The Dream

Shortly after I graduated in May of 2010, I had the time to start watching television again. It may not be in quite the same volume as the days of my adolescence, but it was quite a bit more than when I was but a tired, bitter, over-worked engineering student at Ye Olde Military Institute of Virginia. My viewing habits trend towards cop shows, medical dramas, spy dramas, and just about anything on the History, Military, or Discovery channels. That said, I had been watching the mini-series America: The Story of Us on the History Channel. I’m also became a huge fan of the show When We Left Earth on Discovery. Both of these shows are illustrative of the American Dream. The dream that no matter your creed or color, you could achieve anything you wanted in America as long as you had the drive, the dedication, and the heart to accomplish it.

America’s history overflows with examples of men and women who have left their mark on history based upon sheer determination alone. Men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller built empires from dust while presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy bridged oceans and landed men upon the moon. Even men born into slavery achieved lives of success winning freedom for all men and women.

This is what has always set the United States apart from any other country on earth; the fact that what unites us is not some shared ethnicity or allegiance to some common monarch, but one mutual idea that all men are imbued by God with an equal opportunity to turn their dreams into reality.

I fear that we’ve lost that. Not only that, but that we’ve lost the capacity for it. That somehow all of the doom and gloom and “Me First!” consumerism has killed our ability to dream of new tomorrows and soar upwards to a brighter future. With the talk of fiscal cliff this and debt ceiling that, we’ve lost our footing and forgotten who we are as Americans.

We’re dreamers, workers, fighters. We take the bull by the horns and work diligently until even the wildest vestiges of our imaginations are turned into reality. We did it in 1776 by taking on the world’s preeminent super power and birthing a new nation based upon the ideals of equality for all men before the law and liberty. We did it again in 1865 when we emerged from our bloodiest war united after struggling for the soul of our Nation. We did it again in 1914 when we bridged the world’s largest oceans in Panama. We did it once more in 1945 when we rescued the world from fascism and pure evil. And our crowning achievement was when we turned lunatic science fiction into concrete scientific history in 1969 when we landed men on the moon.

We can do it again, but we the people MUST gather together and make it happen. We cannot continue down this road of selfishness and animosity.

The New Grand Old Party

We Republicans stand at a cross roads: We can choose to change and each faction of the party can compromise some of their views and we can unite or we can go the same way as the Whig Party did before. There’s just no other way to go. The Democrats have moved ahead of us in diversifying their base and grabbing a larger chunk of the American populace as their loyal voters; namely the black, Latino, and women’s rights votes. By many, Republicans are seen as old, decrepit, backers of big business and out of touch with the needs and struggles of the majority of average America.

But it wasn’t always like this. The Republican Party used to be the party of intelligent progressivism. We used to be the party that moved America forward. My personal hero, Theodore Roosevelt, was a staunch Republican who battled for such things as anti-trust legislation, equal rights for all Americans, and liberty. Many other prominent Republicans supported similar legislation and policies such as Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Our party is built upon the ideals of personal responsibility balanced by a government which keeps its nose out of the personal affairs of the people.

Meghan McCain recently published an opinion piece along these same lines. In it she says the same things I’ve been thinking for years chief amongst which is that we’ve decided to follow the Religious Right and Social Conservatives so far down the rabbit hole that we’ve delude ourselves into thinking we can legislate people’s morality. It’s hurt us, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections. We focus on issues like abortion and gay marriage when we should really be fighting the increasing burden of debt that represents a serious national security threat to this nation. We must hone our message around the base of a sane fiscal policy, a strong national defense, and a dedication to the idea that every American should have an equal opportunity for success and should be left to do as they please so long as they don’t violate the rights of other Americans. These are the principles that made America and the GOP strong. They will again in the future only if we speak out in favor of them.

We need a return to the traditional role of the Republican Party as the party that moves America forward and not the party calling for a return to the Dark Ages.

Saying Farewell To A Hero

The Flag is folded over the cremains of Neil Armstrong
The Flag is folded over the cremains of Neil Armstrong

I’ve written about the US Space Program before on this blog, and having worked in support of it, I’m very passionate about our exploration of the final frontier. Therefore it should come as no surprise that one of my personal heroes was Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on an alien world. Armstrong was an outstanding leader, an amazingly-talented pilot, and a humble man who accomplished extraordinary feats. He also valued his privacy and kept his professional and personal life separated.

As for me, I’ve admired Neil Armstrong since I was a young boy and learned that man had landed on the moon. I  was instantly captivated by his feats and those of his colleagues. I wanted to be like him, and had it not been for Neil Armstrong, I would never have slogged through the four years of toil that it took to earn my engineering degree. Had it not been for him, I would not have chosen to join the Navy, instead following in the footsteps of my Uncle and Grandfather into the United States Air Force. But by my logic, if the Navy produced talented aviators like Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Gene Cernan, then by God that’s where I wanted to learn how to fly.

And so the news a few months ago that Armstrong had passed away struck me terribly hard. But I felt an unusual sense of kinship when I learned of his request to be buried at sea. While a Naval Aviator serving in Korea, he had developed a love of the ocean, something I can certainly sympathize with. I too have come to love the sea with all of her mystery and her tempestuous nature. It was his final wish for his earthly remains to be committed to the deep and so a ship was chosen for the solemn duty of carrying him to sea one last time.

In a strange bit of kismet, the ship chosen happened to be the USS Philippine Sea stationed in the same place as I. The Norns didn’t stop there, weaving our paths to cross one final time. As I was participating in our morning physical training, I suddenly heard the whistle blasts  calling all hands topside to attention on all of the ships throughout the basin. Scant minutes later, I spied the Phil Sea, as she made her way towards to the breakers, her crew manning the rails dressed in their whites. I instantly realized what was happening and I stopped mid-stride. I came to the position of attention and stood stock-still as I watched my hero make way towards his final resting place. The cruiser soon passed and the whistle signal to carry on with assigned duties was blown and I returned to my run a bit older than I had been before.

One Small Step For Man. . .

A young Neil Armstrong sits on a panel upon the announcement of his selection into the Astronaut Corps.

Neil Armstrong died yesterday. When I learned of his passing, I  was near tears. Professor Armstrong served as an inspiration for me, alongside his peers Gene Cernan, Jim Lovell, and John Young. His skill as an aviator and expertise as an engineer were exceptional. He was also a man of unfathomable humility, who upon retiring from the space program, returned to his homestate of Ohio and began teaching engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He was never one to publicize himself and he valued his privacy highly. He was one-of-a-kind, and the world is truly a lesser place with his presence gone.

A few years before he passed, he testified before Congress along with Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. In it, he made the case for a push by the government to support NASA and to create a coherent and bold strategy for the manned spaceflight program.

And this is Neil Armstrong’s legacy, as it should be. His actions on July 20, 1969 serve as inspiration to millions and have served as the motivation for countless millions, myself included, to act boldly and do what we can to make the world a better place and push humanity forward. And if there is anything we should do to honor his memory, it is to take bold action and take the next step in expanding the boundaries of human knowledge and discovery.

A Helluva Birthday

I know that posting has been light as of late, but work has gotten in the way. I am currently halfway around  the world showing the flag for the United States. As you might imagine, internet connections are not the greatest at sea, nor is my free time as bountiful. But, I have not forgotten about you, dear readers.

About a three days before my twenty-fourth birthday, I received travel orders from Big Navy for to go meet USS FIRST SHIP out on the wild Atlantic. So, in keeping with one of the longest standing Naval traditions, I dropped everything I was doing and hopped on a plane on the eve of my birthday and flew thousands of miles to points untrodden. I actually turned twenty-four somewhere over the Atlantic.

I am now working hard, trying to get up to speed on the steep learning curve that are daily operations aboard a warship. I will update the blog as I am able, and will hopefully be able to return to three posts a week. But, fret not, Kipling Friday will continue unabated.

Misadventure on the Pedlar, Part Uno

This is a story of the best beer I’ve ever had. Like most of my stories, it involves me thinking I was invincible and can withstand anything life throws at me. As is the usual case, I was reminded exactly where the limits of my mortality actually exist.

This particular story takes place on the Pedlar River nestled within George Washington National Forest. GW National Forest is itself settled in amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western Virginia, about an hour or so from Lexington. Every Spring, the Corps of Cadets runs an exercise designed to test the 4th Classmen on their fieldcraft, namely skills such as land navigation, shelter building, and wilderness survival. The exercise covers a roughly twenty mile course of arduous terrain in some of the most beautiful country Virginia has to offer.

I participated in the aptly-named 4th Class FTX (Field Training Exercise) each year of my cadetship. It was a wonderful way to break up the monotony of the Institute Experience and also recharge my batteries by getting away from the hustling weariness of modern life. Unfortunately, George Washington National Forest tried to kill me every single year.

Continue reading “Misadventure on the Pedlar, Part Uno”

The Twin Towers

The Vietnam War Memorial frames the Washington Monument

America has always been different from other nations in the fact that we are not united via a similar racial identity but rather through a universal acknowledgement of certain irreversible truths and inalienable rights. We are a nation of a multitude of races, but one single idea. It is what makes us truly exceptional. Because of this, our citizens have historically been averse to warfare and have long cried for a policy of isolationism. It is truly a strange irony that a people that is united by such strong beliefs would long so much to be left alone by the troubles of the world.

It is for this very reason that we drape ourselves and our national conflicts in the trappings of liberating oppressed peoples, yearning to be free, from the clutches of tyranny. It is a psychological and societal need that we do so, lest we face the monstrosities of warfare itself. It is this need that we must use to summon the strength needed to venture into the maelstrom that is international warfare. We create symbols: heroes and villains, angels and demons. Traditionally, this has been easy. The Spanish-American War had the cruel, imperialist Spanish. World War I had the power-hungry Germans. World War II had the Nazis and the Japanese. Our enemies were  clear-cut; the world was black and white. Lines were drawn in the sand and we knew exactly where we stood.

But things changed drastically during Vietnam. The lines between non-combatants and soldiers became blurred, the reasons for fighting were never quite clear beyond some lip service paid to fighting Communism, and the American people were confronted with the true horrors of combat in near real time and soon grew a distaste for war. This left the men and women fighting deep in the jungles of Vietnam with little to call theirs beyond the physical and emotional scars inherit to men who have tasted battle. They came home — their spirits and bodies broken — to a public who not only did not understand them and their sacrifices but hated them for answering the call to duty. This left many of the returning veterans in a strange purgatory; searching for a symbol to rally around, to help ease the pain of their sacrifices, and to help bring closure. This symbol finally came with the placing of the Vietnam War Memorial on the National Mall.

Finally there was a means with which to put the cost of the war into real, concrete form; a large gash on the nation’s face. The names carved into its obsidian face placing the conflict in human terms. The polished stone acting almost as a mirror, allowing the viewer to peer deep into the abyss and come to terms with whatever demons that his memory may be harboring. It is a striking thing.

Living near Washington, DC, as I do, I’m fortunate to be able to travel to the National Mall when the mood suits me. The Vietnam War Memorial is hard to miss and it is very near the other attractions. It was over this past weekend that I decided to venture into our Nation’s capital for to take in the various Smithsonian museums that line the grassy fields of the Mall. As I walked through an exhibit at the American History Museum chronicling the story of the American Fighting Man, I was brought nearly to tears by the pieces from the Vietnam War and the Memorial. I was so disturbed that I quickly moved on; and rounded the corner to be instantly confronted by the grotesque hulk of a twisted girder from the World Trade Center.

My friend (a fellow VMI Alumnus) and I quickly fell into a reverent silence; our minds transporting us instantly to that day in September. The memories of awakening to the news that a plane had collided the World Trade Center that morning, and then turning on the television just in time to watch the second plane impact the other tower in an explosion of fire, flame, and glass. I remembered being entranced by the news reports the rest of the morning as I sat in a classroom in sunny, Southern California while my countrymen rose to the occasion on the East Coast. I remembered the emotions, the anger, the rage that boiled within me that day and still does. I remember hearing, for the first time, the clarion bugle of Duty singing my name. And I was not alone. My friend felt the same thing, as did the other Americans in the gallery who had been old enough to understand the events of that day.

And that was historical. It was a turning point in our history. We soon became embroiled in two wars that seem to lose their meaning as the day drag on, fighting for peoples who do not want our help, and shedding American blood while civilians back home protest the supposed evils of the American soldier. But, as I talk to my Brother Rats, fellow VMI Alumni, soldier, sailors, airmen, Marines, coast guardsmen, and other fellow proud Americans, the more and more clearly that those two towers will be my generation’s rallying flag. They are our symbol.

The aftermath of the collision with the WTC

Burdening My Generation

A Message for America’s Young‬‏ – YouTube.

 

Amidst the talk of all of the budget and national debt controversies currently saddling our national discourse during the last few months, it seems that the larger picture has been lost amongst the various political factions. With the Democratic Party trying their best to preserve unsustainable public welfare programs and the Republican Party doing what they can to keep tax rates unreasonably low, the fact that the mistakes of today won’t be paid by the politicians and current majority of the populace has been buried. It will not be my parents’ generation who will be paying off our current debt, numbered north of fourteen trillion dollars.

It’s this debt which will cripple my children and my children’s children. It’s this debt that will force my generation to enact draconian austerity measures that would make the current crop of Leftist politicians and mouthpieces blanche. And let us not even speak of the horrors a double-dip recession and/or depression would bring.

But with the majority of those in power seemingly all too happy to kick the proverbial can, it will fall upon those of my generation who are just now beginning to venture out into the world. It will be us who will have to make the hard decisions about our sovereign debt and whether or not we can afford to continue providing hand-outs to our parents’ generation during the sunset of their lives. It will be us who will have to deal with conflicts from the global economic collapse.

But all is not darkness. I have met and had the honor to work with many exceptional individuals amongst my peers and I am confident that we will be able to surmount the hurdles that will be thrown at us. Americans have faced hardship before and prospered, and I have no reason to believe that we won’t be able to do so again.

Visions of the Moon‬‏

YouTube – ‪JFK – We choose to go to the Moon, full length‬‏.

JFK was many things, but above all he was a visionary who could see the amazing things that America was capable of and inspire his fellow Americans to reach out and earn them. As I watched the final shuttle launch in our systems engineering lab at NASA GSFC today, I could feel the sorrow well up inside me as I watched the end of an era. The only question now is: Who will be our next JFK? Who will guide us into the new, glorious tomorrow where only the scope and breadth of our imaginations will limit the heights of our achievements.

For Strength!

ObamaGuinness

Obama revisits his Irish roots – The Globe and Mail.

While I am a man that has not met a beer that I didn’t like; it appears that my Commander-in-Chief is not. Whether it be a stout, a lager, a pilsner, an ale, a porter, or a member of any of hops and barley family, I will drink it. My criteria for a good beer being that it must 1) be colder than room temperature and 2) be affordable; beyond that I’m an easy man to please. ‘Tis true though that the Guin’ is an acquired taste; but this picture still causes me to chuckle.

While the president’s and my own choices in malty refreshment might differ, I did like his one comment printed below:

“My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas.”

I must offer a tip of my hat to a fellow Guinness and Aviation enthusiast: Neptunus Lex.

We’re Losing The Space Race Again

XKCD-65Years

via xkcd: 65 Years.

The alternate text for the image:

The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space–each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.

As I’ve said before, we must continue our exploration of space. All of our accomplishments here on earth come to naught if we don’t reach out and expand the grasp of the human race. One day, a few billion years hence, our sun will engulf our terrestrial orb and life will cease. When that day comes, we cannot allow Homo sapiens sapiens to go quietly into that dark night, we must have solidified a beachhead on multiple other worlds. But sadly, it seems we’re stuck in our short-sighted, “rational,” political game. If only we could achieve world peace and learn to work together.

Also, for those with technical inclinations in need of a good chuckle, XKCD always delivers.

The Immortal 600

A few days ago, I recounted the story of my Great-Great-Great Uncle, Ozniah Brumley, and his involvement as a member of the Immortal 600. Well, I’ve stumbled upon some more information concerning them, and felt I should pass it along. The first is an account of their experiences under fire in Charleston, as told by 1st Lieutenant George Finley of the 56th Virginia Infantry. The second is a link to the website of the local detachment of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Georgia who have championed the cause of the Immortals. The third is a long history of the Immortal 600 from HistoryNet. And last but not least are three books: one which list the entire roster of the Immortals and two which tell the tale of the Immortals. They are shown below:

The Biographical Roster of the Immortal 600

The Immortal 600: A Story of Cruelty to Confederate Prisoners of War

Immortal Captives: The Story of Confederate Officers and the United States Prisoner of War Policy

The least we can do, is to keep the memory of these brave men alive. The Civil War is a great wound upon our nation’s history, with brother exacting vengeance upon brother. Through our understanding of the War’s history and its atrocities, we can prevent another such conflict from ever arising.

Captain Ozniah R. Brumley

As many Americans of Scots-Irish or German heritage, I have ancestors who fought in the War of Northern Aggression American Civil War. And like many of my fellow Southerners, I take great interest in my great grandfathers and great uncles who fought for the Confederate States of America. But unlike most of my fellow Southerners, I have ancestors who fought for the Union, and interestingly enough, fought against my Souther ancestors. My father’s side of the family hail from Pennsylvania and Indiana. Those from Pennsylvania served as officers in the Pennsylvania cavalry at Gettysburg; but I’ll reserve the tales of my Yankee ancestry for another day.

Instead, during the sesquicentennial of the War Between the States, I would rather tell the tale of my ancestors who wore the Confederate Gray. Though I was born in Chicago and grew up in Los Angeles, I have been traveling back to the ancestral homeland of my mother’s family in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, since I was but a small babe. As such, I have always felt a deep connection to my Southern heritage and the Southern cause. Those feelings were only intensified by my attending that most quintessential of Southern schools. Because of this, I’ve cultivated a keen interest in the exploits of my family throughout American history, specifically those who went to war to defend the homeland they loved and performed their duty, as they understood it. This interest has turned up some very interesting stories throughout the years as I research my lineage.

None of these stories are quite as interesting or tragic as that of my Great-Great-Great-Uncle Ozniah R. Brumley, Captain, B Company, 20th North Carolina Infantry, CSA. Captain Brumley enlisted on 21 April 1961 along with his two brothers at the ripe, old age of twenty-two. He was made a sergeant in B Company of the 20th North Carolina Infantry, the Cabarrus Guards. Unfortunately, tragedy would follow the Brumleys throughout their campaigning under the command of Robert Edward Lee as only the man who later became my great-great-great-grandfather would live to return to his native soil. One of his brothers would die in a hospital in Richmond of causes unknown and his other brother, Ozniah, would meet death as a prisoner of war.

Ozniah served honorably in the campaigns of the  Army of Northern Virginia. He must have been at least a decent soldier as he received a battlefield commission on 26 April 1862, barely a year after his enlistment. He was even promoted to 1st Lieutenant and later Captain. Sadly, fate would strike a cruel blow on 1 July 1863 as that was the day that Ozniah was captured at Gettysburg. As a prisoner, he would spend the rest of the war being starved and tortured by Yankees bent on vengeance for purported war crimes committed against Union prisoners at Confederate prisons at Andersonville and Salisbury.

Though his existence was hellish, it was in captivity that Captain Brumley would leave his mark upon American history. It was in captivity that he would serve as a member of the Immortal 600.

On 20 August 1864, Ozniah was moved to Morris Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. Here, he and 599 other Confederate soldiers would be used as human shields by the Union in an attempt to silence the Confederate batteries at Fort Sumter. Here, he would endure forty-five days of Confederate shelling and starvation rations. After suffering in Charleston, the Immortal 600 were shipped to Fort Pulaski in Georgia to spend the Winter of 1864-1865 in the cold, cramped casements of the fort. They were also starved, subsisting on a ration of cornmeal and pickles. It was here at Fort Pulaski that my Great-Great-Great-Uncle took his final post, finally succumbing to disease and starvation on 4 March 1865, only a month before the end of the war. He is buried somewhere on the grounds of Fort Pulaski, alongside his other countrymen who did their duty, as they understood it, to last.

Man’s Next Small Step

With NASA’s space shuttle program drawing to a close and the planned moon missions cancelled, the future of manned space flight is unclear. The space program has long been one of America’s most cherished projects; but we’ve long lacked the will to use the program properly. Which is quite ironic, given the fact that our country was founded by explorers and radical thinkers.

Over forty years ago, a humble man from Ohio set his boot onto the moon. It was a culmination of a decade of hard work that had been fraught with danger and had used every resource our country could provide. In the process some of the most brilliant minds in the world used all of the technology available to them — more often than not, inventing what they needed as they went — to accomplish the goals that had been laid out by a young, visionary president, who embodied all of the hope of a generation. Those goals were to go where no man had gone before, and then to return safely to tell the tale. So, after a decade of design errors, exploding rockets, near-catastrophic disasters, and the loss of three astronauts, two men from the United States became the first humans to tread upon extraterrestrial soil.

But almost as soon as the celebrations had ended, the American public lost interest. Their focus turned to a conflict in Southeast Asia that had taken a turn for the worst, spilling much American blood with little to show for it. Their concerns about economic uncertainty due to stagnation and recession. When tragedy struck in April of 1970, the public’s eyes were again focused on the space program, but this time they were more concerned for the fate of their heroes risking all in the heavens above. It was Apollo 13, and later the Challenger and Columbia disasters, which would bring home the dangers inherent in exploring uncharted territory. And these would prove trying to America at large. When the only time they were reminded of the existence of the space program was when lives were lost or costly mistakes were made, the general public began to question just how practical the expenditure of money was on spaceflight. And so NASA’s budget was slowly eroded, and it’s future plans cancelled one by one.

So now we’re left with the prospect of once again being trapped earthbound, with the only countries capable of sending a man into space being Russia or China. But how do we get ourselves out of this mess? At risk of over-simplifying the issue, the best way to return to space is to commercialize low-earth orbit and then letting NASA reclaim it’s rightful position as the organization dedicated to the exploration of outer space, instead of letting it languish in its current state. By providing incentives, the government can help the private sector find an inexpensive, reliable, and hassle-free route into space. And let us not kid ourselves, private industry is the only group capable of reaching that particular end state, as their necessity to turn a profit requires that that they keep costs low and not kill customers. Also, with NASA freed to pour all of it’s resources into exploration and not commercial interests (i.e. putting communications satellites into orbit), it can once again focus on flying to the moon and then onto mars.

That exploration won’t be easy, though. There will be risks, and lives will be lost, but that is just the nature of the beast. It will also require visionaries and brilliant minds to sort out the problems inherent in space travel. But most of all, it will require the political will and determination of the American people to accept the loss of life and expense of capital in order to venture into the far depths of space. The only way to do that is to inspire them to turn their gaze skyward and to dream like their forefathers did.