status symbol

I, like most veterans I know frequently wear at least one article of pride to commemorate our prior military service. Some wear articles that support a veterans’ organization, or something with embroidered patches that convey their affiliation. Some like me wear a t-shirt with a bald eagle and “veteran” statement. Others may display a seal for their particular branch of service and “Retired”, or the service mascot and commentary. A veteran’s favorite may sometimes take a good-natured jab at a rival service. We have bumper stickers, license plate frames, or a coffee mug with something that tells others we were in the military. Most veterans I know rarely go anywhere uncovered, which for the uninitiated means we wear a ballcap (or other head covering) we first adopted in the military as part of the uniform. And at least once a day in my travels around San Diego, I will see and acknowledge another veteran wearing a “Desert Storm” or “Vietnam” or “Afghanistan” service commemorative cap or window sticker on their vehicle.

What is your favorite way to commemorate your service, or for that of a family member?

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’.

‘White Phosphorus’ Claimed To Be Used In Ukraine May Really Be Russian Napalm Weapon

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2022/03/25/white-phosphorus-may-really-be-soviet-napalm-weapon/

Use of white phosphorus is horrendously evil even for an enemy combatant. Use of napalm is only slightly less evil. When a regime has little regard for the suffering it causes, the ends justify the means. Only if the regime is not held to account, that is. When a modern military like Russia’s is deployed against Ukraine, a neighboring country under a pretext that nobody believed, and their expected quick occupation turns into an implacable David against a Goliath, weapons are turned against civilians even more readily.

prayer remains the only secure comms

What hath God wrought?

Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, cit Library of Congress

Before someone discovered the Rosetta Stone, a fragment of stone which had inscriptions written in classical Greek and Egyptian, allowing modern transcription of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the pyramids and other ruins were secure witnesses to Pharoah’s secrets. Until modern times, protecting military communications took several forms from handwritten letters in cyphers that used increasingly more inventive means to encode them. When machines were developed to encode communications and transmit them over wires and then in the Twentieth Century wirelessly, communications had to grow more secure. Old diplomats who assumed “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail” (Henry L. Stimson, d 1950), were being unrealistic. As quickly as the medium changed, the means to obfuscate the messaging grew. The leap from the invention of the telegraph (1837 – 44) to global communication satellites and the Internet (~1980) is barely 140 years. And in that time, messages were intercepted and read that thwarted the Kaiser’s plans for Mexico, Hitler’s and Imperial Japan’s war effort, and other campaigns up to the present day.

With the invention of the cell phone, the move to secure civilian communications was spurred by reports that governments were listening in to narcotics traffickers and could determine the phone’s location using ELINT (electronics intelligence) methods. In the last thirty years, companies have made data stored on or transmitted via smartphones more secure, but encryption of voice communications over cellphone is still costly and not generally available. With smartphones becoming the ubiquitous means of communication, whether texting, looking up recipes online, or signing and sending electronically signed contracts to vendors, the expanded need for radio frequencies changed other inventions. Landline telephones, television, and commercial AM and FM radio which had been both a means to inform the public and filter messages through Government censors, are on their way to museums.

In autocratically-controlled countries, filtering the flow of information is a primary concern to those in power. As we have already learned from global corporations that “socialized” the Web, Google, Facebook, and other players throttle dissent and focus (target) messages to audiences that are in line with their beliefs – but mostly to benefit their corporate advertisers. Yet this means of control can also be circumvented in some areas, like we have seen in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where other entities (SpaceX, for one) shipped satellite receivers to the Ukrainians to connect to the world via its new satellite network. But as we saw with a recent network disruption of Viasat’s satellite network, regimes and other adversarial actors are daily working to corrupt communication or spy on those whose data they wish to steal. However, as nations’ cyber warfare apparatus are becoming very proficient both in attacking and defending, old technology is coming back into vogue. With the focus on the Internet and satellite transmissions foremost in Russian and Chinese state filters, Ham (amateur) radio operators are able to communicate with people hunkered down in bomb shelters and isolated areas in the Ukraine. Frustrated Russian military units, hampered by Command-and-Control problems, fuel supply problems and soldiers complaints over unencrypted radio, are being intercepted by civilian operators half a world away.

Yet one medium is still unassailable by technology. Though a favorite target in science fiction, a person’s thoughts remain secure and unable to be monitored by an adversary. At least until they broadcast them on social media or send in military units. However, it may be that Someone is listening in to those “secure” communications. The same Someone who empowered David to slay Goliath, and for now, seems to have been staving off Vladimir Putin’s territorial aspirations.

A visit with Paws for Purple Hearts

Canine-Assisted Warrior Therapy

One of the tenets of military service is from the battlefield. “Leave no one behind”. As a veteran, I believe that extends to those who have come home with physical and emotional wounds. Statistics from the VA, state that up to 30 per cent of Vietnam Veterans have experienced Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) in their lifetime, and from 11 to 20 percent of Gulf War and Iraq-Afghanistan veterans have PTSD in any given year. More than 400,000 veterans have had at least one Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). For the last few decades transformative support has grown through individuals and groups who help veterans adjust to life with these cognitive conditions, trauma from sexual violence and harassment, loss of limbs or other injuries suffered in the line of duty.

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Ask the Chief: VA pension for surviving spouses

The Department of Veterans Affairs publishes a weekly newsletter that I receive in my email. I noted this week, some information that may not be widely known by spouses of deceased military veterans. Depending on the veteran’s time on Active Duty, a surviving spouse facing financial hardship may apply for a VA pension based on certain criteria. One such is whether the veteran served before or after September 7th, 1980, and whether at least one day was in “wartime”. A YouTube video provides an overview.

GUEST POST: Tips for Veterans Looking to Buy A Home (Cody McBride)


Over the last year and a half, record-low interest rates have left many people wondering whether or not it’s time to buy a home. However, interest rates are only part of the picture. With many buyers on the market – and in most areas, limited housing inventory – prices are rising fast almost everywhere. Buyers need to have competitive offers in order to have a chance at getting the property they’re hoping for.

Many veterans might think that they can’t compete in this market, but you may be surprised. You don’t have to have a massive down payment saved up to make a move on a house right now – and indeed, there are VA-backed options that may require no down payment at all. Finding a home might be easier than you think, especially with a real estate agent on your side. Here’s a look at what veterans need to know when entering the housing market right now, presented by Truths-Half-truths, and Sea Stories.

Investigate Your Housing Market

The first step you need to take in any house hunt is researching what’s happening in your local housing market. Remember, listing prices can be deceiving. It’s relatively common for homes to actually sell for substantially less – or, in this market, often more – than the original listing price. Sort homes by “sold” to get a better sense for how much properties are actually going for in your market.

This process will help you get a good sense of your foundational options. You can start to build a rough budget based on the prices you can expect for properties that fit your wants and needs. It’s also a good way to start narrowing your search down to the neighborhoods that best fit your price range.

Get Finances in Order

Once you have some basic housing market research under your belt, you can start looking into getting preapproved for a mortgage. As a veteran, you have more options to choose from than the average civilian. In addition to the conventional and FHA loan options, you can also investigate VA-backed loans.

These loans, offered by private lenders, can help you to get into a nicer home with a lower – or in some cases, zero – down payment. Most low- or no-down-payment plans come with private mortgage insurance or PMI. This increases your monthly rate without contributing to paying back your loan or interest, so it’s just money lost. VA-backed loans, however, don’t have PMI, so your monthly payment all goes toward your investment. Also, research VA interest rates today before you decide this is the route you want to take.

Start House Hunting

Once you’re pre-approved for your mortgage, you can start looking for a home in earnest. As we said above, markets are highly competitive right now, so you’ll need to be prepared to make quick decisions. Create a “wants and needs” list you can use to quickly and consistently evaluate homes you tour. If they don’t cross off all the needs, you can move on. If they meet “needs”, but offer very little in the way of “wants,” you should probably pass as well. High scores in both categories, however, signal a winner.

This part of your search is going to be far easier with a trustworthy real estate agent on your side. The right housing professional can make finding properties, scheduling tours, and making offers a breeze. Local experience is a must, but you should also prioritize finding an agent you get along with. Although you don’t need to be best friends, you’ll work one-on-one with your agent a lot through your house hunt, and it’s best to have a good rapport.

These steps should be plenty enough to get you started on your house hunt. Owning a home is one of the most exciting steps you can take in life, and we hope this article inspires you to explore your options and get started. Soon, you might be holding the key to the home of your dreams!

Photo Credit: Pexels

Editor’s Note: Cody is an IT professional by trade. He reached out to me last year about submitting a Guest post. One thing lead to another, schedules got mired in events. With all the COVID issues mostly behind me and excuses run through –  I am belatedly publishing his submission. Good advice for anyone seeking to get into the home market, particularly now that prices are not exploding upward daily. You can read more about all thing’s tech – how to keep up with your Iphone -savvy pre-teen and other wisdom at Cody’s site Tech Deck – The Internet’s Tech Experts

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.


Talking like a Sailor: Navy terms and acronyms

For 2022, I wanted to introduce readers (and recall or reinvigorate in my case) terms, acronyms and abbreviations used in the Navy. Earlier today I was reminded of the times I used to talk on the phone with our son while he was serving in the Army, and how his mother found Army jargon unintelligible. However, I would run everything he said through a translator in my head. After a quarter-century of serving with or working with other service veterans, I put others’ jargon into Navy-speak, and pretty much follow along.

Terms

  • Alive. Usage includes “look alive, shipmates!” (energetic, move quickly)
  • As you were. Order to carry on with what you had been doing.
  • Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS). Food allowance (pay) received when no military galleys are present/ authorized to mess separately.
  • Black shoe. Slang term for a surface Sailor (ship’s company). Its opposite is Brown Shoe.
  • Brown shoe. Slang term for an aviator.

Acronyms

  • AOE. A combat support ship and the fastest auxiliary ship in the Navy. It provides fuel, missiles, ammunition and general stores.
  • CCOL. Compartment Check Off List. Part of the Planned Maintenance System. There must be a CCOL located in every compartment and weather deck area where a Damage Control facility is located.
  • COSAL. Coordinated Shipboard Allowance List. Contains the nomenclature and nameplate data on equipment, identifying repair parts and materials, and provides for the allowance of such to be in the unit’s supply storerooms.

Halloween COMTHIRDFLT style

In 1998 or perhaps 1999, when Commander, US THIRD Fleet, Vice Admiral Herb Brown was embarked on the USS CORONADO (AGF-11) we had the first and only Halloween that the embarked Staff celebrated underway. Or I should clarify, that the enlisted members of the Staff celebrated underway. It might have been a first-ever “trick or treat” that was robustly and enthusiastically celebrated in an underway Navy vessel.

Several of my peers in the Petty Officer First Class Mess had the idea, with us underway to Anchorage during Halloween, to make unfinished compartments in the aft part of the ship a “haunted house”. We had made a port visit to Pearl Harbor earlier in October, where we picked up supplies. My “partner-in-crime”, Storekeeper First Class, aka “SK One” decided that we would add a little to evening by going around-in costume – Trick or Treating – but handing out candy to various members of the Staff and crew. I wore a Frankenstein mask and an old suit bought at a Honolulu thrift store, and my partner, the Grim Reaper (complete with a rubber sickle). The most memorable door we knocked on was the Admiral’s cabin. He was traveling with the ship up to Anchorage and had a family member with him at the time. I think the sight bowled him over with laughter. We bestowed a couple pieces of candy and a toy “Death Star” ornament.

Meanwhile, for members of the crew off-duty we had a great time with our “haunted house” – complete with ghouls, Davy Jones, and a booty chest. Since that part of the ship was still under construction, glo-sticks provided the only light, adding to the spookiness. For days afterward, there was a lot of scuttlebutt going around about who might have dared to go trick or treating the Admiral, the ship’s Commanding Officer, and others aboard. I don’t think we admitted to it, but the Supply Department Head I think figured out SK1 had to be involved. (I was suspected also, as I had made a remark to my Intel officer a week or so earlier.)

Twenty-five years later, and retired eleven years now, each Halloween has become an opportunity to be a little creative, to entertain the neighborhood children and our grandchildren. Tonight was no exception. But that particular Halloween nearly 25 years ago, was memorable, such that it still makes me chuckle when I put up the inflatable Frankenstein yard decoration.

NOTE: While the AGF-11 has been decommissioned and scrapped a long time, the communications call sign for this command and control ship, during my assignment on her, was re-designated “Death Star” in response to a quip by an enlisted member of the crew published in the NAVY TIMES. The CORONADO was a SPAWARS (now NAVWAR) testbed for all sorts of new bleeding-edge technology during my time aboard – and was pretty amazing for a renovated old LPD. As for the gifts we gave out to certain senior officers? During a port visit in Seattle, after the “Death Star” designator made the rounds among the Staff, SK1 and I found a memorabilia store in Pikes Market where we bought several Star Wars “Death Star” ornaments. Oh, that remark I mentioned earlier? “Wasn’t the Death Star, the ship in Star Wars that was blown up…. TWICE?”

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.