Don’t forget that flag

From Craig McCluer

McCluer on a mission in Africa.

McCluer in Luxembourg at General Patton’s grave.

LtCol (Dr.) McCluer’s military service includes commissions and enlistments in the US Air Force, US Army, and US Navy. Duty stations include Naval Hospital San Diego, Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Fort Hood TX (4th Infantry Division), Lackland Air Force Base TX, and Spangdahlem Air Base Germany. Dr. McCluer is a 1984 graduate of Apollo Career Center (Elida) and 1998 graduate of The Ohio State University College of Optometry. He is the son of James and Cynthia McCluer, of Lima. He is 50 years old and now lives in Texas.

One of my most memorable Veterans Day experiences was while serving as a ceremony formation officer at The American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, burial place of General George Patton. Young scouts had spent the previous night on-site, pitching tents, practicing their skills, and placing an American flag in front of each and every tombstone. All military veterans were honored on that cold, overcast day, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. The day’s service took on an enormous significance as in addition to American and French vets in attendance, German vets and Holocaust survivors were also present, sitting side by side. Germany, who was our enemy during World War II, is now our friend and ally.

Before becoming an officer, I was an enlisted service member in the South Pacific. Part of our job was to raise and lower the colors every day including Veterans Day. Two members were assigned to wear their dress uniforms, march to the flagpole, and hoist Old Glory to the top. A few of us relished planning out original marching movements. Since the flagpole usually sits right in front of the Commanding Officer’s (CO) window, we always wanted it to be a performance! A commitment came with doing this task and a few of us reveled in this duty. Many purchased a second dress uniform and kept it on-site for a quick-change if pinged at the last minute.

When I later became a commissioned officer and assigned to an infantry base, I routinely stood a 24-hour duty as the acting hospital “CO” which included assigning enlisted personnel to the colors detail. I always included myself in the formation because I enjoyed it and an officer should never ask anyone to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves. On this base we wore our fatigues for hoisting the colors, but on special days such as Veterans Day, we were required to wear our dress uniforms. When I heard a soldier grumbling about having to prepare their dress uniform the night before, I took their spot in the formation. My thinking was/is: This country has been very good to me, I love that flag, and I’ll raise it every damn day by myself if I have to!

Utilization of the military in worldwide missions can be a delicate, yet complex political situation. The day after 911 there were many who exclaimed, “We’re going to war!” and “We’re going to bomb the s#i! out of them!” I would ask these people, “Who are we going to war with and who are we going to bomb?” Not one had an answer. No service member was going to make a move until the Commander-in-Chief (i.e. President of the United States) gave the order.

The President has a serious decision on her (or his) shoulders when dedicating armed forces to an operation. True, the military is considered a political instrument of war, but it is best utilized as a deterrent. Therefore, more appropriately, the military is a political instrument to avoid war. Unfortunately, history has proven at times war gets more results than peace. Deploying forces across the globe, many times in peacekeeping and humanitarian roles, the President ensures America’s presence is well-known at all times (to head-off escalations in advance). While serving on active duty I was selected to answer this call on a few such missions.

Africa is one of the world’s largest continents, allowing for many out-of-the-way places for bad people to hide (bad people who want to do America harm). Being shipped off to Africa for global-war-on-terror missions, I was following the Commander-in-Chief’s orders to make America’s presence known (basically sending a message to undesirables, ‘Uncle Sam is here and he sees you!’). On my initial deployment to Ghana to provide medical humanitarian services, I felt pretty safe. I was with a large unit of about 80 service members including military police. The second time there, this time to Burundi, I felt less safe.

Four of us were positioned in the region’s capital, Bujumbura, to provide eye exams and gas mask optical inserts to Burundi military forces. We’d examine the soldiers all day long, then at night report to the American embassy where we would fax the prescriptions to a military lab in Kuwait to have the inserts made. There was a different vibe to the mission in Africa this time: There were only four of us Americans present among the locals (versus the 80 like before (i.e. no strength in numbers this time), we had no security forces with us, and it seemed as if more eyes were on us due to this specific mission — the Burundi military was being shipped off on a peacekeeping mission to Somalia against Al-Shabaab militants. The local populace knew what we were doing there and some didn’t seem to appreciate America’s “intrusion.” The atmosphere was tense at times and rubbed off on us. Bottom line: We were there as America’s ambassadors fulfilling a mission as set forth by the Commander-in-Chief. Turning down that order was not an option. We made it back to our duty stations in Europe, but all of us were changed.

On this Veterans Day, I have two closing thoughts. First, all government entities need to have people on-board who think differently (General Patton also said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” ). If the President of the United States has too many “yes” people in the cabinet, final decisions can be skewed (and sometimes fatal). The system works best when there is diversity. (On a personal side-note, I think all legislators holding an official office should have military service on their record, but that’s just my opinion.) Second, and just as important, put your American flags up today! (And work out some choreographed moves to the flagpole!)

McCluer on a mission in Africa. on a mission in Africa.
McCluer in Luxembourg at General Patton’s grave. in Luxembourg at General Patton’s grave.

From Craig McCluer

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