If We Are Going to War, Let’s At Least Do It Right


The latest bombing in Manchester England only reinforces how increasingly dangerous our world is. These terrorists are going to continue what they have been doing in recent years and, I fear, with increasing regularity. It is only a matter of time before such a tragedy strikes the United States, again. Remember the Boston Bombing. The United States is a lot of things, but security against such attacks is, unfortunately, unreliable. I do not say that our law enforcement people will not do their utmost to defend against such an eventuality, they will. What I am saying is that there is just so much they can do and a committed terrorist, such as just struck in Manchester England, is virtually impossible to protect against.

My liberal friends, and even my conservative ones, might find it surprising for me to make the following statement but I feel it is one which must be said. The United States needs to increase its ability to fight a land war. But as we stand now, we are woefully unprepared to do so.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. Army will be at a strength of 460,000 by year’s end, the navy will have 272 ships which falls short of the 308-ship battle force it needs. The Marine corps will have 182,000 active personnel. Finally, the Air Force a little over 5,000 air craft of all types. It has 76 B-52H aircraft, 62 B-1s, 20- B-2s, almost 600 F-15s of, a little over 950 F-16s, and 182 F-22s. The last B-52H, the latest model, was delivered in 1962 giving the average age of that aircraft over 55 years old. The B-52 is the only long range heavy bomber in our arsenal, a key component to any strategic fleet. The average age of its F-15 fleet, the backbone of its fighters, is approaching 30 years. Equally as bad is that the majority of the Air Force’s long range refueling aircraft, the KC-135, a Boeing 707 variant, is also over 50 years. It does have much newer KC-10s but only purchased 59 of this aircraft.

The Heritage Institute, which studies military preparedness, rates the Army’s and Navy’s preparedness at “weak to marginal,” the Air Force was rated “marginal” in 3 out of 4 categories, only in “capacity” did it score “very strong.” The Marine Corps was rated “marginal” in 3 of 4 categories, and “weak” in capacity. What can we derive from all this? The United States Military forces are overextended, overtaxed, and under strength.

It is likely we will soon be engaged in another protracted land-war. Given the various terrorist organizations and the state of the middle-east, it seems almost inevitable. But it is a sin to send our troops into modern battle in antique aircraft, sparse support organizations, and an overtaxed cadre of men.

The signs of battle fatigue were first noted in WW1, more so in WW2 and by the time the Vietnam war was over, medical science had come up with a name for it, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is worse now than ever. How can we tell? The rate of suicide in the military is at an all-time high per capita. I was a Vietnam era vet and the promise made to us, and kept, was that if we were put into a war zone, such duty would be required of us one time only. And the Defense Department kept its word on that point. Still, the horrors of war proved too much for some.

Today, it is common practice to send soldiers into a war zone 3 times or more. The reason? We simply do not have a large enough force to guarantee the soldier that one war zone tour my generation was granted.

A mentally tired soldier is a soldier more susceptible to being killed or wounded than one with top mental acuity. The answer is a simple, albeit expensive, one. We need to increase the size of our active and reserve forces first. Then we must put our airmen in the most modern aircraft we can build. Such an action will easily cost trillions of dollars, but sending men up in aircraft that should only be seen in museums is nothing short of criminal.

We face an enemy who seems impervious to our high-tech warfare. Why? He is spread out in small units which can move on a moment’s notice. He can outsmart the smart bomb simply by moving from one place to the next. As advanced as we are in the art of war, we still do not have an adequate replacement for the infantryman, and this is not likely to change anytime soon. Simply put, we need to reactive many infantry divisions which have been retired over the years. The 5th ID, 7th ID, 24th ID, 26th ID and 2nd Armored Division. This would add as many as 90,000 infantrymen and tankers and greatly bolster our troops.

What this is going to take, more than money, is our politicians finding the courage to face facts and then be truthful with the American public. The public in general will probably not like the news, but properly presented, they will accept it. It is in all our best interest that we stop pretending we can fight a war with just the men and equipment we now have. We cannot.

Reflections of a Veteran on Veterans Day


As United States holidays go, Veteran’s Day is one of the newest. As a holiday by this name, it came into being in 1954. Prior to that, Veterans Day was known as Armistice Day commemorating the end of World War 1. World War 1 officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Shortly afterward President Wilson declared November 11th a national holiday. Then World War 2 happened followed by the Korean War. As a veteran, President Eisenhower decided that rather than remembering a peace treaty for a single war, the day would be better served by recognizing the service of everyone who had ever served in the Armed Forces of the United States. But there are two additional groups of veterans who did not serve within the Defense Department who are also veterans and they are the members of the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marines. The Merchant Marines were a vital force during World War 2 transporting goods and troops to the European Theater of War. And the Coast Guard, whose primary mission is the protection of the U.S. Coast lines, was deployed to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam among other missions.

I entered the U.S. Army on February 19, 1968 and served on active duty until November 10, 1979. After that I served in the Massachusetts National Guard for several years. My years of service in the U.S. Army are many of my proudest moments in life. I am the son of a World War 2 veteran, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in North Africa, Italy, and France. Two of my daughters are veterans as well. My eldest served as a U.S. Army Nurse in Kosovo and my next daughter has served in the U.S. Air Force in both active and reserve duty. She is still serving.

I am of the Vietnam era which many view as a low point of the U.S. history in war. But this needs to be put into perspective. All military forces, not just American, are a natural extension of a country’s political system and honors the decisions of the country’s political leadership. My experience in the Army is that we never discussed politics except maybe to criticize what we viewed a lack of support from time-to-time.   But I never once knew nor discussed the political persuasions of any of my brothers in arms. Such discussion served no purpose. I know from experience that at the highest levels of the military establishment, politics is very much a part of a soldier’s daily life but below the level of flag officers, generals and admirals, politics was generally non-existent. That was always a good thing.

All soldiers are required to complete basic combat training. Basic training is the great leveler. That is, regardless of a person’s background or appearance, the most important thing is learning how to be a soldier and what it means to serve with pride. It is a unique system found nowhere else in society, not even the police forces which copy many of the training techniques of the military. All members of the military are instilled with the concept of “duty, honor, and country.” That means that each member of the military has sworn to put his life on the line to protect his country from those who would do harm to it. This oath of allegiance has been in place since the Revolutionary War. It is an absolute and cannot be compromised.

Only the Civil War divided this country more than the war in Vietnam. When I volunteered to join the Army I did not say that I would only join if I would not be sent to Vietnam. There is no such option nor has there ever been one. Most veterans never saw combat duty but every veteran was eligible for it. I was sent to Korea in 1968 which was a war zone in those days. It was certainly not as hot as Vietnam but U.S. soldiers were still dying there. Why? Because they were doing their duty.

War does funny things to men. Greatness arises out of some of the most unexpected places. During the Civil War at the battle of Gettysburg, a former college professor from Maine, a very humble man, so distinguished himself that he became one of the first recipients of the Medal of Honor. He was Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. During World War 1, a former blacksmith and pacifist from Tennessee distinguished himself in battle to become a Medal of Honor recipient. Most recently a young man from Long Island, Lt. Michael Murphy, distinguished himself in Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor. Each of these men had one thing in common, they joined the service out of a sense of duty and in the worst of conditions their concern was completion of the mission and protection of their comrades. And I can assure you that none saw themselves as heroes. To a man they would tell you if asked that they were just doing their job. And in that sentiment is the common thread for all veterans. We did our job in difficult situations because it was the right thing to do and our sense of honor and patriotism were driving forces.

During my time in Korea we came under the threat of attack many times. The attack never came but maybe that was because we were there. We were enough of a deterrent. I seldom talk of my time in Korea mostly because I do not remember most of the details. But those who served in Vietnam are even more guarded in their speech. If you find a vet who served in Vietnam, the Gulf Wars or Afghanistan you will probably get a lot of resistance from them in the telling of their experiences. Why? Because war is and always has been an ugly affair. People at home hear of the deaths of soldiers and grieve them. Soldiers see the deaths of non-combatants, women and children, and mourn that. My personal experience with that came in the form of a visit to a Korean orphanage where the casualties of the ongoing conflict resided. To say it was heartbreaking is to minimalize the reality.

For 20 years following the Vietnam War the experience of veterans was something no one wanted to discuss. But the Gulf War changed that and the phrase “thank you for your service” came into being. I hope that such sentiment never goes out of fashion because as a veteran I am grateful whenever I hear it expressed. If you know a vet, give him or her a call on this Veterans Day and thank them for their service. When you see someone in uniform on the street where you are walking, thank that person for their service, after all, they have sworn to put their life on the line for you. Finally, most cities and towns in the United States have a war memorial. Take the time to visit it, look at the names listed, because they are the ones who gave their life for you.

Military Preparedness


This month, June 2013, the Department of Defense announced it will be reducing the size of the army, both active and reserve, by 14%.  The reasoning is dual: budget cuts and peacetime requirements.  The problem with this thinking is simple: the army was already too small.  It is relevant here to remind readers of the maxim that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, he saw the Federal Government saddled with what he viewed as an unwieldy debt.  Jefferson’s idea was to completely eliminate the regular army but “settled” for reducing it by 1/3.  He cut the army’s budget by ½ and stopped all naval ship building stating that a “big boat” navy was unnecessary.  It was, in fact, the will of the people he carried out but it nearly proved our country’s undoing.

Curiously, however, it was Jefferson who founded the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1802.  Jefferson, like other founders of the country, was aware of the vacuum of professionally trained military officers in America.  Washington himself was an exception, but by and large the leaders of the Revolution had been either political appointees or voted into leadership in their state’s militia by their fellow townspeople.  But Jefferson’s view of the future, even with a home grown professional military establishment, he viewed peacetime military needs to by small.

The War of 1812 happened because of the impressment of American commercial sailors being impressed, forced into service, in the British navy.  America did not have the navy to protect its interests.  Although England had no desire to reign over America, it did carry the battle forward was it was engaged.  America was so shorthanded that it was not until 1814 that it was able to raise a force sufficient to repulse the English, and even then a combination of luck and help from the French was needed.

That done, however, America once again fell into a military morass, keeping just enough troops to fight on its western frontier, and the occasional skirmish with Mexico.

The Civil War did nothing to change the American mindset.  The entire war, on both sides, was fought with each state’s militia.  Even though these forces were large they were also quickly and easily disbanded at war’s end.  Heroes like George Armstrong Custer, who rose to the level of Major General, 2 stars, during the war, was returned to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel after the war since he had been a part of the Michigan militia.  To this day, such practices are still common.

The next engagement of any size, the Spanish-American war, did not seriously challenge the state and size of the military to any great degree.  And when America finally entered World War 1, April 1917, its entire army, active and reserve, consisted of about 300,000 men.  Worse, those who were in the regular army, were poorly trained and poorly equipped for the most part.  The American army had no serviceable aircraft with which to counter the German air corps, and no tanks either.  So poorly prepared was America that it was a full year before the first American troops saw action.  Fortunately, American patriotism ran high and once America committed itself, recruiting soldiers in large numbers was fairly easy.  But as anyone familiar with the military knows, from enlistment to the completion of initial training takes a good six months, and then you have green troops.  Thrown into action, green troops are likely to suffer a high casualty rate.   General John (Black Jack) Pershing, a man with considerable experience, knew this only too well and was able to forestall the introduction of American troops into battle until he was satisfied they were properly trained and properly lead.

But World War 1 left such a bad taste in the mouths of Americans, the hideousness of the trench warfare and the liberal use of gas, brought home the horrors of modern warfare.  Americans dubbed it as “the war to end all wars.”  The felt justified in using the draconian doctrines of handling post-war Germany that they were unable to see that it not only destabilized the entire Western Europe, but sowed the inevitable seeds for a second world war.  To be fair, the French and English demands upon reparations from Germany for actual costs of war were so heavy that the economic bankruptcy of Germany was insured.  America, for its part, was happy to simply walk away and be done with it all.

The war over, America once again reduced the size of its military to a level that put the country in jeopardy, although Americans were wont to see or understand this.  Funding for development of new weapon systems, particularly the military aircraft, was cut to nearly nothing.  The allies had forced upon the defeated German people, and itself, a tonnage limit to the number and size of naval forces.

During his court martial in 1925, General William Mitchell warned America against the military complacency it had not only embraced, but demanded.  He warned the cost in American lives at the outbreak of hostilities, a foregone conclusion in his estimation, would be great.  No one listened.  On July 1, 1941, a mere 5 months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the active army forces stood at 151,000.  Once again, too many of those soldiers were poorly trained and poorly equipped.

After WWII, Korea and Vietnam provided enough inertia for America to keep a sizeable and adequately supplied military.  In the late 1980s, during the Reagan-Bush administrations, the Base Closure Commission was tasked with closing and combining unnecessary and redundant military facilities.  This was actually a good idea.  But with it came the incessant reduction in the size of the active duty military, those who are not a part of either the reserves forces or the National Guard.

When the first Gulf War happened, the reliance upon National Guard forces increased more than at any time since the Civil War.  To be clear, the American National Guard, while partially federally funded, fall firstly under the command of each state’s governor and then as a secondary reserve force to be activated, brought on active duty, during periods of national emergency.  The primary mission of these citizen soldiers had always been primarily to ensure the security of the individual states.  The Vietnam War did use National Guard troops but it was more the exception than the rule.  Today, that had changed.  Also during the Vietnam War, those National Guard troops used in the war were assured of a single tour and nothing more.  That too is no longer true.  Entire National Guard units have experienced 2, 3 and 4 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This has led to the states being consistently short-handed in National Guard troops to conduct necessary state activities.  And yet, these short-handed states, will be asked once again to reduce the size of their force.

My concern is a simple one.  The extensiveness of our next altercation is an unknown but it is a sure thing.  If, for example, North Korea decided to invade the south, we would be hard pressed to provide the additional forces South Korea would need to protect itself.  To its credit, South Korea possesses one of the largest and best trained military forces in the free world.  But even so, it is not nearly as large as it northern neighbor and would require our immediate and substantial support.  I am not certain to what level we could meet that commitment.

That part of the world which would love to take America down is only encouraged by our continued reduction in force.  They know our ability to respond is reduced and it gives them confidence to do their mischief.  You must remember, there is a certain percentage of the military which cannot be deployed to a war zone simply because of our requirements at home, and in other countries.

I believe that if anything, the size of our active duty army needs to be at around 1 million men, or a little more than twice its present size.  Similarly, our reserve forces, to include the National Guard, should be at last another 1 million men.  And this is over and above active and reserve naval and air forces and their respective reserve components.  Yes, it is expensive but it is also the cost of our peace of mind in today’s world.  While we may never fight another war like World War 2, we also cannot entirely dismiss the idea.  We do so only at our own peril.

What Price Defense?


b-52

The picture above, as you all probably recognize, is of a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber.  What you probably do not realize is that this bomber, of which 92 are still on active duty, was first manufactured in 1955 with the last being made in late 1962.  That means the youngest B-52 is 51 years old!  How many of you would consider driving a 1962 Ford or Chevy as your everyday car?  Well, that is exactly what we ask the men who man these bombers to do.  The B-52 has a 5-man crew.  To be fair, only the latest models are still in use, and they receive a degree of maintenance which guarantees the safety of the crew.  Still, it is flying on something you cannot replace, the airframe, and that airframe is at least 51 years old.  The Boeing 707 was the heart of the long-range commercial fleet when these aircraft were first produced.  Anyone flown on one of those lately?  Why do you think that is?

Within the Air Force inventory are the B-1 and B-2, but neither can fly the mission of the B-52.  So why do we not just retire them?  Because we are not ready to say the nuclear bomb era is over and this aircraft still reigns supreme when it comes to carrying such a payload.

kc-135

The front aircraft above is a KC-135, a refueling aircraft, which just happens to be refueling a B-52.  This aircraft was first delivered to the Air Force in 1956, and if it looks a little familiar, it should, it is the military version of the Boeing 707.  According to the Air Force, it stills has 414 of these aircraft on active and reserve status.  The last KC-135 was delivered to the Air Force in 1965.  That fleet is no younger than 48 years old, most older.  To be fair, the Air Force, reinforced its refueling fleet by buying a military version of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, the KC-10, which were built after 1981.  But military cutbacks allowed a purchase of a total of 59 of these aircraft, far fewer than needed to replace an already aging KC-135 fleet.  The entire KC-10 fleet is at least 20 years old.

c-5

The picture above is of an Air Force C-5A.  This air craft was first delivered to the Air Force in 1970 and were produced, in the “B” and “C” models, until 1989.  A fleet of 59 C-5 “M” models are scheduled to be delivered.  Still, the bulk of this fleet is at least 20 years old.  In 1991 the Air Force started taking delivery of its replacement, the C-17.

f14

The picture above is of the Navy’s F-14, first delivered in 1970, but fully retired in 2006.  The Navy replaced this aircraft with the F/A-18, seen below.

fa-18

f-15

The picture above is of an Air Force F-15.  It was first delivered in 1975.  This aircraft, however, is still in production costing taxpayers about $140 million a copy.

f-22

The aircraft above is the Air Force F-22.  It cost about $140 million a copy.  This is the aircraft the Air Force prefers to the F-15.  Strangely, the F-22 is no longer produced, the last coming off the assembly line November 2011.

Keeping the peace is expensive, particularly in a world as unpredictable as this one is.  The majority of servicemen and women are not interested in going to war, but when they must, they would prefer to do it with equipment that was developed for today’s circumstances.

Take your 1962 Ford to your mechanic and tell him you want it to have a catalytic converter, GPS, satellite radio, air conditioning, and all the other bells and whistles.  He can do it but by the time he gets finished you will wonder why you did not just buy a new car in the first place.  Yes, you will have all the bells and whistles of today’s car but you are still going to have a 50-year-old body, frame, and numerous other parts.  As foolish as all this sounds, it is exactly what people are expecting of the military.  You are asking our military men and women to fight tomorrow’s wars with yesterday’s equipment.  Please, tell me the logic of that?

I was recently told that the money we spend on new F-22 aircraft would be better spent on education.  The sophistry of that argument is incredible.  I absolutely think we should spend more money on the education of our young people, but not to the detriment of those charged with protecting our country.

Just as a bit of a post script, present plans include keeping the venerable B-52 for the next 20 years!

America’s Politicians Are Compromising Its Future


Winston Churchill said, Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”  He was repeating what George Santayana said in 1906.  Churchill’s reference is more compelling because he said it as the result of the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939.  It seems, however, that this bit of wisdom has fallen upon deaf ears when it comes to the Congress of the United States.  Democrats in particular, but some Republicans too, are hell-bent on reducing the size of our military.  The concern is the size of the defense budget.  What is being forgotten is America’s security.

After World War I the United States entered into a period of isolationism that proved disastrous.  When it came time that we had to go to war against Germany and Japan, our military was in a very sad state of affairs.  But that was where it had found itself just prior to Word War I as well.  Why?

Then, as now, the price of freedom is steep.  The guardians of our freedom is our standing military.  It is their readiness and ability to quickly go into action that keeps us strong, safe, and free.  After World War I Americans, with a complicit Congress, thought the size and price tag associated with it was far too steep.  There was a huge reduction is equipment and personnel.  When the United States was drawn into World War II in 1941, it was extremely undermanned, poorly trained, and poorly equipped.  But after WWII we seemed to have learned our lesson.  The United States, particularly with the cold war, kept a well-equipped, well-trained, and reasonably sized force until the mid-1980s.  Then, during the Reagan administration, it was decided that we needed to close out-dated and redundant military installations.  With that, it was felt we could achieve a budget savings that was needed.  It was a truly good idea in theory but in practice it has been a political boondoggle that defies logic and common sense.

The Base Closure Commission was first convened in 1988 to consider the necessity of the 3800 military installations then in existence.  On December 29, 1988, the first base closure commission (with its 12 members appointed by the Secretary of Defense Carlucci) issued its report. It recommended the closure, in part or in whole, and realignment of 145 bases. The commission projected that this would improve the effectiveness of the base structure, and would save an estimated $693.6 million a year in base operating costs.  Considering the total defense budget for 1989 was $427.7 billion this was fairly insignificant.  The first base closed was Pease AFB in Portsmouth NH.   But as usual, members of Congress fought tooth and nail to keep every single proposed closing that impacted their state removed from the list.  This, of course, lead to the back-room deals which resulted in the closing of bases that left both the Pentagon and those knowledgeable in military affairs scratching their heads.

For example, during the second round of base closures Fort Huachuca Arizona was scheduled to be closed.  Its men and facilities would be moved to Fort Devens Massachusetts.  Fort Huachuca was the home of the Army Communications Command along with a number of other smaller groups.  Fort Devens was home to the Army Security Agency and several other groups.  The Army Security Agency was responsible for the security of military communications.  With Massachusetts’ nation leading technology base it seemed a match made in heaven.  Its operations and those as the nearby Hanscom AFB, an air force research and development installation engaged in many of the same activities as the army’s security agency.  It must have made too much sense.  But Hanscom AFB has also been a target for a base closure.  To this day it is my belief that Sen. Ted Kennedy made a back room deal with Sen. John McCain in which he secured the future of Hanscom in exchange for closing Fort Devens.  Fort Huachuca remains open today.

To put a dot on this i, if you look at the history of base closures you will find that the majority have come in states where Democrats either tend to be in power or hold great sway.  Large bases which probably should be closed, but have consistent avoided that bullet, remain open and all are in states that are strongly conservative.  Large bases like Fort Sill Oklahoma, Fort Jackson South Carolina, Tinker AFB Oklahoma, and others which probably should be closed remain open because of their location over their mission and cost.  I mention these things just to show how much of a political football our military is.  Political expediency reigns supreme over military needs.  This is exactly how it went right after World War I.

I would like to suggest that one major area of savings can come from reducing our military presence abroad.  Korea, for example, is home to some 50,000 troops.  Why?  The South Korean military is large, very well-trained, and very well-equipped.  Whatever threat exists from North Korea is something they can deal with themselves.  I would suggest removal of all troops from Korea save a small contingent at a joint US/Korea facility at Osan AFB which is an excellent staging area in the case of an emergency.

Then there is the US presence in Japan.  Following World War II, Japan signed an agreement that it would maintain only a defense force, no capital ships or large tactical army allowed.  But in the 75+ years since that treaty was signed Japan find its power in its industrial might, something it always wanted anyway, and shows no interest in being a military power.  I suggest that like Korea all U.S. troops save a very small contingent at an air force base be removed and that Japan be allowed to grow its own military.

The same is true for Germany.  After World War II it was required to sign a treaty that allow only for a purely defense military.  Like Japan, Germany is no longer a state that has any interest in the militaristic tendencies of its past.  Here again we could easily remove all troops save the small contingent and allow Germany to raise and maintain its own regular military.  There is absolutely no reason to believe that Japan and Germany would not continue to be anything but wonderful allies.  And this in turn would greatly reduce the cost of military forces abroad.

One of the things our military has become extremely adept at is quickly deploying to anywhere in the world in response to foreign threats.  We are better served by having a highly mobile and quickly deployable force located in the United States than at most of the locations overseas.  This would mean, however, increasing the number of available transport aircraft but that cost is greatly offset by the savings realized from removing forces overseas.

Key to this is keeping enough men and material available to respond to any emergency.  The proposed cut of 100,000 troops is entirely contrary to good military standing.  We are already too small in the size of forces.  Our soldiers are forced to endure too many overseas deployments to meet the nation’s needs.  Military effectiveness relies upon good troop morale.  A good way to undermine that is to send the same soldier over and over again into harm’s way.  We learned, supposedly, in World War II the dangers of that and during Korea and Vietnam soldiers were not required to serve more than one tour of one year in a combat zone.  That could not be further from the truth today.

We must get our Congress to work smarter and put aside their selfish political agendas.  Democrats have to give into the idea that the entitlement programs desperately need reigning in and controlled.  Republicans have got to understand that the only way our government gets revenue is through taxes.  They have got to put an end to corporate welfare and give in to the hard reality that we all may have to pay a little more to continue our way of life.

The large land wars of the past involving multiple nations at once seems unlikely.  But we can no longer afford the cold war deployment model either.  What we need is to listen to the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and their aides as to the present and future needs of a well-trained, well-equipped, and properly manned military force.  Politicians really need to get it out of their heads that they both understand and are sensitive to the real needs of the military.  Don’t build ships that naval leaders do not want.  Don’t build aircraft that air force leadership doesn’t want.  Address their real concerns and you will show, finally, that you do remember our history.

Remember Service Members At Christmas


We have today an all volunteer military.  Every single member chose to be in uniform with the understanding that it would mean being away from their family, and being stationed in places that require their presence through the Christmas season.  Many of them will being working on Christmas Day.  I have a lot of experience with this as I was away from home, my place of birth, for 10 Christmases.  It can be a very lonely time.

Most people know someone who is in the military and serving away from.  We tend to think of those serving in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan but we should also remember those who are serving in Germany, Korea, Japan, and many other locations including at sea.  For them, it has little to do with where they are serving but the fact that they are not at home at a time when families traditionally get together.  That can bring on a profound loneliness for the individual service member.

Most people know someone who is serving on active duty and is away from home right now.  I can tell you from personal experience, having served 10 Christmases in the military and away from home, that one of the best Christmas presents I got was a letter from home.  And that is not just from my family, but from anyone who cared to write.  This is particularly true for the unmarried soldiers but of course not limited to them.

My recommendation is that if you know of such a person get his address and send him a card.  Even if the only thing you can say in the card is that you are thinking of them at this time of year, that will mean more to them than you can know.  Being remembered is always a wonderful thing, and it really costs you nothing more than a few minutes of your time.

The 2nd Korean War That Almost Happened


In 1969 I was stationed in the US Army at Yongsan South Korea.  Yongsan was, and is, the headquarters of the 8th U.S. Army as well as assigned US Air Force detachments.  I worked in the 8th Army communications facility that provided communications for the Headquarters to locations around Korea, to Japan, and to the United States.  Upon arrival it had seemed an easy enough assignment considering it was not Vietnam and no one was trying to kill me on a daily basis.  That does not mean there was no conflict at all, there was, more than most people in the U.S. ever knew about.

In February of 1968 the crew of the USS Pueblo, a naval spy ship, had been captured by the North Koreans and were held in captivity for the next 11 months, being released on December 23 1968.  Although the Korean military commands had been on heightened status, is was not perceived as grave.  Still, the South Korean government, in control of the world’s 5th largest standing army at the time, was nervous as Kim Jong Il had promised to invade the south and reunite the countries by force.  All South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 60, at the time, were either on active duty with the military or in the reserves.  Each considered war likely, and some even looked forward to seeking to avenge the hostilities that had ended only a decade and a half before.

At the time, the United States had two complete infantry divisions in Korea, the 2nd Infantry Division and the 7th Infantry Division.  It was the job of the 2nd Division to patrol and keep safe the demilitarized zone (DMZ).  Men, both observers and infantrymen, could easily see the North Korean soldiers on a daily basis.  The North Koreans were known for being provocative and frequently probed at the U.S. lines.  In one instance while I was there, a 2nd lieutenant of the US was out on an inspection tour of the DMZ when he was attacked by machete wielding North Koreans who killed him in broad daylight.  This incident, and many more like it, never made it to either the newspapers or the nightly news broadcasts in the US as those facilities were tied up in the news coming out of Vietnam.  And yet, soldiers in Korea who served north of the Han River were all considered to be in a combat zone and given commensurate combat pay.

Then, on April 15, 1969, a Tuesday, a U.S. Navy spy plane known as an EC-121 was shot down over North Korea and its crew of 33 all died.

US Navy EC-121

The aircraft was on a mission about 100 miles east of the North Korean peninsula when it was shot down by a North Korean Mig-21 fighter.

I was working in the communications facility at the time this happened.  My battalion commander, a Lieutenant Colonel who seldom ventured into the facility, was suddenly sitting in my work area visibly shaken.  He informed us that the facility was on lock-down and no one would be allowed to enter or leave.  To that end, at the entrance way to my section the normal military policeman had been replaced by a South Korean soldier who was wielding a shotgun with orders to shoot to kill.  Additionally, those men who were in what was the cryptographic section, secure teletype communications, had their door, a bank vault door, secured with the combination lock spun.

Most men who served in areas like I did were aware of what was called survival time after the outbreak of hostilities and the launching of missiles.  Our survival time, as I remember it, was about 3o seconds, for obvious reasons.  What I was unaware of, since we there were no windows in this facility, was that a machine gun had been erected three-quarters of the way up our microwave tower.  Additionally, a heavily army truck was stationed just outside our facility.

Communications parlance of the day had various levels of importance assigned to every bit of communications either received or sent: routine, immediate, and flash.  Each level above routine required the sender to have certain increasing rank and responsibility.  There was one type of communication that was seldom seen and this was known as the “red rocket.”  This particular degree of urgency was reserved for the White House.  Starting on April 15 1969 we saw a lot of such traffic.  The situation was extremely grave as we soon found out that the rear infantry division, the 7th, had been moved to a forward position and many of its supporting artillery batteries were in the process of being moved.

At the time the U.S. had many naval and air forces stationed in Japan which were scrambled to Korean waters and air bases in South Korea.  But more importantly, at the time the Air Force had a group stationed at McDill AFB known as STRIKE Command.  This group had nuclear capability and had been scrambled as well.  I only found this out a couple of years later when, while stationed in Italy, my neighbor was a man who had been assigned to STRIKE Command at the time.  He said STRIKE Command aircraft were within a couple of hours of Korea when they were recalled.

For its part, the United States had absolutely no interest in having an armed conflict with the North Koreans.  The U.S. already had over 500,000 military on assignment in Vietnam and could ill-afford a new commitment of men and material.  The new Nixon White House, a mere 90 days into its tenure, used Henry Kissinger’s amazing diplomatic skills to avert a war.  That task was certainly difficult as both North and South Korea desired a fight.  Still, it took serveral days to resolve the issue, at least temporarily.

We who served in Korea at the time felt over-looked, almost forgotten.  Thought not nearly in the numbers of Vietnam, men were still giving their lives in Korea in those days.  To be sure, the formidable size of both the U.S. forces in Korea and the South Korean military itself was just enough of a deterrent, but only because cooler heads prevailed.