Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘sailors

For All of the Unsung People

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Unsung means, people for whom a song is not sung.  With all of the tributes made and libations poured to all of the people in the center of the light, there are people who are never seen, never known but without whom, nothing would happen.  I don’t know why this makes me emotional, but fortunately, it doesn’t affect my typing.  Here is a short list of all of the people who, especially at this time of year, need to be remembered.

Pilots who fly through some of the worst weather of the year to take millions of people to their destinations.  When the seat belt light comes on, the pilot is about to engage in a very personal conversation with nature.  Yes, they get paid to do their jobs, but their job is to carry lives, legacies, babies, pets, pictures, fruitcakes, messages and futures.  And don’t forget about the ground crews, the baggage handlers, the mechanics, the flight attendants, the customer service people.

Ambulance drivers who carry people about to enter life and people about to leave it.  And the EMT’s who hold the hand of people scared of dying and people scared of living. And don’t forget the Emergency Room Technicians, nurses, front desk people, medical technicians, doctors, nurses who see the worst on what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year.

Police who will be patrolling the streets when most of us are asleep, away from their own families.  Or maybe they’re walking up unfamiliar stairs, rounding dark corners or entering hostile bars to arrest someone or contain someone or pursue someone.  And don’t forget their families; wives, kids, cousins, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers who hope their own father or son or mother or daughter will come home in time for some turkey or to unwrap a present or bounce a baby on their knee.  Also, don’t forget deputies, sheriffs, dispatchers and 911 operators.

Firefighters who, no matter how cold or miserable the weather, will gear up and run to a raging fire to protect property or save lives.  They will enter burning buildings with oxygen tanks and carrying extraction equipment and they will search for lost, afraid and dying people and pull them out.  Or they will open wrecked cars like sardine cans overturned in ditches to try to save people who made a simple, life changing mistake so they can have another chance.  To all of the firefighters and their families.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guard.  I think of Coast Guard especially since a friend of mine has just moved to an island in the Aleutian Islands and the Coast Guard regularly sends helicopters and ships into raging seas to rescue people.  Soldiers walking point, sailors on an aircraft carrier, airmen working a flight line, marines advancing on a position – all far from home.  And don’t forget the veterans, as well as the active duty and reserve cooks, the admin people, the military police, the military doctors and nurses, the supply and warehouse people, the truck drivers and mechanics and their families.

Highway maintenance people who will be out plowing, salting or sanding roads in some of the most remote, God-awful places at all times of the day and night in the worst winter weather you can imagine. And if they’re not trying to keep it clear, they are trying to open up a section of highway that has just been damaged by an overturned semi-tractor trailer and it’s dropped load of railroad ties or beehives or salad dressing. And if they’re not trying to clear a road of debris, they’re trying to finish construction on a piece of road so the traffic can move faster. They hold slow down signs that people can’t read because they’re flying past them too fast. They wear colored vests but they still have to jump out of the way sometimes because some people are in a hurry. Fortunately, there is usually a fast police interceptor not too far away. And don’t forget the line and tree workers restringing downed power lines and knocking ice off trees.

Pastors, Bishops, Rabbis, Imans, Reverends, Ministers … men and women of God who leave their doors open when most others are closed this time of year.  These people are  dedicated to trying to help the lost navigate through a not always easy life by listening, holding, and helping as much as they can, as much as they are allowed.  And don’t forget about the soup kitchens, the secret givers, the missions, the volunteers, the drivers, the sorters and the warehouse workers.

Reporters, anchors, weather forecasters.  These people tell us about closed roads and bad skies and deep water.  They are running around a near empty building at wee hours of the morning all over the world so we can wake up knowing what’s been going on.  And don’t forget the camera operators, master control, technical directors, audio directors, news directors, city desk editors, photographers.

Veterinarians and people who run shelters of all kinds. For animals that have been abused or lost or hurt, who are alone and frightened; these people search for them, find them, take them in and care for them and try to heal them or reunite them with their families. This kind of selflessness without a doubt belongs on this list.

Disaster relief workers overseas including Doctors without Borders and the International Red Cross among so many others. For people in the South Sudan, in Syria, in Egypt, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Uganda. People for whom hope is at the whim of a despot who tortures or disappears beloved family members, these organizations and their volunteers risk their lives and sometimes lose their lives to bring food, medicine and hope to people in the spirit of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men”.

Prisoners, inmates and their jailers. Being incarcerated is antithetical to what it means to be a human being. Sadly, many people have made choices that have put them under the control of the State. But the state is not guiltless and in many cases, it’s own mistakes have led to the unjust incarceration of hundreds, maybe thousands. Still, to be institutionalized is to be invisible and forgotten. So for the people who wish for a second chance but will never get it and the people on the verge of getting that second chance as well as the guards that must watch, control and discipline those inmates whether they want to or not, you are not forgotten.

Entertainers of all kinds, because these people are notoriously nomads and without steady income. Whether in community theater, on Broadway or at a cattle call, musicians, actors, artists work through the holidays since their Black Friday always seems to be about six months ahead of them. They are always running to the next gig, the next audition, the next tryout looking for a reason to believe the hard work they’ve put in on their music, their technique, their moves will land them something steady and something they and the they people they love can be proud of. There will be a lot of them on stages around the world during the holidays, hoping.

Prostitutes because many many women around the world are forced into prostitution and not only outside of the United States. They have children. They have bills. And they have dangers most of us can’t conceive. Yes, there are social service programs for them and their families. But for all of the “respectable people” who can’t leave their situation, no matter what it is for whatever reason, it is no easier for prostitutes to leave theirs. Also don’t forget enslaved domestic workers, the sex-trafficked, the addicted and the homeless.

Store clerks, stock boys, bus and taxi drivers, park rangers, highway patrol officers, 24-hour IT support people, tow truck drivers, credit and debit card customer support, the mail carrier, the package delivery driver, plumbers on call, roofers on call, HVAC on call, electricians on call, hotel workers, restaurant workers,… yes, we pay for these people either directly or indirectly.  But when we need them, they come and not always because they have to and not always just for the money.  What would it be like to to be someone who helped save someone’s Christmas or a family memory?

There are SOOOOO many people we forget who do what they have to do while the rest of us hope for another memorable holiday.  They must not be forgotten.  We must not forget them.

Maybe you’re one of these people.  If you are, thank you for providing. Thank you for protecting. Thank you for enduring.

If you can add to this list, please do.

The Profession of Arms

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That’s what military service is called. It’s a term of art for those who dedicate their lives to the protection, preservation and defense of our country and its people. My love for those troops, who are, right now, in Artillery Batteries in Incrilik, Turkey, or Infantry Battalions on Korea’s DMZ, Armor at Fort Bliss, or on a submarine under the Arctic, and even in space (Astronauts are US Air Force) is unwavering.

Let’s make a distinction between the troops and their leadership. Their leadership is swayed by money (defense contractors flood the Pentagon to lobby the military to push Congress to continue funding for programs the military doesn’t even want), by influence (the revolving door between military service and work in the private industry is more obvious than a red light in a backstreet Parisian whorehouse), or entitlement (if the officer in charge of the military’s anti sexual harassment arm can be arrested for sexual harassment, then we have a problem).

Other failings of leadership? There are plenty. Arlington National Cemetery management of remains so poor that they aren’t even sure who is buried where, or who is in the caskets they inter. Walter Reed Army Medical Center coincidentally closed after revelations of despicable treatment of wounded soldiers. And the VA, unable to come to an agreement with the Pentagon over a computer system to help distribute help and manage the medical records of returned soldiers, while those soldiers wait years for that help.

Clearly, these armchair warriors, as Bruce Hornsby accurately termed them in “The End of Innocence” do often fail. By contrast, the soldiers who follow those orders rarely do. It is no wonder that in talking about the horror of battle and the service to our nation, Abraham Lincoln didn’t mention the bureaucracy when talking about those who gave their last full measure in the service to an earlier United States.

There was a recent discussion on Linkedin about whether corruption is an inherent part of human nature that we must all live with as part of the cost of doing business, or whether it could be eradicated for a much more pristine outcome. I am not so naïve’ as to think that we will always be able to overcome our base natures. But if we willingly buy into some of it, shouldn’t we, for the sake of morality, try to be all in?

Namely, if a civilian leader understands that military power yields to civil power, shouldn’t civil power wielders understand the responsibility they have to carefully hold and fiercely steward the lives of those men and women who fight our wars? And if a military leader understands the oath of service, shouldn’t they be willing to do whatever it takes to protect their troops with every ounce of everything they have, whether at the front of a convoy in a humvee or behind a desk?  Should civil leaders and military leaders be complicit in padding the pockets of the military industrial complex while using our sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers as gear grease in that machine?  Should we support regimes who we befriend solely because they are the enemies of our enemies?  Should we participate in conflicts with no clear strategy for winning, no clear path for leaving and no good rationale for joining?  Poor leadership says, in order, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

I have served as both a civil servant and a soldier. And I can tell you, without hesitation, if you respect and love your boss, you will figuratively and literally go through hell for them. You will be cause you know they will protect you and kick your ass when you need it. As corny as it sounds, you know it’s because they trust you, they get out of your way and let you do the job they hired you for, trained you for. They love you and you love them.

And if you don’t love and respect your boss? It’s because you see your boss is more concerned with themselves. You see that your boss takes your effort and gives you no credit. You see your boss working to undermine you. You see them not as they portray themselves, but as they are; weak, cowardly and full of betrayal. This person you do not love, or respect. These people rely on patronage, and tenure. On manipulation of the rules. They are surrounded by the fat of their position, whether literal or figurative. They may seem enlightened and proactive and think of themselves as such, but they are pedestrian and reactionary.  They are seduced by themselves.  Poor leaders never think they are poor, which is part of the tragedy. They do not realize that they simply are not worthy of being followed.  For the good of the people they serve, they need to be extricated and forgotten in every way except as lessons to future leaders. They know who they are.

The troops, that’s another story. My best memory of troops is one morning, me and a small group from a detachment I was with out of the Pentagon, were on our way to morning mess at Fort Bliss. It was about 0400. And because Fort Bliss is a large, sprawling post, it has a very wide and very long company road. And on this morning, there were several Battalions of troops marching to breakfast. Each battalion was calling its own cadence, and they were trying to out call each other. I looked up and saw a black sky full of stars. I looked up the company road as far as I could see and saw troops singing. And I looked down the company road as far as I could see and saw troops singing. A chorus of thousands of voices singing different songs, but all singing the same music. And I cried because it was so beautiful.

That may sound militaristic to some. But what it was was a brotherhood and a sisterhood of people who do what nobody else does knowing they may, at any moment, be asked to die doing it. My love for the service was sealed in that moment. And though I may no longer be in the military, I will always be military. So, when I see the troops coming home, wounded, inadequately cared for, neglected and forgotten, I think, “I am healthy. I am strong. I can think cogently. I will do what I can to help right this. To not forget this.”

I can tell their stories. I can donate money. I can be a witness.

Amat victoria curam