Friday, November 24, 2006

Good Riddance to God Save Us

God Save Us to Good Riddance

As the results of the recent election became clear, my first concern in the new political environment was for my brothers and sisters in arms, especially those still on the front lines. My concern for their welfare grew exponentially since they were now going to be subjected to the whims of many who have never expressed an understanding of the war on terror or ever saw the need to provide a plan for fighting it.

But those were my concerns. I wondered what theirs were. So, I solicited the thoughts of soldiers and Marines who have been there, are likely to go [back] to Iraq, or are on the ground there. I used an open-ended, generic question about the elections and Rumsfeld so they could tell me exactly what was on their minds.

The responses I received from this diverse group of patriotic warriors included everything from “good riddance” to “God help us all,” both ends of the spectrum sincere in their views, including the plea to the Almighty for protection.

On the one hand, there were multiple responses that the elections and removal of Rumsfeld is a victory for the insurgents. It was a repeated theme. After all, it has been the strategy of the terrorists and insurgents to defeat the will of the Americans because they can’t defeat the American military. The elections have now given them a strategic victory. As a result, they shared concerns this will give a huge boost to the aggressiveness of the terrorists who will now be more likely to attack Americans. If they attack and kill even more Americans, given the message we’ve just sent, that should serve to accelerate the “cut and run” mentality which already exists.

This will be further aggravated by the expectation the Democrats will decrease funding and troop strength, thus making our troops more vulnerable and subject to even more attacks. This sentiment is rooted in the well-known attitudes and comments of leading Democrats. Specifically noted were John Kerry’s comments on their intelligence and his continuing status in the party. How can they trust a party to do right by them with such a prominent figure who thinks so poorly of them? Nancy Pelosi’s view that Iraq is a situation to be resolved and not a war to be won won’t help the Democratic cause among those who know they are bleeding and dying in a war.

On the other hand, the “good riddance” crowd and others expressed relief Rumsfeld was gone and hope that a new SecDef will bring new ideas and connect what has been disconnected on the ground, but there was some dismay at the President’s new selection. Why do we keep recycling people? There was also a sentiment that the Republicans had their chance, blew it, and maybe it was time to give someone else a try.

About two-thirds of the respondents noted the need for more troops and had questions about Rumsfeld’s complicity in the number of troops that were allegedly needed. There are many questions and frustrations about the tactics being used in Iraq and a reliance on technology instead of troops. They shared the success stories of Iraqi and American foot patrols where enough troops existed in a given area to influence the battle space. But there was a lack of troops to repeat these successes on a consistent and thorough basis. They also relayed frustrations with vehicle-centric tactics which weren’t effective.

I can’t help but wonder where in the chain of command the “disconnect” must exist between what they need and what is provided and directed. If we still don’t have enough troops and the ones we have aren’t being led to employ the right tactics, at what point in the chain are we wrong? Although responsibility rests at the top, has it been the very top making wrong decisions or somewhere else down the chain? If we answer that, can we move quickly to victory?

All but one believed that leaving before the job was finished would be risky or a mistake. The holdout to the group wondered what victory was because no one’s ever given a clear, definable picture of victory. The others felt the commitment to finish the job was either now in jeopardy or our defeat was now a sealed fate. All but the lone holdout expressed that cutting and running would be detrimental to the safety of the troops, the U.S., or the world community.

The newly empowered Democrats should take note of that. Those who stand toe-to-toe with Islamic extremists every day, whether they agree with the new political environment or not, understand the enemy we face, how long we will have to fight them, and the consequences of surrendering the fight. Even today there are those, including some Republicans, who have been unwilling to admit, acknowledge, or comprehend this. Their attitude is that it’s only some sort of extremist “neocon” view of the world.

But those who took the time to answer my question are obviously not “neocons” and understand the consequences of this war. It all now hinges on how many politicians, Democrat and Republican alike, have the political will to accept that and whether or not they have the ability to define victory and the fortitude to fight for it.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day Lesson on Names

Sterling is the name of the man who owns the hardware store where I live. But Sterling is much more than just the owner of a hardware store. He’s a veteran; a veteran of the Korean War. In fact, Sterling was awarded the Silver Star for heroism after fighting near Hagaru Ri and a Purple Heart later during that war. Anyone who knows anything about the Chosin Reservoir immediately recognizes the name Hagaru Ri and has an appreciation for the kind of fight Sterling must have had against the waves of Chinese attacking from the north.

I recently stopped at the hardware store to renew my American Legion membership. Sterling’s also an officer for our local American Legion Post. He asked if I was going to be attending our town’s Veterans Day program. I replied that I didn’t think I could attend because I was scheduled to give a speech at Fort McPherson National Cemetery.

Sterling then paused and he took off his glasses with one hand, looked at me and ran his other hand through his white hair. After a moment he said to me in a calm, but sincere voice, “there’s a good friend of mine buried there. He was hurt bad during the war, right near me. He died there in Korea. I’ll never forget him. I can still see his face.”

With the revelation of each fact, Sterling paused, as if weighing the gravity of individual memories now coming alive once again.

He continued, “I’ve visited his grave there at Fort McPherson. He’s buried near the flag pole. I’ve shed a lot of tears for him over the years. He was from Nebraska City. His name is Duane Hoyle.”

After my time in Iraq, I really don’t have many fears. But I suddenly realized at that moment I was afraid of something I’d never thought about. I was afraid, that unlike Sterling who hadn’t forgotten, I would forget the names of the Marines I served with in Iraq. Even though they were alive, I was afraid I would lose touch with them and eventually forget their names. Suddenly a name meant more to me than I could have ever imagined.

Standing there with Sterling, all of my friends’ call signs started running through my head, but their names were escaping me. I almost panicked. I could remember “Moe, Troll, Grumpy, Bronco and Dirt,” but their real names were briefly, inexplicably lost.

I quickly regained my thoughts and the names rushed back to me, but the fear of forgetting those names was now irreversibly imprinted in my mind. We finished the business at hand and I left the hardware store, enlightened by the experience, knowing that in a very small way, I now understood the fight at Hagaru Ri just a little better than I had before.

I was humbled by the shared memory. Not just by the willing openness, but in the fact that during one brief encounter a very personal, living history of the Korean War was opened right before my eyes and made available as a lesson that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

It also reaffirmed my perception, whether right or wrong, which causes me to believe that those who served in previous wars, the warriors of previous generations, should be held in higher esteem than we should ever hold ourselves. Even though we might have “been there and done that,” we sometimes still consider our predecessors as more deserving of the title “veteran.” The proof for this philosophy was endorsed yet again with that one trip to the hardware store.

I also knew this had been one of those lessons that can make us better people, if, in this case, for no other reason, than to make me a better “name” person because I’m not very good at remembering people’s names. I’ve resolved to be better at it now.

But most importantly, Sterling taught me a lesson that day about the power of a name. Obviously every name is personal, but it’s the experiences of and with the people who belong to each name that gives power to something as simple as a name.

For veterans and all citizens, remembering the names and service of those who fought our nation’s wars and then participating in the development of our nation’s future not only honors those who’ve fought, but most importantly it solidifies that for which they fought.

Personally, I’ll honor those I served with and what they believed by remembering their names and passing along their deeds from Iraq. I won’t forget Adam low-crawling up to potential IEDs. I won’t forget Matt calling in air support even while being shot at with RPG’s. I won’t forget Mark’s voice ripping through the night, motivating a lackadaisical convoy. I won’t forget the calm in Ric’s voice as he talked an ambushed unit through a fire fight over the radio. I simply won’t forget most every experience with Rod who’s back there now training Iraqi soldiers.

And I’ll honor both Sterling and his friend, Corporal Duane Hoyle, by visiting Duane’s grave when I give my speech at Fort McPherson and letting him know that Sterling sent me.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fighting for Those Who Fight Against Us

I sometimes question the sanity of having fought for the rights of those who, by virtue of their every endeavor, seek to destroy the foundations of the country I fought for. In raising my hand and swearing to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” I know that my oath required me to defend all Americans, everyone benefiting from the rights of the Constitution. But I sometimes have trouble getting my head around the idea of having defended anyone whose mission it is to attack those rights.

I ask that question with each mailing I get from the ACLU. No, I didn’t apply for membership to the ACLU. I guess, as some sort of sophomoric joke, someone signed me up; most likely one of the liberals who takes offense at my publicizing their positions. So I kept the membership. It’s like spying on the enemy. It reminds me of all the time I spent finding out what the bad guys were up to in Iraq.

The latest mailing from them was an attack on faith. It came as a solicitation for donations to fight anything and everything “faith-based.” It was four pages warning of attempts to transform “our country from a constitutional democracy to a thinly-veiled theocracy.”

The sales pitch by the ACLU is that they need my money for defending “religious liberty.”

But all of us who have watched the ACLU operate know their agenda is definitely not defending religious liberty. It is the denial of religious liberty. It is the denial of expression of religion by those who are religious. It is not the separation of church of state. It is elimination of the church from the United States.

I have heard the ACLU called “the most dangerous organization in the U.S.” I would agree. Their position on faith is a perfect example. They adamantly oppose faith in our country, but are the same group which has committed so many of its resources to defending the rights of religious terrorists. They have fund drives to fight against faith in the United States while at the same time fighting for the rights of those who, because of their faith, have declared holy war against the United States. Their mission is to tear apart the foundations of religion in this country while at the same time defending the terrorists who are intent upon the destruction of this country for religious purposes.

In the same mailing they also attack abstinence because it has, at least in part, support by religious groups who use their funding to promote abstinence. Abstinence itself is described as a “woeful excuse for health education” and puts “the health and well being of thousands of young people at risk by failing to give teenagers the facts they need to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy.”

Last time I checked abstinence worked for preventing both pregnancy and disease every time it was tried. How irresponsible is it of any group to attack a 100% proven method for protecting our children, regardless of the base of support for that method? It shows the immorality of their ideology and the disregard they have for the consequences of their actions.

And then they move on to the defense of abortion, or as they refer to it, “reproductive rights.” If it weren’t so serious, that term itself would be laughable. Trying to disguise the destruction of life as the right to create life has got to be one of the most semantically clever yet grotesque uses of the English language ever.

Their atheistic comprehension of the argument prevents them from grasping why opposition to abortion and the wanton destruction of life is based primarily on religious precepts. Evidently, the ACLU doesn’t feel those who oppose destroying life are entitled to that opinion on those grounds. Sorry ACLU, those religious principles are the same ones that constitute the very fabric of this country, and pro-life groups are entitled the right to invoke those foundational principles in developing and stating their views, just as much as you rely on your impious ideology to oppose them.

As noted before, they seem convinced of an existing threat to transform our country into “a thinly-veiled theocracy.” Nice scare tactic, but maybe they need to study those places in the world where theocracies actually exist to see how far from a theocracy our country is. Evidently no one from the ACLU has been to a militant Islamic country where other religions aren’t even allowed and beheadings await those who don’t believe in Islam.

Maybe they need to visit Saudi Arabia or Iran. Those are theocracies. Our country isn’t even in the same game with them, nor is it anywhere near the ball-park, driving toward it, or even thinking about buying tickets to that game.

Our country’s biggest problem is exactly the opposite; the need to fight against those, like the ACLU, who want to deny all of us our religious freedoms, regardless of which religion we choose.

In fighting against them, I should also say “thanks” to the ACLU for the mailings. Even though I’m not proud of having fought for them, I’m glad I could be a drain on their resources and help illuminate their positions.