Breaking Silence

I’ve spent the last month or so abiding by a silence of sorts. Ares told me to be sparing with my words, so very few of you have heard them. I have been working dutifully on my art and improving myself for the duty I believe my god is preparing me for. Honestly, that means walking more with Ares’ consort than the war-god. However, I’m taking some time to write because it is Veteran’s Day.

I both enjoy and despise Veteran’s Day. One the one hand, I get to celebrate the hundreds of people I was fortunate to meet in the course of my service. I was lucky to be assigned first to a joint-service base for training and later to ISAF/NATO and travel to many places. I’ve traveled to 25 states in the US and did missions in over 25 separate countries doing combat overwatch, drug interdiction, counter-terrorism, anti-piracy, border enforcement, and even humanitarian relief work. I worked with operators and soldiers from all the services as well as the English, French, Dutch, Afghan, and Danish militaries. I’ve developed a closer relationship with the Marines as opposed to my other sister services because of my assignments, but I have dear friends in the Navy and Army, too.

On the other hand, it makes me uncomfortable when people thank me for my service, because at the end of the day, most people don’t know what they’re thanking me for. I was in a unit tasked mostly to watch Marines and call targets for them. While we never pulled triggers on the enemy, we nonetheless arranged the fighting according to the machinations of the war strategy and needs of the commanders on the ground. We were as the watchful eyes of gods, but we were not gods, and we lost plenty of good Marines and Brits. So no one can thank me for that. And you can’t really thank me for “doing what needed done,” because by the time I hit my combat unit, few back home believed in the war. The only people who really deserved thanks are the dead, and my family and friends who gave me up to the Machine.

That all being said, please wear your red poppies and give a supportive pat on the back to your military friends. Teach those who ask you about its meaning. If you’re feeling particularly generous, maybe you can send a few bucks to my favorite charity, Soldier’s Best Friend. They rescue dogs and train them to care as service dogs and companions for wounded warriors who are having trouble adjusting due to TBI or PTSD. I know my own little dog, while not a SBF dog, has helped me tremendously. And for the love of Ares, don;t you dare thank me for anything, or a pox on your house ūüėČ Hail Ares!

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Contest!

For those that don’t know, May is Military appreciation month in the US; it contains more military holidays than you can shake a stick at (for a full list, see here). In honor of the festivities, I am going to hold a writing contest running through Memorial day.

Up for grabs are two clay cameos, one for each category in the contest: poetry and short essay (see photo below). The “Ares in Naos” design is for the poetry category and the “Thrakian Rider” design is for the short essay category. The former is based on a coin obverse from Anatolia and the latter on a coin obverse from Thrakia.

Rules are simple–all entries must pertain to Ares or the military. One entry per person per category. Winners are selected by the readers, and everyone is allowed to vote only once in each category. You may vote for your own entries. This is an internationally open contest.

Poetry: No style restrictions. 25 word minimum preferred except for haiku.

Short Essay: 500 word minimum. If citations are necessary, you may use whatever style is most comfortable for you. No style restrictions, but non-fiction is preferred (I want to save that for another contest).

Entries are due no later than 2359 Eastern Time Monday, May 27, 2013 (Memorial Day in the US). Please email entries to aspisofares@gmail.com . Good Luck!

War Stories

So it’s been a while since my last post, and I¬†apologize. School and such can get in the way, as can writer’s block. Thankfully, the imminent deployment of one of my¬†Facebook¬†homies to my old AO has me¬†reminiscing on the good old days, so I thought I’d share (as much as is prudent) the story of my first major battle operation in Afghanistan.

It was Feb 2010, and I had pretty much just finished qualifying after my on-the-job training. We were getting ready to launch an offensive in Afghanistan that my commander called “one of those iconic Marine battles that they write books about” and “our Fallujah”. It was gonna be huge. The Taliban had set up in this little village called Marjeh and was using it as a hub to direct their ops, and the Marines were to go in, kick their ass, and install a new government. The Brits and Marines surrounded the town and dropped leaflets warning all the civies that we were gonna mess up the town, so they better hide or get out while the getting was good.

My job was to help prep the battlespace and keep watch over the Marines. The Taliban had mined the entire area, so everyone was on IED lookout. We were running double missions and collecting more info than could fit in a few books. To make things even more entertaining, we had Marine observers (who wanted to know how we got things done to improve comms in the future) and our imagery guys were also running humanitarian ops for the Haitian  earthquake. We processed so many reports and images I can hardly remember if I ever went off-line. It was as close as I could get to a baptism by fire.

Marjeh was also my first look at operational (and eventually¬†strategic) stalemate. While the op was tactically successful (we only lost just more than 60 ISAF personnel), and we forced out most of the Taliban, Marjeh eventually became what Gen. McChrystal called a “bleeding ulcer”, as the Taliban simply moved on to form new hubs. It was disappointing, and the new Marjeh government was stagnating. Of course, pressure was on the intel guys to hunt everyone down, but being the nature of war, we couldn’t find everyone. Eventually, the area died down as we shifted focus to other areas.

All-in-all, it was an eye-opening experience for me. I learned how to multitask like a boss and stay calm in the face of overwhelming sensory overload, and I also learned that despite the in-theater gripes, the Marines did appreciate the work intel does for them. Sometimes I miss the pace of the offensive; nothing in the civilian world quite compares to the pressure. I definitely see, looking back, how some people just enjoy the thrill of it all; I did.

Saying that, I can see why Ares enjoys battle, too. Even if you lose (which we kind of did), it’s an almost ineffable feeling. I’d almost compare it to sex; it can be¬†exhilarating or awful, there’s all this pressure to perform, you never quite know how good it’s going to be, and afterward, it’s mostly indescribable. Maybe that’s one reason Ares is paired so well with Aphrodite (and why they say all is fair in love and war). It may not be the best analogy, but there you have it. Hail Ares! May he bless my brothers and sister who served in that battle, and may those about to deploy carry with them the sharp spear of the War God.

Veterans/Armistice Day

So Veterans Day was Sunday, which is also known as Armistice Day. Back in WWI the Allied powers and Germany signed a ceasefire on this day and closed the Western Front, even though Russia, the Austrian-Hungarians, and the Ottomans were still going strong in the East.  The US uses it as a day to remember vets from all wars, as do many European nations, especially those involved in WWI and WWII. All over the Western world you will often see both real and faux red poppy flowers, which are acknowledged in the famous poem In Flanders Field as growing on many of the old battlefields of Belgium and are symbolic of the blood spilled there.

Even while I was in the military, I’ve never felt very comfortable with Veterans Day. In the US, we have Memorial Day for honoring the dead, and thus Veterans Day is more about honoring all vets, especially the living. However, being a vet never struck me as being particularly honorable. I mean, in my view, serving in the military is like paying taxes– it’s just something you’re supposed to do. No one thanks you or gives you free stuff for paying your taxes (or they shouldn’t beyond basic government services, anyway). The day just never struck me as important that way. That being said though, there are some vets that read this blog, so thanks to them for keeping the tradition going and picking up the slack for all the peaceniks.

 

The Black Hawk Down Incident, or Battle for Mogadishu

This post is about two weeks late, but we have now passed the 19th anniversary of the First Battle of Mogadishu, better known to most as the Black Hawk Down incident, of which a famous movie was made directed by Jerry Bruckheimer. In all, UN figures claim 20 Allied KIA and 700+ Somali KIA.

There are two men in particular I wanted to talk about in this post, men who Homer would title the Scions of Ares: Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart.

Both men were assigned to the First Special Operations Operational Detachment – Delta (Delta Force) and were providing sniper support for Operation Gothic Serpent, meant to capture key supporters in the army of General Adid, a Somali warlord operating out of the capital of Mogadishu. During the assault on a compound harboring high value targets, two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down: call-signs Super 6-1 and Super 6-4.

While Army Rangers worked to recover the dead and wounded at the Super 6-1 crash site, sergeants Gordon and Shughart went to provide cover for the wounded at the Super 6-4 site. Gordon requested a drop at the site, though he was initially denied permission to engage on the ground. After arguing with the command, Gordon received permission to insert and he and Shughart set up defensive positions around the downed helicopter. Their third partner, SFC Hallings, manned a minigun from above until his weapon ran dry and the helicopter was forced to leave. Both snipers were killed as an overwhelming force of Somali militia entered the combat zone, eventually capturing the pilot, CWO Mike Durant.

For their actions, both Gordon and Shughart were posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart. Despite their actions and the success of Operation Gothic Serpent, public opinion went against the actions in Somalia, and the UN and US was forced to abandon the country in March of 1994.

The following is the citation for MSgt Gordon, signed by President Clinton on May 23, 1994:

Master Sergeant Gordon, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as Sniper Team Leader, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. Master Sergeant Gordon’s sniper team provided precision fire from the lead helicopter during an assault and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fires. When Master Sergeant Gordon learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the second crash site, he and another sniper unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After his third request to be inserted, Master Sergeant Gordon received permission to perform his volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Master Sergeant Gordon was inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Master Sergeant Gordon and his fellow sniper, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Master Sergeant Gordon immediately pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Master Sergeant Gordon used his long-range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers until he depleted his ammunition. Master Sergeant Gordon then went back to the wreckage, recovering some of the crew’s weapons and ammunition. Despite the fact that he was critically low on ammunition, he provided some of it to the dazed pilot and then radioed for help. Master Sergeant Gordon continued to travel the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. After his team member was fatally wounded and his own rifle ammunition exhausted, Master Sergeant Gordon returned to the wreckage, recovering a rifle with the last five rounds of ammunition and gave it to the pilot with the words, “good luck.” Then, armed only with his pistol, Master Sergeant Gordon continued to fight until he was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot’s life. Master Sergeant Gordon’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit and the United States Army.

 

The following is the citation for SFC Shughart, also signed 23 May, 1994:

Sergeant First Class Shughart, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as a Sniper Team Member, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. Sergeant First Class Shughart provided precision sniper fires from the lead helicopter during an assault on a building and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fires. While providing critical suppressive fires at the second crash site, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the site. Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After their third request to be inserted, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader received permission to perform this volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader were inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader, while under intense fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Sergeant First Class Shughart pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Sergeant First Class Shughart used his long-range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers while traveling the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. Sergeant First Class Shughart continued his protective fire until he depleted his ammunition and was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot’s life. Sergeant First Class Shughart’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit and the United States Army.

 

These men, as well as the men they served alongside, were true scions of Ares. Like Ares, they fought unrelentingly to protect their fellow soldiers while attempting to destroy the enemy. Keep them in your thoughts this October, and Hail Ares.

What is a Warrior: Reprised

So yesterday I started up that pain-in-the-ass process of defining a contentious word: what is a warrior? In just one day, it has become one of the most popular posts as far as number of comments, so instead of responding to each comment in each comment thread, I figured I’d give a more detailed, aggregated response to each of the major points raised throughout.

1) What about Police, Firefighters, EMTs, and other Public safety officials? (This was the most common question)

I’d say it depends. Personally, I feel that while many of these professions do encounter violence or danger regularly, it is the application of sanctioned violence that makes a warrior. As I stated in previous comments, it might be easy to add police under the onus of warrior, because they are instructed and authorized to use deadly force when necessary.

The issue of EMTs and firefighters is much more in shades of gray. On one hand, both face a great deal of danger and do their best to protect those under their care. On the other, they are not expected to react to violence with violence, per se. This gets grayer when you consider the position of both military firefighters and combat medics. Firefighters in the military are expected, like and soldier, to be an infantryman first with the requisite skills. Combat medics may carry a weapon to defend themselves, but as technical non-combatants, they may never fire offensively, or they revoke their non-com status; the same goes for chaplains in the field.

I would have to say that over-all, police may be warriors in the more literal sense, but firefighters and EMTs are not. However, just because they aren’t warriors ¬†does not mean they aren’t heroes worthy of public admiration and respect. It would also be my theological opinion that Ares is still a patron to these professions as a protector and giver of strength.

2) Who are the modern-day Amazons? (super question by Lady Imbrium)

I’m not sure I’m equipped to begin answering that question. Surely there are exceptional female warriors out there who might begin to fill those shoes, but as a whole cohesive group, I can’t really say. I do know both North Korea presently and Libya in the past have elite, female-only units meant as bodyguards and/or assassins. Certainly the Amazons weren’t the only women who benefited from Ares’ patronage, and a festival was celebrated in the¬†Peloponnese which allowed only women to¬†participate, because the women¬†¬†gained victory in battle after the men had failed.

3) What about those people who have tried and failed to become warriors? (probably the hardest question, asked by Wynn Dark)

That’s a tough question for me to answer, and even tougher to answer objectively. I’d guess I’d have to ask how that person failed. Some folks are good to go until they get the results of their physical back and discover they have some sort of disqualifying medical condition. Others, for the life of them, have such a hard time with the entrance exams they don’t even qualify for infantry. Others, while they do get in, get hurt or cannot psychologically cope with the stresses of regimented life. Not everyone can do it, and even the folks that can make it can’t do it forever. This kind of failure happens. On the other hand, people who do drugs, assault others, etc. during the course of duty are the failures I personally can’t deal with.

As to how Ares might deal with them, I cannot fathom. As a polytheist, I am personally certain that a multitude of gods act upon their own agendas, and in doing so may affect our lives for better or worse. It is possible that a disqualification, medically or otherwise, is Ares or another god saying, “No, this life isn’t for you.” Fate is always a factor, and even the gods must obey fate. Not being a warrior is fine. We need warriors as a society in order to function, but we also need¬†engineers, teachers, garbage men, fast food workers, janitors, and business owners. Just because you can’t fit into one role doesn’t mean you can’t find (or even make) a different one. Ares isn’t just a warrior. He’s also a fantastic dad, an oracle-giver, and even in some cults a farmer.

 

That’s all I have so far. Maybe as more comments come in I can update the discussion. Hail Ares!

Ares the Avenger

Once again, we find ourselves at the¬†anniversary¬†of the terrorist attacks that attacked both the United States¬†specifically¬†and the West generally. Over 3,000 people died, and still many suffer from health¬†complications¬†related to burns, smoke inhalation, PTSD, and other injuries. The DoD has updated its official US casualty numbers to 6,750 as of 9/10/12. Countless insurgents have been arrested or killed, as have innocent bystanders, who have been either “collateral damage” or worse, targeted by their own countrymen. It’s easy to see, from this data, why some folks disapprove of violence and violence’s god, Ares. Violence begets violence, and it’s never fun.

I have written before that Ares is a violent god, and that he actually does like violence. One could reasonably argue that the whole mess we find ourselves in today is quite amusing to him in one way or another. Ares, while mythologically speaking may be a god of violence-for-violence’s-sake (as clearly given in the Iliad), was not¬†worshiped¬†as violence-for-violence’s-sake sort of god, with the only¬†possible¬†exception being in Thrake, though the sources are probably biased. No, Ares is most often an avenging, reactive, and protective force bent on¬†punishing¬†or destroying those who transgress¬†various¬†boundaries.

As I’ve described before, outside of Homer, Ares’ mythology is rife with examples of him acting as an agent of retribution and justice, and this is a major theme in the plays of Aeschylus. When Ares’ daughter Alkippe is raped, he kills the rapist in retribution. When Thanatos is captured by Sisyphos, it is Ares who brings the criminal into the hands of Death (he kills that guy, too). Ares rages against Hephaestos when his brother traps their mother on a throne, and he punishes Leto’s adultery by denying her shelter to give birth to his new siblings.

Ares also shows us however that violence and its application aren’t always perfect or just, and that those we entrust with violent authority aren’t perfect, either. In a jealous rage, Ares transformed into a boar and¬†killed¬†Adonis. While known for punishing adultery in others, Ares himself has a famous affair with Aphrodite. Ares is often shown as a coward who¬†whines¬†when he is wounded and flees from battle the moment he is hurt.

And this brings me back to our anniversary. The West went to war shortly after 9/11 against radical Islamists to avenge the transgressions of one people against both us and their own. As Ares, we were not perfect, and committed transgressions of our own. Yet let not this anniversary be dominated with the litany of transgressions, but rather the litany of those whose lives were lost because of this event. In the end, all the silly excuses, from WMDs, oil, to plain old ass-hattery are just that: excuses. Today is about the dead, and avenging those dead by keeping their memories alive so that they never really die. Let it stay that way.