Green Eggs and Spam

I can't speak for the Navy, Air Force, or the Marines, but the Army was cursed with some truly awful food. As you can see in the image below, I have eaten actual green eggs on more than one occasion. (And unlike the photo below, they were usually served floating in a tepid pool of disgusting water…) With that in mind, when someone posted this photo, I thought that it deserved an appropriate ode in the style of Dr. Seuss...

I used to work for Uncle Sam
But never liked Green Eggs and Spam

Not in a tank, nor in a boat
Nor in a Jeep or Gama Goat

Not on the border in Germany
Nor in the rain or snow or sea

I did not like them in Korea
They only caused bad diarrhea

They were crap in Iraq and Afghanistan
So I still don't like Green Eggs and Spam

Green-Eggs-and-Spam

An Ode to SOS

I belong to a few different Veteran's forums, and recently someone mentioned that they had completed their tour of service without ever having tried the military's infamous SOS, which is an "affectionate" name for creamed ground beef over biscuits. The name is an acronym for (ahem) "Stuff on a Shingle," (although in Army parlance it's a different four-letter word instead of "stuff.")

SOS

Nevertheless, I thought that it might be fun to write a few words as an homage to one of the most-hated and yet most-loved dishes in the military cookbook. SOS may have tasted awful, but it was better than starving, and it taught me to be truly thankful for what I had.

I do not mean to sound so rude
By poking fun at Army food
But I have had their SOS
And can attest it's not the best
I've also had green eggs and ham
And a dozen types of mangled spam
I did not think those things existed
Until such time as I enlisted

My stomach now is ironclad
And can withstand when food is bad
If I sit back and reminisce
Those tasteless morsels I dismiss
Time, it seems, has helped to heal
My memories of horrid meals
Of MREs and old C-RATs
Which tasted more like stale, dried cat

The Army cooks, they tried their best
To create something we could digest
Suffice to say, we still survived
The food was bad, but we're alive
To bring my story to a close
I'd like to say before I go
That SOS may taste like crap
But it's better than a long, dirt nap

Smile

General Snetkov versus Ralph Kramden

I've shared on here before about how I had been COL Abrams' translator on the DDR border when GEN Snetkov (the CDR of GSFG in the late 80s) came through. (See https://bit.ly/2PIjcD9 about that.) But something that I don't think I shared here before was how much I thought that GEN Snetkov looked like Ralph Kramden.

GEN-Snetkov-vs-Ralph-Kramden

My German Skills are a Little Rusty

I attended a reunion this past August in Fulda, Germany, with some of the folks from the 511th MI Company. As we were leaving a restaurant after dinner one night, we bumped into a traveling Bachelor Party that was making its way through streets of the city. They were already a few sheets to the wind, which undoubtedly explains why they appeared to think that I was a hilarious attraction. (I have that effect on drunk people, so it seems.)

Anyway, they were sounding off with a series of German idioms, and after each one they would laugh uproariously and ask me to join in. This didn't seem possible to me, as I hadn't lived in Deutschland for 30 years, and even then I had been a Russian linguist.

However, as luck would have it - somewhere in the back of my aging mind was the sole German idiom that I had managed to retain for all these years, which I recited to the assembled crowd:

"Freier macht die augen auf, heiraten ist kein pferdekauf!"

This had the desired effect - they laughed even harder than before, shook my hand, offered me a beer, slapped me on the back, etc. After offering me some pomme frites, (which were stored in the groom's hat - ugh), they bid me "Auf Wiedersehen," and they wandered off to continue their evening's festivities.

Unfortunately, that idiom loses a little in translation, (especially when using Google or Bing translate), but trust me - it's pretty funny for a soon-to-be-groom to hear. What it says, in essence, is: "Open your eyes, free man - getting married is not like buying a horse."

Nevertheless, it's nice to know that occasionally your long lost language skills can still come in handy.

Open-mouthed smile

It's a New Year with the Same Warped Sense of Humor

I joined the Army in early 1986, at which time the following dark humor marching/running cadence was in prominent use:

A yellow bird / With a yellow bill
Landed on / My window sill
I lured him in / With a piece of bread
And then I smashed / His yellow head

Although to be perfectly honest, the original cadence didn't say "his yellow head;" instead, it used a more-colorful expression with the same number of syllables. But this is a public forum, so I'll stick to the sanitized version here.

Nevertheless, an unfortunate mishap occurred at my house recently: a tiny yellow bird flew into one of my windows, and - tragically - died as a result. However, when I discovered his demise, my first instinct wasn't to clean up the carnage. Instead, I grabbed my camera and a half-piece of bread and took the following picture, which I uploaded to a veterans' group on Facebook with the caption: "This guy landed on my window sill today... it didn't end well for him."

Now at first glance, this might seem rather… morbid. However, my fellow veterans immediately recognized my joke, and they posted comments like the following:

  • "His head seems intact. I'm confused."
  • "I see you lured him in with a piece of bread."
  • "You MUST finish what you started... CRUSH HIS ******* HEAD!!! "

They also replied with images like the following:

yellow-bird-knows
yellow-bird-grenade

One dark example of veteran humor was answered by dozens of darker examples of veteran humor. Once again, this behavior might seem somewhat disturbed to the casual observer, but none of the people involved in the ensuing discussion were sociopaths; most of them were happily married, with great jobs/careers, and selflessly devoted to their kids and grandkids. With that in mind, a short examination of the dichotomy between what veterans might find amusing versus what "acceptable society" might find amusing is worth discussing.

Here is another example of what many veterans find funny:

mushroom-cloud

I have to admit, I literally laughed out loud when I first saw that image; I honestly thought that was one of the funniest cartoons I had seen in a long time. However, when I showed it to my wife, she didn't find it funny. In fact, her comment was, "That's kind of sad…" And as I thought about our different reactions to the same image, I realized why veterans see things differently: we have learned to laugh at death. Not death itself, mind you, but the concept of death. We have to; we'd go crazy if we didn't, and I'll explain why.

The longer you serve in the military, you will eventually have to face death. This will rarely be your imminent demise, although that occasionally happens. But sooner or later you will have to survive the death of a friend or acquaintance, or you will have to come to terms with the fact that what you're doing is likely going to get you killed. Both of those realities are extremely difficult concepts for any sane person to deal with.

In an attempt to deal with the stress of these likely scenarios, most active service members of the military will employ the following coping mechanisms: toxic sarcasm and a dark sense of humor. This may seem strange and/or counter-productive to outsiders, but contrary to common sense - developing a cynical worldview helps service members successfully grapple with the subject of death. Learning to laugh at the inevitability of facing death in some form or other makes time in military service a little more endurable.

When veterans leave the service, their dark senses of humor follow them home; much like having a psychotic ex-lover stalk you across the country. But this is why I love hanging out in the veterans' groups on Facebook: I love seeing that there are others who still see things as I do. My sense of humor may be warped and distorted, but there are others who share that same warped and distorted sense of humor.

In short, other veterans "Get Me." They understand me. They share the same irreverent contempt for death that I do. Or to rephrase a famous idiom, "Fate whispers to the warrior, 'You cannot withstand the storm.' The warrior whispers back, 'You could really use a breath mint.'"

Ranger Up - A Sad Tale of Customer Service Failures

As a veteran, I love Ranger Up's products. Sometimes their products make me laugh, while at other times their products make me proud of my time in the service. In fact, I wear at least one of Ranger Up's t-shirts every week. But my love for that company was seriously damaged when they completely failed again and again to fulfill a very basic order. To better understand what I mean, here are the details:

I placed an order near the end of November for three products that I wanted to give as Christmas presents to my son-in-law, who is a fellow veteran. Two weeks later, I received only one of the products, even though Ranger Up's website and email notifications claimed that the order had been fulfilled. I understand that mistakes happen, especially around the holidays, and I wasn't concerned because there was still plenty of time to rectify the situation. To that end, I tried using the contact form on Ranger Up's website, then I tried using the web-based chat on their website, then I tried sending emails to their customer service address, and I left a couple voice mail messages at their customer service telephone number. I heard nothing from all of these attempts. Once again, I understand that the holiday season is busier than normal, but still - I heard not the slightest peep from Ranger Up.

After several days of hearing nothing, I followed a friend's suggestion and I reached out to Ranger Up's Facebook account. To my amazement, I heard back in a few hours, whereupon I was informed that I needed to allow 2-3 business days for follow ups from Ranger Up's staff due to the holiday volume. (I had already done that, of course.) But I was assured that someone named "Regina" would follow up with me that day to get everything squared away.

But I heard nothing more that day. Nor the next day.

As I mentioned before, the missing items were meant to be Christmas gifts, and by that time it was already a few days away from Christmas. With that in mind, I reached out to Ranger Up's Facebook account again, and I informed them that I had already waited longer than their requisite 2-3 business days, yet I still had not heard anything from them - despite assurances that I would hear from them on the same day that I had contacted them through Facebook. I pointed out that in order to receive the rest of my order in time for Christmas, Ranger Up would have have to ship my remaining items by 2-day mail. The following day I received an apology for my order "falling through the cracks," and I was assured that Ranger Up would ship the rest of my original order via FedEx, and Ranger Up would cover the additional shipping costs. (Just to be safe, I bought my son-in-law a couple extra gifts.)

A day passed, then two, then three... and eventually Christmas arrived - but still I had received nothing from Ranger Up. On the day after Christmas, I received an email that my order was finally on its way. By this point, I didn't hold my breath.

I'll spare you the additional details and cut to the chase - the remaining items from my order arrived today. FIVE. DAYS. AFTER. CHRISTMAS. More than a week after I was assured that my order would arrive in time for Christmas, more than two weeks after I first contacted Ranger Up to let them know that there was a problem, and more than a month after I placed the original order, which for any other company would have been plenty of time for the holidays.

At the end of the day, I'm a realist; I completely understand that things go wrong. And I'm patient; I do not call companies and scream at people who are trying to do their jobs. And in the grander scheme of life, missing a couple gifts for the holidays is a really small thing; I have my health, I have a wonderful wife, I have great kids, and I have cute grandkids.

But all that being said, Ranger Up failed. Big time. Again. And again. And again.

On Ranger Up's contact page, they proudly proclaim the following:

"From August 26th to 5 January 2016, Ranger Up used a third-party partner for customer service and fulfillment. During that period of time many orders did not get fulfilled and many customers were ignored. Those days are over. We will get back to you within 1-2 business days, and we will remedy all issues to your satisfaction. We learned the valuable lesson that no one cares about our customers as much as we do and we look forward to being us again in 2017."

From my perspective, it seems as if nothing has changed; my order was not fulfilled, I was clearly ignored, I did not hear from Ranger Up within 1-2 business days, and they certainly did not remedy any issues to my satisfaction.

Ranger Up's website also proudly proclaims the following: "Founded by veterans with an ethos forged by service." I'm not sure how things work in the military now, but in my day a soldier who demonstrated that level of failure again and again would have had his butt kicked over and over until he learned how to do his job.

Remembering the Fall of the Wall

Today is November 9, 2019, which is exactly 30 years since the opening of the East German border; that event has since become known as "The Fall of the Wall." I was stationed along the East German border when it was opened, and I still have vivid memories of what the world was like at that time.

Tensions in East Germany had been building for some time, and thousands of East Germans had already fled through neighboring Warsaw Pact nations like Hungary and Czechoslovakia. When the border was opened unexpectedly on November 9, 1989, hundreds of thousands of East Germans poured into West Germany, where they were met with open arms by crowds of joyous West German citizens and US military personnel.

Within a few short years, the two Germanys were reunited, and the Soviet Union collapsed - which was the greatest manifestation of Communism's many, many failures. However, as a reminder of what the border was like before it opened, you might want to watch the following video.

Just two short months ago, a small group of my fellow 511th MI Company veterans and I met for a reunion at the former inner-German border. It was great for us to stand in erstwhile enemy territory next to the abandoned guard towers that had once kept the nation of East Germany prisoner. It was somewhat poetic that these relics of a bygone era are reduced to mere tourist attractions. (And by that I meant the guard towers, not us.)

2019-Reunion-Mosaic

Posing by the former border towers.

Not to beat a dead horse on the subject, but this is a chunk of the East German border fence that I have had in my office for the past three decades. I personally cut that section off the fence after the border was opened, and it's a nice little reminder that the plans of evil men everywhere will eventually fail.

Border-Fence-Plaque

The text is a little blurry, but it quotes Psalm 146:7 "The Lord sets the prisoners free,"
with the dates of 13 August, 1961 to 9 November, 1989.

More 511th Stories: Sometimes You Should Shut Up And Be In The Photo

In my last year at Fulda, I was chosen to be the translator for COL John Abrams, (commander of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment [ACR]), during a ceremony when GEN Boris Vasilievich Snetkov, (commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany [GSFG]), and GEN Alexandrov (commander of the Soviet Military Liaison Mission in Germany [SMLM]) came across the border.

EPSON MFP image

When the 11th ACR's official photographer for the ceremony heard that I was COL Abrams' translator, he asked if I had a top secret clearance; and if so, was he forbidden from taking my photo. Like many people, I hate having my photo taken, so I told him that it was against regulations to take a photograph of me.

Later on, however, COL Abrams followed up with me and said that I had done a great job as his translator, so he had instructed the photographer to make 8x10 copies of any of the photos from the ceremony for me to keep. (I think you can guess where this is going, even though I didn't at the time.)

The photographer called me when the proofs were ready, and when I showed up at his office, I discovered that he had - in fact - taken photos from dozens of angles, and yet he had managed to faithfully keep me out of every shot. The closest he came to having me in an image was during the pass-and-review, where I was walking to the right of GEN Snetkov. On the bottom left of the original photo you can see a sliver of my shadow, which completely disappeared when I scanned it.

EPSON MFP image

I learned an important lesson from this experience: sometimes you should just shut up and let someone take your @#$% photo.

Always Remember to Shave in the Army

I attended the USAREUR Air Assault School in 1988, and one of the cadets failed to shave one morning.

He was ordered to dry shave while standing on a stump that was placed in front of the entire class, and he was required to loudly lecture everyone on the merits of daily shaving, while the rest of the class stood at parade rest.

At one point, the following conversation took place:

"Roster Number 30!!! Are you bleeding???"

"Yes, Air Assault First Sergeant!!! Blood helps lubricate the blade!!!"

After which the guy's squad leader was order to kneel next to the stump and catch any blood in his cupped hands, lest any blood hit the ground and desecrate the surrounding area.

Why We Have Memorial Day

Here is a gentle reminder of why we have a Memorial Day:

Memorial Day is not about taking a day off work, burning burgers in backyard BBQs, or picking up additional useless things from one-day sales; Memorial Day is about taking a moment to honor the memory of those we have lost.