Monday, January 27, 2014
I've heard it for much of my career. If you take a stand in the Air Force, if you refuse an unlawful order, if you [insert right thing here], you will pay a price. You will be crushed. You will lose all your birthdays, you will be destroyed!
It's a rationalization that cowards tell themselves (and others), to rationalize their own cowardice. They provide their views under the auspices of mentorship, or friendly advice, but they're simply trying to relieve the guilt they feel when faced with a military officer who actually displays the courage they think they're entitled to claim simply because they logged a 1.0 in the container down range.
Well, wouldn't you know it, in my case it turns out they were wrong. Insert shocked face here. Whether cowards I knew in real life, or one of the pansies over at the Digital Clown Show, their hopeful warnings of annihilation for making good on my oath were flatly wrong.
To be fair, principle often does come with a hefty personal price. That is why principle often requires a healthy dose of courage. More importantly, we don't take an oath to support our Constitution only when it benefits us personally. It's part of that whole service thing. How it will turn out is no more relevant when we're faced with doing the right thing, or refusing to do the wrong thing, than it is when we are tasked to fly downtown in a high risk mission.
But what is interesting to me is, at the end of the day, after I refused an unlawful order that put me on some very serious radars, the Air Force did the right thing. One person, some anonymous person I do not know, did the right thing and as a result, our Air Force did the right thing.
I left my last base with a referral performance report, an LOR, a UIF, and no PCS medal, but I did leave with my security clearances returned back to me. That was after more than a year of being swept under a non-operational rug where I probably averaged eight hour lunch breaks each day when I wasn't cutting up with the other guys, and occasionally I ran into my former "peers" looking like zombies with their six on, one off hellish schedules. I stayed operational as long as I could to help out, but I was of course eventually removed to a life of full weekends, training days, four day weekends and down days. It was a refreshing break, though not one I wanted.
And now, after a year in one of the best locations of my career, with great working hours, and leadership that artfully balances mission and people, with world class skiing just a couple hours away and great travel and hiking in the mountains, and one of the world's largest cities nearby with all of its attractions, I am pulling chocks off to my final adventure.
I leave this assignment with my first ever performance report stratification (yes, chuckle), no UIF, no paperwork, a PCS medal, a great going away plaque (that says, "Am I Being Detained?!"), and the highest fitness test score of my career. Refreshing. And I'm heading out to again fly the T-6 Texan II, only this time trading in Del Rio, TX for the non-Border-Patrol-checkpoint-infested locale of Pensacola, Florida. Two years later, I will retire.
So yeah, the cowards were wrong. They underestimated the Air Force's ability to do the right thing. So did I.
Some have credited me with orchestrating this master plan to leave the worst assignment I have ever known (outside of the very fulfilling job of providing vitally needed air power to support our guys on the ground), to gain what is widely considered one of the best flying jobs around. They credit me with being "smart" as though I'm some kind of Keyser Soze in a flight suit.
While I'm sort of flattered, and kind of offended, that isn't correct. I didn't volunteer for that assignment while scheming to be removed from it.
I simply did the right thing by the nation and the taxpayers as I swore I would do, and the Air Force ultimately did right by me.
Something to remember the next time somebody warns you against measuring up as a commissioned officer, charged to support and defend our Constitution without any mental reservation, or purpose of evasion.
Friday, January 24, 2014
The PSDM is still, unlike the others oddly, not marked as FOUO so you can download it here.
But I should just note real quick, that our United States Air Force got it right by withholding PSDM 13-130 to fix the ugly! Officers who have served their nation for more than fifteen years will be offered TERA if they are not retained by a RIF board, just as our enlisted brethren. This is outstanding news, to know that those gray-hairs eligible to be separated early, will not be shown the door with a mere gold watch. After more war than any other period in American history.
The new PSDM states:
TERA will be offered before the board to officers meeting eligibility and to similarly eligible officers who are not retained by the board.This is a change that really matters. It's the right thing to do, and I'm glad to see our leadership is on the ball.
It's still the wild west out there with all these budgetary woes. But at least now it's a fair gunfight.
So are you gonna do something, or just sit there and bleed?
Well done Air Force. Truly. Good on the leadership and/or teamwork it took in the cubicles in the puzzle palace, or wherever, to make this happen.
I love to see my Air Force do the right thing.
I'll wait to see how this year shakes out, and then hopefully post about how I was wrong in my prediction.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
As I've turned forty not too long ago, and find myself nearing the end of my military service, and shuffled out of combat operations that are deeply fulfilling, I have found myself a bit more introspective, a little reminiscent, and wondering what the value of my service has been and what it has been for.
As I take account of my life up to this point, as strange as it seems, I'm taken back to my high school years at NAS Keflavik, Iceland and the song from Boys II Men keeps popping up. Not just because it was a staple song at every school dance and prom in my era, but also because it captures the feeling of painful transition. It was perfect for most of us military brats, because we were often subjected to such painful transitions. Forgive me if this blog post is a bit more personal than usual.
I remember high school. I remember running down a trail into the Icelandic fields of lava rocks toward the approach end of a runway where F-15Cs would tear ass from. I remember laying close to the approach end in the rocks undetected, and having the Mighty Eagle land over top of me so close I could have hit them with a rock.
I recall knowing several Eagle Driver base commanders, and their kids who were my peers, in the safe comfort of being an Air Force dependent. I remember telling one's wife my senior year that I was going to study religion in college, and her telling me, "That's good. The Air Force needs smart people too." There was no doubt I expected to be a pilot for the Air Force. I was young and naive but I wanted it badly. Besides working at the base gym and the Officer's Club, I worked at Baskin Robbins on base, and after I served anybody in a flight suit I always handed them a packet asking for a letter of recommendation. I got several, though I would soon learn they wouldn't matter for the process. But they mattered to me. They were written by the men I wanted to be like, serving my nation in combat and defending the rights of free Americans. I tried as best I could to convince them I could be like them, in that packet printed from a dot matrix printer.
I wasn't the smartest kid. I certainly wasn't the best academically. But I was president of the student council, and a wrestling team captain, and I played soccer and I was in National Honor Society. Not included in my three page, pre-iPhone selfie, was the fact that I was even a regular cartoon caricature in the weekly base White Falcon comic, Ice Tales, where my character "Francis" was depicted as a muscle bound, mohawk having, egotistical bully. My high school best friend, now a Naval SNCO, was the cartoonist and he didn't exactly like all my personality traits. He certainly didn't like my over abundance of confidence, or probably more appropriately, the way I exhibited it.
More importantly, though not to one day becoming a pilot yet essential to becoming a faithful public servant, I valued the knowledge I learned in school. Mostly from history class. I was in several AP classes, but AP History was my favorite. The teacher, the wife of the head chaplain on base, challenged me and my understanding of America. Was the Civil War really about freeing the slaves? Has the American government always been on the right side of history? What are the real motivations in American history, beyond what some history books teach? What are your assumptions, and are they accurate? Sure, you have been taught something, but is what you have been taught correct? She also challenged me in other ways, because we had screaming matches and she sent me to the principal's office at least once.
Still, I knew she liked me. And I very much appreciated her mentorship. I appreciated her example as she fought with the school principal over what to teach - a role model for taking a courageous and principled stand against authority. I was appreciative that she was key to me speaking for Martin Luther King remembrance day at the chapel, and Holocaust remembrance day, and I was able to speak at the air terminal when we welcomed home those returning from Desert Storm (several of the flyers later got my childish packets and a request for a letter of recommendation along with some ice-cream).
One day, I saw in myself a hypocrisy. As I made gay jokes about a local kid, I realized that what I was doing was no different than others had done, and what I had said on Holocaust remembrance day convicted me. Our teacher worked hard to show us that evil was inside us, it wasn't an external thing and the worst people in our history books were not monsters. They were just people. I realized I wasn't immune from the potential evil inside each of us, just because I might have said a few "nice things" in an essay. I realized that I was a hypocrite. Nobody had to challenge me, it just one day hit me that my actions were not measuring up to my professed and valued principles.
Later in college I would learn from a sociology class that my operating values and my professed values were in conflict. At any rate, I didn't like that feeling, and it led me to realize a flaw in myself and to take steps to improve myself as a person, recognizing the value and liberty of others, who lived a life just a fraction different than my own (separated by a chromosome or so), but who did not in any way trespass my rights by exercising their own, and as a result of the guilt I felt, I grew to more truly appreciate liberty beyond simply making cute speeches at the chapel.
I still keep in touch with my history teacher to this day, and I think it's safe to say she's still one of my biggest fans. I know it's also safe to say that I still torment and aggravate her as I did in my youth. I have no doubt she wouldn't have it any other way. We are taught that friction is impolite or uncouth, but the reality is that friction produces light. It's not only healthy, it's essential for truth and for justice.
Fast forward for a moment. I recently had a going away lunch at my current assignment, which I will be leaving in a few days, and for the first time in my career I heard an O-6 - weapons officer - F-15C fighter pilot, describe me as a role model for speaking my mind and challenging authority. Others spoke about my courage and making people think about important issues. I've never since high school cared about the value heaped upon me by others, and that has challenged many a commander in the military as a result, because I entered the military already knowing my value. What many people don't know about my callsign, is that it's not just to me a legacy of nick names for military men in my family. For me, it points back to words by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, where he wrote, "Some men are like rhinoceroses. They don't respond properly to social conditioning." Huxley was right, as he was on so many things about our world today, and I will note in his novel that the most intelligent, who had the courage to challenge authority, were imprisoned in Iceland. Iceland of all places was a leper colony for the courageous and intelligent.
I feel like my life has come full circle, in a way, and it brings me back to Boys II Men.
My AP History teacher also impressed upon me another valuable lesson. She left no doubt in my mind as I sat in old school desks, that she was an activist in the civil rights movement before hitching with her military husband and educating military children. She left no doubt, because she proudly claimed that mantle. What she doesn't know, but will when she reads this blog post, is that I felt guilty even then, for not having the opportunity to stand for America as she did during that period. To lay it on the line. I can't thank her enough for the lessons on great Americans such as Dr. Martin Luther King that taught me, beyond what the military ever did, what it means to be courageous, and to live with honor, and to sacrifice for our country.
There should be no line between the activist who loves America, and the military person, the cop, or the judge who is sworn to protect America. There should be no division.
But there is a massive division, and there has been a huge change for the worst in the imperfect people of America, who have forgotten, or who were not as lucky as myself to learn, to value their birthright as a free people.
And it makes me terribly sad, as if we have to say goodbye, to what we had....
But I'll harness that sadness, and realize it is the opportunity I had wished for to measure up in this nation built on the shoulders of giants - most of them unnamed, unrecognized, victims of police dogs and fire hoses and lynch mobs. Mobs that I have found myself screaming at today, "Do you not understand America? Do you not value her? Do you not understand what you are doing?"
As an American who cares about his nation, and the rights of all Americans, there is no doubt that I am the minority now. So I will take heart and realize that I have been given the chance to make good, like Dr. King did, like Malcolm did, like Frederick Douglas, like so many other unnamed courageous Americans did to fight for their God given rights. There can be no question concerning those great Americans, and how they laid it on the line for this nation and our Constitution.
Far, far more than I ever did in the military. While I started this blog post sad, I'm heartened by the opportunity to truly measure up as an American.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
I'm looking forward to reading former Secretary of Defense Robert Gate's new book, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War." Nice title. I hear it's full of venom and judgment, where he rightfully calls out so many of the other self serving politicians he worked with. But what I wonder is - who was Gates really at war with?
This book title alone shows that you, Robert Gates, are a hypocrite.
As my blog quotes at the top show, I very much appreciated your words. I do in fact think you were the best Secretary of Defense I've served under, with the exception of every other Secretary of Defense I've served under minus one. You were so much better than all of them, except you had this one tiny, itty bitty, ever so sleight, little flaw. As in the kind you cannot have as a public servant. I think you're smart and I think you recognized the damage those under you were doing, and I applaud you for taking the unpopular actions you did to get my service back on the right track. Actions that I knew would be undone, as they have been, since your departure.
That's perhaps not your fault. That's the standard inertia in our business, as Builder knew all too well.
But there are certain things you just can't get wrong. You just can't. There is a popular saying that starts something like, "A bridge builder can build a hundred bridges, but...."
That saying doesn't, but might, continue with, "...but take part in violating the most basic, the absolute most basic and most fundamental and most important and most clear part of the Constitution, the section in the Fifth Amendment that says government will not take the life of an American without the due process of law..."
And then it might end with, "...well he's no longer a bridge builder, he's a traitor."
And you Robert Gates, are no longer a distinguished Secretary of Defense, instead, you are a traitor. You made war on an American citizen without charge or trial, using military machinery. That is constitutionally the definition of treason. Whether you kill one American, or several, or a dozen, or hundreds, or thousands by using military machinery, either way you have made war on the United States. You are a traitor. And you and I both know - we both know - that you are a traitor.
Oh, but hold up. It was for a good reason that you broke our law? It's a gray area is it? Yeah, Timothy McVeigh, another traitor, said the same thing. But he wasn't part of the elite ruling class of untouchables, so he rightfully fried while other traitors write books and sample fine cheeses at parties packed with rich inferiors.
Nice job with RPA. Nice job getting the Air Force thinking about the long game with technology, though doing nothing for pressing the importance of moral leadership. Nice job putting those flag officers on notice. Do you ever wonder why they knew they could get away with just waiting you out? Ever wonder why your vision and force and leadership fell so flat?
Please don't talk about duty. You failed in yours in the most egregious way, beyond any other failure I'm aware of in the history of the United States of America. When it truly mattered, you showed your true colors. You and Colin Powell should do a book signing together.
But make sure he sits to your right. Even he didn't fail as badly as you. Enjoy your book proceeds.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
It's a small step and a good decision. Nothing huge, but every good decision counts and should be appreciated. The rumor is that Air Force members can now express morale as they have in the past, by wearing colored squadron t-shirts and morale patches while in uniform.
The timing of the policy change is, of course, very interesting. It's a small bit of good news at a time when officers have been told they are going to get booted in record numbers, told they would get the information to plan their futures, only to be told at H-hour that they would not actually get that information until later. People are trying to divine their futures, still waiting on information, and there is widespread anxiety across the force to include among retirees who see the writing on the wall regarding their retirements being looted.
Folks are digesting that their retirement is now about $100,000 lighter than before. But only if they're under age 62. For older retirees, everything is groovy.
Likewise, people are now seeing that the "modest" cut to their promise of free healthcare for life back in the 1990s, is now on its way to being cut yet again. But just for "younger" retirees. For older retirees, everything is good to go!
So the smarter among us, being that we are military folks, should be recognizing this tactic. It's called divide and conquer. And those who are thinking about taking TERA might be well served to understand how divide and conquer works. I can see the legislation now...
The writing is on the wall.
It will be interesting when PSDM 13-130 actually gets released after its overhaul. I'm guessing some of the changes that will be released will result in morale not fixed by a patch. I'm expecting continued officers will need more than a colored t-shirt to keep their resiliency meter from pegging out full scale.
But perhaps I'm wrong. With this small policy change, leadership has made it clear they are listening to their people. Even the small gestures mean something. But like the rest of us, they have to salute smartly and execute the lawful wishes of those above them.
No morale patch is going to make what's coming any easier.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Here are some other cool videos about this new machine.
Friday, January 17, 2014
It seems silly to talk about a movie to describe serious issues. I understand that. As my collegiate best friend, and current Air Force officer used to very wisely tell me, "Movies aren't scary. Real life is scary." Still, more than eighteen years ago, he and I sat in a movie theater in Tallahasee, Florida and drank mugs of beer and watched Brave Heart on the big screen for the first time. It meant something to me in a very visceral way. I'm not Scottish, I'm not English, I'm not Irish, and I have no genetic lineage that traces back to those cultures and even if I do, I don't care in the slightest. I've never researched it. I'm American and that is far superior to any cultural legacy that has ever existed as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately, that legacy is waning because those we used to call our countrymen have more ideologically in common with those who live in North Korea, than they do with the colonialist Americans who demanded their natural rights be respected.
Still, the exploits of old Europe matter to me, because they mattered greatly to America's founders and our nation learned principled lessons from these cultures and their histories, and took the sacrifices of poor farmers against rich immoral rulers and the blood soaked lessons of government and liberty, and made brilliant principled decisions and enshrined them into law after great risk. The sacrifice of the greatest generation, those who fought the American Revolution, created something important, imperfect without a doubt, but easily the crowning achievement of history. But principled law requires principled people to value and defend it.
Most in my generation are unaware. They were too busy trying to find a job, or too lazy to study history and care, knowing that they were in America and that meant they could have whatever they wanted by virtue of birthright. They just didn't know about the sacrifices that came before that gave them that leverage, and weren't raised in an environment to develop the principle required for America to remain so comfortable. Their kids also have not learned those lessons, since their teachers are not much better than their parents, and they are distracted by digital nonsense beyond any other generation. Now we see the illusion of automatic prosperity for the chimera that it is. Prosperity requires principled and moral people.
But watching Brave Heart, fictional or not, about Scottish people who just want to grow food and live their simple lives, ruled by a foreign power and by those among them wishing to amass more power, ruled by those who lie for a living and who murder and rape people, and who rally armies made of the working poor, who pretend to represent their countrymen while exploiting them... well, it resonates with me. It should resonate with every American.
In my nearly eighteen years of military service since that day when I celebrated the courageous resistance of tyranny on the silver screen near the Florida State University campus, I have come to know most every single character in Mel Gibson's movie in real life. I say most, because I've not met them all.
But I am familiar with the poor uneducated "commoner" who has kids without thinking, happy to just have a menial job, and the professional English soldier who just does what he's told, and the "noble" politicians and military officers who lie and betray for a living, and the King who is only interested in power and has no problem loosing arrows on his own countrymen as well as his adversary in order to advance himself. It's almost funny today to see how those in the trenches are starting to understand the picture of how little they matter to those in power, while their senior "leaders" do nothing to stop the barrage of friendly fire headed toward their own troops.
In my time I have seen the immoral commoner do wrong and justify it, knowing it was wrong, by stating they had a mortgage or a credit card payment. I've seen multiple do so. But the enlightened officer class have a more "intellectual" justification. I've seen several officers justify their blatantly illegal actions by pointing to American history, and rationalizing that it has always been this way, pointing to the internment of American men, women, and children into concentration camps under FDR in the 1940s, and other such historical sins as if to say because tyranny has existed in America and American government has acted wrongly before, then they are willing to advance tyranny and to violate their oaths to the Constitution in turn. I have, of course, seen several senior officers and appointed and elected politicians do the same, responsible for ordering the tyranny that my "peers" un-dutifully advanced (while punishing me for refusing to follow), without any regard for their professional allegiance to the Constitution and the rights of the citizens who pay them.
The rationalizations are disgusting, and reminiscent of 1930s Germans just begging for outright tyranny.
What makes me the most sickened are those who try to have their cake and eat it too. Those who know they've done wrong, but try to justify it. Amateur politicians. They are the Bruces' of Brave Heart who pretend that some father figure above them tricked them into doing wrong, tricked them into betraying their countrymen, smart enough to know they are traitors, but too cowardly to do the right thing. "All men lose heart, all men betray" they might say. They will tell their betters as the Bruce did, "if you end up with enemies on both sides, you're a dead man." They calculate, they scheme, and they pick their battles which is to say they choose not to battle. They just talk a good game. They want to pretend they are heroes and they will profess the right opinions vocally, but when they are put in the hot seat where action matters rather than words, they fail. Their guilt and shame does not change their failure. Action is the only thing that matters.
Deeds, not words.
The reality is that, like William Wallace, those who care about their liberty and doing right by their neighbors are few and far between. Only an idiot would be unable to recognize that it comes down to a choice between living a vulnerable life as a free American who can be cut down at any moment, or living as an obedient slave who gives up their freedom and integrity, while professing great "opinions" in a coffee shop or online to mask their true character. But it's not about professed opinions, right or wrong, but rather the real value is found in principle. Principle matters, not just picking the right opinion as if choosing from a salad bar. Politicians are masters at voicing popular opinions and defending them. But principle is what matters, getting to the root of values. Principle takes deep thinking, something that is not reinforced by time spent in a fantasy football league.
There should be no toleration at all for fascists within the military ranks, yet they are overwhelming in number giving voice to their affinity for unchecked government and their intolerance for the rights of those they swore to protect. They are everywhere and I have heard their limp justifications. I have seen them lash out in their attempt to justify their cowardice and their failures as public servants. I have tried to have an effect on them, but unfortunately I have failed. Character cannot be compelled or taught in the moment.
My time in public service is quickly drawing to a close. I am returning in weeks to the beaches of Florida to serve my last two years before mandatory retirement. I thankfully will be able to spend time at Florida State University to complete my twenty year military journey, to close the loop, and to finish up where my service started. I am looking forward to being done with my burden of service, at which point I too can consider myself rather than an oath to do right by those who, in all honesty, don't deserve my efforts. I will continue to do as I have sworn to do, to protect the rights of those who pay me, but I am looking forward to no longer having that obligation since the American people have no real concern for their rights, and certainly not for the sacrifices others have made to secure them. I'm looking forward to the burden of my oath fading like the Florida sun over the horizon, as I enter a private life where personal sacrifice is no longer required by duty.
The movie theater I sat in as a youngster, with dreams of serving my nation and defending our Constitution, is closed and no longer exists. Similarly, the American citizenry no longer cares for their constitutional rights, suffer NSA spying every day and a government that assassinates American citizens without due process of law, encounter theft through asset forfeiture, and have to endure an increasingly militarized domestic-army police state that murders the most vulnerable basket-carrying villagers among us (on camera no less), while the American villagers find the King's men not guilty of any crime.
"Look lively, Sergeant..."
Americans are an occupied people, no less than the villagers of this movie doing their chores with the King's men among them. Today, the occupiers don't wear the orange robes of the English, but they still wear the body armor, it's just a little more effective these days. And they don't need to look in your wife's basket as she carries the laundry, instead they look through your private communications and store them on servers. Some things have not changed though. The King's men still brutalize and kill the villagers today with near absolute immunity, and the people still pay the governor his taxes to fund their own occupation. I can't blame the villagers looking out for their families, but the treason of the King's men today, without a shred of character or appreciation for America, absolutely infuriates me. Because they took an oath to defend the rights of their neighbors, not serve a king.
"If I can live in peace, I will," said William Wallace. That is a choice that cannot be made by a military officer, police officer, federal agent, or judge worth his or her salt, as public servants cannot pick and choose their battles while in public service. Especially not those of us employed to wield the tools of lethality. Not so in private life, and I am eagerly looking forward to that chapter of my life soon beginning.
Still, even then I will grab a brew or two, assemble any good Americans I can muster, tell war stories about decimating the enemy and saving Americans in combat, getting shot at and feeling the blast wave of an enemy mortar that wasn't quite close enough, and I will celebrate with my few countrymen the true character of America found in our Constitution and our bill of rights. And we will toast those who laid down their lives, as the very few who can truly understand what such a sacrifice actually meant. We few will celebrate America.
We few will celebrate. We extremely few.
We few are vastly outnumbered in our own country. Like the King said, "If we can't get them out, we'll breed them out." And they most certainly did. But those few of us Americans who remain, who have the scars of faithful public service rather than the silver tongues and trophies of cowards in uniform, we will celebrate America. The first round is on me for a battle well fought.
But until that day, which looms so close before me but is still so distant, to the front I dutifully go armed and ready for the next battle.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
There is a lot of nonsense out there about Jake Tapper's interview about the movie Lone Survivor, and the fact that he asked some important questions. Jake Tapper is one of the better journalists out there as the clip above shows.
And questions do not hurt Navy SEALS. Sticks and stones and all that.
Friday, January 10, 2014
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
The other day I had the pleasure of chatting with Ben Swann from Truth in Media, and Terry Bressi from CheckPointUSA.org, on my civil suit appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
When it comes to knowledge of suspicionless Border Patrol checkpoints located far from the border, Ben and Terry are better than Ben and Jerry. And that's quite the compliment coming from a fat guy.
This is a great educational piece for those few who are concerned with our Constitution, and the rights of American citizens in the face of armed government agents.
It was a great conversation to have with two very principled people, and I think it might be useful for my brethren in public service who want to be truly good at their jobs. Also, I think it's important for us to remember that a good American is a good American, regardless of whether or not they wear a military or police or DHS uniform. But for those who do wear the uniform, they have sworn and are paid to be good Americans, and should not be outdone by the guy in the dreads who does it better without compensation, simply because he has superior character and knows and loves America more than those his tax monies employ.