I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, January 23, 2017

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

If you are expecting a book about battles or types of weaponry, what the Special Forces do, or even the effects of PTSD, this isn't the book for you. As it says in the title this book is about the science of humans at war. Mary Roach is known for looking at the as she says "dark corners" of a subject that no one else is looking at. Her first book, Stiff looked at what happened to your body after death, as in the options beyond cremation and burial.  In Packing For Mars she writes about the space program; in Boink she writes candidly about sex, and in Gulp, she writes about the digestive system. In each of her books, she makes the subject sound completely fascinating.  And that is certainly the case in this book.

 In Chapter one she covers the design and endurance of the military uniform. The military hires fashion designers to not only make functional uniforms but something the soldiers would want to wear because it is comfortable and it looks good.  They also make something called "blast boxers" which protect the genitalia from dirt and sand that is launched into that area and can cause hard to get rid of infections to the wound.

Another couple of chapters deal with what happens when your genitalia is shot up. When a man [It is believed that a woman would not be able to survive and have her female system gone.] steps on an IED his first thought is never is my penis still there? It's always "Where's my buddy?" or "How are my men?"  And when he does get around to thinking about his penis if it's bad enough he'd rather stay there and die than be medevacked because he can't imagine a life without a penis. These days the doctors can do amazing things to repair damage and put in pumps to help if necessary. They can take tissue from the mouth to make urethra tubes.  Now they have managed to transplant a penis from a cadaver. The doctors at Johns Hopkins have been working on it for a while and have a soldier waiting for a donor. Roach witnesses a cadaver penial removal.  I looked online and a 64-year-old cancer patient back in May of last year successfully received a penial transplant and did not reject it.

In the chapter titled "Courage Under Fire" it deals with training certain soldiers, such as medics to cope with the sights and sounds of war while providing medical care to soldiers. Stu Segall, a man who has had many careers over the years is probably best known for his work on the TV crime drama Hunter. Now he has a studio set up to mimic conditions such as a village in Afghanistan or aboard a ship.  He also invented the Cut Suit Silicone Repair Kit.  A person wears the suit and you can have him or her have any problem you need them to have and the medic can "operate" on them just like they would a real person and with a real person wearing the suit you have the experience of a human being looking at you talking to you or making noises as opposed to the animals they usually use that are put to sleep for the operation.  He also has vets with missing limbs who are done up with a kit to appear to have just lost the limb and are bleeding.  While all this is going on you can hear loud gun fire and bombs going off.  When you enter this situation your adrenaline kicks in with your survival stress response and you become "fast, strong, and dumb." Your hands will shake and other reactions inside your body will cause you to lose the ability to reason or analyze. The idea is to get these medics as used to the stress as possible before they face the reality and have lives in their hands.

Roach watches as submariners train for going below by a very realistic simulation exercise and by working with the suit they will wear if they need to to take them to the surface. She also goes aboard a submarine and sees firsthand how a nuclear sub works. One of the main problems on submarines, and nuclear submarines, in particular, is the lack of sleep.  They get at most four hours of sleep. And research has shown that "failure to get adequate continuous sleep every day results in overly fatigued personnel who, in a matter of days, function at a deficit similar to being intoxicated."  A submariner will tell you that "Marines sitting around in a bar will tell you how many push-ups they can do. Aviators will tell you how many g's they can take. Submariners will tell you how many hours they stayed up."  No one wants to be known as a "rack hound".  Those that are of lower rank have to study for tests on top of the work and drills they have to do. Also, there are numerous drills for fire, flood, hydraulic rupture, air rupture, man overboard, security violation, and torpedo launch. Your sleep is constantly interrupted and sometimes it can take a day or more to fix something and you won't go to sleep until it is fixed. It's scary to think of these sleep-deprived soldiers operating complex machinery, but at the same time, you don't hear about submarines crashing all the time.

Roach also covers such topics as being able to hear in battle, making the Styker vehicle more bomb proof, the science of sweat and how to deal with it, the seriousness of diarrhea and why soldiers rarely ask for help when they could be fine in less than a day rather than suffering for five, good bugs and bad bugs, stink bombs, shark repellant, and how the fallen help those now, by being autopsied to find out what worked and what didn't and what went wrong or didn't.   This book is compelling and engrossing and just plain interesting. She shines a light on spots of the military you wouldn't think to think about and makes you want to know more. That is what she is best at doing in her books and she does not let you down here.

Camo print became so popular that eventually Navy personnel began clamoring for it. To the embarrassment of many, the current Navy working uniform is a blue camouflage print. Unsure whether perhaps I was missing the point, I asked a Navy commander about the rationale. He looked down at his trousers and sighed. “That’s so no one can see you if you fall overboard.”
-Mary Roach (Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War p 35)
All the added armor had Humvee engines screaming and straining on the uphills, and brakes burning out on the downs. Safety modifications on the Strykers added 10,000-plus pounds—far more than the vehicle was built to handle…For every piece of reinforcement, people like Mark would be called on to ditch something of similar weight. And the Stryker was never a lushly appointed vehicle. There is no onboard toilet. (There are empty Gatorade bottles.) The early ones didn’t even have air-conditioning.  I tell Mark I’m glad to see some cup holders were left in place. I recognize the brief polite silence that follows. It’s Mark Roman rendered mute by the fullness of my ignorance. They’re rifle holders.
-Mary Roach (Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War p 43-4)
He helped me put on my gear. (“I can stick my lip balm and tape recorder in these skinny vest pockets.” “Those are for ammo.”)
-Mary Roach (Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War p 59)
Walter Reed Medical Center pays for phalloplasty, although there was initially some resistance. (The implants alone cost about $10,000) Erections were thought of as “Icing on the cake,” Dean says. “They’d say, ‘Oh, people don’t really need that.’ I’m like, ‘Well, the guy with the amputated leg doesn’t really need prostheses. Put him in a wheelchair!’ And they’d go, ‘Oh, no! It’s important that they walk!’ I’d say, ‘Okay, well, most people would think it’s important to have sex.’”
-Mary Roach (Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War p 84)
If you don’t have a pair of cadaver shoes, you’re not doing enough research.
-Mary Roach (Dr. Rick Redett to Mary Roach in Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War p 96)
Stewart Springer voiced the cockamamie irony of it: “It was okay to give one’s life for one’s country, but to get eaten [by sharks] for it was another matter.”
-Mary Roach (Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War p 205)
Few of the students will cop to it, but there’s some anxiety in the house today. Some of these boys can barely swim.  The Navy entrance requirement is minimal. You are dropped in a pool fifty feet from the edge, and you get to that edge however you can. You don’t have to like the water to join the Navy. “I don’t even like baths,” said one submariner I met.
-Mary Roach (Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War p 235)
Medical historian Philip Mackowiak compared eyewitness and officers’ accounts of Stonewall Jackson’s performance during a series of Civil War battles with the general’s opportunities for sleep, if any, in the days leading up to those battles. In 100 percent of the battles for which Jackson had had no chance to sleep in the three days prior, his leadership was rated “poor.” In the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, his chief of staff described him as “thoroughly confused from first to last.” His brigades were not merely “out of order”; “he did not know where they were.” The Battle of Glendale found Jackson “benumbed, incapable…of deep thought or strenuous movement…uninterested and lethargic.” At times during the Battle of Malvern Hill, Jackson “appeared to be almost a bystander.” In the midst of the Battle of McDowell, he was discovered napping.
-Mary Roach (Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War p 248)
To reduce troops’ load, the Army adds caffeine to gum or mints or foods that soldiers are already carrying, like jerky. Natrick public affairs officer David Accetta feeds a Caffeinated Meat stick to reporters who visit the food lab. To me, it tasted just like you’d expect caffeinated meat to taste. Accetta was taken aback. “Brian Williams loves them.” Or did he?
-Mary Roach (Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War p 256)
Female soldiers, unlike males, receive vouchers to shop for their own underthings. The U.S. military is gearing up to buy uniforms embedded with photovoltaic panels—shirts that can recharge a radio battery—but it is not up to the task of purchasing bras for female soldiers. “I’ve done that sort of shopping with my wife,” said an Army spokesman quoted in Bloomberg Business. “It’s not easy to do.”
-Mary Roach (Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War p 269)

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Grunt-Curious-Science-Humans-War/dp/0393245446/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1485185262&sr=1-1&keywords=grunt+mary+roach

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