Why We Still Have the Bomb? I’ll Tell You Why


I just finished reading an opinion piece from CNN by former Undersecretary of Defense for Research and and Engineering during the Carter Administration William J. Perry, and Tom Z. Collina, director of policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security fund based in Washington, D.C. Their article Why do we Still Have the Bomb? gives a quick gloss over the future plans of the American nuclear arsenal, how President Trump is wanting to devote up to $1 Trillion dollars to upgrading and adding to the nuclear stockpile, and how Black Lives Matter is related to the anti-nuke protests of decades past.

The opinion article is making the case that President Trump is somehow responsible for the deterioration of the nuclear arsenal, and that he is also morally bereft in wanting to rejuvenate our nuclear capabilities by upgrading and improving our weapon systems. The threat of China emerging as the economic superpower in the future, in addition to Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine and the extension of Russian influence into the Balkans means that strategically, the upgrade and development of American nuclear capabilities should be pursued.

The balance of power between the United States and the U.S.S.R during the Cold War was maintained by the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The armies of the U.S. and Soviet Union never directly engaged in conventional warfare; the threat of nuclear launch of ICBM’s from the American continent and tactical missiles that were stationed in Germany until 1990 assured the Soviets that complete destruction was inevitable. On the other side, Soviet ICBM’s and the formerly deployed SS-20 Sabre nuclear missile system in the Ukraine threatened both the heartland of the United States, and the 300K American soldiers stationed throughout Western Europe.

The answer to Why Do We Still Have The Bomb? is simple. As long as other nations have “the bomb”, the United States will need to keep the Bomb. Having nuclear weapons is the number one deterrent to aggression against the United States directly, and America’s allies, including Israel, indirectly.

A better question may be, “Why do THEY Still Have the Bomb?”

Russia: The Paradox of a Frenemy


I remember the nuclear ‘duck and cover’ drills as a child. As soon as the loud siren sounded, we were to take our books from the top of the desks and slowly place them on floor. Calmly, we were to then lower ourselves to desktop level, and try and slide our bodies underneath the desk. When situated, we then had to fold our hands behind our heads in a protective position.

That’s it. That was the extent of the training we received to held protect us in the event of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. Even at the time it felt rather simplistic and naive to believe a wooden desktop would stop 300mph winds from a nuclear blast over Chicago. But that was all we knew. Except of course the fall-out shelters, with the symbol of radioactive posted below those very words, which were on placards that were placed on the outside of libraries and government buildings.

This is one of the experiences that had me wondering about the Soviets themselves and the massive army that supposedly waited to invade Western Europe and destroy democracy. They were the bogeymen of the Cold War, a seemingly invincible army that would march through Europe en-masse to destroy and replace the European governments with communism.

This was the stigma we were taught, and in the Army at the age of 17, it was enforced. We had no idea that the world was going to change 2 short years after basic training, The collapse of the Soviet Union came as a surprise to us, and now the once legendary Red Army ceased to exist.

After returning to the States after spending almost 8 years in Germany, I noticed a change. In addition to the European groups that had planted roots in the Chicago area for almost a century, a new group of people arrived. First, Brighton Beach in New York (also known as Little Odessa), became an enclave of new Russian immigrants to America. Chicago became another attractive area for Russians, especially on the far North Side of the city and northern suburbs. When I began work in the trucking industry in the late 1990s, not only was I dealing with former Yugoslavians, Polish, Lithuanian, Romanian and Ukrainian customers; Russians and people from the other countries of the former Soviet Union were now entering the industry.

These former enemies, the one’s that I was taught to fear and hate during training in the Army, now became my friends and acquaintances. It was no longer only necessary to speak a few words of Polish, Croatian or Lithuanian; it was now almost a given to be able to speak a few words of Russian. And since many of these former countries were part of the Warsaw Pact, they also spoke Russian, helping me learn more of the language and culture.

I am happy that our differences during the Cold War did not lead to a nuclear armageddon, and I am also thankful that I did not carry my stinging contempt for the people of the former Soviet Union into my adulthood. I would have lost out on making lasting friendships, and of learning the true history and culture of the Russian people.


Veteran Pension Now Available to All Veterans


The VA has introduced a pension program that is available to all veterans who served during a period of war, regardless if they served 20 years or more. Wartime includes:

Mexican Border period (May 9, 1916, to April 5, 1917, for Veterans who served in Mexico, on its borders, or in adjacent waters)
World War I (April 6, 1917, to November 11, 1918)
World War II (December 7, 1941, to December 31, 1946)
Korean conflict (June 27, 1950, to January 31, 1955)
Vietnam War era (February 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period. August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam.)
Gulf War (August 2, 1990, through a future date to be set by law or presidential proclamation)

This pretty much covers a majority of veterans, excepting those who served exclusively in the 1980s (I know, this decade is jinxed). As long as you are a veteran with an honorable discharge, and meet the VA’s income eligibility, at the age of 65 a veteran (or his surviving spouse) can receive a small monthly pension, depending on dependent size and yearly income. There are many variable involved with the payment amounts, but it looks like a married veteran who meets the eligibility requirements can receive around $1200 monthly.

This may not seem to be much in payment, but I remember a time when there were almost no benefits for veterans who did not actually serve in a war zone. They were like the military’s forgotten children. I would hope that the VA would do more for non-combat veterans, especially those who are struggling with employment and housing.

To find out if you qualify, and for more information, please go to the Veteran Administration’s website for pension information at https://www.va.gov/pension/eligibility/

64th Ordnance at the Edge of the World


I was excited when I first arrived at Fischbach bei Dahn, the German town in which the 64th Ordnance Company was located. I just turned 18 years old, and I felt as if I was on an adventure to explore the unknown in foreign country. At first, I was gung-ho, and tried to walk that straight path by following every Army protocol properly, adhering to procedures of personal appearance and dress, and carrying myself as a representative of the U.S. Army in Germany.

My mindset was straight…for a while. And by a while, I mean the first few weeks. What I discovered at the 64th Ordnance Company was that we were on the very outskirts of the entire 59th Ordnance Brigade; a small 200 person depot on 1500 acres on the border of France. The town Fischbach was miles away, and if a soldier did not have personal transportation, they had to rely on a bus that showed up every few hours to take soldiers to Pirmasens, the city in which the 197th Battalion Headquarters was located, and where all the action was. I learned that being stuck on a depot in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do after 5pm could get a soldier in trouble. And by trouble, I mean alcohol. And lots of it.

I did not think anything of it at first. Everyone was drinking in the EM (Enlisted Members) club after work. We would order pizza, and sit around drinking until late evening. At the beginning, this was only on the weekends for me. After months of being stationed there, my drinking became an everyday occurrence. We would leave the secure site at 4pm, go eat chow, take a shower and change clothes, then start drinking. It got to the point where I was drinking every day of the week, waking up in the morning still drunk or hanging-over, doing PT, then heading to the secure site. It was eating me alive, and I knew it. There were others like me, all young men and women who were stationed at the edge of the Brigade’s AOR, stuck at a place with little to no recreational activities except for alcohol. Usually with alcohol comes the related problems of arguing, physical violence and broken relationships.

One of my Warrant Officers told me that I was heading down the wrong path. I was hanging around with the wrong people; the troublemakers and those who won’t complete an entire enlistment. I looked at him like he was a prudish Debbie-Downer. What did he know? I was 18, and I had everything figured out. Later, his words rang true when some of my friends were discharged for various reasons, most concerning alcohol. Towards the end of my time at Fischbach, especially when there were only 2 of us left (nuke-techs) and we were transferred to Muenchweiler Depot to wait for our ETS (my case) or PCS (his case) did the Warrant Officer’s words finally penetrate my thick skull. I slowed down with the drinking, and started to take life more seriously.

In retrospect, there were so many other activities I could have accomplished if I had moderated my alcohol use. I could have hunted for Roman and Celtic artifacts in the hills around Fischbach. I could have also became more involved in the German art scene. I am only happy that I followed that certain WO’s advice. Alcohol and me due not get along anymore, and have’t since the early 1990s.

I am still planning on digging up artifacts in Fischbach and the neighboring areas in the near future. I will then make up for lost time.

Cold War Conversations Podcast and Keeping History Alive


I came across the Cold War Conversations website a few weeks ago while replying to posts on Twitter. After following the link to their website, I came across a wonderful site devoted to keeping the history of the Cold War alive. Ian Sanders, the host and producer of CWC has been instrumental in keeping the history alive, whether it is interviewing former U.S. and U.K soldiers who were vital in their roles in defending Western Europe from the Soviet Block, to former students and media figures who were on the other side of the Berlin Wall during this contentious time in history.

I find it fascinating that Ian and crew are on their 5th season, and have produced 120 episodes to date. Their perseverance in keeping history alive in welcome in these uncertain times in which those who had not lived through the Cold War Era may be able to draw from its history for comparison.

Living through the Cold War was a strange time; though the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed over the horizon for decades, everyday citizens in both Blocs carried on with their lives. Thankfully, this time has passed, though new threats have emerged from the ashes of communism and radicalism around the world. Through his podcast, Ian is helping us all understand the times we lived in, by reestablishing facts that we are familiar with, and presenting new information and personal experiences that have not found their way into historical academic records.

To listen to episodes of Cold War Conversations, or if you are just interested in the Cold War in general, please visit Cold War Conversations at https://coldwarconversations.com/ and you can follow them on Twitter @ColdWarPod

Financial Compensation for Veterans in Illinois


The State of Illinois offers a one-time financial award of $100 for eligible veterans who served during wartime. The program applies to veterans who served during WW2, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf War. It also applies to those who recieved the Global War on Terrorism Award (Operation Iraq Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn) for time served during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. 

All service members must have resided in Illinois for 12 months immediately prior to their enlistment, and have an honorable discharge. The information can be found at the Veteran Resources page of the State of Illinois here.

Though the $100 compensation seems small, it is a way for the State of Illinois to show appreciation for our veterans who served during periods of conflict. This compensation is in addition to the other benefits and programs that are available for Illinois veterans from the state. I have written about the burial benefits here, and also the Illinois Veteran Grant here, that pays for up to a bachelors degree at any Illinois public education institution. These are advantages that every Illinois veteran should take advantage of. 

Veteran Burial Benefits


I know this is a subject that we do want to think about. We were young once, full of life and perhaps a bit “wild”. Some of us started families, others went straight to college after the military, and still others made the military their career, and accomplished all of the above. The fact is, we are mortal, and will need to make a hard decision about our own funeral arrangements. The information I am providing is for burial at a national cemetery.

I promised to write about this topic in my post here about requesting your DD214 if it has been lost or destroyed. Having your DD214 at hand is a requirement for gaining access to your burial benefits from the VA. A few years ago, I filled out the request online, and I was sent information via snail mail. The packet included information about the cemetery (in my case, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, IL.). You need to fill out the information requested, including whether or not you want to be cremated or have a full burial. You also must choose a marker for your headstone, and as of 2019 there are many available, everything from the Christian cross to the Star of David to Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer (for pagans). I filled out the forms, picked my symbol for the headstone, and mailed the information in. The form is VA Form 21P-530, and can be downloaded from the VA website here

Remember, the benefit is not only for the veteran. A veteran’s spouse and minor children also fall under coverage in the benefit. 

There are not many benefits that non-combat veterans can apply for and receive, but the burial benefit is one that should be taken advantage of. I am coming across more information daily about the benefits that are becoming available for non-combat veterans. Just recently, I found out that a veteran pension is available for non-combat and non service-related disabled veterans. This pension is available for veterans or their surviving spouses over the age of 65 with limited or no income. This is just one of the many benefits that are becoming more available for veterans. 

How to Request a Copy of a DD214


A few years ago, I had to request a copy of my DD214. My original copies were so bad they were barely legible, and some information (awards) were left off the DD214 when I ETS’d (end term of service). 

Every veteran knows that having a legible copy of a DD214 is a lifesaver. We use it for VA home loans, veteran license plates, and identification cards. We also need it as proof to get a plot at a national cemetery (more info on that later). If you lose your DD214, don’t panic. They are easy to replace.

The information is now easily obtainable through the VA.gov page which redirects you to setup an account with milconnect. Once there, you will have to create an account, and follow the instructions on how to file to get your discharge papers. Milconnect is also useful for many other benefits that are available for veterans and their families. 

Once I filed the information, it took about six weeks for my DD214 to arrive. There was no cost to me, and is provided as a service for veterans. If you want to get military records for deceased family members, there may be a fee involved. 

The Death of Qasem Soleimani should Unify Americans, not Drive them Apart.


After the recent killing of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by American drones while he was driving in a motorcade outside of the Baghdad Airport has sent shock-waves throughout Iran, and tensions between the political parties within the United States. While most conservatives applaud the action, the democrats have locked stepped in their condemnation of what they are erroneously referring to as an “assassination”. In a pressing time of heightened tensions in the Middle East, created in large part by Iranian backed militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the threat of violent terror attacks against American and allied interests in the area have been either committed or planned by Soleimani. 

That Soleimani was behind the recent attack on the American embassy in Baghdad was no secret. He had been a destabilizing factor in the region for over 20 years, and had been directly involved in the murders of Iraqi civilians and American service members by ordering his militias to attack both Americans and Iraqi Sunnis alike. His death was celebrated in Iraq, though it had received little coverage here in the United States. 

The Israelis, Saudis and Sunni Iraqis have known for years that Soleimani was a terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands. Yet his death has caused division here in the United States. At this crucial moment, when Iran has been creating more tension by the shooting down of an American drone, or the attacks on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and more recently an attack on a Saudi oil field, Americans should unify behind President Trump and justification for neutralizing the head of a designated terrorist group, the Quds Forces. 

Pritzker Museum’s “Stories of Service”


I am happy to have been a part of the Pritzker Military Museum’s Oral History Program. Earlier in November 2018, the museum staff put together a short montage of veterans who participated in the program. A small scene from my interview can be seen towards the end of the video. You can view the video here: http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/whats_on/video-rucksack/2018-oral-history-video/

Please support the museum. They are striving to preserve the histories of veterans who served in America’s armed forces.