Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

NOTE The views I express on this site are mine and mine alone. Nothing I say should be construed as being "official" or the views of any group, whether I've been a member of that group or not. The advertisings on this page are from Google, and do not constitute an endorsement on my part.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Eyeballs and Rifles

There are many different ways to fight a war, and many different ways to serve in times of relative peace. The military is a microcosm of everyday life, yet different. Where the average citizen is committed to creating something - even if it's only words - in order to earn a living, the military has a specific purpose that guides its every function: to defend against those that would do harm to the United States and its people. That defense may consist of "killing people and breaking things", or simply being a "force in being" that intimidates an enemy enough he decides NOT to attack.

EVERYTHING the military does is done to meet that one specific function. Civilians are inducted and trained to become military people; some soldiers' primary responsibility is to feed the rest of us; some soldiers' jobs are to keep track of what was used where, and when to ask for more. The number of people who provide the ordinary everyday necessities usually exceeds those who actually fire a weapon in anger by dozens, if not hundreds. Every job is important, however, because every job is geared toward that one simple goal: to "support and defend".

My job in the Air Force was imagery analysis. Basically, I was tasked with looking at reconnaissance imagery of all types, to determine what kind of a threat a given group was to the United States. A lot of it was simply "bean counting" - how many aircraft at a given airfield, and what type, how many tanks in a barracks, what kind of ship was anchored where, with what kind of armament, and what state of readiness it appeared to be in. These things were important in helping the people above us to develop information they could use to determine whether a unit was 'top of the line', 'secondary', or 'reserve forces'; whether they were adequately trained or not, and much, much more.

There was far more to the job than just determining what was where, manned by who, for what purpose. We were constantly on the lookout for modifications in equipment, or differences in training during exercises. These usually indicated a change in capabilities, and the necessity of learning the extent of those changes, so someone "in a higher pay grade" could decide how best to counter the new threat.

We also kept track of virtually every foot of every highway, rail line, river, port, harbor, airfield, and any other facility that could move a military unit anywhere. We monitored parades and cultural events to see how well they were attended, and how many people found "other things to do" on such days. That gave us needed information on social acceptance and morale. We watched crops and harvests, to see how much was produced, and how that compared to what was reported. We even kept track of environmental damage and the destruction of wildlife habitat.

There is no such thing as "unimportant facts". Everything is useful. Not everything, however, is of EQUAL usefulness, and we had priorities. The longer you spent in the field, and the more you worked at different places, the more you grew to understand the rationale behind what you were asked to do. The more you learned, the better you did your job, the more things began to make sense. It was always the people who really loved the job that were the best at it. They also seemed to have the most fun doing their job.

Sometimes, you were asked to do something "different". That was almost as good as a promotion. Not only did you get a sense of accomplishment hard to achieve in the everyday "beancount" world, you usually were asked to learn something new, do something just slightly different, and look at the world in a slightly different way. It was always a growing experience, and always worth the extra hours you usually had to put in.

It wasn't all work and no play, either. There were lots of things to keep us interested and prevent us from either getting into a rut, growing stale, or becoming complaisant. I've only been in one intelligence unit where the morale was low. I've NEVER been in a unit overseas where the people weren't treated with respect, and where the command structure didn't do everything it could to relieve the tension of daily workloads. The best unit I ever served with in that regard was the 497th Reconnaissance Technical Group, in Schierstein, West Germany. The unit's not there any longer, and neither is our old compound, but several thousand of us who served there between 1952 and 1992 will always have a special place in our heart for that unit.

The technical details may change from time to time, but the job goes on - "to search out and find the enemy, count his number, judge his intentions, and report them to me forthwith" - what General Meade requested of those intrepid early airmen, the Union's experimental "Balloonists". All they had were their eyes, and maybe a telescope. Today we have cameras that can pick out the markings on a little-league infield, and the ability to "see" our enemy day or night. Yet we, too, follow the same order. If you're the right kind of person, if you like jigsaw puzzles and mystery novels, it's the best job in the world!


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