Captain Dye's Blog
These are all the Blogs posted in March, 2009.
Tuesday, 31
Got them socio-economic blues?
Got so damn sick of all the socio-economic whining last week that I declared a media black-out and fired up the truck to head for Camp Pendleton. This was a serious boycott, so I punched off the talk radio pre-sets and let my favorite Texas troubadour Gary P. Nunn sing me south until I hit the gate at Las Pulgas where a Marine waited to escort me into the real world.
I asked the sun-scorched young Lance Corporal what he thought of the current economic crisis and he promptly set me straight. "It's a little hard to get all fired up about that stuff," he said, "when you consider that we're headed for The Sandbox in a couple of weeks." So, I mused as we bumped over the back roads headed for the MOUT training facility where his rifle company was undergoing urban warfare training, this young man has appropriately arranged his priorities. The threat of getting his nineteen-year-old body pierced by incoming rounds or shredded by IED shrapnel during a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan seems a tad more pressing than the state of the national economy. I felt refreshed, as though someone had uncapped a big canteen of common sense and poured it over my head.
Similar sentiments abounded when I joined the rest of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines and began to talk to the warriors gathered to drink a few beers and hear me talk about an infamous battle in a long-ago war that featured more than a few similarities with what they would be facing in the near future. I did my usual shtick and told them about some of the experiences I'd had fighting as a member of their battalion during Tet 1968 in Vietnam. I shared a few grunt-level lessons learned about staying alive in an urban fight that are not found in the command-approved training syllabus.
Some of the senior trainers blanched a bit when I talked about stealing civilian vehicles to use for medical evacuation and shooting through doors on the off-chance there might be an enemy hiding behind them, but the Sandbox vets and the senior NCOs just grinned and nodded. They knew that in the chaos of an urban fight collateral damage is nearly unavoidable and a line-of-duty investigation is always preferable to a memorial service. I told them to listen to their leaders and the vets in the ranks as it was those guys who would provide the little tips that would keep them alive. It was that way with 2/5 in Hue when the few salty old senior NCOs who had fought in the streets of Seoul passed along what they had learned in Korea circa 1950 and kept so many of us in the fight. And then we tapped the kegs.
None of the Marines gathered that night around bonfires knew for sure if they'd be using that week's training in the urban areas of Iraq or if they would be called into a more open engagement with Taliban extremists in the rugged hills of Afghanistan that look so similar to the rocky terrain of Camp Pendleton. What they did know was that the assignment would require intense focus if they expected to survive it. And that didn't leave much bandwidth for pondering domestic difficulties. These were men of courage, fortitude and faith who mainly felt that Americans got themselves into the current economic mess and Americans would somehow get themselves out of it. How that happened while they were overseas fighting for America was less important than an adequate supply of ammo, equipment and buddies who had their back.
These were also guys whose salaries were both relatively fixed and guaranteed, so maybe their lack of concern with the country's economic woes had another aspect to it. If you're not in danger of losing your job or suffering an unexpected pay cut, maybe you can afford to be blasé in the face of rising unemployment and a nationwide money crunch. That wasn't the case at all and I was surprised at how many of these people were sending relatively large chunks of their relatively meager salaries home to parents or other relatives who were having a harder time making ends meet.
They were well aware of the situation outside their ranks and some - especially the short-timers who expected to leave the Marine Corps assuming they survived the impending deployment - fully understood they might have trouble earning a living out of uniform in a depressed economy. These guys had what combat veterans call situational awareness but they were hardly in a panic over it. "I'll be just fine," a sergeant headed out for his third combat tour followed by discharge told me, "I survived Fallujah and patrolling the northwest border area in Afghanistan. You think I'm gonna fold over a tough job market and a bad economy? I don't think so."
A Corporal fire-team leader handed me a beer and pondered my question about the economy. "It's mainly like this, sir." He blew the foam off his brew and shifted the chew locked in his lower lip. "I'm taking it day to day, you know? I've got to get through this deployment, do my duty, stay alive and take care of my Marines. If I can get that done, I figure everything else will work out OK."
Pondering that plan now that I'm back listening to the doom and gloom, recriminations and rhetoric, I think the corporal should run for President on the platform he expressed to me on that chilly night at Camp Pendleton. He's got the right idea and some solid advice for all the rest of us. I know he's got me feeling a whole hell of a lot better about the state of our affairs. And there's another truth here that I should have remembered from my years of active duty. When you find yourself lost, dazed and confused, ask a corporal.
Posted By Captain Dale A. Dye at 5:23 PM / Category:General News
Saturday, 21
Fall-out From the Economic Nuke
Like a lot of other working stiffs stumbling around in a stupor and watching slack-jawed as huge chunks of our savings or retirement nest-eggs swirl down the crapper, I'm spending too much time these days dreaming about revenge. I mean, how sweet would it be to tack those selfish, short-sighted greedheads who walked point in Washington and Wall Street and led us all into an economic ambush up between the poles and use them as bayonet dummies? How cool would it be to Google-map their route from palatial manor to pit-stop where they refuel the Masseratti and plant a big-ass IED rigged for command detonation? Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord...and Marine snipers.
But none of that's going to happen. We'll all just sit here like the big dummies we are when it comes to domestic tranquility and focus on the pursuit of happiness until recovery efforts, either top-down or bottom-up, re-start the economic engine. It will happen sooner or later, one way or another, because as the movie writer would have us believe General Patton said, Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Maybe Patton didn't really say that but I believe he would have if he'd thought of it at the time.
Americans might not understand all the nuances and subtleties of the global economic system, but they'll fight like bloodthirsty bastards when cornered. And these days we're all cornered; being whipped like tied-up goats with rhetoric and theories on who hit John. It doesn't matter beyond such punishment as a court-martial may direct after the fact. What matters right now is doing some version of Muhammad Ali's rope-a-dope and staying on our feet as we reel with the punches. We'll fry the appropriate swine when the fire is right and lay on some new laws to plug the loopholes in the levee later. At the moment we've all got to heed the words of that immortal Drill Instructor who kept the platoon moving on the long march by reminding us that pain is just weakness leaving the body.
What makes that doubly difficult is all this talk about bail-outs. I just don't get it and it's not for lack of trying. Maybe it's just my military background but bail-out to me has always meant getting your knees in the breeze when the green light flashes and it's time to leave the aircraft, hopefully with a parachute strapped on your back. And that's the last thing we ought to be doing or talking about right now. We don't need to bail-out until we're completely out of altitude, air-speed and ideas. What we need to do is struggle up forward to the cockpit and start screaming at those dumb-ass pilots to save the plane before it crashes. But that means we're going to have to gear-up and put on our war faces. We can fight against what seem like insurmountable odds and in the face of staggering losses, or we can roll over and wait for the next economic train-wreck. I'm opting for what's behind door number one, thank you, because it's the American way.
We've done it before and, by God, we can do it again but it won't be easy and we'll all have to forget about instant gratification. It also wouldn't hurt to remember that we are one nation and that concept is both bigger and more worthy than any one individual. The sun neither rises nor sets on any individual American's rear-end and what we do in these tough times should be what's good for the nation. Sometimes the simplest truths are the hardest to come by but we need to focus here beyond the end of our noses.
Posted By Captain Dale A. Dye at 2:38 PM / Category:General News
Wednesday, 4
Rain on the plain in Hollywood
It's raining a real frog-strangler here in LA so I can't go outside and play. Not that I'd have anything particularly productive to do out there in the steady drizzle that Southern California needs so badly, what with the major studios in a period of mourning over their stock market losses and most production execs doing the deer-in-the-headlights deal when you ask about movie work. But it doesn't hurt to dream. And I tend to do a lot of that when I can't go out to play.
Sometimes I dream about the monsoon seasons in Vietnam that always brought plagues of malaria, dysentery, walking pneumonia and flu symptoms sweeping through the ranks of otherwise healthy young warriors. Those were the times when we got wet and stayed wet for weeks; passing the time between pointless patrols watching our exposed skin wrinkle, crack and fester. The only good aspect of operating in the monsoon season was the confidence that Mr. Charles and Nguyen of the North were suffering just as badly. I remember sitting in a platoon night defensive position somewhere down around An Hoa when it was raining so hard we had to use our helmets to bail out the fighting holes on the line and I think about the snickers that ran up and down that line because we were so miserable it struck us as funny. There's a perverse pride in those times that's a big part of my gratitude for having served in Vietnam with some really fine Americans.
Other times I dream about Sergeant Alan Gelb USMC, a combat photographer and good friend of mine, who lost his life when the NVA opened up on us while we were trying to negotiate a monsoon-swollen jungle stream west of Quang Tri. Al was clinging to a rope we'd rigged as a safety line across the rushing water when he was hit and lost his grip. No one could reach him in the torrent and it took us a couple of days to find his body where it washed up downstream. He hated the monsoons because they kept fogging up his lenses. I miss him when it rains.
Lately when it rains and I look out my office window onto the outskirts of a city that's still - for some arcane and inexplicable reason - the entertainment capital of the world, I dream about projects that I want to do in celebration of Al Gelb and hundreds of thousands of veterans like him. I wonder why I can't get the relative peanuts I need to do the story of the 82nd Airborne's gallant stand at the La Fiere causeway on D-Day in 1944. I wonder why someone in the production pipeline doesn't recognize the cross-cultural attraction of the story I wrote about a raggedy bunch of cast-offs in Vietnam who become one of the most effective Combined Action Platoons in the history of the program. And I ponder whether or not HBO will ever let me do a mini-series like Band of Brothers and The Pacific that follows the Marines from Inchon to the Frozen Chosin Reservoir in Korea.
I'd love to do those stories before I'm too old to go out and play anymore. Sometimes I feel like Syssiphus rolling that big rock up the mountain just to have it roll back down again just before he reaches the top. It's frustrating when money is tight and you're trying to convince some pop-culture bean-counter who wants to make the next celluloid comic book with superheroes in spandex that America will love your contrary, plug-ugly soldiers, sailors or Marines out there on a very fine edge laying their lives on the line and loving it. But that's the nature of my beast rain or shine. And I'd like to think some of that perverse pride I developed suffering under the driving monsoons will keep me on mission until I can it done.
Posted By Captain Dale A. Dye at 12:25 PM / Category:General News
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