Tuesday, November 26, 2013

H.M.S. Warspite 1913-2013

Bit of military historical trivia here: the 100th anniversary of the launch of the battleship HMS Warspite.

One reason this kind of fascinates me is that I not long ago finished Bob Massie's Castles of Steel about the naval side of WW1; hell of a good book that gives a good sense of the sort of bizarrely-inverted importance of that part of the Great War.

Massie's bottom line is that the British couldn't win the war at sea but it was very possible for them to lose it there.

Had the commanders of the Hochseeflotte figured out how to make their war plan - lure out, cut off, and destroy parts of the Grand Fleet in detail - work before 1917 they'd have had a hell of a good chance to hammer Britain into submission given the British dependence on their "sea lanes of communication". The German battleships needed to sink Warspite and her sisters in order to sweep the seas of the Royal Navy and British merchant commerce. But to do that they needed to risk themselves, and the British fleet was just strong enough to present what looked like too much of a hazard of decimation of the High Seas Fleet in the process.
(Another bit of historical trivia: the factor that most British and German naval officers and naval policy planners either didn't know or didn't credit sufficiently was the relative quality of the German naval architecture.

I'm going to write up the Scarborough Raid in December for the Battles series and in it talk about this but the fact was that German gunnery in 1916 was flat-out better than British and that German capital ships could just flat-out take more punishment and continue to fight than the more numerous but less sturdy British battleships and battlecruisers which had a bad habit of sinking by catastrophic magazine detonation.

Three battlecruisers were lost in that fashion at Jutland, HMS Vanguard at Scapa Flow in 1917 to what was probably a massive sympathetic detonation of her central turret magazines, as well as HMS Hood in 1941. This turns out to be pretty critical because both British and German naval planners based their strategies on the assumption that 1 British battleship = 1 German battleship and that in a fleet engagement the 3:2 British numbers would win out.

Looking back now it seems apparent that between hitting harder and being capable of taking more damage the Hochseeflotte might have been well advised to go ahead and get stuck in. But that's for next month...)
Conversely, the British didn't need to sink the German fleet; what they needed to do was avoid being sunk by the German fleet whilst presenting sufficient hazard to that fleet that it couldn't risk being decimated attempting to break out of the North Sea.

The other aspect of this that kinda fascinates me is the degree to which we have already forgotten how big a role these vessels played in military and through that geopolitical history.

I think that when modern peoples - modern Americans, at least - think of "battleship" they think "outdated and expensive war machine" if they think of anything beyond last year's idiotic Battleship movie.

But the 'Spite's war records - from 1914 to 1945 - go a long way to dispel the notion that the battleship was a floating white elephant.

As Bob Farley points out: "While Americans tend to concentrate on the rarity of surface battleship engagements in the Pacific, most Royal Navy battleships took part in surface combat of some type during the (Second World) war, with Warspite fighting in several battles." and, in fact, HMS Warspite had a hell of a service record: Jutland (where she got pretty well hammered during the Run to the North) in the First World War, then in the Second; Narvik, Calabria, Matapan, the invasion of Crete, and finally naval gunfire support of the landings at Messina and Normandy.

I suspect that she had the reputation as a less-than-lucky ship early on. In the Teens she seemed to collide with everything in sight; her sister Barham in 1915, and the battleship HMS Valiant and a destroyer in 1916. She was even rammed by a Romanian passenger liner off Portugal in 1933. But at the end of the day she came home sound every time, something that more than one British tar couldn't say about their ship over the long course of the 20th Century.

Over at MilPub our resident strategist seydlitz just recently speculated about the possibility of formulating an overall General Theory of Strategy, a sort of Grand Unified Theory of war, to help enable historians, geopolitical, and strategic thinkers, to analyze military events of the past as well as ponder plans for the future.

The old battleship points up both the promise and the difficulty of such a task. By herself, a single machine designed and built a century ago, Warspite spans the Ragtime Era to the Space Age and points out how military fashions, ideas, and even individuals persist through very different periods. And yet the way we think of her now, as a lumbering anachronism, compared to the good service she did during her service life points out how difficult it is to accurately assess even military events, ideas, and individuals that were in concrete existence within our lifetimes, let alone generations ago or yet to come.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dining In

Sex dreams and now this. Lechery, lechery, wars and lechery. Nothing else holds fashion, I kid you not...


To begin with, my parents were of the school of parenting that believed that innocence was bliss.

I think I didn't even know that there were expressions inadmissible in polite company until high school at the earliest. Even after that my profanity was not convincing until the U.S. Army taught me to swear and then some.

I now have some considerable experience with the subject and have become through experience a thorough believer in the notion that the more you know - and, in many cases, the sooner - the wiser and more judicious you will be in your selection and employment of the rougher forms of the English language.

Because swearing and cursing, like any other form of speech, have a form and a style and an elegance to them when done correctly. And it is well for a person to do things, any thing, with form, style, and elegance.

Even invective.


There is also an element of discretion involved.

If you are ignorant of the language then oftimes you will be oblivious when it is used, or misused, by others. It has always seemed to me that having someone on staff with a reasonably filthy mind is essential to avoiding errors such as this one:

Wanna bet Cathy got a whole bunch of smartass remarks after that header appeared on her column? Especially with the little smirky-face picture above it? And all because nobody on the "Examiner"'s editorial staff looked at that and chuckled "Eat out Catherine Cleary, hunh? I'll bet..." Derp.

I'm not sayin' you have to be filthy.

But it doesn't hurt to know about filthy. All's I'm saying.

(h/t to Nancy Nall for this little gem)

Back side of dreamtime

That was a lot of Grenada, wasn't it?

OK; no more Grenada. I promise.

Instead, I'm going to tell you a story.

It's a funny story.

At least I think it's funny, and it's my blog so, there you go...but, I should warn you first; it's a funny SEX story.

So be warned; there are things in here that are not wholesome for impressionable young children. Or naive adults. Or people who are shocked by people talking about carnal matters. Or anyone shocked by nudity, because there's some nudity, too.

Are we clear on all of this?


Kids all out of the room?

Aunt Sally safely immersed in that Golden Girls re-run?

Alright, then.

First, let me say that I think I am a very lucky man.

I have a bride who I not only like as a person and cherish as a companion but desire as a woman.

I find her delightful and delight in her. For me she walks in beauty like the night; all that's best in dark and bright meets in her aspect and her eyes; thus mellowed to that tender light that Heaven to day denies.

One pleasant side-effect of this is that occasionally I have lovely dreams in which she and I are the principals.

Often these are merely diversions; we revisit places we visited in the light of day, or reenact things we did while waking.

Occasionally, these dreams are more...intimate.

But...and I hope nobody reading is disappointed when I confess this...they wouldn't make very good Penthouse-letter-reading.

(Which reminds me; has anyone even seen a "Penthouse" lately?

Remember when those glossy stroke books were the ultimate in smut, the Nirvana of porn, the K2 of wankerdom? Remember going into...well, almost anywhere there were magazines and seeing them and Playboy and the other heavy-bond paper porno periodicals?

Seen them lately? Yeah, me neither.

Was there anything that the Internet killed deader than those glossy porno rags? If there is I can't think of it.

Sorry. Lost my thread there for a moment.)
Anyway...even in my erotic dreams I'm afraid I'm just hopelessly, boringly conventional.

They are usually nothing more daring than boringly wholesome hetero sorts of dreams, the Hallmark Channel of salacious imagination. Making love to my wife on a white sand beach, romantic trysts before a roaring fire, sex under the Christmas tree (without the annoying pine needles poking me in the ass)...you get the idea.

Nice. But...well, sorta vanilla, right?

No frantic kinks, no forbidden pleasures; no S&M, no sweaty pileups, no her dressing up like Mrs. Claus and swinging from the chandelier with four stalwart lechers pulling at her legs.

Nope. Just plain old boring romantic-ish married sex.

That's just jake with me, but it doesn't make for a thrilling blog post read, now, does it?


About a week ago I had a dream.

It started off fairly typically; the two of us lounging in a huge white bed in this enormous tropical-sort of room; long white bedcurtains, huge windows with venetian blinds screening out the blazing white sunlight.

On the silky sheets my bride's pale skin glowed with the sort of luminosity you only see in photographs or in dreams; her whole body seemed to radiate a sort of lush intensity, a warm and fecund sheen that promised all manner of lubricious delights, as did her slantendicular smile below her lowered lids.

In my mind she looked at me and ran her palms down her thighs in a gesture of pure invitation.

So far, so good - and so far, so standard.

So I was dream-shocked when my dream-bride rolled onto her side, loured at me, and murmured in her best throaty dream-voice:

"I want you to make love to my ass..."


Look. I understand myself as well as I hope I possibly can. And - understanding that - I understand that I will take whatever licentious liberties I am offered.

(We're like that, men, most of us, I'm afraid...)

Like most men, though, I won't take what is not offered.

And so far as my bride is concerned - my real bride, my waking-hours bride - that particular form of congress is most surely not offered.

No fooling around back there. That's a one-way street. No trespassing. Do not enter.

Mi novia finds nothing enticing about the notion of having someone poking about the distal end of her digestive tract.

And that has always applied to my dream-wife as well. We don't cavort inside my head in ways we don't in real life - including that way.

At least, until the other night's dream.

But...even in my dream I couldn't really buy this sudden wifely desire for the entry into the Forbidden Zone. Dream-me was suddenly as still as the bunny when the hawk passes overhead; every nerve-ending jangling with the sense of imminent danger.

"Are you sure about this..?" I asked, motionless.

In answer my dream-bride writhed in what can only be described as an utterly shameless fashion. "Oh, yessss..." she moaned, "I want it. I need it."

I just sat there staring.

"You're kidding me." I said, finally.

"You really want me to have anal sex with you. Butt sex. Up the ol' dirt road. Drive the Hershey Highway. Bloop you up the doody chute. You're one hundred percent dead solid no-kidding abso-lutely sure you want this?"

My dream-spouse responded by rolling onto her elbows and knees into a position that in the higher primates would be called "presenting".

The sane part of my dream-brain was shrieking like an air raid siren (Warning! Warning! Danger, Doctor Smith, danger! Warning!) but my little dream-head was doing most of the thinking by this time and that thinking was "Well, OK then...".

I got to my knees and shuffled across the sheets. "You're absolutely sure you want this?" I said as I reached for the delicious fundament waggling before me.

In return I received a lascivious moan and a tremor-inducing whole-body wriggle.


Okay then.

I leaned forward in anticipation, and...
...with the blinding speed and vicious intensity of a striking gaboon viper my inamorata whipped around and instead of the view of her enticing nether regions I was confronted with a face of righteous wrath and an accusatory finger aimed directly at my nose.

"You were gonna fuck me up the butt, weren't you?!" snarled my dream-lover.

"Weren't you!?!"
"A-HA! You WERE!" my dream-bride crowed, pushing me over backwards with an extended palm and climbing decisively off the big round bed.

"And you know I don't go for that stuff, too."


And with that she wrapped the robe that appeared in her hands around her body, wagged her finger at me one last time and stalked away, her bare heels beating out a martial rhythm on the shining wood floor.

I lay there dreaming aimlessly a long, long time.

Until my night-wanderings transmuted into something about cleaning the kitchen counters and unloading the dishwasher.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Army I Knew: Grenada 6, or, We Were So Much Older Then...

Thirty years ago a much younger me, a medic with the 82nd Airborne Division, spent a month or so "liberating" the island of Grenada from the evils of Communism.

As we read in Parts 1 through Part 5, young Doc Chief had no idea what the hell was going on around him, assuming that because everyone and everything looked so warlike that he was involved in an actual war that, like the wars he had read about, was being planned and executed by people who knew how to do those warlike things.

But, as we've also read, the war was, like many other wars, compounded of good and bad guesses, correct assumptions and mistakes, and the people in charge of it were in many ways unprepared, or poorly trained, or just confused.

And as a result people died, as they tend to do in wars when their leaders are unprepared, or poorly trained, or confused.

Luckily for those of us who survived the first couple of days everyone stopped shooting quickly. But as it happened my outfit remained on Grenada for nearly a month, doing this and that, showing The Flag and supporting what passed for a post-invasion "reconstruction".

I wrote about this in a letter to my parents sent in November, and so the following account in blockquotes is from my younger self, Specialist Doc Chief; where necessary I will add my current observations or comments in normal text.

Now what happened, younger me?
Monday 31 October

We rode in helicopters ("airmobled") north to a soccer field west of the large town on the northeast of the island, Grenville. The move into town was quite bonhomious - smiling and waving. We set up shop on a knob crowned by a weird-looking castle that seemed to be a sort of cistern. That night we went into Grenville and set up checkpoints to sieve out the PRA or Cubans fleeing for their hides.

We found nothing.

The next morning, Tuesday, 1 November...

...a nice lady brought us coffee and biscuits.

We moved up to a home not far from the cistern (which had overflowed during the night and drenched out rucks) which we called the White House, for its general grandeur compared to its neighbors.

Thar night we suffered our first casualty, a kid who shot himself in the leg with his own .45.

That day we did our first valley-hunting, walking up and down the roads, showing the flag and asking for Cubans or weapons caches. No luck."
And we never DID have any luck.

The bottom line is that the folks in Grenada wanted what most people everywhere want; to be left alone to do what they can to make a living, make a life, and a life for their friends and families.

They hadn't wanted to be kicked around by Gairy's goons. They hadn't wanted to be kicked around by Bishop's, or Cooard's, thugs. They didn't want to be kicked around - not that we did much kicking, really - by Uncle Sammy's minions, either.

The "war" was something that, like most sensible people, they wanted little or no part of. So they didn't want any trouble with, or from, us. We spent the rest of the month doing nothing of military value.

And that was lucky for me, because I was a mess in Grenada.

I had too little raw courage and too much imagination to be a good grunt, and I was too young to have learned the sort of self-discipline and dignity that would have allowed me to control my fear and harness my imagination.

That, and I was too much in love with myself and my own life at 26; I couldn't imagine anything so precious as to be worth risking it.

I may well have been one of the few old soldiers more willing to take risks than I was as a young soldier. But, then, as a young soldier I was only worried about myself; as an old one I had soldiers who needed me to be calm and think clearly to preserve their lives rather than be frightened for my own.

Of the remaining month or so probably the most worthwhile thing I did was work in the little medical clinic in the tiny town of Happy Hill, north of the capital of St. Georges.

Like most people in the world, the people of Happy Hill were very poor, and what little medical care they could find was on the level that most poor people get. Which is to say, poor. They had a doctor that traveled in once every couple of weeks, but most people couldn't afford him.

One of the few good things that Grenadians had to say (to our faces) about the Cubans and their Grenadian clients was that they had brought actual doctors and nurses to everyone, not just the handful of wealthy plantation owners and businessmen in St. Georges.

Nurse Joan was overjoyed to see us.

Nurse Joan - that's her on the left, the slim little woman standing next to the wall in the photo above - had been the sole constant caregiver in the little Happy Hill Clinic. She had provided what she could but knew, as only someone who knows how little she has, what she lacked and how her people suffered from that.

But suddenly the rich Americans were everywhere; medics helping with minor surgery, our physician's assistant, Chief Schrum, providing actual surgery and dispensing medicines that no one in Happy Hill had ever even seen, much less been provided. I think we all liked working in the Happy Hill clinic; the people were hard-working and solid, and we loved Nurse Joan for her goodness and caring.

On the back of the photo above - that she sent along after me after I had left - she wrote "Friends that will never be forgotten."

But as American soldiers always have, everywhere they have visited, one day the big camo-colored truck whined and bellowed up the steep road to Happy Hill and we were gone.

What now?

Thirty years later, what did we do, all of those sailors and Marines and soldiers transported to the Spice Island at such expense to slay Grenadians where they ran and to chase the evil Cuban imperialists out?

Certainly we didn't remove the airfield that was such a threat to lilypad Soviet troops throughout the Caribbean. In a twist of fate that I hope amuses the shade of old Mo Bishop and his bullet-riddled pals in their lost grave somewhere near Fort George the old Ranger drop zone is now officially the Maurice Bishop International Airport.

Most Grenadians are still poor.

Most of them still work either as small farmers or as menials in the tourist industry. Capitalism has given Grenada what its given pretty much everyone else; lots of nice things to buy but as often as not - and more often for those of us not born to the purple - a pretty scary chance of not being able to afford to buy them.

It's hard to say that the 1983 invasion did any harm and may well have done some good - in cold, geopolitical terms. But in human terms it did real harm. I did real harm, and all my buddies in the 82nd.

Could Bishop and Cooard done better? Maybe not. But that's not the point; we - Ronnie Reagan, Fast Eddie Trobrough, and I - didn't give them the chance. We decided that we knew better than the people in Grenada. So we went in and took that decision away from them.

As a Grenadian commentor notes, the U.S. rolled back the things that the New Jewel Movement did for the vast majority of the people of Grenada. It's all fine and dandy to have a bunch of Americans come work in you clinic...but it's better to have a real clinic, and a real doctor. And real work, and real rights that don't depend on the bounty of some autocrat.

With the cold light of hindsight its obvious that the events of 1983 had nothing to do with "liberation" or helping anyone, other than helping the Cold Warriors "fight the Commies"

Given the pre-invasion events I suspect that it's also likely that the ramshackle Cooard-Austin "government" might well have fallen within years, or even months, leaving Grenada where it is today more-or-less only without the people dead these thirty years.

A 2012 study of pre- and post-invasion Grenada concludes in part:
"The U.S. attempt to make Grenada a model for modernization did not necessarily fail. But it produced mixed results. The political democracy the U.S. hoped to encourage resulted in ineffective governance. Significant advancements in the island’s infrastructure and social services occurred, but many of these were unsustainable after U.S. aid ended in the early nineties. In part, the Cold War was over. But the U.S. no longer saw Grenada as the model it could have been, and there was little to no foreign investment from American or western businesses. The Grenadian government did not have the budget, nor the expertise, to prolong many of the U.S.-implemented development programs."
Sound familiar?

Thought so.

The only positive thing I can think of is from the standpoint of the U.S. Army; the messes we made and the people we killed in ignorance or error forced us to look hard at ourselves.

And there were a LOT of errors. The story about the guy who had to make a credit card call to Fayetteville to get fire support?

It was true.

It wasn't as depicted in what may well be the worst American war movie ever filmed (Heartbreak Ridge, for those of you lucky enough not to have suffered through it...) but rather during the siege of the SEAL team forted up in Government House, where the salty soldiers couldn't contact the FM radios in the orbiting Army helicopters on their Navy UHF sets.

One of the squids called Ft. Bragg, reached the Operations center there with the target coordinates. The TOC relayed the coordinates to the naval task force off Grenada that dispatched a destroyer or frigate to fire the mission.

The goatscrews at Richmond Hill and Calivigny Point, the overall sluggish and pawky performance of the 82nd (the then commander, MG Trobrough - known to some of the more cynical of us as "Fast Eddie" - retired with his two stars. Traditionally command of the 82nd was a ticket-punch for fast-track star warriors; retiring as a major general suggests that his superiors thought that Grenada showed that he and his unit weren't really ready for Prime Time), the failures ranging from poor tactical decision-making to over all grand tactical and operational planning...all of that suggested that serious problems remained within the U.S. Army and the post-Vietnam armed forces.

A scathing review of the internal shortcomings of the Army forces as well as the even worse shortcomings that affected cooperation between the services resulted in the changes that are collectively termed the "Goldwater-Nichols" reforms:
"The 1986 act formally elevated the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the position of being the president’s top military adviser. It strengthened the authority of the existing regional war-fighting joint commanders over all the troops assigned to them. To improve relations among the branches of the military, it also mandated that any officer aspiring to become a general or admiral must serve at least one tour of joint duty working with another branch of the service."
The resulting changes produced the military force that was - until the seemingly-endless deadlocks in Iraq and Afghanistan - widely considered unbeatable, the last remaining superpower of armed forces.

Was young Doc Chief part of a triumph?

No, not unreservedly. Democracy and the "free market" have proceeded to provide Grenada with their usual mixed blessings. Counterfactuals are always chancy, and there are more than enough examples from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to suspect that a communist Grenada might have been poorer but less inequal and "unfair" than the present one.

The armed forces of the United States proved tragically amateurish and poorly prepared even for the shambolic resistance it faced on Grenada, and killed or maimed people that should not have died or lost limbs. The overall political calculation involved in ginning up the invasion seems...poorly thought through, at best. The hard lives of the Grenadians were made harder.

Looking at the long arc of history Hurricane Ivan seems to have been more terrible to Grenada than anything humans - American, Cuban, or Grenadian - devised in the autumn of 1983. But, still...

I think that trying to put Grenada 1983 in perspective I can't help but see it as a lot of sound and fury signifying...if not nothing, then at least not very much.

About 89 people died who wouldn't if Bernie Coaard hadn't been an asshole and Ronnie Reagan hadn't needed to kick some Commie ass.

Another 600 or so suffered injuries great or small.

Some buildings were wrecked, some machines destroyed. A government that was already in the process of self-destructing was overthrown. Some needed changes were made to the U.S. armed services.

In the United States alone 42,584 people died in traffic accidents in 1983.

And young Doc Chief came home having seen just enough of war to know he didn't really want to see any more.

And that's not a very good attitude for a professional soldier.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Army I Knew: Grenada 5, or, The Accidental Tourists

Our correspondent young Doc Chief just spent his first full day on the Spice Island of Grenada, and a full day it was; wandering about other people's scuffles as a sort of combat tourist, baffled and more than a little afraid. Let's catch up with him as he wakes up on a Grenadian hilltop, cold, wet, and still unsure as to what the hell is going on.

In case you're joining the party late, this month we're revisiting my all-expenses-paid Caribbean Vacation from October and November, 1983. It you want to review the other installments before we go on, Part 1 is here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 is here.

As before, this is from a letter I wrote in November, 1983. My original account is in blockquotes; where my older self has added comments or explanations they will be in normal text.
Friday, October 28

At first light we secured the gravel pit. An anticlimax after the day before; the only signs of resistance were slogans painted on a diesel tank: "We will defend to the end!" and a crudely painted soldier. Tim G (3rd Platoon's radioman) and I added some graffiti before we set in with the rest of the company.

Here the trucks brought our rucks up, along with the first meal we'd had in a day. Along with the usual C-rations we had cans of beef from Romania and pork from the USSR, and fruit juice from Cuba (the pork and juice were good - the beef looked and tasted like Alpo).

By ten o-clock we were moving again - out a peninsula called (I think) Manse aux Epines - in search of the American students."
In case you're confused, here's a map of where I think I was, and went, the first two days younger me talks about in the letter:

Note that the name of the peninsula we headed out towards on Friday was "Lance aux Epines"; I won't pretend I knew better at the time. Anyway, here's young me again:
"We moved out in long columns, dusty green on the gravel roads, dun objects moving amid the wild profusion of colors of a tropical island. The red and violet of flowers, yellow, blue, and gold, green-gold of bamboo, bannai, and hyacinth, trellis of flowers against dull khaki walls.

All through the day we spread out, searching houses and buildings. About noon, at a pleasant little pseudo-Norman-cottage pub called the Red Crab - diamond-paned windows and half-timber, very quaint - when we started coming across the first of the American students.
They came down the road towards us, many carrying bags or valises, one and two up to groups of half a dozen. Many drove up in cars.

The contrast was amusing; the road filled with suntanned post-grad students in the tee-shirt-and-shorts or halter-top-and-skirt (or shorts) that passes for national dress here, while on either side are files of green-dressed soldiers crouching behind their weapons.
All the young people were very happy to see us, jollier than old Saint Nick to be going home and in an almost indecent haste to be gone.

We ogled the pretty girls (almost to a woman Jewish as were many of the guys. Don't know why.)
(I don't remember why I wrote that; possibly because many of the students were darkavised and had the sort of glossy look I associated with my college pals from Hillel House. But in fact many of the students at St. Georges University med school were wannabe doctors from nice suburban families in the Jerseys whose medical entrance exam scores were too low to get into a U.S. medical school.

I understand that the Grenadian university has raised its standards since then, but at the time I seem to recall that the med school at SGU had a rap as a place for wealthy dummies too bone-lazy, entitled, or boneheaded to cut it in a real medical school.

And, I should add, that the real tell that the entire Grenadian expedition was really about Regime Change and not about "rescuing" anyone was there here were hundreds of these supposedly-threatened gringo kids hanging out in the Lance aux Epines neighborhood for a week as defenseless as a pod of baby harp seals and not a scratch on their glossy suntanned hides. Had the PRA really wanted to whack these people the entire peninsula would have looked like the suburbs of Damascus after a government gas attack.

But the didn't, of course. The medical students were a license for Grenada to print money; no Grenadian, even the stupidest, even the most ideologically nuts Commie, would have voluntarily set fire to their wallet.

Anyway, they were happy to be out of the whole silly business, and so made for a pleasant day. Young doc Chief continues:)
The entire advance became a kind of (Roman) triumph, crowds of cheering students waving and yelling at us, people offering water and coconuts to us, the bulk of us surprised and wary having heard gunfire just the day before; being pelted with sodas and food was a surprise.

We crossed and recrossed the peninsula all day, secured the whole thing before we returned to the quarry that night to sleep."
(I didn't know it at the time but the "fighting", what fighting there had been, had ended the previous day. Nobody bothered to tell us; we continued with our war faces on for the next couple of days, as you'll see...)
Saturday, 29 October

We moved from the quarry about eleven. A Company spent all day moving up the road towards Calvigny (sic) Point, clearing houses. One sniper fired at us; no casualties.

We halted on top of a high ridge at the base of Calvigny (sic) Point - obviously someone had used this area extensively to graze his herds with the resultant leavings. Hence the name; Horseshit Hill."
I can't believe I forgot to write in what happened that night, 29/30 OCT.

We settled into a 360-degree perimeter for the night, digging our Ranger-grave scrapes in the hard, crumbly volcanic soil. What we hadn't bothered to do was really recon the vicinity or we'd have figured out that the cow- and horse-droppings weren't just relics. Some time not long after dark one of our LPs called back on the land line to report movement to their front. The platoon behind them - I can't recall who it was, just not my Third Platoon - immediately went to 100%, the GIs straining to see what the hell was moving out there in the dark.

Someone saw something - or thought they saw something - and started firing, and within minutes the entire perimeter was lighting up the landscape.

I recall that the firing went on for no more than a couple of minutes before A Company's First Sergeant came roaring along the line of scrapes roaring "Cease fire! Cease fire, goddamn it! Fucking CEASE FIRE!!"

Once he had got the shooting stopped he called out to the LP to report what they had heard or seen. They called back to say that the rustling had turned out to be a couple of Grenadian cows that had bolted as soon as the mighty Black Panthers had filled the evening with lead; none of them had managed to get turned into hamburger for all that heavy metal thunder.)
"Sunday, 30th October

We pushed out to the end of the point, occupying a deserted ruin of a former Cuban/Grenadian training facility. The A-7s and the gunship had purely torn the hell out of it; the wooden barrack blocks were splintered and knocked about, walls leaning crazily, huge holes in many of them. The supply room had been shattered, and torn uniforms and dented helmets lay everywhere.

The entire compound was littered with papers - records, manuals, literature, reams of socialist material for the nurturing of young revolutionaries - as well as other discarded stuff.

Most macabre were the smashed tail assemblies of a pair of UH-60s, marking the spot where four Rangers had died in a raid the night before last. Many more were wounded. Bits of American equipment was scattered thereabouts.

That evening I heard Mass. We spent the night there."
(Calivigny was a genuine clusterfuck, and I had no idea how bad at the time. Here's the account from the Atkinson (2011) article:

"After assembling his Blackhawks on Barbados, Seigle received orders on Thursday, October 27, to send his helicopters into the Calivigny barracks complex on Grenada’s southeast coast. The 82nd pilots considered the mission, apparently ordered specifically by the Joint Chiefs, to be suicidal, because PRA and Cuban defenders were believed to be firmly entrenched at Calivigny. “Guys, we don’t know what’s out there,” Seigle told his crews. “Just remember that your primary job is to fly that aircraft until it won’t fly anymore. Concentrate on that.”

The Blackhawks would carry a company of Rangers in the assault. After Navy bombers, AC-130S, and Fred McFarren’s artillery tubes had pounded the target, the first flight of four helicopters — Chalk One, Chalk Two, Chalk Three, and Chalk Four — swooped across Westerhall Bay at 4:15 P.M., just about the time that the znd Brigade TOC was being accidentally strafed. From satellite photos, the only suitable landing zone appeared to be in the middle of the compound. But when the pilots veered over a steep coastal embankment at eighty knots, they suddenly spotted the landing zone directly below them, half a mile short of where they expected it. As the Blackhawks decelerated, the Rangers — who had not trained with the 82nd pilots and were accustomed to leaping for the ground before the helicopters actually touched down — began jumping out. It was too soon. Several tumbled twenty feet; at least two suffered broken legs.

Chalk One landed, hard but safe, followed by Chalk Two. As Chalk Three was slowing, ground fire from the weeds near the barracks struck the tail rotor. The Blackhawk began to counterrotate out of control, smashing into Chalk Two. In a violent spray of metal fragments, the two helicopters flung chunks of rotor blade back and forth at each other, leaving four Rangers dead in a bloody mangle.

In a desperate effort to avoid the carnage below, Chalk Four veered 90 degrees to the right. The Blackhawk slammed into the ground so hard that the rotor blade flexed down, slicing out a section of the aluminum tail rotor drive shaft. When the pilot, unaware that his tail was gone, pulled up to leave a moment later, the Blackhawk spun wildly. After two gyrations, the Chalk Four pilot deliberately crash-landed his helicopter.

The second flight of four Blackhawks set down without mishap south of the barracks. The Rangers quickly swept through Calivigny, where they found the camp largely deserted. Like most of their comrades elsewhere on the island, the Cubans and PRA were dead, captured, or hiding in the hills. Bob Seigle spent most of the next twenty-four hours trying to mollify the furious Rangers and salvage what was left of the three shattered hulks lying at the edge of Westerhall Bay."

One nameless guy with an AK-47 destroyed three multimillion-dollar helicopters, killed four people and injured - in many cases horribly - dozens.

I know I've said this before. But it's important to remember that in war many people, possibly MOST people, who die or are ruined do so in spectacularly pointless, worthless, or idiotic fashions.

Grenada just made sure that this pointless death was the result of a dog's breakfast of an expedition that might as well have been done by a Dade County SWAT team and half a dozen bail bond thumb-breakers.

That's really it for the "fighting"; the rest of Grenada is young me walking about in the tropical sun. We'll talk a little about that in the next post and wonder if thirty years has done anything to tell us what the hell it all meant.
Next: Grenada 6, or, War - What Is It Good For?

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Army I Knew: Grenada 4, or, Does Anybody Here Know How The Hell To Play This Game?


Last time we visited with young Doc Chief, he had just landed on the tropical paradise of Grenada, the "Spice Island", in hot pursuit of the then-latest outbreak of the Global Communist Menace in the persons of the comic thugs of the Grenadian "army" and their Red Cuban pals.

As with the preceding entry in this series, the following post is largely taken from a letter I wrote home in November of 1983, and I'll let my younger self take the mike from here out; the blockquotes are from the 1983 original.

As before, if there is something that I didn't make clear in my original letter, or something that my older self wants to expound on a bit, I will add the comments in parentheses in normal text.
"We almost bolted down the ramp of the aircraft and onto the verge of the runway. Point Salinas (sic) is a low brackish baking expanse of rock and sand. Black volcanics, pitted tuffs (most of this stuff was actually coral) and lavas crop weirdly from the ground.

We shambled at an awkward pace past a group of disinterested artillerymen. We peered from under our helmets between runnels of sweat at the shirtless, headbanded gunners as if they were gods of war and could tell us all its secrets.

They, no doubt, (were) smug in their vision of yet another planeload of grunts loaded with water jerrycans, flak vests and rucks, eyes wide and breath short.
(I should note that these guys - B Battery, 1/320, according to the sources - probably weren't all that smug for long; their entire part of the Most Excellent Grenadian Adventure consisted of less than a handful of fire missions. The problem the gunners had was that the island was tiny and crowded and their maps - hell, ALL of our maps - were utter shit. The chances of putting a round on target were low and that the round would, instead, kill some casual Grenadians doing nothing more offensive than breathing was high.

According to Larry Yates' Field Artillery in Military Operations Other Than War the 1/320 fired three missions; two are described as "a paratrooper attack on a hostile target" without describing the maneuver unit or the target involved, while the second is said to have been "the rescue of medical students". I don't recall any of the artillery firing on 26 OCT, but I could very well have simply ignored outgoing fire.

The third mission was fired on support of the Ranger air assault on Calivigny Barracks on 27 OCT. I'll mention it here, because I was otherwise occupied on that day and observed neither the arty fire or the air assault so neither turns up in my letter. According to Yates (with comments of my own in italics)

"Three batteries of artillery (that is, the full battalion of 1/320FA) opened the barrage. Of the 500 shells fired, one hit the camp, while the rest fell into the sea. Later it was discovered that "the artillery had misplotted their own positions by 700 meters, had inaccurate coordinates for Calivigny, and had left their artillery aiming circles (tripod-mounted compasses used to align the cannon in battery) back at Fort Bragg."

Apparently no one bothered to place a forward observer where he could see the target, either.

In the field artillery we generally refer to this as a "rolling clusterfuck".

At any rate, there was no further need for the FA after Calivigny, so regardless of their issues the redlegs enjoyed a tropical holiday with the rest of us.)
"We sat down not ten feet from the shore, the sun and sky azure-blue above as the sea. Aircraft wheeled overhead, firing at targets beyond the first line of hills. A bumbling AC-130 gunship made lazy pinwheels, its guns tearing howls as it fired."
(We didn't know this at the time, but it was one of these aircraft that had shot up our 2nd Brigade's tactical operations center (TOC) that day. Rick Atkinson wrote a 2011 account from my then-battalion commander's viewpoint and here's his version (with my additions in italics):

"(LTC) George (Crocker - in disrespectful moments we called our battalion commander "Betty") had been lying about a thousand yards from the 2nd Brigade’s tactical operations center (TOC) at Frequente when a Navy A7, misdirected by a Marine liaison team attached to the 82nd, raked the TOC with 20mm cannon fire. Seventeen men had been wounded; one later died.

After the strafing run ended, George listened to the chaos on the radio before walking another two hundred yards down the road, where he happened on the Marine fire controller, staring at the ground. “Do you know that air strike just hit the 2nd Brigade?” George asked. In a voice choked with remorse, the Marine had simply murmured, “Yes,” and hung his head a little lower."

This wasn't the first clusterfuck that had killed U.S. troops on, or trying to get onto, Grenada.

On the night of the 24/25 the U.S. Navy had dropped a couple of SEAL teams into the ocean west of the island. Something went wrong - either the soldier-squids were injured in the jump or the stronger-than-expected currents exhausted them (or a combination of both) - and four SEALS drowned.

Another SEAL team was tasked with snatching the British Governor (a gent named Scoon, who was basically a living connection between the former British colony and the Commonwealth) and managed to get ambushed inside Scoon's house and had to fort up until relieved by the USMC late on 26 OCT, the day we landed. In the process several Marine Sea Cobra attack helicopters were shot up and several of the A/C crew killed.

As if that wasn't enough, the Army's Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta - yes, that "Delta Force", the U.S. Army's SAS - attempted an air assault on the combination barracks and prison at Richmond Hill in the early hours of the invasion.

This didn't go so well.

Atkinson (2011) again: "...the Army’s special operations helicopters had not fared well in the early fighting. About ten aircraft from Task Force 160, a secret unit based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, had been supporting Delta and the other commando forces. Nicknamed the Night Stalkers, their motto was “Death Waits in the Dark.” TF 160 pilots were the Army’s best — combat blooded, with at least two thousand hours of flying time each — and they had just been riddled with gunfire. Every TF helicopter was full of holes; at least one had been destroyed."

As I said, I didn't know anything about this that morning. All I knew is that I was hot and already tired, even though I'd done nothing more than unload crap off a C-141 and worry about what the hell was going on. Sorry for the interruption; here's young Doc Chief again):
"I remember vividly three black soldiers, shirtless and casual, digging a (fox)hole at the high-tide mark just behind us and thinking that any further south and they would be sailors.

That hole seemed endlessly safe and desirable at that moment.

That night we dug in south of the airstrip. I found a huge rock and haggled out a kind of scrape in the lee of it. We had been told that the strip was taking mortar fire nightly and everyone spent an uneasy night.

Thursday, 27 OCT, 1983

We piled our rucks (Thank God! They and the flak vests were sweaty torture in the Grenadian sun) and moved off in a broad wedge alongside the airfield. Transports were taking off and landing almost constantly...

We crossed the runway and moved up, across a sharp saddle and north up a second hill nearly immediately (this was our introduction to the nearly vertical character of the Grenadian countryside).

At the top of the first hill we came across the first traces of war: men of the 325 (the "White Falcons" the 1st Battalion of that regiment) crouched in the whins. Atop the hill at the road intersection were two Soviet-made BTR-60P armored transports, the one nose-to-tail with the other. Both were destroyed, fire having reduced the tires on the second to a gray powder. A single gaping hole in the driver's compartment of the first told the story."
(I wasn't sure at the time but this destruction was not the handiwork of the 1/325 but the Rangers.

The hole in the first APC had been made by a 90mm recoilless rifle, a Fifties relict that the Rangers still carried but that we in Division had DX'ed for the widely disliked M47 "Dragon" AT missile.

The Grenadian Army (which called itself the "People's Revolutionary Army", by the way, which was usually abbreviated "PRA") had tried a counterattack on the afternoon of 25 OCT around three of these wheeled armored cars.

All three had been knocked out; two supposedly by 90mm fire (though I don't recall seeing any actual damage to the second BTR in the picture above and today kind of suspect that the crew unassed the vehicle and ran away when the first rig got brewed up...) and the third by some kind of aircraft.)
"We trudged up the hill and turned off the road. We set up the machineguns on the ridgeline that we had crested and looked down on the little town below."
(This was either part of the little town of Frequente or the outskirts of Ruth Howard; I suspect the former)
"The rest of that mid-day took on a surreal quality. The Three-Quarter (1/325) pushed past and into the town, clearing houses, moving slowly. Twice they took fire and we watched them use grenades to clear the (shooters) out.

I found a coverless copy of James Webb's A Sense of Honor in the bush where I laid (the 325 had dumped all quantity of gear, airborne equipment, sweaters, food - they had arrived hideously overloaded). So I sat and re-read Webb's story of Vietnam Annapolis whilst below me the snipers and the 325 played their deadly-serious game of tag.

By that afternoon we were moved forward to secure a hill overlook the asphalt-gravel quarry that dominated the (north)east approaches to this little town.

We moved down a dirt road, past a burnt-out jeep and a dead Cuban, huddled and already starting to bloat, with the sickly-sweet smell particular to corpses emanating from him."
(The dead guy was probably a PRA troop rather than a Cuban, whose activities were largely limited to the airfield at Point Salines. He was face-down in a foxhole under a bush off to the right side of the main road, while down the road a piece was what looked like the remains of an ambush of one of the Ranger recon jeeps; a trail of M-60 ammo belt links spaced out along the dirt leading up to a jeep-sized burn mark ringed with metal powder and bits of GI gear.

I'm not sure to this day, but I suspect that this may have been the gun jeep from A Company 1/75th (Ranger) Infantry described here: "Alpha Company Gun jeep Juliet-5 was ambushed and Rangers Randy Cline, Mark Rademacher, Russell Robinson and Marlin Maynard were killed in the ensuing close quarters firefight but not without killing many of the soldiers who had ambushed them." All of these dead people didn't make us cherry troopers any more confident that the people in charge of this thing knew what they were doing.

Worse was to come.)
"We passed a pair of small, shacky stilt houses on the way up the hill and entered twenty minutes of steep, sweaty, slick-footed hell."
(Here's where I really need to remind young Specialist Chief that he left out a critical part of this.

As we passed these shotgun shacks I noticed that neither had marks on the doors as we'd been taught to do after clearing buildings. I turned back to our platoon sergeant and waved at these; "Do you know if anyone cleared these damn huts?" I asked. "Shut up and move out, doc..." was my platoon daddy's reply, and up the hill we went.

We'd come to regret that later.)
"Panting we reached the top and crossed it, passing evidence of Cuban habitation. (The lieutenant) sent 3rd Squad back for rear security, left the #6 (machine)gun on the crest overlooking the factory, and took the rest down to check out the gravel plant.

I sat next to the gunners, hot and tired and frightened, when gunfire burst out to our right rear. In the woods, and so close that it sounded like and entire company engaging our 2nd Platoon. (which had moved around to the east (our right) side of the hill we climbed) I bolted up the trail to meet SSG R------- (of 3rd Squad) coming back. He was pie-eyed and whispering "They're moving up here!"

"Oh, shit!" "Where's the El-tee?" "Down in that fucking factory!" "Oh, SHIT!"

We ran back (to 3rd Squad positions) - the sound of bullets overhead is a weird snapping or hissing noise, by the way - and found Top (A Company's First Sergeant), who turned half the gun team around.

In the meanwhile the LT returned with the platoon, moved back up the hill (to 3rd Squad's position) to hear that four enemy had crested the hilltop minutes before and run down the other side. A spate of firing from the 325, and then, nothing.

We spent a cold, rainy night in the thick brush atop that same hill."
(And here's the final fuckedupitude about this entire episode; all that firing? It was our own Charlie Company.

Turns out that Alpha Company, or at least two platoons of it, had drifted forward and to the right across the front of our C Company that had been bushwhacking through the thick brush to our right and fallen behind us.

The four PRA guys had either been squatting in the tules or hiding in the two shacks until it became obvious that they were cut off. They had then fired up the guys from Company C and grabbed a hat.

Charlie Company, having no idea that they had friendlies in front of them, proceeded to have a little personal Mad Minute. Fortunately for us their shooting was as bad at us as it was at the Grenadians and nobody ended up going home in a bag or leaking brain housing fluid.

But I can tell you this; nobody on that hilltop that rainy night felt like we were conquering the shit out of anything, much less Grenadian Communism, or were taking part in the inevitable triumph of Democracy and the Free Market.

Next: Grenada 5, or, Touring the Spice Island with I-Love-My-Body and the All-American Ra-ree Show

Monday, November 11, 2013

The guns below

Another year and the guns in central Asia, unheard by all but a tiny handful of citizens of the United States, have not fallen silent. There is no Armistice above the Durand Line, or in the many hidden places where American soldiers do their nation's bidding.

What more, what better can I say than what an earlier President of my country said some one hundred fifty years ago:
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Surely it is time and past time to "finish the work we are in", and to "honor" the veterans by bringing the Armistice and making no more of them.

Bringing women's soccer to Kabul can hardly be worth the cost in blood and treasure. For all the good that we may do there must be an end to our thankless task of hustling the East, while the task is borne by those we send to do what we choose not to do ourselves.

And for many of them only their death will see an end to war.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Army I Knew: Grenada 3, or, Into the Wild

You may remember than when last seen, Doc Chief and his pal Woodus were out in Area J playing field medic as the United States began its first foreign military adventure since the end of the Vietnam war some eight years earlier.

Little did we know that while we were trying to pound our ears in the piney woods a composite unit of the then-two battalions of the U.S. Army's 75th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) (Ranger) was staging in the Caribbean to parachute onto the runway at Point Salines.

What should have given us a clue that the something that the U.S. had decided to do about those pesky Grenadian Commies included the 82nd Airborne Division was the constant uproar in Area J that night.

No sooner had we snuck back into our hootch from the billets after the platoon beer-and-pizza-night than a whining deuce-and-a-half rolled up and some knucklehead roared out "First Three-two-Five! Third Three-Two-Five! Alpha Three-Oh-Seventh Med! Get on the truck!"

This was greeted with the U.S. soldier's traditional enthusiastic obedience to orders:

"Fuck off, you! Tryin' to sleep here!"

"Who died and left you in charge, asshole?"

"What kind of clusterfuck IS this?"

But the roarer kept on roaring, and Woodus and I - who, like sensible GIs, kept our heads down; nobody had called OUR unit - heard the sounds of scuffling and dragging all around us, thumping and banging, and then the deuce engine whined and spun up and the headlights strobed away and the forest was dark again.

For probably a couple of hours.

Then the whole thing repeated itself; the farting and whining of a truck engine, another set of bellowed unit numbers - First Five-Oh-Fourth, Second Five-Oh-Fourth, Three-Twentieth FA, First Five-Oh-Eighth - and more scuffling, thumping, banging, and then silence.

The hell with it. Wasn't OUR problem. We went back to sleep.

The morning of Tuesday, 25 OCT 1983, was cool and clear. I remember waking slowly, and wondering why if it was light out that nobody had come around with first call earlier. Soldiers never wake up in daylight. I rolled out of my poncho liner and wriggled around to stick my head out of my end of the hootch.

So. First, you have to picture the little encampment as it had looked at nightfall the previous evening.

The EFMB cadre had set up a regular little field bivouac in Area J. Neat rows of two-man shelter halves (cretinous pigs that we were it was just us threw up a poncho hootch; they made us go all the way down to the end of the rank of little pup tents like the inbred relatives at the kids' table for Thanksgiving), a couple of big rectangular GP Medium tents for classrooms and even a ginormous GP Large for the mess tent.

A cook tent complete with immersion heaters for dishwashing, motor pool set aside for the quarter-ton M151 jeeps (Oh, alright "MUTTs", like anyone ever actually called them that...), CUCVs, and deuces.

But when I looked around our hootch that morning?


And I mean nothing. No tents. No vehicles. Not so much as a cardboard C-rat box.


"Woodus..." I said, "...I think we might be in a little bit of trouble."

When we burst into the billets twenty minutes later nobody even bothered to lock our heels.

"Where the fuck have you two idiots been?" Monty Harder, my section sergeant, didn't even look up from packing his rucksack. "Never mind. Get your DRF shit together. We're going into DRF1."

At this point I want to turn you over to someone else who had a better view of what happened next.

Well, sort of.

The someone else is him - twenty-six-year-old Doc Chief, the me that hurried into my barracks room that morning struggling to find all my TA-50 and assorted kit to pack in preparation for - I thought - going on duty as the Division's "Ready Battalion", the unit that was supposed to be capable of emplaneing within two hours, the United States on-call Army.

I wrote this in a letter to my parents about two weeks later from where my infantry platoon was loafing around a deserted police station outside Pearls (I think). It isn't great literature by any means, but it has the cardinal virtue of being the actual eyewitness account, undimmed by time and without the additions and subtractions that reflection makes to memory.

I'll comment on it when it's clear that I didn't explain something well, or another issue demands explication, but otherwise I'll try and let my younger self speak. From here on the block quotes are the voice of SP4 Chief, platoon medic for 3rd Platoon, A Company, 1/505 Infantry (Airborne) (Light).

"That morning (when I called) we returned to find the battalion preparing for DRF. This was no surprise, since the 2nd Brigade had been called out (we didn't know where and rather assumed that had gone to the wargames in Georgia). So we pallatized our vehicles and packed, still unsure of whether we would go.

At noon the speakers in the phones were removed, and we were sent down to draw our .45's."
(This was the Big Tell, by the way. First, remember that this was the pre-cell-phone Eighties. The old black AT&T pay phones in the barracks hallways were the only way for a regular grunt to call out, and as many times as we had been the Ready Battalion we'd never had a time when the Charge of Quarters came around and unscrewed the speaker from the handsets. That, and the medics and assistant machinegunners never took our pistols to field problems.

They were useless for playing soldier - no blank rounds or muzzle adapters - and our commanders had a justifiable paranoia about some idiot joe dropping his hogleg in a hole or down a shitter or just losing it out in the woods. Drawing the service pistols meant that Shit Was Real, or as real as it could get for a peacetime Army...)
"By 1600 we knew that the 2nd Brigade was on the ground in Grenada and (we) were becoming more sure that we would go. We moved in the night, all of us, loaded with rucksacks, duffle bags, weapons and harness on the silversided 80-pax trucks down to LACC.

Our lock-up, or LACC, is in the old wooden barracks on the north end of post. They are fenced and wired, patrolled by guards. There we grabbed a hasty meal and were sent down to our companies.

Third platoon, A Company, was loaded with munitions and abuzz with rumors. Anything seemed possible in the sickly glow of the streetlamps. Twice we filed through a gap in the fence under the hooded eyes of the MPs. First we drew such things as jungle boots, canteens, meals, and sundries. Then we passed heaps of ammunition and, for the first time, I really believed. The fear in my gut weighed as much as the 50 rounds of .45 caliber ammo in my hands."
(Looking over my old letter I really didn't manage to convey how freakish the supply and ammo draw was. It was, and here's why: for my entire Army career it had been hammered into me how precious and special Army equipment was. Everything we were issued had to be accounted for, receipted, cared for, carefully managed and returned in equal or better condition than it was provided.

Not that night.

The supply guys literally threw stuff at us. "Jungle boots. Poncho liner. You need two? Fine. That looks worn, here, take this new one. Go, go, move it, here, put this in a waterproof bag. Move out, troop." As much as the live ammunition this carelessness was so uncharacteristic as to be genuinely frightening. If the supply pukes were in that kind of hurry, I thought, what the hell was going out outside the wire?
"Wednesday morning we moved in a long, straggling column down to Pope AFB and waited until noon at Green Ramp for the aircraft. A C-141 lifted us off and for five hours we were locked inside (with) our own private fears before touchdown - 1636 Wednesday, 26 October."
(We didn't know it but by the time we landed what little genuine fighting there would be was all but over.

The Ranger battalions had parachuted onto the airfield the previous morning, seizing it and going through the raggedy-ass little Cuban detachment like a dose of salts. A "counterattack" by the shambolic Grenadian "Army" - which consisted of a couple of wheeled BTR-60 armored personnel carriers had been shot up with 90mm recoilless rifle rounds and routed. What was left was a bunch of random characters with an AK-47 or three who felt like taking a slap at GIs; there was no "defense" of the island in any real sense of the word.

The other thing we didn't know - and that I want to go into more in the next installment - is how badly we, all the various branches of the U.S. armed forces managed to screw up and get people killed in what was really nothing more than a one-sided beatdown of a tiny opponent barely capable of defending itself from a troop of angry Boy Scouts.

We hadn't been to war in almost a decade, and it showed.

But that's for next time.
Next: Grenada 4, or, What If They Gave A War And Nobody Knew How To Fight It?