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Don’t Let The Bastards Getcha Down

 

Chapter Five (02)


Cow Year - Truth or Consequences

 

“The Soviet Union’s been occupying the Iron Curtain for
decades now, and the last time I checked Mr. Hagopian, all
of Eastern Europe is still Communist taking orders from
Moscow. With an enemy so successful at spreading its evil
Communism to over half the world, don’t you think as its
sworn enemy the US better learn how to keep up?,” he stated.
“Sir, the Soviet Union is an oppressor. America should
never become an oppressor like them. Two wrongs don’t make a
right,” I countered.
“Better Red than dead, hah?,” was his lame response.
There was no reasoning with this jingoistic Cold War
dogma that always had a rationalized justification for
American aggression. Insurgency and counterinsurgency to him
made no difference. Everything was black and white, or more
like red and white. We wore white hats as the good guy and
the Communists wore the bad guys’ hat that was always red.
Our game was to topple the bad guys’ governments by inciting
insurgency or going against the counterinsurgents in
countries where our puppet governments were struggling to
stay in power. That simple. My instructor believed we were
pre-ordained by God to be the world policeman, unilaterally
making over other countries in our own image. After all, as
the good guys we always knew what was best for everyone else
on earth. This military-political Cold War brainwash gave
rise to the ever-expanding military industrial complex that 
was determined to grow, carrying the torch to vanquish the
spread of Communism, even if it meant living forever on the
edge of total annihilation with the push of one single nuke
button.
And with 9/11 preying on the fears of Americans, we now
have the constant “war on terror” going on indefinitely that
has given renewed vigor to the sprawling military industrial
complex, enjoying more global power and influence today than
ever before. Instead of either Communism and terrorism as
our enemy, the military industrial complex is the ugly
cancer that is spreading global militarization. We are the
only nation on earth that has well over a million US
personnel spread across one hundred thirty nations occupying
over a thousand active military installations around the
world. The current military industrial complex has fueled
and driven the American Empire wars on multiple fronts. And
with West Pointers at the helm of this out of control glut, 
our polarized world has never been more dangerous. The US
foreign policy in the Middle East with constant use of air
strikes and military drones has killed thousands of innocent
civilians. And understandably, the horror and loss to those
surviving members of the families we have destroyed often
turn to hatred toward America. Through our own inhumane and
unjust aggressions and war crimes, we are making lasting
enemies around the globe that has undoubtedly led directly
to the single biggest recruitment of anti-American
terrorists. America’s poor leadership has led us down the
global path to self-destruction, not just for us Americans
but for citizens around the world. And no single institution
of higher learning is more culpable for this calamitous fate
than West Point. I should know, Generals Abizaid and
Eikenberry were my roommates, the West Point Superintendent
until last month, General Huntoon, is my classmate, and
Generals Petraeus, current NSA Director Keith Alexander and
current Joint Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey are all members
of the West Point class right behind me. The very same guys 
waging Empire Wars and gathering evidence with unlawful
surveillance and soon to be rounding us citizens up for
prison because we oppose their tyranny are my West Point
peers now calling the shots.


Cadet Alexander as a junior


General Alexander called to Congress over NSA abuse

I’m all too familiar with how
they think. West Point generals today think exactly as my
instructor did forty-one years ago. All you need to do is
substitute the word “terrorist” or “sympathizer” or
“dissident” now for “Communists” and it’s the exact same
operative broken record of a witch hunt that’s been breaking
down and destroying this planet for more than fifty years.
As a third year cadet I had to work a two-day shift as
a guard in the brigade office under an Officer-in-Charge
(OC). It mainly consisted of answering incoming phone calls
in the guard room and otherwise just sitting around bored
killing time. Suddenly I was taking a call from my friend
John Abizaid who apparently had nothing better to do than
liven up my otherwise dreary, uneventful day.
“Central Guard Room, Sergeant of Guard Hagopian
speaking,” I dutifully answered.
“You know who I am?” It was John doing his old nasal
voiced Colonel Hogie imitation. 
“The one and only Colonel Hogie of course. Glad you
called. I was falling asleep down here,” I replied slipping
right into my own fictional nasal character Colonel Skogie.
“Hey Colonel Skogie, what’s the weather like back in
Oklie-homa?,” John continued.
“What are you? Some kind of Okie?,” I replied, both of
us breaking out in laughter. In my normal voice I added, “I
think we’ve got Hogan down better than Hogan himself.”
Just then the other phone began ringing. Back into my Skogie
character, I closed with, “Hey Colonel Hogie, I gotta run,
duty calls.”
I picked up the other phone and before I even spoke,
the person on the other end blurted, “This is Colonel
Foster. Get me the OC!”
The voice I heard sounded just like another one of my
classmates Galen doing a high pitched imitation of Foster.
So that was my cue to go right back in character as Colonel
Skogie. “Hey Colonel Foster, I just finished talking to our
colleague Colonel Hogie.”
“Who is this?,” Foster demanded to know.
“Why it’s your old buddy Colonel Skogie!,” I replied.
“You know who I am?,” screamed the voice on the line.
“Sure, everybody knows who you are! You’re that four-
eyed son-of-a-bitch that goes around fucking over cadets all
the time!”
“How dare you, you God damn--” Click. He hung up. I
recall at this point for the first time contemplating the
possibility that it wasn’t my classmate after all but maybe
the son-of-a-bitch himself. I no sooner finished verbalizing
what may have just transpired to the other cadet guard when
the OC appeared from his adjoining office.
“Anyone out here answering the phones under the
influence of alcohol or drugs?,” the puzzled OC asked.
“Sir, I think I can explain.” And so I did.
“Well, Colonel Foster’s having a fit right now and is
headed our way. Just stay calm and explain what you just
told me and hopefully we can send him on his merry little
way... oh and if anything comes down on this, just let me
know and I’ll take care of it,” assured the major in charge.
I could not have asked for a cooler guy to be OC that day.
Just as we figured, within five minutes the door slammed
open and in charged an agitated Colonel Foster with nostrils
flaring and twitching. He looked around the room trying
to figure out which one of us was on drugs or alcohol, then
stormed into the OC’s office. After a couple minutes the OC
walked out and told me, “Your turn. I explained everything
and he’s calmed down some, but still wants a word with you.”
So I went in and explained everything to the madman.
“Let me give you a little professional advice mister.
As a US Army officer, I’m on duty all the time, twenty four
hours a day, seven days a week. And when I get prank phone
calls at two in the morning at home, I don’t let them
bother me. I just bite the bullet, do my duty and drive on,
and I urge you to do the same thing mister.”
Colonel Foster seemed to be handling the situation
better than I thought he would, based on his initial rage.
But that said, it did not stop him from writing me up for
“answering cadet guard phone under the influence of alcohol
or drugs” anyway. So of course I took the cool OC up on his
offer and he proved good for his word. I dodged another
bullet with the most notorious anti-cadet officer at the
Point. I could not help but wonder if at some point my luck
would one day run out. After all, my vow to never “bite the
bullet” as Foster preached could someday handicap my
capacity to keep dodging those “bullets.” But I repressed
any angst or anxiety that ever came up over this matter by
simply rationalizing how important it was for me to retain
my humanness and individuality rather than submit to the
pressures of becoming an unthinking robot who just did what
he was told, like so many other cadets.
Not long after that latest bullet dodge, Major Webb
called me into his office.
“Joachim, you know why I want to talk to you?,” Webb
queried.
“Not really sir. Did I do something wrong?,” I
inquired.
“Well Joachim, I know you’re a tough cookie playing
Army football and all, but I think you’re too soft on your
plebes. They take their cue off your lead as their squad
leader, and as a result, I’ve had to write up more demerits
on your squad than any other in the company. I think you’re
too soft and too lax with your subordinates and that’s not
what true West Point leadership is all about... you have
anything to say for yourself?,” my chastising tac officer
lectured away.
“With all due respect sir, I don’t believe a good
leader has to always come down on his subordinates by
writing them up for every little thing. I believe I have my
squad’s respect by being a positive role model to them.”
“You call yourself a positive role model with all these
demerits I’ve had to give out to your squad?,” Webb
countered. For dramatic effect he grabbed a stack of
disciplinary reports that were the demerit write-ups,
tossing them in front of me. ‘In need of haircut, too long
sideburns, unshined shoes, unshaved facial hair’... you call
this being a good role model?” Webb was doing his checkmate.
“Sir, I think we have a whole different set of values
here. I know I’m a good leader but I don’t believe in half
of these absurd, trivial, Mickey Mouse rules around here. I
just don’t think good leadership is defined by how much
you’re a zealot following and enforcing a bunch of stupid
meaningless rules.” I realized I was talking blasphemously.
But Webb had pissed me off attacking my leadership. I could
not help but speak my mind. Like the sergeant at Fort Polk,
I couldn’t pretend any longer with bullshit. Honesty had to
win out.
“Look Hagopian, I’m not going to let you blow G-1’s
chance of winning the Superintendent’s award a third year in
a row. Now you better buck up and get your squad squared
away and in order or else you may not like the
consequences.” I could see Shot was playing his best version
of hardball with me, and was likely reacting to pressure
from his boss Colonel Stephenson. I had nothing more to say.
And all Webb could say was, “You better think about what I’m
telling you Hagopian, if you know what’s good for you.” I
read between the lines and knew exactly what that asshole
was saying. He was threatening to railroad me out of the
Academy if I did not “buck up” and begin playing the game.
The very next day Shot was on the warpath. At six in
the morning barely even light out, Shot was going through
the breakfast formation writing me, my squad and a number
of G-1 cadets up for mainly in need of shave or haircut.
Shot then resorted to a low blow by coming right back at us
during the lunch formation a few hours later and wrote a
bunch of us up for in need of haircut once again. The fact
that cadets were busily attending classes the entire time
between the morning and lunch inspections made it impossible
to get a haircut by lunch.

Marching to the mess hall after Shot went through lunch formation

But that didn’t stop idiot Shot.
As my only recourse, I even wrote an appeal on the second
set of in need of haircut demerits but under the rules at
the time, my appeal went right back to idiot who had given
me the demerits in the first place. So in effect, as my
tactical officer Webb was acting as both prosecutor for
giving me the demerits and judge in reviewing my appeal.
This was clearly a due process violation. But for the last
one hundred seventy years West Point had been operating
above the law.   
That was the spring semester of 1972. A decade earlier
my war hero father had an Air Force doctor at Westover Air
Force Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts butcher his back. My
father was never the same after that botched operation as he
had been suffering from excruciating chronic back pain ever
since. It had reached the point of crisis that spring when a
very competent surgeon made the medical decision to perform
a risky back operation that might partially repair the
horrific damage done to him years earlier. My dad’s painful
condition was so severe, he opted to put his life in the
expert hands of his current doctor even though spinal tap
surgery could possibly kill him.
It was shortly after that fateful chat with Shot that
my tactical officer turned down my emergency leave request
to be there for my ailing father in his time of need, facing
a life and death situation back home in Massachusetts. All I
could think about was my poor father going under the knife,
laying there on what could be his deathbed. A sympathetic
classmate friend and future doctor from the Fourth Regiment
had just procured a couple of choice bottles of wine from
the local Washington winery. Knowing the stress and worry I
was facing, he generously gave me the wine to help ease my
fear of losing my dad. Arranging the wine bottles to chill
in an ice filled waste basket concealed in my closet, I sat
there in my fifth floor barracks room overlooking the Hudson
River as the sun was setting on that Friday evening several
hours after my father’s surgery, nervously sipping away at
the Vin Rose.

Panoramic river view from my fifth floor window

Suddenly the door opened and First Classman
Perkowski stuck his head in to do his rounds as the senior
cadet on duty that weekend.
He saw me in my repose and asked, “Is that what I think
it is?”
“Yeah...,” I answered.
“Pour it down the drain,” he told me.
“Okay, down the hatch,” I replied as I finished off the
rest of the wine in my glass.
“No Joachim, down the drain in the sink,” he insisted.
“Perk, you’re graduating in a couple weeks, can’t you
give me a pass on this?,” I asked matter-of-factly.
“Well as the weekend duty officer, I have to at least
report it... but I don’t think anything’ll come from it,” he
lied. Both he knew and I knew that if he reported it, I sure
as hell would be hit with twenty-five more demerits for
unauthorized drinking in my room along with three months
room confinement and a whole bunch of weekends walking the
area. But the little weasel tried bullshitting me in order
to justify turning me in despite graduating in a few days.
As the typical wimpy, robotic cadet afraid of getting in
trouble, Perkowski had to cover his own ass when he could
have just as easily looked the other way with so few days
left till graduation. Of course I chose to self-medicate my
fear and anxiety not knowing whether my father was dead or
alive, so it was my fate that I was not going to dodge this
particular bullet. Because I had been accumulating demerits
since the start of the the six month term in January, with
twenty-five more demerits added to my total, I suddenly
found myself just twenty demerits shy of the allowable limit
of one hundred and two. And that was all Colonel Stephenson
and Major Webb needed. They obviously had been unhappy with
both me and my fellow derelict roommate Joe Jaremko, who had
just been written up for possessing an unauthorized vehicle,
his little pride and joy MG he’d bought and been driving a
year before it was authorized as seniors.
Next it was Colonel Stephenson’s turn to call me into
his office. “You know Mr. Hagopian, you showed so much
promise a few years ago.” Stephenson then began reading my
personal statement that had been filed with my application
to West Point. “‘I love my country and, like my father the
decorated war hero, I want to serve my nation by following
in his footsteps. He taught me as a patriotic young American
that there is no more honorable and noble profession than to
protect the freedom guaranteed by our great country through
the dedicated military service as a United States Army
officer.’ That young idealist showed so much promise. But
unfortunately in the last three years as a West Point cadet,
you have fallen way short of fulfilling any of that promise.
Instead, you’ve only demonstrated that you are extremely
undisciplined, cannot follow the rules here, and, to be
totally frank, we’re just not getting enough bang for our
buck out of you.”
Though it appeared my fate had already been sealed, I
felt I had no choice but to, for the first time, submit. So
in the final two weeks of the term, first thing I did was go
down and get all my hair chopped off, shorten my sideburns,
shine my shoes and become a straightlaced, rule complying
robot, I mean cadet.
“Spring buck up” inspections are an annual ritual at
West Point where the Tactical Department typically increases
both their frequency and scrutiny in conducting room
inspections. As alluded to before, football players meal
etiquette at times can be somewhat lacking. Therefore, it
was not uncommon for me to sustain an occasional food stain
on my dress coat sleeve. That of course was fair game during
a Colonel Stephenson room inspection to be cited for stain
on the dress coat. Upon receiving my demerits for it, I then
did the only thing a cadet can possibly do to correct the
problem by sending the dress coat out to be dry cleaned. A
plebe had just delivered the coat back to me fresh from the
dry cleaners a minute before my roommate and I were leaving
for our first morning class. First thing I did was check for
the stain to determine if it had been removed.
“Shit!,” I reacted.
“What Sheik?,” asked my roommate.
“That spot’s still on my dress coat!”
As my roommate was heading for the door, he reminded,
“That’s not your fault, but if you don’t leave now, it will
be if you’re late to class.” Pressed for time, I impulsively
placed my coat still wrapped in plastic inside the drawer
below my closet and immediately left for class. Apparently
that morning while in class, Major Webb came through rooms
and wrote me up for “failing to respond to a repeated
correction with spot still on dress coat.” Despite the coat
wrapped in dry cleaning plastic, Shot saw it as an
opportunity to nail me for seven more demerits. And just
like the recent back-to-back, no-win haircut situation, Webb
once again squelched my appeal.
Shot was merely following orders from his boss
Stephenson in running up Joe’s and my demerits in the few
remaining days left in the term. But because both Joe and I
were playing the game, we were not making it easy for the
tactical department to railroad us out. Nonetheless, they
nailed Joe four days prior to the end of the term with a
false offense that put him over by four demerits. It took
them until the very final day to crucify me. It was a Sunday
morning at half past seven when the captain who was H-1’s
tactical officer spotted me arriving in chapel formation. I
had just put on my starched clean white trousers also fresh
from the dry cleaners and somehow from the time I put them
on to walking down five floors of stairs to formation,
Captain Halvorson contended that my trousers got wrinkled
enough to give me seven more demerits to put me over the top
by five. Since they were not worn more than five minutes
prior to Stephenson’s henchman writing me up for wrinkled
white trousers, it was just more crystal clear evidence of
command conspiracy that was pre-determined on that last
possible day to unfairly run my demerits up over the top on
false charges. Never before was a tactical officer from my
company much less any other company walking through early
morning Sunday chapel formations writing cadets up. It was
unheard of. But there this tool was waiting to pounce. I
never had any reason for this fool to even know who I was.
But there he was robotically doing what he had been ordered
to do, waiting to prey on me with another groundless charge.
I thought it interesting that the lowest ranking officer in
the tactical department, a captain, was commanded to do the
final dirty work. It was also interesting that lots of other
cadets standing there in formation wearing far more wrinkled
trousers than mine that day were not written up. It was only 
my trousers that caught his undivided attention that fateful
morning. I had given it my best shot trying to play their
game and definitely gave them a run for their money,
preventing them from nailing me until the eleventh and final
hour. But of course in the end, it had been a fixed race
from the very getgo, designed by a corrupt, evil system that
for nearly two centuries a lowly cadet could never win.

Go to Chapter Five (03)

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