Stand Fast


         If you love your freedom, if you love being able to read the newspaper or magazine of your choice, listen or watch what you want on radio or TV, you need to put your computer or phone aside and thank someone who’s served in the armed forces. But wait! Finish this blog first.

Since 1949, the third Saturday of May has been designated as Armed Forces Day. In fact, the entire preceding week has been set aside to honor all the branches of our military.

I often wondered what it would be like to live in a world without armed forces. Thoughts of peace, tranquility, and brotherhood surfaced momentarily, then I realized the Hitlers, Saddam Husseins, Kim Il Sings, and Osama bin Ladens are always waiting in the wings ready to snatch freedom, property, and life from millions of people. Together they have wiped out untold millions of people and brought unspeakable misery on billions more.

And you thought pirates were bad!

Today’s pirates, as serious a threat as they are, and make no doubt about it, they are a serious threat, are a nuisance compare to the threats posed by organizations like Alq-Queda, Isis, and the Taliban.

Add to this mix a sabre-rattling North Korea, always restless and dangerously aggressive. To her west lies China who has built an island in the South China Sea complete with a lighthouse, expecting the nations of the world to recognize her claim to the surrounding seas as she subtly expands her global power.

Tyranny is alive and well, and people around the world need to realize the price of any country’s freedom is vigilance, and that vigilance lies in an armed force that is respected, honored, and given the support it needs to do its job.

Here in the United States, we place a high value on our military and the families who serve in it. No one knows when the ante will be raised and they will be called to action. We live in uncertain times, and a crisis is never far away. Our military must be ready to adapt to unusual circumstances as it did when President Monroe established the Mosquito Fleet in Key West in response to a vicious uprising of pirates attacks in the 1800’s. Under Commodore Porter’s command, the pirates were dealt with so swiftly they barely had a chance to yell “Aarrrgh!”

Supporting our military is by no means to suggest we return to the Sixties when the super powers had enough bombs to obliterate every living thing on this planet hundreds of times over. But as the leading Super Power, the United States is a microcosm of all civilized nations. When the U.S. sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. We, along with our allies, are constantly being tested. Think 911, and the terrorist bombings in London, Paris, and Belgium.

A standing army and navy equipped with the latest technological advances are a must if we are to be prepared for the next crisis fomented by our enemies. It’s hardly a time to cut the budgets of our dedicated military.

Piracy lasted far too long in the Caribbean in the 1600 and 1700’s. No one expected piracy to become literally such an explosive phenomenon. Lacking a significant army or navy, the super powers that ruled then could do little. It’s true Spain had her guarda costa, but it was too small to be effective. Even Britain did little till she finally got some skin in the game. Once she established a naval presence and sent her pirate hunters to track the buccaneers down, piracy was quickly eradicated.

If you want to keep the bad guys in check, then you have to give our Armed Forces the tools they need to do the job. This nation owes all the men and women who serve a huge debt of thanks, and the best way to do that is to let your congressman know how you feel about budget cuts that adversely affect them.

Armed Forces Day isn’t about flexing our military muscles. It isn’t about threatening other nations. It is about recognizing that might doesn’t make right, but it does go a long way in keeping the bad guys in check- whether they’re pirates, terrorists, or countries halfway around the world eager to test our resolve.

Text, twitter, facebook, call, or email someone you know in the military and thank him/her for their service. And the next time your congressman talks about cutting the military budget that’s already stretched thin, let him know in no uncertain terms what you think of the scalawag.

                           Bill Hegerich

                         The Uncommon Mariner


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Independence Day Forever

JANUARY ODYSSEY116It’s hard to realize we are celebrating two hundred and thirty-nine years of our nation’s  Independence. Call it independence, liberty, or freedom, it’s something that rings true for people across the globe whether they live in the United States, a Caribbean island, France, India, or Greece. There breathes not a human whose heart does not beat faster at the thought of freedom.

But freedom shouldn’t  just be a political  peg we hang our patriotism on. It’s the feeling that sweeps us away when we think of the sea or step on a ship about to carry us far beyond the sight of land. Freedom is the passion that stirred the first mariner to contemplate a place beyond the sight of land. It was that same sense of restlessness Melville confessed to when he admitted to the urge of running down the street knocking hats from the heads of civilized people on a cold November day.

Pirates have been no different. Those who plied their trade in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy nurtured that very feeling. We may think of pirates as disgruntled, rum swilling outlaws who suffered miserably under their leader, but the fact is most pirates actually enjoyed freedom. They signed Articles much like the colonists signed the Declaration of Independence. Rules, regulations, and responsibilities were clearly spelled out.

Their counterparts on a British ship had no such document. Sailors often found themselves aboard a British ship for months if not years either through force or trickery. Press gangs operating near the docks were more than eager to rob honest sailors of their freedom, and once aboard there was nothing they could do about it.

Discipline was strict, life was harsh, and whippings were common. In contrast, life on a pirate ship had the earmarks of a true democracy. Pirate captains could be voted in and out of office. Beatings and whippings could not be readily handed out at the whim of a temperamental  captain.

Though life under the jolly roger was easier, it didn’t mean any and all bad-boy behavior was tolerated. Thieves were duly punished. The penalty for killing a shipmate was being tied with the corpse in their hammock and thrown overboard.

As we celebrate our own freedom, it’s good to remember the mystery of the sea has symbolized freedom for many a man and woman. What child has not stood on the shore and dreamed of far away places where he could travel. Children grow into adults and the yearning only grows deeper.

Rare is the child that asks for a toy canoe for Christmas. But sailboats abound under the tree on Christmas Day, beckoning the wonderer to untold visions of freedom and adventure. Continue reading →