07 March 2011


By Andy Weddington
Monday, 07 March 2011

                                                "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." Colin Powell

In the 1969 western comedy, 'Support Your Local Sheriff,' James Garner played a reluctant but determined novice lawman intent on bringing order to the upstart, gold-crazed, ficitional town of Calendar, Colorado. That duty merely a distraction before resuming his dream to travel to Australia. Sheriff McCullough (Garner), a no-nonsense quick wit, resorted to sundry non-lethal tactics to tame a gang of hooligans intent on taking over the wide-open town. A jail without bars on the cells was rendered an inescapable prison by dripping and pooling red paint, "blood," in and about the cells, and then warning prisoners the same would happen to them if attempting to escape. And he ran one gunslinger out of town by throwing rocks at him, and warning him not to come back and to tell his friends, too, to stay away. And there were a few other ingenious hysterical tactics the good guy Sheriff used to solve bad guy problems.

But that's Hollywood. Make believe. Everything works out exactly how the film's Director wants it to. The good guy, typically crowned with a white hat (ironically McCullough wore a black hat but won), usually wins. The black-hatted bad guys lose; usually killed--shot or hung. And life goes no. But in the movies people don't actually die.

Then there's reality.

Brian Terry is dead.

Terry's death raises more than a question or two. And there's some explaining to be done. With folks to be held accountable and responsible. And not just the killers proper.

U. S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed December 14th, 2010, during the performance of his duties, as part of specially trained operations team policing a dangerous stretch of the U. S./Mexico border in Arizona.

Confronted drug smugglers trying to bring their poison into our country, armed with AK-47s (Russian automatic rifle), killed Agent Terry. 

His killers will be brought to justice. But culpability rests with many.

A disturbing circumstance behind the brief gun battle--of which a single round took the life of Agent Terry--is that our highly-trained U. S. Border Patrol agents were, as recently reported, operating under a rule of engagement (ROE) that required first using non-lethal force. They were using bean bag rounds. Bean bags. Something Sheriff McCullough may have used had any been handy on the set, or the movie Director thought of it.

The violence along our southwest border, especially during the past year or so, has been beyond awful. Desperate drug cartels are stepping up their assault. Innocents, and many of them, being slaughtered. The region could be better tabbed Dodge City or Tombstone, anything but Hollywood. And our counter is to order agents, who face great danger, to first use bean bags to neutralize our enemies?

Supposedly a supervising agent for the Arizona region where Agent Terry was killed issued the ROE.

But where did that rule (those rules) originate? From the office of our National Security Advisor? From the office of our Director, Homeland Security? And where does the buck stop? Our President? Of course, for he shoulders sole responsibility for protecting our country and protecting those who protect our country. Period.

There's been much written about this story the past week or so, but nothing that pauses and asks some basic questions of our country's leadership.

It is not disrespectful to pose tough questions to our President. Quite the contrary, it is proper and absolutley necessary. He volunteered to serve. He swore an oath. He works for us. And since the buck ultimately does stop with him, and while recognizing and extending all due courtesies to the high office, it's only proper our  President, after making whatever carefully scripted statement, answer--off script--a few heart-of-the-matter questions; tough questions the White House Press Corps should be asking.

Mr. President,

1. Did you order or were you aware of policy (ROE) for our U. S. Border Patrol agents to first employ non-lethal measures--even when operating in known high-threat areas in the face of heavily armed and ruthless enemies?

2. Are Secret Service agents assigned duties to protect you and your family, and other high-ranking government officials, armed with bean bags and with a like ROE? If not, why not?

3. Would the ROE, an undeniable factor in the senseless death of Agent Terry, have been acceptable had it been either of your daughters assigned his dangerous, high-risk duties?

4. Are you asking these tough questions of your accountable Cabinet members--those public servants entrusted to carry out your ultimate responsibility for ensuring our nation's security and safety and the safety of our brave men and women serving on the front lines?

5. Are bean bags being used in Afghanistan? Or anywhere else where our law enforcement or military personnel are operating in dangerous areas?

The answers. What might they be?

Reality. What might it be?

Bean bags are fine for the movies. They might even be good for training.

But in a gunfight?

Why not paintballs?

Why not rocks? Like the ones Sheriff McCullough used.

Fact is bean bags nor paintballs nor rocks are especially effective in a gunfight; and never will be.

Rounds are made of metal. Morals of mettle. And the moral high ground argument is shallow when considering life and death--of bad guys and good guys. There's no debate as to who should win--live or die.
That a federal combatant, a good guy, was armed with bean bags while fighting bad guys shooting heavy caliber bullets is inane.

Nonsensical? Yes!

And the outcome a tragic senseless death of a good guy.

As to General Colin Powell's opening quote...

Especially when thinking about good guys armed with bean bags, not only did the plan, a bad plan, not survive enemy contact, a good guy--a good man--did not survive.

General Powell's achievements and selfless service to our country, in and after his uniformed days, undeniable and noteworthy. His philosophical perspective a consummate one for applying to today's topic. And since a thought of the General's opened today's missive, one to close is fitting, "The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise."

Which brings to mind a quote encountered during early Marine days, "To the man who does not have to do it himself, nothing is impossible." Author unknown.

In this case, as is usual, the rear echelon and however far it extends (that is, the men and women who did not have to face determined, automatic-weapon-wielding drug smugglers themselves), proved wrong. Dead wrong.




Will it happen again?

It'd better not!

Lest we forget, our country and the U. S. Border Patrol Hall of Heroes (surely there is one) bears permanent reminder--a tribute certainly, but a damn ugly cicatrix. One that should not be necessary.

Band aids may mask but are not a remedy.

Law enforcement along our borders, protecting our country from evil, is not a movie. It's not Hollywood.

Gunfights are serious and require serious medicine. Bean bags, paint balls, rocks, and jail cells without bars work every time in the movies. But there's only one known effective 'therapy,' though never a guaranteed cure, to deal with real armed and dangerous hooligans--lead bullets and one ROE: Deadly force authorized.

Simple as that.

Had that prescription been the case in the badlands of Arizona on that fateful Tuesday last December most probably a different outcome, but it was not the case and...

Brian Terry is dead.

One shot.

And Brian Terry is a dead hero.

Amidst the chaos there was no movie Director or supervisor to yell, "Cut," and then for the "dead" to rise, dust themselves off, return to makeup, and review any impromptu script changes to prepare for a re-shoot--another take.

In the movies there's however many shoots--takes--as necessary. In the real world it takes but one shot.

Brian Terry should be a live hero. He was, and should be still, in flesh and blood. But that's impossible. His consolation, and for whatever comfort to family, he will be a hero of America in spirit, forever. And ever.

Something to think about.

Support your local gunfighters--our U. S. Border Patrol Agents and others. The good guys. Our good guys.

Post Script

Today's Commentary title was the title of a movie made forty years ago. The comic western starred many cast members from 'Support Your Local Sheriff,' but the film, again headlining James Garner, was not a sequel.

Author's Endnote

Follow-up about another fallen warrior...

Not quite two weeks ago in an 'Author's Endnotes' I mentioned the deaths of two great Marines--Major Gene Duncan, USMC (Ret) and Major Roy Centner, USMC (Ret).

Saturday past several hundred folks, packed to standing room only in the Protestant Chapel aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms, California, gathered to bid farewell to Roy. Leading the flag-draped casket, tended by two men, from the rear of the chapel was the distinctive low drone and pitched notes of a lone kilt-clad bagpiper playing a calming processional. A Marine lance corporal bedecked in dress blues--on duty therefore covered and wearing white gloves--marched solemn guard a pace behind.

Once in place at the front of the chapel, the piper played reverberating, haunting renditions of 'Amazing Grace' and the 'Marines Hymn'--which at first note, Marines, mostly old retired ones sprinkled throughout the gathering came to attention; that act of respect ingrained and tradition. After the pipes went silent, a Navy chaplain welcomed all and invited anyone to come forward and say a word or two about Roy.

As always, there was an awkward hesitation as to whom would break the ice. A tearful young woman took the lead. A couple of dozen--family, and friends; some longtime some recent--spoke. Most choked back tears. Roy's oldest stepdaughter, admitting her liberal views, shared a story...'Roy, a conservative (big surprise from a Marine officer), and her mother were babysitting her toddler son. She phoned to check on him. Roy told his wife to tell her his grandson was dressed in a camoflague "onesy" and they were watching Fox News together.' The otherwise somber crowd enjoyed a needed relieving laugh and a sweet memory of Roy's wit.

Other children--young women--rose to speak of their Dad and his sometimes stern but always caring nature and sense of humor--e.g., following a deployment he gave one of the girls a gas mask as a souvenir. More laughter.

After Roy retired from active duty he later opened a tire business. He taught his girls how to change a tire, a battery, and the oil--he wanted them to be self-sufficient. Friend after friend recalled Roy always being there when someone needed help. In fact, he had helped someone earlier in the day he collapsed. Not ironic but fitting. That was Roy--always offering a helping hand. And all avowed he was a Marine--a great Marine; always.

A pictorial tribute of stills set to favored music attested to the touching testimonials. Natural light pouring in from high windows running along either side of the chapel bathed the screen's images but not to obstruction. The soft light seemed to illuminate--to cradle. Perhaps a sign from Roy he's at peace? How perfect.

Thoughtful words by another, more seasoned, chaplain closed the service.

As he entered the chapel, and our world sixty-two years ago, Roy left head first escorted by the two attending men and his Marine brother, in spirit not kin, one pace behind walking guard. Marines take care of each other. And so it was to the end. That act of the brotherhood, too, ingrained and tradition.

Roy Centner touched many a life and not just in 29 Palms. His sudden death stunned all--for many, Saturday's service made it real but not necessarily any easier to accept. Roy is going to be missed. Faces, washed in grief, made that crystal clear.

Life goes on.

Major Roy Centner (19 October 1948-20 February 2011). Semper Fidelis, Marine. Taps.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this beautifully written memorial.