Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Week 6 - Hump Day of Hump Week...

Today marks the official half way point of our time here at the National Academy.  As I reflect on that, I am satisfied with what I have accomplished so far.  From academics to fitness to friendships, if I can keep up the same pace for the second half, this will have been a wildly successful venture.  We have a four day weekend coming up for Veteran's Day, so I will be excitedly heading home to see my family for the first time in five weeks.

This week has been an eventful one.  With the election last night, it was interesting to be around people from other states as they lamented their own local and state elections.  Aside from the presidential election, conversations centered around marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado which will certainly raise some interesting Constitutional issues.  As people (and the news pundits) discussed the electoral college and the power split in Congress, I took a moment to reflect on our times.  Regardless of your side of the aisle, there is little argument that these are trying times in which we live.   From the economy to foreign relations to national defense issues to the great cultural/socio-economic/racial/political divide that was so evident in the election results, these are difficult times indeed.  Still, I am comforted by things I have learned and seen here.

One of my favorite classes is the Law of Police Operations, a Constitutional law class.  The instructor, Carl Benoit, is a fantastic instructor.  His passion for the law along with his experience as a police officer, FBI agent, and attorney give him a unique ability to engage students and apply complex legal principles to real life scenarios.  His class has given me, not only a better understanding, but also a better appreciation for our Constitution, our system of government, and the wisdom of our founding fathers.  This past weekend, my session travelled to Philadelphia which, dare I say, may have been a better trip than New York.  We had a jam-packed weekend, but one of the highlights for me was a visit to the National Constitution Center.  It is essentially a museum dedicated to our form of government, our way of life, and the rights and freedoms we enjoy as Americans.  Fourth Amendment issues and Supreme Court cases that we have discussed in class were brought to life in interactive displays.  We also toured Independence Hall where i was awestruck as we stood in the room where the framers drafted, debated, and signed the Constitution.  No place is the wisdom of our founding fathers more evident than in our Constitution.  One of the greatest examples of a successful compromise, the Constitution provides safeguards, checks, and balances at every turn.  We have three distinct branches of government: the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches - each having the power and duty to limit the power of the others.  From the Senate's confirmation of Presidential appointees, to the President's veto power, to the Supreme Court's ability to declare laws unconstitutional, the system is filled with safeguards.  Our system of having a bifurcated Congress (known as "the Great Compromise") was suggested after a disagreement between larger/more populated states that wanted legislative representatives based on population (as it is in the House) and smaller states that argued for equal representation (as it is in the Senate).  The Electoral College itself was a compromise between having a president elected by Congress versus having one elected by popular vote.  I point all of this out to remind everyone that regardless of whether your "side" won the Presidency or a particular seat in Congress, everyone is still represented in some way.  While many of the population centers ended up deciding the presidency through the electoral college, smaller districts and rural America simultaneously led the opposing party to maintain control of the House of Representatives.  The Supreme Court, due to lifetime appointments (afforded in the Constitution), remains a conservative leaning body.  Whether I see it played out in court decisions where the Fourth Amendment is used to address electronic surveillance (something the framers had no knowledge of) or whether I see it played out in the balancing of power in the elections, I am amazed at the genius of our Constitution and the timeless wisdom of its authors.  Our founding fathers gave us a gift that keeps on giving.

Independence Hall - the room where the Constitution was signed to include George Washington's actual chair at the head of the room

The National Constitution Center

A life-size replica of the Constitutional Convention 

Today's economic, foreign relations, and national defense issues are worrisome, especially when coupled with the stark differences in political opinions and the divisiveness along cultural/racial/socio-economic lines throughout our country.  I would encourage you to look back through history and think about challenges we have already overcome in our brief 236 years.  In 1861, our nation was truly divided - fighting a physical war against itself.  We not only overcame that period but ended up stronger for it.  In 1929, the Great Depression began.  We not only overcame the worst economic collapse in our history, we ended up stronger for it.  In 1941, we entered World War II, a war that spanned continents and found its way to our own back porch.  In that war, much like today, we were forced to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves in order to ensure that freedom prevailed over tyranny.  We emerged stronger than ever.  Our success has come from our independence, our rule of law, and the indomitable American spirit that has proven itself time and time again.  The fact that every four years we face a potential change in power and time and time again, as we have had changes, it is done peacefully (if not begrudgingly) because that is the law.  The founders put something very special together - a system that has served us well and will continue to serve us well.  While everyone will never agree with an outcome, the process is the key to success.

Hopefully, you are still with me despite what may have been an unwanted civics lesson.

The rest of my week here at the NA has gone well - better than that of at least two of my classmates. Yesterday's election brought a new sheriff in to one jurisdiction which could cost one of my classmates his job. Because he is a higher ranking officer, he is at risk of losing his job should the new sheriff bring in his own command staff. Tragically, another of my classmates had to return home after learning that her fiancé had died while working as a rescue diver.  As Thanksgiving approaches, I have much to be thankful for.  I have been given this incredible opportunity to attend the NA where I have learned a lot, met so many, and experienced so much.  More importantly, I am healthy, as is my family.  I have a stable job where I can make a difference in the lives of others.  The list could go on, but keep my classmates in your thoughts as they go through these trials.

My feeling of gratitude for my own situation was further strengthened tonight when I had the opportunity to attend our enrichment event.  USN Retired Commander Porter Halyburton and USAF Retired Colonel Fred Cherry, former prisoners of war in Vietnam, were brought in to address our session.  Both men spent over seven years in captivity and endured torture, harsh punishment, and abysmal conditions.  Both men were very candid with regards to their experiences.  They discussed the importance of leadership, communication, and faith in helping them to "not just survive but to survive with honor and purpose."  The two were brought together because the Vietnamese thought, due to events of the 1960s, that a young, southern white junior officer and an older black senior officer would not get along and would provide them with propaganda material.  The plan backfired when the two became great friends helping to physically care for, encourage, and inspire one another.  CDR Halyburton told us that one of the greatest lessons he learned was about choice.  He learned that "your quality of life is determined by the quality of your choices."  While almost every freedom he had was taken away, the one that could not be taken from him was his freewill.  He began to take pleasure in his choice to resist his interrogators by not giving them what they demanded, and he found strength in the fact that he was choosing his path.  He encouraged us to take things that we cannot control and set them aside.  We should instead focus on those things over which we exercise control - and we always have control over our own attitude.  Despite what both men endured, they went on to lead successful and happy lives.  Both stressed that they would not change things as their experiences had made them who they are.  CDR Halyburton was only able to spend five days with his daughter when she was born before returning to the war where he was eventually shot down.  In a very emotional scene he described returning home after his liberation.  When he arrived, his daughter, now almost eight years old, ran to him and jumped into his arms.  She then asked, "Can I sit in your lap?"  As my own daughter is almost eight, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have missed out on her life since she was just five days old.  He described their reunion as "love at first sight".  He went on to have other children and is still married to his wife today.  Col. Cherry was not so lucky, as he returned to a broken family after his release.  Both men made tremendous sacrifices that can't be summed up in this short paragraph.  A book, Two Souls Indivisible by James Hirsch details their time in captivity and the bond that they formed as a result.  I had opportunity to speak briefly with both men after their presentation and was humbled by their character and demeanor.

CDR Halyburton and Col. Cherry

Meeting two real American heroes

The downhill starts tomorrow as we pass the halfway point, and I look forward to continuing to learn and experience new things.  I will be enjoying some much anticipated family time this weekend and recharging for what is still to come.  Until next time...

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