Kickin’ Off the New Year
By Jim Kuiken
In another “Getting to Know You” post, let’s talk about “Call Signs”. A call sign, in this context, is a name given to a person in the military to identify them over the radio…or in the broader sense, a name given to a military person by his/her peers…which, especially if used in combat, sticks with them for the rest of their lives.
You don’t get to pick your own call sign. You don’t even have any say in what your call sign is – it is given to you by your peers, usually based on how badly you've screwed something up, a play on your name, your personality, or just the whims of a bunch of your peers or supposed “buddies”. Heeer’s yer sign…
And there are some real doozys…
Call signs are not to be confused with nicknames. I’ve had a few nicknames, also given to me by my “friends…” over the years. “Gunny Chunks” was when I went through SCUBA School in Coronado in the mid-80’s, as a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant (E-7, “Gunny”) in Force Recon. Because I pushed myself so hard during all the physical “training”, that I threw up at the end of each session. “If you ain’t pukin’, you ain’t tryin’”.
Also, with my team in LA in the 90’s, when I was the Supervisory Special Agent in charge of “Special Investigations”. We’d go out on gang enforcement, high-risk warrant entries, etc. They (thinking I didn’t know…) called me the “Chihuahua”, because I never stopped, didn’t seem to notice that (almost everyone) was bigger than me, but still never backed down, etc. Yeah…real funny…
And there are false call signs and nicknames. Let’s talk about “Mad Dog” Mattis. That was NEVER General Mattis’ callsign or nickname. That was a tag the media gave him, and that is so far from the truth as to be insulting. He is NOT a mad dog…his actual nickname is “Warrior Monk”, because he is so well-read, thoughtful, educated, measured and deliberate in his every action. It is why his subordinates and “troops” all revere him. And yes, I call him General rather than Secretary, because General is so much more…
It’s like when I was the Dept. of Homeland Security Attaché to Iraq, and Country Director for DHS. As a Senior Executive (SES-6, a 4 Star equivalent rank) I was one of the senior diplomats at the embassy, but the Embassy Marines (and other Marines there) never called me “Director”, or Sir, or even Mr. Kuiken. They all called me Sergeant Major (my Marine Corps rank) – because they all considered that, and rightfully so – to be so much higher than a Diplomat, a Director or an SES…plus, I wasn’t exactly your average diplomat…
So – General Mattis’ nickname is Warrior Monk, but his callsign is CHAOS. Again, for reasons diametrically opposed to what the name implies. It actually stands for Colonel Has An Outstanding Solution, from when he was a regimental commander at Marine Corps Base 29 Palms. NEVER “Mad Dog”, an insulting media concoction.
As my friends all know, sometimes…ok…a lot of the time, I “take the long way around the barn”. So, Kuiken, what’s your callsign?
It’s Mongoose. I didn’t pick it, and actually had no say in it…and unfortunately, it was used in combat while I served in the Gulf War, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Enduring Freedom…and even while I served in a civilian capacity (DHS Attaché / Country Director) in Iraq, so it is permanent.
Like a lot of young military guys, especially special operations types (I was in Marine Recon at the time), I was heavily into all forms of combat arts, especially marksmanship (long-range precision shooting) and martial arts.
I’d been in martial arts since my junior high-school days, and at the time, held black belts in Gogu-Ryu (1st Dan), Hapkido (1st Dan), and TaeKwon-Do (3rd Dan)…and I liked to compete – especially in full-contact “Karate” matches…the precursor of today’s “UFC” matches, without the grappling. One of my favorite things to do was to, when I had time off and the funds to afford it, go up to Los Angeles (I was stationed in Camp Pendleton), and fight in Ed Parker’s Long Beach International Karate Championships. I got to meet some of the real heavyweights in the martial arts scene there, and get my butt kicked on a regular basis. What fun!
My style, like most things in my life, was unconventional. I had the “soft” techniques and Japanese/Okinawan hands, coupled with the “hard” Korean blocking/breaking techniques and kicks, and some of the evasive and offensive Hapkido techniques. And I moved.
On one of my trips up there, four of my buddies from 1st Recon Battalion decided to make it a trip, and all came up with me to enjoy the tournament, and to watch me fight. My fights were generally unspectacular for a bit, but then normally ended very quickly. I even got a review in one of the newspapers covering the event, and the reporter was listing the fighters, and commenting on each of their fights. When he got to me, the review was pretty short. It went something like “And then there’s Kuiken. Mediocre at best…until you hit him…”.
I don’t know why I needed that little bit of motivation, but it seemed to work for me. It got me fired up – and I loved it!
After the fight we all went to a Denny’s for hamburgers (double meat with an egg on it, and a chocolate milkshake for me), and they were all talking non-stop over each other. Seems they really liked the fights, and one of them said “D@mn Kuiken! You’re so ‘freaking’ fast!” (yes, I cleaned that up a bit) “You’re like a mongoose, teasing the snake and dancing around, but when it strikes, just taking it out! He never even saw what hit him!”
And there it was. They got all excited over milkshakes…and tagged me with “Mongoose”.
So…what’s yer sign?