Friday, May 30, 2008

Unwanted House Guest

I didn't want to do it. I told my wife all about the problems that would come along with the idea while I was still in Iraq, but I eventually gave in. Much to my dismay, I now feel like a stranger in my own home...at least that's the way our new house guest treats me. Sometimes I can't stand him.

He's immature. He has bad B.O. and a cranky attitude. I'm almost positive he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). And, he almost never cleans up after himself, except for the one time he threw up from an upset stomach.

I probably shouldn't talk to ill of him, but it's not like he's going to read my blogs. He could care less. He has his interests and outlets and I have mine. And right now, I need to vent my frustrations.

Sometimes he's really nice to my kids, but other times I'd like to smack him hard because of the way he treats them. My kids have come to me crying because they've been bullied by him. I admit, I've called him some cruel names, which is unlike me.

He's actually part of the family, but I don't really look at him that way since I never met him before now. I suppose one day I can see him as a family member, but it will take some time. There is some good in him, but frankly, for the most part, I don't really like him. I even told my wife I'd like to kick him out of our home and find another place for him to live. She is being very patient with me and encourages me to see the good in him and in the situation. But it's hard for me to see past his repulsive habits. Besides, he likes my wife and my son a lot, but not me so much.

When I came home, I laid down the rules. He was used to running the house, so to speak. He's manipulative that way. As they say, this animal could get away with murder. I suppose all puppies are annoying, but there are times when they are really terrific. You gotta hate the dichotomy.

9/11

Since my recent blogs on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), a few readers have appeared interested in homeland security-type issues. Check this out.

Sept 11: I Don't Mean to Scare You, But...

Monday, May 26, 2008

An Unruly TSA?


I have a new email account, created after the upsetting phone call I received recently from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Investigator Greg Neiderer. It was a terrible welcome home gift after serving a year in Iraq. The government has snooped in on my other personal and private email account. It infuriates me. My right of privacy and my freedom of speech are being bludgeoned, for lack of a better term. The Constitution is really hanging by a thread when government officials use more time, energy and resources to attack whistleblowers than to stop the real threat of terrorism.

My wife and I had an interesting conversation last night. It turns out Mr. Neiderer called my home and spoke with my wife while I was in Iraq. My wife of ten years said he knew I was in Iraq when he called our home. Of course, she was the only one home when he called.

She said he acted like he knew me, and since I had been a Federal Air Marshal (FAM) under the arm of the TSA, and since the caller ID read “U.S. government” with an area code “703” out of Virginia, she thought he may have been an old friend of mine. With that in mind, she told him I was in Iraq. “Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he said, and then he laughed.

There’s nothing funny about that, Mr. Neiderer.

To everyone else, Mr. Neiderer is not an old friend, or even an acquaintance. In fact, I’ve never heard of him in my life until a couple of days ago.

When I got home from Iraq last Monday, he didn’t even allow me a week to relax before calling me and probing me with questions in a supposed all-important government investigation. One would think the nature of this investigation would be terribly serious given the fact that Mr. Neiderer and his ilk at the TSA office in Virginia took some painstaking strides to conduct a thorough search on my recent activities since leaving the air marshal service.

From my personal email he, 1) found out I was a former air marshal; 2) found out I was in Iraq with the Army Reserves and knew that I wasn’t home yet; 3) dug up my personal phone number and called my wife while he knew I was in Iraq. What else did this guy find out about me or my family? Oh, probably everything. Shoot, I wonder if the private email conversations I had with my wife while I was in Iraq were being monitored too! It makes me livid.

All of this just because TSA wanted to know who sent me an email I forwarded in March of this year from my personal email account asking for current and former air marshals to talk to CNN.

I’m flabbergasted. What an extreme waste of tax payer money. It’s absurd. It’s outrageous. Who would have guessed that was more important than fighting terrorists in Iraq or safeguarding commercial aviation assets in America.

Come on! I left the Federal Air Marshal Service in early 2007. Why would government investigators from the TSA violate my personal privacy over something so ridiculous? Why would they violate my personal privacy, period?! It’s outlandish.

But then again, it has been said that the TSA stands for Thousands Standing Around, so maybe they have nothing else better to do with our taxpayer money than harass a soldier who has just returned from war.

My wife, who’s been all alone with our young children for the last year and a half, and who was all alone while I was traveling weekly as an air marshal for years before that, has been very scared at times for her personal safety. It was Mr. Neiderer’s laugh and the uncomfortable way he said things that made the whole conversation seem unusual and odd to my wife, but by then it was too late. She thought she could trust someone calling from a U.S. government telephone line. That is a disturbing fallacy.

The truth is not everyone in the government can be trusted, and not everyone in the government is smart or looks after our best interests. And that infuriates me.

In October of last year, The Star-Ledger out of New Jersey (nj.com) reported the following on the hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on transportation security.

Kip Hawley, who runs the TSA, told members of Congress during that meeting, “You can’t do this job if the work force is not trusting of the leadership team.” And then speaking of whistleblowers, who often go to the media since management won’t listen, he added, “Chasing after leaks is not a productive activity.”

Well, Mr. Hawley, I like what you said. But you are either lying to Congress, or someone – probably a lot of “someone’s” – in your organization are outright disregarding what you testified about before Congress. My guess is it’s not just one TSA Investigator named Greg Neiderer, but an entire group of miscreants. And if that’s the case, sir, either you’re guilty of perjury in a federal hearing or your own people are making you look incompetent as a leader.

Memorial Day


Yesterday I went to church with my family. What a change from attending service in Iraq with camouflage and machine guns. I couldn’t have been more grateful. My cup of joy was filled to the brim and overflowing.

Since it is Memorial Day weekend, our congregation sang patriotic hymns, including the majestic Star-Spangled Banner. We all stood up to sing. I couldn’t get through the first line without getting choked up. I thought of Johnny. He didn’t make it home to see his wife and his children.

While repeating the words by rot in my mind, tears flowed all down both cheeks. I couldn’t sing. I cried like a baby. Only the people on the stand could see me. Our Bishop told me afterwards that seeing me wipe my tears away got him choked up too.

For those who are unaware of the history of the words penned by Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), it is something to learn. I won’t go into that now, but suffice it to say, I’ve spoken to groups about patriotic themes in the past, and the attack on Fort McHenry as well as the creation of Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights which are among my favorite topics. In fact, later this week, I’m speaking to kids at school about the flag and the wonderful things it represents.

We often don’t sing the other verses of The Star-Spangled Banner. Here are the words of the third verse:

Oh, thus be it ever,
When free men shall stand
Between their loved homes
And the war’s desolation!

Blest with victory and peace,
May the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made
And preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must,
When our cause it is just,
And thus be our motto:
“In God is our trust!”

And the Star-Spangled Banner
In triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free
And the home of the brave!

DEATH

“We would rather do business with 1,000 al Qaeda terrorists than with 1 single American Soldier.”

According to a forwarded email I received not long ago, that sign is displayed in the window of a business in Pennsylvania. Who would dare post such a sign? Apparently it’s a note on the window of a funeral home.

I suppose that’s a bit flippant, considering this holiday weekend, but if we didn’t laugh we’d cry all the time.

Is it okay to wish someone a “Happy” Memorial Day considering it revolves around death?

I met a mortician once in the early 90s. I was shocked that he didn’t look like someone from the Adam’s Family. He didn’t dress in all black and he didn’t have a gloomy expression on his face or walk around sanctimonious and somber. He was married and had children. Odd, isn’t it? And, he actually spoke. In fact, he was so friendly and seemingly ‘normal’ that I wondered if he actually liked people – living people, I mean.

Email Overload

My in-box is completely overflowing. My last post about the phone call from the TSA was sent out on an Air Marshal Alert to over 6,000 or so people. Of course, there aren't that many air marshals, not according to all the newspaper reports a few years ago. In fact, I probably know more former air marshals than current ones. After seeing how poorly managed the program was and that American's weren't safe because of it, hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- left the nascent post 9/11 agency, including me.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Air Marshal Management

The following was an email I received today from a former air marshal whom I do not know. He left his initials, which I'm withholding. I agree with what he wrote.

Jeff,
As a former FAM, I agree with almost everything you have to say about the service. Maybe I missed it somewhere in the article, but when you mention the problems with the FAM service, please always try mention the problems have to do with management. I would hate for people to think the problems revolve around the front line FAMs who try their best to do the job, no matter how difficult management makes it.
Thank you,

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Government Hates Whistleblowers & CNN


TSA investigator Greg Neiderer called me today. I don’t know him, and I’ve never spoken with him until today. “Welcome home from Iraq,” he began cordially.

“Thanks. It’s great to be back home,” I replied. It didn’t take long until he told me the reason for calling. The Transportation Security Administration, the giant bureaucratic knee-jerk creation that sprang from the rubble of 9/11 and has multiple problems protecting U.S. aviation assets, was investigating a message I sent from my personal email account, I was told.

I thought of the blogs I wrote and occasionally forwarded about the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). It’s one of the most messed up organizations in the world, and unfortunately, they’re charged with stopping terrorists in U.S. commercial airplanes. I don’t believe they’ll be able to stop any dedicated terrorists – ever – because of the poor management decisions since 9/11.

Mr. Neiderer asked me if I knew who forwarded me an email asking for “current and former air marshals to talk to CNN.” He said I forwarded the email to “a couple of people.” I didn’t even recall that email when he said it. I get so many emails how would I know who sent it to me? Besides, I forwarded something else like that not long ago – a Washington Times reporter wanted to know some information and I forwarded the question to dozens of FAMs. He didn’t say anything about that though.

So now I’m getting investigated for forwarding emails? Holy cow! Talk about a waste of tax payer money, having “federal agents” track down my phone number and my background (he knew I left the FAM Service and just returned from Iraq). Is the government also monitoring my personal emails and phone calls now – all because I support the idea of government whistleblowing when going public would save lives?!

After I asked, Mr. Neiderer said I wasn’t in any trouble. Of course I wouldn’t be either, right? Shoot, I left the defunct Federal Air Marshal Service in 2007, a little before getting called to Iraq. And I have freedom of speech, protected by my First Amendment rights. The TSA investigator said I forwarded the email in March of this year.

I don’t know who forwarded me the email, and I’m pretty sure I deleted it. But if I forwarded the email, Mr. Neiderer should have the email of the person or group that sent it to me. What’s the big deal? Was there some kind of hidden code in that email that jeopardized national security? Was there a virus or worm in the email that would involve the TSA to get involved? Of course not. But apparently, there’s something seriously wrong about someone sending an email asking for people to speak to CNN. I don’t get it.

Here’s what baffles me: Who cares if air marshals speak to CNN or anyone in the media. I don’t think they should give away classified data that will help the enemy, but after my tenure with the air marshals, I’d be willing to talk to anyone to help protect America from another 9/11. I was ready and eager to speak to members of the media while working as a FAM, but I didn’t; I waited. Why? Because I saw what happened to Spencer Pickard. He was retaliated against after he went public to say the things the FAMS managers ignored, that the TSA and FAMS policies were so dangerous and ineffective that American’s weren’t safe. Behind the scenes, Pickard was supported by hundreds of FAMs like me. We were all cheering him on, even though we didn’t know him. We were afraid to speak up because we didn’t feel we had enough whistleblower protection.

There’s one thing for sure: the TSA and the FAM Service should be concentrating more on protecting American’s than trying to usurp anyone’s First Amendment rights! I’m ready to talk to CNN today.

I’m a patriot at heart. I’m eager to protect America and American’s from bad guys. It makes me sick to my stomach that too often we’re our own worst enemy. I know a bunch of bad guys who work for the federal government and every policy they make and every terrible decision they enact must be stopped. Sometimes blowing the whistle in the media is the most courageous and appropriate action.

PS After posting this story, Annie Jacobsen pasted it on AviationNation.com.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Old Glory

The sun was nearly at its zenith as I slouched down and sat on the sidewalk outside the VA office. I wanted to quickly go there and to the records office to give them a copy of my military documents, showing I just came off Active Duty orders from Iraq. But things didn't go as planned...

Driving felt funny. Every piece of debris in the roadway reminded me of possible bombs.

Remembering all the customs, social rules and driving laws wasn't foreign, but it still felt strange nonetheless.

When I came out of the VA building, my car had been towed away. I couldn't believe the pitiful irony -- a war vet, home only a couple of days, sitting all alone on the sidewalk downtown, looking like a beggar or a transient.

I'm sure I looked a little strange to the passers-by. The shirt I wore was wrinkled from being in a tight closet for over a year. When I debated ironing my shirt, I figured I'd do it after I got home. Besides, I just enjoyed wearing anything other than my military uniform. But I didn't care too much what anyone else thought. I was just happy to see real concrete, smell an American city, see the people, and enjoy the sun from the U.S. soil.

Looking up and across the street, I couldn't help but see the big, beautiful high-flying American flag blowing in the cool breeze. Her glorious red and white stripes and her brilliant stars amid the bluish hue took my breath away. I was sure that the flag meant something to me that it didn't mean to others. I felt like crying and shouting for joy all at once.

When I went to pick up my car, the owner saw my military ID still in the front of my wallet. When he learned I had just come back from Iraq, he shook my hand and sincerely thanked me, waiving the $125 fee. He said he was too young for the Korean War and missed the Vietnam draft, but that his father served in WWII and his brothers in the other wars. He wanted to do his part. Believe me, his kindness was much appreciated.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Welcome Home

I've been all smiles ever since seeing my family. Even now I have a child on my lap and another next to me. I couldn't be more satisfied or happy. My life is sweet. But Johnny didn't make it home. He can't see his wife or children. He won't have the sweet reunion or enjoy wrestling with his kids or hugging and kissing his wife. Even now, my eyes well up with tears at the thought. He will be missed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Adoption

My sister and brother-in-law adopted an orphan baby (my cute nephew) from China last year. She's in her local newspaper today.

http://www.standard.net/live/news/133311/

Gas Prices



Above are pictures of the last tent I lived in in Iraq, the Port-a-John toliets we used throughout the year, and an Iraqi gas station. For gas, there were no buildings or gas pumps, just jugs filled with gasoline on the side of the roadway.

I believe it was on May 5th last year, that Kuwait changed their gas prices from the U.S. dollar to the Euro. Our dollar is about half what the Euro is worth. If the U.S. dollar continues to decline or OPEC or gasoline suppliers agree to rate the price of gas to the Euro, we'll be paying about double at the gas pumps, according to the exchange rate today.

My speciality isn't economics, but I believe that if the Federal Reserve lowers the interest rates anymore than the current 2 percent, it will continue to diminish the worth of the dollar.

If I had money to invest, I'd dump it into gas and oil. But since I'm like the majority of Americans and don't have millions to invest, let alone thousands, I desperately hope that our government leaders make wise choices and enact wise laws for all of us. And in the meantime, I'm going to fill up a couple of 5-gallon tanks to store in the event of an emergency.

Homecoming-itis

All of us had to see a psychotherapist for part of the de-mobilization process. I wasn’t diagnosed with anything other than a self-diagnosis of homecomingitis. Homecomingitis has several signs and symptoms. A perpetual smile, a feeling of elation and joy, and utter contentment, for instance. Thankfully, this pseudo-disease will likely last for several months.

One of the other symptoms occurs when I observe or associate with the several hundred soldiers here; I’m going to miss seeing many of them. My reserve unit is different from theirs. I was pulled from my unit to go to Iraq with them, so I will likely never see any of them ever again. It’s too bad. I’ve met some really good people.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

30 lbs Frustrated

I just got home from Iraq and I’m 30 lbs frustrated.

My SWAT mentor, whom I hold in highest esteem, suggested to me years ago that when conducting a hostage rescue I should get angry. “I like to think that it’s a member of my family – my wife or one of my kids – that has been taken hostage,” he said. “And then go rescue them.”

Anger is certainly justified at times. I can think of a few circumstances in which anger has resulted in a positive action or reaction as it were. Nevertheless, there is not ever a benefit to uncontrolled rage. “It is when we become angry that we get into trouble.” (See Gordon B. Hinckley, “Slow to Anger”, Oct. 2007.)

But anger and war go hand in hand. It seems to be the inevitable result. While contention can impede progress, tension can actually be beneficial to warriors. That’s one of the reasons for difficult, tense, realistic training.

It is the tension or “anger” that allows aggression. In tactical circles the phrase “violence of action” is often used. In recent years that has changed to “controlled aggression.” When busting down doors and justifiably winning firefights, catching bad guy or rescuing hostages, controlled aggression helps with confidence. Instead of fearing, warriors can aggressively do what needs to be done. Those who have uncontrolled rage commit war crimes, and those who have no rage may fear to the point of inaction, hesitation, and poor performance and dangerousness.

What’s needed in close combat situations a self-confidence that anyone on the opposite side of your gun should fear you because you are going to intentionally, justifiably injure them, if warranted. A mindset of fearing personal pain, injury or death, or hesitating to use lethal force, is outright dangerous to an individual and team. With a winning mindset physiological and psychological inhibitors will flee, causing warriors to not just survive but win deadly force confrontations. All of this can be done without wild rage or illegal, unjust actions.

Yes, in tactical situations a little anger and aggression can be muscle. A little eagerness to fight when justified has helped warriors win battles and skirmishes since the dawn of time. Unfortunately, transitioning back to civilian life, anger -- which in one form is simply frustration -- is just unnecessary extra weight. The muscles atrophy. They turn to flab. Last week in Iraq a little aggression was okay, even wanted or encouraged, this week in America it’s socially unacceptable. Again, I’m not talking about uncontrolled rage, “for anger resteth in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).

We don't have to be mean to others, however to be tactically adroit. I've been told that I'm too nice and should be mean and yell at others, but those who've said that haven't seen me in tactical situations against deadly killers. Nor do they understand the power of proper motivation.

Truth be told, the stresses experienced in war zones, with or without experiencing up-close battles or intense personal trauma, can bring in its wake a great deal of individual frustration.

While speaking to a giant room full of soldiers about the unique stresses we experienced over the last 12 months, I joked, “There are some people who if I ever run into in a dark alley…” I stopped there, but my words were nonetheless interrupted by a roaring, overwhelming applause and laughter from several hundred soldiers. Their response was partial proof that we all feel a few pounds too frustrated.

There’s no doubt I grew some anger buttons this year because I find myself more easily irritated than last year at this time. I’m not easily offended and I’m normally a laid back person, but I do not want to hear anyone say cruel, mean or condescending words or phrases, even in jest. That pushes one of my anger buttons.

I also don’t want to hear anyone complain. Hearing the ingratitude of others wouldn’t have really bothered me last year as much, but now I’m certain it would really irritate me. Among other things, I’m elated just to have indoor plumbing and a sink with running water where I can actually brush my teeth! And, I’m glad I’m not sleeping on a cot anymore.

Other things bother me too, like hearing this morning that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) wants to ban horse racing because a horse was euthanized after breaking both legs at the Kentucky Derby. I don’t believe gambling is good for any society, but shoot, according to some zealots, horses are for looking at and not riding. While we’re at it let’s just ban horses from breaking their legs too! I guess there aren’t any cowboys on PETA's staff that could set them straight.

What’s even more bothersome than PETA is that their puny voices are getting colossal attention in the news. Why? At any rate, it's a terrible trend. (See my blog, Internal Cleansing of America's Social Disasters.)

One soldier, who’ll be going back to his job as a police officer now that we’re home, confided in me that he gets irritated by things based what he experienced this year. Besides getting blown up, putting a tourniquet on his friend’s leg after his femoral artery was severed by shrapnel (which saved his life by the way), and experiencing other stresses of war, he had to deal with tragic leadership failures. There are things that bother him which are difficult to explain why to others who weren’t there. But I can understand him.

In my homecoming self assessment I’ve determined that I’m a lot like him and the most of the other soldiers: I’ve collected some excess frustration. I realize I need to be more patient at things that aren’t life or death, but I also ask that others are patient with me. If I ask nicely to avoid certain subjects or certain things that prompt terrible memories, I hope others understand. This will be a time for greater patience with my wife and children too.

I’ve never been one to inflict any sort of pain, physical, emotional or verbal upon anyone, especially those closest to me. Unfortunately, some people are. There are a few soldiers I worry about. One caught his wife cheating while he was deployed. He told me he was going to find the perpetrator and let him know he didn’t appreciate him sleeping in his bed with his wife while he was gone. I urged him to self-control because taking out anger in the wrong way is never worth it.

As far as my health and well-being is concerned, I began my “diet” this morning with a hearty meal and a short run. I need to shed some frustration. I imagine it will only take a week or two, unless sales reps from PETA come knocking at my door.

Seriously though, it’s a vulnerable time for the troops. I urged them to avoid drinking their problems away. If they don’t get help now and learn proper outlets during this critical change and tough transition, they might gain more excess baggage than what is considered normal and healthy. Citizens, employers and family members alike need us at our best. To that end, I urged the troops that if they felt like hurting others or themselves that they needed to get help.

“Problems might not occur for a few months,” I warned, “but if they do, please get help. No one should be ashamed about seeking professional help from the VA. There’s greater shame in allowing problems to continue.” I told some poignant stories and shared some personal observations. Afterwards a dozen soldiers and a few civilians in attendance approached me and sincerely thanked me for my words. Even two days later, soldiers are still thanking me. But my thinking is we’re all in this together.

Note: The title of this blog was inspired by Lt. Col. (ret) Dave Grossman. See PTSD is like being overweight.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

America the Beautiful

When the flight touched down the crowded plane full of uniformed troops under my command erupted into cheers and applauds. “Thank God,” the Staff Sergeant and Miami Beach cop sitting next to me expressed with the deepest sincerity. His voice crackled. It sounded like he would cry.

“Yes, America!” shouted others while the clapping continued.

I was so choked up I could cry and shout all at once. The feelings were contagious.

My gratitude to be back in the land of the free and the home of the brave cannot be adequately described.

Also, it might sound funny but I want to run through all the thick, green bushes and roll around in the tall grass. I’d like to climb a tree and hug a branch, soaking up the scent of the leaves and feel them brush against my skin. Man, America is BEAUTIFUL.

…I can hardly wait to see my family again.

Flying Home -- Never Forget 9/11

video

Monday, May 12, 2008

All Things Happen for a Reason

"All things happen for a reason." I don't ever recall using that cliche'. Nor will I in the future. It's vague and callow, really.

I believe God is in charge, and I believe He can and does occasionally intervene, but I don't believe in 'fate' -- not as most would have it. I believe that there is personal choice and consequences. Who we are and what we do is largely made up by a million thoughts and choices we've made, and by choices others make. We all know the saying: To every action there is a...reaction. That's true. Our actions create our circumstances.

But we don't choose our parents, we cannot control the weather, and we simply cannot control a great deal of circumstances. We can only react to them. We cannot stop or change the inevitable. We cannot make others change, only encourage them to do so. Even 'forcing' someone to change will not guarantee success, besides being uncivil. But we can have power over our personal destiny.

There is one verity: We are in charge of our thoughts. Our thoughts lead to acts. Our actions lead to habits, and our habits shape our character. Eventually our character becomes our personal destiny.

Everyone has moral agency -- the ability to choose. Some of life's greatest tragedies occur when people fail to learn what I view as the first and single most important lesson to learn in life: Be civil; treat others with love and kindness. Do no harm to others and do not harm yourself.

So, when I hear others say, "All things happen for a reason" that's what I think it means.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Active Shooter Response Changes

From Force Science Research Center:

Ohio trainer makes the case for single-officer entry against active killers

If you're a patrol officer who's first on the scene of an active-shooter call, should you make immediate entry in hunt for the suspect...or wait for other early responders and improvise a rapid deployment team?

Since the Columbine massacre 9 years ago, few if any trainers any longer advocate delaying for a formal SWAT call-out, which can take 30 minutes or more in some areas. But commonly a hasty assembly of 3 or more officers for a search-and-confrontation team is recommended, with coordinated movement tactics taught accordingly.

To trainer Ron Borsch, a 30-year law enforcement veteran who manages the small SEALE (South East Area Law Enforcement) Regional Training Academy in Bedford, Ohio, that's a deadly waste of time when seconds can mean lives.

Based on his on-going research of active-shooter realities, he's convinced that single-officer entries can potentially lessen the toll of casualties while exposing the responders involved to little additional risk. Although popular law enforcement literature has just lately begun to explore the single-officer concept, Borsch has promoted the idea to in-service trainees for more than 2 years and has taught solo- and 2-officer entry-action models in academy courses for the past year. And he finds that administrators whose officers are exposed to this approach generally accept it enthusiastically.

"We offer this report not necessarily as a tactical advisory but as an example of one trainer's effort to give tactical instruction a research base," explains Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato. "We offer it for your thoughtful consideration and we'd be interested in hearing comments from our readers on Ron Borsch's conclusions."...

"Time is our worst adversary in dealing with active killers," Borsch told Force Science News. "We're racing what I call 'the Stopwatch of Death.' Victims are often added to the toll every several seconds."

Where times have been reliably documented, the average post-Columbine "rapid mass murder episode" lasts just 8 minutes, according to Borsch's calculations. "The murderer's timeline begins when he says it begins. Any prevention, deterrence or delay efforts have failed at that point, and the police are handicapped with catching up whenever they are notified."

To have any hope of successfully intervening in a slaughter spree under the usual tight time strictures, law enforcement "needs to get less manpower on site sooner." Training [law enforcement officers, LEOs] to wait even moments to form an impromptu entry team shows that "our country's tactical community at large has failed to do its homework and to evolve strategies that accurately reflect the known methods of operation and patterns of active killers," Borsch asserts. "Law enforcement has already proved many times over that we can arrive 'too late with too many' and spend too much time gathering pre-entry intelligence. Now we need to fix what is obviously a broken strategy."

Borsch, who logged 17 years as a part-time SWAT team member before retiring from street work, has analyzed more than 90 active-shooter incidents on the basis of data largely ferreted out from Internet reports. Most involved schools and colleges, but workplaces, shopping malls, churches and other public places are also represented. Among his findings that have helped shape his tactical thinking:

• 98% of active killers act alone.

• 80% have long guns, 75% have multiple weapons (about 3 per incident), and they
sometimes bring hundreds of extra rounds of ammunition to the shooting site.

• Despite such heavy armaments and an obsession with murder at close range, they have an average hit rate of less than 50%.

• They strike "stunned, defenseless innocents via surprise ambush. On a level playing field, the typical active killer would be a no-contest against anyone reasonably capable of defending themselves."

• "They absolutely control life and death until they stop at their leisure or are stopped." They do not take hostages, do not negotiate.

• They generally try to avoid police, do not hide or lie in wait for officers and "typically fold quickly upon armed confrontation."

• 90% commit suicide on-site. "Surrender or escape attempts are unlikely."

...A solo officer entering an active-killer scene "has a virtual guarantee that an avalanche of manpower is coming fast behind him," so he won't be alone for long.

...In his research, he has found no evidence of any LEO in the U.S. yet being wounded or killed in an active-shooting incident where mass murder was intended or accomplished.

"Officers need to understand valid military principles that apply to these calls, such as speed, surprise and violence of action," Borsch insists. "They need to learn how to close in and finish the fight with aggression, having and keeping the 'momentum of battle' on their side. The idea is to keep the adversary off-balance by forcing him always to react to your actions, rather than, after contact, reacting to him."

For example, once an active killer is spotted, Borsch favors the swift application of deadly force over seeking defensive cover in most instances. "An unintentional consequence of going to cover may be to lose sight of the offender, allowing him to gain the momentum of battle and shoot more defenseless innocents until he says it's over."

SEALE's active-killer countermeasures, taught through a course called Tactical First Responder, bypass traditional instruction in team formations and movement. These can be important in a mass murder response, Borsch says--but only later, during a search-and-rescue phase. What's realistically needed by the first one or two patrol officers to arrive at a scene--"the first of the first responders"--are instruction and practice in how to enter, move and confront the threat alone.

Thus after a briefing on the predictable patterns of offender behavior that his research has revealed, the trainees concentrate on perfecting a swift zig-zag movement down hallways, on mastering an accelerated slicing-the-pie technique for taking corners, on maneuvering up and down stairways with a patrol rifle (the response weapon of choice, given the killer's likely armaments), and on using sight, sound, smell and intuition to gather intel that will help them close quickly on the threat. "We practice until there's no speed less than rapid."

If an officer enters a school in response to an active-killer call "he may see or hear nothing out of order initially," Borsch says. "The place may be in lock-down and there may be hundreds of rooms, some of them quite distant and out of earshot, where the killer could be wreaking havoc.

"The officer may have to set out in a direction with little guidance and cover a lot of ground until he comes across something. In these situations, intelligence often belongs only to those who go get it. But what's the alternative--just stop and wait? The killing may be continuing while you hear nothing."

..."A slow-and-methodical approach--what I call 'tactical loitering'--is still appropriate for most types of police encounters," Borsch says. "Dynamic active killers are a unique problem. With time as a relentless enemy, an officer has a choice to make: does he or she take the risk of going in alone...or are potential victims left to the mercy of a rogue human while the officer stays safe?"


My response to Dr. Lewinski:

Bill,

Remember me? We met on a plane when I was working as an air marshal. I'm coming home this week after a year-long deployment to Iraq with the Army Reserves.

As you might recall, I'm a former SWAT team leader and tactical trainer. I also trained with representatives from nearly every SWAT team who responded to Columbine three months after the incident.

Based on my personal studies of school and mall, et al, active shooting incidents, time is the number one thing to saving lives. Usually there is only ONE shooter. So, the one-man entry against active shooter scenarios is a fantastic concept. It's practically perfect...

One caveat, however, there were multiple reports from the dispatchers at Columbine that there were, in one case, up to six gunmen in camouflage, to include a gunman on the roof.

That aside, the ONE-officer entry (with TWO being ideal for 360-degree coverage) should be taught across the nation. Hopefully this spreads like wildfire. I plan on doing some media spots (my info is in the hands of CNN, FOX, etc.). If I get the chance to speak about this nationwide, I will.

Let me know if I can ever be of assistance in anyway, and keep up the great research!

Mother's Day

Off hand I can think of a half dozen female friends of mine who have not ever been able to have children. In addition, several of my family members were unable to have children. My uncles and aunts have adopted children and so has one brother and a sister of mine.

We have a multitude of adopted family member with a diverse background: Chinese, Korean, Tongan, African American and a handful of Anglo Americans. One nephew is of Hispanic heritage.

Today is Mother's Day. My gratitude is elevated today, not just for my mother and my wife, the mother of our children, but for women in general.

There aren't many women in the military service so I've been largely bereft of their association. There is something wonderful about the innate nurturing kindness of women. So, this Mother's Day I thank all the good, tender-hearted women in the world -- those with children and those without. Life would surely be terrible without women adding joy and balance to the life of man.

For that I'll end with a poem of unknown origin:

Woman was created from man
Not from his head to be ruled over
Not from his feet to be trodden under
But from his rib to be equal,
Under his arm to be protected,
Near his heart to be loved.

Faith vs Fear

Appertaining to my last post, I must admit and testify that the Lord, who knows all and governs the universe, is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. He who knows when the sparrow falls to the ground or when the hair of the head is lost, will watch over me and you. He knows our needs. He knows my needs and will continue to bless me in abundance. Plus, with my wonderful, incredible wife I'm bound to succeed.

It is often said that "Behind every good man is a better woman." I suppose one could say that with my case and maybe change it a little too to say, "Behind every good man is a surprised mother-in-law."

Change -- Iraq to America

"Are you nervous about going home?" a Staff Sergeant who'd been in the military since the early nineties asked me a couple days ago.

I hadn't thought much about it or expressed my feelings or thoughts on the subject before he asked me. Yes, I suppose I am. For one thing, I don't have an income to support my family. Since I had started working full-time for myself a few months prior to this involuntary military deployment with the Reserves, I lost everything. I had secured an income that would have yielded a six-figure income for many years to come just prior to getting called up. Now there's nothing, nil, nada.

The other thing is I started working for myself because what I had secured would have allowed me to stay at home more and have evenings and weekends off. As an air marshal, and prior to that, a security contractor, I was gone all the time. I've been away from home more often than not for FIVE YEARS! I am ready to stay home with my wife and children forever.

Since I've been gone so often, and now a year away here in the desert (I'm in Kuwait now), there will be some adjustments and re-acquaintance with being with my wife and family.

The NCO who posed the question then said that he was divorced. He said that when he came back from a deployment many years ago, he was easily provoked to anger and took it out on his family. Since he felt he was the threat, he wanted to eliminate the threat like he'd been taught. Yes, he said he had such a difficult time readjusting that he wanted to take his own life. He sought out a VA psychotherapist for help.

One of the other things he told me was that when he went home on leave a few months ago, when his sister picked him up from the airport, a suspicious looking car driving erratically drove near them. He hollered without thinking, "hit the [expletive]!" That's what he'd been doing in convoys in Iraq for months. Almost immediately afterwords, he realized his mistake.

I chuckled because I remembered that one of my buddies did just that when he came back from Iraq. A car was swerving into him and driving erratically on the first day he was driving back in America. He rammed into the car just a little, like he had done for many months in Iraq. Oops! He felt terrible. His automatic response needed to be changed to suit the social norms in the U.S.

He drove up beside the older gentleman driving the car and urged him to pull over. Walking up to his car, the man refused to roll down his window more than an inch. Considering all the 'road rage' incidents in America, my friend told me that the man whom he ran into on purpose and then forced to pull over on the side of the roadway looked terrified. "I'm so sorry about that," my friend started. "I just came back from Iraq and..." After saying the word 'Iraq', the man's face became even more pale with fear.

My buddy slipped a piece of paper through the man's slightly opened window with his name, address, phone number and insurance information on it, but the man drove off and never contacted him or his insurance.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Healing Consequences of Abuse

I recently wrote to a friend that bad things sometimes happen to good people because God allows everyone -- both good people who make poor choices and purely evil people -- the gift of moral agency.

As such many multitudes have had their lives devastated because of injuries sustained from others. As tragic and as horrific as these are, healing is possible. (See To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse)

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Joy of Suffering

While flying out of Iraq -- YES! -- I had time to read several chapters in my pocket-sized New Testament. I must admit that each time I pick up the scriptures, I learn something new. This is particularly true when I concentrate on what I'm reading and study with a prayerful attitude.

When I was in high school, on the day my friend shot and killed himself, I began to write in my journal regularly. Not only has record-keeping helped me solve emotional and spiritual trials, but it's given me a record for my posterity and has improved my ability to express myself. It's been a positive blessing to my life. I mention that because at or near the same time I began a more serious study of scriptures too. I determined then to read a little each day. Since it only takes 21 days to form a habit, the years that have followed have been rather wonderful. With the exception of the first year, in which I may have missed 5-6 days, I've read the scriptures everyday since then.

To give you an idea of how long that's been, the soldiers have occasionally referred to me as an "old man" and have poked fun of my thinning and receding hairline. But I'm sure I'm not as old, nor as thin on top, as Elisha the prophet whom the children of Bethel mocked, calling him "bald head." Two sows, or female bears, mauled the children after Elisha cursed them. That was one angry prophet. (See 2 Kings 2:23-25.)

Writing nearly everyday in my journal, and reading Holy writ daily helped me to pray each day. I can say without reservation, that everything good and positive that has come to my life since then, which is quite a lot, has been a direct result from starting and continuing those positive daily habits. Indeed, it is said that by small and simple things, great things come to pass.

That's my segue to say this:

In all those years of scripture study, I have seemed to skip or rather not fully understand many passages. Of course, some writings of Isaiah or John the Revelator, for instance, I simply don't understand at all. No, what I'm talking about is actually FEELING and UNDERSTANDING the words. It's one thing to read the word "faith", for instance, and it's another thing entirely to comprehend it's meaning through personal experience.

Even though my days are filled with hope, happiness and optimism, I have learned valuable lessons this last year. Since wickedness never was happiness, despair cometh because of iniquity. Nevertheless, even when we're striving to do what God commands, we are not immune from pain or suffering. "There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men." (Eccl. 6:1)

All personal trials are unique, yet we all experience them.

Consider replacing the word trial with the words tempted and temptation in the following passage: "There hath no [trial] taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be [tried] above that ye are able; but will with the [trial or burden] also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Cor. 1:13)

I've learned, and more fully comprehend, what the prophet Isaiah meant when he prophesied of the Messiah, the Emmanuel, the Price of Peace. Isaiah wrote, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief." (Isa. 53:3, emphasis added.)

If our mandate is to become more as He is, shouldn't we also suffer with Him? Consider these verses:

"Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." (Heb 5: 8)

"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

"But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." (1 Pet. 4:12-13)

"And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." (Rom 8:17, emphasis added.)

Patience is the essence of Charity -- the pure love of Christ. It is part of the essential pathway of life that we have an opportunity to add "to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness." (2 Pet 1:6) And love.

If I could shout from every housetop I would. Hear this, my friends! Every experience and every painful trial shall be for our good. To borrow the words of another,

"Unquestionably every experience is of value to an individual or an organization. Some experiences may be sad, and accounted at times as disastrous; but are they really so? The rough wind which shakes it helps the young and slow-growing oak; for by reason of this very shaking the tree takes firmer hold of the earth; wider spread the roots; deeper down into the soil are they thrust, until the sapling, once so easily shaken, becomes a monarch in the forest, mocks the howling tempest, until its height and frame become worthy of the land and atmosphere in which it grows a giant tree... Profitable if not sweet are the uses of adversity." (History of the Church, per. 1, 1948, Intro. Calamitous events, p. XXXII.)

Fortunately, there is One who suffered incomprehensible pain, even more than man can suffer except it be unto death. Our Advocate with the Father, our Savior and Redeemer, knows how to lift our burdens and carry our trails because He alone experienced them.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Great Read

I'm not Catholic, but this is a wonderfully written piece.

The Modern World's Attempt To Beautify Sin & Death by Mitchell Kalpakgian.

Leaders Wanted

An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
--Arab saying

Your mission, if you wish to accept it, is to go to Iraq and combat terrorism. I was pretty excited when the call came in. Not that I volunteered for it, but I had trained for years for combat and my chance had finally come. Unbeknownst to me, the mission would soon change.

Your mission, which you cannot escape, is to go to Iraq and combat bureaucracy and cruelty. Good luck. (Cringe.)

I think I'm an approachable leader who has a good handle on understanding the dynamics of human behavior. Initially, I was assigned as the executive officer over a large company. (Note: I had never been in this battalion or known anyone from this battalion before last year.) I quickly introduced myself and shook hands with every single soldier and noncommissioned officer (NCO) in the company. Not because I'm a sycophant, but because I'm normally gregarious and I enjoy people. I learned a little something about each soldier and enjoyed teaching, assisting and helping them for the first couple of months living in terrible living conditions in cramped tents and suffering from strange leadership decisions made above me.

It didn't take long for the soldiers or I to realize that the individuals in the tier above us weren't really looking out for the best interests of the troops. Unfortunately, things didn't change throughout the deployment. It's been sad to witness so many people -- officers, NCOs and soldiers alike -- treated so horribly. There is common consent in that observation and fact.

When more officers came in during the initial weeks, some shuffling of personnel occurred. Both my commander and I were relocated into other sections. The soldiers and NCOs would often tell me how they wished I could have stayed with them.

Our train-up took place at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. We stayed there for a few months -- why so long, I'll never know.

One senior officer from the training entity over our battalion, somehow found out that I was going to church on Sundays with my congregation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, instead of going to Protestant or Catholic services held during training. Immediately, I was called into his office and told I could not attend church anymore. Boy, was I shocked. Since I was the only active LDS soldier from the battalion, I was told by this officer, "If you go, others will want to go." Isn't that the point? I still couldn't believe what I was being told.

The military is an institution built on faith and exercise of religion. The military goes out of its way to see that all people can worship according to the dictates of their own conscious. So why was this guy saying these things -- in front of a witness of the same rank, I might add? Did he have a prejudice against Mormonism?

I waited for my chain of command to handle the situation -- and I waited and waited and waited. Nothing happened. I knew the battalion commander knew about the situation, but nothing happened. Did he have something against my religion too? I thought. I quietly and patiently kept my mouth close, even though I knew I could have easily filed a complaint that would have been wholeheartedly substantiated. But I never did. Instead I was patient. After several weeks, without my knowledge, consent or encouragement whatsoever, an officer in my unit, I would later learn, contacted his Congressmen to investigate allegations of violations of First Amendment rights of worship.

Suffice it to say, that issue was resolved rapidly. Unfortunately, my own chain of command didn't do anything about it, ever -- which I found odd. But even the Chaplain himself would eventually tell me the soldiers' morale throughout the deployment was low specifically due to what they viewed as incompetency and self-centeredness of abusive leadership at the highest level in the battalion. I personally heard that from everyone from Majors to privates too! Perhaps this was indicative of my own situation.

While serving in another section, I continually watched management decision problems being made and additionally witnessed others getting treated unfairly. I listened to others, watched and observed. I'm not an easily offended person, but there were some things going on that I did not want to be a part of, so I asked to move from the section I was assigned to.

When a very capable black female soldier with two master's degrees came to work in that section, she'd eventually approach me (now in the other section) and tell me of her concerns with the way things were being run and the way she was being treated. Personally, I think the others were intimidated by her. I wasn't in charge of that section, and my rank and position did not allow me the authority to change things, unfortunately.

Another NCO came to me not long thereafter and asked to speak with me in private. I was shocked because I had not ever spoken with this female NCO before. She started out by saying, "Sir, someone told me that you were a fair person and that I could trust you. If it's okay, I'd like to ask for some advice." It reminded me of the comments my old law enforcement buddies used to say when they collectively suggested that I be the lead crisis negotiator because of my active listening and interpersonal communications ability.

This particular soldier was a newly promoted NCO. I had heard several people saying she did not deserve to be promoted, though the Department of the Army thought otherwise. I had also personally heard others tell how there was a quest to take her rank from her. She apparently had heard of that too. She said, "I've even heard that the battalion commander wants to take away my rank, but..." she added, "I didn't do anything." She asked for my advice on the paperwork trail that was being started on her for very minor infractions. The paperwork was being initiated simply to have enough evidence to take away her rank. I offered what I considered an objective and balanced opinion.

Several months passed. I did not have a need to speak with this NCO, and I didn't. Nevertheless a few weeks ago when I heard that the battalion commander was going to give her what's called a field grade Article 15, which would take away her rank, her pay, and jeopardize her security clearance, let alone her career, I surreptitiously ran to her and told her to fight it. Such an decision, based on what I knew and had observed, was the biggest, most corrupt thing I'd witnessed since leaving the federal government (that's another story altogether).

An outside investigation was done and a Court Martial was initiated. The allegations brought against her were totally, completely unfounded. She was cleared of all charges.

--Makes you wonder if the battalion commander even had enough concrete evidence to give her an Article 15 in the first place! I suspect what another officer told me about such ill intentions: He was on a "witch hunt."

She nearly cried yesterday when thanking me for having the courage and the decency to help her. But I didn't do anything, really. I just stood up for what was right and said, "fight it."

I'm sure you're wondering about the other situation with the black female soldier I mentioned earlier. Well, I didn't do anything for that either. I simply listened to her complaints and empathized with her situation. She decided on her own to file an Equal Opportunity complaint. An investigating officer found blatant E.O. violations, including misogyny and sexual harassment. The three people, including my former boss, who is of the same ilk as the battalion commander, received Brigade (higher than Battalion) level Letters of Reprimand that will go into their permanent file.

There are lessons to learn from this:

1) Eventually, if you're being stupid in a no-stupid zone, you're going to get in trouble.
2) Diversity is a wonderful thing; it adds dimension and flavor to every organization.
3) Behave ethically and fairly at all times, because crude jokes or unfair or illegal action is bound to offend someone even though they might not say it.
4) Leaders have the responsibility to understand the dynamics of human relations and the morale of those they lead. If leaders cannot be approachable and mesh well with their subordinates, their people will not trust them nor follow them anywhere.
5) When the wicked rule, people mourn. When a person gets too much power and authority as they suppose, they will almost immediately begin to exercise an unrighteous dominion.
6) Leaders (meaning all of us) should surround ourselves with talented and capable people. If you want a winning team, that's part of the formula. Jealousy, or the 'intimidation' factor has caused many gifted individuals to find employment elsewhere.
7) If you want to have a loyal, hard-working and happy team, put people first.
8) Leaders who step on others or stab others in the back in order to get to -- or stay at -- the top will be very lonely there.
9) Do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
10) It's imperative to have quality leaders in every organization because as the Arabs say, "An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep."

Candidates All Wrong on Iraq

Each of the leading Presidential candidates is completely wrong when it comes to their Iraq war policy. Here's just a tidbit of err:

John McCain hopes to keep the same troop levels and be in Iraq for 100 years. Having been on the ground, I've been able to witness the devastating side effects on troops who are continuing to be cycled through on multiple deployments. I've also observed that many hundreds, in my view, could stay at home. Every single person is important. If just one person could avoid a rotation to Iraq, that would bless his/her life immensely, as well as his/her family and children. Allowing a greater recuperation period would help with mental health issues, and may even help the decision to re-enlist or not. At the current deployment rate, I haven't met many troops eager to stay in the military.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to withdraw immediately from Iraq. Doing so would cripple the stability we've gained here in the region. Consider the international security implications of a rapid withdrawal: The Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds would likely start a serious civil war without coalition mediators. Iran and their henchmen, Hezbollah, et al, would side with the Shi'ites or perhaps just invade carte blanche. The entire area would destabilize. If you think the gas prices are high now, imagine what would occur if neighboring states tried to grab a piece of the land.

I've met Iraqis. I've seen them wave and smile to us while driving or flying by. I've spoken with them and have listened to them. They want peace, and they need that little extra help we can offer them.

Former reasons for war aside, we are here now -- so now what?

Well, even if the Dems take the upcoming election, I don't believe an entire withdrawal is likely, despite what the candidates are verbalizing. It's highly likely that there will be a U.S. presence here for a long, long time. And, if the next president decides to pull troops and assets out too quickly, the results could be cataclysmic. On that note, a fixed time table for withdrawal is risky, for stability and security reasons, that is if the pull back is substantial in number.

Further, Mrs. Clinton wants to get rid of all private security contractors as well. That'd simply burden the military all the more. Despite the occasional mishap, which has also occurred with the Marines in Haditha or the Army in Abu Ghraib, private security forces are, for the most part, great assets of professional caliber.

Keeping our current troop levels and operational tempo in Iraq seems unnecessary and will incur harmful affects in our national security, not to mention the toll of war on individuals and families. We can afford to pull back a little without jeopardizing serious loss. "Staying the course," as it's often referred to as, will continue to burden an already stretched out and demoralized military.

We need a happy-medium: We need to slowly get out of Iraq while, at a minimum, maintaining the current stability of the region. If followed through, all this bickering and political positioning on the "Iraq debate" left and right, respectively, could lead Iraq and our own country down more difficult paths.

Lastly, getting out of Iraq is like backing up from a tiger that's ready to pounce, it needs to be done carefully and with great caution. If you turn and run, you'll be lunch and if you don't you'll get mauled. Finally, "playing dead" just isn't an option Americans want. Besides, this is a real war, and real people die.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

PTSD and Going Home

According to a study released by RAND Corporation last month nearly 20 percent of those in the military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan reported symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder or depression. That's about 30,000 people -- imagine 9/11 happening everyday for one month straight but instead of victims dying they all receive debilitating psychological injuries.

Now I'm not trying to jockey up some political positioning here, I'm just stating the facts. The fact is post-9/11 war has not only sent over 4,000 men and women to their graves, but it's injured others as well -- the injuries that aren't visible.

There's a social stigma to seeking a mental health treatment. In fact, only half of the 30,000 uniformed troops that have suffered psychologically have sought psychological assistance. Some of my closest friends have seen VA psychotherapists, some others should, but I doubt they will. For one thing, it has been believed that a person could lose his/her security clearance. As a response to that, and to try and steer clear of the social stigma surrounding such psychological treatment, the Department of Defense announced last week that applicants for government security clearances will not have to report mental health treatment for injuries related to combat, posed on question number 21. I think that's a positive change.

The other reason I doubt some of my close friends will seek mental health treatment is because they fear they'll be viewed as less capable, or weak, by themselves, their colleagues or commanders. I can think of one of my friends in particular. He's been fighting every year since 9/11 as an Army Green Beret. I doubt he goes to regular counseling. He told me, however, that he has had some real terrible experiences, experiences that most people would never understand. I think one of the reasons he keeps volunteering for deployments is because it's nearly impossible for anyone, including his family, to understand him. Surely, he feels at home now among his brothers-in-arms, fighting day-to-day.

Adjusting from continued stress and pressure experienced in war, or trying to learn to re-live again after experiencing combat, has been a trial for human beings since the beginning of time. Let's just consider America's past few wars and the terms used to describe what military personnel had been through. Today the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is prevalent. Here's what the overall stress and the 'disorder' -- a stigma by name itself -- has been labeled in the past:

Civil War -- "Soldier's heart"
WWI -- "Shell shock"
WWII -- "Battle fatigue"
Korean War -- "War neurosis"
Vietnam -- "Post-Vietnam syndrome"

PTSD is different than being worn out through the overall war experience, which has simply been referred to here as "Combat stress." Dave Grossman suggests one aspect of PTSD is like when you put your hand on a hot oven as a kid. You'll do that only once. You learn. It's deeply embedded into your brain. Likewise, you also learn in combat that some things aren't good and you don't want to experience them again. That's one of the reasons when a car backfires some war veterans have flashbacks or reactions. In short, those responses are "normal reactions to abnormal circumstances."

I'll never forget when my friend told me his dad, a Vietnam veteran, dove out of bed and hit the floor screaming one 4th of July when being awakened by fireworks.

I flew in a Blackhawk helicopter over Iraq today and I reflected on past wars, carnage and bloodshed. I said a little prayer of thanksgiving for the great peace that has come to Iraq in the year I've been here. I hope it stays that way, because I'm ready to leave it all behind.

Suicide, Challenges & Strengths

The unit replacing us has arrived. One of their soldiers committed suicide. He shot himself. I can't imagine suffering such emotional pain and fear that suicide would seem like the best option, yet I have known literally dozens of people who have attempted suicide or have said they would rather die than go on. I wish that I could speak to each of them and help them.

Once, in a law enforcement capacity, I helped a man not jump to his death. I've witnessed others having their stomachs pumped from overdosing. One woman cut her wrists with scissors. There were several 'hesitation marks' and a few deep gouges. I spoke with her for a while before the doctor sewed her up. She really needed professional help. Dr. Kevorkian, maybe.

Please forgive my dark cop humor, but a little bit of humor can be found in just about anything. If we didn't laugh, we'd be miserable, crying all the time.

One of my best friends shot and killed himself when we were in high school. We had played soccer together since we were six years old. We played football together, went pheasant hunting and snow skiing together. We exchanged Christmas gifts and just 'hung out' together. We even skipped school once or twice when the summer weather was too nice to stay indoors.

It tore me up when I got the news that he took his life. I remember it like it happened yesterday. I wept uncontrollably. I even felt guilty because he asked me to go golfing with him the week before, but I didn't. I didn't suspect a thing. Maybe I could have stopped him -- that's the way I felt. It crushed me.

A couple of years after my friend's death, I learned more about suicide and depression rates in America. It shocked me to learn that 1 in 4 people are depressed. I formulated a plan at that time to help others find happiness and I talked about it at every chance I had. My hope was to help others find happiness.

Speaking of depression, there's a big difference between a challenge and a way of life. This year has been a challenge. But I'm a much better man for having faced it. I feel very fortunate for experiencing everything I have. I now have an even greater capacity to empathize and be patient with others. I have a greater capacity to love, and a deeper desire to help others find joy and peace in their lives.

When viewed with the right attitude, our challenges become our strengths. I can think of a few people who are incredibly strong, can't you?

Soothed by Mother Nature


I was recently reminded of the beautiful wildlife near our home in America. Not long before coming to Iraq, I watched a mother goose and her goslings cross the road. The last of the seven babies had a hard time jumping up the curb, so I hopped out of the car and gave him a boost. Understanding that only the strong survive, I still didn't want to see the baby chick get left behind. I think he had a lame leg.

When I saw this picture of a hen and her ducklings, I couldn't help but smile at the memories. Even as a young Boy Scout, I've always enjoyed flora and fauna, which pleases the eye and brings joy to the heart.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Military Honor and Decency

The Militay Honor and Decency Act of 1996, 10 U.S.C. § 2489a, prohibits "the sale or rental of sexually explicit material on property under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense," which includes military stores (called post and/or base exchanges).

Last year a Department of Defense committee ruled that magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse are not considered pornographic in nature. U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., has proposed new legislation to change the wording in that Act which would ban the sale of those magazines as well as others. I support his effort.

The annual multi-billion dollar pornography industry is filled with ruined lives, addiction and criminal activity. Allowing such smut to be freely circulated by those in our military service, and even seemingly encouraged by the DoD, is beneath the dignity and goodness that should be expected of them. As diplomats and ambassadors to all nations, those in military uniform must do the things which indeed promote Military Honor and Decency.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Heavenly Choir

While traveling in a convoy in a vulnerable Humvee today, I felt a peace I haven't felt before. Sometimes we can feel when the Lord reaches down and gives us a little boost, providing a sense of peace and comfort that is literally not of this world.

Our road trip took us from [redacted] to [redacted]. Johnny was killed here a few months ago when his Humvvee was hit by a roadside bomb. I think of him often and regret not being able to attend his funeral held at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Due to reasons beyond my control, a great amount of necessary things were missing. In short, I wasn't prepared and I felt terribly stressed because of it.

While we turned the corner exiting out of the gate, First Sergeant Rodriguez, who was driving the Humvee, said a silent prayer, and then made the sign of the cross by touching his forehead and both shoulders. Though we worship differently, I had prayed quietly too just before he did, and I remembered all of those back home praying for me and the other military service members here.

It was at this point that the second verse of one of the hymns beautifully sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir came to my mind, subconsciously at first. Only later did I hear the words and feel the powerful sermon which stemmed from doing as the Apostle Paul admonished, to "[Speak] to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19).

These are the words I heard and felt that offered “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7):

Thru the valley and shadow of death though I stray,
Since thou art my Guardian, no evil I fear.
Thy rod shall defend me, thy staff be my stay.
No harm can befall with my Comforter near.
No harm can befall with my Comforter near.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Capital Punishment

I am a proponent of capital punishment. Unfortunately, not enough people are euthanized. The ruthless, heartless, unrelenting murderer, for instance, who shot and killed my friend needs to have his life ended. Thankfully, it happened in Texas. Unfortunately, he is afforded too many appeals in the process. I want this not out of spite or anger, but because justice must be done.

I used to read everything I could about the death penalty. Did you know that only 2 percent of those that are given the death sentence actually receive it? Did you know that it usually takes -- at a minimum -- seven years for someone to get killed once they are sentenced? That's about how long it took for Timothy McVeigh, and his was a popular case.

Did you know that some lawyers and human rights activists made a huge cry and complaint when one murderer 'suffered pain' because the person administering the lethal injection missed his vein a few times? Where's the cry for the innocent victims who suffered at that monster's hands? I blame the media for ignoring that angle.

Plainly, there are some crimes in addition to culpable, premeditated murder that are so egregious -- so diabolically Satanistic -- that I believe the only possible redemption, the only plausible and prudent sentence that might in some small way be equal to the crime, is death for those found guilty. Here's one such case: Man held daughter as hostage for 24 years while raping and molesting her, and fathering children by her. There is no way to repair such injury, but requiring the life of the perpetrator is a beginning.

Those who reside in civil societies must know that they cannot get away with murder, literally speaking. If so, the number of those who attempt and succeed at it will rise (as evident in the United States, barring other reasons), particularly when the criminal is given a prison sentence but gets out on 'good behavior' because of prison overcrowding or some minor judicial idiosyncrasy. Sentencing these incarnate devils to "two life sentences, plus 344 years without the possibility of parole", for instance, places an unnecessary burden upon a just and civil society and is an affront to the victims and their families.

And contrary to what the anti-death penalty community says, thinks or feels, civil people and civil societies neither 'become' like the evil killers nor are they immoral persons for requiring the life of him who takes life away.

"S" stands for Stupid

"Daddy," my daughter would say urgently, "[my son] just said the S-word." Unless they've learned another S-word since I've been gone, "S" stands for Stupid, not the other S-word which my wife and I avoid altogether.

Stupid is not a nice word, especially when you call others stupid, so we've tried not to use it. But in reality there are stupid people.

A buddy of mine once asked rhetorically, "Do you know how they say, 'there's no such thing as a stupid question'? Well," he answered himself without a pause, "there are stupid questions and there are stupid people." I laughed because, well...he's right. Here's more proof:

Just reviewing today headlines I learned that someone tried to cash a $360 billion dollar check. He was arrested.

And here's something even more disturbing. Indian Babies Dropped 50 Feet for Good Luck in Bizarre Ritual. When will people learn that some traditions are just plain dumb?

There's a word I learned when I was my daughter's age that means 'stupid person.' It starts with an "A" and sometimes is preceded with the word dumb.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My Wife

Here's what my wife has done -- or has suffered through -- the year I've been gone, besides the normal daily responsibilities. Obviously, just saying she's been home alone with our four kids says a lot, but wait, there's more.My oldest boy broke the bed by jumping on it from the top of his dresser.

My youngest boy followed him the next week, breaking the repaired bed.

The toilet flooded, seeping through the ceiling and flooded the basement four times. (Thanks kids.)

The hot water heater broke.The fridge broke and had to be replaced.

She bought the kids a new puppy that is still not potty trained and uses our kids for chew toys.

She potty trained our youngest daughter, who then decided she didn't want to be potty trained.

After ten accidents a day for too long, she finally succeeded.

My oldest boy spray painted the garage, my car, the fence, the neighbors fence and yard. (If this is the way boys act out without fathers being around, what about a Fatherless America?)

Fortunately, I think I turned out okay, so there's still hope for you single mothers. "Thanks mom.")

My wife found out her wedding ring was broke and had to be replaced. She had to put up with me getting upset about it.

She helped lay tile in a friends bathroom and consoled someone else who was beaten up by her husband.

Besides helping with homework, she taxied our oldest kids to piano lessons.She had a miscarriage and two surgeries.

She had a tonsillectomy, her third surgery, and felt sick still having to deal with all four kids alone.

She planted a beautiful plant and flower garden.

As a single mommy, she cleaned the house spill after spill and mess after mess...all without going non compos mentis (insane).

She watched four busy kids (ours) and babysat for others...all by herself.

When I came home on R&R mid-tour leave, we had a planned pregnancy. She's suffered through all those changes and illnesses.

She's had no time off, ever! -- and no personal space.

She worked part time out of the house.

When my friend Johnny died, she wrote me a letter of sadness and, since she knew him, she became even more worried for me.

After I left, she had more security lights installed at home for her safety and consolation.

She had to comfort our kids whose peers said I was going to die in Iraq.

Our baby girl couldn't even say five words before I left. A few weeks ago she sang two songs to me on the phone, as well as her ABC's.

Flying with four kids all alone isn't easy, but she did it, and celebrated Christmas all alone with my family.

She had a root canal retreated and found that the last dentist left a file inside her tooth which has bothered her for years.

She's been a single parent for the most part for the last five years, since I've traveled so much...all while continuing to get pregnant and raise all the kids alone! (Note: It's by choice that we've had kids, but it's not been a choice to be separated. In fact, I left the air marshals to be home more. A surprise "Go to Iraq"-note from Uncle Sam changed that.)

She's served in multiple volunteer church assignments, and has gotten the kids ready and sat with them in the pews each Sunday.

Best of all, (according to what she told me recently) she spends all my money while I'm gone and I have no idea what she's doing with my money. That's evidence that she has kept her good sense of humor. (By the way, it's really 'our' money.)

My wife is the most incredible, beautiful, wonderful woman I know. She's my best friend, and frankly, I don't ever want to travel so much again.

Calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca., has recently exercised her powers as the Speaker of the House to halt members of Congress from casting votes on the bill renewing intelligence agencies' authority to freely monitor the communications of foreign terrorists abroad for more than two months now. The Senate approved and supported the renewing of that bill by a 68-to-29 vote.

What is Congresswoman Pelosi thinking? This tells me she does not understand terrorism or terrorists at all. She is not acting in the best interests of the people of the United States. She is putting our safety and the national security of America in jeopardy. This is an urgent issue that cannot be delayed longer. We cannot afford to impose our wonderful 4th Amendment Constitutional rights on those who do not reside under its banner! If we wait, disaster is the inevitable result.

Servare Vitas -- To Save Lives

It's nice to know I'll be going home soon. But to be honest, there's a pit in my stomach. Not that I'm heading home but that I get to go home. Home sweet home! I was recently reminded of those who can't go home. I've been following their story ever since their helicopter crashed in February 2003. I've worried for them and I wish the government would do -- and could do -- more than what's been done.

I'm talking about the three U.S. contractors that have been held hostage by narco-terrorists in Columbia: Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes. All of them are military veterans. One of them is a friend of a my retired friend from U.S. Army Special Forces.

I've spoken with personnel who've worked at the U.S. embassy in Columbia about their situation. I've spoken to my friends in private about my insatiable desire to see them freed. Another colleague who is an expert in expat hostage negotiation releases would love this opportunity, I'm sure.

Where's Ross Perot when you need him? Ross, if you'll recall, hired a team of Special Ops guys to rescue his employees in Iran in the late 70s.

Well, these three guys can't go home. They were employed by DynCorp to conduct counterdrug -- drug eradication -- mission on a U.S. government contract. While flying over the coca crops in the jungles of the largest cocaine producing capital of the world, their helicopter was shot down. Two others on the bird were found with bullet holes in them -- they'd been assassinated at pointblank range after the helicopter crashed.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) is the terrorist group that's responsible. They currently hold them now. Those terrorists must be stopped. They are lethal. They are an enemy. They are filthy despots. The Colombian government even claimed last month that they found evidence that the members of that terrorist organization have been working to get materials for a radioactive dirty bomb.

I would like to meet with the families of these three noble men. I would like to help their lonely children and cry with their spouses and parents. My heart goes out to those who cannot go home.

More must be done to free these men. Send me.