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Return to the Great Montana Dude Ranch Sleepover: Padre Steve’s Cure to Politics as Usual

I wrote this about a year ago and after the fiasco that we have endured during this long and all too painful year think that it is time to revisit the topic. Since I have been rather morose of late I figure that this should break things up a bit.

I don’t know about you but as a passionate moderate I am fed up with the nasty politics as usual that is killing our country.  Our political ruling class appears to be hell bent on destroying the country all to satisfy their respective need for power and to satisfy the basest wants of their most strident supporters. The corruption and malevolence of the career politicians on both sides of the aisle have bankrupted the country, cost American lives in war, cost American jobs, destroyed our manufacturing base, placed the interests of financial traders who produce nothing except promote the evil practice of usury because it makes them money which they in turn contribute copious amounts of said money to their political patrons.  Then to top it all off they pass laws that make no sense and that you have to have an army of lawyers to understand.  They are out of touch with the everyday concerns of real Americans and have done their best to destroy the fabric of our society in their quest for power and they are many times an unseemly lot who do things that regular people could never get away with. The number of ethics violations, criminal charges and convictions and resignations due to shady financial dealings, backroom deals, sexual scandals and sometimes rather nasty criminal cases are too numerous to catalogue unless you are Matt Drudge.  I won’t list them here but they include notable Democrats as well as Republicans, nor will I go into all the idiotic things that our government, both Democrat and Republican controlled administrations or congresses have done as the task would be ginormous. Since we all get spun up about different issues usually in tune with our own political or social viewpoints I leave it to you my readers to fill in the blanks and comment on what you think they are screwing up.

Part of the problem is that our political ruling class, the Federal Government particular is completely out of touch because they live in the netherworld ofWashingtonD.C.  This city has become the symbol of all that ails the country and since our political class only leaves it to raise money for their next campaigns they have no earthly clue of what the rest of us are experiencing.  Thus they can coddle up to their big financial supporters and most demented party extremists and unseemly lobbyists representing some of the vilest elements of our society.  As a result for at least the past 10 years and I am sure a lot more they have for the most part forgotten the people that they are supposed to represent. The political class doesn’t live in our world, thus they do everything that they can not to look at what is best for the country but rather what is best for them, for their party, their supporters and their agendas.  If you ask me its all out of whack and they really all should be whacked.

Since they all spend far too much time inWashingtonor raising money to stay there it is high time that they get out of Dodge so to speak.  This is my idea of how we fix this situation.  My suggestion is definitely not politics as usual.  Instead it is based on relationships built from shared suffering and since we are suffering why shouldn’t they suffer too? So here’s my idea. First we shut down the government for a month. Now before you think that you won’t get what the government owes you I don’t mean the people that actually do the work.   What I mean is both houses of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court.   We shut them down.  Let the clerks of the court do their thing, let the White House staff do its job and congressional aides deal with constituents.  Give the Russians and Chinese, the Iranians, Al Qaida, the European Union and everyone else a message that we’re busy the next month so don’t bother us.  We’ll tell them that if they mind their own business that our stand ins with itchy fingers won’t nuke them. where is Al Haig when you need him the most?  Hey MAD (mutual assured destruction)  worked during the Cold War, after all nothing like an ICBM loaded with multiple nuclear warheads to keep people in line and not do anything really stupid.

So do you hear me Mahmoud and Osama? Do you hear me?  All that would come between you and nuclear annihilation are a few disgruntled civil servants with road rage that just got to work after being stuck in Beltway traffic for 3 hours. Go ahead make our day.

Once we shut the place down we put all of these guys and gals on Greyhound buses packed to the gills.  Each bus would have a mix of members of each party really making sure those that hate each other most sit next to each other.  Secret Service and FBI agents on the buses would have the option to Taser anyone that tries to switch seats.  Then we drive them all to some big assed dude ranch inMontana, outfit them in silly looking cowboy clothes with boots that are a bit too tight and leave them there in the charge of a bunch of cowboys at least two of which have had a recent “BrokebackMountain” experience.

They would have no cell phones, computers or communications with the outside world or even their minions back in D.C., nope, just them and Mother Nature sharing the experience of high plains living.  In fact to liven the place up we need to bring a few folks back into the mix, some former Presidents and Speakers of the House would do fine. Also the addition of the most strident Cable TV and radio talking heads and commentators would be good too, but I digress, too many extras might spoil the moment.  Maybe we should have a separate sleepover of Rush Limbaugh and Maureen Dowd or Sean Hannity and Keith Olberman later?  No, we’ll throw them into this one to make it more fun.

This dude ranch living would be a bit Spartan. Since most of these folks a Spartan way is driving in a luxury car or SUV, having to fly First Class, staying in a luxury suite or eating at a 4 star restaurant they might have a hard time with what I propose but that would just be tough.    They made this mess and by God we’re going to get them back in touch with the real world and in the process get them to build real relationships with each other instead of the artificial life that they have led inside the beltway for years.

Once we get them to the big assed Dude Ranch we pair them up the best we can with a liberal and a conservative in each cabin.  We would try to keep the cabins of the same gender not to cause too much scandal but would make a few exceptions to that rule.  Now by cabins I don’t mean those really nice cabins that people take real vacations at, no I mean really rustic, Spartan tiny cabins with no amenities and only one bed, a full sized bed that our new roommates would need to share. The cabins would have no couches, easy chairs or love seats, no sleeping bags not even a bearskin rug, nope nothing else but the bed.  They would have a rather rustic communal outhouse to share with everyone else over a deep pit latrine and share their meals in a rather dilapidated chow hall eating off of tin plates and drinking from tin cups.  There would be a camp saloon but it would be like those of the old west, nothing but rotgut whisky, no mixed drinks, no foo-foo appetizers, no micro-brew beer. They would sleep together, eat together and have to participate in trail rides, fly fishing, Grizzly Bear hunting, rodeo events such as bull riding and calf roping as couples, odd couples, but couples nonetheless.  This togetherness would be enforced. Those Secret Service and FBI agents with their tasers… they’ll be out there too.  Anyway when our leaders go on the overnight trail rides the fun really starts.  After they eat their beans from tin plates, sing really bad western songs and take a swig or two or more of rotgut whiskey and then relieve themselves in the manner that the cowboys did in the old West they would get to curl up together in their own two person pup tent, a really small one and spoon.  This would help break down the walls that separate them and force them to get to know each other, some possibly in the Biblical sense of the word, but in the spirit of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell I won’t go there.

There is something about shared suffering to bring people together and make them realize that there is more to life than their own narcissistic agendas and power trips.  No this wouldn’t be prison for them as much as a lot of Americans think that prison would be fitting for them; prison is far too easy for our political class. Instead this would build character, character that if once they had they lost over their years inside the Beltway.

Of course they would not get to pick their room-mates so here are some of my suggestions:

President Obama and Rush Limbaugh: I know I said that the media should have their own version of this but since Limbaugh is the leader of the conservative movement he has to come and buck with his pal Barry.

Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch: They’re both Mormons so they can at least pray together.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Rachel Maddow: I don’t know it just sounds right.

Nancy Pelosi and Antonin Scalia: Sure it’s an opposite sex pairing but they are both Italians they should have fun.

Tom Tancredo and Janet Napolitano: Let’s make a run for the border and mend some fences together

Russ Feingold and Ron Paul: Government control and Libertarianism two great tastes that go great together

John Ensign and Barbara Boxer: He can’t seem to hold it in and she looks like that she could use some loving

Al Franken and Clarence Thomas: A comedian and a straight man…what a combination

John Kerry and John McCain: Both Vietnam Veterans, they understand the value of camaraderie

Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer: The just look like they need to be together

Diane Feinstein and Michael Savage: ASan Francisco treat

Barbara Milkulski and Kay Bailey-Hutchinson: Why not?

Joe Lieberman and Tim Pawlwnty: Not opposites but they seem to go together

Samuel Alito and Maureen Dowd: It just sounds right

Eric Holder and Glenn Beck: I sense real chemistry here

Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich: He’s running and she’s not but why not?

Barney Frank and Sean Hannity: They debate on his show often enough let them really get to know each other

Sarah Palin and Joe Biden: Not a recognizable cognitive thought between them all hormones and testosterone

Sheila Jackson-Lee and Ann Coulter: Salt and Pepper

Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Pat Buchannan: It can’t get any better than this

John Boehner and Joe Biden: I think that they could really come to love each other

Plus some new additions

Allen West and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz: Bringing Florida together

Michelle Bachmann and Ed Schultz: That Heartland feeling

Herman Cain and Kieth Ellison:  Building bridges of faith

Rick Santorum and Lawrence O’Donnell: It can’t get any better

Unfortunately some of our more interesting members of our political class have passed on I would have loved to throw Teddy Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan and any number of others into the mix, but what can I say?

So after 30 days our political elites would board their buses and go back to their home districts or home towns.  Then they would have some real town meetings as couples, holding hands, looking dreamily into each other’s eyes and bringing peace to the political landscape.   With those pesky Secret Service and FBI agents and their tasers at the ready our leaders would have to listen to their constituents and not the lobbyists. Speaking of lobbyists they all get sent toNew Guinea.   As for the Congressmen and Senators they and their new found friends would have to spend 8 months a year living in their home state or district. The would give up their palatial estates in favor of homes that are in the median real estate price for their area. They would send their kids to public schools, go to PTA meetings, coach little league or soccer, deal with local government officials as the rest of us are forced to do.  They would have to do their own grocery shopping, fight lines at  Wal-Mart, take out their own garbage and spend time sitting in traffic behind the wheel of their average car or SUV. They would fly coach or business class and go through the TSA checkpoints like the rest of us, maybe even getting the full body scan once in a while. They would sit in the drive through line at Wendy’s, make a run for the border, Taco Bell that is and shop for the lowest priced gasoline.   The four months that they spend inWashingtonDCwill be devoted to actually fixing things that they have fouled up over the years.  They would have to pass non-pork laden budgets passed, reduce the deficit and do everything that they can to bring industry back into this country, rebuild the manufacturing base, protecting the environment as they rebuildour nation’s infrastructure and eliminate the barriers that keep small businesses and entrepreneurs from developing solutions to the challenges that face the country.  Likewise they would need to repeal all of the draconian laws that intrude on the everyday life of ordinary Americans. I want the Federal government out of our churches, out of our local public schools, out of our bedrooms and out of everything that they don’t belong in. Freedom baby, I love it.

Finally just to make sure that our now properly schooled public servants don’t forget the lessons of the Great Montana Dude Ranch Sleepover they would for two weeks each year have to do this again. Maybe it could be a trail ride inTexasandOklahoma, a swamp safari inLouisianacomplete with no mosquito repellent. Perhaps a winter camp out at the Donner Pass, a gang- reenactment camp in East L.A. or an Appalachian family get together, still building and moonshine making contest in some holler in West Virginia or Eastern Kentucky. The possibilities in our great country are endless after all learning should be a lifetime event.

Of course my pairings of political bedfellows may not work for you, maybe you have better ones.  If so feel free to add them as a comment and on this one no pairing will be denied because it’s all about togetherness.  Because as I see it everything comes down to relationships and if we can just get these folks out of Washington to share some hardship, to eat together, ride together and even spoon together after all who can’t say that they don’t feel closer to someone after spooning together?

Now before you think that I am advocating that they all have higgily-piggily sex together I am not.  However if it does happen and they get right with each other and start to work together for us what can be wrong with it? Half have probably had nasty sex with people that aren’t their spouses anyway so what difference does it make? It would be a sacrifice that they make for us, their fellow Americans.  I know that I don’t want to sleep with any of them and figure that you don’t either and I really don’t want to know what happens when they spoon.  Don’t ask don’t tell baby, don’t ask don’t tell.  Besides would you want to know what happens when Sean Hannity and Barney Frank spoon? I don’t. I’ll say it again, don’t ask, don’t tell that’s my rule for life.

If this works maybe just maybe that they will finally start looking to the issues that Americans care about. Maybe they will finally understand the desire that we all have to see our children grow up to have the opportunity to outdo us, that our children might have a better future and that the country that we live in would come together like we did in the Second World War to overcome all the obstacles that stand between us and a better future. Call me a genius or call me crazy, chalk it up to Mad Cow, after all I can’t give blood because I lived inEuropeand ate too much beef. But remember “Padre Steve” is a “Uniter” not a divider, a decider not a ditherer and a real American for real Americans.

Padre Steve: a passionate moderate with radical ideas.  Sleepover anyone?

Peace and laughs

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

The Great Montana Dude Ranch Sleepover: Padre Steve’s Solution to Politics as Usual

Sleepover on a Dude Ranch anyone?

I don’t know about you but as a passionate moderate I am fed up with the nasty politics as usual that is killing our country.  Our political ruling class appears to be hell bent on destroying the country all to satisfy their respective need for power and to satisfy the basest wants of their most strident supporters. The corruption and malevolence of the career politicians on both sides of the aisle have bankrupted the country, cost American lives in war, cost American jobs, destroyed our manufacturing base, placed the interests of financial traders who produce nothing except promote the evil practice of usury because it makes them money which they in turn contribute copious amounts of said money to their political patrons.  Then to top it all off they pass laws that make no sense and that you have to have an army of lawyers to understand.  They are out of touch with the everyday concerns of real Americans and have done their best to destroy the fabric of our society in their quest for power and they are many times an unseemly lot who do things that regular people could never get away with. The number of ethics violations, criminal charges and convictions and resignations due to shady financial dealings, backroom deals, sexual scandals and sometimes rather nasty criminal cases are too numerous to catalogue unless you are Matt Drudge.  I won’t list them here but they include notable Democrats as well as Republicans, nor will I go into all the idiotic things that our government, both Democrat and Republican controlled administrations or congresses have done as the task would be ginormous. Since we all get spun up about different issues usually in tune with our own political or social viewpoints I leave it to you my readers to fill in the blanks and comment on what you think they are screwing up.

Part of the problem is that our political ruling class, the Federal Government particular is completely out of touch because they live in the netherworld of Washington D.C.  This city has become the symbol of all that ails the country and since our political class only leaves it to raise money for their next campaigns they have no earthly clue of what the rest of us are experiencing.  Thus they can coddle up to their big financial supporters and most demented party extremists and unseemly lobbyists representing some of the vilest elements of our society.  As a result for at least the past 10 years and I am sure a lot more they have for the most part forgotten the people that they are supposed to represent. The political class doesn’t live in our world, thus they do everything that they can not to look at what is best for the country but rather what is best for them, for their party, their supporters and their agendas.  If you ask me its all out of whack and they really all should be whacked.

Since they all spend far too much time in Washington or raising money to stay there it is high time that they get out of Dodge so to speak.  This is my idea of how we fix this situation.  My suggestion is definitely not politics as usual.  Instead it is based on relationships built from shared suffering and since we are suffering why shouldn’t they suffer too? So here’s my idea. First we shut down the government for a month. Now before you think that you won’t get what the government owes you I don’t mean the people that actually do the work.   What I mean is both houses of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court.   We shut them down.  Let the clerks of the court do their thing, let the White House staff do its job and congressional aides deal with constituents.  Give the Russians and Chinese, the Iranians, Al Qaida, the European Union and everyone else a message that we’re busy the next month so don’t bother us.  We’ll tell them that if they mind their own business that our stand ins with itchy fingers won’t nuke them. where is Al Haig when you need him the most?  Hey MAD (mutual assured destruction)  worked during the Cold War, after all nothing like an ICBM loaded with multiple nuclear warheads to keep people in line and not do anything really stupid.

So do you hear me Mahmoud and Osama? Do you hear me?  All that would come between you and nuclear annihilation are a few disgruntled civil servants with road rage that just got to work after being stuck in Beltway traffic for 3 hours. Go ahead make our day.

Once we shut the place down we put all of these guys and gals on Greyhound buses packed to the gills.  Each bus would have a mix of members of each party really making sure those that hate each other most sit next to each other.  Secret Service and FBI agents on the buses would have the option to Taser anyone that tries to switch seats.  Then we drive them all to some big assed dude ranch in Montana, outfit them in silly looking cowboy clothes with boots that are a bit too tight and leave them there in the charge of a bunch of cowboys at least two of which have had a recent “Brokeback Mountain” experience.

They would have no cell phones, computers or communications with the outside world or even their minions back in D.C., nope, just them and Mother Nature sharing the experience of high plains living.  In fact to liven the place up we need to bring a few folks back into the mix, some former Presidents and Speakers of the House would do fine. Also the addition of the most strident Cable TV and radio talking heads and commentators would be good too, but I digress, too many extras might spoil the moment.  Maybe we should have a separate sleepover of Rush Limbaugh and Maureen Dowd or Sean Hannity and Keith Olberman later?  No, we’ll throw them into this one to make it more fun.

This dude ranch living would be a bit Spartan. Since most of these folks a Spartan way is driving in a luxury car or SUV, having to fly First Class, staying in a luxury suite or eating at a 4 star restaurant they might have a hard time with what I propose but that would just be tough.    They made this mess and by God we’re going to get them back in touch with the real world and in the process get them to build real relationships with each other instead of the artificial life that they have led inside the beltway for years.

Once we get them to the big assed Dude Ranch we pair them up the best we can with a liberal and a conservative in each cabin.  We would try to keep the cabins of the same gender not to cause too much scandal but would make a few exceptions to that rule.  Now by cabins I don’t mean those really nice cabins that people take real vacations at, no I mean really rustic, Spartan tiny cabins with no amenities and only one bed, a full sized bed that our new roommates would need to share. The cabins would have no couches, easy chairs or love seats, no sleeping bags not even a bearskin rug, nope nothing else but the bed.  They would have a rather rustic communal outhouse to share with everyone else over a deep pit latrine and share their meals in a rather dilapidated chow hall eating off of tin plates and drinking from tin cups.  There would be a camp saloon but it would be like those of the old west, nothing but rotgut whisky, no mixed drinks, no foo-foo appetizers, no micro-brew beer. They would sleep together, eat together and have to participate in trail rides, fly fishing, Grizzly Bear hunting, rodeo events such as bull riding and calf roping as couples, odd couples, but couples nonetheless.  This togetherness would be enforced. Those Secret Service and FBI agents with their tasers… they’ll be out there too.  Anyway when our leaders go on the overnight trail rides the fun really starts.  After they eat their beans from tin plates, sing really bad western songs and take a swig or two or more of rotgut whiskey and then relieve themselves in the manner that the cowboys did in the old West they would get to curl up together in their own two person pup tent, a really small one and spoon.  This would help break down the walls that separate them and force them to get to know each other, some possibly in the Biblical sense of the word, but in the spirit of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell I won’t go there.

There is something about shared suffering to bring people together and make them realize that there is more to life than their own narcissistic agendas and power trips.  No this wouldn’t be prison for them as much as a lot of Americans think that prison would be fitting for them; prison is far too easy for our political class. Instead this would build character, character that if once they had they lost over their years inside the Beltway.

Of course they would not get to pick their room-mates so here are some of my suggestions:

President Obama and Rush Limbaugh: I know I said that the media should have their own version of this but since Limbaugh is the leader of the conservative movement he has to come and buck with his pal Barry.

Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch: They’re both Mormons so they can at least pray together.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Rachel Maddow: I don’t know it just sounds right.

Nancy Pelosi and Antonin Scalia: Sure it’s an opposite sex pairing but they are both Italians they should have fun.

Tom Tancredo and Janet Napolitano: Let’s make a run for the border and mend some fences together

Russ Feingold and Ron Paul: Government control and Libertarianism two great tastes that go great together

John Ensign and Barbara Boxer: He can’t seem to hold it in and she looks like that she could use some loving

Al Franken and Clarence Thomas: A comedian and a straight man…what a combination

John Kerry and John McCain: Both Vietnam Veterans, they understand the value of camaraderie

Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer: The just look like they need to be together

Diane Feinstein and Michael Savage: A San Francisco treat

Barbara Milkulski and Kay Bailey-Hutchinson: Why not?

Joe Lieberman and Arlen Spector: Not opposites but they seem to go together

Samuel Alito and Maureen Dowd: It just sounds right

Eric Holder and Glenn Beck: I sense real chemistry here

Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich: He’s out of office but they both want to be President

Barney Frank and Sean Hannity: They debate on his show often enough let them really get to know each other

Sarah Palin and Joe Biden: Not a recognizable cognitive thought between them all hormones and testosterone

Sheila Jackson-Lee and Ann Coulter: Salt and Pepper

Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Pat Buchannan: It can’t get any better than this

John Boehner and Chris Dodd: I think that they could really come to love each other

Unfortunately some of our more interesting members of our political class have passed on I would have loved to throw Teddy Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan and any number of others into the mix, but what can I say?

So after 30 days our political elites would board their buses and go back to their home districts or home towns.  Then they would have some real town meetings as couples, holding hands, looking dreamily into each other’s eyes and bringing peace to the political landscape.   With those pesky Secret Service and FBI agents and their tasers at the ready our leaders would have to listen to their constituents and not the lobbyists. Speaking of lobbyists they all get sent to New Guinea.   As for the Congressmen and Senators they and their new found friends would have to spend 8 months a year living in their home state or district. The would give up their palatial estates in favor of homes that are in the median real estate price for their area. They would send their kids to public schools, go to PTA meetings, coach little league or soccer, deal with local government officials as the rest of us are forced to do.  They would have to do their own grocery shopping, fight lines at  Wal-Mart, take out their own garbage and spend time sitting in traffic behind the wheel of their average car or SUV. They would fly coach or business class and go through the TSA checkpoints like the rest of us, maybe even getting the full body scan once in a while. They would sit in the drive through line at Wendy’s, make a run for the border, Taco Bell that is and shop for the lowest priced gasoline.   The four months that they spend in Washington DC will be devoted to actually fixing things that they have fouled up over the years.  They would have to pass non-pork laden budgets passed, reduce the deficit and do everything that they can to bring industry back into this country, rebuild the manufacturing base, protecting the environment as they rebuildour nation’s infrastructure and eliminate the barriers that keep small businesses and entrepreneurs from developing solutions to the challenges that face the country.  Likewise they would need to repeal all of the draconian laws that intrude on the everyday life of ordinary Americans. I want the Federal government out of our churches, out of our local public schools, out of our bedrooms and out of everything that they don’t belong in. Freedom baby, I love it.

Finally just to make sure that our now properly schooled public servants don’t forget the lessons of the Great Montana Dude Ranch Sleepover they would for two weeks each year have to do this again. Maybe it could be a trail ride in Texas and Oklahoma, a swamp safari in Louisiana complete with no mosquito repellent. Perhaps a winter camp out at the Donner Pass, a gang- reenactment camp in East L.A. or an Appalachian family get together, still building and moonshine making contest in some holler in West Virginia or Eastern Kentucky. The possibilities in our great country are endless after all learning should be a lifetime event.

Of course my pairings of political bedfellows may not work for you, maybe you have better ones.  If so feel free to add them as a comment and on this one no pairing will be denied because it’s all about togetherness.  Because as I see it everything comes down to relationships and if we can just get these folks out of Washington to share some hardship, to eat together, ride together and even spoon together after all who can’t say that they don’t feel closer to someone after spooning together?

Now before you think that I am advocating that they all have higgily-piggily sex together I am not.  However if it does happen and they get right with each other and start to work together for us what can be wrong with it? Half have probably had nasty sex with people that aren’t their spouses anyway so what difference does it make? It would be a sacrifice that they make for us, their fellow Americans.  I know that I don’t want to sleep with any of them and figure that you don’t either and I really don’t want to know what happens when they spoon.  Don’t ask don’t tell baby, don’t ask don’t tell.  Besides would you want to know what happens when Sean Hannity and Barney Frank spoon? I don’t. I’ll say it again, don’t ask, don’t tell that’s my rule for life.

If this works maybe just maybe that they will finally start looking to the issues that Americans care about. Maybe they will finally understand the desire that we all have to see our children grow up to have the opportunity to outdo us, that our children might have a better future and that the country that we live in would come together like we did in the Second World War to overcome all the obstacles that stand between us and a better future. Call me a genius or call me crazy, chalk it up to Mad Cow, after all I can’t give blood because I lived in Europe and ate too much beef. But remember “Padre Steve” is a “Uniter” not a divider, a decider not a ditherer and a real American for real Americans.

Padre Steve: a passionate moderate with radical ideas.  Sleepover anyone?

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Filed under Just for fun, laws and legislation, philosophy, Political Commentary

The most dangerous assignment: 4 More Advisers Die In Afghanistan

training team baseIsolated Embedded Training Team Base

Once know and relatively unglamorous group of American military men have suffered multiple casualties in a single engagement.  These men belong to are small units that do not have a lot of organic firepower.  They usually operate in remote areas far from immediate assistance if they get in trouble.  When one of these units suffers casualties, especially where they lose 3-5 men in one engagement they might have lost 20-25% of their unit.

On September 8th a team of these men was ambushed while on foot going to an Afghan with Afghan soldiers to meet tribal leaders with the intent of establishing a government presence in a hostile area.  In the ambush four were killed, three U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman attached to them.  On Tuesday the 8th Gunnery Sgt. Edwin W. Johnson Jr., 31, of Columbus, Ga., 1st Lt. Michael E. Johnson, 25, of Virginia Beach, Va., Staff Sgt. Aaron M. Kenefick, 30, of Roswell, Ga. and Petty Officer 3rd Class James R. Layton, 22, of Riverbank, Calif., were while working as trainers to Afghan soldiers on a mission to search for weapons and then meet village elders under an agreement to establish government authority there.  They were killed in “a complex attack according to a U.S. Military spokesman.  According to McClatchy news service who had a reporter that accompanied the mission, insurgents had set up positions in the village and in the mountains on both sides and apparently attacked as the men neared the village. 1st LT Johnson was wounded and while being attended Navy Hospital Corpsman Third Class James R. Layton when they both came under attack.  Both were killed.  Another Marine told the McClatchy reporter that they’d found the wrappings of bandages and other medical gear strewn around Layton and Johnson.  Eight Afghan troops and police and the Marine commander’s Afghan interpreter also died in the ambush and the subsequent battle that raged from dawn until 2 p.m. around the remote hamlet of Ganjgal in eastern Kunar province, close to the Pakistan border.

traiining team with afghan armyUSMC Advisers with Afghan Counterparts

The McClatchy reporter said: “We walked into a trap, a killing zone of relentless gunfire and rocket barrages from Afghan insurgents hidden in the mountainsides and in a fortress-like village where women and children were replenishing their ammunition.”  The reporter said that “U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines — despite being told repeatedly that they weren’t near the village.”

The battle must have been intense.  I have been on foot patrols in areas crowded with Iraqis far away from significant support where if an insurgent group had attacked us we would have easily been overwhelmed. This is part of the world of the U.S. Military in the embedded training teams which work closely with Afghan and Iraqi soldiers.  I spent a lot of time with the advisers to Iraqi Army. Border and Port of Entry troops, Police and Highway Patrol spread across the entirety of Al Anbar Province.  These men and women are seldom thought of or mentioned by the press or even the military. . They come from all branches of the military and serve as advisers, trainers and mentors to these nations’ security forces.  The duty is dangerous.  The advisers, be they to the military, police, or civil administrations often work in the most isolated places in these countries and are stationed in small teams with the Iraqis and Afghans that they advise.  They are often far from the “big battalions” that have lots of firepower available and often operate out of larger and more secure bases with air support close at hand. Earlier in the year there were a number of incidents where advisers were killed by renegade soldiers or police, or by infiltrators posing as security personnel.  Two soldiers were working with an Iraqi unit in doing humanitarian work in a village when attacked and killed by someone who had infiltrated the Iraqi security forces.  . On March 27th Navy LT Florence Choe and LTJG Francis Toner IV were killed by an Afghan insurgent posing as an Afghan Army soldier. All of these events triggered anxiety in me as I remembered how many times I was incredibly exposed to danger conducting similar operations.

This incident was especially chilling as I read the reporter’s account of the ambush.  “Dashing from boulder to boulder, diving into trenches and ducking behind stone walls as the insurgents maneuvered to outflank us, we waited more than an hour for U.S. helicopters to arrive, despite earlier assurances that air cover would be five minutes away.”  According to the reporter Marine Maj. Kevin Williams” the commander of the team said: “We are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We’ve lost today, through his translator to his Afghan counterpart, responding to the latter’s repeated demands for helicopters.”  When I read this my mind flashed back to being in the middle of a massive crowd at the border crossing of Waleed on the Iraqi-Jordanian border.  There were about nine of us, of which only 8 were armed as I am not allowed by the U.S. interpretation of the law of war to carry a weapon.  There were thousands of Iraqis and others around us, very few border troops or port-of-entry police anywhere near us.  The port of entry had been the scene of numerous attempts to smuggle weapons, materials, and other supplies, drugs and to Iraq insurgents and Al Qaida.  Very few US troops were stationed there and many of these were dispatched off of the base at any given time.

The advisers are drawn from all services.  They are all Individual Augments that come from both the Active and Reserve components.  They do not deploy with their own units, which means that they go to war with people that they might have trained alongside getting ready for the mission, but otherwise have not served with.  When they come home they go back to their old assignments or new orders and are separated from the men and women that they served alongside for 7 to 15 months.  In other words they are isolated when they return home and go back to places where the majority of personnel, even those who have been “in country” have no earthly idea or appreciation of the conditions that they served in and dangers that they faced.  This happened to me when I returned and I went through an emotional collapse as the PTSD that I did not know I had kicked my ass.  Sights, smells, noises, crowds, airports and in fact almost everything but baseball diamonds caused me to melt down as they all brought the danger back to me. Don’t get me wrong, my tour in Iraq was the highlight of 27 plus years in the military, the part of which I am the most proud.

I have a special place for these men and women.  I served with them in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province as the first Navy Chaplain, and one of the first chaplains of any service to be assigned to cover these teams since Vietnam.  My assistant, RP2 Nelson Lebron and I deployed together from out unit.  I had prepared well.  I had been on the bubble to deploy for months.  My background in military history and past service with both the Army and Marines helped me. Likewise my military and civilian education helped me.  Shortly before we were notified of the deployment I went to the Jordanian Army Peace Operations Training Center course on Iraqi culture, religion and society.  I had served as a chaplain in the trauma department of one of the largest trauma centers in the country.  RP2 Lebron had deployed multiple times to Iraq, Beirut and Afghanistan where he was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal (no small feat for an E-5).  He is also an incredibly gifted boxer, kick boxer and martial artist who has fought on Team USA and holds more title belts than I can count.  He most recently won the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic. I had served with him before and he knew that his mission was to keep me safe.  I don’t want to sound arrogant, but the Chief of Staff of the Iraq Assistance Group said that we were “the best ministry team he had seen in 28 years in the Army.”

When we went to Al Anbar we were sent out with the Marines and Soldiers advising the 1st and 7th Iraqi Army Divisions, The Iraqi Police, Highway Patrol, the 2nd Border Forces Brigade and Port of Entry Police.  We operated in a area the size of the state of Oregon.  In some cases it would take us 2 days by air and convoy to reach isolated teams on the Syrian border.  When you travel by air in Iraq you are always at the mercy of the weather and aircraft availability. I had the rare privilege as a Lieutenant Commander to be able to arrange all of my own air transportation.  Most people, including people higher ranking than me had to depend on others to do this for them.  We worked with our advisers to get out to them.  We would be out 5-12 days at a time with anywhere from 4 to 7 days between missions.  In our 7 months we traveled over 4500 air miles and 1500 ground miles.  Almost all of our air travel was rotor wing. We flew in CH-46, CH-47 and MH-53s and the MV-22 Osprey.  Our convoys were usually not larger than 3 American HUMMVs and sometimes a few Iraqi vehicles.  Our biggest guns were .50 cal or M240B machine guns.

Dinner with Geneal SabahDinner with General Sabah in Ramadi

Many places we served were in places that had no large forces in position to help us if we got in trouble.  Even on the bases we were isolated.  Our teams were with the Iraqis in almost all cases.  We often ate in Iraqi chow halls and used Iraqi shower trailers.  Our advisers had us meeting their Iraqi counterparts.  We met and dined with Iraqi Generals, had ch’ai (tea) with small groups of Americans and Iraqis and got out with the Bedouins. We were in a number of particularly sensitive and dangerous situations with our advisers; one which I cannot go into great detail involved a senior advisor having to inform a new Iraqi Brigade Commander that a member of his staff was engaged in illegal activities and who had put out contracts to kill the American officer.  The bad Iraqi officer was confronted and relieved in a tense meeting where both Nelson and I were with that Colonel and two other advisors as they made the confrontation in the Iraq C.O.’s office, a confrontation that got quite heated until the Iraqi C.O. shut him up. At one point the cashiered officer appealed to the American “Imam” that he was a faithful Moslem, to whit the American Colonel and I asked him how a person who was living a good Moslem life could steal from his own countrymen and supply his county’s enemies with what they needed.

Waleed trip 006Team at Waleed on the “secure” side of the Port of Entry

It was an incredible, once in a lifetime tour serving with some of the greatest Americans and Iraqis around. Iraqi soldiers in with our convoys would ask me to bless their trucks with Holy Water like I was doing with the American trucks.  I came to admire many of the professional Iraqi officers that I came to know and pray for the people of Iraq, that God would grant them peace. They are wonderfully hospitable and gracious.  We were often treated to food and tea by Iraqi soldiers, and civilians.  After nearly 30 years of nearly continuous war, dictatorship and terrorism, they deserve peace and security.

Me BTT CO and Iraqi LeadersAdvisers and Iraqi Border Troops near Syria

I had one Iraqi operations officer, a Sunni Muslim tell me that he wished that his Army had Christian priests because they would take care of his soldiers and had no political axe to grind. He said that the Army did not trust most Imams or Mullahs because they had compromised themselves during the civil war.  Another officer, a Shia Muslim came to me to thank me for being there to take care of our Marines.  He said that he, an Iraqi Shia Arab, hoped that if they had any problems from the Persians (Iranians), that we would help them.  These is little truth to what is floated that Iraqi and Iranian Shia like each other.  The memories of the past die hard in the Middle East.  When Persia ruled Iraq they treated the Arabs like dirt. Likewise the memories of the Iran-Iraq war are still alive.  Iraqi Arabs, Sunni, Shia and even Christian have little love for the “Persians.”  General Sabah of the 7th Division had us to his quarters for dinner. We had a wonderful and friendly discussion about similarities and differences in Christianity and Islam. We departed friends. The last time I saw him ws in the Ramadi heliport.  He saw me, ran up to me in from of his staff and Americans in the little terminal and gave me a bear hug, telling all that I was his friend. Another Iraqi General told me just before we left to come back as a tourist in 5 years because everything would be better.  I honestly think that he is right.  I hope to go back someday.  It would be a privilege to see my Iraqi friends again.

Me and BTT with Bedouin KidsWith a Bedouin Family

At the same time Afghanistan is a different animal. Iraq was not as easy of place for Al Qaida to work in and the Iraqis have a much more developed national identity which they trace back to the Babylonians and Chaldeans.  They also have adopted a lot of western ways.  Insurgents there once they had lost the confidence of the Iraqis lost traction.  In Afghanistan there is no real collective national identity and the form of Islam is much more severe than almost all Iraqi variants.  The Afghans insurgents have also due to the terrain; climate and inability of invaders to gain the confidence of the population have used the inability of invaders against them as they bring the population back under their control, sometimes quite peacefully.  The Taliban have secure bases on the Pakistani side of the border as did the North Vietnamese and they have the support of much of the population due to the unpopularity and corruption of the Afghan government.  The Taliban have begun to operate in larger better organized units and last year a battalion sized element attempted to overrun a small NATO base.  They did this with the Russians as well.  One troubling comment was reported about something overhead on the Taliban radio: “We will do to you what we did to the Russians,” the insurgent’s leader boasted over the radio, referring to the failure of Soviet troops to capture Ganjgal during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation.”  They also have outlasted or defeated a host of powerful empires.  The war in Afghanistan has much more in common with Vietnam than it does with Iraq. Counter Insurgency techniques learned in Iraq will be helpful but because of the terrain, climate and nature of the opposition will be tougher to execute and in order to have any chance of getting out of Afghanistan having accomplished the mission we will end of taking more casualties, especially in the teams of advisers.  Iraq was different, despite the problems and having to be rebuilt the Iraqi Army has a long history and tradition dating back to the Ottoman Empire, they led the way to westernizing Iraq and helping build an Iraqi identity, this is not the case in Afghanistan.  What happened to this team could easily happen to others and it looks to me like someone set them up to be hit, probably a Taliban sympathizer in the Afghan security forces or government. Afghanistan is much more treacherous than Iraq and in my view will be much more difficult.

What happened at Ganjgal is being investigated and in our area it is front page news as 1st Lt Johnson was from Virginia Beach.  The Taliban want to use events like this to break down the American home front and 8 years after the attacks of 9-11 2001 with that a fading memory they may well do this.  If they do Afghanistan will become Vietnam in the mountains.  We will be forced to withdraw and and the NATO alliance will be severely tested.  A defeat would have wide ranging consequences beginning in Afghanistan as it would fall back into the medieval world of Taliban rule, and would likely spread to Pakistan which which is already under severe strain.  This could threaten the Pakistani nuclear weapons.

Our advisers build bridges between peoples of different history and culture.  They are the unsung heroes of these wars and will likely never get credit for all that they have done.  Operating in isolation they are exposed to more danger that the average unit. They have my highest admiration and I hope that if you know one of these men or women that you will thank them.  I pray that they will all come home safe and be blessed with success.  I would certainly serve with them again at any time and in any place.

Please keep the families of the most recent casualties in your prayers. Peace, Steve+

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