So yesterday morning I decided I wanted to go up-country a bit and talk with some commanders and staff about certain aspects of leadership and leadership development. So, I got on our handy-dandy air portal and signed up for a helicopter (CH47 Chinook) flight out of a nearby airbase for 1930. At about 1830 SGM drove me over to the base and I found I had not been manifested. Didn’t matter, because weather had socked in all rotary flights since 1500; they went ahead and added me to the list of passengers. I also went over to the Air Force folks and signed up for a fixed-wing flight scheduled to go to the same place at 0200. SGM then left me and returned to Victory. I read a book, made a couple of calls on the free phones provided by the USO (but only got a hold of Mom and surprised her with my voice!) At 2300 the call came through that all rotary (helo) flights were cancelled across central Iraq for the night due to the weather situation. Lots of groans from all the folks on the flight line. I went back over to the Air Force and their flight was still a ‘go.’ At 2330 we manifested (about 40 of us) and we finally made our way to the plane about 0100 this morning. Besides my body armor, helmet and weapon, I only had one small rucksack so not much trouble. It was a C-130 Hercules (4 props), the old workhorse of Army-Air Force cooperation for decades. I have flown more in this aircraft than any other. Same old rigged jump seats, too. I sat down, strapped in and promptly fell asleep; the stiffness and height of the body armor makes a nice headrest. Sometime in there the engines started and revved and they raised the ramp. Suddenly, about the time we should have been taxiiing, I heard the crew chief yell – ‘We’re shutting down and everybody has to get off. Sorry about that.’ Really more groans now! Then, he turned to me and said, ‘Sir ,can you step up front for a minute?’ At the ladder to the cockpit, he whispered, over the engines, “Sir, we’re still taking you with us. Could you jump up into the cockpit so the others don’t see you are staying? I did as bid. Ten minutes later the other passengers had debarked and their gear had been off-loaded from the ramp. The crew all gathered in the cockpit – there were three young captains (two pilots and a navigator, all under 30), the crew chief and the airman. They informed me that the weather situation was such that they were not allowed to make the flight with passengers but, they figured, as a lieutenant colonel, I must be important enough to get to my destination. No argument from me. After some more talk about weather impacts (“The rules here say we can’t fly.” “But the regs say we can.” “And the charts and reports are at least 4 hours old.” “And I don’t want to spend the night here.”, etc, etc), with me as bemused bystander, the two pilots decided to return to the weather room and get the latest guidance. I remained with the other three and we talked college and sports; the airman is from Madison Wisconsin and is a rabid Badger! And the navigator is a Texas A&M Aggie all the way. He, by the way, was in favor of flying regardless of what anyone said – “I can get us there,” he kept repeating. Eventually, 0245, the pilots returned and told me “Sir, our higher in the UAE, has given us permission to make this night flight, under night-vision goggles, in this weather, and into a very short airstrip none of us has ever seen before, even in daylight. If I decide at the last moment, that I can’t make it, I am to abort and take this bird to Kuwait and not back here. Do you still want to go with us?” Now, I thought, who can pass up an offer of adventure like that?! So, I said “I need to chew some ass down in Ali al Salem anyway (in Kuwait), so if that happens I can make something out of it, as long as I get a flight back up here tomorrow.” No problem, the pilot told me. So, we were off. Again, these were all young guys and they were excited to be doing something new and a bit dangerous and, at least, interesting in this boring old war of theirs. The crew went through their checklists in their painstaking manner (thankfully) and at 0300 we revved and throttled those big engines and taxiied out onto the runway. I have never flown in a large plane cockpit before (several Cessnas but nothing like this). It was awesome! What a view; the nose of a C-130 has a ton of window and I had the cat’s perch. Watching these young men work, rumbling down the runway, goggled eyes scanning left, right and front, was pretty cool. True professionals. The navigator would stand and peer out from time to time. We took off quickly (a C-130 does not need much runway, and that is why it is so useful to us Army guys), and we banked off into the black. We reached our cruising altitude pretty fast and I had a perfect view of the giant city spread out before me. The liveliness of it, even at that hour, makes me think this whole endeavor will succeed. As we approached our destination camp, I kept a sharp eye back and forth between navigator and pilot. We did overfly the objective the first time. I don’t know if this was intentional or not. It was their first time to this strip and there was the weather. However, it is not usual to do this with enemy about. You don’t want to loiter around or do a slow lazy circle back in. But we did. I was OK with it. Not that I had any choice. We banked incredibly sharply, lots of Gs, and came into the airstrip. 500 the computer voice intoned, 450, meantime the navigator is calling it out too, 250, 200, the pavement is coming up real fast now, 100, 50, 30, 10, touchdown. Immediately, the engines kicked into reverse and the plane stopped almost on a dime. Great bird! We spun around in front of the Iraqi Air Force bays and I saw two pickups waiting. The crew chief gave me the thumbs up and I was released. I scampered down the cockpit ladder and out the ramp on the tail of the plane. I was met by a senior NCO on the tarmac who pointed me to the trucks. I walked over and found my good friend Major Scott Shaw. Ten years ago this very month, he and I had flown into the Sinai peninsula with our battalion (I was XO and he was my S-3 Air) for a six-month peacekeeping deployment on the Egyptian-Israeli border. He took me back to his office, filed some reports and then hit the sack at about 0430. Got up today (its all one long day now) and met with some officers in the late morning and afternoon. Met up with an old cadet of mine, Captain Megan (Noble) Andros, for lunch and then caught the late afternoon UH-60 Blackhawk flight back to my home base. Again, there was a screw up with the manifest, but my rank allowed them to put me on the list. In both cases, I did not say or do anything to ‘use rank’ or ‘push it.’ It was simply that I was the highest ranking person around both times and the folks ‘made it happen.’ Its funny – here in the Palace, there are a couple billion lieutenant colonels running around, while out in the sticks there are fewer and fewer; so it felt good to be one again. On the flight back, we came in over farmland between the fertile Tigris and Euphrates; at times my mind wandered as I was watching the pastoral scene and it was as if I was looking at an American farming landscape. Only a dirty brown home or stretch of poor irrigation canal would give it away. All in all, a very good day and quite productive. And I very much enjoyed my flight last night; glad to have been with those young guys as they did some new things.
Interesting piece on Cuba from Nick Kristof this morning in the NYT. His take is pretty much the one we (Brian, Sheryl, EHE) have taken since our first visit nearly four years ago. We have found the people to be just about the most friendly and open we have met anywhere in our travels, and the country to be the safest and one of the most beautiful we have visited.
HAVANA — It has been 60 years since Fidel Castro marched into Havana, so it’s time for both Cuba and the United States to grow up. Let’s let Cuba be a normal country again.
Cuba is neither the demonic tyranny conjured by some conservatives nor the heroic worker paradise romanticized by some on the left. It’s simply a tired little country, no threat to anyone, with impressive health care and education but a repressive police state and a dysfunctional economy.
Driving in from the airport, I saw billboards denouncing the American economic embargo as the “longest genocide in history.” That’s ridiculous. But the embargo itself is also absurd and counterproductive, accomplishing nothing but hurting the Cuban people — whom we supposedly aim to help.
After six decades, can’t we move on? Let’s drop the embargo but continue to push Havana on improving human rights, and on dropping support for other oppressive regimes, like those in Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Let’s make room for nuance: Cuba impoverishes its citizens and denies them political rights, but it does a good job providing basic education and keeping people healthy. As I noted in my last column, on Cuba’s health care system, Cuba’s official infant mortality rate is lower than America’s (its real rate may or may not be).
I’m not a Cuba expert, and I don’t know how this country will evolve. But Cuba has a new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who is associated with experiments in opening up the economy. Fidel is gone and his brother Raúl is fading from the scene.
In the 1960s, we were scared of Cuba. We feared that neighboring countries would tumble like dominoes into the Communist bloc, and the Soviet Union attempted to place on Cuba nuclear missiles that could have threatened America. But today even as those fears have dissipated, our policy has ossified.
President Barack Obama took the necessary step of re-establishing diplomatic relations and easing the embargo, but President Trump reversed course and tightened things up again out of knee-jerk hostility to anything Cuban and anything Obaman.
Cuba is changing, albeit too slowly. About one-third of its labor force is now in the private sector, and this is just about the only part of the economy that is thriving. I stayed in one of the growing number of Airbnbs in Havana, and people were friendly, even if governments are not: When I said I was from the United States, I inevitably got a big grin and a reference to a cousin in Miami or New York or Cleveland.
Plus, extra credit goes to a country that so lovingly preserves old American cars. I rode in from the airport in a pink 1954 Cadillac.
In another sign of flexibility, Cuba recently hammered out a deal with Major League Baseball that will allow Cuban players to travel legally to the U.S. and play on American teams.
Yet, sadly, the Trump administration is threatening the deal.
Consider the persistence of North Korea and Cuba, and there’s an argument that sanctions and isolation preserve regimes rather than topple them. China teaches us not to be naïve about economic engagement toppling dictators, but on balance tourists and investors would be more of a force for change than a seventh decade of embargo.
Moreover, trade, tourism, travel and investment empower a business community and an independent middle class. These are tools to destabilize a police state and help ordinary Cubans, but we curtail them. America blames the Castros for impoverishing the Cuban people, but we’ve participated in that impoverishment as well.
Cuba’s government is not benign. It’s a dictatorship whose economic mismanagement has hurt its people, and Human Rights Watch says it “routinely relies on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics.” But it doesn’t normally execute them (or dismember them in consulates abroad like our pal Saudi Arabia), and it tolerates some criticism from brave bloggers like Yoani Sánchez.
It is revising its Constitution, and my hope is that over time — despite ideologues in both Havana and the United States — relations will continue to develop. Some American seniors who now winter in Florida could become snowbirds in Cuba instead, relying on its health care, low prices, great beaches and cheap labor. You can hire a home health care aide for a month in Havana for the cost of one for a day in Florida.
China’s economic boom began in the early 1980s partly with factories financed by Chinese overseas, and after the American embargo ends, Cuba will have similar opportunities to forge mutually beneficial business partnerships with Cubans overseas.
That would benefit both sides. For 60 years we’ve been feuding, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, in a conflict whose origins most Americans don’t even remember clearly.
So come on. We should all be bored by a lifetime of mutual recriminations and antagonisms. Let’s put aside the ideology, end the embargo, tone down the propaganda and raise a mojito together.
I propose a toast to a new beginning.
On December 12, 1969, a 1,350-man Civic Action Group from the Army of the Philippines, departs South Vietnam. They were part of the Free World Military Forces, an effort by President Johnson to enlist allies for the war. By securing support, Johnson hoped to build an international consensus behind his Vietnam policies.
The Philippine unit entered Vietnam in September 1966, operating in the Tay Ninh Province northwest of Saigon. The force included engineers, medical and rural …community development teams, field artillery, and a logistics and headquarters element.
Ultimately, Johnson’s FWMF program failed as only 5 nations responded. South Korea sent over 300,000 men (50,000 in country at one time), while the Philippines sent 11,000, Australia 7,500, New Zealand 550 and Spain 30.
Join us this coming April 16-29, 2018 as we explore the incredible country of Vietnam, from its history and culture to its beaches and cities and mountains!
Here is a very interesting article on the importance of the US in the Great War, and the importance of remembering.
We will be leading a phenomenal expedition to France next July 1-7 to do just that — remember America in World war One. The beautiful French countryside adds to the trip!
Check-out the link below for more information on this amazing adventure!
50 years ago last week Father Angelo Litecky, priest of 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, earned the Medal of Honor for his heroism in bringing 20 wounded men to safety in a very tough battle in Bien Hoa. The article in the link below tells the incredible story.
Join us next April 16-29, 2018 as we explore America and Vietnam at 50. This is an amazing country with great natural beauty and a vibrant culture filled with friendly people.
This would make a truly wonderful Christmas prese…nt for your self or those you love.
Check-out the link below for more information on the trip!
Here is the link on Father Litecky’s story of the patrol with Alpha Company:
A year ago yesterday, Sheryl and I had the privilege, with our EHE guests and friends, to attend the national Pearl Harbor Memorial Ceremonies on the 75th commemoration of that dark day. Our great additional privilege was to escort one of our guests, Stan Van Hoose, who had been assigned as a navigator’s assistant on the bridge of the USS Maryland that Sunday morning, just behind the Arizona and tied next to the Oklahoma. Stan was amazing throughout the trip, sharing his experiences with the hundreds who stopped to talk with him. On just one occasion did his great shoulders heave and sob — as we first came aboard the Arizona memorial and I wheeled him over to the water’s edge and we looked down upon the ship and her men below. Then, we went forward and talked about the men as we examined the wall of those who died that morning. It is something I will always cherish and never forget. In total, there were some 250+ veterans of Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War in attendance.
In June 2019, we will lead an EHE expedition to attend the 75th commemoration activities for D-Day on the beaches of Normandy. We attended the 70th and it was amazing. I am certain the 75th will be even better and, frankly, probably the last time we will have such numbers of veterans in attendance. The link to the trip is below. I hope you can join us.
“We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history.”
~ Judge John C. Hayes III of Rock Hill, SC in 2015
On Jan. 31, 1961, 10 black students sat at a whites-only lunch counter at a local Rock Hill store and asked to be served.
Dragged by police from their stools, the protesters, from nearby Friendship Junior College, were charged with breach of peace and trespassing. Judge Billy D. Hays gave them a choice: pay a $100 fine or spend 30 days on a chain gang.
The choice was clear. They would not pay fines and thereby subsidize a segregationist government. They took the jail time (knowing it would cost the county money for room & board), and thus galvanized the fledgling civil rights movement.
They had embraced a new strategy of resistance: “jail, not bail.” Their idea was to embarrass segregated Southern towns by compounding arrest with the spectacle of being imprisoned merely for ordering lunch or sitting in the wrong part of a bus or theater, or attending an all-white church.
Their lawyer was Ernest A. Finney Jr., who began practicing full time only in 1960 after doubling as a teacher and working part time in a restaurant to make ends meet. He would later represent thousands of other civil rights defendants. Most lost their cases in South Carolina’s local courts. All but two, however, were later absolved on appeal.
54 years after the arrests, Finney returned to Rock Hill to reargue the case. Most of the defendants joined him. Judge Finney, 83, hobbled into the courtroom and rose slowly to address Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III.
Wearing a tie emblazoned with the state’s palmetto and crescent moon logo, Finney appealed to the court to exonerate the men, who had been sentenced in 1961 by Judge Hayes’ uncle. “Justice and equity demand that this motion be granted,” Finney declared.
It was. In a bittersweet rebuke to the past, the convictions were overturned. The sentences were vacated. The prosecutor apologized.
Justice Finney graduated from law school in 1954, the same year the United States Supreme Court delivered its Brown v. Board of Education decision. At the time, only a handful of black lawyers were practicing in South Carolina, and blacks were excluded from juries. In 1976, he was elected the state’s first black Circuit Court judge. In 1985, the Legislature named him to the State Supreme Court — the first black since Reconstruction in 1877. In 1994, the General Assembly elected him Chief Justice of South Carolina.
“I would like to be thought of as the man who did the best he could with what he had for as long as I could. All people have a responsibility to be the very best that we can be in whatever we do, and by and large, if you do that, the color of your skin becomes less and less important.”
“For some reason, I have always felt that if America was to live up to its promises to all people, I thought the law would be the basis for change. We knew the law at the time was against us, but we never lost faith that what we perceived to be justice would prevail. When I look at how far we have come today, I have to say, ‘If there’s a man who ought to be impressed with the fact that the law works, I’m that man.’”
Finney died on Sunday in Columbia, SC. He was 86.
God bless Justice Finney and the Civil Rights movement he represented so well.
“In the fall of 1941, mysterious letters appeared in the mailboxes of a select group of young women attending the Seven Sisters colleges. Chosen for their aptitude in such subjects as math, English, history, foreign languages and astronomy, the women were invited to meet one-on-one with senior professors. At Wellesley, the students were asked unusual questions: Did they like doing crossword puzzles, and did they have imminent wedding plans? Those women who gave the right answers — yes, and no — were asked to sign confidentiality agreements and join a hush-hush government project.”
This is the opening to a review of “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.” Looking forward to reading this book, about codebreakers working in conjunction with those at Bletchley Park in England — helping to destroy the Nazis. From Rosie the Riveter to the women flying the planes to Europe to the codebreakers and many, many more — American women were doing their part to rid the world of Nazis and fascism.
“These young Gestapo guys don’t even check papers well anymore.”
~ Irv Refkin
A young Jewish-American OSS (Office of Strategic Services) spy during WWII, Refkin spent a lot of time behind enemy lines, usually disguised as a German corporal (“No one has ever noticed a corporal,” he said).
On this occasion he was having drinks with a Wehrmacht colonel in a Paris hotel when a Gestapo officer asked for their identification. The colonel expressed such indignation that the frazzled Gestapo officer stalked off and Refkin sardonically said the above to the colonel as they continued to quaff drinks.
Refkin said the OSS encouraged its field agents improvise as needed. “They told you what they wanted to get done, but they didn’t tell you how to do it.”
During the war, among other exploits, Refkin, aged 20-23, smuggled explosives to the French Resistance, infiltrated Nazi Germany and killed specific targets integral to the war machine, and sabotaged rail tracks that slowed down the German armored response to the Normandy/D-Day landings.
Refkin passed this week at 96. God speed, American hero.