You Rock, Dad

This photo tells a beautiful yet haunting story.

Servicemen and their daughters hit the dance floor at the San Diego Armed Services YMCA Father and Daughter Dance. More than 450 military fathers attended the 7th annual event, themed “A Night in the Spotlight.” U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans (Released) 130216-N-DR144-466

Military men in uniform dancing with their young daughters would strike a chord in most hearts. This photo certainly did in mine. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I posted it on Facebook a few days ago. 

You can learn much about any military member from the devices and ribbons on the uniform. Here’s what we know on closer inspection of the man on the photo’s right (whom I’ve never met): He’s a first class hospital corpsman with at least eight years of naval service. He wears warfare devices that validate rigorous formal qualifications in both surface warfare and fleet Marine force. His ribbons indicate that he’s deployed overseas and served at sea multiple times in support of the global war on terrorism, that he’s an expert with a rifle, and that he’s seen combat action. The top ribbon is the most impressive: a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal adorned with a gold “V” for valor.

This proud  dance floor dad knows, from personal close experience, the horrors of war. He’s put himself into harm’s way to serve his country and to bring medical care to sailors and Marines in combat. 

That’s just what we know from his uniform. The story runs deeper. What about the little girl in her gorgeous gown and her carefully coiffed brown tresses? How much of her young life has this dad missed, especially when he was in combat and at risk of never seeing her again? Was he present when she was born (many deployed sailors miss the births of their children)? Did he hold her hand on her first day of school? Dry her tears when she fell down, or when other children were mean to her because she was the new kid in the neighborhood? Tell her stories at bedtime? How many days, weeks, months did the two of them think about and yearn for each other when they were apart? 

Personal and family sacrifices are the real cost of war, for service members and their loved ones. You won’t find those represented in ribbons and medals. They are burned into the hearts and souls of those who have served, and the families who — in every real sense — served with them.

The men and women of the Navy hospital corps are true heroes. Like most military members, they leave it to  the nation’s leaders and its people to debate the ultimate value of where they go and what they do. To the best of their ability, they carry out the orders they are given. And they do it to near perfection, regardless of the risk of death or injury, or the cost to their personal lives. 

Corpsmen are especially vulnerable in combat. Enemies target the medics as a means to disrupt and demoralize their adversaries. In the last ten years, more corpsmen have died in combat than any other Navy rate. It’s always been that way, in any modern conflict.

May the little girl in the photo, and all others like her,  always remember that night as one of the most special nights of her whole life. May she always know and love and cherish her dad, not only for being a war hero, but  for being the handsome Navy man in uniform who danced with her on one very special night.

And for the dad, may he some day experience a father’s ultimate joy and dance with her at her wedding.

Bravo Zulu, and Semper Fi, Shipmate.

Cutting a Different Cloth

What do The Caine Mutiny, Midway, In Harm’s Way, Run Silent Run Deep and our own Officers and CPO Messes have in common? I could make the answer obvious if my current limited bandwidth and/or firewall constraints allowed me to post pictures (he whined), but I must attempt verbal descriptions and hyperlinks instead.

The first four citations refer to epic mid-twentieth century movies starring our own U.S. Navy during World War II in the Pacific. Each features a legendary hero of the silver screen depicting a larger-than-life (albeit somewhat quirky) naval officer whose courageous escapades contributed to our grandest moments on the sea-stage of battle. Indeed, those characters so manfully portrayed by Heston, Gable, Wayne, Bogart and equally impressive supporting casts, inspired the dreams of many a future naval officer, including me during my own youth. (Well, okay, maybe we would not aspire to be Captain Queeg, but even that movie portrays some high naval drama.)

So how do these old movies relate to our own Officers and CPOs? You might expect a comparison to the heroic protagonists of those historic naval dramas. That thought would have credibility, but it’s not the theme of this particular post. I’ve been recently accused – with modicum accuracy – of writing “gushing” posts, so I’m determined to take a bit more controversial tack with this one.

Those epic cinematic naval heroes all display an impressive visual image in the uniforms they wear… the distinctly Navy wash khakis donned by officers and chiefs on underway naval vessels throughout the glory years of our sea service. For sure clothes do not a man (or a woman) make, but even a casual observer recognizes the iconic look of that traditional garment and the honor, courage and commitment under fire of those who wear it. This is the uniform in which we won World War II, and it is the very same uniform that officers and chiefs still wear today as they go about–

What’s that you say? Really? When did that happen? Whose idea was…?

It’s true. The revered wash khaki Navy uniform, and all the history that goes with it, will become “no longer authorized” by the end of this year. Instead, officers and chiefs will shell out some $600 per set to replace our historic wash khakis with the new, recently prescribed Navy Working Uniform (NWU). So by next year we all will supposedly wear a sea blue and gray digital camouflage outfit smartly dubbed “aquaflage” by some of our local pundits. That uniform will certainly blend right into the seascape if its wearer suffers the misfortune of falling overboard.

Other than the sea blue/gray color and some barely visible Navy logos, there is nothing distinctively naval about the new NWU. Rather, these new uniforms poorly imitate the traditional battle dress uniforms (BDU, or “camis”) typically sported by members of our sister services. You see camis, you think Army or Marine Corps, not Navy. Further, since it is prescribed for all ranks, our new NWU almost completely blurs the visual distinction between enlisted sailors and the officers/chiefs (heretofore honorably referred to as “khakis”) who lead them. The color and design of the rank insignia and embroidery is all that differentiates. Finally, the only movie that this uniform has thus far inspired is a tiresome training video that drones on endlessly about the only “prescribed” way to wear it, down to the “authorized” color and texture of socks and tee shirt.

No amount of earnest imagination suceeds in drawing an inspirational mental image of Charlton Heston or John Wayne on the silver screen, all decked out in this ridiculous getup while leading a flotilla of Navy ships in a cinematic recreation of our Navy’s finest moments.

Even more disturbing is the visual image of aquaflaged true naval heroes like Nimitz, Spruance, or Arleigh Burke. May they rest in peace.