My wife and I met friends who are visiting from the Philippines at the Metropolitan Museum of Art today. We got there early and we hadn’t had anything to eat for lunch, so we were checking out the food carts along 5th Avenue. Last night we were talking about Nathan’s hot dogs at Coney Island so I was thinking about getting a Nathan’s hot dog at their cart in front of the museum.
As we were walking down the block, my wife pointed out a hot dog stand run by veterans (there was only one there when we arrived, but I took the photo as we were leaving in the evening). I’d seen it before, but I had never stopped to take a look at it. I almost kept walking, but it’s Memorial Day, so I figured I’d see what the cart was all about. The Sgt. David Gonzales cart had some information on the window that says the cart is owned by veterans and employs disabled veterans. The cart was named after a US Marine who was killed in action in 1970.
We liked the idea of supporting a business that supports veterans in a tangible way, especially on today of all days, so we decided to get hot dogs there. While the lady behind the counter was preparing our food, I asked her what branch she served in. She said she was in the Marines. I told her I was in the Army. We talked about the military for a few minutes and when it came time to pay, she insisted that the hot dogs were on her. I really appreciated the thought, but slipped some cash into her tip box when she was helping the next customer anyway.
A few days ago I had to go to the Veteran’s Administration hospital in the Bronx for my annual physical. I was quite a few months late going this year. Last Semester was just too overwhelming for me to find time to get anything done. I still have lots of errands I need to take care of that I should have done during those four months as well as other things I want to get done before Spring starts.
I somehow don’t think I’m going to get through all of the reading I’d like to do before the semester starts, but I am enjoying having a lot more quality time with my wife. We’re catching up on a lot of television shows together. We sort of stopped loving Breaking Bad because it was dragging too much with the car wash nonsense and Skylar being so annoying (not to mention Walt was turning into sort of a wuss) and now we’re getting hooked on Fringe. Thanks Netflix! House of Cards was good too. I guess we’ll get back to Breaking Bad eventually.
I’m also trying to get my fitness level back up. I’m taking it slow though. I spent four months basically doing nothing physically strenuous. I have a Fitbit Force to help me stay motivated. It’s amazing how hard it is to cheat yourself when you can see the numbers in front of you plain as day, in terms of calories consumed versus calories burned.
So, coming back around to what I meant to write about in this post, which has to do with calories, I was surprised by just how disgustingly greasy the fried chicken at the VA hospital cafeteria was. When I went for my physical the doctor surprised me by telling me I should have blood work done. He surprised me more by having the nurse draw what seemed like almost a pint out of my arm. I didn’t have breakfast, so I went straight to the cafeteria afterwards to eat a decent meal to make sure I didn’t collapse on the way home.
There were plenty of choices but somehow the need to go a little overboard to replace all the blood I lost led me to the fried chicken buffet. It was a bad move. I put three fried wings on my plate but I could only stomach one before my stomach started to turn. At first I thought it was the change in diet I’d made away from greasy foods to more steamed and boiled dishes, but I’ve had fried chicken from other places, like Popeye’s, that didn’t leave such a bad taste in my mouth. We ate a plate of amazing soy garlic wings at Boka Bon Chon yesterday and it was fine, but hours after I left the hospital I could still taste heavy oil in my mouth. It must just be the way that chicken was prepared.
Thinking about it, I wonder if the same preparation method was used at the cafeterias I ate at when I was on active duty in the Army. Procedures are pretty standard in the military or military related facilities and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a field manual or technical manual related to the frying of chicken and operation of deep fryers. I used to really enjoy that chicken. Now I can’t stand it.
How much did the Army really teach me about physical fitness? I’m beginning to feel like I didn’t learn anything other than how to follow a physical exercise routine in the morning. I wasn’t taught how to evaluate food choices or supplement choices and I wasn’t given any understanding of how sleep, diet, and overall physical activity would affect my health. Perhaps I should have taken the initiative and looked that up myself, but as a young soldier who was trained to just listen and do as instructed, it never occurred to me to think that far outside the box, especially when sleep deprivation and ordering pizza are such big parts of military culture. So, I would exercise in the morning, eat fried chicken for lunch, maybe pizza for dinner, and then I would wonder why I never really saw any physical improvement.
If I recall correctly, the units I was in had people who were trained to be masters of physical fitness. They went to some sort of course to learn about physical fitness. What was the point of that? Were they not trained properly? Did the command structure ignore their recommendations? Or was it just a mark on a check-list to satisfy civilian committees who evaluated the military’s commitment to the health and well-being of service members that was never seriously implemented?
I learned a lot from my time in the military, but the more I learn outside of the military, the more I realize I was left in the dark in areas that were key to being a successful soldier. But, I suppose one can’t expect the military structure, composed mostly of high school graduates, to impart the understanding that comes with a college education and life experience to new recruits. Officers could do something about that, being college graduates, but there aren’t enough officers and that isn’t really their job.
While my wife and I were down in Georgia, it wouldn’t have made sense for me to not show her around Fort Benning. I did my basic training there in 1998, after all, on Sand Hill at 2/54 (2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment). After spending some time driving around Sand Hill, getting lost, using my phone to consult Google Maps and then finding our way back to the highway, we got over to the National Infantry Museum. Technically, it’s not on Fort Benning; it’s just out the gate in Columbus, Georgia.
I wasn’t really expecting much when we drove up to the parking lot. I’d heard good things about the NIM but I remembered how decrepit the old museum building was. I’d only gone there once when it happened to be closed and spent my time outside looking at the tanks. From the moment we walked up to the building entrance, though, I could tell the planners had put quite a bit of effort into making the NIM a place worth visiting.
There was no fee to get in. That was a bit of a surprise. I guess I’m used to New York City, where every museum and art gallery wants to push you to the brink of poverty with their entrance prices, though those prices are usually just recommended donations, meaning you can give less and still get in. Anyway, there were donation boxes scattered around the lobby and we gave about ten bucks.
The most visually appealing part of the museum is the ramp that stands directly ahead of the entrance. It takes you up through recreated scenes of eight famous battles that were decisively won by the infantry, from Redoubt #10 in the American Revolution to WWs I and II and up to the recent invasion of Iraq in 2003 (of which I was a part). There’s no Natural History Museum or any serious art galleries in Columbus, but having a military history museum available must be nice, especially considering that quite a few people in the area are military or military dependents (wife/husband/kids). While we were looking at the recreations, a man was walking up the ramp with what I assume were his sons, telling them about the battles and why they were significant. The kids looked really impressed. I wonder why it is that war is always such a hook for people (especially kids) when studying history?
Behind the ramp of the eight historic battles was an area that had a lot of photos and videos about drill sergeants and infantry training on Fort Benning, called OSUT now, which stands for One Station Unit Training. Unlike other job specialties in the military, infantryman do all of their training in one spot, from beginning to end as one unit. For example, I wasn’t infantry, so while I did my basic training in an infantry training battalion on Fort Benning, I did my advanced training at Fort Lee, Virginia.
After you finish looking at the training stuff, you can go down to the lower level and look at thematic galleries that address different periods, wars, or theaters of war. Those were pretty cool. There were a lot more artifacts there than I expected, the most surprising of which to me was Hermann Goering’s Nazi baton.
The baton made me think about how these days you can’t keep anything you find on the battlefield. Now they call them “war trophies” and a soldier can face legal action under the military justice system for sending that type of stuff home. I don’t know why. If you’re going to ask soldiers to do something stupid for ambiguous reasons, you ought to at least let them keep a souvenir. Not that I think wholesale looting should be allowed, either, though. I suppose the problem of where to draw the line led them to think it would be better to ban it all together.
My favorite parts of the display were the mock trench from the trench warfare in World War I and the explanations of how the 3rd Infantry Division got its motto: “Rock of the Marne”. I was in a unit attached to the 3rd ID during my first enlistment and while I was in Iraq. At Fort Stewart, Georgia, where the 3rd ID used to be based out of, we’d sing the Dog Faced Soldier song every morning before PT, and Rock of the Marne was a go-to phrase when greeting officers (ex: “Rock of the Marne, sir.”)
I also enjoyed seeing the stuff from the war between America and the Philippines, which mostly revolved around fighting the tribes in Mindanao who refused to be subjugated. The information placards there indicated that the US eventually won that fight, though my wife disagreed and said that’s wrong, that those people were never conquered; they resisted the Spanish, the Japanese, the US, and even the national Philippines government. I think just recently the Philippines government had to grant them limited autonomy to get them to stop blowing stuff up.
A family member told me that a person could probably look through the entire place in about 4 hours, but I have to disagree. If we stopped to read and look at each exhibit thoroughly, we could easily spend two days there and not get bored. When we went, two of the galleries, the ones for the earliest periods of US history, weren’t even open yet. That would make the trip even longer. We wished we had more time to enjoy the museum, but we’d only set aside one afternoon of our vacation for the museum. We’ll have to go back again next time.
I’ve been trying to keep up with the news about what’s going on with the incident at Fort Hood and it looks like Nidal Malik Hasan is going to be facing the death penalty. Well, that’s what prosecutors are pushing for anyway. He’ll be tried in a military court, rather than a civilian one, and if he is executed it will be the first time that an active duty serviceman is put to death since 1961.
That’s all well and good but honestly I’d rather the guy spend the rest of his life in a Federal penitentiary, without the possibility of parole. It would be like throwing a child molester into a general population prison. This guy killed soldiers in a cowardly act of domestic terrorism and I think it would be much fairer for him to get his ass beaten in jail every day for the rest of his life. Ya, the other people in the Federal penitentiary may have broken the law as well, but I have a feeling that the majority of them won’t take kindly to a person who killed a bunch of soldiers on a US military base, especially given his terrorist ties.
Something that’s bothering me is that the papers and online news sites are still referring to him as a Major. They’re also still referring to him as a soldier. While both of these are technically true, I think he’s lost the right to be accorded that honor. Yes, it’s an honor to be called a soldier. It’s an honor to be addressed by the rank you’ve been awarded. It’s an honor to be acknowledged as one of the country’s finest. He’s a domestic terrorist with ties to known Middle Eastern terrorists. He killed real soldiers. He’s not a soldier. He’s not a Major. He’s just an asshole.
Also, people seem to be trying to paint Hasan as the victim, or at least a victim, in this whole scenario. He’s not a victim. In fact, I read that he wasn’t even a therapist. He was just one of the people that processes paperwork and occasionally prescribes medication. It’s likely he never spent more than 15 minutes with any single person. He certainly wasn’t putting them on a couch and trying to couch them through personal problems or help them deal with PTSD. That being the case, you can’t even claim that he was suffering from some second-hand PTSD, whatever the hell that’s supposed to be. Does anyone else notice how medical illnesses seem to create themselves whenever someone does something f*cked up and wants to justify their actions?
It’s pretty clear what happened to him. This guy never felt like he was an American. He never felt like he belonged. He had an ideological difference with how the US does business. For whatever reason, he joined the Army as an officer. That was the stupidest thing he could’ve done. People join the Army for a lot of different reasons, but to some degree all soldiers are patriotic. So, if you don’t believe in what your country is doing why be in the military? I refuse to believe that he didn’t have ample time to resign his commission. Instead of doing that though, he reached out to Islamic extremists and used his position of trust as a military officer to do as much damage to the Army as he could alone.
People are arguing that if this guy was a Christian his beliefs wouldn’t be at the forefront of the investigation, but we’re not at war with a Christian country and we’re not at war with groups of extremist Christians. Hasan is a Muslim with ties to Muslim extremists, who committed this atrocious act with the idea of protecting his Muslim beliefs in mind. His religion has everything to do with the investigation and with the cause of the killing of 12 US Soldiers and 1 devoted contracted medical professional.
I’m in no way saying that we should take a hard stance against having Muslims in our military. I know a lot of Muslims, especially after having lived over here in Singapore, and for the most part they’re good or just average people. They live their lives more or less the same way any other person does. Hey, there are even gay Muslims. I think people have the misconception that all Muslims are hard ass extremists. That’s simply not the case. What I am saying is that we need to take a harder look at Muslims who are put into positions of authority and trust, at least for the time being, to make sure they have no ties to any extremist groups. Consider the minor loss of privacy to those individuals a temporary necessity of war. At least we’re not throwing them all in concentration camps like we did to the Japanese during the second World War. Hasan had obvious and known ties to extremists and it was brushed off by top government agencies as legitimate professional and educational research. I call bullshit on that. I think someone just dropped the ball. At a time when we’re at war with Muslim extremist groups I think more care should be given to those who are obviously reaching out to them, especially those who are within our military ranks. I’m getting really tired of seeing our government drop the ball when it comes to stuff like this. First the September 11th, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center in NYC. Now this. What next? Are we going to miss connecting the dots and have a whole city get blown up?
I have a feeling this is going to turn into a long drawn out process. The legal proceedings I mean. This guy will probably push for appeal after appeal, and the final execution order would have to be signed by the President himself, since he’s technically in the military. For example, remember the other guy that rolled a grenade into a tent full of soldiers in Kuwait? Well, that guy, then Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar, was sentenced to death four years ago. His case is still held up in the first level appellate courts.
On Thursday afternoon at around 1 PM CST at Fort Hood, Texas, there was a tragedy involving an Army major opening fire on fellow soldiers. The result was that 12 soldiers died and 28 were wounded. I can relate to this incident because I spent 8 years in the US Army. I don’t have a degree in Military Science. I was just a soldier, a Sergeant, but something like this really hits home for me, because I spent 8 years of my life living through the Army experience. It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad either, and what I miss most about it is the people. And, the people are who suffered in this tragedy, so after reading the news articles and watching some of the videos, I can’t help but wonder what happened. I didn’t get along with everyone I served with. In fact, I had a serious dislike for some of those bastards, but there was never a day where I’d have chosen an outsider over another soldier, for whatever reason. It may sound cheesy, or like some line from a movie, but you do form a bond with each other and on some level you feel like you belong.
Most of the reports indicate that the shooting took place in the Soldier Readiness Center on Fort Hood. Just to clarify what that means, it’s a place where soldiers go to verify paperwork and ensure medical readiness prior to and after deploying. I’ve been through one on two occasions. I can’t remember every step, but there are medical checks including verifying whether or not you’re current on vaccinations, audiograms, and getting your eyes checked, as well as paperwork checks to make sure your last will and testament are complete and up to date. You can also have powers-of-attorney made to allow family members to handle your business for you while you’re gone. Typically, whole units at a time, and usually more, will go through these checks at once, for the sake of ensuring it gets done and everyone gets processed. It’s a really busy place with a lot of ‘stations’. It’s crowded, chaotic, and I can very easily see an incident happening in one area of an SRC without the rest of the poeople there being immediately aware.
The shooter in this incident, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was a mental health professional, whose job was to help soldiers returning from deployments deal with post traumatic stress syndrome. Every day he listened to soldiers tell him about their troubles, about the things they’d done and seen, and about how they couldn’t adjust to ‘regular’ life again. This is a pretty serious issue in the Army. The first time I came back from a deployment, when I was returning from Iraq, there wasn’t any sort of training about dealing with these kinds of issues. As the war dragged on, though, the Army recognized the problem and addressed it by providing training before and after deployments about PTSD. I distinctly remember watching the videos after my second deployment and thinking they were cheesy, but they addressed a serious problem. In addition to these videos, soldiers who self-reported problems could receive additional therapy and consultation, which is what I assume Major Hasan’s job entailed. With Major Hasan already dealing with a lot of internal struggles about the possibility of having to confront other Muslims in combat, hearing these details daily must have piled on the stress tremendously.
I spent some time in Iraq during 2003, when the initial wave of US troops entered the country. I was in Kuwait when the war started on a training deployment and our unit was pushed forward to provide logistics and repair support. Ya, I wasn’t in a combat unit. I was a supply specialist. Most of my duties involved warehousing operations, logistics convoys and vehicle recovery operations, since I was certified to operate the large forklifts sometimes required to flip over and lift vehicles, or pieces of vehicles onto trailers. I didn’t see much of any combat. I was only fired on once during the time I was there. I did see the results of combat though. It wasn’t pretty. Still, living in the middle of a foreign country where every person you encounter could potentially end your life, going to sleep each night wondering if a mortar would land in your tent and you’d never wake up again… Well, it was stressful. I still think about it sometimes.
I can only imagine the kind of mental problems combat troops come home with. I really felt for those guys. Sometimes they would come through our camp in Bradley Fighting Vehicles or M1 Abrahms tanks, and I would mentally wish them luck as they rolled by. I knew I had it easier than they did. I remember one time I was on guard duty at a checkpoint and a Bradley (if I remember right) stopped and the hatch popped up. The driver offered me 20 bucks for a pack of smokes. The American money we brought with us didn’t mean much out there. I tossed the guy my pack and told him to keep it. It was the least I could do. I never even knew the guy’s name, or whether he’s still alive today. Just the same, some of the chopper pilots running supplies up from Kuwait would give us cartons of cigarettes, because they knew we didn’t have a way to get any. It’s the small things that reminded us that we were all in the same boat, that we were part of a larger family, and we were taking care of each other as best we could.
So, it really disturbed me to find out that a solider, a Major no less, opened fire on fellow soldiers. It’s disgusting to me that soldiers died on a military base in the US, under fire, without a chance to defend themselves because one guy couldn’t handle the pressure. These are people that, for whatever reason, made an oath to defend the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Who could’ve guessed that the domestic enemy would be one of their own, a person who had been entrusted with the rank of Major and also entrusted with the mental health of soldiers returning from combat. Perhaps it’s unreasonable, but officers, at least those that get promoted to Captain and above, are supposed to be the kind of guys you should emulate. They’re supposed to be the ones who have things under control and set the example for the troops under their command. They’re held to a higher standard. Perhaps that was part of the problem though. Enlisted soldiers or the ranks E-6 (Staff Sergeant) and below are pushed through all of the hoops and are scrutinized carefully. I have no clue, but I assume the same is true for the officer ranks of Captain and below. Once you get above those points, though, you’re golden and are often able to excuse yourself from training or appointments. You get away with more and are therefore more likely to fall through the cracks if you have a problem. I think people forget that they’re still human despite their rank.
The reports I’ve read say that Major Hasan was a Muslim, and that he’d been harassed by other soldiers because of his religion ever after the September 11th incident. They also said that he had tried to leave military service but hadn’t been successful. I really don’t understand that part. What contract had he signed that required him to stay in for 8 years past the time when he first expressed the desire to resign? Some officers have to stay in for a term of four years, to pay back college loans. Beyond that, I believe they can tender their resignation at their convenience, barring the setting of a “stop-loss” just prior to their unit deploying. If this guy was really serious about getting out of the military he had ample time to make it happen. Maybe he thought he could handle it. Maybe he thought he could deal with the occasional taunting. Maybe he thought he’d found a safe spot where he wouldn’t get deployed. Prior to my completing my contract and leaving the military, a lot of folks were very interested in finding out which bases had the lowest deployment rates and then finding ways to get assigned there. Maybe he got comfortable, and then was suddenly presented with orders to be deployed to the Middle East.
I remember when I got deployed to Kuwait the first and second time, and was informed that we would be moving forward to Iraq during the first deployment. You really have no choice but to accept it. You might not want to go, but no one does. You see, when you get orders like that you either go, or you go AWOL. When you go AWOL you can’t work because the IRS will report you to the military and you’ll be picked up by Military Police. When you get orders, you have to suck it up and push forward with the mission until the mission is done. That doesn’t mean you don’t bitch and moan about it along the way, but you don’t go apeshit and kill your buddies either. In short, when you get orders you’re locked in. I was actually extended past my contract date for a deployment. My discharge paperwork reads “extended XXX days for the convenience of the government.” So ya, there’s really no way out, even if your discharge date was close at hand. He was locked in. I imagine he must have tried to fight the deployment, possibly using his rank to try to sway someone into reassigning him elsewhere, but it must have failed, and after failing, he must have felt trapped.
This guy had some serious personal conflicts with the deployment. From what I gather he seems to have been very conflicted about the potential of having to kill other Muslims. It wouldn’t be likely, given that he was a health care professional, but it was possible. Even if he had never pulled the trigger he might have felt as if he were an accomplice to the murder of other Muslims, depending on his view of the ‘rightness’ or legality of the war. Feeling trapped, feeling conflicted about killing other Muslims, and feeling afraid of what might happened based on the stories he was told by his patients, it must have caused him to snap.
He apparently disposed of his personal belongings prior to going in to work Thursday morning. It seems as though he had reached the decision much in advance of his actions. What I wonder is why did he choose a path of violence? He could have simply refused to go and accepted the consequences. It might have resulted in his being jailed and losing his rank, but isn’t that a better option than killing your comrades, possibly dying, and swaying public opinion of Muslims into a much worse light than they already are? Let’s face it. Most Americans see Muslims as fear mongering, hate filled people who are all potential terrorists that are not to be trusted. Some Americans even feel that all Arabs and/or Muslims in the US should be rounded up into internment camps like the Japanese-Americans were during World War II. His actions have definitely not helped the situation any. The weirdest part is that the morning before he did this, he handed out copies of the Koran to his neighbors. What a way to advertise! “What’s up guys! Here, have a copy of the Koran. It’s great and will help you lead peaceful lives devoted to Allah. Now, pardon me. I have a readiness center to shoot up, Praise Allah!” I just don’t see this going over too well. If things were bad for Muslims in the US, and Muslims in the Army specifically, it’s only going to get worse now. Oh, and after that he went to his regular convenience store and bought breakfast and had a chat with the store owner. I guess he wasn’t too disturbed by what he was about to do.
Almost as disturbing as the tragedy itself are some of the reactions of people on the Internet. Mostly people are posting out of ignorance, but some people are outright lauding this man’s actions. It’s infuriating. What people fail to realize is that the soldiers themselves shouldn’t be blamed for the actions of the government. I’m sure there are some nutballs in the Army that can’t wait to go to combat, but for the most part soldiers are just like everyone else. They’re normal folks that go to work during the day, then go home at night to their families, or to their computers and XBOXs. They’re just people who got a job they could do to put food on the table for themselves or their family. Some soldiers don’t even want to be in the Army at all and are just doing service to pay off loans or save up money so they can do something else. Still, they’re all bound by contracts and they can’t just quit. And, they all have to follow orders or risk going to jail, which could put their families in jeopardy and sacrifice their future careers. I just wish people would ask questions and think a bit before blurting out ridiculous statements about soldiers. It’s also a bit ridiculous that some people have asked why Majar Hasan was able to kill and wound so many people before the police showed up. A military post in the US is like a town. There aren’t tanks rolling down the streets, or armed soldiers on every corner. There are no choppers flying through the air monitoring the situation. The firearms are all locked up in armories and require a unit commander’s approval to be released for cleaning or use at a range for annual qualification (which makes me wonder how Major Hasan had those two pistols in the first place). There are usually a mix of military police officers and contracted civilians. Response time for law enforcement on a military base is generally the same as or a bit better than that in a regular town.
The whole situation is disgusting. I kinda understand where the guy was coming from, but I just can’t understand what he was thinking when he decided that killing a bunch of people was the way to solve his problem. I’m actually glad Major Hasan is alive. Now he can stand trial for what he’s done. And, after all that shame, embarrassment and knowing that he’s made the US a worse place for Muslims, I hope they hang his ass.