"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Monday, September 27, 2010

RPA as a Cultural Melting Pot

I haven't posted much lately and I imagine that trend will continue. I've got a lot on my plate after moving to my new assignment. I've been learning to employ a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and I'm extremely happy to be doing so.

I'm also enjoying talking with some of the others in my training, and especially the air-to-air fighter pilots. I have been pleasantly surprised. I have a bias and anybody who knows me is fully aware of it, whether they want to be or not. Thankfully, a small handful from the air superiority business have failed to live up to my stereotype. We've had some great discussions. In one, a peer from the F-15C world took issue with my portrayal and he educated me on some areas that I have perhaps oversimplified. I still need to verify his assertions, but he made a great case that challenged my viewpoint. Even if the picture he paints is valid, my view of the role of airpower and our current challenges remains intact. But, if his view is accurate, then I have been too strong in some of my criticisms of his former community. I'm being vague intentionally.

My recent discussions have strengthened my understanding that we live in a complicated world and have many serious challenges. I'm enjoying this opportunity to have such conversation with people who disagree with me and who may hold a piece of the puzzle I'm unaware of. One source of huge potential value in my new RPA community is the melting pot of two worlds, conventional and non-conventional. While I'm protective of the culture of the non-conventional community from which I come, I'm very happy to see this interface. I love having my views challenged, and I'll gladly eat some crow to walk away with a better picture. The blend of cultures being experienced in the RPA world today has great potential to strengthen our ability to provide airpower in our complicated and dangerous world.

I'm also thankful for the civilian leadership we have enjoyed for the last several years, and I'm nervous about it changing. The 20 September issue of Newsweek has a great cover story on our Secretary of Defense, who isn't expected to stay in the job for more than a year longer. His leadership has been outstanding and the nation is fortunate to have him in office.

Friday, September 24, 2010

T-6 Crashes at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, TX

Surfing the net today and saw that a T-6A crashed on a routine AETC student pilot training flight with an instructor and student. Thankfully both ejected safely and are apparently doing well according to news stories I have read. I'm very glad that is the case. Having just left Laughlin AFB and this particular squadron, I know several of the instructors and the hard work they put into doing a very demanding job. And the students are known to put in some long days too. I'm glad all involved are safe.

I'll end my post here.

Edit: The Air Force has released the results of the public Accident Investigation Board. The loss of the five million dollar aircraft was the result of the instructor pilot inadvertently shutting the engine off during a formation rejoin. The instructor then incorrectly attempted a procedure to restart the engine which damaged the engine. Read more here: http://www.laughlin.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123245117

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Who Will Defend Us?" - AETC in the Rear View Mirror

A couple days ago I drove out the front gate of a pilot training base for the last time. Three years in AETC has certainly proven to be educational, as it was when I was a cadet, and I'm looking forward to returning to my combat command with its subdued patches, vitally important wartime mission, and the quality leadership that such an environment produces. My time in the training command was valuable and I learned a fair amount. The people I worked with were highly motivated, extremely hard working and made the assignment more enjoyable. The flying was great and I learned a lot about my communication weaknesses in my attempts to instruct young officers. I was able to do some small good while I was there and my greatest reward was seeing young officers motivated to act with courage.

After I taxied in from my final flight, a group of instructors and students met me and showered me with champagne in the traditional way. I had hoped to avoid that but I have to admit the people who showed up made it an unexpectedly pleasant gesture. No leadership, just bros from the trenches. The greatest compliment of my assignment was overhearing a young instructor pilot in that gaggle ask another instructor, "who will defend us now?" Thankfully the name of another instructor was offered up as a potential. I barely know the person who posed the question and he probably doesn't realize I heard it, but it was an important question I'd like to address here.

Who will defend us from a careerist system that doesn't truly recognize or reward achievement, character, or hard work and that expects us to put ten pounds in a five pound sack? Who will defend us by simply elevating the unvarnished truth up the chain of command even when it's not desired?

Answer: You will or nobody will.

It's not about the timeline or the training mission. It's about the profession of arms and the quality of airpower we are able to offer our nation, even in a job that may appear far removed from the battlefield. If we allow a toxic situation to go unchallenged or if we "play the game" then we are partially responsible for the quality of the leadership that gets produced and the direction our service takes. If we don’t challenge a system where politicians advance over professionals, or if we allow ourselves to fudge the numbers, or if we become spin doctors to mask reality, then we help advance an Air Force of politicians, frauds, and spin doctors. And when the nation asks for airpower, what will the nation get? It will get the perception of air power while the rifleman and the nation suffer the cruel cold reality. It’s hard to lay hate on our enemies and bring Americans home alive armed only with a perception. As military officers we have no right to "stay off the radar" or "hold our cards" and comfortably lay low -- we are in the profession of arms and we are expected to act courageously even at risk to ourselves. Even when far removed from the blood and bullets.

The place I left offers ample opportunity for officers to meet this obligation and to grow into "mission and people" leaders. They have the opportunity to follow our Secretary of Defense by challenging leadership when it asks for ten pounds in a five pound bag. Magic is not an Air Force core competency, and we don't need any more magicians in tax-paid positions.

Of course I have taken liberty with the question "who will defend us" -- the pilot who uttered it may not have amplified it as I have above. He was more than likely talking about a more specific situation where leadership expects magic. The ten pounds demanded: healthy happy family lives, safe flying, physically fit airmen, PME, master's degrees, quality instruction. The five pound bag: an undermanned squadron, more students, routine 12 hour days, double and triple turning in blazingly hot weather, ORM sheets with little utility, and regular six-day weeks.

I'm almost certain he was talking about six day work weeks in the training command and my email up the chain on why I thought leadership's thermometer might be broken and a better risk assessment might be in order. In my email I discussed a 1999 Air Force Times article entitled, "Worked to Death - How Doing Too Much Cost 12 Crewmen Their Lives," which took a look at a fatality at Nellis involving two HH-60s that had a midair collision. According to the article, the overwhelming contributing factors that led to the disaster cited by the lead investigator, Col Denver Pletcher, included "a high ops/pers tempo coupled with leadership problems, internal and external training deficiencies, broken squadron processes, low aircrew experience level, and midlevel supervisory breakdown." The Colonel wrote that the "squadron was on a path to disaster." The article explains that the squadron had been operating under that same ops temp for five years prior to this accident but that "By then, problems were chronic: Squadron processes broke down, morale was bad, the training burden was increasing and there seemed ever-less time to prepare for the next deployment or exercise." In my email I offered what I saw as similarities with the mishap squadron. But recognizing that six-day weeks might be necessary, I also provided my inputs on how best to implement a six-day work week. It was up to leadership to make the call, but it was up to me to raise the red flag.

While I never really got a response to my email, it appeared to have a temporary effect and I got the credit in the trenches. Due to Operational Risk Management (ORM) reasons, the six-day weeks were canceled. But they came back several months later as I was out-processing and preparing for my new assignment. Perhaps the thermometer was fixed and leadership had the benefit of good information when it made its decision. It certainly may be possible that 72-hour work weeks and multiple physically demanding training flights in 100+ degree weather is an acceptable risk that is justified by the importance of the desired result. It's also perhaps a calculation that could lead to an undesired result. Such is the nature of our business. This nature requires good information to be provided up the chain of command even when the environment is characterized by "do what you know I mean, not what I say."

Who will defend you? Who will provide the information up the chain to ensure leadership has an accurate reading, whether they want it or not? You will, or nobody will.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Military Officer vs Activist

Happy belated Independence Day. I haven't posted in some time, but I hope to make up for it by posting something fairly interesting.

As those who grace my blog with their time may know, I've had some bad experiences with "law enforcement." I've found that some public servants act in ways that have little to do with the public good. Readers will be somewhat familiar with my unlawful arrest at the hands of a city cop for allegedly not using a blinker during a lane change and the damage it had on my military career. The untruthful charge was dismissed in court and I have a lawsuit pending. But I have also had some issues with federal law enforcement, specifically the Border Patrol, and the latest episode with that agency has resulted in footage on YouTube. I have adapted to the threat by using surveillance technology. It has also resulted in a lawsuit pending against the Department of Homeland Security. As such, I will not provide a great deal of detail on the incident except for links to the full video footage where readers can judge for themselves. I will state one important fact. The checkpoint is not on the border but rather is 40 miles inland on a highway. This is an important distinction when researching applicable law governing immigration checkpoints. Before I provide the footage, I'd like to bring up the topic of military service and activism.

The oath of office "to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic," makes for an interesting line between a military member and an activist, in my view. There has been recent discussion concerning the unfortunate incident involving General McChrystal and civil-military relations. I don't have anything worthwhile to offer on that specific situation, but I do think it may be helpful for military members to remember that they have a civil duty domestically to support and defend our Constitution. Our job is not just about blood and bullets. We must defend the Constitution of the United States wherever we are, and against any who threaten it. Unless, of course, we are of the view that oaths offered before God are not binding. That is not my view.

Activists are almost considered antithetical to military members, at least by many in our armed forces. In my conversations, the Vietnam era seems to have burned into the minds of many servicemen the image of long haired hippies spitting on soldiers. I tend to think there is, or should be, more similarity between those who fight for civil liberty at home and those who defend the nation abroad. I think if that commonality could be better acknowledged then perhaps the civil-military relationship would be strengthened. Certainly not all activists are standing up for Constitutional issues. But many are. In my view, we should be citizen soldiers, not just soldiers, and should stand up for freedoms on our own soil instead of simply fighting for it in foreign lands.

I haven't lived up to my expectation fully and I don't consider myself an activist. Others don't either. My Border Patrol video has garnered me fire from activists who claim I was too cooperative with federal agents who were acting unlawfully. Upon reflection, I tend to agree with these critics and I feel I have not honored my oath to the fullest. If exercising one's Constitutional rights supports those rights, as I think it does, then it's a valid criticism that I have been too cooperative and have not fully "supported" the Constitution. While some activists have considered me a pushover and have labeled me a "professional goon being professionally gooned," I have also gotten thinly veiled death threats and vituperative commentary from others who appear to think any American standing up to law enforcement is wrong. I find little of value in this point of view. But even a couple of people I considered friends have taken this view.

The video has been uploaded to YouTube by an organization I founded after my unlawful arrest, Veterans Against Police Abuse. The ten minute Cliff's Notes version is embedded below. To watch the full 30+ minute unlawful detention without the annotations included below, from two of the several cameras, click here.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering Bravery - Memorial Day

CBS's 60 Minutes published a recent episode which details heroes from military Explosives and Ordinance Disposal (EOD) who risk their lives routinely to identify and dismantle insurgent IEDs. The episode can be viewed here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6533127n&tag=related;photovideo. It depicts the routine bravery of these soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen from the four services who risk themselves to locate and dismantle explosive threats to their fellow Americans. The bravery is staggering. I remember flying missions in Iraq and seeing many IED explosions on the roads below me. They were a routine sighting. On several missions I had the opportunity to destroy them before they could hurt Americans. On of my favorite missions, my crew and I fortunately spied several insurgents laying IEDs in the middle of a road. After several minutes of observation, we ensured they weren't successful and never would be again. It was very satisfying. But it lacked the heroism and the bravery of the soldiers of TF Paladin who meet the threat head on daily, not from thousands of feet above the threat.

The EOD professionals train at the EOD school located on Eglin AFB. In my previous assignment, I passed that school every day. I lived in a mobile home on the base next to the marina located right across from the EOD training facility. It's a beautiful location and I'm sure quite a contrast from the deadly roads in Afghanistan and Iraq. The mobile home park has been closed, but I'm sure the school still stands and is still training American fighting men who are fiercely dedicated to their country and, as the 60 Minutes episode explains, a little bit crazy.

I thank God for these Americans willing to lay it on the line for the rest of us. As an Air Force officer I want my service to provide airpower to make their jobs easier and to ensure they come home safely after the mission is accomplished. No words can properly honor those who sacrifice their mobility, their emotional well being, and their lives for us when requested by their country. We in the Air Force, not in these heroic situations, can best honor them by ensuring our service provides them the very best in airpower.

Andy Rooney made a good comment in the episode. He mentioned something to the effect that it's odd that we expect such bravery in war but not in our every day lives. With all the problems our nation faces and with all of us who don't have to put it on the line in combat like our EOD brothers, let's emulate their bravery in our day to day lives to make our country stronger. Perhaps had the regulators in the Department of the Interior displayed some bravery, perhaps they would have thwarted the comfortable corruption that allowed our Gulf to be destroyed by incompetence and greed. Perhaps a few concerned individuals could have stood up and risked themselves to expose the derivatives and ponzie schemes in corporate America that brought our nation to its financial knees.

Bravery is not something only to be displayed on foreign soil. If we want to honor the memories of those who fought for America, let's not sate ourselves with bumper stickers on our SUVs and flags displayed on our front porches. That's just too easy. Rather, let's emulate the bravery of America's finest by doing the right thing, the risky thing, in our humdrum existences where we don't have to worry about hidden explosive devices.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Latest IG Complaint Fail, Retaliation, and my Predictions

As readers of earlier posts will know, I’m in the middle of long battle with the Air Force. As I’ve mentioned before, I filed an Inspector General (IG) complaint claiming retaliation for the academic freedom violation I experienced in ACSC. My claim was that the LOR/UIF given me was produced in retaliation for academically protected comments and for previously engaging the IG process, both in the same command. Well, I just got a response from the IG. The IG letter, also from that command, stated, "Based on a thorough, impartial analysis of the evidence, I found that the responsible management officials had a sound basis for taking the actions against you, as outlined in their written documentation to you." The IG goes on to claim the actions taken against me were "reasonable." In other words, there is nothing unsound or unreasonable with ruining an officer's career by 1) relying on a police report associated with a later dismissed charge of failing to use a blinker during a lane change and 2) citing a memo created in-house that alleges an officer lied despite audio proof to the contrary.

I submitted the complaint to the SAF/IG and specifically requested they investigate and not kick it down to the command in question (since it was that command that I was saying retaliated against me). They kicked it down anyway. The IG above who spoke of being "impartial" works for that command. At any rate, I did my due diligence and attempted to use established processes to fix the problem in house. As usual, those processes didn't work. In this post I lay the facts before you and quote the charges...

The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Best of the Best

I got notice that my ACSC thesis has been released without condition. It's only a glimmer of what it should be but I hope it's interesting to some. It seeks to compare modern Air Force fighter pilot culture with the organizational culture of Enron, finds similarities, and makes some recommendations. It is the product of a six week course online in a part time Air Force "master's degree" program. I have redacted my name to maintain some semblance of OPSEC. Those interested can read and share the paper without restriction by clicking here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Response to JB (Loyal Dissent, Choice, Motivations)

Instead of commenting to JBMoore, I've decided to make a blog post in response. His comment is very insightful and can be viewed here. JB is obviously no stranger to human nature and politics and raises some questions that touch on my motivations and the choice we all must make when weighing risk and benefit in our conduct.

I think it's somewhat inaccurate to say I enjoy these fights. It is true that I have one of those natures that questions and as a younger man I enjoyed debate and conflict and became very comfortable with being one against many. I grew up on stories of my father doing the right thing and risking his job to defend people against pressures above him. Of course those stories were viewed through childhood goggles and my old man was also successful in the system so I'm sure he tempered his behavior (unlike his father who was also enlisted in the Army Air Corps but who got kicked out for hitting an officer with his weapon, or so the story goes). Whatever my filter and whatever the objective reality, doing the right thing (for people or for mission) while risking yourself was the theme that encapsulated what it meant to be a leader in my view. For those reasons, I do take pride in fighting the good fight but as I've gotten older I've lost the lust for conflict. People who knew me when I was younger may find it hard to believe, but I don't seek conflict these days and haven't for years. I have too many other interests and I learned long ago that you can't change human nature or teach values to grown men. I don't seek battles as I may have at one time, but I also don't shy away from them when they're brought to me. I don't enjoy these battles detailed in my blog and they have taken a toll. I have been scared at moments but mostly I've been tired. But I simply shift my perspective and I re-calibrate and bounce back. I'd be very happy to never have another fight but I don't believe I'm paid by the taxpayer to be comfortable and collect a check when there are real systemic problems that threaten our ability to conduct our nation's business. Losing fourteen years of service is a risk. But I was never guaranteed a retirement (a fact I must remind myself of the closer I get to one) and retiring and spending my remaining years reflecting on a life of irresponsible conflict avoidance risks the moral authority I'll need for later goals (ministry and pro-bono legal activism).

This blog was born from what I perceive to be a real crisis not only in my service but in our greater culture. I think our society has lost its integrity in great measure and perception over reality seems to be the currency of the day in business, government, and media. Truth has lost its appeal it seems to me. I don't know how long we can exist as a world power under such conditions and I think the evidence suggests those days are coming to an end. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. As far as my purview, I was specifically incensed about the way my service conducted itself regarding the F-22/UAV debate, the rightful claim from our Sec Def that we weren't properly committed to our nation's wars, and the culture of perception over reality I saw coloring that discussion. It was comments along these lines that led to the academic freedom violation and my acquisition of powerful "friends" who put me in their crosshairs and who have far more to do with my troubles than a traffic ticket, in my opinion.

So for me, the choice is to do my job and correct problems in the most effective way possible. I am more willing to give up a job and a retirement than I am to give up my pride and moral authority. My pride and moral authority have taken hits and I'm not perfect but I want to guard what remains closely.

But I've made good life decisions to make it easier for me to do so. My wife is strong, smart, and successful. She's one of the most successful young lawyers in the country. She's also dedicated to making this world better than she found it and she supports me. My greatest accomplishment was staying true to my ideals for a companion and it's a great help. We have no children. I personally wouldn't be able to risk as I do if I had to support a family so children aren't an option until I'm financially set. As for finances, I've made smart choices, lived well below my means, invested a lot, and sold all before the bubble burst. I saw the writing on the wall. In short, I've crafted my life so I can continue to live it in a way that makes me proud. I don't need the Air Force. I appreciate the paycheck and the chance for a retirement but I don't need it. I continue to serve,...to serve. I've been very fortunate.

We have such a rich heritage of American service and sacrifice in this country and my small battles, and my limited capabilities, are nothing compared to average Americans that have come before. Forget the great names, just the average American of greater generations. I feel it's my responsibility to build on that service in my own life. It's so easy to sell out and profit from the system in this country. Such people think they're so smart and politically savvy but the "game" is simple and I have no doubt that I could have easily risen to the top of a political enterprise if that was my goal. But that's not fulfilling to me. That's the industrious stupid who climb a ladder only to find nothing of value at the top...had they thought about that prior to their ascent, perhaps they would have figured that out before they got so high up that continuing the climb seemed the only option. I'm sure some if not most never figure it out.

But I don't have all the answers and my approach may not be the best one and I would love to have some "mentor" show me how I could be more effective...but that hasn't happened and I doubt it will. Regardless, I know this. It's a team effort and my approach provides opportunities for others to move the ball because I raise the issue if nothing else. I'm reminded of college life team sports... With my group of buddies I was the opener when we were out on the town. My brash opening might work for me, or it might not. But even when it didn't, nine times out of ten it did for my more timid buddy who would step up to the plate and say, "I'm sorry about my buddy,..." It's a team effort and I play a part even if I'm just the opener.

I appreciate your kindred spirit and your comments. You're also right about another thing. The good fight isn't about winning...it's about the fight. We're outnumbered and outgunned but that doesn't matter. Thanks again for posting.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Small Victory in a Long War

I have a confession to make. I hope my reputation isn't forever tarnished with this revelation, but, well here goes. I stood trial yesterday. I was accused of the high crime of "failing to use my blinker during a lane change." I know readers may not want to associate with an accused blinker non-user so I understand if you quit reading now. At the trial, the cop showed up and sat several rows from my lawyer and myself. The judge dismissed the false charge. One small victory in a long war.

So what? Well, that one charge served as the catalyst for ruining my Air Force career. At least on paper it did.

While I can't divulge everything that happened during the traffic stop, since my civil lawsuit against the police department is pending, I will detail the events that led to my arrest. That's right, arrest. I live in an enlightened state where police offices have a wide array of made up offenses they can pick to justify arresting somebody they want to punish. Failing to use a blinker is one.

The cop pulled me over in a downtown area. I had my license and registration in hand when he approached the window and asked for them. I asked why he had pulled me over and he said, "I pulled you over because you have an out of state license plate and I want to make sure you have a driver's license." I said, "Confirm you randomly pulled me over without cause?" He said, "Get out of the vehicle." I said, "Confirm you're now ordering me out of my vehicle without cause?" He confirmed the order and I got out. Quick note: the courts have stated that roving stops (pulling people over randomly without reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity) is illegal and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. This stop was unconstitutional. He took my license and registration as I got out, and told me to face my car. Cuffs. From his approach to my arrest took no more than 20 seconds or so. I later asked him why he was arresting me and that's when he came up with the blinker charge. He filled out some paperwork and said I had one chance, I could sign the citation and be on my way or spend the night in jail. I said I'd sign the citation but that I remained concerned because he said he had pulled me over for out of state tags. He said, "That's it. You're going to jail."

And I did. The police report was ridiculous and not believable on its face. There's a lot more I'd like to provide about this dirty cop...he has previously been suspended from the force for lying and intimidation. But I'll stop at this point and let my lawyers bring up that information in the civil suit.

So the next day when I got out of jail I had to meet with a commander. Service dress. I won't discuss the content of those discussions but suffice it to say there was a difference in opinion concerning the oath to support and defend the Constitution, questioning Constitutional violations, and the like.

Several weeks later I received a Letter of Reprimand (LOR). It had two charges. The first charge was that I was unprofessional etc etc during a "routine traffic stop," and the charge was based entirely on the lying cop's police report. The second charge was that I lied to local Public Affairs (PA) in a meeting concerning the academic freedom violation (previously blogged about) and a story I was considering writing with the Air Force Times. I was shocked to see the PA officer had written up a memo saying that I had lied in the meeting about having a blog and only after repeated questions did I admit I had one. This formed the second charge, that I'm a liar, no integrity, etc, and of course bolstered the first charge.

Fortunately I covertly recorded the conversation with PA (completely legal) and have digital proof that the PA officer's claim was incorrect and that I had not lied. I was very transparent, as is my nature. That digital evidence wasn't provided with my LOR response because my lawyer's request to extend the response date for the LOR wasn't granted and my lawyer needed more time to turn over every stone to confirm I hadn't broken any laws, rules, or regulations with my recording. But my LOR response was incredibly good even without the digital evidence. I was given the LOR anyway.

An IG complaint was filed for retaliation. A package was sent to the Air Force Board of Corrections, since I met my primary promotion board with that LOR/UIF sitting in my records and it's certain I won't be promoted as a result. The digital evidence was provided and both processes are ongoing. I've got a long way to go in this war but at least I've won a small battle.

I was also unmatched from an assignment as a result of the LOR/UIF. I had volunteered to fly RPA for the Air Force and was, of course, quickly matched to an assignment. That was undone and it appears I will no longer get my number one assignment choice. I cringed when I volunteered for it. But I did volunteer because I support my senior leadership and the program needs motivated people and I love providing support to my brothers on the ground. My friend Dave explains the rationale perfectly and I blogged about his SWJ article. I thought I could help with that cultural transformation but it appears a fabricated LOR will keep that from happening. It's a strange world when highly qualified pilots aren't allowed to fill the number one need of the Air Force because of nonsensical fabrication.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Formative Years - AETC, ROTC, Jump School, and a Heart Break

Disillusion. It's a right of passage for officers who care in the United States Air Force. It's a part of growing up, I suppose, as the world we live in is far from perfect and organizations are made of fallible human beings. Mine came fairly early and the epicenter was firmly located in my ROTC Field Training experience. It's amazing that fifteen years later as a combat pilot, this experience in Air Education and Training Command (AETC) still strongly resonates with me. I wish I could say it was just a childish blip in my experience but unfortunately I can't say that. This post is going to be a bit long and much more personal than usual. So now on to my formative years...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Stupid and the Industrious

"I divide officers into four classes -- the clever, the lazy, the stupid and the industrious. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the high staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy is fit for the very highest commands. He has the temperament and the requisite nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be removed immediately."

The quote above is attributed to a German General who apparently gave an order for any stupid/industrious officers to be removed once so identified. His classification system is presented in Benton's Air Force Officer Guide. The Guide quotes the officer on the stupid and industrious:
Great damage may result from their actions. Attacking the ill-advised with zeal and energy, they may induce a disaster. They are the most dangerous. They must be eliminated!
I have had similar thoughts as I watched officers labor for promotion in one non-combatant command. They put in long hours, prioritize their job over time spent with the family, come in on the weekends, and rarely produce anything useful for the Air Force. Time is spent crafting perceptions, wording reports to support whatever position the boss wants to be reflected, and many hours are spent combing through administrative minutia that has lost all real connection with the actual mission it purports to improve. If the mission was making a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, there would be rules made requiring only certain types of watches to be worn while making said sandwiches, and reports and spreadsheets to track timepiece compliance. Pet projects would shape and craft how many people wore watches, what kind, the accuracy in relation to the official time zone (which would change weekly) and lost in the process would be making a PB&J. But the industrious would sacrifice themselves and their family life to track Swatches versus G-shocks in the hope of pleasing the boss and getting promoted. Nobody would dare suggest time was being wasted because watch wearing doesn't have squat to do with the task at hand.

There is nothing wrong with hard work and long hours of course. There is a problem with change for the sake of change, self-licking ice cream cone processes removed from actual mission benefit, and busy work that keeps officers from spending time on actual mission enhancement. Unfortunately there are plenty who are stupid in that they prioritize tasks devoid of mission impact, or with negative impact, yet who are industrious because they spend long hours on such useless endeavors. They take pride in their contributions and long hours at work. Look what I have sacrificed for my country, they opine. The substance isn't important, just the hard work they exhibit.

I remember a commander and I having a discussion over officership and more broadly what makes a good American. Suffice it so say we disagreed on the requirements. He wasn't pleased with my diagnosis of his viewpoint and at the end of the conversation, as I was leaving, revisited the topic. My previous comment on his thinking being un-American had clearly bothered him. He told me as I was leaving, "I work hard. That's what makes me a good American." I left without mentioning that North Koreans, Chinese, and Russians also work hard but they are hardly good Americans.

Being industrious is not an excuse for failing to think. Failing to think makes one stupid and, as the German tells us, the industrious stupid are a grave threat to a military organization.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"The Torch and the Dagger: How the Air Force is Following Enron, AIG, and Goldman Sachs"

This is the tentative title of a book I have been working on for a bit now. It's something I plan on publishing once I get promoted to the rank of "civilian" which may be sooner rather than later. It's heavily laden with personal experiences and a bit autobiographical in nature but I'm hoping that with some more research it will be something useful. I think it will and I've got some wonderful people helping me who are much more talented than I am. I won't be on the Daily Show or the Colbert Report anytime soon, but I'll get there eventually. Maybe.

Yes, the writing will be better than what you find on this blog...

BTW, I'm still seeking release from Air University on my ACSC thesis entitled, The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Best of the Best: Max Performing Air Force Culture. Hopefully that will be out soon as it deals with the same theme but in a less detailed or personal way.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Active Shooter - Situational Awareness

Several weeks ago I heard a briefing on the new Active Shooter program. The program is designed to help military commanders and members identify and diffuse military personnel who may engage in the kind of traitorous actions like those of Maj Nidal Hasan who shot his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood recently. Years ago another soldier, Sgt Hasan Akbar, threw a grenade into a tent of fellow soldiers. These are certainly tragedies that we should endeavor to prevent.

As I listened to the briefing, however, I was troubled. Like the pamphlet I later picked up on base titled, "Active Shooter: Situational Awareness," the program says that attention should be placed on military personnel who:

1. Have been involuntary discharged or fired from their job
2. Are awaiting disciplinary action such as court-martial
3. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress
4. Made unsolicited comments about violence, firearms or death
5. Have been served with restraining or no-contact orders
6. Are known to be mentally or emotionally unstable
7. Made comments about being disenchanted with the military
8. Display "anti-war" or "anti-military" sentiments

This list troubles me because several of the items seem to invite abuse or are simply irrelevant in my non-expert opinion. It troubles me more because it fails to capture the two most important characteristics that I think highlight potential active shooters, relationship status and extremist religious affiliation. How many active shooters were married? How many were part of an extremist religious group? When I think of a person who is likely to go postal, I think of a lonely insecure man who latches onto a religious ideology that espouses violence but nowhere in the active shooter program are such characteristics cause for attention.

Instead, using the program's list, a man who makes unsolicited comments about firearms, violence, or death requires extra attention. That covers just about any combat soldier, marine, sailor, or airman I know but leaves those with the least knowledge and experience of our profession free from scrutiny. General Patton would be greatly suspect. The list also identifies Post Traumatic Stress. This seems logical and I would hope those qualified to diagnose PTSD would take proper action. Unfortunately, how are soldiers and airman in the trenches to know who has the disorder, assuming such a person hasn't been removed from duty and given a medical discharge? Certainly the average military person isn't qualified to make that diagnosis and they are more likely to associate legitimate stressful combat experience with the disorder, or so it seems to me. This list draws attention to the best of the military who put themselves in harm's way for defense of their country.

The list is also ripe, in my opinion, for abuse against the kind of military reformers our Defense Secretary is calling for. Those who challenge organizations and provide loyal dissent for the good of the service are now to be viewed with suspicion? As Secretary Gates has acknowledged, we must challenge our superiors despite the impact it may have on our careers. Loyal dissent is not an option, it's a requirement. What is a reformer? It's somebody who is disenchanted with the current state of the military or their service or organization and wants to make it better. But such behavior is cause for extra attention according to this new program. Beyond that, the negative impact on career that Secretary Gates warns is necessary for the sake of our service and our country, is also cause for extra attention and scrutiny. Those who are fired, involuntary separated, or are awaiting disciplinary action require extra attention the list says. This list draws attention to the best of the military who put their careers in harm's way for defense of their country.

And what if you display "anti-war" sentiments? While you're damned if you make unsolicited comments about firearms, violence, or death you're also damned if you make comments that are anti-war apparently. I can think of plenty of great soldiers and airman who express the idea that "no soldier likes war" but that they prepare themselves to kill the enemy to preserve the peace. That testimony would ding them twice as a possible murderous traitor for two different and contradictory reasons.

So what does the list show us? It shows us the "safest" person in uniform is one who has never been to combat, has never been so disenchanted with things to risk career to reform an organization or service, has never been disciplined, and has never made comments or expressed sentiments concerning the very nature of their professional obligation. Such a person is safe from any extra attention and suspicion even if they are a lonely adherent to an extremist ideology who is unable to connect in an intimate relationship.

This program may not make us safer, but it stands to prevent the best among us from making our organizations better in defense of our nation. I am disenchanted with this program which, of course, may be cause for extra attention. Unfortunately, I have no doubt I'm getting just that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Secretary Gates and Russell Crowe

The movie Gladiator is one of my all time favorites. It's a simple Hollywood movie with standard archetypes found in an action movie yet I think it's very relevant. In the movie, Crowe plays the part of a dutiful General who fights valiantly and commands the respect of his men. Yet he's a simple man who longs for the beauty of home, of family, his wheat fields and apple orchard. In one scene he gazes at a small bird that lands on a tree before scampering off into the air no doubt symbolic of the freedom for which he yearns. Crowe's face then changes and he gives the order to his men on the line to prepare to "unleash hell" on the enemy formed before them. He is a great military commander yet his longings are not for blood, battle, or advancement but rather for a simple life of freedom and family. He is not unlike Corporal Desmond Doss who, after earning the Medal of Honor, refused to let his story be made into a Hollywood movie and instead spent his last days tilling the soil in relative obscurity.

Crowe's character is loyal to the Caesar who gives him one last charge upon his deathbed. The Caesar is concerned that the ideals of Rome, something that must be spoken with a whisper lest they vanish, he says, have been supplanted by corruption and politics and greed. He tasks his faithful General to restore Rome's ideals and to restore power to the people.

In comes the political son who conducts himself like the very worst executive officer with his flattery and scheming and skillful knowledge of politics. In an act of treason, power is taken by the calculating son of the Caesar who kills his father and has the General placed under arrest. He then leads Rome into an era of unprecedented corruption masked and diluted by state sponsored distractions and entertainment. Gladiator fighting takes center stage and leads to Crowe's character yelling to the crowd at one point, "Are you not entertained!?"

Why is this movie relevant to my view? Well I must first admit that a comparison between Rome and the United States is anything but novel and I'm no expert on either. The sad decay of ideals and the rise of corruption that led to Rome's demise are discussed frequently, however, by those concerned with the path our nation has taken over the years. I must admit I find the comparison resonating. I am fearful this same decay is happening in our own fragile republic and I see little trace of ideals in the decisions of those with power. Of course the cynic can argue that our nation's ideals have not significantly changed and that pure power motives have been at the root of our politics for decades if not longer. I remember posing this question to a prominent federal judge while having dinner at his home. I was asked what concerned me the most as representative of my generation. While I may not have represented my generation faithfully, I stated my concern was with the utter lack of integrity and service I perceived with increasing frequency among leaders in corporate, political, and even military America and I asked the judge if he thought my concern was valid or rather the result of me paying more attention as I got older. The judge responded that, despite his decades on the bench, he had never seen as much corruption as he currently witnessed.

This brings me to our Secretary of Defense and his call for uncommon courage and cultural transformation. I believe that he, like the Caesar tasking the General, is calling upon the military to stand in the face of corruption and wrong doing to restore our ideals of integrity, honesty, and professionalism. Like Crowe's character faced, however, there is legitimate risk. The careerist calculating political natured among us are threatened by such reform and their interest is not in ideals but simply in power and control. They will bring the republic to its knees if not challenged and there will be no fields of wheat, no liberty, and no peace for our families if they are successful. While as military officers we respond to such themes on the silver screen in movies like Gladiator, we must ensure these themes are not limited to entertainment and cinema. We must not allow ourselves to feel courage and heroism while sitting in the stands of the Colliseum only to leave and conduct our lives more as the cowardly traitor who watched as Rome burned around him.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cowardice At Home, Cowardice in Battle

I just watched a documentary about Corporal Desmond Doss, a deeply principled medic who passed up a deferment to serve in World War II. His amazing actions of incredible courage in battle earned him the respect of his peers and the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Outside and prior to combat, however, he did not enjoy the respect of his peers. Rather, he was ridiculed for his principles and convictions which were a thorn in the side of several of his commanders. One of Doss's stateside training commanders attempted to outdo previous commanders and threatened to court martial Doss. This commander was going to take care of the thorn. The reason? Doss wouldn't cave on his conviction to not carry a weapon as a medic. You see, Doss was coded as a conscientious objector and that code meant he legally did not have to carry arms. The commander wasn't concerned with the legality of his situation, however, and simply wanted Doss gone. He wanted the thorn removed from service.

Despite ridicule and minor punishments, however, Doss remained in the Army where his heroics in combat were later legendary. The actions of that same commander in combat were also recorded. According to one soldier, he and several others saw the commander run for safety in the face of the enemy while his men remained on the line to fight.

The Secretary of Defense recently spoke to Air Force Academy cadets and discussed courage on and off the battlefield before focusing on the need for courage off the battlefield. The story of Corporal Doss may help explain why Secretary Gates chose to focus on heroics off the field of battle.

Those who cannot display courage at home, preparing for war, cannot be trusted to show courage in war. This seems intuitive enough. A coward is a coward. An insecure commander who is threatened by a principled subordinate who refuses to cower will likely display his insecurity if ever actually tested in combat. Likewise, a subordinate who does not have the courage to stand up for his principles in the face of institutional ridicule and punishment will likely not stand up to the enemy in combat. It's a matter of character and true colors.

Consider a study by Dr. E. Paul Torrance, Crew Performance in a Test Situation as a Predictor of Field and Combat Performance, which sought to determine traits that led to superior performance in combat. Dr. Torrance wrote in his 1957 study:
The effect of disagreement on group process cannot be fully understood without examining the effect willingness or unwillingness to disagree with others has upon the individual. Research findings indicate that certain individuals show a generalized willingness to oppose others and disagree when the situation requires it. In a series of studies of the personality requirements for survival, such individuals were found to produce superior results in the form of more adaptive behavior in survival situations, willingness to take calculated risks, and unwillingness to accept defeat. In our studies of USAF jet aces in Korea, we found that this characteristic was typical of the ace when compared with his less successful colleagues.
Of course insecure commanders are threatened by courageous and principled subordinates while good commanders seek disagreement. In my experience, the best commanders are those who not only allow you to disagree with them but will actually protect you from commanders above themselves to give you room to disagree. The best commander I ever had, a man steeped with combat experience and principle, did exactly that. Unfortunately I have also had non-combatant commanders attempt to destroy me for unpopular opinions. The link between real combat experience, principle, and courage cannot be discounted. Of course the institution's antagonism toward the courageous is nothing new. Secretary Gates' recent speech was filled with examples of stellar officers who endured the wrath of lessers. Torrance observed:
Willingness to disagree is a major characteristic of the aces-the high achievers. It also characterizes those best able to meet frustration, those most willing to take calculated risks, and those who have the most "will to fight." In spite of the fact that most really outstanding people appear to possess this characteristic, many of them fare rather badly at the hands of…superior officers… They are seen as threats by superiors and are frequently not appreciated, or even tolerated. Too often the greatest rewards are for conformity.
As such I think the Secretary of Defense is on to something by focusing on courage off the battlefield and asking officers to use their stateside experiences to prepare their integrity and sharpen their courage. In my experience, we could use many more commanders and many more subordinates who have the courage required to live lives of integrity. We could all learn from the example of Medal of Honor winner Corporal Desmond Doss.

Watch the documentary here: http://www.desmonddoss.com/

Work Cited:

Torrance, Paul E. “Group Decision-Making and Disagreement.” Social Forces 35 (May 1957): 314-318.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Oath Keepers

Several months ago a buddy of mine sent me an email on a group called the Oath Keepers. He said I would be interested. He was right. I recently joined the group but I was hesitant...very hesitant. Here is how my thought process has evolved.

First, the group claims to advocate the education of law enforcement and military members simply to obey their oaths of office to support and defend the Constitution. The theory being that if things get bad in this country and the elites demand the eradication of civil liberties, those with the guns would refuse to obey unlawful orders. I have no problem with that at all. Who can argue with refusing to obey unlawful orders? Well, that's another story...

For the last three years I have been shocked at the ignorance and the disdain for the Constitution of the United States by some military officers. I kid you not, I have even been ordered by one commander not to discuss the document while at work. I asked for the order in writing but it was not provided. I have defended the fourth amendment and paid dearly and had military commanders (that's plural) tell me you should not question an armed government figure even if he or she is acting outside the law. Having watched America's finest lay down their lives in combat in the name of freedom, unlike the commanders who demonstrated their disdain for our document purchased with the blood of heroes, I informed these commanders that I found that viewpoint un-American. As Edward R. Murrow said, "We can not defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."

So yes, I was interested in the Oath Keepers. But there was a real hitch that gave me pause. Going through the comments on their blogs and forums I noticed a lot of stuff I really didn't agree with...the uber right wing nutty stuff. Not just that, but the Southern Poverty Law Center was raising a stink about them being some kind of right wing religious extremist militia group. I'm certainly not interested in any of that stuff. New World Order and anti-semitism and all the language that comes with that connotation is most certainly not something I'm into. I am very interested, however, in a group that reaffirms the oath of office and the dedication that is needed of our public servants. I think it absolutely vital and I had entertained and even written plans for creating such a group myself to remind military members of the importance of their oaths and to discuss the Constitution so they could better fulfill their duty. Then I learned of this group founded by Stewart Rhodes. So I did more research on the Oath Keepers...

In doing so I learned that Stewart Rhodes was a Yale Law School graduate. For those not in the know, Yale Law is the number one law school in the country. This is one impressive credential and it reassured me that Oath Keepers wasn't just some nut job group. In my research I found Mr. Rhodes' phone number and I gave him a call out of the blue. To my surprise, he answered and talked with me while at some meeting. He told me to learn more I could tune in to his appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews the following day. I did so and saw him painted as a militia wacko (without evidence to support such a portrayal) and accused of creating a group that was simply a facade for the anti-Obama nut movement. While I noted the lack of evidence by Matthews, it still didn't help quiet my concerns.

After all, beyond my professional obligations to my commander in chief, I voted for President Obama and even sent him $1200 (before I realized that as an Air Force officer I could not send money directly to him, so I got a refund). In fact, I traveled to attend his inauguration given tickets by my Congressman. My wife and I stood at the very forward edge of the reflecting pool and relished the moment. It wasn't a perfect moment, but it was thrilling and the hours in the frigid dark cold were worth it. A picture of the event is framed and hung on my wall. Anybody who knows me realizes I disagree with any man, including those I most admire, and upon reflection my views have changed significantly since that frigid day by the reflective pool. I will not support a group that is simply anti-Obama and the charges that Oath Keepers were such a group continued to trouble me.

Over the next couple of months I continued my research and I realized two things. First, the Oath Keepers are not an anti-Obama organization despite many of its members being of that stripe and despite the organization having very real, and very important, disagreements with continued policies from his administration. The group was formed under the previous President and was deeply affected by his policies. Second, I realized something I already "knew" but is easy to forget when it comes to putting knowledge into practice. The Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom for all citizens to enjoy the liberty to disagree with one another over heated and passionate matters without resorting to violence. It is this wonderful, and divine (in my opinion) document that allows us to passionately and fervently differ with each other without giving in to our base violent natures. But we have to share a love of the document and a respect for the rights of others to be, and act, and believe in ways we do not respect, so long as they don't hurt others. I'm reminded of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and the meaningful and useful relationships they had with the clergy in their days. Neither of them were Christian, yet they were passionate about defending the rights of people to believe, rightly or wrongly, what their consciences dictated. I may not believe in the New World Order or any of the language used by some other Oath Keepers, but as long as they believe in my rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution to be myself, I will call them my brothers. Coming together to watch each others' back against the abuse of government, while fighting tooth and nail politically and in debate over our differences...that is truly American.

I will stand with any American who supports and defends the Constitution of the United States and I'm a proud military member who has not only taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, but will much more importantly labor and sacrifice to keep that oath. For more information, visit www.oathkeepers.org.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Secretary Gates Sets Expectations for Air Force Officers - Courage and Candor

I have been incredibly impressed with our Secretary of Defense as this blog no doubt makes perfectly clear. His guidance to the Air Force in the form of his "expectations" is particularly good. In his address to the cadets of the Air Force Academy three days ago he discussed qualities "necessary for [officers] to be successful military leaders" and affirmed expectations he has set in the past. He cites his long history of working with numerous Presidents and his history as an Air Force officer and CIA officer but says his views are "particularly informed" by what he has seen in the last few years and especially by his meeting with the troops on the battlefield regardless of rank.

Highlighting a key quality for success in battle, the Secretary states "...we still need men and women in uniform who are willing to demonstrate uncommon courage - both on the battlefield and off." His emphasis on that courage being uncommon and its requirement off the battlefield show that Secretary Gates understands the challenges our institution faces. He develops the theme stating, "...there is another kind of courage beyond the battlefield I want to focus on today and that is the willingness for you to challenge the conventional wisdom and call things as you see them to subordinates and superiors alike." He cites an example from a Curtis LeMay biography and reminds officers, "So remember, regardless of their rank, all officers are human and fallible, even the ones wearing eagles and stars."

Secretary Gates then repeated a theme from past speeches saying:
If as an officer you don't tell blunt truths or create an environment where candor is encouraged, then you've done yourself and the institution a disservice. Make no mistake, the kind of candor and intellectual independence I'm referring to - and the willingness to stick to your guns under pressure - takes courage.
The Secretary cites examples of officers who personified that courage, Mitchell, Arnold, Schreiver, and Boyd and credits their ability to always speak truth to power as one reason for their success in shaping the service.

Secretary Gates doesn't shy away from the reality of courage - that it is real risk that precisely requires courage. The Secretary stated:
I should add that, in most of these cases, integrity and courage were ultimately rewarded professionally. In a perfect world, that should always happen. But, sadly, in the real word it does not, and I will not pretend there is not risk. You will all, at some point or another, work for a jackass. We all have. That is why speaking up often requires courage. But that does not make taking a stand any less necessary for the sake of our country.
Secretary Gates points out that "the need for candor is not just an abstract notion" and that "it has very real effects on the perception of the military and of the wars themselves - as well as operational impact."

He ends with invoking the great American fighter pilot, John Boyd:
Here at the Air Force Academy, as with every university and company in America, there’s a focus on teamwork, consensus-building, and collaboration. Yet make no mistake, the time will come for each of you when you must stand alone in making a difficult, unpopular decision; when you must challenge the opinion of superiors or tell them that you can’t get the job done with the time and resources available; or when you will know that what superiors are telling the press or the Congress or the American people is inaccurate. There will be moments when your entire career is at risk – where you will face Boyd’s proverbial fork in the road. To be or to do.

To be ready for that moment, you must have the discipline to cultivate integrity and moral courage from here at the Academy, and then from your earliest days as a commissioned officer. Those qualities do not suddenly emerge fully developed overnight or as a revelation after you have assumed important responsibilities. These qualities have their roots in the small decisions you will make here and early in your career and must be strengthened all along the way to allow you to resist the temptation of self before service. And you must always ensure that your moral courage serves the greater good: that it serves what is best for the nation and our highest values – not a particular program nor pride nor parochialism.

For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services, and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism. I urge you instead to be principled, creative, and reform-minded – to be leaders of integrity who, as Boyd put it, want to do something, not be somebody.

Read the Secretary's full speech here: http://www.defense.gov//speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1443

Saturday, April 3, 2010

To Support and Defend the Constitution...

"The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure." - Albert Einstein

I haven't posted in quite some time. Honoring my oath has kept me extremely busy these past several months with lawsuits and has given me pause to reflect on the importance of the words taken by public servants to "support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same..." While I'm a proponent of picking worthy battles to strengthen our nation, some battles pick you and if you've taken this oath before God, it's kind of tough not to stand up. It's also no cake walk to stand up.

But it's not tough for all unfortunately and some find it very easy to ignore their oath of office. In the past several months I have witnessed several abuses of government power and desecration of the Bill of Rights in a short time frame. I'm not speaking of politics or the health care debate or the topic of the week on talk radio, I'm talking about in my own day to day existence. It has been absolutely staggering to me and I have personally paid a significant price for honoring my oath and confronting these abuses and working to have them righted. I have been utterly amazed at the willingness, seemingly without a hint of reservation, of tax paid public servants in positions of authority in various organizations to trample basic civil liberties and to blatantly lie in attempts to avoid accountability. While my view of human nature was not high to begin with, it has sadly reached a new low.

While I fight these several battles it becomes clear why the abusers have no reservations for their abuse. Citizens, even those who have taken an oath to support and defend it, often do not value the freedom enshrined in our highest law of the land and are typically unwilling to risk for its defense. Rights are given up for the sake of convenience and there is no shortage of apologists for government abuse. Most simply want to stay low on the radar of life and avoid the pain and suffering that comes with standing up for what is right. That's understandable certainly. But this unwillingness by the citizenry to share in the burden of defense identified by Einstein is a bad omen for freedom in our nation. The unwillingness of those paid by the citizenry precisely to defend those rights is absolutely frightening. If those who take the oath don't keep the oath we are doomed.

I am embroiled in the biggest battle of my life and I didn't choose it. I have spent a great deal of money on lawyers, massive amounts of personal time dedicated to seeking accountability, and have had my career ruined in the process by lies and retaliation from officials in a variety of uniforms. This battle will leave significant scars I am sure. But I'm reminded of those I witnessed lay down their lives on foreign soil for the cause of freedom and reminded that my oath said nothing of "...if it doesn't cost you anything for its defense."