Misadventure on the Pedlar, Part Uno

This is a story of the best beer I’ve ever had. Like most of my stories, it involves me thinking I was invincible and can withstand anything life throws at me. As is the usual case, I was reminded exactly where the limits of my mortality actually exist.

This particular story takes place on the Pedlar River nestled within George Washington National Forest. GW National Forest is itself settled in amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western Virginia, about an hour or so from Lexington. Every Spring, the Corps of Cadets runs an exercise designed to test the 4th Classmen on their fieldcraft, namely skills such as land navigation, shelter building, and wilderness survival. The exercise covers a roughly twenty mile course of arduous terrain in some of the most beautiful country Virginia has to offer.

I participated in the aptly-named 4th Class FTX (Field Training Exercise) each year of my cadetship. It was a wonderful way to break up the monotony of the Institute Experience and also recharge my batteries by getting away from the hustling weariness of modern life. Unfortunately, George Washington National Forest tried to kill me every single year.

Continue reading “Misadventure on the Pedlar, Part Uno”

Michael vs Zulu Warriors

Yesterday I wrote about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift and I mentioned Michael Caine and the film based upon the battle. In said film, there are two great scenes. First, is the scene prior to the actual battle. The Undi Corps of Zulus approaches the grizzled British embattlements and begins a war chant. The British respond by singing “The Men of Harlech,” an old Welsh march. The battle then commences. When the battle is over and the Zulu return, they once again form to begin a war chant, this time saluting the noble, dogged enemy that had repelled their attacks.

The final scene made a very big impression upon when I first watched it as a young Rat sitting in World History at the Mother I. My professor, had regaled us the day before with a spirited and nuanced retelling of the Battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. To then watch it on the silver screen only fueled the already grandiose notions of venturing out on great campaigns that were already swirling in my head.

But when the Zulus saluted the British I was awed. There, on the screen, was a dramatic representation of honor and respect, even amongst your enemies, that was being drilled into our heads back in the Barracks. It still stands as one of my most favorite scenes from the cinema.

I have embedded it below for your viewing pleasure, dear reader. The big battle doesn’t begin until about the middle of the video, but it follows directly into the final scene.

The VMI Legacy

On the 15th of February, the VMI Family lost one of its most distinguished Alumni, Colonel William Dabney ’61, USMC (The announcement can be found on The Institute’s website). Colonel Dabney served with distinction in Vietnam, commanding two rifle companies of Marines in defense of Hill 881 South (Hat Tip to CDR Salamander). For his actions, during the Siege of Khe Sanh, Colonel Dabney received the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps’ second-highest award for valor. Colonel Dabney eventually returned to The Mother I to serve as Commandant of Cadets, influencing a great many Cadets during their most formative years.

But the passing of Colonel Dabney is quite what makes him so special; he’s simply another warrior embarking on the great journey to Valhalla. No, it is what the Colonel’s story can teach us about leadership and personal courage. If you follow the two preceding links, you can read the story in full, including his citation for the Navy Cross. You can also read his remarks upon his receipt of the award.

Will the VMI Corps of Cadets please rise. (All seats remaining vacant after  invited guests were seated had been occupied by cadets.)

Our generation – these men who just stood before you – came home from war to a nation not much disposed to honor the nobility of their service.  Today, as Pete said a few years late, you gave us our parade.  Thank you!(Audience and Warriors applauded the cadets)
Many of you will soon shoulder the responsibility of command leading the citizen soldiers of your generation.  Eight of your number have already given their lives in the cause of freedom in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Should you be called upon to take America’s patriots in harm’s way, you will find awesome, as I did in my time, their courage and determination.  The experience will become the signal moment in your lives.  We wish you God speed, and we salute you. (Another round of applause with the loudest and most robust coming from those 40 men in the front rows of Jackson Memorial Hall.)
His speech is a wonderful example in the old guard showing the newly initiated the way things should be done. True leadership requires that you teach those whom will replace you everything you know in order to be successful and to accomplish the mission. You must also inspire them by your example. If you expect your subordinates to be courageous, you yourself must be courageous in the face of hardship and criticism. You must also be well-grounded in the history of your organization, using examples to inspire those who you lead. A thorough knowledge of history also better arms you against making the same mistakes as your forebears.
This is a concept that was always well-drilled at The Mother I. From day one, every Cadet was taught that he or she has a long, illustrious legacy which they must uphold. It is these teaching moments that build the “Never Say Die!” attitude and shows the Cadets that it is now their solemn responsibility to carry on the proud tradition. It is this knowledge that has lead so many Institute Men to win the day even when facing insurmountable odds, much like Colonel Dabney did during those seventy-seven fateful days on top of Hill 881S.

Ut Prosim

We at VMI have always had a rivalry with the boys down the road at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Virginia Tech having been founded by a VMI Alumnus, afterall. While Tech had nationally ranked football teams, we at the true and proper military school took pride in the fact (Read: Griped, bitched, moaned, and boasted) that we had it tougher than those sissies in Blacksburg. The rivalry was only exacerbated by the many years Turkey Bowls which pitted the vaunted Hokies against those most valiant beloved sons of the Commonwealth. To this day, we gentlemen (and now ladies) of Lexington do happily maintain that we will rise to any challenge that the Hokies would provide.

But no matter how heated our rivalry has become over the years, it has always been friendly. Virginia Tech has always proven a refuge for those prisoners of the Mother I, and we Keydets have always been amicable and magnanimous, in return. No other day in Virginia history has better illustrated the great bond and friendship between the two Corps of Cadets than that black day in April when a very troubled man decided to exorcise the demons in his head the only way he knew how. When news of the massacre reached us in Lexington, many were shell shocked and calls rang from the stoop for each Cadet to take pick up his rifle and trek to Blacksburg because our comrades in arms needed reinforcements.

In the aftermath, each Keydet did what he or she could do; offering prayers, support to friends caught too close to the action, and even sending envoys Southward to pass along our sincerest sympathies and condolences. It was a day when, truly, the sons and daughters of Virginia (even those of us from out of state) banded together as one. We provided an honor guard for the funeral of one of the Blacksburg Corps’ own, Cadet Matthew Joseph LaPorte.

As law enforcement agencies slowly sift through the debris of that wretched day, they have uncovered stories and evidence of acts of heroism and bravery. Such is now the case for Cadet LaPorte. Staring death itself in the face, Cadet LaPorte was called to action. Confronted with withering gunfire and no chance of escape, Cadet LaPorte leapt from his seat and attempted to subdue the gunman. Amidst his efforts, Cadet LaPorte was gunned down, giving his life in service to his fellow Hokies. Cadet LaPorte’s actions on that day were in the finest traditions of the VPI Corps of Cadets and in keeping with the storied actions of other beloved Sons of Virginia. May he rest in peace.

 

Hat tip to CDR Salamander.

Positive Press

Author’s Note: I wrote this a while back during my 1st Class year at the Institute. I still believe it’s relevant as I’ve seen no change in the status quo. 7/17/10

My Alma Mater is once again in the news. Unfortunately, it’s nothing but a fluff piece riding a wave of federal investigations and controversy, but beggars can’t always be choosers. The article was written by a reporter who I can only surmise had never set foot on Post before and was obviously not familiar with any of our traditions. He was led around by a handful of cadets who kept him away from the general Keydet population, explaining the alien customs and activities that we engage in on a daily basis. My favorite quote is from our current Commandant:



“Outsiders ask, ‘Why don’t you just let them walk down and get breakfast?’ ” said Col. Thomas Trumps, the chiseled commandant who leads the daily military regimen. “We could. But then it wouldn’t be VMI.”

It encapsulates the very nature of the of the biggest challenge we have when dealing with the outside world; our traditions don’t make sense to the outside world which is focused on the role and benefit of the individual. Our only way to bridge the divide is through active participation in the media. I just don’t think we do a good enough job of it. We wall the media out, hoping that they go away. We give them handlers who are screened beforehand to fit a certain image of VMI. This ultimately does a disservice to the Institute. The best piece of prose I have ever read that captured the spirit of VMI was the book The Institute, and it does so because of the unfettered access that the authors were given to the entire Corps. There are a lot of good stories to tell within Barracks, a lot of regular, buck privates who would do the Mother I proud with what their interviews. Allowing reporters to be immersed within the culture would allow them to understand it as best they short of actually earning a VMI diploma. A better understanding leads to a better article.

Choices

I was recently e-mailed by a high school senior with the unenviable task of deciding between attending the Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel. He was specifically concerned with which school would better prepare him for Marine OCS as he had a Marine Corps ROTC Scholarship. Here is my reply:

“Well, asking what life at VMI is like is a rather broad subject. As for choosing between the Institute and El Cid, what do you want to major in and where do you want to go to school? Charleston is a beautiful city and has a bustling culture and nightlife while Lexington is a sleepy little rural town without a whole lot going on. Both schools aren’t easy and both schools will test you mentally, physically, and spiritually. The NROTC curriculum isn’t all that different at either school and succeeding at OCS is more dependent upon your attitude and strength of will. But that probably isn’t the answer you were looking for and only makes the decision more difficult, so here’s my rather biased view.

VMI is tough. There is no way around it, the system is set up to intentionally break you down to your lowest level and then keep piling on the pressure and duties until you either graduate or quit. The Ratline is hard, but being an upperclassman is harder. Expect to study hard, eat terrible food, have no time to yourself and zero privacy, and to sleep very little. Expect to spend at least some of your free time marching in circles with a rifle for hours on end because you screwed-up and were punished for it. Expect to be miserable. Expect to be held to a higher standard than the rest of the world as far as conduct and personal honor are concerned. Know that your personal honor and integrity are paramount. Go in with the full knowledge that your years at the Mother I will be the best and worst years of your life. Know that you will hate the place while there and while you’re home will wish you were back. Know that your Brother Rats are the best friends you will ever have and in order to survive, you will have to rely on them and they will have to rely on you. Know that you will struggle academically and will probably have lower grades at the Institute than you ever did in high school. Expect to fail at least once but that the lessons learned from that failure will help you later on. Know that the Alumni network is one of the closest knit in the world and they are EVERYWHERE. Know that a degree from VMI will allow you to write your own ticket wherever you want to go in life. Know that the Ring will open doors for you simply because you are an Institute Man, and that you need to get the full-size ring. And finally know that as much as they may not seem like it, every single member of the Commandant’s Staff, faculty, and administration wants you to succeed.

I was in the same situation as you my senior year in high school. If I had known all that and been presented the choice between the Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute, I would still choose to leave home for the Shenandoah Valley. So the real question is, knowing all of the above, will you still take the challenge?”

New Market

I was rummaging through old photos on my hard drive today and ran across some photos of New Market day here at the Institute and at the Battlefield. Last year I was the commander of the firing party/honor guard for the event, which meant that myself along with seven other cadets performed a gun salute for the ten Cadets who died at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. While I’ve marched in the annual parade, I had never been asked to participate in a ceremonial role before. It was a great honor and the riflemen did an outstanding job.

The New Market Honor Guard at parade rest.
The New Market Honor Guard at parade rest.

Friday, err. . . Farrell

I thought I’d provide a different flavor of poetry rather than the usual Kipling. It’s a poem written by SGM Alan F. Farrell, a 28 year veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces, and currently a professor of French here at the beloved Institute. He served as a radio operator in Vietnam and most of his poetry is a reflection of that time spent in the jungle.



The Man Who Outlived His Lieutenant

Lieutenant and me used to have this, well… kinda argument
About what to do in an ambush
I’d already been in a couple, figure I’m a vet, an aguerri, a beenaround
Duck the fuck behint of a tree burn off a mag wait till they get tired
I got more ammo’n they do more time they know
If they mess with me too long I’ll call down the Johnson

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’, sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, C(ombat) I(nfantry) B(adge)
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

Lieutenant he don’t see it thataway figures
Somebody fire you up only way to act is get on him
Assault through it on line break it up
Fire and maneuver like in the book
Discipline pree-vails on the field of battle troops get to
thinking all’s they gotta do is get shot at, they’re not soldiers any more… just targets

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’, sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, CIB
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

I say bullshit do love my Lieutenant though bright and curious and tough
We all do drinks beer with us packs sandbags with us keeps T(actical) O(perations) C(enter) off our back
Wants to do Right and what’s more translates that Faith into Act
Cuts square corners like they taught him at V(iginia) M(ilitary) I(nstitute) not because
He has no imagination but because Honor is what keeps this butchery from
Being butchery but he can’t sell me Honor… not at the cost of my ass

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’, sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, CIB
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

I say I doan wanna be butcher but most of all I doan wanna be the beef
Important to him to be neither but a soldier
Like his Old Man and his paratrooper at Normandy teddy bear Captain in the Ardennes
In the end though he pretty much listens to us pretty much
And don’t sell us for nothing and we talk and sweat in the sunwashed dust and shiver in mountain fastness
And soldier’s Honor rarely enough intrudes into the soiled business at hand

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’, sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, CIB
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

We stumblefumblebumble together upthendown Lao mountains
Curse and laugh and Christ I laughed with him
Silly futile fatal ironies I’d never laugh at now preposterous paunchy greying Citizen
And we carrybury our dead a man here firefight there ones and twos
Yet at each loss he withdraws a little ages a little sages a little talks a little less about
Honor more about men hurtmen lostmen wastedmen thesemen ourmen more like me

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’, sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, CIB
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

In the six kilometer square grid Lower Left No Bomb Hotel Nine
A bonetired sweatsoaked montagnard snatches a vine from across his face
Steps out onto a trail threading its way along this ridgeside just
As a bonetired sweatsoaked P(athet ) L(ao) ambles aimless home
Infinite moment of locking eyes fumbling fingers
Rounds crack shattering branches scattering leaves spattering dirt

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’, sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, CIB
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

I duck the fuck down burn off a mag wait till they get tired
I got more ammo’n they do more time they know
If they mess with me too long I’ll call in the Johnson
I’m burrowed deep into the embrace of a fatroot tree
Shelter enough from fire’s reach rounds thwack the trunk spike the black soil
Shelter enough from Honor, too

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’, sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, CIB
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

But the second I’ve taken to hide does not end
And somehow it seems that what threatens me comes from back there not up front
Sure enough out of the brush busts Lieutenant piece in one hand grenade in t’other
Bolts past me is that a look is that a look a look
Heads right into it Follow Me Aw Jeezus, sir, what’re you doin’
You’re gonna get

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’, sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, CIB
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

Was just a smallish hole and we did what you do
Cleartheairway stopthebleeding sealthewound but before long
Those fingers go bluegrey then those lips bluegrey then cold
His hand actually goes cold in mine goes cold I cradle him bloodless me tearless
Gentlybutgently turns out Honor can’t keep
This butchery from being nothing but butchery I was right after all

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’, sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, CIB
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

We wrap my Lieutenant in a ponchomyponcho I was right after all
Carry him on our backs won’t lug this man on no pole
Who died on his feet and face to the enemy I
Would have died in a huddle behind a tree face in the dirt
And now surely shall in soiled sheets old man who outlived his Lieutenant
But right after all

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’, sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, CIB
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

Making History

Yesterday, we saw the 44th peaceful regime change in our young nation’s history. While I did not vote for President Obama, it is high time that we check our politics at the door and try to fix the ills as a single nation instead of a plethora of divided factions. I wish him Godspeed as he begins his term in office.

Yesterday also marked another seminal event: the thirteenth appearance of the Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets in a presidential inaugural parade. It was a long, cold day, that totaled out to about 20 hours of traveling, security checks, waiting around for orders, forming up, waiting around, and actually marching in the parade. But all of the time was well spent for the five minutes that we passed in review for the President, and for the nation. It was truly an honor to be a part of history.

Rah Virginia Mil!

Ring Figure 2010

21 November 2008 was the Class of 2010’s Ring Figure at the Virginia Military Institute. Ring Figure is one of the top four seminal events in a cadetship, along with Matriculation, Break Out, and Graduation. It is a weekend of celebration for the Class; time for bonding and sharing memories. It is a once in a lifetime event never to happen again. It is one of the few moments in a cadet’s life where they can say they were truly one hundred percent happy. Congratulations to the Class of 2010.

Rah Virginia Mil! Rah Rah Rah! Rah Rah VMI! 1-0, 1-0, 1-0!

My ring being placed on my finger.
My ring being placed on my finger.
The Brotherhood
The Brotherhood
My Ring
My Ring

Cold Steel

Last night, the Class of 2010 of the Virginia Military Institute received their combat rings, marking the first of their inductions into the Brotherhood of the Ring. It was a night few will forget, as we all crowded ourselves into Cocke Hall for a combat dinner of sorts; all of us dressed in ACUs and our faces painted with eager anticipation of being able to wear our combat rings for the very first time.

After many speeches and a dinner that far surpassed anything I believed Aramark (our school’s catering/dining service) was capable of, we placed our rings on our hand and proceeded to usher in a new tradition at VMI. As we walked out of Cocke Hall, filled with fine food and joy, we were flanked on either side by an honor guard with rifles at present arms, and at the end of the walkway, right before the stairs, was a combat memorial with a helmet perched upon an inverted M14. As each one of us passed the memorial, we tapped our rings onto the dome of the helmet to honor those alumni who had gone before us and those who had payed the ultimate sacrifice in defense of all we believed in.

From there we sauntered up to the Parade Ground where we cried out our Old Yells: one for our Dykes’ Class, one for our Rats’ Class, and one for our own Class. To punctuate the end of each of our Old Yells, a 105mm Howitzer was fired off — one of the same Howitzers we drug up the hill on Break Out Day one cold Saturday in January of 2007. From there, we headed back into Barracks to revel in our most recent accomplishment.

Tonight, we receive our gold Rings. Rah Virginia Mil! Rah Rah Rah! — Rah Rah VMI 1-0 1-0 1-0!

Combat Memorial for Ring Figure 2010
Combat Memorial for Ring Figure 2010

5 & A Wake Up

Life has a way of amazing me sometimes. I’ve been ridiculously busy the last two and a half months, what with school and color guard and martial arts club and Ring Figure and everything else that seems to creep into my schedule while I’m here at the Mother I. Even though I’m busy from the moment I wake until that sweet moment when I can lay down in my rack and catch a few hours of blissful slumber, I can’t complain. I’ve never had more fun in my life, and my hard work has been paying off — a 3.1 midterm GPA for example — and I’ve been enjoying myself immensely. And lest I forget, Ring Figure — the seminal event of Second Class Year — is in 5 five days and I have a beautiful and wonderful date. All in all, I have been doing well.

But a packed schedule has caused me to neglect this site, much to my own chagrin. I thoroughly enjoy writing, no matter how inane the posts tend to be. The problem is that when I reach the end of my day (in the wee small hours of the morning), I usually just want to sleep and am in no condition to write anything coherent, let alone worth reading. But Thanksgiving Furlough and Christmas Furlough are on the horizon, so those breaks will allow me time to write more often. . .hopefully.

The Class Side of the 2010 Ring
The Class Side of the 2010 Ring

62 & A Wake Up

Yesterday marked the end of the third week of my Second Class year at The Institute. I honestly can’t believe I’m already on year three and am getting my ring in only a few weeks. When I was in high school, this point seemed so far away, as if I’d never be in college; and now I’m looking at being on my own in the real world in a little over a year and a half. I simply don’t know where the time goes.


So far, I’ve been ridiculously busy, even more so than last year, yet I’ve still managed to find my way to my rack before 0100 most nights(knock on wood). I’m a Color Sergeant this year, which means I’m responsible for raising and lowering the flags in the mornings and evenings, respectively, as well as handling any posting of flags or color details that I am assigned. I am absolutely loving it so far. Academics have also ramped up along with my other responsibilities, and I’m finally getting deeper into Mechanical Engineering. I honestly can’t wait until I can start taking technical electives so I can specialize more in the thermodynamical side of the ME house, and focus less on structural mechanics; I’m looking forward to taking Aerodynamics and Propulsion Design


That about sums it up for now. I’m looking forward to the presidential election, as this will be the first one I will be able to vote in. This semester is really starting to shape up well, which is good.



SergeantRank
SergeantRank

Ring Update

Ring  Purchase

On Wednesday, we all ordered our rings. The representatives from Jostens visited Post and had all of the various items concerning our rings available for us to try on. There were stones everywhere for myself and my Brother Rats to look at, try on, and pick out. So I picked out my stone and the size and metal. And believe me when I tell you, these rings are huge, yet they feel so comfortable and in place on my finger. I cannot wait until Ring Figure.

But I’m sure you’re now wondering what options I got on my ring. Well, I settled on the 14-karat yellow gold, diamond bezel dividers, 44 penny-weight(Considered a lethal weapon in five states!), and to top it all off, a garnet stone with a half-karat diamond tube-set in the middle of it. I actually got the diamond for the low, low price of free, as it was one my grandfather had previously owned. It just felt right adding in an heirloom diamond, rather than get a new one; sort of a way of tying together my past and future. I also followed the custom of inscribing the inside of the band. I had originally wanted to choose the same thing my Dyke had. But the more I thought about it, the less I liked that idea. I needed something personal to me. So, I reproduce my inscription below:

Aut viam inveniam aut faciam