Category Archives: marines

Facia Georgius: Guadalcanal From The Marines’ Perspective

Below is a re-posting of a blog piece I wrote for USNI in August of 2011.  A bonus is a spirited exchange between the author of the blog (yours truly) and Jim Hornfischer.   Few elements of the Navy-Marine Corps rivalry engender as much emotion as the Marines’ utter contempt for Frank Jack Fletcher.  In fact, I had a long and enjoyable conversation with a RADM a couple weekends ago about the very incident described below, and he was entirely in agreement with my assessment of Fletcher’s blunder.   As the 72nd anniversary of the beginning of the epic struggle for the Solomons approaches, I suggest Hornfischer’s books highly.  Despite our differences regarding Fletcher, his books are a must-read to a serious historian of the Pacific War.  And he portrays brilliantly how thin the line was between success and failure in the struggle for the Solomons.  

The medal above is the “George Medal”, which was an unofficial award commemorating the early struggles of the Marines on Guadalcanal. The image depicts, legend has it, the sleeve of Frank Jack Fletcher, with his hand dropping a hot potato onto the Marines ashore. The inscription is “Facia Georgius“. “Let George do It”.

Let me state that, in my opinion, James D. Hornfischer is unquestionably one of the finest writers of Naval history in the last half-century. His books, especially Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, are iconic works that tell superbly the tales of the US Navy in the Second World War in the Pacific. However, during a recent episode of MIDRATS, Mr. Hornfischer’s assertions about the US Marines’ history of the Guadalcanal campaign are entirely incorrect. The issue at hand in those assertions is the decision of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher to depart the Guadalcanal area on the morning of 9 August 1942, after just two days of supporting the amphibious operations ashore.

Fletcher was concerned with the risk to his carriers, Saratoga, Wasp, and Enterprise, by having them tied to support of operations ashore. While understandable, what Fletcher refused to acknowledge was that with amphibious operations, once the landing takes place and forces are ashore, a commander is all in, and must support the forces ashore. The landings by the Marines were the entire reason for having Task Force 61 in the waters of the Solomons. Admiral Turner (commanding the amphibious task force, TF 62) and First Marine Division Commander General A. A. Vandegrift argued the point heatedly in a conference aboard Saratoga, but to no avail.

Chapter 5 of the splendid History of the First Marine Division, “The Old Breed” (Infantry Journal Press, 1949), begins:

The feeling of expendability is difficult to define. It is loneliness, it is a feeling of being abandoned, and it is something more, too: it is as if events over which you have no control have put a ridiculously low price tag on your life.

When word got around Guadalcanal in the second week of August that the Navy had taken off and left the Marines, the feeling of expendability became a factor in the battle.

“I know I had a feeling” says a man who was there, “and I think a lot of others felt the same way, that we’d never get off that damned island alive. Nobody said this out loud at the time. I was afraid to say it for fear it’s come true”.

“But”, says a Captain, “there was an awful lot of talk about Bataan.”

Even the greenest Second Lieutenant in the Division knew enough to understand that an amphibious operation cannot be sustained without Naval support.

The Guadalcanal Campaign, the official historical monograph published by the USMC History Division, is somewhat more matter-of-fact, but still states:

The withdrawal of the supply ships, therefore, was, from a troop standpoint, little short of a catastrophe, but Admiral Turner’s decision was not changed.

And sums up the situation of the Marines ashore this way:

The withdrawal of the transports had left the Marine forces with only a part of their initially scanty supplies ashore. Ammunition supply was adequate, but the situation in the matter of food was serious. Even with the acquisition of a considerable stock of rice and canned food from the captured Japanese area, supplies were so short that it was necessary on 12 August to begin a program of two meals per day. There was a similar shortage of defensive material, barbed wire (of which only 18 spools were landed), and entrenching tools and sand-bags.

The most serious shortage of all, however, from the point of view of the engineers who were charged with the completion of the airfield, was that of specialized equipment necessary for the task. No power shovels had been landed, nor dump trucks.

So, on 9 August 1942, the day Admiral Fletcher departs with his warships of TF 61, and the cargo vessels of Admiral Turner’s Amphibious TF 62, the Marines of the First Marine Division are ashore. But not all of them. Vandegrift’s reserve, the 2nd Marines, is still embarked. Those that are ashore have barely 96 hours of ammunition. They are short of food. The enemy strength and disposition is largely unknown. Their lifeline, the airstrip, is not yet repaired and has no aircraft. They are all but defenseless against the frequent Japanese air strikes.

Vandegrift and his staff had agreed to come ashore with an initial load plan that represented significantly less than their minimum requirement due to constraints on cargo space, with the promise that the Navy would surge supplies to them. Now, most of even that small amount was out of reach of his Marines, headed to sea in Turner’s cargo holds, as the latter was forced to withdraw when Admiral Fletcher’s warships departed.

But for three absolutely miraculous occurrences in the fortunes of war, the Guadalcanal landings might have been a disaster comparable to the loss of the Philippines just a few months before.

The first occurrence is that the Japanese commander, caught off guard, underestimate both the strength of the landing force (believing only a few thousand ashore), and the fighting spirit of the Marines, and did not move decisively to reinforce the small garrison on Guadalcanal with elements of the 17th Army that were available. (A single reinforced battalion of the 28th Regiment, about 1,100 Japanese, was given the mission of re-taking the island.)

The second was the fortuitous capture, with slight damage, of a single bulldozer, which the Marines used to maximum effect to complete a 2,700 foot airstrip on the Lunga plain. Without that stroke of luck, several weeks likely would have passed before any aircraft could have operated out of Henderson Field.

The third near-miracle was the capture of large stores of Japanese canned fish and rice, which becomes a staple of the Marines’ diet in the absence of rations still in the holds of the Navy ships.

Meanwhile, the arduous task of building of bunkers and of obstacles to defend the Marine positions and the all-important airfield, was done by hand in the searing jungle heat. The Marines, short of wire and sandbags, improvised as best as possible. By the time the 2nd Marines arrived (22 August) and additional supplies were landed, the Marines had been engaged in a number of short, sharp fights with the Japanese, the first of dozens and hundreds of bloody slugging matches in the rotting heat of the jungle on Guadalcanal.

The fight for Guadalcanal has been well-documented, and by the time last of the First Marine Division embarked for good from the island, the Division had suffered nearly 700 killed, 1,300 wounded, and more than 8,000 sick with malaria and other jungle diseases. For veterans of that time on Guadalcanal, men who didn’t have our perspective of inevitable victory either on Guadalcanal or in the Solomons, their resentment of (at the time) the US Navy and of Admiral Fletcher (which persists to this day) is entirely warranted.

Fletcher’s departure with his carriers, claiming the need to fuel (“always fueling”, wrote Morrison) was an exceedingly poorly considered move. His decision to do so infuriated Admiral Turner, commanding TF 62, who understood that his ships and their cargo were they keys to survival for the Marines ashore. While Fletcher’s aircraft carriers were precious commodities, his decision to minimize risk to those units had the effect of placing the entire of Operation Watchtower in considerable danger of failure. The lack of supplies and support which the Marines ashore endured in the opening weeks of the fight for Guadalcanal negated Vandegrift’s plans for immediate offensive operations (with an expanded airfield) to clear the island, left them all but defenseless to Japanese air and naval forces, and prolonged what became a protracted and savage fight under unspeakably miserable conditions.

In his efforts to protect his carriers, Fletcher inexcusably risked something even more precious and irreplaceable. The only trained and equipped amphibious force that the United States had in the entire Pacific. The loss of the carriers would have had severe operational implications, but defeat on Guadalcanal, resulting in an evacuation, or worse, capitulation, would have been strategic disaster.

Attempts at “reassessment” of Fletcher’s decision to pull support for the Marines on Guadalcanal, and justifying that decision six decades hence as “prudent”, are exercises in revisionism mixed with ample doses of 20/20 hindsight. The Marines’ bitterness at Fletcher is well-placed. Asserting differently dismisses the situation the Marines faced in mid-August of 1942 vis a vis the enemy as well as their own logistics. The Marines would gain a new respect for the Navy once Fletcher and the overmatched and timid Ghormley are replaced, the latter by the legendary William F. Halsey, who immediately visited Vandegrift and the Marines on Guadalcanal. Halsey’s “battle-mindedness” and promise of the support of the Navy was a refreshing and comforting change from his predecessor, and was immediately reflected in the morale of the Marines ashore.

Mr. Hornfischer’s goal in his exploration of Naval history, to put himself (and his reader) in the shoes of the commander, is extremely admirable. He would be remiss, however, if the sets of shoes he places himself in do not include the muddy boondockers of a First Division Marine on Guadalcanal. Were Mr. Hornfischer able to interview the First Marine Division veterans of Guadalcanal forty years ago, he would have gotten their perspective on those weeks without Navy support, expressed in the most colorful of language. Which needs no revision.

***********************************

Interesting comments from the esteemed author, James D. Hornfischer:

I’m delighted to find this colloquy unfolding in this reputable forum between such well-informed service professionals.

As I tried fervently to convey in NEPTUNE’S INFERNO, I’m sympathetic to the plight of the Guadalcanal Marines who were forced to persevere without air cover or full provisions for a period of time that they could not know at the time. Doing their business under these conditions, they were gallant and resourceful as ever. They are entitled not only to their pride, but also their chagrin. The question is whether the study of this history should end there. Is their heat-of-the-moment rage sufficient to serve as the final word on Frank Jack Fletcher and the Navy’s performance in the campaign? This question pretty well answers itself in the asking.

The blogger labels as revisionist any assessment of Fletcher that does not comport with the partisan, Corps-centric assessments formulated during and immediately after the war and abetted by Samuel Eliot Morison (and never rebutted by Fletcher himself).

The Marines’ resentment of Frank Jack Fletcher was well placed in its day. Our burden today is to see it in light of everything else we know about the complex circumstances that attended the campaign. Most of these, of course, were invisible from the beach. In NEPTUNE’S INFERNO I tried to thread that needle without resorting to the kind of interservice partisanship that characterizes many of the Corps-centric accounts of the campaign.

Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders at all times to operate under the guiding star of “calculated risk,” that is, to weigh the potential benefits of an action against its potential costs and drawbacks. In choosing how long to expose the Pacific’s only three carriers in direct support of the Guadalcanal landings, Admiral Fletcher determined how much risk he was willing to accept in the opening act of Operation Watchtower. He informed his colleagues in advance of the operation and his decision was extensively debated in advance.

Today, it’s all over but the shouting. History bears out the wisdom of his determination. The Marines were left without carrier air support from the carriers’ withdrawal on August 9 until August 20, when the USS Long Island delivered the body of the Cactus Air Force. The consequences of those eleven days of exposure turned out, happily, to be negligible. The Japanese did nothing to seriously threaten the U.S. position on Guadalcanal during that time. The carriers returned in time to fight the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. (His conduct of the battle demonstrated the sincerity of his caution; he ordered one of his three carriers, the Wasp, out of the battle area to refuel.) Fighting with one hand behind his back, so to speak, he used the Enterprise and Saratoga to deflect the Japanese push. He saved his fleet for that moment and the others that followed. One could well speculate that had he left his carriers near Guadalcanal continuously from August 7, they might have been struck, making the close victory of Eastern Solomons impossible and imperiling the Marine position even more seriously.

This, much like Marine partisans’ complaints of “inexcusable risks to the landing force,” is a fruitless exercise in speculation. It’s only proper to damn Fletcher—or say the “risk” he took was “inexcusable”—by assuming an alternate universe of events where his decisions led to disaster. That’s when you ask the question Why and cast the arrows of judgment at the perpetrators.

It seems reasonable to judge the final wisdom of a particular risk by looking at the results that flowed from it. If we do that, there is no compelling basis for labeling Admiral Fletcher anything other than a winner.

As events actually unfolded, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons marked the beginning of the Navy’s sustained commitment to fight in defense of the Marine position on Guadalcanal, risking its most valuable assets the whole way through. By the time it was over, the Navy had fought seven major naval actions in which its KIA outnumbered infantry KIA by a factor of nearly 3 to 1.

It is entirely coherent to sympathize with the authentic anger of the Marines on Cactus, and simultaneously recognize the balance of merit favoring Admiral Fletcher’s controversial decision. The Marines lacked air cover for eleven days, and a large portion of their supplies, and suffered the bracing uncertainty how long those circumstances would attend.

By the time it was over, the three-to-one KIA ratio stood starkly apparent to anyone who was watching, and victory absolves all sins. General Vandegrift remembered the November 13 deaths of Admirals Scott and Callaghan with his famous dispatch “lifting our battered helmets in deepest appreciation.” To wallow in the bile of interservice partisanship, from a tendentious evaluation of a fragment of events, in spite of the actual outcome of history, is little more than a parlor game that negates the final judgment of the 1st MarDiv commander himself regarding the performance of the fleet. Nearly 70 years after events, we can do better than that.

*********************************************

And response from the “blogger”:

The questioning of Admiral Fletcher’s decision to remove the carriers of TF 61 from supporting the Marines ashore at Guadalcanal is far more than “a fruitless exercise in speculation”, or “bile of interservice partisanship”.

To assert that because the Japanese failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity to interdict the US drive into the Solomons and bring about a potentially crippling strategic setback, the decision Fletcher made to withdraw was correct is to assert that “all’s well that ends well”. Such is a singularly dangerous approach to the study of military history, as it goes great lengths toward the already-prevalent tendency to believe that the winners have little to learn from an ultimately successful outcome.

In any amphibious operation, support from the sea is critical to success, irrespective of the service executing the amphibious assault. Nimitz’ concept of “calculated risk” is in no way sufficient to excuse the willful passing of initiative to the enemy in the very place that was the US main effort at the time in the Pacific. Fletcher left Vandegrift without the forces and supplies to execute his plan ashore, in fact with barely enough to defend a thin perimeter against an enemy whose strength and disposition was largely unknown. That the enemy did not seize that initiative is to our eternal good fortune. We have several bloody examples of what happened in amphibious operations when the initial advantage of the initiative is allowed to pass. At Anzio seventeen months later, Army General Lucas dithered in his beachhead while Kesselring acted, reinforcing the threatened area as fast as he could with every available formation at his disposal. The result was a costly slugging match against what was by then an enemy well prepared to meet the breakout. We should be grateful that Hyakutake was no Kesselring.

It remains speculation, as well, whether Fletcher represented truthfully to Ghormley that both General Vandegrift and Admiral Turner had stated that 96 hours was the time required for full unloading of the transports. Both had done so, and had argued vehemently against Fletcher’s decision while aboard Saratoga.

No, this debate is not “partisan service” anything. Initiative is among the most precious commodities on the battlefield, to be surrendered only at dear cost. Fletcher did so, or rather forced Vandegrift ashore to do so, but the Japanese did not take it. He was, as were the Marines ashore, fortunate in the extreme.

As stated above, the Marines by and large came to respect greatly the efforts of the Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal. It has been a subject of intense study on my part, and worthy of the highest of admiration for the bravery and tenacity of the American Sailor. However, the anger of the Marines and their contempt for Fletcher is understandable. The loss of the transports and the Division reserve crippled the commander ashore, and prevented the undertaking of immediate offensive operations that could have cleared the island before Japanese reinforcements arrived in significant numbers. Instead, Guadalcanal became a protracted and bloody fight on the island and in the surrounding waters that ended only with the evacuation of the Japanese survivors in early 1943.

Fletcher’s decision should be recognized for what it was, a major tactical blunder that could have had severe strategic consequences. That he, and his boss, Ghormley, were removed from command, speaks volumes. That is true, seventy years or seven hundred years after the battle.

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Medal of Honor- Corporal William Kyle Carpenter

This afternoon the President of the United States awarded the Medal of Honor to William Kyle Carpenter, Corporal, USMC (Ret.) for his selfless action near Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan on the 21st of November, 2010.

Then Lance Corporal Carpenter was on a rooftop in a small village, along with fellow Lance Corporal Eufrazio, when he was severely injured by the blast of a grenade. LCPL Eufrazio was also badly injured by the blast.

The incident has been under review for years, eventually coming to the inescapable conclusion that then  LCPL Carpenter had used his body to shield his fellow Marine from the grenade’s blast.

CPL Carpenter has undergone about  40 surgeries to repair, in so far as is possible, the damage done to him by that blast.

He is currently an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. He is also currently the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient.

Well done, Corporal Carpenter. God Bless and good luck in all your future endeavors.

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Senior Enlisted Marine at Parris Island Resigns

A former Marine Drill Instructor was protesting outside the gate of MCRD Parris Island. Unhappy with the Bergdahl swap for five senior Taliban detainees, Ethan Arguello, wearing his old campaign hat, the longtime symbol of Drill Instructors, was off post during the protest.

Sergeant Major Paul Archie, the senior Noncommissioned Officer on the depot, verbally confronted Arguello. That in itself was, in my opinion, poor judgment. Worse still, Sergeant Major Archie allowed the verbal confrontation to escalate to the point where he made physical contact with Arguello’s campaign hat, knocking it from Arguello’s head. As it fell, Sergeant Major Archie snatched the hat, climbed into his vehicle, and proceeded onto the depot.

 

Sergeant Major Archie later voluntarily surrendered to the local police to face charges of assault and battery.

As a result of this incident, Sergeant Major Archie has tendered his resignation as the senior NCO, and apparently requested retirement. It is a sad end to what surely has been a distinguished career spanning decades.

And it is absolutely the right outcome.

It’s sometimes said the Air Force is a job, the Navy and the Army are services, and the Marine Corps is a religion. There’s no small amount of truth in that. I can sympathize with Sergeant Major Archie being upset that a civilian is using a symbol rich with meaning to make a political protest.

But the Sergeant Major apparently forgot, if only momentarily, that the first loyalty of a servicemember, any servicemember, is to the Constitution, not the Corps. Mr. Aguello, whatever you may think of him, was engaging in constitutionally protected p0litical speech. You can agree with him, disagree with him, criticize his tactics, but you cannot argue that he should have been stopped by a member of the military that exists to protect that very right to freedom of speech.

Sergeant Major Archie still has to face the civilian justice system. One hopes such a minor incident will not have extensive consequences for him.

As for his career in the Marine Corps, such a lapse in judgment certainly calls for his removal as the senior enlisted advisor to the Commanding General. Sadly, at the echelon of service, there are few other places Sergeant Major Archie could continue to serve in any meaningful way. That leaves retirement as virtually the only option. And one hopes that the Sergeant Major’s chain of command will not feel a need to further pursue the matter via Non-Judicial Punishment or other adverse actions.

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“Fighting Joe” Dunford is the Next Commandant of the Marine Corps

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Congratulations to General Joseph Dunford, nominated by Secretary of Defense Hagel to be the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Marine Corps Times has the story. 

I have known General Dunford a long time, since he was the MOI at Holy Cross in the late 80s.  I had the distinct honor to serve with then-Colonel Dunford in Al Anbar in 2004, when he was MajGen Mattis’ Chief of Staff.  BGen John Kelly was the ADC, and LtGen James Conway had the MEF (and the MEF SgtMaj was the incomparable Carlton Kent).  What a team!    Joe Dunford also skipped a pay grade.  He was nominated for his second star, and before he pinned on his new rank, picked up his third star!  Nearly unheard of in today’s day and age.

Lord knows, the Marine Corps needs a warrior, and an INFANTRY OFFICER at its helm.   The infantryman is the very soul of the Marine Corps, and the Commandant should be someone who knows him and his comrades intimately.   Besides, the Amos years have not been good.

Congratulations, General Joe Dunford.   Our Marine Corps is in your capable hands.  Right where it should be.   Godspeed.

(I am willing to overlook that he went to BC High.)

H/T to LTCOL P

 

 

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More About the Reconstituted Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee

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XBRAD told us about this the other day.  He openly questioned its purpose, especially in light of the track record of this Administration to act illegally and oversee the persecution of law-abiding political opponents with the apparatus of their own government.

Well, Eric Holder tells us the purpose of this new task force:

But we also must concern ourselves with the continued danger we face from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of other causes from anti-government animus to racial prejudice.

Anyone who doesn’t pick up on the verbiage has missed the last five years of Eric Holder’s corrosive and bigoted black activism.  There was, of course, the FBI memorandum telling us that returning white Veterans who believe in God, small government, and the right to keep and bear arms are domestic terrorist suspects.  There is the military’s “education” (extracted from documents at the Southern Poverty Law Center, no less) that conservative groups and Christian organizations are akin to the KKK.   And that military members may be charged under the UCMJ for supporting and belonging to such groups.  The US military has routinely run training scenarios in which the adversary is “right-wing extremist”, which is to say, actual and otherwise law-abiding citizens who are magically attributed a violent character which requires a military response so they may be “crushed”. Then, there is the study a couple of years ago in which “domestic terrorists” were defined as those who “defended the Constitution” and have reverence for individual liberty.

One has only to quickly peruse the various “See Something, Say Something” Public Service Announcements about terrorism to see that virtually every portrayal of a terrorist is a white male.  All of them.  Despite the 1993 WTC bombing, 9/11, Khobar Towers, USS Cole, the Boston Marathon bombing, and dozens of other domestic attacks and murders perpetrated by Muslim Jihadists, the US Government’s portrayal of terrorists is invariably white and male.

So the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee?  Under an Attorney General who has vowed not to pursue cases that reflect badly on “his people”?   In an Administration that has perpetrated use of the IRS, EPA, Justice, and NSA to visit retribution on individuals and groups that differ politically with the far left?  Place your bets.   Gabriel Rottman, First Amendment lawyer for the ACLU, already has.

Given the already lenient standards for when the government can launch an investigation, the announced task force is both unnecessary and an invitation to investigate Americans because of the beliefs they hold, not because of any wrongdoing.

Which is to say, with this Administration especially, conservative heterosexual white males.  And other, law-abiding political opponents.  And one can reasonably assume that this “Executive Committee” will have all the trappings of due process that comes with a closed-door deliberation of “informed high-level government officials” instead of those pesky and inconvenient Constitutional rights under the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 14th Amendments.

Oh, and by the way…

I… do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

H/T to Fran

 

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Women can be Marine Infantry Officers. All You Have to do is Change the Standards.

Feminist advocate Ellen Haring, a Reserve Army Colonel, wrote a piece over at War on the Rocks about how to fix why females cannot pass the US Marine Corps Infantry Officers’ Course.   Not surprisingly, Haring’s assertions ring hollow and partisan to any Marine ground combat Officer, especially one with the Infantry MOS.

…why are the physical standards different for officers and enlisted infantry Marines?…
Officers and enlisted infantrymen perform the same physical tasks in their units and during combat operations.  The discriminator between officer and enlisted has always been education, not physical differences.

What Haring writes is utter nonsense.  The answer, which should be glaringly evident to someone with the rank of Colonel, is that Marine Officers must not just “perform the same physical tasks”, but to LEAD, and lead by physical example.  A great deal of a young Officer’s credibility with his Marines comes from the display of physical courage and personal fitness, which includes strength, stamina, and endurance.  A Marine Infantry Officer must be prepared to lead despite extreme physical fatigue, and retain the ability to make alert and sound decisions.  The lives of his platoon or company depend upon it.  That Haring ignores such a fundamental of leadership in a combat MOS is not surprising, and I don’t think for a minute it is unintentional.

Haring also cites the op-ed by 2nd Lt Santangelo, in which the Lieutenant asserts that expectations, and not physical limitations, are the reasons for failure among the female Officers.  Nowhere does Haring mention the viewpoint of Captain Kate Petronio, whose extensive experience serving beside Marine Infantry units would seem to have a bit more validity than to be ignored.

Haring’s focus is, of course, the Combat Endurance Test, a grueling physical event that has been a part of the Infantry Officers’ Course for decades.  This is where 13 of the 14 female Officers have failed, and it is administered on the first day of training.  (The 14th female was dropped with a stress fracture in the first few days of training.)  Haring calls the Combat Endurance Test an “initiation”, rather than an occupational qualification, and to an extent that is correct.  In order to lead Infantry Marines, an Officer must successfully complete that test.  So, of course, since it is a stumbling block for 93% (at least) of the female Officers, Haring takes aim at that event.  And here is the crux of her argument:

Do initiation rites have a place in our military?  There will be those who argue that they absolutely have a place in developing the esprit de corps that is vital to the Marine Corps and those arguments have merit.  Certainly the Marines have built their reputation on being tough, trained professionals whose motto Semper Fidelis (always faithful) embodies their total dedication to this country and to the Corps. But does an initiation rite that effectively filters out half the American population (all women) do the Marine Corps justice?

It is that last line which says it all.  Haring apparently has issue with how the Marine Corps trains its Infantry Officers, as such training doesn’t do the Corps “justice”.   Huh.  Here I was thinking the Corps had a rather successful training program for what it rightly considers the backbone of the service, the Marine Infantry Officer.  Haring parenthetically mentions that such training “filters out” women, as if that part of her argument is an afterthought.  In reality, her entire effort centers around that very premise.  While she goes on to say that she is not advocating elimination of the Combat Endurance Test, she does advocate advancing female Officers through IOC without passing the test, as she claims male officers have done, and allow females to repeat the test (one assumes, indefinitely), until they pass.  (I question the accuracy of her assertions that males have been given unlimited chances to pass the Combat Endurance Test, and know of several males who have washed from IOC because they could not do so.)

This will have the effect of making passing of the Combat Endurance Test a graduation requirement rather than an entry requirement.  Of course, once a female Officer has had all that time and money invested in her training, the argument will then be to waive passing of the Combat Endurance Test altogether.  Because it would be foolish and wasteful to put a female Officer through all that training and not have her graduate.  Which will be precisely the goal of feminist activists like Haring.  Female Marine Infantry Officers, no matter how unqualified or ill-equipped to be such.  Because, well, the cause is more important.

So, despite her assertions that she does not advocate changing the standards in order to have female Marine Officers become Infantry Officers, she is advocating just that, and she knows it.  Like so many in the “girl power” feminism ranks, she simply lacks the integrity to say so.

h/t to Info Dissem

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Intrepid Tiger II – EW in the USMC

USMC EA-6B Prowler

USMC EA-6B Prowler

The primary asset for electronic warfare in the USMC has been the venerable Grumman EA-6B Prowler (and to a lesser extent, recently, RQ-7 Shadow UAVs). These airframe utilize the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) to monitor and disrupt threat radars and communications on the battlefield. Lately during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Prowler (in addition to US Navy and Airforce EW assets) to jam cell phone integrated improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Prowler has been in USMC service since the early 1970’s and due to airframe age have very recently been replaced by the EA-18G Growler, in US Navy service. The USMC has no plans to operate the Growler and will gradually phase the Prowler out to opt for an EW version of the F-35 Lightning 2. As for 2013, the USMC operated 4 squadrons (called VMAQs-) of Prowlers.

The decision of the USMC to opt for an EW version of the F-35 is already pretty controverisal. The USMC will operated the F-35B (the STOVL) version. It’s unknown whether or not the USMC will develop an “electronic attack” version of the F-35B (perhaps EF-35B) or add EW as another task for the F-35 to d0. The later would be possbile in terms of hardware given the AESA radar but in high threat environs, the single pilot would likely become task saturated. Most likely, the USMC would depend on the Navy’s Growlers and the USAF EC-130 aircraft. In a high threat “day-one” area either aircraft wouldn’t be able to escort the F-35. Most likely, both the EC-130 and Growler provide jamming coverage in at a relatively safer distance from a target area i.e “stand-off jamming.”

Meanwhile facing IED threats in Afganistan, the gradual drawdown of the USMC’s Prowler fleet, and continued delays in the F-35, the USMC would be left without an organic EW capability. It was recently revealed in 2008 that the USMC has developed a “podded” EW solution, called the Intrepid Tiger II for it’s Harrier fleet:

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In 2008 the USMC took dealing with the improvised explosive devices threat into their own hands and what they ended up with was a cost effective and highly adaptable jamming and communications intelligence pod that should be a model of how to satisfy future urgent “niche capability” needs.

It is called the Intrepid Tiger II and it looks very much like a ALQ-167 threat simulation podused for training by NAVAIR and its “Red Air” contractors. The pod itself is about the same size as a AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile, with various aerials emitting from its tubular body. This configuration makes the pod capable of being deployed aboard the AV-8B Harrier jump-jet and its aerodynamic impact on the jet’s performance is so anemic that the aircraft’s flight computer does not even need a software update to carry it, it just treats it as an AGM-65 Maverick missile.

During the system’s rapid design phase, engineers made use of off the shelf parts in order to bring the program’s costs down and shorten the urgently needed pod’s developmental time-span. The first eight pods cost about a million dollars each, which is a bargain considering that anything with the words “new” and “military” next to it usually has an appalling price tag. When you look at what the Corps gets for that million bucks, Intrepid Tiger II is an all-out steal.

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The Intrepid Tiger is also highly automated (there’s only one pilot in the Harrier) and can, interestingly be operated either by the pilot and/or a remote ground station via datalink. The USMC hope to integrate the pod with other airborne platforms (Hornet and Cobra chiefly). While Intrepid Tiger does provide a limited solution in the face of the drawdown of the Prowler, and it also provides theather commanders with another EW asset option as current options aviable are “low density, high deman” meaning there aren’t enough to go around. The downside is that the Harrier doesn’t have much of a loiter capability (if someone needs on-station coverage) and you aren’t getting the same capability in terms of jamming coverage and power as you would from a dedicated EW platform.

But hell, something is better than nothing and the USMC deserves kudos for coming up with something.

Intrepid Tiger has already been test flown on Harriers from VMA-214 and is expected to be deployed with VMA-211 when they return to Afganistan later this year. 

 IMO, for the USMC to maintain an organic EW capabilty, they should opt for the Growler (an EW F-35 is a naive pipe dream and pointless gamble). The training infastructure is already there in the Navy and additional purchases would lower the unit costs. That said, because of the very high optempo of current national EW assets, Intrepid Tiger is a decent “ad hoc” organic EW platform and could develop into something useful for other services.

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Fiddy

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Well, that day has finally come.  A bit of a strange sensation to leave your forties behind.  Especially when you’re the youngest, you always picture yourself as being young.  A childhood friend who lives in the area told me once that she still sort of thought of me as a little kid, because when she was ten years old, I was eight.  Which made me laugh.  Because I think I was 46 at the time.   Yep, that is me above.  First Grade, I believe.  I was a cute little kid, and am still not sure how I managed to evolve into this present hideous visage without some sort of tragic and disfiguring event.  But, here I am.

My “youthful outlook” consists largely of the sense of humor of 4th grader, who still giggles at cartoons, the Three Stooges, and bathroom humor.  (My mother used to warn that I was “confusing crudity with sophistication”.)  Anybody know where I can find re-runs of Beavis and Butthead?

I will say I do believe my 50th will be considerably less exciting than my 40th.  I spent that one in Ramadi, with the first order of business being told we are heading into the Governor’s Compound no matter what condition Route Michigan was (and it was invariably BLACK in May and June that year).   The operations staff sang Happy Birthday to me (thanks, Doc!), and we got mortared twice.

They say that 50 is the new 40.  Perhaps it is.  I am considerably “younger” than my parents were at the same age, as their generation did not get much exercise, and both of them smoked.  I still play basketball with guys half my age, and can hold my own in the weight room.  (I am not as strong at 50 as I was at 40, but I was stronger at 40 than 30.)  And my golf game is, believe it or not, improving.  But, running is really a chore these days, and has been since breaking my back in the early 90s.   And I don’t heal nearly as quickly.  But what the hell.  Never up, never in.

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I just have to get used to the fact that I am no longer the “young go-getter in Sector 7G”.  Then again, I haven’t been for some time.

One cool fact about the day I was born is that it is 100 years to the day after the Battle of New Market.  Various friends who are VMI Alum commemorate that battle as New Market Day, where the VMI Corps of Cadets participated in the fight against Franz Sigel’s Federals.  Today is the 150th anniversary of the fight, one for which VMI should be justifiably proud.  Just the same, LTCOL P should mention that it is not only the 150th commemoration of New Market, but URR’s 50th birthday!  I am not asking for much, perhaps a stone monument somewhere….

 

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Filed under anthropology, history, iraq, marines, Personal, Uncategorized

China Provides a Lesson About Influence Squadrons

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Sort of Sir Julian Corbett meets Woody Allen.  (“Ninety percent of life is just showing up”. )  From Forbes.com:

On Wednesday, Vietnamese officials announced that one of China’s ships intentionally rammed two of their Sea Guard vessels.  The incidents took place on Sunday, the 4th.  Six were injured, according to Hanoi.

“Chinese ships, with air support, sought to intimidate Vietnamese vessels,” said Tran Duy Hai of the Foreign Ministry at a news conference.  Other officials said six other Vietnamese craft were hit.

The incidents occurred after China National Offshore Oil Corp., better known as CNOOC , had on May 2 towed a deep-water rig, the size of several football fields, to an area that Hanoi claims is within its exclusive economic zone, near the Paracel Islands.

Beijing brought a fleet of about 80 vessels to keep the Vietnamese from stopping the oil rig, designated HD-981.  CNOOC called HD-981 a “strategic weapon”at its launch in 2012.

This is not some commercial venture, nor can any Chinese incursion of this type ever be so considered.

…it is clear that the company was using the rig at Beijing’s behest.  “This reflected the will of the central government and is also related to the U.S. strategy on Asia,”said a Chinese oil official, speaking anonymously to Reuters, about drilling in Vietnam’s waters.  “It is not commercially driven.  It is also not like CNOOC has set a big exploration blueprint for the region.”

It did not take long for Chinese leaders to test President Obama’s general commitment to maintain regional security after his eight-day, four-nation “reassurance” visit there at the end of last month.  …This is the first time China has drilled in Vietnamese waters.  Moreover, this is the first time Beijing openly used its “gray hulls”—navy ships—in close support of “white hulls”—civilian maritime craft—while enforcing a territorial claim, according to the Nelson Report, the Washington insider newsletter.  There are seven Chinese naval ships in the vicinity of the rig.

Perhaps President Obama and his Administration can begin to appreciate the value of a truly global Navy with sufficient hulls and capabilities to protect US interests and that of her allies.   An inadequate number of large, expensive capital ships cannot provide adequate forward presence in all the places in which such presence is required, irrespective of the relative combat power of the individual warship.  Wednesday’s events near the Paracels provides an object lesson of precisely that.   China’s example of the use of an “influence squadron” is a telling one.  The PLA Navy is where the PRC wishes it to be in order to further Chinese interests.  Those interests are being furthered at the direct expense of US interests.  And the US Navy, stretched past the breaking point by global commitments with a shrinking force, is notably absent in the role of forward presence.

The entire episode of China’s expansion of exploration into the Paracels, the erecting of a massive rig structure, and the protection of that rig with Navy units shows also that The People’s Republic of China is no more intimidated by the hollow platitudes of President Obama’s guarantees to our Asian allies than Vladimir Putin is by Obama’s incessant harping on non-existent “consequences” for actions along Russia’s borders.  Once again, we have rivals and potential adversaries who understand power.  The ability to influence allies and enemies to act in a way which is in consonance with one’s national interests, and the willingness to use all the elements of national power to bring that about.

The common thread along both Russia’s western border and the South China Sea is a feckless and vacillating United States, whose statecraft is in the hands of naive and talentless amateurs who are rapidly dismantling their own military capabilties.  Small wonder our allies are not reassured by the words of our President.  Because, like our rivals East and West, they know those words are without consequence, because they are without the will (nor soon, the means) to give them meaning.

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Filed under Around the web, China, Defense, guns, history, marines, navy, obama, Politics, Uncategorized, veterans, war, weapons

Michelle Obama’s Trite and Meaningless Gesture

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By now most of us have seen the above image of First Lady Michelle Obama holding a “hashtag” sign in reference to the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian Christian girls by Islamic extremist terror group Boko Haram. Maddening as it is, the image is appropriately symbolic of the Obama Presidency. This silly idea that “Twitter” hashtags being circulated amongst empathetic bystanders somehow equates to actually DOING SOMETHING is right in line with the abysmally weak and ineffective foreign policy of her husband’s administration. Which is to say bold and serious talk of “red lines” and “changing calculus” is accompanied by stern warnings and finger wagging, talk of “consequences”, “sanctions”, and “pivots”, all amounting, like this hashtag nonsense, to nothing at all of any value or consequence.

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Worse, Michelle Obama’s meaningless little stunt comes after her husband’s State Department assiduously avoided labeling Boko Haram as a terrorist organization for more than four years. The burning of churches, the murder and torture of thousands of Nigerian Christians, elicited not a peep from Michelle Obama. She seems only now to care in the slightest because Boko Haram’s campaign of terror and murder can be seen as a “women’s issue”.   And Lord knows she needs to be at the front lines in the “War on Women”. Just like Hillary Clinton, who now sees Boko Haram as “abominable” and “criminal”, committing “terrorist acts”. For the four years in which the State Department dithered in labeling Boko Haram as terrorists, however, the Secretary of State was that very same Hillary Clinton.

Also, Michelle, the abducted girls are not “yours”. Even though you think some idiotic picture of you with a “hashtag” showing “support” makes them so. They are the children of parents who have lived in fear of violence and death at the hands of these Islamic extremists for half a decade. Those extremists are armed partially by the very same weapons, and trained by the very same fighters, that your husband’s administration provided when it shipped arms to in Libya to overthrow a docile Khaddafi, all the while “leading from behind”.  Those Islamic extremists have now metastasized across Africa, into Mali, and the CAR, Algeria, and northern Nigeria. Boko Haram is, in no small part, what it is because of the wildly misguided and irresponsible policies of Barack Hussein Obama.

Men such as those that comprise Boko Haram and the other malignant Islamist terrorists that are soaking Africa’s sand with blood, Christian and Muslim?  They cannot be reasoned with. They are not open to “negotiation” or “beer summits”. Your pathetic display is fodder for their humor, as it shows how intellectually and morally weak you are. Such men as Boko Haram are not men with whom one can live peacefully, ever.  No, those men need to be killed. When it comes to that, other men, good men, far better men than your husband, leave their loved ones to face the danger and the fear, to risk everything to keep the wolves at bay.   They go because their country calls them to go. And because they know that the safety of those they love depends on their willingness to put their lives on the line to kill those with whom peaceful coexistence is impossible.

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And when some of those good, brave men die keeping us safe, we honor them and remember them. Men like Ty Woods and Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Chris Stevens.  Part of that ceremony involves the respectful handling of the symbol of the nation they fought and died for.   That’s right, Michelle. All that for a flag. Because their sacrifice is what stands between our children and Boko Haram. And they gave their last full measure of devotion. While you tweeted. Which is why you will never understand about the flag. Much to your lasting shame. Such men have always been proud of their country, even if you aren’t.  Because you haven’t the wherewithal to understand why you should be.

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Filed under Air Force, army, Defense, girls, guns, history, islam, Libya, marines, navy, obama, Politics, stolen valor, stupid, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Guadalcanal Diary!

Well, actually, more a timeline.

Our fellow long-time Moron ArthurK has been “liveblogging” the Battle of Guadalcanal on twitter.

He’s also covering the great battles of Coral Sea, and presumably Midway.

Follow him at:

@GuadaBattle

And:

@GuadaLive42

Coral Sea and Midway would reverse the tide of the Japanese Navy, making possible the attack through the open Central Pacific.

But the epic struggle of Guadalcanal would be just as critical, opening the drive through the Solomons, and leading the way to the little known, but incredibly important drive through the Southwest Pacific. It was the SWP that held the resources Japan had gone to war for, and it was the drive there that would, in time, cut Japan off from them.

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Shiver Away Those Extra Pounds!

The all-new “Sweatin’ to the Microbes!”

I know I need to lose a few, but didn’t think I would be doing it by lying in bed with the God-awful crud, shaking and sweating and coughing.

I know that John’s place (the Castle) is now a plague village, but so far I am the only victim up here.   I told Jackass Cat he was responsible, that the disease was brought in on the fleas of Cattus Cattus, but he challenges my understanding of that period of history.   Let’s hope we don’t lose two-thirds of the population.

Since I am self-employed, there is no such thing as a man-cold, because if I don’t work, I don’t get paid.  So I worked yesterday and here I am today.  Which could lead to the absolute optimal Obamacare actuarial result.  Me keeling over dead at my desk, whilst sitting there, not building that.

But, somehow, I doubt it is mortal.

PS:  Jackass Cat carries his own disease.  Yeradam Pestis.

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William S. Lind’s Grim Assessment of the US Officer Corps

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From The American Conservative.   Bill Lind, one of the authors of Fourth Generation Warfare, is often a bit of a scratchy contrarian who is firmly convinced of his own infallibility when it comes to military theory.   Lind has never served in uniform, and often his condescending pontification and admonitions of “You’re doing it all wrong!” to US military thinkers causes his views to be dismissed out of hand.  But Lind is very smart, and often had nuggets of insight that deserve our consideration.  Here are a few from his TAC article:

Even junior officers inhabit a world where they hear only endless, hyperbolic praise of “the world’s greatest military ever.” They feed this swill to each other and expect it from everyone else. If they don’t get it, they become angry. Senior officers’ bubbles, created by vast, sycophantic staffs, rival Xerxes’s court. Woe betide the ignorant courtier who tells the god-king something he doesn’t want to hear.

And:

What defines a professional—historically there were only three professions, law, medicine, and theology—is that he has read, studied, and knows the literature of his field. The vast majority of our officers read no serious military history or theory.

While my personal experience has been that Marine Officers tend to read and discuss military history, it could be that I gravitate toward those who do.  I will admit that I am chagrined at the numbers of Officers of all services who have seemingly no interest in doing so.

Lind also identifies what he calls “structural failings”:

The first, and possibly the worst, is an officer corps vastly too large for its organization—now augmented by an ant-army of contractors, most of whom are retired officers. A German Panzer division in World War II had about 21 officers in its headquarters. Our division headquarters are cities. Every briefing—and there are many, the American military loves briefings because they convey the illusion of content without offering any—is attended by rank-upon-rank of horse-holders and flower-strewers, all officers.

Command tours are too short to accomplish anything, usually about 18 months, because behind each commander is a long line of fellow officers eagerly awaiting their lick at the ice-cream cone… Decisions are committee-consensus, lowest common denominator, which Boyd warned is usually the worst of all possible alternatives. Nothing can be changed or reformed because of the vast number of players defending their “rice bowls.” The only measurable product is entropy.

The second and third structural failings are related because both work to undermine moral courage and character, which the Prussian army defined as “eagerness to make decisions and take responsibility.” They are the “up or out” promotion system and “all or nothing” vesting for retirement at 20 years. “Up or out” means an officer must constantly curry favor for promotion because if he is not steadily promoted he must leave the service. “All or nothing” says that if “up or out” pushes him out before he has served 20 years, he leaves with no pension. (Most American officers are married with children.)

It is not difficult to see how these… structural failings in the officer corps morally emasculate our officers and all too often turn them, as they rise in rank and near the magic 20 years, into ass-kissing conformists.

I cannot help but notice the truth that rings from much of what Lind asserts.  I have made some of those very same assertions myself on more than a few occasions.  Give the article a read.  What does the gang here think?  Is Lind on target?  If so, how do we fix it?  Can it be fixed?

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Filed under Air Force, army, Around the web, Defense, history, marines, navy, recruiting, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Harvest Hawk Herc

We’ve mentioned the Marine Corps program to “bolt on” a ground attack capability to some of its fleet of KC-130J Hercules. And lo and behold, here’s some video of one doing a live fire exercise.

My eyes are getting pretty old. Can one of you sharp eyed spotters identify the chase plane? I think it’s a T-6 Texan II, but I’m just not sure.

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General Carl E. Mundy, Jr, 30th Marine Commandant, Dead at 78

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Very sad news that General Carl Mundy, the 30th Commandant of the Marine Corps, passed away on Wednesday in Alexandria, VA.   General Mundy’s career was long and distinguished, beginning with his enlistment in the Marine Reserves in 1953, where he would rise to be a Sergeant Squad Leader.

Commissioned out of Auburn University, General Mundy served two tours in Vietnam, one as OpsO and XO of 3/26, and the other with III Marine Amphibious Force.  Following his service in Southeast Asia, General Mundy commanded the Second Marines, and then 2nd Marine Division, and eventually II MEF at Camp Lejeune, NC.

General Mundy served as the 30th Commandant of the Marine Corps from July 1991 to June 1995.  General Mundy was also a plain-spoken man.  And as such, has always been a hero of mine.  He had the backbone to stand up to the Diversity Tyrants, and to try and do what was best for the Corps rather than his career.  The infamous “60 Minutes” hack job that was as dishonest as the Westmoreland piece and the George W. Bush service record fabrication portrayed Mundy’s remarks as being something other than what they were.  General Mundy had criticized the racial quota approach to recruitment of Marine Officers, rightly pointing out that simply taking in men and women based on skin color, without regard to intelligence and aptitude, did them and the Corps a disservice.  He correctly observed that those accessed with below-average intelligence and aptitude were at a severe disadvantage and did not do as well with marksmanship, land navigation, and other skills.  Mundy apologized for any offense that the edited remarks may have caused, but never backed off from his premise, which infuriated the Diversity advocates.

Later, General Mundy ordered the eventual elimination of recruiting quotas for married Marines, again rightly pointing out that first-term non-rate Marines with wives and children had a much higher proportion of problems because of low pay and long hours, and the effects were deleterious to readiness and morale.  Mundy was ordered to rescind that guidance, but again remained unwilling to revise his views.

I had the privilege to serve with General Mundy’s son Carl E. “Sam” Mundy III, at Parris Island.  He was a superb Officer who rightly admired and emulated his Dad.  Carl E. Mundy III is now a Brigadier General, I believe.    General Mundy’s legacy to the Marine Corps remains with us almost twenty years later.  He was a warrior who believed in the warrior ethos.  And was unwilling to compromise those beliefs for political expediency.

But for other senior Officers in all the services to take a lesson from General Mundy.

Farewell, General.  30th Commandant, departing.  Marines from every age who guard Heaven’s streets will present arms.

 

 

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Filed under history, infantry, marines, Politics, SIR!, Uncategorized, veterans, war

U-T San Diego: Ramadi Remembered

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Ramadi remembered

Iraq battle began 10 years ago on April 6, exacting heavy Marine toll

“The Battle of Ramadi was pivotal for coalition operations in the province,” the 1st Marine Division announced. Marines and soldiers killed an estimated 250 rebels from April 6 to April 10, and “the fighting shattered the insurgent offensive.”

U-T San Diego has the story.

One hell of a price was paid by the Marines and Soldiers in that battle and in the subsequent months. Paul Kennedy’s 2nd Bn 4th Marines, the “Magnificent Bastards” were magnificent once again. 1st Bn 16th Infantry was, too. As was every other unit that contributed to the fight and to holding the line until the Awakening turned the tables a couple years later.  The bravery, skill, and determination daily displayed in Ramadi and in Fallujah that April of 2004 is difficult to put into words.

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It was the honor of a lifetime to serve under LtGen Conway, CG I MEF, and MajGen Mattis, CG 1st MarDiv.  The Division ADC was John Kelly, and the Chief of Staff was Joe Dunford.  The MEF SgtMaj was the incomparable Carlton Kent.  Marines could never ask to be led by better.  And, of course the friendships forged in such a place will last the rest of our days.

O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Semper Fidelis, Marines.

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Seeking, and Finding, at Parris Island

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This week, following my last stint ever of reserve duty at Quantico, I decided to make one final trip to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.  I wanted to revisit what was a meaningful place for me one last time before my retirement on 1 June.   The nine-hour drive was smooth enough, but still… nine hours.  I arrived about 1730 in the evening and drove around town for a bit while I still had some light.

The surrounding communities of Beaufort and Port Royal had grown appreciably since I was here last, in May of 1992, when I relinquished command of India Company, Third Recruit Training Battalion.  On that same day, I also graduated my final Recruit Company and executed PCS orders.   Driving around I noticed there are many more restaurants now, and shopping centers, recreational activities… all the things that one would come to expect from a mid-sized and modern community.   There were far more amenities than existed twenty-odd years ago.   It was, as many have experienced visiting old duty stations, a bittersweet walk back in time… seeing places where I once lived, old haunts…. scenes not taken in for more than twenty years.  My objective, however, was not to drive and walk around the community.  I came to see the Recruit Depot at Parris Island, the place where I’d spent so many thousands of hours, in a job that was both challenging and immensely rewarding.  I also wanted to have a look at what changed, what hadn’t, and to do some reflecting on my time there, and my time since.   So… fairly early this morning, I climbed into a set of Charlies and headed aboard.

What awaited me was entirely and thoroughly unexpected.  In fact, it was quite a jolt, one which set me on my heels.  The first place I wanted to see after crossing the causeway was Third Recruit Training Battalion.  It was there that I served as a Series Commander and commanded India Company.  As I approached the Battalion area, I immediately noticed something was amiss.  No recruits anywhere.  No anybody.    I drove past the old barracks, triple-decker squad bays… I passed the Battalion HQ.  NOTHING.  So, I pulled my car in and got out.  To my absolute shock and inexpressible sadness, the entire of the Battalion Area was abandoned… derelict.

The line of squad bays that comprised Kilo and India Companies, 3rd RTBn.  So strange to see them without the bustle of activity.

The line of squad bays that comprised Kilo and India Companies, 3rd RTBn. So strange to see them without the bustle of activity.

The Third Recruit Training Battalion Command Post

The Third Recruit Training Battalion Command Post

Third RTBn Logo on the old grinder.

Third RTBn Logo on the old grinder.

Here was this place that I had thought of countless times — remembered hundreds and thousands of hours on the drill deck, the PT field, and next-door, the Close Combat area.  I expected to see recruits marching, to hear Drill Instructors correcting and yelling, to hear cadence being called and platoons sounding off.  Yet, there was not a soul around.  Just… a thunderous, deafening silence.  Here was a place where so much sweat and so much emotion had been expended by many thousands of recruits since the barracks were built in the 1950s.  Here was a place where the sharp commands of the Drill Instructors echoed off the brickwork, readying Marines for three wars.   Here was a place that was profoundly formative in so many a young life.  And now it was EMPTY.

Building 423, where India Company Office was located (the windows on the left front)

Building 423, where India Company Office was located (the windows on the left front)

The Inside of the former India Company Commander's Office.  No hand sanitizer in my day, though.

The Inside of the former India Company Commander’s Office. No hand sanitizer in my day, though.

I saw my old Series and Company Offices.  The paint was peeling and bits of debris and old equipment lay scattered about.  The “grinder” had grass and weeds growing from the cracked pavement.   The Chow Hall was overgrown, with crumbling steps and windows dislodged.   I ventured around, feeling a deep sadness that here, where I expected to find continuity, I instead encountered a very stark and sad reminder of the passage of time.   I wandered into the abandoned squad bays, ignoring the signs warning me to keep out.  When I stood there, it was if I could still hear the voices of hundreds of Drill Instructors and thousands of recruits, barking commands and sounding off in the rhythm that is unmistakably Marine Boot Camp.  My mind’s eye pictured images I saw a thousand times… of recruits executing the manual of arms in front of their racks, or mountain-climbing on the quarterdeck for some boneheaded infraction.   But they were only in my imagination, my memory.  Outside, the sand “motivation pits” where recruits once did incentive PT in the South Carolina heat, were now overgrown with grass and weeds, edged by rotting logs.

The squad bay.   The black lines closest to the windows were where the legs of the bunk racks were to be carefully aligned.  The lines toward the center were where recruit heels would be.  That was being "on-line" before the internet!

The squad bay. The black lines closest to the windows were where the legs of the bunk-style racks were to be carefully aligned. The lines toward the center were where recruit heels would be. That was being “on-line” before the internet!

Yellow footprints outside the DI hut.  The one closest is where the recruit stood when he was called to report.  The one in front of the hatch was where he stood to knock and report, and the third set was where he stood if he was told to stand by.

Yellow footprints outside the DI hut. The one closest is where the recruit stood when he was called to report. The one in front of the hatch was where he stood to knock and report, and the third set was where he stood if he was told to stand by.

In a place such as this, where so many young lives had so many defining moments, there remains an aura of those raw emotions that is almost palpable.  Those powerful emotions of fear and anger, excitement and resolve, mixed with the rightful pride of accomplishment, seems to float in the damp air still, nearly two years after the last recruit series called these squad bays home.

Around the side of the last squad bays, I met with yet another unpleasant surprise.  The Close Combat area, which had been immediately adjacent to Third Battalion, was also gone.  The pugil stick pits, which I helped build…gone.  Our “thunderdome” area and the shed where the Close Combat Instructors fought thousands of rounds had been replaced by base housing and a fire station.  The Confidence Course was gone also.  An empty field stood in its place.

The wash racks between squad bays.  Recruits would use these wash racks to scrub dirty uniforms and 782 gear, boots, etc.

The wash racks between squad bays. Recruits would use these wash racks to scrub dirty uniforms and 782 gear, boots, etc.

The place in which I stepped into a gopher hole up to my right thigh, resulting in a crushed vertebrae.  One step I regret.

The place on the 3rd RTBn PT field where I stepped into a gopher hole up to my right thigh, resulting in a crushed vertebrae. One step I regret.

As I stood remembering and taking pictures, I had to ask myself… Why such a powerful reaction? Why was I seemingly close to tears?   My emotions were all my own, all personal.  I expected to come back and find the place eminently recognizable, something  which would perhaps make me consider that 22 years was not quite so long ago.   But it is so long ago, especially when the recruits  are just 18 or 19 years old, and some of the Drill Instructors themselves only in their mid-twenties.

I eventually got back in my car and drove around the base some more.  A good deal of the infrastructure was new, including a massive Instructional Training building.  That beat the decrepit and cramped building I had occupied for the purpose (I was the OIC of Close Combat and Academics in between having a Series and Commanding India Company).    No wooden squad bays remained, which is kind of too bad.  The last of them was at the Rifle Range, replaced by brick structures about ten years ago.

The more I drove and walked around, the more I noticed that the tenor of the place had not changed very much at all.  Parris Island is still a place that provides the mental and physical challenges to those who want to be Marines.   The Drill Instructors still have the lean, hard, tired, uncompromising countenance.  The recruits still snap to, pushed by their DIs, until they respond quickly and willingly; until they become basically-trained Marines.   So, with further consideration, I realized that I did indeed find the continuity I was looking for.

The new location of India Company, 3rd RTBn

The new location of India Company, 3rd RTBn

I also eventually found the “new” Third Battalion.  A brand-new row of triple-deck squad bays, grinder, Command Post, wash racks, and a new PT field had been built about 1,500 yards from the old Battalion Area.  They were behind the rows of Spanish Moss-bedecked trees in the area that was once the island’s working farm.  There were new “motivation pits” and the ubiquitous pull-up bars.  I actually had a chance to see the “new” India Company area, and was pleased to meet the Officers and some of the Drill Instructors who are building today’s Marines.  It was a good conversation.  The hours are still incredibly long, the Drill Instructors still thoroughly professional and dedicated, and the pride of playing a part in the making of Marines is still very much in evidence.  Semper Fidelis, Marines!  And thanks for taking the time to talk to an old man who stood where you stand now (more or less) a quarter century ago.

H/T to DB for EDIT

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A US-Japan Littoral Combat Ship Design?

The Diplomat has the story.  The possibility is certainly intriguing.  One can assume rather confidently that Japanese naval engineers are somewhat less enamored of “revolutionary”, “transformational”, and “game-changing” as we seem to be here at NAVSEA.  Japanese ship designs, particularly in smaller units, have always been excellent.  Fast, sturdy, powerful units for their size.

…analysts contend that the trimaran would likely be a lighter variant of the U.S. Navy’s 3,000-tonne littoral combat ship (LCS), a platform designed primarily for missions in shallow coastal waters.

According to reports in Japanese media, the high-speed J-LCS would give the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) the ability to quickly intervene during incursions by Chinese vessels near the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets and other contested areas of the East China Sea. Chinese analysts speculate that the J-LCS could be intended as a counter to the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) Type 056 corvettes and Type 022 fast-attack boats, two types of vessels that could be deployed to the region should relations continue to deteriorate. Furthermore, early reports indicate that the slightly enlarged hull of the 1,000-tonne-plus vessels could accommodate SH-60K anti-submarine helicopters and MCH-101 airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) helicopters.

If Chinese analysts are correct, and I hope they are, it is possible we will see a smaller, better-armed, more lethal, less fragile, and significantly less expensive warship which will be suitable for combat in the littorals.  Our lack of “low-end” capability to handle missions ill-suited for AEGIS cruisers and destroyers, such as mixing it up with ASCM-armed frigates and fast-attack craft, is nothing short of alarming.  It would be of benefit to the US Navy to scrutinize the results of such a design, which at first blush sounds much closer to the “Streetfighter” concept than either current LCS design, and that of the Cyclone-class Patrol Cutters.

It sure as hell would be an improvement over current designs.  Especially if the “joint” US-Japanese LCS actually shipped the weapons systems and capabilities required and didn’t stake success on as-yet undeveloped “modules” whose feasibility has come increasingly into question.

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Ten Years Ago Today

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We flew in to Habbaniyah on a C-130 out of Kuwait, and the pilot juked on the way in, just in case.   Once on the deck, we were dispatched into an Army-Marine Corps convoy headed to Ramadi.  On the way out the gate of the laager, a VBIED detonated next to one of the lead security vehicles, killing two soldiers.  It would be an interesting eight months in Iraq.   The First Marine Division, led by MajGen James N. Mattis, whose ADC was John Kelly and Chief of Staff Colonel Joe Dunford, was one hell of a team (that included the Army’s excellent 1-16th Infantry).

The 1st Marine Division (not including Army casualties) suffered 118 killed and more than 1,400 wounded in those eight months in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, Haditah, and a lot of other dusty villages and towns nobody could find on a map except the men who fought there.   A high price was paid to hold the line in Anbar, to hold elections, and cultivate conditions for the Awakening.   For the Marines and soldiers who did so, recent events with AQ flying flags in Anbar’s cities and towns are particularly maddening.  It was clear that the “cut and run” philosophy of the White House was an exceedingly poor one, and subsequent events show that the so-called “zero option” is as descriptive of the President’s credibility as force levels in Iraq.  And we are set, with the same litany of excuses, to do it again in Afghanistan.

I wondered then what all this would be like, ten years on, should I be fortunate enough to survive.  Some things remain very vivid, the sights and smells, and the faces of comrades.  Others I am sure I would have to be reminded of.  And a few memories, thankfully few, are seared into the memory for the rest of my time on this earth.

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Going Hollow: The Hagel Preview of the FY2015 Defense Budget

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Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh Burke Chair at CSIS, provides a very cogent summary of the weakness of our Defense Department leadership and its inability or unwillingness to discuss the 2015 DoD budget meaningfully.

At the simplest level of budgetary planning, the Secretary’s budget statements ignore the fact that the Congressional Budget Office projects that the Department’s failure to manage the real-world crises in personnel, modernization, and readiness costs will have as negative an overall budget impact over time as Sequestration will. Ignoring the Department’s long history of undercosting its budget, its cost overruns, and the resulting cuts in forces, modernization, and readiness means one more year of failing to cope with reality.  Presenting an unaffordable plan is as bad as failing to budget enough money.

Cordesman gets to the real meat of our failure of strategic (dare I say “national strategic”?) thinking, as well.

He talks about cuts in personnel, equipment, and force strength in case-specific terms, but does not address readiness and does not address any plan or provide any serious details as to what the United States is seeking in in terms of changes in its alliances and partnerships,  and its specific goals in force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness.

He holds nothing back in his contempt for the process of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), either.

Worse, we are going to leave these issues to be addressed in the future by another mindless waste of time like the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). All the past QDRs have been set so far in the future to be practical or relevant. Each successive QDR has proved to be one more colostomy bag after another of half-digested concepts and vague strategic priorities filled with noise and futility and signifying nothing.

Cordesman saves his best for last, however.

Like all of his recent predecessors, Secretary Hagel has failed dismally to show the U.S. has any real plans for the future and to provide any meaningful sense of direction and real justification for defense spending. The best that can be said of his speech on the FY2015 defense budget is that U.S. strategy and forces will go hollow in a kinder and gentler manner than simply enforcing sequestration.

We do need to avoid cutting our forces, military capabilities, and defense spending to the levels called for in sequestration. But this is no substitute for the total lack of any clear goals for the future, for showing that the Department of Defense has serious plans to shape a viable mix of alliances and partnerships, force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness over the coming Future Year Defense Plan.

I don’t always agree with Cordesman’s assertions, but he is just about always a thoughtful if provocative commenter on Defense and National Security issues, and his analysis of SECDEF Hagel’s remarks are spot-on.  We are headed for a hollow force, despite its smaller size, as many of us have feared all along.  This, despite all the promises and admonitions of this Administration and our Pentagon leadership.  Go have a read.

 

 

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Seduced By Success; An Army Leadership Untrained for True War?

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Our friend at Op-For, the urbane and erudite sophisticate LTCOL P (supplying some cogent comments of his own), points us to a superb article in AFJ by Daniel L. Davis outlining the very real possibility that our immense advantages over our foes in the last two-plus decades has left many of our middle and senior leadership untested and overconfident in our warfighting capabilities.

Imagine one of today’s division commanders finding himself at the line of departure against a capable enemy with combined-arms formation. He spent his time as a lieutenant in Bosnia conducting “presence patrols” and other peacekeeping activities. He may have commanded a company in a peacetime, garrison environment. Then he commanded a battalion in the early years of Afghanistan when little of tactical movement took place. He commanded a brigade in the later stages of Iraq, sending units on patrols, night raids, and cordon-and-search operations; and training Iraq policemen or soldiers.

Not once in his career did an enemy formation threaten his flank. He never, even in training, hunkered in a dugout while enemy artillery destroyed one-quarter of his combat vehicles, and emerged to execute a hasty defense against the enemy assault force pouring over the hill.

Spot-on.  Such sentiment applies to ALL SERVICES.  Even in the midst of some pretty interesting days in Ramadi and Fallujah, I never bought into the idea that was being bandied about so casually that “there is no more complex decision-making paradigm for a combat leader than counterinsurgency operations”.   It was utter nonsense.  The decisions to be made, as the author points out, above the troops-in-contact level, were seldom risking success or failure either in their urgency or content.  We had in Iraq and in AFG the ability to largely intervene with air or ground fires as we desired, to engage and disengage almost at will, against an enemy that could never have the capability of truly seizing tactical initiative.  Defeat, from a standpoint of force survival, was never a possibility.  To borrow Belloc’s observations of Omdurman, “Whatever happens, we have got, close air support, and they have not”.

Having a brigade of BMP-laden infantry rolling up behind the fires of a Divisional Artillery Group, supported by MI-24s and SU-25s, which stand a very real chance of defeating (and destroying) not just your unit but all the adjacent ones, is infinitely more challenging than even our rather intense fights (April and November 2004) for Fallujah.  The speed and tactical acumen of the decision makers will be the difference between holding or breaking, winning and losing, living or dying.   The author points out some significant shortcomings in our current training paradigm, and brings us back to some fundamentals of how we train (or used to, at any rate) decision-makers to operate in the fog and uncertainty of combat.  Training and exercises, designed to stress and challenge:

At some of the Combat Maneuver Training Centers, Army forces do some good training. Some of the products and suggestions from Army Training and Doctrine Command are good on paper. For example, we often tout the “world class” opposing force that fights against U.S. formations, and features a thinking and free-fighting enemy. But I have seen many of these engagements, both in the field and in simulation, where the many good words are belied by the exercise. For example, in 2008 I took part in a simulation exercise in which the opposing forces were claimed to be representative of real world forces, yet the battalion-level forces were commanded by an inexperienced captain, and the computer constraints limited the enemy’s ability to engage.

Many may remember the famed “Millennium Challenge 2002” held just before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Retired Marine general Paul Van Riper, appointed to serve as opposing force commander, quit because the exercise was rigged. ”We were directed…to move air defenses so that the army and marine units could successfully land,” he said. ”We were simply directed to turn [air defense systems] off or move them… So it was scripted to be whatever the control group wanted it to be.” For the U.S. Army to be successful in battle against competent opponents, changes are necessary.

Field training exercises can be designed to replicate capable conventional forces that have the ability to inflict defeats on U.S. elements. Such training should require leaders at all levels to face simulated life and death situations, where traditional solutions don’t work, in much more trying environments than is currently the case. They should periodically be stressed to levels well above what we have actually faced in the past several decades. Scenarios, for example, at company and battalion level where a superior enemy force inflicts a mortal blow on some elements, requiring leaders and soldiers to improvise with whatever is at hand, in the presence of hardship and emotional stress.Simulation training for commanders and staffs up to Corps level should combine computer and physical exercises that subject the leaders to situations where the enemy does the unexpected, where key leaders or capabilities are suddenly lost (owing to enemy fire or efforts), yet they still have to function; where they face the unexpected loss of key communications equipment, yet still be forced to continue the operation.

Such exercises should not all be done in nicely compartmentalized training segments with tidy start and end times, and “reset” to prepare for the next sequence. Instead, some exercises should be held where there is a beginning time “in the box” and no pre-set start or end times until the end of a rotation two weeks or more later. In short, the training rotation should replicate the physical and emotional stress of actual combat operations in which there is no “pause” to rest and think about what happened.

I couldn’t agree more.  However, in a budget-crunch environment where significant funding is going toward advancing political and social agendas even within DoD, I am not at all sanguine about such training occurring.  Worse, rather than having leaders champion the need for it and constantly fight for training dollars, I fear that such a requirement will be dismissed as less than necessary, since we already have “the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.”  While our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are indeed superb, and honed at the small unit level, our senior leadership is much less so.  What’s worse is that leaders who have no experience in battlefield command against a near-peer force have begun to assert that technological innovation makes such training superfluous.  That the nature of war has changed, and we are now in an era of “real-time strategy” and “global awareness”.   To steal a line from The Departed, there is deception, and there is self-deception.

Anyway, the Armed Forces Journal article is a thought-provoking read.

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Duffel Blog: Gen. Amos Nervously Awaiting Results Of Career Board

Those guys nail it yet again.  Is it an indicator that Jim Mattis finds the Duffel Blog hysterical but Jim Amos hates it?

Career Designation, according to Marine Corps, is “a force-shaping tool” that ensures Marines retain the best company-grade officers by firing half of them. The program was established in 2011, making this Amos’ first Career Designation, having recently hit the requisite post-MOS waiting period. Amos graduated at the bottom of his class in Commandant’s School in 2010.

Brilliant, I tell you.  Brilliant.

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Making Marines- “…and a Few Good Men” (1973)

Another great vid.  Narrated by Gunnery Sergeant Moore/Sgt Joe Friday himself (actually a USAAF Veteran in WWII).   Worth a cup of coffee and twenty-five otherwise productive minutes.  Though it is filmed at MCRD San Diego, things hadn’t changed very much between 1973 and when I first went to MCRD Parris Island in 1982, or went back as a Series Commander in 1989.  I doubt they have changed all that much since I rotated to Camp Lejeune in 1992, either.   Note that nearly every Drill Instructor and Officer is wearing a Combat Action Ribbon, and the Regimental CO at Graduation is a World War II, Korea, and Vietnam Veteran.

Some pretty good close-order drill.  And it has some excellent M-14 pron.

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Best Marine Corps Recruiting Commercial Ever

Almost thirty years old now, but still my favorite.  And we have had some damned good ones.

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Overheard at the Auto Parts Store

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One thing I can say about the Upper Valley.  There is more than a bit of “local color” here.  There is a distinctive and drolly humorous demeanor to some of the folks up here, even if they lack the full complement of teeth.   Think Red Green, with a Vermont accent.  While I was buying some windshield wipers today, and shooting the breeze with a former Marine at the counter, a heavy-set older fella strolled up to the counter next to me.   The other guy behind the counter walks over to help him, and the following conversation took place:

“Can I help ya?”

“Yessir, I come by to pick up a tranny core you said was in.”

“Oh yeah, I seen the note that said Dave Perry was gonna come fetch it.  It’s out in the bay.”

“Well, then, that one ain’t mine.”

“No?”

“Nope.  See, I ain’t Dave Perry.”

“Are ya sure?”

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