Franklin Countys First News

Letter to the Editor: Positive change through pandemic

This may be surprising for many to hear, but the atmosphere created by the pandemic has had a net positive impact on my life. To understand why this is, you’ll first have to understand that I am a former Marine who, along with a majority of defense professionals, opposed the use of occupying forces in the Middle East. (For those who read this and recite that old saying, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine,” I have but one thing to say. I subscribe to the belief that this label, like all others that attempt to define us through the things we do, can be left behind when we decide it’s time to move on.) In fact, I was a former clearance holding Marine who had experience working with members of the Secret Service, Marine Corps and Naval Intelligence, and Marine Expeditionary Forces.

The isolation you feel as you’re forced to social distance I imagine as similar to the isolation I’ve felt to varying degrees since 1990 when I enlisted in the Marine Corps with the notion that I would help depose Saddam Hussein. I’d do this because I believed he’d shown a lack of restraint when he used the military capabilities we provided Iraq during the Cold War to take possession of Kuwait’s oil reserves. The fact that he was willing to use the chemical weapons we provided on Iraqis suspected of accepting arms and support from us was just icing on the cake. Knowing Iraq lacked the capability to strike the United States I looked upon this as a regional instability that should be dealt with before it spread and nothing else.

Feelings of isolation first arose as I trained with veterans of the Kuwaiti Liberation under the guidance of defense professionals tasked with developing a plan that would allow us to depose Saddam Hussein, without destabilizing the Middle East. Many of these men had been traumatized in Kuwait when faulty testing equipment forced them to don chemical protective gear and to operate for weeks as though a deadly chemical agent contaminated every new thing they encountered. In an attempt to better prepare us we were shown how the testing equipment available produced false positives so we could avoid them and then footage of animals and people who’d been exposed to a variety of chemical weapons so we’d have another tool to confirm and identify chemical attack. We also learned how to inject ourselves and others with medicines that would allow us to fight a little longer if we were exposed.

As we moved into simulations of chemical attack we were told not to reveal any of this to our family and friends back home. This was to be our burden to bear so others did not have to. We were young men terrified that we were about to sacrifice our lives and we couldn’t talk to our loved ones about it without revealing secrets we’d been sworn to. In silence we learned to decontaminate one another and our equipment while preparing enclosures where we could remove our gas masks to eat. As members of an expeditionary force it was assumed we’d be forced to survive as individuals or in small groups once the fighting began so we were driven apart as the exercise began. Defense experts tasked with developing a war plan for the invasion of Iraq monitored these simulations so they could gain a better understanding of what it would take to capture and hold the nation.

Back then we understood that we’d become a super power by ensuring that Middle Eastern oil flowed without interruption so that we and our allies could fuel the industries and militaries that made that possible. Instability might threaten our relationship with both the oil producing nations of that region and those who relied upon it. We’d armed the region to protect it from communist influence during the Cold War and we’d be damned before we let that endanger what we’d won.

Regardless of party affiliation we remained united in that understanding until shortly after Bill Clinton was elected president. Even though George Bush had kept us from invading Iraq, republicans seeking to exploit what they believed to be a political vulnerability on the part of democrats, disowned the strategy they’d adopted instead once Clinton was put in charge of it. I believe these efforts became reckless in 1996 when republicans voted down portions of an airline security bill that was meant to shore up vulnerabilities al Qaeda began exploiting the year prior and would continue to exploit for years to come.

By this time I was working with members of the Secret Service on occasion as they sought to protect the president. I assisted them by ensuring that Air Force One, Marine One, and supporting aircraft were not tampered with. As a consequence I was told that al Qaeda was suspected of downing several aircraft by smuggling incendiary devices on board. The first was downed in an attempt to terrorize the units I’d served with while receiving the training I described above. You probably don’t recall this because the units targeted are overseas. You may however recall that a number of passenger liners went down in flames over the United States and Canada between 1996 and 1998.

When I realized that political infighting was interfering with our efforts to defend the country I decided it was time for me to seek more responsibility in providing for your defense. I was educated by members of Marine Corps and Naval Intelligence at the Naval War College and Quantico while I remained committed to that effort. It was my intention to see Marines trained in counter-terrorism, guerilla warfare, and security practices that would enable them to drop in, destroy terrorist training facilities and headquarters, then extract themselves to reduce the likelihood that their presence would become a destabilizing factor. Instead I was convinced to pursue a position as an Electronic Warfare Systems Officer so I could work with researchers developing electronic chemical sensors that would prevent the false positives and consequences I described above. While I wasn’t thrilled with that I was hoping the position may allow me to develop and introduce unmanned technologies to the Marine Corps.

Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, I realized at about this time that republicans had either wittingly or unwittingly created support for a Middle Eastern strategy favoring occupation that was likely to be initiated if terrorists escalated from incendiary attacks that could be written off as accidents to suicide attacks that could not be. I knew that evidence of such a plot had been uncovered when the CIA captured some of those responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and I knew that those responsible for the incendiary attacks I described above had identified vulnerabilities that might allow them to succeed in that goal. Realizing I could do little to prevent the incoming Bush administration from initiating the invasions I feared would destabilize the region I departed the Marine Corps in July of 2001.

Having witnessed the political missteps that allowed COVID-19 to spark a year-long pandemic in some nations while others eradicated the disease in months, I feel you may be able to understand what I’ve experienced since political interference destabilized the Middle East and subjected the men and women I came to think of as family to all sorts of trauma. Hopefully you’re beginning to understand that we must work together through crisis and not use them to further political goals.

Jamie Beaulieu
Farmington

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