The Unguided Missiles – Young Grunts
By Jim Kuiken
In the modern military there are “fire and forget” weapons, like some anti-tank missiles. You aim at your target, the missile locks on, you fire it, and the missile does the rest. You can duck back under cover or go on about your business, while the missile does its mission.
Kind of like the Ronco© Showtime Rotisserie… “Set it and forget it!” Put in your chicken, turn it on, and it cooks all on its own – or so they say.
Young Marine Corps Grunts are not. They’re more like an unguided missile, a hand grenade, or very large sledge hammer… Do NOT turn them loose on their own and expect a genteel result.
So…way back in the early-mid 1970’s (I’m guessing early ’74 or so) I was a young Corporal, and one of my ship-mates (we were in the Marine Detachment, or MarDet, stationed on the USS Proteus AS-19, a Submarine Tender stationed in Guam), who was an even younger Private First Class (PFC), were hanging around the MarDet area one day…when the Gunny stepped out and asked for volunteers.
Any normal person would have immediately gotten very busy, left the area at a dead run, or done something to disappear quickly…because everyone knows that when the Gunny asks for volunteers, it’s going to be what we euphemistically call a “work party”. And trust me, that “party” part is an oxymoronic misnomer…
But, as I said, any normal person would’ve gotten very scarce very quickly. Grunts are not normal, and to say that Brian and I were far past that “not normal” state is actually a very significant understatement.
As we say in the Grunts, “Pain is weakness leaving the body”. We had our own (somewhat twisted) extension of that quote. “Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good!”
As soon as we heard “working party”, we jumped on it. Not only did it sound like it was going to be a lot of hard, physical work…it got even better! It was going to be hard, physical work in a tight, enclosed, very hot space for an extended period of time!
Doesn’t get any better than that!
Our ship was going through some retro-fits (repairs, upgrading, etc.), and the MarDet had its own spaces. A berthing space (living quarters with our bunk beds, TV room, armory, office, etc.) and our “head”, or latrine for you Army folks, and bath/rest room for Air Force and civilians.
We were responsible for the cleaning and upkeep of our own spaces, and all the heads on the ship were being refurbished…sort of. The decking (or floor) was some sort of hard, thick black waterproof material applied over the steel deck – since a ship is basically a big steel boat divided by steel decks (floors) and steel bulkheads (walls) into compartments (rooms).
If you get the impression that the Navy has its own language, you’re correct…
Anyway, we were told to go into the MarDet head, and chip out the flooring so new material could replace the old… And no further instructions…
There is a reason the Marine Corps insists that junior Marines be given very specific tasks, followed with guidance by someone a little senior, constant oversight, and instruction. Young Marines are nothing if not enthusiastic – and Brian Moyer and I were known to be very enthusiastic. We called it “motivated”.
After a couple of hours of increasing complaints coming from sailors in the decks below our spaces, the Gunny came over to check on our progress, and frankly, to see what the h#!! all the complaints were about. We had taken “initiative”, and decided it looked so bad we were going to get it all up, and had attacked the decking with 20-pound sledge hammers…which we had been “enthusiastically” employing with all of our strength and speed – in, as always happens when Marines “work” together, a competition to the death… (sorry these old photos are hard to see…they’re as faded as my memory)
Not only did we not “chip” at the decking material, we had beaten it all out by smashing it up, and had even dented the steel decking below it. Evidently, we were just supposed to chip off a layer or two so they could pour the new material in over top of it.
The Navy Chief (of the Department responsible) was flaming mad, the Captain of the Ship heard about it…but the Gunny did not impose the normal punishment for overly enthusiastic behavior…which would have been a “working party”. I think that was probably for the best…
It was a learning experience for all involved. The Gunny never put Brian and I on another physical task or working party unsupervised – we enjoyed it too much.
Brian and I ended up volunteering for Operation New Life about a year later, and worked out in the hot sun for weeks building a huge tent city for the Vietnamese fleeing at the end of the war. It was extremely rewarding work, helping all the folks…but it was also another opportunity for hard, physical work out in the heat, and to compete on how many areas could be cleared, big “GP” (general purpose) tents we could set up, etc., etc.
It was hard, long, dirty, sweaty work under extremely trying conditions – and we loved it! Heck, Brian even got to help a Navy Corpsman deliver a little baby girl in one of those tents, when her mother went into labor!
The days were long, and it was a huge international story, with press swarming all over the place, as we helped house, feed and reunite families as the refugees poured in.
However, as we know, the press is not always accurate… One newspaper published a bunch of photos, including this one, of Brian and another Marine running through the area where they were building tents, with a caption that said something like “Marines running to render assistance…”
The word came down that the “beer truck” had arrived, and they were running to get their beer. The only reason I wasn’t in that picture is that I’m a much faster runner.
Grunts. What can I say…?
Geez Dude…Lighten Up!
By Jim Kuiken
I had planned on a bit more light-hearted post this week with another of the often-requested “Frontline Tales” about interesting or funny things that have happened to / with me on the street or in the field during my career as a Firefighter/EMT, Law Enforcement Officer/Agent, or as a Marine – but last week got in the way. It’ll have to wait for next week.
This week’s post is all about last week, and what it means to our Country and its Citizens and Legal Residents, to the Military and Veterans, and to me and mine. It got up-close and personal.
August 7th is the anniversary of the date that General George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, established the Badge of Military Merit (predecessor to the Purple Heart Medal) in 1782.
Each year on that date, we celebrate National Purple Heart Day (also known as Purple Heart Appreciation Day, and Purple Heart Recognition Day), an “unofficial observance”, i.e., businesses and government agencies do not officially close on this day – to commemorate the over 1.8 MILLION American men and women who have been wounded or killed while serving in defense of our freedom since the start of World War I.
I’ve never celebrated this observance publicly…usually I just keep my mouth shut, and raise a scotch, late in the evening, in a toast to my buddies and fellow Purple Heart recipients (who received it while alive – or posthumously). My toast is always the same.
"Here's tae us. Wha's like us? Damn few, and they're a'deid." (Robert Burns)
Roughly translated, that means “Here’s to us. Who’s like us? Damned few, and they’re all dead.” It is a toast given by those who survive battle, to fellow survivors…and to those who did not. Perfect toast for those wearing the Purple Heart medal on that day.
This year was different. I celebrated publicly, in the company of many other Recipients, their families, and supporters of those who paid the cost of Freedom with their health, their blood, or their lives.
Here’s how the week went…
Tuesday August 7th:
Just like every other year, some private time commemorating those who sacrificed and those who fell, with a “wee dram” (or two) of scotch, and “the toast”.
Friday August 10th:
6pm - A wreath laying at (and celebration of the 20th anniversary of the laying of) the Purple Heart Monument – and the origin (mile-marker zero) of the Virginia Purple Heart Trail, at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
7pm – A private evening tour of George and Martha Washington’s home at the Mount Vernon estate, for Purple Heart recipients and their families.
Saturday August 11th – the crowning highlight of the week:
10am – A gathering, then ceremony with staff and leadership of Mount Vernon, and fellow members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for the estate's official National Purple Heart Day Ceremony on the East Lawn overlooking the Potomac River. We were treated to some great music leading up to the ceremony, and later during the posting of the Colors, the National Anthem, by the U.S. Marine Corps Band Brass Quintet.
The highlight of the program was our keynote speaker, highly acclaimed American author Patrick K. O'Donnell, who told us a riveting recollection of his time embedded with the U.S. Marines in combat, and the incredibly heroic but devastating story of one young Marine that he served with.
In addition, PH Recipients from each war from WWII to modern day were called upon to rise (as their war(s) were called out) and be recognized for their sacrifice. It was very moving to see these surviving warriors standing proudly, recognized by their peers.
And more than one speaker (both Friday night and Saturday morning) talked about the medal itself…the shape like a heart – both the original Badge of Military Merit and the Purple Heart Medal. General George Washington understood service, and sacrifice for the greater good. As I’ve said before in my “Quotes” post,
“Courage knows no gender. Courage knows no race. Courage comes from within, from a deeply ingrained sense of duty, from service to something bigger than just yourself…from love.” (James Kuiken)
That’s why he designed the original Badge, and why the Medal that came from that, are both shaped like a heart. Service to something greater than yourself – to your country, to your fellow combatant, to anyone – comes from love.
1pm – A private reception for Recipients, their families and guests, and chance to mingle and talk with some true heroes…and do what military and veterans do when they come together…give each other a hard time and just have fun!
So while the final reception was a chance to let our hair down and just have fun, the most part of the week was spent in remembrance and celebration of those who stepped up when so many step away. And who paid the price.
The funny thing is, they all just looked like regular folks. Guys and gals, lots of older folks, and a few who looked like teen-agers. You just never know…
You Can’t Get There From Here…
By Jim Kuiken
It’s been a while since I wrote a Post (or anything, for that matter). You’d think things would get easier the farther down the road you get… Ever get that feeling that the end of the road stays just beyond the horizon, no matter how far you go?
Anyone who knows (or knows about) me knows that I’m a writer, and have been working on a series of books. Not only do I title my books, I also title the chapters in the books. My first book (The Making of a Warrior) ends with the final chapter which is titled “You Can’t Go Home”.
Funny how something I’m writing about that takes place in 1976 is still just as true today as it was then… A young Marine, just getting off of active duty after combat has serious difficulties adjusting to life “back in the world”, relating to friends and re-assimilating with his family, and almost goes off the deep end.
Years after I retired from the Marine Corps, I found myself still struggling with the same issues (only compounded by multiple overseas and combat tours), which culminated in a hard downward spiral…and then found what I thought would be the answer to it all – my Service Dog Freedom. Even that brought additional costs and problems, but I truly thought he would solve all the issues.
Don’t get me wrong, Freedom is all and more than I thought he would be, and does everything that a Service Dog (and my best buddy) could ever do! K9s For Warriors gave me the most wonderful, life-saving gift they could ever have given me.
It’s not Freedom, it was my expectations. I was hoping for something that could not only help me cope with my various physical ailments and injuries, but something that could fix the PTSD and all its associated issues.
Service Dogs (SD’s) don’t do that. After years with Freedom, I know now that they are like an aspirin – they can help cope with the symptoms, even alleviate some (many of the folks who go through the training and receive their SD end up getting off many of the (over-prescribed) medications from the VA or other sources), but they don’t necessarily fix the root issue.
I had taken a wrong turn on that long, twisted road, and ended up on a plateau. I was stagnant, and even though I stayed busy, I wasn’t actually going anywhere.
I finally realized I was stuck (and maybe even sliding back downhill a bit) when I was up on Capitol Hill working with Military Veterans Advocacy the last couple of months. We met with numerous Representatives (and staff) while we advocated for HR 299 in the House (it passed the House on a bi-partisan 382 – 0 vote…unheard of now-a-days…), then a week on the Senate side meeting with them – and then last Wednesday, attending the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the Bill.
MVA has been advocating for this Bill to RESTORE the Agent Orange presumptive benefits to thousands of Vietnam Veterans, who had it stripped out by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs when they “interpreted” the original Bill and enacted the implementation policies (and guess who was the main opposition to restoring those benefits during the Hearing…yup…you guessed it. The very organization that is supposed to help veterans.)
Working so hard on the Hill on behalf of those Veterans got me to thinking about my own situation, and that is when I realized I had hit that plateau – had stopped writing, had stopped moving forward, and was actually having some of the old problems popping up. I had withdrawn from the fight.
If you find yourself (or see someone else) going down one of those many dead ends, withdrawing and isolating, just coasting, or worse, like me, drifting backwards – stop and ask for help!
Now that I know that no one thing is going to win this fight, it brings me back to my Marine training. A Marine might be overcome, but you can’t beat the Marines…we come together, and that is what makes Marines so tough to beat. A coordinated, multi-faceted force (with attitude…) to be reckoned with.
That’s the way PTS needs to be addressed. If I had VA benefits (still working on that…since 1976, with no success – which may actually be a blessing), they’d probably try to medicate me, and offer some counseling, etc. Based on what I’ve seen as we go up against them on the Hill (with the 40+ year-old Agent Orange issues…and as an example of their efficiency, just last August, with prodding and action from MVA, the few remaining survivors of Mustard Gas exposure from WWII finally got their presumptive coverage through Congress when the VA dropped their opposition to the Bill – yes, WWII survivors – 72 years later…), my confidence level is low.
Without any support from the VA, I’ve had to find my own treatments – generally from various Veteran support non-profits, and finally, after several decades, have begun to directly address the underlying issues – not just the symptoms.
SPECT Brain Scans, a stint of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, counseling and treatment through Give-an-Hour (for one year) and now The Headstrong Project, and other treatments…as long as they’re paid for by a non-profit (since I don’t have the funds that the VA has for treatments).
Also, making sure I have good nutrition and regular exercise, and moderate-to-low use of alcohol (I don’t do drugs…) are critical.
I haven’t gotten back to where I was, but at least I’m off the plateau and headed back down to that long, winding, rocky road. Hopefully I won’t wander off on any more dead-end trails and can continue the fight – and help others along the way.
If you see or know of anyone else who is struggling, PLEASE reach out to them. Just remember, as I say at the end of each email and on my website:
"What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal." Albert Pine
Basic Animal / Human Psychology
By Jim Kuiken
Talk about forte…this is mine! I’ve spent my entire adult life (and a lot of my younger life) serving in, building, or leading winning teams. The Marines. Law Enforcement. The corporate world. As a diplomat leading a big team in a huge effort in a war-torn country. Even in the Political arena.
And for the last 45 years, I keep hearing the same thing…how do you do it? How do you know all this stuff? Well, I could cite college degrees, training courses, etc., etc… (all true, but not where I got it all from – just where I learned some of the technical nuances). It came from lots of experience, and a basic understanding (and liking!) of people (and animals).
Previously, I’ve talked about Leadership, Service, basic and advanced techniques to achieve Success, Setting Goals, and many other similar subjects…mostly wrapped up into a neat list in one of my articles titled “Entrepreneur or Dreamer?”
But I’ve never specifically written about winning teams, which is a key element to almost anything we achieve in life. Unlike Leadership, which is done from the front (you can’t “lead” from behind, that’s an oxymoron – and in many cases, like combat – is called cowardice), you build winning teams from the middle.
So Kuiken, what is a winning team, and how do you build one? Again, back to my old southern law instructor…it depeyands…
Sometimes, depending on what your goal is – like the team itself “winning” whatever they are doing (like a T-Ball team or the SEALs…). Both have a goal of the team winning, so they need conditioning, structure, coaching, etc. But the basics are still there. They need to have a goal, they need to be structured in a way that helps them achieve that goal, they need the skills and tools required to be able to do what they need to do to win, they need “buy-in” by all the team members, etc.
Other times, it’s not about the team “winning”, it’s about the team being effective, building something, creating ideas or writing policy, running or managing an organization, or any other of a myriad of functions.
Simply put, a “winning team” is one that achieves or exceeds its goal.
One of the most primal examples would be that of a wolf-pack, cooperating together to feed the pack including the offspring, by not only working in a coordinated, joint effort to catch the food, but functioning in a structure to ensure orderly distribution of the food (a hierarchy of feeding, and bringing food back to those not yet old enough to hunt for themselves).
But people are much more than just a bunch of primitive animals, right? Of course they are – but understanding the most basic or advanced needs of people helps you build a winning team. I had observed behavior over the years in all those winning teams I was a part of, and had those observations validated (and gained more understanding of the motivations) through those college courses – one great example would be Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Pack animals show the same first 4 sets of needs (Physiological, Safety, Social belonging, and Esteem), but people functioning in a society, and especially in winning teams, show all those plus the 5th (Self-actualization) …and some even move to the highest plane (Self-transcendence).
Lots of fancy stuff there, but understanding the basics really helps when you start to build that winning team. Like, what’s in it for the team members? If they are happy and satisfied with their membership and the team’s purpose, they work together a lot better, and are more self-driven and successful.
That does NOT mean they should all be the same. Quite the opposite. I’ve had the most success with teams that are built from people that are completely diverse (and I don’t mean the simplistic “diverse” that popular culture and political correctness “mandate”).
Diverse in my mind starts with those simple differences, like different genders, socio-economic backgrounds, cultural background, racial differences, etc…but then continues to age, experience(s), job classifications, etc. Even (if it is relevant to the purpose of the team, such as policy development, etc.), different political views, possibly different religious views, etc.
An example would be one team I put together when I was a Policy Developer at an agency Headquarters (HQ) in Washington DC. I had been asked to write a Maritime Enforcement Policy. The standard method was to sit down, read up on various other agency’s policies, and then write ours. Not what I did.
First, I went to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), and participated in the multi-agency boat training there. Then I sat with another agency in another department that had similar enforcement authorities, as they developed their policy.
Then I went back to our HQ, and called together a team from the field and from HQ. It consisted of actual working folks from the front lines (not bosses) - members from Investigations, Patrol, Smuggling, etc…which my boss (and his boss) questioned…but it was my project so they let me run with it. The next thing I did caused an even bigger uproar, but we did it anyway. I invited the national Union president, and an attorney from the Legal department to join the team, so that we didn’t need to ask for Union or Agency buy-in later…they were part of the development. And, believe it or not, I took the whole crew to a couple of field locations where various agencies (Immigration, Border Patrol, Customs, DEA, Coast Guard, etc.) did maritime enforcement, for discussions and ride-alongs to get a feel for actual maritime enforcement.
I then brought them all back to DC, put them in a room together with a white board and flip board, all the resources they needed, and all the policies, training courses and notes I had from my earlier efforts, gave them the parameters of what we were trying to develop (along with a “policy” template), and turned them loose before I stepped out of the room. One week later, we had the best friggin’ policy that had come out of that office in a very long time…and it had the full buy-in from the field, management, Union, and legal from the get-go.
The trick was bringing together people who had a stake in the outcome, from a wide and diverse background, giving them the tools, understanding and guidance they needed, and getting out of their way.
I could go on and on about this subject, but the short of it is:
Be an example of true leadership, honestly care about the people (not just the policy, task or goal), and lead by example, not directives.
As my grandpa used to tell me – the best way to run a team of horses is not to hold the reins too tight. That confuses the horses, and may even make them stop. Hold the reins loosely, giving just enough guidance to keep them on track, and let them have their heads. You’ll be surprised how fast you get there, and the horses will have a blast!
Or What Battle Was/Is Yours?
By Jim Kuiken
Our country’s history is marked (defined and/or scarred) by a series of wars and battles. Our birth, through the Revolutionary War. Character was refined (not defined) by the Civil War. The Marines were memorialized by many wars, but the battle that really set them in stone was Iwo Jima. And there are too many others to count… Some honorable, some not so much, depending on your personal frame of reference.
But like most of my posts, I’m not here to discuss the bigger picture at a national scale – I’m going to bring it right down to each individual. What was YOUR defining war or battle?
I’ve been wanting to write this one for a long time, because mine are so vivid, even now, and color my outlook on most of life.
When I was at American University attending the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program (as a student…and simultaneously as a guest lecturer in the same course, same class…but that’s a story for a different time), there was one course of instruction that was particularly interesting to me. It was Organizational Diagnosis, or viewing an organization through the Four Frame (four frames of reference) Model of Bolman and Deal (2003) – Structural, Political, Human Resources and Symbology. Of the four, Symbology held the most interest for me (which is the segment of that course that I, as a student, was invited by the Professor to be the “surprise guest lecturer” for in my own class…).
It is all about how you see things, and how they can color your perceptions – and even influence how you feel about and react to life and events. I came in as a guest lecturer in other classes besides my own, and always started out by having them read the 3 page-long first chapter of my current book, “The Making of a Warrior”. I would watch them as they read it, and see a variety of reactions, even to some of them laughing, then crying as they read it.
At the end, I wouldn’t ask them what they thought…I’d ask them what they felt. What they saw. What they heard, and what they smelled when they were reading it – and I always got a very strong reaction from each class and person that read it. That is the power of symbology.
So, once again I ask you. What was your defining war and/or battle? Even if you were not in the military, there is a war, battle or event that was your defining event.
For me, it was Vietnam. Many of you were in it, many of you grew up watching it – our first “televised” war, many of you were or had loved ones who were affected by it, and many protested against it. It was my defining war, and has colored my outlook on life since I was a teenager in the ‘60’s (while I grew up in a military family), and as a Marine from the early ‘70’s (and beyond).
Don’t get me wrong. There were others – I was in the Gulf War, went to Bosnia, Kosovo, etc…even ended up in Iraq (in 2005-2006), but the one that defined me was Vietnam.
For some, they remember Pearl Harbor (sadly, a dwindling few). Others, Korea, the “forgotten war”…except for those that were there. Or today’s Pearl Harbor – the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia. They evoke visceral reactions.
Or Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria.
Lots of my friends were in one or more of those – and their entire life, and their loved one’s lives were changed forever. Their outlook and perceptions of life are colored through those lenses.
Maybe it was a specific battle. Iwo Jima. Khe Sanh. Ramadi. Wanat. These are personal to me (I’m feeling them as I write – elevated heart rate and breathing, simmering anger, heartache, etc.), because I know people from each of these – and just thinking about my defining war, and specific battles through the eyes of my friends is an emotional event.
Each of you has that war, that battle that turned a switch in your life and forever colors some of your perceptions on life. What was that event or moment? What has it done to or for your life? Are you a better person, have you let it take control, what is it that changed in your life?
Those who were there, those who had loved ones or friends there. Gold Star Families. Families of those who were injured or wounded (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually). Those who were not involved, but witnessed these events during their lives. Those who protested or fought against the war(s). All had a defining moment, a defining war, a battle.
Tell me yours. Share it with a friend or someone you trust. Write me – and share your story. I’d love to hear it, and in sharing it, some may find some peace…from their war.
I Think Mine’s Defective…
By Jim Kuiken
Dogs are just weird. Mine is a (mostly) black lab (rescued from a high-kill shelter), and trained as a Service Dog by K9s For Warriors – so he’s a highly trained professional…when he’s at work.
But he’s still a freakazoid. Nuts. Crazy.
(I think they all have a little #4 in them…)
It’s not just Labs, they’re all demented. I belong to a private chat group of folks with dogs, and several of them know I’m older than most of them (heck, than most of the current population…), and I was also a K9 Officer, K9 Trainer, and K9 Trainer Instructor way back before a lot of them were born – so they ask me stuff about dogs (or just ask the group, and I chime in). “My dog does (this or that). Why the heck does he do that?”
After I let it sit for a while, I jump in and reply. “I can tell you exactly why he does that!” (whatever it is that they’ve done…), and then just wait.
Never fails – they always answer back “Why?”
“Because they’re a dog!” (always cracks me up)
Dogs do what dogs do. People always think they’re going behave like a little human, or at least follow our rules. DUH!!! They’re dogs! They follow our commands, we can train them to do stuff, they give us unconditional love…but they do things based on their own dogly purposes, instincts and ‘logic’.
Don’t get me wrong – they’re intensely loyal, and in most cases, just want to be with us.
They’re loving, comforting – and protective – of their human(s).
And most of us would do anything for them in return.
However…studies have shown that they actually learn behaviors – like giving us the puppy eyes, etc. – that help them get what they want.
They generally understand the rules, and look for ways to get or do what they want…sometimes pushing the boundaries of the rules without actually breaking them.
So we try to figure them out. We interpret some of what they do as human characteristics and behaviors, trying to get a better understanding of our “fur babies”.
But, unless you accept that they are not human, and embrace their “doggieness”, you will NEVER understand them – not that you will, fully, anyway.
They come in all shapes and sizes,
They aren’t bothered by the same things that might bother us, and are completely comfortable with themselves and conditions we might see as difficult,
They love to share our moments with us,
Love to play, and can amuse themselves with almost anything,
Or even just chase squirrels…
But no matter how long you have them, how much you love them (it’s a given that they love you with all their soul), or how much you understand them…sometimes you just have to say
What The Heck???
And like I’ve said before (even to the founder of K9s For Warriors when they paired me up with Freedom)
I think mine’s defective…
Pick Your Poison
By Jim Kuiken
Dude! What a downer!! This is so depressing!
Life can’t always be butterflies and pretty flowers. Sometimes we have to look at the ugly to see the truth, even if we don’t want to. It would be so much easier to wear blinders and just “be happy”.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the sky is falling, and I don’t want you to walk around in a major depressive state – it’s just that if we don’t look at bad stuff, we can’t fix (or help with) it.
Here’s what my week looked like last week:
So, what am I talking about? Pretty much the same thing I talk about a lot, but this time, from the tough side. Who am I talking about when I say homelessness, incarceration or death… pick your poison?
Military / Veterans, and First Responders (Fire, Law Enforcement, EMS).
But even those two groups are different… I know, I was both a career military (now veteran), and a first responder (firefighter / EMT, and later, career law enforcement).
While first responders suffer from depression, anxiety, PTS(d), and suicide, their numbers of homelessness and incarceration are much lower – on par with or slightly lower than the general population.
The reason veterans not only have the suicide issue, but also a much higher (percentage wise) incidence of homelessness and incarceration than not only first responders, but the general population, is because first responders don’t leave society. They remain in it, and are trained to identify and confront issues, and find a way to contain or peacefully resolve those issues – and in the case of law enforcement, to use force as a last resort.
Military, on the other hand, are separated from society, ingrained with the military mind-set and culture, and are specifically trained to “locate, close with and destroy the enemy”. They are taught to destroy and kill the enemy in combat, and those who are not in combat are there to support those who are, and further the mission of protecting us by dominating and destroying the enemy. Different mind-set and mission.
Unfortunately, that does not translate well when they come back and “re-enter” society. There are many reasons and issues, such as employment/employability, readjustment issues, PTS(d), etc., etc… but what it boils down to is that there are a significantly higher percentage of suicides, homelessness and incarceration (and the incarceration of veterans involves a higher rate of violent offenses than the non-veteran inmate… no real surprise there, given the issues the veterans are dealing with vice the basic criminality of the other inmates).
So what are those rates? Here (imbedded in the following links) are some resources to help you see the numbers:
So… all that is very depressing. It’s hard to look at. Hard to imagine someone who was once a bright youngster all ready to step up and serve, to protect their way of life, country, and fellow citizens – who is now sleeping on a steam vent and asking for your change – so easy to look away and walk around, feeling uneasy. Or who is sitting in jail or a prison, more than half the time for a violent offense. Or who just quits, and “checks out”. Devastating their family by committing suicide – losing the fight with those dark demons they brought back with them.
But – it’s harder to live (or die) as one of them. As one of us…
So, here’s the choice. Walk around them. Leave them “where they belong” in prison or jail. Go on with our lives. So many people die every day, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with us unless it directly affects our life.
– Or –
Engage! Find something you’re interested in or even enjoy, and spend some time on that issue. There are so many wonderful organizations and people out there that anyone can find something that speaks to them. It doesn’t have to be depressing! I can be very rewarding, and sometimes, even fun!
Each year we go on a fishing trip with Hearts For Heroes, and have a blast! There is the Fine Earth Adventure Race if you like cross-country races, food and music! Seas The Day. Mountain Outfitters. Hunting, camping, social mixers… or even raising puppies (like my daughter, who fosters rescue dogs to become service dogs), etc., etc!
There are tons and tons of meaningful organizations and groups where you can participate, volunteer, or if you’re too short of time, donate! Advocate! Or just reach out to someone you know who might be having a hard time, and let them know you’re there…
You CAN be the one who makes a difference in someone’s life – and while you’re doing that, your own!
That One Thing…
By Jim Kuiken
I actually had a different article in mind…but since today (March 6th) is one of the most important holidays in the United States, I decided to move the other article back a week, in honor of this holiday (which I will get to in a bit…).
Several years ago, 1986 to be exact, I was attending the Army’s Special Forces Qualification Course (the “Q” Course). That is the school that you go through to earn your Green Beret, and become a Special Forces Soldier. Of course, I was a Marine, not a soldier, but Force Recon Marines (which I was at the time) go through a lot of different schools, one of which can be the Q Course.
It’s a tough, 6-month school, and is only the qualification course to earn your Beret and “Tab”, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s a skate in the park. Just to get in is a serious set of events and tests – and then it only gets harder. It’s also broken into specialty groups, based on the needs of the Special Forces “A Team”. There are the officers (18A – Special Forces Detachment Officer), and the enlisted specialists, who are broken into several categories. These are the: 18B – Weapons Sergeant, 18C – Engineer Sergeant, 18D – Medical Sergeant, 18E – Communications Sergeant, and of course a few other odds and ends. Each specialty has a longer or shorter course, but Marines who attend are normally there for the Weapons Sergeant or Engineer Sergeant course.
I was lucky, I was there for the Engineer Sergeant course (I got to build stuff…and then blow it up!!!) How much fun is that! There was a lot more to it than that, but that was the really fun part.
Of course, everyone gets to go through all the rest of the Q together, and then just break out for your particular specialty training section. The rest of the course was all the hard physical stuff. Lots of long “ruck” marches up and down hills, really serious 3-day compass courses, practice missions, jumping out of airplanes (another of the fun parts…), lots of conditioning. Oh, and did I mention lots of long “ruck” marches?
There’s even a survival portion where you’re off somewhere by yourself (covertly observed, of course – at Camp Mackall), and you have several tasks to perform during an extended period of time out there. Build shelter. Build (and use) traps to catch food. Find and use a water source. Etc., etc…and survive an extended time – and transition into a SERE Level C scenario – which is loads of fun (this time I’m being sarcastic… Not fun…).
And of course, there are lots of long “ruck” marches – in case I forgot to mention that.
So what the heck does any of this have to do with one of our most important National Holidays? Actually, to be technical…it’s a National Day of Recognition, not really a recognized ‘holiday’ – but is still one of the most important and revered days in the year! We’re getting there – just be patient!
My “A Team” classmates (minus the officers) were in our wooden shack up at Camp Mackall, in “isolation” (no contact allowed outside our team, and no contact with any outside people – we were isolated) in preparation for a practice mission that we were planning and practicing for. It was after a fairly long ruck march (carrying a pack or “ruck”) with 45 lbs in it (and yes, they weighed them to make sure…but at least it wasn’t one of the 60 lb. days…), and we all had our boots and socks off, tending to our blisters and sores. Lots of “mole skin” usage that day (and I pity you guys who actually know what that is…).
Anyway, while we’re sitting there with our boots off after a long march, and a few days with no showers, enjoying the bouquet of our buddies in a small, closed-in wooden shack, one of the guys spoke up. It was an interesting mix of guys – a Force Recon Marine, a former Delta Team soldier (who had taken a couple of 9mm rounds through the lung during a training exercise and couldn’t stay in Delta, so he transferred over to SF), and a couple of other folks, to make up our team.
The guy who spoke up said – if you could have anything you want right now, what would be your fantasy? What’s the one thing you really crave right now?
Of course, being a bunch of rugged, sweaty, beat up guys in a cold wooden shack in the middle of the woods in the middle of nowhere with no contact with the outside world…you can only imagine!
Being the shy one there, I spoke right up. “Double Stuff Oreos!!!” I absolutely craved them right then. Others spoke up. “A hamburger!” “Pizza!” “Beer!”
It was a lot of fun, broke the moment, and frankly…made us all hungry… I remembered a good buddy of mine from my Force Recon unit – Frank. He was former Army LRRP, Pathfinder, etc., who spent some rough times in Vietnam, and after he returned to the US, had gotten out of the Army and joined the Marines, ending up in my unit. I still remember that he always had to have a crisp, fresh red apple with him. If he ate it, he had to stop and get another one, just to have. I finally understood…
The guy who asked the question actually wrote down each of our #1 cravings in his notepad. I thought that was strange, but then we all got busy with our tasks.
About a week later, as we were coming down the trail towards our camp from a ruck march, he darted off into the bushes, and came back with a “willie peter” waterproof bag. When we got back to our hooch and dumped our packs, etc., he announced “mail call!”
It turns out (and I should have known…since he was our Communications Sergeant), that he had gotten word out to his wife, and she had packed a bag with all the stuff we had been craving (except the beer of course)! When he tossed me that package of double-stuff Oreos, I sat there and ate the whole thing in one sitting. Almost made myself sick…
And to this day, I cannot have Oreos in my house. I will cram down the whole package. I made the mistake of telling a friend that (she is the cub scout leader of the pack I went and talked to, and she is also the ‘friend’ who, when I was headed up to a 3-day shoot with Ghost Firearms Training to go for my “1000-yard shot”, said to “let us know if you’ve still got it.” With friends like that…), and when we went to our neighbor’s house for a New Year’s Eve get-together…she brought me a pack of Oreos…
Anyway, HAPPY NATIONAL OREOS DAY!!!
(now I have to go buy some so I can have a couple with my scotch tonight!)
So…Think You’re a Tough Guy, Huh?
By Jim Kuiken
A lot of the time, you’ll never know who the real one is, because they don’t draw attention to themselves. I find that a lot of self-appointed tough guys make sure you do notice them, mimicking the beards, baseball caps with the Velcro patch, dark wrap-around sunglasses, walking around with a hard look, etc…
And then there’s the Gameboy tough guys – the closest they’ve ever come to anything is on the TV screen, and in their fantasies.
It’s chic nowadays to be a real “Warrior”.
A rough-and-tumble “bad@$$”.
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of true heroes out there…someone who puts other’s lives before their own. Some do it for a living (like the folks I write about – military, veterans, first responders (law enforcement, firefighters, EMS), etc.
But what I’m talking about are the individual heroes – some with a small “h”, and some with a big “H”.
There are lots of actual tough guys/gals, lots of heroes, etc. in this world. You probably know some of them, and a lot you’ll never know – the quiet guy just mowing his lawn, or sitting next to you in a coffee shop sipping his latté, and eating a spinach and artichoke quiche… They may have been a true Hero, or even a Warrior. But they’ll never tell you. Or try to prove it all the time…
So Kuiken, what the heck do you mean by Warrior? And why would you rather have a Warrior than a Hero?
Not quite that simple. In my mind, not all heroes/Heroes are Warriors. It kinda depends on what they’re a hero for – but similar to Pres. Reagan’s quote about Marines (“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don't have that problem.”), Warriors don’t have to worry about that…all true Warriors are heroes.
It comes down to Heraclitus, who in my opinion (and in my experience, from decades in the military – including combat – and as a former firefighter, EMT, and career law enforcement officer/agent), hit the nail right on the head. I’ve seen this…and lots of you have too if you’re honest with yourself. I know this isn’t politically correct in a lot of folk’s eyes, but then again, neither is combat. Suck it up.
Here’s his definition of a Warrior. Spot on, dude!
“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle.
Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”
A true Warrior is a real tough guy. Who has the skills of a real fighter. But who cares for their brothers/sisters with all their heart – ahead of themselves – and brings them all back. Physically, if possible (alive or dead), and spiritually if not (keeping their memory and legacy alive – and caring for their loved ones).
So, back to my original question. How many tough guys (in their own mind) do you know? How many real tough guys? How many real fighters?
And are you privileged to know one real Warrior?
By Jim Kuiken
After I got off active duty in January 1977, I transitioned over to the reserve component, and stayed in the Marines…but with a twist…
I was coming from 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, where I was a Recon Marine, and transitioning over to C Company, 4th Tank Battalion… Talk about a transition! Recon to Tanks? What the H#!! was I going to do in Tanks? I didn’t know anything about tanks!
And besides that, the unit I was coming from was “squared away”…everyone in shape, looking sharp and all “gung-ho”! All these guys were bigger, and way dirtier – wearing greasy coveralls, etc. What the heck had I done?
It didn’t take me long to see that Marines are Marines – Recon or Tankers – and were focused on being the best Marines they could be. The tankers were dirty because they were working on big, greasy tanks! If they weren’t greasy and sweaty…it was because they weren’t working…and boy, did those guys work! I quickly became close friends with my fellow Marines, and felt right at home – except, I still didn’t know anything about tanks!
Never fear, I knew about weapons, and as a Staff Sergeant, they put me in the armory as the Company Armorer working on M-16 rifles, .45 caliber pistols, M-240 co-axial machine guns (basically an M-60 7.62mm machine gun), the big, beautiful M-2 .50 cal. machine gun, and other miscellaneous weapons. I was in heaven!
After a couple of years I was promoted to Gunnery Sergeant…but as a Gunny, I had to leave the armory and became the Company Tank Leader (which is like a Company Gunny to most non-tank units). The only trouble was…once again…I didn’t know anything about tanks, except their weapons. And as the Company Tank Leader, I had to know about tanks!
Again, easy fix. They sent me to Tank School in Ft. Knox, which is run by the Army. Even though the Army was transition to their new M-1 tanks, the Marine Corps generally got the Army cast-offs, and we were moving from the M-48’s (from Korea and Vietnam days) over to the refurbished M-60A3’s that the Army was getting rid of…
Lots of interesting things happened with me (as a Marine Corps Gunny) on an Army base, but I’ll save those for future “Frontline Tales” episodes. This one is about what happened in the actual classroom training that I attended there at the school.
As the senior Marine in the class (there were several PFC’s through Corporals, a couple of Sergeants, and one Staff Sergeant in class with me…along with a whole passel of Army soldiers), I automatically took charge of the class – and especially the Marines. I made sure I sat in the back of the class so I could see if any of them were goofing off or starting to nod out. With the Army guys, the instructors would ask them to stand along the side wall if they started to fall asleep, but with the Marines… Well, let’s just say we had our own way of doing things.
I had a sock with sand in it, tucked up into a ball, and if I saw any Marine heads start to bob, I’d bounce it off the back of their head to get their attention (which always freaked the Army instructors out – but they didn’t say anything), then had them come stand in the back (and bring me my sock full of sand in case I needed it again).
When break time came along, if we had any that had been drifting off during that session, I’d take all the Marines out back (because if one fails, we all fail…so we all pay with the one) and do a bunch of push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or whatever I felt like doing during that break (and yes, as a Marine leader, I did them with my men), and after they really had their blood pumping and were all woken up, we’d head back in and see if they could make it through another of the scintillating classroom sessions without them bouncing their forehead off the table in front of them or getting whiplash from their heads snapping back as they lost consciousness.
After one of the non-sweat inducing breaks (i.e., none of the Marines had fallen asleep during the preceding class), we had been sitting out back on the grass enjoying the fresh air and some sun, when it was time to go in. The Staff Sergeant and I got up to head back to class with the rest of the Marines trailing behind, when I started to come around the corner of the building, saw an opportunity and jumped back, pushing the Staff Sergeant back behind me.
In order to get to the class from where we were, we had to come around the corner and walk along a long loading dock on the back side of a warehouse with multiple loading bays (doors), go around the other side, and go into the classroom attached to the other side of the warehouse.
What I had seen was an Army Major stepping out from one of the bays onto the loading dock – along with an Army Master Sergeant, probably to get some fresh air and a couple of minutes in the sun.
I lined all the Marines up and stood next to the corner, and at about 5 - 10 second intervals, sent them around the corner to walk down the dock, past the Major and back to class.
Of course, I first instructed them to make sure they gave a good, crisp Marine Corps salute and rendered a good, loud verbal greeting – “Good Afternoon Sir!” as they came within 6 paces of the Major.
For about the first 4 or 5 Marines, the Major stood there, and returned each salute and verbal greeting…but then he looked to his left and saw more coming, and stepped back into the loading bay under “cover”, and took his uniform hat off, so he didn’t have to salute. Each Marine continued to salute and greet him as they went by. “Good Afternoon Sir!” “Good Afternoon, Marine.” “Good Afternoon Sir!” “Good Afternoon, Marine.” Etc., etc.
After all 20+ Marines has passed, the Staff Sergeant and I came around the corner, in step, and marched past him, also rendering a good, crisp Marine Corps salute and greeted him. “Good Afternoon Sir!!!” He returned the greeting, and after we were more than 6 paces away, stepped back out, put his uniform cover back on his head, and said “Hey, Gunny!”
That should have been a red flag, because most of the Army guys just call everyone from E-5 up “Sergeant”, regardless of their actual rank. He knew the Marine Corps rank and protocol…
I stopped, turned, and said “Yes Sir?”
With a slight twinkle in his eye he said “Next time don’t space them so evenly…” He knew exactly what I had been doing.
With a smile, I said “Roger that Sir!”, turned, and went back to class…