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Brian Harmsen

Brian Harmsen: Finger-Pointing and Afghanistan

in Column/Brian Harsman

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By Brian Harmsen, Colonel, US Army (Retired), guest columnist

It’s been a disastrous week, and the deaths of 13 of our finest, and the tragedy otherwise unfolding for our Afghan allies and people who looked to us for hope, while at the forefront right now, probably won’t ultimately sum up the damage that’s being done. 

Finger-pointing. I’ve lost count at how many have pointed back in time to fault the previous administration in order to deflect responsibility from the current administration which somehow saw fit to reverse course with the Paris Accords and the WHO, yet for some reason stuck with their plan to exit Afghanistan.  

Maybe we’ll soon see the day where the new coach of your favorite sports team will blame their losses on the prior coach?  But that’s becoming the nature of political partisanship in this country. Transfer credit for the good from your predecessor to you, shift blame back to them for the bad that you have caused. Ultimately, no one is accountable. 

Fairly, a withdrawal from anywhere is going to be messy.  Afghanistan is no different, and yet it is. For some 20 years, our operations there have leveraged what’s become known as “the fighting season.”  A period when the combination of weather and lack of other things to do or concern themselves with freed fighters up to … fight. Any guess what season it is in Afghanistan right now?  

The past administration’s plan was to be out of  Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. The current administration extended that date to August 31, 2021. The “fighting season” is generally accepted to begin in April and end in October of each year. Both administrations were/are eager to end America’s longest war.  Either administration was/is going to find such a withdrawal to be messy.  One administration lost the chance to implement its plan, and the other inherited the team and the playbook. 

But that administration chose a new play and a date which let the Taliban leverage their traditional “fighting season” toward toppling a succession of Afghan provinces, all the while gaining momentum, toward what is now the current crisis in Kabul. 

If Joe Biden had followed the May withdrawal date and the plan established by Donald Trump and this mess had happened, placing the blame on Donald Trump would absolutely have been warranted.  Joe Biden put his own stamp on things though, and in doing so, he now owns this one. 

What’s more concerning though is the appearance of weakness and indecision at best, incompetence at worst, coming from the United States. The geopolitical world will never be static, and there is always a player or two looking to expand their spheres of influence globally. In the 1930s, Nazi Germany and Japan would have been notable members of that club. Today, China is probably our principal adversary, yet also one of our primary trading partners.  

How might the CCP view the past few weeks in Afghanistan?  The Taliban have tested the Biden Administration and all appearances are that the Biden Administration has come up short. American muscle has always been a primary deterrent to China’s eye on Taiwan. Do they assess that America still has the same muscle now?  Even the best equipment on the battlefield is useless if the leadership and resolve required for its employment is indecisive or incompetent. 

I’m a member of a few groups affiliated with Army units I once served with. With one consistent exception, the “accomplishments” they tend to celebrate have less and less to do with what we used to consider “war fighting skills” or “the warrior spirit.”  Classroom stuff. HR stuff.  Way, WAY too much of it. Heck, it looks like the Infantry, engineers, and field artillery have gotten a whole lot easier in the past ten years? 

I hope that’s not the case, but to anyone who saw the emergence in the mid-1990s of more hours of “mandatory classes” than there were hours on the training schedule, ammo allocations cut, and restrictions on the tough field training that had once been hallmark to those military occupations, there is cause for concern. 

RIP brave warriors.  The rest of us had better pull our heads out of our collective ass pretty quickly or there could be many more who will join you, and soon.

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Brian Harmsen: Sometimes More Is Just … More

in Column/Brian Harsman

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By Brian Harmsen, guest columnist

One of the problematic aspects of drafting public policy almost always becomes how it functions in the real world. 

Well-intentioned ideas are applied to public issues, documents and directives drafted and  distributed, and the authors and sponsors pat themselves on the back for a “job well done”. And then it all hits the street. 

I’ve dealt with this at all levels in some form or fashion since I first took an oath of public office in June of 1986.  

It almost always follows a pattern. We don’t like something that happens so we ban or otherwise attempt to regulate it. We tell people that it’s now banned or regulated. 

And then we’re shocked when somewhere down the road we discover that it didn’t work. So we try to ban or regulate it harder. Repeat. 

Firearms “Background Checks”

During the last Democratic presidential primary runs, Michael Bloomberg was recorded saying that we should prevent people with psychological issues, criminal backgrounds, or the underage from purchasing firearms, further insinuating that those types of people were freely bypassing established background checks by making their purchases over the internet or at gun shows.  Therefore, we need to background check harder. 

But have we really… REALLY considered the sources of information that would – by necessity – “feed” the background check system and prevent purchases by those with: 

  1. Psychological Issues; 
  2. Criminal backgrounds; and 
  3. Age disqualifiers, in order for those background checks to be effective in the first place?  

Now really, since a photo ID, typically a state driver’s license, is a requirement for any basic firearms purchase, #3 is a point-of-sale issue. The photo looks like you (yes or no), your recorded birthdate makes you (eligible/ineligible — 18 for a long gun, 21 for a handgun) to make the purchase.  Simple screening. 

Criminal history is a little more challenging, as it’s pretty well-established that the various reporting databases at state, federal, and other agency levels don’t talk to each other. 

How does someone convicted in the Air Force of a crime of domestic violence pass a background check?  

How does a person convicted of assault as a juvenile then pass a background check as an adult?  

And with all the discussion of reinstating other rights, are we really just talking about VIOLENT criminal history?  

Are we willing to make the leap that juvenile records ARE permanent and there is no redemption or rehabilitation?

And then the tough one. 

I’m going to suggest that we all know someone who’s seen a mental health professional at some point. 

Decades ago, some people would have been classified as “criminally insane” and locked away in some dark, evil institution. 

But our modern society has moved beyond that.  We endeavor not to “stigmatize” those who may just be “going through a rough stretch” but are seeking help. 

What about those who aren’t seeking help at all and whose families didn’t report them under a “red flag” law for fear of what that could do to them?  

What about those who are seeking help but clearly have something deeper, darker going on in their brains?  Whose call is that to make?  And what kind of liability should they have?  

And then what database is in place for whomever we may formerly have classified as “criminally insane”, or may only be a temporary threat to others be recorded?  

And if such a database exists, where is it feeding the firearms background check system in order to fulfill that aspect of exclusion?  

Is our national will in such a state that we’ll sacrifice “stigma” in order to disqualify those with certain psychological diagnoses?  

That we recognize maybe those dark, evil institutions did serve at least that purpose way back when and we need their database equivalent today? 

None of the gunowners I know have conceptual issues with background checks. We don’t want those kinds of people owning firearms either, in spite of most of us being portrayed otherwise.  

But we want those checks to work, and we know better than anyone where our current background check system  is failing. 

There truly are some hard discussions that need to happen. But sure, let’s all feel good by expanding something that is already proving not to work.  

Databases are only as good as the data entered into them. Databasing harder won’t help when the supporting information itself is absent, incomplete, or inaccurate.

My coffee mug is now empty. I think spring may finally be here, or at least peeking around the corner?  Get outdoors today!

Col. Brian Harmsen (Retired) has appreciated and enjoyed our Wyoming outdoors as a resident of more than 40 years. He is originally from Sundance but has also lived in Laramie and Cheyenne.

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Brian Harmsen: Resilience. Practice. Gratitude. (And Coffee)

in Column/Brian Harsman

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It’s a wonderful catalyst for reflection within the window of time and quiet it creates if you’re to enjoy it properly. 

This storm has been a historic event. It’s probably beyond time that we recognize and accept that?  Study up on the Blizzard of ‘49. Twelve dead in Wyoming alone. Stranded passenger trains. Livestock losses. And MONTHS of winter to follow. Gain even a modest perspective on what you see around you today. 

I’m grateful that a friend still thinks to forward a short, daily devotional to me in the morning just in time for my first cup of coffee. Today’s heading:  “Resilience. Practice. Gratitude.”  

It goes on, essentially describing how people who practice gratitude experience higher degrees of positive emotion, are protected from destructive impulses, and cope more effectively with the stresses of everyday life.  While I most certainly fail in being grateful as often as anyone, it’s in times like these I best seem to find my footing again. 

God has blessed me. I managed to dig myself out. I have a warm home with uninterrupted heat and lights. I’m able to drive down my plowed rural road to the plowed highway. I have ample food. I have time to catch up on some things at work.

I have some bonus idle time to watch Charlie and Maggie chase bunnies. I have friends who’ve checked on me to see how I’m doing. While we’re kind of spread out here, I’m still able to help a neighbor whose blessings are different than mine.  I’ll get to fix some stuff I broke, but it’s probably also a blessing that I’ll help a business out once it warms up as well?

THE single most common statement I’ve heard us come back with from “the box” (Iraq/Afghanistan) is, “People here at home worry about the stupidest sh*t.”  The more I reflect, the more true it feels. 

Those destructive impulses and ineffective coping mechanisms manifest themselves in some of the Facebook posts I’m now reading. Anger that someone isn’t providing services faster, in spite of this being a historic storm. Frustration that lives are inconvenienced and interrupted. 

As well though, I see random posts directed to “whoever it was who plowed my driveway – thanks!,” “shout out to the linemen out there trying to restore power,” “look how bad the Interstates are – but there are our highway department crews out working.” 

You either have it – Or, you don’t.  You have a choice to “worry about stupid sh*t” – or not.  And if you can’t find something to be thankful for?  Well, you might just be focused on “stupid sh*t”?

Resilience. Practice. Gratitude. (and coffee). 

It’ll be a good day.

Col. Brian Harmsen (Retired) has appreciated and enjoyed our Wyoming outdoors as a resident of more than 40 years. He is originally from Sundance but has also lived in Laramie and Cheyenne.

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Brian Harmsen: Years of Activism Turned Medicine Bow Forest Into Ticking Time Bomb

in Column/Brian Harsman

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By Brian Harmsen, guest columnist

Many of you “locals” have been following what’s going on with the Mullen Fire. It’s hard not to when our “sunny Saturday” looks like this?  

So, in the span of 48 hours, the Mullen Fire has grown from about 17,000 acres to what our Governor reported this morning as “over 80,000 acres.” 

It was at over 25,000 acres yesterday morning and tripled in size in a single day. Just for comparison, the Cameron Peak Fire across the border in Colorado started almost six weeks ago and is at 111,000 acres as of this morning. 

The cabin communities of Keystone and Lake Creek have been evacuated and overrun. Structure losses in either have yet to be reported as crews haven’t been able to return yet.

The communities of Foxpark and Albany were evacuated last night. Woods Landing was evacuated earlier today. As of now, everyone between the fire and the Colorado border has been ordered out. Centennial is under a pre-evacuation order. 

This is country many of us know fairly well. I’ve fished on Douglas Creek, Rob Roy, and Lake Owen. Hunted Savage Run and Muddy Mountain. Cut Firewood on Centennial Ridge.

Camped at Muddy Creek Dry Park and Lake Creek. I’ve snowmobiled all of these roads in the winter and enjoyed weekend drives across them in the summer. Since 1992. 

In those 28 years, I’ve watched this area evolve from a ticking bomb into the nuclear disaster it is today.  Roads that were easily passable in a 4×4 pickup in 1995 were like trying to drive up a riverbed last summer.

I’ve had to include my chainsaw as required equipment and have cut my way in as well as cut my way out on account of dead trees that fall across the roads frequently.

It was difficult packing elk quarters out over miles of deadfall timber in 1992 – I’m not sure I could do it today being 28 years older and significantly more deadfall in the way?  

I attended a National Interagency Fire Center Conference in 2009 where the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests were referred by one speaker as “the Dead Forest,” as an estimated seven out of every ten trees were expected to die due to a Rocky Mountain Pune Beetle infestation. 

Let’s go back a few more years. In 1978, I did a Forestry project in 4-H on the Rocky Mountain Pine beetle. 

While I learned a lot about the beetle itself, I also learned that trees do survive attacks. Given adequate water and nutrients, healthy trees literally “flush” the beetles right out the holes they came in.

That project went to the Colorado State Fair where it was recognized as “Reserve Grand Champion” that year. 

How do we achieve healthy trees, though?  They grow where they want to, and they often grow so close to other trees that they come into competition with them for the nutrients and water necessary for them to remain healthy.

Just because it’s “a forest” doesn’t mean that if has soil and water conducive to growing an unlimited number of healthy trees. So, unchecked, it grows a whole lot of “unhealthy” trees instead. Such trees become the preferred victim of the Rocky Mountain Pine Beetle. 

I can remember “beetle trees” for almost as long as I can remember being in the forests they occurred in from the mid-1970s.

I know we’ve talked about extreme drought since the late 1980s, but the beetles were here before that. Drought became “climate change”. But climate change didn’t bring the beetles either – unhealthy trees did.  

I used to watch the big log trucks from San Juan logging run up and down the Piedra Road when I was a kid.

I watched similar trucks from Heggie Logging, Nieman Sawmills, as well as numerous independent operators do the same thing through the 1980s into mills in places like Fox Park, Hulett, and Spearfish. Yes, beetles were present, as was an occasional fire. 

Something changed in the 1990s.  As a country, we seemed to become more “environmentally conscious.” 

The time-proven management processes of logging, grazing, and controlled burning became seen as exploitative and a source of pollution.

In the late 1990s, I became more aware of groups like Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in my hometown of Laramie, whose membership zealously fought every timber sale, every commercial use, even some recreational uses in the courts, using the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) to either bully the Forest Service into capitulating to their demands (“settling out of court”) versus the Forest Service risking having to pay hefty “Environmental Attorney Fees” should the judge rule against the agency. 

The Forest Service began putting locked gates across roads I’d used for years or outright “obliterating” them.

I stopped seeing log trucks. Since the logging companies were doing most of the road maintenance, the roads started falling into disrepair.

With no revenue coming in from timber sales, Forest Service campgrounds started to also fall into disrepair and close.

Many of us saw our forest and the agency struggling to care for them in a death spiral. Unmanaged, unchecked forests became overgrown and unhealthy. 

Somewhat more alarming, I also began to notice that the apolitical professionals who’d been managing our national forests were retiring or being forced out of the agency, making room for “advocates” who often ingratiated themselves to, if not actively supported, the activist groups that had been suing them. 

Here we are today. We need to rip the management of our public lands out of the clutches of the activist groups and activist courts – or at least demonetize litigation as a source of revenue for them.

We need to put that management back into the hands of unbiased, career professionals. 

Our Medicine Bow National Forest will never be the same. It will be different. It will be new.

Col. Brian Harmsen (Retired) has appreciated and enjoyed our Wyoming outdoors as a resident of more than 40 years. He is originally from Sundance but has also lived in Laramie and Cheyenne.

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