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The following is a series of personal vignettes/reflections on the moments in my life when I found out that Soldiers I knew were killed in the line of duty.  It is a tough series of stories for me to write about, but I believe it’s necessary to get the deep emotions out in the open and to also remember the lives they lived and the moment those lives were taken from this world. I hope anyone else who knew these individuals will also reflect on the time that they knew them and where they were when they heard the news.  And for those who never knew these individuals, I hope this brings light to who they were as people in addition to the sacrifices they gave while serving their country.

J.M.
It was a very chaotic and nerve racking day. I was battle tracking on of our convoys that had been ambushed in the Pech Valley of Afghanistan.  During the ambush, one of the trucks was struck with an RPG and set off the Halon system inside the cab. In addition to the RPG impact, the halon gas had engulfed those inside the truck. Two of the passengers in the truck had to be MEDEVAC’d to Bagram Airbase. One of them, J.M. was from our Company.  Hours later, we heard from the Commanding Officer that the convoy had made it safely to the FOB up the valley to be refit, while the two Soldiers at Bagram were in stable condition. Everything seemed ok that evening as things went on.  That night as I laid my head down to sleep, I was awaken by the Soldier on duty saying that our Soldier had suddenly gone into very critical condition. I told him to keep an eye on things.  A while later, I was told to go into the Command Post. The Battalion Executive Officer was on the phone and told me that J.M. had just passed away.  I didn’t know what to say. He seemed like he was going to be ok that day, and then all the sudden he was gone.  And as the Company Executive Officer, I had to wake up my Commanding Officer and inform him of the terrible news. His reaction was just as surprised as mine.  We didn’t know what to make of it.  It was our first casualty within the company.  As the night went on, we informed the Platoon Leader, the Platoon Sergeant, the First Sergeant, and by morning the entire Platoon learned the news.  People shed tears, expressed their anger and disappointment, walked around the base camp alone.  I spent the day inventorying all of his stuff to mail home to his family. Going through all of his personal effects, I saw so much more about him that I never knew.  He had a son and was really into electronica music.  I wish I had more time to get to know him before he was taken from this world.

J.I.
The Afghan Election was taking place. It was one of the busiest days of the deployment. The entire day there were firefights everywhere across the country. Combat Outposts were being mortared and hit by small arms fire. Howitzers were not only providing indirect fire but direct fire on targets. People were running low on ammo hour by hour. I scrambled to call for emergency resupply of ammo to push on the next convoy to the Pech. I barely got any sleep that night as things kept going on.  Then the next morning I received a report that a truck was blown in half by an IED. At least one Soldier was killed, while the others critically wounded. They ran his battle roster number over the chat window in the CP, and I didn’t recognize it at first. I was just focused on all of the other 100 things going on at the same time. A couple days after the attack, the Battalion Staff had distributed his picture and a short vignette about his time in the unit. My old Motor Sergeant asked some of the other guys in the CP if they knew him at all.  I looked at his picture, and I instantly remembered who he was.  We had just pulled staff duty together a couple weeks before I got on the bird to deploy.  He was a young Sergeant who seemed like a pretty motivated and squared away guy, and was also serving as a squad leader at the time.  I didn’t talk to him very much while we were on duty, but he seemed like someone who was easy to get along with. But now I would never get the chance to know him.

Y.L.
Another normal day in Northeast Afghanistan.  The Battalion Command Sergeant Major was holding a promotion board at FOB Blessing. Soldiers from the outlying COPs were traveling to participate in the board.  Then that morning, one of the convoys heading to Blessing was hit by an RPG. The gunner in the truck was fatally wounded from the blast and was CASEVAC’d from Camp Wright back to Bagram. I was in the CP at the time, and we learned about it from the Chat log. They ran the battle roster number, and one of the Sergeants in the CP mentioned his name.  Y.L. was a young Pacific Islander Soldier.  I had only seen him a couple of times in the mass formations of Soldiers when the Battalion Commander gave his speeches.  There were casualties all the time in Afghanistan, but when you knew the face of the person who’s name came on the screen, it made it that much harder.  And it just sucks that he was on his way to the promotion board to hopefully become a Sergeant someday and continue with his career.  But in that moment when he was traveling on his way, it would never become a reality.

E.W.
I was walking across the FOB with my Supply Sergeant.  As we passed by the mess hall, we saw a few of the Non-Commissioned Officers from the Brigade Support Battalion walking away from the airfield.  They looked like they were all crying, and we had no idea why.  We stopped by the medical aid station to find out what had happened, and that’s when we learned that a young Sergeant was killed on a convoy to FOB Bostick. E.W. was a junior NCO, a wife and a mother. She did not normally go on the Cannonball convoy, but that day she volunteered as they needed more people. It was on that convoy that her truck was hit by an RPG and impacted the area where she was inside the cab. A few weeks before that, I was just talking to her at our CP.  We were doing a drug test for the Company, and she was the administrator for it.  While she was sitting at the table, she asked me why I had Disney princesses painted on my desk.  I told her the story of how I went on a convoy one day and when I came back, my Supply Sergeant and Chemical NCO had painted them on there just for fun.  She giggled at them and said they looked cute.  I don’t know how her family is doing to this day without her in this world, but I hope they are in good hands today as they had a wonderful, caring mother who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect them.

M.C.
This is the toughest one to write. I was relaxing in my B-hut after dinner and was looking to go back to the CP to hang out with some of my buddies. Then suddenly I heard my Platoon Sergeant get a call on his cell phone. He sounded very frantic, not the way I normally knew him to be.  He ran out of the hut to the CP.  I decided to follow him to find out what was going on.  It was then that the NCO on duty had pulled from the chat log that a platoon in the mountains had been mortared by insurgent fighters. One of them was critically wounded in the leg and had to be immediately MEDEVAC’d. It was also then that we learned the MEDEVAC had then turned into a CASEVAC and would be on its way to our airfield.  We waited almost an hour for the bird to arrive.  When it did, the Company Commander, First Sergeant, and two of the Platoon Sergeants rushed to the Black Hawk to grab the litter from the cockpit. It was dark and I couldn’t see much.  But when they carried the litter inside the Mortuary Affairs Collection Point, that’s when I saw him.  He lied on the litter lifeless, eyes closed, not breath at all. The respirator over his mouth was pumping air, but he chest was not moving. We all just stared for a few seconds in silence, then the Chaplain initiated a short prayer on behalf of the group. I had never seen anything like it. I don’t know how the Chaplain gained the courage to say anything in that moment, but he brief words provided a small bit of comfort in that moment. Immediately after, the Mortuary Affairs team began to prepare his body for storage.  The guys from my company kept asking if they could volunteer to help, but the team told them not to interfere.  I felt their pain in that moment as well.  We all wanted to do something but we couldn’t. There was absolutely nothing we could do. He was taken from us. Only a few days before that, he was on the FOB with me.  We were in the shower trailer and there was no hot water at all. I saw him in the hallway, and I asked him how he liked that cold shower.  He said, “I think they turned off all the hot water for the Audie Murphy board!” It was just all part of the sense of humor he had no matter the situation.  Whenever you were having a bad day or didn’t know what to do, he would always find a way to make people laugh.  I will truly miss him every single day.

N.K.
We were almost done with our tour in Afghanistan.  The new unit had arrived and was learning the ropes from us.  About a week into their time with us, a squad was engaged in a small arms attack from insurgents in the mountains.  One of them was hit by sniper fire. I learned about his death while I was packing up my personal effects to get ready to go home.  The Battalion TOC had relayed to us that his body would be transported our airfield and that they needed help to transfer his body to the black hawk that would take him home.  I headed down to the MACP, and there were members of the new unit who were in the room. They all looked shocked and a bit unsure of what to do.  I didn’t know how to react myself as I did not know the Soldier and did not see his face inside the body bag. But the other Soldiers who were with me stayed focused on what had to be done – to get his body onto the bird to go home.  A few minutes later, the blackhawk had landed and the engines stopped.  That was our cue to roll the body out on the gurney and load him onto the bird.  As we walked out onto the airfield, the Pilot and his crew were lined up in formation on each side of us. They remained silent and rendered a salute as we rolled the body onto the helo.  It was a somber moment, and although I never knew the Soldier who we were carrying, I felt thankful that although he was no longer with us the professional Soldiers all around him would take great care to ensure his family received his remains and they would have closure to his life.

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BAD07155-22FA-426A-BEFB-19B4569C18AC-3885-0000096E6D019935The Department of the Army has been sitting for the past four months without a Secretary in office, and at the current time it desperately needs a strong and competent one. The first candidate for office looked promising with his West Point education, but he made the wise decision to step away from the nomination due to his conflicts of interest with business ties. The next candidate immediately faced harsh criticism from both sides of the aisle due to his firm stance on controversial subjects affecting today’s Army. His refusal to budge on his beliefs ultimately cost him the nomination for Secretary. So the office remains vacant, and it really doesn’t need to be especially after there was already a great guy in place: Eric Fanning.

For as far back as I can remember, Fanning was the one SECARMY to whom I felt the most compelled to pay attention. Not just because he was the SECARMY but because he truly stood out from the previous ones. Besides the fact that he immediately faced criticism himself before his confirmation hearing due to his  sexual orientation, he had a drive and charisma that no other person at his level had. From the beginning, he was immediately out front and engaging with the troops across all components. He also knew how to engage with social mediaby documenting photos of his trips, participating in interviews with DoD and other agencies, and even making a few short video clips with his buddy, SMA Dailey. It was a breath of fresh air to have a SECARMY who you felt like you had a connection with, even if he was high up in the Pentagon.

Apart from the fun and engaging stuff, Fanning also spoke publicly about the hard issues. He addressed the equal treatment and integration of LGBTQ service members into the ranks, as well as  a call for a reevaluation of the Army’s family programs so that they actually work to support the modern family rhythm. He recognized that both the service member and the spouse work full time jobs in the present era and that the Army must evaluate its work life balance to improve the overall quality of life for Army communities. And he advocated the development of more advanced and lethal weapons to supply our Army for accomplishing its bedrock mission from day one: fighting and winning the nation’s wars. Who else out there today could do as great of a job as he did?

So here we are almost halfway through 2017, and the Army is still without a Secretary? Why is it like this right now? Well I’m just going to say that it doesn’t have to be this way; we can bring back an already great leader who has lead and inspired a new generation of Soldiers and civilians to be their best in an ever changing world. And right now in our history, there is no more important time to have a more competent leader at the top as our SECARMY, especially when the world’s superpowers continue to create more friction that will most likely drive us into the next world war.

So I say this: stop messing around with politics and party agendas! Put a strong, competent and dedicated person in office right now! And what better person than Mr. Fanning?

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Senator Gardner,

Today I write to you as a concerned resident of the State of Colorado regarding the proposed American Healthcare Act. I have read the 126 pages of this bill, and I would like to recommend that you strongly reject the passage of this bill in its current form. If passed into law, the American Healthcare Act will not only deregulate the standards of fair health insurance practices across Colorado and the United States, but it will also be useless for actually improving the health of Americans across the country.

The core of this bill that frustrates me the most, which would essentially affect the greatest country in the world, is that it misses the mark on how healthcare should be handled for the American public. The terms “individual market” and “small business tax credits” are used throughout the bill to describe a system that is supposed to regulate the administration and funding of healthcare for American citizens. Instead, it is painted throughout this bill as a for-profit market, where looser regulations on premium limits and payments are portrayed as a business benefit, and nearly nothing in the bill addresses anything about the regulation of safe health practices to ensure the actual health of Americans is preserved through such insurance programs.

The bill features several clauses that strike taxes from many of the programs outlined under the Medicare and Affordable Care Act. While the tax cuts might initially seem like a benefit to the average American, the grander scheme is that it nearly deregulates the standards for health insurance to a level that the federal government has almost no control over fair practice standards, and in turn the for-profit health insurance firms operating across state lines will then have the most control. The effects of this deregulation are a market where health insurance is a commodity rather than a service and can be manipulated to be whatever terms the for-profit firms determine it to be, with no room for representative democracy. This is significantly dangerous for Americans who must purchase new insurance plans and have pre-existing conditions from previous plans. The treatment they receive is no longer guaranteed via taxes paid towards providing one standard for healthcare; it hinges on how much money is paid towards multiple corporate insurance providers, who are profiting millions every year. The end state is that Americans’ health will not improve overall due to unpredictable business practices.

This is not the way healthcare should be handled in Colorado or the United States. As someone who has served the State of Colorado as an Army Officer on Active Duty and in the National Guard, as well as in the civil service for the City of Fort Collins, I have learned that healthcare is an essential public service to our citizens in order for them to live healthy and productive lives in their home state. I have been successful in my military and civilian careers as a result of comprehensive healthcare programs. My family and I do not have to worry about paying for our doctor’s visits or medication because it is a service provided with our way of life. Every American should have access to the same opportunities to prosper both economically and socially without fear of having to spend their life savings going to the doctor.

I strongly recommend you reevaluate this bill and reject the passage of it on the Senate Floor. My proposed solution might not be a popular one for you or your party, but I strongly encourage the exploration of a single-payer healthcare solution for all citizens. It has worked for countries outside of the United States, as well as for our military and our veterans. There is no reason why we can’t do the same thing for ordinary citizens of Colorado and the United States. Colorado is known for being one of the healthiest States in the United States, and in order for it to stay that way, the people must be able to pursue their dreams without the fear of losing all their hard-earned money to a corporate insurance firm. Healthcare is not a business; it is a public service necessary to sustain basic human rights, which among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.

v/r
John T. O’Connell

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We’ve all heard about it on TV. Veterans coming home from war with PTSD and all the hotlines and services that are available to help. For the average American who has never experienced war, the first thought is that there is so much great support for the troops. For the veteran, it is not always as easy as just making a phone call and talking to someone about your problems. It is much more loaded than that. And the things that the average troop faces are far different from what a leader, a Non-Commissioned Officer or Officer, must face. With this, I attempt to capture the challenges faced by a soldier who is also a leader when trying to overcome the challenges of behavioral health.
In the military, leaders are held to very high standards. They are expected to live up to a code of values, accomplish the mission and take care of their troops, often all at the same time. A leader must always have the right mentality and be able to keep his/her emotions in check through any situation. Leaders are trained to face the deadliest situations using the most realistic training as possible, but nothing can compare to the experience of true combat. Once the first bullet flies, that leader is changed forever and he/she must now reflect on that firefight and the many more that lie ahead. Through firefight after firefight, the leader is expected to keep his/her head up and do what they were trained to do: lead the troops to accomplish the mission.
Everyone’s experience with war is different. In my time overseas, my experience with direct combat was very light compared to the firefights my buddies went through that lasted for days. Whether you’ve been through 5 or 50 hostile engagements, the experience of knowing you are being shot at changes you as a person. For some it might make them harder. For others it might create feelings of fear, struggle or uncertainty. Everyone copes with it differently. However, VERY few people are able to simply overcome it all by themselves and move on. That’s why the military has such an extensive network of chaplains and counsellors to provide these listening ears to troops who are struggling to cope.
This is a grand concept that briefs well on a PowerPoint. However for a soldier, and specifically a leader, to simply tell their commander that they are going to walk into the behavioral health clinic can be even tougher than going back on a patrol. Just mentioning to your commander that you are having post traumatic stress can be nerve racking. You might be lucky and that commander will understand, but not always. For a leader to say they think they are suffering from PTSD or another behavioral illness, judgement automatically arises. The commander might be thinking: how effective is this leader going to be? Will he stress out on his next patrol and get soldiers killed? Is he capable of taking on the next higher leadership role? If these issues are brought up stateside, questions like “why are you so stressed when there’s no combat here?” might be mentioned or thought of, making the leader feel like an idiot for even bringing it up.
Counseling for leaders is not as stress-free as it is for most normal people. When leaders are counseled, they are judged by their superiors in every facet of their character. To talk openly about issues of behavioral health during a performance counseling might be a red flag or even a death sentence for some leaders depending on where they are in their careers. That is why it is most always never mentioned.
As more troops leave the military, those who stay in with combat experience under their belt might find that those with combat patches become less and less. They might find themselves surrounded by new leaders who have no deployment time and have no idea how to handle someone with PTSD, anxiety, depression, or what have you. How can an officer with no combat experience help a sergeant with 5 deployments? Most likely, a novice supervisor will refer the leader to a veteran counseling service. However, with so many of them out there, how can anyone tell which ones are actually legit and reliable? Dialing the number is only the first step. Then you will have to verbally tell an operator who you cannot see that you need to talk to someone about counseling, which can be awkward and unnerving. If you make it through the health insurance red tape, you will most likely be referred to a civilian counsellor. They will have claimed to have worked with Special Forces and Navy SEALs. Yet that doesn’t change the fact that this person is a civilian who has not seen or done any of the things that the troop has. How can this counselor possibly understand what the veteran is facing?
For veterans who have separated from the military, the challenge of getting help doesn’t get any easier. As veterans who were once leaders in the military search for employment as leaders in civilian life, the same judgements arise of one’s character regarding their issues with behavioral health. Thoughts from supervisors might be similar to what the leader faced in the military. How will the mental illness affect him when dealing with clients or high stress environments? How will he get along with the rest of the employees? Will he spaz out and cause violence in the workplace?
Whether these barriers are real or perceived, they often are experienced specifically by leaders coping with behavioral health issues, making the struggle even harder than most people think. Here’s what I think will help break down these barriers. First, Supervisors of leaders need to get educated on behavioral health and understand that it is not a bad thing. I’m not saying that these supervisors need to go through a firefight themselves, but understand that the people who have been affected by traumatic events are indeed changed but still have worth in this world. Secondly, they must understand that they play a part in helping leaders overcome behavioral health challenges. Leaders are not autonomous. Like their subordinates, they seek orders and guidance in order to lead, and supervisors must do their job to give that guidance and direction. Finally, everyone including the leaders must understand that getting help for behavioral health issues will ultimately make you a better leader and person. Finding the strength to overcome the mental struggles within will make the leader stronger and will benefit the organization in the end. PTSD, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders: none of them are truly curable illnesses; it takes constant work by the veteran and support from the people in his/her life.
Accept it.

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War is hell. There are many ways to describe it. Hellhole, armpit, sandbox, shitstorm, whatever suits your tastes. The emotions that war brings are seldom comparable to any other human experience. In some ways, war can bring a lifetime of experiences in a very short span of time.

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Adrenaline can be an initial emotion, especially when stepping off of the plane or when the first bullet flies past your head.

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Pain, suffering, horror can all happen in a matter of seconds upon initial contact.

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After the firefight is over, some may feel emotions of exhaustion, helplessness, or in need of mending.

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Or feelings of regret and resentment over friends who have been lost or the horrid things that had to be done in the line of duty.

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Some may reach for a higher power to raise them from such a traumatic state. Others may choose to bottle it inside and keep it hidden.

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Even after the war is over, some might feel like they are still at war. Only instead of bullets flying, politics and civil brutality might become the weapons to reign assault.

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Some might become more hardened by the emotions from war.  Others might choose to turn their backs and try to find a means to an end. Some might want to continue the fight, while others may seek to peacefully end the fight.

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If anything good were to come from the fragments of war, it is that the broken pieces of emotion can be put together into meaningful, powerful art for the world to see.  Not everyone is meant to go through war, but through the images painted onto a canvas by artists around the globe, many of whom are veterans themselves, the world may hopefully be able to see the raw, unfiltered emotions of humanity in its most violent state, and perhaps then the world may be able to understand: war is an art, and never a pretty one.

What if there was no Labor Day?

Posted: September 5, 2016 in Public Relations

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Our nation once again gathers around the table to recognize the federal holiday of Labor Day, the day that was made possible by the hard work and achievements by American workers for the centuries that our country has existed. Specifically, it has been founded to remember the sacrifices made during the period known as the Labor Movement (mid to late 1800s, and early 1900s), in which workers called labor strikes against corporate management for grossly unfair labor practices. It was through these major events that Americans recognized the power and influence of the worker in the US economy.

Looking outwards in today’s times, this kind of spirit embodied by Labor Day of the past has now changed to anything but such.  Labor Day is now known as the “end of summer” and just a day off before school starts.  The only folks who get Labor Day off anymore are government officials and white collared, corporate members – not the laborers who it is supposed to recognize. Retail outlets take advantage of the holiday to mark down prices by 50% in hopes that the people who have the day off will give them even more profits. Politicians and public officials will wish everyone a “Happy Labor Day” on twitter while they continue to press for legislation that will end labor unions and prevent living wages.  Is Labor Day really about recognizing labor anymore?

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What most people do not realize is that many of the little things that you know about your regular work week were made possible by labor unions, recognized under Labor Day. You think that all the days off and employee benefits were given to you out of the kindness of your manager?  Think again.  If the labor unions were eliminated and thus Labor Day did not exist, here are the things you would lose:

1. Weekends

If it weren’t for labor unions, businesses could legally make you work every single day with no weekend. Sure, your manager might allow you to go to church, but you’d have to go right back to work afterwards. Fortunately, most nations adopted a 6-day work week in order to recognize the day of religious activities (Sundays) as a day of rest. Thanks to the efforts of the Jewish workers of a New England Cotton Mill, the Sabbath (Saturday) became an additional day of religious activity that eventually became adopted as a day off for all workers.

2. Workday limits and compensatory time/overtime

Imagine being forced to work 12-hour days at whatever wage the manager says, with no overtime or bonuses for additional hours worked. That’s what you would be experiencing without Labor Day. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), introduced in 1938 single-handedly became one of the most important documents of legislation that resulted from the Labor Movement.  This bill introduced the 40-hour work week, minimum wage, as well as compensatory and time-and-a-half (aka overtime) wages for labor produced over the 40-hour time period. The bill was introduced by Senator Hugo Black, a man who experienced some hard lessons during his political career that would eventually shape him into a stark advocate for civil rights and labor relations. His original proposed 30-hour work week was modified to become a 40-hour work week for the final Act, but gave workers legal protection to enjoy limits on the work week, as well as be compensated for additional time worked.

3. Safety Standards

If Labor Day did not exist and there were no labor unions, I as the manager could make you work in any conditions necessary to get the job done. There would be no requirement for me to provide you with safety equipment or repair faulty machinery known to cause accidents, and if you developed a long-term medical condition due to chemical exposure during your time as a worker, I would not be held liable for your own problems. This kind of attitude has fortunately been recognized as immoral and illegal thanks to the reasoning of laborers around the world. A series of high profile accidents and chronic medical conditions developed by mineworkers in England during the mid-19th Century became a benchmark for the movement towards safe working conditions, a movement that continued into the 20th century. Similar work condition concerns in the steel industry and the meat packing industry (immortalized in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) also led to labor strikes for safer work places.  Today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exists to guarantee these rights to a safe workplace for all laborers.

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4. Child Labor Restrictions

Child labor is something that is an unthinkable activity to most decent humans, but it is still one that exists in many corners of the world. Fortunately, also under the FLSA a clause exists to restrict the legal limits of child labor, recognizing that children under a certain age cannot safely perform necessary labor tasks under conditions usually endured by adults.  These restrictions include specific types of labor that children under certain age groups cannot perform, as well as limitations on hours that can be worked.  Child labor is still a major issue all over the world, and children are often slaves at the hands of wealthy overlords producing cheap goods in underground sweatshops. It is because of this reality that the International Labour Organization (ILO) still exists to end child labor around the world.

5. Health Insurance, Retirement Plans and other benefits

Those little things that you enjoy such as your employer paying for your doctor’s visits, paid sick days and vacation days, 401(K)s and options to invest in the company’s profits are all benefits brought to you by the blood, sweat and tears of labor unions. In the writings of Karl Marx and Max Weber, an economy is nothing without the labor of its workers.  Thus the proletariat or the management must constantly reinvest its earnings into the health and welfare of its workers in order to improve the quality of its products and services. Such an idea might be considered liberal, socialist or communist in today’s society, but it is still in line with multiple philosophies including the Protestant Work Ethic. All in all, the principle of investing in your people equals better work produced and better products and services given to the American people.  Failure to treat your laborers like human capital investments will result in a failed business.

6. Equal Employment Opportunity

The idea that a laborer is a laborer, regardless of age, gender, race, color, national origin, or sexual orientation has become a strong foundation of the modern labor movement, although some progress must still be made in certain areas. Many high profile statutes such as the FLSA, The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act have made it possible for Americans of all walks of life to work in the same environments and achieve the same goals and opportunities as anyone else. The National War Labor Board took one of the boldest stances during WWII with its elimination of “white laborers” and “colored laborers” labels and referring to all workers as “laborers,” thus guaranteeing them equal pay and benefits under law.  There is still much work to be done, and the struggle continues today in an ever-shifting world economy.

 

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Do you remember the first time you watched Star Wars? I’m sure that after watching the light saber duels, the stormtrooper battles and the X-Wing fighter dog fights, you probably wished that you were Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia or Chewbacca fighting the evil Galactic Empire.  You probably grew up to develop a vision that America was a lot like the Rebel Alliance, with its quest for defeating the “dark side” and bringing freedom to the universe. We had the most diverse beings and the most powerful sense of spirituality. The force was with us all.

However, when I watched the latest Star Wars movie, the story made me think twice about my idea of the Alliance and the Force. The thought that an entire star system of beings would want to resurrect something as evil as the Empire and build the “First Order” was intriguing. And the idea that they would build a new Death Star the size of a planet to completely annihilate the Republic in a purely emotionless strike gave me some emotion of my own. How would anyone pledge their loyalties to an ideology that committed genocide across the galaxy?

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Taking a deeper, more critical look into the direction in which our country is moving, the vision of the Rebel Alliance is not as clear as it used to be.  As we move further and further through time and certain people become more and more powerful, it is my belief that we are beginning to resemble more characteristics of the entity we focused so hard not to be: the Empire. No, we are not at the extremity of the Emperor or a starfleet just yet, Snoke or the First Order, but certain major trends indicate that such a reality is not far away. There are three areas that are currently becoming dominant in our society that are contributing to this destiny.

The Embracement of Hate

The Jedi taught us not to give into our hate. They taught us not to be swayed by the dark side and bring order to the galaxy.  However, in the current state of affairs the expressions of anger and hate are looked at with honor and pride by Americans everywhere.  From angry political rhetoric to extreme acts of civil disobedience, the act of dominating and infuriating people who disagree with an ideology is applauded and waved through the air like the star spangled banner. Good an honorable deeds are looked at as weakness, while hateful acts are the fuel that gives people strength. The Emperor knew this, as he encouraged Anakin and Luke to give into their hate, for it made them powerful. Americans are accepting this as a way to become powerful.

The Proliferation of Arms

There is nowhere in the world where it is easier to obtain arms than in America. Background checks, legislation, training…nothing will stop a motivated individual from getting their hands on weapons. Interest groups have a grip on Washington to ensure these restrictions are kept at a minimum.  And I’m not just talking about guns. Guns are the least of my worries, because pretty soon America will get bored of the power struggle over guns.  They will want something more.  Artillery systems, multiple launch rocket systems, gunships, laser-guided bombs…is it too far of a stretch that Americans will want laser guns?  Ones that are powerful enough to destroy a planet?  The motivation to obtain more and more arms is what an Empire needs to build its Army.  Put enough weapons in the hands of citizens and build their ideology towards the growth of a supreme power, and you have an Imperial Force that is to be reckoned with.

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Dependence on Technology

We depend on technology more than ever before. Communication, information, entertainment. Our entire lives are hooked into technological devices in one way or another. Very similar is the Star Wars universe, where droids are more than just phones – they are walking/rolling beings that interact with humans. And in the case of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, technology was what enabled them to reconstruct themselves. Technology will without a doubt increase its influence over human civilization, which might even lead to advancements in space travel, allowing humans to travel more freely into space, and subsequently dominate it. An Imperial Starfleet is not far fetched. But it was in that moment that Luke saw the wiring and hydraulics of his father’s robotic hand that he realized that he had to turn away from the Dark Side…

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The Empire thrives on rage and domination, giving it its power to rule the galaxy. My concern is that America, on multiple corners has accepted this ideology as the only way. Is there a way to reverse the tide?  I don’t think it will be easy.  After Darth Vader betrayed the Jedi, he essentially reached a point of no return in which he realized that he alone could not turn against the emperor but instead acquiesced to the Dark Side.  In my opinion, much of America has reached that point of no return, where to speak out against the majority will mean annihilation.  But it doesn’t mean that it is impossible.  It will just take an intervention with enough Force to bring good to the nation once again.