2011 American of the Year: Seal Team 6

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The United States Navy ‘SEAL’ teams are the Navy’s principal special operations force. The ‘SEAL’ acronym stands for Sea, Air, and Land, and each of these factors was on display on May 2nd, 2011.

On that day, the Navy’s “SEAL Team 6”, it’s Special Warfare Development Group, got revenge for America and exorcised a ghost that had haunted the nation for two decades, particularly in orchestrating the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. On that day, they killed Osama bin Laden.
“Operation Neptune Spear” was led by the C.I.A. and included their own agents, U.S. Army Airborne Rangers, and Seal Team 6. Their target was a compound in the Bilal Town section of the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan where intelligence gathered over the previous 9 months had led to the conclusion that Osama bin Laden, the murderous leader of the al Qaeda Islamofascist terrorist group, was living.
The mission was to be a “kill or capture” one in theory, but information developed from the intel had led most to feel that those inside the compound would not allow themselves to simply be captured. The American team was ready for a fire-fight.

In discussions between the President and leadership within the National Security Council, it was decided to leave the Pakistani government in the dark as to the planned raid. There was a complete lack of confidence in their government’s ability to keep such a plan a secret.
Approaching the compound using newly designed helicopters, the SEAL team dropped in and made their attack. They came under fire as they entered the main building, and in the end there were five people killed, including bin Laden and his son. Watching from the White House Situation Room, President Obama said “We got him!”
The identities of SEAL Team members are supposed to remain classified for many reasons, including the potential for retaliation against individual members and their families for actions such as this raid on the bin Laden compound. The President came under scrutiny for releasing some of this information in the aftermath of the attack.
Here we will not concern ourselves with the individuals, and will absolutely respect their necessary anonymity. What we will do is recognize this group and their actions in avenging 9/11 and ridding the world of one of it’s worst-ever terrorists. For their heroic actions in May, we recognize the entirety of the group known as ‘SEAL Team 6’ as the 2011 American of the Year.

At Penn State, Joe Had to Go

It’s a sad day in Happy Valley, the home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, a University now rocked by one of the very worst kinds of scandal. 
Former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky stands credibly accused of raping and sexually molesting a series of young boys, some at least as young as 10 years old, and of doing so in some instances inside the football facilities while he was still a coach.

Sandusky stands to be judged on his own for these heinous, monstrous actions. But now comes the important issue of who else knew, may have known, or where made aware of what was going on, and did little or nothing to protect these children.

Last night that fallout spread to school president Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno, both of whom were fired by the university board. For Spanier it is the end of a 16-year run, and for the iconic ‘Joe Pa’ it marks the ignominious end to a 46-year head coaching career.

I could write all day long on the circumstances that led to this point, and the guilt, culpability, and responsibility that Sanduskay, Spanier, and others hold in this situation. But I’ll leave that to the countless articles arleady out there, already well written.

Here, I want to cover a couple of simple points about Paterno, points that highlight the reasons that for days my own mantra was “Joe must go!” Now that he is rightly gone, the issue of his responsibility needs to be addressed.

At the time of the raping of children inside the football team facilities, Paterno was the head football coach. The man doing the rapes was a good friend of Paterno, and fellow coach on his staff. Paterno was given specific information about the rape of a young boy, that information coming from a credible person. Paterno took this information to his Athletic Director.

In taking the information to the Athletic Director, Joe Paterno did the right thing, to that point. It’s what he did not do next that got him fired last night.

Joe Paterno is a coach and teacher of young students. He is also the iconic face of the football program. He had a responsibility to not simply do the least expected of him by law, but rather to continue to research and investigate his program and specifically the accused coach.

But Paterno chose to simply leave it at that. 10-year olds raped in his locker showers, and he tells somebody, and that’s it? Sure that was it. That was it because anything else would destroy his football program in general, the reputation of his good friend in particular.

The problem is that Paterno’s loyalties were misplaced. The problem is that by his position, he was obliged to do more. Maybe not stand at midfield at halftime and call out Sandusky, not call a press conference. But he should have stayed with the accusations, followed up with the AD as to what specifically was being done.

Had Joe Paterno and others done the most, which is what needs to be done when accusations are that children are being raped, then perhaps some children would never have been harmed. And perhaps being more pro-active, he could have looked heroic personally and saved some of the University’s reputation as well.

People do indeed have an obligation to step forward when they see crimes and wrong-doing. They also have an obligation to report allegations of such things brought to their attention. Further, when those allegations are so heinous as to be potentially endangering of our children, people need to not simply do the minimum, but need to aggressively pursure truth.

In the outstanding military courtroom drama “A Few Good Men” starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore, two U.S. Marines, Dawson and Downey, are found guilty at the end of a military trial and face Dishonorable Discharges from the military court martial.

Downey self-righteously shouts “We did nothing wrong!” Dawson replies “Yeah we did. We were supposed to fight for people that couldn’t fight for themselves.”

Exactly. And that is what Paterno, among others, was supposed to have done.

What happened at Penn State was cover-up, concealment, and enabling, by Paterno and others. Everyone who knew, or should have known, needs to be fired. Some may need to be prosecuted along with Sandusky. But one thing is obvious, that Joe had to go. Now he is indeed gone, and it’s only the beginning of this sad state of affairs.

Meeting Jessica

Jessica Liversidge was just 18 years old when she laid down to sleep in the early hours of Sunday morning, October 23rd. She never woke up. She was my niece through marriage, the only child of my wife Debbie’s sister, Vickie, and Vickie’s husband Joe.

I had only seen Jess in person twice since she was a very little girl, both times in her pre-teen years. Once their family visited our home in the Somerton section of Philadelphia. Another was at the funeral for her maternal blood grandmother, Alma Marshall, Debbie and Vickie’s mother by birth.

I say “by birth” because the whole family relationship story is kind of unique, reminiscent of an “Oprah” episode where family members who were long estranged or never knew about one another are suddenly united or reunited.
Alma had 4-5 children already when she discovered that she was pregnant with Vickie.

This was the early 1950’s, still the post-World War II years, and times were tough in the household. Knowing she was carrying a life inside of her, but believing they could not afford another child, she and her husband Bob decided to give Vickie up for adoption.

Incredibly, it turned out that Alma still wasn’t done with mothering. About two years later, my wife Debbie came along, and the couple decided that it must be God’s will to keep expanding their family. They kept Debbie, and even ended up adding two more children to their family after that.

Vickie was adopted by what all accounts seem to indicate was a wonderful couple who raised her in the area in and around Downingtown, Pennsylvania, about 40 miles to the west of the Marshall home on Huntingdon Street in Philly.

I am not sure of the exact circumstances, but from what I have learned, a part of the adoption agreement directed that the records would not be opened until Vickie’s mother had passed away, or until Vickie had a child of her own. Both of these events ended up happening within a short time of one another.

Meanwhile, back in Philly, Vickie’s older brothers and sisters were very young at the time of the pregnancy, and were kept out of the plans. Vickie’s birth was not known by them, and was never made known to them. The same happened when my wife Debbie and her younger siblings came along. It was simply a chapter of life too difficult for Alma to talk about.

Debbie and I met in late spring of 1992, and so I was around the family when suddenly one afternoon in early 1993 a phone call came to the home of Deb’s younger sister, Arlene, one of the kids born to Alma after Vickie’s adoption. It was from Vickie, breaking some pretty big news to the family – the “Oprah” moment.

That phone call began a series of telephone and in-person meetings between Vickie and her blood family, Debbie’s family, the Marshalls. When Deb and I got married in the fall of 1995, we asked Vickie to be in the wedding as one of our bridesmaids. It was a great period of getting to know one another, and a part of that was Vickie’s husband, Joe, and their beautiful little daughter, Jessica.

Jess was an always smiling little bundle of sunshine and light. She would always seem to skip into a room, often bobbing her head from one side to the other, blond hair bobbing back and forth as she walked. I am sure she was a challenge as she got older, but around our family as a little girl she was always a joy to be around.

We saw their family at our home, at Arlene’s home, and at a number of other family social occasions over the next few years. Jessica wasn’t exposed to the drama of the family reunion situation as a young child. She knew our family only as what it was, hers, from the time she was born. She was around us pretty regularly right up until she was about 7-8 years old, maybe a little older, when visits got less frequent.

Lots of things happen with family and friends as our kids get older, and our lives gravitate more around what the kids are doing. When you live any kind of distance from one another, it makes those visits even more difficult and less frequent. We just simply didn’t get together much, and didn’t seem to have major family events come up.

Vickie and Joe fell into some marital problems that resulted in a separation, and eventually Vickie began a new relationship with a man named Bob. We saw Vickie and Bob at a couple of family functions, and eventually it just seemed like another casualty of modern family times. But somehow, and I don’t know most of the details, Vickie and Joe ended up drifting back together, which was something that our family was happy to learn.

By the time early 2010 rolled around, I probably hadn’t seen or heard from Jess in a few years. Then one day out of the blue I received a message at my Facebook account from her. She asked if I remembered her, and began to ask me for some law enforcement advice (I’m a Philly cop by profession.)

My first response was that, duh, of course I remembered her. She was my niece for God’s sake (said in completely humorous tone with the requisite 🙂 internet smiley face.) And I took her “my friend recently got in trouble, what should they do?” question as most cops do when confronted with this kind of thing, wondering if the “friend” was actually Jess herself.

I answered whatever her question was as best I could, we did a little chit-chatting to catch up, and then both said that we would talk with our respective families about getting everyone together soon. Over this last year and a half, I have probably had that same kind of exchange with her on Facebook 2-3 other times, but we never did actually get the family together.

Having Jessica as a Facebook ‘friend’ was a bit of a challenge for an uncle in that the language used and the pictures displayed by her and her friends was not always, shall we say, family appropriate. But I always took it as simply a young girl growing up and finding her way in a new-media world.

I got to know some things about Jess through those words and pictures that would often pop into my Facebook feed. She was obviously a pretty, fun-loving girl with many interests. She loved hanging out with her friends, and she loved her parents even as she challenged them. She seemed to flit effortlessly between her life at home in Pennsylvania, and up in Maine where her father Joe’s family was from, and where she spent a good amount of visiting time.

There were pictures and descriptions of her waterskiing, and she talked about loving opportunities to go flying with Joe, who is a pilot, as well as boating with the family. From these pictures and her writings, I was largely able to fill in a representative picture of her life in the few years since I had last seen her.

Then just a couple of weeks ago, I happened to be off from work and in my bedroom in the morning when I heard the phone ring. Our daughter, Melissa, who is Jess’s cousin and who, at 25, always seemed closer in age with her than the 7 years that actually separate them, walked down the hall from her own bedroom to answer the phone.

I knew that she wasn’t going to get there before our answering machine picked up, and she didn’t, and I heard a female voice leaving a message. I couldn’t hear the words at all, but when Melissa started to break down crying out loud I knew that it could only be one kind of message.

Vickie and Deb’s father, Bob Marshall, is now 86 years old, and so when I realized this message was the worst kind of news, Bob was where my thoughts went. I looked at Melissa and said “Poppy?“, but she shook her head and said “No” through her tears. That probably made me even more worried, and then she told me it was Jess.

I played back Vickie’s message, which was heart-breaking. I find it difficult to leave any kind of message on someone’s answering service, let alone trying to pass on a message to my family that my teenage daughter had just died. I called Deb, Arlene, and their sister Joanne. Then I passed the word to my two older daughters from my first marriage, Chrissy and Kelly, who also knew Jess. I let the message spread out to the rest of the family from there.

Last Saturday, Deb, Melissa and I drove out to Downingtown for the open-casket viewing and the funeral service. No matter how professional a job a funeral home does, and this one did well, they can never capture the glow of life found in a teenage girl. The service after the viewing, however, was a completely uplifting experience.

Directly next door to the funeral home is the Downingtown Friends Meetinghouse. Vickie was raised there, went to school and attended their services. Personally, I had never been to a Quaker meetinghouse for any kind of ceremony. My first impression, with the bare walls and the stark, old benches, was cold and skeptical. Boy, was I wrong.

The premise of the Quaker ceremony is to celebrate the life of the descedent through anectodal recollections of times shared, events celebrated, and life lived with the person who has passed. A moderator stands and gives a brief introduction, and then invites others to begin sharing, should anyone feel moved to do so.

At first, just a young cousin of Jess’ got up and shared a pre-written piece on their lives together. It was very warm and heartfelt, recalling a relationship that was obviously close between two young girls of the same age growing up together. The young lady obviously took time to think about what she was writing, and did an outstanding job both in her writing and in telling the stories through her tears.

A lengthy period of silence followed, and I started to get a little uncomfortable. I looked over at Joe and Vickie and hoped that someone would find something more to share. There were dozens of people in the hall. Someone had to have something to share about Jess.

When it wasn’t happening, I decided to get up myself. I spoke on behalf of Deb’s family, mostly recounting the things that I’ve now shared here in this piece. I ended by imploring her young friends and family members present to realize how precious is this gift of life. I asked them to realize that, even if on the wrong path now, or making some bad choices now, they still can make changes. Their whole lives are in front of them. I hope even one person that might need such a message was listening, and took it to heart.

Slowly, more and more got up to speak. At first it was older family members, and parents of her friends. But more and more her younger family and friends got up to speak. Many of the stories brought Jess’ spirit back to life in that room, and filled it with warmth, even putting a smile on our faces and filling the room with laughter a couple of times.

One young female cousin told the story of how Jess had taught her to drive: “I was 12 – and she was 11.” The place cracked up. She went on to share that Jess told her that the peddle on the right was for the gas. When the girl asked which one was the brake, Jess said “You don’t need to know.” That was Jessica right there, full speed ahead, no brakes.

In her lifetime, I probably spent no more than two weeks worth of days in the actual company of Jess. But she touched me with her loving spirit, which from the stories I heard that day was nothing unique. She touched everyone that way.

Jess had a substance abuse problem. She used drugs, and she drank, and she partied far too much. Her family tried very hard to get her help, but in the end it was not enough. We lost her from her own choices, there was nothing anyone else was going to be able to do. But as one uncle related, she lived life on her terms.

Jessica Liversidge left us with many memories. She left a warm spot in the hearts of those of us who got to know her on any real level. She lived her life in a way which taught us lessons, good and bad. She made a difference, she will be missed, and she will be loved. And it was really nice getting to meet her again in that Quaker meetinghouse.

War is Not the Answer

One thing that should be fairly clear from Soviet involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, and American involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000’s, is that waging war in the Middle East is not a winning long term strategy.

In the short-term, deposing dangerous regimes and tyrannical rulers with military force is something that may indeed be necessary.

Sadam Hussein certainly was tyrannical, torturing and killing his own countrymen. The Taliban and al Qaeda certainly were dangerous, deadly entities. All had to go.

But in the end, there is certainly one truth that has to be faced up to: the United States of America cannot be expected to place large numbers of troops in any foreign country forever.

There comes a time when we need to bring our troops home or redeploy them. I believe that President Obama is right in bringing our troops home from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Now, I don’t agree with this President on very much. He is likely a Socialist, certainly an ultra-liberal, big government, anti-capitalist. But to say that he is wrong about every single thing the man does on every issue at every turn is to simply be a partisan contrarian yourself.

The important this is the balancing of the mission against the costs. The mission was to remove Hussein, to help Iraq establish it’s own sound alternative governmental process, and to provide the security to allow that process to grow. We have done that. We have done it at the cost of more than 4,000 American lives, more than 30,000 more injuries, and more than a trillion dollars.

The sign displayed on the USS Abraham Lincoln back in 2003 when President George W. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier to give a speech at the end of the first phase of major combat operations, the infamous “Mission Accomplished” sign, was correct at that time. The subsequent Iraqi guerrilla insurgency led to another phase, and here we are, eight years later.

Our American troops, along with those from Great Britain and a number of other allies, have done an outstanding job throughout these Middle East conflicts. Their work has been one piece in helping to keep the U.S. homeland free from further Islamofascist terror attacks following 9/11.

But the sad, truthful fact is that the world will never be completely free from these threats, and we can never do enough policing to ensure such safety. And the economic ramifications of continuing to dump tens of billions of dollars in the Middle East? Simply irresponsible at this time.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am no dove. There is a time to stand up and fight. The United States intelligence services need to stay vigilant. The U.S. military needs to remain prepared to respond to any actions against our nation’s security interests. And our leaders need to remain committed to encouraging and supporting freedom and democracy around the globe.

But the Iraq War is over. We won. It’s time, past time actually, for our troops to come home, at least in this man’s opinion. In the short term, yes, mission accomplished. But in the long term, war is not the answer to the problems of the Middle East. It is likely not going to be avoided in the future, but as history has shown over thousands of years, it will likely settle nothing permanently. That ultimate peace will take an act of God.

Welcome home, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for your service from an eternally grateful nation. We hope that it is a long time before you are called into active combat service again. God bless America.

Phillies: Where Do We Go From Here?

I’m writing this on the day after the Philadelphia Phillies ended the most successful regular season in franchise history with one of their most devastating playoff losses. The team of the “Fantastic Four”, the “Four Aces”, lost to the Saint Louis Cardinals last night, at home, by a 1-0 score. Shutout by Chris Carpenter and sent packing for the winter, where do the Fightin’ Phils go from here?
Let’s begin with the basics. Who will be back in 2012, who will not be back, and what are the biggest question marks as far as the current players on the roster. After that we can do a little gazing into a crystal ball to see who, if anyone, GM Ruben Amaro might target in the Hot Stove League.
The list of who will be back begins with Amaro himself, who is signed to a contract through the 2015 season, and whose time with the team must be considered nothing short of a complete success. As the Assistant GM to now MLB Hall of Famer Pat Gillick and former GM Ed Wade, he was highly influential in building the 2008 World Series champions. As the GM, he has made bold moves that have kept the club in strong contention.
Next on the list of those coming back is manager Charlie Manuel, who signed an extension taking him through the 2013 season. Manuel’s steady hand and generally easy-going manner endear him to today’s ballplayer. He is the club’s all-time winningest manager. He led the team to that 2008 World Series. Unless the soon to be 68-year old finds his tenure cut short by health, he will man the helm for at least two more years.
On the field, those returning include Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, John Mayberry Jr, Michael Martinez, and Domonic Brown. Every one of those players will be returning and will make up the bulk of the Phillies position players on offense and defense for the 2012 season.
On the mound, returning will be Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, Joe Blanton, Antonio Bastardo, Jose Contreras, David Herndon, Michael Stutes, and Michael Schwimer. Hamels has a club option that the Phillies are certain to pick up, and he will likely be the target of a club attempt at a long-term contract this off-season.
This takes us to the question marks among the current crop of players, and there are a handful of big ones as well as a couple of smaller but possibly important ones as well. These players include Jimmy Rollins, Roy Oswalt, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, Brian Schneider, Wilson Valdez, Ben Francisco, and Kyle Kendrick. Let’s take the biggest names one at a time.
Jimmy Rollins has been the heart and soul of this franchise for at least a half dozen years. It’s senior member, ‘JRoll’ has been a Phillie his entire career, which began really with his first full season back in 2001. He was the 2007 NL MVP when his proclamation that the Phillies, not the then-powerhouse New York Mets, were the “team to beat” in the NL East proved prescient.
The arguments to bring back Rollins are emotional. He is the acknowledged leader. There is not a single fan who grew up as or became one in the past decade who can imagine the Phillies without JRoll at shortstop. Thing is, I’ve already been here, done this. I went through the same with Larry Bowa almost 30 years ago. The day will come, and that day may indeed be here.
The rub with Rollins will be the contract. He is a free agent for the first time in his career, and he is well aware that this will be his final shot at big bucks. He can still spark a team as shown by his 16 homeruns and 30 steals, and he was perhaps the team’s best hitter in the 2011 playoffs. But he turns 33 years old next month. How many years, and how much money, do you give the guy? And how much of that is for what he has done, rather than what you believe he will do?
My guess is that Jimmy Rollins will be looking for at least a 3-year contract worth at least $40 million overall. At least that, and he is rumored to be seeking a 5-year deal. Freddy Galvis is the Phillies organization minor league Player of the Year. He turns 22 years old next month. He is already considered Major League-ready with the glove, an exceptional defender. He would probably be an all-glove, little-hit guy for at least a couple seasons. I am guessing that he is the Phillies 2012 starting shortstop, and that we are watching the final weeks of the JRoll era.
Roy Oswalt is another toughie. He just turned 34-years old last month, and the club has a $16 million option for 2012. A couple months ago, it looked like his balky back might lead him to retirement, especially if he could go out on top with a championship. But he got healthy, said he felt great at the end of the season, had his fastball popping again, and is looking to return. It says here that starting pitchers of his experience and pedigree do not grow on trees, and that the Phils should pickup that option and bring back the “Four Aces” intact for one more shot at the brass ring.
Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge have been at the core of the Phillies back-end bullpen for the past four years. The iconic scene of Lidge dropping to his knees after his strikeout and perfect season clinched the 2008 World Series will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of the team and it’s fans. He will get free dinners around this town, justifiably, for decades. But his time is likely up. The club has an $11.5 million option on him for 2012, but with Lidge turning 35 in December, and a bunch of young relievers ready, that money can be spent better elsewhere.
Madson is a far more interesting situation. He is a free agent. His agent is Scott Boras. He will definitely be looking for big money as a closer with some team. He has been a career-long Phillie, and did a strong job for the club in his first full season as the full-time closer this past year. At age 31, he should still have a few strong years in his right arm. My guess is that he is going to look for a 4-5 year deal in the $50 million range. That might be difficult for the club to take on. But if they really believe that he is a shutdown closer, it might also prove to be money well spent. I call it 50-50 on Mad Dog returning.
Brian Schneider is a good, reliable, talented backup catcher. Same on Wilson Valdez as a backup infielder. Both should be back if they don’t price themselves out of town, which is doubtful. Ben Francisco, despite his big NLDS pinch-homer, is likely gone. He is eligible for arbitration, but the club saw enough from Mayberry and thinks highly enough of Brown to make Big Ben disposable. I say they don’t offer arbitration here. The final question then is Kyle Kendrick, also arbitration eligible. Another one that I see as 50-50. He has grown, has some talent, could start for many teams. He may be a trade piece.
So it says here that your 2012 Phillies will have an infield of Howard-Utley-Galvis-Polanco, Chooch behind the plate, the Flyin’ Hawaiian in centerfield, Pence in right, and a platoon of Mayberry/Brown in left. Michael Martinez wilil be the main man off the bench, both Schneider and Valdez back for depth. I also believe the club may look at bringing in a big bopper-type veteran bat to come off the bench, though they may start the season as-is and try to add that in-season.
In 2012, your rotation will be the same as this year: Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt, Worley. You might see Joe Blanton and/or Kyle Kendrick back if the decision is made not to keep Oswalt. You also might see one or both of them dealt away. Hard to imagine the club bringing all 7 back again if healthy. The pen will be Contreras, Bastardo, Stutes, Schwimer and Herndon, and I believe the club either brings back Madson, or signs a proven shutdown free agent closer such as Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell.
You will definitely be saying goodbye for good to Raul Ibanez and the werewolf chants. I wouldn’t expect to see Ross Gload coming back either. I also wouldn’t expect to see Ruben Amaro Jr pull another rabbit out of his hat this winter. His most important work will be signing Hamels to a longterm extension, and making the difficult Rollins, Madson, and Oswalt decisions.
The Philadelphia Phillies won the NL East in 2007, and have now won the division title five straight years. They won the World Series in 2008, and have won more regular season games each year since winning that crown. They have proven to be a great team. But a combination of age and contracts are catching up to them, at least to the point where change will come. They have shown to this point that they can weather the changes and keep on winning and contending, but this will most definitely be the most interesting winter yet.

NOTE: After the writing of this article, it was learned that an injury suffered by Ryan Howard in last night’s Game #5 loss was possibly one that will keep him out for all or a significant portion of the 2012 season. If that is the case, Mayberry is your 1st baseman, Brown gets a full shot in left field, and it may mean new life for Ben Francisco if the Phils want a platoon or depth option. More needs to be learned about Howard’s injury going forward, but this one hurts – literally and figuratively.