Sunday, July 31, 2011

The West Point Glee Club Alumni Reunion July 28-31, 2011

More than one hundred West Point alumni who sang in the Cadet Glee Club have gathered for the second reunion of that group at the United States Military Academy (USMA), including five of us from the class of 1968.  The music of West Point has been a favorite of mine since I saw the movie "The Long Gray Line" and watched "The West Point Story" on weekly TV many years ago.  This weekend, it resonates from the USMA Band in concert with those Cadet Glee Club alumni singers who came back for the three day (or four day for golfers) event during which we get to do what we did as cadets- sing.

We are not aware of any other alumni group at West Point who get to replicate their cadet activity.  (Does the chess club have a reunion?)  Certainly, the football alumni don't play football during their reunions.  We are a proud group.  We love to sing.  Most of us participate in a singing group in our home areas, such as church choirs or the West Point Alumni Glee Club in the D.C. area (who sang for us at the Reunion dinner Friday night-July 29).  All are flooded with nostalgia during this reunion.  Thoughts of people, places, and music fill this weekend, culminating in a concert at Trophy Point July 31 at 7:30 PM.

The concert with the USMA Band will be conducted by current Cadet Glee Club Director Connie Chase and Band Director LTC. Jim Keene and former Cadet Glee Club Director Bill Cosby.  They are enthusiastic professionals who excel at conducting and teaching.  They will entertain while  directing the historic and patriotic selections.  The Official West Point March will welcome the Alumni onto the stage and a foot stomping, hand-clapping finale finishes the evening.  A Gershwin Medley allows the singers and musicians to echo some romantic tones at our "Rock-Bound Highland Home".  The marching boots of the West Pointers are definitely removed for the lyrical message of Gershwin.  Swooning will be allowed.

The singers then proceed to a nostalgia crescendo in a reception filled with singing and reflecting and libating (is that a word? Anyway, libation will be consumed by many attendees, according to tradition and intention).  The revelers proceed to their respective homes on August first, awaiting the e-mails three years hence about the next reunion (the first ever reunion of the Glee Club alumni was in 2007, including special honors for deceased long time director Col. William H. Schempf -1957-1974 and his always supportive family- Ruthanne was a highly skilled accompanist for the Cadet Glee Club for many years).

Fact-Hounds may be interested to know that graduates from six decades are represented in the attending Glee Club alumni, from the class of 1956 to 2001. The alumni group probably made the last recording of "The Corps" and "The Alma Mater" with the original words in 2007 before the "upgrade" to better recognize the West Point of the modern era.  The alumni will formally catch up to singing the more inclusive words to those songs this weekend and have expanded understandings of USMA glee Club activities thanks to a briefing by Mrs. Chase.  The alumni continue to be financially supportive of the Glee Club which recently received a special endowment of $750,000 from the Randall family.  Please click on the link below to the Cadet Glee Club web site for further information about the history and activities of the Club.
The Cadet Glee Club

Fond tellings of favorite Cadet Glee Club stories filled many of the conversations this weekend, including mention of the Ed Sullivan Show, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Singing for the Medal of Honor winners, The Jackson, Mississippi Arts Festival in 1966 when we sang The Blue and The Gray Medley to a roaring standing ovation, "We Were Soldiers" movie inclusion of the Glee Club singing "The Mansions of the Lord", The Grand Ole Opry, Spring Leave trips to Texas, California and elsewhere.  All expect to generate more nostalgia and fulfill the glee club motto again this weekend: "No Fun Without Music, No Music Without Fun".

Special thanks to Larry Smith '62, Alan Salisbury '58 and Mike Hart '75 for their planning and leadership and to Fred Gray '64 for organizing the music.  Kudos to the West Point Association of Graduates for their successful efforts that support this opportunity.  Many thanks to the Academy for allowing it to happen.  I'm proud to be an alumnus of the Cadet Glee Club and to have an opportunity to participate in the Reunion and concert.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vietnam: Forty Years Later

The plane roared down the runway until the speed necessary for lift-off was achieved and the wheels left the surface.  One second after lift-off, two hundred ten men broke into a deafening roar of spontaneous, and surprising, relief.  Our year in Vietnam was over.  We were alive.  A twelve month tension was suddenly gone.  I found myself cheering at exactly the same moment as everyone else.

Those moments of elation are gradually replaced with other realities and priorities.  As leaving Vietnam gets more in the past, more pressing current situations alter the priorities.  But now its been forty years since that day.  On July 26, 1971, I left Vietnam on that DC-10 with the roaring GI's.  Nostalgia drives another level of focus on this anniversary.  What is the meaning of Vietnam?  What did I learn?  What did we learn as a nation?

I gathered a few books from my home library to review various Vietnam perspectives:

Achilles in Vietnam by Jonathan Shay; On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman; On Strategy by Col. Harry G. Summers; The Legacy edited by D. Michael Shafer; The War Managers by Douglas Kinnard; Counter-Insurgency Warfare by David Galula; Where We Were in Vietnam by Michael P. Kelley; Chickenhawk by Robert Mason; As I saw It by Dean Rusk; The Soldier and the State by Samuel P. Huntington; The Vietnam Reader edited by Walter Capps; The Living and the Dead by Paul Hendrickson; In Retrospect by Robert S. McNamara; Dereliction of Duty by H.R. McMaster; Argument Without End by Robert S. McNamara; Ending the Vietnam War by Henry Kissinger; Patriots (The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides) by Christian G. Appy; Vietnam Guidebook by Barbara Cohen; Vietnam Now by David Lamb; Vietnam A History by Stanley Karnow; The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990 by Marilyn B. Young; The Long Gray Line by Rick Atkinson; Duty, Honor, Vietnam by Ivan Prashker; Vietnam at War by Phillip B. Davidson; Both Sides of the Wall edited by Remy Benoit; School for Soldiers by Joseph Ellis and Robert Moore; The Vantage Point by Lyndon Baines Johnson; The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam; Duty Honor company by Gil and John Dorland; The Army Officers Guide 49th Edition by Ltc. Keith E. Bonn, USA (Ret); Combat Leader's Field Guide by James J. Gallagher; American Generalship by Edgar F. Puryear; Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevic and Taking the Guidon:  Exceptional Leadership at the Company Level by Nate Allen and Tony Burgess.

I have a few more books that relate to Vietnam, most  importantly is a volume of poetry by nurses who served in Vietnam.  Reading through parts of these books during the last several weeks leads me to read more, and to feel discouraged.  I have forgotten a lot, so I'm getting refreshed on the context of America and Vietnam in the "war years". 

I feel disappointed as I read the McNamara books and three more that aim at McNamara, the Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.  He applied production concepts from his experience at Ford to warfare with disastrous results.  The betrayal of the troops is reviewed from a unique perspective in Achilles in Vietnam by Dr. Shay, a psychiatrist.  On and on the Vietnam story goes.  America lied to itself about Vietnam.  It won't go away.  Will we learn from it faster?

I'll find the poetry book and move ahead, hoping to reflect a bit and flush a bit.  History isn't what it used to be.  It's becoming what it's becoming.  The exhilaration I felt with my comrades when our plane left Vietnam faded with the realization that many didn't return and maybe we as a nation didn't learn the lessons yet.  Peace to all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Family Physician Training: Save GME Funding for Primary Care

We have another primary care crisis.  Government funding for training primary care physicians is on the chopping block as Congress seeks to fund the Medicare budget for the next year and decade.

Currently, hospitals receive the money from Medicare and decide how to distribute it to pay for resident physician training.  Their budgets are tight, so they are more prone to use the money to fund more lucrative specialty training that brings in more revenue to the hospital.  The government must be encouraged to separate the primary care training money from the other training funds so the hospitals can't undermine training of primary physicians who are desperately needed to serve patient needs and to help "bend the cost curve" of excessive healthcare costs that are bankrupting America.

As an example of what's happening to primary care training, the two flagship hospitals in Dayton, Ohio both closed their Family Medicine training centers and shifted the training slots into cardiology fellowship training slots (all at Kettering Medical Center and some at Miami Valley Hospital which sent some Family Medicine slots to Good Samaritan Hospital, owned by the same entity), thus using the Medicare funds to support their new heart hospitals that opened in 2010.  One of them, Miami Valley Hospital,  even bulldozed the Family Medicine Residency Center that had been training family physicians for over 35 years.  What a message to the local community and the family physician community.

Tax payers via Medicare dollars pay for virtually all training of resident physicians and fellows who are trained in hospitals in adult specialties and subspecialties.  This is referred to as Graduate Medical Education (GME) funding, as opposed to Medical Education for medical students.  This may include $120,000 to $185,000 (or more) per resident per year depending on a formula involving actual expenses for physician training (including faculty salaries) in the "base year" of 1996.  With the pending addition of 30 million patients onto the public funded rolls, even more residency training is needed in primary care (and some other specialties).  Congress is debating whether some or all physician training should continue to be paid for with tax dollars.

The government will be strapped with those extra expenses through a Medicare program that is already facing cuts.  They have proposed cuts to GME funding as one element of financial survival.  Unfortunately, if there is less money for training, there are fewer doctors.  Sounds like Catch 22.  Cut budget to save the money to pay for the extra patients but have inadequate physicians to deliver care because of budget cuts.

The other part is the severe shortage of primary care physicians.  Only 8.4% of medical school seniors legitimately chose primary care in the specialty match this year.  We need at least 30%, but medical students emerge with an average debt of $175,000 and notice the lowest pay and highest workload and hassle factor are in the primary care specialties (Family Medicine, General Pediatrics, General Internal Medicine and  Combined Medicine/Pediatrics - which may also generate a tiny number of primary care physicians).  This impacts the pipeline generating primary care physicians for America.  Hence the 8.4%.

While actual primary care specialty careers are chosen by the 8.4%, the medical school deans ignore that number and include all of their graduates who start their residencies with general training as primary care physicians to satisfy the legislators, the public and donors.  Most report numbers over 50% as their graduates who choose primary care.  Sadly, even the media understand the sleight of hand about primary care numbers, but choose not to reveal it.  Just ask the medical school alumni office who is in what specialty when they ask for funds and they know.  Only the deans seem not to know.  This denial of reality is detrimental to the well-being of American citizens who might expect medical schools to better respond to the health needs of the public.

To adequately respond to the needs of the American people for primary care and prevent training hospitals and Universities from continuing to undermine primary care, we need Congress to SEPARATE PRIMARY CARE FUNDING from all other funding for physician training.  We need SEPARATE GME FUNDING for PRIMARY CARE!  The people need the primary care first.  PRIMARY CARE is the FIRST DOMINO of HEALTH CARE.

SAVE GME for Primary Care Training.  Let your representatives in the U.S. Congress and Senate know your opinion.
Use this link for the House, and this link for the Senate.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day: Fresh Perspectives on Anglo-American History Through Kathleen Burk

OK, the Fourth of July blog post is a tough one for me due to brain flooding- too many memories.  West Point on my first Independence Day as a New Cadet comes to mind, but I already blogged about that last July 4th. 
Independence Day: Freedom and Underwear

The pile of books I chose for preparation this year may reflect my confusion or drive for perfection or quest for truth or desire to get a comment or two about the post.  Bugle Notes 1964 (the story of the Long Gray Line of West Point Graduates, updated for the entering class of 1968),  Spirit Matters by Michael Lerner, The Life Application Study Bible by God, The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich, The Four-Fold Way by Angeles Arrien, Managing the Dream by Warren Bennis, Habits of the Heart by Robert Bellah, et al., Thinking for a Change by John C. Maxwell, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, Sacred Unity by Gregory Bateson, The Church Hymnal of the United Brethren Church (1935 version), The Physics of Immortality by Frank J. Tipler, The Theory of Everything by Stephen W. Hawking, The Biology of Transcendence by Joseph Chilton Pearce, The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol, Achilles in Vietnam by Jonathan Shay, The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien, Saving America by Robert R. Carkhuff and Old World, New World by Kathleen Burk (a distant cousin of mine who I met probably for the first time a week ago at the Ankney family reunion).

Independence Day celebrates our independence from the British, which seems strange- the British as our enemy.  The Burk book is "The Story of Britain and America", focusing on our relationship(s) over five centuries.  She writes in the Preface:  "There are a number of reasons for writing a book covering Anglo-American relations over a period of five centuries.  It has never been done, not even by Churchill, and there is the attraction of doing something for the first time. .... It also makes a rather good story.  And, finally, there is my strong conviction that the academy and the general reader have drifted too far apart, and that those who take the public penny have a responsibility to convey the results of their research to the public." 

Jumping into the book in 1775 (pp. 148-161), I find a problem with Professor Burk's writing- it is incredibly good.  I am suddenly spell-bound by her dynamic descriptions and new factoids (for me) bursting from her depth of research about "our" Revolution.  The "British sentries ... confiscated (Paul) Revere's horse, forcing him to walk back to Lexington in his silver spurs and heavy riding boots."  His famous ride, immortalized by the poem of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was completed by Dr. Samuel Prescott who joined Revere and William Dawes on the road to Concord, after he "had spent the evening in Lexington with his sweetheart".  He escaped the British sentries who unsaddled Revere when he "jumped his horse over a stone wall and escaped through back roads and over fields."

"The first blood of the Revolution was shed at Lexington, not Concord, and it was shed by Minutemen."  Burk notes that they were commanded by Captain John Parker and badly outnumbered by the British whose commander, Major John Pitcairn ordered the Minutemen to "Lay down your arms, you damned rebels and disperse!" Captain Parker "ordered his men to file away.  But then a shot was fired-no one knows by whom- and the British in response fired a volley.  Another followed, and then the soldiers charged with fixed bayonets.  Eight men were killed ....and another ten wounded."  And the rest is History, which keeps changing, as poets, song writers and bloggers have their way with it.

Time out, Professor Burk, for blog size considerations.  Back to Dr. Synonymous.  OK, back to the Burk book, it's too interesting and there's a message for bloggers and other social media fans.

"In the closing months of 1775, the legislatures of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina had all instructed their delegates to the Continental Congress not to vote for independence, and the Maryland legislature did the same in January 1776."  Kathleen Burk, by the way, was born in America but has lived in Great Britain for decades, giving her a unique perspective on the relationship reviewed by her book.  She points out that "Fundamentally, Americans took particular pride in being governed under Britain's unwritten constitution...This was not a drive for independence."

That seemed to change with the publication of Common Sense; Addressed to the Inhabitants of America by Thomas Paine, who arrived in Philadelphia from Britain.  "He was now bankrupt, separated from his wife, and jobless, so he decided to go to America"....where he became a newspaperman. The timing of Common Sense was perfect for his readership since word that the King of England proclaimed his intentions to put a "speedy end" to the colonists desires for independence was printed in the Philadelphia newspaper on the same day of its publication.  "Available for sale the following day, it sold some 120,000 copies during the following three months"... and upwards of a half million copies during the rest of the year, according to Burks extensive references.

A key element in the message of Common Sense was an upgrade to the status of "the enemy" of the colonists.  The King became "The Royal Brute of Britain", shifting blame from the Parliament, which had denied the Americans representation (remember, "no taxation without representation").  This reframing of the target was a brilliant move by Paine.  The other brilliance was his recommendation of a new form of government- "a republic..founded purely on popular choice, with no hereditary elements.  There would be a president, more equal representation for voters,...and a constitution..."  The target of the King and the goal of a new form of government turned the tide toward independence.  (This is a major learning point for me from my brief introduction to Professor Burk's writing.)  And the rest is History, which keeps changing as poets, song writers and bloggers have their way with it.

Message for modern day bloggers from Thomas Paine:  If you want to be part of a revolution, timing and message is important.  Reframing may help you to "go viral".  Attacking authority figures may increase your readership.  Going bankrupt, failing as a corset maker (the Paine family business in England) because of "market changes", separating from your spouse, getting a letter of reference from Ben Franklin, and coming to Philadelphia are other choices. We can read about your Revolutionary Successes in your blog.  Historians may later clarify the variations on the "truths" in your blogging.  And the rest will be History, unless it changes as poets, song writers and bloggers have their way with it.