Archive for April, 2010
… that the Vietnam War ended 35 years ago today.
Thirty-five years ago today, I was an about-to-graduate high school senior. State wrestling champ, All-state football player, with a scholarship offer from the University of Missouri. Ready to move on to the next phase.
I walked down the stairs to where my bedroom was, turned left, and the Auld Soldier was sitting on the couch, watching TV. He was four months away from retiring after 27 years, two wars, a Silver Star, BSM w/v, and seven Purple Hearts.
In honor of those who went and came back. And those who did not.
Before there were NFOs there were Naval Aviation Observers. In June 1960, the Basic Naval Aviation Officer School was established to train the future radar intercept officers, bombardier/navigators and air intercept control officers that were joining the fleet in ever increasing numbers. This was spurred in no small degree by the revolution in Naval Aviation in the form of the F-4 Phantoms, A-6 Intruders, A5 Vigilantes, EA-3 Skywarriors, E-2 Hawkeyes and P2V Neptunes serving or soon to enter Fleet service. All weather aircraft with complex weapons systems that required a second pair of hand eyes to work. Recognizing this, the BNAO school was established as part of Training Command at NAS Pensacola to provide a common basic school prior to going to their respective advanced and RAG (Replacement Air Group) squadrons for training in their field of specialty. By 1962, the first aircraft were added (UC-45J (Beech 18′s) and T-2As). On 8 February 1965, a change to Bureau of Personnel Instruction 1210.4C authorized a new designator and name, Naval Flight Officer (NFO). The new designator was appropriate for “an unrestricted line officer, a member of the aeronautical organization . . .who may fill any billet not requiring actual control knowledge of an aircraft.” Eight subspecialties were available at the time: bombardier, controller, electronic countermeasures evaluator, navigator, interceptor, photographer-navigator, tactical coordinator and reconnaissance navigator. The new NFOs continued wearing the Naval Aviation Observer wings. A few short years later, BNAO School was redesignated TRARON TEN (VT-10). By the end of the first 10 years, over 6,000 NFOs had been trained. (ed. Your ‘umble scribe etched his name to the roles in 1978 – SJS). In 1994 the first USAF instructors and student NAVs reported to VT-10 as part of a joint training agreement between the Navy and Air Force.
Today, VT-10 has a 60 member Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps instructor staff that currently trains over 300 NFOs and Air Force WSOs annually. In 1997, command of VT-10 began alternating between Navy and Air Force Officers.
In celebration of their 50th year, the Wildcats (ed., Cosmic ‘Cats when I was there – SJS) are hosting a reunion 23-25 Jun down Pensacola-way. Official events begin on June 23rd and include a kickoff social at the NAS Pensacola O’Club, golf tournament, symposium at the Naval Aviation Museum, VT-10 alumni Dining Out as well as an NFO winging at the museum on June 25th. The Wildcat Reunion Group welcomes all current and former members of VT-10 to come celebrate this historic anniversary of NFO training. Interested in going? Jump over here for the details
Life as a Cone-he…er, Student NFO (SNFO)
Before we got to the Fleet, we had to make it through the Training Command. Flying a variety of training aircraft, including the Mighty Frog (aka T-2 Buckeye), T-39 and TA-4, we learned the basics of our future trade – navigation, flight planning, intercepts and radar. We had good IPs and we had, well, screamers and a-holes. In other words, a representative sample of what we would see in the Fleet. The weeding out process started early — if you couldn’t think and talk on the radio at the same time, you were toast. YHS remembers one of the early washouts who thought he’d found a way to sneak by this challenge. You see, he wrote out a complete script of the flight from engine start to back in the chocks and kept it in a binder hidden below the glare shield in his lap. Worked just fine until the first wingover when notebook – and script, went flying in the rear cockpit, fod’ing it of course in the process…
Policy is all about implementation. Ideas aren’t useful until actually in place, and implementing any policy is a lot harder than thinking up the policy. There are several implementation issues that I highlighted in ’05 that I think are still germane. Here’s a summary:
- Publicity will make it harder, not easier. We’ve already risked having too active a public affairs posture on the decision in my view, and the Air Force pilot experience shows that the extra pressure on people due to being in the spotlight is not good for them, the mission, or the policy. Do it ethically, do it right, do it with proper risk controls, do it quietly until it’s no big thing and the first woman selected for COB or command or TDU operator doesn’t have to have eight news articles to deal with, and the nagging feeling late at night that she got picked because of her X chromosome and not because she’s the best leader and most ruthless undersea knife fighter. Or worse: remember LT Hultgren, remember others.
- Leadership will make or break implementation. Picking the right people, setting them up with the right sticks and carrots, in a focused effort will be better than throwing one poor female sailor on each boat at random.
- Sustainability is important, and hard. One of the reasons submarine demographics is the way it is, is because of the entry pool of people before the Navy gets to see them. Nuclear engineering takes a certain kind of skill set, enlisted and officer; those skill pools skew male. High-demand demographic groups in engineering are disproportionately valuable to our manpower competitors in business and they’ll recruit hard and pay more, making it still harder to get the numbers we need to sustain mixed crews. To get mixed-gender crews more than once as a stunt, or as a token few, requires a pipeline. I would bet PERS-42 and the officer community managers are popping the Motrin over this one.
Details are at the 2005 link. You can tell me how wrong I am here or at the other site.
Update: Navy Times gets word on some of the implementation: accessing division officers and supply officers. No word on other sailors.
The venerable US Navy hospital ship, USNS Mercy is deploying tomorrow on Operation Pacific Partnership 2010. Her deployment will last until late September during which riders and crew will conduct health and construction missions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste. Mercy’s 500 riders include both military and NGO volunteers, including health workers from InterPlast, International Relief Teams, International Aid, Loloma Foundation, Project HOPE, Rotary International, Shriners, University of California at San Diego Pre-Dental Society, and World Vets. In addition, Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Tonga are providing personnel to support the hospital ship’s mission.
Pacific Partnership was born after the US military’s response to the 2004 tsunami. After realizing the capacity of health diplomacy to win friends and allies, US Pacific Fleet decided to follow up Unified Endeavor by sending the Mercy back to the region in 2006. Pacific Partnership 2010 is the fifth time the humanitarian civic assistance operation to been conducted.
It seemed innocuous enough, although a bit weird: an inflatable, life-sized, anatomically-correct doll was found at the site of a fierce battle that pitted the 101st Airborne against the North Vietnamese in late 1965. The colonel in charge of the North Vietnamese unit was intrigued. It revealed to him a particularly obvious “Achilles Heel” of the American fighting forces. Unlike the North Vietnamese who expected to leave home and family for the fight for months or years on end, the American soldier could literally count down the days until he left Vietnam, a country that was physically and culturally thousands of miles away. The American soldier’s mind was frequently not on the battlefield.
This colonel recognized that the American soldier was not as invested in the war as his troops were, as the Americans were not fighting for the survival of their homeland or family or lifestyle. Indeed, the American soldier could not quite grasp (or buy into) the “domino theory” as clearly as our political leaders did. This insight was an epiphany for the colonel and he passed along this most unusual piece of intelligence to make a point to his superiors: Despite the Americans’ clear military superiority, they could be defeated. The North Vietnamese just needed to be patient and wear down their will.
This is just one of the anecdotes revealed in a compelling new book written by Lt. Col. James G. Zumwalt, Bare Feet, Iron Will: Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields. The son of former CNO Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, and one of many in the Zumwalt family who has served in the military through multiple conflicts, Zumwalt embarked on an odyssey more than 15 years ago. That was when he accompanied his father on a trip to Vietnam in an attempt to convince the Vietnamese government to participate in a joint study on the effects of Agent Orange. The defoliant that Admiral Zumwalt ordered used was highly successful in reducing casualties in the dense jungles of Vietnam, but the chemical proved to be deadly to humans – including the younger Zumwalt’s brother, who succumbed to cancer in 1988.
At first angry at the enemy and bitter about the outcome of the war, Zumwalt’s assumptions about our nation’s former enemy were turned upside down in the first few days of that initial visit, as he met a major general in the North Vietnamese medical corps who had lost a father to the French and a brother to the Americans. In interviewing the North Vietnamese doctor, Zumwalt recognized for the first time the immense human toll the enemy suffered during that war.
That 1994 trip Zumwalt made with his father turned into a personally cathartic one. Over the next 15 years, he traveled throughout the country and interviewed more than 200 North Vietnamese. He was granted unfettered access to the veterans he interviewed, but he also secured help from a fellow Vietnam veteran who resides in Vietnam, Charles Searcy, and from a man he calls his Vietnamese brother, Phu Van Nguyen. Nguyen, a member of a Vietnamese immigrant family the Zumwalts helped resettle in the United States, accompanied Zumwalt on his sojourns in-country and ran interference for him with the government.
The result is a detailed, intimate and fascinating look at the entire Vietnamese experience from that conflict. It runs the gamut from personal perspectives and first-person accounts to their strategy behind the building of the Ho Chi Minh Trail to their extensive Cu Chi tunnel system. It examines their innovative anti-aircraft defense systems, their special operations forces’ preparations for major offensives, their battlefield medicine improvisation, and the flexibility, innovation and determination of the nation’s populace.
Many American combat veterans of the Vietnam War may find this book too sympathetic to the North Vietnamese. Our veterans saw atrocities and brutality committed by the enemy on the battlefield (and our POWs were repeatedly tortured and mistreated while incarcerated). These atrocities are not minimized with this book. Rather, Zumwalt makes a very pointed defense against this expected criticism: “It is important to clarify what this book is about and what it is not about,” Lieutenant Colonel Zumwalt explained. “This [book was not intended] to glamorize the enemy, but to humanize the enemy.”
So, perhaps even the most hardened and embittered Vietnam veteran – not unlike Zumwalt was 15 years ago – can experience his own personal catharsis upon reading Bare Feet, Iron Will. At the very least, he will walk away with a better understanding of this enemy. And, as we all know now, a better understanding of history will prevent its repetition.
A plebe just informed me that I have 31 days until graduation…not that I haven’t been counting on my own.
It’s amazing how fast time flies. A 2008 graduate who selected SEALs and who was most responsible for my plebe training and indoctrination is coming back in this weekend to have lunch with all the plebes (now firsties [seniors]) who used to be under his charge. Another 2008 graduate from my company just returned from Afghanistan. I know plenty of recent graduates who went SWO who have done deployments. Soon the Class of 2010 and I will be joining them.
I’ll be graduating May 28 and will be reporting to Nuclear Power School in late July, but it’ll be awhile until I’ll get to a boat (tentatively late 2011). Feel free to share good ensign (or O-1 forthe other services) “moments” in the comments…standing by for anchors away, here!
Please join my co-host and fellow USNIBlogg’r EagleOne and me as we run the timeline from 1975 to 2020 today at 5pm EST/1700R/2200Z.
Our guests will be retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel J.G. Zumwalt and journalist Greg Grant.
For our first segment, we will be discussing Lt. Col. Zumwalt’s new book, Bare Feet, Iron Will ~ Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields with the author.
We will wind it up with Greg Grant looking towards the Navy’s options at the end of this decade as outlined in CNA’s new report, “The Navy at a Tipping Point: Maritime Dominance at Stake?
A little light-hearted and well-deserved chest-thumping from America’s can-do-about-anything (but procurement!) service, the U.S. Coast Guard. Good job and great outreach.(I dug the “ship as parade float” moment between 2:19–2:30.)
Just what does that phrase mean? What kind of intellectual background does it take to even make that statement?
Those who have raised children in the last three decades know the state of history education in our schools. We also know that our centers of higher education have more or less purged their history departments of military historians. Required history courses – where there are some – more often than not do not cover military actions in any kind of context or depth. When you fold in the fact that the Navy has an institutional bias towards technical fields of education – then it is no surprise that historical illiteracy runs rampant from E1-O10. Is this a bad thing, or just a nuisance?
From $100 dollar questions such as, “Which nation is younger, Belgium or the USA?” to $1,000 questions such as, “What is the source of the border conflicts between Bolivia, Chile, and Peru?”, we simply do not do history well. As a result, when we work with our partners we regularly embarrass ourselves from ISAF to UNITAS as we demonstrate our ignorance of not only our history – but that of the rest of the world.
Even when we narrow the scope down to naval history – historical blindness has had real, definable costs. When you look back at some of the Navy’s worst errors in the last decade from LCS, DDG-1000, and the influence of the Transformationalist Cult – they all derive from a poor understanding of the lessons of history; i.e. – Battle Cruisers and Patrol Hydrofoils proved decades ago the seduction of speed is not worth the tradeoffs; regardless of technology the MK-1 Mod-0 eyeball is the primary sensor in the littorals; every successful shipbuilding program has been the result of evolutionary instead of revolutionary change. The examples are legion when you expand the relearned basics during this war by the Army and USMC.
There are notable exceptions though. Ironically, two of the best leaders of this war, Gen. Petraeus, USA and Gen Mattis, USMC – are both men seeped in history. Especially Gen Mattis, his love of good books and fine history are well known. There is a lesson there, but let’s move on.
How do we fill the knowledge gap in our profession when it comes to having a sound history-based foundation? Does the present system work? I think the answer clearly is, no.
To gain a historical perspective, it is either pushed to you via academics – or you can pull it to you through traditional media, museums, and online.
Where do our new leaders learn of our past? Most are not getting it in their middle and high schools – college is hit or miss. Except for a lucky few, most are too busy fighting through differential equations and mind bending electrical engineering classes to reflect and ponder. Once they hit the Fleet – too busy getting qualified and leading Sailors and Marines to wander down to the book store or library.
Sure, some will – but most won’t. Where will they find their history when they have a few minutes to chase down something that sparks their interest? Where most of their generation gets their information; online.
In the last few years, some great things have come online in the realm of naval history online. The Navy History and Heritage Command has always had a great site – USNI is expanding its offerings as well to include the drive to put the entire Proceedings and Naval History magazine archive online, and our sister blog, Naval History. Museum offerings are starting to come online more and more. It is easier to find and order good books now, and great books continue to come out that tell the story right; Toll’s Six Frigates is one example. But are we fully utilizing technology to get history in the heads of more people?
What role does new media have in history? At first blush, one would think that established historians would welcome the expanded discussion – but in line with the reaction we have seen in other areas – the reaction has been, well, reactionary.
A funny thing happened – the Empire of the Dead Tree is fighting back. Many professional historians don’t seem to like what new media is doing WRT history. OK, let’s look at that.
With a mixture of disgust and fainting spells, over the years I have been on the receiving end of various forms of, “Who are you to say this? Why, this isn’t even peer reviewed!” Fair, I guess. I am not alone – this happens to others in new media – and even old media – who opine about history and its lessons. It seems for many that new media is just a step too far. If one finger is pointing at new media, then lets look at where the other three are pointing.
Who is a “historian?” What is their mission? Are they succeeding or failing? Some of the worst damage to the field of history education (see all the fetid mass of post-modernism for examples) has been done by those with a PhD – though of course there are wonderful history PhDs out there. Those three letters do not make the holder a gatekeeper to what is or is not a proper way to distribute the lessons of history. History belongs to all who wish to find it – and the place to find it for tomorrow’s leaders is online.
You really cannot replace the tremendous depth and value of receiving an academic background in history, and books, magazines, and museums provide a more rounded picture than online …. but in the 21st Century they cannot do it all. When most never get a chance for one-on-one instruction – much less dialogue – on history, then to rely on traditional methods and gatekeepers alone is folly.
The past isn’t to be forgotten or tightly controlled within defined walls and limitations, no – it is a treasured resource that should be open to all who can reach her and as a bonus can never be depleted. You can dip in to it over, and over, and over, and over. Each month, more and more primary sources become available online that you can access. No gatekeepers with agendas or egos to tell you what is or is not worth your time. Lessons are there to be found written in blood, heros to be honored once forgotten – and more importantly – those new leaders coming online need to see, read, and hear these things. Some things may be old news to some – but are as new as a sunrise to others joining the profession of arms.
Write a book, publish an article – put a post up on a blog. Get the conversation going. Expand the network nodes. Each part should reinforce the other – but don’t look backwards and hide behind the walls of academia.
History is not something to be kept up on a shelf; it isn’t something that belongs to only a select few; it isn’t something that should be tightly held like some Masonic esoterica.
No, when history is stilted, and dusty – left as a footnote in some peer-reviewed publication – it is nothing but a self-licking ice cream cone.
The history profession has failed and/or been locked out of doing its job in the classroom in all but a very few places. I would offer to those who think that the study of history is too important to leave to the amateurs, too dignified to be put on a, ahem, “blog,” that they should follow the diktat of a well worn phrase,
“Lead, follow, or get the h311 out of the way.”
An online intervention …
I first blogg’d about Michael Yon five years ago, and like many of you have been following his work for quite awhile.
Along with a few other things, this Facebook quote from him left my puzzl’r puzzl’n,
Life was good before I went to Iraq. But after three friends were killed during the GWOT, and my growing mistrust for the media and for the US Government/Military, I quit traveling the world and went to war. The United States was in peril. I am American. Today, I do not trust McChrystal anymore than some people trust the New York Times, Obama or Bush. If McChrystal could be trusted, I would go back to my better life. McChrystal is a great killer but this war is above his head. He must be watched..
Every man has to find his own way in life – but sometimes it is helpful to check around and grab hold of an external reference point. Anyone who has gone through the helo-dunker emergency egress training knows what I am talking about.
When everything and everyone around you all of a sudden seems out of kilter and swirling in chaos – it might be helpful to ponder if the problem isn’t what is around you – but just you.
The war will go on – the story will continue to be told – but everyone needs some time away. 6-months, 12-months — some time to clear the mind and reset perspective. Just a thought