December 19, 2015     Can a Muslim be a loyal American?

Someone asked me “Can a Muslim be a loyal American?”  I don’t know beans about the details of Islam, but I do know a thing or two about America.  There are many closed minds on this subject so this will probably lose me some friends, but here goes.

Many, many more Muslims have perished at the hands of extremist Muslims than have Westerners in this century. Yes, we’ve had it tough, but those in the Middle East have suffered bloodshed on a scale eclipsing ours. Is it that region’s fault, not ours?  Yes. Is it something we should still keep in mind?  Yes.

Most American and Coalition troops have fought shoulder to shoulder with the locals, most of whom are Muslim. We’ve sweated, bled, cried, and died together. We’ve carried and buried each other.  Are they brothers like our own countrymen?  Definitely not. Do they have a stake in squashing the nutjobs in their world who use a twisted form of Islam to behave badly?  Absolutely yes. Have they lost too many friends and family at the hands of nutjobs who say they’re following Allah’s will?  Yes. So have I. So have too many Americans and Westerners.

One doesn’t need to look too far back in the Christian history, or any faith for that matter, to find extremists with blood all over them who, again, use a twisted form of their religion to justify their dastardly deeds. Is it our fault today?  No. But that high horse many people sit upon has blood caked all the way up its legs.  The famous philosopher George Carlin once said that throughout history, God is a leading cause of death.  He wasn’t talking about being struck by lightning, he was talking about “My god is better than your god…bang!”

All throughout history are stories where religion and politics mixed and things went downhill from there. Over and over and over. The founding fathers knew this, but also knew how hard it is to separate church from state. One’s faith makes up one’s moral character. But it takes a true grownup to not try and impose their faith upon those who already have a strong faith of one flavor or another.  I bet Thomas Jefferson’s twist on Christianity would get him run out of many towns today.  How much did his faith motivate him to do many of the good things for which he’s credited today?  We will never know, but I’m sure glad his fellow Americans didn’t judge him for it 200 years ago.

Are there a ton of people who follow some form of Islam around the world who would love to see every Westerner die a horrible death?  Absolutely. Is it still a small fraction of the total who populate the Muslim faith?  Absolutely. Most Americans seem to have no concept of how many earthlings they’re referencing when they rant about those “Muzzies.”  How does the thought of 1.6 billion Muslims walking around right now, today, grab you?  Given the current U.S. population of about 323 million men, women and children, maybe some people ought to rethink the whole “we are at war with all Muslims” thing.

I may be an eternal optimist, but I say “yes” to the original question. A loyal American understands that not letting someone into the fold solely on religion is, well, un-American. Not letting someone become a citizen because they hate America, want to see it burn, etc. is a no-brainer. But being a Muslim, or claiming to follow just about any religion, doesn’t equate to that hatred, there are a whole lot of other ingredients in that stew if a person falls into that hateful nutjob category.

We have nutjobs behaving badly in our own country.  In the recent San Bernadino killings, 16 people lost their lives.  Am I supposed to feel more or less scared because that one is classified as terrorism?  Statistically, given 16,121 homicides nationwide in 2014, 22 other Americans were also murdered that day.  I speculate that of those 22, a majority were committed by people who claim to be Christian.  Call me old-fashioned, but I believe the final judgement of whether or not a person is a true believer of any faith comes only after their last breath, and certainly not by us mortals.

Maybe I’m too close to it after leaving a year of my life, part of my arm, and most of my tolerance for BS in Afghanistan. But that first step or two of hatred based solely upon faith, or lack thereof, turns into a really fast slide down the bigotry slope.

I just think most people aren’t giving the whole thing the contemplation it deserves. It’s too easy just to say you hate an entire people based upon their faith alone. Americans are better than that.  Give it a bit more brain time. If you are about to judge, rant, or otherwise hit the enter button, swap out “Muslim” with a few other choice-classifications like “Lutheran,” “gunowner,” or even “Raiders fan” and hear how silly it sounds.








October 23, 2015  Clinton, Stevens, and Benghazi

I think people are getting too wrapped up in looking for an “A-Ha” moment in all the small details.  Since the morning of 12 September 12, what has bothered me most about the whole Benghazi thing is the fact that the sitting ambassador to a violent, chaotic, and tumultuous Muslim country was running around with an embarrassingly small security footprint on September 11th.  It may be that Chris Stevens was acting in a manner that he thought was a good idea.  He sounded like someone who believed in what he was doing and unafraid to act.

But, and this is big, sometimes the boss’ job is to save your staff from themselves.  It seems to me that Stevens was so focused on his small picture he neglected the big picture.  And the boss should have caught it.  That’s why you have bosses.  When the local GS-11 staffer misses it, the CIA station chief misses it, someone higher up needs to catch the big picture.  And when they all miss the big picture because they are focused on the little picture (a.k.a. doing their jobs) it is the boss’ job to catch it.  Period.

As a boss, the bare minimum task is keeping your people safe.  Equipping them to be effective is a step up.  Ideally, setting them up to do great things is really the goal.  But if you can’t keep that baseline of “safe” than the rest is just a house of cards…or mud brick walls guarded by unmotivated locals…waiting to fall.

Any reasonable person who paid attention from 2001-2012 could tell you that there are some dangerous days to be a Westerner inside any area rife with radical Muslims.  Any Thursday is dangerous.  Local holidays are dangerous.  And, this one is easy, every single September 11th will be dangerous for the rest of our lifetimes.  So common sense dictates that on those days you elevate your security posture.  You do not lower it or let your people lower it because it seems like a good idea based on their task at hand.

These days, flushing one’s integrity is so common in the D.C. crowd it goes largely overlooked.  That doesn’t make it right, or anything that any citizen should accept, but it is, sadly, fact.  No, the remarkable crime everyone should notice in the Stevens tragedy is that the sitting Secretary of State missed the big picture and did not proactively keep her people safe.  This would only be forgivable if she recognized her mistake and learned from it.  But all this whining about “we all did our best” smacks of middle school excuses and the standard CYA drill of which we’ve all grown so weary.

Someone who fails at being a boss should not be elected a bigger boss.


June 3, 2014  Bowe Bergdahl

I have a thoughts on Bowe Bergdahl. I’ve followed his case out of curiosity for several years now. I can say from firsthand experience that getting captured, then subsequently beheaded on youtube for your family to see is one of every deployed soldier’s worst nightmares. I’m sure I’m not alone in, upon first learning that we had an actual prisoner in the Taliban’s hands, being surprised there wasn’t much press on the issue. After poking around, it wasn’t hard to discover why. The circumstances of him getting “captured” smell. Many details are getting more press now.

An American soldier is one of the most valuable pieces of property in the military arsenal. When that property is in the enemy’s hands, we go get it, regardless of circumstances. That’s crass, but it’s true. We do it so there is no question in any future soldier or pilot’s mind that help will come should he or she fall behind enemy lines, regardless of circumstances. It really is that simple.

Bergdahl’s strange story has been common knowledge for years. Most details are not classified, they’re available for anyone with a little interest and access to print or web. It’s a(nother) head-slapper from this administration that they failed to look ahead to the effects of the action they were about to take in orchestrating his release. Someone should have gotten ahead of the negative press that was sure to come out after this guy got released.

The 1st of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), part of the larger 101st Airborne Division, is a unit steeped in tradition, more so than most Army units. In 2003 I had the pleasure of working directly with two different platoons of the 1/501st PIR and found their line soldiers to be of the finest caliber. The 101st of WWII was portrayed in the HBO series Band of Brothers. Each regiment wore a playing card symbol on their helmet, the 501st wore a diamond, 502nd wore a heart, etc. The modern 1/501st from Ft. Richardson, Alaska renewed this tradition in 2003 prior to their Afghanistan deployment by sewing black diamonds on their helmet covers. This symbol carries no other verbiage or explanation on the uniform, one is just supposed know what the tradition is all about. If you have to ask, you obviously are not from that unit. With this much tradition to be proud of, it is no small thing to have this blight of Bergdahl’s situation in the same unit. In addition to the lives lost in his search missions, there is the very painful concern that this mess is what the 1/501st PIR will be remembered for.


The facts seem pretty clear that he actually did desert his post. His leadership at the time should have known that something was very wrong with this man. And that leadership’s leadership (go as high as you like) should have allowed his unit to get him out of the front line, get mental help or arrested, whichever was most appropriate. The warning signs were there. Someone, not necessarily directly above him, but above him was not doing their job and is just as culpable for the whole situation as Bergdahl. It is a hypothetical but very real scenario to have a squad leader or platoon sergeant say to his boss, “we need to get that guy out of here” and have the platoon leader or company commander say “sorry, my hands are tied.” Or advance that scenario up the chain, the PL or CO might say it to the Battalion only to get the same response, or Battalion to Task Force, etc. I’m guessing that his first line leadership knew they needed to get him out, but could not. The information coming out directly from some of Bergdahl’s former platoon is fascinating. Here are a couple pieces: http://www.ktrh.com/media/podcast-michael-berry-show-on-ktrh-michaelberry/michael-berry-talks-with-codyfnfootball-part-24844634/

It appears his release was exchanged for five Guantanamo prisoners. While I find that general idea reprehensible, there are facts about that situation that should not be overlooked. We have been releasing, under various conditions, Gauntanamo prisoners for years. I’m guessing the released number in the hundreds that statistically must vary in degree of hostility toward America. But no one person found themselves in Guantanamo for being an upstanding citizen of any country. In my brief yearlong stint in Afghanistan 2003-2004, we came across one village in the Kandahar province where the elders were upset that a man “we” had recently released from Guantanamo had gone back to his evil ways and helping Al Qaeda in a nearby village. I wasn’t an intelligence specialist or door-kicker, I was just an engineer officer running around with a civil affairs team setting up projects in outlying villages. We reported it to the proper channels, but you never knew if they were telling the truth or they had other motives, like business or politics, for getting that particular Afghan back into American custody. Who knows. I just write this to make the point that we have been releasing Guantanamo prisoners for over a decade.

Should we have just left him there? No.
Should Bergdahl go straight to military trial? Yes.
Should they also look into his leadership’s actions at the time of his desertion? Yes
Is it a good thing or bad thing that we’re now exchanging prisoners for Americans? Bad
Are these the first bad guys we’ve released from Guantanamo? No
Will they be the last? No

As we lament about these five new terrorists released to Qatar, I’ll just leave two last thoughts. It is 2014 and we all should be how painfully aware our government keeps track, one might say spies, on its own citizens. How much surveillance do you suppose will be on these guys just released from Gitmo? Secondly, I’ve hunted wild pheasants and I’ve hunted pen-raised pheasants. The difference between the two experiences is significant. Hunting any wild creature is quite a challenge. Hunting a pheasant just released from a pen is so much easier it’s hardly even sporting.

I’m off to go sleep soundly tonight.

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