Monday, December 18, 2006

Well, friends...I've made it to the next chapter. I just completed my first week on the street with my Field Training Officer (FTO). I've already seen some very disturbing things and for those of you who know me, you know that one thing is certain; that's right...I've been doing a lot of thinking. I was recently asked by a good friend of mine what I thought would be the most difficult aspect of transitioning from military law enforcement to the civilian side. Although I answered his question, I probably should have given more thought to it before I did because I think I may have found the right answer this week.
I went to a call this week involving two adult females. It was the morning after, and we went to one of the ladies homes to serve a warrant for the previous night's going-on's. We were invited into the lady's home (it was a low-risk warrant) and her young child was sitting on the couch playing a video game. For those of you not savvy to the current video game scene, Grand Theft-Auto is a very popular (read dangerous) video game involving a gangster who runs the street robbing, shooting and beating up anyone who crosses his path thereby giving the game its title. The language contained in this video game for those of you who are not familiar, is a very stout R rating.
To be honest, at first it really didn't catch my attention...A child playing a video game. And then it happened...My FTO was explaining the arrest warrant to the lady when I heard "Give me the F-ing ride!" come from the television. "Woah", I thought..."What is this all about". I don't know if it was my expression or my quick glance to the rear that caught the arestee's attention, but she obviously noticed my bewilderment. "Oh, it's alright...", she said. "I let them watch and play whatever they want. Some kids have no idea what goes on in the world...but not mine. I want them to be prepared when they get out there." Now at this point in the encounter, I had to remind myself to remain somewhat focused on the business at hand and not let this lady's comment distract me to the point where I lose my clarity of thought or focus...because truth be told, I wanted to say, "Excuse me? That was the punch line to a bad joke right?" But joke here.
Right then, I began to sense that I was being introduced to something...a lifestyle, a thought process, an apathy that was going to prove to be very difficult for me to accept. I believe that it's a parent's responsibility to protect and defend a child's innocence. To me, one of the most precious attributes about my daughters is their naivety. They have no concept of murder, thievery, extortion...all the things that this video game was brainwashing this young man to consider as the norm of our society. Isn't this one of the most crucial responsibilities that we as parent's have? To protect the innocence of our children and to shield and protect them from the evils of our world?
Society's parents as a whole, are failing their children. This household I fear, is a microcosm of the bulk of our society. In a great many cases, our last line of defense has been compromised and in this case at least, the enemy has entrenched his forces on what was once our turf. And for me, here's the rub. I must force myself to approach every situation as a black and white case. Either a law was broken or it wasn't. It's not my place to give advice on parenting. It's not my place to offer opinion on parenting. It's not my place to pass judgement on what I believe to be value-delinquent parents. My job is to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth and to protect her citizens. And as bad as I wanted to tell this lady that she missed the bus, I had to bite my tongue.
There are those who are beyond recovery. It's too late to save some and I can accept this. But our children? This blank pallet that we have been blessed with the opportunity to paint? We hand this over to others to paint for us? To me, this is nothing short of cowardice. We are waving the white flag and the enemy is eagerly licking his chops, waiting for the opportunity to claim another sign his name to what was intended to be our masterpiece. I am not only be the defender of my children's lives, but also the defender of their minds; and I've got news for flag is planted and I will not lose.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


"Chesapeake 54...Chesapeake 54...Chesapeake 54...10-4, Chesapeake 54, 10-7. Ending tour of duty. Rest in peace Trooper Hill".
I heard the dispatcher's voice echo off the tall pines there in that cemetery. My hand shook as I saluted a man whom I'd never met, yet whom I respected more than most. I began to cry. Trooper Hill did not die in a hail of gunfire in the midst of a shootout. He was not serving a high-risk warrant when he died. No, Trooper Hill was killed while issuing a motorist a traffic summons for a motor vehicle infraction.
Let me say that I believe there are some things in life that we are not suppose to understand. Trooper Hill's funeral reminded me of something that I cannot even begin to fathom. Bear with me as this may very well turn out to be something A) very difficult to clearly explain, and B) better left unsaid. But I wondered as I stood there saluting this hero, was he afraid of death? While I was in Iraq, I came to terms with (in my mind) the reality that I was not going to come home. I lost my fear of death. I was shot at more times than I can remember. I still hear the rounds cracking off the mortar blocks above my head. I left houses moments before they were leveled. I had suicide bombers drive vehicles within a stones-throw from me and disappear in a ball of flames. I saw Humvees ahead of me in a convoy rise three stories in the air after they drove over pressure plates connected to 155mm explosive rounds. I lost friends who were standing where I was suppose to be but wasn't as the result of a literal flip of a coin. I stopped looking down at the ground as I walked down the streets on missions. I simply could not function with a fear of dying. So I lost it. It was the only way to function. It was the only way I could accomplish my mission. I embraced the fact that my wife and family were going to see me in a flag-draped casket.
And standing there in that field surrounded by tombstones, I wondered if Trooper Hill accepted the reality that his job was going to take his life? Did he look down when he walked? Was route 58 his Al Anbar Province? And while the timing will catch us all by surprise, was Trooper Hill ready to die? I am surrounded everyday, by people who would as soon shoot me as they would wave at me. Why? Because I am the sheepdog and they are the wolves; I defend those who cannot at times, defend themselves. Do I want to die? Of course not. I want to see my two daughters grow up and marry some ratbags who are not even close to being worthy of them. But whether you can understand it or not, while I do not want to, I have absolutely no fear of dying. How could I do my job if I feared dying? How could I storm a school full of armed subjects in an attempt to rescue your child if I was afraid of dying? How could I confront the drug dealer on your street corner if I was afraid of dying? How could I run into the burning house to snatch your family out in the middle of the night if I were afraid of dying? I couldn't, and therefore could not uphold the oath that I swore to. While I do not claim to be half the man that Trooper Hill was, I believe that he and I probably had some things in common. Our lives, by virtue of our badge, become secondary to the safety of the citizens whom we serve.
So the next time you see a Police Officer, please take a moment and understand that more than likely, you are looking at a man/woman who probably doesn't know you, but would at the drop of a hat, risk his/her life to defend yours. Trooper Hill did, and I would too.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who's To Blame?

An unfortunate yet understandable ingredient in my line of work, is having to deal with some of the sickest individuals in our society. I attended a training seminar this afternoon whose topic was sex crimes and the role that law enforcement officers play in the successful prosecution of these miscreants. Sidebar - I have seen some of the most disgusting and heinous scenes imaginable, yet what I saw and heard testified to today caused my stomach to turn. On the ride home, a co-worker and I had an engaging conversation on...Why? What is it that causes sexual predators and molesters to do what they do? And should we really buy into many of their absurd defenses; namely that they simply cannot control their "urges" and that genetics are really to blame? Admittedly, there are people "smarter" than I who have stated clinical opinions on the issue, and I do not purport to have any clinical evidence on which to base my opinion. But I believe that a look at the basic components of human nature will offer us some enlightning insight into that nagging and seemingly unanswerable question...Why? Here is my $.02.

I believe that our very nature seeks to avoid being wrong and when we are indeed proven wrong and have no "out", our nature takes the next step and looks for a scapegoat; something, someone or somewhere that we can drop blame so as to avoid being accountable for our misdeeds. Let's look at this...

A child molester is placed on trial for numerous acts of sexual molestation. His defense? A genetic imbalance prohibited him from understanding the wrong in sodomizing young children; a defense he vigorously maintained until the prosecution discovers videotapes made by the defendant while committing these despicable acts. An immediate recess was pleaded to by the defense and a change of pleas was not far behind. Far-fetched? Not hardly. This is a true story.

Obviously, those videos completely changed the course of that trial, but why? Here's why...there is no explanation, there is no rationalizing, there is no genetic imbalance that could excuse the actions of this man. It was not a genetic imbalance and when all the cards were laid out and no other scapegoats remained, the only other explanation to offer was the one that the defendant knew all along..."I was wrong and should not have done what I did. How can I avoid as much punishment for my wrongdoing as possible?"
If I, a somewhat reasonable human being, do something and I believe that it was an acceptable act, should I fear a video of me committing this percieved "acceptable" act? Of course not.
The alcoholic, the child molestor, the my opinion, none of these people were "born that way". Somewhere in their lives, they zigged when they should have zagged and as a result, they are the way they are. What better way to avoid personal accountability that to blame wrongdoing on something so totally out of our control as genetic makeup?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs

I trust that I am not the only one who has at one time or another, had difficulty expressing themselves. It's very strange...I understand perfectly what it is that I am trying to say, but for some reason, my thoughts get lost in my words. Lost in specech. Thought + Spoken Word = Garble. I don't understand it. "I know what I am trying to say. Why can't you understand?" I often find myself bumbling around my words trying to give my thoughts an avenue of escape. More times than not however, I give up and my potential flashes of brilliance are left to bounce around in the inner vacuum of my head. I'm left banging my head against the wall wondering why it't so hard for me. I'd love nothing more than to share, to discuss, to disagree, to deabte. But sometimes, it just doesn't come. And it's frustrating.

Being the rational human being that I am, I have sought an explanation for my quandry and here it is: So as to preserve my own sanity, I've resigned myself to the belief that God has given me some thoughts, some insights, some epiphinies that He meant especially for me and no one else. That's it...that simple. God has thought enough of me to give these special thoughts to me and has said, "Enjoy. When I'm ready for you to share, I'll give your words meaning." So how do I know when it's time to share? I have a "That's what I meant to say" moment. You know those times when you come across something that is so poignant, so true-to-life, so "that's what I meant to say"? Well, I had one today, and although it's a lengthy piece, please...please, if you are going to read it, read it in its entirety. If you don't have enough time right now, come back later.

On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs
By LTC(RET) Dave Grossman, RANGER,Ph.D.

One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: “Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.
Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.
Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me, it is like the pretty, blue robin’s egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell.
Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.
“Then there are the wolves,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.
“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf.
But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed
Let me expand on this old soldier’s excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial, that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’ schools.
But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid’s school. Our children are thousands of times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by school violence than fire, but the sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their child is just too hard, and so they chose the path of denial.
The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.
Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports, in camouflage fatigues, holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.” Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.
The students, the victims, at Columbine High School were big, tough high school students, and under ordinary circumstances they would not have had the time of day for a police officer. They were not bad kids; they just had nothing to say to a cop. When the school was under attack, however, and SWAT teams were clearing the rooms and hallways, the officers had to physically peel those clinging, sobbing kids off of them. This is how the little lambs feel about their sheepdog when the wolf is at the door.
Look at what happened after September 11, 2001 when the wolf pounded hard on the door. Remember how America, more than ever before, felt differently about their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember how many times you heard the word hero?
Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed, right along with the young ones.
Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, “Thank God I wasn’t on one of those planes.” The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, “Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference.” When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.
There is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, but he does have one real advantage. Only one. And that is that he is able to survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the population.
There was research conducted a few years ago with individuals convicted of violent crimes. These cons were in prison for serious, predatory crimes of violence: assaults, murders and killing law enforcement officers. The vast majority said that they specifically targeted victims by body language: Slumped walk, passive behavior and lack of awareness. They chose their victims like big cats do in Africa, when they select one out of the herd that is least able to protect itself.
Some people may be destined to be sheep and others might be genetically primed to be wolves or sheepdogs. But I believe that most people can choose which one they want to be, and I’m proud to say that more and more Americans are choosing to become sheepdogs.
Seven months after the attack on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was honored in his hometown of Cranbury, New Jersey. Todd, as you recall, was the man on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania who called on his cell phone to alert an operator from United Airlines about the hijacking. When he learned of the other three passenger planes that had been used as weapons, Todd dropped his phone and uttered the words, “Let’s roll,” which authorities believe was a signal to the other passengers to confront the terrorist hijackers. In one hour, a transformation occurred among the passengers - athletes, business people and parents. — from sheep to sheepdogs and together they fought the wolves, ultimately saving an unknown number of lives on the ground.
There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men. - Edmund Burke
Here is the point I like to emphasize, especially to the thousands of police officers and soldiers I speak to each year. In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn’t have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision.
If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust or love. But if you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior’s path, then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.
For example, many officers carry their weapons in church. They are well concealed in ankle holsters, shoulder holsters or inside-the-belt holsters tucked into the small of their backs. Anytime you go to some form of religious service, there is a very good chance that a police officer in your congregation is carrying. You will never know if there is such an individual in your place of worship, until the wolf appears to massacre you and your loved ones.
I was training a group of police officers in Texas, and during the break, one officer asked his friend if he carried his weapon in church. The other cop replied, “I will never be caught without my gun in church.” I asked why he felt so strongly about this, and he told me about a cop he knew who was at a church massacre in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1999. In that incident, a mentally deranged individual came into the church and opened fire, gunning down fourteen people. He said that officer believed he could have saved every life that day if he had been carrying his gun. His own son was shot, and all he could do was throw himself on the boy’s body and wait to die. That cop looked me in the eye and said, “Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself after that?”
Some individuals would be horrified if they knew this police officer was carrying a weapon in church. They might call him paranoid and would probably scorn him. Yet these same individuals would be enraged and would call for “heads to roll” if they found out that the airbags in their cars were defective, or that the fire extinguisher and fire sprinklers in their kids’ school did not work. They can accept the fact that fires and traffic accidents can happen and that there must be safeguards against them.
Their only response to the wolf, though, is denial, and all too often their response to the sheepdog is scorn and disdain. But the sheepdog quietly asks himself, “Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself if your loved ones were attacked and killed, and you had to stand there helplessly because you were unprepared for that day?”
It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and horror when the wolf shows up.
Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: you didn’t bring your gun, you didn’t train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by your fear, helplessness and horror at your moment of truth.
Gavin de Becker puts it like this in Fear Less, his superb post-9/11 book, which should be required reading for anyone trying to come to terms with our current world situation: “…denial can be seductive, but it has an insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn’t so, the fall they take when faced with new violence is all the more unsettling.”
Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level. And so the warrior must strive to confront denial in all aspects of his life, and prepare himself for the day when evil comes.
If you are warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today. No one can be “on” 24/7, for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to yourself…”Baa.”
This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-sand-sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely on one end or the other.
Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11 almost everyone in America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The sheep took a few steps toward accepting and appreciating their warriors, and the warriors started taking their job more seriously. The degree to which you move up that continuum, away from sheephood and denial, is the degree to which you and your loved ones will survive, physically and psychologically at your moment of truth.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Florida Sheriff's Deputy Matt Williams (pictured left) was shot and killed last month in the line of duty. Not only was Deputy Williams shot, but his K9 partner Diogi was shot and killed as well. As would be expected, I was saddened and angered by Deputy Williams' murder. Deputy Williams was shot and killed while backing up another deputy. His killer was stopped for a traffic violation and subsequently fled into the woods where Deputy Williams and his partner gave chase. Matt was shot eight times. Diogi was shot once in the chest. The initial deputy who stopped the killer was also shot and wounded.

"Tim, that could have been you. Are you ready to die? Are you ready to face death and not hesitate when your life is required in another's stead? What about your daughters? What about your wife?" Tough questions to have to ask yourself, yet these are the exact questions that I have been asking myself since I read the account of Matt and Diogi's murder. While I do not want to detract any attention away from Deputy Williams and his sacrifice, (please read more about him here, I do want to share with you what goes through my mind every time I mark 10-8 and begin my tour. It's this: I may give my life this day for a person whom I've never met. I may die defending someone whose name I don't even know. I may die simply for representing and upholding order and justice. And for this, I am humbled.

Do you realize that our nation's laws are what enables us to enjoy the freedoms that our country gives us? We enjoy the ability to rest in our homes because someone is out there nabbing those who would take that away from us. We travel safely down the highways to our jobs because of that officer who stops the ones who place us in jeopardy of losing that safety. In our most desperate moment ever, we know the three numbers that will send help...911. What better profession can anyone have? My family and I will sleep safely tonight because a Hero named Matt Williams was willing to fight on our behalf. Am I willing to give my life for you? You better believe it. Rest easy.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Academy Experience (Part I)

I have hung up my cammies for the last time. Unless our President decides otherwise, I will more than likely never again wear the uniform of our nation's military. Let me be quick to say that I am confident in my decision. Let me be even quicker to state that I am even more confident in the troopers who now carry the torch and fight on our behalf.

I have moved on from the defense of our nation, to the defense of my community and the community of thousands of others. I have been hired by the Police Department in the city of Suffolk, Virginia and will soon be entrusted to protect and defend her citizenry. I am beginning week nine of the sixteen week long academy at the Hampton Roads Regional Criminal Justice Training Center. Upon completion of the Academy, I will have nearly seventeen more weeks of on-the-job training before I am turned loose to patrol the streets solo.

I am excited beyond words, yet at the same time I am as apprehensive as I have ever been. For the past ten weeks of the Academy I have been reminded that I have been chosen by a profession that may at any time require my life in the line of service. And while I am willing to sacrifice my life for those whom I am sworn to protect, I realize that some day, someplace, someone may take me from my wife and daughters. They say we public servants are an interesting breed...those of us who run in while others are running out. But that's just who we are and who I am. I do this for myself, but let there be no question, I do this for my wife and our children as well. I fight bad people who would do them harm; who would do you and yours harm. Understanding this, that there are many, many bad people who would do me harm, I see my training and my experiences in the Academy as the foundation on which my career will be built.

We are an interesting breed indeed and one which the civility of our communities depends. I am writing a new chapter in the book of my life, and I look forward to sharing my experiences.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Final Goodbye

"The night before the burial of her husband's body, Katherine Cathey refused to leave the casket, asking to sleep next to his body for the last time. The Marines made a bed for her, tucking in the sheets below the flag. Before she fell asleep, she opened her laptop computer and played songs that reminded her of "Cat," and one of the Marines asked if she wanted them to continue standing watch as she slept. "I think it would be kind of nice if you kept doing it," she said. "I think that's what he would have wanted."
© 2005 Rocky Mountain News, Photo by Todd Heisler.

First and foremost, my heartfelt and deepest sympathy goes out to the wives and families of these heroes. As a husband and father, I take great comfort knowing that if my life would have been required of me while fighting in Iraq, that my wife would have been given the same comfort and protection that Mrs. Cathy was given. It troubles me greatly that there are some in this country who put forth that my brother's deaths are some how the Almighty's retribution for America's moral decline. May I remind those misguided among us who argue this, that the same God said, "Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends." But that's another issuealtogetherr and right now, one which I don't care to debate.

On a personal note, in earlier posts I wrote about the changes that one goes through after experiencing war...the baggage that one brings home with him. It's a struggle and it has been for me...on many different levels. I've spoken to so many others who were "over there" and in at least one aspect, we all share the same feelings; we could have done so much more while we were there. None of us wanted to die over there; all of us were willing. But when we hear/see/read about the ones who are either still there or the ones who come home in a flag-draped casket, and we are now living a life of comparative ease, somehow it just doesn't seem fair. I've resigned myself to the fact that for as long as Marines are in Iraq, a part of me will feel like I belong there fighting with them. If I were still there, I don't have a single doubt that there would be 178,000 other Marines who want to be fighting right there beside me. We are a band of brothers and none of us would have it any other way.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006


So I was out running this afternoon taking in the sweet, fragrant Hawaiian air (have I said today that it's great to be back in the States?) when I saw something that made me smile. I saw a man sitting by himself at a stoplight in his outrageously overpriced sportscar...laughing. Seven months ago, I wouldn't have given this man a second glance. But friends, let me tell you, these are the things that you are drawn to and that seem unique after every motorist that you have seen for the past seven months has nothing but the fear of death in his eyes...a man laughing in his automobile.

We truly don't realize how much we have been given here in America. We take so much for granted and our perception of the world is so conditioned by the lifestyles that we have been blessed with. And at the risk of sounding pious, you never can fully appreciate what we have until your comfort zone is completely shattered and you are given the opportunity to see how the other half of our world is being forced to live. It's one of those things that I can try my hardest to explain, but my words will always be found lacking. It's not the lack of rounds cracking over my head, it's not the awkward silence when I lay in bed at night or the absence of walking down the street without my rifle that I notice the's being able to watch others go through their day without a care in the world. They have no worries about running over an improvised explosive device planted for coalition forces...they have no concern about returning to their home to find it commandeered by insurgents and their families taken hostage. They do not fear being displaced - yet again- as a result of an imminate offensive operation in their neighborhood to rid it of insurgents.

In all fairness, not having to worry about these things is part of the benefit of living in America. But understand one thing...our lifestyles of relative bliss came at a price. And America does not have a monopoly on her citizens being willing to shed their blood to purchase these freedoms. The majority, that's right THE MAJORITY of Iraqis are now willing to stand and face these monsters and draw the line in the sand. It is my hope that we leave them with all the tools and training necessary to carry the torch and defend their homeland and are one day able to once again see their countrymen smile as they travel down their streets.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Return

I wrote along the many stops along our journey home. I am now back in Hawaii, and I will share more as the days progress. What follows, is a few paragraphs at different stops along the way from Iraq back to Hawaii:

It is almost over. We are at Al Asad airbase, which was once Saddam Hussein’s presidential airfield. It has been filled with American and coalition forces for some time now, and it is the primary redeployment staging area for all Marines heading back to the States. It is the closest thing to civilization that many of us have seen in six months. It is disturbingly odd to see non-tactical vehicles driving down the road on the base, the feeling of a porcelain toilet and the taste of a whopper. We have shuttle busses that take us to the chow hall, the PX and the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) center where many of the guys have taken to playing video games into the early morning hours. Me, I have slept twenty-six out of the past thirty-four hours. Administrative issues are the order of business tomorrow and the next day. We have to attend what many of the guys call the “I’m not crazy” class given by the Chaplain, Post-Deployment Health Assessments so that the Government covers their six when we come down with some crazy illness fifteen years from now and the Customs inspections to ensure that we have all hid our illegal war souvenirs well enough. Other than that, we are completely on autopilot and it feels great.

We have all shared our war stories and videos from combat operations and are amazed at how similar our experiences have been. There is one noticeable void and we have all been reluctantly hush-mouthed about it…Adam. We all feel it and it will be a long time before we are healed and over his heroic passing in Ramadi. There has been very little mention about him, and the few times I heard his name in conversation, it was said with heads hung and only referenced his absence. We all know that it wasn’t suppose to be this way. We were suppose to come together and leave together. Now, we are a man short and it hurts. I am going to miss this. This brotherhood that I have. It is not self-serving. We do for the good of the group. There are no favorites. If we lose one, we are weaker than we were before. We look out for each other and genuinely have one another’s best interest foremost in our minds. We are warriors and have a warrior’s bond which no nine-to-five could ever begin to offer. I will miss the life of a warrior. To be able to place my life in the hands of another, and have his place his in mine. To fight side by side; our only fear being that we may see one of our own fall. We all have seen one of us fall, and none of will ever feel the same.

We, in our own ways, are all scared. Husbands and fathers are afraid of being strangers to their wives and children. The single Marines are afraid of returning to an atmosphere of normalcy and relative serenity. We are all different men than we were six months ago. The thought of adaptation has become a collective, unspoken sore spot. The return will undoubtedly be easier for some than it will be for others but one thing is certain; we all long to return despite our fears. We all long for the lives that we left. Personally, I am apprehensive of the changes that my family has underwent since I left. My daughters know “Daddy” as a name and a voice that lives in the cell phone. My wife remembers me the way I used to be before war took a hold of so much of my mind. Yes, it’s ominous, but I long for it so much; we all do.

We are on the last leg of our journey; San Francisco International. I have given up on keeping my wristwatch on the correct time zone. A week in Al Asad, Iraq, seventeen hours in Moron, Spain, seventeen hours in Boston Massachussetes, three days at Camp Pendleton, California, and now a layover at San Fran en route to Honolulu. I am still very much compressed. Crowds make me extremely uncomfortable. Eccentric colors give me a headache. Driving down the street is a completely different experience that it has been for the past thirteen years. I am sure that this will all wear off in the near future, but until it does, it will be an interesting time. I have found that I prefer to either be alone, or with the other Marines. People just seem to annoy me since I returned. Of course California being the most rude and intrusive state that I have ever visited (sorry Californians) doesn’t help matters any. I have had to literally ignore a few people simply because I wanted to yank them up.

I've left one dream and entered another. It's hard to concieve how the life that I've lived for twenty-nine years could now seem abnormal. It's so different; I almost feel out of place, yet it feels so good to be that much closer to home. It feels akward writing in a barracks room as opposed to a bombed out building. It will defintely take some time. I've begun to notice how much my time in Iraq has affected me. I find myself still scanning roadsides, finding a corner in a crowded area and staring at people a bit more than I should. And as I expected, I can't bring myself to watch the news and see the Marines, my brothers, still fighting over there. I am just taking it all in right now and hoping that the sense of normalcy returns soon.

Monday, February 20, 2006

...And thus, the Chapter Ends.

This will be my last post for a while as I will soon begin the much-anticipated trek back to the States. My mind is spinning as I reflect back on everything that has transpired during my six months here and I hope that this post turns out to be more than a collection of scatter-brained thoughts and comments. It is extremely difficult to meld six months chock full of life-changing events into a few coherent, sensible paragraphs. But I shall do my best. Also, please understand that so many are giving so much here, and I do not want to give the impression that I am doing, or have done anything more than anyone else. We are all knee-deep in our duties here, and we are all facing, or will eventually face, the same realities which I am going to share.

So much has been gained here, so much has been lost. So many memories, so much I wish I could erase from my memory. Iraq will be a different country than it was when I arrived, and I will leave a different person; although how different, only time and reacquainting with friends and family will tell. But I can say without reservation that Iraq is a better country than it was before I landed. I have helped rid several cities of insurgents during all out, multi-week combat operations. It will be a long time before I fully come to grips with everything that has happened to me during these past six months. I have been introduced to and at times, fully immersed in the stark realities of war. I have seen the horrors of war. I have been shot at. I have had cars and buildings blow up all around me. I have walked down streets cluttered with the horrors of destruction. I have seen the necessity of war. I have seen children walking to their newly rebuilt school. I have seen ladies carrying their newborn babies to freshly stocked clinics. I have seen families liberated from captivity by insurgents in their own homes. I have seen both the necessity and the horrors of it, and how much it has affected me and my personality, time will tell.

I have said it before, and I will say it again…Your Marines are some of the hardest working, dedicated individuals that the world has ever seen. We have once again answered the call to duty, and performed some of the most challenging and difficult duties faced by mankind. Some of the men whom I’ve worked with here are not even a year out of high school…amazing. But yet they conduct themselves with a professionalism and maturity that is a rarity anywhere. I wish you all could witness for yourselves what it is I am trying to describe. I have been astonished time and time again by the bravery and selflessness of the boys whom I’ve fought with. Our country is in great hands and I am at peace knowing that I leave our mission here to their charge.

It is with a heavy heart that I leave my brothers here to fight without me. Part of me wants to stay here until our mission is accomplished; but the Corps has told me that at least for the time, my mission here has been accomplished. I will soon be reunited with my wife and daughters and will once again be able to continue my most important mission...being a husband to my wife and a father to our children.

Finally, I want to offer my heart-felt thanks to all those who have prayed, sent letters, packages, and thoughts my way. They have been such a support and encouragement and I can’t thank you enough. I wish you could see the Marines walking from the Post Office with a letter or package from home. It just makes you smile…it made me smile. Thanks again and please stay in the fight…we need you.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Opinion vs. Truth

As most of you know...well, you probably don't know, so let me tell you; I am not one to snub my nose at someone for an opinion that they may have, and I did not intend for this to be a website dedicated to apologetics. But a good friend directed my attention to an issue that I think deserves some attention and some thought.

Personal opinions, more importantly the freedom to express these opinions, are a part of Americana and what so many of us are fighting for. For Pete's sake, our own country's congress is divided (if not in thought and opinion, then in the chamber's seating arrangements) and to stifle the freedom of opinion in America would limit, if not remove altogether, the honest and at times, heated discourse between people of differing opinions. Although (with tongue firmly planted in cheek), while I think that The World According to Tim would be on NY Time's bestseller's list, I am grateful that people are comfortable to voice their dissent with many of my views and voice their own individual opinions. But you have to ask yourself (and this question is the whole point of this post), are you arguing in defense of your opinion, or in the defense of truth? This is a very important question, as we must not waiver in our defense of truth; opinion however, is just that.

I think that where we run into problems is when people opinionate truth. Or worse, replace truth with opinion. By this, I mean when people take truth and spin it to fit their ideas. Within this distortion, the truth found in freedom of speech becomes freedom of action; a license to do whatever you please. Separation of affairs concerning the State and the Church becomes all things State, and no things Church. Liberating oppressed countries from tyrants becomes American imperialism; truths fabricated to suit individual opinions. We have become a nation where many twist and contort the foundational truths of our Democracy to fit their personal paradigms. Listen, truth is not open to personal opinions. If it were, it would not be truth. There can only be one version of Truth. You can believe with all your heart that the sky is brown; you can even convince yourself that the sky is brown. But guess what? At the end of the day, the sky will not be brown regardless of how you spin it.

I am deeply angered and saddened when the future leaders of our nation believe that America's war heroes, my brothers, are not the sort that they wish to memorialize (see highlighted article above). I think that it is disgusting, distasteful and extremely un-American (borderline treasonous). I say pick up a rifle and stand a post. Put your life on the line and then criticize. As far as their campus, the number of memorials erected, etc., this is a valid argument open to opinion and one not in my purview. To propose however, that Col. Boyington et al are not worthy of our remembrance and memorial is insanity. One cannot argue that Americans who died to give them their right to hold opinions are not of the character and nobility to warrant memorial. It's like arguing for the abolition of oxygen on the grounds that it is unnecessary, as you inhale.

Many of these same individuals would argue that we are needlessly and haphazardly sending America's sons and daughters into harms way in Iraq. Mrs. Cindy Sheehan has asked, "How many more sons and daughters?" My answer to her? Ma'am, as many as it takes! But I digress...If her opinion is that America has waged an unjust war, again, as ignorant as I believe she and her opinion to be, I cannot criticize her for exercising a right which I fight to defend. She may have crossed certain boundaries as far as etiquette is concerned, but I am strictly speaking on her expression (and others like her) of the war and on issues open to opinion...not truth.

What I fear that we have lost in this country, is the ability to see the difference between truth and opinion. "Live and let live". "Truth is whatever you think it is." What result, other than anarchy, should we expect when everyone thinks that their opinion is truth? America is making her bed. My fear is that we will wake up too late to realize that we are sleeping with fallacies and misguided notions of right and wrong. Have your opinions. Argue them till you are blue in the face! I am fighting for this right of yours. But please, for America's sake, at the end of the day, sacrifice your opinions on the altar of truth. Just one man's opinion.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I wrote the following poem after returning from a particularly "challenging" mission.
I’m a man whose been torn in two;
giving all to my family and the job that I must do.
It is my hope that one day they will understand,
it is for them that I fight in this foreign land.

I fight for a peace that I may never see;
but to do nothing will lead to anarchy.
I hope against all hopes that we are right;
for a lasting peace, this is why we fight.

I look ahead and stare into the hollow;
I look behind me and see that my brothers, they follow.
We walk on knowing not friend from foe;
seeing the stare of death that only we can know.

Our fear of the grave long since passed;
as a childhood dream that was never meant to last.
We live now not in a world of fantasy,
but rather in the gravest of reality.

I pray only for a tomorrow, for it is guaranteed to none.
“Dear God, courage grant me. This I ask, Your humble son.”
“And if in the morning I shall rise,
onward shall I march toward the prize.”

Legions of angels gather ‘round about me;
for in His name, my enemies shall flee.
His shield I bear in battle as I go;
filled with a peace only His children will ever know.

And if on the field of battle my blood is shed,
these things I ask about me be said:
To my family, my God and my country I was true;
a man of my word, just as my father taught me, as he was too.

That I gave my life in the same way that it was lived,
in service to others, giving all that I could give.
That I left behind the most noble legacy,
a life lived for others, being all that I could be.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My Mind...My Weapon

Sleep is always elusive on the eve of a mission. On these nights, my mind is constantly going over scenarios, "what if's", IA (immediate action) drills...and over and over and over. It is a cruel combination of my survival instinct and training, and it can be extremely frustrating. But one thing is certain and will be for as long as I am over here: I will ALWAYS be mentally prepared. It's the intelligent warriors who win wars; those warriors who study their enemy's techniques, tactics and procedures; who have mentally prepared themselves for any number of circumstances and who are never, I repeat never caught without a contingency plan and a backup for the contingency.

Our minds here are the most valuable weapon that we have and are also at times, the most difficult to maintain. It's almost a battle within a battle. You fight to maintain focus, clarity of thought and mental acuity so that you will be an effective weapon on the battlefield. The world we live in, like any combat zone, is filled with life-or-death situations which require split-second decisions that must be made under the most demanding of circumstances. The time to prepare your mind for this eventuality is not when the first round cracks, for by this time, it's too late. The time to do this is when you're lying in bed staring at the ceiling replaying routes, actions on the objective, contact drills and evacuation procedures over and over and over in your head. This is what keeps your most valuable weapon in the fight when the rounds fly and what will eventually get you and your brothers home.

I will be the first to tell you that this takes its toll. I return from every mission mentally exhausted. Even after the mission is completed and I have returned to the relative safety of the wire, my mind replays the mission's events like a broken record. Every step along the way to the mission's completion is filled with lessons, reminders and unfortunately at times, mistakes. Snapshots of choke-points, possible sniper hides, rubble piles, rooftops, freshly unearthed dirt...the list goes on and on. If ignored, these images will become nothing more than mental clutter which will dirty your weapon and leave you less prepared for the next mission...if you make it to another mission. Organized however, this collage of images can assist you in becoming more cognizant of your surroundings and allow you to have an incredible amount of focus.

It's an incredibly tough task attempting to put into words the mental processes involved in fighting a war, and this may prove to be one of those entries better suited to be included in the personal journal. The reason I chose to share this, albeit somewhat ineptly, is because I feel there is a great life-lesson to be learned from my experience here...although I fear it may have been lost in my rambling. At any rate, in everyday life we all have our own battles to fight, we all have our own "missions" to accomplish. Mental preparedness coupled with ferverent prayer are, I believe, the most important ingredients to being successful on the battlefield here, and on the battlefield of life. They have both worked for me thus far, and I pray that they will continue to do so.

-Just the thoughts of a simple man.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Operation Arabian

There are many unique aspects to the dynamics of my job. I could easily make your head spin if I attempted to explain how my command structure is organized here. Unlike many military units, working dog teams do not deploy in large groups; in battalion or regimental size units for example. We deploy in small numbers and are operationally attached to other larger units. Because of our small numbers and the force multiplier that a dog team is to any unit conducting counter-insurgency operations, we are often requested to assist other units during their combat missions and operations. A part of my job here that I love, is that every mission is unique. My core mission here as a Marine dog handler is to detect and locate explosives or explosive devices and to apprehend or otherwise neutralize anti-coalition personnel...and this never changes. While my overall mission is constant, the circumstances surrounding these individual operations and missions always presents me with a fresh and unique set of circumstances to work under. No mission is ever the same. My most recent operation, "Operation Arabian" was no exception. I was attached to the 414th Stryker Brigade; an Army unit based in Alaska.

I was escorted to one of our Battle Positions under the cover of the darkness of early morning. An element of the 414th met me at the BP with several Stryker vehicles and escorted me to their headquarters. Later that day I attended the mission briefing outlining the mission's overall objectives, NAI's (named areas of interest) and other coordinating instructions. Truth be told, I was somewhat a fish out of water. I have never attended an Army mission brief before and it was an interesting time. Acronyms are as prevalent in the military as are egos; and both, at times, are equally hard to understand. I have been in the Marines for nearly eight years now and I have yet to master the art of acronym interpretation. Now, in this mission briefing, I was being exposed to a whole new lexicon. I wished more than anything that I had been issued an interpreter like our Iraqi officer counterparts. Many times during the brief, I found myself leaning over to my Army counterpart and humbly asking what this meant, or what that represented on the terrain model. By the end of the mission brief however, I had a clear understanding of our mission, timeline and the NAI's (Don't will get used to the acronyms after a while). I am not going to go into much detail about the mission out of concerns for operational security, but there were a few interesting and somewhat hair-raising moments during the mission which I would like to share.

So there we were...plodding along in our Stryker at a comfortable rate when the gunner yelled out into his mic, "STOP!...STOP THE TRUCK!", as he whipped his .50 cal around the the right side of the vehicle. At the time, I was standing in the rear gunner's hatch and had communication with the crew so I heard his gentle request. I immediately began scanning the barren landscape for any movement; ready to engage. The crew chief asked the gunner what he had. His response caused my heart to race. "Boss", he replied, "I think we just drove into a mine field". I looked outside the vehicle and saw symmetrical circles in the sand in a perfectly straight line on either side of our Stryker...our tires had miraculously passed directly in between two of these circles. The crew chief looked at me as he reached for the mic button on his helmet...I beat him to the punch. "There's no way I'm going out there with my dog Boss". "Call the Engineers", I said, "and let's back this thing out of here." It was a nerve wrenching five minutes as we backed the 23 ton vehicle. The Engineers came and determined that our "mine field" was in fact not a mine field, but rather a camp site recently evacuated by a Bedouin shepherd. The circles in the sand were all that was left of his camp and were the imprints left by his tent poles. It's experiences like this that keep you constantly on your toes and make every mission unique...and for this mission, it was just the beginning.

We completed our mission and the Troop (the Army's equivalent of a Marine company) consolidated at the predetermined rally point to begin the two hour trek back to the COP (Combat Outpost). It was light when we began our return trip, but it was getting dark when the Stryker driver realized that his NOD (night observation device) was inoperable. Murphy's Law states that whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible moment and I am convinced that Mr. Murphy was on that Stryker with us. Sure, we could drive with white light...and risk getting the entire convoy mortared, or we could drive blacked out and risk driving off a 30ft cliff into a wadi; neither option even coming close to ideal. We decided to drive blacked out and have the gunner assist the driver. "Right...Right...No, Left...Right...Straight...STOP...STOP". This went on for the entire two hours. Halfway into the return, I wanted to just get out and walk. We eventually made it back to the COP and were greeted with a salvo of mortar rounds fired from somewhere within the city. I saw the first flash off in the distance as we were entering the COP. Then more...and getting closer. "Incoming!", I yelled. I ducked back inside the Stryker and yanked the overhead hatch closed. To add fuel to the fire, (no pun intended), we were directly adjacent to the fuel bladders. 40 thousand pounds of fuel and a mortar strike could make for a very bad day for alot of people. In typical insurgent fashion, I was told that they ceased their attack and ran before we could ascertain where their mortar position(s) was/were. The QRF (quick reaction force) was launched and I am unaware of the outcome. The fun is never-ending around here.

This was just a typical week in the life of a combat Marine fighting to rid this country of its garbage. We will continue to take the fight to the enemy until there is no enemy, but peace. Until this day comes, we stand ready to execute tempered violence when necessary on your behalf and for the sake of our country and her citizens...the Marines always have, and we always will. Semper Fidelis.

Monday, January 16, 2006


It's a very cold night here in Iraq. If I had to guess, I'd say it's in the thirties. I, being the glutton for punishment that I am, just returned from a run. My lungs are hurting from breathing the freezing air, my knees are aching and my legs are screaming. I couldn't feel any better! What I absolutely love about running, especially in the cold, is that it gives me an opportunity to push gives my body an opportunity to battle with my mind. The first shots were fired in tonight's skirmish as soon as I exited my hooch and sucked in that first lung-full of frigid air. I knew this was coming and stepped off before I could give my mind a chance to convince me otherwise.

This may seen trivial to some...this whole mind/body game that I play with myself. But every battle that my body wins over my mind makes me mentally stronger. And in my environment, mental fortitude is essential. There have been so many times here that I have wanted to give into my mind when it has told me to slow down or quit. Not an option. Please don't misunderstand me...I do not have a large red "S" painted on my chest, nor do I change my clothes in a telephone booth. I am not trying to portray myself as anything other than a simple man learning lessons about what it takes to be successful in combat and in life. Every one of these lessons that I learn, by God's grace, may save lives. It may in fact one day be my own.

Today, I saw some fruits of our labors here. As I was on a patrol with the Iraqi army, I saw large groups of children walking to school. Backpacks, books, and smiles. It was a real joy. I saw an American soldier help a young girl fix her shoe which had broke sometime on her way to school; 550 cord and duct tape will fix absolutely anything! It was moving. I have said all along that among other things, this is a generational war we are fighting. These young children will one day lead this country. Every simple gesture, such as what I witnessed today, will be a memory tomorrow that will eventually lead to our long-term success in this country. It has without a doubt been a collective effort, but I gained a real sense of personal satisfaction by what I witnessed today, and I hope and pray that tomorrow will bring the same.

There is currently a very expansive reconstruction effort in Iraq currently being conducted by the coalition forces and our leadership. In many respects and in many cities, we are giving a large number of Iraqi's better living conditions than before we arrived. It is an unfortunate fact of warfare that infrastructure is often damaged or destroyed to accomplish a mission. By helping to rebuild (and in some cases, build) this infrastructure, we once again show the Iraqi people our commitment to their stability and their country's independence. It is our desire to have the Iraqi citizens to row with us, not against us and this can only be when we convince them of our intentions and show that we are here for the long haul.

Sgt Cann was laid to rest today at Arlington National cemetery. His memory and dedication go with all of us who knew him. America is a stronger nation as a result of his selfless service. He will be missed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

In Memoriam - Sgt Adam Cann/USMC

It's been a tough week for me. America lost a great warrior this week, and I lost a very close friend and fellow dog handler. On the morning of the 6th of January, Sgt Adam Cann was killed in action in Ar Ramadi while conducting security operations at an Iraqi Police recruiting station. The coward that took Sgt Cann from us, walked into the crowd of recruits and detonated his suicide vest, killing Sgt Cann and many others. Adam will be buried at Arlington National cemetery later this week. I encourage you to say a special prayer for the comfort and peace of his family.

While his brave passing has hit me like a ton of bricks, I have a cherished memory of him that I will carry with me on every future battlefield that I am on. He was my roommate at Camp Lejeune while we were preparing to deploy, and it was there that he shared with me a part of his heart. He told me that if he wasn't able to come home with us, that he wanted us to press on without him. Adam, we will press on brother. Thank you for your friendship, your courage, and most importantly, your commitment to our country and her cause. You will be missed and the torch which you have passed us will never be extinguished. Semper Fidelis, Marine. We have the watch now.

I don't want this post to focus on me, but there is a lesson that Sgt Cann taught me and one which I think we all could benefit from learning. When I was informed of his passing, I must admit, I was extremely angry. Although every American life lost here is without a doubt a tragedy, for me, Adam's death hit a bit closer to home than others. It caused me to really look inside myself, and this is when Adam taught me his lesson. It would be so easy for me to succumb to my anger and frustration and begin to question our involvement and presence in Iraq; which many are currently doing. This would undoubtedly be the easy solution. But Adam's words to me that evening in North Carolina reminded me that it would not be the right solution. I could easily redirect my anger at America, at Iraq, at our President and very easily lose my commitment to our cause. But I, and Americans as well, need to understand that our determination need not, and should not, diminish with the loss of America lives here...It needs to grow. Every American life that is lost here needs to fan the flame of liberty and cause it to burn a bit brighter. If my life if required of me here, and my family's, my friend's and my fellow Marine's commitment is not strengthened as a result, I have failed them, and in the bigger picture, I have failed America.

Enough about me...Adam, rest easy. You will always be an inspiration to me, and to those who served with you. It is my hope that one day I can visit your grave and salute you. Your sacrifice has caused our fire here to burn stronger and brighter.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Way It Is

In Iraq, America is not fighting a traditional war. There will never be a declaration of surrender signed by our enemy conceding their defeat. Understand this...this war will not end with signatures. I say this for many reasons, but foremost is because our enemy has no true leader. Sure, they have cave-dwellers who claim to be in charge, but these cowards understand that their minions will not cease their campaign of terror simply because they have signed a document. We are fighting a war of counter-insurgency...the most difficult, and I would argue the most misunderstood and complex type of war that exists in modern times.

For the warfighter on the ground, this type of war poses so many dangers. In part because to win this type of war, you have to win the hearts and minds of the majority. In order to do this, we the ground-pounders, have to take risks. We have to come to the point where we signify to the peaceful majority that we have entered a new phase in the war...a phase of temporary co-existence. We simply cannot perpetually continue an all out campaign of destruction (which at one time, was the only way to operate) and expect to win hearts and minds of the peaceful majority. If we do not enter this phase, in the long run, only the innocents will suffer and I believe that we will have great difficulty accomplishing our goals here in this country.

Our enemies understand this. They know that by appearing as the peaceful majority with whom we must eventually ally ourselves, that this will give them a short-term advantage. This will allow their suicide bombers to be able to walk into a crowd of police recruits and detonate themselves. This will allow the VBIED's driving down the streets appearing to going to work, to destroy civilians. The insurgents understand that Iraq, with our assistance is moving forward. And they are without a doubt from time to time, going to exploit these risks that we must take to progress. In the short term, these risks may lead to more coalition casualties as we move forward. But in the long term, it is the only way that we are going to continue to move forward and eventually win this war. In a sense, the insurgents are attempting to accomplish the exact opposite that we are. We are trying, through a campaign of tempered force, to show the majority in Iraq that we are accomplishing so much here for their good, while our enemies are trying to show the majority in America that all we are accomplishing nothing.

There have been times recently here when outside the wire, I have wanted to conduct "business as usual". A vehicle driving past me while I am walking on patrol?...are you kidding me? Four months ago...not a chance. But you know what? Now I must take risks which, for as long as I am here, leads to coexistence with the peaceful majority; because that is the only way that we are going to progress and begin to win hearts and minds of the peaceful majority. It stinks, I know. I hate it. But it is simply the facts of counterinsurgency. And that is just the way it is.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Be Proud America

"I must study politics and war so that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy." -John Adams

I woke up this morning to the walls of my hooch shaking and the unmistakable "thud...thud" of mortars being fired and impacting. I wasn't totally convinced that I had not dreamed the sounds and shudders so I laid there giving the wall that, "Are you playing with me?" look. Nope..."thud...thud...thud...thud", this time accompanied by SAF (small arms fire). After a quick kiss from my girls [' picture], I donned my "battle rattle" and headed out to take a look-see. Bingo voiced his objection to me leaving him inside, certain that once again, he was going to miss out on all the action.

I'm sure I was a sight in my green PT shorts, green sweatshirt, untied boots and beenie on my head. But darnit, if Haji wanted to come play in our house, I sure wasn't going to be late to the party. So there I stood...waiting for the call to arms. "Thud...thud...crack...crack...crack". Closer this time. "Wait a minute..." I realized that the barrage sounded awfully close to the range. "You dummy! It's Marines on the range!" As I adjusted my gear, I of course gave the casual "machismo" look around as if to say, "Yep, just as I gear fits just as good outside as it does inside". I ducked back inside as fast as I could.

A good friend of mine returned yesterday from a coalition hospital in Baghdad. He was injured in a roadside blast from an IED. And although his wounds were not life-threatening, they were serious enough to warrant evac to Baghdad. It was great to see him return, and I wanted to share his story with you. Let me tell ya', when you drive down the roads here, the pucker-factor is very high. Some of you probably don't know what the "pucker-factor" is, but those of you who do, you can appreciate it. At any rate, as you travel down the roads here, your greatest threat is from the IED's. You are constantly on edge. And for Sgt V., I'll call him, to have this fear validated, to have looked your worse fear in the face and come back for more, is either the mark of a very courageous Marine, or a masochist. Without a doubt, Sgt V. rated the purple heart, but he did not want it. Why? In his words, "I was in the right place at the wrong time...why should I be awarded for that? It's my job." He is a great example of having the right motives. He does not do his job in search of glory or fanfare, but rather for the intangibles; those rewards that you cannot see, but in your heart, you can feel.

This story has been told many times since this war began. The names and circumstances have been different, but the moral has remained consistent. We are not here on a glory-hunt. There is no medal or piece of colored ribbon that could even come close to meaning more to us than knowing that at the end of the day, we did our jobs and accomplished our missions. Sgt V's story is a microcosm of the bigger picture here. Your Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are accomplishing our missions while continuing the highest traditions of military prowess and soldierly virtues that has made our enemies fear and respect our nation...whether they care to admit it or not. War is a terrible thing and is without a doubt should be a nation's last option. But when a country is given no other option for a peaceful resolution to conflict, it's all or nothing. Rest assured that America's men and women are giving it our all and we will continue to do so every time that you call on us.

Say what you will about our war, but I challenge you to look into the face of any one of the Marines whom I've had the pleasure to go into combat with; search their souls and try to find anything in his eyes other than a dedication to his country. You would be wasting your time. Be proud America. Stand a little taller tomorrow when you go to work and if someone asks you why, you tell them that you live in the greatest nation on the face of the planet. Tell them that today, there are young men and women a world away fighting to preserve your way of life. Tell them that you are proud to be an American. If you disagree with this war, that is fine. No one can berate you for exercising your rights which we are fighting to defend. But unite under that banner which we call "Old Glory"...a banner which I would gladly go to my grave to defend.

(Linked at radiobs)