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May 9, 2005
Warrior to WarriorBy Greyhawk
Vietnam veteran and author John Harriman returns to Mudville with the ninth installment of his series Warrior to Warrior, letters from a Vietnam veteran to our soldiers in Iraq. See the intro to the series here).
The Dangerous Crush of Boredom
Dear Warrior . . .
The news we hear from parents of soldiers in Iraq? "Not much happening." "The guys are bored."
Spooky, that. Boredom is not your friend in a combat zone. Boredom is how a soldier zones out. True, boredom helps the time slide by, but it is not good in the same way that a coma is not a good way to pass the time. Not good at all.
I remember an intense period of boredom in Vietnam.
We were on road security, our tanks dispersed among cav platoons on a remote road that nobody used. We sat in the sun dying from the heat and the boredom. Any of this sound familiar?
We did what all bored troops do. One guy at a time manned the guns and radios. The rest of the crew cleaned weapons, pulled maintenance, tidied up. Then we went on to building suntans, writing letters, taking pictures of each other. Sound familiar yet? Sound zoned out? Bored? Comatose?
I mean, what enemy soldier would be crazy enough to attack an armored unit in the heat of day? Why the heat stroke alone from running away would kill him.
We grew lax. Until the explosion of a rocket-propelled grenade shattered the boredom. The RPG drilled an ACAV down the road from me, and shrapnel hit one of the men.
Our reaction to such an attack was a simple plan. Shoot like crazy to repel any further attack.
After that, we were to make radio reports, call for preplanned artillery, request air strikes, identify the point of attack, counterattack, assess casualties and, if necessary, call for an air ambulance, the famous Dustoff helicopter.
A good plan, right out of the book. A plan that went to the dogs after the first shot. The ACAV commander on this hit track got stuck on just two points of our plan. With one hand he started firing his .50 caliber machinegun. With the other he held down the talk button on his radio and began yelling. For 10 minutes, he never let up on either.
All he did was fire and holler. I doubt the firing did much good. I know the hollering didn't. He yelled that he had a man hit. He cursed at me to call for the Dustoff and cursed again because I didn't answer him.
Thing is, I couldn't. Only one man at a time can talk on a radio, and because he never let up on his transmitter, I could not even tell him the Dustoff was in the air. So it was shoot and holler, shoot and holler.
I directed my tank up beside his ACAV and pulled off my helmet and screamed at him to shut up. No luck. He couldn't hear me for the .50 cal, and by then was deaf anyhow from his own firing. It was shoot and holler until I threw a cup of water down on him.
I'll never forget the images. The hold of his ACAV filled with smoking brass. The barrel of his machine gun red hot, visibly glowing even by day. Trees in front of his vehicle shot in two. The look of terror in his eyes when he looked up at me after getting hit with water, eyes unable even to recognize me, eyes that did not even comprehend where he was. No longer bored. No longer bored at all.
I learned a few lessons about boredom that day.
First, never let your mind go comatose. Make it a habit to ask, "What if the enemy hits us now? What will I do?" Don't ask these questions every hour; ask them every minute. To stay alert.
Second, invent a personal plan. What will you do after the first shot? What will you do if a man is hit? What will you do if an attack hits somebody else? If you were the enemy, where would you strike the unit? Keep that head working.
Third, expect breakdowns in any plan and devise workarounds in advance. "If the radio fails, how will I report?" And so on.
Above all, never, never assume that an enemy is as bored as your body and mind are trying to make you. Give him credit. He knows the heat, the never-ending routine, and the boredom can make you careless, even comatose.
Then, when you least expect it . . . .
Till next week . . .
God bless you and Godspeed.
Posted by Greyhawk / May 9, 2005 10:01 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com