Alt-Country: A Top 10 and Shit Flying Outta the Back of an F150 Pickup

“alternative rock, indie rock, roots rock, bluegrass, neotraditional country, punk rock, rockabilly, punkabilly, honky-tonk, outlaw country, folk rock, indie folk, folk revival, hard rock, R&B, country rock, heartland rock, and Southern rock.”

Country music that isn’t pop…isn’t mainstream. Some smart ass on Wikipedia provided the quote above about what influenced Alternative Country (AC). I was too lazy to see who wrote it. Didn’t feel like getting into an overly-semantic discussion about the incestuous nature of the words above and how they overlapped one another…or how some of them were different words for the same sound. I’ve gotten older and online arguments about subjective shit isn’t worth my energy or time.

Definitions and top 10 lists of anything are subjective…especially if the top 10 list is for songs that fall into a musical subgenre that seems to be part rock, traditional, and country music. Anyone can come up with a list of songs that define a sound. This one is a good list…but the writing around the songs seems rushed. AC is primarily about mood and story-telling. If there is no story…there is no good discussion about AC. Here is my story and my top 10 AC songs. Music isn’t listened to in a vacuum and it’s definitely not sterile…music is part of history…our culture…our lives. Music provides the soundtrack to our lives…which is so fucking cliche…but it is so true. I find it easier to tell a story and the music associated with it…I find this is a good way to describe life.

April, 2000…Texas. Bluebonnets are in bloom. When bluebonnets bloom you know spring is on its way in Texas. Robert Earl Keen lets you know this…Robert Earl Keen is not AC…he is part of his own musical subgenre…Texas Singer/Songwriters. I was a 30yo Army captain stationed at Fort Hood. Fort Hood is in the Texas Hill Country…it is described as the geographical area where the American Southwest meets the Southeast. That’s a good definition for Alternative Country…until you realize the boys of Uncle Tupelo (later Son Volt and Wilco) were from Illinois. But hey this is my story…so back to the Hill Country. Part green, part brown…scrub vegetation and sand vying for dominance. I love Texas…I like Texans individually, but collectively they braggadocios and set in their ways. Everything is bigger in Texas and that includes egos.

My dad was 60. He had just retired from a second career working for the state of Alabama…after a 27 year Army career. He wanted to go backpacking and camping in Big Bend National Park. He came out to Texas…I took week off. We threw way too much shit in the back of my pickup…a trait I had inherited from him. Tying shit down in the bed of a truck was always optional for my dad. Who doesn’t want to drive halfway across Texas while having to nervously eye the rear view and wondering when a sleeping bag, a hastily-shoved jacket, or partially-ripped cardboard beer case was going to go flying outta the truck?

It takes 8 hours of straight driving to get from Fort Hood to Big Bend National Park. Directions are pretty simple…get on Highway 190 and head west. After you pass through Iraan, you get on I-10 and shortly you hit Fort Stockton. At Fort Stockton…turn left and head south through Marathon on Highway 385. Keep driving through the desert…it was April…so Texas was in bloom…a multi-hued carpet spread out as far as our eyes could see.

This is one of those trips that a son will always cherish. This trip was our redemption. This trip was a way for us to complete a circle…a time to look at a life he had lived and one I was firmly moving forward in. My dad had a wayward youth in the 1950s…Army of jail. He chose the Army. I was born when he was 30. Today I am the same age (48) as he was when I was graduating high school. Now…now I understand why my dad spent my teenage years looking at me with more disappointment than pride. He saw himself…he saw a young man that I was then as an almost identical version of him in his youth. Now I understand the quiet response to some stupid shit I had done. As you push toward 50, it is easier just to sit back and let people do stupid shit…and hope they learn from it. As you approach the half of a decade mark…you realize wisdom has to be learned…it can be given through advice. Fortunately, I didn’t have to decide Army or jail…I just had to decide whether I was going to quit fucking up my life or get my shit together. I chose the Army too…and now almost a decade later…my dad and I were rolling across west Texas in my overloaded pickup eating Lil’ Debbies, guzzling Cokes, and listening to Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt.

Somewhere around Iraan (Ira-Ann) my dad said loudly (we were running about 80mph on Highway 190 with the windows down) “This is some damn good music.” I laughed and pointed out that obviously my musical tastes had been influenced by his love of 1970s Outlaw Country. That single sentence encapsulated everything perfect about the trip. We were two grown men…bonded by love and history and blood. When I was a kid I had always sat beside him in his pickup as we tooled toward some camping or fishing trip…as he eyed the rear view nervously …wondering when some shit would go flying from the truck’s bed. He’d play Waylon, Willie, and the boys as we crammed Lil’ Debbies in our mouths and guzzled Cokes.

Right there at Iraan, with an over-packed pickup bed, and blaring music (coupled with a dozen Lil’ Debbie wrappers flying around the cab of my truck in an endless aerial loop of sticky plastic) made the perfect moment. As we entered the town…with a giant billboard boasting Iraann’s overly-talented high school boys’ baseball and girls’ softball teams…multiple state championships…my version of country music met my dad’s version.

Some men are connoisseurs of art, wine, or literature. My dad was a connoisseur of hamburger dives. The more dilapidated and dirty the hamburger joint…the more my dad was convinced how delicious the hamburgers must be. My dad saw a gas station that boasted the “Best Burgers In Texas!” Naturally the place looked like shit…naturally the burgers were damn good. We stuffed a few down and then climbed back in my pickup…after I walked around the back stuffing shit back in the truck bed’s crevices. We had already lost a sweatshirt to the Hill Country between Killeen and Iraan. Just another piece of the flotsam and jetsam we were leaving in our wake across west Texas.

As we got in and I turned the key, Uncle Tupelo’s “Anodyne” came on. We pulled out of the gas station/burger dive in Iraan…and soon bluebonnets were lining the sides of Highway 190…and later it was I-10…and music serenaded us. Alternative Country is a lot of things…and for me it is a greasy, but delicious, burger from a gas station in Iraan, Texas, and a colorfully carpeted desert in west Texas with my dad beside shoving another fucking Lil’ Debbie in his mouth as he tapped his booted feet on my pickup’s floor board.

My Top 10 Alternative Country Songs*

10. Uncle Tupelo, “Anodyne

9. Bottle Rockets, “Turn For The Worse

8. Lucinda Williams, “Righteously

7. The Gourds, “El Paso

6. Jayhawks, “Waiting On The Sun

5. Cross Canadian Ragweed, “Sick and Tired

4. James McMurtry, “Out Here In The Middle

3. Old Crow Medicine Show, “Wagon Wheel“…yes I know it’s a Dylan cover

2. Old 97’s, “Doreen

  1. Son Volt, “Tear Stained Eye

*Best listened to while driving across Texas…feeling a sugar high from too many Lil’ Debbies, and eyeing the rear view wondering when shit is gonna fly outta the bed of your truck. A great dad beside you is optional…but it does enhance the experience.


US Afghanistan Options: Kipling or Metallica

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier
– Rudyard Kipling, “The Young British Soldier

Our brains are on fire
With the feeling to kill
And it won’t go away
Until our dreams are fulfilled
– Metallica, “Seek and Destroy

In mid-July, Trump ripped into his generals over US strategy in Afghanistan. A much debated plan had been presented by his military planners but he refused to sign off on it. Too be honest, Trump has  a right to demand answers for a 16 year war with no end…of course there is no obvious end because there is no clear strategic end state for the US war in Afghanistan. On October 7, 2001, then-President Bush ordered SpecOps forces and elements of the US Army Rangers to conduct offensive operations in Afghanistan to deny Al-Qaeda a safe haven and topple the Taliban…then Afghanistan’s extremist Islamic government…for providing that safe haven. Both of these objectives were achieved. Operation Enduring Freedom…which at different times…has been conducted by 40 NATO countries and US allies and was a success…initially. Since then, the US and its allies have increased and then decreased…and then increased…and then decreased the number of troops in Afghanistan with nary a strategic end in sight.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan…like Iraq…and become known as a Pottery Barn foreign policy idea…you break it…you pay for it. Arguably, Afghanistan was broken before the US and its allies arrived…but it was further shattered…and now 16 years later…the US is still conducting combat operations or supporting Afghan National Army operations in what appears to be a never ending slog of dust and blood.

Afghanistan has taken on an almost mythological presence in history and has been called the “graveyard of empires”…here are a few ‘tribes’ that established and then disintegrated into mini-states in Afghanistan: Greco-Bactrians, the Indo-Parthians, the Saka (Scythians), the great Buddha-building Kushans, the Kidarites, and the Hephthalites (White Huns). [The Diplomat, “Why Is Afghanistan the ‘Graveyard of Empires’]. The Mongols attempted to rule Afghanistan…their khan was killed…the Mongols in return killed thousands of Afghans in retribution. The Mongols, however, were also slowly swallowed up in the high valleys of the Hindu Kush. Afghanistan neighbors, what was once the multi-state of the Indian Empire(s)…Mughals…also attempted to subdue and reign over the Afghani tribes. Like all those before them…the Mughals were eventually driven out.

Infamously, the British and the Russians competed over the Afghanistan region in what was known as “the Great Game”…a political and military chess-like competition in the 19th century between these two empires…again neither could claim victory. As Kipling so explicitly states in his poem “The Young British Soldier”…the Afghan plains and its passes…Khyber Pass to be specific…blunted all British attempts to reign over Afghanistan.

Russia, of course, spent all of the 1980s trying to support their puppet government in Afghanistan…invading from the once Soviet Republic of Tajikistan…but then…they too crawled away. Since karma is such a spiteful bitch…it is easy to see how US support of Afghani rebels would come back to haunt the US when it was recently reported that the Russians are now supplying arms to the very rebels…the Taliban…that had once been supplied by the US.

Nothing happens in a vacuum…and the conflict in Afghanistan is no different. The Taliban…and its remaining (and evolved) Al-Qaeda allies are supported, housed, and trained in Pakistan’s hinterlands. Pakistan is the Muslim nation that sits between India and Afghanistan…Pakistan has a vested interest in keeping Afghanistan in turmoil at a minimum…and a Islamic ally at the maximum. It is not surprising that the 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan…arguably known to the Pakistani army at a minimum…there is no war in Afghanistan without some sort of Pakistani support.

Now…16 years later…what is the US to do? Does the US tactically withdraw from Afghanistan…letting the Taliban (and AQ) reassert control? If so…does Afghanistan become…once again…a haven for international Islamist terrorists? Maintaining some sort of a force in Afghanistan might…might…keep it from becoming what it was in the 90s.

Reportedly, NSA McMasters and the National Security Council favor some sort reconciliation among rival forces. The belief is that, from a position of strength…the US and the Afghanistan government can force the Taliban and their Pakistani sponsors to come to some sort of political agreement…thus increasing the Afghani government’s legitimacy while reducing the power of the Pakistani sponsors. BUT…this may be a never-ending quest at best…in the end Afghanistan stays a dusty black hole that sucks the US military into a constant struggle of supporting an Afghani army and government that will never be seen as legitimate.

Another way forward in…or out of…Afghanistan is to seek immediate political settlement with the US conceding…and forcing the Afghani government to power share with the Taliban. In this scenario, the US might keep a token force on the ground as a sign of US resolve and be a counter-terrorism force in case AQ or other Islamist terror orgs attempt to use Afghanistan as a platform in their global jihad. This would require immediate pressure on the Afghani government, and the Taliban with their Pakistani sponsors. This is a semi-saving face option for the US and a reduction in the US/NATO military presence. There is no guarantee that any power sharing agreement with the Taliban would last.

Finally, the US and its allies could play for time and hope…and hope is a strategy but a shitty one…that by putting off what seems inevitable (US withdrawal and return to Taliban rule) that somehow some magical option will appear that ensures the present (or some future) version of the Afghani government will remain in power…and US and ally forces can withdraw. This is not an option that any past or present presidential administration wants…but it seems to have become the default option that is executed president after president. All three presidential administrations since 9/11 have wanted a quick victory…all three presidential administrations have just punted.

It all sucks…there is no WIN for the US. One could argue that at this point that the actual monetary costs are small compared to the psychological costs the US has accrued in Afghanistan. There is no easy way out…as every empire has learned. Trump is right to demand answers…that is exactly what he is supposed to do. It is also reasonable that Trump would seek out-of-the-box options like the use of US-funded mercenaries to replace US forces…even though that resembles the British use of the East India Company in the 19th century. Basically there are two options…Kipling’s ultimate surrender of suicide on the Afghanistan plains or Metallica’s seek and destroy which is just a continuation of US military operations in Afghanistan…with no end in sight. Regardless of what any of the former empires paid in blood to reign in Afghanistan…it pales in comparison to the almost endless conflict the Afghans have endured century after century.

How to be a Homeland Security Policy Analyst: 3 Easy Steps

There are no stupid questions…only stupid people. – Me, traditional first day of class comment to students

From 2004 to 2009, I taught a graduate course on “Congress and Homeland Security Policy” for an “elite” university here in DC. A university that would not have admitted me as an undergraduate back in 1988 when I skidded out of high school in Fayetteville, Tennessee, with a C average. Honestly though…how “elite” can you be if you hire me to teach a graduate seminar course.

Regardless of my questionable educational decisions back when the mullet was neither ironic nor comical…when in fact it was a legitimate haircut for those partying and those conducting serious business…every semester I would have a student ask me how they could get my job. They never seemed happy with my response which was “…work 20 years in a field that transfers well to the homeland security policy area.” This answer not only disappointed my students…they wanted my job then and didn’t want to have to work 20 years for it…but it always rang hollow when it came out of my mouth. What the fuck is a homeland security policy area? How in the fuck did I end up here…25 years into a federal government profession…10 of which were in the Army…advising policy makers on homeland security policy? Well I am going to tell you.

If you want to be a homeland security policy analyst…here are the quick and easy steps that will provide you with a decent living and the self-satisfaction in knowing that you serve on the front line every day:

  • protecting the nation from dirty illegal immigrants;
  • providing information on federal disaster assistance for states full of voters who hate federal taxes;
  • knowing things like why the US Secret Service has…HAS…to protect Trump’s children (not just the good ones…Tiffany and Bannon…but the raging assholes too);
  • reading (and understanding) DHS’ annual appropriations and then being able to summarize it for those unwilling to read it themselves;
  • knowing the difference between a US Coast Guard cutter and an ice breaker…yeah nobody cares but the Coast Guard; and
  • wondering why DHS includes an entity that is responsible for inspecting imported plants and animals.

In other words…being a homeland security policy analyst means you get to be a true patriot. So if you really want to be an American patriot…here is how you can get my job:

Step 1: Make the shit up

Homeland security is anything anyone wants it to be. Granted it helps if you are a president, a Member of Congress (preferably an appropriator in Congress), or a policy maker (some high-ranking nerd who advises the president or Congress). Want proof? Here and here is where I testified before both the House and Senate on ‘what is homeland security?’ In neither testimony do I give a definitive answer…I have truly perfected the art of wishy washy here in DC. Don’t want to take my word for it? Well think about this…W Bush in 2001-2008 made it all about terrorists…especially those using planes as weapons. Well, W also included FEMA’s disaster response after Hurricane Katrina in 2005…but mainly it was about dirty Muslims. Obama really didn’t think homeland security was a legit policy area and rarely used the words “homeland security” (don’t believe me? try Googling the times Obama said “homeland security” when he wasn’t specifically talking about DHS…I have and it is rare to never) and one of his first acts as president was to combine the Homeland Security Council staff with the National Security Council staff and stop issuing a national homeland security strategy…instead he had a couple of paragraphs added to his national security strategy. Trump…well Trump thinks homeland security is all about immigration and barring dirty Muslims from traveling to the US. Google “Trump border wall homeland security” and be amazed at the hits. Wanna know who really sets the standard for what is or is not homeland security…Congress…specifically the appropriators. HOWEVER, if you are looking for some sort of continuity in the concept of homeland security policy from fiscal year to fiscal…you will be sadly disappointed. Congress does set homeland security priorities annually with appropriations but there is never any sort of coherent funding…instead Congress, annually, decides what they want the executive branch to do in securing the homeland for THAT year. Now…why did I say “the executive branch” instead of DHS?…because since the establishment of DHS in 2002 and it’s first funding in 2003…DHS has only received 50% of what the federal government categorizes as “homeland security funding.” DoD receives approximately 25%, and the other 25% of annual “homeland security funding” goes to about 12 other federal departments, agencies, and offices…basically homeland security is anything you want it to be. Make that shit up and then throw it at the wall…if it doesn’t stick this time…it will probably will the next time.

Step 2. Get a degree in anything but homeland security policy/studies

There is a plethora of for-profit (and usually unaccredited) and legitimate institutions of higher education that now offer certification, undergraduate and graduate degrees, and PhDs in “homeland security.” So many in fact, that I get at least one or two emails a year from both for-profit diploma mills and real universities asking me to teach a course for them…the need for homeland security college professors is really high. BUT don’t get a degree in homeland security because, as I have already stated, there is no true consensus in what homeland security is…at best you will have a degree in DHS but not a degree in homeland security policy. Me?…I started my collegiate career as a geography major…a political science major…got kicked out of college because I was really majoring in beer and bad attempts in getting laid…joined the Army…returned to college and got a degree in history. From there I got a masters in international affairs…and THEN got hired to be a homeland security policy analyst and assisted in congressional efforts in establishing DHS. Want to know what homeland security policy analysts have degrees in? Law, public health, criminal justice, emergency management, foreign policy, national security, history, and general public policy. Those of us who have spent the past 16 years analyzing the shit out of this policy area have basically determined that any degree remotely related to immigration, law enforcement, mass casualty events, terrorism, counter-terrorism, cybersecurity, disasters, and yes, even the inspection of imported plants and animals is a good enough degree to get you a job as a homeland security policy analyst.

Step 3. Have the patience of Job

No one is an expert after they get a degree…trust me, I work with a lot individuals with newly-minted PhDs…none of them are an expert in anything other than slogging through 8-10 years of college. An expert is one who works in their field for 15 years of more…starting out doing shitty things like being a research assistant or a US Army Field Artillery lieutenant…moving on to bigger opportunities such as working on national or homeland security projects for a think tank, non-profit, or government entity. Get some more degrees while working full-time…maybe another degree in national security policy or law enforcement. Basically…you have to work in the field of your choice… get more education…formal education helps…but in the end it takes you actually working for a decade or more to be an expert at anything. Simply…homeland security policy analysts are refurbished military officers, law enforcement agents, medical professionals, and emergency managers. None of us today… who are consider ourselves (and recognized by others as) homeland security “experts”… started our profession as someone who thought they would ever working in the homeland security field…instead our professions and lives changed on September 2001. That very pretty morning…nestled between summer and fall…not just changed the world on a grand scale…but it changed the professional lives of a bunch us overly-educated nerds who genuinely wanted to make a difference.

…So basically…all you have to do is work your ass off for years in some profession that is now, or may in the future be, related to something sorta homeland security-ish. Avoid the latest educational fad of homeland security degrees. Get others to think you are an expert by bullshitting them…and if you are one them science nerd types…work in the field of plant and animal inspections…seriously.

Summary of Sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea

The US has been using sanctions as an instrument of power since approximately 1892. Foreign Policy as an informative and concise history of US sanctions here. Sanctions are defined as (in law and legal definition) penalties or other means of enforcement used to provide incentives for obedience with the law, or with rules and regulations. Sanctions against countries or foreign nationals are used (to entice or threaten) as a means to exert US foreign policy and to allow US to pursue its national interests.

Most recently Congress enacted H.R. 3364, “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” (SA) and Trump signed it into law (P.L. 115-44) on August 2, 2017. Like most sanctions of the past decade or so, it specifically targets certain countries and entities within those countries, or individuals associated with them. Trump stated that some provisions of the SA could affect his authority as it relates to foreign nationals gaining entry into the US, or his ability to conduct foreign policy (like he knows how to conduct foreign policy), and he also claims that the congressional review procedure for the Russian sanctions doesn’t meet the Constitutional requirements for each federal branch’s participation in enacting and executing legislation…I am going to ignore all this because Trump is full of shit.

SA is targeted at Iran, Russia, and North Korea. SA requires the US government to do certain actions against these countries,entities, or individuals associated with these countries. Obviously, a US law cannot require another country or foreign national to do anything, so the SA is actually instructions for federal departments, agencies, and offices that have the responsibilities associated with the countries and entities identified in the Act.

Quick summary of the SA:

  • sanctions against Iran related to to its missile program;
  • sanctions against Iran’s support of terrorism;
  • sanctions against Iran buying weapons;
  • sanctions against Iran for human rights abuses;
  • sanctions against Russia for its activities in Syria and Ukraine;
  • sanctions against Russia for its cyber-related activities against US and other countries;
  • sanctions against Russia associated with energy resource exploration and exploitation;
  • sanctions against Russia for human rights abuses in Syria and Ukraine;
  • requires Trump to explain to Congress why he would waive or terminate a sanction;
  • authorizes Congress to override Trump’s waiving or terminating a sanction;
  • requires Secretary of State to determine if North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism;
  • penalize those that buy or sell to North Korea, including precious or rare earth metals;
  • identify sea and air ports that don’t inspect or interdict North Korean vessels;
  • restricts North Korea or its agents from engaging in international financial systems; and
  • authorizes sanctions against entities that violate the UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea.

More details of SA:


  • penalize individuals or countries that assist Iran’s missile program;
  • penalize the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and associated individuals, for supporting international terrorism;
  • authorize the penalizing of Iranians, or agents of the Iranian government, who abuse human rights of others through such activities as extrajudicial killings and torture;
  • require sanctions on entities that sell weapons to Iran; and
  • requires review and assessment of identified entities that may be contributing to Iran’s missile program or its support of international terrorism.


  • strengthens current executive orders related to Ukraine and cyber-related sanctions on Russia;
    • makes permanent Ukraine-related sanctions that address Russian involvement in the breakaway region in Ukraine;
    • strengthens sanctions on persons (under US jurisdiction) from providing goods, services, and technology related to the exploration or production for deepwater, Arctic offshore, and shale oil projects undertaken by Russian companies;
    • restricts lending to identified financial institutions and energy companies associated with Russian activities in energy projects;
    • enlarges area of Russian cyber-related activities that undermine the cybersecurity of any US or foreign person;
  • requires Trump to sanction in areas related to Russia that is currently at his discretion such as:
    • foreign persons who invest significantly in special Russian oil projects, and financial institutions that fund these projects;
    • foreign banks that conduct transactions related to “defense” items that end up in Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova…or any country Trump designates;
    • specifically identifies Russian government officials, associates, family members, and others that ‘commit or facilitate’ acts of corruptions;
  • requires sanctions against foreign nationals and family who support “serious” human rights abuses  in territory that Russia occupies or provide support to Assad regime in Syria;
  • restricts US or foreign persons from engaging in significant financial transactions with individuals associated with Russia’s defense or intelligence services;
  • authorizes, but not required, sanctions on US or foreign individuals who trade or invest a “significant” amount that enhances Russian construction of energy export pipelines; and
  • adds specific conditions that Trump must certify to have been met if he were to take steps to waive or terminate a sanction or restriction, and allow Congress to decide whether or not to block Trump’s waiver or termination of a sanction. Congress does not have to approve the waivers though.

North Korea

  • requires Secretary of State to determine within 90 days if NK should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism;
  • expands categories of activities of entities Trump must designate as subject to sanctions, including those who purchase precious metals and rare earth metals from NK, provide NK with fuel or related products, or interact with NK commerce;
  • names specific entities subject to sanctions and denies them access to US banking system or financial systems outside of NK;
  • requires Trump to identify seaports and airports that fail to adequately inspect or interdict NK vessels, identifies suspect ports in China, Russia, Iran, and Syria that Congress has identified, and blocks import to US of goods made by NK slave labor;
  • authorizes Trump to impose sanctions on any entity that violates the UN Security Council sanctions.

Sanctions used to be a very blunt tool used by the US, but more recently sanctions have become refined and specifically targeted. There are no guarantees that sanctions will affect the actions of Iran, Russia, or North Korea. Some have argued that economic sanctions have little effect unless coupled with other diplomatic tools. Of course, others have argued that they can be effective. In the end, however, there are some final questions:

  • Are these new sanctions meant to actually punish Iran, Russia, and North Korea?
  • Are these sanctions actually just a hard to achieve checklist for Iran, Russia, and North Korea thus legitimizing future US military operations against them?
  • Are sanctions an effective tool in foreign policy?
  • Is this new round of sanctions actually meant as a way to allow Congress to steer US foreign policy?

My Time in Uniform…

In the past week I have stumbled across four different posts and articles about different facets of military service. One post was an angry question by an active-duty officer to an advice columnist on how to get people to stop saying “thanks for your service”…and some unwanted hugs from strangers. Another was a journalist writing about how the military has a lot of multi-generational family service and how there is a “warrior” caste in America…and another one was by an active-duty officer complaining about being called a warrior. Finally, one was about the infamous conversation all active-duty service members and veterans have at least once or million times with civilians…”I was going to join, but…”

All of these posts/articles are experiences I have had or conversations I have participated in…it goes with the territory when you have served in uniform. Unlike some of the writers/journalists of these pieces…I have found more positive than negative in these experiences. So to add to the din of “information” provided by current or former military service members on these subjects, I am going to add my worthless opinion on these four topics…

My time in uniform afforded me education, pay, benefits, adventure, heartache, stress, and fucking tons of laughter. As I have said numerous times here on this blog site in numerous pieces by me and in countless conversations with friends and family…my dad said it best…”…if nothing else, being in the military gives you a life time of stories.” A-The-Fuck-Men.

“Thanks for your service”

Yes…I was thanked endlessly when I was in the Army…I think a lot of Americans are trying to make up for the reportedly awful way in which Americans treated Vietnam veterans…whether or not these veterans received a horrible homecoming is still one of conjecture and limited experience…Americans feel guilty as a whole. It seems since then…people have started falling over themselves to thank a soldier or veteran. These days I get “thanks” when I mention my service or post something about it on social media. I am not seeking a ‘thank you’ in either circumstance. I’ve gotten plenty of thank yous…and yes…I did serve my nation with pride…but it wasn’t always selfless and it wasn’t always something I did well…but in the end I finished my decade of military service knowing I did the best I could. I was rewarded with a retirement I got to carry over to my current federal profession, I got the GI Bill which assisted in paying for one college degree, I got a masters that the Army paid for, and I got to travel the world…doing fun and not so fun things…

BUT…If I never get another ‘thank you’ it will be okay…because on Memorial Day, 1997, I got the best ‘thank you’ any American soldier can receive. I was a young Army 1st Lieutenant home (in Germany) between multiple deployments of peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. My wife (at the time) and I decided to spend that Memorial Day weekend in Normandy, France. Normandy is wonderfully beautiful and horribly sad if you tour the D-Day invasion beaches that so many Americans tour…of course we did the invasion beach tour.

On Memorial Day, we went to the remembrance service at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. It is 172.5 acres of sadly beautiful white marble headstones that serve as the final resting place for over 9,000 (known) Americans and over 1,000 (unknown) Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice during the D-Day operations in June/July of 1944. Yes…it is a place that naturally makes you cry.

I wore my dress uniform that day, and upon entering the cemetery my first wife and I were asked by the cemetery’s caretaker if we were part of the official ceremonial party. I replied that we weren’t, and that we were in the area for vacation…and we had decided to attend the service there for Memorial Day. The caretaker nodded his approval and then asked if we would sit in the front row among the VIPs because there was just a few dignitaries that year and it would be a nice touch if a young Army officer would sit upfront in uniform. We obliged his request.

Honestly I don’t remember what the speaker said that beautiful French morning there in Normandy…I believe he was the ranking US Air Force general in Europe at the time…and my reason for not remembering is one that I think you can understand. See…among the VIPs in the first couple of rows were a number of older French citizens who had been present and eventually liberated by Allied forces during the D-Day operations. Beside me on my left was an elderly French woman who had been a young teen girl on D-Day…and as she cried through the USAF general’s speech and other parts of the ceremony…she clutched my hand and whispered repeatedly “merci beaucoup”…over and over she said to me “thank you very much”…”thank you very much.”

I appreciate the ‘thanks you’ now as a veteran…and I appreciated the ‘thank yous’ when I was in the Army…but honestly, if I am never thanked again…it will be alright because…once…as a young lieutenant I received the thanks of an elderly French woman who wasn’t thanking me personally…instead…once as a young Army lieutenant…I was thanked for being an American soldier representing the nation and the young men who sacrificed their youth and their lives to liberate her and her country…yeah…I’ve been thanked enough.

Multi-generational family military service and an American ‘warrior’ caste

In Strawberry Plains, Tennessee, there is a family member of mine…a Reese…a rebel…buried. He was a dirt-poor Alabaman farmer turned infantryman…he was probably shoe-less too. My mom has done all this ancestry shit…ya know…the shit old relatives do when they start trying to connect their lives with their ancestors…and she’s supposedly found a number of Reeses that may or may not have served in some type of uniform since the War of 1812. When Reeses…or Clarks on my mom’s side of the family…weren’t busy being traitors and rebels…they were serving in American wars. My mom’s dad served as an artilleryman in World War I…came home blind in one eye…the result of a German mustard gas attack on him and his unit in the trenches of France. I had an uncle who was a Marine on Iwo Jima…who…not surprisingly came home a changed man and battled alcohol and drug addiction for the rest of his life…today we would say he had serious PTSD. My wife’s grandfather fought in World War II, and was wounded in combat…she wasn’t completely aware of what his service entailed until his death…he never spoke of his military service that she was aware of. My mom had a cousin who fought in the Korean War…got captured by the North Koreans…and he also fought alcohol addiction for the rest of his life…again not surprising…and again I blame neither of these men for seeking solace in the only ways they knew how…nor do I blame my wife’s grandfather for never talking about his service. War breaks men. My dad served two combat tours in Vietnam…I have a cousin who fought in Panama…and I served a decade in the Army…both enlisted and as a commissioned officer.

We are a multi-generational military family. My dad was the only one who made it a full career and I followed closely by serving for a decade. As a kid, I assumed serving in uniform is what everyone did. I was an Army brat then…and all my friends’ dads were in the Army…so I just assumed everyone’s dad was in the Army. Later, after my dad retired, I discovered that military service wasn’t as common as I had believed.

Not everyone is able to serve for whatever reasons. I hold no grudge…I think no bad thoughts…I harshly judge no one…for not serving. Some kids are raised in families full of doctors or lawyers…I was raised in a family of soldiers and Marines. I do believe the military is a great equalizer for those that serve…and it matters little of where you come from or how rich or poor you are when you are in the military…as Gunnery Sargent Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) says in Full Metal Jacket…and so elegantly informs his platoon of Marine recruits…”…here you are all equally worthless…”

I never assumed there was an American ‘warrior’ caste until I joined it…others have argued that it is disrespectful to call military service members ‘warriors’…well maybe if the service member didn’t serve in a ‘warrior’ job…or if it clashed with their personal thoughts on military service. As for me…I purposefully enlisted as a ‘warrior’ and served as a 19D Armored Cavalry Scout…If you ain’t Cav!…You ain’t shit!… and when I was commissioned…I purposely selected (as my top three military branch choices) Armor, Infantry, and Field Artillery…the Army decided to make me a Field Artillery officer. I figured if I was going to pursue a military career…I might as well do what the military is meant to do…and that is fight my nation’s wars. I have no issue with the term ‘warrior’ and I have no qualms of thinking of myself as a former warrior. My family was full of warriors and I continued that tradition.

If you come from a family that has historically served in uniform…if you came from a family of warriors…then you just figured it is what you were supposed to do.  As far as a nation being served by a minor portion of the population…well…we serve so you don’t have to…and like I said earlier in this post…I don’t need your thanks…but you are welcome.

“I was going to join, but…”

…I don’t care. I don’t care when I am having a drink with my wife or old Army buddies in a bar and I am about five bourbons in and start the rambling “…there I was…no shit…peeling potatoes in basic training..”…I am going to be loud…because it’s the loud rambling talk that veterans do with each other and loved ones when we are applying the liquid salve on our wounds…we don’t care about your reasons for not joining…we aren’t telling our stories for you to be impressed…we are talking loudly because we are releasing a stress valve…we are slightly lifting the top on a dusty box we have stored away in the dark corners of our hearts and minds…we are looking inside and letting a part of us out…

For whatever reason you didn’t join…medical issue, criminal record, drug use, chickenshit fear, bone spurs…what-the-fuck-ever…I don’t care. You owe me no explanation on why you didn’t serve…I don’t think less of you…unless you have issue with my service…or you think you know what it is like to serve…but 99% of the time…I…don’t…care. I don’t care about your thoughts on war and peace…ROTC…cool guns…or war movies…

So you can stop feeling the need to explain yourself…but do feel free to listen to my embellished half-truths and full-out lies…because as my dad said…serving in the military gives you the best stories…even if they ain’t true…or if they are completely true.



…and…hey…you’re welcome


Elite Dangerous: Alone in Space

I’ve got 1.7 days ahead of me. Right now I’m sitting in my Sidewinder spaceship…christened the ODog 1…and writing this post…also I’m waiting on my death…it looks like I’m gonna run outta fuel before getting to my destination. Straight to the point…Elite Dangerous is a game of little guidance but huge possibilities.

ED has just been released on PS4…before that on XBox…and was originally on PC. Seems ED has been some sort of computer game since the 1980s…a British-made game…a spaceship simulation. It has a cult following and I’m new to the “church service”…and like all cult novices…I gotta pay my dues…which appears to me dying alone in space with a dead on the side of the road spaceship.

What’s the purpose of ED? Learn how to fly, land, and fight your spaceship. It’s that simple…yet that complicated. This post is best read as if it’s my last will & testament…somehow…someway I’ve been able to compose it and post it to the galactic intertubes. Weep not for me because I will have died how I lived…jumping both feet into something that I have no fucking clue about.

I was on a simple mission…transport data from one space station to another one 9.8 light years away…one minor detail I didn’t check out though…could the ODog 1 travel that far on one tank of gas?…the answer should be obvious now…no.

ED gives you about 5 hours of tutorial training…it teaches you rudimentary flying lessons…rudimentary landing lessons…rudimentary combat lessons…and rudimentary mining lessons. Seems being a starship captain is a OTJ gig.

In 8-10 hours of playing I have only successfully landed and refueled twice…and what kind of fucking idiot thinks that’s good enough to jet off 10 light years across the galaxy?…you’re reading the words of that idiot. FYI don’t bump another player/Major Tom when exiting a space station or you’ll end up like me a few hours ago…the ODog 1 riddled with laser cannon holes and careening across the stars…but it is a game…so I got a second chance…and I insured I bumped no one as I exited.

Since starting this post from the ODog 1 cockpit…I have stopped my jump to GD 319…my mission target and convinced it stands for Gawddamnit 319…and have turned around for my start point…some space station in the Dahan system…one tiny problem…my (now new) target is 1.5 hours away (real time) and I only have 1.1 hours of fuel…I’m pretty much fucked.

ED isnt a gamer-friendly game…it’s more of a I-Fucking-Dare-You type game…a game that is completely unashamedly hard…

…and fuuuuccckkk I have had a power failure in deep space and I’ve got 4 minutes of oxygen left…

Well…tell my wife I love her…

Fetish Worship of Generals

“The Bear had once confided to me that Durrell’s ego could fit snugly in the basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome but in very few other public places. This runaway megalomania marked him as a blood member of the fraternity of generals. If looks alone could make generals, Durrell would have been a cinch. He was built lean and slim and dark, like a Doberman. A man of breeding and refrigerated intelligence, he ordered his life like a table of logarithms.” – Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline

Unlike Conroy’s Durrell…my general was…unshaven…bare- and white-legged in shorts…grubby t-shirt and slovenly…the typical look of man getting his coffee on a Saturday morning. He had the Washington Post in one hand and two dollars in the other…he ordered a simple coffee. I had watched him tie his dog up outside and then come in the coffee shop. I looked no better…I was in shorts and a t-shirt…standing in line to get my morning coffee too. I knew who he was…he had no fucking clue who I was. General (ret.) William L. Nash…he had been my division commander (1st Armored Division “Old Ironsides”) when we had deployed to Bosnia as part of NATO’s peace Implementation Force (IFOR). For a second I wondered if I should say anything…I was caught off guard by a momentary feeling of awe. This man once commanded me…obviously through a long line of subordinates…but still…this man once was my commander.

Since serving under him, I had left the Army and become a professional academic of the worst type…don’t teach…don’t independently publish…I just conduct national and homeland security policy research for Congress…and in my time since leaving the Army I have met (and studied with at the National War College) and become friends with people who are active-duty generals now. I couldn’t fathom why I felt the need to provide any sort of reverence to this retired general getting coffee some Saturday morning on Capitol Hill, DC.

Maybe it was the lingering aftereffects of being institutionalized by the Army for ten years…once you’ve been indoctrinated into the military…shit lingers…even after you leave the service…even after 15 years. It could have been a lifetime of growing up as an Army brat and then a decade of service in uniform…followed by a professional career that rested on the edge of military institutions and operations. My professional career since leaving the Army had been on the fringes of the military…foreign affairs…national and homeland security…terrorism issues…no way one could work in my field and not…at least…be familiar with the military. Maybe it was the American in me to be awed by a man that used to lead troops in combat…we Americans do love our generals.

Americans love military men in general…and generals, specifically, so much that we have elected a shit-load of them to the presidency. How many presidents were generals you ask?…12

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower;
  • Benjamin Harrison;
  • Chester A. Arthur;
  • James Garfield;
  • Rutherford B. Hayes;
  • Ulysses S. Grant;
  • Andrew Johnson;
  • Franklin Pierce;
  • Zachary Taylor;
  • William Henry Harrison;
  • Andrew Jackson; and
  • George Washington.

Matter of fact, we have elected exactly the same number of former generals as we have the number of men who haven’t served in the military at all…12. If you throw in all the presidents with military service…the number of presidents that once wore a uniform of some type is 33. AND before you start lamenting what seems to be a recent trend in electing men with no military experience…you ought to know this: from William Howard Taft to Franklin D. Roosevelt (that is 5 presidents) there was no single former military service member elected president.

So maybe it is an American thing to have a fetish for generals. However, like all men…and in the words of Crash Davis in Bull Durham…”…he’s as full of shit as anybody…” generals are just mortal men. It’s true…we can hero worship generals all we want…but they are just men. After General Douglas MacArthur was fired by President Harry Truman (Army colonel, WWI)…MacArthur returned home to parades and adulation as if he was a conquering Caesar. Interestingly enough, the definitive biography on General MacArthur was titled American Caesar. MacArthur was fired for making statements to the press about his disagreements with President Truman on how the Korean War should have been fought. General Stanley McChrystal didn’t receive the same adulation after he was fired though…for the same mistake MacArthur made…by President Barack Obama for criticizing the president’s policy in Afghanistan. General Nash too had made a mistake…his career ended sooner than he wanted. General David Petraeus…a scholar-warrior like General (and now SecDef) James Mattis…also fell from grace. It’s easy to cast stones…especially after we have put these men on pedestals. Our fetish for generals is equally matched by our perverse love of seeing ‘great’ men fail.

General Nash ordered his coffee. I got my coffee. General Nash uses about the same amount of sugar as I do…future diabetic amount. Finally I said ‘fuck it’ in my head…

“General Nash, you don’t know me…but I served under you in Bosnia in 1996.”

To my surprise, General Nash didn’t give me a quick “oh yeah, great” response…instead General Nash started asking me questions about my unit, my thoughts on our deployment, and what I did now. When I informed him of my professional career since leaving the Army…General Nash seemed the one more interested in our conversation and preceded to ask a number of questions related to the current affairs associated with terrorism and homeland security policy. He finally ended the conversation when his dog started barking restlessly…he wished me luck and I said the same to him. His last words to me were “when the dog starts barking I know it’s time to go.” I laughed and said I understood.

The conversation over coffee with my former Army commander…my commanding general…was simple and pleasant. I softly scolded myself for the initial reluctance/awe I had when I first recognized him. Like dads…generals are just men…they’re as full of shit as anybody…but they can be good guys to have a quick conversation with over coffee…until the dog lets you know it is time to go.