Napoleon’s Footprints

After a few weeks of blogging, this medium feels a little more comfortable and who knows, somewhere down the road, I may feel so at ease here that I start each entry as “Dear Diary”, as my blog title denotes.  All the things I’ve written come framed by my life experiences, just as each of yours do.  I am by nature a worrier and a rule follower, two traits that led me to be a voracious reader and to like an orderly daily  life. For me having a plan is nice, but not enough to rest easy.  I much prefer to have  a short-range plan with some mid-range and long-range plans in the works .   And throwing in a contingency plan or two provides optimal comfort for me.  Unfortunately, Army life comes ready-made with a multitude of surprises and unexpected obstacles, so I always worried whether other planners covered all the bases.  I remember when my husband deployed to Desert Storm from Germany, I was reading as much information about GEN Schwarzkopf’s plans as I could find in news sources, as well as looking at maps,  (in addition to scouring German stores looking for some good maps for my husband, because I didn’t have a lot of faith in the Army mapmakers – sorry guys, I didn’t… Grenada memories rippled my serenity).  This same worrying nature had me scouring  maps thinking about what would I do in a NEO evacuation when our oldest daughter was a baby and we were in Germany a decade before Desert Storm. I had just gotten out of the Army, and NEO  was all new to me.   I tried to find out as much as I could about the Army’s plans and then I worried about what  if it didn’t work – how would I get out of Germany if a shooting war broke out with the Soviets.  Such is how my mind works.

As I began writing here, I also started worrying about great phrases finding their way into my stories, because we are blessed with so many great contemporary writers on strategic issues, politics and the culture.  I mentioned to Gladius Maximus that I need to take a break from reading Mark Steyn’s work, because he has so many amazingly good lines that I am afraid I might toss them into my writing without conscious thought.  Over the years I have marched back through time many times, putting in enough miles to qualify as a Roman foot soldier (legionary – really fun book on that here), in pursuit of trying to understand the question: Why war?   My Mom used to throw her hands up in the air, exasperated by my dogged unwillingness to accept answers without questioning “why?”  During my travels, I’ve camped many times with Sun Tzu and Clausewitz , but I also have had really entertaining stays with contemporary writers too, like Ralph Peters, G. Murphy Donovan, Martin Van Creveld, John Keegan  and many others.  I am particularly in awe of strategists such  as Dr. Colin S. Gray, the late GEN William Odom and Stratfor’s, George Friedman.  My journey still continues and if any others’ thoughts slip from my pen, please tell me, so I can attribute them.

This afternoon as I sat listening to music on Pandora,  I took a break from my usual country music fare.  I typed in “The Beatles” for  some good anti-war songs, like “Revolution” and “All You Need is Love”, to serenade me as I pondered  why I love the US Army so much and I thought back to my beginning experiences in the Army.  This will hopefully be a short story about why Napoleon’s footprints give me hope for the future.

Back when women were fairly new to an integrated Army, I decided to sign up.  What possessed me I know not, but reading the Army recruiting brochure, it sounded sort of  like Girl Scout camp……….. learn a new skill, some camping stuff, and while I am scared of guns and being in the woods in the dark ( I’m more the baking and needlework type) , heck, I’d manage.  So off I went, basic training, AIT and then off to Germany.  The start of a grand adventure, except it wasn’t like the movie, “Private Benjamin“, although I did go out on a date with a test driver for Porsche cars twice, but alas that sure wasn’t like the movies.  I digress, back to the story.

I arrived in Frankfurt, with only my duffel bag – my suitcase  still floating around stateside with all my civilian clothes, due to  being placed on the wrong flight.  What is travel without mishaps to provide fodder for boring stories to relate ad nauseum for decades though?  Back then they had formations every couple hours and doled out assignments.  The young sergeant told me about my assignment – Berlin, how exciting.  Then came the  questions….”Do you know anyone in the USSR or Soviet Bloc countries?”.    My pen pal in Czechoslovakia and just like that my assignment crumbled to dust.  As a consolation prize he handed me  a folder with a nice big nuclear missile on the cover.  Without having time to even digest this, I was packed on a bus and off to southern Germany we went.  As the miles passed, I read through my folder and kept staring at the Pershing missile on the cover and I thought, “Oh my God,  libertybelle, what the heck have you gotten yourself into – guns are bad enough, but a nuclear missile”,( pass me the smelling salts, I feel faint *smile*).   What might you ask was life like there for a young woman, placed in a unit with less than a 100 women and over 1000 men?  Interesting, the best diversionary tactics training in the world dealing with that many men targeting you and the stuff of another post sometime later, but for now it’s time to focus on the big picture and how on earth Napoleon fits into this story.

I worked for a battalion commander, who was an old-school officer – a gentleman, a scholar, and what I wish more Army officers were like today.   He and some of the other officers patiently explained our mission.  My battalion commander took time to explain the local history, he inspired in me a life-long love of learning about the US Army and even other armies too.  Our barracks were old German barracks and after he told me that WWII Field Marshal Rommel had been stationed there, every time I walked down those halls, I would think, “Rommel walked here, isn’t that amazing!”, as my footsteps echoed off those tile floors.   Often on travels about with him, he would have his driver stop and he would show us the sights, explain German history to us and he always stopped at great German guesthouses for meals, where he patiently explained the menu choices and ordered in flawless German, always insisting  on buying the driver and my meals,    My first sergeant and many other NCOs taught me about being a soldier, as we trudged through endless field training exercises in the German woods (thankfully the Army likes the buddy system, so I had someone to keep me from the goblins in the dark.  We were too busy watching out for those opposing forces anyway, no time to worry about goblins…….

In addition to my close up and personal Cold War warrior training in a Pershing unit, the Army used to send soldiers to Hof, a small outpost  town located on a desolate stretch in Bavaria near the Czech border, so we could see the Iron Curtain….. alas another bus trip.  Many thoughts crossed my mind that day.  I thought of my pen pal somewhere beyond that fence.  I thought about how stupid communism is.  I even thought only men would think up something as stupid as war, such was my naivete about national defense.  And mostly I accepted this Iron Curtain as an insurmountable obstacle.

A decade later, we were living in Germany again when the Iron Curtain fell.  With little warning and little more than a few moans, an empire crumbled and an obstacle that had preoccupied decades of strategists, military planners and national security experts  rolled down the chute into that proverbial dustbin of history.  After a decade of being transfixed by this Islamist Ascendancy, it is very easy to become discouraged and overwhelmed.  Here again, we are facing an obstacle that seems almost insurmountable.  I imagine the British felt this same weary resignation dealing with the plague that was Napoleon as he wreaked havoc from one end of the continent to the other.  But Napoleon knew something that it is wise for us to remember:

“Impossible is a word only to be found in the dictionary of fools.”  – Napoleon Bonaparte

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