us armed forces

This article was written to honor our active duty military members during this 4th Of July, 2016, Independence Day.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. Honoring our active duty armed forces and the extreme measures they take to keep this country safe. In some of this article, I will be using my first tour of duty in the US Air Force as an example of how it was for me and a metaphor, for how it could be for some of our current active duty members today.

The United States Military is rather secret, by design, and I for one, no longer know the depth of the threats they face on a daily basis. We all know about the danger ISIS and the different terrorist groups pose, but there is no doubt, something much more sinister is out there, that perhaps goes beyond our imagination, as the Cold War did for most folks from, 1947 to 1991, when the Cold War ended.

The last few paragraphs of this article will open your eyes to the world, a world full of danger, that at any moment in time could have easily gone up in flames. But it didn’t then and won’t now, because, we have the best caregivers on earth.

Looking at what I think is an interesting and intriguing concept — is it possible that our active duty military members are the caregivers for a nation? Of course, military caregivers are normally defined as family members or friends, and other entities, that take care of our wounded warriors.

However, thinking outside the box, if the United States is one nation under God, and through caring for, or love of country, the military insures the safety of the nation, why would they not be, caregivers for a nation.

If you’ve never been in the military, I don’t expect you to truly understand how tough the military way of life was, or is. And if you’ve never been a caregiver for a loved one, you really don’t know how tough that can be either. There’s a parallel here, being drawn between a caregiver for a loved one and a caregiver for a nation. Let’s see where it goes.

I’ve said it many times before, for the most part a caregiver is a special person with some unique qualities, some people don’t have. In my opinion, in the big scheme of things, a soldier falls into that category too.

When you read through this article, there are many places where you could insert the word, “Caregiver.”  For example–much of the military works long hard hours in some awful conditions, don’t get much rest, and deal with lots of stress.  That sounds like a caregiver to me.

Take it from me a twenty-four year veteran, that thanks to our active duty armed forces, we can enjoy a restful night’s sleep, and tune out all the planning and scheming going on against this country around the world, knowing our armed forces are ready at a moment’s notice to protect, defend, secure our country, while honoring our flag, and way of life (freedom).

But make no mistake, as our military shrinks and it is shrinking, our adversaries will become more empowered and the threat to this nation will rise, in most cases through “Lone Wolf” scenarios, which are intended to create panic, casualties, and chaos. Unfortunately, due to the locations and perhaps nature of the attacks, they lie outside the jurisdiction of the military.

The real tragedy for our military is, as it was during the Vietnam war, politics get in the way, and often times the military are not asked to do what needs to be done to defeat an enemy, for political reasons. And are sometimes asked to do things that shouldn’t be done, for the same reason. Not taking a side here, it’s been that way for many years. Ultimately, the Commander in Chief of the Military is the President of The United States, and we follow his orders. (As caregivers for a loved one we also follow orders, but it’s usually from the doctors and some of the medical field. And although they may not always be right, we usually don’t second guess them and do as we’re told.)

My theory is that, The United States Armed forces are indeed, “The Caregivers For a Nation.” That might seem like a stretch to some, but hopefully this article will open your eyes to the perils that face and have faced this country for years, and part of the reason there has been not been another world war.

This is a short story, my story, and why I believe, once upon a time I was also a caregiver for a nation.

The Air Force

In August of 1968, I was 20 years old and just completed Air Force Technical School at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. I was now an Air Policeman, known today as the Security Forces.

From there I would be traveling to a far away land, so far from my home, I didn’t think the telephone lines would even reach me. I was very naive and entering a strange new world, that would be full of twists and turns, with some new adventures along the way.

September 2, 1968, I was flown to McGuire A.F.B., New Jersey, to prepare for my flight across the pond (Atlantic Ocean). As I made my way to the departure lounge, I met five other young men in uniform, preparing for the same flight. As we chatted, it became apparent we were all going to the same place–RAF Lakenheath, England. Around 6:00 P.M. the large jet was loaded and ready for departure.

The Aircraft was a large chartered Boeing 707, full of military members and their families making their way to England and the Continent.

It would have been in the morning hours of Sept 3rd, 1968, when we went on final approach to RAF Mildenhall, England. I still remember the patchwork quilt designed landscape from all the farming and eventually started seeing quaint old 18th century churches, buildings, and some other structures. The folks staying in England got off at RAF Mildenhall and were bused to their various bases, while the rest flew on to Germany.

It was exciting being in England especially, as I remember we were told during training to take it serious, as we’d all be going to Vietnam. As it turned out, all but three of my approximately seventy-five classmates did go direct duty to Vietnam. But the need came up for one person in my class to go to England, while two went to Germany. Knowing what I know now, meeting the girl of my dreams, getting married to Annie, and being her caregiver through to her death, fate must have intervened. As against the odds, I was selected to go to England and the rest is history.

The first two or three weeks while I was in training, I worked some detail duty and had to learn the customs and courtesies of a strange new country, and importantly, to respect the Queen and Royal Family. As a member of the Air Police Squadron, we were often the first airmen an English person saw when they entered the instillation. Therefore, we were considered Ambassador’s to the United States, and had to behave accordingly. Not much has changed from then and now.

Being in a new and foreign country, for any of our active duty military members, will create a long list of firsts. Here’s one of mine: One day I was standing guard (detail duty) over several English contract workers in a restricted area, while they dug a trench for some sort of pipe-line. They were all wearing quaint little flat top stylish hats, sports coats and some had on a tie. I couldn’t help but notice how soiled the clothing was from the hard work they were doing. Of course, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked the question…Why would you wear a coat and tie to dig a trench? In a very soft, friendly and kind voice, an elderly gentleman with a big smile said, we do it to honor our Queen.  Wow, sort of blew me away. I was in awe of their total and loyal respect for their Queen. That was indeed a first for me.

We were also told that if we had contact with any foreign nationals from a communist country we were to go straight to our boss and report it. Literally! During the first six months me, and a friend hitchhiked to Cambridge, to go see the university, and maybe meet a young lady or two. We didn’t know what to expect.  We were walking across the school grounds and spotted two lovely young ladies sitting on the grass chatting, back and forth. Naturally, we walked over and introduced ourselves, thinking they were English. After chatting for awhile, I started noticing that the girls had a distinct accent. I thought, that perhaps they were from another part of England, as there are different accents in England, just like in this country.  So when I asked them where they were from, and one of them said Poland, we had to get up, and get away from them as fast as we could. Then hitchhike back to the base and report the contact.

I know it may not make much sense to you, but there were a lot of communist spies in England at the time, and we were trained to be mindful of pretty young foreign girls, as they were looking for bits and pieces of information for a much larger puzzle they could put together. Apparently, like out of a James Bond movie, they were attracted to young American soldiers and would do whatever it took to establish a relationship and get any useful information they could. Hanging out with the enemy was paramount to treason, and dealt with swiftly and severely. Good for a one way ticket to Leavenworth, KS, Federal Prison. And turning ones head to temptation required good order and discipline. Some had it and apparently some didn’t. Fortunately me and my buddy did the right thing. (I’m sure that’s an issue for the military in today’s world too.)

To our benefit, WWII was still in the conversation, and as “Yanks” or “Americans,” (we were called both) we were looked on with favor. The locals were very appreciative of the partnership we had with England, during and after the war.

When I first started to work, it would have been early October of ’68. I was placed in a position that came with a huge amount of responsibility; considering my supervisor informed me, I was a “Jeep,” meaning, I was new, I was an idiot, didn’t know a thing about anything, and basically told not to offer up my opinion to anyone, unless it was asked for. The military was very harsh back then. The bosses dictated, and we did as we were told. The consequences for not following orders weren’t good. (This was also, kind of how I was treated when I started care giving for Annie. Strange how life can repeat itself.)

One of my first jobs was walking the mounds on top of the bunkers in the special weapons storage area. It was basically a 50 to 75 yard walk, back and forth for the whole shift. Looking down from where I walked was a short paved road, with blast doors to the bunkers all along the stretch of road. Above the doorways was more mounds, and another walker on top, walking over the bunkers on the other side of the road. The idea behind having two guards was–we could keep an eye on the surrounding terrain, all the blast doors to the bunkers on each side of the road and on each other, too. Any time there was special weapons involved, it required the two man concept. No lone individual could ever be near a special weapon, under any circumstances. If caught near a special weapon or trying to damage a special weapon and refusing the guards orders to retreat or move away, our orders were to shoot to kill.

When on post, a walker was not allowed to talk to any other guard walking near him, unless it was in an official and necessary capacity. Excuses for violating the rule were not accepted. Your buddy while in the barracks could literally be 30 feet away from you while on guard duty, and you did not converse. The powers to be had a theory, inattention to detail while in the proximity of special weapons would be catastrophic. Technically, they were right.

The first 6 months, the winter months, it was cold and downright miserable to be a “walker.” Whether it was walking the mounds or walking around an airplane or a few airplanes for 9 to 12 hours, which sometimes turned into 18 hours, was not fun. We didn’t get a break every few hours, not even during heavy snow, or to eat.  When your feet hit the pavement or dirt, you were there until the shift ended. If the shift was longer that 12 hours, a truck would drive by and throw out a small box of C rations.  Which were rather useless in cold weather, as the can opener was about 1 inch long, and impossible to use with frozen fingers. Did anyone care? Nope!  (That kind of sounds like a caregiver for a loved one)

My tour of duty at RAF Lakenheath lasted 44 months. The duty was relentless the entire time. Rather like a bad dream, that hasn’t left my memory bank. However, if the duty was hell, then the off duty time with the locals had to be heaven. They were good people, and really did love the “Yanks.” In that era, England was probably one of the few places on earth that treated the American Soldier with great respect and hospitality. Amazing.

The Cold War

Initially, being in England during the cold war was not such a big deal. We didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. However, with our Secret security clearance we started attending classes, and soon realized the cold war was raging, escalating, and had been for years. The world, had now been revealed to me in a different light. The times were very dangerous, and our military had to be on guard and ready to give it all we had, on a moment’s notice.

In today’s military, the same will apply in many cases. Many of our soldiers know things that we don’t, and quite frankly, we’re probably better off not knowing.

As the world turned back then, the Soviet Union had enough equipment, tanks, missiles, special weapons, manpower in East Germany and the Warsaw Pact countries to overwhelm, then overrun our forces in West Germany in a matter of  hours. We could not let that happen. RAF Lakenheath, being in England was, immune from the initial thrust of manpower and tanks, our threat would come from the sky. Our mission was to get our planes loaded with weapons and, in the air heading to the battlefield before we got hit.

Although, we may not have had the man power, we certainly had the determination and a strong deterrent. Our mission! But a deterrent is only as good as the soldiers and their quick response to any aggression. So we trained all the time. A scenario would come in to the Command Post (main command center on base), the whistle would go off, and we were off to war. When the whistle went off, initially, the troops didn’t know if it was actual or an exercise. So we responded as if it were a real threat. The exercise scenario might be, a division of Russian soldiers started moving around in an unusual or deliberate manner or, perhaps a tank column started moving towards the front lines, and so on. The result of that sort of activity could initiate Defcon 3, where all available F-100 Fighters were loaded with weapons and ready to respond with overwhelming force to any invasion of the West.  Defcon 2 would be preparations for all out war, and Defcon 1, well, if we’d actually gone there, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here now, and perhaps you might not be sitting where you are, either.

The truth is, our life expectancy on a first strike base like RAF Lakenheath, was in the minutes, not hours. We knew that, and it made us more determined than ever to completed our mission and get our planes launched before we had incoming. We were well trained, and dying for our country was an acceptable fate. We were an expendable asset, with a mission orientated mind, that put “Our Country” before anything else in our lives.  And that is a fact! (Still true today)

Extensive training for a chemical warfare attack, was a must. When on duty, we always had our gas mask, chemical suit which was in our war bag, and an atropine injector, used as an antidote to nerve agents, perhaps giving us enough time to complete our mission.

(In care giving for a loved one, my daughter Melissa used a syringe type instrument to place atropine under Annie’s tongue to stop the death rattle. It’s very quick and effective at calming the body down.)

From day one we were told many things.  But the one question that always stuck out in my mind was, “why are we doing this.”  The answer, brought our young military lives into perspective. We were here doing what we do, “So our loved ones and the good people back home could sleep well at night.” Basically ignorant to just how dangerous the world was and what it took on a daily basis to keep them safe. It was an insane world at times, but the truth is, the US Military was always the best of the best on this planet, and still is. They are the “Night Walkers,” “the “Caregivers for a Nation,” and on duty around the clock.

Our armed forces “are” like caregivers for a nation and “do” keep us safe at night. In a world that is so crazy with all the terrorism threats from around the globe, if our armed forces were not out there in the world caring for us, who would. We would not be safe and our way of life, the freedom we enjoy, would be challenged.

When Annie was fighting her battle with cancer, I was relentless in keeping her safe. And I did a good job, while loving her dearly through her nightmare. However, in the end I lost her and the battle.

Well, it seems to me there is a real cancer out there in the world, terrorism, and our military are relentless in doing all they can to keep us safe. Their doing a good job too, and unlike me losing Annie, if our military were to lose this battle, our country and way of life would surely be in peril. In fact, of that I have no doubt.

When I was a kid in the early 1950’s and at school, we were always doing duck and cover exercises, getting under our desks and frightened from listening to the adults talk about those crazy communists that were going to start a nuclear war and kill us all. During the 1960’s, when this country got involved in the Vietnam war, most of us no longer saw the big picture, the nuclear arms race, as our attention was on Vietnam. It wasn’t until I got to England that I saw just how dangerous the world truly was.

The real deal…America withdrew our last nuclear bombs from RAF Lakeheath in 2008.

Last American nuclear bombs leave Britain after half a century of ……/Last-Americannuclearbombs-leave-…

Daily Mail

Jun 26, 2008 – America has withdrawn the last of its nuclear weapons from military bases in Britain, it was claimed yesterday. The remaining 110 free fall nuclear bombs are understood to have been removed from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk on President George Bush’s orders.

When I arrived at RAF Lakenheath, a half century ago, this is what I was guarding on some of the F-100 Fighter Jets, or walking over on the mounds while they were in their bunkers. When on duty at the mounds or when guarding a loaded F-100, the guard represented the last line of defense for the safety of the weapon and continuation of the mission. We took the job and ability to use deadly force, seriously.  We were part of the overall deterrent that allowed the citizens and loved ones back home to sleep peacefully at night, naive to the serious game of chess that was going on between two large nuclear powers, each capable of mass destruction, of the other, and perhaps the world.

Stressing the point, of the role our military plays in keeping us safe was the theme to this article. It’s so important, that the folks, the citizens of the United States know and understand this. If we take care of our military, they will take care of us. “A weak military, becomes a weak country, losing its freedom along the way.” There is always danger lurking in the darkness, but for now we have the “Night Walkers.”  Let’s keep it that way.

While in the military, I had a great love for my country. And after being out of the military as long as I was in, I still feel the same way — “Love of Country” is so important to the survival of a nation.

And as I learned later, the communist, well, they were no more crazy than we were when it came to a nuclear exchange. When everybody loses, what’s the point. They loved their families and country too.

In closing this article, even if you don’t care for our armed forces, but enjoy your way of life, support them, help them, and in doing so they will keep you safe. That way, you can safely go play “Bingo” on Friday nights, Golf on Saturday afternoon, or whatever it is that you enjoy doing. Personally, I like to fish.

Military Doctrine 101:  A strong deterrent will help keep us safe. Hence, we have the “Caregivers for a Nation.” They’ve got our backs.

Written by Bob Harrison
Bob Harrison was raised in the heart of the Redwoods in the far northwest comer of northern California. The little town of Crescent City, California was located near some of the world’s tallest trees, with the west shoreline being the Pacific Ocean. Bob spent most of his time fishing the two local rivers where some of the finest Steelhead and Salmon fishing is located. He was also well known up and down the north coast as an avid motorcycle racer, winning several hundred trophies, and one Oregon State title. Bob graduated from Del Norte High School with the class of 1966, then spent a one year stint at the College of the Redwoods, before having a strong sense of patriotism and joining the United States Air Force. After three years of service, Bob met Annie, the love of his life, and they got married in England in 1972. Bob’s love of country pushed him on to what turned out to be a very successful career, retiring in 1991. Bob’s last military assignment was Wichita, Kansas, a place he and Annie decided to call home. Together they developed and ran two very successful antique businesses until the stranger knocked on their door and changed their lives forever; “Because of Annie.”

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