The Mil & Aero Blog
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
  Super Tuesday treats (this blog entry is not about politics)
Posted by Courtney E. Howard

I am done with politics, for now anyway. After Sen. Obama's 30-minute TV special tonight, I will no longer subject my eyes, ears, and mind to political fodder. I encourage you to get out and vote...and then reap some rewards. In addition to reveling in the satisfaction of having done your civic duty, you can gain other rewards for voting this coming Tuesday. No kidding.

Companies such as Ben & Jerry's and Krispy Kreme are rewarding voters with their highly regarded confections. Show your "I voted" sticker after leaving the polls at either locale (during certain hours), and gain a free scoop of ice cream or a free doughnut. The free doughnut is star-shaped, with patriotic (red, white, and blue) sprinkles, no less! More than 21,000 Facebook users have confirmed that they will participate in the after-poll, ice-cream party. Chick-fil-a is offering a similar voter special, I hear.

Only in America! Enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you voted your conscience, as well as a tasty treat. No tricks, just treats -- finally a harrowing political season pays off for Joe the Voter!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008
  Troops trending toward McCain

Posted By John McHale

If you haven't seen it yet, the Army Times released a poll that showed military personnel support Sen. John McCain over Sen. Barack Obama 68 percent to 23 percent in next week's presidential election.

The Army Times notes that this was a poll of career officers and does not represent the military as a whole. The selected group was much older. Brendan McGary, Army Times staff writer reported on the poll.

According to McGary's story it was a "voluntary survey of 4,293 active-duty, National Guard, and reserve subscribers and former subscribers to Army Times, Navy Times, Marine Corps Times, and Air Force Times."

Does that mean that this sampling is made up of independent/swing voters or life-long conservatives who always vote republican regardless of the candidate?

In other words if Obama had identical views to McCain on the national defense and Iraq, but still differed on the economy, would they results still be the same?

According to McGary's story Iraq was the third most important issue, with character being number one. In 2004 the same Army Times poll had Iraq as the number one issue, McGary reports.

That year the same poll had Bush with similar numbers to McCain this year. He had 68 percent and John Kerry had 19 percent, according to the article.

The poll is just a small sampling to be sure, but a much different picture to the country as a whole.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
  Mil-aero side effects

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

Some friends, colleagues, and I took in Iron Man on DVD the other night. It is not uncommon that a group of friends, having just watched a flick together, would deconstruct it, explore its nuances, ponder its lessons and potential applications to real life, and so on. When those people work in or have experience with the military and aerospace industry, however, it can be an entirely different ballgame.

Iron Man in this environment was followed by intellectual and impassioned discussions on International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), electro-optics, electronic warfare (EW), radar, high-performance computing, intellectual property, and more.

Like most journalists my age, I have covered several industries; but, I must admit, none have lent to so much heated and thought-provoking debates as the mil-aero market. I love it!

In fact, tell me what you think about Iron Man: Would today’s ITAR prevent our best weapons technologies from reaching the hands of terrorists/those who would turn them against us? Are the primes’ engineers and scientists at risk of abduction? If so, should they, and the intellectual property they possess in their mental Rolodex (the comprehensive knowledge and proverbial filing cabinet in one's brain), never leave the country? What do you think of how vendors and contractors serving the military market were portrayed in the film?
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
  Recommending "Jawbreaker"

Posted by John McHale

Over the weekend I finished "Jawbreaker," a book on CIA efforts in Afghanistan to defeat Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. It's the personal account of Gary Bernsten the CIA's field commander in Afghanistan following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He co-wrote the book with Ralph Pezzullo.

It reads like a thriller novel, a quick-paced page turner, even though we basically know the outcome -- the U.S. succeeds brilliantly in defeating the Taliban but still doesn't get bin Laden.

Bernsten hits hard with his criticism of President Clinton, former CIA Director George Tenet, and the bureaucracy of the "seventh floor" at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., for failing to act years before the attacks and for not doing everything to get bin Laden afterwards.

He was particularly harsh on Tenet for closing CIA operations in Afghanistan and other unfriendly countries prior to Sept. 11, 2001

Bernsten said he was chosen to lead the Afghanistan operation because he was aggressive and took opportunities to attack the enemy rather than wait for permission from above.

This characterized by his response to an Army Maj. Gen who wanted to drop pamphlets to Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the mountains of Tora Bora encouraging them to surrender.

He said "don't drop the leaflets or invite them to negotiate! They came to fight, didn't they? So let's oblige them. No damn leaflets! Let's fight the war!"

After cornering Al Qaeda in the mountains, Bernsten wanted 800 Army Rangers to block bin Laden's entrance into Pakistan. He was refused after repeated requests. U.S. military leadership wanted to leave it to the Northern Alliance forces to hunt bin Laden down.

In the book Bernsten says that the U.S. head of Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Tommy Franks, testified before Congress maintained that this was the right decision.

Bernsten disagrees saying that the biggest failure of CENTCOM leadership came at Tora Bora when "they turned down my request for a battalion of U.S. Rangers to block bin Laden's escape."

Today, Bernsten says that bin Laden is hidden in the mountains of Pakistan, but that he can still be taken if "we're creative, aggressive, and not afraid to take risks."

CIA censors felt various parts of Bernsten's book were risky, redacting a good chunk. These sections are marked by black lines in the book.

While the censors did black out quite a bit of text from the book, it's understandable wanting to keep a lid on their intelligence gathering methods. However, it seems ridiculous to black out material that was already publicly released in news reports and other books as Bernsten points out in the text.

That said, it's a bit of stretch to claim it's "the book the CIA doesn't want you to read," as the publisher does on the back cover.

I read it and I don't think CIA censors are losing sleep over that fact.

I also feel Frank Rich of the New York Times was stretching things a bit with his quote on the back cover, that reads "this honest account doesn't do the president any favors."

That is unless Rich was referring to President Clinton, who Bernsten criticized strongly for mild responses to the attack on the USS Cole and our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

Bernsten was quite complimentary to President Bush for his willingness to fight.

Jawbreaker is available on

I highly recommend it.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
  A time to remember, hopefully fondly

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

In three weeks, the 2008 U.S. election will be over. Huzzah! I am looking forward to it with great anticipation. I fear that much of what has transpired over the past few months, especially the last couple weeks, has left me a bit more cynical. It is crazy how politics can bring out the worst in people. I feel the need to explore some potential positives.

Bob Schieffer, television journalist with CBS News and moderator of the final debate of this election season, called this the "most exciting campaign in history."

It is a historic event, no doubt.

Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chairman, Commission on Presidential Debates, speaking before the debate (as televised by C-Span), called this a historic election because it will result in "either the first African American U.S. president or first woman U.S. vice president."

"In just 20 days, citizens will cast their vote -- the most important right and responsibility of free citizens," said Paul Kirk, co-chairman, Commission on Presidential Debates. "The stakes could not be higher, the issues have seldom been more complex, and voter interest has seldom been more intense." He went on to cite that one of the reasons that Hofstra hosted the debate is “because we want an informed citizenry... One could argue, that the debates could not be more important.”

"This is a history-changing moment," said Stuart Rabinowitz, president, Hofstra University. "Our mission is to not only teach our students, but inspire them to be participants in the democratic process..."

I applaud those ideals, and the conduct of the tens of thousands of students who quietly, thoughtfully, and respectfully attended these debates.

Let's find some more positives.

Have you been to both candidates' Web sites? I must admit, they are among the most advanced (dare I say "coolest"?) in the history of U.S. elections.

Am I grasping at straws, here? What good have you seen throughout this electoral process?
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
  Phillies up 3 games to 1!

Posted by John McHale

Phillies vs.. Dodgers for the National League pennant may not be as mythic as Red Sox vs. Yankees, or even Phillies vs. Mets, but it brings back a lot of memories for any baseball fan that grew up near Philadelphia in the 1970s -- when the Dodgers regularly kicked our buts in the playoffs.

So please allow me to prematurely gloat. It would be our fist pennant since the early 1990s when Joe Carter and the Blue Jays robbed John Kruk and company of a World Series title.

That was a tough loss, with Mr. Carter hitting a Series-winning homer off of Mitch Williams.

While this year's team is not as entertaining as those guys, it has tons of talent and reminds me of the World Series champs from 1980s, led by Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton.

Ryan Howard has Schmidt-like power and the starting pitching is tough.

Some of my friends probably wonder where my enthusiasm is coming from, since the last Phillies game I went to was in Veterans Stadium and I've been quite obviously assimilated into Red Sox nation after living in New England the last 15 years.

Yet, hearing long-time Phillies announcer Harry Kalas do the intro on Fox for Game 1, and seeing highlights of Tug McGraw jumping off the mound in 1980 reminded me of where my roots lie.

I was in sixth grade back then -- horrible at baseball -- but totally caught up in Phillies hysteria.

Twenty-eight years later I am again.

Go Phillies!
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
  A few thoughts from AUSA

Posted by John McHale

The Association of the U.S. Army's (AUSA's) annual meeting continues to be one of the best and biggest defense technology exhibitions on the calendar, but I don't think it's getting any bigger -- square-footage wise.

Attendance seemed slightly less, probably due to the poor economy, but the word on the show floor this week in Washington was that the exhibit space at AUSA is frozen till 2011 because they've maxed out the bottom floor of the convention center.

Not surprising when the prime contractor booths are 100-by-100 feet -- needed if you're going to roll out multiple tanks and other armored vehicles.

I'm not complaining, I love the event. On one floor you can pretty much get briefed on technology for practially every Army platform. It's a must attend for a magazine that covers defense technology.

I just have a couple of questions that have nothing to do with technology...

What is the fixation on Chuck Norris mythology in Armed Forces bathrooms in Iraq?

Gen. David Petraeus opened his speech on Iraq operations with the best Chuck Norris lines he read on bathroom walls...

My favorites were "Chuck Norris doesn't breathe he holds air hostage," and "Chuck Norris isn't a bad actor because he's not acting."

For more on this Chuck Norris phenomenon, visit

They are funny.

Speaking of celebrities, rumor was that comedians Dennis Miller and Bill Maher were walking the show floor too... Bill Maher at an Army show? Weird if true.

I have just one more comment on the show... There's no clapping after speeches in press conferences. You know who you are.
  Taxpayers unwittingly fund excess
Posted by Courtney E. Howard

How very nice of us, hard-working American taxpayers, to treat AIG officials (like Martin Sullivan to the right, who continues to pull a million-dollar salary as a consultant to AIG) to a week-long spa retreat. Oh, I am sure they needed and deserved it, right? Indeed. And how moral and ethical of AIG bigwigs to treat themselves to a $5 million bonus and $20 million golden parachute on the backs of hard-working Americans. I am disgusted -- nay, repulsed -- that greed continues to be rewarded at a time when middle-class and working-class folks, such as Addie Polk (a 90-year-old Ohio woman who attempted suicide when her house was foreclosed upon), are stressing and distraught over how they will survive in the days and months to come. If anyone deserves an all-expenses-paid, money-is-no-object spa retreat it is us on "Main Street," who continue to make sacrifice after sacrifice in our own lives in the name of survival.

As much as I want to continue to slam and damn those benefiting from recent bailouts -- after all, more than enough ammunition exists -- I would rather spend my time and energy in celebration of us: the majority of the nation who give up nights and weekends without complaint in support of our industry, the end users we serve, and the American Dream. My hat is off to you all.

I do, however, want to play a bit of the devil's advocate and note that European government officials readily admit that they serve the will of the people; for, if they do not, the community will band together and rally in the streets to have their voices heard. Perhaps we need to band together and remind our public servants of their duty -- we do pay their salaries, after all.

Let your voice be heard. Post your comments here or online at the Command Post community.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
  Business as usual
Posted by Courtney E. Howard

I am so sick of sensationalism and biased political and economic reporting that I am hesitant to read the paper or watch the news anymore. I do, mind you, lest I miss out on a nugget of information that would actually have a perceivable impact on daily life. Even online blogs (yes, even the Mil & Aero Blog) and journals that I love to read daily are wrought with partisan or even jargony communication on today's biggest news stories: the bailout and tonight's vice presidential debate. I had just decided to become "Courtney Unplugged" (unplugged and free from online, email, print, and telecast bombardments) for a day, when I came across "Ignore the Economics and Move on as Best You Can," a blog entry by Dr. Joe Webb (

In his blog, Dr. Webb, a respected analyst in the print/graphics communications industry, says:

"What is really quite amazing are the claims that the markets stopped working, which is how the whole disaster occurred. Well, that's wrong. The markets are working. Markets punish bad behavior, ruthlessly. Any of the plans proposed end up dragging the problems out further. Regulations designed to protect the market end up creating disequilibriums. Now that there is fear in the market again, the chances for rational behavior have actually improved. Flooding the market with money created the problem, and now we're supposed to believe that flooding the market with money will solve it."

His blog -- essentially about getting on with business and life -- hit home for me. I have had it with the sensationalism that bombards us at every turn. After all, somehow (heavy sarcasm) we muddle through despite being "on the brink of another Great Depression," in "very dire" circumstances, etc. Thanks, but no thanks, Chicken Little. We -- in the military and aerospace industry especially -- are resilient...even if those who have made millions and billions on Wall Street are not.

Long live the rugged, proactive, level-headed mil-aero market! Now switch off, unplug (from everything except, and get on with it. That's what I am going to do anyway.
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