The Rituals of the Season

My daughter was nearly ten years old, in that Christmastime of 1990. I was stationed at Zaragoza AB, in the Ebro River Valley of Spain, which was serving as one of the staging bases in Europe for the build-up to the First Gulf War … the effort to liberate Kuwait, which Saddam Hussein seemed to believe that he had a perfect right to occupy, loot and exterminate those opposing him in that small matter. But this is not about that war, particularly – only as it affected those of us located far along the haft of the military spear towards the sharp and pointy end.

Zaragoza was a long-established US base in Spain by then – sufficiently long enough to have grown up a second generation of children born to American servicemen and their Spanish wives. It was sufficiently well-established to have a fairly modern on-base school, which housed the elementary classes in one wing, and the high school in the other. My daughter started there in kindergarten, the very week that we arrived, in 1985, to the day that we departed, six years later, when she started the sixth grade. It was a safe posting, especially considered after my previous assignment to Athens, Greece, where terrorism aimed at American personnel and at the base generally was accepted grimly as an ongoing part of life, like hurricanes along the southern coasts. One took every careful precaution and internalized certain practices against an irregular and specifically unpredictably-occurring threat. One of my daughter’s earliest memories is of watching me from the front step of the suburban Athens apartment where we lived then … kneeling down to look underneath my car, parked out in the street. I was, of course, looking for something explody-ish with trailing wires, where such a device ought to not be attached to the underside of the bright orange Volvo sedan that I had purchased from a fellow NCO upon arrival in Athens. (The Volvo had the temporary USG or US Forces Greece license plates on it, which branded the vehicle as being owned/driven by a member of the American military, and thus a likely target for anything from crude vandalism to a bomb.  Just one of those things; it was a relief to get to Spain, where the practice was for regular Spanish license plates to be placed on automobiles owned by American service personnel.)

Late in autumn of that year the build-up began. Zaragoza AB went on a war footing, which meant that duties and hours devoted to those duties doubled, or in some cases, tripled for all personnel. Bright new concertina wire went up, all along the base perimeter; one of my memories of that period was how weirdly beautiful it looked under a layer of winter frost  in the early morning – like sunshine brilliantly glittering on matte-finished silver.

Christmas was coming.  After that, New Year’s Day, and then the deadline for Saddam Hussein to give up Kuwait. We knew that, barring a miracle, he wouldn’t. And then War, sometime in those days of the first week. Inevitable. The dark grey storm cloud on the horizon, flickering with flashes of interior lightning, blotting out the horizon and moving inexorably closer. One was made aware of it in dozens of ways, as the minutes, hours, days ticked by – even as the prosaic routines went on. My daughter had school every day, I cooked a family supper every evening, read to her at bed-time, shopped for groceries at the commissary, pressed a fresh blue uniform shirt every morning, mailed out Christmas cards, bought and wrapped presents. Because Christmas. One holds on to as many shreds and shards of normality as one can, when it comes to children.

These last few weeks, I have been feeling the same foreboding that I did, that holiday season more than twenty years ago. My daughter and I have a full schedule of weekend holiday markets and events. When we were setting up for the first of them, on a Friday afternoon, we came home to the news about the Islamic massacre in Paris. This week, as we were getting ready for another, it was the Islamic massacre of local government employees in San Bernardino. Next week … who knows? I am fairly certain that there will be another atrocity perpetrated by Daesh fanatics over the coming holiday season. It will occur in a place and at a time where it will all come as a horrifying surprise to the victims of it, to our national leadership cadre and to our major news outlets. The latter two will, of course, be horribly inconvenienced by having to throw some thin shreds of career-saving rationale or justification excusing such an unexpected event. This I know, as surely as I saw the deadline for military action in the Gulf inch closer and closer.

Merry Christmas, y’all.


10 thoughts on “The Rituals of the Season”

  1. Merry Christmas. My daughter-in-law took her kids to Disneyland last week. She was a little bit nervous about it but they have annual passes and go all the time. My son was working.

    I would not go to those places the next several weeks until the New Year has begun. I don’t think the San Bernardino incident was the only one and may well have been set of prematurely by a quarrel.

    The political left is determined to ignore reality until the last possible moment. Meanwhile, Islamic jihad goes along unhindered by climate.

    Serbia’s state-run RTS TV reported that police had arrested a Jordanian man after he tried to force his way into the cockpit of the Lufthansa flight.

    It said the man suddenly got up during the flight, banged on the cockpit door and demanded to be allowed to enter, threatening to open one of the Airbus A319’s external doors while it was flying over Austria.

    The man, who the Serbian press said had a US passport, had shouted that he wished to join Allah along with all the passengers, RTS said.

    Nothing to see here,

    I’m trying to remember where I saw a piece about the reason why ISIS destroys cultural artifacts.

  2. I have that same ‘calm before the storm’ feeling all the time lately. It may just be a state of mind from the relentlessly bad news lately. I took a lot of pleasure from the Blue Origins flight and vertical landing, some good news for a change.

    On the one hand, we have the federal government, and most Western governments, in full denial mode regarding the cultural problem with moslems and islam. Problem? What problem is that? You mean these minor disturbances? At the same time, they continue their assault on free speech via the proxies in the university system and their propaganda arm in the press. Not to mention the open racketeering going on with various federal agencies suing corporations and transferring the cash to leftist groups across the country. This administration is openly at war with half the population and the Constitution in general.

    On the other hand, they have lost tremendous political power in Congress and at the state level across the country in the last two elections. So the majority of Americans have decided they don’t like these trends and this style of government. That gives me hope.

    Will we see islamic terrorist attacks at Christmas? That would be ideal from the point of view of jihadis. No better time. Either way, the Long War continues apace with no end in sight. Consider, the Israelis have been dealing with this for 60 years.

  3. Michael Hiteshew Says:
    December 6th, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    On the other hand, they have lost tremendous political power in Congress and at the state level across the country in the last two elections. So the majority of Americans have decided they don’t like these trends and this style of government. That gives me hope.

    Keep in mind the nature of those we are dealing with. If they cannot win elections, then they will eliminate elections as a means of transferring power.

    Sgt. Mom, your antenna are more sensitive than most, having been closer to the tip of the spear. Mike K and Michael Hiteshaw, I share your feelings. We are far from done with this, and the current government will do anything they can to prevent a rational reaction to being attacked.

    May I offer some thoughts.

    1) when in a setting where risk seems elevated, stay on yellow alert. Head up, looking around. Keep track of where the exits are, including those for fire escapes that have alarm bars that one does not normally use. If you see something strange, someone coming in through a door that they normally would not, etc. be even more alert and ready to move. Being ready gives you the OODA advantage if there are shooter(s), unlike most people who will freeze for from anything from 5-30 seconds in shock.

    2) if you find yourself in an active shooter situation, your options are flee, hide, or fight. In that order. If you can flee, do so. If you are in a store, shopping mall, etc. remember that every store has an exit in the back in the loading dock area. Most people do not think of that. Try to lead people with you, but do not stop, either to convince people or deal with any wounded. You will not be able to help them, except by getting out and calling for help. If you are in the open, move in a zig-zag pattern to be a harder target, seeking cover.

    If you have to hide, be silent, turn your cell phone off.

    If you have to fight, and this is a last resort, get whatever improvised weapons you can and fight for your life. No quarter. If there is more than one of you, try to come at the shooter from multiple axes.

    3) if the police are coming in, hit the ground and curl up in a fetal position. It minimizes your target size and you will be less likely to draw fire from the cops. You will be cuffed. I promise it will not be gentle. Do not protest, do not argue. They are trying to get you out and get things sorted out.

    We are all going to have to get used to this happening again and again; until we have a government that wants to protect US.

  4. Practice, practice, practice situational awareness. If there is something that pings on your personal radar about a person, place or thing, listen to your gut instinct, people are incredibly perceptive to stuff around them, it might not completely register what it is that seems off to you right away, but you registered it for a reason.

  5. We had the discussion again yesterday. She still doesn’t see what I do, or she would rather not believe that this is what change means. We left NYC ten years ago, four years after the WTC attacks. I always worked on the ground. She, always up there, too far up to just run out the door. I was sure glad when we left. But, it’s everywhere, less by accident than by design. I remember meeting some crazies at the local university in the early seventies. I knew then that they were serious about their fantasy of armed conflict in the streets of the US. I’d just figured they had faded into obscurity.

  6. “hit the ground and curl up in a fetal position.”

    When we had our session on active shooters at the MEPS, he said, if it is gunfire lie flat. If it is hand grenades, crouch as shrapnel flies along the floor.

    My son and I went over the the gun store to give them another piece of paper on my AR 15 purchase, plus he is thinking of buying his wife a gun. She has no experience with them and is not comfortable but she and my wife and two of her friends are going take a gun class. My wife has taken one and was looking at guns the other day. She has arthritis and that may be an issue but these are women who have had no experience with guns and all are planning to take classes and buy guns.

    I just wish I had thought of buying gun stock when Obama took office. I bought gold when Clinton took office and did OK but this one was not obvious to me.

    Ruger and S&W are both up 700% since he was inaugurated.

  7. The advice on the fetal position was for when the police are coming in. If they are coming in to rescue hostages, they will not be using grenades. If they are coming into a private home for coercive purposes, all bets are off. That advice actually came from two former hostage rescue team members [from different agencies, one Federal] who were talking at a meeting about what to do. They view the risk at that specific point to be more from gunfire and being mistaken for one of the shooters. This matches other training I have received.

    Admittedly, if grenades or IED’s are in play, the tactical situation is drastically different.

  8. I regularly read here and Wretchards site, and over some time have come to think that there are ‘storm clouds rising’, as in August 1914. Just a little spark, such as the Turkey fighter shootdown, can set things off, and we’ll have a conflagration that will put WWII to shame. I fear I am not mis-interpreting things, but hope like hell that I am wrong.
    With our ‘leader’ in 1600 lacking the common sense of a goose, it will be hard to form a rational response to ‘things’ that occur in the ME, NA, and Eastern Europe, along with Western Europe having such soirees as the Paris nightmare. I suspect that England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, leaving out a whole list of possible targets, will be attacked and attacked and attacked again.
    I suspect that the US will have one or more attacks in the ‘heartland’, far from the coasts, far from the Librul Cities where Islamics are coddled, far from the immigrant entry points.
    Kansas City, Memphis, St Louis, Omaha(again), Denver, pick a central plains city, and you’ve got their target. Terror and fear are the desired results. “Your government cannot protect you. Convert or die. Submit to Allah.” will be the message sent.
    The response? I dunno. Islam, as written, cannot co-exist with democracy, or a Democratic Republic. Its license is to destroy that form of government, and restrict the freedoms it entails. What do you do when the ‘religion’ endorses lying, killing, and every other barbaric punishment written 700 years ago? There is no ‘detector’ that will label or discriminate the moderates from the fanatics.
    In short, Islam is incompatible with our current government. The decision to allow Muslim immigration is above my pay grade, but I would vote no if given the opportunity. Sorry, but the ‘religion’ is more a destructive form of government than a religion. It is designed to destroy.
    I better shut up before I draw a cartoon or something and make them mad.
    And, could we have more laws making murder illegal? The ones we have don’t seem to be working. Just as the ‘gun laws’ don’t seem to be working so we need more of them…

  9. “I suspect that the US will have one or more attacks in the ‘heartland’, far from the coasts,”

    I think those areas are relatively safe for a couple reasons.

    First, if anyone sees suspicious activity, they will report it and the local cops will pay attention.

    Two, the intended “victims” may well be armed and fight back, as happened in Garland Texas.

    A traffic officer working after-hours as security for the event and armed only with a service pistol killed both men, who were wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles, Garland Police Department spokesman Joe Harn told reporters Monday.

    “We think their strategy was to get into the event center, and they were not able to get past our perimeter that we had set up,” Harn said.

    Middle America will be hard targets. We are hardening up here in the small red part of blue California. Four women, including my daughter-in-law who is not comfortable with guns, are planning to take gun classes and get guns.

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