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One month to go.
We've had a few VIPs speak to us in the last week or so. They've both been ridiculously old, but incredible speakers.
Last Friday we were fortunate enough to listen to LTG (R) Hal Moore. If that name sounds familiar it's because he's the same man who commanded 1-7 Cavalry and who fought the first major engagement of the Vietnam War at LZ X-Ray. He and his friend Joe Galloway wrote a book titled We Were Soldiers Once... And Young which was later made into a movie starring Mel Gibson. Yeah, that guy. He came and spoke to us. Amazing guy. The Army needs more like him.
Last night a Marine by the name of GEN Peter Pace addressed our class. Just last week GEN Pace was sworn in as the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The highest ranking member of the United States military spoke to us for an hour last night and I know there wasn't a single one of us who didn't take something away from it. He was "supposed" to talk to us about Constitutional Law, but whatever the CJCS wants to talk about is what he's going to talk about. He did address it specifically when he said, "The only thing you need to remember about Constitutional Law is this: I, Thomas Martin, do solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of The United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic. That's all you need to worry about."
After the briefing by the CJCS Erika and I got a ride to the Association of Graduates building for a little shindig with some old grads from the class of '65. Basically it was supposed to be a chance for them to introduce themselves as members of the AOG and show us what all the organization could do for us after graduation. I dunno about all that, but there was unlimited free beer, wine, and food and a lot of our classmates took FULL advantage of that. More than a few people had more than their fair share (old grads included) and had to be helped out the door.
As we left we noticed it was slightly raining. Wait, slightly? I meant it was a 40 days and 40 nights style downpour. Ridiculous amounts of rain. Well, that didn't stop our drunk classmates from inciting a riot in both North and Central areas when they got back. It didn't help that we simultaneously had two Naked Mans running through the areas and that the OC took the wrong approach by threatening some kind of punishment over the PA system. Ok, dude. Good luck with that. All it did was egg people on. My buddy Jim's away message said it all:
It's amazing how throwing glow stick chem-lights, setting newspapers on fire, chucking computer parts out of windows, and the appearance of naked man somehow can make up for the Nuggets loss. I love riots at West Point.
I've got 3 things to talk about and it might take a little bit to get it all out, but those of you who are interested, and according to my guestbook there are quite a few of you, should be able to pay attention with ease. Oh, wait...
Ok, first off. My beloved Trooper is in the shop AGAIN. Saturday afternoon I was headed to the Outlet Stores at Woodbury Commons to get some new shirts when I noticed a rather scary amount of white smoke coming from somewhere underneath the truck. I pulled over on the shoulder, got out, looked underneath and noticed a slight problem.
In the Army this would have been considered a Class IV leak. Fluid of some kind was pouring out of something near the back of the motor where the transmission connects and it was soaking the exhaust pipe which was creating all the smoke. Ok, so that's relatively good. I'm not on fire, but I'm losing a ridiculous amount of some type of fluid. I got back in and pulled forward and further off the road while I still could and turned the motor off. I walked back to the puddle just created and I saw it was "cherry juice" transmission fluid.
Remember now that just two months ago I had the transmission completely rebuilt and that it cost me $3K. I called the shop that had done the work and they sent a tow truck to come pick me up. In the meantime, Ed and Les had stopped on their way back from fishing at Camp Buckner and kept me company until the tow truck showed up. We got to the transmission shop and left it for them to look at on Monday and Erika came and gave me a ride back to school. I don't know exactly what's wrong with it because I was gone the rest of the weekend until tonight, but I'm guessing it's the main gasket or seal between the transmission and the engine. Hopefully it's a relatively quick and easy fix.
Saturday night Erika and I went to the Macaroni Grill in the mall for dinner. We hadn't been out, just the two of us, in quite awhile and it was nice to be around no one but each other. With dinner we had a bottle of Niebaum-Coppola Claret 2002 and coupled with the spectacular company I had with me it was an excellent night.
I just got back from a Staff Ride to Gettysburg Battlefield with my MS498 class and even with the unseasonably cold weather it was a great great time. For those of you that don't know anything about the battle, you should read the book The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. It won the Pulitzer and tells the incredible story of the bloodiest battle of The Civil War.
Our class of 14 cadets left Sunday morning around 7:00 and by the time we got there it was around lunchtime or so. We got some food and then split into our buddy teams to go recon the specific site we would each be briefing on Monday.
Paul Charbonneau and I chose to brief the Devil's Den area of the battlefield which was the southern-most tip of the Union "fishhook" defensive line. Click that link if you want to know the full story of what happened there.
Paul and I, along with Mike Gold who came along because he was bored, finally made our way to the area after a bit of a hike. We didn't know the road went right to it so we had the van drop us off almost a mile away because we thought it was as close as we could get by vehicle.
I took the picture on the left of a Confederate sniper position in Devil's Den with a clear shot on Little Round Top 500 meters away in the distance. The picture on the right, although somewhat staged by the photographer, was taken 3 days after the battle on July 5, 1863. That's a dead Confederate Soldier. I put these two pictures up to show the way I saw and thought about most of the battlefield. It was rather obvious at times just how horrible it would have been to be there during the actual fight.
Looking from Little Round Top back towards the Devil's Den area. The area between the two high grounds was called "The Slaughter Pen" because of all the losses the Confederates sustained there.
This is how most of the battlefield looks, whether in the woods or out in the open. Monuments to units, both Union and Confederate, are EVERYWHERE. Most of them represent a Regiment or larger sized unit and show the position they initially held.
We also had a bit of fun at times. This is still in the Devil's Den area.
Paul and I bought some SWEET hats to wear when we briefed our site. He briefed his portion from the Union perspective and I had the Confederate.
Cecil role-played a Confederate general complete with cigar and accent at his site.
Eric was his pipe smoking Union adversary.
On the left is Big Round Top and on the right is where Pickett's Charge took place. This picture was taken from a modern-day lookout tower on Culp's Hill.
All in all it was a great trip and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who has any interest whatsoever in the Civil War or the Army.
Ok, that brings me to the last thing I wanted to quickly talk about.
I realize there are those among us with Attention Deficit Dis... hey, look at that bird!!! But seriously, please try to pay attention to rather important details.
There are a few people who have been signing my guestbook under the assumption that a certain girl named Celine still exists to me. You are rather mistaken for I removed her from my life quite some time ago.
I am seeing an amazing girl named Erika.
I love her dearly and I know she's not going anywhere anytime soon.
That's all the explanation I'm going to give because that's how it's going to be.
P.S. A lot of people wanted more of the Calvin vs. Rosalyn story so here you go.
Last night we were supposed to meet COL Ferrell at the Firstie club, right? Yeah, he definitely stood up our entire company. At least I had a pitcher of Bass and 5 soft tacos to keep me happy.
I just took a bunch of Motrin so I'm feeling mucho gooder than earlier and I don't really have much to talk about so I guess it's story time. I've had a few people ask me to tell more "Joe Stories" so here you go.
Tom vs. The Ammo Platoon
When we went to the field in Korea we always simulated firing our MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems) at pre-planned actual targets in North Korea because if a fight broke out we would already be well-practiced with shooting those Commie bastards. Democratic People's Republic of Korea? I think not, Mr. Kim Jong IL.
We went to the field A LOT and after a few days of shooting fake fire missions at the dirty North Koreans we would start to get bored. My job as a Fire Direction Controller (FDC) dude was to sit in the Battery Operations Center (BOC) and tell the launchers where to shoot by computer and digital radio. Everyone in the BOC switched off and on taking turns running the computer and radios including 1LT Chimenti, SSG Sproessig, SSG Price, my good friend Tristran Pleasant, and my other good friend Clif Martin.
We were a rather mischievous bunch and after a few days we always started looking for ways to entertain ourselves. On one particular field exercise we were all on duty with 1LT Chimenti at like 2 in the morning and we were REALLY bored. Clif and Tristran and I approached the LT with an idea...
"Hey, sir. What would you think about messing with the POCs (Platoon Operations Centers) a bit? We could pretend we were North Koreans sneaking into their perimeter and see how good their security really is."
"Uh... ok, why the hell not. What do you plan on doing?"
"We'd sneak up to their concertina wire by low-crawling, somehow get over it, and once we got inside the perimeter we'd just do stuff to piss them off like tearing down their camo nets and Z-ing out their radios and such. Consider it punishment for lax security or something."
"Haha, well... sure let's do it."
So we started getting ready. We rounded up as many 20 ounce plastic bottles as we could from "Field Ma" (the Korean lady that follows you to the field and makes REALLY good Korean food) and started breaking open MREs to get the water-activated heaters out of them.
Side note: For those of you that don't know, you can make a rather loud, but not too dangerous bomb out of a 20 ounce plastic bottle, an MRE heater, and just a little bit of water. You break up the chemical stuff in the heater, put a few decent sized chunks in the bottle, add a bit of water, cap it off, and get it the hell away from you. In 25 or 30 seconds, because of the gas the heater gives off, the pressure gets to be too much and the whole thing goes BOOM. It's great.
We found about 25 plastic bottles and with a few canteens and 2 cases worth of MRE heaters we were ready to go. The plan was that Clif would drive the Humvee, 1LT Chimenti would be the MRE bomb dude, and Tristran and I would be the ones to go over the wire. As soon as the LT saw us over the wire and hidden under a vehicle or something he would start putting water in the bottles, cap them off, and start throwing them inside the perimeter. When the first one went off Tristran and I would run around yanking down camo nets and just raising hell. After a few minutes of causing trouble and shutting down their computers and radios and stuff we'd run out the front "gate" which was just a single strand of concertina wire we could easily hurdle. Then we'd run back to the Humvee and make our getaway.
So that's what we did. In the pitch-black of night we successfully went from platoon to platoon until we had embarrassed the hell out of each of them, but then we decided to go after the wrong bunch of dudes. The Ammo Platoon.
This was a different ballgame entirely because those guys didn't appreciate being messed with one bit. They were the hardest working in the entire Battery and they knew it. They worked hard, played hard, and were a ridiculously tight group of dudes led by SSG Rooney, a beast of a man. This guy was 6'4" and a solid 250 pounds of muscle and not much else. Big dude. They had a PL, but everyone knew that Rooney ran that platoon and nobody ever crossed his path because he knew his stuff and he knew he was right.
Of course, we thought it would be a fabulous idea to go after these guys. Yeah, not so much.
We did the same thing we did for the other platoons except this time some a few things went wrong. Because they had a ton of trucks to carry all the rockets, their perimeter was huge because they had to fit all those trucks inside the wire. In our excitement, Tristran and I got split up and because we didn't really know the layout of their platoon we got lost. After a few minutes I found myself inside the ammo platoon perimeter with no way out because the place where I thought I could hurdle the wire was not single, but triple strand concertina wire stacked about 5 feet high.
Uh oh. We've stirred up a hornet's nest of pissed off "Ammo Dawgs" and they're looking for us. I heard SSG Rooney yelling, no, roaring to find "the sumbitches that did this and KILL 'EM!!!" Tristran made it out somehow, but I was stuck inside. I couldn't really run around the inside of the wire until I found single strand to hurdle because the entire platoon was looking for me so I decided to sit tight until 1LT Chimenti came looking for me. I found a place to hide where one of the camo nets was staked down right by the wire perimeter, but after 30 minutes or so the sun started coming up and one of them spotted me.
When 1LT Chimenti got the call on the radio that SSG Rooney had captured a POW he tried to come pick me up, but that was easier said than done. Rooney had lashed me to the front of a Humvee brush guard. His Joes were taking turns throwing apples and oranges at me. They had "searched" my pockets and gear for anything they could use and would only give me back to the LT if he promised that Tristran and I would set all their camo nets and tents back up by ourselves. Not cool.
So that's what we did. Of course, they were messing with us hardcore the entire time, but we eventually got everything set back up and went back to the BOC to get some sleep. The whole way back my buddy Clif was like "Man, I TOLD you guys not to go after them, but did you listen? No. Shoulda stayed here in the truck with me. Man, I got LOTS of sleep while you two retards were picking a fight with Rooney and his boys."
All in all it was a great night and we had a lot of fun even though it ended up with me lashed to the front of a Humvee. I'd do it all over again if I had the chance.
I passed my final West Point PT test yesterday with a 288. I did 66 pushups, 82 sit-ups, and ran a 13:12 two-mile. Hooray.
To all the sick people here at school, thanks. You've succeeded in giving me a severe headache and fever and I am eternally grateful for your help in this matter. I think I'll pop a few Motrin horse-pills before I head down to the Firstie Club tonight for Taco Tuesday.
I'm also headed down to speak to COL Terry Ferrell, a Cavalry officer, who is here for the West Point Senior Leader Panel. Basically that means a bunch of people, some rather famous and some not, with wisdom to pass on have been invited here to speak to us one on one about their experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, as a Platoon Leader, and a ton of other stuff.
Last night our entire class sat before a panel of 12 officers of various experience, rank, and branch and had the opportunity to ask them anything we wanted. Some of the members of the panel included General Franks, the Commander of VII Corps during Desert Storm One, the Deputy G-1 of the US Army, LTG Hagenbeck, BG Kearney, the Commander of all Special Forces within CENTCOM, COL Perkins, the Commander of the Brigade which made the incredible "Thunder Run" assault into Baghdad in April 2003, COL (R) Donlon, an SF detachment commander during Vietnam who was the first winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor during that conflict, and many others including 1LT Andy Blickhahn, our old 1st Captain here at West Point and now a badass veteran of 2 tours in Iraq.
Ok, so we had a rather substantial wealth of knowledge to draw from, right? For the most part it was beneficial, but there were more than a few occasions when the answers the panel gave turned into political BS chock full of the same buzzwords you hear every day. It's important to draw from the experience of others, but only if that experience is presented in a straightforward manner devoid of the same crap we always hear.
Having said that, I learned a few things and confirmed my idea that we need to read as much as possible while here and wherever we go in the future. I just finished Once An Eagle and while it was 1297 pages long, it was well worth it. Yeah, it's incredibly long, but that's one of the best books I've ever read and you should all take the time and have the commitment to check it out. Just my two cents...
That's about all I've got for now except that we now have fewer hours until graduation than the plebes have days.
All things considered, I do believe I had a good weekend.
I had to go back to the tax center on post on Friday and send the IRS some money, but it's all good. Because I was actually ahead $4K at the end of 2004 the IRS taxed me for that added income even though I sold out in March at an $8K loss. That means I got hit with a double whammy, but next year I'll get one hell of a tax credit. Such is life.
Friday night Erika and I stayed in and watched The Natural. Great great flick to watch with a great great girl.
Saturday morning we had an in-ranks inspection and a parade, but before that stuff happened we found out that someone on the mess hall staff needs some serious help with their math. We all showed up for breakfast after formation only to find that THE ENTIRE MESS HALL had been floated. Except for maybe five or six tables no one had food. NOBODY. We were most displeased. I said screw it and went back to my room to rack out even though they started handing out boxed breakfasts. Mess hall staff. Awesome people. Yep.
Saturday afternoon Erika, Ed, and I went to the Auto Craft Shop to switch out the wheel bearings on the front right of the Trooper and to put on new rear brake pads. Because I had already done the left side last week and learned exactly how to do it the job went much faster this time. The exhaust is still a bit noisy, but it's not that bad and soon enough I'll get it fixed. We got dirty and greasy and actually had some fun turning some wrenches together.
Later that night we went out with Les, Dave Matthews, and Philip Neel; we went to Outback Steakhouse in Middletown and even though it was a bit of a far drive we had fun.
Today I headed up to The Ranch and got in six, yes six, jumps which brings me within one jump of getting my Class A license. Ahhh... So close. I did solo jumps the entire day, but Jason and I did a two-way exit on the 3rd one. I'm getting really ridiculously good at back and frontflips as well as barrel rolls. I downsized from a 280 to a 220 chute and loved it. That number is the total square feet of fabric the parachute is made of so the smaller the number the smaller the chute and therefore the faster you move forward. They're also much more maneuverable and just awesome. I packed my own chute 5 of the 6 times I jumped today and they all opened fine. Man, I'm telling you if you haven't ever gone skydiving you need to. Absolutely no doubt about it. Just go ONCE and you'll understand why.
Erika and I went to dinner tonight at Planet Wings because that was the only place open at 9:00, but that's my new favorite chicken place.
I'm really really ridiculously tired and I'm gonna go to bed now. Night-o.
1-15 October 2004
16-31 October 2004
1-15 November 2004
16-30 November 2004
1-15 January 2005
16-31 January 2005
1-15 February 2005
16-28 February 2005
1-15 March 2005
16-31 March 2005
1-15 April 2005