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American Soldier

53-years

It’s Veterans’ Day and I am going to utilize my constitutional right to voice my opinions.  Although every American has such a privilege, I’ve certainly earned mine.  Yep, I’ve turned into one of those “old crusty guys” and my uniform hangs in a closet. I’m one that places my hand over my heart standing at attention (if not saluting) when our flag passes in a parade or during the National Anthem. Today you may see many like me wearing hats adorned with ribbons and badges that to most, have no meaning.

Every Veterans’ Day I get a bit reflective and at the same time, I think about the blessing of belonging to the best fraternity in the world; people that would give their life for others. See, when we take the oath of office, we swear that we will protect and defend…everyone!  I still keep that oath and I swear, I would still fight today. In fact while writing this, I get a serious case of whoop-ass.

I have been in harm’s way and witnessed the only form of the perfect society.  Muslims, Jews, Baptists, Catholics, Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics, Men, Women, and yes I’m sure a few Homosexuals prayed together because we knew we could die together. We were willing to die for something bigger than ourselves: a common purpose.

Our nation just completed an election, and many think it was seriously contentious.  Yeah, it was a bit rough, but there were times in our history we were literally battling on our own soil, even against each other. The Facebook and Twitter cowboy bravado was hilarious because it was like watching a pillow fight at a junior high girls’ sleepover. I am actually enjoying the aftermath of watching the crying and sore losers. College students are allowed to miss class to grieve the election results and protesters take to the streets because the outcome didn’t go their way, bless their little fragile cupcake hearts.

butter-cup

Yes it turns my stomach, but I know it was us Veterans that gave them the freedom to display their selfish and myopic behavior. I can assure you that the men and women serving all over the world got up Wednesday morning, put their uniforms on, and did their assigned duties. Why? Because they perform their duties for something greater than themselves: our democracy. In fact, they provide the freedom for the “I didn’t get a trophy” college weaklings, the naerdowell protesters, and the knee-bending attention-seekers.

Today is our day.  The 11th day of the 11th month that honors the men and women that offered to give their life for our way of life.  I have generations of family (including my son) that served and hundreds of people I served alongside for the same principles.  There are few like us and my salute to all.

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For everyone else, just for today, if you don’t like the way things turned out, keep your pie-hole shut unless you thank those that gave an oath for your privilege to vote. From the Command Post (West) and ready to kick ass to someone that disagrees with me today, Cheers Y’all. #thefuneralcommander

Ink

A few weeks ago I made my trek cross-country from Virginia to Arizona to start a new position with The Foresight Companies.  In the back of a 10×10 U-Haul was enough furniture to fill a one-bedroom apartment, my clothes along with living essentials.  My wife proclaimed that if I ever decided to leave her, the truck held everything I would have.  A single day of unloading, unpacking and sorting placed me into my new digs. By early evening I was pretty much set up – even pictures hung.

The next morning, I had to go grocery shopping so I made a list to avoid wandering aimlessly in the aisles wondering what I should buy.  Because of an early morning AO (area of operations) re-con, I knew of a nearly new grocery store about a mile away.  Upon arriving, and since I had no coffee, I found the convenient Starbucks just inside the front entrance.

It was early morning as I had yet to adjust to the Mountain Time zone.  The coffee shop was empty of patrons and I was greeted by a young, smiling gal asking what she may provide for me.  As I gave her my order, I noticed on her right forearm was an unusual tattoo – a banner with Semper Fi atop a flower.  This ink caught my eye because I wondered if she was a Vet; not many Marine Corps tats are adorned with a flower.

So I inquire of her, “Are you a former Marine?”  She answered, “No, but my brother was.”  I asked where and when he served and she told only a few years…and then shared that he was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.  Tears shot out of my eyes.  I asked her to please tell me about him.

Courtney told me that Justin was killed in a helicopter crash along with several other Marines during Iraq Freedom.  She went on to share that she honors his service and, as a daily reminder of him, got the tattoo.  For those that know me well, there are some subjects that I become emotional over and cannot hold back tears; young people dying for our Country is one of them.

As she made my coffee we chatted a bit and I told her I’m new to town.  Courtney told me where important things were located like shopping areas, good local eats and such.  As she handed me the coffee, she too had tears in her eyes, making mine flow again.  I thanked her for sharing Justin with me, his sacrifice for our freedom, and her kindness to an old sobbing Vet.  I asked Courtney if I could share her story, and she agreed.

I wanted to share this story for a few reasons.  First, pay attention and engage people because everyone has a story.  Second, “those people” with ink have depth (I’m tatted myself).  Finally, God has a way to let you know you are in the right place.  I would have never known about Justin’s sacrifice for our freedom if I had not traveled all the way across our fantastic country, eventually finding myself simply in need of coffee and groceries that first early morning. I’m grateful that Courtney is my barista and friend.

In Memory of Captain Chris Cash.  He gave the ultimate sacrifice June 24, 2004 in Baqubah Iraq. RIP my fellow NCMA Alum.

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For all those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, thank you.  For the rest of us, please take a moment to be grateful.  Our freedom did not come for free.  Happy Memorial Day.

From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

I swear

Below is the oath by those that serve (or have served us, Commissioned Officer slightly different) in the US Military:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

These collection of words have been affirmed by so many that provide us the freedoms we enjoy today as Americans.  To support and defend.  True faith and allegiance.  Obey orders.  Follow the regulations.  All with the help of God.  This oath is a commitment to serve something bigger than ourselves; our God, our fellow citizens and those that make this choice alongside us.  A cause to die for.

Veterans Day 2015 means that we continue to live in a free country.  This past year many Veterans from earlier generations have died and we currently have citizens are serving us now in harms way. Veterans Day is to honor all that took the oath of office to serve us in our Armed Forces. Veterans Day is for the men and women that offered to give their life for us whether they served in combat on foreign soil, stateside, active duty or reserve. Let me be clear; it’s not first responders day.  My salute to Veterans that served before, alongside and after me.  Thank you for your service and sacrifices to our Nation.

2Lt. Jeff Harbeson, 1984

     2LT Jeff Harbeson, 1984 

Thank a Veteran, they are willing to die for you.  May God continue to Bless America. From the Command Post and the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

honor

The truth: U.S. active duty or veteran military members deserve proper respect for the title they earned and honor for serving our Country at their funeral. Recently, I have been party to discussions that some (few) funeral professionals just get this flat wrong. When it comes to military affairs and funerals there is no room for debate or opinion.  Anything short of our best effort is unprofessional and disrespectful.

One of the great attributes that the military provides for those that offer their life (only 1% of all US citizens) is the complete understanding of (and adherence to) regulations, standards and protocol.  The culture of discipline and following the chain of command ensures success from the most insignificant tasks to major initiatives.  Follow the rules, your leaders and do your job.  All of the success is not just happenstance; training takes place every day to perfect the standards of operation and organizational effectiveness.

A service-member has earned a title, whether it is Soldier, Marine, Sailor, or Airman. It is also customary to address that person by their rank; Corporal, Sergeant, Chief, Captain or the like.  Yes they are ladies and gentlemen, but they earned a title and rank which distinguishes them from all others, period.  By taking some time to understand the particulars about the military member (branch & rank) by funeral directors prior to engaging family or others, our profession is elevated. Trust me, for those of us that know the difference, it makes a difference.

One great debate ensued with a group funeral directors about proper folds of a flag while resting on a casket.  I hate to even share this, but there was actually a funeral director that stated, “I was taught this way and I don’t care who likes it or not, that’s the way we do it,” when referring to how they incorrectly fold the U.S. flag on caskets of veterans at his funeral home.  If you read my blog or know me, I love a great debate.  But I get pissed off and downright indignant when people, and I don’t care who you are, disrespect our country, our military or our flag.

In an effort to educate rather than humiliate, how about we read the link Congressional Research Service that provides information for proper uses of the flag.  More relevant information: Flag Casket Placement: http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-27-2008-ARE.pdf; Navy: http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/casualty/Documents/NAVPERS%2015555D.pdf; Army: http://www.armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/dr_pubs/dr_a/pdf/atp1_05x02.pdf; Marine Corps: http://www.marines.mil/Portals/59/Publications/MCO%203040.4.pdf; Air Force: http://www.mortuary.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-141110-023.pdf

If you take the time to read the information provided above, it’s blatantly obvious that, “we’ve always done it that way,” doesn’t cut it for military funerals.  As a point, wouldn’t it be great if all funeral homes had such detail in their operating manual and regularly trained on these along with other funeral related topics?  Well, some of us do, but that’s another subject.

The truth is that Military funerals are special and deserving of professionalism by those of us that provide the service.  If you don’t know, ask.  Most states have a National Guard burial detail and local military organizations like the VFW are always willing to lend a hand.  Don’t make it up, there are those of us that know the difference.  As one of them, Cheers Y’all.  The Funeral Commander #thefuneralcommander

2Lt. Jeff Harbeson, 1984

2Lt. Jeff Harbeson, 1984

It’s the eve of Veterans Day 2014 and this particular day of honor, I become even more patriotically emboldened regarding our great Country.  Yes, I am a flag waving believer in the foundations and Veterans that provide us the freedoms we enjoy.  On Sunday, I was watching a news show and the CEO of Starbucks and author of the book For Love of Country, Howard Schultz was being interviewed.  Mr. Schultz said “Two and a half million extraordinary young men and women have served for the last ten, 15 years in an all-volunteer service. As a result of that, most of America, 98% have not had real skin in the game. We need to have a conversation, be empathetic, be understanding, and do everything we possibly can across the country, in rural America and every town, to hire a veteran.”

His phrase “skin in the game” really struck me and I consider his words profoundly honoring to all Veterans.  To have “skin in the game” one must give something of value and take a risk of achieving a goal.  Yes there are rewards for having skin in the game, but the risk of losing the skin that you put in the game is a real possibility as well.   Our Americans  with real skin in the game come from every walk of life, ethnic group, and from the poorest to the most wealthy zip codes.  But here is the underlying difference between our Veterans and everyone else; they volunteer to put their skin in the game.  They raise their right hand and swear that they will actually support and defend our way of life, even if it means giving their own life.  A US Veteran is anyone that took the oath and not exclusive to combat duty; if they served under this promise, they had “skin in the game.”  Below is the oath:

“I (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will be true faith and allegiance to the same, and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and The Uniform Code of Military Justice.  So help me God.”

Our Nation is grateful for the sacrifice and we have a national debt to honor our commitments for Veteran recognition, education and health care.  Our history is our history because of Veterans.  Upon returning from duty after World War II, Veterans used their skills, work ethic and education opportunities to build what we now know as the middle class.  Since then, nothing has changed because our young Veterans today have even better skills with an understanding of hard work and commitment; they deserve to be first in line for the job, period.

Please watch this video by USAA:  Especially on Veterans Day, when you see a Veteran, step up and thank them for their service.  After all, they put their skin in the game for you and your family.

Hunter HarbesonI have respect for those that served before me, alongside me and serve today.  I am proud that over the years my family put skin in the game to make this Country great and we are still doing so today with my oldest son’s service. From an old Veteran; to all of my fellow Vets that also put their skin in the game, my salute to you and my undying support, So help me God. From the Command Post:  Cheers y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

bad leadershipRecently, I attended graduation of NCMA OC56 and spent a little time with the new Lieutenants prior to them taking the oath of office.  In 1984, I graduated in class OC26 and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant as well; yes if you do the math, that’s 30 years ago.  To state the obvious, the world has changed, however I’m not certain for the better.

Then: my studies of world threat as a newly commissioned officer were centered on Soviet doctrine and how their army functioned, their weaponry and tactics. Now: the new officers will study an enemy we are fighting utilizing tactics of fear; the use of small arms, suicide bombs, videoing the decapitation of Americans, slaughter of people that have a different religious belief than theirs, have no issue of attacking us here on our own soil and willing to die based on their religion.   Then:  America was a place when you get pushed by a bully, we responded with a punch in the nose.  Now:  when a bully attacks, if the attacked responds with force, everyone gets punished.

Prior to the graduation ceremonies, I had the privilege to observe a “ritual of passage” that is still in place even 30 years later.  The officer candidates were excited to participate because it truly has meaning; there is just something about tradition.  Then: we conducted the ritual with vigor observed by senior staff, family and the world as they encouraged our “purging” of the last remnants of “enlisted blood” flowing through our veins.  Now:  a bystander observing/bitching and quoting “regulations” that are contrary to the traditional ceremony.  The sideline comments by the “Doug Neidermyers” of the world has not changed, however the response has.  Unfortunately, much of today’s military leadership is more reflective of “PC” and regulations rather than thinking “what does it take to motivate our young troops to kill an enemy that will blow themselves up, rape women, kill children and video themselves performing atrocities?”

I believe that the new Lieutenants are well educated, have access to technology for better combat tactics, possess a desire to serve our Country, and because of the training they received, they’ll lead troops in combat successfully.  Then:  we had to learn how to actually use a compass, read a map, polish boots, shine brass, do a minimum of 20 push-ups for corrective actions, and if we did not measure up, there were no “equalizers” in place and sent home (yes, I’m guilty of my own restraint here for the sake of PC).  We had to be accountable for our failures or lack of standards, period.  Now: GPS will tell us where they are, where they should be going, boots/shoes require no effort for appearance, brass?, conduct a maximum of 5 push-ups for corrective action, and everything is made “equal” with regulations.  Some reading this will think “sounds better to me” and of course, there is no way that you would understand in the first place, so have another sip of Starbucks coffee.

My favorite conversation on my visit was with a young Captain that is a current TAC Officer (basically a drill instructor) regarding changes that he viewed as ridiculous (this Captain is a graduate of the same program).  At the core and initiation of training, the Basic Officer Candidates must learn the definition of military leadership.  “The art of influencing and directing men in such a way as to obtain their willing obedience, confidence, respect and loyal cooperation in order to accomplish the mission” is actually etched in stone and placed prominently in the OCS operational area.  The Captain explained to me when he arrived for duty, he was “corrected” that the definition had changed.  His response was exactly the same as mine “you can’t change what’s written in stone,”  God help us.

Many of the Officer Candidates I trained as a TAC Officer are now in leadership positions, some leading our troops in combat roles and many reaching the rank of O-6, Colonel (interestingly, they still addressed me as “Sir”).  I was blessed to have conversation with some of them over this visit and share my personal pride of their service along the positions they have earned.  They privately shared their dismay of how “things are today” and the restraints placed upon them for realistic training to fight an unrealistic enemy.  I know and understand that I would struggle to lead in the environment that they must now operate.  I get it…I’m a relic of the past and “out of touch with the way things are” today.  On these particular subjects, I wear those badges with pride.

The graduation ceremony was conducted at the very place I took my oath of office 30 years ago.  Unfortunately the Army Band that played the National Anthem, the Army song, etc. has been replaced by recordings for the music played (I guess the funds for the band have now been diverted for additional “sensitivity” training).  The atmosphere of excitement, pride of accomplishment, and the seriousness of the ceremony has not changed.

The oath of office for commissioning has not changed which includes the final words “SO HELP ME GOD.”  When I heard the proclamation, I actually had a sinking feeling that this phrase may go away one day, just like so many of our many American values we hold dear. When and if it does, help us God!  Cheers y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

ACaptains 1 few years back a friend of mine and I took the trek to Washington DC over the Memorial Day Holiday to participate in Rolling Thunder.  If you don’t know about Rolling Thunder, its a gathering of Veterans on their motorcycles to honor fellow Veterans that served, still serving and keep the message alive that American POW’s are still unaccounted for.  As a Veteran, I can personally attest to the reverence and emotional feeling being around over 500,000 people that have given so much, but recognized very little.  We speak to each other with honor as we converse; whether a Veteran of Vietnam or the Middle East conflicts, we get it.

My friend Steve Hughes earned a Bronze Star and had retired with over 20 years of service, however he was still carrying quite a bit in his “ruck sack” from his days in combat…I knew this particular trip among other Veterans would prove “freeing” in some ways that are hard to explain to those that have not walked the paths of combat.  We loaded up our bikes and headed up I-81 with other Vets to DC for the weekend on a Friday before Memorial Day.  Arriving on Friday afternoon, we explored some of the venues where events were to take place and just basically performing a “recon” of the area.

On Saturday morning, we got up all excited for what the day would bring and headed out for breakfast.  The particular restaurant we chose was full of Veterans…all wearing vests or hats with medals and patches that only fellow Vets recognize and know the meaning.  As we finished our meal, we were walking out the door when a couple came up to us and asked “is this photo yours?”  It was a photo of my oldest son Hunter in his Hargrave Military Academy uniform…it had fallen from my money clip.  I thanked them, and they asked about the photo and uniform.  I shared with them that Hunter is my oldest son and is a student at HMA.

The couple asked “are you guys here for Rolling Thunder?”  Steve and I shared the story of our friendship.  He was an Officer Candidate at OCS and I was his TAC Officer (drill instructor) many years ago…normally not the great start of a friendly relationship.  After he graduated, I eventually retired and we were not in contact with each other until one day I read a story in a local paper about a boy that was receiving his Dad’s Masters Degree at a university because his Dad was serving in Iraq.  Ended up, it was Steve’s son Josh.  Steve I and I reconnected via email…he in the desert and I in the US.  Steve assisted me on a program I started for a local football team…tagged “Band of Brothers.”

We continued to explain that the “Band of Brothers” was a connector of a high school football team to a combat unit overseas.  The team made specific t-shirts that only we could wear (I was the team Chaplain)..but we also sent shirts to Steve’s unit in Iraq.  Before we took the field for each game, I would provide the players motivation with a mixture of gospel and military talks…there is a direct correlation between battle, fighting for a cause with another, and a belief in something bigger than yourself.  We prayed for Steve’s unit on their battlefield…on the other side of the world at the exact same time, members of Steve’s Infantry unit prayed for our team as we took to our “battlefield.”  We finished our story with a few events of that experience including winning the State 4A football championship that year…and that Steve and I were there just to be together with other Veterans to honor and remember.

I asked the couple if they lived locally and they responded no…they were from out of town and there to visit their son at Arlington.  “Arlington” I asked, “is he stationed there?”  “No” the mother said; “he is buried there.”  With an immediate and almost convulsing rush of emotion, tears shot from my eyes…as they are right now as I write this story.  “Our son was killed during a river crossing in 2003 while serving in Iraq…vehicles turned over and he died trying to save other soldiers.”  Steve and I stood there crying…without any words we hugged and cried thanking these parents for their sons sacrifice for our freedom.  They told us more about their boy and we completed our extemporaneous memorial service in the parking lot.  I gave the mother the picture of my son Hunter and asked her to place his photo on the grave of their son..to honor him. The rest of the weekend seemed to be a blur of emotional conversations and sharing much of the past that only warriors understand.

I share this real life event because Memorial Day is upon us…yes, it’s great to have a day off Monday going to the beach, cooking out, playing golf or just plain resting.  But the day is really to remember sacrifices of those that gave their all for us.

I dedicate this story and the song by Toby Keith below to the memory of Captain Chris Cash, a fellow NCMA graduate who gave his life June 24, 2004 for our Freedom.  Take a few moments to listen to the words…the song was played at Chris’s funeral.

When you see one of us this weekend wearing our uniform, hat, vest or shirt that you may not understand all the insignias, but clearly identifies the wearer as a Veteran…thank them.  They probably have a story too.  Happy Memorial Day…cheers y’all.

 

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