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How did we troops in a war zone feel about big shot visits?

Posted by John T. Reed on

How do I, as a Vietnam vet, feel about Trump visiting the troops in the war zone?

LBJ at Fort Campbell

I shrug. When I did a 30-day internship with the 101st Airborne Division in July 1966, President Johnson visited us. We had to go line up on the tarmac at the Fort Campbell, KY Air Force Base—hours early. It rained on us. We just stood there in formation way early and waited. When he arrived on Air Force One, he got out and rode past each of our battalions in a jeep. He wore a transparent raincoat over a suit and a cowboy hat with a transparent plastic cover. I believe he made some remarks on a PA system then left. We did not parade. We just stood at attention.


Same thing happened to my dad in WW II. It may have been the speech featured in the movie Patton. My dad was in the 79th Infantry Division which was part of Patton’s Third Army. They had to stand for hours waiting for Patton in a field. He finally arrived, made a brief speech, and left. My dad never mentioned the content of the speech, only the standing for hours in advance waiting.

Half hour early for West Point parades

At West Point, we always had to form up for a parade about a half hour early. Why? Every cadet knew that we formed up about eight times a day to march into meals and in classrooms. We literally had to be in the formation or the room when the second hand hit the 12 at the appointed time. And we were brilliant at doing that in spite of not being in the formation second before the second hand hit the 12.

CYA + chain of command = hurry-up-and-wait

So why the hell did we have to form up for a parade—which happened four times a week in parade season then—a half hour early? They only have about twelve a year now. We suspected that each layer of the chain of command were covering their own ass by setting an earlier time than the guy above them set.

Then we became seniors. That is the class who ARE the cadet chain of command. And our classmates in that chain confirmed our suspicions. The supe would tell us to form up ten minutes before the parade time of about 1600. Then the commandant would make it 1545 and then each level of the cadet chain of command—brigade, regiment, battalion and company would each subtract another five minutes to cover his own ass. So we overscheduled cadets who never had enough time had to waste about a half hour standing around doing nothing for 30 minutes in the quad or on the street waiting for the “forward march” command.

Imagine how many CYA (CMA I guess is more accurate) careerist assholes are in that loop for a visit from the Commander in Chief. And each damned one of them subtracts five or ten minutes. So a visit by the CIC means standing out in the weather for a hour or more. The troops visited by Trump seemed to be indoors, but I am guessing it was for an hour or more.

Publicity stunt

It is a publicity stunt. Eventually, such a visit will be attacked by the enemy—maybe killing the President. There is no substance to it. It is just a gesture. It takes a whole lot of people and money and security to do, money and people probably better used to win the war.

Nice but lose the hurry-up-and-wait

Did we appreciate it? It is nice in a war zone to see evidence that the people back home have not forgotten us. Being in a war zone feels like being on Pluto. We went to war. America went to the mall. We doubted Americans were thinking about us. And we were correct. But I think we would rather not have yet another hurry-up-and-wait loss of an hour or two of our lives—often in extreme heat or cold or rain.

Ask the troops Trump visited how they felt, and how much of a pain in the ass it was.

Not on my watch

If I had ever somehow been at the top of a chain of command at West Point—no chance of that—I would have said, 

“I will visit the assembly areas before today’s parade. I had better not see a cadet in parade formation or hiding in the buildings fully dressed in parade uniform on or near those assembly areas before 1350. If I find any cadets have been forced to do hurry up and wait, I will punish both the cadet and officer chain of command of the early unit. Capeche?”

MAGA hats?

What about soldiers bringing MAGA hats to be autographed? Don’t be such a tight ass. The troops are just kids. They see Trump as a celebrity and the normal reaction to a celebrity along with selfies is to ask for autographs. The troops were not reacting to a candidate, they were reacting to a Commander in Chief. I doubt you will ever see any of them campaigning for Trump in uniform. That is what is illegal.

Troops today cheer Trump because they like his style. Cadets at West Point, and their parents at graduation, dissed Obama there with polite silence or damning by faint applause. Yes, they may not campaign, but they are allowed to vote and to like or not like, which they do.

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