Sunday, January 28, 2007

No Column for 1/28/2007

Look for a new column next Sunday, 2/4/2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007


You flip the switch and the light comes on. You power up your computer and you’re connected to the world. You wake to the soft and reassuring hum of your furnace warming your home. You open your refrigerator and you see food to eat. You dial your cordless phone and connect. You turn on the tap and clean, clear potable water comes out.

What got me thinking about this? Last week, I was talking to an old friend who lives in the Denver area. He was telling me what the series of storms that hit the area did to people. Then I saw stories on TV about the situation in the Midwest and the terrible things that they are experiencing.

Wait a minute, we’ve been there and done that! How soon we forget, I said to myself, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one. We experienced the devastations delivered by that not so nice lady named Fran in September, 1996. She was the strongest hurricane to make a direct hit on North Carolina since Hazel in 1954, and what a hit it was.

Anyone who was here can probably force themselves to remember the trees on homes, cars, and blocking roads. We had flooding, and we had no power. Many had claims in the thousands and for the first time in Chapel Hill history, a town-wide state of emergency was declared. Rosemary Waldorf, who was Chapel Hill mayor at the time said it was a very serious situation because OWASA lost power at the water treatment plant and we faced a twin public health disaster of not being able to get potable water and not be able to use our sewer system.

Then there was that guy Floyd who came in September 1999, a guy who should have been named Flood. We didn’t have the damage here that some in the other parts of the state experienced, but it was another reminder of the power of a hurricane and the damage it can do. On the positive side, local citizens organized the Neighbors for Speed committee to help the “down-east” community adopted by Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Then there was the great ice storm of December 2002. No power, no heat and freezing temperatures were an unwelcome combination, and once again, we struggled together to get through what was a terribly difficult situation. Fortunately for those who had operating radios, WCHL provided a needed lifeline and we were pleased that they had just returned as a local station.

As I reflected on the local weather challenges we faced— and survived and the dreadful situation in parts of our nation while we enjoy unseasonable warmth, I had another cause for pause knowing that our turn will come— again. Are we ready?

We can’t wait to act; we must work on the necessary preparations while we face no crisis. The worldwide web is loaded with sites that will help you determine what you need in order to survive a variety of challenges that we might face. The web sites of our various levels of government also provide plenty of information on preparation for these challenges.

On the Orange County site ( there are useful links to other sites with information on family preparedness resources, disaster kits, checklists, and other general information. The information on children and their needs, financial preparedness, and how to help the mobility impaired is particularly useful and are topics often overlooked. And it’s worth noting that a lot of this information on the site is also available in Spanish.

So, do you agree with me that it’s just a matter of time before we have our turn again? If so, do you have your 72-hour emergency kit ready? Do you have a “go-bag?” Will it be an ice storm, high winds and rain, a tornado or a hurricane? Whatever it is, we can mitigate the impact by getting ready today. The emergency preparedness staff does group presentations to churches, clubs, neighborhood groups, and others. Not preparing doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t think it won’t happen again; it might only mean that we are just procrastinators. Being a procrastinator about preparedness is not a good thing.

PS: If the power goes out at our house and the sump pump is inoperative, and then it rains very hard, really bad things happen in the basement. We invested in a back-up generator to provide emergency power. It has only run about six total hours during power outages over the last three years. So, I’ve decided that it’s great insurance and buying it is what’s responsible for us not having any prolonged outages lately. Checks to show your appreciation for my generator can be sent to me at …

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Tomorrow, January 15th, is the birthday of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is also his national holiday. On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating the holiday and it was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. This is the fourth time that the actual birth date and Martin Luther King Day coincide.

Many in our nation are still not convinced that King should have a holiday in his honor. Some communities still don’t treat it as a holiday, and some make a point of letting everyone know that they are not going to recognize this federal holiday. None of that negativity or opposition will deter me from honoring Dr. King and his many works on his day.

In our community, we will have numerous events that will honor Dr. King. There will be banquets, church services, marches, memorial blood drives, speeches, exhibits, and there will also be service projects and other educational and community programs honoring his legacy.

All of these activities are designed to cause us to reflect on Dr. King’s work and dreams. We also need to be reminded of his sacrifices. But of all of the activities associated with this day, I suspect that Dr. King would really like those who sponsor “Make A Difference Day” projects where volunteers will gather together to help do something for others.

In his Dec. 10, 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, 35-year-old Martin Luther King said in part:

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.”

Every time that I read this quote, I wonder how many people really believe the powerful words. Why is making those words a reality so hard, I ask. With all of our resources, why can’t we solve the problems that continuously plague our communities? Surely, the fact that King could dream of a better state of things and then encourage us to bring his dream to life ought to motivate us to do what we can do wherever it is that we can do it.

We are fortunate that there are so many people in our community who are already making the dream a reality — and making a difference. Look at the number of volunteer organization and activities that we have and all of the people who volunteer their time and generously share their resources to help these programs succeed. If the King Holiday is “a day of service,” and “a day ON, not a day OFF,” then we have loads of people who are already there. But we can do better and do even more.

So what would Dr. King think about our state of things 38 years after his death? He would have to wonder what in the world went wrong. He might ask if we as people had lost our minds, as we continue to fight wars. After all of his efforts to secure the right to vote for all citizens, he would ask why people don’t vote, and so easily take their hard-won civil rights for granted.

He would also ask why so many still don’t have decent housing, wholesome food to eat, and fair pay for the work that they do. He would have to wonder why so much money is spent for things he would consider frivolous and inconsequential when there are so many basic and fundamental needs that go unmet.

He would have to ask why we still couldn’t have honest and forthright dialogues on race and its influence in our society. He would note that so many churches and other institutions are still segregated and wonder if we are comfortable with not being willing to talk about this.

He would again ask why so many of our schools are still segregated, regardless of what causes them to be. He would also ask why some students perform so poorly, drop out of school, and choose the lifestyles that they do. Would he not also wonder why our prisons require more beds while our colleges have chairs unfilled?

I want to believe that we will recommit ourselves to the dream and that the King Holiday is our reminder that we can all do more to bring our community closer to the dream. Any and all progress is welcomed because making a difference is a good thing.

Sunday, January 7, 2007


Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue has said that North Carolina is a military friendly state and has worked long and hard as our military affairs point person to achieve a better balance between the military presence in North Carolina and the defense dollars being expended in our state. She led the effort to make our case in the base realignment and closure process and as a result of her team’s efforts, we will end up with more troops in North Carolina. But what about locally?

A couple of thing have happened recently to make me wonder if our community understands much about today’s military, let alone is friendly towards it. The first action that caused me pause was the resolution recently passed by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen to honor the death of Staff Sergeant (SSG) Misael Martinez, a soldier who was killed during his third tour of duty in Iraq. As part of their resolution to honor him, they also called for the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq.

People have asked why this bothered me. As a professional soldier who wore the Army green uniform for thirty years, I know that SSG Martinez was also a professional soldier and most professionals do not want to publicly debate defense policy or be used as a symbol in those debates.

The Congress and the Commander-in-Chief are elected to make those tough decisions. Traditionally, professionals do not participate in the debates and note that this model of civil-military relations has served us well for over two centuries. As a volunteer professional, I think that SSG Martinez would be somewhat disappointed to see his death wrapped around the political agenda of a local board that seems to be fond of involving themselves in more than local policy.

If this resolution reflected the attitude and beliefs of SSG Martinez’s parents, family and friends, then it demonstrates what many of us professionals know — it’s hard for non-professionals to understand the complexities of our profession and why we avoid getting caught up in political debates.

The other thing that happened was the protest of a new Army recruiting station that opened in Chapel Hill. Once this story hit the wires, I heard from more than a few friends and colleagues from my military days who were puzzled by this story. One asked if I thought that those who were protesting knew that we had a voluntary Army. Another wondered if a possibility of the protesters being drafted was a better option than a recruiting station.

A third offered that his memories of the SDS of yesteryear seemed consistent with the current SDS membership’s confusion that its desire to end the war in Iraq could be achieved by demanding that one recruiting station with a goal of four recruits per month be closed.

I was at the protest on December 15th. I saw the Chapel Hill police exercise a high degree of professionalism and sensitivity. The majority of the protesters left the private property when asked and then continued their protest on public property. Those who refused to comply were taken into custody. I even talked with some of the protesters when they came inside and participated in the reception. I guess that they didn’t believe that the Army-provided refreshments would hurt them, so they dined along with the rest of the guests. Some also talked with the recruiters, and I was very proud of how those professional soldiers answered questions and attempted to educate.

As president of the Orange-Chatham Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), a group or retired, former, and active members of the seven uniformed services, I can state emphatically that my membership holds a variety of opinions about the war in Iraq. I believe, however, that they all agree on the right of men and women to receive information on military service and decide if they want to join.

I’ve been around long enough to realize that a lot of things are not going to make much sense to me sometimes. What I would like to see make some sense is how our citizens support those who have been told to bear the burden in this current war. We are in a war that Congress authorized and the Commander-in-Chief is executing.

Most citizens today appear to be hardly impacted by the fighting that seems so far away. The greatest majority of us have been asked to sacrifice so very little for this war. Those in uniform and their loved ones are in a much different situation; they sacrifice a great deal, and some have lost their loved ones. Being “military friendly” would mean exhibiting a respect for and an appreciation of this sacrifice, and that would be a good thing.