Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) first came to my attention when working for a public policy/current events information service during the 1990s. I covered military medicine and veterans’ health topics ranging from debates on illnesses linked to Agent Orange after the Vietnam War to Gulf War Syndrome after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Coverage of PTSD in professional publications and the popular press ranged from skeptical to the Next Big Thing. Reactions among servicemen, policemen, and other out-there types I’m friends with was “so what else is new.” But the mental health industry and the media really ran with it. Today we even have articles and books on PTSD in military service dogs (i.e., Wardoggies).
Dereck Stevens bonds with his military working dog before a practice drill at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. 
-- Bryce Harper for The New York Times

Life is PTSD; PTSD is life. Many people believe or are told that they suffer PTSD caused by events and conditions affecting them from pre-birth to old age. Intrigued, I volunteered for a PTSD study related to updating the DSM [Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders]. I’m hypervigilant (I prefer hyper-reflexive or hyper-observant) but “being paranoid doesn’t mean somebody isn’t out to get you” even if hypervigilance is a link to PTSD. Living in New York City—if you want to keep on living—it behooves one to be alert. That’s true before the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) and even more so after. As the war of terrorism continues, PTSD is a matter of personal and public concern.
FDNY Rescue Co. 1 -- Source: Urbarama Atlas of Architecture,

A detour to vote in the local primary election on my walk to work that clear September morning delays my arrival at the editorial office on West 43rd St. by a few minutes. I nod to our receptionist who is at her desk listening to a small radio but she doesn’t respond. I go on to my cubbyhole and place a telephone call to a colleague in Ohio while gazing out the window. Almost simultaneously the door of FDNY [Fire Department of New York] Rescue Company 1 station, across the street and below, opens to flashing lights and wailing siren while my friend on the other end of the line informs me that there’s an incident at the World Trade Center (WTC). 

Déjà-vu. In 1993 I sat in the same office as Islamic terrorists detonated the Ryder truck bomb under the WTC. We all knew people who made it out; their faces on the TV news looking like squirrels, blackened with dark streaks under each nostril where they exhaled soot. That was bad; this will be worse. I watch the Rescue wagon roll out. We’ve been neighbors for over a decade but their number is up—it’s their last run.  

As this fateful day wears on the news gets grimmer. My colleagues alternate between confusion and shock, waiting for other shoes to drop, or frantically trying to contact friends and family. Cellphones are useless. Our management shares the uncertainty and lack of knowledge, vacillating between inaction and scattered bursts of activity.  

In the pit of my stomach it sinks in—this is war. But exactly who are we at war with? A been-there-done-that kind of guy I try to settle down into a monitoring mode. But I’m angry and getting angrier. They got us. The SOBs got us. Our iconic Twin Towers in our country’s biggest city taken down by commercial airplanes used as kamikazes. So much for the Peace Dividend—where’s our air cover? This is my generation’s Pearl Harbor.

I’m a fire marshal with duties and responsibilities. I decide early on that at some point we will evacuate. But I’m frustrated too, reduced to planning how to shut down the office, perhaps for several days. Literally—it was the day of the week to water the plants, and since nobody else can get it together, I water the plants and do other displacement activities. Not easy for a 50 year old to mobilize (and many of us have “mobilization dreams” where we geezers are yet again called to arms) but I try.

Below us silent crowds surge westward toward the Hudson River ferries. The traffic tunnels are closed and rail service suspended. Our office is in a public building, the New York Public Library Annex, with restrooms and chairs for people to come in to rest for a few minutes. Few take advantage of our facilities. The staff starts to make their exits. Some elect to take to their cars or public transit.

I pass out photocopies with my home address in case the bridge-and-tunnel folks can’t make it off Manhattan Island. Later I leave to prepare my apartment in case I have to shelter company. The year before we went through the Y2K scare [potential software problems forecast to shut down computers with unknown consequences on January 1, 2000] so I have some survival supplies laid-in. On the road for the company I collect new toothbrushes, hotel size soap and shampoo, and shower bonnets for houseguests with hair. These I now try to supplement at the local supermarket. Surprisingly there are fewer shoppers than during a blizzard alert. I hunker in my Bunker on Broadway on the top floor of my building. Not the most secure location but then again Mayor Rudy’s “emergency bunker” is on an upper floor of WTC 7. It’s gone when the entire structure collapses before nightfall.

Alone, I arrive at the office the next day. Surely there’s something for us to do? No. Management tells us to get out and go home. I wander as far north as Columbus Circle before I can find a copy of a newspaper. There is a photo of a severed body part on the front page. Even in black and white that’s graphic. I repair to the nearby Coliseum Bar before reading the articles.
                                                                                      312 W. 58th St. New York, NY 10019

Some of us try to volunteer our services. Not easy. I’m lucky enough to have opportunities based on my previous career(s) and contacts. Many of my friends collect socks and other gear for first responders or post pictures of missing persons. Unclaimed cars in commuter train and bus parking lots are roped-off.

After we reopen for business, I walk through Times Square and watch dirty red fire engines, filled with exhausted firemen in bunker suits, looking like smoky duffle bags tossed into the back of their trucks, on their way south to The Pile. The closest I get to Ground Zero is checking on people we know living in Chinatown. Too many funerals to attend and I felt there would be yet more.

Mayor Rudy is ubiquitous and with us. He appears at our Carnegie Hall concert to thank us for attending. He throws out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. As we carry on our social evening schedules my friends and I nod to and thank the police and National Guard posted in the subways and public transit stations. Armories are ringed by military vehicles and Jersey barriers. Soon the streets see NYPD [New York Police Department] Hercules Teams—SWAT [Special Weapons and Tactics] in black battle-rattle (with the so-called “Hillary Bags” holding a gas mask strapped to their thighs) deploy. “Surges” begin—blocks-long single-file lines of police cars and vehicles speeding up and down the avenues. Unity and good feeling: “Blitz mentality” for a time. We see something, we say something. A lot of somethings.

But unlike earlier wars the citizenry is not mobilized. Mayor Bloomberg likes bike lanes but not armed militias. Dubya (pace Molly Ivins) and Cheney want us to go out and shop while they start wars they can’t finish. A new but uneasy normalcy asserts itself: read Drift: the Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow.

Quotidian life now, mostly, except when it comes to low-flying aircraft. On a cold winter day another airliner, engines shut-down by bird strikes, makes an emergency landing in the Hudson River. I’m at work in a small library in Midtown. Students run in—like I’m the librarian so I should know…what? This time I do have streaming broadband news.

And some bureaucratic genius elects to have Air Force One, trailing a fighter, buzz the Statue of Liberty in sight of Lower Manhattan. Brilliant photo op.

Then there’s the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in 2011: yes Virginia—there is PTSD.
                                  In 1997, Rudy Giuliani dressed as Marilyn Monroe for the "Inner Circle" GOP gala.
                                  Read more:,2933,294358,00.html#ixzz20tcj9FKE

Lighter notes
Humor in the midst of disaster. I’m standing”on” (New Yorkers don’t say “in’) a lunch line with a group of people in dark baseball caps and windbreakers with initials on their backs: FBI, NYPD, etc. One petite woman from FEMA had got hold of some yellow electrician’s tape and added in smaller letters “LE”—FEMALE. Nice touch. 

Xmas 2011. At Trenton Transit Center I change from an express New Jersey Transit train to a local SEPTA train bound for Philadelphia. Swarthy-looking little guys swarm the platform and pile big cheap-looking suitcases onto the seats facing each other at the end of the train cars Rather than sitting down with them they then leave the train. The transit police show up. Third World gibberish and gesticulations ensue. A few of the prospective passengers re-board. Older Spanish-speaking Latinas sitting around me converse in low tones and exchange glasses.

Just then two tall African American guys in dark suits, white shirts, thin black ties, and tall red fezzes with black tassels appear in the entryway. The Latin buzz goes up several octaves. Too obvious think I: they’re Black Muslims and will detrain at North Broad Street station. They do. I saw something—and read the newspaper.
                                                                               BattlingBARE --

Which brings me to the impetus behind this posting: highlighting an organization founded by military wives struggling to help soldier husbands afflicted by PTSD as reported by Sarah B. Weir, a Yahoo! blogger.

“Our Purpose:
Unite women and children who love a soldier dealing with PTSD by providing comfort in knowing they are not alone, a pathway of speaking out and battling back against the struggles they have faced with their soldier, along with offering support and encouragement so those women will continue walking the path of healing with their soldier.

In the process of empowering and encouraging these women and children, we will raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of PTSD while combating the stigma associated with this condition by increasing understanding of PTSD allowing for veteran suicide rates to decrease as the willingness to seek help and healing increases.”

Military Wives Strip Down to Raise Awareness About PTSD: Battling Bare
Sarah B. Weir, Yahoo! blogger

Rob is about as tough as they come. The career soldier spent 8 years in the Marines before joining the Army after 9/11 and serving on two tours of duty in Iraq, but in April this year, he hit a wall. He locked himself in a hotel room with guns and alcohol and told his wife "he might do something stupid."

Thankfully, he came back home alive. Ashley reached out to the Family Advocacy Service at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where they are currently stationed, and discovered that, like many other soldiers who are suffering from mental anguish or who might have
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), finding the help he needed without putting his career in jeopardy would be a struggle. When Wise, believing her conversation to be confidential, divulged to a counselor that Rob had once become physical with her, an MP was immediately brought in. Husband and wife were not allowed contact for 72-hours and Rob now faces domestic assault charges (which Wise is trying to have dropped).

"The last thing a soldier needs is to be separated from his wife," Wise tells Yahoo! Shine. "Guys kill themselves because they think they are such a burden to their families." Wise says soldiers avoid telling anyone they are feeling depressed, angry, or even suicidal for fear of being dishonorably discharged. "Take the number of men who actually report having PTSD and multiply that by 50."

That evening, Wise told a girlfriend, "I want to streak across the 101st command building, because then maybe the general or someone would listen to what I'm saying." Instead she grabbed an eyeliner pencil and had her friend write these words on her back:

"Broken by battle,
Wounded by war,
I love you forever,
To you this I swore:
I will quiet your silent screams,
Help heal your shattered soul
Until once again, my love, you are whole."

Wise posted a picture of her naked back on
Facebook, invited other military wives to share images of themselves, and the organization Battling Bare was born. "Our initial intent was to take Facebook by storm," says Wise. She says, at heart, she simply wanted families to be able to enjoy normal things together like "eating at Chuck E. Cheese's or going to the fireworks." When she spoke to other women and "realized how big the problem is, we knew we had to do something."

Now, just two months later, Wise is working with seven other military wives to launch a non-profit organization to raise awareness about PTSD and the impact it has on spouses and children. In three years, they aim to have a chapter in every state in place to support military families and hold workshops based on a model developed by
Operation Restored Warrior.

While some people are critical of their bold approach--she says she's had some ugly feedback and got a call from a stranger who called her "an attention grabbing whore"--the military isn't asking them to take their website or Facebook page down. Wise tells Shine that Battling Bare is "on the Pentagon's radar," and when she spoke to Colonel William Gayler, Fort Campbell's Chief of Staff, he assured her, "I want to fix this."
(Note: accompanying illustrations not included.)

Mayo Clinic on PTSD

FDNY Rescue Co. 1 website

Article on canine PTSD in military service dogs
Dao, James. After Duty, Dogs Suffer Like Soldiers. New York Times online
(Illustration from “Dogs of War” slide show shot by Bryce Harper)
As the Korean American community in New York City and the metropolitan area grows in size and influence interest in the controversial issue of Comfort Women increases apace. Just recently a memorial in Palisades Park, NJ sparked concern.
 Source: New York Times

Years ago I abstracted and indexed several books on Korean “Comfort Women.” These were females forced into prostitution in Imperial Japanese military brothels during World War II when Korea was a colony of Japan. After the war the victims sought recognition and restitution from successive Japanese governments for sexual slavery.  Most prime ministers ignored them.

In the 1990s it was what I call a “niche topic.” Few knew much about the subject, it was relatively quick to research and get up to speed (with English language sources), and the pace of events and publications weren’t hard to follow. I attended a symposium jointly hosted by the Korea Society and Japan Society in New York City then considered groundbreaking.

Even though I’m now retired I still follow the news. 

Fun stuff

Disclaimer. Many Korean women have milky “moonglow” skin—pearlescent, opalescent, you know it when you see it.  But they nurture tough troops. During military training I soldiered alongside some ROK [Republic of Korea] marines. We tried explaining the tactic of snatching an enemy prisoner to interrogate for intelligence gathering. To them there were two kinds of enemy: live enemy and dead enemy. Glad they’re on our side. 

My one and only trip to Seoul, South Korea was notable for early autumn charcoal-fueled smog and a cooked starfish whose dead suckers still had a death grip on the dinner plate. Also the contact sports. I remember crossing the street thinking that in New York City people on both corners move forward and somehow interweave and slide past each other. Koreans seem to aim straight for each other, barging forward quick-walk with head lowered like bulls. I watched Parliamentary proceedings on TV which often includes punching, wrestling, and chair-throwing—almost like watching Philadelphia’s City Council deemed by Mayor Billy Green to be the “worst legislative body in the free world.” I wouldn’t want to cross these lady MPs.
Lee Jung-hee, centre, a lawmaker of the opposition Democratic Labour Party, is dragged out by the ruling Grand National Party's lawmakers at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea today as the session descended into a brawl.

Many lucky GI pals brought home a “souvenir” Korean wife. I was still out shopping.        

Decades later New York City is even more blessedly diverse and I entirely enjoy every day that I’m here. Soldier of Fortune magazine, “my bible” as Jay Leno says, runs ads about meeting exotic women. No problem. I just buy a Metrocard and ride the subway. Mamma Cho who runs my local bottle shop presents me with a bottle of Korean Soju liquor every year on my birthday. And the post office would fold-up even faster without Korean postal women.

When friends and I go to Midtown Manhattan’s “Koreatown,” forget the kimchee jokes. I have my own way of picking restaurants. Open the door and inhale—if the spiciness doesn’t knock me over, maybe; if I see round-eye guys dining with Asian gal pals, OK!  My favorite dish is a kind of cold vegetable salad and steak tartar topped with a raw egg, which I order by pointing at pictures in the menu.

We also enjoy a Korean buffet in Palisades Park. I like OB beer for breakfast. Most food items are labeled in English and Korean. When I see something labeled only in Korean the “duck chef” (often female nowadays) jokes that if I can’t read it probably only a Korean would want to eat it! There are always enough other choices. My friend’s grandkids load up on their favorite “Korean” delicacies: ice cream and Jell-O cubes!

Middle-age Korean American women are notorious for their, um, driving skills (which is the polite way to say lack thereof). You see these petite gals looking through the steering wheel of huge SUV’s as they plow along in “Fo’ Lee” [Fort Lee, NJ]. When my friend’s teenage son who lives nearby had trouble taking his driver’s license test he exclaimed in frustration “Just call me Mrs. Kim!”

Serious stuff

When I do follow-up Internet searches on Comfort Women, what springs first to mind is that at least South Koreans and Korean Americans can and do make their voices heard. On the 62nd anniversary of the start of the Korean War, often called America’s “Forgotten War,” the people of North Korea have no such rights. The situation on the Korean Peninsula remains tense. In today’s headlines:

North Korea condemns ‘grave’ use of flag during U.S.-South Korea war games By
Dylan Stableford, Yahoo! News
Smoke rises near the North Korean flag during South Korea-U.S. joint military drills, June 25, 2012. (Lee Jin-

“…North Korea
publicly condemned the use of its flag by U.S. and South Korean forces during a war simulation as a "grave" provocation—and further justification for its nuclear program.

‘It is an extremely grave military action and politically-motivated provocation to fire live bullets and shells at the flag of a sovereign state without a declaration of war,’ the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement on state-run media on Sunday.

South Korea, which said it was the first time North Korea's flag was used during war games, was unapologetic…”

Full text of New York Times article:

In New Jersey, Memorial for ‘Comfort Women’ Deepens Old Animosity

Published: May 18, 2012

Two delegations of Japanese officials visited Palisades Park, N.J., this month with a request that took local administrators by surprise: The Japanese wanted a small monument removed from a public park.

The monument, a brass plaque on a block of stone, was
dedicated in 2010 to the memory of so-called comfort women, tens of thousands of women and girls, many Korean, who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers during World War II. But the Japanese lobbying to remove the monument seems to have backfired — and deepened animosity between Japan and South Korea over the issue of comfort women, a longstanding irritant in their relations. The authorities in Palisades Park, a borough across the Hudson River from Manhattan, rejected the demand, and now the Japanese effort is prompting Korean groups in the New York region and across the country to plan more such monuments.

“They’re helping us, actually,” said Chejin Park, a lawyer at the
Korean American Voters’ Council, a civic group that championed the memorial in Palisades Park, where more than half of the population of about 20,000 is of Korean descent, according to the Census Bureau. “We can increase the awareness of this issue.”

Korean groups have been further motivated by a letter-writing campaign in Japan in opposition to a proposal by
Peter Koo, a New York councilman and Chinese immigrant, to rename a street in Flushing, Queens, in honor of comfort women.

Mr. Park said that in the past week or so, his organization had received calls from at least five Korean community organizers around the country — in Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas — expressing interest in building their own memorials. These would be in addition to at least four memorials in the works in California and Georgia, he added.

The monument in Palisades Park is the only one in the United States dedicated to comfort women, borough officials said.

“Starting from Flushing, N.Y., we will continue the construction in the areas of major Korean-American communities,” said Paul Park, executive director of the
Korean-American Association of Greater New York, one of the oldest Korean community organizations in the region. “We Korean-Americans observe the issue on the level of a global violation of human rights.”

Tensions between Japan and South Korea over the legacy of comfort women were reignited in December when a bronze statue in honor of victims was
installed across the street from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, the South Korean capital. Japanese officials have asked the Korean authorities to remove that statue.

Japanese leaders have said that their formal apologies, expressions of remorse and admissions of responsibility regarding the treatment of comfort women are sufficient, including an offer to set up a $1 billion fund for victims. But many Koreans contend that those actions are inadequate. Surviving victims have rejected the fund because it would be financed by private money. The victims are seeking government reparations.

Mayor James Rotundo of Palisades Park said the lobbying began obliquely late last month. Officials at the Japanese consulate in New York sent e-mails requesting a meeting with borough administrators.

“I called the secretary and said, ‘What is this about?’ ” the mayor recalled in an interview, “and she said, ‘It’s about Japanese-U.S. relations,’ and I said: ‘Oh. Well, O.K.’ ”

The first meeting, on May 1, began pleasantly enough, he said. The delegation was led by the consul general, Shigeyuki Hiroki, who talked about his career, including his work in Afghanistan — “niceties,” Mr. Rotundo said.

Then the conversation took a sudden turn, Mr. Rotundo said. The consul general pulled out two documents and read them aloud.

One was a copy of a 1993 statement from Yohei Kono, then the chief cabinet secretary, in which the Japanese government
acknowledged the involvement of military authorities in the coercion and suffering of comfort women.

The other was a 2001 letter to surviving comfort women from Junichiro Koizumi, then the prime minister, apologizing for their treatment.

Mr. Hiroki then said the Japanese authorities “wanted our memorial removed,” Mr. Rotundo recalled.

The consul general also said the Japanese government was willing to plant cherry trees in the borough, donate books to the public library “and do some things to show that we’re united in this world and not divided,” Mr. Rotundo said. But the offer was contingent on the memorial’s removal. “I couldn’t believe my ears,” said Jason Kim, deputy mayor of Palisades Park and a Korean-American, who was at the meeting. “My blood shot up like crazy.”

Borough officials rejected the request, and the delegation left.

The second delegation arrived on May 6 and was led by four members of the Japanese Parliament. Their approach was less diplomatic, Mr. Rotundo said. The politicians, members of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, tried, in asking that the monument be removed, to convince the Palisades Park authorities that comfort women had never been forcibly conscripted as sex slaves.

“They said the comfort women were a lie, that they were set up by an outside agency, that they were women who were paid to come and take care of the troops,” the mayor related. “I said, ‘We’re not going to take it down, but thanks for coming.’ ”

The Japanese consulate in New York has been reluctant to discuss its lobbying.

In interviews this week, Fumio Iwai, the deputy consul general, would not say whether the consul general had requested that the monument be removed. But he denied that the consul general had offered to help the borough in return for the monument’s removal. Mr. Hiroki “did not offer any such condition,” he said.

Mr. Iwai said the issue of comfort women, if not Palisades Park specifically, was the subject of continuing discussions “at a very high level” between the governments of South Korea and Japan.

“So,” he said, pausing as if to choose his words carefully, “things are quite complicated.”

A version of this article appeared in print on May 19, 2012, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: In New Jersey, a War Memorial for ‘Comfort Women’ Deepens Old Animosity.


Councilman Peter Koo, New York, NY

Japan Society

Korea Society

Korean American Association of Greater New York (KAAGNY)

Korean American Voters’ Council (KAVC)

Palisades Park, NJ data and resources (Wikipedia),_New_Jersey
        An African American noted for his plaintive plea “Can’t we all get along?” he died in June 2012 twenty years after the Los Angeles riots sparked by his case. In our current events/public policy database we nickname him “Rapped-on-Rodney” to distinguish him from comedian “Rappin’ Rodney” Dangerfield—both of whom “got no respect” or R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
“Rodney King pleads to rioters to end the violence during a press conference in front of his lawyer's office on May 1 saying ‘People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?’” -- CNN

        We’re at our editorial office on W. 43rd St. when the Simi Valley, California—location of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library—jury recognize (ahem) good police work when they see it and acquit LAPD officers accused of using excessive force when arresting King; among aggravating circumstances such as a radio call from squad car to police station referencing the movie Gorillas in the Mist.

Escape from New York

        My colleagues deem it prudent to abandon ship a few hours early that afternoon. I escort some of them to Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) a few blocks away while one of my other co-workers accompanies another group to Penn Station a short distance south. We both live in Midtown and plan to rendezvous later.

        I get my charges up to their bus platforms and try to turn around only to see lemmings-worth of people surging up the steps. The escalators are shut down to avoid crushing the crowd. If not panic it’s a tense situation. I can barely make my way down and out of PABT only to find the sidewalks jammed with even more people trying to get in. There’s more police about than usual but no National Guard as there is now.   

         (On 9/11 bridges and tunnels were closed to traffic; instead people flowed west past our building on their way to the Hudson River ferry landings and the People’s Republic of New Jersey, aka “Land of the Setting Sun” as seen from Manhattan. Most annoying thing in PABT a decade later is seemingly random ear-piercing alarms and eye-dazzling flashing strobe lights that harry commuters and hurry patrons at McAnn’s or Frames bars. We’re OK with it.)


        I retreat across W. 42nd St. to the long-since-gone O’Dwyer’s Pub. There I watch TV news, drink beer, and await events in comfort. Many an evening after work my colleagues and I sit sipping away until Jeopardy comes on. At that point we’re too mellow to answer any of the questions so go grab some chow from the old-fashioned, fragrant steam table. This is before the cell phones that would likely be jammed by network overload anyhow. I wait in vain for my friend’s return.
A fire department crew attends to a burning building in south Los Angeles on April 30, 1992, a day after rioting broke out caused by the acquittal of four white police officers charged with assault and the use of excessive force on Rodney King.” -- CNN

Times Square

        I want to walk the ten blocks home in daylight. I depart the bar and head east toward Times Square. Along the way I notice something disconcerting: stores and restaurants are covering over their plate-glass windows with plywood battens. As we hadn’t had a hurricane hit the city since I moved back here the only time I’ve seen this happen is on New Year’s Eve with its roving bands of revelers. I pick up the pace.

Home but not alone

        Is something happening that I don’t know about yet? I’m barely through my apartment door when my Japanese American neighbor comes knocking. In one hand he’s holding a snub-nose revolver, in the other some bullets. He hands them to me complaining that the bullets don’t “fit.” That’s because it’s a .38 caliber revolver and the bullets are .45 caliber ACP rounds for a semi-automatic pistol I reply—can’t help you. He dashes off I assume to dig out his Samurai sword and the Rising Sun headband he usually dons while doing yoga or chasing mice down the hall with a broom.

        Meanwhile out in LA Korean American shopkeepers arm themselves with rifles to defend their properties silhouetted against flames and smoke on TV.

Bad day at black rock

        I briefly consider breaking out my 12 gauge shotgun and tube wrenching out the duck hunting choke, converting it once again to the “street sweeper” I wielded years ago during a night-long altercation in my “El Barrio” Philadelphia neighborhood; I demurred.

        Hey Leroy—New York City did NOT have a race riot that day.

        But now we have Trayvon.

Photos from
During World War II some of our American dads fought in Europe in what are called civilized countries in the same sense that my Irish-American dad called me a fine young gentleman: i.e., advisedly but not always. My U.S.-By-God-Marine uncle fought against a wide assortment of Asian civilizations. A non-veteran (I’d be called a contractor today) I had a perfectly good Cold War against godless communism. In a reverse stolen valor situation my in-country confreres say: “You were there—I saw you!” And yes I wore faded ripstop fatigues with a namestrip on them, but nothing else, so I didn’t stand out in a crowd.  T.E. Lawrence in Arab garb chose to stand out.

I was young and enjoyed myself in the Far East, with apologies to Filipinas: but I always paid for our most likely unpasteurized San Miguel beers. Thus I feel sort of bad for my relatives and friends who are serving in Southwest Asia, Africa, and elsewhere today. “Women in tents”—veils, burqas, ecch!—so not the Vietnamese ao dai, although they too sometimes tote AK-47’s: “the preferred weapon of your enemy” as my Main Man Clint Eastwood growled in the movie Heartbreak Ridge. Even given the AKs I feel the quality of our enemies has declined. Not that I denigrate their courage. “Sir Charles VC” (Viet Cong) cured me of that. Yet the Saladin of the Crusades is not the same as a hairball raghead living in a cave. The “isms” are at least modern—Islam is so Stone Age that they stone stones. Enough already! Bombing Persians would be a step up! That said I have read books by Sir Richard Burton (The First as I call him), Charles Doughty, and of course T.E. Lawrence on Arabia and the Arabs and keep an eye out for new publications. I found a good one.

Thoughts on reading Hero: the Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda (2010). In 1968 I joined the ROTC/Ranger unit at what was then the Ogontz Campus of Penn State University in Abingdon, PA (now Abington—with a “t”) swearing my hoary and bloody soldier’s oath under the Johnson administration during the height of the Vietnam War. This branch campus just north of Philadelphia is the former home of the Ogontz School for Girls whose most notable alumna is aviatrix Amelia Earhart. Her airplane mysteriously disappeared in an attempted circumnavigation of the globe in 1937. The eponymous Chief Ogontz was a Sandusky Indian.  If “Penn State” and “Sandusky” ring a bell—during my salad days in State College Joe Paterno was the newish Nittany Lions head football coach and Jerry Sandusky was his assistant. In 2011 Sandusky was arrested following allegations of child sexual abuse. I suspect that Joe Amendola, his defense attorney, and I were contemporary Ogontz Rangers, our ROTC unit’s nickname. In 2012 Joe Paterno died.

I dub at least some of my schoolboy days the “Lawrence of Arabia period” (like Picasso’s Blue Period). The 1962 movie starring Peter O’Toole caught my imagination. In high school I did book reports on Lawrence, the French Foreign Legion, and all and sundry military history topics, my favorites being medieval warfare and mercenaries. Blessed with a decent memory enough of this early learning stuck to the wall to be of later use.

An avid Boy Scout and Explorer I learned marksmanship, field craft, and outdoor skills including horseback riding, and went west to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. As a Blood Brother Order of the Arrow I studied Indian sign-language and Native American hunting and warfare techniques. But I found pursuit of Eagle Scout rank a bit precious (I later refused an invitation to join Phi Beta Kappa for the same reason) while working my way through school plus doing homework. I was a junior member of the University Museum (now Penn Museum) focusing on archaeology and anthropology and the Philadelphia Museum of Art not least for the arms and armor collections. My cousin and I had a business dealing in military miniatures (toy soldiers), dioramas, and militaria. 

Consciously and subconsciously “E.T.” (my first and middle initials) mirrored “T.E.” (Lawrence). Likewise anachronistic with an active if not overactive, imagination I identify with The Dangerous Book for Boys by Gonn Iggulden (2007), still have my original Boy Scout Handbook and the beat-up pocket New Testament I carried in various and sundry adventures and misadventures around the world. I’m still “residually religious” but not hair-shirt.
Portrait of T. E. Lawrence without his usual arab head dress

Reading Korda I find the parallels in E.T.s and T.E.s interests and life paths to be striking: anti-authoritarian, dislike of team sports, keeping a ledger of spending during solo travels (I was equally Spartan but more impecunious); correspondence and diaries—mine were John Wanamaker spiral bound red covered yearlies—lost over the course of many moves as was Lawrence’s original manuscript of Seven Pillars of Wisdom during a train trip in England. On and on. But I’m neither a little guy like Lawrence, they were the Tunnel Rats in Vietnam, nor much of a showman. I’m what they call in the intel business ”wallpaper”. Disclaimer: I too had a great relationship with my father but no major issues with my mother. One of my colleagues asserted that his mother made him a good spy—we boys kept a lot of things secret and undercover! But this is thin gruel for Freudians.  I’m half-Irish: the drinking half, but that’s not nothing and Irish enough. Freud sagely observed: “This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.” So moving on…

Penn State’s grading system in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was A, B, C, D—and Vietnam. I recruited for ROTC/Rangers from the first day of freshmen orientation. Drawing upon scholarly abilities I became a military studies undergraduate teaching assistant and won the Military History Book Award my sophomore year as well as receiving the highest score to date in map reading and land navigation. I was ordered to review the ROTC reading list compiled from our library catalog in order to supplement our Army field manuals. English-language readers didn’t have much literature to choose from on insurgency/counterinsurgency warfare. I found limited material on guerilla warfare ranging from the Boer War to World War II and on the French Indochina and Algerian conflicts. All were dated. 

I then located and recommended for purchase translations of writings by Fidel Castro’s lieutenant Che Guevara and by the victor of Dien Bien Phu North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, and even got a newer translation of Sun Tzu. Sympathetic English professors expanded their syllabi from the Iliad and Odyssey (I got a copy of Lawrence’s translation years later) to at least include Joseph Conrad, Andre Malraux, and the wartime works of Hemmingway and Orwell. The “Oriental” (not yet Far Eastern let alone Asian) studies professor assigned the Vietnamese epic national poem Tale of Kieu and some quotationsof Chairman Mao. Political Science syllabi were as sharply divided on the war as was the nation. And contemporary journalism was a minefield for the student novice, causing all sorts of sharp debates among faculty and administrators.

I took on the daunting task, given my honors history course load, of reading and evaluating Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. for possible use by ROTC cadets. I started it on the commuter train. Fascinated I looked up from the text to find that I had ridden two stops further down the line than my stop. I finished the book elsewhere but began looking out the train window while planning for guerilla warfare in my hometown and environs: who can be trusted, what infrastructure should be targeted, where to stash weapons and munitions, when to strike, why to fight. Sort of a “reverse Rotary Club”—how do I take a town apart instead of build it up.

Korda notes what great good fun it is to blow things up. The bigger the bang the better. I was considered too tall for demolitions but too light for heavy weapons. Our Green Beret CO gave a flame thrower to one guy nicknamed “Ratso” who proceeded to run around our fake collection of twig hootches and improvised booby traps screaming “Sterilize!” That’s a natural demo man. We thought concussions were fun: take two aspirins and some shots of whiskey. I trained as a communications specialist and cross-trained as a medic specialist. Medic got you targeted right after the commo man with the antenna.

We were preparing for counterinsurgency—but in the jungle. Desert warfare? Oh but to ride in a camel charge! Be still my beating heart! Running around in robes I could do; running around barefoot not. I didn’t even like to wear shorts. And those knee-socks the Boy Scouts wore? Never. But the Rangers of that era wore black berets and I got me one.

By the time I finished and completely annotated Seven Pillars I had a wealth of excerpts ready for selection, typing, and mimeographing. These I proudly presented to our (full bird but leg) Colonel. He glanced at the first page and remarked: “I can’t read this stuff!” And I’m sure he couldn’t. T.E. had his issues with regular Army types too.

So there it died. My budding military career ended shortly thereafter when I flunked a physical exam (long story). I went off to main campus at University Park the next term, I got my degree in March 1971, spent St. Patrick’s Day in New York City, and then I launched: it was April in Paris. My shadow never darkened PSU doors again.  

My interest in Lawrence however remained strong. We kept running into each other, figuratively, on my many trips to London, and oddly enough during my travels in Mexico and Central America. On my bookshelf sits a tome that Korda does not like, a Pelican Books paperback: Lawrence of Arabia: a Biographical Inquiry by Richard Aldington (1971). I purchased it at The Bookshop S.A., San Jose, Costa Rica in November 1974 with whom I later developed a business relationship. I carried guidebooks and other reading material in an Army surplus gasmask bag I kept slung over one shoulder: in Mexico I used it as a mace to keep wild dogs at bay on isolated archaeological sites. This was before Indiana Jones.

Aldington’s book is “contrarian” but it brought me good luck. I was browsing it on the dawn bus from San Jose to Panama City, Panama, my carryall loaded with fresh-baked bread and jar of marmalade for breakfast with warm tea and brandy in my canteens. The bread’s aroma attracted a young Austrian lady sitting across the aisle. She wasn’t making it on tortillas and said she hadn’t smelled anything that good since leaving home last month. Then she spotted the book cover and exclaimed “Lawrence! In San Jose? Oh may I read it?” Here’s looking at you kid; it was the best bus journey of my trip.

Although Lawrence died following a motorcycle crash in 1935 Lowell Thomas, whose lecture series and book With Lawrence in Arabia contributed hugely to his legend, lived on until 1981. I continued to buy and read books by and about him. While working for a current events and public policy database I wasn’t a Middle East regional specialist. I didn’t have a dog in that fight as I did in the Northern Ireland “Troubles” but I never missed a publication on T.E.L.

Now our country is heavily involved in Southwest and Central Asia. Guerilla war, terrorism, suicide bombers, not to mention the very political geography itself: Korda links it all back to Lawrence. Having finished his book I now feel current on the scholarship and conclude still channeling my inner Lawrence of Arabia.
Michael Korda, HERO: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, copyright 2010 by Success Research Corporation, Harper Collins Books, ISBN 978-0-06-171261-6.
 Sunday November 6, 2011

10/22/2011 11:04 AM
S.I. Veteran Trains For Marathon To Support Those Wounded In War
By: Amanda Farinacci
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A Staten Island veteran is looking to raise money and awareness for Team Red, White and Blue, an organization that helps wounded war vets, by running the New York CityMarathon 

NY1’s Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.

            Michele Gonzalez is running the New York City Marathon to publicize and help raise money for Team Red, White and Blue, an organization dedicated to helping wounded vets find their way back into society.

            The 30-year-old veteran of the Army’s intelligence unit in Iraq had mixed reaction to the news that the war she served in will soon be over.

            “I think it's good news for soldiers that were over there or slotted to go over there and their families. I just hope that, you know, everything we set out to do in Iraq is actually done or at least on their way to being done, otherwise all the time that's been spent there would have been for naught,” says Gonzalez.

            Gonzalez spent over six years away from her family on three separate tours of duty.  It was on her third tour, in which she was stationed in Baghdad for 15 months, that she really felt the stress of war and being away from home.

            She turned to running.

            “I needed that break everyday, to just get out the door,” says Gonzalez. 

        When she came home in 2009, she was used to running every day. She laced up her sneakers all the way until the day before she gave birth to her son, AJ, 10 months ago.

            Now, she's training for the marathon and an “ultra,” an elite running event that's nearly 38 miles long.

            Gonzalez racks up most of her training miles by running along the water between South Beach and Midland beach.

            She says there are some elements there that remind her of her of her long runs in Baghdad.

            “Iraq, where I was running was extremely flat, so in some regards, the boardwalk does remind me of that, and then there were days where it was extremely windy, so running with the wind, I'm actually pretty used to running with a strong wind,” says Gonzalez.

            She says she's hoping for optimal marathon weather — not too hot and not too cool — on a day that thousands of people can come out and cheer her on, hopefully with the wind at her back.

Neil Gussman, Pennsylvania State University graduate, served with the Pennsylvania National Guard in Iraq--at age 56. He returned safely to Lancaster after a 10-month tour of duty.

Home from Iraq

            I returned from deployment to Iraq in January of 2010.  Still in National Guard till they throw me out for being too old!

            SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2011

Back to Arguing Politics

            After formation this morning one of pilots who is also a big TEA Party supporter came at me smiling with winner’s glee talking about the Occupy movement.

            “The TEA Party cleaned up after themselves and supported local businesses, your guys in the Occupy Oakland movement looted local business,” he said.

            And it went on from there.  I mentioned that this week I gave the Conservative Commentariat its monthly listen.  I chose Rush Limbaugh.  On Thursday as I was driving back from New York, I heard Rush say that Herman Cain’s current troubles are “a Democrat program at the highest level (the White House) to discredit Republican candidates.”  Michael Savage says George Soros funded the attack.

            Another ardent Republican here who is pissed off about the attacks on Herman Cain did concede that running for President is the ultimate colonoscopy and if Cain was not prepared for every fact and opinion to come out, he was crazy.

            It is fun to have these discussions with people of vastly different opinions who are not shy about expressing them.

Posted by Neil Gussman at 11:20 AM
What the Economist magazine refers to as the “butcher’s bill” of war.

            An earlier blog post (WOUNDED WARRIOR) referred to Pat Tillman, the former pro football player killed by friendly fire while serving with the Rangers in Afghanistan. This week comes notification of the death of Sgt. First Class Kristoffer B. Domeij who was on his 14th deployment during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even a cursory search brings up notices of fellow Rangers killed during multiple deployments. Staff Sergeant Jeremy Andrew Katzenberger died during his 8th tour of duty:

            Death of SFC Domeij excerpted from ABC News website:

Oct. 25, 2011

            An Army Ranger who was on his 14th deployment to a combat zone has been killed in Afghanistan.

            Sgt. First Class Kristoffer B. Domeij, 29, was killed Saturday when the assault force he was with triggered a hidden roadside bomb in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province.

            Domeij served four deployments in Iraq and another nine stints in Afghanistan. During that time he was awarded two Bronze Stars. His third Bronze Star, earned during his final tour in Afghanistan, will be awarded posthumously, according to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

            Also killed in Saturday's blast were First Lieutenant Ashley White, 24, a Cultural Support Team member, and fellow Ranger Private First Class Christopher A. Horns, 20, who was on his first combat deployment.

            His battalion commander, Lt. Col. David Hodne, described Domeij as "one of those men who was known by all as much for his humor, enthusiasm, and loyal friendship, as he was for his unparalleled skill and bravery under fire."

            "This was a Ranger you wanted at your side when the chips were down... He is irreplaceable … in our formation … and in our hearts," Hodne said.

            Domeij, who grew up in San Diego, Calif. and Colorado Springs, Colo., and lived in Lacey, Wash., was married and had two young daughters.

            Rangers are some of the Army's most elite special operations forces and have seen almost continual combat in Afghanistan since October 2001 when they were part of the original airborne assault into the country.

            Sgt. First Class Kristoffer B. Domeij, 29, was killed on Saturday in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province after accidentally triggering a hidden roadside bomb.

            Rangers serve three to four month tours of duty that are significantly shorter than the year-long deployments served by soldiers in conventional units. But during those short deployments they see a constant churn of intense combat missions. On average, a Ranger battalion will conduct between 400 to 500 missions during a combat deployment.

            Tracy Bailey, a spokesperson for the 75th Ranger Regiment, says Domeij had a combined total of 48 months deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

            Higher ranking enlisted Rangers, like Domeij, typically have between nine and 12 deployments if they were with the 75th Ranger Regiment prior to or shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. Domeij had enlisted in the Army in July 2001 and joined the 2nd battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in April 2002.

            With his 14 deployments, Domeij becomes the Ranger with the most deployments to date killed in action. Just a year ago this month, fellow Ranger SFC Lance Vogeler was killed in Afghanistan during his 12th deployment, becoming at that time the Ranger with the most deployments killed in action.

            Domeij had the distinction of being one of the first Rangers to be qualified as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), a position usually reserved for Air Force airmen who serve with ground combat units and call in air strikes from fighters or bombers flying overhead.

            Col. Mark W. Odom, commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, called Domeij "the prototypical special operations NCO" whose abilities as a JTAC "made him a game changer on the battlefield—an operator who in real terms had the value of an entire strike force on the battlefield."

            Also KIA was First Lieutenant Ashley Wright, a Cultural Support Team member. Her loss highlights the role of women soldiers serving in many roles.

            Death of 1st Lt. Wright excerpted from MSNBC:
            This undated photo provided by the North Carolina National Guard shows 1st Lt. Ashley White from Alliance, Ohio. White was killed Oct. 22, 2011, by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Last weekend, White died in combat in southern Afghanistan, the first casualty in what the Army says is a new and vital wartime attempt to gain the trust of Afghan women. White, like other female soldiers working with special operations teams, was assigned duties that would be awkward or impossible for her male counterparts, such as frisking burqa-clad women. (AP Photo/North Carolina National Guard)

Death Highlights Women’s Role in Special Ops Teams


WASHINGTON — Army 1st Lt. Ashley White died on the front lines in southern Afghanistan last weekend, the first casualty in what the Army says is a new and vital wartime attempt to gain the trust of Afghan women.

            White, like other female soldiers working with special operations teams, was brought in to do things that would be awkward or impossible for her male teammates. Frisking burqa-clad women, for example.

            Her death, in a bomb explosion in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar, demonstrates the risks of placing women with elite U.S. special operations teams working in remote villages.

            Military leaders and other female soldiers in the program say its rewards are great, even as it fuels debate over the roles of women in combat.

            "We could do things that the males cannot do, and they are starting to realize that," says Sgt. Christine Baldwin, who like White was among the first groups of women deployed to Afghanistan this year as specially trained "cultural support" troops.

            Male soldiers often cannot even speak to an Afghan woman because of the strict cultural norms that separate the sexes and the tradition of women remaining behind closed doors most of the time. Forcing the issue has yielded only resentment, military officials say, and has jeopardized the trust and cooperation of villagers. From the start of the war 10 years ago, Afghans have especially resented the practice of "night raids" in which male foreign soldiers enter and search homes, the traditional sanctum of women.

            "We could search the female, find out the other half of the information," Baldwin said in an interview. "If you're missing half of the lay of the land, how effective are you in engaging the populace?"

            That question was eight years in the making. It arose from the frustration of U.S. commanders who realized two years ago that as they tried to apply the principles of counterinsurgency — protect civilians and enlist them to reject insurgents and provide intelligence — they were not reaching the majority of the Afghan population.

            Now, the first female soldiers are serving in commando units. They are trained to ferret out critical information not available to their male team members, to identify insurgents disguised as women and figure out when Afghan women are being used to hide weapons.

            U.S. women have been on the front lines in Afghanistan since the war began, and over time they have been used to reach out to the Afghan population through health care initiatives and other programs. They have traveled with Army soldiers and Marines throughout the warfront, often to assist in development projects or as part of psychological operations, which now are called MISO, or military information support operations.

            But as elite special operations teams fanned out across the country doing counterinsurgency "stability operations" in the small villages, they complained to their superiors that they were not reaching the women and children who comprise as much as 71 percent of the population.

            "We waited too long to get to this," says Command Sgt. Maj. Ledford Stigall. "We had a lot of people focused on the kill and capture, and it really took someone to say, hey it's not about kill, capture, it's about developing a country that can take care of itself."

            "Women have a voice," he said. "They can influence the men in their society."

            In 2009, under pressure from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Gen. David Petraeus, then the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, the Army began to develop Cultural Support Teams.

            Last November, the first group of women went through a grueling five-day assessment that tested their physical and military skills, their problem-solving and writing abilities and their psychological and mental fitness. Those that passed moved on to a six-week training program.

            And in January, the first group of 28 women was deployed to Afghanistan with Army Rangers and Special Forces teams.

            They went in two-woman teams as part of larger special operations units, usually numbering about a dozen. And they were designed to go out on patrols and into the villages with the special operators to help build relations with the communities by engaging with the Afghan women.

            In the process, they also could glean valuable intelligence about the people in the region, information they might not be able to get from the men.

            Capt. Adrienne Bryant was in the first group that deployed.

            Down in Helmand Province with a team of Marine special operations forces, Bryant said, the initial response from the population was tepid.

            On her first patrol, however, the team introduced her and her CST teammate to a village elder.

            "He had been constantly abused by the Taliban, had been kidnapped and returned and he didn't want to work with coalition forces any more because of the fear the Taliban was going to retaliate," Bryant said in an interview.

            Bryant and her teammate talked to him about what they could do for the women of his village, including the medical assistance and skills training, like sewing, they could bring. And he was interested.

            "Helmand was a pretty conservative area, women aren't really seen out much, and they don't shop. So we had to disguise our sewing program; we ran it in conjunction with our clinic," Bryant said. "In case the women were being scrutinized because they were coming to learn a skill from us, they had cover by coming on clinic days."

            Baldwin was sent up north with an Army special operations team in Kunduz Province. The women they encountered were hesitant at first.

            "We'd go out on patrol and be all kitted up and they were almost fearful, but once we took off that helmet, and put on the scarf, they would recognize that it was a female and the fear would be gone," she said.

            Both Baldwin and Bryant said the Afghan women and children at their meetings grew from a few to dozens. Neither said they ever felt they were in immediate danger during their eight-month deployment, although they knew what was possible.

            "Any day that they're walking into a village and engaging with the population they are at the same risk as those Special Forces, SEALs, or special operators they're detailed to. So I would say it is not for the weak-kneed," said Michael Lumpkin, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for special operations. "These women are on the front lines in very austere locations."

            Ashley White, 24, was among the 34 CST members to go to Afghanistan in the second group, and she was assigned to a Ranger unit. The Ohio native and two Rangers were killed when their assault force triggered a roadside bomb. In a press release Monday, U.S. Army Special Operations Command said White "played a crucial role as a member of a special operations strike force. Her efforts highlight both the importance and necessity of women on the battlefield today."

            Lumpkin said that so far commanders agree the program has been a success. The third group of women is about to begin training, and the tentative plan is to have 25 permanent Army CST teams by 2016.

            "When 71 percent of the population is women and children, you have to have buy-in from a greater number of people in the villages to really connect with them, and to understand really what's going on. Because of that female-to-female connection, that can be achieved," Lumpkin said.

            He added, "We're coming late to the table, but we've recognized the value (of the program), and I think this will transcend beyond Afghanistan. ... I don't see them going away any time soon."

        Recently the for-profit (or proprietary) education sector has come under scrutiny by federal, state, and local governments and investigative journalists.(1) Student loans, chiefly federal Pell Grants, saddle graduates with debts they find hard to repay. There are other problems with these schools that can be researched on websites including the New York Times. Veterans use their education benefits—which are under assault by debt-cutters— to pay tuition and other expenses, but there are doubts about costs and benefits of for-profit schools. I keep in touch with active and retired military personnel and will update the situation when possible. 

        For several years I was a librarian at an allied health college that trained medical and dental assistants as well as offering related courses that attracted veterans with G.I. Bill tuition benefits. Although no better or worse than many other for-profit schools it did not, for example during my time there, participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

            The Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program (Yellow Ribbon Program) is a provision of the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. The program is designed to help students avoid up to 100 percent of their out-of-pocket tuition and fees associated with education programs that may exceed the Post 9/11 GI Bill tuition benefit, which will only pay up to the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition.

            If you are attending a private college, graduate school or attending in a non-resident status and that school is a Yellow Ribbon participating school, additional funds may be available for your education program without an additional charge to your entitlement. Like the other Post 9/11 GI Bill programs, Yellow Ribbon benefits are payable for training pursued on or after August 1, 2009. No payments can be made under this program for training pursued before that date

Text of article by Hollister K. Petraeus, wife of the current CIA director and retired U.S. Army general commanding in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Op-Ed Contributor

For-Profit Colleges, Vulnerable G.I.’s

By HOLLISTER K. PETRAEUS - Published: September 21, 2011


            MILITARY personnel and their families are finding themselves under siege from
for-profit colleges. A number of these schools focus on members of the armed forces with aggressive and often misleading marketing, and then provide little academic, administrative or counseling support once the students are enrolled.

            Vast sums are involved: between 2006 and 2010, the money received in
military education benefits by just 20 for-profit companies soared to an estimated $521.2 million from $66.6 million.

            The government provides two important educational benefits to service members: the Tuition Assistance program for service members on active duty, and the G.I. Bill, which is mostly used for education after military service.

            Today’s veterans are eager to earn post-secondary degrees — and to replicate the example of the generation that returned from World War II and fueled our prosperity. But their desire for learning is too often exploited by unscrupulous for-profit colleges.

            The schools have a strong incentive to enroll service members and veterans, in large part because of the “
90-10 rule” created by the 1998 amendments to the Higher Education Act. Put simply, the rule says that a for-profit college must obtain at least 10 percent of its revenue from a source other than Title IV education funds, the primary source of federal student aid. Funds from Tuition Assistance and the G.I. Bill are not defined as Title IV funds, so they count toward the 10 percent requirement, just like private sources of financing.

            Therein lies a problem. For every service member or veteran (or spouse or child, in the case of the post-9/11 G.I. Bill) enrolled at a for-profit college and paying with military education funds, that college can enroll nine others who are using nothing but Title IV money.

            This gives for-profit colleges an incentive to see service members as nothing more than dollar signs in uniform, and to use aggressive marketing to draw them in and take out private loans, which students often need because the federal grants are insufficient to cover the full cost of tuition and related expenses.

            One of the most egregious reports of questionable marketing involved a college recruiter who visited a Marine barracks at Camp Lejeune, N.C. As the PBS program “Frontline” reported, the recruiter signed up Marines with serious brain injuries. The fact that some of them couldn’t remember what courses they were taking was immaterial, as long as they signed on the dotted line.

            Some for-profit colleges have also created Web sites with military-sounding names. Although they present themselves as offering unbiased advice on G.I. Bill benefits, some are using deceptive methods to bring in students.

            For example, I looked at one of these sites and found that the schools listed on the home page as “G.I. Bill schools” all happened to be for-profit colleges. On another site, a member of my staff filled out an application asking what the school would recommend if he had a law degree and a postdoctoral degree in physics. Their suggestion: get a vocational certificate at a local for-profit college.

            To be sure, there are some for-profit colleges with a long record of serving the military, solid academic credentials and a history of success for their graduates. But, compared with other schools, for-profit colleges generally have low graduation rates and a poor record of gainful employment for their alumni.

            A number of for-profit colleges have questionable academic credentials or lack accreditation accepted by other institutions. This makes it very difficult for students to transfer credits to other schools. Not surprisingly, for-profit colleges also tend to have a higher-than-average
student loan default rate, which means that, in the end, the college experience there may hinder, rather than help, the careers and financial prospects of their graduates.

            Prior to the Military Lending Act of 2007, which capped the annual interest rate for some consumer loans to service members at 36 percent, they were victims of unchecked payday lending and other predatory financial services. I see a parallel in what is happening today with for-profit colleges.

            As long as military education funds are on the 10 percent side of the 90-10 rule, service members will be a lucrative target for exploitation. As Congress explores legislative solutions at a hearing today, it is critical that federal agencies redouble efforts to prevent aggressive and deceptive practices. The benefits provided to our military and their families should not be wasted on programs that do not promote — and may even frustrate — their educational goals.

Hollister K. Petraeus is the assistant director for service member affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Her husband, David H. Petraeus, is the director of the C.I.A. and a retired Army general who commanded American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 22, 2011, on page A31 of the New York edition with the headline: For-Profit Colleges, Vulnerable G.I.’s.

(1)     Wikipedia definition, critique, and list of for-profit educational institutions

September 29, 2011
Rotary Club of Jersey City luncheon, Casino in the Park, Lincoln Park

            Tanks that I have known and hitched a ride in during my ROTC/Reserve days: M-48, M-60, and a prototype MBT-70.

            Patrick Ramos, speaking for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), is a U.S. Army veteran who served as a tank driver from 1997 to 2001. He is now a fundraiser for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Operation Rebound, and the Pat Tillman Foundation, as well as a Triathlete and Marathoner preparing for the 2012 Ironman competition. Following are excerpts from his Power Point presentation.

            WWP was founded in 2003 by veterans “to honor and empower wounded warriors who incurred service-connected injuries on or after September 11, 2001” has as its mission “a complete rehabilitative effort to assist warriors as they recover and transition back to civilian life.” WWP programs for the MIND: Combat Stress Recovery Program, including Project Odyssey, and Restore; Family Support, including Caregiver Retreats. Programs for the BODY: Physical Health and Wellness, including Soldier Ride, and WWP Packs. Programs for ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT: TRACK, Transition Training Academy, and Warriors to Work. Programs for ENGAGEMENT: Benefit Service, International Support, Peer Mentoring, Warriors Speak, and WWP Resource Center.
            Hankow Hypatia (club President-Elect, ROTARIAN of the Year, etc.) and I sat with Mr. Ramos and veterans both young and old. A future posting will cover veterans’ education benefits that are under attack from politicians of both parties, and problems encountered by veterans who enroll in for-profit schools. I gained personal experience on this subject while working for an allied health college in New York City.

            Now back to the M-48 tank. Several years ago my home town moved its war memorial plaques to higher ground. A military vehicle restoration group lent us an M-48 with a machine gun cupola on top of the turret. The township had to remove hanging traffic lights so it could clank up the main street unhindered. I still remembered how to clamber up onto the tank hull—and slowly and creakily managed to do so. Then I looked at the narrow width of the hatches. My waistline was 28” back in the day. I’d never get into, let alone out of, that tank today.

Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

Operation Rebound

Pat Tillman Foundation

Navy SEAL Foundation (found on Naval Special Warfare site)

            Coming through Penn Station New York City on the eve of the 9/11 memorials I got tapped for a luggage check at the subway entrance. A German Shepard police dog seemed keenly interested in my side-bag. Oh I forgot—my Philadelphia mom had cooked a ring of kielbasa and packed it in my bag just in case I got hungry on the 90 minute train ride back to the big city.

            So that means the dog is a Polish Shepard?

            NOTE: Tenth anniversary of 9/11/01 attacks: I’m OK with not having my name etched on some memorial wall someplace. If you watched the Saturday 9/10 broadcast of the Flight 93 National Memorial ceremony from Shanksville, Pennsylvania this is the lapel pin worn by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and others, available from Steven Singer Jewelers, Philadelphia:

            Check out the link at  for a heart-rending story. 

            On August 19 Navy SEALS and the family of a fallen brother offered prayers.  The fallen SEAL’s devoted dog stayed next to the casket the entire service.  A friend is now caring for the pet.

            The New York Times Magazine ran a story on August 10th featuring “Photographs by Charlotte Dumas of privately owned dogs who were mobilized, with their owners, to search for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They are now retired.”  They are in a slide show which can be accessed at this link:

            The photographs in the slide show are from the forthcoming book “Retrieved,” to be published in September. The text in the book is by Sarah H. Smith