The Daily Lex – May 18th

Friday Musings

By lex, on January 19th, 2007

This weekend. I will catch up with emails this weekend. I promise.

Class today – it was Friday, wasn’t it? – and the course was Operations Analysis/Research, OR. Which as I might have mentioned is a kind of cult at the Naval Postgraduate School. Reminds me of all those L. Ron Hubbard books. People believe. They want you to believe.

None moreso than my current professor, whom I regret to add, is battling stage 4 cancer. Which I looked up, only to find that there isn’t any stage 5. So it’s the real deal. With chemo and painkilling drugs and the occasional stab that causes him to wince and moan aloud in class, when it isn’t dropping him off to sleep. Each week we are happily surprised to see him at the other end of the video-teleconference.

In his shoes I think I might cash in all my chips and stroll the beach, but he’s not that kind of guy. He loves to teach – it is no stretch at this point to say that he literally “lives” for it – and we might very well be the last class he ever evangelizes teaches. Which, God love him and keep him close, puts a bit of pressure on we few, we studious few, we band of plodders.

And it’s not like that stuff is easy.

But neither is it like having stage 4 cancer, which puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

I was surfing somewhere last week, or maybe the week prior and ran across one of those threads wherein the tech cognoscenti write in disparaging tones about, well: Pretty much everything. One of them was writing about his MP3 player, which, he hastened to add, was NOT an iPod. Because in that particular stratum apparently, having an iPod is an admission that you just don’t get it. Or something. Because of the teraflops per dollar, or summat. Or maybe it’s the whole, “sucked into the Man’s closed-source music retailing scheme through the horrible convenience, elegance and inexpensive access that’s in it.

Apart from the new shuffle – which I seek in vain for reasons to buy – I have bought, was gifted or currently own every kind of iPod ever manufactured.

I think they’re OK.

The administration’s row-back from previous and vigorously enunciated of claims to Constitutional privilege on the NSA surveillance program is a bit of a disappointment to those of us who thought it was a good idea for a wartime president not to yield his official prerogatives as an elected official to unelected and unaccoutable jurists. But perhaps, like the ingratious exit of the former Secretary of Defense, this was thought to be a kind of wisdom, a pragmatic accomodation to the New Reality. Not every fight is winnable, and not every fight you win is worth the cost incurred in fighting it. The smart political brawler chooses his battles wisely.

Which is why I think this concession – such as it is, the details are an enigma enshrouded in a mystery – is a mistake. I for one, wouldn’t have minded watching Al Gonzales take questions from folks in Congress who think that al Qaeda conversations are legally protected from military surveillance in a time of open conflict. That might have been fun. After all, there’s a world of legal distinction between intel gathered in pursuit of criminal prosecution, and that gathered against belligerents during wartime. The latter are unprotected, yea, even unto death.

In other news, the administration – wisely in my view – has elected to acknowledge the Way the World Now Is by taking Iraq war costs off the supplemental table, and treating them instead as embedded DoD costs in the President’s budget submission. Senior members of Congress – who have recently been making noise about grilling DoD officials over the supplementals as a way of attacking the President’s policy in Iraq – have long complained that the war costs have been too long treated as “emergency” legislation, since this tends to hide their effect from inclusion in deficit calculations. Prolly they’re happier now.

And, three times more Democrats than Republicans hope that the President’s new plan for stabilizing Iraq fails.

As do words, at this point.

Today was graduation day at MCRD, and I happened to be over there to get some gas and shop for the odd sundry or two. Ruffles and flourishes I heard in the distance, and soon there was a commotion in the middle distance. First came the DI’s not participating directly in the ceremonies, strapping young men with hard eyes and brass voices, wearing their signature Smokey the Bear covers. Not much after came the new Marines themselves, but freshly recruits and now part of the brotherhood.

I was struck by several things. They are painfully young of course, mere boys in man suits. They have been whittled down by their recent experiences into their essential selves – nothing else beside remains but whipcord muscles and right angles, there was not one solitary ounce of fat. Tall and lean and hard, by God. Marines.

I noticed something else, as well: They had families there with them, proud mothers and fathers, sisters in dresses, brothers looking up as though in awe at the young man they had spent a lifetime with grown into something new and suddenly unfamiliar. This is not so odd, you say, we all of us have families.

True. But some of these family members were brown, and some were black and some were yellow – they were as diverse as we ourselves are. But not their young men, not anymore. There were no African Americans or Hispanics or Asians in that crowd of green-clad graduates. There were only Marines.

Maybe you had to see it, but it was striking.

As was the image I saw of an aging, pony-tailed father buying odds and ends for his newly graduated Marine son up in the exchange. He shopped as though making up for lost time, as though warding away the future with his purchases: A combat knife, some socks, a digital cammy clothing bag. Did he need anything else? the old man asked his son – a young man who was at once both proud and slightly embarrassed.

No, Dad. That’ll be fine.

The old man nodded, thoughtfully. As did I myself.

What can we possibly buy for these young men now, after all that we have asked of them, after all that we will ask of them? What can we purchase for them that will repay in any measure what they have offered up for us?

Not much. I suppose you do what you can.

Have a good weekend.

17 Comments

Filed under Lex

17 responses to “The Daily Lex – May 18th

  1. Bill Brandt

    Lex left us numerous topics these days. The image of the father no doubt a product of the 60s or 70s – against what his son now stood for, but proud.

    Or maybe ashamed in himself for his stand years ago.

    I don’t know.

    The professor – I knew a man in the same circumstances. He got colon cancer – which – I have known a few with this.

    The man was a client of mine who owned a service station. He had been a dealer for decades and as dealers did, worked 6 – even 7 days a week.

    Taking inventory, helping the mechanics, taking a turn at the register.

    Once a month I would come taking his work that we processed and the invoice, and every month I would see him lighter and lighter to the point he was emaciated.

    But he showed up every day.

    Maybe because he was comfortable doing it, or knew no other life.

  2. colocomment

    Bill, my image on reading that was of a Vietnam Vet who probably rides his Harley to DC each year at this time for Rolling Thunder. Who knows what his son will maybe face in his Marine experience, and who loves him and is proud of him, and who fears for him, and who inadequately is trying to convey all that with his meager purchases…. But I’m female & tear up on reading stuff like this. I probably focus on the least offensive (and most emotional) interpretation….

    • Bill Brandt

      colocomment – you are probably closer to the truth than me here.

      There is a father-son thing when the son goes into the military.

      My own experience – I was the 2nd to last group to be drafted (Sep 72) but the thought of not going in – in my family – was unheard of.

      My father – a veteran of the WW2 and the 82nd Airborne – then Korea – rarely gave me a compliment on….anything.

      Growing up I knew I did well when I didn’t get any blowback 😉

      So I get up at 3AM, get dressed to meet at the induction center, and at 04:00 when all these draft protestors are surrounding us, saying “we don’t have to go”, but all the young man with me walked onto that bus, silent , their thoughts all to themselves.

      But my father, who I think has given me 3 compliments in my life, said “They’re getting a good man”.

  3. When I read these old posts I wonder what happened to the people Lex talked about. I think he did a follow-up on the professor and that he did pass away. But what about the young Marine … is he still with us? How many more changes took place in him over the past 5 years.

    Lex told stories but he painted fully dimensional pictures to go with the writing. Dammit, I miss him terribly. For so many reasons.

    • Bill Brandt

      Kris – As I have been getting acquainted with Lex – reading Lex – I was led to a post of his on Navy SEALs on military.com last night – he had the ability to take a “snapshot” of others – or even himself – and step into the 3rd person – present the image and then – let us ” talk among ourselves”.

      Sometimes he would provide commentary – how he viewed the importance of the image and other times – like seeing the father with the son at the MCRD – he saw the importance of the image but let us decide **how** it was important.

      Sometimes more than likely he, like us, knew it was important but didn’t know **why**

      It was colomment’s post that made me realize the bond that is evident between father and son when the son goes into the military. Maybe the father and son were as different as night and day – maybe the same – but this brings out the bond.

      I don’t think there could be any way he could have followed up on that young Marine – but the Professor – he knew…..

      I passed my referenced post of his linked from here to military.com – to friends last night.

      “The Heroes We Don’t Know”

      http://www.military.com/opinion/0,15202,234577,00.html

  4. colocomment

    Bill, that is one of my all-time favorites* of Lex’s work. That a man of his own accomplishments recognized and esteemed and honored our hero SEALs in an almost, dare I say, worshipful tone and manner. Extraordinary post.
    * the list is long.
    By the way, Bill, since you are new to Lex’s work, you may not have read his “Rhythms” series. It’s still available on his archived “old” blog, but I don’t know how that is or how long it may exist. Part I starts here, and there are a total of some 50+ parts, IIRC. You simply need to follow the “next” links:
    http://homepage.mac.com/lexl/iblog/C744401703/E317348427/index.html

  5. SteveC

    I, too, miss Lex terribly. I remember this article on the Seals and I enjoyed it when I first read it and, now, re-reading his words, my thoughts are: First, that it would be quite a thrill to have a man such as Lex saying such things about you; and, second, I think that Lex ultimately and without meaning to do so, described himself (although he would no doubt laugh this off and tell me that I misunderstood). But I don’t think that I misunderstand that Lex was very special in his chosen career field, that he excelled and that anything less was not good enough for him or his cohort, and that what he did, for us who sit on our safe butts thanks to people like the Seals and Lex, put him and his family ‘at risk’ for his ultimate fate.

    Quite a guy was Lex, just like the people about whom he wrote glowing things in his wonderful way.

    • Bill Brandt

      Steve – when I read that I knew he understood what it took to get there – he knew their code – I think – the Warrior’s Code is the Warriors Code – doesn’t matter whether you are a SEAL, fighter pilot, Army Ranger….

      All those guys in special ops really try to avoid publicity – saying that the best mission is the one accomplished and the world doesn’t know about .

      Think how many of **those** have occurred since 9/11.

      And I think the fighter pilot ethos publicly they are bravado but get among themselves….

      If you haven’t seen the movie Act of Valor I recommend it – real SEALS doing a mission – really I heard a composite of missions they have done –

      Read an interesting interview with Chuck Yeager the other day and to me it was enlightening – I can dig up the url if you want – he is a West Virginian – and was talking to someone from Huntington Magazine. All this stuff I have heard about him publicly – and here is a guy who Tom Wolf wrote about in The Right Stuff – the guy at the “Top of the Pyramid” – he was very introspective and thankful to the Air Force for giving a poor boy from Hamlin WV all of his opportunities.

  6. Bill – Act of Valor is a movie that everyone should see – many many times. Truly a fantastic bit of pro-military, pro-country movie making. Can’t wait for it to come out on BluRay on June 5.

    • I saw it Kris, by myself (wife and daughters weren’t interested) and I’m not ashamed to say I got teary at the end when the names of the fallen SEALs were scrolled on the screen. I also plan on buying it June 5.
      I also noticed there were a few other guys watching the movie wearing a Navy command ballcap just like I was. 🙂

    • Bill Brandt

      Kris – Todd –

      Well I am glad I wasn’t the only one getting teary-eyed (I mean an old guy doesn’t want to admit he had tears running down?) Loved it when the retired SEAL gets on the boat – won’t ruin it for the rest and if you saw it you know what I am talking about.

      To me it was sort of half action adventure and half documentary. And they didn’t forget people who are usually forgotten – the families they leave behind.

      It was I’m told a compilation of various missions they have had – all rolled into 1 movie mission. Real SEALs were there.

      I wouldn’t be on the wrong end of that sniper!

      I think each service has their own special-ops – even the Air Force – all tasked with different kinds of missions (The Air Force Para Rescue take a back seat no no-one as far as bravery – they jump behind enemy lines – rescuing downed pilots – stuff I heard – 3rd party about some things they did in Iraq were amazing –

      Army Green Berets – training indigenous forces to fight.

      Point is I think the SEALs are tasked with doing the most versatile things – come in via sub – parachute in – scuba dive – and the training I believe is the roughest. And that is a rough field to compare.

      Just ring the bell, the Cadres tell them, and your suffering will be over.

      That Lex acknowledged this – and said that a CPO was his most admired man he ever knew in the Navy – speaks to his character.

      oh, and I will be waiting till Jun 5th too!

  7. colocomment

    When those boats came a-chargin’ down the river just in the “nick of time,” it was better than John Wayne’s cavalry!
    My theater was perfectly silent as the names rolled down the screen… there were so many…. Not one person sprang up to be the first out. It was as though we were reluctant to leave….

    • Bill Brandt

      And that machine gun! And the helicopter!…and….(I was impressed to say the least – and – knowing this is used in an actual op – not some Hollywood writer’s idea of what “happens”

    • xbradtc

      For the record, the helicopter bringing in the boats was an ARMY helicopter.

      GO ARMY! BEAT NAVY!

    • Since xbradtc mentioned it, I’d be remiss to not inform those that don’t follow such things that Navy is on a 10 year winning streak in the Army/Navy game, 2002-present.

      I’m sure xbradtc is aware, though. 😀

      GO NAVY! BEAT ARMY! (and we usually do).

  8. We watch the kids leave their parents as they begin their Rook year here at Norwich. I recently watched some of the cadets that I know commission, see the look on their parents faces. Some of the dads and moms are prior service or retired military and they show up in uniform to give their new officer sons/daughters their first salute. You can see it in their eyes, in the way they give that salute. It is hard not to tear up with the emotions running through the ceremony.

    Seeing the parents with their newly commissioned soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines is the same as Lex described. It can be awkward as both sides realize that he or she is headed off to the real world with it’s thrills and dangers. What is interesting to observe is the bond between the newly commissioned officer and the parent, mom or dad, that was previously in the military. It is very similar to the bond between father and son. Hard not to notice, hard not to be moved.

    mark

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