A Soldier is a Terrible Thing to Waste

UPDATE: From Papa Ray, age 231 (and a half), who has put paid to the question about using old soldiers. Here is the definitive answer:

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – A 72-year-old man stopped a suspected suicide bomber from detonating himself at a checkpoint in Arab Jabour Oct. 14.

The man approached a checkpoint where Mudhehr Fayadh Baresh was standing guard, but did not make it very far.

Baresh, a tribal commissioner and member of the Arab Jabour Concerned Citizens program, said he ordered the man to lift his shirt – using training received from Coalition Forces – when he did not recognize him as a local villager.

The suspect refused to lift his shirt. Baresh repeated the command again, and the suspect exposed his suicide vest, running toward the checkpoint.

Baresh opened fire which caused the vest to detonate, killing the suspect.

“I did it for the honor of my family and the honor of my country,” said Baresh, when he met with Col. Terry Ferrell, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

Lt. Col. Kenneth Adgie, commander of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment presented Mudher with a battalion coin for his valor Oct. 16.

A few weeks ago Sergeant Bellavia’s book, “House to House,” finally made its way to the first person who took me up on my offer to give it away. My only proviso was that he, in turn, pass it on to someone else, someone who would be likely to do the same. The idea of Sergeant Bellavia’s book making its way across the country has great appeal.

The Baron and I reviewed the book separately; even though we went in different directions and paid attention to different elements in the story, we were both moved by this soldier’s part in Fallujah II.

As promised (though late as usual) I sent the Sergeant’s book to the person who’d asked first. In fact, his response was almost immediate -I’d hardly put the post up when he made his request. Now, having read his own take on the story, and his background in the military, I see why he was so prompt in asking for it.

Here’s O.W.’s response to Sergeant Bellavia’s tale. I am sure it is one many of our ex-military readers will understand:

Finished it tonight. I wasn’t able to read any of it Saturday night because I am taking an on-line course that I need to keep my flight instructor rating active. I actually have until the end of November to complete it, but… I just like finishing things way ahead of time if possible.

Anyway. That book was great. It will set the bar pretty high for non-fiction coming out of the war in Iraq.

As for the war itself, I am in complete agreement with the outlook expressed in Gates of Vienna, that we are in for a long run and Iraq is just another stage in the first phase. I do wonder if the West has the determination needed for this. It seems as if far too many people accept the surface manifestation of the struggle, but want someone else to bear the burden of actually moving to the sound of the guns. I believe that this is like no struggle that we’ve seen in a long time. The closest thing that I can compare it to is the Israeli fight for survival.

In 2002 when recruitment seemed to be way down, I attempted to join the active Army. After being turned away there (age), I tried the reserve and the National Guard in Texas and New Mexico. It was of no use really. I am just too old to be taken seriously. That is unfortunate in a way since I would likely be a better soldier now than I was before.

As for qualifications, before, all I had to offer was youth and a high school degree….

– – – – – – – –

Now, I am a licensed commercial pilot, a flight instructor, an architect with a master’s degree, an NRA ranked high master in highpower rifle and long range marksmanship. Plus, for a geezer, I have staggeringly good health (luck of the draw and clean living). I have always maintained a fairly high level of physical fitness and would likely max the physical fitness test for the Army.

The only reason that I mention this is that even the military hasn’t recognized the long term seriousness of this war much more than have the politicians. If they had, they might understand that older soldiers who can perform certain functions can free up younger soldiers for other duties. By the time that they do realize this, the well may have dried up in terms of young enlistees.

Back to the book, I have already decided who to forward it to and will emphasize that it is to be passed on when it has been finished.

They say old soldiers never die, they just fade away. Now I understand that – their experience and expertise is wasted. Surely in Fourth Generation warfare we are wantonly disregarding the pool of men who could be of great use to their country.

Well, as I said to OW, should the time come when the war comes to the home front, men such as he will no longer be sidelined. They will be desperately needed.

And there are a lot of such men spread through this country. On a recent comment thread to this post on Hillary, I facetiously asked people where they were planning to emigrate should Miz Rodham be elected. Several such men stepped forth to say their oath to serve was a permanent state of affairs, one that did not end with their discharge. Thus, they weren’t going anywhere, thankyouverymuch.

If we can use old generals taking up room in the Pentagon, why do we squander older men who would willingly serve in the ranks?

What a terrible waste of perfectly good soldiers.

8 thoughts on “A Soldier is a Terrible Thing to Waste

  1. ‘Several such men stepped forth to say their oath to serve was a permanent state of affairs, one that did not end with their discharge”

    I’m sure that if that question was asked nationwide, millions of Vets (and non-vets) would stand up and walk to the line.

    My little group of friends are mostly Vets, most of them younger than me, (but I’m really old) that are over the limit, but have said that they would go back in if allowed.

    As far as it being ever to late for the Military to allow older recruits, I don’t think that will be true and I don’t think that the supply of younger recruits will ever “dry up”. It may be that the numbers will decline but there will always be American Kids that will stand up for their Republic.

    Texans (and others) have always been right at the front of the line when their country needed them.

    Papa Ray
    West Texas

  2. I agree that a soldier is a terrible thing to waste, so I’m unable to understand why we’ve wasted the lives of our soldiers and marines in house-to-house fighting in Fallujah. We could have flattened the place with aerial bombardment, rolled tanks over the rubble, killed anything that stuck its head up, and thereby minimized our own casualties.

    I’m also unable to comprehend the idea of conquering a country for the benefit of the conquered, which I assume is the reason for wasting the lives of our soldiers and marines to preserve Iraqi property. I suppose it also explains why so many of our soldiers and marines have been prosecuted for action against the enemy. (All Iraqis are the enemy.) Ironically, our soldiers in Iraq are allowed less discretion than our domestic police. A young man would have to be really stupid to volunteer to serve people who will put him in prison for shooting the wrong Iraqi.

    If we continue with this candy-assed approach to the war, the Muslims are going to conquer us. If we’re too wussy to fight a real war, then we should stop wasting our blood and treasure.

  3. Last fall, I thought about going back in, and spoke briefly to a recruiter. I actually could have done it, since they give an age waiver for every year of active duty served.

    While I was still debating the pros and cons, and waiting for a copy of my DD 214 to arrive, two things happened: First, I discovered that the PT standards I’d face today would be identical to the ones I faced when I was 22. I knew that the standards were adjusted some time after I got out, but wow.

    Then my nagging knee problems became genuine knee problems, and I decided that there’s no way on God’s Earth I could do a 2 mile run with any regularity. And a road march? I could probably gut it out, but I doubt I’d be functional afterwards.

    I’d like to serve, but I just can’t see it as an option anymore. Which is a shame, as I agree that there are a lot of us that could contribute.

    But it reminds me of something that happened in my Reserve days. A cohort was badly overweight, and wound up being kicked out of the service. Another individual said that he had mentioned it to his wife, and she couldn’t understand the Army’s logic: It wasn’t that the guy was incompetent, he was just fat. So put him someplace where he doesn’t have to look good or be in shape, and let him push papers.

    But as Ray and others have pointed out, there are still many young studs out there ready and willing to fill the roles. Perhaps it’s just time for us to admit that we’re not young any more.

    (For the record, I just turned 45).

  4. Gringo –

    Not all Iraqis are your enemy. First of all, there are no Iraqis – it’s a loose coalition of different tribes and ethnicities who were forced to share a state.

    And boy do they hate each other…

    So would you really say that the Iraqi Kurds, for example – who are more pro-American than Americans – are your enemy?

    Other than that… I absolutely agree with you. Had terrorist corpses been draped in pig skin and crucified along highways, there would be much less volunteers to become the next “martyr”.

    Had they known that if they engage or support terrorism in word or deed they’d be fined 100,000$ and then banished along with their families to some small island in the middle of nowhere, there would be very little support of terrorism.

    Yes, the war is fought badly and will too much touchy-feely; yes, this is the Long War; yes, all this fooling around and pretending it’s not a war has to stop…

    But man, don’t see enemies where there are friends.

    BTW, as an Israeli, I have exactly the same complaints for my state and army as you have for yours.

    As for old soldiers – I can certainly see the point of it. I am a veteran of two wars (like many Israelis my age – 28), with a disability that has abated in past years. I might be no longer fit for combat service, but I sure as hell can be support.

    The Army wouldn’t let me volunteer – they say it’s not worth the bother.

    And they’re right.

    When times’ll get tougher (and they will), we’ll all be called up. Or else I’ll end up being a guerrilla like my grandparents were against the Nazis.

  5. G.T.W. There are many positions where running and such are not necessary. Of course I know what you mean by “basic”, but I’m thinking that in the future, more slack will be allowed.

    In any event, here is a story about an old geezer who was up to the task at hand.

    And he could have run…but he didn’t.

    Papa Ray

  6. Raccoon,

    Some Iraqis might hate other Iraqis, but I suspect that 99.9% of them hate Americans. This includes the mealy-mouthed Iraqis on our payroll.

    I’d never thought of crucified Iraqis draped in pigskins lining the roadsides. My idea of reprisals (the traditional method of suppressing guerillas) was limited to shooting them. You are one creative dude!

    I was just a stateside soldier during my inglorious military service, and I’m far too old to go back in. If I were stuck in a pest hole like Iraq, though, I’d operate under my own rule of engagment: if it wasn’t made in the USA, kill it. So I’d probably do a very short tour in Iraq, followed by a few decades in Leavenworth.

    The primary strategic goal of any serious war against resurgent Islam (long, short, or what have you) would be to deprive Muslims of oil revenue. Reprisals for guerilla attacks would be an important tactic. I haven’t seen any sign that the Bush administration means to wage a serious war. In fact, our imam-in-chief has taken to issuing annual Eid al-Fitr greetings, and frequently remarks that, “Islam is a great religion that preaches peace.” I sometimes wonder whether the Hildebeest couldn’t do better.

  7. Gringo – you’re missing the point with reprisals. Ours are cultures that value lives. Theirs is a culture that values death.

    Killing them is useless unless you want to genocide them. And I sure hope you don’t. Moreover, it’s more difficult than it seems – Saddam has killed hundreds of thousands, tortured tens of thousands to death… fat lot of good it did him and his regime.

    Consider the Arab culture and tradition, and you’ll see why my suggestion of crucifying their pigskin-draped corpses along roads is not especially creative: for an average Arab Muslim fanatic, humiliation is far worse than death. And in the Islamic tradition being buried (or unburied) with pig remains prevents you from getting to Paradise and your 72 raisins.

    The crucification is probably not needed, given the general attitude of Islamists to USA as “crusaders” and any American action as an attempt to force Christianity on Muslims. But it sure would have been satisfying 🙂

    Now, about 99.9% of Iraqis hating Americans – incorrect. Kurds are much more than 0.1% of population in Iraq (insofar as they can be considered Iraqi), and they LOVE Americans – USA saved them from a decades-long campaign of genocide, and they are emphatically NOT Arabs.

    The other minorities (other than Shia who are influenced by Iran and the American betrayal of them in ’91) were also saved from genocide, but I don’t know how they feel about America.

    And as for the Iraqi Arabs… there is a Bedouin saying that tells much about the Arab mentality: “me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousin; me and my cousin against my tribe; me and my tribe against the world”.

    Then there’s the ubiquitous conspiracy theories with which the Arab culture is so rife. Your average Muhammad believes USA has invaded Iraq to steal oil, women, honor (which can be stolen in the Arab culture – that is, I take it from you and I gain it), bloody national treasure and Aunty Fatima’s necklace. But he could just as easily be made to believe the USA is there to protect them from another (say, Iranian-Syrian) conspiracy.

    And then you have to remember there are no Iraqis. There are tribes. Sects. Religions. Ethnicities. But no Iraqis as cohesive nation.

    To conclude – killing them won’t help… partially because there’s no “them”. It’s not like the Germans or the Russians.

    But be their ally, give them stuff, explain to them that they’ve been lied to and they’ll love you for a while. Then they’ll stab you in the back. Then again… same can be said about USA or, indeed, Israel – both states have abandoned allies to die. But then again, Germany, Japan and South Korea didn’t stab USA in the back, did they?

    I can conclude this rant with an old but true adage associated with Sun Tsu: Know Your Enemy.

    And yes, the unfortunate habit of the West to fund and aid its most bitter enemies is… perplexing. Israel does with the same with Palestinians, for some obscure reason.

  8. Raccoon,

    Of course there’s a “them.” They’re not us. That they are divided into numerous subgroups doesn’t change that.

    I value American lives, but reprisals need not involve genocide, just as war need not involve genocide. One only needs to kill enough of the enemy to show that one means business. When the IEDs and the sniping stop, so do the reprisals. If all Muslims wanted to become martyrs, there wouldn’t be nearly so many of them.

    As far as knowing the enemy, I’d prefer to let academics study them after we’ve reduced them all to Bedouinism. For now, it’s sufficient to know that they’re primitive tribesmen who have acquired some Western technology by selling the petroleum upon which they happened to be sitting. I think that we should return them to their natural state by depriving them of Western technology, and, incidentally, help ourselves to the petroleum.

    If we continue to deploy soldiers to Iraq merely to serve as targets, then the American public will eventually demand withdrawal, and they will have defeated us. If we have no goal that benefits Americans – and nobody I know cares whether Iraq has a democratic government – then we have no reason to be there. If we’re not going to take effective action in support of our own interests, then we should cut our losses and get out.

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