Honoring the fallen and defending the living

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

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

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

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

Ask the Chief: the little things

A young man’s resolve -this morning encouraged me greatly. He had arrived early to take his certification exams – which, among his peers, is sufficiently remarkable to be noteworthy. (As a military retiree, I am accustomed to the military tradition of being fifteen minutes early to something as being “on time”.) He unfortunately only possessed two of the four items needed to register. (One was an stamped self-addressed envelope to mail his exam results.) Apparently, his program administrator had not furnished him a specific document to register for the State exam. He was embarrassed and disappointed but he made calls to his administrator – at 7 AM – to obtain it. They hand-delivered the needed form to the test site at an agreed time so as not to reschedule his exam. Once he was registered, I joked with him that after that particular exercise, any nerves while taking the exam would no longer pose him a problem. Though he will not know it for a few days, he passed both exams and earned his certification. I have some confidence that obstacles would, in future, be opportunities for him to overcome.

For many, the statutory regulations that govern these certification exams including a certain proficiency in English comprehension, are not obstacles. For others, lacking the self-discipline to thoroughly prepare, to read the pre-registration letters, emails, text messages or phone calls, and to arrive for a state exam in a timely manner, make a successful outcome difficult. From a veteran’s perspective, the Admiral quoted here, is correct.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

William H. McRaven, USN (Ret)

Starting a career as an entrepreneur, a veteran may have only her life experience, wits, and an idea. Skills as active listening, experience of mentoring by experienced professionals and preparing thoroughly for most expected conditions, are basics. Just as in the military, in business, there are certain things that require the entrepreneur to think on one’s feet. And an idea of a product or service, is only as profitable as its feasibility in the market. A veteran should be willing to get advice, seek expertise, and commit or redeploy in another product or service or market.

You can’t change the world alone – you will need some help – and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

William H. McRaven, USN (Ret)

A successful business has efficient operations and administration. Much of this is beyond the expertise of a new entrepreneur. Beyond computers and productivity software, calendars, and government licenses, fees and regulatory paperwork, engaging the services of bookkeepers, Certified Public Accountants, and specialized expertise may be required to maintain efficiency and regulatory compliance. In this area, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has offices in most communities to provide guidance to help entrepreneurs succeed.

Just as in the military, the failure to know statutory regulations, compliance – licensing, taxes, and record-keeping- is not often an acceptable excuse for non-performance. This means that businesses often are the clients of other businesses. Just as one’s own enterprise needs to have exceptional customer service with clients, the entrepreneurs engaged to provide service or products to your business needs to have the same standards. The business which loses clients to communication, operations, or staffing issues that financially impact their clients will not be in business for long. Friends, colleagues, good will, and a disciplined leader will make your destination attainable.

Ask the Chief: General orders of a sentry

One recent Sunday, my church congregation held an outdoor worship service at a community park to celebrate the relaxing of COVID precautions in our area. Two retired Navy Chiefs were asked to help with the set up of sound for the stage and facilitating our members to park their vehicles. I was one of these who coordinated parking, and assisted my Brother Chief (among retired Navy members a CPO is always a CPO) with setting up and afterward, tearing down and storing of the equipment. What made the day a bit hectic was the park was also the setting for the local Chaldean community celebrating the Easter season with family picnics, loud music and children running between the Chaldean festivities and our afternoon church service. Apparently, in an effort to maintain public safety (the parking lot was filled to capacity before our service arrived), the local police had set up traffic control into the park.

Wearing my HOPE “uniform” – a t-shirt that all our members recognize, I stood with the police at my “post” at the entrance to the park. Two other volunteers I asked to stand at the pedestrian entrances to the park to assist our congregants and their guests. We were walking our assigned post in a manner of speaking.

A casual conversation with one of the traffic control officers, a fellow Navy veteran, inspired today’s post, “General orders of a sentry”. Sadly, forty years after my recruit training, and eleven years since I was last in uniform, I had to review what those General Orders specifically stated. I could recall only the first two verbatim.

  • To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  • To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  • To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  • To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  • To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  • 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.
  • To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  • To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  • To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
  • To salute all officers and colors and standards not cased.
  • 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.

On a warm and very pleasant afternoon, the service was conducted without incident. One elderly gentleman who had strayed off toward the Chaldean’s festival at one point was gently redirected to our community. And children who had likely decided a game of tag passing through our worship service were gently guided back toward their parents. A Navy Chief’s mission is still the same, even in retirement. Execute the mission.