the answer is forty-two

In the late 1970s, a British radio program, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy introduced me to brilliant satire, a science fiction story, and more of the British wit I already enjoyed in another British show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. A book (Douglas Adams), television and a 2005 movie popularized the story for fans.

For those who are not fans, the story introduces us to Arthur Dent, an ordinary English guy, completely lacking in self-confidence, who finds one morning that his home is scheduled for demolition by the local government planning commission – to put a highway where it sat. He commiserates with a friend, Ford Prefect, who it turns out is an extraterrestrial who has come to rescue him. Apparently some galactic planning commission intends to destroy the Earth that day, to put through some highway of its own.

The story involves several humorous jabs at bureaucracy, technology, space travel, romance, and political incompetents. At one point, the plot story describes that some galactic beings – in the form of common mice – commissioned a computer to answer the question, “what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?”. The answer, “42” confuses them, so they seek a second computer to find the specific question that “42” satisfies. Before they could get a satisfactory answer, the computer – Earth – was destroyed for that highway mentioned earlier. At the end of the story, everything is made right again with a newly-assembled planet Earth, but the mice-beings and their quest for the eternal answer are thwarted by Arthur.

Sometimes I think that the eternal answer to the meaning of Life will continue to elude most people. For the rest? Love your neighbor, enjoy the time you have, and most importantly, do not misplace your towel.

Ask the Chief: we follow orders

“.we follow orders..Or people die”

A Few Good Men, (1992) movie, line uttered by Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson)

As a retired Navy Senior Chief, I spent 26 years following orders of those seniors-in-command, whether directly from Commanding Officers as their unit Senior Enlisted Leader, or indirectly, while carrying out my assigned duties, watches, or maintenance tasks during my career. As a civilian, I am trying to follow our State officials, medical experts, and emergency First Responders who have been asking the public to minimize their comings and goings. While the military has both non-judicial punishment and legal proceedings to enforce “social distancing”, in the civilian world, the public is “strongly suggested” to follow State Emergency guidelines for public safety. Some will always decide they know more than public safety officials. As we have seen during hurricanes, people who refuse to evacuate the path of the storm are frequently requiring rescue or hospitalization when disaster strikes.

Tonight, as I contemplate that the Governor of California has issued a Statewide mandate to limit public contact by restricting gatherings and use of public venues even further than two weeks ago, I think how an old veteran can be a model for others. It is the eleventh hour, and our political representatives have finally stopped fighting among themselves, and are seeking to do what is best for our citizens. Given the example of places like Italy which has been overwhelmed by the number of critically ill, we have only days till the numbers of the ill exponentially exceed our response. This thought about the eleventh hour, reminded me of the orders I learned in bootcamp forty years ago:

Eleven General Orders of a sentry

  1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  6. To receive, obey and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.
  7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  9. To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
  10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.
  11. To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

I have not practiced military drills in the ten years since retirement. I might leave the heavy lifting to younger service members. But I am observant as to what has been lacking in the years, months and recent weeks leading up to the coronavirus response within the United States. Clear direction, unified communications, and orderly process. Precision and calm, measured response to emergencies requires frequent practice. That is what our shipboard drills honed into us, Collisions at sea and terrorist attacks are not the time to practice. In the eleventh hour, the nation needs to heed the “best practices” to minimizing the casualties from this pandemic.

in a time of pestilence have no fear

Psalm 91

In California, as elsewhere, large gatherings are discouraged and even prohibited. Government fear COVID-19 will overwhelm the system’s ability to respond. In many nations, panicked people have been stripping store shelves. Some are violently confronting one another. Schools, meetings, and churches are moving to online service, to aid in slowing the number of potentially hospital-bound victims. Prudence in our actions, calmness in our dealing with one another, and prayers for wisdom for our medical professionals and our Government officials, are particularly needed right now.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[a]
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he[b] loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

the Space Force, or when science fiction expands

Many I know are outraged or at least mock the new United States military branch, the Space Force. But hang on a minute. Nobody even knows what the charter of this new branch is, or who and what capabilities the “force” will require. But once humans venturing into space number in the several hundred and then thousands, some military discipline may be needed.

While humans have been going into space for sixty years, it has primarily been the United States or the Russians. The International Space Station is still primarily a venture between several nations. And recently the Chinese indicated they will venture to the Moon. It has only been in the last ten years or so, that commercial exploration and development of space has been moving from science fiction into something people now living will see. (If we do not kill ourselves from a pandemic first.)

In popular culture, for more than forty years, various incarnations of a futurist “space force”, Star Trek, and blockbuster movies about space forces – rebels versus a militarist empire (Star Wars) – have captured the world’s imagination. If you have heard or become a fan of the television series, The Expanse, now filming its 5th season, you should be at least curious how life is imitating art. Without giving plot twists and turns away for those who have not seen this series, the premise of this show begins with an alien technology discovered and then manipulated by corrupt industrialists, politicians and military leaders. As the different plots are developed, it is apparent that the future is a lot like our present.

Forgetting for a moment about alien technology, impending death, romance, betrayal, and deceit, what has motivated me to support the real-life introduction of a “Space Force” is a historical perspective. When mankind set off in sailing vessels, like the Minoans in the Mediterranean five to six thousand years ago, or the Polynesians who ventured across the Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands a thousand years ago, or to South America as some suggest, in each society, military forces developed. When the Greeks, Ottomans, Spanish, French, and British, started venturing in search of trade, territorial expansion, and so forth, fishermen and merchants were not the sole adventurers. Military forces were also there, to protect the culture’s interests.

While people may still mock the introduction of a Space Force, the militarization of space has been unavoidable. This has been a logical step since science fiction first dreamed about living on other worlds. With human motivations ranging from curiosity to power lust, an altruistic policing of space is fantasy. Missile-launched nuclear weapons are in numerous arsenals. And once someone – a terrorist, a corrupt politician, or a loose alliance of rogue “Belters” have achieved an advantage in space, who will have the resources – and the quick-response positioning to protect individual, scientific or commercial enterprise?

How Long Before the Regime Falls in Iran? – Quillette

Art Keller has written an article, published in Quillette, that introduces some of the complex issues inside Iran, that the New York Times, Washington Post, and MSNBCs of journalism have overlooked. His introductory paragraph is poignant.

The death of Iranian Quds Force commander General Quassem Soleimani has produced some truly bizarre media coverage. Some Western media outlets are framing Soleimani’s death as the loss of a deeply beloved hero, such in this January 7th episode of the New York Times The Daily podcast. The podcast spends more than 20 minutes describing how Soleimani was a beloved totem, a living security blanket that Iranians believe protected Iran from instability (by fostering instability in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, apparently). The closest thing in the podcast to an acknowledgement that Soleimani led a group of armed thugs that viciously suppressed dissent in Iran, including turning their guns on Iranian protestors less than two months ago, was a single sentence in the podcast: “To be clear, there are plenty of Iranians who did not love or respect Soleimani.”

Read the article here.

Paper promises

A new year is full of promise. Out with the old. In with the new. New, as in my doctor joined a new clinic employer for 2020.

And in a new year I have new questions. Does my health plan change? Did he move? And why does the office number go to a pleasant, never- answered, “hold” message ? Being a retired Senior Chief, I assume I can overcome obstacles with charm, persuasion, or guile.

Paperwork has no respect for persons. I spent 20 minutes filling out new forms in the doctor’s office. But “seeing” my doctor is unlikely. Appointments are turned away. Forms need filing. Staff need training on new procedures.

The promise of my next twelve months may, for me, finding another doctor. But that will mean more paperwork.

A new year and re-commitment time

The First of January is a great time to assess my contributions to a blog devoted to things of interest to veterans and their families. I want to publish more sea-stories; however, to be a resource for military families and veterans I need, or rather, I must provide better content in 2020.

patience only goes so far when a veteran wants what was earned

For many veterans, myself counted among them, hold a cynical attitude of the amount of support that the State and Federal Government actively provides to veterans. Some of that is deserved due to standards of individual personnel hired to serve the veteran population, volume of work relying on undermanned office staff, and incompetence. However, the remedy for delays and ineffective support to veterans – customers and taxpayers – is an informed – and resolute veteran seeking redress. In my own situation, five months in determined pursuit of Navy retirement pay once eligible to receive it (a full year after initially applying) resulted in receiving up to date payment. This took letters to elected representatives, waiting hours on hold to speak to pay clerks, making visits to offices, and bringing in social media attention. The “squeaky wheel”, or irritable retired Senior Chief, gets the grease.

some benefits you may not know

Some of the benefits that veterans have now:

Perks offered by public companies

Some of this information comes via Military Times and Military OneSource, with links to the originating Government agency or other. -ed.

Ask the Chief: getting help with substance abuse

As a veteran, retired Navy Senior Chief, parent, and member of my church community, I have seen friends, shipmates, comrades-in-arms, and family members struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. While the social ignorance and stigma Post-Traumatic Stress sufferers once faced is fading, the number of veterans suffering PTSD, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), and ailments from exposure to toxics in the combat theater is a huge problem. In addition, every other condition that veterans encounter from financial issues, divorce, job losses and health problems exacerbated by their service, can compound depression, feelings of isolation and a tendency to substance abuse. Even with a support network of friends, pastoral counseling, and veterans community organizations, professional help in the form of treatment centers and follow-up care, is available for those who are ready to be helped.

One potential source of professional help is found in south Florida. The Recovery Village (844-359-9732) offers a full range of behavioral health treatment and support, for veterans as well as the civilian community. From their website, the following are their core beliefs:

  1. Anyone can recover from addiction
  2. Each client deserves respect and compassion
  3. Addiction is a disease that deserves evidence-based care backed by research
  4. The physical and mental causes of addiction should be addressed simultaneously
  5. Recovery is a lifelong journey that requires daily commitment

Additional information on addiction, substance abuse, questions and help a veteran’s friends and family may wish to provide can be found here.

NOTE: This information is provided without regard to the suitability or efficacy of the programs offered through Advanced Recovery Systems, floridarehab.com or drugrehab.com. No compensation was offered nor sought in providing these resources to veterans or the public through this blog.

promises to veterans and other prevarications

More than one hundred years ago, satirist Mark Twain called out statistics as just another fabrication people use to make a point. Everyone but perhaps, bureaucrats, understand that statistics are misused to appear to support whatever position people want them to hold. But sometimes they do have a role. A statistic I read earlier this month indicated that TEN THOUSAND people turn sixty-five every DAY in the United States. As a military retiree whose last period of service was in the Navy Reserve, the milestone I finally reached this year – was turning sixty. I have a lot of company.

While most are rolling their eyes or stifling a yawn at this point, I ask for your patience for another minute. One of the promises that the United States Government makes to men and women who serve in our military, is to care for them, particularly with health care, and financially compensate a veteran should she be injured as a result of service. For those who make the military a career, the Government promises to provide retirement pay. But as any reasonable adult knows, the Government bureaucracy, whether it one is seeking a drivers license, a building permit, a legal restraining order, or applying for military retirement pay, is a labyrinth of processes and procedures, and delay. While I am personally affected, I wondered what the scope of the issue might be with fellow veterans NOT getting what is owed to them.

From published figures, some 0.4 percent of all Americans have served in the U.S. military. Out of a United States population of approximately 300 million, that might be a total of 1.2 million American veterans living today. For the sake of argument, if 0.4 percent of the 10 thousand people turning 60 daily are veterans, that is four hundred every day. Another statistic reports that fifty percent of living US veterans were Reserve or National Guard member. If only 5 percent of those reservists or Guardsmen served for at least twenty years and retired, twenty “gray area” ( what the Navy calls eligible military retirees prior to age 60) apply to their respective military departments for retirement pay – EVERY DAY.

apply early

Twenty years or so after most Active Duty men and women complete their careers, retirement pay paperwork is processed by military pay offices and by most accounts, is automatically forthcoming. However, the fact is, in 2019, a Reserve or Guard member who should receive retirement pay, has to apply to the military branch to start the process. Pay is not automatically processed. Worse, the military department processing retirement cautions that the member should apply at a minimum ( in January 2019) eight months prior to the eligible month one turns sixty. The retire is cautioned to submit verification of all their service time (“point capture”) to correctly calculate the retirement benefit.

The Navy PERS-912 website displayed a notice in August 2019, that requests received in JANUARY 2019 were being processed at that time. A couple calls to the Navy, of hour-plus wait times, finally indicated that records had been forwarded to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) for payment. At no time during the application and ensuing wait, did the Defense Department reveal that there was an additional backlog (delay) in processing records once the DFAS received a retiree pay claim. It took a visit to the local Congressional representative’s office to learn that the Government had many of the staff processing these sort of pay matters RETIRE without planning for their replacement, and no additional personnel were being hired in 2019.

I wonder if these retired civil servants have to wait more than a year for their check from Uncle Sugar?