...,2nd Draft

2nd Draft – Afterward – 4 Jul 201004 Jul

I am shamelessly copying the outline and some of the topics for this little essay from Andrew Lubin’s 4 July piece, here.

My parents immigrated to America a year before I was born in 1969. My mom, Erika Hartgen Wasito, worked in a commercial bank in Hamburg, Germany, where she met my father who was a radio operator on an Indonesian merchant marine ship. When they arrived in San Francisco, CA, they rented an apartment from my future Godparents, LtCol (Ret) Joe and Nina Robustellini, at 1401 Diamond Street in Noe Valley, a San Francisco neighborhood. My father left when I was four, leaving my mom to raise my sister and me as a single, working mother. We moved across the street to 1424 Diamond. Joe became a de facto father to the Wasito kids, and my German grandparents came over for 6-months at a time.

Joe played baseball with me, played chess, and I read National Geographic and World War II history incessantly. With the support of my Godparents I attended the local Catholic school, Saint Phillips, and then the San Francisco Jesuit College Prep, Saint Ignatius. When we were growing up, my Godparents always took the position that all Americans, regardless of origin, should speak and write English first. I grew up speaking German too, but never really saw the need to become proficient. As a young girl in Hamburg, Germany, my mother had watched Hamburg burn during US Air Force (Army Air Corps at the time) fire bombing; Joe Robustellini, as a young officer, had served in the 8th Air Force in England at the same time (though not as a bomber crew member). But, in the 1970s, as the Wasito kids grew up, my mom, Joe, Nina — and sometimes my German Grandparents — celebrated holidays together.

Joe Robustellini had been a Sergeant in the US Army in 1940, having enlisted in the mid 1930s. He came from Northern California, where he has kin to this day. At the outset of World War II, Joe went to Officer Candidate School, was commissioned, and served in a Heavy Bomb Group near Cambridge, England, during World War II. Joe married Nina during World War II, but they could never have kids due to health issues. Joe retired with 20 years at the rank of LtCol in the mid 1950s. Then he worked another 20 years in a Federal job at Letterman Army Hospital in the Presidio, San Francisco, CA until the mid 1970s. At the age of 65, with a total of 3 government pensions, he went to Accountemps to stay active. Soon, a law firm hired him full time, and he worked almost until his death at the age of 88. On weekends, he would collect aluminum cans decked out in his Army issue utilities from decades ago to fill up the time with something of social and economic worth. But, like all things, he did not just idly collect cans — he did so with a system, and Saturday mornings would find my Godfather and me stomping them into bright, shiny discs, shoveling them into a large container, and taking them to the recycling facility where we collected a few dollars.

Too, he paid for good grades. So, I collected high grades. My sister would end up a so-called Double Domer — Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law. I graduated from Harvard and Stanford Law. Joe Robusellini attended all of those graduations, though my mom and Godmother did not survive until the last diplomas were collected. A picture of Joe Robustellini, my sister, me, Nina Robustellini, and my mom, below:

At Harvard, I studied American History and Literature, with an odd focus: The early Puritans, and the Vietnam War. Inspired maybe by the Jesuits, I was interested in the original ideas of “A City on a Hill” of the Massachusetts Bay Company, which was a joint stock company and a religious endeavor, all rolled into one. But, having studied about the American military in a successful “big war” by going through Joe Robustellini’s collection of World War II histories, I also wanted to study why America lost a more recent war against something called guerillas. For the longest time as a child, I thought news reports referred to American soldiers being killed in the jungle by gorillas. I was curious about why American technological dominance did not result in a win during the Vietnam War. I ended up taking classes on the Vietnam War with Eliot Cohen, as well as foreign relations classes with Sam Huntington. I wrote my thesis at Harvard on James Webb’s novel, Fields of Fire.

Among other sources, Sheehan, Bright Shining Lie and Krulak, First to Fight, pointed the way towards a technique that would work in counterinsurgency (COIN) — the combined action platoon or CAP. Yet, in Vietnam, the CAP program was a small minority of operations. When I asked James Webb in a phone interview what he thought of CAP, he said that such a small outpost would have been run over by a NVA main force unit in the An Hoa Basin where his Marine Company operated in 1969. Years later, I would find these same sources quoted by John Nagl in his influential work, Learning To Eat Soup With A Knife. In the Iraq War, the US Military did in fact adopt COIN techniques like CAP (aka, JSS…) in the Surge of 2007 lead famously by General Petreaus.

After Harvard, I went into the Marines. I went through Marine Platoon Leaders Class (PLC), one version of Marine Officer Candidate School (OCS) that did not give me any money for college, but did not require any drill during the school year. I boxed for four years, after playing a year of football, and participated in the Golden Gloves my senior year. In the Fleet Marine Force, I was a Rifle Platoon Commander, Weapons Platoon Commander, Rifle Company XO, then had some Operations Section assignments at Battalion and Regiment. Without a doubt, the best thing about the experience is the people — the high quality, lifelong friends are the best reward. My co-author on a book project about Lima 3/7, for example, was a machine gunner attached to my Rifle Platoon, then one of my Marines in Weapons Platoon, then my driver on the staff. On deployments, or drives up to Ft Irwin for cross-training with the Army, we would talk military history for hours. Years later, when he had completed his degree, we became friends, and then started to collect interviews for this book project. Below are photos of my squad leaders and me in Thailand; and photos of me with a Kuwaiti counterpart officer at a peacetime exercise in Kuwaiti.

Now, as I work on a book about a Marine Rifle Company during 4 Iraq deployments from 2003 to 2007, I have come upon a thematic intersection with Andrew Lubin’s terrific post, above. As the Rifle Company of about 150 Marines sought to optimize its teams for the Combined Action Platoon mission in Ramadi, 2007, the leaders found that the best Marines were not American-born. Rather, they found that the best Marines to interact with the Iraqis were often immigrants — for example, from central Asian republics near Russia; or Marines who were married to a Brazilian wife. Out of 150 Marines, the Rifle Company organized 7 teams comprised of no more than 10 Marines each for a total of 70 Marines to be embedded with much larger Iraqi Police units in dispersed districts in Ramadi, 2007. The remaining Marines would form a centralized quick reaction force. Below is a interview with two Marines, one a Lieutenant, and the other a Sergeant (frocked to Lieutenant), talking about how they selected Marines for the CAP mission in Ramadi, 2007:

And so, on 4th of July 2010, I end my reflection on what it means to be an American. Lubin has it right. The best Americans all along have been those who come to this country, and are therefore aware of the great benefits of being a citizen. Too many take it for granted. The leader of the Iraqi and Afghanistan Veterans has been posting on his facebook page about the divide between the small minority of Americans who do serve in uniform, and the great majority who do not. It makes it harder to get employment for veterans. But, those Americans who do wear the uniform for at least a few years have gained much more, I think.

As a Rifle Platoon Commander — even in peace time — I developed a very close relationship with the fire support within the Rifle Company. Our particular mortar section leader used a call sign, “Thumper.” In live fire exercises such as at Range 400 at 29 Palms, I would call for fire from Thumper, dropping 60 millimeter mortar rounds 100 meters in front of my platoon — well within “danger close.” Thumper was absolutely competent, well regarded through the company. A Filipino-American Marine, “Thumper” walked ahead of my Rifle Platoon on a company hump in Thailand during Cobra Gold 93 (picture below). His name was Corporal Taliban.

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This is a website for writing a book about Lima Company, 3/7, during 4 deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2007.


This is a website for writing a book about Lima Company, 3/7, during 4 deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2007.