Marines.Together We Served

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Fear Factor

Maybe it’s just me – but I don’t think so.

What I mean is this: There are way too many conflicting messages being thrown at us all the time, all having to do with fear.

For instance, I remember not so many years ago scientists were warning us of a new Ice Age. You and I, and many generations of our offspring, would be long dead before this Ice Age ever arrived. But we were told, none-the-less, that we were steadily moving in that direction. Now we are informed that we are rapidly facing the inevitability of Global Warming. So which is it? Good for you? Or not good for you?

Coffee became a bad thing some years ago. It’ll cause you to have a heart attack. It will harden your arteries. It’s bad, bad, bad. So what’s this that has come out recently stating that coffee is actually good for you? Two cups in the morning is now considered to be healthy. Really? So which is it? Good for you? Or not good for you?

Then there are eggs. These were declared to be really bad for you because of the high amount of cholesterol found in the yolk of a chicken egg. More recent studies have discovered that there is also a substance in the egg that blocks absorption of cholesterol into the body. So which is it? Good for you? Or not good for you?

Then there’s my all-time favorite food – chocolate. In my personal lexicon of foods, chocolate ranks as one of the major food groups. It’s practically un-American to not love chocolate! Yet we were informed some years ago that chocolate is very bad. Not so anymore. Chocolate is actually good for you – especially dark chocolate! Yahoo! That’s my favorite. So which is it? Good for you? Or not good for you?

It seems to me that we are living in a day and age when we’re deathly afraid of everything. We’re afraid of certain foods; we’re afraid of war; we’re afraid of terrorists; we’re afraid of buildings and bridges collapsing; we’re afraid of gangs; we’re afraid of a home invasion; we’re afraid of Big Brother; we’re afraid of politicians; we’re afraid of the future; we’re afraid of meteors hitting the earth; we’re afraid of hurricanes, flooding, and earthquakes; we’re afraid of inadequate healthcare; we’re afraid of road rage; we’re afraid of increased taxation; we’re afraid of sexual predators; we’re afraid of what’s on the Internet; we’re afraid of our children; we’re afraid of cancer; we’re afraid of getting old; we’re afraid of dying; we’re even afraid of fear.

There’s something that seems to be at the root of all these things. That “something” is man’s underlying obsession with death and dying. We find ourselves in a struggle with the inevitability of death. We’re going to die some time. So we strive to avoid our own imminent demise. There’s a date in the future when it is our time to leave this world.

But we live as though we should expect never to die. We want guarantees. We even use the legal system by bringing endless lawsuits against doctors who do not make us all better. There’s a law going through Congress right now that is attempting to hold certain businesses accountable for not anticipating that their product would add to global warming. Now isn’t that something? You’re guilty because you were not clairvoyant in predicting an unknown negative effect your product would have on the environment.

Fear – fear of death in particular – can prevent you from enjoying life to the fullest. It can even paralyze a person, preventing them from functioning in life’s most basic of tasks.

The Bible has much to say about man’s concern with fear. King Saul disobeyed God. When it was revealed to him how and when he would die, he was numbed with fear. Almost without exception, when angels appear in Holy Scripture, the first words they speak are, “Fear not.” Paul tells us that God has not given believers a spirit of fearfulness, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.

Best of all, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Why? Because he overcame sin, death and the grave. This is why Christians can smile when confronted with the prospect of death, for “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Death in this life is inevitable, but there is eternal life – you have Jesus’ word on it. Trust him today and watch your fears disappear.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Semper Fi

The phrase “Semper Fidelis” (Semper Fi, for short) embodies for all Marines, both past and present, a certain something that can’t be easily described, but is understood and valued as part of the ethos of every Marine. It is at the heart of what makes the Marine Corps the premier fighting force of the United States of America, if not the world.

Semper Fidelis is Latin for “Always Faithful.” Recently I heard that the term was used in the past by Marines who, finding themselves in trouble (usually in a bar) and needing help would shout, “Semper Fi!” All other Marines, past and present, within the sound of the needy Marine, or Marines, were to come to their brother’s aid. This may have been so, but I’ve not been able to validate this, not to mention that it sounds a bit specious to me.

It was in 1883 that the Marine Corps’ 8th Commandant, Colonel Charles McCawley, adopted this phrase as the official motto for the Corps. Semper Fidelis is emblazoned on the banner held in the talons of the eagle on the Marine Corps seal, the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.

A few years later in 1889, the director of The United States Marines Band, John Philip Sousa, composed what has become the Marine Corps March, “Semper Fidelis.” Sousa believed this to be his greatest musical work.

In our present high-tech age with electronic gadgetry for everything, Marines I communicate with by e-mail frequently conclude their correspondence with “Semper Fi,” or the further shortened, SF. Among Marines, nothing more needs to be said.

Last night during our Ice Cream Social at church, I was speaking with the daughter of a Marine friend who recently tried out for a spot on the ever-popular TV program, “American Idol.” Allie’s dad, Dave, was a Marine, serving with the 3rd Marine Force Recon in Vietnam. Dave earned three Purple Hearts, and two Silver Stars. I met Dave in 1988 while stationed in Stockton, California. It was my privilege to introduce Dave to Jesus Christ. About ten years ago, it was my honor to be the enlisting officer for Dave’s son, Paul, who wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Dave died two years ago next month.

So here I am talking with Allie who, in recent years, has been actively pursuing a career in Hollywood. She has a beautiful voice and has been singing in church for as long as I’ve known her. She decided to honor her father during the auditions for American Idol. She chose to sing the Marines Hymn. You know the one – “From the Halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of Tripoli.” I would have really enjoyed being there for her as she dedicated this to her father. The judges were impressed with her performance. However, by her own admission, she said the guy sitting next to her had an incredible voice and was selected to advance by the judges. It took a lot of guts for her to sing a patriotic service song in the bowels of liberal Hollywood. But this is part of what personifies Semper Fidelis.

I know that Dave would be busting his buttons if he were here to see his daughter sing the Marine Corps Hymn. American Idol may have chosen someone else, but there’s not a Marine today who doesn’t stand just a bit taller because Allie has embodied the Marine spirit of Semper Fi.

Listen carefully and you may just hear Marines utter in response another famous sound of Marine pride – Oorah!

Semper Fi, Allie.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Skivvy Drawers

This past week I have been involved in my two weeks of Annual Training (AT) in the military. As the Wing Chaplain for the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, I coordinate along with my staff, two weeks of fairly aggressive training. Since we only have this brief training period to work with each year we try to take advantage of the opportunity. Sort of like the old adage, “Make hay while the sun shines.”

Our selection of a base to use is the former Navy base that was the home of the Top Gun school in San Diego. A Number of years ago it was taken over by the Marine Corps. As part of our training we had to help some of our folks pick up some uniforms. The best place for that was at MCRD San Diego. The acronym, MCRD, stands for Marine Corps Recruit Depot. This is otherwise known as “boot camp” for those who would try to become a Marine.

I first arrived at MCRD San Diego on October 27, 1969 to begin the lovely process of becoming a Marine. It’s important to note that anyone aspiring to be a Marine must earn the right to bear the title, “Marine.” In the other branches of the service the moment you are sworn in you can call yourself a soldier, sailor, airman or coastguardsman. Not so with the Marine Corps. You must successfully complete the arduous training regimen lovingly prepared by your Drill Instructors. It is their sole purpose to make life miserable for you so that you will want to quit in the midst of training. You see, if you can’t stand up under the pressure of training in boot camp, how will you ever expect to handle the pressures of a combat environment? Trust me, every recruit who arrives for training will at some point reconsider whether it’s worth it. The first time this desire to say “Forget this!” is when you are standing on the infamous yellow footprints upon arrival at boot camp while your Drill Instructor, wearing the unmistakable “Smokey the Bear” hat, is screaming at you to get off his bus and get on the yellow footprints, while at the same time informing you that he is now your mother and father and will be for the duration of boot camp. The thought that you just may have made a big mistake crosses your mind.

Along with my senior enlisted advisor, RPCS Bob Page, who is also a former enlisted Marine, and RP2 Cisneros, we made the drive to MCRD. This is now the third time I’ve been back to a base that still makes me a bit nervous, wondering if some Drill Instructor is going to pounce on me for daring to enter his domain. This is how strong an affect these men have on you when you are under their care. Nearly thirty-eight years later and a Navy Captain, I still get a kick out of having a Drill Instructor salute me. But I still watch them very closely!

We stopped in at Cash Sales where you can pick up some uniforms rather inexpensively. While RP2 Cisneros was selecting her “digital camies,” I wandered over to the shelf that had the underwear – or what we call “skivvies.” The under shorts (aka: skivvy drawers) were in bins according to size. I needed some new ones so I began to look for my size. The bins that held the most 3-pack packages were of, shall we say, a more “mature” size. The bins that were being emptied the quickest by young recruits who had slim, hardened bodies were the 30” and 32” size. Several thoughts flitted through my mind. First, I used to wear such a ridiculously small size. Second, if I even attempted to put on such a small pair I’d hurt myself. And third, I grabbed my two packs of 38”s and moved quickly to the register.

I had to work real hard the rest of the day not to feel depressed!

We stopped by some recruit barracks set up for recruits who have had medical problems during training. RPCS Page had been asked by a Marine friend of his to visit the man’s son who was there. After those two wandered off, I was invited by the Officer in Charge (OIC) to speak to those recruits who had recently had surgery (broken leg, ankle, arm, etc) and were bed-ridden for the most part. As we walked into the ward, these young, soon-to-be-Marines, to a man, attempted to climb out of their beds and come to attention. I quickly asked them to remain where they were. They relaxed back on their beds waiting to see what I had to say. I told them briefly of my time at MCRD so many years ago, and how I had had some medical issues of my own back then. I had managed to contract both strep throat and food poisoning. I told them to concentrate on healing up so they could get back to their training and graduate from boot camp. I hope my words were helpful, but I have to tell you, I was moved by their courage to persevere. I believe they did more for my morale than I did for theirs.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve alongside these “band of brothers.” Though I’m old enough to be their grandfather, we share a love of God, Country, and Corps that transcends age, gender, ethnicity, faith, ideology and even skivvy size.

You’re in good hands America.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Mantle of Responsibility

It seems to be something of an epidemic. Has our society chosen to ignore all sense of responsibility?

I was reading through the list of news headlines the other day, and noticed two things that clearly stood out. First, the news stories looked just like any other day’s headlines. Second, the level of irresponsible behavior seems normative today. Allow me to give you some examples: 1) GI Guilty of Rape and Murder of Iraqi Girl, Family, 2) Man Guilty of Going to Moldova to Have Sex with Boys, 3) NYC Councilman Charged with Raping Woman in Office, 4) ‘Radioactive Boy Scout’ Charged in Smoke Detector Test, 5) Telemundo Newscaster Suspended for 2 Months Over Affair with Los Angeles Mayor, 6) Dogs Belonging to 'Pulp Fiction' Actor Ving Rhames Maul to Death a 40-year-old Caretaker, 7) House Devolves Into Verbal Fracas, 8) Pakistan Criticizes Obama on Comments. There’s Michael Vick and the dogfights that have been held at his home in Georgia; the Tour de France cycling event that is drawing more attention today for drug abuse than for sportsmanship and athleticism. Or Barry Bonds attempting to break Hank Aaron’s home run record – only Hammerin’ Hank didn’t use steroids. Or Tim Donaghy, a National Basketball Association (NBA) official who has admitted to betting on games where he officiated. Supposedly the money he made calling fouls that weren’t came from the Mob. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. Even golf has recently been implicated in the drugs/steroids scandal that is running rampant through all of sports. Golf? Say it ain’t so! Where’s Bobby Jones when you need him? Anyway, you get the idea.

Is it me, or does it seem that the Hollywood types and the glamoratti behave excessively badly? I realize that they are watched in ways that “Joe Citizen” could never appreciate, but that goes with the role. When you are in the spotlight, you’d better understand that you need to “Mind your Ps and Qs,” as my grandmother used to tell me. Whether it’s Mel Gibson being pulled over for drunk driving and then spewing out vile anti-Semitic hate-speech; or Paris Hilton tearfully going to jail after repeatedly driving under the influence; or Senator David Vitter using Capitol “escort services”; it boils down to taking a close look at yourself and asking some hard questions. Is my behavior appropriate for my position? Is this behavior I would accept from my subordinates? How would I react if my children acted the same way I do? If there is a God, and he has standards, should I not expect to meet with his disapproval?

The high-profile personalities we see daily come under such close scrutiny that they can’t even breathe without a camera or a microphone in their face. Most of us wouldn’t want that sort of intrusive attention. I wonder to myself sometimes just how I’d handle a situation like that. I like to imagine I’d handle it with grace and dignity even if being rudely accosted by some news reporter who’s looking for some sensationalistic angle for the next day’s edition.

Most folks have a pretty good sense of what responsibility means. But just so we have a level playing field, here’s Miriam Webster’s definition: moral, legal, or mental accountability; reliability, trustworthiness. Microsoft founder and guru, Bill Gates, discovered a new level of responsibility once he burst out of his garage and onto Wall Street. “There is a certain responsibility that accrued to me when I got to this unexpected position.” I’d love to know what changed for him. Not only is he the wealthiest man in the world (or second wealthiest), but he discovered that besides having more money than is even imaginable, and a place of power and influence unheard of, he still must be responsible in all aspects of his life.

I find this quote from Pope John Paul II, now deceased, to be rather telling, both for us as a nation and as individuals: “Radical changes in world politics leave America with a heightened responsibility to be, for the world, an example of a genuinely free, democratic, just and humane society.”

Are we a genuinely free, democratic, just and humane society? Or do the headlines tell a more sordid and revealing tale?

America’s greatness resides in the moral character of her people. Let us determine today to be the right kind of people.