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Proper Work for Retired Gentlemen

I have oft repeated something I once read or heard early in my military career: “A retired officer should go home to work the family estate, write or teach”. I do not recall where I first came across this notion but it summarizes the essence of what was a proper vocation for a retired officer in the past.

Few of us actually have family estates to go back to, those days are long gone. However, writing and teaching are perfectly respectable avocations. It certainly beats prostituting oneself to the military-industrial complex of defense contract work or the mind-numbing waste of government employment.

I have engaged this semester in substitute teaching at a nearby high school. I plan to only teach history, economics and government – just a couple days per month – but I have filled in a couple of other courses recently just to get a feel for the school.

In reality this goes hand in hand with the minor and very small nonprofit I am standing up with the purpose of “enhancing scholarship, education and critical thinking related to matters of first principles.” I get the opportunity to engage with and teach young folks a small bit, I think it is worthwhile.

I must say I came away today a bit concerned about the notion of police in schools. I realize I simply do not know all the facts, I have not done this long. However, I saw something today that is concerning.

I teach one county over, in a rural high school. The county is not wealthy, it is not the poorest in South Carolina but there is poverty. Most of the student population is black. The student body are all basically country folks regardless of race.

In one class today there was a particularly engaged young man. He answered all my questions as I was giving the assignment and seemed interested in doing the reading in order to answer the follow-up questions I presented. At one point he asked if he could read on the carpet. The regular teacher had set up a pretty comfortable environment with lamps and a carpet for reading. He asked politely and I concurred.

Everyone in the class was reading, I was up front at one point and another young man came up to ask a question. The door to the classroom was open. A deputy sheriff that works at the school walked by addressed the fellow that was up talking to me saying essentially “hey you take that hoodie off your head”. He then addressed the other young man, lying on the carpet across the room, with the book on his chest reading asking what was wrong with him and if he was preparing for a tornado drill.

This was not friendly banter. It was not the sort of thing (tone) a coach might say to a knucklehead that is goofing off. This was authoritative and demeaning talk. It was I have a tin badge and a gun and you need to respect my authority talk. The kids did not show the affection or respect for him that you would expect if it were something other than what I observed.

I shut the door and told him we would call him if we needed him.

Look I do not know if this deputy has had run-ins with these two. I do not know if these fellows are trouble makers. I do know that they listened as I introduced myself, told my introductory joke and gave them a challenge question to ponder during the reading. They showed me respect. I know they seemed engaged and interested in learning something. I have no idea what the history there is, but I know after having seen real knuckleheads in my life that these two did not present and irredeemable to me.

I do not know what I do not know but it seems to me having cops in school, particularly if they are as abrasive as this fellow, is just a bad idea.

People might say that with school shootings this is just the way of the future. I say bollicks. I would much rather be allowed to carry my pistol on my person on school grounds and let any other teacher that wants to do so be likewise armed as opposed to turning schools into something like prison camps that make youngsters like the two in this story hate cops.

What I witnessed to day is just bad all the way around.

A Boy and His Dogs

I was privileged to grow up in the hundred acre wood – almost literally. I had access to fields, streams, woods, marsh and all sorts of flora and fauna for a young boy and his BB gun and later shotgun or .22 rifle to explore to his heart was content. My life would have been incomplete had it not been for my various fourlegged companions. There were many of them over the early years of my life, often more than one. Within that expanse, I created a world of my own consisting of imagination and exploration. During the summers and any time I was free from the governmentrun prison school, I was in the woods, sometimes all day.

My dogs were an integral part of that life. Without their companionship, without the lessons they taught me about stopping to literally smell the roses (or whatever else they stuck their noses into) I would be a very different person today.

It is then natural that in retirement, as I enter the second stage of exploration, wonder and excitement with the mysteries and wonders of the world that I should have four-legged companions.

A few years ago I inherited two small dogs when I married my lovely and brilliant wife. Maximilian Augustus Tiberius (Max) Clark – a Jack Russel Terrier, may he rest in peace, and Leopold Octavius Titus (Leo) Clark – some sort of half weeine dog/fluffy dog. I added the more illustrious monikers to their names to compensate for the fact that they are so small. In fact, one day whilst driving through post, a gate guard laughed at me because Leo was sitting on the middle console and the guard initially thought it was a small blonde-haired girl.


Leopold Octavius Titus (Leo) Clark

Last fall, as my son was nearing graduation from college, Sitka the beagle dog we adopted years ago and had essentially become his dog passed away. He decided it would be a grand idea to go out and get a new dog, a boxer. Never mind that he lived in an apartment that did not allow pets. In came Cooper Clark into his life. A couple of weeks later, Cooper ended up at my house.

Cooper Clark

Cooper lived with us “temporarily” for that semester. Once my son graduated, moved into a rental house and got a job, Cooper went back to live with him.

The thing about Mr. Cooper is he has a lot of energy, he dislikes staying in his box beyond night time, enjoys running in the yard, adores Leo and loves to ride around in the truck. Cooper is also a big fan of a schedule, he likes to eat on time, wake up at the same time, he knows when it is cuddle time with the wife on the couch and he is well aware of when bedtime is. He likes a hard schedule. When all of that is askew, he chews things, runs amok and generally is a bad guy. Thus, Cooper came back to live with us permanently just this year.

Honestly, I would not change a thing. Cooper has destroyed some of my stuff but he has gotten better. He has learned to love and respect his leash on walks and he and Leo accompany me each day in the truck as I take care of B&B Clark Consulting business. The students over at Augusta University love him. One day whilst checking on the JagRide bikes I bumped into a friend of ours who reported back to the wife that she had seen Leo and Cooper (no mention of me!).

A man needs a proper dog to ride in his truck and Cooper fits the bill. He and I are magnanimous enough to allow Leo to tag along.

Jus Bellum Justum

Today I was listening to Mike Church on his network Veritas and was struck by a topic he covered.

I have heard Mike talk about what is a just war and why America is involved here or there before. I have heard him mention that others have accused him of not being “conservative” or being anti-American and all that because of his stance and suggestion that perhaps we ought to think about these things a bit more. These are tired arguments I saw hurled at other conservative and moral voices beginning back in the mid-2000’s. Justin Raimondo received the same sort of reception for some of the same reasons.

In the legal world there is this notion of standing, essentially having an interest in something before one might be party to or bring an action. In Mike’s case, his standing is upon centuries of doctrine codified into church teachings and that eventually found there way into international law. Numerous treaties related to how nations conduct war and when are based upon the Christian doctrine of jus abellum, first theorized by Augustine of Hippo and fleshed out by Thomas Aquinas.

Mike has never “been there” and “done it”, he has almost certainly read something about it and talked to a few people that may have been there but his standing to make the case that many of America’s military engagements are unjust is based not upon personal experience, rather upon church doctrine and quite obviously Western tradition as manifested through laws, treaties and customs we have developed based upon the foundations of those teachings over centuries. That plus the fact that he is a tax-paying American citizen give him standing to have an opinion on these matters.

Still, there are the moans and groans from the crowd of “traitor”. It seems that historical facts are not enough of standing for some to accept these arguments.

If one is Protestant rather than Catholic and if you attended a more fundamental or evangelical church it is highly likely that you have never heard Augustine mentioned within the confines of your church. So why do you care what this Augustine guy said?

One might argue that this is America by God and we will not be hamstrung by international law, even if such law is buttressed by foundational principles of Western Culture itself. So why care about international law developed over decades based upon the Western tradition?

Perhaps you served an enlistment as a young Marine years ago and still puff out your chest when telling boot-camp stories to folks that will listen. I will not deny you that. Perhaps your grandfather served in WWII and after almost 80 years since that event he only tells the good stories – that is his prerogative and I would listen to his stories. Maybe still you knew or know someone that came back from Vietnam and spent much of their life with a sadness that they could not explain, a feeling of betrayal – perhaps you feel a little guilt and sadness about that. I have seen that, I understand it and I hate what was done to those men.

However, none of that should matter when talking about what is truly just and what is unjust, what we should do and what we should not do. Some of the above is based upon ignorance, others pride and the last shame. These are vices that ought not direct us to an understanding of right and wrong.

If, you are still in the camp that says a guy like Mike has no standing to speak to these issues and that his Catholic Saints have no say in how America dictates to deals with the world. What say you of me? Do I have standing to speak to this issue?

Your humble writer is but a hypocrite of sorts. I spent 33 years in the Amy, 23 on active duty. I knew perhaps as early as Somolia and for certain no later than Bosnia that something was wrong – yet I still served, still took a paycheck and today I draw retirement.

I was pretty certain we had won, as best as one can win, the war in Afghanistan just a few weeks after it started. We had punished and diminished the folks that did us harm and that should have been that. We should have gone home and let them sort out the rest. And yet I still served.

I questioned why we should invade Iraq. I had been part of planning to “finish the job” way back in the mid-1990’s, we were just waiting for a reason. I saw through the WMD nonsense. Yet, still, I served.

One might ask why if I knew and believed these things as early as the mid-1990’s I continued to wear the uniform. That is a complex answer.

Robert E. Lee is quoted as stating a truism that I came to understand more and more as my career progressed.

“It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it.”

I did not spend each and every deployment safely ensconced on some well-bermed FOB perhaps taking an “adventurous” ride over to BIOP or some other well-fortified location. I spent much time embedded with, living beside, training and fighting with foreign forces.

I have seen people die, I have feared for my life and I have rejoiced at the countenance shown upon me when I escaped unscathed.

Lee’s quote could not be truer. Wrapped up in what real war is one finds a breadth of emotions more intense than I suspect is possible to replicate in any other way. All of the senses, all emotions and all of a person’s being can and does transcend into a hypersensitive, acutely alert and devastatingly feeling and acting being. Fear, anger, hate, love, compassion, confusion, surety, exhilaration, exhaustion, all in one moment’s breath felt more intensely that it seems possible. And after, nightmares, memories (fond and foul), hypervigilance, distrust, fear, anger and more. Sherman got only one thing right in his deplorable life, war is hell, but Lee got it more right, there is something appealing to the terribleness.

All of the above coupled with the fact that from a young age I knew that I was born to be in the military – there was never a question. I was once idealistic about it. Ronald Reagan did much to stoke my enthusiasm and encourage me to pick up a rifle and stand a post.

Once in, I decided that I would do as much good as possible. Perhaps for those I served with or those I led and maybe for those people who’s country I was occupying.

I recall in 2011, while a peon on a staff planning an operation in (or shall we say against) Libya I was one of the few that questioned if we even had the right to enact regime change based upon the limited scope of the UN resolution (and a clear understanding of first principles). Some of the lawyers said the same thing before they were replaced. In my own way, I tried.

I cannot recall the number of times, late at night over tea and pretending to smoke a proffered cigarette, I had a conversation about Christ with a Muslim I served beside. They always initiated it and it was always their attempt to convince me to convert – but in my way I thought my presence and those conversations had a purpose.

I even once tried to proselytize my profession.

There is more – my personal story is not the point. My point is I do have standing to talk about just and unjust wars if you will not accept Mike’s explanation. I picked up a rifle and I stood a post.

God created us all for a purpose, my life and my career were my purpose. Much like the Centurion in Mathew 8, I was a man under authority, doing what God created me to do.

Honor the servant but chastise, rebuke and hold the master accountable. It is simply not un-American to ask that our government engage in a less bellicose form of diplomacy. It is not anti-conservative to look at war as the last and perhaps least best option in most cases.

It is perhaps the converse. The most conservative and American thing we can do is ask why we make war and hold those actions to a standard accepted by the Christian Church and Western Culture in general for centuries.

There is a real cost to war and military action and it ought not be undertaken lightly.

I am not referring to mere dollars and cents, although considering that actions and expenditures today will burden our children and grandchildren, that in and of itself is not small concern.

Consider.

It was the first week of November 2004. My team and I hunkered down in an apartment complex just north of the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Fallujah. The presidential election results were just in back in the States, Bush had won reelection which meant the operation to retake the city was a go (could not have casualties or collateral damage pre-election you know). Beginning near sundown, just after the election results were received, the entire city was engulfed in fire from all manner of ordinance. It made a million-dollar minute look like a small fireworks show, and it persisted for hours. I recall all the mosques in the city actively calling prayers all night throughout the barrage. I wondered what sort of folks would stand and fight in the face of such terrifying firepower.

We had a mission the next morning and knew the next days (it turned into weeks) would be grueling, therefore we needed a rest plan and sleep. We took turns sleeping in the various bedrooms. The apartment was that of a family of four. There were two children, they appeared to be perhaps eight or nine years of age. The bedroom I selected was that of a little girl. The family had left almost everything as they evacuated before the operation. The US had dropped leaflets for weeks telling the civilian population to leave, 300,000 or so left.

I lie there trying to sleep, listening to the prayers and the explosions and looking at the pictures, dolls and essentially the stuff of this family’s life sitting just as they left it. I imagined that they had perhaps a bag of small items each and did not know if they would ever see their home again. It was a difficult night as I imagined how I would feel as that father.

Were terrible things occurring in Fallujah? Yes! There was were torture houses, makeshift courts and execution rooms and all that. It was all terrible. The thing is, the people we fought in Fallujah came from around the world, they had migrated there for months and saw the city as the start of a great caliphate. They were there to fight us. The civilians were just caught in the middle.

Did retaking the city change the future history of Iraq for the better? You can judge that for yourself, but considering ISIS eventually established a caliphate much larger than just Al Anbar province I say no.

There are many other stories from other places The one above is sufficient I think to tell of the true cost.

Cost to young US troops, many who joined because they simply had no better options, some out of idealism or a sense of duty and others as a way to better themselves. These were young folks under authority doing what we, The American people, asked.

Cost to civilians in lands where we wage these wars.

Cost to the young ideologically motivated on the other side with conviction in their faith and a belief fighting the US is a holy thing.

Cost to spouses and children left alone temporarily or permanently because their military parent is deployed and/or killed.

Cost the the soul of our nation for waging wars willy-nilly without debating the temporal and eternal cost.

I picked up a rifle and I stood a post. I have standing to say there is a cost and we ought to think and pray more diligently before rushing into any war anywhere.

The Freedom to be You

One of my objectives in retirement was to stand up a nonprofit corporation with the intent of “enhancing scholarship, education and critical thinking related to matters of first principles”. Additionally, the purpose of the organization is to encourage the study of the works of John C. Calhoun and to defend that which is good of his legacy.

Last night my wife lovingly looked at me and said people would not understand and that somebody, somewhere would eventually call me a racist just because Calhoun was involved.

Heck my daughter attends the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson, on the grounds the Calhoun family gave to found that orange covered place. When I was a youngster in school I was taught Calhoun was the greatest statesmen to ever come from SC and one of the greatest from the US generally.

This perplexed me. I am a chauvinist for certain, in a loving, paternalistic sort of way. I cannot help but be who I am and believe that women are the fairer sex and that men were created to leave the cave and protect them. I do not apologize for that. I am perhaps a curmudgeon of sorts in training in terms of cultural, social and moral values – I cannot hide nor deny that.

But a racist because I think there is still great value in the political philosophy of John C. Calhoun? Do some of his words offend modern sensibilities? Certainly. Can the same be said of many other men of his time and after, Abraham Lincoln comes to mind? – certainly!

The thing most people seem to have forgotten or were never taught in history courses is that everything must be taken in context.

I thought deeply about what she said. Shame on anyone that ever or eventually paints me with such a brush. I also resolved to come to the conclusion that I do not care. If one can find anyone that I ever worked with or for or that worked for me that would honestly call me a racist then I would say they had traveled to a parallel universe to find said person.

There is no truth to it.

As a benefit to my efforts with this new organization, I have been dialoguing with a man whom I have read and respected for years. In the next couple of weeks, I will sit with him and have lunch. He is perhaps the most accomplished scholar alive, perhaps ever to live, related to the life and works of Calhoun. This man, since retiring from his professorship at the University of South Carolina has been called a racist in many places on the web. He is a curmudgeon, he is old school, but I have read most everything he has written and I have never seen anything that would qualify as racist.

It is a sad state of affairs in a society that claims to love freedom where an individual can be denigrated based upon spurious and unfounded accusations simply because they support elements of truth that are uncomfortable to someone else’s narrative.

The beautiful thing is. I am free to do what I believe and I need not care what anyone that would spread such filth might say or believe.

Part of finding purpose is knowing where you stand and not being afraid to be present in that spot.

A Fun Gig

One never knows where or when small and seemingly insignificant skills acquired over the course of a military career might prove useful and profitable. I just found a perfect side hustle for my small company, B&B Clark Consulting.

Augusta University JagRide

I cannot count how many times while stationed overseas or deployed I purchased a used beat up bicycle. In some instanced I purchased more than one bike on a deployment when some sticky fingered never-do-well would re-appropriate my ride. I became pretty adept at maintaining these old clunkers.

Additionally, like many military folks I became pretty good at operating and maintaining GPS enabled equipment. So much of our individual kit and vehicles required this knowledge.

Last month I came across a contract opportunity to maintain the bicycle fleet for Augusta University’s JagRide program. A company out of Charleston owns the bikes and the prime contract. This opportunity was enough to push me over the threshold and make the decision to turn in my notice to leave my government service position. I decided last month that GS work was not a good fit for me, but this contract opportunity gave me the courage and motivation to make the move.

The bikes are GPS enabled so my skills at minor bike maintenance and GPS/electronic systems come in handy.

This is not enough work or money to equate to a full-time job, it is not intended to. I have several other things I want to do with this company, this allows me the time and space to do that.

As a tremendous bonus, my boxer, Cooper, truly enjoys this new gig. He rides along in the truck as we check on the bikes and he is a big hit with folks walking around campus.

The takeaway of all this is one should never underestimate the myriad of skills you pick up over the course of a military career. Some of those might buy you freedom and opportunity some day.

#AugustaJagRide

The More Things Change….

It is my sad duty to report that all is not well with the US Army Signal Corps.

I retired from active duty in the US Army as a field grade Signal Officer after 33 years of service last April. I took a position as a project manager at Augusta University and then a contract position with the Cyber Center of Excellence doing lessons and best practice analysis. (you can read a bit about what that experience taught me here). Last August I took a mundane general service position with the Signal School because I had heard things might be changing and there might be hope for the future. I wrote about those hopes here.

My assessment at this point is things are not better, nothing is changing in a positive way and essentially the Signal Corps is mired in the same sort of ineptitude, bureaucracy and petty political in-fighting and personal empire building that I observed across the breadth of my career.

In short:

  • The organization lacks a clearly defined, articulated and disseminated strategic plan and vision.
  • “Leaders” spend much of their time refining and shaping organizational charts – not to build efficiency and effectiveness but to solidify personal empires.
  • Instead of making many new hires of fresh thinking, eager people with unique skills, the School has populated its upper tiers with people that just walked over from other ineffective entities on Fort Gordon. Some of them came with real baggage and in some ways, it is the island of misfit toys.
  • Senior Civilians on Fort Gordon, in general, exert too much control over the future – as a result of efforts at empire building mentioned above. Senior officers have always been and continue to be either blind to this or afraid to rock the boat.
  • The NCO Corps in the Signal Corps is, at the senior levels, perhaps the worst in the Army. Everyone that wants to become a Sergent Major becomes a Mason and that club exerts undue influence in how the NCOs act and perform and where their loyalty resides. (this became painfully apparent to me a few years ago when I conducted a 15-6 on allegations against a BN CSM and found an entire platoon of Sergeants Major willing to lie for him despite proof contrary to their statements I uncovered later on)
  • Too many Colonels with no other place to go and no real prospect of decent employment after the Army migrate and roost at Fort Gordon, occupying positions that could make a difference, if only…
  • The union at Fort Gordon exerts entirely too much influence on operations. Supervisors are afraid to supervise for fear of a complaint.
  • Too many ordinary civilian GS employees that perhaps could make a difference have simply given up. They come in each morning, put their heads down, do mundane tasks and go home.
  • The Signal Corps was perhaps the originator of the insane concept of the “top 5” or whatever number you want to designate. The notion that you have to have a senior civilian, warrant officer, NCO and other spuriously designated folks to make a “command team” is ridiculous but it is alive and well at the Signal School. This in effect “excuses” every little GO that cycles through there from making hard decisions.
  • Overall the Signal School is like 11 men on a football field, all running around, some trying to secure little plots of land for themselves, others hoping they just get to stay on the field and get paid a little longer and others dancing in the endzone to be seen – yet the ball sits at the 20 and never moves forward.

A friend of mine laughs at me often when I make statements akin to those above saying “man, Barry, you say some stuff”. He is not disagreeing with me, he is stating in his own way that people do not state the truth about the state of the Signal Corps in the way that I do. I realize that making such raw statements sets me up as a straw-man, my assertions are easy to dismiss as rantings. I might even agree, if I were disgruntle or felt slighted in some way but I do not. It took me years to arrive at the conclusions above, years of observing a Signal Corps that was divorced from the real needs of the warfighter. I came back to be a GS employee because I heard there was hope. I am not disgruntle. I am disappointed and perhaps a little angry that such ineptitude has gone unchecked for so long.

It is said often that one should not raise a problem without presenting a solution. I have often found that to be a lazy way for bosses to tell subordinates not to complain. However, there are solutions to all of this. Some big and some small, some painful and radical and some mundane and easy. It is not the point of this post to articulate those. I have rallied for many of those points numerous times in the past to no avail. In my current position I advocate for some of the smallest of fixes – yet nothing changes. If someone with power reads this, does not get personally offended and dismiss it and wants to see real change, contact me, I will join your team and help.

Barring that…

I will soon transition out of my GS position and focus solely other pursuits that interest me. I have done my best during my time in uniform, as a contractor and as a civilian employee to effect change or at least find a team with a leader that wanted to really move the ball. Life is too short, there are too many other interesting things to do.

I have taken numerous oaths over the years, and take the idea of doing one’s duty seriously – I have, yet nothing has changed.

Not Small Differences

I joined the Army (the Army Reserve actually) during my junior year of high-school.  I had to gain the permission of my parents and I looked a little silly returning my senior year with my basic training haircut.  This began a journey that ended this year in an active duty retirement and many exciting and fulfilling years in between.   I knew from the time I was a small child that I wanted a career in the military but in 1983 a speech by Ronald Reagan gave me cause to join as soon as I turned 17 two years later.

On the night of this “blue wave” election night I am reminded of that Evil Empire speech and what it meant to me then and what it should mean to our nation.  Watch it if you have forgotten Reagan’s words concerning Godless communism – the very sort on the ballot tonight.

In my adult life, I cannot recall a single good president, not one since Reagan.   Some were clowns, others disgusting fools, or slick snake oil salesmen but none have been statesmen and none have led us toward the ideal of traditional Americanism in the way Reagan did.

Congress and the Senate have certainly been no better, in point of fact much worse.  In terms of general trends, we have moved much closer to socialism and away from the traditional American values of family, self-reliance, work and Christianity.  Democrats, particularly the loudest of them, the ones that like to shout down anyone that disagrees with them, may not admit they have been winning but the facts are fairly self-evident to support this truth. Regulation has increased in the aggregate, personal freedom has decreased., the size of government has increased and traditional Christian values have been eradicated from public life – communism, err progressivism,  has been winning.

In our system, we generally perceive mid-term elections as a way to alleviate buyer’s regret from the proceeding presidential election.  This is generally why the party of sitting presidents lose control of the House of Representatives during mid-term elections.

To utilize a millennial term, this year feels different.

Donald Trump is different.  He is the physical manifestation of a lot of frustration that has built up in conservative-minded Americans since 1988.   Bush I was a company man.  Bush II was overwhelmed and unprepared for the circumstances he found himself in – he did more damage than good.   Conservatives have suffered for years under inept Republican presidents and two Democrats that did irreparable damage to the nation.   A man, Trump,  that spoke in ways that are common and to the point was the result.

Many of the Democratic offerings in this election are the left equivalent of a Donald Trump.  If Democrats believe Trump to be despicable they have responded by selecting outright socialist and proto-communist.  Spin it as you will, call it progressive, “compassionate” open-minded or any other euphemism many of these folks believe in tenets of Marxism.

We have perhaps crossed the Rubicon of civility, respect and cooperation and it is likely undeniable that there is a great gulf in what the far right and far left believe America is supposed to be.

If a mid-term election is supposed to be a safety-valve, something that allows the electorate to blow off steam, how does this continue to work when the poles are so far separated.   The ideologies and philosophy that now separates us are not small differences.

Will the most radical of the left be satiated with a blue wave, what about a blue ripple?   What happens if there is no blue wave at all and outright radical socialist like Abrams and Gillum lose, what with the most radicalized of the left do?   What if the Democrats fail to even gain the House?  Will the most radical of the left stop protesting in the streets of the Pacific Northwest and go get jobs like the rest of us or will the blue wave morph into something else?

Only time will tell.

Book: The Annotated Secessionist Papers, 2nd ed.

Annotated Secessionist Papers

Barry Lee ClarkBrian McCandlissMichael PeirceWalter E. BlockThomas E. Woods Jr.Kevin L. ClausonKirkpatrick SaleForrest McDonaldGene H. Kizer Jr.Thomas J. DilorenzoDonald W. Livingston: The Calhoun Institute, Jun 21, 2018 – Political Science – 254 pages

A collection of essays, articles and papers, in the tradition of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, that discuss secession from a legal, constitutional and historical perspective.

Amazon Best Seller

Find it on: Amazon and Google

Initial Impressions – GS Service with the Signal Corps

One full month as a government employee working for the US Army Signal Corps is perhaps not enough time to provide a fully informed opinion.  Granted I came into this gig with over 30 years of experience in the military where I formed a very definite opinion about what is wrong with hiring, promotion, retention and utilization of the civilian workforce.  It would be fair to say I am biased, but I believe my bias is based on reflective observations.  I could be wrong but I have come to believe I know what I know – right or wrong.

I recently wrote about my tempered optimism for what the Signal Corps might become in this time of transition.   In the last week, I made a realization that another of my own biases might reinforce this optimism.

In 1993 I was stationed at FT Riley Kansas as a young Soldier.  I escaped The Citadel in 1990 and the South Carolina National Guard sent me to OCS but I still felt there was more I needed to learn and do before I was ready to lead troops as an officer.  I deferred the commision and enlisted in the Regular Army, Fort Riley was my first duty station and as such, it was formative in the way I came to see much about the Army.

Back then we went to NTC every year, prior to that we spent many weeks in the field training for that big event.  We conducted real training on Thursdays for SGT’s time.   Mondays and Tuesdays were always spent in the motor pool with the equipment.  PT was rigorous.   In my mind, that place and that time have always been what the regular Army is supposed to be about.  Training was not easy, there was an expectation that you could do your job and everything was focused on the warfighter.

I remember the company commander,  John Smith.  He did not seem to have much of a sense of humor.  I interacted with him daily, I was his training NCO.  He was prior enlisted, previously Infantry and just the sort of solemn, fair but hard guy I thought I company commander should be.  In 1993 there were I think two computers in the company.  I had one as the training guy and there was one in the motor pool.  When the platoon sergeants would send the Joes out to perform tasks they would huddle in the back office to “work on counseling”, after all, it would not be proper to hover over the junior NCOs as they supervised work.   The same was true for the young lieutenants.  They certainly would look silly sitting in the motor pool all day.  Back then, it was proper for leaders to disappear for a bit to let the junior guys figure stuff out.

I suppose in some companies the CO would tell the LTs to go elsewhere for a bit during the day.  Not so it seems was the inclination of CPT John Smith.  During the afternoons I would take in training schedules for signature, his office was always dark except for the light from the windows.   He had a large couch on one wall and that is where he stored his LTs when they were not out and about being seen and leading.  Every day, every afternoon, two LTs would be reclined in various positions of half-sleep on his couch as he reviewed paperwork.  He was just that stern.

To the uninitiated, the picture above seems ridiculous.   I could belabor all of the reasons why the scenario made sense but for the sake of argument just accept that it was proper.

One of those LTs, asleep on then CPT John Smith’s couch was the current commandant of the Signal Corps, BG Christopher Eubank.   I do not tell the story above to disparage him. Twenty-five years later after having been an LT and having led many of them, I think the exact right spot for LT Eubank and his partner was parked on that couch (when not out and about doing LT work).

I only realized last week that I actually knew the general from all that time ago.  The Army is a small organization really.

My renewed optimism for the future of the Signal Corps is perhaps just a personal one.  I know what I took from that time at Fort Riley, I wonder and perhaps hope LT Eubank took away the same lessons. If so, the Signal Corps is in the right hands.

This is not to say there are not challenges.  I have already observed the mind-numbing ineptitude of some of the civilian bureaucracy that surrounds him.  The problems I observed at NTC a decade ago may or may not be present at the top but they certainly exist in the middle!

A Blessed Life

I am continually struck by one inescapable fact, that being that I am blessed far beyond anything I have ever done to deserve or earn such a bounty.   I look around at my life, past and present, and I can only arrive at the conclusion that I have been given more than I could ever repay.  There is no logical, physical or spiritual explanation for all the goodness I have now and have enjoyed throughout my life.

It has not always been apparent to me that I was blessed.  Certainly, there were hard times in my life, there were failures and failings, disappointments, let downs, anger and sadness.  There was even a moment around 2009 when I was depressed and wanted to end it all, I wanted to walk into the desert and never return.   I, just like so many of other Soldiers and veterans almost succumbed to the darkness and depression of deployments, failing marriages and a sense that perhaps we were the failures.

In my particular case, my walk in the desert was a direct challenge to God himself.    I prayed before setting out on what I intended as my last journey with an angry prayer. I challenged my Creator to find a way to lead me out of that dark place and show me I had a purpose, else I was not coming back.   Three days later, somewhere along the Mojave trail, out of water and exhausted, an Army helicopter found me.  My first thought was to escape and evade, to hide and run.  A mere second later it dawned on me.  Despite all the precautions I had taken not to be found and no matter how large the desert was the fact remained there was a helicopter filled with folks looking for me.

I realized at that moment that my prayer had been answered.  There was no good reason they should have found me, but they did.  I assumed at the time that I must have been saved for my children, perhaps I was supposed to live to ensure they got through college.   My fear that my marriage would not improve and would eventually end proved true but I came away from that event believing that I had one more mission.

I was blessed last month to run into my old boss from that time.  Back in 2009, once I was recovered and brought back in (and after the San Bernadino County sheriff deputies determined I was not a crazed armed madman) my boss was there to hug me and tell me it was all going to be ok.  They had looked for me to save me.  It was good to see him again, we hugged more, he smiled big and I expressed the love and thanks I have for him and what he and the Army did for me in my dark time.

Much has happened in the last nine years.  There were other deployments, I finished out a military career and retired.  At times and in some positions after that event, while I was still in the Army, I found an inner freedom to do and say what I thought was right without fear, after all, what was left to be afraid of?  I had been to the abyss and looked down upon it already.

Later, I got divorced and then met a girl that needs and loves me as much as I need and love her.  My children are in college, my son is about to graduate.  That event changed me, it freed me to see things differently and it put life, troubles and difficulties in perspective and it made me cognizant of how precious the gift of life is.

Slowly, I have come to realize there must be more to why I was found and saved.  Much of the way I treat people that I encounter and work with stems from my perspective formed on that hot desert trail.  Life is too short for drama – kindness to others, a smile, a good word and showing love to others has meaning and importance.

My relationship with my Creator has improved since that moment.  Perhaps not miraculously and not overnight.  I am and remain a sinner saved by grace, an imperfect man.  However, I have a constant awareness and understanding that there are things bigger than me that are unseen.  I talk to God freely now, give thanks and understand that I do not know everything and do not understand everything.  I am certainly not perfect and I do not always outwardly show what is in my heart, but I am changed.

In retirement, I have been blessed with the opportunity to pursue three different career options.  I am thankful to Augusta University for the chance to work there as a project manager.  To be certain we were never going to mesh culturally and I realized this long before they did that but they were kind and welcoming to me. It was, in retrospect, a good experience.  I am likewise thankful for the opportunity to perform defense contracting work, to see what that world is all about.   The money was nice, the salary I was offered to stay was flattering and the chance to go back to the desert and do real work was exhilarating. I am also thankful for people within the Department of Defense that called me one day whilst I was at Lowes trying to be a retired guy to offer me a GS position.  It is rewarding to know people think well of you and want you on their team and it will be an interesting journey to see what the civilian side of government service is all about.

I have a beautiful home, I love it so much I do not really like to leave and vacation has something of a diminished flavor to it.  My wife is my best friend and partner. I have all of the material things I could ever need.   My retirement check is more than sufficient to pay the bills and extra money is just that, extra.  I am healthy and happy.

I have done nothing to deserve this.   I am blessed.

At times, when I feel particularly blessed and thankful I wonder how I will ever live a life that justifies my bounty.  I am still working to figure that out.

What I will say, is that in the world right now it seems we need to collectively and individually find a way to connect and reconnect with our Creator and with real and permanent things.  If I could do one thing for my profession it would be to articulate that ethics must be tied to true morality and true morality can only come from the writer of Natural Law,  I made a feeble attempt to state that argument a couple of years ago in a paper called “The Moral Underpinnings of the Military Profession” . In reality, the same principles apply to our culture in general, I wrote about that in “Manifesto of Old Men and Simple Preachers“.

Those, however, are just my meager words.  If you are struggling through life, seeking purpose and wondering why you are here and what it all means I challenge you to read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity“.  Lewis does fabulous work of demonstrating in an almost inarguable fashion how connected we are to an obvious Creator.  If you lack and are seeking purpose, Lewis is a good first step toward finding answers.