"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Back from (the Vice President's) vacation

OK, so now that the weekend is over and I'm back from my det, I can actually disclose what I was doing (not that it was a big secret, as it turns out, since the entire town where I way staying knew what we were up to). I spent this Fourth of July holiday flying up to a little tiny place in Wyoming called Jackson Hole on a "VPOTUS support mission", which translated means "vacation". Apparently Mr. Cheney likes fishing on the Snake River nearby, so we flew up two helicopters to provide back-up medevac support in case he had any health problems (a remote possibility, as apparently he's healthier than men half his age. But still, as the second most powerful leader in the free world, he gets whatever support he asks for). So, it was a unique opportunity to brush shoulders with the executive branch; also, it was the first time I'd signed for an aircraft that was going on a cross-country, and a good chance to learn about the trials and responsibilities that go along with operating away from home field (and there were many...).

Jackson Hole is in an absolutely breathtaking part of the Rockies; that said, it really is a hole in the middle of nowhere (or, rather, in the middle of a lot of very tall mountains) and far away from San Diego, so it took the better part of a day to get there. Of course, things did not go as planned from the get-go (our six-hour trip turned into a ten-hour horror story on the leg up there, when my aircraft broke down and it took four hours of maintenance on the tarmac of Cedar City Regional to get it up again), but we made it up there where we were only 'on call' for one out of the four days we stayed. The rest of the time we had to ourselves, and we made the most of it. One night we went out to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar - where the bar stools are saddles; makes getting on and off of them a little challenging after a few drinks - and put the novelty breathalizer in the basement to the test (our det commander lost, or won, depending on how you look at it). I spent two of my free days golfing at the Teton Pines golf club, where we got in for a ridiculously cheap rate thanks to our attachment to the VPOTUS mission and, coincidentally, that's where he was staying that weekend. The course was gorgeous, nestled in the foothills with snow-capped mountains all around. And right about now, I can hear some of you thinking: hey, I didn't know you played golf. Well, you're right. I don't. This was the first time I'd played in about ten years. And it showed. I was consistent, though: I shot double the par of every single hole we played. There wasn't a water trap on the course that I didn't like. And while I had some fairly straight and long drives, they normally didn't go where a good golfer would want them to. We played on two different days, and I'm still not sure what most of the fairways look like.

Anyway, 'game day' was long but not terribly arduous. We had to get up at the crack of dawn and fly to our staging area by the river, where we spent about twelve hours hanging out at the local volunteer fire department station. We landed in a field right beside the station, and immediately became a local attraction. I think we had about five hundred people pull off the highway to come and look at our helicopters throughout the course of the day, which definitely helped pass the time. We tried to be coy about what we were doing up there, but whenever we told someone that we were just here for training, they'd say, "Yeah right, you're here for the veep aren't you." I guess it's hard for the man to keep a low profile when he's got dozens of Secret Service agents and millions of dollars in military assets backing up his weekend getaway. Anyway, it was an unplanned but good chance to show the taxpayers what their money goes toward and toot the Marine Corps' horn a bit.

The trip back home was a little bumpy, literally and figuratively (we hit lots of mountain turbulence, which likes to toss you up and down three hundred feet at a time; and one of the aircraft broke down at Cedar City again, that place is seriously the Bermuda Triangle of Marine Corps aviation), but I got back to the wife and kid with nothing worse than a sweaty flightsuit and a massive credit card bill (Jackson Hole is pretty but not cheap). If I can figure out how to get the pictures I took off my cell phone, I'll throw them up here. And, as we got our picture taken with the veep before he left, once I get a copy of that I'll post it here too. Apparently we did such a good job that we'll be at the top of the list for his next trip up there; in the meantime, it's back to work where our squadron will soon be picking up the task of helping put out wildfires up north. That's the life of Marine aviation: always on call, ready to go anywhere and do anything.


Anonymous said...

As I have nowhere else to talk about this; what do you think of the proposed accelerated redeployment from OIF to OEF? I think we needed to do this a couple years ago, but hey, what do I know?

Also as a rejoinder to the inevitable mention of things being secure I have ten dollars saying that, should we draw down significant forces (say halving the BCTs) this low level of violence won't last a calender year.

Cincinnatus said...

I agree, we need a surge in Afghanistan ASAP. When the biggest problem I faced on deployment was that the chow hall didn't have cookies 'n' cream ice cream, I started thinking that my services could be used elsewhere. Now, I can't speak for the grunts or for areas like Mosul and parts of Baghdad, but from where I was in Anbar, I saw a very low level of enemy activity that could probably allow us to shift some bodies from there to Waziristan.

As for the violence going up if we draw down, again, I can't say from first-hand experience. But judging from what front line reporters like Michael Yon have stated, the Iraqi Army and police are becoming increasingly capable, and the populace in general is tired of ceaseless violence and insecurity. Coupling these two things together, I don't know that a draw-down would result in resurgent violence. But I'd wager that yanking us out before places like Mosul are secured, or before we have adequate numbers of Iraqis trained, would greatly increase those odds. I think we're through the "clear and hold" phase; but we can't crap out on the "build."