Archive for May, 2011

60 Years of Marriage

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

East Front of Reeves Drive where crowds congregate from time to time so long as they stay out of Aunt Brenda’s vegetable garden.

My detour to Germany makes this post longer than I planned. One week after the college-associated events, we drove to Mount Airy from our home on the perimeter of Duke University. This two hour drive does not rival that along the Romantische Strasse and it does take one nearly out of time and certainly out of place. My in-laws celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary amongst their six children and the cascading families of theirs. We fit into the living room and kitchen, spilled onto the deck and the teenagers occupied the not so secret space with the Nintendo 64 in the basement. Several of us watched a fledgling dove learn to fly. Despite the example and encouragement of its own parents, the baby bird contented itself hoping about a flower bed, seeking shelter in the plant leaves and overgrowth. A few of us speculated that the bird was injured and could not fly. Others feared that roaming cats would discover the ground-bound baby. At last, and in Nature’s well worn way of inducing survival skills, one of the visiting Labradors saw the bird in the flower bed. As the dog headed for the bird, one of the younger girls shouted for the dog to heel or stop or watch-out. Amidst this adult energy, commotion and circumstance, the baby dove launched itself in flight onto the garage roof thirty feet away for a better view of the situation and landed safely just as its ground school training had prescribed.

Maybe that’s the connection I’ve been looking for over the past 750 words. It’s not what you think that you are going to do when it matters, or even where you do it or for how long, but more a matter of what you do when you need to do it that permits us to fulfill ourselves.

1 Graduation

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Two of my favorite people.

The day after the Duke commissioning I attended the graduation of our good friend and honorary (our honor) third son from Appalachian State. Necessary, perfunctory, silly, drifting, tiring was this occasion in the basketball arena. The theme for the occasion was sustainability which I presume was to prepare us for the self-perpetuating remarks of the university administrators and the career politician keynote speaker who found the just wrong moment to thank the governor for bringing some number Federal government grants to North Carolina. I concluded that this was an example for the grads of how to sustain your job by kissing the ring of the boss in public. There must be a more efficient and more effective way of having one’s parents hear the child’s name certifying graduation from college. No longer are diplomas actually handed to the App State grads as these come later in the month via mail. Maybe in the future graduation will be a status on Facebook?! College days are over; loans and papers are over; reading for pure personal pleasure begins. It seemed anti-climactic without a aura of logical progression to what is next. I wondered how many of these young adults, nearly children when they began the four year college journey are better prepared than they were in 2007.

2 Commissionings: UNC NROTC and Duke NROTC

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

I love living in North Carolina as it reminds me of the qualify of life that many Germans enjoy. While living and working in Southern Germany those many years before the Internet, like 3, I admired the balance in the lives of many of my colleagues. They would often bicycle or walk to work – option 2 was the bus with option 3 being one of their fine, high performance cars (mainly Passats and Audis with fewer BMWs and almost never saw a Porsche in the company lot) – and work they would. No goofing off between 8am and 4pm, 2:30 on Fridays in summer. Not only was there no discussion of popular culture in the workplace, the young engineers and the younger secretaries (not a forbidden term in Deutschland) referred to each other by proper name, e.g. Mr. Bauer and Miss Bine! We worked in a facility that designed and produced cutting tools for machines that made engines for Mercedes and BMW. These tools were nearly 2 to 3 times more precise than ones built elsewhere in the world explaining, perhaps, the performance of your BMW. I also observed the Mercedes reaction to the introduction of the Lexus brand which was to purchase Chrysler demonstrating clearly that engineers belong in machine shops and not in the marketing department.

Our factory sat nicely amidst the wine country, well away from the vineyards of Libefraumilch and Schwarze Katze, with the wafting smells of the nearby farms. Without air conditioning, open windows connect factory to farm. Not 100% aromatic, but pretty good on most days. When the bell sounded at 4pm, the factory and the offices cleared with many employees of all levels heading to their gardens and vineyards. Only where lovely weather is scarce is lovely weather revered. Automotive engineering on the slopes of wine producing fields, walking home after work, beer gardens at night – which welcome the entire family- develop a well-balanced life of interconnection amongst people and their surroundings. This description is not intended to start a repatriation movement to the Old Country as there is much in Germany life that only a German can accommodate. I saw the benefit to the individual of a lifestyle of interconnection between people, places and nature. As a result, I realize these many years later that Germans are able to answer the question, “What does it mean to be German?” in ways that I feel is not so easy for us in America at present.

Our local Naval Academy Alumni Association sponsors two leadership awards for the RTP’s Naval ROTC program. The presence of the military is by necessity so small at Duke, UNC and NC State that they are managed by one senior officer and staff. For example, Duke commissioned four ensigns; UNC commissioned 9 ensigns and Marine lieutenants; NC State’s commissioning class is as large that these two together but not large. Impressive to me about this ceremony is the sudden gravity of a moment within the occasion. There is plenty of circumstance at the beginning with uniforms and gloves and medals and veterans. Parents and siblings are dressed as best as they can with respect to the weather and their presumption of the appearance for the occasion. In short, you see everything from flip-flops to formal attire. Everyone knows that something different, even important is going on or going to happen, we’re just not sure what. Like all graduation-like ceremonies, older people speak of the marvelous opportunities and challenges awaiting the younger people; important looking and acting people describe the deeds of supposedly famous people gone by; the moment is both proper and light-hearted. Of course, the young men and women (women outnumbered the men in total including two females headed for submarine service) could only see the final moments of their time-consuming, parallel lives as midshipmen. The freedom of the adult world was only a speech or two and a raised right hand away. These six commissionings later, I realize that no one is quite prepared for the defining moment of the ceremony. This is the moment when the senior in college, the midshipman in the NROTC program is asked to raise his or her right hand and to repeat the Uniformed Services Oath of Office … “support and defend… bear true faith and allegiance… well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office….” Moments and people are transformed at this expression. The audience does not tire hearing these words spoken as each commissioning officer is sworn-in. Preciously, several are led in the oath by family members including fathers, mothers, grandfathers and friends. At this precise interval, each is no longer who they were. And everyone recognizes this.

The ceremony continues for another 45 minutes as the new officers are photographed, received their first salutes and mingle with friends and family. It’s a series of photo-ops, for sure, and I sensed that we linger as we do so that we can hang-on to this precious affair just a bit longer before re-joining our own worlds.

Can’t be a Navy SEAL; can behave like 1

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Good things come in threes even for Special Operations or Spec Ops types such as our Navy SEALS. Coincidentally or not, on the Saturday after the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden (1), Bath Iron Works launched the USS Michael Murphy, christened for the SEAL Medal of Honor recipient to commemorate his sacrifice in Afghanistan as well-described in the Lone Survivor. By the way, eighteen SEALS and Rangers perished in the related rescue attempt. On Monday May 9, the New York Times reviewed two recent books describing the SEAL life (3).

USS Michael Murphy, DDG-112, launched at Bath Iron Works on Murphy’s 35th Birthday

I’ve met a few SEALs and even helped a UNC graduate find his way into the program. One of my own cocktail stories is the November evening in 1974 when I took the physical exam required to apply for SEAL training. I travelled across the bridge from the Naval Base in San Diego to Coronado to meet my test instructor. He arrived at the pool with his German Shepard; both looked fit, serious and non-threatening. The gate to the pool was locked. Surprised was I when the instructor asked if I had the key; more surprised was I when having replied, ‘no, I don’t’, he looked up at the ten foot fence, commanded the Shepard to lie and scaled the fence commenting that we had to be finished by 1700 (5pm), 45 minutes from now. I followed him up the fencing, over the wire and into the pool area. I was nervous and now winded. He walked to one end of the pool, took out his stop-watch and suggested that I get into the water. I yanked off my boots and shirt and dove in. I forget how many laps that I had to swim or how much time elapsed, but I recall that 30 minutes was the maximum permitted. I dragged myself out of the pool and was informed that I failed – without prejudice or malice of forethought. He turned toward the fence. In a rush of panic, I asked if I could complete the remainder of the test. He stared, replying, “Affirmative.” Push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups later, he marked my results on his clipboard. For swimming, noted the maximum time of thirty minutes. “You may not be the best swimmer, but I like your attitude for wanting to complete the test.” Up and over the fence, he jogged with the Shepard to his vehicle.

My career with the SEALs never got off the ground – or into the water. I applied and was denied permission until I finished my tour at sea, the reason that I was transferred to San Diego in the first place. I’ve known all these years later that becoming a Navy SEAL was a highly improbable achievement because I am not a strong swimmer or even a good floater and that cold conditions, both water and weather, deplete my energy in a hurry. Maybe it’s the New Orleans roots. At any rate, I run across these unique warriors from time to time. We all do and you just don’t know it from their demeanor. Here are a ways that we can be like them even if we could only barely pass the qualification physical:

1. Get in shape: physically, mentally, morally. Morally means accurate compass on what we stand for.
2. Let our actions speak for themselves. To the best of our abilities, lead and not manage.
3. Be respectful; be honest; don’t back down from the BS.
4. Expect a lot; trust a lot.
5. Take care of your people. They are termed SEAL teams for a purpose.
6. Commit to the mission.
7. Plan, cross-train, have a reasoned back-up plan.

Formerly President of the United States Naval Academy’s Alumni Association’s North Carolina Research Triangle Park Chapter

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Not exactly MacArthur’s address to Congress and I, too, was honored to have served and to have helped to improve our Chapter’s sense of self. By complete coincidence, I published this reference to Admiral Alan Shepard on the 50th anniversary of his walk in space, May 5, 2011.

Shipmates and Friends of the Chapter,

A final reminder re our guest speaker tomorrow, LtCol Mike Franzak, author of A Nightmare’s Prayer. Registration: We may even get to share a few thoughts on the Pakistan OBL operation by our comrades in Spec Ops.

And tomorrow will be our annual meeting for the purpose of electing the 2011-12 Chapter Board of Directors. This evolution will not take long as the Chapter has effectively decided on its officers and directors. And this brings me to my story about Alan Shepard, astronaut and admiral. One pleasant spring afternoon circa 1973, Admiral Shepard visited our Academy for lunch and our beloved Wednesday P-rade on Worden Field. After Brigade Seats, Admiral Shepard was invited by the Supt. to say a few words to the mids in the mess hall- that’s what it was called in those days. Of all the P-rades and March-Ons and Monday practices that I enjoyed (which admittedly were few), I’ll never forget this one because Astronaut Shepard turned to the seated Supt. and suggested that since he never liked marching in P-rades as a mid that he would appreciate and respectfully requests that today’s 1530 P-rade, where he is the slated guest of honor, be cancelled and the mids given town libs. As Salty Sam would say, “I kid you not.” The mess hall exploded in cheers; the Supt. complied with Admiral Shepard’s request.

Regaling you with this sea story is my own way of informing you that this is my final correspondence as Chapter President. Thank you for this honor. Hope to see you at lunch tomorrow. And for the information of all hands, there will be no parade for tomorrow’s change of command of the Board of Directors.

That is all. Go Navy.

Christopher Perrien
NC Triangle Chapter, USNA Alumni Association

Blue Pane Studio’s deliver app for National Cancer Institute

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

The purpose of the app is to guide summer interns in and around the three NCI campuses of Frederick, Bethesda and Rockville, Maryland. Maybe not as engaging as Angry Birds or an iBook and is the nearly perfect sorts of info to be resident on a mobile device. App delivered on both Apple and Android operating systems.