26 February 2015

History & Statistics of the Vietnam War: Part IV of VI

In Southeast Asia, the United States government used the domino theory to justify its support of a non-communist regime in South Vietnam against the communist government of North Vietnam, and ultimately its increasing involvement in the long-running Vietnam War (1954-75).

Myth: The domino theory proved false. 

The domino theory was accurate. The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand stayed free of Communism because of the U.S. commitment to Vietnam. The Indonesians threw the Soviets out in 1966 because of America’s commitment in Vietnam. Without that commitment, Communism would have swept all the way to the Malacca Straits that is south of Singapore and of great strategic importance to the free world. If you ask people who live in these countries that won the war in Vietnam, they have a different opinion from the American news media. The Vietnam War was the turning point for Communism. [Westmoreland]

Democracy Catching On – In the wake of the Cold War, democracies are flourishing, with 179 of the world’s 192 sovereign states (93%) now electing their legislators, according to the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union. In the last decade, 69 nations have held multi-party elections for the first time in their histories. Three of the five newest democracies are former Soviet republics: Belarus (where elections were first held in November 1995), Armenia (July 1995) and Kyrgyzstan (February 1995). Two are in Africa: Tanzania (October 1995) and Guinea (June 1995). [Parade Magazine]

Myth: The fighting in Vietnam was not as intense as in World War II. 

The average infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year thanks to the mobility of the helicopter. One out of every 10 Americans who served in Vietnam was a casualty. 58,169 were killed and 304,000 wounded out of 2.59 million who served.

Although the percent who died is similar to other wars, amputations or crippling wounds were 300 percent higher than in World War II. 75,000 Vietnam veterans are severely disabled. [McCaffrey] MEDEVAC helicopters flew nearly 500,000 missions. Over 900,000 patients were airlifted (nearly half were American). The average time lapse between wounding to hospitalization was less than one hour. As a result, less than one percent of all Americans wounded who survived the first 24 hours died. [VHPA 1993]

The helicopter provided unprecedented mobility. Without the helicopter it would have taken three times as many troops to secure the 800 mile border with Cambodia and Laos (the politicians thought the Geneva Conventions of 1954 and the Geneva Accords or 1962 would secure the border) [Westmoreland]

More helicopter facts: Approximately 12,000 helicopters saw action in Vietnam (all services). [VHPA databases] Army UH-1’s totaled 9,713,762 flight hours in Vietnam between October 1966 and the end of American involvement in early 1973. [VHPA databases] Army AH-1G’s totaled 1,110,716 flight hours in Vietnam. [VHPA databases] 

The Huey is believe to be along with the Huey Cobra having more combat flight time than any other aircraft in the history of warfare assuming you count actual hostile fire exposure versus battle area exposure.  As an example, heavy bombers during World War II most often flew missions lasting many hours with only 10 to 20 minutes of that time exposed to hostile fire.  Helicopters in Vietnam seldom flew above 1,500 feet, which is traffic pattern altitude for bombers. In addition, the helicopters were always exposed to hostile fire in their base camps.

Take a look at Part I, Part II, and Part III of the series.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

25 February 2015

Preparing for Retirement

I retired on 1 Sep 2014.  In the two years that led up to that date, I found that there were many things that I had neglected to prepare for, and yet, I also found several communities that provided much needed support so that my transition was not as bad as it could have been.  My retirement could have been better, and I could always have been better prepared, but I know now, that no amount of preparation will lead to a flawless retirement.

Retirement for any military member is a scary, frustrating, and yet exhilarating process.  

We are scared because we are basically taking 20+ years (26+ in my case) and throwing it away.  Everything we've done, all the junior Service men and women we've helped, mentored, chastised, and even disciplined or punished, all the training, the sweating, the bleeding, and the hurting - done.  No more stress about a Soldier who screwed up and failed a drug test.  No more worrying about the safety of your new guys on the range.  No more long hours spent in the shop, trying to accomplish a task or mission.

Your skills are no longer needed - and in fact, they probably don't even apply to what you'll need to do for your civilian life.  Even if those skills do apply, you won't be using them in the same capacity.  Then you can't find a job.  You can't translate your military skills or terminology into civilian lingo.  Lastly, you're planning, saving, hoping you'll have enough money to make it six months without a job if it comes to that.

Retirement is frustrating because there is so much, too much that needs to be done before you retire.  There's training, ACAP, research, job search, resume preparation, looking for a home where you plan to live (if you don't already have one) post-retirement - the list is endless.

Then you start your out-processing.  You have to clear CIF.  You have to clear your unit.  Your unit won't let you clear until you turn in your "special ops" gear (my situation) and get a memo saying you've done so.  You have to clear your hand receipts.  You can't clear post until you've cleared the unit.  All this needs to be done before you hit terminal leave.  It never seems to end.

You have to go to the VA.  You have to decide: Do you file a disability claim?  What can you expect?  How does this all tie in? The VA rep won't help you.  They don't care.  They make you print close to 1000 pages of medical records - single sided, and turn them in.  They spend weeks reviewing them.   Then, there are the seemingly endless physical and medical appointments. After that's all done, you're told it'll take six to twelve months before your claim is approved. 

Finally, it's exhilarating.  Friends wish you well.  You look forward to not having to get up at 5:30 AM to go run PT.  You don't have to worry about mission anymore. Your mission is to finish getting ready for retirement.  Usually, the commander leaves you alone - he doesn't want to see you. After all, you're a senior guy (gal) and should know what you need to do - go do it.

The last thing I learned about retirement:  You can't prepare for it - at least, not completely.  You try to, and you do everything you can, but still there are things that slip through the cracks.  Just do the best you can.

You want my advice?  Here are a few thoughts: 

On pay:  When you get ready to retire - make sure you understand how much your pay will change.  Start saving at least a year out. You need to have at least six months of your current total pays, including BAH, BAS, and any other compensations that you've been relying on for living your daily life.  Remember, 50% of your base pay is actually only about 35% of your total pays, so don't come crying to me.

On VA Disability:  If you're going to file a VA compensation claim, start documenting all medical issues at least three or four years out, if you haven't been already. Research your problems at the VA's website.  Get a realistic view there of what you can expect for disability compensation.  Be prepared to wait up to a year for it to kick in.

On Skills and Education:  Start translating military skills into civilian skills. Take courses that will help you find a job - even if you don't plan on using them. If you don't have at least a bachelors degree, get one before you retire or use your GI Bill to get it immediately afterwards.  No, a degree isn't everything - you don't need it for a job, even for a good job, but if you have a degree, your annual pay at that new job will be at least a few grand more, and a degree does make it easier to get that job!

On Resumes:  Make a master resume with everything, and then prune it down into "job specific" resumes for each job you apply for. Have someone, preferably several people, look at your resumes and hack them to pieces. Also, get at least one or two agencies to review it - there are several that will do a free review for vets.  Don't forget to include your volunteer experience as well! If you have a security clearance, make sure you list it on the first line of your resume!

On the Job Search:  Submit a resume specifically tailored to the job you are applying for.  If you apply for a different job, submit another resume tailored to that specific job.  If you are turned down for the position, see if you can get feedback on why.  Review your resume, and see if there's something that maybe triggered a negative response.  Don't quit! Keep searching, even if you get turned down several times.  Use any of the job search agencies that you think can help.  I listed my resume on ClearanceJobs.com, Monster.com, USAJobs.com, and about two or three other sites.  I also used the “Wounded Warrior Projects Warriors to Work” specialist.  She's the one who helped me get the job I have now. The VFW, American Legion, and many other organizations have free job placement and resume review services.  Use them!

Those are just a few things you need to do, and while I can't list everything, these are definitely the most important! 

Oh, there is one other thing:  Enjoy retirement!

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

23 February 2015

Remember to appreciate your military spouses

I’ve been in the Army for 24 years.  For some of it, I have been married and for some of it, I haven’t been married.  One thing I did have constantly while serving was someone else who was serving with me - be it a spouse or a family member or both.  Without starting a big active duty vs. reserve component fight, I will say that being a reservist has unique challenges that active duty does not.  Active duty personnel have a set schedule in garrison, while reservists tend to have to do much of their work in evenings and weekends - prime family time.  It’s time they want to spend with you, but instead it turns into time you’ll spend away from them.  Thank them for this, and thank them often.  It’s a strain on them.

I was married to my late wife for ten years.  I met her in the Army, and we served together for a bit before she left the service herself.  For three of those ten years, I was on active duty.  For the rest of it, I was actively drilling in the reserve component.  There were many weddings, birthdays, cookouts and parties she had to attend by herself.  She was strong when I was gone, and she knew the procedure.  If she wanted to go on a trip or vacation together, she would first need to consult my schedule.  I couldn’t make the trip while I had annual training or monthly battle assembly.  And then, even if we could get away, there was a possibility that I could get a call and have to respond to a situation.  She sometimes would make it a point to tell me how this would make her unhappy.  There were other times that she would tell me how proud of me she was that I was able to attain what I had and that my job, while inconvenient, was very important to the country.  

After my wife passed, I served alone for a while.  I had regrets.  One thing I was sure of was that she served just as honorably as I did, even though she was not on active duty.  She stood by my side at unit functions as the First Sergeant’s wife, and later as the Sergeant Major’s wife.  She managed the house when I was off on whatever adventure the Army decided to send me on.  She kept crises from me when I was not in the position to help so that I wouldn’t feel bad I wouldn’t be able to head home to take care of things.  She was my hero.  If you have a spouse like this, make sure you hug them, and thank them.  They contribute to your successes.

I recently had my company organizational day.  We had the token Disney characters there, and Santa was also there to greet the families.  We had the pleasure of a distinguished visitor who talked to the soldiers and families.  My new wife and children were in attendance.  I, however, had to split my time between Battalion business and making sure my family was taken care of. Though I do have guilt about not being with them as much as I should, my wife told me she understood and the kids had a great time getting presents and meeting a princess, and for that I thank her.

What things do you do to thank your significant other for letting you serve?  How do you make it up to your family?

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20 February 2015

The Greatest POW Escapes

Prisoners of war are those captured and held in custody from a belligerent power during or after an armed conflict. The United States has had over 130k POWs since the beginning of WWII. Many times, POWs are rendered helpless and are never recovered. But, sometimes they are able to break free from those who hold them captive - here are some of the most unbelievable POW escapes of all time. 

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19 February 2015

History & Statistics of the Vietnam War: Part III of VI

“Images of the U.S led massacre at My Lai dominated the television, yet the daily atrocities committed by North Vietnam and the Viet Cong rarely made the evening news. The Vietnam War, exacerbated by the anti-war movement at home, gained increasing media attention. The Vietnam U.S. warriors were forgotten when they needed the support from home the most.

The Vietnam media war coverage, and its resulting impact on public opinion, has been debated for decades by many intelligent scholars and journalists, yet they are not the most qualified individuals to do so: the veterans are. 

Journalists based in Saigon daily reported facts about battles, casualties, and the morale of the troops, yet only a soldier could grasp the true reality of war. Veterans understand what really occurred in the jungles of Vietnam, and only they can compare the truth to what was portrayed on television. Furthermore, their homecoming stories most accurately reveal how the American public has cruelly mistreated the Vietnam veteran.” [Erin McLaughlin]

Myth: The media have reported that suicides among Vietnam veterans range from 50,000 to 100,000 – 6 to 11 times the non-Vietnam veteran population.

Mortality studies show that 9,000 is a better estimate. “The CDC Vietnam Experience Study Mortality Assessment showed that during the first 5 years after discharge, deaths from suicide were 1.7 times more likely among Vietnam veterans than non-Vietnam veterans. After that initial post-service period, Vietnam veterans were no more likely to die from suicide than non-Vietnam veterans.” [Houk]

The research numbers on this topic did not agree with earlier research. Various Veteran Healthcare Hospitals, academics, and the DOD participated in the completion of the studies. The numbers are sometimes 100% out of phase with reality. The standard for this research was supposed to be that conducted by the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS) that ordered by congress in 1983.

As a matter of full disclosure, I have not conducted a comprehensive statistical study, and I can only offer an “opinion based on personal observation and a small statistical sample”.

When the warriors returned from Vietnam, PTSD did not exist as it is known today. This was because associated stereotypes such as shell shock, and other non-flattering names were seen as shame full by the warrior. The veteran typically buried the disturbing events deep into the recesses of their minds, but not deep enough that it did not peek its ugly head to disrupt their life. This included conflict within the family, depression, substance crutches, and the inability to deal with the persecution from the civilian population for serving in the Vietnam War.  The latter was a huge catalyst that exacerbated the gyrations of the mind when returning from a combat environment. 

Today we are seeing PTSD from the Vietnam veterans that were quasi successful in dealing with the problem by way of avoidance through activity. Pouring themselves into work and other activities that kept their mind busy, and that successfully allowed them to have a normal life leaving most of their strife hidden while they remained active. Suddenly retirement is in effect, they physically have slowed down and those memories begin to emerge to their detriment. Typically the veteran does not recognize what is happening and it is usually their support mechanism that sees it first, if they have one, if not they have a higher rate statistically of detrimental problems that can lead to an ultimate disaster.

Take a look at Part I and Part II of the series.

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18 February 2015

When do you fire someone?

At a job in Bahrain, my office had a civilian computer administrator (let's call her "Jane") who was just awful. Not only was Jane bad at her job, but she also treated the enlisted Sailors like dirt and regularly slacked off on the job.  I had always been told that you could never fire civilian employees, and apparently Jane's last few supervisors believed that. But in 2008 a new boss came in and, within 6 months, Jane was gone.

Despite popular belief, you don't have to live with poor performers in the government. So how do you get rid of them? After the computer administrator was fired, I asked my boss how and why he did it. He told me that while he didn't enjoy firing anyone, he had considered a few points first:

- THE EFFECT ON THE TEAM: Jane had become caustic to everyone around her. She regularly berated enlisted personnel and was openly hostile to officers. She was dragging down our team's overall performance.

- JOB PERFORMANCE: My boss admitted that he gave people with good performance a bit of slack on the rules, but when he honestly looked at Jane's performance, it wasn't anywhere close to where it should have been. He also realized that Jane used the scare tactic of "no one can do my job", while my boss was smart enough to realize this wasn't true.
After those considerations, my boss set out to either change Jane's behavior or remove her. He went through the following steps: 

- WRITTEN COUNSELING: My boss started counseling Jane every time she broke the rules. He wrote down every counseling session, explaining what Jane did wrong and what my boss expected of her in the future. It took him about 20 minutes to type up the counseling and 10 minutes to deliver it. The counseling sessions ensured that Jane knew she was screwing up and knew what she needed to change.

- PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Everyone gets an annual review, and for DoD civilians this is typically done in October. Jane refused to change her ways and continued verbally abusive behavior, so my boss graded her down on her review. On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), he gave her a '1' in communications and a '2' in two other areas. Jane responded by submitting a statement, which in the end had no effect on my boss’s career. Jane's bad performance review did remove her from receiving a $10,000 bonus. 

- INVOLVE HR: After Jane lost her bonus, she was offered a chance to leave, which she declined. My boss’s last step was to tell human resources (in our case, the N1) to hire someone else for the job and remove Jane. HR asked for documentation, and my boss gladly handed over copies of counseling sessions and her performance review. Jane's spot was filled in a month and she was on a one-way ticket to the United States.

Was the pain worth it? I think so. We became a more productive team and hired a computer administrator with better skills than Jane, despite Jane's insistence that she was "indispensable." The Sailors weren't subjected to her verbal abuse every day. Perhaps most importantly, other divisions took notice and their slackers began to shape up.

Have you ever dealt with a bad service member or employee that should have been fired? Did you have a boss that stood up and did the right thing by removing that person?

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16 February 2015

How do you properly train your soldiers?

Respect doesn't come from treating your soldiers kindly. It comes from your ability to lead by example. It comes from your competency at your job. It comes from getting your hands dirty because no matter what rank you are, participative leadership is your primary leadership style. It comes from placing the needs of your soldiers above your own. Being kind and not enforcing standards is selfish. Often, the need to be liked or to be the cool NCO/officer, is put before their soldier's need to survive. I would rather my soldiers respect me than like me. I want mine to say what a soldier said to CSM (Ret) Purdy when he left 1st Ranger BN, which was, "Sergeant Purdy, I hated to hear you come in in the morning, and sometimes I just flat hated you, but I would follow you to hell with gasoline drawers on.” Iron discipline and realistic training is what makes a soldier. Enforcers of iron discipline are what true soldiers want their leaders to be.

A true leader understands the ways of warfare. He understands the fact that there are always going to be people in uniform - officers, NCOs, and privates alike - who are going to be lazy. They are going to blow off training and they will cut corners. The true leader knows these are the people that will facilitate his ability to win the battle and bring his people home. A Greek philosopher named Heraclitus illustrates this point best. He said, “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.” There is also a great example of this ideology on warfare in the Bible. It is the story of Gideon's Army of 300. If you don't know this story and you are a combat leader, then you I suggest you read it. It can be found in the Old Testament Book of Judges, chapter 7:1 - 8:21.

A professional leader in the military understands that our job is the profession of death. It is either the enemies' death or ours, but the job is death. Everything we do, no matter what job we hold, is ultimately to destroy the enemies of our country. With stakes that high, I truly do not understand why any leader would want to do anything other then train; and not only train, but live it, totally immerse yourself into it. Some people call these soldiers "lifers" and they mean for this to be a derogatory term. The irony is that, if not being competent at your job means your death, then I am very proud to be called a LIFE-r. Survival on the battlefield takes dedication and hard work.

So now I must ask you, are you a “lifer” or are you a “target”?

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13 February 2015

The 3 Most Incredible US Sniper Shots

The entire nation is talking about “American Sniper” author, Chris Kyle, and his legendary sniper shot from 2,100 yards. It’s time for you to learn about some more incredible snipers! Do you have any amazing sniper stories that you’ve heard along the way?

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12 February 2015

History & Statistics of the Vietnam War: Part II of VI

It has not gone without notice that in the movies, and on television, the Vietnam veteran is not portrayed as a brave soldier - rather, he is a violent psychopath who continuously experiences flashbacks of the war. Many Vietnam veterans feel that uncensored and overly negative television coverage helped turn the American public against the war and against the veterans themselves.

Myth: A disproportionate number of blacks were killed in the Vietnam War.

86% of the men who died in Vietnam were Caucasians, 12.5% were black, 1.2% were other races. (CACF and Westmoreland)

Sociologists Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, in their recently published book “All That We Can Be,” said they analyzed the claim that, ‘blacks were used like cannon fodder during Vietnam”, and can report definitely that this charge is untrue. Black fatalities amounted to 12 percent of all Americans killed in Southeast Asia – a figure proportional to the number of blacks in the U.S. population at the time and slightly lower than the proportion of blacks in the Army at the close of the war.” 

Myth: The war was fought largely by the poor and uneducated.

Service men who went to Vietnam from well-to-do areas had a slightly elevated risk of dying because they were more likely to be pilots or infantry officers.

Vietnam Veterans were the best-educated forces our nation had ever sent into combat. 79% had a high school education or better. [McCaffrey]

Here are statistics from the Combat Area Casualty File (CACF) as of November 1993. The CACF is the basis for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall):

Average age of 58,148 killed in Vietnam was 23.11 years. (Although 58,169 names are in the Nov. 93 database, only 58,148 have both event date and birth date. Event date is used instead of declared dead date for some of those who were listed as missing in action) [CACF]

Vietnam Death Stats Vietnam War History and Statistics

The youngest man killed in Vietnam was 16 years old (RABER, PAUL J.)  [CACF]
The oldest man killed was 62 years old (TAYLOR, KENNA CLYDE). [CACF]
11,465 KIA’s were less than 20 years old. [CACF]

Myth: The average age of an infantryman fighting in Vietnam was 19.  

Assuming KIA’s accurately represented age groups serving in Vietnam, the average age of an infantryman (MOS 11B) serving in Vietnam being 19 years old is a myth, it is actually 22. None of the enlisted grades have an average age of less than 20. [CACF] The average man who fought in World War II was 26 years of age. [Westmoreland]

In Part III - We’ll look at how the media covered the war, and how it affected the image of the Vietnam veteran.

What was your understanding of the average age of the Vietnam Warrior?
1. 17-18
2. 19-20
3. 21-22
4. 23-24
5. Above 25

Take a look at Part I of the series.

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11 February 2015

Can we say with confidence that “Only President Obama could go to Cuba”?

There's a political proverb stating, “Only Nixon would go to China”, meaning “only a politician or leader with an impeccable reputation of upholding particular political values could do an action in seeming defiance of them without jeopardizing his support or credibility”. (Wikipedia)

President Nixon was a hardliner when it came to dealing with the communists. No one would suspect him of coddling them by visiting China and opening formal relations, but he did. Even those who did not suspect that Nixon's intent was to leverage the Chinese against the Soviets never questioned his motives. They trusted him to be tough with communism, regardless of appearances.

Yes, you know where I'm going with this, don't you? Do we trust President Obama's motives in opening formal relations with Cuba? Can we say with equal confidence that “Only Obama could go to Cuba?”

Did President Obama jeopardize his support or credibility by defying his political values? Of course, to answer that question, we must first identify what his political values are.

President Obama is, if nothing else, consistent. He has given great latitude to other despotic regimes during his tenure in the White House. The Arab states have been especial beneficiaries of his acts of appeasement and forbearance. Only Israel has felt the sting of the President's displeasure during these past six years.

Now Castro is vindicated. Despite the constant litany of human rights violations, he has won his battle with the United States. President Obama blinked. 

Strangely, as I researched Cuba and Castro prior to writing my first novel, Rebels on the Mountain, I found Fidel to be a heroic character. (Anyone interested can see summaries of my research in a series of blog postings at http://www.jackdurish.com/4/category/cuba/1.html) It was only after he drove Batista from the island nation and rose to power that he morphed into a tyrant. Ultimately, I appended a final chapter, a postscript to my novel, wherein one of the principal characters returns to Cuba to witness the ravages of his rule. Otherwise, readers might be left with a false impression that I admired Castro.

In 1953, Fidel Castro was on trial for leading an attack on the Cuban Army barracks at Moncada. He made a four hour speech in his defense and concluded that while the court might convict him, “history will absolve me.” Is President Obama speaking for history, for all of us, or just himself?

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