Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Attitude Adjustment

As kids growing up it was not unusual to hear some adult state with absolute certainty that some person needed an attitude adjustment. Most often this carried with it a rather ominous tone with heavy implications that a boot to the person’s backside was a good start.

I’ve heard it said that life is more about a person’s attitude than it is talent or ability. This seems to make sense, particularly when we are witness to pampered athletes and Hollywood actors who have the world at their feet with adoring fans, and a ridiculously engorged bank account. It strikes me, as well as many of you, that these are the folks who have hit life’s lottery, yet they frequently behave like spoiled children.

I knew a Navy lieutenant who needed an attitude adjustment. This hot-shot officer was zipping around a military base in his nifty little sports car when the tell-tale lights of a base security car lit him up. As the young Marine lance corporal approached the car, the lieutenant unwisely decided to exert his superior rank on this junior enlisted man. “How dare he pull me over!” thought the lieutenant. Following protocol, the lance corporal rendered a hand salute to the Navy officer and then asked for his license and registration. As he handed over the requested documents, the lieutenant said, “Do you know who I am?” Not missing a beat, the lance corporal replied, “No sir. Do you know who I am? This badge that I wear should tell you that I am the direct representative of the commanding officer on this base, and I can assure you that he will be very interested in knowing who you are!” This story did not end well for the lieutenant. The commanding officer of the base brought up this attitude issue with the lieutenant’s command. As a result, the lieutenant was encouraged to find employment elsewhere – outside of the Navy!

All of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves struggling with a bit of an attitude problem. Our egos get in the way with a hyper-inflated sense of self-importance, and the next thing you know, folks simply do not like you, and do not wish to be around you. It is at this moment that we would do well to remember what God wants for us. In the Bible it says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” Let’s think about that for a minute. We’re to give thanks to God in all circumstances. Hmmmmm. Why would the Bible suggest such a thing? Allow me to offer these thoughts.

First, you and I must consciously choose the attitude we will have. You may be saying right now that you don’t even think about what attitude you have. After all, you’re just being you. And at least you’re being honest about it! Here’s the problem with this sort of thinking. When you do not choose to be positive, you will always drift toward being negative. That’s the problem with our sin nature. When you do not choose to be positive, by default, you have chosen to be negative. So when you allow the negative to rule, you are frequently unpleasant, which you then excuse by saying such silliness as, “Well, that’s who I am, like it or not.” Or “I’m just being honest.” And you’re being unnecessarily hurtful of others in the process.

Second, you may be wondering how you could possibly be thankful in all circumstances. Ah! Here’s the interesting part. Two things are at play here. The first is how your outlook changes when you choose to be thankful even when the circumstance does not seem to warrant thankfulness. The second part is you simply do not know what God knows, therefore you cannot see what he may want to accomplish through the circumstance you are facing. This is where trusting God is essential and critical.

The best way to establish this attitude of thankfulness which God wants you to have, is to intentionally offer up your thanks to him for his love, for his provision, for his gift of life, and for his gift of eternal life through Jesus his son. When you choose to change your attitude, and demonstrate a thankful attitude, your whole outlook on life in general, as well as on every aspect of your daily existence, will alter. You will like the change and others will like it too.

So, as you gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, choose now to have an attitude of thanksgiving. By so doing, you bless God, and others will also find they are blessed to be with you.

And eat a drumstick for me!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Worst Kind

Last night my wife and I turned on the news to get caught up on what was happening. The news story that has been consuming the news services is the murderous attack on our soldiers at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. The news people were making various vacuous comments about the motivations of the shooter, Major Nidal Hasan. The debate continues as to whether this Army officer is a terrorist, or just mentally deranged, or both. My wife’s verbal response to the television was Major Hasan’s actions are the worst kind of terrorism. She is correct.

From the moment I heard of this shooting, I had little doubt that this was an act of terrorism. Just so that we’re on the same page, terrorism, by definition, means, “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” This definition is taken from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms.

This act of terrorism is of the worst sort primarily because it was performed by someone who was purportedly “one of us.” That is to say, an American faithfully serving his country. Military people do not serve a political, religious, ideological, or philosophical entity. Instead, we obey the civilian head of the nation. This is why the president is the Commander-in-Chief of all branches of the military. Military members are non-political. That is not to be confused with not holding a personal political view on the way things should be handled in our country. You will find a wide variety of opinions held among military members. However, these views and opinions are to have no bearing on the performance of one’s duties.

I experienced a great sadness when I heard about this shooting. The reason for this was obvious on the surface, but there was much more that affected me. The part that is obvious is the wanton killing of military people on their own base – a place that should be safer than anywhere else in the world. The second reason I was saddened has to do with a loss of innocence. You see, when you live on a military base the way my family did for many years, you have a tremendous sense of security. You’re living alongside of the people you work with every day, the people who wear the same uniform, who have sworn the same oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Only now the enemies who are domestic are those very same ones who wear the uniform and have obviously sworn a false oath of allegiance, as with Major Hasan. How do you fight against that?

Having grown up in the 1950s, I had a lot of fun, never fearing for my safety, or the safety of my community. Sure, we took the precautions associated with an aggressive Soviet Union, but that was far away, and our leaders were strong, and our military was ready. As I watched the world change from what I had known, I longed for my own children to have an experience like mine. When I came back into the military as a Navy chaplain in 1983, we moved on base at Camp Pendleton. I couldn’t imagine any place being safer. I told my daughters, “This is as close to my experience of growing up in the 50s you will ever have.”

Because of the actions of one man, that has now changed!

So, allow me to make some observations. First, Major Hasan is a terrorist. Is he also mentally disturbed? No more so than any other terrorist who commits such hideous cowardly acts against innocent people. His actions were premeditated. He knew exactly what he was doing. Second, I suspect that the Army chain-of-command saw this guy as a hot potato and no one wanted to be the one to take any action against him for fear of becoming an instant front page story, along with being branded as an Islamiphobe. That is the extent to which political correctness has taken us. Third, this man was in communication with radical Islamic groups. Supposedly, the FBI was on to him. Granted, he hadn’t done anything other than arouse a lot of concern and suspicion as to where his loyalties lay. But he is a commissioned officer in the United States Army and should have been, at the very least, removed from his duties as a psychiatrist working directly with our men and women returning from the war zone. Fourth, if he didn’t like the way the war was being handled by the United States, he had the option of resigning his commission. This, more than anything else, confirms to me that he was very intentional in his actions. I believe he was surprised when he was not killed in the process.

In October of last year I wrote a two part series for Roots in Ripon on “What Terrorists Say.” In the article I mentioned the author of the book, “Out of the Mouth of Bombers,” Ruthie Blum. Here’s an exchange between her and Aaron Klein, an Israeli newspaperman. Ruthie Blum asks Klein, “What makes terrorists tick?” “That’s a good question,” Klein says. “A lot of people think that terrorism is about pieces of territory. Others think that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the whole alphabet of Palestinian terrorists simply want to destroy Israel or that al Qaeda wants America out of the Middle East. But one thing that has really been driven home to me in all my talks with terrorists – which is the thesis of all my work – is that they are looking to serve Allah by spreading Islam around the world. That’s what makes them tick.” Blum then asked, “It is often said of terrorists that desperation and poverty – sometimes mental illness – is at the root of their actions. Is there truth to that?” “About a year and a half ago, I met with a 22-year-old Palestinian who had been recruited to become a suicide bomber for Islamic Jihad and his recruiter in Jenin, and I specifically asked them whether they were carrying out their operations because of poverty and desperation. Their response was to get offended and to call it Zionist propaganda. They explained that suicide is forbidden in Islam, and that blowing oneself up in the midst of innocent men, women and children does not constitute suicide, but rather jihad for Allah – that therefore it is not only allowed, but it is the creed.”

Did you pay attention to that last sentence? Just as I was finishing this article I saw on the news that an investigation of Major Hasan’s apartment revealed material which implicates him in as a “Soldier of Allah.”

Make no mistake - Major Hasan is a Muslim terrorist. The sooner we quit pretending he isn’t, the sooner we’ll be able to protect ourselves as a nation against such reprehensible characters as Major Nidal Hasan.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Once a Marine . . .

There is a phrase that is very appropriate for the Marine Corps and it goes like this: “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” This simply means that whether you did a two year hitch, or spent forty years in the Corps, you are a Marine first, last and always. This is more than a slogan – it’s a fact.

Let me give you a for instance. In a room full of people, if there are two guys who previously served as Marines, they will find each other. Don’t ask me how this happens – it’s a Marine thing. Recently, I was sitting in a restaurant waiting for a friend. There was nothing on my person that would indicate I had once served as a Marine, except for a watch on my wrist. I have always worn my watch on my right wrist with the crystal facing in. This is also a watch that has a thick rubber ridge around the crystal to protect it. On the face of the watch is the Marine Corps logo: the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. This was not easy to see because of the way I wear the watch. Yet, a man stopped by my table and asked if I was a Marine. I assured him I was. He smiled, stood a bit straighter and informed me that not only had he previously served as a Marine, but his son is currently a Marine serving in Iraq. I shook his hand and thanked him for his service and his son’s service to our nation. This sort of encounter has happened more times than I can recall.

So a couple of weeks ago I was on a journey to San Diego from my home in northern California to join up with two men I met in Marine Corps boot camp. We three had managed to reconnect via the Internet. Joe lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and Larry lives in Dallas, Texas. We’ve been making plans to actually get together for the past year, deciding to make it for late October in conjunction with the fortieth anniversary of the day we arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), San Diego, October 27, 1969. On Sunday the 25th Joe flew to Dallas so he and Larry could fly to San Diego together. I, on the other hand, would drive down after church arriving about the same time their flight landed. I got started a bit late, so arrived after Joe and Larry were already at the house we were renting for three days. When I pulled up, these two were sitting out front, enjoying the view of the harbor while sipping a cold beverage. Joe and I have actually seen each other a couple of times over the past eight years, but neither of us had seen Larry since 1971. As I got out of the car, Larry bounded out of his chair, crossed the lawn in about four steps, leaped off the wall to the sidewalk and grabbed me in a bear hug. All I could hear him say was, “Just as the father ran to embrace the prodigal son, the least I could do is run and embrace you!”

For the next three days we talked for hours, getting caught up on all that had happened in the intervening forty years. We also made a couple of visits to MCRD, retracing our steps during our boot camp training. Each of us remembered things that had happened that the others had forgotten, or the details had become fuzzy. We started out by first visiting the base chaplain’s office where we were treated like royalty. When folks heard we were getting together for our own 40th reunion of boot camp, they wanted to know more, and be of assistance in making it all the more special. We were given the loan of a petty officer who guided us through the training area, seeing to it that we didn’t wander into areas that we were not authorized to enter.

Boot camp for all Marine recruits begins by standing on the “yellow footprints.” At this moment your life changes forever! You belong to the drill instructors from this point on until your training is complete, when you have officially earned the title, “Marine.” The yellow footprints we three stood upon forty years ago were no longer there, but there were new ones in a different location. We also were able to visit the first barracks ever built on the base for recruits. We started out in Quonset Huts, but later moved into the new barracks – which are now the oldest barracks on the base!

We were invited to attend the Marine Corps Historical Society’s quarterly meeting at a breakfast at the mess hall the next morning. The new commanding general for the base, Brigadier General Ron Bailey, would be the guest speaker. As we walked through the chow line and settled down for the program, the general was walking around and introducing himself to each one who had come. He later made mention in his speech that we three were there at MCRD for our own reunion. But what really made us feel old was the fact that the general entered the Marine Corps ten years after we did! Ouch!

Among other things, we drove to Camp Pendleton for a visit to the rifle range where we each reminisced about the challenges of qualifying with the M-14 rifle. We stopped for dinner in Carlsbad at the Vera Cruz Fish House, a favorite of Isaura’s and mine. As we sat there enjoying the warmth of renewed friendships, a man at the next table overheard our conversation and acknowledged that he, too, was a former Marine. He was curious about our reunion, so we filled him in. He was waiting to meet with a client, who, when he showed up, indicated that he was a former Marine too. It was a wonderful time and a great way to end our three days together.

I couldn’t help but be amazed at the way the three of us picked up the relationship we’d once had as if those forty years were nothing. It’s as though we’d never missed a beat.

Larry still carries shrapnel in his body from his time in Vietnam. Joe and I were more fortunate. But as you remember Veterans Day today, November 11th, be sure to thank a vet for their service.

And I want to say thank you to all veterans from all branches of the service, particularly to my Marine brothers and sisters, and especially Joe and Larry.

Semper Fi, Marines!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

One Year Away

This time next year we will have voted in the mid-term elections for many of the Congressmen across our fair land. Now is the time to prepare for this event. It may well shape the future course of our nation.

What may be very telling, yet could be lost in the midst of what is normally assumed to be a non-voting year, is that two states, New Jersey and Virginia are voting for their governor’s race this week. The reason these two races could be very telling is that they would either bolster President Obama’s agenda, or set it back on its heels. As of this writing, the Republican challenger Chris Christie, to the Democrat incumbent governor, John Corzine in New Jersey, is ahead by 4 points in the latest Rasmussen poll. New Jersey has been a huge Democrat stronghold for as long as I can remember. It is ranked among the highest taxed of all 50 states. If the Democrats were to lose this governorship, it would be a serious blow to the current administration.

In Virginia, the pundits are saying the Republicans have this governorship sown up. The finger-pointing and blame game is already in full swing among the Democrats as to why this race was lost. The polls have the Republican challenger, Bob McDonnell, so far in front of Democratic rival, Creigh Deeds, that it is considered to be all over but for Deeds’ concession speech.

Ever heard of TABOR? This is an acronym for Taxpayer Bill of Rights. This measure limits state spending growth to the rate of population growth plus inflation. Tax revenues growing faster than that would be rebated back to taxpayers. Colorado instituted TABOR in 1992, a concept advocated by conservative and free market libertarian groups as a way of limiting the growth of government. It requires that increases in overall tax revenues be tied to inflation and population increases unless larger increases are approved by referendum. Now hold onto your hats! Of all the places where you might least likely expect a similar TABOR to be successfully introduced – the Great State of Maine (Yes! Liberal Maine) shows a double digit lead in passing this bill. Same goes in the equally liberal state of Washington.

So, you see, these seemingly insignificant elections may be indicators of how events could turn out in 2010 and 2012.

I have grown to be more and more alarmed by the actions of our government over the last twenty years. For instance: The continuous and exponential growth of the national debt; our weakened economic stance in the face of a rapidly rising superpower in China; the back-breaking economic strain that is being borne by the American people in caring for those who have come to this country illegally; a two-party system of government that lives in their own little bubble totally devoid of any appreciation for the hard-working average American citizen; a tax & spend political mentality shared by Democrats and Republicans alike; a political mentality that first uses, then accuses, and then abuses the men and women of our military who continually answer the call of their nation; and a collective moral failure of this country to stand up for what is right, proper, and honorable. This list could be extended ad infinitum.

Greatly intrigued with America, French political thinker and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, made this astute observation in the early 1830s about the fledgling United States: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

Are we allowing ourselves to be seduced by an ever-ravenous Congress that feels itself entitled to more and more of our money? Have we lost the will to openly declare that we want our freedoms and liberty restored? Or have we supinely submitted to the comforts that our elected officials are grudgingly willing to grant us – at a price?

I, for one, am tired of being abused by those who are supposed to represent “We the people.” Keep this in mind: In the elections of 2010 all members of the United States House of Representatives will be up for reelection. That’s right: ALL members of the House. That’s 435 Congressmen. And one third of the one hundred members of the United States Senate will be up for reelection.

You think your vote doesn’t count? That’s only because you have been led to believe that it doesn’t. But it does. If enough of us across this great nation of ours will stand up and be counted, I believe, by the grace of God, that we can rescue our land from those who seek to dismantle our Constitution and destroy our way of governance.

This move to turn this nation around may well begin this week in New Jersey and Virginia, Maine and Washington, but you and I can make the bigger difference this time next year. The message we send will resound through the chambers of Congress, the Halls of Justice, and yes, even the White House. Then our newly elected leaders will be quick to represent all the people.

Wouldn’t that be refreshing!