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Stolen Valor

Original photo from This Ain't Hell

Original photo from This Ain’t Hell

Glowing with delight and giddy over this new relationship forged in the electronic glow of an online game, she told me proudly, “he was a Navy SEAL.” Immediately my internal fraud detector went on red alert and I watched him even more intently. Nope. Did not compute.

I introduced myself and offered a firm handshake to gauge his confidence level and mannerisms. Throughout my adult life I’ve noted that some men seem intimidated by tall blondes who are comfortable in their own skin; it’s like they’re expecting me to giggle, act perky, and bring them coffee instead. My direct approach reconfirmed my suspicions.

So I contacted Don Shipley. I knew the routine: guy wants to impress girl, so guy procures himself a military uniform and embellishes it with ribbons, patches, and cords that aren’t even in the right places. Or guy gets a Navy SEAL bumper sticker and starts feigning modesty, “reluctantly” yet profusely spewing tales of his sacrifices for his country. It happens all the time and because we love our veterans so much, we don’t want to risk offending our heroes, so go along with it.

Shipley, a real former SEAL who specializes in outing fake SEALs, promptly replied: “_____ _____ is NOT listed in the SEAL Database… He was NEVER a Navy SEAL…” Yep. That’s what I thought. But it seemed to fall on deaf ears once I told my friend. Part of me wanted to rationalize it: maybe she had the wrong branch of service. Maybe he’s shy around women so invents cool pickup lines. Maybe he’ll come clean later. But there’s nothing admirable about lying to get the girl. Or to gain respect.

The CBS series NCIS and its offshoots have dealt with this subject over the years, sometimes in humorous ways. LL Cool J’s character Agent Sam Hanna on NCIS Los Angeles is a former Navy SEAL. In 1990 I went to the theater with two friends to see Michael Biehn and Charlie Sheen in Navy SEALS. The script was macheesmo (misspelling intentional) but I was transfixed; my friend Suzanne fell asleep.

There have been many other movies and TV shows, not to mention video games and books, featuring Navy SEALS. Tears of the SunJAG. The Abyss. SaharaUnder SiegeBurn NoticeG.I. JaneNikitaAct of Valor. The reboot of Hawaii Five-0. These guys are the stuff of legend. No wonder so many others want to be them.

Then there are a plethora of films and shows featuring other proud warriors like the Marines, Delta Force, Army Rangers, and the Green Berets. Black Hawk Down. Chuck Norris’ 1986 The Delta ForceDarby’s RangersHeartbreak RidgeBad Boys II. 24Person of Interest.  The Green Berets. Sands of Iwo JimaThe Hunted. If you’re one of these guys, many people will automatically treat you like a hero.

Funny part about true heroes though– they don’t parade around bleeding their war stories all over the place. An excessive need for attention or admiration can signal… narcissism. An aspect of many narcissists I’ve noted is that they’re terribly insecure on the inside, so have an extreme need to demonstrate how special they are. They also want to associate with special people. If you’re considered one of the “brotherhood” of a group of elite warriors, how special are you?

Sociopaths do whatever gets them the attention, companionship, or money they think they need. What better way to flatter others and ingratiate oneself than to piece together a SEAL uniform and show up to social events and funerals in it? You can score all kinds of prizes and profit by passing yourself off as something you’re not.

There was a story in the local news years ago about a con artist in Bellevue who faked cancer, pretended to have been in the military, and so on, complete with staged photos. He garnered free housing and benefactors among other bonuses. Guys like that don’t feel remorse. Strutting around in a flashy uniform you didn’t earn’s better than getting a job, right?

There are other reasons people fake association with the military. They could be mentally ill. They might be desperate for their life to have meaning. They might somehow identify with warriors and inappropriately express that through being a fake soldier. It could be a fantasy for them. They might have been forced to leave the military or served in a lower level position but aspired to be more. No matter what’s driving their act, it’s disgustingly disrespectful to those men and women who actually have served honorably to pretend to be one of them.

Readers know that I come from a long line of veterans. So my blood boils red, white, and blue when I learn of yet another wannabe who struts around acting like he’s an expert marksman, pilot, POW, or patriot like my people. I’m not a veteran, but I’m proud of my family’s service. I express that through membership and participation in organizations that preserve our heritage and honor veterans. In some organizations I can wear official insignia denoting my ancestors’ service.

Why is that not enough for the great pretenders? Because they don’t want to honor others. They want others to honor them. They want to throw their weight around and talk about their fictional, fight-filled glory days. They want women to fall at their feet and worship their supposed selfless sacrifices and feel sorry for the buddies they’ve lost. They prey on others’ appreciation of service and on their sympathy, especially if they’re a “vet” who’s down on their luck.

Last month a story hit the local news about a police officer who’d been spinning a web of just such lies for years. He’s married and has children, but built a relationship with another woman under an assumed name (she probably wasn’t the first). He told her he was Special Forces and that when he was wounded one night, all he could do was lie there and think about her. Having come up against some seasoned con artists in my time, I’m thankful this woman started noticing cracks in his story and found out who he really was. She now has a court order against him because of stalking.

Look around the web and you’ll easily find many other reports like this. Stolen Valor has an extensive list of such yarns. Guardian of Valor has a Hall of Fame. Note that some profiles of phonies include apologies from those guys; I question how many are sincere (are they sorry for what they did or sorry they got caught?). Don Shipley’s Extreme SEAL Experience site has instructions about how to contact him to determine if someone’s an actual SEAL. He’s had to start charging people for this service because his organization’s handling up to 30 such queries a day.

News stories about fake service members getting called out abound. A recent story that went viral was about a real Ranger catching a fake one in a Philadelphia mall. This summer another poseur was caught red-handed by two Marines at a funeral in West Palm Beach. He might have actually served in the Army, but the jumbled mess of mismatched medals indicated that he’s embellished his service record. Just recently the Texas Rangers nailed an imposter by offering him a treat he couldn’t refuse– an award for his “service.”

Here are more examples. In one case, a hundred thousand people were conned into honoring a fake veteran.

Cracked6 Military Fakes You Won’t Believe Fooled the World (language alert)

KSL, Utah: Man fools family for years by posing as military hero

KIRO, Seattle: Phony Navy SEAL buried with military honors (Real veterans demanded that his remains be removed and moved elsewhere. I don’t know if that happened, but it has in other cemeteries.)

The New York TimesIn Ranks of Heroes, Finding the Fakes

NBC News: Hunt for bogus war heroes uncovers thousands of hoaxers

The VVA VeteranA Legend in Their Own Minds: Poseurs, Fakes, and Wannabes

CBS News: Fake War Stories Exposed

The U.S. Department of Justice: Northwest Crackdown on Fake Veterans in “Operation Stolen Valor”: Phony Vets Scam More Than $1.4 Million and Damage Image of Honorable Veterans

Here are some interesting sites that discuss how to tell if someone’s actually a veteran and how to avoid related scams. This doesn’t mean the advice offered on these sites is 100 percent valid, but they do list red flags to watch for. Also, if you’re in love with a military man, why not confirm that he is who he says he is before you become more deeply involved? I’m a huge proponent of background checks in the dating world anyway.

Military Authority: Fraudsters Use Fake Military Forms to Convince Lovesick Women to Send Money

Stormbringer: How to Spot a Fake Veteran (Also see the follow-up article The curious cases of William James Clark to see just what a trail of fraud this guy left in his wake.)

U.S. Patriot Tactical Blog: Stealing Valor: How to Spot a Fake

The Old JarheadThirteen ways to spot a phony Vietnam Veteran (humor, but still insightful)

Lovefraud.com: Is he or she military? (excellent information)

Military Awards for Valor – Top 3 (U.S. Department of Defense, has lists of medal winners)

Here’s the good news: there are other ways to be a hero. Start by being a hero to your own spouse and children. Be there for them. Nurture them. Love them. Help your kids grow into honorable men and women who will thrive on acts of service instead of acts of selfishness. The world might never know the good you do, but God will.

There’s no need to go stealing others’ thunder to look like somebody. Draw closer to your Creator, and He’ll show you what you were created for. You have a mission. You have a purpose. There is something you’re meant to do in this life that no one else can do. Find that and run with it.

If you know of a fake veteran, be careful how you confront them about it and please don’t harass their family. It’s highly unlikely that their kids said, “Dad, please go buy yourself some fatigues off of eBay and pin on some of Grandpa’s old medals so you can be outed by a real soldier and look like a complete dork.” But know that lying about military honors to profit from them is a federal crime under the 2013 Stolen Valor Act.

Author Joseph Campbell said that a hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. That’s exactly the opposite of what these fake veterans are doing. If your primary reason for wearing a uniform is for your own benefit, then you’re not really serving anyone. You’re a slave to your own corrupt, narrow-minded, and shallow quest for greatness– one that will take you downhill and over a cliff.

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Don’t be concerned with other people’s impressions of you. Stick with your purpose. Refrain from trying to win other people’s approval and admiration. You are taking a higher road. –Epictetus

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

Saeed’s Christmas Letter

Rajai Shahr Prison, Iran

Rajai Shahr Prison, Iran

Many of you are familiar with the story of Saeed Abedini, an American pastor imprisoned in Iran. The ACLJ has just published a Christmas letter he wrote, and I am riveted by this man’s faith and hope in the midst of the extreme physical hell and torture he’s enduring. As the letter says, this is his third Christmas in prison; America hasn’t yet brought him home.

If a man who is being slowly murdered for leaving Islam can rejoice in the true meaning of Christmas this much, how much more the rest of us?

#SaveSaeed – you can help!

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Rajai Shahr Prison 2014

Merry Christmas!

These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.

These cold and brittle conditions have made me wonder why God chose the hardest time of the year to become flesh and why He came to the earth in the weakest human condition (as a baby). Why did God choose the hardest place to be born in the cold weather? Why did God choose to be born in a manger in a stable, which is very cold, filthy and unsanitary with an unpleasant smell? Why did the birth have to be in such a way that it was not only hard physically, but also socially? It must have brought such shame for Mary and her fiancé that she was pregnant before marriage in the religious society of that time.

Dear sisters and brothers, the fact of the Gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus. Today we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the Word of Life and Salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection. We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God. We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world. Then we are able to give the fiery love of Christ to the cold wintry manger of those who are spiritually dead. It might be necessary to come out of the comfort of our lives and leave the loving embrace of our family to enter the manger of the lives of others, such as it has been for me for the third consecutive Christmas. It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas means that God came so that He would enter your hearts today and transform your lives and to replace your pain with indescribable joy.

Christmas is the manifestation of the radiant brightness of the Glory of God in the birth of a child named Emmanuel, which means God is with us.

Christmas is the day that the heat of the life-giving fire of God’s love shone in the dark cold wintry frozen hearts and burst forth in this deadly wicked world.

The same way that the heat from the earth’s core melts the hard stones in itself and produces lava, the fiery love of God, Jesus Christ, through the virgin Mary’s womb came to earth on Christmas to melt the hard heart of sin and wickedness of the world and removes them from our life. In the same process, the work of the Holy Spirit is a fiery rain of God’s Holiness and Mercy that flows into our body, soul and spirit and brings the light of Christ into us and through us making this dark, cold, wintry world into radiant burning brightness. He is turning our world into a world full of peace, joy, and love that is so different than the dark, cold, and wintry world that we used to live in. Hallelujah!

So this Christmas let the lava-like love of Christ enter into the depth of your heart and make you fiery, ready to pay any cost in order to bring the same lava love to the cold world around you, transforming them with the true message of Christmas.

Pastor Saeed Abedini

Soaking in the lava love of Christ

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Please visit the ACLJ’s page discussing this letter.

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A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes…and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

 

All About That Nais

The Maccabeats have done it again! Here’s their new Hanukkah song All About That Nais. That strange word is explained in the preface to the video.

The original song is a crude homage to womanly figures and I love that the gentlemen from Yeshiva have once again morphed a party song into a memorable holiday tune. I remain a huge fan of their original Hanukkah hit Candlelight and their other remakes like Burn and (Ellie Goulding) and Miracle (Matisyahu) as well as original songs like Shine.

Really, it’s The Maccabeats who brought Hanukkah songs to mainstream pop; before them, the only mainstream Hanukkah song I can think of was Adam Sandler’s, and that came out 20 years ago. Just today a coworker and I were singing along in emphatic Sandler-speak: Tell your friend Veronica… it’s time to celebrate Chanukah…

In a world where popular music consists largely of mediocre acts lauded for their “talent” because of how lewd or controversial they are, The Maccabeats are refreshing. Their music speaks of love, hope, and overcoming darkness. They’re a bunch of guys having a blast singing their hearts out and celebrating who they are in front of the world. While no one will ever give me a recording contract, it’s uplifting groups like this that encourage me to keep being a rock star in the privacy of my own vehicle.

As evidenced by current events all over the globe, antisemitism is cool again. I applaud The Maccabeats for being so open and positive about their heritage in the midst of this gathering darkness towards Israel and her people. They are ambassadors for a group that has been relentlessly persecuted for thousands of years, and their survival in itself is a miracle.

So, guys, when are you going to collaborate with Avi Kaplan, who recorded his own take on this song as an actual bass? Rumor has it he’s game…

Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends (it begins next Tuesday), and we Christians should not forget that our own salvation, celebrated this December 25th, came in the form of a Jewish carpenter.

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The man just opened his mouth, which meant that all kinds of secret doors in his body gave way. He did not sing so much as let his soul free. -Ray Bradbury

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

Adopt a U.S. Soldier

From the Adopt a U.S. Soldier website

From the Adopt a U.S. Soldier website. Click on the picture for more info.

Need a project for the holidays? Perhaps your church group, company, or civic organization wants to make someone’s Christmas brighter? Consider adopting a U.S. soldier. Our men and women are serving in myriad locations all over the world, some of which are dangerous and inhospitable. A little holiday cheer can go a long way.

At the Adopt a U.S. Soldier site, you simply sign up, and within a few days they’ll send you the name and contact information for “your” soldier. On the site it looks like you’re signing up to join a message board, but it really does contact the organization and get the process going.

While it’s up to you if you want to send care packages and how often, it’s ideal that you write to your service member once a week or so. Many of them do not receive mail from home, so receiving letters and goodies in the mail is a big deal. It lets them know that they’re appreciated, they’re not alone, and that someone cares.

Check out the Adopt a U.S. Soldier site and find out how you can provide important moral and possibly material support to someone who’s risking their life for others’ freedom. Many soldiers appreciate t-shirts and socks (regulation colors), snacks, games, reading material, and toiletries. It costs about $18 to ship a large flat rate Priority Mail box, but just a postage stamp to send a letter. Even those on limited incomes can make a world of difference.

Heaven knows I’m someone with strong opinions about foreign policy and what America does or doesn’t get involved in. But I’m a staunch supporter of the troops themselves, who often do thankless jobs at great risk and, when they come home, have the physical and psychological scars to prove it. While this organization is clear they’re not a pen pal service (the soldier might be unable to write back) or a matchmaking service, they are an excellent means by which you can be personally involved in a soldier’s well-being.

(P.S. A pointer from one soldier: Don’t send Monopoly; it ruins friendships.)

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What is Christmas?

It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.

It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace. -Agnes M. Pharo

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

Mary, Did You Know?

If you haven’t heard it already (it’s gotten nearly 15 million hits on YouTube), may I present the astounding a capella Mary, Did You Know? as performed by the Pentatonix.

Check out the Pentatonix YouTube channel for more Christmas magic. Their only instruments are their voices. Even if you think you don’t know who they are, you might remember when they did a cover of Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive with violinist Lindsey Stirling.

The secret ingredient that makes their group so exceptional is bass Avi Kaplan. Who knew that such range and depth– such a luxuriant, mature tone that sounds more heavenly than earthbound– could emanate from one so young. See his and Peter Hollens’ Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair for more of Avi.

(Thank you to my people who introduced me to the first song.)

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

Pateros Needs Your Help!

Central WA Fires 7-14 2

Update, 12/1/14: A new website to support fire victims is up and running, Carlton Complex Recovery!

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In July of this year the largest wildfire in state history swept through Okanogan County in north central Washington. Four or five different fires, collectively known as the Carlton Complex Fire, ravaged multiple towns and destroyed 325 to 350 houses, two-thirds of which were primary residences.

You might remember my Pateros in Flames post that listed ways to help survivors of this disaster. I was sickened to learn that now, close to Thanksgiving when Okanogan County is experiencing freezing temperatures, many people are still without the housing, clothing, food, goods, and assistance they need. This crisis is far from over.

Some people assume that our government, at some level, will take care of the survivors. Wrong. FEMA has denied individual aid to fire survivors repeatedly. Those who’ve visited the area to help have called this the most underfunded disaster they’ve ever seen. So in a nutshell, in the words of community organizer Deb Stennes, this region’s recovery is dependent upon the generosity of others. 

Sixty percent of the tenants or owners affected by these fires are underinsured or uninsured. Many people lost rental homes that were sources of income for them and can’t afford to rebuild. Some residents of Pateros and other towns have relocated, some are living with family, and some are commuting ridiculously long distances from temporary residences. There are numerous people still in the area who are enduring substandard accommodations and conditions to survive.

There are those in the Pateros area (and elsewhere) who don’t have electricity or plumbing. They are using generators, and therefore expensive fuel, to survive. Some travel trailers were donated for people to live in, but because of the modifications the people living in them have had to make to stay warm, they are not mobile.

In some of these temporary homes they have to use 5-gallon buckets for toilets. There are local residents without running water and even one woman who’s living in a yurt. Even though she’s hung comforters around to insulate it and has a propane heater, it generally doesn’t get above 50 degrees inside. She cuddles with her little dog to try and heat up.

Pateros DS 1

There have been a number of other issues caused by the fires as well. There was a significant environmental impact– debris was choking the local waterways and beginning to contaminate the area. In September, KING 5 reported on the cleanup still going on. Pets and livestock were lost, injured, killed, or displaced, and the abundant local wildlife population was affected. Businesses were destroyed or suffer and popular tourism areas are either out of business or have to stage a comeback. State parks were damaged also.

Many residents and some churches and organizations from Chelan and Okanogan Counties have been working tirelessly since July to meet the needs of survivors and help them move on. Because this effort is private– not taxpayer-funded or headed by a big-name organization like the Red Cross– they could use reinforcements. You know those post-apocalyptic movies and TV shows in which people are struggling to live after nuclear war? That’s a lot like what these folks are dealing with.

When donating to a disaster fund, or any charity, we need to be careful about who we’re giving to in order to ensure they’re legitimate and the money will be spent on the cause itself. These first two groups have been personally recommended to me as legitimate 501c3s to donate to:

Grace City Church, P.O. Box 4657, Wenatchee, WA  98801

PBLTRO (Pateros Brewster Long Term Organization), P.O. Box 658, Pateros, WA  98846

The Community Foundation of North Central Washington has a fire relief fund, but your donations can’t be allocated to specific areas. It is a well-known organization based in Wenatchee.

Some private citizens have adopted particular families to help– imagine how many families could be helped if a large company decided to adopt. New or like new winter clothing is needed. New or like new household items are needed. Housing is still needed. Skilled people who can help rebuild is still needed. Please note that some well-meaning people have donated clothing or items that are not in good shape and therefore some donations had to be put into the garbage.

There is a very powerful blog post with professional photos at Lifesong Photography’s website, A Waterfall of Flames: The Carlton Complex Fire 2014. It provides windows into the tragic and charred world of our neighbors to the east, putting faces on those we might have otherwise heard about briefly on the news. Please check it out. The Seattle Met magazine will soon be featuring a piece on the fires as well.

If you or your organization want more information about specifically what needs to be done for fire survivors, please contact Deb Stennes at stennesdeb(at)yahoo.com. Deb, her husband Keith, and their sons are the fourth generation of their family running Stennes Orchards and the Cascade Crest Organics brand. They haven’t stopped reaching out to people in Pateros and elsewhere since this began and are well-connected in the community.

Let’s see what we can do to obtain suitable winter lodging, clothing, and other needed goods for the people and pets displaced by this catastrophe. This would make a great holiday project for schools and corporations. If everyone gave just a little, we would achieve more than enough.

Pateros DS 2

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You could see the puzzled old rich man—whom everybody had envied for his wealth—sitting up in bed at midnight with his gray hair tousled and his silken nightcap askew, blinking into the disappointed eyes of the Angel who was shaking his head and saying, “Corn? No; you can’t bring the corn along—or the barns. You may bring only whatever you have given away.”
-Lloyd C. Douglas, The Big Fisherman

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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