Giving Thanks for Our Country and Those Who Defend It

On Thanksgiving, as on every day, I give thanks for the men and women of the United States armed forces — especially one sailor very dear to my heart, who has been away from his family since April.  From The Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad.  Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Stay safe, Son, as you return from your final deployment and rejoin your bride and stepson.

“Sarge” Got Married — Now the Web Goddess and I Are Step-Grandparents!

Harry & Diana Petersen (click to see full size)

On a brilliant sunny Saturday afternoon in Bremerton, across Puget Sound from Seattle, a handsome Navy petty officer and a lovely schoolteacher pledged to love and honor each other forevermore, as they became husband and wife.

The Web Goddess and I were among the witnesses to the back-yard nuptials, and while my wife was taking the photos accompanying this post, I was wiping away happy tears as I saw and felt the love radiating from my son and his bride.

The groom is Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Harry Kirk Petersen — whom I once dubbed “Sarge” in a post explaining his rating and rank.   The bride, now known as Diana Padgett Petersen, teaches seventh-grade English and coaches high school swimming in the Bremerton public schools.  Her nine-year-old son Gavin, who plays soccer and baseball and is thrilled with his new step-father, wore multiple hats as ring bearer, best man and bride’s attendant.

Harry, Diana & Gavin pour colored sands into a vase, symbolizing a new work of art blended from three essential components.

The happy couple met 18 months ago in a local tavern, where she had gone with friends for line-dancing lessons and he had gone with Navy buddies to shoot pool.  While Harry watched a foursome of his mates play eight-ball, he was asked to fill in as a dancing partner, and a serendipitous spark was lit.

Harry soon left on a six-month deployment, as sailors do, and the couple kept in touch daily by email, and by phone whenever he was in port.  When the Nimitz returned from the Indian Ocean, Harry and Diana soon started talking about the long term.

Harry has more than 18 months left on his enlistment, which probably means one more long deployment starting early next year.  “Sarge” and his new family will weather the hardship of separation the way military families have done for centuries — with a sense of duty and a fierce hunger for reunion.

Diana and Gavin, the Web Goddess and I are honored to know you and thrilled to welcome you to our extended family.  Harry, we’re proud of you and love you, and think you made a wonderful match.  Thank you for your service, and may you have fair winds and following seas.

The day before the wedding, the Web Goddess and your humble scribe take a break from mini-golf with our soon-to-be step-grandson, Gavin. (Photo by Harry Petersen)

Harry's Navy buddies try to rescue him from his marital future. In this tug-of-war, the smart money is on the five-foot-two gal in the pretty dress.

(Photos by the Web Goddess, except as noted)

RIMPAC! Or, Here’s Why It’s Dangerous Even to JOKE About Yelling “Fire” in a Crowded Theater

Don't blame me, blame the NavyNo matter how far Left someone is, or how anti-war, or even anti-American, I think we all could agree that one should not publish the sailing time of troop ships during a war.  A no-brainer, right?  But what if the publisher is the U.S. Navy itself?

It happens all the time.  Case in point, the photo accompanying this blog post (if you’re reading this on RSS, click through to the damn blog to see the photo.  And while you’re there, would it kill ya to actually click on a friggin’ ad once in a while?  I’m just sayin’.)

Onward!  “Sailing time of troop ships” is kind of an archaic phrase — modern ships don’t “sail,” and there is no longer a class of ships OFFICIALLY referred to as “troop ships.” But those are quibbles, and modern equivalents exist.  If you ever find yourself in possession of the knowledge that your government is about to launch a daring nighttime raid to take down Public Enemy No. 1 inside the borders of a semi-hostile ally… just to pick a wild hypothetical… if you ever have that knowledge, in the name of sweet Jesus or Loki or whoever, DON’T TWEET ABOUT IT IN ADVANCE!

Where was I?  The photo.  Below in its entirety is the caption that the U.S. Navy wrote, within the past week, describing the location of thousands of U.S. and allied sailors right now, through the day after tomorrow:

120727-N-VD564-015 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 27, 2012) Ships and submarines participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2012 are in formation in the waters around the Hawaiian islands. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise from June 29 to Aug. 3, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2012 is the 23rd exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Devinney/Released)

Who told the enemy about RIMPAC?  String ’em up! (Cue the visual of Jon Stewart touching his ear and pretending the control booth is setting him straight.)

My point, and I do have one, is not to make fun of Op-Sec rules.  One of those thousands of sailors is my son, and I’d be savagely pissed off if someone disclosed his whereabouts in a way that endangered him.  My point is the danger of “zero-tolerance” laws.

“Zero-tolerance” would mean that I’d be in trouble for this blog post even though the Navy itself provided the potentially most dangerous information.  But now I’ve increased that miniscule danger by a a hyper-miniscule amount by mentioning my son.

Think I’m kidding?  Note that the Navy did not disclose the names of any of the ships in the exercise.  But you can glance at my blog and learn my son is on the Nimitz.  The Nimitz is that big boat in the foreground of the picture, unless there’s another aircraft carrier at RIMPAC.  My son’s a second-class Aviation Boatswain’s Mate, which is one of three ratings responsible for launching and recovering fighter jets in the Arabian Sea and other war zones, and his two tours thus far have taken him to exotic places including Japan and …

Still think I’m kidding?  Ask the loved ones of Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Devinney how comfortable they are with that caption. There’s nothing in my prior paragraph that hasn’t ALREADY been on my blog, and even if the blog never existed, there’s nothing dangerous in the graf that Osama bin-Soggy couldn’t piece together with very modest effort.  But if any jerk of a prosecutor ever wants an excuse to make my life a living hell, that paragraph could provide it.  I’d be scared to publish it if not for the fact that my life is a target-rich environment.

Be safe, son. I love you.

(Hat tip: Mom)

Happy Birthday America!

I’m pausing briefly between grilling the veggies and grilling the chicken to give thanks for the blessing of American citizenship, a lottery I won on the day I was born.

On this sun-drenched afternoon, inspired by the Episcopal Collect for Independence Day, I’m grateful for the patriots who lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn.  I’m grateful for the modern-day men and women of the U.S. armed forces, who sacrifice to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace.

A special shout out to Petty Officer Second Class Harry Petersen, aviation boatswain mate on the U.S.S. Nimitz, currently pulling hardship duty… um… in port in Hawaii.  But hey, he’s done two tours in the Arabian Sea, and helped provide disaster relief after the Japanese tsunami.

Be safe, son.  I love you.

Reporter Has Front-Row Seat as Navy Rescues Iranian Ship from Pirates

A U.S. Navy sailor greets an Iranian crew member after the rescue. (Public domain photo from U.S. Navy)

If you read only one news article today, you must read the dramatic NY Times account of the U.S. Navy’s rescue of Iranians from Somali pirates.  As luck would have it, a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter and photographer were embedded on one of the naval vessels.

It’s hard to pick the best aspect of this story.  There’s the irony of the U.S. rescuing Iranians. There’s the mental image of the pirates throwing grappling hooks over the rail of the target vessel.  There’s the clever tactic of setting the first set of pirates free, only to follow them to their mother ship.

In another bizarre coincidence, the U.S.S. Kidd, part of an international anti-piracy task force, happened to have on board a chief petty officer who speaks Urdu.  Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, not of Iran… but the Iranian captain was from near the Pakistani border. Even as the pirates listened, the captain was able to ask for help in Urdu.

Of course, whenever a news development reflects well on the U.S. military, some people quickly look for ways to diminish it. On CNN’s “Security Clearance” blog, someone named Larry Shaughnessy snarked:

The Pentagon’s public affairs apparatus put on a full-court press Friday after the U.S. Navy rescued 13 Iranian fishermen from a group of suspect pirates. But for all the back-patting of U.S. efforts to save sailors even from an “axis of evil” country, it turns out the true hero in the whole incident was the quick-thinking Iranian captain.

Arrgh.  Props to the Iranian captain, but why go out of your way to try to tarnish what the Navy did?  I prefer to stay focused on the positive story line. Of course, I’m a sucker for any Navy-versus-pirates narrative, since I’ve got a son in the biz.

Thanks to Those Who Serve
(I’m Looking at You, Harry)

Among the many things I’m thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful for the 1 percent.

No, not the targets of misguided OWS derision — I’m  talking about the 1 percent of Americans who wear the uniforms of the United States Armed Forces.

In particular, I’m thankful for one newly-promoted (yesterday!) Petty Officer Second Class, Harry Kirk Petersen, second from the right.  (I’d be thankful for a better picture from the ranking ceremony, too — I ‘shopped it as well as I could, but I suspect it’s a cell-phone-from-the-balcony shot, and it’s downloaded from Facebook.)

Harry is now officially known as ABE2 Petersen (AW/SW).  Unpacking that leads to Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Second Class (Air Warfare/Surface Warfare).  Proud though I am of my son, there is a tiny part of me that wishes he were in the Army — then I could just call him “Sarge”.  As a Third Class Petty Officer before yesterday, he was the equivalent of a Corporal.

ABEs wear anchors with wings

Boatswain’s Mate“, a generalist designation for a deck sailor, is one of the oldest ratings in the United States Navy, dating from the Revolutionary War.  “Aviation Boatswain’s Mate” is a more recent and more specialized field, designating the people who launch and recover planes on an aircraft carrier.  To make things even more confusing, Aviation Boatswain’s Mates are subcategorized as (Equipment), (Handling) or (Fuels).  (AW/SW) means he has qualifications related to both air warfare and surface warfare.

ABEs like Harry are responsible for maintaining and operating the catapults, arresting gear, and other highly sophisticated equipment used to launch and recover planes.  The pilots themselves are officers, but they take direction from Aviation Boatswain’s Mates when preparing for takeoff.  ABEs wear green shirts on deck (ABHs wear yellow, ABFs purple).

U.S.S. Nimitz

Harry is assigned to the “waist cat” crew of the U.S.S. Nimitz, the lead ship of the Nimitz-class carriers, which include 10 of the 11 active aircraft carriers in the American fleet.  The waist catapult (as opposed to the bow catapult) launches planes diagonally off of the port side of the ship.

The Nimitz is a multi-billion-dollar, nuclear-powered floating city of 5,000, with its own zip code (96620) and five dentists onboard when under way.

It was commissioned in 1975, 13 years before Harry was born, and currently is in dry dock in Bremerton, Washington, across the Puget Sound from Seattle.   Harry has been deployed twice on six-month “cruises” to the Indian Ocean in support of the war in Afghanistan, once on the Nimitz and once on temporary deployment with the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan.  On the Reagan he participated in relief efforts after the tsunami devastated Japan.

He’s in one of the hardest-working ratings in the Navy — while under way, he routinely works 14-hour days or more.  Life on shore is less frenetic.  The Nimitz will get under way again for testing purposes early next year.

Harry delights in telling family and friends that he has the most dangerous job in the Navy, other than Navy SEALs.  But while a suicide bomber killed 17 American sailors on the U.S.S. Cole when it was moored in a Yemeni port in 2000, at least the jihadis don’t have a navy or air force, and carriers are surrounded and protected by other ships while at sea.  I’m proud of him for serving, and as a parent I’m grateful that he’s not carrying a rifle in Kandahar.   The riflemen and their families are also in my prayers, today and every day.

Congratulations, Sarge, and Happy Thanksgiving.

(Photos from Facebook and Wikipedia)

Happy Independence Day to You;
Happy Blogiversary to Me

Three years ago today I posted my first substantive blog post, about Senator Obama, the Democratic nominee for president.  Here’s how it began:

From the start, my take on Obama has been that he’s a talented and charismatic politician who some day could become an important senator.

We know now, of course, that Obama will never be an important senator.  But I think the post holds up pretty well.

There have been 443 posts since then (some of them more substantive than others). They’ve attracted more than 1,000 legitimate comments.  There also have been more than 93,000 spam comments, blocked by my Akismet plug-in.

Since I added Google AdSense advertising to my site in May 2009, the ads have earned me $93.16, or an average of 12 cents a day. Once that total reaches $100, the Google people will send me a check. (Ca-ching!)  I’ve had more than 47,000 unique visitors from 150 countries, and I’m grateful to everyone who has taken a look.

These stats don’t exactly make me a titan of the blogosphere, but I enjoy having an outlet for writing. My heaviest traffic came from my one and only Instalanche, in a post noting that Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner’s tax problems got less attention from the media than Joe the Plumber’s.  The one post I’d like you to read if you haven’t already is “Honest Labor: From Mach 2 to Muenster to Madison.”

I was going to do  this as two posts, but between entertaining, the sunshine, fireworks and various pressing chores, I didn’t get my July 4 post up in time.  Let me end with a favorite quotation from the Collect for Independence Day in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (page 242).  Regardless of your faith tradition, I hope you’ll join me in giving thanks for the Founders of America, who “lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn.”  And to my favorite sailor, thank you for your service, son.

Happy 5th of July!



Quick Take: VDH on Obama’s Afghanistan Speech

Victor Davis Hanson on last night’s presidential speech about Afghanistan:

We are on the hinge of history, unsure whether we swing to 1974 and give up, or swing back to 2006 and win. For those who demand immediate and complete withdrawal, a victorious Taliban will likely do to women and liberal reformers what the Vietnamese once did when they sent millions to camps or fleeing the country for their lives.Bottom line: I tried to fathom the president’s speech, and I sympathize with his dilemmas, but I have absolutely no idea what his ultimate strategy is — and can only pray the enemy does not either. And Afghanistan was supposed to be the “good” war that Obama once chest-thumped about and campaigned on with promises of seeing it stabilized, while the “bad” war in Iraq is one that he is now taking credit for, through following the very Bush-Petraeus plan that he once demonized.

And, I might add, the Afghanistan war is the one my favorite sailor is supporting through his service.

I didn’t watch the speech — life intruded, I was meeting with contractors as part of a committee considering proposals for a new heating system for St. George’s church.  As head of the property committee, I spent $13,000 of unbudgeted money making emergency repairs to the existing steam heating system, but it’s toast — that boiler will never be turned on again.  Now we have to spend an order of magnitude more money, also unbudgeted, to have a forced-air system in place before the weather gets cold.  Forward in faith!

My Favorite Sailor Spends His Birthday in Relief Effort Off the Coast of Japan

Sailors load relief supplies on a helicopter on the USS Ronald Reagan. No, Harry isn't in the picture -- at least I don't think so. Photo: Facebook

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Third Class Harry Petersen turns 23 today, and he’ll celebrate by working his butt off all day long.  He’s one of about 5,000 Navy personnel on the USS Ronald Reagan, currently engaged in disaster relief efforts off the coast of Japan. I’ve previously written about my son here, here and here.

In olden days, families of seafaring men would hear no word from their sailors for months on end. That was before Facebook.  Harry doesn’t get to spend much time on the few internet-connected computers in the onboard library, but he managed a quick note shortly after the tsunami hit.  I had posted a link to a news story saying that the Reagan was headed for Japan, and Harry replied, “Yeah crazy stuff out there, i guess the news already said whats happening with the ship, we are safe. The water is really wavy, miss you guys thanks everyone!”

The Reagan’s commanding officer, Capt. Thom Burke, apparently has more internet access — he posted a lengthy message reassuring family members that everyone on the crew is safe.  This was in the wake of news reports that 17 sailors had been exposed to radiation from the Japanese nuclear plant.

As a nuclear-powered aircraft carrrier, we have extensive technical expertise onboard to properly monitor such types of risks, and if necessary, rapidly resolve the situation.

We have taken all the necessary precautions to ensure that everyone is safe. We have closely monitored spaces, evaluated everyone who has flown or worked on the flight deck and cleaned the aircraft.

I have not seen any levels of radiation or contamination that would cause me to have any significant concerns at all.

As we continue to assist Japan in this terrible catastrophe, our Sailor’s–and your loves ones’– safety will remain at the top of my priority list.

Be careful out there, son.  I’m proud of you.

Update: Harry has checked in again on Facebook.  His latest missive, in its entirety: “DEPLOYMENT BIRTHDAY!!!! WOOOOOOOOOO!”

Harry Petersen Yeah crazy stuff out there, i guess the news already said whats happening with the ship, we are safe. The water is really wavy, miss you guys thanks everyone!

Support the War, Mr. President — It’s Personal

Harry on his way to the Nimitz from my back yard in New Jersey.  He subsequently got his third green stripe.

Harry on his way to the Nimitz from my back yard in New Jersey. He subsequently got his third green stripe.

Update: Welcome, readers from Navy For Moms (in the comments),  Maplewood Patch and Maplewoodian.  (I love the Internets!)

Updated update: Welcome, New York Times readers! It’s a Maplewood BlogolopolisTM trifecta!

Candidate Obama called Afghanistan “the war we need to win.”  Just last week, President Obama vowed to “finish the job.”  In a prime-time speech on Tuesday evening, he intends to announce his plans for prosecuting the war, including whether he will supply the 40,000 additional troops requested by his hand-picked general, Stanley McChrystal.

Prominent conservatives, pundits, and even a key foreign ally have all accused Obama of “dithering” over his decision, and thereby weakening troop morale and public support for the war.  I share these frustrations to some degree, but I think it is still possible to turn the situation around with decisive leadership.  The big question is whether such leadership will occur.

I’ve been a continuous supporter of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the beginning, and now I’ve got a personal reason. Last month, my son Harry reported for duty on the USS Nimitz (CVN 68), currently somewhere in the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.  (Obviously, Harry is not responsible for his father’s opinions about his commander in chief.)

The Nimitz, the oldest of America’s 10 Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carriers, has been in service since 1968, making it about 20 years older than Harry.  With a complement of more than 4,000, it’s a small floating city — the carrier’s welcome brochure notes that the Nimitz features a dental facility with five dentists (which seems like a lot, given the population).  When he gets off duty, Harry usually goes to the gym or the library, where he can send emails from his military account.


Aviation Boatswain's Mate insignia

Harry, currently an E-3 Airman, is working toward promotion to petty officer as an Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) — the folks who operate and maintain the catapults, arresting gear and other mission-critical equipment, enabling the aircraft to take off and land successfully.  He works long hours, but likes the work and the people around him.

He’s already suffered his first “war wound” — two stitches on the top of his head for a gash caused when he stood up too quickly while he was, I kid you not, swabbing the deck.  Joking aside, there are real dangers involved in tending the powerful launching and recovery equipment, but I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry much about an enemy attack.

President Obama, the brave men and women of the United States armed forces are looking to see if you are committed to victory in Afghanistan.  On Tuesday evening, I hope you’ll start showing them that you are.

Harry, be safe, and thank you for your service.