A Changed Man

When I began this semester a short four months ago, I was a very different man. College was a romantic thing. It still had the magical appeal that it has to new freshman. There was still a lot I had left to experience. At that point in time, I was just happy to be going to college. Graduation was far away and I was not worried about a thing.

At some point throughout the semester, real life hit me like a truck. The reality that I had less than half of my college career left shocked me. I had a bit of an existential crisis to put it bluntly. What was I going to do with the rest of my life? I knew I was going to be in the Army, but that was about it.

In the beginning of Writing 3030, I treated it like a class that I just had to get through. I didn’t care about writing, and I sure didn’t care about science writing. Throughout the semester, my own existential crisis collided with assignments in this class and made me think about what I really wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to be in the Army, and I knew I wanted to end up practicing medicine. Where did the overlap occur?

I hadn’t found it yet. I just had to continue doing my assignments hoping that I could get a decent enough grade. It was finally our final project that helped me to search myself to find what I want. It’s funny, because nothing I have included in my project relates to what I want to do. It was the in the process of developing my final project though that I found what it is that I want out of life. It forced me to dig and to do some research relevant to my career goals.

While I can’t particularly say how my writing has improved, I do know that I am a more focused and motivated person now. I now know that I will join the Army and become a physician’s assistant. Because of my definite career plan, I am sure that my writing about the topic (which I did for my final project) will be an overall better project than if I began it at the beginning of the semester.


A Civil Discussion Leads to the Search for Knowledge

On Wednesday November 13, 2013, The Veritas Forum in conjunction with the University of Colorado-Boulder, put on a discussion between a University of Colorado philosophy professor and an Oxford scholar on the subject of Atheism vs. Christianity. Though it was hosted by the University of Colorado, the public was invited to attend and the Glenn Miller Ballroom was packed with both students and non-students wishing to learn a bit more about the subject. The discussion was not intended to be a debate about which world view was better, but was put forth to inform people, to get people to ask questions, and to better inform people about both Atheistic beliefs and those of Christians. Michael Tooley from the University of Colorado spoke on behalf of Atheists and John Lennox from Oxford spoke for the Christians. They wished not to have a winner or a loser, but to have a thoughtful and respectable dialogue. The talk turned out to be so popular that hundreds of people were turned away at the door because the venue was full.

The scholars began by giving a brief description of their backgrounds and how they came to believe what they believe. They then began to discuss the topics of evil in the world, the philosophy behind a good and moral God, the infallibility of the Bible, the co-existence of science and religion, and the second coming of Jesus. Finally, the floor was opened for those in the audience to ask questions to either Dr. Lennox or Dr. Tooley or both. I found it interesting that a number of the questions asked did not seem to come from those wishing to learn more, but from those wishing to attack the beliefs of Christians, many of them being posed to Dr. Lennox to defend.

Just about the only thing that the two scholars could agree upon were the basic definitions of Atheism and Christianity that would be used in their discussion. Beyond that, both had very different ideals that reflected their upbringings. Both speakers were clearly very passionate about what they were discussing as they had spent their lives devoted to the subject. This is something that is critical to giving a good talk.

What really stood out about this talk was the level of civility involved. Both professors held each other with the utmost respect and often pointed out when the other had made a good point or where they were correct. The idea that this discussion was not a debate was driven home quite well. The talk could have very well be conducted in a person’s home one on one and it very likely would have had the same atmosphere for the speakers.  The emphasis was placed on informing the public however. They professors both implored the audience in their closing remarks that we go out and ask our own questions, to search for the answers ourselves. It is in this way that we will most fulfill our own search for knowledge.

Highly Beneficial

Recruiting high quality candidates into the military is not always an easy thing. During war time, these people almost fall on the laps of recruiters making their jobs a walk in the park. People liked the idea of being able to go to war. During peace time though, the civilian market is much more desirable to the potential recruit leading to a difficult time for recruiters.

One way that our government has tried to fix this problem in the past is through better education benefits. College is often expensive, and entering into a lucrative career in the civilian world can be impossible without a college degree. This is where the military has tried to step in in the past. The National Defense Research Initiative describes some of these plans in its publication Attracting College-Bound Youth Into the Military: Toward the Development of New Recruiting Policy Options.

For the purposes of my project, I will focus only on chapter 5 of the publication, “Designing Policy Options to Attract College-Bound Youth: Issues and Examples.” The NDRI begins by detailing a number of challenges that recruiters currently face including an increasingly competitive civilian job market for college graduates, a decline in interest in the military, and a relatively small return from military college-benefit programs. The biggest issue the military faces is in redesigning these programs so that the military is on par with the civilian world in terms of allure. One option the NDRI deems possible is not only the expansion of existing educational programs, but the adoption of entirely new programs.

The Montgomery GI Bill is one such educational program currently in use. While it gives incentives for people to enlist, it fails to raise the educational benefit for the military. In other words, it gets people to enlist, but it doesn’t help to keep those that it educates in the military leaving a lack of higher educated individuals among the military’s ranks. A new program the NDRI suggests will “Offer[] educational benefits concurrently with service prior to enlistment [and] would have the potential to have this [productivity gain] return to the military” (35). The publication then goes on to describe the many different methods they could use to entice recruits. The basic guideline they use consists of paying for recruits to receive an education in return for military service.

The basic idea that the NDRI is suggesting is that those who are on the fence about joining the military need greater incentive to join the military. Higher education benefits seem to be the focus of many potential recruits and this is an area where the government should increase funding.

One limitation my source has is when it was published. It was originally published in 1999 when our nation’s attitude towards the military was likely different than it is now. It had been about 8 years since our last major conflict. Even then, Operation Desert Storm was not even a year long. I would like to focus more on recruiting directly after a long drawn out and controversial war like what we have seen recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would like to find evidence from a source published sometime after the Vietnam war reflecting the political climate of that era.

Overall, I feel that Attracting College-Bound Youth Into the Military: Toward the Development of New Recruiting Policy Options will be a useful source and lead me in the direction that other sources will as well.

uncle sam

The Renaissance Man

When thinking about the Army, the quintessential job that people imagine is the infantryman. He is the front line soldier and the one that does most of the Army’s heavy lifting when it comes to our modern type of warfare. Since joining ROTC, one of my top choices for job selection has been the infantry officer. He is the one who leads these front line guys. His job is to be the ultimate “Renaissance man” meaning he must know a little about everything. He is not expected to be an expert in weapons, demolition, or maneuvering, but he needs to know tactics, and how to utilize and position his soldiers to effectively complete the mission. All of these, the Army will teach him.

From speaking with an Army Captain who is an infantry officer, my eyes were opened to a few aspects of the job. One thing I found interesting was that the type of degree that will be most beneficial to an infantry officer is either a Business Management degree or one in International Affairs. This seems to make sense considering they focus on how to effectively manage a team, either a business or a platoon of soldiers, and the finer points of international politics.

A degree in science, like mine, can be useful because it teaches how to solve problems, how to think analytically, and how to manage resources, but ultimately what will matter the most is being a people person who can effectively utilize soldiers and network with people outside my unit.

Another thing I learned is how effective Army communication can be. Challenges in communication in the Army generally stem from physical problems rather than rhetorical ones. Communication is typically good because the Army utilizes a solidified chain of command, alert rosters, and multiple means of communication. These include primarily face to face contact, email, and radio communication.

Often times, the physical problems come due to limitations in the equipment. In the field, a unit may be spread over a very large area making it hard for radios to transmit signals that far, and there also might be bad radio feeds due to interference. Another problem is that the infantrymen rely on batteries and vehicles for communication equipment. If either of those is lost or broken, communication is lost.

Rhetorical challenges are overcome easily within the Army. The Army utilizes a number of methods to make communication simple, functional, and understandable for its members. These methods include its use of special verbage or lingo, a rank system, and different MOSs (special job training and functions).  To outsiders, these may be hard concepts to grasp, but even the lowest level soldiers understand them fully. This is the kind of life that I wish to join into.

Keeping it Simple

As an ROTC cadet and future Army officer, I spend a lot of time learning about the primary communication source that officers in the Army use. That is the OPORD (Operation Order). To someone who has never seen or heard one, they may seem like alien writing. OPORDs are used at all levels of the Army, from the highest general to the lowest squad member. Everyone in the Army knows about OPORDs. Any time any training or mission is to be completed, several OPORDs are used.

The commander issues an OPORD containing what is supposed to be done, his intentions, considerations for the planning of the mission, a timeline of events, etc. His subordinates receive that OPORD and change it to reflect their intent and so on toward their subordinates. It goes through these changes so that a General can give an OPORD pertaining to some training that he wants to happen at a division level (several thousand troops), and a private receiving the OPORD can know exactly what is going to happen and what he will be doing. Of course, that will be after about 5 or so rounds of changes, but you get the point.

OPORDs are used because they are simple. The Army likes to keep things simple. The Army writing style is defined by the simple acronym KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Basically, writing in the Army is supposed to be easy enough to understand so that anyone with a high school education can easily read and understand it. The Army supposedly writes everything at about an 8th grade reading level.

The order is broken down into manageable paragraphs that contain easily digestible information. Every soldier learns the basics of an OPORD so that when missions come, they can understand what is going on. Again, they are taught in a broken down manner so that even the most unintelligent soldier can receive an OPORD and comprehend his most basic task.

As a budding leader, it is difficult to learn this whole process. The hardest part is learning how to tailor the OPORD toward my subordinates. I am expected to know the information given in an OPORD from my commander, and be able to change all of this information and present it so that my subordinates understand what’s going on. Chances are, once I am an officer, I will be expected to give several OPORDs every week.

The Army writing style makes all of this nice though. Since the writing is supposed to be simple, there is much less of it required on my part. Another aspect of OPORDs are the acronyms. There are seemingly hundreds of acronyms that are used to make the communication simpler and more universal. Several of these are PLT, NLT, PSG, LD, MEDEVAC, FOB, AA,CCP, BTN TTB, EPW, SALUTE. Using these acronyms makes it so that instead of using one of dozens of different words to describe something, we use the acronym so that anyone can understand what we mean.

All in all, OPORDs are a very useful tool to communicate directions to anyone throughout the Army. Other branches of the military also have a similar process that reflects their specialties. This makes it so that OPORDs can be universal throughout the military community. The best part about them is their ease. Once I am an officer, I will be able to receive one, and then send out my own within a period of no longer than 15 minutes. In my future career an OPORD may be just as important to me as my own rifle.

An example of an OPORD can be found here: Sample OPORD

Limitations of Science

Science has been described as the secular religion of our world. So much so that many people will believe anything that someone with PhD after their name says. John Marks criticizes this in his paper Science, Religion, and Worldview. He is a big critic of scientists and things that they consider fact. He takes a stark opposition to people treating science as some infallible way of doing things. It is true that science has made many great strides, and without the scientific method we would still be living in caves freezing to death because no one had invented fire. But Marks wishes to make sure that we keep science and scientists in check and that we do not allow our view of them become God-like in nature.

Carl Sagan takes the opposite stance regarding science in his Demon-Haunted World as “more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking.” While Carl Sagan, talks of science as a romance of his, he is also quick to point out that it is imperfect, but that it is ever correcting and quick to point out that it might be wrong. Science papers are always accompanied by error-bars showing that there have been mistakes or limitations that occurred.

I personally agree with both authors. I think that science is something that is wonderful and that we need that has provided us a way to consistently improve our lives, but we cannot take our trust in it further than that. We should not blindly trust whatever comes from the science community the same way that we shouldn’t necessarily trust the four out of five dentists that recommend a certain brand (by the way who is that other dentist and why does he disapprove of everything.) Like Marks says, we should be cognizant of where the facts about our world come from. He is spot on in saying, “If facts are made rather than being simply discovered, then how do we know what the facts are at any point in time? The facts are, of course, what the men in white coats say they are.” This is exactly what we must avoid.


Pre-natal Genetic Testing, Medically Assisted Procreation, and the Government

Through developments in genetic technology in the past few decades, it is now possible for couples who previously may never have been able to have children to now become pregnant through the use of in-vitro fertilization or IVF. Through this method, an egg cell taken from a mother is inseminated in a lab and then implanted back into the woman’s uterus. There are a number of reasons that parents may wish to use this technique to have children. The first would be the obvious reason that they would be otherwise unable to have children due to sterility. In this case, donated eggs or sperm can be used. Another reason that parents may wish to use IVF is in the case of a disease that they do not wish to spread to the children. IVF is often the only way to avoid the transmission of the disease from parent to child. A final reason that IVF might be used is so that the embryo could be screened for potential genetic disorders such as Down’s syndrome or Huntington’s disease. Overall, these reasons sound pretty legitimate right?

Well, when it comes to the government and regulating this process for the protection of the parents and the embryo, consensus seems to be split. On one hand, the public tends to agree that a process like this should be used only when absolutely necessary (i.e. a couple that is sterile), and that any procedure that has the risk of harming or destroying an embryo should be outright banned. On the other hand, scientists and doctors tend to have more liberal beliefs when it comes to regulation. In their article “A Law Affecting Medically Assisted Procreation Is on the Way in Switzerland,” M. Germond and A. Senn seem to disagree with the way that the government and the people want to regulate the process. When referring to a law being made in Switzerland, which restricts IVF to only those who cannot otherwise conceive children or those with a serious communicable disease among other restrictions, Germond and Senn call the law “restrictive”, “extreme”, and “contrary to the patients’ interest.” They argue that patients deserve the right to be able to test their child for any possible genetic defects, that egg donation be allowed, and that the loosely defined legal term “embryo” not be given the same rights as the patients.

On the other side of the debate is the public. According to the same article, the same law that Germond, Senn, and the scientific community disagree with was approved by popular vote in Switzerland with a 73.9% majority. Switzerland is not the only country that has passed popular laws for the “protection of the embryo.” Italy recently came under fire from the international community for its laws restricting the same procedures. One can assume that such a law was also popular in their country as well. However due to a couple complaining of discrimination, the Italian law is being declared inapplicable. The link to Helen Bannigan’s article explaining the situation can be found below. According to the article, the Parliament passed the law because it “considers life (starting from the instance of conception) sacred; and thus considers wrong any kind of intervention”

So basically what we have here is both sides of the aisle arguing that their side is safer for everyone involved. The scientists argue that the embryos do not yet represent life and therefore have no legal entity. They think that it is in the best interest for the parents that they know as much about their child as possible (through pre-implantation testing) and that they be able to go through IVF regardless of their medical status. On the other side of the fence, the governments and the public are saying that the embryo is a living being which is entitled to protection. The public does not typically want the parents to subject the embryo to possibly intrusive testing, or to undergo IVF for their own sake rather than medical necessity. Where these people stand pretty much boils down to whether they think that embryos are alive or not. So this raises the question, who should have more legal entity, the parents or the unborn?

A Law Affecting Medically Assisted Procreation Is on the Way in Switzerland: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3455772/pdf/10815_2004_Article_409024.pdf

Italy Forced to Pass New Laws on Genetic Testing of Embryos and In Vitro Fertilization: http://www.escapefromamerica.com/2013/08/italy-forced-to-pass-new-laws-on-genetic-testing-of-embryos-and-in-vitro-fertilization/