Today I cried. This is not something I often do.
Along with members of my family, and several hundred others, we attended the full military funeral of a true American hero.
This afternoon, having been borne on a gun carriage into Arlington National Cemetery and with a twenty-one gun salute, Colonel Andrew Nichols ‘Nick’ Pratt, United States Marine Corps, was laid to rest.
Exactly ten years ago when I received a phone call from a certain Colonel Pratt asking me if I wanted to help him establish the first counterterrorism course of its kind for international operators from around the world, I really had no idea who this legend of a man was.
Born into a military family and a graduate of Annapolis Naval Academy, all I knew was that he exuded seriousness and professionalism. Only later would I find out that his knowledge of terrorism and unconventional warfare was not based on theory, having stood guard over the body of our murdered ambassador in Beirut and then, later, after secondment to the CIA Special Operations Group, when he taught our friends around the world how to liberate their nations from totalitarian invaders. (See the book Charlie Wilson’s War and the misspelled reference to the “taciturn Marine,” Major Platt).
My fours year working for Nick at EUCOM’s George C. Marshall Center opened my eyes to what America is and how the values of the military man are American values. In fact, it was the experience of working for this warrior-scholar that led me to move to the United States and eventually become an American.
The cliche in this case was a living breathing reality. This quiet man cared foremost for his Creator’s plan, the safety of his country, and for his wife and four beautiful daughters. God. Country. Family. There was no bravado involved. Nothing extraneous. Whatever the given mission was, it was to be executed to the very best of your abilities. Nothing less. And when you demonstrated a similar attitude, you became an ally who would never be forgotten.
Today, I have the honor every day to work with the officers and NCOs of the finest military the world has ever seen. I do, however, fear for its future. While the individual services hold the line as best they can–isn’t it shocking that today the only places in America that still mandatorily teach ethics and leadership are our military institutions–the nation is more and more letting them down.
As the millennials only have the disastrous Afghan and Iraqi operations as reference points, there is little love amongst the new generation for those who sacrifice so much on their behalf. Add to that a political class that is driving us economically into the equivalent of a Dickensian debtors’ prison and who helped devise the greatest cuts in the American armed services in sixty years, and one wonders who would want to voluntarily don a uniform today.
The world is not a safer place than when my friend and mentor carried a gun into battle to protect the American way of life. There are numerous bullies like Putin around the world who feel emboldened by our seeming weakness. Then there are those that actually want to destroy us, not just bring us to our knees. In his last unclassified testimony to Congress, the Director of National Intelligence, America’s highest intelligence officer, declared that al Qaeda now has operational centers in twelve nations around the world. In 2001, al Qaeda had operational bases in just one nation.
We can, of course, snail-like, pull ourselves into our shells and hope for the best. The fancy word for that is non-interventionism. If we do, then sooner or later, weakness–or simply inattention–will breed aggression, just as it did in 1941. Then, with a military that is a shadow of its former self, we may have to force our young men and women into uniform once more.
How wise it would be for us now to look for the future warriors we will undoubtedly need in the future and have them follow the good Colonel’s lead.
Semper Fi Nick.
(Colonel Pratt’s full obituary is available at the US Naval Academy: http://www.usna.com/NC/GiveRSS.ashx?type=single&newsID=1202).
Sebastian Gorka is an irregular warfare and counterterrorism instructor for the US Army Special Operations Command (Green Berets), US Special Operations Command, and the FBI. The views expressed are his own.