The Veteran’s Memorial Park in Tupelo, Mississippi

Something that surprised me about Tupelo, Mississippi was the fact that there are so many military veteran’s living there. Some of them I could just look at and tell were in the military before. I don’t know why. That sort of thing sometimes sticks with a person. Maybe it was the level of physical fitness and the haircut, or the way they carried themselves. Others were wearing hats identifying themselves as veterans of previous conflicts. My suspicions were confirmed by the friends we were visiting.

But, what I couldn’t figure out was why those people all chose to live in Tupelo. What does it offer? Is it because they all came from Tupelo originally? Are there that many military veterans in the country now, that small towns are becoming saturated with them? I just can’t see myself getting out of the military and choosing, of all places, to go to Tupelo, Mississippi, especially if I had retired and still had privileges to shop on a military installation. But, that’s just my opinion. Maybe there are people who want both to get away from the military entirely and enjoy a small-town feel. Tupelo definitely offers the latter, but with the number of veterans, it doesn’t really offer an escape from everything military.

Flags at Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS

Flags at Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS

Lake, fountain and pier at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS.

Lake, fountain and pier at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS.

More of the lake at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS and a small water park on the far shore.

More of the lake at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS and a small water park on the far shore.

Whatever the reason, a large park in the town has been designated as a veterans memorial park. It was put together quite well, too. The photos I took don’t really do it justice, because I only had my phone with me and we went late in the evening on a weekday. I can see this place being a pretty popular spot for barbecues.

World War II Memorial at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS

World War II Memorial at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS

I didn’t take photos of them, but there are a lot of ducks living around the pond. They defecate everywhere, and on everything. Most of the monuments, including the World War II memorial monument pictured above, were covered with feces. Walking in the grass was hazardous as well. It would be nice if there were less duck crap everywhere, but what’s the alternative? Kill them all? That wouldn’t be fun either, and they add to the scenery.

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning / Columbus, Georgia

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.

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia.

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning 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.

Statue at the front of the National Infantry Museum

Statue at the front of the National Infantry Museum

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.

Information marker stone in front of the eight historic battle recreations.

Information marker stone in front of the eight historic battle recreations.

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.

Statue of mother and child left behind by soldier at war.

Statue of mother and child left behind by soldier at war at the entrance to a small gallery about soldier’s families during deployments.

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.

Hermann Goering's Nazi Baton, crusted in diamonds.

Hermann Goering’s Nazi Baton, crusted in diamonds, presented by Adolph Hitler in February, 1938.

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.

Mock trench

Mock trench

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.”)

Captured artifacts from the Philippines Insurrection and Moro Wars in the late 19th / early 20th century.

Captured artifacts from the Philippines Insurrection and Moro Wars in the late 19th / early 20th century.

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 POW - MIA memorial outside the NIM.

A POW – MIA memorial outside the NIM.

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.

More Thoughts On The Fort Hood Incident

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.

Corruption in the Philippines

I was told that in the Philippines, making money depends on how inventive you are, and how entreprenuerial you can be.  The average salary in the Philippines doesn’t count for much when converted to almost any other foreign currency, and most salaries in the Philippines don’t count for much there either.  This is especially true in the provincial areas, where an average salary might be 7,000 – 12,000 PHP (144 USD – 248 USD) per month.

Even the police and military in the Philippines receive low wages and have to do extra jobs on the side just to get by.  To me, this seems detrimental to the overall health of the nation, especially in regards to the military and police.  If the people who are meant to protect you can’t concentrate on their jobs because they’re so poor, they’ll either become ineffective or they’ll exploit their position, leading to corruption.

It’s no secret that the Philippines already has problems with corruption. The Philippines should be listed as an example of political corruption in encyclopedias, as it’s almost become a tradition for politicians in power to screw over the citizens. According to agencies like Transparency International, and Filipinos, the current president, Gloria Arroyo, is considered to be the most corrupt president in the history of the country. So, where do you lay the blame? The people who elected her? Well, maybe in a country like the US, where there are actually checks and balances and a somewhat fair election, but Gloria openly admitted to cheating during the 2004 election to win the presidency.

So, was the corruption in the Philippines evident even to me? Sure it was. The poor quality of public works like roads, phone and water services, the low quality of life, the rampant inflation between my first visit a year ago and this visit, and fees, fees, and more fees. Did you know you even have to pay a fee just to leave the country? It applies to tourists and Philippine nationals alike, except it’s higher for foreigners, because like I said before, all foreigners are rich in the eyes of Filipinos. They like to call it a “Terminal Usage Fee” and it comes up to something like 16 USD. What’s this fee going to? It’s certainly not going towards improving the terminals I’ve used there. That’s for damn sure. Again, I’d like to point you back to a prior post I made about NAIA, in Manila, here. For my wife, the fee is only 100 pesos (about 2 USD) but to get the paperwork done she has to travel to an office in Manila and sit around for an hour or more. On top of that they regularly charge Filipinos who work overseas exorbitant fees for something called the Overseas Workers Welfare Administrations, and Filipinos are required to upkeep their domestic Philhealth healthcare, even though they’re abroad and don’t need it. It’s all just ridiculous. When I left the US, I wasn’t required to pay extra fees. I’m not required to join an organization just because I left the country and have plans of working abroad. In fact, my foreign earned revenue won’t even be taxed up to a certain point (which is pretty high).

The Philippines is a country with a lot of potential that will never be realized as long as people like Arroyo sit in office, embezzling money from the people for the purposes of self-enrichment (and not the good kind like learning a second language either) and self-aggrandizement. It’s almost disgusting to look at. In fact, it’s almost like watching a large group of schoolyard bullies fight for authority, not realizing that there’s so much more beyond the schoolyard fence.