Plate of Shrimp
Still, OPS came back last night, hands full of shopping bags, saying, "I know you're mad..."
To which I said, "Why would I be mad? You had obligations, I understand. The mission comes first. You know I don't keep count. Just get your uniform on and relieve me so I can go get beer."
"Well," he said. "I feel really bad about all the duty days you've been standing and I'm going to hook you up..."
And he told me his plan. No duty in Norfolk and at least the first weekend in Mayport off. I like his plan. See, OPS writes all the watchbills as the Senior Watch Officer, so he gets to decide who stands which watch as long as the CO buys it. I don't like him feeling sorry for me. I don't want him to feel sorry for me; I want him to take some responsibility. I dislike the expectation that I will just pick up the slack all the time and I really dislike pity.
Anyway, we’re talking about managing liberty and whatnot while my brothers in arms are in the desert getting shot at, which puts it all in perspective. I’d much rather be contributing to the Global War on Terror than worry about when I’m getting my next beer, or how much time off I get in Norfolk and Mayport. I wasn’t kidding when I said the mission comes first.
So here, in SOUTHCOM, sitting pierside in Panama, or doing all these multinational exercises and engaging foreign navies, or even sitting in the eastern Pacific trying to round up drug smugglers, how is that contributing to the GWOT? You may view it as a bit of a stretch, but I’ll tell you the way that I’ve always thought of it when I’ve been stuck doing missions in backwater areas.
Take UNITAS as an example. It’s designed to improve interoperability between the U.S. Navy and our allies in South America so that if there is a security situation or a war, we know we can work together as an international force. That’s really the reason we do any international exercise anywhere in the world, training other navies to be as good as we are, and for us to learn how best to operate with them.
Consider that Venezuela is becoming a belligerent nation and a destabilizing force. We may need to take action someday against Hugo Chavez, and it sure would be nice to have some allies in the region. Additionally, the sort of politics Chavez, Evo Morales and Fidel Castro practice impact the economics of the region and therefore the world, to include the U.S. A lot of oil, coffee, lumber, etc. comes from South America. Think about Venezuela’s increasing ties to Iran and the Muslim presence in South America. Luckily, the navies in question are largely coastal defense types, but that didn’t stop Iran from launching Exocets at the USS Stark.
Also consider that there are some significant rebel/terrorist groups in South America (like Shining Path in Peru, or the FARC in Colombia). There is also a minor presence of various Middle Eastern-based groups, not to bomb us, but to provide financial support. Most terrorist groups get a large amount of funding from various illegal commerce, primarily the drug trade. This is why they call is “Counter Narco-Terrorism Operations” when we come down here to stop drug smugglers on their way to Mexico. (They don’t need to take marijuana or cocaine directly to the U.S. because the laws in Mexico are lax and the border is porous). I’ll probably write more about CNT operations on my CNT deployment next year. This is also why my best friend Egon nearly gave his life to give Afghan farmers an alternative to growing poppies (it is slightly more complicated than that…). I’m glad he’s writing a book about his experiences and hope I get a signed copy.
Think about the Panama Canal and the fact that it is a single point of failure for the global economy. Goods bound for ports all over the world pass through it daily. It ties America’s east coast and west coast together. PANAMAX, the exercise I’ll be doing this week and next, is all about stopping a terrorist threat to the Canal. This is not an imagined threat or an exercise with some wild imaginary scenario. This is based on real life and protecting real world interests.
We’re living in a world that is increasingly interconnected, mainly because of economics and commerce. This is a big reason targets for terrorists are commercial targets – huge potential body count, soft targets and biggest impact-to-resources required ratio. Terrorists are not stupid people and realize America’s strength and the strength of all industrialized nations lies in our economic stability. And trade between the US and smaller, poorer nations increases the strength or those nations as well.
If we help those nations become stronger forces in their regions and increase the capabilities of their militaries, they’re more likely to become stabilizing forces themselves and maybe even our friends.
So when I’m having a beer on the pier in Colon, or I’m refueling from a Chilean Navy oiler, or folding my socks, I’m supporting the Global War on Terror. And damn proud of it, too.