"...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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Second Amendment


With the horrific recent tragedy in Connecticut, the internet and media has been buzzing over discussions for and against gun control and or gun bans.  Some folks have even been so erudite as to acknowledge that we have a Second Amendment, and that it has something important and authoritative to add to the discussion.  It's always nice when our Bill of Rights is discussed by Americans, something that is rare these days in my opinion, even among those of us paid and sworn to defend it.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Here are a couple of my thoughts on the Second Amendment.  First, the argument that it is irrelevant because it deals with, and was intended for, militias...  The first part of the amendment gives the reasoning behind the right enshrined, ie because the Founders believed a militia was necessary for States to be secure, the people must have the ability to keep and bear Arms.  Now, we can agree or disagree with the reasoning behind the enshrined right, but the fact is the right of the people to keep and bear Arms is law.  Functionally, had the Second Amendment been written as, "Apples being pleasant to the sight and touch, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," nothing would change legally (ie Constitutionally, and independent of whether or not the government judiciary ruled correctly or not).  If it were written that way, we could likely all agree that the reasoning of the Founders would be suspect if not flat out wrong.  Apples have nothing at all to do with bearing arms.  Still, whether their reasoning was good or poor, the right was still codified into law.  People have the right to keep and bear Arms, and that right shall not be infringed, whatever your opinion on apples might be.  Again, the first part of the text provides the reasoning for the codified right, and the second part creates the law as a result.  It's not unlike the very preamble to the Constitution, that introduces the law of the Constitution by stating that the Constitution was created to form a "more perfect union."  You might disagree with the preamble's claim concerning a more perfect union, but that does not change the law of the Constitution.  The reasoning in the beginning does not change the law, as a result.  Here is a more modern example.  Assume that on a deployment as an aircraft commander, and as the ranking crew member, I told my crew, "Hey guys, because alcohol abuse is destroying crew cohesion on this deployment, alcohol is now prohibited and nobody on this crew will consume alcohol until this deployment is over."  My crew may disagree with my reasoning that alcohol is destroying crew cohesion, and perhaps nobody had consumed a drop of alcohol on the deployment and I had misdiagnosed the problem and solution...yet the order would still be in effect and would be law, regardless of how wrong my reasoning was.  The same goes with the Second Amendment.

As a result, it's not the reasoning but the law that the Founders laid down that matters.  In that law, they said the people have the right to keep and bear arms, and that the right would not be infringed.  They did not speak of militias (that was in their reasoning).  Had the Founders intended the right to only apply to militias (or apples), then the amendment would have said, "the right of militias to keep and bear arms..."  It does not.  It says the people.  There is no way to argue that the Second Amendment does not guarantee Americans the right to keep and bear arms without destroying language and engaging in deception (self or otherwise).

Another argument that is thrown around is that the Second Amendment was referring to muskets and not to AR-15s, and therefore it doesn't apply.  Again, basic common sense and the truth of words are instructive.  The text says nothing about the types of Arms, it simply says Arms.  Even at the time the amendment was being written, there were multiple types of weapons, or arms, employed by the continental army and the militias (ie the people).  What are arms?  They are weapons - and the text does not limit what kind of weapons the people have a right to keep and bear.

But of course many people will bring up "well should people be able to have a tank, or an RPG?"  In my view, those are Arms and the people have a right to own them if they can purchase them.  The reason I believe this is because the Second Amendment was not created to protect the rights of hunters or sport shooters.  It was created to protect the people from armies and, most importantly, the armies and forces of our own government.  In our post 911 world this argument gets lost and while many understand that is the purpose of the amendment, to protect the People from their own government when it becomes tyrannical and ignores the Constitution, still these folks won't want to publicly admit that fact.  In our post NDAA world where our political leaders admit to assassinating American citizens without charge or trial, where whistle blowing is prosecuted at record numbers, there is a real fear to speak the truth.  Even when that truth is more American than apple pie, and should be embraced by all Americans.  Such as the truth that our Second Amendment exists to protect us from our government.  Therefore, if our government is armed with the technology that can be, or is, used against American citizens, then the people have the right to Arms that can counteract and deter tyrannical aggression, assuming they have the resources to procure them.  While most citizens won't be able to afford a patriot missile battery, they can afford fully automatic weapons and RPGs.

And they have every right to own them.  The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

As military personnel, we must truly think about the Second Amendment and our oaths to support and defend it.  History is instructive and teaches us that when tyranny comes, the troops will be ordered to disarm the people.  If you value America and your oath before God, you must be willing to refuse to violate the Constitution.  The "domestic enemy" of our oaths does not refer to criminals here at home (criminals do not harm our Constitution).  We in government service are the potential domestic enemies that we swore to defend our Constitution against.

For those of us who have raised our right hands, don't be a domestic enemy.  Instead, measure up to the example of Sgt May when he refused to disarm Americans during Hurricane Katrina.  And when the cowards chide you with warnings of how you will get in trouble, in an attempt to lessen the guilt they feel from being cowards, just realize that by having courage and doing right by America...you may come out on top.  Don't expect it, but it does happen.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Cost of Integrity


"There is always a consequence to demonstrating integrity. There's a consequence to that. And we were willing to take that consequence,...otherwise if we compromise that, then we're no better than the enemy that we're fighting."

- Major General Antonio Taguba

Sunday, December 2, 2012

RainMan - The Big Johnson of BaseOps & My #1 Fan


I have previously blogged about a retired Lt Colonel who goes by the call sign RainMan, and how long after his retirement he still finds the time to mentor the young hopeful warrior wannabes around internet forums.  I think it's great to help the hopefuls and those who currently serve, and to share what you have learned, and to provide wisdom and insight to help make others better military officers.  It's a good conversation to be had.  Of course, adding to that conversation requires you having something worth sharing.

RainMan certainly shares a lot.  He shares his view that women ruined the Air Force, that the oath of office we are required to take is bullshit, that we shouldn't serve out of principle, and he equates risk for the national defense in combat with risk to one's own personal ambitious career progression (he is fond of using the phrase "notch the threat" when discussing queepy self serving career decisions).

While he shares his views on a forum that is known to question the kool-aid and check-the-box requirements of the service (and the leadership that prizes such externalities over common sense), still RainMan enjoys some kind of internet social status while being the poster child for exactly what plagues our service.  He enjoys this online status because 1) he has actual combat experience and 2) the hopefuls are those who rightfully aspire to also one day defend their nation in combat and because 3) larger America has a real morality crisis, and so his audience is receptive to a "hero" that encourages cowardice.  So many who talk about what is wrong with our service do so on the "bro level" behind closed doors, and when those doors open, they silence their criticisms and feedback and do their part to further the problem.  Such people are considered "those who get it" sadly, because they talk the talk when talking isn't risky, yet don't walk the walk.

Combat experience is RainMan's ace of spades.  But combat is just one small part of being an officer and it's a very poor indicator of character or value.  I've flown a great many combat missions myself, killed many of the enemy, been shot at, and in all my combat experience I have never once witnessed anybody who wasn't eager to get into the fight.  I'm glad to know that our military is producing those thirsting to protect our brothers on the ground, and to remove those on the battlefield who would do our nation harm.  But combat experience doesn't require a person to be principled, or particularly intelligent, or to have any real character.  Armies around the world have been populated with riff raff that fixed bayonets and bravely charged, and even the fascist Adolf Hitler acted with courage in World War I and was awarded two Iron Cross decorations for his combat contributions (he was shot in the leg in one incident, and he suffered wounds after a chemical attack in another).  Again, combat is a very poor indicator of the quality of a man and his leadership potential.  Principle, character, and intelligence are required for those who wish to help lead America's military outside of combat, and to assist in preparing it to be ready to take on our enemies in the future, and to provide unfettered and honest information to our elected representatives despite corporate and other non-public interests.  This is where RainMan fails miserably.  It can also be argued that this character disease is the culprit behind the serious challenges our service faces today, as recent articles concerning scandal after scandal from leadership indicate.  Unfortunately, RainMan spends considerable time trying to instill and bolster the same cowardice and lack of character in those who serve today, and in those who hope to serve tomorrow, encouraging them to drink the same cowardly saltwater that leaves our service thirsty.  He finds a receptive and parched audience.

RainMan is the Big Johnson of BaseOps.  He is a caricature like the tiny man from the 80s t-shirt line, working to create an image of "cool" - he has a motorcycle, he uses fighter pilot lingo in every day communication, he insults women (including young cadets), refers to himself as an "Iron Ass Reagan Baby," tells all who will listen that he was a real deal football player growing up, talks tough and touts his combat time.  Beyond that, he sprinkles his unsupported conclusions around as though they are infallible, despite his frequent lack of support or evidence, and works overtime from his retirement home to justify his shortcomings with youngsters who will agree or worship him.  He finds an unprincipled audience eager to listen, and the cultural reasons are far greater than any one particular online military forum.  Reference this forum poll where the majority of respondents admit that had they been ordered to fix bayonets and herd 70,000 American citizens onto trains to send them off to concentration camps (as was done in the 1940s by order of President Roosevelt), that they would have done so despite their American neighbors having not been charged or tried for any crime.  The cowardice of the clay makes RainMan's work to sculpt our service with unprincipled men of inferior character, quite easy.

I will give him credit for his combat time.  It's good that he role models hanging it out for America.  But it bears repeating that combat is a small contribution, and miniscule compared to the negative contributions of RainMan's cyber role modeling.  Like the Big Johnson caricatures, the stick figure image of the tough guy fighter pilot who's "been there and done that" cannot sufficiently disguise the fact that underneath his bravado, RainMan is actually a small pale little kid trying to look cool.  The courage checkbox doesn't change that fact.

RainMan dazzles his audience with his unremarkable contributions with one hand, and with the other hand encourages officers to look out for their career over doing what is right for the service or the country.  He suggests that officers "play the game" (because a nuclear equipped profession is a game, right?), that airmen never stand up for principle, and he provides a continuous reminder that the oath to the Constitution is just some silly muttering of words that officers should ignore.  He purports to be a fan of Robin Olds, and while it is true that RainMan has mastered the art of digital swagger from his computer keyboard to impress the youngsters long after his retirement, it's also true that RainMan hasn't yet figured out what made General Olds great.  Character.  Instead, RainMan treats military service and the role of a military officer as if he's back playing football.  He's on the team and that is all that anybody needs to know.  Thinking and character not required.  Just run the ball where you're told (even if it's into your own end zone) and enjoy the after party.

My contempt for RainMan and his efforts to weaken our service aside, I should be gentle with RainMan.  He remains my number one fan, even after having me banned from the BaseOps.Net forum because he couldn't handle the feedback I gave him there.  He expected the same adoration and idolization that he typically gets from the youngsters and the less accomplished pilots, and so he didn't appreciate my feedback.  He has been smarting ever since, and never passes up an opportunity to make some ridiculous claims about your humble blogger.  I think I touched a nerve.  Yet even after I was banned from the BaseOps conversation (after they had read my blog and invited me over there to discuss), they still love to talk about "PYB.edu."  Since my banning, they have referred to your humble blogger dozens of times, with RainMan himself bringing up my blog in the majority of those instances.  One moment RainMan is telling others to stop talking about this blog, and in the next he's the one bringing it up.  It's a love hate relationship, and the mark of a real fan.  It makes me all warm inside.

So, thanks for being my number one fan, RainMan.

XOXO

Friday, November 9, 2012

Great News in Lawsuit Against Oath Breaking Cop


It has been a truly great week.  The police officer I am suing requested the court issue a summary judgement (ie dismissing my case), in my lawsuit against him after he unlawfully pulled me over (in violation of the Fourth Amendment), and then unlawfully arrested me because I pointed out he had broken the law (in violation of the First Amendment).  He cited the typical "qualified immunity" argument.  Instead, the court just denied his motion for summary judgment on both of my amendment claims.  This was the big hurdle in this civil rights lawsuit, we have successfully jumped it, and that means we are going to trial.

I feel very good about this lawsuit.  Very good!  I will keep my comments here limited, as the lawsuit is ongoing.  But it has been a great week for defending our Constitution.

Happy Veterans Day weekend to all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

There is Justice in the Air Force - A Victory for our Constitution


I spent yesterday in a complete daze after I read an Air Force document that absolutely filled me with joy and pride, and restored a good measure of my trust in our service.  After so many years of watching Air Force accountability processes shamefully fail me in various battles to make our service and our country stronger, I read something yesterday that stunned me.  An agency, high up in the Air Force ether, made a correct decision and issued a report that showed a great deal of respect for our Constitution and our rule of law.

I should back up.  For just over a year now I have been fighting an enormous battle that I haven't previously discussed, with the exception of one vague post about a poem my wife shared with me.  I'm not going to get into anything more specific here, and it's quite possible I may never do so publicly, but suffice it to say I stood up for the Constitution in an extremely meaningful way, and as a result I was facing separation from the Air Force with more than fifteen years of service and possibly even graver consequences.  For doing the right thing.  For being principled and honoring my oath to support and defend our Constitution, and for forsaking my own convenience and personal gain in favor of our nation.  There is one thing, however, that must be shared, and that is this - there can be justice in our service.  It can do the right thing, and that means airmen can do the right thing in terrifying circumstances, with no apparent allies, standing alone - and yet be vindicated in the end.  There can be justice in the Air Force.

And it's a beautiful sight to see.

In my latest battle, not only did a high level organization find in my favor, but they made it clear with their words that they would not punish me for honoring my oath.  Beyond that, they essentially vindicated my years of service that led to so much "derogatory" information in my file.  During this process- all of the numerous reprimands I have collected over my career were used against me as evidence, to include the most recent addition.  My encounters with unlawful law enforcement were offered up as evidence, and even this blog was used as evidence against me, though no specific comments or posts were cited.

I have often said that I am more proud of my reprimands than I am of my medals, because they paint the most accurate picture of my courage and service to this nation.  There is a word that seems to be a common thread throughout all of my reprimands.  Constitution.  Fortunately, this Air Force agency saw that same picture.  In their finding, they mentioned each of my reprimands in detail and then summed them up, stating:
On the surface, it would appear that receipt of multiple letters of counseling and reprimands would indicate questionable judgment and an unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations. However, when each incident is reviewed on its own merit, it would appear Subject is fully aware of the U.S. Constitution and has openly challenged what he perceives to be a violation of either his own rights or those of other American citizens.  
They mentioned interviews with people during an investigation and, minus the review of one who brought the action against me, all were favorable.  One of those interviewed "indicated Subject has a good work ethic; holds very strong views and opinions which he readily expresses; particularly strong views about the Constitution and how it should be interpreted..."  The agency also mentioned my encounters with law enforcement, and that charges were dismissed in court, and it even noted that I had filed a civil suit against a police officer who violated the Constitution.  The agency discussed the substance of my most recent battle and concluded that, "It is the opinion of this [redacted] that Subject's objections to what he believes are violations of the U.S. Constitution, as reflected in the documents associated with [this action], do not represent a...concern."  With that conclusion they halted and reversed a significant punitive action that was being taken against me.

We shouldn't fight righteous battles for our nation only if we think victory is assured.  We're in the business of courage and service, so shirking our responsibility to our nation for our own personal gain or for a supervisor's approval is not an option.  That doesn't mean it will be easy, and for those few who are truly tested, it can be absolutely terrifying.  But what this latest act of service has taught me is this - if you do the right thing, you may just find that there are those much higher than yourself who will also do the right thing.  Imagine if our service was populated by such people.  Imagine how much stronger our service and our country would be.  It might just start with you.  Do the right thing by God and taxpayer, as you swore an oath to do, and let the chips fall where they may.  Don't count on it, but it might just work out.

Something to consider this Veterans Day weekend.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Update on Border Patrol Lawsuit & Discussion of the Law


Over the last several years, I have spent a considerable amount of my time and resources defending the Constitution from government actors who have violated it.  One of those battles involves a string of violations at a Border Patrol checkpoint in Uvalde, Texas.  While stationed nearby, I traveled through that checkpoint nearly every weekend to go from one American town to another American town, without crossing any border.  The first of those incidents involved Border Patrol agents punishing me for not telling them my intended travel destination, by fabricating that their drug dog had hit on my vehicle, and then demanding I exit it so that they could search my two-door car.  They tore through my vehicle and threw my property onto the pavement, including my laptop computer.  Of course after their ten or so minute search, with the drug dog inside my car, they found no drugs.  After I collected my belongings off the pavement and put them back into my vehicle, I went on my way.  That was Veterans Day weekend.  I filed a complaint with the Border Patrol headquarters.

But the harassment didn't end there.  Finally, after several more incidents and after an incident with a dishonest police officer, I installed cameras in my vehicle to document any further unlawful activity by law enforcement officers.  Much as a convenience store owner who suffers a string of robberies might install a surveillance system, the cameras were put in place to provide some measure of accountability in a location that was was filled with unlawful activity.  It paid off greatly.

It allowed me to capture a thirty-four minute detention and a violation of the Fourth Amendment at that same checkpoint.  Many don't understand the law surrounding these checkpoints, so I'll provide what I have learned over the years.  It should be noted that we are talking about interior checkpoints that can be located up to 100 miles from any border, on highways where there is no border crossing.  This is an important distinction, as the law governing these checkpoints differs greatly from checkpoints that are actually on an international border.  So what is the law that applies?  Let's start from the beginning.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the people the right to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures."  The United States Supreme Court stated, "It is agreed that checkpoint stops are 'seizures' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment (U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte)."  The reason the High Court maintained that these checkpoints are seizures, is because all traffic is required to stop at these checkpoints.  As such, for the time a vehicle is stopped at the checkpoint, both it and its passengers have been "seized" by the government and cannot depart the checkpoint without permission from the government.  The question then becomes, is that seizure reasonable or not?

The Supreme Court ruled that, "A search or seizure is ordinarily unreasonable in the absence of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing (Indianapolis v. Edmond).”  In other words, if a government agent has suspicion that a person has violated a law, they can seize that person in order to begin an investigation.  This is the standard used, for example, when a police officer pulls over somebody speeding.  They develop the suspicion through a radar gun or other mechanism, and can then make the individual stop and issue a citation, which then has to be proved in court.  If a police officer pulls somebody over without suspicion that they have committed a crime then, according to the courts, they have conducted an unreasonable seizure and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment.

Border Patrol checkpoints not on the border are often referred to as suspicionless checkpoints.  That is because all people have to stop and are seized, despite the lack of suspicion that any crime or violation has been committed.  So while the Supreme Court has historically ruled such seizures a violation of the Fourth Amendment, the High Court did make an exception for these checkpoints.  In doing so, however, they laid down specific parameters that must be followed for the seizure at these checkpoints to remain reasonable.  Namely, the Supreme Court required that these checkpoint seizures be limited to, "brief questioning" to inquire into immigration status (U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte).

Further, the courts have ruled that these checkpoints cannot be "catch all" checkpoints, that operate looking for any and all types of violations, but rather that they are limited to immigration status.  Anybody who has much experience with these checkpoints knows they routinely stray outside these lines and are effectively in place to also look for drugs.  Drug dogs are not gifted in the art of smelling citizenship (they're also prone to false alerts especially when handled by a dishonest dog handler).  But legally, these checkpoints are limited to briefly inquiring into immigration status, and they are not allowed to investigate into anything else unless they have reasonable suspicion for a non-immigration violation.  The reason for this is because these suspicionless seizures are an intrusion into the lives of law abiding citizens who are forced to stop there, and the courts have reasoned that as long as they are limited to brief inquiry into immigration status, then the intrusion is minimal and therefore justified.  As an aside, Supreme Court justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan vehemently disagreed with this view that such an intrusion would be minimal and therefore did not think them reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.  In fact, they argued that the ruling allowing these checkpoints to seize motorists, no matter how brief, did not justify the intrusion upon citizens suspected of no wrong doing who were simply traveling down the highway.  They wrote:
The starting point of this view [the majority opinion] is the unannounced assumption that intrusions are generally permissible; hence, any minimization of intrusions serves Fourth Amendment interests. Under the Fourth Amendment, however, the status quo is nonintrusion, for, as a general matter, it is unreasonable to subject the average citizen or his property to search or seizure. Thus, minimization of intrusion only lessens the aggravation to Fourth Amendment interests; it certainly does not further those interests (U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte).
The majority of Supreme Court justices found otherwise, and made an exception for suspicionless checkpoints, but required the seizure to be brief and limited to inquiring into immigration status.  The Supreme Court stated that “[A]ny further detention . . . must be based on consent or probable cause (U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte).”

So what is brief, and what is further detention?  According to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over the checkpoint in Uvalde, Texas), a stop of “a couple of minutes” is “within the permissible duration of an immigration checkpoint stop (United States v. Machuca-Barrera).”  That Circuit has also ruled that Border Patrol officers may “ask questions outside the scope of the stop,” ie questions that are not related to immigration status, but they may do so “only so long as such questions do not extend the duration of the stop (United States v. Machuca-Barrera).”

What about an order to exit the vehicle?  Do individuals have to exit the vehicle if requested to do so during the brief immigration inquiry?  The answer is no.  Regardless of whether requested in primary or requested in secondary, an individual has no legal obligation to exit their vehicle.  Certainly such action is not required to briefly inquire into immigration status, and further, the Border Patrol has no authority to order a person to exit their vehicle.  Why not?  Yet again, it's because there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing.  The Supreme Court has ruled otherwise in the case of suspicion based stops by law enforcement, such as a traffic stop for suspicion of speeding (Pennsylvania v. Mimms).  In that case, the Supreme Court has said law enforcement can order vehicle operators out of their vehicles for "officer safety."  The High Court chose, during suspicion based stops, to value the safety of government actors during routine traffic stops over the safety of American citizens.  However, agents of the Border Patrol have no such authority at suspicionless checkpoints.

So what questions are individuals required to answer at these Border Patrol stops, if any?  The answer is none.  Cooperation during suspicionless checkpoints is not required.  Individuals have a right to not answer questions, and there is no law that requires them to provide any identification.  Further, cooperation with an investigation/inquiry is not required even in stops that are based on suspicion, so they are most certainly not required in a stop where there is no suspicion of wrongdoing.  Still further, choosing not to cooperate with government actors who intrude into your life at a suspicionless checkpoint, cannot be used against you as a basis for suspicion.  The Supreme Court ruled, "We have consistently held that a refusal to cooperate...does not furnish the minimal level of objective justification needed for a detention or seizure (Florida v. Bostick).  The Fifth Circuit that holds jurisdiction over the checkpoint in Uvalde, Texas agrees stating, “[I]t would make a mockery of the reasonable suspicion and probable cause requirements if citizens' insistence that searches and seizures be conducted in conformity with constitutional norms could create the suspicion or cause that renders their consent unnecessary (United States v. Machuca-Barrera).”  An individual does not have to cooperate with agents at these checkpoints, and after the "couple of minutes" required to "briefly inquire" into immigration status, agents who have developed no reasonable suspicion for any violation, must release the motorist in order to comply with the Fourth Amendment.  Even if the individual chose not to answer questions or cooperate.

The Fifth Circuit has also stated, "Our decisions have held that police violated the Fourth Amendment by extending a stop by even three or five minutes beyond its justified duration (United States v. Machuca-Barrera)."  As such, I am extremely confident that my lawsuit will be victorious as I was detained for nearly thirty-four minutes, after agents failed to ask me any questions related to immigration status until more than ten minutes into the detention, and only did so after I had provided my driver's license, military ID card, and even offered my passport (an offer the agent ignored).  Beyond that, when the supervisory agent even later finally asked for both of my passports, I quickly provided them to him.  Still, he put them in his shirt pocket and detained me for another fifteen minutes while he called my military chain of command to verify that I was actually in the military--questions and actions that had nothing to do with my immigration status, but rather demonstrated a desire to punish me for recording the incident.  The agents repeatedly lied, saying that they had asked me my immigration status in primary, and that I had refused to answer the question.  The video shows that I answered every single question asked of me, with the one singular exception of providing the identity of my commanding officer, which I was not required to provide and which was information irrelevant to my immigration status.  Beyond extending the detention to call my military employer, their intent to harass was further demonstrated several weeks later when they wrote a letter to my military commander and claimed that my conduct was "unbecoming."

The law is clear, and even if I were to have to appeal my case to the Fifth Circuit that ruled in Machuca-Barrera, I am very confident that the Fourth Amendment will be vindicated.

These checkpoints are intrusions into the lives of law abiding American citizens who simply wish to travel unmolested.  Agents at these checkpoints require no suspicion of any wrongdoing to force themselves into your lives, but the Supreme Court has made it clear that they must remain limited intrusions.  It is important for us, especially for those of us who have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, to not blindly acquiesce to unlawful demands agents might make.  If we do so, we unwittingly train them to expect all who pass to likewise give up their constitutional rights or be harassed.  Even those who answer all relevant questions, as I did, and who provide four forms of identification including two passports, as I did.

If we don't support and defend the Fourth Amendment, what will be next?  Government agents able to enter our homes without any suspicion of wrongdoing and without a warrant?  Government agents who seize us during a walk to work without any suspicion of any wrongdoing?  Let's not allow the further eradication of our rights.  Not on our watch.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Legacy


A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend the portrait unveiling for a judicial giant, Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg.  The judges from the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, present and past, dawned their robes and sat on the bench during the event.  The seats in the court room were filled with people from the legal community, including several justices of our Supreme Court.  Justice Alito and others spoke, honoring the long and faithful service of the judge.  After many great words, the portrait was unveiled.  Sitting in the marble chamber, a glance to the left or right showed the hanging portraits of all the judges from that chamber throughout its history.  A glance gave the impression of history, of something more important than the immediate, of something bigger than self.  The judge's portrait became a part of that legacy.  An American legacy.

We in the military also have the opportunity to build a legacy.  Surely, most of us will not get our portrait hung in a majestic building, but a portrait is merely a symbol.  It's a symbol of the faithfulness and dedication of the individual in the rendition, and the real legacy is found in time spent in service to the nation and to that which makes our nation special.  Our Constitution.  I feel a kinship with the judiciary.  Article Six of our Constitution, in the same line, in the same breath, requires both the judicial and executive officer, to swear or affirm to support that document, and the civil liberties enshrined within it.  Legacy for public servants, in my view, is determined by how well those public servants discharge their duty.

The Constitution is worth defending.  I hope that we who serve in the executive branch, and who have sworn to defend that document, will also strive for a career of faithful service.  The legacy of our work will be the continued existence of a free and prosperous nation.  We have a large role and responsibility in ensuring that this is the case.  It is not the judiciary's charge alone to support our nation's highest law.  We in the military play an important part, and we must strive to study and understand our Constitution, and to ensure that we comport ourselves appropriately in our action.  All of us who have sworn the oath, have a duty to support and defend our nation's highest law wherever threatened, in court or elsewhere.

Those who have served before us, memorialized in portrait or not, have passed the torch on to us.  It's up to us to honor their service, and to be a part of the American legacy.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Fate Worse Than Death


I recently saw this video from Lt Col Mike Drowley, an A-10 pilot and Weapons Officer.  It's excellent and it sums up the standard of every aviator I know, when it comes to protecting our guys on the ground. I do honestly mean standard. I am proud to say that I have never in my career, met an aviator that I thought would give anything less (or who wouldn't at least die trying to give the same), to protect our brothers on the ground.

There are fates worse than death.  When we also realize, and act on, the idea that there are fates worse than career death, we will then be able to build an amazing Air Force.

Lt Col Drowley said that he "swore" to never let anything happen to those military members on the ground.  I never swore such an oath with my mouth, but I certainly did with my heart.  But I did, and Lt Col Drowley also did, swear an actual oath with our mouths.  That was an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.

It's also a fate worse than death to watch our citizens (even the long-haired hippie Occupy protestor, or the the clean cut Tea Party protestor, and even the nutty Fred Phelps church member, or perhaps some American citizen Muslim who presents no imminent threat but is on a kill list--or at least as reported by media sources) lose their Constitutional rights to free speech and due process on our watch.

Nobody ever said defending America would be easy. But for those who swore to do so, there is a fate worse than death.  And there is even a fate worse than death on foreign soil defending American soldiers, a fate where you forgot who you were really defending, and forgot your nation and why you were fighting in the first place.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Welsh Have a Saying - The Proof Is in Da Pudding


So many times I hear, "He seemed to really care, he really listened to me.  It was refreshing."

I think, THE MIRROR.

Never been to any fancy schools, but I have learned, after a decade of trying to find a companion I could respect, that some women are gifted at using the mirror.  They are masters of appearance.  If, however, you are interested in more than how they look, and if you sincerely attempt to get to know them and their value system, they will do their best to reflect back to you what they think you want to see.  Like a mirror to whatever audience, they are interested in shaping an appearance to please.  They are gifted at "listening" but they really don't share your values despite their sincere looking head nods and facial expressions.  You feel like they listen, you feel like they get you.  But they are creating a deception.  Of course it's not just the fairer sex who do this.

It's also the primary skill of the politician, to include many commanders.  To make you feel like they know where you're coming from, which they probably do, and more importantly to make you feel like they care, which they probably don't.  But as long as you feel like they understand you, then when they are at the helm, you'll make excuses for their failures.  They weren't ready, they weren't competent enough, they were too nice, it was the situation they couldn't control, it was other people.  It wasn't them though, you know them, they tried, they care.  You don't want to admit to yourself that their actions, which are nothing like what they said, are not the result of a failure, but rather the result of a well crafted deception.  You don't want to acknowledge that when you tried to get to know them and their value system, they held up a mirror so you could see yourself, all the while never actually caring about what you care about.  You don't want to admit that you know nothing about them.

I remember some physically attractive women I dated a long time ago before I knew their merits, before thankfully finding a superior person and marrying her as fast as I could (and in ten years of marriage have never met a woman who ever came close).  These other women looked good on the surface, they were pretty, they could talk a good game and they said the right things in social situations.  They were fine arm candy.  But my attempts to ask thoughtful questions to understand them, were met with the mirror.  Like stealth, they seemed to absorb or deflect my signals seeking to map out who they were.  But they sure looked good on the surface.  I was wise enough to not fall for the illusion, and I could ferret out the dishonesty.  Young men, approach your dating life like it's a great investigation.  Know yourself, and then get to really know the other.  Woe to him who can't see beyond nice speeches and a shiny reflection of himself...

So that brings me to this.  Welcome.  I hope you're not like so many before you, above you, and below you.  We need a real leader.  If you're it, I'll be your biggest fan.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Military Hippie Divide



Awhile back I blogged about how military public servants and "activists" should be more similar.  One takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution and to demonstrate courage, while the other exercises those Constitutional rights, and uses the most basic machinery of a democracy to strengthen our liberty here at home, and often does so with great courage, in the sad face of batons and pepper spray and worse.

There should be an affinity between the two groups.  Instead, there is distrust and caricature.  One group is part of "the system" and the other is a band of unemployed America-hating "dirty long-haired hippies."  Some military folks even celebrate citizens being beaten and pepper sprayed while exercising their First Amendment rights, and even joke about employing munitions on them.  I think the image of the hippie spitting on the returning Vietnam veteran has done great harm, but I think the problem is much more than that.  I think the "hippies" are right, those who they pay to protect their freedom, and who swore before God to do so, are in large part failing.  We are seeing many failures across the spectrum of our nation, but these failures are much more important in systems that wage the tools of violence.  I think these voices of concern are democracy's feedback session to those of us who raised our hands and took the oath.

Prior to this past weekend, I had never been to an "activist" meeting, or a protest or anything of that nature.  I keep putting the word "activist" in quotes, because I don't really like the term, as it sets some Americans apart for simply being good Americans by exercising their rights and attempting to guide the government they pay for.  Regardless of the semantics, I traveled to Austin, Texas to be a part of the Peaceful Streets Project's Police Accountability Summit and to share some technologies that Americans can use to protect themselves against those number of police officers who lie, and who ignore their oaths to the Constitution by violating the rights of the citizens who pay them.

It was an interesting experience.  The event was impressive and more than two hundred people showed up.  There were several great speakers, and the folks who put the event on were truly amazing.  I witnessed some great organizational and people skills, and some truly great communication.  The crowd was very diverse.  There were libertarians, Occupy folks, conservatives, liberals, anarchists, whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, the well to do, the standard middle class, the poor and the homeless.  I met many great Americans, and I met just a couple of individuals who I would classify as conspiracy theorist and perhaps a bit "out there."  I was very pleased, and relieved, that violence was not even hinted at, by any in their discussion of the problems and possible solutions.  I actually felt like I had a real connection that traced back to the days of Martin Luther King and the many nameless who moved the ball forward for liberty in this nation.  That was a nice feeling.

I had some of my media-reinforced stereotypes shattered.  Case in point, when I met two folks who looked and sounded like "rednecks" who might be found in a duck blind cursing activists.  I found out that the two gentleman were representatives from Occupy Austin, and I found myself wondering what real difference there might be between the Tea Party and the Occupy movement.  These were just impressions.

What was more interesting to me, was that there were some who were clearly suspicious of your humble blogger, because of my chosen occupation.  That was interesting.  I don't typically experience that in my day to day experience.  I don't blame them, of course, when they are a group that exercises their rights and are vocal and who, in their supervision and ownership of their government, often gets pepper sprayed, unlawfully arrested, herded into "free speech zones," and disparaged by those wearing a variety of uniforms.  I can understand their mistrust.

But it makes me sad, because Americans on the street and their public servants in uniform, should share an affinity and a common bond.  Whatever our personal politics, we should be able to agree on the basics, that we are a free nation of citizens who enjoy inviolable rights.  Despite the diversity in beliefs at this "activist" event, that was a rock solid anchor point that all there shared.  While I certainly didn't agree with the politics or philosophies of many at the event, we all agreed on the basics that make America a success and stronger for our diverse opinions.  In fact, the event was organized to cover those basics.  It wasn't about personal politics or viewpoints from the left and the right, it concentrated on the very essential core of what it means to be an American living in a free nation.

I was very proud to be a part of this event.  It was a real American experience, and it put a human touch on the freedoms that I, as a military officer, do in fact, and without question, fight for.  I hope my brothers-in-arms will one day soon get the opportunity to similarly experience this America we swear to support and defend, with our lives if necessary.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Resiliency Training and Providing Tools


Recently the Secretary of Defense spoke, saying that while high level leaders can develop programs and fund research like neuroscience studies, it falls on the junior leaders to prevent suicides.  I have always been taught that the role of higher leadership is to provide the tools necessary to execute the mission, and for lower leadership to execute the mission with the tools provided.  I'm assuming the Sec Def believes that preventing suicides is part of the military mission, and that junior leaders have the tools necessary to do so.  So far, all I have seen are reminders of support agencies, and CBT-ish resiliency training that may check a box, but doesn't actually serve a useful purpose.

I recently watched the movie Shrink with Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams.  It can be viewed streaming over Netflix.  I found it interesting that the movie centered on suicide and the struggle to understand why somebody would take their life, and leave hurt and questions behind for their loved ones.  There was no convenient answer in that movie, only continued questions.

In resiliency training we hear a bit about how selfish the decision to take one's life is, and the hurt it leaves behind for loved ones.  The movie certainly did a good job of showing that hurt.  But I have to wonder how many in the military who take their lives, actually leave behind loved ones?  How many are married with children?  I don't know the answer, but I am curious.  A spouse can provide a great support system.  How many who have killed themselves had one?  How many were single?

I'd love to know the answer to that question.

If the numbers bear out that most who commit suicide are single (and I would guess that to be the case), then I think that may be a valuable clue.  It would certainly deflate the "leaving loved ones behind" argument as some kind of deterrent (obviously not an effective one for those who take their lives).  Sure, everybody has parents, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect children to feel entitled to live for their parents' sake.  More importantly, it might lead us to ask why these warriors were single and didn't have a loved one to stand behind them.  Did they live in less than metropolitan places with limited dating options?  Did they have limited time to develop the human relationships that so many require to get through tough times?  Was the fact they worked shift work, with little to no time off, somehow an impediment to getting to know another person enough to forge a lifelong bond?

I don't know the answers to these questions, though I have suspicions.  My gut and limited experience tells me that working conditions in the military are not conducive to developing intimate relationships with others, and that the inability to develop a meaningful loving-support relationship exacerbates stress for people, and some people feel the only way to escape the pain is to take their own lives.  I'll go further and guess that those people don't feel they are leaving behind loved ones of value  Why not?

My gut also tells me that the high level decision makers who put the responsibility of preventing suicide on junior leaders, are more than likely married with children from a time and circumstance that was far more conducive to a happy life than what many in the military live today.

If I am correct, then I believe the responsibility lies not with junior leaders, but with leadership charged with providing resources to those junior leaders.

I could be wrong.  It's a complicated issue.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why We Serve?


I just read some statements from a retired Air Force National Guard O-5, that I think crystallize the problem with the military, and government today.  Why serve?  Why hold a position in the government?  What does it mean to serve?  According to this former A-10 pilot and commander:
...if anyone says they are serving their country because of the things they have an opinion on or believe are true they [sic] it can be logically inferred by those holding a contrary view that what they believe in is wrong and even treasonous.

It is therefore totally inappropriate to drape oneslf [sic] in the flag and use their military service as a weapon to defend their beliefs, whatever side of an issue they happen to fall. Personal beliefs are personal.
Put another way, if somebody serves because of their beliefs, then another person who doesn't believe those things may find those beliefs wrong or even treasonous.  Therefore it's inappropriate to use military service as a defense for those beliefs.

I don't buy the logic, but what troubles me more is the apparent implication that people should "serve their country" for reasons that have nothing to do with belief on what is true, or right, or righteous.

For example, the belief that people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Or the belief that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.  Or the belief that government cannot abridge the freedom of the press, or take life, liberty, or property without the due process of law.  And, of course, the belief that a government and society that recognizes these truths above, is worth living in and worth defending by force when necessary.  The retired full bird appears to believe that defending these beliefs is not a good reason to  sign up for military service (though the oath of office requires signing on to these beliefs for expressly that purpose).

To believe that "serving" your country has nothing to do with beliefs, or truth, is to deny serving your country.  It is no wonder our government is failing the American people, and the actions and professions of so many public servants who raised their hands, appear to be made and spoke, without concern for what is believed to be right and true.

It's unfortunate that some who have taken the oath, and been given so much authority and responsibility, "serve" for reasons that have nothing to do with American ideals.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Administration Declassifies Ops In Yemen and Elsewhere

 
What a shocker. We've taken direct action against targets in Yemen and Somalia? I'm glad it's declassified so that the American people can now "know" what the enemy, and the media, have already known for quite some time now.

I have to wonder why this commonly known information has only been officially admitted to now? If the media and the enemy already know something, why then the "official" secrecy?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Burden of Command & the Cheap Seats


An article written, and advertised on the cover of The Air Force Times, by Air Force Captain Lawrence Wilson, has started to become a bit of a discussion point. In his article, Wilson essentially defends the flight suit, and the aviator, but also totes a hierarchy that stretches beyond rank and position into fabric, and he comes off a bit as a blow hard who gets some basic points wrong.  He did make some good points.  He also made some poor ones, the worst being his statement that the flight suit itself somehow "commands" respect.

More interesting than his article, as related in the forum of BaseOps.Net, is the fact that shortly after Wilson's article was published, his base commander (who actually commands whether wearing his flight suit, or not), made a decision to ban flight suits from being worn on his base, unless the person was performing flight related duties.  Not a popular decision as the thread above highlights.

I'm in the cheap seats, and I can see (I think) two sides of this issue.  Was the wing commander being punitive and retaliatory, punishing every rated person on base for an unpoplular stance taken by one?  Or was he reacting to a public relations (read "leadership") issue, and doing what he could do quickly, to let all concerned know that the actual hierarchy of his base doesn't subscribe to the juvenile opinion of Captain Wilson?  Or was his decision unrelated to the article, and simply interesting timing?  Who knows.  At the end of the day, it doesn't matter.  It's his base and his decision is perfectly within his realm.  Still, as the thread above demonstrates, people are a bit energized by this issue.  I think this serves as an opportunity to be reminded that those of us in the cheap seats don't have access to the many factors that go into decision making as a commander.

It's easy, very easy, to lob grenades from below when you don't have all the information, and more importantly, when you don't have the pressure of command on your shoulders.  They call it burden of command for a reason, and it's easy to consider a commander's job easy, or command decisions simple, when you aren't in the hot seat.  This shouldn't at all stifle those below from telling the boss when he or she is wrong.  But when you can see both sides, and you're in the cheap seats, that's actually a good time to shut up and color.

This is something I have to remind myself frequently.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

NDAA & The Chilling Effect


In my previous blog post, I discussed the judiciary's halting of provisions of the NDAA that would allow the military to unconstitutionally arrest American citizens indefinitely based on mere suspicion, and to unconstitutionally deny Americans the right to a lawyer. Judge Forrest found portions of the NDAA troublesome regarding its effect on the First Amendment, and mentioned the chilling effect the law would have on people, including the journalist plaintiffs. Who is going to speak out and criticize the government if they can be labeled a domestic terrorist, and disappeared without recourse? The fact alone that the government claims the power to disappear Americans without charge or trial, would be enough to make many journalists and concerned citizens become silent. That is the chilling effect on First Amendment rights enjoyed by Americans, and this finding by Judge Forrest reminded me of a documentary I had seen on Netflix, entitled, End of America. Turns out the documentary is available online for free, and is posted above. While the narrator makes a glaring mistake on the origin of possee comitatus, the documentary is very well done and gives an interesting perspective on the chilling effect noted by Judge Forrest.  The documentary includes excellent contributions by several Americans including retired General James Cullen, the former Chief Judge of the United States Army.

It's important for military professionals to stay informed about trends to turn our military apparatus inward, so that we can be ready and prepared to honor our oaths to support and defend the Constitution should there be a conflict between what we are ordered to do, and what is Constitutionally permissible.  This is the reason our profession is different from that of the Wall Street banker, or the Enron employee.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Thank God for the Judicial Branch


Edit: Ironic blog post title is ironic.  The stay mentioned in this blog post was overturned on appeal, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.  Sadly, this draconian claimed executive power remains intact.

This past Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest put a screeching halt to the provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would allow the military to capture and "indefinitely detain" any American citizen who was merely suspected, even in secret, of aiding terrorists or other "associated forces."  While the language of the NDAA was vague and broad, and led some to say that the bill did not strip Americans of the Fifth Amendment right to due process of law, others thought the bill attempted to do exactly that.  Those who read these unconstitutional powers into the bill include advocates and sponsors of the bill, as well as Congressmen who decried it as unconstitutional.  The bill was hurriedly passed in Congress over the holidays, and signed into law by the President on 31 December, 2011.

Now the judiciary has weighed in.  Federal Judge Forrest heard the case of Hedges v. Obama, and issued an injunction on the government employing its claimed power to arrest and indefinitely imprison Americans without charge or trial.  The government did not call any witnesses, or offer any documentation, but it did oppose the plaintiff's seeking of an injunction based on standing.  Unlike the father of an American who sought a similar injunction to keep the government from assassinating his son, the court found the plaintiff in this case did have standing.  The government argued, as did some legal commentators, that the NDAA did nothing new.  The government did not explain, however, why new legislation was required if it actually did nothing new.  Judge Forrest wrote in her opinion that the government's position was that the law was mere "redundancy" and did not add anything to the government's powers.  She was not swayed, stating that the law, "tries to do too much with too little--it lacks the minimal requirements of definition and scienter that could easily have been added, or could be added, to allow it to pass Constitutional muster."

She found that the American plaintiffs had "a reasonable fear of future government action" and "demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits with respect to their constitutional challenges; they have put forward specific evidence of actual and threatened irreparable harm; the balance of the equities and the public interest favors issuance of preliminary relief (particularly, but not only, in light of the fact that the Government’s entire position is premised on the assertion that §1021 does nothing new--that it simply reaffirms the AUMF; in which case, preliminarily enjoining enforcement should not remove any enforcement tools from those the Government currently assumes are within its arsenal)."

Judge Katherine Forrest deserves a great deal of credit for doing her job correctly, in accordance with her oath to support and defend the Constitution.  An oath that is equally required by the Constitution of executive and judicial officers.  The judge's opinion can be found here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fox News Panel Against Drones in the United States


 

I would have never expected all three on a Fox News discussion panel to be vehemently against drones being used in the United States.  Or to mention agreeing with the ACLU...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Government Giving Military Discounts?


I just read that members of the military won't have to pay an entrance fee to get into National Parks.  Sounds good, if you don't think about it.  The problem is we're not talking about a private company showing gratitude to those who serve with a military discount.  This is government action.

This is government treating government employees better than it treats the average Joe.  Joe citizen still has to pay if he wants to see the park.  The government can claim it's doing this to show gratitude, but the government isn't in the gratitude business.  The closest the government can come to showing gratitude is simply paying military members, and honoring commitments to their retirement and health care benefits.

It's not right for the government to treat its employees better than the average citizen.  The government needs to leave military discounts to Starbucks, unless we want to create a class system based on who works for the government and who does not.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On The Threshold - Air Force Suicides


There has been a great deal of emphasis on suicides in the Air Force recently.  By that I mean several mandatory briefings led by mental health professionals who did so well in their training that they joined the military.  Speeches by chaplains fill in the rest, where they balance the line between what is appropriate to say and what is not, but make it clear that God prevents suicides.  I enjoy these briefings.  They bring me back in time to the third grade, just without the dolphin hand puppet.

The Air Force does have a problem with suicides, and the military overall.  A lot of people who joined have made the decision to take their own life.  I have encountered suicide a few times.  The first time was a kid in elementary school who asked his teacher if he could borrow a tie.  The teacher gave it to him, and the kid went home that night and hung himself with it.  I have no idea why a fourth grader would do such a thing, but I do remember that growing up in America was tough as a youngster.  It's a sad story.  When I was in college, my grandfather took his own life because his leg was going to be cut off and he didn't want to be a burden on others.  Or put another way, he demanded his independence as a condition for living.  This was the same man who in the Army Air Corps hit an officer with the butt of his weapon, and got kicked out.  He was fiercely independent and while he didn't always make the best decisions, he demanded he live life on his own terms.  I defended his decision to other family members who naturally were grieving and who used words like "selfish" to describe his action.  It was his life and he didn't want to live it anymore.  Agree or disagree, but it was his life.  To tell another they don't have the right to die is to tell them they don't own their own life.  As far as the military goes, I've only known one person to commit suicide.  He was a Major, good humored, funny, and he loved to kill the enemy and had a lot of experience doing so.  He killed himself on the day of his retirement after he was forced out at twenty.  He had children.  I don't understand his decision.

My personal view toward suicide is a bit different from the flavor I've seen in briefings.  First, I respect the individual's decision.  Second, in the off chance I'm given the opportunity to discuss their decision with them, I would weigh the pros and cons.  In most circumstances, the pros of living are much greater, I would guess, than the benefits of death.  Life can be a wonderful thing.  But it's not always peaches and dream for everybody, and it's important to not approach such a discussion with third grade insight.  I'm not going to take suicide off the table and treat the person like they're crazy or irrational for contemplating leaving life.  They're not, and the list of great and valuable people who have taken their own lives for valid reasons is long and distinguished.  We should be careful not to forget that our comfortable existence, and officer's paycheck, and the educated wife we met in college, and our winning lottery ticket in life's raffle are not shared by all people in the military, in the United States, and especially not around the world or throughout history.  Life is a struggle, and much more so for some people.

If the Air Force wants to do something useful to prevent suicide, then it needs to focus on educating airmen to make good life decisions that reduce stress.  There needs to be serious and mandatory financial training from the beginning of an airman's career.  Young airmen need to stop being treated like children who are made to live in dorms with inspections by their First Nanny, where the incentive to "grow up" and prove they are adults to their parents is fostered in another form.  We tell these youngsters that if they get married, then they can be like real adults and live off base and we'll even pay them more.  So they get married without thinking through one of life's most important decisions and the biggest cause of stress and feeling of entrapment of most any life decision.  Add a young immature wife with dreams of being married to the military, and you are almost guaranteed to add children and debt.  This is a recipe for disaster and stress.  Not for all, but for the least among us.  Then add on the sagging economy that many feel will crumble, the overwhelming dissatisfaction with our government representatives, long hours, deployments, and all the other problems that military life has to offer.  Airmen need options in their life to not feel trapped, and the Air Force in my experience seeks to box airmen in to make them feel trapped, to feel like they couldn't possibly leave the Air Force.  Where will you work?  You want to flip hamburgers and live on the street?  As the great Colonel John Boyd used to say, if you need nothing from the Air Force, then the Air Force can't take that away from you.

Or we could make airmen sign pledges not to kill themselves like certain Chinese iPad factories do.  Then again, perhaps we could learn from the deaths of those workers in China instead?  We don't like to admit that the same root causes could exist, but most airmen know that certainly can't be ruled out.  We need our leadership to realize it too.  They probably do.  We need them to act on it.

The current Air Force training and approach is a waste of time and perhaps counterproductive in my view.  We don't have the best mental health professionals, and those we train at the Base Theatre to go out and "save lives" might just do more harm than good with their snooty attitudes and their third grader approach to life's ultimate decision.  The Teacher in the book of Eccelesiastes, one of my favorite works of all time, examined the very question of suicide.  Attributed to the smartest man that ever lived, Solomon asked the question, "why is life worth living?"  The Teacher tells us that emptiness of emptiness, all is emptiness and says that better the man who has witnessed all the pain and oppression under the sun is the man who is now dead and doesn't have to witness it.  Better than both, he says, is the man who never was, and never will be, and who will never experience all the pain and oppression under the sun.  But Solomon later reasons that life is worth living because of the quest for knowledge and good friends.  Despite his conclusion, he still believes the man who never will exist has it better than he does.  Suicide is not a third grade matter.

I'll leave the reader with this poem I discovered in college in a class I took called Death and Dying.  For those airmen who feel they are experts ready to tackle the problems in another's life, please consider if you really have the life experiences to do so.  You don't want to be just another moron from an oppressive service under the sun, that has crowded somebody into leaving the room to get away from you.

On the Threshold

I am standing on the threshold of eternity at last,
As reckless of the future as I have been of the past;
I am void of all ambition, I am dead of every hope;
The coil of life is ended; I am letting go the rope.

I have drifted down the stream of life till weary, sore oppressed;
And I'm tired of all the motion and simply want a rest.
I have tasted all the pleasures that life can hold for man.
I have scanned the whole world over till there's nothing left to scan.

I have heard the finest music, I have read the rarest books,
I have drunk the purest vintage, I have tasted all the cooks;
I have run the scale of living and have sounded every tone,
There is nothing left to live for and I long to be alone.

Alone and unmolested where the vultures do not rave,
And the only refuge left me is the quiet, placid grave;
I am judge and jury mingled, and the verdict that I give
Is, that minus friends and money it is foolishness to live.

In a day or two my body will be found out in the lake;
The coroner will get a fee, and the printer get a "take";
The usual verdict-"Suicide, from causes yet unknown."
And Golgotha draws another blank, a mound without a stone.

To change the usual verdict I will give the reason now,
Before the rigid seal of death is stamped upon my brow.
'Tis the old familiar story of passion, love and crime,
Repeated thru the ages since Cleopatra's time.

A woman's lips, a woman's eye-a siren all in all,
A modem Circe fit to cause the strongest men to fall;
A wedded life, some blissful years, and poverty drops in
With care and doubt and liquor from whisky down to gin.

The story told by Tolstoi in comparison to mine
Is moonlight unto sunlight, as water unto wine;
The jealous pangs I suffered, the sleepless nights of woe
I pray no other mortal may ever undergo.

But I've said enough, I fancy, to make the reason plain-
Enough to show the causes of a shattered heart and brain;
What wonder then that life holds not a single thread to bind
A wish or hope to live for, an interest in mankind.

Already dead but living, a fact that I regret,
A man without desire excepting to forget,
And since there is denied me one, why should I linger here,
A dead leaf from the frost of a long-forgotten year?

So au revoir, old cronies; if there's a meeting place beyond,
I'll let you know in spirit, and I know you will respond;
I'm going now, old comrades, to heaven or to hell;
I'll let you know which shortly-farewell, a long farewell.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Perception of Whistle Blowing or Reality?


As most everybody knows now, a couple of F-22 pilots have gone public with their concerns over the stealth fighter's elusive ability to produce oxygen related problems for those who fly it.  They have been deemed whistle blowers.  But are they really?  I'm skeptical.

First, before their episode on 60 Minutes, several media sources reported on the upcoming episode while explaining that both pilots were talking to the media without permission from the Air Force.  Why would any media source include that tidbit?  If the Air Force didn't want them to speak out, why stoke the fire?  That is, of course, assuming there was fire to be found.  There wasn't.  There were no new revelations.  The jet has issues.  We already knew that.  Some pilots don't want to fly it.  That's perhaps new, but is that trinket of information worthy of going on 60 Minutes?  I don't think so.  These guys aren't whistle blowers, they didn't add anything substantially new to the public debate.  Or so it seems to me.

When I first saw the reports of the upcoming 60 Minutes episode, my initial suspicion was that this wasn't going to be a case of whistle blowing, and that the Air Force probably did in some way give these two permission to tell their "story" to the media.  Why?  Because it highlights a problem with an aircraft, and likely has some political or monetary benefits to highlighting issues with the service's poster child jet.  Beyond that, with all the repetitive throwing around of the term "whistle blower," I couldn't help but think about the recent GAO report that highlighted just how horrible the Air Force deals with whistle blower complaints.  This would be an easy opportunity for the service to look like it has improved, while at the same time pushing for some unknown agenda dealing with the F-22.  I figured nothing would happen to these pilots.  Maybe I'm just a cynic.

And then I saw this article just a couple days after the interview on CBS, F-22 Pilots To Get Whistle- Blower Protection.  Not only did the Air Force not punish them, but it went out of its way to make it known that it wasn't going to punish them.  So the media plays up the fact that they didn't have Air Force permission to speak on 60 Minutes, before the episode.  The episode itself doesn't say anything earth shattering, and doesn't add anything of real substance to the discussion.  Then after the episode, the Air Force makes sure everybody knows that they are "whistle blowers" and the Air Force will not punish them, in accordance with the law.

In my opinion, these F-22 pilots have found a new job working for Public Affairs.  They're not whistle blowers.  For a good discussion of what real a whistle blower does and endures, listen to Jesselyn Radack's presentation.


Friday, May 4, 2012

What Moral Courage Is, and Is Not


Moral courage is not physical courage.  It is not the act of pressing a button and ending the life of another.  It is not turning a wrench or loading a bomb.  Moral courage involves standing apart, telling the Wing Emperor he has no clothes, refusing an unlawful order, blowing the whistle on a crime, or taking another action based on principle.  A good litmus test to distinguish acting with moral courage, versus just doing your job, is to count the number of folks around you doing the same thing.  If others are doing the same as you, you may be doing something courageous, but you're likely just doing your job.  If you're the only one taking a stand for principle or for the law, and those around you aren't joining you (out of concern for their careers or financial well being), then it's possible you may be acting with moral courage.

This is an important distinction.  Some conveniently forget the meaning of words and phrases.  Language is often warped to avoid the truth behind words.   Some who are not morally courageous may try to pretend they are.  I see that often in the flying world, where simply doing the job is stretched into some sort of self delusional concept of courage.

Words matter.  When it comes to moral courage, we are not entitled to claim it, unless we actually have it.

Dave Blair - Ten Thousand Feet and Ten Thousand Miles


Major Dave Blair has been taking some flak recently, after an article he wrote in the Air & Space Power Journal, got picked up over at Time Magazine's website in a blog post entitled, Drone Pilots: We Don't Get No Respect.  Time's website didn't do him any favors with their article.  I know Dave, and in the past he has shared some of his thoughts on this blog.  He was a co-pilot in the Gunship after I left the squadron, but I got to know him later through online correspondence, and still later in person when I volunteered to join the RPA community.  Dave has some good ideas.  Most importantly, he is motivated to think and share his thoughts.  That's refreshing and important in our largely non-intellectual service community.  We do have some very serious differences, however, concerning our professed ideas and values, and our translation of those professed ideas and values into action for the good of the nation.   Still, Dave has some good stuff to offer, and he professes some excellent values that are necessary for overcoming many of the cultural challenges we face in the air service.  All that being said, I think he missed the mark in this article.

In the article above he essentially makes three key points.  First, that there is at least as much risk flying an RPA as there is flying a manned aircraft in a combat zone.  Second, that RPA operators should get the same medals that manned aircraft get in combat, to include the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross, if their actions result in saving lives on the ground through weapon employment.  Third, the message sent by medals, matters for developing the capability and community of a new weapon system.  I agree with his third point.

While I concur with Dave that the capability and the community has been poorly managed, I disagree on this particular solution.  RPA operators do not risk like those in manned aircraft do, and especially not manned aircraft in combat zones.  While our technology and the current state of affairs have made it relatively safe to fly in bad guy land, it can't be credibly argued that RPA operators experience as much operational risk.  As to medals, that is an area of opinion.  I agree with Dave that medals send a message, accurate or not.  I don't think the answer is, however, to take medals that were meant to be awarded to those in harm's way and apply them to those who are not.  While his goal is worthy, to bring some pride to the RPA community and hopefully get the service to manage it better, the solution isn't to demean awards given to bomber crews in World War II and fighter pilots who braved SAMs in Vietnam.  Dave says, “On the current trajectory, the only Air Medals will be the ones in history books.”  That may be true, but if our technology continues to take away or eliminate the risk associated with air power, the answer is to let those awards fade into the history books along with the heroes who earned them, back when air power meant risking yourself.  When airmen no longer have to display courage in combat, then those medals belong in the annals of a bygone era.  Besides, if we're really interested in our service culture, we should stop putting so much focus on courage in combat operations, and start putting more on courage displayed at home.  That is where the courage is needed, and where courage will have the best effects for the service and the nation.