Sunday, November 30, 2014

Back by Popular Demand: The Russians in New Foundland Story

The Russians are coming...and going 
to the bathroom

By Rev. J.J. Purcell

When I was a child, brought up during the 1970s, there seemed to always be this notion in the back of my head that, if the world did ever end, it would be due to a fiery holocaust between the two great nations of the day. I was not alone in this belief. It was a popular fear that, at some point during the Cold War (1948-1990), someone from one side or the other would begin the unthinkable: thermonuclear war.

Fallout shelters were constructed in backyards and school children were instructed how to “Duck and Cover” to save themselves should a missile blast through the sky and explode anywhere near their school.

Throughout the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and the United States fought intelligence campaigns like never before or since. Civilian and military US and Soviet agents, and their respective allies, were running around all over the globe, collecting bits of information on the other side at a breakneck pace. In the world before the Berlin Wall fell and before the Great Digital Age, the chances of agents or couriers bumping into each other, anywhere on the earth, were both rare and always fraught with peril. Paranoia had become an art form within the two governments and, consequently, many of those who worked in the intelligence field from both countries.

In intelligence circles, being assigned to a section that was working against the Soviet Union directly was called “working the big top.” Meanwhile, the fabled day when Russians and Americans, and all their respective allies, would meet in battle was sometimes referred to as “Super Bowl” by Americans and the “World Cup” by Brits.

This is a true story about something that happened to me during 1980s, near the end of that Cold War, when I was an enlisted man in the US Army. It was another day and time from now.

What would cause World War III? For some ridiculous reason or maybe because someone just wanted to do it. There is no sane justification for nuclear war; there never will be. Once the two great nuclear powers (China is a great nuclear power, but not involved in this story) had gotten done measuring the size of each other’s manhood then life would go on, beyond that monumental contest of wills. Right!? Like after a nuclear war there was going to be baseball seasons and nice lunches with cakes.

Well, beginning in 1987, I became the intelligence analyst in the S-2 (Intelligence and Security) Section for the “Fix Bayonets!” 4th Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 2nd “Hell on Wheels” Armored Division (Forward), Lucius D. Clay Kaserne, Garlstedt, Federal Republic of Germany. And, I was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company there. I had been promoted to the rank of specialist before arriving to Europe and earned my corporal stripes while I was serving overseas.

The battalion I served in had a simple job: They were rifle soldiers, Bradley Infantry, and if there was a fight then the battalion would get the call to go kick as much Russian ass as we could before the unit and its soldiers disappeared in a flash of atomic brilliance. We never got the call, though, so baseball seasons and nice lunches with cakes continued unabated. Still, the United States Army in Europe and NATO were military organizations that built gigantic armies for only one reason: defeat the Russians if it came to it. The message was clear: The Soviets will never back down, and neither would the United States.

It was May, 1988 and 4/41 Infantry was rotating back to the main unit, the 2nd Armored Division in Fort Hood, Texas. The entire battalion, all 500 and something of us, were being relocated to Hood, while the 3rd Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment was rotating from  Hood to Garlstedt, which was this cow town in a provincial part of Northern Germany where the Division (Forward) was located. It was a large move of forces because it involved not only the battalion’s soldiers and equipment, but also our wives and kids. I was light in the kid department, but both my wife and myself were under 21 years old, so you’d think the Army would have gotten a discount on our flights back to the U.S.

Well, many of us tearfully were bidding goodbye to Garlstedt and it was an emotional event, because as hostile as the weather was there, as remote as the outpost was and as disagreeable as the fury of the North Sea winter could be, it had become a home for many of us. By ‘many of us’ I was not referring to myself in any way; I wanted to go back to the U.S. on the next raft if need be. Heck, I didn’t even request Germany for assignment in the first place. My preference in overseas assignment had been Korea and that was what I requested. What came back, though, was an all-expense paid trip to the Fatherland.

I don’t know why I never liked Germany. It’s like asking someone why they don’t like grape soda or pineapples. I suppose those things just left a bad taste in one’s mouth and they were not appealing.

I might have known, though. Germany seemed to be in all of my family's cards. My grandfather fought there in World War I with the American Army. My father fought in Europe during World War II with the United States Army. My uncles and cousins either took part in the war or the occupation of Germany in the 1940s and 50s, and now I had spent my tour there. There should be a prize given to people who are third-generation occupiers/ ‘partners in peace’ -- maybe a blender or nice toaster or some such thing. A little something from Uncle Sam saying, ‘Thanks.’ Well, there were no blenders awarded. It was hard soldiering, though, and a lot of being in the field, the longest deployment being four months or so at a clip. A lot of living out of doors will make the time fly on a tour, as I recall it. However, my wife had not been such a big fan and she was very happy to be heading back to the Continental United States too.

During my time in the Army, I had trained and served as a paratrooper and never volunteered to be sent to a non-airborne unit. Airborne units are those that use airborne delivery systems for their soldiers and weapon systems and are considered more elite than other units in several ways. So, I thought non-airborne units to be a kind of punishment resplendent with sloppy soldiers, incompetent leaders and lots of getting things wrong while shouting very loudly. And, fresh from the XVIII Airborne Corps when I got there, I believed Garlstedt was going to be a poor experience for me immediately and remain in that status until departure. Quite the contrary, though, I made some of the best friends I ever had in my life there among the other enlisted men I served with. The unit was also top-notch.

This story is about after the battalion cleaned up and cleared out of the kaserne (what ‘forts’ were called in Germany then) and went back to Texas to join the main division again. While everyone else traveled en masse, my boss and I were travelling apart from everyone, in what amounted to my only European intrigue of the Cold War.

Like any other battalion, 4/41 possessed a relatively small amount of classified information that had to come back with the unit during the move. Half of the really important stuff were papers, the other half were fragile floppy disks that stored various kinds of information. None of this information could be, by treaty, examined by any airport official in Europe, or the United States as well for that matter, at least back then. It was all very routine stuff actually and really not anything that would shake the world anyhow. Nevertheless, there were regulations.

So my boss, 1Lt. John Smith (it’s a fake name I’m using for him), and I conferred with the Division (Forward) S-2 at Garlstedt and this is what they said: 1. When transporting the information both the courier and the escort must be armed; 2. The courier and escort must have paperwork to produce for the airport officials, as well as proper identification; 3. The carrier for the information must be durable, opaque, locked with a combination and always in the hands of the courier; and 4. The courier and escort must be in civilian clothes. Alright, sounds dramatic but there are good reasons for everything.

So my wife, household belongings and personal possessions went ahead. I said goodbye to the guys and ‘see them on the other side of the Atlantic.’ Then ‘John’ and I got ready for our trip. During my time in Germany, the guys in my small section spent more time with each other working than we did eating, sleeping or with our families combined. So, while the chain of command was strong, there was informality and sometimes first names bandied about between officers, NCOs and enlisted men. John and I were the last ones to leave Garlstedt from our unit. It was all very sad, actually, when it came to seeing the headquarters building emptied and our colors struck; still, life goes on. We got to the U.S. Air Force base at Rhein Mein, in Frankfurt, to begin our crossing. I forgot what kind of flight we were on (military or civilian), but to make sure all went well John handcuffed me to the large businessman’s  briefcase I was carrying. I was a little surprised. Between my M1911A1, .45-caliber pistol I carried, the magazines for it, and this weighty rock on my wrist, it was very uncomfortable and a blind man could see my pistol and the handcuffs on the case. What sports jacket was ever made to carry all of this stuff?

John was loving this chance to be all ‘Mr. Mysterious Intel Officer’ (hey, if I am using a false name I am telling the darn truth).  John was a former Marine who became an Army Intelligence Officer after attending college in a big redneck school out where people wearing shoes was a big deal. He was commissioned in the Military Intelligence Corps and immediately put in charge of an Advanced Individual Training company at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, which I was in, coincidentally, when I graduated from the Intelligence Analyst Basic Course there, in 1985. Consequently, John (a very capable officer) had only been assigned there and at Garlstedt and had no real seasoning with live work at that point.

Tactical units were rugged but S2 shops did not deal with any weighty missions or “live” intelligence work, where lives are at stake and aircraft plans were placed on microfilm and shoved up someone’s ass to cross checkpoints. The unit I had been assigned after Intel school and before Germany had been a shop that did a lot of “live work,” but I was never asked to transport classified anywhere.

When I was first assigned to my battalion, it was a shock when I found out I was going to work for John at 4/41 Infantry It was  like showing up for the first day of work and finding out your old English teacher was your boss. By and large the S-2 dealt with routine security matters, like security clearances and, in the field, “enemy” analysis during wargames. So, this was his over-eager chance to be cool. Of some note, he made sure he wore mirrored shades throughout the entire journey, even  indoors a good amount of the time. I couldn’t help but laugh a little. I was far too uncomfortable to be cool myself.

John and I had seen a fair amount of crap together, from a few "Storms of the Century," one in Germany and one in Denmark while the unit was deployed, to all of the highs and lows that come along with a tight-knit organization. Consequently, around people, especially soldiers, we always kept it formal. Alone, though, not so much. John and I had needed friends in each other more than he needed a specialist or I needed a first lieutenant. Therein, when we were away from people it was always informal, and irreverent most times.

Physically, it was awkward going from terminal to terminal, but it all worked out. The flight went from Frankfurt to Gander, Newfoundland, then another plane to some Air Force base in Georgia, and then onto the Air Force base adjacent to Ft. Hood.

The strange part happened in Gander, though. John and I were sitting alone along this wide concourse. Almost no one was there, except for airport workers. Most people on the flight were over in the restaurant area, but we wanted to be away from everyone for the sake of security. John ordered me to remain perfectly still there, though, despite the fact that, after a long flight, I needed to use the restroom. The key to my argument was ‘there is no one here and I have to -- have to -- take a leak.’ John, now a hard-ass, said “No.”

He asked me how he knew I was not going to trade the documents in the briefcase with blank pieces of paper in the restroom. I stared at him a moment to see if he was serious. He seriously asked me this. At that time, I was a young man very prone to going to the clubs at night alone or with my wife and sleeping in whenever the battalion wasn’t in the field: Who was letting me do that in Russia and get paid? And, there was no Busch Gardens or any other theme parks there, let alone anything decent to watch on television. On that basis alone, John should have known better.

I do not remember my whole response to that but the beginning part was ‘ ...are you fucking nuts? were you hit in the head with a shovel or something?’ The rest of my statement involved the fact that I was an intelligence analyst in the Army, who held a clearance and didn’t plan on going traitor in a Newfoundland bathroom, which I didn’t know existed yesterday!

He finally saw my point. But, as the discussion between us wound down, lo’ and behold, in comes an Aeroflot plane and it pulled up right next to ours, and people began to get off. It was right on time for some drama. Aeroflot was the national airline of the Soviet Union back then. John was staring intently, like some sled dog in the wild. I broke his revery by saying that the flight was most likely a bunch of business people and tourists doing what these people do in every country. He looked a little more comfortable. Besides, the passengers from the Russian plane were moving toward the restaurant area -- except two of them.

Two of them weren’t. Two big hairy guys, looking like extras in a Sylvester Stallone movie were walking toward our neck of the woods.

As if they were right out of Central Casting for “International Russian Bad People,” the guys wore thick, fur coats and those hats that looked like something furry was sleeping on their heads. They walked side-by-side, just as John and had been. They parked themselves about 30 meters from where we were. John was stock still, and so was I.

If this was going to be game time, full bladder or not, I suppose it was going to be game time. It was surreal to think Russians who were strapped were so near us. Their rigs were as concealed as mine, which wasn’t very at all. John had some nice suit and looked like a GQ model from a magazine cover. He looked like a shorter, redneck version of Daniel Craig as “James Bond.”

It was, after all, the Cold War. The Intelligence War during the Cold War was not always bloodless. People did get hurt, from time to time (usually when something was worth it, from what I read in the newspapers). Some people actually were killed. But, none of that changed the rock-hard truth that I was going to take a leak -- and do it real darn soon. The only question was where it was going to happen. My pride forbade me emptying my bladder into my only nice set of suit trousers.

To John I said in a low tone, ‘I am going to take a leak. Pissing does not mean my loyalty is wavering. It means I have to piss -- just like you;  Ltc. Voessler (our battalion commander); or Ronald Reagan (our then president). When ya gotta pee, ya gotta pee.’

Without a by-your-leave I headed to the bathroom in a strut looking far more confident than I was, with John closely following behind me. As I went to the bathroom, so did the two Russian guys. This wasn’t happening. How could this be happening?
So it wasn’t happening, I thought. Now!? Here!? It had to be here!?

John and I entered the bathroom and, as I fumbled for my fly (with the briefcase handcuffed to my wrist and my shoulder rig even less concealed than usual), John stood behind me like some fierce, quiet guard dog. Then, the Russian guys came in and one went to the urinal directly beside me, while his partner stood directly behind him, parallel to John. Similarly, the Russian man at the urinal was undoing his fly. Everyone looked incredibly nervous. You could hear a pin, or zipper, drop. By now, even I believed something shitty was going to happen, pardon the pun.

Myself and the Russian guy were urinating but everything else seemed frozen in time. The only sound was running urine for a moment. The absurdity of the moment struck me and I had to make a wiseass comment. Without being able to stop it, I said in a mock British accent, ‘A bit awkward, really.’

The Ruskies laughed. Even John did.

Meanwhile, I prayed nothing would happen. Do not get me wrong, John and I were in a dangerous profession -- and I didn’t mind dying. Well, I did but when you sign on to the Army you know the possibility comes with the territory somewhere.

But, I would prefer not perishing in a Newfoundland washroom with my trousers at half-mast: it was a bit too undignified a way to go for anyone. If we could all just wait a moment and shoot it out on the near-empty concourse I would have been eternally grateful to everyone present, even if I were killed. It never came down to that, though.

I zipped up after the undisputedly after the most tense washroom incident of my life before or after. The Russian did the same. I left first, followed by John, trailed by the Russian escort and then, I presume, the Russian courier last. Both groups went back to their respective slices of the concourse. With each passing moment, it seemed a little less likely something would happen until finally even John felt reasonably comfortable.

“Hope you enjoyed it. You’re not taking another one until Georgia,” John said.

Whatever. A thought struck me, though.

‘Say, John, if things did get bad in there, what was your plan?’

He answered clearly, “Well, I would have shot you so they could not get at the documents and then shoot them and use my key to get the briefcase off your arm.”

I was mad. It was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. ‘Oh, so, in other words, while I was trying to actually engage my closest target, the guy at the urinal (with my fly open at that), the urinal guy’s partner would have been shooting you, you would have been shooting me, as would, no doubt, the Ruskie urinal guy. Both of us would have died in a foreign bathroom and the bad guys or remaining bad guy would, no doubt about it, get the classified ash-and-trash we are bringing over. Do you see a fundamental flaw in this reasoning, Lieutenant James Bond, or can I offer my insight here?’ I said.

‘We should have shot the bad guys and not each other: that is my wisdom of the day. Shooting at each other while other people are shooting at us is insane,’ I said.

John was my friend, which was why he let me talk to him like that when we were alone. But, what was he thinking? He thought for a moment and then said, “I should have shot the guy’s partner as you shot the guy at the urinal.”

Well, give the man a prize.

I laughed. ‘Yes, sir. I’d have to agree with Plan B there. Plan A had me getting shot by both my partner in the back and the Russians, the whole time with my underwear wrapped around my shins. You could either plead treason or extreme stupidity to a court after that career-ender for you.’

“That would have been a bad idea for me,” he said out loud.

‘For you!? It would have been one hell of a lot worse for me, pal! I’m dead in this one. OK, so we have it straight for the rest of the flight...if anyone attacks me for the briefcase between here and Hood -- I vote we both shoot at them. Can I get an ‘Amen’’?’

Very seriously, John looks up and said, “OK, we’ll do it your way.”

How do you not laugh at that?

So, when we made it back to Ft. Hood with all of our fingers and toes, John finally took the damn briefcase off my wrist (which had turned green, by the by) and I was driven to the Holiday Inn, where my wife, Patty was waiting for me. I was tired. I didn’t want to talk. I smelled like an animal and I just wanted to sleep. I showered quickly, jumped in bed and woke up some hours later, at about 7 p.m.

I never did let John live down the near-bathroom shooting incident he contemplated for me that day. Of course ‘never’ was just three months, before he was promoted to captain and re-assigned within the Division. I stayed in the Army for a while longer, but didn’t have a chance to get caught with my pants down like that again, thankfully.


Friday, November 28, 2014

A Prayer of Peace

By Rev. J.J. Purcell

In all that we do, dear Lord,
Protect our homes and hearts,
From the ravages of the world.

And let us give thanks to You,
for Your love and blessings,
That are placed in our lives.

Steady my heart against the storm,
Ready my arms for Your tasks,
And protect my spirit against evil.

Let my country be wise, 
My family know love,
And my community prosper.

Watch over me as I walk in the world,
And guard me to stay on the rocky path,
Back home to Your house. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Army Professionalism: There are things to work on

By Rev. Jim Purcell

When I was a soldier, and my father, cousins and uncles before me, there was a spoken and unspoken rule in the service that 'Thou shalt not be fat,' among other things.

Why? Why such a rule?

Because good soldiers have not been, historically speaking, chubby. Being a fat soldier in the employ of someone as a soldier immediately informs the world of some things: 1. Whomever is hiring the fat soldier has made a mistake, is blind or has no idea how to staff an army; 2. The army the fat person belongs to is not keen on readiness, ergo it can afford to have fat people milling about; 3. Fat people are known to be lethargic, plagued with health problems and most are lazy; and 4. Good soldiers are not fat, so the fat soldier we are discussing is not a very good soldier.

When someone is a civilian, it would be mean-spirited to bring up the role of physical conditioning in someone's personal regimen. However, there is nothing in civilian life, including policing, that is very close to be a professional soldier in the nation's employ.

Soldiers historically have pressed uniforms, shined boots and brass to perfection and have done this not only because it is their duty but to demonstrate to the world they are sharp soldiers. This is a hallmark of their professionalism. Well, that is not done anymore.

The bayonet is gone. In the history of the U.S. Army Infantry, though, the bayonet was far more than just another appliance of war. It was a unifying theme to units. "The Bayonet" reflected a unit's determination, up to actual use of bayonets, to stand no matter what. No matter what comes, there they will stand. And, while that whole concept might fly over the head of a civilian as fast as a jet aircraft, the Spirit of the Bayonet was an appliance of war much more useful than actual bayonets ever were.

I have heard the excuse, "Well, this is a wartime army and they are not concerned with weight, or old ideas of professionalism and the trappings of armies in the past." Well, I will name a few other armies that had lost their want of the professional trappings of soldiery before their states waned: Rome, to the Visagoths; England in the time of Henry VI, when the king lost France; Napoleon, in Russia, when he simply poured recruits into French uniforms and bothered with only the most basic of training; and the list goes on and on. The firs thing great nations lose when they are on the decline is their military professionalism.

And what of today? There is more heinous UCMJ offenses today than I have ever seen before. Soldiers are less physically able than ever before, at least in the Army. Standards are lax and there are many "special units" formed that do not amount to the performance of traditional Army units before the great flood of non-professionalism in the administration of that failed Caesar George Bush.

What is the thing to do? Well, I do not know about the weighty issues of the military today. However, I think I speak with some experience and authority when I say: 1. If someone is fat and in the military they should be chaptered out; 2. Standards of personnel appearance should be reinstated immediately; and 3. Standards of personal conduct should be immediately improved. Of course, all of this happens in training. It is the lack of adequate training that is the scourge of an army. In chaos and poor training, an army is reduced to something less than admirable.

Standards. The military is eating precious dollars today that are being diverted from the people of this republic to them. The very least they could do is demonstrate the standards of their fathers, and imposing American armies of the past.

Eliminate the age of  so-called "operators" and return emphasis not to the 'very special' and back to intensive training of the mainline battle lions (battalions) of our Army and things will get better.

I would not ever say anything negative of our troops, as they are the best in the world. However, I believe there is room for improvement, as there is in every endeavor of life -- some more than others.

(Rev. Jim Purcell is a former U.S. Army Paratrooper who garnered the rank of Sergeant before being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, where he served in several Airborne assignments, as well as Light Infantry and Bradley missions between 1983-1991. He later continued service in the Reserves, where he served as a Military Police Officer briefly.)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

'News Entertainers' miss the mark in the American Republic

By Rev. J.J. Purcell

For most of my working years I was a journalist, and I will not feel remotely offended if anyone characterized these years by saying I was an 'activist journalist.' Yes, I was. Though that career is relatively long ago, and I have since found new interests and a new way of life, some part of me is still a writer/editor/publisher.

I was a child in the 1960s, though not of the 1960s. When people were marching against the Vietnam War, for Women's Rights, Civil Rights, No Nukes and against governmental corruption, I was barely out of diapers. But, those messages resonated with me the very moment I was aware of their importance, when I was still no taller than my Dad' knee, right up until today. This is not to say that I was ever blessed by the world or my loved ones for my strong opinions about the rights of others in this better-than-all-other countries. In contrast, I paid very dearly for advocating for the poor, for others' rights, civil liberties and against thieves and charlatans in office.

It turns out that thieves and charlatans in office seem to run things in this world, or at least the parts of it I have seen. And, no one bothered to tell me that these guys and gals would not relent when discovered and written about, and would be very angry, indeed, with me for trying to throw a flashlight on whatever they were doing that invoked the need for public examination.

You see, what I learned about "Journalism" came from Revolutionary thinkers, like Franklin and Payne, etc. And, those crafters of American Journalism regarded the News Industry as being yet another, more informal check or safeguard against tyranny. The News informed a responsive citizenry about the events of the day, using facts and records of transactions, eyewitnesses and expert opinions. Because, if arguments did not meet this level of credibility then they could not be worth very much. This was the difference between gossip and news -- the facts.

Today, ignorant  so-called "Conservative" masses want to arm themselves against imaginary threats, which most of them are too dense to understand in the first place, whereas it involves who is trying to take what from them under the guise of who knows. The American citizen today is less articulate, literate, informed, understanding of American history and more pliable by smooth-talking, well-groomed thieves than at any time before, in my opinion. Today -- 2014 -- represents a new 'low-water mark' for American intelligence, which has almost become a term that is mutually exclusive.

In my day, newspapers who were in conspiracy with certain political candidates and office holders, in Monmouth County, New Jersey, essentially blackballed me. Political activists holding government office, I have been told, made the rounds to advertisers that they would be "in trouble" if the powers that be took advertising in my old rag. And, business people do not want to subsidize crusade. Yes, I understand that.

However, at some point, discrimination, thievery of government funds by officials, outright racism, sexism, blatant corruption of office through many mechanisms (no-bid contracts and public purchases of land being the worst offenders) should be enough that, armed with the proof of these things, the public should be moved to right whatever was wrong. Yet, that is not my experience.

When someone becomes a "Conservative," something must happen to them. Blinders come down like air respirators from an airline seat overhand. The sound of the burst of air from those overhangs forbid the passenger from hearing a single thing being said around them. They cease noticing the world other than in the narrow reference of from their seat. And, once it has been accepted that everything wrong with the world lies in the poor, minority, women, homosexuals, immigrants and old people then there seems to be such a clarity of ignorance that it is used as eyeglasses for the rest of the now-Conservative's life.

There are Republicans and Conservatives who are Women, Black, Poor, Illegal Immigrants even: And, they are absolutely either insane or just barking ignorant.

People don't fight for things that are right anymore, and have not for a long, long time. In fact, judging by my experience, no one wants to hear a thing. No one wants to see a thing. They want whatever news they see to be in a video and not longer than 3 minutes so they can get 'caught up.' But not very much that is terribly serious can be said in 100 words, or spoken about effectively in a minute or a little more or less. Critical thinking demands a smidge more than that to have the fact set necessary for clear logic.

There is always the other side of the matter, though, and that song goes something like this: Put a good-looking girl into a short skirt, have her read from cue cards made up for her, bat her eyes and act really sincere about whatever it is she is reading from the cards. This is the explanation for how FOX News came about, in all of its 'glory.'

I was always a fan of newscasters like Bill Buetel and Roger Grimsby, both anchors at Channel 7 Eyewitness News in the '70s. There was nothing lovely about either of them. They were two old white journalists who covered stories the old-fashioned way -- by being there, reporting and taking pictures. While Bill was dapper enough, Roger was a bulgy eyed, caffeine-stained rumple who could never make it through the first cut of people looking for the next "Megyn Kelly." Of course, Bill had advantages. He was smart, honest, literate, no one's puppet and he had actual talent for news. So, him and Megyn would have been a horrible match on air.

Conservatives have learned to punish the messengers and provide whatever balms they must when dealing with the semi-conscious, preoccupied masses of the country today, the majority of whom are actually Democrats and more liberal than anyone feels comfortable about on the Right. They put on a show. There is smoke, mirrors and affable faces smiling. Oh yeah, they are stealing everything they find, beginning wars of luxury (forget about convenience anymore), undoing the work of the Civil Rights and Women's movements, and dragging our country, our nation straight through the mud to a dirty end. This is how great powers shrink and contract into obscurity. We are well along this road already.

For my part, as personally un-saint-like as I have been in my private life, I have never accepted a bribe (they've been offered), signed a story that I thought had one fact wrong, or stopped being activist until my retirement from public life. And, I can live with that score. I suppose journalists are not unlike ball players when they are about to retire: Did I do enough, was the work good enough, can I live with the record as it stands right now -- forever. One day, everyone who serves in those many professions where there is an expiration date on people and talent must one day be OK with whatever their career was, and not want to do one more day in it. Well, that's me, thank goodness.

To be patently clear, I do not see a lot of good journalism out there, other than in my state's paper of record, The Star-Ledger, or on TV at MSNBC. The rest of it is more "news entertainment." I remember when baseball players stopped calling themselves "ballplayers" and became "sports entertainers." And, I want to see them play on the field as much as I want to submit my eyes and ears to the shrill ranting of news entertainers as well. I'd so much rather have journalists giving me the news and ballplayers entertaining me by playing a good, solid match of whatever sport they are in. But, apparently, those are old-fashioned sentiments as well.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The 9 Competencies

The Nine Competencies of a Traditional Therapeutic Community

First published in 1981, Revised in November 2014      
by David H. Kerr

I have met with the “father” of the therapeutic community, Dr. Maxwell Jones[1]. Jones started the first therapeutic community in England in the 1940s, designed for returning veterans from the Second World War. Jones explained to me that the best way to help people was to engage them in helping themselves and others in a communal setting. This was the same design used at the Yale Psychiatric Institute and was later to be used by many TC’s around the world.  

The therapeutic community emphasizes a person’s relationship with the surrounding community as a prime indicator of health and well-being. The tenants of AA and NA are important, and meetings organized under the twelve steps are common in many TCs even today. Positive behavior and attitudinal change are promoted and practiced and expected in the long-term TC and this encourages a positive demonstrated lifestyle change by program completion. This is in contrast with today’s focus on the “patient” or “client” as the recipient of help rather than as the key to providing help.  With that in mind, there are nine competencies listed below that should be understood and practiced by a counselor/coach working in a therapeutic community or TC:

Competence 1: Understanding and promoting upward mobility and the privilege system
Definition of CompetenceNothing in a therapeutic community except basic human rights is awarded without being earned by the member i.e. there is no “free-lunch” in the TC. The system of advancement and rewards, as well as imposed sanctions is clearly spelled out and understood by each new TC member. Examples of some privileges that must be earned in a therapeutic community include passes or furloughs, letter writing, dating, advancement in the community structure, visits, eligibility for work, school, etc. It is the belief in the therapeutic community that when status and recognition are earned and owned, the positive effects are much more permanent. Privileges that are unearned are soon taken for granted, promoting an attitude of selfishness in community members that doesn’t bode well for recovery.

Competence 2: Understanding and promoting self-help and mutual-Help
Definition of Competence: Members of a community working together to help themselves and each other; a self-help environment is a supportive environment with loving concern rather than selfishness; an environment emphasizing human understanding; an environment that emphasizes self-responsibility and deemphasizes people being serviced or the traditional service model.

Competence 3: Understanding and promoting the concept of “no we-they dichotomy.”
Definition of Competence: Attempts should be made to create a structure that reduces the barriers between “helper” and “helpee.” The “helpee,” or student member, should be looked at as possessing equal capabilities and potential as the “helper,” or staff facilitator or coordinator or coach. In a therapeutic community, members help themselves and each other; while staff, facilitate this process. The fact that the staff is usually paid and members are not makes it impossible to eliminate this dichotomy completely. However, fostering this dichotomy encourages the traditional service model.  Here the student members are seen more as helpless patients. The staff assumes the role of providing advice and counsel rather than coaching and support. To the extent that this dichotomy between staff and student member exists, the TC effectiveness is diminished.

Competence 4: Understanding and practicing the concept of “acting as if”[2]
Definition of Competence: If a person acts a certain way long enough, that individual soon will feel that way and, in fact, reorient his lifestyle in that direction. The therapeutic community emphasizes acting pleasant or happy, even though members (or staff) may have problems or feel bad. This “act-as-if” philosophy supports a positive therapeutic community environment that, in turn, supports other members acting and thinking positively. Despondent and depressing attitudes or clownish or negative behaviors are often infectious and counterproductive in a small community. One individual’s problems or issues can easily become a major crisis for the entire therapeutic community family.

Competence 5: Understanding the relationship between belonging and individuality
Definition of Competence“Without something to belong to, we have no stable self, and yet total commitment and attachment to any social unit implies a kind of selflessness. Our sense of being a person can come from being drawn into a wider social unit; our sense of selfhood can arise from little ways in which we resist the pull. Our status is backed by the social buildings of the world, while our sense of personal identity often resides in the cracks.[3]” Generally, the priority of the initial phase of the therapeutic community is on ownership and belonging, while individuality and self-realization are stressed in the latter phase of the therapeutic community. The term “belonging” connotes a sense of ownership and identification with the community and the people therein. Fostering belonging encourages members’ belief that the therapeutic community will help them. Belonging also encourages team activities and group spirit, which enhances self-esteem. It also encourages a search for personal identity, which requires support and nurturing, as does encouraging a sense of ownership in the program; belonging and individuality maintain a dialectic relationship throughout the therapeutic community program. Emphasis is placed initially on “belonging,”while “individuality” is stressed at a later stage in the recovery process. Too much weight placed on the area of belonging, however, encourages cultist and unchecked devotion to a cause; while overemphasis on individuality may support selfishness, causing members to lose sight of the need for support for and help from others.

Competence 6: Understanding of social learning versus didactic learning
Definition of Competence: Social learning or experiential learning in a TC is best described as the natural process of “growing up” or maturing. Didactic learning occurs with cognitive or intellectual communication of ideas or thoughts from one individual to another. In the therapeutic community, didactic learning takes place in the form of seminars, schooling, or lectures; while social learning embraces TC concepts, including, but not limited to, role modeling, peer pressure, learning by experience, and the “family concept” and social order. Didactically offering advice, or providing a service to a student member, by advising him/her what to do is not considered in a TC the most effective way to enhance personal growth, although it might be necessary from time to time. Social learning, however, as in osmosis, is a process by which TC members absorb information, suggestions, and TC concepts to improve their behavior and attitude. While this process supports didactic learning, the TC is most effective when there is practice of new behaviors and continuing feedback from other student members and staff during the normal functioning in the residential community.

Competence 7: Understanding the need for a belief system within the community
Definition of Competence: Most cultures or societies are guided by a written or unwritten set of beliefs, values, mores, spiritual guidelines, rules and regulations, or laws. Most therapeutic community proponents agree with the definition mentioned above, that in the TC, something greater than the individual member is at work in their lives, facilitating and enhancing the positive social learning process. Each therapeutic community, however, has a slightly different set of beliefs; and, in fact, some belief systems may be radically different than others. As long as the therapeutic community belief system is reflective of the larger society’s system of values, mores, and beliefs, and is ethical, there is no need to question or criticize a programs particular set of beliefs. This concept is designed to separate a cult of radical beliefs from a TC that reflects the positive norms of the larger society.

Competence 8: Understanding and practicing positive role modeling
Definition of CompetenceThe behavior and attitude of a staff coach must exert a positive influence over the community members. Since much learning and growth occurs through the process of modeling behavior or imitating others, it is important that the coach understands the need to set a positive example. A positive example does not mean inflicting the coach’s personal values and mores on the student member. Both staff and student members must be encouraged to be positive models.  For example, if there are primarily black members in a community, it is more natural to hire black staff members to facilitate more effective identification and role modeling. If most TC student members are recovering people with mental health issues, then there should be some long term clean and sober certified recovering addicts who have overcome their mental health issues employed as staff members.

Competence 9: High Expectations
Definition of Competence: This is another essential process that must function at a high level in the TC. The TC expects much of its student members and its staff, and although incoming student members bring with them a long and troubling past, they should not be seen as helpless. These student members are not to be referred to as “patients,” The concept of “high expectations” demonstrates why it is not appropriate for TCs to use the word “patient,” a word that describes a helpless person. Once the “patient” label is tacked on, the concept of “high expectations” becomes questionable since we then have a “we-they” or counselor-patient environment possibly limited by a counselor’s expectations. That said, the TC must recognize the different levels of functioning of student members needing support and coaching, so as to guide the process of self-help and mutual-help based on individual needs.

[1] The therapeutic community: A new treatment method in psychiatry” Maxwell Jones
[2] “Success or failure depends more upon attitude than upon capacity; successful men act as though they have accomplished or are enjoying something. Soon it becomes a reality. Act, look, feel successful, conduct yourself accordingly, and you will be amazed at the positive results.”  From William James.
[3] Erwin Goffman, Asylums, Garden City: Doubleday and Company Inc., 1961

CI Analysis and Cpt. "Bear" Anderson

By Jim Purcell

Throughout the last part of 1985 and nearly all of 1986, I was a 20 year-old Army Intelligence Analyst assigned to Co. A, 319th MI Battalion, 525th Military Intelligence Brigade (CBT) (CEWI) (ABN) at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Though I reported to a company area not far from the 19th Replacement at the XVIII Airborne Corps, I actually did my work across the parking lot from the Corps' Headquarters, in the basement of the Directorate of Security, at the XVIII ABC Counterintelligence Analysis Branch, where, despite my extreme youth (and inability to grow more than peach fuzz on my face) I was assigned as the Senior Human Intelligence Analyst for the 12-person shop. At the time, I was every bit a Private First Class but eventually earned Specialist 4th Class at the section.

To begin with, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states counterintelligence is: "Organized activity of an intelligence service designed to block an enemy's sources of information, to deceive the enemy, to prevent sabotage, and to gather political and military information." Another definition is: "Activity meant to hide the truth from an enemy or to prevent the enemy from learning secret information." So, now we all know the ballpark we are playing in.

At the time, CI Analysis was the main Counterintelligence agency for the entire Corps, which meant, specifically: the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, the 24th Infantry Division, 525th MI Bde, Corps Artillery, 35th Signal Brigade, 1st Corps Support Command, the Dragon Brigade and a few other units. Additionally, at that time, the XVIII ABC commander, then-LTG James "Jumping Jim" Lindsey also had operational control of several specialized units when the Corps was mobilized as the U.S. Rapid Deployment Force, when placed in that status by the National Command Authority.

CI Analysis dealt with CI needs throughout the Corps' physical area, as well as its needs in its areas of influence and interest. Since the Corps' mission was to be the Airborne first response by the United States anywhere on the planet Earth in 18 hours, that left the mission pretty wide open. It was safe to say no one was contemplating a Russian or Chinese invasion, and no one was talking about any smack in Malaya, but aside from that it was anyone's game, anywhere.

As one might imagine, the shop's business was classified, without exception. So, I will not flirt with any disclosures. Instead, I will not mention any of our work, or where that work was focused. Instead, I would like to use this space to discuss the way the shop was led and how its commander, CPT (later MAJ) John P. Anderson (I faked up his name a bit), organized his people functionally for success, focusing on compartmentalization, old-fashioned studying, instructing the finer points of sound, real-world analysis and building esprit d'corps throughout. I will also say one or two stories that were funny.

Let's lead with 'funny.' I have been dying to print this story since 1986 and cannot see why I should not for a moment longer. So, CPT Anderson, who was nicknamed "Bear" by people in the shop for not only his stature, which was heavily muscled and hairy, but also because he tended to be very thoughtful and work for long periods of time in his office. He would address various missions the shop had fastidiously. In fact, he was not unlike a bear, hibernating in his office and moving around the shop, going about the business of checking his stores.

Well, the Bear was also a Jumpmaster, and a great trooper. He had commanded a Field Artillery Battery in the 82nd before switching over to the  MI career field and was non-nonsense, while being very versatile and competent. So one day he was jump-mastering this flight over -- I think -- Sicily Drop Zone at Bragg. Anyway, though the plane, in this case a US Air Force C-130 Hercules, was operated by the pilot and crew, the jumpmaster -- him -- had control enough to allow the 64 paratroopers to exit the aircraft while still in flight when the questioned turned to if the aircraft may or may not crash -- without the consent of the pilot or crew -- and to their surprise.

I don't know what happened mechanically. I would wager CPT Anderson was never apprised of what exactly went wrong with the aircraft that day. But, in his words when he came back to the office that day, he said to someone on the phone, "I wasn't going to hang around and put these guys in danger while [the flight crew] was [figuring it out] either." Yes, the Bear cursed. Loudly and profoundly when roused to anger by stupidity.

Apparently, the flight he was on had real problems. The long and the short of it was that there was a feeling by everyone there, probably the flight crew too, that the aircraft may go down. So, rather than going down with the paratroopers inside the aircraft, he opted to let them out and leave the flight crew to deal with their issues. Thankfully, they did and the flight landed safely back at Pope Air Force Base, co-located with Bragg. But there was hell to be had. When the troopers left the aircraft, the unexpected weight loss, I am told,  made the plane harder to control for a few moments.

No one from the shop was on the flight but we became mannequins as CPT Anderson roared his displeasure with the Air Force trying to castigate him for trying to maintain the lives of 63 other soldiers. He did not speak kindly to them. They did not speak kindly to him. And, the Bear's supervisors, while apparently sympathetic with him, officially had to bring him to task.

Still, the CI Analysis Branch was made up of mostly Airborne soldiers and when Anderson left for lunch that day, SSG Mark Smith (again, swapped out the name), a CI Agent who came over from the 82nd just a few weeks before, said aloud: "Now there is a [gosh darn] jumpmaster! Just because the Air Force can't fly their plane they expected his troopers to die up there too? F-them! That man is hung like a damn dinosaur!" I laughed until I almost fell over in my chair.

One of the other, non-Airborne CI Agents said, "Well, don't you think he should have consulted with the crew before he made the call?" SFC Whitmore, who was both genius and cranky most of the time walked straight over to the NCO's desk, lowered his head and said quietly, "Are you a dumbass? Cause you're sure as [heck] talking like one. You don't smell like one -- but you sound like it." Whitmore was both Airborne and one of the few CI Agents still in service from the Vietnam War. He could curse someone out and make it feel like art. He restrained himself that particular day, but he gave the old man a lot of credit for what he did.

By the time I had gotten back to the Company Area, word had spread. Though Anderson was never one to crow about his achievements, he was the talk of the day. I never heard these MI troopers, most of whom were as vain of their intellect as they were of their toughness as paratroopers, go on so glowingly about anyone ever before, or hence -- especially an officer! If the Bear was Catholic and we were in Rome, someone would have made him Pope before he returned from chow.

If someone were to offer CPT Anderson any kind of praise, he wouldn't know what to do with it. He knew how to work. He knew how to lead. But, he didn't know what the heck to do with a compliment. I think all of the support he got would have taken him by surprise if he knew about it. I don't know if he ever found out, but the Army spreads gossip faster than a quick greyhound can be in the money at the track.

Though he had ruffled some Zoomy Officers ("zoomy" was a term of affection we had for the Air Force) -- the boss took the heat for making a call. A lot of people never find out if they have a set that big. He did and may very well have saved some lives if the mechanical issue had gone another way. Though he was never "Mr. Popularity" with pencil pushers, I don't know a trooper who didn't look up to the man when his name was spoken.

Well, he told me once that the section -- CI Analysis -- was as much his brainchild as it was an official section in the Master Table of Organization and Equipment for the Corps. In this age before computerization, Anderson organized the office by missions, and had the staff working in specific teams for specific missions. Working with a handful of Counterintelligence Agents, Electronic Warfare Analysts, Signal Intercept Analysts, and the lone ranger here for Human Intelligence Analysis, he worked us like a football coach would a team.

On one project, there would be two agents, a signal analysts, maybe me and maybe not. Perhaps the shop's language specialist would be in on that one. The teams regularly changed with the 'plays' being made. I was involved in 3 or 4 projects -- one very seriously. Meanwhile, I would be supporting the other projects I was in, and absolutely oblivious to the others circling around me -- and there were many. In the midst of all of our work, in so many places around the globe, there was Anderson -- like the late Conductor Arthur Fiedler of the Boston Pops -- controlling the band from the podium. No computers. No army of analysts. And, the work was outstanding. OK, I may be prejudiced, but the work I was aware of was absolutely good.

For my part, whenever I would interrupt Anderson, who was really the chief analyst in the Corps (if you ask me), for a moment's time to explain something or give me an opinion -- he did. Though famous for his anger when ticked off, Anderson was also a bona fide genius where it involved counterintelligence. There could not have been a better teacher for the work. And, that I rarely caused him to wonder how I came up with particular analyses was, as I took it, some proof I listened to what he had to say.

An old drinking buddy from the section said, when sober on one occasion, that there is no strategic mission anywhere that is more dynamic, at that point in time, than what we were doing. He loved it a lot. A hold-over from the old Army Security Agency days of a decentralized approach to intelligence during the Vietnam Era, SFC Jones (yup, fake name) said, "I do believe there is not another carnival sideshow I would rather be in than this one right here. And...we even have a talking bear." Jones had been in the Army 21 years at that point and said he had gotten more done in the last 2 years than he had the 10 before that combined. I offered, 'So this is the show?'

Jones looked up to me and said, "Yeah, kid, just like the NFL, which means 'Not For Long' if you mess up. So stay straight." Eventually I moved on. Everyone did in the Army back then. But I never forgot CI Analysis, the way an old Indy racer never forgets his first racecar. It brought me a lot of places I had no idea I would go, but was glad to have taken the ride.

(Jim Purcell is a former U.S. Army Paratrooper and Intelligence Analyst (96B2P), who graduated from the Intelligence Analyst Course at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona from the United States Army Intelligence Center and School. He served in a variety of assignments, including at the XVIII Airborne Corps, 7th infantry Division, 2nd Armored Division and the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT), among others. During his service, Mr. Purcell earned the rank of Sergeant/E-5.)