Sunday, March 24, 2013

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Thursday, May 24, 2012


Most Americans, myself included, obsess about debt. Credit card debt, mortgage debt, student loan and our national debt. It's always in the news, and in our minds.

But there is another much, much larger and important debt. One that can never be repaid. That is to the men and women who have paid the ultimate price serving our country in the armed forces. It is also to their families.

Statistically, 99% of Americans wake up every morning and enjoy their freedom. The remaining 1% will defend that freedom, without sleeping.

When a recruit takes the oath of enlistment, he or she writes a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount up to, and including, their life. That is the most honorable thing to do for one's country. When you raise your right hand and swear that you will serve your country, no matter what. 

 Servicemen and women don’t have the luxury of picking the war in which they will fight.

When an active duty Marine gets word that his unit is being sent to Afghanistan, he doesn't say: "Well, I'd rather not." An Army Reservist, when called up from her civilian job, doesn't think: "You know, I think I'll sit this one out."

Did we really have to fight in Vietnam? Did we really have to fight to free Europe and Asia during World War II?

The Americans we are honoring this weekend had no choice. And because they did not get to pick and choose, we should not have a choice either about deciding which war is worthy of their sacrifice. They knowingly sacrificed their lives serving their country. 

In the words of John Stuart Mill:
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse....A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

As we prepare to enjoy a long weekend of memorials and 
picnics,  let us also remember that we are still a nation at war; one that started decades ago and only came ashore on 9/11. God only knows how long it will last, but you can be sure that our armed forces will remain vigilant. Please keep them in your prayers. 

In closing, a quote written during our War of Independence :

"THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he or she that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman...What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated..."

-Thomas Paine: The Crisis, December 23, 1776

Thursday, February 9, 2012

My Alive Day

  I am grateful for my Alive Day: January 29, 2004. This is different from a birthday; it’s the day that my life was spared and I was given another chance. 
  It’s the night when insurgents sent three rockets blindly into Baghdad International Airport. No one, not the insurgents or the frightened soldiers scurrying for cover, knew where they would end up. By the grace of God, these three nasty projectiles missed my eight story building by one hundred yards and tore huge holes in the parking lot directly in front of it. Not ten minutes before, I had debated whether or not to go running around the parking lot that night. Something or someone made me choose not to, and this is why I am able to sit here and type this. 

  To say I have a Guardian Angel watching over me is an understatement.

  It was a chance to return home and see my two young sons again. A chance to continue on with my life, as so many others will never have the chance. It was a chance to chase my dreams and make something of myself. 

  I will never again take this life for granted.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Now that the buzz and hype about the Marines desecrating the bodies of Taliban dead has subsided, I'm weighing in with my two cents. I've waited until now, because I saw and read a lot of media pundits and bloggers (most of whom have NEVER served in the military) putting their spin on this event. I'm sure it sold a lot of advertising and generated incredible amounts of web traffic. And predictably, this story has faded into the inky blackness that is the public's memory. This event, more than all of the Kardashian's, American Idols, Lindsay Lohan's, and Michael Jackson's, needs to stay in the American conscience. This is because this incident and others are the yardsticks by which the rest of the world judges us. Right, wrong or indifferent. Forgetting about it or shoving it to the back burner won't make it go away.

Oh yeah. And we're still at war.

First off, these Marines need to be punished. No ifs, ands or buts. Dishonorable discharges for each; it'll be stapled to every job or college application they fill out. And not just because the entire world is watching. What they did was downright wrong. They didn't play by the rules. And, we're better than that.

Secondly, no matter what good our country does, no matter how many earthquakes and Tsunami's we respond to, the rest of the globe will only remember the bad things about our country. For example, when I was in Iraq, I saw young American soldiers giving their own bottles of ice water to civilians when the temperature was up to140. During the rainy season, I watched the soldiers in the HUMVEE ahead of me deliberately splashing little schoolgirls on the roadside. My Commanding Officer and I personally made sure they were held accountable.

Being an idealist, I always hoped that the first incident made the most impact. But in reality, the incident with the schoolchildren probably created more insurgents out of the local population. 

In the courtroom of world opinion, America is presumed guilty until the pundits no longer feel like prosecuting.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's examine the lack of outrage when dead Americans' bodies have been desecrated and mutilated on international television. Mogadishu, October 1993. Fallujah, March 2004. The local population took an absolutely perverse pleasure in dragging our soldiers' remains the streets or hung from a bridge for display. 

The taped be-headings of soldiers, reporters, and contractors from OTHER countries, not just the USA; where is the outrage, the justice? 

Every incident which I've described so far has happened in combat, or in some sort of conflict, as an act of aggression or retaliation. Regardless of whom did what to whom, there is one common denominator: Human beings were the perpetrators.

This is what happens to people when they go to war. There are no exceptions. War does things to a person's psyche.As a society, we are bound by law and morality to not kill, even for revenge. We must treat others like we would want to be treated; the Golden Rule.

So, you take someone out of that protected place, train them to kill, with force, and don't be stingy with the bullets. And then, take them to a far away place and cut 'em loose. In the defense of their country or way of life, they're going to do their job. Just until the enemy is annihilated or takes vacation like the Iraqi Army in 2003.

Then, they're put in contact with the civilian population. Suddenly, in a stressful, combative environment, they must be diplomatic and trusting, friendly and kind, all the while trying to protect themselves and their comrades. But the eye chart they used to recognize the enemy is useless now because the line between friend and threat is blurred. 

I'm speaking from experience. 

In January 2004, a mere few weeks before we were slated to return home, there was an incident. Our Civil Affairs battalion had been in charge of rebuilding an elementary school just outside Baghdad International Airport. It was a real feel-good project. All those kids getting a chance to attend school again. We were the only soldiers whose job description was to help others. 

A major TV network showed up to capture the Grand Re-Opening. Just as the crew finished taping, a bomb went off in a pile of construction debris next to our vehicles. Two of the Humvee's were riddled with shrapnel. Besides everyone being deafened, there was only one person wounded: the Commander. He had a fishhook-shaped laceration on his leg. It was so small, he refused a Purple Heart. 

As they were leaving the ambush, they noticed the villagers were cheering.

I wasn't with them at the time. The information came over the radio: they were OK. I mean physically; what happened to them would never be forgotten or forgiven. They were there to help the villagers; there was a mutual trust and respect (or so they thought). But the Iraqis had thrown them under the bus.

For the rest of the day, I hated the Iraqis. Before, I'd hated the oppressive heat, raw sewage, burning trash, and the sand. Now, I hated the people we had come to help, the main focus of my soldiers' efforts, those we'd trusted.

When I saw the Colonel, I could tell he wanted revenge. This gentle, soft-spoken man who was a veterinarian now told me that he didn't care if the whole village was burned.

Even nice guys can only be pushed so far.

I believe that every one of us has the capability inside to treat others badly, to hurt or kill. In war, that demon is allowed to raise its ugly head and strike. It happened in Mogadishu in 1993, it happened to the Marines in Afghanistan last week, and it nearly happened to a doctor.

Thanks for reading. I just wanted to give my fellow citizens an idea of what really goes on where the arrows are flying.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Don Hinman, of Waterville, in his words, was "lacking direction in life." It was the early 1960's in rural Oneida County. His father had a large, prosperous farm in the Deansboro area, and he was well-provided for. His family's prosperity, Don said, created a sense that he had no responsibilities. He roamed around without a care and got in trouble.

One day in 1964, he talked to the local Marine recruiter. When he told his parents, his father was not happy. Don's place was on the farm, in his view. The farm foreman had been in the Marines years earlier, so Don's father asked him to talk Don out of enlisting.

The foreman took Don for a ride, but he did the exact opposite of Mr. Hinman's wishes; he told him that it was the best thing for Don, at this point in his life, and would instill a sense of purpose and discipline in him. So, Don Hinman enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Because he was only 17, his parents had to sign for him, and they eventually relented.

Don made it through the torturous blur of Marine Boot Camp at Parris Island, SC and was trained as a Munitions Specialist.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

This Is NOT Your Grandparents' War

The War on Terror is unlike any other war our nation has ever fought. We've not declared war on a country. Our enemy plans its attacks from within our borders. They operate irregardless of nationality.

Instead, what drives them is an ideology: Islamic Fundamentalism. Not the Islam of millions of peace-loving Muslims all over the world. This is a twisted, deranged, homicidal cult which seems to attract psychotics and maniacs. It gives them purpose by validating their hatred, and providing an outlet for it. This is our enemy. And they are everywhere.
In World War II, there was a common enemy: The Axis, composed of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy. 

The citizenry of that trio of nations had found a leader in each of their dictators which had come to power. The people, or at least the majority, had chosen them to lead their countries to victory. And in doing so, accepted the consequences of their defeat.

Islamic Fundamentalism, instead of hijacking a nation, has hijacked a religion. Its followers have effectively ensured that any conflict started by them will create a backlash against innocent Muslims, therefore alienating more people against America and its Allies. This is exactly how more Islamic extremists are made. They also have no qualms about killing innocent civilians; these apparently are acceptable casualties in the fight to defeat us. Actually, the killing and maiming of women and children serves the purpose of turning the population against us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost as if to say, "Yes, it's true Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but we didn't have roadside bombs while he was in power".

When I first arrived in Iraq, the civilian population were overjoyed that Saddam was overthrown. They welcomed us with open arms, for the most part. As the weeks turned into months, resentment began to build on both sides. The insurgents accomplished this by targeting our soldiers, ambushing them with roadside bombs, automatic weapons, and rocket-propelled grenades; many of the operations were suicide attacks. American soldiers learned to trust no one; every local was a potential bomb, with the ability to send their brothers and sisters home in a metal box. The Iraqi civilians, who were at first turning in insurgents and Saddam's old henchman, began to look the other way when these bloodthirsty murderers were planting IED's and stockpiling weapons. And we began to raid more homes and mosques, sending the detainees to Abu Ghraib prison. We were caught in a vicious cycle.

So, how do we win against this enemy? An enemy that hides behind innocent men, women, and children, and draws them into the crossfire? There are no enemy troops, planes, or ships to defeat, something at which our military has traditionally excelled. No matter how many of these fanatics we kill or capture, more take their place. It's as if our military is playing chess, and our enemy has decided to play Parcheesi instead, because they know how to win at that.

It's a war of words and ideas.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not Old Enough To Enlist, Not Old Enough To Drink

Grove Havener was 17 when he joined the Marines during World War II. His parents had to sign too, giving him permission because he was not of legal age.

At age 18, he found himself in the invasion of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, a miserable place composed of volcanic rock. It was necessary to seize the island because the Allies needed an airfield closer to the Japanese mainland from which to launch their bombing missions.

The fighting was brutal; the Marines had to fight desperately for every inch. The Japanese defenders had built extensive underground fortifications during their occupation of the island. They had survived a heavy naval and aerial bombardment before the Marines landed. Now the enemy could pin down the young Americans from relative safety.

These conditions reinforced an age-old truth about war: All the explosives in the world can't win a battle. Only troops can hold a piece of terrain. It was up to the Marines to win and hold Iwo Jimo.

Grove witnessed the famous flag raising on Mount Suribachi. This iconic image has become a cherished part of our national heritage, and he was there to watch the those Marines and Sailors become a part of history.

After 24 days of combat, Grove Havener was wounded. The Japanese had been launching rockets, called "buzz-bombs", at the invaders. When the Marines heard the tell-tale buzzing, they would yell for everyone to hit the dirt. Grove had recently been deafened by a blast, and he never heard the warning. He was evacuated off the island and sent to a Navy medical ship.

At the end of the war, Havener was heading home.He stopped in Oakland, CA. He and a buddy went into a dance hall to have a drink. A policeman spotted the two and demanded to see their ID's. Grove was 19 and wasn't old enough to drink in that state. The cop told him to leave.

Served his country, overseas for more than 2 years, wounded twice, but not allowed to have a drink.

If you see Grove Havener when you're out and about, buy him a drink, for Pete's sake...