The US Military Recruited at San Francisco Gay Pride
This year, San Francisco’s Pride celebration fell on the absolute hottest fucking day of the year. Despite the sweltering heat, it was nice to be able to wear my Mickey Mouse tank top with a pair of running shorts without being called a fag for once. A loud, feverish energy dominated the Castro and Civic Center, calling all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and straight residents, along with thousands of out-of-towners into the streets to remind the world what this city is all about: tolerance, community, compassion, and queers. However, in recent weeks, the talk surrounding Pride has largely centered around the military. Bradley Manning was named honorary Grand Marshal of the parade, then quickly relieved of his duties; the Defense Of Marriage Act was struck down; and for the first time since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the National Guard made plans to set up a recruitment booth in the heart of Pride.
Historically, the military has left as much of a stain on LGBTQ rights as any other oppressive majority in America (I’m looking at us, white males). But in the past two years, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the awareness of the military to the LGBTQ community, amidst an understandable animosity. Could they recruit from the very same group they’ve spent generations undermining? I wanted to find out, so I enlisted the help of my friend Misha Aziz, a particularly knowledgeable LGBTQ guy, to come to the parade with me and investigate.
'Magic Wand' Bomb Detector Creator Found Guilty of Fraud
The bomb detector that 56-year-old British millionaire James McCormick peddled sounded too good to be true. It could sense C-4 at a range of 600 yards. And it could be programmed to root out other contraband, too. The pistol-sized device’s simple metal antenna would magically point to where explosives, ivory, even $100 bills were hidden. Authorities in countries like Georgia, Romania, Niger, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, where McCormick was able to sell the detector, could, with a flick of the wrist, stop smuggling, organized crime, and deadly terrorist attacks.
Guess what? McCormick was full of shit. His device, dubbed the ADE-651, was bogus. Earlier incarnations of the detector, produced under the brand name ATSC, were based on $20 novelty golf ball detectors, the kind of plastic gag gift you’d give your argyle-wearing uncle whose slice off the tee is worse than he’d ever admit.
Sadly, it turns out the joke was on the Iraqi people. McGormick sold over 6,000 of these “detectors” to Iraqi government officials (after bribing them) to the tune of over $45,000 PER DETECTOR. And they were used at checkpoints throughout the country—actually scanning vehicles for explosives during the height of the insurgency that would see an average of 30 attacks a day.
“They hid the guns when they saw an army helicopter,” the interpreter says. “They say they need the guns to protect the remaining tower. They knew we’d take their guns if they told us they had them. They are sorry for this. They want to know if they can keep the IED and show it to their employer.”
“What the fuck kind of question is that?” the lieutenant says. “No they fucking can’t keep it.”
KILLING UP CLOSE -
THE DEATH OF WILLIAM WOLD
Below is an excerpt of TheThings They Cannot Say’s opening chapter, which chronicles the tragic demise of Marine William Wold. Kevin Sites first interviewed William while covering the Iraq war in 2004, only minutes after the 21-year-old corporal and his fire team gunned down six insurgents inside a mosque in Fallujah. Back then, William was wired for combat, calloused from killing and watching friends die. This excerpt picks up with William’s story seven years after meeting Kevin in Iraq and explains how the decorated Marine’s life was irreparably broken by the things he saw and did in the name of his country.
We’ve paired the text with photos from artist Nina Berman’s Purple Hearts series, which is comprised of portraits and interviews with American soldiers who were seriously wounded in the Iraq War, focusing on their struggle to find identity and purpose after returning home. For more information about the project, visitNoorImages.com.
William Wold seemed fine initially when he came home from Iraq, according to his mother, Sandi Wold, when I speak to her by telephone seven years after my conversation with her son in Fallujah. Wold had begged his mother to sign a parental-approval form when he wanted to join the Marines at 17, taking extra online classes to graduate a year early in order to do so. But after four years of service, he had had enough.
“They were going to promote him to sergeant, but he didn’t want to reenlist. He just wanted to be normal,” she says, echoing his own words from our videotaped interview. His much-anticipated separation from the Marine Corps would come in March 2004, but in the interim, she had promised to treat him and a couple of Marine buddies to a trip to Las Vegas as a coming-home present. She and her second husband, John Wold (William’s stepfather, whose last name William took), met the three Marines at the MGM Grand and got them adjoining rooms next to their own. Sandi was elated to see her son home safe and in one piece, and she wanted to see him leave the war in Iraq behind as quickly as possible.
“There’s no way I can show you how much I appreciate your willingness to die for me,” she remembers telling the three. But she tried her best anyway, going so far as to hire in-room strippers for them through an ad in the Yellow Pages.
“They talked me into buying them suits and renting a stretch limo. These guys show up and they go out partying that night, these guys are pimped out, I’m spending so much money it’s stupid,” she says, laughing at the memory. “Those Marines swam down some drinks, just the three of them. The hotel called my room—‘Do these Marines belong to you?’—as they’re stumbling down the hallways.”
When the strippers show up at the Marines’ room, Sandi says the sound of partying was like its own war zone. Then around midnight there’s a loud banging on the adjoining door.
“The door swings open and it’s Silly Billy, drunk and laughing, and he introduces us to them [the strippers]… I could’ve gone a lifetime without meeting them,” Sandi says.
“He says, ‘Mom, I’m going to need an extra $1,200.’ ‘Dude,’” she remembers telling him, “‘you gotta be fucking shitting me.’ But I’m counting the money out, he’s dancing around, happy as can be.”
The whole trip, she says, was indicative of the closeness of their relationship. He would always stay in touch with his mom even while he was in Iraq.
“He would hang out with the snipers at night,” Sandi says, “because they always had satellite phones, and he would make sure to try and call me almost every week. It would just be, ‘Hey, I’m fine, can’t talk long, love you. Bye.’”
“He was through and through a mama’s boy. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t share with me,” she says. “Sometimes I had to tell him I just don’t want to know.”
But Sandi says she began to sense something was wrong after William made a trip back East to see a woman he had met while doing presidential-protection duty at Camp David. He had called her his fiancée and said he planned to marry her, but the relationship ended after his visit.
“He flies back there and doesn’t last 24 hours,” Sandi says. “He lost it. He calls me and tells me to find him a flight home. ‘I can’t close my eyes, I can’t sleep,’ he tells me, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I think he knew he was so unstable he was going to end up hurting her.”
The extent of his post-traumatic stress became clear to Sandi that summer after his discharge.
Like Vietnam All Over Again
Over the last 50 years war reenactment has gone from something guys at the Elks Club did on the weekend to get away from their wives to a full-blown obsession among history buffs with enough free time to make the experience as true to life as possible. Along with the increased intensity has come more demand for variety. The Vietnam War has typically been forbidden territory, but reenactment groups around the country have begun collecting their rice hats and period-appropriate M16s for pretend skirmishes with fake Viet Cong.
Thomas Morton embeds with the Virginia-Carolina Military History Association as they embark on their first tour through Vietnam… in North Carolina. WATCH IT HERE
You’ve probably heard a little bit about the top secret experiment the Army conducted during the Cold War. A room glowing flourescent blue, with an unwitting soldier seated in the middle. A doctor wearing horn-rimmed glasses and smoking a cigarette walks in with a syringe. He mutters something softly as the needle goes into the soldier’s arm. Cut to the outside of the building and the sound of breaking glass, as the soldier’s body falls to the ground. (Pro tip: Stay away from windows when experimenting with LSD.) That’s what it’s like in the movies, anyway.
Turns out these experiments were worse in real life. Raffi Khatchadourian’s sprawling exposée on the Army’s psychochemical warfare program in this week’s New Yorker details the collective confusion and chaos that took hold of the armed forces as they imagined the worst during the Cold War. The program was underwritten by an utter disregard for human dignity and medical ethics: Many of the young soldiers who volunteered for the program weren’t told anything about the medical tests they would undergo at Edgwood Arsenal, the Army’s classified facility on the Chesapeke Bay. And many say they were scarred for life after what happened to them inside.
Month by month, the canon of bin Laden death literature grows ever larger. Late last year, the books began trickling out and have since turned into a stream. Now there’s a full on torrent. In May 2012, Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden—from 9/11 to Abbottabad was released. A few months later, came No Easy Day, a memoir by a Navy SEAL who had been on the raid. Mark Bowden’s The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Ladenfollowed shortly. Two days after the election, SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden came out. And in December, yet another book, entitled Killing Geronimo: The Hunt for Osama bin Laden, will be released.
I Was David Patraeus’ Bitch in the 90s and I Hated Every Second of It
Over the weekend, the media went into a feeding frenzy over the big, juicy, red-meat news that David Petraeus, the former head of the CIA and onetime adored four-star general, had been banging his fawning biographer, Paula Broadwell. If you’ve been following this somewhat-less-than-Shakespearean tragedy, you’ll know by now they were getting it on under his desk—that giant oaken hunk of power that no doubt displayed a miniature American flag and framed photos of his family. When I read about this, I imagined those photos jumping around on top of the desk while the great conqueror of Iraq invaded that obsequious writer babe down below.
Petraeus is the West Point general who wrote the book, literally, on counter-insurgency. For years, when all was doom and gloom in Iraq, he was America’s top warrior—a flag-saluting, straight-shooting strategic genius who always had time for the media; C-SPAN’s heroic general. Everybody loved this guy—especially the liver-spotted silver heads in Congress. Whenever Petraeus testified in the halls of power, they all showed up to pump his fist and spew superlatives. Someday, they said, Petraeus would be included in the prestigious pantheon of West Point military gods: Grant, MacArthur, Patton, and Eisenhower.
But now that’s all out the window. Now, he’s just another big man who fucked around and got caught. He’s in the process of being disgraced. His friends are turning their backs. At least one reporter who used to belong to King David’s “cult,” Spencer Ackerman, has publicly disowned him. The salacious details about his under-the-desk romps will probably continue to be splashed all over tabloid pages for months like the chief spook’s warm jizz.
The man’s career is unraveling by the minute, and I’m enjoying every second of it.
I’ve detested Petraeus for a long, long time. I’ve tried writing about him for a decade, but nobody seemed to listen. He was bulletproof back then—not so anymore. Now’s the time for me to tell you all about this self-serving shithead and what it was like being his bitch for years.
Back in 1996, I was a starry-eyed West Point lieutenant in the storied 82nd Airborne Division. I had just graduated from Ranger School and the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was my new home—my first assignment. I loved the Army back then.
When I showed up for duty, our brigade commander was a reasonable guy named John Abazaid. Morale was decent under him, because each battalion in the brigade was pretty much left alone. Colonel Abazaid let us solve our own problems. We were all competent adults and his laid-back, hands-off leadership style made us feel important and trusted.
But after a few months, Abazaid left and in came “Mr. Burns.”
Mr. Burns was our nickname for Petraeus, who was only a colonel back then. We called him that, in case it’s not obvious, because he looked and acted like the wiry, hand-rubbing villain in The Simpsons.
After Petraeus showed up, my life and the life of every soldier under his command went to complete shit. Back then, the ever-calculating Petraeus, who had married the West Point superintendent’s daughter after graduating, was on his way up. The general’s star was within reach—he was only one rank away—and being in command of the “Devil Brigade” (our brigade), was absolutely vital to getting him there. During his tenure with the 504th, he had to kiss and lick as many hairy, hemorrhoidal assholes as possible. He had to guffaw and slap all the right backs; he had to seriously impress. He had to do whatever was necessary to reach the pinnacle. No bridge too far for that son of a bitch. Can do. Will do. Yes sir, whatever you want, sir.
Army Girls Can Be Girly Girls in Afghanistan
I don’t know about you ladies, but to me the army has never seemed like the ideal place to spend your early twenties. In my mind, there would be no shopping, Gossip Girl or spending hours in one position under the sun trying to achieve the perfect tan. Or basically anything else that’s silly and unimportant, but is an important part of me feeling unashamedly like a girl.
Turns out I was wrong. Lalage Snow is a photographer who has spent a good part of the last five years in Iraq and Afghanistan photographing female soldiers. According to her work, girls in the army remain very intent on “being girls.”
Not that this makes the army any more appealing to me personally, but I think it’s cute to know that, while you’re sweeping the roadsides for Taliban IEDs, you can also sorta smile to yourself whilst imagining Spencer from Made In Chelsea getting blown up by one. So I called up Lalage for a chat.
VICE: Hey Lalage. What’s up?
Lalage Snow: Hey! Just got back from holiday with some friends. We stayed in a house in Assenois, which is in the south of Belgium. We ate lots of paté and drunk biére blonde.
And how did that differ from your time in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Haha! It was different, but you know, it was much girlier than you’d think. The British girls in Iraq, for example, would sunbathe any chance they got, while when it came to the way they decorated their bunks everything was over-the-top girly. Pink washbags and sponges, pink iPod cases. The American girls would have a slumber party almost every night. They’d watch scary films and eat popcorn in their little bunker on a computer. When you are in such a masculine environment you sort of need to cling on to your femininity really tightly.
How old were most of the girls?
Young. The American female engagement team were like, 19 to 22 years old.
You know how they say women are more tolerant to pain, because of our periods and baby birthing and all that? Did you find that to be the case with the female soldiers?
Well, for the time I hung out with the girls they never came under fire. Their main job is to go out and find Afghan women on the streets and search them. Because men are not allowed to speak or touch Afghan women, they were finding that often they were hiding rifles or thousands of dollars under their burqas, and so the female team was brought in.
Right. Were they being treated differently by the male soldiers?
Yes and no. They would get some hassle and some slack at the same time from the other guy soldiers, but I think at the end of the day, they look at it and say we are just soldiers together—a job is a job. They have the confidence to do so.
But the funniest thing was the Afghan response to these girls. They can see that it is a soldier in uniform, but they also see the blonde hair underneath the cap in a ponytail and they are like, “Oh my God, it’s a girl looking like a man!” They all think that Western girls are really weird.