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Parental Guidance in the Hobby

At a recent military vehicle show, the event planners organized a last-minute “parade of historic military vehicles.” Each owner was asked to drive his or her vehicle past the bleachers of viewers while a narrator explained highlights of each MV. The organizers had not yet identified a narrator and, perhaps unfortunate for the audience, one of them saw me sitting at my booth.

Off the top of my head

Having been promised a couple of bottles of water, I agreed to be the announcer of the parade. Like the comic strip character Linus reaching for his blanket, I grabbed my copy of The Standard Catalog of U.S. Military Vehicles (back in print! Click HERE if you don’t have a copy of this hobby bible) and made my way over to the “reviewer’s table.” I didn’t really think I would have time to look up details, absorb them and then deliver a soliloquy on each vehicle, but, like Linus’ blanket, taking the book with me gave me a sense of security.

It was probably nervous energy, but one of the promised bottles of water disappeared while I waited for the parade to begin. “This could not be good,” I thought as I hid the other bottle from view. I stared across the football-sized field where the vehicles were lining up. I tried to make a mental note of each vehicle: It looked like a couple of WWII Jeeps up first, followed by an M37, an M16 half-track, a couple of CCKWs, a T-24 Weasel, either an M135 or M211 (couldn’t tell from where I was sitting), a WC towing a 57mm anti-tank gun, a couple of WWII ambulances followed by an M170 and an M151. “No problem,” I thought, “I know these vehicles.”

The parade commenced, and one by one, the vehicles drove around the edge of the field and idle up to a spot in front of the audience where the driver halted the vehicle and awaited my brief description followed by something anecdotal. As the driver pulled off the field, the next would idle up to that spot in front of the audience. This scene played out for what seemed like 100 vehicles, but in reality, only 18. When it was over, I was exhausted—and realized I never touched that other bottle of water or my copy of the Standard Catalog.

How did he know that stuff?

I suppose folks were being polite when a few made the effort to thank me for my “announcing.” More than one asked, “How do you know all that stuff?” At the time, I just shrugged it off with something humble—yet flippant, “Oh, it’s my job to know this stuff.”

It wasn’t until that evening when I was lying in my hotel (no…I don’t camp at shows anymore!), that I started to think about that question, “How DO I know all that stuff?” A normal person shouldn’t carry all that around info on the tip of their tongue, yet I didn’t think I was any different than the hundreds of people at the show who live and breathe military vehicles and relics. But I did wonder.

Lifetime accumulation

Okay, I will admit… it was odd for my kindergarten teacher to post on the wall the many pictures of jeeps, tanks and army trucks that I compulsively drew. Outside of that, I suspect my history isn’t that far off from others in the hobby.

I began building plastic models when I was about 8 years old, having watched my older brothers complete many before I received my first kit: a 1/48 scale Panzerkampfwagen V—a “Panther.” To be honest, I didn’t really build it—my next oldest brother, Jim, convinced me the tank would be much cooler if he built it for me. I sat with him for the several hours as he worked on the kit, breaking the appointed pieces from the sprue as he asked for them. I loved how the turret turned, gun elevated, road wheels and treads turned and the hatches that opened to accept the couple of crew figures that came with the kit.

Jim taught me how important it was to read through the instructions before starting any assembly. He also showed me how to use pictures on the box cover as a guide if anything confused me. Within a couple of years, I was building models at the rate of about one a month. My first choice were tanks or other military land vehicles, followed by military aircraft (my favorite were WWI planes) and finally—if no other cool model could be found at the local Ben Franklin—a military ship. As an aside, I was probably 15 years old before I ever bought a non-military model…and that was of a Kenworth cabover semi rig!

Building models taught me a lot about recognizing details. When I went to bed, I studied books about the vehicles I built. In retrospect, this was a heck of and indoctrination period.

The real advance in my military vehicle knowledge, though, came during the awkward years of high school. When the other geeks were playing Dungeons and Dragons, I was busy preparing 1/285 scale white metal 1:1 battalions of modern armor to defend Western Europe from a hypothetical attack by the Soviets. A handful of friends and I spent our evenings studying the tables of organizations of various European nations to determine various scenarios for defending against a Soviet land attack. On the weekends, we would lie out massive topographical maps and use our tiny tanks and a complex set of rules and charts to fight these hypothetical battles.

It was during this massive wargame campaign period of my life where I discovered the depth of research that was available on military vehicles. I bought my first copy of Janes Armoured Vehicles, an annual publication cataloging the world’s current military hardware. I began to memorize vehicle details, capabilities and unique characteristics.

I never envisioned that this passion was going to convert into a profession—and I am sure my parents never thought it would! The rest of the JAG history follows a basic path through reenacting, museums, racing and writing to end up where I am today. But that isn’t the point of this week’s ramble.

Rather, I would encourage you to permit your children’s interest to grow naturally. I may be wrong, but it seems like a lot of parents try to control their kids’ interests—and probably, to a degree, rightly so.

Video Teacher?

Like so many other adults, I have watched my nephews play video games for countless hours. I gnashed my teeth, thinking, “How will they ever learn anything? They have never built a model, shot a rifle, hiked through the woods by themselves or even gone camping without adult supervision!” Good grief, as those thoughts formulated in my mind, a different section of my brain was composing another statement, “JAG: You are such an old man now!”

The truth of the matter is, I sat down to play a little Play Station “Medal of Honor” with them. After a few hours of being repeatedly shot in the back of the head by my nephews’ avatars, we decided to go the PC and play a strategy-based game, “Steel Panthers.” Strongly resembling the board game of my youth, Panzerblitz!, Steel Panthers has a variety of turn-based scenarios for two players to fight out WWII and late 20th century armor battles.

After being humiliated at Steel Panthers, I told my nephews I had had enough. I retreated to the kitchen to sit with the “adults.” My oldest brother and I started talking about the games. I was struck by how much my nephews knew about military history as a result of the video games. Medal of Honor had taught them the intricacies and effectiveness of WWII weaponry. By playing Steel Panthers, they were gaining a strong sense of strategy and tactics. They had never experienced the afternoon pleasure of too much model glue while they assembled plastic kits, but these kids knew their 20th century weaponry.

“We have to get the kids involved”

Okay, maybe I am just growing into my old skin, but it is becoming obvious to me that “kids today” aren’t going to learn the same way I did. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to develop an appreciation for the some of the same things that I hold dear.

Hardly a week passes that some collector my age or older doesn’t bemoan to me, “We have to get the kids involved.” I understand the sentiment. We are afraid that the next generation won’t appreciate the things that we feel are important. On a more cynical note, without a younger base coming up, to whom will we sell our stuff when the time comes?

 I am slowly coming to appreciate that kids are interested in the same stuff as what has interested us for all these years. What we “adults” might be failing to recognize is how they appreciate it. We aren’t going to see too many kids building model kits these days (the glue is far too “dangerous” for most parents to allow in the house!). Nor, are we going to see too many joining “wargaming” clubs (seriously, we were VERY geeky back then!). Schools won’t let kids wear tiger stripes and berets, or even military patches for that matter. And not too many teachers are going to feel comfortable highlighting any student’s military fascination—lest something horrible happens and the instructor would be blamed for not reporting the kid’s behavior. The world has changed, but deep down, human nature has not.

Kids are still going to be fascinated by the power of armies facing an enemy, the camaraderie of serving with like-minded individuals or the pageantry of military uniform and hardware. They might not build models, paint plastic soldiers or play board games, but they are on their computers and game consoles learning far more about weapons and equipment than we ever dreamed at that age.

So my advice is, let them play… when they are 11 or 12, take them for a drive in your Jeep or other MV. Consider inviting a kid to ride shotgun at your next parade. Or, take a kid to the range to fire a few rounds through an M1, AR or M1911. Though the video games are teaching a lot of the history we hold dear, nothing promotes our hobby like a little direct adult-kid interaction.

Share the interest,
John Adams-Graf
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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