Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I did not write this master work. It is from Jason who is in Iraq. I think you can figure out what he is up to. I used to be grunt and it was great time in my life, but hard to explain to civilians. Here is a great attempt to do so:

The Tao of Soldiering

Learn to Suffer

You are not Special

Know your Place

Release your Attachments

Today is the birthday of The Monastic Order of Infantrymen. For those unfamiliar with MOI, let me explain.

Soldiering is difficult. But for soldiers with the proper attitude, there can be great fulfillment from this work. To find peace and contentedness from a job that may seem intuitively chaotic, you simply have to find the tao of soldiering and embrace it.

For soldiers who are nauseated by terms like 'embrace', 'peace', and 'contentedness', and don't know how to pronounce 'tao' (it's like 'dow', as in Dow Jones, and can be translated loosely to mean 'the way') let me put this in terms a grunt can understand. Being a soldier is to live in a world of shit. You're constantly surrounded by assholes, you have to endure an unending amount of bullshit from your leadership, military regulations and paperwork, stupid training missions, and in the end of it all you'll most likely get shit on by your own government sooner or later when they fuck up your pay and benefits. And to top it all off, you might actually have to go into combat at some point which also means you'll spend a lot of time in another world of shit (i.e. Iraq) and possibly get your balls blown off by some insurgent asshole who is too afraid to fight you face to face so he explodes jury-rigged artillery rounds next to your Humvee while he's outside the maximum effective range of most your weapons systems. Soldiering just plain sucks. From the pogues who cook my food and do my laundry to the Apache pilots and the Green Berets who do all the Hollywood stuff, our lives are in a constant state of suck. But there are soldiers who have found a way to not only endure it all, but to enjoy it. Contentment, happiness, fulfillment, rewardingness, peace, meaning, purpose, zen, the way, the middle path, nirvana, the big nothing, whatever you want to call it, it's there if you are unafraid to see it.

Learn to Suffer

Most everything a soldier does entails discomfort. As a soldier, you will discovery an encyclopedic number of ways to suffer. The suffering is physical, psychological, and emotional. It can also be financial, legal, marital, and any other word you can give the '-al' suffix to. There is nowhere you can go to avoid suffering. There is no reprieve, no solace. It is unavoidable and inevitable. You can either cry about it, or you can just learn how to suck it up.

One of the first things an effective soldier learns during Basic Training is that physical endurance has nothing to do with physical ability. Your body gives you the illusion that you are only able to do what is within your physical limitations. Say for example your muscles are only strong enough to do fifty pushups. This limitation is very convincing. You believe that you can't do more than what your muscles and bones are physically capable of doing. In reality the only limitation is the will of the soldier. You probably think that if you lift weights and get stronger muscles, you will be able to do seventy pushups. This is true, but you aren't able to do more pushups because your muscles are stronger, you are able to do more pushups because your stronger muscles are a convincing illusion to allow yourself the will to do more. The truth is, with will alone you can do seventy pushups, or ten thousand for that matter. Accomplishing more than you physically should be able to is referred to as "using the force." If the Jedi metaphor for describing "will" doesn't work for you, then use the Christian one. In the New Testament (Matthew 17:20), Jesus said that with the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains. So whether you're raising an X-Wing fighter out of a swamp or parting the Red Sea, the concept is the same: you simply need the will.

It is not necessary for the novitiate to buy into any of this. But when he's into the twelfth mile of a forced road march carrying nearly his own body weight in gear, he learns that there is a landscape of pain he never knew existed. Once you've learned that there is no real limit to what you can endure, you're on your way to understanding that you can do just about anything so long as you allow yourself to have the will to do it. And the easiest way to learn this concept is to suffer and realize you can endure it, then as you reach a new level of painful experiences, you are able to begin working on the next level. Eventually you learn that there is virtually no end to the kinds of pain mortality can make available to you, and you continue to learn that there is no discomfort you can not overcome. The process of learning to suffer is always ongoing. No matter how much you've suffered, there is always more to suffer.

You are not Special

As Americans and westerners, we value individuality more than just about anything. Individuality is at the core of our concepts about freedom. The protection of the individual is vital to a free society. But while the civilian is the "individual", the soldier is the "protection".

As a society, we've gotten really good at fostering individual development. As a soldier, trying to incorporate the idea that individuality must be discarded is usually a very hard thing to accept at first. Because of basic psychological self-preservation instincts and a million beliefs that have been socialized into us from the moment of our birth, we protect our "ego" more than anything. You are who you think you are. You spend your life developing an image in your head of who you are. You have a name, you live in a certain place, you have a certain profession, you have tastes, opinions, preferences, druthers. In terms of a capitalistic society, we are nothing more than consumers. So we define our individuality by what we consume. (Sometimes the consumer becomes disillusioned by this, so he simply adjusts his tastes to something that more easily will identify him as an individual. "I'm not into Metallica anymore, they're too mainstream. I'm into The Mars Volta now.") There are eight million individuals in New York City. I was one of them. Like in college where the second question asked after "what's your name" is "so what's your major", in New York City the only two things anyone wants to know when they first meet you are "so what do you do" and "where do you live". I was a paratrooper and a programmer who lived in Nolita. I doubt there has ever been anyone who could say that. So I'm an individual, right?

In ten thousand years, no one is going to know who you were. Right now, while you are living, you don't even really matter. You live in Ohio, you work at a hardware store, you drive a Saturn, you have two kids, you send your mom a Mother's Day card every year, you have a beautiful lawn. You're the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you have a loft in Chelsea and a summer home on Fire Island, you come from old money, you visit your mom every Christmas who lives in the home where you grew up an only child in New England, you were on the cover of Forbes and Out in the same month. Does any of this really matter? Someday you're going to die and they'll throw dirt on your grave just like everyone else's. Someday the sun will expand and consume every living thing on earth. Someday the universe will collapse in on itself then explode into a brand new universe. Even these events don't really matter, they're just things that happen. So whether you prefer creamy or chunky is of such absurdly little consequence, the near meaninglessness of it is mind-boggling. Accept that you are of no consequence, that you are essentially nothing. In a universe of infinite universes that will ultimately return to the singularity from whence they all came, you are as inconsequential as my peanut butter preference.

Know your Place

As a corollary to knowing that you are not special, you must also know your place. Unlike the private kindergarten you attended in Woodstock where everyone was special and an equal, even Timmy in his wheelchair and Tyrone the black kid, in the military there is a hierarchy because it is the easiest way to get things done. I spent an enormous amount of my military career as a private. I took out the trash and mopped the floor. Now that I'm a sergeant, I want you to shut the fuck up and continue sweeping, is that clear? Everyone has a job and a role, and by staying in your lane, work can be accomplished more efficiently. Imagine if your car's fuel injection system decided it wanted to start managing the anti-lock braking functions? The compartmentalization of tasks exists so you can be free to concentrate on your own set of tasks. When I raid a building, I know how I'm going to breech the door, I know how to clear the rooms, I know how to handle detainees. While I'm doing this there are Apaches circling overhead. I don't know how to do their job, and that's okay. I need air support and they provide it. The intelligence guys interrogate the detainees and come up with more targets for my platoon to raid. Remember, you are Soldier Nobody, not General Patton. Concentrate on your job and you will be able to perform it well. As an Infantryman, your job is to shoot people. Don't worry about Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, or Michael Moore. If your target is moving, remember to lead your point of aim a bit.

Release your Attachments

Suffering is caused by attachments. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will learn how to overcome suffering. As Americans and westerners, we love our stuff. How much did you love Christmas as a kid? I remember thinking that the entire purpose of life was Christmas. That's when I got a whole new batch of toys, because as a kid, all the mattered to me was toys. To this day, I am still in awe at the fact that the feeling Christmas gave me is one without parallel. There have only been a handful of experiences in my life that are on par with how I felt about Christmas as a child. But toys break, they get lost, and eventually you lose interest in them. As an adult, what is more of a pain in the ass then your car? Or upkeep of your house? You can get a lot of satisfaction from stuff, I won't deny how much I love going to Barnes & Noble or to the music store. But you don't get real happiness from material possessions. And attachments go well beyond the things you can own. Relationships you have with people can be attachments. In fact, I dare say that there are more relationships in the world based on insecurity and attachment than love. And the ultimate attachment is your own ego. Your sense of 'self' is something you cling to, because as we already discussed, it's who you think you are. The linchpin to the the tao of soldiering is freeing yourself from your attachments. The less you own, the better. The more stuff you own is more stuff to worry about while you're deployed. The girl you were dating isn't going to wait for you for eighteen months, so just get over her and move on. Even if you are in a healthy and strong relationship with your wife, your marriage will not be the same when you get back. Like the relationship you have with any of your loved ones, it won't necessarily go bad, but it will certainly be different when you get back. There are several guys in my platoon who missed births of their children. This affects them and I'm sure it affects their wives. And in turn it will affect their marriage. Crappy marriages don't handle this sort of this well and they will end. Good marriages will weather it, but will evolve into something different. Either way, guys who are attached to the way things were, will be miserable. And whatever you thought about yourself, ideas you cling to that you consider part of your identity, may very well change after you've been around some good 'ole fashion death and destruction. Attachments are bad. The less you have the better. Real freedom is having no attachments. Only then are you able to have happiness. When you feel happiness for it's own sake, and not because of some external mechanism, you have found the tao.

The Monastic Order of Infantrymen

Infantrymen who have found the tao of soldiering sometimes find themselves living a near-monastic lifestyle because of it. If you have no major attachments, specifically no wife, no girlfriend, and no kids, and have an MOS that is 11-series, 18-series (Army), 03-series (Marines), or you are a Navy SEAL, you are able to join the Order. To join, a novitiate must perform an act of initiation involving humiliation, discomfort, and nudity as perscribed by a member of MOI. For example, making a snow angel in public while naked. Exceptional novitiates can be grandfathered in without initiation if three members of MOI approve. The proper greeting between members is a handshake with the right hand while grabbing ones own crotch with the left. Members will refer to each other as "brother", and the proper way to say good-bye is, "See you in Valhalla, brother." Should a member come to find he has a wife, girlfriend, or child, he is honorably released from the Order.

I like being a soldier and I love being an infantryman. There are a lot things that truly suck about being in Iraq, but none of it's really all that bad. This is the most interesting and exciting thing I've ever done. War is a horrible thing and I hope that as human culture we can find a way to completely put an end to it, but I have to admit I like combat. I'm not sure how this is possible, but it's how I feel. When guys discuss when we will be sent home, I get sorta depressed. I don't want it to end yet. How often do you get to shoot at terrorists? (Don't try to tell me they're not all terrorists. The guy who fills the water tanks for our showers had his head cut off last week and his entire family killed. That qualifies as terrorist in my book.) I love this job. Anyone who says you won't find happiness during combat, doesn't know how to find happiness. Combat has nothing to do with it.

Keep your head low, bayonet sharp and powder dry, Jason!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

This is for me-the last post to this blog.

Life after Wal-Mart and other box stores.

Has the Air Force watched too many Star Trek movies?

The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science. I have seen this in action when “cold fusion” was the rage. There are lots of suckers out there.

One more British scientific development in the home. Maybe I might buy this one, the girls would love it.

More on Moore.

Al Qaeda Without Al Qaeda puts the truth out in a short and easy to read format.

There is hope for the future even in Connecticut. I hope fine young man will be not victim crushing of free speech or intimidation.

I might get one of these when I get back to the states. I can be jet-man! Check out the video.

Here is proof that socialized medicine of the UK is better than the free market method of the US.

They did it in Beslan, Russia, now they are going to try it in the America? I pray that this does not happen, but if I was going to bet any money, policy is being developed at the highest levels and role playing is happening all ready. Normally in a hostage situation, it is pretty well just like on TV, but a lot slower paced. Set up a security perimeter, start talking and negotiations and try to wear the perpetrators out for a peaceful ending. If a Beslan happens in the US, can the federal government delegate power and responsibility to a local police or sheriff departments to go in a clear out a building? Does the local law enforcement department have a capability to do so? The military can not do anything since this is a domestic situation and it would take hours or even days to get a unit the scene if (history of Posse Comitatus) a work around for Posse Comitatus is developed specifically for the situation. Most law enforcement teams are trained to protect civilians and enforce laws, not to take down suicide terrorists. I would not be surprised if the FBI has formed regional Special Response Teams to replace their Hostage Rescue Teams. Will our local police have to learn how to conduct close quarter battle drills and turn into a non military tactical teams?
More here and here.

If I meet these guys, I know what I will do to them.

Here are some tunes playing on my CD player:

I hear the roar of a big machine
two worlds and in between
hot metal and methedrine
I hear empire down
I hear empire down

I hear the roar of a big machine
two worlds and in between
love lost, fire at will
dum-dum bullets and shoot to kill, I hear
dive, bombers and
empire down
empire down
Lucretia My Reflection-The Sisters of Mercy

By the last breath of the fourth winds blow
Better raise your ears
The sound of hooves knocks at your door
Lock up your wife and children now
It's time to wield the blade
For now you have got some company
The Four Horsemen-Metalica, Hetfield, Ulrich, Mustaine

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I am doing a bit a bigger than usual post since I have a few more days here in England and those days will be busy packing, taking care of my family preparing to move back to America and shipping down range to the box as we say in Army lingo. There may be one or two more posts, but it will be post script in manner.

I received an email from Robert at the Expat Yank and he suggested that I leave this blog up and not delete it. I will take him up on this suggestion. Thanks Robert and keep up the good work!

I like to thank anybody who has dropped in and read this blog. Have fun, give a kiss to those who you love, and come on Forest and Red Sox!

Here are some images of the local area and Germany.
Elvaston Park is right down the road from my house and we had a great time walking around.

Theater Royal in Nottingham.

My oldest daughter loves riding the tram. It is brand new in Nottingham, well run and it is fun even for an adult.

Another image of the tram. Each tram in Nottingham is named after a famous resident of Nottingham.

German wine country along the A6 Heildelburg to Kaiserlautern.

More airport reviews:
Unlike Gatwick, Heathrow is big, with tube or subway stop to central London. It is kind of hard to get to since it is on the M-25. If you have to get on the M-25, give your self an extra 30 minutes for the bad traffic. A bit easier to get to if you are coming from the north via the M40.

Los Angles International (LAX)-It is BIG and security is comparable to Munich. Actually it is pretty easy to get to. Parking and the rental car return has easy access.

Dublin, Ireland-rental car returns are a bit dodgy compared to other airports. No subway access, but there is bus line to it from the city center. The government just extended the M-50 ring road to the airport, so it is pretty easy to get to from the country by car. Access from the inner city can be time consuming.

Logan Airport, Boston, MA, USA. Construction is almost over except for terminal A. Easier to access with the Ted Williams Tunnel to the Mass Pike (I-95-points west and 93 north) The new international terminal is nice and roomy except when there are lots of travelers in transit, lines to go through security can be long.

Munich, Germany- Nice, big, clean, with a train station just a quick walk away, and it feels like a big American mall with all the shops. There is easy access from the Autobahn.

Frankfurt, Germany, like Munich, it has train and bus stations part of it. It has easy access next to the A-5 and A-6 Autobahns. Nice food court in terminal two. The car rental offices are part of the airport so there is not shuttle buss to use. Just take the elevator to the basement and pick up your car. A lot nicer set up then Boston, Dublin or LA.

What is honor?

Is Bruce real or not? via Benjamin Kerstein

This is one of the better speeches on what we face as a western society. It is by Haim Harari titled: War on Terror.

Leaves are falling all around,
It's time I was on my way.
Thanks to you I'm much obliged,
For such a pleasant stay.

But now it's time for me to go,
The autumn moon lights my way.
For now I smell the rain,
And with it pain,
And it's headed my way.
Sometimes I grow so tired,
But I know I've got one thing I got to do,

Ramble on,
And now's the time the time is now.

Artist: Led Zeppelin
Song Title: Rock And Roll

Saturday, October 16, 2004

New toys for the troops.

Guess who says it is all right to kill Americans?

This is typical middle English neighborhood where I live.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Another image of Nottingham at night.

News from the Air Force that you will never see in the traditional media.

Workforce trends that will impact America.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

How low can this mess go?

Terrorists and drugs. I thought Allah disapproved.

My co-worker was in York on a short holiday and told me about travels. Most of the hotel and resort workers were Polish students and they love working in England. The English and Americans are polite and tipped well by the Polish standards, but the Germans are a pain as tourist. They wanted breakfast at 7:30 when it is served at 8:00-10:00 and wanted to order in German, not English. One of the English guest wanted to tell the Germans that they screwed the Polish over once during World War Two, why do it again? At night while a guitarist was singing, older German tours got drunk and made a scene, so the guitarist turn up his amplifier up to drown out the drunk Germans. I find this funny coming from the English who have reputation for hell raisers on the continent.

Monday, October 11, 2004

I am trying to do a few more family outings before we return to America and then deploy. We were in Nottingham city a few days ago and we saw this three wheel car in the car park. It is a Reliant Rialto. Wifey thinks it is a funny little car but I wonder about the safety of it and can you take it on the motorway?

The CIA report on Iraq’s weapons program is out for public consumption. It is interesting and will not disappoint anybody. Also it will be twisted around by all parties to support their own views. Don’t read the media’s summary; do it yourself.

Gatwick Airport. If you destination is north of London, avoid going to Gatwick. It is south of London, so if you are traveling to the north or have make a connection at Heathrow; going to Gatwick is not a smart move. It has lots of parking, but it has realistically only one access road off the motorway. The international terminal has lots of duty free shopping. It has an underground connection and bus. It can be a bit congested during peak times and to get it from the north you will have to use the London Orbital (M-25 ring road)or the biggest parking lot in Great Britain.

Guess who wants Kerry to be elected?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Another image of the Goose Fair.

Gulliver’s travails: The U.S. in the post-Cold-War world by John O’Sullivan in the New Criterion is spot on.

Do you want to know where American troops are deployed in the Central Region? Here is the list with descriptions and photos.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Today we went to the Goose Fair here in Nottingham. (A 360 degree look at the fair) It is one of the oldest fairs around England. It was ok to me; just think of a state or big county fair in America without the agricultural, automotive, or musical attractions. It just had lots of carnival rides, food and gift concessions. It was fun, but once was enough for me.

I did not buy food from this stand.

More funny business in the press.

This is one reason, when I return to the states, I like to get rid cable TV, get an alternate high speed internet access and go outside hiking or bicycling.

There are a lot of crappy things going on in the world, but you can make a difference.

Friday, October 08, 2004

I wonder why the churches and other organizations are not trying to help the Iraqis this way?

Will all the Good doers and loony left protest this:
Iran: 16-year-old girl hanged in street for "acts incompatible with chastity"
Amnesty International today (24 August 2004) expressed its outrage at the reported execution of a girl believed to be 16 years old for “acts incompatible with chastity”. Ateqeh Rajabi was reportedly publicly hanged on a street in the city centre of Neka, northern Iran, on 15 August 2004.

Or is just hate Bush time still?

Italy versus the rest of Europe! Have good laugh!
I like the Italian ways of doing things, it is a bit more exciting and fun.

I all ready voted. I hope this ends real soon. Any they want a civil America?

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Here is a brief that is going around the military that shows the new mind set that will drive policy and actions around the world. The web blog that goes with this brief has hours of great analysis for reading.

CB got a letter that states the obvious and how we shall deal with it.

Look who is giving support to the candidates. It is pretty well split down the middle. Nobody can cry poverty. Here is their profiles and who they support. Here is the list of individual contributors.

Iraq is not Vietnam.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Birmingham Airport is bigger than Nottingham East Midlands Airport and has more flights with regular airlines than charter or tourist flights. BA goes to the US and with Lufthansa covers more of Europe. It has the low cost airlines of Ryannair and BMI. It does have train service just like Munich or Frankfurt and it also have bus service. Birmingham is easy to get around with two medium sized terminals. Also it is easy to get to right off the M-6 motorway, via the M-42. I like Birmingham Airport for its ease of access and the destinations is available from it.

God Bless him. I love Rodney, his movies and act. I think everybody can relate to some of his jokes. Rodney, you get my respect.

This can not be true! It is just rumors.

The military is working in ways and judging success that is new and different than the public understand. Here is an example.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Here is more good news from Afghanistan. It was even written by the BBC!

This will weaken the UN.

Most of the cyber cafes I know have gone out of business. It is the same here in England.

Some time around the first of November I will be shutting this blog down, due to being mobilized and deployed to Afghanistan. I had good time living in England. It has been interesting and I have learned a lot the culture, history and people of England and the Midlands. Maybe in a few years, I will be back doing the same job, God willing.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

One of the advantages of my civilian job is that I drive around a bit. Last week I drove from Nottingham to Manchester and on the return I drove from Manchester on the A616 across the Peak District to Sheffield. On the trip home I stopped in Hollingworth, Cheshire.

While waiting for a farm tractor to turn, I was stuck in traffic going up a hill. Sitting in my car I saw a green box on a poll that I though it was a traffic camera. Then I saw if flash come out of it like strobe light. I was trying to figure out what was it doing when I saw a car speed down hill past it and it dawned on me that it was a radar gun-traffic camera combination that was ticketing speeders. Then I crested the hill and a big sign with speeding camera symbol and 30 mph limit facing me. I started to grind the breaks to avoid a ticket. What was sneaky was that most speeding cameras in England in boxes and are painted yellow to give warning to drivers. These cameras were painted green to blend in. Oh well that is big brother for you.

Right after that I stopped at the Gun Inn for lunch. It is a nice traditional pub that looked to me that I was stepping back in time or into somebody’s house. There were a few Old Age Pensioners debating the merits of new vs. classic cars. The couple next to me was eating lunch and told me that they had a pint at the Gunn Inn during WW2 and their Parents and Grandparents used to frequent the establishment too. It was interesting to listen to them describe the history to the village and their families. That is one of the small and nice memories that I will take from England.

There is an image of the area off the A628.

Friday, October 01, 2004

While I was in Germany last week, I was running around getting ready to go down range. One of the places I went to was CIF or Central Issue Facility. At CIF I was issued 1800 dollars of basic issue items or equipment that every soldier will need. It is like going to REI, EMS or your local army surplus store but everything is in camouflage, olive drab green or tan. It took me an hour to get everything sized correctly and in the grand tradition of the army I signed a computer print out receipt that list every item and basically said I am responsible and liable for the items. If I loose or break any items I will pay for it. This is what 1800 dollars of army equipmet (sleeping bag, Gortex rain suits, extra cold weather boots, sleeping mat, gloves.....) looks like:

You know when you are in the Army when you are issued a bullet proof vest in camouflage. (This is how it works.)

This will be home sweet home for the next month or two while I am preparing to go down range. I will have another locker for personal items. Don’t worry I put all my equipment in the orderly fashion, when I get a few more items for South West Asia.

Maybe one of these boys may join MLB. If they do thank the Army.

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