Soldiers returning from the Second World War brought trophies, most notably enemy weapons, from the front. One of my grandfathers served in the European Theatre, and the other in the Pacific Theatre. Consequently, I've inherited both a German and Japanese rifle, taken from enemy combatants who no longer had use for them.
Rather than bringing items home, our servicemen returning from Vietnam were forced to leave behind the greatest treasure of all -- their brothers in arms. Hence, the POW/MIA flags that stand as reminders throughout the land, stoic declarations of our vow to never again leave comrades to the enemy's tender mercies. From license plates, to decals, to bracelets such as the one I wear which reads, "Bring 'Em Home Or Send Us Back," it is a sacred trust we hold with each other, a solemn promise forged in battle and written in the blood of patriots. Leave No One Behind.
On September 11th, in a coordinated attack on our Ambassador and staff, multiple requests for assistance were forwarded up the chain of command. We now know that the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense met in the Oval Office, within an hour of the initial assault. We know that a Special Operations force, a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team of Marines, two Navy destroyers, F-16s, and even AC-130 Spectre Gunships were within striking distance. And we now know that when personnel at a nearby CIA Annex, who literally heard the attack on the Consulate, requested assistance and prepared to help their fellow Americans, they were inexplicably told to stand down. We know that former SEAL Tyrone Woods was having none of it, and led a team from the CIA Annex to the Consulate to do the right thing. Again they requested assistance. Again they were told to stand down.
As the rescue team evacuated those they could back to CIA Annex, they again began taking enemy fire. Again they asked for military support. Between drone coverage and video surveillance, the battle unfolded in real time in the White House Situation Room. Our people manned a machine gun position on top of the annex, and even put a laser on the enemy mortar position, thereby painting a target for an AC-130 to destroy. They died there, while, yet again, life-saving military support was refused. The CIA denies originating the order to stand down, which correctly pushes the responsibility over to the military chain of command -- specifically to the President and the Secretary of Defense.
For his part, Secretary Panetta said, "You don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on," adding that he, "…could not put forces at risk in that situation." Here, the Secretary is addressing a situation other than the one that existed at the time, because our people were already in harm's way. Waiting for a full risk assessment is something you do before an initial deployment. But when your people are already there, taking hostile fire and dying (pardon my language) it's time to get off your dead ass and do something. Panetta's statement is nothing less than a copout, a pathetic confession of weak-kneed incompetence at best, and dereliction of duty at worst. He is unfit to serve.
But as miserly and contemptible as Panetta's excuse making was, the relative silence of the military, and our flag officers in particular, is nothing short of appalling. There is some scuttlebutt to the effect that the commander of AFRICOM, General Carter Ham, was preparing to defy orders and launch a rescue when he was relieved of command on the spot. If that is the case, where is his public refusal to abandon our people? Where are the flag officers who refused to play along with this outrageous violation of the oath we make to never abandon our own?
That a commander-in-chief would abandon the troops is nothing short of treasonous in my opinion. But we've come to expect no less from a man who sends form letters to the families of our war dead, complete with an auto-pen signature. For him, the dead are but bumps in the road toward some lunatic fantasy world where the U.S. unilaterally disarms and leads from behind. Secretary Panetta's pathetic statement makes plain that he sold out. Theirs is the integrity of the cannibal who invites a missionary to dinner, and neither of them is qualified to even shine the boots of those who gave their lives to save others.
But I expect better from the senior ranks of our uniformed services. Theirs is a spectacular lack of leadership, in which care for career trumped care for the lives under their command. Where are those that are willing to risk their careers for the lives of those on the ground? They were a rare enough breed when I served, but they seem to be all but extinct now. Until such time as we get a commander-in-chief and a chain of command with some measure of integrity, I can no longer in good conscience counsel anyone to even consider enlisting in our Armed Forces. And that, folks, is literally heartbreaking.