Category Archives: Opinion Piece

Memorial Day Missive — The All-Volunteer Concept is a Complete and Utter Failure


American Cemetery in Normandy, France

Once again National Barbeque and Outdoor Grill Day is upon us . . . or so it seems from the lack of solemnity that greets this supposedly somber day.

In the waning days of the Vietnam War this country ended military conscription — “The Draft” — and with the draft’s demise so, too, ended any concept of shared sacrifice on the home front during time of war.  In wars prior to and throughout most of Vietnam citizens were asked to send their fathers and sons to battle, and to support the war effort through rationing, volunteerism, and, yes, even taxes.  Upon their return our fathers and sons were propped up during their transition from the horrors of war to the mundaneness of a civilian, nine-to-five, off-on-weekends existence.  We paid for their college education, tended to their wounds both physical and mental, rehabilitated their disabilities, and returned them to society for the most part as fully functioning members.

June 6 will mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day

Back then the Veterans Administration was a thing of wondrous humanity that defined how we as a nation cared for our warriors in their time of need.  It defined us as a people, and it let those who fought our battles know that we would not abandon them once the gunfire ceased.

Not so today.  We have now as a society isolated ourselves from wars we send our fellow citizens to fight.  No longer do we send our own off to perhaps die.  Now we are content to get someone else’s child — usually from the lower income and educational strata of our society — to “volunteer” into perhaps their only shot at a better life.

Meanwhile, we allow our political leaders to sell us on avoiding any related wartime pain while at the same time allowing corporate profiteers to enrich themselves on the sacrifices of others.  There is no rationing.  No one is asked to curtail their standard of living.  Taxes are cut.  The costs of today’s wars are pushed forward to future generations.  Our leaders tell us that it’s our patriotic duty to take the family and, “. . . get down to Disney World,” rather than do the unpopular things necessary as a society that has made the collective decision to wage war.

If the Draft was Good Enough for Them then it is Good Enough for Us

Now that the post-9/11 wars are coming to a close — one of which was totally optional and complete folly; and the whole raison d’être for the other having ended over three years ago on May 2, 2011 — we are once again failing our warriors at the most basic, civilized level.  This is far from new.  We as a nation have failed in this area ever since conscription ended in this country over forty years ago.

And that won’t change until conscription returns.  Needless wars will continue to be fought and necessary wars will extend well beyond the stated mission goal is reached as long as political leaders and business executives profit without risk to their own progeny and the majority of voters are isolated from any shared sacrifice and pain.

So, to clarify the title of this Memorial Day message, let me state the following:

When I say that the all-volunteer military has been a complete and utter failure I don’t mean that our men and women in uniformed service have failed us.  Far from it.  I mean that we as a nation have failed them, and it’s well beyond time to make amends by returning the pain and sacrifice of war back to the home front.  When everyone’s child is at risk, only then will our returning warriors get the help they so desperately deserve.

German Bunker Overlooking Pointe de Hoc, Normandy

 

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Season’s Greetings


Today’s normally scheduled blog will be up shortly.  That blog will be on Seville, Spain.

In the meantime, here’s my reminder as to what’s really important this day:

Once again
It’s that time of year
When friends arrive
And family’s here

So check beneath
The Christmas tree
But the best gift of all
Remains what’s free

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May the Festivities Begin


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and a Happy חֲנֻכָּה to all my Jewish friends. May everyone have a great and wonderful holiday season filled with friends, family, and insightful reflection on all that has gone well for you over this past year and all the things for which you have to be thankful in your life.

The following is a piece written by Brian Fung for the Washington Post.  Although it’s geared toward my former profession — Air Traffic Control — the sentiment that we should thank those who work through this holiday to keep us all safe should apply to so many more of our public servants and military than just controllers (the same public servants who find themselves publicly attacked and scorned today by those in Washington with an agenda . . . an agenda that somehow doesn’t include working on Holidays or sharing in sacrifice for the betterment of the country; see Indentured Servitude is Alive and Well in the U.S.).

Thank an air traffic controller today

By Brian Fung, Updated: November 27 at 11:38 am

Two-and-a-half million people are going to try to fly someplace Wednesday. If you’re one of those poor souls, you may be itching to strangle someone by the time you collapse into your shoe box of a seat. But, realistically? Our headaches as passengers — flight delays, long lines at security — mostly get sorted out before we board the plane.

Not so for air traffic controllers, many of whom are preparing for a high-stress day that’s even worse this year due to a wintry storm that’s battering the East Coast. Even as the rest of us sit down to a big turkey dinner on Thursday, many of the nation’s 27,000 air traffic controllers will still be on duty.

Once a plane leaves the airport, responsibility for tracking it gets handed off to a local departure controller — a TRACON facility, for short — that monitors a wider area. There are dozens of these. Then, as the plane leaves the region, another facility, called an area control center (ACC), takes over. The process has to take place in reverse when the aircraft reaches its destination.

Air traffic control is a highly specialized industry, but it’s also a shrinking one. By 2019, the country is expected to have shed more than 12,000 air traffic control jobs, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. That’s because a huge share of the sector’s workforce is about to retire.

(Click on this link for the original article along with a chart showing the age distribution of today’s controller workforce)

To head off a looming shortage of controllers, the FAA plans to hire more than 11,000 new workers by the decade’s end. Becoming an air traffic controller can be a harrowing journey in itself. That’s because there’s really only one path to an ATC job if you haven’t held one before, and it runs straight through the FAA. New ATC candidates spend years studying for the FAA’s pre-employment exam; if they score below a 70, they have to wait another year to take the test. This wouldn’t be quite so stressful if time weren’t working against the candidates; most controllers get their first jobs in their 20s and work for only about 30 years before retiring.

In 2011, air traffic controllers famously made headlines when some were caught napping on the job because of their exhausting work schedules. The FAA introduced new regulations for work shifts to try to curb the problem.

(See my take on this scandal in U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on Sleeping Controllers)

ATC workers do get compensated pretty well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a starting controller’s salary begins at $37,000 but quickly ramps up to a median of $108,000 a year.

All of this is taking place against the backdrop of a massive shift in air traffic technology that controllers will need to adapt to. For decades, the nation’s air traffic control system has mostly relied on the same radar technology that told World War II-era controllers where their planes were. But now the FAA is rolling out upgrades that add satellite technology to the mix. This is useful in places where we can’t build a radar tower — like in the middle of the ocean — but it also requires new standards, policies and procedures that controllers will need to learn in addition to doing their regular jobs.

Air traffic controllers are giving up their Thanksgiving to keep our pilots from crashing in mid-air. So whether you know one or not, let’s make today Thank an Air Traffic Controller Day.

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