Saturday, April 30, 2005
A day of many American anniversaries
It's a day of several American anniversaries: Exactly 216-years-ago today (April 30, 1789), George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States. Nine-years-to-the-day later, in 1798, the U.S. Congress established the Navy Department under a secretary of the Navy. Nearly a century-and-a-half later - on April 30, 1945 - as the Allies closed in, Adolph Hitler committed suicide. A quarter century later, in 1970, President Richard Nixon announced that U.S. forces would strike inside Cambodia to destroy enemy bases and supplies. Five-years-later, in 1975, with the last U.S. Marine having been withdrawn from the American Embassy in Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital fell to the Communists.
Oh, I almost forgot, on April 30, 1959 - exactly 170 years to-the-day after President Washington was inuagurated and 14 years to-the-day after Hitler blew his brains out - the guy cranking out this weblog copy was born in Columbia, South Carolina.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
New biz-slick for South Carolina
The premier issue of HIGH COTTON, a South Carolina business magazine published by Southern Home Publishing in Camden, is now available at bookstores and newsstands, statewide (Southern Home also publishes SOUTH CAROLINA HOMES & GARDENS magazine.).
Pick up a copy of HIGH COTTON at your local newstand, or see it here and subscribe.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
from the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs
I want to thank you for the excellent article you composed for your "Drop Zone" column.
"Fighting Kentuckians" hit a strong chord for us here in the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs and for the Kentucky National Guard. The actions of SGT Hester and SPC Pullen have put Kentucky in the national spotlight in reigniting the debate on women in the battlefield. Around here we think of them as "doing their job" ... though admittedly with a great deal of pride.
Raven 42 (the call sign for SGT Hester's unit) will go down in the history books as the most significant firefight a Kentucky Guard unit has engaged so far since Firebase Tomahawk in Vietnam. That event - during which Charlie Battery, 2-138th FA was overrun by Vietcong insurgents - resulted in 5 boys from Bardstown, Ky. dead and more than 20 enemy killed.
Raven 42 was a team effort, of course. As a former - but not "ex-" - Marine you'll be interested to know that the young medic, SPC Jason Mike, who worked so hard to preserve the lives of three wounded 617th Soldiers, proved himself tactically proficient. With his position under heavy fire and in order to protect his charges, he simultaneously picked up both his own M-4 and the M-249 of a wounded troop and laid down a blanket of suppressive fire. A sniper in a nearby building then made a pest of himself, so SPC Mike set aside his brace of weapons and picked up an AT-4 - which he'd only learned to use the week before, "just in case" - and along with a similarly armed fellow troop, took out both the building and the sniper. He then proceeded to prepare his wounded men for MEDEVAC.
I suppose the moral of that story is that in Kentucky, even our medics are not to be bothered in the course of their duties.
I'd also like to point out the actions of SFC Timothy Nein (a resident of Madison County, birthplace of "Kit" Carson), the other squad members and the soldiers of 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery, who were embedded within the convoy and laid out more
than 2,600 rounds of suppressive fire during that action. The 1-623rd troops - ironically the descendants of John Hunt Morgan, whom you mention in your article and whom we refer to as "Morgan's Men" - have been redirected from their primary mission as MLRS crews to serve as convoy security teams. Two soldiers from that battalion have given their lives thus far. A total of 5 Kentucky Guard soldiers have died in Iraq, out of a total of 21 Kentuckians overall.
I also want to thank you for pointing out to me the Kentucky heritage of Jim Bowie and Kit Carson. When I read your article I thought you were surely mistaken. A quick "Google" check proved me wrong. Two more priceless nuggets of information for my rather crowded attic of a brain.
I could go on about our pre-mobilization training program and how our innovative CQB and convoy protection training has been saving lives. But that would shift the focus of this message. I just wanted to commend you for your work and in exchange share a little about Kentucky.
Again, thank you for taking the time to notice and, most important, write about Raven 42.
David W. Altom
Kentucky Department of Military Affairs
See this letter and a few others at MilitaryWeek.com.
Temple Ligon on "Columbia’s beginnings"
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Making the rounds...
More to come, later today. Stay tuned!
Sunday, April 24, 2005
This cell-phone business is a racket
Think about it:
We, the adult consumers, are the ones who really need cell-phones. We need them for business. We're the ones who go with the service providers' most expensive - I should say, OUTRAGEOUSLY over-priced - plans. We almost never choose pre-paid plans. And we always, always pay our bills, because if we don't, we lose service. And it's service in this extremely competitive world we so desperately need.
PHONES FOR FUN!
Yet the cell-phone companies design the phones for kids, with tiny numbers we can't read (and if you have man-sized fingers and have to dial a number in a hurry, forget it, YOU ARE GOING TO DIAL THE WRONG NUMBER. Period). Oh, and then there are the cutesy little ring-tone options, cameras, and all sorts of other bells and whistles no one needs... all designed with the kid in mind.
Yet, the kids often go with the el-cheapo plans. They often don't pay on time. Or Mom and Dad - either or both - are paying the bills.
Of course the argument among many paying parents is, "We need our kids to have cell phones so we can keep track of them."
Folks, think about that for a moment:
If you NEED a cell-phone to keep track of your kids, you have no business having kids.
Granted, it is a comfort to know your child's voice is only a speed-dial away. And it certainly is a convenience. All you have to do - while your lazy rear-end is stretched out on the sofa watching Jerry Springer with a six-pack of cool ones and a family bag of Doritas - is pick up the phone with your free hand, punch a pre-set button and ta-da! You are in instant communication with your daughter who may be roaring down the highway in a stolen car with some dope-smoking, unemployed ex-con ten-years her senior. And she'll still say, "Hi Mom [or Dad], I'm fine. I'm with friends, and I'll be home soon."
PHONES FOR EVERYONE!
Getting back to who the phones were designed for in the first place.
Anyone and everyone has a cell-phone these days. For some segments of society it is considered some form of status symbol. You can always pick out the ones who see it as a status symbol. They're the ones chatting openly and loudly on their phones in public. They want you to see that they have a cell-phone, too.
I even once witnessed a woman in the post office, phone to her ear, going on-and-on about how she was going to kick someone's a** when she got home. All of sudden, the phone rang. It startled her so bad, she dropped it.
Of course, my point being... before the phone rang, she had not been talking with anyone, but was performing for the rest of us who were not at-all impressed.
CUSTOMER SERVICE? ARE THEY KIDDING?
Now, let's take a look at customer service.
Customer service in the cell-phone industry is a joke... the customer services reps (CSRs) have minimal training. They have no authority to correct problems (You almost ALWAYS have to speak with a supervisor to get anything done, so you have to explain the problem twice, sometimes three or four times). One CSR will tell you something completely different from another. And the "hold" times are simply laughable... or cryable depending on how you wanna look at it.
That's how I feel about cell-phone companies (Though I must admit, that woman doing the little Tommy TuTone 867-530-ni-ee-ine dance for Cingular's TV Ad was pretty hot!).
Now, DON'T get me started on my recent "customer service" experience with "the tightest ship in the shipping business."
Friday, April 22, 2005
"Locate, close with, and destroy the enemy... "
No, it has nothing to do with John Wayne and Vera Ralston. It has everything to do with the recent, remarkable combat-performance of a Kentucky National Guard unit in Iraq, and the Blue Grass state's military tradition.
See story here.
"MARINE is shorthand for CAN DO"
According to the president: "The first thing America needs to know about Pete Pace is that he is a Marine. To the American people, 'Marine' is shorthand for 'can do.' And I'm counting on Pete Pace to bring the Marine spirit to these new responsibilities."
Gen. Pace, who has held the post of vice chairman of the JCS since 2001, is a Naval Academy grad and an airborne-trained Marine infantry officer who served as a rifle platoon commander during the Vietnam War.
Over the years, he has had a storied Marine Corps-career that has taken him around the world from Korea to the mean-streets of Somalia to Northern Virginia, and - in between - a variety of posts in D.C. and at Camps Pendleton and Lejeune. He also served for a time as an officer in my old regiment, the fighting 5th Marines.
Gen. Pace's colleagues at the Pentagon have dubbed him "Perfect Pete," a reference to his "good looks" and "military bearing."
It's the first time in history that a Marine has been chosen to oversee the JCS... all I can say is, it's about time!
General Peter Pace, USMC, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Deadlines, pirates, forthcoming stories, and the Spanish American War
Deadlines have kept us away for the past couple of days: Working on "pirates" (I assume you guys know about that) and a forthcoming story about a crack unit in the Army National Guard... don't wanna show my cards on that, yet, so stay tuned!
Also, my sister, Annette Smith Fowler, and her friend, Dawn Busbin, are in New York doing the three-day shopping and theater thing. We hope to get an update from Annette, later today or this weekend.
Oh, I almost forgot... was informed that we've earned a spot on the South Carolina Literary Map (once there, click on Richland County, then scroll down). I saw several of my author friends and many of the living and late, great writers from South Carolina's rich literary history. Many thanks to anyone who had anything to do with our earning a spot. It was a pleasant surprise.
And lastly, 107-years-ago this very day, the United States began its blockade of Cuba and the Spanish American War was on (the 21st is considered the official beginning of the war, but the 22nd was the day the first shot was fired.).
Semper Fi and "Remember the Maine!"
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
"The shot heard 'round the world"
It was just about this time - 230 years ago this very morning - that those famous shots rang out in Massachusetts.
Read what happened here, then take a moment to thank God for those who had the courage to form ranks on Lexington Green and at Concord on April 19, 1775.
9:00 am (EST) UPDATE:
My editor at NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE, Kathryn Jean Lopez, posted my comments to her about the significance of April 19, 1775 on NRO's THE CORNER... as did numerous bloggers and web friends, including my good friend John Wrisley, a retired, well-known, well-respected radio and television personality here in South Carolina.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Meet the Press
The unedited transcript follows:
TIM RUSSERT: And we are back.
Dexter Filkins, Jim Miklaszewski, welcome both.
Iraq--Mik, you just got back on Friday. Our government leaders say they are cautiously optimistic. What did you find on the ground?
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: What I found on the ground, Tim, was that the American troops still have a pretty high morale. They're still behind the mission 100 percent, but there's a growing concern among U.S. military leadership in Iraq that in this post-January 30 election period, when everybody goes so high on the fact that people stuck their fingers in the ink and declared that they were going to promote and actually participate in a democratic movement there in Iraq, that since that time, the slow rate of reconstruction in Iraq, the fact that 50 percent of men in parts of the Sunni triangle are still unemployed, that there's a growing dissatisfaction with the pace of democracy in Iraq may, in fact, lose the kind of momentum that had been gained during the election period.
MR. RUSSERT: Dexter Filkins, you spent the better part of two years in Iraq. What's your sense of how things are going?
DEXTER FILKINS: I think it's better. It feels better. I mean, you know, in the last four or five months, you've had two pretty significant events. One was the recapture of Fallujah, which had become a safe haven for the insurgents, and the other was the election, which I think gave a lot of Iraqis a sense that they were going to get their country back and they were going to be able to control its destiny. And I--just being on the streets there you can feel some of the anger having been drained away. And it's clearly not as violent as it was, you know, six months ago, five months ago when there were--I remember the month of August, there were 45 car bombs. Now, the level of violence, the number of attacks against American soldiers and Iraqi soldiers is down. The number of Iraqi recruits into the security services is way up. So at the moment, things are feeling a little better.
MR. RUSSERT: That's a very important point, because our exit strategy is to have enough Iraqis volunteer for military service and be trained so that our troops can come home. Realistically, how long, based on your reporting, do you believe it will take to have an Iraqi force in place that will allow the Americans to come home completely?
MR. FILKINS: "Completely" is the key word there. I mean, it's such a big job, and particularly--I mean, if you talk to the Iraqi commanders and the American commanders who are trying to do this, generally what they tell you now is that it's working, like so many other things. It's working in the Shiite areas. It's working in the Kurdish areas. It's not working that well in the Sunni areas. And that's kind of the--I mean, that's the linchpin for the whole enterprise. So I think it's hard to imagine. I don't like to make predictions, but it's hard to imagine that it won't be years, you know, maybe even a decade, before all the Americans could come home.
MR. RUSSERT: A long investment.
MR. FILKINS: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: There are a lot of concerns, Mik, in the newspaper accounts I've been reading over the weekend where, as we put together this government, or the Iraqis put together their government of Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds, that there are some tensions, obviously, between the Sunnis and the Shiites, particularly. There's a standoff now in part of the country. What happens if the Iraqi government decides, "We have to put down this insurrection in the Sunni area," and the Sunnis in the government say, "Oh, come on. That's my neighborhood. You can't be going in there," and then they turn to the United States and say, "You're the honest broker; what do you think here?," what happens? How does this play out?
MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: That's a very perplexing question for U.S. military leaders. When I asked them about that very question--if the U.S. military, for example, should see an area where they need to launch an operation, yet the Iraqi political leadership says, "No, we don't want you to do that operation," the only thing they can say for now--Excuse me, Tim--is that it hasn't happened yet. But there is a strong likelihood that, as the Iraqi government gains more strength, they will, in fact, start to veto specific military operations. Again, it hasn't happened yet, but it's a very real concern on the part of the U.S. military down the road.
MR. RUSSERT: In fact, there's a headline in the Los Angeles Times today, Dexter Filkins: Iraqi leaders flexing muscles; U.S. officials may have limited influence on the direction of the new government. There was a sense, when we talk about Iraq, it's going to be a democracy, a model democracy in the Middle East. What, in fact, do you think is emerging from the political leadership in Iraq? How would you describe the government, the country, the philosophy?
MR. FILKINS: It's pretty divided at the moment. I mean, essentially, when the elections were finished, you basically had a split between the Shiite majority, which ultimately came to control the government. That's pretty theocratic. And there's going to be a big tug-of-war over the next few months as they write the constitution, which is the main purpose for this government, about the role of Islam and about a theocracy. But then that's about 50 percent of the National Assembly that was elected. The other half is pretty secular. I mean, you've got the Kurdish parties and you've got Allawi. And so it's very-- there's going to be a really big, I think, tug-of-war over the soul of the country.
MR. RUSSERT: One of the more interesting issue is that the new president, Talabani, who's Kurdish in the north, during his campaign said, `We should consider amnesty for the insurgents, perhaps even those who attacked American troops.' How does that play out?
MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, it's not going sit very well with U.S. military commanders, but at the same time, they acknowledge that the government and the overall military operations, in fact, will fall into the hands of the Iraqi leadership. You know, that was a very strong point that the U.S. was trying to drive home for the past six months or so, that Iraq is now being run by Iraqis. You don't see the U.S. military briefings that we used to see during the height of the war, certainly, and even in the postwar conflict that lasted for well over a year. The U.S. military is trying to take a backseat in terms of a high profile, in terms of putting out any individuals to speak on behalf of the country of Iraq. So it'll be difficult for the U.S. to try to veto that. I suspect there's going be a lot of behind-the-scene negotiations.
MR. RUSSERT: How do you gauge the level and the intensity of the insurgency right now?
MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: By all accounts, the insurgency is still reeling from a number of successful operations, as Dexter pointed out, in Fallujah, and the continuing operations in the Baghdad area in particular. They've had some very major successes in rolling up insurgent and terrorist leadership. However, the U.S. military officials in Iraq are very pragmatic about this and say that there's enough money, there are enough disgruntled Iraqis around that this insurgency could go on for some time. It's not certainly at the level that it was, but you'll see that just in the past week, the number of IED--the improvised explosive device--and vehicle-borne IED attacks has sharply risen. That was anticipated by U.S. military leaderships. What they say is that the number of high-level, sustained attacks has been reduced, and the period between them is much longer. It's just taking the insurgency and the terrorists longer to regenerate.
MR. RUSSERT: Dexter Filkins, your dispatches are so rich with detail and understanding of what you're seeing and observing. Tell us about your life in Iraq. What do you do? Where do you live? How do you get up? How do you function as a reporter?
MR. FILKINS: Well, The New York Times has a huge operation there. It's very expensive. But it's...
MR. RUSSERT: Heavily guard?
MR. FILKINS: Very heavily guarded. We've got a couple of houses, we've got 20-foot-high concrete blast walls topped with barbed wire. There's armed guards, there's armored cars, searchlights, the whole thing.
MR. RUSSERT: How do you move around the city?
MR. FILKINS: You just try to do the best you can, you know. The--you go...
MR. RUSSERT: With guards?
MR. FILKINS: Usually with guards. I mean, you know, none of that's desirable. You want to be--as a reporter, you want to be as unintrusive as possible. You want to put people at ease. And--but that's not really possible anymore. So you can--things have gotten a little better. I mean, Baghdad is not as tense and as angry as it was even six months ago. But doing something like getting out of your car and walking around a neighborhood and just talking to people on the street, you can't really go that anymore. I mean you can do it for 20 minutes, you know, 25 minutes, and then get in your car and get out, because if you linger too long, you're putting yourself in danger.
MR. RUSSERT: Have you had any close calls?
MR. FILKINS: More than I can count, yeah.
MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: Even when you're accompanied by large numbers of American troops, if you're in one place for longer than 10 minutes, they start to get nervous, and they say, "Let's get this over with and move on," because word gets out very quickly who's where and how vulnerable they may be. So you really do, as Dexter said, have to keep moving.
MR. RUSSERT: There is a road, a highway from the airport to downtown Baghdad that's called the Road of Death by many. I understand there's a taxi service on that road to take someone from downtown to the airport.
MR. FILKINS: Yeah. There's actually a company in Baghdad that does nothing except offer rides to the airport and back. They've got an armored cars and some guards. And they charge $35,000 for...
MR. RUSSERT: Thirty-five thousand dollars?
MR. FILKINS: ...for a ride to the airport. And I think you know, if you miss your plane and you have to come back, it's another $35,000. But...
MR. RUSSERT: How long--is it six miles?
MR. FILKINS: I think it's about six miles, yeah. It's not a happy six miles. So, you know, they earn their money.
MR. RUSSERT: Why have we been unable--or the Iraqis unable to protect that road, that stretch?
MR. FILKINS: That's a real mystery. It's a really bad neighborhood that it goes through, and you know, people come in from both sides. And--but it's--you know, they'd have to occupy six miles of road 24 hours of day. I think in the dead of night, people come out and plant bombs and they stage attacks.
MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: The most heavily controlled city right now is Fallujah. You can't get into the city unless you go through a checkpoint. Traffic backs up for three or four hours at a time. It's heavily patrolled. There's a curfew from 8 PM to 5 AM. Yet last week they found five freshly made roadside bombs--they didn't detonate, fortunately--and it's believed that these bombs were made by people still in Fallujah with those weapon caches that still remain. And even when we were at the camp for a couple of days, there was the thump and boom of mortar attacks from within Fallujah, the most heavily guarded city in Iraq right now. It's just an impossible task, really, to control those--the Baghdad highway or large segments of Iraq because there are just too many people willing to either attack or blow themselves up on behalf of what they think is the insurgency or a fundamentalist or a terrorist cause.
MR. RUSSERT: Dexter, talk about life in Baghdad as opposed to prefall of Saddam. What is the average guy, the average lady--do they get up in the morning? Are they going to work? Is the city functioning? Are kids going school? Are the markets open? What do you see?
MR. FILKINS: All those things. I mean, the truth is, you know, on most days, Baghdad is a very normal, Middle Eastern city. You know, after the fall off Saddam, there was a huge economic boom. They took down all the duties, you know, the amount of car traffic has, you know, quadrupled or possibly more. The traffics--the streets are jammed, the schools are open. There's lots of commerce. So in that sense, it's a very vibrant, bustling place. It's just sort of punctuated by, you know, this terrible violence. But, you know, it's difficult to describe the country because you have these very dramatic moments of violence. But the truth is, you know, most of the time, it's pretty normal.
MR. RUSSERT: What about the newspapers, the television, the radio? What are the people in Iraq seeing and hearing? Is there honest and open debate?
MR. FILKINS: There is. Yeah, there's plenty of debate. I mean, the shadow of Saddam Hussein is still--still lingers over everybody, but--I mean, you can really see that. But one of the things that everybody bought after Saddam fell was satellite dishes. I mean, there's just zillions of them now. And so everybody gets everything from, you know, CNN to Al-Jazeera. So yeah, there's no shortage of information and opinions now.
MR. RUSSERT: Reconstruction--Mik, there was a lot of emphasis by our government that we were going to rebuild the infrastructure of Iraq. In fact, the former deputy defense secretary, Wolfowitz, said that the oil revenues that would be generated from increased production would begin to finance a lot of our military and economic operation. Every article I have read indicates that reconstruction is way behind schedule. What's happening?
MR. MIKLASZEWSKI: Again, I'll go back to Fallujah, because I was just there for a couple of days last week. Nine thousand homes and buildings in Fallujah were destroyed when the Marines went in in November. There have been 32,000 claims against the government by homeowners and business owners. Of those 32,000 claims, only 2,400 have been paid off so far. And when you walk in and--let's say your house is worth $10,000. They will only give you 20 percent of the amount of your claim for now. It's because--and those funds are controlled by the Iraqi government. They're husbanding those funds for use in the future. And as I stood next to the line of those claimants, all you have to do is ask them what their complaint is, and within seconds, their rage surfaces, so badly at one point the cameraman said to me, "Mik, we're about to start a riot here. I think we'd better leave."
And the current president of the temporary council, Sheik Khaled, admitted to me that the people in Fallujah are already growing impatient, and predicted it will take at least another year before reconstruction actually begins to take hold.
MR. FILKINS: If I could just jump in there--I mean, I think what's happened here--you know, Congress allocated $18 billion for reconstruction. And what's happened is, you know, it's a lot easier to kick a barn down than it is to build one. And so, so much of this money has had to be diverted for security training, for just security on the projects. I mean, on any given construction project, as much as 35 percent of the money goes to protecting the workers who are working on it. So the problem is just--has been the violence, and it's basically overwhelmed every attempt or most of the attempts to rebuild the country.
MR. RUSSERT: Dexter Filkins, Jim Miklaszewski, thank you both for keeping your fear and emotions in check and giving us those kinds of straightforward, candid reports.
© 2005 NBC News MEET THE PRESS
Friday, April 15, 2005
Soldier of the Month
We’ve chosen the month of April 2005 for our first pick because it was exactly 230-years-ago this very month that the first soldier of the first free-American military force fired the first shot against an armed enemy.
For more about that event, see here.
Here’s how Soldier of the Month will work: Each month, one active, newly-recruited, retired, or former member of the American armed forces will be selected and featured (picture and comments) here at wthomassmithjr.com. They are not always going to be generals, admirals, or recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some may be famous. Others ordinary (If you can believe any soldier, sailor, airmen, Marine, Coast Guardsman, cadet, or midshipman is ordinary). All deserve everything we can give them and more because they wear the uniform of the United States... and they do so for us... in dangerous times.
Our first entry, and the selection for April 2005, is Cadet Justin Self.
Cadet William Justin Self (click name for photograph) is a rising junior at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He plans to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, attend Ranger School, and ultimately deploy with an active Ranger Battalion.
Cadet Self is well on this way to fulfilling this life-long dream of service to his (our) country.
During his “knob” year at the Citadel, Self excelled in academics, physical training (PT), and leadership. He managed a 3.8 Grade Point Average, was awarded Gold Stars, made the President’s List and the Commandant’s List for “highest academic achievement” and “outstanding military duty.” Additionally, he was one of twelve cadets who led Hotel Company’s Kelly Cup Drill Squad to a first place victory.
During his Sophomore year, Self served as company clerk (first semester) and battalion clerk (second semester).
Out of 34 competing cadets, Self won a slot to attend - this summer - the U.S. Army Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Kentucky: Lots of PT, road marches, rappelling, and helicopter assault training ahead of him. When he returns to The Citadel in the fall, he’ll be Hotel Company’s 1st Sergeant.
Self is a paratrooper: If nothing else, that’s one of the most noble military titles a soldier can earn. Like countless airborne soldiers who’ve “put their knees to the breeze” since the pre-WWII days of the pioneering Parachute Test Platoon, Self earned his airborne wings at Fort Benning, Georgia. He did so, last summer.
Self is pretty good with his fists, too. I know, because I spent a morning over the 2003 Christmas holidays teaching him to hit the speedbag at the Columbia (S.C.) Downtown YMCA where his father, Keith, works.
Cadet Self is the future of the American Army, and with the world being the dangerous place it is in the 21st Century, we can take comfort in the fact that there are others like him: Bright, courageous, committed, like the men George Orwell referred to when he wrote, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
The birth-cry of America's armed forces
See why here.
Also, was on Calgary, Alberta, Canada's The World Tonight, last evening, discussing Iraq, independent military operations by Iraqi forces, and U.S. troop withdrawals/rotations in that country.
Great show! Great host, Rob Breakenridge! Great producer, Teresa Brown!
I always enjoy chatting with them.
AFTERNOON COMMENTS: We're getting blogged, republished, and commented-on all over the place.
For instance, Jeff Quinton - whose weblog, Backcountry Conservative, was featured on CNN's Inside Politics with Judy Woodruff, yesterday - mentions us here. And NavySEALs.com republishes us here.
Oh, and we're about to launch an exciting new feature here at wthomassmithjr.com.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
On this day in 1861
A must-visit site for all Naval/Military history enthusiasts, Fort Sumter was built upon a section of the same shoals in Charleston harbor that - 85 years prior to the famous Civil War-igniting bombardment - temporarily grounded a portion of the Royal Navy while the King's sailors were exchanging shots with Colonel (later Major General) William Moultrie's batteries positioned on Sullivan's. The fight between the Brits and Moultrie's colonial cannoneers took place on June 28, 1776.
It's kind of a fun coincidence, though few make the connection: Sumter being built and later pummelled (by Carolinians) on the exact spot in the harbor where the Royals temporarily ran aground and were pummelled (by Carolinians). Oh, and my many-times-great-grandfathers and uncles - so, surely some cousins too - fought in both battles.
Sullivan's Island, with its magnificent view of the harbor and Fort Sumter, is truly one of my favorite places on Earth.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Who's packing your parachute?
Charles Plumb was a U.S. Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent six years in a communist Vietnamese prison. He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience.
One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said,
"You're Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!"
"How in the world did you know that?" asked Plumb.
"I packed your parachute," the man replied.
Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude.
The man pumped his hand and said, "I guess it worked!"
Plumb assured him, "It sure did. If your chute hadn't worked, I wouldn't be here today."
Plumb couldn't sleep that night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, "I kept wondering what he had looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat; a bib in the back; and bell-bottom trousers. I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said 'Good morning, how are you?' or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor." Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent at a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn't know.
Now, Plumb asks his audience, "Who's packing your parachute?"
Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. He also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory -- he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all these supports before reaching safety.
Sometimes in the daily challenges that life gives us, we miss what is really important. We may fail to say hello, please, or thank you, congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to them, give a compliment, or just do something nice for no reason. As you go through this week, this month, this year, recognize people who pack your parachutes.
I am sending you this as my way of thanking you for your part in packing my parachute. And I hope you will send it on to those who have helped pack yours!
Sometimes, we wonder why friends keep forwarding jokes to us without writing a word. Maybe this could explain it: When you are very busy, but still want to keep in touch, guess what you do -- you forward jokes. And to let you know that you are still remembered, you are still important, you are still loved, you are still cared for, guess what you get? A forwarded joke.
So my friend, next time when you get a joke, don't think that you've been sent just another forwarded joke, but that you've been thought of today and your friend on the other end of your computer wanted to send you a smile, just helping you pack your parachute.
Have a great day and stay in touch.
Captain Louis Colbus (U.S. Navy, ret.)
Sunday, April 10, 2005
The Holy City... and other things
Prior to the conference
I made my annual (perhaps frequent is the optimum word) pilgrimage to Sullivan's Island, specifically Fort Moultrie (Yes, the fort where South Carolina earned its sobriquet, the Palmetto State, during the American Revolution.).
Stationed in Charleston 20-something-years-ago, I was a regular on Sullivan's Island and made many trips to Fort Moultrie: Ran on the beach, swam, brought girls, and enjoyed the quietude away from my wild, adrenaline-jacked Marine buddies.
Since then, I've often returned: Even spent one night two-years-ago in a gorgeous beachfront mansion built in 1869 less than one-tenth of a mile from the fort's huge stone-and-brick walls.
Strolling the beach with the fort behind me, I would always - as I did yesterday - have Charleston’s vast and storied harbor in front of me, and Fort Sumter positioned in the center of the harbor... a magnificent vista to say the least.
In fact, had I been in command of a single battery - 144 years ago - I easily could have assisted General Pierre G.T. Beauregard from my position. Had it been 80 or 90 years prior to the firing on Fort Sumter, I easily could have assisted Colonel (later Major General) William Moultrie who would’ve been behind his works, then known as Fort Sullivan, commanding the batteries exchanging shots with the 250-plus guns of the King’s flotilla.
Aside from its history, there's something uniquely familiar and comforting about the fort's surroundings: Swaying palmetto trees, tall grasses, a few gorgeous old homes, and always a zillion seabirds of varying types flitting about the rooftops and trees.
Several hundred yards behind the fort is the grave of General Moultrie. There, yesterday, we paused momentarily, contemplated his role in saving South Carolina - ultimately the new nation - and prayed for his soul.
Later at the conference
Met with Holly Fisher - the incredible coordinator of everything and a grad student at USC (in fact, one of my sterling students) - and the moderator of my panel, Lisa Hood Skinner.
Thanks ladies, for doing a marvelous job!
Also met Larry Peterson - author of City Editor and an editor with THE SAVANNAH MORNING NEWS, who wrote a marvelous review of my own book, American Airborne Forces - his Morning News cohort, Mike Fabey, and a charming U.S. Army Public Affairs Officer (PAO), Major Josslyn Aberle.
Speaking of charming PAOs
I must tell you about my friend, U.S. Marine Sergeant Mary E. "Beth" Zimmerman, a correspondent/broadcaster based in New York.
Beth has again posted one of my pieces. This time my latest at MilitaryWeek.com on the Vatican's Swiss Guard.
See it here on the official website for Marine Corps Public Affairs, New York City.
Also, let me draw your attention to a few of Beth's pieces here, here, and here. She is indeed a talented writer, reporter, and photographer (I'm including a pic of her with camera).
Anyway, look for many, many more great stories and photos by Sgt. Beth Zimmerman, here on my site, at nymarines.org, and elsewhere.
Friday, April 08, 2005
New British special operations regiment
According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, the new regiment "will provide improved support to expeditionary operations overseas and form part of the Defence contribution to the Government's comprehensive strategy to counter international terrorism. The SRR will bring together personnel from existing capabilities and become the means of the further development of the capability. Due to the specialist nature of the unit, it will come under the command of the Director Special Forces and be a part of the UK Special Forces group."
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Live on the BBC... and other things
Beyond that, I've spent the better part of the morning and afternoon writing about pirates (Aaaargh), interviewing interesting and not so routine people for forthcoming pieces, dealing with other writers and editors, and routinely peering out of my office window for the UPS guy... delivering a much needed package.
Stay tuned for more of this routine excitement ;-)
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Monday, April 04, 2005
Soldiers for Hire
It's a great book. I'm the technical editor and afterword-writer. If for no other reason, pick-up a copy and read my Q&A with Richard "Rogue Warrior" Marcinko, the founder and former commander of the Navy's super-secret SEAL Team Six. It's always a blast chatting with Dick!
From Penguin's website:
"From Biblical times and the Crusades through the American Revolution up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, mercenaries—professional soldiers who contract themselves out to the highest bidder—have played a vital role in most, if not all, military and paramilitary campaigns, helping to determine the victors and the vanquished. Contract Warriors reveals their compelling story for the first time.
• Why they fight (and for how much)
• How they fight
• The unique lifestyle of mercenaries both on and off the battlefield
• The spoils and business of war
• The current role of mercenaries in the world's arms trade
• The significance of the mercenary in popular culture and film
Featuring a special afterword by W. Thomas Smith Jr. and his interview with Richard Marcinko, military consultant and author of the bestselling book Rogue Warrior"
Order from Barnes & Noble.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
The Pope's "few good men"
Jeff Quinton references our discussion of the Swiss Guards, and he posts a link to their official website.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
The Pope is with Christ
UPDATE: National Museum of the Marine Corps
An excerpt of the story, Marine Corps Museum Gets a Fitting Symbol by staff writer Nikita Stewart, follows:
"A new landmark is visible above the trees along Interstate 95 near Quantico -- a 20-story-tall mast that rises at an angle over the National Museum of the Marine Corps under construction in Triangle.
With the help of about 60 workers, the 43-ton, 240-foot-long mast went up Wednesday. It leans at a 60-degree angle, with the U.S. and Marine Corps flags dangling from the top. The mast will be encased in stainless steel to resemble a giant flagpole and will be the centerpiece of the museum, which is to open in November 2006.
Its odd angle recalls the flag raising at Iwo Jima captured in arguably the most famous military photograph in history and reproduced at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington."
See piece in its entirety here.
A great spiritual leader is dying
Anyway, maybe that's why he (the Pope) has always been able to bridge religious divides... and why - among other reasons - it has always been so important for him to do so.
I think it's also why so many of us (Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, whatever) will feel as if we are losing one of our own when he passes.
Friday, April 01, 2005
"How my child saved me from ego-driven mania"
For more on Janine, visit her here.