Monday, December 21, 2009


When did it all start? Was it Vietnam with the body count? Or was it long before that, in the beginning of time and the beginning of war itself. As far as I can remember, war has been depersonalized. Is it for the good of the country? For the good of the cause?

In World War II, the media was censored from releasing pictures of dead American soldiers so that public support of the war back in the states would not crumble. Our government was afraid that if America saw the bodies of our soldiers rolling lifeless on the beaches of Normandy, pushed around by the surf, their Marines laying dead on the sands of Iwo Jima or Guadalcanal, that she, America, would scream for the war to end. Before Pearl Harbor, our country was in a state of isolationism. America was adamant about not going to war with any country. Not with the memories of The Great War fresh in her mind. But a surprise attack by naval forces of the Empire of Japan quickly changed the public opinion. And with the censorship of those photos, the country as a whole was not seeing the whole picture. They didn't really have the opportunity to know what was happening thousands of miles away. Only the small towns across the nation really felt it differently, because when one of their boys was killed in action, word got around quick and that one loss was felt among many families and friends. But the next town over, much less the next state over, was not aware of that one soldier's fate. Not aware that a boy that grew up not fifty miles away had sacrificed his life "upon the altar of freedom." Was it decided that it wasn't proper for America to know how many soldiers were losing their lives in the European and Pacific theaters? Was it the right thing to do? It's a tough point to argue, but I believe it was necessary. The Allies were fighting a just war, against formidable enemies that were wreaking havoc across many nations. These enemies, the Germans, the Japanese....were unwelcome in the land they were occupying, and they needed to leave. The British were trying, but they knew they couldn't do it without the help of the Armed Forces of the United States. Although it wasn't our country being overrun by enemy tanks or our cities being bombed everyday, we couldn't sit at home and do nothing while the rest of the world was fighting for its very survival. And the events of December 7, 1941 forever changed our thoughts, thrusting us into a costly war, a war that we needed to be involved in, no matter the cost. And so the eyes of American citizens were shielded from the true horrors of war to help ensure their full support and in turn helping to bring victory to the Allies and restoring world order.

But I sometimes wonder. Would things have turned out differently if the pictures of those dead soldiers and Marines had made it into the hands of America? I think it's quite possible. It's a pretty good bet that not as many people would have bought war bonds to help keep the war going. At the same time, it is a thought that I try not to ponder, because I am thankful for the outcome of that war. It allowed my grandfather to come home and meet my grandmother so they could have four kids, including my mother, who gave birth to my brother and I and allowed us the opportunity to grow up in a free country. This is an opportunity that a lot of people around the world do not get to experience, and I am thankful for this everyday. I am thankful to God and His son Jesus Christ for creating us and giving us the free will to choose whatever we please. So in a sense, the media censorship, in my mind, was the right thing to do. Sometimes there are things that happen that we are better off not knowing. It is a sad truth.

Vietnam changed that.....and in the harshest of ways. In the jungles of southeast Asia, there was no censorship of the media. Video cameras were rolling, in color, as American blood was spilt in a country where President Lyndon Baines Johnson stated, "We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves." America soon found itself in a long, drawn out war with no front lines, a rising body count on both sides, and no end in sight. The American people were in tune to what this "conflict" or "police action" was costing, and they were not happy with the price. Public support quickly crumbled and questions were flying left and right. Why are we over there? What are our soldiers fighting for? When is this going to end? When am I going to see my husband, my son, my brother, my sister, my daughter again, if ever? America wanted out, badly. And so on January 27, 1973, eleven years after we arrived and after fifty-eight thousand one hundred and fifty nine American soldiers laid down their lives, we left that jungle. The soldiers that were lucky enough to return home with their lives were given a not so warm welcome. No parades, no celebrations, except maybe amongst themselves and their familes. Instead, they were sneered at and labeled "baby killers." It would be years before these brave men and women were recognized and appreciated for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their comrades who breathed their last breath in a foreign land, fighting an enemy they could not see, for a cause that many didn't understand or believe in. "All gave some, some gave all." To this day, the citizens of this great nation have not forgotten the mistakes of that war. They have moved on, trying to put it behind them, but never to forget. America had smelled the blood from the homefront and was now more cautious than ever about sending their troops to foreign battlefields.

Since the Vietnam War, and I think its safe to say that it was a "war," American troops have been sent abroad as a global police force to "keep evil in check" and do what we believe is right. But now we find ourselves, once again, in a long, drawn out war, on two fronts. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, American troops and her allies set foot in Afghanistan and declared war against Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Barely two years later, we returned to the Middle East, set to finish a job that many believe should have been done twelve years earlier when Bush, Sr. was in charge. American troops stormed through the deserts of Iraq, battling its way to Baghdad, hellbent on removing Saddam Hussein from power. This war supposedly ended quicker than it began, and before long, Saddam was in custody and ready to stand trial for his atrocities. There was no doubt in the American mind that this man had to take responsibility for his actions and suffer the consequences. In the beginning though, the numbers of American dead were low, and this was accepted as a price that had to be paid to do what was right. But even though the big battles were over, the real battle had yet to begin. Over the next few years, more and more American soldiers were losing their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, but as this trend continued, the media started to put a number on the amount of American lives lost. Maybe not to depersonalize these men and women, but to show in their way to the nation what these two conflicts were costing our country. It raised the question of why troops were still over there and if this really was worth it.

We are now in our eighth year in Afghanistan and sixth year in Iraq. I myself am on my first deployment, sitting somewhere in Afghanistan, here to do my job, to do it well, let my "hopefully" twelve months pass by quickly, and God willing, return home safely to my beautiful bride. But then there is today's event in the news that sparked this whole urge to write my thoughts. I had just gotten off a twelve and a half hour shift and was getting ready to get some much needed sleep. We were climbing into bed when the news started filtering around that Brittany Murphy, the famous actress, had died of cardiac arrest. This came as a shock, and a surprise, as she is still young and I wouldn't have imagined this happening to her. It is tragic that she died so young and I am no doubt saddened by this. She was a good actress and as far as I could tell, a good person. There was no doubt that the media would spend a few days, maybe even weeks, talking about the circumstances of her death, and the highlights of her life. It wasn't long ago that Michael Jackson died suddenly, and even though it was months ago, the media was still talking about it, keeping the attention of the American people on one person, as though a country had lost its King.

But is all this really necessary? Is the outcome of the investigation of Michael Jackson's death really going to affect how we live our lives? Will wars be won or lost? Will the earth be thrown off its axis? I really doubt it. Maybe I am being too insensitive. If you are reading this and think so, then fine. I am going to disagree with you if you do. For some time it has bothered me how much attention the media gives to our celebrities. Not just their deaths, but of their everyday lives and thoughts and opinions. These celebrities have no special super powers. They are not geniuses, nor scientists, nor the great minds of America that make the big decisions in government. They are entertainers, and they get paid a lot of money to do what they do, which is fine. But what is it about them that makes them the center of the universe? I'm starting to get a little off point here, so let me return to the issue that I have been wanting to bring up this whole time.

When is the media going to stop reporting the loss of American lives as numbers? When are they going to act like they care and starting reporting their names? Where are they from? What small town was affected by their loss? What big city or state can stand up and learn about one of their own that has fallen for their freedom? I realize that this is not why our fighting American men and women volunteer to serve their country. They do not do it for fame, for fortune, or to be in the spotlight. Some do it because they feel it is their duty. Some do it for the experience, the college money, to improve themselves, or maybe because they have nowhere else to go and they have a family to support, so they give up their civilian life and enlist. They are a people that America loves and appreciates everyday. So I ask this of the media. Would you be so kind as to set aside thirty seconds of your daily news report, or maybe even once a week, to remember the names of the fallen. To let America know the name of that latest soldier that lost their life in the battle against terrorism. Bring their sacrifice home. We know that America already cares about them. But I myself am tired of hearing them as a number. I want to know who number nine hundred and fifty seven was. What was their name? Where were they from? You want to feel the pulse of the American people? Tell us. Make us care that much more. Make it personal. Make us aware of the true American heroes that "gave it all." Thank you

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The following is something that was written by a former Marine that I used to work with. He is one of the nicest human beings I have ever met and had the pleasure of working with. He changed the way I felt about Marines and broke the stereotype. This man served in Vietnam and brought home with him his experiences, good and bad. He talked about the problems he used to have and what he did to make good with them. He turned his life around and counseled other soldiers who were experiencing the problems he had. He gave me this short paper he wrote and asked that I read it and pass it on to anyone else that I felt could benefit from it. So I am making it public here on my profile, and if you know of anyone that this can benefit, please feel free to pass it on.

It strips us of our dignity. It steals our youth. It blinds our faith. But most of all, it's what it makes us become.
One can argue that war is an honorable thing. Something to hold unto yourself to be proud of. However, the concept of fighting for the country becomes secondary to fighting for one's beliefs. Even this is questioned at times, and when this occurs, the person changes,
When the question of "why" creeps into the minds of soldiers, not only will the complexion of war change, but more importantly, the individual. He no longer has the pride, the professionalism, the integrity, or the reason to continue. He then questions himself. He quickly becomes a robot going through the motions and living on adrenaline. The "high" that is incomparable to any drug, but is more addictive. The rush of pitting one's self against another where death is the consequence of failure, becomes an event greatly anticipated.
This creates an irony that can seldom be explained, but is understood by the many who have been placed in this situation. To receive the "high" the soldier only has to kill, but at what cost? This individual will forget, or lose, what he once was. He will be forced to commit acts against humanity that many cannot fathom, let alone understand. Now the soldier has a different war to fight. One that is relentless.
From this point of view, war isn't relegated to the battlefields, but rather something that is carried on long after the physical fighting has concluded. This "secondary war" is often more damaging and more destructive. Not to property or personnel, but to the individual.
How do you replace the "high?" How do you change the loss of self-respect? How do you change the perception of having done wrong?
The individual is now worthless! The individual has no intrinsic value, nothing to offer. After all—"He's a very bad person." He now believes the nightmares are his penance, his "Ghosts," destined to remain with him through eternity. Ironically, unless the individual is willing to begin another war and draw a line in the sand—this is true!
The individual who attempts to change will fail! There is no need to change who you are, but rather get in touch with that other person again. We all are basically good, and only when that is realized, do we begin to replace the negative feelings with something more positive.
How do you do this? Let's mention from the start that working on yourself is an "ass kicker!" Now matter how little self-respect the individual believes he has, there is always some. Let's also mention that this individual will not begin this process until he feels he has hit bottom—contemplating suicide, etc.
The one tangible in all of this is self-esteem. We all crave it, and this is the basis for becoming the person we want to be. It may be that it takes someone outside the individual's world to see the problems. It may be that the individual himself sees what's wrong and can take steps necessary to get his life back on track. This is rare, and would take an unbelievable strong individual indeed. Whatever the circumstance, there is always a way out. It is not an embarrassment to ask for help, but the individual who is fighting the war sees this as another lost battle, thereby lowering his self-esteem even more.
This is where the war changes. People's paths cross for a reason. Wars are traumatic, whether they are fought with guns or in every day life. From the individual's perspective, spousal abuse, child abuse, natural disaster survivor, etc., are just as bad as any international war. Each creates what is now referred to as "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" (PTSD). There will always be someone who fought the same war you are fighting. This individual will not only be able to sympathize with you, but empathize as well.
Each individual must find a way to exorcise the "Ghosts." To what extent, is an individual thing, which depends entirely upon the severity of the PTSD. One this is certain, all "Ghosts" must be confronted and dealt with. If it is a wrong that was done to someone, an attempt must be made to correct the wrong. It must also be noted that not all attempts will be successful. However, the attempt is the important issue. Each attempt will continue to build self-esteem and self-respect.
There will be "Ghosts" that can never be exorcised. There will never be a way to make restitution. At this point, the individual must find a way to make peace within himself. This could be something as small as saying a prayer, to planting a tree, or actually talking to the "Ghosts." The point is: What works for one individual may not work for another, but there will always be something that will work for everyone.
Please understand that the "Ghosts" will always be with you, and that's good, because the "Ghosts" are what will keep you from making the same mistake(s) again. As unbelievable as it may sound, having the "Ghosts" around becomes a very real and tangible source of strength that no one but you possesses.


December 24, 2008 – Christmas Eve – Grass Valley, CA
It was just another stop at the grocery store to pick up some last minute provisions for Christmas, meandering through the holiday crowd, trying to get out the door and back home to get the ham cooking. As my mom and I were exiting the store, I looked over and noticed a blonde woman and her teenage son waving at us. I slowed down and waved back, not recognizing who it was, but assuming that she was waving at my mom, I stopped her and pointed her towards who was waving. My mom turned and instantly recognized them, telling me that it was Vincent. I couldn’t have been more surprised.
It was back in 2000 or 2001, when I was still a volunteer with the Nevada County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, when we got a call for a missing autistic boy off Squirrel Creek Rd. His name was Vincent. He had gone missing a year before, turning up at a neighbor’s house down the street. Now he had taken off again. So, our first night was spent knocking on a lot of doors, checking the neighborhood and the woods behind his home. Also missing was the family dog, which was reassuring, because we knew that the dog would be with Vincent, protecting him wherever he went and keeping him warm. It was a long night, as we did not find anything, and it was getting cold. But there was no giving up.
Early the next morning, we widened the search area and I found myself on a quad-runner with some of the other guys, checking every trail, under every bush, in every possible direction we could think of. When there was still no sign of him or the dog, we kept going, rechecking areas we had already checked and looking for more areas we hadn’t. The day dragged on, ever so slowly, like God was giving us more time to find him. Still nothing.
Daylight was running out, the temperature was dropping again, and we knew that if we didn’t find Vincent tonight, he might not survive another night. We got on our quad-runners once again and went down a dirt road that led to a wooded area about a mile behind Vincent’s home. It was an area that had been checked earlier that day, but when you’re dealing with a young autistic boy on the move, there was no telling which direction he would be going. The three of us dismounted and checked the map. We decided to start walking into the woods to check a small ravine. I walked along the bottom of the ravine, while Gary and Josh stayed up top to my left and right. We walked slowly, taking turns calling his name, looking for any clues on the ground in front of us and around us. It was quiet and it was cold, but God was with us that day. He was with Vincent. As we walked, and as we called out for Vincent, we got a reply. “Grandma?” We stopped, afraid to make a sound. Again, we heard it. “Grandma?” First we looked at each other, making sure that we had all heard it. Then they looked, and there he stood. “There he is,” I heard one of them call. I walked up to the top of the ravine on my left and saw for my own eyes. A young boy stood there, frozen in place, his dog standing guard, barking at us as we stood frozen in place as well, so surprised by our discovery.
Did we find Vincent or did Vincent find us? We approached cautiously so as not to alarm the dog and let him know that we were there to help Vincent. Sensing this, the dog submitted and allowed us to check Vincent. He was a little nervous, a bit cold, and a little stinky from weathering the elements, but he was on his own two feet and ready to go home. A call went out over the radio to the Incident Command Center back up the road, notifying them that Vincent was alive and well and we were bringing him back. I took off my jacket and put it around Vincent to keep him warm and we took turns carrying him back to where we had parked the quad-runners. With the dog at our sides, Gary loaded Vincent in front of him on his quad and we made the return trip with a helicopter over our heads and three satisfied minds.
This memory has always stayed fresh in my mind, and so it feels like it only happened recently. It wasn’t until today, upon seeing Vincent and his mom Deanna that I realized that about eight years had passed and Vincent was now a teenager, still struggling with autism. I don’t believe Vincent recognized me, as it had been so long, but he still wanted to give me a hug and wish me a Merry Christmas, as he truly is a kind-hearted boy.
Before parting, Deanna gave me her email address and told me to email her so we could stay in contact. I shook Vincent’s hand and wished him and Deanna a Merry Christmas before walking out the door. It was such a surprise to me to see them after all these years, and it has now brought back feelings that I hadn’t felt since that day.
Their lives have changed over the years, as has mine. When we were searching for Vincent, I was at a time in my life when I was very unsure in my faith. I had so many unanswered questions and still doubted that God was real. Recently though, life has taken a huge turn for the better. A year ago I started going through basic training, and at the same time started reconnecting with God. In June of 2008 I arrived at my first duty station in Savannah, GA and met the love of my life in November of that same year. As our relationship grew stronger, she made it clear to me that if I wanted to be with her, I had to have a strong relationship with God. It was through her that I started strengthening that relationship, in turn strengthening my relationship with her.
Everyday I feel myself coming closer to God, and everyday I feel my love for Laura growing stronger. It is because of this that my life is becoming so real and how the meaning of life is becoming so clear. To love and be loved. Is that the true meaning of life? I cannot say for sure. What I can say for sure though is that is my answer to the meaning of life. What is yours?