Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Michael Kiefer, 11 September, 2001

New York, Pennsylvania, the Pentagon, Benghazi.  We will not forget.

On 11 September, 2001 I was in Amman, Jordan. I was the senior member of a small American military detachment getting a refresher course in Arabic at the Royal Jordanian Military Language Institute. At the time of the attacks, I was just signing onto my email account at an internet cafe in central Amman. I saw a news banner announcing that two planes had crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center, and I was certain that I was looking at an advertisement for a movie. Within two minutes, my embassy cell phone rang. "Get all your people to the embassy right away." I was told. That's when I knew it was no movie ad. 

As I was scrambling to get my colleagues together, 26 year-old Michael Kiefer was breathing his last in New York City. Michael was one of the 2,996 innocents who lost their lives in Al Qaeda's most successful attack on our nation. Maybe you remember it? In case you've forgotten, let me remind you by telling you about Michael, because Michael Kiefer is a shining example of what our nation lost in that attack.

To say Michael was a fireman does not do justice to the drive and the passion he brought to his work. Some people have a job they do and others have jobs that they are; by all accounts, Michael was one of the latter. From his early years he knew that he wanted to be a fireman. Childhood photos show him wearing a fireman costume, and people tell of how, as a boy, he was so accomplished at mimicking the sound of a siren that he once convinced his school bus driver to pull aside for a firetruck that wasn't there. 

Michael bought a scanner that he used to listen for fire alarms, and would ride his bicycle to watch the firemen work. Sometimes he rode so far from his neighborhood that he was brought back home by police escort. Michael earned perfect scores on his fire academy physical and written entrance exams, and began training in October, 2000. He graduated in December of the same year. He drew one of the busiest assignments, engine Company 280/ladder Company 132 Firehouse of Crown Heights Brooklyn. In achieving his lifelong dream, we could say that Michael Kiefer accomplished more in his short life than will many men who live to see a century, but that would be only half his story.

In addition to being a fireman, Michael was a committed Christian, beloved son to Pat and Bud, and older brother to Kerri and Lauren. He was saving his money to buy a ring for his girlfriend, Jamie Huggler. Son, brother, boyfriend. He was the kind of guy who dedicated himself to a job that would put his life at risk in order to save others. He was just one of 2,996, who died at the World Trade Center,13 years ago today, but in him was a reflection of all the strength, the selflessness, the goodness, that we love about America. On this anniversary of our nation's loss, take a moment to remember Michael. Say a prayer for the peace of mind of those he left behind, and give thanks that our nation can still be the home of men like him.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Calling Jimmy Doolittle

On 21 December, 1941 - two weeks after the attacks on Pearl Harbor - President Franklin D. Roosevelt directed the Chiefs of Staff of the US military to conduct a bombing attack on the Japanese homeland as soon as possible.

It was understood that the military accomplishments of such an attack would most likely be negligible, and that the risks would certainly be high. Nevertheless, the president understood that the moral effect of the attack overshadowed those drawbacks. It was necessary for the American people to see themselves as rising to the enemy that had attacked them, just as it was necessary for that enemy to consider the consequences that would result from its actions. That attack, led by Lt Col James (Jimmy) Doolittle, would become known as the Doolittle Raid, and would set the tone for American defiance in the face of a determined enemy.

At the same time, and for a considerable period afterward, the President, Prime Minister Churchill, and Joseph Stalin were debating the way in which the United States would finally, fully enter the war. Some lobbied for an attack in Europe that would immediately draw German divisions away from Stalin's beleaguered forces, while others counseled an attack at a point where American troops might face a slightly more gradual learning curve. Thus was conceived America's unlikely mode of entry into World War Two - an invasion of North Africa to attack Germany in response to Japan's attack on Hawaii.

It is worth noting that during this period of intense debate, the leaders did not refer to not having a strategy. That is most likely as it should be.

It is also worth noting that even before a comprehensive strategy was devised, the planning for an attack had been ordered, an attack that may not have been militarily decisive, but that went more to the heart of the enemy than has any of the 100 or so airstrikes launched recently against ISIS targets in Iraq. Such an attack is in order today, just as it was 72 years ago. (The raid was actually flown in April, 1942.)

In having declared itself the Islamic State, ISIS has made our job easier. With a state against which we can focus our efforts, we can dispense with the ridiculous concept of a "war on terror." The President can ask Congress to declare war on the newly-formed state, and we can get about the business of destroying it.

All we need is a modern-day Jimmy Doolittle, and the kind of men who will set him in motion.