Robert Kaplan on Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts
HH: It’s a long interview with an author who deserves a lot of time. Robert D. Kaplan is the author of the new book, Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military In The Air, The Sea, And On The Ground. Previously, Robert Kaplan’s been on this program as the author of Imperial Grunts and on a number of other occasions, on a number of other subjects. Welcome back, Robert Kaplan, great to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
RK: It’s my pleasure to be here, Hugh.
HH: You know, I want to begin in the 9th chapter of this, your second book on the American military, as you were driving out of Timbuktu, 11 hours beyond the gates of Timbuktu. Use that as a metaphor for what you were doing and why you went the places you have gone.
RK: Well, Timbuktu is not the edge of the Earth. The edge of the Earth is miles beyond Timbuktu, north into the heart of the Sahara desert. And I was with a company of American Special Forces officers, about twelve of them, all non-commissioned officers except for a captain. And you would think what is the U.S. military doing in the heart of the Sahara desert. Well, we’re not only in the heart of the Sahara desert, we’re all over the Pacific ocean, we’ll all over South America, and all this is occurring while we are fighting a war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And what I tried to do in the course of the years in which I embedded with the military was to show the whole thing. Not to ignore Iraq, but not to be limited by it, either, because one big deployment might overstretch us like Iraq, but dozens upon dozens of smaller deployments will do no such thing. So I was with a company of American Special Forces officers who were investigating just what was in the center of the Sahara desert in terms of al Qaeda movements, humanitarian, prospects for humanitarian relief, just getting to know Africa. Because in this global world war on terrorism, really is a global war.
HH: Now your accompanied by, extraordinary in the course of this book, an extraordinary array of Americans, one of which on this particular trip is an Evangelical staff sergeant from Oklahoma who doesn’t want to be identified, because he doesn’t want his deeds to serve himself. I thought that was another metaphor for the extraordinary people you’ve spent the last many years with.
RK: Yeah, the people I…what I did was I didn’t report on anybody in this book. I befriended a lot of people, and revealed them to the reader as they revealed themselves to me. And the best of these people didn’t want any publicity, not because they were afraid of being written up badly, but because they were afraid of getting public recognition for anything they do. For them, the real sweet thing is to do it and not get recognition, if you can believe it. And this Evangelical staff sergeant, he drove most of the way through blistering sandstorms, he slept only six hours, which was interrupted by an hour and a half of guard duty, and he got up the next morning to fit little African children for eyeglasses as part of a civil affairs project that this Special Forces A-team was doing. And just, you know, just dealt with one child, one woman after another throughout the morning without any complaining about lack of sleep or anything.
HH: Let me tell the audience, this is a remarkable read, you’re going to want to get Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts, and just an example of detail, “Following sun up, Captain Tory, an Evangelical staff sergeant from Oklahoma, set up an eye clinic inside one of the ruins. They unpack little boxes of adaptable eyewear, an ingenious, low-tech device manufactured by the U.S. Agency for International Development. These were round, Harry Potterish horn-rimmed glasses of zero prescription which increasingly strengthened as you pumped a clear gel solution attached to the frame inside the glass. The SF, Special Forces guys called them, ‘never get laid again glasses,’ because of how they made you look.” Now that has got an eye for detail, pardon the pun, Robert Kaplan, but I guess it is in those very small things, as well as the B-2’s that we’ll talk about later, that the genius in the American military lies.
RK: Yeah, it all lies in the details. For the price of one F-22, you could populate all of Africa with SF-A teams doing humanitarian relief. But that is not necessarily a criticism of an F-22, because I get that later in the book when I talk about the B-2 and other expensive bombers, which are sort of an expensive form of health insurance to keep the Chinese honest about their intentions in Taiwan. But you know, we get bargains in our military budget, and we don’t. The B-2’s, the F-22’s, there’s no bargains there. But in terms of what we can do on the ground in a place like Africa, we get a lot of bargains like this deployment that I embedded on.
HH: Now Robert Kaplan, having set the table and hopefully got the hook into the listener, and I don’t think it’s very hard to do with this book, I want to back up and tell them a little bit about you. Your bio reads you’re a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, you’re the author of 11 previous books on foreign affairs and travel, many of which are just riveting, some of which have brought you audiences like President Bush at the White House, and an appointment at the United States Naval Academy as the class of 1960 distinguished visiting professor in national security at the USNA. Tell me what your, what’s your motive? Why are you doing this?
RK: My motive is, as I said earlier, is without this book, these people would not have a voice, Hugh. And by these people, I mean all of the sailors in the U.S. Navy who are aboard submarines and aboard frigates and destroyers, all these Special Forces officers who are on deployments in Africa, South America and Asia, all these forgotten deployments, number one. And even many of those in Iraq and Afghanistan, where all you read, often, is troubling news. And what I’m doing is I’m not whitewashing anything. I’m befriending people and letting them reveal themselves to the reader as they reveal themselves to me. Without a book like this, these people would stay hidden, they would be silent. And I really believe that they deserve, you know, they deserve their voice, their recognition, too. That’s what’s really motivating me.
HH: After the first break, I’m going to come back and talk about the plan you adopted to get this book and the future books done, and the one in the past, Imperial Grunts. But before we come back to the specifics of Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts, I want to talk and end the first segment about Iraq, because you have a chapter on Iraq, you were there before, you’ve been back, obviously. What is the impact of Iraq on the American military?
RK: The impact, it’s strained it. It hasn’t devastatingly strained it, but it strained it in the sense that every deployment where I embedded, whether in South America, Asia or Africa, there was always complaints about they didn’t have enough planes, they didn’t have enough equipment, that the best linguists were not there, because everything was being sucked by Iraq, you know, was being sucked up by Iraq. Now they came up with ingenious solutions to a lot of these things, but you could feel the impact on the American military throughout the world on Iraq. But there’s something else here, Hugh, it’s that if you set aside the manpower strains that Iraq has surely imposed, Iraq has also invigorated the quality of the American military to no small extent. A military is only as good as its staff colleges. And people have been coming back from Iraq and from Afghanistan with a horde of lessons learned to reinvigorate curriculums at West Point, many other places as well. It’s really turned the U.S. military into a, the Army especially, into a lean and mean battle-hardened military that knows a lot more about the world today than it did several years ago.
HH: We’ll spend some time talking about those specific lessons. But before we get to the break, there’s a spectrum of opinion on Iraq that ranges from Thomas P.M. Barnett’s view that we’ve just got to get out of the way of the inevitable Sunni-Shia slaughter, and until that comes, we won’t get stability. And then there’s the Victor Davis Hanson view that maybe what we are seeing is the 1864, the equivalent of the 1864 march on Atlanta by Sherman, and a turning in the war. Stepping back from the specifics on the military and Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts, what do you see unfolding, Robert Kaplan, in Iraq?
RK: What I see unfolding is that there will be gradually a very uneasy Sunni-Shiite armistice. But that will not be the end of it. Iraq is going to have major repercussions on politics in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco. It’s really going to…what it’s really going to do is in a very uneasy, messy fashion is going to usher in more openness and decentralization in the Arab world. The next generation of Arab autocrats will not be able to rule as autocratically as the current generation, because of a lot of the changes that Iraq will have imposed. In terms of Iran, I think that Iraq may turn out to be Iran’s poisoned chalice, that the Iranians have been able to be spoilers in Iraq, but it’s unclear that they can make a peace any better than we have been able to.
HH: At the conclusion of the chapter, you write, “Excepting the collapse of Turkey’s empire, the creation of the state of Israel and the Iranian revolution, neither anything nor anybody in a century has so jolted the Middle East as had George W. Bush.” 30 seconds to our break, is that a good thing in your view, Robert Kaplan?
RK: It’s unclear yet. We’ve seen the bad effects of it. You can’t erase tens of thousands of deaths and say yeah, but it’s been worth it for the sake of strategic positioning. But I think the ability to get al Qaeda to fight against its own Sunnis, to get Sunnis to revolt against al Qaeda, and to upset the complacency of Sunni Arab police states in Iraq and Saudi Arabia will turn out to be hopefully a good thing.
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HH: Before getting into the tall grass of the book, Robert Kaplan, explain to people your project, and how it began with Imperial Grunts, where it’s gone with this book, where it’s going to continue, and how you chart your course in surveying the American military in the air, the sea and the [ground].
RK: Well, I wanted to take the traditional genre of literary travel writing and apply it to the American military, to go around the world and meet people the way I did for years with previous books, except this time, I would limit myself to American soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors. So it was to take a genre not usually applied to the American military, and apply it as such. My plan was to embed in as many missions as possible, not limiting myself to Iraq and Afghanistan, but to include Naval missions in the Pacific, on surface and subsurface war ships, to embed with Air Force units around the world, and with a particular emphasis, and with the Army, with particular emphasis on Army Special Forces and Marines, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I said, but in the heart of Africa, in South America, in Asia, and to kind of always cover things that generally didn’t get covered much. In other words, we were having all these exercises, these Special Forces exercises in sub-Saharan Africa for years. But the media was invited to cover it, but it failed to. So I figured I would cover it. We always read about F-15 and F-14 and F-16 fighter jets, but we don’t read much about B-2 bomber pilots, or A-10 Warthog pilots. So I figured I would cover it. My aim was to be a gap filler, to give voice to people who are ordinarily invisible to America, but are out there on the front lines all around the world. It really is a global war on terrorism. And to convey that, I had to travel the globe.
HH: Now you visited, and it’s a very moving little anecdote, the grave of Ernie Pyle. For the benefit of our younger audience, why don’t you explain who he is and why you went there.
RK: Well, Ernie Pyle was a World War II newspaper correspondent who had covered, who had used the words we and our in his narrative to show that he was one with the troops. This was during World War II when such an attitude was not controversial. He traveled all over with the troops throughout World War II, and was finally killed, literally, in the last days of the Battle of Okinawa, the last big battle of World War II in the Pacific, and in fact, of World War II totally. Because after Okinawa, there was just the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So he had just, you know, he was killed literally in the last days of the war, and he’s buried at the military ceremony in Honolulu.
HH: Now are you approving of his style, and are you consciously trying to emulate it in this book?
RK: Well, you know, as a practical matter, when you’re one American civilian embedded with 20 or 30 or 50 or 300 American troops, whether in Special Forces A-team, or on a destroyer, not to use the words we and our is very awkward. You know, it leads you into factual inaccuracies, because you’re doing things with them. You’re an American, they’re an American, and so not to use we and our becomes a very awkward construction. But I think that seeing that they were Americans, I was American, I was following them around, I thought that adopting the style of correspondents like Ernie Pyle and Richard Tregaskis and Robert Sherrod, and other World War II correspondents, was quite appropriate.
HH: Now tell me, what does it take to get the men, and some women, but it’s primarily men of the American military to talk to you, and to genuinely be candid?
RK: Well, that’s a great question, Hugh. I can tell you, it’s not always that easy. I spent a month embedded with a Special Forces A-team in southern Algerian in the middle of the summer.
HH: It’s an amazing chapter, by the way. We’re going to spend a section on that entirely.
RK: Right, and I can tell you the first ten days, I almost got nothing in my notebook. And all the gold came in the last ten days of the month, after I’d been with them for three weeks. And the reason is they won’t open up to you until they know you and trust you. And you can’t get them to trust you by telling them to trust you. You just have to hang out and be one of the guys in this case, and show them, you know, the thing is to pass the asshole test, to show them that you’re not an asshole. And all you can be is be yourself, because they will see through you very fast. You know, as I said earlier, I didn’t seek to report on people or to interview people, but to make new friends, and reveal them in the pages of my notebook as they revealed themselves to me. So you know what it takes to get them to open up to you, Hugh? It takes time. Time is the critical factor. If you’re just embedded for three or four days, if you’re on a tight newspaper headline deadline, you’re not going to have the time, and you’re not going to get the gold, usually. But if you have a month to spare, you can be relaxed about it, you’re not in anyone’s face, you’re not rushing them, and it just all comes to you almost organically.
HH: Now Robert Kaplan, both Imperial Grunts, and I’m certain Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts, is going to be greatly revered by the active duty members of the American military. But does American journalism avoid this kind of journalism as a matter of cost, as a matter of ideology? Why don’t they do this?
RK: Well, actually, because what I’m doing isn’t really journalism in a way. It’s more like old-fashioned travel writing, or it’s more like journalism from fifty years ago. You know, American journalism, you know, in the Woodward-Bernstein age is about discovering problems. It’s about revealing inconsistencies. It’s about finding out the story, and the story has to be something that’s gone wrong in some way, shape or form. But if you’re idea is not to find out what’s wrong, it’s just to kind of reveal people, to show them, to send almost like a postcard to the reader as to what it’s about, you know, what these people are seeing, feeling, what their challenges and frustrations are, that’s not really where American journalism is at the moment.
HH: And for the benefit of the audience who didn’t hear our first interview about Imperial Grunts, and are just hearing about Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts for the first time, how did you develop the actual agenda? This is not the Pentagon saying Kaplan, go to Korea, and then we’re sending you to Algeria, and then you can go to Mongolia. How did this particular order of appearance arrive?
RK: Well, first of all, I didn’t deal with the Pentagon at all. I don’t even have in my rolodex the phone number of the public affairs office at the Pentagon. The American military is radically decentralized. People at the Pentagon have no idea when there’s going to be a deployment to Senegal or Chad or Mauritania. All that’s done at the level of the geographic area command, the combatant command. So you need contacts with middle and upper level, and an upper middle level officer is at European command, at Pacific command, at Central command. I constantly worked contacts at the level of major and lieutenant colonel, or lieutenant commander in the case of the Navy. Those were the people who got me where I was going. And I had to drive them. I had to constantly repeat I want to go on a submarine for a few weeks.
HH: And then it happens.
RK: And then it happened.
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HH: Robert Kaplan, I want to read three paragraphs as a means of illustrating a common theme throughout Hog Pilots. These appear on Page 189 and Page 190 that concern Master Sergeant Butcher of Springfield. “Once we get our ammo tomorrow, we’ll be happy, said the team sergeant, Master Sergeant Ken Butcher of Springfield, New Hampshire. Staff Sergeant Michael Hare of St. Paul, Minnesota, the 18 Bravo weapons specialist cut in, derisively. “Any soldier who doesn’t like to shoot all the time should leave the Army. And unfortunately, there are a lot of those around.” “Everyone in America should own at least five guns,” someone else answered. More nods. Master Sergeant Butcher owned 38 guns. Everyone agreed that whenever you read in newspapers about a kid shooting someone with his father’s gun, it was because the father kept a gun in the closet and told the kid never to touch it, which of course he would. Rather than a working gun, it served as a macho item that the father owned to show to all his friends. With one or two exceptions, these sergeants all owned working guns, and had taught their sons and daughters gun safety. “My son is too young to shoot,” Ken Butcher explained. “But whenever he hands me his plastic cap gun, he knows to disarm it first.” Ken Butcher has handled humanitarian and military emergencies in 73 countries in the course of 17 years in the Army. Accepted at Dartmouth, he enlisted instead and never regretted it. He never even wanted to go to officer’s candidate school at Fort Benning, Georgia. He had worked with the anti-Saddam Kurds in northern Iraq. And then for nearly a decade, he was all over the former Yugoslavia interrogating local politicians and suspected war criminals, helping Romanian and Hungarian elements of the international security force, providing protection for visiting heads of state, and so forth. He was in Zaire in 1997 when it felt apart, in Liberia in 2004 when it, too, disintegrated. He was in Sierra Leone twice during mayhem there, and he had tutored the cabinet of Azerbaijan in disaster management. He had called in a JDAM strike in Spin Boldak, in Eastern Afghanistan, in 2001, helped Armenia recover from an earthquake, and traveled on horseback and snowmobile through Canada’s northwest territories, among a plethora of other assignments, an experience that would make Harrison Ford drool. Months later in Mali, I had mentioned Butcher’s name to an SF buddy of his, Special Forces buddy of his, who told me how Butcher had, ‘MacGyver’ a solution to a frozen fuel line in a snowmobile using only a Leatherman. This all was after guarding Pershing II nuclear missiles in Germany in the last days of the Cold War. Butcher’s musculature seems slightly crushed in on accounts of years of rucking and parachute jumps. Under short, dirty blond hair, he had a blunt, ground-down, rural New Hampshire way of speaking that recalled the poetry of Robert Frost. This was enhanced by a no bull-blank expression that at proper moments turned wistful. It reminded me of tough and reserved kibbutzniks of yore. Butcher was happiest embracing the suck.” You know, Robert, that’s an amazing piece of writing, but it’s also an amazing man, and I guess he’s not all that rare.
RK: No, he’s not all that rare, and getting him to reveal all this stuff was not the easiest thing, because he really didn’t want to talk about it. You know, this occurred many, many days into my knowing him. You know, he’s not rare within the Special Forces community. He would be a bit rare within the larger Army community. But if there’s one thing that kept coming back to me, it was the amazing resumes of these non-commissioned officers.
RK: They read like the resumes of our best foreign correspondents.
HH: Now you also make a couple of points about general…I want to do before we go to these particular assignments. One is that Alaska and the frontier ethic is completely pervading our military, and the second is that good farmers have always made great warriors, and they continue to.
RK: Yes. And one of the things is that you know, the family farm is dying in America. But on many of the SF A-teams in which I embedded, the Special Forces A-teams in which I embedded, there were sometimes half of the team had grown up on family farms. So the number of farmers in SF detachments, and in the Army, too, is much greater than in the country as a whole. And I think there’s a link between a rural existence and a good fighting soldiery. And we’re certainly losing that as the family farm dies off, as we become more of a suburban and exburban generation. You know, the whole idea of something rural is going to disappear in American society.
HH: You know, Victor Davis Hanson, I’m sure, classicist and military historian, would agree with that. We’ve got 30 seconds to the break. What percentage of people talk about Alaska and the frontier in the military with wistful tones, Robert Kaplan?
RK: More than you would think. For instance, you would think who cares about Alaska? It’s one other place. But in fact, the best U.S. Army units that I’ve encountered, the ones that are closest to SF units, tended to be those from Alaska, the Stryker brigades based in Fairbanks and up near Anchorage, and I think it’s because, and we can go into this in the next segment, but there’s something about Alaska, the very brutality of its climate, that develops tighter unit cohesion, and thus, better soldiers.
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HH: We went to break, Robert Kaplan, we were talking about one of those themes that recurs through your various deployments. You run into a number of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with a fondness for Alaska. Many have trained there. Some have been…I know Alaska like many Americans do, from the side of a cruise ship saying boy, this is a big place. But there’s a cult in the military of Alaska.
RK: Yeah, there certainly is. And the colder the better. They almost look down on Anchorage as too much like Seattle and San Francisco. They call Anchorage the banana belt, because it’s so much warmer and more tropical than Fairbanks and the central part of the state. They like it because it’s hard. They like it because the hunting is good. The Air Force loves it, because there are very few low level noise restrictions. And also, training in the Arctic cold is much harder than training or deploying in any kind of climate. Here’s why. Hot countries, you’re just uncomfortable with heat and sweat. But cold climate, below freezing climate, you’re more than uncomfortable. You could actually die if you don’t plan ahead or get frostbite, or lose your fingers or your toes if you haven’t packed, if you’ve forgotten your gloves or something, or you forgot to pack your long underwear or something. So the Arctic demands much better preparation, much better logistical preparation and planning, so that it’s almost as if…Alaska’s where we’re training a lot of the Stryker brigades for deployment in Iraq, where I’ve seen whole Iraqi Arab towns set up in the heart of the Alaskan tundra, complete with Mosque calls in Arabic, and street signs in Arabic, and training in that Arctic cold, doing everything with gloves on, it makes Iraq itself a little easier once you get there, because you no longer have to wear your gloves, you no longer have the cold. There are a lot of things you had to pack you don’t have to pack. So it’s kind of like walking with weights, and then taking the weights off.
HH: There’s also I think a tremendous insight, which I’m sure the military already has internalized, even if they don’t articulate it, which is if your logistics are the essence to success, the people who learn their logistics in the Arctic are going to perform much better when they have to do the same sort of thing in any situation. And so it improves the NCO corps dramatically.
RK: Oh, yes, it certainly does. It’s just a much more intimate indoors interiority of a climate up in Alaska, which brings units closer together. And if you think about it, the Stryker brigade combat teams which have basically rescued Mosul…you know, an update on my chapter in Mosul is Mosul’s doing a lot better now. There hasn’t been a major attack since last spring there. The Stryker brigades that rescued Mosul, that did such fine work in Baghdad last summer, were all Alaska-based brigades.
HH: Now I want to switch over to the seas now, to the Benfold, the destroyer on which you deployed and embedded for a long period of time. Now I think this is the ship that my cousin served on in the Iraq war, and it’s the ship that does the complete staff change. Everyone deploys onto it, and so they can stay deployed for the longest period of time.
RK: Yeah, it’s called a sea swap, Hugh.
HH: Yeah, they don’t like that. He didn’t like that, either. I see you noted that in your book. The sailors hate that. Why?
RK: Yes. Yeah, because sailors…once you go to the Navy and the Air Force, Hugh…you see, our soldiers and Marines, they’re just plain warriors. But in sailors and airmen, they have their relationship triangulated by technology, meaning that they have a particular love for the air or Naval platform. They love their destroyer, or they love their submarine, or they love their B-2 bomber or whatever. And when you just tell them that all destroyers are the same, you’re going to serve six months on this destroyer, six months on another destroyer, you really, you’re really undermining their very morale in a deep sense. And when I was embedded on the Benfold, there had been a sea swap. A lot of the sailors had come from the U.S.S. Higgins, which had served in Iraq, which had fired some of the first shots of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the sailors had a particular love for the Higgins because of the name of the boat, because it was one boat, one ship, where the name was not based on a World War II or a Korean war Medal of Honor winner, but on someone who had died in Lebanon in the 1980’s. The fact that it was a much more recent hero engendered a whole new meaning to these young sailors.
HH: Now on your time on the Benfold, you also report, and I tested this out against my friend Joseph Timothy Cook who’s a Vietnam-era Naval aviator, flown off of carriers, that the chief’s mess, and the aura of the chiefs is so real, and that no one goes into the chief’s mess, and he said good eye for detail, Kaplan. That’s an interesting aspect I had never heard of before.
RK: Yeah, you know, of all the non-commissioned officers in the U.S. military, none have quite the aura of Naval chiefs. And the word itself chief, it connotes authority. These are what I call the 1950’s, prosperous, uber-working class type of guys. They’re almost from an earlier generation. You know, they seem like the kind of people I remember from my dimmest, earliest childhood, people who had beautiful homes not because they were investment bankers, but because they were an electrician or a plumber, or something like that. And in the officer’s wardroom, non-commissioned officers will walk in and out if they need to. But no officer will ever walk into the chief’s lounge on a surface or sub-surface warship without being invited, because it’s almost like a cult.
HH: Now you write also about Petty Officer Second Class Robert Contreras of San Fernando. “The Navy made him the geek he was always meant to be.” We’ve got a minute to our break for the second hour, Robert Kaplan. What do you mean by that?
RK: What I mean is he was always the science whiz in school, very, very bright, a lot going on in his mind, a bit awkward. You know, he was someone who would turn into like a geek who went to a top school or something, but he grew up in very modest circumstances with family problems. He got into trouble, he had disciplinary problems. So this geek side of him was hidden, almost. But once he was able to join the Navy, and they did all these batteries of tests on him, you know, these intelligence tests, and it turned out just how talented and brilliant this kid was, the Navy revealed him, it was able to reveal a whole new side to him.
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HH: Robert Kaplan, we’ll come back next hour and start with going below the sea on the submarine chapter. But let’s finish up on the Benfold, where you were deployed on a destroyer. You say that the Navy, this sort of Navy is vanishing, but the next generation of ships may not even have outdoor platforms, and that this is odd, really.
RK: Yeah, when you look at the designs of the new DDX destroyer that, by the way, if they ever build it, it’s going to cost about $4 billion dollars per ship, there’s almost…you know, the whole notion of a deck, of deck plates, is sort of gone. It’s almost like when you look at the drawings of these things, they’re like submarines that are on top of the water. Everything is modular, and so I pointed out that to be embedded on a destroyer in the early part of the 21st Century was very, I was very privileged, because I was on a destroyer while it was still a real ship, where there was still a deck life, you know, where you could walk around. And I can tell you, probably very few experiences I’ve had in my entire life were like crossing the Pacific on a destroyer back from the South Seas, from Southeast Asia, all the way to Hawaii. You know, you look at a map and you see how there’s a lot of ocean in the world, but until you really experience it, you can’t really appreciate it. There’s so much salt in the ocean that just taking a walk on the deck on the Benfold, you put your fingers through your hair and it’s full of these salt particles.
HH: Now you write, to close out this hour, “whereas the Marines are a cult, the Navy is a calling.” You’re not meaning to denigrate the Marines, but you’re trying to distinguish. Can you expand on that a little bit in the minute we have left in this segment?
RK: Yes, there’s just an intensity with the Marines. The Marines are like a successful gang. They’re like a reformatory that works, that’s really reformed people into better citizens. You know, they’re a gang that works. The Marines take people, they break them down, and then they rebuild them up again as solid citizens. But the calling to be in the Navy, to go on ships or boats, in the case of submarines and aircraft carriers, really is a calling in the sense that the officers that I met were not always that physical.