Monday, February 27, 2006

I'm Invincible!

Body armor is a big business these days. And why not? It’s a situation where everybody wins. The manufacturers of the armor make millions, the politicians can claim they support the troops and the American people can feel a little less guilty when they read about attacks in Iraq.

As far as the soldiers are concerned, we get Kevlar vests with ceramic strike plate inserts that can stop a high-powered 7.62 mm round. We get new ballistic helmets, ballistic eye protection, knee protection, elbow protection, throat protection, neck protection, groin protection (A.K.A. the codpiece), deltoid protection, rib protection, ear protection and chemical protection masks. We’re invincible! Unfortunately we’re also immobile.

Each unit debates how much of the armor they should actually wear. The weight of this modern body armor is roughly the same weight as a suit of medieval chain mail, over 50 pounds. It reminds me of the Battle of Agincourt as told by Shakespeare in “Henry V.” Old Henry had his soldiers take off their armor and then prayed for rain. The rain came and turned the battlefield into a quagmire. When the French knights fell off their horses, all the English had to do was watch them drown in the mud.

Still, it seems the modern Army isn’t interested at all in mobility. Next thing you know, they’ll be rolling us up in bubble wrap and sending us out to battle with stickers that say “Fragile, handle with care.”

Now, the armor has saved many lives, and I don’t want to discount that. In fact, I’ve developed a new kind of body armor that will save even more lives and hopefully make me rich. I’ll let you in on it if you promise not to steal it.

The bulletproof vests we have right now use a few layers of Kevlar and about an inch of a specially designed ceramic that absorbs the impact from a bullet. My method would use air to stop the bullets. That’s right, air. By surrounding soldiers with a few thousand miles of air in every direction, they become 100 percent bulletproof. Plus, my patented air armor weighs next to nothing. The only down side is that it decreases mobility on the roads of Iraq. To be honest, to use this armor in Iraq, the soldiers would actually have to be physically standing in the U.S. But if it’s protection over mobility we want, then I think my air armor is the best solution.

Bush and Cheney, if you care about the troops, you’ll send me a multi-million dollar no-bid contract immediately.

Photo: I'm standing in my office wearing all the gear. It's almost like a scene from "A Christmas Story." If I'm ever in combat, my battle cry will be, "Ralphy! Ralphy!" Photo by: Ryan Poland, film genius.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bad Dreams

Sgt. David Weyant has bad dreams. I have bad dreams, too. There’s one where I’m arm wrestling Dick Cheney and he looks into my eyes and says, “Marshall, I am your father.” Then I go, “Nooo!” and wake up in a sweat. But Weyant’s dreams are a bit more serious. He dreams of explosions.

“When you wake up from an explosion dream, your heart’s beating and your ears are ringing,” Weyant said.

He hesitated to call them “recurring” dreams and said he didn’t know what Freud would say about them. I told him I wasn’t a psychiatrist, but I had a pretty good guess why he had the dreams.

Weyant is an IED hunter. He and his team drive around in special vehicles to clear the roads of Iraq from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The makeshift bombs are the number one killer of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. If this screwed up war has a front, Weyant’s on it.

If that's not reason enough for the dreams, maybe the fact that they started after he saw one of his friends die from a vehicle-borne IED.

“A lot of guys will admit to having dreams,” Wyant said. “You learn little tricks to get yourself to sleep.”

When I asked Weyant’s buddy, Sgt. Taze Baskerville, if he had any tricks to get to sleep, he held up a large bottle of Tylenol P.M.

“My wife sends them to me,” Baskerville said. “Some of the guys think it’s bad to use pills, but they’re the ones up all night reading or messing around on their computers.”

That night, I talked to a soldier waiting in line for the showers. He had been on a patrol just a week earlier and saw a massive IED, five 155 mm artillery rounds, blow the humvee in front of him in two. Four people died. He said he’d barely slept since that day. He especially felt guilty because, as an IED hunter, he was supposed to clear that IED.

“They keep telling me I should go to the combat stress center,” said the soldier. “But the only way they can help my stress is to tell me I’m going home.”

We both laughed for a bit before we realized how akward it is to have a conversation while wearing only towels.

Their unit is home now, and I hope they're sleeping well.

photo captions: top, Weyant rides shotgun in a buffalo, a special de-mining vehicle adapted for hunting IEDs. bottom, Baskerville climbs the ladder to enter the rear hatch of the buffalo after stopping to check out a possible IED. The vehicle behind Baskerville is a Meerkat, which is essentially a large metal detector.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

My right as an NCO

Article 88 of the U.S. Military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice states: “Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or Legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

The maximum penalty for a violation of Article 88 is a one-year confinement. Basically, an officer can’t speak negatively about any politician above state representative. Although, I believe the lieutenant governor is fair game.

I knew there was a reason I stayed a sergeant. Allow me, briefly, to exercise my rights as a noncommissioned officer:

President Bush is a class A jackass. Vice President Cheney is an evil monkey puppet master. Congress sucks. Donald Rumsfeld eats little children. I would speak contemptuously of the secretaries of all the military departments but they change so quickly, I don't know where to start. Norman Mineta is a jerk. (I have nothing against the Secretary of Transportation, but I’m on a roll. Sorry, Norman.) All the governors and legislators of all the states, territories and commonwealths are scurvy dogs who deserve to get paddled with a wicker switch.

That feels better.