Thursday, December 30, 2004

Operation Dear Abby: A Personal Testimony

While reading something on Matt's blog recently, he commented about taking the time to send a letter to the troops. While I'm sure it was being done before my experience in 1986, I found myself at the other end of a big letter writing campaign. Here's my after action report: I’m not sure if this story is about the real beginnings of Operation Dear Abby, but I believe it is. The purpose of this post is to use some history to give you some first hand accounts of the impact of letters from all over America have on our troops, and, quite honestly, to help you make a decision (for you fence sitters) to take the time to get out pen and paper and to communicate with those at the “pointy end of the spear.” Sometime in mid to early 1985, an enterprising and forward looking sailor stationed aboard USS BIDDLE (CG-34), wrote a letter to Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) and asked if she would ask her readers to write to “any sailor” while our Battle Group was on deployment to the North Arabian Sea from Oct, 1985 through Apri1, 1986. This certainly was before the days of extensive access to the internet in the US, so “the word” would have to he passed by more conventional means. From my understanding, Abby checked with the Pentagon to make sure this would be acceptable to publish and (the obivious) answer was “yes.” Fast forward about 9 months. We had left our east coast ports, sailed to Singapore, and then made an early return to the “Med,” in January, 1984, due to the belligerent stance taken by Col. Khaddafi. By April, we had conducted several “freedom of navigation” operations and had engaged Libyan surface slips in combat. Then the letters started to come. Sometime about early April, mountains, as compared to the normal flow of mail, I’m not exaggerating, began to be delivered to the USS CORAL SEA Battle Group, addressed to “Any Sailor.” My staff was embarked aboard BIDDLE at the time, and when the logistic runs by helicopter from the Carrier came each day, we would get 3-4 large orange mailbags of just this mail. The bags would be taken to an area near the front of the mess deck, and left for all to dig through as time permitted. Believe me, we made time for this. I’ll say this: It was better than Christmas, and all we were getting was letters from ”home.” It was special and mail, the hard copy kind, hand written stuff is/was always wonderful to receive from your real relatives, but this stuff was outstanding because all types of people from all over took a few moments of their lives to write to us; faceless, nameless service members floating about on haze grey vessels half a world away. I can't put into words the elation these pieces of paper provided to so many of us. We read them, passed around the ones we liked, and many sailors wrote back, I know at least a few sailors even met some of the writers. I recall letters from veterans, housewives, an airline pilot, school kids and even a few from some women inmates in the Florida Correctional system. The “thank yours” were numerous, but many included just plain old “slices of life” from the hearts and souls of American citizens, giving as a glimpse of their days. These letters were a special gift and lifted the spirits of many. If your ever wonder if just taking a moment to share a little of your life with someone in the service is worth the effort, the answer from someone on the other end, is a resounding “it sure is!” I know after we were released from the theatre, after a 3 week extension to bomb Libya in May, 1986, the continuous, massive amounts of mail were delivered to the Battle Groups left in the Med, and I suspect it got distributed widely about the Fleets in all oceans. For my part, thank you to those who may have written back then, but today, especially to anyone who has been doing the same sort of thing for our service members. You are making a difference, and, as then, I know your seemingly small efforts are tremendously appreciated by the men and women far from home.

Vet offers to make memorial pictures for families

I found this on my early evening search and destroy a cup of coffee mission at Borders (aka the "pay for library") this evening. I think this info should be passed on to the many we know who have suffered from the loss of a family member. From Leatherneck, the December 2004 edition, there is a letter from a Vietnam Vet offering to create memorial pictures of deceased service members for their families at no cost.
My cousin, Sergeant Ron Baum, gave his life in the service of our country a few months ago in Iraq. In memory of his courage and devotion to family and nation it produced this image from photos taken at his graveside. I am a Vietnam veteran from 1969 and work as a computer artist. If you knows any other family that would like this type of tribute, I would be grateful to make similar artwork at no charge to the family of any fallen military personnel as my way of giving thanks and honor. I would send jpeg images to the families. Sgt. Baum’s family expressed great appreciation. CPT Frederick W. Greenawalt, USA (RET), , Akron, PA

The picture he did and that was shown next to the letter to the Editor was of deceased in dress blues above an image of a Marine squad firing the 21 gun salute. It was tasteful presented and very well done artisitically.

What began as a tool for mechanics....

It’s called a “data port” and I believe it began to he standard equipment in cars about 1995. Don’t quote me on that but, suffice it to say, it’s a development we know took place. Ok, here we go. This data port enables mechanics to connect computerized diagnostic computers to your car quickly. Not only can they “see” into your engine quickly they can, theoretically, identify and quickly correct problems in the automobile. That has the benefit of saving on labor hours for the consumer, as well as giving the mechanics the ability to handle a greater volume of customers. Invented by the automobile industry by the hybridization of electronics and mechanical devices, some other people come along and come up with a way to further their work, at no significant cost. Enter the law enforcement profession. The data port is not merely an interface into your vehicles “propulsion” system it has been fortified by being given a short, but telling memory. Like the sibling we had that reveled in reporting our egregious acts of immaturity and boundary testing to our parents the data pat retains a constantly refreshing memory of what you had the vehicle doing for the last 30 seconds. 30 seconds? That’s not long you think. Just for fun, stop doing anything else and watch your watch via clock for 30 seconds. This will recalibrate you as to how long 30 seconds is. With things like speed, acceleration and breaking being recorded, quite au accurate picture can he quickly reconstructed, completely unbiased by people with agendas. When an accident occurs, an information recovery specialist will use specialized equipment to record the vehicles last 30 seconds of data. Certainly this type of information retroviral will or must have been judged as legal, as is permissible to search based on “probable cause,” when a crime has occurred. If there was an accident, it certainly follows that a warrant-less search is in order. “They” now have what you did (and did not do) for permanent record. I would hope this would cause one to consider this, and to meditate on whether personal driving habits should be changed. It gets better. Look how far we’ve come in less than 10 years: From the automobile engineer to the mechanics to law enforcement. Just where can we go next? Enter an industry that grew from the premise of sharing risks to the one that has become risk adverse and “currency–philic:“ Insurance. About a month ago, I caught the last portions of a news report on how an insurance company in the northern mid-west is experimenting with having customers place a device on their car’s data port to record not just the last 30 seconds of data as they roll into their driveways at the end of the day, but all daylong. When you get home, you remove the data collection module, hook it up to your computer and upload your day’s driving to the insurance company’s computer. Once your data (provided voluntarily) is there, the insurance company software will take over and analyze your driving. How could a same person volunteer to do this? It’s simple, the insurance company offers an attractive incentive: a 15% discount. I’d be willing to bet this “project” is presented as a way to collect live data for the actuaries to review and analyze, So the company will be able to mitigate the isles farther. That certainly Sounds fair, but the real question is in which direction is the risk being attenuated? It’s not in your favor. As time passes, some incredibly compulsive math managers (actuaries) will sit down with computer programmers and discuss which combination, data points from the daily data capture files will indicate an unsafe (read: someone who we think will cost us money) driver is. The programmers will return to their cubicles and begin coding the proper “algorithms” to apply to received data. This process, in and of itself, is working material for an entire other post but that will have to he done later. Just close you eyes for a brief moment, get in touch with your inner child and imagine your flood of emotions when, as you have your first cup of coffee, you find an email from your wonderfully protective, good neighbors type insurance carrier subject line: “You insurance is cancelled.” Oops, that’s traumatic. Try this line: “Your insurance rates have been raised.” Sin confident your blood pressure is higher as a result and you may even have wondered (in the first scenario), "how will I get to work today?” Ina perfect world, a perfect set of computer code will be able to weed out aggressive drivers from the pack. On the other hand, were far from a coherent problem solving program. In the January, 2005 issue of “Scientific American,” pages 36 through 37A have an article discussing robotics and Hans Moravec of Carnegie Mellon University and Seegrid Corporation fame, figures a Mac G5 (dual processor) 2Ghz computer is sort of at the top of current mainstream computing ability and he rates it’s intelligence above a guppy and below a mouse. The news is computing power is improving, but it won’t be until about 2040 until computing power reaches that of humans. In the meantime, that means the fate of your driving record will be determined by either a smart fish, or a less than smart rodent. That, I submit, will jump start your heart better than a portable defibrillator. All of this reminds me of the BBC produced series ”Connections” of about 20 years ago. This started as a way to service a car more efficiently and it ends up being the sibling that always ratted you out, and all at no cost to anyone except the original designers of the data port. As a porting thought, consider the current Rush Limbaugh prescription drug “shopping” charges and how the Police collected Rush’s medical records from his doctors, without a warrant. That issue is presently headed for the Florida Supreme Court to determine the legality of this type of evidence seizure. Put that in the context of personal daily driving statistics being stored in the information systems of insurance companies. Will insurance companies willingly turn over information demanded by someone with a badge? It’s probably much clearer to assume that a “doctor-patient privileged relationship” would be upheld, but I doubt that few people would think to apply that quality of protection to information held by the insurance firms. As the computing power of the insurance companies computers grow, so will the capabilities of vehicle computers. With “On-star,” callers are electronically located by GPS. Cell phones have a GPS locating feature in ones produced in the last few years. You can bet that all vehicles will soon be fitted automatically with such equipment, and interfacing it to the data port will he a simple thing. When this occurs, Sin sure downloaded data from this pat will include position reports. As with the mechanics into it will quickly become a mandatory thing, and it could even be used to write speeding and other traffic violations automatically. We will accept this story creeping, penetration into our lives without a thought, other than how it enhances am lives on a minute-to. Minute basis, being concerned little about the threat to personal privacy this will beget.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

You just have to smile at this...

Leave it to a trooper to get us the real news. A young soldier, nicknamed "Tweek," put this post up about how security was handled after the Mess Hall suicide bombing. While that wasn't funny at all, in this little story he tells about being geared up for combat patrols and going to look in the post exchange. It will make you chuckle about how we react to things.

Monday, December 27, 2004

What does a Soldier think about the SecDef?

Linked from a link on LGF, it's a report from a doctor in a hospital in Iraq, that gives us a view into a conversation between a wounded soldier and Donald Rumsfield that happened recently. Update: Here are comments from the wife, mother and mother-in-law of Sgt Robert Andrew Laurent, the soldier who had a chance to talk to the SecDef. Despite the potential for heartache, the story just gets better....

The World's Police

The snide remark keeps popping up, a rhetorical question, it appears, but mostly it's bait for an arguement they want you to join in: "Why do we have to be the World's Policeman?" For a brief moment, put yourself in someone else's shoes.... If you were a Jewish person in the Warsaw Ghetto in the late 1930s and early 1940's, would you accept the help of a "world policeman?" If you were a teacher in Cambodia in the mid-70's, would you accept the help of a "world policeman?" If you were a Hutu or a Tutsi tribal member in Central Africa in the 80's, or even today, would you accept the help of a "world policeman?" If you were a female on the streets of Baghdad in the 90's through 2003, would you accept the help of a "world policeman?" Think about it, or how historically, some of those situations have worked out. The very people who people who most often (in my experience) make this remark are all for having a law enforcing entity in their neighborhoods (psst! called "police"), providing them with protection from acts of theft, assault, rape and arson, yet somehow, to perform this duty for those who are to weak outside of our borders, for whatever reason, is objectionable to them. In a uni-polar world, if not us, with the blessing of a strong economy and a people who are trained to respect the person next to thme (and yes, sometimes we don't do that very well), then who will stand for the oppressed when situations of extreme immorality overtakes them?

Someone "gets it" over there

I caught the tail end of the 12/23/04 re-broadcast of the Rush Limbaugh Show this past weekend, and he was busy reading an opinion editorial from Razi Azmi in Bangladesh. Is seems this man actual understands, against all the MSM has told you about how hated we are, that the World, is in fact, a safer place today as a result of the War on Terror and our presense in Iraq. Here's how Razi begins his editorial: "I can definitely live with Bush as US president — or as the world’s sole policeman — for eight years or longer, but would hate to spend even eight days under the Taliban’s theocracy, Saddam’s dictatorship or a regime of Ayatollahs. I have a strong feeling that the vast majority of people everywhere feel the same way." I agree. I also suspect, as does this writer, that even those of you who claim to be against the War, wouldn't volunteer to live as he described, would you? Read this so you may know there are other intelligent voices who see what is happening and can analyze how it affects the region and the world in general.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Woodrow Wilson on Giving "Slack"

In June 1916, President Wilson Was at the Annaoplois Graduation and had not planned to speak. Once there, he decided to speak to the midshipmen and he chose to address a character issue to those about to enter the service as commissioned officers. Sage words for any of our leaders, those in the pipeline to be commissioned and those who are already. “Once and again when youngsters here or at West Point have forgotten themselves and done something ought not to do and were about to be disciplined, perhaps severely, for it, I have been appealed to by their friends to excuse them from penalty. Knowing that I have spent most of my life at college, they commonly say to me. ‘You know college boys. You know what they are. They are heedless youngsters very often, and they ought not to be held up to the same standards of responsibility that older men must submit to.’ I have always replied ‘Yes, I know college boys. But while these youngsters are college boys, they are something more. They are officers of the United States.. They are not merely college boys. If they were, I would look at dereliction of duty on their part in another spirit; but any dereliction of duty on the part of a naval officer of the United States may involve the fortunes of a nation and cannot be overlooked.’ Do you not see the difference? You cannot indulge yourself in weakness, gentlemen. You cannot forget your duty for a moment, because there might become a time when that weak spot in you should affect you in the midst of a great engagement, and then the whole history of the world might be changed by what you did not do or did wrong.” “So that the personal feeling I have for you is this: we are all bound together, I for the time being and you permanently, under a special obligation, the most solemn that the mind can conceive.. The fortunes of a nation are confided to us. Now, that ought to depress a man. Sometimes I think that nothing is worthwhile that is not hard. You do not improve your muscle by doing the easy thing; you improve it by doing the hard thing, and you get your zest by doing a thing that is difficult, not a thing that is easy. I would a great deal rather, so far as my sense of enjoyment is concerned, have something strenuous to do than to have something else that can be done leisurely and without stimulation of the faculties.” “Therefore, I congratulate you that you are going to live your lives under the most stimulating compulsion that any man can feel, the sense not of private duty merely, but of public duty also. And then if you perform that duty, there is a reward which is superior to any other reward in the world. That is the affectionate remembrance of your fellow men – their honor, their affection. No man could wish for more than that or find anything higher than that to strive for.” I think that is good advice for all of us to absorb. It's not just those in the military who lead.....

How the war is going through the eyes of the warriors and what Teddy Roosevelt can tell us about our current situation

An attack in Mosul on Tuesday killed more Americans in one day, than any other in this entire war. That's important to know. It's about the coming elections, and it most likely will get worse. Count on it, it's desperation, and the stench of that is getting stronger. They couldn't discourage us by cutting off heads of non-Military Americans in Iraq, they couldn't do it by cutting off the heads of the citizens of other countries. They couldn't do it by filling vehicles full of explosives and hiding in allys and setting them off with cell phone calls. They will now try, once more, to defeat us in a public forum, the biased American Media. Thankfully, our military, and politcal leadership understands this warping of the 1st Admendment of the Constituion far better than it did during the Vietnam Conflict. We have hope. If you can handle a hard read, that most likely will cause you to come to tears, but will allow you to read a first person account by an Army Chaplin, who went to the field hospital during the attack mentioned above. Steel yourself, and then click here. I'm one to have long tossed aside the concept of "coincidence," and now understand things all happen for a reason. A few nights ago, having tried to entice readers, the few and the maybe proud, to return, I posted a teaser about a book of speeches. The first one I keyed into, and realized it is topical today, was one by Theodore Roosevelt, obviously discussing a reaction to what was happening in the aftermath of the Spanish American War. He was commenting on how we could not back away from a responsibility to "nation build" in the Phillipines. It sounds just like a speech George W. Bush should borrow and modify for today. Here are some cogent extracts from Teddy Roosevelt on April 10th, 1899: “A man’s first duty is to take his own home, but he is not excused from doing his duty to the state; for if he fails at this second duty it is under penalty of ceasing to be a freeman. In the same way, while our nation’s duty is within its own borders, it is not hereby absolved from facing its duties in the world as a whole; and if it refuses to do so, it merely forfeits its right to struggle for a place among the peoples that shape the destiny of mankind. “So, if we do our duty aright in the Philippine Islands, we will add to that national renown which is the highest and finest part of national life, we will greatly benefit the people of the Philippine Islands, and, above all, we will play our part well in the great work of uplifting mankind. But to do this work, keep ever in mind that we must show in a very high degree the qualities of courage, of honesty, and of good judgment. Resistance must be stamped out. The first and all-important work to be done is to establish the supremacy of our flag. We must put down armed resistance before we can accomplish anything else, and there should be no parlaying, no faltering, in dealing with our foe. As for those in our country who encourage the for, we can afford contemptuously to disregard them; but it must be remembered that their utterances are not saved from being treasonable merely by the fact that they are despicable.” “When we once have put down armed resistance, when once our rule is acknowledged, then the even more difficult task will begin, for then we must see to it that the islands are administered with absolute honesty and with good judgment. If we let the public service of the islands be turned into the prey of the spoils politician, then we have begun to tread the path which Spain trod to her own destruction. We must send there only good and able men, chosen for their fitness, and not because of their partisan service, and these men must not only administer impartial justice to the natives and serve their own government with honesty and fidelity, but must show the utmost tact and firmness, remembering that, with such people as those whom we are to deal, weakness is the greatest of crimes, and that next to weakness comes lack of consideration for their principles and prejudices.” “I preach to you, my countrymen, that our country calls not for the life of ease but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their own lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by word; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife is justified, for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.” This call to action to continue to shoulder the responsibility as the US enetered the 20th Cnetury applies to our entry into the 21st Century. We must stand firm, or we will suffer the fate of having others tell us what to do. I don't mean to say we need to be on top because it's a power thing, just that we have been the one nation to change the world for unselifish reasons. Even if we're done a bad job in some cases, stumbling along the way, any one would be hard pressed to say America has been a empire builder for only our own selfish needs. Another great piece I was lead to via some links today speaks to the humanity being shown in Iraq, again, from someone on the front lines. Read this (especially you who proclaim to be on the side of bettering things in life for women). There is a powerful message being sent here. This one may not make you cry, but it sure will make you think hard....something we all could stand to do more often.

We think we are so unique in our circumstances - or - what Adalai Stevenson said at the end of the election in 1952

Adalai Stevenson lost to President Eisenhower in the 1952 election. As an obivious parallel to us today, a Republican won, the Democrat lost. How could the Democratic party benefit from these words, as Adalai stepped out of the public's eye: Adalai Stevenson’s concession speech – 11/5/52: “It is traditionally American to fight hard before an election. It is equally traditional to close ranks as soon as the people have spoken.” “We vote as many, but we pray as one. With a united people, with faith in democracy, with common concerns for others less fortunate around the globe, we shall move forward with God’s guidance toward the time when his children shall grow in freedom and dignity in a world at peace.” We can only hope and pray the Democrats come to understand how powerful this set of principles is.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Speaking of powerful words...

A few years back, I mentioned a book of great speeches I had just seen in the bookstore, to a friend of mine who commented he'd love to get a copy of it. This Christmas season was ripe for me to provide that to him as a gift. I thought it was out of print, but was pleasantly surprised when the computer at Borders told me it was "In Store." "Lend Me Your Ears" complied and edited by William Safire is the book. This post is to tease you to come back later and see what jewels of wisdom that would do us good to revisit and pass a long in this time. I read a few of them and made some notes, which I plan on posting here for your reading pleasure. The first one I turned to was one by Theodore Roosevelt, which was given about the Spanish American War. It was a direct parallel to our situation today, and with minor editing, could be given by President Bush today. There are others that spoke to today as well as then and it humbled me, to know why I'm not one of those great leaders. I couldn't come up with brilliant stuff like they did. Come back, Y'all!

I'm going to have to call and tell my 22 year old fetus something...

Words are powerful and in this day and age, it often seems that words are purposefully twisted to support an agenda, rather than to communicate reality, or a concept. The past few days news of a lady being murdered and then the child was cut form the dead mother's body and kidnapped was distressing. But, in order to make horrific point, for some complete lack of respect for humanity, the main stream media headlined this story with such lead ins as "Missing fetus found..." This left me to rheotically ponder the point, is this baby, at an 8 month term of life, still only worthy of the title of "fetus" because it did not trasit the birth canal, or because it was not extracted by a licensed medical doctor? Maybe I'm way off base here, but my biology degree taught me this was a "baby," and therefore, I believe this would have been the factual term to be used in the reports. On the other hand, it could have been one of those old, deadly sins, yep, greed, to motivate an editor to bend the scientific truth out of true, just to try and sell more papers... In any case, if "someone" decides to recalibrate our use of the term "fetus," to be aligned with these reports, I'll have to tell my daughter, born 22 years ago by C-Section, that she is now reclassified as a "fetus." Thankfully, she wasn't kidnapped. I wonder how she will take this?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Denzel Washington Appreciates Our Troops

From Mudville Gazette comes this link, which is a short report on Denzel Washington going to a military hospital to pin on some Purple Hearts. I have read muted reports for years about the heart of this man. The stories never are shoved in your face, but I know he has sent plenty of money to the Boys Club, for he credits it with helping him so much when he was young. He gives back.

Yet another wonderful "Nite Before Christmas" military rendition

I have seen several versions of "the Night Before Christmas" with a story of military members standing the watch, and here's one I had not seen: A Different "Night Before Christmas" by Michael Marks The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light, I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight. My wife was asleep, her head on my chest, My daughter beside me, angelic in rest. Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white, Transforming the yard to a winter delight. The sparkling lights in the tree, I believe, Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve. My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep, Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep In perfect contentment, or so it would seem. So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream. The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near, But I opened my eye when it tickled my ear. Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know, Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow. My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear, And I crept to the door just to see who was near. Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night, A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight. A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold. Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled, Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child. "What are you doing?" I asked without fear "Come in this moment, it's freezing out here! Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve, You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!" For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift, away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts, to the window that danced with a warm fire's light then he sighed and he said "Its really all right, I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night." "Its my duty to stand at the front of the line, that separates you from the darkest of times. No one had to ask or beg or implore me, I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me. My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December," then he sighed, "that's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers." My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam And now it is my turn and so, here I am. I've not seen my own son in more than a while, But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile. Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag, The red white and blue ... an American flag. "I can live through the cold and the being alone, Away from my family, my house and my home, I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet, I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat, I can carry the weight of killing another or lay down my life with my sisters and brothers who stand at the front against any and all, to insure for all time that this flag will not fall." "So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright Your family is waiting and I'll be all right." "But isn't there something I can do, at the least, "Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast? It seems all too little for all that you've done, For being away from your wife and your son." Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret, "Just tell us you love us, and never forget To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone. To stand your own watch, no matter how long. For when we come home, either standing or dead, to know you remember we fought and we bled is payment enough, and with that we will trust. That we mattered to you as you mattered to us. Thanks to Don Black, who sent me this info, identifying the author of this poem: Update to the original post: The poem in your post was written by: Copyright December 07, 2000 by Michael Marks This was after the poem which was also posted at: Author's Notes: A Soldier's Christmas was the first in this series of patriotic writings, drafted on Pearl Harbor Day 2000 when in the wake of the 2000 Presidential Election our nation saw the right of US Armed Forces personnel openly questioned and debated. I felt it unconscionable that at the onset of the Christmas season, those serving to defend our nation would hear anything but our love and support. It is our challenge to stand for their rights at home while they stand for our lives and safety overseas. This poem went out and quickly spread around the world in emails, letters, magazines. I received letters from Marines in Bosnia, soldiers in Okinawa, from a submariner who xeroxed a copy for everyone on his sub. Moms wrote, dads, brothers and sisters. I have saved and cherish every letter and set out to continue writing throughout the year. I was thinking about our servicemen overseas this Holiday Season and wrote the following in hope of bringing a small bit of Christmas cheer to active duty and veterans alike ... just a humble thanks and "God Bless." Please feel free to pass it along or post it as you see fit. Thank you. Happy Holidays, Michael Marks Don added this note to begin his comment, and I think it's a thoughtful tradition worth following: Yes, this one brought the tears out. As I have said before, I am going to have an empty chair at our Christmas dinner table. The people at the "children's" table in the kitchen will understand that it is the place of honor for our guest. The guest is the service men and women away from home this Christmas. Our prayers and our pride in you can not be explained only show in our support. Thanks, Don, for the great idea.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Winning Hearts and Minds

Winning wars is something we have been pretty good at as Americans. We have learned how to apply military might, backed by the most important component of operations, logistics, just about every where on the planet. We have shown ourselves to be a different kind of "tool of diplomacy," as we haven't been used for a long time as an instrument of colonization or empire building. There certainly are those who would argue, even today, but the evidence just won't let their belief hold water. Some would think that we "lost" the Vietnam War. Politically, yes, we did. We declared victory and di-died out of the area, only to see the South overrun by a conventional military force. The concept of "winning hearts and minds" became a oft used line from that "conflict" (which is the more correct term, as Congress lacked the fortitude to stand up to their Constitutionally mandated responsibility). In a wierd sort of way, we thought we could convince those in the Viet Cong, to rally to the side of their loyal to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) government. There were Civil Aid Programs and there are many discussions on the topic, some of which is covered in "The Bright Shining Lie" by Niel Sheehan. In another book, I found some interesting reporting of some successful "hearts and minds" work in Vietnam. The book, "Our Own Worst Enemy" by William Lederer, is a must read for anyone who thinks they have a good idea of what happened over there. The speculations Lederer made in this book (published in 1968), were remarkably close to reality. The validation of William's writing is contained in "A Viet Cong Memoir" by Troung Nhu Tang, who was the VC Minister of Justice in South Vietnam and involved directly from 1954 with the resistance to the French and later, the Americans. Published in 1986, after he fled to Franch because of the persecution at the hands of the North Vietnamese, it's a detailed first person account of how the war was perceived on the "other side." On to my topic, with that important background in place. In "Our Own Worst Enemy," William Lederer described a Marine unit who exercised a Civil Action Program by going and living with the villagers they were assigned to protect. The commander of the unit, who I recall was a Colonel, met with the villiage elders and learned to play the Vietnamese version of Go. He didn't show up and demand his culture be adopted by the Vietnamese, he went and learned theirs. His men did the same. Note this was a Marine unit. This "tactic" was developed by General Chesty Puller, USMC, who wrote "The Small Wars Manual" based on experiences in Central America and the Philippines in the beginning of the 20th Century. The Marines began working with the Vietnamese villagers, showing them some better ways to farm, and to raise livestock. Eventually, this effort resulted in the people having some excess food to sell, which generated extra capital. The Marines arranged to buy and import chickens and hogs. The villagers, using their money to invest in their work, in faith that the farm boys in camoflage uniforms could help better their lives, ended up with even greater supluses, giving them leverage at the local markets. When the "dry season" came, the Marines "acquired" and Army pump, so water from the river, low at this time of year, could be pumped up to the rice paddies, so they grew rice year round. When some of the men, who had snuck off to join the VC would come back to the village, they found their families and neighbors now had those very things they were "fighting" for. Better economics, more food, more spare money for "investment." This effort, which yielded a deep relationship between the Marines and the villagers. After a while, the local people would come and tell the Marines when the attacks were coming. Freindships had been formed because some Americans shared what they had with people half a world from where they grew up. This all brings me to a very recent report from a Marine Gunnery Sargent about an incident in Iraq. It harkens back to Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Vietnam. It's a story of how a single stuffed animal toy, sent from the Satates, changed a heart and a mind in the Middle East, and how a child showed real courage in the midst of a bunch of armed and dangerous Marines on patrol. If you don't think school supplies, building materials, shoes, books and toys can't be vital tools in changing the world, think again. They're even better when backed by the strategic weapon known as American Compassion.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Stuff from elsewhere worth reading...

While Little Green Footballs can properly get your blood boiling over the ignorance, or stupidity, or arrogance and any combination thereof, in the world, I find Matt at Black Five tends to pull together many items that will encourage and give a voice to some who are regulary looked down upon in our society (and I mean by the left minded, who consider people who serve in the military as too stupid or inept to handle a "real" jobs in the world). Today, a letter of thanks, with some very specific situations mentioned, from an Army Sargent. I think it's a "must read," for it tells a tale of America that we hear in a generic sense, if it's mentioned at all. After you read it, consider the opportunities you have to thank a service member. Whether they are "there" or not, they all have a part in the defense of this nation, and therefore your freedom. And you never know, they may be on the front lines one day in the future and you've then already had a chance to just says "thanks" in your own way. I'll wager that any of them you take a moment to do that with will be somewhat embarrassed and tell you it's no big thing, they are just doing what they signed on for. On 12/9/2004, a story about the President meeting with 171 family members of service members who died in the GWOT. Unlike grandstanding politicans, this wasn't a photo op. The meetings were family by family, just each of them and the President. Don't try to tell me this man has no compassion for his citizens. Ther has been a conference of "bloggers" held in the last few days and Matt actually met with two real men from Iraq, who are blogging from there under the address of Iraq the Model. Democracy can give a voice to the oppressed and help to ensure govenrments everywhere don't get carried away. Thye two posts Matt made are here and here. From the Mudville Gazette, a story of a wounded Marine who refused to let the doctors cut his wedding ring. He had them take his finger off instead, rather than break the continous band symbolic of his marriage. Gory, but, uplifting that there are those in this country that can make a choice such as this to show their commitment to something very important. Just to end with some humor, wade through the comments on this LGF post about wacky fatwas. Maybe you, being adults, can come up with some fatwas of your own, too. Enough for now. For my very small band of readers, I actually hope you've read the material I've linked to, as I think those blogs are worth a daily stop. If you haven't found them yet, please consider checking the links and going back there regularly.

Quarterback or team player?

Once more, as I listened to local talk radio on the way to work, something about the people who “lost” the election took me back to a personal conversation I have periodically with myself as a result of work years ago. The topic is: Is it better to be the quarterback of the high school team, or a “merely” a member of the winning Superbowl team? My thoughts originate around a meeting in the summer of 1996 at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, where I became the speaker at a meeting that I didn’t even know was being held. Because I was going to be in town, a civil servant I had worked with before asked representatives from the surface, submarine and aviation training communities to be there to have the discussion that ensued. Here is a little background, to set the stage for the lessons learned. In 1988, I began working on a program that would allow shipboard leadership to more efficiently manage the ship’s watch stations. At the time, the process which was put in place for a good reason in the early 70s, was still being done pretty much manually, despite some degree of automation being available. I began with a diagram that laid out a series of databases and the relationships between them. Over time, this program, spurred on by the gun turret explosion of the USS IOWA in 1989, became an operating program, running on basic PC. At the time, the venerable Zenith Z-248 computers, acquired through a great Air Force contract the Navy was allowed to use, were making their way aboard ships to support the Supply departments (LOGMARS), and later Disbursing and Ships Store functions. The Shipboard Naval Administrative Program (SNAP) was in caretaker status, so essentially un-modifiable to compensate for changes mandated at the Type Commander level. Across three commands, my commanding officers allowed me to keep working with the Fleet to eventually distribute the program to 120 ships, from aircraft carriers to mine countermeasure ships. Along the way in this project, I learned many things. I consciously looked at the myriad of tools we used to put a trained person at their watch station, I found little bits of documents that led me back to why we did what we were how doing. The showed me common building blocks used, that applied to the aviation, surface and submarine communities alike. We may have put them in different formats, but the philosophy and methodology traded closely together. It was a bit like archeology, psychology, history, statistical process control, Total Quality Management/Leadship/Continuous Improvement and administration all rolled together. Additionally. I also learned a lot about “domains” and “kingdoms,” and what a bunch of passionate people (read: people who were tired of waiting for the people on “the beach” to get things done) can achieve with just the hope of success. Lesson #1: If someone is without resources, in this case money, and you show up with a good idea, they will be your friend and supporter. You will get invited to the meetings and to maybe act as a consultant, and sometimes become a foil for them to use to get resources, in this case money, a team begins to form with a vision. Lesson #2: When your “friends” can get resources, in this case money, you are not just no longer of friend, but you quickly become “competition” first, shortly before you become the “enemy.” The team now begins to divide. Those new degrees of understanding being behind me, back to “the meeting.” On the way to hammering though the real world application of a concept, the fundamental building blocks in the qualification process became clearer to me. At the meeting, senior civil servants, representing the training component of the three “line” communities and I discussed this. The stonewalling began. Since I had been involved in this process with the Surface community for 5 years, and the fact that the civilian for the shore support for Surface had taken the job a few months before, it seemed to boil down to telling me that these things couldn’t be done. As the meeting progressed, the next lesson became resoundingly clear to me. Lesson #3: It is more important to protect your turf, and stay the “head cheese,” than to team up with a greater organization and go for it! In this case, you must accept the possibility that you will “blend into the background.” What came to mind in the next few days was how some people, to use a football analogy, would rather stay as the winning quarterback at a high school team, than strive to (become pat of a team that goes to the Superbowl. There was a moment, that day, to begin piling the resources, in this case, there was a total money collectively, and produce something better. I’m hat talking about some program to make the life of staff and shore duty officers easier, but to make the lives of the poor sailors and officers at sea better. I’m not saying I had the complete answer, just I saw what could have been done by those who had made the better part of their careers on the training and qualification system. As a side note to those who know the Navy programs involved, let me state there wasn’t any plan on my part to do something like rewrite NATOPs for any qualification manuals for the submariners. The point was to capture who was qualified in order to bounce that against real-time requirements and thereby support the chain of command in the effective use of the training process resources. The history of the entire journey into how we did training was very interesting, but that will have to be for other posts. I would have been happy to a part of a revolution such as this.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Where to and not to shop...

What follows in this post is: First, my comments back to the person who forwarded this email to me. Second, the actual email. Personally, it's getting pretty boring to continue to hear the incessant whining about how the election wasn't right, blah, blah, blah.....Like I said, these people seem to know nothing about sportman like behavior. Get a grip, if you're one of those PEST people, please, and interact with us as something other than a spoiled child. I'll compare and contrast my mindset when President Clinton was re-elected to what seems to be the thtoughts these days of the "losing side." I didn't get despondent, nor did I seek the care of a mental helath professional. I just kept living. The great part, and pardon me for being so terrible obvious, this country will repeat the election process every four years. In that, there is hope. I just can't come to fathom how upset these Democratic whiners are. I also realized I should have taken the opportunity to question how an obviously left wing (and therefore "supporters of the separation of church and state" crowd would realize they are supporting the celebration of the birth of Christ by commenting on the "holidays." I know the joke is on them. I think they all should just stay at work through the "holidays," just so it won't look like they accept there is a God. Ok, off to the races, and thanks, I won't name you here person, for telling me where I don't want to spend my money, and where I should. I'd have never taken it this far, but...since you provided me with the "gouge," who am I to reject it...:) *************email below************** Let me see, I'll file that under people who never had parents with a concept of sportmanship, or ones who did, but they were too busy earning and climbing the corporate ladder to pay attention to their children. Will these adult children of the "sensitive" decide to grow up sometime soon? Don't forget to square that the red staters out donate to charities to blue's significantly. Where's the compassion? And I wonder why they left off Osama bin Laden's favorite party to contribute to..... "Everybody can be used for something, even if it is a bad example" - Anonymous ********"the MESSAGE!"****************** Subject: SHOPPING PREFERENCES With the holidays upon us, some of us might wish to be mindful of who we patronize relative to their Election Cycle political donations, as reported by the Center for Responsive Politics. Not that we're all shopaholics... SUPPORT: * Price Club/Costco donated $225K, of which 99% went to democrats; * Rite Aid, $517K, 60% to democrats; * Magla Products (Stanley tools, Mr. Clean), $22K, 100% to democrats; * Warnaco (undergarments), $55K, 73% to democrats; * Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, $153K, 99% to democrats; * Estee Lauder, $448K, 95% to democrats; * Guess ? Inc., $145K, 98% to democrats; * Calvin Klein, $78K, 100% to democrats; * Liz Claiborne, Inc., $34K, 97% to democrats; * Levi Straus, $26K, 97% to democrats; * Olan Mills, $175K, 99% to democrats. * Gallo Winery, $337K, 95% to democrats; * Southern Wine & Spirits, $213K, 73% to democrats; * Joseph E. Seagrams & Sons (includes beverage business, plus considerable media interests), $2M+, 67% democrats. * Sonic Corporation, $83K, 98% democrat; * Triarc Companies (Arby's, T.J. Cinnamon's, Pasta Connections), $112K, 96% Democrats; * Hyatt Corporation, $187K, 80% to democrats; DON'T SUPPORT: WalMart, $467K, 97% to republicans; K-Mart, $524K, 86% to republicans; Home Depot, $298K, 89% to republicans; Target, $226K, 70% to republicans; Circuit City Stores, $261K, 95% to republicans; 3M Co., $281K, 87% to republicans; Hallmark Cards, $319K, 92% to republicans; Amway, $391K, 100% republican; Kohler Co. (plumbing fixtures), $283K, 100% republicans; B.F. Goodrich (tires), $215K, 97% to republicans; Proctor & Gamble, $243K, 79% to republicans; Coors, $174K, 92% to republicans; (also Budweiser - sd) Brown-Forman Corp. (Southern Comfort, Jack Daniels, Bushmills, Korbel wines - as well as Lennox China, Dansk, Gorham Silver), $644, 80% to republicans; Pilgrim's Pride Corp. (chicken), $366K, 100% republican; Outback Steakhouse, $641K, 95% republican; Tricon Global Restaurants (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell), $133K, 87% republican; Brinker International (Maggiano's, Brinker Cafe, Chili's, On the Border, Macaroni Grill, Crazymel's, Corner Baker, EatZis), $242K, 83% republican; Waffle House, $279K, 100% republican; McDonald's Corp., $197K, 86% republican; Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Smokey Bones, Bahama Breeze), $121K, 89% republican; Mariott International, $323K, 81% to republicans; Holiday Inns, $38K, 71% to republicans "Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul." ------ End of Forwarded Message

Sunday, December 05, 2004

People heading to Canada...

Sad, sad, sad story....a must read in the PEST days we live in ..

Saturday, December 04, 2004

“We Support the Troops, but...”

As I pondered the comments regarding the issue of the quality of leadership seen in ex-enlisted officers, my chaotic thought process brought up the “we support the troops, but…” crowd. It strikes me now that what is being strongly implied is that that “troops“ are the “enlisted” people and worthy of support because (of what is not stated) the stupid, aggressive, knuckle-dragging, violent officer corps is responsible for dragging the “troops” off to these bullet filled “adventures.” In this case, the officer corps is comprised of the educated by the liberal arts college and university system of this nation. This is the same system that has provided these in our ”intelligentsia” with their educations, hut somehow those who choose to take up a profession of arms are not worthy of being considered smart enough to know when and when not to go to war. To plagiarize from modern culture, I ask: “what’s up with that?” Pardon me, but that seems quite arrogant on the part of those who espouse this strange middle ground support ideal. First off, a simple review of the biographies of flag and general rank officers will reveal many master’s degrees and even doctorial credentials, plenty to rival the academic achievements of many school’s faculty lists. The fingerprints of the massive amounts of education is evident in a military that can rapidly deploy and employ weaponry, sensors, logistical and communications procedures that cannot he done by any other county. The troops are trained for their duties by those same officers who cull through mountains of intelligence information and project the needed strategy and tactics that achieve success unrivaled by any fighting force in history. In addition, the methods used provide this nation with men and women who have been trained to employ force to kill in all sorts of exotic and basic ways, yet these “troops” reenter society and are well-adjusted. Liberal thinkers malign the officers who make for a small and economical military, which despite its cost in the budget, is truly remarkable in its ability to defend us. Despite what “they” want to believe, the officers, as a group, diligently work to use the federal dollars wisely in the service of our citizens. None of what is written above is meant to discount the input of the troops, for many are a vital part of the work, in the quest to make for an effective military, but it is more commonly the position of the officer corps to do the planning and implementation of the “big picture” type of things.

Ex-enlisted officers: Are they better?

Yesterday Matt at Black Five began a thread posing the question in the title of this post. Not only was the main post thought-provoking, the comments , which are more extensive than most on his board, draw from enlisted, ex-enlisted and officers, active duty and retired. All were full of really good first person stories and opinions based on their service (obviously). These comments are a unique window into the world of leadership, yet in the end it really proves people are people in and out of the service and good leaders are good. My experience, as noted by pretty much every poster, was “it depends.” On my first ship which happened to hoe one of those much-maligned supply ships, known as oilers, we had not only a number of ex-enlisted officers, but also a good compliment of warrant officers. As a result, the years of combined experience, not only in the wardroom (where the ships’ officers live) shut also the “goat locker” (Chief Petty officer’s quarters) was exceptionally high. I was very fortunate to start my career off in this environment. My roommate was another ensign. Harry Watkins III was ex-enlisted, having served as an electronics technician (ET) on surface ships up to the E-6 paygrade, before attending the Naval Enlisted Selected Education Program (NESEP). He had applied to this much desired program, was selected, and then attended college to earn his commission as a line officer. That process alone indicated Harry was an excellent person in the first place. Harry never preached to me, was never condescending, he just was a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. He passed along plenty to help guide me in my quest to be a good division officer and watch stander on the bridge. Later in our tour, LT George Parrish left the ship and Harry was “fleeted up” to the Ship’s Navigator position. While aboard the ship as a division officer for manpower accounting, the Ship’s Navigator was routinely treated as a department head in recognition of the importance of the job, as well as of the recognition of the superior performance demonstrated by the person filling the billet. This process happened on most ships in the fleet, where the best junior officer was moved into that position in the second half of their initial sea tour of 3 years. To wrap this up, I want to pay tribute to a wonderful man and leader. His counsel was invaluable and served me well. When it came time for fitness reports, I was always number 2 in the ranking while Harry was aboard. Never did I feel I wasn’t rated fairly I because Harry had earned every bit of being number 1. Years later, Harry was early selected to O-4, which was very unusual, as only a few people were, but more so because he wasn’t in, or had been in, a job in the Pentagon. There are many other associations I had with ex-enlisted officers but the one I had with Harry set a high water made for me.