Ask the Chief: listen and comprehend

I recall a time when listening, and comprehending what I heard, was not one of my strongest qualities. Boot camp “helped” me change that weakness.

“What is your major malfunction, Numb***s?“, the Company Commander bellowed at me. Because everyone was part of a team, he explained when one member fails, the team suffers: He continued, “EVERYONE – DOWN and give me Twenty [pushups]!!!”)

Active listening, which at that time meant, listening intently to the Company Commander (Drill Instructor in the Marines) internalizing or instantly responding to his instructions. For some, it was coerced, due to members of the team encouraging a weaker recruit to focus. Those who successfully completed recruit training, gained skill in listening and comprehending what they were told, so they might become effective sailors, soldiers, airman or marines. However, those proven methods for military cohesion and performance are unsuitable for most other occupations.

Active listening

A service my business provides administers one of the state licensing exams. We provide test candidates with instructions about the exam beforehand and monitor them during the test. Though I repeat myself four times about the bathroom policy or warn about message-capable devices being prohibited during the exams, someone with a need to use the restroom, or another having a cellphone or IWatch on their person, after the timed test begins, tests me. As a matter of state policy, once an exam begins, nobody can be out of eyesight, to prevent cheating. This includes a requirement to monitoring in the bathroom. While a matter of ethics and not necessarily comprehension, there are sufficient reports of people distributing images of the test questions to reinforce these policies.

Most of our test candidates are prepared for admission to the state test. Some have not listened nor understood what they must bring to be successfully admitted. One of the most arcane line items for many teens and Twenty-Somethings, is a properly- sized, properly-addressed and properly-stamped envelope to receive test results by mail. With an Internet of tens of billions webpages and videos, a remarkable number of the young have not searched for things they do not understand. A significant number have not reviewed test checklists – for the acceptable identification, a pencil, envelope, and state application form -which are sent by mail or email from the test administrators a week or two before the test.

Language comprehension

A number of candidates are not adequately prepared to take the state exam due to their lack of English language comprehension. Where the secondary school system or junior colleges may be structured for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, trade schools on accelerated schedules often omit competency tests (in written or oral skills) as a prerequisite. However, some skills with a state or Federal licensing requirement, are tested only in English.

At the same time, many non-native speakers of English successfully complete training through schools, local governments and community programs that provide classes in ESL to prepare immigrants and adult learners for careers. As for those who fail to certify for licensing, some get the assistance to gain comprehension in written and spoken English for their career field. Some find members of their ethnic community to assist them and they eventually may succeed.

incentivize listening and comprehension

As a retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, I have more than thirty years experience witnessing how a structured system of training, and of unbending standards – in performance or conduct – could advance someone from weakness to strength. People who are incentivized to succeed, provided the tools to do so, and not given special accommodation nor lowered standards, will succeed. The issues that are central to success in one’s country of residence is skill-attainment and comprehension. It is a systemic failure, both in the public sector (government bureaucracy) and society when people are not adequately prepared to be self-sufficient. However, it ultimately is the individual who determines whether they comprehend the information they receive. And the individual has to engage the trainers to gain that comprehension. While some are unmotivated and squander the opportunity, others may find another school or resource that offers additional training in listening or language comprehension. Once these challenges are resolved, I will welcome the day the greater challenge for test candidates, is to properly address and affix postage on a business envelope.

Honoring the fallen and defending the living

September the eleventh, 2001 began as an ordinary day for millions of people in the United States and around the world. By the mid-morning, in New York City, in Washington, D.C, and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the suffering and death of thousands because of terrorists would forever change our perception of normalcy. On the anniversary of examples of the depth of depravity which mankind can sink, the selfless sacrifice and amazing bravery of those who challenged the terrorists (particularly on Flight 93) is inspiring. As inspiring as those who sought to aid the injured and trapped in the World Trade Center and Pentagon. And as inspiring as those who spent months combing the wreckage in New York. In the last twenty years, almost every person in the United States, and in many countries around the world has been touched by a loved one impacted by that day or in the wars in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere. These are the stories worthy to honor.

The United States has sent military forces into regions around the world, to defend US trade, personnel and alliances, since the turn of the Nineteenth Century. And since the end of the Cold War, the world has gotten more unstable and violent with the extra-national threat posed by “Islamist” extremists. All my adult life, there has been conflict involving the United States in the Middle East. Before 9/11 and the ensuing twenty years of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, blood was shed on the USS LIBERTY during the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt (1967); and in Iran when our team attempted to rescue our Embassy personnel held captive (1979 -80). From that point, military actions in the region faced tribal rivalries, discounted historical defeats of “Western” powers and resistance to “First World” social norms. Since Lebanon when terrorists blew up the Marine barracks (1983); the missile strike by Iraq aircraft against the USS STARK (1987); the Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield/ Desert Storm) in 1991; and bombing of the USS COLE (2000), unconventional warfare using zealots or victims strapped to bombs and IEDs has threatened our forces. On the anniversary of 9/11 the murders of our ambassador and embassy personnel (US Special Operations veterans) in Benghazi, Libya (2012). America has lost military service personnel in operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. And in the chaotic conclusion of the military mission in Afghanistan in August of 2021, the last casualties there -hopefully – include 13 Marines and Navy Corpsmen killed by a terrorist wearing a bomb.

While I had been in a Navy uniform from 1977 to 1980, and again from 1987 until 2010, it was that first September morning, when I lost a mentor and former shipmate in the Pentagon attack, that defined the purpose for which I had enlisted. Protecting my fellow servicemembers. Honoring the fallen. Providing comfort to the families of the injured and deceased.

As military veterans and their families, we mourn our dead and help the living. And as citizen-soldiers, we vote for the Government that reflect our values. As veterans and currently serving military personnel, we best can reflect on the costs of conflict. It should give us determination to protect our citizens and defend our homeland. The lessons of September 11, 2001 and from all those who have borne the battle, is to protect our future. And for that reason, it is a veteran who should strive to become a teacher and professor, a journalist, a city council person, a business owner, a judge, and a United States Senator. A veteran can oppose complacency and false doctrine with firsthand accounts and perspective. To honor the sacrifice of those whom this day commemorates. And to deter evil.

Ask the Chief: IGWT AOPC

There are certain folksy “wisdoms” that accompany someone going into business for themselves. Some have not stood the test of time; however, not all customers are trustworthy just as not all sellers are ethical. But when learned and applied, most of these will enable the self-employed to succeed.

  • the customer expects a service to be performed on time and at the agreed fee
  • offering a price discount is a way to draw customer interest
  • customer and entrepreneur both understand the scope of work prior to acceptance; additional work requires an additional fee
  • buy now, pay later is a service to generate sales; this should only be offered to reliable, repeat customers
  • count out the customer’s payment and any change due, at the time of service
  • in God We Trust; all others pay cash (IGWT AOPC); this is particularly important with new customers who may wish to pay with credit that the processor refuses.
  • respond quickly and appropriately to negative feedback (especially online)

Cleaning house

To someone other than a veteran, the idea of possessing only the minimum essential items to sustain life, military preparedness, and fighting effectiveness, may be strange. To a fighting force, whether a ground, air, or naval unit, storage space comes at a premium. Mobility, which means a fighting force’s lethality or in defensive situations its survivability, requires individuals, units, or battlegroups to necessarily limit the amount of stuff to drag along. Too much stuff not only means complicated storage, but the likelihood of being unable to have sufficient resources for things that break down or need more maintenance.

if it cannot fit in your seabag, you do not need it

Civilians entering military service are conditioned to this sort of thinking in the first weeks of recruit training. We are issued seabags, ruck sacks, or compact lockers to store our gear. It’s the sort of preparation for young military men and women to pare down to essentials. Of course, as some sailors I served alongside got financially stable, they tended to acquire things like clothes to go clubbing, camping, scuba, fishing gear, or golf equipment. Others developed hobbies that require a place to store equipment. Self-storage facilities thrive around military communities. Yet these facilities are not necessarily catering to single people. Young couples starting out get caught up in the consumer culture that drives so many economies. So the idea of traveling light as a uniformed military member runs into a civilian mindset of “accumulation”. It arriving in – or exiting – middle age with the more common tweaked backs, and moderating enthusiasm for having stuff one has not touched in years, saving money and preparing for retirement that brings us back to traveling “light”.

Helping move a family member into his family’s first home proved to be one of those occasions where my inner-voice of incredulity of what two people can accumulate in a few years struggled to remain “inside”. Relatively little of the thousands of odds n’ ends that we boxed, bagged and stowed on a moving truck or in personal vehicles would likely be missed if lost in the move. In the end, the young family should make a decision about their possessions and whether to begin disposition. Yet the odds are that they like most of us, will just stow everything in an outbuilding until some future time.

What the experience over the past weeks has wrought is to create an angst in me What am I leaving to my children, my spouse or another to wade through? For the twenty years prior to my marriage, I rarely owned anything more than what I could carry in my car. Increasingly, I have gone through things I have accumulated, but only disposed of items that I “wouldn’t miss” or have little value to me. There are still hundreds of items I could shed and not miss. I thought it was my Boomer generation that liked to accumulate “stuff”. It starts off with small things, home maintenance projects, spare parts, projects that need work, and of course, “toys” we need to have to cope with all the long years of working. I’m nearing retirement now. I just do not have the will to go through my “stuff”.

I have storage bins of electrical parts, copper tubing, and nearly full gallons of interior paint. Pictures, some framed, I have not put up for five years or more. And “collections”. I recently donated thirty or forty glass medicinal bottles from the last century. Dozens of books on various subjects I have not re-read in ten years. Some fragments of charcoal art from the 1920s and century-old stamps in an album I have held onto since age 13. Anybody want a 120 year old English ceramic vase, a slightly-worn New England carved chair, or a decade-old, still-unused bathroom exhaust fan?

The junk dealer is on speed-dial.

freedom of choice

I make bad decisions often enough. I often regret those decisions, such as eating too much of something tasty, or smoking too many cigars. Sometimes my decisions affect others. When I am driving somewhere with my wife but unfamiliar of the route, I am often adamant I know where I am going. (Worse, I tend to blame my spouse in not giving me good directions.) Yet I try not to make bad decisions on the basis of some jingoist (that is, extreme patriotic or excessive bias in judging one’s own associations, party, or group as superior to others) vision of America.

Constitutionally-protected “rights” and public health responsibilities

Anyone who has a basic understanding of the history and governance of the United States should recognize we are a representative democracy. Framed by our Constitution, the three-branch organization of an executive, legislative and judicial body, depends on knowledgeable citizens who elect representatives to make policy and govern in our collective best interest. Most glaring, given our recent history, the people we elect to public office, and they staff, in all three branches of government are flawed men and women. But so are the people they are supposed to represent. And policies that are implemented are just as flawed.

Public health is everyone’s responsibility

Looking only at decisions that affect the public health of a nation, the last eighteen months of a COVID-19 global pandemic have created confusion, fear, anger, and suspicion that increases the dis-United States. While bureaucrats, politicians and “experts” often find their actions in times of crisis have supporters or opponents, inaction is generally worse for their constituencies. However, in 2020 and continuing in 2021, a large minority of people within the United States demonstrate their freedom by treating public health mandates as akin to tyranny.

Studies prove that people tend to believe others whom they view as authorities (whether or not they actually are such experts). It naturally predisposes us to support those we believe and distrust those we view as opponents. Deciding to refuse basic protection, in the form of masks, or to decline vaccination against COVID-19 based on hearsay, political rhetoric, or Internet-stoked conspiracies, is a bad decision. The majority of those who are refusing masks, or vaccinations, or social-distancing, DO NOT deliberately want to harm their relatives, friends, co-workers or First Responders. But many have been harmed anyway.

The consequences of such behavior have resulted in millions with permanently-altered health and the loss of people who otherwise would be alive today. If Jonas Salk and others had faced such backlash today, millions would still be debilitated by polio, measles, tetanus, Hepatitis A and B, or whooping cough (CDC). That we have forgotten what these illness did is due to the availability of vaccines.

For just a few dollars a dose, vaccines save lives and help reduce poverty. Unlike medical treatment, they provide a lifetime of protection from deadly and debilitating disease. They are safe and effective. They cut healthcare and treatment costs, reduce the number of hospital visits, and ensure healthier children, families and communities.

Seth Berkley, epidemiologist

Consensus in a free society

An online dictionary defines freedom as. (1) the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. (2)   (f. from): the state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing). One of the tenets of living in a free society is that consensus achieves the best outcome for citizens. The first step toward consensus is hold reasoned debate on such things as public health policy, voter-directed oversight of our legislators, tighter control of bureaucrats, and what policies should be left up to local or state oversight.  Just as some see conspiracies between certain plutocrats, elected officials, and foreign entities, when any group deems public health concerns and their remedy (i.e. COVID vaccination) are politically-motivated, these dissenting voices are as selfish and unpatriotic – as those whose views they claim to oppose. The solution to each of a nation’s divisive issues is reasoned dialogue and consensus. Or Abraham Lincoln’s words will ring true. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  .

at your six

Since I retired from the daily commute (and 12-hour workdays) a couple years ago, I enjoy more leisurely weekday mornings several times a month. With the end to COVID shutdowns, I am again meeting old friends over breakfast or coffee. Wednesday, I met a Marine veteran I have known for nearly twenty years. As military veterans and Christians, we encourage one another with conversation from similar military experiences, current events and biblical perspective. While sharing a meal with people is an opportunity to encourage one another (Acts 2:42 -47), we also can be encouraging to, and encouraged by people we meet. As we waited for our breakfast order to be prepared, we watched a homeless woman at the next table enjoy a little coffee the café employee freely gave her. Paul and I engaged her in conversation, and she notably brightened. Though living on the streets, she was someone’s grandmother and hungry for some pleasant conversation. I bought her the same breakfast we were having; Paul and I returned to our conversation. As we finished our meal, we noted she had quietly moved on. While she was grateful for the kindness shown her, it was I who learned the most from the morning. As disciples of Jesus and as veterans, He leads us. Jesus fed and cared for the poor and hungry; He instructed us to do likewise.

“At your six” is a military phrase that is analogous to a clock; six o’clock is behind the 12 o’clock or lead position, or “I’ve got your back”

sea stories: Archimedes, a cargo of amphorae, and a computer to guide them

We may not give enough credit to sailors for the world we know today. Poets and military strategists view the sea differently, but it was seamen with a knowledge of tides, winds and ocean currents that gave rise to empires. Although the romance of “iron” men putting to sea in wooden ships have inspired the likes of Homer and Richard Henry Dana, seafarers had to understand navigation by the Sun, Moon and stars to return to port. In time, not just merchants and fishermen went to sea, but navies deployed to protect trade routes and ferry warriors to far-off colonies. History is filled with the rise and fall of empires, each with inventions and knowledge that seem to be lost and reinvented in time by successive civilizations. Some that have survived and pulled from the muck of millennia suggest we today aren’t the first to think of certain technologies but only ones who have managed to expand on them.

While sailors today use GPS, LORAN, and other navigational aids, it was invention of the sextant in the Seventeenth Century that helped explorers determine that they would get to their next port in reasonable time. Or were they just the latest civilization to rediscover what the Myceneans, Hellenes (Greeks), Romans, and Ottoman sailors had invented time and again? After all, a little more than two centuries before Isaac Newton, Europeans still believed the Earth was flat. Two thousand years earlier, Greek seafarers may have benefitted from wisdom about the movement of Earth and sky that Copernicus, Galileo, Magellan and others subsequently “discovered”. A prolific thinker and inventor more than two centuries BCE, Archimedes, may have contributed to ocean navigation as well as an irrigation device in use still today in Asia and Africa.

the Antikythera mechanism

For 2400 years, a certain Greek shipwreck has lain at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Discovered in 1901, it was an object recovered from that wreck that technology, a century later, has revealed how wily the Greeks really were. The so-called Antikythera Mechanism is a mechanical computer that came with instructions, to accurately determine the position of celestial bodies at any given time. A BBC article and documentary provides a fascinating look at an object that decades ago was just an odd lump of corroded metal pulled from the Mediterranean. Now we understand that it was a sophisticated mechanism at a time when many still believed in temperamental gods and sea monsters. A thousand years before that ship put to sea, the Bronze Age eruption of Thera all but destroyed the Minoans maritime empire. Before the classical Greeks built towns on the coast of Spain, the Minoans traded with the Pharaohs. Romans who conquered the Greeks, navigated from Britain to Turkey and Egypt, built enduring roads and channeled water in aqueducts still being used today. Academics can only imagine the vast sum of knowledge in the ancient library at Alexandria destroyed by fire. We only have fragments referenced by other ancient writers.

Two thousand years from now, what will be rediscovered by sailors and explorers in the Forty-First Century? It may be some future sailor who dredges up a corroded iPhone from the flooded remains of a coastal city.

no waiting for paper to update

Bill Gates invented digital irritation. Most of the world, at one time or another, is irritated, exasperated, or flummoxed by Microsoft computer software. Actually, had it not been for Microsoft Corporation creating and then dominating the commercial operating system (OS) market decades ago, the world would likely be exasperated with Linux or Unix software today. Of course, the issues that exasperate Microsoft users periodically are due both to humans and to technology. Users want simplicity of use; more criminally- or espionage-minded want to exploit holes in security; and the software developers for the Windows OS are trying to manage thousands of user applications from thousands of sources. When the engineers cannot keep up support for ancient Windows as newer are more efficient, they ‘end-of-life’ older versions of OS. With changes in technology rapidly occurring, operating system need regular patches to evolve. If you are in business, you understand the battle between “bleeding edge” state of the art, and a “good enough” state to retain or grow market share.

Having been caught more than once by a software or firmware update that was lurking, waiting to install on my Dell laptop I found the setting that pauses updates until a time that I set as “non-working hours”. As the responsible IT “department” in my own business, I thought I had management of updates and security patches well in hand. With the ‘expertise’ as a one-time test engineer, I confused an expertise with certain systems and tools in a “information security” company with the work that the IT Department (note the capital “D”) of my onetime employer routinely did.

There is a certain nostalgia, after a morning like this past one, with a desire to return to paper files, filing cabinets, and forms in triplicate. Sending things off to others via the Postal Service. Every update of documentation being very slow, labor-intensive and requiring large volumes of storage space. As a young man I welcomed the dawn of the “paperless” Age, but the ever-aggravating requirement to stay ahead of technology and hackers, is at odds with the ease-of-use. Up until forty years ago, millions of paper files stored away in vaults and filing cabinets was security. A thief from outside that office or company would be as unlikely to track down something useful in a short amount of time, as would an office worker find a customer’s medical record from 1987. Having become accustomed to nearly instantaneous Internet response to an information request, this may be one reason I am not overly exasperated with a request for a military medical records -likely still on paper – in the bowels of some government installation.

Perhaps while I am waiting still for this morning’s system updates to complete, I will have time to pen an apology to my client expecting me to have all my systems “GO”. It will probably take another hour.

Ask the Chief: obtaining a VA Disability rating or upgrade

the back story

In 1995, while on Active Duty, I was a crewmember of a Navy ship in Portsmouth, Virginia. During the week leading up to the Labor Day weekend, I started to feel ill. Over the course of the following days, I was unable to get medically-screened for one reason or another. The sordid affair still bothers me if I think about that. Finally getting someone to take me to the base clinic, my appendix ruptured and I was recuperating for a month afterward.

For the next quarter-century, I had bowel issues requiring hospitalization about twice a year. I had left Active Duty for the Navy Reserve in 2000, but did not go to the VA for a disability review prior to leaving Active Duty. That proved to be a mistake that I am still regretting today. However, at the recommendation of a veteran, I submitted my Navy medical file to the VA for a disability review in 2017, and was awarded a Zero (0%) Service-Connected rating. It was actually the lesson that my son provided, before exiting his Army enlistment, where his extensive medical issues as a result of his Army service were recorded by the VA medical screener. He was awarded a 100% VA service-connected rating as a result. Since he had already signed papers to serve an additional year in the Army Reserve, there was no waiver or release from the Reserve contract, for a VA disability, unless the Army performed a disability-screening of their own.

All exiting military personnel should schedule a VA Disability review

Considering that I re-enlisted into the Navy Reserve later in that same year, 2000, I did not understand the necessity of seeking a VA Disability review. My delay until 2017 aged-out my two younger sons from benefits they might have gained from my rating. Obtaining a Disability Rating from the military branch, or from the VA, entitles a servicemember’s children to certain college tuition discount or waivers – as long as they are under age 23 (or 26 perhaps). Even a Rating of 0 (zero) Percent, meaning your condition does not debilitate you at present, qualifies.

A disability upgrade is not a simple exercise

It was a surgeon that I met with during the last few hospitalizations, I had employer-subsidized healthcare, who actually performed surgery the last time I was hospitalized, who linked my appendix rupture and scar tissue in the bowel, that prompted me to go back to the VA Disability board. However, I am beginning to understand how difficult it is to get the Government to recognize health issues that veterans suffer, long after their military service. While the most egregious treatment of Vietnam servicemembers attempting to get healthcare for Agent Orange and other herbicide exposure is well-known, only the symptoms that are legislatively-recognized allow for veterans to obtain assistance. For decades after the Gulf War and then Afghanistan and Iraq, exposure to burn pit fumes and other toxics in those regions were slow to be linked to veteran symptoms. In other regions and with other complications, veterans like me, whose ruptured appendix started twenty-five years of bowel issues and hospitalization, will not be quickly recognized.

For the last year of the COVID pandemic, all bureaucracies have been impacted by shutdowns and remote workforce initiatives. Though the VA has initiated a website for veterans to input their claims and supporting documentation, it has not functioned properly for the last several months. And when telephone support is not an hours-long waiting time, there seems to be no technical issues noted in their system, and no workaround (no staffed offices). But all those nasal-gastric tubes, barium /CAT scans, and morphine-drips, have made me determined to seek something more. Anything more from the VA.

More to come.……

Ask the Chief: celebrating Independence

Is it only in the United States of America that residents of a country can be split along ethnic, religious, economic, language, and education differences? No. Is the United States unique in one political party’s priorities being different than its opposition? No. Is there a single nation in the world that has eliminated poverty, discrimination, greed, persecution, government corruption, or ignorance? No. Is there an exodus from the United States to other countries due to better social and economic opportunities elsewhere? No, again.

Since the ascent of the United States as a global military and economic power just over a hundred years ago, the basic tenets that the country was founded upon, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, right of self-determination, basic human rights, economic opportunity and so on, has influenced many all over the world to seek the sort of life that Americans have taken for granted. Far more people today in the United States demand “rights” without a willingness to bear responsibility for their condition. Some seek a handout but are unwilling to follow the social ‘contract’. More are not willing to work to achieve what others have accumulated as a result of their hard work and skills acquired over many years.

A nation is unified when all share in common values, language, traditions, and responsibilities. And a unified nation can maintain its security inside and from external competitors and threats. What also defined the United States was respect for civil authority, and making the government responsible to the citizen for its authority. Poor or corrupt representation of a constituent’s desires would subject them to removal by ballot in a peaceful transition of power. These are what made an “American” out of millions of immigrants. The independence that we celebrate every Fourth of July has been misused by lobbyists, politicians, and selfish interests. A nation is intentionally “Balkanized” by institutionally pitting groups against one another by race, education, location, or political affiliation.

I am neither a populist, a bigot, nor a blind nationalist. Having spent twenty-five years in uniform of the United States, and involved in industry protecting the national security, I still see the benefits of a nation that, despite a complex history of injustices, has an amazing history of advancing technology and improving living conditions for billions of the world’s inhabitants. As a veteran, I am still frustrated by veteran homelessness and PTSD that has resulted in suicide of too many veterans. Yet, enlisting in the Navy enabled me to prosper. Had my paternal and maternal grandfathers remained in Europe and not come to the United States in the early Twentieth Century, none would have achieved the American Dream.

I am not ashamed to celebrate American independence.

Ask the Chief: are you a “victim” of your circumstances or an “overcomer”?

I watched a movie last month, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (2017), telling the story of a Polish family that operated a zoo in Warsaw, Poland at the outbreak of World War II.  The Nazi’s treatment of the Jewish residents shocked them and they decided to help rescue those they could.  Though the grounds were occupied by German troops for the duration of the war, the family smuggled Jews who otherwise would have been exterminated, into hiding there at the zoo and out of Warsaw. At risk of their own lives, they managed to save 300 people by war’s end.

I have been reading stories of ordinary soldiers, partisans, and public safety personnel who have acted selflessly in situations that put themselves in harms’ way. Others who have survived blizzards, been lost in the wilderness, were adrift at sea, or buried in earthquakes or in caverns. It came down to a will to survive that made the difference between living or giving up. But health is something everyone has dealt with at some point in life. Many probably have known someone who diagnosed with a severe illness or suffered a debilitating injury. Of those who refused to give in, but mustered physical and mental focus against an adversary, many survived. Circumstances do seem to foster whether people see themselves as “victims” or “overcomers”. My late father whose engineering career supported the development of Navy submarine missiles was accelerating in his late Twenties, suffered a brain tumor. While that surgery saved his life, he spent years learning to walk and speak again. It became his determination to resume his engineering career; refusing to let people judge him by his use of a wheelchair or cane, he even earned a teaching credential. Though he died in his late fifties, he had never given in to his condition.

Military personnel who volunteer to serve in a combat zone, as many did during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, may be mentally prepared for the hazards of wartime. However, few have battled an illness as merciless as cancer, and won, all while still serving in their official capacity of command. Or having won against breast cancer, promoted, and then volunteered for service in Afghanistan filling a critical role. Then, promoted again being selected for Flag rank. Many should know an “overcomer” in the person of Linnea Sommer-Weddington, Rear Admiral, USN (Retired). She has inspired the careers of many of my Shipmates, female and male, evident in those who honored her at her retirement. (I had the privilege to serve as her unit Senior Enlisted advisor in one of the units she commanded).

Others may be familiar with civilians Mike Rowe and Gary Sinese, two television and film stars who have done amazing work to celebrate people who inspire their communities. Whether it is encouraging servicemembers deployed, taking care of the families at home, helping physically or emotionally-suffering veterans, or publicizing those whose volunteerism helps affected communities, they bring attention and resources to help others overcome. Some twenty years ago, I met a Native American man with cerebral palsy, a member of our Southwestern US fellowship of churches. His accomplishments despite a “handicap” were legendary. He had competed and won in Paralympic games, was a motivational speaker, and introduced a number of people to the Christian faith. He possessed a sense of self-deprecating humor about his abilities that lifted up others with physical or mental challenges.

Should anyone wish to contribute their stories of overcoming severe challenges, I would welcome them to use this blog as a forum. At a time when there are still more than twenty veterans committing suicide each day, understanding what motivates someone to continue to overcome and not fall victim to one’s circumstances might help save lives.

Ask the Chief: bilingual comprehension

My late mother, an Naturalized (immigrant) citizen of the United States, graduated from the Mount Sinai Nursing School and was an RN most of her adult life. Pursuing a lifelong interest in literature, she earned a Masters degree and in her second career, was a junior college English teacher. Her most cherished students were often not the native-born, but the ones who had emigrated to the United States from places English was not the native tongue. These immigrants were “all-in”, that is totally committed to not just speak the language but have comprehension, which would enable them to be successful at work and fully-appreciated citizens in the community.

That was forty years ago and while the same issues over immigration, national identity, and common language existed then as today, there was far less accommodation then for non-English speakers in the community. Today, there are many government services from schools, courts, county and state offices that serve communities where residents primary language may be Spanish, Tagalog, or Arabic. The United States remains a melting pot of cultures and immigrants from all over the world, though in some states Spanish is the largest language group next to English. Yet employment in professions that require Federal and State certification, licensing, or as college graduates, often require a competence in English first and bilingual as a supporting skill. This has been a continuing issue with secondary (high school) education nationally for decades. People are looking to enter the workforce with poor grammar, and poor reading comprehension. Business writing, reading standard government forms and test instructions are often poorly understood and done incorrectly.

College placement tests bear this out, and offerings of remedial writing classes in community colleges, universities and private for-profit institutions testify to substandard high school standards. For both immigrants from non-English speaking places and native-born, the aspiration to be successful in a profession drives performance. However, some for-profit schools do not assess competence in speaking, writing or reading at a level that will enable a non-native speaker of English to be successful. An unfortunate consequence for many candidates for state licensing, governed by both Federal and State statutes, failure of the written exam or other assessment (conducted in English) is a costly lesson.

Yet there have been private as well as government-programs, online and various means to gain competence through ESL – English as a Second Language -adapted for various professions. While many businesses do cater to specific communities, staff who communicate primarily in a language other than English may have issues meeting Federal requirements for that institution. Meeting Federal guidelines at the workplace and successfully gaining employment requires comprehension at a fairly basic level. However, many private post-secondary education businesses attract students with lower fees and quick preparation for licensing exams. It may be outside their scope to add rigorous language preparation in their curriculum.