Gone to sea!

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Gone to sea!

At long last I am off to write a piece on the Coast Guard.  For those that aren't aware, I've been trying to do magazine pieces on each of the services.

First, I covered the Army in Afghanistan:

Three high-pitched pings rouse me from semiconsciousness. I’m in the back of a MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored vehicle, having just pulled into a patrol base on the outskirts of Nani, a village about 15 kilometers south of Forward Operating Base Ghazni.

“What the hell was that?”

Nineteen-year-old Spc. Brandyn Lachance-Guyette of Vermont calmly replies to my startled question, craning his head to look through the window of the MRAP. “Sounded like machine-gun fire striking the rear of the vehicle.”
Spc. Thomas McIntire, a 20-year-old Californian, nods in agreement. His squadmates assess the situation through the window and try to determine the machine gun’s position. A cacophony of automatic-weapons fire erupts from the Afghan National Army (ANA) unit traveling with us. The enemy remains unseen. I want to dismount and survey the scene myself.

The register of fire lowers, and I think about certain sounds that can move people to tears. Operas and symphonies do this for some. Others will tell you that the first cry of their newborn child means most to them. In my life, no sound will ever be so beautiful as that conducted by 22-year-old Spc. Jazz Nixon of Trenton, N.J., who on that warm morning in Afghanistan unleashed 15 rounds from his Mark 19 40-mm belt-fed automatic grenade launcher in the general direction of our adversaries. When he finished, there was silence.

Then I went on a delightful trip to Senegal with the Marines and some Navy guys:

“Êtes vous fatigué?!”

Marine Corps Sgt. Robert Keane’s French is far from perfect, but he knows how to indignantly bark to his men the question – “Are you tired?!” – as only a recon Marine can.

In unison, the Company Fusiliers Marine Commandos (COFUMACO), along with 14 Marines, four U.S. Navy sailors and two representatives of the West African nation of Togo, shout back in response, “Jamais!” (“Never!”)

Keane grins and asks the question twice more. Each time, the same hearty response: “Jamais!”

Members of COFUMACO grin back at the sergeant, knowing that pushups are next. It was a good morning on the rifle range, so what better way to celebrate than with physical training?

Once everyone has assumed the position, Keane looks around to make sure no one is slacking.

“En bas!” he commands. (“Down!”) Every man shouts out the cadence: “Un, deux, trois ….”

The men are still smiling. For each of the final five pushups, Keane shouts out, “We are ...”

And the Senegalese soldiers shout back in reply, “COFUMACO!”

I even got to crash my first boat.

And continuing my awesome streak of trips, the Air Force shuttled me off to the Arctic Circle in Greenland.....in February:

The motto of the 821st Air Base Group at Thule Air Base in northern Greenland is Venimus conglaciati vicimus – “we came, we froze, we conquered.” The words resonate for first-time visitors within minutes of stepping off the plane.

Just how far north is Thule? If you want a good view of the aurora borealis – the famed northern lights – you have to hope for a clear evening and then look to the south, because it is significantly closer to the equator. Magnetic north? From Thule, the compass will point just south of due west.

Thule is located in the Qaasuitsup municipality in northwest Greenland, which in the native Inuit language means “place of polar darkness.” It once had a village of fewer than 20 huts, named Pittufik (“the place where the sled dogs are tied”). To the north is Wolstenholme Fjord, the only spot on earth where three active glaciers join together.

The closest neighbors to Thule Air Base are four villages of the Qaanaaq region, roughly 100 kilometers away. Three of those villages have fewer than 50 people, while the other has about 400. In fact, the entire population of Greenland is only 63,000, or roughly half the population of Kenosha, Wis. The capital of Greenland, Nuuk, is some 1,500 miles south of Thule Air Base, accessible only by dogsled or air.

But this barren landscape belies the importance of the air base and the vital strategic mission it has played since the start of the Cold War. Located between the northern reaches of Canada and the more volcanically temperate climes of Iceland, Thule is almost exactly halfway between Washington and Moscow, which accounts for its geostrategic importance, especially in the decades of nuclear-missile posturing between the two major superpowers of the 20th century’s second half.

So anyway, people have repeatedly asked me when I would cover the Coast Guard.  It wasn't from lack of desire to cover them, but it was harder finding something that fit in my schedule (now that I have 3 kids under 4 years old) and that would be interesting.  

Well, they came through.  I won't go to far into it now, but I am headed up to Alaska, foregoing my annual trek to Mexico with my inlaws.  So, long story short, I'll be out for the next two weeks, but should have an awesome magazine article coming soon on the Coast Guard.

Semper Paratus!

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.