Friday, August 31, 2007

Crossing Columbus

It took Columbus a little more than three weeks to sail from the Canaries to the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico on his second voyage of discovery in 1493. His fleet of seventeen ships dwarfed that of his first foray across the Atlantic a year earlier and his speedy crossing nearly halved the time he spent at sea in 1492 sailing westward in search of China. Last weekend Miss Brenda and I spent less than 12 hours total both ways in a trip from Memphis to San Juan.

References to Cristobal Colon's (we Anglos--in the immortal words of Steve Martin--"have a different word for everything!") "discovery" of the island of Puerto Rico are not hard to find, particularly in the ubiquitous gift shops that draw in and liberate white-legged tourists of yanqui green-backs for trinkets, t-shirts, and ball caps. This white-legged tourist added a coffee mug and a ball cap to his burgeoning collection. The cap is black with a skull & cross bones, the words "Puerto Rico" and the date "1493," meant as a back-handed slap at the "piracy of the white man," I guess. Of course, most current occupants of the island are descendants of the Spaniards that killed all the native inhabitants and colonized Puerto Rico for four hundred years until the adolescent re-United States picked a fight with aging Spain and seized Puerto Rico as a prize along with Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines.

As we sailed along at 34,000 feet and half the speed of sound, headed back north Monday morning, I couldn't help but wonder what Columbus would think were he strapped in my window seat crammed into a flying cylinder the size of the Santa Maria. Would he marvel at the billows as viewed from above, at the speed of our advance, and the reach of our advances?

Or, would he just pass out from the shock?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rome Remembered

In his contemporary history of the Roman Empire, "The Histories," Cornelius Tacitus wrote regarding the tumultuous three-decades framed by the deaths of Nero and Domitian (68 A.D. to 96 A.D.), that, "Rank, wealth, and office, whether surrendered or retained, provided grounds for accusation, and the reward for virtue was inevitable death."

The rise and fall of the Roman Empire is instructive. There are lessons for these re-United States in the study of that great power's ascent from the founding of its namesake city on the banks of the Tiber to the pinnacle of world superpowerdom, and its decay and deterioration into fractious city states that eventually coalesced into the dysfunctionally-governed laughing-stock that is Italy today. If one is attuned at all to patterns and parallels, our great nation's ascent from local obscurity to global omnipotence can easily be graphed alongside that of Rome's. That understanding of patterns and parallels can also allow one to predict, with some certainty, the path of political discourse and maneuvering for power that our nation, now at it's apex of power, will devolve to over the next few generations.

By the time of Christ, Rome's core citizenry had become fickle wards of the state, fruit ripe for the picking by scheming politicians looking to bake a pie of personal gain and glory. In one year's time alone (69 A.D.), Romans wrought by their own hands the imperial instability of four different leaders, each brought to power by the popularly induced suicide or assassination of the previous. Generals calculated that if Julius could march an army on Rome and become Caesar, so could they rally (bribe) enough legions to ride to titular triumph and penultimate power. Senators, having no standing Legion at their disposal at Rome, used the people of Rome itself as their army, spearheaded by constabulary commanders grown fat and greedy on the rewards of switched loyalties, and connived to be carried to power by the people.

At its peak, the Roman Republic sat atop a world of its own making that stretched from the British Isles in the West to the Persian frontier in the East, and from the Baltic in the North to the reaches of the upper Nile on the African continent to the South. Rome had legions (or parts thereof) garrisoned throughout its reach. As the generals and politicians began to seize power for their own ends and not the state's interests, the reach of Rome shrank dramatically. Legions collapsed on Italy, either recalled or in rebellion, and were followed home by "barbarians" eager to take advantage of Rome's perceived weakness. The cause was political greed.

You are, I'm sure, eager to scoff that no such calamitous collapse could occur to the great and powerful United States. Surely our revered Constitution, and its inviolable Bill of Rights will protect us individually and collectively from tyrannical treachery. "We've been a democratic republic for over two centuries!", you exclaim. Rome was a republic for five centuries with a constitutional tradition no less powerful than our own, and collapsed precipitously in not much more than two generations.

What Tacitus wrote 19 centuries ago regarding the death throes of his great nation, could just as easily been written today about the political state of our own.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mississippi Baking

We got the first measurable rain last evening that we have had since the first week of July--maybe a tenth of an inch. Thunderstorms banged and bumped all around us most of the afternoon with no liquid effect, and then, as the rumble faded, a light rain began to fall. After a few minutes, the air began to cool perceptively and I grabbed my tools and headed for one of my many partially finished outside projects.

For the past month, the heat has relegated my outdoor activities to the first and last hours of daylight. Even then, the modicum of strenuous activity I was able to coax from my rapidly aging collection of skin and bones produced a trifling amount of accomplishment to balance gallons of perspiration. But yesterday evening was, if work can be classified as such, glorious. As the cooling rain fell, I worked at my dock down by the lake, making more headway on the project than I had in a month of molten mornings.

This summer's heat and associated drought has been remarkable, particularly after the icebox that was April. What plants that chill didn't kill, are struggling to survive this baking.

Wonder what September will bring?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

"O' brother, where art thou?'

We were a pretty special group. We had no idea at the time, but looking back on those awkward, amazing, adolescent days through the telescope of faulty but fond memory, it's easy to see that something beyond us was working around and through us.

The one distinguishing feature about all of us was that we were sons and daughters of military men. Well, para-military at least--hard for me to assign full military status to the Air Force, to which many of us were "dependents." What brought us together in the same geographic space was the fact that our fathers were stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, either at Howard Air Force Base, Fort Kobbe, Albrook Air Force Base, or Fort Clayton. We came from families originally formed in every corner of the country and the globe. The Canal Zone was for all of us just the latest stop on a trail of world-wide wandering from military base to military base. We had not grown up with each other since infancy, but quickly bonded as if we had been life-long friends. We were thrust abruptly together for a brief moment in time, and just as abruptly split asunder.

What brought the core group of us together was the labor of love of a young missionary by the name of Jane Downs. I don't believe her church had sent her to Panama to minister to American kids specifically, but that quickly became her calling, as far as we were concerned. Her Tuesday afternoon Bible study was the proximate event to which we were originally drawn, like so many wayward moths to the light of The Truth.

I have, shamefully, lost track of many of that special group. But, the ones I am still in touch with fill me with pride at their accomplishments. At least six of that group went into the military out of high school, either enlisting or getting commissions via the Air Force Academy or ROTC. One of us went into the ministry out of college. Ironically, he is now the only one of us still on active duty in the military, having gone into the Army Reserve as a chaplain and now ministering to war-wearied soldiers and families at Fort Stewart. I know where the prettiest girl and best mother in the group is today--she shares my bed.

Wish I knew where some of the guys like Reuben, Ricky, and Jeff are today. Don't think I have heard from them since the regular-occurring military-ordered diaspora swirled through our midst at the end of that remarkable time, scattering us like dust from a whirlwind. I last saw Dan, then a pilot for Delta, in Atlanta 16 years ago. Mike, the Army Chaplain, stays in touch. I last saw brothers Joe and Tom at Parris Island the day five years ago that Tom's son became a Marine. A year before that, Joe and I collided, literally, two colonels in a bunker in Seoul, having not seen or heard from each other in over a decade.

A part of me wants to begin a search, find them all, and bring them together again. Another part of me fears that special group won't seem so special upon our reunion. Would we have anything in common, now? Would we quickly tire of the game of "remember when" and grow quiet with the realization that the great gulf of time separating us from the jungles of Panama prevents us from really knowing each other?

It's a risk. But, one worth taking.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rebel's Rules

There are a few rules of thumb by which I've learned to lead. They weren't my original ideas--most of them were learned at the feet of other leaders, both honorable and horrible. I call 'em Rebel's Rules because, a) my operational radio call sign was Rebel (for rather obvious reasons, not all having to do with the fact that I was a graduate of Ole Miss) and b) the word "Rules" makes a nice alliterative title combination with Rebel. Most of them are self-explanatory (for all you LSU fans that means you have to figure it out on your own).

Rebel's Rule #1: "Take yourself too seriously and nobody else will."

Rebel's Rule #2: "First reports are always false."

Corollary A to Rebel's Rule #2: "Second reports will only be half correct, half of the time.

Corollary B to Rebel's Rule #2: "If you wait for the third report to act, you are already a step behind your opponent."

Corollary C to Rebel's Rule #2: "If given the option of defending or attacking, ALWAYS attack!"

Rebel's Rule #3: "Tell someone something often enough and they will start to believe it in spite of themselves."

Corollary A to Rebel's Rule #2: "Always tell your subordinates that they belong to the best unit in the larger organization, even if they have evidence to the contrary."

Corollary B to Rebel's Rule #2: "Find your own evidence."

Rebel's Rule #4: "Please and Thank You are power words."

Rebel's Rule #5: "The leader is responsible for everything his subordinates do or fail to do."

Corollary A to Rebel's Rule #5: "Perfect leaders would have perfect subordinates"

Corollary B to Rebel's Rule #5: "If your subordinates get in trouble, it's your fault."

Corollary C to Rebel's Rule #5: "If your subordinates do great things, it is probably only because you were smart enough to stay out of their way."

Corollary D to Rebel's Rule #5: "If Corollaries A, B, and C above drive you crazy, welcome to the wonderful world of leadership."

Rebel's Rule #6: "Bloom where you are planted."

Corollary A to Rebel's Rule #6: "The Marine Corps (add your own controlling agency here) knows where you are and if you are needed for a more important job, the Marine Corps knows where to find you."

Corollary B to Rebel's Rule #6: "Never let your subordinates believe that they do not belong to the most important unit in the organization."

Rebel's Rule #7: "A former recruiter will out lead a former drill instructor any day of the week."

Corollary A to Rebel's Rule #7: "How hard is it to follow a recruit training SOP?"

Corollary B to Rebel's Rule #7: "The recruiter who can convince 17 year-old Johnny, and his Momma, that it is in Johnny's best interest to forgo college for a few years to join the United States Marine Corps, during time of war, and oh, by the way, take his graduation trip to Al Anbar Province, can easily convince an 18 year-old Marine to climb out of the safety and comfort of his fighting position and charge into the face of enemy fire and probable award of the enemy marksmanship medal (Purple Heart)."

Rebel's Rule #8: "The leader who can easily convince an 18 year-old Marine to climb out of the safety and comfort of his fighting position and charge into the face of enemy fire and probable award of the enemy marksmanship medal, can certainly convince him to stay out of trouble while on liberty."

Rebel's Rule #9: "Surround yourself with subordinates smarter than you, and let them run."

Corollary A to Rebel's Rule #9: "Lucky for most of us, smarter subordinates are easy to find."

Rebel's Rule #10: "Training is everything and everything is training."

Corollary A to Rebel's Rule #10: "There is no such thing as an 'admin move'."

Corollary B to Rebel's Rule #10: "If you have time to complain, you have time to train."

Rebel's Rule #11: "Never pass up an opportunity to keep you mouth shut around senior officers."

Rebel's Rule #12: "Ninety percent of all communication is miscommunication."

Corollary A to Rebel's Rule #12: "If you want everybody in your organization to understand your intent, you need to express it at least ten times."

Corollary B to Rebel's Rule #12: "The tenth time you express your intent, ask the man in the rear rank to repeat it back."

Corollary C to Rebel's Rule #12: "When the man in the rear rank can't repeat your intent (and odds have it, he won't be able), refer to Corollary A above."

There's more, but that would be in violation of Rebel's Rule #13: "When 'briefing,' be brief."

Monday, August 13, 2007

First Round Picks to the Front Line

If you think reinstituting the "draft" is unpopular with the American people, you should raise the draft question with any group of past or present American military professionals and you'll see just how "unpopular" an idea can be.

However, comma, it may be time to put our Vietnam era anti-draft biases aside and look at the conscription issue through the lens of our present security situation.

Let's frame the debate with straight-forward answers to the following two questions. What are the "clear and present dangers" facing our nation? What is the status of the "all-volunteer force" charged with (sworn to, actually) defending our nation against "all enemies, foreign and domestic?"

From this Marine's perspective, there are two near-term (military professionals refer to this as the "close fight") challenges to our nation's security for which the force of choice (from the military, diplomatic, and economic sources of American power and influence) is armed action. Most people would think that Islamo-fascist-inspired terrorism is the number one near-term threat to our security. Make no mistake, the mad mullahs calling the shots in Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are a clear and present danger to the security and economic interests of the United States. However, despite the treasure we are expending in what Newt Gingrich calls a "phony war" (his reference, for those historically challenged among my meager readership, is to the "Phony War" waged less than half-heartedly by Great Britain against Nazi Germany following Germany's Eastern Europe aggressions in 1938/39), Islamo-Fascism is not the greatest near-term threat to the survival of our nation.

The clearest and closest danger to our security is the tide of unchecked immigration sweeping across our borders. The argument that this tide of immigration is no different than the previous tides that built our unique American nation and culture is specious at best, historically ignorant at worst. During other times of immigrant surges into our country, we strictly regulated who was allowed to enter our nation. For every three ships that arrived at Ellis Island during the great European immigration of the late 1800s, for example, one ship departed carrying people back to Europe who the United States deemed unfit (for reasons of health, mental defect, or criminal background) to allow entrance. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty may read "...send us your huddled masses...yearning to be free..." but we still reserved the right to refuse admittance to the Land of the Free in order the preserve the character of the Home of the Brave. If that argument offends your delicate sensibilities, then consider this: If only five percent of the one million illegal aliens entering our country across the southern border each year are criminally inclined then we are facing a yearly infiltration of 50,000 foot soldiers with intent to steal, rape, murder, and otherwise act in direct contradiction to the security and general well-being for which our government is constitutionally responsible. To put that number in perspective, that is more than the number of Marines in the Second Marine Division (one third of the Marine Corps). If only 5 percent of the 15 to 20 million illegal aliens presently in our nation are criminally active, we have been invaded by an enemy (criminals are enemies of society) force equalling the entire US Army and Marine Corps combined! Need I say more?

So, the threat to our nation is clear. Now, let's take a look at the status of our nation's defense posture.

First, the All-Volunteer Force is technically an all-recruited force. This is a significant distinction one third of my career spent in recruiting and basic training qualifies me to make. While no one serves in today's American military against their will, the vast majority of those who "volunteer" to serve do so only after they are contacted by a recruiter and sold on the personal benefits of military service. (The majority of men and women who walk into a recruiting office on their own initiative do not qualify for service due to reasons of health, mental defect, or criminal background.) I am not disparaging the magnificent young men and women presently fighting under the flag of the United States--once recruited, their eyes are opened and hearts fired to the patriotic calling to which they have answered. I am simply providing the facts regarding the nature of the way the United States currently mans the force.

Second, while the manpower well is full, the quality manpower pump's intake valve is buried in the muck at the bottom of the well. I have always been a firm believer in the concept of allowing only honorable men and women to honor the United States by serving in uniform under her flag. Consequently, even when I knew it would make my own recruiting effort more difficult in the short term, I have always been very vocal in my call for continuously raising the quality standards above which enlistment was allowed. For the most part, our military recruiters are filling the ranks to the number mandated and funded by Congress. The dirty little secret is that while the quality standards for enlistment have not been officially lowered, we have been systematically waiving disqualifying factors at the cyclic rate (for the non-infantry types among my meager readership, the cyclic rate of an automatic weapon is the most rapid rate at which it can load its deadly messages in the chamber, ignite the propellant, and send the mail out the business end). The net result is a steady decrease in the overall quality of the force. Again, no disparagement of those serving intended--it is just clear that America's best and brightest are not serving America.

Which brings me to the subject of reinstituting the draft. If America's best and brightest don't want to protect America by serving in the Army in Iraq, how about drafting them for service in a dramatically expanded version of the Border Patrol. Instead of keeping the Border Patrol under the dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security (if you have flown lately, you know what I'm talking about), let's create three light infantry divisions tasked with the mission of border DEFENSE. Let's man these divisions with a comprehensive, no waivers allowed, draft from all able-bodied men AND WOMEN between the ages of 18 and 22.

Got a better idea?

Friday, August 10, 2007

August 10, 1978

Our first born turns 29 today. Watching him grow from infant to boy to man to husband to father has been one of the most amazing things in my life.

Twenty-nine years ago this morning, I checked Miss Brenda into the small hospital in Dumfries, Virginia and joined a half dozen other expectant fathers in the small waiting area just outside the delivery room. This was before the time of free father access in delivery rooms. This was even before accurate sonogram determination of the child's sex. We sat and nervously thumbed through month's old copies of Field & Stream and National Geographic, waiting to hear the outcome of our wives' labors.

When I finally heard that I had a son, I was overwhelmed with the mixed emotions of elation and dread of responsibility. I was overjoyed at the prospect of a man child with whom to share my outdoors and sports passions. I was scared to death that I wouldn't measure up when it came to raising a boy to be a man. I'm sure I'm not the only man who has felt that particular mixture of joy and dread.

To wake up this morning to the realization that my little boy is now a 29 year old man, husband, and father is quite sobering. The good news is, despite my well-documented weaknesses at son-rearing, Number One is doing just fine in the manhood, husbandhood, and fatherhood department.

Happy Birthday, Joshua!

Monday, August 06, 2007

I've Seen Horror Show Before

Newt Gingrich has always impressed me as one of the more intelligent men in political life today. He's a firebrand, to be sure, but he puts a lot of thought into his bombs before he rolls them out onto the table.

He's said something lately that echoes what I have been saying for three years now. He called our "Global War on Terror" a "phony war." While I would disagree on points (it is a war--declared on us by others, we are just fighting it with both arms tied behind our backs), he is closer to hitting the target than any other political or military "leader" I've heard opine on the subject in the past six years. Of course, one of the reasons for Newt's accuracy on the intellectual firing line is the fact that he is an historian.

Newt's superior understanding of the history of America (and dozens of other empires) at war, allows him to put our present game with guns in correct perspective. He makes the case that if we are going to win this war, we need to commit to it. I concur! Despite the expenditure of thousands of young American patriots' lives and billions of dollars in American treasure, the United States never truly committed to the fight. Oh, we flew our flags on our cars, and painted billboards with United We Stand, but that is not the sacrifice required of a people to win a war (read any book on America during the period 1942 to 1945). Make no mistake, our enemies are making sacrifices and they are much more committed to victory than we.

Until we get serious about this war and start leveling our enemies' sanctuaries and financial/training support infrastructure in countries like Iran, Syria, and Pakistan (not to mention Saudi Arabia), we are in grave danger of repeating our inglorious retreat from Indo-China. Think our reputation around the world is suffering, now? You ain't seen nuthin' yet! Think our military is suffering from personnel and equipment fatigue, now? Wait until the next Jimmy Carter takes over and reduces the US military to a mockery.

Been there, done that, got the plaque.