Friday, July 26, 2013

Medal of Honor: Staff Sergeant Ty Carter for Battle at COP Keating

After months of anticipation, the While House announced that SSG Ty Carter of Spokane, Washington and Antioch, California will receive the Medal of Honor for actions while defending Combat Outpost Keating in Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province in Afghanistan on 3 October 2009, during an overwhelming attack by enemy insurgents on the small camp that was barely situated and provisioned to defend itself.  [Click on the reference above for a more detailed explanation of the battle.]

SSG Carter, a former Marine, is currently assigned to the cadre administrative unit of the Headquarters, 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington.  During the action cited, he was part of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.  Though B Troop is credited with the defense of the base, in actuality the total number of Americans there that day amounted to little more than a reinforced platoon, against an estimate of up to 400 Taliban and al Qaeda attackers.  (The Afghan National Army attachment at the small camp immediately became combat ineffective when the insurgents struck at just before 0600 that morning.)

SSG Carter, during a subsequent combat tour with 8-1 Cavalry, 2nd Infantry Division

SSG Clinton Romesha also received a Medal of Honor for that small but determined battle last February.  This marks the first time that two American fighting men have received the MoH for the same action since Special Forces SFC Randall Shugart and MSG Gary Gordon sacrificed themselves defending the site of one of the downed helicopters in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993, later popularized in the book and movie Black Hawk Down, coincidentally occurring on the same date.  This is the first time that two survivors have received the MoH since Sgt Leonard Keller and Sp4 Raymond Wright of the 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, together assaulted and eliminated a series of Viet Cong bunkers in May 1967.

Then-Specialist Carter distinguished himself by dashing through heavy enemy fire several times to bring ammo and supplies to a group of soldiers who had been pinned down in an armored Humvee in a battle position on the south side of the camp, only to find himself finally pinned there as well when the incoming fire became even heavier.  The .50-calibre atop the vehicle had become disabled by an RPG round, one of several that struck the vehicle and sprayed shrapnel that wounded Carter and several others, and the troops were soon exhausting their ammunition.  Their position was clearly untenable and another attempt by SGT Josh Hardt and two others in another Humvee to rescue them resulted in Hardt and SPC Chris Griffin being cut down and killed. 

The armor on the Humvee that held the trapped men was beginning to be compromised, with rounds starting to enter the cramped compartment.  SGT Justin Gallegos and SPC Stephen Mace tried to make a break to link up with the command post, the small Tactical Operations Center (TOC), while Carter and the others provided covering fire, but Gallegos was killed in the attempt and Mace gravely wounded before they had gone no more than a few steps.  Mace, understandably, began calling for help. 

Enemy fire was raining in on them from around the surrounded camp, and now the insurgents had breached the compound and were maneuvering inside the wire.  Carter realized that he had no real choice, so dashed to the aid of Mace and delivered basic first aid as best he could, lying beside the dead Gallegos.  Miraculously, the enemy rate of fire did not bear down on them during those minutes as intensely, and Carter was further unharmed as he drug Mace to some minor form of shelter next to the Humvee.  Carter then ran to retrieve Gallegos' radio and called for help from the besieged command post where Lieutenant Bundermann was trying to run the defense.  For the first time, both locations found that each other were alive and still active.  The other locations then poured fire at the enemy positions to provide cover for Carter, along with SGT (now 1LT) Brad Larson, to carry Mace to the aid station while still engaging the enemy with their M4 carbines, killing two and wounding one. 

Carter continued to be actively engaged alongside his troops, including two Latvian advisors to the Afghan troops, until the battle concluded that night with the assistance of reinforcements and air cover.  During the battle, he took the time to grab a chainsaw and cut down a burning tree, all the while still under fire, that was threatening to consume the aid station. 

Eight soldiers ended up killed in the battle including, eventually, SPC Mace.  But 45 survived and the position held.  The Army command, which had already considered the camp to be vulnerable, soon had it evacuated and destroyed.  An investigation followed the incident as to why the troops had remained so exposed and vulnerable, at the bottom of a steep valley and alongside a confluence of two rivers, similar to the earlier Battle of Wanat nearby and some fifteen months before.

The White House ceremony is expected to take place on 26 August. 

In an interview with the Military Times after the announcement, Carter said, "It wasn't just me; everyone pulled through.  They all performed excellently, bravely.  I really wish there was some way that I could share the prestige and the honor of this medal with them, not to mention the families of the fallen."  Carter expressed deep regret to the mother of SPC Mace: "That was one of the harder parts, telling Mace's mother that I'm sorry I didn't get to him in time."

Both Bundermann and Larson, as well as at least six others, received the Silver Star for their actions that day.  Carter also received the Purple Heart for wounds sustained, including shrapnel wounds, a concussion and hearing loss in his left ear.  Carter admits to being badly shaken by the battle and credits the help he received from his fellow soldiers and counselors who assisted him in his indisputable case of PTS.

As for the idea of two Medals of Honor for the same action, we still await the result of the recommendation for Army Captain Will Swenson, aided by a Congressional inquiry, and his actions alongside Sergeant Dakota Meyer, USMC, at the Battle of Ganjgal at about the same time.

Update: The Army has published an official announcement.

Update: The ceremony was held on 26 August as planned, with the following official citation:

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

"Specialist Ty M. Carter distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Scout with Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on October 3, 2009. On that morning, Specialist Carter and his comrades awakened to an attack of an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of Combat Outpost Keating, employing concentrated fire from recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars and small arms fire. Specialist Carter reinforced a forward battle position, ran twice through a 100 meter gauntlet of enemy fire to resupply ammunition and voluntarily remained there to defend the isolated position. Armed with only an M4 carbine rifle, Specialist Carter placed accurate, deadly fire on the enemy, beating back the assault force and preventing the position from being overrun, over the course of several hours. With complete disregard for his own safety and in spite of his own wounds, he ran through a hail of enemy rocket propelled grenade and machine gun fire to rescue a critically wounded comrade who had been pinned down in an exposed position. Specialist Carter rendered life extending first aid and carried the Soldier to cover. On his own initiative, Specialist Carter again maneuvered through enemy fire to check on a fallen Soldier and recovered the squad’s radio, which allowed them to coordinate their evacuation with fellow Soldiers. With teammates providing covering fire, Specialist Carter assisted in moving the wounded Soldier 100 meters through withering enemy fire to the aid station and before returning to the fight. Specialist Carter’s heroic actions and tactical skill were critical to the defense of Combat Outpost Keating, preventing the enemy from capturing the position and saving the lives of his fellow Soldiers. Specialist Ty M. Carter’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and the United States Army."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dzhokar: The New Ché

Now all of those Proles in Prada have something new and fresh to wear, in case they are beginning to think that their Ché t-shirts are becoming très démodé.

Rolling Stone scoops Girls Life and Seventeen

Yes, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon Bomber (I dispense with the media-obligatory "alleged" adjective), with 'surviving' here meaning that in addition to the four people killed in the terrorist attack, along with 265 injured (31 critically), he also managed to run over and kill his brother while fleeing the scene of a shootout.

But say what you will (and does it really matter to the publishers?), Tsarnaev is now declared an official rock star.

Rolling Stone sets about defending the cover (you know that they had the excuse written and proofed well before the publication) with the usual blather, which in this case is that it is a "riveting and heartbreaking account of how a charming kid with a bright future became a monster."

Further: "[T]he fact that Dzhokar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of the issue ..."  (Really?  Tsarnaev is in his 60s?)

By sheer coincidence I'm sure, the publishers hope that pandering to this terrorist rock star will cause a surge in its steadily declining circulation, as "newsstand sales – a major indicator of a magazine's health – tumbled 10% in the six-month period ending last December, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations."  This is as it's forced to compete with rags mags like Spin and the new Blender.

Jann Wenner, the Dorian Gray that founded Rolling Stone, has his expected defenders.  Erik Wemble, media critic of the Washington Post, affects a jaded ennui with the reaction and "our country's tedious outrage machine".

But cooler heads are righteously exploding with the comparison to Jim Morrison.  There is a huge Twitter response ("horrible", "stupid", "tasteless") with threats of (even more) cancelled subscriptions.  National drug store chains such as Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and CVS have announced that they will not stock the magazine, in addition to the Boston-area grocery outlet Roche Brothers.  Boston Mayor-for-life Thomas Menino, hardly a reactionary conservative, blasted the story as an "obvious marketing strategy".

So Rolling Stone joins the parade of media that rolls over a tragedy to make a buck.  It's enough to give 'pandering' a bad name.

But expect that the Chattering Class will roll out the First Amendment cliché, that the magazine has every right to expound on matters that should be hammered out, even provocatively, in the public square, and salute it for its 'courage'.  I'm fine with that, for that right extends both to the courageous and the stupid.  And so shall we all express our First Amendment disgust and God-given right to criticize that which we find reprehensible, and we can see how courageous Rolling Stone can be as it deals with the effect to its cause in the marketplace.

Update: American Digest provides us an advance copy of the next installment:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pipeline Denied; People Died

The Left is into catchy phrases to chant at their demonstrations; they might want to consider this entry.

                                                                                (Radio Canada)
As many as 50 people could be dead after a massive explosion of a series of tanker cars in a runaway train that crashed into the small, historic community of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, a town of some 6,000 about ten miles from the United States border of Maine, in the early morning hours of 6 July.  Twenty bodies have been confirmed and thirty are still missing and presumed dead as investigators and fire fighters dig through the remnants of the central town area.

Seventy-two tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed after rolling uncontrolled from the town of Nantes, about seven miles away, where the train had been parked for the night.  The average slope of the track between the two towns is 1.2%, relatively steep, and by the time that the train slammed into Lac-Mégantic it was estimated to be travelling in excess of 60 miles per hour.  The resulting fire and explosions rocked the small town all night.

The train had been left unattended in Nantes and the single engineer stated that he set eleven handbrakes prior to departing for the night.  A small fire broke out minutes later and firefighters arrived to extinguish it, all within an hour.  It is unknown whether this fire contributed to the reason that the train slipped its brakes.  The CEO of Rail World Inc., parent company of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MMA) Railway that owned the train, blamed the engineer, despite the ongoing investigation, in a contentious impromptu news conference on the street in Lac-Mégantic when he arrived to survey the damage after some five days.  He had come under strong criticism for remaining in Chicago, where he said he could be more effective in communicating and coordinating the company response.

Whatever the proximate cause of this tragedy, one must consider that the trans-shipment of oil by rail car must have a more expedient alternative, and it does – pipelines.  Hardly a new innovation, pipelines are restricted for this purpose despite the huge increase of oil production as a result of recovery from the tar sands of the Bakken Basin, which covers large areas of North Dakota and eastern Montana (which have seen a large positive economic impact), as well as huge reserves of the same field in Saskatchewan across the border in Canada.  [Click them all to embiggen.]

The Obama administration has fought the development of these fields, relying instead on speculative new 'green' technology instead, at the insistence of powerful environmentalist lobbies entrenched in the Democrat Party.  Obama has gone so far as to blithely assert that the price of fossil-fueled electricity needs to "skyrocket" in order to force the new technology on the people.  ("Because I'm capping greenhouse gases, coal power plants, you know, natural gas, you name it – whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, uh, they would have to retrofit their operations.  That will cost money.  They will pass that money on to consumers.")

Part of Obama's stump speech during the last election (when he wasn't dismissing the Benghazi "road bump") was to tout the fact that oil production was higher than ever, but this was despite, not because of, federal interference into the oil sector.  Oil production from shale oil took place on private leasings and state land; federal reserves (as well as off shore areas) remained locked up. 

A key element of this battle has been the Keystone XL pipeline, adding to the already existing Keystone, which would extend the line from Hardisty, Alberta to the coast of Texas near Nederland and improve capacity.  Construction of the line would employ as many as 40,000 workers and increase North American oil production by some 30%, but Obama remains beholden to his environmentalist base.  Delay of the pipeline has already extended well beyond what is reasonable and it is the most 'studied' (or stalled) such plan in history.  Excuses include concern over the possibility of the effect of a leak over a major aquifer in Nebraska, but the route was modified to take this into account long ago.  Rhetoric obscures the fact that some 21,000 miles of pipeline crisscross Nebraska already, part of some 500,000 miles of such pipelines throughout the US.  All this has been covered in great detail, though not necessarily in the main stream media.  One embarrassing point for the 'Greens' is the report quietly released by State Department to the effect that the Keystone XL will have a negligible effect on the environment.

For example, lest anyone think that the delay is out of pure love of Mother Gaia, let's tie this together with those who benefit from the current impasse, and why.

Warren Buffett is a major Obama crony and environmentalist opponent of the Keystone XL, and his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. acquired the huge Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railway soon after the election of Obama, with lines running through both the US and Canada.  "With modest expansion," all new oil production could be handled by the railway through 2030, thus Buffett  makes megabucks as long as the XL pipeline lies dormant, through transporting oil acquired through his holdings in Conoco-Phillips petroleum.

Even more cynically, billionaire environmental activist and Democrat fundraiser Tom Steyer has bankrolled huge lobbying efforts and street performance art demonstrations to forestall the XL pipeline.  Yet where does Steyer get his money?  That would be through oil, gas, and pipeline companies such as Farallon Capital Management LLC.  Farallon is the parent company of Kinder Morgan pipeline company which is building the TransMountain pipeline that extends from Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia.

The Canadians are developing their shale oil industry because they will see a major windfall to their economy thereby, and if the Americans insist on dithering away the opportunity to benefit as well, then Canada will be compelled to sell their bountiful product to the Chinese, who are eager to acquire it through their China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).  So Tom Steyer, the Cassandra of the dangers of the Keystone XL pipeline, stands to make a fortune off his own pipeline in order to sell North American oil, otherwise available to the US, to China.  And just to grease the skids, CNOOC has acquired the Canadian oil and gas company Nexen, with the approval of the American Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS).  The approval of the "multiagency group in Washington that vets significant foreign investment in the US" was required due to Nexen's large assets in the Gulf of Mexico.  (The same committee approved the Chinese acquisition of the remnants of A123 Systems, one of the green companies that went toes up in the same manner as Solyndra, leaving the taxpayers footing the bill.  Now the warning is that China will acquire valuable battery technology through the transfer.)

Toss in such cronies as Obama bundler Frank Brosens, whose Taconic Capital acquired six million shares of Nexen (Brosens was picked by Timothy Geithner to run TARP); Eric Mindich of Eton Park Capital Management which bought over 6.7 million shares of Nexen ($71,000 to Obama and $500,000 to Democrat candidates); David Shaw (up to $500,000 bundled to Obama, and a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) has up to 6.5 million shares.  Be sure to include Eric Holder, formerly a partner in Covington & Burling LLC, which was hired by Nexen to lobby on behalf of the acquisition.

The Manhattan Institute published a brief just last month that shows that pipelines are far safer than transporting petroleum products and natural gas by road or rail.  As if on cue, the rail disaster at Lac-Mégantic has illustrated, as if by the flames of the burning town, the cynical exploitation of the oil issue by Democrat cronies.

To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, Obama might say that, while his bundlers are Fat Cats, "at least they're our Fat Cats."

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Unknown "Star Spangled Banner"

As yesterday was our Independence Day, I am drawn to remember that the renderings of our national anthem on that day, more common than usual, mark an example of what John Stuart Mill might consider our "degraded state of … patriotic feeling."  Leaving aside one's taste in the variety of musical arrangements, I am writing here of the lack of understanding of the full meaning and text of what we know now as the Star Spangled Banner.  First, allow me to flesh out some background:

The restored flag of Fort McHenry at the Smithsonian Institution

Francis Scott Key was a popular lawyer in and around Baltimore during the time of the War of 1812 when he was deputized in September 1814 to negotiate the release of American captives from the British.  He and John Stuart Skinner set sail upon a sloop under a flag of truce and were accepted by the British Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane and Major General Robert Ross aboard HMS Tonnant in Chesapeake Bay.  While the negotiations were subsequently successful, the two Americans were temporarily detained by the British since in the process they had also become privy to the British plans for the assault on Baltimore.  Key and Skinner were moved to HMS Surprise (note to fans of Patrick O'Brian) and then back to their original sloop of HMS Minden, from whence they viewed the bombardment of Fort McHenry through the night of 13/14 September.  (Fort McHenry was commanded by Major George Armistead, uncle of the future Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Both died soon after the battles due to the effects of the fighting, the younger the more so, and they are buried alongside each other.)
Francis Scott Key
The bombardment ended up being ineffective, but that would not have been known by those observing it at the time, for the effect was quite astounding.  The British were experimenting with rockets and exploding bombs during the attack, and the psychological effect, for what it was worth, was quite dramatic and an early example of 'shock and awe'. 

Key was apprehensive as he watched the bombardment through the night and was much relieved by the dim sunlight of the morning when he perceived through the fog and smoke that the American flag commissioned by Armistead was still flying over the fort.  A poet by avocation, he was moved to pen some notes on the back of a letter, which he finished as a complete poem, the Defense of Fort McHenry, the morning after he returned to shore and the American lines.
Fort McHenry today
Key had appended a note for the printer that the poem, if sung, should be done to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven, a popular melody of the day.  Much was made of that fact during the Bicentennial of the 1970s, during the Age of Aquarius and the pop revisionism that held that practically anything American could not be good.  The tune was labeled a drinking song and used as an excuse to deride the national anthem – I remember among examples a television 're-enactment' of a street scene of the time after the battle, with actors in period costume drunkenly belting out the tune while swaying with tankards of ale.  In fact, the original song was commissioned by a gentlemen's society of amateur musicians in London and though it contained veiled references to the benefits of wine and the ladies, it is foremost a salute to the camaraderie of the "sons of Anacreon", an ancient Greek poet.  By the time of Key and well before copyrights, the melody was popular and had been ascribed to any number of songs, including patriotic tributes to John Adams and Stephen Decatur, and even later used by Puccini as part of an aria in Madama Butterfly.  Due to its range of an octave and a half, I find it laughable that any occasion worth its salt would expect people to gather round the piano and their cups to perform a lustily rendered version of the song. 

The finished product was given to Captain Benjamin Eades, who had copies printed and hastened with one to a nearby tavern where he knew he could find the body of actors from the Holliday Street Theater.  Ferdinand Durang was encouraged to perform the new song and thus mounted a chair to sing it to the assembled crowd for the first time. 

The song quickly became popular and over the years became the unofficial national anthem.  Being such, there were a few variations in the melody that was eventually standardized in 1917 as a result of a panel, including John Phillip Sousa, assembled by request of President Woodrow Wilson.  Years later, partly as a result of an appeal by the same John Phillip Sousa, and contrary to the spirit of tradition, the song was officially made the national anthem by act of Congress in 1931. 

The vast majority of Americans are completely unaware, I am sure, that the words to the Star Spangled Banner extend beyond the eight lines with which they are accustomed – there are four stanzas, not just one.  For that matter, they are only dimly aware of what the words are, much less what they really mean.  Here's a party trick: ask your friends to recite – not sing – the words.  Few are able, for those of us who sing it have become used to doing so in company of others and thereby are carried along, almost unconsciously, by the collective memory of the crowd.  A Harris poll in 2004 found that 61% of those surveyed could not remember all the words, and only 39% could complete the third line.  As for their meaning, few understand that the words they sing are not a declaration, but an unanswered question: 

     O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
     What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
     Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
     O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
     And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
     Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
     O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
     O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? 

Again, the "rockets' red glare" and the noise they produced had a dramatic effect yet they were notoriously inaccurate.  Besides the psychological aspect against troops in the open (they were used with some effect in driving off the small contingent of the American army and militia – but not the Marines and sailors –at the Battle of Bladensburg the previous month), they had been marginally effective against area targets but practically useless in this case against point targets such as those at Fort McHenry and the nearby North Point.  The drawback of the bombs can be found in the song, for bombs of that time weren't supposed to burst in air, they were supposed to burst on target.  The unreliable fusing of the bombs and the errant rockets, to a great extent responsible for the failure of the British naval assault, spelled their last real use. 

As to the rest of the song, it is the next stanza that answers the question, reflecting Keys' joy at beholding the flag still flying at dawn: 

     On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
     Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
     What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
     As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
     Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
     In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
     'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
     O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

And was the enemy, with their mercenaries and indentured conscripts, defeated in this contest?  Yes indeed: 

     And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
     That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
     A home and a country, should leave us no more?
     Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
     No refuge could save the hireling and slave
     From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
     And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
     O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

But it is the final stanza that carries the most import, that sums up the patriotic resolution that finds its source in the God who has founded and preserved such a new nation.  And that is one of its greatest detriments to a revival of the true meaning: 

     O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
     Between their loved home and the war's desolation.
     Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
     Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
     Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
     And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
     And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
     O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave! 

Free men defending their homes and family; our land rescued by Heaven and its Power; just war; "In God we trust"?  These were such easily accepted and understood concepts in times past, yet are so controversial today.  Even our current president has deleted references to God in quoting the Preamble to the Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance early in his term, as well as skipping out of the National Day of Prayer. 

The only portrayed reference I have found of the extended version of the song was a portion of the last stanza performed by Arnold McCuller in the movie version of The Sum of All Fears, otherwise known for its believable rendition of what an atomic bomb exploding in a city would look like, but most particularly in its changing of the terrorists from Arabs to some sort of European neo-Nazis, likely due to taking a knee at the insistence of CAIR.  (Tom Clancy, sitting alongside the director during an interview popularizing the upcoming film, pointedly introduced himself as the man who wrote the book that the director ignored.)
The national anthem is difficult to sing, truly, but the current pop culture – and is there any other type of culture portrayed by the mainstream media? – is nevertheless content to let the ignorance, willful or otherwise, of this portion of our heritage lie fallow.