My Theater Weekend Blog #2 Screaming Into the Surf

I am obsessed – with Veterans reemployment. It keeps me pacing the floors at night. I’m not as smart as Arthur Miller to write some veiled treatise like his Crucible about McCarthyism. Nope.  I have to go to my first instinct – theater of the absurd.

That’s what I did with “Screaming Into the Surf.” I saw a documentary about brigands running all over Europe after the Crusades and wondered what would happen if today’s combat veterans chose a life of crime.

I saw how hard it was for vets to get jobs when they first returned. And wanted to capture that. That’s what “Screaming Into the Surf” is all about.

It got its first script in hand reading several years ago and it sat in my inbox just niggling at my inner conscience when I submitted it to the Reedy Point Players 2018 One Act Festival.

Since it need a director I asked around and Marshal Manlove said he’d do it.

Marshall was a great choice. He brought a wry humor to my absurd script about a guy who gets fed up with having doors slammed in his face and decides to lead a life of crime after returning home. He was in fact going to be a brigand or art thief.

Marshall got it! Bravo!

Anyway, Katie Jerzak played the wife and (returning vet herself) with a depth of emotion that had me choked up as I sat in the audience. She moved across the stage with a tortured gait I hadn’t considered.

Fran Lazartic was excellent as the tortured vet coming to grips with the futility of job searching and the diminishment of his military experience. He was tragic. He too had me twisted in knots as I watched every step and nuance of his performance.

Sometimes it’s a shame there are awards for theater because this show had moments of desperation and deep feeling equal to any on the stage this past weekend.



Dunkirk Review

Saw Dunkirk this weekend.
If you don’t know the history of the event, you will probably love it. If you do know the history, you’ll probably just like it.
The movie is almost too clever for itself. It views the event through the time of the guys on the beach (four days), the flotilla across the English Channel  (one day) and the RAF fighter planes (one hour). The result is a sometimes-confusing view of three different time segments back-to-back. Once you understand what you are look at, it all makes sense.
There is of course lots of action, but the film never explains why Hitler stops his ground attack at the town of Aa, other than a passing reference to the Luftwaffe doing the job by air. The film never talk of the bravery of the French who held German infantry at bay for almost four days giving the flotilla the time to arrive.
The big dramatic reveal of all the civilian boats in the water at Dunkirk is kind of sloppily done and never really hits the right note.
It’s okay, but not the movie history buffs will like. Dunkirk info


The recent announcement by US secretary of Defense Ash Carter to open all military occupations to women signals another step backward for wage disparity and gender equality. This is not the good news for which women have been waiting. Rather, it is deliberate sleight of hand to eviscerate veteran benefits, keep military wages low, and provide budget relief to a cash strapped pentagon.
Like any other snow job, it doesn’t sound that way at first glance – it is the second and third glances that should keep soldiers and potential soldiers of both genders marching the floors at night.
For the past few years the president and congress have been reviewing military pay, veterans benefits, and retiree plans. Each of these reviews have one thing in common – spending less money on military members.

You can dress it all up anyway you choose, but in the end it is about controlling costs while maintaining personnel numbers.
That’s why the Sec. Ash’s announcement is both brilliant and diabolical.
It goes like this.
• The greatest resistance to pay changes comes from the people thinking eviscerating wages and benefits will drive recruiting, retention, and readiness down.
• Women have been lobbying for inclusion in combat skills for decades (probably with good arguments).
• Opening all combat skills to the entire population more than doubles the number of potential recruits for combat skills.
• The readiness argument will be destroyed as there will be no drop in filling combat slots.
• Women will join combat skills at a high rate and thus ameliorate the need for better military compensation.
• Simply there will be an abundance of potential workers in combat skills keeping wages artificially low.

The great irony is of course that introducing women into combat units is supposed to level the playing field in career opportunity. Unfortunately, the only thing it will probably do, is ensure an upside-down pay equity as everyone earns less in direct compensation and benefits.

Military Disconnect: An Unintended Consequence

My friend posted this story about the nation’s disconnectedness from its military, and while there is a bit of unnecessary editorial blather with which I take issue, by and large the writer, David Zucchino, has about the 80 percent solution on the topic.

The disconnect between the society at large and the military is one of those unintended consequences of the advent of the Volunteer Army (VOLAR). The architecture of the force was supposed to prevent the disconnect.
When Army Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams began designing the post-Vietnam force, he sought to limit the nation’s ability to go to war without the public’s engagement. To do that he redesigned the Army, The US Army Reserve, and the Army National Guard.

He gave the US Army enough resources to fight a limited engagement, but not enough resources to conduct a war or long duration conflict, He put almost all the logistical support in the US Army Reserve (no combat units), put all reserve combat power in the national guard under the peacetime command of the governors of the 54 states and territories. By designing the force this way it requires the mobilization of citizen soldiers to fight a larger conflict. The thought was that civilian communities and employers would scream bloody murder as we mobilized neighbors, employees, and parents.

It’s a pretty slick idea, or at least it was for a while until the haves and have-nots self-segregated and we developed a warrior class who sought military service as a way to better their position in the economic food chain.
What Abrams didn’t plan on was the improved professionalism of the army and other services, the general apathy of the citizenry, and the drawdown of force and force structure after the cold war.

Frankly, our smaller military can now do what a larger one once did and that smaller number of participants is in and of itself more self-isolating. As a result the misapplication of military Abrams sought to stymie is very alive and well. The smaller numbers of potential combatants spread across a nation more than 330 million and 54 states and territories means no single community or state suffers enough to make generating political will to blunt military action likely. I’m not sure what we do about that, but sure is bad place to be.

Note: I take great issue with Mr. Zucchino’s implication that the military lifestyle, healthcare, and retirement benefits are in some way exorbitant. I won’t fight that battle here.

Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission Gets it Wrong

Bradley Fighting Vehicle
Bradley Fighting Vehicle

Earlier this week the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission released its report recommending an overhaul to the military’s compensation and retirement system. The recommendations, which include a 401k-type savings plan, a graduated pension for service members completing 20 years of service, and a plan to move military retirees to private health insurance similar to that of federal employees has me skeptical.

The problem with much of this is that it starts from a false assumption; military service is comparable with civilian employment and therefore should be compensated similarly.

The simple truth, that congressional and executive branch leaders don’t seem to understand, is that these lives are vastly dissimilar and attempting to curtail compensation to match a civilian paradigm is either intellectually dishonest or a colossal misunderstanding of the world in which service members live.

I could write a long dissertation on the topic, but that would only obfuscate issues and bore us both.

It is this simple. The idea of a grateful nation is a fallacy at best and any compensation military retirees earn is sorely needed as veterans reenter civilian life.

Military retirees need every penny and advantage to re-enter a civilian world. They often have to start over in a career field and many have to convince employers that a military career is has transferable value. Moreover, the ageism military retirees face can and does raise its head as these employment applicants are often grayer than people they are competing against. (I have personally been asked in job interviews whether I would have longevity since I had already retired from one profession.)

To return to military retirees to the civilian world with an “on the cheap” pension and healthcare system that takes money out of pockets as they struggle to make their way in an employment system that values coast over experience is a slap in the face that will surely lead to reduced retention of quality leaders.

It is easy to get knuckleheads to stay, but getting quality leaders to stay requires commitment from the federal government and the American people that seems to be ebbing.

Much of the discussion I’ve read concerning compensation, says that military leaders are concerned that skyrocketing personnel costs are putting future weapons modernization at risk. This rings hollow.

We spend more on defense than do the next ten nations combined. We have a parking lot of tanks in the Nevada desert gathering dust because no service wants them, and there is story, after story of built and unneeded and unwanted equipment.

And the solution to this unrestrained spending free-for-all is to saddle modernization on the back of people programs and retiree compensation.

It’s wrong and unconscionable.

It just makes no sense and will surely lead to poor retention.

When it does, more young people will die and get wounded because the leaders they need left the service because the congress and the nation turned its collective backs on them.

Why The “American Sniper” Murder Trial Could Slow Vets Hiring, But Shouldn’t

Bradley Fighting Vehicle
Bradley Fighting Vehicle

The trial of accused ‘American Sniper‘ killer Eddie Ray Routh may make Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) the new excuse de jour for employers to turn their backs on veterans hiring — as if it weren’t hard enough already to make them see the value former sevice members bring to an organization.

Articles like the LA Times recent story, “‘American Sniper’ Trial Raises Questions About Veterans, PTSD and Firearms” by Molly Hennessy-Fisk, which examines why hunting, firearms, and PTSD might be a bad mix, yet forgets to mention recent studies suggesting only about seven percent of all veterans suffer from the disorder– only serves to sensitize employers to a problem that isn’t nearly as bad as this story or popular culture would have us believe.

A parade of TV action shows, portrays returning veterans as short-fused time bombs, with lethal skills, honed in hand-to-hand sawdust pits, where everyone is a knife wielding expert regardless of whether they were a ranger, truck driver, computer operator, supply clerk, or an accountant.

Yup! Everyone is a steely-eyed killer — just waiting for the right “Manchurian Candidate” stimulus to spring into action.

Thankfully, the truth is much less dramatic and scary. PTSD affects fewer than 300,000 veterans. And the severity is no worse than that experienced by the 7.7 million civilians also hampered with the disorder.

Few veterans – like the ones Hennessy-Fiskshe describes for her firearms story – sit in restaurants with shaking hands, only calmed after a day of hunting deer or antelope.

With stories like this, employers are going to double check every veteran’s resumes, looking for blood smudges or powder burns. They may even bring in special dogs to run every resume through a Cordite test.

Probably a better story to put PTSD into perspective is a Fortune article from November 2013 entitled “3 Reasons Why Companies Don’t Hire Veterans.” This one takes a more sober look at the topic and how it relates to employment

This is not to make light or minimize the impact PTSD has on its sufferers, but employers need to know hiring veterans is a no more risky than hiring anyone else, and is a great deal more likely to make the employer a lot of money.