Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Why I quit posting on Twitter

Recently, I ended my experiment with Twitter. Why? Because it all suddenly struck me as vacuous and a distraction that added little value to my professional or spiritual life. While I enjoyed the posts of the people I followed it quickly became all too consuming. The end came when I realized I was sharing my prayer life with others..."Hey everyone look at me! I'm praying!" So I deleted my account.

In the future I have decided to refocus my writings to chronicle my 27 years of service in the Marine Corps as a history for my children and family with the occasional social commentary. I already have several stories in development so check back soon.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Beyond the Flag

Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Americans began to drape themselves with flags.  Flags flew from every conceivable spot; cars, buildings, windows, bodies, clothing and they became harder to come by than the hottest Christmas toy.  We wrapped ourselves in a symbol of strength, as an amulet against an enemy we could not see.  It comforted us and gave us strength in a time of uncertainty.  Patriotic fervor rose to fever-pitched proportions as comparisons were made to another, “Day of Infamy”.   But, flags do not win wars, nor do they give us the means to carry on. Without action, they are nothing more than empty symbolisms.

      As we near our eighth year in what Marines call, “The Long War”, I believe that many Americans fail to truly understand the significance of this war.  We are a nation that has become accustomed to tidy sound-byte wars, where loss of human life is virtually intolerable and where impatience is rampant.  We have become a nation of comfort, victims of our own prosperity, where we want the ugliness dealt with like a homeowner who calls the pest control company to eradicate mice.   Now, as the war trudges on, we are hearing discontent and criticism that this little mess isn’t over with.

      Today, terrorists are trying to bring about an end to the United States as we know it.  The real threat is not through direct military action, but from fear and steady erosion of our civil liberties.  They will use our own strength—our freedom—to bring us down.  Through fear, they will slowly bring about economic and social instability so great that the United States could collapse or be so altered, that it will no longer resemble the republic we know. 

      This is “The Long War” because it is a war of progression.  We will be victorious not when bin Laden is dead, but when the terrorists are no longer able to effectively work.  We need to treat them like organized crime, and relentlessly pursue them until they tire of dying.  In the last eight years we have seriously damaged al Qaeda’s ability to operate, yet their persistence is our challenge.  These are victories that did not come through negotiations or good will they came by force. 

      We must be resolved as a nation to fight this war as long as it takes, to support the soldiers who fight the fight and give them the resources to win.  Islamic fascists will not simply go away; they fight for reasons that defy logic.  To misstep will only embolden them and their supporters.  We must engage the enemy on our terms, strike their center of gravity, and eliminate the threat before it eliminates us.    

      If we do not, if we fail to rise to the occasion, we will slowly see our freedom slip away and the things which make our country so great, just a memory.  Unchecked, attacks on America will erode our economy and create crisis and chaos between the states.  If we do not fight and win this war, the terrorists could succeed where no super power or enemy ever has, bringing about the end of America, or at least America as we know it. 

      This fight has not been, and will not be easy, and we will continue to see Americans pay the ultimate price.  But in doing so, we have rediscovered that some things are worth fighting for, and that freedom above all is never free.  We will never be the same as a country, but that may not be all bad.  From this struggle will emerge a stronger, renewed America that will take up the mantle of our forefathers and head boldly into the future.

      I went to war for one reason, so that my children and generations to come, would know the joy of an evening stroll, a  family vacation, the freedom to  worship, or to shop without the fear of a terrorist attack—to help provide a place where our citizens could truly live without fear.  It is a sentiment shared by many people who today are deployed around the world in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  This war has tested our mettle as a country, but it is the only way we will ever be able to hand down to our children, a legacy of freedom. 

      So, let us embrace our republic and the symbol of our great nation, the flag.  Let us fly it proudly and fly it often.  However, we must also look beyond the flag and be remembered as a nation that stood up to tyranny, fought the good fight, prevailed against our enemies and left peace as a legacy for our children.  

Monday, May 04, 2009

We Are Not The Enemy

Recently a close friend asked me how I felt when people thank me for my military service.  It was a great question and the short answer is “self-conscious”.  In my first 19 years as a Marine, recognition was non-existent.  In the 8 years after 9/11,  I have been thanked hundreds of times; from close family and friends, to total strangers, even other veterans.  From a simple handshake and kind word to public acknowledgment and on one occasion a baked ham, each one is a sincere and appreciated expression of gratitude from citizens to its soldiers in a time of war.  Why then am I self-conscious of the attention?  Because it reminds me how detached most of America has become from the military that protects it.  Serving my country should not be noteworthy, it is my duty. 

As our nation grows rapidly, our military stays relatively static in size.   In WWII 1 in 12 Americans were in the military.  Today, it’s less than 1 in 300.  You are statistically as likely to know someone with AIDS, as you are someone serving in the military.  Where once the military shared the values of the entire nation, it now is almost as vocally opposed by a large segment of society as it is warmly embraced.   Through no choice of the military it is increasingly becoming “sui generis” or a “breed apart” and that is a heart-breaking thing. 

Our 44th president, Barack Obama exemplifies that detachment.  He is a man who appears to be sincere but completely lacking in the ability to connect with a military that already largely mistrusts him.  His lack of understanding and respect of military culture was exhibited in wanting to personally issue orders to shoot the Somali pirates.  He might be President but he is a boot lieutenant with nukes.  By maligning, politicizing and now criminalizing the strategy and tactics of the war on Islamic fascists, he has called into question the enormous sacrifice we made as a military and nation.  He is the worst kind of arm chair quarterback, one that never played the game. 

A nation needs a warrior class, but not one that stands apart, or outside of the mainstream of society.  We cannot choose to serve based on politics and as the Founding Fathers understood, we must never ever politicize the military.  I did not swear to support and defend a political party or even the President; rather I swore to support and defend “the Constitution of the United States of America”.  Until I retired in March, I served equally under each of the last five presidents whether I agreed, or disagreed with their politics.

The enemy we face today is real and not something you are going to placate with money and good intentions.  These are violent and irrational Islamic fascists and they will not rest until we no longer exist as a nation, or until they are all dead.  This is not an “overseas contingency operation” this is a trans-generational war for the future of our nation.  We can’t govern by world consensus but must do what is best for America first, before anyone else.  Quit bowing to kings, quit worrying about offending people and start worrying about having a nation to worry about. 

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report that in part identified combat veterans, such as myself, as potential right wing extremists. Military critic Janet Napolitano rejected the advice of her own civil rights staff to remove that inflammatory reference before publication for a reason, she believes it.  She intentionally inflamed an already divided country for ideological and political gain.  As one Marine said in classic Marine-style “she can kiss my big fat jarhead ass”.  Well I have something to say as well.  Mr. President “We are not the enemy”.  Govern for all or not at all.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Marine 12 Step Program

I didn't write this but wish I had. It's perfect for anyone who has been a Marine or wants to print this off and put it on a former Marine's desk cause you're tired of being thrashed by the loading dock.

1. I am a Marine, I have problems. This acknowledgment is the first step to recovery...

2. Speech:
Civvy time does not begin with a zero or end in a hundred, ie It is not "zero five three zero" or "fourteen hundred" it is "five thirty" or "two o'clock".
Words like "deck", "rack", and "PT" will get you strange looks; use their proper names e.g., floor, bed, workout.
"F*ck" should not be used to replace whatever word you can't think of right now, try "umm".
Grunting is not communicating
It's a phone, not a radio, conversations on a phone do not follow a set procedure and do not end in "out".

3. Style:
Do not put creases in your jeans or on the front of your dress shirts.
Do not iron your collar flat.
A hat indoors does not make you a bad person
You do not have to wear a belt ALL the time.

4. Women:
Not all women like to take orders and most will probably punch you in the nuts if you treat them like one of your troops .
Being divorced twice by the time you are 25 is not normal, neither are 6 month marriages, even if it is your first.

5. Personal accomplishments:
In the real world, being able to do lots of push-ups will not make you good at your job.
You will disturb most people if you tell them about people you have seen die.
How much pain you can take is not seen as a personal accomplishment.

6. Drinking:
That time you drank a full case of beer and peed in your closet is not a good conversation starter.
That time you went to the combat survival school and practiced giving vodka IV's will also not be a good conversation point .

6. Bodily functions:
Farting on your co-workers and then giggling while you run away may be viewed as "childish".
The size of the dump you took yesterday will not be funny no matter how big it was, how much it burned, or how much it stunk .
Don’t make fun of someone for being sick, no matter how funny it is.
Getting VD or passing it on will also not be funny.

7. The human body:
Most people will not want to hear about your nuts, their size, whether they itch, how they fit into your jocks….odd as that may seem, it's true.

8. Spending habits:
One day, you will have to pay bills.
Buying a $60,000 car on a $35,000 a year salary is a really bad idea.
One day you will need health insurance.

9. Interacting with civilians:
Making fun of your neighbor to his face for being fat will not be acceptable .

10. Real jobs in Civvy Street:
They really can fire you.
On the flip side you really can quit.
Screaming at the people that work for you will not be normal, remember they really can quit too.
Remember it’s 9-5 not 0530 to 1800.

11. The Law:
“Contact counselling “ is not condoned .
Your workplace, unlike your command can't save you and probably won't, in fact most likely you will be fired about 5 minutes after they find out you've been arrested.
Fighting is not a normal thing and will get you really arrested, not yelled at before they ask you if you won.

12. General knowledge:
You can in fact really say what you think about the President in public.
Pain is not weakness leaving the body, it's just pain.
People don't wear anything shiny that tells you they are more important then you are, be polite to all.
And Lastly....Read contracts before you sign them, remember what happened the first time…….

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

a poem by Archibald MacLeish, 1941

the death of Lt(jg) Frank Toner in Afghanistan this week made me think of this poem, it's worth reprinting this in a time of war.


Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them?

They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.

They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us.

They say, We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done.

They say, We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.

They say, Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them.

They say, Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say: it is you who must say this.

They say, We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning: given them an end to the war and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning.

We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Farewell to the Corps

Today I retired after 27 years as a Marine. The following was part of my farewell comments and I've been asked to re-print it here.

One More Day

The last bugle call has sounded the colors have been struck. It is my time to leave the ranks of my beloved Corps. As I bid farewell and remove this uniform for perhaps the last time I find myself wishing for...one more day.

One more day to hear the sounds of the Corps
The crack of the American flag in the wind in a foreign land
The NCOs singing jodies and getting things done
The not so subtle rantings of the Sergeant Major
Trucks rumbling to the range, weapons being cleaned, the pounding of boots on the grinder; the purposeful clattering of field day
Helicopters beating the air so hard your chest hurts
The stacatto of machine gunnery and the booming of artillery raining death on the enemies of America

One more day to inhale the smells of the Corps
Brasso, CLP, clean linen, horse blankets and pine cleaner; fresh paint
Sweat, mud, dirty cammies and canvas
The sting of cordite in the nostrils, the sweatness of C4 and oily fumes of JP8
Cigarettes and beer, stale farts in a sleeping bag
The unique never to be forgotten smell of a burn-out

One more day to put on the uniform
For the sharpness of creases
The way the cover cuts across your line of sight
The way the alpha blouse falls on the thigh
The snugness of well-tied boots
The jingle of dogtags
The Eagle Globe & Anchor on my chest

One more day for the absurdities of the Corps
Hurry up and wait, bum scoop you got from the third shitter on the left
Sea lawyers
Screwed up orders
7 hours on a tarmac waiting for a C130 that will never come
Raking dirt and painting rocks
Picking up cigarette butts you didn't smoke

One last day to stand among you
To receive a crisp salute from a young Marine and return it with mutual respect and admiration
To see NCOs lead as only Marines know how
To share a meal in the field
To listen to the profane chatter of things that would make others blush
To witness the pride that is born in shared hardship and danger
To see that look of intense purpose as you prepare for battle
To stand amidst great Americans

But I know this is in fact my last day. It is my time to join that long unbroken line of Marines who have gone before me. So here in this simple ceremony amongst Marines, family and friends I say "farewell and semper fidelis".

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Last Quarter

If you ever played football there is a point when you are on the field that everything else around you fades away; where you don’t hear the crowd, where you aren’t thinking about what you’re doing after the game or if you have gas in the car. It becomes so intense and your brain is so connected to your experience that for that brief moment, it is your reality and you sense everything. Capture that feeling and you understand being at war.

War is sensory overload. It is brutally long hours of hard work, though not always physical. War is loud and creates noise of all kinds; generators, trucks, rockets, artillery, helicopters and tanks. War is boredom and the blandness of chow hall food; it’s close quarters, semi-clean laundry, lack of privacy, uneven ground, dust and mud. It is meetings, deadlines, fluorescent lights and friendships. It is the juxtaposition of normalcy interspersed with heart-racing violence and moments of unexpected tenderness. It’s finding humor and absurdity in everything. Mostly though, it is about getting your mission done and serving honorably.

As I enter my last six weeks in Iraq I’ve noticed that what was once new is common place and my life back home is somewhere far away. To me, it’s perfectly normal to put on my flak jacket and helmet and then head out in an up-armored vehicle. To me, loading my weapon is as natural as you putting cream in your coffee.

Life in Iraq seems so normal at times. Heck, we have a duck pond in front of our building. You see Marines and civilians alike coming to feed the nineteen geese and ducks in an act I assume makes them feel closer to home. Yet, it’s just yards away from where someone was killed by a mortar a few months ago.

Like the football game, with the final whistle it will be over for me. I will look back one last time at the field I spent so many days on and try to burn the memory into my brain.

I’m worried about when I come home and the rush is gone. I wonder how I’m going to replace the high that is flying in a helicopter at 150 mph 300 feet off the deck, staring at an IED, or visiting with Marines at a remote combat outpost and seeing the best that America has to offer. I wonder how I will feel when I see self-centered and soft Americans instead of the hardened swaggering Marines who ask for nothing more than a chance to kill some bad guys and make a difference.

I wonder how I’m going to fill that void that is a sense of belonging to something greater than one’s self. It is an irreplaceable feeling and one of complete satisfaction. Today I feel that way because I am so far away. But I know the moment I see Nancy and the kids for the first time, Iraq will quickly begin to fade away. It will fade and take its place in the far recesses of my mind until one day I will wake up and think of war no more.