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.

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.

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.

US Navy’s soft sugar cookie recipe from WWII, and how to make it at home | Fox News

https://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/us-navy-soft-sugar-cookie-recipe-wwii

As a retired Sailor with 8 years spent at sea, I remember my initial introduction to Navy chow was not very appetizing. From breakfast where hot sauce was the most-prized condiment for the scrambled (rubbery) eggs, to the other meals that were often recycled leftovers, especially sliders that became the meat in spaghetti dinners the following day. But these soft sugar cookies were probably the tastiest of any dessert. Before I earned the rank to eat with the Chiefs’ Mess, when the menu items were planned and paid for – by the members of the Mess, those cookies were a treat.

Just like a show I remember from years ago, when “Cookie”, a onetime cook aboard an Aircraft Carrier was reciting a recipe for his friends, the recipe reprinted in the linked article is crew-sized quantity. You may want to follow the pared-down version.

The Fox article was from material originally published by the Naval History and Heritage Command in April, 2021.

oaths, rights and wrongs amended

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

In the United States of America the notion of an oath of fidelity, (faithfulness or allegiance) is not something suggested or required for most occupations. A half-century ago, as schoolchildren, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance before our first class every morning. As Boy Scouts, we recited its promise to obey God, do one’s best and uphold the Scout Law. Enlisting and re-enlisting in the military, members take the oath to support and defend the Constitution, to obey orders and military regulations. Federal employees as well as naturalized citizens take an oath to defend the principles of our founding document as well.

to the Constitution’s defense

Recent events involving people storming the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., were alarming. Even if unintentional, the misuse of his influence by a now-former President was not justified. He encouraged a demonstration that became mob mentality, Though citizens have the First Amendment right of peaceable assembly , to gather Trump’s emotionally-charged supporters around the Capital Building at the time of the certification of the Electoral College votes, was improper at best. But the undermining of faith in the Constitutional process sits squarely with Washington politicians and bureaucrats.

Government officials spent years unsuccessfully to determine if the 2016 election of Donald Trump was manipulated by foreign agents. In the prior eight years of President Obama’s presidency, his opposition, decried alleged misuse of Constitutional authority on many of his Administration’s policies, particularly “Obamacare”. Politics is normally unsavory, but there is ample evidence that journalists, bureaucrats, politicians and social media stoked the emotions of their respective constituents. They fostered suspicion that the Constitution was being usurped – either by one side’s “fascists” or the other’s “socialists”. The system functioned as intended however. With the election of President Biden and Vice-President Harris, the military has a new Commander-In-Chief and new civilian authority. Regulations and the UCMJ are still in effect. And the oaths men and women took to defend the Constitution and obey the orders of those in authority are still in effect.

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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?

where are the peacemakers?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Warriors throughout world history were sent off to war with trumpets, drums, celebrations or religious ceremonies. And over those thousands of years, young men and women were victors or the vanquished. Celebrated as heroes, or corpses left behind in distant lands. Where there are records, including Chinese and Aztec tombs, ancient Akkadian tablets, Homeric Greek dramas, Roman histories, and Biblical scrolls, men and women went into battle blessed by the gods of one side or the other.

“The victims of PTSD often feel morally tainted by their experiences, unable to recover confidence in their own goodness, trapped in a sort of spiritual solitary confinement, looking back at the rest of the world from beyond the barrier of what happened. They find themselves unable to communicate their condition to those who remained at home, resenting civilians for their blind innocence. David Brooks

The Moral Injury, New York Times. Feb 17, 2015″ , via goodreads.com
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

War has always been brutal. Long before “civilized” conduct of war, if there is such a thing, treatment of enemy prisoners, women and children was often slavery or death. Even in the Twenty-First Century, we learn of kidnapping, abuse, and sexual slavery still being committed throughout the world. How many victims were emotionally scarred? How many returning warriors over the millennia were affected by such brutality?

While histories do not record the struggles of the victims of war, and we cannot help the long ago dead, we know that, in America alone, some 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Alcohol and substance abuse, reckless behaviors, and firearms, all contribute to someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder killing themselves.

War demands sacrifice of the people. It gives only suffering in return. – Frederic Clemson Howe

https://sayingimages.com/war-quotes/

Where does the isolation begin? People do not know their neighbors, and do not develop real, vulnerable, honest friendships with one another. Governments which send young people to war, have only overwhelmed or emotionally-detached bureaucrats who quickly “treat” veterans and then move to the next sufferer. Communities develop a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) reflex to homelessness and addiction, and many expect veterans to simply ‘get over it’. Societies do not have a “moral” center anymore. Mass media incessantly blare stories of anger, outrage, frustration, violence, and political blame-gaming. Media sensationalizes suffering; bickering within communities has created more isolation. in such a state, people do not recognize a potential suicide victim’s quiet withdrawal – even within their own household.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

While everyone seems to have an opinion about the easy access to firearms in America, the easy access to prescription drugs, as well as methamphetamine, heroin, and the most misused though legal drug, alcohol, is no less a societal problem. When liquor store owners knowingly provide booze to alcoholics, on credit, because they know their customer receives State aid and will be paid – they knowingly contribute to that person’s death – or some innocent’s death or injury along the way. That is a problem society should address with equal outrage as to those with firearms.

A first step? Let us as people stop dividing ourselves into “us” and “them”. With that first step, we can then work on empathy. Personal responsibility. And action.

Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. – Ernest Hemingway

https://sayingimages.com/war-quotes/

before Lightyear there was another Buzz

Buzz Aldrin stepping onto the Moon, 1969

The second person to set foot on the Moon, “Buzz” Aldrin, is a living icon. The late Neil Armstrong and the Command Module pilot, Michael Collins are the other two legends of Apollo 11, whose feat of landing on and returning safely from, the Moon are celebrated today. Had it not been for a clear challenge, originating between two competing ideologies, the “West” and the Soviet Union – which first successfully put a man into space, the technology we take for granted would have come around a lot later. Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z have cell phones, cable television, and solar panels today, due, in part, to the science that sent mankind into Space, filtered down to the rest of us. The motivation for Governments may have been political, but undeniably, people are dreamers, builders and adventurers, too. Mankind advanced from stone tools to building the first flying machines in 100,000 years. From barely leaving the ground to launching orbiting satellites: less than sixty years. And from orbiting rudimentary satellites to putting people on the surface of another world and returning them, safely, in less than ten. And in the last half-century? We should be. in Star Trek parlance, “beam me up. Scotty!” by now.

When a human being first set foot on the Moon fifty years ago today, I was five days short of ten years old. When I ask my children today what they scientific achievements remember from the time when they were ten, space flight is not among their first memories. Movies and television, created with the technology inspired by the science and engineering of the Space Program, they recall.

Star Trek, Star Wars, and a host of other fascinating stories involving travel to other stars have filled the human imagination with possibilities. But the first grainy images on a television set of Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin setting foot on the Moon, was the reality that people working together, around the globe, could achieve impossible dreams. We are starting to finally see private enterprise invest in next-step ventures. We have man-made objects moving through interstellar space. In the last half-century the amazing feat of people living and working in orbit, the probes that visit distant asteroids or Pluto or travel in interstellar space have garnered less attention than someone’s latest inappropriate Tweet.

We need a challenge to unite millions to travel into a new Frontier. It is time to send adventurers, dreamers, and builders out again. In the rallying cry of that Disney character, Buzz Lightyear, in the Toy Story movies,

“To infinity and beyond!!”

Home, a quarter-million miles away

The American Experiment

“These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civil instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.” Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

https://nccs.net/blogs/our-ageless-constitution/will-the-great-american-experiment-succeed

In 2019, the United States of America has never been more dis-unified. And the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, about America as a republic – if we can keep it, never seemed more germaine. In the history of the world, war and subjugation has only maintained unity and “peace” for a matter of time. Through trade, common language, governance, science, cultural, religious, and philosophical ideas were passed down to the western world. Babylonians, Persians, Greeks,Romans and Ottomans spread a unifying message cemented by armies. In Asia, empires of China, Japan, India, and in Southeast Asia rose, fell and spread their influence. In the pre-Columbian New World, native empires rose, spread their influence across the continents. All rose, declined and were conquered by war, famine, or the petty squabbles and self-interest of people.

Since the first settlers and explorers from western Europe came to the New World, the same forces have been at work. The United States of America, was forged out of all these ideas, and expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and through conflict. It took a Civil War, two World Wars, and nearly a century for words enshrined in these documents to be embraced by the majority in America. Ideas that subjugated people based on skin color or religion still exist in the world, but in the United States, power-seeking politicians, academics and lobbyists are the ones now who threaten America’s future. For 243 years, America has welcomed immigrants, and as “Americans”, their talents and ideas helped the United States remain independent and unique in the world. Despite all the voices to the contrary, America is still exceptional; while many risk hardship and death to emigrate to Europe or to the USA, few seem willing to do so, to leave America to go in the opposite direction: into China, Russia, Sudan, or Iran.

The United States has indeed wandered from the creed that bound us together in the crucible of war. Many of those today, who have served in uniform, seen horror of war and the oppression of people around the world, are more committed to preserving our unity, our nation and our culture- our great American experiment, than those proselytize for socialism, rights without responsibilities, and demand reparations for our “shameful” history. Let us not listen to the voices that crave power, or those who condemn America, or those who use violence to silence American patriotism and nationalism. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, let us hasten to retrace our steps, and move together along the road toward peace, liberty and safety.

A cause worth dying for

defense.gov

On the sixth of June, 1944, seventy- five years ago, more than a hundred- fifty thousand Allied troops became heroes on D-Day.

My late mother was a 12 year old schoolgirl living on the shores of the Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland. She told me of a foggy early morning probably a few days before the invasion when she saw many ships in the Lough only to disappear a day later. That capped a brief visit days earlier of an American cousin in her mother’s family, a Merchant Marine, who she later learned had been decorated for bravery in the Battle for Malta in 1942.

While some may think that Northern Ireland was far from the Blitz – the campaign the Nazi waged against Britain – German bombers attempting to destroy or disable aircraft manufacturing and the Belfast shipyard from April through May 1941, destroyed a considerable part of the city. A thousand were killed, many were injured and more than 100,000 were left homeless. Once the Nazis started their campaign against the Soviet Union in June 1941, they diverted their bombers.

My mother and family were fortunate in that their home was not bombed but the family retail business was unable to recover from the bombing of the city and the economic conditions which persisted all through the war and the remainder of the decade. And so my mother’s family became emigres to the United States in 1948 (other relatives had been living in the United States since the mid-19th Century).

hot water

An experienced mariner knows most basic principle of seamanship: keep the water outside the skin of the ship. But what if you want water, for your health and convenience, inside a ship? Before modern systems aboard ship made potable water from seawater, sailors had to carry sufficient drinking water with them. Sailors rarely bathed. In the later years of sailing ships, mariners learned that cold water bathing, and clean clothes would prevent communicable disease, and foul odors (germs). Modern systems on larger vessels supply clean water for everything from cooling equipment to supplying sailors with drinking water and for food preparation. As an added personal benefit: hot water for showers.

Living ashore since retiring from the sea service, I have not had to go without clean clothes, nor without hot water for ages. This week our home water heater failed and for two days we were braving cool showers. Calling out a plumbing company – one who installed my unit happened to be a former Navy HT – was a smart move. I would have been out of my depth (pardon the pun) there.

With an older home, lots of unforeseen costs for safety systems raised the price and the complexity of the job. My wife and I opted for a better, “greener”, and only a little more expensive longer-term solution. A tankless system instead of an old technology- and shorter lived one. With other required modifications for federal, state, and local regulations, the cost had us briefly thinking, is cold water really all that horrible? But with my restless dreams about work in recent weeks, I never want to have nightmares about flooding -while at work – soothed by cold water showers!