Monday, February 21, 2005

Reflections of my military past, redux

I've run this story twice in the past and each time it has met with good review. For me it's sort of a redirect for why I'm blogging. I blog about so much more these days, but this is one of the primary reasons I started. Enjoy.
(This is also the winning submission post for The King of Blogs tournament.)

When the first plane hit I was on board the USS Ramage assisting some people with opening a safe that no longer had a combination but still contained classified material. That was my need for being there as I was a Cryptologist and had the clearance to decipher the material. Someone from combat (an area next to ours and the control center of the ship) asked me if we had the scoop on what was going on with the world trade center. I gave him one of those deer in the headlights stares. What the hell was this guy talking about?

I followed him to the mess hall where they had a big screen television (the largest of probably only 10 televisions on the ship and most are only about 20 inches) just in time to see the second plane hit. What the hell was going on? When the first plane hit I thought it was just some idiot that can't steer like that guy they found flying a crop duster around the White house a few years back. When the second plane hit I knew something was wrong. After a few minutes to figure out what I was actually seeing I went back to the place where we were working and told my supervisor at the time what I was seeing. He went to the mess hall, as I could not leave the people cutting into the safe because of the potential classified material.

Much of the next hour was a blur. I remember seeing the pentagon get hit (this is when I finally saw in my own mind what was happening). I remember seeing the towers actually fall. I remember seeing the huge dust cloud and the people running down the streets of New York. I remember the captain of the ship saying that something terrible had happened and we would be conducting an emergency deployment in about an hour (we were probably about an hour into this event). I remember trying to check but couldn't get through (I blamed the crappy internet connection that the ship had at the time). I even called my house a couple times before we were deployed and received no answer. I clearly remember though that something horrible had happened in New York and we were going north to make sure it didn't get worse.

Within 2 hours of the first plane hit we were deployed and going north. What I found out a few days later was that we were actually the first ship to pull out of Norfolk (a point of pride). We had about one third of our crew because we were getting ready for a deployment and many people were on leave or otherwise unable to get to the ships because of a base lock-down. I only had about two pair of good underwear on the ship as I did not expect to be deployed and did not believe I needed that stuff on the ship at the time. Luckily, a buddy of mine had a few extra tee shirts and some unused underwear or I would have come back rather crusty. Another piece of good fortune is that they had just restocked the galley so we at least had a good deal of edible food (I say edible because ship food is rarely if ever considered good).

So with none of our gear, (it was stored at a different location from the ship, It's a classified information thing you wouldn' don't even understand.) and only a third of our crew, we went forth and played "plane guard" for New York. Our job was to listen in on the different radio signals to see if we could hear anything special going on or as a second ear for the bridge when planes wanted to land in New York. (Lets just say we weren't too friendly about people flying around at the time..."This is U.S. Navy WAR Ship. State your name, call sign, .........". We didn't even say what ship we were. The response I remember most was some brit pilot scared half out of his wits saying " this is such-and-such airlines flight xxx-xxxx...umm...please don't shoot."

At the time I thought it was sort of funny but after about an hour or two I started thinking about the guy and how we sounded and realized that yes, we probably would knock him out of the air if he even thought the words "Allah akbar" (god is great). This is not anything against Muslims, they have every right to be here and be free, just like non-Muslims, if not more. It was just as though a small dog came up to the rotweiler on the porch and took a chunk out of his soft underbelly. We were on the complete defensive and wanting something, anything to tear limb from limb.

After about a week (10 days) of this routine, we were relived and went home to our families. When we got home it was like we had missed the most important week in the world. Everyone else in the world had the opportunity to see what was going on, watch the footage, analyze it in your own mind, to mourn the loss. We were not afforded that opportunity. We were on a ship, away from the news, and had to rely on the information our captain told us, and a few snippets of e-mail that managed to slip through to find out what was going on . (I got none by the way.)

Pretty much everybody on the ship did not show any emotion for what had happened. It's not that we were a bunch of crass, unfeeling monsters. We feel all of it, everyday. It's just that we've been trained to do a job no matter what and we realize that if we don't do that job efficiently lives can be lost. We don't have the luxury of thinking about whose fault it is, or how we screwed up, or some hair-brained theory about how Bush planned the whole thing. It is not up to us to decide what it means. It is, however, our obligation to act out the wishes of those in leadership even if it costs us our lives, or time away from our families, nasty living conditions in a hostile environment, etc.

Something that many civilians don't realize is that we've seen MANY more lives lost than you have. I'm not speaking of actually watching people die. I'm speaking of having people that are close to you or associates in your company dieing. These are people that could have been you in a slightly different circumstance. Here's a short list of losses I have been forced to recognize in the same way civilians recognize 9/11: The USS Cole bombing, Khobar towers Bombing, the USS Forestall fire, multiple plane crashes. These are the ones you have read about. Here are a couple you haven't heard about unless you really, really watch the news: USS Leyte Gulf lost part of a boat crew in the Persian Gulf while doing boarding operations, serviceman gets blown up by a lose mine planted by North Korea while on patrol on the DMZ.

I think the thing that stands out most of all are these Monday morning quarterbacks. Where was the outpour of emotion when the OTHER (Khobar) towers were hit? Did any civilians or news agencies demand results when the USS Cole was hit? No. Sure, there was outrage for a bit but everyone said "Well, it's the military and that's what they're paid to do. You know, they're risking their lives and all. It's okay for our president to sit on his fat ass and collect knobbers like collecting stamps and embarrass the United States and all it stands for. We are all well aware that other presidents have had the same affliction but this was the only time I personally have had to endure the international embarrassment when a president disrespects his position like that. When you're overseas and talking to someone from the host country what do you say? Anyway, this is supposed to be about 9/11 so let me wrap this up.

For me, 9/11 was just one of many losses. As a military member I had to accept what happened and move on to the continued defense of Democracy throughout the world. Apparently, I'm the only one who did. As people complain about how we need to concentrate more on Afghanistan I see they will be having their first free elections on October. The only reason I have a link to this is the median was trying to show how we're failing over there by highlighting how we lost 23 people in Afghanistan this year. Yeah, right, failing; of the over 9 million registered to vote, (about 90 percent of the estimated eligible electorate) 41.4 percent are women. Gee, that just says failure to me. It's a loss to me but I can accept it. We have other, more pressing matters to attend to in the world.

We need to make the hard decisions in the world. No one else will make them. The UN has been proven corrupt; I'll prove it if you want. It's not too hard to do. Many of our allies turned their backs on us because we took the path less traveled by. Unfortunately, what we need to do in the world isn't always "PC". Sometimes you need to do the internationally unpopular thing to ensure American safety. Peace isn’t always the right answer. If my opinions makes me just another American warmonger, (blatant plug) then so be it.

No comments: