Saturday, February 28, 2009

Turning 60 – The Adventure of Life Continues

"A man is not old as long as he is seeking something." Jean Rostand

Sixty years ago today, I entered the world at twelve o’clock noon – just in time for lunch. I was raised in Central Florida by my parents, John and Claire Grist, who provided my sister Jeannie and me with a wonderful life. For my contemporaries who remember the old television show “Father Knows Best”, that was my life. Businessman father, homemaker mother, middle class neighborhood, old American values.

Like most people my age, I’ve experienced both success and failure over these many years. I’ve made some good decisions, but I’ve also made really bad ones. Such is the game of life. Debbie and I have spent thirty-five years together, we’ve raised four kids through good times and bad, and we now enjoy our four beautiful grandchildren. We haven’t done everything right, but we worked hard together and we did the very best we could.

I’m a lucky man and I know it. I’ve had the opportunity to serve my country in uniform during part of five decades. Even with the breaks in service, the active Army, the Florida Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve each had a piece of me in the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties, or now in the first decade of the 21st century. I am truly blessed to have served with some of America’s greatest citizens, warriors in each of those decades who stepped forward to fight for their country. I've served with them at war in both Vietnam and Iraq, and many of my comrades gave their lives defending the cause of liberty.

My Army retirement is effective today. Although I spent most of my military service as a sergeant (and I am damn proud of it), I am retiring as a first lieutenant, my old Vietnam platoon leader’s rank. I may very well take my wife to the officer’s club every now and then, but drinking a beer with my NCO buddies will always be my first priority. I was the last Vietnam veteran in my Army Reserve unit.

I am still fortunate enough to be able to work as a police officer, although it appears that I am now the oldest cop at the police department. That’s okay; when I was an Army lieutenant, there were those who said I was too young to be an infantry officer. As an old Army sergeant and an old police officer, there are some who may think I’m too old for those jobs. I didn’t listen in 1969 and I won’t listen today. When it came time to retire from the Army, I knew it was the right thing to do. I’m also the best one to decide when I will hang up the holster, the handcuffs and the badge. And I will be the last Vietnam veteran at my police department.

Throughout my life, I have sought one challenge after another. It is the quest to live life to the fullest that makes life worth living. As I enter my final years as a police officer, I will only look ahead for the next adventure. I will never give up, I will never quit, and I will always remember that Rangers lead the way.

Thanks to those of you who have taken the time to read the ramblings of an average soldier, a common man, and an old street cop.

The journey continues, so stick around. Let’s see what the future holds for me and for all of us…..

Charles M. Grist

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Just Another Cop On The Street - And Loving It

My first two weeks back at the police department were about what I expected. Working with professional cops, getting the feel of the city, and dealing with a wide variety of people. Most of the citizens I come into contact with are terrific; there are still the other kind - those from the "underbelly" of society.

The first day ended with over two hours of overtime because of a late arrest. That was really a positive thing because it got me writing reports, taking statements, processing evidence, and getting back in the general patrol routine. The arrest was just an average shoplifting arrest, but when a local deputy caught the guys based on a witness description, I got a chance to use my “interrogation” techniques once again. There are only three things that can solve a crime: physical evidence, witnesses, or a confession. In this case, we had the physical evidence and the witnesses, so a confession would be icing on the cake.

Some cops will leave it alone once they have sufficient probable cause to make the arrest. I happen to enjoy the icing on the cake, so I always try to get a post-Miranda confession. If I am successful, it simply polishes off a good case. I guess that philosophy is left over from my detective years.

In this particular crime, the arrestee was a man who was recently released from prison after a six year sentence. With a wife and kids to support, he didn’t go out and get a job as one might expect. He and a buddy decided to go into business stealing armloads of women’s purses from retail displays. I guess prison time just doesn’t teach common sense to everyone.

After I got the confession, I took him to the county jail, the first time I had been there in over two years. I turned my unrepentant criminal over to the booking officers and finished my report.

The rest of my first two weeks included multiple calls to various situations as either primary or backup officer. Suspicious persons, false business or residential alarms, a young man threatening to kill himself with a knife, a senior citizen who keeps letting her drug addicted adult son move back home, a sex abuse case, a variety of disturbances or domestic disagreements, and, of course, a handful of traffic tickets.

It ain’t Baghdad, but there’s one thing about police work that keeps a type A personality like me going.

You never know when the big one is going to happen.

* * * *

For those who are curious, the book is coming along fine at the publisher. In two to three weeks, it will move to the final production phase. This is where the cover will be designed, and the final layout will be completed. With luck, it should be available around June.

Charles M. Grist

Thursday, February 19, 2009

America Faces New Challenges in Afghan War

With two members of the C.O.B.R.A. Team on the ground in Afghanistan (Aaron Self – Cobra Two; Chad Higginbotham – Cobra Three), I am keeping close tabs on this important front in the war on terror. In the following Associated Press article, the top commander in Afghanistan says the insurgents have fought us to a stalemate.

This doesn’t mean our soldiers aren't winning the battles; it means we don’t have enough soldiers to seize and hold critical areas. It also means we must deal with the humanitarian issues, increase the pace of the training for the Afghan military and police, and solve the problem of the safe havens in Pakistan.

Yes, it is a messy situation.

* * * *

Afghan War at Stalemate, McKiernan Says

February 19, 2009
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan offered a grim view Wednesday of military efforts in southern Afghanistan, warning that 17,000 new troops will take on emboldened Taliban insurgents who have "stalemated" U.S. and allied forces.

Army Gen. David McKiernan also predicted that the bolstered numbers of U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan - about 55,000 in all - will remain near those levels for up to five years.

Still, McKiernan said, that is only about two-thirds of the number of troops he has requested to secure the war-torn nation.

McKiernan told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday that the extra Army and Marine forces will be in place by the summer, primed for counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban but also ready to conduct training with Afghan police forces.

McKiernan said what the surge "allows us to do is change the dynamics of the security situation, predominantly in southern Afghanistan, where we are, at best, stalemated.

"I'm not here to tell you that there's not an increased level of violence, because there is," he said.

The 17,000 additional troops, which President Barack Obama approved Tuesday to begin deploying this spring, will join an estimated 38,000 already in Afghanistan.

Another 10,000 U.S. Soldiers could be headed to Afghanistan in the future as the Obama administration decides how to balance its troop levels with those from other nations and the Afghan army. The White House has said it will not make further decisions about its next moves in Afghanistan until it has completed a strategic review of the war, in tandem with the Afghan government.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Wednesday that the foreign ministers of those countries will travel to Washington next week to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials as the U.S. formulates a policy review.

Appearing on "The NewsHour" on PBS, Holbrooke was asked how the Obama administration sees victory in Afghanistan. "First of all, the victory, as defined in purely military terms, is not achievable, and I cannot stress that too highly," he said. "What we're looking for is the definition of our vital national security interests."

Holbrooke described his recent trip to the region and the delegations coming to Washington as "a manifestation of a new, intense, engaged diplomacy designed to put Afghanistan and Pakistan into a larger regional context and move forward to engage other countries in the effort to stabilize this incredibly volatile region."

Whatever the outcome of the review, McKiernan said, "we know we need additional means in Afghanistan, whether they are security or governance-related or socioeconomic-related."

The estimated level of 55,000 troops needs "to be sustained for some period of time," he said, adding that could be as long as three to five years.

Some of the 17,000 U.S. troops soon headed overseas will be training Afghanistan police while battling insurgents as the nation's August elections approach. They include an Army combat brigade from Washington state and a Marine expeditionary brigade made up of troops from Camp Lejune in North Carolina and Camp Pendleton in southern California.

McKiernan said they would be sufficient for what he believes needs to be done through summer, when the fighting tends to be heaviest.

With the added ground troops, McKiernan said it's possible the military will scale back airstrikes that have been blamed for civilian casualties and angered the Afghan population.

The Taliban insurgents, some of whom have worked in concert with al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, have increasingly focused on what McKiernan described as small-scale attacks on government targets, police and official convoys. Last week militants launched a bold strike on government buildings in downtown Kabul.

McKiernan said the number of insurgents has not grown, but they are "very resilient" and "they have continuously adapted their tactics."

"We're not going to run out of people that either international forces or Afghan forces have to kill or capture," McKiernan said.

Ultimately, the conflict will be solved not by military force - but through the political will of the Afghan people, the general said.

"The insurgency is not going to win in Afghanistan," McKiernan insisted. "The vast majority of the people that live in Afghanistan reject the Taliban or other militant insurgent groups. They have nothing to offer them. They do not bring any hope for a better future."

Robert H. Scales, a retired Army two-star general who visited southern Afghanistan last October as a military adviser, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he agrees there is essentially a stalemate in that area, which is a traditional stronghold for the Taliban movement. But he said that does not mean U.S. and allies forces are losing.

"It's reached the point where neither side has gained an advantage," Scales said, adding that he believes the south - particularly in the opium-producing Helmand Province - is the area with the greatest potential for U.S. gains against the Taliban, especially with more U.S. forces due to deploy there.

The rising violence in Afghanistan is conducted by militants who operate out of sanctuaries in Pakistan tribal regions along the border of the two nations. McKiernan called the stability of both countries "a regional challenge" and credited Pakistan with trying harder to secure the border.

"It's not enough; we need to do more," McKiernan said. "But it is a start."

He called it "in our vital national security interest to succeed" in Afghanistan.
"It's a country that is absolutely worth our commitment," McKiernan said. "And it's a region that is absolutely worth the commitment of the international community to ensure that it's stable at the end of this."

* * * *

We extend our support and encouragement to our fellow warriors who are risking everything for America in the cities, villages, hills and mountains of Afghanistan.

Charles M. Grist

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Remembering Lance Corporal Chance Phelps

The following article discusses the upcoming HBO movie “Taking Chance”, the moving story of the return of the remains of American warrior Lance Corporal Phelps to his family. This will be broadcast next Saturday and you can see more about the movie at

* * * *

Moving salute to the fallen

Hal Boedeker
Orlando Sentinel Columnist
February 15, 2009

Concise and deeply moving, Taking Chance tells a true story that has been repeated often but rarely depicted.

The HBO movie, which premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday, explains how the military treats war dead with great care and respect. The film also dramatizes how the public often responds to military sacrifices: Airline workers and passengers pause to pay tribute. Drivers put on their lights. Children watch with awe.

Taking Chance presents these scenes with simplicity and understatement. Running only 78 minutes, the film doesn't linger over emotional moments. There's no need to embellish when a tearful reservations worker thanks a Marine for his service or a flight attendant gives a small cross to show her regard.

That restraint deepens this tribute to Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps, a 19-year-old Marine who was killed in Iraq in 2004. The movie is based on Lt. Col. Michael Strobl's journal of how he escorted Phelps' body home to Wyoming.

Strobl and director Ross Katz wrote the screenplay. They make a couple of missteps. They invent a scene of Strobl watching Phelps' remains overnight in an airport cargo area. They also briefly take the focus off Phelps and let Strobl open up about his guilt about not fighting in Iraq. Good thing an old veteran shuts up Strobl.

Otherwise, as Strobl, lean Kevin Bacon looks every inch a Marine and responds with a disciplined, poignant performance. Most effective in the brief supporting roles are Tom Wopat and Ann Dowd as Phelps' parents, Gordon Clapp as a pilot and Julie White as a straight-talking colonel.

The movie mostly steers clear of politics, although a driver wonders what we're doing in Iraq. Mainly, Taking Chance educates the public on the humbling, difficult process of escorting the bodies home. It's not an easy lesson, but it's powerfully worthwhile. The movie ends with photos and home movies of Phelps.

Hal Boedeker can be reached at 407-420-5756 or

* * * *

Charles M. Grist

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Once a Cop, Always a Cop

My first week back at the police department was a little like making your first parachute jump after spending a couple of years on the ground. It isn't hard to remember the important stuff, but you need help with some of the details.

For everyone who thinks I'm too old to be a cop, see if you can pick me out in the above picture from my first law enforcement job. (Yes, I'm kidding for crying out loud.)

During this first week, I had over two hundred revisions in policies and procedures to review, hours of videos to watch and several days of all types of training. We hit the range so I could once again qualify with my Glock and the shotgun (which I did) and I had to become current on my taser training. When I was first issued my taser after Iraq, I volunteered to let them shoot me with the probes so I could experience the full five seconds of 50,000 volts. No, it wasn't fun, but everyone else got a kick out of watching me bite the dust.

I also had to successfully pass the wellness or PT test that my department requires twice a year for all officers. The PT test includes a bench press, leg press, sit-ups, sit and reach flexibility exercise, body fat measurement and a timed walk or run. I passed with excellent scores in every category which is good for an old guy like me.

I needed a little refresher training on the in-car computer, but I will surely need some pointers after I start writing reports next week. Still, most of the systems are the same and it won’t take long to get back in the groove.

After I finished the training and received all my gear, I drove my patrol car around the city to become familiar with the changes in the landscape. Some buildings are gone, new ones have been built and a lot of businesses have changed their names. I saw some things that really surprised me, including our newly designed hospital.

I responded as backup officer to a couple of disturbance calls and linked up with cops I hadn’t seen since 2007. It’s good to get back with such an outstanding and professional group of people.

Almost everyone I saw made the same two comments in the same order. The first one was to welcome me back and the second one was to ask me how long before I would retire. A lot of the older officers will retire in the next couple of years, so it was a natural question. My response was simply that, since I will be 60 years old on February 28, I promised them I wouldn' stay on the job longer than five years.

Just like the Army, I’ll know when it’s time to take the police uniform off for good.

* * * *

I have received some inquiries about the book and it is in the hands of the publisher. Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer before it's available.

Thanks for asking and I hope you like the new header. I moved the C.O.B.R.A. Team header to the team website.

Charles M. Grist