Names (Not) Remembered


Sgt Delfin Montemayor Santos was one of three soldiers killed, alongside State Department’s Anne Smedinghoff, but there wasn’t any CNN, Washington Post, Huffington Post, etc., profile of Santos, like there was for Smedinghoff.

Granted, Santos didn’t have the college degree from Johns Hopkins, being a grunt perhaps doesn’t have the same cache as being a Foreign Service Officer, so people might think a guy like Santos didn’t have the “potential” of a Smedinghoff to impact the world, and his death was somehow less of a loss, worthy of news eulogies. Or maybe it was that Smedinghoff wasn’t supposed to die, not in the way 8,000 servicemembers can be neatly reduced to a statistic.

Maybe it’s like my grandmother said to me, that “other people’s kids are allowed to die, but not you,” before I left for Afghanistan in 2009.

Except she had probably forgotten who I cast my lot with.

We had an ethics class once, where they hypothetical was a speeding train headed for a bridge that would collapse, and all those onboard would perish. You could push a button to divert the train onto another track, but that track had an individual on it who would then get killed. That individual started out as a pedophile, and gradually evolved to a daughter/grandmother. Then it was flipped around, where the 100 people on board the train were pedophiles. Social utilitarian arguments began to show cracks. Then it was asked whether anything would change if, rather than pushing a button, you would have to actually push a person over the bridge in order to save 100 lives.

An Army captain and myself were initially lambasted for refusing to push the button, under any circumstances. We weren’t going to play God. Yes, we would have let 100 innocents in a train die rather than push the button to save them, and allow the lone pedophile to die. We were accused of “killing” the 100 innocents (“inaction is action”).

But somewhere along the spectrum, some people’s “morality” started to shift.

It was pointed out that we tend to judge ourselves based on our intentions, but we judge other people based on their actions.

Judging at all, is a dangerous excercise.

This Memorial Day belongs to Delfin Montemayor Santos, but in this age of “Military Operations Other Than War” (and various other terminology to describe actions from Peace Keeping to Nation Building), where diplomacy is more interlaced with military operations than ever, it also belongs to Anne Smedinghoff.





“Incoming is coming in every day, rockets are hitting the Green Zone,” said Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer. He and others confronted Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas, who approved the move to “directed assignments” to make up for a lack of volunteers willing to go to Iraq.

“It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment,” Croddy said. “I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?”



When 200 members of the 800-member 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment extended their enlistments earlier this year so they could accompany the Two-Five back to Iraq, their decision was numerically significant.

No infantry battalion has had as many Mar
ines extend their tours as the Two-Five — troops who were “short-timers” and could have ended their service with comfy stateside billets but chose instead to return to Iraq to help less-experienced Marines navigate the dangers.

As the Marines from the Two-Five returned to Camp Pendleton early Monday, they had a new significant number to boast about: zero.

In seven months of patrolling the streets of Ramadi, once the most violent city in Anbar province, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment had no Marines or sailors killed and only one injured. In its previous deployment, the battalion’s numbers were 15 killed and more than 200 wounded.

No one is saying that the presence of the 200 Marines who had extended their tours was the crucial factor in the battalion’s returning with no fatalities. No one is saying it wasn’t.

“Barbara Porter’s son, Cpl. Jesse Porter, 22, was one of the 200 who responded to an appeal from his commanding officer and sergeant-major to make another trip to Iraq before returning to civilian life.

Jo McDaid of Kalamazoo, Mich., was similarly unsurprised when her son, Sgt. Matthew McDaid, 22, announced he was returning to Iraq, voluntarily.

“It’s all about, ‘If my buddies are going, I’m going too,’ ” he said.


Fog of War


Top “When you realize you are about to fuck yourself” Moments.

#2: Conducting a rules of engagement inquiry in Afghanistan. Asking the lance coconut who shot a civilian what ROE training he’d received pre-deployment. Lance coconut: “Back at Pendleton we had a class by some captain. I think it was a Captain L?” (looking at my nametape). #PoliticalGenius that Lance Coconut.

Fog of War: 

Lance Corporal – “I knew the guy was a bad guy after I shot him because none of the TCNs by the supply convoy went to help him.” 

TCNs by the supply convoy – “The guy was crying to us for help, but we didn’t want to go help him because we didn’t want to get shot.”

The Tempest

war is hard, but probably not for the reasons movies and television portray. war is hard for the hundreds of hours of boredom. you dont spend time training for that. just like you don’t train for whatever might happen inside your head the first time you kill someone. Some people get desensitized. Start devaluing life, dehumanizing the enemy. Becomes like a game where you decapitate your enemy, for sport, even after you’ve defeated him (Mortal Combat). Who knows. war is hard when it can turn good kids who volunteered to do something 99% of the country wouldn’t do, into “monsters.”


“The U.S. military should be held to a higher standard, certainly, but it is important to understand the context of the behavior in the video…. But of course they have dehumanized the enemy — otherwise they would have to face the enormous guilt and anguish of killing other human beings. Rather than demonstrate a callous disregard for the enemy, this awful incident might reveal something else: a desperate attempt by confused young men to convince themselves that they haven’t just committed their first murder — that they have simply shot some coyotes on the back 40. It doesn’t work, of course, but it gets them through the moment; it gets them through the rest of the patrol.”




I have never heard soldiers nor Marines asking the public back home to patronize, excuse, or forgive battlefield conduct. Most are likely both too proud, and too humble, to expect that.

This includes conduct that, in the comfort and safety of watching NFL playoffs on a big screen TV in one’s own home, too easily prompts the passing of snap judgment followed by a doling of immeasurable contempt. 

But what these soldiers and Marines do deserve, in return for doing the dirty work of executing policy directed by the nation’s elected civilian leadership, is at least some amount of compassion when things get ugly – and they will, no matter how much we try to instill discipline, and preach honor – in the face of committing state-sanctioned murder.

That compassion can come only from understanding.

Those who insist on continuing to judge what they do not even attempt to understand, reflect a failure or refusal to understand themselves.

Take, for example, the revelations by the researchers involved with famous The Stanford Prison Experiment ( Or, maybe what Oscar Wilde once described “the 19th century dislike of realism” to be “the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.” (I.e., you’re not going to like what you see).

Well publicized military disdain for civilian leadership may derive, not from a sense that civilian control is per se incompetent in matters of directing war policy – because in an all-volunteer military, nobody is forced to serve under a leadership they have no faith in. It more likely comes from a sense of frustration, and due increasingly to a body politic that lacks any military experience themselves, that those who direct us oftentimes do not even understand what they ask us to bear. And the final insult is the conclusion that we are lesser people than them, for having gone into the heart of darkness, yet not managing to escape untouched.

This widening chasm is unhealthy for our republic.


in memoram

23 Jan 2010

Petty Officer Second Class Qin “Doc” Xi
Bravo Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion

The report came in the battalion COC (combat operations center).

“DS2120 and XQ5698 have multiple injuries to face/neck, are unconscious, and bleeding severely. Corpsman treating on scene …”

I first met “Doc” Xi at Pendleton in August 2009, when 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance battalion activated for deployment to Afghanistan. We were bivouacing in the field on Camp Pendleton. During the day, we went through K-2 “combat town,” simulating urban patrols (Missions Over Urban Terrain –MOUNT, as the military likes to call it), and at night overlooked the I-5 and bright headlights of from the steady stream of San Diego / Los Angeles traffic.

It had been the first time since The Basic School (TBS), in 2005, that I had done urban patrolling. I had pulled Doc aside, in between our 2-a-day runs through combat town, confiding in him that I had gotten an 86% on my combat first aid “prac app” (practical application) exam at TBS, and how I had been admonished by the instructors that while 70% was passing for all classes at TBS, combat first aid was one class where, in reality, anything less than 100% was unacceptable, because in real life, it the difference wasn’t measured in terms of graded percentage points, but potentially in terms of life and death.

Doc had been reassuring. Anytime I needed anything, he’d be available, he said. He then let me practice tying tourniquets on his arm. I would repeatedly ask, “is it tight enough?” Doc would patiently tell me to keep going, never mind caution from causing discomfort practicing on another person, and protested lightly with a slight smile only when I finally had it tight enough to cut off circulation going to and from his arm.

Lance Corporal Jeremy Kane died on scene, when the suicide bomber detonated himself, as the patrol was walking through the bazaar. The initial MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) request reported one “angel” (KIA), 2x urgents, and 2x priority.

Doc was one of the urgents – bleeding profusely, and requiring immediate surgical care. Our battalion position, the furthest south of any American units in all of Afghanistan, and some 50 kilometers from the Pakistani border, put us at the edge of the “golden hour” – the critical time period for a MEDEVAC helicopter could come down, pick up casualties, and return to the large Marine base at Camp Leatherneck, for advanced surgical care – all within one hour, where it had been shown would dramatically improve an injured service-member’s chances for survival/recovery.

Doc didn’t make it to Leatherneck; his injuries were too severe. He succumbed to his wounds on the helicopter.

I remember my first deployment to Iraq in 2007. I had joked with the Marines there, how if one reads obituaries, only the best people seem to die. You never read obituaries commenting on what an asshole the deceased was. “If you want to make sure you don’t get killed, just be an asshole,” I joked. Doc was one of our best. 

He was only 25.

His assuring smile and generous patience will be missed.

Semper Fidelis, Doc.


Loud and Vicious – In Memoram – Capt Jessica Conkling, OCC-187

Friday, May 8, 2009 at 12:03pm | Edit Note | Delete

I remember the name, though not the face. But we spent 10-weeks together in Charlie Company, Officer Candidate Class 187, and commissioned together as Second Lieutenants on December 10, 2004. Approximately 200 of us took our oaths – to defend the Constitution, against all enemies, foreign and domestic – together in Little Theater, Quantico Marine Corps Base, on that December 10 – C Co, OCC-187.

She was certainly there, behind the “classroom”, when I announced, as candidate platoon sergeant, that 2nd platoon looked like a “sack of turds” only “because this candidate looks like a sack of turd, Staff Sergeant!” and proceeded to march 2nd platoon across the grass in the most direct line to the squad bay.

As with Gunny Jerome Murkeson, who I sat next to in the SIPR room without exchanging more than a passing greeting during the time we were at FOB Shield by Sadr City, and before he was shot and killed on a mission with the MiTT, you are still always left wondering about those you have crossed paths with. Who were these people, what of their families (Gunny was married and had two young children)?

The military is unique in the sense that even those you don’t know well, there always remains a sense of “family” for having been “there” together, the commitment to shared sacrifice, and the belief in something much greater than our individual selves. In the words of Colonel Rachel:

Commanding Officer’s Letter To Candidates

The Officer Candidates School trains, evaluates, and screens qualified applicants to ensure they demonstrate the leadership, the mental and the physical qualities to be an Officer of Marines. We are dedicated to making Marine Officers that possess our core values of honor, courage, and commitment to lead the Corps into the 21st Century.

In order to provide the Marine Corps with the quality leadership that Marines deserve, candidates must display the ability to lead by example while under demanding conditions. This is an important trait of any Marine Officer and will be the focus of your evaluation. In order to complete Officer Candidates School, we must ensure you are mentally and physically prepared. Candidates must understand that in some cases they will fail. How well you recover from failure, adapt and overcome in the face of adversity, is a key factor when determining if you have what it takes to be a leader of Marines.

You do not have a right to be a U.S. Marine. It is a privilege, a privilege that must be earned. So join us, embark on a journey that will make you a part of history.

I want to thank you for two things; displaying an interest in becoming a leader of Marines and for your patriotism as you choose a path that allows you to serve your country — there is no greater opportunity in your young lives. God Bless America.

Semper Fidelis,

L. N. Rachal

But also, in the words of Chaplain Stevens:

Wood is only beautiful because of the pattern…the pattern is the wood’s life story. Some lines are years of struggle and other lines are years of blessing. OCS will paint some lines across your soul. Would you have it any other way?

May Jessica’s soul now rest in peace.

Semper Fidelis.

* * * * *

Loud and Vicious

It’s almost 0530. It’s still dark out, but you can almost feel the crack of light. OCS candidates have already woken up (“count, off!”), dressed (“put your left boot on now! 20, 19, 18, 14, 8, 5, 3, 2, 1!”), cleaned the squad bays (“scuzzbrush the bulkhead!”), scampered (moonbeams clanking against their warbelts) onto the parade deck for formation (“Report!”), marched (“Road guards! Post!”) across the damn bridge to Bobo Hall (“1, 2, 3 attack the chow hall!”), and are now standing in line holding their trays with elbows tight and to their sides, side-stepping through the chow line (“Eggs please, ma’am!”).

They will be eating with feet flat on the floor, at a 45-degree angle, backs straight and off the seat rests, bringing their food to their mouths, and not their mouths to their food. There will be no talking unless spoken to first. And then they will reply loud and vicious. Sergeant instructors are yelling. Some candidates will be assigned 300-word “remedial” essays for transgressions such as walking with food in their mouths (“daggon heinous!”). This will probably fall under the subject heading “failure to follow simple instructions.” The platoons that finish first will go sit outside in front of Bobo Hall, facing the Potomac. Some candidates make a “head call” (which evolves into social time at OCS). The rest will unfold and sit down on their campstools and bury their faces in their candidate regulations. But really, each is staring at the Potomac as the sun soon breaks the horizon. A precious moment of peace, perhaps the only moment of peace, in a day in candidate land. It’s about 0545, and all they can think of is “what the fuck am I doing here?!”

“Aye aye candidates! Aye aye gunnery sergeant! Carry on candidates! Kill!”

Something similar is probably happening at MCRDs San Diego and Parris Island.

While most of our society sleeps, the Corps is making Marines.

shared sacrifice?

“Incoming is coming in every day, rockets are hitting the Green Zone,” said Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer who once worked as a political adviser with NATO forces.

He and others confronted Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas, who approved the move to “directed assignments” late last Friday to  make up for a lack of volunteers willing to go to Iraq.

“It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment,” Croddy said. “I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?”

Jack Croddy, Director, Officer of International Health Affairs, Department of State. 202-647-1318,1,2358560.story?coll=la-iraq-complete

When 200 members of the 800-member 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment extended their enlistments earlier this year so they could accompany the Two-Five back to Iraq, their decision was numerically significant.

No infantry battalion has had as many Marines extend their tours as the Two-Five — troops who were “short-timers” and could have ended their service with comfy stateside billets but chose instead to return to Iraq to help less-experienced Marines navigate the dangers.

For Wendy Hill of Phoenix, it was the end of the longest seven months of her life. Her son, Cpl. Joshua Bodnovits, 22, was on his first tour. She had taken comfort in the fact that so many of his fellow Marines had opted to return with him.

Jo McDaid of Kalamazoo, Mich., was similarly unsurprised when her son, Sgt. Matthew McDaid, 22, announced he was returning to Iraq, voluntarily.

“It’s all about, ‘If my buddies are going, I’m going too,'”

Yellow ribbons on cars don’t measure real support

Sept. 15, 2007, 4:55PM
U.S. troops die and suffer while most of us simply move on without remembering

Who in the United States really supports our troops? If truth be told, basically nobody.

My former boss, Sen. Bob Dole — who was grievously wounded in combat during World War II and then spent the next three years of his life in various hospitals trying to survive and recover from his wounds — says this generation of soldiers, not his, is truly “The Greatest Generation.” Over the course of the last few years, he has quietly visited with hundreds of wounded soldiers and been brought to tears, not only by their sacrifice, but also by their determination to rejoin their fellow soldiers back in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While Bob Dole, who clearly supports our troops, may think of them as “The Greatest Generation,” not many of us agree with his very accurate assessment. Out of a nation of now 300 million people, who really cares about the young men and women we send into harm’s way?

Let’s see. Those on active duty obviously care, their families care, veterans care, a small number in the media care, some states like Texas care more than others, and a minute amount of the national population actually cares. But for the vast majority of the rest America, the young men and women who serve on the front lines and protect us from evil are all but invisible. They don’t exist in our lives, they occupy no space in our minds, and their sacrifice goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

Many on the far left think those in uniform are fools, puppets or even war criminals. Witness the already controversial ad run in the New York Times last week by  that intimates Gen. David Petraeus — a nonpartisan professional soldier of impeccable reputation — may in fact be “General Betray Us.” Is that their “support” for our troops?

Politicians who speak for the far left often say, “I support the troops but not the war.” Proudly, liberal Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, often parrots that exact phrase. This is the same man who, while in the terrorist-sponsoring state of Syria, just denounced the Iraq war on Syrian television and praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad— a dictator who, according to our intelligence agencies, allows and encourages Islamists to cross his border into Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers. Is that “support” as defined by Kucinich?

What about wealthy liberals who can’t fathom why U.S. soldiers would accelerate their training for a $20,000 bonus? As they ridicule these soldiers for selling their souls for a pittance, do they understand what $20,000 represents to the average American? Is this the “support” and understanding they are willing to grant our soldiers?

What about the far right? What about those who purport to speak for my party? Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Steve Cambone were three high-level political appointees in the Rumsfeld Pentagon who were instrumental in planning the Iraq war and wildly underestimating the response. Do they “support” our troops? What price do these, never been in the military, ivory tower academics pay for their gross miscalculations?

As they move forward with their careers and makes hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, what support do they offer to the families of the almost 4,000 killed and 30,000 wounded?

What about the conservative politicians and pundits who did everything they could to get out of service in Vietnam but now stand as the loudest cheerleaders for the war in Iraq?

Is hypocrisy and enthusiastically sending others to do what you would not their definition of “support?”

While I disagree with much of his politics, I will always deeply respect Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for his service in Vietnam. More than most, he has earned the right to offer his insights on this war and combat. Likewise, newly minted Democrat and Democratic Sen. James Webb of Virginia. As a highly decorated combat veteran, Webb understands well the price our troops are paying for their nonstop deployments. To counter that, he just introduced an amendment “requiring that active duty troops have at least the same time at home as the length of their previous tour of duty overseas. After four years at war, supporting our troops means addressing the erratic deployment tours that are breaking our military and ignoring the demands that extended tours place on our troops and their families.”

Clearly, Sen. Webb is looking for ways to support our troops. But sadly, he represents a minuscule percentage of the country at best.

How do the U.S. television networks “support” our troops?

One way it seems, is by showing a montage of U.S. military vehicles being blown apart by roadside bombs. All of the networks and cable networks have shown this disgusting montage as background tape and none seems bothered by the fact that the video of our troops being killed and maimed was shot by the very terrorists who did the killing. If the networks have any sympathy for the families of the brave soldiers killed and wounded, they can support them by refusing to air this snuff film made by al-Qaida.

How do some liberals in Hollywood, who despise George W. Bush and the War in Iraq, “support” our troops.

Well, a couple of them, like Brian De Palma and Mark Cuban, make films that put our troops in the worst possible light. Their new film depicts the undeniably disgusting, criminal behavior of a handful of soldiers, and uses it as a political tool to go after the policies of President Bush while smearing more than 160,000 other troops in the process. How will De Palma and Cuban respond if their film inflames and incites Islamists in Iraq and around the world to kill more Americans?

What about the employers who now say they would never hire someone in the National Guard or hold a job for someone in the Guard currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Does patriotism and the ultimate protection of their business, now have a price tag or bottom line?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. As most of us blissfully go to the movies, sporting events, restaurants, the mall, walks in the park or sleep safely in our beds, we don’t think of the troops. Never. Their sacrifice and pain never crosses our minds. Not once.

But it should. For it is only their sense of duty and heroic sacrifice that is separating us from those who mean to end our way of life. Shame on us all for forgetting that.

MacKinnon was a spokesman for former Sen. Bob Dole and a former civilian Pentagon and White House official.