Sunday, February 07, 2016


In my own private version of REFORGER ( ), I have returned to Germany one last time before I retire from the Army.  I am working at USEUCOM in Stuttgart, and enjoying Germany as much as I can during my time off. Since I returned in October, I’ve thought from time to time about making blog entries, but never seemed to find the time.  I’ve felt the urge more and more lately, and so here I am, to make another effort.

One thing that I think seems to mitigate against taking the time to compose blog entries is Facebook.  I spend a ridiculous amount of time on it, sometimes several times a day.  It is very easy to enter quick comments and to share articles and links, which seems to satisfy some of the urge to be “out there” saying something.  But when you get down to it, it is fairly superficial, and does not really permit the development of more complete trains of thought.  While I value the newsfeed aspect of FB, and enjoy reading and sharing articles written by others, I also enjoy writing my own.  So I’m going to try to maintain a better balance between the two, and start writing again a bit more regularly.

Germany is an interesting place.  In many ways, of course, it’s still the same country I came to know and love in my youth in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but it’s also changing rapidly.  The most immediately noticeable change is the much wider inclusion of English words in everyday life.  I noticed this when I was here in 2010, and it’s even more pronounced (no pun intended) now. 

Another big change I’ve noticed this time is the very high prevalence of foreigners here.  Unlike when I’ve lived here previously, I have found that it is almost unheard-of to be served at a restaurant by a native German.  I speak German fluently, and can spot accents well.  There are people here from all over Europe, particularly eastern Europe and the Balkans, and they seem to have taken over most of the service jobs.  I guess this is not unlike the situation at home in the USA, but it means I have even fewer opportunities to speak with actual Germans.  When I was here in the 1980’s I made friends with some people through the Wirtin at the local bar where I spent a lot of time after work.  But here, at least so far, my only encounters with Germans have been short casual conversations in passing.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to change that or not in the short time I’ll be here.  But in any case, I plan to travel around and see and do as much as I can while I’m here.  And when it seems as if I have something interesting to say, I’ll do my best to write about it.

Mood:  Happy
Music:  BAP, Lebenslänglich

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Ancient Wisdom

"Si vis Pacem, para Bellum"

    - Vegetius

"It is most meet we arm us 'gainst the foe;
For peace itself should not so dull a kingdom,
Though war nor no known quarrel were in question,
But that defences, musters, preparations,
Should be maintain'd, assembled and collected,
As were a war in expectation."

      - William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 2 Scene IV

Saturday, June 07, 2014

D-Day at the Range

I commemorated the 70th Anniversary of D-Day by going to the range and shooting two of my WWII firearms - an M1 carbine and an M1911A1 pistol.  It seemed a fitting tribute, and it was fun as well.  I was kind of surprised to be alone at the range - I expected at least a few people to be there.  But I had the place to myself. 

First I shot the M1 carbine.  This one is the first one I ever bought - picked up at a gun show in Michigan for about $120 sometime in the 1980's (they go for many hundreds or thousands of dollars today, depending on the variety).  It's a "mixmaster", meaning that it has parts from a variety of manufacturers - it's far from factory original.  It's also my "beater" carbine - I used to carry it in my Jeep and keep it in the campsite when I'd take the kids camping.  It's not pretty, but it's a good shooter and a credible defensive weapon.

M1 carbine.  This one was manufactured by the Inland Division of General Motors in November 1943

The M1 carbine has gotten a bad rap over the years - it has been denigrated as being inaccurate and having poor stopping power.  I think this is because it can't compare to the M1 Garand in accuracy, range, or stopping power.  But it was never intended to replace the battle rifle.  It was intended to replace or supplement the pistol for officers and support troops who didn't need to lug around the full-size M1 Garand.  As a truck driver in an Engineer Battalion, my Uncle Roy most likely carried one of these carbines.  It is well-suited for its intended purpose. 

The .30 Carbine is a hot cartridge - it has more energy at 100 yards than a .357 Magnum has at the muzzle.  The typical round-nose full metal jacket bullet is not the most effective man-stopper, although it's adequate.  With soft-point or hollow-point bullets it's very effective out to 200 yards or more. It's also accurate, although the bullet doesn't buck the wind very well.  I've shot a carbine in highpower rifle matches at 200 yards and turned in respectable scores. 

Today I shot it offhand at 100 yards on both a standard service rifle target (SR-1) and also against a B-27 silhouette (normally used for pistol shooting, but it's a life-size target and thus good for any range).

I shot a total of 60 rounds of surplus Lake City .30 Carbine ammo (headstamped LC-71), loading ten rounds per 15-round magazine. After some warming up on the service rifle target, I fired at the silhouettes.  With a low center-mass hold, I turned in an 89 on the first ten shot string (89%) and a 251-1X (83.6%) on a 30-shot rapid fire string that included three magazine changes.  Not spectacular, but respectable (and fun).  I'd have shot it more (I took 200 rounds with me) but I wanted to make sure I got to shoot my pistol as well, so I called it a day for rifle shooting.

All in all, I feel well-armed with an M1 carbine.  It's no wonder to me that LTC John George called it an "ace weapon of the war" in his book "Shots Fired in Anger".

On the pistol range, I fired my standard-issue 1943-vintage Colt 1911A1, using a B-27 silhouette target at a range of ten yards.   I used standard .45 ACP ("Automatic Colt Pistol") 230 gr. round nose full metal jacket ("hardball") ammunition, identical to military issue.  This is the same kind of pistol I was issued when I was on active duty in the 1980's (although I never had a Colt - mine were Remington-Rands and an Ithaca).  I even broke out my old pistol belt/holster rig to carry it in.

The model 1911 .45 also got a bad rap in some circles.  When I was at U.S. Army Officer Candidate School in 1981, we fired the 1911A1 for "familiarization".  After a (very) brief class on the operation, disassembly and assembly of the pistol (and no marksmanship training whatsoever), they walked us up to a firing point, gave us a box of 50 rounds of ammo, and had us fire at a silhouette about seven yards away.  I remember them saying "we bet you can't hit it very many times".  Their objective seemed to be to convince us that the pistol was useless.  Given the dismal non-training they provided, it was.  I wasn't impressed at the time, but later I taught myself to shoot a pistol by reading books and magazine articles and shooting thousands of rounds in practice.  Not surprisingly, I found that the 1911 is very capable in trained hands.

In today's session I fired two rapid fire strings of 21 shots each (three 7-round magazines).  On one string I scored 196-4X (93.3%) and on the other I scored 200-8X (95.2%).  I was impressed with the handling and accuracy of the as-issued military pistol. 

1943-vintage Colt M1911A1

The .45 ACP is a handful, but with good technique (including a firm grip and solid follow-through) it will do the job.  There's a good reason it was our standard service pistol from 1911 until the mid-1980's!

I love to shoot, and will use just about any occasion as a reason to go to the range.  But today's trip really was intended to commemorate and honor those who staked their lives on these weapons 70 years ago.  As I walked back to the firing line from scoring my targets, I found myself trying to imagine what it must have been like to have to advance over those beaches in the face of enemy fire.  Although I have been a soldier for over 30 years, I have to admit that I don't know what gives men the ability to do that. I have been fortunate never to have had to actually enter combat, but I have the deepest respect for those who have, under whatever circumstances. 

Today's experience handling and firing the same weapons that American soldiers used in Normandy helped me to feel a little closer to them and their experience.  I am privileged to be the temporary caretaker of these historic firearms.  Someday they will pass on to other hands, carrying with them the memory of those who fought to preserve our freedom.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Remembering D-Day

30 years ago today I was in Normandy observing the 40th Anniversary of D-Day, after a three-week bicycle ride across France from the German border. Today after work I'll be at the Cross Creek Rifle and Pistol Club shooting an M1 Carbine and Colt M1911A1, in honor of those who staked their lives upon these weapons 70 years ago.

I remember my uncle, Private Roy Jennings, 37th Engineer Combat Battalion, who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He would never talk about the war, but years after his death my aunt sent me a list of dates and places he had been during his service. The entry for 6 June, 1944 was Colville-sur-Mer, France, i.e. Omaha Beach.

Wherever you are and whatever you do today, please remember those who risked everything to defeat tyranny and defend freedom.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

A Warrior Passes

I just learned today that another of my heroes has passed away.  Major R.O. "Dick" Culver, USMC (Ret.) was well-known in the military shooting community.  For many years, he and his wife Gloria have maintained a website that became a vibrant community and a valuable source of information on military firearms.  I found it to be indispensable when I was new to the world of military arms shooting and collecting.  I had always hoped to meet the major someday, but it was not to be.  He was a true American Patriot who served his country and his community faithfully and well. Thank you for your service, Major Culver.  R.I.P.

Here is Major Culver's obituary, with links to his web page and permanent online memorial at the bottom:

A Warrior Passes

Major Richard O. Culver, Jr. USMC (Ret)
April 9th, 1936--February 24th, 2014

Major Richard O. Culver, Jr., USMC, (Ret) known to all as “Dick”, passed on to Sky Six on Monday evening, February 24th, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Dick was often known as “the Jouster” because he fearlessly addressed any topic, whether military or political, with gusto. He and his wife, Gloria, hosted the website “Culver’s Shooting Page--Gun Talk”, and served as the Sniping/Countersniping contributing editor to Soldier of Fortune.

Dick had the distinction of being the first child born on Alcatraz Island (4-9-1936). His father was a lieutenant in the guard section, and he and his wife lived in the family quarters on the island. His father, LtCol. Richard O. Culver, USMC (Ret), was also a Marine, and fought in the “Banana Wars” and served in China. Dick enlisted in the Marines at age 17 and after his enlistment attended college at Virginia Military Institute (1954-58) majoring in physics. After graduation he received a commission in the Marine Corps. A Force Recon Marine, his later combat experience occurred in Vietnam where he served as a company commander in an infantry battalion. While serving as skipper of H Co., 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines in Vietnam, Dick was awarded the Silver Star for actions that occurred on July 21st, 1967 during a firefight with a North Vietnamese Army company. Dick exposed himself to fire several times, rallied his Marines, coordinated fire and medevacs, called in artillery and air support, and forced the enemy to break contact after suffering numerous casualties.

After Vietnam, it was decided to form a permanent Scout/Sniper program in the Marine Corps instead of losing the skills as had happened after past wars when sniper programs were disbanded as soon as the war ended. Major Culver helped form, and commanded, the first USMC Scout-Sniper Instructor School, formed at Quantico. His senior NCO was famed Marine Corps sniper GySgt Carlos Hathcock. Also playing a key part in the organization and logistics of the school was Major E. James Land, who is now Executive Secretary of the NRA, and served as Hathcock’s commander in Vietnam when Land established the 1st Marine Division Sniper School near Da Nang.

Major Culver is survived by his wife, Gloria, of Cour d’Alene, and his son James R. Culver of Dothan, Alabama. Dick will be sorely missed by all.

Internment will be at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.

Culver's Shooting Page

Permanent Online Memorial and Life Legacy

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What is the All-Volunteer Force worth?

The following article was published on the website "War on the Rocks".  It is a very thoughtful and cogent article on the future of the All-Volunteer Force in an era of fiscal austerity.

War on the Rocks is a platform for analysis, commentary, and debate on foreign policy and national security issues through a realist lens. It features articles and podcasts produced by an array of writers with deep experience in these matters: top notch scholars who study war, those who have served or worked in war zones, and more than a few who have done it all.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Back to School

The U.S. Army War College
Saturday 16 February 2013

Last summer I started posting to my blog again after a long hiatus, and then stopped as abruptly as I had started.  What happened?

The answer is that I went back to school, specifically the U.S. Army War College.

In October of 2011, I had the opportunity to apply for admission to a senior service college (SSC).  The SSC system includes the four service war colleges, the National War College, the Joint Advanced Warfighting School, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Attendance at one of these colleges is the culminating professional military education (PME) experience for a military officer. Admission is determined by a competitive board selection process, and frankly I didn’t think I’d ever have the chance to study at one.  But I decided to apply, and in late January of 2012 the board results were published and I received an acceptance notice to the U.S. Army War College Distance Education Program. 

One year ago today, on 16 February 2012, I sent in my acceptance.  My life was about to change substantially, although at the time I really didn’t appreciate the magnitude of what I had gotten myself into.

The U.S. Army War College is located at Carlisle Barracks near Harrisburg, PA. They have a ten month resident program and a two year distance education program. Completion of either of these programs results in the award of a Master of Strategic Studies degree.

U.S. Army War College Website:

The distance education program is organized into a series of discrete courses, each of which has a specific theme. Most are presented online, and last approximately two months.  There are also two summer resident courses, each of which lasts two weeks.  Our class will graduate after the second resident course in July 2014.

The first year courses are:

     Introduction to Strategic Leadership Education
     Strategic Leadership
     National Security Policy & Strategy
     War & Military Strategy
     Regional Issues & Interests
     Strategic Leadership in a Global Environment

The school uses a variety of instructional methods, although it is primarily based on directed reading. Each course has some sort of participatory online graded exercise as well as one or more papers or exams by which we are evaluated. 

We had an orientation weekend in May, and the first course started in July.  So right about the same time that I was feeling energetic and optimistic about being able to maintain my blog again, I started into a rigorous and time-consuming academic program.

When I signed up, I had already had substantial experience with the Army’s online distance education, as that is how I completed the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Intermediate Level Education (ILE) in 2006-2008.  I thought this would be a similar experience, but I was very wrong!

Whereas ILE was completely self-paced, the War College is highly structured and run on a tight schedule. The course opens (online materials become available) on a certain date, and there are published dates for submitting assignments and for mandatory participation in online forums. The reading lists are extensive, and consist of a variety of articles from contemporary journals, public documents, military manuals, selections from textbooks, and classic books on military history and strategy.  Because I have a fairly extensive personal library, some of these books were already on my shelves, but most of the material has been new to me.  The program is very interesting and challenging, but it has completely changed the rhythm and structure of my life.  In order to stay on top of the work, I have to spend 2-3 hours per night as well as substantial time during most weekends either reading or working on the assignments.  The rest of my life has been relegated to the sidelines. It has, quite literally, turned my life upside-down.

I still manage to squeeze in some shooting now and again, but there’s been almost no time at all to develop match loads for my rifle shooting or to practice as much as I’d like.  I’m lucky to be able to make it to our monthly vintage rifle match or perhaps an NRA match, and I hardly ever go out to shoot just for fun.  Not quite what I expected when I joined the Cross Creek Rifle & Pistol Club last year!

Teresa has been very understanding and supportive, but of course it’s impacted us as well. Our long-distance relationship had been sustained by long hours on the telephone talking and working together on book-related projects.  Now I’m an absentee husband, not only physically but to a great extent mentally as well.  I’ve almost completely abdicated my ATLH business manager responsibilities with the exception of periodic website updates, and instead of long hours on the phone, we talk while I’m on my daily drive home from work and to say a quick “good night” before bed.  We’re still trying to see each other every 4-6 weeks, but now the visits have to be timed to take War College assignments and due dates into account. This is a four-day weekend for me, but as I have three papers due next week it’s hardly a holiday, and she won’t be coming here until next week after I’ve turned them in.

If the material was less interesting or the program less well run, I probably would not have stayed enrolled this long. But it is fascinating and intellectually challenging, and the quality of the instruction is first-rate. The faculty and my fellow students are very impressive, and interacting with them keeps me on my toes.  Additionally, I am finally beginning to feel like I’ve got a handle on how to manage the workload, and am feeling somewhat less stressed than I have felt for most of the past seven months.

So as I close in on the end of my first year as a War College student, I am glad I chose to do it, and I’m beginning to believe my own constantly-repeated mantra that “it will be worth it when I’m done”.

Meanwhile, for those few people out there who might occasionally look at my blog and wonder where I went – now you know.  I’m still here, but I am otherwise occupied.  Perhaps now that I’ve broken the ice (again) I’ll find the time to write about something here now and then.  Or maybe I’m just being overly optimistic (again)…

Mood:  Optimistic  J
Music:  Georg Phillip Telemann – Concerto for Oboe, Strings, & Harpsichord Continuo in D Major

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Home on the Range

Saturday 23 June 2012
I love to shoot rifles and pistols. I collect them for reasons of technical and historical interest, and I love to shoot them for fun and relaxation.  Since I was mobilized in September of 2006, I have had very limited opportunities to get out and pursue this passion.  One of the attractions of coming back the United States was that I would once again have the chance to shoot regularly.
While stationed at Fort McPherson, GA for three months at the beginning of last year, I found a local range and did a small amount of pistol shooting. It was expensive and inconvenient, however, and because I was living in a hotel I only had a couple of my firearms and very little equipment. I was really looking forward to moving here to Fort Bragg, because I thought there would be ample opportunities to shoot right on post – ranges, rifle and pistol leagues, etc. It turned out not to be nearly as convenient as I had thought it would be, but since arriving here in April 2011 I have managed to get out a few times – certainly much more than I was able to do previously.
The only range on Fort Bragg that is open to privately-owned firearms is not very convenient to use.  It’s only open until 1700 daily.  I’ve gone out there on work days during lunch a couple of times, but it takes 30 minutes to drive there and set up, and the same amount of time to break down and get back to the office.  So the only way it works at all is if I’m willing and able to take an extra-long long lunch break.  I went out once on a Saturday, and there were 15 people waiting in line for an open firing point.  Since they only have a 100-yard rifle range, and don’t even allow shooting from the prone position, this was decidedly non-optimal.
I did find a local rifle and pistol club that has regular matches that are open to the public, and I started going to rifle matches there last year.  It’s called the Cross Creek Rifle and Pistol club:
Located about ten miles south of Fayetteville, it’s 17 ½ miles by road from where I live. They have several covered outdoor ranges for rifle and pistol, with rifle firing points out to 300 yards.  Most importantly to me, their matches are open to the public and posted on their website so I was able to go shoot there.  I started going to as many matches as I could get to last year, although it was challenging because due to our work on “A Thousand Letters Home” I had very little free time at all. Every moment doing anything other than working on the book sort of felt like it was stolen time, and like it was putting us in danger of missing our self-imposed deadline.  Nonetheless, even during that intense period of focused activity, I managed to get out and shoot a few times and to get to know some club members who run the matches.

This year I made a concerted effort to get out to their matches, especially the Vintage Rifle matches, and actually got out there a few more times than I did last year – enough to be able to talk to someone there about sponsoring me for membership.

This club is organized very similarly to other clubs of which I’ve been a member – in order to become a member you have to be invited and sponsored by an existing member. First you have to go shoot with that member so they can observe that you know what you’re doing and have safe shooting habits. Then you have to attend a safety class and range orientation. You have to be nominated for membership, go to a club meeting, introduce yourself, and be voted in by the existing members. I was finally able to pass all these hurdles and join the club last week.

This is HUGE for me, because now I am no longer limited to attending the scheduled matches or arranging to shoot with a club member when he happens to be out on the range.  I can go there anytime during the club’s open shooting hours, let myself in, set up my targets, and shoot to my heart’s content at my own pace.  And the shooting hours are by far the most liberal of any club of which I’ve ever been a member - they are open for shooting every day from 30 minutes prior to sunrise until 30 minutes after sundown, with the exception of Sundays, when there is no shooting permitted until 11 AM. 
The membership meeting was interesting. They meet once a month on Tuesday night.  They have dinner at 6:00 PM (fried chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy, biscuits, corn, pudding, and sweet tea), which is a very nice touch. They start the business meeting at 7:00.  There is no clubhouse at their club, so they borrow the use of a building at a local conservation club.  I don’t remember the name of this other club (which is just as well). 
When I entered the clubhouse, the first thing I saw was a pair of stuffed animals, which is pretty typical for a conservation club.  Then I saw the Confederate battle flag draped along the wall.  Since I’m in the South, this is not in itself unusual.  Turning around, however, I saw that on another wall was a prominently-displayed picture of General Robert E. Lee.  “Prominently displayed” in this case is a bit of an understatement – it might not be too much of an overstatement to call it a “shrine”. Hanging at intervals around the room were the various national flags of the Confederate States of America, and also the 1861-1865 version of the state flag of North Carolina.  The dais had a sign reading “Sons of Confederate Veterans”. I felt a little bit like I had felt when I visited the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond back in the 1980’s, and I kept hearing the song “I’m a Good Old Rebel” playing in my mind. In any case, I definitely knew I was in the South, with a capital “S”. 
Now, I don’t suppose there’s anything really wrong with nor sinister about this, in itself  – I don’t know the people whose clubhouse it is, and they could be perfectly nice folks who just keep the historical memories of their heritage alive. But the symbols of the Confederacy have become so associated with racial hatred in many people’s minds that it was a little difficult not to feel out of place, despite the fact that the people I was actually there meeting with had nothing to do with it and went out of their way to say that this was “not them”.  The funny part was that I had come very close to wearing my “Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners” shirt from Camp Perry 2003, which has a prominent depiction of the State of Michigan on the back.  If any of the members of the conservation club that owns the building had been there, they might have run me off their property as a “damn Yankee”.  J 
Seriously, though, the Cross Creek Rifle and Pistol Club members could not have been more gracious and welcoming.  A friend of mine from work was also being sponsored for membership the same evening. We each got up and introduced ourselves, and told a little about our backgrounds. Then they voted to admit us to the club. They proceeded with the club business, and broke up around 9 PM or so. 
Last Sunday I went out to the club on my own for the first time, and I have to say that it was really awesome finally to be able to just go out, set up, and shoot at my own pace, on my own terms.  I have had so many things I need to do and no real opportunity to do them.  I spent the day determining the zero settings for the new barrel on my M1 Garand in the various shooting positions, so that I’ll be prepared for the next match. (different post, if I can get the time).
So, I am “finally* a member of a shooting club again.  It makes me feel that much more settled and at home here.  I look forward to taking advantage of the opportunity simply to head out and shoot casually for a couple hours after work or on the weekend when I have time. It is very relaxing for me, and will serve as a very effective venue for regular “mental health breaks”. 
Mood: Happy
Music: Silence (maybe I should have played “Home on the Range”).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fast Forward

Fast Forward
Friday, 11 May 2012

Recently I’ve been getting a number of positive comments on my blog posts about Kuwait, Qatar and the deployment/redeployment process.  It’s nice to know that some of the information is still useful to other people as they go through the experience themselves. This blog has been moribund since I returned from overseas, but more and more often recently I’ve had the thought “I should make a blog entry about that”, so I think it’s time to start posting again.  I probably won’t be posting as often as I did when I was deployed, for a variety of reasons.  But my life is still an excellent adventure, and there are parts of it I’d like to share.

How do you “catch up” on a blog that hasn’t had a new post in over a year?  I think the answer is: you don’t, not really.  But so much has happened in the past year that I have to say at least something before I start in again. There are a few things in particular that I want to cover, at least one of which deserves to be treated in some detail. So where to start?  It’s probably best to start right where I left off, after a little detour into the past from before my last post in April 2011.

When I wrote about demobilizing at the CRC in late 2010, I mentioned my girlfriend.  Well, now she’s my wife. When we first started dating, she made me promise not to talk about her in my blog, as she is a very private person and was apprehensive about how open and public it was. Now, for reasons I will go into a bit further down, her life is more public than mine ever was, so I think it’s OK to write about us here. 

I met Teresa Irish on June 9th, 2009 on a Delta flight from Detroit to Atlanta when I was returning to Qatar after R&R leave. She was a corporate executive who travelled nearly every week for work, and on this flight we were seated across the aisle from each other.  I was in uniform, and she was feeling sentimental about the soldiers going off to war. She is a very caring, empathetic person, but she was especially sensitive to seeing soldiers going to war because her father had been a veteran of World War II.  After his death, she had discovered a trunk full of his war memorabilia, including nearly a thousand letters that he had written home to his fiancée and family during the war.  She had been so moved by the letters that she decided to publish them in a book, and was working on it at the time we met on the plane. She started the conversation by asking me “So, are you headed home or headed out?”  I told her I was headed back to the Middle East to finish my tour. We talked for the entire flight, exchanged email addresses, and kept up a correspondence while I was deployed. 

When I came home from that deployment, we started dating.  We continued to date while I was stationed in Germany. She visited me there, and we travelled around Germany as well as to Switzerland and the Czech Republic.  It was pretty cool – how many people get to conduct their courtship while traveling through Europe?  I asked her to marry me a bunch of times, but she didn’t seem to think I was serious.  Finally on New Year’s Eve 2011, I convinced her to say “yes”.   J

In March 2011, someone asked her about her progress on the book.  After giving her usual answer of “Well, it’s coming along but I don’t know when it will be done”, I was struck by how stressed she got whenever someone asked her about it.  It had been such a happy subject before, and was in fact the reason we had met and “clicked” in the first place. It seemed a shame that it had become such a burden to her.  I suggested, and (after some persuasion) she agreed that we would finish it together and surprise her family with it at our wedding in October.

So that’s what I did last year.  After I got to Fort Bragg in April, nearly every free moment we had was spent working to finish the book.  We learned a lot in six months!  She had spent a lot of time and effort trying to get publishers interested in the manuscript, with no success (which is completely the norm in that industry). We decided “to heck with them” and started her own publishing company, ATLH Publications. 

The amount of work involved in publishing a book is staggering – I have a whole new respect for writers and editors now.  While she finished writing the introduction and closing chapters, I worked on the technical details and learning the mechanics of getting the book published.  We edited the text together. We chose about a hundred photographs from the several hundred that she had found in the trunk and from other sources. We had them scanned, cropped and formatted them, and developed captions from the information on the back of each photo. We collected historical information for contextual notes from a variety of sources.  We developed several appendices as well as a glossary of military terms. We spent countless hours going over the layout of each page to make sure they looked right. We worked with a graphic designer to create the cover. We started a website to publicize and sell the book. And finally, we printed pre-publication proofreading copies just in time to unveil the book at our wedding in October. We presented the first copy to her mother.  J

The Cover of "A Thousand Letters Home"

We went to Idaho on our honeymoon, and spent much of our time proofreading the book and planning for the future. Over the next couple of months we finished editing and arranging for the production of the first print run.  We really wanted the book to be available in time for Christmas, and it was delivered just in time for us to get the pre-ordered copies in the mail by mid-December.

You can read more about the book (and buy a copy) at the website:

Since publication, we have both been very busy with our regular work and with managing the book activities. Teresa has found that she really enjoys speaking to groups about “the journey of the letters”. It is such a compelling story of love, faith, and perseverance in the face of adversity that people respond to it very emotionally. She has now retired from her corporate career and will be spending her time on speaking engagements and other outreach activities, developing the themes in the book and sharing its inspiring, life-affirming message with a variety of audiences.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. The events of the past year have changed my life, and we’re just getting started.   It’s truly an excellent adventure!

Mood: Happy
Music: Nena, “(Du Bist Mein) Geheimnis”

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

15 April 2011

After decades of false starts, they finally made a movie out of Atlas Shrugged. It premiered today, and I went to see it. :) I had to drive over 80 miles to Raleigh, as there were no theaters in Fayetteville showing it. But it was worth the drive!

It's been a long time coming...

I'll tuck this into my hardcover copy of the book.

Movie Website:

I have read a number of different reviews of the movie, some good, some bad, mostly mixed. Several of them are here on this fan site: I think that liberals and Democrats will hate it because of the ideas. Many conservatives will look for reasons to dislike it because it's by Ayn Rand. And at least some Objectivists are likely find fault with it, either because it's not perfect or because their faction didn't produce it.

My assessment is that it was a good movie. It certainly was not perfect, and had some moments where the acting felt flat. It also felt a bit rushed and disconnected sometimes, simply because they had to cram so much into so little time. But it also had moments that brought tears to my eyes - watching the blue rails of Reardon Metal being laid, and the first run of the John Galt Line were high points. There were also some very pithy scenes highlighting the differences between the moochers and the producers.

I'll throw in my own $.02 criticism here - I think they lost of a lot of the potential impact of the running of the John Galt Line by not developing the idea of the volunteers. Dagny tells off the union sleazeball who wants to stop the engineers from running the train, and tells him she'll call for volunteers. But that was the end of it. In the book, every engineer in the company volunteers, and the senior engineer gets to drive the train. There are threats against the line, and when they take the first run they see ordinary people, hungry for the sight of an achievement, lining the track for hundreds of miles, guarding it from harm. By leaving out this aspect I think they lost a lot of the meaning and emotional impact of that scene. I still enjoyed it, but I don't know how much of my own emotional reaction is due to the movie itself, my knowledge of the more complete context of the book, or happiness that the movie is finally a reality. Probably a mix of all three.

All in all I think it should have a positive effect. If it gets more people reading the book, that will be a very good thing. And it's certainly quite timely - the images and events in the movie bear an eerie similarity to what's been going on in our country for the past few years. I think it will resonate and get people fired up to keep resisting and reversing what has become "business as usual" in Washington D.C. and the state capitols.

As I was getting in my car to leave, I saw a group of people walking up for the next show carrying signs and a yellow Gadsden flag ("Don't Tread on Me"). That was kind of fun. If I let my imagination run away with me, I can even imagine some blathering, posturing, grasping Democrat politician being tarred and feathered by a crowd coming out of the movie. (Dream on!!) In sum, it was a well-spent, pleasant evening. I'm looking forward to Part II and Part III. I hope they come out soon (before the election would be awesome!)

Mood: Happy
Music: None

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Friday 14 January 2011

During my in-processing at Fort McPherson, I came across a posted schedule that showed today, Friday 14 January, as “DONSA”. I thought to myself at the time, “Oh, for crying out loud, what kind of BS made-up ethnic pseudo-holiday are they cramming down our throats NOW?

Later on I found out that it’s actually an acronym. It stands for “Day Of No Scheduled Activity”. They use it for creating four-day weekends out of holidays when Monday is already a holiday. With no scheduled activities (e.g. meetings, conference calls, etc.), people are able to take time off if they want to extend the weekend. Civilians take leave if they want to, and for military personnel it’s considered a Training Holiday (read: “Day Off”). I had never seen this particular acronym before, hence my reaction. Chalk up another one to my ongoing education in Government-Speak.

It turned out that today was not a DONSA after all, because Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were all snow days, and yesterday was a late-start day. So they made today a regular work day unless you already had travel plans for the weekend. Even though it’s starting to warm up and there hasn’t been any more snow, many of the roads here are still pretty bad. Without salt on them, they freeze over again at night making early morning (or even late afternoon) driving treacherous. So today was also a late start and early-out day. Perhaps by next week it will be more like normal.

I spent most of today filling out my questionnaire for a security clearance. So those of you who know me, don’t be surprised if a government agent comes knocking at your door asking questions sometime soon. I didn’t do anything wrong! It’s just what they do before they grant higher-level clearances. I understand they are very thorough.

I also spent about two hours trying to get three simple personnel actions done. Of the three, only one is completed – the other two are in an indeterminate state. By that I mean that our efforts to complete them were thwarted by various malfunctions, and it’s unclear whether they actually were entered correctly. At one point there were three government civilian employees clustered around a computer discussing how to get it to accept the form for my SGLI (Soldier’s Group Life Insurance). They never did get it to work, so we printed the form, I signed it, and they will send it via snail-mail. I give it about a 25% chance of actually being posted to my file, but we’ll see. I still have a copy of the SGLI form that I completed when I demobilized at Fort Benning, and it was never posted. This new one is identical to that one. Maybe this time it actually will get done. Your tax dollars at work…

Back on the subject of Government-Speak, I saw a sign on my way out of HQ FORSCOM today that really made me chuckle:

I guess “Designated Smoking Area” is not sufficiently clear. So somebody came up with “Tobacco Product Usage Facility”, or TPUF (undoubtedly pronounced “tea-puff”). Only on a government installation… you just couldn’t make this stuff up!

Soon after seeing the sign that made me chuckle, I saw one in the commissary that made me cringe:

What caught my attention initially was the misuse of quotation marks. This bothers me, but because the misuse of quotation marks and apostrophes is so endemic and widespread, I probably wouldn’t even have said anything. But then I saw the second sentence and just about dropped the items I was carrying. It’s very hard for me to believe that someone in management could actually put this sign up, but there it is in black and white. Really inexcusable.

I sent a comment form to the commissary management through their website. I figured it wouldn’t really do any good to talk to the people in the store, since they don’t know enough to correct it themselves. In fact, one lady saw me taking the photo and asked me why. When I pointed and told her it was of the sign, she made it clear that she had no idea what was wrong with it.

What bothers me the most about seeing signs like this is that children are likely to read them and think they are correct. No wonder we are raising a society of illiterates!

Oh well, just another day in the Army…

Mood: Ready for a long weekend
Music: Christophe Eschenbach, Mozart Piano Sonatas

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Days

Tuesday 11 January 2011

That’s right, it’s 11:11 on 1/11/11, kind of a cool date (FWIW, I also remember 12:34 on 5/6/78).

So, welcome to the “Sunny South” . For the second day in a row, Fort McPherson is closed along with almost everything in Atlanta due to snow and ice.

When I heard yesterday morning that the post was closed, it was a bit hard to believe. I had been out cleaning the ice off my Jeep getting ready to go in when someone told me the news. I went and looked online, and sure enough, it was closed. I made several phone calls to see if this really meant the military personnel weren’t going in, and didn’t get any answers or get any calls back. So I guess they really weren’t there.

Being from Michigan, it was kind of hard for me to appreciate how a little snow and ice could completely paralyze a city, but they just aren’t prepared for it down here. They don’t have the equipment such as plows and salt trucks to handle it (at least not in sufficient quantities), nor are the people used to it. This makes driving in icy conditions especially perilous. One person I talked to who’s been here awhile but was originally from Minnesota advised me to “get to high ground, stay put, and watch, because winter driving here is a spectator sport”.

To be fair, conditions are pretty extreme. Even in Michigan I’ve never had such a thick layer of ice on my car. You’d be better off with ice skates. It was quite a job just to walk to the restaurant next door. When I went there to eat, I thanked the people for being at work, and they told me that the restaurant was putting them up at the hotel. Ditto for the people here at the hotel – they are just staying here in empty rooms rather than driving back and forth to work.

All the news is about the weather, and I have to say that I’m not sorry to be here instead of on the road – it looks like driving would be quite an adventure.

If I had more to do at the office I might go in anyway, but my computer still wasn’t working when I left on Friday, and there won’t be anyone there to help me get it working. So I can’t even sit and read files about my new job. There would be literally nothing for me to do. So I’m trying to keep busy here preparing travel vouchers and doing other admin tasks.

I’ll be glad to get to work – it seems strange to be sitting here weather-bound after all the times we went to the field in extreme winter conditions in Germany back in the 1980s…the Army is supposed to be able to operate in weather like this but I guess the city of Atlanta can’t.

Mood: Cabin Fever
Music: Clicking keyboard

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Once again, I am back on active duty orders. I am serving as a Training Operations Officer in HQ FORSCOM, at Fort McPherson, GA. I reported in yesterday.

When I went home on 1 November, I was still on active duty, using up all my leave (so-called “terminal leave”). That lasted until 27 December. Although technically still on active duty, it was a completely relaxing interlude, almost like being back into my civilian life. I spent most of my time visiting family and taking care of various items of personal business.

I had spent a lot of time and effort trying to get new orders that would keep me on active duty with no break in service. This was important for a number of reasons, but mainly because a break in service interrupts *everything* in terms of pay and allowances as well as entitlements. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful in this attempt, and had a seven-day break in service until my new orders started on 4 January. I received these orders just before Christmas, so I had enough time to plan my move and get everything organized. Naturally there were some things I didn’t get done, and I’d have loved to have been able to spend more time with my kids, but there is just never enough time to do everything you want to do. :-(

I balanced my time taking care of things during the entire leave, but the real countdown started after New Years, when I had to gather up all my stuff, pack it in my trailer, and head for Atlanta. I left on Monday 3 January, and drove to Knoxville TN where I spent the night. It was a nice drive, tiring but not so long as to be exhausting. I had a nice steak dinner at “Connor’s Steak and Seafood”, and was up early the next day to hit the road again. It was a beautiful drive through the hills, and made me want to get out and spend some time in them on foot.

Because I was taking some of my firearms with me this time, I couldn’t just drive onto Fort McPherson with my trailer. So on Tuesday I drove wearing my uniform, planning to drop the trailer at whatever hotel they were going to put me in, report directly in and start in-processing, and then go back and get it later. That plan worked out very well, despite a Housing bureaucrat who had a very difficult time thinking outside of her process, not wanting to tell me what hotel I’d be at until she saw my orders.

I got to Fort McPherson at lunchtime, and so could not reach anybody in my section. I just started in-processing, and managed to get quite a lot done on the first afternoon. Then I went in to meet them around 1600 or so. They seem like a nice group of people, and it is kind of cool to be working in FORSCOM HQ.

The hotel they have me in is not fancy, but it is adequate. It is a Drury Inn. The room is a decent size, with cable and internet. The room rate includes breakfast in the morning as well as a decent spread of hot food at night from 1730 – 1900. So far I haven’t gone to a restaurant. The room has a microwave and a refrigerator, so as soon as I can get out to a store I can lay in some things for lunches as well as evening munchies (just what I need!). The idea was that I stay here while on the waiting list for a contracted apartment, and move into that when one comes available.

This morning I got up and went in and finished my in-processing for the installation. Garrison HQ, Battalion HQ, Company HQ, security, housing, transportation, Finance, EMILPO, ID/DEERS, TriCare, Medical, etc. All I have left now are the various things to do internally such as getting a phone, computer, and access to various systems. I won’t go into the details of some of the screwed-up-ness during remobilization. It’s familiar enough by now that I just try to ask the right questions and get whatever it is straightened out as soon as possible. But it is the same old story of being a mobilized Reservist, and having your stuff fall through the cracks. The seven-day break in service bit me more than once.

This afternoon I went over to pick up my Jeep that had been shipped from Germany. As far as I can tell there was no damage, although somewhere along the line somebody peeled off (read “stole”) the Swiss Autobahn sticker off my windshield. I was going to leave it on there as a souvenir, but now there’s just glue residue. I wrote a note to the shipping company, but I don’t really expect I’ll get any reimbursement for it.

I still have almost everything to learn about my job, but I have found out some things about it that clarify my immediate future living situation. Since Fort McPherson is closing, everyone is moving to Fort Bragg, NC sometime this year. I will be going to Fort Bragg around mid-March. This means that it hardly makes sense for me to move into an apartment. I talked to housing about it today, and they agreed that it makes more sense for me just to stay here at the hotel until I leave for Fort Bragg. I plan to have my unaccompanied baggage delivered here ASAP. It will be somewhat crowded in the room, but I have to have this stuff so I can pack it up and take it to Fort Bragg.

The main task I have to do now besides learning my job is to get the registrations switched on my Jeeps (I really want to keep the “MCRGO” tag), get a trailer hitch put on the 2008, and sell the 1999. I think I ought to get pretty good money for it, as it has been well-maintained and Jeeps hold their value well because people want them to fix up. I will spend some time over the next couple of days taking care of that, as well as getting my UB delivered. With any luck, by the weekend I’ll be able to get as settled in here as I’m likely to get, and focus on learning my new job.

It was nice to have a vacation, but it’s great to be back!

Mood: Happy
Music: Aerosmith “Back in the Saddle”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Demobilizing at the CRC

Friday 29 October 2010

It’s been an interesting week. I have spent it demobilizing at the CRC (CONUS Replacement Center) at Fort Benning, Georgia. Inasmuch as CONUS is an acronym for “Continental United States”, CRC has the dubious distinction of being an acronym within an acronym. I wonder how many more of those there are in the language?

Fort Benning is a large Army base in central Georgia, known as the “Home of the Infantry”. Among other things it houses the Infantry School, Airborne School, Officer Candidate School, Infantry AIT (Advanced Individual Training), Third Infantry Division, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, U.S. Army Sniper School, and the School of the Americas (or whatever they call it now). The CRC is kind of a mini post-within-a-post at Fort Benning. It’s a fenced-in area out in the boonies that basically consists of barracks, a DFAC, an MWR building, a gym, a PX, and some administrative buildings. It’s a self-contained life support and command-and-control area for individuals and units deploying to and redeploying from the theater. Its presence here is what makes Fort Benning a so-called “Force Projection Platform” from which the army can launch expeditionary forces overseas.

When I mobilized and deployed in 2006, I didn’t come through the CRC like many other people. I mobilized through the 641st MTC, which was located on main post. We only came out to the CRC for some classes a couple of times. My impression then was that the 641st was for individuals and small groups, and the CRC was for larger groups of people. It seemed cumbersome and crowded, and I was glad to be at the 641st instead. They were nimble and flexible, and got us through the process of mobilization pretty quickly.

When the time came to demobilize, I found out that the 641st was no longer in operation, having been disbanded. Their mission was folded into the CRC, which now handles everybody. Based on my earlier impressions, I was not looking forward to the process at the CRC.

I flew into Atlanta on Saturday, and got here on the shuttle from Fort Benning about 1730. Groome Transportation had a shuttle from the airport to downtown Columbus, and then from Columbus directly to the CRC for about $35 or so. I signed in with the Staff Duty NCO, got assigned a room, drew linen, and asked what came next after I got settled in. The staff duty told me there was a formation at 0530 on Monday morning. Monday?? What about Sunday? Sorry, nothing going on on Sunday – Sunday is only for “Freedom Flights” coming in from theater. I was what they call a “walk-in”, and so no services for me on Sunday. Lesson one: Don’t bother to get here on Saturday unless you want to waste a day.

I went to my room, got settled in, and then went to the DFAC for dinner. After dinner I explored around a bit, then went to bed. Since it was six hours later for me, jet lag was catching up.

On Sunday I walked around and took a few pictures of the place:

This is the pavilion where we were to have our formation on Monday morning to get started.

This is the little PX at the CRC. It is surprisingly well-stocked, as these little PX’s usually are. I like the signpost out front, telling how far it is to various hotspots around the world.

This is the main street of barracks buildings as seen from the PX. There is another row of barracks (out of sight in this picture) on the right side of the road.

This is my room. I guess I should have made the bed in a more military-like manner for the picture. Oh well, give me five demerits.

This is the next road over showing the back of our barracks on the right. On the left is one of several gazebos, the gym, the MWR facility, and the DFAC. In the far upper left is Delta Company, which handles redeployments (people returning to demobilize, e.g. me).

I spent most of the day Sunday at the MWR center. It’s a nice little building with a bit of everything. Computers, cubicles with electrical outlets if you want to use your own laptop on wireless, telephones, a couple of pool tables, and several different TV rooms where movies are playing pretty much constantly. The internet computers are free, but if you want to use your own laptop you have to pay for wireless services. It’s not too bad - $9.50 a day, $24.50 a week, or $39 a month. About the same as it was when I was here in 2007 at the WTU. I paid for a week, as I didn’t think I’d be here longer than that (knock wood!)

The overall first impression I got was of a well-run, well-maintained little operation. The rooms and latrines are clean, people seemed to know what they were doing, and the civilian support staff was very friendly.

I had been a bit worried about the beds but was pleasantly surprised. While they are the typical mattress-on-a-spring military bunks, they are pretty solid and the mattresses are firm. I had no issues with back support, which was a big relief. A week on a crappy mattress can make me very uncomfortable these days. I guess I’m just not 19 anymore…

Monday morning I reported to the pavilion. There were a couple of other people there, but no formation. After a few minutes I went up to Delta company to see what was going on. Sure enough, the staff duty had told us to go to the wrong place. So I went back and got the others and we went to the company, where the process was starting. This was the first of many minor missteps.

It is worth pointing out here that many (perhaps most) of the people I was with had not seen the CRC website before coming here. Somehow nobody told them about it, and they had not read the instructions or the projected schedule of activities. They were significantly handicapped by this, because they were at times missing essential documents which they had to scramble to find on short notice. So if you are coming to the CRC, read the website:

It's best if you have an idea what to expect before you get there, because there are a lot of people and you don't want to get lost in the shuffle and miss things. In our particular case, we were only the second group processed by this rotation of cadre, and they were still sorting themselves out. There was a noticeable improvement in their organization as the week progressed, but there were still some issues with coordination. If you know what to expect, have all the documentation you need prepared in advance, and stay on top of the process, you will be much better off.

We all got a folder with a clearing checklist on it (sound familiar?). The idea is that you have to go to all the stations or have all the briefings, and have each one signed off on before you can leave. The folder also contained a lot of forms. I was ahead of the game, because on Sunday when I was looking for something constructive to do, I had come into the Delta Company building and saw the folders on the table. I took one for myself and filled out all the forms. I thought this might buy me some time through the week. If you’re the first one at a station to have your form filled out, sometimes you can go first. If you are done at a station early, sometimes they take you back to the company and let you keep going. I really wanted to be out of here on a plane by Friday!

A point of clarification – when I say “stations”, these are actually different places around Fort Benning, outside of the CRC. They are far away, so you have to travel there on a bus or a van, process as a group, and then come back to the CRC to check in before going on to the next activity. The CRC staff has to coordinate with all these activities to ensure that we are cleared to go there before they send us, so we can’t just go willy-nilly to wherever we need to go next. There is a lot of down time because of this, but it is essentially unavoidable.

First stop was the CIF (Clothing Issue facility). I had already turned in all my stuff and cleared in Germany. I had a printout of my clothing record that showed “No items issued, no items outstanding”, with a red rubber stamp that said “Cleared CIF”. This, however, was not good enough. I still had to go to the CIF at Fort Benning so they could make sure. We rode out to the CIF in a bus, went through the briefing and prep (Buggies are inside on the right, go all the way down, dump your gear in the farthest open buggy, remove all tags, tape, disassemble your helmet, etc, etc). Everybody complied, and the three or four of us with no gear to turn in stood on the sidelines and watched as the others began to turn stuff in. Eventually they told us to go ahead to the other side, to “Final Clearance”. These people printed out a copy of my clothing record from their computer. It said “No items issued, no items outstanding”. They stamped it with a rubber stamp that said “CIF cleared”… Oh, that’s *so* much better. *Now* I understand why I had to come all the way out here…

We waited quite awhile for the other people to finish turning in their gear. I was not optimistic about the process, because nothing else was scheduled for the day but CIF turn-in. I asked what we would do and they said that would be it for the day. It was not even 0930 yet, and we were supposed to be done?! Great. The one thing we had going for us was that we were a pretty small group – less than 20 people. So each station didn’t take nearly as long as it could have. The fact that we got done relatively early let them move us along faster.

When we got back to the CRC, they told us that we would be having a series of briefings that afternoon. We sat in a big room and started knocking out the briefings on the checklist. We had a legal briefing on our rights as returning servicemen, as well as the legal resources available to us. We had a chaplain’s briefing that included post-traumatic stress, family reintegration, and suicide prevention. We had a briefing on transition assistance such as job search, education, and VA resources. There were some others, but since I don’t remember them offhand I guess they didn’t make much of an impression. But at least the people in Delta Company were making an effort to move us along in the process. The sooner all these briefings were done, the sooner we could leave.

Tuesday morning we had to go to the “Med Shed” to begin our medical processing. The first step was to get a TB test if we needed one. I knew I didn’t need one, as I just had one and had not been exposed to any risk factors since. But of course I had to go out with the group and show them the documentation to prove this. That’s the process. After that we went to audiology for hearing tests. The Army does this at the beginning and the end of every deployment both to ensure your hearing is up to snuff and also to document any potential hearing loss during active duty. This took a long time because the equipment was malfunctioning, but we eventually got through it.

After that we went to Dental and had a cursory dental exam. The Army has a new policy of not releasing anyone with serious dental problems before they are fixed. By doing this they raise the odds that the people will remain deployable. My teeth were fine, so I was done there as well.

During all of this waiting I was using every spare moment to read my Nook. I started the WEB Griffin “Brotherhood of War” series again (I read it about 20 years ago, but had donated the whole set to the Camp Grayling Officer’s Club.) It’s *way* too easy to buy and read books on the Nook – I’ve read more in the past three weeks than I had in the six months before that…

That was pretty much it for Tuesday. They couldn’t send us anywhere else until Wednesday morning. When we got back to the CRC, I continued looking into a matter that had come up when I read one of the forms on PDMRA leave. I had thought I would be required to sell back my accrued ordinary leave when I got released from active duty. I learned here that this was not required – it is also possible to get an extension to active duty orders in order to take the leave. This is a very advantageous approach, because you stay on active duty, collecting all applicable allowances, retaining eligibility for benefits, and accruing retirement points. If you sell back your leave all you get is the base pay. Furthermore, you are only allowed to sell back a total of 60 days in your entire military career. If you go over that, you just lose it.

The official policy guidance is that commands are supposed to let you take all your leave while you are assigned to them. If a reservist approaches the end of an assignment with accrued leave remaining, they are supposed to release you early so you can take it before your orders expire. This has several negative effects, however. If, like me, you are working on continuous back-to-back active duty tours, you rarely have extension orders in hand in time to make that decision. Furthermore, units in the field are always short of people and overworked on their missions. It’s hard enough for them to get a replacement assigned in time to have any overlap (what the Army calls “left seat/right seat time”) when you can teach the new person your job. If they have their people leaving early to take their remaining leave, it becomes almost impossible to do effective handovers, and impacts the mission. So many units simply don’t let people depart early to take their leave, and they arrive at the CRC with excess leave accrued.

There is a pretty straightforward process in place to request an extension to your orders, but it requires a memo signed by an O6 (Colonel) explaining why you were not able to take your leave during your tour. With that memo, the CRC sends a request in to HRC (Human Resources Command) and your orders get extended long enough for you to take your leave while remaining on active duty.

Because I had three tours in the combat zone where you are limited on the amount of leave you can take, I went into USAREUR with leave accrued. Although they were generous in allowing me to take leave there, I accrued still more, and ended up with almost two months of leave. So this was a significant issue for me.

I used their example O6 memo, modified it to reflect my personal situation, and sent it back to my section in USAREUR with a request for signature. The people here at the CRC said that it could take anywhere from 72 hours to a week for HRC to process the request once it was sent along with the memo, so this automatically meant I would *not* be out of here by Friday. It was worth it, though, considering the difference it would make financially.

Wednesday morning were headed out to take care of the rest of our medical processing. Before we left, I saw that I had a response from my section that they had sent the O6 memo to the G3, because that is who handles all reservist affairs in HQ USAREUR. This was a disappointment to me, as I know those people and knew they would give me problems. They were the same ones who had denied our extension requests. But my O6 did not want to sign it, for whatever reason, so I would have to rely on the G3. I went on to the day’s activities with a feeling of foreboding.

So we went to finish our medical processing. We had to go and get our medical records checked, answer a bunch of questions on a PDHA (Post Deployment Health Assessment), get our vital signs and blood taken, and get our immunizations and TB test checked and updated if necessary. I got a prescription refilled so that I’d have enough to last until I come back on my next set of orders.

Wednesday afternoon we were supposed to go to Finance, but I could not go with the group because I did not yet have my extension order from HRC. Until that is resolved they cannot process you through finance. So that part of my processing was on hold. In fact, that was my official status: “Admin Hold” for leave processing.

Meanwhile, when we returned to the CRC on Wednesday, I had an email from the Major in the USAREUR G3 who handles reserve affairs. It was about what I should have expected – a skeptical and supercilious note questioning why I hadn’t planned ahead and left early enough to take my leave. He knows exactly how it happened, but nonetheless took the position that it was unjustified. I wrote him a reply, and then called him on the phone to ensure he’d gotten the email. The conversation was not encouraging.

As much as I’d like to, I will not name names because of OPSEC. But I will say that the officer in the HQ USAREUR G3 who handles reserve tours, who I will call “Major X”, is a (expletives deleted due to family considerations) slick-sleeve with a “can’t do” attitude. We’ve all met people like him in our professional lives – he’s one of these people whose first response to anything you ask him is to come up with reasons why it can’t be done. I could tell just by talking with him that his primary objective was to avoid any responsibility for the situation and that he would do absolutely nothing meaningful to try to get the memo signed.

Note to anyone in a position of authority in HQ USAREUR, USARC, or HRC who might read this: Major X has been in his comfortable office at HQ USAREUR for four years, which is about two years too long. He desperately needs to be deployed to Afghanistan. This will not only remedy his slick-sleeve condition by permitting him to wear a combat patch, but it might also help him begin to get a clue about how somebody serving in the combat zone could manage to accrue excess leave. Another beneficial effect would be to get somebody in there who could actually take care of reservists instead of doing whatever it is he does all day now.

Fortunately for me, someone I ran into here had a proposed solution that sounded like a good “Plan B”. The requirement is for a memo, signed by an O6, which explains why you did not take your leave at your last assignment and requests an extension so you can take it. It does not seem to matter who this O6 is. If you can find an O6 who will review your documentation and sign the memo substantiating your reasons for needing the extension, that seems to meet the requirement. In anticipation of my own command jerking me around and eventually not providing me with a signed memo, I executed “Plan B” and submitted the request for extension that afternoon.

Thursday morning I wasn’t supposed to do anything because I was finished with all the other stations, and was just waiting for my extension request to be approved before I could continue. When I went in to Delta company in the morning, the first thing they handed me was my request for extension, approved by HRC. They had processed it literally overnight – HOOAH! That was a totally unexpected bonus. This meant that I could go to finance that afternoon, and perhaps be out of here by Friday after all. Some others also had gotten their extensions. We were told to be back by 1215 to go to finance.

I checked my email during lunch, and sure enough there was an email from Major X. He said that Colonel K “was not supportive” and would not sign my memo. Surprise, surprise. I called one of my counterparts back at my section in HQ USAEUR to tell her about “Plan B” so that she could let the other reservists know how to get around this jerk when their time comes to leave.

After lunch we went to Finance. Their building had no air conditioning, and it was HOT. Other than that, it was a very pleasant experience. We got a briefing on the requirements for filing our travel vouchers, and then we each sat down with a finance specialist to go over our financial records, compile a leave record, and prepare for our final out-processing at AG. It was quick and efficient, and we were out of there in less than two hours.

Friday morning was our final processing through AG (Adjutant General). This is the final station where they look at our service record and prepare the DD 214, the discharge certificate. This is an essential document for a number of purposes, and it’s important that it be correct and complete. My most recent DD 214 was from 1985, when I was last released from active duty. A lot has happened since then, so I had spent some time when we were in between appointments printing out information from my online permanent record (awards and decorations as well as service schools attended) so that they could be included on my DD 214.

That’s right, I said printing it out. It’s online, stored on a computer system at US Army Human Resources Command. But if you want it on your DD 214, you have to show up in their office with printed copies. They cannot or will not look at your online record. If you don’t walk in with a printout, it doesn’t go on the form. You’d think they would have some sort of online compilation of the things that go on a DD 214 so it could just automatically be printed out for you, but they are not that sophisticated. So now I have a folder with all that stuff in it on paper.

We went through the process of preparing the DD 214. It was a bit tedious, and was complicated by the fact that they were having computer problems. But we got it done, and I now have a DD 214 releasing me from active duty on 27 December 2010, as well as a leave form putting me on transition leave until that time.

We are completely finished and released. I have my DD 214 in hand, and am scheduled on a flight home. Overall I have to say that my initial concerns about demobilizing through the CRC were misplaced. The cadre was conscientious and did a very good job, especially considering that they were still in learning mode when we arrived. It was about as efficient as something like this can be.

Because of the uncertainty about when I’d be finished getting my leave sorted out, my girlfriend and I had changed our plans. Because she was here in Atlanta for the week on business, we had originally planned to try to fly home together on the same flight on Friday. When it looked like I’d have to stay here until next week, we changed her flight to Sunday so we could spend the weekend in Atlanta. Now that I’m released, we are still planning to spend the weekend in Atlanta, and we are flying home together on Sunday. I’m looking forward to it, and to getting home.

Mood: Happy
Music: Nena: Ich Bin Hyperactive

Friday, October 22, 2010

Farewell to Germany

Friday 22 October 2010

Today is my last day in Germany. Tomorrow I fly back to the USA. How did this happen?

When I was home on leave in August, I (and everyone in my section) fully expected that I would extend for at least one more tour here. I had planned to stay for something like 3-5 years, depending on circumstances. I certainly didn’t expect to be leaving after only one year.

While I was gone in August, they submitted my extension paperwork as planned. Our higher headquarters, however, had plans of their own, and denied the extension. Their reason was “budget cuts” – everybody has to cut back to meet the savings mandated by Secretary of Defense Gates. While it is true that budgets are being cut back, in reality this was also a political move within USAREUR. There was money available for reservist extensions, but the G3 controls those funds and simply cut the DCSENG off so they could keep their own people. It was up to my bosses to fight back in this political tug of war.

I had some inkling this was coming about a week before it was officially announced, and warned them about it, but they were still pretty sanguine about the prospect of my extension being approved. When the official announcement came on Thursday 26 August, they were caught by surprise (almost like deer in the headlights, it seemed to me). They did mount a campaign to get their positions approved, but unfortunately they didn’t move fast enough for my comfort.

Knowing how long it takes to get orders approved, and also knowing how long it would take me to prepare to move and clear the command, I figured I had a maximum of two weeks to find a job if I was to have any hope of remaining on continuous active duty when this tour ends on 31 October.

The same day I heard that my extension was disapproved I went into high gear on a job hunt within the Army. My preferences were to 1) stay in Heidelberg 2) stay in Germany 3) stay in Europe 4) stay on active duty wherever I could get a position (preferably *not* back in the combat zone - three tours in a row there were enough for awhile). My other major objective was to get the new orders effective 1 November, so that when these orders ended on 31 October I’d stay on active duty with no break in service. That way my pay, benefits, leave, etc. would not be disrupted.

It was a hectic week, with emails and phone calls flying fast and furious. As a veteran executive recruiter with 14 years in the business, I know how to conduct a job search. In addition, my experience finding this tour in USAREUR had helped to educate me about the specific nuances of finding a job in the Army. So it was a very busy week, as I contacted every major command headquarters in Europe that might have openings suitable for me. One by one they were eliminated – it seems everyone was being asked to cut back, and hunkering down. It was a “perfect storm” taking place right at the end of one fiscal year before the start of the new one – everyone being asked to economize and justify their positions, and everyone scrambling to save the people already in their sections. Not much opportunity for an outsider to step in.

Of course, I could have volunteered for Afghanistan and been picked up in a heartbeat. There are plenty of openings there. But there are also plenty of “slick sleeves” running around (people with no right-shoulder patch indicating service in a combat zone). Besides, I am frankly just not all that enthusiastic about moving back into an austere environment yet if I can avoid it. That preference eliminated a whole raft of opportunities. Nonetheless, there were other openings out there, and exactly one week from the day I found out I couldn’t stay here I had two job offers in hand – one at TRADOC in Fort Lee, VA, and one at FORSCOM at Fort McPherson, GA (which would move to Fort Bragg NC in the Spring or Summer). Since my bosses weren’t making any headway on keeping me here, I evaluated the two jobs and accepted the one at FORSCOM on the evening of 2 September. They sent me the required forms, etc., which I completed and returned the following week. After some discussions about the detailed mechanics of how I’d come on board, I sent my final paperwork in on 10 September.

I informed my current bosses in USAREUR that I had found a new assignment and told them they could stop tilting at windmills trying to keep me. I think they were a bit taken aback by this – I know they wanted me to stay, and were doing what they could to try to convince their higher that they needed the funding allocation approved for me. But I think they somehow thought they had more time to work on it. I don’t know what they expected – if they thought I’d just sit on my hands and wait, or what. But this is my career and my livelihood, and I can’t just leave it to chance. So I told them I’d do my best to finish strong and leave things in good shape, but that I was committed to the job at FORSCOM.

The people at FORSCOM had the best outline I’d ever seen of the various options, requirements, and restrictions for Reservists serving on active duty (if anyone out there wants a copy, email me and I’ll send it to you). In a nutshell, a Reservist can spend up to 24 months on a mobilization (12 months plus one extension), and up to three subsequent years on COADOS (Contingency Active Duty Operational Support) tours. After serving that total amount of time, if you want to stay on active duty you must demobilize and remobilize to “start the clock” over again.

I have already served two mobilization tours and two COADOS tours, so I was looking at my third COADOS tour at FORSCOM. The fly in the ointment was that in order to make my tour in Qatar contiguous with the end of my tour in Kuwait I had started it early, making it a 15 month tour. As a result I only had 282 days left on my COADOS authorization, and they were looking for at least a 365 day commitment. There was a little more to it than this (PCS vs. TCS, where and when to move, etc. etc.) but the upshot of it all was that it made the most sense for me to go ahead and demobilize through Fort Benning, and then remobilize into FORSCOM. This will give me a clean slate with no restrictions on my service for the next five years. Since they emphasized that they are looking for some stability and longevity in their personnel, this suits me just fine.

With the request for orders duly submitted to my prospective new command, I turned my attention to the requirements for wrapping up my current position and clearing USAREUR. Just under two months may seem like a lot of time, but given all the things that had to happen it was a very hectic period. For one thing, demobilizing takes time, and Fort Benning requires that you report back a week in advance. Once I consulted their website

for the details, I determined that I needed to fly out on Saturday 23. Oct. Next I contacted the Heidelberg CPF (Central Processing Facility) to learn about the clearing process and set appointments for the various required activities. I had previously made plans for a leave in October, which I still intended to take. Stringing all these dates together, we determined that I would start officially clearing on 28 September. So in reality I only had a little over two weeks to close out my job and prepare to brief my successor.

I took care of that (and did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself). I started into the clearing process on 28 Sepember, with the projected schedule as follows:

28 Sept – 7 Oct, clearing and preparation to move.
8-11 Oct – USAREUR Holiday weekend
12-16 Oct – Leave
17-18 Oct – Final preparation to move
18 Oct – U.S. Customs inspection of household goods
19 Oct – Household goods pickup by movers
20 Oct – Ship Jeep to the USA, inspect and clear quarters
21 Oct – “Final out” – i.e. final military clearing process
22 Oct – Buffer day
23 Oct – Pop smoke and fly to Fort Benning
24-31 Oct – Demobilization and return home.

It all went pretty much as planned. Moving is supposed to be one of the most stressful things that people do, and I guess I felt some of that stress. What made it particularly “interesting” was that I had to prepare my stuff to go to four different places. Since Fort McPherson is closing due to the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closing) Commission mandate, I will only serve there temporarily for a few months before moving to Fort Bragg. Since I’ll be TCS on this tour, my household goods can only move under my current PCS orders. Therefore my household goods had to go to Fort Bragg. Since I won’t be there for something like four to six months, I had to send enough stuff to Fort McPherson to live there in temporary mode for awhile (“unaccompanied baggage”). Because there would be a fairly substantial delay in getting my orders processed (a minimum of 60 days after the request hits DA), I needed to be prepared to live at home for a month or more, so I had to send home some civilian clothes and other necessities in a footlocker (U.S. Mail). And of course, I have to carry everything I need to demobilize back with me to Fort Benning. So the run-up to moving day was somewhat stressful – I’m usually pretty calm about things but I have to admit I felt the strain of making sure I didn’t accidentally pack something I was going to need in the wrong shipment, thus putting it out of reach. But I got it done.

One of my major objectives in this clearing process was to try to clear the CIF (Clothing Issue Facility) here in Germany rather than at Fort Benning. The Army issued me a huge pile of stuff when I mobilized, which I’ve been carrying around with me ever since. Some of this clothing is mine to keep, but most of it (things like the backpack, sleeping bag, ammo pouches, canteen, armored vest, helmet, protective mask, entrenching tool, etc. etc. remain Army property and have to be turned back in at some point. ) The CIF at Fort Benning wants you to take it all back and turn it in there. I had a struggle with them when I was first assigned to USAREUR, as they actually wanted me to go there first and turn in all back in. That made no sense to me, so I pushed back and managed to get sent directly here without a side trip to Fort Benning dragging two duffel bags full of stuff to turn in at the CIF.

Now that it was time to leave USAREUR, I was no more enthusiastic about dragging those duffel bags around than I had been when I came here a year ago. Fortunately the CIF here in USAREUR saw things my way, and allowed me to turn everything in here. So now my clothing record is clear and I don’t have to carry anything back with me except my personal clothing and the necessary records and forms. I expect that the people at the Fort Benning CIF may raise a fuss about this, but I really don’t care. The Army has all their stuff back, my clothing record is clear, and I don’t have to schlep a bunch of crap through the airports. :-)

An interesting and somewhat challenging aspect of the clearing process was getting my personally-owned pistol home. Since I was planning to stay here awhile, I was in the process of getting my German WBK (Waffenbesitzkarte, or Weapon Possession License) for sport shooting. This would allow me to purchase firearms and ammunition, store them at home, and transport them to the range for shooting. As a dedicated sport shooter and firearms collector, having been cut off from my firearms since September 2006 has been a heavy burden. I was really looking forward to being able to pursue the sport again here in Germany. To that end I had purchased a .22 pistol at the Rod & Gun Club (it’s a High Standard Supermatic Citation – cool little gun!). I had to leave it in storage at the Rod & Gun Club while I went through the German government’s bureaucratic requirements for getting a license, but at least I could go to the club and shoot regularly during that process. I was well on the way to finishing the requirements when I found out I had to leave, but there was not enough time left to get the license before the end of my tour.

The Catch-22 here was that without that license, I was not allowed to transport my pistol away from the club. Many people have found themselves in this predicament, and have simply abandoned their firearms at the Rod & Gun Club (the pistol I purchased there was one of these). But I am nothing if not persistent when it comes to guns and shooting, and I was determined to get my pistol home. Some phone calls and pointed questioning of various officials revealed that I could go ahead and register the pistol with USAREUR under the restriction that it had to be kept in the arms room (i.e. Rod & Gun Club). Then I had to get an ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) Form 6 approved for importation (minimum processing time – 60 days). Finally, I had to find someone with the appropriate German weapons license (in this case a Jagdschein, or hunting license) who could sign my pistol out from the Rod & Gun Club and deliver it to my house for the movers to pack with my household goods shipment. Fortunately for me one of the guys at the office has a Jagdschein and agreed to do this for me.

I got the ATF Form 6 filled out and submitted. I followed up a week later with a phone call to the ATF, and they were very responsive in expediting the processing of the form and getting it back to me in time for the move. I have to say that demeanor of the nice lady at the other end of the phone stood in sharp contrast to my deeply-held opinions about the dangerous, faceless jackbooted stormtroopers of the universally-despised “F Troop”. I was cordial to the lady, and did appreciate the service, but never lost sight of the fact that these bureaucrats are part of a vast machine that is primarily devoted to stripping us our gun rights and to putting us in prison or killing us if we get in their way. I’m sure there were friendly, helpful individuals in the Nazi bureaucracy as well, but that didn’t make them legitimate or respectable. Similarly, the fact that these people were helpful doesn’t diminish my opposition to their very existence or that of the laws they enforce. As I once read on a T-shirt: “Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms should be a convenience store, not a government agency”. :-)

Another interesting process was shipping my Jeep (“POV” - Privately Owned Vehicle, in government-speak). You are only allowed to ship a POV at government expense if it is specified on your orders, and normally this is only done if you have at least a two year tour. Since this was a one year tour, I was not entitled to ship a POV. Back when I bought it, the powers-that-be explained to me that when I got my extension, we could put the POV shipment authorization in the extension order and I’d be able to send it home. So I bought an almost-new Jeep, fully intending to send it home. Surprise – no extension, no POV shipment authorization. Now what?

At home I have a 1999 Jeep Wrangler with 175,000 miles on it. Here I have a 2008 Jeep Wrangler with 15,000 miles on it. Not a hard question to decide which one I’d rather drive. But shipping it home at my own expense was still not an easy decision. It cost nearly $2500 to do so. I suppose that according to a very strict economic analysis, it might have made more sense to sell this one here and get another one once I got home. But that analysis would depend on a lot of assumptions. Since I got this Jeep with less than 6,000 miles on it from someone who was apparently just as dedicated to proper maintenance as I am, and since I’ve put some custom accessories on it and become attached to it, there were some objective as well as some emotional reasons impelling me to keep it. Not only do I like *this* Jeep, there was no guarantee I’d get a good price for it, nor any guarantee I’d find one this good for as little money once I got home. Besides, selling it would take time, and then I’d have to rent a car, and…, and…, and….call it rationalization if you like, but I decided to keep my Jeep and ship it home. So that was a process, which I learned about and went through. The most “interesting” part of that process was when I examined the title document and realized that the seller had improperly completed the transfer to me. She seems to be gone from Europe now, so I was on pins and needles for a couple days until customs examined my documents and determined that they were sufficient to prove clear title and allow me to ship the vehicle. So I had it shipped to Atlanta along with my unaccompanied baggage, where it will be waiting for me when I start my new job in December.

The process of clearing before my leave started involved finding out the information about the above requirements and making all the necessary appointments and other arrangements, as well as all the other clearing activities that needed to be accomplished. Now, to a military person who’s been through the process, the term “clearing” immediately communicates a whole constellation of activities, with a concomitant understanding of both the physical and psychological implications of the process. But (as I have been informed) to an uninitiated civilian, the concept is a little mystifying. How can it be that complicated and take that long? What’s the big deal?

Basically, what clearing involves is going around to every military and civilian support activity in the community, telling them you’re leaving, and getting them to certify on your clearing papers (via a signature and rubber stamp) that you have been there and complied with whatever process or requirements they have. At the library this means you have no books checked out. At the clothing issue facility it means you have turned in all your gear and settled up financially for anything you may have lost. Medical records, dental records, housing, finance, vehicle registration, battalion headquarters, company headquarters, and a whole raft of places have to sign and stamp your form. Some have to be completed before others can begin. Some have limited hours, or will only clear you a certain number of days before you depart. Some are a two-minute process, some take hours on end. It’s neither simple nor fast, but it is inescapably necessary before you can depart. I did as much of this as I possibly could before going on leave, so that my last week could be a smooth as possible.

Sidebar on my personal activities – as the timeline indicated, my trip to the border ("Cold War Memories") was on the weekend after I started this process. That was my last free weekend alone in Germany. I’d still like write about the rest of it, but it doesn’t really fit here. We’ll see. On the following weekend, my girlfriend arrived for a visit (I know, we’re not boys and girls anymore, but “ladyfriend” sounds way too stiff and formal). We had a delightful nine-day interlude. We spent the first night and day in Frankfurt, then came back to Heidelberg for a couple days. On Monday we drove to Prague, which is a really cool city. I highly recommend it as a destination. We walked around the city, taking our time seeing the sights and spending a lot of time just sitting in cafes and restaurants reading our books (well, our Nooks, but that’s a different story). It was a very relaxing week. By the time we returned on Friday, I was thoroughly unwound and felt ready to finish preparing for the move. Of course, I got wound right back up again once we got back and I saw all my piles of stuff waiting to be sorted, but it was a wonderful last experience in Europe for us, and I’m really glad we got to do it.

This past week played out more or less exactly as planned. The movers came Tuesday and took all my stuff. After shipping my POV on Wednesday morning, I rented a car and then cleared my quarters. I cleared vehicle registration that afternoon in preparation for my “Final Out” day on Thursday. After that day was done I stopped at the post office and mailed back all the files I won’t need at Fort Benning so I wouldn’t have to carry them around. I took care of the last couple of details at work, and settled in to enjoy my last hours in Germany.

Yesterday afternoon I went for a long walk up in the hills above Heidelberg. Last night I had a nice dinner in a local Gaststaette. I woke up today and had a nice breakfast, then set out to enjoy the day. I returned my rental car, then walked downtown. I had a nice lunch in a favorite restaurant, then walked up to the Philosopher’s Way one last time. Teresa and I had a spot up there that we called “Our Gate”, so I sat there awhile smoking my pipe and thinking about the last year and everything that’s happened. Then I walked down, took a streetcar back to the hotel to pick up my computer, and settled in at a café to write this blog entry.

Tonight after I post this I’ll have one last meal at the little restaurant up the street where I had my first meal after returning to Germany almost a year ago. I have been feeling a little bit wistful about leaving Germany. It’s earlier than I thought it would be, and it’s probably the last time I’ll be able to live here for an extended period. I speak fluent German, am very comfortable with the culture, and feel almost as “at home” here as I do in the USA. So the opportunity to return here to live and work once more has been very special and meaningful to me.

But I’m not as reluctant to leave as I thought I might be. I have found during this process that I’m excited about the change. Although I certainly have some regrets about leaving here, the opportunity to go back to the USA and be closer to Teresa and to my family is a very enjoyable prospect. It opens up a whole set of possibilities that seemed out of reach only a couple of months ago. Despite the fact that I love living in Germany, I feel ready to leave – it just feels right.

Tomorrow at 0600 the airport shuttle will arrive to take me to Frankfurt Airport, and I’ll be moving on to a new chapter in my life, both personally and professionally.

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland! Es war eine schoene Zeit.

Mood: Reflective
Music: Nena – In Meinem Leben (from "Made in Germany")