Remembering September 11, 2001

Twenty-one years ago today, in the early hours of a late summer morning, evil attempted to destroy the American ideal. They thought by striking symbols, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the White House, they would succeed in their endeavor. They were wrong. Three thousand men and women, airline passengers and crew, working people, First Responders and members of the Armed Forces perished that day. Instead of fear, the terrorists ignited resolve, beginning first with the passengers in the plane above Shanksville, Pennsylvania who opposed them. Though perishing, the passengers halted the attack on one of Al Qaeda’s targets. Like the surprise attack of Imperial Japan sixty years earlier, a “sleeping giant” was awakened. Before the towers collapsed, Americans (whatever their actual citizenship) demonstrated this evil “holy” war was a failed attempt. Heroism, courage and sacrifice emerged that day.

Men and women rushed into the burning buildings to save others, and some perished in doing so. In the ensuing months, fatherless and motherless children, widows and widowers, neighbors and strangers were comforted. The World these terrorists hated, put aside their differences, then united in crushing the safe haven in Afghanistan and sending its leaders to prison or to hell. Twenty years later, most Americans living today have at least one family member, co-worker, friend, or neighbor who served in the military after September 11th, some of whom returning with the scars of war. Though collective memory of nations fade, governments equivocate, and old ways persist, veterans still remind us of duty and responsibility of the defended. Ordinary citizens support, encourage, and volunteer to assist the injured, homeless, addicted, and refugee. Though many who have come of age in the two decades since question the purpose of the sacrifices in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, this day should be remembered and honored.

Embrace those who lost a loved one on that day. Put aside any differences in race, politics, religion, economic condition or gender. Thank a member of law enforcement, firemen, veterans and Active Duty service members for their dedication. Get to know your neighbor. Praise your God for peace and love. Most importantly, teach your children respect, honor, courage, and selflessness.

Ask the Chief: Seaman to Admiral program

While developing talented junior enlisted and officers into highly-skilled and effective leaders is a goal of the military in general, some leaders’ examples are more inspirational than others. During the late 1990s, aboard the destroyer USS PETERSON, commanded at the time by a former “snipe” (nickname for a member of the Engineering Department), the mission effectiveness and morale of the crew were exceptional, earning the ship awards from the combatant commander. It may have been his model of leadership that inspired a shipmate in my work center, and a Boatswains Mate (another division in the Operations Department) to apply and be accepted for, commissioning. Recently I learned that a peer Cryptologic Technician Maintainer (CTM), with whom I served in the early 1990s, is now a Captain who serves as Commander of Information Warfare Training Command, Pensacola, Florida.

I had the privilege of working for two commanding officers who had begun their careers as an enlisted Seaman Recruit and retired forty years later as Rear Admiral. Both were inspirational in developing military professionals, both officer and enlisted. Officers who modeled the standards set by these COs, became commanding officers in later years. These same units produced enlisted members who rose to become unit Senior Enlisted Leaders, achieve the highest rank of Master Chief Petty Officer in their respective Ratings, and some of these same MCPOs became their Rating’s Enlisted Community Manager.

It has been nearly thirty years since the Navy established a career path for enlisted Sailors to seek a commission. The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mike Boorda was the first Sailor to start a career as an enlisted man, receive a commissioning, and promote all the way to the highest rank and office in the Navy. It was he who instituted the “Seaman to Admiral Program”, now referred to as STA-21. Each year, exceptional male and female enlisted sailors may apply to become officers. July is the cutoff for applications to be received for the following year.

From websites such as Station Hypo, which posts stories of the history and personnel of the Navy Information Warfare (and Cryptology) community as well as the official website of the Navy Public Affairs office, the news that men and women have set the bar for others to model. Like the story of Mark Burns, Navy SEAL and Rear Admiral, his insight, having attained Flag rank, will inspire others to pursue what is possible.

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The Battle of Boston Harbor

In maritime warfare, has there been a case where a United States Navy Midshipman was promoted to commanding officer? And then, upon losing a battle, was court-martialed? The answer is yes to both questions.

It was the War of 1812. The battle itself was very short and resulted in the deaths of many of the American crew and capture of the American vessel. Captain Philip Broke, commander of HMS Shannon challenged Captain James Lawrence of the Chesapeake – he had been her commander less that 2 weeks. The Chesapeake got underway to meet the Shannon and in the short conflict her masts and steering were damaged by the British warship and became inoperable. Two hundred-fifty of her crew were killed. Captain Lawrence was mortally wounded, and as he was taken below, he promoted the only surviving officer, midshipman William S. Cox to the rank of Third Lieutenant. Though ordered to continue the fight until sunk, she was captured, and the Chesapeake‘s remaining crew were imprisoned in Nova Scotia. After the war, a court martial found Third Lieutenant Cox guilty of briefly leaving his post during the engagement. He was stripped of rank and discharged. William Cox died in 1874, but 75 years after his death, in August 1952, President Truman signed a legislation posthumously restoring Cox’s rank of Third Lieutenant.

Camp feathers

A veteran friend of mine sent me the link to an article on the military use of pigeons back before Marconi’s invention revolutionized communications. The Navy employed pigeons to courier messages, even developing a Navy Rating with special training to care for and train the birds. If the world goes to seed, I may have some recruits for a new pigeon command here.

Doves at camp

I may not have been a Navy Pigeoneer in my career (I was a guy who maintained the electronics), though I am getting more into birds at home. With the change to some waterwise shrubs, my wife wanted to put seeds and sunflowers to bring them back. Recruitment seems to be working. Finches, hummingbirds, California Towhees, and mourning doves are again welcome guests at Camp Feathers. I had originally wanted to attract some nearby raptors, but these are perhaps following the gophers which have gone elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Memorial Day history

Honoring the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who died in defense of the United States is why Monday, May 30th, is special. Honoring our dead has nothing to do with the commercialism and nonchalant ‘day off’ that has co-opted so many ‘holy-days’. And it is not to honor living service members nor veterans whom we thank on Veterans Day, though as a veteran I do remember both living and the dead. As the years pass, the sacrifice of many lives in past conflicts is no less a time to remember than for the generation coming of age today. More than fifteen thousand American military and contractors (many of whom were former military) were killed in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Middle East between 9/11 and 2021’s exit from Afghanistan.

From an article published on Snopes.com, and sourced from historian research, the earliest remembrance day for war dead was held on May 1, 1865 when former slaves in Charleston, SC reburied 257 Union soldiers who had been interred in a mass grave at the former Confederate prison camp. They gave them all proper burial and then held a parade in gratitude for their service. In 1868, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, designated May 30th as Decoration Day, placing flowers on the graves of war dead. In the 1960s, the governor of New York state, followed by President Johnson proclaimed Waterloo, New York as the original founder of Memorial day. (Whom and where the original day of remembrance began in the US is still debated.) Waterloo had been honoring war dead annually since 1866. Scholars can debate where and when Memorial Day began – there are accounts from groups in the old South that honored both Union and Confederate war dead since the 1860s, but the Federal Government established Memorial Day, with a holiday in 1971. As we in the United States enjoy gatherings or time to relax during the Memorial Day weekend, please pause to reflect on those military members who gave their all for us.

Grand Old Flag

You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Every heart beats true
'Neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Should all acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag. 
-George M Cohan, composer

Composer George M Cohan wrote these lyrics more than a century ago, at a time when the United States flag was a rallying symbol for a nation of “Americans” formed out of immigrants.  Over millennia, flags have been the banners under which people have rallied to wars of liberation and independence, as well as peaceful demonstrations for equality. Some deliberately provoke anger as their banners recall times of injustice or genocide. Though any student of history can dwell on the sins of a nation, the United States being no exception, the advances in medicine, agriculture, industrial output, other sciences, in education and literacy, in the United States made our national ensign a symbol well known in every part of the world. As a veteran and history buff, the history of the American flag is interesting and remains a symbol of pride. How did our national ensign emerge?

St Andrews cross
Grand Union Flag (pre-revolution)

For a century prior to the Revolutionary War, the American colonist flew a derivation of the ensign of Great Britain with various symbols that were historically significant in Britain, such as the cross of St. Andrews or the cross of Saint George.  The Union flag, which first flew on British naval ships in 1634. With several changes instituted and then reverted by monarchs for the next century, the colonist adopted flags with these designs and colors, until the unrest prior to the revolution, variations on merchant ships and to rally the colonists to their aims for independence carried mottos in Latin such as “conquer or die” or other provoking mottos (p. 135, Naval Ceremonies, Customs and Traditions, Naval Institute Press, 2004) and designs such as the Pine Tree. The Philadelphia Troop of Light Horse when it escorted General Washington to New York to take command of the Continental Army was first to bear thirteen stripes, representing the original colonies, in alternating blue and silver stripes. Commodore Hopkins raised a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag with thirteen stripes, a rattlesnake, and this motto on his ship the Alfred on 5 December 1775. During the bicentennial Independence year in 1976, it flew again as the jack on all Navy ships. In 2002, in response to the War on Terror, the “Don’t Tread on Me” jack was again flown. John Paul Jones, of whom so much of early American naval tradition rests, was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the new American Navy on 22 December 1775. From commissioning, in the company of Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock, he went aboard Commodore Hopkin’s flagship, the Alfred. Directed by John Hancock, with the Commodore and ship’s captain ashore, as senior officer John Paul Jones directed the first “American” flag, be hoisted from the mainmast. This is significant as the first American flag flying from a warship. From historical accounts, this ensign was likely the same flag raised by Washington’s troops in Boston a couple weeks later. The adoption of the national ensign, with the 13 alternating red and white stripes, with stars in a blue field representing the union occurred on 4 June 1777.  As for John Paul Jones, he received orders to command the Ranger the same day, and afterward he always believed his future and that of the new national ensign were linked. In the sea battle with the HMS Serapis, both ships were severely damaged.  As he transferred with surviving crew to the captured British vessel, the last view of sinking Bon Homme Richard was the “defiant waving of her unconquered and unstrucken (sic) flag as she went down” (report of John Paul Jones, ibid, p143).

Flag (top): flown from the Bon Homme Richard during battle. (bottom): the “Serapis” flag, when Jones sailed the captured ship from the Netherlands after the battle

With the admission of new states into the ‘united states’ in the last years of the Eighteenth Century, the design of the nation’s flag was subject to some controversy, over the number of stripes and stars.  The final design was established by Congress and signed into law in 1818 by President Monroe.  From that time forth, the stripes remained fixed as they appear today, but an additional star would be added to the blue field for every new state admitted.  

flying cowboys in 1959

Under a lifelong commitment to protect national security of the United States, describing what my military peers and I did for a living was often reduced to generalizations and debunking some misconceptions that Hollywood movies make about protecting national security. Though there were some 1960’s-era generals at the time unopposed to being ordered to use nuclear weapons, the satire Dr Strangelove, lampoons that a rogue can instigate WWIII. Or at the dawn of the Computer Age, that a young civilian might connect to a DOD system, as in War Games, discounts that computers even then were isolated in secure networks. (However, a spy on the inside remains a hazard.) While thrilling, that rogue cells within the Intelligence bureaucracy could operate with efficiency and lethality outside of oversight, as in the Bourne films, seems too incredible. (However, the efficiency which the Russian security apparatus can eliminate political enemies highlights what sanctioned operations can achieve.) In Crimson Tide, a nuclear submarine commander (with a dog aboard(!) and officers might be near mutiny over whether to launch nukes is horrifying, but the crew selection and training process, security protocols and backup systems exist to prevent that. On the other hand, a glimpse into a typical mission day in the life of a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber is interesting in that it seems routine. For the last thirty years, nuclear war has seemed to be an artifact of history, but during the Cold War, military professionals conducted their duties in their flying “office”, preparing for a very real potential between nuclear-armed adversaries.

By accident, today I found a short film posted to YouTube, narrated by James Stewart, the renowned actor and WWII bomber pilot (and a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve) from 1959- the year I was born. For the last sixty-plus years, training has continued in that deterring war is most effective by trained and equally-lethal forces. With tensions rising again, with Russian aggression against Ukraine and China’s military reach growing, training will continue. Just as this short film depicts, each military professional does his or her duty hoping to go home at the conclusion of the “work day’.

Ask the Chief: Ceremonies in the life of a naval ship, Part 2

Continued from Part 1:

Commissioning

After christening and launching of a naval ship, commissioning is the next major ceremony in its life. The builders turn over the ship to the Navy, to an authority who will bear responsibility until the ship is commissioned. Prior to commissioning, no pennant, jack nor ensign is flown from the ship and no honors are rendered, other than courtesies upon his or her arrival. Honors are rendered at his departure. The ship is turned over to the commanding officer who accepts her and assumes command. Invitations reflect the host of the ceremony, including the crew among the hosts. Invitations are issued in the form, “Commanding Officer and Ship’s Company” or “Commanding Officer, Officers and Crew”. This is the first time that the title “USS” or United States Ship may be used as it is a commissioning ceremony. Established practice is to have a basic, official ceremony and when the ship is officially in commission, to continue with official speeches, personal remarks, and presentations. It is during this latter part of the ceremony that officers and crew are on duty and manning their station as in-port watches. This process adheres to Navy Regulations regarding commissioning. Officers fall in aft by dress parade stations on the quarterdeck or at the fantail, and the crew is marched aft, by division, to assigned stations. The ceremony begins with an invocation by a chaplain. The executive officer reports to the prospective commanding officer that the officers and crew are at their stations and everything is ready for the commissioning ceremony. By seniority, the official party, the admiral or designated representative and the prospective commanding officer arrive at their places on the ceremony platform. The officer conducting the transfer reads the orders delivering the ship and the orders to commission the ship are relayed from the commanding officer to executive officer to the navigator. At the “attention” signal, the national anthem plays, and ensign, commissioning pennant, and jack are hoisted at the same time. The commanding officer reads orders to assume command and orders to set the watch. The Officer of the Deck takes his (her) station and makes the first entry in the ship’s log: ” The ship is now officially commissioned.” Speeches, addresses and presentations by the official guests continue; the ceremony concludes and the official party departs. A reception usually follows.

IMAGE CREDIT: US Navy photo by MS1 Ernesto Bonilla, USS Daniel INOUYE, DDG-113 (navy.mil)

Ask the Chief: Ceremonies in the life of a naval ship, Part 1

Image (Christening), DD-462, FITCH, from US Naval History and Heritage Command

There are four traditional ceremonies in the life of a naval ship: the keel-laying, christening and launching, commissioning, and the decommissioning. The keel-laying ceremony is relatively simple, with formal invitations made to interested parties for the “laying of the keel of Name or designator and hull number (e.g. DD-123), if not yet named. Notably, prior to commissioning, “USS” is not used in conjunction with the ship name. At the shipyard, after invocation, an official such as the shipyard president welcomes guests and introduces a guest speaker. After remarks, the speaker may direct or affix a nameplate or weld his or her initials on the keel. Finally, the keel is moved into position by shipyard workers, and it is announced that “the keel has been truly and fairly laid.”

When a ship is christened today, the event continues the long history in maritime cultures of ceremony. Originally a dedication to maritime deities, the ancient Greeks and Romans, Chinese and Polynesian cultures used water or wine or blood (Polynesia) in the ceremony honoring the gods. In France, sea-going vessels were blessed by Catholic priests; wine was not splashed against the ship but was reserved for the guests! Beginning in the early Nineteenth Century Europe and America, with Queen Victoria in Britain, naval ships’ sponsors increasingly became women. US Navy ships were initially christened with water though wine or champagne has christened ships for almost two hundred years except for the period of Prohibition in the United States. Interestingly, Naval Ceremonies, Customs and Traditions, Sixth Edition, (Naval Institute Press) recalls a story where USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) failed to launch when water was used, twice. It only slipped down into the Boston harbor when a bottle of choice Madeira wine was splashed against it. The ceremony itself is a dedication and named, involving speakers who will relate historical or other association with the person, place or event for which the ship is named. The sponsor is introduced and then the actual christening occurs. And again, until the ship is in commission, “USS” is not associated with its name.


Ask the Chief: honors and salutes

The United States Navy has a tradition and a future. We look with pride and confidence in both directions

Admiral Chester Nimitz, USN

Honors and Salutes

Aboard a naval vessel, an officer serving as the Officer of the Deck (OOD) must ensure that all proper traditions, courtesies and ceremonies are observed. The overall effect of these properly executed conveys discipline and close attention to detail of that military unit. Some of these courtesies and honors the OOD is aware, by current instruction, instructs the rendering proper honors by signalmen. Additionally, the OOD ensures lookouts observe, and pass to the Officer of the Deck, approaching dignitaries and senior officers; and acknowledges senior (command) authority aboard passing vessels through use of “attention” and “carry on” signals.

Sailors in today’s Navy should still be aware of the history of customs and traditions that are part of their “DNA”. A book I have had on my shelf for the last fifteen years is Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions, Sixth Edition, written by CDR Royal Connell, USN (Ret) and VADM William Mack, USN, (Ret), published by Naval Institute Press (2004). One of the introductory passages in this edition speaks to the evolving history of the United States Navy. The Navy today has, in the last fifty years, experienced two of the pivotal transition periods, namely, the post-Vietnam era and the Global War on Terror – from first Gulf War, piracy in the Horn of Africa, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks on September 11, 2001.

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.