Sunday, November 27, 2016

Cane Syrup

Isla de Vieques was the closest I ever got to Castro's Cuba back in 62 during the crisis.  Beautiful place back then even though it was being used as a bombing range and an amphibious exercise area.  It must be twice as beautiful now that much of it has been turned into a national wildlife refuge and the landing beaches into tourist havens.   I have a hankering to revisit, who wouldn't?  Balmy Caribbean breezes, latin music, PitoRico rum with lime juice, palm trees, sandy beaches, snorkeling,   Although I would not want to go back through the surf inside an AmTrac.  Or by C-130 either, the cattle had to be chased off the dirt strip that served as an airfield before take-off or landing.

And it was where I first heard the sweet songs of Celia Cruz also known as <i>La Cubanisima</i>.   Not this particular song perhaps, but many like it.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sweet Onions

I may have posted this previously?  Or something like it?  The story might have changed slightly based on my 74-year-old neuronal connections.  But Thanksgiving is all about myths and tradition, so no harm.

 In 1969 on Que Son mountain, our Thanksgiving Dinner was flown in by CH-46 along with ammo resupply, PRC batteries, more Cs, and a latecomer finally released from the Regimental aid station.   The dinner was cold turkey sandwiches on white-bread, bare with no mayo.  Although they did include several heads of lettuce, many tomatoes and 'huuuge' onions. 

The onions were great.  Sweet!  We ate them and the tomatoes like apples.  Those onions must have been from either Maui or Walla Walla.  We cut the lettuce heads into wedges with K-Bars.  The sandwiches?  Not so good!  Many of us tossed those pale white spongy slices and gobbled up the turkey 'sans pain'.  They had also sent some #10 cans of dehydrated shrimp.  One of my compatriots gobbled down many of those crunchy delights without first soaking them in water.  He was a skinny little guy weighing maybe 130 or 140 pounds soaking wet, but after his stomach liquids started re-hydrating those shrimp he looked nine months pregnant and eventually had to be medevacked.  He along with another who had a broken collar bone, but that's a story for another time.

I stay away from shrimp to this day.  But I loved those onions and never found any to compare, though I have looked and tasted over the past 40 plus years.  But perhaps I have been limiting my choices.  I need to start investigating other areas:  Vidalia onions? Mattamuskeet Sweets from Coastal Carolina?  Corsican?  The Canary Islands?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Light Reading

Some five or six years ago, I stumbled across a WWII historical fiction title, available on my Barnes & Noble NOOK reader, titled "Billy Boyle (A WWII Mystery)".   It was at an introductory price of $1.99, so I figured what the heck.  Well, librarian and author, James R. Benn, was wise to get folks hooked on the first of a series that he was writing.  Even Mrs Av has enjoyed reading the Billy Boyle Series, and we have both looked forward to each new volume's release, although volumes 2 through 11 have not been $1.99 specials.

If you like historical military fiction, the Billy Boyle series is a treat.  Somewhat similar to W.E.B Griffin's continuing tales, but lighter in nature.  But well tied into actual personages and events of WWII as seen through the eyes and adventures of a young and unlikely hero, Lt. Billy Boyle.  At the end of each volume, Benn explains the events relevant to the book, along with historical parallels, if you may not have recognized them.

The books are available in print and electronic (Kindle & NOOK) form.

The description of the first book is:

What’s a twenty-two-year-old Irish American cop who’s never been out of Massachusetts before doing at Beardsley Hall, an English country house, having lunch with King Haakon of Norway? Billy Boyle himself wonders. Back home in Southie, he’d barely made detective when war was declared. Unwilling to fight—and perhaps die—for England, he was relieved when his mother wangled a job for him on the staff of a general married to her distant cousin. But the general turns out to be Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose headquarters are in London, which is undergoing the Blitz. And Uncle Ike wants Billy to be his personal investigator.
Billy is dispatched to the seat of the Norwegian government in exile. Operation Jupiter, the impending invasion of Norway, is being planned, but it is feared that there is a German spy amongst the Norwegians.
Billy doubts his own abilities, with good reason. A theft and two murders test his investigative powers, but Billy proves to be a better detective than he or anyone else expected.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Six Battles of Karbala

The Arba'een pilgrimage to Karbala has  been underway since 10 October.  It will grow in number rising to perhaps more than 25 million people a few days before America’s Thanksgiving.   It is the largest annual religious pilgrimage in the world, bigger than the Haaj to Mecca, and, dwarfing the ‘Way-of-Saint-James’ pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.  The pilgrimage is in mourning of Husayn ibn Ali (sometimes called Hussein), the grandson of the prophet Mohammed.  The vast majority of the pilgrims will be Shia, but a small percentage will include Sunni, Christian, Yazidi, Sabaean and others.  The Vatican has sent delegations in the past, and perhaps Patriarch Kirill of Moscow will send a delegation also.  Most pilgrims walk 85 kilometers (~52 miles) over several days from Najaf.  Some walk in crutches.  Some will walk all the way from Basra.  Many will come from India, Africa, Europe, southern Russia, Central Asia, and the Americas.  There will also be smaller versions in London, Toronto, Dearborn and Los Angeles.  The one in Karbala itself will be a major target for Daesh or other Salafists, and maybe the overseas ones will also be targets of terror.  I wonder if the Iraqi Army and Iraqi state sponsored militias will hold off on using more units in retaking Mosul until after Arba’een is over so they can provide security in Karbala and Najaf?  Or conversely, will they perhaps try to speed up Mosul Ops to declare victory before Arba'een is ended?  But I don't believe they have enough time to do that before the 20th.
It all started with the Battle of Karbala.  Not the latest one in 2007, when the Mahdi Army clashed with gunmen of the Badr Brigades.  That fight was essentially a power struggle between Muqtada al-Sadr and Nouri al-Maliki as to who would provide security for the pilgrims from the danger of Salafi jihadist bombers.  They and their followers essentially went to war with each other for the honor of who would be the ‘Defenders of the Faith’.

Not the one in 2003 when the 3rd Infantry Division and supporting armor and air fought the Medina Division in the Karbala Gap and the 101st Airborne took the city itself from the Fedayeen Sadaam and foreign volunteers and mercs.  An American strategic deception operation had been put in place to convince Sadaam that the 4th Infantry Division would assault northern Iraq from Turkey.  That deception apparently worked as Qusay Hussein ordered many of the Republican Guards to be re-deployed from Karbala to the north of Baghdad.  Lt. Gen. Ra'ad al-Hamdani, who commanded the Karbala Front, protested and presciently predicted Baghdad’s quick fall because of Qusay’s order.

Not the one in 1991 when the Medina Division shelled Karbala with tanks and artillery for a week in order to suppress Shia uprisings.  They destroyed entire neighborhoods, killing thousands.  That was one of the incidents that led to Operation Southern Watch which imposed a useless No Fly Zone below the 32nd Parallel.  That NFZ was ineffective because there were no friendly units on the ground below it to keep Sadaam's ground troops or attack helos from persecuting the Shia again.   The NFZ over the Kurdish regions in the north worked much better as the Peshmerga could counteract Sadaam's ground actions.

Not the 1849 siege by the Ottoman army in order to reassert the Sultan's authority over the city.  They killed approximately 15% of the city population.

And not the 1802 sack of the city  by 12000 Wahhabis.  They killed a few thousand residents, ransacked Husayn's tomb, and needed 4000 camels to carry home the loot.

The original Battle of Karbala took place over 1300 years ago in the year 61 of the Islamic Calendar (680 CE).  Husayn, his family and a small group of followers were defeated by a several thousand man Syrian Army of the Umayyads.  Husayn and at least 72(?) were beheaded.  14 of the 72 were liberated slaves including a Christian, John bin Huwai, who died fighting for Husayn.  The name the “Prince of Martyrs” has long since been a title given to Husayn.  That battle has been made the subject of a historical religious movie by award winning Iranian film director Ahmad Reza Darvish.  It has English subtitles.  Darvish also had help from major British film studios and Academy Award nominated Indian film editor Tariq Anwar.

There are also scores of videos on YouTube showing more detail on the actual Arba'een pilgrimage walk.  One worth seeing IMO (and less than four minutes long) is

Friday, November 11, 2016

War as a "Home Game"

We have discussed at length, Prof Andrew Bacevich's comment that for Americans, war is a "spectator sport".  Considering that some 94% of the US adult population has not served in uniform, those spectators haven't even been in the stadium for the many "away games" the US military has fought, no less on the field.  Rather, they witnessed those games via TV, war stories and the like.

For the past 11 years, we have lived where war has been fought as a "home game", and there are still some folks alive who were on the field during those home games.  Our little island was occupied, and there were skirmishes between partisans and the occupying Germans, and resulting executions that were part and parcel to German occupation.  Across the country, there was considerable damage to homes, villages, etc, and some 4% of the population died as a direct result of the invasion and occupation.  The majority of them civilians.   Meanwhile, during that same War, in the US, one military base was damaged and just under 1/2 of 1% of the population died as a result of military action.

I'm not going to discuss the heroism of the Greek people during WWII.  The examples of their resistance to the Italian and German occupiers, and the brutality the occupiers displayed, is well documented, to include notable incidents on our little island.  However, what I share is my anecdotal experience, as a US combat veteran living among people for whom war is not a spectator sport.

When asked by Greeks what I did in the US, I simply respond that I was a soldier.  That usually results in the question, "What did you do in the Army?".  I reply that I flew helicopters.  Of course, taking in my age and MOS, they immediately ask if I flew in Viet Nam.  When I answer, "Yes", the normal reaction by anyone over 30 is along the lines of "How sad".  At first, considering that I had told them that I was a career soldier, I was a little taken aback.  But it wasn't long before further conversation on the subject made it clear that they were commenting on what I had witnessed, not particularly any danger I may have faced or US foreign policy.  They were saddened by the death and destruction I had to witness.  Virtually no questions of the right or wrong of our involvement.  Just compassion for what I saw first hand and how it must have been terrible.  And, of course, folks my age or older actually commiserated based on their first hand experience of the tragedy of war for all involved, to include the innocent.

Now, when an American would learn that I flew in Viet Nam, the reaction was quite different.  For non-veterans, there was often a voyeuristic obsession with what is was like to kill or blow things up.  Many wanted to know if I flew "gunships".  "Did you get shot down?"  Those who might have been anti war might comment on that aspect, but never in terms of my witnessing the horrors of war, but perhaps being responsible for them.  It was the rare, no very rare person who expressed sadness for the Vietnamese or for my being witness to it.

Point is, war isn't glorious, manly, fun or anything of the sort.  It is mankind at its basest.  It is a breakdown of civility and mutual respect.  I am not glad that I ever had to fire a shot in anger or help those that did.  I chose a career and accepted the good with the bad.  And I grieve for the Vietnamese who suffered through it all.

The last Veterans Day before moving to Greece, a 28 year old hot shot approached me after church services and did the obligatory, "Thank you for your service".  But the proud GWB sycophant with his flag pin on his lapel took it a step further and said, "I guess you wish you could be in the thick of things in Iraq."  I smiled and said, "No more than you seem to be."

To my comrades in arms here at MilPub and everywhere, I wish you a peaceful Veterans Day.  Been almost a century since the end of The War to End All Wars, and it seems not much has been learned.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

campaigning is illegal on election day

Voting has started.  Can we get off politics and get back to this blogs original purpose: the military?  The good parts, the bad parts, and the ugly parts of  military, operational art, equipment, logistics, administration, generalship, history, etc.

But I would guess not.  There will be to many whiny losers out there no matter who wins.  So perhaps we are going to be stuck in a time warp, reliving the past horrific year for the next four or worse for  the next eight.   I for one am sick of it.  Have been for a year.

 We should, I agree, put up political posts regarding the new president's decisions that affect war and peace,  choices of cabinet members, military equipment acquisition, veteran issues, and both trade & diplomatic & economic initiatives.  But can we wait for that until he or she takes office on 21 January, or at least until there are announcements of who will be who in the next administration, instead of immediately predicting doom based on todays vote count? 

Or am I dreaming?  The answer to that is probably yes.