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Books by Tom Kovach

Dec 2006
Slingshot

Aug 2008
Tribulation: 2008

About the author

Tom Kovach lives near Nashville, is a former USAF Blue Beret, and has written for several online publications. In December of 2006, he published his first book, Slingshot. Tom's second book, Tribulation: 2008, was released in August of 2008.

Tom is also
an inventor, a horse wrangler, a certified paralegal, and a former network talk-show host. (He would like to lauch another talk show -- perhaps on your station.)

One highlight of Tom's career in the Air Force was serving on a protection detail for US President Ronald Reagan. Tom has also run for Congress (and might run again).

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Main

Monday, 08 December 2008, at 2350 hours
Central Time -- Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Is CBS trying to kill "The Unit"?

Most of my writing is about very serious topics.  But, this one falls into the category of "Fun Stuff".  Regular readers know, however, that I even take my fun quite seriously.

Having grown up during "The Golden Age of Television", I've reached a point in life where I don't watch many TV programs.  Most of them are either "fluff", or are poor attempts to portray serious situations.  One program, 24, takes itself far too seriously.  (It used to be a good program.  But, the writers began giving Jack Bauer almost supernatural abilities.  It became "obvious" fiction, although the show's biggest success was built upon realism.)

There are only two shows left on TV that I watch regularly:  NCIS and The Unit.  My list previously included JAG (created by Donald Bellisario, who created the spin-off NCIS) and The Agency.  In the case of JAG, they went out at the top of their game after ten years on television.  It survives in syndication, and probably will for a long time.  The classic Magnum: PI (another Bellisario creation) remained in syndication for twenty years after its eight years as an active TV series.  (There has been occasional talk of a JAG movie or a reunion special.  Attention, producers:  I have a sample script available, if you'd like to read it.)

The plight of The Agency was far different.  Like the pioneering Mission:  Impossible, it seems to me that The Agency suffered from being "too" real.  Perhaps someone in the government got nervous, and then put pressure on the network to cancel the series.  The realism was by design.  Two former high-ranking CIA officers were the show's technical advisors.  Tony Mendez, the former Chief of Disguise (yes, that was his real job title) advised on the "inside" portions of the program.  (An entire section of the International Spy Museum is dedicated to Mendez' work to rescue American embassy employees held hostage in Iran.)  Baz Bazzel, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer and later CIA paramilitary operative, advised on the "field" portions of the program.  (Bazzel also appeared on the program, and as a competitor on the short-lived reality show Combat Missions.  That was the only "reality" show that ever had any actual elements of reality.)  The plots of The Agency were ripped from the headlines, and the scripts were skillfully crafted.

Side note:  Many bars around the country host Survivor parties, but I was the only person in the country to host a network-authorized Combat Missions TV-watching party.  (I still have the T-shirts.  Really.)  The first night that I hosted one, there was a big table of about 20 military recruiters in the audience.  Believe it or not, they had not yet heard of the program at that point.  But, when the show came on, they really got into it.  During a commercial break, I did a live telephone interview with Ed Bugarin.  A former Delta Force commando, and veteran of Operation Eagle Claw, Ed was another of the show's competitors.  (Shortly after the embassy takeover, I had gotten wind of the possibility of a rescue in Iran, and had attempted to join Delta Force back when it was still in the development stages.  It was called Project Blue Light back then.  I didn't make the cut.)  Sadly, the Combat Missions parties fizzled out, just like the series.  (Again, it was probably a case of "too much reality" for some folks.)

Anyway, with that background, you can understand that I take my fun seriously.  That includes my TV watching.  And, I'm getting a bad vibe that The Unit is about to go the way of The Agency.  The show went into a long hiatus last year, due to the writers' strike.  But, when other shows recovered, The Unit was still being replaced by the "reality" show Big Brother.  When this year's regular season started, The Unit made a surprise comeback.  But, it is now in the final time slot on Sunday evenings.  (Traditionally, that is a losing time slot, as people turn off the TV after the football games.  The Unit had been part of the "action Tuesday" lineup.)  And, the show is now opposite Army Wives — the top-rated show of Lifetime, the Left-tilting network billed as "television for women".  That juxtaposition would seem intended to create some "combat hot-spots" in living rooms across America — as husbands and wives battle for the remote control, thus deciding in "trial by combat" whether to watch a military show fueled by testosterone or estrogen.  (Has our society really devolved to that point?  Yep.)

If the network executives are not trying to starve Sergeant Major Jonas Blane and his team, then it seems that the scriptwriters are trying to stress them into self-expendability.  The Unit's commander, Colonel Tom Ryan, had an affair with the wife of one of the special operators, Master Sergeant Mack Gerhardt.  Later, Ryan and Gerhardt work elbow-to-elbow on an especially dangerous mission in the Middle East.  The team had already decided that Ryan must die for his transgression.  Tiffy Gerhardt tips off Ryan, just before the mission; but, Ryan accepts his fate as justly deserved.  The fight scene was amazing.  (Both experienced actors are also experienced martial artists, but I still think they really hurt each other in that scene.)  Blane stops the fight, because the mission is to rescue his daughter's convoy, which has been captured by terrorists.  (In the real world, the presence of his daughter would likely bar Blane's presence, as it could cloud his judgement ... or cause him to commit suicide if the mission failed.)  Ryan then offers himself in exchange, thus simultaneously aiding the mission and enabling the terrorists to become the executioners of his "sentence" for the affair.  Although I understand that such scenarios can become a part of real-life military operations*, I also think that the show's scriptwriters are trying to pack too much "emotion" into the program.  If they continue along that track, they will turn The Unit into a soap opera.  (No doubt, the writers are trying to appease the female viewers by adding so many distractions.  If they keep changing the nature of The Unit, however, then eventually there will be no distinction from Army Wives.)  (*I once served on an OSI-led protection detail for an Air Force wife who was going to testify against her husband for drug dealing.  He had given that info to his suppliers, who then put out a contract on her life.)

The Unit's wives have been forced into the position of behaving heroically, even if reluctantly.  Army intelligence discovered that some well-funded bad guys were keeping the wives under surveillance.  Colonel Ryan decides to whisk them away into a group undercover living arrangement, ostensibly to protect them.  But, it turns out that some of the bad guys are in awfully close proximity to their new lives.  (This story line has spread out over several episodes.  We still don't know how this happened.  Was it "chance", or is there a mole inside The Unit?)  Kim Brown becomes especially vulnerable, as she must act as bait by pretending to consider an affair with a traitor by whom she is disgusted.  (In the last episode, Kim was taken hostage, but the bad guy was later killed ... after he had killed an accomplice.  Does his organization still exist?  Has the cover been blown?  Are the wives still in danger?)  Through it all, Unit "senior wife" Molly Blane remains unsinkable.  She is everything a military wife should be:  loyal, patriotic, focused, smart, sexy, supportive, smooth-talking, and very savvy.  She summed it all up in one line that should become part of the ceremony for military marriages:  "A distracted soldier is a dead soldier!"  But, is it also true that a distracted viewer is a channel-changing viewer?  Is a show that is too close to reality destined to end up like The Agency?   (Sadly, there really can often be a lot of high-stakes drama in military marriages.  But, do we need to portray that on television for our enemies to watch?)

The Unit is playing very close to the edge right now.  Either it will unfold some story lines that restore some degree of stability, or it will implode under the weight of too much of a potentially good thing.  (If the show were on five nights per week, then some of these other story lines might carry better.  I understand that all soldiers, and special operators in particular, must be ready to "adapt, improvise, overcome" at all times.  But, I'm not sure that CBS executives can expect the same from a high percentage of their viewers.  (Although I hope they can, because The Unit certainly counter-balances a lot of other "fluff" programs with each episode.)

Time will soon tell whether CBS is trying to kill The Unit; or, if it is practicing Friedrich Nietzsche's maxim, "That which does not kill me makes me stronger."


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Monday, 01 December 2008, at 0104 hours
Central Time -- Nashville, Tennessee, USA

December 1st is CIVIL AIR PATROL Day

Six days before the Japanese Empire conducted the surprise attack upon the American military bases around Pearl Harbor, civilian and military leaders culminated three years of pioneering discussions by creating the Civil Air Patrol.

Who?

Sadly, that is the reaction of most Americans.  During the post-Vietnam days, many young Americans learned to look down upon military service.  (Sadly, many of them were taught that outlook by their parents — many of whom were alive to raise families because they had dodged the draft a few years earlier.)  And, if people looked down upon professional military service, imagine how much more the "Me" Generation looked down upon unpaid, volunteer, para-military service.  Yet, even during the darkest days of the Jimmy Carter administration, teenage Americans became CAP cadets.

Those that joined the Civil Air Patrol during those anti-military years of the late 1970s became part of a rich history of patriotism and service.  In the mid-1930s, during the early days of the aviation industry, forward-thinking leaders of government, business, and industry conceived of a way that civic-minded aviators could serve their country and advance aviation safety.  The concept took the best aspects of the Army (remember, at that time there was no separate Air Force) and volunteer organizations such as the Boy Scouts, and put those aspects together in an aviation framework.  Although the Civil Air Patrol is the volunteer civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force, the CAP is actually older than the Air Force that it serves.  (The CAP was founded in December of 1941.  The USAF, evolved from the Army Air Corps, became a separate Armed Service in September of 1947.)

From the very beginning, the primary mission of Civil Air Patrol has been air search leading to ground rescue.  But, even as that important mission was being organized, our country was suddenly plunged into World War Two by the attack upon Pearl Harbor.  So, simultaneous with all the other war-related activities in America at that time (Victory Gardens, food rationing, gasoline rationing, young men leaving family farms to join the military, women going into factory work to replace the men that went to war, etc.), the volunteers of the Civil Air Patrol managed to create the first nationwide search-and-rescue network and create war-specific missions such as the Coastal Patrol.  And, keep in mind that these volunteers did this with their own money — buying their own uniforms, their own field gear, and — yes — even their own airplanes.

During World War Two, the Coastal Patrol missions of the Civil Air Patrol spotted 143 Nazi submarines off the United States coastline.  The CAP Coastal Patrol observers were credited with "assists" in the Navy's sinking of dozens of those enemy submarines.  Eventually, these volunteer, civilian pilots (nicknamed the "Flying Minutemen") were allowed to carry bombs aboard their aircraft.  Aircrews of the CAP Coastal Patrol actually sank two Nazi submarines without assistance!  They also used their bombs to damage other submarines that were later destroyed by the US Navy.

Other wartime missions of the Civil Air Patrol included courier flights of documents, material, and medicine.  The CAP also provided aerial towing of gunnery targets.  (Keep in mind that the artillery crews on the ground were students!)  And, during that time, the CAP also grew and improved their search-and-rescue (SAR) capabilities.  Those capabilities included developing the CAP Ranger Teams that conducted the ground rescues of lost people spotted by the aircrews.  Information gathered from various CAP SAR activities nationwide was consolidated into the development of the Hawk Mountain Ranger School.  (In the past, I've received angry e-mails from some former members of USAF Pararescue, who have tried to belittle the pioneering role of the CAP Rangers.  I've replied to several former PJs by telling them to research their own history, and write me back if they could prove me wrong.  Not one has ever written back.)  The original CAP SAR teams were developed in the early 1940s — building upon techniques by pioneering aviators before CAP was officially founded.  The Air Rescue Service, the parent organization of modern Pararescue, was founded in 1946  (although they trace their roots to a 1943 mission on the China-Burma border).

Both organizations serve vital functions, and many PJs were CAP Ranger cadets before they joined the Air Force.  The Air Force also conducts Pararescue Jumpers Orientation Course (PJOC) for selected CAP cadets.  (Keep in mind that the active-duty PJ instructors get paid to be there, but the CAP cadet students in this PJOC video pay to be there, and buy their own uniforms and basic gear.  One of my goals if ever elected to Congress is to provide funding for CAP members' uniforms and equipment, as the Canadians do for their Air Cadets.)  Just as the Hawk Mountain Ranger School was created to standardarze SAR procedures within CAP, the PJOC helps recruit and motivate those cadets that can become qualified as instructors at their various Wing-level schools in their home states.  The PJOC is one of the most sought-after cadet activities, and the selection process is designed to ensure the continued high quality of the course.  The Air Force also sees the value of the PJOC as a recruiting tool for the next generation of Pararescuemen.  Both organizations work together Stateside; only Pararescue operates overseas or in combat.  Because of the expense of operating Pararescue helicopters, CAP light aircraft are often used to fly grid searches.  The CAP aircrews will then radio their findings to mission headquarters, which might dispatch a Pararescue helicopter crew to the area.  Pararescuemen are trained to a much higher degree than CAP Rangers, but the CAP has also saved thousands of lives throughout its history.

The Vietnam War was "drawing down" in June of 1974, when I became a cadet.  My best friend in high school recruited me.  He was the "cadet commander" of the local CAP cadet squadron.  (Cadet squadrons have a two-tiered command structure.  Adult officers supervise all operations, but cadets have their own internal rank structure.  Both follow the Air Force model.)  In August of that year, my friend was also the cadet commander of the NY Wing Ranger School, which was located at a remote site known as Thunderbird Land-Rescue Training Center.  The "T-Bird" school followed the Hawk Mountain model, and used the Pennsylvania Wing Ranger Manual for curricula.  Hundreds of cadets passed through T-Bird in the 20-year history of that school.  Subjects included physical conditioning, obstacles, land navigation, survival, field sanitation, basic and advanced first-aid, various forms of communication (hand signals, radio, signal panels, mirrors, etc.), marksmanship, basic climbing, basic rappelling, etc.  Training was provided by people with SAR experience, and culminated in three-day "survival hikes" with minimal food or gear.  The survival hikes included timed cross-country navigation objectives, coupled with realistic SAR exercise scenarios.  The PJOC was developed after the Thunderbird School was shut down, due to NYC-area parental complaints that the school was "too tough" on their children.  (I was a staff instructor at the time, and heard some of those complaints -- from parents who claimed that they were only "sending their boy to camp".  But, those parents had signed about a half-dozen forms that stated the intense nature of the school, which had a fifty-percent washout rate every year of its existence.)

The CAP cadet program has been the foundation for many successful military careers, and successes in civilian life.  During the 20-year history of the T-Bird school, only six cadets ever earned the rating of Expert Ranger.  The first was Dick Cole, who went on to become a civilian Emergency Medical Technician.  The second was Don Carter, who became a CAP cadet squadron commander, an instructor at the T-Bird school, and an IBM engineer.  The third was Ted LaPlante, who went on to become a B-52 wing commander and later a senior staff member at The Pentagon.  (He was once part of a Time magazine cover story.)  The fourth was Charlie Hayes, who went on to become a reactor officer on a nuclear submarine, and later an instructor at a nuclear power plant.  The fifth was Dick Van Patten, who went on to become a C-130 navigator.  I was number six.

I spent 17 years in Civil Air Patrol, and 16-plus years in an Air Force uniform.  At my first "permanent" Air Force base, three former cadets met and we founded a CAP cadet squadron.  From that base, I also went "permissive TDY" back to T-Bird as an instructor.  Later, I became a deputy commander of my original cadet squadron.  At my last base, I became commander of a cadet squadron that was in the group commanded by my old high-school friend Charlie Hayes.  One of my cadets from that squadron went on to become a medic during Operation Desert Storm.

During my Air Force career, I tried to join Pararescue, but did not make the grade.  (Their school is nicknamed "Superman University" for good reason!)  I was able to do most of the things that they do -- including freefalls from ten thousand feet, sometimes on chopper loads that included PJs -- but I could not handle extreme Nap-of-the-Earth flights without vomiting from somewhere deep within my boots.  Watch a passenger go weightless inside a helicopter, not far from the ground, halfway through this NOE flight video.  At one point, the helicopter also does a complete barrel roll.  That is the sort of gut-wrenching flying that gets PJs into, and out of, battlefield hot spots.  They really are "a breed apart".

The Civil Air Patrol has a rich history of volunteerism and patriotism.  The CAP still provides important functions.  Those include air transport of human blood and organs, radiological monitoring (this was critical in the response to the Three-Mile Island nuclear incident), earthquake damage assessment, and the ever-present SAR missions that made CAP famous.

Speaking of famous, one of the many famous former CAP cadets is Nashville music superstar Aaron Tippin, whom I've interviewed a couple of times.  He was a commercial charter pilot before he was discovered as a musical talent.  He told me that his strong voice comes from singing over the sound of the tractor engine while working on his father's farm as a teenager.  (Aaron's father retired from the Air Force as a colonel.)

Tom Kovach in studio with Aaron Tippin

Sadly, the lamestream news media has chosen to focus annual attention on another anniversary that has been allowed to overshadow CAP Day.  Modern civilians are only told that the 1st of December is "World AIDS Day".  In the past 20 years since the inception of a day to commemorate political lobbying in favor of a disease, less and less news coverage has been given to Civil Air Patrol Day.  As a result, many Americans — especially high school students — do not even know that the CAP exists.  Civil Air Patrol Day was a legally-recognized anniversary in America for 42 years before "World AIDS Day" was even conceived.  So, the next time someone gets in your face about AIDS activism, simply remind them that the 1st of December has been, and will remain, Civil Air Patrol Day.


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Monday, 24 November 2008, at 2104 hours
Central Time -- Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Jay Leno -- high class, no act

Jay Leno called me today.  (Really!)

Even though the call came in reply to a letter that I had written to him, I didn't really expect much of a reply.  I certainly didn't expect the Jay Leno to call me, himself, at my house.

I've written to celebrities before.  And, I've had replies before.  But, not like this.

Jay Leno actually talked with me, not to me.  He was friendly, and did not rush the call.  He graciously handled the fact that I did not believe it was him.  (He probably gets that a lot.)  On the phone, he sounded more like someone trying to imitate Jay Leno, as compared to the way his voice sounds on his television show.  He chatted more like a Nashville music star (except for the accent), instead of a Hollywood TV star.  (I've chatted with several Nashville stars.  None of them rushed the conversation, either.)  He was just "a regular guy", and I really enjoyed the chat -- once I got past the fact that it wasn't some prankster pretending to be Jay Leno.  Smile

A little background is needed at this point.

The letter that I wrote was in support of an upcoming activity that our local chapter of the group Rolling Thunder will host next year.  Our chapter president mentioned that it would be nice to get some celebrities involved, and he mentioned Jay Leno by name, because Leno often shows videos of himself riding his Harley.  (We've ridden with celebrities before, and even did the security for a CD roll-out party for a big-name Nashville music group.)

Rolling Thunder TN-1 out with G. Gordon Liddy

Rolling Thunder TN-1 at a gun range with talk-radio host G. Gordon Liddy

Leno could not participate in the ride, due to a schedule conflict.  But, he graciously offered to donate a block of four VIP tickets for The Tonight Show as an item for a fundraising auction.  I did not ask him to do that; he volunteered it.

People that know me know that I got the gift of gab ... and then some.  But, I was almost speechless when I realized that it was the real Jay Leno.  Fortunately, Jay carried most of the conversation.  (A few years ago, in a rare moment, I was totally speechless when a bicycle accident caused a Good Samaritan driver to stop and check on me, and it was Johnny Cash.  June was sitting beside him in the Land Rover.  There's an excellent story behind that encounter.)

And, that leads to the title of this blog entry.  The thing that struck me about Jay Leno was the genuine tone of the conversation.  Here was a guy that had struggled to launch his career.  (On his program, he sometimes tells vignettes about the tough times.)  So, now that he is a multi-bazillionaire, he doesn't act snooty.  (He probably makes more money in a week than Tennessee state representatives make in a year, but some of them are very snooty.)  Jay Leno struck me as "a class act".  But, what made the encounter truly high class was the fact that it was no act.


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