Saturday, February 21, 2009


You've got one hit wonders. Think Boston. Sniff'n the Tears. The Motors. The New Radicals. Rupert Holmes. Elvin Frikkin Bishop.

And then you have two hit wonders. Two big hits, spaced not that far apart, and then nothing. One such a band was The Shirts. From what I heard this Brooklyn outfit was never much of a success in the States, but I remember well how for a brief period in the late seventies they were HUGE in the Low Countries, and then especially in The Netherlands. They formed in 1975 and comprised at some point no less than nine musicians. Initially a cover band, in 1975 they performed at CBGB, the famous Country, Blue Grass and Blues music club in Bleecker Street, Manhattan, where a producer found them. The founders were Robert Racioppo and Artie Lamonica, the lead singer Annie Golden. From their first album, The Shirts (1978), was drawn their first single, Tell me your plans. Hit no. 2, Laugh and Walk Away, came from the subsequent album, Streetlight Shine (1979). And that was it. The success that they enjoyed in Europe, however briefly, eluded them in their home country, and their third album, Inner Sleeve (1980) was basically a deadborn, with only 10,000 LP's pressed. The Shirts split the year after and its members pursued various solo careers, with Golden having a degree of success in the film industry and on stage. Curiously, most members of the group, with the notable exception of Golden, reformed in 2003, and in 2006 they released Only the dead know Brooklyn - to the best of my knowledge, without any significant hit on it. Life's weird and can be sad and unfair. The magic touch can blossom further or simply flicker. Now and then it flickers twice, like with The Shirts. Maybe it's better to let old matters rest. For one member of The Shirts, singer and guitarist Ron Ardito, that has come out rather literally, since unfortunately, in 2008 he died from cancer.

Well... as for me, I will forever be grateful to these guys, as I am for all good music. Thirty years after the Outlaw Mike Nerd Era, when he sported thick glasses and uncool trousers and was hopelessly out of sync with life, I was overjoyed when yesterday I stumbled upon Youtube videos of both singles. Don't know how it is or will be with you, but the following sounds bring back fond memories.

I admit that the videos suck, especially the latter one, but then you have to remember that at the time Carter was POTUS. Splains all.


Sunday, February 15, 2009


Geert Wilders is not the only brave Dutchman out there. Far away, in Afghanistan's central Uruzgan province, the Dutch ISAF contingent has been fighting battles far more fierce and costly than Dutch troops ever did in Iraq, and despite the sad human cost this almost invariably implies, these engagements also bring out the best in the men. One such outstanding individual who proved more than up to the task is Captain Marco Kroon of the Dutch Commandos. For his courage and leadership during a 2006 operation in Uruzgan's Baluchi Valley, he will be awarded the highest decoration of The Netherlands, the Militaire Willemsorde (the Military Order of William). A truly remarkable event, since the last time the Militaire Willemsorde was awarded to an individual was... fifty years ago, to a soldier who had distinguished himself during the Independence War in Indonesia. Via Gates of Vienna:

TARIN KOWT — Platoon commander Captain Marco Kroon serving in Korps Commandotroepen (KCT) will be elevated on 29 May as knight in the Military Order of William, fourth class. Queen Beatrix awards him for bravery, courage and loyalty. This was announced by Prime Minister Balkenende to the troops in Tarin Kowt. The 38 year old inhabitant of ‘s Hertogenbosch Marco Kroon led a platoon of commandos during a mission from March until August 2006, in the period Task Force Uruzgan was set up. The men serving under him as well as his superiors mentioned him for this award. During his term of six months he was involved along with his platoon in several severe and sometimes lengthy fights, which he concluded in his favor without personal losses. He didn’t shy away from personal risks, for example by helping wounded allied soldiers out of battle. On another occasion he lead his unit fighting out of an ambush, while the gunner of his vehicle was wounded.

Some hard info on Captain Kroon's military career and his stint in Afghanistan can be found here. It's in the form of an interview, which in this occasion does not suit itself to a smooth translation.

Captain Marco Kroon started his military career in 1989. He was involved in exercises in Scotland, Norway, Belize and Guadeloupe, but took also part in missions in Iraq ('91) and Cambodia. Subsequently, first as an NCO and then as an officer he participated in several missions in Bosnia and Afghanistan, alternatively in the armoured infantry and as a commando. In January 2007, he was promoted a captain.

After a friendly remark concerning Dutch marines, Captain of Commandos Marco Kroon started his impressive story, during which he clearly revived the intense moments he and his men went trhough. Using an operation in the Baluchi Valley as an example, he described in his own inimitable style his choices, feelings and adrenalin level during this engagement. As a "field man" he used for this the "5 W's" (who, what, when, where, why). On day X he had to sweep clean this valley with his Special Forces platoon in cooperation with Australians and Americans in order to take out a number of important Taliban leaders. To this end, they'd have to slice through enemy lines.

Surprisingly, the action did not involve motorized transport, which meant that all equipment would have to be carried. The action would last 7 days. Fire support was to be provided by an AC-130 gunship (a Hercules plane with a 105mm howitzer and a fast firing 40mm gun) and later A-10's (planes with a Gatling gun). This action would be different from previous missions. During preparation Kroon and his men pondered that this time, the following day already, there'd likely be own losses. The tension could be read off Kroon's face even now.

The first choice facing the commander was what had to be taken with them. In order to carry more water and ammo Captain Kroon decided to leave the food rations at home. Not everybody was pleased with this. In order to maintain optimal combat readiness, Kroon let the stronger ones carry more than the others (80 lbs and more). In the dark of night the Taliban controlled territory was penetrated whereby their night vision equipment gave them a leading edge on the enemy. Contrary to the plan a neighboring motorized unit could not press on because of IED's. Halfway the advance to the first targets, returning Taliban fighters, not suspecting anything, crossed the platoon's advance vector. When contact seemed unavoidable Kroon ordered an encircling movement and maintained a safe distance using own laser spotting. When the distance to the Taliban fighters had shrinked to less than thrity meters, it became clear to him that he would have to give the order to fire. Knowing that a few seconds hence there would be many dead clearly felt quite different from a "fire away" order during an exercise! Albeit the first adversaries were taken out using silencers, the ensuing cries of wounded made the Taliban realize the seriousness of the attack they were under. It was clear to Kroon that the slowly escalating resistance would ultimately lead to an ammunition shortage and eventually the wiping out of his platoon. "Coming up with a plan while under fire, in the dark, is less evident than it seems, but still you have to keep thinking." Somewhat to his own surprise even theoretical parlance like "retake the initiative" and "maintain momentum" crossed his mind. He described his decision at the time as "one I won't forget for the rest of my life." He decided to call for fire support "with own troops in the vicinity" and subsequently, using the cover of this fire, advance in the resulting corridor. Knowing the capabilities of the C-130 gunship's excellent fire control systems, he decided to call in an airstrike on adversaries only 5O meters away between him and the target. In flashes he saw images of home and his children. After he had ordered everybody to take cover he let the FAC (Forward Air Controller) call in an airstrike. At the same time he realized constant adjustment would be needed. "On such a moment you have to, as a commander and together with your FAC, expose yourself and take your responsibility and give an example, while there's a serious risk of being hit." The incoming shells fell well and resistance in the planned direction lessened. Thereafter he gave the order to press on with the advance; and everybody stood up and went. For him a moment to ponder things. Of course he had informed everybody about his plan and knew everybody that staying put wat no option. But looking back it's a peculiar feeling that your people, who realize full well the deadly risk under Taliban fire, stand up and advance because you order it.

Without losses the designated target, a quala, was reached and used to spend the rest of the night in. During the night a vicious counterattack was warded off with own fire and fire support [CAS or artillery, that is not clear from the interview - MFBB]. At dawn came the order to control the results of the encounter and gather as much information as possible on the identity of the Taliban's dead and wounded. As a commander, he had to intervene at some point against the "blurring out of norms". He saw to it that the Taliban wounded were decently treated. Their dead were covered to take at least a measure of the existing proscriptions of muslim culture. "Even as the antipathy after events like I just described is understandable, as a commander you will have to act forcefully on such moments".

Congratulations to Captain Kroon!

While of course small with regards to the American, British, Canadian and even German contingents, the Dutch military presence in Afghanistan packs a lot of firepower. They don't have their Leopard tanks with them like Canadians (and the Danes) do, but they have state of the art mechanized artillery in the form of a small number of the excellent Panzerhaubitze 2000:

One round costs between 2,000 and 3,300 EUR!

And here is some footage of Dutch Apaches in action over Uruzgan in 2007. Towards the end you can clearly hear American ground troops call in their support, an excellent example of interallied cooperation:

If you discount Geert Wilders, the best Dutchmen are in Afghanistan.