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Note: this entry, originally from November 2003, is re-posted as part of Mudville's Memorial Day 2008 salute to the fallen.
Soldier, rest! thy warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking;
Dream of battled fields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.
-- Sir Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake
I have been thinking about the American Warrior Caste for a long time, now. The Warrior Caste is made up of families that serve in the military for generations.That post, coupled with the fact that my own son will turn 18 next month, has had me pondering the issue for the past week. It's one of those things we're all aware of, but the realization that the next generation of my family will soon be able to make his own decision (hopefully not without some input from me) about service was at the forefront of my mind when I read this story from Stars and Stripes, regarding a son of a Command Sergeant Major (the highest Enlisted rank in a unit) serving in Iraq with his father:
So why did I serve? Why does a family continually have children that decide to serve in the military?
I think we can definitely dismiss the case for riches and wealth. Some liberals would like to believe that we were "Born to Kill" (think Full Metal Jacket). That's not it either. And while I definitely took advantage of the college benefits, that's not the motivation.
Almost all of us military folks bleed red, white and blue. We tear up when the Star Spangled Banner is played because we imagine Francis Scott Key captured and desperate, hoping to see his beloved flag flying. We tell people at the ball park to take their hats off during the national anthem.
We defend our country no matter who is in the White House. We suffer when the leadership is poor and we thrive when the leader ship is good.
But how does a family serve for generations?
The reason is that there is a feeling of obligation for the benefit of living in a country built on ideas. That we understand that freedom is not for free. That somebody has to defend it. And we are actually willing to do it.
GIESSEN, Germany - When Jonathan Falaniko was training to be a combat engineer at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., several sergeants made a point of stopping by to see the 20-year-old recruit.There's more, and the more you read the more proud you may be to be an American. Then please take a minute and pray for strength and recovery for the Falaniko family, if you would.
They wanted to meet him and welcome him into the fold. Their chats were often casual, but formality figured into the mix as well. It had to be that way, because his father, who was in Iraq, would have it no other way.
Encouragement was one thing. Favoritism was something else.
"I realize that you get a lot of respect being the man you are," Jonathan wrote in a July 24 letter to his dad, the command sergeant major of the 1st Armored Division Engineer Brigade.
He penned the note at 9:30 p.m., a precious time of the day for young recruits like Jonathan Falaniko.
"I realize what you've done [for] your soldiers and how you [have] earned their respect," Jonathan continued. "In my opinion, I think they respect you because you're a hard man [who] takes his job seriously, [and] not because of your rank. I've met a lot of sergeants here and they've told me stories about you. ...
"I wonder what it's like being [a soldier] under you. I've never seen you in action at work, and I think it'll be weird calling you a "sergeant major" on the job, instead of "Dad," but that's [the] Army values that I have to show. I hope I'll be able to see you in uniform, again, before you retire."
In fact, the Army private did get to see his father in uniform - and in action, though it was ever so brief.
On the morning of Oct. 27, a month after Pvt. Jonathan Falaniko arrived in Iraq, a rocket-propelled grenade killed him just after he and several other engineers cleared two improvised explosive devices along a Baghdad road. The RPG, which pierced the engineers' cargo Humvee, wounded five other soldiers.
Command Sgt. Maj. Ioakimo Falaniko was in the division's tactical operations center at the time of the attack, but didn't know his son was on that particular mission. About an hour later, he knew that his son had been killed. Though they had met a couple of times since Jonathan's arrival, neither was intimate with the other's daily routine. Protocol, location and the pace of activity kept contact to a minimum.
"We talked about it," the father said of dying in combat, recalling one of the last conversations the two had. "I knew the danger of our mission. I told him, "Don"t lose focus of why we are here.""
Despite losing his son, Falaniko, 49, hasn't lost his focus.
The 27-year veteran escorted his son's body back to the United States for burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The service was attended by at least eight general officers and more than 20 sergeants major. Falaniko read excerpts from some of his son's letters, written before Jonathan was assigned to Alpha Company, 70th Engineer Battalion at Fort Riley, Kan.
"I don't think there was a dry eye in the place," recalled Command Sgt. Maj. Michael L. Gravens, U.S. Army Europe's senior enlisted soldier.
Falaniko is now back at his brigade headquarters in Giessen, Germany, but he plans to return to Iraq after Thanksgiving. His heart may be "broken," he said, but his spirit remains intact.
Returning to Iraq, Falaniko said, "is part of the healing process for me. I need to get back in the groove. I need to go back there and do my job."
Senior leaders up and down the chain of command have told him that isn't necessary, offering to transfer him and his family to wherever they want to go. Falaniko knows they mean well, but he still wants to rejoin his unit.
And re-read Blackfive's words on the topic of how such families can persevere:
The Warrior Caste serves for generations because it has deep faith. Faith that your leaders won't send you to the far corners of the earth to do wrong. Faith that your fellow citizens will care for your well-being, keeping you equipped and fed. Faith that our Founding Fathers were right in that fighting for freedom is worth dying for. Faith in your fellow soldiers.I'll not even pretend to compare my thoughts and feelings to those experienced by CSM Falaniko. But sometime in the next few weeks my son, who has already spent his entire life in and around military installations, will register for the selective service. He turns a corner in life and begins to enter a world where he is his own man, a man of free will, responsible ultimately for himself. A world far from peaceful, with unfortunate need for a warrior caste.
"Faith that your fellow citizens will care..." indeed. We will see this thing through to it's conclusion together, won't we America?
"We talked about it," the father said of dying in combat, recalling one of the last conversations the two had. "I knew the danger of our mission. I told him, "Don't lose focus of why we are here...""And the rest of us should strive to do no less.
Falaniko, the senior enlisted soldier for the roughly 4,500 engineers in and around Baghdad, was there for his son when the private flew into the Iraqi capital on Sept. 28. Bear hugs were exchanged, and at some point the son began to address the father as "sergeant major," but not before he made the following pledge: "Dad, I will try my best not to disappoint you."
Now, it's the father who doesn't want to disappoint his late son.
(Original post 2003-11-22 11:48:08)
He has my prayers, and what a good young man he was. Didn't shirk his duty, and his father WAS there for him, all the way. What a sad, but uplifting story.Posted by Cricket at November 24, 2003 10:52 AM
There is a world of people out there that won't understand this, unfortunately. Very good post.Posted by JB at November 25, 2003 12:51 AM
I got here from Blackfive. I just wanted to say thanks for posting this.Posted by Harvey at November 25, 2003 10:14 AM
Some years ago, a friend of mine (ex-USAF) remarked to me (ex Infantry) that, at a party, it takes about fourteen seconds to spot the veterans, and who not to bother with.
What is it?
I went to a military funeral for Lt. James G. Aubrey USAF and eighteen of his brothers. The attendees were seated in two blocks of chairs, next of kin in the front rows. I noted five other uniforms in the front row of each block. That's almost one-third of the Fallen who had immediate kin serving. My father was not in uniform, having gotten out in 1946. Ditto my uncle.
What is it?
It's different when it's your child. Your own flesh and blood! It's one thing when it is you that is the one taking the risks, quite another when it is your offspring!
I found myself besieged by questions. Will he make the grade? Can he pass muster? Will he stand tall and walk the walk? Did he receive enough moral character and fibre from his Mother and I? Did we raise him to make his own way through his own merit and strength well enough? Does he have the strength of mind to make the quick decisions and remain focussed to keep himself and his buddies alive? And on and on!
Then you see them at their graduation from Boot and all the self-doubt of THEIR decision evaporates in an intense feeling of pride. You notice that first meritorious stripe and half your fears go away in an instant. You know after talking for only a short time that he has become a man. Not only a man but his own man! It is amazing the feelings that hit you when you watch that graduation parade and see the bearing your young son has and the old familiar way has now become his way of carrying himself! Nothing will ever match that feeling! Even after multiple deployments you still remember that fresh faced young gun standing tall on the parade deck with fire in his eye and danger in his soul! You can still see that young one in the man that stands before you now with the seasoned eyes, rock hard body, and the quiet confidence. And you never hear from him one thing that makes you waver in your belief of his devotion or ability!
Fear of your son going into harm's way? Of course! What parent wouldn't want to shield their child from danger? There are simply some things in life that are out of your hands and it all comes down to trust. Trust in his training, trust in his Corps, and trust in him. If the Good Lord decides it's his time then so be it but by golly he will be getting a damn fine son, damn fine young man, and a hellova Marine!
It is young men and women like him that keep this country free. He honestly believes in what he is doing and believes in the corny stuff like God, Country, Duty, and Honor. Those are not simply words to him but more along the lines of his personal ideology. If he has to, God forbid, make the ultimate sacrifice, he will be doing so believing in the right stuff and doing his duty with pride! He is a man, a warrior, an American, a Marine!
And I will ever continue to be damn proud of him and love him with every fibre of my being!
Sorry to ramble but the Falaniko story got me to thinking about what I do and would feel about my son and his duty. God Bless the Falaniko family, the Sgt Major, all families of our troops, and all the men and women in uniform doing their duty for this country. It is a crying shame that there is so much evil in this world that we have to ask so much from our young men and women! Freedom isn't free!Posted by JarheadDad at November 25, 2003 07:39 PM
Hello, First of all I would like to thank every one for there support to the Falaniko Family. My name is Manu Mutia Te'o, I am a cousin of Private jonathan Falaniko and I have read all of this page and I would like to thank every one from the bottom of my heart just because of the support you have given to my family. Later this week I will post a poem that I am in the process of writting and I will let all of you see and hope all of you can get a grasp of what it was like the week of the funeral. It will be posted on Friday 6, 2004.
And once again thank you all.
I wish my Dad was as understanding as Jarhead Dad is heh
Thx for bringin this to light as well Gray. I didn't even know Black had written this (I'm still a new guy around here)
For me its nice to know that people out there still care. When i was first discharged after my accident I became disencanted with the world. I thought 90% of the population needed a wake up call and that the military was the underdog of the american public.
While now I know its not entirely true thanks to ppl like Gray, JarheadDad, Doc in the Box, Boots on the ground (kevin) and Black-5.
I feel more in touch. Its true though even when your out your never really out. I still think of my Squad as "my boys". Hell my replacement still contacts me in relation to them.
Comraderie. Its something experienced. Its something precious. Got to hang on to it.
I hope I can help somehow.Posted by BloodSpite at March 15, 2004 03:25 PM
Uh, I think Greyhawk wrote this...Posted by Dennis Ahern at March 15, 2004 06:44 PM
I am Jonathan's brother and I'd like to thank the ones who left their inputs on this page. To the people who knew Jon always remember how down to earth he was. He was never scared, he always kept it real. He was hard and always lived his life to the fullest. Respect and family values was his way of life. God bless and see when I get there brother. I love you man. Uso pride remains in the blood always. You're my hero aka Bolrok. Your memory will always be kept alive. Peace my brother!Posted by niko falaniko at April 13, 2004 08:47 AM
I work for CSM Falaniko as apart of his 40th ENG Battalion out of Baumholder, Germany. This great leader of ours has all the respect in the world. I will follow him anywhere. Sappers Lead THe Way!
My grandfather died a colonel in the Marines at Peleliu. My Dad, a 29 year career Navy fighter pilot, drove me to the Selective Service Office on my 18th birthday in 1970. I have been to Kosovo and Iraq.
We have faith in our Founding Fathers, in our military leaders, in right and wrong, and in the value of serivce to something bigger than ourselves.Posted by Hank Hayes at April 27, 2004 04:24 PM
It was good to revisit this excellent post today.
As the present family genealogist I know I can trace my family's participation, my two parents' lines, through every major war fought in America: Revolutionary, 1812, Indian Wars of 1820's, Civil War, Spanish War of 1898, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
After Vietnam my three children and my niece were born, before Beirut, and all of them are now 30 or older with no military service. They missed Desert Storm, Somalia and other conflicts just because of their age bracket. I and two cousins were the last to serve (Nam).
I don't think this means there's a special tradition in our family like the one discussed. I understand and honor those families who have career investments, generation after generation, and it's largely due to the coincidence in time that none of the four that follow in the generation of my children that there is no service. I feel quite confident that had there been a need at that critical age of 18 to 21 or so that all four would have conisdered volunteering.
My great-great paternal grandfather enlisted twice during the civil war. He very much opposed slavery. He was seriously wounded during each enlistment but was ready to continue service had the war not ended.
He and others in my family like him, as there's always been a tradition of enlisting, not being drafted, represent a different group of people. They're what I'd call the non-professional families, but they owe a great debt to those of the "warrior caste" who always provided the core of the military at any time. I know from talking to them and reading about them that they had great respect for the "warrior caste" and appreciated their importance.
It's largely due to chance that such a string of service can be mentioned, but there are many, many generations missing inbetween major wars. A professional military, like that represented by the warrior caste, is even more critical then. They've served in many cases to prevent wars from occurring and this is even more true today. While we've become more and more dependant on such marvelous families, even when our leaders overlooked their importance following the Cold War, I think it is important to remember their importance in these special times.
It's not only at times like this when we need the "warrior caste" to be there in Bosnia, Korea, Germany, and elsewhere, as well in the active theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan, but the time will come, soon I hope, when we will need them in peace.
We likely owe a good deal of respect for the "warrior caste" as much, if not more, in times of peace in this dangerous world of the near future. We all hope that it ends with Iraq and Afghanistan, but we've also become more realistic. Since many members of the "warrior caste" read this site, I hope they will accept my appreciation for their contributions. I dislike comparing them to my children's generation, which includes professional medical and teachers, as to who is "more important." That's not the issue.
Our police, our farmers, our office workers are all "important" to our country. But there is an especial importance to the families of the "warrior caste." They are the protectors of our liberties. I also have a tradition of educators in my family, and that's very important, but they cannot be free to teach without the protection of that critically important "warrior caste."
Thank you.Posted by Jerry at May 15, 2004 07:03 PM
America is the greatest nation on Earth because of men and women willing to pay the ultimate price to make sure we live free and away from danger. Thank You is not enough to say to these fine people, but that, plus moral support, and care packages sent to our troops in Iraq is what I can do at this time.Posted by Glenn Mitchell at May 17, 2004 04:15 AM
My grand nephew graduated from the Naval Academy on Friday. He is becoming a marine, not joining the navy as his father did. I am so proud of this young man. Academics is not his main thing, but he did them well and was 270th of 975. His character is outstanding. So much so that he received a Letter of Commendation from the Superintendent of the Academy; he was awarded a bronze eagle from his peers; he was Executive Officer of his brigade; and said he felt out of place sitting with the great scholars during the awards. This is a young man who had to fight very hard to get into the academy, was told he was in, then was bumped for a political appointee, but overcame that and got in. I'm expecting really big things of him, he has alread achieved so much. His father was a graduate of the academy, his grandfather was Navy, not of the academy. So he broke tradition and is going into the Marines, but a proud military tradition lives on.
PS I posted this by mistake at Mostly Cajun, but I'm so proud I'm still leaving it here, too. Hope you don't mind.
We served and we welcome service by others because we understand that our country's destiny is in our hands.A 911 that just talks is worse than worthless.Posted by Walter Wallis at June 1, 2004 02:10 AM
Virtually every able bodied male in our extended family has served this past 100 years. It's a brotherhood, it's understood, but cannot really be explained. We love our Country and our Comarades in Arms.
For God and Country,
VFW Post 9949Posted by Ben Bauman at June 1, 2004 07:24 PM
the falaniko story is very painful. jonathan was a very caring person. i had the opportunity and privilege of meeting jonathan. i spent 7 months in iraq myself and jonathan is the first person i knew that made the ultimate sacrifice. i can only imagine that his father is very proud and is thankful to have been blessed with the time he had with his son. he will always be in the prayers of everyone who truly understands the meaning of freedom and selfless service. i would like to apologize to the falaniko family for the hurt i already caused them. sincerely sgt valtierra. email@example.comPosted by SGT VALTIERRA at September 23, 2004 07:41 AM
My son is in the Army looks like he will make it a carrier as I did. My dad served during Korea. That makes him third generation Army. Thankfull he has made it back from Afganistan and Iraq (82d).Posted by John at May 26, 2006 08:06 AM
As always, GH ... thanks for defending me and mine.
May your son, no matter the trails he chooses to patrol in his life, continue to share your wisdom.
May your Grey turn to the bright white of a long and productive life, before your Mrs. receives your folded colors from this grateful nation.
And may she never have to receive your sons' colors ... but instead, after a long and fruitful life herself, go to stand watch with you in Heaven for the eventual arrival of all your children.