Friday, February 29, 2008

Why We Suffer

Jesus was a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief (compare to Isaiah 54). That is part of the Lord God Almighty’s plan. The great plan of happiness would be frustrated without it. I feel like Paul the Apostle to rejoice in my weaknesses and sorrows for then I am made strong (2 Corinthians 12:10; see also Romans 8:17). My faith could grow no other way. Charity—the pure and perfect love of Christ—could be bestowed upon us in no other fashion but through our trials, struggles and sorrows. Indeed, all terrible things shall be for our benefit and good.

In speaking of the most horrific trials, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, declared, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?”

It is a blessing from heaven to have endured the crosses of the world. I think of the Savior who arose from being beaten 39 times with a multi-thonged whip into whose leather bands were woven sharp bones and cutting metals. Many died from the scourging alone, but he arose to suffer a crueler death upon the cross that he bore.

Jesus carried his own cross until he collapsed from the weight and the trauma he had endured. That’s when Simon, the traveler, carried it for him. Then the Savior of the world was nailed to the cross upon which he died.

What does it mean then to endure the crosses of the world or to suffer our own private Gethsemane? I submit that nothing can be so terrible that He has not endured it. He alone can understand our pains. When we have faith and take our sorrows before the Lord, when no one else can or has power to, He can bear our burden, ease our sorrows, succor or lift us up, and shall wipe away all tears from our eyes (see, e.g. Revelations 21:4).

But, according to the wisdom and tender mercies of God, these comforts might not come immediately, for that would rob us of the opportunity of faith, to develop empathy towards others, and the blessings which come to those who are obedient to the commandments, laws and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

These painful adult lessons are sometimes not grasped or learned at all. But after living through the hell I have here—my own private Gethsemane—I can now say with Paul,

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Mormons in the Military

One of the guys I go to church with, Nick Hansen who’s in the Navy, said that others view us LDS service members in this way: “first they make fun of you, then they respect you, then they ask you for advice.” I thought that was an accurate description.

Stating the Obvious

Hillary Rodham Clinton is a woman. At that statement I seem to hear from the crowds of pundits, politicians, media tycoons (and I mustn’t forget the women’s lib movement), What? How dare you say such a thing?! It seems that we simply can’t state the obvious because the obvious is taboo.

But the facts are Mrs. Clinton is a woman—I know it’s hard to say in a public domain. Moreover, John McCain has very likely suffered for many years with serious shell shock (that’s what it was called before the term post traumatic stress came about around the Vietnam era). Are we that afraid to state the obvious? I mean, come on. The guy (McCain) was held as a prisoner of war and tortured for several years! A hero and icon in that way? Yes, absolutely, but I’m still just stating the obvious. My great uncle was a POW in WWII too.

It just goes to show you that war vets—even the ones with serious war trauma—can return from war and do great things. Their rights shouldn’t be suspended and they shouldn’t be bereft of opportunities from future employers scared to embrace them. (Note: I’m still looking for a job.)

So, Hillary is indeed a woman. Men and women have noticeable differences in appearance and in character. Perhaps that’s the reason why the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was such a big hit a few years back. It IS the reason we joke about our differences and have throughout the catacombs of time!

With the differences comes mood swings. I’m talking about subtle but noticeable changes in behavior. Shoot, my wife occasionally has them too… (I love you dear.)

Can we blame Hillary’s kindness towards Obama in Texas and then her opposite raging rant about him a day or two later on her hormone levels or her biological make-up? Na, but I suppose with all the attention she’s been getting, American’s are just beginning to notice her fickle temperament. If she’s elected as president, watch out America!

But seriously, look, while she is a woman (and, by the way, I WOULD vote for a woman for president—and I would vote for a Democrat, perhaps one day, perhaps), she’s still human and should be able to control herself despite her biological make-up, esp. if she’s going to be MY president. Instead, she’s launching a desperate smear campaign.

The Dems released a picture of Obama in Africa. Oh no! He really is a black man with ties to Africa. Ahhhh….everybody run. Who cares? I’d vote for a black president, especially someone like Colin Powell. I just don’t like some of Obama’s policies. I don’t like some of McCain’s policies either. And I don’t like much of anything about Hillary.

Each of them want to move Gitmo, eliminate the very thought of waterboarding, etcetra.

Right now, my vote is for NONE OF THE ABOVE! We’ll just have to see who McCain and—my prediction, Obama—choose for veep running mates.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Former Air Marshal & War Vet – Will Work for Food

As the time draws near to my going home from Iraq, I’m a bit concerned about where I’ll work. I don’t have a job lined up or a steady income. The stress of looking for work in order to provide for my family is terrible. Sure, I could get a contract carrying a gun here in Iraq or in Afghanistan as a U.S. government private security contractor, but I want to go home. Besides, that’s not too appealing anyway.

As I think about how I’ve ended up in this precarious situation, I feel there’s a lot the citizens of America should know.

Those who serve in the Military Reserves are often shunned in the workplace. They are often surreptitiously passed up for promotion and job opportunities. Sure, it’s illegal for anyone to do that, but I’m telling you, it happens. Something similar happened to me.

Serving three years as an undercover Federal Air Marshal (FAM) was interesting, to say the least. My first and only experience as a Federal employee, aside from my military service was, frankly, rotten. I saw corruption, abuse of authority, in-fighting and foolish government practices. I saw nepotism and unfair treatment. Who would of thunk it? Yeap, our federal government has some serious issues. The worst part of all is the airports and airlines still aren’t safe!

Things were so terrible at the end of three years with the FAM Service that I wanted to do anything—anything—other than work as a government employee. I finally got an opportunity to be self-employed, and I secured a promising contract with a U.S. government customer. However, when the Reserves called me up, I lost the opportunity I was told would have been perpetual. The government has mandated that any Military Reservist who is called to go to war MUST receive their same job when they return. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to those who are self-employed…even if it is for a U.S. government customer.

Heck, I only stayed in the Reserves because the cost for family health insurance for those who are self-employed in America is totally outlandish! So much for the government wanting to help more American’s become entrepreneurs! Now I’m getting side-tracked. Where was I? Oh, yes…

The last terrible thing that occurred to me before leaving the Federal Air Marshal Service had to do with my being in the Military Reserves. I was told by my direct supervisor, Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge, Bill K….., that I could NOT go to my scheduled military drill which was held on the first weekend of every month. That was totally illegal for him to say that, but being the guy I was, I didn’t fight it. I’m sure he knew that what he had said was illegal, though. He had been a Marine Corps officer in the Reserves himself! I figured I could miss one or two and try to make them up. In fact, that’s what he told me to do, although that wasn’t what I wanted. The bad thing was, it kept happening month after month after month.

I was told by Bill K…. that I could not go to drill again and again because I was continually being scheduled to work on weekends. Bill, my supervisor told me that he could not change the schedules—even though I had given my Military Reserve schedule to him several months in advance. He just didn’t bother to take me off flight status for those days. It was his mistake.

Here’s the clincher: While flying overseas I made several hundred dollars more in per diem and overtime. Bill K…. told me, and it was known around the Field Office, that if I missed out on one overseas flight, I would lose all that extra money in per diem and overtime pay. Furthermore, I was told that if I were taken off the schedule for just two day to attend my military drill that I would miss about 6 or 7 international trips and all the money that it included. But it wasn’t just the money, flying overseas was the pinnacle of the job. It was, you’ll remember, right after the London Bomb Plot—suicidal terrorists wanted to blow U.S. and British planes up in mid-flight over the Atlantic Ocean. I wanted to stop that! That was my job. That’s why I joined the air marshals.

I consulted with two other air marshals in my Field Office who were also in the military Reserves. They too said that they were treated unfairly by the FAM Service for being in the Reserves. They had been ostracized, missed opportunities for professional development within the Federal government, and had been passed up in promotion (even though, knowing their backgrounds very well, both much more qualified than the people who were being promoted).

On that, I called the military Staff Judge Advocate—or JAG, the military lawyers. They told me that I needed to pursue something on the government side of the house. I called the Office of Special Counsel once and I got the number of an ombudsman, but I didn’t pursue anything. In retrospect, I should have, but I feared for my job!

I was so fed up with the government bureaucracy, the unethical decisions I saw from government supervisors, and much, much more that I just wanted out. Moreover, I feared retaliation if I spoke up. I had seen others get in trouble for trying to do their jobs well. Also, I had already been castigated by the Special Agent in Charge (SAC), Michael DeMarte, for asking a legitimate question about the lack of FAM’s anonymity and media reports when I very first arrived at the Field Office. (By the way, a House Judiciary Committee report later fully supported what I had observed and recommended during that open Q&A forum before a certain Deputy Assistant Director and SAC DeMarte. There’s a lot more to that story…which I’ll save for my book.)

Before, and especially after, the Miami International Airport shooting—when two FAMs shot and killed a man who claimed he had a bomb—I asked if I could teach my class on suicide bomber identification and interdiction. I had even been asked by SWAT legend Larry Glick and the International Tactical Officer’s Training Association (http://www.itota.net/) to teach several police officers a few months before in another state, which I did. My request to help share the information I had learned and was knowledgeable about, fell on deaf ears at the Federal government level. …And you thought the communication and overall cooperation for success against terrorism improved after September 11th. Pshaw.

As mentioned, I saw what had happened to others who filed grievances. Many guys were suspended for frivolous things, and their legal rights were usurped. So, instead of going against the grain, I figured I’d just find another job—pretty sad too, considering I had gone into the FAM Service with full intentions of staying in the Federal law enforcement until retirement. (Note: Dozens of my friends have quit that nascent agency. Every air marshal worth his salt has looked for another job.)

The guys at my Reserve unit were very understanding, but I wasn’t able to make up all the days I needed to make my time count towards retirement. (Note: an air marshal’s schedule is so terribly busy and the last thing you want to do on your limited days off is work instead of recover. Flying all the time—way more than flight attendants and pilots—does some serious damage to your health. Two weeks on the ground would have felt wonderful, but it never happened in my three years of flying.)

Here’s where the crazy part comes in.

Finally, I felt I really needed to go to drill so I could get my retirement points and serve in my military leadership capacity with the troops I supervised. I brought it up to Bill K….. He got upset that I’d even bring it up because it would cause a ‘conflict’ in the schedule, even though (once again) I had emailed him my drill dates several months previously.

He asked me to write up a memo, which I did. In the memo I wrote that he told me that I could not go to drill and that I had not been able to go for the last four months. He looked at (I think) and then took it in to an Assistant Special Agent in Charge, one of the original 33 FAMs there prior to 9/11.

Later, Bill K…. called me up on the phone (I was driving home) and proceeded to literally swear and cuss at me, calling me names and telling me that I made him look bad in front of his supervisor. Obviously, he must have been told that what he had done was totally illegal. I listened, calmly and patient, but inside it was just one more thing that made my work environment so unbearable.

It was the last, but certainly not the only, berating I received. I put up with more government corruption and abuse than I thought was possible. It was a sweet day when I gave my two weeks notice.

Even though I’m searching for a job (which is pretty stressful in and of itself), and even though being in Iraq has been pretty tough and horrible in its own way, I wouldn’t go back to the Federal Air Marshal Service no way, no how. To tell you the truth, being in Iraq is better than working as an air marshal. Several former air marshals are working here now as private security contractors. And, you know, at least here in Iraq, I have a fighting chance. The anonymity of American air marshals—the one necessary thing that will save them, the crew, the passengers and the plane—was obliterated under former FAMS Director Tom Quinn and it will be nearly impossible to get back.

Last month the media reported that al Qaeda was going to shift its tactics and look for targets of better opportunity outside of Mesopotamia (a.k.a. Iraq). To my not-so-undercover brothers on commercial airplanes, I say: Watch Your Backs! And I mean that in more ways than just one.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Top Blogs

Since this is the 101st posting since I’ve begun blogging (which sometimes I feel is more of a ‘weird blog’ than a ‘war blog’), I thought I’d give links to a few of the better blogs below—the ones I’ve enjoyed writing the most, or the ones with the best message.

For a comical, but true description of my room and living conditions, see Fleas, Rats and Port-a-Johns.

The thoughts and memories of Cops for Christmas make me feel good inside. It’s a message I’d like to share more than just during the holiday season.

Of course, Military Death Notifications and A Tribute to My Brothers-in-Arms, the Marines, speak volumes about those in military service.

If you want to know why I’ve tried to have a good attitude while I’ve been here, regardless of whether or not you or I think this is a just war or not, read ‘Daddy, Why do You Have to Leave?’

Of course, I’ve often had A Rotten Attitude, nonetheless. This blog might make you think twice before whining. Of course, I have had the attitude of gratitude too, like during Thanksgiving in Iraq.

Most people don’t know what’s it’s like to be pulled away from their families for a year or more, and go to war. To understand the feelings of homesickness, and how badly I miss my kids, read ‘Oh it hurts me so to watch my baby grow up in pictures.’

It would be terrible without support from home. See A Tribute to My Angel Wife if you want to know how fortunate I am.

Some haven’t been as lucky. My Friend was Shot and Killed only a few weeks after being married to his sweetheart. I still stay in touch with her occasionally and only wish I could do more to console her aching heart. We both wish Brian were still alive.

Lastly, if you want to learn my perspectives, not only on war but on leadership and life, I’ll refer you to My Going to War Advice and Internal Cleansing of America’s Social Disasters. On that last note, I have thought about running for a political office one day.

And, finally, my all-time favorite: if you read anything I’ve ever written, please read about the real American heroes on my pick for Person of the Year. Please read Person of the Year and pass it around to everyone you know.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

LAPD SWAT Officer Memorial


Los Angeles Police Officer Randy Simmons who was killed last week in a SWAT operation (pictured above)

Me at Camp Pendleton’s Marine Corps’ Special Operations Training Group ‘shoot-house’ where LAPD Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team trains (pictured above)


When a police friend of mine sent me a note saying that it was Officer Randal Simmons that died, I got a little choked up. I remember a few names and several faces of the good men I met with LAPD SWAT when I attended their Advanced SWAT School several years ago with other members of the tactical law enforcement community. Randy’s name and face, I remember.

He was shot and killed last week by a barricaded gunman. He led a wonderful life and he will be missed.

Click here to see news video of his 15-year-old son speaking about his dad at the memorial services, as well as other commentary on the good life of Randy Simmons. http://video.knbc.com/player/?id=218888

NOTE: Trust funds have been established for LAPD SWAT Officers Randal Simmons through the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union (LAPFC). To make a donation, please go to: http://www.lapfcu.org/and click on the red square titled "LAPFCU Community Corner." Donations may also be received by mail:

LAPFCU Blue Ribbon Trust Fund/Officer Randal Simmons
Acct. 2030077-product code S4.12 16150
Sherman Way
Van Nuys, CA 91410
(877) 695-2732

Monday, February 18, 2008

Che Guevara, Hero or Zero?




The latest news is that some Obama campaigner also likes Che. I’m not going to comment on that one, but I thought the picture of the Cuban flag adorned with the famous picture of one of the biggest anti-heroes on earth was worth posting nonetheless.

I’ve been eager for some time now to give a tidbit on Ernesto “Che” Guevara. As one who’s studied numerous revolutions/counterrevolutions and insurgencies/counterinsurgencies, I know a side to Che Guevara like not many other do. Moreover, I happen to know some other secrets about Che from the grandson of the man who took his famous picture.

Che is not someone to be idolized. No Marxist revolutionary-murderer should be. He is not a hero or an icon. He is no friend of goodness, justice, equity or fairness. Beside Fidel Castro he pulled off a coup that would usurp the Cuban people of whatever hope they would have had for freedom in the future and replaced it instead with a totalitarian rule that has burdened the people of the communist island since 1959. There’s a good reason why so many Cubans have fled to Florida: FREEDOM. The others simply don’t know any better. They’ve never tasted freedom.

My friend, the grandson of the famous Cuban photographer Alberto Korda, fled Cuba with his father when he was a child. He doesn’t tell most people about his families’ background, but he told me. My friend loves America’s freedom and despises the communism of Cuba. My Cuban-American friend detests Castro and Che, even though his grandfather was a personal photographer for both men.

My friend’s sister is a psychologist. One of her clients went to the Cuban jail years ago when the totalitarian regime held her son. She pleaded and begged to see her son. Che, alive at the time and at the jail, said, “You want to see your son?! You want to see your son?!” The guards brought him over and before he could embrace his mother, Che shot him in cold blood. He murdered this woman’s son right in front of him. And, this was not an isolated event! Che was an evil man. Period.

It’s repulsive to me that his face is on flags, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and hats. He’s idolized by those who are either foolish, brainwashed, ignorant, or just plain supporters of Marxism and murder! It made my stomach sick to hear reports that the movie “The Motorcycle Diaries” idolized him, and that last year a man with too much money on his hands, purchased locks of his hair for more money than most any Cuban has ever held at one time—or likely ever will.

Now I’m on my soapbox!

After Che helped ruin Cuba, he went to sub-Saharan Africa and got his tactics handed to him by British commandos. As the loser he is (yes, sometimes we need to stand up and call evil, evil), he lost and went to Bolivia where U.S. Special Forces in joint-ops with the CIA stopped him for good.

Isn’t it horrible that Time magazine would honor this guy as a ‘hero and icon’? I think they got that one wrong (calling evil good). Just like it was a bit strange that they’d honor Putin as their Person of the Year, last year. Well, here’s something you MUST read. It’s the real Person of the Year. There’s no deception there.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tugging at My Heart Strings

I learned something today that pulled on my heart strings. My mom said that when my wife and our kids were visiting her over Christmas that my oldest son saw the sign on her living room wall that read ‘Home Sweet Home’.

“Grandma, do you really believe that?” He asked innocently.

“Yes,” my mom replied, eager to know what my son was thinking. “Do you?” He told her he didn’t know because I was gone all the time. She almost started to cry.

I think about hanging out with my boy nearly everyday. When I used to tuck him in to bed, I’d give him a big hug and say, “you’re my best friend. I love you, buddy.”

“I love you too, dad.”

I just wrote him a really long letter. In fact, I wrote all the kids. I feel so bad being away. It hurts him and it really hurts me too. I don't want him to suffer like I did when I didn't have a dad around. More than once, I remember wishing I could play catch with a dad like the other kids did. No one should be blamed. Divorce happens. That’s the fact of life.

Unfortunately, I've been away for a large part of my kids’ life. I hate it, and I didn’t volunteer for this deployment, but on the other hand, I need a job. It's a terrible balancing act. It’s a warrior’s bane.

The day before one of my co-workers died, his son, then 9 or 10 years old, told him on the phone that he hated him for always being away. I know the boy didn't mean it; he was just hurt and wanted to see his dad. Of course, his dad felt horrible about it and told everyone. The worst part is, he was blown up by a bomb the very next day. The poor kid will have to live with that forever—that he told his dad he hated him just before he died.

If I could do one thing today it would be to tell those closest to me how much I love them, and if I’ve ever done anything to cause them pain, then I’m sorry. I think if we did that often enough, we would have more peace in our family relationships and communities, and greater peace throughout the nation and the world. …And then I could come home. We could all come home.

We’d all be wise to follow the diplomatic and tactful statesman, Woodrow Wilson, who said:

If you can come to me and say, ‘Let us sit down and take counsel together, and, if we differ from one another, understand why it is that we differ from one another, just what the points are, ‘we will presently find that we are not so far apart after all, that the points on which we differ are few and the points on which we agree are many, and that if we only have the patience and the candor and the desire to get together, we will get together.

May the Lord bless us with peace and love at home. The strength of our communities and nation lies with strengthening the fundamental unit of society: our families.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happiness: War’s Social Faux Pas

I’d like to personally thank the guy or gal who invented Instant Messaging. With a webcam I can see my wife and kids over the Internet and ‘chat’ with them often. It’s a modern-day miracle! (ughum, thanks Al Gore.) After chatting and then going to work out while listening to my ipod, the natural joy chemicals started to flow. I feel like singing at the top of my lungs. But I’ve learned I should not be too happy at war.

Today I heard that a really good soldier went home for his two weeks of ‘Rest and Recuperation’, and on the last day of his leave he checked himself into the hospital for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I’ve already heard a few people offer him no pity. They say it was a ploy to stay home. Ploy or not, if the man is desperate enough to admit himself into the hospital for severe mental health issues, there’s clearly something wrong! There isn’t much sympathy in an organization that’s developed a ‘suck-it-up and drive-on, soldier’ mentality.

When I came back from leave, I was happier than ever. When someone asked rhetorically how I was doing, I replied like I always had prior to coming to Iraq. I’d say with energy and enthusiasm, zest and belief, “Wonderful” or “Super”, or “Couldn’t be better unless I were twins”, to borrow my uncle’s line.

The response I received wasn’t good. In fact, others would look at me like they didn’t want to be around someone so happy. Everyone walked around with a sour puss. Talk about gloomy! After being back now about three weeks, my overall enthusiasm has begun to wane. Except for the unusual joy I’m feeling now, the trolls have pretty much branded me with their contagious infection. The truth is, it’s not very polite to be so happy when everyone else is gloomy.

Yesterday someone asked me how I was. “I’m surviving,” I said, trying to blend in. “How are you?” I added.

“I could be better.” We seemed to agree with each other’s plight, and then simultaneously walked away with our heads down to the ground and our bottom lip dragging near our combat boots.

I think the next time someone asks, “How’s life treating you?” I should respond, “Like a baby treats a diaper!”

Whaa, whaa! Let’s just all go eat a plate full of worms.

ENERGIZE!

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

“Hey First Sergeant,” I said with some enthusiasm when he walked into the room. “How are you?”

“Good, sir. How are you?” He replied.

“Fantastic.” I lied, and then confessed with some sarcasm and truth, “It’s Valentine’s Day and I have no one to kiss.” I thought of my wife.

“You haven’t asked me yet!” He quipped, and we both laughed.

Poor guy—he started a new family when he married a nice divorced woman. They were only married one month when he had to leave to come here. Suffice it to say, he has told me he’s ready to retire.

Dwindling Work Performance and Standards

video

Not only have the boots and the uniforms changed from when I first entered the Army, but the overall discipline of the troops seems to be a bit different too. (Perhaps this hilarious video sheds some light on why.)

…Of course, now everything’s run by computers and electronic maps too. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer a good map, protractor and compass to a GPS, and a sturdy pen and pad to an e-notepad computer.

The computers went down not long ago and the war operations just about halted. I’m not exaggerating (well, maybe just a little).

There was a time when a WWII written operations order for a major battle involving several divisions might have been only 25 pages…to include appendices! Now a company order—incredibly smaller than a division-sized element—is much longer than that (i.e. 35 electronic pages complete with colorful graphs, charts, and unnecessary bells and whistles). And that's no exaggeration!

I think we’ve just created more work for ourselves—more emails to check (and write) and more busy work to do. With the advent of wonderful technology has come an overload of information and an excess ability to produce just about anything we want. That’s why it’s essential to never ‘major in the minors’, a term I have used often when speaking on leadership, self-improvement and quality organizational management. Stay on task. Concentrate. Too often, entire organizations fall because of this complex issue, and individual workers spend more time reading and forwarding 'junk mail' than getting their jobs done in an effective and efficient manner.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Skilled Artist-Terrorist


I received this picture a few years ago from a friend who was here in Iraq. You can see two U.S. military men holding the confiscated picture on either side.

I’m not going to give an opinion either way about the war in Iraq in connection with Weapons of Mass Destruction, the WTC collapse and Saddam Hussein except to point out that the artist must have surely liked both 9/11 and Hussein—or at least thought Hussein liked it.
Does anyone know what the Arabic says?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Power of Influence


When the phones work, I love to speak with my wife and kids. Too often there’s not a good connection; the phones don’t work well or I’m cut off in the middle of a conversation.

But the other day I got through and, in time, she asked, “What did you do to Twenty-two?” We have developed code numbers for our kids so they can’t tell we’re talking about them. It’s a pretty sophisticated system too. It will take a few more years for them to figure it out even though we can’t spell anything in front of them anymore.

“What do you mean?” I asked. I realized she was near the kids since she had used the code.

“Just a minute,” she said, walking into the other room. When she got far enough way she went on. “He doesn’t want to eat apple sauce. He said you don’t like it so he doesn’t want any. That used to be his favorite. He ate it everyday.”

“What do you mean? I like apple sauce.” I rebutted. And then she explained the glob of putrid goop in the fridge I took a bite of when I went back on my visit. “That wasn’t apple sauce. It was labeled strawberry or something, and it was awful. I took one bite and spit it into the sink. It didn’t have any real food it in, and—”

“Well, he won’t eat it now.” She paused. “And, did you tell him you don’t like lunch meat?”

“Huh?”

“He said you don’t like lunch meat.”

“Sure I do,” I said, struggling to think of what I may have said, but I gave up quickly. “I don’t recall saying that.” A suave lying politician couldn’t have said it better, but I was telling the truth.

All the while I thought of the people whom I influence most: my kids, my boys especially. A poem by an unknown author popped into mind.

A careful man I ought to be
A little boy follows me
I dare not ever go astray
For fear he’ll go the self same way.

I must remember as I go,
Through summers heat and winter’s snow
I’m building for the years to be
The little chap who follows me

I cannot once escape his eyes,
What ere he sees me do he tries.
Like me he says he’s going to be
This little chap who follows me.

I’ve thought a lot about it, and I don’t want to urge or lead my sons into military service. Before my step dad died, he sent me a letter describing in detail the difficulties I could face if I joined the military—I’d have to work holidays and weekends; I’d have to work long hours and shift work; I’d be separated from family for extended periods of time. It was the last quality communication I had with him before he left this groveling sphere.

When I told my once-estranged father that I would be heading over to Iraq, his reply was one of gloom and sorrow for me. He had suffered through Vietnam.

Led by my strong urging and completely supported by my wife, we don’t allow our children to play inane or aggressive video games with fighting, guns or killing. We don’t let them watch violent movies or violent television, nor do we watch that ourselves—at least the real violent stuff anyway. We do not want them to become eager to fight, or bellicose. I’ve always appreciated those who could make peace and live in harmony. I’d like that for me, my wife and children, and our future posterity…forever. Wouldn’t that be great?!

The Voice of a Friend

I had a dream this morning that I was coming home. I arrived in a U.S. airport in a wheelchair, like some of our servicemen and women have from their devastating wounds, and I saw some people I recognized. I did not know them well, but I was so happy to see them. I thanked them for how they used to simply say hello and smile to me. I sensed their kindness. That meant more to me—especially now—than they could ever know.

It reminded me of a note I wrote to someone I think as a friend just before the New Year. I wrote this:

Thank you for being in touch with me over the last several months. To borrow the words of another, those who have not been enclosed in the walls of prison without cause...can have but little idea how sweet the voice of a friend is.

I've had some very tough times here in Iraq. Fortunately most people will not have to experience such trials and struggles. Thank you. Thank you, for your kindness towards me. It meant more to me than I have the power or words to convey.


I think there are many lonely people in the world. Many people who need a smile, a hug, a pat on the back. Obviously, they don’t have to be at war to experience pain. There are enough trials and struggles in the world. I’ll never forget the words I memorized of one church leader, who said, “If we could look into each others hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us face, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance and care.” (Attributed to Elder Marvin J. Ashton)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Confessions of a Police Officer

Most people don’t have any idea about the perspective a police officer has. To the average law-abiding citizen a police officer is just a jerk who is too stern with you when he or she pulls you over and gives you a ticket for speeding. It goes much deeper than that. (Besides, I never liked to write tickets to upstanding citizens when I was a cop; I preferred dealing with the real criminal element.)

When I read Jill’s blog, I finally found a fellow officer who could actually articulate what every cop has wanted to say for years but never knew how. It’s an answer to what every citizen wants to know about why cops act the way they do.

Check it out here: Confessions of a Police Officer

Desperation

I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.

—Abraham Lincoln

My Childhood Home

Gosh, it would be great to be home again just for a day—I mean home to where I grew up. My grandpa’s orchard separated my childhood home and his. Both great-grandmothers lived near us too. I’d pick the dandelions from their lawns and they’d give me fluffy vanilla wafers or hard candies ‘older than the hills’.

My great-grandfathers suffered through the crux of the Great Depression with their young families and they both passed on in my tender years. Death was welcomed for my great-grandmothers, whom I visited often after grammar school. They’d always ask, “What did you learn today?” and I would respond, “Nothin’.” The trend has continued with my children; the response is the same.

At 5-years-old I apprehensively mounted the steer we named ‘Bucky’ for obvious reasons. Like a world champion bull rider I held on for longer than eight seconds, even though I think I cried.

My grandpa chastised us more than once for chasing the chickens.

Grandpa got married then went off to fight the Germans in World War II. I think my grandma was even pregnant at the time with my eldest aunt…or she was just a baby. I’ve often wished I could read his memoirs—journal entries or letters he wrote home. I wonder how war and separation from his true love felt for him. Likely the same as the homesickness I feel now, I suppose.

In the attic he built above his garage there were German military helmets, a bayonet and some old wool uniforms. I’d often rummage through the antiques by myself after wandering around looking for something to do besides playing in the sand box, shooting arrows into the bales of hey or bouncing on my uncle’s trampoline with my cousin—a stark contrast from today’s computer generation.

Stopping in for grandma’s homemade bread was a must. Umm, I can smell it now. (Again, by contrast, the chow hall here literally stinks when you open the doors. I’ve always found that odd, but maybe that’s the reason my stomach has been upset the past few days.) She’d toast it. The butter would melt and she’d top it with her homemade raspberry jam—the same raspberries I helped pick from her garden. Just the thought of real food, homemade and unprocessed, makes me salivate like Pavlov’s dog.

My grandma died years ago, and my grandpa died many years before while I was stuck in an Army training. They said they wouldn’t let me go to his funeral on emergency leave since he wasn’t an immediate family member, though he was my hero and like a dad to me. That was painful.

Grandpa built his house, the house we lived in and other homes. He also built our cabin. Oh, how I’d love to go to the cabin. We’d fish, we’d hike. We would catch lizards and snakes, and go shooting. In the winter, we’d go skiing at the local ski resorts and spend the night at the cabin. Most of all, we would just enjoy being together as family—cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. That’s the most important part of life: family.

I sure wish I could be with my family at the cabin—or anywhere for that matter. I could joke around with my siblings and their families. We could laugh and play games. And I could hike up the mountains with my kids and go tubing down the river with my wife again.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Tribute to my Brothers-in-Arms, the Marines


One of my most trusted friends, a former Marine who has deep roots in the special operations and overseas security contract community, sent me news from CNN who reported on the anti-war, liberal community in Berkley, California. He titled his message, "The latest from the Republik of Kalifornia."

Attached in the article was a picture of a woman holding a sign in protest. She and her ilk want the United States Marine Corps’ recruiters to leave the northern California city. The sign reads:

JOIN the MARINES
Travel to exotic lands,
Meet exciting unusual people
AND KILL THEM.

At first I laughed. Sometimes dark humor is the only way to deal with sad realities. But is it really that funny? Only an hour or two before I was nearly in tears when thinking I wasn't good enough, or clean enough, that my mind has been transformed into something dark and evil because of the realities of war.

If I had been a dentist, I would look at people and think of their lovely smiles, but I chose a different path. I look at people differently. I see the world differently. Coming to Iraq didn't do that; that transformation of taking a civil and moral human being—an honest, innocent, ignorant kid, me—and turning him into someone unafraid to justifiably kill and do it well, happened many years ago.

I can't run away from it. I can't hide it. I've learned it. And, sometimes I wished I had been a dentist so I could live an a bubble of bliss, ignorant of man's inhumanity to man—oblivious of the contention I’ve seen and bereft of my own seeming comfortable justification to use lethal force against any enemy bent on killing me or others. It's not just that either, it's the how that's bothersome. I mean how I'd kill. To know the tactics and techniques as well as I do is utterly repulsive. It’s a nightmare scenario I can’t ever escape.

So while you anti-war protestors sit there in your comfortable homes, with your luxury cars, with food on your tables, and peace in your neighborhood, fat from all the food you haven't had to beg for, soldiers, airmen and Marines are doing things you could never imagine.

You whine because your kids stay at their friend’s house too late. I complain because I haven't seen my kids grow up!

You cry when you stub your big toe. The Marine cries when his best friend gets killed and he has to watch him die.

You complain because the pizza delivery boy arrived late. The Marines are just grateful to have food!

You moan and grumble because you didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas. The only present the Marine gets for Christmas is a tad of homesickness.

You criticize your employer for not paying you more than a six figure salary. When the Marine comes home from war, he can’t get a job because companies are too afraid their insurance costs will rise if he suffers from PTSD.

You bellyache when you have to go to the grocery store for a gallon of milk. The Marine doesn’t even remember what the inside of a grocery store looks like, let alone does he remember the taste of real milk.

You can't even protect yourself. You need the Marines to do it for you.

What happens when godless terrorists obliterate the Golden Gate Bridge and take out half the city? What happens when they destroy the power grid and then release harmful chemicals into your city? What would happen if a country in opposition to the United States decided to invade America beginning at your very city? You don't even know what pain is. You should fall upon your knees and thank God that he sent the Marines to Iwo Jima so your parents and their parents didn't have to fight off the enemy at the northern shores of California. You should be grateful that there are good men and women willing to fight, and endure unmatched mental, physical and emotional anguish, so you can keep the wonderful freedoms you enjoy, like your Constitutional Amendment rights, the freedom of speech and the freedom of peaceable assembly.

The Marines are doing what they do so you can stand on the streets in the best country on the face of this planet in protest about something you have no clue about. Fortunately, thanks to the love of God, country and the U.S. Constitution, it also gives us the right to wholeheartedly disagree with you—and put it in writing for the whole world to see!

If there's one thing the United States Marine Corps is doing its fighting so that others may live and enjoy freedoms similar to the ones you take for granted each day. Ours is a mission of peace, not war.

Finally, I'll end my raucous rant by quoting General Norman Schwarzkopf, the allied commander during the first Gulf War, who fought here in this same austere and arid land almost two decades ago.

A professional soldier understands that war means killing people, war means maiming people, and war means families left without mothers or fathers. All you have to do is hold your first dying soldier in your arms, and have that terribly futile feeling that his life is flowing out and you can’t do anything about it. Then you understand the horror of war. Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar. And still there are things worth fighting for.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Military Appreciation

video

While I do not endorse the product shown on this video, I do like the commercial itself. This exact thing happened to a group of us while on leave last month. There were at least 50 of us all in uniform getting ready to head back to war. A big, special thank you to the volunteer force at the USO in the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport who made it all happen, and thanks to the good people who stood up and clapped for us, shook our hands and mouthed ‘thank you.’ It gave me chills.

Yes, there still are plenty of Americans who love, appreciate and remember the troops.

Fools mock, but they shall mourn

Pride and arrogance can never make someone truly happy. Unfortunately we’re all susceptible to the impervious temptations of unattractive qualities. Take our first impression judgments, for example. Almost unconsciously we look at other human beings and begin to pick them apart. We size them up. And, shame on us if the idiosyncrasies or weaknesses of others buoy us up with a sense of pseudo self-worth.

We too often unfairly compare and contrast others to molds of our ideal paragons yet we hold not the mirror to ourselves. Why not? Because, we mostly judge ourselves not by how other people see us but by how we see ourselves from the inside looking out.

No one I know goes around continually admitting their wrongs or openly admitting their magnified personality annoyances. On the contrary, they cannot see them. We all have such a veneer that serves as a vaccination and shield to protect our mental self-imagine and overall well-being.

Yet a healthy self-esteem must include honest self-introspection and also humility and appreciation for others, for when we tear others down—in our minds by our thoughts, or by our words or actions—it is impossible to rise above and be great. You’ll recall it is written in the Bible, that whosoever exalts himself will be abased (humbled) and whosoever is abased shall be exalted. No haughty, back-stabbing supervisor, CEO, politician or pundit is truly great, though the position might suggest it so.

I hope to follow more closely the example of Benjamin Franklin, a statesman and diplomat who was so skilled in his interpersonal associations and communication that he, among other things, was asked to be the U.S. ambassador to France. What was the secret of his success? Said he, “I will speak ill of no man…and speak all the good I know of everybody.”

Now those are words to live by.

PS If you’re reading this blog, you will see I need to improve in this area.

Mind over Mattress

Since I work too much, too often, if I don’t wake up really early I don’t get any personal time to read, write or work out. I’m reminded of a poem I memorized nearly 20 years ago. I can’t believe I still remember it. I guess there are benefits to not using drugs!

Just a tiny little minute
Only sixty-seconds in it;
Forced upon me, can’t refuse it
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,
But it’s up to me to use it
And give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.

More on Delta Force Officer's Forthcoming Book

The Army Times recently interviewed Dalton Fury on his forthcoming book Kill bin Laden. Check out the article here: "Former Delta officer's book to shed like on Tora Bora."

You can also read the blog I wrote on him and the courage it took for him to write it, by clicking here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The $250 Million Dollar Man

"So did you hear the news?" asked a friend here with whom I debate politics with (politely).

"What?" I thought he had information to verify any rumors of us moving into the real combat zone, up north.

"About Romney." He replied pointedly, as if I would know what he was referring to, and added, "He dropped out of the race."

"Yeah, after spending $50 million out of his own pocket," I said.

"Wow, what will he ever do? Now he only has $200 million left. He just might have to go get a real job!" We both laughed.

Amoris Extremis

It's nearly Valentine's Day and I'm in love - big time. Over the past year to date, I've been living and working outside my own home and away from my sweetheart whom I asked to marry me on Valentine's Day ten years ago. So I'm experiencing something I'd call frustration attraction, a deep longing sensation of wanting to be near her.

The nostalgic winds take me back to the beginning. I remember seeing her from across the room. She wore a radiant smile. I stared. And, despite the guy she stood next to, I walked up and introduced myself.

From the time of our intoxicating first kiss and for several months thereafter, I experienced the thrills of love sickness or falling in love, or what the French refer to as le coup de foudre - literally translated as the "lightening bolt."

But as one tenured and experienced man put it, "one comes to realize very soon after marriage that the spouse has weaknesses not previously revealed or discovered." (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Presidents of the Church, 2006, 196.) Such a time further revealed what I recall reading as a lad when one woman painfully put it, marriage is not all "bliss and hollyhocks."

My wife has jokingly said - no doubt to try to console her in the fact that I've traveled abroad far too many years - that we have a successful marriage because we never get to see each other. Sad, isn't it? Yet humor, like sex, adds to the spice of life, love and marriage.

Alas, Mi Amor, my love, with this Valentine's blog let me say, thank you for looking past my faults; thank you for adding joy, humor, wit, devotion, tenacity and love in all its forms to my life. Thank you for giving me our beautiful children and for staying by my side through thick and thin...and even war.

Until our eyes gaze upon each other again and I can hold you in my arms once more, A rivederci my love, good-bye.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

SWAT Team Beauty Queen

I’ve been working lately in the Tactical Operations Center. There’s actually a TV…with the news! I’m very fortunate. As a news-junkie, I couldn’t be more content. I read reports, make timely and crucial decisions, analyze threats, write reports, and when there’s a lull (which doesn’t happen often), I can watch the news. It’s not a bad gig, to be honest. I work with a good crew too. I’m really fortunate.

Seeing the news report on the LAPD SWAT team member who’d been shot by a barricaded criminal, who said he killed three people, was terribly sad. My heart goes out to his family and his teammates. In the 90s I attended LAPD Advanced SWAT School. Lou, one of the senior members of the Special Weapons and Tactics team, died during one of our training exercises. It took a terrible toll on the morale of the whole team, as well as all of us, fellow police officers. Lou was speaking with me and giving me some suggestions just moments before he died.

The SWAT community is pretty tight. I have SWAT brothers (and sisters) all over the United States—and the world, for that matter. One of them is Lisa Lockwood. Lisa is my ‘cyber-buddy’. We met through my close buddies at http://www.swatdigest.com. Lisa has an amazing background. She’s a speaker, author and life coach. Her book is titled, Undercover Angel: From Beauty Queen to SWAT Team…a true story.

Check out her website at http://www.lisalockwood.com; her blog can be found at http://lisalockwood.blogspot.com.

Citizen Soldiers

A young lieutenant told me today about how he watched a couple Iraqi civilians get blow up right in front of him from a bomb al Qaeda placed when we first arrived here. I guess I’m not the only one who’s seen death and destruction. I was pretty hard—prideful, really—when speaking about the ‘weekend warriors’ in my last writing. The truth is we’re all people, and we all change in some ways during war.

I’m reading a book about a young American man who served in the Office of Strategic Services as a spy in France just after the Nazi invasion and the subsequent attacks on Normandy, Utah and Omaha beaches. He changed—war changed him—and he wished he could go back to the ignorance and the innocence of his youth.

One of my close buddies I admire asked me if I were feeling depressed after reading my last blog. No, I’m not. After going home, I feel rejuvenated and content. I did feel that way several months ago—annoyed, frustrated and angry. Now, I’m just getting the ready-to-go-home feeling. I’m ready to go back when my time’s up. I’m ready to pack my bags. I’d prefer staying away from bombs, bullets and mortars, and bad guys and terrorists. I’d like to use my mind. I’d like to do more consulting.

In a way, I regret admitting my deepest thoughts and feelings on an openly public domain. One war reporter said several years ago that there definitely needs to be self-censorship; the public just isn’t ready to hear or know some things.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

War is Hell

A Peek at What This Blog Contains.

At the risk of being thought less of, mocked, or ridiculed by peers or whoever reads this blog (which I suspect more and more that less and less people read it), I feel to tell a secret about myself...to divulge publicly something I have rarely, if ever, discussed with anyone outside of the special ops and SWAT community. (I suppose I take some comfort in the idea that no one is reading this, and it’s strictly my thoughts alone.) Here it goes:



Videos released to media show al Qaeda training young boys to kidnap civilians at gunpoint in Iraq. These small boys look about the same size as my son.

While I was on leave, I’m told some Marines shot and killed young boys with toy pistols that looked more realistic than the toy pistols in the U.S. They weren’t blamed. Apparently, the kids pointed their pseudo-weapons at the combat patrol.

Would I kill a kid? Would I kill a woman? Many female suicide bombers have begun terrorizing the area, you know. So, would I? Absolutely. Anyone who’s worked with me in a tactical capacity knows that I made that decision a long, long time ago. You can’t wait until the last moment to make difficult moral, ethical or psychological decisions like that. But I guarantee I’m the exception, not the rule when it comes to that.

Most people in the military don’t have the same experience or background that I do. As a reservist, there’s even a greater division. Think about it: I work with people who work at Walmart, General Electric and car dealerships—and those are the supervisors! There are teachers, construction workers, computer geeks, and even a cook from Hooters here. They’re seriously ‘weekend warriors’ and ‘citizen soldiers’, with an emphasis on citizen!

Believe me, I’ve felt like the odd-ball for far too long. I have often wished to be working with guys like me—people that speak my language, guys I understand and guys who understand me. Most importantly, men I’d trust with my life. It’s not like that for me in the conventional unit I’m currently serving in, which is one of the reasons I was so distressed early on and even lost my cool once or twice.

Although I’m a subject matter expert in my field and have been treated that way for many years, here my advice has been disregarded, my opinion unheard. I realize that confession isn’t the best thing to admit to anyone eager to investigate my job claims, but that’s the truth and I can’t lie about it. I suppose everyone’s experienced being underutilized or underemployed at times. And, to think I volunteered to go back active duty into the army after accepting my reserve commission in 2003. By the way, even as much as they were/are hurting for officers, they told me no reserve lieutenants could go regular army. Shocking, I know.

So now whatever knowledge, skills and abilities I may possess when it comes to terrorism, tactics and war, it has little application here in Iraq. Go figure! Suffice it to say, although I get along with others well here, there’s not a specialty job for me here. Being a former noncommissioned officer-turned commissioned officer, peers my age have a much higher rank than me. That makes me even more of an odd-ball. And yes, military rank is the proverbial Scarlett Letter and even though I’ll be a captain anytime now, I’ve learned officers don’t have as much authority or autonomy as I did as an NCO and its incredibly frustrating. But that’s another story altogether. Bottom line: I didn’t ask to come to this unit and I don’t plan to stay with when we get back home.

Anyway, continuing with the thought of killing kids or moms (I may say that nonchalantly, but I’ve had to practice at it), those unprepared—those who haven’t made that decision—may hesitate, and hesitation will get you (me) or others seriously injured or killed. Forget that. I’m going to win!

There’s nothing appealing about killing though. Hollywood makes killing seem fun. Violence in the media upsets me, to be honest. I don’t like it and I don’t watch rated-R movies or violent movies of other ratings. I guess that’s one of the reasons why my buddies have referred to me as such a paradox. They don’t think Mormons can be good Mormons (or Christians, for that matter) and at the same time be good at their police or military jobs, which invariably involve killing at some point, or training to do so. Yes, as members of the LDS church we can honorably serve in the military or in law enforcement and maintain and enjoy the same status, rights, privileges and blessings that come to any other member of our religion.

What can I say? I’m a bona fide, living, breathing, walking dichotomy.

At the risk of being thought less of, mocked, or ridiculed by peers or whoever reads this blog (which I suspect more and more that less and less people read it), I feel to tell a secret about myself...to divulge publicly something I have rarely, if ever, discussed with anyone outside of the special ops and SWAT community. (I suppose I take some comfort in the idea that no one is reading this, and it’s strictly my thoughts alone.) Here it goes:

I’ve trained for so long on how to kill, and do so very well, that I have been interested to see what it feels like. Phew! There, I said it. That may sound like I’m some sociopath or a demented psychopath. But that’s not the case, or if it is, I haven’t been clinically diagnosed. Seriously, though, I don’t want to ever kill, I’m not eager or bloodthirsty, but then on the other hand, I wonder what it would be like to justifiably kill and save another person from being killed. I’ve shot hostage takers in the face numerous times in training over the years.

I’ve been trained and have trained (even much more than the average tactical guy) on ending life, and I’ve never done it, which I know is good, of course. But with guys like me, with jobs like I’ve had, it’s like being on a baseball team and never playing a game. No one wants to sit on the bench the whole season and if they play, they want to hit a grand slam homerun or turn double plays.

Many of my friends have been in firefights. Some people have told me they wouldn’t pick anyone to do a ‘mission’ of any sort, unless they’ve been in at least five heavy firefights and have survived without having curled up in the fetal position or wet themselves. Although I’m confident I could react psychologically, tactically and physiologically adroit or well, I still haven’t been ‘tested.’

But with tests come trials.

Dave Grossman, one of the foremost authorities on the psychological impacts of killing in combat, showed that the combined total of U.S. soldiers in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War pulled from the front lines as a result of psychiatric casualties was higher than the total of soldiers killed in action. That’s quite revealing.

Someone once said a mind once expanded never gains its original dimension. Well, I cannot remove some of the things I know. Believe me, there have been times I have cried over what I know.

I’ve killed so often in training and in my head for over a decade that it’s like I’ve done it for real hundreds of times. I’ve dreamt about it. I’ve thought about it without meaning to at odd times. Lately, through self-introspection and pondering, I have wondered if, since the mind is the final power that invariably creates, condones or expels post traumatic stress, if those who use their mind to envision killing and their bodies to do it through realistic training, if they too can be susceptible to PTSD. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that people who have never killed can still have the capacity to suffer as if having killed based on what I’ve presented above. (I’ll have to ask Dr. Nancy Kobrin, a friend and expert on PTSD.)

In the end, though, war is hardly ever any good. The thrills and successes of having done a job well, like surviving and winning a firefight, can be quickly diminished when accidents or collateral damage occurs.

On October 26, a Humvee gunner followed the proper rules of engagement and fired a warning shot near a bus when it wouldn’t stop. The bullet ricocheted off the street and into the bus, striking and killing a 7-year-old Iraqi girl named Ayah. According to the terribly sad article, Marines on scene tried to offer aid, but the locals refused and took her to a nearby hospital where she died. Jamal Abu Khalid, Ayah’s father is quoted as saying, “I do not forget my daughter. Every time I see a bunch of kids playing outside I think of her.” (Geoff Ziezulewicz, Stars and Stripes, Mideast Ed. “Fallujah park created in girl’s memory”, February 6, 2008, 4.)

Don’t believe the Hollywood hype. Even if it seems like an accurate portrayal, you can never know until you’ve lived it yourself. And I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone because war is hell.

Vox Populi

Vox populi is Latin for “the voice of the people; the popular opinion.” The term bespeaks the power of the current election campaign and Super Tuesday. Isn’t it wonderful to have such a democratic voting process where the will of the people is granted? It wasn’t too long ago that the people here in Iraq were able to vote. Indeed, the majority won.

I read the United States Constitution today. What a wonderfully inspired document!

Article II, Section 1 states of the President:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:-- “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The Founding Forefathers formulated a government that would grant people to be free—where the people would rule, and a single person or a group of government officials would not rule and could not rule with anarchy and chaos but would represent the will of the people.

Prior to his death one ancient king created a government with judges and relinquished the power of one man to rule with limitless authority. He told his people,

Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you. For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction! (The Book of Mormon, Mosiah 29:16-17)

When we look for examples of totalitarian rulers, warlords and the like, throughout history and throughout the world, this proclamation truly has profound merit. We can consider the likes of: Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Nicolae Ceaucescu, Benito Mussolini, or more recently, George Habash, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jung-il, Augusto Pinochet, and Usama bin Laden.

Continuing, this aforementioned king, said,

Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people. (Mosiah 29:26)

In American and throughout the modern world people can vote by their own volition. That’s a privilege we often don’t consider.

In a very early period in history, the Latin term referenced above was often used as a small part of a bigger saying: Vox populi, vox Dei, meaning “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” In other words, as mentioned, usually the voice of the people desire that which is good.

In a letter from the scholar, poet and teacher, Flaccus Albinus, to Charlemagne (a.k.a. Charles the Great, the “father” of Western Europe) in 798, Albinus wrote,

And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.

He has a good point, and to that I would say refer again to the above citations and, keep reading. Because truly, rebellions, insurgencies, coup d'├ętats, as well as ethnic cleansings, genocides or whatever you want to call it, are promulgated by the will of a band of people. The will of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (S.S.) was similar, although demonic and devilish. The janjaweed, literally “devils on horseback”, who are murdering people in Sudan are bound together with the same ilk.

This is why integrity must come before loyalty. Loyalty to integrity and just principles are more important than loyalty to an idea or a social pathway. Loyalty knows no virtue. It cannot distinguish cults, criminal or terrorist gangs, ideological or moral err, nor social deviance.

Of a necessity wars and low-intensity conflicts have occurred from the beginning of time, some justly fought for the defense of human liberties. All over the globe, there have been skirmishes, insurrections and rebellions in the name of political voting. Consider the current intransigency of the leaders and tribal fighting in Kenya. That convoluted mess will likely continue for some time.

I can think of dozens of countries and leaders, from the Orange Revolutions to the Rose Revolution, and from Central America to the Levant to the Sub-Saharan Africa, who fight for right and reason and, on the corollary, have fought for the trivial and unjust.

Wouldn’t it be great if every country enjoyed the freedoms and prosperity and wealth of the United States? I don’t mean that to sound hubristic or boastful.

Wouldn’t it be great if every child could have a safe home, quality medical care, and food in their bellies?

It sure is good travel outside the United States every so often to see how really good we have it. It makes me want to become a philanthropist—a humanitarian do-gooder—forever.

P.S. I just learned that some good friends of ours are moving to India to work for a while. They are going to learn lessons in gratitude most of us have never even considered. I think that will be a wonderful experience for them.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Military Death Notifications

Church in Iraq is quite different than church back at home. For one, I stepped on a machine gun not long ago while walking to take a seat. If you thought your church pew was uncomfortable try sitting for an hour on a bench made out of only a few 2x4s.

The post chapel has a Wall of Remembrance where the pictures of those killed in this area are hung.

There are a handful of chaplains and many different types of services conducted to accommodate military members of all faiths. The chapels are always taken up on Sundays. I've attended a few different religious services of other faiths, and occasionally members of other faiths join our congregation.

Today a hard-core Gunnery Sergeant from the US Marine Corps said a few words that I really wanted to share.

As an active member of the USMC, he was assigned as an instructor near Las Vegas for a Marine Reserve element. One of his duties was death notifications. He dreaded the thought of doing it, he told us. But finally, inevitable as it was, the day came. He got dressed up in his fine-pressed garrison uniform, complete with all of his shining combat awards, medallions and battle ribbons.

"It's the hardest thing I've done in my life," he said. "I've seen Marines die. I've seen a lot of things..." There was a long pause as he looked to the side, no doubt thinking about the horrors and scars of war and the burdens he still bore.

"I sat in the van outside the house and I prayed, 'Heavenly Father, please, please help me do something or say something to help this family.' " The rough Marine admitted that he hadn't regularly gone to church or prayed often before then. He said he still has a hard time coming to church, even though I've seen him there several times. At one time during his testimony he let a word slip that wouldn't be appropriate for church services, but I don't think he realized his habit has slipped out accidently from his tongue. "Finally," he continued, "the call came and we walked up to the door. I thought my heart would pop out of my uniform. I'm surprised it didn't. I just didn't want to cry."

"As soon as you show up on someone's porch all dressed up in military uniform, holding a folded American flag, they know. They know why you're there...

"Marines realize when they sign up they are inherently accepting some risk. Well, their mothers didn't sign up for that. Their fathers and their little brothers didn't volunteer for that.

"The Marine who died, died here in Fallujah." The Herculean and battle-scarred Gunny pointed eastward towards Fallujah, which isn't too far from here. "He died, along with seven other Marines, by a suicide V-B-I-E-D." Since we were all in combat uniforms and even had our automatic weapons and sidearms there with us in church, he used the acronym which he knew we'd all know well -- Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device, a car bomb.

"Well, he was just 19-years-old. He had scholarships from several schools. But he joined because he wanted to be a Marine.

"I had to come back a couple of days later and tell the family that we'd found out more information. They (the military) had to wait to identify their son because they didn't know what body part was his. It had to be done through DNA testing. Talk about hard. I had to tell them their sons body was torn apart. But here's the thing," he said, finally getting to the crux of the message he had intended to relate to us. "I believe in the power of prayer. Praying's not that hard. You don't have to memorize much. You don't have to use big words. You just talk and God hears you. How do I know that? Because my prayer was answered.

"After I went back the second time, I went over to their house every day for a month. I'd show up every morning at seven and sometimes I wouldn't leave until after midnight. My First Sergeant wasn't with them for more than a few minutes during our first visit, then he told me to stay there by myself. The family told my First Sergeant after the second visit that they wanted me to keep coming over because they said it comforted them to have me there. It wasn't me," he admitted. "It was the Lord. It was because of my prayer."

By the time he finished he was crying and tears had reached all the way down my face as well. I didn't look around the room, but I'm sure there wasn't a dry eye to be found anywhere.

I love going to church. I love going to church here in Iraq. There's something very unique and special about worshipping during times of crises and war.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I'm still alive on Groundhog Day

The Internet cable severed off the coast of Egypt has really affected me. It's amazing how much we (moi, that's French for me -- as in me too, or better put, I) rely on the Internet and e-mail.

It's Groundhog Day everyday for me -- February 2nd over and over and over. Just consider the new report from the Army stating the severe rise in soliders attempting suicide from 2003 to 2007 -- and you thought Bill Murray's character had a crazy binge during that movie!

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that nearly 74,000 former soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004 sought Veteran's Affairs treatment for mental disorders in the year after they returned home. I know some of them. They're my good buddies. I believe that, although it's socially taboo, seeing a mental health professional is nothing to be ashamed of for those in the military or law enforcement. We might do things that most other people will never do, nor can they relate to. We see things and think things... In short, the psycho-social changes people in those professions encounter from post traumatic stress or critical incidents are "normal reactions to abnormal events." Of course, suicide is never the answer. And, I'm glad I don't drink.

I've experienced some frustration though. No doubt about that. Some days there's a complete sense of loss of control. I'm not talking about self-control. I mean, I can't fix problems back home like I could if I were there. I finally got through to my wife to discuss some important things. She hasn't heard from me in a few days. I don't know whether or not she read the blog where I said I might be moving to where Johnny was killed or not. She didn't say, but to be honest, I hope she didn't. Obviously, if she did, that would have worried her more, indeed.

John was an old Army teammate, and she knew him too. I wrote a blog about him a while back ("John is Dead"). Anyway, she had written a bunch of emails. Many of them saying things like, "I'm beginning to be really worried."

The phones are an issue all to itself.

If you think communication during marriage is difficult when you're with your spouse, try being separated by continents and include faulty Internet and phone systems. Yikes! The flames of marriage can sometimes be scorching hot (positively libidinal and/or destructively negative), but without commo, as we refer to it in the military, now you've got problems. But, hey, any good tactical plan accounts for commo failure when (not if) Murphy's Law of War strikes. Although hand and arm signals won't work in this situation, good old fashion snail mail does -- and I'm grateful for it.