This essay was published by Breach Bang Clear on 28 November 2013.
Lately I’ve been speaking out (aka “bitching incessantly”) about certain things in the Army that drive me nuts. The biggest complaint I’ve had lately is about stupid decisions from higher up that make soldiers want to chew their fingers off in frustration. But I’ve always been told to offer solutions, not just whine about problems. So I’ve got a solution to offer.
My solution isn’t going to fix everything. And it’s not intended to prevent leaders from making mistakes. Every good leader has learned valuable lessons from screwing up, and no soldier should expect his leaders to be perfect. The wars we’ve fought since 2001 have been rife with unsolvable problems and gray areas which no leader, no matter how wise and brave, could perfectly handle. Good leaders are made better by their honest mistakes; we don’t need to “fix” those men and women. Instead, my solution is aimed at those who make decisions so egregiously stupid that anyone with even half the average IQ wonders, “What the hell could he possibly have been thinking?”
Here’s what I propose: we assign every Colonel and above, plus certain Department of Defense civilians and every Sergeant Major, an E-4 to act as a sanity check.
Mind you, I don’t mean we should use just any E-4s. To be effective they have to be salty, veterans of at least one deployment. They have to be smart, rather than just smartasses. Preferably they’re on their second ride as an E-4. And they absolutely have to be short, close to discharge with zero desire to reenlist.
In other words, they’ve been around, they’ve fought a war, they’re sick of the Army’s bullshit, and they have not even a single fuck to give.
These E-4s will shadow their assigned leader. They’re not his aide-de-camp, they’re not there to polish his shoes or clean his office. Their only duty would be to assess any decision he’s about to make. They’d be something like the modern-day equivalent of slaves who stood on chariots behind Roman emperors returning from victory, whispering “All glory is fleeting” to keep the emperor’s head from swelling. But our E-4’s whispers would keep our leaders from getting too stupid, not too proud.
As a reward for enduring the horrors of life among senior leaders, our heroic E-4s would receive a gift that generations of fighting men have desperately wished for. Only Specialists and Corporals with maturity and self-control could be trusted with this gift. And while the gift might seem like pure orgasmic happiness to those who receive it, it also has a utilitarian purpose. My solution will not work without it.
Our E-4s will receive a special dispensation, signed in blood by the President, allowing them to beat the crap out of any senior leader who desperately needs it.
Yes, this sounds harsh. But I don’t know of any other way to fix the problem. Appealing to reason obviously doesn’t help.
Here’s how it would work. Our E-4s would stay in the background, quietly watching their assigned senior leader for telltale signs that he’s been struck by the Good Idea Fairy: fingers rubbing his chin, eyes drifting upward and glazing over from deep concentration, sudden expressions of rapturous joy followed by mad dashes to a computer to build a 278-slide PowerPoint presentation, frantic phone calls to bark orders at frustrated subordinates.
When they see those signs, our E-4s need to leap from the shadows, peer over the leader’s shoulder at his computer screen or listen to his phone calls, and make a split-second evaluation of the order the leader is about to give. If the order is something like “All troops, combat or support, need more call for fire training!” the E-4 should back off. But if the order is something else, he needs to shift into attack mode. And he has to do it quickly, before the leader can give the order and cause irreparable damage.
·Leader: “Soldiers should wear reflective belts, salute officers and carry their weapons at the combat ready inside the FOB!”
>E-4: “Come here, dipshit!” Crack!
·Leader: “I think every soldier in the Army should wear black berets! That way they’ll all be just like Rangers!”
>E-4: “Moron!” Whack!
·Leader: “If we make every soldier put a green safety dot on their watch, they’ll think safety whenever they check the time!”
>E-4: “Stupid motherfucker!” Pow!
·Leader: “We’re going to create a special Drone Operator Medal, and make it higher than a Purple Heart or Bronze Star!”
>E-4: “Stop it, shithead!” Smack!
·Leader: “We don’t need to listen to soldiers actually fighting the war! The Universal Camouflage Pattern is obviously the best camouflage for Iraq and Afghanistan!”
>E-4: “What the. . . you son of a bitch!” Whack! Whack! Whack! (I should point out that our E-4s wouldn’t be allowed to carry weapons, because in this situation numerous terrified officers would be standing back screaming “Drop the knife, Corporal! Drop the knife!”
And so on.
I need everyone’s help on this. I’ve wracked my brain for years trying to find a solution, and this is the only thing that could possibly work. Please find E-4s who are willing to intercept and destroy the stupid ideas that have been killing us for years. Write your Congressman to express support for my idea. Send the President the Special E-4 Leader-Beating Dispensation and ask him to sign it asap.
Help me put this plan into action. Because the E-4 Option is our only hope.
Filed under: Afghanistan, Iraq | 12 Comments
Tags: E-4 mafia, veteran writers
Recently I had a conversation with a friend about my last “Knockout Game” post (http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2013/11/21/a-loudmouth-female-police-cadet-trayvon-martin-and-the-knockout-game/). My friend made a statement that I think many people are saying in private: she’s worried about becoming a potential KO Game victim, but is also afraid that she’ll seem racist if she encounters a group of “thug” looking black teenagers and tries to avoid them.
Her worry meshed with a comment I received on my KO Game post. A reader named Joe was concerned with this statement I made: “And if we’re someday confronted by an unarmed scumbag who looks like he could beat us to death, or if we spot the signs that we’re about to become a playtoy for the ‘Knockout Game’, we’re going to draw, aim, and engage as necessary.” He thought it might be a suggestion to shoot anyone who “looked like” the kind of person who would play the KO game.
I gave both Joe and my friend the same answer. When we’re talking about spotting potential KO game players, we aren’t just looking at appearance. Appearance can matter, but more importantly we’re looking at behavior, at pre-assault indicators.
Many different actions can be pre-assault indicators. Generally speaking, these indicators seem harmless when viewed outside of the overall situation. The trick is to recognize them in context.
For example, if someone puts on a hood, that means nothing by itself. Simply looking around at their surroundings means nothing either. And if they cross a street, so what? But let’s say you’re walking down a sidewalk toward your car, late on a clear night after businesses have closed, and see a young man walking toward you on the other side of the street. The man looks around (possibly checking for witnesses or people who would interfere), puts on a hood (possibly trying to make himself harder to identify), and crosses the street toward you (the businesses are all closed; he’s not going toward them, he’s possibly directly targeting you).
Now you have a choice. Should you take evasive action, maybe change direction or head toward the nearest well-lit area? Should you maybe pull a small flashlight and shine it at him if he gets close? Should you put your hand on your concealed pistol, ready to draw and fire if he makes a threatening move?
Or, if the man is a minority, should you ignore his actions and blindly keep walking, because you’d rather risk death than seem racist?
Several years ago a cop friend and I were in New York City visiting a friend. We were in a subway station waiting for a train when I saw a young black man with a young Hispanic man walk toward us. Both men were wearing baggy clothes and hoods, but it was cold; they didn’t look all that different from anyone else. And there were blacks and Hispanics all over NYC. That didn’t catch my attention either. What raised my alert level was where the two young men came from. They walked out from the train tunnel, where people aren’t supposed to go, stepped over the tracks and climbed onto the platform.
I immediately bumped my cop buddy and motioned toward the two men. His guard went up also. We kept our eyes on the two men and readied ourselves. The men noticed us watching them, and kept going.
Was it racist for us to be wary of the young black and Hispanic men? Nope. My cop buddy was black; we were the same racial makeup as the men we were watching. It was their actions that caught our eye, not their race.
In the KO game assault videos I’ve seen it wasn’t the physical appearance of the young black males that indicated danger. It was their behavior. Yes, someone’s appearance certainly can indicate danger, and this is the point where people usually scream “That’s racist!” But a threatening appearance isn’t limited to any one race.
How would you react if you were on a bus and a young white man with a shaved head, “trouble gangster” and “wicked ways” tattooed around his eyes, “Aryan Brotherhood” and a swastika tattooed on his neck, sat next to you? Regardless of his actions, would his appearance suggest he’s a possible threat? I’d say yes. I’d say the same thing about a black man wearing a red ball cap, red pants and a red “Thug4Life” t-shirt with a “Money Over Bitches” tattoo on one arm and “Half-Dead Fry Head” on the other. And about a young Hispanic male with blue shirt and shoes, gang tattoos on both arms, and tattoos depicting a drive-by shooting and a robbery on his chest.
At this point, I’m sure some readers nodded in agreement about the white power guy, but felt uncomfortable at my description of the black and Hispanic gang members because talking about minority criminals is “racist”. All I can say is, describing reality isn’t racism. I stopped that tattooed white parolee one night in a mostly black and Hispanic neighborhood. He was one of the most polite, cooperative people I’ve ever stopped, but I still viewed him as a threat. I arrested a black gang member who was high on “fry” (a joint dipped in formaldehyde or PCP) and had a tattoo of a half skull-half face with a joint in its mouth that announced he was a “Half Dead Fry Head”. He didn’t fight or run from us, but yes, his appearance suggested he was a threat. And I stopped a Hispanic male with a robbery scene and drive-by shooting tattooed on his chest. He was also polite and cooperative, but was a dedicated, hardcore gang member. Yes, he was a threat.
If you see someone who is advertising their criminal tendencies and your alert level goes up, that doesn’t make you racist. It means you’ve got some sense, you don’t ignore obvious signs of danger and you’re being situationally aware. If you spot an obvious threat like those I’ve described, then identify pre-assault indicators, you may have just saved your life.
Once again, I’d like to point out that I ain’t no expert on nuthin’. But in almost 20 years as a cop, I’ve learned a little about pre-assault indicators. Some of this knowledge was gained the hard way, and I’d like to share it with you. Keep in mind that I’m discussing situational awareness in general, not only discussing the KO Game.
Now I’d like you to watch this short video, which most of us have seen several times already.
Note that the victim in this assault does not appear to be paying any particular attention to his surroundings. He’s simply walking down what appears to be an alley, face forward, minding his own business. He doesn’t seem to give a second thought to the fact that the young black males approaching him are spread out almost all the way across the alley, leaving him only a small gap to pass through. And he takes no action at all when one of the young males moves sideways toward him. My guess is that the victim never recognized any signs of impending danger. In this case the young males don’t, by appearance alone, seem to be threatening. But some of their behavior before the attack certainly suggests a threat.
Let’s look at the first indicator I mentioned. The young males are spread out, taking up most of the alley. While that might just mean those kids are selfish jerks, it could also be an intentional effort to channelize the victim into what we soldiers call a “choke point”: an area where a victim’s freedom of movement and action are restricted. When soldiers plant land mines, dig ditches and emplace concrete obstacles, it’s not to simply stop enemy vehicles. It’s to force them into a specific area, like a narrow mountain pass, where they can be easily ambushed. Those attackers did the same thing to their KO game victim.
Now take another look at the video, right around the 00:21 mark. Even in the blurry, distant video you can see the attacker make an obvious, deliberate move to his left just prior to throwing the punch. While it might seem that the victim had almost no time to react before being punched, he actually had more than enough. If he had noticed the signs, he could have stopped and waited for the group to pass. He could have kept his eyes on the young men, giving the non-verbal clue that he was watching them as closely as they were watching him. Even if he had walked into the choke point they created, he still could have ducked or sidestepped once he saw the punch about to be thrown. Any of those countermeasures could have kept him from laying facedown and unconscious on the pavement.
But here are my questions: did the victim walk blindly into an ambush even though he felt uncomfortable when he saw the group of young black males approaching him? Did he intentionally disregard signs of danger, because he didn’t want to appear racist?
One night I arrested a murder suspect. He had stabbed someone to death at a bar, and I found him the next night as he was hurriedly loading possessions into a truck prior to his planned escape from town. I snuck up and surprised him in his front yard; when I ordered him to put his hands up and lay on his stomach he ignored me, protested his innocence and started walking toward me.
I repeated the order. He ignored it and kept coming. He wasn’t cursing, he wasn’t saying “I’m going to kill you”, his demeanor suggested he was friendly. But his actions told a different story. He kept ignoring my commands. He kept walking toward me, despite the fact that he could easily hear me from where he was. He kept talking over me, trying to appear casual. He was about to attack.
Because my flashlight was in his face, he couldn’t see my pistol pointed at him. Despite his apparent friendliness, I knew he was “innocently” closing distance. I expected him to go for a knife, and was ready to shoot him. The sudden appearance of another officer made the suspect stop.
But here’s the twist. The suspect was an illegal alien. He was speaking Spanish as he protested his innocence. Was I being “insensitive”, not considering that he may have been confused rather than uncooperative? Was I stereotyping by assuming he had a knife? Should I have given him the benefit of the doubt and not kept my pistol on him?
It turned out I had arrested the suspect once before, and he had been verbally aggressive and threatening. When I saw him in court later he cursed me out. His friendliness was just an act. Had I given him the benefit of the doubt, and if I hadn’t had backup, I have no doubt he would have stabbed me.
One night I had to run a mental patient off from a truck stop. He had been there for hours bothering customers. I didn’t realize he was a mental patient until I saw the sunglasses he was wearing (at night) still had the “Made in China” sticker on a lens. That, and when I told him he had to leave his first question was, “But then where will I get refreshments?”
I asked for his name and date of birth, then called in a warrant check. The man hadn’t been threatening before that. But as soon as he heard give his name over the radio, he went silent, dropped to one knee, hung his head and covered his face.
I backed away, drew pepper spray and made sure I had space to go sideways if he came at me. When he suddenly sprang back to his feet, angrily demanding to know why I was harassing him, I was prepared for an attack. But he didn’t come at me, maybe because he saw my stance and intermediate weapon in my hand. He left peacefully.
He was black. His race had nothing to do with it. I saw black customers in that truck stop all night, every night; nobody called the police on them and I didn’t run them off. But his behavior made the employees call the police, and his unmistakable pre-assault indicator made me take defensive measures.
On another night I stopped two black men in an area known for narcotics trafficking. The passenger looked like a crackhead. The driver was well-dressed, polite and articulate, but was nervous as hell. I asked the driver to step out and walk to the hood of my car.
The driver and I had a pleasant conversation. Until I asked for consent to search his pockets. Then he stiffened up, went silent for a few moments. When he turned around and put his hands on the hood, his back was rigid and head held way high. I could feel his heart racing as I checked his front pockets. But I also noticed something else, which was even more threatening. His passenger, still sitting in the car, was turned almost all the way around, watching us intently. He was waiting for something to happen.
I broke off the search. The driver was probably about to fight, and the passenger would likely have joined in. I was by myself, with backup at least a couple of minutes away. I chose discretion over valor.
Later that night, I found the driver again. His passenger wasn’t with him. I went ahead and searched the driver that time. And he resisted, because he had about ten rocks of crack in his pocket.
Was I racist for asking to search the driver, or for suspecting he was about to fight? No. I recognized behavioral clues. But one night on another call, I totally missed the signs.
A friend and I arrived on a disturbance call in the projects. The call wasn’t serious, and we detained a “suspect” who wasn’t acting the least bit threatening toward us. He was about 19, tall and thin, wearing saggy, loose-fitting running pants with a drawstring. We asked him to sit on the curb. He complied, and my friend stayed by him while I went to the patrol car’s computer to check him for warrants. As I got in the car, I absentmindedly noticed that the young man had pulled his pants up and was tying the drawstring.
The young man was wanted for violating probation on a felony charge. I walked back to the young man and tried to grab him. From his sitting position, he bolted. We lost him.
That kid knew he had a warrant. When I went to my car he knew I would see the warrant hit. He casually tied his drawstring so his sagging pants wouldn’t interfere when he ran. I missed that obvious clue, and was lucky it was a “pre-run” rather than “pre-assault” indicator.
So what did I learn from the above examples? I learned that watching for clues is much more important than looking at race. Yes, race can matter; I doubt anyone would argue that black victims of Klan assaults in 1950′s Alabama shouldn’t have paid attention to certain white males around them. But race isn’t the most important indicator, and isn’t what I would tell anyone to watch for.
Look for behavior. Look for nonverbal clues. Ask yourself why someone is taking the actions they’re taking. Don’t be afraid to take steps to protect yourself, whether they’re small steps like changing direction or big steps like drawing a weapon. Remember that for all the media attention paid to the Knockout Game, the chances of you becoming a victim are infinitesimally small. Remember that KO Game players can be multiracial. And remember that being aware of your surroundings, looking for pre-assault indicators and exercising good judgment does not make you racist.
Filed under: Writing | 14 Comments
Tags: knockout game, racism, veteran writers
Oprah Winfrey has been taking a lot of heat lately for her “racists just need to die” comment.
“‘There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die,’ she said.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/15/oprah-racists-die_n_4280460.html)
Many people are expressing outrage at her and those who agree with her. I’ve kept quiet about it thus far, but have decided to speak out.
Because I, too, am a victim of racism. Woe is me.
I grew up in San Antonio. Money was a constant worry for my parents, and there were many things we went without. Sometimes we were the stereotypical Hispanic family, seven of us jammed into a two door Chevy Nova on a six hour road trip to visit my grandparents who lived in the worst part of another Texas town. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t far from it, either.
Still, San Antonio was so ethnically mixed I never felt like an outsider. There were occasional racial comments, but nothing serious. Whites and Hispanics seemed to live and work together everywhere I went, and the relatively few blacks around didn’t appear to be shunned by the larger community. I thought everything was pretty much under control, racism-wise.
Then, when I was 19, I experienced something that proves Oprah’s recent words true. Racism is alive and well in America. And it’s being passed down generation to generation, just like she said it was.
A high school friend of mine had gotten his own apartment, and one Saturday afternoon invited a few buddies over to go swimming. Several friends showed up, and we headed to the pool together. I think I remember exactly who was there; three of us were Hispanic, one white, two mixed white and Hispanic, and one Jewish.
This was a warm, sunny day. Scores of people were out in the large recreation area, swimming and barbecuing. The residents of the apartment complex were racially diverse, and no problems were evident between them.
My friends and I swam, looked at women, made fun of each other, did the usual things teenage boys do. We stayed to ourselves and didn’t bother anyone. Even though we were teenagers, we were also not long out of Catholic school, and I was a Marine reservist. We weren’t the troublemaker type.
Everything was fine for about half an hour. Then, with absolutely no provocation, we were racially targeted.
I have no idea what brought it on, or why we were harassed while others were left alone. Maybe it was because three of us were obviously Hispanic, maybe someone knew our friend was Jewish, maybe someone didn’t like “race mixing” in even a benign social setting. Whatever the reason, a pleasant afternoon swimming with friends turned into an ugly racial incident, almost a hate crime. And it was caused by exactly what Oprah recently talked about; the people who harassed us had been taught by previous generations to hate us, and to hate us for nothing more than our skin color. They had been programmed to do it. The racial hatred Oprah spoke of was blindingly evident in everything they said to us.
As my group of friends screwed around in the pool, another group slowly approached us. We didn’t even notice at first, until the other group began intentionally speaking loud enough for us to hear their comments. Once we heard their hateful insults, we looked toward them and saw them staring at us. As soon as our eyes met, they began insulting us directly rather than just talking about us.
My friends and I were a little stunned. We quickly mumbled agreement between ourselves, “Let’s just go to another part of the pool.” None of us wanted a problem, and it was a huge pool. It was best to just avoid the other group. So we swam to the other side of the shallow end.
Minutes later they moved toward us again, still insulting and cursing us. I had never experienced anything like this, and though I wasn’t exactly in disbelief, I was dumbfounded by it. We were literally doing NOTHING wrong. We hadn’t spoken a cross word to anyone except each other, and that was jokingly. I accepted that some people didn’t like me because of my skin tone, but couldn’t these people just leave it alone while everyone was having a good time at the pool?
My friends and I swam to the deep end. The other group watched us and kept running their mouths. And sure enough, within minutes they were coming toward us again.
They had to pull themselves along the edge of the pool to get to us, though. They couldn’t swim in deep water. They were little black girls, about 8 or 9 years old.
“F**k you white boys! We ain’t afraid of you white boys!”
My friends and I shook our heads, decided “Screw it, let’s go back to the apartment,” and climbed out of the pool. As I dried off, I saw a black man by a barbecue pit call one of the girls over. She climbed out, ran to him and listened as he said something I couldn’t hear. I could only make out part of her response: “But those white boys were. . .!”
I have no idea what she accused us of. But I guarantee you that we weren’t out there insulting or harassing little girls, of any color.
So I’m with you, Oprah. I know horrible, entrenched racism is alive in America. I experienced it myself. I’m certain those little girls didn’t have such horrible experiences with white people, or Hispanics who they thought were white, that they uncontrollably lashed out at any white people they saw. I’m sure someone told them to hate white people, whether whites did anything to them or not. I’m positive they were simply repeating what they heard others say, and mimicking what they saw others do.
Just like Oprah, and Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson, and every other member of the racial grievance industry, my life was profoundly changed by my close encounter with racism. I was spiritually damaged, depressed, distrustful of everyone the same color as my attackers, despondent at the realization that some people would always judge me solely by my race. I was an emotional wreck.
Then about thirty-seven seconds later, I laughed it off and went to lunch with my friends.
I didn’t associate those little girls, or the people who raised them to be racist, with blacks I knew. One of my black high school friends was in the Naval Academy at the time; he had nothing to do with the racism those girls expressed. The blacks I knew in the Marine Corps didn’t act like that. I didn’t blame all blacks for those girls’ actions.
In my fairly short life I’ve learned a few things about people. I know that racism is not simply “whites oppressing blacks”. I’ve heard Hispanics talk about how much they dislike whites. I’ve heard whites talk about how much they dislike Arabs. I’ve heard Iraqis talk about how much they hate Egyptians. I knew a Pashtun who talked about how much he hates Tajiks. I heard Albanians talk about how much they hate Serbs. I heard Greeks talk about how much they hate Albanians. I had a drunken Hispanic gang member, when he saw my name tag as I arrested him, blurt out, “You are a f**king disgrace to the Mexican race!” And I was racially harassed and insulted by a group of little black girls.
So. Freaking. What.
Every day I work and live among many different races and ethnic groups. As a cop and soldier I’ve risked my life with and for people of different races, and they risked their lives for me. My children go to school in ethnically diverse schools. My son in law is the tallest white kid you’ll ever meet and my granddaughter is mixed white and Hispanic. I don’t walk the streets fearful of other races. I don’t raise my children to view one group as “oppressors” and other groups as “victims”. I teach my children that in this country, the greatest country that has ever existed, anyone can earn their way to success. I’m just a regular guy who didn’t come from money, I’m not a college graduate, all I’ve been is a Marine, cop and soldier, yet my family is happier and living far more comfortably than most people in the world will ever dream of. Because this is America and my last name and skin color don’t dictate how successful I’ll be.
No matter what I or anyone else thinks of President Obama, the fact is he’s half black and still got elected by mostly white voters. Oprah, for all her angst over racism, is the most powerful woman in the entertainment industry. She complained about a saleswoman who questioned whether or not she could afford a $38,000 purse, citing latent racism, without seeming to realize her race hasn’t kept her from being able to buy a $38,000 purse. My first house only cost $45,000.
The little racist girls who harassed us are somewhere around their early 30’s now. I bet they don’t consider their actions “racist”. I’m positive they’re in full agreement with Oprah’s wish that those darn racists would just die off, without realizing they’re actually talking about themselves. And when Oprah made that comment, I’m sure she had no idea that some of those people she wants dead, the people “born and bred and marinated in racism”, are the same color she is.
Filed under: Writing | 18 Comments
Tags: oprah, racism, veteran writers
My father recently told me this story, which brought home the emotional impact of JFK’s assassination. Although I’ve heard parts of it before, I never heard this one little detail. I don’t think my generation has ever been as respectful of Presidents as my parents’ generation was, but until I heard this story I really didn’t appreciate how different we are.
November 22nd, 1963 was my father’s 21st birthday. He was already married to my mother, had two children and was in the Air Force. My parents have told me many times that they had planned to go out to eat that night, but after news of JFK’s assassination spread, all the businesses in town closed. They spent his birthday at home.
I don’t think we’d have the same reaction to the death of a President today. I have no doubt that many people would have cheered GW Bush’s death in office, and many would likewise celebrate if the current President died. Our nation just doesn’t hold as much respect for a President as we used to. And honestly, I never really understood how important Kennedy’s assassination was to my parents.
But last week I was in a restaurant with my them, and the conversation turned to the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. My father told me a little more about that day. He was on base when Kennedy was shot, and later heard the news that the President had been declared dead. Immediately afterward, my father got into his car to head home.
As he was driving toward the main gate, he saw a Training Instructor with a group of new Airmen. My father drove up to the instructor and told him, “The President just died.”
The instructor called his men to attention, in honor of the President’s passing.
My father, 71 years old today, veteran, father of five kids, grandfather of many more, choked up as he told me that. Tears welled up in his eyes and he had to take a moment to compose himself. He almost broke down from the memory of the instructor’s very simple act: bringing his men to attention, as a silent tribute to a President’s death.
I wish we as a nation still held the same respect for Presidents that my parents held for Kennedy. Or maybe I wish all our elected representatives deserved that respect.
Love you, Dad. Happy birthday.
Filed under: Writing | 16 Comments
Tags: JFK, Kennedy assassination, veteran writers
In one of the police academies I attended we watched a video of a police shooting. Two officers in two patrol cars were on a traffic stop and tried to arrest a passenger who had given them a fake name. The passenger started swinging, punched both officers and knocked them to the ground, then ran toward the second patrol car. One of the officers shot him.
Several cadets expressed outrage at the shooting. I had already been a cop for a few years, and had a different view. I argued that the cadets should look at the incident from the officers’ perspective. The officers were making a lawful arrest, they had both been assaulted and beaten badly, and may have thought the suspect was running toward the second patrol car to retrieve a weapon. At that point, a few years into my career, I had already been knocked silly a couple of times, and I knew those officers probably had their bells rung and could have honestly believed they were in life-threatening danger. I didn’t argue that the officers were definitely right, just that the situation may have been more complex than the inexperienced cadets thought.
One female cadet blurted, “Just because you were already a cop, you think that whatever cops do is right!”
I groaned quietly. “No. I’m saying the officers got the crap beat out of them and may have thought the suspect was about to get one of their shotguns and shoot them.” Then I asked, “Have you ever been in a fight?”
“I’ve been in lots of fights!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been in fights at school and at clubs, I know what it’s like to get in a fight. Those cops had no reason to shoot that guy. All he did was hit them.”
The instructor shut our conversation down. I didn’t bring it up again. Until several months later, after the female cadet learned a hard lesson.
Toward the end of the academy we went through a very difficult training exercise. We had to run around the academy building, run up and down stairs several times, drag a dummy and a few other things, then get into a ring and fight an instructor for several minutes. The instructor was all padded up, and all we had was a soft foam baton and fake pistol. Most of the cadets got into the ring totally worn out, then got worked over by the instructor.
I was standing outside the ring when the female cadet went through. The instructor she faced was a very strong, female workout fanatic. The cadet ran into the ring panting and sweating, faced the instructor and yelled, “You’re under arrest! Turn around and put your hands behind your back!”
Without a word, the instructor threw a blindingly fast punch and nailed the cadet right between the eyes.
The cadet slammed onto her back. Her eyes were wide open and staring straight up, her mouth hanging slack. She was totally dazed from the blow. You could almost see the birds and stars swirling around her head.
Everyone screamed at her to get up. She eventually did, and did her best to put up a defense. But the fight was pretty much over after the first hit.
After the exercise, I casually said to the cadet, “So, I thought you had been in a lot of fights.”
She answered, “Yeah, but not like that! I was in girl fights. All we did was scratch each other and pull hair. That instructor hit me like a man.”
As I said, she learned an important lesson that day. If that instructor hadn’t knocked the crap out of her, she might have hit the street not knowing that one punch can completely disable someone. The cadet went on to become a very good officer.
During the uproar over the Trayvon Martin court case, I heard a lot of intelligent, educated people comment that “All Trayvon did was hit Zimmerman. That’s no reason to shoot someone.” And I saw in them the same ignorance of reality that the instructor had beaten out of the female cadet.
The people who made those comments have probably never been in a real fight. But, like the cadet, they think they have. They maybe had a few schoolyard scuffles, where neither side was trying to kill the other. They threw a few punches and kicks, without intending to really hurt their opponent, and their opponent landed a few blows without really hurting them. Worst case, someone got a bloody nose, or split lip. Maybe these people only watched others fight, and were never in one themselves.
But no matter. Even though their mental concept of a fight is two five year olds slapping each other under the monkey bars, they still believe their narrow experience with “fighting” makes them qualified to dictate when we’re allowed to use a gun to defend ourselves from someone who’s “only” throwing punches. They don’t seem to notice that no UFC or MMA fighters, people with real, actual fighting experience, are proclaiming “Your life can’t be in danger from being punched.”
Well, here’s some reality for those who think it’s always wrong to shoot an unarmed person, or who can’t fathom how George Zimmerman could have possibly been justified in shooting Trayvon Martin.
Last year an El Paso, Texas police officer was beaten to death by an unarmed 17 year old. The teenager punched the officer, knocked him backward onto the concrete, then straddled him and beat him severely. The officer never regained consciousness and died nine days later. He was a 29 year old Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
A few days ago an off-duty NYPD officer was knocked out with one punch. His attacker then repeatedly punched and kicked him while he was unconscious and helpless, and also slammed the back of his head into the concrete. The officer is currently in a medically-induced coma.
Here’s the video of the attack on the NYPD officer. Please watch the whole thing.
Unarmed teenagers playing the “Knockout Game”, which has suddenly become a subject of nationwide outrage, have killed at least three people.
Watch the video on the link. Tell me that none of those victims were in danger of dying from those attacks. If you can watch that innocent, unsuspecting woman get knocked unconscious at the 2:00 mark and say, “But the person who hit her was unarmed and therefore no danger to her,” you’re worse than “ignorant”. You’re willfully blind to an obvious truth.
Incidents like the ones listed above should push good, decent people to not only arm themselves but to also be constantly vigilant and situationally aware. In the two incidents involving police officers, I don’t know if they were armed. As strange as it is to me, some cops don’t carry off duty. If these two officers were armed, they didn’t maintain distance and escalate their use of force (draw their weapon) when it was reasonable and prudent to do so.
Carrying a gun doesn’t make anyone invincible, and should never be anyone’s sole means of defense. But possession of a concealed pistol, coupled with good situational awareness and will to act, can be what protects you from being beaten to death by an unarmed thug. I carry a weapon so I’m capable of responding to several different types of threats: street criminals with guns or knives, terrorist mall attacks, active shooters. And unarmed thugs capable of killing innocent people with their bare hands.
No, shooting an unarmed person who threatens to hit you shouldn’t be your default response. But very often it is the right thing to do.
If you watched those videos and still feel that it’s always wrong to shoot an unarmed person, or that George Zimmerman, moron though he may be, could not possibly have been justified in shooting Trayvon Martin, I have a request for you. Put down your latte, step out of your insulated little academic/theoretical cocoon, walk into the real world and start a fight with the first street thug you see. After you awaken from your brutal beating, if you still believe deadly force against an unarmed person is never justified, then by all means don’t carry a gun.
Guys like me, on the other hand, will continue to carry our guns. And if we’re someday confronted by an unarmed scumbag who looks like he could beat us to death, or if we spot the signs that we’re about to become a playtoy for the “Knockout Game”, we’re going to draw, aim, and engage as necessary. Because we’re not clueless idealists who know nothing about real life and real danger.
Filed under: Writing | 238 Comments
Tags: george zimmerman, knockout game, trayvon martin, veteran writers
This review was published in a slightly edited form on kitup.military.com on November 18th, 2013.
The Olight S20 flashlight has many good features. First of all, it’s light, tiny and easy to carry. No matter how great a flashlight is, if it’s not comfortable to carry it’s going to stay in the house or car. This one rides snugly and practically unnoticed on my belt, thanks to a very sturdy belt clip, or in my back pocket next to my wallet.
It’s also extremely bright, much brighter than other small flashlights I’ve owned. Back in the 90’s when I first became a cop, the giant incandescent Streamlight I carried wasn’t this bright. It also has variable levels of brightness, from very subdued to pretty bright to damn bright.
Like most modern lights the S20 has a strobe feature, which in my line of work is pretty valuable (“Air support, I’m about a quarter mile west of you, look for my strobe. The suspect is in the woods directly to my north.”). But unlike most lights, this one has a flat endcap with a strong magnet. The light attaches securely upside down or even sideways to any smooth metal surface. That’s useful in many situations.
All of the above makes the S20 a great general purpose light. In my current life as a non-deployed, non-street cop regular guy, I feel completely at ease with the S20.
Unfortunately, there are many reasons I wouldn’t carry it as a tactical light.
First of all, it has no tailcap switch. In the dark or while you’re moving, it’s easy to find your light’s tailcap, not always easy to find the on/off switch near the lens. Especially this on/off switch. It’s tiny, very low profile and has no raised protective shroud. When I first started testing the light, I tried finding the switch with my eyes closed, and missed it a few times. However, I’ve inadvertently found it several times, usually by bumping it while it’s on my belt, which always makes my smartass teenage son laugh at me. This tiny, unprotected, overly sensitive switch produces white light NDs like crazy.
And another shortcoming of the switch: it’s not a momentary switch that you can activate by pressing halfway. You have to click it all the way. This is a big deal.
Over the years, we in LE have learned a few things about lights. Back before we started getting smarter, the standard method of searching with a light was the old “night watchman” technique. An officer would turn on his flashlight, leave it turned on and walk around with it. This was a ridiculously dumb way to search for a bad guy (and I’m guilty of being dumb with my flashlight, many times). A new way we’ve learned to search is by strobing. I don’t mean using the strobe feature, I mean using the momentary switch to briefly illuminate an area, which gives us a “flash picture”. Then we move, strobe again, move, strobe, etc. We move our light randomly around as we do this. If it’s done the right way, it’s very disorienting to a suspect. All they see is darkness, then a blinding flash in one spot, then darkness and residual effects from the flash, then another flash somewhere else. Without a momentary switch, you can’t do this. Instead of seeing brief, random, blinding flashes, a suspect would see the light on for the time it took to click it on and then back off. That might only be a second, but that’s way longer than a brief, blinding flash. The longer your light is on, the easier it is to determine your location.
Another thing about this flashlight that’s just plain odd in addition to detracting from its tactical usefulness is that it has a glowing lens ring. The manufacturers put a red ring of I don’t know what (glue maybe?) around the edge of the lens. This material absorbs light like a child’s glow in the dark toy. If I keep the light on for a few seconds, when I turn it off the red ring glows green. This removes one big advantage of LED bulbs: they don’t fade out when you turn them off. An LED is instant on/instant off, whereas an incandescent bulb fades. If you’re using the strobe and move method I just described, the fading ring on the S20’s lens gives away your position just like an incandescent bulb.
On the plus side, the S20 has a nice, sturdy lanyard that attaches at the tailcap. That’s good. On the negative side, the S20 has a nice, sturdy lanyard that attaches at the tailcap. That’s bad.
Here’s what I mean. Yes, a lanyard is a great way to keep from losing your light. But if you have that flashlight hanging from your wrist and perform a malfunction drill or reload on a pistol, when you rack the slide you’re going to brain yourself with a flying flashlight.
With my tactical lights, I attach a 550 cord wristloop and a rubber O-ring for my middle two fingers. Whenever I’m using the light, I slip the loop over my wrist and fingers in the O-ring. I can still let go of the light to reload or go hands on with someone, and the light stays in place.
If the light is in the way, I can flick the O-ring off my fingers and the light stays at my wrist. No danger of bouncing it off my skull during weapon manipulation. Olight could change up their lanyard positioning and make the S20 a tactically better light.
Bottom line: the Olight S20 Baton is a great general purpose flashlight. Unfortunately, it’s not a good tactical flashlight. But with a few improvements, it could be both.
Filed under: Gear reviews | 3 Comments
Tags: olight s20, tactical flashlight, veteran writers
This is the Iraq poem I mentioned several months ago, titled “I Run Away Quickly”, I.R.A.Q., which was some anonymous soldier’s clever acronym. I think it applies perfectly to the convoy escort mission my unit had. It felt like running away was all we did over there. As convoy escorts, we weren’t there to look for enemy, or to sustain engagements. We were there to get our supply convoys to their destination.
The halfhearted, bitter joke was that if we were ambushed, we’d “spray, pray and run away.” Our teams were made of three humvees with nine soldiers, dragging a mile-long convoy of twenty to thirty unarmored eighteen-wheel trucks driven by unarmed, untrained men from all over the third world who could rarely even speak to each other. If ambushed, we simply couldn’t put up a good fight. We were cat herders, just trying to get the mob on wheels to the next FOB.
And even worse, we were more likely to get hit by an IED than an ambush. My team took a couple of close IED calls, and was never in a real ambush. This wasn’t good. At least in an ambush you can shoot back. When your only threat is a roadside bomb, you sit in your humvee for hours tensed and expectant, waiting for a hit that might kill your entire crew. Those missions were no fun.
We never had a chance to spray, and I never prayed. But we ran away a lot.
I used to semi-seriously tell my friends about my biggest fear. An IED would hit one of our supply trucks and scatter its contents. I’d run from my humvee to check on the driver and a secondary would detonate close enough to mortally wound me. Then, as I was laying there dying, I’d look around and see what I had given my life to protect: Xbox games and gangsta rap CDs being delivered to a PX.
This poem was about those missions. Let me know what you think. Thanks guys.
EDITED TO ADD: I just talked to my dad and found out he and my mom had an argument about this poem earlier. My mother got the idea that this was written by an anonymous soldier and I’m just reposting it, while my dad insisted I wrote it. My dad was right, I wrote it. The anonymous soldier I referred to only wrote
on a bathroom wall. I wrote the poem in 2006, about a year after I came home from Iraq.
I Run Away Quickly
I can stand on this safe spot
In the embrace of my wife
Listening to my children’s laughter
Laying on a soft bed
In a comfortable home
Then turn and face my yesterday
And remember the world where I once lived
A place where talismans, mumbled prayers
And sacred pictures
Never really kept anyone alive
A world of monotonous, silent blackness
Broken by lethal red streaks and sudden flashes
Racing engines and racing pulses
Subdued lights and night vision
Static-blurred screams through electronic filters
Gaping craters the only memorial
To men who disappeared in flames and smoke
I remember the weight on my shoulders
And the weight on my mind
Of armor and weapons
Ammunition belts, frags and star clusters
Lives in my hands
Taking cover behind shredded steel
While a million eyes targeted me
From empty windows and looming rooftops
I still see what was left
In flames and in pieces
What had not long before been whole
What we thought powerful and solid
Scattered to shreds across the concrete
A glowing hulk surrounded on all sides
By random parts of a True Believer
A blank spot on a highway, an anonymous checkpoint
Where a brave man named Lutters died
I don’t miss the fear
The sirens and warnings
Walls rattling from explosions
The anger and frustration
Of never knowing where death was hiding
Of being a rolling, glowing target
That couldn’t even fight back
I don’t miss accepting the facts
If I do the wrong thing, my men and I might die
If I do nothing, my men and I might die
If I do the right thing, my men and I might die anyway
And just because we survived this mission
Doesn’t mean the next one won’t be our last
And yet there is a longing
To step back into that world
And feel the threats and dangers
To be totally alive, seconds and inches from death
As the kill zone passes outside my window
To live in the land where why doesn’t matter
And the only questions are how
And for how long
I cannot explain this
To myself or anyone else
Not to my children, not to my wife
In whose arms I find a peace
That could never possibly exist
In the land of unthinking hatred and mangled dead
Where I used to be
So I turn around once more
Stand solidly in the world where I belong
Breathe air without smoke and sand
Live as if I’m going to live
Not as if I’m about to die
Allow myself the freedom of happiness and security
That I hope I finally earned,
In that other world, not so long ago
I glance back at that year
And see it finally receding
The convoys going the other direction
The tracers angling away from me
Angry orange flashes dulling to grey
Painful noise muted by time and distance
Tensed muscles uncoiled, overloaded mind eased
My finger no longer on a trigger
My life no longer a number
Here I stay
Life not filled with terror
Until the time comes
To spin up, and return to the kill zone
While I count the days
Until I’m home again.
Filed under: Iraq | 11 Comments
Tags: iraq, poetry, veteran writers