Friday, March 30, 2007


I read the Weddings/Celebrations in the Style section of the NY Times every week. I think it is probably some of the best stuff of The Times. And, I always wonder how they choose the couples they highlight who are getting married. When I opened the page one week, I was blown away. There was a guy in uniform. I had seen military depicted before in the section but usually they were West Point graduates. However, this was different: A Specialist 4 (Corporal)Ranger (Rangers are the most elite single unit in the military. Their training is extreme. At the end of training, they are awarded a Ranger Tab, the most highly prized designation in the Army).

I almost fell over when I began to read--if not a marriage made in heaven, close. Marriages always start out with such promise. And, military marriages are very special. Sacrifices of unusual nature will be the order of the day for this young couple.

What impressed me, however, among many things, is the soldier Ranger's approach to his life. And, equally as much as how he came to be in the military is part of the thing that brought him to the day of his wedding. Older than most soldiers of his rank, 37, a Princeton graduate who after 9-11 and in his own words, "lots of soul searching" joined up. "I'd always wanted to do national service of some kind," the Army Ranger said.

Here is an example of what we are missing out on by not instituting some sort of universal service, community service, AllServe. If we gave youngsters a chance, a slight nudge, they would do it. Granted, this Ranger is a stand out by anybody's standards but still, there are more like him out there I know. If we had the political and moral will as a nation, we would be providing a chance for them to serve.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Recently, on a trip back to my hometown, I had occasion to talk to lots of folks about Iraq. Most simply give the "nobody is home" look. Not because they're not interested but mainly out of not knowing what to say. And, those who have been such ardent supporters of the present regime, simply are nonplussed.

I don't know what to say myself. Honestly, I get so incredibly frustrated. We live in a country of such enormous inequities. On the one hand, Iraq has not really forced changes in anybody's life. The only ones affected are the soldiers serving and their families.

In our country, narcissism runs rampant. It is nothing to watch a newscast with some scant news about Iraq and then go to commercials which show such blatant narcissism that it is sickening. For instance, there's collagen treatments, luxury home sales, Farrari automobiles that don't have to advertise their 200,000 pricetags because there's a line out the door. And, this doesn't even smack at the realization of the actual money that a Wall street scion gets, i. e., Mario Gabelli, something like 435 million. And, this in a land where as MLK said, "if America is to remain a first class nation, it cannot have second class citizens." Well, guess what? Third and fourth class citizens. The inequities in our culture are staggering and the greatest example are our brave and sacrificing soldiers and families. God bless them.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Wow, will this never go away. I don't think so. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs recently got himself in trouble by talking about the immorality of gays. In some ways, not to put words in his mouth, but he might have been OK, at least in terms of his comments, had he had kept away from the morality comment. Had he said being gay is not compatible with some aspects of military life, he might have escaped, at least sounded better. For this reason: Marines, hardcore infantry, macho type soldiers are homophobic, let's face it. The idea that at least philosophically they are not male chauvinists, beer swilling, gung ho, kill, kill, kill is an anathema to them. And being "gay" with all the stereotypical views of who a gay is will not hack it. Regardless of one's view, it is simply the way it is. And, who are these soldiers with all these homophobic views. They are the guys who are out there dying in Iraq. They are the "front line" troops. They are macho to the max. These are the ones probably that the good General Pace, Marine extraordinaire, is talking about.

Is this right, good, etc. Not the most appropriate question to ask? The better question, "is being gay in the military compatible with military life?" Yes, in many instances it is. The idea that in this day and time, we are discharging scores of qualified soldiers even though we have the "don't ask, don't tell" policy--from what I read, the equivalent of at least half a division (division is usually with support troops, twenty thousand men and women. This is ridiculous. Many are skilled technicians, many we've spent a great deal of money training them, i. e., language school. Statistics reveal that many are medical types, to include some doctors. This is an issue that is not going away and cannot be solved.

General Pace is right and wrong. "Outed" gay Marines are not going to fare well. It is reality. What I equate it to in some degree is women in the military. Introducing one woman into a classroom of Marines studying and the dynamics are changed. It is not the woman's fault. It is nobody's fault, simply the human element of men and women. Is this going to change? No. And, the reason we can't force it or push it is that the homophobic Marines are at war and they're dying. Kind of puts social issues on the back burner. In a perfect world, not a problem but guess what!

Friday, March 16, 2007


Recently at a book signing for the memoir, Gun Totin' Chaplain, I got a chance to test out the idea of National Service. The small independent bookstore owner hatched the idea that we'd give away a certain number of books to draw in a crowd. If the idea of the book was to get the message out: National Service--what a great chance to do it in what was possibly an unfriendly college environment. It was successful, the sun was out and students were everywhere. We took it outside and I began to buttonhole students.

I talked to at least a couple of dozen about National Service, now these are Berkeley students--so funny in a sense--here I am a Vietnam vet, the book is about Vietnam and during Vietnam, Berkeley or as we use to say, Berzerkerly, was the epicenter of the anti Vietnam war protest. These kids weren't even born during Vietnam.

The conversations went something like: "What is your thought about National Service, meaning where you'd have to give a year or say 18 months to some sort of Service to your country or a nonprofit organization. It could be the military but wouldn't have to be, could be Teach America or Peace Corp or literally anything like that or you could design your own. A couple of the students gave me the "nobody is home look." By in large, in this brief encounter, the vast majority of the students said, "I'd think about it." For Berkeley, believe me, this is ground breaking. One kid cracked me up! "What are college students interested in?" Answer. "Well, I think having a good time." Then, he grew more thoughtful, "I think my fraternity brothers are mostly interested in partying and getting laid." We laughed.

Upon reflection, the idea of National Service came out looking pretty good in an environment that could be construed traditionally as pretty hostile. I am encouraged more than discouraged when I talk to kids about National Service. For those who oppose the idea and yet could help with it, i. e., Congress, I think they don't give American youngsters enough credit. What I've discovered over the last twelve years or so is that kids want to serve and would with a slight nudge.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

What About The Draft


Martin Sheen directs his son Charlie in a military war of wills. It is a story about a rebellious white recruit befriended by African American prisoners in a West German Army stockade. Lawrence Fishburne is the cell block boss.

This is a movie that works on all kinds of levels. First of all, Vietnam is just heating up. It is 1965. Charlie Sheen is a youngster, emotionally lost, struggling to somehow put things right in his life and with his Dad who dies before he can. Somehow, the Army is all part of the plan. After the death of his Dad, he spirals down even further, goes back to Germany and gets worst. He's thrown into the stockade (jail) for 90 days. He's stubborn, unyielding and the jailhouse boss, Martin Sheen, is determined to break him. In the course of his attempts at breaking this upstart young soldier, Martin, a senior non commissioned officer, comes emotionally apart.

This is the "draft" Army. The movie doesn't deal with issues like, what am I doing here, how did I make this choice, it just was. In this draft Army, there's all kinds, sharing the collective experience.

On another level, it's a movie about race relations. The military has always been way above society in general in living with each other. And, the draft military had all the racial issues but was beginning to confront institutional racism. Cadence is a good example. Here is Charlie, the lost, stubborn young soldier who just wants to get by, live and let live. He faces the challenges, wins over the black charges with whom he lives and in the course of events, the implication is that he found himself. A good movie to watch with Iraq in mind. At least three parachutes