See your homecoming video in a Country Music video





    Jamie O’Neal wants your homecoming videos.

The powerful-voiced country singer, a long-time military supporter and a spokeswoman for the Fisher House, has a song called “Soldier Comin’ Home” and she wants to include real military homecoming footage in the video. But, lest you think this is another tear-jerking, flag-waving song (not that there’s anything wrong with that…) the song is actually not about the military, the war or any of the standard patriotic fare. It’s about a woman who sees a soldier get off a plane and run, totally excited and not caring who was watching, towards his wife. She says in the lyrics:

…Made me stop and wonder when’s the last time you looked at me

Like you were a soldier comin’ home
Like you counted the nights you were gone
Like each moment together’s more precious than ever because you’re safe inside of my arms
Like you can’t get enough of me when you make love to me like you were a soldier comin’ home.

That’s when it hit me, just the way she was looking at him.
Caught up in the moment she forgot all the lonely she’s been…

But don’t take my word for it — listen to the song for yourselves here.

Here’s what Jamie told me about the music video project:

“I want all your readers to know that I am really thrilled to share their precious homecomings with the world. The song “Soldier Comin’ Home” is about everyday people looking to soldiers for their inspiration. We can only imagine the sacrifice and bravery required. Its also about not taking the little moments for granted. All any of us has is today and we need to be more aware of how precious our loved ones are.”
You can enter the contest by clicking here and uploading your homecoming video. In addition to seeing your family in a nationally-released video, there are also some great prizes and you get a free download of the song just for entering.
Jamie told me, “Performing for the troops in Iraq, Turkey and Germany has made me very aware of the sacrifice and danger they face on a daily basis. I was particularly struck by some hospitals I visited and met soldiers who were at my show a few days earlier. I will always be there anytime I am asked.”
Jamie went on to say that she loves performing for the military and that troops are her favorite audience. “That’s why I wanted to do the contest, to shine a light on my heroes,” she said.
Both of her parents were entertainers and played for the troops in Vietnam during the war,” O’Neal said. “They came under attack a few times. So its natural for me to follow in their footsteps.”
As for the Fisher House, she said she became interested in working with the Fisher House after learning about how they help families be together during treatment and healing. So, when she was offered the chance to place her song, “Soldier Comin’ Home” on the “My Country Smash Hits Vol. 2” compilation — which donates a percentage of every sale to Fisher House — she jumped at the opportunity.

You can buy that album, which includes songs from a veritable Who’s Who in Country Music, here:

So search your hard drives, find that perfect video clip, and send it in to Jamie today!

Two Marines

There were two big news stories about Marines last week, perhaps you saw them. The first, an amazing story, was about Dakota Meyer, the first living Marine to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Meyer, without a doubt, deserved our nation’s highest valor award — but he never should have gotten it.

The incident that became a six-hour fight, started on September 8, 2009 in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan. A group of American and Afghan troops went to meet with tribal elders, only to be ambushed along the way. Meyer and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez were about a mile away from the pinned down troops and could hear the ambush over the radio. One Marine said over the radio, “We are going to die out here,” and still commanders denied requests for extra firepower, helicopters and backup troops, according to the summary of an investigation into the incident. Several of the group of American and Afghan troops had already been killed when Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez asked for permission to go in and help them. Four times they asked, and you can only imagine their helpless frustration as four times they were denied, being told each time that going in would be too dangerous and an airstrike would put Afghan civilians at risk.

But, defying orders, Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez  jumped into their Humvee and went in anyway, with Meyer manning a the turret gun. They began rescuing the wounded and carrying them to a safer spot from which they could be medievaced. They made five trips in all, venturing back into heavy fire each time and — eventually — being  joined by just other American troops who aided in the rescue. All told, Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez saved the lives of 13 U.S. Marines and soldiers and 23 Afghan soldiers. Rodriguez-Chavez received the Navy Cross, the second-highest valor decoration awarded to Marines. Meyer is credited with killing at least eight members of the Taliban. Still, four members of Meyer’s team, his buddies, died: 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, Petty Officer Third Class James Layton and Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson, and for that Meyer says he feels like a failure.

Of course, we know that Meyer is far from a failure, but there were many failures that day, largest among them the failure of Meyer’s commanders to act with even a fraction of the bravery Meyer showed. For him and Rodriguez-Chavez to have to listen to their friends die on the radio, knowing they were only a mile away, and to be denied — FOUR TIMES! — permission to help, is a colossal leadership failure and a confidence killer for all American troops. We should certainly try to minimize civilian casualties, but American military leaders should never ignore their own troops pleas for help in order to protect Afghans.  Meyer most certainly deserves the Medal of Honor, and then some, but he should have never been in the position to earn it. Air support might have kept his friends alive and prevented Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez from having to defy orders in order to act with honor — but their commanders didn’t have anywhere near their courage. The investigation report called the actions of key leaders at the battalion level “inadequate and ineffective, contributing directly to the loss of life that ensued.” Thankfully, one of the investigation’s recommendations was “when in doubt, our bias must be to support troops in contact.”


And then there was another story, a far different story, about a Marine also in the news this week. It is a sad story on so many levels but, like Meyer’s story, the theme of those in charge refusing to act is the same.

This story involves Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, a young man whose present appeared to him to be so grim that he chose to surrender his future in order to escape. Lew, in the pre-dawn hours of April 3, put the barrel of his gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger, ending his life and bringing on untold heartbreak for all who loved him.

Lew’s story might have ended as another tragic and frustratingly incomprehensible suicide had he just been a regular lance corporal. But he was a lance corporal who happens to have a aunt in Congress, and so his death has now turned into a scandal, one that likely won’t end until someone is made to pay. Unfortunately, those someones will likely be the wrong people.

Here’s what happened: Four months into his deployment to Afghanistan, Lew was sent to join a squad at Patrol Base Gowragi — a remote outpost in the Helmand province. For those not familiar with Afghanistan, the Helmand Province is pretty much the worst place you can be. It is the home of the Taliban and tends to be the scene of some of the fiercest fighting, including the infamous “surge” that has claimed the lives of so many Marines this year. Furthermore, a “Patrol Base” is far different than a “base.” At the big bases there are thousands of people, tremendous amounts of security and even fun ways for bored troops to bide their time. At a Patrol Base the man power is much slimmer and all are called on to perform a variety of functions. There are no Burger Kings or karaoke nights; just fighting, sleeping and guard duty shifts.

On the very day that Lew got to Gowragi, enemy forces attacked  — and Lew, assigned to guard duty, fell asleep. He was only at Gowragi for 10 days, the last 10 days of his life as it turns out, and he fell asleep during guard duty on four of those days. The Marines he was working with were, undoubtedly, furious and frustrated with him. Falling asleep during guard duty is a big deal as it can get everyone on the base killed. It is dereliction of duty in the purest sense.

The other Marines at Gowragi reported the problems with Lew to their commanders and they tried several ideas, like taking Lew off patrols so he could get more rest, in an attempt to remedy the problem. They even asked that Lew be removed from Gowragi and replaced with somebody else. The platoon’s commander, 1st Lt. Jameson Payne, testified that removing Lew from the outpost wasn’t an option.

“There was no reserve of Marines to replace a Marine who was tired. Everyone was tired,” Payne said at the Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding.Only Lew wasn’t simply tired, he was depressed — something that is probably evident to everyone involved now and seems to jump through the headlines in all the stories about his death. Tired Marines can sip a 5-hour energy drink and make it through a guard shift but even extra sleep and constant pressure from his peers wasn’t enough for Lew to stay awake. He fell asleep again on guard duty on April 2nd, the last full day of his life. This time, knowing that there was no chance of getting another Marine to replace Lew, the other Marines decided to fix the situation themselves. The squad leader, Sgt. Benjamin Johns, made Lew dig a foxhole deep enough to stand in, saying that if he had to stand up for guard duty he’d be less likely to fall asleep. Then, after 2 a.m., Lance Cpl. Charles Orozco III told Lew to do push-ups, crunches and planks and made Lew hoist a sandbag while exercising. When the sandbag broke, Orozco allegedly picked it up and poured it over Lew.

Lance Cpl. Jacob Jacoby is also charged kicking and punching Lew, though other Marines intervened and told Jacoby to stop, and he did. Johns, Jacoby and Orozco each faces possible charges of wrongfully abusing, humiliating and demeaning Lew.
Lew’s aunt, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu of California, issued the following statement: “Harry’s death was a tragedy that could have been prevented. He was a patriotic American who volunteered to serve his country. No one deserves being hazed and tortured like he was, especially by (those) who are supposed to be fighting on the same side of the war. The military justice system must hold any wrongdoers accountable.”
I disagree, in part. What Chu calls “hazing” and “torture” sounds more to me like “being in the military” and more specifically like the sort of corrective actions non-commissioned officers take every day to groom troops. Th0ugh it is clear Lance Cpl. Jacoby crossed the line in kicking and punching Lew, the other actions (digging the foxhole and exercise) sound more like what we in the Army world know as “smoking.” Go to any Army post today and you’re likely to find someone getting “smoked” i.e., doing push ups or more creative exercises, in an attempt for someone to teach him to never make the same mistake again. “Hazing” is something more sinister. It exists for two reasons only: To increase the bond between people being hazed, and for the amusement of the abusers. No one was being smoked with Lew, so no one was hazing him as a bond-building exercise. As for amusement, I have no doubt that those Marines at a remote outpost in the middle of Taliban country during the troop surge were not at all amused by Lew. They didn’t punish him for their own amusement and they certainly weren’t amused when he repeatedly fell asleep on watch and put all their lives in danger. Lew got smoked, not hazed, because the Marines there with him were at their wits’ ends with a guy who kept putting their lives in danger. They just wanted to impress upon him how important it was to stay awake.
But I say that I disagree only in part because I do agree with Chu that the wrongdoers, if there were any in this case, should be held accountable. An investigation should take place into why Lew was sent to Gowragi, for starters, especially if he had shown any earlier signs of having trouble coping. And an investigation should look into what, if anything, the higher ups could have done to replace Lew with someone better suited to the assignment once it was clear that his condition wasn’t improving with more rest.
But the Marines at Gowragi were trained to fight the enemy, they weren’t trained as psychologists. They had no way of knowing that their time honored — and long effective —  corrective measures would push a comrade past his breaking point. And they shouldn’t be punished for a mistake that likely happened well above their pay grades.




The end of war

How can one day mark both the beginning of a war and the end of war? And yet, that’s exactly what — among many other things both horrible and beautiful — September 11, 2001 did for the United States.

It was a day of great heroism and stories of our countrymen’s actions  inspired the world, but it was also a day that launched us into a decade of fighting, though in those first chaotic, bewildering moments we had no way of knowing that. We were too trusting then, too innocent. We didn’t see the hate coming, didn’t understand why people in a country most of us had scarcely heard of could view the murder of our innocents as a strategic success.  For most of us it took several weeks to adjust to the reality that ours was a nation hated and that people we knew nothing of thought we were better dead than alive.

It is strange to think about those pre-September 11 days now. Those were the Halcyon days to be sure, days when the economy soared and millions of dollars could be made overnight on the still-heady Internet, days when we could leisurely stroll through our airports and greet our loved ones as they exited their flights, days when we couldn’t conceive of an iconic city skyline changing forever, and in just a matter of minutes.

But as the dust literally and tragically settled, a picture began to emerge and we began to accept the horrible realization that was confirmed when that second plane hit: This was no accident. We were under attack and, whether we wanted it or not, we were at war.

It’s a familiar story now, familiar because we’ve lived in this reality for a decade. We’ve watched as troops have come and gone, and come and gone again and again. We’ve seen too many flag-draped coffins, missing limbs and shattered families, so many that we’ve become numb. Just as household clutter ceases to be seen by the residents after a while, just as we grow so accustomed to both ugly and beautiful things that they become invisible, we do not see our current reality for what it actually is: We are not a nation at war anymore because war, that familiar concept of beginnings and endings, treaties and parades, has ceased to exist. This is not a war, this is an existence.

We will not go back to those Halcyon days. We will not know long stretches of peace. Our children will not recall a time when troops didn’t come and go, and come and go again. Our borders and our military bases will not be open and freely passable again and our airport security will never again be lax. Our soldiers will never again serve in a peacetime Army. Our defenses will never again be down. This war will ebb and flow and there will be troop buildups and troop withdrawals, times of intense fighting and times of boredom and quiet, as we respond to the waxing and waning of our enemies’ attacks and threats. But we will never again be a country that isn’t fighting somewhere.

Maybe this sounds like doom and gloom, but it’s not. It’s reality. We didn’t ask for this never ending fight and we certainly never wanted it. We’d all prefer the Halcyon Days, but they’re gone forever — murdered and reduced to ashes along with the bodies of the nearly 3,000 Americans who lost their lives a decade ago.  Now we are faced with a choice: Do we accept and respond to our new truth,  or do we continue to force the old model, replete with the illusion of timelines and deadlines, to fit?

We woke up to a new world on September 12, 2001. Now what will we do with it?

What to tell kids about 9/11?

I’ve been seeing all these discussions lately with moms debating what, if anything, they should tell their young children about 9/11,  and isn’t that weird to think about? September 11, 2001 seems so recent to me, I have to remind myself that anyone younger than, say, 20 years old today probably needs to be told about 9/11 because they don’t remember it for themselves. This last decade has passed by so very fast. But then I think about my son, who is almost 7 years old, and realize that he probably doesn’t know anything about 9/11. His sweet little brain — like all of ours on September 10, 2001 — can’t readily conceive of such horrors.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed many of the comments that fall in the camp of “not planning to tell my kids anything even if they ask” are often from moms with no military connection, but it has never occurred to me to try to shield my son from the truth of that day. In his short little life he’s seen his father leave to “fight the bad guys” several times. He has never known a world without bad guys looming in our lives. He has seen several of his friends lose their fathers to war. We’ve never had the luxury of shielding him from all of the world’s horrors, so I know that he can handle the truth about 9/11. I also know exactly what I’ll say if he asks.

I will tell him that on that horrible day some very bad men stole our airplanes and crashed them into our buildings, killing thousands of our good and innocent people. He will almost certainly ask me why they did that and I will say because they are jealous of us and because their hearts are very hard and mean. He will probably keep asking why and I will keep finding ways to same the same thing over and over again until finally conceding that I don’t understand why some people are so awful, and that I hope to never understand. Then I will tell him that 9/11 is the reason his Daddy has had to leave us so many times, that his Daddy keeps going over there to fight the bad guys so that the bad guys will never hurt good people here again. I will end by reminding him that he should be proud of his Daddy for fighting to keep us safe and that he should be proud of himself, too — that he, my little boy, is doing his part for all of our people by getting by without his Daddy when war calls. And I really do believe that my son will understand that explanation.

All of that said, I do not plan to say anything unless he asks and I’m not even going to try to explain 9/11 to my 3-year-old daughter.

Elaine Sanchez wrote about this issue on DoD’s Family Matters blog. You can read what she told her 9-year-old daughter here.

Doomed to Cheat?


My good friend Stephanie Himel-Nelson leads a weekly live chat session on military issues at The Washington’s Post website. This week’s topic? Infidelity in the military. Stephanie called on Andrew London, one of the authors of a recent study that found a higher prevalence of infidelity among veterans than among those who had never served, and had him respond to questions during the chat session. You can read the report on the study here.

In fact, the lead sentence of the report reads: “Veterans were significantly more likely to have ever engaged in extramarital sex and ever gotten divorced than people who were never in the military.” Significantly. Ouch. Later the report says this: “However, even though the reported rates of infidelity were significantly (there’s that word again- RS)  higher for veterans than non-veterans, extramarital sex was only reported by one-third of ever-married veteran respondents.” Only one-third? Only?! So, think of your two best mil-couple friends, if it’s not them cheating then it’s you. That stings even more.

Granted, the study was based on 1992 data and a whole lot has changed in two decades. But has it changed for the better? I doubt it. Factor in 10 years of long deployments, a greater number of men and women serving together on those long deployments, more spouses left at home and lonely, and an ever-weakening societal attitude towards infidelity (Remember: The data for this survey was PRE Clinton-Lewinsky)  and I suspect the cheating problem has only grown worse, not better. And, before you ask, the report doesn’t offer any theories as to why veterans are more likely to cheat and it doesn’t distinguish between service veterans and combat veterans. In the chat session on the Washington Post site, London does address the “why” question this way:

“This is a great question.  In our research, we can document an association between veteran status and extramarital sex, but we don’t know whether the extramarital sex occurred prior to the period of active duty, during it, or after it.  Certainly, deployment-related separations may be a factor, but that may not be the only factor.  For example, if veterans are more likely to be in occupations that involve travel away from home, then they may have more opportunity to engage in extramarital relationships.  This would be one mechanism that could contribute to the association we observe.  We need new data to examine possibilities.”

A fairly unsatisfactory answer, if you ask me. If long and frequent separations are the primary reason for infidelity, I’d love to see a follow up study comparing the rate of infidelity among veterans with that of say, airline personnel and business travelers.

London’s study raises an interesting and alarming point but raises even more questions. I’d like to see similar studies with more recent data released as this seems to be a very real problem in our community. And I’d love to see studies that also look at the rate of mental health problems and suicide in the military community compared with the infidelity studies. My suspicion is that there is a very strong link between infidelity, depression and suicide and that if we truly want to fix the mental health of our military families, we need to first fix the families.