Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Twelve From The Graveyard

My buddy Adam is a newly-minted and unemployed lawyer and a lover of obscure music. He's re-entered the blogging world over at Twelve From The Graveyard, and I'm sure he's got a smug look on his face over the fact that only he knows what the title means. Go check him out.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Salemonz lives

It seems my old friend-turned-supervisor Salemonz has returned to blogging, now that he's settled into a more civilized life in the D.C. area. Check him out -- he's got a wealth of experience under his belt, including a tour in Iraq and lots of 46-Quebecking.


Republican Marketing Tactics

Since General David Petraeus returned from Iraq with his report on the progress made there by President George Bush's troop "surge," it's been remarkable to watch the language of Republican campaigns change to reflect the president's new goals -- which include a somewhat vague notion of reducing U.S. troop numbers in Iraq to pre-surge levels.

What's remarkable is that the G.O.P. has stolidly denounced any Democrat-led notion of reducing troop levels there as being tantamount to "admitting defeat," and that bringing the troops home "precipitously" would be conceding to "the enemy" we're supposedly fighting in Iraq. More polemical members of the legislature, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have either implied or stated explicitly that this would lead to us having to fight this ghostly enemy (one can safely assume he means al Qaeda) here at home. Vice President Dick Cheney referred to al Qaeda as "the enemy we may face" in a speech Friday in Grand Rapids, Mich.

I heard McConnell speak to a host on NPR's All Things Considered. He said that he doesn't think it's a coincidence that we haven't witnessed another terrorist attack in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001.

Gen. Petraeus, has been a combatant commander in Iraq more than once, including a tour (as a major general) as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division. In testimony, he warned against the kind of rapid pull-out favored by vocal Democrats, but he in turn has been accused of "cooking the books" on Iraq progress in order to support the delayed timetable that the White House seems to have begrudgingly accepted as policy.

By the White House's own report card, the Iraq government is making what would be considered a failing grade at any educational institution. Out of 18 benchmarks set by the administration in July, satisfactory progress is being made in eight of them. In eight others, progress is "unsatisfactory," and the remaining two can't be evaluated yet.

While this evaluation is still less than 90 days old, it's in keeping with the Iraq government's history thus far of being incapable of governing anything. Even with the increased troop levels (now up to around 160,000 U.S. soldiers), violence remains a definitive part of life in sectarian Iraq.

It's been accepted as read that total U.S. withdrawl from the country would result in catastrophe, but now that Republicans have decided that withdrawl is indeed necessary, we're going to be treated to some amazing lingual gymnastics from the party -- the G.O.P.'s strategy for troop pull-out will be a "carefully-considered plan for reduction in troop levels, in keeping with Gen. Petraeus' recommendations, where we still support the troops and their mission," while the Democrats' desire to pull troops back will be painted as a spineless call for unconditional surrender.

Never mind that both strategies amount to the same thing -- bringing troops back from the front lines of a "war" that the American public has lost any interest or faith in.

It's clear that the Iraq government is willing to take advantage of every dollar and uniformed body the U.S. is willing to send its way -- and demonstrating independence from that aid is a good way to have it removed. It's like in any business or bureaucracy: you have to use your entire annual budget each year (or overspend), or your budget will get cut. And no one wants their budget cut, least of all a fledgling government surrounded by bloodthirsty sectarians.

But the U.S. can't afford to continue funneling money into the country without some demonstration that the treasure and lives we're spending there is actually accomplishing something. It's time to wean Iraq from the American tit.

Nothing gets a creature moving on its own like the threat of starvation. Baby tigers figure out quickly how to catch their own dinner once their mother's milk has been taken away.

Of course, there are American companies who have it in their best interest to see hostilities continue in Iraq and Afghanistan. These include former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR), which has demonstrated a level of greed and disregard for ethics I wouldn't have believed possible.

We'll see what happens, won't we?


UPDATE: I meant to mention, in regards to Gen. Petraeus, that the top of his chain of command is the president -- the Defense Department falls under the Executive Branch, and therefore Petraeus, regardless of his long and admirable record of service, is hardly an unbiased source of information. This should be considered when weighing the content of his report against accusations of pandering to the White House's goals and objectives.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Humidity is soaring here now... I don't know what the actual figure is, and I don't know how it could be more than 100 percent, but it has to be. It's not even that hot, but sitting in my room for any length of time results in my body pouring sweat. The air feels thick to breathe, and there's an oppressive closeness in the atmosphere that is impossible to escape.

So far, I've accomplished precious little since I've been home, and this god-awful humidity isn't helping at all.

Lately, my hopes of regular employment have been dashed. That's courtesy of the National Guard.

I reported to my unit, the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based on Hancock Field in Syracuse, last week. They were surprised to see me, and couldn't find hide nor hair of me in "The System" when they examined whatever strength roster that informs them of when new soldiers are due to arrive. But I produced my contract, discharge papers, and a whole sheaf of other identifying documents, and the strength NCO promised to look into the matter and contact me with further instructions.

In the meantime: "Go home, sit tight," he said.

Before I left the 27th's headquarters (which are squirreled away down a labyrinthine system of hallways and double doors, deep within the New York Guard's headquarters building), the headquarters company first sergeant got on the phone to tell me that he didn't want me at this weekend's drill, but that he did want me to show up next month -- for the annual two-week training period, to be held up north at Fort Drum.

Additionally, he said I could (and would) show up a couple days early for that, to earn the two-days' worth of active duty pay that I'll be missing this month. My job, the sergeants there in the personnel office conjectured, would probably be something like guarding weapons in the unit arms room, or helping load boxes to prepare for the brigade's impending deployment, scheduled for early next year.

It's not glamorous, but it's a small price to pay to keep the Golden Ticket I had written into my contract -- a 24-month stabilization guarantee, which means that when the 27th ships out, I'll be staying in New York and waving to the planes full of Real Soldiers as they take off for combat duty.

I'm sure I've mentioned my acute sense of cognitive dissonance at being called a "soldier" for the past several years. I've worn the uniform, qualified on rifle and PT, and carried out whatever orders I've been given by superiors. I've stood at attention and parade rest when necessary, saluted officers, and even carried unit flags or guidons when I've been required to. But the idea that "I am (or have been) a soldier" wasn't something I ever really actualized in my brain. Soldiers are people who go to war and shoot other soldiers. That was never something I was interested in, and it was never something I even came close to doing.

So when the rest of my guard unit leaves for The Sandbox (or the Theater, or the Quagmire, or whatever else you might call this current venture), I'm not going to feel as though I've shirked any responsibility or anything. I'm just a guy with a notepad and a camera who looks a little silly wearing camouflage.

What I meant to get at, before I launched off on that tangent, was that given the requirement for me to be at Fort Drum for the first few weeks of October, landing a job prior to that is basically impossible. I'm going to check in to doing some stringer work for the local paper, and maybe talk to a publisher I know up in Syracuse to see if he'd be interested in picking up another series of my columns. Having something specific to do would be a big help. As great as it sounds to have every day be Saturday, after a while you sort of lose any energy or motivation you had going in.

Also on the agenda, however, is to get enrolled in grad school. I'm planning on visiting my top choice on Monday, so we'll see how that pans out.

I've been losing weight, but very slowly, and it's not out of any effort taken on my part. That's another thing I've decided to change -- a workout regimen is a must, so I've decided to take up running again. Also, once I get back to town on Monday, I'm signing up for a kickboxing class... or something. Maybe some mixed-martial arts thing. I've never been a fighter, but I don't concentrate well during workouts, and I think having a training routine and concrete goals would help with that, too.

So yes, there are things I'm planning on getting done... things on the slate... I just have to start knocking them out.


Monday, September 03, 2007

End of a chapter

I'm home.

I've been here for about a month and as much time as I've spent on the computer (emailing, playing Texas Hold 'Em on Facebook), I haven't gotten around to finishing a post.

There's one in the queue about my departure from Fort Knox and the active Army, but it's a long, drawn-out narrative of my last couple days there and I ran out of steam. I guess I just didn't want to re-hash anything.

Besides, I've been readjusting to life as a civilian -- and, perhaps more importantly, to living back at my parents' home in central New York.

Over the past month it's been hard not to slip into the feeling that I'm back at square one -- that the past five years have served little but to age me and wear me down, and that after all that, I'm back at the same place I once departed from in the hopes of finding fame and fortune... or at least, weird adventures.

And I suppose the weird adventures part came true, but looking back over what I've written off-the-job since I was in Korea, they seem to fall flat. They weren't the kinds of adventures old men tell their grandchildren about by the fireside. And the three years spent at Fort Knox, well, they're filled more with regrets than with accomplishments.

At least that's how it seems sometimes. I've been clipping my articles out of the old Turrets I had kept in a cardboard box, scanning them into Acrobat files, and printing out copies I can send in to someone looking to hire a disaffected writer. Unfortunately, some of the ones I really liked are missing -- no doubt culled during a Keith L. Ware search at some point or another.

Or maybe I just neglected to save copies for myself. I've found that I have a hard time planning for the future, and I think it's because I have a hard time conceptualizing the idea of there being a future somewhere other than wherever I am. While I was working at the Turret, the idea of someday coming home was a fuzzy, vague notion that might as well have been a half-forgotten dream.

But here I am, and the Turret is behind me, as well as active duty military life, Kentucky, and a disastrous relationship that I can't seem to shake myself of completely. On that last count, it's not for lack of trying -- but evidently both parties involved need to agree to move on, and so far that hasn't happened. I'll leave it at that for now.

I've been filling my days with sporadic lawn care, comedy radio, and wandering the property -- looking out at the river or at how the sun lights up the leaf cover provided by the large maple and oak trees here. I've made a half-hearted attempt at a resume and caught up with the few friends who still are living in the area.

Yesterday I read through some of the blogs I wrote years ago while I was partying hard in Korea. It's striking how different a person I am now -- quieter, calmer, less prone to all-night drinking binges and screaming, and completely reversed on my political ideas about conservativism and America's newly-rediscovered Manifest Destiny mentality.

Maybe I've just gotten older, but maybe there's something else involved -- something about the loss of hope or idealism or joie de vivre or some-such abstract bullshit. When I find a diagnosis that seems to fit, I'll let you know.

For now, though, I'm content to relax and enjoy the balmy upstate weather as the summer ebbs away. There's a coolness to the air now, and even though the leaves have yet to turn, you can tell that fall is on the way. I have four months until the spring semester, and my plan is to be enrolled in a master's degree program in political science by then. I'm not quite sure where yet, but I need to get cracking on applying, since the deadlines seem to be somewhere around October 1.