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August 28, 2009
Teh funniezBy Greyhawk
So a couple of weeks ago I'm sitting at a table with a couple of former Army guys, swapping stories about various interesting places we'd been and the fun we'd had while there.
Like the time I was in Korea, and we were out on a field exercise. The weather was fair on the first day when we set up camp, but from that point on it rained continuously for the next two weeks. Much time was spent re-engineering the trench systems designed to keep most of that rain out of the tents, much caution was taken maintaining the various generators and electrical wires crisscrossing the area and powering the various tools of the trade inside those tents, much fun was had by all.
And day after day the rain fell and the soft ground became softer. And puddles of water rose and combined and became lakes and rivers, and unbroken high ground paths between points became rare. You could get nowhere in the camp without sloshing through standing brown water of uncertain depth and soft surface below. Every step was cautious, with eyes down to see just how close the water level was to the top of your overboots. Every time you lifted your foot you did so in hope that the mud below wouldn't suck that boot right off.
And nowhere was that worse than in the dirt track "road" that big trucks used to bring in supplies. Deuce-and-a-halfs can effectively rut solid ground, their effect on the mostly-submerged road was to create something like islands of mud pudding oozing up between rivers of sludge. And you had to cross that road to get to the chow tent - where trays of food product (known as "t-rats") were boiled to provide us hot meals twice a day. (Lunch was an MRE, if you were hungry.) And you couldn't cross swiftly - the line from the tent stretched across that road and moved forward slowly, with everyone in the line spaced at intervals favorable to surviving an attack and moving forward a few steps at a time as each person who'd made it through exited the tent with food in hand and attempted to negotiate the course back to their own tent to eat before falling rain filled the various sections of their plates.
So there I am, standing in that line, feeling myself sink slowly into the ooze, watching the water level rise around my boots, waiting for the moment I could step closer to my t-rat feast. The rain is falling, but I'm wearing green plastic raingear head-to-knees over my BDUs. (But it's hot outside, so I'm sweating enough under all that to make me wonder if it's actually keeping me dry.) And the guy in front of me glances back at me and says "hey, are you in the Air Force?"
"Yes," I reply.
"I should have joined the Air Force." He responds. "You guys don't have to put up with this shit."
What could I say?
"Yeah. Me too."
That story is funny. You either get the joke or you don't.
Even though I was living evidence to the contrary standing in the same rain right before his eyes, I calculated my odds of convincing him he was wrong as zero, or close to it. Because basically, he was right - or at least close enough.
So is Army vet James Joyner: "But most people in the Air Force have been office workers since its inception as a separate service. Truth be told, most soldiers and sailors do non-trigger-puller jobs, too. "
The warrior culture is similar to that found in a locker room. It uses brutal humor to lighten the tension and test the mettle of one's fellows. Airborne troops make fun of dirty nasty legs. Combat arms troops crack jokes about REMFs, the rear-echelon so-and-sos. The Army disparages the Marines and vice versa. In the Air Force, it's pilots and everybody else. In the Navy, it's Line and other. But anyone much above the level of an entering recruit understands that it's all one big operation.
And speaking of recruits, I wish I had a dollar for every one of my Army brothers who has explained to me over the years why he couldn't join the Air Force when he tried, and one for every Air Force Airman I've met who joined because his Army dad told him that was the branch to join (in many cases in conjunction with pointing out how wrong they now thought dad was).
But most of those without family advice or tradition join the branch they think best suits them. After joining some few find themselves spending a lot of time with one of the other branches anyway, and required to train and live to the standards of both. I'm one of those few.
I don't know who first created that cartoon, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was an Air Force guy. And - because it did first go "viral" hand-to-hand in a pre-internet, pre-email age as a Xerox-copied document - I'm certain the Air Force facilitated that. That's not because our aircraft were required to transport the document, it's because Army guys at the time were still busy trying to figure out why the big white box in the office lit up when they pushed the button (from a safe distance in full protective gear with two broom sticks duct taped together).
And they might not have it figured out yet. While the joke is dependent on the cartoon, Army guys to this day are forced to tell it verbally, and it usually falls flat.
So a couple of weeks ago I'm sitting at a table with a couple of former Army guys, swapping stories about various interesting places we'd been and the fun we'd had while there....
(More to follow)
Posted by Greyhawk / August 28, 2009 9:32 AM | 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...)
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