A Boomer's Blog

Notes for the Boomer Generation

Archive for the category “Government, Politics, Patriots”

Women in Combat — Semper Fi

Women have recently gained the right to obtain combat assignments in our armed forces.  Combat in 2013 is very different than it was in, say, the Civil War or WWI, or even in WWII or Vietnam.  Ground troops were assembled in large groups and sent out into a field, beach, hillside, jungle, swamp, desert or frozen tundra to kill and be Boomer in Bosniakilled by a large group of guys from the other country.  There aren’t very many countries left in the world that have big armies they can assemble against us.  We kill with drones and bombs dropped from the sky, mostly.  Our current conflicts have American troops being killed by lone suicide bombers and roadside detonations.  Traditional “combat” has devolved into something more impersonal.  Recent conflicts had our infantrymen working on “winning hearts and minds” much of the time.

My service number is W722375.  Yes, I am so old that I was in the US Marines back in the days before the social security number was the service number.  If I am ever captured by an enemy of the United States, I will recite this number over and over.  The W in my number stands for Woman, I’m pretty sure.  The differences and restrictions between military men and women in 1969 were very different from today.

My opinion has always been that unless women served in ALL the military jobs and were subject to Selective Service registration the same as men are, we would never have true equality of opportunity and pay.  I still believe in equality, but now I wonder ….  will we ever evolve enough as human beings so that combat between societies no longer exists?  Maybe when the oil is finally gone, or when the earth is nearly completely covered by water and all countries are tropical or frigid?  Will we evolve then?

The people who die in wars aren’t the ones who decide to have a war. Not the soldiers, not the civilians.  Corporate chieftains and the politicians they purchase  are the folks who decide that it’s time to start killing off citizens, soldiers and civilians, men and women, old and young.

Like many teenagers who join the military, my opportunities in my little Florida town were limited.  Money and transportation were hard to come by.  I needed a job I could walk to each day.   Plus…. the US Marine uniform is beautiful.  The rich khaki material, the forest green stripes, the red piping.  The ribbons worn with pride, the sharp creases and the shining footwear…. a disorganized, unemployed teenager sees hope for his (or her) own future just being in the presence of such squared-away confidence.  I signed the contract, eager to start my new life of fitness, confidence, knowledge and beauty.

I had to lose about fifteen pounds before I could go to boot camp, so I was good and hungry when I got there.  Lunch was the highlight of the day, but I thought this would be fine because now that I was a Marine, I’d be running a few miles every day, getting lots of exercise, marching, shooting, and would become buff and sexy!  Hua!  That’s what I thought…

Instead, we learned how to do laundry and to take it in off the line at oh-five-hundred (that would be 5 am) each morning, nice and damp for ironing.  Ironing, one of the most-practiced skills.  We learned to iron perfect creases with spray starch on our cheap cotton boot camp work uniforms.  We learned to shine shoes brilliantly.  We learned to wash the wood floors and baseboards with little white rags and water.  We learned to strip floor wax, put on new wax and control the hundred pound buffer in the wide hallways.

All Marines have classes in Marine Corps history and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  Women Marines, in 1969, also had classes in how to walk properly, actually balancing books on our heads.  We learned how to smoke in public and how to apply eyeliner.  Red lipstick was considered part of a Woman Marine’s uniform and we could only escape the red lipstick for religious reasons.  My boot camp platoon had several miraculous holy conversions during the first week.  With uniform skirts, no bare legs were allowed, pantyhose were required year-round.  White gloves were part of our uniform as well.  We had to keep several pairs on hand due to forgetting we had that damn red lipstick on…..  Some of us mumbled about discrimination against women, but kept it to ourselves.

I started gaining that fifteen pounds back on the first day.  We had gym three days a week where we practiced sit-ups, push-ups and chin-ups (or chin-up in my case).  We were required to perform a certain number of these exercises and run one mile to graduate from boot camp.  So my idea about the buff and sexy…….  never happened.

One day our drill instructor passed an unloaded M-16 around the classroom.  We each held it for a second, then passed it on the next girl.  That was my only exposure to weapons while I was a US Marine in 1969 during the Vietnam War.   Some of us, seeing the men jogging in groups, chanting songs, having weapons training, wearing their comfortable green BDU pants and green T shirts (looking very buff and sexy!)…. muttered to ourselves about discrimination against women.

Thirty years later I was a short, fat, middle-aged lady working for the US Army in Germany as a civilian government employee.  I was required to go to Bosnia to provide some computer support for our troops there.   I had to attend a one-week, boot-camp-like training class called Styx training, required before I could go.

I had to wear the green BDU uniform, helmet, flak vest and black combat boots at all times.  I had to qualify at the shooting range with a 9mm handgun. (I did, with the lowest score possible and a gun that jammed with every second shot.)   We had training in cultural awareness and how to speak to the press (try not to).  We learned how to pat down a prisoner for weapons. I had to sleep in a barracks, stand watch, and practice running away from imaginary snipers.  I huffed and puffed along, lagging behind all the young soldiers and civilians in my Styx platoon.  If there had been a real sniper, I would have been a goner.

Lunch was still a highlight in everyone’s day, so I had to run for the mess hall if I wanted any food.  The tall young people in my Styx platoon could all march and run much faster than me.  There I was puffing along at the tail end of my platoon, begging them not to eat all the biscuits.  I lost eight pounds during training.  Eight pounds in a week!  Finally, thirty years later, I got all the things I wanted from the US military, ever since I first signed up in 1969!  Running.  Marching.  Shooting.  Weight loss!

Women in combat?  About time.  We’ve come a long way, baby!  Semper Fi.

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Surgery and Politics

My first blog started in 2011 and never really took off.  Here is the last entry I made in that blog, in March 2012.  I’ve been recovering from some painful dental surgery this month and haven’t been posting as often.  So I offer this up and hope it will suffice.  As the election approaches, it seems relevant.  Don’t forget to watch the debate Wednesday nite!

 March 21, 2012  Politics for those who have time.

I’m kind of in the middle of the boomer population wave that swept the country
after WWII.  My dad participated in that war, along with many other boomers’
dads (and some moms).

Age 62 now, I received my second ever Social Security check today.  I’m thrilled to have it, so happy to be free at last.  But this morning, there was more bad news from our Congress.  The latest budget proposal provides for upping the retirement age for medicare and social security to 67.  And for cancelling the Affordable Health Care Act.

For many folks, this means they won’t have health insurance if they can’t last at their jobs until they reach their late sixties.  Do you have a job that you will be able to perform into your late sixties?  Will the nation’s employers be able to provide health insurance for these extra years?  Many employers kick their employees and retirees off their health insurance rolls when they become eligible for Medicare.  They can’t afford to do otherwise.

     I became embroiled in a Facebook brouhaha this morning about this issue, futilely arguing with some former high school classmates about what they call ‘entitlement’ and ‘job creators’.  I have fondness for some of these people, happy childhood memories and all, so I’m sad that I am not skilled enough to get them to consider a different view.  I’ll never convince some of them that their best interests are not being served by corporations or by our current tax codes, or by the endless bloody wars.  It all devolves into a silly argument with aspersions
about teleprompters, vacation days, birth certificates, and the price of the president’s suit.

Retirement has given me some time to reflect on these things, to look
things up and educate myself about what is happening in our country.  This is a
blessing and a curse.  I can’t go back to being a person who does not pay
attention, and I can’t stop myself from trying to give good information to my
old friends when I see that they’ve got their facts wrong.

The lesson I have learned today is — volunteer to register voters, help out at your local precinct and don’t get involved in political arguments on the Facebook.  We’ll see if I can manage to do that!

********

 The surgery info:  I bit my tongue, literally, and created a little bump on the tip of my tongue.  At least, that’s where I thought the bump came from.  If this ever happens to you, and your dentist sends you to an oral surgeon, and the oral surgeon won’t give an opinion but is insistent that you need to remove it…….  well, just don’t.  Just don’t.  Yes, this is foolhardy advice, and I have peace of mind now, knowing that it was nothing, but, next to childbirth, it was the most painful thing I have ever done.  The Vicodin combined with the 800 mg of ibuprofen only made a thin, frayed little cushion against the misery of the next two weeks.  There were several stitches involved, and I spoke with a lisp, using as few words as possible because my tongue would get tired and then hurt more.  I ate soup and noodles for several days and wished I had left the damn bump there!

Anyway, I’m back in the saddle again, more blather coming soon.

 

9/11

Last year on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I wrote an essay describing my experiences during and after the attack at the Pentagon, where I was working on that terrible day.  This year, the eleventh anniversary, didn’t garner as much media attention.  This is both good and bad.  Good in that we are moving away from the horror.  We have survived and hopefully have learned things about ourselves as a nation and as individuals.  Bad because it should be recognized every year for the great shocking horrible tragedy that it was.  The ‘Today” show, which I have always disliked anyway, chose to ignore the moment of silence obsereved by all the other major networks and continue broadcasting their interview with the Kardashian’s mother about her boob job.  No joke.

This morning we learned of an attack on our Libyan Embassy where our ambassador and others were murdered by an angry mob.  They were angry about a YouTube video that insulted their religion.  There are photos on the internet of citizens taking pictures of the unconscious (or already dead) ambassador with their cellphones.  When will we humans start to be more… human?

This year 9/11 fell on a Tuesday, the same weekday as the attack.  I’m posting my essay that was printed in the Oregonian last year here.

Remembering 9/11: Inside the Pentagon

Published: Saturday, September 10, 2011, 12:04 PM
Guest Columnist By Guest ColumnistThe Oregonian Follow
By Linda Paul
On 9/11 I was at my desk in the Pentagon, where I was the operations manager for a computer support team in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. A co-worker told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Before I could get The New York Times online, she came back and said there was a second plane. The first shock was realizing that it was done on purpose.
My computer users started calling because they couldn’t get on the Internet. I told them there was just too much traffic.
“But this is the Pentagon!” one man complained.
When the plane struck us, there was a single loud “boom,” more like a solid but muffled thud and the office shuddered, identical to the shudder of an earthquake. Our partitions squeaked a little. Our noisy office was deadly silent for a few seconds. It’s a testament to the Pentagon, the largest office building in the world and a genuine fortress, that more people weren’t killed that day. Shuffling toward the exits with thousands of others, I noticed how subdued we were. No shouting or panic, just a quiet mob leaving the building. Outside, I looked back to see the giant black cloud of smoke hovering over the building. I thought, “They’re killing us with our own damn airplanes.” I may have said this aloud.
I walked around the building toward the crash site. Already there were fire trucks and rescuers running toward the gash. I saw black smoke pouring from the wall, flames and debris. A security guard was waving people away, shouting, “Go home! Go home!” One of my first thoughts was that this is what religion does for us. A former Sunday morning mass attendee, I have been unable to go back to church since, except on a couple of rare occasions involving my aunts and Christmas.
I usually rode the Metro to work, but on that day, I drove. When I reached my car I saw that the parking lot attendant had thrown open his gates allowing us to exit for free. Although I lived only four miles from the Pentagon, it took an hour to get home. By this time, all the planes had been ordered out of the sky and fighter jets had scrambled overhead in Washington. D.C. As I sat in traffic, a plane zoomed so close over me that I gripped my steering wheel with both hands and screamed aloud, alone in my car, as the plane shrieked by. That was the only time I “lost it,” and it was the only time I felt the fear I had been suppressing all morning.
That evening, my boss (many rungs up the ladder from me), Donald Rumsfeld, went on the air and said that the Department of Defense was still open for business. I took that as an order to be at work in the morning. When I awoke the next day, I smelled a fire. The heavy, musty smell of smoke hung in the air for miles around, and lasted for weeks.
My team and I were back at work at 7 the next morning, setting up computers in a nearby building for the engineers and analysts we supported. Our Pentagon office was now part of a crime scene and had been secured with yellow tape. My greatest accomplishment during the next week was to persuade the Army MPs to allow us inside the yellow tape to retrieve some important objects from our office. One of our young guys put on a hazmat suit and, like Bruce Willis in “Armageddon,” lumbered down the toxic hallway into the unknown. We stood at the end of the corridor, shouting encouragement. He came back with garbage bags containing laptops, my Rolodex, our backup tapes and CDs, and someone’s slippers.
During the following days I frequently saw people walking along who would suddenly recognize an acquaintance passing by. Cries of “Hey, man!” “Hey, girl!” “Good to see you. Where you at?” were everywhere. We really were glad to see each other. We didn’t know who was gone. Those weeks after the attack were full of hugs and handshakes.
We were allowed back into our offices after about three weeks. We needed portable air purifiers for months afterward.
Counting the five hijackers, 189 people died in the attack on the Pentagon. We had a memorial display of all the Pentagon victims with a photo and biography of each person. I read each one, more than once. A few of them have stuck in my mind all these years.
A young analyst from our department, Bryan Jack, was on Flight 77 that day. We were grieving for him as we worked our way through the next few weeks, putting ourselves in his shoes, forced by knowing him to consider the genuine terror he must have felt. I take the word “terrorist” literally now. Predictions of catastrophe don’t frighten me.
LTG Timothy Maude had been the commander of 1st Personnel Command in Heidelberg, Germany, where I worked for a while. I received emails from some of my former co-workers there, military and civilian, who had fond memories of him and wanted to send their good thoughts of him out into the ether. The general and his staff had been moved just days earlier into the offices struck by the hijacked plane.
Max Beilke was a retired Army master sergeant who was the last U.S. Army person to leave Vietnam. Nearly 70, he had been in the Pentagon that day working on veterans issues. Amelia Fields was working her second day of her new job in the Pentagon. Sept. 11 was her birthday. When I read her memorial, I thought about how excited I had been when I started my job in the Pentagon.
I lived two miles from Ronald Reagan National Airport, which did not reopen until October 2001. I welcomed the peace and quiet, but I had to watch any plane in the sky until I was satisfied that it was just flying by. On my morning bus ride it was not unusual to see all the commuters stare in unison at a dot in the sky until it disappeared, or to see all heads turn to the sound of a siren approaching. Here in Northwest Portland I don’t see that many planes. But when I’m driving along Skyline or Kaiser Road, or out in the back roads between Forest Grove and Hillsboro, I might see a plane in the sky — I still have to keep an eye on it, to make sure it’s just flying by.

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