The year: 1985. The Glendale Armory. Home of Headquarters & Headquarters’ Company, 1st Battalion, 160th Mechanized Infantry Regiment. Fortieth Infantry Division.
Private First Class (PFC) Rose of the Scout Platoon, HHC 1-160 Inf (M), was sweeping the drill-floor of the armory. On his drill weekend. As a member of the Scout Platoon, he held the Military Occupational Specialty of ‘Cavalry Scout, 19D’. A trooper trained in ‘Armored Reconnaissance’.
19D. “Nineteen Delta” is what they called the Scouts in official military parlance. The Infantry guys called them “Targets”. Tankers called them “Crunchies”. The Scouts would often refer to themselves as “Nineteen Detail”. Because they were easy pickin’s for the “Clerks & Jerks”. That is, the company Mess, Medical, Communications, Maintenance, and Battalion Headquarters sections. They’d draft the Scouts as helpers, for any “work-detail” when the Battalion was in garrison at camp, or at the home-station Armory. Cleaning tents, pots and pans, or ‘deuce and a half’ trucks. Or as was happening on this day, sweeping the Armory drill floor.
One of the reasons PFC Rose joined the California Army National Guard was because he spent a good portion of his childhood pouring over his Dad’s collection of history books. He wanted to be a part of the history of his own time. Or at least be close enough to see it unfold. The 1980’s however, were a relatively quiet time in the military history of the USA. The mutually-assured-destruction of the Cold War had relegated these soldiers to training missions, instead of a shooting war, for the most part. That being said, it turned out to be a time for the PFC to meet and learn about people from all walks of life. And in the 80’s many of the senior NCO’s were Vietnam Combat Veterans. So, while he was denied (or spared) the glories of war himself, the PFC was honored to train with some of the guys he had read about in those books that he’d read, as a kid.
Looking up from his broom, the PFC saw an old Staff Sergeant crossing the Armory drill floor. One of the ‘Spoons’ from the Mess Section. The SSG had hearing aids. Thick glasses. Most surprisingly, he was walking with a cane. The cane really got the PFC’s attention. He had to ask.
“Hey Staff Sergeant, how long have you been in the Army?”.
The SSG stopped, leaned on his cane, and peered over his glasses at the young troop.
“I been in the Army since 1938! Almost fifty years!” He exclaimed, as he took a step towards the youngster.
The PFC took a closer look at the ‘scare badges’ on the Old Soldiers uniform. A combat patch, of course. Most strikingly, he also had a Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) with Two Stars. The CIB was for ‘service in a shooting war’. Most of the Vietnam guys had a CIB on their uniforms. Those two stars though. That was something you didn’t see every day. One star on a CIB meant service in two wars. Two stars?... This man had served in three wars!
“Gotta ask, Sergeant, you been in three wars?
The Old Sarge responded, “Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. I served as a tanker, under General Patton, in France”.
He pulled his dog tags out of his shirt. Showed me ‘the notch’, and his WWII serial number. I don’t know when they stopped issuing dog tags with the notch, but it was long before my time. I’d never seen a pair. Now I had. The Old Spoon was a living legend.
This shit alone was worth the price of admission. This was gold. Hell yeah! But it just scratched the surface of the things I’d learn from the men and women I’d serve with during sixteen years in the Army, and later the Air National Guard. I'd realize later that the real gold was standing right by my side. To the right of me, and to the left of me.
Salty Rose with members of the 1-160 Scout Platoon
In 1985 the California Army Guard implemented the ‘Division 86 Reorganization’. The 1st Battalion was being disbanded, and the Scouts from the 1-160 were being assigned to the 3rd Battalion. Our new home, HHC 3-160th Inf (M), was headquartered in Inglewood, California. Part of the significance of this, is National Guard units are often organic to the neighborhoods and communities in which they are located.
The Inglewood Armory was near LAX. It was more urban, than the more suburban Glendale or Burbank Armories, which were home to the 1st Battalion. This was something of a culture shock for some of the white, mostly suburban soldiers who decided to make the move, and stay with the Scout Platoon on its move to its new home in the city.
If we weren’t the ‘minority’ at our new home in the 3rd Battalion, we certainly were not in the ethnic majority anymore. The 1st Battalion guys kind of huddled together that first day in Inglewood. People tend to stick with their tribe, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. Usually out of fear. And tribes are, like it or not, often defined by race and ethnicity. But the Army professes to have one color, green. And for good reason. Training for missions, which in the real world would be carried out in life threatening situations, requires colorblindness* for their success. I think it is fair to say that most of the soldiers, of all colors, aspire to uphold this ideal. Because failure on the battlefield = death. But the young Private would discover that it didn’t happen automatically just because one puts on a uniform. It was a process that required open mindedness, and a willingness to admit to oneself, what their own fears and prejudices really are. Or have realizations about what they are ignorant of. Only then was colorblindness even a possibility.
The PFC would stay there, with the ‘Third of the One Sixtieth Scouts’, for four years. Friends would be made. Lessons would be learned. Looking back on it I don’t think he would have ever had the opportunity to learn the things he did, anywhere else in the USA, except for in the military. He carries these lessons still today. And feels the same pride, in having learned these lessons, as the pride felt in having performed his patriotic duty to our nation.
Scouts and an M113 Personnel Carrier
The 3-160 Scouts were quite the crew. PFC Rose was a rock guitar player and surfer, from the valley. Damien was from Compton and listened to rap music. We had guys from the Nickerson Gardens housing projects in L.A. Chris had been a member of the Crips. Joe lived in a neighborhood controlled by L.A.’s notorious 18th Street Gang. Now he lived in the basement of a church, trying to turn his life around, by helping get kids out of the gangs in his neighborhood. One of our guys was an ex-Blood. Raphael had experience as a child of being a refugee from communist Cuba. His father was required to do two years in a “re-education camp”, before being allowed to immigrate. Dave was a ‘good ol’ boy’ from South Carolina. While maybe not the most scholarly type, he possessed the innate knowledge of a country boy. You couldn’t get him lost in the woods. Other soldiers in the platoon were immigrants from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Korea, and Russia. Everybody brought something a little bit different to the table. Some were guys who had served in the Regular Army overseas, prior to joining the Guard, and some were career reservists. In civilian life these guys were construction workers, school teachers, cops, students, factory workers, and grocery store clerks. The diversity was as real as it gets.
In spite of our different origin’s, the Army did what it does, and transformed us into a band of brothers. We trained hard. As Guardsmen we took pride in emulating the Regular Army Standard. We were like-minded in our commitments, to this country, and our mission. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other under varying, but usually adverse, conditions. In the US Army National Guard, we took care of, and watched out for each other. We had to. Our very lives might one day depend on it.
Scouts and their platoon medic (every medic thru out the Army was always known as 'Doc') 3-160th Inf (M), 40th Infantry Division. Inside the crew compartment of an M113 during a break in training.
One day during annual training at Fort Hunter-Liggett, me and Dave were sitting atop an M113 armored personnel carrier, or “track”, as we called them. Our platoon was in a company staging-area during a lull in training. We were sitting there watching as another unit, from a different part of the state, passed thru our lines. One of the tracks (also an M113), making the passage of lines, was flying a large, very prominently displayed flag. The stars and bars. A confederate battle-flag.
Without warning, three of our black brothers, headed out into the road and stopped that M113. They were yelling. Trying to climb up onto the track. The crew-members of the offending track hopped up out of their hatches and were pushing our guys off. I heard our guys yelling “Take it down, take it down!
I was puzzled.
I’d never witnessed a scene like this. With my upbringing, I’d always seen the confederate flag as a ‘symbol of the rebel’, or something like that. One of my favorite rock bands used it as a stage prop. Being a white-California-kid from the valley, I’d never had to consider its deeper-meaning.
I turned to Dave, and asked him curiously, but kind of under my breath, “What are those guys so pissed off about?”.
Dave answered, with his native southern drawl, “Don’t you know what that flag means?”
“No”, I answered.
Dave offered, “Well, it means, The South Will Rise Again”.
“Ohh”. I answered, still thinking I was trying to grasp what exactly that meant. When it was pretty obvious what it meant. In this context.
The whole thing got really heated, really quick. About this time, a Captain appeared, and intervened. He made the rebel interlopers remove the flag. I did hear him tell the rebels, “Take it down, that’s not our flag”. They complied. Our guys stepped aside. The rebel track passed thru our staging area without further incident.
I think once the dust had settled, I felt a little bad for not jumping to the aid of my guys. Especially after I processed what I'd just witnessed. I thought I knew these guys. I worked with, lived with, and respected them. I loved their sense of humor. Our cultural differences were even funny to us sometimes. But I guess I felt some guilt for being ignorant of the confederate flag issue. To this day I remember how that felt afterwards. I don’t want to feel that way again. Looking back, I think this was the first crack, in my armor of white-privilege… Now, I know some of my white-brethren, become highly offended at the notion, that something like “white-privilege” is even a thing. I was at one time certainly offended by that notion. But my ignorance of the deep pain this symbol causes some people (especially blacks), is evidence to me that, I was privileged to not even know about it.
I hold the men and women of all colors, who I served with, in high regard. The divisiveness of people in the USA, in 2020, stands in stark contrast to lessons I learned about my countrymen during my time in the military. It was a time of duty, honor, and growth. And so, it goes, the old spiritual axiom applies here. With growth, comes greater responsibility. That’s why I’m writing this story. Now, let’s dig in a little deeper…
Sgt. George Velasco used to make fun of me, and say, “I know why you’re here Private Rose, you only come down here for your cultural enlightenment”.
We’d laugh. I thought it sounded funny. Hearing this old Chicano* passing judgement and dropping wisdom on me like that. I did stick out like a sore thumb sometimes. I think he was amused by my curiosity. I was genuinely curious about the soldiers I served with. The more differences in the worlds we came from, the more curious I was.
Maybe I was on some sort of quest for enlightenment. When I was ready, I guess, I would see the light. When the day arrived, it went something like this…
Ernie looked at me, and then he dropped a verbal bomb on me. I don’t even remember now, what exactly we were discussing, or debating. But I remember him saying, “Hey, Vato, it’s because you’re the privileged color”.
That did it. I blew up. Fuck that. I was instantly riled. Completely riled up. “Fuck you, Ernie, I’ve worked just as hard as you have, for everything I have”.
I knew these guys pretty good by now. Damien gave me tips on how to avoid getting carjacked in the city. He also told me about how he’d park his car on the lawn right beside his bedroom window, to make sure it didn’t get stolen at night. Joe was living a life that looked like a scene right out of the book, “The Cross and the Switchblade”. Ernie invited me to one of his daughter’s birthday parties once, held at a park over by Dodger Stadium. It was an honor to be invited, and his immigrant relatives accepted me with open arms. One time, George showed me the gun he kept under the seat of his car. Most of the troops who lived in the ‘hood’, kept a gun handy like that. One of our guys, Johnny, was killed when his brother (who was in a gang) came home drunk, excited to show Johnny the gun he just got. Johnny was asleep. He sat up in bed, when his brother came in, and the accidental discharge hit him in the chest. Accidentally killed by his own brother. Chris told me how he got “jumped-in” to the Crips gang at a young age, and then escaped the gang life, by excelling in sports (the gang respected prowess in sports and gave him a pass on having to participate in gang activities when he was at practice). He took the next opportunity when he graduated and completely disconnected from the gang life, by joining the Army. It was literally his only way out.
I didn't let up, “Fuck you Ernie, we’re both the same rank. I earned my rank, just like you did”. We were both Sergeants by this stage of our careers. I rightfully viewed us as peers. Equals.
In our respective civilian occupations we were also both Union-Journeymen in the construction trades. So, I tried that, to get him to spar with me- “You know I bust my ass, just as hard as you do, out on the job”.
Ernie, who could be the biggest smart-ass you ever met, and loved to poke fun, didn’t respond to my protestations the way I wanted him to. I wanted to hash this thing out, and set his ass straight. He wasn’t going to let that happen. He just let me get it all out. And when I was done, he calmly, empathetically, and compassionately replied, “Well, you’ve had more opportunity than a lot of these guys”.
With his demeanor, I couldn’t focus just on him. Suddenly, my field of view was wider. I was looking at Ernie, but behind him, were the guys. Almost as if he were their spokesmen. I saw them all, the living, and the dead. Johnny, Damien, Raphael, Chris, Joe, George, Dave, and the rest of the Scouts. I loved these guys. And, I loved what we stood for, together.
It was sort of a light-bulb moment for me.
The truth is, my life looked nothing like any of the things I’d seen thru the eyes of some of my fellow soldiers. Particularly the soldiers of color. None of my living relatives had to deal with the struggles or fears, immigrants face, on a daily basis. I was never afraid to leave my house. Day or night. I never gave a second thought to my car being stolen from my yard, at night. I wasn’t compelled to carry a firearm to protect my family. I didn’t have to have a strategy to keep my kids out of gangs. Sure, there was some minor gang activity near where my family lived in the 80’s, but for a kid in a white suburban neighborhood, association was optional. In parts of L.A. in the 70’s and 80’s where it was prevalent, gang participation was practically mandatory for survival. A twelve-year-old kid in the city probably can’t see any alternative, when he’s told it’s his time to jump in. Get ‘jumped-in’ and have protection, or remain gang prey.
I didn’t join the Army to get away from anything. I didn’t have to. I could pretty much do as I pleased, as a child, and as a young adult, without having to fear for my life. A lot of these guys lived in constant fear from a young age, and the Army was the only opportunity they’d have to change that. Might be the only opportunity they’d ever have, period.
I could see it. Ernie was spot on. He had me. But he didn’t gloat. If he did, I may have never have seen the light. I do know now, that there is no shame in admitting that white privilege is real. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded. It doesn’t diminish the work I put in to building my life, in any way. The shame is in denying it, and perpetuating and prolonging the myths, which protract the struggle faced by so many people of color. The struggle for equal opportunity.
In just being able to walk out your front door, and feel safe.
Why write this story now? These things occurred over 30 years ago.
The murder of George Floyd, and the chaos and divisions in American civilian society that both preceded and followed, have brought these memories to the fore. Especially when white folks compare the occasional deprivations they face at the hands of looters and statue protesters, to the unequal treatment African Americans have continued to face in this country ever since the Emancipation Proclamation. We have come a long way, but we’re obviously not there yet. More change has got to come. People are calling for changes in policing. Well, that might be a good place to start, but I can’t see how systemic change can happen in police departments, without change happening everywhere else too. Starting in our own homes.
We need to be talking about the soul of our nation, and the spirit of the Constitution. The Constitution that these fine men and women (black, brown, and white) swore to defend, for you.
It’s got to start, right here, right now. I hope the legacy of 2020 turns out to be one of healing and unity.
We can make that happen. You, and me.
Let your voice be heard.
Salty Rose, 2020
The Gettysburg Address
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863
The song, 'Ferguson Hodges'. Inspired by the events of 2020
3-160th Scouts in 1989.
Scout Platoon. Armor Recon.
A song inspired by the military life. Written during my time in the Army National Guard in the 90's. The video is a slideshow of photo's from OIF-2004, as a member of the Air National Guard, later in my career.
Listen to it here on Youtube, click the link below. You can also hear it on Spotify, Apple, or Pandora.
Elements of the 160th Infantry were part of the most famous American unit, "The Lost Battalion", in World War 1. The 160th Infantry was also mobilized for World War II, Korea, the L.A. Riots, and OIF-OEF. National Guard units were also reportedly mobilized for civil unrest operations in 2020.
From the City of the Angels.
"Los Angeles' Own" 160th Infantry Regimental Unit Crest.
Check out the other series in this blog: Music Stories, Gear Stories, The Iraq Journal, and The Cancer Letters.
Check out Two Kinds of Light's Official Artist YouTube Channel: Music, Motorcycles, and the Salty Vlog.
Edited Title* 7-3-20. Originally posted 6-24-2020. All 160th Infantry photo's by Salty Rose.
In the spirit of 'greater responsibility', I had to ask, is 'Chicano' a bad word?
*Like most historically disenfranchised groups in the United States, some Mexican Americans have taken the term Chicano, previously considered a pejorative word, and used it to empower themselves. Today, the term Chicano is an essential component of the community's revitalization and renewed sense of hope and pride. Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Chicano
*Regarding the title change(*), which was changed from "How I became colorblind(*) in the US Army" to "What I learned about the Confederate flag in the US Army". The original title made me uncomfortable. Probably because it sort of 'whitewashed' the issue (pun intended). I had a couple friends 'peer review' the post, and one offered me this-
"...The idea of color blindness is really white privilege. It’s important for us all to see our differences but we all should be treated equally. It’s not about not being different but being able to be treated the same. Does that make sense?". -Jamie Heinzman.
It does to me.
About the author: Salty Rose is not an academic. His views on race and politics are based upon his real life experiences. He is a High School graduate, guitar player, former soldier, airman, and construction worker. A product of the L.A. City Schools, he relies heavily on spell check.
He views the motorcycle, as one of the greatest inventions, in the history of mankind. ;)