Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Pat Tillman - Still a hero

Here's the draft of the piece I worked up for this week's Sports Column. Lately, ideas have been sparse, but I thought this one turned out pretty well. See what you think.

Pat Tillman - Still a hero


On Monday -- Memorial Day -- I found myself thinking about the battered story of Cpl. Pat Tillman, the man who turned down a $3.6 million pro football contract to join the Army Rangers after Sept. 11, 2001, and eventually was killed by friendly fire on a dark mountainside in Afghanistan.

Public anger erupted when the true details of Tillman's death eventually surfaced in the Washington Post, and many accused the Pentagon of hijacking and obfuscating Tillman's story for its own ends; namely, to create a "recruiting poster boy" for the Army in an attempt to bolster sagging enlistment figures.

The truth of what happened to Tillman -- that he was killed due to a communications mishap that resulted in another squad firing on his position -- was kept from the public and from his family until well after the highly-publicized Silver Star memorial service held in his honor last May, and his parents are rightfully angry.

But in the midst of the public debate over government cover-ups and full disclosure, it seems to me that the core of Tillman's story has been forgotten.

The fact is, Tillman WAS a "recruiting poster boy" -- a real hero -- long before he died in tragic fratricide.

I never met Pat Tillman, so I don't know what he was like in person. I don't know him the way his friends and family did, and I never got a chance to learn about the particular mixture of flaws and virtues that made him a human being like everyone else.

But I've read enough about him to know that he was an exemplary man. A little background research shows that Tillman graduated Summa Cum Laude from Arizona State in three and a half years with a degree in marketing, a 3.84 grade-point average, and a spot in the 1998 NFL draft.

He played for the Arizona Cardinals, and stayed with the team even after being offered a more lucrative contract by St. Louis in 2001. Tillman apparently knew about loyalty long before he learned that it was one of the Army Values.

After witnessing on TV the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Tillman showed where his values lay. He and his brother Kevin, a minor-league baseball player at the time, joined the Army, determined to become members of the elite Rangers corps and to "make a difference."

While Tillman's April 22, 2004 death was a tragic accident, he didn't fail in that goal. He made a difference by demonstrating with his own life that there are higher ideals than money, celebrity, and success in professional sports.

I doubt Tillman needed an extensive interview with his recruiter, because he clearly wasn't joining the Army for the benefits. He didn't need to hear about SGLI, the G.I. Bill, student loan repayment, or other incentive programs.

He wanted to do more with his life, and he gave his life in the service of his country. He gave it freely, because he felt that doing so was a greater reward in itself than the millions of dollars he was promised as a professional athlete.

So on Memorial Day, I found it helpful to think about Pat Tillman's sacrifice, and to look at my own decisions and intentions in the light of his. Regardless of any spin put on his story after the fact, Tillman is and will continue to be a role model not only for Soldiers, but for American citizens.

And it bears remembering that it was his life -- not his death -- that made him a hero.


UPDATE: Once again, I leech the almighty Greyhawk's Open Post traffic.
UPDATE: Added the link to the article on Turret.com. Click the headline.

Army announces new Combat Action Badge design

ARNEWS has the story of the new Combat Action Badge design, which is set to go into production this summer:

Who qualifies? From the article:

[A]ny Soldier performing assigned duties in an area where hostile fire pay or imminent danger pay is authorized, who is personally present and actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy, and performing satisfactorily in accordance with the prescribed rules of engagement, according to its authorizing language. Award is not limited by one's branch or military occupational specialty.
This addresses the fact that soldiers other than infantry are actively engaged in combat in the asymmetric warfare model currently being used. Infantry have historically been eligible for the Combat Infantry Badge. I've heard the badge will be awarded retroactively to 2001.

However, it seems that Congress doesn't want any more women earning the award. Apparently, they've earned
too many Purple Hearts already.


UPDATE: "MilBlogs on Tee-Vee" at The Mudville Gazette.
UPDATE: "Senior Marine Officer - Operations New Market and Mongoose" at BlackFive.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

In the Lynyrd Skynyrd parking lot

I got home this morning around 1:30 a.m. after 13 hours of being on "Parking Detail." My face and neck were sunburned, my feet were sore, and I had lost even more faith in the human race.

Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special had come to Fort Knox, and they performed at the airfield on a huge stage that had been set up near the hangars. Over a week ago, I'd learned that I had been pegged for duty that day to help direct the flow of more than 6,000 vehicles on to and off of the airfield.

The first element was the "briefing" from Law Enforcement Command at 12:30 p.m. Tim and I showed up at the company ten minutes early, which is usually a good idea when it comes to formations, particularly with units you aren't normally affiliated with. As it turned out, that was for naught, since the briefing didn't get started until 1.

The MP master sergeant who was in charge of the whole works eventually broke us down into our individual areas of responsibility, and then told us what to expect.

"There are going to be people out there acting stupid," he said. "And there are going to be a lot of them. When it comes to drugs, if you smell something, find the person smoking or whatever and just tell them to put it out... but if someone's got a duffel bag or a 'Weed for Sale' stand set up, we're going to have to bust them."

We also learned that there would be people getting very drunk out there. Gates for parking opened at 3, but the early-comers were going to be herded into the back area of the staging area until 6, when the stage gates opened. That meant that there were three solid hours for Skynyrd fans to stand in the sun, drink beer, and get pissed off.

After the briefing, the concert detail - about 35 of us, total, including stage security, parking, and traffic control - piled into the MPs' "White Whale," a gutted Winnebago that is clearly not designed to hold 35 people.

We piled out at the airfield after a bumpy ride from LEC, and everyone on the parking detail was given a reflective vest with "POLICE" written in large block letters on the chest and back and a cheap flashlight with a six-inch pink plastic cone on the end, which everyone referred to as their "light saber."

I was given parking area 2, which was going to be filled after parking area 1, but would take overflow from 1 if it got heavy. All of the parking areas were landing pads and airstrips of varying sized scattered around Godman Airfield's 3.8 square miles of open land.

The sun was shining, but a stiff wind had kicked up across the airfield, which knocked over the plastic orange construction barrels set up to mark parking lanes. Another specialist and I spent an hour or so chasing them down and standing them back up before traffic started to trickle in at 3.

Once it hit, it was heavy. Around 5, cars, trucks, minivans, motorcycles, and SUVs were streaming constantly in through the choke point at the airfield's access gate, the only way into the venue for ticketholders. I went to the entrance to our area and directed the cars to the other two soldiers I was working with, who guided them into neat lanes.

After a couple hours, our lot was packed, as were lots 1 and 3, and the traffic control point at the entrance had to start sending drivers to newly-designated "overflow" lots - huge swaths on the airfields main two runways. I hopped on the back of a golf cart with the master sergeant who'd briefed us, and we headed up to the top of the main landing strip, and back down to the point where we were to set up new parking lanes.

Before long, we could watch as traffic headed exactly the way we'd come, then one by one down the runway toward us. I ran up to cut them off about 100 meters from the end, stopped the line, and sent each individually to one of the guards at the endpoint.

The music was about to start.



Thursday, May 26, 2005

Zarqawi shot in lung

An Iraqi official confirmed reports of al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi being shot in the lung:

Addressing reports that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda's Iraq operations, has been wounded, Iraq Interior Minister Bayan Jabor said, "Yes, it is true."
Courtesy of Take Back the News.

Could it be... are we... winning? Is it possible?

By the way, I couldn't help but think of Mark Wahlberg's character in Three Kings when I heard that Zarqawi had a lung wound. Remember how he needed to get that little vent inserted into his lung so it wouldn't collapse? Let's hope Old Uncle Z is out of those things.


Southern Rock + Brogonzo = Sad Brogonzo

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

It's one of these days.

Not much going on here at the office. I'm putting the story list together for next week's edition, but that's pretty pointless, since there's approximately one person here to give it to - namely, the Finch, who's going to be out of town for the entire holiday weekend.

On the other hand, Yours Truly is going to have loads of fun Saturday when Lynyrd Skynyrd, rock's greatest-known cover band, and 38 Special come to Fort Knox to... rock the Casbah? I doubt it. I've been roped into this concert detail, and will therefore be directing traffic in the parking lot all damn day.

Needless to say, I'm not exactly pleased. Oh well.

For now, I'll leave you to whatever it was you were up to before you showed up here and get back to work myself. Mahalo.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Civilians with rank?

Well, again, Wednesday has come, and as the sun goes down, the presses at the Elizabethtown News-Enterprise will be busily running another edition of the post newspaper off its rollers.

One issue that's become a bone of contention in the office is the ongoing military-to-civilian conversion going on. Here's a quick global breakdown of the idea:

Since, due to the ongoing war in Iraq, the demand for troops in troop-type slots is high, and recruiting numbers are less than inspiring, a program to replace garrison-type jobs once held by soldiers with Department of the Army civilians is in place across the Army.

Sensible, sure. Soldiers are trained and meant to do soldier-type jobs, which, if I can infer anything from the bucket of plastic green army men I had when I was a kid, usually involve carrying a rifle around.

However, practically speaking, it creates a few difficulties, since the process can't happen overnight. For our newspaper, that means gradually phasing out soldiers and replacing them - on a less-than one-to-one basis - with civilians.

In the newspaper business, these civilians are coming in at at least the grade of GS-7, which, I'm told, is "equivalent" to the rank of a second lieutenant in the military rank structure.

Perhaps you can see where the trouble is starting. There is a critical difference between a GS-7 and an O-1. See if you can guess what it is. Take your time, but show your work.

Ready? The difference is that a civilian, being a civilian, is not a soldier, and certainly not a lieutenant. Here at Fort Knox, we have - at least for the time being - the Armor School, where countless new lieutenants, fresh out of ROTC, OCS, and the Academy are studying to become tank platoon commanders. I see them at the shoppettes near the school whenever I go there to buy a fresh pack of Camels, and even though I know they know next to nothing about the Army, save for what they learned in the hallowed classrooms of West Point, I still render proper military courtesy to them, i.e., snapping to attention, rendering the hand salute, and giving the "greeting of the day," which, on Fort Knox, is "Good morning, sir."

For DA civilians, the system's slightly different. Suffice it to say, I've never been required to salute someone who doesn't have four pairs of BDUs hanging in his or her closet.

But someone's decided that there's a certain point in the civilian pay scale where civilians holding that pay grade take on the "rank" of an active-duty officer. How they arrived at that pay grade doesn't matter, but it should, since civilians can be hired at that level, including a couple of the ones who have started working in my office.

Working at a newspaper has never, to my knowledge, been a nine-to-five sort of gig, depending on your beat, and this creates problems as well. Since DA civilians cannot work more than 80 hours a week without incurring overtime, and since department heads are usually not allowed to authorize overtime - at least not for newspapers - that means that anything that happens after 1700 (5 p.m. for you non-military types) or on weekends is pretty much out of the question for civilians to cover.

Since we still have soldiers in the office, that doesn't mean the event isn't going to be covered.

What I'm getting at with this lengthy and self-indulgent rant is that the end result of replacing soldier newspaper staffers with civilian newspaper staffers is that the remaining soldiers get screwed, if I may use a technical term.

It's also a bit of a slap in the face to me, since to get this job, I not only earned a bachelor's degree in journalism, but also attended several months of additional Army training to qualify for my military occupational specialty - 46Q, Journalist. None of the civilians in the office I work in have a BA in journalism, and the associate editor I work for has about the closest thing - a BA in photojournalism. Not quite the same thing. Anyone who knows why the word is spelled "adviser" can tell you about that.

I'm not exactly sure what to do in this situation other than to suck it up and drive on. However, if any salty, long-termers have information, regulation numbers, or advice as to what to do in this situation, or if this business of civilians being treated like Army officers is bullshit or not, let me know. It's hurt the morale in the office, and I think the product - the newspaper - suffers for it.


And here's my shameless bid to get traffic from the Mudville Gazette. Open Post.

Independence Day is coming - Burn a flag!

Michelle Malkin's found a plan hatching at Indymedia. They're planning a national flag-burning day for July 4. In their words:

So on this Fourth of July we call on you to express your feelings on their "Independence Day" by burning a flag in a nationally coordinated action. Together we will show the elite that we are everywhere and that we completely reject the false principals (sic) this holiday is based on.
False "principals," huh? You mean independence from a colonialist empire? Freedom from international intervention? I thought Independence Day was right up their alley -- well, except for the fact that it's American.


Time for some new news

Good lord, what to talk about? We have such great choices -- judicial nominee filibusters, a stem cell research bill that's going to be vetoed, and Social Security reform. I'm uninspired.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sitemeter reports...

Wow. Based on the sitemeter results for my site, I made the right choice in switching to Blogger. Traffic - both in visits and site views - has spiked a lot. I'd encourage any serious tBloggers to make the move if you haven't done so already.


Military insignia

Need military unit insignia, clip art, or avatars? Check out The Patriotic Avatar & Document site. They've been kind enough to list me among their Military Blogs roundup, which is pretty extensive.

Here's my old unit patch, from the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea:


Update: The Mudville Gazette's latest Open Post.

Baseball, Tuesday, Al Franken writes a letter

Uhg. It's 10 a.m. and I'm exhausted. I was up covering the first round of the District 17 varsity baseball championships until about 11:30 last night (Knox dropped to Elizabethtown, 10-3, which is actually an improvement from the regular season).

I'm still tweaking the layout here, so bear with while I continue to settle in. The new Star Wars flick is continuing to generate headlines, and I continue to survive without having rushed out to go see it. There was a time in my life where I would have thought that going was very important, but now is definitely not that time.

What else, what else... ah yes. The judicial nominee filibuster business. I would have tried to treat this earlier, but the topic is so boring that my eyes cross whenever I think about it for more than three seconds, which basically precludes writing anything about it. The only way I've been able to get this paragraph out has been to keenly concentrate on the letterhead of the letter I received from Al Franken ("Dear person I haven't met...") asking me to contribute to Free Press.

Which I don't think I'm going to do. Not because of the fact I think Al Franken is an arrogant blowhard, and not because of the fact that I want Clear Channel to burn, but because I don't have a whole lot of extra cash floating around.

Anyway, I should get back to work. Hopefully the coffee will cut this fatigue down a bit.


Update: Check out the Mudville Gazette's "Zell Miller" post.

Monday, May 23, 2005


Hello and welcome to the new home of A Healthy Alternative to Work. This space was at one time used for Smokin' News, but I've decided to merge the two projects, and since Smokin' News was getting no attention whatsoever, I figured the best way to do this would be to just move the tBlog site over here.

It'll take a little while to get all the stuff here set up, but Haloscan comments are now back on, so feel free to make suggestions. Meanwhile, give me a couple days to make the move.

Thanks for reading!


Friday, May 20, 2005

The Middle East must be held accountable

I think the clearest thing that this Newsweek fiasco has put into perspective is that the anti-American sentiment in the Middle East is not founded on any sort of civilized basis. We're dealing with pure, unadulterated religious fanaticism.

Here's a ThisisLondon piece from earlier today. A quote:

Led by a man on a megaphone, they chanted, "USA watch your back, Osama is coming back" and "Kill, kill USA, kill, kill George Bush". A small detail of police watched as they shouted: "Bomb, bomb New York" and "George Bush, you will pay, with your blood, with your head."
Demonstrators in Grosvenor Square, some with their faces covered with scarves, waved placards which included the message: "Desecrate today and see another 9/11 tomorrow."

This is a demonstration protesting an event that didn't happen, let's not forget. But even if it had happened, the last phrase - "Desecrate today and see another 9/11 tomorrow" is telling.

Take a look at this piece by Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, titled "Why Islam is Disrespected."

It's strange that in the wake of 17 deaths resulting from riots that were supposedly sparked by this Newsweek piece that the most intense finger-pointing has been aimed at either the Bush administration or American journalism, and not toward the society that breeds the kind of hatred and psychosis that allows murder to happen when an unsavory paragraph is published in a foreign magazine.

Certainly, journalism's standards and practices need a good, hard examination, and it's a shame that the media's Old Guard has been so hesitant to take constructive criticism from any outside source. Trying to excuse Newsweek's gaffe by accusing the Bush administration of deceit is ludicrous on its face, not because of innocence on the part of the administration, but because journalism, as a political entity, has never supposed to have taken its cue - or been granted any kind of ultimate license - from either the goodness or badness of the government and society in which it operates.

But that isn't the point. What's happened is, as the editors of USA Today pointed out in one of the more insightful commentaries published on the issue, a systemic misunderstanding of the Arab world that is now prevalent in western society.What USA Today fails to point out, though, is that the Arab world must be held accountable for its culture.

A certain amount of respect for other cultures is, of course, necessary in any international relations. However, when social policy is driven by fanaticism, there is a failure much more systemic than the one America is experiencing.

As Jacoby points out in his Boston Globe piece, there have never, in recent history, been stories of Christians or Bhuddists rising up en masse, rioting and killing, over perceived "desecrations" to either sect's "Holy Books." There haven't been stories because such things simply do not happen.

On the other hand, because exactly the same thing has happened in the Middle East due to an alleged - and debunked - incident of desecration to the Koran, westerners are wringing their hands and pointing fingers, all the while wondering why we haven't been "sensitive" enough to the "Arab experience."

I don't want to beat this point to death - although that's probably literally what would happen to me if I were to give voice to this opinion in, say, Riyadh - but what needs to happen in the Middle East is a very fundamental change. We can talk about double standards, cultural norms, and the rest until we are blue in the face, but two facts remain: The Middle East, and its supporters, need to extricate themselves from the self-imposed Dark Age they are currently in; and if democracy and/or freedom is going to take root in Iraq or anywhere else in the countries that lie between Egypt and Pakistan, then they must take accountability for the ideology of hatred that is not only supported by the government, it's a packaged product they export.

And let's not forget that the protestors outside the U.S. embassy in London are calling for another 9/11 - another massacre of innocent civilians, despite what Ward Churchill might claim - over a "desecration" that didn't even happen.


Update: Head over to the Mudville Gazette's Open Post when you're through here.

Update: Michael Jericho has photos over at Odysseus.

Norman Mailer advertises the fact that he's cracked

We're back in the land of idiots again, and I'm going to have to point the finger this time at renowned novelist Norman Mailer, who is currently on the staff - such as it is - of the Huffington Post.

Mailer suggests that what's happened to Newsweek could be an example of "Intelligence 101A," a discreditation of a source by means of feeding them false information:

If you want to discredit a Dan Rather or a Newsweek crew, just feed them false information from a hitherto reliable source. You learn that in Intelligence 101A.
Norm, I'm sorry, but your 82-year-old brain (remember to use numerals, Norm, if the number is 10 or greater) may need a checkup. Mailer writes that this whole thing wound up being too neat and tidy for "one side" - the U.S. government's - to have been a coincidence, and that the entire thing stinks of conspiracy.But even he realizes his accusations are ridiculous, except perhaps as a sequel to Harlot's Ghost:
Obviously, I can offer no proof of any of the above. There still resides, however, under my aging novelist's pate a volunteer intelligence agent, sadly manque.
Well. When someone basically calls himself senile, there's not much left for me to do, I suppose. Is anyone, other than the kids over at The Nation, taking this seriously? Fictional tales - from a novelist, I might add - about "our agents in Pakistan" inciting riots to smear the reputation of an innocent news magazine that acted on intelligence received in good faith from a formerly-reliable source turned federal spy?

Come on, Norman! The only person this could possibly benefit is you, when you come up with the plot of your next anti-American paperweight.

But by all means, keep posting stuff like this up at Arianna's place. Between Norman Mailer and Al Franken, I think they've got a great team together there to punch holes in the hull of a ship that was doomed before she set sail.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Looking at the Newsweek fiasco

It's about damn time I got heavily into this Newsweek business, since I think I've got a couple valid points to bring up. I know the story has been done to death in the blogosphere, but I think this is a great opportunity to mention a couple glaring inconsistencies, point a couple fingers, and also rip on the Huffington Post to boot.

Let's look at the facts of the case so far. Newsweek publishes a story by Mike Isikoff alleging that U.S. troops had disgraced Muslim prisoners by flushing a copy of the Koran down a toilet.The story was met with outrage across the Muslim world, and 17 people were killed in the resultant riots.

After a rather awkward pause, Newsweek retracted the story, but remained under pressure from the White House (at least Scott McClellan) to go further than simply retract the article, suggesting that Newsweek run a piece detailing the rather extensive list of standards and practices the U.S. military has in place to ensure cultural sensitivity.

Okay. In addition to these facts, I think there are a few things we can agree on:

1) Newsweek was hasty and slipshod in rushing this piece to press without fact-checking. Isikoff's source is "unnamed," and whatever information he had should have been backed up by corroborating accounts from people willing to go on the record.

2) The story caused significant damage to the already shaky reputation of the U.S. government and military in the Middle East.

3) It's impossible to flush a Koran - or even a pocket-sized Gideon's Bible - down the toilet.

Here's what I've found in terms of the spectrum of reactions online:

1) The Newsweek-should-burn theory: Newsweek is directly responsible for the deaths of the 17 people killed in the riots that occurred after the article's publication.

2) The Why-the-hell-should-anyone-think-that-people-are-going-to-be-killed-over-a-Newsweek-story theory: Newsweek may indeed have rushed their story to publication, but how were they supposed to know that the reaction would be death and mayhem?

3) The Newsweek-may-be-bad-but-Bush-is-worse theory: 17 deaths based on false information is much "less bad" than the thousands who have died due to the president's decision to go to war in Iraq in the first place.

The third view is laughable, and it's the one being trumpeted by Arianna Huffington and her super-celeb-blog-friends at the Huffington Post. Let's get something straight here. Whatever your position on the White House's policies is, there is no instance in which the government's actions serve as an excuse for lesser wrongdoing by the press.

Here's how it works. We elect slimy cash-whores to represent us at the state and federal levels, mostly because we only have the choice between one or more slimy cash-whores. They tend to be the only ones willing to do it. We know they're willing to sell each and every one of us out if the worm turns, and it's the press' job to let us know when that's happening, or when the slimy cash-whores become slimier, greedier, or sluttier.

The first perspective is tempting, but even if Newsweek slandered the United States intentionally, I don't know if they could have predicted the actual reaction from the radical Muslim world.

So there's the second perspective, which basically blames the Middle East for overreacting to something that clearly isn't worth killing anyone over. I like that idea, because we tend to get away from the idea that there is a certain level of psychosis required to saw someone's head off on a video camera, or to fly airliners full of people into skyscrapers full of people, and there seems to be plenty to go around.

But the press ought to have a better sensitivity to what they're doing, as explained by Wretchard inthis post at The Belmont Club.

Times have changed, Wretchard says, and as the military has had to alter their understanding of the acceptability of "collateral damage," so too should the press.