Of Flags and Football

 

Marcus Peters

Imagine that you invite me over for dinner, and we’re going to relax in the living room before the meal. You tell me I can sit anywhere I like, except for the big easy chair in the corner, because you say, that was your deceased father’s chair, and no one has sat in it since his passing.

I walk over and then sit in your father’s chair.

You are in shock. Then you are incredulous.

“I asked you not to sit in that chair!” you say.

“I know,” I say, “but this is a free country, and I have a right to sit wherever I like.”

I continue, “When I was growing up my father had an easy chair just like this that he never let us kids sit in, and I’m tired of people telling me where I can and cannot sit. There’s no law against me sitting here, is there?”

You get the point.

In fact there is a law that says we “should stand” for the National Anthem:

36 US Code, Section 301 – National Anthem

(a) Designation.— The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

(b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—

(1) when the flag is displayed—

(A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

(B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

(C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

(2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

(Pub. L. 105–225, Aug. 12, 1998, 112 Stat. 1263Pub. L. 110–417, [div. A], title V, § 595, Oct. 14, 2008, 122 Stat. 4475.)

Although the law does not specify a criminal charge nor penalties for not standing for the Anthem, it is nonetheless illegal to sit for it.

So who would enforce this affront to national patriotism? Local governments may pass ordinances that establish penalties if they so choose. What a rude awakening it would be if, for example, Kansas City Chief’s cornerback, Marcus Peters, who sat for the Anthem in a Thursday night NFL football game, was arrested on enforcement of a Massachusetts ordinance requiring adherence to the law.
Who would come out of the woodwork to bay in his defense? How many other NFL players or Hollywood stars would come out and offer to pay his bail?
In my humble opinion, jail would be too easy for him and others who pretend to be disgruntled over this or that. A public mocking, me thinks, would be in order. Put them in the public square in stocks! Make them work in veterans outreach programs, or clean toilets at the VA. Something that might get their attention as to why people like me may have had a violent reaction to his antics that fateful Thursday night.
There I was, watching the end of the pre-game show, nestling up to the almighty tube, in the comfort of my own home, my castle, my abode, when the music of one of the most beautiful songs a veteran can hear began to play. A song that still brings a tear to my eye, as the music and the flag bring me back to deployments at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Iraq.
While the music plays I can’t help but reflect on my and the sacrifices of millions of Americans, today and in years past, of my own ancestors who fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War. I think about those who died on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, or those who were killed storming the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. I think of the Koren War veterans, the Vietnam veterans, the Desert Storm, Enduring and Iraqi Freedom veterans, and today’s proud and wonderful volunteers.
armored-vehicles
As this is going through my mind, and I am anticipating a really good football game, I see this scum-of-the-earth, two-bit wannabe, sitting on the bench with his helmet on! It’s bad enough you can’t stand, but you double-down and keep your head covered as well?
I had the worst Post Traumatic Stress episode I can remember.
I served 22 years in the Army, National Guard and Reserve, from October 1986 to December 2008. I was an enlisted combat medic for five years and then became a Medical Service Corps officer and finished as a major in rank. I spent about 2 1/2 years away from my family for three deployments between 9/11 2001 to December 2005.
I was angry for a time because it seemed like no one even knew or cared that there was a war going on. Then it hit me. that’s why we do what we do, we oathkeepers and sheep dogs. We do it so that everyone at home can go about their daily lives, unafraid and free.
I had some difficulty adjusting after Gitmo, and then after returning from a 14 month Iraq tour. I wanted to drive in the middle of the road. I shook and jumped at loud noises and fireworks. I have tinnitus. I didn’t sleep well.
All in all, it wasn’t that bad though, and the symptoms didn’t last that long. My loving and devoted family were always there for me. I am truly blessed that way.
I wrote a book  for catharsis, and then had it published. My friends and colleagues and Tweeple are all so very kind and supportive. I am truly blessed, and every day is a blessing.
AGitmo
Until I saw number 22 sitting down during the playing of the National Anthem I was happy, relaxed and excited about the game.
Until I saw number 22 sitting down during the playing of the National Anthem I loved professional football, head injuries and last season’s nonsense with Colin Kaeprinck notwithstanding.
Until I saw number 22 sitting down during the playing of the National Anthem I had my stuff together.
Then, it happened.
I lost it. Literally lost it.
I jumped up and started cursing uncontrollably. It was just me and my wife in the room, so I don’t think the kids heard anything. I was lit!
I turned the TV off, cursed the player, whose name I did not know until after the Anthem was over and NBC Sports announced it. I had turned the TV back on in hopes of taking a photograph of the player. They showed him again at the end, standing, looking around for some approval or recognition from someone, anyone. Nope. “You’re on your own, buddy,” I thought.
I turned the TV off again and then fumed.
How dare he? How could  he? Doesn’t he realized countless American patriots, including African Americans and all races, creeds religions and color DIED so that he could defy US Code and sit on his brains during the Anthem?
I shook, I blathered, I spat, I paced, I sweat, I breathed fire.
I didn’t even react that way when Kaepernick pulled his stunts last year. He went from knee to sitting out of “respect” for the military? Not good enough. I boycotted the San Francisco 49ers. Not hard to do in New York.
A few other players did similar stunts, but now it’s gotten wide-spread with the Seahawks, Packers, Rams, 49ers, Raiders, Eagles, Browns and Chiefs all having at least one player sit, eat a banana or show some other sign of protest (disrespect) during the National Anthem.
NFL.1
Let me explain to you just why I had that reaction. I have figured it out. We watch football in our homes. And like the “My Father’s Chair” scenario I painted for you in the beginning of this piece, our home is our personal, private domain, where we control everything that happens. We invite the NFL into our living rooms, dens and bedrooms for our own pleasure and entertainment. So when some knucklehead SITS for our National Anthem on TV, it is happening in OUR HOME.
That is offensive and disrespectful, just as if I had told Marcus Peters not to sit in my fathers chair . . . not only did he sit in it . . . he defiled it.
If any of these guys called for a press conference to discuss their pity-party snowflake fake news butt hurt NO ONE would come, and NO ONE would listen. They are a privileged few.
Less than one percent of all high school football players ever play football on scholarship in college. Less than one percent of all college football scholarship players ever make it on an NFL team. Who are they kidding? Who do they say they represent when they sit? Why can’t they start a fund, or a charity? Donate time and money to causes they care about. Why disrespect all patriotic Americans on national TV?
It’s a drive-by assault on American values.
And the NFL? Completely complicit. The NFL FINES players for wearing the wrong SOCKS on game day. And if a player SITS during the national Anthem? Nothing. Whose values do the Commissioner of the NFL and NFL owners (who are also complicit) pretend to represent when they allow players to SIT for the National Anthem?
The NBA has it right. They require players to stand for the National Anthem. But for how long?
If anyone doubts that standing and showing respect for our National Anthem isn’t the internationally respected norm, witness this video of world champion Jamaican, Usain Bolt, interrupt an interview to show his class and respect for our Anthem.
There was a college basketball coach who invited some veterans to a practice one day, and then told the players how and why they will stand for the National Anthem. Watch it. Have your kids watch it. Send it to your favorite NFL football player.
buzz-williams-and-virginia-tech
Of flags and football. It’s about RESPECT.

To Save a Life

Resort Pool

Family vacations don’t often start out so dramatically, nor finish so profoundly, but lately it seems I have had a summer of visceral experiences surrounding what most might consider “leisure time” with the family.

Our first day at the resort pool recently, while minding my own business with my own children, ages 21 – 8, and with my wife, I was snapped out of my vacation mode daze by the lifeguard’s whistle. A young girl, apparently swimming alone in about four feet of water, was drowning.

Too far away for me to get there before the lifeguard, I watched in stunned amazement as the lifeguard wadded quickly to the girl’s side and then lifted her out of the water.

The girl had no flotation device, but clearly had no clue how to swim or float on her own.

No parent came running to snatch her up.

The lifeguard brought the girl to the edge of the pool and then assisted her up and out, where the girl was met by an older sister. The girl was coughing and was wide-eyed but otherwise seemed fine.  Just moments before she was clearly in distress, gulping water while trying to suck in air as her head bobbed up and then slowly down into the water, limbs uselessly flailing.

This brief moment of horror triggered memories of similar experiences over the years with my own children in pools. My wife and I are extremely vigilant, but realize our limitations. From young ages we exposed our children to water, their grandparent’s pool playing a prominent role.

My four boys are all Boy Scouts, the two oldest are Eagle Scouts and have aged out of the boy program, the next boy is a Life Scout working on Eagle, and then the youngest is a Tenderfoot Scout, just turned 11 years old. For all of them, the first Eagle Scout required Merit Badge they earned was the Swimming Merit Badge. My oldest son also earned the Lifesaving Merit Badge.

Swimming Merit Badge

We also gave our children swimming lessons from very young ages. We live on an island. It seems like every other family has a pool or a family member with a pool. How could one not teach their children how to swim?

My wife and I are so paranoid that if one of our children is invited to a pool party, my wife goes and then stays, at pool side, every second our child is in the pool. Helicopter parents?  Maybe. Alive children? Definitely.  My wife was a lifeguard as a teen, but takes no chances, even when the odd pool party includes a teenage lifeguard. She’s there.

Every summer it seems there are stories about toddlers or other young children drowning in pools on Long Island. We don’t even have a pond in our backyard. Not taking any chances.

At the last pool party my 8 year-old daughter attended, my wife told me she stayed pool side even when our daughter was high and dry doing something else. She said she did it because no other adult was watching the children, even though there were toddlers in the pool. She said one mother, after putting “water wing” inflatable arm flotation devices on her toddler child said out loud, “There, now I don’t have to worry about you,” and then walked away.

Is it millennial parenting? Is it naivete? Lack of common sense?

A first time parent colleague of mine with a month-old son told me that millennial parents were avoiding mini vans because that’s what their parents had. He included himself in that category. Are millennial parents also rejecting helicopter parenting because that’s what their parents did?

When my wife and I had just two children, at a time when our second child was super rambunctious, we went to a water park for kids. While moving from attraction to attraction we used a harness and, for lack of a better term, a leash on him. We felt that because of the crowds, and our resistance to using a stroller (we practiced attachment parenting for all of our children), we felt the leash would give him the freedom to walk (OK, “toddle”), but also keep him relatively safe. Also, we wouldn’t lose the little rug rat among all the others!

Wouldn’t you know it that my wife was verbally assaulted by a young lady who obviously had no children of her own, for being a “horrible person” for putting a leash on our child?

children_11

The following year, this same child, without the leash, went missing at the very same water park. I had taken the two boys into the changing-slash-men’s room. We took adjoining stalls and I told the boys to wait for me, “outside the stall door,” and then we would all leave together.

I changed quickly and then found my oldest son waiting outside the stall. “Where’s your brother?” I asked him. He didn’t know. Of course, panic sets in almost immediately when you think you’ve lost one of your children. I calmed myself and then figured the younger boy was still changing. He was not. After a frenetic search we discovered he was not in the facility at all. He was gone.

If you’ve ever lost a child, one of the most difficult things you do is tell your spouse you’ve lost a child. It didn’t go over well. Cooler heads prevailed, however and we began searching together by making concentric circles around the place we last saw him. The park was very crowded and was about to close. The thought of him being taken and never seeing him again began to creep into my mind and soul as we searched and couldn’t find him.

Eventually we got fairly far from the changing room and in our desperate exasperation happened to notice the Lost Child building. My wife and I looked at each other and then nearly sprinted to the place.

We saw him through the glass in the window. He was being spoken to by an attendant who was on bent knee to get to his level. My son was in tears. But he was safe, and we had found him.

He told us he thought I meant for him to wait outside the restroom. So he went outside after being the first one to finish changing. He looked around (while we searched for him inside) and then figured we had gone to meet up with his mother, who was changing in the women’s facility. He went the wrong way and then found himself lost in the middle of a very large bustling crowd. He said he began to cry which was when a very nice woman with her own child asked him if he was lost. He said he was, and then she took him to the lost child area.

A happy ending, but a terrifying experience for both parents and child. One we will never forget, and one that caused us to re-double our efforts. We both neurotically count to five – the number of children we have – when we are out and about with everyone . . . most of the time.

Of course, none of us are immune from these things, no matter how vigilant or careful or caring. One gets distracted, and it only takes a split second.

So on this most recent trip, experienced as we are at staying relatively close in crowded areas, and never feeling comfortable splitting up, we lost one again.

This time, after seeking shelter from a sweltering Central Florida sun, we left the coolness of a souvenir shop to visit an attraction. All of us that is except for the 10 year-old. He had apparently found something very interesting in the store to look at, looked up, and then noticed we had all left him behind.

Instead of panicking and running out of the store looking for us and then getting hopelessly lost, he stayed put. He positioned himself near the entrance to the store and then waited.

My wife, who immediately rushed back to the store, found him grinning at the entrance. When they met up with us outside the attraction he calmly stated that he knew exactly what to do because he had recently earned the Boy Scout Search and Rescue Merit Badge, which taught him to stay put in a visible area if he got lost. Bingo.

We survived heat indexes of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and our vacation was coming to a close, when we sought out the refreshment of the resort pool prior to leaving for our flight home. It was the coolest day of the whole vacation, overcast, not too humid and only around 75 degrees. A blessing!

We had all walked and average of over 9 miles per day in the amusement parks; seeking shelter most days from noon until four or five in the afternoon.

My body ached. Every part of my body ached, including my head, as I had picked up a wicked sinus headache the day before.

My plan was to sit in the hot tub for fifteen minutes and then jump into the pool, over and over again.

By the third time I was feeling much better. I highly recommend this for any ailment!

I had just gotten out of the hot tub for the third time and was wading into the now very cool water of the pool; kind of in a temperature transition daze, really immersed in the experience and the pleasure of feeling better than I had felt since starting the vacation, and then I saw him.

The drowning toddler wasn’t far away, and he was looking straight at me, right in the eyes, which burn into me as I recall this. The eyes said, “I’m dying and there’s nothing I can do about it, please help me.”

I had seen the look in my own children’s eyes, when, as many parents have experienced, your young child starts taking on water and then disappears underneath the surface. You quickly yank them to the surface, they cough a bit and then everything is fine. Lesson learned.

This boy had water wings on, but he had splayed his arms out so far that the flotation devices were actually preventing him from keeping his head above water, as his head became the unsupported center. The water wings supported only his little arms.

He gasped and then gulped as he began taking on water, a lot of water, and then he disappeared under the surface.

I took two steps toward him, heard the lifeguard’s whistle blow, and then pulled him out with one hand, then grasped him under the armpits with both hands holding him up as if to say, “Hey, I have someone’s child here.” He coughed and gasped, but seemed OK, despite his wide, terrified eyes.

The millennial father came around from behind me just then, grabbed his son from me and then said, breathlessly, “Thanks.”

The lifeguard, who had jumped in, apparently seeing what I saw about the time I saw it, turned and then got back out of the pool. She went on about life-guarding everyone else. Not a word or a glance. Par for the course?

I didn’t even turn to watch the father leave with his son. I was feeling kind of stunned by the whole thing, which probably took place in a span of about five or six seconds. I knew what he was feeling and I didn’t want to exacerbate his embarrassment by engaging him.

The boy was safe, that was the important thing.

The parents had been fortunate that the lesson they learned that day was not a tragic one, but only a near tragic one.

Lifeguard-20868116

Life comes at you fast, but then so can death. It is God’s blessing when we are in the right place at the right time, and then do the right thing. How long will it be now before I can truly relax in a resort swimming pool?

Just please remember, these things are not “accidents.” Every tragic or near tragic incident has precipitating events, some controllable, some not. Hopefully, this story will help some “hands-off” parents think twice.

There’s nothing embarrassing or un-cool about doing what you feel is best and safe for your children, no matter their age or experience. We know our kids best, and we have to live with the consequences of our actions or inaction’s.

Our most important job as parents is always to protect and keep our children safe and secure. Letting go as they get older is another story. But for now, let’s be safe out there, our children’s lives depend on it.

Tragedy on the Gridiron

Tragedy

(Updated as of 8/15/17).

Very recently in my community there was a tragedy on the high school gridiron. A 16 year old high school junior, attending an off season football strength and conditioning camp, was struck in the head while participating in a Navy SEAL-like teamwork, strength and endurance drill with a 10 foot long “telephone pole” type wooden log.

There are few specific details publicly available, only that it happened while five boys, including the victim, were participating in the drill and that the victim was said to be in the middle of the group and the boys were raising the log over their heads. Was the grass wet? Did the boys lose their grip?

In any case, the boy was struck in the head during the morning workout. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital. The same hospital where all five of my children were born, now ages 21 – 8.

“Can you imagine,” my wife said after learning of the tragedy, “dropping your child off in the morning at a place you would think he would be safe, and then getting a telephone call that he had died?” I cannot.

This part of Long Island is no stranger to high school football fatalities. Less than three years ago another young man, who was playing in a local regular season high school football game collided with an opponent, head on, collapsed and then died from his head injury.

As a former football player and athletic administrator, I can tell you that head injuries and injuries in general are a painful reminder that we can never be “too safe.” I remember vividly a rainy night football game played on natural turf, where the field conditions were less than desirable, and within five minutes of each other two players were removed from the field with broken bones. It happens that quick, and without warning.

But there is something different about this fatal injury.

U.S. Navy SEAL training techniques have become more and more popular as slowly over the past several years, the Navy SEALs have become more and more demystified through movies and books that take us inside the elite group’s training and performance methods.

The Log Drill is a series of physically, mentally and emotionally challenging maneuvers in which a team of about five men perform these drills with a log weighing approximately 400 pounds. If everybody does their share, that’s 80 pounds each.

When was the last time you lifted 80 pounds over your head? Could you lift 80 pounds over your head? Why would you lift 80 pounds over your head? What part of playing football requires a player to lift 80 pounds over his head?

Yes, these are strapping young men, strong, with endurance and fortitude, being taught how to work as a team, the hard way.

As an athletic administrator for public school programs on Long Island, I emphasized to coaches that the student athletes who chose to participate in their programs did so because they enjoyed playing the sport. I told the coaches that it was vital to remember that their student athletes were kids and not adults, no matter how much like men they looked, and not to treat them like college or professional athletes. It would have never occurred to me to tell them not to treat them like elite warriors.

I encouraged my coaches to study child psychology and to employ those principles in their coaching style. I encouraged my coaches to “Always make practice fun.” “End each practice with a fun activity, so that they go home happy and wanting more, and feeling good about themselves.” Drill and kill makes for unhappy players.

In the professions of physical education and athletic coaching safety must always be the first consideration. Physical educators are trained to always inspect the gym or teaching space and the supplies and equipment to be used prior to teaching their lesson. Good coaches do the same. But at what point does common sense kick in? At what point do you say to yourself, “Gee, I wonder what would happen if one, just one of these boys slipped and the 400 pound log came crashing down one of their heads?”

We call what happened a “tragedy” because it is a classic example of what a tragedy is. Some call it a “tragic accident.” Some will call it negligent. And that will be for the police and lawyers to figure out. But those of us with military experience (I served 22 years in the Army, as an enlisted Combat Medic and then as a Medical Service Corps officer) know that a dead soldier is an ineffective soldier. So we teach and train safety first, especially out of the combat zone. In the combat zone, we say “Mission First, Safety Always!”

As soldiers, we knew what we did was inherently dangerous, and could cost us our life, limb or eyesight. But in a civilian setting, where children are involved and looking up to and trusting the adults around them who are legally in loco parentis (“In place of the parent”), to keep them safe and healthy as a parent would, my opinion is that there is never an excuse for potentially putting their life at risk for the purpose of team building, conditioning or any other reason. Nothing we do as adults responsible for the health, safety and welfare of a child should ever potentially cost them their life.

We are deceived by the size and athleticism of today’s young student athletes. We forget that our public school interscholastic education programs are just that, interscholastic education, and not life or death scenarios.

Coaching egos and over training have taken the place of always doing what’s in the best interest of the student athlete. We allow false dreams of college and professional success and fame to cloud better judgement as more and more youth’s who participate in athletics are tracked to one sport over another, with year round training and travel leagues. Less than 1 percent of high school athletes ever play on a college scholarship. Less than 1 percent of college players ever play in the pros. And the average career in the pros lasts only from 3-5 years.

Football is the modern equivalent of war in the minds of some. We “Fight, fight, fight!” “Kill, kill, kill!” “Rip ’em apart!” Believe me, when General George S. Patton, in a speech to his troops during WWII implored his men to grease the wheels of their tanks with the guts of the enemy, he wasn’t talking to teenagers preparing to play a game.

The rhetoric and techniques used by youth coaches need to be developmentally appropriate. I’ve had coaches disciplined for inappropriate language, tobacco use and other behavior detrimental to the proper development of young student athletes, yet on any given day you could walk through even a youth league practice and shouldn’t be surprised the hear things that would make your mother blush.

Foul language and Navy SEAL drills don’t grow hair on the chests of young men. Using fun cooperative games, sports and activities leads to better teamwork and leadership skills than making them put a 400 pound log over their heads.

Youth leaders need to work smarter and not harder. Even the pros are reconsidering bulk work outs in favor of resistance training. Lean core fitness, speed and quickness drills, push-ups and sit-ups yield a far healthier and effective student athlete than over-working bodies and muscles to the point of musculoskeletal failure or injury. Form is more important than weight. When the body is tired and fatigued it is most susceptible to injury. Why didn’t these “coaches” know this?

Last few points. In a local front page news article about this tragedy, public school athletics officials were quoted as saying there was “only one out of season practice rule” for interscholastic student athletes, that they not be forced to participate in out of season activities. That is in fact only half of the regulation. The other half is that out of season workouts need to be open to anyone.

This is from the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA), Inc., Bylaws and Eligibility Standards, page 130, Section 22. (NYSPHSAA is to governing body of New York State public high school athletics and is affiliated with the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations (NFHS); the local governing body in Suffolk County, New York, where the tragedy occurred, and which answers to the state association is Section IX).

“c. School sponsored activities conducted out of the sport season such as general
conditioning, weight training, weight lifting, intramurals, recreation, open gyms, club
activities and camps are permitted: 1) if such programs are not mandated by coaches or
school personnel; 2) if such programs are available to all students.
“d. Non-school sponsored activities are permitted if such programs are not mandated by
coaches or school personnel. It is recommended that no school equipment be used for
these programs as per State Comptroller Opinion 85-37.”

(Corrected from 8/12/17 version.) So a “non-school sponsored activity” (the strength and conditioning camp that contributed to the death of the 16 year old) can be mandated through a booster club, by non-affiliated coaches and trainers – just not the actual team coaches.

This off season work out had nothing to do with the school district’s official activities. The booster club sponsored the activity. According to the article, each boy had to pay $325 for the camp. Since it was “non-curricular” the state law (New York State Commissioner’s Regulation 135, Guidelines for the Coaching Requirements, pp. 48-73) requiring coaching certifications for anyone working with the student athletes in a scholastic setting didn’t apply. There could be any nut case working with these boys who were hired by the booster club. And oh, by the way, the bulk of that $325 went to salaries for these fitness and conditioning “specialists.” These things you won’t find in the article.

Public school districts need to take a hard look at what activities they allow on their premises, and booster clubs need to hire licensed teachers and coaches for their extra season camps if they are going to use school facilities.

After this tragedy, if this was the case, there is no excuse for allowing non-certified coaches/trainers to work with public school student athletes, ever. If a parent wants to seek out a “professional” trainer for their child on their own, that’s their business, but for public schools to allow and facilitate it is unconscionable. If a “trainer’s” only qualification is that they were a Navy SEAL, or college or professional athlete, an alumni perhaps with no other proper coaching qualifications or certifications, take a pass. No disrespect intended.

Intentions aside, without the proper training and coaching style, it’s only a matter of time before tragedy or negligence strikes again.

 

A Scout is Reverent

There is something deeply profound in watching your children grow and learn.

A parent’s hope is that their child will be safe, healthy and successful. How often do we get the chance to help direct that hope into reality?

If you have a son in Boy Scouts, or a daughter in Girl Scouts, you get that opportunity frequently, but it all depends on how involved you want to get. It’s like anything else in life – you get out of it what you put into it.

Boy Scout Oath

For me, and two of my four sons (the oldest two are Eagle Scouts and have aged out of the boy program), the concentrated microcosm of life, an opportunity to grow exponentially, right before their father’s very eyes, comes each summer, the third week of July, at a Boy Scout camp like no other, at Yawgoog (pronounced YAH-goo) Scout Reservation, in Rockville, Rhode Island.

In the woods of West Central, RI, a ferry ride and short drive from Long Island, New York, there is a Boy Scout camp over 100 years old that holds the spirit of Peter Pan and Lord Baden Powell close. It is a magical place known only to those who have witnessed its inspiring works.

IMG_7929

Like trying to catch lightening in a bottle, to describe the impact of the place is impossible. I can only scratch the surface, but that may be enough.

My ten year old son, newly crossed over from Webelos Scout (Cub Scouts) into a Boy Scout troop, finally getting to go to Boy Scout camp was almost too much to bear. Bouncing off the walls does not begin to describe his pre-camp status.

My wife and I tried as best we could to focus him on being productive prior to going to camp. We had him think about and prepare things to pack in his footlocker trunk. We had him complete Merit Badge packets (lengthy assignments that usually go with earning Boy Scout Merit Badges). We and his brothers told him stories of his brothers and Yawgoog past. We forced him to do laps in the grandparent’s pool in preparation for the swimming test and Swimming Merit Badge. The “I gotta pee” dances when he talked about going to camp continued, but he did everything that was asked of him and more.

His capacity for absorbing information seemed limitless. Bright eyed and very bushy-tailed, my 10 year-old son was going to simply burst if he didn’t get to camp soon.

My 15 year-old son was going into his fifth year at camp. He had just finished the final Merit Badge he needed to begin working on his next and final rank: Eagle Scout.

Several months prior to going to camp he had earned the leadership rank of Assistant Senior Patrol Leader (ASPL), right next to one of his best friends, who was selected as the Senior Patrol Leader (SPL), the head of the boy leadership for the Troop.

A week before we left for camp the Scoutmaster, someone who was counting his 21st trip to Yawgoog, asked my 15 year-old and I to come to his house to check some forms and to have a talk about camp. I suspected what the meeting was really about, but wanted the Scoutmaster to bring the topic up with my son.

We handed in some medical forms, which the Scoutmaster meticulously examined as we sat, the three of us, at his dining room table. A place I was very familiar with, as it was the place where countless Boards of Review had been held over the years.

A Board of Review is a meeting that takes place where the Troop Committee (volunteer adult leaders) considers the advancement in rank of a Boy Scout. It is semi-formal. Boy Scouts must be in full Class A uniform, from head to toe or they are sent home or not advanced.

The boy is questioned on his knowledge of Scouting, but in reality the review is an opportunity for the Committee to seek information from the Boy Scout about his Scouting experience. Open ended questions are asked in order to evoke what Scouting means to the boy. It is an opportunity for the adults to peer into Scouting from the boy’s perspective and get thoughts and feelings from the boy on how things are going in the Troop and how things might be improved.

It was at this table that the Scoutmaster asked my son if he knew why he had asked him to his house. My son, nodded, head down.

The Scoutmaster said he had received an email from the SPL’s father that day saying that the SPL’s mother, who had been battling breast cancer for a long time, was entering hospice, and did my son know what hospice was?

My son said he didn’t, but that the SPL had texted him earlier in the day to tell him his mother was not doing well. She had been in the hospital (again) and the prognosis was grim.

We explained that hospice meant the SPL’s mother did not have long to live. It could be days, and probably not weeks before she passed. Hospice was a place to make people as comfortable as possible before dying.

We let that sink in. My son’s head remained bowed. I could see by the expression on his face that he was battling tears.

The Scoutmaster broke the silence by saying that the SPL was probably not going to summer camp.

Summer camp was usually the culmination of the leadership trail for SPL’s and ASPL’s. My oldest son had been SPL for nearly a year and then led the boys at summer camp with his best friend and genius as ASPL. That ASPL later would earn a full ride scholarship to Cornell University, studying computer science and then later working on Watson, the IBM supercomputer that, among other things, can diagnose illnesses better than a team of human expert doctors. These two boys rocked Yawgoog that year. My oldest son brought his guitar and would sing to the Troop at night, accompanied by other close friend-Scouts. It was truly a magical year for him and his friends, and for all of us who witnessed it. But that was my oldest son’s personality. He is outgoing, unabashed, gregarious, ice in his veins in front of a crowd. In his senior year in high school, on a whim, he tried out for the school play, Beauty and the Beast. He won the role of Lumiere, the singing French candelabra. He nailed it, including an authentic sounding French accent that was both understandable and comical.

425296d1f94d813bf833461231d76c81

My 15 year-old was none of those things. He could get in front of a crowd, but his leadership style was opposite of his oldest brother. He is subtle, shy, and an assimilator. He is understated, but thoughtful, sensitive and intelligent.

The Scoutmaster asked him how he would feel about being SPL for summer camp in place of his friend.

There was a long silence.

In education (I have been an educator for over 30 years) as in Scouting (I have been a Scouter for over ten years), we learn to wait for an answer, to give the person time to think and formulate a good answer.

We waited.

Finally he said, “Well, it’s kind of out of my comfort zone, but yes.”

Relief.

Relief that he answered (we don’t wait forever), and relief that he said “yes.” I was proud, not so much that my son would be leading the Troop at summer camp, but that this boy chose to move forward, in spite of the tragedy brewing with his friend’s mother. He chose to go out of his comfort zone and accept the challenge, a challenge of leadership and a challenge of the heart.

Life is hard, and is full of difficult and challenging moments, the toughest of which seem to just spring up without warning or reason. This was going to be his Crucible.

fb90f7f8071633dedf8128db3e394bd7

My Great Uncle Harry (God rest his soul) once told me, “M’boy, courage is not the absence of fear; it is doing what you fear for the right reasons.” I could not have been more proud of my son at that moment for his courage. Comfort zone? Terror zone. But that’s what life and Scouting are all about, going outside of your comfort zone and surviving and then thriving.

Summer camp is many things to a boy: adventure, challenge and fun. For parents who are fortunate enough to go as adult leaders and witness and participate in summer camp, it is work, hard work. But we don’t talk about that, we just do it. We do it because we love it, and the boys.

IMG_7876

Comfort zone? There is no comfort at summer camp, no creature comforts, that is. Bug nets, heat, walking. Oh, the walking! I logged 6.7 miles on average per day shadowing my 10 year-old. All good, barking dogs and all!

The food was much better this year than in the past. The meat looked and tasted real; the vegetables, fresh and delicious. “Bake Shop,” the name for the daily cake or cookie treats, were made in the dining hall kitchen rather than in the past ordered and received from a commercial baker. The baked goodies at camp were almost always “special,” in that they were almost always birthday Bake Shop. The boys whose birthdays fall within the week are sung to by the whole camp in the large dining hall, with an emphasis on an extra (and extra loud) “YOU!” at the end of each phrase.

FullSizeRender (6)

There was always lots of singing, chants and noise in the dining hall. Some troops would get up and sing (always during the meal) popular songs by the Beatles, Monkees and others. Sometimes, out of nowhere, the boys would get up and do something that if aliens witnessed it they would keep going to another planet with sane people on it. The “SPOON!” event must be seen to be believed. Just grab your spoon and then stand and raise it over your head and yell, “SPOON!” for no apparent reason. The boys loved it, and the adults didn’t seem to mind either. Heck, how many times in your life do you get to do something completely different and not be judged? The boys have had this tradition for years, and even had t-shirts made the previous year that had a large spoon on the front that said, “It’s a Yawgoog thing,” on the front, and on the back “You wouldn’t understand.”

It was in this spirit of fun and fancy that camp got off to a normal and exciting start.

My ten year-old practically bucked out of the starting gate, and it was all I could do to keep up with him once he figured his way around. This boy is a born navigator. Wherever we go, whatever we do, he wants a map. He likes to lead. He strives to be first, no matter the situation. The kid bought a black scarf in the Trading Post (nicknamed the “407” – no one knows why) that has a map of the whole camp reservation (Yawgoog is actually three camps in one on 1,800 acres) in white on it.

FullSizeRender (4)

My ten year-old was so psyched he wanted to earn six Merit Badges! He had done pre-requisites for some at home prior to coming to camp, and was ready to do as many as he could. The average for Scouts is about three Merit Badges. First Year Scouts tend to do more, as we strongly encourage them to do at least one “as needed” badge they can complete on their own time, and then one evening Merit Badge that meets after dinner, usually Indian Lore. The idea is to keep them busy, completely exhaust them, so as to reduce the tendency for down time and home sickness. Whenever I have had a First Year Scout I have volunteered to shadow and guide all the First Year Scouts. If ever there were an achievement segment (little colorful pictographic arched patches that go on a circular felt patch that hangs on the uniform) for Herding Cats, I have earned it several times over.

FullSizeRender (3)

As fun as it is frustrating, by the end of the week, when the boys are most comfortable with you and then asking questions, and asking questions, and asking questions, patience becomes the overriding virtue of being an Assistant Scoutmaster. We pretty much “father” all the boys at camp except for our own, who we try to let be more independent. Our own sons may still spend time with us, but are encouraged to ask Scouting questions of older boys and the other adult leaders.

At each campsite, one for each Troop, there is a flagpole. The boys learn proper care and handling of the American flag in Cub Scouts, so by the time they are in Boys Scouts, it is second nature.

FullSizeRender (5)

By the second day in camp, things are organized and ready for the routine of getting up, taking care of personal hygiene, or what passes for personal hygiene at Boy Scout camp (we all know a Boy Scout is clean, right?), the boys have assigned jobs in the morning, such as latrine duty (cleaning toilets), filling lanterns, Camp Police (trash detail), Water Buckets (since everything is made of wood or canvass, at each lean-to or tent there is a large red coffee can that needs to be filled with water each morning for the potential of fire – these cans also circle the fire pit), and tidying up the living quarters. Just before heading off to breakfast and a day of fun, the SPL (my son in this case), calls the Troop to, “Fall in at the flag pole.”

The boys fell in at attention. The SPL, standing with an assistant at the flag pole unfolds the Troop U.S. flag, and then called for the Troop to give a “Hand salute.” He attached the flag and the assistant raised the flag.

What happened next astonished and surprised us, but no one moved. No one flinched. There had never been a deeper silence in this Troop, nor, I can imagine in these woods.

As the flag reached the top of the pole, the assistant slowly brought the flag down to half staff.

IMG_7844

This was the subtle beauty of my son’s leadership style and loyal friendship. The half staff flag posting was in memory and honor of his friend’s mother, who had passed away the morning the Troop left for camp.

No one had mentioned the passing except in reverent whispers.

The boys had thought of the gesture, asked and then received permission from the Scoutmaster, who had said nothing to the rest of us.

This simple but profound gesture was all that was ever publicly said about the death of a Scout’s mother. It was all that needed to be said or done.

This was not done just once. It was done every morning, and the flag hung that way until the boys retired the colors after dinner each evening. Every time we entered or left or sat in camp, there it was, a constant reminder that one of us, one of the Troop, was in pain and mourning and therefore so were we. All for one . . . .

Camp went on. Merit badges were earned, and my 10 year-old earned his six. 135 were earned by 42 boys.  A boy earned first place in the mile swim, we won the Water Carnival, and earned the distinction of Honor Troop for the week. Many boys earned rank advancements. Most did something they’d never done before, such as catch a fish, paddle a canoe, MAKE something with their hands, learn about Native Americans, and experience deafness and blindness on the HAT (Handicap Awareness Trail) experience.

IMG_7829

And every boy learned what it meant to be reverent. Every boy learned what it meant to be loyal. Every boy learned what it meant to honor a friend. Every boy learned what it meant, even if ever so slightly, what it meant to be a man.

IMG_7743

 

 

 

AMERICA

America.1

This great country of ours is as diverse as each individual in it, and that in part is what makes US so strong. But there are reasons why our country is as great as it is that go back to when and why it was created in the first place.

There are places you can go to rediscover our American roots, good, bad and indifferent. And there are places you can go where it seems that you are right back there, 241 years ago and before, when we were on the cusp of coining this great adventure we call Democracy.

My wife and three youngest of five children did just that recently. With the oldest at home and working two part time jobs seven days a week, and the next oldest, a recent high school graduate, needing to attend an orientation for a summer job that started the week we were to return, the five in the majority took off for the south, not too deep, just deep enough.

On our way to Williamsburg, Virginia, we stopped for several hours in Washington, D.C. We hadn’t been there since September 12, 2006, when we attended the release party for a book I had a personal narrative in at the Library of Congress. “Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan and the Home Front, in the words of U.S. Troops and their Families,” Random House, 2006, edited by Andrew Carroll. This is a great American wartime anthology unlike any other. I receive no royalties or residuals from sales, so when I say every American needs to read this book, it is with earnest intentions. The story, “Taking Chance,” which was made into an HBO movie starring Kevin Bacon as a U.S. Marine Corps officer escorting the body of a Marine killed in the Global War on Terror home is among the wrenching and captivating stories, nearly one hundred of them, including mine. It is unique because it includes stories from the loved ones of those deployed, the forgotten half of our military family, and the source of its sustainment.

Operation Homecoming

My piece in the book written about my middle-middle son who is now 15, but was in the story only two days old when I abandoned him to answer the call of duty just months after the tragedy of 9/11/2001. I deployed soon thereafter to the U.S military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where I was the ranking U.S. Army Medical Department officer with the Joint Detainee Operations Group, Joint Task Force 160, from February to June, 2002. But I digress.

We came into D.C. through the north. Because I hadn’t paid attention to which corner of D.C. I had entered into my smart phone GPS (there are four quarters of the city) to get us to our reserved parking space, we ended up initially in North East Washington, D.C. on a wild goose chase. Not the plan, but instructive for the children, with its rundown buildings, trash, vacant lots with overgrown weeds, and homeless Americans (veterans?)  in the streets of our great (?) capital. “This country should be ashamed of this,” my wife said, thinking out loud.

I re-plotted our destination and then after a minute or two it appeared: our great Capital Dome. I asked if anyone knew what was on top of the dome. No one knew. “The Statue of Freedom,” I said. “It’s a bronze statue of a woman ready to defend her new found liberty.” I felt a pang of humiliation that my children didn’t know this. Humiliation as a parent, and humiliation for the schools my children attend. We are dropping the ball. Thank God for trips, which help remind us of these important details apparently forgotten in the classroom, and at home.

DC.1

In four hours we walked over six miles, from the Washington Monument (closed until 2018 for elevator renovation), to the White House (hosting at the time an impromptu protest from across the street in front of Lafayette Park by Pakistani Sikhs against the visiting premier from India), to the majestic WWII Memorial, to the visceral Vietnam Memorial, to the staid Lincoln Memorial, to the haunting Korean War memorial, before heading back to the car. We had a pleasant picnic lunch under a shade tree on the National Mall prior to visiting the monuments, having bought deli sandwiches from a place next to the hotel where we parked. We brought bottled water and carried it and other sundries in the back pack I was issued for my deployment to Iraq (OIF III) in 2004-2005. I also wore my desert cammo boonie hat from Iraq, and a black rayon Army racing shirt from the days when the U.S. Army had a player in NASCAR, a revered sport in my house. Bath rooming was surprisingly simple. We used really nice hotel lobby restrooms, and no one ever gave us a second look. The opulence of which I hadn’t seen since using the lobby restroom at Al Faw Palace at Saddam Hussein’s Hunting and Fishing Grounds, Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq, in ’04-’05. All fixtures were gilded there, surrounded by fine marble and stone with many ornate mosaic Arabic writings.

DC.2

The day was spectacular. Warm in the sun with partly cloudy skies, and cooling breezes that chilled the brow in shade, which was abundant along the National Mall and around most of the memorials we visited.

I made a point to remind the children that it was possible that veterans and/or their loved ones may be visiting the memorials for the wars, and that they should be quiet and respect the privacy of those people. They did splendidly and made me proud. Only whispered questions were asked here and there, and they noted every memorial feature, walking quietly among the stone, marble, bronze, steel and granite.

We arrived in Williamsburg, at a resort timeshare generously provided to us by a former pastor of ours. We met him and his family later in the week at the pool and then for dinner, a needed reunion for both families; a touch of home, far away from it.

The day after arriving in Williamsburg we visited the restored Colonial town. The last time I had been there was with my wife, B.C. (Before Children). Shame on us for not making it back in over twenty years!

The place is well cared for, and if one didn’t know better, you’d swear you were back in Colonial times, but for the sprinkling of on-going restoration projects (even workmen wore period costumes, some with power tools!). Tour guides and players in period garb and lingo made the day a time travel experience. We took tours of the Governor’s Mansion and the Capital, and listened to a freed black slave, Marquis de Lafayette and Gen. George Washington give speeches. We saw displays of weapons used in actual Indian Wars and the Revolution. The American Revolution. That’s right. We fought a bloody and long war in order to boost the royal tyrant English from our land. Our land. In the name of Freedom and Liberty.

Williamsburg.1

Since joining Ancestry.com and doing a DNA analysis I have discovered over 12,000 relatives and counting, several of whom were Revolutionary War soldiers, including one, Private Jeptha Bartholomew (1755-1813), who crossed the Delaware with General George Washington, on the night of December 25-26, 1776. One was also Pocahontas, or “Rebecca” Powhatan (1595-1617). The name of the place we stayed at was the Historic Powhatan Resort. The connections added magnitude and depth to the experience.

The following day we visited Jamestown and Yorktown. First gliding through museums and watching films and then exploring re-created forts and villages and farms. All incredibly restored and recreated. We learned that the idioms, “lock, stock and barrel,” and “don’t go off half-cocked” among many others, were from the parts and function of a colonial musket – still used today! How simple life was back then, how focused on survival, both from the elements and the natives and the rulers. The children put on garments and armor from the past and watched demonstrations of colonial medicine, musket and cannon fire, cooking and games.

Yorktown.1

It was magical to watch them engage in the spirit of the times, to immerse themselves in what they were seeing and experiencing. The questions flowed. Time flew.

The next and last full day in Virginia was pure fun: Busch Gardens amusement park. We were already big fans and Vacation Club Owners of Disney, and especially of EPCOT and the World Showcase in Orlando, so the international layout of Busch Gardens made us feel right at home. We made a point to see most of the shows, including the “Octoberzest” German folk dance and song show, and the Irish step dancing show called “Celtic Fyre,” depicting the goings on before an Irish wedding at the local pub. Fresh brogues and costumes of a 1950’s Ireland, there was even an American cameo – a female jazz/tap dancer who gave the blarney’s a run for their money. But the steps, oh, the steps! Fierce, alive and succinct! Outcroppings along the edge of the stage bubbled out and were home to seated audience members nay inches from the shoes, those loud, flashing, dazzling and wonderful shoes! Breathtaking and exciting, we wished we could join them up there with some divine dancing skills just for the moment.

Oh, how I wished the shows never ended! They were perfectly performed and spectacular!

BGW_Celtic_Fyre_001.JPG

German feast, ice cream and milk shakes; lots of drinking water, though it wasn’t hot, but warm and pleasant.

Roller coasters thrilled and delighted. Animal shows amazed and tickled. Water rides refreshed. We laughed, we played, and we ran and sang. And we missed the missing two brothers.

Sunsets and late evenings at the resort pool ended daily chapters we were writing in the family history book. The next day however, we were up-and-at-‘em!

We made a decision to go home through Gettysburg, PA, instead of taking a coastal route, or traveling through D.C. again. Going through Gettysburg would also steer us toward Lancaster County, PA, on our trek east, a favorite place of ours. Detours would cost us hours getting home, but we remembered that, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” (Anonymous.)

While we were driving up to Gettysburg from Williamsburg, and before we stopped for breakfast we engaged the children in what their favorite part of the vacation was. We all had our picks, but my 15 year old said, “The vacation isn’t over yet.” I took that to mean that nothing really floated his boat, including the roller coasters at Busch Gardens.

We stopped just outside Richmond, VA, for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel restaurant (one of our FAVORITE places to eat and play; checkers games between my 15 year old and ten year old prevailed throughout the vacation – they even brought a set with them on the trip – Cracker Barrel has many LARGE checkers sets around the place, so guess who ate their meal super fast so that they could play?). My wife and 8 year-old daughter love to look at the clothes and knick-knacks, and I enjoy window shopping the military and patriotic fare. The food of course mimics homemade and is tough to beat.

At the restaurant, my 15 year-old, an avid NASCAR fan (blame me) was fididdling on his smart phone – typically verboten at table – and he looked up innocently before the meal arrived and said, “Did you know that Richmond International Speedway is only five miles away?” My wife and I looked at each other, shrugged and said, “Why not?” There was no race that day, but their website said the administrative offices were open 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

We stopped in and were surprised to find a very sparse selection of fan items; only a t-shirt or two and a few hats. No die cast race cars for purchase. A twenty-something worker behind the glass at the front office counter, out of the blue asked if we would like a tour of the track. “WHAT?! Really?!” we all seemed to exclaim at once.

He was serious, and seriously was not going to charge us anything (my wife said this was “Southern Hospitality”). He said to meet him outside in the parking lot. He motioned us over to a pace car! My wife and daughter were not interested, so stayed in the minivan for the fifteen minutes we were gone. I told my 15 year-old sit up front, and we talked NASCAR on the way to the track. The attendant drove us around the completely otherwise deserted NASCAR track, a short one, but a banked tri-oval. In all the years I had gone to NASCAR races as a kid and I NEVER got a ride around a track, let alone in a pace car! Although the car was only going about 60 miles per hour or so you could feel the pull to the outside of the track. I could not imagine going nearly three times as fast, with other cars all around me trying to go just a smidgen faster! My son took video from the front seat, and then the attendant asked if we’d like to take photos at Victory Lane. We did!

He drove us back; I got a photo of the attendant with the boys by the pace car and then got his email address to send him a copy of the photo and say “Thanks!” before we resumed our trip. We made it a point with the boys that they needed to pass this forward in their lives. Someone was so kind and generous with them, and they needed to recognize that. They nodded and said, “Yes, we will.” I told them that they would remember this experience the rest of their lives and that they had an obligation to pay it forward. It is a Boy Scouts of America philosophy that a Boy Scout does a “Good turn daily,” without the expectation or acceptance of reward. He does it because it is the right thing to do.

Richmond.1

I have noticed a subtle difference in the boys after we returned home; they are more eager to help their mother around the house, not complaining about chores. My 15 year-old even washed my car without being asked. A small act of kindness has sent ripples through the pond of humanity for two young boys; simple, pure and delightful.

Gettysburg was unplanned, so we stuck to the visitor center movie, museum and the miraculous cyclorama painting depicting the third and final day of the battle in Gettysburg. Painted by French artist Paul Philippoteaux and a team of assistants, the painting is 22 feet high and has a circumference of 279 feet. With the special lighting in the room where it is displayed, the features and figures appear real. My daughter kept commenting that she thought there were actual people and horses moving in the painting. We got to see the painting twice because the first time through the light show wasn’t working and needed to be “rebooted.” That turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the children hadn’t gone through the museum yet. After seeing the artifacts and learning more about the Civil War and the great battle, the painting had more meaning for them – and hopefully more influence. The movie that started our experience highlighted slavery at first, and then the important details of the battle, and finished with President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which we had seen and read engraved on an inside wall of the Lincoln Memorial several days before. The greatest speech in American history was lain before my children, and the place it was given just a short walk away, along with the acres of hallowed ground that none of us could ever consecrate, we can only mourn and then inspire ourselves to preserve and defend what part of Gettysburg lies in each of us, black or white, Yankee or Rebel. In the words of actor Louis Gossett, Jr. on the eve of the 2016 Academy Awards, which was boycotted by many African American actors and entertainers, and on the red carpet, Mr. Gossett, Jr., himself a winner of an Oscar, said in response to a question about what he thought of the boycott, said, “We are all one family, the American Family.”

Gettysburg.1

Despite Ancestry.com, I knew of at least one relative, my second great grandfather, Freeman Woodman (1838-1935), who fought in the Civil War. I grew up knowing one of his daughters, my great grandmother, Florence (Woodman) Merrick (1883-1989). That’s right, she passed away at 106. Just before her passing she could still tell you stories about the farm she grew up on, and of the little girl in pig tails who used to play and work on that farm, my mother. Stories of Great, Great Grandpa Woodman abounded, but they were stories taken from the man himself, passed down in a great oral tradition, that before radio and television was the main entertainment and transfer of information. We called it “conversation.”

Freeman Woodman, 1838-1935

My Grandpa Woodman left a legacy however. He kept a diary during his Civil War days and beyond (over 70 years in fact). As a young woman, my mother had written a weekly column in a local newspaper in southern Wisconsin where she grew up, in which she would share portions of the diary. Any soldier who has seen combat will tell you that war is 99 percent boredom and 1 percent sheer terror. My great, great grandpa’s diary proved this out. He marched through Georgia to the sea with Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. He was also a standard bearer for a time, picking up the flag in battle when the man carrying it in front of him fell from a Rebel musket ball. If there has ever been a time in our history when we all need to pick up that flag and rush on, it is now.

The last stop on our trip was to be Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We have so many fond memories of Lancaster, especially of certain out of the way restaurants and shops and attractions. Our favorites were in and around Strasburg, PA, the train place. The Pennsylvania Train Museum is there, and across the street from it is a living steam engine or two, with restored period coaches, a dining car and a station/shop. This is where my older three boys got to ride the “real” Thomas the Tank Engine years earlier when they were into such things.

Just east of the station, and in sight from there, is the Red Caboose Motel, where we had stayed as a younger and smaller family on several occasions. Restored cabooses, renovated into hotel rooms, are the kitsch. Cramped and standard, these “rooms” looked better on the outside, with colorful depictions of actual cabooses that tailed great American railroad trains. The main hotel front desk and lobby is a big renovated farm house, with a shop, restrooms and a large working model train display. On either side there are restored dining cars that formed the Casey Jones Restaurant. This was to be our final stop before pushing home on Long Island, New York. We looked up the menu on line before arrival and tried to make a reservation, which they didn’t take. The menu looked enticing, with one section of normal American fair, and another section of “Amish Favorites.” That appealed to us. Comfort food and home cooking, farm fresh!

When we were seated the menu looked very different, and we inquired. The waiter, a jittery twenty-something local farm boy said with a nervous laugh, “This is a brand new menu as of two hours ago. I guess we’ll learn it together.” Yikes!

The railroad dining car we were sitting in was a restored original, and the aisles were narrow; only four to a table. We took the opportunity to have an adult table and a kids table, which makes for a very pleasant dining experience. The kids were close enough to converse with, but far enough away to at times pretend my wife and I were on a date.

We ordered and then waited, a little longer than one would expect, but because of where we were and what we could see out of the dining car window, it didn’t matter when we were served.

Our view looked west and towards the steam train station, across a recently cut alfalfa field. The crop lay in neat serpentine rows, a deep and fresh green. In the distance, we could make out a lone Amish man, fixing a team of five large and beautiful horses to the front of a bailer and flat bed trailers behind.

After a time, the team was urged forward, and the machine, most likely run on kerosene, the fuel of choice for the Amish, began to bale the alfalfa in neat blocks that plopped onto the deck of a trailer, and then organized by the Amish man into a low pyramid.

As the team came towards us, the sun sank lower in the sky, playing hide-and-seek behind large billows of dark and silver clouds threatening rain and a storm from the distance. I rose from my seat and told my wife I was going to go outside to take a picture of the team from the front porch.

The wind was blowing ahead of the storm, and there was a flag on the porch post blowing into my framing of the farm scene in front of me, as if God was saying there had to be the Stars and Stripes in this American picture. As the team got closer to us I started snapping photos.

We are transported sometimes when we can let go of who we have to be and then live in the moment. The connection with the land, the farmer, the horses, the flag, the weather, and the trains was strong. Like gravity pulling me into a vortex of Americana. I spun in my own wonder and joining with the scene, visceral and fragrant. I let it take me in.

When I returned to my seat, the food had finally arrived. Before this our dining was simple and delicious, from period cooking at Williamsburg, to local southern breakfasts, hearty and wholesome. This however was amazing.

I had ordered an American favorite: pot roast dinner. The meat, pulled apart and glowing warm with gravy was literally melt-in-your-mouth velvet, and lay atop mashed potatoes that tasted handmade, smooth and buttery but with pieces of potato floating in the pillows of goodness, filling me with warmth. This centerpiece was surrounded by garden fresh vegetables and roasted and quartered tomatoes. The tang of the tomatoes followed sweetness and complimented the heavenly roast and potatoes. I had never had such a meal. Even Mom’s home cooking from scratch was not comparable (sorry Mom!). There was something special about this meal. It seemed prepared with such care and attention to detail. Every element was perfection and came together in a symphony of goodness. I wished it never ended, and I ate it slowly, savoring each flavor in each bite; layers of nourishing virtue.

On our way out there were the working model train display, a petting zoo of farm animals (and a llama or two), a playground, and various other farm items to observe, including buggies, water pumps; barns and a silo you climb up to the top in.

StrasbergFarmer.1

We didn’t stop again until we pulled into our suburban driveway, a few minutes past midnight. Our magical and stupendous journey had ended, like Cinderella’s coach reverting back into a pumpkin, once again we faced mundane routines, left for a week to suit themselves.

But this is America, too. And it, like everything else in this life, is what we make of it. We have choices, and those choices have consequences, good and bad. We reflect on the choices of our ancestors, who lived and died so that future generations could enjoy the fruits of their sacrifices. My Grandma Woodman, 106 when she passed in 1989, at the time represented the halfway mark in the history of our nation as its own country. She was born 107 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and I knew her. How very young this country of ours truly is. How tangible some of its memories.

But if you let it, our great land can speak to you, your heart and soul, from a recreated colonial town, village, settlement, Revolutionary or Civil War battlefield, to the heart of American strength and pride, working the field in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. America.

Kathy Griffin: Deep State Terrorist

Before blowing themselves up, future martyrs leave behind a video for their family and friends to view in memoriam. It tells about their devotion to Allah and Jihad.

Kathy Griffin‘s version was a little different, but in it she finished with: “We’re not surviving this.” She traded the black clothes for a blue “Pussy Bow” blouse.

So, along with controversial photographer, Tyler Shields, Griffin committed a premeditated act of terror.

In fact, Kathy Griffin is a psychological warfare suicide bomber for the Deep State. Psychological warfare strikes at the deep reaches of the mind, where carefully selected images can be permanently planted for maximum effect.

You cannot un-see a bloody, beheaded President Donald J. Trump. Neither can his wife nor his children. The damage is done, and the die is cast.

Trump Melania Barron

The effects will last a lifetime, and perhaps contribute to one or more cases of Post Traumatic Stress, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 11 year old Barron is most susceptible. In his conscious mind he can rationalize that it was a fake head, in his unprotected subconscious, he saw his father’s head, bloody and separated from its body.

But Kathy Griffin is a mere foot soldier in the Left Wing morass of false narratives.

As far as the Deep State is concerned, it’s business as usual: “Nothing personal, Mr. Trump, we just want our power back, by any means necessary.”

The desired effect, which I’m sure is consuming the President’s mind and soul, is making Trump think about whether or not this President thing is worth it. The act was designed to make Trump and his loved ones decide if public service is worth it.

Is it?

Is putting your loved one’s health and safety on the line ever worth it?

Trump doesn’t NEED to be President, but he DOES need his family in tact.

It is possible that Trump has discussed this kind of thing with his family, even before accepting the nomination for President. It is also possible that no one, no one could fathom this depth of depravity.

Be certain that Kathy Griffin won’t be the last PSYOP suicide bomber. She is merely a picket in a series of attack waves from the deep-pocketed Left. They will keep coming, and coming, and coming.

The attacks will all be different and unpredictable. They will target Trump and his family, friends, loved ones and supporters, all “soft targets.” They will be of the nature where he will be forced to question the loyalty of these people around him. Who are they really? What do they want from him? Why would they want to hurt him?

Loyalty is the number one most important value in the Trump empire. For without loyalty who can you trust? And without trust you have nothing, especially with family and your closest associates.

The Deep State has taken the gloves off. They are advancing an all or nothing agenda. They are trying to embrace Trump in a death grip, and they may have already succeeded. If not, they will settle for death by a thousand cuts.

Deep State

If not a resignation or impeachment, at least he wouldn’t seek a second term, nor would his associates or family. The cost would be too great.

Stress kills. Lack of sleep causes stress. Unhinged images can cause sleeplessness.

If Trump is “all-in” for being the President, and feels he can reasonably protect his family, and has already accepted his own fate and prepared his family for it, he will continue to march.

Trump has surprised us in the past, and may continue to surprise us for a total of eight years. But the road there promises to be more than any of us bargained for.

How much more can he take? How much more can WE take, or will we take?

We must understand this act was planned, from top to bottom, and that Kathy Griffin will be well taken care of for the rest of her life. She took one for the team and will be enshrined in the Deep State Hall of Fame.

She martyred herself in the same league with the worst of Islamic State murderers, taking with her many minds as casualties. For this there can be no forgiveness, and no quarter given to the newest member of the enemy’s team in the Global War on Terror.

 

Gitmo Trials and Unending Wars: PC Myths Prevail

In a recent article in the Gloucester Times, that covered a trip to the U.S. Military Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by Essex County District Attorney Jon Blodgett, he discussed the place and the current trial procedures against accused war criminals there. This is my reaction to the story.

Don’t fall into the trap of saying “We are now in a series of unending wars.” That ends the conversation.

The “war” is the point after all, the Global War on Terror, the “thing” over which all the PC talking heads cringe. They won’t say it, you won’t say it, and until we all say it and then talk about, it won’t go away.

Generals NEVER discuss a battle or war without also discussing an end state. Be it cyclical or linear, an objective is the goal. So here’s one for you: Until all Islamists are dead or no longer have the means or will to kill us we must defend ourselves. From that you can build courses of action, choose one and then close on the objective.

The problem is politics and PC rangers. Unless one’s political and military goals are the same, one CANNOT be successful in war. And, like anything else in life, if you can’t be honest about the problem you cannot possibly hope to solve it.

Winning the Global War on Terror will be measured in part by the lack of seeming random acts of terror. If the world does not come together to defend itself against the radical Islamists, perhaps like many countries did against Barbary Pirates several hundred years ago, then the war will seem endless due to it’s prolonged persistence over generations.

Decatur_Boarding_the_Tripolitan_Gunboat

One question I have is, why are so few Arab countries actively involved in the battle against ISIS, the Taliban and radical Islam? So it will take a group effort. And those closest to it must be reminded, “You are either with us or with the terrorists.”

Regarding the Gitmo trials you neglect to discuss the major difference between what’s going on there and what occurred at Nuremberg or even Washington, D.C. in 1942, when 6 of 8 dry-foot German saboteurs were executed for nothing more than breaking the Law of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions. Gitmo holds murderers and terrorists. The German saboteurs hurt no one and destroyed no property, yet, less than eight weeks after their capture six of them were dead. How in God’s name did that happen?

germanspies_4

We followed the law. Military Commissions were established – with the unanimous consent of the Supreme Court. Habeas corpus was denied. The trial took place according to the Geneva Conventions and Law of Land Warfare, giving the accused the SAME rights a U.S. soldier would enjoy in a courts martial.

Now, instead of going by the established law, we go by former President Obama’s 2009 Military Commissions Act, which gives unlawful combatants accused of war crimes virtually the SAME rights you or I would enjoy in a federal court of law. See the difference?

Lawfare is one of the techniques Islamists are taught in training if they are captured. We know this from training documents obtained from them, such as the “Al Qaeda Manual.“. They are trained to lie about their treatment in captivity, lie about their past, lie about who they are, where they are from and what they were doing when apprehended.

They are trained to demand better conditions and to demand a lawyer. And they are trained to disrupt detention operations and to threaten, befriend and wage psychological warfare on guards and others who are responsible for their fair treatment and care.

Now, sadly, we have the legal debacle on stage at the Gitmo trials.

KSM.2

It’s too bad we don’t have the fortitude or courage to simply do what’s right and follow the Law of War or Geneva. It worked at Nuremberg and it worked in D.C. with the German saboteurs, and it would work at Gitmo.

Maybe President Trump will get wind of this and then erase the 2009 Military Commissions Act, simply follow the Law of War and Geneva, and then move these trials along. Maybe.

Montgomery Granger is a retired, three-times mobilized U.S. Army Reserve Major, and author of “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior.” He has made many appearances on Fox News programs discussing Gitmo and detainees.