As I have mentioned here before, I served 12 months in Iraq during the Iraq war. It was one of the most wonderful experience of my life – except when it was not! ….   Seriously, it was a searing and very positive sort of experience, overall. The big fear in the war was the IED’s, also known as roadside bombs. A large IED, and by the time I was there in 2005-2006, most IED’s were large – a large IED would obliterate a HMMWV. One sailor, a Navy SEAL, Dan Crenshaw, lost an eye to an IED. He probably lost more than that, but not that he can discuss.

I knew a few soldiers who drove through IED’s and lived to tell the tale. Even when you live, the IED does things to your brain. There is something about the concussion effect on the brain in a close confined space, lined with armor, that harms your brain. Doubtless, Dan Crenshaw suffers other, unseen effects. Mr. Crenshaw is running for Congress as a Republican in Texas.

So, when Pete Davidson makes a joke about his eye patch and comments, “I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war or whatever…..  whatever,” I do not get the joke. In fact, I find his comment pretty offensive. See CBS news report. I like SNL fine. But, jokes about losing body parts to an IED just are not funny to me.

I knew a soldier, a National Guardsman who went outside the wire often. It was his job to leave the relatively safe confines of the FOB several times a week. He drove through a couple of IED’s. He said the ringing in hs ears would last for days afterward. He wrote the name of all the soldiers his unit lost on his helmet. He wanted to remember them.

Pete Davidson lost his father in the 9/11 attack. He should understand “sacrifice,” we would think. Losing a dad who was a fire fighter is similar to sacrificing in a war zone.

A female comrade was a truck driver in Baghdad. They were told the terrorists were using kids to stop convoys. “Do not stop to help kids!” she was told. If she stops, the entire convoy has to stop. When you stop, you get attacked. She did not stop for kids. Years later, she was still dealing with deep PTSD because she might have run over a child.

A young soldier was in a Reserve unit. He thought he got out of the Reserves. He should have been, but was not processed out. About a year after he thought he was out of his Reserve unit, he received a phone call, “Chin, get over here in 30 minutes, or you will be court-martialed!” Chin did get there in 30 minutes, barefoot and without a shirt. Chin served his 12 months in Iraq and never complained.

Another major went home on his six month break. He found his wife was dating someone. That someone was reading bedtime stories to his children. That major came back after his break and did his second six months, knowing he would need a divorce lawyer when he got back home. Yet, that same major had to make major decisions, like who leads the convoy when his unit has to travel 2-3 hours in pitch black darkness with no headlights, or who mans the turret gun in his vehicle when the main guy is hurt. He has to focus, or people get hurt. There is no time for self-pity.

I am sure Pete Davidson faced some huge emotional issues in losing his father. You have to respect his experience. But, that does not give him space to minimize the service and sacrifice of others. None of these war experiences deserve a “whatever.” Neither does a sailor who lost his eye.

Pres. Trump has dis-invited the Philadelphia Eagles to the White House. The reigning Super Bowl champs are typically invited to the White House. The President indicated it was because of a disagreement over whether to stand for the national anthem at football games. See CBS news report. The President issued a statement that said:

“They disagree with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country,”

As a retired member of that great military, all I can say is that is what I believed when I was in first grade, too. In fact, I attended a military school in first grade and absolutely believed that standing straight and tall during the national anthem meant I was a good patriot. Now, I know better. I grew up during the 60’s and 70’s. I was perfectly okay with protests for the right reason. Now, a lifelong student of history, I can point to dozens of examples of great patriots who protested in favor of sincere beliefs. Many of those protests would later go on to be vindicated. But, I guess it is better politics to think like a first grader……

P.S. You have not lived until you have sung the national anthem in a war zone. It was a surreal experience. Singing it at football games now almost seems to trivialize the song.

To mark Memorial Day, I would also like to recall two area San Antonio heroes. They were both fiends of mine. They both died in war zones back in 2005 and 2006 when I was deployed myself.

SSGT Clinton Newman was a fine soldier. He was a bright young man in the 321st Civil Affairs Brigade during my brief time with the 321st here in San Antonio. One of the nice things about being in your hometown unit is that I actually ran into a member of my unit at a movie. I ran into SSGT Newman when he was at a movie with his girl and I was with mine. He was one of the few 321st soldiers still here back in late 2003 and early 2004, while most of the unit was deployed. See a biographical sketch to learn more about someone who would have been a fine citizen of San Antonio and was already an excellent soldier.

I served with Albert E. Smart way back in the 2/141 Infantry Battalion in Corpus Christi. We were young company commanders together. Albert was gung-ho and always smiling. Years later, I was quite surprised to see him in the 321st CA Brigade here in San Antonio. He deployed in 2005 and passed away in Kuwait on the way to Afghanistan. It was such a shock that someone so young, in such good physical shape would pass away from an illness. I think Heaven is in much better physical shape now that Albert is there. And, I expect there are a great many more smiles among its citizens. See a memorial here to learn more about my buddy, Albert.

Memorial Day is a time to remember those veterans who gave all they had to give for us. I always think of  1SGT Saenz at times like this. Some 100 of us IRR members met at Ft. Jackson on March 13, 2005. We reported to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina for in-processing and reintroduction to the US Army.  We knew we would be deploying to Iraq.  Then MSGT Saenz had a huge laugh and a booming voice. He laughed a lot.

Those first few days, some Reservists were angry about being called up. Some were happy to be there. MSGT Saenz was reasonably happy to be where he was, preparing for duty in a war zone. Later, as I learned, he performed very well. He inspired his soldiers. He did everything a competent, dedicated leader would be expected to do.

He died in the dusty streets of Baghdad near the end of our tour. We were leaving Iraq in just a couple of weeks when his HMMWV was struck by an IED. He was out on a convoy training members of the incoming unit. Some of his regular team members were not with him on that run. He died doing what he did best, serving others.

We should all serve our country half as well as 1SGT Saenz. There is a nice tribute to 1SGT Saenz here. As John Bear Ross mentions on his website, do not mourn that a man like 1SGT Saenz died. Rejoice that a man like 1SGT Saenz lived.

After Ft. Jackson, we, the IRR folks, were assigned to various Civil Affairs units. I was assigned to the 445 CA Battalion. We called ourselves the Pirates. Whenever we snapped to attention, we would all let out a gutteral “arrgh” in true Pirate fashion. Paul A. Clevenger was a Pirate. He was one of the younger soldiers. SGT Clevenger was promoted from SPC4 during our time In Iraq. He did well, from what I heard.  I just remember that he smiled, often. His obituary is here.  Like many of us, he returned to the States with some demons deep inside. He took his life some two years after we returned. SGT Clevenger is another casualty of the war  – he too gave his country all he had to give.

On this Memorial Day, we remember the fallen – but not the Confederate fallen. They were removed from the list a few years ago.

Some work places are just so toxic. When my unit was deployed to Iraq, we inherited work and living space from the unhappiest, most dysfunctional Army unit I have ever come into contact with. The living space was filthy. They never cleaned it up. The members of this unit, some 50 persons, had filed about a dozen Congressional complaints. Dozens of Article 15’s had been processed. IG investigations were common. And, their work was the worst. They accomplished nothing in their 12 months in Iraq. Work place atmosphere matters. We see a pretty bad place in Congressman Farenthold’s office.

One former Communications Director says he often vomited on the way to work. Rep. Farenthold was abusive and degrading. Just before Michael Rekola left for two weeks to get married, Mr. Farenthold called out to him, “Better have your fiancee blow you before she walks down the aisle – it will be the last time.” He then joked about whether his wife would wear white at the wedding. When Mr. Rekola returned from his two week vacation, he turned in his resignation.

Mr. Rekola explains that Congressman Farenthold was often abusive, with screaming fits of rage, fists pounding on the desk. He often referred to aides as f***tards. Congressman Farenthold admits to using the term f***tards regarding employee, but says he meant it in jest. See CNN news report.

When my buddies and I replaced that Civil Affairs unit in Iraq in 2005, we met with and worked with our predecessors for two weeks. We got to know some of them. Some few officers and NCO’s hated their work environment. I will never forget their dismay, their disgust at the low quality of work they had to endure for 12 months. Congressman Farenthold was not in Iraq. But, he apparently knows something about low quality of work.

Awhile back, I watched another episode of Undercover Boss.  As they often do, the boss revealed himself at the end of the show, handed out thousands to deserving employees who are struggling, promoted one or two who clearly deserved it, hugged his workers and explained why his company was good and pledged himself to make it better.

I hear everyday about employers who do not treat workers with respect. I hear about employers who implement company policies with untrained, uninspired managers. Recently, I attended a legal training at which the well-versed Mike Maslanka spoke.  Mike represents employers and has done so for 30 years.  He reads much about teamwork, leadership and managing for success. I always enjoy listening to Mike.  He talked about how as lawyers, we need to be reminded of our values from time-to-time. If we did so, we could work together better and our country would be a better place.

The military is far from perfect. But, speakers like Maslanka always remind me how lucky I was to serve in the Army. The Army, like all the services, requires periodic training. When I was first commissioned as a lieutenant, I attended the Infantry Officers Basic Course at Ft. Benning, Georgia. We learned the Army values, duty, loyalty, selfless service, and more. We then practiced them and debated them in a class known as “Leadership.” In Leadership class, our instructor let us know our opinion had value. He listened to every opinion, no matter how ignorant. We learned a value not stated, that every person’s opinion had value.

A few years later, I was back at Ft. Benning for the Infantry Officers Advance Course.  As captains, all of us now had substantial experience with troops. All of us had now experienced the ups and downs of trying to lead disparate groups of men and women in missions they may not respect. How motivated is any soldier to stay until midnight getting ready for a 0530 inspection the next day? So, as captains, we spent a lot of time practicing counseling. We would role play soldiers in trouble and how to help them through major crises. We role played how to deal with selfish commanders and obstinate NCO’s. A few years later as a Major, I attended the more intellectual course, Command and General Staff Officer’s Course. I shook hands again with Army values, learned about Army history, and how to work as part of a staff.

At each step of our career, we are, in effect re-trained, re-armed and re-fueled for the wider Army world.  The system is not perfect, but it does produce “workers” who share expectations and who willingly surrender their individuality for a larger purpose.

One Undercover Boss tonight was from Rally Checkers. At the end of the show, he re-pledged himself to teach his workers his company values. Company values lead to greater retention, less re-training, better cooperation between workers and quicker turn-around time for the basic burger.

One thing I learned in the Army, when a leader compromises on one policy or one value, that inevitably leads to compromise on others. I told my son the other day that we tell the truth on the small things because that is practice for telling the truth on the big things. Soldiers and workers see it when we compromise once or twice. They remember.

When I first got to Iraq, we were replacing a unit that was seriously dysfunctional. The member of that unit violated some very basic principles of leadership and teamwork. We had to spend ten days with them, learning their jobs before they rotated back home. We got to know them too well.

One basic rule in the Army is that a leader never eats before his soldiers do. The leader eats last. In the Army, when you are in the field, food choices are limited. There is no McDonald’s on the corner. Food takes on added importance. The commander eats the same meals his soldiers eat. The President might get two scoops of ice cream. But, leaders do not eat what his soldiers cannot eat. The leader does as his soldiers do.  In that unit we replaced in Iraq, I am sure the commander ate whenever and whatever he pleased. Do not be the leader who eats before his people do. Do not be the leader who revels in the perks. The employees see that. They remember.

The colonel hearing the court martial of Bowe Bergdahl will not dismiss the charges against the young sergeant. He agreed the comments by then Candidate Trump were troubling. But, he would not agree they were so pervasive and unfair as to saturate the community and cause prejudice. See CNN news report. The lawyer for SGT Bergdahl will appeal.

All I can say is the defense has a pretty good appeal issue now or later. Candidate Trump’s comments were very unwise. He repeatedly referred to SGT Bergdahl as a traitor during his campaign.

There are many issues with Pres. Trump’s travel ban. One important consideration is the risk it poses to U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We still have several thousand soldiers in Afghanistan and a few hundred in Iraq. Add to that the thousands of U.S. civilians in support of the soldiers serving in those two countries and you have a good many Americans who serve as handy targets for ISIS and Al Qaeda. Political issues that affect the Middle East reverberate in Iraq and Afghanistan. The jihadis are motivated when they hear the U.S. or Western nations supposedly oppressing Moslems.

When I served in Iraq, every staff tracked attacks on Coalition (i.e., U.S.) forces. The statistics were part of the daily briefing presented to every commander. We knew there would be a spike in attacks anytime Middle East or Israel issues became part of the public debate in America. It was part of our intel or “enemy situation” briefing. It is without doubt that right now as we speak, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are scaling back their activities to some degree to avoid the large spike in attacks. For your average revenge minded terrorist, mainland U.S. is a long way to go. But, northern Iraq and central Afghanistan not so much. See the Brian Chasnoff column in the San Antonio Express News in which Rep. Will Hurd speaks to that concern. Congressman Hurd is a former CIA officer. He would know. As a former U.S. Army officer, I also know. Talk tough here. But, over there, they pay the price.

Lamar Austin spent six months in Iraq in 2006 as an Ammunition Specialist. At the end of 2016, the Army veteran was working for Salerno Protective Services in Concord, New Hampshire. He had worked previously at a series of jobs, Target, Pitco, a New Hampshire based company that makes fryers for fast food businesses. He was still in his 90 day probation period at Salerno when his wife went into labor on Dec. 30. He called in to work telling them about his wife’s labor. The labor went a second day. The boss warned him that he had to come to work by 8:00 a.m. the next day, or else. When Mr. Austin did not appear for work on New Year’s Day, he was fired. They texted him that he was terminated.

His story appeared in the Concord, New Hampshire newspaper. See Concord Monitor news report. In the story, he mentioned that he would hope to find work in the electrical trades. He had had bouts of unemployment in the past. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers saw the story and offered him a job. See Task and Purpose report here about Mr. Austin. It worked out for the young Army veteran, this time. But, I wonder if the Family Medical Leave Act applied to him. if Salerno had over 50 employees, he would have been protected. But, otherwise, yes, they could have fired him for trying to take care of his wife.

Donald Trump advocated torture during his campaign. He even advocated targeting the families of alleged terrorists. “Task & Purpose,” a nice veterans website, discusses the legal ramifications for soldiers during a Trump administration. As the post explains, Mr. Trump argued in favor of water boarding “and a helluva lot worse than waterboarding” during the campaign. Recently, he walked his comments back a bit. But, then Mike Pence, the new Vice-President, said the administration would never discuss what it would never do. So, torture and unlawful killing may still be on the agenda. The post points out that the USA did not agree to the international agreement that created the International Criminal Court. So, the only enforcement power for a soldier refusing to obey an unlawful order would be the same executive branch that would order the torture. US military members are not subject to the International Criminal Court.

The Trump administration could redefine noncombatant to include families of terrorists. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act limits interrogations to practices found in the Army Field Manual. But, the administration could allow for “extraordinary rendition,” as the Bush administration did. That is, the Trump administration could out-source torture. But, some of these directive to interrogate with extreme methods could be directed toward the ordinary soldier. Those sorts of orders are rarely written. The average soldier might have the opportunity to consult with a JAG lawyer. One could expect the military chain-of-command to support whatever legal cover the White House offers. During the Bush Administration, the White House Legal Counsel wrote a memo authorizing torture. Most JAG lawyers would surely defer to legal opinions from some other entity. So, even if a practice were considered illegal right up to the day of some memo, it would then magically be considered lawful afterward.

I have to add as an aside, however, that many JAG lawyers were troubled by that White House memo. Many JAG lawyers would explain the difficulties involved in changing the definition of “torture” and provide pretty good counsel regarding any possible unlawful order.

One Navy nurse at Guantanamo Bay refused to force feed a detainee. Legal proceedings dragged on against him for two years before the medical community supported him. Then, the Navy dropped its investigation. Force feeding is not torture, but the incident indicates the sort of actions that one can expect for refusing an order sen as unlawful. As I have mentioned on this website before, military members are required to refuse unlawful orders. The question is is such an order unlawful if there is some sort of legal cover? The Task & Purpose post does not address how a soldier might ascertain whether a given order is unlawful or not. Instead, it recommends that members of the military understand the rule of engagement, any protocols regarding detainees, and pay attention to those Law of Armed Conflicts briefings we receive each year. This is serious business. No one wants to risk his/her career over an unlawful order. See Task & Purpose post here.