Have you ever wondered what you would do if you saw something bad happening to one of your fellow citizens and knew that they were in danger and only you could help?  You often read about the heroic efforts of various people rushing into burning buildings, pulling someone from a burning car,  maybe lifting the corner of a vehicle in an adrenaline-fueled act of compassionate desperation, or even breaking up a violent attack without thought of personal harm.  Would you really do something if you were in that circumstance?  If someone desperately needed help, and you were the only one who could help, would you do the right thing at personal risk?  It is a good question to ask yourself, and it is a good thing to know ahead of time what your moral fiber is.  In such a situation, surely the last thing you would want is to be frozen with fear or simple confusion about whether you should act and what you should do.  Probably the most effective thing to do is to say a quick prayer and start moving and thinking as you move about what you will do next.  This is a very important question.  If you fail to jar yourself from this initial paralysis that many people succumb to in a crisis, you may never move, and your inaction could even have catastrophic consequences for those you love and for your peace of mind as you perhaps grapple with the guilt for years afterward about what you should have done in that one moment of crisis.  

Too often, people fail to act and the consequences are severe both for the victim and for their wounded consciences afterwards (for failing to act).  You may or may not have heard of
Catherine Susan "Kitty" Genovese.  Her brutal attack and murder on a dark, early morning on March 13, 1964, in a Queens, NYC, neighborhood set off a flurry of stories across the nation as people grappled with the seeming inaction or under-reaction of her neighbors.  The initial reports of their seemingly cold-hearted apathy as she screamed for help has even led to a psychological label called the Genovese syndrome or the bystander effect.  This is a phenomenon of behavior in which the greater number of bystanders watching a crime or attack, the less likely any one of the bystanders is to accept responsibility for action. 

It is probably a good thing that this attack got so much attention even if it was sensationalized because it led to many good repercussions such as the Neighborhood Watch program.   All in all, it led us to ask ourselves the basic question, "Am I my neighbor's keeper."  This is the same question at issue in the story of the good Samaritan.  And Jesus used that story to emphasize that the love and worship of God compels us to look out for the welfare and safety of our fellow human beings.  This responsibility to our neighbor is critical if we are to avoid the label of hypocrite or, worse, avoid the guilty pang of conscience which might be God Himself prodding us asking, did you really do right by that person? 

Of course, not all the news is bad.  We have also seen examples of people reacting quickly and with bravery, not hesitating to ask whether they are their neighbor's keeper.  The uplifting story of Flight 93, coming out of the horror of 9/11, reminded us of the possibility of sacrificial love that conquers fear and refuses to stand by.  The brave actions of those people on that horrific day has inspired so many people afterwards, including some military units that took the words of those heroes for their motto, "Let's roll." 

Nonetheless, the baser human nature remains, and even in recent news, there continue to be stories of people who simply stand by, whether out of apathy, fear, or confusion, and fail to act.  I've actually witnessed this phenomenon on a lesser level when certain things have happened in a group.  In one incident while I was deployed to Iraq, a thick electric cable that fed electricity to some of our prefab offices was run over by a very heavy military vehicle and the punctured cable sleeve started to spew sparks and burn.  I'm not sure if any real harm could have happened from this, but it really looked spectacular at the time.  There was an easy solution to stop it until we could get it repaired, but unfortunately, the solution required one to pass within a few feet of the sparking, burning cable and reach the shutdown switch for the generator that was feeding it.  You would have thought that, among all these big tough soldiers (several dozen by the time I came out), there would have been many volunteers to heroically leap into action.  You would have been wrong.  I think we all just froze for a couple of minutes trying to determine whether it was the responsibility of any one of us individually or not and whether there was any possible solution or whether it was more prudent to stay out of the way.  Finally, I saw a couple of our NCOs start moving forward, and this knocked me out of my temporary stupor, so I moved forward with them to the generator.  I knew where the stop button was, having seen it before when we had looked at the generator during mechanical problems, but I did not know whether these NCOs knew.  They were several steps ahead of me, and fortunately, found the stop button and shutdown the generator within seconds, which immediately stopped the cable from sparking and burning.  Then the three of us looked up with amusement at the burgeoning crowd of onlookers which had still not moved to help. 

This incident burned deep into my conscience and memory.  The next time that I needed to act, I knew I couldn't hesitate.  The next time came only a few weeks later.  We were in a chow line at the dining facility (DFAC) on our base in Balad.  Roughly three hundred of us (mostly soldiers but a few DA civilians or civilian contractors) were standing in line without any significant overhead cover when the siren went off indicating an attack by indirect fire (rockets or mortars).  As per some ridiculous base policy (and the military has many such stupid policies), the DFAC locked the doors and would not let anyone in or out. Unfortunately, that left a few hundred people (soldiers and DA civilians) out in the open. There were a few concrete bunkers in the area, but not nearly enough to accommodate all the people that were there, and ironically, true to selfish human nature, these people were more worried about losing their place in line than they were about being blown to pieces.  Most had probably been in Iraq for a few months at least, like myself, and were a little jaded at the possibility anyway since they had weathered these sirens and the accompanying procedures to bunker down at least once a day for several weeks. 

There were all ranks of men and women in the line to include some that outranked me, but probably half of them were leaders, like myself, either officer or non-commissioned officer (NCO).  I think we were all stunned to see that the the dining facility personnel callously locked the doors right in our face without any hint of concern at our plight.  We stood there for a few seconds, and the first thing I started thinking was, "somebody has to do something."  I assumed that some gruff sergeant major would immediately spring into action, but as I looked around, I saw that no one was moving.  I tried to make eye contact with a few of those leaders close to me in line to get a quick assessment of what they thought.  I was willing to take responsibility for the solution, but I guess I wanted some reassurance that I would get backup from those that outranked me.  Unfortunately, I was unable to make eye contact with any of those leaders as most looked away or at the ground, somehow hoping to avoid responsibility.  It took a couple of seconds to sink in, but I quickly realized that somebody did have to take action and that somebody was me.  I knew that all of these officers and NCOs around me had taken much of the same training on proactive leadership that I had on numerous occasions, and I was shocked that they were doing nothing, but I couldn't dwell on that.  I knew inaction was not an option (even though I could easily have gotten away with it given that there were other leaders around me that weren't moving, some that outranked me).  But I knew that even if I did not get challenged afterwards about my failure to act, I would know in my heart that I had acted in a cowardly way when confronted with the responsibility for others. I also instinctively knew that such times can be the crucible for displaying the real moral fabric of the people and operations around you.  Those times when something wrong happens and the troops are looking at you, you know you have to do the right thing.  Otherwise you communicate to them loud and clear that standards don't matter, that right and wrong do not exist, or that there is a new, bizarre set of rules in the combat environment.  This last possibility is the most frightening because such scenarios can easily build in a soldier's mind, linked with other situations where there is moral abdication by leaders, and the soldier begins to feel that he or she is alone in a moral morass.  The links to standards, discipline, and even basic human compassion can quickly erode in a chaotic environment.  I do not write these things to build up the importance of the event or the importance of my actions but simply to state that there are so many little things in life that can easily lead to the right or to the wrong, and it is too easy to foolishly waste those opportunities until they reach the point of no return.

At this point, I just reminded myself what I had been told often, that a half-baked plan executed quickly and decisively was more likely to be successful than a brilliant plan executed too late.  Taking into account the resources around us, I noted that the corrugated metal building of the DFAC was completely surrounded on all four sides by movable concrete barriers (as all such buildings on base were).  Each one was about a foot thick of reinforced concrete (five feet at the triangular-shaped base to stabilize it once put into place), and each one about ten feet wide and maybe 16 feet high.  These barriers were jammed together, side by side, with maybe a dime-size gap in between, except for the entry and exit doors of the DFAC.  At those entry/exit points, they placed one of the barriers parallel with the remainder of the wall line, but offset it so as to still cover the gap from the front, but to allow a few feet on either side for people to walk in and out.  The entire barrier wall was set up about ten to 15 feet out from the DFAC's metal walls, so there was a nice, shaded walk way there all the way around the DFAC that would be reasonably safe from incoming indirect fire. 

I knew this was probably not the approved solution, but given the circumstances and the lack of sufficient cover for all the people there, I knew no one of greater or lesser rank to me would argue, especially those in the line because they would be glad simply that someone solved the problem without causing them any heartache or demands.  And I knew would become an instant hero to the troops for not making them get out of line as ridiculous and petty as that desire seemed to me at the time (in retrospect, I realize that the troops put up with so much, and that, sometimes, the little things mean a lot to them in a combat zone, so perhaps it was not so unimportant as I thought).  I immediately started moving toward the front of the line and started barking orders in my loudest, most aggressive, don't-you-even-think-about-challenging-me "command voice."  (This is another one of those things they teach you as a leader -- once you are in charge, if you need immediate, unconditional obedience, the best way to get it is to make sure they know you are confident, that you mean business, and that you know what you are doing -- and you can fake this if you act decisive and don't hesitate.)  I ordered the first people to start feeding the line through the opening and moving it between the barrier and down along the DFAC's metal walls.  There was plenty of room of the doubling up of the line as they gradually wrapped this gigantic centipede around the DFAC.  As soon as people understood what I want and started moving, then it was just a matter of a few minutes of yelling and prodding to keep the line moving until all were within this safe space.  I got a few approving looks and remarks, but for the most part, this episode went unsung.  Not that I wanted recognition.  As a lieutenant or a young sergeant, if I had pulled off such a stunt, I would probably have wanted an achievement medal or some other such recognition.  But as a seasoned senior officer, I was just pleased to have recognized the situation and acted decisively in securing the safety of the troops.  And it felt especially good to have acted when many of my peers and superiors around me refused to act. 

I didn't know it at the time, but this probably went a long way toward setting me up as a whistleblower later in life.  I was already setting this principle deep into my conscience that I would act if no one else would, and that I would always do the right thing, even if no one helped me or supported me.  Of course, prior to this, I had already learned deeply a developmental step about always doing the right thing.  Many times throughout my young adult life, I was faced with challenges in which I could have taken the easy way out, and no one would have been the wiser.  No one, that is, except God.  Early in my adult walk with Him, I have tried to take seriously any and all actions that I do whether at work, home, or out in the world -- that while I seemingly do these things for the pleasure of the earthly , they are all ultimately for my Heavenly Father's pleasure.  If I please Him, then I have done enough, even if no one notices, even if I don't get credit, even if I get attacked and punished because what I do is right but goes against the selfish desires of those above me and around me on this earth. 


    Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.


    May 2012