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September 9, 2011
(Originally published on January 1, 2010, this post welcomed the second decade of the new millennium. It's republished today in observance of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and to mark the beginning of the second decade of "The Global War on Terror.")
...a story for the children. Forgive me, please, if the dialog seems overly simple.
Part one: 19100
Where were you at the beginning of the new millennium?
I was on duty - working the midnight shift in an office on an Air Force base in Ohio. Midnight came and went, and everything kept working just fine. As it turned out, we were Y2K compliant after all.
Okay - there was one minor glitch. The date on one official US Air Force web page we used in performance of our duties read January 1, 19100. What had gone wrong was obvious, but fortunately that date field was just a slick little stand-alone ap, overlooked in correcting any other bad code that really mattered.
But the generators kept running, planes didn't fall out of the sky, banks didn't fail, the stock markets didn't crash and the world kept going. The future was safe for our children.
And then they were very sad. This was their last day together:
Her friend wasn't from a military family, so she stayed right where she was. But we moved on to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, where shortly thereafter George Bush paid a surprise visit on September 11, 2001.
Part two: What's the Threatcon, Charlie?
Interesting times, those. We had been conducting an exercise there at the home of a big chunk of one third of America's triad, and every few hours for a few days prior to 9/11 we'd been getting exercise email messages on the Threatcon (or maybe it was Force Protection Con - we changed from the former to the latter around that time). "Exercise Threatcon Bravo", one would announce - indicating that for purposes of the exercise there was an elevated threat, and we would respond accordingly. "Exercise Threatcon Charlie", the next would declare - indicating increased threat, so we'd increase our security measures. Always at the bottom of each message was the real-world Threatcon, which was normal: business as usual. A human was sending out those messages, but it was very impressive, and very high-tech. On one level it was make-believe, but on another it was deadly serious business - a simulation, but very important practice, practice, practice, that ensured we were ready for anything.
That Tuesday morning, like most Americans, I watched planes fly into the World Trade Center on TV. Shortly afterward, the guy I shared an office with picked up the phone and called the Pentagon, but hung up before saying much, with a very concerned look on his face.
"What'd he say?" I asked. "He said, 'I've gotta get off the phone - the whole building just shook!' - and then he hung up," he replied.
Moments later we got another email update on the exercise Threatcon. The exercise was winding down as scheduled, so it read "Exercise Threatcon Alpha," indicating a reduced threat in the script for the war game at that point. The message, like all the many previous messages throughout the exercise, detailed the steps to be taken in response to the "pretend" threat level; in this case, not much. But there at the bottom was the REAL WORLD again - Actual Threatcon: Charlie.
The clock had struck 19100 once again.
Fortunately we hadn't rushed right out and taken down the plastic traffic cones and pink ribbons simulating actual barricades around our building keeping people from parking too close and thus protecting us from Tim McVeigh-style truck bombers - because later we got an email from someone a bit higher up in the food chain. We would disregard any and all such Threatcon messages from then on unless from him or someone higher. All protective measures would remain in place, but oh by the way, ENDEX.
We were going to have to get the hang of this "real world" stuff PDQ.
While all that was being sorted out, the President of the United States came, talked to some folks about some stuff, addressed the people of the United States via television ("The resolve of our great nation is being tested,' he concluded. "But make no mistake: We will show the world that we will pass this test. God bless."), and went.
On the walk back to Air Force One, a man with some authority over America's Strategic Bomber Fleet, in the true spirit of Curt LeMay, assured the Commander in Chief of America's Armed Forces in Time of War that he just needed to say the word - they were ready to go. He wasn't kidding - as part of that exercise they were, and they were fully capable of transforming a very large piece of real estate from something seemingly uninhabitable into something actually uninhabitable in a matter of hours. Years later, via the internet, I could find an actual photo of that moment in history, and recognize the spot where it was taken, and remember what they were talking about and pointing at...
Fortunately that rapid response wasn't executed. Within weeks the USA was at war in Afghanistan, but less emphatic methods were used... but on September 11th I went home wondering - like many Americans, I'm sure - what the kids had heard in school that day.
And what, exactly, I should tell them.
Part three: the children
The kids! My apologies - I digressed. This is a tale of children, for children. So back to the happy photo:
In fact, just the other day my daughter told me her friend was very sad again.
"What's wrong?" I asked, well prepared to offer sound fatherly advice.
"Her husband is going to Afghanistan." She replied.
She'd married a Marine, you see. They aren't kids anymore, after all.
But "my", I thought to myself, "they sure do grow up fast. And what a very high-speed decade it's been."
Posted by Greyhawk / September 9, 2011 2:34 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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