On Hierarchy

The book “On Intelligence.” is one of the most intriguing I’ve read in a long time. I read it as context to understand Dilpeet George’s thesis which is based around the concept of “Hierarchical temporal memory.” or HTM for short. HTM is a mathematical model of a learning machine based on the organization of the neocortex of the mammalian brain. HTM is a tree, with a complex interface between the nodes. At the bottom of the tree are the sensors: touch, light, sound, smell. At the top it the hippocampus, which seems to have its own rules. The focus in HTM is the nodes between root and leaf.

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My Grandfather’s Flag

The Following post was written by my Mother.

My Grandfather's Flag

My Grandfather's Flag

To the best of my knowledge, my father was given the flag while he was still in the army. He was not discharged immediately after the war but spent many years in the reserves. I remember him packing to leave for Camp Drum, as it was called in those days. He was not called up for Korea, but I think he was still in then because I can remember him going to camp for two weeks every summer for several summers. I was too young to remember him going in Ohio, and we moved to Merrick in 1949. I would have been too young to remember many summers when Korea broke out in 1950.

I remember him saying that when the war ended in Europe, they were preparing to go to the Pacific. As they were about to depart, the war ended in Japan. He said they then sailed back to NY, instead, and upon entering NY Harbor, they all through their mess kits overboard.

He became active in some military organizations. In Merrick the more active group was the American Legion, vastly different from what it has become today, a drinking, non-tipping hangout. He was an officer in that post. I am not sure which group gave him the flag, the VFW or the Legion, or the government. I remember him marching in some parades in Merrick on Memorial Day and Veterans (Armistice) Day, and they were a big group. The VFW post was, I think, in Freeport.

He won several medals which we played with, broke, lost. We were children, and he didn’t mind.

He didn’t keep up with any of the men he served overseas with but did with some of his reserve buddies.

Although he is not buried with that rank, he had told us that he was Chief Master Sargeant. I don’t know what that rank actually is. Maybe it was honorary. The chevron on his arm had lots of stripes and something in the middle. I think he is buried as a First Sgt.

As you know, his name is engraved on the memorial at Silver Lake in Baldwin. His name is spelled wrong, two L’s instead of one.

Grandpa always flew the flag on holidays. I continue to fly his flag for him and for all the men and women who have served in defence of this country. That includes just about every male member of my family–except your father. I only fly his flag on special holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day.

Uncle Gene has the flag that was presented to me at his funeral. I gave it to Uncle Gene because, like his father, he served. I would have loved to give it to you, but I thought Gene really deserved it. I will give you this 48 star flag. It is older and signifies much more. And, of course, it was definitely before Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959. So, for whatever the story, it really is Grandpa’s army flag. And he was proud of it.

Even more musings

  • Being able to function with little sleep is an essential skill for an Army Officer.
  • You are never more aware of the style or quality of the pavement as when you are on Rollerblades.
  • It rarely saves time to go a longer route when trying to avoid traffic, but it makes you feel like you are making more progress since you keep moving.
  • It’s not that I wasn’t as big a geek as I thought I was, it is that fewer people knew it than I realized.
  • SQLWCHAR != wchar_t
  • The last exchange between Fezzik and Inigo (“Fezzik, you did something right for once.”  “I won’t let it go to my head.”  Should have been a rhyme.)
  • I’m way too aware of the chord changes when I listen to music.
  • Listen to Leo!
  • Hire smart people and then make them do menial tasks is the basis for too many companies.
  • Cygwin makes working on Windows merely distasteful.
  • Just because we elected a Black man President does not mean that racism is defeated in America.
  • You would have to go back before sliced bread to find an invention greater than the Thera Cane.
  • I here-by dub anger derived from problems while developing software “Code Rage”
  • Kind of Blue. The best Jazz starter drug I know.
  • Power putty is liquid, it just flows really slowly.
  • If you haven’t used your waffle iron to make grilled cheese sandwiches you are wasting its potential.
  • I have embraced my inner geek, since my outer geek is getting all of the attention and my inner geek was feeling neglected.
  • I swear I will learn how to type someday.
  • Looks like the answer wasn’t 42…it was 44.
  • When the build system takes too long, avoid the build system.
  • Puff the Magic Dragon still makes me tear up at the line “A Dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.”  If you have a kid, you’ll understand.
  • Few things are more fun to argue about than fascism in Starship Troopers.

Book Ends

The last two nonfiction books I’ve read are Black Hawk Down and  In a Time of War. The two nonfiction books have both dealt with wars that have happened since I became an adult.  In a Time of War chronicles some of the members of West Point’s class of 2002 as they progressed through the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly Iraq.  Black Hawk Down retells the events of the Battle of Mogadishu in October of 1993.  Both these books strike close to home for me.  They present a set of delimiters around a pattern within the  U.S. military involvement overseas.

In October of 1993, I was in my final month of the Infantry Officer’s Basic Course at Fort Benning Georgia.  Within the year I would  arrive at my first Regular Army unit, the 25th Infantry Division.  The Ranger platoon leaders in Somalia were class of 1990 grads, the seniors when I was a Plebe.  The soldiers to my left and right at Rangers school, the ones from Ranger regiment, would go and serve with the men that fought in Somalia.

Mike Palaza, a 1991 West Point grad and fellow Alumnus of Stoughton High School stated that he wasn’t going to marry his girlfriend if he was headed to Somalia:  he was headed to the 10th Mountain and knew that he’d be deployed.  He was being melodramatic when he said that he wasn’t going to get married before going to Somalia. “I won’t make her a Widow.”  But they got married and he deployed there anyway.  He is still alive and well.

SSG Franklin was my senior squad leader when I got to my Platoon in Hawaii.  He had a Combat Infantryman’s Badge from his deployment to Somalia.  He claimed he hadn’t really earned it, just had done a lot of Cordon and Searches in houses looking for weapons.  When I went to Haiti, I had a team leader in my platoon who said comparable things.  It seems that for most of the deployment in Somalia, the US forces were considered a neutral force, just there to help distribute food.  It wasn’t until we decided that Aidid was the bad guy that things went south. It is hard to hear these two points of view and then read the chaos and hell that was Mogadishu during the events told Black Hawk Down.

If you look at the chain of events from the time I graduated High School up to the present situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a continuing narrative.  With the fall of the Soviet Union, we stopped paying attention to the Mujhadeen in Afghanistan, and we lost interest in the Iran/Iraq war and it’s effect on those countries and the region.  Saddam Hussein didn’t get the message that we wouldn’t tolerate an invasion of Kuwait.  By responding, we put American troops on the Arabian Peninsula. The mujahideen fighters, trained and equipped by the United States, now turned their enmity against us.  We were already questionable allies due to our support of Israel, so it wasn’t too hard to make us the bad guys. Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for inciting much of the violence in Mogadishu in 1993.  It was these actions that lead the US to drive Osama bin Laden out of the Sudan (a short jaunt away across Ethiopia) where he was then building the terrorist network that later attacked American 2001.  He claimed that they learned the US could be chased from a country by making it take casualties.

What was clear from reading the book and from what little I’ve studied is that we misread the situation.  Aidid was willing to let the United Nations help, but he was the real power in Mogadishu.  In the news they called him a “Warlord.”  He was the single most powerful leader to come out of the Somalia Civili war.  Not that he was undisputed, there were many such powerful men, but he had a larger power base than the others.  When the US decided that he was not to be allowed to participate in the future government, they turned a potential ally into an enemy.  Yes, he was a vicious man, but the country was known for brutality, he was just more successful.  Yes, he killed UN peace keepers.  But the story there is fairly murky, at least from what little I’ve seen. The facts of Somalia are such that no one with any degree of power got there without blood on their hands.

What is the difference between a warlord, a tribal leader, a sheik, a community leader, a mayor, a governor?  The power to rule must be granted at least in a portion by the people who are ruled, if only because they think the alternative is worse.  Here in the United States, we were unusual when we said that the military leadership you be subservient to the civilian leadership.  This new fangled idea is not the norm in much of the world:  it is still catching on.  I acknowledge the difference between a person who has seized power and one who has been selected by his community.  We in the United States often forget that places without traditions of elections have more primitive methods for selecting leaders that  nevertheless still have the support of the community.  We may not like these men:  we certainly decided that we didn’t like Aidid.

In a time of War shows a later next stage in the evolution of America’s foreign policy through force.  The West Point class of 2002 deploys to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and  suffers casualties. Nine years after I graduated from West Point, a year after I had removed myself from the roles of the Army Reserves, these kids were graduated into a very different Army than I had experienced.  But things don’t change much at West Point.: Their experiences had been similar enough to mine.  The soldiers upon which  the book focused were from company D-1, the Company next to mine for my final two years at the Academy.

I often wonder what would have happened if President Bush senior hadn’t listened to the advisors who told him to stop before heading the troops up to Baghdad.  If what happened in Iraq since 2003 is any indication, we would have certainly been involved in some serious fighting come 1993.  I suspect that my generation of classmates would have been placed in much the same situation as the class of 2002 and later classes.

I cried a couple of times during the book.  Both times it was during the notification scenes.  I can’t imagine a worse thing to do to someone you love than to make them suffer through the fear and dread of deployment to a war zone, except to die on them.

The war in Iraq was going poorly when the book was published.  Since that time, we have lived through “The Surge”, “The Anbar Awakening” and a change in the outlook for Iraq in the long term.  A big part of that change is that the American strategy changed.  Gen Petraus, the Armies chief counter-insurgency expert, gets a lot of credit for his role in getting Army commanders to understand the real situation on the ground, and to work with the people in their locales.  With his current position in CENTCOM, he will be able to affect the operations in the Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as monitor the evolving relationship between Iran and the United States.  I am cautiously optimistic that we will carve a decent situation out of these conflicts.

Returning to thinking about Somalia in the light of the current conflicts really drove home how lucky I have been personally, how much some of our soldiers have given, and how complex American foriegn policy really is.

Supe’s Briefing

During my reunion this weekend, we sat in a briefing by the Superintendent of the Military Academy, Lieutenant General Franklin L. Hagenbeck.  I liked his style, and I got the feeling that he was a good leadership presence for the Cadets.  He was able to pull of the “Vaguely Self Deprecating” air of someone in a position of authority that has confidence in his ability.  It looks like the military training is making excellent strides toward focusing the Cadets on both the likely deployment scenarios of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as being ready to act as diplomats anywhere on the world stage.

He did answer one question with a disturbing answer.  A grad asked him what was being done to protect the women of the corps from sexual assault and harassment.  The answer he gave detailed the story of four cadets, Two men from the First (Firsties, or Seniors) Class and two women from the Fourth (Plebes, or Freshman) Class.  According to West Point regulations, Plebes and upperclassmen cannot date.  The Seniors were expelled and the Plebes were severely castigated.  The following year, the women related there stories to the incoming Plebes, and he stated something to the effect that “Those plebes said it was the most important thing they heard.”

West Point has long had a zero tolerance policy for Sexual misconduct.  A friend of mine got caught having sex with her boyfriend during our Plebe year, and they both got expelled.  Contrast this with the expected behavior at any non-military school in the country, and you will see a severe divide in expectations.  College is a time of growth and learning.  A time when many people seek out new experiences.  People that are so inclined explore sexually.  There are a lot of problems from sex:  Unwanted Pregnancies, STDs and emotional traumas, and those are only counting the problems from consensual sex.  But these same problems exist throughout adult life, and the expectation is that, at 18, you are old enough to start making your own serious choices, and living with the consequences.  West Point, in contrast, propels the Victorian notion that Cadets should not have sex.  Doing so is wrong and will be punished.  I found that approach wrong then, and I feel it is wrong now.  But my problem with the Supe’s answer goes beyond disagreeing with a policy decision.

The question was not about consensual sex.  The question was about rape and other forms of sexual assault.  I wasn’t there when the two women spoke, and did not hear the details of the talk, but my understanding was that the trauma that those two women described in their talks to the Plebe women was inflicted by the Academies enforcement of the rules, not the relationships.  These women were willing participants in these relationships, not raped.  That the Superintendent would even confuse these two issues shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem.

Perhaps the Supe thought that the women were taken advantage of by their superiors,  Command rape as it is sometimes called.  If so, he did not make it clear.  But if so, making them stand in front of a group of women and describe it is probably not the right way to get these women counseling.  The  Plebe women were not the logical recipient:  if it is rape, then they are the potential victims.  The right group to focus on is the upperclassMEN who might be so inclined to take advantage of their subordinates.   But I suspect that these women entered into improper relations with men outside of their chain-of-command, most likely through an activity or club.  This conjecture on my part is based on numerous similar relationships I’ve heard of during my time as a cadet.

The right answer would have addressed actions taken to prevent Cadets from committing real sex crimes, not just violating Academy policy.  I am sure the the School does these things:  I remember much education when I was there, and locks on the doors for the Women’s rooms.  There are cameras in the hallways and patrols around base by Military Police, and a slew of other things.  I am sure that West Point is doing its damnedest to protect our Women Cadets.  I just wish the Supe had told us about those things, and not answered the wrong question.  Sexual misconduct as defined by the United States Corps of Cadets is not the same thing as sexual assault.

Ranger School (1993-4)

When discussing the Mobile Infantry Training in Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein states that many people thought the training was made to difficult. He states that is wrong: it was intentionally made as hard as possible. This is the philosophy behind US Army Ranger School.

Ranger School will not make you a super soldier. You won’t learn technical skills that will directly translate to perform ultra-high importance missions and so on. The Patrols are carefully crafted situational training exercises that allow the Ranger Instructors to grade students on a small number of tasks. Simple familiarization training is given on knife fighting and hand to hand combat, rock climbing, and other tasks that have some tangential bearing on the realities of being a soldier. Ranger School does not teach you how to take care of soldiers. What Ranger school is designed to teach is how to continue to function once you have pushed your body past its natural limits.

Ranger School was designed around the warfare style of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. But every war is different, and technology keeps updating how we fight. As Cadets we were constantly reminded that the plan has to change according to the mission, the enemy, the time available, and the terrain. You can’t train for everything. But what you can do is train for things that will be there in all military situations: stress and sleep deprivation. Food deprivation is less likely, but has happened too many times in the past to be ignored.

I went to Ranger school in December of 1993. I had successfully passed the first phase at Fort Benning. I went through Desert Phase twice. After the second time around, I was kicked out. What happened? This was a school for which I had volunteered, which I knew was essential to the career I had chosen as an Infantry Officer. I picked Infantry when there were many other choices available, and I had a high enough class standing to get my choice of branches. Although I didn’t have the highest military grade at West Point, I did OK. I was in good enough physical shape that I had not problems with the first week: a screening out process that is designed to make you suffer, and weed out the week. I passed all of the basic skills tests. I had spent the previous four months in the Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, so I knew the basics of the Infantry craft. For a long time I thought I had been beaten physically. By the end, I was falling asleep on my feet, felt like I had done long term damage to my knees, and was general beat up. What I have come to realize with many years of reflection was that the problem was mental, not physical.

Ranger School is graded on patrols. The patrols are pass/fail events. In the first phase, the patrols are planned as if they were Platoon Patrols, but executed at the squad level. This is to give more people a chance to participate in the planning process, and to get evaluated as the patrol leader. While many of the junior enlisted soldiers would get patrols as team leaders, as a new Lieutenant, I got a squad leader position to plan for a reconnaissance patrol.

I got a “No-go” on my patrol at Fort Benning. I had to plan a reconnaissance, and I did not give a detailed enough plan for actions on the objective. At Fort Benning, you did not need to have more than 50% to go on to the desert phase. Each time through the Desert, I got three patrols: one planning as a platoon leader, one squad leader in the patrol base patrol, and one other. Each time I passed one out of three. A 25% pass rate was not enough to go on to the next phase. Failing two many patrols twice through a single phase was sufficient grounds to drop me from the course.  Something happened after that first time through the desert. I got convinced that I was not going to make it through. I went into Ranger School scared of Ranger School. Dogged persistence got me through West Point, but Ranger School required (at least for me) something more: preparation.  I really feel that if I had drilled the Ranger School style OPORD I would have passed the planning patrols, and I got mostly planning patrols.

When I was a freshman at the Academy, I was discussing English class with my class mate Anne Marie Johnson and my parents. Anne Marie admonished me to “give them what they want.” Meaning to try and do things the way the instructors had designated. I’ve always had a problem with this. I really want to try and do things my own way, to think a difficult problem through. I am a bit a of a contrarian, a fact that lead to me going to West Point in the first place. What was true in Plebe English was even more true in Rangers School. Patrol planning at Ranger School is some of the most detailed planning I had even gone through. We were expected to brief every aspect of a patrol, including things like crossing linear danger areas and battle drills. Most of the guys out of IOBC had done these to death, so we thought it silly. Why put things in to your operations order that should be part of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)? The level of planning required for Actions on the Objective was even more detailed. You were expected to take roughly an hour to brief actions on the objective. The more detailed the plan, the better. This directly contradicts what we had been taught throughout West Point and IOBC. We had been told time and again to “provide guidance and trust your junior leaders” as well as “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”

One patrol sticks out most clearly.  In the desert, we had to perform a raid of a refueling site.  There was a hill that would be perfect for a support-by-fire (SBF) position.  Too perfect.  Instead of putting the SBF position there and coming up over the hill the way we were taught, I had us coming through the front door.  IT made sense to me:  if the position was that obvious, the enemy will know that too and will expect us to use it.  The front door would not require us climbing up and over the berm.   But it was a training mission, and designed to walk us through the paces, and I couldn’t accept that.  Yes, the concertina at the gate was light, but that was a resource constraint on the Ranger School, not what you would expect in the  “Real World.”

Another patrol, I was squad leader for patrol base operations.  We had no sleep the night before, and I put my squad into a rest plan out of the priorities of work.  I knew that without sleep, we would not be able to function that night and the patrol would be a disaster.  But it was up to me to rearrange the priorities of work.  The guy that had the patrol that evening had a much easier time thanks to me, but I go a no-go.

I think I understand now. The planning process was canned, yes, but it was also a process to be learned while under stress, to be recreated under stress. You may end up with a brand new unit, composed of people from numerous backgrounds. You may take over your platoon in the field, with no time to learn their SOP. They may not have an SOP for a particular situation. At least you have provided a starting point, and you have done it while you are in a relatively secure location, while no-one is shooting at you. You have thought through the situation and provided the best course of action you could. It gives you context to understand later situations, when the bullets are launched and the wire is breached. It is not a substitute for the ability to improvise, it is an aid to it. Even if it is canned. Part of the process, I am sure, was designed to take so long as to make sure you had to use your time wisely. Much of Ranger school was designed to make sure you stayed up all night.  I’ve often said that the primary skill necessary for success as an Army officer is the ability to function with little or no sleep.  The funny thing is that at WP, we had mandatory lights out at midnight, and they couldn’t come on until 5:20.  I always have believed in “well rested=well tested.” Now I  realize that this is for ideal circumstances. Ranger School was for the worst of circumstances.

When I joined the wrestling team in ninth grade, something amazing happened. I found a sport that I loved, that I had the potential to master. I worked with my strengths and minimized my weaknesses. I had never considered myself an athlete before. From that point on I considered myself a wrestler. A similar transition happened when I went to West Point. Most people that knew me thought it was a strange match. “How can YOU go to West Point?” But somehow I made it through. By the time graduation rolled around, my identity as a Cadet, as a member of the Army, and as a future officer fit me well. I had hit some rocky points, but many of my classmates dealt with worse.  This transition did not happen when I became an Infantry Officer. I think under other circumstances it could have. I don’t blame the Army, but I also don’t blame the 22 year old me for not seeing things that the 37 year old me can see with the benefit of hindsight. Not making it through Ranger School sealed the deal in some ways, as it proved to my young ego that I had made a wrong choice in going Infantry. I see now that was not necessarily the case.  I had some growing up to do.   I needed to commit to the Infantry to a level that I was not then mentally prepared to do.

Leaving Haiti

Cover of the Koran

Cover of the Koran

I realize that last post left out the details of the QRF mission to the old Police Station, so I will start with that. As I stated, I had no idea why we went there. There was no riot, not problem, no emergency that justified commiting the QRF, unlike the numerous times we went to the POwer station. But, we went, we cordoned off the area, we searched it (it was abandoned) and then we cleaned it up. Yep. Soldiers from our Army went through, shoveled out the accumulated debris of decades and pulled out all of the contraband: there was none to speak of. One soldier went into MOPP Level Haiti: Rain Suite and Protective Mask. He was lowered into what must have been a sewer or something. We found lots of trivially interesting items like spent round casings and so on, but nothing that justified the search and cleanup efforts. Once we had the place ready for move in, we emplaced some more concertina wire and shuttled back to the main base in trucks. I queried the Battalion Commander about this and he stated that we had basically De-voodooed the big bad police building.

One measure of success for the United States was the ability to turn the mess over to the United Nations. After a couple months on Island we got word that this would happen relatively soon. The tented area on the far side of the Airfield had been populated by Guatemalan and Caribbean-Command soldiers. It was vacated, and soon a Battalion from Pakistan under the UN flag came to Cap Hatien. These were battle hardened soldiers from the Kashmir Region. As I mentioned, we were not carrying SAWs, never mind heavy machine guns. That was why it was strange to see them uncrate heavy machine guns and recoilless rifles.

My first opportunity to get to know our new neighbors came when a power surge fried the power supply on one of the computers in the Pakistani Battalion headquarters. Someone at Battalion asked me to go over and take a look at it, I guess since I was a Computer Science major at School. I was fairly sure there was nothing I could do. I’m not sure why the Battalion Signal Officer didn’t go over instead. Sure enough, the magic smoke had escaped the power supply and the machine was dead. There was a computer store in Cap Hatien, a fact that surprised me greatly. They were able to buy a new power supply off the economy and get the machine back up and running.

The better aspect of this trip was that I got a chance to talk to the Pakistani officers, see their quarters, and get a feel for them as a replacement unit. To this day I am grateful for the opportunity to put a set of faces, feelings, images and smell alongside the word Pakistan, even though I have never been to the country. Probably the most vivid mental picture I have is of the tents. The Pakistani soldiers slept on mats on the ground, really nothing more than insulation. Compared with our cots and the poly-pads we take with us to the field, it was spartan. I got the impression that this sleeping arrangement was the norm, not just in the field.

The officers from the Pakistani Battalion hosted the officers from our Battalion to dinner in their base camp.  After two months of Brown and Root, any thing would have tasted good, but I suspect that the meal we were fed would have competed with any India/Pakistan/Afghani food served in the States.  I’d never really understood the term feast before.  This was a Feast.  I remember most clearly the spiced lamb, but all of the food was superb.

I am nominally Jewish.  While in the Army, I was more observant than in the rest of my life, and have never really kept the fact secret.  The men from Kashmir were the first moslems I had encountered in my life, and I must say they made a stellar impression on me.  Beyond their fierce demeanor was a hosptiality and understanding I was not expecting.  When the matter of religion came up, I expressed my ignorance of Isalm and interest in learning more about it.  Capt Safraz Ali responded with a gift that means more to me than just about any other I have received in my life:  his personal copy of the Koran, pictured at the top of this post.  Here is his inscription:

Koran Inscription

Koran Inscription

People that might find it offensive to write in a holy book should remember that a true Koran is only in Arabic.  This version has translation into English, which makes it less than a pure Koran.  Thus it is acceptable under Islam to write in it.

The American forces were under very strict weapons control.  Before entering the base camp, we cleared our weapons, and then dry fired them into a barrel filled with sand.  It was understood that an accidental discharge of your weapon, even into the clearing barrel, and would get you into serious trouble.  The commander of the Pakistani battalion had an accidental discharge within the first week, a point that made some of the American officers snicker.  Personally, I suspect that they were just much more comfortable carrying weapons around, and didn’t take our over caution seriously.   Most of them had been in combat.  Very few of our soldiers had.

My last tour of tower duty had me checking on a tower inside the base camp, across from a mud-hut village that was fast encroaching on our space.  A woman on the outside was chatting up the tower guard.  When she saw me, she said, “Lieutenant, when you go back to America, take me with you.  Pakistani soldier mean.”  I guess we had done a decent job winning their hearts and their minds.

Not long after, we flew back to the states.  I remember pluggin MARC cards into the readers to create a manifest, a brief view of the airfield in Port au Prince, and that the flight crew on Tower Air were some of the same people I had seen on previous charter trips.  After a long flight home,  we disembarked at the Air Force Base alongside Pearl Harbor and took buses back to Schofield Barracks.   At Schofiled we had the Kiss-Ex: Ex being short for exercise, basically the reunion of the soldiers with their families.

Playing Football after Graduation

West Point has started letting Grads that are recruited by Pro sports teams go be recruiters, and play pro ball.  This has caused much heated discussion, especially amongst my fellow alumni.  I initially wrote this as a response to an email discussion, but decided to sit on it for a while and ruminate.  This is really more of a collection of my thoughts at the time than a coherent essay.

It seems particularly stark in contrast to the classmates that are headed to Iraq. Would people feel as strongly about the matter if we were not sending people into harms way?

Also, is admissions the only reason that success in Army Sports, Football in particular, is important?

What about the rest of us that “did our time” and are now sitting out this conflict? Yeah, we played Army for our total of 8 years Active and Reserve. For many, it was a great experience that has lead to success later in life. Are we any less guilty of avoiding our Duty? How about the guy that “only” goes Signal Corps as opposed to going in to a combat Arms, or that goes Artillery to avoid Infantry? There always is a way that someone who goes less than the full HUAH can be said to be shirking.

Is it really doing our Country any good to be sending our Grads over to Iraq? I think most people would say that it is not cut and dried: some yes, some know, many I don’t knows. So why is it so important that these kids go to Iraq instead of playing Football? Is it really just a question of paying your dues?

Maybe the best way this kid can server his country is by being a kick-ass footballer, getting the name of West Point up in front of the country, and help to raise the awareness of civilians that we even have service academies. Maybe He’ll have a two year career, get cut, and end up back on Active Duty. Maybe he’ll be such a kick ass recruiter that he’ll fill the Army’s quota single handedly. Or maybe the Army wasted money in training him, and it was a mistake to send him to the NFL.

Is keeping a bunch of barely post adolescents isolated from the rest of civilization for four years the best way to prepare them for the officer corps? Does the Army get as much bang for it’s buck vie the Service Academies as it does Via ROTC? Sure West Point has produced it’s share of generals, but would those same people be great generals if they had gone ROTC? Would the opportunities in the Army be different if the Largest block of officers in the Army didn’t come from the same school? I have no idea if what we are doing makes sense or not. I know I gained a lot and gave up a lot by going to West Point. I’ll never know what I would have gained if I had gone another route.

Letting Cadets go professional  will allow the coaches to recruit players who, as Seniors in High School think they have a chance to play pro ball. Most College Football players want to go pro, but few are chosen. I suspect that a good portion of these players would make decent soldiers. So Army Football gets a better team, and good but the less-than-great ball players now have the chance of a career as an Army officer.

Many kids enter West Point as an option, and only develop the drive to be Army officers while being at West Point. I suspect that this is one of the most important roles that West Point plays in support of our Officer corps.

Soldier Design Competition at MIT

Last night, USMA and MIT went head to head in a design competition. The details are here:

It was cool to be with the Cadets and MIT Students  in such a creative environment.  The designes were smart, focused, low cost, and viable.  Not all of them could be deployed as-is, but even those furthest from from field ready had something to contribute to solving the problems that soldiers face in the field.  While there was not a lot of cross talk between competitors, I think the real value of a compeition like this would be the cross breeding of ideas.

Two different teams provided solutions to trying to keep soldiers cool, in order to prevent heat casualties.  In both cases, the teams approached the solution from trying to cool off the head.  The MIT team made “cool pack” inserts that replaced a portion of the pad in the Kevlar Helmet.  THe packs were activated by punching them, starting an endothermic chemical reaction.  The packs in the display room registered 56 degress, well below the 75 degree or so room temperature.  The problems with the design were that the packs didn’t last long enough, and the helmet had to be removed in order to replace the pads.  That Cadet team created an insert that was composed primarily of lightweight aluminum (There should be another I in that word, dammit!) that acted as a heat conductor.  Small cartridges  at the back of the helmet made of sponges activated the system by evaporation.  The problems with this design were the requirement for low ambient humidity (not a problem in Iraq) and the weight of the solution.  However, What occurred to me is that you could combine the two solutions, use the cold pack to power the conductor, and get the best of both worlds.  I suspect the final design will be somewhere along those lines.

One MIT student had done a stellar job with a wearable Solar energy based electricity generator.  He used fragile solar cells that converted 20% of the sunlight that contacted them, providing 18 Watts of power, just under the 20 Watt target.  The innovative part of his research was in the attempt to make the panels rugged enough to survive the beating soldiers put on them.  Another team of Cadets made a strobe light that was only visible through the latest versions of night vision devices.  THe idea was that older versions had fallen into the hands of the enemy.  The strobe was fragile, and one point they stated that was grounds for further research was making it more durable.  The materials work of the Solar panel project would be a great starting point.

Many of the other projects were wprthy of note:

  • a firewall that was capable of blocking Skype
  • A two battery UPS system for the radios, also field chargeable.
  • A spring and  cable based system designed to pull a HMMWV  turret gunner back into the vehicle in case it is about to flip.
  • A Wireless network for a minefield, allowing the friendly forces to turn off the mines to minimize friendly casualties and collateral damage
  • A “Spy Rock”
  • Two different position systems based on things like gyros, accelerometers, and cheap wireless transceivers
  • A radio controlled dirigible with autopilot capable of carrying a 3 pound payload.

The proejcts were judged by a panel with members from industry, academia, and the military.  It was especially good to see two Command Sergents Major in the panel, with a solid understanding of the harsh reality of the life of the soldiers.  One was the CSM of the Infantry School at Fort Benning.  I can’t think of anyone better equipped to say “Good Idea”, “That is too heavy”, or to ask the question “Is that addressing the right problem.”

There were six prizes donated by several  companies, each of several thousand dollars.  The USMA team won the highest award and the overall trophy.  I was really impressed by the creativity and ingenuity of the students, and the quality of the design process they employed.

Things you can send to Soldiers in Iraq

www.anysoldier.com

Based on What Soldiers have requested, here are things you can send to Iraq. Different units have different degrees of support. Personally, I try to find line Infantrymen like the folks in my old unit 1st Battalion 27th Infantry, The Wolfhounds. Not that everyone else doesn’t need support, too. But these guys are the ones out on the streets patrolling.

  • batteries
  • beef jerky
  • Brownies
  • bumble bee chicken,
  • Camping Food
  • Canned Tuna Fish
  • cereal (whole grain),
  • chapstick,
  • chips and salsa (bean/cheese dip),
  • DVDs
  • energy/Protein bars
  • face wipes
  • Foot Powder
  • Good Coffee, preground.
  • granola bars
  • Letter Writing Material
  • lifting supplements
  • magazines (Maxim, MensHealth, FHM, STUFF, Flex, MuscleFitness, Time, the Economist, Kiplingers, Gun and Auto Magazines)
  • Minute Rice
  • Multi Vitamins
  • Music CDs
  • Olive Drag Green Wool Socks (Army Issue)
  • Oreos
  • peanut butter
  • Playing Cards
  • popcorn (regular, cheese, and caramel flavored)
  • Poptarts
  • Powdered Gatorade
  • Pringles
  • protein powder
  • Razors
  • Sardines
  • shampoo
  • Shaving crème
  • Soap
  • Socks, White
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothpaste
  • trail mix/nuts
  • Video Games (XBOX 360 …)
  • Vienna Sausages
  • White socks, with no patterns