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.

Seaman Recruit Harry Kirk Petersen, United States Navy

The other day I sat in a restaurant and watched my son become a man.

Harry recently bailed out of college. He was in the third year of a five-year construction management program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and he hated the place. He had been working at the Philadelphia Housing Authority through Drexel’s co-op program, and he hated that. His grades were good and he fulfilled his modest duties at PHA, but he was bored and sick of it.

Classes had started up again, and he was working part-time while going to school full-time. And he pulled the plug.

Plan A was to enlist in the Marines. This idea was not well received by many in his family and social circle. Consternation ensued. Harry went to live with an uncle and his family in Maryland for several weeks.

Much as he enjoyed getting to know his toddling cousin girls, there wasn’t much for him in Maryland besides a temporary refuge. The weekend before Christmas he came to stay with the Web Goddess and me in Maplewood while he figured out what would be next.

Job prospects were not bright — turns out there’s a recession. He looked for work after the holidays, but found nothing. All the while he kept talking about the service — now he was looking at the Navy Construction Batallions. The Seabees. Plan B.

I live in a deep blue town in a deep blue state. There’s not a great deal of enthusiasm for military service in this corner of New Jersey. When the Web Goddess or I would say Harry is thinking of joining the Navy, well-meaning friends would say things like, “I hope you’re trying to change his mind.”

Well, no.

Over the past several months, in part through this blog, my conservative leanings have been coming out of the closet. In the run-up to the election, I grew used to being the only McCain supporter in virtually every conversation. Nobody has shunned me, at least not that I’ve noticed, but they don’t seem to know how to respond when I say things like, “I continue to support the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein.”

The Web Goddess and I canceled each other out on Election Day, but she’s more financially conservative than I am. She’s pulled the levers for more Republicans than I have, although not recently. As is so often is the case, she knew exactly the right thing to say in talking with our friends.

I’m talking here about good Christian people whom I cherish and respect, and I have no interest in the kind of Internet flamewar that includes “words” like dhimmicrat and rethuglican. Here’s the conversation I’m prepared to have with liberal friends: “Do you think the United States needs to HAVE a military? Yes? OK… who should serve?”

I run a consulting business from home, and my business is every bit as robust as the rest of the economy. Harry and I have had plenty of time to bond while seeking work. When he wanted to borrow the car in January for the first of many trips to the recruiting office, he went with my blessing.

Turns out some of that book larnin’ sunk in — he aced the Ass-Vab (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, and was eligible for any enlisted field in the Navy. He said that when he told the recruiter he was still interested in the Seabees, the recruiter said no — “you’re going nuclear.” Plan C.

Harry signed up for a six-year stint — basically two years of Nuclear Field training on top of a normal four-year enlistment. He’ll get a $21,000 “signing” bonus if he successfully completes nuclear school, and will end up serving either on a nuclear submarine or an aircraft carrier.

He’s a disciplined athlete and body builder — where the hell that comes from I’ll never know — and he’s not deterred by tales of my own long-ago Coast Guard basic training. He’s been working out more to get in better shape — his only frustration has been that because of the timing of his training class, he was not scheduled to report until October.

That changed earlier this week — he got the message that a slot had opened up — could he report on March 10? He told me this with great excitement when I got home from running an errand. He said the downside is that his 21st birthday is March 15, and he’d have to postpone his first legal purchase of a drink.

I sensed a parenting opportunity. “Suck it up, son.”

“Oh yeah, I already said yes.” He took a shower, and I heard him singing Anchors Aweigh.

We went to a restaurant and talked while we ate. He kept getting calls on his cell phone — it turns out that despite what he’d earlier been told, he needs a copy of his transcript when he reports on Tuesday, so he drove to Philadelphia today to get it. He spent the night at his mother’s house the night before and picked up his birth certificate there. In between still-kind-of-a-teenager enthusiasm — “If I get to kill a pirate, my grandchildren will never hear the end of it” — I watched as a mantle of determination and gravitas settled over him.

I don’t want my son in harm’s way any more than any other parent, and I’m glad he’s not going to be in the infantry. As near as I can tell, the Afghan Navy is not terribly formidable, but America’s enemies are resourceful, and have proven they can strike at sea.

Harry knows that, but feels good about his decision to join the Navy. He’ll end up with a college degree and money to pay off his Drexel student loans, and officer candidate school will be an option. If he decides to put in 20 years in the Navy, he can have a pension at the age of 41. In the meantime, he’s got guaranteed stable employment for the next six years, at a modest salary on top of room, board and free medical care.

He also has one other powerful motivation. It’s not the motivation he talks about the most, but it’s the one that came first.

My son is a patriot. He wants to serve his country.

(Photo by the Web Goddess. This post was written earlier this week, and published March 7 with minor changes. In the time-honored military tradition of “hurry up and wait,” Harry’s reporting date has been postponed. The current expectation is that he will report for duty on March 23.)