Tuesday, November 16, 2010

From the Pages - Naked in Da Nang

Searching for an elusive enemy, forward air controllers (FACs) in Vietnam flew low and slow, often offering themselves as bait to draw fire from NVA troops. In addition to the perils of enemy fire -- which ranged from lucky AK-47 shots to .51-caliber machine guns and SA-7 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles -- they also had to watch out for B-52 Arc-Light strikes and friendly artillery fire. FACs were regarded by many of their aviator brethren as insane, suicidal, or both.

In the following exclusive excerpt from Naked in Da Nang: A Forward Air Controller in Vietnam, Mike Jackson recalls his experiences as a FAC during the Vietnam War and what they meant to him as the war moved further into his past.

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CHAPTER ONE - The FACs of Life

I shifted my weight from cheek to cheek and tried to count the American flags jutting across the angled aisles of Veterans Hall in Columbus, Ohio. As the unofficial poster child for attention deficit disorder, I have little patience with pomp and ceremony; in fact, I have little patience for much of anything. It’s a character trait that served me well in the military and above the jungles of Southeast Asia. But in the more relaxed setting of the real world, I often find myself stepping to the rhythm of a snare drum while everyone else marches to a more dignified bass beat.

Okay, Jackson, unclench your jaw, relax your neck, and chill. This shindig is partly to honor you, after all. The least you could do is try not to look like someone’s giving you an enema.

I heaved an inaudible sigh and peered past the edge of the stage, where my family and friends sat listening for my name and military history. Their cameras were poised in preparation for the moment when I would leave my orange plastic chair and collect the plaque, medal, and handshake that formalized my induction into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.

I shifted again. Sitting still has never been one of my strong suits, and it is complicated by the enduring pain of getting bounced on my head during a rocket attack in 1972. But today’s discomfort was only partly physical; something larger gnawed at my psyche. I was not at all comfortable with the event unfolding around me. I like to think I’ve got a pretty firm grasp on who I am and where I fall in the grand scheme of things, and I was certainly honored to be sitting on this stage, proud to be considered one of Ohio’s exemplary veterans.

But my mental hobgoblins were relentless in their quest for emotional integrity. How the heck does a regular guy from Tipp City, Ohio, end up being honored alongside soldiers who survived the Bataan Death March and earned the Medal of Honor? As proud as I am of my tenure as a United States Air Force officer, and my subsequent volunteer work with veterans, I wasn’t certain that any aspect of my career quite compared to the sacrifices and contributions of the men who surrounded me.

Then again, it wasn’t like me to step shyly away from the spotlight.

Sit back and enjoy yourself. You were nominated and selected; apparently someone has a more enlightened view of your accomplishments than you do. And this isn’t exactly the time or place to debate the issue.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Military Snapshot - Clearing a house in Fallujah

During Operation Phantom Fury, a soldier uses a weapon-mounted flashlight while clearing a darkened house in Fallujah. The poor visibility, coupled with household furniture and rubble, made clearing a building extremely hazardous. Insurgents used the debris -- furniture, bedding, and anything that offered cover and concealment -- for hardening in-house positions. Photo courtesy of Department of Defense, from Dick Camp's Operation Phantom Fury: The Assault and Capture of Fallujah, Iraq.