Archive for the 'Travel' Category


Instant Karma (v 2.0)

February 2012


It’s gonna get you! (At least we hope it does.)

From the Associated Press (via N&O):

LAS VEGAS — Marine Cpl. Alexander Degenhardt is crediting karma for landing a $2.9 million progressive slot jackpot in Las Vegas.

Degenhardt was accepted as a bone marrow donor to an anonymous patient only a couple of days before hitting the jackpot Sunday at the Bellagio, the Las Vegas Sun reported (

“They asked me if I was sure I wanted to go through with it because it’s kind of painful, but what’s a little pain if it will save someone’s life?” Degenhardt said. “I look at this jackpot as kind of good karma for that.”

You might think the young Devil Dog NCO will blow it on all sorts of stuff, like new clothes and new cars. Nope.

He decided to buy some clothes after the jackpot – at a thrift store, where he buys all of his clothes. He said he won’t part with his car that has rolled up some 250,000 miles, either.

“I plan to keep driving it until I can’t anymore,” he told the Sun. “No sense in wasting money. I’m really pretty thrifty.”

What, then?
Degenhardt, who will receive about $100,000 a year over 20 years, said he plans to first help his pregnant sister and his mother catch up on bills.
Semper Fi, Devil Dog! Here’s betting that there will be a whole stack of Marine units requesting training at Nellis AFB!


Instant Karma…

February 2012


It’s gonna get you!

From NBC News.

It is difficult to think of a death too agonizing for someone whose sole objective is the deliberate killing and injuring of innocents. So maybe living the remainder of your short life with the same horrible and painful wounds you wished to inflict on others is closer to poetic justice. A shame he wasn’t sharing a phone booth with Ahmedinejad and Khameini at the time. But fortuitous neither he nor his accomplice made it onto an airplane full of people.

I continue to be impressed and humbled with how much Belgians remember the sacrifices made by others for their freedoms. No one asks them to do it, nor do I think the Belgians themselves make any effort to let Americans back in the States know what they do. They remember Americans of my Grandfathers generation just because they want to, I don’t think I will ever stop being amazed by this fact.

This weekend Mons marked the anniversary of their liberation from the Nazis. Mons was the first city in Belgium to be liberated (2 September). In remembering this event, Belgians, French, Spanish and others dress as US Service members did during WWII.

Seeing Belgians remember Americans for what we did means a lot to me, not just because I wear a uniform today, but also because one of my Grandfathers served in Belgium as an ordnance officer during WWII.

A block from my Apartment I ran into General Patton. He didn’t speak alick of English. But, he did carry a picture of the General with him in his wallet, which if I understood him, his father took back in 1944.

Most of those dressed as GIs wore the 101st unit patch, despite the fact that it was the 1st Infantry Division which came through Mons. The fact that Band of Brothers centered around a unit from the 101st, is what I assume to the reason why so many Screaming Eagles were present today.

I’ve been told that Mons displays more tanks and American WWII vehicles for their liberation day than anywhere else in the World. The Grand Place isn’t a small square by any means and today it was filled with vehicles.

I am not able to identify the class of Tank with the yellow “F-12” on it. But, the building behind it was standing when we came through Mons (its been there since the 1500s).

This is the second time that Belgians have humbled me with how they remember their and America’s shared history. What makes it mean the most, I think, is that no one asks them to remember America’s part in their history. They don’t have to wear American uniforms, or lovingly restore parts of America’s history. But they do, and what’s more is that when you talk to them and they hear your American accent, they are surprised that an American is even there.

Though, out of everything I saw today, I think I got the biggest kick out of the ‘Sailor’ I met today wearing Utilities that she though were dungarees. I still have my utilities and there is always next year.


Tough Duty!

July 2011


An old Navy Chief and an old Marine Gunny were sitting at the VFW arguing about who’d had the tougher career.

“I did 30 years in the Corps,” the old Marine declared proudly, “and fought in three of my country’s wars.”

“Fresh out of boot camp I hit the beach at Okinawa, clawed my way up the blood-soaked sand, and eventually took out an entire enemy machine gun nest with a pistol and a single grenade.”

“As a Sergeant, I fought in Korea alongside Chesty Puller. We pushed through the enemy inch by bloody inch in the freezing cold, always under a barrage of artillery and small arms fire. ”

“Finally, as a Gunny Sergeant, I did three combat tours in Vietnam. We humped through the mud and razor grass for 14 hours a day, plagued by rain and mosquitoes, ducking under sniper fire by day and mortars all night. In a firefight, we’d fire until our arms ached and our guns were empty, then we charge the enemy with bayonets and e-tools!”

“Lucky bastard,” said the Chief, “nuthin’ but shore duty!”

H/T to Mister Burnett


Wave Theory

May 2011


The last 14-hrs have been a good one for our side in the long war against Islamic extremism. For over a decade, legion of professionals in and out of uniform have been trying to gather enough information on Osama bin Laden to give our leadership an opportunity to bring him to justice. Especially since 9/11, finding this man has been a career field of its own; success is sweet. This is their moment.

In the first wave after the word came out we have seen euphoria, pride, and thanks to all of those who executed an almost flawless mission. Every individual in this chain of professionals can take pride they truly were part of an important event in this war – and reminded the world again the capabilities of our nation’s military when opportunity meets preparation. No other nation could have done this.

Everyone, I hope, is taking time in their own way to bask in this first wave. From the MIDN at Annapolis, to NYC, to the people on my street who were lighting off fireworks at 1am – it was good to be able to celebrate. Enjoy the wave while you can – for most it will peak this afternoon – after that, we need to ponder the second wave.

The second wave is sober reflection.

As the adrenaline wears off, the coffee kicks in, and the mind starts to sort things out – certain facts should come to the front of the sober mind.

  • Check the Operational Diagram. This is not an end state. This is not a “mission accomplished.” This war is not over. Osama’s death is a decisive point – in a way an inflection point. In both a practical and symbolic manner, his death is a victory for us – but only in the proper context. Osama started a franchise operation. When Ray Kroc passed – McDonalds did not go away. There is much more work to be done – this is no time to rest, as the enemy will not rest.
  • Review your Sun Tsu. Though we can define it in any way we wish – often times you are in a war that is defined by your enemy. He wages war for his own reasons, so you need to recognize that so you know the war you are in. This war did not start with 9/11, and it doesn’t end now. This is not a global war against terror – terror is only a tactic. This is a war of culture, religion, world view, and grievance. This is a war with an enemy working within a decentralized, distributed network of command and control – regenerating, morphing, and regrouping with remarkable effectiveness. Their end state is nothing less than the destruction of your culture and way of life. Some may hope that Osama’s death will roll up terror, but hope isn’t a plan and that isn’t how this war will end. Hopefully we snagged enough paper and electronic records at the compound along with his body that we can roll up a lot of Osama’s organization, but that is like picking crabgrass out of your yard by hand – effective in a fashion, but not a cure. The weeds will come back.
  • From FMJ to Tinfoil. Osama body is now in the possession of Hagfish – yet we need to watch how his legend morphs. Most of his followers live in cultures that are soaked in conspiracy theories. Nothing is as it seems, and behind every clear act there is really a back story of intrigue and deceit. With no body to examine – conspiracies will flourish. Take the JFK assassination industry here and add a couple of decimal points, then you might get close.
  • Face and Payback. Things may tamp down a bit as lower level commanders hit the mattresses to preserve themselves until they know the extent of what we got from the compound. Others may want to get revenge for their commander directly or if they have access, they may pull the trigger on sleeper cells. Hard to know, but we should expect that with the killing of their figurehead – the enemy has an extra motivation to get revenge for losing face. Hope that they are too busy saving themselves to plan external operations in the near future – but be prepared for the fact that they can run operations as well as they did in 9/11 and they are a very patient lot.

There we are. A good day. A great day for our Navy SEALs and their supporting commands in Southwest Asia. It is good to remind others about our reach – this is a good Ref. A.

We also need to give a nod to the Commander in Chief. I am sure he was counseled about Desert One. Some probably advised him to go the route of bombing and cruise missile strikes. He didn’t do that though. Some group in his/our national security team briefed him on what was needed – up close and personal with terminal effect. He approved that action – high risk, high reward. Right call – right outcome.

There is another practical take-away as you get through the second wave – another lesson identified for the professional. Technology has its limits, as do precision/smart weapons. Since Publius Horatius, Spurius Lartius, and Titus Herminius Aquilinus stood at the head of the Pons Sublicius – it has always been a man at arms closing the enemy face to face that makes the difference – everything else is supporting arms. This century it was true with Saddam, his sons, and now Osama.

War is not new. It never has been. It never will be. Tools may change – but the essentials remain.

Celebrate, but prepare.

Surely, many of you are familiar with the news of four Americans who were captured when their vessel the S/V QUEST by pirates a couple days ago while sailing their yacht through pirate-infested waters. This morning their voyage ended.

In a statement, US Central Command said that negotiations were underway between the US Navy and the pirates, when the US forces heard gunfire coming from the Quest about 0600GMT.

They boarded the ship, killing two pirates in the process, and discovered the four Americans shot. The US Navy sailors attempted to provide first aid but the hostages died, the military said.

“As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, the forces discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors,” Gen James Mattis of US Central Command Commander said in a statement.

“We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest,” the statement added.

The US Navy captured 13 pirates, and found the remains of two other pirates already dead about the vessel, the US military said. – BBC News

I have to say that I am surprised to hear this news, partly because you think that God might be watching over them given the bible mission that they were conducting. But relying on God to protect you as you plan to travel through pirate-infested waters is no plan at all. After-all the pirates pray to God too and are holding hundreds of seafarers hostage, not to mention a ship full of yachts whose owners were not interested in sailing through the area on their own. Their website makes no mention of the threat of pirates in their 2011 travel plans (page here). But given that pirates have been taking vessels as a revenue-generating scheme, and that live prisoners are worth lots more than dead ones, I just expected them to either end up ashore and hidden in Somalia or wait it out while the US Navy prevents them from taking them ashore.

I am not sure what the lessons are to be learned here that are not already known. But for the benefit of those still tempted to run the gauntlet, here is a reminder:

  • Yachts are extremely vulnerable
  • Even if the Navy comes to your rescue, it very well might be too late
  • The close quarters of a yacht keep you in close contact with pirates at all times, including during any attempt to retake the vessel
  • Pirates are very willing to kill their captives
  • If attacked, it is extremely important to keep the pirates from getting access to the crew

Piracy in the area is spreading and turning into a free-for-all for the pirates. The game is over for the 13 the Navy caught while retaking the vessel, but the pirates seem to be running the board at the moment.

So, what criminal charges do the 13 face back in the US and might the death penalty be on the table?


Here is confirmation that they knew what they were sailing into:

Friends of a US couple aboard a yacht hijacked off Somalia on Friday say the pair knew their journey was risky, but were determined to press on with their Christian mission.

In an email sent days before they went missing, Scott and Jean Adam described plans to stay out of touch to hide their location from pirates. – BBC News

Three more very important lessons here:

  • You can’t hide from pirates in the open ocean. It’s like trying to hide in the middle of an empty football field.
  • The pirates are most likely to be where you want them least.
  • Help is least likely to be where you want it most. A warship 30 miles away is an hour away from helping you. (outside of helo assistance)


Always the most powerful and enduring of Man’s weapons.

How they are spread has always been an obsession with repressive dictatorships, who have traditionally gone great lengths to control or eliminate those means.

Clearly, new media has emerged which accelerates the spread and increases the exposure to those ideas. Just after midnight, Egypt provided echoes of the violent and brutally suppressed Teheran protests following the “elections” of 2009. This from the Associated Press:

Internet and cell phone services, at least in Cairo, appeared to be largely cut off since overnight in the most extreme measure so far to try to hamper protesters form organizing. However, that did not prevent tens of thousands from flooding the streets.

And just what ideas are so powerful, so feared by Egypt’s government? Well, they are not new.

“It’s time for this government to change,” said Amal Ahmed, a 22-year-old protester. “I want a better future for me and my family when I get married.”

Interesting times, these.

Perhaps, also, this should give us pause before handing our own government the authority to have a “kill switch” for the Internet and electronic communications. Yes, the idea is being conceived as a protection of US critical infrastructure in the event of a national emergency. Yet once authorized, such a capability is more or less permanently resident, for whatever purpose, in the hands of the government.

History has shown us that granting overreaching emergency powers to a government is an emergency unto itself. Until the result is a fatal cure for whatever the disease might be. That’s not a situation we should ever be willing to risk.

Some VERY interesting details, some of which will likely be hard to prove. But if they are even true by half, the United States Government (and DoD) may want to reconsider how “secure” they consider their critical networks, and just how ready we are for a major cyber event.

From the Prosecutor’s proffer of charges:

The government’s evidence of the defendant’s guilt of the charged crimes, as well as uncharged criminal activity, demonstrates his position as an extremely sophisticated and dangerous computer hacker. At the time of the defendant’s arrest, Secret Service agents seized a heavily encrypted laptop computer that was in his possession. This computer contained a massive quantity of stolen financial account data and personal identifying information, including more than 400,000 credit card, debit card and bank account numbers, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1029 and 1028A (Counts One and Two).

In his post-arrest statement, the defendant admitted compromising the computer servers of a number of major financial institutions and companies. For example, the defendant admitted that he compromised a computer network of the Federal Reserve Bank (“FRB”) by exploiting a vulnerability he found within their secure system. The FRB in Cleveland, Ohio has confirmed that an FRB computer network was hacked in approximately June 2010, resulting in thousands of dollars in damages, affecting ten or more FRB computers, and forming the basis for Counts Three and Four.

The defendant’s seized computer also contains evidence of additional and very significant hacking activity. For example, the defendant possessed data illegally obtained from the computer network of FedComp, a data processor for various credit unions in the United States. By hacking into the FedComp system, the defendant had unauthorized access to the data of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York Federal Credit Union and the Mercer County New Jersey Teachers’ Federal Credit Union, among other victims. The defendant also admitted to compromising the computer networks of several major international banks and companies, and admitted earning money by finding and exploiting network vulnerabilities or trading and selling the information contained therein.

The defendant has not limited his criminal conduct to compromising financial institutions. The government has obtained evidence that his cybercrime activities extend to the national security sector. For example, in approximately August 2010, the defendant hacked into the secure computer system of a major Department of Defense contractor, which provides systems management for military transport and other highly sensitive military operations. These are but a few examples of the government’s evidence of the defendant’s criminal hacking activity targeting the United States’ financial and national security systems.

What was that part about a Defense Contractor and systems management for military transport systems?

Read the rest here.

Let me say it again. As for the “umbrella” DoD believes they are providing, it has to include myriad Defense Contractors, and everyone that touches those Contractors, and everyone they touch, and everyone who touches them, and in turn, everyone they touch….

One other thing. It may be tricky for the Prosecution in a public trial to provide “proof” without revealing technical, intelligence, and HUMINT capabilities we don’t necessarily want the world to know. Even with multi-source “attribution”, finding the suspect took nearly a year. Which in terms of the damage that can be inflicted with such cyber exploits, might as well be a half-dozen millenia.

Admiral James G. Stavridis currently serves as Commander, U.S. European Command, and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. A 1976 Naval Academy graduate and surface warfare officer, ADM Stavridis skippered a destroyer, the U.S.S. Barry, and commanded Destroyer Squadron 21. From 2006 to 2009, he commanded U.S. Southern Command.

Career Questions:

Out of each USNA class, only a small number graduates achieve flag rank. What did you do differently to command two geographic unified commands?

Simply persistence. Although I spent my first five years thinking quite seriously about getting out of the navy to go to law school, I always looked honestly at all my options both in and out of uniform. In the end, what kept me in was the great people I was able to work with every day, both USNA graduates and other colleagues. So much else is luck and timing.

Do you have any advice to current midshipmen or junior officers?

Read lots of novels. Every time you imagine another life, you expand your own. And learn another language—to learn another person’s language is to learn their life.

How did your experience at the Naval Academy help you throughout your career? Was there anything the Academy did not prepare you for?

Overall, my time at Annapolis gave me a cadre of close friends, a sense of humor, a grounding in French and Spanish, and a lifetime of memories. Nothing can really prepare a person for life after college, but the academy came close.

Any memorable or notable stories from your time at the Academy? 

I was a proud editor of the Log Magazine and Salty Sam, class of 1976. The editor of the west point equivalent, the pointer, was recently retired general and close friend Stan McChrystal. We remain good friends today—it is a perfect reminder of how the relationships forged at the academy transcend career and time.

How do your graduate degree in international relations and your PhD in law and diplomacy help you in your current command?

 International affairs is the novel that never ends. Every single day we all get to read the next chapter on the front pages of the newspaper (downloaded to our iPads). To be involved in that daily, from serving in the crew of a ballistic missile destroyer to being a combatant commander or the leader of NATO operations globally is fascinating and an honor.

On your facebook page, you have a varsity letterman jacket with three gold stars. What sport did you play at the Academy and do you believe that athletics helps develop military officers?

I played varsity squash and tennis. Our squash team finished in the top five nationally each year. The travel and interaction was invaluable and the chance to play both sports all over the world in the years since has been wonderful.

Policy Questions:

EUCOM was originally created in 1952 to streamline America’s defense of Soviet aggression. What would you consider EUCOM’s current purpose?

Supporting our NATO allies as we work together in Afghanistan, Russia, the Balkans, piracy, narcotics, and defense reform. The vast majority of our allies come from EUCOM and NATO, and together we are far stronger than any of us along. We are also working hard on interagency and private-public partnerships.

How is EUCOM adapting to China’s rise in military power?

 Working with them in piracy off the horn of Africa and seeking zones of cooperation in other global security challenges, e.g. in Iran and Afghanistan, for example.

As Supreme Allied Commander, NATO, what are the difficulties in aligning the goals and needs of twenty-eight separate militaries?

The challenge is connecting all the different cultures, languages, and national approaches—but the only thing harder than tackling security challenge with allies is trying to solve them alone.

General Alexander, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, recently spoke to the Brigade of Midshipmen about cyber warfare. You successfully “hacked in” to General Alexander’s power-point presentation. Do you believe cyber warfare is the future of warfare, and how prepared is the United States and NATO to win a cyber war?

I do believe two important areas of future engagement for all of us are in cyber and alliance engagement. Keith is a good friend and a brilliant strategic thinker, and our nation is lucky to have him leading the new cyber command.

How has the recent entry of former Soviet states into NATO affected the dynamics of NATO?

 It is a very positive development, expanding the alliance from a dozen countries to 28 today—all dedicated to common defense, operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans, and focused on defending freedom, democracy, and individual liberty.

How is EUCOM supporting the Global War on Terror as well as Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom?

We send 30% of our 100,000 people forward to Iraq and Afghanistan at any given time, we help train the 40+ countries in our region that are part of the coalitions there, we work closely with the interagency partners from the drug enforcement agency to the agency for international development, and we sustain the diplomatic pressure in concert with state department.

On a more serious note, how badly will Navy beat Army this year?

Seriously, let me say that in 1976, my senior year, we beat them 51-0. This year, we’re going to beat them easily (again); but when the final whistle blows, there won’t be another group of people in the world with whom we are more proud to stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of this nation.

ADM Stavridis, Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these interview questions.

Tucked into Charlestown Navy Yard are several true treasures of American Naval history. Of course, the main attraction is Old Ironsides, the world-renowned USS Constitution, one of the US Navy’s six frigates, berthed at Pier 1. There are many other buildings and structures, including the Marine Barracks, and the museum building, rich in tradition and history, and worth the Boston traffic battle. (Boston Maggie, by the way, is apparently an honorable Grand Admiral or something, having grown up within sight of “Chaahhlstown Navy Yahhhd”, and able to arrange just about anything for anybody, if she likes you.)

But beginning early on Monday morning, 9 August 2010, two of the other wonderful and historic attractions have been intertwined, as the World War II Fletcher-class destroyer Cassin Young (DD-793) slipped into the ancient but still working Drydock Number One for her first drydocking since her arrival in Boston from her purgatory in mothballs at Philadelphia.

From all tales told by docents and National Park Service folks, Cassin Young was in some rough shape, and needed repairs to hull plating that had seen the light of day only once since her mothballing in the Spring of 1960 (that was in 1978, upon her arrival in Boston). She was leaking and the museum was wary of even the “weather turn-around” which had been conducted periodically.

As the water drained away, the signs of decades-long immersion in the warmish salt water were apparent, as the images of her screws and rudder (above) clearly show.

After a great deal of scraping, the condition of the hull plates, sonar dome (the downward protrusion from the hull in the center picture above) and the shafts, screws, and rudder are clearer. What say you, Byron? Can you tell from these photos how she is faring?

There are many more wonderful photos of the event from the wonderful Cassin Young Volunteers website.

Even though I seem to be a magnet for showing up at museum ships that are closed, (right Maggie?) sometimes in doing so, I find a gem or two. I am thrilled that Cassin Young is undergoing this 4-month drydocking. She is one of only a handful of Fletchers remaining in existence, and has been largely restored to her World War II configuration.

I shudder to think of what the underside of the unique and irreplaceable USS Olympia looks like. Somehow, some way, funds need to be found for the dredging, drydocking, and repair of the last remnant of America’s steel Navy.

If we do not preserve the few remaining examples of the great and rich history of the United States Navy, we will have done a great disservice to the men who made that history. Perhaps we will be doing an even greater disservice to tomorrow’s sailors, severing forever a link with a glorious and heroic past.


UPDATE: My reference of 1978 for the last drydock of Cassin Young is in error. It should read 1980, when she arrived at Boston. She was still in Philadelphia in 1978.

(Thanks, Jack Swanson, for pointing that out!)

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