Category Archives: Military

John McCain

I rarely meet famous or important people, but I did meet John McCain.

The US Navy had committed to providing Sailors to fill in US Army combat support and combat service support roles in order to free up Soldiers to do what they had been trained for. Sailors are very adaptable–when one is at sea and a barber is needed (or a damage controlman, or a firefighter) there isn’t the opportunity to wait until someone trained and certified arrives. One of the Sailors will learn how to fill the gap, until relieved by someone better qualified. However, a nineteen year old Soldier knows more about ground combat than most Sailors ever will, so the two are not interchangeable.

US Sailors were serving, boots on the ground, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait (alphabetical order). When they returned home, I believed that they deserved to be met at the airport by someone in a US Navy uniform, even if it was just me. Many came back through Thurgood Marshall International Airport in Baltimore, MD, so I made regular trips to that airport.

In 2008, while waiting for a group to return, John McCain happened to be in the area. Apparently someone alerted him to the return of the Sailors, and he, his bus, and everyone on it showed up. This was not a political photo opportunity–John McCain knew all too well what it means to come home from war. He was there to welcome the Sailors, the Soldiers, the Airmen, the Marines, and the Coast Guardsmen home. It s an open, honest, and heartfelt measure.

I have a picture of myself, a fellow officer, who is a wonderful person (but I don’t know if she wishes to be identified) and John McCain. This was after he had graciously greeted the returning service members of all branches as they entered the terminal. In the picture, his expression makes it obvious that he had more important things to do than be photographed with me–and that’s what makes the picture so special. He had greeted the returning American warriors, and even though I was there for them too, it was not about me–it was about them. Now it was time for him to move on to his next task.

I respect that. I respect a man who knows what’s important and especially respect a man whose moral compass is incorruptible. In McCain’s case, he did all this while maintaining a sense of humor. He was rare, which to me qualifies him as a treasure–a National Treasure.

Eternal rest, grant unto John McCain, Oh Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen

Interesting Facts

I try to stay out of politics for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I have a hiatal hernia and gaastro-esophogeal reflux disease. However, from time to time, I come across facts that are just too interesting to keep to myself.

However, beware, for as John Adams said:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.*

Anne Frank

—–Every western nation seems to be wrestling with the issue of immigration these days. Interestingly, there was a recent discovery by the Anne Frank House and the Holocaust Memorial Museum that Anne Frank’s father had applied–twice–for permission to move his family to the United States, but was turned down due to  “American bureaucracy, war, and time.” ** As everybody is probably aware, Anne Frank spent much of the war hiding in a secret room in the attic, was eventually found, arrested, sent to a Nazi concentration camp, and died only a few weeks before the British Army liberated the camp.

911

—–NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is an organization formed among western nations in 1949 for their mutual protection. Article 5 of the NATO treaty that essentially says that an attack on one member nation would be viewed as an attack on all the NATO members.  Interestingly, Article 5 has only been invoked once, with the other NATO nations coming to the aid of the United States after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.***

 

* Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_adams_134175

** https://www.click2houston.com/news/national/anne-franks-family-tried-in-vain-to-flee-to-the-us

*** https://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/13/us/after-attacks-alliance-for-first-time-nato-invokes-joint-defense-pact-with-us.html

 

The Whatth of July

800px-USA_declaration_independence

The Declaration of Independence was adopted on 2 July 1776, which is why John Adams expected the celebrations to take place each year on the second.  Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers were politicians, so the wording wasn’t finalized until the fourth of July. (If it had been the founding mothers, they would probably have been more practical, organized, and less egotistical. I’m sure the Declaration would have been completed much earlier.)

Not everyone who signed the Declaration did so on the fourth of July.  There’s no complete record as exactly who signed when. It’s probably safe to say that John Adams, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson all signed on that day (Hancock signed first and large–so King George could read it without his glasses).

The last signer was probably Matthew Thornton from New Hampshire, who wasn’t elected and seated in the Continental Congress until November; he asked for and received the privilege of adding his signature at that time, and signed on November 4, 1776.

So, two things:

  1. The Declaration of Independence set us on the path of the most improbable and radical experiment in civilization. The hereditary monarchy thing failed, as did leadership by military conquest. Our experiment is still running with its ups and downs, and will take forever to perfect. However, as Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
  2. We should never be surprised if politicians do not deliver in a timely manner.

Given the importance of the event, maybe it would be better to celebrate Independence Month!

 

 

 

Memorial Holyday

Memorial-Day

The word holiday was once just a different spelling for holyday, but has come to mean something quite different to many people. That’s unfortunate, because we tend to remember the specific meaning of our holydays; we do not confuse Passover with Christmas or Eid al Fitr. On the other hand, we do confuse holidays.

In the United States of America, today is Memorial Day. I observe Memorial Day, but do not celebrate it, since it is dedicated to those who gave their lives in the defense of our country. Veterans Day, on the other hand, recognizes all who served or are serving in the military.

It is an ancient custom to honor the dead by placing flowers on their grave. After the American Civil War, this practice became an annual ritual and was originally known as Decoration Day. There are a number of people and organizations who have been credited with initiating it from both the Union and Confederacy.

To me, Memorial Day, is when I remember when I was deployed and we lost someone. The theater–which was also used as a chapel–would have the inverted rifle, helmet, boots, and dog tags representing the lost warrior, and too many times it was not just one. The building was packed by men and women in camouflage uniforms; under the seats, the pre-staged boxes of tissue were intermingled with rifles. Friends paid tribute, and no one was too proud to cry.

Military rituals are often misunderstood, but the link provides a good explanation. One misunderstanding is that at a military funeral, the honor guard fires a 21-gun salute. Actually, they fire three volleys, a 21-gun salute is reserved for heads of state.

Except for Memorial Day.

On Memorial Day, those who, as Abraham Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure,” are accorded the same honor as a head of state. On Memorial Day, the fallen are recognized with a 21-gun salute.

XMAS

As a Christian, I hold this time of year as a most special time. December 25th has a one in 365 ¼ chance of being Jesus’ actual day of birth. In the absence of accurate records of births circa 003 BCE, and given the significance of the winter solstice—when each day has more light—the early Christian church may have taken advantage of events and combined celebrations. (Since gospel means, “good news,” it should not be surprising that Christians enjoy celebrating all of the good things in life.)

Some Christians take issue with the idea of Xmas, but, as often happens, a study of history enhances understanding. Xmas is not a way of removing Christ from Christmas, but a connection back to a time closer to his life. The “X” is the first letter of “Christos.” the Greek word for Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many Christians have seen the chi-rho symbol, and because of the prominence of the Greek letter rho—which looks like a “P”, they transpose the first (X) and second (P) letters and miss the fact that Xmas appropriately recognizes the Christ and does not replace his name with a variable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, regardless of your religious viewpoint, celebrate a few days of love. History has examples of wartime enemies, laying down their weapons, exchanging food and drink, singing Christmas Carols and playing football (soccer), for one precious, blessed evening. THAT is powerful.

 

 

My Life in Guitars – Part 5 (We’re not done yet?)

Then there was the ukulele, and it would be unfair to skip over the ukulele. There was a group of wonderful people who set up “Ukes for Troops,” and sent ukuleles to those serving in the desert. Our group of about 1200 received a dozen or so Lanikin ukuleles from them—what a cool move. I confess, I kept one for me, and even though I do not claim to have mastered the ukulele, I still have mine, prominently displayed in the music room.

 

 

Thanks Ukes for Troops!

 

When I got back home, I was still very pumped up about music, and kept an eye on eBay for special deals. One day I found one—a twelve-string guitar that had a starting price of $29.95. No one had bid on it. I watched it, and as the time ran down, I put in a bid. With eBay, it doesn’t automatically jump to your full bid, but whatever it would take to win the item, up to your full bid.

I got it for $29.95 (plus shipping, of course). The seller had taken great pains to point out that it had a ding on the front edge, and when it arrived, after playing it for a few weeks, I went in search a proper luthier who could repair it. (Trivia alert! The term luthier hearkens back to when the most common stringed instrument was the lute.)

A 12 string is to guitars, what a calliope is to organs with an over-the-top sound all its own. Most people like the sound, but don’t grasp the obvious. I saw a Quora question in which the person asked why a 12-string guitar sounds so “jangly.” Was it the type of music people played? The answer pointed out that it sounded jangly because of all those strings.

After Tom Petty died, NPR replayed an interview with him on Fresh Air. Terry Gross asked about the particular and special sound Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers developed; Petty replied that they were inspired by Roger McGuinn from the Byrds and his use of a 12-string. (It’s all those strings, man.)

By the way, if you have a 12 string, never, EVER tune it like normal guitar; back off at least one fret and use a capo as needed. Besides sounding jangly, all those strings put a tremendous amount of tension on the guitar’s neck.

Incidentally, the guitar turned out that the 12-string I had purchased was a “Briarwood,” with the label inside stating “Briarwood by Peavey.” Is it me, or is there a conspiracy? Doesn’t matter—the 12 string has been and remains one of my most favorite guitars. My wife concurs that it’s a great sound.

Travel Guitar

n.

 

My Life in Guitars (Part 3) – the Desert

I’d been quite happy with my Peavey Predator, so although I looked—and occasionally drooled, I didn’t seriously plan to buy another guitar. I became a geo-bachelor in Oakland, California, and had my Peavey, but no amplifier. In my teeny-tiny one room apartment, I could hear my playing well enough to keep my sanity.

Then I got the word that as a reservist, I was being recalled and would soon be in Southeast Asia. Obviously, the military pretty much dictated what would go on the plane, so the word was—mail yourself the survival gear you’d need in a plastic footlocker, with the fiberglass reinforced packing tape in every direction. Contents included books, electronic games, civilian clothes (sometimes referred to as “mufti”), and, in my case, a small ham radio station. If the footlocker was shattered, the tape would keep everything together.

What? No guitar?

No guitar. I did not want my Peavey damaged, and, besides, the military exchange system was there to take our money and send us whatever we desired. I’d just order a new guitar once I got there.

I did.

The order was cancelled.

I placed a second order with AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange System)—the store for our men in women in uniform who are deployed.

Cancelled again.

I called the AAFES command—I mean, why be a senior officer if you can’t call the military’s retail headquarters? As a civilian I can call Radio Shack headquarters—never mind.

When military are deployed their mail is routed through a system to an FPO (fleet post office) or an APO (Army post office) so that mail to overseas bases is treated—and costs—like it’s within the continental United States. However, AAFES claimed they didn’t ship to APOs or FPOs.

Huh? Isn’t that why the Military Exchange System exists?

I suspect that items like musical instruments are “drop-shipped” from the manufacturer directly to the customer. If the manufacturer was not located in the USA, then it couldn’t be sent as US mail to a US APO/FPO address. (Damn bean counters!)

Fortunately, I realized that the horse was dead, so I should stop whipping it, and went over its head, straight to . . . . . .

eBay!

Peavey Acoustic

I found a nice used acoustic guitar in the “Buy it now” section. I even talked with the seller (if you could dial back to a US base via the military system, you could then use your prepaid WalMart 5 cents-per-minute account to make a prepaid call elsewhere within the US). The seller was a nice guy who told me that he had changed out the bridge from white to black for a customer who changed his mind. Did I want it changed back?

No—just send it to me.

The vendor was either Music 123 or Musicians’ Friend—it doesn’t matter, they’re all part of the Guitar World now. The neat part was that for deployed military (you know, those with the dreaded APO and FPO addresses), these vendors, replaced the shipping cost with “Thank you for your service.” (To this day, they’re still my primary source for anything and everything musical—thanks, folks!)

For my new guitar, oddly enough I had picked a Peavey acoustic (imagine that). It arrived in short order in perfect condition. When I was “home” I tried to practice regularly and I also played at church. St. Augustine said that “He who sings, prays twice.” If you sing at a service at which I’m playing guitar, your prayers are probably worth a hundred-fold. On the other hand, one could always count dealing with my playing as penance.

After Mass one evening, Rubin, a fellow officer, approached me and asked if I wanted to play in a Beatles band. I laughed and pointed out my general (if not total) lack of talent, but Rubin (and I’m spelling his name the way I THINK he spelled it) said, “No problem, it was just for fun.” I thought about it, and figured that at the very least I’d get free guitar lessons out of the deal, so I agreed.

We didn’t get a lot of USO activity at our location, and what little we did always happened when I was on the road. There was a fair amount of excitement when a women’s volleyball team stopped by (so I hear) and Charlie Daniels performed, after which he autographed the guitar of one of the other Beatle band members. He had a black guitar with a mother-of-pearl Statue of Liberty inlay on the fretboard that had been custom made when he was stationed in Korea. Charlie signed it with a bold silver marker of some kind. The final result couldn’t have been more awesome.

But I digress, although I’m digressing about guitars, so it’s okay.

Just before Christmas, after weeks of rehearsing in a warehouse, WE became the USO show and did about 30 minutes of Beatles music for a crowd of fifty or so (after all, there was not much else to do if you weren’t on duty). However, a good time was had by all, and I had my 30 minutes of fame.

Next—a different guitar for an encore presentation.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day isn’t celebrated-it’s observed. Memorial Day—once known as “Decoration Day” dates to just after the Civil War when various groups selected a day to lay flowers on the graves of those who fell in battle. Both North and South began similar traditions; eventually ending up on the last Monday in May. Veterans Day recognizes those who have served; Memorial Day is for those who, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “Gave the last full measure.”

There is a symbol, and on special occasions, a brief ceremony to honor the fallen, and especially those who are missing in action or prisoners of war. It is commonly known as the “White Table” or “Missing Service Member (initially “man”) Table.” The following is read, explaining the significance of each item on the table. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_man_table

Table Ceremony Script

Preferably, the table is being set while the script is read.

The table that stands before you is a place of honor. In setting this table, we acknowledge those missing from our celebration today. And we remember them. (ring bell)

The table is small, and set for one — Symbolizing the vulnerability of a lone prisoner against his captors. Remember! (ring bell)

The tablecloth is white — Symbolizing purity of intention in responding to the nation’s call to arms. Remember! (ring bell)

The chair is empty, for they are not here. Remember! (ring bell)

The wine glass is inverted — They cannot toast with us this night. Remember! (ring bell)

The slices of lemon — Reminding us of their bitter suffering. Remember! (ring bell)

The grains of salt — Representing the countless tears of the families. Remember! (ring bell)

The single red rose — Reminding us of loved ones who keep the faith awaiting their return. Remember! (ring bell)

The burning candle and yellow ribbon — Symbolizing everlasting hope of a reunion with the missing. Remember! (ring bell)

Remember! — All who have served alongside them; we who have donned the same proud uniform, being sworn to the same faith and allegiance — We will never forget their sacrifice. Remember! (ring bell)

Remember! — Until the day they return home, or find eternal peace, we will remember. (ring bell).


Memorial Day

Graves at Arlington on Memorial Day.JPG

 

I don’t celebrate Memorial Day.

I do cook out and consider it to be the summer season and I enjoy the three-day weekend, but celebration brings to mind happier events. I do not wish people a “Happy Memorial Day.” Instead I observe Memorial Day as a day of remembrance, when we honor those who gave, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “The last full measure.”

There arguments as to how it started, but even though decorating the graves of fallen warriors is an ancient tradition, it took root in America after the Civil War. The Civil War was devastating not only in terms of bullets, but disease that swept through the armies before, during, and after the battles.

The North credits the Grand Army of the Republic—the veterans of the Union military—for starting it in 1868. They called it “Decoration Day” because of the flowers on the graves; its first observance was on May 30th because that date did not coincide with any significant Civil War battle.

There are others (including the US National Park Service) who claim that it began in Columbus, Georgia in 1866. There it was called “Memorial Day,” although after the North co-opted the idea (and the title), they called it “Confederate Memorial Day.” There was not a specific date throughout the South.

There is one other theory.  In South Carolina, Union soldiers were held in a makeshift prisoner of war camp that was actually a race course.  At least 257 Union soldiers who died in the camp were buried in unmarked graves. In 1865 freedmen—African-Americans who had been slaves—cleaned and landscaped the site and built an enclosure with an arch that said, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Regardless of its history, we now celebrate it on the last Monday in May with lots of sales at every retail store, and not enough thought of those who died in while in the service.

For clarity’s sake:

Memorial Day—the last Monday in May—honors service members who died while serving.

Veterans’ Day—November 11th commemorating the Armistice of World War I, which occurred at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month—honors all who served in uniform.

Armed Forces Day—The third Saturday in May—honors those currently serving.

 

 

A Day that Will Live in Infamy

Pearl

That was how Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States described December 7, 1941 after the Japanese attacked the military facilities in Hawaii. Pearl Harbor Navy Base received the biggest attack, but Hickam Airfield was also heavily damaged. The Japanese sank eight battleships and destroyed 350 US aircraft, most of them sitting on the ground. By luck or Divine intervention, the US aircraft carriers were at sea undergoing training; if they had been docked at Pearl Harbor, America might not have been able to resist the Japanese advances.

For good or for ill, this day does not live in infamy. Many people today are clueless about today’s significance, or even the fact that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Today Japan and the United States are strong allies. This is, perhaps, the best possible outcome out of any war. The worst outcome is to forget that liberty and security are precious gifts that are constantly at risk.

The opposite of war is not peace; the opposite of war is freedom.

Wise Advice

Lincoln

(I had written this a few days ago, but life got in the way of posting it.)

Speeches, especially speeches by politicians tend to have a powerful opening and a powerful close. The rare speech is powerful throughout; even rarer, it is short..

On this day (19 November) in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In school, many of us had to memorize that speech, but too few of us could appreciate it at such a young age. Sadly, too few adults appreciate it either. I’d like to comment on two sentences in the middle of the speech, which was only two paragraphs. The first is the last sentence of the first paragraph:

The world will little heed, nor long remember, what we say here; but it will not forget what they did here.

Did Lincoln believe this? It’s quite possible given that these were merely a few words he spoke at a cemetery dedication. Maybe he believed that much of what he did went unnoticed, and that is true of all great men. History has a habit of airbrushing PhotoShopping the warts and frailties of its heroes so the person more accurately resembles the marble busts in hallowed halls; others, history relegates to the footnotes.* Hero or not, recognized or not, a great man or a great woman does what they know to be right regardless of the consequences. The truly great tend not to be on the covers of magazines or offered reality television programs. The truly great understand that there are things greater than them, so they stand by their ideals, and stand in the shadows behind them.

As it turns out, the world did heed and remember Lincoln’s address. It also remembers the important choices the man made. When some began to revise history after the Civil War, Robert Todd Lincoln, his son, charged the president’s two secretaries–who handled his communication and sat in on most meetings–to write the factual history before it was forgotten or corrupted.

The second and final paragraph began:

It is for us rather, the living, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried forward.

That was not a charge merely to those close enough to hear President Lincoln’s speech, nor merely those in attendance, or even those alive in 1863. It is meant for all of us; we are all to continue the work of upholding the ideals of a democratic republic; To continue to view all people as deserving respect. We may be a nation of laws, but the laws are intended to provide order for the citizens. Some forget “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed” as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Surrounded by death, in the middle of a war that had split the Union, certain that he would not survive his time in office, Lincoln’s focus was to focus on the living, including us, and remind us to keep this precious gift alive.

* e.g. Millard Filmore

Ghost Fleet

ghost-fleet-cover

I found another great book, with an interesting story behind it

Peter W. Singer is a strategist and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, was formerly the youngest fellow at the Brookings Institute, along with many other interesting credentials. He founded NeoLuddite (I love the name), a technology advisory firm, and has written a number of books, including Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, and Children at War, which explores the use of children-soldiers. Mr. Singer consults for policy makers on these and other important issues.

However, Mr. Singer believed that such information was not getting the attention it needed, so he decided to team up with another writer and present his ideas via a technothriller a la Tom Clancy. The result is Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. I downloaded the eBook to my Kindle Tuesday morning. By Wednesday evening, interrupted by a 600+ mile drive and a college campus tour with my son, I had finished the book. Here are a few highlights.

The United States and China are strong trading partners, every bit as strong as Germany and Great Britain in 1910. Relations between China and Russia are tense. From America’s viewpoint, things look fine (and quite familiar) until the Russian cosmonauts lock the American astronaut outside the International Space Station. The Chinese have, by this time, orbited their own space station and have covertly installed weaponry. They destroy key American satellites. We’re suddenly at war, and it’s obvious that the Chinese have seriously studied our past to avoid the mistakes made by others; their attack on Pearl Harbor is much better executed and totally successful. The relationship between Russia and China is not tense, but instead they have formed an alliance to allow China and Russia to recapture their positions of power.

The Chinese have one significant advantage–almost every high tech American weapons platform has Chinese manufactured electronics, either because we allowed it, or in some cases because sub-sub-contractors substituted cheaper Chinese components for those specified. Embedded malware in the components renders most of our weapons unreliable if not totally useless. America no longer has the manufacturing base it did in the Second World War, and what capacity it does have has substantial foreign ownership interested in return on investment, not America’s survival.

Our only option is to drag out the old ships in the West Coast “ghost fleet;” obsolete vessels awaiting sale for scrap and some experimental that didn’t quite work out. Similarly, planes stored in the Air Force’s desert boneyard are pieced together, scavenging from several to get one aircraft reasonably operational. Kind of like the “hillbilly upgrades” soldiers did to Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a desperate move, but these has-beens and never-weres all predate the use of Chinese components.

Oh, and you’ll never guess how Wal-Mart figures into the story.

The book is a wonderful mix of scary fact and intriguing fiction with interesting characters. It is truly difficult to put down.

If you liked “The Martian,” you’ll love this.

THE Interview

Today, an interview with a man who needs no introduction. Good evening sir.

Good evening. It’s a pleasure to be here.

The world today is chaotic, yet in other ways, not so much. It was not that long ago—less than a century—when a number of nations were either at war or threatening war.

It has calmed down a bit, but one never knows when some radical leader will appear, appeal to those who have nothing to lose, and create all kinds of mayhem.

As the leader of the world’s only superpower, you have, in many ways, a responsibility to keep some semblance of order in the world.

That’s much easier to say from the chair you’re sitting in than from my chair. It’s a lot of responsibility to commit our blood and treasure to some fracas in a far-off land. Maintaining a military that can accomplish that is expensive and complex. When we station troops in some trouble spot, we still have to keep them supplied with everything from food to weapons. That supply train itself is expensive. People forget that our troops are stationed around the world—Europe, Asia, Africa.

Not to mention the fact that your primary duty is keeping the people back home happy.

The economy is always a major issue with the citizens. Everyone wants protection, good roads, and plenty of fresh water, but no one likes paying for those services through their taxes.

And then there’s politics—a truly demanding and dangerous game.

Dealing with politicians is different than dealing with any other group—they’re all trying to hang onto their power, and line their purse. I swear, there are senators that would stab me in the back, if given half a chance.

Well, let’s hope that they never get such a chance. I know your time is precious and your schedule full, but I do wish to thank you for taking time today.

The pleasure is mine.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a round of applause for the most powerful man in the world—Julius Caesar.

After Independence Day

When the United States sought its independence, it created something new, but hardly perfect. Perfection requires that we continue to strive, not rest on our laurels.

The US Constitution enabled the continued practice of slavery, and in the process virtually guaranteed the Civil War. When the Civil War was followed by Reconstruction, it virtually guaranteed that instead of reconciliation, the nation would suffer from bitter hatred; we saw the Ku Klux Klan and the Jim Crow laws.

Today we have the issues surrounding the battle flag of the Confederate States.

It’s time to steer things in a better direction.

9.12.3-3-ExplorePAHistory-a0h4j5-a_349

First: The Civil War is over. Many of those who fought were able to make their peace. Why can’t we?

Second: Most of those who fought for the Confederacy were not slaveholders; many were not even property owners. Generally the wealthy plantation owners did not fight as privates or sergeants—that was the role for the common folk who believed they were fighting for their homeland. It doesn’t take a great detective to figure out who convinced them of that. The white commoners, like the black slaves were just one more tool.

Third: Many black and white people today look back at their ancestors and want to take pride in their bravery in Viet Nam, Korea, and even the segregated military of the Second World War. It’s only natural to be proud if you find out you’re descended from a hero like Alvin York or Doris Miller.

Fourth: Great-great-grand pappy Jedidiah who fought as a corporal at Gettysburg is dead and gone. It doesn’t matter which side he fought on, it’s over, and as anyone who has experienced war will tell you, the best part is when it’s over and you go home. He would probably tell you, “Let it go.”

We are a stronger and better nation through Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Colin Powell, and Barack Obama. You may not agree with them individually, but history will not deny that the changes they brought about was important and good—even if some individuals do.

John Tyler, the tenth American president sided with the Confederacy, served in its congress, and was the only president to be proclaimed an enemy of the state.

It’s time to relegate history to history. Put the confederate flag away,

 

The Disappointment of Christmas

Most of us forget that we are spiritual beings on a journey through this material life. I personally forget about it for around sixteen hours each day; the other hours, I’m asleep.

When the Messiah came, people expected someone who would take charge and straighten things out. Lord knows it needed straightening out. The Levant was under military control; the power of the Roman Empire was the only reason that the various tribes weren’t at war, as was the norm. However, the hate was still there, just waiting for the chance.

The rich abused the poor. Innocent people were enslaved, tortured and executed, and most of this was done in the name of one god or another.

“Don’t worry, when the Messiah arrives, He’ll be a brilliant leader; a warrior superior to David and Joshua and a wise leader who would overshadow Solomon,” was the hope.

But Jesus was not that kind of Messiah. Rather than focusing on our “three score and ten” years, he put his efforts toward our eternity.

While His gift of salvation was free, he did give us the dictum to carry on His work—to “Love one another as I have loved you.”

This Christmas Eve the Levant—and the whole rest of the world is still a mess. The rich still abuse the poor. Innocent people are still enslaved, tortured and executed. Great evil is justified as being in the name of one god or another.

But even though we can’t see the big picture, the coming of the Messiah has changed things. While it seems like battles are being lost, we know through faith how things will turn out.

Victory never comes easily or cheaply, but God’s will is paramount.

In the meantime, hang onto your faith, let hope reinforce that these things will happen, and love one another as He loved us.

Mama Jo

Jo wasn’t really her name, but only a few of us knew her real first name and kept it as an insider’s joke and a secret among friends. However, Jo soon became “Mama Jo” to thousands of Sailors and their families.

Around 2007, I had returned from overseas and many Sailors were sent to work “boots on the ground.” It became apparent that the rules, regulations, procedures, and administrivia weren’t equipped to handle Sailors operating outside their normal channels. “Sailors belong on ships, and ships belong at sea!” we were told. Unfortunately, the enemy didn’t agree, and the war was in the desert. Dirt sailors took on whatever duties their nation required. Unfortunately, this meant they no longer fit neatly into the Navy system.

Families no longer had a command to which to turn when there were problems with pay, military housing or whatever. Add to that the wartime toll on marriages, and it was a mess. The Navy Times had articles and letters describing how Navy families whose sailors were serving in the sandbox had nowhere to turn and how they felt—and were—abandoned.

I happened to be in command when we had over one thousand Sailors in theater, so I was suddenly “the expert” for “Boots on Ground Sailors.” The wife of the Chief of Naval Operations saw the problems and took the issue of family problems personally (and my sincere thanks to you, Mrs. Mullen, for caring) and so I was told, “You’re our troubleshooting expert – fix it.”

I confess, throughout my career my Sailors were more important to me than the officers. The officers were my friends and colleagues, and I love them as brothers and sisters. It was my Sailors, on the other hand, who got the job done. They depended on me to shield them from the bullshit but missions that were successful were due to the Sailors, not the officers. I was committed to the Sailors and their families, but this war presented a Herculean task. There was almost no one who could help me tackle this.

Then came Jo.

Jo’s husband had been an Air Force Colonel. She was the only one in the command who was (slightly) older than me (I think). She had been a successful business consultant who shut her business down immediately after 9-11 in order to help our men and women in uniform. There is no one individual who has done more for our men and women in uniform than Jo.

Now there are some who believe that Jo hated me. I love this; if she didn’t get the cooperation she needed from a particular command, she would explain to them, “Well, I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to resolve this, because my Captain is going to be calling your commanding officer and it’s going to be ugly. I have to work with this guy every day, and I can tell you that when this is over, you and I are probably both going to both be in big $#!+. What? You have an idea? Why, yes, I think that might work!”

“Sir (always Sir, dammit), if you hear that the USS Whatever thinks you’re the world’s biggest pain in the ass… (add smile here) it’s my fault,” and I knew that some family had been taken care of.

Jo always threatened to buy a parrot and teach it all the things she said to her kids so when she died the parrot would be passed on and continue to repeat (in her voice) her favorite sayings. She never bought a parrot.

I did. I’ve had parrots before, but Jo provided the tipping point.

There are families who have survived storms, wildfires and tornadoes, thanks to Jo. Together we set up systems to meet returning Sailors as Thurgood Marshall in Baltimore, Norfolk International, and Naval Air Station Norfolk. Not everyone appreciated the importance of this, and it was an uphill battle, but Jo was there.

Sailors who worked with her know she was the first one in and the last to leave. When others arrived, there was coffee already started, and her desk always had a jar of candies. I preferred peanut butter cups, which mysteriously appeared in the freezer of the mini-fridge at my end of the building.

Some people are known for great discoveries and inventions. Others leave great wealth. The best way to describe Jo is with a prayer often attributed (albeit incorrectly) to St. Francis of Assisi; the author doesn’t matter – what matters is that Jo made it happen.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, harmony;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

Jo, when we meet again in the next life, we’ll pick up where we left off, except we’ll know our men and women are cared for, and I’ll finally get to meet your husband. In the meantime, know how much everyone appreciates the footprints you left behind.

Fair winds, following seas and peace, Jo.

Oh, and by the way, Mr. President, if for some reason you might be reading this blog and you’re looking for a hero to acknowledge – Jo Carter.

CDC and Ebola

Spanish flu treatment center Smithsonianmag.com

Spanish flu treatment center
Smithsonianmag.com

My congressman ran a poll asking his constituents if they were confident in the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) ability to combat Ebola. He’s probably sorry he asked, because this is how I responded. Obviously these are my own opinions (aren’t they always?), although I did try to check basic facts (number of dead in World War I, etc.)

I spent 30 years in the healthcare industry, starting off in a technical clinical discipline, and later, after completing my graduate degree I moved into management and was a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Administrators. My current position includes support for emergency management.

CDC is very good at doing certain things, but their best work has involved basic research, which doesn’t mean “simple” but getting to the root issues behind a scientific question. Basic research is often the most result oriented because instead of jumping to a search for the solution, it instead focuses on learning about the problem without preconceived notions. The classic example was when Dr. Fleming noticed that something was affecting the other bacteria in his experiment. By studying this “something” he discovered penicillin.

It appears that in recent that the attention of the leadership of the CDC has been drawn away from basic scientific research and become more focused on political issues, which well may have impacted their effectiveness. For example, there are reliable reports that CDC has spent significant effort to shut down doctors who believe in treating chronic Lyme disease. Some physicians believe that the organisms that causes Lyme disease, and an associated disease, babesiosis can become dormant in a patient, but when triggered by trauma, or other events, the symptoms become active again. Although not scientifically proven, patients have reported improvement when treated with a regimen of certain antibiotics and anti-parasitic drugs.

The CDC has not proven these conditions do not exist, which is understandable given that it is impossible to prove a negative. However, they have taken this issue on as a crusade and allegedly gone so far as to classify this as a Homeland Security issue in order to justify the use of legal authorities and law enforcement techniques.

Unfortunately, they have not been quite as enthusiastic at adhering to basic, proven infection control techniques they haven’t exerted the same amount of effort to adhere to basic protocols resulting in the exposure of CDC personnel to anthrax and the loss of at least one container of viable small pox. Incidentally, small pox was the first chemical weapon when the blankets of small pox victims were given to Native Americans, thereby intentionally introducing the disease to the indigenous population of North America.

I’ll give the CDC the benefit of the doubt. I think they can handle this IF the politically appointed and wanna-be-police types get out of the way. Should we cut off contact with western Africa and deprive them of essential expertise, medicine and equipment? I think not. While it may be politically unpopular, until effective treatments or vaccines are perfected, quarantine may be the most logical step. The health professionals actively working with Ebola patients at the handful of designated hospitals are the best trained and equipped. However, mistakes are made, equipment fails, and while the doctors, nurses, therapists and technologists may follow the protocols correctly, is it possible for a housekeeper or a maintenance person to become infected? I think so.

It may be wise to quarantine people who have been exposed to Ebola. The Ebola hospital staffs may just have to live and work within the confines of the facility for the duration. It’s an inconvenience but our military men and women have been living with such inconveniences for the past eleven years, all the while being shot at, rocketed, mortared and the target of suicide bombers and IEDs.

If the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy – the Navy’s 1200 bed hospital ships are not being deployed elsewhere, they could provide medical care as well as quarantine. Those exposed and being monitored would not have to live in military austerity, but instead could be housed in nicer accommodations to make the experience less painful; a hotel leased by the government, or perhaps a cruise ship. Nice accommodations, but safely out of circulation until everyone is sure that the individual is not infected

If everyone exposed to Ebola were quarantined for 28 days, it just might prove to be significantly cheaper to pay for lost wages and accommodations for these people than to let the disease spread. If the CDC puts the science and safety first, they’ll succeed. If the politics and power struggles take precedence, stand by. Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. The “Spanish” flu of 1918 is estimated to have killed between 50 million and 100 million; by comparison, the total death toll of the Great War (World War I)— all military and civilians—is estimated at 43 million.

Bottom line—let the scientists do their job.

My New Patient, the Terrorist

As a psychiatrist, I see all kinds of people; couples trying to communicate, Woody-Allenish-neurotics, and the occasional psychotic with delusions of grandeur. Some of my patients are folks for whom La-La Land is Home Sweet Home.

One of my newest patients has occasionally been in the news. Operating under the code name of “The Fruit Fly,” Whoopee bin Yowhzah was apprehended for an attempted act of terrorism on a flight. Although he did not, in fact, have a bomb, he nevertheless set his (rather soiled) underwear on fire. When the smell of his own scorched skivvies did not achieve the desired effect, he then attempted to set fire to the underwear of the other passengers.

When the plane landed in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he was arrested. He proudly announced to anyone who would listen that he was sure he would sent to Guantanamo, but was instead held in the Laramie County Jail. He demanded to be water boarded, which was ignored by the staff, so he stuck his head in the cell toilet and repeatedly flushed it until deputies restrained him.

It was decided that instead of communing a military tribunal, he would be tried before a judge and jury in New York. He was, quite understandably, found “Not guilty by reason of insanity” and committed to a psychiatric hospital.

I first met him as he sat on the edge of his bed. We started out with some small talk, and I asked him to tell me about himself.

“Me? I am a terrorist!” he replied enthusiastically.

“I see,” I replied, “and why did you become a terrorist?” He looked at me as though I was clueless.

“Being a terrorist is a religious calling!” he explained. “God, Himself, called me to be a holy warrior!”

The patient in the next bed sat bolt upright and glared at both of us. “I most certainly did not!” he replied.

 

Police Military Equipment

swatThere’s been a lot of coverage in the news about police departments getting surplus military equipment from the federal government. Now I understand police work is a tough job and there are bad people out there, but I don’t think it’s fair that only the police get the leftover equipment. The Los Angeles school district not only has an armored vehicle but also grenade launchers.

I want some, too.

The first thing I want is one of those stainless steel milk dispensers used in y military dining facilities that get milk to that just right, perfect, wonderful temperature for cold milk.

Then, bring on the chocolate chip cookies!

Oh, and while you’re at it, add a soft-serve ice cream dispenser.

Next I want one of those cots that we all had to sleep on in every base of every type throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. That way, if anyone decides to visit, and I don’t want them to stay too long, I make up the cot. With such a lumpy, squeaky, miserable place to sleep, unwanted guests would stay one night – if they last that long.

With all the media coverage of the heavily armored vehicles, I’ve tried to think of some type of nifty high-tech surplus conveyance that I’d like. Unfortunately, having served, I know they all guzzle fuel like Uncle Louie at ano-host bar. I think they average about twenty-eight gallons to the mile (not miles to the gallon) and need about a hundred thousand hours of maintenance for every hour you drive. Besides, based on personal experience I know they’re terribly noisy and no matter how big they are on the outside, the inside is cramped, uncomfortable and smell bad.

So, on second thought, I’ll pass.

Send the milk coolers and chocolate chip cookies to the police departments – maybe it’ll put them in a better mood.

Be Upbeat on 9/11

I’ve promised to be upbeat, and wherever possible, funny, but September 11 is a bit of a challenge. Nevertheless, here goes –

  • After the attack, Americans buried their dead, grieved, rebuilt, adjusted, and moved on.
  • No matter what anyone does, no matter how insane or horrible, God’s will is inviolable, and those bent on evil will find that their efforts ultimately fit into God’s plan. There’s a difference between doing evil while shouting “God is great!” and kneeling humbly before God’s greatness.
  • Although only about 2% of Americans are wearing the “cloth of our country” –  I can tell you that I’ve personally seen some of the finest young men and women who ever lived wearing the uniform. More importantly I can sleep peacefully knowing that these are our future leaders, and America’s future is in good hands.
  • Among other nations, I’ve seen commitment to the same core values we hold dear. Politics and diplomacy being what they are, I won’t name names, because it may actually work against them.

Years ago, Bob Townsend advised us that if you found out how to correct pollution for one dollar a state, the worst thing you could do would be to announce your discovery. It’s a damn poor bureaucrat who can’t attack an idea so that even its sponsor is happy to see it dead and buried. The way to succeed is to solve the problem state-by-state and only after it’s done, announce your discovery.

  •  Nevertheless be grateful for those who are “fighting the good fight” by words or deeds. Don’t forget that taking in and caring for refugees is as difficult as headline grabbing actions.

While I may not have shared any chuckles today, there’s a lot to think about that is uplifting and inspirational.