“May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”


"This report is maybe 12-years-old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear because there's a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it, too. They're gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, 10, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people . . . better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave." ~ Captain Malcom Reynolds

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remember the meaning of the day

Please - don't thank a veteran today.

That's not what it's for.

Today is the day we remember and honor those men and women who have given their lives in service to this country, to the ideals of freedom and equality, to the concept of something greater than themselves. Whether in war or peace, volunteer or draftee, they stepped forward and sacrificed everything so that we may live in the nation we do.

Instead, thank the families who lost sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters. Take a moment to remember the loss they will forever face because of these brave men and women.

Understand why some of us may be a little bit quieter than normal today, why we don't view it as an opportunity to go shop for discounts or celebrate with a cookout. Why instead we take moments to reflect on those we left behind.

Most importantly, take a moment to honor and remember those men and women who from 1776 until today, here at home and in lands far away, of every race, creed and religion, have died believing and serving the simple words "... all men are created equal."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Whither Iraq?

Before I get to my post, I will preface with a few comments to keep in mind:

-- #1 I spent 22 months of my life in, around, over and under Iraq. I have personal friends who died in Ramadi during the past decade (not to mention other spots in the Babylonian lands). I've taken fire, tasted blood, and everything else you want to imagine in the desert sands alongside 4000+ years of conflict in the region. So if you want to question my "investment" in this topic you can pack sand for a week.

-- #2 I'm not here to criticize the current administration's actions, prior administrations going back 4 decades which got us in this mess, or any of the other stuff. Plenty of other people have killed that horse already. While this president got us to this point, it was a cumulative process involving a failure to understand cultures and plan for the future.

-- #3 Unlike the talking heads on the television, I have a better than passing knowledge of Middle Eastern, Arab, and Persian cultures, Islam, modern warfare and insurgency, and the related issues. And, the biggest failure of government, the media, and the general population is a failure to understand how these elements are shaping events as a whole in the region - how they perfectly explain "why" the Iraqi people didn't rush headlong into democracy given the opportunity, or how so many quickly pulled out old grudges and axes to grind as soon as the adult supervision left the room.

   So, where do we go?

   Because we are at a crossroads (or better yet, an interchange) as a nation on this one.

   This weekend the provincial capital of Ramadi fell under ISIS control, vast numbers of Iraqi government soldiers and officials fleeing the city, and things generally going to hell in the proverbial handbasket. This, of course, follows the debacles at Mosul last year, the gains in Syria and Iraq by the group, the lack of a coordinated, comprehensive, or even cogent plan by the United States and other nations to deal with the issue, and a general display of circling toilet water if there ever was one.

   Depending on which media source you visit the spin is varied, but on all of them the U.S. administration admits this is a significant setback in terms of military operations in the region.

   And to be honest it caused me some difficulty - to see the area we had fought so hard for, turning an insurgency around and proving that it could be done. Leaving a city in relative peace, able to function, determining their own destiny. These are the things that made the losses worth it. To go from a place where people were afraid to go outside to one where children could play in the streets again. To see not just our country, but the world as a whole abandon them because it's not politically expedient to do more than drop a few bombs and do a news clip.

   Originally that had me ready to rant about our national resolve, our will to win, and our failure to back up our promises to the nations and peoples we help around the world.

   But then I had to think. And I'm rather torn.

   Yes, those things are important. There are other factors at play though.

   Keep in mind that this isn't our first rodeo in the Mesopotamian area - and that before us the Brits, the Ottomans and others throughout history had a go of things as well. And, the Iraqi culture remains at heart a loose collection of tribal groups, combined with the millennium old Shia/Sunni conflicts. Also remember we have spent over a decade training, equipping and supposedly preparing the Iraqi military to conduct their own operations and maintain their own nation. All of these factors combine to influence how things are shaping out now, as well as the directions likely in the near future.

   But I see us with three basic options.

   #1 - we step in with an overwhelming military presence, pound ISIS into submission, and establish some form of collaborative protectorate with the Iraqi populace until the region has achieved at least some form of stability where we can withdraw. For an example look at how quickly we were able to leave Europe to it's own defense after World War Two, the self-sufficiency of the South Koreans against aggression in their peninsula, and the continued presence of NATO troops to maintain stability in the Balkans after their "year long" deployment in the 1990s. Not only that, there is doubtless a vast group of potential future jihadis who would leap upon any large scale or long term US presence as an excuse to ramp things up even more in battling the Crusaders.

   #2 - things continue as they are. We don't commit militarily to an unpopular conflict, we keep the troops at home, and we use air power, drones and other remote means in an attempt to keep ISIS from overwhelming the Iraqi forces. Let our advisors and a coalition attempt to limit the conflict as much as possible, and concentrate on more important domestic and international issues.

   or, #3 - write it off. We've been involved in one form or another in Iraq for over two decades, with no appreciable change in stability, no return on our investment of thousands of lives, and if anything a situation potentially worse for the region than it was in 1985. As a whole the Iraqi people seem little interested in moving beyond tribal and sectarian violence as a means to resolve issues and settle old grudges, the security apparatus remains mired in corruption and incompetence, and there is little realistic hope of self-determination fixing things. Be done with it, in terms of money, resources, and most importantly the lives of our men and women. Let them fight it out - if it crosses the borders smack them down, but until then to hell with the whole mess. Sit back, handle our own affairs, and wait until some form of cogent Iraqi government of whatever flavor is ready to interact with the rest of the world.


   As much as it pains me to say it, I vote for number three. We've given it more than a good faith effort. I don't in any way think our interventions to stop Saddam's WMD programs and defiance of UN sanctions was a mistake, and we certainly did everything we could to help the Iraqi people have an opportunity to move forward. But, just like you can't force an addict to quit, you can't make a nation or a region stable and secure simply through external will. Until the desire of the population overwhelms the will of those with the guns and the money, Iraq isn't going to change. And, unless we are deciding as a nation that it's time to get into the empire-building game, it's time to cut our losses. Not because we can't win - if any nation can, we have the capability. It's that we have moved past the point where it is worth the investment to do so.

   I hate saying it, in ways I couldn't even explain. But I can't see a better option.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A link for a good cause

   While we have made great strides with the awareness and treatment of veterans suffering from PTSD in the past decade (although there is still a ways to go), unfortunately we lag in other areas. In particular, the help available for families is woefully limited - especially when it comes to the children of our men and women who have served. It's hard enough for a veteran to learn to accept the changes in who they are because of war, to figure out who they are now and how to deal with life. How do you explain to a child why their parent doesn't handle the stress they way they always should? How little things can set them off at the wrong time? The issues with crowds, or traffic, or loud noises, or the thousand other things which are hard enough to explain to an adult? Most importantly, how do you help the child understand that these things are not their fault, that the problems dad or mom have are caused by something in the past, and that families can learn to get through them together?

   Army veteran Seth Kastle faced these challenges in his own life with his daughters, following tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result of his experiences he wrote and published a book called "Why is Dad So Mad?" I was privileged enough to be able to take my own children to hear him speak the past weekend (at an event sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project), and to hear him read his book for the kids present. Impressively, he also took the time to answer not just the questions some of the adults had, but he took the time to answer every child's question, to interact with all of them, and to remind them that they mattered. He also made sure to provide each family with a copy of the book at no charge. To say I was touched by the generosity of Mr. Kastle and the Wounded Warrior Project was an understatement.

   The book is well written, age appropriate, and does a great job for any pre-teens of helping to explain just a little what is going on. Additionally he has a version for moms coming out this year for female veterans in need.

   So - please consider supporting Mr. Kastle if you know anyone who may benefit from this. Let's do what we can to help the families just like we try to our veterans.

   *NOTE* - I am receiving no compensation or benefit from these links. While Mr. Kastle and the Wounded Warrior Project provided a copy of his book for my children, they had no knowledge or connection with this blog post in any way. I am doing this purely as a means of spreading awareness about a cause I support. Thank you.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

More callout fun

I'm not sure if I found it more curious that tonight's callout involved a live grenade that a homeowner dug out of her suburban garden...

Or that her husband felt it was appropriate to put it in their garbage can (naturally, full of other trash as well) before calling us...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Long but worth reading

Former police officer David Klinger moved on to the mental health profession following law enforcement and a shooting incident he was involved in. He recently completed a study examining the effects and attitudes of officers who are involved in deadly force incidents. The results were different than he expected, and I personally think both his summary and the whole study are worth examining. Particularly given some of the recent press and public perceptions regarding deadly force and police behaviors things like this are important for citizens to understand and for us to discuss as a society.

I'll withhold my commentary for now so as not to drive your perceptions, but I hope you find the articles informative.

"What I Learned After I Killed a Criminal"

"Police Responses to Officer Involved Shootings"


Friday, May 8, 2015

It's a good thing we aren't accountable for our ancestors...

While waiting for the school bus this morning I got into a conversation with my daughter which ended up in a discussion about how people in the modern world are much more mobile than even just a hundred years ago - travel, migrations etc.; and thus the diversity of people and backgrounds in her class. To include citing examples of life in differing areas "back then." When she then piped up "And one of our ancestors traveled on the ocean stealing things!"

This stems from the fact that on the maternal side there is a famous pirate in the family bloodline, something the kids do get amused about at times.

It was then explained to her that well yes, that's true... but she also had ancestors who lived in the hills of Scotland stealing sheep.

And others in the high Rockies who were plundering the Navajo for horses and brides.

Which then led to me going "Umm and while stealing is wrong, apparently there's a lot of it in our background kiddo..."

Monday, April 27, 2015

Liability

Now, I'm not a lawyer, but if I was a business in Baltimore that was facing disruption, or worse had been burned, looted or otherwise damaged by the current riots, I would be preparing my lawsuit against the mayor right about now:

On Saturday, as protests continued to turn ugly, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake confirmed that the protesters were being given “space” to “destroy.”
“I worked with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech,” the mayor said. "It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

Because right about there you've lined yourself up for all the negligence and culpability you need in a civil suit...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Kids These Days

Ever since the first hoplite looked at the second and said "You know, it was harder when I joined," (if not earlier) there has been a military tradition of "These days they're soft, don't have to go through what we did," and the like.

Well, this past week I spent teaching a class that was about 80% military bomb techs and 20% civilian side. The youngest military guy was 19 and the oldest was in his thirties - and all of them have been "doing the job" long after I passed any torch I even remotely held on to.

And, I got to watch them closely, share bits of knowledge, evaluate their skills and all of that other stuff.

Ladies and gentlemen - your men and women in uniform are exceptional, and I say that without reservation. Yet again I saw a collection of young professionals who knew their job, who took it seriously, who had great questions, who were motivated to get the job done, and who did nothing but impress me. You can be proud beyond measure of the people who have volunteered to defend your country, and I am honored to have even the slightest role in hopefully helping to make them better. If this represents the caliber of the modern military, particularly with all the budget issues and such, then I am amazed at what they have done.

Thank them and respect them if you get the chance. They've earned it.


Friday, April 17, 2015

How my life has changed

So I'm wrapping up a work trip tonight. Teaching for a .gov agency the past week, out of town with the hotel room, per diem and all that stuff. It's been a productive trip not only in terms of accomplishing the work stuff, but hanging out with guys with a similar experience set, sharing jokes with folks "in the club" and networking for future opportunities. And now it's the last night before heading home.

Which means at one time in the past I'd be spending tonight in a local establishment, socializing and sampling the libations, until I reached a point of "I need to crash now if I'm going to be functional to drive home tomorrow." Hanging out til the single digits with comrades in arms and sharing laughter and tales.

Instead, it's 10:30 in my hotel room, and I'm wondering how soon I feel like crashing. I have my own beer, music, and nothing else. Because I'm at my saturation point for humanity this week, and I can use the time to chill.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

This is why I advocate body cameras for officers

I hate to come in and second guess people, to Monday-morning quarterback the guy on the street as it were.

But this is a bad shoot. There is no other way to describe it.

I wasn't there. I won't presume to guess what was in either man's mind which led him to make the choices which led to that fateful moment. I don't know if it was a matter of race, of power, of poor decision making, or what.

It was absolutely, unequivocally wrong. There is absolutely no way I can look at this as an officer, as a firearms instructor, or as a human, and remotely justify this shooting.

The only remotely decent thing I can see is that the local jurisdiction immediately moved to charge the officer, and that he has been terminated.

Please don't turn this into a referendum on national actions. Please don't paint us all with the man's brush. I don't know why he did what he did, but I cannot in any way excuse his actions, and I am glad he is being held accountable.

And thankfully we are in a society which openly exposes this act, as opposed to hiding it, or worse, condoning it.