Thursday, March 26, 2009

Border Region

Dan Rather has a weekly program on HDNet. Unfortunately, at the web site they only post a 38 second teaser of the hour long show. If you cannot watch it on your TV, they want you to buy a DVD of the show.

However, that takes nothing away from Dan Rather's presentation. I mention this because I think that this is extraordinary reporting. This is far more graphic than anything on the local news.

This week's show has a report from Quetta, Pakistan and from the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

The video of fire base Restrepol in the Korengal Valley of the platoon high in the mountains, at the 6000' level, reminds me of Viet Nam. Whether one is in a remote mountain outpost or up to your neck in water in a canal with leeches on your legs and abdomen waiting to ambush a barge carrying a regional chief, the extreme similarity is that in both places one is very uncomfortable.

This show brings home the gritty reality that the vast majority of Americans have never experienced. The privations, primitive living conditions and adaptabilty of the U.S. fighting man never cease to amaze me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Priority and Punishment

Here is my latest column in the CityView magazine. The link is to the published version and the text is what I submitted. I haven't actually noticed any differences.


In my early years in Uncle Sam's Canoe Club, I was somewhat of a screw up. It didn't really start there but that was where it manifested and became obvious to anyone who cared to look. It wasn't anything intentional I was doing to screw up my job. No, it was more of a problem of self-confidence. On my communications watch section in Rota, Spain, we had approximately 27 sailors. I think there were six of us who did not have college degrees and at least a couple of the six had at least gone to college. Only about four of us had never gone past high school. As a matter of fact, there were more sailors with advanced degrees than there were with no college at all on my watch section. It was the tail end of Vietnam and there were still a lot of guys on active duty who had joined the Navy rather than depend on their luck with the draft lottery. As one of the "uneducated" I had rather
severe feelings of inadequacy that were to all appearances, not completely undeserved. My primary means of dealing with these feelings was to do individualized scientific research into the capacity of a given human body to metabolize increasing amounts of barley derived alcohol. I can't remember what the results were.

The thing was, in my mind, I had equated education with intelligence, a mistake that someone as smart as I should not have made. From a strict intelligence
standpoint, I had all the potential in the world and there were certainly plenty of people who either were or had been in my life that had told me that very thing. Of course, I thought I was doing all I could and whatever potential they were seeing was an illusion I had created.

So anyway, I screwed up. I have no memory what the specific thing was that I did or didn't do that particular time but, it earned me a trip to the Master Chief's office. In the USN, Master Chief is the highest of the enlisted ranks (E-9). It is a position that few, if any, achieve by accident, subterfuge, or favoritism. It
requires that one be proficient in one's job field as well as a proven leader and manager. They also have typically been in the Navy 18+ years. They may not know every trick in the book but bullshitting them was not an easy thing to do. The use of profanity in the Navy is legendary as evidenced by the common phrase "cuss like a sailor". The average Master Chief was above average in their ability to spew sustained bursts of incredibly creative invective. So I knew what was
coming when I was sent to see the Master Chief. I knew that I had screwed up and I knew that I was in for a royal ass chewing. Really, it would be somewhat cathartic, he would yell, cuss, insult and exhort me to never again be brave enough to screwup while he was in charge. I would be a little humiliated and maybe even get some looks and/or words of sympathy from other sailors but, that would be the end of it. That would be my punishment. So I walked into the Master Chief's office "knowing" what was about to happen and yea, sure I was dreading it but,
I was looking forward to being done with it. It turns out, he was using a completely different playbook.

I walked in and stood at attention and he said in a quiet voice "Have a seat Steve". He paused as if collecting his thoughts and then quietly continued "Steve, you
have really disappointed me." He went on in that vein for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. He never raised his voice and no profanity was used inside that office. He told me why he was so disappointed and that he knew I was capable of better. By the time I left his office, I was practically crying. I had been blindsided, caught unawares. I didn't see it then but, that was a turning point for me. For some
reason I never understood, CTOCM Norm Champagne's expression of knowledge that I could do better, that I was smart enough to do anything, "took" when similar expressions from relatives, teachers, and other supervisors had left no real impression. I got much better at my job. By the time I left the Navy several years later, many expressed the opinion that I was the best in the job at E-5 and below. (at E-6 you really move more into a management thing)

At that time, I didn't really think about what he had done or how but, I have been
thinking about it a lot lately. Apparently, he didn't think it was important that I be punished. He had a mission to support. What was important to him was that I function in the capacity that was designated. So rather than focus his energy on punishing me, he focused on changing my behavior and/or attitude. He didn't worry about his reputation or image as a Master Chief, he wanted his crew to work
and he wanted to make sure that the taxpayer money spent training me, and the experience I already had, were not wasted.It is not news to anyone that reads me or knows me that I am no fan of the previous White House administration. I have loudly and vehemently expressed my opinion that Bush, Cheny, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Libby, and others were guilty of criminal behavior and should be severely punished. My memories of the transformative experience described above
will not change that opinion but, I no longer think it is especially important. It is not where I think the lion's share of the nation's energy needs to be expended. We do need to learn from the mistakes. We need to make sure that the national experience is not for naught. We need to act on the idea that ensuring the health of the nation is more important than punishing those I perceive as having injured it.

I'm not ready to say we should just move on but, I think I understand why the current executive is not making issuing punishment a priority for his administration.

crossposted at

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obama abandons veterans' private insurance plan

After reading yesterday's post, President Obama has seen the light.

Raw Story

After today's meeting between veteran advocacy leaders and the Obama administration, the White House announced that it will be abandoning a plan to make veterans use private insurance for war-related injuries.

The 11 leaders of veterans advocacy groups left today's meeting feeling relieved that veterans' health care wasn't going to be further jeopardized. Journalists caught up with Norbert Ryan, president of Military Officers Association of America, after the meeting. Ryan told reporters, "Our voices were heard. They made the right decision on this."

Yes, they did.

Crossposted at Alternate Brain.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Plan to bill insurance for combat injuries criticized

WaPo via LATimes

An Obama administration proposal to bill veterans' private insurance companies for combat-related injuries has prompted veterans groups to condemn the plan as unethical, and powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill have promised to oppose it.

The proposal -- intended to save the Department of Veterans Affairs $530 million a year -- would authorize the VA to bill private insurance companies for treatment of injuries and medical conditions related to military service, such as amputations, post-traumatic stress syndrome and other battle-related conditions. The VA already pursues so-called third-party billing for non-service-related conditions.

Veterans groups said the change would abrogate the government's responsibility to care for the war-wounded. And they expressed concern that the new policy would make employers less willing to hire veterans for fear of the cost of insuring them, and that insurance benefits for veterans' families would also be jeopardized.

Veterans groups described the plan as a puzzling political misstep by the new administration in its relations with the 25 million Americans who have served in the military. Obama heard firsthand about such objections Monday when he met with leaders of the groups at the White House. a traumatically amputated limb suffered in service to one's country a 'pre-existing condition' worthy of denying benefits? Sounds like a can o' worms to me. Among other things.

Quite simply the most ridiculous and mean-spirited cockamamie idea I have heard yet from this administration. It must not happen, and I have faith that it will not.

C'mon, you guys, this is a misstep worthy of the Repugs' "no pull trigger, no get food, make 'em pay for their own rides home and their meals in a roach-infested moldy chow hall" mentality.

Crossposted at Alternate Brain.