Monday, December 31, 2007

A Close-Up Shows a Gun -- Hopefully A Toy

Q&A with Jeff

Q: What do you think of the assassination of Bhutto in Pakistan? In your opinion do you believe that this act of terrorism will set off the rest of the Mid-east? -- At least the parts that aren't already in revolt?

Retired Guns

A: Bhutto? I was not shocked, but I was completely saddened. They've tried to kill Musharraf before, but they hated Bhutto more. I think she would have won the election. Who knows what will happen in Pakistan now? Greater civil unrest and revolution is on the brink.

If you look at Lebanon, every few weeks another pro-Syrian entity is assassinating another pro-Western leader there. The al Qaeda philosophy seeks to cleanse their own countries of 'traitors', as they see them. As a priority over attacking Jews and Infidels, they want to rid themselves of any leader who will not rule under strict Sharia law.

The next two biggest 'traitor' threats to al Qaeda are the Sunni Sheikhs here in al Anbar and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Bin Laden's latest statement showed that he's losing in Iraq, specifically in al Anbar. What a wonderful blessing that is! Of course, Sheikh Sattar's brother is now in power. Sheikh Sattar was assassinated just a mile or two from me. I heard and felt that explosion. His brother, Abu Risha, has taken his place as leader of the Anbar Awakening, a group of Sheikh’s in the Anbar province who want peace.

Al Qaeda wants this new leader dead. That's their big push right now...per bin Laden's own words. If they assassinate him, it will just tick the people off even more and make the Sunnis here absolutely detest bin Laden and al Qaeda. That plan would backfire for them, but al Qaeda has no other better tactical or strategic option; the Sunnis in Anbar are cooperating with us. I think it's terrific that bin Laden (a Sunni) is being ostracized by the Anbar Awakening. He is a loser—and he's losing. That means we're winning! Isn't that great?

Secondly, Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen), the PA leader in the West Bank, has really created a division between his group Fatah and Hamas, which is mainly in the Gaza Strip. Bin Laden is also rooting for Hamas. There are parts of the West Bank that are pretty decent (as far as oppressed, terrorist-infested Third World enclaves go), but Gaza is just plain terrible. Anyway, I'm surprised Abu Mazen hasn't already been killed. What's keeping him alive? I think even the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade is in disagreement with Hamas. What a rift! That's what's keeping Abbas alive. …Interesting dynamics there.

Send your question, the name you want used on the blog, and the location where you’re writing from to

Compliments Yield Great Reward

Dear Abby:

I am a retired pediatric dentist who frequently treated children other dentists couldn't manage or preferred not to.

One rule in my office was that no child would ever leave without being complimented, regardless of how he or she had behaved — even if it meant saying, "You're the best spitter we've had all day!" Of course, we were absolutely sincere.

One day a woman called to make an emergency appointment for her 5-year-old grandson Pete. I learned that the little boy's 17-year-old mother had run away when he was an infant. His father (the grandparents' son) was in prison. That left this elderly couple to raise the child. My staff told her to bring him in immediately.

When they arrived, Pete was understandably nervous and fussy when my assistant brought him back into the operatory, but he soon quieted down. I gave him a hug and began treatment to relieve his infection and pain. When I finished, I complimented him and asked that his grandmother come in so I could explain what I had done. As we chatted, Pete was picking out a toy from the drawer. We scheduled a follow-up appointment a week later.

The following week, the door burst open, and little Pete came running in looking for an operatory chair to sit in. I escorted him back to reception and told him we'd call him in a few minutes.

The second appointment went equally well. I spoke with his grandmother again as he once more chose a little gift.

Then she said: "I still can't believe it. Every morning this week Pete jumped out of bed and asked if this was the day he'd come back to see you! I'd have to tell him, 'No, not for another five days, then four days, three, etc.' This morning he was so excited when I told him this was the day he was coming in." Then she continued, "Do you know why he was so eager to come back?"

"No," I replied, "please tell me."

"Because," she answered, "you told him he was a good boy."
Abby, here was a 5-year-old child who had never been told he was a good boy! I still tear up when I think about it.

R.C. SMITHWICK, Los Altos Hills, Calif.

Dear Dr. Smithwick: Thank you for sharing the reminder about how important it is for children to receive positive reinforcement. (Adults need it, too.) If you think something nice about someone, it takes so little effort to SAY it. I guarantee it'll make that person's day--whether the person is 5 or 55.

Source: Stars and Stripes Mideast Edition, November 23, 2007 p. 23.

Adult Tempers

The following story is told by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. While it pertains to parents and children it can also apply to those without children, or those estranged from their children. We can each be a little more patient with each other, especially our family members. It’s funny, but not so funny, how we often can be more forgiving and patient with co-workers or total strangers than to our spouses or our children. Nuff said; here’s the story…

Early in our married life my young family and I were laboring through graduate school at a university in New England. [My wife, Pat, and I were heavily involved in our church service responsibilities.] I was going to school full-time and teaching half-time. We had two small children then, with little money and lots of pressures…

One evening I came home from long hours at school, feeling the proverbial weight of the world on my shoulders. Everything seemed to be especially demanding and discouraging and dark. I wondered if the dawn would ever come. Then, as I walked into our small student apartment, there was an unusual silence in the room.

“What’s the trouble?” I asked.

“Matthew has something he wants to tell you,” Pat said.

“Matt, what do you have to tell me?” He was quietly playing with his toys in the corner of the room, trying very hard not to hear me. “Matt,” I said a little louder, “do you have something to tell me?”

He stopped playing, but for a moment didn’t look up. Then these two enormous, tear-filled brown eyes turned toward me, and with the pain only a five-year-old can know, he said, “I didn’t mind Mommy tonight, and I spoke back to her.” With that he burst into tears, and his entire little body shook with grief. A childish indiscretion had been noted, a painful confession had been offered, the growth of a five-year-old was continuing, and loving reconciliation could have been wonderfully underway.

Everything might have been just terrific—except for me. If you can imagine such an idiotic thing, I lost my temper. It wasn’t that I lost it with Matt—it was with a hundred and one other things on my mind; but he didn’t know that, and I wasn’t disciplined enough to admit it. He got the whole load of bricks.

I told him how disappointed I was and how much more I thought I could have expected from him. I sounded like the parental pygmy I was. Then I did what I had never done before in his life—I told him that he was to go straight to bed and that I would not be in to say his prayers with him or to tell him a bedtime story. Muffling his sobs, he obediently went to his bedside, where he knelt—alone—to say his prayers. Then he stained his little pillow with tears his father should have been wiping away.

If you think the silence upon my arrival was heavy, you should have felt it now. Pat did not say a word. She didn’t have to. I felt terrible!

Later, as we knelt by our own bed, my feeble prayer for blessings upon my family fell back on my ears with a horrible, hollow ring. I wanted to get up off my knees right then and go to Matt and ask his forgiveness, but he was long since peacefully asleep.

My relief was not so soon coming; but finally I fell asleep and began to dream, which I seldom do. I dreamed Matt and I were packing two cars for a move. For some reason his mother and baby sister were not present. As we finished I turned to him and said, “Okay, Matt, you drive one car and I’ll drive the other.”

This five-year-old very obediently crawled up on the seat and tried to grasp the massive steering wheel. I walked over to the other car and started the motor. As I began to pull away, I looked to see how my son was doing. He was trying—oh, how he was trying. He tried to reach the pedals, but he couldn’t. He was also turning knobs and pushing buttons, trying to start the motor. He could scarcely be seen over the dashboard, but there staring out at me again were those same immense, tear-filled, beautiful brown eyes. As I pulled away, he cried out, “Daddy, don’t leave me. I don’t know how to do it. I am too little.” And I drove away.

A short time later, driving down that desert road in my dream, I suddenly realized in one stark, horrifying moment what I had done. I slammed my car to a stop, threw open the door, and started to run as fast as I could. I left car, keys, belongings, and all—and I ran. The pavement was so hot it burned my feet, and tears blinded my straining effort to see this child somewhere on the horizon. I kept running, praying, pleading to be forgiven and to find my boy safe and secure.

As I rounded a curve nearly ready to drop from physical and emotional exhaustion, I saw the unfamiliar car I had left Matt to drive. It was pulled carefully off to the side of the road, and he was laughing and playing nearby. An older man was with him, playing and responding to his games. Matt saw me and cried out something like, “Hi, Dad. We’re having fun.” Obviously he had already forgiven and forgotten my terrible transgression against him.

But I dreaded the older man’s gaze, which followed my every move. I tried to say “Thank you,” but his eyes were filled with sorrow and disappointment. I muttered an awkward apology and the stranger said simply, “You should not have left him alone to do this difficult thing. It would not have been asked of you.”

With that, the dream ended, and I shot upright in bed. My pillow was now stained, whether with perspiration or tears I do not know. I threw off the covers and ran to the little metal camp cot that was my son’s bed. There on my knees and through my tears I cradled him in my arms and spoke to him while he slept. I told him that every dad makes mistakes but that they don’t mean to. I told him it wasn’t his fault I had had a bad day. I told him that when boys are five or fifteen, dads sometimes forget and think they are fifty. I told him that I wanted him to be a small boy for a long, long time, because all too soon he would grow up and be a man and wouldn’t be playing on the floor with his toys when I came home. I told him that I loved him and his mother and his sister more than anything in the world and that whatever challenges we had in life we would face them together. I told him that never again would I withhold my affection or my forgiveness from him, and never, I prayed, would he withhold them from me. I told him I was honored to be his father and that I would try with all my heart to be worthy of such a great responsibility.

—Jeffrey R. Holland, “Within the Clasp of Your Arms,” Ensign, May 1983, 36

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Angels Are Real

If anyone felt lonely over the holidays it was my friend Jo-Ann. Jo-Ann’s husband, my good friend Brian Jackson, was murdered just over two years ago. He and I were police officers together. I wrote about how he died in the line of duty in my blog ‘My Friend was Shot and Killed.’

Jo-Ann and Brian were married about three months when they went on their honeymoon. They had only returned from their trip about two weeks when he was killed. I can’t imagine the pain and loss and discouraging feeling of perpetual separation she must feel. Jo-Ann’s tough though—there’s that word again. Life is tough sometimes, but we can be tough right back.

That most tragic situation reminds me of the roommate I had as an Army Private in South Korea many years ago. My roommate, whom I’ll call John, had a little to drink when I asked him about how his first wife had died. I believe the little alcohol relaxed him enough to tell me about his painful experience.

They were high school sweethearts—and married young. Two weeks following their honeymoon in Acapulco, Mexico, John was working his shift as an Emergency Medical Technician for a local ambulance company when he responded to an overturned vehicle. His young wife and her best friend had been hit by a drunk driver. Both of them were pinned upside down inside the vehicle. While the fire department crew worked frantically to free the two girls, John laid on the ground next to his wife and held her hand. She was semi-conscious and had suffered traumatic injuries. He spoke to her through his tears, encouraging her to hold on a little longer.

But the rescue team could not pull the wrecked steel from around the ladies fast enough. Even the ‘Jaws of Life’ had no success. Meanwhile her life slowly ebbing away. She died as he held her hand.

Staring at the wall in the small barracks room, tears welled up in John’s eyes as he re-lived the pain. I didn’t say a word.

He said, “I won’t tell you how I know, but I know angels are real. I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t exist.” There was a pause as he reflected on something very personal and private to him. “I tried to kill myself after she died, but I was stopped. I guess I’m supposed to be here. It’s not my time to go yet.”

Now, fast-forward to August earlier this year.

Everything was going great. I had a new job prospect and I felt I had my future all planned out. Then, all of a sudden, my life was changed drastically when I got a call to serve here in Iraq. Everything changed—everything. I lost a huge contract and what appeared to be a very promising future in Virginia. All the plans I had for myself were shattered…or so it seemed.

Then to add more devastation, I was assigned to a Reserve military unit I knew nothing about. Having worked in the special operations community, as well as in a Military Intelligence capacity, I felt that going with the conventional unit I’m currently with would be a gigantic waste. I rued it. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) contacted me and asked if I wanted to do a tour with them. But I wasn’t able to get out of the government orders or do a transfer to SOCOM where I felt I could utilize my talents and enjoy my job more.

On the morning we were to fly out, I met up with Kevin Bianchi, a Department of the Army civilian I had never met before. Kevin explained that he wasn’t supposed to be there that morning, but that things had occurred out of his control which made him show up that day. Likewise, with a Top Secret clearance I was assigned to guard some important documents so we ended up traveling together away from the rest of the group.

Kevin didn’t know about my background, my religion or my situation. He nearly apologized for saying so but he said he really felt he needed to tell me that I was supposed to go to Iraq for a reason—that I would start something or stop something from happening, that I was supposed to go to Iraq for a reason. Kevin further explained that it was unlike him to ever say something like that to someone, let alone a perfect stranger—me. I really felt the spirit of his message. I felt his words were an answer to my prayers.

Yesterday I saw several soldiers standing in a meandering circle in front of several armored vehicles. They were bowing their heads as the Chaplain prayed for their safety. Before every convoy and every operation a prayer is offered.

All of us have subtle differences in the way we worship. But I still believe that the majority of us believe in a Supreme Being, a higher power. We may have differences about God; we may call him different names, but we look to him for divine protection and guidance in our lives.

I’ve prayed—begged at times—for God to protect my life. I’ve been in situations where I had no other power and no other options but a reliance on Divine Providence.

God is the micromanager of our lives. He who grants life and breath has the power to take it away. No scientific explanation and no medical marvel can stop or defy God. The New Testament says that no hair of the head is lost or no sparrow falls to the ground save the Lord knows it. Would he even cut our military orders for us? Yes! I wholeheartedly, unequivocally believe that.

Yet when we pray, sometimes our hope or our will is not granted—our prayers may seem unheard or unanswered. The atheist would say that when a person prays he is only giving a positive affirmation of his own belief and that if anything happens as an ‘answer’ to a prayer, it is merely coincidence. That is simply not true. Prayers are answered, miracles can and do occur. Faith precedes the miracle.

An ancient prophet named Moroni wrote in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, that “it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.”

None of these people I mentioned are members of my religion, yet I share a common bond with each of them. That bond is a belief, hope and faith in God.

God knows what’s best for us. He tries our patience and our faith. As a loving and merciful Being, an Eternal Father in Heaven, he answers our prayers in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.

Terrorists Are In America

Recently someone I do not know read my blog (and subsequently my bio) and said he didn’t believe that as a Federal Air Marshal I caught a terrorist in the U.S. He said he only knew of one other case where a terrorist was caught in America. Hello! Read the newspapers. And, consider everything is NOT reported to the media. Shoot, I’ve caught more than one suspicious character throughout the nation’s airports—so have other air marshals!

This email-er said he’d feel safer flying without air marshals on his flight. He also cited the case where two air marshals shot and killed an emotionally disturbed man claiming he had a bomb when he didn’t. I don’t even want to begin explaining to him why that was a justified shooting. Besides, if he doesn’t believe there are terrorists in America, he might hold the philosophy of a few strange ones who believe the government planted bombs under the World Trade Center towers which caused them to tumble to the ground. That’s plain ludicrous.

But, for the benefit of the curious, I stopped a man in the DC Reagan National airport. When I called and ran a background check on him, I was told he was a terrorist and that I should approach him with caution. Later, I was told the FBI could not verify whether it was the bona fide Saudi Arabian-born terrorist or another guy with the same name and birthday. (The fact that I reported his passport number didn’t matter, apparently.) After detaining him until we both missed our flight, I was told to let him go. I had a pit in my stomach and a very bad feeling. I ‘knew’ the guy was bad with a capital ‘T’—for terrorist. Sure enough, a few days later a supervisor in the agency told me that a follow up background check showed he was.

That was just another reason I left the Federal Air Marshal Service. Are there problems there? Absolutely. But the majority of the air marshals are good-to-go; it’s the management that’s all messed up.

Lastly, Annie Jacobsen, author of Terror in the Skies: Why 9/11 Could Happen Again, found out some very interesting facts about this guy I stopped. Click here to see some things she found. Of course, there’s a whole lot more to that story. Maybe I’ll save it for my book.

My Interview with Front Page

FP: Jeffrey Denning, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Denning: I appreciate that you asked me. Thank you.

…FP: Understanding our enemy is obviously crucial in this terror war. Who is our enemy? Why are they our enemy?

Denning: Well, we’re not in a war against Islam. There are many Arabs and Muslims working for freedom, peace and good causes. The West, however, is waging a war against al Qaeda, and rightfully so. Obviously at some point Islam and the al Qaeda philosophy both merge. The interesting thing is the term al Qaeda; it’s a misnomer really. But to say something like a global Salafi movement bent on obliterating the West and cleansing Islamic societies of munafiq-traitors and Jewish/Crusader puppets is a mouth full.

Why are they our enemy? Well, it’s easy for them to hate us just as it’s easy for us to hate them. We’re separated by bi-polar planets. We dehumanize them by calling them things like ‘terrorist’ or ‘jihadists’ and they do the same to us by calling us ‘Jews and Infidels’. But clearly, as my friend and colleague Dr. Nancy Kobrin has shared with me, there are many terrorists who have no idea what a Jew is. They have grandiose and absurd thoughts about how a Jew looks, acts or behaves. The same could go for a Christian, a Buddhist or a Mormon, I suppose.

Here’s the part where I believe most people get it wrong. They do not hate us because we’re rich or free, or even because we might appear collectively arrogant. They don’t attack us today solely based on our foreign policy, the Christian Crusades, or in the case of Israel , because of a land dispute. Those things play a part, but when you really begin understanding Islamic terrorism, it goes much, much deeper than that.

FP: Ok, well we will get deeper into that in this discussion. Before we do that, let’s talk about our own self-defense. Is there an effective way of predicting and thwarting future attacks? What formula has the best chance of succeeding?

Denning: I believe there are ways to predict attacks. I’ve done it…

While trying to drum up business for my security consulting company, I met with a senior executive of a major U.S.-based hotel. I said, ‘Tom, we need to evaluate the security immediately on your hotels in Amman , Jordan ’—and I named two other countries. Then I went into tremendous detail of the most likely attack scenario. When an attack occurred there about two months later, it was exactly as I had said it would be. Three U.S. hotels were attacked simultaneously in Amman . Unfortunately, several people died.

In the summer of 2005 I met with several people in New York . I told them the next likely spectacular terrorist attack on America would be by suicide bombers in flying airplanes. Sure enough, the London Bomb Plot unfolded two weeks later. I didn’t know about that; I didn’t have any inside information. But you’ll remember the terrorists had planned on blowing up several U.S. airplanes over the Atlantic .

So is there a formula? Absolutely. One of the reasons ethically and civilly-minded societies will often fail in their approach to stop or predict terrorism at the tactical level is because we try to place our moral value system on an amoral enemy. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t do a proper threat assessment unless you can really get into the mind of the terrorist. These men and women aren’t superheroes; they are people. Sure, that sounds plainly obvious, but I believe most of the free world has a misconception of what a terrorist is and what one can do.

In short, though, there’s no de facto formula. And I only know of a small handful of guys who could actually, truly understand terrorists on a level that they could help create and shape real and workable counterterrorism measures. On the other hand, I have developed a program called SMART Leadership(tm) that helps any organization or person with wisdom in the management and decision-making process. Of course, I use it in my security assessments and threat management protocols.

FP: The Western media isn’t being very helpful, to say the least, in helping the West fight our enemy in this terror war. There is reluctance in the mainstream media to label the enemy – and to crystallize the evil of the enemy. How dangerous is this? If our media were to re-think and re-shape how they present terrorism, how in your view should it do this?

Denning: The terrorists use the media as their main source for spreading fear. In the mid-80s Benjamin Netanyahu accurately stated that “manipulation of public opinion is, in fact, central to the terrorist strategy.” He went on to say that because of this, their access to the media is indispensable.

You’ll recall that back then several hostage takers, particularly in the Middle East, made their demands and communiqués live over the news media channels. The terrorists were able to give their side of the story. They appeared human—that’s a key part. In some ways, when the terrorists were able to tell about all the ‘atrocities’ and ‘injustices’ they faced, although they were holding several hostages at gunpoint and under the threat of death by homemade explosives, it made some people actually sympathize with their so-called plight. Oh, the irony.

Of course, those of us who can step back and rationalize that situation wouldn’t agree; we wouldn’t sympathize. We may feel sad that they had a rough childhood and live under terrible socio-economic and geo-politico-military conditions, but that is no excuse to engage in or condone brutal acts of terror. Nevertheless, many people would sympathize with them, consciously or subconsciously. Otherwise good and civil people would recognize the grief, fear, sadness and frustration of these animals because they’d humanize them and feel somewhat connected with them. Why? Because we’ve all felt difficulties, stresses and trails. By our very natures we want to help and be kind. All of this, in turn, affects the will of the public to fight terrorism. And the will of the people plays a vital role in shaping counterterrorism policy.

Today we see more suicide terrorism rather than Islamically-motivated hostage takings. A suicide-homicide bomber recently drove a car into a crowd of Iraqis then blew himself up. About 22 people were injured. It was just another day. If the same thing happened in the U.S. or Canada, for instance, what could be the result? I submit 22 million people would suffer catastrophically. That’s the power of—and the nexus between—terrorism and the media.

I really enjoy 24-hour news media. I wish there were a news station that reported on nothing but terrorism. The challenge for the media is to report stories without helping the terrorists’ agenda. The word conundrum comes to mind. It may take 20 years or more to realize how to do this, but the bottom line is education. I’ll never forget seeing the first reports on the Columbine High School massacre. I was on a SWAT team then. Many reporters lack of understanding for SWAT teams and SWAT tactics made me nauseous. That’s the same thing with terrorism and terrorists. We need to understand them and have better strategic tactics than they do.

FP: Ok, so let’s get back to terrorism and go deeper into its causes, which you had referred to earlier.

Can you talk about the correlation between criminals and terrorists? And what are the links between domestic violence and the violence of political terrorism?

Denning: Dr. Kobrin, who is a psycho-analyst, Arabist and terrorism expert, really helped me see the correlation here. My practical experiences validate her theories. Actually, the more she and I talk and the more I learn about her theories, the more I’m convinced she has found the proverbial panacea for understanding Islamic suicide terrorism. I’ve amassed quite a library on terrorism and I’ve personally met terrorists. No one helps reveal the truth about suicide terror like she can. The subtitle of her book-manuscript couldn’t be more correct: The Sheikh’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth About Islamic Suicide Terror. It’s a shame that it isn’t published yet since the publisher got cold feet. It would add tremendous value to the field of counterterrorism study.

But to get to the point, one of my friends has said that terrorists are nothing but rascally criminals. I used to find that pithy and almost ignorant, but not anymore. The more we understand terrorists the greater their vulnerability becomes. They are strengthened by their own anonymity. And we give them power by labeling them as some difficult to understand entity. We empower them unintentionally by calling them terrorists. We mustn’t confuse a tactic with a vulnerable and angry human being with weaknesses. Words like jihadist, holy warrior—mujahideen or mujahidat—and al Qaeda don’t show who they really are. Abu Mushakil, literally the father of trouble, seems more accurate.

...If we made fun of them or occasionally taunted and humiliated them, that might help destroy the mystic of these criminals who use terror tactics. What, are they going to hate us more? I don’t think so. But joking a bit may ease our fear of them on some level. I could tell you some funny and totally stupid things terrorists have done. Most of them could be put in for the Darwin Awards or the world’s dumbest criminals. If we could really understand terrorists, if we could speak with them face to face and learn about them, we’d lose our sense of fear towards them entirely. And, it would shock us at how foolish we were to ever embolden them with any sort of power.

Anyway, there are huge correlations between terrorists and criminals. When I was a cop in Dallas, Texas , we helped out a lady once whose ex-boyfriend said he was going to “cut her head off and kick it down the street” if he ever saw her again. We walked up to the door with her and, sure enough, he was serious. We nearly had to shoot him for our own safety. Come to find out he had been in prison for aggravated sexual assault and some other serious violent crimes.

Paul Johnson and Nick Berg were beheaded. The Chechens terrorists often decapitate the heads of the Russian soldiers they take hostage. The morbid thing is they have let their own kids kick the severed heads around like soccer balls. Now doesn’t that sound like this sexually violent criminal I just described? Sure it does. The truth is there’s a huge similarity between domestic violence, misogyny and terrorism on a bigger scale. Interestingly, I have read letters from stalkers who want to kill their victims. Not a few read like this: “If I can’t have you on earth, we’ll both be in heaven together.” These stalkers, like many terrorists, have a homicide-suicide type mentality. The allure of an Islamic terrorist seeking intimate relations in the afterlife is also evident.

Moreover, when a female is murdered in a domestic abuse relationship, she is often left naked and exposed—almost like a sadistic sexual punishment. And when it comes to these so-called terrorists, sex crimes and their associated terror acts seem united.

FP: Let’s talk about misogyny, sex crimes and Islamic terror. The more Islamic extremists strike out against the West, the more they are vicious with their own women and vice-versa. Give us your wisdom on this paradigm.

Denning: I don’t think that Islamic extremists have begun hating their own women more in recent years. I think we may have just uncovered some of the irregular abuses and horrible atrocities that have been occurring for years. Since 9/11 we’ve tended to speak up a little more and shed some light in the dark corner. Like abusive relationships are often done in secret, the same could be said of the abuses against women within Islam. Generally speaking, all of them are debased and devalued. Devaluing women is a cultural thing with them. It’s terrible and horrible. It’s sad.

Consider the recent ruling in the Saudi Arabian court system where a 19-year-old gang rape victim was sentenced to several lashings and six months in prison. After she went to the media her sentence was raised to 200 lashings. Why was she sentenced as a victim? Because she broke the strict separation of the sexes by riding in a car with a man she wasn’t related to. That’s absurd. No gang rape victim should be punished; she’s already been punished enough.

Just the other day I overheard a co-worker and good friend of mine talk about his experiences as a corrections officer and policeman. He was telling someone about the many transsexual men in prison. He said that when they get confused about their own sexuality they often become engaged in violent and bizarre crimes.

That encapsulates much of the reasons why Islamic terrorist-criminals do what they do; they’re confused. Many of them are homosexual. They hate women and yet they wish for 72 black-eyed virgins? As Dr. Kobrin teaches, “for Islamic male dominated terrorist groups, the female is sexually terrifying.” She’s absolutely right. Moreover, she teaches that they subconsciously hate their own mothers and that’s one of the reasons they act out…

Years ago, I learned about the highly unstable but favored terrorist explosive, TATP. It’s very sensitive to heat, shock and friction. In Arabic, the male terrorists refer to it as ‘the mother of Satan.’ Why would someone debase their mother like that? Because in Islam the women are dirty.

On one hand these would-be terrorists yearn for a relationship, but they can’t have one—not a wholesome one. The love-hate dichotomy confuses them. They hate women. They hate their own mothers, but at the same time need their nurture and love. Moreover, they are sexually confused and full of testosterone and angst. I’ve never considered it until now, but they don’t even get the pheromones and the tranquil feelings that are experienced from a healthy socio-sexual relationship. So, are they always on edge—hyped up on anger and testosterone? Maybe. Coupled with a few other issues, they turn into criminal sadists. They kidnap, cut heads off and mutilate people by powerful homemade explosives. As an interesting side note, male homosexual domestic homicides are by far the most gruesome and brutal. Can you see the psycho-dynamic link between crime and terror? I can.

One last very important point; I recently learned something from my experiences that has never been made publicly available until now. One terrorist made an improvised explosive device he called a Jumana bomb. Jumana in colloquial Arabic means beautiful girl. The unique bombs are described as pretty. But, in a twisted sense of comparing a lethal bomb to a woman, the terrorists would openly admit that if you get too close, both bombs and girls will destroy you. To me, things like this only add merit to Dr. Kobrin’s overall theory.

FP: How would you explain the high rate of suicide terror among Muslims?

Denning: Every society has criminals, but they only make up a small percentage of the population. Of the 1.3 billion Muslims, there are only a small percentage of them who are the terrorists. I’m talking about the one’s who are involved in cutting off heads, taking hostages and detonating bombs. A good number of the rest of them are ardent supporters though. Those were the ones, for instance, shown on TV cheering after the towers crumbled on 9/11.

There are bad neighborhoods that breed crime. Radical Islam is like a rough neighborhood. It breeds contempt. It produces suicidal terrorists. Children can’t really escape it; in fact, they often grow up to become part of the corruption, just like in any bad neighborhood. Furthermore, those communities that are isolated from Jews, Christians or kafirs, teach false things in their madrasahs about Dar al Harb or the world outside of Islam ruled by infidels.

Lastly, they dehumanize us. That’s one of the reasons it was so easy for the mob in Fallujah , Iraq to mutilate, and then hang from the bridge, the immolated carcasses of the three U.S. government contractors in March 2003. Remember, they danced and cheered and smiled? I can’t even imagine the worst of all neighborhoods doing that. But, then again, I can because I’ve seen the evil that people are capable of.

FP: Let’s talk about future threats. What do you think some of the greatest future threats are? For instance, is it inevitable that there will be a WMD attack in the U.S. or in the West in general? What must we do? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about whether we will be able to face/stop these future threats?

Denning: Will we get attacked? Undoubtedly. It’s just a matter of time. And then it will happen again and again over time. Islamic terrorists might very well use chemical weapons. But the chemical attack in the Japanese subway in 1995 wasn’t that spectacular. I mean, it didn’t yield multiple deaths. Islamic terrorists want the spectacular. They could use some other kind of weapon of mass destruction, like a radiological dispersal device, or dirty bomb, but for the most part I believe they’ll stick to what works. High explosives have worked well for years. They’ll keep using them.

In the areas where terrorists can do it, I believe they’ll use truck bombs. It would be too easy to blow up big buildings. Changes in security aren’t usually made until after the fact, unfortunately. In other words, there are not enough preventive measures in place to stop that right now. I’m not talking about more government eavesdropping and intelligence; I’m talking about physically stopping a semi-tractor trailer from driving downtown and into or near a building then blowing it up.

There are a couple other targets they’ll focus on. Commercial airplanes are still a big target, and a pretty easy target, unfortunately. There are many things that can be done to improve security there. Unfortunately we’re very vulnerable. Airplanes are an attractive psychological, economic and tactical target. Plus, what could be more spectacular than a plane being blown from the sky?
Shopping malls are an incredibly vulnerable target—and anywhere else there’s a big gathering.

We know that terrorists have done surveillance on schools in America and no doubt in other Western countries too. When I think about the Beslan, Russia school massacre, I get pretty nervous. We are not prepared to do what it will take to keep the casualties down should Islamic suicidal terrorists attack our schools. Education and policy change is badly needed.

Unfortunately, there’s a great lack of urgency here. And frankly, some policies simply won’t change until after something bad happens and people die. Then everyone who didn’t stop it will get blamed. We need to be proactive. Who can I call? Who’ll listen?

There are other things that may soon happen, like a strategic attack—a tertiary or three-prong attack, for instance. I won’t go into detail, but this could be disastrous.

The bottom line is like what happened after I warned the hotel executive. If people don’t listen, aren’t proactive and don’t have a real sense of urgency, people will die. Period. It’s impossible to stop every attack. Terrorists have the tactical advantage, but we can curb the casualties if we change our approach and exploit the weaknesses of terrorists. At the end of the day though, saying ‘I told you so’ doesn’t make anything better.

FP: Jeffrey Denning, thank you for joining us.

Denning: Thank you.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Horrible Marriage

From my boss who’s planning to run a marathon in circles around the small base here:

Being in Iraq is like being in a bad marriage. You live with it and do what you can to make the time go by.

The Best Christmas Ever

I actually had Christmas early. My wife and I are quite spontaneous. While chatting several days before the 25th, she suggested I open some of the presents she had sent as she watched over the webcam. I have to admit, the last time I was that excited for Christmas was when I still visited Santa at the mall. It was incredible.

All of the care packages, presents, letters, emails and e-cards from friends and family really made the whole month special. Chaplain Don, a friend who writes the spiritual note for Blackwater’s newsletter, took it upon himself to introduce me to a minister and traumatic stress management specialist when he read that my friend had died. She sent several copies of her adventure-action fictional book, Navajo Heat, which I was able to hand out to several soldiers. It was so nice of her.

It was so nice of EVERYONE. My close friends and family were so kind. They were lavish in their kindness. It’s amazing how wonderful their gifts were, especially with the gratitude I’ve experienced since living in such austere and remote conditions.

My dear friends George and Julie at TacView sent an enormous box. They didn’t do it for recognition or fanfare, but because they genuinely care. Not only does TacView have the very best SWAT and special ops tactical search cameras—I have one; I would know—but they are a wonderful company to work with. The quality of their products and their big hearts has made them leaders in the industry. …Let’s just say that Secret Santa was present in Iraq thanks to them. If I could only report on the incredible joy and comfort it brought to the several depressed hearts here, it would make everyone want to act as Cops for Christmas several times each year.

Christmas was a wonderful day. The gloominess of earlier days dissipated. The cooperation and kindness of co-workers increased. Love abounded.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A White Fox

When I was an Active Duty soldier many years ago I recall some tenured military men boasting that we (the Army) do more by 4 a.m. than most people do the whole day. In some aspects, I suppose that has merit.

Since I was up at 0-dark thirty and walking around, I saw a rare nocturnal white fox. She stood only a few feet from me. The vixen and I both stopped and starred at each other…

Boy, I miss my wife. I hope to go home and stay awake with her FOREVER.

To describe how wonderful she is and to write about my love and gratitude for her would take up many book volumes. I choose instead to use the magnificent words attributed to none other than the legendary Dr. Seuss. “You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Email War

U.S. military Priority of Work after entering Iraq:

1. Knock down statue of Saddam.
2. Set up e-mail and Internet.
3. Win hearts and minds.

I walk exactly 33 steps from the barn-like structure I live in—a row of horse stables on either side complete with rodents and flea but bereft of straw—to the chair at ‘The Office.’ Fewer than a dozen computers, and several make-shift desks assembled from left over pieces of scrap wood as well as a few phones, complete the dilapidated Tactical Operations Center. There are several officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) that work there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

As a former NCO-turned-commissioned officer, I’m happy to admit that ‘NCOs are the backbone of the Army.’

“Yeah, but this group has scoliosis,” one quick-tongued Staff Sergeant quipped. I told the same NCO that yesterday our boss looked at his phone and saw that he had one ‘missed call.’ He (our boss) emphasized to me that all of his phone calls must be answered, so I passed that along to the practical joking NCO.

Today Staff Sergeant G— told me with a giggle that he called our bosses phone 24 times while he wasn’t at his desk. We both laughed.

Bhutto and an Al Qaeda Press Conference

Understanding future warfare is the most important responsibility of those who must defend a nation from future enemies!

—Major General Perry M. Smith

Reporter and friend Audrey Hudson sent me an interview she recently did with Dennis Miller. In the interview she said Dr. Ayman al Zawahri is holding a virtual Press Conference. Reporters are going to ask him questions over the Internet and he’ll answer them. How they’ll be answered is up in the air.

In my blog “Political Predictions,” I suggested the ‘Number Two’-man would make global press releases from my fictional World Wide ‘Freedom Fighter’ Press Release Cable (WWFFPRC). Such an acronym doesn’t seem so far from the truth now, eh? My prediction is already coming to fruition! The deadline for the questions to be submitted is mid-January. Surely no respectable reporter will flatter him with any attention though.

Speaking of death, I was terribly saddened by the news of Madam Bhutto’s assassination. I was just thinking of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination moments before I heard the news. From a security specialist’s position, I have—and am—dissecting the failures in her personal security detail. I knew she’d be targeted too, just like all the anti-Syrian, pro-Western leaders in Lebanon who are getting killed off. What a terrible thing.

Anti War Protestors

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Yuletide Rant

This is from a retired U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Major and personal friend of mine who forwarded me some good pictures and military quotes. I’ve edited his words only slightly, but not to detract from his statement.

I don’t usually forward stuff, but in seeing this during this Christmas season, it is true what someone recently said: “America is not at war. The American military is at war. America is at the shopping mall.” It’s amazing how many vacuous people are enjoying their freedom and focusing on dumb, pointless stuff. Most Americans think Iraq and Afghanistan are someplace south of Rhode Island , and haven’t the slightest comprehension of the nature of the enemy, the threat to our families, or the abysmal failure of our political leadership (on BOTH sides of the isle). Nevertheless: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” – Orwell

So much for the Yuletide ranting of the Sergeant Major . . .

I’m lucky enough to be home for Christmas this year. To those of you “rough men” still in “The Sandbox”, thanks for what you do, MERRY CHRISTMAS, and I’ll see you soon. Semper Fi

Daddy, Why Do You Have To Leave?

The closer I get to leaving Iraq, the more I think about the beginning. “But why do you have to leave us, Daddy?” my daughter asked tearfully after I told my children I’d be leaving them for a year, maybe longer. Her words broke my heart. I thought for a moment on how to best explain why I was being torn from them, and then the thought came to me.

I took them into our piano room and asked them each to sit down on the new, fluffy carpet. It’s a spare room that we never really use except to hear my wife play her beautiful Classical repertoire. As their anxious eyes looked upon me eager for an explanation, I sat down next to them. They had never paid such close attention to before, or if they had I didn’t notice it.

“Do you remember,” I began carefully, choosing my words so they’d understand, “several months ago when we went to the store and bought backpacks, school supplies and other gifts to send to the children in Iraq?”

“Yes,” they replied, nodding their little heads.

“Well, Iraq is far, far away from America. In Iraq the children live with their whole families in homes much smaller than ours.” Our home is modestly average, but palatial by comparison to homes in Third World countries. “In fact,” I added, “there is one little boy named Hasem.” I made up a name. “Hasem and his family live in a house the size of this room.” As I paused for effect I saw their eyes widen, and then they looked around the room in astonishment. “Can you believe it? His whole family lives and sleeps in a room this size.”

“How many kids do they have in their family, Daddy?”

“Oh, there are three children.” I suggested a number for my fictional family. “Hasem has a little sister too,” I added. “But, do you know what?”

“What?” they asked very intrigued.

“They don’t even have carpet. There’s only a dirt floor in Hasem’s house.”

“Really?” they tried to comprehend it. After seeing the puzzled look on their faces, I emphasized and explained dirt floors in detail.

“The most terrible thing of all is Hasem and his sister can’t go to school.” My son didn’t seem to think that was so bad, until I explained why. “They can’t go to school because bad guys—terrorists—try to blow up their schools and they shoot at the parents and kidnap their teachers, and…”

“Jeff,” the tone of my wife’s voice made me realize I was getting a bit too intense, although I had often talked to my children about bombs and guns in school and how they should respond to such a threat. I calmed down without looking at my wife or skipping a beat.

“Anyway, the President of United States asked all of the Dad’s in the Army to go to Iraq and help the kids and their parents. I’ll get to go over there and help the kids.” That answer seemed to placate them temporarily.

So that’s the reason, in the simplest terms, for why I’m here, living in something akin to a horse stable, on Christmas day far, far away from my wife and children.

PS Last year I donated money to The Greer Foundation for Christmas. Retired Army Special Forces Sergeant Major Steven Greer, a media military analyst and personal friend, started the foundation after seeing all the suffering children in war-torn countries. If you’re looking for a great place to donate and an honest, upright guy, click here.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Shepherd's Hill

Give protection and guidance to those who are engaged actively in carrying forth the things of battle. Bless them; preserve their lives; save them from harm and evil. Hear the prayers of their loved ones for their safety.

—Prayer offered by Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ, in the October 2001 General Conference

On Christmas Eve a few years ago I stood atop Shepherd’s Hill in Jerusalem overlooking the ancient city Bethlehem, where the Son of God came into this world. A heavenly host of angels announced his birth, and a new star arose to signify his coming. On this particular evening two of my co-workers from the U.S. Consulate, a small handful of church goers and I, gathered together and watched the sun dip into the horizon. We witnessed a sheepherder take his little flock to a corral at the bottom of the hill. We sang Christmas carols and enjoyed the warmth of the spirit on the cool December night.

Ironically, as our combined voices sang aloud Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s (1807-1882) I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, our ad hoc a cappella choir was drown out by automatic gunfire heard just East of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The rat-a-tat-tat of what sounded like .50 caliber machinegun and AK-47 small arms fire brought a dismal reminder of the Intifada, or Palestinian uprising. That area of the world has known war since civilization first arrived there, and it continues today unabated.

I don’t recall whether or not we sang the third verse of Longfellow’s Christmas carol, but the dim words seemed to reflect what I was feeling at that exact moment of temporary gloom.

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will towards men.’

So what does the future hold? Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is things are only going to get worse… The good news is I’m going to save a lot of money on my car insurance this year...

Ah, what a good thing is a little bit of humor. When all else fails, laugh like Ole Saint Nick: Ho-Ho-Ho. Merry Christmas.

Safety and Peace On Earth

Last year at Christmas I stayed in a hotel room in England, and then later took a flight. As air marshals, we were told the threat to the U.K. and U.S. airspace was still elevated. This morning, as a token reminder of that threat, I watched news video footage of the World Trade Center buildings getting rammed by airplanes and collapsing to the ground in a cloud of dust and debris.

For Christmas this year in Iraq I get to work an extra shift—and an extra long shift for several days. I’m mostly happy to do it though, so a soldier can be at home with his family.

A Congressional Delegation came to visit today. That was nice of them to leave their families this year to visit the troops. Each of them, from the House Armed Services Committee, looked like fish out of water. Both Democrats and Republicans came and it didn’t matter to me that they were a partisan party; they were all Americans.

It’s always good to see fellow Americans. Any pleasant, decent or good human being is a friend of mine. In that respect, then, my Christmas wish for bi-partisan respect and love came true, for me at least. Actually, I have more in common with the Democrats than with the Republicans in the delegation here. Each of them, however, is trying to do some good in the world and make a positive difference. There’s something to be said for that.

As I’ve considered my own New Year’s resolutions and goals, I am determined to be more charitable and loving, more patient and tolerant. Each of us has differences, but we can all learn to be a little more kind, giving and respectful. Our race, gender, language, skin color, religious preference, national heritage or cultural background, etcetera, matter very little in the scheme of things. Principles of decency and civility matter most. We need to—we ought to—treat each other better.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about loving my enemies, even if having to use lethal or deadly force against someone in the commission of a violent crime or in an act of war. Can I love a man as I’m literally destroying and killing him? Most citizen-soldiers have likely never considered that often if at all, but I have. And, I believe I could. Yet I hope I never have to.

I love little children with purity. Stuck on a military base amidst grown-ups, I miss seeing little children play, smile and laugh. It would be nice to hug my children and see the excitement of their faces as they open their Christmas gifts.

I love people. Some are easier to love than others. Some try our patience and test our tolerance. Some are simply not fun to be around; others are terrible influences. The greatest friends tend to help us be better and do better. Just as sure as there is good in the world and people who do good things, there is evil in the world and people who engage in evil, uncivilized and atrocious acts. It is the act and the habit of the evil-doer that must be stopped. The great thing is people can change.

A hard-core drug user stayed up for eight days straight. The dangerous methamphetamines caused him to lose 45 pounds during that time. He hallucinated severely and experienced all the horrific side affects of that drug. Speaking of writing down your New Year’s resolutions, this guy, in a rage of violence and anger at the world, made long list of people he planned to kill.

He was involved in a life of late-night parties. One of his best friends was shot and killed while they both ran away from a house where a rival gang member showed up to cause trouble. In his mind at the time, this kid had nothing good to live for. He had murder in his heart and he didn’t care if he died. But he didn’t kill anyone nor did he harm himself any further. Instead, he turned his life around. He changed. People can change.

Today he is a productive member of society. He is clean. He is honorable. No one would ever know of his past, and no one would need to know. He forgave himself and he feels forgiven of his past abuses. He cleaned his life up and made amends for his wrongs. He is happy and has found true and lasting peace and joy in an honorable occupation, a harmonious marriage and lovely children. He lives in a good neighborhood and he’s a good person.

I believe even the vilest and most detestable human beings can change, but those who don’t change should be forced to stop if they encroach upon the rights and security of others. The innocent people, often incapable of defending themselves, must be spared and shielded from atrocities and crimes. That duty to protect and preserve lies upon each civilized society and person.

The job of stopping savage brutality and murderous intentions is borne of love. I vehemently oppose all war and killing, but I sometimes wonder if the most out-spoken anti-war critics ever consider anyone but themselves.

I have since become a commissioned military officer, but many years ago, when I first enlisted in the Army, at my first days of boot camp, I recall seeing a poster on the wall with the inscribed words of one of America’s Founding Fathers.

In the Saint John’s Church in Richmond Virginia, Patrick Henry eloquently and profoundly asked, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” (Speech before the 2nd Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775.)

Everyone deserves freedom. Indeed, the writers of the Declaration of Independence left no room for ostracism, partiality, bias or discrimination when they eloquently and solemnly wrote: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

At this holiday season when Muslims celebrate for three days of Eid al-Adha, God’s test of Abraham, and when Jews celebrate Hanukkah, and Christians celebrate Christmas, let us all seek for greater peace and love. We could accomplish so much more with a little more peace and a lot more love.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Political Predictions

So there was a woman, a black man, and a Mormon… Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? Well, here are my Presidential candidate predictions, beginning with the Democratic nominations. (Note: Will the Democrats ever realize a donkey mascot is a slam? Heck, even an aardvark, duck-billed platypus or three-toed sloth would be better than a mule, or the other word.)

Hillary – A woman for President? If she had the tough-on-terrorism record like Margaret Thatcher, she’d stand a better chance. Talk about a flip-flop record, just look at her Iraqi preemption back pedal vote. But she’ll stay in the lead.

Obama – He’ll come in a very close second. My cornucopia family members are Chinese, Korean, African American, Tongan, and Hispanic, but I’ll ask the taboo question anyway: Are American’s really ready for a black President, a woman President, or a Mormon? Personally, if I was coerced, cajoled or forced by threat of death into ever voting for a Democrat, Obama would have my vote over any other current candidate, hands down. Our ‘diversity’—this new century’s buzz word—collectively leads us to only look at the man (or woman) and not the skin color, gender or religious belief. Yeah, I wish. After reading Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, I realized even more so that we all are judgmental of the outward appearance.

I don’t see a Hillary-Obama ticket. Although that would be powerful, it’s too much change for creatures of comfort and habit—us voters and constituents.

Pretty-boy Edwards – Speaking of judging outward appearances, let’s face it, the look, the presentation, the pitch and tone of the candidates voice play a huge part in the decision of the vote. Edwards looks too young (and, hence, too inexperienced); he pays too much for haircuts and doesn’t ‘look’ like someone the majority of the population could entrust to lead the country. Except for a few young, naïve female voters and perhaps a sycophant or two supporting him, he doesn’t stand a chance of a snowball in Iraq. If I’m wrong and he is the Democratic nominee, he’ll loose by a landslide to ANY Republican.

Biggest Upset – If the inventor of the Internet and latest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Al Gore, shows up at the last minute, watch out. Even though most of us can recognize the left-leaning political agenda for his recent international popularity, the Democrats eat that up…never mind that his global warming platform has been called a sham by ‘real’ experts.

For the foreseeable future no other major party outside the Dems/GOP will have the clout Ross Perot pulled in 1992. Besides, any votes outside those two heavy-hitting parties are pretty much good-for-nothing anyway.

The Republicans:

G-man – If Huckabee sounds funny, unless your family owns a pizza shop in New York City, G-whatever is just too hard to spell for the average American. Speaking of food, the most violent throwing up I ever did was after I ate at an Italian restaurant in Saint Louis, Missouri. I can empathize with the former New York Major’s recent stay in the hospital there for flu-like symptoms. But the bottom line is he’s too Democrat to be a Republican.

Thompson – That’d be like having James Earl Jones as President. He’d sound cool, but being an actor just means people wouldn’t know if they could trust if he’s telling the truth or just ‘acting’. Hypothetically speaking, he might be able to lie better than Slick-Willy himself. Plus, when GOPers make the unconscious comparison to the legendary actor-turned-President, Ronald Reagan, Freddy just doesn’t cut the cake.

Romney – Any man with a little grey in his hair stands a chance. Think of the movie The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. In real life Moses wasn’t a great orator. Romney also seems surreal—too perfect, some say—and he’s getting a lot of free press because of his religion. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t take the Republican nomination. Am I biased? Let’s just say I strongly identify with this candidate much like you identify with your pick.

McCain – Too much grey hair. I like him because he’s the only military veteran most know of among the bunch, but he’s too outspoken and rough around the edges. His recent endorsement by Joe Lieberman was pretty much a useless vote for Ross Perot. He’s a has-been Presidential candidate about three times over.

Ron Paul – Who?

Huckabee – He just might take the Iowa caucus. His frank demeanor appeals to the masses. He’s more stoic and mature than Edwards (which helps) and more approachable than Romney. His popularity will rise. If Romney punches through I can see a Romney-Huckabee ticket, but if Huckabee gets the GOP nomination he’ll find another candidate for VP.

Miscellaneously important:

Putin – The former KGB hardliner will continue to rule Russia with a swelling iron fist, even if he is ‘in the shadows’ of Dmitry. The former USSR nations will continue to revolt and have their ‘Orange Revolutions’. Hopefully no more ‘dissenters’ will be poisoned, but if someone inside Russia was willing to take Plutonium into London for an assassination, you can rest assured that more eccentric things will occur…perhaps with the ‘axis of evil’-nation, Iran. ‘Person of the Year’? Pshaw!

Bin Laden – Joint Special Operations Command had him on their radar in August 2007. He was riding in a car in Afghanistan. SEAL Team 6 was on stand by to apprehend, but probably NOT kill him, and his car was being followed by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. He’ll continue to live this year because my gut tells me too many officials want to capture him alive rather than shoot his car with a Hellfire missile. The tall, skinny terror magnate will closely follow the U.S. Presidential elections as he has in the past. He’ll consider the timing of a spectacular attack on American soil and carefully weigh his strategic options.

If the Democrats win, more troops might be pulled from Iraq. If an attack occurs in America maybe the U.S. resolve to stay in Iraq will be strengthened. If he (or the phalanx of terrorists like him) attacks America before the election, like Islamic terrorists did in Spain on 3/11/04, will that have the power to change the vote? It certainly worked in Spain. A major attack(s) in America (or at American facilities, or companies related to America, in foreign lands) could change the dynamics of everything I wrote above. Would that strategically work in bin Laden’s favor?

Two things are certain. First, his ‘Number Two’ will continue to make communiqués and ‘press releases’ on the World Wide ‘Freedom Fighter’ Press Release Cable (WWFFPRC)—it’s as if something like that must really exist considering the effectiveness and frequency of the media statements, huh?

Secondly, bin hidin’-out Laden hates America just as much as he hates women. My friend and colleague Dr. Nancy Kobrin even reminds me that he refers to America by the Arabic female name, ‘Amrika’, to downgrade the United States. No one should listen to a woman, let alone be ruled by one! I can hear him mock.

Would he and his cohorts and emissaries want Hillary to win? Would it help his overarching platform and gain more terror recruits within Islam, giving them more justification to hate the U.S.? Or, would having a woman as President intimidate him to the point where it would terrify him even more? His rage might become even more volatile if being hunted by a woman. Hummmm…. Well here’s one for you bin Laden: America’s a FREE COUNTRY. I’m GLAD she’s running…even if only because you don't want her to.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jesus the Christ

If I shall never write or utter words again after these words, I will be content. At this holiday Christmas season, I wish to give my personal witness of the Living Son of the Living God.

This morning I awoke thinking of and singing silently Handel’s greatest oratorio, The Messiah. The words first penned by the Prophet Isaiah ring loudly in my inner ear.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, Old Testament KJV)

He was born in a lowly stable, but He lived as a Spirit before coming to earth and receiving a fleshy tabernacle of clay. He was God the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and the God the Son of the New Testament. He is the promised Messiah, the Emmanuel, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The Prophet Jeremiah recorded the revelation he received from the Lord, saying, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee.” (Jeremiah 1:5) Like the Savior before us, we were each spirits in the premortal world. After creating the world upon which we reside “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:27, original emphasis.)

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)

Like the Christ child, we too came to earth and received a body of flesh, bone and blood. Each of us has imperfections; each of us has aliments. Some have deformities and maladies incomprehensible and terrible, yet He who bore all pain and suffered more than man can suffer except it be unto death, can lift and succor us. He who healed the blind, the lame, the leper and who cured all manner of diseases can cure our mental and spiritual anguish, as well as our physical troubles according to His will and pleasure for our eternal benefit.

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ and an account of the Savior’s visit to the people on the American continent after His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, teaches:

He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.

…and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.
(2 Nephi 26: 24, 33)

At this Christmas season as the Christian world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ on earth over 2,000 millennia ago, I give my witness and testimony for all the world to see. I know—I know—that Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Redeemer. He lives. He raised the dead and overcame death by rising triumphantly from the tomb on the third day. It is only in and through the grace of God that we can be saved (See Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 10:24). Only through God’s Beloved Son, the Savior Jesus Christ, can we be forgiven of our mistakes, our sins and our transgressions. Through Him alone we can find true joy and peace in this life and in the eternal world to come.

To learn more about what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes about the Savior of the World, click on The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sex Crimes and Jihad

I was recently interviewed as a terror analyst for It didn’t take long until someone from Australia had read the article (Sex Crimes and Jihad), subsequently read my blog, and then wish to post something after reading Homosexual Marriage and a Mormon Presidential Candidate.

The post was from nuclear scientist Zoe Brian. Zoe used to be Alan. She used to be a he and he used to be a she! According to her, Zoe’s blood has 46xy chromosomes which has kept her hormonally unbalanced. A few years ago, she wrote, her medical diagnosis changed due to an unknown hormonal change. Zoe said she went from an undervirilized (slightly intersexed) male to a severely androgenized (extremely intersexed) female... Whatever that's supposed to mean.

Not to be flippant, but when my wife and I first married we bought two cats, Italics and Cymon. We thought they were both female, but Cymon turned out to be a hermaphrodite, having both male and female reproductive organs. Although as in all hermaphrodites, including humans, one gender or sex organ is predominate. The comparison is trite and likely totally inaccurate of Zoe's (or Brian's) case, I know, but I wasn’t trying to make a comparison, per se—that’s just what came to mind.

Years ago when I worked as a hospital volunteer, I recall doing some research in the hospital library when I ran across some medical studies of hermaphrodites. I remember feeling so sorry for the young girl pictured there. A sexual corrective surgery was done to remove a minute fleshy tissue resembling what could have been the beginning of a penis sprouting from her vagina.

What is all this about? you ask. Well, Zoe opined that my using the comparison in the aforementioned Front Page interview of transvestites or transsexuals to those who act unnaturally violent (i.e. suicidal terrorists) was an inaccurate label. It wasn’t meant to be all-encompassing. Nevertheless, first, let me say that his/her background and perspective humbles me. It makes me realize just how expansive the world and universe are and how little I know about anything.

Secondly, those were my words and not Dr. Kobrin’s whom I referenced throughout the interview. Thirdly, there wasn’t enough time to go into ultra-detail, and I have not made an exhaustive study of the transvestite-terrorist comparison anyway—nor do I care to. But I obviously was stricken, if that's the right word, with this response from this man-turned-woman or woman-turned-man-turned-woman, whatever the case may be.

We find reporters often looking to wrest or twist the words of those in the political arena. Likewise, with me, there simply wasn’t time or length in the said interview to be more thorough. And, obviously every transgender/transsexual person is not going to lead a life of terror, just like every young terrorist isn’t laden with a testosterone-driven anger, which I also referenced, and which are not Dr. Kobrin’s words either. Just consider the 64-year-old suicide bomber in Algeria recently; surely he doesn’t fit that mold. No, we must use building blocks in understanding terrorism. Many have written about terrorism, Dr. Kobrin’s angle and prospective helps provide unique understanding in many ways very supportive of those other findings, but different enough to give incredible insight.

And, finally, I simply do make mistakes. I wish I didn’t but I do. Sometimes my idiosyncrasies and blundering savoir faire cause me embarrassment. My friend, Audrey Hudson, a witty Washington Times homeland security reporter, corrected me not long ago and saved me face. On another occasion when I wrote my blog Veteran’s Day in Iraq, I initially labeled it Memorial Day. Duh. What was I thinking? When I sent out an email to friends and family with the link to the interview, I wrote that “I couldn’t resist my latest war blog…my pick for ‘Person of the Year.’” What I meant was I couldn’t resist SENDING the link to my war blog, “even if they just saw the picture.” That, and the other mistakes, made me sound narcissistic and foolish.

My buddy Brett and I used to go water skiing and snow skiing a lot as youth. We’d often say, ‘If you don’t fall, you’re not trying.’ Anyone who stands up to speak—figuratively or literally—risks sticking his foot in his mouth. I’m no different. But I don’t think I did any toe-sucking in the referenced interview. That said here’s the link to my latest interview, Sex Crimes and Jihad.

Person of the Year

I got a notice from a special operations colleague recently that a Navy SEAL in Joint Special Operations Command had died. The note said he died here in Iraq and that the funeral services would be held in Arlington National Cemetery. It reminded me of ‘Cheeze’, a former Navy SEAL in that same unit, and coworker of mine when he died. It also reminded me of Johnny, my old Army teammate who was killed here in Iraq a few weeks ago. He too, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The description of the service from another military teammate and friend made me feel like I was there with them; my eyes welled up with tears when I read it. It broke my heart to think of his wife and children weeping at the funeral.

One Sunday afternoon a couple of years ago, I reverently wandered around the military cemetery, looking for names. I saw the fresh flowers on some gravestones. A Jewish gravestone had rocks piled on top, as is customary throughout Israel and apparently throughout Judaism. A closer look at the name showed that a female U.S. military officer, a few years younger than I, had been killed in action in Iraq—or at least that’s what I remember. Looking around the many acres I stopped and read the inscriptions of hundreds of gravesites. I saw a funeral procession in the distance, and I couldn’t help but notice one mourning man, alone, weeping on bended knee near the site of his beloved.

Not long ago I received a letter asking if I knew of a war contractor that had died here. I didn’t know him personally, but I quickly found another contractor that gave me all the details of his death that I passed on to his family. The contractor, Dane, was just 23 years old. He was married and had a ten-month-old son that looked just like him. After an honorable discharge which included a tour in Iraq with the U.S. Marines, he came back as a security contractor. My friend who knew him well and attended his funeral wrote:

There was a stunning presentation by the Marines, with a 21 gun salute, a moving rendition of taps by a Marine bugler, and a presentation of Dane's flag to his wife. Made me proud to be an American and proud of our service men.

For anyone who’s ever attended a military funeral, nothing else can compare. Years ago when I was on active duty, a soldier in my unit died. Before the gun salute, our First Sergeant did a roll-call of everyone in the platoon. Everyone replied by saying, “Present” or “Here”, and then he sounded off the name of the soldier three times without an answer. You could have heard a pin drop. It was a profound and emotionally moving experience.

The only other time I attended a military-like funeral was on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. Three coffins draped in American flags lay behind the U.S. Ambassador as he offered a eulogy. The reporters ran to get the front spot; I thought it irreverent to run and jockey for positions at a funeral.

Yes, I have stood on the battlegrounds of the American wars, from Chattanooga to Gettysburg to the Korean peninsula, and now here in Iraq. I have been deeply troubled by the hatred and foolishness of men, but also astonished and grateful for the courage and heroism of those men and women who took up arms in defense of their country and in defense of good and just principles.

I have wept quietly at the gravesites of these and other military veterans who fought for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness established in the Declaration of Independence. The last paragraph of the Declaration reads in part: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

That pledge has gone down from generation to generation. It has taken a great toll. Indeed, lives and fortunes have been sacrificed.

At the end of this year, my vote for 'Person of the Year' goes to all the lonely spouses, the crying children, the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who’ve lost loved ones. They deserve our deepest admiration, love and respect.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Azan—a call to prayer

I go to bed entirely too late and wake up way too early. That’s the combat role I suppose, long hours and little sleep. The guy across from me, a Navy Chief, has an alarm clock that sounds like azan, Arabic for the call to prayer. It’s really loud.

When we’re outside we hear the faithful Muslim calls, reminding them of salaat, or prayer. Last night, after the prayer made just after dark, or salaatul maghrib, I heard a small arms machine gun firefight in the distance. Since it’s so calm here, things like that remind me we’re still at war.

In fact, here are some more not-so-subtle reminders of what’s occurred with our group over the last few days. Among other things, our group has: gotten blown up by bombs (yes, plural; no deaths or loss of limbs or eyesight, thankfully), the injured were flown out by MEDEVAC helicopters, shot flares at suspicious vehicles, stopped and captured would-be insurgents, found improvised explosive devices (IEDs, also plural), and found decaying human remains. That’s pretty much the norm here, except it’s the first time our guys have found human remains.

Bodies of Iraqis considered ‘traitors’ (munafiq) by anti-Coalition Forces, or simply al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), are found occasionally. It didn’t take a trained homicide detective to figure out that the dead Iraqi husband, brother or father was blind-folded with his hands tied behind his back and in a brutal execution-fashion he was shot pointblank in the head.

Ayman al Zawahri, al Qaeda’s infamous and infectious ‘number two’ (I don’t mean to reference scat, but if the shoe fits…) recently warned the ‘traitors’ among the Iraqi Sunni Arab tribes here in al Anbar. In other words, the bitter, apathetic terror magnate wants AQI to kill those who want peace in the Middle East and he released a video statement to encourage more death and carnage. To borrow the words of Rodney King (kids don’t follow his example or the cops that beat him), “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Amar al Hakim, a big-time Shia leader, flew here to ar Ramadi (a city in the Sunni area of the al Anbar province) on a U.S. military Black Hawk helicopter a few weeks ago to meet with Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha. Abu Risha is the brother and successor of the pro-Western Sheikh Sattar whom I wrote about in an earlier blog after I heard and felt the explosion that killed him. Abu Risha leads the Anbar Awakening, a group of Sunni Sheikhs that want peace. No doubt, the pro-U.S. Sheikh is a big target for assassination.

Well, Amar al Hakim, a Shi’ite (Shia and Shi’ite are synonymous), hugged and prayed and ate food together with the Sunnis. That’s a miracle! Things like that simply do not happen. The Sunnis and the Shia hate each other; they have for several years.

Here’s what Amar al Hakim said in a speech at that gathering: “We are not Shi’ites. We are not Sunnis. We are all Iraqis, and we must reconcile.” Those words, my friends, nearly bring tears to my eyes. He is talking about forgiveness. He’s talking about peace.

Deeply imbedded in the Iraqi culture is blood revenge, which is something like saying, “if your great, great grandfather was mean to my ancestors, then I’ll seek his revenge and kill and hate your family forever.” That kind of retaliation has driven a deep wedge between families, clans and tribes. And on a larger scale, although both the Shia and Sunni are Islamic, the religious differences have kept them fighting each other for eons.

In October 2006 the Sheikhs in Anbar (Anbar Awakening) forged a bond with the U.S. military, but it wasn’t until January 2007 when things started to change for the better. A tremendous change has occurred since then in this region. A couple of close friends were here in the ‘Sunni Triangle of Death’ before things became peaceful; they’ve told me about their horrible war experiences, tragedies and death. What a blessing to have some peace!

There was a 90 percent reduction in violence during Ramadan this year compared to last year. Throughout Iraq, General Petraeus recently said that there was a 60 percent decline in attacks over the last six months. The body that was found was at least six months old and probably older.

And to what do we owe this change? I believe prayer. I believe hearts were softened. I believe the Iraqi people were tired of seeing their friends and family die, and they were tired of killing. They were compelled to be humble. And yet, they could have kept fighting. In sum, the collective, fervent prayers for peace were heard.

Praying for peace, especially during this time of year, seems appropriate. Whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or any other faith, there is predominately the belief in a Supreme Being—although some may call Him a different name or describe Him a different way. Most believe that God is the God of the universe, the Creator, the Judge and the Father of our spirits. I believe that. And I believe we are all spiritual brothers and sisters.

When it gets down to it, peace is the one thing we should seek after. It’s unfortunate that there are wars and killing. It’s terrible and horrible, but since the day Cain slew Abel, there have been wars and killing. It will likely get worse. But who would stop the likes of Benito Mussolini, Pol Pot, Slobodan Milosevic, Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, Joseph Stalin, Osama bin Laden, or Saddam Hussein if not the military man or the modern-day Joan of Arc?

War is sometimes necessary for the preservation of peace. It’s a dichotomy that has led scholars, religionists, lawyers, and warriors to debate the Just War Theory for years.

In the end, though, we all must want peace, and as President Thomas S. Monson, a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once emphasized, “Prayer is the passport to peace.”
An associate of mine in the national security field—a retired Navy Reservists and mathematician by trade—wrote the following to me recently after I suggested prayer helped change the war effort here in al Anbar. Said he,

Dear Jeffrey,

Thanks for the inspiring note. I, too, believe in the power of prayer, and it bothers me a little that our public prayers in church are unchanged by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe we should be praying for the people there, not just our soldiers. I once sent a note to the White House, early in the conflict, that proposed a mutual day of prayer for the people of Iraq and the United States - we would pray for each other, and pray that God would use us both to accomplish His purposes. I didn't receive a reply.

A few people have asked what I want for Christmas. I’m reminded of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s wish in a poem he wrote on Christmas day 1864, during the height of the American Civil War. It was near this time that he received news of his son being wounded in that war and his wife had recently died. He titled the poem “Christmas Bells”. Since then the poem has turned into a well-loved Christmas carol. Borrowing from the New Testament, Longfellow wished for nothing less than “Peace on earth, good will to men.”

At this special holiday season and always, I ask that the division of political parties, religious differences and intolerance, hate and war and atrocities end. With the trillions of dollars spent on war we could feed every hungry soul, clothe every needy person, shelter and care for the sick and the afflicted. That is my prayer, my hope and my deepest wish this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hillary’s Nepotism

Yep, it’s true. A buddy of mine—a former Army Ranger who’s currently a Federal Air Marshal (FAM)—confirmed it. In 2004 when I had heard that a totally inexperienced, ruddy-faced kid had been hired to fill one of the most high profile, prestigious, undercover conjoint federal law enforcement-counterterrorism jobs in the country, it was difficult to believe.

If a FAM has to stop a criminal, emotionally disturbed person, or especially a group of committed suicidal terrorists on an airplane, the government needs the crème de la crème—the most experienced and most qualified operators. That’s why when the air marshal program spun up shortly after the 9/11 attacks, guys with special operations backgrounds in both military and law enforcement were sought after and hired. Delta Force operators, Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Marine Force Recon, SWAT cops and other very experienced guys were hired quickly. If anyone could keep American’s safe in the post-9/11 not-so-friendly skies, these guys could.

Training was initially terse, shallow and quick. Those hired already had several years of experience behind them and they didn’t need a lot of training…except for this young kid who was given a HUGE favor by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mike, the Army Ranger mentioned above, told me in early 2006 that this boy was given the job because he had served as an aide of some type on Senator Hillary Clinton’s staff. Mike said that this kid went through the initial training with him and that the former Clinton youth helper told Mike directly about the quid quo pro job link.

Come on! This kid was barely old enough to buy a gun let alone carry one concealed to protect the National Security of America and hundreds, even thousands of people! There’s no way he could have been hired otherwise. He had ZERO experience, shuffling papers for a U.S. Senator from New York aside.

Fortunately, ‘the kid’ with ‘The Clinton Connection’ soon got forced out, quit or fired from the nascent agency; he just wasn’t up to par. Duh! How in the world did he get hired in the first place then? Of course, I’m being sardonic, rhetorical and completely sarcastic here.

It’s one thing to unknowingly, tacitly or even blatantly hire a company that employs illegal immigrants to mow your lawn. It’s another thing entirely to go out of your way to use your position as a former First Lady and U.S. Senator to culpably, negligently engage in nepotism—especially when human lives and U.S. National Security are on the line!

Shame on her and shame on the corruptions and abuses at the Federal Air Marshal Service for that unethical and illegal action! But, alas, anyone who knows anything about the FAM Service under former Secret Service agent-turned FAMS Director Tom Quinn and the cronies he hired, as well as all the other messes, wouldn’t be surprised at all by this revelation.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Heroes and Friends

I consider Jeff Evans a true friend. He’s also one of my heroes.

I was headed out the door on an overnight airplane trip several years ago when the sudden impression came to me that I should grab one of my rock climbing books as well as a knot-tying book. I hadn’t read or looked at them in years. But when I just happened to sit next to Jeff Evans on the plane (at the time a total stranger to me), I ‘knew’ there was a reason why I brought those books.

Jeff led Erik Weihenmayer to the summit of Mount Everest. I knew the story. Everyone in the climbing world did, including millions more. Erik’s totally blind. I imagine that most blind men would be more worried about running into a couch or a dining table, not worrying about whether or not he’ll die at the top of Mount Everest! That’s phenomenal; it’s motivational. Even one of the top ecclesiastical leaders of our church spoke about Erik and his unnamed guide. (Ex: “I know many feel that the path is hard and the way is dark. But like Erik, the courageous mountain climber, we are not left without a guide.”) See Joseph B. Wirthlin, “One Step after Another,” Liahona, Jan 2002, 27–30.

Well, Erik couldn’t have reached the summit without a skilled and trusted team; he couldn’t have done it without Jeff leading him.

I still remember well nearly every word of our conversation that day. I don’t think I had ever listened so intently before in my life as I did while listening to Jeff Evans. As a motivational speaker, business executives around the world and large crowds seeking entertainment and inspiration beg him for a few minutes of his time. I felt incredibly fortunate to have one-on-one time. We really bonded, and in some respects we had a lot in common.

When I told him recently I was going to ask my wife for a copy of his book for Christmas, he insisted that he give me one. Although telling him that wasn’t my intention, I gave in. Today a copy of Jeff’s book, Mountain Vision: Lessons Beyond the Summit, arrived. I can hardly wait to devour it.

On the back cover Erik mentions a few things about Jeff…and so does Nikki Stone. I know Nikki. She won the 1998 Aerial Skiing Olympic Gold Medal.

Before really finding my niche as a risk-taker on a SWAT team, I trained with members of the U.S. Ski Team in Lake Placid, New York. I wasn’t there too long, but long enough to get to know Nikki, Eric Bergoust (Men’s Gold Medalist), and others. In fact, I’ll never forget Eric stopping one day and asking me frankly, “Why are you smiling all the time?” I thought it was the oddest observation ever. But who wouldn’t be smiling? There we were in the middle of the summer jumping on competition trampolines and skiing down plastic watered-down ramps, doing flips into the swimming pool. Summer training was great!

But then again, like any extreme sport, there was an element of danger.

Lina Cheryazova, a Russian-speaking Gold Medalist, and I were skiing down the wooden ramps side-by-side in the morning. Lina had a great smile and a huge heart; she just didn’t speak English well. However, I remember her kindly explaining to me in sign language and a few Russian words what I needed to improve on. Both of us smiled and then went inverted through the air. What a rush!

In the afternoon I went to the Nordic Ski Jump hill, and at the same time I twisted my knee severely, Lina did something much more damaging. From what I gathered, she caught a ski tip at the crest of the biggest ramp. When she went to flip backwards, the back of her head smashed against the wooden plank, crushing her skull. The skateboard-like helmets didn’t seem to help at all. Her limp body plummeted into the bubbling water where she was rescued. An emergency medical helicopter flew her out promptly. Not only was the accident a career-ender, but I had heard she went into a coma—obviously much more severe. Speaking about it was taboo.

In life there are ups and downs, there are trials and triumphs. It sure is nice to conquer fear, to tread on step by step, even sometimes if, like Erik Weihenmayer, we can’t see what may lie before us. You know what the greatest thing is though? Friends.

I’m not into celebrities. I mean, I don’t ask for their autographs and I don’t bug them. But, I did ask Jeff Evans to sign my rock climbing books and thankfully he wrote me a nice note in the book he authored: Mountain Vision. Yes, there still are real-life heroes in the world.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holiday Blues Clues

What in the world is setting everybody off lately? One soldier here said he believes it’s the holiday season.

Last week I had to break up a would-be physical confrontation between two grown men, both commissioned officers. I had seen plenty of fights-in-progress during my police encounters. One of the guy’s lips was literarily quivering—an involuntary physiological reaction that I’m sure would have been followed up by a punch. Hence, I tried to be the peacemaker, even though he out-ranked me. The day before that, a private slugged a sergeant. Thankfully, they took his weapon and ammo away. Another private who was there told me he thought the sergeant deserved it because of his cruel mouth and abuse of authority. He called the private’s wife a bad name before the Ultimate Fighting Championship began.

This morning there was all kinds of grumpiness and flustered attitudes. A couple of NCOs started ranting and raving. Perhaps they needed to vent; it would have been better somewhere other than right near me, though. Did I ever mention that I enjoy the quiet peacefulness of morning time?

The big boss, an introverted guy who does better with gismos and gadgets than he does people, came to me in the midst of all the commotion. He must have been mad at someone or something and decided to let everyone (me and everyone within a mile) know about it. “Fix it!” he demanded. The phrase has become his mantra, and everyone including him knows it. What he fails to see, however, is that when he prefers quibbling demands to explaining himself better or allowing others to speak or negotiate, nothing gets accomplished as well as it could be—it just adds more confusion.

When the two NCOs began speaking louder and louder a high-strung, loquacious field grade officer got defensive and decided to add his two cents. Instead of putting out the fire, he stoked it even higher. I just kept on working. An ipod would have been nice.

So what is it? The food? The IED attacks earlier this week? The op-tempo? The Christmas packages and holiday decorations here and there? No, none of those—not per se. But here’s a clue:

We’ve been under constant stress and nearly torturous work loads for six months or so. The first several months were terrible. In retrospect, I heard one very senior officer say today that if he would have had his 20-year retirement letter, he would have told that rotten colonel who ‘trained’ us (think ‘boot camp’ times a prison sentence…in Algeria!) to go pound sand…or something a little more explicitly colorful.

Once we made it here to the desert and before, the command climate wasn’t necessarily all that terrific. Let’s face it: there are some people who are easier to work with in any organization, to include the Army, and others who are, well, better fit for submarine duty. Sorry Navy, but you can have them!

So, what’s the clue? you say. I’m getting to that.

The contention, power trips, snapping, backbiting, and cruel remarks have stayed constant. The lack of cooperation, compliments, kindness or praise has weakened morale. Not to mention the egos, obvious nonsensical command decisions (i.e. when EVERYONE but the boss thinks things ought to be run differently), and lack of even a little time off, let alone ONE single day off…

Well, you get the idea. Imagine literally living a few feet from your office and living with your boss and co-workers ALL YEAR?! I guess we all need a break. Fortunately, the Army allows for trips home occasionally.

In sum, I don’t think it’s the holiday blues.