Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS


(Editors note: The following is condensed from remarks delivered at the retirement of the author’s cousin, Colonel F. Paul Briggs, from the U.S. Marine Corps, ten years ago.)

Thirty years ago the Briggs family turned over to the Corps a young boy. Today the Corps is handing back to us the man, and what a fine man he is. All too often in this too-fixated-on-political-correctness society we’ve become there is a tendency to denigrate the whole notion of manhood, to disparage the idea that one of life’s noblest goals is to become a real man, or a real woman, responsible and accountable for one’s actions, able to meet life’s challenges with bravery not fear, able to chart a course in a life that is worth living because it is lived for others, not just self.

Thank God the Corps understands still that one of its missions is to mold young boys, and young girls, into men and women, proud of who they are, proud of what they accomplish, proud of their country; people who know it is better to serve than be served, people who recognize that the freedoms we have are worth fighting, and yes, dying for; people who cherish notions that should never become old-fashioned, like duty and honor.

The Colonel personifies all that a Marine is and should be. He exemplifies each day the three “D’s”: Dedication, discipline and devotion.

He dedicated himself when young to becoming a Marine. I can still see him running seven to ten miles a day wherever he had to go in Pocatello, while attending Idaho State University, eschewing the notion of driving a car because he had decided he was going to be a Marine and he knew Marines are incredibly fit. And even today rather than drive to work he still eschews a car and bikes the ten miles from his home to the Pentagon. That’s dedication.

He’s always been incredibly disciplined. When backpacking in Idaho’s rugged Sawtooths, or the White Clouds, or the Bighorn Crags, each morning the routine was the same: rise early, wash up, brush and floss the teeth, shave, do your calisthenics, maintain the right appearance—no matter how far back in the wilderness we were, no matter how hot and dusty the trails had been. That’s discipline.

Most of all, though, what has stood out over the years has been his deep devotion to what he holds dear: his devotion to the Corps—a constant walking, talking apostle who quietly proselytized by example; his devotion to his family, always keeping in touch, always sensitive to their needs; his devotion to his wife whose steadfast support has always been invaluable as he performed his duties; his devotion to his country, his ability to articulate why we are a great nation, what separates us from the rest of the world, what makes us the great democracy we are, what the Federalist Papers were about, what is so sacred about our Constitution; and, his devotion to the Almighty, to whom he has always given thanks for his blessings. That’s devotion personified.

He is truly one of the few and the proud.

We all know we live in especially dangerous and difficult times. The Colonel, however, is a part of that thin but great wall that stands between our society, with all its flaws, and the anarchy and insanity that dogs so much of the rest of the world. To all Marines the notion that there is honor in life, both personal and that of a nation, and that both are absolutely worth defending at all costs, is one of those divinely inspired notions that make all Marines so truly special.

All who serve know in their hearts what our forefathers wrought is worth standing up for against all enemies in all forms, internal as well as external, so-called friend as well as avowed foe. Each person wearing a uniform knows he or she is part of that last line of defense literally of Western Civilization itself. Those in uniform know they are the men and women who defend and champion the sanctity of life, who defend a country that rather than obscure the difference between combatants and non-combatants goes to extraordinary lengths to maintain and respect that distinction.

All those in uniform are truly the ones who defend free speech and free inquiry, defend government of, by and for the people. Those in uniform are the individuals, singularly and collectively, who proudly defend a tradition so steeped in the presence of the Almighty it never needs to force others in His name.

And all who wear a uniform know the greatest prize they carry is their sense of honor, that each to varying degrees has sacrificed to obtain something that is earned, not given. This is their collective gift of combined strength to a nation that sorely needs it.

Today, we welcome back into our arms the man hundreds of others in the Corps, and in other uniforms, helped to forge. He is a true person of honor, and we say from the bottom of our grateful hearts: Thank you.

Chris Carlson is a writer at Medimont, Idaho.

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AUTO-REGISTRATION Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is proposing to make Oregon the second most open state in the country as regards voting. (First: North Dakota, which requires no voter registration at all.) Brown’s proposal would still require it, but automatically register everyone within certain categories; obtaining a drivers license probably would be the big one. It’s unclear how many more people actually would cast ballots under this approach; but then, since Oregon’s approach to ballots is to mail them out, it might in fact increase turnout a bit. The parties seem to be looking at this cautiously but not with pre-emptive disdain. The debate may be interesting; this will be fun to watch.

TELEVISION STANDARDS You do know how much impact state memorials – which are basically letters sent by a state legislature to someone else – have when they get to Washington? (The phrase “toilet paper” comes to mind.) So now the Idaho House is on record (57-13) calling on the Federal Communications Commission to more rigorously support “standards of decency” on broadcast television. Never mind that that amounts to a steadily shrinking portion of the viewing environment, an island amid the unregulated. HJM 2 may be the least efficacious piece of legislation we’ve seen in the Northwest this season.

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First Take

trahant MARK


Idaho’s Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican, asked a critical question Tuesday. It’s one rarely asked, let alone, answered. The question: Does more government money work?

Specifically, Simpson, the chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, was asking if recent increased funding for the Indian Health Service has made a difference.

Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, director of the IHS, went through the numbers at an oversight hearing. IHS appropriations have increased 29 percent since 2008 which, she said, is “making a substantial difference in the quantity and quality of healthcare we were able to provide to American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

For example: Contract Health Service dollars, money spent to purchase medical services outside of the Indian health system, has been increased by 46 percent since 2008. “Four years ago, most programs were funding only Medical Priority 1, or ‘life or limb’ referrals. Now, Dr. Roubideaux reported, “the increased CHS funding means that almost half (29 out of 66) of Federal CHS programs are now funding referrals beyond Medical Priority 1.”

That means that there is now money, at least some money, for preventative services such as mammograms and colonoscopies. “The increased CHS money also means that the IHS Catastrophic Health Emergency Fund, which used to run out of funding for high cost cases in June, now is able to fund cases through August,” Dr. Roubideaux said.

Simpson said: “You can get sick now up to August?” To which Dr. Roubideaux replied, that the phrase, “Don’t get sick after June,” has been incredibly effective describing the problem of what it means for a health care delivery system to run out of money.

Clearly more money in the contract health care (soon to be labeled in the next budget as “purchased and preferred care”) program is making a difference and most likely saving lives. But what about in other program areas? There the data is convincing as well. The Improving Patient Care program, a team based approach to care, has increased the number of sites to a total of 127 (adding 89). This has resulted in both quantity (empanelling 261,180 active patients in a primary care team up from 85,079) and quality (IPC sites show patient satisfaction increasing from 55 percent in April 2011 to 72 percent currently.)

IHS has provided more women mammograms, up from the low to mid-40 percent range to more than 50 percent.

No one thinks that there is enough money in the Indian health system. But in this one subcommittee there is bipartisan agreement that more government spending does indeed work and that the Indian Health Service could use more. This is dangerous talk in DC, the very words that strike fear, government spending is effective.

Indeed, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, asked what else Congress could be doing to make the IHS even more efficient, beyond appropriations. He asked about removing bureaucratic obstacles or better definitions in the law. “We know we need to do more,” Cole said.

Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim, speaking for the National Indian Health Board, agreed there have been recent improvements that followed the funding resulting in “small, but real gains.”

But what now? The federal budget sequester will reduce the ability of the agency to provide patient care, a cut of $220 million, meaning 3,000 fewer inpatient admissions and 804,000 fewer outpatient visits.

“Any budget cuts, in any form, will have harmful effects on the health care delivery to American Indians and Alaska Natives and its true cost will be measurable in lives as well as dollars,” Jim testified. “This must change. If this Congress cannot avoid sequestration through alternative methods of deficit reduction, the National Indian Health Board implores this Congress to make IHS exempt from this process.”

Nearly everyone thought that the Budget Control Act would have limited the impact of the sequester on the IHS (as it did many medical-related spending). But one of the Congressional authors forgot to include specific language — as has been the case in the past — protecting IHS (as well as another larger agency, the Health Resources and Services Administration) from the across-the-board cuts.

Simpson was blunt. “Blame me as much as anybody,” he said. “I should have caught that.”

If Simpson’s subcommittee had all the keys to Congress this problem would be solved going forward. And in a process with Republicans and Democrats working together. It’s exactly how Congress is supposed to work.

But let’s be clear about this: The budget challenge ahead for the IHS with the sequester is going to be rough. Next year’s budget outlook will remain difficult. But there is also a promise: The Affordable Care Act beginning in 2014 opens up new revenue streams that could substantially increase funding. (More about that in future posts.)

What’s significant about this hearing is the narrative itself; the story that was told. For so long the story about the Indian Health Service has been one of failure. But this is a story about success, about how a government agency can execute a policy, and when given more resources, it can improve the delivery of health care.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:

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