Posts Tagged ‘Fort Benning’


Have you ever marched in a parade? I don’t mean strolled with a crowd down Main Street on July Fourth or behind Dykes on Bikes during San Francisco’s Pride Week. I mean marchedas part of a military unit? I have. But I’d be ashamed to see our troops march down Pennsylvania Avenue this Veterans Day. (Fortunately, they won’t.)

I can’t remember being in a parade during basic training (Fort Dix, New Jersey) or Advanced Infantry Training (Fort McClellan, Alabama) during summer and autumn 1966. But in May 1967, my student company at the Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School (Fort Benning, Georgia) paraded for our graduation and commissioning as second lieutenants.

We rehearsed a lot. Two hundred men took 30-inch steps in unison while a band played traditional marching music. Each of us corrected the rifle position of the candidate in front. Drudgery? We had all volunteered for the six-month OCS program and took it seriously. We also enjoyed marching. Yes! There’s something about marching to music with a couple of hundred men (no women then)—it could be thousands—that stirs up testosterone and just feels good.

Passing the reviewing stand, the acting student company commander saluted. The platoon leaders and fellow candidates presented arms. The guests on the reviewing stand included the post’s commanding general, the head of the Infantry School, and our battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Bert Bishop. (I owe a lot to Col. Bishop’s sage, man-to-man advice to the company prior to graduation.)

What made that parade at Fort Benning so important? Like all OCS classes, we celebrated something real—our graduation after a rigorous six months. For Mr. Trump? A parade in Washington is all about ego—being the one saluted by “his” troops. He also sees the opportunity to boast to world leaders that the U.S. has a potent military and thus Donald Trump possesses a big stick (othermen’s and women’s lives being placed at risk) along with a big mouth (he, having never served, remains safe).

I suspect that North Korea’s Kim Jung-un, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin—all of whom love parades—comprehend the power and reach of American military might. So does French President Emmanuel Macron, who invited Trump to the 2017 Bastille Day parade in Paris that seemed to spark Trump’s obsession with military pomp and circumstance.

So, what purpose would a Washington parade serve? To drum up support for more American tax dollars going to the Pentagon? The Pentagon’s annual budget exceeds $700 billion. “B” as in boy!To frighten the Taliban in Afghanistan? We remain at war there 17 years after our post-9/11 invasion. To honor America’s active duty military and veterans? Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, put it best.

The money required for the parade—estimated at up to $90 million—said Rohan would be better spent providing services to troops and vets “until such time as we can celebrate victory in the war on terrorism and bring our military home.”

Still, Trump lusts after the salutes of a stream of military personnel and with it TV exposure. Only he’d rather not be commander-in-chief but king. Along with the many tens of millions of dollars such a parade would waste, you can take that assessment to the bank.

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I have nothing against athletes making upwards of thirty million dollars a year—or more. The NBA champion Golden State Warriors’ payroll (equivalent to 15 full-season players) came to $101 million. I don’t mind fans idolizing players. But I’m uncomfortable when people see athletes as heroes, and especially when athletes call each other “warriors.” Where does this leave the men and women in America’s armed forces?

Let’s start with money. A marginal NBA player can put away serious cash towards his future. Next year, the minimum salary for rookies (first-year players) will be $815,000. An Army staff sergeant (E6) with 10 or 11 years of service makes $41,000. In our voluntary military, pay is better than it used to be. In 1966, I made $94 a month during basic and advanced infantry training. When I entered officer candidate school at Fort Benning, my E5 pay shot up to $200 a month.

NBA players fly on chartered jets with plentiful food and drinks. Military personnel head to the Middle East on transports with no amenities. Buses take NBA players from hotel to arena and back. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan leave their operating bases to go outside the wire in armored vehicles targeted by improvised explosive devices and other weapons.

NBA players stay in five-star hotels. Many of our troops in combat and combat-support areas live in shipping containers. During the Vietnam, Korean and Second World Wars, they slept in pup tents, hammocks or foxholes they dug themselves. If they got to sleep.

On the road, NBA players receive $106 a day for meals. That’s on top of their salaries. Today’s troops in the Middle East take what they can with them outside the wire and are thrilled to dine at a McDonald’s or Pizza Hut when they return to base.

After an NBA team wins a championship, it’s feted with a parade and usually—this year may prove an exception; Golden State players and coaches are not fans of the president—an invitation to the White House. Our troops return to the U.S. to be met by their families and maybe a military band. Many are rushed immediately to hospitals and VA centers.

I’m not calling on Americans to boycott the NBA or other professional sports. I enjoy sports, too. But most Americans—including all of America’s NBA players—have never served in the military. They don’t relate to the risks our troops take and the horrific personal consequences of bad government decisions, like invading Iraq. What can we do?

First, urge professional athletes, coaches, the media and fans to stop calling ballplayers warriors. Let’s save that terminology for people who train for or go into combat and dangerous combat-support roles. Second, let’s support our troops beyond wearing cammies to the ballgame or the mall, and posting photos of military and military-style weapons on Facebook as if combat is just another video game.

Today, I made another contribution to Fisher House, which helps families of military members live for a while at no cost near the hospitals which house their recuperating loved ones. Find out more at

Let’s get real. NBA “warriors” face no risk of losing life or limb save from a freak accident. The warriors who protect us face risks daily. They too deserve love.

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I don’t often rant. But the skewing of American values upsets me. What got me going this week? Veterans Day.

Often the holiday honoring our veterans puts them behind the eight ball. Many workers who’ve never served in the military get a paid a day off. Many vets don’t. When I wrote copy in advertising agencies in San Antonio and San Francisco, none of my bosses ever said, “David, you’re a veteran. Take the day off. With pay.”

A vet who went to the post office on Wednesday to mail something important or pick up a package found it closed. Needed to speak with the manager of his or her bank branch? The doors were locked. Tried to figure out what to do with the kids on a workday—if you weren’t a federal, state or city employee? Tough luck. On the brighter side, you could snag a pre-holiday bargain or two. Stores ran sales.

Don’t get me wrong. Many Americans thanked veterans. Facebook and TV news attested to that. But as a society, we fail our veterans more often than honor them. The hypocrisy of Veterans Day represents the tip of the iceberg.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been caught in scandal after scandal. The VA has flat-out failed to appropriately serve vets—men and women who came home from wars with grievous wounds both physical and emotional. Hopefully Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald will move his department off the dime. But a culture of “don’t rock the boat” will be hard to disrupt.

Along those lines, the suicide rate among veterans is 50 percent higher than among non-vets according to the Los Angeles Times (1/14/15). Suicide rates are highest during the first three years out of the military. And Americans respond by going to the mall?

It’s understandable why many vets have a hard time adjusting to stateside duty or civilian life after tours to combat theaters. The culture shock is huge. Heightened stress levels challenge integration into “normal” life. Moreover, most Americans haven’t a clue. They’ve never served. Yet many non-veterans enthuse about sending American troops into harm’s way without understanding the issues or risks. After 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney ardently pushed President George Bush to invade Iraq—a fool’s errand. Years earlier Cheney supported the war in Vietnam but never served in the military. He had “more important things to do.”

Finally, don’t thank me for my service. After graduating from Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia I ended up at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The only action I saw was coaching the post basketball team for two seasons. But I gained new insights and went to graduate school on the GI Bill. The Army gave me far more than I gave it and the nation.

So let me acknowledge the men and women who—willingly or not—gave up their time, their wellbeing and their lives to serve the United States. In their honor and in the memory of First Lieutenant Howie Schnabolk, I sent donations to Fisher House, which hosts families of veterans receiving medical care, and Swords to Ploughshares, helping vets in San Francisco. I can’t think of a better way to make Veterans Day meaningful.

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