You never get used to it, and you can never quite be prepared for it. As a Green Beret who’s been on multiple combat deployments and made the move into military contracting as did most of my buddies, I’ve probably been on the receiving end of the call more than most…but one is more than anyone my age should ever receive.
The latest call came on December 27th, 2013 as I was watching cartoons with my son. It actually started as an email; the team lead (supervisor) from my latest 5-month stint in Afghanistan sent me an email asking for my phone number at home, saying it was urgent that he speak with me. Less than 5 minutes after emailing him back with my contact info, my home phone rang.
The bonds forged in misery and war are stronger than any metal known to man, and the bond that I had formed with Dave, an Air Force Captain, during my last trip to Afghanistan was one of the strongest I’ve ever had. The term “bromance” comes to mind, and is pretty much on the mark for a description of our trip.
Whether you’re running outside the wire on missions and getting into gunfights every day or rotting on a base doing logistics work, deployed time is pretty rough. You’re always tired, stressed, overworked and waiting to go home, so whatever you can do to pass the time has to be enough to keep your sanity.
For Dave and I it was long, marathon talk sessions about everything under the sun. He was a former Mormon who left the Mormon Church but remained extremely spiritual and Godly; I, a Freemason who took great interest in any religion and love speaking with anyone who knows more about religion or a particular text than me.
He was a good old boy, raised in the countryside of Idaho hunting, fishing, and attending Church with his family; being a Texas boy myself we couldn’t have had any more to talk about, spending long hours talking about family values, the degradation of society and moral values, and how corrupt politicians are ruining our country.
He was an athlete, playing football all the way to a starting position on the Air Force Academy team, a massive man in the kind of shape that people injure themselves trying to attain. Even though he towered over me and could have easily picked me up and torn me in half (and I’m 5’10, 220 lbs of running 3 miles and day and lifting weights every afternoon, not exactly a toothpick), the words “gentle giant” come to mind whenever I think about Dave.
I actually remembered reading about it in the news, but writing it off as no possible chance one of our guys had been there. VBIED (car bomb) in downtown Kabul exploding next to a NATO convoy and killing 3, wounding several more. There was no reason for Dave and my guys to be in downtown Kabul on that day, so I didn’t really pay it any mind. In all honesty that’s a daily occurrence in Kabul these days, even though it’s fallen away from most news outlets.
So when my former team lead started with the bad news, I was completely blindsided, just like every other time that I’ve been on the receiving side of that call. They called me first because Dave and I had grown so close over the duration of my trip, and it was no secret we were about as close as two hetero guys can possibly get.
I traced back the timeline after I hung up the phone, and immediately began scouring the Internet for more information. It turns out the explosion wasn’t in downtown Kabul, but a half-mile away from Camp Phoenix, a large American logistical base in Kabul. My mind was racing; I went back to my email…..and to the chain of emails Dave and I had been exchanging the day before.
I had several boxes that I couldn’t carry back with me, and because the base Dave and I had been on was pretty small, we didn’t have our own post office. Dave had agreed to ship my boxes out of Camp Phoenix for me, and the last email was telling me that he had shipped them out and would be heading back to our base in an hour.
Not only had we been talking back and forth via email just before he was killed, but I was thanking him for doing me the favor of mailing my boxes for me. From a guy who Dave used to make fun of for being stubborn and never asking for help, that cuts pretty deep.
I haven’t cried yet, but I know it’s coming. It took me until this afternoon to even tell my wife what was bothering me and what the phone call was about. In the typical fashion of a guy who’s been on the receiving end of that phone call too many times for my short life, I retreated inside myself, putting up the infamous Wall that Pink Floyd sung about so fondly.
Sitting with my son, it’s all I can do to hope that he never has to get the news, that one of the greatest human beings he’s ever known has left this world far too young. I hope he never has to feel that pain of understanding he’ll never have a beer with one of the men he thinks most highly of, and will never share another long conversation and a laugh.
I hope all of this, but I know he will; just as I and every other man in his family, I know he’ll be given the call to serve his country and wear a uniform one day, and just like me, I know he’ll answer, no matter what I say. He’ll never understand the impact of that phone call until he answers the first one himself, and nothing daddy will say can make him understand it any faster.
I’m still reeling from the call I received last night, but more than selfish pity for myself, I’m saddened that the world has lost one of it’s greatest inhabitants I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot of great people in my time. I don’t really even know which way is up right now, because a God or a world that would take a man like Dave just doesn’t make any sense to me.
The only real comfort for me is knowing that if there is a better place than this, Dave is up there smiling….even if South Park is right and heaven is full of Mormons.
The world just lost a hell of a great man, but hopefully he’ll be back in another form soon.
Rest In Peace, Captain David Lyon, I miss you already Brother.
Tune in to hear RPL talk with host Bob Burns in Your Afternoon on 1400 am WOND in New Jersey to talk about his favorite military charity USA Cares, life as a Green Beret, being back in Afghanistan and Love Me When I’m Gone.
Or perhaps the more popular question these days is “why are we the worlds police?” It’s a very valid argument if you have the misfortune of getting all of your news from American media, especially if you only follow one source of news for everything.
But if you are one of the small number who’s figured out their game and goes to other sources of news from around the world or great intelligence analysts like Stratfor and other private subscription-based intelligence services, you know what you get from American media is severely lacking in the global perspective, and probably already have an idea about what this article will contain.
For the rest of you, I’d ask you to step back for a moment and take a view at the bigger picture. Sure hippies and protestors love to say that it’s because we’re war mongering psychopaths (even though as long as humans have recorded history there have been wars, large countries have taken over small countries, and in the past those countries usually raped the conquered literally and figuratively, while we allowed Iraq to give their oil exploration rights to China), but that’s not quite accurate.
From another standpoint, we can do what is usually great advice when talking about politics and/or government and “follow the money.” It is true that wars and any type of military or governmental incursion take money, lots of money, and while the military is great at certain things, there are an awful lot of jobs they can’t facilitate efficiently or well, which is why private contracting companies take over and stand to reap the benefits of any type of intervention into another country.
This seems to be another major point today, with the term “military industrial complex” coming up over and over, used to explain everything from 9/11 to the war in Iraq. The claims that industrialists and private companies influence our politicians to begin wars or step into other peoples incursions has so many rabbit holes, assumptions and connections that I don’t have the capacity to even begin to fully fathom, so I’ll go with what I know and have seen and experienced first-hand.
While the ground truth may be one or a combination of these things, there are two factors which I know greatly influence our role as the world’s police: Firstly, stability, and motives which are based purely on our own well being. Secondly, because it’s our job as a global superpower, and the same country who decries us for sticking our nose where it doesn’t belong today will scream in anger and blame us for not stepping in when it’s their neck on the chopping block.
So let’s begin with stability. I spent my life traveling, the son of a Navy pilot gone commercial who had grown up in Germany with Grandpa stationed there after WWII and been stationed in Italy with the Navy. My parents were world travelers, and as such my passport stamps were already full before I was in middle school.
As a world traveler, I got to see many perspectives that most Americans don’t see up close. Most Americans who’ve never left our own borders only know of the world what they’ve seen on television or in the movies, and don’t really understand what the real world is like.
As a great man once quoted, “you can never truly know a land until you’ve smelled it’s dirt,” meaning that no matter how many books you read, intelligence reports you read or shows you watch, you don’t know anything until you have boots on ground experience. This goes for politicians, citizens, and Generals alike.
A very funny thing has been happening to me lately; I’ve had an inordinate amount of friends contacting me asking, “did you know we have military in Africa now?” I usually laugh a little bit and explain that if they’d read my book “Love Me When I’m Gone” they’d know we’ve had Special Forces in Africa as long as Afghanistan. But why?
To an outsider who can’t use higher order thinking, consider knock on effects, or understand the world, stability may not seem like a very important issue, but in the world of global politics and security, it’s perhaps the most important issue. Why do we send money to third world nations who seem to hate us and are rife with corruption? Stability. Why do we spend money building up their infrastructure? Stability. Why do we have Special Forces training their governments and armies? Stability. And if they get too out of hand why to we send Special Forces to help overthrow their government? Stability.
So if you are an American who’s never left our borders or traveled too much outside of the country, especially the third world nations, I want you to do a quick mental checklist of everything you’d need to get around here in the US running errands; let’s say you have to drive to the grocery store, buy groceries, maybe go to the bank and withdraw/deposit cash, take your kids to the doctor for a checkup, and later that night have sitter come watch the kids while you meet friends for a drink. Better yet, what if you were planning a trip across the border, to either Canada or Mexico?
If you’re thinking about all of these things in terms of the United States of America, there is one common theme that you’d need for everything listed above: a form of governmental identification. This is why I see the voter ID laws as ridiculous, as you couldn’t do any of those listed above (if using a credit/debit card or food stamps like most of the country) without some form of ID, yet it’s racist if we require it for one of the most sacred rights of an American citizen in voting? That’s an argument for another article entirely, so let’s bring it back and imagine you were embarking on the second option to go across the border. In this case you’d need not only a drivers license, but you’d also need a passport in hand.
As a guy who can speak with experience about North Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, and many places in between, I can tell you that’s not the case for a large part of the world. Not only do you not need an ID to drive or travel in many of these places, but you couldn’t use a credit card even if you wanted to. Even in the European Union now, a group of some of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, once you’re within the EU borders, you can travel freely without having to show your passport.
But why is this so important? It is one of the factors important in determining stability. Another very important factor to be considered is corruption. Sure our government and politicians are just as corrupt as any others around the world, if not more so, but the brightside (if you can call it that) is that our politicians are so greedy and enjoy such a lavish lifestyle that their price tags are very high. That’s not so everywhere in the world were cost of living is only a tiny fraction of what it is here in the USA, and while a politician here may require a multi-million dollar bribe (oh, sorry, “campaign contribution”), a local governor in Mali, Niger or Djibouti may only require a few thousand.
What’s another factor in this stability equation we’re looking at? Infrastructure. If a country doesn’t have the infrastructure to track it’s own borders, people, transactions and criminals, it’s basically an open market. If they don’t have adequate border police, anyone with a determination can come into their country. If they don’t have the infrastructure to monitor criminals and jails, someone can easily pay off a guard and walk free. If they don’t have an adequate army, they have no way to control bad guys setting up camp in their back yard.
And that’s what stability all boils down to. When you combine all of the factors listed above into one country or area, you have what we call an “off the grid” scenario, where a bad guy can disappear, operate completely unmonitored, unchecked and free to roam and do as he pleases.
Although it was popularized in the best selling novel by Tom Clancy and subsequent movie starring Harrison Ford “Patriot Games,” many Americans still don’t understand just how big the Sahara desert is in North Africa, and just how many terrorist training camps are set up there.
So you take all of the stability factors above, put together with any cop show you’ve watched and think about how easy you would be to find, let’s say if you murder someone while out and about running your errands.
They could track your vehicle by the license plates or speed pass tags on your car and cameras along all the highways. They could track your transactions via credit, debit, or ATM transactions to follow where you are. They can track your GPS location via you phone (yes, even if it’s off and battery is removed), and they can find you via any GPS unit in your car. If you get pulled over without a drivers license and fit a description they’re looking for you just bought yourself a ticket straight to jail….but somehow you don’t need one to vote, still mind boggling.
Now let’s look at a country in North Africa, and we’ll go through the steps of how you would get into a country to start a terrorist training camp “off the grid.” I’m not giving anything away here or giving them any new ideas; as a Green Beret who operated in North Africa, I can tell you this was their Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), and is available via open-source channels and simple connect-the-dots.
The border police are understaffed and underpaid (if there at all), so they have two options: just make a run for the border and drive across where you know it’s unguarded, or play it safe and pay off someone in advance to look the other way when you come across.
Pay off the local governor and/or police chief of the area that you’re going to operate, possibly a few military officials, and ensure that nobody comes in the direction where you’ll set up camp, and if they do it’s just another shallow grave in the desert for them.
Again you have to understand that many parts of the world don’t value human life as highly as we do in America. You can call me crazy for saying this, but it’s based on real personal experience, and is why Americans line up and donate more money around the world to relief causes than any other country, many times over.
Once you’re in the country, you don’t need a drivers license to get around, you only use cash to buy supplies, and the government doesn’t have any real way to track you via satellite imagery, cell phone or GPS tracking, highly skilled intelligence analysts or cameras around the country. That is, of course, unless America or another first world country concerned with their own security provides it.
Again, if you think that I’m crazy and just making up a nightmare scenario, consider Afghanistan. This is how the Taliban and Al Qaeda set up and operated there, and are currently operating in the remote Waziristan regions of Pakistan, as well as the Sahara desert, Yemen, and other locations around Africa and the globe (especially growing now in the islands of Southeast Asia).
To the average person it may seem like an easy solution; just send drones over the entire desert and hunt each of them down. Do a quick Google search to see just how big the Sahara desert is, then understand their are Bedouins who have lived out there for centuries and we can’t just kill indiscriminately, and you’ll start to get an understanding of why that sounds much easier than it is.
So now let’s move into my second point: the expectation of the rest of the world that we’ll be there to protect them. Think of America as your Big Brother (funny enough that it’s our own description of our government). You and your big brother may not get along; although you love each other, you probably fight all the time, with him usually beating you up and subjecting you to humiliation and wedgies.
But while your big brother beats up on you or may not let you sit at the cool table with him and his friends at lunch or the mall, you still expect him to help you if you get in over your head and get jumped or beat up by other people at school. He’s your big brother, and it’s expected that he will help you rather than laugh and point. If he doesn’t help you, you’ll harbor a greater grudge against him than even the kids who beat you up.
That’s how the world sees us. Even the countries in the Middle and Far East who love to badmouth us in the public eye (see Syria, Egypt, etc), they still expect us to help when the going gets tough. Sure, there are other large countries around with the ability, but the world knows that Russia and China couldn’t care less about other countries unless it serves their economic interest, so America, whether we like it or not, are the de facto big brothers, and world police.
So now let’s focus on the textbook example of this, Syria, and what is going on in the world today, and why we’ll see long-term consequences of our inaction there for generations to come.
We had a prime opportunity to step in early and handle the situation, at least offer some major assistance, but due to our own political mess and spineless politicians focusing on political theatre, did nothing, or very little. The people there are being slaughtered by their own government, and while we’ve stepped into similar situations in the past, the administration chose the route to sit this one out, and only sent MRE’s at their expiration date as our assistance.
To cover their own rear ends, the politicians who chose inaction have let a huge smokescreen fly across the American media to make them look like the good guys, with the current news bytes showing Al Qaeda operating with the Free Syrian Army, and purporting that this is why we didn’t help.
Not so much. Al Qaeda only stepped in and took hold there because this big brother sat on the sidelines doing nothing, and they stepped in to fill the void. Why is this so bad for us? Because regardless of reality, the world saw what was going on, and saw that while America stood on the sidelines, Al Qaeda stepped in to assist those who needed help, strengthening their view as freedom fighters to the Muslim world rather than terrorists.
Whether we like it or not, every child who survives this in Syria, whether the Free Syrian Army is victorious or not, will remember what happened. Every child who lost one or both parents, who was displaced to another country as refugees, who sees the horrors of a long and protracted civil war, will remember that while America stood by and watched, Al Qaeda stepped in to help, and that is where their allegiances will fall. If they’re ever asked to strap a bomb to their chest or attack an American convoy or embassy, this will be the deciding factor which may very well validate it in their minds as the right thing to do. And it’s our own fault.
There is a great quote from a movie, I can’t remember which one, but John Malkovich plays a domestic terrorist, using cover as an American businessman just returning from a trip in Asia to give this story. He tells someone over drinks (this is paraphased), “the reason the Japanese are so good is because of their outlook; American businessmen look only at the next quarter, while the Japanese look at the next quarter-century.”
Our current inability to focus on the long-term, big picture, global perspective is going to get the best of us if we don’t get it in check, economically, politically, militarily and in terms of our own future very soon. We are cutting off our own nose to spite our face, and I blame most of it on our own broken political system.
Sure, money is tight, but we still have politicians lobbying for massive pork and bridges to nowhere (remember the money that went to Kentucky as a result of the last “government shutdown” deal?), but we pretend we can’t afford to pay for our own global security and stability.
So the next time you hear a protester on the street or newscaster telling you we shouldn’t be the worlds police, I hope that you remember this article, and understand that whether we like it or not, that’s exactly what we are (and have to be).
Veteran’s Day is going to be a busy day….I’ll be on the Dennis Miller show to talk about my favorite veteran/active duty charity USA Cares , my favorite military publisher Tactical 16 , Love Me When I’m Gone and maybe even a bit about my new 3-book deal with Tactical 16! Tune in at:
If you haven’t heard the new Tactical 16 radio show with Silent Jay at their new home with Vets on Media yet, now’s the perfect time to tune in and have a listen.
I’ll be calling in from far away to talk with Silent J about their new home, my new home, Love Me When I’m Gone, USA Cares, my new deal with Tactical 16 and maybe even a few tidbits about my new fiction book to be released under Tactical 16.
You can check out the show and listen live 7-9 EST via the link below, or visit the Vets on Media website for archives.
Live Show Link
Tactical 16 radio website
Tune in Veteran’s Day 2013 (11/11/13) to hear former Green Beret and author of “Love Me When I’m Gone” Robert Patrick Lewis talk with former Presidential Candidate and Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain about life as a Green Beret fighting the Global War on Terror, his beloved Veteran and Soldier’s charity USA Cares, and his new fiction books to be released soon.
To find times and stations to tune in and hear the show, follow the link below to see them all:
Check out my appearance with Adam & James on their “Vets on Radio” show today. Adam and James are both combat veterans themselves, and we talked about my time in the military, basic training jokes, Love Me When I’m Gone, politics, military spending and USA Cares.
Check out my latest interview on the Man School Podcast with Caleb Bacon! We sat down to talk about Special Forces, my experiences in the military, Love Me When I’m Gone and dealing with PTSD.