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