick and pleads with him to carry Peeta (who was injured). “I can’t carry him,” she says, looking to Finnick and letting those words hang in the air as an absolute truth. Of course she couldn’t carry him, she’s a girl after all. Powerful Finnick helps carry Peeta and everything works out just fine.

Instantly, I was ripped out of the movie and my mind turned to that common trope used to argue against allowing women in the infantry – the “she has to be able to carry a 220lb soldier with combat equipment under fire” argument. It was unfortunate, because I was enjoying the movie until that point and was immersed in the world, but I can’t help where my mind goes. I imagined other people in the audience – probably other infantrymen, since I was at a theater near post – thinking, “See? She can’t carry him, women shouldn’t be in the infantry.”

I’ve argued previously that the “she can’t carry” argument is an argument of extremity. It’s a scenario that rarely occurs, and even when it does, good leaders will always point to the biggest guy in the squad to do the heavy lifting.

Also, I think Katniss (as played by 20-something “beast mode” Jennifer Lawrence) could have carried Peeta on screen, as opposed to 16 year old, malnourished Katniss from the book.

Lastly, I just want to comment on one of the things I love about the first two movies – the music. From the Panem anthem to the intro music to Caesar Flickermann’s show, through the first two movies I really believed that these tunes were well known throughout Panem and the people in the Hunger Games universe knew how to react to them. Like, the way that when the music starts in the arena the victors instinctively look up to the sky to see the fallen. They know this because they’ve watched The Hunger Games on television throughout their lives and know all the little rules and cues. All of this is weaved into the films seamlessly, which makes the whole world believable and frightening.

Fantastic movie. You should see it.

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The End of War Reading List

Finally__the_End_of_War____by_enricoagostoni

With the future of US forces in Afghanistan post-2014 still uncertain, I’ve been thinking about what it would mean to be on one of the last deployments there – someone is going to have to do it, after all.

Ex-blogger Andrew Exum once told me that the value that I would bring as an older, over-educated LT was that if I were to go to war, I’d know what books to read before going, or at least where to start looking.

When it comes to Middle East Studies, Afghanistan is on the fringe. If the field is a purely geographical one, it falls outside of the region unless you have a generous cartographer. If the field is thematic, then there are certainly things that bring Afghanistan into the fold. As it were, my schooling brought Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan in every now and then – but not often.

I could scour my bookshelf and pull out a dozen books about Afghanistan and start reading, but I think history and anthropology only go so far in a post-COIN/post-OBL 2014.

This is the End of War.

I’m turning to you, dear readers, to help me out in recommending books that you think would be beneficial to a young leader going to Afghanistan. It doesn’t have to be Afghanistan specific – it can be about anything – but I’m hoping to build the definitive list of books that would prepare that young leader for a contemporary deployment to Afghanistan. That list, I am sure, is different from the list that would exist for a different young leader deploying in 2003, 2007, or 2011.

The first book I’ve pulled off of my shelf is “Into the Land of Bones,” a gift from a friend back in New York. I haven’t read it yet.

Please leave your recommendations in the comments. I’ll add my own recommendations as I find them and write short reviews as I finish them.

Update: I’m getting lots of recommendations – some will go on the list, others will go “on deck,” because I’m not quite sure yet.

The End of War Reading List

Into the Land of Bones (gift from a friend) – currently reading
The Defense of Jisr Al-Doreea (recommended by a couple of friends)
The Massacre at El Mozote (recommended by Matthew Bradley)
Every War Must End (recommended by Jason Lemieux)
Black Hearts (recommended by “Jim”)
Can Intervention Work (recommended by “Lincoln”)
A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq (recommended by Robert)
Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking (recommended by Laura and a friend)
Friend by Day, Enemy by Night: Organized Vengeance in a Kohistani Community (recommended by Laura)
War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (recommended by Joao Hwang)
Romance of the Three Kingdoms (recommended by Joao Hwang)
The Forever War (recommended by Shelly)
How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle (recommended by Tim Mathews)

“On Deck”

The Operators (recommended by Nathalie)
The Liberation Trilogy (recommended by Allen)
The Village (recommended by Robert)
Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop (recommended by “Kyle”)
The Junior Officer’s Reading Club (recommended by “Kyle”)
The Enlightened Soldier – Scharnhorst and the Militarische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805 (recommended by Laura)
Storm Troop Tactics: Innovation in the German Arm (recommended by Laura)
Utility of Force; Art of War in the Modern World (recommended by Laura)
The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century (recommended by Laura)
Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power (recommended by Laura)
Brave New World (recommended by a fellow infantry officer)
Sympathy for the Devil (recommended by Wesley Morgan)

Just for fun

All You Need Is Kill
The Stranger

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Army Culture: Boots on a Wire, or, the last, desperate act of a disgruntled soldier

Boots on a wire

It’s getting cold in Texas. As last week came to a close, a friend came to my office and asked me if I knew anything about why there would be a pair of painted boots in a tree outside of our headquarters. I smiled, ear to ear, because I hadn’t heard of anyone tossing their boots up over a wire for a long time.

I first saw it at Fort Bragg. Going outside for morning formation, a pair of leather combat boots, painted glittery gold were dangling high over us, rocking slowly under the electrical wire. We formed up and I watched the First Sergeant quietly fume as he took roll call.

I asked someone what the boots were all about and I was told that when a soldier gets out of the Army, one of the last things he might do is tie the laces of his combat boots together, paint the boots, and then throw them up over a wire or into a tree in front of the commander’s office, or as close as possible. The more bold you were, the higher up the chain of command you went. I also heard of stories of soldiers trying to get the boots on the actual desk of the commander. Boots on a wire is was a way of getting in one final insult to the Army before disappearing to the real world.

“I don’t get it,” my friend said in my office, “how is that offensive, it doesn’t mean anything.”

I smiled again. “Right, it doesn’t mean anything to the commander. But to everyone in the unit, they know what it means, and the point is, the commander was not able to prevent it and now that the soldier is gone, there is very little he could do in retaliation.”

He shrugged and we walked outside to see a group of soldiers climbing the tree to take down the boots.

Painted Combat Boots

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Fotros Drone

Week ending November 24, 2013

The top search was ‘fotros drone.’ Earlier this week, I posted this: The New Iranian Drone – Fotros “a redeemed, fallen angel.” I haven’t posted much middle east stuff for awhile and I found the name of the drone to be interesting, considering the mythology behind it. Doing another Google search for ‘fotros drone,’ I found that past the news articles concerning the big reveal, there isn’t much else written about the drone, thus the reason the search term led a few people to Carrying the Gun.

fotros drone

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The New Iranian Drone – Fotros “a redeemed, fallen angel”

iran_fotros_drone_620x350-1

I read this morning in multiple places that Iran has unveiled their new drone, “Fotros,” which boasts a 2,000 km range.

I’ve always been interested in the naming conventions of military equipment, especially in Iran and the Arab states. While names can easily be dismissed as just dressing, sometimes the name of a device can tell more of the story, or how the equipment is intended to be used.

I did some quick Googling and found this about Fotros: “A fallen angel in Shia mythology which was redeemed by Husayn ibn Ali.”

I also found this description of the story of “fitrus” from a blog:

On the day Imam Hussain (a.s.) was born, it was said that Allah (swt) commanded Hadrat Jibraeel (a.s.) to descend upon the heavens and congratulate Prophet Mohammed (saas). While descending, Hadrat Jibraeel passed an island where an angel named Fitrus had been banished due to his delay in performing a command made by Allah (swt). He had his wings taken away from him and remained in that island for several years, just praying and asking for God’s forgiveness. When Fitrus saw Hadrat Jibraeel, he asked where he was going, and Hadrat Jibraeel said that he was going to congratulate the house of Imam Ali (a.s.) on the birth of Imam Hussain (a.s.). Fitrus begged him to carry him to the Prophet (saas) and see what he can do for this case. When they arrived, Hadrat Jibraeel (a.s.) gave the message Allah (swt) commanded him to deliver and then talked about Fitrus’ situation. The Holy Prophet (saas) looked at Fitrus, and told him to touch the newborn (Imam Hussain) and return to his place in Heaven and obey the commands of Allah (swt).  Fitrus touched the body of Imam Hussain (a.s.) and instantly got his wings back and was able to descend back to Heaven. Before Fitrus ascended back, he promised to Imam Hussain ”O Husain, from this day onwards, whenever anyone sends their Salaams to you, I will always deliver it to you.”

An interesting name, given the reports that this drone was at least partially reverse-engineered from the Predator drone that was captured in late 2011.

A redeemed, fallen angel.

I don’t know much (anything) about the mythology of Fotros other than what I found this morning. If anyone knows more and cares to share, please do so in the comments.

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How can I get my CIB if I lost my paperwork and my iPerms doesn’t have it?

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Week ending November 17, 2013

“how can i get my cib if i lost my paperwork and my iperms doesn’t have it”

That was the top search term of the week. I sincerely hope that this is not a major problem in the infantry right now and that this was simply one guy who just kept coming to this site from that search term. That is what I suspect the case is.

I’ve never written about this topic or iPerms, so I suspect he got to the blog via one of my posts during EIB Week where I discuss the EIB versus the CIB. I have written in the past about the importance of keeping an “I Love Me Book” which is related to the subject.

To address the users query, I would recommend contacting your buddies from the unit where you got your CIB. Chances are your CIB orders are multiple pages long containing many names – a buddy with a last name that begins with yours should have the paperwork that you need.

Otherwise, I hope you took pictures of the firefight and you can tell a good story. And if not, there’s always next time.

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I’ve got your back, Tom Cruise

I am angry about this whole Tom Cruise thing that has blown up since Veterans Day.

For those not tracking, a story was released by TMZ with the headline: Tom Cruise – My Job’s As Hard as Fighting in Afghanistan.

If you are like most people and you are just scrolling through Facebook or Twitter early on Veterans Day, and your eyes glide over a photo of Tom Cruise next to that headline, you are likely to feel your blood pressure rise and anger generate deep in your chest. That’s what happened to me. I thought – “No way would he say that, what an idiot.”

So, I clicked the link to learn more.

At that point, I’d gather, I’d already done more than 90% of the people who reacted to the headline.

Here is the damning quote, which TMZ says it got from legal documents it obtained:

First, the Middle East — Tom says his location shoots are just like serving a tour in Afghanistan, “That’s what it feels like. And certainly on this last movie, it was brutal. It was brutal.”

And that’s it. That is the quote that warranted TMZ to write the headline claiming that Tom Cruise exclaimed that his job is as hard as fighting in Afghanistan.

I read that line and I thought – “Well, it sounds like he’s simply saying that making a movie can be exhausting.” As someone who has been on the set of a major blockbuster, I would agree.

I clicked away from the TMZ piece, happy to have discovered the truth, knowing that it was just TMZ being inflammatory.

Hours later and the damage had already been done. Outrage from the military sphere. Mock articles on the Duffle Blog. A scathing video from Action Figure Therapy. Tom Cruise became the perfect heel for Veterans Day. A wealthy Hollywood type who is already known for being eccentric, supposedly claiming he has it as bad as American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. It serves as the perfect story to capture how removed from reality people can be, and helps shine a light on the civil-military divide.

Only, the whole thing is spectacle and manufactured outrage. I was able to tell from the TMZ story itself – BY READING IT – that the claim made in the headline was hyperbole. And then, the next day, more information emerged explaining the context in which Tom Cruise said what he said:

The comments come in a section of the deposition where Cruise is being asked about time he has spent away from daughter Suri, either because of film or other commitments.

“Now your counsel has publicly equated your absence from Suri for these extended periods of time as being analogous to someone fighting in Afghanistan,” opposing counsel asks him. “Are you aware of that?”

“I didn’t hear the Afghanistan,” Cruise replies. “That’s what it feels like and certainly on this last movie it was brutal. it was brutal.”

“Do you believe that the situations are the same?” Cruise is asked.

“Oh come on,” Cruise says, “you know, we’re making a movie.”

So not only was Tom Cruise simply responding to a question asked in regards to the feeling of separation that comes about from being away from his family while making movies, which is indeed analogous to someone being deployed, but he even goes on to scoff at the idea that those two situations are analogous: “Oh come on,” he says, indicating how silly the comparison is in the first place (even though I don’t think it’s that silly a comparison).

Facts don’t matter. The damage was done.

People – veterans especially – love to get outraged. Ranger Up posted an article naming Tom Cruise as the “Douche of the Week” and to their credit they removed the article once more information became available.

And now, Mark Wahlberg, who is out promoting his new movie Lone Survivor, is the hero of the internet because in an apparent reaction to what Tom Cruise did not say, he rants:

“For actors to sit there and talk about ‘Oh I went to SEAL training,’ and I slept on the — I don’t give a fuck what you did,” Wahlberg exclaimed. “You don’t do what these guys did. For somebody to sit there and say my job was as difficult as somebody in the military’s. How fucking dare you. While you sit in a makeup chair for two hours.”

“I don’t give a shit if you get your ass busted,” the tirade continued. “You get to go home at the end of the day. You get to go to your hotel room. You get to order fucking chicken. Or your steak. Whatever the fuck it is.”

It’s all nonsense because people aren’t actually reading these stories and thinking critically about them – they’re just reacting to the headlines in the way that they want to react so that whatever worldview they hold is validated.

As it turns out, Mark Wahlberg was asked whether his comments were a reaction to Tom Cruise, to which he said they were not.

As you know, facts don’t matter. Only outrage matters.

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Veterans Day 2013 Link Drop

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Veterans Day is a good day when it comes to military writing. It is a great peg for folks in the sphere to say what they want to say and get it out there to someone who might not normally read military stuff.

Here are some of the more interesting pieces I’ve seen over the past couple of days. I know there are more out there that I haven’t got to. If you have a recommendation, add it to the comments and I’ll add it to the list below.

Reunion Clips of Soldiers and Their Loves Ones Have Become Just Another Form of Entertainment (The Daily Beast) – This is what I wrote for Veterans Day. It’s about the spectacle of viral-ready “reunion” videos which appear on the internet and on news programs, essentially as entertainment.

Help Veterans by Taking Them Off the Pedestal (The Atlantic) – A piece by Alex Horton on why over-idealizing veterans may do more harm than good.

On Military Service (Rhino Den) – I have a love/hate relationship with Ranger Up. Often, they post very reactionary or inflammatory essays – but it’s always had a “in the barracks” feel to it, which is probably good for people to see. Nick at Ranger Up often writes really, really good stuff, though. This is one of them.

The Vets We Reject and Ignore (The New York Times) – By Phillip Carter. A short Op-Ed about discharges in the military.

Retiring the Vietnam-Veteran Stereotype (The Atlantic) – By Sally Satel and Richard McNally. About the struggle veterans face during reintegration because of some of the old stereotypes out there fueled by Hollywood and the media.

And of course, every Veterans Day, someone writes a version of this piece: Stop thanking the troops for me: No, they don’t “protect our freedoms.” This year it was Justin Doolittle.

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Veterans Day

“Some of them had obeyed the instinct of lawlessness: some were hungry: others thirsted for glamour, the supposed colour of a military life: but, of them all, those only received satisfaction who had sought to degrade themselves, for to the peace-eye they were below humanity.”
-T.E. Lawrence

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Army Myths: MRE gum is a laxative

DONT EAT IT

There’s lots of lore surrounding MREs. One prominent myth is that the chewing gum contained in every MRE has laxative properties, presumably to counter that other myth that MREs induce constipation (a myth for another day!).

A friend of mine, another prior-service officer who did time in the 82nd actually emailed Natick, the folks who design the MREs and asked them about the gum myth. Here is their response:

Thank you for your comments and interest in the U.S. Army Natick Soldier
Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), Department of Defense
(DoD), Combat Feeding Directorate (CFD). The Combat Feeding Program has an
active interest in receiving proposals and comments pertaining to new ideas,
suggestions, innovative concepts, and products that could be of benefit to
our Warfighters.

The MRE™ is part of the Continuous Product Improvement process under the
Fielded Individual Ration Improvement Project (FIRIP). Feedback from
Operation Desert Shield/Storm suggested that Warfighters would consume more
if their preferences were taken into consideration. In 1993, the FIRIP was
initiated to improve the variety, acceptability, consumption and nutritional
intake of individual combat rations to enhance performance on the
battlefield. Today, all components that are put into or taken out of an MRE™
must first be Warfighter Recommended, Warfighter Tested, Warfighter
Approved™. From 1993 through 2013, over 260 new items have been approved and
added to menus and over 65 of the least acceptable items have been removed.

Attached is Natick PAM 30-25 Operational Rations of the DoD
http://nsrdec.natick.army.mil/media/print/OP_Rations.pdf which highlights
the entire family of fielded rations. Pages 14-16 provides the detailed
information regarding MRE individual components that you inquired about. The MRE™ gum does not function as a laxative.

Another myth, solved.

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