On fighting


I was inspired to write this bit by a post from John Birmingham on cheeseburgergothic.com. He describes the importance of learning to deal with physical confrontations both in competition, and in real life. Mr. Birmingham is a brown belt in jujitsu, two bars, so he knows of what he speaks. It was a good piece. Here’s my subjective bit about how the body reacts, how one thinks, during intense physical and mental stress.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no photos of me in combat. The image above is the best I can do, it was taken upon my return to base after three weeks of close combat in a forbidding mountain valley nestled deep in the Hindu Kush.

Combat is an ugly word. I still get shivers when I think of it. Combat entails people trying to kill you in the dark, feeling naked and vulnerable beneath the stars above. It is the feeling of recoil against your shoulder, radio calls, falling leaves from trees and bushes. Combat is screaming. Combat means blood, lots of it, sticky pools of spreading black/red.

But before combat is something worse. It’s anticipation. Sudden combat is best, there is no time to think, only time to react. Someone opens up on you, you respond without thinking. While lethal and shocking, it’s better than knowing for long hours that you are going to assault a known enemy position, starting at time X.

Because this is a subjective piece, I can only speak for my reactions. I would smoke cigarette after cigarette, frequently lighting one with the cherry of the previous. I would obsessively go over the plan. Check my gear and the gear of my soldiers, over and over. Jump a little when a vehicle would start, or the word would come down to move out on foot. Felt the frequent need to piss, sometimes I would do it on the move. My hands would be numb. Whether this was physiological or a function of the weight of my equipment (usually about ninety pounds), I don’t know.

As the objective got closer, some village or terrain feature with a dark aura, my guts would gurgle, my mouth went dry, the lips compressed into a tight line. I can’t remember sweating, but my pulse would pound like a jackhammer in my ears. My head would scroll with a constant recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, or Psalm 23. Funny, because I’m not religious. But as the objective drew closer, I felt closer to God and eternity.

I experienced the first shots as a relief. Finally, it was time to act. The radio calls would start, it was my job to answer them. Chaos reigned, guys would be moving, shooting. It was my job to bring some measure of order to the show, to direct soldiers at the “main effort.” Such antiseptic words for murder, really. At times I would fire as well.

Something the reader needs to understand is that people don’t want to die or be maimed. Your “targets” are living, thinking people who are doing their best to be bad targets. You shoot at movement, shadows, figures. Frequently bullets or RPG rounds come at you and you have no idea where the shooter is. These are moments of intense irritation, frustration. The early dawn dances with flares and strobes with explosions. Tracers arc through the night, green and red. Yelling, screaming.

Combat is not silent. It shrieks. It can last for moments, or stretch out over the course of days.

Finally, something gives. The fire slackens, then stops. You have overrun the objective, fended off an attack, escaped an ambush. Note: if these things haven’t happened, you are dead and you don’t get the chance to write pieces on websites years later.

The aftermath hits you. Your body, which stayed upright and moving while the lead was flying, seems to deflate much as a punctured inner tube. Every thought is a burden, every movement a chore. With leaden gaze, you light a cigarette, the ashes fall on your body armor. Fighters roar by overhead. Helicopters come for the wounded, the dead get dragged off somewhere. More screaming.

Years later, you hear it still.


The more the merrier


We do live in interesting times. You all know I’ve spoken at length about Elon Musk’s SpaceX ventures, but I have had little to say about Jeff Bezos’s effort with Blue Origin and the New Shepard suborbital rocket.

Well, this won’t be the longest of articles that I’ve written, but I’m talking about Bezos’s feat today. It seems that the New Shepard took off yesterday, reached space, deployed a crew capsule, and landed itself back on the pad. It had some NASA experiments on board, the mission was a resounding success.

This is most excellent. I have had some concerns about Elon Musk and overreach, so as far as I am concerned, the more serious players in the space game, the better.

Mr. Bezos’s stated goal is to get paying passengers to space in the near future aboard his reusable rocket, and it looks as if he may succeed.

By all means read this cool article about his progress. It’s a good read, but the video is awesome. Check it out.

Excellent work to the people at Blue Origin! Keep it coming.


The powered fighting suit is coming


There’s a great article on the Wall Street Journal about industrial unpowered and powered exoskeletons that got me thinking about this. But it’s behind a paywall, so my brief take on it below.

Well, I’ve been talking about this for a while. I’ve based my original trilogy on the concept, too. What is it? The birth of the human augmenting powered exoskeleton; an innovation that will revolutionize both industry and warfare.

Paired with a controlling AI, this is the counter to “Terminator.” It will also make conventional infantry more or less obsolete, and will trigger a new arms race. Imagine, most of the small arms in the world (and unarmored humans) will become obsolete against these new armored armies.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture one of the suits pictured above (the Sarcos Guardian XO)¬†fully enclosed in armor with an array of weapons, both lethal and non-lethal.

This is also a counter to the age-old arguments against women serving in infantry units. It is true that the average woman doesn’t have the upper-body strength of the average man. Upper body strength is completely necessary to lift and carry 50 odd kilos of weight along with weapons and have a reserve left over for the fight at the other end. Powered fighting suits render the old biological differences moot.

All that is required is hand-eye coordination, basic intelligence, discipline, training and courage. Women have as much potential as men in those categories, so wars in the future will be fought by both sexes across the board.

Think as well about the law enforcement applications. What criminal is going to want to shoot it out with one of these? I guess the Darwin Factor would get rid of the really dumb ones, but the smart ones would put their weapon down and their hands up.

The only thing holding this back is a power source. Once that’s cracked, Katie bar the door.

From the female draft to 2nd Amendment questions, this is going to shake things up both in society and the military.

Take it to the bank.



Making useless stuff useful


I grew up in a coal-mining region, and I live there still. The landscape is dotted with countless abandoned coal mines and “brownfields,” or old industrial and frequently contaminated sites. What to do with all of this blighted and seemingly useless terrain? I think on this a lot.

Well, an article caught my eye. It seems that there are researchers who are busy figuring out how to place farms into abandoned mine shafts- a splendid idea. Worldwide there are probably millions of these dangerous and currently useless holes, and many of them are located very near or in metropolitan areas. Why not exploit them for agriculture? Also, a useful link on a related subject was provided to me by Dirk De Jager. There’s a lot of potential here.

The technology is there, and with near-constant temperatures and “weather,” these mines-turned-farms could produce about six crops per year as opposed to the standard two or three.

Some questions I have are what the plan is to remediate Acid Mine Drainage, and ensuring safety in what are frequently unsafe and unmaintained shafts. Besides that, the promise of this possible future form of agriculture is good.

The fact is that we are running out of arable land for a growing population. And an unchanging fact is that if you don’t grow it, then you have to mine it. Why not turn played out mines into “land?”

Makes sense to me.


How times do change


A friend of mine is on vacation in Vietnam, and he’s having a very good time with his family. Apparently the people are cool, the place is bustling with energy, and the beer is cheap. Also, it’s a beautiful place rich in history and scenery, a country worth visiting. Sounds very much like a place to go, to unwind and relax.

But for some, Vietnam is the last place they would visit.

I asked my uncle, a US Army veteran of the A Shau valley, 1969-70, if he would ever want to go back. His face clouded over and he shook his head. He’ll never return.

To this day I don’t hear Vietnam mentioned in tones other than sorrow and fear from relatives and older friends. Not to mention how I see that land and the war that was fought there stamped on acquaintances, patients, up at the VA hospital.

If you talk to many Vietnam veterans, it is as if time stopped in 1966 or ’69. They are still frightened young men who have been sent out to kill their fellow men in those dark, forbidding forests, rugged hills or swampy rice paddies. If you get to know those fellows, they will tell their stories.

Some of the stories are very dark, searing tales of loss and horror. Friends who died or were maimed, civilians caught in the cross fire, enemies lying broken and dying. All of it told on the canvas of an emerald green land, foreign and unknowable.

These old men sit, with their worn faces and tired bodies, and in their minds they are eighteen years old again. They pull a trigger or a lanyard, they load bombs or ride in a Huey.

Vietnam is a real place to them, a dark corner in their heads.

But what they see isn’t real anymore. The Vietnam that they knew no longer exists. The youngest baby in the war is middle-aged now. That infant, now an adult with grown children, remembers not one single thing about those days.

This is a blessing. All wars, no matter how cruel, eventually end. With time, the most bitter foes can become friends. For some, that is, but certainly not all.

For many that fought, who can’t bear to ever return, the war is not over. It lives on like a curse, it colors each day. For tens of thousands, the word “Vietnam” will always be draped in black, chiseled in white marble at Arlington.

I understand.

Someone said that no war is really over until the last soldier that fought is dead. By that measure, the final echoes of the Vietnam war will fade around 2075 or so. My war? Who knows. It’s still being fought.

If you believe in God, pray for peace. Then make sure you vote for wise leadership in whatever country you inhabit.

Let’s keep places like Vietnam happy and carefree for everyone going forward.