Sunday, March 30, 2008

Missed Opportunities

I received a note back from Aaron Cohen today. He had not seen the Amazon large print note. It should read 'hard cover'...and may change on the site by the time you read this. Nevertheless, his book, Brotherhood of Warriors, will be out April 29th. Unfortunately, since I'll still be here in Iraq, I won't be able to attend his upcoming book party in LA. He said Gen. Tommy Franks (ret.), who lent a quote for the back cover, should be in attendance.

I've missed birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and now the great opportunity to meet Tommy Franks!

...At any rate, I should be with my sweetheart and children soon.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Books I'd Recommend

A friend of mine, Mac Epps, wrote a wonderful book I read before coming to Iraq. As a former CIA counterterrorism official, he most definitely has the qualifications for Terrorism and Personal Security: Reduce Your Chances of Becoming a Target. The book is perfect for the international traveler. All Western companies that have personnel or facilities in foreign lands should buy this book for their employees. The vignettes that accompany the suggestions are enlightening.

I've written about Dalton Fury in this blog a couple of times. At one point he put the link to one of my blogs about him on his website. The former Delta Force, counterterrorism officer and troop commander, was chasing down the world's number one terrorist in the mountains of Afghanistan right after 9/11. Kill bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander's Account of the Hunt for the World's Most Wanted Man, can be preordered. It's due out this fall.

Brotherhood of Warriors: Behind Enemy Lines with a Commando in One of the World's Most Elite Counterterrorism Units. The link goes to Large Print. Not sure why. Aaron Cohen and I have been in close contact for a while. He was the Israeli equivalent of the U.S. Army's Delta Force. He's often see on Fox News, CNN and others. He owns a business in LA protecting celebrities now. After the Virginia Tech shootings he was on television speaking about police tactics. He called and we spoke in length about it.

Unfortunately, school shootings are all too common. Dave Grossman and I conversed not long ago via email. Dave is the foremost expert on school shootings and agression. His website is found at, a term he coined.

A couple of years ago, at the beginning of the 34-day Israel-Lebanon war, I was at a counterterrorism conference with my friends from If I had cell phone coverage, I would have gotten the message that I was needed to fly overseas and help provide security for the hundreds of Americans living in Lebanon, who were fleeing. On the news I remember seeing U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feldman. He's one of the greatest guys I've ever met in the federal government.

Anyway, while at the CT conference, I met and heard from John Giduck, author of Terror at Beslan: A Russian Tragedy With Lesson's for American Schools. John knows, more than anyone else, the risk of terrorists attacking schools in the United States. We are not prepared to do what must be done. We cannot fight terrorists conventionally.

It was through my friends at that I met Lisa Lockwood, a motivational speaker and the author of Undercover Angel: From Beauty Queen to SWAT Team...A True Story. Lisa is a kind and well-balanced person. She understands human nature and is an exceptional communicator. She has her priorities in order and fights for things that are good and worthwhile, like stopping domestic violence, sexual abuse and crimes against children.

Dr. Nancy Kobrin will change history. I have read and have become familiar with dozens of books and philosophies on Islamic terrorism. When I was introduced to Dr. Kobrin several years ago through a mutual friend, I quickly became impressed at her theories. Her forthcoming book The Sheikh's New Clothes: The Naked Truth About Islamic Suicide Terrorism, was abruptly pulled from publication by Looseleaf Law after the Pope's comments at Regensburg due to fear of Radical Islamist violence. She has now found a new publisher, The Center for the Study of Political Islam, which will be bringing the book out in 2008. Her work is being used by U.S. Central Command and has been referred to in the Jerusalem Post. Dr. Kobrin has presented at NATO and has taught law enforcement, US Army, USAF, the Madrid police (in Spanish) , Sri Lankan law enforcement and military. She has presented at the Interdisciplinary Center for Counter Terrorism, Herzliya, Israel. Her writings can be found at and

Finally, but definitely not last, one of the best books I have ever read in my life was written by a friend of mine, Jeff Evans, an exceptional motivational speaker and storyteller. He led the world's first blind man to the summit of Mount Everest. His book, Mountain Vision: Lessons Beyond the Summit, is a collection of priceless stories of personal and team triumph, hope, courage and selfless service. It's a must read for everyone, everywhere.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

American Airlines Cancels Hundreds of Flights

I only caught the headlines on the TV in the chow hall, but I thought I heard that American Airlines grounded all their MD-80s.

I wish I had more time to comment on the latest aviation fiasco/fiascos. From a security stand point, so much more could be done to protect our airports and airlines -- our families and friends who fly! Security disasters, even of a relative mild nature, comparatively speaking, would affect the airline industry, and subsequently the economy, in a drastic and significant way.

I'm not one to 'cry wolf' and put people into panic-survival mode except for when I see one coming. And, NOW is the time to urgently make changes in the Transportation Security Administration, to include the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Air Marshal Service.

See also Trigger Happy Pilot's Bullet Pierced Cockpit Wall.

The Reason Why I'm Here

I believe that we can be put in situations where we can do a lot of good. We also should seek for opportunities to do good no matter our situation. In the pathways of our complex lives, occasionally we are enlightened in that we see or understand why we were brought to a certain place or asked to do a certain thing. Ever since a good man named Kevin, who was a stranger to me at the time, suggested that I needed to go to Iraq to stop something from happening or start something important, I believed what he said and I have been looking for that ever since.

This week I finally figured it out, and I did something that has changed -- or will yet change -- the lives of many others for good for their foreseeable future. I was anxious to share that with Kevin before I mentioned it to anyone else.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

CNN and Air Marshals -- Wish I could Watch This!

The Air Marshal Segment on CNNwas rescheduled for tonight
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
http://www.cnn. com/CNN/Programs /anderson. cooper.360/

10:00 p.m. Eastern Time
9:00 p.m. Central Time
8:00 p.m. Mountain Time
7:00 p.m. Pacific Time
or check your local listing here:

http://www.cnn. com/CNN/Programs /

My Future

Not long ago I told my wife on our short phone conversation that I have learned more and have developed more as a person in the last several months than I ever could have living in America with the comforts of home and hearth. I feel wonderfully blessed for all of the opportunities I've been afforded. I am a better man for having faced these trials and struggles, and seeing others face them as well. Now, I am better qualified to help serve my family, my extended family, those in my church and community. I am grateful and exceedingly glad.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

My Personal Witness of Jesus Christ

Nearly two millennia ago about 600 miles west of where I stand, the Son of God gave his life as a ransom for all mankind. He died so that others would live.

I testify that Jesus is the Living Son of the Living God. I proclaim with the prophets that he was and is the promised Messiah, the Emmanuel, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He lives. He overcame death. The tomb was empty on that Easter morn. He conquered death. And because he arose, all will live again -- all will overcome death. O death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory?

At this annual Easter season, I give my personal witness to you that I know, with a sure and perfect knowledge, that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind. I know he lives. I know it.

To learn more visit, or The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles.

Bad News

This morning we learned that a soldier in our sister unit committed suicide last night. I will pray for the soldier's family, friends and loved ones. For those who have never had a close friend kill themselves, I can personally attest that it is a terrible and devastating experience.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Power of Positive Thinking

If You're Blue...

A good friend and fellow Captain pulled me to the side yesterday. He said he wanted to tell me what his mother had often told him -- that there is a purpose to everything. My friend, who works as a middle school teacher back home and is suffering terribly too, emphasized that perhaps we weren't here at all for ourselves but to help other soldiers here. He gave some examples.

I thought his words were inspired. It reminded me to stop thinking of my own worries and look for opportunities to serve.

At age 19 when I began a two-year volunteer mission for my church, someone related the following poem to me:

If you're blue
Find something to do
For someone who
Is sadder than you.

This morning I awoke with great comfort and peace. It's a new day and it's up to me to decide to be happy and to choose my attitude -- to accentuate the positive.

At some point this morning I thought of Viktor Frankl who suffered the worst deprivations and humiliations in a Nazi prison death camp. He survived to write:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. (Man’s Search for Meaning, 1959, p. 86.)

Those are words to live by.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Purple Heart

"Our Gunner's down and he's bleeding from the head!" The shout out over the radio made every heart drop. One of the soldiers in the turret (or hole in the roof) of the last vehicle in the convoy received a blast from a hand grenade someone threw.

I spoke with him today after he was seen by the medics. He stood there holding the scratched glasses that saved his eye sight. He had a Band-Aid over his right temple and was smiling. I couldn't help but think of the comment a good-hearted NCO said of him earlier this morning when he called up the report to higher headquarters. Although he didn't know who the soldier was at the time, he said nonchalantly, "Yeah, one of our guys took some shrapnel to the face, but it's okay, I know the guy and he wasn't that good looking to begin with."

"So," I said to the solider, smiling a little myself while thinking of the comment I had heard earlier, "did you shoot the guy who tried to kill you?" I knew he hadn't, but I wanted to ask anyway.

"No sir," he replied. "I had blood trickling down into my eyes and I couldn't see," he said, still smiling and happy to be alive.

"Well," I said with a big smile, "at least you get a Purple Heart," and I smacked him on the shoulder and winked.

Self Mastery

Over the past several days I've seen two soldiers break down in tears at the stress. NCOs and officers alike have been on edge. Contention is thick. It's a terrible feeling to live and work in such a whirlwind of negativity and abuse. I can empathize even more with those who've been in abusive relationships.

Over the past year I've seen others carry heavy burdens. I feel the weight on my shoulders as well. I've seen grown men cry and I've seen them out of control with rage and anger. A few days ago an officer choked an NCO. It took five people to pull him off. Tempers flare, voices are raised, terrible words are flung. Egos are too often unchecked, and authority is abused. Too often we fight amongst ourselves. I've worked in a team handling tense situations before, and it shouldn't be this way. Some people need to be fired...or voted off the island.

Soldiers have come to me with serious personal and professional issues. I am not in their chain of command, but they said they trust my judgment. It's important to be fair and approachable. I've tried to do all I can to help their individual plight and offer advice and comfort. It's important that we bite our tongues, speak calmly and do no harm to others. The rights of others must never be abused.

Undoubtedly we will experience negative feelings from time to time, but it is imperative that we suppress them, or use them to our advantage to help us learn from them. When ill feelings and temptations go unchecked, people get hurt and everyone ends up losing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Stresses of War -- Fifth Anniversary of Iraqi Invasion

Without a doubt, what I am about to share publicly is the most personal and private thing I've yet to reveal. Many people, myself included, often try to stay aloof. We usually don't open up because we are too afraid of what others may think of us, or we're too embarrassed that we'll be ridiculed or humiliated in public or in private.

Well, with that in mind, I'm stepping outside my comfort zone in a big way to publish this letter I recently wrote to my older sister. In the letter she reminded me, in a loving way, of some silly things I did as a kid -- nothing great or malignant, just light-minded and jovial.

Perhaps what I wrote to her will give you, the reader, some small hint of an idea what things can really be like in a war zone -- even when bullets and bombs aren't flying.

A trusted friend told me recently: "Everyone can eat peanut butter but some people have a reaction to it." I guess everyone has struggles and trials and suffers in their own way. This year has been my Mount Everest obstacle, my private Gethsemane.


I received your letter today. The strain and stress I feel cannot be described. Your letters have given me great comfort and joy. I cannot thank you enough.

I have grown a lot since I was 19. I am embarrassed at the foolishness of youth I once had. I do not want to lose my cheer, but I have changed. I am often angry and depressed. When I read your letter I cried. You will never know the stress of war, and I thank God for that. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Nevertheless, your letters and the love you've shown to me in this great time of need have given me hope and have made me smile -- something I don't do much, if at all anymore. It is comforting to know that someone loves me -- that YOU love me -- enough to send me mail and think of me often.

I love you, Kim. Your kindness has meant more to me than words can ever express.

With all my love, Your little brother,


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ali Hashem

I have been introduced to - and have met - many Iraqis, here, in America and on-line through friends.

I received a comment on a recent blog I wrote by a southern Iraqi, Ali Hashem. You can see his blogspot here:

There is nothing in the world I want more than peace. United together our prayers and efforts can allow this -- inshallah, God willing.

Veto Power

I applaud President Bush for the recent veto on interrogation methods. Long ago I learned that saying 'always' or 'never' is not the sign of wise leadership. In the global war on terror we must not tie our hands. We must keep all of our options open and available.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Combat Life-Saver

Things are hectic, and there is little-to-no time for rest or pause, but journal writing (to include this blogspot) is a great cathartic release for me.

Yesterday we almost lost a soldier. When he test fired his .50 caliber machine gun, it exploded. Shrapnel flew into his leg, severing his femoral artery.

A good soldier I know well, who works as a Miami-Dade cop, acted calmly and quickly. He put a tourniquet around the gunner's leg and provided top-notch medical attention. It saved the soldier's life.

The surgeons were able to graph a part of the vein/artery from his lower leg into the upper right thigh. He's flying out today on a one-way ticket home, and the rest of the soldiers cleaned up the gory, massive amount of blood spilled in the vehicle.

Those are the kinds of stories you never hear about on the news. In fact, yesterday our doctor told me about a guy from another unit here who was stabbed with a knife in the head by an Iraqi. It hit him just below his Kevlar helmet, penetrating about 3 to 4 inches into his temple.

The soldier was coming out of a home after searching it for bombs, weapons and bad guys. As soon as he came out of the door he was attacked from the side. The soldier quickly grabbed his attacker, threw him on the ground and detained him. Only later did he realize a knife was sticking from the side of his head.

The Doc told me the large edged weapon penetrated into the soldier's brain, but he is doing very well in his recovery thanks to a skilled neurosurgeon.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...

Those beautiful words are inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island. They mean more to me today than when I read them years ago and it sent chills up my spine. Today, I feel the yearning -- the yearning to be free, the yearning to do what every immigrant who came to America felt, and feels.

I want to go home. I want to be in America and ne'er return.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Soldiers, My Friends

Convoys in our battalion have been attacked with IEDs three times over the last three days. I worry for the troops. They aren't just nameless military men or women. I've come to know them well. I've shaken their hands and have asked them about their home life, their hobbies and their families. They've confided in me their frustrations and fears. We've laughed together and have complained together. Their names and faces are etched in my memory forever and I worry for them constantly.

Leadership in War

All of the negative emotions human beings are capable of experiencing are amplified and magnified one hundred fold in war. That man (or woman) who can contain that metamorphosis or magnification can soon arrive at a place called self-mastery, though he (or she) might be left with the wounds, pains and scars of war not visible to the naked eye.

Any leader of men must suffer in the crucible of affliction to truly understand the needs and desperation's of those whom he represents, guides, uplifts and inspires.

Leadership can be very lonely and very painful at times.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Potty Talk

I try to always avoid reading the writings -- or looking at the drawings -- on the port-a-john walls, but I could not help but see one statement. It was the only thing written there. Someone had written:

"Robertson tries but never succeeds."

That's not your usual potty-talk statement, if you will please forgive me for the scatological reference. It caused me some serious reflection.

I don't know any soldier or NCO named Robertson, but I immediately began feeling a little sorry for him, and even more so for the poor soul who took the time to write ill of him -- especially in such a place like a plastic outhouse in the middle of the desert!

Two things came to mind when I read that, and both impressions came from the inspiring life of Abraham Lincoln, one of my favorite past presidents.

It is said that 'Honest Abe' at one time expressed, "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt." As worthless as this Robertson character may have appeared to the graffiti artist, there is some serious concerns over the wit of him who took the time to write it.

The second thing I thought of, as mentioned, also had to do with Lincoln. He failed multiple times in business. He failed more times than he won running for public office, but he never quit. When he ran for president, he was almost destined to lose. He was no shining star on the political horizon, but he didn't give up. Tenacity could have been his middle name.

As we gaze through the portals of history we learn that some of the greatest leaders, inventors, musicians and sports figures overcame great odds to succeed. And what was the secret of their success? More often than not it was the will to keep trying -- to never, ever give up, to paraphrase Winston Churchill.

I recently read about an award-winning concert pianist from South Korea who only has four fingers -- two on each hand. I quickly made a mental comparison to Beethoven's own physical defect.

As I thought about this Robertson person, I recalled Babe Ruth's plight. While he led the league in home runs, he also held the record for the most strike outs. I thought of Thomas Edison who failed hundreds, if not a thousand or more times, before he finally invented the incandescent lightbulb. And who can forget the scientist and physician, Paul Ehrlich, who finally found the cure for syphilis? It was called 606 because that's how many times he failed before finally getting it right.

"Robertson tries but never succeeds" is actually more of a compliment when viewed from that perspective. I shouldn't have felt sorry for him at all. The ridicule and pessimistic speech from the mouths and minds (or ink pens) of naysayers and imps, who have nothing better to do with their time, will never go down in history books as great. But those who keep trying despite the odds and despite the pressure of others telling them to give up or to quit because their dreams are impossible, can indeed defy the odds.

As human beings we only have one of two choices: we can try, try again, or we can quit.

I'll never forget the many times getting bucked off spirited horses as a young boy. My dad taught me a great lesson then that has lasted me a lifetime. He said, "Jeffrey, don't let that horse win, and don't let him sense your fear." He'd encourage me to brush off the dust, grab my hat and get right back on. And I did...every time. In time, I even rode sinewy stallions with great confidence.

So don't you ever quit Robertson. While there might be a few calling for your resignation on personal or professional projects, or on life itself, there are more who really want to see you succeed, and I'm one of them. Dust yourself off, and try, try again.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Yesterday's Convoy

Sheets! I actually have sheets -- and a metal bed frame. The room here is great. I live with two others, a young lieutenant and, temporally, a private first class (PFC).

The room can best be described as something akin to what Martha Stewart must have had in prison. It's such a comfort compared to what I've had. And, I mustn't forget the shower. Ah, refreshing, esp. after that dust storm.

In the midst of my own gratitude, PFC Conyers, a 19 or 20 year old kid from the inner city, who is married and has a son and another on the way, expressed his own gratitude.

"You know, sir," he reminisced, "when I saw those kids on the side of the road on the convoy up here, it made me sad."

"Why?" I questioned, even though with kids of my own I could have predicted what he'd say -- or so I thought.

"Because. People -- they ain't know what they got." Funny, I had just been pondering that very same thing.

Of all the nice American-type amenities in Balad (LSA Anaconda), I didn't see one child there on the military installation. There aren't any children on any military base here. I miss seeing children-- my own as well as others'. PFC Conyers added, "When I was on tower guard at Ramadi, I once saw some Iraqi kids diggin' through the dumpster looking for clothes."

I thought about the Iraqi children I had seen earlier that day; they came running up to the road and waved to us as our convoy passed, relocating us to the north. Later, the kids got out of school and walked home. As I saw their decrepit school buildings and shacks, I thought of what I had told my own children about coming to Iraq. I told them I had come to help save the children and make life better for the children of Iraq (See "Daddy, why do you have to leave?")

As I looked at the school kids from the window of my armored Humvee, I wished my own children could see them. Yes, the school building was dilapidated, but at least they could go to school. Both boys and girls could learn -- something that hadn't happened before in many parts of the country.

Prior to the convoy, I snapped several digital photos. I walked around asking all the soldiers I have come to know so well and respect -- and even love -- if they'd allow me to take a picture with them. I must admit, I had an agenda.

If I'm completely honest -- and I try my hardest to be -- I didn't only take the pictures for memories' sake; I did it because I wanted to have a picture with them before the convoy just in case they didn't survive the trip. Horrible thought, I know, but this area is much more dangerous. That is why I did it.

We stood and smiled for the picture. And for a moment, time stood still.

The people in my unit have been blown up well over a dozen times. They've also been shot at, had grenades thrown at them and have been recipients of a few complex attacks, where after a roadside bomb detonates under their vehicle, al Qaeda insurgents shoot automatic weapons at them as they try to care for the wounded.

While we have had some people get injured, including a lot of concussions and a few guys losing consciousness, no one has yet been seriously injured or killed. (NOTE: I'm not counting broken bones, lacerations or concussions so severe they've had to go to hospitals in Germany and the states for medical care as 'serious' for this record...though that in itself is anything but 'minor.')

A lot more people would have died had we not had MRAPs -- Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Members of the House Armed Services Committee, including Ike Skelton (D-MO) and others, came to Ramadi over Christmas to see, among other things, our MRAPs on display. (See The Divided States of America) I had great hopes to speak at length with the Representatives, but I was not afforded the opportunity unfortunately.

Anyway, on the trip yesterday, we did not get MRAPs. Instead, we had Humvees.

As we were driving, I could not help but think of Johnny. He may have died on the very route we took. As I scanned the roadway, the fields and villages we passed, looking for threats, my eyes would occasionally get blurry and I had to blink away the tears before they could fall.

"Vic Two!" the first vehicle radio operator called out in a panic, "watch out for that pot hole. There's something in it." He screamed the words quickly, but by the time he finished we were already to the large hole in the concrete. It turned out to be nothing, fortunately.

Johnny was in a Humvee when he was killed (See John is Dead). While seeing the pot holes we had passed earlier, I thought about how he may have died. Was it quick and painless, or did he suffer? Was he totally ripped apart by the bomb blast, did shrapnel pierce his vital organs or arteries, or did the concussion and blast wave destroy his internal organs quickly, causing him to die?

I didn't seem to care much about the threat of dying or getting blown up yesterday. I was more calm than I've ever been. I think it's because I'm so tired of war. There comes a point where you get numb to it all, I suppose. If you're hyper-vigilant or high-strung all the time, you wear yourself out; if you're not vigilant enough, you're a danger to yourself and others. In war, as in life, you need to have a healthy emotional balance.

I thought about how I could get to my tourniquet and tie it around the severed arm or leg of the guy nearest me in the vehicle. And I thought about the prayer the Chaplain gave before we left on the convoy. Maybe we should should be praying for peace more than we should be praying for protection.

The Sick and Afflicted

Yesterday when I called home, our friend Svetlana was visiting my wife in our home. I asked how her husband Arvydas was doing. "Not well," was the response.

I remember when Arvydas injured his hand and then was diagnosed with a rare, debilitating disease. When I last saw him he had developed deep, dark brown spots all over his face. He had changed so dramatically that even I was shocked to see him. I also knew that the disease was taking a crippling toll on him socially and emotionally. Although I have sent his family an occasional email, now and again, I did not know of his dire situation until yesterday. My wife and I plan to donate some money for the upcoming charity dinner held in his behalf. Please visit the following website that someone made in his behalf.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hamlet's Brooding

A few years ago I checked out Shakespeare's Hamlet at our local library. Today I was reminded of the character's sorrowful state and must admit that at times while here in Iraq, I've felt the same. In Act 2, scene 2, Hamlet laments:

I have of late,--but wherefore I know not,--lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'er hanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire,--why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon ofanimals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor woman neither...

America is Great because America is Good

I believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.

A few years ago I went to the United States Capital building to visit an old friend. It was wonderful to get a private tour of the meeting halls, sanctuaries and rooms in which inspired men and women throughout the history of America have worked tirelessly to enact erudite laws and uphold the Constitution for the benefit of the people.

Ever since my seventh grade German language teacher ran for State Congress and was elected, I had in my heart a desire to do great things for the benefit of the public and community and nation. Without a doubt that is one of the reasons I joined the military many years ago. To me, putting my hand over my heart and repeating the inspired words of the Pledge of Allegiance has choked me up since the earliest time I can remember -- in the second grade class of my elementary school with my wonderful public school teacher, Mrs. Talbot. I thank God that we were able to stand with our hands over our hearts, and look upon Old Glory with reverence and awe as we spoke those inspiring words in unison:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In recent years I have become distraught at those would would make a mockery of all lovers of liberty and admirers of American foundations of freedoms. A movement to usurp the foundations upon which our great nation was built has embarked and reared its ugly head. There are those who seek to change the wording of our national pledge. There are those who feel flag burning is fine. There are those who say irreligion should replace time-honored political practices, like praying before meetings or removing the phrase "In God we trust" from our currency.

To those I say, walk the pathway along American history with me. See and experience the unique treasures of our national heritage, for that is what makes America great. Study the Federalist Papers, review the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Read the Bible.

The strength of a nation lies in its families; it lies in the individuals willing to do good and be good, and to uphold the laws of our civil society. The power of a nation lies in the churches that cross the land; it lies in the family who eats dinner together around a table at night and who pray before partaking of their meal.

The greatness of our nation is found in those who struggle for just causes -- the single mother who goes to work each day and struggles to pay her childcare, or the immigrant who is legally granted a work visa and endeavors in entrepreneurialism.

Our country is great because our country is good.

But I wonder sometimes how it is that so many elected officials have acted contrary to the will of the people and to the respectable laws and cultural positions that we treasure and hold dear. I rue seeing so many of our elected leaders falling short of goodness. Those who make and create the laws must be of good judgment and sound moral character. They must not let anyone or anything stop their responsibility to uphold the life-long values and ethics that have made America what she is today.

The U.S. Constitution is a sacred and inspired document, as is the cherished and immortal Declaration of Independence written and signed by the hand of John Hancock on July 4, 1776, which 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.

Such a pledge would take a great toll on the part of its signers. Many lost their lives in war. Some lost their sons to battle and carnage. Others had their homes ransacked and burned, but they still honored and cherished the Declaration.

If Americans and those who live on American soil will show respect and deference to our laws and way of life, we could prosper and develop, and indeed live a life of Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness without the fear of anarchy and terror. Peace and harmony would reign.

In such a pursuit we must never be xenophobic; we must not shelter ourselves in our communities nor think that we are better than others throughout the world.

An astronaut, and the captain of two space shuttle missions once told a small group of us that America even looks better from space. I believe that. America is great because Americans are good, humble and yet grateful.

I wish I had the reference with me so I could share the words of Ronald Reagan when he was Governor of California. He spoke eloquently and powerfully of pride, the great destructive force of all great nations and empires. He spoke of the ills in society, the abuse of powers, the twisting of unacceptable social norms, a permanent doll that crippled the people. He spoke of the pride and fall of the Roman Empire and the things which led up to it.

Men would do all they could to run away from the call of arms to the duty of their country. Manhood and roles of man were replaced; many men began dressing up like ladies and vice versa. Traditional marriage was attacked. Sexual deviance and 'free love' became the norm. There was greater violence in their society and their sports were more violent as well. The people began to thirst for blood. And all of these things became culturally acceptable.

While the then-Governor Reagan spoke in the Vietnam era, those lessons of the fall of once reputable societies and people still hold as true today as they did during the collapse of the Roman Empire.

We have similar issues today. In this election year my hope is that we can choose Representatives who truly understand threat -- not just the threat of rogue nations, crime and terror, but the threats and attacks so readily seen upon our traditional values, the family and the heritage of the nation that we love, and the freedoms that we espouse.

It is my hope that the majority of the people -- whom I believe to be decent, good, hardworking citizens -- will have their voices be heard and choose elected officials who will represent their rights and do all in their power to make America better for all of us...because America and Americans are still good.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

An Iraqi War Oasis

Last night I flew into Balad from Ramadi. This place is the desert oasis. I feel like we're no longer in a war zone. It's Americanized civilization here: movie theaters, swimming pools, paved roads with curbs and American cars, trucks and SUVs. There are even buses here to transport us around the installation because it's so big. There are fast food restaurants and city lights. Some people have very different war experiences.

Desert mornings are cold. I've been used to shivering in my sleeping bag without a heater in my room. The last room I was in (this is my third move, and not my last) was poorly constructed and had gaping holes and cracks in it big enough for the mice that I'd see and hear in the evenings to fit through. (Note: I learned that mice like Craisins. One ate a hole through my Craisin bag.)

While Balad doesn't resemble the luxuries of any city in America, per se, it still has given me a bit of American culture shock with it's bizarres, pedicure booths, and massage tables. I'm not kidding. There are sidewalks and city lights too! It's no wonder I've seen so many Air Force personnel here.

Most soldiers and Marines joke that in luxurious living like this, one should have brought his swimming suit to Iraq where he could work on a sun tan by the pool.

Its hard to believe I'm still in Iraq.

I won't be here long though. Yesterday some soldiers from an Infantry unit were seriously injured and one was killed by a roadside bomb. Since ours is a counter-IED (improvised explosive device) mission, I may be moved closer to remote living spaces near Mosul, an al Qaeda bastion.

I often think of my dear friend and Army teammate, Johnny. He was killed a few months ago not far from here when a bomb exploded under his Humvee. Even now, the thought of him dying like that tears up my eyes. All the pundits and politicians, or the citizens in America living in their comfortable dwellings vice the squalor I've dwelt in, can have their opinions about staying the course in Iraq, or conversely, about getting out this instant. While their words, thoughts and feelings matter to me, they seem almost moot, for they have not suffered through THIS war.

Unfortunately, I have not had the privilege of mingling with local Iraqis. Some friends of mine from the embassy I ran into asked me to go with them to Sheikh Abu Risha's ranch, the leader of the Anbar Awakening sheikhs. (Note: I heard and felt the bomb that killed his brother and predecessor, Sheikh Sattar.) But I was told in no uncertain terms that I could not go. I was livid.

One of my special operations colleagues said those above me were perhaps feeling a bit of jealousy over my connections and subsequent opportunities. Perhaps I'll save the full story for my book, along with how happy I was to see Jeffrey Feldman become the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon and work though the 34-day Israel-Hezbollah war while in that position. Ambassador Feldman is a genuine and good-hearted man who won my respect when I knew him before he became ambassador.

One last story. Last week some friends of mine from Civil Affairs invited me to go meet the mayor and deputy mayor of Ramadi, and go to the local business center. I would have loved it too, but for this abrupt and unplanned move...for me, at least.

Master Sergeant Jay Adams, a Vietnam veteran, who ironically knows my in-laws and remembers my wife when she still lived with them, told me of an Iraqi man who went to the business center to looking for work. He had his son wait outside while he entered the building. As his son waited in the crowd, a demonic despot drove a car laden with explosives into the courtyard and blew it up. The son was killed.

I think too often we trivialize or forget the great number of Iraqi deaths. The good people of Iraq have suffered more losses and more casualties than our military force. They want peace. They want to stop al Qaeda and the insurgents of their ilk as much or more so than you or I -- because al Qaeda is destroying their families, their neighbors and their way of life right in their own communities. They've heard and felt the explosions. They've suffered more pain and sorrow than most of us will ever realize -- and hopefully we will never have to endure.

The constant barrage of suicide attacks and IED attacks, kidnappings, extortion and torture they're experiencing is a constant daily threat.

This war is a conundrum. There's no simple solution. And, believe me, there's no one more anti-war than I am.

PS I recently went wandering around outside looking for a place to relieve myself when someone said I should go back in the building and use indoor plumbing. I can't believe it. Indoor plumbing! That's great. This base is terrific.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Leadership Philosophy

I was asked to write a 500-word essay on my leadership philosophy to apply for a company command. Here it is:

The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.

—Thucydides, 5th Century Greek Historian

Recently I read an account about WWII war heroes. The author related accounts from Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and then mentioned what I believe to be a mandatory characteristic of quality leadership. He wrote,

“Average leaders used the carrot and the stick to motivate those around them. Great leaders communicate a vision that captures the imagination and fires the hearts and minds of those around them. Average leaders inspire people to punch a time clock. Great leaders inspire industry and passion.

“You can get people to work by using threats or by promising rewards. But if you want to create a band of brothers, you must inspire those who work with you and encourage them to give their all in a great cause.” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Ensign, “Band of Brothers”, Feb 2008, p. 31.)

His words reminded me of the wit and candor of General SLA Marshall, a WWII veteran and author of Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War, who observed, “War is much too brutal a business to have room for brutal leading… The good company has no place for the officer who would rather be right than loved, for the time will quickly come when he walks alone.” He also added that “if they (the soldiers) do not deem him (the leader) fit to command, he cannot train them to obey.” (See pp. 200-201 and 168, respectively.)

In my 12 years of military service, working as a private, and later as a supervisory noncommissioned officer, and now a commissioned officer, I’ve learned the value of team work. The best leaders—the leader I try to be—surround themselves with people more talented than they are. Every winning team must have skills which no single person possesses alone. The greatest leaders whom I’ve tried to emulate understand as did King Author when he recalled the purpose of the Round Table. Said he, “Violence is not strength, and compassion is not weakness.” (Camelot, the musical play written by Alan Jay Lerner based on a novel by TH White.)

Finally, adroit leaders have the ability to see what cannot be seen, create and achieve it. In their goal-setting they manage projects by proper prioritization, never majoring in the minors. Leaders are not better than others; they only represent and speak for members of the team. They serve alongside those they supervise and they understand human nature. Great leaders praise more than discipline. Quality leaders hold fast to civilized values. Moral leaders make the right choice even when no one else is watching. Genuine leaders inspire and encourage others by example as well as by voice. Real leaders—not just managers or those in positions of authority—admit mistakes, never abuse power, and act tenaciously in all their endeavors; they make tough decisions for the good of the mission and for the benefit of the team before themselves. Lastly, a leader is a leader whether at home or at work, for whom a person is and what a person does in his/her off time will eventually be made manifest on the job to the benefit or detriment of the organization and the team.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Lessons from WWII

The words of leadership below come from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His address was not given to military personnel, but as you read you’ll see it applies both to you and me, wherever we are or whatever kind of work we’re engaged in.

Some years ago, Stephen Ambrose wrote a book describing the experience of a company of paratroopers during World War II. (See Band of Brothers [1992].) The army was developing a new kind of warfare the world had not seen before. They were training men to parachute out of planes—often behind enemy lines and at immense personal peril—to attack, and to meet strategic objectives critical to the overall success of the war effort.

Easy Company of the 506th regiment, 101st Airborne Division, was one of those groups. Formed from volunteers, the 140 men began their training in 1942. They had been told that their training would be harder than any other in the military. In fact, it was so challenging that two out of three men couldn’t make it and either dropped out or were assigned to a regular army unit.

The night before D day, Easy Company parachuted behind enemy lines. Their assignment was to take out a battery of artillery guns. But in the chaos of the drop, only 12 of the 140 men were in position to carry out the mission. Nevertheless, they knew that if they didn’t take out those guns, the Allied soldiers storming Utah Beach would suffer heavy casualties from the artillery.

To make matters worse, the guns were manned and defended by more than 50 elite enemy paratroopers who had dug a series of trenches about the battery, heavily fortifying it against any kind of assault.

In one of the most well-executed and heroic operations of the war, 12 men of Easy Company assaulted the position, routed the enemy, and destroyed the artillery guns.

In later action, Easy Company took part in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden, facing enemy forces in Holland and Belgium. Later they were among the forces that held Bastogne against encircling enemy panzer units during the Battle of the Bulge.

By the time the war ended, the highly decorated Easy Company had taken heavy, heavy casualties. Forty-eight of its members had died…

Average leaders used the carrot and the stick to motivate those around them. Great leaders communicate a vision that captures the imagination and fires the hearts and minds of those around them. Average leaders inspire people to punch a time clock. Great leaders inspire industry and passion.

You can get people to work by using threats or by promising rewards. But if you want to create a band of brothers, you must inspire those who work with you and encourage them to give their all in a great cause…

No great cause ever succeeded without great effort.

One of the reasons the men of Easy Company volunteered for hazardous duty was that when they went into combat, they wanted to be next to someone they could trust—someone who wouldn’t do something foolish that could get them killed. They didn’t want to be next to someone who was lazy or who hadn’t paid attention during training or who wasn’t physically capable of what was required. These men had worked to the limits of human capacity…

Work is the foundation of success and creation. It is the secret of every successful enterprise.
Even so, there are some who go to great lengths to avoid work. In fact, a few people I have known have worked exceptionally hard to get out of work… Some of the most fulfilling moments of our lives are when we establish worthwhile goals and work to achieve them…

Fear can make us run away from things—things like setting and achieving goals, developing relationships, or becoming the people we know we should become. Sometimes fear can even paralyze us to the point that we don’t even try.

Fear can be a thick fog that smothers our dreams. It can be a cage that restrains us from reaching our destiny. It can be a weight that restrains our every step.

Time after time, the men of Easy Company knew fear. A few days after D day, they were walking down a road toward a French village when an enemy machine gun opened fire on them. In spite of their training, the men ducked for cover and froze. The company commander, Lieutenant Dick Winters, knew if they stayed there, his men would be cut down. So he stood in the middle of the road, away from cover, bullets whistling all around him, and ordered his men to move out.

His men stared at him, not believing what they were seeing—but only for an instant. The courage of their commanding officer inspired them. Then they moved out. Because of Lieutenant Winters’s bravery, the men survived.

We may not be immune to being afraid, but we do not have to succumb to it… Move forward with faith, believing you will succeed! Don’t let fear of failure stop you from greatness. Let your example of courage inspire those around you…

Stephen Ambrose titled his history of Easy Company Band of Brothers because of the bond of fellowship these men felt for each other. This sort of brotherhood happens when people give their hearts, might, minds, and strength to a cause greater than themselves. When we work together in a bond of brotherhood, when we love each other and are loyal and faithful to the great cause to which we have been called, the impossible becomes possible.

It is our opportunity to foster this brotherhood. Teach those who serve with you that we are not competing with one another. The men of Easy Company weren’t great because they were trying to stand out as individuals. They were great because they worked together.

One of the men of Easy Company remembered a conversation he had with his grandson.
“Grandpa,” the little boy asked, “were you a hero in the war?”

The old soldier thought about the question for a moment and then replied, “No, but I served in a company of heroes.” (Band of Brothers, 316.)

Those who will work with you all have within them the potential to be heroes. As you inspire those who serve with you and give them a vision of the great cause, help them set their priorities, and encourage them to settle into the harness, overcome their fears, and press on in faith, you may create your own company of heroes.

Flex-ecute & Change

Now there’s a word for you. Flex-ecute. It’s a combination of FLEXIBLE and EXECUTE, as in we need to be flexible while executing the mission. The bottom-line is when we progress towards our personal or professional goals change happens. Change is inevitable—the one absolute.

Since human beings are creatures of habit we instinctively deplore change, some more than others. In my motivational speaking days, I used to talk a lot about getting out of our comfort zones. It’s amazing how many speakers actually get paid to talk to audiences about change and comfort zones.

To be honest, I’m a high-energy guy. In fact, I remember one person years ago after hearing me speak describe me as ‘dynamic’. The truth is I enjoy change. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy public speaking while many people fear and hate it. I enjoy the uncertainty of SWAT operations—at least I did when I was doing that work. The fear of the unknown combined with a bunch of other feelings gives a bunch of adrenaline. The hormones and chemical changes created by skydiving, for instance, feels good. At least it felt great to me. Intimacy and kissing feels good too, especially if you haven’t done it for a long time (boo-ho). Scary movies can also produce a chemical excitement followed later by a peaceful tranquility.

Exploring new things and new places, or riding a zip line beneath the jungle canopies like what my wife and I did when we went into Belize on our cruise, also gives a little rush. My wife really liked the zip line. (She likes roller coasters and rappelling too.) A few people were in tears because they were so scared to ride the zip line. It takes a lot to excite me, though. It was fun, but again, it takes a lot to give me chemical euphoria (and I don’t mean through synthetic or illegal highs, which I oppose). Perhaps it’s genetically wired within me to be calm by nature. I’m sure it is. I’ve often heard it said that some people we born to be warriors—cops or military-types. I can be calm when most around me are seriously troubled by traumatic events. Most of my colleagues can too.

I’ve also read criminology and psychology reports that show the antithesis. Some say criminals were had an unnaturally high disposition to break the law because they were born that way through inherited genetics. Of course, one cannot leave out their social-economic and family upbringing either.

Last year Japanese scientists at Tokyo University genetically altered a mouse to not fear cats. That’s amazing, isn’t it? The result showed that fear is genetically hardwired and not necessarily learned through experience, according to the study. I have some thoughts to that though.

Very young children are oblivious to traffic, for instance. They don’t fear it. They haven’t learned (or felt) what serious pain is yet, nor hopefully have they seen fatal car wrecks or death. The mentally handicapped are also oblivious. Their genetic responses were, frankly, retarded in the true sense of the word. Therefore they may perceive fear differently than you or I.

When I used to teach tactics and firearms full time, I’d often talk about the physiological and psychological changes that fear induces. I have often had to correct learned behavior—behaviors and concepts consciously or subconsciously learned through media entertainment. It is a fact that we learn from television and movies even though we ‘know’ it is make-believe. In fact, yesterday Dave Grossman sent me a personal note. (Thanks Dave!) He is a well-known expert on that topic. (See his website

Case in point: nearly every time someone shot with a Simunition FX marking cartridge or paintball for the first time during role playing tactical scenarios, even if they had worked as police officers for several years, they’d fall backwards quickly, moan and give a performance worthy of an Emmy nomination. In sum, I’d have to literally explain away and debunk the myths learned by Hollywood. There’s no such thing as two people pointing their guns at each other talking the other down—at least that’s not the tactically prudent approach if you want to live! There’s no such thing as a bullet that makes the person being shot get violently thrown back 20-30 feet. Those are done by pulleys, cables and exploding squibs. (When I lived in California I used to want to be a stuntman; I’d know. On that note, I once dove off a tall building head first, flailing my arms and legs frantically. It was great. But I’m getting too old for that now.)

Anyway, the biggest thing I’d have to explain to police officers, military and security professionals is that the will to live can dominate one or two or three or four or more bullet holes. I’ve seen it! People can survive being shot. On the flip side of that, that’s why I also taught them to keep shooting until the threat stops. I believe in shooting and shooting some more. It’s a dangerous precedent not to. I’m a graduate of an Army special ops sniper school, but I’ve rarely seen ‘one shot, one kill.’

Now, how do I link that into change—the topic I began with? That’s really a rhetorical question because I’ve decided to CHANGE my ending.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Letters Home

Today I read a letter Joseph Smith wrote to his wife Emma on November 12, 1838, from Richmond, Missouri. It seems to reflect my own situation well. It reads:

I received your letter, which I read over and over again; it was a sweet morsel to me. O God, grant that I may have the privilege of seeing once more my lovely family in the enjoyment of the sweets of liberty and social life. To press them to my bosom and kiss their lovely cheeks would fill my heart with unspeakable gratitude. Tell the children that I am alive and trust I shall come and see them before long. Comfort their hearts all you can, and try to be comforted yourself all you can…

P.S. Write as often as you can… Act according to your own feelings and best judgment, and endeavor to be comforted, if possible, and I trust that all will turn out for the best.

(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 2007, p. 241.)