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13_Hours_posterA lot of anticipation preceded this film. Its public announcement both in the news and through trailers stirred a massive amount of interest. But, I wondered, “Would the film live up to anyone’s expectations?”

It is a very good movie well worth seeing. But, prepare yourself.  This true story will affect you deeply.

On the 11th Anniversary of the unprovoked attack on the United States’ World Trade Center and Pentagon, hostile forces attacked the US diplomatic center and CIA “Annex” compound. A small band of 6 CIA contractors made up of former Navy SeALS, Marines and Army Rangers take the initiative and do all they can to defend the Americans who are in the crosshairs of the terrorists. These 6 faced overwhelming odds yet managed to fend off the waves of attacks.

A historical fact that left me mystified at the outset of the story is that the USA has over 200 diplomatic outposts of one nature or another around the world. Of those there are around a dozen that are classified as severely hostile and dangerous. The two most dangerous are both in Libya: Tripoli and Benghazi.

Every other country had pulled its diplomatic teams out of Benghazi.  The USA was the only country with a remaining contingency.  It was a city torn by military factions and violent extremists yet its two sites were woefully under-protected.

When the US Ambassador to Libya came to town, he had a protective team of a mere two US combatants.  The compound was primarily protected by local police and native personnel who ran away as soon as the attacks began.  No one trusted these local hirelings so there was no surprise when they betrayed their clients and ran for their lives.

As the story developed, the dangers of a planned attack showed heroism in action.  No help was forthcoming but the few did not hesitate to put their lives in harms way to protect those who were in danger.  Even in the face of administrative fear and hesitation, the 6 fought off wave after wave of terrorist combatants.

Respect for the courage of the few Americans skyrocketed.  Sadness sank into fearful desperation when the US government failed to send in the resources necessary to render necessary aid to the brave 6.  Those two words make up my summary of how this story affected me: respect and sadness.

photo credit: film promotion release poster

 

 

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Christmas 2014 078There is an amazing blend among brilliant engineers, skillful craftsman, highly trained pilots and a country that stands behind them all.  I had read about President Ronald Reagan’s Air Force One as a part of his Presidential Library display but I had no idea that it was on the inside.  When the doors opened and there it was I was impressed.

The wing tip was just out of reach.  But, the marvel of aeronautical physics was not elusive.  To imagine that so much metal and so much weight could actually fly was mind-blowing.

In this aircraft the President of the United States and his first family would swiftly travel from one key event to the next. Those who designed this aircraft did a great service to the Reagan’s.  Safety and efficiency are all over this airliner.  Its sleek appearance was also reflected inside in the accommodations.

What we do not see are the marvels of structure under the skin of this powerful airplane.  The electrical maze alone that was carefully crafted so that it would not only be dependable but also durable makes me shake my head in wonder.  Men and women who were very good at what they do, implanted their pride in the construction of this fine product.

Pilots and their crew were meticulously trained.  They would after all be the frontline to serve and protect the President of the United States of America.  Each of these personnel would be trustworthy, diligent workers and loyal to the nation and its highest office.

Jelly beans were prominent in the plane.  There was a cheer in Reagan’s life and those around him felt it, joined in on it and appreciated it.  For him personally the jelly beans helped President Reagan stave off the cravings from the habit of cigarette smoking that he had overcome but kept on keeping at bay.

Whenever I am in a jetliner and that massive amount of weight with equipment, structure and passengers takes off, I continue to marvel at the laws of physics.  God established them.  They are dependable.

When a special passenger is on board, we trust those same laws and the skills of those who follow those laws for a safe flight.  This display of Air Force One is a reminder of how important safety is, how trustworthy are the laws of God and how those who depend and obey Him will be blessed.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Christmas 2014 077

My life has been embroiled with leadership roles for most of my adult life.  The challenge to unite people, square off with great threats, achieve great gains for the organization and to resolve to press against the ever-present vehemently vicious critic are all a test of the metal that a leader is made.  Reading and watching great leaders in action inspires me to keep leading with determination.

One of the great leaders in my life time has a Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.  Visiting this museum and library of this leader was on my life list.  I was able to check it off with great satisfaction.

After entering the gorgeous grounds with breathtaking views, I remember pausing long at a portrait of President Ronald Reagan as he walked down one of the halls of the White House.  There is something special about leadership that can never be taught and this President possessed it in generous quantity.  It is called “leadership presence.”

There is very little about “leadership presence” that is external.  Instead, it is what exists in the soul of the man or woman who drives their choices, directs their initiatives and most of all manages the values the define their leadership commitments.  Reagan’s beliefs marked his life and leadership.

When a leader faces pressures and attacks, he or she must be able to draw from their own convictions to make choices and decisions to protect and advance the best interests of the organization that they lead.  That is what leadership is.  Anticipation and reaction based upon a consistent set of values that others can follow and embrace.

The influence of this President was also balanced with a whimsical ability to engage the lives of international leaders from around the globe.  His control of power was never carelessly dismissed but blended with discernment, resolve and vision.  He thought the best of this nation and devoted himself to lead it to become better and more positively influential in the world.

If blessing is accompanied with responsibility, then this great leader acted well in light of the extraordinary blessings given to the nation by Almighty God.  He could win the respect and cooperation of the opposing party, sooth the angry critic or stand stalwart against the belligerent opponent.  President Ronald Reagan was a uniquely effective leader and one of the most remarkably gifted Presidents in our nation’s history.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Every news media outlet was buzzing over the release of the movie “American Sniper”.  Some touted it as a fantastic portrayal of patriotism, liberty and American pride.  Others vehemently condemned it as an exploitation of war or a misrepresentation of snipers as heroes when in the warped opinion of the critic they were in fact cowards. A few even claimed it was of such poor cinema quality that it did not deserve any attention at all.

Admittedly, I was shocked by the animated negative opinions.  Now, I believe that in a nation that protects the freedom of speech, these critics have a right to their opinion.  What was stunning to me was that these vicious views would be directed to oppose such self-sacrificial lives.

I was reading the book when the movie debuted.  Through each chapter I was tracking with Chris Kyle’s life, moments of maturing, struggles with family and horrific episodes in the battlefield.  War was not glorified but devotion, commitment, family and country were.

Clint Eastwood directed the film.  I thought that he captured so many moments of fear, frustration, courage, conflict, joy, encouragement and family.  In a matter of seconds Eastwood told the story of many pages with a single take in the film.

Despite the critics I learned about a man whose sacrifice and skill keeps my liberty safe.  My life has been protected by Kyle’s service.  I for one am very grateful to him and to his family.

I am left wondering how a movie theater in the second week of its release is so full.  If there are pundits out there who insist that we believe and adopt their negative and critical spirit, then why are so many turning away from their stinging words and going to see the movie?  In my mind there are many Americans who love this country and lift up the military with respect and appreciation.

It was not just  the courageous deeds of Chris Kyle on the battlefield.  His wife Taya sacrificed too.  Her steady care for their family during Chris’ deployments were a testament to the family courage.

She was there to help Chris find a way to let go of the war.  It had so captured him that the commitment to let it go and really return home was a much a part of the message of the book and film as was his faithful service.

I heard Taya’s moving words at Chris’ memorial service.  They touched  me as did the movie.  Thank you to the Kyle family for your service and sacrifice.  God bless you and God bless the USA.

Cannon Beach Parade 2011 007 Everybody loves a parade.  That age-old adage of Americana does not need proof from statistics or polls or historical analysis.  Instead, it is a phrase that describes a universal truism; this country has a pride about it that is felt by the citizens who line the streets of parades in rural USA and major metropolitan cities.

When the drums start their rat-ta-tat-tat and the brass blare out a Souza march and the sirens of the local fire engines sound their presence, the people along the parade route rouse themselves with expectation.  Children began to dance naturally.  Sweets are rationed out by parents.

There is plenty of applause from the adoring crowd.  It is an American custom to enjoy a parade.  Traditions flourish with the marching units all directed by the parade marshal.

One such tradition is the lead unit escorts the color guard.  The American flag leads the parade.  Veterans carry the stars and stripes.  We honor them and they honor our national symbol.

In the days gone past, the people often stood when the colors marched by.  Some covered their hearts with an open hand.  Other marching units waiting for their turn to enter the parade stand at attention and salute the honor guard as it passes in review.

Grey hair spills out from the hats of the veterans.  But, they are not just the elderly doing what no one else wanted to do.  They are the heroes of the past who risked life and limb to fight an enemy who threatened to take away our freedom.

Now, as survivors and veterans, they meet with fellow soldiers.  They encourage each other through life.  For the rest of their lives they are lifted up as the best representatives to carry the flag that they carried in battle.

Does everyone really love a parade?  I do not know any hard percentages or numbers validated by one of the Big 5 accounting firms.  However, the notion that a parade is filled with the cheer of fellow Americans who risked everything so that we could have a parade is enough for me.

I marched in my share of these grand displays.  Some were small town homey gatherings.  Others were filmed in front of a live audience for national television.  In every case it was a privilege to feel that we are a nation under God who appreciate our liberty won and protected by our veterans.  Thank you to each and every one of you.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4396It is illegal to be in possession of a moon rock.  There is an international regulation on these remarkable minerals from our moon. Certainly, it keeps the criminal element from crowding in on these very limited items.

But, NASA has a remarkable display for us average citizens.  Any guests to Houston can travel to the Johnson Space Center and take a tour of the grounds.  Inside the main tourist center is a display of the journey to the moon.

A special section is set apart for the moon rocks.  Everything is tightly secure.  Even the entrance vault door is impressive.

Inside the safe room is a laboratory-like area.  Thick glass separates the viewing area from actuallyIMG_4395 quarantined space for the minerals brought back from space.  Displays show how the rocks are examined and the findings of the experiments are presented for easy reading.

I was alive when the American astronauts went to the moon.  Like the rest of America and for much of the world, I was glued to the TV.  We each followed the space engineering lessons, hung on every report and prayed for the safety of these brave men.

IMG_4398Then, there was that moment of truth.  The lunar module had landed.   Neil Armstrong stepped on to the surface of the moon.

Americans wept.  They were tears of pride and elation.  Everyone was talking about this historic moment.

The scientists and engineers did not rest.  Meticulously they oversaw the experiments and collection of samples.  They brought back to earth 48.5 pounds of moon rocks.

Each of the fifty United States received a sample.  The presentation included a commemorative state flag that went to the moon.  A small sample of rock pieces were attached to the display.

These rocks were encased in a marble-sized acrylic ball.  They were tiny but their unique origin madeIMG_4401 the presentation special.  Most states have their presentation safely secured in a museum for the public to see.

In Houston at the NASA center a special display has a moon rock for the public to touch.  It is about an inch and a half long.  The display has the rock glued to a large acrylic display stand.  Visitors can reach through the display and literally touch the stone.

My first two visits to the center were crowded with masses of people.  This time I not only saw the rock I  also got near the stone.  I touched it.  The moon rock had been christened with a Fongster touch.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4026

I have enjoyed the thrill of visiting several Presidential Libraries.  The newest one to open is in close proximity to my home.  President George W. Bush’s Presidential Library is located on the campus of SMU in Dallas, TX.

There was a time when I was younger that I thought that the greatest privilege in the world would be to serve as President of the United States of America.  After all I love leadership, I want my life to make a difference for others, my patriotism for this country is off the charts and I have given my whole life to benefit the lives of other people around me.  Over the course of decades I have served others no matter how difficult the challenge.

As I strolled through the exhibits and contemplated the facts of history, it became very apparent to me that the task of running this nation requires something beyond what is humanly possible.  No one in their right mind who cannot stand up against the negative onslaught of unchangeable minds would do this job.  Power and privilege is a difficult match against the constant scrutiny and immense implications of national and international demands.

I stood a long time in the library gazing at this seal.  It stirred in me another level of respect for what 43 did for our nation, the dignity with which he performed it and the class with which he treated the office.  No, I no longer think of wanting to serve in the office any longer.  My youthful aspirations have taken it off my life list.

Yet, what an amazing country the USA is.  What a remarkable honor to be the single representative of this seal of the great nation.  It is a symbol of all that has been exceptional and will continue to be exceptional about this democracy created under God.

Yes, I still love this country.  I relish the privileges that each of us enjoys as citizens.  While this office will never be mine apart from these occasional historic visits, I will long dwell in my thoughts over the burdens that 43 carried for us all.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

 

IMG_4020My visit to this remarkable place was not brand new.  I had been here once in the past.  A year ago during the opening month, I was here with the pressing crowds.

This time the visit was much more enjoyable.  The lines had shrunk to our scheduled window printed on our tickets.  We wanted to catch a look at the additional wing of the George Bush Presidential Library.

On our first visit the crowds had packed the museum.  We skipped the Oval Office wing due to the very long lines.  This time we got to the museum close to the opening hour.

We skipped the opening sequence of pictures and videos.  43 traces his entry into the White House.  He shares the events that shaped his Presidency.

The next stop was the initial years leading the nation.  Laura’s focus on literacy and George’s past with baseball was fun.  We lingered here again as we did during our first trip.

IMG_4021When we rounded the corner determined to visit what we missed a year ago, our swift walk slowed to an eventual halt.  In the center of the display were some of the twisted I-beams retrieved from the rubble of the Twin Towers destroyed during the 9-11 attack on our country.  Pictures, videos and audio presentations swirled the deep feelings from that horrible day.

The words of President George Bush defined so much of his leadership and one our nation’s rare moments of unity.  Together we drew together as a nation.  Politics were quieted.

Yes, the haranguing between Washington D.C. professional biased parties drummed the cadence of a nation that would stand together against an external threat.  Our nation even gathered for prayer and services that called on the name of God.  Hymns were sung.

Evil people who launched a wicked lethal attack against innocent civilians had polluted the soil of our nation with their dastardly plans.  Terror had taken advantage of a free nation and free people.  There was no bravery or chivalry by these who stole, plotted and murdered.

My eyes scanned these old pieces of twisted steel.  I listened to President Bush speak to our nation and the world.  He spoke on our behalf and promised to do his duty to bring all of our nation’s strength to bear against the cowards who unleashed an ugly cowardly act of war on our country.

Always remember.  This picture of steel will be in my mind forever.  My spirit is stirred.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Joshua 15-17
Part 3 of 6

Israel had completed the major battles to take the Promised Land.  Now, the tribes were receiving their allotments of real estate.  Caleb sets the example.

He accepted his designated land with relish.  His first reaction was to finish driving out the enemy on his own.  He did not complain that it was dangerous, too hard or infested with the enemy.  Instead, he assessed the challenge and took it on with a full frontal effort.

Caleb did not end there.  It was not enough to secure what was given to him.  He expanded his territories with continued courageous effort.

When he needed help, he called on his family and friends.  They joined him to widen their borders.  Othniel his nephew joined in on those swashbuckling ventures.

When God makes His will clear to us, do we moan about how difficult it will be?  Do we look for the easy way out?  Or do we jump at the opportunity to choose trust in God to continue His faithful work in us while we take and multiply what lies in front of us?

More later…

 

Joshua 15-17
Part 2 of 6

During one of my forays into making money as a single guy, I was putting up sheet rock. The skilled craftsman that I was assisting taught me a valuable lesson. He pointed out that the job of dry walling is made so much easier when the rough carpenter before us built walls that were square.

In my history readings the Colt Firearms Company designed the amazing M-16 weapon that was introduced during the Viet Nam War. Quickly it was criticized for jamming during battle. The company soon learned that training was necessary for the soldiers carrying the weapon so that they knew how to clean the gun. Once the soldiers were taught how to clean the rifle it lived up to the hype of being the modern dependable weapon that it was.

These two lessons converge on the same theme. Make good choices now for the lingering affects later. Those affects not only impact our lives but the lives of many who follow.

In the spiritual realm the same truth applies. Our choices today as they relate to our walk with Christ will have severe implications on our tomorrow. Decisions on morality between a young couple, choosing to be honest in testing, consciously selecting which friends to influence our lives, acting on conscience not to steal or meddle in the privacy of others sets the course for our tomorrows.

More later…

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