08 August 2009

Take an online trip of peace

Take an online trip of peace.

Once a coworker at the hospital in Iraq asked me, "Has Public Affairs approved your blog?"

I replied, "No, but there's nothing in there they could reasonably object to."

Shortly after that, I got a message my commander wanted to review my blog. I gathered up everything I had written and delivered it to him.

"Looks good to me" he said, "carry on!"

I heard scattered stories of troops being ordered to shut down their blogs or being disciplined for something they might have posted online. I do realize sometimes our young citizens, in or out of a war zone, post some pretty ridiculous stuff, the kind of pictures and stories that they might just find themselves explaining in a future job interview. But isn't that the spirit of freedom of speech? Our right to speak our minds is not predicated on how smart, stupid, or even outrageous the statement might be. In fact, it is most important to protect the outlandish stuff because as soon as you let one voice be stifled, we are all are in danger.

There are many military blogs I have visited. One of the earliest I read was BlackFive:


which used to give breathtaking accounts of missions from behind the rifle.

You can find a vast variety of over 2400 military blogs (including mine!) at Milblogging.com:


After reading just a few, you quickly realize how every soldier (or soldier's wife back home) has a vibrant story to tell.

I also understand that as a troop, I had willing submitted to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is kind of like the dress code, behavior code, and imposition on every moment of life that I was subject to when I went to a Catholic school. The difference is that the rules in school were strictly defined and interpreted by the brothers, but the UCMJ is a vast mess of contradicting regulations on such scattered minutia such as which side of the belt I was supposed to wear my hospital beeper. For better or worse, it doesn't seem like any one person actually knows all of the UCMJ, so the lawyers in the JAG can swing it whichever way they choose to argue.

For my part, I self-policed very severely and never revealed a patient's name, any interpreter's photo, or any details that could give the enemy an advantage. I suppose we had it easier than WWII troops who had the censors heavy black pen blotting out large portions of their letters.

There is a huge value in having troops on the front line able to communicate their thoughts, dreams and fears directly to the world at large. Lots of people in the US would be surprised at the low opinion many people in the world have of us, and that's just because they don't know us as individuals.


By letting the soldier have a voice, the world can see Americans for who they really are: hopeful people who fulfil their duties even as they miss their families at home.

A recent article described how the Pentagon was considering a complete ban on access to any blogging or social networking sites, even though some leaders understood the importance of maintaining these lines of communication.


While in the military, I attended Air War College, and learned the thinkers in the military realized the strategic importance of conducting Internet communication as a form of soft power. In fact it seemed as if Al Qaida had realized the value of the online channel and was using it as a means of recruitment and propaganda. I learned about Public Diplomacy, a little known and less well understood function of our State Department that aims to communicate to citizens of other nations that the USA is a land of freedom and opportunity. I also learned that it received very poor funding.


There are groups in the world, such as the Saudi Arabian Sakinah Campaign (it means "Tranquility") who scan the web for Al-Qaida activists and engage them in online communication to try and combat their message of intolerance.


Young people around the world look to the Internet for their information about the US. One interesting site I found is Mideast Youth, based in Bahrain, where young adults discuss issues from the Iranian election to the role of the US in the Middle East.


It is important that young Americans join the dialogue, and who better to represent us than our dedicated troops.

A friend in Spain gave me this saying: "Travel plants a seed of peace in the heart of the visitor and the visited." There is no reason that trip of peace can't happen online.

06 August 2009

The Tightrope Gets Thinner

The Tightrope Gets Thinner

M. and I were shocked to read a 25 JUL story about how an Iraqi commander ordered the arrest of three US soldiers after they killed three insurgents near Abu Ghraib. I will fully admit that it is impossible to know what happened without actually being there. But after meeting so many of these young, dedicated, professional soldiers who are serving in Iraq, and seeing firsthand the deadly injuries that they suffer, I come down 100% on the side of our US troops who have to make life and death decisions in an instant.
We read that the troops in this event were in convoy when they received contact in the form of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The troops bravely dismounted, pursued the attackers through an urban environment, and killed three insurgents. Civilians were killed in the gun battle. An Iraqi commander arrived late and ordered the troops arrested.
Here is a link to the story:


Fortunately, the following day Iraq Prime Minister Al-Maliki announced that the commander’s decision was in error and expressed his confidence in the troops and gratitude for their service.
The story is here:


I am pleased to see a general improvement in security in Iraq and fewer deaths each day. Best of all, it gives me hope that the day we get our troops home from Iraq is getting closer. But I think that we have to be very careful as we exit that these troops are not subject to second-guessing or legal action just for defending their lives.
This danger is nothing new. One soldier I know who has served bravely and has stood up to complete the mission on multiple tours to Iraq recently described an incident he experienced, very nearby in Abu Ghraib, four years ago. His troops on patrol were confronted with a vehicle speeding toward them, saw and heard gunfire and had to make a life-and-death decision. Like so many others, they performed professionally, and made the safest and correct decision, but with the full weight of responsibility and conscience. You really should read his report via the link below because it gives a rare perspective into the thoughts of troops on the scene.


Recently, my associate loaned me the book “Warlord, No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy”. It is Marine Lt. Ilario Panano’s own account of how he was accused of murder after killing two insurgents in Iraq in 2004. My wife, son, and I were captivated by the story, and again horrified that one of our troops could be put through such an experience after doing his best to defend his men.
There is an adequate summary on Wikipedia here:


Lt. Pantano’s family started the foundation Defend the Defenders. (I don’t know if they are still active)


As a doctor, I don’t have to look far to find reasons why war is so harmful to the many people young and old who are caught in its grasp. But it is important to remember that even as strong, well-equipped and professional as our troops are, we have to look out for them too and be sure that their dedicated actions are not being second-guessed.

05 August 2009

Finding my way

I’ve spent the first week of my new job going from orientation to orientation. Today was a day-long class on the electronic medical record. It’s like learning a new language. But it’s worth it to be able to leave the paper record behind. This way when a patient comes in with an emergency at midnight, we don’t have to wait until their chart is retrieved from storage. It’s great to be starting my first civilian job, but it’s been an adjustment on many levels. It still feels weird to walk around outside without wearing cover. Even at home, there are little reminders of my former military life. Every night at 2100 the church across the street chimes the hour then plays Taps. I feel the urge to stand at attention when I hear the first few bars.

I still haven’t figured out how to get around the new hospital. On the way back from my computer-based training, I got lost trying to find the surgery office. At least I ended up in the cafeteria. I’m eager to finish this training and get back in the OR. I just hope I can find it!

04 August 2009

New Job!


I wanted to say a quick hello as I start my new job. I've joined the Geisinger Medical Center and I'll be working as a pediatric surgeon at the Janet Weis Children's Hospital in Danville, PA. Admittedly, it's a big change from being a military surgeon on an Air Force Base. I've spent the last month working on my barn and heading out with the boys to go canoeing, camping, 4wheeling, whatever we can do together. So I'm not quite sure what this next step holds for me and my family, but I'm eager to get started. Hope you all are well and having fun.