Thursday, April 12, 2007

Paintballing with the Cav

There's a new batch of photos up on my Flickr page for all to see and revel in.

Fort Knox's 16th Cavalry Regiment was holding a Spur Ride this morning, and my assignment was to go take pictures of whatever it was they were doing. I had a training schedule, a camera, and a notebook, plus the name of the range the troopers were training on.

A call to the Regiment's S-3 shop got me directions to the range. It was out beyond Knox's infamous old marching hills, Misery and Agony, which in days past were used to put basic training privates through ruckmarch hell.

When I got to the range, a staff sergeant in a Cavalry Stetson approached me.

"What's up?"

"I'm with the Turret," I said.

"Ah, okay... you'll need a helmet and a mask."

A Spur Ride is a Cavalry tradition in which new troopers (Cavalry-ese for "soldier") endure two days of gruelling training in order to earn the right to wear spurs. While Cav soldiers these days don't normally ride horses in the line of duty, they're still attached to some of the accoutrements of the Custer-era Cavalry -- the black Stetson and shiny spurs.
Today, the Spur Riders had to make their way through several training events, including an advance up a simulated alley to search for a weapons cache (which everyone in the Army insists on pronouncing "Cashay"). The range lane was nicknamed "Hogan's Alley" -- a narrow roadway between two rows of building fronts. The alley was littered with empty barrels, wooden pallets, and a blown-out pickup truck.

Range cadre had also set up a series of pop-up targets and traps along the course. Pyrotechnic IEDs would explode, covering anyone nearby with a layer of red chalk, for example.

As a captain showed me the way up to a perch at the far end of the alley, we found another trap -- a paintball gun set up in a narrow alleyway and rigged to a motion sensor. We had to cross in front of the sensor to get to the stairs I needed to climb to reach my second-story photographer's perch, which happened to be next to a very loud .50 caliber machine gun simulator.

"Don't worry, everything's off," the captain said.

Not quite confident, I held back as he crossed in front of the sensor. As soon as he was across, the paintball cannon whirred to life and spat about 10 rounds across the alley at about knee level. The paintballs splattered on the opposite doorway, covering it with red goop.

The captain looked back at me.
"Well, I thought they were off," he said.

I looked at him but didn't say anything, then moved through the motion sensor's path as quickly as I could. After he showed me where to set up, he assured me he'd brief the squad coming onto the range not to fire on my particular window. I said I'd definitely appreciate that.

Once I was in position, I realized I was basically at the far end of a shooting range, and that I'd look a lot like a sniper peering out of the left side window with my 200-mm lens. This thought was reinforced as the first squad turned the corner into the alley and the pointman's paintball rifle immediately zeroed on my face.

"DO NOT SHOOT THAT PHOTOGRAPHER!" boomed one of the cadre.

"Thanks," I said to no one in particular.

Still, the troopers couldn't help but aim at me when they saw me moving, and I couldn't help but duck a bit when they did.

Another captain yelled at me from behind the buildings.

"Hey, photographer," he said.
"Yes, sir?"
"Try not to look like a target, okay? Don't duck in and out of the window."
"I'll try not to, sir," I said.

He also advised me to keep my camera in front of my face. Given the choice between taking a blue paintball to the grill and having to explain how an $1,100 camera lens got covered in goo, I wasn't exactly sure what my preference was.

After clearing two buildings on one side of the street, the advancing team ran into an unforseen problem. The truck in the middle of the street was rigged with a simulated IED, and they didn't notice it until it blew up.




The cadre assessed a few casualties.

The .50 cal next to me would periodically let loose with a volley of very loud reports, and the squad below would return fire in its (and my) direction. I didn't get hit, but I did feel the splatter of exploding blue paintballs hit my hands and camera every so often.

Eventually, the team made it through the lane and found the weapons cache, behind the door that had previously been splattered with automatic red paintball goop.


Anyway, that's it for now. Check out the photos and leave some love if you feel like it. It's nice getting out of the office and seeing some real Army stuff going on now and again. With just four months left on my contract, I'm going to try to get as much of this in as possible.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Love letter to a pig

Henry Rollins -- formerly of Black Flag and the Rollins Band -- is now a political activist with his own TV show. Apparently, the guy with the biggest traps in punk rock feels like he should encourage Ann Coulter to make a major career move. He seems to have more hope for Coulter than I do, so he wrote her this love letter.



Sunday, April 01, 2007

Quick notes on the current goings-on

Tommy, can you hear me?

Probably not... the few people who used to drop by this space have most likely long-since abandoned it due to my own lack of interest in it. I'm not sure what the real reason is for my dropping blogging as a regular hobby, but whatever it is, I've been out of the habit.

At any rate, things have continued to happen, both in my life and in the world at large.

I got this email the other day from the organizer of a "pro-troop/pro-war" group:

A great read on the Senate's despicable vote to undercut our troops in Iraq.

From Melanie Morgan at

P.S. For those of you who don't know, Melanie Morgan is Chairman of Move America Forward, the nation's largest grass-roots, pro-troop organization. Learn more about Move America Forward at:
The link is to Ms. Morgan's article on the recent Senate approval of a war budget that would require U.S. troops to be pulled out of Iraq in a little more than a year. It was a mass-email, but I wrote back anyway after reading Morgan's boilerplate, toe-the-line article:

This isn't a good read, and I think it's pretty intellectually dishonest. It's certainly not unique in that dishonesty, but it serves as a pretty good example of the overwhelming sentiment among the few Americans who remain "pro-war."

Melanie Morgan's argument -- that Senate Democrats ("and two despicable Republicans") have "blood on their hands" for "knifing" our troops in the back by adding language to the war budget that would require a timetable for withdrawl -- depends on some serious assumptions:

1) That the military's mission in Iraq is worthwhile because we are fighting terrorists there who would otherwise be attacking American targets elsewhere in the world;

2) that the U.S. military can work toward some kind of "winning" status in Iraq, provided sufficient time and money; and

3) that the President of the United States (who she constantly refers to as "the commander-in-chief") should have unchecked power to prosecute war as he sees fit.

At the same time, she ignores several important issues that should be taken into consideration before arguing for the war, for unrestrained presidential power, or against a reasonable timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

First, it is the president who has threatened to veto any measure passed by Congress or the Senate that involves a timetable. That kind of bullying is not only undemocratic, it also necessarily involves pushing the military's budget back for at least a matter of weeks, if not months. It is the president who has obstinately insisted on keeping U.S. troops in harm's way, and it is because of this war that the number of Americans killed on Sept. 11, 2001, has more than doubled (more than 3,200 U.S. service members have died in Iraq and Afghanistan). If there is going to be talk of "blood" being on someone's hands, the president deserves at least an equal share of the blame.

Second, it was the White House and the Republican party that so thoroughly screwed up the first six years of Bush's presidency that Americans voted to put Democrats into the majority in both the House and Senate. No one could have made any mistake about what the DNC wanted to accomplish if given control -- an end to this war, which has now gone on longer than America's involvement in World War II, was high among their list of priorities. Should Republicans (and the White House) have acted with more credibility while they had the opportunity, then perhaps voters would have kept them around.

Third, the United States is built on a system of checks and balances, which is designed to preserve the very freedoms we're supposedly "exporting" to the very country we're currently engaged in. Despite American citizens' seeming disinterest in civil liberties, it is those freedoms that have made the U.S. the free country we're so proud of. Suggesting that citizens and politicians who don't toe the Administration line are "treasonous," "anti-American," or "supporters of terror" is not only stupid, but also, by definition, "anti-American."

These checks and balances serve also to keep each branch of government accountable. A recent study of the Defense Department's budget by the Government Accountability Office found that not even top DoD officials could properly account for their budgets. After the scandal that erupted last month at Walter Reed, it seems clear that the Pentagon is not exactly a sound steward of the tax money awarded to the military.

Before I get written off as some "liberal whack-o," I'd like to point out that I am an enlisted, active-duty soldier who's served this country for almost five years. I didn't sign up for college money; I already had a bachelor's degree when I joined. I did it because I believe strongly in American principles -- the ones spelled out in America's foundational documents, including The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, the works of John Locke, the Federalist Papers, and the Constitution.

In the Army, I've worked as a "public affairs specialist," which basically has meant I've written for various Army newspapers. It's been an opportunity to speak with some of the people who've been directly involved in America's role in Iraq.

A couple weeks ago, I spoke with a lieutenant colonel who was in charge of an advisory team from First Army's 4th Cavalry Brigade who were assigned to help Iraq's 2nd National Police Division become self-sufficient. He had just returned from a year deployment. The colonel made what I think is an important distinction.

"Our job isn't to make Iraq a safe place," he told me. "Our job is to give the Iraqi government the opportunity to make Iraq a safe place."

He said that he felt he and his men had indeed accomplished that mission, but whether Iraq will take advantage of their efforts remains to be seen.

Bush's commitment to denying the "terrorists" (mostly rival Sunni and Shiite militias, who are simply vying for control of the region, which remains a "country" in name only) is also allowing the Iraq government to avoid taking responsibility or control of their own land. Nursing infants must eventually be weaned from the breast, and so too must the Iraqi government. It is futile to indicate to this new government that America's support is unconditional, because they will continue to rely on it for as long as they possibly can.

The talk here at home seems to center around name-calling and patriotism competitions. It's puerile and unseemly, I think, for people who supposedly love their country so much to take for granted the system whereby they've been granted a heretofore unimagined level of freedom.

Support the troops by giving them some kind of light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to. Iraq is beyond the point of "winning" or "losing;" it's a country struggling to redefine itself and get off the ground. Even the United States needed a Civil War to forge it into what it is today.

In the meantime, the blood of American troops is on the hands of those who refuse to give them an end to look forward to.

Very respectfully,

Spc. Ian Boudreau
U.S. Army
Fort Knox, KY
So, that's that.

The other day, I was listening to AM talk radio, which is a great place to go to find out what people who love war are talking about.

In this instance, Mr. Mike Gallagher was talking with a caller about the Marine Corps' tattoo policy. The two decided that since Marines and soldiers are working "in a dictatorship serving a democracy," that the freedom of expression granted to normal citizens didn't apply. Therefore, it was important that the military be able to maintain standards on tattoos. You don't get freedom of expression in the military, and that's the way it's supposed to work, they said.

The caller then went on to say that the "dad-gum" Democrats in the Senate weren't following the lead of the "commander-in-chief" (I hear this term more often than "president" these days), and that it was a gosh-durn good thing that we weren't running our war that way, because we'd be in some serious trouble.

The implication, of course, was that Democrats are pretty much the same as soldiers who disobey orders or go AWOL.

I wanted to call in and tell the two idiots to pick up a civics textbook, but it wouldn't have done any good anyway. It seems like everyone's forgotten that in our Democracy, it's important to have things called "checks" and "balances," and that no one person, office, or department has complete control of anything.

But accountability has been seriously undermined in the past six years, and conservatives have in general fallen into step behind the GOP, questioning the validity of commissions set up to examine serious failures of the government (notably, the 9/11 Commission, which Bush and Cheney did everything in their power to stall and hog-tie [to use a Texas colloquialism]).

Enough political ranting for now, though.

In good news, I won first place in the Department of the Army for commentary (military) in the 2006 Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware Army journalism competition. They've got a link to the story up there, so check it out if you have a couple minutes.

Tomorrow I'll be back in the courtroom for a spousal rape court-martial. It'll be a nice change from some of the dreck I've been covering lately. I find covering courts-martial exciting, so I'll try to get back in here to talk about how things develop.

That's all for now -- mahalo.