"...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

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."