Friday, July 6, 2012

Just an Average Guy

This post was done originally on my old blog, The Better Side of Humanity. It still applies so I copied it over here. Enjoy!

Every once in a while you meet someone who really stands out and impresses you.

That would not be true of one of my friends from when I was in the Navy; Tim. There is not one single thing about him that stands out in any way what-so-ever.

So what if he and some of his friends got together with some beer and a barbecue on some warm, calm and sunny day to have a party in his back yard and go swimming with absolutely nothing out of the ordinary going on? Big deal! He’s just an average guy right?

Okay… so it wasn’t exactly a party, per se, it was more work related. And there wasn’t any beer and likely no barbecue either. I’m not exactly clear on that point.

Well, one thing I should mention is the “friends” I mentioned weren’t exactly what you’d call friends either, in the Navy they are called “shipmates” but they could be friends, or not, based on whatever they decide.

Also I don’t know how warm it was either so we can forget all about that too because it could have been quite cold. He hasn’t told me that part of the story yet.

One other thing I could tell you which I originally omitted is that instead of jumping into the water from a diving board or the edge of the pool, it was from a Navy helicopter. I’m told that this is somehow different.

Other than that I’m sure my report is completely accurate…except of course for where this “party” happened was not exactly in his backyard. It was somewhere between the Philippine Islands and Japan. Small details yes, but still they went swimming in the ocean, so how bad could it have been right? We all like to hang out on the beach and go for a nice relaxing swim in the sea.

Only it wasn’t quite what most people would describe as “calm” either. Instead it was in the driving wind and rain. Oh, and the waves in the ocean were somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty feet but how significant could that really be?

However there was nothing other than that out of the ordinary for a swim in the ocean hundreds of miles from land. Well…except I guess I could mention the freighter which broke up on the big waves and sank. But what the hell, if thirty foot waves could sink a ship what could they do to a person who is swimming in them? No problem! Right?

I mean it would have been easy! A piece of cake… Except that when the sunken freighter broke up it dumped its cargo into the sea. It had been carrying a load of telephone pole sized pieces of lumber, which were then floating on the water and formed a huge log jam that was bouncing all over on the huge waves. No doubt they were smashing into each other or anybody who happened to be in the water at the time with incredibly deadly force. So what? It’s just a day’s work.

There’s nothing unusual about it except one might be inclined to ask “Why would somebody do something like that?” The simple answer would be to save the lives of the crewmen on the freighter, of which they were regrettably only able to save fourteen out of the twenty. And he didn’t just jump in once, grab a bunch of people and then move on, he jumped in numerous times over a period of time lasting more than six hours.

As a matter of fact the only thing out of the ordinary with Tim is that when I asked him if he would mind my writing a story about this event his response was “Sure... If you think anybody'd be interested.” I can even kind of see him in my mind nonchalantly shrugging his shoulders as he typed it. That’s kind of unusual but other than that he’s just your everyday kind of guy. Oh, I almost forgot, he won the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, which is the highest peacetime award for heroism that the Navy can give out.

Yes, Tim is just another ordinary dime-a-dozen kind of guy. At least for a veteran.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Fourth of July

american flag animation
Way back in 1982 I woke up one day and discovered the brutal reality that in my post high school days, weeks, months and years my life had become somewhat meaningless. So I joined the Navy’s delayed entry program. I won’t bore you with the details as to how that decision came to be but suffice it to say it did, and in the eight months before I went into active duty I decided to start off by being the best sailor I could be. One of the things I set out to do was to understand fully what I’d signed up for. So I sat down and memorized all of the general orders verbatim as well as the history and traditions of the Navy. The most life changing part that I committed to memory was the enlisted oath.

"I, Brett Ashton, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

"…Support and defend the Constitution of the United States…" kind of stands out in this oath because it is placed first and foremost above all other lower considerations like presidents and officers. Over the years since, I undertook the project of understanding exactly what that meant, since after all, I had just sworn to potentially give up my life for it. In doing so over the years since, I have come to realize that my education in not only the Constitution but the Declaration of Independence is potentially far superior to the oath I took to fight and die for it, because far more often than not, fighting is not necessary in the face of understanding, nor is the possibility of a fight against us the largest threat to our Constitution or Declaration and the freedoms postulated within them. The largest threat is ignorance of them and what they really say and why they say what they do.

This kind of ignorance is caused by not actually having read them for yourself and understood the exact meaning of each sentence. The kind of ignorance caused by taking the words of other people as experts who may have had some dishonest or biased motivation or interest in your misunderstanding the principals within. These documents are binding contracts between our government and us. More importantly they are written for us.

I hope for all of my family and friends to have a safe and happy Independence Day as well as all of their friends and families. My only wish for myself this year, as a man who took the oath to fight and, if need be, die to protect our Constitution and Declaration of Independence, is that you will take the time to read them and understand them for yourself. In doing so you would have fought back to that degree the thing which threatens us the most. So that others like me, who took the oath, some of them dying as a result, will not have done it in vain.

After all, it’s only our freedom that is at stake.