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.