Red Platoon: Clinton Romesha’s combat memoir will floor you. Buy it — now


One of the rarest things on earth is the perfect blending between a warrior and a scholar. To meet such a man or to read his wisdom on the written page is truly a blessing, which is why I search … and search … and search for those moments. It is safe to say that Clinton Romesha, Medal of Honor recipient and author of Red Platoon, unequivocally belongs in that elite group. His memoir is exquisitely written, which feels somewhat odd to say given the subject matter.

For those who are unfamiliar with Mr. Romesha’s story — or, rather, the story of the men deployed to Combat Outpost (COP) Keating in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2009 — it is the stuff of legend. The former Staff Sergeant and his comrades were told to man an outpost that was in every way imaginable a death trap, and then when all their worst fears came true the majority of them found a way to survive.

Here is an excerpt that in many ways sums up what the book is about:

In 1958, a soldier named J. Glenn Gray wrote a book about soldiers in combat called The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle. Gray, who was drafted into the army as a private in May 1941, was discharged as a second lieutenant in October 1945 after having seen fighting in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany. His book, which is both obscure and revered, touches on something that would later strike me as relevant to what was now unfolding at Keating as our counterassault came in danger of unraveling.

Gray wrote with elegance and precision about how the essence of combat basically boils down to an exchange of trust between two men — or two groups of men — each of whom are providing support by fire for the other. This simple agreement — you move while I shoot at the guys who are trying to kill you, then I will move while you shoot at the guys who are trying to kill me — depends on a willingness to place one’s life into the hands of someone else while in turn taking responsibility for that person’s life in your own hands. When this pact is executed well, it is not only extraordinarily effective but also tends to create a bond between men who enter into it that may stand as the most powerful connection they will ever experience to another human being.

There is, however, one thing that Gray doesn’t explore in his book, which is what can happen when one of the two parties who are supposed to be working in tandem fails — for whatever reason, legitimate or not — to keep his end of the deal. That was what appeared to be taking place right then with Hill’s machine-gun team.” — Clinton Romesha, Red Platoon (New York, Penguin Random House LLC, 2016), 243-244.

I cannot say enough good things about this book. It seems awkward to call a wartime memoir “flawless” (How does one give glowing reviews to true story where men died gruesome deaths without seeming inconsiderate or detached?), but that seems to be the best adjective to use.

Red Platoon is powerful, organized, thrilling, poignant, inspirational and educational all at the same time. It is intelligent, but relatable to a wide audience. It is honest, but respectful to all Americans involved — regardless of how they handled themselves on the battlefield.

In short, buy the book. It is awesome, and probably something I will come back to for many years to come.

RELATED: ‘Black Hawk Down’: Read the book because the movie can never do the men who died justice

‘Black Hawk Down’: Read the book because the movie can never do the men who died justice


If you ask most people what they think of Black Hawk Down, then the vast majority of the time the response you’ll get will probably be something along the lines of, “Good movie.” That is understandable, given that it was a blockbuster film in 2001 produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Ridley Scott.

If you are like me, then perhaps you’ve always had an itch regarding the movie and, more importantly, the event — the downing of two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and the subsequent deaths of 18 American soldiers Oct. 3-4, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Sure, it made for a night out at the theater, but perhaps you’ve felt that it was somehow insulting to only know the tale through its Bruckheimerization.

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been working on a book in my spare time that will eventually see the light of day (we’re at the artwork stage now, so hang tight!). There are parts of the novel that required knowledge of Task Force Ranger, and at some point I admitted to myself that it would be literary heresy to not read Mark Bowden’s masterpiece to assist with authenticity. It is safe to say that there probably is not a more comprehensive retelling of the ill-fated attempt to capture two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

And if you do not think any of this is still relevant, then I suggest you start reading The New York Times. The paper reported Sunday in a piece titled In Somalia, U.S. Escalates a Shadow War:

The Obama administration has intensified a clandestine war in Somalia over the past year, using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.

Hundreds of American troops now rotate through makeshift bases in Somalia, the largest military presence since the United States pulled out of the country after the “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993. …

In March, an American airstrike killed more than 150 Shabab fighters at what military officials called a “graduation ceremony,” one of the single deadliest American airstrikes in any country in recent years. But an airstrike last month killed more than a dozen Somali government soldiers, who were American allies against the Shabab.

Outraged Somali officials said the Americans had been duped by clan rivals and fed bad intelligence, laying bare the complexities of waging a shadow war in Somalia. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the Pentagon was investigating the strike.

Who, exactly, are we fighting? Why are we there? Should we be there?

Mr. Bowden’s book provides many of the answers, which unfortunately raise more questions:

“In books and movies when a soldier shot a man for the first time he went through a moment of soul searching. Waddell didn’t give it a second thought. He just reacted. he thought the man was dead. He had just folded. Startled by Waddell’s shot, Nelson hadn’t seen the man drop. Waddell pointed to where he had fallen and the machine gunner stood up, lifted his big gun, and pumped a few more rounds into the man’s body to make sure. Then they both ran for better cover.

They found it behind a burned out-car. Peering out from underneath toward the north now, Nelson saw a Somali with a gun lying prone on the street between two kneeling women. The shooter had the barrel of this weapon between the women’s legs, and there were four children actually sitting on him. He was completely shielded in noncombatants, taking full cynical advantage of the Americans’ decency.

“Check it out, John,” he told Waddell, who scooted over for a look.

“What do you want to do?” Waddell asked.

“I can’t get that guy through those people.”

So Nelson threw a flashbang, and the group fled so fast the man left his gun in the dirt.” — Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down (New York: Grove Press, 1999), 46.

If you want to know what it’s like to have an entire city honed in on killing you and those you hold dear, then I suggest reading Black Hawk Down. The book can be a bit arduous at times — it’s like trying to eat a steak the size of your head — but there is no escaping it because a.) Mr. Bowden leaves no stone unturned, and b.) the experience for the men on the ground was grueling.

Perhaps the best endorsement of the book that I can give is this: I did not know much about the author before picking up the book, and was surprised to find out he is not a veteran. He’s just a reporter who did a damn good job telling a story.

Black Hawk Down is a book about courage and fear, the nature of war, success and failure on the battlefield, and most importantly the experiences of the men who fought valiantly to save one another in situation that was so surreal that it seem like “a movie.”

 It was not a movie — it happened — which is why those who care about national defense issues should read it sooner rather than later.

Kudos to Mr. Bowden for writing a book that will be read by military men and women for generations to come.

Nicholas Irving’s ‘The Reaper’: Sniper’s book gives readers a raw look at the realities of war

Nicholas Irving FacebookMichael Moore’s now-infamous tweet, in which he called snipers “cowards” while moviegoers raved about Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” showed that he never read Chris Kyle’s book. Likewise, Mr. Moore’s ignorant tweet also demonstrated that he was unfamiliar with Nicholas Irving, 3rd Ranger Battalion’s deadliest sniper, with 33 confirmed kills. Mr. Irving’s autobiography, “The Reaper,” is available now, and it is certainly worth checking out for anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the profession.

What separates Mr. Irving’s autobiography from others of a similar vein is that he details quite graphically just how close he came to death on multiple occasions. Many of the other first-person accounts of America’s elite war fighters never really recreate the sense of fear that can sweep over them when death closes in. The man known as “The Reaper” doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that real deal was hovering just over his head in many battles. Contrary to what Michael Moore thinks, snipers often put themselves in great danger — and when they’re spotted there is often nowhere to hide.

It takes brains, guts, and grace under pressure to survive on the battlefield when the best laid plans fall to pieces, and Mr. Irving does an impressive job articulating that reality for readers who are unlikely to ever take one step on foreign soil.

One of the other charges of men like Bill Maher is that American war fighters tell their stories in ways that make them come across as “psychopath patriots.” This once again proves that modern American liberals either do not read books like “The Reaper” or they only read them to the extent that they can find quotes to take completely out of context for their own political gain.

Nicholas Irving is certainly not glorifying war when he says of his experience shortly after a brutal firefight:

“Finally, though, when we were waiting for transport via Chinooks, I drifted off, though I heard a loud crack go past my ear. I immediately jumped up, put on my rucksack and stood there looking around, surveying the scene. All I saw was the rest of the guys just sitting there as calm as could be. In my head, bullets were still flying; in reality they weren’t.” (Nicholas Irving, The Reaper. Saint Martin’s Press, 2015. Page 182)

There are certainly passages in “The Reaper” that, taken out of context by partisan hacks, could be used to frame the Mr. Irving as a “psychopath patriot.” The reality is something else entirely: American snipers train for years to perform at the highest level of excellence. They take pride in their work (i.e., saving the lives of their fellow brothers-in-arms and killing enemies when necessary), just as cops or FBI agents take pride in what they do for a living.

If there are disagreements about foreign policy, then late-night talk show hosts and partisan filmmakers should criticize elected officials — not the men on the front lines who are literally diving into streams of raw sewage to avoid being torn to shreds by Toyota Hilux-mounted DShK machine guns.

The charge that books like “American Sniper” or “The Reaper” serve as “propaganda” (as Hollywood actor Seth Rogen might say) is laughable. Mr. Irving highlights this quite nicely when he describes a brief meeting with a young soldier who just recently completed Ranger School:

Just before we got to the car, our CQ, our company quartermaster, a really good guy named Lyons, came up to me.

“Just wanted to make sure you have everything squared away,” he said, shaking my hand.

“Yeah. Thanks for your help with all the gear and stuff.”

“No problem, Irv.”

Behind him, I could see another Ranger standing there. He was an E4 and I could see that he was a cherry guy, freshly shaved, quiet, standing there at parade rest.

Lyons introduced us. “Sergeant,” he said, “I wanted to meet you. All due respect but I heard you killed a bunch of guys. You set some record. I want to break it. I want my deployment to be just like yours was.”

I couldn’t believe what he was saying. Nobody says that. Nobody says that in front of a man’s wife.

Jessica stood there starting at me, looking like she was trying to figure something out, remember a phone number or something that someone had asked her for, something from her past she wanted to bring back up.

I looked at the cherry new guy, held his gaze until he backed his eyes off me, and said, very quietly but very firmly, “No. You don’t.” (Nicholas Irving, The Reaper. Saint Martin’s Press, 2015. Page 306)

If you’re looking for a compelling autobiography to read, pick up “The Reaper,” by Nicholas Irving. It may not be turned into a blockbuster movie anytime soon, but it’s still worth your time.

Related: American Sniper: Chris Kyle, Guardian Angel who doesn’t know it
Related: ‘American Sniper’ success prompts Michael Moore to take pot shots at deceased hero Chris Kyle

Tales from Basic Training: Roster Number 144 speaks

As regular readers know, I spent a few years in the late 90s as an infantryman in the U.S. Army. The experience in many ways molded me into the person I am today, and for that I will always be grateful.

To give you a better idea of what Basic Training was like in the 90’s, I’ve decided to post an excerpt from my memoirs. They were written when I was 21 years old. I am now 34. Basic Training has changed a lot since 1997, but hopefully you’ll find my experience educational and, perhaps, entertaining.

“Douglas Ernst” goes to Basic Training and becomes “Roster #144”:

The lights were turned off and Drill Sergeant Piper exited the room. A red hue poked out from underneath a few bunks. Writing letters was the last thing on my mind. My first official day of basic training, a dizzying blur of agitated authority figures armed with extremely durable vocal cords, had gone rather smoothly.

“Is this what my life will be like for the next three years?” I thought.

I sat and listened as an intricate symphony worked its way through the darkness and into my ears. Roster number 299 was already fast asleep and snoring in the exaggerated manner of a Saturday morning cartoon. If I listened hard enough I was able to make out young men crying into their pillow — probably some of them high-school football standouts. Long drawn-out sobs, short rhythmic sniffles, and a variety of other cries filled the air. There weren’t many, but they were definitely there. God only knows how many others were internally wrestling with their tear ducts. Somewhere shortly after thoughts of my older brother’s experience at West Point and how good a glass of Gatorade would have gone about then, I fell asleep.

“Will you shut the fuck up! Fucking crybabies! I don’t need to hear that shit now!” somebody yelled into the night, waking me up. The multiple “smoke sessions” we had during the night were pushing (literally) a few people to the breaking point. I laughed hard into my pillow. I wished I had the guts to say it first, but only for a fraction of a second — one of the Drill Sergeants had heard the noise.

“Damn it,” was my last thought before the onslaught began.

“What the fuck is going on in there? Oh, you wanna talk in my barracks? You must want some push-ups. I see. Just get down! Oh, you don’t want to say ‘at ease’? All right, I got a joke for that ass.”

The lights were flicked on and I didn’t have time for my eyes to adjust to the light before noticing everyone doing push-ups. I looked down at my watch. It was 4:00 a.m.

“Who gets up at 4:00 a.m.?” I thought. “And how the hell am I supposed to yell ‘at ease’ while I’m half asleep?” I didn’t understand, but I figured I better start doing push-ups like everyone else.

Drill Sergeant Piper paced the length of the room. When he wasn’t looking, some people decided to lie on their stomachs, a futile attempt to save energy. Whether or not one cheated mattered little. Before he was done with us, every ounce of energy would be converted into a puddle of sweat and left to evaporate on the barracks floor.

He slithered across the room like a king cobra set loose in a chicken coop. He darted between bunks and around corners, and before long the stomach-slackers were brought to justice. Their beds were torn apart and they were instructed to continue with their exercise in the middle of the aisle.

A flustered fat kid to my right lay sprawled out on the tile floor. He had given up on push-ups with the short-breathed exclamation, “Muscle … failure.” For a moment he caressed the cracks in the floor with his fingertips. A mantra of “Cold, cold floor. Cold, cold floor” dribbled off his lips. I briefly cracked a smile, and the muscle contractions I was experiencing weren’t due to oxygen starved muscles ready to burst at the seams, but laughter.

“You think this is funny, funny man?” said the Drill Sergeant. “That’s good, because I got a bag a jokes for that ass! Keep pushing!”

My smile returned to its original, more “drill-sergeant-friendly” grimace, and I resumed the exercise. At this time two more Drill Sergeants shot through the door and into the fray. Drill Sergeant Piper was free to turn his undivided attention toward the mysterious mantra-boy beneath him.

“What on God’s green Earth is going on here, Private? What’s your name?”

The heavy kid shook free of his altered state and looked up. A black strand of sewing thread and a piece of lint stuck to his moistened cheeks. Again, I turned my head and smiled. The lactic acid was stockpiling within the cell walls of my chest quickly, and the energy used to muster a smile was better suited someplace else. I bit my lip and focused on locking my arms. A full push-up was now definitely out of the question, but I’d be left alone as long as I gave the impression I was trying to hold myself up.

“Roster number 138. Private Duke,” said the soldier in a Southern draw.

“Where you from Private?” said the instructor. “You a Southern boy? Down with Dixie and shit?”

“North Carolina, Drill Sergeant.”

“Figures,” said drill Sergeant Piper. “All you Southerners are dumb as a box a rocks. I knew it.”

“Yes Drill Sergeant.”

“Shut the fuck up! You take the little yellow bus to school or something? I didn’t ask you to talk. Damn.”

I couldn’t take it. The “little yellow bus” remark sent me reeling. An insult on that level was completely unexpected. For four years I had waited for an outburst like that from one of my high school educators, but to no avail. There must be a finite number of times high school history teachers could deal with students still lacking our 16th president’s name from their memory bank before snapping. I had probably just missed the occasion.

Unfortunately, my sudden outburst of giggles soon had me gasping for breath at the hands of a disgruntled instructor. Drill Sergeant Piper left Private Duke and ordered him to commence with “the side straddle hop,” known to the rest of the civilized world as ‘jumping jacks,’ before directing his wrath in my direction.

“Funny man again?” hissed the Drill Sergeant. “Wrong answer, Private. That’s a ‘no-go.’ I gave you a chance and you blew it. And I never give second chances. Wrong motha-fucking answer. Now let’s see what I got in my bag of tricks. Roster number…”

“144, Drill Sergeant.”

“Roster number 144, when I say ‘front’ you will perform the push-up. When I say ‘back’ you will immediately flip over and begin knocking out sit-ups.”

“Yes Drill Sergeant.”

Drill sergeant Piper hurled my bed to the right, almost taking off roster number 145’s head in the process. I glanced at the nearly decapitated soldier for a brief second before experiencing what was, at the time, hell-on-earth.


I didn’t plant both my hands before a succession of orders spewed from Drill Sergeant Piper’s mouth.

“Back! Front! Back! Front! Back!”

I looked like an exotic insect performing a mating ritual for his camouflaged counter part—or a break-dancer on crack.

“Front! Back! Front! Back!”

I gasped for breath and caught a dizzying glance of my fellow soldiers. The scuff marks my combat boots were leaving behind as muscle failure set in were unavoidable. I should not have left them on after a previous smoke session. Within minutes I had somehow managed to trap myself within a circular shoe-polish enclosure. My comrades didn’t look happy. The amount of time we’d have to rid the floor of the black blemishes would be miniscule, and our inability to do so would more than likely end up in another feeding frenzy of Drill Sergeants.

“Front! Back! Front! Back! What’s wrong funny man? You’re slowing up! You ain’t laughing now! Laugh, funny man! Laugh!”

Needless to say, I never laughed. I didn’t cry either. I was probably just too tired. Crying would’ve involved stomach muscles to contract and expand with my sobs, which meant feeling the after-effects of our pre-dawn smoke session. Crying involved wiping away tears, which meant raising my arms. I had a hard enough time wiping my butt after a bowel movement, let alone having to deal with tears. My muscles were just too sore. Any amount of quiet time I gained wasn’t going to be spent wallowing in misery. It was going to be spent sleeping.

Late that night I was finally “ordered” to sleep. I contemplated the effects my hair-trigger laughing attacks had spawned earlier that morning. I decided that I’d have to work on my self-control if I were to have any chance of making it out of basic training alive. If the Drill Sergeants didn’t kill me for the constant schoolgirl tittering, my fellow soldiers would.

For a moment the thought struck me that Private Duke might seek retribution for mocking his “Cold, cold floor” mantra, and I tensed. Instead of peering through the darkness for my would-be attacker I drifted off into deep sleep filled with nightmares. I woke up the next day with the realization I wasn’t going to have sexual dreams involving Sports Illustrated swimsuit models for at a long, long, time.

Sometimes I think back on this period of time and wish I could go back there, if only for a few days. If I ever met Drill Sergeant Piper again there’s really only one thing I’d want to say to him: “Thanks.”

Boot Campaign: Texas group does our troops — and the nation — proud

Pushups for Charity
Years ago I read Marcus Luttrell’s book ‘Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10,’ and was blown away. It captured the complexities of war in ways I had rarely seen on the nightly news. Luttrell’s tale brought tears to my eyes and left a lasting impression in my mind. Apparently, it did the same for five women from Texas, who went out and started Boot Campaign, a non-profit dedicated to helping war fighters and their families when they return home.

This past weekend in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., I had the pleasure of taking part in the final event of the year for Pushups for Charity, which worked in conjunction with Boot Campaign to help raise funds for our returning war fighters and their families. Men, women and children of all ages and fitness levels came out to do as many pushups as possible within 90 seconds, with the goal of hitting 10,000 before the end of the day. There was a lot of people who needed a shower when all was said and done, but the goal was ultimately accomplished.

The thing that most struck me about Pushups for Charity was the sense of community the event instilled in participants from the get-go. All of the Team Leaders were upbeat men and women who made complete strangers feel as if they were longtime friends. It was hot and humid with no wind and no shade — but no one cared because everyone was having fun. Organizers, participants and the audience that cheered and clapped with each round all seemed to concentrate on a shared bond — love of the military. There was no amount of sunburn or sore muscles that could take away from the joy of moment.

After I got home on Sunday night, I was looking at a picture of myself with Team Leaders Mark Little and Chris Nesbitt and wondering why I seem most at ease (no pun intended) around soldiers. I laugh more. I smile more. I’m more “me” in those moments than in any other social situation.

I think a clue to the peace that company brings me can be found in the bio for CPT Mark Little (U.S. Army Ret.), which reads:

Mark enlisted in the Army in 2002. Mark spent 4 years as a Combat Engineer learning and performing the craft of a demolitions expert.

Mark was deployed to Iraq as a Platoon Leader for the 3rd Infantry Division. He spent 99 days in Iraq, conducted over 150 Combat Patrols, and received 3 direct IED blasts, resulting in 2 Purple Hearts and the loss of both of his legs.

Mark is the Captain of the USA Warriors Hockey Team, which provides recreational hockey therapy to wounded Service-members, he actively Crossfits, and is excited to help the Boot Campaign with their critical mission of supporting our Nation’s Heros as they return from combat.

Mark is a Hero Team Leader because every fiber of his being is dedicated to serving his fellow Military Service-Members and refuses to let injuries get in the way of completing any mission he undertakes.

Selfless Service. Check. Courage. Check. Perseverance. Check. The list of qualities that I respect, admire and seek to cultivate in myself are so often found in individuals like CPT Little that it is in their presence where I feel most comfortable.

Pushups Charity FB

There is something extremely awe-inspiring about men and women who can have both of their legs taken from them and, upon healing, get out of bed and essentially say to the world, “You took my legs and knocked me down? Okay. I’ll just build myself some new legs and stand right back up again. And on top of that, I’m going to be just as hard-core awesome as I ever was.”

That is the character of winners. These are the individuals we should look to for inspiration. Their stories are the ones that should not be forgotten.

The next time a political party comes knocking on your door, I suggest laughing them off and turning to an organization with a track record of actually keeping its promises. Boot Campaign is one, but there are many, many others. And if you can’t give money, you can always take 90 seconds out of your day during the next Pushups for Charity event to knock a few out. It won’t cost you a dime, and you’ll meet some incredible people in the process.



'The Rock' is batting 1000 for awesomeness. He's relaunching movies, he's got a great new show with 'The Hero,' and now it turns out he's connected with the Boot Campaign.
‘The Rock’ is batting 1000 for awesomeness. He’s relaunching movies, he’s got a great new show with ‘The Hero,’ and now it turns out he’s connected with the Boot Campaign.

A view from the infantry

Your truly along the Serbian/Macedonia border in the late 90's (sadly working under a United Nation's mandate).
Yours truly along the Serbian/Macedonia border in the late 90’s (sadly working under a United Nations mandate). Guess who got to haul the SINCGAR on patrol?

In 1997 I enlisted in the U.S. Army straight out of high school and spent three years as a mechanized infantryman.

After Basic Training in Fort Benning, Ga., I was sent to Schweinfurt, Germany, to join my unit, Charlie Co., 1/18th Infantry Battalion. I was part of First Infantry Division, known by most civilians as “The Big Red One.”

My time in service does not include the kind of deployments faced by the men and women who serve in a post 9/11 world, but I am confident that I can speak knowledgeably on the culture of combat units.

And I am confident Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey’s announcement that the front lines will now be an option for women is, for all intents and purposes, a policy shift that will get good soldiers killed.

While most commentary since the shift was revealed Wednesday has focused on the physical rigors demanded in combat roles, little has been mentioned about the sexual element that first sergeants and company commanders will now be forced to deal with.

Read the rest over at The Washington Times

Editor’s note: I’m trying to knock out “Damn Few” by the former Head of Basic and Advanced SEAL Training so I can give you guys a worthy review. In the mean time, hopefully this piece I did for TWT will serve as an adequate addendum to yesterday’s post on women in combat units.

Military obesity isn’t the issue: Civilian fat bodies are

The Washington Post is running stories on the military's bulging bellies. I looked through my old Army photos and found one of my fellow infantrymen after a 10 mile run. Nope. No fat people there. I wonder why.
The Washington Post just ran a story on the military’s bulging bellies. I looked through my old Army photos from 1997 and found one of me with my fellow infantrymen after a 10 mile run. Nope. No fat people there. My Magic Eight Ball says the MOS might have had something to do with it.

Over the past few years there has been increasing coverage of the growing waistlines of our nation’s military. It’s generally a dumb story. The people charged with fixing the problem know exactly what’s going on:  Nobody does physical fitness like the infantry. Period. If you want less overweight soldiers, tell the POGS to look at their grunt-buddies for an example of how to stay in shape.

Let’s take a look at who, exactly, can’t seem to get their asses in gear, shall we?

Obesity Military

Surprise, surprise. Look who leads the pack or, more aptly, leads the rear of the formation on Company runs:  women, the Air Force, and fat old men who have their rank and don’t give a rip because they’ve hit twenty years of service and can retire at any time.

When I was part of Charlie Co., 1/18 Infantry in the 90’s we had a guy who treated his body like crap and he couldn’t stay in shape. The solution? They made me get up with him on the weekends and take him on four, five, and six-mile runs. We also ran after work. We did push-ups. We did sit-ups. Our Platoon Sergeant gave me free rein to drag him out of bed and onto the road for long runs until he got it in his thick head to get where he was supposed to be, meaning: in shape. When you make something a priority, things start to fall into place. Shocker. The military should make it a priority to emulate the kind of standards infantrymen hold themselves to.

With that said, the bigger story is the nation’s eating problem:

Obesity is now the leading cause of ineligibility for people who want to join the Army, according to military officials, who see expanding waistlines in the warrior corps as a national security concern. …

Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said he was floored by what he found in 2009 when he was assigned to overhaul the Army’s training system. Seventy-five percent of civilians who wanted to join the force were ineligible, he said. Obesity was the leading cause.

“Of the 25 percent that could join, what we found was 65 percent could not pass the [physical training] test on the first day,” he said in a recent speech. “Young people joining our service could not run, jump, tumble or roll — the kind of things you would expect soldiers to do if you’re in combat.”

I believe that our nation’s outward appearance is a reflection of our own cultural decay.

Sloth. Gluttony. Pride. Envy. A nation of video game obsessed, chip-eating narcissists live vicariously through the heroes in their first person shooter, only taking breaks to go to the bathroom and catch a few minutes of whatever brain dead reality show is popular on MTV. Huge swaths of the population sit around on their butts all day, and when they wake from their Netflix induced stupor long enough to catch a news report of someone who went out there and actually built something they become angry. (See: Occupy Wall Street.)

In the United States, we live in a society where anyone can be fat. Quite unlike any other time in history, the poorer you are in the United States the more likely it is that you will be fat. It’s a testament to our greatness, but one that doesn’t come without its own set of challenges. Where once artists and painters drew naked heavy women because weight was an indicator of wealth, today obesity is an indicator that you might very well be living on a tight budget.

Today, the rich have personal trainers to help hound off the weight, but the poor have internet access. All the nutritional information we could ever want is right there at our fingertips, and yet rich and poor alike don’t utilize it. There are YouTube videos, blogs, government funded websites and enough dietary knowledge to make anyone a subject matter expert in a relatively short amount of time, and yet we still pack on the pounds. Why? It’s because we aren’t serious. About anything. We spend our days working and our nights watching Jersey Shore. Or Buck Wild. Or Honey Boo Boo. Or Dancing with the Stars. Or American Idol.

And so, the nation’s newspapers should not worry about the body fat standards of the military so much as it should worry about the psyche of our civilian population. More nutrition labels aren’t the answer. More bans on sodium and fat are not the answer. Limits on carbohydrates aren’t the answer. Instead, I would argue that finding a way to change the culture in a way that tempers its obsession with instant gratification and celebrity would yield better results.

And if we fail? If there’s a zombie apocalypse we all know who will be the first ones to go — and it won’t be me.

Basic Training Cured My ADD. Too Bad Drill Sergeants Don’t Come In Pill Form.

I wasn't given a prescription for Basic Training by a doctor (Drill Sergeants don't come in pill form), but it cured my so-called ADD. Who knew.

When I was a kid my mom wondered aloud whether or not I had ADD. She mentioned that some of my teachers thought the same thing. Although I was never placed on Ritalin, it was at that time that I was introduced to the word. Years later I was assigned to report to Fort Benning, GA for Basic Training. In a matter of weeks my “ADD” was cured! All it took was a Drill Sergeant and the life of an infantryman to sweat the ADD out of me. No drugs necessary. It turns out I was just a kid with a lot of energy, who also happened to be a bit of a joker. Nothing a few thousand push-ups, mud and cold couldn’t cure. It’s because of my own experience that I can’t help but be skeptical about many of the 3 million American kids who take drugs to “focus” each year. L. Alan Sroufe, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, is on the same wavelength:

Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects…

Sadly, few physicians and parents seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs.

What gets publicized are short-term results and studies on brain differences among children. Indeed, there are a number of incontrovertible facts that seem at first glance to support medication. It is because of this partial foundation in reality that the problem with the current approach to treating children has been so difficult to see.

While I don’t subscribe to the Tom Cruise wing of the anti-drug alliance, it seems like the knee jerk reaction in the United States is to pump someone up with drugs the moment there is a problem. It’s hard work to get to the root of a problem, but it’s rather easy to find a doctor who will scribble some words on a piece of paper so you can feel better before the week is out. But no one really asks if you actually ARE better.

Over the past few years I had a job that was rather stressful. It was rewarding work, but the pay wasn’t great and the demands for excellence were high. I had trouble paying my bills (DC is an expensive city, and I racked up a lot of debt in the form of student loans). I was in a long distance relationship. I started having weird heart palpitations in the middle of the day. I couldn’t sleep. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, even though I’m a healthy male who doesn’t drink or smoke—and I exercise regularly. I talked with a number of people, all of whom cared deeply for me and wanted me to do what was in my best interest. Almost all of them indicated that I might need to resort to some sort of drugs to handle my anxiety. These trusted friends also indicated that if I saw some of the doctors they recommended (again, out of concern for my health), that I would most likely end up getting a prescription of some kind.

I determined that the financial, professional, and romantic pressures coming at me from all sides should be alleviated first. I quit my job, and found one that set me on a better course for my long term goals. I lowered some of my student loan payments just enough to give me the breathing room I needed to live and work in DC. While it wasn’t initially on the docket, I ended up getting married. In a relatively short span of time my sleep returned, my heart palpitations stopped, and my chest no longer felt as though The Incredible Hulk was standing on it. By making tough choices that were connected to the root problem, I was able to avoid drugs—which in my particular case would have only been masking the core issues at hand.

Professor Sroufe is on the ball when he says:

However brain functioning is measured, [studies geared towards the “inborn defect”] tell us nothing about whether the observed anomalies were present at birth or whether they resulted from trauma, chronic stress or other early-childhood experiences. One of the most profound findings in behavioral neuroscience in recent years has been the clear evidence that the developing brain is shaped by experience.

It is certainly true that large numbers of children have problems with attention, self-regulation and behavior. But are these problems because of some aspect present at birth? Or are they caused by experiences in early childhood? These questions can be answered only by studying children and their surroundings from before birth through childhood and adolescence, as my colleagues at the University of Minnesota and I have been doing for decades (emphasis added).

Again, none of this is meant to suggest that there aren’t biochemical conditions that can (and should) be treated with medications. The question at hand is whether or not we’re doing ourselves a disservice by going to quick-fix prescription drugs whenever it seems like some serious introspection might result in a handful of really tough decisions (e.g., Do I need to quit my job?).

We’ve become a nation that’s inflated with unearned self-esteem. When a problem arises, it’s not us who need to change—it’s our biochemistry! While this may be true in some cases, I’m inclined to think that millions of kids are needlessly taking drugs each year.

And if you’ve made it this far, take a break with some Jimmy Eat World. And remember, “I’m not crazy, because I take the right pills every day.”