Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mustangs, Uniforms, and Old Marines

There is something very special about a military uniform. It was my privilege to have worn two uniforms of our nation’s military during the past forty years: Marine and Navy. Now that I’m retired from the Navy I have a mess of uniforms that I don’t need and that are taking up space. I’ve been considering just how to properly be relieved of them.

As a young Marine it was a tremendous thrill to wear the blues on those special occasions such as the Marine Corps Birthday Ball held each November on the tenth, or as close to the birthday of the Corps as is practical. I was reminded of this last Saturday night when I attended the Ball held at the Stockton Sheraton. This is an event hosted by the 4th LSB (Landing Support Battalion) out of Lathrop and the Stockton Marine Corps Club. Last year I was invited to be the guest of honor – something that I never even dreamed of when I first attended these Marine Corps events at the start of what would become a circuitous and long military career.

Anyway, at the Ball this year, the guest of honor was a friend of mine, Colonel Al Cruz. His speech that night was a real stem-winder! It was both inspirational and motivational. As an enlisted man Al was an artilleryman, completing two tours in Vietnam. Al is what we call in the military, a “Mustang,” as am I. Now for those of you who are unaware of this term “Mustang,” allow me to explain it to you. Someone who is labeled a Mustang began their time in the military as an enlisted man. Should this enlisted man prove himself a leader on the field of battle, he might receive a direct commission as an officer. Should this man demonstrate particular skills in a chosen area he might be selected for a commission as an LDO (Limited Duty Officer). Should this person earn a college degree while still an enlisted man he is then eligible to be commissioned as an officer. Or this man might be selected for OCS (Officer Candidate School) whereupon after successfully completing this rigorous training the man is commissioned as an officer. “A mustang is defined by continuity in military service from enlisted to officer (i.e. no break in military service). However, being a slang term, there is no precise definition or set of criteria to determine which officers can properly be called a "mustang"; however generally accepted mustangs are those who earned a Good Conduct ribbon or have completed 4 years of enlisted service prior to earning their commission.”

When I completed my seminary training I was then qualified to become a military chaplain. Even though I never intended to go back into the military, the Lord had other plans! Because of my ecclesiastical training and education I was able to be commissioned as a naval officer rather quickly. This occurred in December of 1983, nearly twenty-five years ago. Since I had become a Navy Chaplain I knew I could no longer wear the Marine dress blues – unquestionably the best looking uniform bar none. At my first duty station as a chaplain I knew I needed to part with my blues. I met a Marine built much like me who was also a Staff Sergeant with two hash marks. I sold him my blues for fifty bucks. This was a dark day!

Now back to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball last week. At every Ball there is an official cake cutting with a sword. The guest of honor receives a piece along with the oldest and youngest Marine present. I believe the youngest Marine was nineteen – born in 1989. That was depressing! However, the oldest Marine there was a major, born in early 1915. He joined the Marine Corps in 1933. And get this – he was wearing his uniform that night, looking very fit and spry. With all the Marines there, most being twenty-five and younger, there was a great cheer as this old Marine major came to the front of the room to help cut the Marine Corps Birthday Cake. That was motivational!

I’m still undecided about what to do with all my uniforms. But this much I know: This old Mustang is keeping his Navy mess dress uniform just in case he attends a Marine Corps Birthday Ball when he’s ninety-three.

Happy Birthday, Marines. Semper Fi.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Loyal Opposition

Loyal opposition is “the concept that one can be opposed to the actions of the government or ruling party of the day without being opposed to the constitution of the political system.”

Since working the polls on November 4 I have been thinking a lot about the election and its outcome. To say it was historic is clearly an understatement. The United States of America has elected its first black president. I am both enthralled by this turn of political events, and dismayed at the same time. I will explain this later.

I wish to establish a particular point before going any further: On January 20, 2009, President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. On that day he will be my president, the president of all Americans. To state otherwise flies in the face of the founding fathers who crafted our system of government. They knew what it was to live under the crushing weight of a monarchy (the King of England). They determined never to allow Colonists/Americans to be subjected to such tyranny again. Thus they established what can only be described as a form of government that is truly genius. The seat of government was set up in order to establish a balance of powers. This is where we get the three branches of government: The Executive Branch (The Presidency), the Legislative Branch (Congress – makes laws), and the Judicial Branch (The Supreme Court – interprets laws). Even when one party has control of all three branches, not to worry! They still can’t get along!

The next part of the genius of our founding fathers is the establishment of the election system. Even though there were only the original thirteen colonies which became the first thirteen states, the people were given the power of the ballot box. We were empowered to select the person we wanted to lead the country through “one person, one vote.” To prevent this means of voting from becoming simply a popularity contest, the Electoral College was created to give every area of the country a voice in the election of our president and vice-president. This system still works as well today with fifty states (and a few U.S. territories) as it did in the late 1700s.

What all this means is that every four years we the people have the opportunity, right, and privilege to cast a vote for the leader of our country. So even when you watch your choice for president lose, it isn’t the end of the world! Remember: monarchs, tyrants, despots and the like always rule for life. The people do not have a choice.

I mentioned earlier that I’m enthralled with the selection of Barack Obama as our next president because of its historic import. Even though I have personally believed the United States has been ready to elect a person of color, or a woman, to the presidency for quite some time, I wasn’t sure if I would ever see it happen. Conversely, I am dismayed because Barack Obama holds to political positions that I am, in many instances, diametrically opposed to for moral, theological, philosophical and ethical reasons. Case in point: President-elect Obama is in favor of a woman selecting abortion as late as the third trimester, something that even Roe v Wade does not permit. Further, he was in favor of allowing a baby to die that had survived a botched abortion. This is unconscionable!

Referring to the definition for the Loyal Opposition at the start of this article, I am now a full-blown member of that loyal opposition. That is to say, I want President-elect Obama to succeed as our president. That’s the loyalty part. I will be praying for him and his administration for the next four years. However, where I believe he is wrong, I will work through our political system to try and encourage him to change his mind. This is the opposition part. When he takes what I believe to be the correct course of action, I will applaud him and his efforts. When he moves in a direction that I believe is detrimental to our nations interests, I will say so.

Historically, the loyal opposition has been the political party that is no longer in power, often referred to as the minority party. That would be the Republican Party beginning January 20.

But regardless of who is president, I love my country and its form of governance, and will defend it as long as I am able. I will also call it to account when it oversteps its bounds. I believe that is what the founding fathers intended.

God bless America!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The American Warrior

The American Warrior is a strange phenomenon in the history of the world. Most military men in history were out for fame and glory along with the acquisition of land conquest and war booty. Not so the American Warrior.

The other evening our church was hosting an early Thanksgiving dinner for the families and kids of those children who are involved in our Junior Jammer Program. Armando, a young man seated at a front table in the Fellowship Hall, saw me wearing my black leather Marine Corps jacket and asked me if I was a Marine. I mentioned I’d served in the Corps many years ago. He asked where I got the jacket. I told him it was available to those who were members of the Stockton Marine Corps Club. His sister then chimed in, saying, “He wants to go in the Marines!”

Well, the sister’s comment got my attention. I directed my gaze at Armando and asked him if this was true. He assured me it was. His mom was also sitting at the table, so I glanced at her to see if discussing this with her son was okay. Before she could say anything, the sister piped up again, telling the mom, “This is good for him to hear from somebody who knows about the Marines.” Mom reluctantly sighed in resignation. I was surprised to discover that Armando was only thirteen. He certainly was big for his age and did not look like a baby-faced thirteen-year-old. We talked for a while at which point I told him to keep an eye out for military recruiters on campus when he gets to high school. I then invited him to look me up when he’s seventeen if he still wants to go in the Marine Corps, but recommended he complete college first before signing up for the military.

This got me to thinking about the American Warrior: What makes this particular war fighter so different from other war fighters in history?

Here are some of my personal reflections on this issue which are in no particular order. First, the United States of America was founded on the basis of Freedom. This freedom was garnered through the bloody fighting that occurred during the Revolutionary War, 1775-83. Colonists first came to America to flee from the tyranny of British imperialism in the early 1600s. But the British throne followed these ex-patriots to the shores of the New World. Over the ensuing years, the colonists grew increasingly frustrated with an intrusive and abusive British master. The banner and slogan that I believe best depicts American resolve for independence and freedom is, “Don’t Tread On Me.” This is at the heart of the American Warrior spirit: Leave us alone! It was with this in mind that the Monroe Doctrine was established to protect not only the United States, but all of the Americas from European influence and dominance.

Second, Americans are content to live at peace with their neighbors. In the 233 year history of our nation we have often fought wars in various climes and places around the world. Yet, even though the adage is true, “To the victor go the spoils,” the American Warrior cares nothing for this. Land acquired through hard fought battle is returned by the victor (the American Warrior) to the one conquered (fill in the blank). Consider the Philippines. This island conglomerate was acquired by the United States as part of the surrender of the Spanish at the end of the Spanish/American War in 1898. The Philippines was then conquered by Imperial Japan in 1942. American forces liberated the Philippines three years later. Then in 1946, the United States gave the Philippines independence. In addition, Pacific Islands that American men fought and died for in World War Two were returned to Japan years later. This is particularly telling since two of those islands were very costly in American lives: Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Third, Americans have a basic sense of decency which comes from the foundational teachings of the Bible and Judeo/Christian principles so derived. Not only do we value our own freedom and liberty, we encourage it in others. And as often as not, our American Warriors will quickly volunteer to fight for someone else’s freedom. This is why we see pictures of large numbers of American Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan amassed for reenlistment ceremonies so they can continue to serve in those far off countries. They truly delight in setting others free from tyrants and thugs. With the Golden Rule as the backdrop, it is virtually impossible for the American Warrior to sit still when some other nation or people group is in trouble.

There are many more reflections on the American Warrior that I would like to expand for you which time and space will not afford just now. However, we’ve just celebrated another Veterans Day in America. Remember: it’s always the right time to offer a word of thanks to a veteran.

The American Warrior is one of the reasons America is a great country. Never forget that!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Smaller Government, Please!

If ever there was a time when I longed for smaller government it is now. The craziness of the past several weeks regarding Wall Street and the bailout plan to keep your retirement fund from evaporating overnight, has been nothing short of breath-taking.

The disturbing aspect of all this has to do with our government maneuvering to control more of our lives. Case in point, we are taxed beyond imagination! Our forefathers started a revolution that birthed this nation because of over-taxation by a greedy, ravenous British Empire. Over a period of years increased taxation vexed the colonists who had little say since the British Parliament made their decisions without appropriate representation of the colonists. Thus, the phrase, “No taxation without representation!” emerged as a rallying cry throughout the colonies.

As I write this article, we are mere days away from the presidential election. Despite the Main Stream Media’s attempt to assure everyone of the election already being a foregone conclusion, I’m not buying it. As I stated in last week’s article, it’s too close to call.

I know you’ve all read the statistics that say we work each year from January to May in order to pay our portion to the government, both federal and state. Are you kidding me? When did we the people go to sleep, allowing the government to grow so large that those whom we have elected to office believe they can stick their hands into our pockets with impunity?

John Locke, an early seventeenth century political theorist, said, “The purpose of government was to protect life, liberty, and property.” What ever happened to that simplicity? Now I realize it can’t be as na├»ve and simple as all that. However, the way our government operates today is frightening. It has run amok.

Are you not just a little bit disturbed by the comment made by Barack Obama to Joe the Plumber that we need to “spread the wealth”? You can call that whatever you like, but it still boils down to socialism. Here’s a quick definition of socialism: Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

Did you get that? Under socialism the “centralized government” will “plan and control the economy.” Remember: The government is what got us into this current financial crisis! Show me one thing the government can operate efficiently. Do you really want the government to have control of the banking industry? Social Security? Welfare? Health Care? Shall I go on?

I just heard Obama announce to a cheering crowd that we’re only a few days away from “fundamentally transforming America” What fundamental transformation might that be, Senator Obama? Or is it now Mr. President? Unless you plan to dramatically and drastically reduce the size of government, I’ll pass, thank you. And let me remind you that the Constitution, which you have taken an oath to preserve, defend and protect, is the greatest document created in the world.

The people of the United States are the most generous people in the history of the world. And yet we are roundly criticized for being lazy and spoiled. Really? Whenever there is a crisis in any other part of the world, the U.S. government offers assistance and money from the coffers of taxpayer funds. We’re okay with that. What is rarely mentioned is the enormous amount of money that comes into non-profit agencies from private citizens further helping in the crisis. These are the same people who sacrificially give in support of our military by sending boxes of candy and snacks along with toiletries and personal items, notes and cards. I know because I have seen the countless number of boxes in Kuwait, Iraq and Djibouti, shipped at personal expense by citizens of this country who love the men and women of our military. I’ve also seen first hand the way people answer the call for assistance, particularly: Hurricane Katrina. So many people traveled from around the country to assist in the evacuation and recovery that word had to be sent out asking that no more people come to Louisiana!

We the people do not need to be taken care of, especially by an out-of-control government. What we need is for the government to stay in their lane; function in the way in which they were established; and work for the people – not the other way around.

It’s time to return to a government of “We the People.”