Thursday, June 30, 2005

Different take on Independence Day

For the next few days, there’ll be no shortage of commentators willing to wax poetic about the Declaration of Independence or the abstract concepts of freedom and oppression. Dust off last year’s speech notes, change a few dates and insert a few Chinas and North Koreas.

But we too often gloss over the double-edge sword that was the Declaration of 1776. The intent, of course, was to guarantee colonial independence, but those who endorsed it also risked getting locked up -- or worse – by the King of England.

The members of the Second Continental Congress were true patriots, most likely inspired by Richard Henry Lee’s
resolution and Thomas Paine’s 47-page pamphlet. The king actually considered the Congress a traitor group that was "engaged in open and avowed rebellion," and offered rewards for the capture of key rebel leaders.


Among those rebel leaders were the legendary Committee of Five: John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert Livingston of New York and a young Virginian politico named Thomas Jefferson.

And when all was said and done, the
president of the congress
intentionally (and flamboyantly) signed the Declaration of Independence with bold letters in dead center.

"The British ministry can read that name without spectacles," he’s rumored to have said, "let them double their reward."

Enter Iraq’s “Continental Congress.” Much like the hired guns of King George III, extremists are bent on derailing the democratic process by terrorizing Iraqi government workers, from ministers to police officers, and their families.

Iraq’s government must start a campaign to unify the nation against the terrorists, and convince the citizenry that its current struggle against oppression is not only necessary, but a seminal step for freedom in that part of the world.


The Iraqi people must continue to seize the moment and defend their rights. The road to freedom has dangerous crossroads, and Iraqis are facing one now. Those who lead the country past the crossroad become legends; those who hesitate die in vain.

I look forward to one day reading Iraq’s version of Common Sense. I’d like to one day take my family to visit a national museum in Falluja, and learn more about Iraq’s pioneering political thinkers. I eagerly await Iraq’s first peaceful Independence Day celebration.

In the meantime, let’s continue to lift up the U.S. servicemembers who are working to make that day possible. And tho we may not be working at their side this long weekend, I hope they know that they have earned our support, our respect and prayers.

To the troops: Wherever you are, whatever you do, here’s to a happy and safe Fourth of July.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Flag burning? Bring it on!

The House of Representative's passing of an amendment that would prohibit flag burning has (surprise, surprise) "sparked" new debate on both sides of the isle. I'll cover the neutral ground.

I proudly serve my country. I'll even confess to being a staunch advocate of conservative values, and for that matter, helping freedom sweep the world. I appreciate the American way of life -- as difficult as it sometimes is -- and would not hesitate to exploit my, ahem, "freedom of expression" if I saw someone abusing Old Glory to win a couple headlines. But I'll also be the first to admit that amending our Constitution to prohibit people from desecrating the American flag would be a mistake.

As we all learned in civics class, being able to openly criticize government, verbally and otherwise, falls clearly under the First Amendment. All this is undebatable, and only the weak will hang their hats on this fact. From my perspective, there are three much better reasons to accept the fact that there's nothing illegal about being an ungrateful, flag-burning sonavabitch in the land of the free.

1. A flag-burning ban starts us on a slippery slope. What to do of those who allow their flags to become faded or tattered? What kind of protection can be afforded to flags that include images or text, such as "Support Our Troops" or "No Fear"? What happens when an entrepreneural spirit starts manufacturing Burnable Phlags that have say, 60 stars or 11 stripes?

2. The U.S. Constitution ain't the right venue. I'm no legal scholar, but it seems to me that the Constitution and its 27 amendments have a steady vision: to protect citizens from government control. So based on no-kidding documented history, it's highly unlikely that the Constitution will ever be used to curtail citizen rights. And that's a good thing.

3. This is all Kabuki theater. We have to assume that the House of Reps knows a Constitutional amendment banning anything isn't going very far. It makes for good headlines (ex: here and here), and helps both parties shore up support prior to mid-term elections. Cleverly, the House has left it to the Senate to deliver the truth to the American public. Nothing new there.

As for the act of desecrating a flag, so what? Headlines come when the act causes a "counter effect," such as name calling (or proposing a Constitutional ban). Sans an opposing voice, a photo of someone holding a burning piece of polyester looks like a photo of a foolish pyromaniac.

I propose that all of us against flag desecration unite and use flag-burning freedoms to our advantage. Every time, say, the New York Times runs a photo of a foolish pyromaniac, we each contribute to organizations that support the troops serving overseas. Or maybe we could start a firm called Burnable Phlags, market to flag-burners and send the corporate profits to conservative causes.


In media-speak, that's what they call guerrilla warfare. In Funky-speak, it just makes good sense.

First Amdt Defenders Take Offensive

A great Little Green Footballs piece showcasing patriotic organizers of a Columbia, Mo., airshow, and how they exercised their freedom of expression, to the chagrin of wily protestors.

Definitely a "must read" for anyone who may have to plan a military air show or open house in the future ...a clever and legal way to demonstrate the power of the First Amendment and generate some publicity for the event too!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Postpone the "Exit Strategy" Debate

Much ado about how the U.S. military plans to withdrawal forces from Iraq.

I'm all for it, but the Administration is in a sticky situation.

During the last campaign, President Bush skillfully -- and respectfully, I might add -- used the war issue to his advantage. He was adamant about the resolve and sacrifice that would be required of us while Iraqis navigated their way toward democracy. America honorably stood by Iraq's side.

But every bad news story out of Iraq, factual or otherwise, causes people to question the status quo. That's understandable ...most people depend on the media for current events. What's tragic, tho, is that the violent extremists are so much more effective at winning the hearts-n-minds of the MSM. Even when facts are presented, most media fail to provide the necessary perspective surrounding those facts, which is a disservice to their audiences and/or the American public.

As a result, the MSM is virtually incapable of hosting "exit strategy" debates.

A gradual withdrawal of our forces is indeed required. It has to be systematic yet flexible, and we should start "pulling chocks" and "popping smoke" as soon as a democratic Iraq can stand on its own two feet. Not a minute sooner. Not a day later.

There's faulty logic in the "cutting our losses short" option that some pundits recommend. First of all, an American rear harch in Iraq will be interpreted as a U.S. retreat by the insurgents. Chances are slim that they'd tone things down after having "defeated" the mighty zionist superpower. They're more likely to exploit their new-found freedom of movement to terrorize innocent civilians in order to gain money/weapons/power to create havoc in other parts of the world.

Second, running away from Iraq would be a terrible blow to the cause of freedom. In effect, we'd be telling oppressed peoples, "Freedom isn't for everyone after all. Sorry for the interruption." This, of course, would be great news for al-Qaeda recruiters, who hitherto were literally killing themselves to meet publicity goals. America must do its best to ensure Iraq becomes a regional example of how freedom, democracy and prosperity are inextricably linked. And then get the hell out of the way.

Bottomline is that we have a lot of work to do before we start packing our bags in Iraq. We're advising the Iraqi congress, rooting out the bad guys and fighting an uphill battle for a decent headline all at the same time.

No one knows exactly how long it will take Iraqis to fully embrace democracy, but one thing is for certain: Our resolve and involvement is essential to Iraq's success.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Working Dads

Today we honor America's 66 million fathers.

For many, it will be a morning celebration, over a hearty breakfast of (real) bacon and eggs with (white) toast and (black) coffee. And colorful ties. For others, there will be less fanfare but nevertheless be relaxing.

Regardless of how you'll celebrate Fathers Day, remember that many dads today are stationed in places like Kabul, Djubuti, Karabilah and the USS Kearsarge. Let's pray they can accomplish their mission and commemorate their day over there because they deserve it. If not, I hope they focus on their mission, their safety, and we'll worry about the steaks when they come back home.

And to my dad, who continues to be a role model today, I say thanks for being patient when he didn't want to be and for being angry when he had to be. I'm glad he pushed me to do things he couldn't/didn't experience during his own childhood -- education, computers, music, sports -- and I'll continue the tradition with my children.

Happy Fathers Day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Recruiting (cont'd)

Fellow milblogger Cool Blue Blog has a compelling take on the military recruiting challenge, based on a historical perspective and American idealism.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Per the Captain

Excerpt from a farewell note sent by a prior-enlisted captain who's folding his flight cap after 23 years:

"You do important work everyday and the American people appreciate it. How do I know? I went to my nephew's high school graduation Tuesday where 64 honors students recieved more than $2.3 million in scholarships, and one world-class athlete was recognized for breaking six state records in track & field. Although applause echoed through the evening, only six students recieved a standing ovation by the more than 1,500 people there.

"Those six, the only six of the 415 graduates, had enlisted to serve in the military."

Thanks for the warm regards, Capt S, and for your unsuspecting mentorship.

Pizza, bagles and freedom

More Americans should know about the truly odd game that an energetic group of New Yorkers played in the streets of Brooklyn recently. Not because "Manhunt" is the next Macarena, but because the event is a clear sign that at least some Americans are enjoying their freedom.

That a group of twenty-somethings planned this gathering in advance, publicized it to the world, welcomed folks of all shapes/colors and ostensibly had a great time playing an adult version of Hide & Seek tells me that life is still good -- and fun -- in America.

This freedom, however, has a steep price tag. A few years ago, thousands of innocent people died less than a mile away from DUMBO, and several hundred more perished in Pennsylvania and Washington DC. And since that fateful day, roughly 1,700 servicemembers have paid with their lives, thousands more wounded. And the list will grow.

Having 150,000 U.S. troops on the other side of the world, in harm's way, is a tough pill to swallow, regardless of your political ideology. But it has to be done. We have to take the fight to our adversary, expect casualties, and patiently execute a long-term mission.

The alternative is the adversary's dream: Allow him to play offense in our backyard (again). Putting it mildly, that solution kinda puts a damper on things. There'd be no safety in our streets, no refuge in our homes. And you can forget about Capture the Flag.

I'm proud to know there's a long queue of people standing ready to pay for our freedom, no matter what the cost. The least we can do while we wait is enjoy what's been gifted to us already by fallen patriots. And play Manhunt as often as we can.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Patriot Act's Option to Renew

Big talk about the president's recent push to renew key provisions of the Patriot Act, which was Congress' offering to the Justice Department in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks. The act essentially closed the major loopholes that the Sept. 11th hijackers exploited, and has undoubtedly given U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies the teeth to stop would-be attackers before they strike us anytime soon.

Result: 200-plus bad guys have been convicted. Federal charges related to terrorism stand against a couple hundred suspects right now. Update 6/12: I assert the law was justified immediately after the first terrorism-linked conviction.

The Patriot Act has also got the ACLU crying bloody murder. The union's worry is that the act, as-is, may one day be used to target its fanbase -- abortion demonstrators and anti-war protesters. Expect to hear the terms "sneek-n-peek warrants" and "governmental checks-n-balances" sprinkled throughout their interviews and op-eds to get people's attention.

Several sections of the act are scheduled to expire, or "sunset," at the end of the year. The White House wants to renew some of the sections and strengthen others. While I personally put absolutely no stock in the ACLU's claims, we should welcome efforts toward fueling a healthy, mature dialog on the issue.

Anything else would be undemocratic.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Truths of military service & national duty

Articles on the Army's recruiting forecast (like this one and this one) should concern military folk -- how the Army handles this may very well set a precedent for how the other services will be expected to cope with any recruiting problems in the future. And if you've been around long enough, you know all this is cyclical.

Some solutions that have been kicked around are throwing more money at kids. Lowering standards. 15-month enlistment option. Outsourcing recruiting duty to retired types. And don't forget the spineless dirtbags who drop the "draft" bomb just to get a rise from mothers/female voters.

Army recruiters are already doing great work out there with tricked-out Hummers, portable climbing walls, mobile (laser) gun ranges, sponsorships in just about every sport, and even award-winning gaming CDs. Even with all those toys, the Army's prized recruiting asset is the soldier who can articulate the sacrifices and rewards of his duty.

As a whole, Generation X was not bred on the concepts of patriotism, duty or loyalty -- they were taught to be independent, impulsive and innovative. That's why most switch jobs every 18 months. That's why they are so sarcastic. That's why they invented extreme sports. GenX grew up with Commando, the A-Team, Schwartzkoff, Rambo and Maverick, and are destined to single-handedly beat the odds of life with guns a'blazing. Military service was merely one way to live that lifestyle.

Today's kids are tough sells. By high school, they're practically immune to slick marketing from iPod, Visa, Jon Stewart, FuBu and Nextel, and they're not at all feelin' the military's spit-shined sales pitch. It's time for a new approach:

MESSAGE TO HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS:
Wearing the nation's patches is really about continuing a 200-year-old tradition, not signing a contract. You have a responsibility -- a duty -- to contribute to the American experiment, and the most rewarding way to do that is through military service. The country needs a constant flow of young, smart people like you to do the heavy lifting involved with defending our freedoms and promoting liberty abroad. College tuition, signing bonuses, health care and a dependable paycheck are merely bonuses of the duty. The reason to serve is because the nation needs you right now. What we do is more than a regular job; it's a calling.
We answered our call proudly. Now it's your turn to answer yours.
Veterans, let's start pushing duty rather than focus on the contract terms. This isn't the NFL ...it's the USA.

NY Times: On Sleep Deprivation

NY Times today fronts a real snoozer on the Pentagon's bureaucratic acquisition process. It's the final piece in the "Arsenal of the Future" series; NYTimes.com members can check it out here.

For everyone else: The story is hardly front-page material -- even its newsworthiness is suspect: Must be a slow news day for an editor to accept "Nine years ago, ..." as the lede for an above-the-fold story. The real meat-n-potatoes surface around the 20th para (p. C4) with military service chiefs talking about the, ahem, "nuances" of defense procurement.

But this story also has a predictable sidebar, also on p. C4, about the Pentagon IG report re: Boeing's proposed tanker lease deal with the Air Force (my Cliff Note's version). A big fat yawn for anyone new to the dance, but I'll be the first to admit that the Times' talented Leslie Wayne deserves a cold beer for keeping up as well as she did from the New York bureau. It was a complicated issue, and once again, I'm glad it's finished.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Nugget-o-transformation

The saga has ended, finally. The Pentagon's Inspector General released its report today on whether there was anything fishy about how Air Force leaders approached a proposed lease with Boeing for aerial tankers.

Report summary: The IG found that some Defense/Air Force policymakers were more focused on getting a tanker deal through the wickets than developing an objective acquisition strategy. Don't let it happen again.

I've followed this story thru mainstream media for more than a year, and am quite frankly glad it's over; all parties involved -- in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill -- can move on with a renewed focus to take care of the American warfighter, which is what they're paid to do.

I don't know how easy it would be to establish a formal, yet streamlined, way to lease major defense systems (like tankers). But I bet such a process would be one more arrow in the quiver when it comes to our national defense strategy in the 21st Century.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Reality Check

Complacency has stealth characteristics. What was looking like another good day at the office ended in anger and frustration. The conundrum? I accidentally "saved over" a report that I had been working on for months.

Yes, sports fans, while my brothers and sisters in arms are fighting violent extremists in austere conditions, I blew a gasket, so to speak, because I'll have to redo a Word document. That I can't remember the last time work really got to me boggles my mind too.

There’s plenty to appreciate: I’m together with my family. Got a rewarding assignment. Good health. And there are American warriors sacrificing a lot on an hourly basis in hopes that the rest of us don’t have to sacrifice very much, very often.

My radar is up and running …and so is “One Heckuva Roar.”