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It blew my mind. I was the person who struggled the most when it came to learning how to hover. I spent hours watching YouTube videos of helicopter pilots hovering, praying that the next day on the flight line it would all click, and I’d find that “sweet spot” all my flight school buddies had already found. As I sat in my car looking at congratulatory text message after text message I couldn’t believe that our cadre just announced I would be the distinguished honor graduate of my flight school class. Apparently, those weeks of struggling motivated me through the next year of in-class and in-cockpit testing. A quick phone call home to my ever-realistic mother tempered my enthusiasm as she reminded me, “Well you might be the best in your class, but you probably aren’t the best in the world.” Thanks, Mom.
After graduation and a celebratory dinner with my roommates, I packed all my belongings and moved to Tennessee. My new home would be with 7-17th Cavalry Regiment under the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade. My airframe of choice, the Kiowa Warrior, meant I was joining the Air Cavalry community. I started checking all of the blocks I’d been told to check as a young cadet and flight school student. I studied hard to pass my “5&9” emergency procedures test. I trusted my platoon sergeant, made friends with the other lieutenant in my troop, and lead my platoon at PT. I learned all of the intricacies of how each boss wanted their PowerPoint slides presented, and just how important dental readiness was to the Army. I did a spur ride and broke in my Stetson. I learned “Fiddler’s Green” and the history behind our Squadron slogan: Death Rides. I worked hard, stayed late, and did everything I could do to prove just how good of an Officer I was.
Our Brigade was set to deploy beginning of 2014, but word came down mid-2013 that changes were being made to the patch chart. There were different courses of action, but almost all of them included some reduction or removal of our Squadron from the mission. Almost everyone in my platoon had already deployed. I was the only one with a blank space on my right arm and I hated it. I was chomping at the proverbial bit as the opportunity to go felt like it was slipping through my fingers.
The decision was made that only one Troop would deploy from our Squadron – Alpha Troop. At the time I was assigned to the maintenance Troop, which would only deploy a small maintenance package; a non-wrench-turning-Lieutenant was not on the priority list. But Alpha Troop was looking to bring in two new Platoon Leaders, as the guys in those slots had been there 18 months already.
I went to my Troop Commander a bit sheepishly, but asked if he would put a good word in for me. I wanted to deploy, I wanted to be a Line Troop Platoon Leader. Despite how much I often loathed feeling the responsibility to go to the office a few hours on the weekend, and how much I hated staying late on Fridays to work out problems with senior leaders, those efforts paid off. My hard earned reputation of being a hard-charging, hard-working officer paved the way – a few weeks later I moved down to Alpha Troop and began preparing for war.
The 2014 deployment, if taken in comparison to other deployments in other decades or other locations, was rather tame. There were certain units that we knew would always find a way to engage, and we loved supporting their operations. Those were the exciting days, the exciting minutes, the things that felt most important. Most days though, well, most days were spent looking for ground guys to support or looking for ways to entertain ourselves when the weather was bad. I came home with an Air Medal and Combat Action Badge, a Pilot-in-Command designation on my file, and a patch on my right arm. All of my guys came home whole, back to their families.
What went unrecognized in my life until several years later was the most traumatic event of the deployment. It was a self-inflicted wound at the hands of the machine I served. Halfway through our time downrange, the official announcement came out that the Army would divest itself of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.
At the time, I knew this was a significant revelation to some of my more senior warrant officers. They’d been Kiowa Cavalrymen for over a decade, and some of them just a few years from retirement. Losing the airframe, which was planned to happen early the next year, put a lot of question marks around the future of their careers. Soon after the divestiture announcement, came the transition plan. Human Resources Command (HRC) would hold boards to determine which Kiowa Warrant Officers and which Kiowa Enlisted maintainers would be re-trained in another airframe. So, we began preparing board files, reviewing record briefs, and signing evaluation reports a little early to get them in for consideration. I tried my best to prepare them well for this opportunity: to have a plan for the future.
By the time we re-deployed, the first list of selections for transitions came out. Most of my guys would be re-trained, save three or four. Our Squadron was moving forward with lightning speed to turn in all of our equipment, preparing to fly the aircraft to Arizona, and shut our unit down. All the while, there was never an official announcement about transitions for commissioned officers. I talked to my branch manager, asking if a transition was even a remote possibility. The response was, “Make it to the career course and we will see what happens.”
I spent a lot of time wondering what I could have done differently to show that I was a competent and capable officer and pilot. I’d done everything the Army asked me to do, and did it to the best of my ability. If they weren’t going to offer me an airframe transition at the beginning of the divestiture, I was rather sure they wouldn’t offer me one in a year or two. It was clear: there was no future for me in Army Aviation.
Several of the officers a year group or two ahead of me decided that getting out was the best option. An Army career wasn’t the end-all, be-all and graduate school seemed like a good next step. At the time, we were a downsizing force, pushing people out left and right. So, when these officers started submitting requests to be released from their active duty service obligations (ADSOs), HRC approved them all. People were getting out with two and three years left on their commitments to pursue their next-best plans. I didn’t know what the heck I wanted to do next, and figured I could try just one more thing in the Army before I gave it all up.
I decided to pursue a branch transfer to Civil Affairs. It would be another year plus of training, but the good news was I would be moving into that career field at the right time. Civil Affairs took in officers before their career courses, which was right where I was. So, I assessed into the program, and in August of 2015 reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After a little more than a year in the course I broke my wrist and was forced to step out of the phase of training I was in. I reported to the holding company every morning for accountability and sat in a room, waiting for some detail to wash windows or sweep hallways to pop up. I read a lot of books, did some online training, and waited.
While I waited, the 2016 elections began in earnest. While I waited, I began doubting in earnest. I doubted that this new path was the right one for me. I doubted that this was the mission I wanted to pursue. I doubted that civilian life would be less fulfilling or less exciting. I doubted that Civil Affairs was the best choice, and began contemplating what life might offer outside of uniform. I started daydreaming about law school – something I’d always wanted to pursue. I started talking to family and friends about potential future careers. I took aptitude tests to see what I should do next, and started studying for various graduate school standardized tests. All the while, I paid little attention to the firestorm brewing between Republicans and Democrats.
Perhaps it was naïve to believe that logic would prevail with HRC. Perhaps I put too much stock in the oft-towed line, “We care about Soldiers.” Perhaps I believed too strongly that I’d done everything the Army asked me to do, I did it well, and in turn they’d respect my effort enough to let me go. I’d incurred an additional ADSO for attending Civil Affairs training, and was tagged to stay in until August 31st, 2019. But, I knew that waivers had been approved before. I believed mine would be, too.
So, I submitted my first request to be released from Active Duty Service in October of 2016. I requested a two a half year waiver, so that I could start law school the following fall. It was a quick return: no. My request was disapproved, the justification reading, “…approval at this time was considered not to be in the best interest of the Army.” My heart was broken – I felt I’d made a strong case for why I was the perfect candidate for this kind of waiver request. I was also frustrated. I was an Aviation Officer without an airframe. I didn’t have a competitive future in the branch and I certainly couldn’t go back to Civil Affairs after withdrawing from the course. My so called “career” in the Army would end soon; this waiver would just let me get on with my life a little sooner.
I submitted a second request, asking for a one year waiver and provided the acceptance letters I gotten to begin law school in 2017. The second request was also denied, and not surprisingly the third as well. The silver lining was that my school of choice approved year-long deferrals, holding my place in the following class.
The truth is that I’d been forced to reconcile with the idea that for better or worse, the Army and military at large is not in fact, immune to the meat grinder of political will. I’ve spent my entire career doing my best to remain a-political; I’ve tried focusing instead on “protecting and defending the constitution” as opposed to protecting my political views. What I failed to understand is that regardless of whether or not I chose to play a role in the political machine, the political machine would most certainly play a role in my life. I’d picked perhaps the worst possible moment to ask the Army for any favors because in 2016, we were just one entity being affected by a huge swing of the political pendulum. We’d go from a drastically downsizing force to a drastically increasing force in a matter of months. Whatever little part of the pie I represented on someone’s “health of the force” slide, that representation suddenly became very important.
I don’t mean to be critical of the theory behind the military being subservient to civilian governance. It’s an incredibly important principle to uphold and on the whole I value it deeply. This ideal is what protects us from the whims of the general with the most stars, and ensures that whatever political policies are enacted by elected leaders are the policies enacted by the military. Serving the political will while remaining a-political though, that is a sacrifice I think few people understand.
There are certain things we know we will sacrifice when we choose to don the uniform. We knowingly sacrifice time with family in order to deploy near and far, to combat theaters and training exercises. We sacrifice stability, opting instead for a vagabond lifestyle of moving every three years or so. We sacrifice quick promotions, accepting that we can’t do much to fast-track a pretty staunch system of checked boxes on a fixed career timeline. We have a lot of freedoms we relinquish when we come on board to serve in the military, and I’ve been fortunate to grow up in the era of people thanking us for our service, thanking us for the sacrifice.
But there is one other, less obvious sacrifice, that I’ve come to realize is perhaps the most difficult pill to swallow: we sacrifice choices. At the end of the day, no matter how much the Army may care about Soldiers and their families, that care and concern can only extend so far. It can only extend as far as the political establishment is willing to allow it to, and by proxy the tide of public will the political establishment answers to. And so, for a variety of different reasons and in a variety of different ways, we lose the ability to choose.
I lost my ability to choose the day the decision was made to divest the Army of the finest reconnaissance platform its ever had. The Army made a decision it thought was best, and in some ways tried to stop the hemorrhaging we all felt was happening. I’m well aware thought, that the transition boards weren’t conducted to “help out” warrant officers or maintainers looking for a career – they were conducted to make sure there would be enough pilots and crew chief in enough airframes to meet the mission. There weren’t transition boards for commissioned officers because it would be too expensive to re-train us, when most of us just wouldn’t fly that much anyway. I’d tried to work hard enough and be good enough to retain all of my options, but in one fail swoop they all went flying out the door. And then, with the tide that turned politically in 2016, I lost any choice I had to leave.
I’ve tried for a long time to not be bitter about the whole endeavor. Some days, it’s easy to talk about it. Some days, when people start asking questions, I have to stop them. It can be really painful to have lost a dream. What hurts most though, is to read that phrase written on a piece of paper three times. “…approval at this time was considered not to be in the best interest of the Army.” The undercurrent of that statement to me, reads a little something like this: despite the choices the Army made to put you in this situation, despite how good of an officer you may have been or how good of a lawyer you may be in the future, right now you are a green dot on a page. That dot matters more to us than trying to right a wrong, or help a Soldier move forward.
I think what I’d want more than anything from this, from losing my dream and having to delay the next one, is transparency. I’d love for more senior leaders to speak truth about what the Army cares about and where Soldiers fit into that equation. We can’t keep telling our young officers and incoming team, “We care about Soldiers and their families” when so often the result doesn’t reflect that. This cognitive dissonance between what we say we care about and what we actually do creates a lot more friction than our public affairs teams or crisis counselors realize. I’ve finally gotten an approved request. In the end, the Army decided they could release me thirty days before my ADSO is complete. Law school starts the 2nd of August, 2019 and my final, official day in the Army is the same. I’ll take a little time off before hand, probably paint my nails some crazy color, and buy a new “civilian attire” wardrobe. I’ll keep telling people that I flew an aircraft that is now in museums. With time, maybe I’ll get over the sadness I feel for all of the time I’ve wasted here waiting. Maybe, I’ll even be glad at some point I was a green dot for a while.
But right now, I am incredibly grateful for the time I did get to have riding a trusted steed in the sky. I’m proud of the men and women I was fortunate to learn from, fortunate to serve with, and fortunate to fly with. I’m glad I worked so hard and left it all on the field. If I’d given anything less than my best, this would have been impossible to survive. All said and done, I will have waited a little under three years for this next journey. No matter where it takes me, whenever the clock reads 7:17 I’ll mutter under my breath, “Death Rides.”
A Story of a Trade – An Environment for Hard Currencies
by Lou Rothenstein
When I toured through Vietnam in 2012, I noticed how much of the hardwood forests had been cut down in the Central Highlands. This was in areas commonly called triple-canopy jungle or forest. There were coffee plants in their place in some areas. The hardwoods are probably gone for good as they take many years to mature. Teak takes 19-25 years, rare Rosewood 19-21 years, but some may take up to 100 years. Hopefully, the monsoon rains will not wash the viable topsoil downstream in clear cut areas. Any vegetation can help prevent soil erosion but most cannot provide the cover that hardwood trees do that is needed for the native people and wildlife.
In the areas of the Mekong Delta I helped defoliate, one might be able to say that the mangrove swamps have recovered for the most part. The Plain of Reeds has become a very large rice producer. Even in the high years of defoliation, we limited spraying coconut and banana areas to very small parcels along known supply trails.
I thought it ironic. Our defoliation efforts destroyed or heavily damaged about 7700 square miles of forests, about six percent of Vietnam’s total land area. In the 1990s, one could see the start of large-scale re-planting. In 2012, most areas near the 17th parallel appeared to have recovered. The process was accelerated by Doi Moi and a market-driven forest management system funded by outside assistance after years of stagnation by the government. A good report can be found at Tramadol Prices Online.
Although this is good news, there is more from the negative side. The pursuit of hard currency for furniture wood ($2.8 billion with the U.S. alone) and coffee has deforested more land than defoliation did. This is hurting the minority people such as the Montagnards whose life and culture is intertwined with the forests they live in. As good furniture hardwood is used up in Vietnam, the illegal and legal cutting of trees in Cambodia, Burma, and Laos has increased. This has also affected their local natives as it has in Vietnam. There were areas visited in the highlands near borders that were off-limits to foreigners. It was apparent that there was illicit logging underway.
In 2016 while helping my wife who was participating in a medical mission in rural Vietnam (Vets with a Mission), one could not help but notice the Chinese road construction crews during the day and occasional timber transport passing by the clinic.
A friend who supports Montagnards on the Cambodian side of the border returned from nearly a month in Eastern Cambodia. He told me that this is the last refuge area for the mountain people, many who fled their native lands to avoid Vietnamese persecution. Big corporations are buying up the land and planting rubber, coffee, tea, and peppers in plantation settings. Hun Sen (Cambodian leader) has invited in the Chinese and they are building like crazy. The average Khmer on the street hate them as the Chinese come as disguised conquerors; they bring their own laborers, destroy the environment, have ruined the pristine beaches at Sihanoukville, and look down on the Cambodians as inferiors. Hun Sen received $600 million in foreign aid from China in July of 2016. Little of this has made it into the indigenous minority communities. It appears that the way of life of the Montagnard people will not survive for very long.
As in most socialist countries, the laws passed to protect people and the environment is often overlooked to gain those overseas monies – particularly hard currencies. Local party officials approach the situation with a “palms up” posture – where they expect a cut of the illegal profits for looking the other way. They care little of the long-term effects on the environment or the people.
I recall a trip to Europe around the time the old USSR broke up. It was apparent that little or no regard for the environment or the health of the local people was considered very important in some areas of East Germany. I was interested in finding out a little from my old analyst work in the Army. It was really an environmental muddle. West Germans were starting to clean up the environmental mess left by the old Communist central controlled East German government industries. Water and air pollution required the closing of many factories and plants. In some areas, chemical contamination was so great, whole villages were cordoned off to await clean up. To see the terrible health consequences in some former and current socialist countries, see Ordering Tramadol Online Cod
Corporations were once considered the major polluters in the U.S. and other free market economies. Regulations and a desire to be good caretakers of the land have changed this quite a bit. In fact, private companies probably pollute less than our governmental agencies as liability legislation doesn’t apply to polluting government activities. The clean water act is an example of that. It has worked well until one looks at governmental cases like Flint, Michigan.
One can look at the U.S. logging industry as a model. As each tree is cut for timber products and paper pulp, they are replaced by three fast-growing trees that can be harvested in 12-15 years. There are more trees in America than there were 100 years ago. But the forests are young in many areas and do not support all wildlife well. When trees are replaced by other crops, the wildlife diminishes. That is the big reason loggers in America use their wood trees much as a farmer uses his crops. The trees take longer to mature but overall, there are more oxygen-producing trees in the environment and other forest land, much which lays near parks and wilderness areas, are allowed to mature untouched by the saw and a haven for native wildlife. This is just one reason some controlled emissions continue to decline in the U.S. as opposed to increases in many developing countries of the world.
But the Chinese appetite for more exotic and traditional materials such as ivory for carving and rosewood for furniture grows; neighboring Southeast Asian countries will be providing them, much of it illegally. Sadly, this is at great cost to their indigenous people. An example:
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I heard Chinese Foreign Minister Wang-Yi make comments to the effect that control of the South China Sea was China’s destiny. It was their lake. More frequently, he has touted the Chinese plan of building an economic “Common Destiny Community” among their neighbors. When one reads into this a bit more, it sounds somewhat like the Japanese “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” where Japan’s goal was to replace western colonial powers with themselves. Prescription Tramadol Online.
Vietnam has moved to the number two coffee producing country in the world, second to Brazil. They produce coffees mostly from the Robusta bean that many believe not as good as Arabica beans but I prefer the stronger medium and dark roasted Robusta for flavor, but I feel a bit guilty drinking it.
We are planning a return trip to Vietnam and its neighbors for 2019. I am sure I will see fewer big trees and more coffee plants. I am wondering if the last of the Montagnard culture might someday be found in North Carolina. That group of loyal peoples who worked with our Army Special Forces and advisors during the Second Indochina War and were helped to continue their chosen way of life in a free land.
CSM Louis Rothenstein, served in the US Army from 1956 to 1986. He started out in the Infantry, before moving to AIS, and MI. He served most of his thirty years overseas including stints in France, Germany, Berlin, Korea and the DMZ, as well as several trips to Vietnam. His duties ranged from working as an analyst to a collector and team sergeant on advisory teams supporting ARVN, the US Navy, and USSF. After serving as a CSM at battalion and Brigade levels, he retired as CSM, US Army Communications and Electronics Command. Afterwards, he served as Honorary Sgt. Major, MI Corps working with reserve component MI units from 1990-1994. He is a Distinguished Member of the US Army MI Hall of Fame.
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As an Infantry Officer in the Marine Corps, I spent the majority of my time training with or advising partnered forces. Through my career, I participated in Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) exercises across the Asia-Pacific region and served as an adviser in Afghanistan. Aside from the cultural differences, the partnered forces in the TSC exercises I participated in had varying capabilities and proficiencies. This required my team to develop different approaches to how we would maximize training opportunities for everyone. As a member of Task Force Southwest, an adviser team deliberately built to provide training, advising, and assistance to the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) in Helmand province had to apply similar skills. All these experiences have taught me several lessons, but have identified what I consider the top three which contributed to the success of my teams.
1) Know your stuff. It seems intuitive enough, but before you can teach or advise, you must master the material yourself. It requires competency in the subjects you will be advising. The amount of time you dedicate to learning and reviewing your subject will directly relate to your effectiveness as an adviser or partner. Competency provides accurate information taught or shared and provides a level of confidence that helps deliver the information. I attribute the success of my teams during the TSC exercises and advising efforts to the preparation. Preparation also includes knowing a little about your partner. Take the time to learn about their culture, customs, and if possible a few simple phrases. Knowing some of these little things will make what you teach more meaningful and leave a positive lasting effect.
2) They aren’t us. It’s okay that they are different and sometimes that makes the partnership more valuable. Leverage the differences to bring new ideas and approaches to problem solving. Often we tend to think that our way is the best way to solve the problem but when working with different cultures the host nation personnel may provide the best solution with a little assistance from you. They bring an understanding that a foreigner might not understand or overlook. For example, initially, when we were advising the Afghan instructors at the 215th Corps Regional Military Training Center we wanted the instructors to follow written outlines for the courses. This is how our militaries do business, why shouldn’t they. Well, we quickly found out that the majority of the instructors were illiterate. Having detailed written classes would not have helped because they couldn’t read the material. Our solution was to develop the instructors in the skills they were good at already and help them professionalize their ability to instruct. If you are there solely as an adviser, always encourage the host nation personnel to develop their own solutions but be willing to assist along the way. There were many occasions as an adviser where it would have been faster or easier for my team or me to provide the solution upfront. We had to resist the urge to do this and allow the host nation personnel to work through the issues. At the end of the day as long as progress was made and solutions were developed that was effective advising. Efficiency became the next goal.
3) Be self-aware. You and the team need to have self-awareness. Effective advising means the host nation is demonstrating improvements. If they aren’t improving, you aren’t being effective. You might be the most knowledgeable subject matter expert or best instructor back home, but if the target audience doesn’t get it your wasting everyone’s time. This requires the adviser(s) to have the maturity to reflect to improve or sustain their approach to advising. Constant assessments of yourself and your partner will help shape and drive your engagement strategy.
Advising skills will continue to be relevant to the U.S. military and success of future missions. Understanding these skills will enhance partnerships during TSC exercises, which are valuable for building partnered capacity throughout the world. Maintaining these strong relationships will be imperative if the countries have to work together in response to a humanitarian disaster or execute combat operations. Finally, these lessons are also good leadership tools that can be applied to our own military services. Leaders can use them to develop their subordinates and ultimately strengthen our own warfighting organizations.