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Don’t Let The Bastards Getcha Down

 

Chapter Three (02)

Plebe Year - Still A Beanhead

 

But the fact remains, to my face Eik said he would do one
thing, and then failed to keep his word in doing another.
Abizaid and Eikenberry are arguably the most prominent,
famous and powerful graduates from my West Point Class of
1973. Ironically both of my famous West Point roommates’
careers after reaching their pinnacles came to a similar end
for virtually the same reason. Abizaid felt we were already
in a growing quagmire in Iraq with its rising sectarianism
causing an internal civil war there and went public in his
opposition to the 2007 surge sending more troops to Iraq.
Abizaid had grown wary of the war and his role in it. He
planned on retiring at the end of 2006 but Donald Rumsfeld
persuaded him to stay on into 2007. So by early 2007 he knew
he had little to lose in voicing his honest concerns about
Bush’s plan to send more troops in harm’s way. As soon as he
went public, he was relieved of his top command. By choice,
his storied thirty-four year military career was over.
Eikenberry was vocal about his doubts regarding Afghan
President Karzai’s capacity to run the country due to his
widespread corruption and lack of control, concluding that
as long as Karzai remains in power, the war was un-winnable.
Eik felt that sending more troops to Afghanistan would only
make Karzai more dependent on the US. So he too opposed
another surge sending yet more American soldiers in peril
at the Afghan warfront. His openly dissident views were
leaked to the New York Times and soon enough he too was
relieved of his post. Two of my early peers who both reached
the top of America’s power game eventually had their careers
come to an end for seemingly being too honest. Everything
they so carefully and meticulously worked for ended with
their too candid tongue. They both knew in the system of
power in which they operated and flourished, complete
honesty is neither safe nor rewarded. Of course these two
brilliant men had long known that, but on their moral
conviction they chose to be honest and paid the price. I
would prefer to believe that each of these two individuals
saw America’s current Empire wars that they had been running
and so closely linked to as becoming increasingly a losing
cause, not just for this nation but the entire planet. So
they felt compelled to morally speak out in good conscience
their objections to the ever expanding debacle of America’s
war machine to which they had so long been part. But hey,
I’m probably wrong. I decided to not bother asking them all
these years later so as to not arouse their suspicion that I
might be writing an expose baring naked the ugly truth about
the system they once thrived in for its lies, corruption and
moral turpitude. 
Life as a plebe literally remains within a quarter
mile radius of the barracks for the first five months.
Finally at the end of November the annual Army-Navy football
game extravaganza rolled around and even the plebe class was
permitted to join the rest of the Corps of four thousands
cadets on the bus caravan down to the City of Brotherly Love
Philadelphia. And providing even more excitement than the
game itself was the prospect of a few hours of freedom after
the game to let loose, celebrate (win or lose) and party
down like there’s no tomorrow. Army’s 27 to Navy’s zero gave
us plenty reason for whooping it up that night. The West
Point headquarters every year was the Ben Franklin Hotel
(turned into apartments in 1983). I had been struggling 
just to survive the Fourth Class system as the degrading
pressure and stress of nonstop bullshit had taken its toll
on me. So of course I seized the moment by getting shitfaced
as soon as I could at the hotel. That Saturday night from
the main lobby to every floor lobby and every room in that
hotel, cadets and guests were going nuts in wild celebration
and pandemonium.
With a classmate pal, I recall ending up at one of the
larger hotel room parties. Spotting a bunch of hard liquor
bottles sprawled out on a nightstand and dresser, most near
empty, I impulsively began guzzling each one down. Suddenly
from across the room I heard my old nemesis Mr. Fisher
reprimanding me, “Hey smack, put that bottle down! Fourth
Classmen are not welcome here!”
All I could think of was my friend Bob Leeman and I
suddenly found myself charging through the crowd to get to
Fisher, yelling, “You fucken murderer, I’m gonna get you for
killing my friend!” Fisher charged at me as well. We threw
a few punches before we were separated by the crowd. I
recall a junior in my company from Tennessee who would
become the following year’s football captain, helping to
restrain me saying, “He ain’t worth the trouble Hagopian.”
I respected Kenny, so I listened and calmed down. He told my
buddy to watch out for me. Hank assured him he would. And
though the rest of the night was pretty much a blur, I do
recollect a moment in time that would forever embarrassingly
live on in my half-baked mind.
Hank did his best in laying low. We moved from floor to
floor on elevators. Somewhere around the ninth floor lobby I
stood with Hank waiting for the next elevator. When its door
slid open to a sardine-packed SRO crowd of riders, all of a
sudden I began spewing what seemed like an eternity of wave
after wave of fresh vomit straight from my innards onto an
entire elevator load of partygoers. The front row flinched
as the first sheets of guck landed on them and, in a reflex,
they all pushed backward into the elevator trying to avoid
the tsunami of throw up wrenching their way, thus
inadvertently trapping everyone else inside from any
chance of escape. Then the elevator door closed and all
the shocked, screaming, drenched mob of hapless victims
went away. I heard a few of the guys threatening me with
bodily violence. Though I cannot say for sure, I think
some of the loudest vowing to kill me were Fisher and his
cronies. In any event, Hank had his job cut out for him now.
He knew there were enraged bands roaming the hotel seeking
revenge. Then Colonel Puckett, the zealous enforcer as 
First Regimental Commander, was also searching for the
derelict who committed such a despicable act on so many
innocent victims. Hank would repeatedly be warned that
Puckett and angry crowds were searching high and low for me.
Somehow my dear friend managed to shelter me from any
serious retribution or further trouble. Even our very own
even keeled G-1 tactical officer Major Chamberlain ordered
Hank to “get that man to the buses!” I will always be
grateful to Hank for rescuing me that fateful, memorable,
crazy, very hilarious night. I feel sorry for the elevator
load, except of course for Fisher and his buddies. They
definitely deserved it and worse. Thankfully, I never did
get either written up or beat up. Go Army, beat Navy!
Critics of West Point and the service academies like
Tom Ricks often cite excessive use of alcohol and a lack of
both maturity and social skills displayed amongst junior
officers fresh out of the Academy as compared to their ROTC
trained officer counterpart. Again isolation for months on
end accompanied by very limited opportunity to develop
socially in such a restrictive and punitive setting carries
some serious drawbacks. Based on my Army-Navy post game
shenanigans, I was most definitely a case in point, albeit I
could never otherwise be considered the prototypical cadet.
Typically cadets on the loose be it for a few hours or on
weekend passes in the big city most often rush to the
nearest bar to consume mass quantities of alcohol. And
alcoholism has historically been a serious problem
throughout all the armed services. During 2001-2002 a study
done even prior to our two recent exhausting wars, heavy
drinking amongst young male service personnel between 18-25
years of age was near twice that of their civilian
counterparts, 32.2% and 17.8% respectively (for genders
combined 27.3 and 15.3 respectively). These numbers showed
no decrease over the preceding twenty years. But no doubt
with multiple combat tours over this last decade, the
overdrinking has only gone up significantly since alcohol is
used regularly to self-medicate trauma, stress and
depression.
The advantage of also being exposed to pluralistic and
diverse points of view both socially and educationally
encountered in the civilian collegiate experience
undoubtedly provides a more well rounded and worldly
perspective that facilitates a smoother, more successful
transition to post-graduation adult life than the rather
narrow, insular view posed by both a West Point faculty
comprised solely of military officers as well as the far
more restrictive academy setting itself. This disparity is
also commonly identified as justification for abolishing the
service academies. Ricks contends that a higher quality
civilian education would promote open discourse that would
challenge future officers’ assumptions about the world
rather than “reinforce their biases.” Wholeheartedly agreed.
After six months of plebe year confined to the West
Point post (other than that Army-Navy game), I finally had
my first extended glimpse of freedom during the holiday
break. My parents came to the Point to pick me up just prior 
to Christmas. Of course when nearly four thousand cadets are
released on break at the exact same time, a major traffic
bottleneck ensues.
“Jesus Christ, can’t these cars move any faster?” My 
father was notoriously hot tempered, especially behind the
wheel. But I was not about to let anything stop me from
thoroughly enjoying my holidays, neither my dad’s road rage
nor the snarled traffic, nor the sleet turned to snow on the
road that delayed us getting home by a couple hours stopped
me from having the Merriest Christmas ever that year. And
the exhilaration experienced as I passed the West Point gate
on my way home was like no other. I noticed a dark cloud
burden had just been lifted. Then Christmas morning giving
my dear mother West Point china with a Charles Ives-like
motif of West Point life was the perfect gift. It offered
her an extra lift in preparing the enormous Hagopian clan’s
holiday feast that year as she got to christen her china.
That gift has become a family heirloom of sorts as it has
sadly outlasted my mother’s near 88 years on this earth.
Needless to say, the yearend break went by in a flash and
before I knew it, a new year and decade were ushered in and
I was saying goodbye to my parents again in early January.
Facing the long dreary winter gloom and six more months of
beanhead-hell was downright depressing.
Academics at West Point were never easy for me. I was
always more the liberal arts-humanities kind of guy, but the
core curriculum at the Military Academy is heavily stacked
with math and hard sciences. I attended math class two hours
a day six days a week for the first two years, and it was
not the basic math from high school. Though I got A’s and
B’s there, at the Point I was lucky to earn a B in math and
settled on mostly C’s, just doing what I had to in order to
get by and survive.
Math classes were determined by cadets’ math grades. Of
course I tended to remain in the lower sections. One morning
I got a glimpse of what it was like in the top section when
my regular instructor failed to show up. Apparently he had
joined his wife at the hospital having a baby that day, so
us lower section math students were distributed one or two
at a time to the higher section classes. I think I ended up
in section two. When I entered the classroom, the students
were just moving to take their positions at the blackboard
to tackle the assigned math problem. We counted out loud one
through thirteen. The math instructor then verbalized his
directions, “Even-numbered cadets do problem three B and
odd-numbered cadets do problem five A on page one sixty.” I
found myself scratching my head a lot while drawing a blank
as they were frenzily clicking chalk to board, racing each
other to finish their figured out solutions. I felt highly
embarrassed in my ignorance with the only completely empty
chalkboard space while those madmen were busily solving the
z-integral of a differential equation. Then when the teacher
picked one of the whiz kids to explain his solution, and
another whiz kid was quick to raise his hand bringing to the
instructor’s attention a minor oversight, I saw just how
competitive and cutthroat these robotic brainiacs were. It
was nauseating watching the instructor jotting down little
notes in his daily grading book, adding brownie points to
the student who caught the error that neither the whiz kid
explaining with a pointer nor the teacher even saw. I
realized this was how the game was played at West Point,
making yourself look good by making others look bad, all the
while engaging in some serious deployment of ass kissing
tactics and adulterated ingratiation toward superior
officers.
About that same time I witnessed something else that
made me nautious in contempt of my peers. Often throughout
the academic year there would be West Point hops scheduled
on Saturday nights. Of course since I still had no luck
finding a girlfriend, I was eager to take my chances at
these dances to try and finally change my lonely fate.
Despite the Vietnam War making guys in uniform very uncool
to most girls in those days, I had heard that young coeds
specifically attended Ladycliff College located in Highland
Falls right outside the West Point gate to find cadets to
fall in love with and marry. The Catholic girls school later
closed its doors for good in 1980. But back in 1970
Ladycliff girls were still regulars attending the West Point
hops to find their man. I was game. Though I was still the
shy, self-conscious desperado, wearing my dress gray uniform
I felt a tad more bold on that cold February evening. The
local girls were eagerly lining up when I arrived. Once
inside, I headed toward a group of guys I knew from the
First Regiment that shared classes with me, all the while
checking out the available women.
One of the guys approached me, “Sheik, you want in on
our pig pool contest?” I had heard some cadets actually
got their sick jollies off by betting on the guy that finds
the ugliest girl to dance with.
“No man, what you guys are doing is really fucked up.”
“Suit yourself.” They each put in ten bucks and then
went prowling for the least attractive girl to ask to dance.
I watched them laughing as each went over to a girl for the
next dance. As CCR’s “Proud Mary” started playing, three of
the four guys began dancing. The guys halfheartedly moved
around the floor looking at each other with cruel smiles,
checking out each other’s dance partner. After the song was
over, the four guys huddled together to vote for which girl
was the ugliest. The winner collected $30 from the three
losers. I saw one of the girls who had been used looking at
the guys laughing and peering at her when they handed money
over to the winner. I could see by her sad look she realized
what was going on. When I saw tears welling up in her eyes,
I felt so bad that I walked over to her and said, “Those
guys are total assholes. Don’t let them make you feel bad.
They’re the ones who are bad in the sickest kind of way.”
Still a bit flustered and embarrassed, she put on a
brave face and, laughing nervously, responded, “Thanks,
unlike them, you’re a real gentleman.” I felt good for what
I’d done, enough to muster the confidence a few minutes 
later to go over and ask a very attractive coed for the next
dance. As soon as she said, “no thanks,” I felt just like
the rejected girl. I told myself how much I hated those
stupid meat market affairs and vowed to stop going while
walking briskly back to my barracks room that frigid night.
I rarely even had the balls to risk being shot down in
front of a room full of others watching everybody’s moves
from the sidelines. The odds were always stacked against me
of ever even getting a dance from a girl, much less she
becoming my girlfriend. In bed that night I kept thinking
about what had just transpired, and how it always turned out
the same. It even brought up my first teenage party and how
humiliated I felt when I became the “spin the bottle” loser.
I reminded myself how little progress I’d made even as a
cadet still feeling every bit as much the total reject.
That abhorrent attitude and behavior I observed at that
West Point hop those many years ago unfortunately are
somewhat representative of how males in the military have
traditionally treated women. Rates of sexual harassment,
rape, domestic violence and divorce all confirm progress in
male-female relations even for the general population in
this country have been painfully slow. A correlation exists
between sexism, sexual violence and America’s culture of
violence and war. But the current epidemic of sexual
violence throughout all the armed services up and down the
rank and file by officers and enlisted men alike is off the
charts. The inordinate number of incidents of sexual
violence perpetrated against women in the military is
unprecedented - something like 26,000 reported cases last
year alone. That means that at least ten times that amount
actually occurred but we know the vast majority never even
get reported. The daily headlines in recent months of high
ranking officers groping and assaulting women have brought
much attention to this long overlooked problem. Most
embarrassing for the services was that a number of these
“perps” were in charge of programs set up to reduce the
rampant sex crimes. Recently it has become a systemic
epidemic because more women are reporting cases of sexual
assault than ever before. But it has been a huge blight on
the military for a very long time. Male soldiers generally
tend to be old school traditionalists regarding their view
of “the weaker sex.” Sexist by nature, many too easily feel
threatened and emasculated by women’s rising power. Compound
that with multiple combat tours that damage the mind and
stability, and the movement toward more women serving right
alongside men in combat and hostile environments all over
the globe together, and we have our out of control problem.
For the first time the Air Force Academy recently hired
a woman general as the Air Force Academy Superintendent (the
first major academy to do so), primarily because Air Force
Academy has especially been plagued with sexual problems for
years, although West Point and Annapolis are not far behind.
The frequency of sexual assaults at the three service
academies in recent years has soared from 41 reported cases
to 65 and then to a high of 80 in 2011-2012. Though all the
academies began accepting women back in 1976, the vast
majority of incidents of sexual violence throughout the
decades have sadly gone unreported. Rising incidence of rape
has spiked throughout the academies and military services in
recent years because more courageous women are coming out
from the shadows and finally reporting these crimes. In the
past those brave enough to accuse men of abuse were
systematically re-traumatized after coming forth to claim
assault charges. The good old boys network has a
horrendously bad track record for bringing so few male
offenders to justice. Service women have been painfully
aware of the additional stress caused by reporting and
therefore simply have chosen to remain silent and suffer
alone. And of course most of the victims still choosing not
to go to the authorities are still suffering in silence.
Additionally, in the past many females knew it would
adversely affect their military careers. Or they observed
what horrors awaited other women when reporting incidents.
Fortunately the upside of all this heat that’s gone down in
recent months is the military now faces increasing pressures
to both stop the violence and abuse as well as change its
policies to support and protect women in general but victims
in particular, and do a far more effective job bringing
sexual perpetrators to justice with court martials and
serious prison sentences for those found guilty. Many people
including senators have been calling for cases to be tried
in civilian criminal courts since so small a percentage of
convictions result when conducted in military courts.
Meanwhile, the military has lobbied hard to retain this
domain of responsibility under the commanding officer’s
control and have engaged in a major PR campaign to convince
Congress and the American people that incidence of sexual
assault have not actually been rising but only the rates of
women reporting abuse have increased. The military would
have us believe that the primary reason for increased
reporting amongst women is due to the armed forces’
concerted successful efforts to provide a safer environment
and culture for women to more readily come forth with their
claims. But when the officers in charge of the very programs
designed to educate the troops are guilty of doing the
groping, assaulting and harassing themselves, it’s more a
case of the blind leading the blind. Of course this highly
disquieting and disturbing trend renders any claim the
military may make asserting that conditions for women are
really improving are in actuality deemed far less credible.
Speaking of the blind leading the blind, a January 2014
Department of Defense (DoD) report describes “a culture of
disrespect and bad behavior” at the three major service
academies motivating and driving future male members of the
elite officer corps to frequent sexual assault and sexual
harassment. The annual report specifies that sexual victims
believe that academy leadership will not adequately respond
to harassment and sexual violence within its ranks. Many
female cadets are still not coming forward with complaints
and charges against their male cadet perpetrators, fearing
recrimination from the good ol’ boys club that historically
protects the guilty.  Degrading acts of sexism appear to
particularly be the norm amongst sports teams with the West
Point rugby team disbanded after disparaging remarks about
women were found circulating amongst the team members’
emails. The Naval Academy has several football players
currently up on charges of sexual assault on a female
student. And the Air Force Academy alone accounted for two
thirds of the total reported cases that numbered seventy
this last academic year, reason enough to hire the first
female Superintendent. The only slightly positive news
coming out of this report is that the total number of cases
reported at the academies is down this last year by ten from
the year before, from 80 to 70, though cases went up
slightly at Annapolis by two.
Despite the fact that women have been attending the
academies side by side with men now for nearly four decades,
it appears the battle between the sexes is still raging with
little progress amongst America’s future leaders of the free
world. What does this say about America’s “cream of the
crop” - our finest young men that Academy cadets are so
often ascribed if they regularly denigrate women as simply
their cultural norm, all soon to be leaders commanding both
men and women? If anything, it says once again that the
blind are leading the blind, that disrespecting women
amongst the military has such longstanding historical roots
that resistance to positive change continues to rule. If at
this nation’s most honored institutions of leadership
widespread gender disrespect, criminal sexual behavior and
sexism remain the entrenched norms that have been condoned
for centuries until just recently, no wonder the incidents
of rape and harassment throughout our armed forces are so
rampantly out of control.
Though sex crimes appear far more pervasive in the US
military than in the civilian population, they reflect an
across the board alarm signal both nationally and globally.
The Centers for Disease and Control released its latest
findings that one in three women in the world is sexually
assaulted by her intimate male partner.
      An update on the hot topic of sexual assault in the military
reached another all time new low on March 6th, 2014.
After New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s yearlong crusade
on behalf of women in the armed forces to finally remove handling
of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases from the
chauvinistic good ol’ boys club of male commanding officers,
less than half of US Senators voted in favor of her bill,
thus falling ten votes short of passing into law changing the jurisdiction
of assault cases from military to civilian court.
All the old white men at Capitol Hill caved in to all the old white
men at the Pentagon who successfully pressured the good
ol’ boys club in Congress to continue subjecting women
to the traditional practice of old white men in uniform letting male
rapists get off Scot free. Tradition in the military has always reigned
supreme, apparently even when barbaric, brutal rape as the traditional
norm remains in common practice. And get this!
At the very moment the Senate was ruling against a chance
of justice for the victimized women in uniform, all 26,000 in 2012 alone,
across the Potomac Pentagon officials were having to confess
the latest bombshell that their top Army officer in charge
of prosecuting sexual assault himself is being investigated
for allegedly groping and attempting to kiss a lawyer at
a conference on sexual assault. Adding insult to injury, even in
the face of yet more humiliation coming from another top officer this time
in the Army entrusted to ensure justice for women assault victims
while last year the Air Force top gun was investigated for the exact
same sex crime, only proving that the blind are incapable of leading
the blind, the Senate went ahead anyway and voted to keep it business as usual.
Pretty unbelievably appalling to continue allowing males to get away
with sex crimes by looking the other way and
excusing criminal misconduct.
The Congress is just as guilty as the Pentagon and all
the rapist pigs in uniform they continue to protect.
In one fell swoop it tells us how thoroughly broken
both the political and military system is.

Men need to urgently deal with their proclivity toward
violence. Rape is not so much sexual as an act of violence,
power and control. It’s neither surprising nor shocking that
men whose occupation is fighting wars have more serious
anger and violent tendencies than their civilian male
counterpart, be it here in the US or elsewhere. Again
accountability has been grossly missing for way too long in
how so many men in uniform have gotten away with regularly
disrespecting and violating women. And getting back to that
other aforementioned problem - alcoholism and drugs - they
too frequently act as disinhibitors and play a significant
factor in sexual violence. Career destroyers of many an
officer, especially high ranking ones, manifest as gender
difficulties associated with sexual harassment, extramarital
affairs and crimes of sexual violence. Men need to evolve.
One day in March 1970, a full two years after the My
Lai massacre when US soldiers butchered nearly five hundred
innocent South Vietnamese civilians, General Stanley Koster
resigned his post as the West Point Superintendent. He was
about to be promoted from a two star Major General to a
three star Lieutenant General, but because as the Division
Commander of the unit responsible for the war crime, Koster
covered up the atrocity, he was demoted to Brigadier General
and relieved of his West Point command. Feeling unfairly
blamed and unjustly punished, General Koster addressed the
3,800 cadets in the mess hall assembled for lunch for the
final time. His last words to the Corps of Cadets were,
“Don’t let the bastards getcha down.” The Corps responded
with a standing ovation that lasted a minute and a half.


West Point mess hall - where 4,000 cadets simultaneously
eat 3 square meals per day

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