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Don’t Let The Bastards Getcha Down

 

Chapter Three (01)

Plebe Year - Still A Beanhead



Nice place to visit, another to live

Though it was a major relief to have Beast Barracks
behind me, being a beanhead, a smack, a screw, a plebe and
Fourth Classman still had its drawbacks. The degrading
Fourth Class system still had me jumping through hoops in
efforts to avoid upperclassmen’s hazing games and the stress
that lies therein. I learned from the previous two months
that my life as a plebe depended a whole lot on the
particular mindset of my squad leader and upperclassmen in
my closest proximity. Of course moving into my permanent
company G-1 the last couple days of August brought a new set
of challenges in the form of a new squad leader, a new
barracks room, two new roommates, nearly one hundred new
company mates and the start of my first academic year.


View of Washington Hall that includes
my barracks and mess hall entrance in center

Herbie was one of those high-strung, gung ho types that
in the outside civilian world would be considered a nerd.
But inside he quickly adapted to the rigors and ready made
structure of military life, regimen and routine. As my squad
leader, he also was in his third year at the Point, a so
called cow or Second Classman. And from our very first
encounter, he was determined to lay down the law for those
of us under his command. My new roommates and I stood at
attention in Herbie’s room staring at ourselves in the
mirror as our brand new squad leader paced back and forth in
front of us doing his best General Patton imitation.
“In short, I want this squad to be the best squad in
the company. No, strike that, I demand this squad be the
best in Gopher-One! Don’t think it’s over now that academics
are on us. I assure you gentlemen, it’s only gonna get
harder meeting the demands of both your academic classes and
surviving as a Fourth Classman in my squad!” And so it was.
Herbie demanded everything have its neat and proper
place, underwear folded just so stacked evenly in the top
drawer. If we made mistakes spouting off plebe knowledge in
his so called breakfast special inspections at 7:30 in the
morning, his punishment was what he called “SAMI zero to
seven” (Special AM Inspections, zero to seven demerits)
uttered with his characteristic manic pressured speech. Not
exactly a morning person, at times when I sputtered in my
deliverance of “The Days” at his breakfast SI’s, I knew what
lay in store later that morning while I was in math class.
He would go through my room with white gloves meticulously
searching for any imperfection he could find, and then
further punish me upon return from class with a torn up room
just to let me know he’d been there and that more demerits
were on the way. Needless to say, he was absolutely correct.
Between attending all my daily classes that included problem
solving exercises on a math class chalkboard, preparing for
my squad leader’s daily room and after meal inspections in
Herbie’s room, after school afternoon parades or intramural
sports, three square meals (with the same eating challenges
as during Beast Barracks) and evening studies and homework
completion, by ten o’ clock lights out time I was thoroughly
exhausted.
The only consolation to Herbie’s reign of terror
was knowing that in three months I’d get a new squad leader.
G-1’s company Executive Officer, a First Classman named
Bronder, was in charge of the all important PR task of
kissing all the Senators’ and Congressmen’s asses who
nominated the freshman cadets to West Point. Ever aware of
the need to stay on good terms with the hand that feeds it,
each year the Academy puts thank you letters together
written by the appreciative and grateful plebe class.
“I want very carefully thought out, neatly printed,
handwritten letters from each of you guys submitted to me by
1930 hours on Thursday. You got that?” Still upset and angry
over my buddy’s death a couple months earlier, and everyday
humiliation and mistreatment received as a lowly beanhead,
and not wanting to lie, I wrote as brief a note as possible
to my Congressman Edward Boland. When I handed it to the XO, 
he took one look at it and said, “What is this Hagopian? You
trying to shit me?” Tearing it up, he added, “Damn it
mister, you go write a letter expressing some gratitude -
now!” So I went back to my room and decided to give asshole
what he wanted - over-the-top, syrupy sweet with a cherry on
top. A short time later Bronder grabbed the letter from me,
and read it aloud, “Dear Most Honorable Congressman Boland,
I want to thank you so much for nominating me to West Point.
I’m having the time of my life here, never a dull moment,
and more fun than I can handle. Hope your life in Washington
these days is as enjoyable, exciting and happy as mine. I
came here a mere boy and three months later West Point has
turned me into a real man. And I owe it all to you.
Sincerely, Cadet Fourth Classman Joachim Hagopian.”
An infuriated Bronder, “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re
pulling here you ungrateful little bastard! Get the hell out
of my room!”
Another opportunity to provide comic relief from the
daily pressures and stress all of a sudden arrived when our
table commandant at the time, G-1’s company commander,
announced, “If you plebes perform a skit that I find
entertaining, I’ll grant you the privilege of a free meal,”
meaning we would not have to be mechanical robots with eyes
on our plates spouting off more crap. All we had to do as
court jesters is make the king laugh. And us beanheads at
the end of the table jumped at the chance to eat like normal
human beings again. So on the spot, we made up an impromptu
scene where we began imitating a couple of upperclassmen.
Turned out my roommate John Abizaid and I had a real knack
for improvisational comedy.


Cadet Abizaid


So as I went into an imitation
of my squad leader Herbie, John did his best rendition of
Hogie the Okie from “Oklie-homa.” First as Herbie I uttered,
“A day without morning inspections is a day without
sunshine... no strike that, a day without SAMI’s zero to
seven, preferably seven, is better than sex! I know you’re
just a yearling [sophomore], so you probably don’t know what
I’m talking about, but what do you think Hogie the Okie?”
“Wha-ja say Herbie? I was too busy enjoyin’ my cigar.”
(puff, puff) We found that mining this kind of ad live
imitation of certain upperclassmen’s peculiarities was a
gold mine for eliciting belly laughs from our company
commander. Eating our meals as humans was all the payoff we
needed. Because we had nailed these characters down so well,
and our table com loved being able to so readily identify
who we were spoofing, it seemed like a win-win for everyone.
Soon our win-win strategy spread to other tables following
our company commander’s lead and within the week pretty much
every dinner table in G-1 was performing similar type skits
for laughs and privileges... that is, until one very thin-
skinned “firstie” named Mr. Bennett did not like us making
fun of his Gestapo-like demeanor. So this trend that Abizaid
and I had started all abruptly came crashing down on us no
more than a week later.
That same plebe roommate of mine, John Abizaid, our
senior year became the G-1 Company Commander himself and
eventually the longest running four star General commanding
the Iraq and Afghan Wars from 2003 to 2007.


General Abizaid testifying before the Senate

Back in 1969
John my “roomie” was just another smack trying to get
through that tough first year together. He was quick
thinking and possessed a sense of humor and wit as displayed
in our improv skits. Like me he was also philosophically
bent, came from a Middle Eastern background with a Lebanese
American father who also served in the Navy as a World War
II vet from “the greatest generation.” His mother was mostly
a white European mix like mine though she had died when he
was eleven. Plus we both hailed from northern California
(though at six my family relocated to New England). We
shared enough in common that many a night had us up late
pontificating our somewhat similar world views. Both of
us were idealistic and steadfast in our patriotic resolve to
serve our nation in the best way possible, only he easily
adapted to the rigors and demands of West Point and I did
not. Though he at times admitted the Fourth Class system
left much to be desired, he stopped short of wanting to
abolish it as inhumane and worthless like me. But that first
year together as roommates we became pretty good friends.
Our paths took very different turns once we were no longer
freshman roommates. And though we remained friendly on the
surface, my growing stance as a rebel not believing in
either the system or the ridiculous rules put us
increasingly at odds. John thrived on the structure, viewing
the disciplinary system as essential to becoming effective
leaders. His acute intelligence earned him stars (top 5% of
the class academically) and he went on to graduating from
Harvard with a masters degree. His fluency in Arabic
language learned while in the military didn’t hurt his rapid
ascendance to becoming this nation’s top general fighting
wars on two Middle Eastern fronts.
As the war head honcho longer than any other commander,
he took a lot of flack for getting us stuck in deep mired
shit in Iraq, and hated those Senate hearings toward the end
of his four years where he was grilled by Senator John
McCain, the Annapolis grad preening to become the GOP
presidential nominee and Senator Hillary Clinton bent on
claiming the Democratic nomination. They kept asking where
the changes were and John kept telling them they’re slow 
coming. But by late 2006 he had already realized we were not
going to win that war, had grown wary of the increasing
pressures and was ready to retire from military service. But
at Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s insistence, General Abizaid
stayed on until March 2007. The commander had objected to a
Bush-Cheney troop surge and on his way out let them know his
real views, including an admission that General Shinseki was
right. We should have sent a much larger force to Iraq in
the first place. Our war policies under Abizaid’s command
was pitting the Shiites and Sunnis in a burgeoning civil
war, and with little progress at neutralizing insurgent
violence, John took much of the blame for the Iraq mess.
General Abizaid also suffered heat for his role in both
the Abu Ghraib and the Pat Tillman scandals involving the
Army’s simultaneous efforts at covering them both up.


Abu Ghraib Prison proved a blemish on Abizaid's career

Tillman was the young patriot willing to give up both his
high flying career playing in the NFL as well as his life,
with his younger brother serving their nation by
volunteering for duty in the Middle East after 9/11.
Tragically the Army Ranger on his second combat tour was
killed in an Afghanistan battle by fellow American soldiers,
but Bush and the military attempted to conceal the nature of
his death from both his family and the American public. The
Abu Ghraib prison scandal had just broke and the last thing
the war makers needed was more bad publicity about their
poster boy’s death. Bush and the Army had been using the
Tillman story as propaganda for drumming up support for the
wars. So they fabricated the lie that Tillman was a hero
tragically killed by the Taliban, even going so far as to
posthumously award Tillman a Silver Star for bravery.
General McCrystal, head of Special Operations in
Afghanistan at the time, cabled a top priority notice to
Abizaid at CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar letting John know
to inform Bush and his henchmen to handle Tillman’s death
with care and caution due to the embarrassing liability for
all involved. It specifically advised the President not to
mention at the funeral that Tillman was killed by the
Taliban. Bush attended Tillman’s funeral of course knowing
the circumstances surrounding his death but the family did
not find out until weeks later and that only happened
because their suspicions were growing that the government
was withholding the truth from them. When Rumsfeld and
Abizaid were finally called in to answer questions at the
Congressional hearing investigating the cover-up, Rumsfeld
lied saying it was not until a month after the death that he
found out it was friendly fire but could not pinpoint the
specific day due to it being already two years earlier.
Abizaid insisted that at the time of McCrystal’s cable that
he was in Iraq and did not actually read the cable until
about three weeks later. Due to confirmation Abizaid was in
fact holding a press conference in Qatar when McChrystal’s
cable arrived, it is most probable that he too lied to cover
his ass. Of course their CYA denials were business as usual.
In the Abu Ghraib scandal, in 2004 Army two star
General Taguba was assigned to investigate the Iraqi
detainee abuse at the hands of their American guards. Weeks
after he released his findings to the public, Toguba sat
with four star General Abizaid in the back seat of John's
Mercedes Benz with his driver upfront in Qatar. Top dog
Abizaid did his best Tony Soprano imitation, warning Taguba
that his investigation report would be investigated. Taguba
said of his brief chat with Abizaid, “I’d been in the Army
thirty-two years by then, and it was the first time that I
thought I was in the Mafia.” Two years later General Taguba
was forced to resign, ending his 34-year sterling career.
Those scandalous blemishes on Abizaid’s record marring
an otherwise outstanding 34-year career in military service
to his nation are relatively minor compared to being
fingered as the single general most responsible for losing
both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by virtue of being the
longest in command of those wars. Also as a result, so
closely connected to the war crimes committed on his watch
during America’s two longest running wars in history places
my ex-roomie in a rather special dubious class all his own.
Yet these failed achievements and disgraceful moments would
never stop a high achiever like him from being invited to
the all powerful elite of elitist organizations, the Council
on Foreign Relations (CFR) where he is now serving as a
Board of Director.


Cadet Eikenberry's senior photo

Abizaid sponsored my other roommate
General Eikenberry’s membership in the CFR as well. Of
course the influence that the Council on Foreign Relations
has on the policymakers and powerbrokers that rule the world
is undisputable. The accompanying shadowy association with
the Illuminati that represents the sinister ruling elite’s
plan for total control in a New World Order has also long
been notoriously bandied about amongst a growing web of 
conspiracy theorists. In any event, John Abizaid’s high
profile life now in retirement has brokered a rather
lucrative speaking engagement career for hire. But that’s
what America does best, reward those who fail at the top
echelons of power. For General McCrystal’s role in the
Tillman cover-up, right afterwards he was elevated to the
top as Afghanistan War commander. Of course his fall from
grace would come later with the Michael Hastings Rolling
Stone article.
Back in 1998 when I first discovered the internet and
email, I reached out to several of my old classmates, John
being among them. At that time he was the Brigadier General
serving as West Point Commandant, the general among other
things in charge of cadet discipline. To his credit, as
Commandant John did make a few much needed changes to the
traditional hazing practices. Though his emails in our brief
exchange remained friendly, I noticed an intense interest a
quarter century later after I had won my court case against
West Point and gotten back in, how I managed to get my eight
demerits rescinded. Instantly his more than passing, acute
interest as the sitting Comm clued me in as to where he was
at. John clearly did not approve of my court case victory,
feeling that I had unfairly tarnished the pristine West
Point image that he was so dedicated to uphold.
Subsequently, his first order of business with me was to
inquire and investigate my long lost past to see if my
demerits were in fact justifiably and legitimately 
overturned way back when. That immediately clued me in, he
was not on my side, and I never bothered responding to him.
Strangely enough, Abizaid’s and my other roommate back
in that winter of 1969-70 was another West Point “starman”
who went on to become the US Ambassador to Afghanistan from
early 2009 to mid 2011 - Karl Eikenberry.

General Eikenberry's turn to testify

The day after he
retired as a three star general was the day President Obama
appointed him Ambassador. He too earned a masters from
Harvard and then a PhD from Stanford. Smart and also funny
back in the day, we were a very unlikely trio. Or more aptly
they were two peas in the same straight-laced pod and I was
the odd seed out from a very, very different pod.
Though the three of us got along well sharing the same
room as lowly Fourth Classmen together, because our cadet
lives headed in opposite directions, that onetime closeness
we once shared had all but disappeared over time. Karl also
went onto become a cadet captain in his senior year as the
Brigade Supply Officer. And of course he too had not been on
my side in taking West Point to court and winning. And since
neither he nor I were even affiliated with our old company
that Abizaid was running our senior year (Karl with the
brigade and after my court case, I was transferred to D-3 in
the Third Regiment), I rarely spoke to either of them my
senior year.
But there was one occasion that does come to mind with
“Eik” as we called him. As the top supply officer in the
Corps of Cadets, Karl ended up receiving all the weekend
meal tickets that cadets customarily turned in to the cadet
guard posted at the entrance to the mess hall each meal. I
had overslept one Saturday afternoon and by the time I woke
up and rushed down with my meal ticket for dinner, it was
6:02PM. Though cadets were still eating, I was technically
two minutes late arriving. Not wanting demerits for failing
to turn in my meal ticket, when I happen to see Eikenberry
leaving the mess hall as I stood there at the entrance, I
flagged my old roommate down and asked if he would be
willing to accept my meal ticket. He said “sure” and took my
ticket leading me to believe that I was in the clear of any
more demerits coming down on me. Despite him collecting my
ticket, I was still written up for failing to turn in my
meal ticket that weekend. And that seemed strange since all
the meal tickets ended up in his possession anyway. Though
it may seem a bit trivial, when I tell someone I will do
something, I do it. And in this case, Eik told me he would
take care of it, and then failed to follow through to keep
his word. Now I am uncertain what exactly happened in the
breakdown from when he accepted my ticket assuring me no
demerits would result to when I was later issued demerits.


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