‘Other than Honorable’

memorial-day-2013We’re all about the sweetness and light here at Mad Blog Media, as you know. In that spirit, it being Memorial Day, we present “Other than Honorable,” a special report from Dave Philipps and photographer Michael Ciaglo of The Gazette.

I’d not read the series until I heard a report on it from Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! But I have now, and you should, too.

Other bits worth considering today:

• “Americans and Their Military, Drifting Apart,” from retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry and professor emeritus David M. Kennedy at The New York Times.

• “Is PTSD Contagious?” from Mac McClelland at Mother Jones.

• “On Memorial Day, Remember the Sequester,” from Alison Buckholz at Time.

Add your own reading, viewing or listening recommendations in comments. Peace.

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35 Responses to “‘Other than Honorable’”

  1. Steve O Says:

    Sometimes it’s embarrassing the stuff that’s right in front of us, that we don’t notice.

    I’m more than casually aquainted with VA mental health services.

    And as a retiree with both good health insurance and VA benefits, I take a lot for granted.

    But i was talking to a buddy the other day. Former Army reservist. OIF vet. PTSD, etc.

    And he was telling me about going to Walgreens once a month, paying his co-pay, getting his meds.

    3 x $3.

    And I’m thinking, on the one hand, $9 a month for some serious peace of mind. Can’t beat that. 21st century America is a great place to be.

    But on the other hand …

    How can we ask combat vets to pay one dime for something that’s 100% combat service related?

    Part of the problem is that we have too many intersecting circles inside the big “Army health care and service benefits” Venn diagram. Active vs reserve vs guard. Retired vs med discharge vs ETS. There are huge differences between a 50% and 70% disability rating. Huge. And, unfortunately, the care you get is a function of your ability to be your own advocate.

    We’ll never completely level all of that out. But I think we can agree on a starting point.

    $9 isn’t a lot of money, and if the options are paying $9 or doing without, it’s a no-brainer. But from a principle standpoint, how do we say, “Thank you for your service. Sorry about what happened. We’re going to take care of you. Please see the cashier on your way out.”?

  2. Steve O Says:


    Veteran Suicides Outpace Combat Deaths, Child Gun Deaths (INFOGRAPHIC)

  3. bromasi Says:

    Well said Steve O.

  4. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    I think the treatment that some current serviceman get is the fact we have an all volunteer force. It is easier for those in power to write some one off with the excuse, “well, they signed up for it.” And the average citizen today has not served or been in a war. They are apathetic. One thing is for sure. This current congress simply doesn’t care. They will fight wars with volunteers and borrowed money. And they will do it again unless we fire them all. And they will not fund vet care at an acceptable level.

  5. Khal Spencer Says:

    We need to go back to a draft. Everbody, and everybody’s son, needs to worry about Uncle Sam tapping them on the back. I am confident that the reason the Vietnam War got so much pushback was that, to paraphrase that old Country Joe McDonald song, no one wanted to be the first people on their block to have their boy come home in a box. Sure, the Dick Cheneys and George Bush types will dodge, but they wouldn’t get elected.

    • Steve O Says:

      Mandatory service just plain won’t work in a country of nearly 400 million. Too hard to administer. No one wants to pay for it. And the Pentagon hates hates hates the idea. They’ve spent the last half century figuring out how to train a work force with an assumed minimum standard for intelligence and moral conduct. Open up the flood gates, and basic training goes from 8 weeks to at least 12.

      • khal spencer Says:

        I’m sure there are reasons for the military wanting an army of professional soldiers. As far as I am concerned, F**k what the Pentagon wants. Those guys answer to the Republic.

        There are plenty of reasons to dissent from that professional standing army idea, some of which were thought of back at the founding of the Republic, others which can be seen strutting around your average third world nation as we type.

      • Steve O Says:

        I didn’t say the pentagon didn’t want it. I said they thought it was a bad idea.

        Show me one report, white paper, EXSUM, dissertation, whatever that analyzes compulsory service of any kind and concludes that it’s a good idea.

        Lots of guys like it in theory. I like it, in theory. But you can’t make the numbers work.

  6. md anderson Says:

    Khal, I tend to agree. I would instead put in a system of some sort of required national service, either military or civilian. Make being a citizen something active rather than passive, get folks away from their own little narrow niche and amongst those “others” who are their fellow citizens.

  7. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    Ole dickweed hisself , McLame, just proved my point for me. Took a trip to Syria to talk to the rebels. He wants us to get involved in that maelstrom. What a tool. He should just try doing his job for a change. Wait, he has 100 staff pukes and lobbyist to do that for him.

  8. JoeMc Says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing this link, Patrick. Totally astounding in some ways, not so much in so many sad other ways.

    Ironic how in this nation we do double-time to lower taxes and grant boons to the richest people in the history of the world, all while proudly touting our support for the people who keep us safe. But if this series is accurate, on top of all the other mistreatment we have heard about from veterans over the past 12 years, we are in more serious trouble as a nation than we ever imagined. HST was right. We really are ‘just a nation of used-car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and butter and no qualms at all about stomping anyone who tries to tell us differently.’

    No wonder the administration is wiretapping phones and opening email of journalists to find whistle-blowers. Can’t have such sensitive “national security” information like this get out to the public without every effort to squelch it. Wonder if the Gazette team heard any clicking on their phone lines?

    On the bright side, I’m glad to see that someone is out there committing real journalism.

    Happy Freakin’ Memorial Day, huh?

  9. Larry T. Says:

    Along with the wish “we spend endlessly on education and healthcare while the Air Force holds bake sales to buy a new bomber fleet” I wish those who are so interested in getting into these wars showed some interest in taking care of the victims, the soldiers who fight and die for their “noble” causes.

  10. Steve O Says:

    When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking. ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    • Patrick O'Brien Says:

      Great quote, Steve. How about this?
      “Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling.” James E. Starrs

  11. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    The draft worked in WW2, worked in Korea, and worked in Vietnam. The draftees I served with had a balance of education and experience across occupational specialties. The Selective Service System still registers draft eligible citizens males only, last time I checked. So, the basic framework still exists. I worked for the Army for over 30 years, and I can tell you, strictly from a subjective viewpoint, that the quality of of the 2004, when I retired, force is no better or worse than when I was on active duty from 1969 to 1972. The division I managed when I retired had 25 enlisted and warrant active duty personnel from all three services along with civilians and contractor personnel. That is comparing the same occupational specialties, both enlisted and warrant officer, that I was involved with during the entire career both active and civil service. But the bottom line is that the benefits of compulsory service outweigh the risks, or “numbers” for the society as a whole, especially the experience of those who serve, and the ability to surge strength when needed to avoid the multiple combat deployments that destroy the morale and welfare of the force in lengthy conflicts. The exception to the rule is the Air Force which has been an all volunteer force for at least the last 30 or so years. The other benefits were explained better than I can in the links Patrick provided above. I still think that the public pays more attention and demands action when everyone is required to risk serving in war.

    • Steve O Says:

      The draft worked in WWII because we threw money at it like rice at a wedding. Just big handfuls. And it most certainly did not work in Korea and Vietnam. There’s all sorts of data showing discrepancies in draft rates by zip code.

      Subjectively, a soldier is a soldier is a soldier? Fine. I guess. But objectively, you don’t have the data on your side. If you account for the OIF / OEF years, when we opened the flood gates, you’ll find two things. One, at every data point, quality is up. Two, its harder today to be a 2LT or a SSG than it was in ’90 or ’80 or ’70 or any other time prior, as measured by the sheer number of TR 350-10 and 351-10 tasks, by the number of additional skill identifiers awarded, and by growth of required institutional and organizational training requirements. Hell, half of TR PAM 525-8-3 didn’t even exist before this current generation, and now we take it for granted.

      Subjectively, I’ll take you at your word, that this is your experience. But objectively, you won’t find anyone with USAREC or TRADOC experience — at least, no one with a strong math background — who shares that opinion.

      • Steve O Says:

        Caveating, of course, for the degradation of the far left end of the bell curve when we scuttled our standards and let just anyone in.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Thinking about it Steve, you are right. I tend to spread my limited experience with Signal Corp folks, specifically cryptographic equipment technicians, instructors, installers, and account managers, to the rest of the force. Those folks usually were high test scorers with clean backgrounds, even the draftees, because of the technical skill and security clearance requirements. This has been a good discussion, and I think I see a consensus that some kind of national service opportunities, and even some compulsory service at certain times, would be a good thing. But like you say, it would be hard to create and manage a program like this, and our current legislature is too incompetent to do it. But we still need to re-establish the link between citizen and soldier.

      • Steve O Says:

        When the Signal Corps transitioned from the communications experts to being IT guys, they totally changed their demographics. Used to be an MOS for wire dogs, guys who ran around with a DR-8 and laid wire, then rolled in back up. They were usually up there with the fuel handlers on test scores. Now, nearly all of them get certifications from CISCO or Microsoft, which makes retention an issue. They’re so professional now … might as well be in the Air Force!!

  12. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    It’s easy for me to support some sort of draft-slash-mandatory national service. I’m 59 years old, so Uncle Sammy won’t be coming after me unless he’s well through the bottom of the barrel and starting to bring up Chinese dudes. And I have no kids, so he can’t get them either.

    However, the 18-year-old me objected vociferously to the draft for a number of reasons, one of them given voice by the Hero Oscar in Robert A. Heinlein’s “Glory Road”:

    “I object to conscription the way a lobster objects to boiling water: It may be his finest hour but it’s not his choice.”

    In 1972 conscription was a one-item menu: military service. And as it happened I also objected to the war in Vietnam, which seemed a war of choice, and a bad choice, when compared to the wars of my father, uncle and grandfather. I was spared the choices others faced — go to the Army, go to prison, go to Canada — by an absurdly high lottery number. Gen. Giáp would have been bivouacked in Foggy Bottom before the SS boys called me up.

    (This seems like a good place to say I never had a problem with those who fought the Vietnam War. My problem was with the folks who started it.)

    All this being said, I think even the 18-year-old me would have been OK with serving a hitch doing something else for Uncle, though you’d have had a high ol’ time of it identifying a useful skill I could bring to the party.

    I had been going to school my whole life and was sick of it. Going nowhere fast in a poor excuse for a college (the only one I could get into), I dropped out at the end of my sophomore year to waste another year of my life doing not very much before finally discovering the joys of journalism in a job as a copy boy, which planted the acorn that grew into the mighty oak of rumormongery that today is Your Humble Narrator.

    My question is: Who decides who does national service and who does the Green Machine? When the gummint proclaims that it’s war with Spaminacanistan and Young Master O’Grady says, “Thanks but no thanks, I’d just as soon spend a year in Humboldt County teaching hippies how to make bongs,” why should he get a pass while some other poor slob gets a funny suit, an M4 and an all-expense-paid trip to Indian Country?

    It would be an interesting discussion, for sure. Can you imagine having it now, with this electorate, this gummint and this media?

    • Khal Spencer Says:

      I had two uncles in WWII. Both volunteered. Uncle Ralph had cushy duty in Southeast Asia as an aide to Gen. Raymond Wheeler. Uncle Roy dodged German shellfire and small arms supporting the 3rd Army in Europe repairing railroads blown up by one side or the other. I have a picture of my actual old man in a medic suit snapped during the Korea era, although I don’t know where he served. Patrick and I are three months apart in age, so we ducked Vietnam as it was winding down just as we got to cannon fodder age.

      I’m sure Steve is right; from an operational standpoint, having a professional army is best. Sorry for the snark, Steve. Where I work, having a professional work force dealing with the shit I deal with is best.

      My concern is political–its way to easy to ignore those little unpleasantries in Spaminacanistan when it is a small professional army of someone else’s kids fighting it. That army is made up of the enthusiasts and those who need a job. I know at least three young people Over There dodging IEDs as they are kids of close friends. All three are over in Shitville by choice, and for the rest of us, its “never mind….”

      A random number army, aka a draft, means we or our kids or our nieces and nephews are all equally vulnerable to be eating MRE in some shithole corner of the world while dodging IEDs and coming back in a body bag or with body or brain parts missing in action. War needs to be democratic as it was in WWI, WWII, Korea, or Vietnam or it will be waged out of sight, out of mind, with the public intellectually disconnected from the human and economic costs. Fuckin’ A, it is anyway.

      No disrespect to the folks who served, but its gotten way to un-democratic.

      • Steve O Says:

        Khal, I agree with you here more than I disagree. And where I’m disagreeing, I sense it’s a matter of degree and not kind.

        “From an operational standpoint, a professional army is best.”

        Well, that’s basically what I just said, so hold onto you hat when I come back with: not necessarily.

        A draft was appropriate (but not cheap) for WWII and prior because those were full scale engagements where most straight leg infantry were merely waking talking sandbags, bullet catchers, and basically warm bodies that could take orders. (I should’ve started that with a hyperbole alert.)

        Today we’re fighting ten year wars with 1% of the population and a whole lot of drones. It’s just a different requirement, not one method being inherently better.

        Yes, there are societal costs to fighting a war with 1% of the population. Although, my math and engineer sides think, at some level, it’s kind of cool that we can do so. As much as W disgusted me when he told the American people that they could support the war by going shopping, he did have a point… Although not as big as the one on the top of his head. If the choice is to send more people to war or fewer people to war, I’m generally kinda usually most of the time dependably going to go with the number closer to zero.

        But you’re 100% right that there is a civics cost, a cost to society by insulating the people from the actions of those they elect.

        It’s all about costs and benefits, and that’s always a balancing act, and the answer today might not necessarily be the same answer you got in 1950.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        Its a complex balancing act, isn’t it? We could run a seminar on this with those in attendance, couldn’t we?

      • khal spencer Says:

        It is all about costs and benefits. While I too have a scientist’s amusement that we can fight wars with 1% or less of the population via joysticks rather than by killing off entire divisions of men in prolonged engagements, there are two things worrisome.

        One, as we agree, we insulate the public from the actions of those who represent us, as well as the blowback. Many of our fellow Murrcans seem astounded when someone blows up the World Trade Center or tries to bring down a commercial airliner with a jock strap bomb. “My gosh, why would they do that to Our Homeland?”, Jane Q. Public asks. Well, the reason why, my clueless fellow citizen, is that we have been at war with them for some time now. You know, drones and special forces kinda war? What’s the difference between a jockstrap bomb and a drone to the innocent bystander? One is ours and one is theirs.

        Secondly, Orwell predicted a permanent state of war in his book 1984 as a way to justify the national security state. I fear we are going there, just a few decades later than the title of the book. Permanent low intensity warfare coupled with government secrecy and constant fearmongering to justify government surveillance will be the end of the Republic as we know it.

      • Patrick O'Brien Says:

        Your last paragraph rings true. It appears that Obama wants to rein it in, but the congress is in a lather over that. The fear mongering is certainly occurring now, and we are willing to abandon basic principals, witness Gitmo and the general acceptance of torture, to get the “terrorists.” The “terrorists” have just about bankrupted the country, which may have been their goal all along. The Chinese will buy up what’s left. They are even starting to corner the bacon market. That is enough to send the Mad Dog to the recruiter!

      • Steve O Says:

        You just reminded me of the comedy show that is the GOP’s fascination with Bengazi. The mouth-breathers had and have their panties in a wad over how long it took the Prez to call it it an act of terrorists. As if the solution to the problem comes from being able to shove it into a particular cubbie or ear tag it with a certain color. Inasmuch as a embassy is unlikely to conduct a movement to contact, flank your forces, and execute a Cannae-like double envelopment, terror is the duh no shit only reason to attack an embassy.

    • Patrick O'Brien Says:

      Spaminacanistan? That’s rich!

  13. Khal Spencer Says:

    On another topic, Larry and Heather’s tour company is discussed in a story from this month’s (July?) issue of Bicycling Mag.

  14. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    Thanks for the interesting discussion guys. Now, if you are ready to waste 6.5 minutes on my strictly amateur home video, here is a taste of Brown Canyon. It is our thrice weekly dose of anti-depressant.

  15. Steve O Says:

    Lordy … even if you lowball all of the numbers in the McClelland piece …we the people have a long row to hoe if we’re going to do anything more than handing out band aids, aspirin, and cold packs. And the last time I checked, TBIs and PTSD don’t respond to well to aspirin.

  16. khal spencer Says:

    Send rain.


  17. Derek Lenahan Says:

    I am constantly questioned, about the world. You guys give me hope for the bikes.

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