In 2009, a bill was passed that was designed to streamline the voting process of our service men and women whether they were stationed in the States or overseas. The bill is known as MOVE, which stands for Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment Act, and it came about in part as a result of documented repression of the “GI Joe vote” in 2004, and more so in 2008.

When I was in Iraq during the 2004 presidential election, there were vague rumblings about ballots not getting delivered, early voting not processed even though it had been completed on time, and other voting roadblocks. In short, soldiers seemed to be getting flat shut out of the game. By 2008 the rumblings reached a roar, and it appears that something is still seriously wrong.

Soldiers typically have a strong showing when it comes to voting, provided they are given the chance to do so. Because they have sworn “to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, both foreign and domestic,” as a bloc they tend to be conservative. They understand better than most the price that must be paid in order for us to remain free, and part of that price is the cost of having a strong military.

In the past three years, though, they have been treated by this administration in a manner that at best could only be described as dismissive, and at worst, treacherous. Everything from standing in formation in the hot Afghani sun while their Commander decided to shoot some hoops rather than visit the troops, to having him state that they should pay for their own health care, to cutting their budget by a half a trillion dollars, is a slap in the face of the most remarkable people I have ever known.

One would think, therefore, that by now there would be a sizeable number of ballots that need to at least start to be counted, but that is not the case. In fact, voting on the part of soldiers, whether here or overseas is down by 77%! How can this be? It makes no sense statistically or otherwise, and has drawn the attention of several lawmakers, including Texas Senator John Cornyn.

Senator Cornyn fired off a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wherein he stated his displeasure with the Pentagon when it comes to actually following the provisions of MOVE. He says, in part, that it is “an unacceptable failure by Pentagon leaders to comply with the law and ensure our service members and their families are able to exercise one of the most fundamental rights for which they sacrifice every day.” The question on the minds of Senator Cornyn and several of his colleagues is, is there mischief afoot? Is the vote actually being suppressed, or is it just the gross incompetence that seems to accompany an ever burgeoning bureaucracy?

Either way, I am glad he is blowing the whistle, and pray that he gets a response. Sadly, though, I doubt that it will be in time for this election, and that is more than just tragic, in my view it is treasonous.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

I have spoken at length in days gone by of the frustration experienced by troops over the way both the media and civilian superiors handle details regarding their movements or strategies. I had my own life endangered on more than one occasion because of their folly, and events of the last week underscore once just how vulnerable are our troops to attack from the mishandling of information.
Afghanistan is a place of tremendous danger from within and without. Afghan security forces trained by our troops are turning upon and murdering those who have labored long and hard to give them a shot at being free. Amongst those serving bravely is Prince Harry of England, the youngest son of the late Princess Diana and Prince Charles.

Recently the outer perimeter on the base where Prince Harry is serving was breached, and 18 enemy combatants were killed. Their stated purpose was to take out Prince Harry, and of that I have no doubt. It would have been tough to do, and thankfully their attempt at physical and psychological warfare in a war where morale was flagging was foiled. But, do you know what would have been a perfect end to the story? That we never heard of it. I realize that in this day of internet and instant messaging that is nigh on to impossible, but quite frankly, our insistence on having a “front row seat” in a theatre of combat endangers our soldiers.

Now the entire Taliban and every other Islamist terrorist group on the planet know the location of Prince Harry, who is already in an impossible situation. The guy just wants to be a soldier who doesn’t get any special treatment, serve with his squad, and finish his tour. Whether or not he has been moved, I don’t know and don’t want to know. Either way, I can guarantee you that having it globally broadcast that he was there and was the target helped no one, least of all the British troops serving with him.

On to the up and coming drawdown of our troops in Afghanistan. The President of the United States by de facto has all but told the Taliban that they just need to sit tight and wait. The level of troop reduction has been well published, as well as the timeline, and the only thing worse would have been to send the enemy a memo containing the itinerary.

When I was in Iraq, I had to come up with a code to communicate with my husband when I’d be arriving so as not to inadvertently disclose movement, and I was a civilian. So, is it any wonder that the Boston Globe just published a piece discussing the all time low level of morale amongst our brave troops? Connect the dots, folks. Trust me, it’s no fun having a bull’s eye painted on your chest, and it’s even worse when it happens at the behest of those who should know better.
By: Ali Elzabeth Turner

There is a 34 year old Marine named Josh Mandel who happens to be the Treasurer of the State of Ohio. He has also been an Ohio State Representative, and is running against long time U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. Josh served as a Marine for eight years, and did two tours in Iraq at the same time I was there. He was involved at times in military intelligence, and served in
both Haditha and Anbar, rough places where the Marines were desperately needed. He retired from the Marines with the rank of Sgt. He was first in his class in Boot Camp, first in his class in Intelligence School, and was awarded the Navy and Marine Achievement Medal.

This is a lot to pack into 34 years, not to dismiss getting married in Jerusalem, having several college degrees, becoming a lawyer and
having the guts to take on an incumbent.

There is the usual smear campaign going on from the opposing camp, one accusation being that he adopted a false Southern accent while he was campaigning in coal country. (I don’t believe, however, that Hillary Clinton was called untrustworthy when she gave her now infamous “Ah ain’t no wahz tard” speech.

My purpose here is not to defend something that may have been nothing more than silly. But what has recently come against Josh from the Sherrod camp is inexcusable, and another example of just how much career politicians who have never served in the military can become so arrogant they can refer to themselves as veterans, somehow likening the rigors of dodging verbal bullets in Washington D.C. to serving in the beastly heat of Al Anbar.

As was mentioned earlier, Josh was in intel. And anyone who understands the true miracle that occurred in Anbar knows that because of our troops, for the first time in anyone’s memory feuding sheiks came together to defeat a common enemy: Al Qaeda. What happened there became legendary all over Iraq, and the fact that Josh was there during that historical moment will impress me until someone shows me otherwise.

What Sherrod has done that is so despicable, besides referring to himself as “an experienced veteran in the wars on Capitol Hill” is to say that Josh’s experience in Iraq was only “tactical.” Tactical. I’m sorry, but what part of “first in Boot Camp” AND “first in Intelligence School” did you miss, Senator Brown? Do you even begin to understand what it took to accomplish getting sheiks to sit down at the table, all the while keeping them safe from those would just as soon take off their heads?

I know that this kind of stuff goes on in politics all the time, and there are some mistakes that I believe Josh may have made that perhaps need to be addressed. But please, don’t minimize the service of a Marine or any member of our service branches who has volunteered to go into harm’s way in order that you you may be safe and free. It’s at the very least unseemly, especially for a United States Senator.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

There is no one that manages to “keep it together” better than one of our highly trained Special Forces operatives, irrespective of the branch in which they serve. The SEALS have had the most notoriety in the past year due to the take down of Osama Bin Laden, and it is not something they have appreciated. They operate under the philosophy of “We do it, we don’t talk about it.” So, seeing as it is true across the board that both intelligence and special forces organizations depend on keeping their operations “under the radar” at all costs, if they get together to produce a 22 minute video to protest the leaking of information from the White House to our enemies, you can know that they are hopping mad.

I am referring to the organization OPSEC, (which stands for Operational Security, the basic understanding that “loose lips sink ships,) and they have produced an excellent video that can be accessed online, called “Dishonorable Disclosures.”

If I hadn’t lived amongst the SEALS, Army Rangers, Delta, NCIS and the Iraqi Special Forces on a highly restricted base while in Baghdad, I wouldn’t have known just what a big deal it is that they have come out of their corner to take on the CNC, or Commander in Chief. It is a part of their contract that they never come out and criticize their Commander while they are still serving. They often come right up to the line, and after they are retired they have more freedom to speak their mind, but these guys went ahead and exposed what has been happening to them by the current administration, and I am sure there will be hell to pay.

They talk about the fact that the White House announced the death of Bin Laden before intel from the compound could be processed and analyzed. The Pakistani Dr. who disclosed Bin Laden’s location was exposed and in danger. The US/Israeli joint effort in successfully pushing back the Iranian effort at building a nuclear weapon through the Stuxnet virus was discussed.

Retired Special Forces Colonel Jamie Williamson talked at length about how secrets that he “has been protecting for 20 years” are now public knowledge, but the situations that warranted those secrets being classified have not changed.

Several officers, from Major General Paul Valley (Ret) to Major Dave King, Special Forces, (Ret) to Ben Smith, an active Navy SEAL to FOX News commentator Lt Col Bill Cowan, USMC, (Ret) have all sounded the alarm, some with understandably salty language. But what just set me on my ear was the disclosure that within days after the death of UBL, various heavy hitters from Hollywood, no less, were invited into the White House by President Obama and treated to a blow by blow briefing of everything that went down in the course of the raid. Hollywood producers and actors? I have no words to describe my fury at such shameless consorting for political gain, especially amongst an industry that often has such low regard for our fighting men and women. And my hat and honor go once again to those who sadly are having to defend the Constitution (and us) from all enemies, both foreign and domestic.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

My husband and I recently watched a grim, but in my view important movie produced in 2012 entitled “Act of Valor.” It illustrates the movements of Navy SEALS on several continents as they prevent radical Islamists in several American cities from using ceramic ball bearings sewn into vests from blowing themselves up in population dense places like airports and sporting events. They would have entered into America through an extensive tunnel system that starts in Mexico. In addition, the SEALS staged a daring rescue of a badly wounded female CIA agent who withstood unbelievable torture, and they narrowly escaped a heavily armed, well trained narco-terrorism force in Central America in the process. All of it was based on true events, and for SEALS, it’s all in a day’s work.

For me, the film was a painful and dear reminder of what a privilege it was to live amongst the SEALS and Iraqi Special Forces for 16 months on a camp that had once been the haunt of Uday Hussein. What I was not prepared for, however, was the fact that the movie had been dedicated to every SEAL that had fallen since 9/11, and when I saw the name of Marc Lee, the fallen son of Gold Star Mom Debbie Lee whom I have met, come up on the screen, I had a come apart. Marc’s story of self sacrifice has been alluded to in other pieces written in this column, and I won’t say more at this juncture other than I found my hand reaching out seemingly involuntarily to touch his name as the credits rolled.

Now contrast the tales of valor as the SEALS waged the kind of warfare that nabbed Osama Bin Laden with a new report that has just been released that makes recommendations that our troops be reduced as well as refocused on dealing with “climate change as a security threat.” The Unified Security Budget, in cooperation with the Center for American Progress and the Institute for Policy Studies has posited that our troops be reduced by 20% and move toward making “conflict resolution and diplomacy” as one of its goals. Huh? The SEALS job never has and never will be to sit down at the table first. It has always been to get the bad guys so that diplomats can actually do the sitting down, let alone the talking. That’s bad enough, but global warming, even if it does exist, is somehow supposed to be looked on in the same way as jihad?

The authors of the Unified report also want to see the U.S. nuclear arsenal reduced, the Osprey not be produced, laser warfare technology not be developed, a Virginia class submarine be cancelled, and the list goes on. They want the Pentagon to “get out of the way, and handing over any unneeded military installations to be converted into green job incubators.” “Green job incubators,” I guess would be where the SEALS will be working to develop sustainable energy and their diplomacy skills. Do you think they’ll sing Kumbaya while they do?
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Recently I had a chance to interview three members of the Burial Detail that are in charge of the military ceremony held at the gravesides of veterans. Their names were J.D. Jones, Tink Haney, and Lyle Sadler. I learned some things, not just about what they do and the need they have for more citizens to become a part of their team, but about the symbolism of the ceremony and the need for the restoration of respect for the flag.

Our burial detail is sponsored by the VFW, and is under the supervision of Roger Keyes. Currently there are about 25 members, and it would be ideal to have at least five more in order to keep a rotation going and avoiding burn out, literally, in this summer’s heat. It takes a team of 11 to do a ceremony properly: 7 shooters, a bugler, two to fold the flag that was on the coffin, and one to give the commands so the ceremony goes off with precision. If the deceased is a Marine, for example, at least one member of the team needs to be a Marine as well, and this is true for all the branches of service.

In a pinch they can get by with three shooters, and typically three rounds are fired. The full 21 gun salute is reserved for officials like the President, military officers and heads of state. The history of the “21 guns” goes back to the days of the Revolutionary War, and the number 21 was picked because it is the total of the numbers which make up the year 1776. The flag is folded with great care a total of 13 times, signifying the 13 colonies. Each fold has a special meaning, and includes such things as belief in eternal life, honor and remembrance toward the sacrifice of veterans, a tribute to woman and mothers, and others.

Tink also told me that the history behind the three shots fired goes back to the battlefield, where a succession of three fired shots after a cease fire indicated that the fighting was to resume again after a time of respect for the fallen.

Burial Detail members need not be veterans, and they need not be only men. They simply need to be people who have a passionate respect for our veterans and our flag. One thing that is bothersome to all three men I interviewed is the lack of respect for the flag at games, and to a lesser extent, at funerals. Tink said, “If people can, they need to stand, and put their hand over their heart. It shows respect both for the flag and the veteran.”

On the lighter and perhaps more practical side, a pet peeve of J.D’s is “long winded preachers.” He has been on duty at graveside services where the detail stood at parade rest for a total of 40 minutes in 100 degree weather. “They were lucky we didn’t faint,” he said. Lyle enjoys being a part of the detail because it “shows respect, and gives me a chance to say thanks.” So far this year they have officiated at over 60 funerals. Tink, who calls out the commands, says that their two jobs are to “follow protocol,” and “to do what the family wants.”

If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, your uniform and training will be provided for you, and you can learn more by calling Roger Keyes at 256-374-2072.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

I had the great privilege of flying across country on July 4th. I had been in Seattle taking care of my nearly 92 year old mother, and while I didn’t get to go to any cookouts, play any horseshoes or watch any parades or fireworks, my celebration of Independence Day was nonetheless most satisfying. Why? Because since my time in Iraq I have engaged in an activity which I have called guerilla gratitude, and got to take my ‘tude out for a spin while beating feet to make my flights and connections on the 4th.

What in the world is “guerilla gratitude?” It is the act, primarily directed toward soldiers, of making a point of getting out of one’s comfort zone and going up to a complete stranger in uniform and thanking them for their service. This is both easiest and toughest to do in airports: easy because everyone is out of their comfort zone, thus, there is a great equalizer, and harder, because the stresses of travel make it much more tempting to pull back into one’s personal cocoon. I have found, though, that virtually without fail, every time that I go out of my way to thank a soldier for my freedom and personal safety the reaction is always worth it.

I meet all types of soldiers: new ones, enlisted ones, officers, those who have had several tours in the Great Sandbox, ‘Nam vets, on it goes. I think that there has only been one time that my getting in their personal space has been met with less than full warmth, and it didn’t bother me a bit. You see, “guerilla gratitude” makes YOU into a warrior. How? Well, understand that the term “guerilla,” (which means ‘little war’ in Spanish,) is defined as follows: “a form of irregular warfare in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to armed civilians use military tactics such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility…to strike a vulnerable target, and withdraw almost immediately.”

Now, does that not describe what goes on in a “guerilla gratitude airport raid?” I, in my disguise as a late- middle-aged grandma wannabe, sneak up on the unsuspecting soldier, ambush them through the element of surprise, sabotage the plans of those who seek to demoralize our troops by countering their offensive with gratitude, and “withdraw almost immediately” to the tram, the gate or the plane.

Is it “highly irregular?” It is. Is it great fun? Oh, yeah. To be someone who once upon a time had no respect for the military, and now takes every chance I can to say “thank you” gives me the opportunity to have brief, dear encounters with the most remarkable group of people I have ever met: our men and women in service to our country.

Maybe I’ll start a guerilla gratitude training camp. Maybe my next book will be entitled “Guerilla Gratitude.” (My publisher likes the title, and I did already purchase the online domain.) But my fondest hope is that you, dear reader, will be inspired to make “guerilla gratitude” a lifestyle. Our troops need it more than we can know.
By Ali Elizabeth Turner

Colonel Sam Gibbons may have passed on in 2010, but he remains a local military hero in the hearts and minds of veterans and residents of Tennessee and Alabama. He was awarded the BronzeStar, and endured horrific loss of his men in the European Theatre of WWII.

After Sam came home from the war, he did many things including working for Con-Agra, but became best known for his involvement with Tennessee Walking Horses. He is in the Tennessee Walking Horse Hall of Fame, and for 36 years, Sam managed the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, TN.

He also became very involved with the Alabama Veterans’ Museum, and worked as part of the board until he died. In honor of Sam, the Veterans’ Museum is pleased to announce the 1st Annual Sam Gibbons Tenessee Walking Horse Show on Friday, June 22nd at 6 pm. “We are hoping it will become our signature annual fund-raising event,” said Sandy Thompson, the Museum’s director. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Veterans’
Museum, or by contacting Sandy Thompson, at 256-771-7578, or Ken Wilson, 256-777- 4578. Come out and help the Veterans’ Museum continue to be one of the top attractions of the Southeast!
By Ali Elizabeth Turner