I stayed after school today to talk to a couple students. I hadn't planned to, but we just started talking after 6th period, and before we even knew it a half an hour had passed.
They asked several questions about my time in the military--which, actually, ended very near the time they were born! Still, I answered the questions and told war stories. It was a good time.
One of the questions, and I don't remember exactly what it was, launched me into a story about my rotations to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. For those of you who don't know what the NTC is: it's over 600,000 acres of beautiful desert maneuver area, complete with its own OPposing FORce (OPFOR). Back in my day, the OPFOR adopted Soviet tactics, and their vehicles were all visually modified to look like Soviet weaponry. A visiting Russian general once pronounced the NTC's OPFOR the world's best trained Motorized Rifle Regiment--how could they not be, when they fought American army brigades several months a year!
I was with the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Carson, Colorado. Our mission at the time was to be prepared to deploy to Northern Europe to fight Warsaw Pact forces invading West Germany. How quaint that all sounds now! Anyway, we weren't a rapid deployment force or anything like that; in fact, we were pretty far down the totem pole when it came to getting repair parts or even fielding new equipment. When I arrived in late 1987 we still had Jeeps and were in the process of trading them in for Humvees! We still used Vietnam-era M113 Armored Personnel Carriers and M60 tanks, while the "more important" divisions had the Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M1 tanks that we still see used in Iraq today.
One of the NTC evaluators once said to us that brigades from the 4th Division often performed better than brigades with M1's and Bradleys. The reason, he said, was because units so equipped expected their superior equipment to win the battles for them, whereas units from the 4th, because our equipment was not noticeably superior to the faux Soviet equipment (except in night operations), relied on our tactics and battle plans to win the day.
At that point in the war story I saw a teachable moment, and I said, "That's why I don't let you use graphing calculators in pre-calculus class." I don't want the students to rely on their equipment to get the answers, I want them to rely on their brains. It worked for us in the 4th Infantry Division, it will work for my students, too.