Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Response to Paul Masciotra, Salon.com

On November 9, 2014, Paul Masciotra wrote in Salon.com an article:  You don’t protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy 


Here’s my response:

In the early 1980s I was a B-52 Electronic Warfare Officer with the United States Air Force’s Strategic Air Command, stationed in K. I. Sawyer, Air Force Base, Michigan.   ‘K. I.’ was located near Marquette, Michigan by the shores of Lake Superior; it has since closed.  It is really a pretty place, but in the winter, it is COLD!  The temperature plummets well below zero degrees Fahrenheit.  The coldest I personally experienced was -53 degrees (without wind chill factor).

At the time, SAC kept its bomber and tanker crews on nuclear alert.  We had to spend one week out of the month sitting on nuclear alert; away from our families and our movements restricted to the alert facility and selected portions of the base.  While on alert, we had periodic exercises where the Klaxon would ring and everyone would race to their aircraft, and depending on the command and control message, start engines, taxi the aircraft, and even do a simulated minimum interval take-offs (MITO)  down the runways.   The object of the exercise was to prove we could take off prior to incoming submarine launched ballistic missiles launched from Soviet Yankee and Delta class subs off our Eastern coast obliterated K. I.  Naturally, while the probability was low, the possibility always existed that the command and control messages were not exercise but directed a real-world action.

One night in early 1984, SAC was conducting an exercise titled, Global Shield.  The command was proving that it could respond on a moment’s notice to deter any threat, i.e., Soviet threat.  As a then lieutenant on nuclear alert, my humble part in all of this was to be ready to jump from whatever I happened to be doing at the moment, run to the aircraft and be prepared for anything.  All the SAC crew dogs were expecting the Klaxon to sound around 2400 hours (midnight).  Midnight came and went.  We began to think that the SAC commanders had decided not to ring the Klaxon because outside was -25 degrees, and with the wind chill it was around -35 degrees or so.  IT WAS COLD!  

I went to my bunk around 0100 hours (1 in the morning).  “At least they have a heart” I thought and fell asleep…

NNNNRRRRRIIIINNNNGGG   NNNNRRRRRIIIINNNNGGG  NNNNRRRRRIIIINNNNGGG  [it’s hard to describe the loud irritating sound] “KLAXON KLAXON KLAXON”   over and over again  Time?  0300 hours (3 in the morning)!

The two other guys with whom I shared the room (the radar navigator and navigator) and me jumped out of our beds, put on our flight suits, cold weather Bunny boots, and ran out as fast as we could into the cold Upper Michigan night.  Interestingly, after the base was closed, the Alert Facility was turned into a minimum security prison.  The room in which the three of us slept was deemed to small to house one prisoner.  

As I was running to my aircraft it was really slippery. I kept running trying not to fall or trip over all of the other Crew Dogs who were also running with me.  Suddenly, I saw a co-pilot named Sam Gilmore, just go sliding down the runway on his back – it was that slick.

The thought then hit me.  I know I’m not doing this for money and no one else here is doing it for money.  Why am I running to an aircraft at 3 in the morning in -25 degree weather in Upper Michigan? Why is Sam Gilmore sliding on his back on the runway?  I looked up at the clear cold sky… Yep, I knew that a Soviet satellite was observing our reaction.   I raced faster …

After the exercise was over I pondered over what I had seen.  Yes, none of us was doing this for money.  We did it because it was our duty.  We belonged to something larger than our own comfort and ourselves which no amount of money could properly compensate.  I was part of the strategic nuclear offensive forces of the United States.  The Soviets would not dare to strike us because despite all of the crap they saw on TV about the anti-nuclear movement, etc.  they had proof that in some remote air base like K. I. a group of guys just like me would run to their aircraft and get off the ground ahead of their SLBMs and make them pay an unacceptable price.

Yuri Andropov, then Soviet leader, and his generals were not deterred because some kindergarten teacher expressed her horror of nuclear war or some old hippie preached ‘make love, not war’ while smoking pot or because Bubba and Billy Bob had their pumps (shotguns).  Nyet!  It was because SAC crew dogs like Sam Gilmore, yours truly and all other soldiers, sailors, and airmen were at their posts ready to protect our country.  While the buck stops with our commander in chief, the President, it is we who give the buck its value!

I’m no hero.  I did my duty to the best of my abilities because I love this country and felt that I was doing something important.  The Soviets did not attack us while I was at my post.

What you want to call us does not matter to me; I did my duty and do not need your praises. I suspect that calling our soldiers heroes is largely due to America’s collective guilt at the way America treated its soldiers when they returned from the horrors of the Vietnam War. Thank you, Sylvester Stallone for 'Rambo.'

Bottom line:   To paraphrase Herodotus’ King Leonidas,  “Go tell the Americans, thou that passest by, that here according to their laws, we always serve.”