The end of our Afghanistan adventure is upon us and it is worse than the most pessimistic predictions on how the war would end. I have been writing since 2008 that there was only one way the Afghanistan conflict would end and that would be with an accommodation of the Taliban. I never imagined that the Taliban would sweep the board and help us extricate ourselves from the country in the most amateurish Non-Combatant Operation (NEO) every executed by the United States military.
I first got wind of the impending disaster on the 28th of July when a freelancer friend of mine asked if he could provide my contact information to a man in Zaranj, the capitol of Nimroz province, who wanted me to apply for a visa on his behalf. I checked with my former interpreter from Nimroz, now a resident of California, about the man in question and it turned out he was a resident of Zaranj, but had worked for the contractor GRS, not me. But I did learn about the new P1/P2 visa program which would open a route to the United States for all the Afghans who worked with me but were not interpreters.
On the 6th of August I started receiving a flood of emails from Afghans in Nimroz province (in the southwest), Nangarhar province (in the east), Balkh province (in the north), and Kabul. All of them wanted P2 visa applications started on them but not all of them qualified.
The guidance on who could recommend visa’s is “For non-governmental organizations (NGO) and media organizations that were not funded by the U.S. government, but are headquartered in the United States, the senior-most U.S. citizen employee of that organization may make a referral”. As a regional manager I had Chief of Party status, according to the State Department, which was the excuse they used to get me to stop wearing a pistol to provincial reconstruction meetings. CADG is based in Singapore, not the USA so I assumed my claim as the senior American on the USAID projects I worked would go unchallenged.
As the Taliban started taking provincial capitals the trickle of Afghans reaching out to me became a flood. In addition, my former interpreter from Nimroz province called to tell me he had sent his wife and four children to Afghanistan when his mother-in-law fell ill. They were stuck in Zaranj and the two youngest, who were born in California, only spoke English. He needed help so we organized a WhatsApp group to guide the family back to Kabul and into the airport. My favorite war correspondent Michael Yon, and the owner of CADG Steve Shaulis, got the family to Kabul. Getting them through the Marine perimeter became the problem, despite the children having American passports and the mother a permanent resident card they were not allowed into the airport.
I was podcasting daily during the Kabul NEO with the Mensa Brothers on All Marine Radio and updating the audience regularly on the plight of my friend’s family and the travails my visa applicants were facing outside the Kabul Airport. On the third day of the evacuation (August 18th) a listener put me in touch with a with a former Marine who was (I assume) a contractor working for the State Department inside the evacuation center. The next day I contacted another former Marine working inside the evacuation center. On the 20th of August I received a call from an old friend in Langley, Virginia asking if I had a “useful man” in Kabul. I had just been chatting with my old friend N who was a fixer at the Kabul embassy back when I ran the guard force. Mr. N is one of the most useful guys you could find in Kabul as he had the ability to acquire or do anything asked of him. The first thing he said to me when we connected on signal was “the fucking Taliban took all my houses and cars and they have closed the banks too and I cannot stay here with them”. God, I miss Kabul.
On the 20th of August I had one visa applicant through the process, seven complete applications in the process, and eleven other applications that were not complete and not submitted. My Langley friend (we went through the Marine Corps officer training pipeline together) sent my useful man a message on the Signal app dropping my name and telling him to sit tight. That was cool and now one of the richest sketchy dudes from Kabul owes me. I placed my approved visa guy on a target list telling the Marines where he thought he was in the crowd and what he was wearing. I asked about my other applicants and was told they were on it.
Steve and Michael had done the same thing with their contacts inside the evacuation center and had the fix in to get our California family through the gate. I could feel the momentum going our way and went the sleep that night convinced we salvage something positive from the Afghanistan debacle.
Then everything turned to shit.
My former Terp’s wife and children were again turned away and the wife told us she was not risking taking the children through the Taliban lines again. The Marines had not found my family either which I deduced from the panicked messages waiting for me when I woke up. Then I received several emails from my applicants saying they had notifications from the embassy telling them to report to the Abbey Gate for processing. That is news that falls under the category of too good to be true, so I asked them to send screen shots. It did not take an evidence technician to see they were all the same screen shot. The notification system the embassy was using had been compromised and there were now 100,000 Afghans standing outside the airport with embassy notifications on their cell phones.
Adding to the confusion was a notification from one of my contacts in the evacuation center which is pasted below
Please have a current USAID official submit this referral.
Based on the information that you have provided, this individual and their immediate family members may be eligible for a P2 referral to the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program if they were employed by a U.S.-based non-governmental organization in Afghanistan. P-2 referrals are intended for certain Afghans who are affiliated with the United States through employment, but who do not qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). It is not possible for individuals to self-refer to the program; the senior-most U.S. citizen employee of the non-governmental organization for which an Afghan individual worked must submit the referral. More information is available at: https://www.state.gov/u-s-refugee-admissions-program-priority-2-designation-for-afghan-nationals/. Completed forms should be sent to ATF-TF3@state.gov with the subject “P2 Referral.” Additional guidance will be provided to the individual(s) you referred at the email address you provide for them.
State Department Afghanistan Task Force – People at Risk
There are no current USAID officials who would have any knowledge of me or the Afghans who worked for me. The USAID program officials managing the projects I worked in Afghanistan were Afghans, the USAID officials I would (rarely) see outside the wire were contractors. What the Task Force was asking me to do was find an official from USAID willing to perjure him or herself on behalf of an American he doesn’t know to support an Afghan he has never met. It was at this point I started recognizing the sure signs of a massive clusterfuck.
I now had five families from outside Kabul waiting at the airport gates, two families in Kabul who spent their days outside the airport and seven families making their way towards Kabul from points west and north. I was still working with some of the applicants to get their paperwork in order and being ever the optimist, I told them all to not fear. The Marines were at the airport and would sort things out soon. On the daily podcast we said the same thing – one of the four of us had been involved in every Non-Combatant Evacuation the Marine Corps has conducted since Vietnam. We know how it’s done and what we were seeing on the ground was the abandonment of every lesson we had learned about conducting these events starting with the imperative of standoff for the screeners.
It was clear to me that my two contacts in the evacuation center were exhausted, overwhelmed, and that the evacuation would end before the 31st of August. The next few days were a blur, I was coaxing my Afghans to be patient, I was waiting for the Marines to get organized enough that they could start focusing on the people there were sent there to take out which would be Americans, green card holders, and Afghans with a legitimated SIV or P1 or P2 applications. That never happened. The inevitable attack by ISIS sealed the fate of those Afghans, the ones who put their skin in our game, were now screwed.
Only 705 of the 18,000 Afghan visa applicants were evacuated. An estimated three-quarters of the people we evacuated were not visa applicants or green card holders. The Kabul NEO was a miserable failure, and an educated guess would point to the 6,938 mile screwdriver driven by micromanagers in the White House Tank taking stock in the good idea fairy. I know all the super geeky technology we now have in abundance looks cool in Hollywood movies, but it allows for micromanagement by the mouth breathers who lurk in every higher headquarters. When you have too much supervision from on high you get the results we got in the Kabul NEO: failure.
We failed to bring the Afghans who proved their loyalty to the United States by putting their lives on the line out with us as promised. Instead, we evacuated tens of thousands of unknown Afghans who can never be screened or vetted because there are no records against which to vet anyone.
My old fixer Mr. N got the Turkish army to give him a ride to the civilian terminal where they put him on a Turkish military flight with a bunch of other Afghans who, like Mr. N, were wise enough to facilitate and partner with Turkish companies during the reconstruction boom. As I said he is a very useful man. I’m still trying to get him a visa though because the one thing I want to see before I die is Mr. N having a night on the town in Las Vegas.
We not only failed to accomplish the mission we lost eleven Marines, a navy corpsman, and an army sergeant in the process and under circumstances which were completely avoidable. The Pentagon contends the losses came from one suicide vest IED. That is a blatant lie, there is not an explosive compound in the world that could generate that much blast power with the quantities used in a suicide vest. ISIS never sends a single suicide bomber anyway; they send multiple bombers and men with guns to shoot into the crowd of first responders. But that is one minor lie in the flood of disinformation fed us by our legacy media and amateur hour administration over this debacle.
Yet after the attack on the Kabul airport there was still hope. One of my insiders sent the email pasted in below:
Apologize the delay brother — it’s been an exhausting week. At the moment, here’s the word;
1. Gates are closing due to troop withdrawal and retrograde operations
2. State Department has significantly halted processing any SIV/P2 cases, US Passports are being accepted at limited capacity due to gate closures
3. All resources have been exhausted due to security and accessibility issues
His best bet is to get his family to the Abbey gate (canal side). Make a sign that says “Gy Tate”. He is my guy on the ground. His Marines know to look for that sign.
The signs did not work, my Afghan families who had submitted the proper paperwork, had paid the $3,000 for required medical exams and clearance, and had already been issued visa’s never made it past the gate. Apparently female sports teams made it in, a collection of Special Forces dudes started the Pineapple express to get their people inside. That was no doubt rewarding for them but that minor victory came the at the expense of the Afghans who were qualified, had done the paperwork, had waited their turn, and who face legitimate threats if they returned home. I’m not being bitter, I would have done the exact same thing had I been in their shoes.
The Kabul NEO was a fiasco and it did not come remotely close to achieving the mission assigned which was to get American citizens, allies, and Afghans who had applied for Visas under the SIV P1 or P2 program out. We did not get all the Americans or allies out, and we barely made a dent in the visa applicants.
It is now time to rethink our military. I am not comfortable having an army capable of fighting 20 years without a declaration of war. I no longer trust our military leadership or our civilian masters to do what is best for the country instead of what is best for themselves.
I was hoping for a win – getting one family would have a victory of sorts, getting a dozen out would have been better. But the confusion generated by trying to conduct a NEO from Kabul International and not Bagram Airbase crushed any hope of getting the Afghans who earned the right to become Americans out as we had promised. And just to rub it in good and hard the general who headed this debacle arranged to have a portrait of himself taken as “the last man out”. I was hoping for a win but what I got was a kick in the balls from an organization that has lost its way and is no longer worthy of our trust or confidence.
Texas historian T.R. Ferhenbach wrote that the Texans considered the United States “A country grown so great even fools cannot destroy it“. That was then (back when Texas agreed to join the United States on terms most favorable to Texas). This is now, and now has serious, unsolvable, structural, problems inside our social order that will manifest themselves in ways none of us can anticipate. It is possible the fools of today may well be able to destroy the country.
We are being asked two believe, as John Hinderaker wrote in this post, that:
“… Joe Biden, a mentally impaired senior citizen who didn’t campaign, who rarely left his basement, about whose candidacy virtually no one was enthusiastic outside his immediate family, smashed all records by getting 81 million Americans to vote for him, 12 million more than voted for Barack Obama in 2008? Actual live Americans, voting legally, and only once? While millions of those same voters didn’t vote down-ballot, so that, apart from the presidential race, it was a good year for Republicans? I don’t believe it”.
Add to this the continuing attempt to avoid any admission of guilt by our ruling classes for ignoring the obvious fact that COVID 19, although lethal for 0.03% of the population, is no threat to the rest of us. Our ruling classes know this which is why they routinely flout the laws they shove down our throats. This is a worldwide phenomenon that is impossible for any rational human being alive today to explain. Why have we ruined so much of our capacity and wealth for a disease lethal to less than 1% of the population worldwide? Reasons. What reasons I know not, but it is gratifying to find yourself being that guy in this picture.
Now another shoe has dropped that may force me over the edge of reason and into armed, open, revolt. They (the media in general, NYT specifically) have declared Tiki Bars are racist.
I have owned and ran one bar in my lifetime; a Tiki Bar in Jalalabad, Afghanistan that was the friendliest place in the world for people of all colors, gender and creeds (except Afghans). It was a friendly place because everyone was armed or came with armed guards. Armed societies are polite societies. In Afghanistan foreigners are allowed to consume alcohol but not Afghans which is why we had a giant screen TV room with WWE DVD’s. for the drivers and guards to use.
[A] new generation of beverage-industry professionals are shining a light on the genre’s history of racial inequity and cultural appropriation, which has long been ignored because it clashes with the carefree aesthetic. . . A new wave of industry professionals is reimagining these delicious contributions to cocktail culture, looking to shed the appropriation and racism that have accompanied tiki since its inception. . . A recent movement aims to shift from the word “tiki” to “tropical.”
I know what you are thinking; the NYT is starting to suffer from TWS (Trump Withdrawal Syndrome) so they cook up some snarky bullshit about hipster bars, and then add that Richard Nixon liked Tiki Bars to dogwhistle the proles. You think this only about the people who runTiki Bars, but you’re wrong. First they came for the Tiki Bars and now they are coming after…..Coffee drinkers.
See where America is heading under the reign of Bo Jiden? We had an interesting year featuring a hysteria pandemic, a stolen election, and the complete collapse of confidence in the main stream media. Now we move into the next phase of our destruction from within by identifying every touchstone of the America we love and labeling it racist. Woke ideology festers in ignorant minds where it reduces the ability to understand reality. Rational people understand the graph below, woke people feel the graph threatens their physical safety and that they need protection from the information it portrays, because reasons.
As observable reality and the main stream media narrative drift further and further apart it will be interesting to see how the Normals of the fly-over muscular classes (VDH coined that term) react. Will the incubators of freedom in America (Tiki Bars) end up as my incubator of freedom ended up? Alone, abandoned, cold and lonely; labeled a racist by the New York Times, who never even sent a reporter to look into the coolest Tiki Bar there ever was? Check that, Matt Rosenberg stayed at the Taj when he was with the Times but he never wrote about it.
Tiki Bars represent freedom for all men because they are simple to erect, cost almost nothing, and are universally identifiable. My Tiki Bar was not only an oasis of freedom but it was also representing Australia, the MIT FabLab, Burning Man, Synergy Strike Force, the Golden Triangle Rotary Club from La Jolla, and the United States Marine Corps according to the stickers and art work plastered on the coolers.
The assault on Tiki Bars is not the only assault on common sense there is also the mask problem. Not only are masks incapable of filtering out virus’s they are probably adding to the carnage as revealed by more “Science”. The results of a nationwide survey on the utility of masks was released yesterday and it contains bad news which means you’ll never read about it in the legacy media. It appears that mask wearing increases the likelihood of infection.
When comparing states with mandates vs. those without, or periods of times within a state with a mandate vs. without, there is absolutely no evidence the mask mandate worked to slow the spread one iota. In total, in the states that had a mandate in effect, there were 9,605,256 confirmed COVID cases over 5,907 total days, an average of 27 cases per 100,000 per day. When states did not have a statewide order (which includes the states that never had them and the period of time masking states did not have the mandate in place) there were 5,781,716 cases over 5,772 total days, averaging 17 cases per 100,000 people per day.
The reverse correlation between periods of masking and non-masking is remarkable.
The American people are finally catching on. With proper medical treatment a cold virus will last for only 7 days; left untreated a cold will clear up in a week. Seems like, for most who have been infected, COVID is acting like the other pathogenetic Corona viruses. As democratic controlled states head towards another full lockdown the proles are revolting. You can click here for an interactive map from Heritage.org showing 43 reported instances of local, state, and federal officials who violate their own coronavirus mandates, policies, or other restrictions.
We are now hearing about small business owners opening in defiance of ridiculous lockdown orders and being arrested for it. In New York City bar owner Daniel Presti hit a sheriff deputy with his car breaking both of the deputies legs while resisting his second arrest for the crime of opening his business. I support law enforcement 100% but not the members of law enforcement who bully citizens while enforcing edicts from on high while ignoring the laws of the land. The ” I was just following orders ” defense was used by Nazi’s to proclaim their innocence for crimes they supervised during WW II. That defense should stay in Nuremberg, it has no place in the culture of American law enforcement.
When police start enforcing laws they know damn well are unenforceable, unconstitutional, arbitrary, and backed by woke ideology, are they still police? I’m not sure, I live in Texas where the police are not prone to interfere with people out in public going about their business. I do know the most law abiding segment of society in the United States are concealed carry permit holders. It will take some serious abuse of our freedoms and liberties to get the gun owning public enraged to the point of using them; I can’t see how that happens at any scale in our large country.
The bars, restaurants, and small businesses in my town are open but struggling. The only arrest in McAllen related to COVID or BLM was a local man (that is code for Hispanic) who chased some BLM demonstrators (that is code for skinny white kids who do not live in the Valley) down Main Street with a chainsaw. He was screaming at them in Spanish, as you do in McAllen, but he then regretably provided an English translation that included the dreaded N word. Normally the chainsaw and N word combo would have caused a Twitter meltdown and maybe protests too. But this is South Texas, we don’t play those kinds of games down here.
The proper way to view the incoming Biden/Harris adminstration is with amusement. When was the last time you heard a presidential administration referred to as the Prez/Vice Prez administration? Never. That has never happened before and is a sign of how pathetically weak Bo Jiden and advisors are on the eve of their accession. An administration that was not elected through legitimate democratic means has no incentive to act in legitimate democratic ways. Stand by for four years of furor and fun as the media tries to pretend Gropey Joe is alert and in charge while he allows the left to run roughshod over the American people.
Power doesn’t corrupt, it reveals. The power Bo Jiden has already exercised has revealed his character to be weak, flaccid, and corrupt. The power currently concentrated in democratic governors and congressmen has revealed them to be petty tyrants. Now they have access to more power with which to do…..I’m not sure, but whatever they do it will benefit them and their families more than it benefits you and yours.
We will never be able to vote these tyrants out of office because we no longer enjoy free, fair, elections in the United States. The progressives, knowing they do not have to compete at the ballot box, may well try to disarm us to take our attention away from the plunging numbers on Wall Street. It will never happen, anyone who thinks it is even possible is beyond deluded. As long as we remain armed the progressives will never be able to enforce too much of their anti-American, woke dogma on the rest of us. A man has to draw the line somewhere and defending needless slander against Tiki Bars is as good a place to start as any.
As our two-decade involvement in Afghanistan winds down to an inevitable withdraw there are an increasing number of memories’ being published by participants. I have been looking forward to this as it is the first large conflict in which there was no draft. The military participants were all volunteers, actually all professional recruited (there is a huge difference), and I’ve been interested in seeing their perception of war compared to the men who fought in earlier times against a different enemy. What I experienced when I read Gus Biggio’s book The Wolves of Helmandwas déjà vu.
Frank “Gus” Biggio competed for and won a commission in the United States Marine Corps gaining a coveted slot in the infantry back in the 1990’s when the Corps was fat with cash, and overseas deployments both enjoyable and interesting. Unless you pulled a unit rotation to Okinawa in which case you were semi screwed. Sitting on island where you could not train while the yen/dollar exchange rate was around 70 (meaning the dollar was damn near worthless) was misery unless you got nominated to be on the Oki Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in which case you got aboard naval shipping and enjoyed yourself like the rest of the Corps.
I don’t know if Gus pulled a MEU float or a unit deployment rotation to Okinawa, but he enjoyed his tour as an infantry officer and after completing his five-year obligation he moved on, as most Marine officers do. Gus completed a law degree, got married to a physician, started a family and was safely ensconced in Washington DC when the military went to war. Gus held out for years before succumbing to a virus, planted in all Marine infantry, that makes life intolerable unless we see the elephant.
The six blind men touching an elephant parable is an ancient Indian fable that has come to demonstrate moral relativism and religious tolerance. That’s not the fable Gus and the rest of us are talking about; we don’t do moral relativism and assume religious tolerance to be a God given right. When we talk about touching the elephant, we are referring to a Civil War era euphemism for experiencing combat.
Gus was in DC, working a damn good job. He’s not a name dropper but mentions that he started taking morning runs in 2008 to prepare for returning to active duty he would sometimes chat with his neighbor Michelle until she moved into the White House with her husband Barrack. So, Gus was doing pretty damn good on the outside, but he had a problem on the inside. His best friends were in the fight, some of them coming home on, not with, their shields. He is a highly competent adult who has sublimated a serious competitive streak towards the development of an impressive law career and a stable, thriving family. But he doesn’t yet know what his nature demands that he know, information that he’ll only know if he gets to touch the elephant. His closest friends had touched the elephant repeatedly so his volunteering to go back in? He had no choice; I did the same thing for exactly the same reason.
Gus is exactly the kind of guy you want as your lawyer if, for no other reason, than he talked his wife into letting him deploy. Obviously, he married a perceptive woman who probably understood he had to go, but she’s a physician and they’re normally rule followers, so this was by any measure an impressive feat. He then signs on with the 1st Battalion 5thMarines (1/5) and heads to God’s country (Camp Pendelton, California) to start training.
From there he deploys, with his small team, directly into the Nawa district administrative center weeks ahead of the Marine offensive that will secure that portion of the Helmand province. No air conditioning, no working toilets, no hot chow, no roof or windows, and no ability to patrol 100 meters beyond the roofless district center because the Taliban had laid siege to small British garrison who arrived the year prior. Surrounded by Taliban, with the nearest help fifty miles distant, living in the dirt, patrolling constantly, fighting often – the entire time exposed to the elements 24/7; does that sound like fun to you? Of course not, and Gus tries to convince the reader that it wasn’t that much fun for him either. But you can tell by how hard he tries to make his experience seem like no big deal, that it was a big deal through which he earned an intangible that only those who touch the elephant can understand.
Gus is a throwback in a sense in that he is a citizen soldier, not a professional Marine. As such he joins the pantheon of Americans who wore the uniform to defend the country, not as a profession. Like all Marine reservists he was exceptionally well trained and had years of small unit leadership to develop his military skills. Yet still he left his young family, an obviously lucrative career in the most powerful city in the world to get dropped into a primitive hell hole. Does that sound like normal guy behavior to you? Me either but Gus is lawyer and musters his arguments well about the reasons behind volunteering to be dropped into the middle of Indian country.
When the rest of 1/5 arrived in Nawa they did so in a pre-dawn combat assault that overwhelmed the Taliban and drove them from the district in a matter of days. That never stopped the little T Taliban (local teens and young adults with little to do mostly) from trying their luck with random small arms fire attacks or improvised explosive devices (IED’s) but the days of the Taliban traveling openly or intimidating the locals passed, for the most part, in most of the Helmand province.
During the year Gus spent in the Helmand province the Marine Corps actually did by the book COIN operations using a completely unsustainable deployment cycle that, while it was being sustained, was the most impressive damn thing you have ever seen. In 2010 when I moved into Lashkar Gah as the regional manager for a USIAD sponsored Civil Development Program, I drove the roads from Lash to Nawa, to Khanashin and to Marjha wearing local clothes in a local beater with a modest security detail and had no issues. The people seemed happy, business was thriving, the poppy harvests returning serious cash into the local economy.
Jagran (Major in Dari) Gus and his six Marine (and 1 corpsman) Civil Affairs Team were yet another combat enabler for the 1st Battalion 5th Marines counterinsurgency battle. The weapon they employed was cash money, they were the carrot that offered to help the Afghan people. The Marines in the line companies were the stick and they were everywhere, deployed in little squad size patrol bases in every corner of the district. Gus and his team did as much patrolling as the grunts which they needed to do in order to deploy the money weapon. There are few times and few places in Marine Corps history where a major gets to be a gunfighter but that is what the civil affairs team in the Helmand had to do. He was a lucky man to get such a hard corps gig, he could have been deployed to a firm base support role and never left the wire, a fate worse than death for an infantryman.
Jagran Gus tells some great stories about everyday life in rural Afghanistan. I spent much time there myself and appreciate his depiction of normal Afghans going about their business. Sometimes that business involves shooting at Marines for cash and there is an interesting story about catching some teenagers in the act and letting them go to the custody of their elders after the district governor chewed them out.
It’s the little things that are telling; the Marines loved to be the stick, few things are more gratifying than a stiff firefight where you suffer no loses and that is how the vast majority of firefights in Afghanistan went. The Marines were also perfectly cool with safe’ing their weapons, yoking up the dudes that were just shooting at them, treating their wounds and releasing them to the district governor. It didn’t matter to them how a fight ends as long as they end it. This type of humane treatment of wounded enemies is expected of American servicemen, it isn’t even worthy of comment in the book. I’m not saying we are the only military that does this, but a vast majority of militaries don’t, and most people are amazed when we do.
My experience with Afghans in the Helmand, like that of Jargan Gus was mostly positive. That part of the world is so primitive that it’s like a time machine where resilient people carve out an existence with primitive farming methods and zero infrastructure. The Afghans are from old school Caucasian stock which is why the Germans spent so much time and money there in the 1930’s after Hitler came to power. They’re white people who do not have any concept of fragility and who cultivate a fierce pride in their Pashtun tribal roots. Living and working with them was an experience that is hard to capture but Jargan Gus has done that well.
Gus goes on to discuss the futility of his efforts, Nawa fell to the Taliban shortly after the Marines left in 2014. But there is no bitterness when he covers that as there is none concerning the always turbulent re-entry into normalcy when he returned home for good. Touching the elephant always changes a man, but Jargan Gus is a bright guy who explains the unease he felt as he tried to ease back into normal life in a very reasonable manner. He is a perceptive writer and his book will (I bet) be useful to future historians writing about the Afghan war. It is a great story about normal Americans thrust into exceptional circumstances and thriving.
I bet sixty years from now whoever the Tom Hanks of the era is will do a movie based on this book. The movie would be a ground version of the current hit WW II movie Greyhound only with dirt and lots more explosions. So, watch the new Tom Hanks’s Greyhound movie, then read this book when its released and you can tell me if you don’t see Hollywood gold. I’m going to email Gus and give him heads up.
Medical treatment is, for the first time in our history, political. But before I rant on that topic I need to admit my theory about SARS-CoV-2 has been proven wrong. My theory was based on the conviction that it was impossible for our government, regardless of who was president, to react with enough speed and decisiveness to get ahead of a virus. I went onto speculate that the reason the virus seemed to be growing less lethal was it’s points of attachment were being forced into their original configuration by Mother Nature.
Ultimately I could still be proven right, but I lost confidence in my theories because SARS-CoV-2 is no longer acting in the way I predicted it would. For three months the pandemic conformed to my predictions almost to the letter, but it isn’t now, so I was wrong.
So what now? It’s time to new set of facts and here they are copied from a post I can’t find at the moment so I can’t credit the author. It is now time to come to terms with the fact that;
a) I am probably going to get COVID-19 at some point,
b), I am almost certainly going to survive it, and
c), I might very well give it to someone else.
My new assumption is that this is a year-round virus that’s eventually going to infect 100 million people and kill roughly 1/4 of one percent of those infected. I’ve accepted those numbers. Unfortunately, millions of others have not. Many people have no sense of where this is headed, and I understand why. They’ve been betrayed by a hysterical media that insists on covering each new reported case as if it were the first case.
The McAllen/Edinburg area of South Texas has been experiencing an outbreak of SAR-CoV-2 which has filled the hospitals, filled the morgues and has resulted in the deployment of U.S. Army medical teams to help us cope. I now know several COVID 19 patients all of whom were OCD about mask wearing and hand washing. As we can see from Hollands example masks are not the answer; avoiding the three C’s: (confined spaces, crowded places, and close contact) seems to be much more important. We have known that since the start of the pandemic but only Japan has codified the 3 C’s into social policy.
The increase in cases comes from mass mobile testing at various sights around the Rio Grande Valley. The sudden increase in deaths is not a mystery because we now know morbid obesity is a real problem with COVID-19. McAllen and Edinburg combined to win the dubious distinction of the fattest metro area in the country in 2019. When it comes to comorbidity we are number 1!
Added to the mix is the fact this area is tightly controlled by democrats and the hospital systems rely of federal funding because they are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI’s) which means they get access to cash the rest of the country kicks in because reasons. The majority of doctors here follow The “Fauci Strategy” which is “to keep early infected patients quarantined at home without treatment until they developed a shortness of breath and had to be admitted to a hospital. Then they would they be given hydroxychloroquine. The Food and Drug Administration cluelessly agreed to this doctrine and it stated in its hydroxychloroquine Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) that “hospitalized patients were likely to have a greater prospect of benefit (compared to ambulatory patients with mild illness).”
The other problem with the South Texas outbreak is we are told nothing about it. We hear how many test positive, and we get a daily COVID 19 related death count. There is no context, no explanations about why we are experiencing deaths at much higher rate than the rest of the country. There is also zero coverage of the false positive problem just as there is zero coverage of the inflated death count problem. But this is Texas so the one thing we do get news about is the state going after unemployment fraud which is rampant in the age of COVID-19.
Richard Cortez, an elected Hidalgo County judge who was (reportedly) a great CPA before he went on the bench has issued back to back shelter in place orders that not one person in this county is following. The gyms remain open as do the few restaurant that have not gone under yet. My friends at the (veteran owned and operated) 5×5 brewery are watching four years of hard work and every penny they ever earned slip away because the town of Mission, TX decided they were not an essential business.
We the people are no longer listening to the “experts” who have impinged on our lives and destroyed our economy. But ignoring them is all we can do, for those of us who have lost our businesses and livelihoods there is always the ballot but down here if you’re not voting democrat your vote counts for nothing.
Adding fuel to the fire is our controlled media who labels the Sturgis motorcycle rally a “super spreader” event while ignoring the tens of thousands of BLM protesters who assemble nightly to burn, loot, rage, and attack police officers. Completing our new circle of misery we have the Biden campaign. Joe Biden is obviously experiencing a severe mental decline and that process appears to be accellerating rapidly.
Joe Biden is incapable of completing a coherent sentence and his decline will rob us of the only thing worth watching this fall – the Presidential debates. Biden is not going to participate because he can’t participate and everyone except the controlled media knows that.
I remain concerned that the controlled media narrative is so far removed from observable reality that it cannot be sustained. Yet here we are, August of 2020 and we are still in semi lockdown over a disease that 99.9% of the population has no problem beating, especially if they are fortunate enough to have a doctor who prescribes HCL, zinc, Z-packs and steroid inhalers.
This is worse than a bad twilight zone episode, but how does it end? The elites have been unmasked as petty partisan scum with inaccurate models. When questioned they respond with petulant arguments from authority (a well known logical fallacy). They and the media have forfeited any trust we had in them and at some point there will be a reckoning. Inshallah that reckoning will take the form of the rule of law being applied to elites in the same way it is being applied to small business men and women who are trying to make a living despite arbitrary, politically motivated tyranny from elected democrats across the land.
It is possible (maybe even likely) the bizarre controlled media narrative will be with us for years to come. I do know this; when I test positive for the COVID-19 I am immediately heading to Corpus Christie to be treated by a physician (friend of FRI and founder of The Scalpel podcast Dr. Keith Rose) who has a 300(+) -0 record with SARS CoV-19. I know he will use science, not politics, to treat me. Every American should have the same confidence in their doctor but, now that medicine is political, that is not going to happen.
Texas is in the middle of a Sars-CoV2 assault as the number of cases skyrocket. Despite having low numbers during the first curve we now average over a 1000 new cases a day. Just look at how bad it is:
If you look at my previous posts on the Wuhan Bug you might think that I have been wrong all along. Yet reality always finds a way to sneak through the BS. The Legacy Media and their allies in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the Universities have created a hysterical narrative that is now completely divorced from reality. They cannot continue this charade for much longer, something has to give.
According to the new Texas guidance anyone who comes into contact with a person who tests positive is now also considered positive. That is called putting your thumb on the scale and it is not remotely honest or ethical. The new Clerisy class of scientists, academics, and assorted experts have been bludgeoned, once again, by what Solzhenitsyn called “the pitiless crowbar of events ‘. Yet the madness continues with government bureaucrats and county judges picking the winners and losers in our economy with decisions that are not based in science.
What is the most frustrating aspect of this crisis is not one politician has acknowledged the human costs of locking down the economy. Legitimate Social Scientists (those who do not work in a ‘studies’ field) have calibrated the costs in human life for every percentage increase in unemployment rates. There is a literal cone of silence surrounding this topic unless you are a podcast fan. It is disgraceful that our political class is so callous about science and the human costs of their virtue signalling, Orange Man Bad, policies that are killing their constituents.
Even in Texas our governor has proven incapable of demonstrating leadership in the face of adversity. That is not a harsh read by the way, very few governors have demonstrated competence is balancing the dire prediction of “experts” and “scientist” with the economic costs of shutting down the economy for a bug that has a estimated IFR of (according to CDC data) less than 0.3%.
The continued lockdowns and re-definitions of what is or is not a “COVID-19 case” has nothing to do with a virus. At this point it is all about keeping the economy throttled down until November. Every bit of these unconstitutional “public health” power grabs are aimed at President Trump. The governor of Texas has ignored input from hundreds of front line physicians who are trying to get him to see reason. That is the reason he that will be gone as soon as we can elect somebody else.
I have noted with interest that my fellow South Texans are catching on to the mask charade. A good 60% of the people I see with masks now wear them below the nose. They didn’t do this in April, so I am guessing either their masks smell bad or they are passive-aggressive protesting .
The hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley just got an infusion of FEMA nurses to help them cope with the onslaught. However, Governor Abbott decreed there will be no elective surgeries in the Rio Grande Valley so one wonders why we need several hundred $950 a day nurses. They have been put to instant use because every hospital in the valley was knocking out delayed “elective” surgeries at the cyclic rate last week. They have to start earning again or face ruin and it is important to note it is not often hospitals in the valley ignore the governor. I suspect they have little choice.
Here is the problem we all face. For every article I produce that says masks are useless for a virus you could produce two that said they work. Open up any browser and type in three random numbers followed by the words “new cases” (hat tip to No Agenda Show) and guess what you get? Hundreds of articles about COVID 19 hitting the exact number you typed in. Go ahead and see for yourself and I ask you what the hell is that all about?
You have to willingly suspend disbelief to believe the numbers being reported in the legacy media and our government concerning COVID. Just look at the CMS data and the real reported numbers; how do 14 reported deaths in a nursing home become 753 deaths on the government data base?
Adding insult to injury is the muh hydroxychloroquine fake news scam. Yesterday the Henry Ford Health System published a large-scale analysis on the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Infectious Diseases . The study examined 2,541 patients who had been hospitalized in six hospitals between March 10 and May 2, 2020. Here is what they found:
More than twenty-six percent (26.4%) of patients who did not receive hydroxychloroquine died.
But among those who received hydroxychloroquine, fewer than half that number — 13% — died.
More than 90% of the patients received hydroxychloroquine within 48 hours of admission to the hospital. Scientists say giving the drug early during illness may be a key to success.
Here in South Texas the hospitals maybe revolting by doing elective surgeries but they are not about to go against federal government guidelines so they are not (to the best of my knowledge) using hydroychloroquine. Trial lawyers are, no doubt, viewing this situation with interest. Anyone who believes Remdesivir is a good option to fight this bad bug is straight up crazy. If I pick up the virus and my doctor doesn’t immeidiatly put me on HCL and zinc I’m walking out and driving to Corpus Christie where a real physician (defined as one who reads current medical literature which is about 15-20% of practicing physicians) in the form of friend of FRI Dr Keith Rose will treat me.
It is not possible to reconcile the main stream media narrative from observable reality. We find ourselves, on this Independence Day, in uncharted waters. The establishment is fighting a losing rear guard battle between what they told us COVID was and what it really is. Just last week Joe Rogan had Bret Weinstein on his podcast. Bret took two hours of to explain that Sars-CoV2 is from a gain of function project and had manipulated points of attachment that prove it to be a chimera. He did not use the words point of attachment or chimera and although Joe treated it as a major revelation I’ve been talking about both in the blog and on All Marine Radio for months.
The legacy media (and Joe Rogan) are months behind obscure bloggers like myself and podcasters (some with massive audiences) such as the No Agenda Show, or The Scalpel with Dr. Keith Rose and All Marine Radio. A perfect example of the unbelievable distance between the MSM narrative and reality based podcasters is this segment from All Marine Radio with Jack Hoban. It is the only podcast I have heard about police reform (and I have listened to a bunch) that makes any sense at all, has been proven effective, and is cost sensitive. Jack Hoban, author of The Ethical Warrior, (and a former Marine) was the guy who re-built the Camden N.J. police department. Why is it the only place you can hear practical discussions regarding the training of police is All Marine Radio?
I think there is a reason Jack can be found on Mac’s podcast and no where else; the media narrative must be protected at all costs. The media is not interested in reporting solutions to problems just as they are not interested in exploring the lack of legitimate data behind the Black Lives Matter movement. The reputations of our expert class, governing class, scientific community and the legacy media are on the chopping block. When the axe falls what we do next will determine if there are another hundred years of Independence Day’s in our future.
As my good friend Kerry Patton observed today:
I find it ironic that so many Americans are celebrating the 4th of July, a holiday built upon the principle of “Liberty”, and yet year after year, through local, state, and federal governance, we as a people continue to see our Liberties dissipate.
We’re going to need to tend to this problem…the sooner the better.
A few weeks back there was a Black Lives Matters protest in downtown McAllen, Texas. They did not get far before being confronted by a local man with a chain saw. The man was screaming racial slurs which he, uncharacteristically for these parts, helpfully translated into English for those who are a little rusty with the lingua franca.
The man was arrested after scattering the handful of over socialized, under educated, upper middle-class white kids who were protesting in support of Black Lives Matter. Black lives are not a thing in South Texas where blacks are less that 1% of the population and the vast majority are Hispanic.
So, while the rest of you are dealing with riots and cancel culture we are dealing with an outbreak of SARS CoV-2 that is threatening to overwhelm our hospitals. As is expected with democrat declared emergencies nobody actually knows any SARS CoV-2 patients, the local hospitals are still laying people off and hemorrhaging money. Despite a total lack of any evidence other than news people droning on about increased numbers Hildalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez decreed that as of midnight tonight (19 June) masks must be worn in all businesses, at all times in the Rio Grande Valley. Even when you are working out in a gym.
I do not believe the new COVID numbers for the Rio Grande Valley and nor should you. Dellridge Health & Rehabilitation Center in Paramus New Jersey leads the nation in nursing home deaths according the Federal Center for Medical and Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS reported that Dellridge had 753 deaths (in a 96 bed facility mind you). The facility had reported 16 deaths of patients who tested positive for COVID-19.
We know the media and the CDC have engaged in gross inflation of the COVID numbers and it is not a mystery why. Any attempt verify an increase in COVID numbers at local hospitals in McAllen are thwarted by armed guards and recalcitrant public affairs officers. There is no way to know what the hell is going on because trusting the government or media to tell us what is happening is for knaves or fools.
As is the case in every progressive district across the land our judiciary is dangerously unaccountable and mostly a validation mechanism for the imposition of elite opinion. Elite opinion is Orange Man Bad and they have been engaged is a systematic campaign to undermine the President since before he was elected.
The SARS CoV 2 response will go down in history as the most blatant example of expert class arrogance and media malfeasance. Quoting from this piece by Stacey Lennox:
What is now at stake are the reputations of the scientific expert class, the Federal bureaucracy, the media, and virtually every big money interest, from the pharmaceutical industry to Silicon Valley to Hollywood. If President Trump gets four more years those special interests are suddenly not going to be so special.
Where is the first place you heard about hydroxychloroquine? President Trump’s COVID update where he mentioned it and stuck by his belief, based on reporting by front line physicians, that it worked. Just last week the authors of a study published in the medical journal The Lancet that said treating coronavirus with hydroxychloroquine could be fatal retracted their findings.
Hydroxychloroquine cost $3.00 per treatment. Remdesivier, which doesn’t even work well, costs $1,400 per treatment and it has a patent. Do you believe big Pharma was not behind the coordinated assault on the effectiveness of a drug that was proved to work on SARS CoV1, which has identical modes of attachment with SARS CoV2? Maybe it was all a coincidence, what do I know?
One thing I know is the doctors in the Rio Grande Valley are using (but have run out of) Remdesivir. Hospitals in the RGV are considered by our government to be “Hispanic Serving Institutions” which entitles them to lots a federal grant monies. They are rule followers to the nth degree and despite knowing hydroxychloroquine and zinc will work they are not about to do anything to jeopardize grant monies. So they use Remdesivir, but have run out of the stuff and are now using Tylenol.
Welcome to the revolution. On one side are the American people who believe in our founding principals that guarantee every American has equal opportunity for success. We’ll call them the Ameri- cans . On the other side are Americans who believe in the French Revolutions concept of equal outcomes for all. We’ll call them Ameri-can’ts. The Ameri-cant’s are rioting, claiming the country is inherently racist and all the ” Four Olds” (old customs, old ideas, old habits and old culture) must go . Have you ever heard of the four Olds before? Here’s a quick reminder:
The campaign to destroy the Four Olds began in Beijing on August 19, 1966, shortly after the launch of the Cultural Revolution.
The last crew to use the four olds killed millions of their own citizens. In America that is not going to happen because the one thing that democrat progressives cannot do is export their organic lunacy and blatant anarchy outside the urban centers they control. Unlike China (or any other country) we have the 2nd Amendment, you want to defund the police and place the responsibility for my security on me? I have no problem with that at all. I am one an Ameri-can’s and most of us are well armed.
My prediction is the President will win by a landslide this November. This country is still majority Ameri-can’s and we bend our knee to no man. The remaining weeks running up to the election are going to be painful to watch given the media’s continuing encouragement of rioting. And we may face the painful prospect of no NCAA football this fall (I don’t watch or care about the NFL or any other professional sport).
If my prediction is wrong then we get to experience what happens when you try to force “equality in outcomes” (Jacobinism to the historically literate) to a country founded on the principal equal opportunity for all. A country where the citizens are armed and where trampling on individual liberties is not tolerated. I don’t think that will work so I hope for the best while not fearing the worst.
This story was published in the Naval Institute Proceeding magazine in November of 1995. It is written by my father, MajGen J.D. Lynch, Jr. USMC (Ret) who was the operations officer for BLT 2/26 at LZ Margo. This story is about a bad day in a forgotten place during an unpopular war. The men who died that day were representing this country well, some of them were draftees, none of them were happy about fighting in Vietnam but all of them did their duty. On this Memorial Day take the time to read about the kind of men we are honoring. This is history worth knowing because it is our story and the more you understand it the clearer your picture becomes of the sacrifice made by those we honor on this day.
The 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines rarely appears in the Marine Corps’ illustrious combat history. The battalion saw only brief service during World War II. . . long enough to land in the assault wave at lwo Jima. Later, during the Vietnam War, it reappeared for a few years before its colors once again were returned to the museum curators. Its daily Vietnam experience was usually far less stressful than the Iwo Jima operation but Vietnam had its days and when it did, the late 1960s Marine of 2/26 experienced the horrors of war at the same levels of intensity faced by the generation that fought its way up the black ash terraces beneath Mount Suribachi. This is the story of one of those days: 16 September 1968.
Late 1968 found the 3rd Marine Division serving in the extreme north of I Corps, the northernmost corps area in what was then the Republic of Vietnam, controlling ten infantry battalions: those of its organic 3rd, 4th, and 9th Marine Regiments, plus 2/26. The division’s operational concept-an effective one – was as easy to understand as it was difficult to execute. Relying on few fixed defensive positions and even fewer infantry units to defend them, the defense was offense. Battalions stayed in the bush for weeks on end covering North Vietnamese Army (NVA) infiltration routes and, in general, looking for trouble. They moved constantly, on foot or by helicopter, and when they encountered an NVA unit all hell broke loose until it was destroyed.
Our battalion – I was the operations officer – celebrated the Fourth of July in an area near the coast called Leatherneck Square, where it was responsible for defending the square’s northern and western sides. In late July, the battalion was reinforced to conduct amphibious assault operations and designated Battalion Landing Team (BLT 2/26).
After training with the reinforcements, BLT 2/26 embarked in the ships of Amphibious Ready Group Alfa, including the famous World War Il Essex-class carrier Princeton (LPH-8), now an amphibious assault ship. Initially there was talk of landings just south of the Ben Hai river inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), but the pattern of NVA operations had shifted westward and the amphibious talk died out. An early-September landing well in- land marked a temporary end to our amphibious experience and the beginning of service as one of the division’s maneuver battalions. Despite the change in mission, the battalion kept its reinforcements-among them a tank platoon, a 105-mm. artillery battery, and a 4.2-inch mortar battery.
Operational control shifted to the 3rd Marines, headquartered at Camp Carroll, but several days of aggressive patrolling yielded no enemy contacts. About 7 September, the BLT’s field elements were trucked to Camp Carroll and staged for two contingencies: a helicopter assault into Landing Zone (LZ) Margo, a barren hill- top just south of the DMZ, roughly l7 kilometers west-north- west of Camp Carroll, or a shift in operational control to the 4th Marines and a return to Khe Sanh where the battalion had served throughout the early-1968 siege.
To the relief of those who had served at Khe Sanh, the Margo operation prevailed – an assault into the LZ followed by movement north to the high ground on the southern border of the DMZ where the battalion was to turn east and sweep the high ground. The orders emphasized the need to take prisoners.
A typhoon brushed the coast and although the tree covered mountains inland showed no outward sign of the rains, movement became impossible. The war ground to a halt. Finally, the weather began clearing and, on 12 September, the commanding officer of the supporting helicopter squadron flew in for the Zippo brief – a planning and coordination meeting attended by the battalion and squadron commanders plus their staffs.
Zippos were businesslike affairs. Lives were at stake and the assaulting battalion and supporting squadron had to reach complete agreement and understanding. On the plus side, Margo was easy to find because of its location on the north side of the Cam Lo River inside a distinctive kilometer-wide and more than kilometer deep U shaped bend – unfortunately this plus was offset by several minuses – most of which stemmed from the tiresome but necessary subject of terrain.
Margo, which resembled a broken bowl, was smaller than the maps indicated. Using north as 12 o’clock, the rim from about 5 to l0 o’clock was the dominant piece of ground within the LZ. The southern side of the rim dropped sharply to the Cam Lo River, actually more stream than river at this point, while the interior slope provided good observation over the landing zone and north toward the DMZ. A spring near the center of the zone fed a stream that had cut a deep draw, which meandered eastward and exited Margo between 2 and 4 o’clock. Margo’s northern rim, from l0 to 2 o’clock, varied in height but was lower than the southern rim. lts exterior sloped sharply downward for a kilometer or so before reaching the steep approaches to the terrain fingers that led to the high ground in the DMZ. At its highest point, Margo was about 150 meters above sea level. The hills to the north were three to four times that height while the intervening terrain dropped to low points of about 50 meters.
It was rugged, forbidding country, made all the more so because-although Margo was clear-the heights and intervening valleys were covered with double- or triple- canopy forest.
The terrain inside the LZ made Margo a “one-bird zone,”-helicopters had to land and unload one at a time. This was hardly unusual, but it slowed the rate of assault dramatically. Margo also was too small to accommodate the entire BLT. Since the intent was to retain only G Company, the BLT command group, and the 8l-mm. mortars, engineer, and reconnaissance platoons in the zone for any length of time (a few days), the size of the LZ did not seem to be a major factor. lts rock-hard soil, however, was another problem. Digging in took time. Finally, there was Margo’s history. For a brief period, some months before, it had been used as an artillery fire support base-and the North Vietnamese were known to keep such positions under observation.
The terrain and history summed to the point that BLT 2/26 was landing, one aircraft at a time, into a zone that was:
Too small to hold the entire BLT
Dominated by high ground to the north
Probably the subject of continuing NVA attention at least to the point of registering mortar fires
Not good . . . but not unusual.
Friday the l3th of September 1968, a date not lost on many of the Marines, marked the beginning of several days of cloudless skies and comfortable temperatures. By 0700, a thousand or so Marines and corpsmen were waiting quietly in the Camp Carroll pick-up zone smoking, talking, thinking, and maybe, especially in Golf Company – which was landing first – praying. They were grunts, a term coined in Vietnam. While it may have been a derisive term originally, the sting was long gone, with a certain pride, it is what they called themselves.
Believing that the chances of infection dramatically increased with the amount of clothing worn when wounded, they were deliberately underdressed. Boots, socks, and trousers were the standard; no underwear and, quite often, no shirt during the day. Their faded helmet covers sported an elastic band around the outside intended to hold camouflage material when the wearer sought invisibility in the bush. More often, it held either a main battle dressing for use if the wearer’s luck turned bad or, in the case of optimists, a bottle of mosquito repellent. The graffiti on most of the covers addressed a variety of subjects but many tended toward the religious. David Douglas Duncan’s striking photographs of 26th Regiment Marines at Khe Sanh captured the phenomenon.
They all wore flak jackets, never zipped because shell or grenade fragments taken in the wrong place could jam the zipper, making it difficult for the corpsmen to remove the jacket and treat a wounded man in the field. The flak jackets, if anything, were dirtier than the helmet covers. Sweat-stained from long wear by a series of owners, they had the same faded color as the camouflage covers but their graffiti, for whatever reason, tended to more basic thoughts than those found on the helmets.
They carried a haver sack holding a box of the venerable C-rations, a poncho, poncho liner, and most important of all, an extra two or three pairs of socks. They carried extra radio batteries; mortar ammunition, even though they were not mortarmen; rocket launchers; grenades; at least four filled canteens; and as much extra rifle or machine gun ammunition as possible.
They were typical grunts and corpsmen, normally unwashed, usually underfed, always overloaded and, more often than not, tired. The lucky ones, those who avoided disease, wounds, or death, did not enjoy a hot meal or cold shower for weeks on end.
Shortly before 0800 the CH-46s began landing in the pick-up zone with their distinctive whopping blade sound-unforgettable for those who rode them into combat. As the first wave launched, the sounds of the artillery preparatory fires in the distance and the roar of the fast-movers orbiting overhead helped ease the tension.
The actual landing was anti-climactic. There was no opposition, but it still took a long time. Echo, Foxtrot and Hotel companies quickly assembled and began moving north. Echo struck out for a finger on the right that led to the high ground while Foxtrot and Hotel headed for another finger on the left. Golf Company, the command post, the 81mm mortar platoon and others established defensive positions in the LZ and began digging in. Friday the 13th passed quietly.
On Saturday, 14 September, the companies continued moving north at first light. While there were well-worn trails in the area and occasional sounds of movement ahead, there were no contacts. Even so, the companies called artillery and mortar fires on possible targets to keep the fire support system active. About mid-day, Hotel Company’s point, leading the movement up the left finger, saw movement ahead and signaled the company to move off the trail and wait. Their patience was rewarded as they watched a North Vietnamese soldier, weapon at sling arms, striding down the path towards them.
The point element was in an excellent ambush position and could have killed him. That they didn’t was a testimony to the discipline and the emphasis on taking prisoners. Waiting until the NVA soldier had passed, the point man re-entered the trail and, in Vietnamese, ordered him to halt-which he did promptly. The capture was reported to the company commander, relayed to battalion, and within a matter of minutes the 3rd Marines had learned of the potential guest speaker. Within the hour the prisoner had been flown to Camp Carroll for interrogation.
Throughout the war, most higher headquarters consistently failed to pass timely intelligence information down to the battalion level where it could be acted upon. The 3rd Marines did not make that mistake. Just before sundown 2/26 learned that the prisoner had intended to surrender because he had been at Khe Sanh when the Marines first arrived. Stating that he “had a love of life” he added that he wanted no more of anything remotely resembling that battle, a confrontation that clearly had a psychological hold on both sides. Of greater interest was his disclosure that the lead company of the northwest finger – Hotel Company – would be attacked at about 2000 that evening. All three companies were alerted.
Echo, Foxtrot, and Hotel halted for the night and began registering artillery defensive fires. Hotel Company’s artillery forward observer (FO), controlling a supporting 155-mm. howitzer battery, had just started registering fires to cover a listening post located on the western side of the finger when the Marines manning the post reported hearing movement through the draw to their direct front. Since the registration rounds were on the way, they could only wait. Seconds later, as the roar of the explosions died away, the listening post reported screams and other sounds of panic. The FO immediately called “Fire for effect” and swept the draw with 155-mm rounds. Other than moans and the sound of some movement in the draw, the remainder of the night was quiet.
15 September dawned clear and cloudless. Visibility was so good that Marines could watch outgoing 8l-mm. mortar rounds until they reached their apogee. Again keeping the mortar and artillery fire-support systems active, E, F , and H companies resumed their slow and careful climb toward the high ground. Signs of enemy presence were plentiful but there was no contact.
The trouble started at noon, when a radio message from the 3rd Marines ordered the BLT to pull its companies back to the LZ and prepare to shift to the operational control of the 9th Marines. The message was cryptic – it had to be because none of the radio transmissions with any of the battalions in the 3rd Marine Division’s area were secure. The encryption equipment of the day was too heavy to be carried in the field and, in any case, seldom worked in the heat and humidity of the bush. Problems with getting shackle sheets (codes) down to the company level precluded the use of even that decades-old mans of encryption. Everyone assumed that the North Vietnamese heard most of the radio traffic.
Communication security problems notwithstanding, the order was received with incredulity. There was little doubt that the NVA would follow companies back to the landing zone and less doubt that mortar and perhaps infantry attacks would follow. The three rifle companies were told to halt and then begin moving south to Margo; meanwhile, the order was strenuously argued. The regimental commander made it clear the order stood- but it was clear he agreed tactical assessment of what lay in store. Obedience would have a price, that much was obvious. What was not obvious was how much.
After a few hours, the three companies were told to halt, reorient, and return to the original northward advance. We had to know if the trailing -enemy theory was correct. The order did not specifiy how long to follow the reverse course but did tell the company commanders something they already knew – to expect contact. It came quickly on both ridges as small NVA units were surprised to find Marines heading north again. Breaking contact the companies once more turned south toward Margo. So far as 2/26 was concerned, the point had been proven. We reported this to the 3rd Marines and forcefully recommended cancellation of the withdrawal order.
The reply was more enlightening than helpful. The battalion was told that its arguing and temporary resumption of the offense had caused some difficulties (it wasn’t phrased that way) and that there would be a 24-hour postponement. Further, however, the entire battalion was to concentrate in LZ Margo south of the 61 grid line- an east-west grid line that split the LZ- by a specified time early the next afternoon, 16 September. In the interim, the BLT was authorized to do whatever it thought best to prepare for a return to the LZ. The maneuver companies were turned north again; within minutes they bumped into NVA troops following them down the ridge lines.
The enlightening section of the order was the part about moving south of the 61 grid line, It made no sense because the area remaining in the LZ south of the grid line was too small to accommodate the BLT in anything resembling tactical positions. Even worse, it did not permit a tactical defense of the LZ, especially against infantry attacks coming from the most logical direction – north. It was apparent that the order had emanated from a headquarters other than regiment of division, neither of which would have displayed that level of tactical ignorance, This, and the urgency associated with the 61 grid line provision, led to a conclusion that an Arc Light – high altitude B-52 area bombing mission- was imminent.
To those steeped in the traditions of obedience to orders, it might seem strange, but the BLT now confronted a dilemma. If its tactical assessment was correct, the order returning the maneuver units to the LZ would result in some form of NVA attack; if, on the other hand, the Arc Light guess was right there were other problems. The timing and target areas were unknown and, for security, would remain unknowns at the battalion level. Further, the tactically inane directive to move south of the 61-grid line indicated that the Arc Light was going in north of Margo – but close.
The dilemma was simple and stark: comply with the order and risk NVA action or move the companies toward Margo, retaining some semblance of tactical deployment north of the LZ, and risk the Arc Light. To those who have seen a proper Arc Light, the choice was easy. The companies were directed to hold in place and begin moving south to the LZ early the next morning. But as a concession to common sense, that portion of the order regarding the 61 grid line was interpreted rather loosely. We would defend Margo.
The weather on 16 September matched the brilliance of the days gone by. Today, the Vietnamese Bureau of Tourism would be touting the weather, on that day in 1968, however, it turned into a scene from hell.
Occasionally stopping to engage NVA units following them, the three rifle companies slowly made their way back to Margo. Echo Company came in last. Commanded by Captain John Cregan, now a Roman Catholic priest, the company began to climb up Margo’s northern slope and by 1430 or so was beginning to take up it assigned defensive positions on the northern perimeter. Even after ignoring the order to stay south of the 61-grid line, there were too many troops in too small an area – and they had to contend with Margo’s hard ground. Digging in took more time.
Early in the afternoon there were ominous sightings of North Vietnamese soldiers with mortars fording the Cam Lo River west of Margo. Artillery fire was called, probably without effect. At the same time, there was a minor flurry of activity as the BLT shifted to the operational control of the 9th Marines and radio frequencies were changed and tested. That done, the chatter of the troops and clanging of their entrenching tools were the only sounds disturbing the quiet.
At 1500, Captain Ken Dewey, an F-4 pilot serving as the battalions air liaison officer, was looking north toward the left of the two hills that had been the original objectives when suddenly a mirror started flashing – followed immediately by the soft “thunking” sound of mortars firing in the distance. Within seconds Margo was blanketed with exploding 82 mm rounds from several points on the compass, especially the northern arc. The battalion began its “time on the cross” – as the French put it in an earlier Indochina War.
The noise was deafening. Each explosion filled the surrounding air with black, stinking, greasy-tasting smoke. The mortarmen poured it on until 200 to 300 rounds had pummeled the Marines and corpsmen, a good percentage of whom had no protection beyond that of shallow fighting holes. As the fire eased, the LZ sprang to life and First Lieutenant Al Green’s 81mm mortar began counter-battery fires, an action that won them concentrated NVA attention.
Battalion machine gunners on Margo’s southern rim saw some enemy mortarmen and began to engage at long range-attracting in turn their share of the incoming. The exchange continued for a few more minutes until the mirror on high ground flashed again. The incoming barrage slowed, then stopped-but the noise in the zone went to deafening proportions as hundreds of rifles went into action. At first, it seemed as if the frustrated Marine riflemen were wasting ammunition on the out-of-range NVA Mortarmen, but a radio query to First Lieutenant Bob Riordan, the Golf Company commander revealed that from his position of the southern rim, North Vietnamese soldiers could be seen moving uphill to assault the LZ’s northern side.
Then the rifle fire stopped abruptly and, within seconds, the southern rim and center of the LZ were alive with Marines running to the northern side, Their fires had been masked by those manning the northern slope defenses and they were leaving their own positions to get into the fight. The enemy never had a chance. The NVA commander who ordered the assault probably had fewer troops than he thought as a result of previous contacts. In any case, the reaction of the defenders was too violent. No more than 20 minutes had elapsed. The cost to BLT 2/26 was more than 150 dead and wounded. The cost to the enemy was unknown.
At 1700, the mirror flashed again, and the mortars went to work. Once more, rounds rained down on Margo – fewer this time and without an infantry attack – but the BLT’s casualty list grew longer.
For the first time since the attacks began, medical evacuation of the wounded now seemed possible. It was likely that the NVA had expended most or all of their mortar ammunition and would not interfere with the helicopter evacuation.
The casualties had been separated by category…emergency, priority, routine…..and the “permanent routine” a euphemism for the dead that had crept into the radio operators’ lexicon. We hoped to MedEvac at least the emergency and priority wounded before nightfall. Several CH-46s and gunships arrived about 1830 and the laborious process of loading the casualties, one at a time, began as soon as the lead bird touched down.
As always, the strength and example can be found in the casualties. I saw Staff Sergeant Donner from the reconnaissance platoon, covered with blood, as he was being escorted to the medevac staging area. He was refusing to leave, insisting that he was okay. I told him that he would leave.
Late the afternoon of 16 September, I watched as an uninjured Marine rapidly searched the rows of wounded , clearly looking for a friend. Suddenly, a large arm reached out and waved. “There you are” said the first Marine as he took the wounded man’s hand and squatted to talk. They held hands quietly until the medevac helicopters arrived.
The wounded Marine had been hit badly; I do not know if he survived. Nor do I know if his friend survived our subsequent encounters with the NVA. What I do know is that the wounded Marine was black and his buddy white. I remember thinking at the time how much better a people we would be if we were all like those two.
Recently, we have been told that the best and brightest did not go to Vietnam, When I heard that, I thought of those two Marines so long ago, the hardships they endured, and their obvious respect for each other. Maybe they were not the brightest. They were the best.
Realizing that there would be no other MedEvacs from Margo that night the last pilot insisted on overloading his aircraft with wounded. Over his objections, the loading was stopped, and the pilot told to launch. He must have been good. If not good, he was lucky. The overloaded CH-46 resembled a giant praying mantis as it struggled into the air, tail down, nose swinging back and forth in a wide arc, as though searching for escape from a trap. Finally, he nursed it a few feet higher, leveled, and began slipping sideways, just above the trees, down the slope that formed Margo’s northern rim. Again, the LZ filled with Marines running north; convinced that the 46 was about to crash. They were moving to assist survivors.
The helicopter disappeared from view behind the trees and, an eternity later, came back in view, this time in full flight , nose-high on a southerly course, jettisoning fuel to lighten the load and clear the ridge to Margo’s east. All movement stopped as everyone in the LZ watched the miracle claw its way over the ridge line taking the wounded to safety.
Quiet settled over Margo. As the troops returned to their positions, the silence was broken by a single “thunk” off to the north. This time there was only one round, but it landed precisely where the MedEvac birds had loaded. It was “Charlie”, saying he knew what had been done and could have stopped it anytime. He also was saying he was a “pro”. We knew that already.
The XXIV Corps Commanding General visited Margo the following morning. His worries about morale evaporated as he watched Marine improving their defensive positions. He then looked toward a large group of wounded waiting to be evacuated. In response to a question, he was told they were routine MedEvacs. Behind them were rows of ponch-covered objects. He looked at them, saying nothing, knowing what they were. Finally, a Marine broke the spell. “The dead go last, sir”.
The Arc Light went in five or six kilometers north of Margo on the afternoon of 16 September. Maybe too much had happened or maybe there was an unusually high number of duds. Regardless, it was unimpressive. Paradoxically, it hurt 2/26 more than it hurt the enemy.
Early on l7 September Golf, Foxtrot, and Hotel Companies returned to the familiar trails, attacking north. Echo Company, having lost nearly 70 Marines in the mortar and infantry attacks, remained behind. The LZ was mortared twice that day but there were few casualties. Margo’s final toll probably will never be known exactly. We evacuated more than 200 dead and wounded. some of whom doubtless died later. Before we left, we filled l8 helicopter external nets with packs, weapons, and other equipment no longer needed.
Eventually, after another long period of torrential rains, the attacking companies reached the high ground, where Golf found a graveyard-I8 graves with markers aligned in rows-near where the mirror had flashed before the mortar attack. They excavated a few to confirm that it was a graveyard. They also traced the extensive writings on the markers and sent them to the rear for translation. The writings turned out to be a history of each of the casualties. We learned that we had gotten the NVA battalion commanding officer and much of his staff. The CO had been a soldier since joining the Viet Minh in the late 1940’s; he was a professional. I think that whoever ordered all of the writing put on the markers did so, at least in part, so that we would not dig up their dead.
We stood by to attack to the west. It never happened. Near the end of September, the BLT moved by helicopter into another one-bird zone, this one in the DMZ just south of the Ben Hai River, nearly 15 kilometers north and east of LZ Margo. In a series of assaults, BLT 2/26 routed an enemy force defending a headquarters complex and artillery positions. During the last assault, Marines of Echo and Hotel companies were treated to the rare sight of North Vietnamese troops fleeing in panic.
The Marines and corpsmen of 2/26 formed a typical grunt battalion. They fought a dirty, unpopular war and they did it well. They never said that they were the best. All they said was that, if they met somebody better, they hoped he was on our side.
As COVID Anxiety is turning into COVID rage I am putting my streak of forecasting exactly how the SARS COVID 2 pandemic will play out on the line with another bold prediction. As this comes to pass remember you heard it here first (unless you listen to the No Agenda podcast). The SARS COVID 2 pandemic is over, the numbers of new infections may increase but the numbers of those patients requiring ICU treatment or dying from the virus will continue to plummet. This is because the virus was manipulated for gain of function experiments and once it got out of the lab and into nature; Mother Nature, recognizing a freak when she sees one, is forcing the virus back to its original state which is an annoyance to humans not a death dealing pathogen.
I am making this prediction from the work of Chris Howard, PhD (Biochemistry) and his wife Lynn Howard, MD (Pathogenic Microbiology and Infectious Disease Specialist). The paragraphs below are my notes from their presentation which can be found here.
Coronaviruses are found in most animal species in humans there are over 100 different variants of coronaviruses, Historically they are nothing more than an annoyance, they cause and viral sinus infections, or common colds. They have a distinct ability to penetrate epithelium cells, your first line of defense in the immune system, so when you find a virus that penetrates that epithelium and activates to enter a host cell then you pretty much have an annoyance and it’s usually a respiratory issue.
Coronaviruses have never been that virulent until the SARS 1 epidemic in 2001 -2002. We were originally told SARS 1 was found in bat caves but if you look at the genetic sequence of SARS 1 RNA and compare it to SARS found in bats there are many similarities however they are not identical. The assumption is that it made a zoonotic leap from the bat to the human and in doing so mutated. That sounds reasonable until you look at the sequence themselves and realize what has changed is not your typical zoonosis mutation. If you dig deeper you’ll discover that many years ago (80’s and 90’s) we were manipulating viruses to learn more about them, and by manipulating them we made them more transmissible, more infectious, and more virulent. This supposedly teaches scientist and epidemiologist epidemiological behavior of potential pathogens and this type of study is called gain of function research.
When virus’s mutate and jump from to a different species or change hosts the main driver of those changes is evolutionary pressure to be able to bind better. Viruses themselves do not change; they are around for one thing; to make more viruses. When a virus finds a good mode of attachment, you will see less change in the virus. Both SARS 1 and the SARS 2 have identical modes of attachment from the ACE 2 inhibitor binding to S1. S1 splitting to the TMPRSS 2 binding site which opens the virus leading to exocytosis into the cell. There’s no difference between SARS 1 and SARS 2 in that respect except for the internal dynamics of the virus’s which means it was man-made.
SARS COVID 2 (the etiological agent is for the disease state) is a chimera which by definition is made in a lab. Chimera’s take a target virus, incorporate other characteristics from other viruses to create something different. A pertinent example of gain of function would be to use a COVID virus to create an HIV vaccine. HIV is a retrovirus and they don’t have that ability to penetrate epithelium. Vaccinating someone for HIV is not possible so scientists are trying to find a way to carry a vaccine (or antigen in this case) through the epithelium.
When the genome of SARS COVID 2 was uncoded there were four subsets that are identical to portions of the genome of HIV. That impossible in nature, it could not have happened to the COVID virus in a laboratory..
For viruses’ evolutionary pressure usually is based on the binding; it doesn’t change the internal RNA or DNA strands of viruses. With chimeras as they reproduce you get a shift back towards the original, natural type of virus. As a chimera goes through patient after patient and population after population mother nature recognizes it to be a freak. When you hear there are now 30 strains of CVOID 2 there are not really 30 different strains (they all have identical binding site) it’s same virus changing enough to revert back to the original wild virus which is, to humans, an annoyance, not a life or death threat.
Lynn and Chris Howard practice what is known as precision medicine. Precision medicine is a catch phrase for using your genetics and using epigenetics to take a very precise approach to optimizing your health. This is high end medicine targeting wealthy, high end clients like professional athletes and I imagine that is why their research is not receiving more attention from our know-nothing press.
If you look at how the SARS COVID 2 pandemic has progressed it is clear (to me at least) the Howard’s have articulated the Occam’s Razor solution. It is the simplest of competing theories and thus (most likely) the closest to the truth. Mother Nature does not take kindly to the release of genetically manipulated organisms into the wild. She recognizes them and eliminates them with the same pitiless certainty she applies to all her creatures that are unable to respond to evolutionary pressures only she knows and understands.
With each passing day the evidence that the lockdowns were a massive waste of time and money accumulates. In South Texas where the wearing of face masks has been optional for a week I often am the only person in the local HEB not wearing a mask. Masks do not protect you from viruses nor do they prevent you from spreading a virus if you have one. Mask wearing is Kabuki theater just like TSA checkpoints in our airports. We have been victimized by politicians and medical “experts” who have been wrong about every aspect of this pandemic. When confronted with the conflicting facts from the ground they have doubled down with unreasonable, unconstitutional, ineffective actions that terrorize the uninformed and are destroying our economy. For this they will pay. Inshallah.
The lockdown is, for all intents and purposes, over. Here in Texas the gyms are finally open as is the rest of the local economy, and mask-wearing is optional. In states with restrictive lockdowns people are taking matters into their own hands and opening up their businesses despite orders to remain closed. Never has the difference between the political parties been so blatantly obvious and Mother Nature is going to determine which party is using “science” in their COVID-19 response.
If you believe that COVID-19 is a killer just waiting for us to drop our mask wearing, social distancing defense so it can kill millions, hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds (depending on model used) then the republicans are doomed as they will pay the price for opening their states too soon.
If you believe COVID-19 is not a killer, that most people infected by the virus remain asymptomatic, and only the older, vulnerable portion of the population need to be protected then the democrats are doomed by retribution for the destruction of our economy by over-reacting to suspect models.
There are encouraging signs from the blue states with repressive lock-down policies. In New Jersey Atilis Gym opened yesterday in direct defiance of the governors orders. When the State Police showed up they told dozens of protesters standing outside the gym they were in violation of the governors COVID-19 orders and then bid them all a good day. The crowd erupted in applause, this is exactly the kind of discretion we expect from our fellow citizens working in law enforcement.
There are also too many stories about intolerable abuses against law abiding citizens being reported daily. There is an epidemic of poor judgement based on questionable science by what the editorial board of Free Range International has designated Low T Tyrants sweeping across the Blue states.
In Salem, Oregon Lindsey Graham, the owner of Glamour Salon opened on May 5th because she needed to feed her kids, pay her bills and save her business from bankruptcy. She was closed by the police and fined $14,000. Two days later Child Protective Services showed up and I’ll let her describe the visit:
On May 7 child protective services showed up at my home. They questioned my husband and I. Questioned my child without me present. They searched our home,’ she said as tears welled up in her eyes during a press conference Friday.
‘And I never expected such a violent, aggressive, vindictive thing could ever be done to me or my family because I’m trying to earn a living. Because I’m trying to work,’ Graham added.
Graham is a mother to three kids: a six-year-old son, a three-year-old girl and an eight-week-old son.
Low T Tyranny is defined as a government official knowingly lying to your face and daring you to call them on it. If you do they immediately play their victim card making you (not their bullshit answer) the problem. There is a lot of Low T Tyranny going around these days even in once reasonable states like Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health Rachel Levine was on a phone-in press conference explaining why she moved her mother out of a nursing home the same day she ordered recovering COVID patients be to sent from local hospitals to local nursing homes. During the press conference a local newsman referred to Ms. Levine as “sir” several times. That is understandable, I’ve listened to the tape and Ms. Levine (a transgendered woman) has retained her masculine voice. She answered the question the reporter saying her mother asked to be moved because she’s a smart old gal who can figure stuff out. This implied that if your mother wasn’t smart enough to ask you to move her out of a nursing home that is about to receive convalescing COVID patients then that’s on you, or her, or whatever.
Then Ms Levine had a melt down over being addressed by the masculine pronoun as if one can intuit declared gender over the telephone. Her outrage became the story; not her obvious hypocrisy in moving her mother out of harms way. That is Low T Tyranny, thrown right in your face, by a person who knows decent law abiding citizens will give her a pass at risk of being branded a transphobe.
So what now? We let the virus play out and one side or the other is going to be proved wrong. At this point I must note my theory about how the virus would go appears to be wrong. I thought the Wuhan Virus was every bit as virulent as advertised and it had already passed through much of the population. This theory was based on my conviction that our federal government cannot possibly react fast enough to contain a virulent virus. Now that there has been more extensive anti-body testing it appears that COVID-19 has a long way to go before we can reach anything close to herd immunity. COVID-19 did not tear through the land last December as I thought it had.
What does that mean? Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of the Stanford Medical School, who recently concluded a study of every major league baseball employee (only 0.7% positive for the COVID-19 anti-body) said this:
“I think in the back of people’s heads there is this idea that somehow we can eradicate this disease if we just stay locked down. That is not possible. The serologic evidence, even the MLB study, suggest this. It suggests the epidemic is too widespread to eradicate. It spreads via asymptomatic contact. Like people who don’t have very many symptoms, even mild cold symptoms can spread the thing. They aren’t going to show up for testing. They aren’t going to show up at a hospital or a doctor.”
Last march I wrote about Farr’s Law, named for British epidemiologist William Farr in 1840. He stated that epidemics develop and recede according to a bell-shaped curve with or without human intervention. It appears that COVID-19 is receding, that once again Farr’s Law has proved valid. The democrat politicians who are threatening to keep their state, city, or county locked down well into summer are in for a rude awakening. As each week passes with less cases identified and a declining death count they will be forced to make decisions that the public has already made for them.
They are going pay this November for the incalculable damage they have done to our economy. The United States is (in the words of T.R. Fehrenbach) “a country grown so great even fools cannot destroy it.” That doesn’t mean we have to tolerate them in elected office.
In the book The Operators by Michael Hastings there is a quote from Command Sergeant Major Michael Hall comparing General Stan McChrystal to John Paul Vann. John Paul Vann was a former army officer who went to Vietnam as a soldier and stayed on working as a Provincial aid advisor. He was famous for his ability to drive around and live in contested districts (alone) and was a tireless advocate for the Vietnamese people. He was also a compulsive womanizer, an alcoholic, and a shameless self promoter. Remove those negative traits, replace them with a typical all-American Midwest kid raised in a stable two parent household where he developed a strong sense of commitment, a bias for action combined with the ability to thrive while taking calculated risks, and you have Chris Corsten. He was the John Paul Vann of Afghanistan
Our two-decade long involvement in Afghanistan has been a fiasco. Every aspect of our performance had major issues, none more so than the herculean efforts at re-building and rehabilitating the war-torn infrastructure. Yet buried deep inside the legacy of failure are stories of remarkable success. Carter Malkasain described one example of competent development leading directly to local prosperity (briefly) in the book The War Comes to Garmser.
Another example has just been published by my friend Chris Corsten detailing his decade in Afghanistan working both as a soldier and heavily armed humanitarian. The book is 3000 Days in Afghanistan, but I need to reveal something that you will not glean from Chris’s writing. In the world of outside the wire contractors, men (and a few women) who worked in contested districts infested with Taliban, who lived in local compounds, drove local cars, rarely spoke English outside their compound, wore local clothes and lived off the local economy to deliver massive aid projects on time and on budget, Chris Corsten was the best there ever was.
Chris stayed the longest, he had the most impact, he did, by orders of magnitude, the most projects and he was a shura ninja when it came to working through problems with tribal elders. Chris Corsten is a legend – to those of us who knew what accomplished and also to thousands of Afghans who became self-sufficient as hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland became productive again thanks to his irrigation programs.
The book is a clear reflection of Chris and if you know him the two personality traits that stand are conscientious and integrity. Those two traits were combined with an attitude that was the common denominator among all of us working outside the wire; zero tolerance for wasted efforts, make work stupidity, and excuses. Add to this mix the fact that Chris is a modest man who is not prone to exaggeration, routinely attributed all success to his subordinates, and loathes the idea of self-promotion and you have a writer who is going to lay out the facts. Which he does in a manner that is almost business like.
As you get towards the end of this remarkable story Chris lists the spectacular amount of work accomplished during the 2010-2011 surge, and if you know what was going on then in Afghanistan, it is easy to get confused. It seems impossible that Expats (mostly American, British, South African and Australian) were living and working in local Afghan communities while supervising massive irrigation projects in districts where the military was sustaining casualties on a regular basis.
If you don’t know much about Afghanistan, you can read through what Chris accomplished and miss what he accomplished. If you don’t know what was happening in provinces like Khost, Kandahar, Paktia, Kunar, Helmand, Farah, Nangarhar, Herat etc… in 2010 it is hard to appreciate the feat of finishing every project you started with supervision by expats who were out and about in Taliban contested areas daily.
What Chris and his crew proved was aid in contested areas can be delivered effectively, but it has to be done by guys who know what they are doing and have skin in the game. And, at least in Afghanistan, they needed to be armed.
Let me explain the weapons. Our model was if you can’t be safe be hard to kill. The threat to outside the wire contractors took many forms. The biggest was getting kidnapped, the other major problem was we had to store, transport, and distribute large amounts of cash. You are not safe when you are living in a local Afghan compound that contains a safe with over a million dollars in cash. You are not safe when you go to the local branch of the Kabul Bank and withdraw $700,000 for your monthly project payroll. You have to know what you are doing to convert $700,000 in Benjamins into small denomination Afghani’s.
Not all of us carried firearms either – Jeff “Raybo” Radan, a former Marine infantry officer and Ranger School graduate (thus the Raybo call sign), worked a year in the Helmand and never carried a weapon. He did projects in contested towns like Now Zad but being a former Marine he knew how to get a ride on Marine air and thus was able to travel safely. But most of us were armed, and all of us had weapons, including belt fed machine guns (in some provinces), inside our living compounds. Our arming authority came from the Provincial governors and if we ever used our weapons, we were accountable to them as well as the US Embassy.
Chris explains why former, experienced, military men, who have already acquired knowledge of local atmospherics and a solid understanding of local culture, are the best option for staffing aid programs in conflict zones. All the men mentioned in Chris’s book (he uses assumed names) were prior military and all of us had years on the ground before we were able to transition into what I term “Free Range” contracting.
3000 Days in Afghanistan should be required reading at both US AID and the Department of State as they sift through 20 years of lessons learned in Afghanistan. This week a senior USAID executive, who had extensive Afghanistan time, released a paper titled USAID Afghanistan: What Have We Learned. He concludes his assessment with four lessons;
do not try to do everything
stick to proven development principals
flexibility and adaptability are key, and
expect and plan for high levels of oversight.
All four of these lessons are addressed in detail by Chris as he explains how he avoided graft, corruption, security services shake downs, how he dealt (effectively) with theft, and delivered aid that was meaningful while injecting cash directly into local economies. The added benefit of taking Taliban off the battlefield by exchanging a couple months of hard labor for a decent amount of pay was something we discovered early in the program but had not anticipated.
Chris throws no stones as he explains what we were doing and why we felt we should do more. He describes his disappointment at not getting traction with USAID and the State Department and then moves on. The program he was running got plenty of attention in the press at the time. There were NPR radio interviews, 60 minutes segments, multiple magazine articles including this classic account in the Toronto Star about our team in Kandahar. The FRI blog was booming back then as I documented our massive infrastructure projects in Nimroz province. In the end none of that mattered, it turns out being successful where everyone else is failing can be problematic.
As William Hammink admits in his review of USAID in Afghanistan, we threw too much money into a country that could not absorb it. What is now obvious is that Chris Cortsen showed USAID exactly how to do Afghanistan aid. Spend a few years and a few million dollars to get all the irrigation systems back up and running, build a few schools, pave a few roads, bring in engineers with some commercial demo to blast rock and build runways in remote mountain-top towns, and you have done about all that should be done to get the country heading towards self-sufficiency. Then you can leave.
3000 Days in Afghanistan is an easy read about a remarkable guy who sticks to the facts to make a case on how sustainable development in conflict zones should be done. Buried behind the facts and the business-like narrative are the stories that someday will emerge from this program as historians start to comb through the records in the search of what really happened in Afghanistan. They will find plenty about Chris, hopefully telling his story in rich detail. There is a lot there and although Chris may not be seeking recognition for what he accomplished he certainly has earned it.