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Essays



Spring 2007

 

 


A Beginner's Guide to Combat
Marc Levy

There was no one like 'im, 'Orse or Foot,
Nor any o' the Guns I knew;
An' because it was so, why, o' course 'e went an' died,
Which is just what the best men do.
-- Rudyard Kipling

Disclaimer

This guide is intended solely for personal use.  It is not meant to cure, diagnose or treat war or its symptoms.  If you are new to Afghanistan or Iraq and have experienced fire fights, ambushes, rocket, mortar or ground attacks for more than two weeks, see your sergeant, lieutenant or company commander for useful advice.

If you are an American civilian, however, it is likely that you have scant knowledge of how recruits train for war, what soldiers actually do in combat, or how the returning veteran adapts to civilian life.  Below, these topics are discussed in full and truthful detail.

Recruiters

Contrary to numerous reports depicting recruiters as bottom feeders, vultures, flim flam artists, used car salesmen, carney barkers, swindlers, grifters, gutless outlaws, sniggering ne'er-do-wells, heartless card sharps and the like, these honorable men and women offer prompt and accurate guidance to those who wish to serve our country in the present War on Terror.  In spite of it being impossible to invade and occupy a concept (On War, Clausewitz , 1832); despite the "coalition of the willing" having nearly dried up; and given that a majority of Americans and Iraqis want the US out of Iraq, such concerns are of minor consequence to those who have full faith in our Commander in Chief.  The fact that desperate recruiters routinely waive criminal convictions, turn a blind eye to physical health limitations and disabling mental states, accept near substandard test scores and are happy to cough up flashy bonuses to naive potential recruits, merely shows the generosity of our noble government.  To think otherwise is to invite the curse of critical inquiry.  Although lawful under the Constitution, to question the integrity of avid recruiters or the democratic halo of our present campaign is a vile, scrofulous, immoral act without a scintilla of merit or hope of redemption.  War is hell but war is good.  That is all there is to it.

Basic Training

Each morning at 9am, after a blissful nights sleep, caring drill instructors, schooled in diplomacy, coax future warriors awake by humming arias from Bach, or calling softly, "Wakey. . . wakey. " The tinny reveille bugle a thing of the past.  Associate Drill Instructors (ADI's) help dress the recruits in stylish uniforms made of ring spun Egyptian cotton and choice Chinese silk.  Thereafter, reclining on Louis XIV wing back chairs, recruits, snacking from Steuben glass bowels plump with grapes and figs, watch tenured professors teach bed making skills.  Next, the ADI's hail Rolls Royce limos which transport the budding paladins to five star restaurants.  Under crystal chandeliers, troops sit at rare teak tables adorned with fine linen cloths, upon which rest individual settings of antique cutlery, fresh cut flowers, silver pitchers of glacial water, and warmed moist napkins to cleanse the hands or pamper the face.  In minutes, French chiefs deliver an exquisite meal of eggs Benedict, Canadian bacon, Guatemalan fruit cups, and Costa Rican coffee.  After leisurely table talk, the sated recruits begin the day with a round of golf, horseback rides, or a brisk, guided, trail excursion to a nearby mall.  The latter perfects martial shopping skills, which are essential in urban combat.

At precisely 11AM drill instructors permit male recruits a one hour nap.  Females may elect aroma therapy and/or pedicure.  A gourmet lunch is served at 1PM.  Afternoons are spent on tennis, badminton, or handball courts.  At the 7PM.  dinner (jacket and tie or cocktail dress and heels required) appetizers of Cajun Double Seared Shrimp, entrees of Escargot de Bridget, and hefty slices of Black Forest Brownies drizzled with organic fudge flakes are much in demand.  Whiskey, wine or champagne are served, as are post dinner mints and Cuban cigars.  Evening lecture topics include: an unexpurgated history of home decor, introduction to erotic astrology, and technical advances in grooming three legged cats.  On week ends recruits consult with stock- brokers, real estate or literary agents.  Lights out at 11PM.

Two months of AIT, (or Advance Infantry Training) follow the six week rigors of Basic.  Soldiers participate in armed spelling bees, combat quilt making, and night vision yoga.

Deployment

All troops fly Business Class to Bagdad.  Second, third and fourth tour vets are issued Very Frequent Flyer Cards.  Arrived in Iraq, the new soldiers are awed at the sight of vermillion rose petals which dot the landscape as far as the eye can see.  After greeting the troops, squads of eager First Sergeants shlep the soldiers' eighty pound duffles on the short walk to the historic Baghdad Bar and Grill.  These fine career NCO's decline all tips.  After a two week orientation at Paul & Jay's Hotel Fallujah, located twelve miles beneath the Green Zone, the troops roller blade the secure one mile black top back to the airport.  Sleek executive jets transport them to the appropriate base.

Weapons

In a senseless 2001 report, "M4A1 5. 56mm Carbine and Related Systems Deficiencies and Solutions: Operational and Technical Study with Analysis of Alternatives" the Army's Special Operations Command wrote that the M4 automatic rifle, has an "obsolete operating system," and recommended a "redesign/replacement of current gas system. " Thankfully, Col.  Robert Radcliffe, Director, Combat Developments, US Army Infantry Center plans to buy 100,000 M4s in fiscal 2008.  It is irrelevant that three years ago, Delta Force junked their M4s in favor of the HK 416, an automatic rifle said to be the best in the world.  Even if the M4 jams, locks up, or misfires, American soldiers must and will continue to carry it into battle.

Depleted Uranium

Much the same can be said for Depleted Uranium, a critical component used in munitions by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.  DU is what is left after natural uranium has been enriched, either for weapons-making or for reactor fuel.  In solid form it's mildly radioactive there is no cause for concern.  Yet having twice the density of lead, the instant a DU shell hits a tank, it burns straight through it, then erupts in a white hot vapor cloud, which neutralizes (i. e.  incinerates) the occupants.  Sadly, unfounded reports suggest that after the vapor turns to dust it is chemically poisonous and radioactive and destructive when inhaled or makes contact with skin.  Hippies, peace-niks and rouge scientists say this wonderful weapon causes radiation poisoning which makes soldiers sick.  Yet since 1993 well-known activist and Gulf War vet Dan Fahey has completely failed to convince consecutive federal committees and politicians that DU is toxic.  "I've just given up hope," he says.  In effect, Mr.  Fahey's noble but futile efforts bolster the fact that DU is wholly harmless.  Indeed, many Gulf War and Iraq vets feel that moderate to extreme DU exposure dramatically boosted their self-confidence, libido, and credit ratings.  Four out of five dentists surveyed agree that DU effectively treats dandruff, halitosis and frostbite, and increases telepathy by an average 37%.  However, to safeguard the Homeland, at this time DU is not available in stores or on TV.

The Rules of Engagement and the Language of Combat

If confronted by insurgents, American soldiers are trained to ask "comfort questions" and fire their weapons as a last resort.  "Comfort questions" may include but are not limited to:

1.  Excuse me, sir.  Can I offer you a cold glass of water?
2.  Hi there! Can I borrow your cell phone? I left mine back at the base.
3.  Aloha! May I trouble you for a light?
4.  I beg your pardon, do you have any spare M16 ammo? I'm all out.
5.  Hello! Is there a nearby sushi bar you can recommend?

In the event of attack by automatic weapons fire, mortars or rockets, road side explosions, or sophisticated ambushes designed to confuse, disorient and overwhelm American forces, the use of profanity by American troops is strictly prohibited.  Only appropriate terms may be used while engaging the enemy.  For example:

1.  Boy, oh boy, I don't think they like us!
2.  Gee whiz, that sure was close!
3.  Hey, dude, you missed! Now it's my turn!
4. Oh gosh, will you look at that!
5. It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Soldiers who violate the engagement rules and/or cuss the enemy will be promoted in rank.  Limit, one promotion per month.  This promotion cannot be used in conjunction with any other promotion.  Offer expires April 1, 2020.

Sex

Periodically, soldiers may have the urge to fornicate.  All fornicatory requests must be put in writing and submitted in triplicate to the Battalion Medical Officer, who will issue one Combat Condom per request.  Upon completing the fornicatory act and placing the used Combat Condom in a UCCC (Used Combat Condom Convoy), the soldiers will stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  Contrary to reports of male soldiers sexually harassing, molesting, assaulting or raping female soldiers (see below) the Army permits only authorized fornication, with a maximum of twelve fornicatory acts per year.  Marines may fornicate thirteen times per combat tour.  Navy and Air Force personnel do not have sex.

Recently, journalist Amy Goodman interviewed three female combat veterans on her show Democracy Now! Also interviewed was Columbia University professor Helen Benedict.  Discussed at length were allegations of a climate of fear, of male soldier's harassment, control, intimidation, rape or attempted rape, the indifference to female soldiers petitioning their military commanders, either stateside or in war zones.

But in fact, male soldiers in all branches of the military take pride in treating their female counterparts with honor and respect.  To advance as fact the fantasy of male domination, entrenched female inferior status, or to doubt the principle of gender equality in the US military is to question a basic precept of our armed forces.  It is essential to put such heretical thoughts to rest: male and female service members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, whether in peace time or at war, live, work, play and when necessary fight in perfect tandem and fraternal harmony.

Drugs

Although the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the 2006 opium harvest in Afghanistan will be 6,100 tonnes, more than thirty times 2001 production levels under the Taliban government, there is absolutely no illicit drug use by American soldiers in that country.  Instead, during and after combat missions, American troops drink mocha lattes or vanilla frappuccinos to slake thirst, assuage fatigue and increase peer status.  In Iraq, soldiers caught smoking hashish are subject to Sharia law.

Racism

There is no racism among American troops in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Spics, micks, whops, spooks, kikes, polacks, krauts, japs, yids, chinks, wet backs and red necks view each other in identical high regard.  The same can be said of fairies, dykes, punks, bimbos, addicts, greasers, sluts and peanut puffers.

As well, American combat troops never refer to Iraqis or Afghanis as rag heads, towel heads, hadjis, dune coons, scum bags or pieces of amphibian shit.  Such epithets may be used only by officers above the rank of Colonel.

Morale

Despite rumors that Iraqi's hate the U. S.  occupation, the truth is they love it, and vie for the chance to offer troops cold beers, pork ribs, the latest issue of Penthouse.  In consequence, our soldiers' morale is skyrocketing.  Any day of the week in Afghanistan or Iraq, troops on convoy duty or foot patrol are smiling from ear to ear.  Due to superior battle tactics, advanced equipment, and clear mission goals, re-enlistment rates are surging.  Indeed, many veterans are shouting, "Iraq! Iraq! I want to go back!"

Coming Home

Returning soldiers are thoroughly evaluated by skilled mental health staff.  Prior to release or furlough, troops must correctly answer a variety of questions to assure intact mental health.  Such questions may include but are not limited to:

1.  Did you have a good time at war? Do you plan to keep in touch with the enemy?
2.  Did you miss any reruns of 'The Sopranos?'
3.  How often do you have thoughts of peace on earth?

A: Once a day.
B.  Twice a day.
C: All the time.

4.  Did you enjoy fraternizing with the friendly people of Afghanistan or Iraq?

A: Yes.
B: Of course.
C. You bet'cha!

5.  When do you think democracy will come to these countries?

A: Very soon.
B: Very, very soon.
C: It's here!

Upon satisfactorily answering these questions the combat troop is honorably discharged or given two months leave, $9,000 in unmarked one dollar bills, and a chance to appear on American Idol.

Medical Care

In addition to the 2003 reports filed by Mark Benjamin on salon. com, a great deal has been written about the woeful treatment of wounded veterans, the dreadful failures at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Department of Veterans' Affairs.  It is true that oversights have occurred, yet on balance they are acceptable shortcomings: inconvenient but petty grumblings, modest in scope and of limited value.  To put the matter in perspective, after a recent visit to Walter Reed, William J.  Richardson, Jr. , head of the famed First Cavalry Association, recalled fondly, "The system is working there should be nothing too good for these soldiers and their families. " Furthermore, he stated, "Once again I heard loud and clear the news media got it wrong, the good things are never reported. " (The Saber, January/February 2007).

Mr.  Richardson's words are in direct contrast to the daily diatribes initiated by the quixotic reports from the Washington Post, new revelations by Benjamin, and concomitant incendiary blasts from VAWatchDog. org.  This encyclopedic web site, overseen by the zealous Larry Scott, issues a continuous drumbeat of carefully documented editorials, wire service dispatches, credible interviews, streaming videos, pod casts, and all manner of up-to-date, fact- checked, balanced and clearly written information on the VA.  Here is a recent sampling of what the scrupulous Mr.  Scott has on offer:

o Veterans Suffer as VA Delays Disability Claims Some veterans have died while their claims. . . were unresolved for years at VA.
o Sen.  Larry Craig Moves to Dismantle VA Healthcare SystemWants to offer private healthcare to service-connected veterans.
o New British Test Can Detect Depleted Uranium Exposure after 15 YearsScientists have found no DU in the 350 Gulf War veterans they have tested.
o Podcast: Larry Scott Radio Interview on American Legion and VA Panic ModeWith Thom Hartmann.

But surely this dutiful, well-intentioned man, this industrious and prolific writer, must know the lamentable effects his original and aggregated articles, however well sourced, however accurate, however credible, have on American citizens and soldiers.

There is, quite frankly, no need for lively and candid discussion on the emerging scandal of Personality Disorder discharges, the erratic quality of medical care for active duty personnel or the narrowing VA services offered to our vagabond heroes.  More precisely, the simple truth is this: the courageous men and women who have fought with distinction on the battlefield, should continue their bravery off of it by suffering in dignified silence.  Yes, despite horrific wounds, seen or unseen, irrespective of battle stars bestowed for gallantry in action, no matter the number of combat tours in Afghanistan or Iraq, citizens or soldiers who dare to speak of VA failings, of our military's elemental decay, corruption, loss of leadership, and overall impoverishment, should be civilly disciplined or promptly discharged for citing legitimate concerns and demanding redress.  Indeed, the use of torture, indefinite detention or deportation should not be ruled out.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The disabling effects of PTSD are well know to combat veterans and mental health providers: flashbacks, heightened startle reflex, intrusive thoughts of killing one's self, thoughts of killing others, depression, rage, despair, sadness, aggression, isolation, are just a few of its symptoms.  However, according to a news story detailing a report in the March 2007 issue of Playboy magazine, the respected Dr.  Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and mental health adviser to President Bush and a member of the American Enterprise Institute, sees PTSD this way: "I'm not saying PTSD doesn't exist, but it's gotten out of hand.  I mean, if you see a lot of action and then you come home, you have a hard time walking your dog by the bushes at night, maybe you just avoid the bushes. " (PRNewswire-USNewswire).

Despite the fact that post combat stress has lead to countless ruined marriages, homelessness, drug abuse, and a gamut of intolerable sufferings, here are three simple cost effective ways to deal with it:

1.  Unpublished medical reports indicate that in controlled studies, male Iraq/Afghanistan combat vets who watched reruns of 'I Love Lucy' nine hours per day over a three month period reported improved eyesight, three hour erections, and lower cable bills.  Female veterans reported less spam, higher SAT scores, and faster service when dining out.
2. The energetic application of enemas prior to sleep has been shown to diminish nightmares in officers below the rank of colonel.
3.  In a White House medical study held at an undisclosed location, nine hundred Iraq/Afghanistan combat veterans were ordered en mass to write the phrase "I will not kill anything that moves or breathes," on 20 x 20 foot slate chalk boards, ten thousand times in two hours.  The chorus of screeching chalk sticks, the monotonous drone of men and women mouthing the indelicate phrase, and the inevitable stench rising from the mob of sweaty uniforms, resulted in a paradoxically soothing effect which lasted from three to six weeks.  Participants also reported improved penmanship, lower cholesterol and faster drying times at the Laundromat.

Post War Employment for Veterans

Due to the robust health of the US economy the unique skills of Humvee mechanics, tank drivers, artillery crews and infantry soldiers are much in demand.  Starting salaries, commensurate with experience, include outstanding health care benefits, full pension plans, stock options, tuition reimbursement, union membership, paid maternity leave and subsidized childcare.  Qualified veterans should send their resumes to the White House ASAP.  The fax number is 202-456-2461.

Summary

Books like Cobra II (Gordon and Trainor, Pantheon, 2006 ), The Freedom (Christian Parenti, The New Press, 2005), and others of this ilk purport to objectively examine the Global War on Terror but merely serve to confound the populace, displease the President, and discomfort our fighting troops.  The unexamined life is better.  To pair and paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld and Hippocrates, "Life is short, war is long. " Indeed, war builds character, strong bodies and sound minds.  Though it may damage, ruin or scar the soldier, in the end, when we victors survey the beautiful wreckage of plundered landscape, the multitude lost and broken lives, still we lift our heads to inhale the acrid scent of battle, awed by our great endeavors.  To be otherwise disposed would invite disaster.  Yes, we who are triumphant must hold dear the belief that old soldiers never die but fade away, and we must trust that those younger will shortly follow.

Marc Levy can be reached at silverspartan@gmail.com, but please note: the above piece is satirical in purpose.  Do not waste your time informing Vietnam Vet Levy that his description of Army life does not conform with reality.  He is describing a deeper reality.

(Marc Levy's A Beginner's Guide to Combat first appeared in counterpunch, April 7/8, 2007.  Reprinted with permission of the author.)


 

Marc Levy was an infantry medic with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam/Cambodia in1970.  He was decorated once for gallantry, twice for valor, court martialed twice and given a General Discharge.  He is widely published online and in print. His story Bluefields (edited by George Dickerson) appears in the Spring 2007 issue of Cutthroat.