|A 'shoot house' at Ft. Hood, where soldiers are conditioned in the sights and sounds of war|
So, this 20-year war kicked off bright and early in the last decade of the 20th century with the introduction of a brand-new way of getting the big picture, according to a Top Kick sergeant who cannot be quoted for attribution because the Army's rules prohibit that.
Nevertheless, the truth is this, he said. “I wrote a paper explaining that, prior to the formation of CNN, I and the rest of the Armed Forces were stuck with the Rathers and the Cronkites, the networks and the newspapers.”
Anyone of an age will remember Walter Cronkite standing in the midst of the chaos of Tet – the Vietnamese lunar New Year, in Februrary of 1968 - Tu Do Street, Saigon, declaring, “After dark, there are no friendlies. After dark, it's all Indian country.”
People who were at the White House that day quoted President Lyndon Johnson, who reportedly said, “It's all over.” Asked what he meant, the President said, “That's the end of the war, and the end of my administration.”
“The most credible man in the world just said so.”
But with Desert Storm, the advent of General Norman Schwarzkopf's briefings changed all that, said the Top Kick.
One will recall video renderings of smart bombs and blockbusters devastating targets, bridges disintegrating in the paths of on-coming enemy trucks and tanks – the works – while CNN patiently gave the General his head.
Suddenly, the war was no longer sound bytes and shattered fractions of time captured on the small screen, cutting and dissolving to other venues, other stories with the speed of a kaleidoscope. Folks were treated to genuine after-action reports and critiques with the top brass. You heard the men at the top of a corporate pyramid groan, heard them laugh at the general's jokes, shared quiet moments with them in solemn contemplation.
It gets to you.
Things have become even more unpredictable today, says the Top Kick.
With the advent of the internet, smart phones, video, YouTube, “Who can be a journalist now?” he asked.
He nods vigorously. “That's it. Anybody can get the job done.”
They do. Nothing that has happened in this trial was much other than a foregone conclusion before the sun set on Nov. 5, 2009, other than what would hapen if the convicted mass murderer, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, would survive his wounds, or not.
When he did, it became clear that he would receive a show trial, and now that he has, he's found a way to commit suicide on television, as his ignominiously fired lawyers – politically correct term for whom is “standby counsel” - have pointed out repeatedly.
What did Hasan's attack do to the Armed Forces?
“He made us doubt each other, a little bit,” the Top Kick said.
Training and conditioning took over. Most people who were wounded mentioned in their testimony that when the shooting started in the Soldier Readiness Center on Nov. 5, 2009, they just assumed it was a training exercise.
In fact, Maj. Hasan convinced some people at a graduation exercise next door that's what it was, that his 5.7 x 28 mm FN Herstal was actually a paint ball gun - until they saw the dozens of wounded and dead people he had mowed down in the deadly onslaught.
Then, people shook off their shock, began to give first aid and to triage the wounded. They saved many lives.
But there was another adjustment, in the field.
“We began to trust the rank, trust the doctrine,” he recalled, a distant look in his eyes, which were focused just over my left shoulder. He was obviously looking back a decade, and beyond.
“You know how that works.” I mentioned that my military service was in the Navy.
“Okay. Why doubt anything the Chief says?” he challenged. “The Chief runs the Navy.”
True story. The enlisted pay grade of E-7 and above, or Chief Petty Officer, makes all the day to day decisions that make up the mechanics of running a ship, an air squadron, a shore installation. The chief doesn't make the big decisions, but he can sure tell you what is what as to how and when it can be done, once you've made up your mind what you want to do. A Chief has enough say so the make an Admiral change a lot of officers' minds – any old day.
Is this a war that is being carried out within the borders of our own nation?
That's where the Top Kick showed his Command Presence, that indefinable esprit de corps that keeps men moving. He answered that question with a light-hearted anecdote about “some guy” out in West Texas.
The punch line.
“It turns out he told the cops, oh, come on out to the place. Dad and I will be glad to show you around. As it turned out, he didn't have a gun safe; he had a gun vault with shelves upon shelves of ammunition - and his own shoot house.”
And then the smoke break broke up. We went our separate ways, no illusions to burden us.