Mr. Flotsam, meet Ms. Jetsam. I think you’ll like each other.

A small Sunday morning round-up….

The Navy:  doing the right thing and doing it right.

If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.  Not.  (It’s worth remembering that, by the time the Soviet Union collapsed, being a doctor there was a women-only job, with about as much cachet as dog-catcher.)

Kerry brings anti-semitism and incompetence to a new high, even by State Department standards.

Wesley J. Smith nails it:  Obama is the Vasa of our time.  We got to see the Vasa on our last vacation and I blogged about it briefly here.

And please, Open Thread away here.

A few observations regarding the Navy shipyard shooting *UPDATED*

What happened in Washington D.C. today (12 dead, apparently at the hands of a disgruntled employee) is desperately sad.  I just want to ask two questions and comment on two things.

First question:  Was the shipyard a gun-free zone?  And even if it wasn’t would it have mattered considering reports that the shooter apparently hid himself up high to start the shooting.

Second question:  Would gun control have kept the shooter’s guns away from him?  (I don’t know what guns he used or how he got them.)

First comment:  It took seconds for some Hollywood has-been to demand gun control.  It seems to be that, until one answers my first two questions, any cries for gun control are premature.

Second comment:  How dumb, really, does one have to be to work at CNN.  I bet that all of you, when you first heard the shipyard story today, instantly thought of the Fort Hood massacre. For at least one MSM talking head, though, the little bit of workplace jihad never happened:

CAROL COSTELLO: I used to work in Washington, live in Washington. This seems so unusual to me that a gunman could create this kind of havoc at a U.S. military facility.


COSTELLO: Have you ever heard of it happening before, Brian?

TODD: I’m sorry, Carol. I missed that question. Could you repeat it please?

COSTELLO: I was just saying that this is so unusual, because this is such a heavily-secured military facility. I’ve worked in Washington for many years, I’ve never heard of such a thing happening.

TODD: Well, we haven’t either in this area, Carol. This is the first time we’ve seen something like this, at least in many, many years. Now you remember the Fort Hood shooting in 2009, where that was a member of the service who was convicted eventually of doing that shooting.

Do you think Todd really missed that question, or was he just so stunned that he couldn’t speak?

It’s almost embarrassing to show that much ignorance in public.

UPDATE:  Charles C.W. Cooke has a good discussion about gun control and the shooting.  He answers my question, which is whether the gun control laws the gun haters demand would have changed anything.  Are you surprised that the answer is “no”?

Navy responds to sequester by torturing American people (or, put another way, it cancels Blue Angels shows)

Blue Angels

(I wrote this for Mr. Conservative, but it’s pure Bookworm in word and thought, so I’m republishing it here.  Frankly, I’m spitting mad, because regular readers know exactly how much I love Fleet Week.)

Sequester or not, there always seems to be money for the Obamas to live the lush life. As for the rest of us, the Navy announced today that the Navy’s Blue Angels, which delight hundreds of thousands of people every year, and which bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to the communities in which they perform, have been grounded.

The official announcement is effective immediately, cancelling all performances currently scheduled between now and December. The squadron will continue to train, but the shows are over for the time being:

The Navy has cancelled the remaining 2013 performances of its Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels. The Squadron will continue to train to maintain flying proficiency until further notice at its home station in Pensacola. Recognizing budget realities, current Defense policy states that outreach events can only be supported with local assets at no cost to the government.

Perhaps it’s reasonable to ground the Blues; but more likely it’s not. After all, as Sen. Coburn revealed in a recent study about wasteful spending in the military, the military spends a lot of money on touchy-feely or green programs that have nothing to do with military preparedness or with connecting ordinary Americans to their military, and that have everything to do with PC pandering to Beltway Progressive sensibilities. These programs include duplicative research programs, ineffective bomb detectors made by families with nepotistic ties to agency brass, creating coffee break apps, teaching grill safety, etc. Indeed, the military is still contemplating abandoning $36 billion worth of military hardware in Afghanistan.

This type of administrative waste (with has nothing to do with the quality of the men and women who serve), puts the military right in line with a federal government that uses taxpayer dollars to fund studies about alcoholic lesbians, makes it impossible to fire bad workers, and generally wastes your money.

What’s most like is that the point of the Blues’ grounding is to ignore the waste in favor of making the taxpayers suffer. How else can the government force people to stop their relentless (and reasonable) demand that the government act responsibly with other people’s money? The Pentagon – which is under Obama administration control – is letting the people know that any cuts to the government won’t improve efficiency, but will simply make taxpayers miserable. Cancelling the Blue Angels show is a special kind of misery, because it not only disappoints the Blues’ legion of fans, it also causes real economic hurt to the cities that host the show. Shows routinely draw in cities hundreds of thousands of fans who spend real money – in hotels, in restaurants, and in stores.

And just to keep things in perspective, keep in mind that tonight the White House is hosting yet another exclusive party. According to the White House schedule, Michelle and Obama are hosting a concert “celebrating Memphis Soul.” The President will speak. The guests include performers who are not known for Memphis Soul, such as Justin Timberlake, Cyndi Lauper, and Queen Latifah, not to mention Al Green, Ben Harper, Sam Moore, and others. The White House refuses to release details that will help calculate what this little party will cost the taxpayers. One thing is for sure – the money spent will not confer any benefit on the communities that will be harmed when the Blue Angels stop flying.

Romney, even if he didn’t win the debate, walked out of the debate a winner *UPDATED*

What one can say with certainty about the last presidential debate is that it is not a game-changer — which is good for Romney, because the game is currently scoring in his favor.  In that way, it was a nothing of a debate.  Nevertheless, there were aspects of the debate that were fascinating.

Fascinating aspect No. 1:  Obama’s rhetoric had absolutely nothing to do with his presidency.  If I had never heard of Obama before last night and then tuned into the debate, I would have been impressed by what he said (except for the nasty tone, which I’ll get to later).  He spoke about a balance of diplomacy and might, he spoke of a strong military, he claimed to be a true friend to Israel, he understood that America is a world leader, he touted America’s responsibility to advance freedom, he recognized that one can’t be a leader with a disastrous home economy, he said he supported Iran’s abortive Green revolution, and he said that he would never allow Iran to get the bomb.  It was as if the last three and a half years never happened.

The Obama of the debate never had kill lists for Pakistan and crawl-on-the-belly lists for Russia.  He didn’t offend England, and Poland, and the Czech Republic, while making nice to Chavez and Morsi.  Nor did the debate Obama have anything to do with depleting the military to a point where it’s at its weakest since before WWI.

The talking head with saw last night is so tightly linked with Israel that, not only is there no daylight between the two, but he and Netanyahu will be the first in line when gay marriage is federally recognized.  This seems a little bit at odds with the insults, slights, demands, and cold-shoulders the administration aimed at Israel for more than three years.  Obama’s debate posture pretends that, when it came to Israel’s borders, Obama didn’t make a precondition for negotiations more extreme even than the Palestinians were demanding. This Obama, unlike the real world Obama, is BFFs with Israel.

The debate Obama was a champion of American exceptionalism, a man who never went around the world explaining to foreign countries that America isn’t so great and, if she leads at all, she should lead from behind.  This was not a man who boasted that he would fundamentally transform America.  Nor was this a man who made it plain that his fundamental transformation included attacking America’s core identity, many of her constitutional rights, and her economic system.

Finally, last night’s Obama was so tough, I’m surprised he hasn’t already bombed Iran back into the Stone Age.  Where was the man who stood aside while the Iranian people took to the streets demanding greater freedom?  Where was the man who has consistently worked to weaken the sanctions Congress has imposed on Iran?  And where was the president who has been so passive about Iran’s nuclear program that Ahmadinejad has endorsed him for president?

Frankly, I found this Obamabot irritating.  He’s like the guy who, behind closed doors, abuses his wife but, in public, calls her “Sweetie” and holds her hand,  He’s a brute, not because he doesn’t know any better (his public behavior shows that he does), but because he wants to be a brute.  That’s where his private inclinations lie.  Last night, Obama demonstrated that he knows perfectly well what is good for America and what Americans want, but his behavior over the past three years shows that he wants to be a weak, anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-military leader.  He’s the presidential equivalent of a wife beater.

Fascinating aspect No. 2:  Romney ignored Obama.  After trying to go head-to-head with Obama in the second debate, Romney went back to his first debate strategy of talking directly to the American people.  It wasn’t as effective as in debate no. 1, because Obama was more animated but, in a funny way, it was the most insulting thing Romney could have done.  (And we’ll get back to insults in a minute.)

In the first debate, Romney focused on introducing himself to the American people, not as the Frankenstein Capitalist the Obama media and Obama himself created, but as an intelligent, thoughtful, humane individual.  Romney achieved that goal and then some.  In this second debate, though, Romney wanted to show the American people that he is presidential.  He talked to them about broad policy concerns, and treated Obama like a buzzing fly.  Romney swatted at Obama occasionally, but otherwise focused on having a dialogue with the voters.

I would have liked to have seen Romney challenge Obama more directly on some of his lies (and there were a lot of lies), but Romney’s approach was, as I said, peculiarly insulting on its own terms.  He essentially said Obama is so irrelevant he can be ignored.

Fascinating aspect No. 3:  Obama was unbelievably nasty and condescending.  The true believers were elated by his “wit,” but I wonder if the undecideds didn’t find it unpresidential.  This was not a frat party or even an Alfred E. Smith dinner roast.  This was a serious presidential debate.  Unloading the equivalent of “Yoo hoo, old fart, the 80s are calling,” was not statesmanlike, and Romney was wise to look at the camera (i.e., the voters) and ignore it.

The nastiest statement, of course, was Obama’s response when Romney made a lengthy argument about the problems with our depleted military.  Romney talked about the fact that the military can no longer fight a war on two fronts and about the Navy’s concerns that the Navy has too few ships.  With regard to that last, Romney noted in passing that we have fewer ships than we’ve had since 1917.  Obama ignored the overarching argument entirely (Obama’s policies are weakening our military during dangerous times for America), and got terribly excited about the whole 1917 (or, as Obama said, 1916) bit:

You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

Ouch!  In 7th grade, that would have been a great riposte.  At a presidential debate, not so much.  None of us  one likes someone who is condescending and arrogant, and that’s true whether the insult is directed at us or at someone else.  More than that, by making such a definitive statement about today’s military, Obama left himself wide open to corrections.  And it’s easy to correct his gross errors.  Yes, in 1917, the military mostly had battleships and now has aircraft carriers, but it also requires a host of supporting ships, from amphibious assault vessels to destroyers to supply ships, etc.  And as everyone except the president knows as of this morning, we use horses in Afghanistan and the military still trains with bayonets for close combat.

There is a difference between being witty and being nasty.  When I was 13, I didn’t know the difference and I wasn’t much liked.  Now, I’ve figured it out, and people enjoy my company.  Obama wasn’t witty, he was nasty, and that’s the one thing he couldn’t afford in this election.  After all, Obama’s never had anything to run on but his likability.  In 2008, he needed to be liked because he had no record; in 2012, he needs to be liked because he has a big record.

UPDATE: A friend sent me a link to an article from last year discussing the way in which bayonets continue to be useful in battle situations. My dad used bayonets at El Alamein (or maybe somewhere in Crete — I’m not quite sure), and he considered them his friends in battle.

The girl’s guide to visiting the USS Makin Island

Courtesy of the Navy League, today I boarded the USS Makin Island as an official ship’s greeter.  My visit was a bit more fraught than past experiences have been, so I thought I’d walk you through the girl’s guide to visiting the USS Makin Island, starting with pre-visit preparations:

  1. Review boarding instructions at last-minute and realize that I’m supposed to wear “slacks.”  Who the heck has slacks?  I live in jeans, either blue or black.  Burrow through closet and discover antique pair of bland brown slacks.
  2. Breath sigh of relief that slacks still zip.  I vow not to do any inhaling for the rest of the day, lest the slacks become rebellious.
  3. New problem:  After a harried search for the sole, and ancient, pair of brown shoes I own, I find that they are scratched and dirty.  This is bad.  Worse is that I have no shoe polish.  A frantic hunt for something oily to help liven up the leather yields only Tea Tree oil.  Did you know that if you polish your shoes with Tea Tree oil you go around the rest of the day smelling like disinfectant?  I know that now.
  4. Leave house in order to arrive at Pier 80 (in the southern-most part of the City) by 2:30, since the last, best word is that I should be there at 3:00.  I figure a half-hour of wiggle room is a good thing.
  5. Halfway to Pier 80, I get a timely telephone call telling me that the USS Makin Island is actually going to be at Pier 30/32.  Under these circumstances, San Francisco’s maze of one way streets becomes the enemy.
  6. Arrive at Pier 30/32 at 2:30, blithely assuming that I’ll be on board by 3:00.  Hah!  But more on that later.
  7. Learn that, because of snafu, while I am approved for entry onto the pier, my car is not.  I begin the hunt for San Francisco street parking.  Rather to my surprise, I find a spot only a block away, a distance even my dodgy knee can tolerate.  I spend a few minutes struggling with the new-fangled ticket machine, which charges me a hefty $12 for four hours of street parking.  Four hours should be enough, right?
  8. Arrive at pier, and saunter self-consciously across a vast parking lot and staging area, which is empty but for a handful of people who clearly belong there, including five spit-and-polished Marines.   Here’s a picture of that vast space:

  9. With feigned coolness, because I’m neurotically certain that everyone there is staring at me, I casually seat myself on one of the comfortable-looking, bright orange security barriers.
  10. Learn the hard way, when my weight compresses the barrier on which I’ve seated myself, that said barriers are filled with water.
  11. Come to terms with the unpleasant realization that an objective observer, unacquainted with the facts, could reasonably conclude that I wet my pants.
  12. Check out spit-and-polished Marines to see whether they noticed that I’m suddenly looking remarkably foolish, not to mention incontinent.  Happily they appear oblivious — or perhaps they’re just too polite to point and laugh.
  13. Try to air-dry my butt as discretely as possible.  This involves my skulking along the parking lot with my back to the cars, trying to get the benefit of the stiff breeze blowing across the pier.  I am suddenly very grateful that the Navy is running late.
  14. Begin casting longing glances at the Porta Potties. Why the heck are they in such an exposed location?  Think dry thoughts (which is hard to do with wet pants).
  15. Due to extremely brisk breeze, my pants finally begin to dry.  I also give thanks for very expensive all-weather hair style.
  16. Begin to wonder if the thrill of welcoming an amphibious assault vessel is worth it. I fight urge to beat strategic retreat.  I remind myself that dry pants are a good omen and, feeling courageous now that my butt is dry, I slink off to the Porta Potties.
  17. The intelligent, knowledgeable half of the Navy League greeting committee arrives.  Thank God!!  Then I get the bad news:  I arrived an hour early for a ship that is going to be at least an hour late.  Oh, and I’m the point man for the Navy League presentation.  Have I ever mentioned that I’m terrified of public speaking?  I’m not shy.  I can show up to a party knowing no one and still have fun.  It’s having all those eyes looking at you (see items 9 and 10, above).  This blind panic is made worse by knowing that those staring are (a) mostly male and (b) mostly younger than I.  When I was 25, this would have been cool; now that I’m . . . ahem . . . my current age, it’s just nerve-wracking.
  18. Go to car to regroup.  I try to freshen up, only to realize that I’ve forgotten to bring lipstick.  This girl doesn’t feel fully dressed without lipstick, but I focus on the fact that I no longer look as if I’ve wet my pants.  I’m ahead of my own curve.  With lunch a distant memory, and no eateries nearby, I eat a stale power bar that my son left in the car donkey’s years ago.
  19. Return to pier, which is filling up.  The USS Makin Island appears.  It is magnificent:
  20. Attach myself like a limpet to my wonderful Navy League point man who patiently listens to me as I nervously babble.  I know I should muzzle myself, but I’ve got so much adrenalin pumping through me at the thought of public speaking that nothing is going to stop my mouth from moving.
  21. Finally!  Only an hour and a half after I first report for “greeting duty,” we board the ship.  Dozens of ridiculously handsome/beautiful, polite, incredibly young people, all of whom look spiffy in their uniforms, are everywhere.  Is it really possible that they’re all staring at me?  Remind myself I am no longer 13, and that it’s not all about me.
  22. One of said spiffy young people leads us to the wardroom, where we receive a very polite welcome and are offered food and drink.  I recoil at the thought of food, but demand water like a starving man in the desert.
  23. Briefing commences.  The Captain welcomes all of his visitors aboard.  I’m shocked.  How can someone be so fresh and young, and have so much responsibility?  I later check out the ship’s web page and learn that Captain Pringle isn’t that much younger than I am — he just looks a whole lot better.
  24. Fortunately, I’m not the first speaker.  Before I speak, representatives from the Fleet Week board, the San Francisco Police Department, and the NCIS speak.  They are all composed and quite interesting.  This worries me.
  25. Oh, my God!  It’s my turn.  There must be about — oh my! — 50 (or could it actually be 3,000?) people sitting there waiting to hear me speak.  I introduce myself and my fellow Navy Leaguer, and am more grateful than I can say that I remember our names.  I’ve been known to forget my own name in public speaking settings.
  26. I subscribe to the theory that, if you’re obviously at a disadvantage and the people you’re with aren’t your enemy, you should throw yourself at their mercy.  I therefore apologize in advance for a few things: (a) I’m shaking with nerves; (b) I’m a vast chasm of civilian ignorance; (c) I’ll be reading from a prepared script; and (d) I don’t have my reading glasses, so I can’t see the prepared script.  I am off to a rip-roaring start here.
  27. Things are going well.  I’m making it through the list of goodies that the Navy League is providing for our maritime guests, and I’m only stuttering a little bit.  I get cocky.  When I come to the part about tours up in Wine Country, I ad lib:  “This is up in the Sonoma/Napa area, north of San Francisco.  It’s really beautiful up there and wine tours are fun.  Just be sure not to drink or drive.”
  28. Did I just do that?  Did I tell a room full of Naval and Marine officers not to drink and drive?  Could I have been more disrespectful to them?  I don’t know if recovery is possible, but I try:  “I can say that, because I’m a mother.”  Okay, just kill me now.
  29. I finally wrap up my mercifully brief presentation with only minimal hyperventilation and no tears.  Showing that they truly are officers and gentlemen/gentlewomen, several of the briefing attendees come up to me afterwards and tell me that I did a fine job.  What nice people these are!
  30. Return to my car three hours and fifty-seven minutes after I first arrived.  Hurray!  I didn’t get a parking ticket.  I go home giddy with excitement.  Mission accomplished!

Despite my own neurosis, I had a wonderful time.  As I told the assembled officers, the USS Makin Island is a lovely ship, and I was truly honored to be on board.  If you’re in or near San Francisco this weekend, don’t let the crowds deter you.  As you can see from the Fleet Week website, there are so many things to do and see, and it’s your chance to thank personally the men and women who serve our country.

The Battle of Midway Commemoration; or, jury rigging is a good thing

Jury rigging: “Jury rigging refers to makeshift repairs or temporary contrivances, made with only the tools and materials that happen to be on hand. Originally a nautical term, on sailing ships a jury rig is a replacement mast and yards improvised in case of damage or loss of the original mast.”

Humans have always made do with what’s on hand.  There is a special significance, though, attached to the fact that the phrase English speakers use to describe this universal practice — “jury rigging” — has a nautical origin.  It reminds us that the Navy is often far from home, and even far from land, and that it must make do with what it has.  Its fixes and patches and imaginative restructurings of existing items may have to last for several months and thousands of nautical miles.  Because of this necessity, the Navy manages to be both the most tradition-bound of the services and, in crunch time, often the most innovative.

At last night’s Battle of Midway Commemoration in San Francisco, jury rigging was the name of the game, and I mean that as a high compliment.  Several things did not go as planned, but it didn’t matter.  A little jury rigging here, and a little jury rigging there, and the evening sailed through with flying colors and heads held high.

I’ve written here before about the evening’s delights, but I’ll offer a swift re-cap.  The event takes place in the lovely Marines’ Memorial Club in downtown San Francisco.  The Club is housed in a beautiful Beaux Arts building from 1926.  The upstairs banquet and reception rooms have high ceilings with decoratively stuccoed walls, and are festooned with dignified images of various ribbons.  Just being there feels celebratory.

For me, though, what makes the evening is the people.  Formal dress is the name of the game, so the men are either in Naval Whites (gold trimmed and ribbon be-decked), tuxedos, or very nice suits.  (And yes, put a man in a uniform and he looks even more handsome than he usually does.  Go figure.)  The women are in evening wear, ranging from always-appropriate black to brilliant jewel tones.  Since this was my third event, I was happy to see familiar faces and they, bless their hearts, seemed happy right back to see me.

The food was delicious.  Well, what was really delicious was the Roast Beef.  After it was ceremonial paraded before the President of the Mess, who gave it his seal of approval, we got to dine on succulent, perfectly cooked roast beef, accompanied by mashed potatoes, and fresh asparagus.  Although I adore red meat, I can’t cook it to save my life, so I’m always delighted when someone puts a beautifully prepared plate before me.  There was wine, which I didn’t drink, but many did, so the room’s conviviality, already good to begin with, increased as the evening progressed.

The guests were an eclectic group:  retired Navy, active duty, Coast Guard (a huge, ebullient contingent), family members of the aforesaid service people, hanger on-ers (that would be me) and, of course, the Midway survivors, as well as a sprinkling of men who served in other theaters during the war.  I’m very sad to say that the number of survivors is dwindling fast.  My memory is that, the first time I went, three years ago, there were more than ten survivors attending.  This year, there were six, as well as three widows who represented their husbands so that the memory of their service would continue to be honored.  Still, dayenu, it was enough to have these six men and three widows there, and to hear once again the courageous, moving, often incredible stories of their participation in one of history’s greatest sea battles — and one that, thankfully, ended in America’s favor.

“So,” you’re asking yourself (or, after my intro, you should be asking yourself), “what made this a jury rigged evening?”  Many things.

To begin with, per the invitations, the originally scheduled speaker was Admiral Jonathan Greenert, who is Chief of Naval Operations.  Before taking on this enormous administrative job, Admiral Greenert was a submariner.  Since I know that the rules of the Midway Commemoration (or any formal Navy mess, for that matter) require guests to introduce themselves to the speaker, I went to the internet and carefully studied Admiral Greenert’s bio and memorized his picture.  I was ready for my social moment.

Except that Admiral Greenert was unable to attend, something I didn’t realize until much, much later.  In his place, we were fortunate enough to have Vice Admiral David Architzel, who is commander of the Naval Air Systems Command.  As best as I can understand, that means that he’s in charge of every airplane the Navy has, as well as being in charge of every decision the Navy makes about airplanes it would like to have.  Unlike Admiral Greenert, who saw service below the water line, Admiral Architzel saw service well above the water.  In other words, he was an aviator.

When I arrived at the reception, I made my way over to Admiral Winston Copeland (Ret.) (“Cope” to those lucky enough to know him), to say hello.  Cope looked great, as always, in his bright whites, complete with his unofficial opal studs (for which he gets fined every year because of the uniform infraction).  Mysteriously, his shoulder boards were missing, but as I find military uniforms somewhat mysterious as the best of times (i.e., I don’t understand all the information they telegraph), I quickly forgot about this peculiarity.

After a few minutes of chit-chat, Cope introduced me to his friend Admiral Architzel and Mrs. Architzel.  They were charming.  Mrs. Architzel explained that they’d both flown out from Maryland, which should have given me a clue that something special was going on.  I remained clueless, merely remarking on the fact that it was so nice that they took the time to make the long trip for this evening.  I then turned to the Admiral and asked (yes, I really asked), “Are you active duty?”  The Admiral didn’t even blink at this inane question — proving indeed that he is both an officer and a gentleman, not to mention a very nice human being.  Instead, he explained his job to me and took a few minutes to discuss how computers have changed his work.  After that conversation ended, and I drifted off to say hello to other friends, I heard another women asking the Admiral about his submarine experience, proving that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get the message about the change.

When the dinner portion of the evening began, after the Color Guard displayed the flag, a technical failure meant that there was a sudden silence rather than the Star Spangled Banner.  With considerable presence of mind, the President of the Mess proposed the name of one of the guests to sing the anthem.  So it was that, instead of having a tinny recording, we ended up hearing a glorious a capella mezzo soprano rendition of our National Anthem.  That’s jury rigging with style.

The evening went as I’ve learned to expect.  We remembered those who have not returned from the wars, and there was a lot of amusing badinage around uniform and behavioral infractions.  The resulting fines all go to fund the Committee, of course, so people paid up with good cheer. It was in this portion of the evening that we I learned what happened to Cope’s shoulder boards.  It seems that, in the flurry of packing, Admiral Architzel had forgotten to bring his along.  Knowing that both a fine and some good-natured joking were in the offing, Cope nevertheless gave Admiral Architzel’s his boards to use for the evening.  Jury rigging again, folks.

As has been the case before, one of the highlights of the evening was the singing, and I’m not just talking about that surprising National Anthem.  The Intel group stunned everyone by singing their Intel song.  Not to be outdone, we were treated to an enthusiastic, if somewhat unmelodious rendition of the Coast Guard song.  The highlight of the group singing, though, was the Seabees, because this year they came prepared:  they’d provide the Vice with instrumental music, and they had their lyrics down pat.  No surprise, then, that the audience clapped along, keeping time with these two stalwart Seabee singers.

Considering that the evening was distinguished by flexibility in the face of change, it was a rather pleasant surprise to listen to Admiral Architzel’s speech, one that focused on the Navy’s adaptability.*  He began by pointing to an interesting historical confluence:  This year marks both the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 (which started on June 18, 1812) and the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.

As you may recall, the War of 1812, although it ended somewhat inconclusively, numbered amongst its battles some surprising America’s victories over the British Navy in the Great Lakes battles.  In both cases (1812 and 1942), the Americans were at a disadvantage.  In 1812, the British ruled the seas.  In 1942, the Japanese thought they ruled the Pacific, having disabled or destroyed large parts of the American fleet six months earlier at Pearl Harbor.  Nevertheless, in both cases, through a combination of good training, hard work, and significant intuitive leaps, the Americans prevailed.  It was the intuitive leaps that Admiral Architzel highlighted in his speech — those moments when men, rather than following a pre-defined plan, recognized Field Marshal von Moltke’s dictum that “No plan survives its first contact with the enemy.”

Nor is that intellectual flexibility limited only to the upper ranks.  While history books celebrate the admirals, that same enthusiasm, discipline, and adaptability must travel all the way down the ranks in order for any Navy to present to the enemy a simultaneously coherent, well-trained and well-organized fight team, and an adaptable, flexible entity that can jury rig as needed to deal with the exigencies of battle. Any organization that becomes too rigidly stratified lacks the ability to adapt to changing situations and therefore to survive those changes.

The Navy, which gave birth to the very word we associate with “making do” illustrated in 1812, in 1942 and, again, last night, the flexibility is the name of the game.  And when it comes to a formal dinner, that combination of rigidly observed tradition and free-wheeling jury rigging, makes for a very enjoyable evening.


*I didn’t make notes during the Admiral’s speech.  My summary is based upon my sometimes shaky memory, so my apologies to the Admiral if I’ve misrepresented anything he said.

The Navy League has issued a call to action

Even if you’re not a member of the Navy League, I thought you’d find interesting this email I received (emphasis mine):

Navy League logo

Dear Navy Leaguer:
The sea services need our help. As you may be aware, The Budget Control Act of 2011 mandated $487 billion in security cuts over the next 10 years in order to resolve the 2011 debt ceiling crisis. The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have all had to delay planned acquisitions and investments in technology in order to meet these cuts and still fulfill their commitments to our national security. However, there is an even larger threat looming: sequestration.

Sequestration is the name of the additional $1.2 trillion in automatic , across the board spending cuts, scheduled over ten years to take effect beginning in January 2013. About $492 billion of that will come from defense and security budgets. These cuts will be triggered if Congress fails to produce a deficit reduction bill with at least $1.2 trillion in savings by that time.

This means that defense would absorb at least 41% of the sequestration costs despite only being 19% of the budget. The cuts beginning in January 2013 will be administered by the Office of Management and Budget, not the Congress. This denies the people the legislative process by not allowing judicious review of where cuts should be made or where funds should be applied to worthy purposes. It eliminates the ability to set priorities. Defense and security cuts for 2013 alone would amount to $54 billion.

Sequestration was never intended to happen. The impacts were intended to be so devastating that Congress would be forced to reach an agreement to prevent the trigger. Unfortunately, that has not yet happened—which is why the Navy League needs to act now to prevent severe weakening of our sea services.

The Navy League is issuing a call to action. We need each of our members to remind Congress of the need to support our sea services, and to realize that this issue matters to voters!

Here you’ll find links to all the materials needed to get you started. Talking points will give you necessary background to talk confidently about the issue. The phone script and draft letter will help you with your contacts with your Congressman and Senators. Slides on the subject are being added to Grassroots and CSOP presentations.

Please call your Congressman and Senators at their Washington, DC office, where their military and defense staff are located. If you have an established relationship with the local office, please contact them too. To contact your Congressman and Senators, visit their website ( or ). Each Member of Congress has a “Contact Me” page where you can get a mailing address, fax number or an email address. Many members have a web form, where you can copy and paste your message in a Comments box to submit. If you need assistance, contact your Legislative Affairs Regional Vice President or Sara Fuentes or Chris Bennett at Navy League headquarters ( , ;             703-528-1775      ).

Your action is needed now! We don’t have much time—these cuts go into effect in January. We need Congress to act before summer recess in July.

If you have comments or questions on this Call to Action or any Navy League matter, as always, please let me know at .

Philip L. Dunmire
National President
Navy League of the United States

Obama’s use of special forces: not just bad strategy, but a terrible way to thin out an already thin (and very elite) herd

BUDS trainees during Hell Week

Special troops are, by definition, small in number.  If everyone could do what they do, they would be special.  They are made up of men with unusual mental and physical strength.  Again, by definition this is a subset of all men.  (No disrespect meant to the majority of men who aren’t unusual in both their mental and physical strength.)  Once these men are selected, they are subject to rigorous training, training that would be impossible to give to large groups.  Special forces go beyond “the few, the proud.”  They also fall into the class of “rare and few in number.”

Given their numeric limitations, it makes sense to use special forces sparingly.  Once lost (God forbid), each member of a special forces team is very, very hard to replace.  Someone needs to tell that to the President, who, flush with SEAL Team Six’s exquisite raid on Osama (a raid that subsequently resulted in the vengeance-driven loss of many members of that same team), is tasking those guys with responsibility for Afghanistan — all of Afghanistan.  As Max Boot says:

The kinds of direct-action strikes that these units carry out are an integral part of any comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy–but they cannot substitute for the absence of such a strategy. That was the mistake we made in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009. Now it seems Obama is making that mistake again, to judge from news reports the White House is planning to lean heavily on the Special Operations Forces as they withdraw regular troops from Afghanistan. This is not a way to defeat the Taliban, the Haqqanis, and other dangerous terrorists on the cheap–it is a way to lose the war while pretending you are doing something to win it.

To which I would add that it’s also a war to squander a special breed by placing them at unreasonable risk, so that they might no longer be there when we really need them.

Military Intelligence — and so much more

Astute readers have probably figured out over the years that I’m a huge fan of our American military.  I think it’s the last institution in America that trains young people to be competent adults; that gives people, young and old, meaning and purpose in a world that’s often defined by mindless materialism; that truly serves as a defender of American liberties; that manages to transcend the divisiveness of multiculturalism (although the Obama administration is working hard to undermine the unity that binds our troops); and that functions as something of an Emily Post school, since I’ve noticed in my interactions with Coast Guard, Navy and Marine personnel (thanks to the Navy League) that our men and women in the service have lovely manners.

Yes, the last item sounds fairly silly when included in a list that celebrates the way in which the military defends freedom and makes men out of boys, but it is somehow a holistic part of the whole.  The military’s respect for its country, its mission, and its comrades also manifests itself as respect for ordinary Americans, as demonstrated through good manners.  Comparing the manners young service people show to the manners (or lack thereof) that ordinary young people show is a salutary example of the maturity and polish the military gives recruits.

In keeping with my admiration for our military, I have two posts I want to share with you.  First, a post by a former Marine describing the way he politely took to task a teacher who thought she was being clever by raising the old liberal trope that “military intelligence” is an oxymoron.  (Hat tip:  American Thinker)

I was in class some time ago when a professor made a joke about the meaning of what an oxymoron is. It means a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. She gave some like “Act Naturally” and “Aunt Jemima Light”, but then she mentioned another that struck a chord with me. The last she said was “Military Intelligence.” The class, full of college freshmen like myself laughed at that one too. The professor knew that I was a Marine and that I had served two tours, one of which ended less than six months before, so she knew this was a mistake I would not take lightly. I saw the look on her face as she saw the look on mine.

“Ma’am, are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 ft/s for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction as well as differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)

Read the rest here.

Second, I would like to join with Michelle Malkin in reminding you that there is Marine you need to keep in your thoughts and prayers: SSgt Frank D. Wuterich.  Almost seven years after the fact, Wuterich still hasn’t had the opportunity to clear his name following the media uproar over the alleged Haditha massacre.  You remember the Haditha massacre, don’t you?  That was the one where the media, aided by John Murtha, accused Marines of brutally murdering civilians during a fight in Iraq, back in 2005.  Despite being publicly pilloried, all of the Haditha Marines but for SSgt Wuterich have been exonerated.  I know he will be too.

By the way, speaking of Murtha, and going back to my parenthetical in the first paragraph about the Obama administration’s efforts to destroy our military from the inside out, I’m sure you will be as happy as our armed forces probably are to know that the Navy named a ship after Murtha.  Do you think that if I also accuse our troops of “killing innocent civilians in cold blood,” they’d name a ship after me?

Spending Pearl Harbor Day in the company of sailors

Last night, I went to the Annual Pearl Harbor Memorial Dinner hosted by the San Francisco Commandery of the Naval Order of the United States.  It was, as I knew it would be, a significantly smaller event than the annual Midway Commemoration dinner.  That’s reasonable, because the latter celebrates a stunning victory, while the former is a solemn commemoration of the loss of too many innocent lives.  While it may have been small, though, it was a lovely evening.  I likened the Pearl Harbor commemoration to a perfect little pearl, while the Midway evening is a big, glowing diamond.

Three Pearl Harbor survivors attending the evening.  That is an impressive number when you think that the youngest of them was 87.  Of the three, two spoke, although one spoke only to introduce the other.  I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t have their names.  I didn’t think to write them down, and my memory is so bad, I’ve already forgotten.  Still, even though I can’t name these men, I can describe them.  The first of the two speakers couldn’t have been a day younger than 87, but he looked around 75.  More than that, he had a joie de vivre, a buoyancy, that is hard to describe.   He radiated light and life.  Whatever his secret is, I want to know it.  I suspect, from the great pleasure he showed in introducing his friend, that one of the secrets is that he likes people.

The second Pearl Harbor survivor, the one who actually gave a little talk about that day, was not in the line of fire on December 7, 1941, but nevertheless had an utterly horrible experience both on December 7 and in the days after.  When the attack happened, he was a 17-year-old Navy medic.  He spent the first day tending hundreds of wounded, more than half of whom died from burns.  The second day, he was moved to the morgue and tasked with identifying the corpses, a nightmarish experience that involved injecting saline into burned fingers in an effort to recover fingerprints, or slicing away at the dead men’s cheeks, in order to reveal teeth for dental record matches.

The burden of his service in those days still weighs heavily on the speaker.  He said, and I believe him wholeheartedly, that the things he saw that day are things that he will never forget.  He saw some more unforgettable sights during the war.  He continued to serve after Pearl Harbor, and ended up getting seriously wounded while performing as a medic at Guadalcanal.  It is a testament to his strength, mental and physical, that he stood before us yesterday and spoke so movingly about the events from seventy years ago.

The main speaker was Rear Admiral Tom Brown III (Ret.).  Adm. Brown has an impressive resume:  nearly 5,000 flight hours, 1,017 carrier arrested landings and, during three deployments in Vietnam, 343 combat missions. But wait!  There’s more!

His decorations include the Silver Star, Defense Superior Service Medal, five Legions of Merit (one with Combat “V”), four Distinguished Flying Crosses, 36 Air Medals, and the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”.  [From the evening's program.]

Not a bad record for a 7th grade math teacher!  Yes, after the war, he taught 7th grade math, which he jokingly refers to as one of the hardest jobs he had.  I wonder if his students appreciated the caliber of man who stood before him.

Adm. Brown’s speech focused on just a few of the reasons the Navy got caught flat-footed at Pearl Harbor.  His conclusions did not reflect well on civilian leadership in Washington, D.C. at the beginning of the 1940s.  I hope I’m summarizing Adm. Brown correctly when I say that the three points he made during his speech were as follows:  (1) The military knew something was coming from Japan, and tried its darndest to arouse interest in Washington, D.C.  The capitol, however, had an isolationist Congress that was resolutely impervious to the threat from Japan and it refused to provide Pearl Harbor with the resources it needed.  (2)  Washington, D.C., had access to pivotal communications about Japanese plans and failed to make them available to the Pearl Harbor command.  I knew this, already, but it shocks me all over again every time I hear it.  (3) The Japanese, despite the superficial success of their attack, made five fatal errors.

Because I have a pathetic memory, sitting here today, I can only remember three Japanese errors, instead of five, but I’ll pass those three along to you anyway:

  1. Attacking showy targets, when they should have attacked the oil storage or other infrastructure;
  2. Destroying only three ships, since the rest of the ships at Pearl Harbor were repaired (with some fighting at Midway); and
  3. Destroying old weapons, which catapulted the U.S. into fighting a war with modern weapons, rather than decrepit WWI remnants.

As for the other two mistakes, if I remember them, I’ll pass them on to you.

I’ll add one mistake that Adm. Brown didn’t mention, which is underestimating the American people in the middle of the 20th century.  The isolationism that characterized D.C. worked only because the world was so far away.  When Japan brought the world to America’s doorstep, her isolationism ended with a roar.

The evening was — as these NOUS evenings always are — moving and enjoyable.  If you live in a community with a NOUS Commandery, you might want to get to know that organization.

The USS Carl Vinson rocks!

Let me start by saying that I am way too grown-up to say that something “rocks.”  Mine is a more dignified vocabulary.  Nevertheless, saying that the USS Carl Vinson rocks is the right way to start this post, because I want to discuss my visit to the USS Carl Vinson in the context of America’s youth and, in an ironic, self-referential way, my own youth.  Before I get too deep, though, let me start with a linear narrative about my day, one that I’ll make more than usually girly and detail-free to ensure that I don’t inadvertently say something that is better left unsaid about an important ship that has secrets to keep.

It was sheer dumb luck that my kids and I got to enjoy an extraordinary day aboard the Carl Vinson.  When the Navy League asked for ships’ greeters, I readily volunteered my services.  The Navy League tries to have a greeter for every ship.  The greeter’s job is to go on board, welcome the ship to the port (San Francisco, in this case), and to hand over a wonderful collection of coupons, maps, lists of free services, etc., all with the aim of making the visit as easy and enjoyable as possible for the men and women aboard the ship.  From my point of view, it’s a sinecure.  Navy League representatives gather all informational materials and coupons, bring it to the piers, and arrange clearance for us.  All we have to do is show up and be welcoming.

This year, unlike past years, I was assigned (along with a couple of other Navy League members) to a ship that was anchored in the Bay and that would not be open for visitors.  I had no assurance, therefore, that I would get on the ship.  When I got permission to bring the kids with me, we were told that it was up to the ship whether to take us on board.  I warned the kids that there was about a 50% chance we wouldn’t get on, and made alternate plans, just in case.  I was a little more optimistic when the senior Navy Leaguer assigned to visit the Carl Vinson told me that we’d be boarding with the ship’s original Captain, Richard Martin.  I still didn’t allow myself to get my (or my kids’) hopes up too high.  After all, they might have whisked Captain Martin on board, and left us standing pier-side, waving good-bye.  All I can say is that I did the Navy a disservice in assuming that it would behave so ungraciously.

Things were a bit slow in the morning, and we waited on the pier longer than expected, which was all to the good.  While my kids were restless, I got the opportunity to meet Captain Martin; his lovely and charming wife, Anne; his delightful friends; and the other Navy League people hoping to go aboard.  As I say every year around this time, Navy people are nice people:  well mannered, welcoming and so enthusiastic about all things Navy.  By the time the boat arrived to take Captain Martin, and his family and friends, to the Carl Vinson, there was no question but that we Navy League people would be going there too.

One of the things I always tell my children is that, while I haven’t done anything very interesting with my life, I’ve had the singular good fortune to know interesting people.  In this case, a mere half hour before visiting the Carl Vinson, luck smiled on me and the children, and put us in Captain Martin’s friendly orbit.  He was accorded the most splendid welcome you can imagine when he boarded the ship — and, listening to the stories he and others had to tell, I can understand why.  This is where I interrupt my linear narrative and get to the point about my own youth.

I was a child of the 1960s and 1970s and, more than that, I was a child of San Francisco and Berkeley.  I knew the drill:  the Cold War was a farce, we Americans were bullies, the Russians were people just like us, U.S. imperialism blah blah blah, yadda, yadda, yadda.  With age and experience, I’ve mercifully been blessed with some wisdom, and I’ve learned that the Cold War was not a farce, but was an existential battle between freedom and tyranny; that America was not a bully, but kept as many nations as possible on the side of liberty; and that, while the average Russian Vlad on the street might have been a person just like us, the Soviet leadership was dedicated to putting as many people as possible under the Communist yoke.

The actual facts (not the San Francisco/Berkeley filtered facts) meant that there was nothing cold about the Cold War.  Instead, it was a deadly, and perpetual, cat and mouse game.  While we, snug on our college campuses, sneered at the military, our military fought on the front lines, constantly tweaking the Soviet cat, all the while avoiding a direct confrontation.  Captain Martin, as the first captain of one of ten Nimitz class super carriers, was one of the leading-edge warriors in this fight.  The responsibilities he bore were enormous.  While we now engage our enemies on the ground, in those days, the water was a major battlefield in this covert war, and he shepherded one of our biggest weapons.

The sign reads: Beware of jet blasts, propellers and rotors

Bottom line, when it comes to the USS Carl Vinson’s intersection with my own youth:  I was an ignorant, thoughtless child, who inadvertently gave aid to the enemy simply by refusing to recognize that there was an enemy.  I was fortunate enough, though, to be protected by people who recognized the stakes in this existential war, and who put themselves on the front line.  Lucky, lucky me. And now back to today’s story….

The USS Carl Vinson isn’t a ship that exists only in a glorious Cold War past.  It remains a vital part of America’s arsenal, and its vitality is apparent from the moment one steps on board.  To start with, the ship is huge.  The total crew numbers almost 6,000 men and women (a number that includes the air wing).  Because the ship is not open to the public, we walked onto a ship churning with activity, as sailors and Marines, all of them so very young, lined up for liberty.  To the kids’ (and, yes, my) delight, since we were trailing in the wake of the ship’s top officers, hundreds of them fell silent and stood at attention as we walked by.  For a modern civilian, it’s impressive, to say the least, to witness young people showing this kind of respect to those who, by virtue of age, effort and wisdom, have achieved a high status within an organization.

In no time at all, we found ourselves in the Captain’s quarters.  A lovely and welcome repast was spread on the table in the stateroom (I think it was the stateroom), and Capt. Bruce Lindsey urged us to eat.  I’m embarrassed to say that my kids alone probably gobbled up a quarter of the food before I realized what they were doing, but I’m not surprised that they did.  Aside from the fact that they were hungry (as it took quite a while for us to board the ship), the sandwiches were delicious and the cookies were outstanding.

As we ate, Captain Lindsay gave us a brief and entertaining talk about the ship’s history:  about Carl Vinson himself, a man whose life spanned most of the 20th Century, and who deserves enormous credit for giving us a Navy in the 1930s that was able to help us win a war in the 1940s; about the ship’s missions, including its stellar humanitarian work in Haiti; and about the ship’s crew, a collection of dynamic, hard-working, deeply committed young people who work extraordinarily hard on a ship that has virtually no down-time.

Captains Lindsey & Martin, USS Carl Vinson

Captain Martin then spoke briefly about his years aboard the ship.  He’s a very humble man, despite his high accomplishments.  It says much about him that one of the things he’s most proud of is that he got the ship seaworthy 30 days early and $200,000,000 under budget.  I don’t think things like that happen anymore in today’s world.

After the Captain’s spoke, and after our Navy League representative gave a short, sweet speech welcoming the ship to our fair City, and delivering a painting of the ship coming into the Bay, all of us were offered a tour of the ship.  Yes!  Oh, yes!  But first we needed a pit stop.  Captain Lindsay was gracious enough to allow us to use the restroom (uh, sorry, Navy types:  head) in his own quarters.  My son was impressed.  When he emerged, he couldn’t contain himself:  “That’s a really captainy-y bathroom!”

From the Captain’s quarters, we headed to the bridge, from the bridge to the flight deck, from the flight deck to the Admiral’s briefing room, from the briefing room to the Com. room, and on and on.  I’m not telling what I saw in any detail, in part because I’ll get it wrong, and in part because I don’t want to say anything that I shouldn’t.  I will say, thought, that it was all fascinating and that the crew members we ran into on this tour were helpful, informative, and had such nice manners.  The ship was also in true ship shape, which is a pleasure to the eye.

Oh — about that crew.  They are young.  Just eyeballing them, my guess is that about 70% of those 6,000 crew members are 25 or under.  What amazed me was learning that the person on the bridge handling the rudder (that is, steering this vast, nuclear powered ship) is probably 19 years old.  Think about that:  three years ago, he (or she) was getting a driver’s license; now she (or he) is driving a very big ship.

It’s obvious that our Navy has a tremendous respect for young people.  It believes that they are capable.  It believes that they are intelligent.  It believes that, given the opportunity, they will act responsibly.  It doesn’t coddle them.  It doesn’t flatter them with false praise.  It demands of them their best, and they dig into themselves and discover that they can meet that demand.  These kids are America’s best and brightest because they willingly serve a harsh, but fair, task master, they grow up quickly, and they have the tools to become exemplary citizens, whatever they choose to do with their post-Navy lives.

Blue Angels, as seen from USS Carl Vinson

I want to keep this post away from politics, but I couldn’t help but contrast the young people I saw on board the USS Carl Vinson with these young people.  I’ll say no more.

All it all, it was as lovely a day as one could wish.  The weather was perfect, the people were delightful, and the ship was gorgeous (and surprisingly elegant, for such a utilitarian piece of equipment).  Speaking of my own family, I can say without hesitation that a good time was had by all!

By the way, I’m not the only one who saw a contrast between the military and Occupy Wall Street.  While I observed the two different types of young people drawn to the two different types of activities, Zombie noted that the military was, hands down, the audience favorite.

Honoring our Seafaring Services *UPDATED*

In honor of Fleet Week (which starts Saturday in San Francisco), I have three Navy/Marine related stories to relate and I want to promote a few of my favorite Navy related blogs.

Story 1:

My daughter has started a new school and is making new friends.  The other day, I met the Mom of one of these new friends.  (I’m happy to say that both mother and daughter are nice gals.)

“Is your daughter an only child?” I asked.  (Go ahead, say it:  I’m nosy.)

“No,” she said, “I have a son, too.”  Then, with the usual apologetic look one sees in Marin, she added “He’s joining the Navy next week.”

Having said that, the Mom cringed slightly, clearly expecting me to launch into a shocked lecture about the immorality of supporting our armed forces, especially with the blood of our young men.

“Wait!  Wait!  I’ve got to show you something,” I mumbled as I head to the stack of magazines on the kitchen counter.  Ruffling through papers for a minute revealed what I was looking for:  SeaPower magazine, which comes as part of my Navy League membership.  I handed it to her, along with a statement of the obvious.  “We’re big fans of the Navy in this house.”

Needless to say, she was delighted.  We talked about boys becoming men in the military.  She agreed.  Being a mom, she’s a little worried about her 21 year old son (he’ll always be her baby) going into the Navy.  Still, she realizes that her son needs a place to grow up and become a man — and our culture isn’t that place.  We currently train boys to be perpetual adolescents with feminine emotional traits, rather than encouraging the best aspects of manliness (bravery, loyalty, honor, camaraderie, etc.).

I think the push to become a manly man, in the best sense of the word, applies with special force in their case, because she’s a single Mom living in a low-income, all-black community.  Young men coming out of that community do not necessarily fare well in life.  Her son apparently realized that sad fact himself, since it was he who wanted to go into the military. After a couple of years at the local community college, he was lost and felt he needed something more meaningful.

When the Mom left, she thanked me profusely. “I feel so much happier now about his decision.”

Story 2:

At the local dojo a few months ago, I asked one of my Mom friends (a second degree blackbelt, incidentally), what her son (also a second degree blackbelt) was going to do with himself during the summer. Her face got that familiar Marin grimace.  She ducked her head and spoke softly.  “You hadn’t heard? He’s enlisted in the Marines.” Then came the inevitable pause, as she readied herself to be berated (or to get a saccharine and insincere, “Well, that’s nice.”).

“Oh, my gosh! That’s so cool. Wait I minute, I’ve got something to show you.” I dug frantically through my purse and — yes, there it was! — dragged out my Navy League coin. She blinked, startled. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

“Wow!  That’s wonderful.” she said. “I have to admit that this was a surprise to us. He came home one day and said ‘I’ve spent two years at community college, and I don’t know what to do with myself there.’ So he joined the Marines.”

My friend, who I assume is the usual Marine liberal then added something interesting:  “You know, I’ve been thinking about this. We should have our best and brightest defending us.  I think this will be a good thing.”

That was at the beginning of the summer.  A little while ago, the young man graduated from Marine Boot Camp, down at Camp Pendleton.  His mom sent me a photo of a young man absolutely radiating pride in himself and his uniform.  Mom was also deeply impressed by the graduation ceremony, which she said everyone should see.

Story 3:

My life is carpools.  Yesterday, I had in my car a darling 13 year old whom I’ve known since he was a little boy.  I stand very high in his estimation.  It’s not my charm, beauty or intelligence.  It’s the fact that he learned, last year, that I have friends in the Navy, including an admiral.  (Actually, I can boast about several admirals, since some of them might actually recognize me at a party if they ran into me.)  I am now persona grata, since this young man has as his life’s ambition entry into the Naval academy, followed by a career as a SEAL.

This boy has been thinking about BIG ISSUES.  “This is a really good time to get into the military, because I believe that we’re going to be in a very big war soon.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“The way I see it,” he answered, “a few years ago, the news was filled with stories about the war.  Now, though, there are no stories.  I think they’re hiding something big.”

He was unimpressed with my suggestion that the media might have been trying to embarrass George Bush, whom they didn’t like, while trying to spare Barack Obama, whom they do like, the same embarrassment.  “No, I think there’s something big.”  He’s not quite sure who the enemy will be, but he knows there’s one out there.

Wrap-up to the above stories:

I think I should start a support group in Marin for those moms whose sons are entering the military.  The message would be, we don’t all hate you and we think your sons are doing a good thing!

And now the links

There are, as you all know, myriad mil blogs out there, all of which are a testament to the high caliber of men and women who serve in our military.  Since this is Navy/Marine Day at Bookworm Room, I’m just going to list my four favorite Seafaring military (and, perhaps, retired military) blogs:

The Mellow Jihadi
CDR Salamander
Neptunus Lex
Castra Praetoria

If you know of Navy/Marine/Coast Guard/Merchant Marine blogs that deserve recognition, let me know.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

UPDATE:  I’ll start adding reader suggestions here as they come in.

Information Dissemination

161 years ago, the U.S. Navy outlawed flogging

Do you remember Johnny Carson’s droll “I did not know that”?  I do.  And that’s precisely what popped into my head when JKB sent me a link to a post discussing the fact that 161 years ago, the U.S. Navy outlawed flogging.  It’s a wonderful little story, especially because it combines three things I find interesting:  our Navy, Judaism (yes, Judaism), and plain ol’ fun trivia.

Somali catch and release implications

** Newsflash***

Heard on the popular “Don and Roma” show on WLS AM890 Radio during this morning’s Chicagoland commute:

In his interview with the radio hosts, Illinois Senator and naval intelligence officer Mark Kirk explained that the U.S. policy toward Somali piracy is apparently to capture them and release them near their home ports, presumably so that they would be spared a long walk home. Bereft of consequences, the number of ships captured and the ransoms  demanded by the pirates have skyrocketed (into the $100 millions per ship). The ransom money is then used to fund massive Al Qaeda training camps in Africa.

And, why should this not be the case? It’s good business and there certainly is no risk from the U.S. or any other Nato warship.

So, here’s my question: why not simply destroy the pirate vessels and leave the surviving pirates to die? Wouldn’t that bring a quick end to piracy?




Captain Owen Honors *UPDATED*

Because I was away, I missed the whole first impact of the Owen Honors thing, but for glimpsing a horrified PC headline on CNN while waiting for a flight.  That millisecond of MSM-manufactured finger-pointing was enough to clue me in to the fact that, if CNN disapproved, I probably wouldn’t be that shocked.

Having watched one of the videos at CDR Salamander’s place (along with an excellent post about the PC hysteria going on right now), I have to say that the only thing that shocks me is the fact that the liberal media watch dogs, people whose worship at Lenny Bruce’s obscene shrine, were able to pretend such outrage.  This is the Navy, for goodness sakes, not a floating DAR meeting.  Capt. Honors is trying to reach guys (for the most part) — young guys, who have been raised their entire lives on an obscenity-laced diet of rap videos and Hollywood movies.  I actually thought the video was funny, and I’m usually quite prudish (0r, at least, uninterested in vulgarity)!

Bottom line:  if our military can’t take some weak, silly, mildly offensive jokes, how in the world can it take bullets and bombs?  We’re supposed to be training fighters here, not delicate flowers.  We want, of course, to have a moral military, made up of people who aren’t monstrous, violent, raping killing machines, but there’s a huge difference between inculcating decency in our forces, and turning them into a ladies garden party.

As for the military high command, which reacted with knee-jerk speed by destroying Capt. Owen’s career, I don’t think it did itself any favors.  When will traditional forces realize that the liberals in this country can never be appeased?  A less extreme response would have been proportionate to the low level of the offense, and would not have fed the perpetual outrage machine on the Left.  As it is, conservatives, with their abject overreacting keep conceding liberal points, even when the liberals really have no point at all.

UPDATEMax Boot nails it:  the “humor” was mild compared to what normally crosses young people’s radars; Capt. Owen (as OldFlyer said) should have comported himself with more dignity; and Owen’s real sin was to mis-read the PC signals.

In the presence of greatness : the Battle of Midway celebration *UPDATED*

This past weekend’s sunny Saturday morning was a quintessential suburban spring day.  I gathered with hundreds of other families at a local high school for our children’s swim meet.  We traveled there in our comfortable cars, air conditioners blowing, driving over clean safe streets.  We all met up at the large, inviting pool, where we spent our day watching our happy, healthy children churn their way through the clear, blue water.

As always, the meet started with a few sweet little girls warbling the national anthem.  Everyone stood; most forgot to remove their hats; and about half sang along.  Hands on hearts were not de rigueur, even amongst the children.

As I stood and stared out upon the singularly blessed crowd surrounding me, I wondered how many of them were thinking about the commitment that lies behind the national anthem:  a promise to take up arms to protect “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  In our suburban wonderland, we take for granted our freedoms.  We also fairly consistently ignore the sacrifices that, for more than two hundred years, American men and women (but mostly men) have made on our behalf to preserve, not only our freedoms, but also the plenty that invariably flows from their preservation.

That very same Saturday night, I had the opportunity to look into the lined faces of people who, in the past, defended our freedoms, and into the still-unlined faces of those who stand willing to do so today and tomorrow.  The occasion was the annual Battle of Midway Celebration, an event commemorating that significant battle (one ensuring that, for the war’s duration, Japan would not dominate the seas) and to honor those few survivors who served during those terrible and important days.

As a native San Franciscan, I’d long seen the elegant marquee shading the entrance to the San Francisco Marines Memorial Club, but I’d never really thought about what might be housed inside.  I knew I was in for an aesthetic treat, however, the moment I entered the lobby, which is an elegant space with wood paneling, and discreetly rich decor.  What distinguishes it from being just another generically fancy downtown hotel lobby is the Marine memorabilia scattered about the space, including the dashingly-attired stuffed (or was it carved?) bulldog nestled in an alcove.

The reception itself was held high on the 11th floor, which boasts three rooms:  a cozy, old-fashioned library that looks more suited to an English country house than a downtown semi-high rise, a mid-size reception room decorated in perfect regency style, and a large and elegant banquet room, also in regency style.  This came as a pleasant surprise, because I had feared a heavy Victorian hand, complete with red flocked wall paper, massive amounts of dark and carved wood, and silly, heavy epergnes dominating every flat service. I was therefore delighted by the open, airy rooms, with their high ceilings and restrained decorations.  And because of their very restraint, these rooms were the perfect setting for the real décor:  the guests.

The event was a formal one, which is much more beautiful than a civilian black tie affair.  The women, of course, presented a familiar and pleasing picture.  They had on lovely dresses ranging from safe (but always elegant) black to a rainbow of jewel-like colors.  Their hair was piled high or cascaded down in graceful ringlets, curls or curtains of silky hair.  Their make-up said, appropriately, “Here I am and aren’t I lovely?”  I expected that.

It was the men who were such a treat — and a surprise.  To me, “formal” means black tie.  It’s a good look, since it’s the rare man who isn’t elevated slightly by the dignity of a black jacket, pleated shirt, and neatly tied black tie.  Add in a cummerbund, and he’s ready to face anything.  I am, therefore, not complaining about traditional formals.  It’s just that, after having seen Navy formal wear, traditional men’s formal wear will, forever after, seem a little bit bland.

As I knew, but had never seen, Navy formal wear is white.  The uniform therefore brings the light in a room up, rather than down.  On their arms and shoulders, the officers wear the golden insignia of their rank.  I know now, although I didn’t understand that fact when I walked in, that many of the men present boasted an Admiral’s rank.  There was no shortage, however, of other ranks, whether chiefs or captains or lieutenants. The young men and women in attendance who had not (yet) attained the higher ranks were nattily attired from head to toe (or, if they were women, from head to knee) in whites.  The only exceptions were the two tall, trim, young Marines who were resplendent in their dark blue uniforms, lavishly decorated with gold and red.

Every uniformed guest had a variety of “mini-medals” on his (or her) left chest, over his (or her) heart.  The higher the rank, or the longer the years of service, the more of these exquisite medallions adorned the wearer — exquisite both because they are beautiful on their own terms, as mere objets, and because each represents a special level of accomplishment, dedication or bravery.

A beautiful sight, right?  But an event’s visual beauty is static.  If that was all the evening offered, I would have gazed my fill and left quickly.  The real fun of the evening lay in the guests themselves.

As the veteran of more rarefied receptions than I can count, whether because of my legal work or the fact that my children attend schools in a posh community, I was mentally prepared for the heavy work of introducing myself to small groups of strangers, all of whom usually smile a polite greeting and then instantly resume chatting with their known friends about cases won or lost, business deals at hand, luxury vacations, and the minutiae of raising children.  I’m used to smiling quietly; listening for a few minutes to a conversation about people I don’t know, events I haven’t experienced, and places I haven’t been; and then murmuring something about a friend on the other side of the room, so that I can ooze away.  Sometimes I fall into a welcoming group, which is a great relief, and I then stick limpet-like to that group for as long as I politely can.

I needn’t haven’t worried about that kind of stiff and sticky social situation at this celebration.  The people gathered there were a gregarious and friendly crowd, instantly making me feel welcome.  They were also courteous in a very old-fashioned way, which in itself is a wonderful social lubricant.  In addition to making sure I had a drink in hand (a task I usually perform myself), each person with whom I spoke made sure that, if anyone else came along, I got introduced to each new person present — again, a task I usually have to perform myself.  It’s a very small thing, but being introduced to people makes it seem as if you, the person being introduced, are just a little special.  Conversely, having to introduce yourself to an established group shows right away that you’re an outsider.

One of the men to whom I was introduced was the guest of honor, Admiral Eric T. Olson, who is the Commander of the U.S. Special Operations CommandThe Admiral — and please note the use of the article “the” when I refer to him because, while there were many admirals in the room, he was the only one denominated The Admiral — is not a big man.  He’s not a small man either.  He is, simply, quiet in the way he occupies space.  This is not someone who needs to throw his considerable weight around.

Given his restrained presence, Adm. Olson’s voice, which is quite deep and carrying, comes as a bit of a surprise.  His manners, of course, are perfect.  Not only did he greet me with warmth but, when we parted ways after a minute or two of conversation, he remembered my name.  I can’t do that.  I know that the trick when you’re introduced to someone is to repeat his (or her) name to yourself several times, but I can’t play that mnemonic game and still track the conversation.  I always end up opting for conversation over memorization, and then find myself apologizing later for having lost a name completely.  The Admiral clearly has no such problems.

Without exception, whether they were currently serving or had retired, the men and women to whom I spoke looked back on their naval career with pleasure.  As a lawyer, a field that is dominated by people who view it as just a job, and often not a very pleasant one, this delight in service invariably surprises me.  In my world, jobs aren’t things you necessarily like; they’re things you do to buy the things you like.  This isn’t to say that I don’t know people who aren’t completely happy with their careers, or even to say that I, in my time, haven’t had jobs that gave me pleasure.  It’s just that it’s a rare thing indeed for me to find myself in a room filled with people who are universally committed to the notion that theirs is a wonderful career.

After some time (59 minutes to be precise) spent socializing over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, we adjourned to the dining room (or, as it was denominated, Navy-style, the “mess”) and there the real celebration began.  The dinner was extremely ritualized, so much so that the written program included a lengthy itinerary, timed to the minute, as well as a detailed description of the protocol.  It could have been intimidating, or even boring, to someone like me, a thoroughly archetypal civilian — but it wasn’t, not for a moment.  I found the ritual alternately moving (as when the “Tribute to Our Fallen and Missing” took place), fascinating (the “Parading of the Beef”), and quite amusing.

“Amusing,” she said?!  But wasn’t this a solemn commemoration of an historic experience?  Well, yes and no.  The evening was indeed intended to recall an historic experience, but it was a true “celebration,” an energetic, humorous, and bonhominous occasion to reflect on the Navy’s great history, rather than a ponderous, dry delving into a vanished past.  It was clear that large numbers of the naval guests knew each other and knew each other well, and they all showed great glee in the gentle ragging and hazing that went on for most of the evening.

Even that part of the evening dedicated to honoring the Midway veterans who attended, and those who could attend no more, was uplifting.  The President of the Mess asked each veteran to stand (or wave) as his name was called.  He then told the assembled gathering the role that the veteran had played in the Battle of Midway.  Each had a tale of derring-do, heroism, ingenuity, and commitment.  Each man, unsurprisingly, went on to serve long after the battle was over, some merely for the remainder of the war, and some for the rest of their careers.  Some of these men were hale, and some so frail they looked practically transparent, but each managed to stand proudly to hear his accomplishments read to the assembly.  Each then received a well-deserved standing ovation.  I didn’t cry, but I was tempted.

After each of the veterans was individually honored, The Admiral gave a short speech that focused tightly on the Battle of Midway itself, and on the legacy of heroism and service that the veterans of that war have bequeathed to those who serve in today’s military.  It was a nice speech, especially because, as I mentioned, The Admiral has a satisfyingly deep and resonant voice.  The talk was also nice because it was gloriously free of the bombast and pomposity that sometimes infects the speeches people give when they’ve reached such a preeminent position.

When The Admiral finished speaking, artist-in-residence Sally Schultz presented him with an exquisitely detailed pencil drawing she made of pivotal events that occurred during the Battle of Midway.  I particularly note Sally’s presentation here because I was impressed by her bravery.  Although she is terrified by public speaking, and was shaking like a leaf by the time her short speech ended, she still did it.  Sometimes the biggest battles we face our those that see us dealing with our own fears, and I admire Sally tremendously for looking straight at her fear of public speaking and then batting it aside as she did.

The evening wrapped up with the Toasts, which are much more exciting than the mere clinking of classes to which I am used.  Following ritualized toasts to the Commander in Chief and to each branch of the military, saving only the Navy, members of the mess were able to stand and request toasts to specific groups, such as the Chaplains, the Doctors, the Seabees, etc.  There was a lot of amusing badinage as the President and the Vice, along with the member making the proposal, engaged in (and I quote the program) “inspired wit and subtle sarcasm.”  I have to mention the Seabees here, because they surpassed themselves by singing, loudly and tunefully (almost) their Seabee song.  Only after the inspiration for all other toasts had been exhausted did the room rise as one to drink the last toast to the United States Navy.

I’ll wrap up this long post now too.  I began my Saturday day by looking at the blessings of my life.  I ended my day with a celebration shared with that small number of men and women who have in the past committed, and still today commit, their lives to defending American freedoms, thereby enabling the majority of Americans to benefit from this county’s great bounty.  To these men and women, I can only say, “Thank you.  Thank you so much.”

U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers, June 6, 1942

U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 "Dauntless" dive bombers, June 6, 1942

UPDATE: Here’s a link with pictures.  By the way, although I’m not saying whether or not I’m in the pictures, I have a surefire method for you to figure out which woman I might be. Scan the women in the crowd pictures. The one you find most attractive — well, that’s probably me.

Kid logic

I love kid logic.   I was telling my pre-teen daughter about the Navy SEALS (having just finished Lone Survivor), and I mentioned the incredible physical strength and mental stamina the men had.  “And the women….” she prompted me.  “Nope,” I said.  “No women.”  She stared at me.  “But don’t the men get lonely?”  That’s a giggle right there.

I didn’t mention that, when they’re at home, SEALS probably aren’t hurting for female company.  However, she did totally get it when I explained that the Navy is not going to compromise the mission by pretending that women are as strong as men or that their biology enables them to function equally in primitive, hostile, dangerous surroundings.

Three interesting stories re global warming, missing links and the Navy *UPDATED*

These stories have nothing to do with each other.  I just thought each was interesting, and therefore pass them on to you:

Americans are figuring out that global warming is a scam.

That “missing link” is too distantt to be missing — and maybe it is connected to the first story, because both remind us how often scientists are wrong.  When they’re right, wonderful things can happen, but their mistakes can be equally far-reaching.  This was a silly mistake; global warming less so.

Lastly, the Navy is built for speed, which is pretty damn impressive — and I guess this is a science story, too, since it shows the incredibly technological abilities we’re able to make.

So I take it back, not only are the stories interesting on their own terms, they’re related too!

UPDATE:  Apropos the Navy, here’s a great reminder of just how far we’ve come.

A delightful evening aboard the USS Green Bay

Thanks to the Navy League, I’ve just returned from a delightful evening aboard the USS Green Bay.  I knew the evening was going to be lovely even before I boarded the ship.  Although a nasty storm is threatening to hit the Bay Area tomorrow, the drive into the City was exquisite.  The air was clear, with a pinkish-blue tint, and the City seemed to glimmer in this pre-storm light.  Also, amazingly, there was no traffic.  I glided through the City through one green light after another.  By the time I arrived at the Pier, I was practically giddy with the excitement that a smooth and beautiful journey engendered.

Getting to the ship took a little bobbing and weaving through security, but I thought the whole thing was cool.  The Marines and the Naval officers were extremely polite, and very competent.  And though they are working dogs and (Mr. Bookworm assured me) are not cute, I was nevertheless charmed as the bomb-sniffing canines circled my vehicle, making sure I was good to go.  When you live the kind of comfortable suburban life I live, there’s definitely a little frisson that goes with this type of extremely polite, efficient, and deadly-serious security.

While you don’t see the USS Green Bay very clearly from the street, you do see it clearly from the parking lot — and it is a very striking ship.  It’s brand new (commissioned in January 2009), and it looks like the product of a joint design team from Hollywood and the Lego company:

Isn’t that beautiful?

I won’t insult the ship by trying to describe it in my own decidedly layman’s terms.  Here’s what the ship’s own website has to say about this modern marvel of troop transportation:

The USS GREEN BAY will be used to transport and land Marines, their equipment and supplies, by embarked air cushion or conventional landing craft or Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles, augmented by helicopters or vertical take off and landing aircraft. USS GREEN BAY will support amphibious assault, special operations, or expeditionary warfare missions throughout the first half of the 21st Century.


Length 684 feet (208.5 meters)

Beam 105 feet (31.9 meters)

Displacement Approximately 24,900 tons full load

Speed In excess of 22 knots (24.2 mph)

Aircraft Four CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters or two MV-22 tilt rotor aircraft may be launched or recovered simultaneously. The ship’s hangar can store 1-2 aircraft.

Armament Two 30 mm Close-in-Guns, for surface threat defense; two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers for air defense

Landing Craft Two LCACs (air cushion) or one LCU (conventional)

EFVs 14 Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles

Power plant Four Colt-Pielstick diesel engines, two shafts, 40,000 Hp

Crew 360 (28 officers, 332 enlisted), three Marines

Troops 699 (66 officers, 633 enlisted); surge to 800 total.

Those dry statistics, though, don’t do justice to what a really beautiful ship it is.  Unlike older ships, it has spacious passageways (or, I guess I should say, passageways more spacious than usual), well designed work spaces, and really excellent crew quarters considering space constraints (although I’ll have more to say on that subject), plus a fully equipped, modern hospital.  The corridors are filled with street signs from the City of Green Bay, which takes very seriously the fact that a ship was named after it.  The Bridge actually took my breath away.  It’s large and beautifully laid out, with hardwood floors and  glowing computer monitors.

After dining in style on a buffet that offered fresh fruit and vegetables, roast, shrimp, chicken wings, meatballs and cheese plates, Mr. Bookworm and I wandered through the passageways in awe.  We had the good luck to stumble across Lieutenant S, who kindly offered us an in-depth tour of the ship, beyond the areas that were open for general viewing.  He took us to the Bridge, the Command and Control center (less claustrophobic than the ones on the older ships), the room that oversees all ships functions (I’ve forgotten the name, but it’s the one with the computer systems hooked up to water, sewage, electricity, security, etc.), the upper deck, a random office (just so we could see what one looks like), his own immaculate sleeping quarters, and the Marine quarters (which are not used right now).

The sleeping quarters were especially nice, by naval standards, and Lieutenant S was most appreciative of that fact.  He said that new ships are built with an eye to making living quarters more comfortable than they been before.  This is sensible.  We’re in the 21st Century, and there’s really no need for sailors to sleep in the luxury characteristic of life below decks on an 18th Century British Man O’ War (that bit about 18th Century standards is sarcastic, by the way).  Because the ship isn’t full, officers currently have their own quarters, including their own head.  In past billets, Lieutenant S has had to share a head with 10-12 people, so having his own space is a real luxury.  And even when the ship is fully populated, the head/crew ratio is better than on ships of old.  The only thing missing for officers, suggested Mr. Bookworm, is room service.

The Marine transport quarters were something else entirely.  The beds are stacked three high, with a passage way about 2.5 feet wide between each stack of beds.  I thought they were pretty medieval, but Lieutenant S assured us that they were truly state of the art.  Although the top bunk has no head room, the two bottom bunks are configured so that the Marines occupying them can sit up, and even have a little desk before them when they’re in their bunks.  The units also have enough storage space (at least in theory) to store each Marine’s gear near his (or her) bunk.  Modern quality notwithstanding, the high estimation in which I’ve always held the Marines went up just a little bit more when I saw the conditions under which they travel.

As is always the case when I’m aboard ship, three things impressed me about the men and women serving.  The first is how nice all of them look in their uniforms (service dress blue, for this affair).  The second is what lovely manners the men and women in the service they have.  Now, I know that they’re required to be polite as part of their job, but they do their job well, with grace and courtesy.  When I walked down steep ramps or went down steep steps, someone was at hand to give me a hand.  And while normally I don’t need help (hey!  I’m a martial artist), today I did, since I broke my toe (or maybe two toes) this morning.  Even hopped up on Ibuprofin, I was in considerable pain, and changing levels left me unbalanced.  Having a nice young man at my side helping out was a real treat.

The third thing that impressed me, and this one is less tangible than how nice Naval people are in both appearance and conduct, is the fact that the Navy has extremely high expectations of the people who serve — and the fact that, for the most part, officers and enlisted live up to those expectations.  One of the things that frustrates me so much in ordinary life, especially when it comes to children, is how little we expect of them.  Making the transition from a Montessori school to a public elementary school was an object lesson in going from an environment in which children are viewed as intelligent and capable, to one in which they are all averaged out to mediocre and incapable.  (Although I must say that our local middle school is extremely demanding.)  The Navy, by contrast, demonstrates that people, when called upon to do well and behave responsibly, quite often do precisely that.

I’d like to end this post with an extra thank you to Lieutenant S.  He was personable, knowledgeable, humorous, and had real warmth, both towards us and towards the Navy.  There was no question we asked for which he didn’t have a comprehensive and intelligible answer.  I’m sure I would have enjoyed any tour I received on the ship, but I especially enjoyed the tour he gave.

A lovely day on the Bay

Courtesy of the Navy League, we spent several hours yesterday enjoying the hospitality of the crew of the USCG Cutter Pike, an 87′ Marine Protector Class Coastal Patrol Boat.  In other words, we spent the afternoon on an active duty patrol boat.  Rather than a chronogical recitation of a day that was basically very relaxed (although soooo cold), I’ll just give my impression of a few things:

The men and women in our Navy and Coast Guard are hardy people.  Did I mention that it’s cold out there?  Really cold.  I was bundled up, which was a good thing, because my tendency to sea sickness kept me on the deck the whole time (and this was despite having taken pills to help out).  Did I mention I was bundled up?  I was.  Heavily.  And I was still cold.  And meanwhile, members of the crew hung out on the deck in their shirt sleeves.  Only when I’d veered into freezing territory did some of them put on jackets.  I felt old and wuss-ish next to these vigorous young people.

The San Francisco Bay must be one of the most beautiful waterways in the world.  The Pike’s mandate yesterday was to keep ships and boats out of the “forbidden zone” — namely, the corridor into which ships are not allowed to travel when there are air shows going on over the Bay.  Up and down the Pike went, politely moving boats aside if they crossed that line.  I stayed on the port side of the ship.  When it went up, I admired the beautiful San Francisco skyline.  When it went down, I gazed at the wonders of Alcatraz Island.  All around us were bobbing sail boats.  There was an almost dream-like quality to the scenary around us, as if someone had written it for a book, and then summoned it into being.

People in the American military like their jobs.  Yes, I know that not all of them do, but I keep meeting people, active and retired, who think the military is a wonderful life.  In this they contrast strongly with the lawyers I meet, few of whom claim to like what they do.  (And yes, that could be a sophisticated, self-denigrating pose for some, but I happen to know from a lot of them that it’s not.)  The crew members approached their work with good cheer, an attitude that may have been boosted by the presence of a USCG RADM on board.  I got the feeling, though, that they feel as if their job is interesting and worthwhile.  I also spoke to two retired Navy people (one male, one female) and a retired Marine gal, and all three waxed lyrical about the pleasures of their time in the service.  The Navy people were career; the Marine gal was a short haul.  Each felt their time was worthwhile.

It’s disappointing when the Blues don’t fly.  Yup, you heard right.  After all that cake, we managed to miss the icing.  The fog was sufficiently think that it wasn’t safe for them to perform.  They made the right decision, of course, since safety must always come first when recreational flying is at issue, but I was still sorry to miss the soaring excitement of the show — especially when we were positioned to be right under them as they flew by.  C’est la vie.  We’ll catch them next year and, after all, this year we got to meet them face to face, which was its own pleasure.

And my last thought is that, when you get that cold, you stay cold.  It took me hours to feel as if I’d warmed up to my core again.  Did I mention that America’s seafaring troops are harding people?

What’s not to like about the Blue Angels? *UPDATED*

You know it’s been a good evening when Mom, Dad, and the kids all leave a party ebullient.  The party in question was a fund-raising reception aboard the USS Hornet, which is a floating museum.  The guests of honor were members of the Blue Angels team.  My husband was a bit dubious about the whole thing, but I bought the tickets, and bullied, and arranged, and fought my way through two hours of traffic to make it happen — and I am happy to report that I was in the pleasant position of being able to say “I told you so” as to something delightful.

Let me start with the mise en scène.  The USS Hornet, which is docked at Alameda Point (formerly the Naval Air Station Alameda), played a significant role during WWII.  The Hornet museum’s own website spells out precisely what a debt we Americans owe to the Hornet and the men who served on her.  Here are just some of the highlights:

One of twenty-four Essex class aircraft carriers, the CV-12 was named Kearsarge when her keel was laid at Newport News on August 3, 1942. After the first carrier HORNET (CV-8) was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942, the Navy changed the name of CV-12 to HORNET to carry on the name of her predecessor.

By the conclusion of World War II, she had amassed an unequalled combat record.

Commissioned only 15 months after the laying of her keel, HORNET and her green crew were rushed through their shakedown cruise in only 14 days instead of the usual 4 to 5 weeks.


In June 1944, HORNET began seven weeks of intensive air strikes in the Marianas Islands including the strategic islands of Saipan, Guam, and Tinian. During this period more than 3,000 sorties were flown from HORNET’s flight deck against Saipan. VF-2 would distinguish itself by splashing 233 Japanese aircraft. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19th, Hellcat pilots from HORNET destroyed enemy aircraft with no losses in what came to be known as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”.


On June 24th, while conducting raids against the Bonins Islands of Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima, VF-2 pilots downed a record 67 enemy planes in one day. HORNET participated in the Western Carolina Islands operation with air support strikes on Peleliu. By September 1944, HORNET VF-2 had the distinction of being the top fighter squadron in the Pacific with more total victories and more “ace” pilots any other fighter squadron up to that time. Out of the VF-2s 50 pilots, 28 were confirmed aces, having scored five or more victories in aerial combat.


On the morning of February 16, 1945, HORNET kept a date the old HORNET (CV-8) had made some 34 months before when she conducted the first carrier strikes on Tokyo, neutralizing air fields and hitting shipping and targets of opportunity. Strikes began in mid-February against Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima in preparation for the Marine invasions. HORNET aircraft rocketed, bombed, and strafed positions on Iwo Jima for six straight days in direct tactical support of Marine operations there. When Iwo Jima was secure, HORNET turned her attention once again to Tokyo, pulverizing airfields in the metropolitan area.

You can read the full history here.

Standing on the Hornet means one stands on something very close to hallowed ground if one cherishes, as I do, the notion of man’s God-given right to freedom. Because of its illustrious history, when one boards the Hornet, one is already primed to be impressed. We continued to be impressed once we had the chance to meet the guests of honor.

Although the event’s organizers had put together a lovely buffet, the food paled after the Blue Angels came on board.  (Incidentally, when I use the term “Blue Angels” here, I mean representatives of the entire team, both current members and newly assigned personnel, not just the fliers.)  We had the pleasure of meeting the flight surgeon, a lovely woman who left my daughter jittering with excitement at the thought of one day achieving a high-level non-combat role in the military; the men who keep the Blues supplied; three active fliers (including both a woman and Fat Albert’s pilot), as well as the new crop of fliers; the public relations person; and the guy in charge of aircraft maintenance.

Despite the varied responsibilities of the people we met, all of the Blues have certain characteristics in common:  First, and most obviously, they’re all lovely to look at (men and women alike).  This is not quite as fatuous a comment as it sounds.  The Blue team looks lovely because its members are all in superb physical condition.  I’ve always found actors, actresses and models, no matter how rubbed and buffed they are, rather uninspiring because their physical attributes have no useful purpose beyond the decorative.  As a utilitarian person who likes functional fitness, I’m very appreciative of people who represent the apex of the human body’s physical capacity.  The Blues, every last one of them, are in top shape and it’s nice to see that.  (By the way, you can see for yourself here what a glowing, healthy bunch the officers are.)

Second, without exception, these people were gentleman and ladies in the old-fashioned sense of the term.  They were kind to the children and courteous to everyone.  They looked us in the eye, spoke clearly, and, despite the crowds around them, made every person feel as if he, or she, was important.  Considering that those of us in attendance were all crowding around the Blue Angels team like star-struck groupies, the Blues’ graciousness was especially appealing.  Again, it was easy to distinguish them from the petulant stars who populate our media.

Third, and this is something I tried to emphasize for the kids on the way home, the make-up of the Blue Angels shows that reputation matters.  Three different people told me that, when personnel apply to become a part of the Blue Angels, it’s their personality that is the determining factor.  Regardless of their responsibilities (flying, medicine, PR, supplies, etc.), all are tops in their field before they even knock on the Blues’ door.  The question for admittance, therefore, isn’t the applicant’s abilities, which are proven, but his or her personality.  Since the Blues travel together 300 days a year, they have to like and respect each other.  Someone who is known to be unpleasant, lazy, selfish, or who has any other personality trait that precludes being liked, respected and relied-upon in a tight unit, has no chance of joining the team.  To be a Blue, it’s not enough to be good at what you do.  You also have to be just plain good — a mensch, a good person, a stand-up kind of guy (or gal).

Fourth — and this is something I’ve commented upon after every interaction I’ve had with men and women in the American military — the Blues manifestly love their work.  Each person with whom we spoke felt that his (or her) job has meaning and purpose.  It’s so obvious that none are just grinding through their days, putting in time and waiting for the pay check.  Everyone was passionate about his (or her) responsibilities, and about the Blues’ important role as a good will ambassador for the Navy.  It was so apparent that the Blues are people who get up in the morning feeling as if their work matters.  As in years past, I felt real envy that these people, when still young, were able to look at their skills and their values and then make a career choice that not only gives them great pleasure, but that serves their country.

And really, what more can one say?  I learned some useful practice stuff (the Blues rely primarily on their carefully honed senses, not on equipment, when they perform; every team member, regardless of his, or her, primary responsibilities, has a role when the planes take to the air; Blues fly in formation across country as they go from one venue to another; etc.), but mostly I was reminded, again, that our military attracts and cultivates the best and the brightest.

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UPDATE: I was remiss when I failed to point out that this event was co-sponsored by the Bay Area TAILHOOK Ready Room. It was a lovely evening, and thanks are due to all who made it possible.

A reminder to join the Navy League *UPDATED WITH CLARIFICATIONS*

My mind is full of Fleet Week events.  As in the past two years, it promises to be a very exciting week for me and my family.  I know I’m going to be on a Coast Guard boat on the Bay when the Blue Angels fly, I know I’m going to a reception to meet the fliers themselves, and I hope that my family and I will get to hear the Marine Corp band playing (news on tickets is still pending).  The Blue Angels reception and the Marine Corp band performance are events that were made available to the public, but I wouldn’t have known about them but for my Navy League membership.  As for the Coast Guard boat, that is a privilege reserved exclusively for Navy League members.

And what is the Navy League?  Long-time readers know that it’s an organization formed to support the Navy and related military organizations.  Here, from the Navy League’s own website, are the organization’s mission and policy statements:

The Navy League has set forth the following objectives:

  • To foster and maintain interest in a strong Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine as integral parts of a sound national defense and vital to the freedom of the United States.
  • To serve as a means of educating and informing the American people with regard to the role of sea power in the nuclear age and the problems involved in maintaining strong defenses in that age.
  • To improve the understanding and appreciation of those who wear the uniforms of our armed forces and to better the conditions under which they live and serve.
  • To provide support and recognition for the Reserve forces in our communities in order that we may continue to have a capable and responsive Reserve.
  • To educate and train our youth in the customs and traditions of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marine through the means of an active and vigorous Naval Sea Cadet Corps.

Statement of Policy

We of the Navy League of the United States stand for a strong America – a nation morally, economically, and internally strong.

We believe that the security of our nation and of the people of the world demands a well-balanced, integrated, mobile American defense team, of which a strong Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine are indispensable parts.

We support all Armed Services to the end that each may make its appropriate contribution to the national security.

We know that in a free nation an informed public is indispensable to national security and, therefore, we will strive to keep the nation alert to the dangers which threaten – both from without and within.

We favor appropriations for each of the Armed Services, adequate for national security, economically administered.

We oppose any usurpation of the Congress’s constitutional authority over the Armed Services.

We urge that our country maintain world leadership in scientific research and development.

We support industrial preparedness, planning, production.

We support efforts of our government to achieve worldwide peace through international cooperation.

We advocate a foreign policy which will avoid wars – if possible; if not, win them!

The Navy League is not a political group or lobbying group.  As it says:

The Navy League of the United States is a 501(c)(3) organization of more than 60,000 members  dedicated to nonpartisan, enhanced public understanding of the missions and challenges facing today’s Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine, as well as advocating for the well-being of the men and women of each service.

Nor is it the only group associated with the various military entities it supports.  This post is not to compare it to or elevate it above other military support organizations.  It is just to say nice things about an organization I think is really delightful and that truly carries out its goals and effectuates its policies.

As for those policies, I don’t know about you, but I am in complete agreement with the policies that the Navy League advances, and I think its organization does a good job of effectuating those policies.  If you join the Navy League, your donation will work to forward those goals — goals that benefit, not just the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine, but that benefit all of us by helping to educate the public about our military, which in turn creates a stronger military, one dedicated to our protection.  After all, a citizen military that is hated by its citizens is going to be an ineffectual military.

With the heat in Afghanistan, we, as private citizens can contribute to the military by giving it the moral support it needs.  Every time the military suffers economic cuts, taking away funds for weapons and personnel, the energy needed to resurrect those lost resources is far greater than the ease with which they were cut.  In order to minimize painful and unnecessary cuts, the military needs to have critical mass at its back when it comes to public sentiment.  If the public fails to understand what the military is and what the military does, it lacks necessary moral authority when it goes before Congress.  The Navy League, by encouraging public support for the Navy and related organizations, empowers the military when it voices it budgetary and strategic needs.

So, if you were sort of thinking about joining the Navy League, now would be a very good time.  And if there are comparable organizations for other branches of the military, please write and let me know, so that I can publicize them too.  There is no better time to take our military seriously than when we have a groveling weakling in the White House.  Right now, I can guarantee you that, unless some magical alchemy occurs and the world’s bad actors feel inclined to be generous our military is going to be very, very necessary in the next few years.