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…
Who Cares? I Wasn’t Even Born Yet!
By Jim Kuiken
Of course, I’m assuming most people even know what Agent Orange is…my personal bias showing again. Just because I happen to be somewhat of a military history buff doesn’t mean everyone is.
Agent Orange is a toxic herbicide that most people think was just used to spray around Vietnam from 1965-1972, to kill the jungle during the war so the enemy had fewer places to hide…and that those who were exposed to it got very sick or died because of their time in the Vietnam War.
Like I said…ancient history! Most folks now-a-days consider Afghanistan and Iraq as the main (current) wars, and even those are getting old! What does Agent Orange have to do with anyone except a few old veterans?
Don’t kid yourself… This is a LOT MORE than that! Toxic exposure to servicemembers has been going on since war began, and still goes on today! Just going back to WWI, there was Mustard Gas, WWII had many more, including radiological exposure and bio-weapon exposure to our own military, Agent Orange (and White, Blue, and others) during Korea and Vietnam, multiple exposures (chemical, biological, radiological) during the Gulf War (developing into Gulf War Syndrome and more), Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with more radiological exposure, asbestos exposure on ships from WWI to now, etc., etc., etc…
And do you think our Government (including both houses of Congress, the Military or Veteran’s Affairs, and others) actually helps, protects, or proactively treats and cares for those exposed!??!
If you do, you have never been exposed and had to deal with multiple decades of neglect, denial, and downright refusal to even recognize the issues that HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of veterans are dealing with every single day – if they’re not one of the many actually dying from the results of those exposures, again, every…single…day.
And let’s not forget the many miscarriages or birth defects from the genetic damage suffered by many of these exposures. Or the hundreds of thousands of caregivers who have to deal with their loved ones slowly fading away right before their eyes, long before their time; or dying from cancers and other diseases or maladies caused by their time in service to this Nation.
If you or anyone you know served in the military in any war from WWI on, they have very likely been contaminated with some toxic substance. Let’s just use me as an example. Here are just some of my known or likely exposures:
1973 – 1975, Guam
1991, Gulf War
2005 – 2006, Iraq
And there were other exposures during my 30 years of military service, and subsequent years of federal service in many places around the world – as I served my country.
So what? “They knew what they were signing up for…”, right? Well, yeah. Those who stepped up to protect and serve our country did so with eyes open – BUT – we also did so relying on the promise by our country, government and its citizens that if we did so, and if we suffered harm because of that service, that we and our families would be taken care of. We relied on that solemn promise – which in all too many cases, has not been honored.
I’m not just here to whine and complain about broken promises and victimhood. I’m asking each and every one of you to actually do something to help make sure those promises are kept – specifically as to toxic exposure – the silent but extremely deadly killer, not only of those who served, but their children, spouses and caregivers, and loved ones who not only watch what happens as those affected suffer and die, but who themselves may very well be directly affected by those contaminants and toxic exposures. (see the picture of the leaking Agent Orange barrels on Johnston Atoll, where my own father was stationed – which also had radiological material contamination on the beaches and other areas…).
A small group of representatives from Blue Water Navy Association, the Agent Orange Survivors of Guam, and myself (and Freedom, of course!) spent all last week and are spending all this week up on Capitol Hill, making the rounds and talking to almost 80 (or hopefully a few more) Representatives and Senators and their staffs, as well as the staff of a couple of committees (like the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, the House Appropriations Committee, the House Oversight Committee, etc.) – and – participating this Friday in the GAO (Government Accountability Office) investigation / hearing on Agent Orange on Guam.
We’re asking for everyone’s help. It is very likely that during this or previous (and subsequent) extended trips to the Hill, we will be talking to your Representative and/or Senator.
Please help keep the promise that we relied upon when we signed up to serve our country and its citizens…and CALL OR WRITE your Representative and / or Senator, and ask them to support these three bills:
H.R.809 - Fighting for Orange-Stricken Territories in the Eastern Region Act
(Agent Orange on Guam and in Micronesia)
H.R.299 - Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017
(Agent Orange in the coastal and territorial seas of Vietnam)
H.R.4843 - To modify the presumption of service connection for veterans who were exposed to herbicide agents while serving in the Armed Forces in Thailand during the Vietnam era, and for other purposes.
(Agent Orange on the bases in Thailand)
By Jim Kuiken
I’ve been writing a lot of stuff in the last 4 years, and have gotten a LOT of great comments and feedback. People read what I write… and that always surprises me, but also honors what I write about…
So that got me to thinking – all the folks who read my articles (and free sample chapters of my current book “The Making of a Warrior) – and who’ve made comments and who have written back ALSO have lots of stories! (Well DUH Kuiken! Took you this long to figure that out?)
This year I’d like to start out by reaching out to you! I’ve seen and read some of those stories, so here’s your invitation. I’d like all of you who have a story or stories to send them in to me!
Don’t worry if you think they’re not “professional”, just make them real – what happened or what you feel. Funny incidents. Tough times. Tales from the ‘front lines’, personal stories, whatever…just send them!
As I’ve mentioned before, here’s what I write about (which also happens to be what my “Bekker” series of books are about – both the 5 book Warrior mini-series and the 5 book Protector mini-series). If you find yourself or anyone you know in any of these categories – I want to hear from you!
If you are (or are related to or know) anyone in the military, a veteran, law enforcement, firefighter, emergency medical services, or anyone who serves others, and because of that service, places their own life or well-being at risk…I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
We will be looking at the stories you send in, and hope to publish some of them on my webpage and other sites (which puts them directly in front of 7K(+) readers nationally, and potentially many more indirectly).
You can submit your story or your contact information here, or go to the “Contact” page on my website – JamesKuiken.com.
So, here’s your invitation!! Don’t overthink it, don’t hesitate, just sit down and write it! Send it in, and let’s show the rest of the world what’s important, funny, heartbreaking, etc. for you – and to all of us. I can’t wait to hear your story!
By Jim Kuiken
Have you ever done (or not done) something that you later regret? Don’t worry, that was rhetorical…we all have, and we all do.
Unfortunately, sometimes those things that we do or don’t do have unintended consequences - and not just for ourselves. Last week, I did something that I deeply regret, because it affected a friend of mine (and Freedom’s).
It’s interesting that I was just talking to another friend, and they said, “I didn’t think you had regrets, because you live so much in the present!” It’s true, I do my best to not hold on to things from the past or present that I don’t have control over, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t regret things I did or didn’t do.
It arose from something that has happened to me a couple of times now, but deeply affected me both times (this time more than before). It had to do with a challenge to my integrity, as well as things I’ve done during my almost 45 years of service to this nation and its citizens (and legal residents). Additionally, it disparaged friends and colleagues who’ve spent a half-century of honest and outstanding service to this nation, and called into question their honesty and integrity as well. In my book, unforgivable.
This all started the day before Thanksgiving, and lasted up and into last week. I fully expected (and had planned for) that type of thing from opponents from other political parties during my U.S. Congressional campaign (2011 – 2012), but two things surprised me even there. The first was the downright dishonesty and viciousness of those attacks (which I squashed with proof of my service), but the second was that people from my own party did the same – i.e., one of my primary opponents (at least the other two ran honorable campaigns), and the neo-cons and others who tried to hijack the campaign, and when they couldn’t, turned around and attacked.
When it started again a couple of weeks ago, I pulled out a lot of the same documents I had used before (as well as looking up a few more) to counter those claims. But the damage was done, it deeply disturbed me, and caused me to rethink my commitment to not only my chosen path of telling stories of service (military, first responders, etc.), but my efforts as an Advocate (again for those who serve(d) our nation and its citizens), and working with all the Veteran service organizations – to even questioning my involvement with the non-profit we have been building for all military service members and veterans, first responders, and their families.
Needless to say, it shook me to my core, and d@mned near brought me back to that place where I was before I got Freedom. It shut me down, and almost made me just walk away from it all, again.
So, back to my regrets. Last week it was time to bring Freedom in to the Vienna Pet Spaw for his weekly bath. The Spaw is not just the only place I ever take Freedom (I tried and looked at others, but won’t go anywhere else), but they will wash, groom, or let you wash your own dog there – whatever works best for their clients. The owner / operator there is a good friend, and not only helps veterans with Service Dogs, but helps out with programs for animals in need, volunteers with Wreaths Across America, is a strong supporter of our military and veterans (coming from a military family), and is just a kind and supporting friend to clients – often opening early or staying late (or taking special requests) just to help them out.
Last week when we went in, Freedom got up into his tub and I sat in the chair nearby (they let me sit in there with him as he gets bathed so the SD and handler are not separated), but I was totally self-absorbed and wallowing in my own pain and disappointment, not at all my normal wise-cracking smart-@$$ self.
Had I not been so absorbed with my own issues, I would’ve picked up on the fact that the owner was also not their normal self, and could’ve used some support, and some of my normal humor – or just a friendly ear to listen.
We’d been friends since shortly after I started going there about 3 years ago, but we really became good friends after I went along with the family to Arlington National Cemetery (and later, to their home) when one of the owner’s brothers, Air Force SMSgt. Mark Rayment, was laid to rest there. We were there commemorating his long service to this Nation, as well as to be with friends and family as they grieved his loss and celebrated his life.
That appointment last week was on the day before the 2nd anniversary of his interment there in Arlington. I knew something was up, but I didn’t pull my head out of my own misery long enough to see what was going on with my friend. And that is my regret… I let a friend down.
In those darkest hours when it all seems too much to bear, is there a friend that needs your support more than you need to stew in your own feelings? As in most cases, yes, there was – and I’m so sorry.
I won’t make that mistake again.