Apr 27, 2011


It's kids like this that bolster my hope for the future of this country - individual Americans that take it upon themselves to do what their government bureaucracies have so utterly failed to accomplish. Insta-link. Kid's website is now on the blogroll to right, as well (in the "National Archives" group).
Teen makes digital record of Arlington graves

Ricky Gilleland, a tech-savvy 11th-grader, has created the only digitized record of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

By Faye Fiore, Los Angeles Times

April 26, 2011, 8:08 p.m.
Reporting from Arlington, Va.—

Rosemary Brown is standing over the grave of her son at Arlington National Cemetery when someone catches her eye. It's a boy in khaki shorts and muddy shoes, juggling a clunky camera and the Motorola Xoom he got for his 17th birthday five days earlier.

"May I ask what you're doing?" Brown inquires. The boy begins to peck at the Xoom tablet, and in seconds the image that Brown has come all the way from Cartwright, Okla., to see fills the screen. It's the white marble headstone of Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Jason L. Brown, killed by small-arms fire in Afghanistan three years ago this day. Her face brightens.

"Most of Jason's family and friends are in Oklahoma and Texas. For them to be able to see his grave…," she says, her voice breaking.

Richard "Ricky" Gilleland III — 11th-grader and Junior Future Business Leaders of America computer ace — has succeeded where the Army failed: He has created the only digitized record of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans laid to rest at Arlington. His website, preserveandhonor.com, is a reverent catalog of the fallen, and one young man's response to a scandal of Army mismanagement, mismarked graves and unmarked remains that has rocked this hallowed place for two years.

"It's a tool to help remember people. They can go on and think, 'Wow, look at all these people who gave their lives just so I can walk around,' " Ricky says.

His "project," as he calls it, won't fix Arlington's considerable problems. A commission led by former Sens. Bob Dole and Max Cleland was formed to attempt that.

But his simple website has brought a measure of order and relief to military families unnerved by reports first disclosed by Salon.com in 2009: unidentified remains in graves thought to be empty, one service member buried on top of another, an unmarked urn that turned up in a dirt landfill.

The father of one Marine was so disturbed that he had the remains of his son — a 19-year-old private killed in Iraq by a roadside blast in 2006 — disinterred last year. He searched the coffin that held his son's ravaged body himself. A left-arm tattoo confirmed no mistake had been made, reassurance that came at a terrible price.

An investigation by the Army inspector general concluded in June that at least 211 graves were mislabeled. Top brass were fired. And the management of the 147-year-old American landmark, where about 300,000 fallen troops rest, suddenly seemed as chaotic as its uniform lines of unadorned white markers are orderly.

Cemetery operations were declared antiquated. Arlington still relies on paper records and index cards to maintain 200 acres where presidents, astronauts, freed slaves and heroes of every American war lie. "One fire, flood or coffee spill away" from irreplaceable loss, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) warned.

While discussing Arlington's outdated record-keeping over dinner one night last summer, Ricky — who had just gotten an A in his Programming 1 class at school — announced, "I can fix that." His mother didn't doubt it. She still remembered her older sons complaining they were locked out of the computer again because Ricky, age 4, had changed all the passwords.

"He was the kid who figured things out," Elisabeth Van Dyk, 46, said of her youngest. "He took apart remote controls and his brothers' toys and put them back together again. You could trust he knew what he was talking about."

Ricky didn't have his driver's license yet, so he hitched a ride with his mom on her 45-minute commute from their home in Stafford, Va., to her workplace in Washington. He hopped the Metro the rest of the way to the cemetery. This was July and he wanted an early start before the heat set in.

His focus was Section 60, where about 700 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are buried, more than anywhere else in the country. He combed all 18 acres of it, row by row, and found more than just names. At one grave was a baby's sonogram; he thought about the child who would never know his dad. He saw parents who looked a lot like his own, standing, staring.

Ricky took it all in. This is a side of service he had never fully appreciated, even for a military brat — his great-great-great-grandfather fought at Gettysburg, his father is a retired Army sergeant first class, his stepfather is a retired Navy lieutenant commander and both of his brothers are Air Force senior airmen. (He intends to apply to the Naval Academy at Annapolis and wants to be an officer.)

"Sometimes I look at the birth date and they are about the same age as my brothers, or a year older than me. It puts a whole new perspective on life to think there are 18- or 19-year-old kids who give their lives," he said.

One afternoon while he was out here taking pictures, a woman asked, "What number is my son?" She wanted to know where he fell in a casualty count that is nearing 6,000 for both wars. Ricky couldn't answer her, but later he told his mom that he didn't want them to be numbers; he wanted them to be remembered as people.

"From that point forward," his mom recalled, "it seemed to turn into more than a project."

He spent afternoons in a bookstore poring over Web development manuals for the right program language to create the site. At night, in his family's study, his computer hooked up to a 40-inch flat screen and his keyboard on a snack table in front of the couch, he input hundreds of names, photos, links to obituaries and newspaper accounts; he created a space to blog tributes.

By mid-October, the site was launched.

Army Times wrote him up. The local TV station did a piece. At North Stafford High, he was a minor celebrity. Friends and families around the country could view a loved one's grave thousands of miles away with the click of a mouse. So far, the site has received nearly 116,000 hits and about 300 emails, like the one from Jean Lockey, widow of Army Col. Jon M. Lockey, killed in Iraq on July 6, 2007: "I now have a site to go to when life overwhelms me, a place where I can pretend for a moment I am right there."

And Sarah Hall, mother of 1st Lt. Benjamin John Hall, killed in Afghanistan on July 31, 2007: "Ben was … the light of my life and I miss him every second of every day. To know that his loss is felt by others and acknowledged with such love and honor as you have shown here lifts my heart.…Thank you."

About 10% of the service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are at Arlington; the rest are in cemeteries around the country. Ricky's next goal is to enlist the help of the American Legion and record them all on the website. He figures it could be done in a few months.

But the work at Arlington is never really finished. Sadly, there are always graves to add, and he comes out every few weeks to update the list. That's what brings him here today, with his mom and stepdad, in the back seat of the silver Honda she said he could have if he stayed on the honor roll, which he did. (If his grades drop, she has threatened to sell the car for a dollar.)

He's eager to try out the Xoom. It's a gorgeous April Sunday after a hard rain. The red tulips stand straight as soldiers at the cemetery gates, but the grounds are soaked. Ricky starts patrolling the far end of Section 60 where the new arrivals are. It's muddy and his sneakers sink three inches into what he realizes is a grave so fresh the sod hasn't gone in yet. He winces and carries on. No way can he wear those shoes to school Monday.

That's what he's doing when Rosemary Brown spots him. She comes here twice a year — with her husband on the anniversary of Jason's death and by herself on his birthday in September. ("It's a Mom thing. That's my time.") In between, Ricky's website might be the next best thing.

"Continue this, please," she tells the boy she's only just met. He's shy and a little awkward, not so different from the one she raised. "It's so important that they never, ever be forgotten. Ever."

"I will," Ricky promises. "You can bet on it."

Apr 22, 2011

A place to start saving money 

This morning I got an email (along with everyone else in my unit) from our Security Manager (the guy who oversees the handling of classified material and the physical security of our building). In it, he related how we all needed to be on the lookout and show extra vigilance because recently $32,000 worth of UPS uniforms were sold on eBay to some unknown entity. Virtually anyone in a UPS uniform, therefore - either delivering to you at home, or possibly at work - should bear extra scrutiny due to this possible threat.

Being as we work in the same area, I turned to him and asked where he got that information. He said it came in one of the regular email updates he gets from a wide swath of government security agencies. So, probing deeper, I asked "What'd they do? Add up all the UPS uniform sales on eBay? Does NSA have a whole desk devoted to watching what kind of crap people buy and sell on eBay - millions of transactions - every day? Or did somebody just sell 32 grand worth of uniforms in one shot and we're just 'lucky' enough to have stumbled across it?" The look I got in return was a bit like "why do you ask, and why do you doubt the man behind the curtain?" Of course, I got a different look when - less than five minutes later - I turned back to him and said, "Dude, you got took..."

You see, being a master of the interwebs, I vaguely recalled having heard this story before. Also, being a detector of BS, I detected... well... BS. With the simple Google search "ups uniforms ebay" I was routed to Snopes and, well, see for yourself. Took me only slightly longer than it took you to click that link to come to the conclusion this was bad information.

Ahhh, but the source. Where did it come from? Having now seen that he was handed a steaming pile, that he then took and passed along, our Security Manager was less than enthused. What @sshole passed that info? So, he finds the email, scrolls back down it to the point of origin and finds... Homeland Security. No joke. Couldn't make this up if I tried.

Yes, some chick at Homeland Security had blasted a bunch of military security specialists (at least Navy and Marine ones from what we could tell by the email) with a thousand times forwarded junkmail hoax... from 2003. Great oversight, there.

But what do you expect from a bureaucracy on top of other bureaucracies? That's what it is, after all. All the government did was take a bunch of other organizations and attempt - badly - to stick them together... and then put a massive unwieldy headquarters at the top. Imagine creating another HQ specifically to sit over the Pentagon. Call it... the Hexagon. Yeah... pass the Tylenol.

So, while I always thought the color coded terror alerts were kinda dumb, and am glad they are replacing it, I didn't think they were replacing it with "
imminent and elevated threat" warnings based on 8 year old spam email. But then this is the clown running the show, so what did I expect? And, as Mark Steyn reminds, the crowning jewel of Homeland Security is the TSA... which has yet to actually catch a terrorist. (Side note: though the Coasties got stuffed into the pile at Homeland Security, I have the utmost respect for those guys. They do more with less. WAY less. Same goes for Border Patrol, who are on their own master's shit list constantly for the very act of DOING THEIR JOB).

So, there ya go. No terrorists caught. No real threats recognized. Fake threats mass disseminated. Your tax dollars at work.

Apr 11, 2011

Get thee to the theater 

If not for a rare stop over at Big Hollywood, I would have completely missed that this was coming. Either I'm totally out of the pop-culture loop (entirely possible), or mainstream Hollywood doesn't want this seen (more likely). Either way, I hadn't heard anything about this - no ads, no previews, no nothing. The last time it was even a blip on my radar was probably two years ago, back when it was supposedly going to be an Angelina Jolie movie. Whateves... if it's playing anywhere close to me I need to throw down some coin, because Ayn Rand is the wake up call this country needs right now...


Apr 9, 2011

We. ARE NOT. impressed. 

The 11th hour (literally) save last night, keeping us from a gov't shutdown doesn't much change anything I said below. In fact, I'm almost MORE insulted that THAT'S what it took to spur action. But hey, if you wait until the last minute, then it only takes a minute, right?

Apr 8, 2011

Madness? THIS. IS. AMERICA.‏ 

The raw amount of unreal, surreal, and completely outlandish buffoonery that has occurred since last we spoke boggles the mind. Hello, my friends (both of you), and welcome back. I'd love to say that it's been the demands of work and the raw lack of time that kept me away for so long. While that's partially true, it mostly has come down to my heart not really being in it as of late. Why? Well, I look around and I don't like almost anything I see.

We've launched a "war" into another country on the shakiest of ground. If there was no pre-designated "end state" I could handle that, as "end states" fluctuate and change all the time. What blows my hair back is that this is the first time I remember going into a fight without a "BEGINNING state." You want to talk about a country that totally defined "marginal" in the "Threats to US interests" dictionary, I give you Libya. And boy did we look like rockstars, stickin' our noses in there. But at least we're done with all that now. Gave it to NATO. No US connection whatsoever. I'm sure it'll all work out...

DADT has flipped and I have been "trained" (whatever that means) by the DoD to treat everyone the same and not register that anyone is or is not gay... even though I thought that was the whole point of not asking and not telling. Next up: make sure the girls can be grunts. Sure... what could go wrong?

A dumbass in Florida burned up a Koran and a bunch of cave dwellers on the other side of the planet set about killing people over it. Yet we twist ourselves in knots to make sure that everyone understands that WE think it's the dumbasses' fault and not the fault of people who have their own brains and can make their own decisions (in theory) about whether or not they should MURDER people. Fan-f@cking-tastic.

But the real reason I have returned here today - of all days - should be obvious. In mere hours, unless somebody blinks, the government will see a big "No funds available" on the screen of their mega-ATM, and they'll go into sleep mode. On the whole, I don't give two shits if the government shuts down or not. In fact, I'd say let it. Except...

Yeah, you know the story by now. To quote The Right Stuff, "No bucks, no Buck Rogers." If the government goes "Tango Uniform" I don't get paid. This was a reality that I was facing a couple weeks ago, but our "Betters" got themselves squared away enough to drop us another check on the 1st. On the 15th, however, we're on half-rations. And if it goes beyond that, things get ugly. Oh sure, not to worry, I'll get back pay... but back pay don't cover mortgages and credit cards that want their money NOW. And while I've got enough bank to cover a short-term stoppage, if this were to roll into the weeks and months, I'm screwed. But there are plenty of military folks who - through no fault of their own - will be almost insta-screwed if they miss so much as one full payday.

The fact that this could occur is unacceptable. The excuses that accompany this occurrence, however, are far more offensive. Not to name political parties or point fingers, but there is ONE party that controlled both chambers of Congress in 2010 and shirked its responsibility to make a budget for this year because it was worried that its tax and spend plan wouldn't resonate with voters... and it was right. There is ONE party that still controls the Senate and has yet to produce a budget plan of its own as some type of counter-point to the budgets coming out of the House. There is ONE party that, at the highest levels, both legislative and executive, has decried the House submissions to fund DoD and get that part of the budget out of the way, while at the same time accused others of "playing politics" with military pay. ONE party has - for seventy years - ladled out the gravy, created an entitlement culture, and increasingly made people rely on the government for things that people used to rely on themselves for, but now is unwilling to pay people who fulfill one of the few responsibilities CONSTITUTIONALLY MANDATED to be performed by the government, defending the Republic.

And all the while, this party would try to tell us that - essentially - this is OUR fault. What? Don't follow the logic? Let me break it down. The Tea Party elected new blood - of a decidedly DIFFERENT party - in the last election. Those folks were sent there on a mandate to unf@ck government spending. The budgetary cuts that have been enacted since the new Congress came into session have been labeled "extremist" at every possible interval, though they have been demonstrably shown to amount roughly to a warm pee in the Pacific Ocean. This "extremism," according to the ONE party, is the fault of the new members of Congress being beholden to those crazy Tea Partiers. But since the last election was pretty much a one-way street, and it wasn't just the Tea Party people that voted in those elections, what they really mean is YOU. YOU dirty, unwashed, heathen masses - the kind that the Senate Majority Leader thinks stink and should be kept out of his sight - are to blame. So suck it.

And that seems to be the overarching message to the military in this move: suck it. DoD funding bill? Suck it. Bill to fully fund DoD while attached to yet ANOTHER Continuing Resolution? Suck it. Can't agree on the budget because of a fight over Planned Parenthood of all damned things? Hey, how about turning THAT into a separate bill and passing everything you CAN agree on into law? Suck it.

So, this is the state of my country. This is what we have been reduced to. This is who we are "led" by. While I will continue to well and faithfully discharge the duties of my offices, and we as Marines will certainly continue to support and defend the Constitution and obey all legal orders under the UCMJ, there's a reason that the military ranks first and Congress comes in last in all those annual poles. And times like this ain't gonna make those numbers do anything but get farther apart...

I recently purchased John Adams and have been fascinated by what I've read. While the mini-series was brilliant, the book is even more illuminating. The depth of commitment, the strength of character, the plain speech. These are all things that as a Marine, my head requires, and that as an American, my heart desires. As of late, I've been popping a lot of Excedrin and have had frequent chest pains.

And so, I leave you with these words from Mr Adams. May someone in today's government emerge who has the same intestinal fortitude that he did...

- "National defense is one of the cardinal duties of a statesman."
- "If We finally fail in this great and glorious contest, it will be by bewildering ourselves in groping for the middle way."

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