Saturday, July 27, 2013
A great American hero passed away today. A really great American. Colonel Bud Day crossed the fence for a final time early this morning in Florida. I had always meant to meet him, but he became sick before I could do so. I read his book, Return With Honor, and I had the privilege of reading email correspondence from him to currently serving powerful flag officers who were not doing the right thing. As an attorney, he continued to battle on behalf of airmen and other Americans. Colonel Day didn't leave his courage on the battlefield. Principle was more than a box simply to be checked.
He is truly a hero of mine. Not only did he brave combat and keep his integrity intact and provide a role model for courage on the battlefield over the skies of Vietnam, and in a POW camp for a great many years, but at home he continued to display courage by calling out those he served with who failed when truly tested. That is a real service, and a costly one. People in our business need to know when they are failing, and they don't typically like that feedback.
Colonel Bud Day shamed cowards he served with, even as the service rewarded and promoted them.
More than that, he continued as a lawyer to fight the good fight for America. Colonel Day was the primary reason that service members have Tricare and any medical at all. When the military began cutting retired medical benefits, he and his peers challenged the establishment in court and objected when promises of free health care for life were broken. He lost in court, not because he wasn't right, but rather because a military that gave false promises wasn't legally required to keep those promises. He turned his legal fight into a political fight, and all of us owe him a debt of gratitude for having a retiree health plan.
Colonel Day, a towering figure and the pinnacle of combat accomplishment, the most decorated military man alive, was also approachable by the lowliest cadet or lieutenant. The Colonel was humble, loved air power, loved freedom, hated communism, and worked to strengthen America in multiple facets of his life. He was tireless with his wife, who he affectionately called "the Viking," on his side.
He spent more than five years being tortured in a Vietnamese POW camp after multiple escape attempts, and he never broke. Any honest man may love him or hate him, agree or disagree with his politics, share his prejudices and passions or not, but no man can deny that Colonel Day was a truly great American.
This blog post is a drunken late night tribute, and is nowhere close to touching on the greatness of this warrior. America lost a great Air Force officer today. His courage is legendary, both in combat abroad, and at home where our Constitution is the most threatened. Colonel Day was the real deal, and the rest of us should ever try as best we can, to emulate his example, and to risk ourselves for our nation. It's unlikely we will ever be tested as Colonel Day was, which is why it's so important that we not fail the easy tests. We are in the business of courage. Colonel Bud Day has shown us the way.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
While the judiciary embarrassingly failed as the third branch of our government and ducked its check-and-balance responsibility during the first suit brought by Awlaki's father, the legality of the claimed right to assassinate Americans without charge or trial is front and center in federal court yet again.
The government has admitted to assassinating an American citizen. Previously, that American's father brought suit to prevent the U.S. government from hunting down and killing his son simply because he was on an assassination list. The court punted and did not hear the merits of the case, citing the standard nonsense excuse that seems to accompany judges who don't want to do their constitutionally required duty- ie, lack of standing.
The father's son was assassinated by the U.S. government. Instead of being captured and tried in court for treason (as our Constitution mandates for Americans suspected of treason), he was simply terminated with extreme prejudice. While the government invaded Panama and lost American service members to capture and try Manuel Noriega for drug trafficking (a mission that was successful, and now the non-American Noriega sits in a prison cell), the government decided not to afford the same due process to an American citizen. Instead, one branch of government decided to act as judge, jury, and executioner.
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer finds this disturbing, as should every American citizen. She stated in response to the cliche and tired government "security" position that:
“Your argument is that the court has no role in this — none, none none... I find that a little disconcerting. The scope of your argument concerns me. It gobbles up all the air in the room. ... The most important part of the United States is that it is a nation of laws.”I hope Judge Collyer does the right thing and exercises the badly needed judicial check-and-balance against a clearly unconstitutional and incredibly un-American practice. The judge's comments make it clear that she knows the all too obvious right legal answer. Hopefully she doesn't use some manufactured legal technique, like a purported lack of standing, to avoid her own constitutional responsibility.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
With all the talk of cutting warfighters yet again, and remarks about being creative in solving the budget issues, I find it interesting that there has been no discussion of cutting the chaplain corps in its entirety. Here is why I think it makes sense to cut chaplains, especially these days.
First, their existence is a violation of our Constitution. Article VI (the same article that requires military officers to swear to support the Constitution), states:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.As should be obvious, being religiously certified is required to be a chaplain. A non-religious person cannot be a chaplain. Not all religious people can be a chaplain either, they have to have certain certifications and pass certain tests to get into that position (ie for the "qualification"). In the military, chaplains are sworn in as executive officers and become taxpayer funded military officers with military retirements. Their existence is quite clearly unconstitutional, as a religious test is most assuredly required for the public office of the chaplaincy.
Second, the nation has become more secular and very few people in the service use the services of a chaplain. While there are some people who are religious who do, and some non-religious people who use them for secular counseling sessions, very few overall use their services and many chaplains are never seen other than being asked to give an official prayer at a public event, or perhaps when the chapel hosts various diversity events.
Third, the religious services of chaplains are easily replicated at no cost to the taxpayer. One has only to drive out the front gate of their base to find plenty of religious options, should that be their desire. For those who wish to worship, the vast majority can have their needs met anywhere in the United States off base. In fact, the vast majority of religious people do get their needs met off base, despite having a chapel available to them. Some religious traditions are not so easily met in a community, and typically in that case they are not met on base at the chapel, either. Further, most religious institutions have a missionary ethic, and it would be easy for non-military religions to supply ministers and such to deploy, for free, with the military as desired. It doesn't make sense to spend taxpayer money on something that so many desire to provide without compensation.
Fourth, chaplains are all officers. According to Wiki, there are nearly 3000 active duty chaplains. Remembering those are all officer positions that come with officer retirements, it then stands to reason that there is a huge amount of money to be saved by cutting their billets (my rough calculations show a savings of at least 300 million a year, but I suspect it's closer to a billion a year in savings). Beyond that, there is even more warfighting capability to be garnered by sending their enlisted aides to combat support and operational positions.
I have several chaplain friends, and many of them do great work. The reality, however, is that they should not exist in their current form. A volunteer chaplain corps could easily exist, with the same board that certifies chaplains today still continuing to certify them. Some religious traditions would likely see working without the trappings of military benefits, and retirement, and money from Ceasar as even more meaningful. Either way, the service the chaplaincy provides can easily be provided without cost to the taxpayer. Of course it's a hot button political issue, and politics will likely continue to trump solutions that make sense, so instead of chaplains, I expect those cut in 2014 will be skilled warfighters not easily replaced for free by simply walking out the front gate.
Monday, July 8, 2013
As I sit here in Hawaii, drinking some tasty beverages of choice, it's nice knowing that I just got my final PFT taken care of in the 30-39 year old bracket. So perhaps I'll have a couple more umbrella drinks to celebrate, and I'll reminisce a little bit, and then bid aloha to that bracket. Aloha means goodbye.
I'm proud to say that in my seventeen years (not including the four years of PFTs from college), I was only on a medical profile for one test, and it was legitimate. I'm glad to say that I have never taken the walk test. I noticed that many of my age peers were on walk profiles, and using profiles to game the test was not uncommon. At one point, I was the only person in my shop who wasn't on a walk profile, to include one person who was younger than myself. I would be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to "play the game" during my last assignment, with a healthy field elevation and poor air quality. The run wasn't easy for me, and it was a source of stress as I watched the machine churning individuals out of the service at a time when the slides indicated how "overmanned" our branch was. But I am very glad that I didn't give in and sacrifice integrity. It was a standard that was set, it wasn't an indefensible standard (although I disagree with the priority it has taken given our mission-centric challenges), and it was my job to meet the standard. I didn't have to like it, or find it stress free, but it was part of the job.
Two learning points that may be useful for others. First, when I volunteered for an assignment in New Mexico, I did not factor in elevation or its impact on the run. I would highly suggest that those, like myself, who workout only to meet the standard the Air Force has set, consider elevation during the assignment process. Having just finished my latest test at essentially sea level, I was amazed to see how I could easily run two minutes faster just from the altitude decrease.
The second learning point also came from my previous assignment in New Mexico when, a couple of years ago, I was on the last lap of the run - I simply had to run it in two minutes to pass the test, and I was on pace and everything was looking good. Instead, my back seized up and I fell out on that last lap and failed the test. I had been having back problems from a very soft mattress. My old lady was having them too. I immediately purchased a firm tempurpedic, after doing some research on mattresses (something I never thought I would ever do, researching something as trivial as a mattress), and it made a very noticeable difference. So as silly as it might seem, in my experience, getting a firm mattress really does matter and especially as you get older.
I am pleased to say that I found the test administrators, both civilian and military, to have been universally fair when giving the test, and to always be willing to give the benefit of the doubt when it came to the very subjective, and imprecise, abdominal tape measuring. Unfortunately I did see this abused on one occasion. I witnessed a fat O-6 getting taped right in front of me by an airman, and I saw that the maximum 39" mark was nowhere even close to where it needed to be for him to pass; it was practically on his back. The airman made the right call and recorded it correctly. The O-6 shook his head incredulously and asked for a re-tape by somebody else. He got it from an NCO, but in a more private location. He passed. I'm sure that airmen will forever remember the lesson from that day.
I'm very happy to be joining the forty year old bracket for my next test. I blogged already about how the 30-39 year old bracket is the most difficult bracket in the test, and how that age group is targeted beyond the other groups. The forty year old bracket makes getting 90s on the test very easy. In college I used to run the mile and a half in 9:30 while jogging, and I ran it in 8:34 during field training. These days as more of a thinker, and much less a physical specimen, I prefer to prioritize the PFT standard more appropriately in my life. Intellectual and character development challenges are the two largest centers of gravity risking the United States Air Force today, with sequestration a distant third. Our service and our mission have a great many real problems that require our time and attention. Running six laps around a track isn't one of those challenges.
So, it's time to grab yet another drink, kick back, and say aloha to the forty year old bracket that demands the appropriate amount of my time and attention. Aloha means hello.
Thursday, July 4, 2013
At best it's awkward. At worst it's dishonest. It's sad to make such a statement, but it's true. We are no longer the land of the free or the home of the brave. We just aren't. We should stop papering over the reality, and instead start trying to fix it. Accepting it and proclaiming the truth, is a necessary first step.
Enjoy your weekend.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Glenn Greenwald recently gave an incredible speech, after an outstanding introduction, during an event hosted by an organization that I am unfamiliar with and doubt I would support. Be that as it may, the speech was stunning in that it captured the essence of what it means to be a great American in my mind - principle, courage, character and a real serious respect for the truth. I recommend the video be started at the 03:20 point.
It reminds me of the first of our core values. Integrity First. Sometimes integrity comes with extremely serious risks to our own convenience. Who would demonstrate integrity when it might risk their promotion, or their next assignment, not to mention their liberty or even their life? Who would have the character to go beyond the recruiting posters and actually put such skin in the game? The answer is those who can appreciate General Fogleman's third core value. Service Before Self. This ain't no chump game and bar talk is cheap.
I am an enormous fan of Glenn Greenwald. I very much appreciated his latest book, With Liberty and Justice for Some. The frau and I flew half way across the country, not too terribly long ago, to meet him over the weekend and to listen to him speak at an ACLU function. He gave a wonderful speech during that event. He's one powerful and principled orator, and he is razor sharp. The speech embedded above is far better than the one he gave that weekend.
Courage. Our oath. America. Doing the right thing when those above you demand that you do wrong, when they threaten and intimidate you and make it clear that your SELF will be in serious jeopardy should you choose SERVICE. These are some of the themes that Glenn's speech touches on, and as ironic as it might seem, these themes are those of great American servicemen. There is a reason for our Air Force Core Values, and I think Glenn touches on it in his speech above. The truth. Integrity. Courage. Above all, integrity.
Integrity First. Why integrity first? Because if you have that, everything else will follow accordingly.