Spies Like Us

Washingtons-Secret-SixPeople are obsessed with spy stories: novels, movies, TV shows, you
name it.  I admit that I love spy stories, whether true or fiction, myself.   The real spy world, however, is not likely as glamorous or exciting as depicted in film and novels.  The real stories are sometimes boring and also terrifying.  Not an easy job, being a real life spy.

Revolutionary Spies


I recently read the book George Washington`s Secret Six and I found it fascinating.  We know so little about spies during the American Revolution–only that there were some and they were essential to success.  In a day and age when there was no such thing as airplanes, aerial photography, satellites or any other technology commonly used in intelligence operations today, information was very important and difficult to come by.  Soldiers typically did not know what to expect to encounter even 1 mile down the road, unless they had some solid source of intelligence operating behind enemy lines.

This book suffers from a lack of known information to some extent, for even today we still do not know the identities of some spies from the American Revolution.  George Washington himself did not know the identities of all his own spies, by design.  It was a very elaborate web they wove in order to assist General Washington as best they could.  Impressive for people who had no training in this area and who would have been hanged had they been discovered.

Nathan Hale is probably the most famous spy from this era, and he was the least successful.  He suffered from a lack of training and not enough planning.  He was willing, selfless and patriotic.  Courageous, but ill-equipped to carry out his mission, and he was therefore captured and hanged, as all spies were back then.  The same fate would later await well-respected British spymaster John Andre, in the wake of the Benedict Arnold scandal.

Spies Like Us


I love the Chevy Chase/Dan Akroyd movie from the 80s.  Though a comedy, it reflects a surprising truth that many spies are just like us.  Common, everyday people with normal, sometimes boring jobs.  The most successful spy described in “Secret Six” was a common, unassuming merchant whose true identity was not even discovered until the 20th century.  It is fascinating how this man went unnoticed even after the war was over and was never openly identified as the hero of the American Revolution that he was.

So many people have performed selfless acts and have been lost to history.  For every Washington, Lincoln, Patton, MacArthur and Roosevelt there are hundreds of thousands of nameless Americans who suffered, sacrificed and defended our liberty without ever asking for fame, notoriety, or repayment.  They are the unnamed heroes of our past.  It is why the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is such an

Tomb-of-Unknown-Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier During Winter Storm

important and awe-inspiring place.  Without those unknown soldiers, spies, airmen, shipmates and operatives, our free country would not have endured and would not exist as it does today.

Mind of the Military Man

I read something on the internet the other day that bothered me.  A US Blackhawk Preparing for Depaturecall for a renewal of the draft so that rich kids and troop supporters would have to fight our wars for us, rather than the volunteers who currently make up our military.

I am proud that I fought for America, and I volunteered.  As did every other member of our military, past and present, since the end of the Vietnam War.  I do not agree that we should ever bring back the draft for many reasons, but the most obvious reason is because we don`t need to.  We have a volunteer force that is more than capable of defending our great nation.

I never played organized football, but I`ve heard it said that it takes a special kind of person and mentality to enjoy that type of competition. To hit others and be hit in such a violent manner–you have to really love it to play and be successful at football.

The same can be said of the military.  To force someone to serve in the military would be the equivalent of forcing someone to play in the NFL, with exponentially greater consequences, potentially, since military members are asked to be ready to lay down their lives for their country.

For military men and women, it is a calling.  It is almost impossible to explain it to someone who did not serve or has no interest in serving.  It is a commonality of thought and motivation–something we find almost impossible to deny.  We HAVE to serve.  It is what we were born to do.  I cannot explain it any other way.

I wrote a short post on this previously that perhaps gives a little more perspective.  Please read my post on self-sacrifice for more insight into the American military mind and mentality.

Politics in America

One thing is for sure: politics in America has always been

Burr-vs-Hamilton
Duel: Alexander Hamilton vs Aaron Burr, 1804

contentious.  I watch the Trump/Sanders/Rubio/Cruz/Clinton coverage on a daily basis and see that people are very passionate about candidates and topics.  But what I think of is political contests of the past and how people don`t quite realize that politics has always encited passions and even violence.  Today`s contests are divisive, but not anything new to American history.

Let us consider first that assasinations are a tragic part of American history.  Everyone remembers Lincoln and Kennedy, but what about Garfield and McKinley, also killed by gunfire?  And then there are Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, who survived assasination attempts.

A presidential election in 1860 triggered the Civil War.  Another one, in 1800, led eventually to a duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton that took Hamilton`s life.

Politics in America has always led to passion and violence.  It is nothing new.  I only point this out because we are so caught up in the moment these days.  We tend to think of political contention as the beginning of Armageddon.  In reality, it is old news.  Business as usual in America.

That is not to say that politics are inconsequential.  I sometimes wonder what would have been different if Stephen Douglas had won the election of 1860 or if Richard Nixon had won in 1960.  How would history have been different?  When you look at the election results from those years, you realize how close we truly were to different outcomes.

Politics leads to rivalry and even hatred.  When Alexander Hamilton contracted yellow fever in 1793, Thomas Jefferson once basically remarked that he would be ok with Hamilton`s death and that it would not be such a bad thing.  (If you don`t believe me, read the excellent book Washington`s Circle by my good friends the Heidlers–an outstanding history book about possibly the most important decade in American history, the 1790s).

The point is that politics in American history has led to passions, violence, even war.  It is nothing new, so for those of you who think that America is falling apart because Democrats and Republicans can`t get along these days, I beg to differ.  I would argue that this is what makes America great.  That we`re ALLOWED to argue and debate, no matter how heated it gets.  Remember, in 1930s Germany and the Soviet Union, if you argued and debated against the government, you basically disappeared.  The same is true of other countries (China, Cuba, Iran to name a few).  I myself am happy to watch the debate take place and know that we are a free people, protected by the Bill of Rights and able to debate passionately.  Thank God for that, as our founders did.  One nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.

 

Compensation and Other VA Benefits

I wanted to write briefly about VA compensation and disability claimTexas-Star status because I receive questions about this from time to time.  To be clear, I have gone through this process myself, however I do not consider myself an expert on the subject by any means.

What I recommend to my readers is to get advice from an expert when filing your disability claim.  My experience was a good one in that my claim was processed much faster than I anticipated.  One of the major reasons for this, I believe, is that I had the Texas Veterans Commission submit the claim on my behalf.  The TVC offers this service at no cost to you or I and it was one of the best decisions I have made.  I realize that every person who reads my posts does not necessarily live in Texas, but there are other organizations nationwide, such as the DAV, who will advise you when submitting your VA disability claim.  You simply have to do your research and choose the best option to advise you on your claim.  I do not recommend hiring an attorney to submit your claim, unless you feel you have been denied your claim unfairly, but when filing your initial claim there are plenty of organizations who offer their services at no cost to the veteran.

When it comes to the VA Home Loan, this is an area where I do consider myself somewhat of an expert, since I was a mortgage loan officer specializing in VA Home Loans for 2 1/2 years.  Please read my post on learning the VA Home Loan program for more information on this topic.

Lessons in Faith from an American POW

Country-Home-with-American-Flag


“It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting and distresses yet more dreadful.  If this is to be the case, it will have this good effect, at least: it will inspire us with many virtues, which we have not, and correct many errors, follies, and vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonor, and destroy us.  The furnace of affliction produces refinement, in states as well as individuals.  And the new governments we are assuming, in every part, will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues or there will be no blessings…But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence; in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.”   John Adams, July 3, 1776 (as quoted in Locked Up With God by Capt. Guy D. Gruters)


After reading a few more chapters of Locked Up With God by Guy Gruters, I am truly amazed and dumbfounded by the attitude Guy adopted in order to survive 5+ years in a North Vietnamese POW camp.  The horrors he endured on a daily basis.  Freezing cold winters that could have killed him by hypothermia.  Boiling hot summers that could have led to death by dehydration or some other heat related illness.  Lack of nutrition, lack of medical care, lack of human interaction that could have driven him mad.  Guy and others survived them all, despite his admittance that 6 out of every 7 men died there.  Guy attributes his survival to his faith.

The theme of Guy`s faith-based speeches (as his book is simply a collection of Guy`s thirteen best speeches) is suffering and spirituality. Guy actually credits the prison camp with leading him to stronger faith in God, and a better relationship with Christ.  It is an unbelievable story that has already taught me so much about faith, humility and purpose.

I would like to refer you all to my previous article about Guy Gruters` book to read more about his amazing story and how I met Guy Gruters.  If you are at all interested in learning more about Guy`s journey, there is a link to his book in my previous article.

Let me close by saying that in a world where professing one`s faith in God has gone out of style, Guy openly shares his message of faith to those who will listen.  But perhaps more importantly, Guy`s description of the “The Value of Suffering” (the title of his third chapter) is something you would almost never hear even in church today.  It was Guy`s suffering that led to his strong faith and eventual and honorable return from the Vietnamese POW camp.

“First, I would like to tell you about the greatest suffering I went through in my life.  Then you may agree I can speak with some authority on the subject.”  Locked Up With God by Capt. Guy D. Gruters, page 42

 

The War on Terrorism Continues


I recently watched this documentary on “Showtime” and it was eye-opening.  Twelve former CIA directors were interviewed and were surprisingly candid.  The documentary was critical of the CIA at times, but it also gave a surprisingly open look into some major decisions made before and during the War on Terror, dating back to the 1990s and leading up to present day.  Other CIA personnel, besides the directors, were also interviewed and it gave the viewer a window into the lives of CIA operatives, both at home and abroad.

I read a book several years ago called See No Evil by Bob Baer.  Bob Baer, for those who don`t know him, was a CIA field operative and his book was later turned into the movie “Syriana” starring George Clooney.  While I recognize that this book\movie is only one man`s opinion, it is interesting to read about a first-hand experience from the point-of-view of someone who was in the Middle East, pre-911.  That is what the book is about and I found it fascinating.

What bothers me is that we, as Americans, become way too complacent when it comes to terrorism and the interruption of our daily lives.  We take it for granted that the government will protect us and are not ever vigilant enough on our own.  What I took from the “Showtime” documentary was that there are evil people out there at this very moment, people who plot day and night against the United States government and against the American people.  People whose goals in life are only to kill as many innocent citizens as possible, because they do not see us as innocent at all.

There is no way to appease these people.  We cannot simply expect them to change their minds if we change our policies.  Their minds are made up.  They are deadly, smart, bloodthirsty and, worst of all, patient.  If it takes 200 years to destroy the United States, they are willing to wait that long.

This is not a religious war.  It is not Christianity vs. Islam.  There are millions of peaceful Muslims around the world.  This is about radicalism, terrorism, and dangerous people who use Islam as an excuse and the Muslim faith as a training and recruiting tool.

It worries me greatly that there will be another attack on the United States.  I pray that our government and our people give the CIA, the military and other people protecting our homeland the tools they need to do their job.  Thank you for what you do everyday to protect us.  They have the most difficult job in the world and I do not envy them for that.  I only thank them.

God bless America.


A Tribute to Fallen Veterans

Today, on the 3rd anniversary of the death of the American Sniper, Chris Kyle, I would like to write briefly about the significance of Chris Kyle and others like him.


Chris Kyle is obviously a famous and heroic American figure, and not just because Clint Eastwood made a movie about him.  I admire Chris Kyle for two reasons:

  1. He did his duty not only well, but went above and beyond what was asked of him in order to save others` lives.  If you have any doubt about this, I suggest you read this short article at Military.com.  Chris Kyle placed the safety and lives of fellow soldiers above his own and risked his life so others could live.
  2. Even after returning from war, Chris spent time trying to help others with PTSD and other ailments.  He lost his life doing this.

What is more important to remember, however, are all of those unknown soldiers who lost their lives.  Chris Kyle is a martyr and a hero and his name will always be remembered.  But there are so many others who gave their lives and will never be remembered by name.  By honoring Chris Kyle we honor them as well.

Here in the tiny Texas town where I live, there is a Veterans MemorialVeterans-Memorial-in-Tuleta-Texas dedicated to the citizens from here who served.  Every town across America can say the same.  We honor them on Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July, but on a day like today they are also worth remembering.  Worth remembering every day.

Chris Kyle, Pat Tillman, George Washington, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Guy Gruters, and John McCain are just a few of my heroes from American military history who are famous for what they did and for how they served.

But we have all lost friends; brothers and sisters-in-arms whose names are not as well known.  For me, the names John Boria, Cristel Chavez, Steve Reich, Troy Gilbert, and Dennis Rando are just as memorable and important, although their names are all but unknown to the world.  But not to me and not to those who served with them or knew them.  All gave their lives while serving in war, or training to serve.  I remember them, miss them and thank them for their sacrifice.

Most gave some, some gave all.

Thank You for Serving

So today I would like to say a simple thank you to everyone out there who currently serves our great nation.  It is a never-ending story when it comes to service.  Out go the seasoned veterans; in come the new recruits.  If it were not for those who continue to enlist and continue to receive commissions, we would not be able to survive as a nation with an all-volunteer military. The draft would come back and that would be difficult for a nation where we need people who WANT to serve, not just people to fill slots. We are SO much better off with an all-volunteer military and I thank everyone who is volunteering today.

For those who are veterans and no longer serving, thank you as well.  Our successes in recent wars, battles and contingency operations have a lot to do with technology and investment in our military, but it is moreso about the PEOPLE who have served and their integrity, loyalty and selflessness.

So today`s post is a short and simple thank you note.  I saw this picture yesterday and it pretty much sums it up.  Through thick and thin, through snow and rain, on mountains and on seas, in faraway lands and closer to home–they serve and protect.  Every hour of every day.   Thank you.

Tomb-of-Unknown-Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier During Winter Storm

Faith and Forgiveness in a Vietnam POW Camp

I had the great honor of planning a dinner to celebrate Veterans Day in 2014 on behalf of a veterans group and I had the difficult task of finding a suitable guest speaker.  I wanted to bring in someone who brought an inspirational message that applied even beyond the battlefield, one that could be adapted to all aspects of life.  I spent some time doing a search online and only one individual`s name got my attention: Guy Gruters.

Veterans-Day-Event-featuring-Guy-Gruters POW
Veterans Day 2014, Guy Gruters (2nd from right)

Interestingly enough, Guy and I attended the same school and both served in the U.S. Air Force.  We were also both pilots, but the similarities end there.  I never had to go through the gruesome ordeal that Guy did, for I did not live in a Vietnamese POW camp for 5 years.

What amazed me about Guy was his humility.  Here was a man who had lived through an ordeal that only a few hundred people in this country had ever experienced.  He had to be tougher than John Wayne could have ever dreamed of being just to survive one day, and he was there for 5 long years.  But a friendlier, more humble man I will probably never meet.  He was also a fantastic speaker.

You could have heard a pin drop that night.  The other amazing thing about Guy was how candid he was about his ordeal.  He spoke about it like a historian reporting about his research.  You would never dream that he was speaking from personal experience, if you did not know better.  I have met people who cannot even speak about their horrific experiences in war.  Guy was nothing like that at all.  He told us everything he went through and described it vividly.

I am reading his book now and I highly recommend it.  It is called Locked Up With God and I am proud to say that Guy signed my copy when I met him.  Guy is definitely a hero of mine and someone I think we can all learn from.


What got Guy through that POW camp, along with his brothers-in-arms, was his faith in God.  He actually says that it wasn`t until he FORGAVE his captors that he found peace and joy inside the camp.  I will let you read the rest in Guy`s own words to learn more, should you so choose.

I respect and honor ALL veterans who have served, but it is true that we each had different experiences.  Guy`s experience was nothing short of miraculous.  He and all others who lived through that ordeal, along with those who never returned.  It is a truly inspirational and amazing story that I give the highest of recommendations to, for those who are interested in reading his story.

Veterans, We Have A Problem

Veterans, we have a problem.  Here is the problem…there is a stigma Flag in C-130 at Nightassociated with being a veteran.  The byproduct of all the calls for helping veterans, veteran related charities, VA disability ratings, etc. is that corporate America sees us as damaged goods.  I have seen it first hand.  A hesitancy to hire veterans.  (Please read my blog post “Why is it so Hard to Find a Veteran Job Opportunity?” for more detail on this subject.)  I have watched hiring managers faces when I ask them why they don`t hire more veterans.  Their expressions betray their thoughts. They are scared to hire veterans.  They don`t see the benefit of making a push to hire veterans.  They want to support veterans, as long as they don`t have to be the one doing the hiring.

My anecdote is not simply one man`s opinion–there is statistical proof of this serious problem.  One only need to click on this link to the Call of Duty Endowment home page and scroll down a few seconds to find unemployment numbers that support and confirm this trend, with the unemployment percentage for young, post-911 veterans showing to be three times the national average, according to U.S. government figures.

What`s the Solution?


There is no great solution.  We have to keep plugging along and persevere, despite the stigma.  Despite the fact that we are pre-judged.  

I watched a video the other day that I cannot get out of my head.  This is a bit of a digression, but I think everyone should see this video.  Steve Harvey, he of the botched Miss Universe crowning fame, posted this video from his Family Feud show and it is truly inspirational.  Please take 6 minutes to watch this.  I think you`ll thank me if you do.

Steve Harvey talks about “jumping”.  About taking a risk.  Daring to be great.  It`s not about the job itself, when veterans try to find work.  It`s about building confidence.  I by no means think that when a veteran finds a job, his or her worries are over.  It`s difficult to make a living with only a job as income.  I`ve tried it.  I`ve been there.

What Should We Do?


I can only tell you what I am trying to do and that is to find other sources of income to supplement my occupation.  To pursue my dreams using my gift, as Steve Harvey advised.  It may never lead to wealth, for sure, but there is more to life than wealth.  I want to succeed of course, but success to me means leading and helping other veterans.  If we can`t do this together, then I don`t want to do it at all.  Leave no man or woman behind on the battlefield.  In civilian life as in military life.  We have to stick together.

I do recommend starting a home based business of some sort, or other source of income, even as you look for a job or work the one you have now.  Please take the time to read my blog post on Part-Time Jobs for Military Veterans–Work From Home!  I think it is one of my most important posts on this website and it will hopefully provide you with some new ideas.

As always, thank you for your service and God bless America.  Have a great night and contact me anytime at dan@adviceforveterans.com, or on Twitter @vets_v