I was in officer candidate school on 9/11. We were in the middle of our final navigation exam when someone came in and told us to put our protractors down. We were then directed to the nearest television where we got to watch the two towers repeatedly fall for about thirty minutes. There was total shock at this point, yet we still had our navigation class to pass. Our nation’s course had clearly changed but our new direction was still uncertain. The only immediate change I observed in my 47 days left at OCS was we now locked all entrance doors and the only way into and out of each building was through the front door. Instead of running out of the side doors to one of the sandpits just outside our building, we now had to go through the quarterdeck, where the guards, flags, and your picture are. These two sandpits were part of our training grounds and were respectfully called the “SUYA” and “Rose Garden”. This is where we did our push-ups, jumping jacks, and eight-count bodybuilders until our Marine Corps drill sergeant was certain we resembled “sugar cookies”. We’d run back through the quarterdeck taking all that sand with us back to our rooms. What fun we had. Meanwhile, my wife and daughters watched ‘locked and loaded’ armored vehicles roll by their bedroom windows a thousand miles away from me. They were also on a military base behind locked gates and doors.
OCS classes that started after 9/11, didn’t notice the difference. The front door was the only route to our rose garden and it was always the cleanest spot in the building, too. Visitors were welcomed there. Those total lock-down orders were eventually relaxed but not for some time after I left those buildings so long ago. Reflexive orders like that go unchanged for long times if they are not just as quickly relaxed. All in the name of National Defense.
Now you have this reflexive idea to build a brand-new wall with locked gates and doors all because someone with the American Dream, or even worse, the will to survive, comes knocking at our door. Instead of making them look for holes in our expensive fence or spare canoes on their side of the river, why don’t we take those same resources and create a welcome center that becomes a lighthouse for these incoming migrants and refugees. Human beings, to be exact, searching for a better life. Instead of making them traverse dangerous deserts until they come out facing our wall, or even worse, baked in the back of ‘loaded and locked’ trucks, let’s pave the roads and build sustainable and locally-sourced “Welcome Cities” that act as beacons of hope that will surpass our empty and blind sail-by selfie statue as our new vision of the American Dream. Forget the wall, Sir, let’s build a new city. Here’s your chance to navigate our country in a new and certain direction. You just have to pass this class.
LCDR, SC, USN (Ret.)