Monday, September 30, 2013

Speaker Boehner on the cliff edge - The Hill - covering Congress, Politics, Political Campaigns and Capitol Hill |

Speaker Boehner on the cliff edge - The Hill - covering Congress, Politics, Political Campaigns and Capitol Hill |

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Diplomatic Life: Diplomacy, Which Should Come First, a Definition of the Profession or A Code of Ethical Conduct?

The Hippocratic Oath in Greek and Latin publis...
The Hippocratic Oath in Greek and Latin published in Frankfurt in 1595 in Apud Andreae Wecheli heredes by Claudium Marnium, & Ioan. Aubrium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  Since my retirement from the U.S. Foreign Service in September 2012, I have been involved in a number of projects that have interested me for decades. One of the most important, though, is the development of a code of ethical conduct for the U.S. Foreign Service, a project I’m working on in conjunction with a number of my colleagues, both active and retired.

As might be imagined, such a project has provoked much discussion. One topic of interest is the question of which should come first, the development of a professional ethics code, or a definition of the profession. While there are a number of definitions of diplomacy, it has not to my satisfaction (and many of my colleagues) been clearly defined as a profession. This is in all likelihood due to the American experience from colonial times when talented amateurs were sent abroad to represent the new nation’s interests in European courts. It is also seen in the modern practice of rewarding political loyalists with ambassadorial posts in some of the more desirable embassies.

That this practice will continue into the indefinite future is undeniable; it is much a part of the country’s political DNA. But, in the dangerous age in which we currently live, whether those named to represent the country are political loyalists or career government servants, if we are to maintain America’s position in the world, there must be a professional framework within which they operate.

This will require, I’ll be the first to admit, a clear definition of diplomacy as a profession; one which must be understood by all who practice it. But, the question at hand is: must we define the profession before we have a code of ethical conduct that guides and shapes the activities of diplomatic practitioners?

Reasonable people can, and will, disagree on this point. Based, though, on my 30 years as a practicing diplomat and 20 years before that as a career army officer, my own bias is for a code of ethical conduct based on universally-accepted core values as a guide to clearly defining the profession. I see no reason that these two tasks cannot be undertaken simultaneously, but I firmly believe that priority should be given to the ethical code. I offer two historical examples in support of this view.

The Hippocratic Oath Preceded Development of the Profession of Medicine.

While the Hippocratic Oath, believed to have been written by Hippocrates, or one of his students, in Ionic Greek in the 5th century BC, is often misunderstood, and is not in its original form sworn to by modern physicians, its core values continue to guide the practice of medicine around the world. Hippocrates is widely regarded as the father of western medicine. While there were  healers at the time the oath was written, one has to concede that the definition of medicine as a profession has undergone dramatic change since the 5th century.

Following is a rough translation of the oath:

I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement:

To consider dear to me, as my parents, him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art; and that by my teaching, I will impart a knowledge of this art to my own sons, and to my teacher's sons, and to disciples bound by an indenture and oath according to the medical laws, and no others.

I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.

I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.

But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts.

I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.

In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or men, be they free or slaves.

All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.

If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practise my art, respected by all humanity and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my life.

One can see many of the practices of modern doctors in this ancient document. But, as technology has advanced, the definition of the profession has accordingly been modified.

The U.S. Constitution Can Be Considered a Code of Conduct for a Nation

When the Founding Fathers took up arms against King George in the 1700s, the definition of the United States as a nation was only a vision. Since 1775, the nation has undergone numerous changes, from the Articles of Confederation to the Civil War to Manifest Destiny.

While not a profession, the transformation of the fledgling former colony into one of the world’s greatest powers was shaped by the Constitution, which is basically a code of ethical conduct for a nation.

The Danger of Defining a Profession Without a Code of Professional Conduct

One could, I suppose, put together a panel of learned practitioners and come up with a definition of modern American diplomacy that would satisfy everyone. It wouldn’t be an easy task, but I’m willing to concede that it just might be possible. But, in the absence of a set of commonly accepted and clearly understood core values enshrined in a code of ethical conduct; a Hippocratic Oath for diplomats, there is a clear and present danger.

As professional diplomats, like professional soldiers, we serve those who have been elected by the people. But, it has always been the case that politicians have a short-term focus, and in today’s toxic political climate it is the rule rather than the exception. Politicians have, by and large, always viewed the instruments of state power – and diplomacy is one of these instruments – as tools to advance their specific political agenda. When the statesmen of this country, in the main, were people who put the needs of the country writ large ahead of partisan interests, this was workable – just barely. In the last several decades, however, American politics has become a zero-sum, winner-take-all game, with the prime goal it seems, winning elections and getting ahead of the opposition.

International relations, however, must be based on longer-term interests. Relations between and among nations transcend specific elections. Diplomats, therefore, like soldiers, must be professionally conditioned and educated to reconcile the short-term requirements of the moment with the longer term needs of the nation as administrations change, and the international landscape shifts. They must have a framework within they endeavor to serve those in power in good faith, but put the longer term interests of the nation first. After all, like soldiers, we serve those elected to positions of authority, but we are the servants of the people.

As we struggle to define diplomacy in the modern age, we would be well-served by a code of ethical conduct, much as a doctor must work with the hospital administration, which has issues of budget and politics to consider, but at the same time, put the interests of patients first. As we develop an accepted definition of our profession, we must be insulated from undue political influence by a code of conduct that enjoins us from ‘doing harm.’

We can’t afford to hide behind the argument that I have often heard that a code of ethical conduct in unnecessary because the people we hire as diplomats are already ethical, or that professional education throughout a career isn’t needed because they’re already educated. If we take our oath to the Constitution, which is administered to all new Foreign Service Officers, seriously, we must back it up with an ethical code that reinforces that oath throughout our careers.

This is an argument that I predict will continue, and I’m prepared to listen to all points of view. Mine as expressed here is my personal view. But, I would hope that all who enter the fray would be willing to listen to counter views as well.

Your humble and obedient servant.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

The National Memo » Poll: Tea Party Popularity Nearing All-Time Low

The National Memo » Poll: Tea Party Popularity Nearing All-Time Low

More Draft Cover Art for the Next Buffalo Soldier Novel

The next in the Buffalo Soldier series will be set in Yosemite, before it was designated a national park. This book will highlight the role played by the Buffalo Soldiers in the early history of our national park system, and while a fictional account, will be as historically accurate as I can make it. I am now doing paintings from which I will select one for the cover. Here are some more. Comments are welcomed.  In addition, I've come up with two potential working titles:

Buffalo Soldier: Park Patrol

Buffalo Soldier: Yosemite

The first one came to me first, but as I did research on the subject, the second popped into mind, and really I think I prefer it. I wouldn't mind reader reactions, though.

Now, here are the other paintings. Which do you like?

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Buffalo Soldiers at Yosemite

Buffalo Soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry Regiment Escort Surveyors at Yosemite, California
before the area was designated a national park: or so my next 'Buffalo Soldier" novel will
claim. This is one of the paintings I'm considering for the cover.

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Hill staffers facing lost pay, ‘non-essential’ label in shutdown - The Hill - covering Congress, Politics, Political Campaigns and Capitol Hill |

Hill staffers facing lost pay, ‘non-essential’ label in shutdown - The Hill - covering Congress, Politics, Political Campaigns and Capitol Hill |

Congress down to one-week CR - The Hill - covering Congress, Politics, Political Campaigns and Capitol Hill |

Congress down to one-week CR - The Hill - covering Congress, Politics, Political Campaigns and Capitol Hill |

Monday, September 23, 2013

Children's Right to Read

Following is a presentation by a friend of mine, Zimbabwean author Virginia Phiri, at the IBBY/UNISA Symposium on The State of Children's Literature and Reading in Africa in South Africa on September 17, 2013.

By Virginia Phiri – Zimbabwe

I decided to take on the topic “Children’s Right to Access Books” because I feel this is the foundation before any reading takes place.
Coming from Zimbabwe where the literacy rate is falling as per Zimbabwe Read 14 June, 2013 statistics as Zimbabweans we certainly have a lot to worry about. The literacy rate state of affairs is 97% in 2002 to 91.1% in the period 2011 -2012 that is for adults. There are no clear statistics for children up to fifteen years old. It is obvious that the rate has fallen too. I am asking myself “have we made efforts to source reading material for children through donations and grants?” This situation needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency. It is therefore important for us to be part of the IBBY family so that the literary and the book sector are strengthened.

National Obligation – Book Policy
It must be a right of every African child to access leisure books that complement text books and other educational material. Those countries with Book Policies are able to achieve this easily as everything is clearly laid down. If they fail they have themselves to blame.
In Zimbabwe we have been grappling with efforts to have the Book Policy in place since the 1990’s. I am one of the authors that have lobbied and still lobbying for this policy. The situation has badly affected the book sector in terms of budgets for book allocations and distribution. This situation has not encouraged the few children’s books authors that we have and of course the rest of other authors. Right now there is no children’s literature association. The one that existed and was doing well the Children’s Literature Foundation disappeared. This is a sad development. It is therefore every African country’s obligation to have a Book Policy in place.

The Question of Language
Language should not be a hindrance in sharing of books amongst nations. This is where the issue of translations come in. Translated books have worked wonders in both developed and underdeveloped countries. Knowledge and information that has been shared through this type of initiative has brought a wealth of ideas to young people throughout the world. At my last reading in Bulawayo in my home town on 20 November, 2012 I and the Masiyephambili Junior school students had fun.  Of the four books that we read from two were translations. There was one “Kurius and Baktus” originally written in Norwegian by Thorbjon Egner and “Kolobeja” originally isiNdebele folktales translated and written by Pathisa Nyathi a Zimbabwean historian.  “Wallace in Underland”  by Ambassador Charles Ray of the United States of America and my forth coming book “Ginger the Urban Cat”.  Issues shared in these four books are universal and children were able to relate to them. The readings were in English. Other schools request for readings in local languages and I have no problems with that as I speak most of our languages.  It is also possible to translate local languages into each other and even go further to have them translated into English and other international languages. Some of my isiNdebele works have been translated into Czech, English and Chinese.

Geographical Book Distribution
In this part I will give examples of situations that I am familiar with at home. Out of the children’s books that are donated or bought by grants from well wishers a big number of them go to urban areas where the children are already well off. The children in rural areas, farming communities and informal settlements struggle. Those who are responsible for distributing the books usually give flimsy excuses such as “the books will be stolen, there are no proper libraries to keep the books or the destinations are not accessible. This unfair distribution has disadvantaged this group of children who would make full use of the books unlike the urban children who are usually hooked on television and internet games.
At times committed individuals take it upon themselves to take books to rural areas using public transport and at times finishing the journeys by walking with a load of books on their heads. I feel that distributors should be reprimanded for not getting books to rural children.

Books for the Physically and Mentally Challenged
I will again go back to the Book Policy. This must be so practical that it caters for the needs of the physically and mentally challenged.  There is a lot of neglect in this category in Africa
Unlike in developed countries where there is enough resources and appropriate equipment to help children read.  
I can safely say that reading material for blind children is available in Zimbabwe.
The Dorothy Duncan Centre in Harare run by Sister Catherine a Catholic Nun runs an impressive Braille library.  The Braille transcriptions also take place at the centre. A small group of Sister Catherine’s committed assistants do the work. I am familiar with centre’s activities because they have exhibited at the Book Fair in Harare and I have visited the centre.
Deaf children’s reading needs are catered for at the well equipped Catholic Emerald Hill School in Harare.
As a matter of interest most of these special schools and institutions are privately owned. I feel it is the State’s responsibility to make arrangements to cater for those children who are not able to be absorbed into special institutions due to lack of space. Home environments are not usually suitable as there is lack of expertise in supervision except for the well off who are able to hire help. The challenged rural children are the most affected and forgotten. They waste away due to both ignorance and superstition. A lot needs to be done do educate parents and guardians about the importance of giving these children an opportunity to read.

Public Readings
It is a proven fact that public reading activities for children encourage and boost the confidence of the children to want to read. I have witnessed this at book fairs, arts festivals and school open days that I have been part of.
Despite my first published co-authored readers for children commissioned by UNICEF in 1995 I have always public read from books for adults and to adult audiences. That is my own books and other authors. It had never occurred to me that I could read children’s books to children audiences until the Czech Embassy in Harare commissioned me and a colleague Barbara Nkala to read from “Kolobeja” a book of folktales from the Ndebele past that had been translated into Ennglish. This was for the Book Fair activities in Harare in 2010, we moved on to Gweru Arts Festival and then Bulawayo. Since then I have enjoyed reading together with the children where I share books that I manage to source or at times buy at jumble sales.


In conclusion, on behalf of myself and my fellow Zimbabwean children’s literature activists I would like to thank IBBY for giving me an opportunity to attend this conference. My hope is that we become part of the IBBY family. 

Virginia Phiri is the author of Highway Queen and other works. She currently resides in Harare, Zimbabwe.

LL Cool J's Intentions For 'Accidental Racist' - The Tonight Show with J...

Brad Paisley Speaks On His Controversial Song *Accidental Racist* On Jay...

Brad Paisley Feat LL Cool J- Accidental Racist (With Lyrics)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Why Texans Have Such Huge Egos

List of Farm to Market Roads in Trans-Pecos Texas
List of Farm to Market Roads in Trans-Pecos Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  If you’ve been following U.S. news about the Texas governor’s campaign to woo industry and tourists from California and Maryland, or one outrageous statement after another from the junior U.S. Senator from Texas, you might be moved to think that citizens of the Lone Star State are cursed with hyper-inflated egos. This is of course not true of every resident of the state, but enough so to be credible.

Until Alaska was admitted to the union, Texas was the largest state in the U.S., a fact that was proudly touted at every opportunity. When Alaska became the 49th state, it caused a lot of angst, and japes such as, “it’s only bigger because of all that ice.”

English: Snow on the Franklin Mountains State ...
English: Snow on the Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, Texas, United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Well, folks, there’s a reason for those Texas-sized egos. As a native of the state, who has since relocated to Maryland, I must confess to falling prey to this illness on occasion. Here’s why people in Texas are so obsessed with bigness – the damn state is humongous.

Sure, Alaska is bigger, but so much of it is inaccessible, it hardly counts, does it? Texas, on the other hand, is big, and when you visit for the first time, that bigness hits you right between the eyes. I remember the first time I took my wife, a native of South Korea, to Texas. We drove from my mother’s home in East Texas to El Paso, and the drive took so long, she talked about it for years afterward. The immense distances were hard for her to fathom.

Having driven most of the lower 48 states, I know what she means. Let me give you a few illustrations of how sheer size and distance has afflicted Texans with ‘bigness’ complex.

Driving time from my home town, near the Louisiana state line in the east, to El Paso takes over 18 hours at normal driving speeds – longer if you factor in an overnight stay at a motel at the end of the first day. From El Paso to San Diego, California, if you depart at sunrise, you can watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean that evening. From my old home to Washington, DC, factoring in a stop near Atlanta, Georgia the first day, takes 20 hours – just two hours longer than the drive to El Paso. These are just the east-west driving times. From the northernmost part of the Texas Panhandle to San Padre Island, the southernmost point on the Gulf of Mexico, is a tad longer drive.

No other state offers this kind of trek – not even the western states like Montana and Wyoming, both of which can be transited in a hard day’s drive.

Now, none of this means that Texans are somehow special – even though a few of my acquaintance think so – just that their environment conspires to play with their minds. So, next time you’re watching some Texas politician perform his little vaudeville act for the cameras, please keep this in mind.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Congressman laments $172,000 salary -

Congressman laments $172,000 salary -

Of course, he didn't count all the perks the lawmakers give themselves. Sort of like having the wolf guarding the henhouse, you know.

The National Memo » Ted Cruz Vows Filibuster To Defund Obamacare After House GOP Accuses Him Of Surrender

The National Memo » Ted Cruz Vows Filibuster To Defund Obamacare After House GOP Accuses Him Of Surrender

'Buffalo Soldier: Escort Duty' now available!

Number six in the Buffalo Soldier series, Buffalo Soldier: Escort Duty is now available. Paperback can be ordered now, and the Kindle version will be available in a day or two.

Sergeant Ben Carter and his men have been in the field, fighting outlaws and renegade Indians for a long time. Their commander decides to give them a break and assigns them ‘light’ garrison duty, primarily escorting work details, mail wagons, and the like. 
Light duty, though, turns out to be anything but. First, a band of outlaws tries to steal the payroll Ben is escorting from Santa Fe to Fort Union. Then, he and his men are tasked with driving a herd of cattle from the Texas border to the fort, a job that turns out to be almost as dangerous as fighting Indians. Ben faces his toughest challenge yet, though, when he’s ordered to transport a shipment of gold bullion from Santa Fe. He and his unit become the target of the largest band of desperadoes ever, and he has to use every trick he can imagine just to survive.

The paperback version can be ordered here:

The National Memo » The Shutdown’s Real Goal

The National Memo » The Shutdown’s Real Goal

A good, and I think accurate, analysis of Tea Party motivations as they jerk the country around.

Darrell Issa resumes Benghazi crusade - Ginger Gibson -

Darrell Issa resumes Benghazi crusade - Ginger Gibson -

This is less about getting at the 'truth' about Benghazi, and a lot about Tea Party yahoos trying to throw blocks in the way of a possible 2016 run by Hillary Clinton. Another sign that these people are really quaking in their shoes.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Opinion: U.S. diplomats need disciplined message from home - Brian Cullin and Matthew Leatherman -

Opinion: U.S. diplomats need disciplined message from home - Brian Cullin and Matthew Leatherman -

Christmas and Me

Cover of "Skipping Christmas: A Novel"
Cover of Skipping Christmas: A Novel

Confined to the house for the past two months recuperating from surgery to repair a broken hip (yes, repair, not replace. I’m a minimalist), I’ve had a chance to catch up on a lot of reading. One of the books I read was John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas. Grisham is better known for his legal thrillers, but in Skipping Christmas, a story of a couple who, when their only child joins the Peace Corps and heads off to South America for a year, decide to forego the hassle and expense of celebrating Christmas and treat themselves to a winter cruise, he proves that he’s also quite adept at writing satirical humor.

A short novel – more of a novella actually – takes pokes at consumerism, materialism, and enforced conformity. It picks apart the whole Christmas angst, which is often more about selfishness, conformity, peer pressure, and greed than the celebration of a birth that actually had to have taken place many months earlier.

Reading this book got me to thinking about my own rather conflicted relationship with Christmas, and of course, that meant I’d have to write about it. It’s probably a good thing this happened now, rather than closer to Christmas. This way, maybe I won’t be labeled a degenerate Scrooge. Because, believe me, I’m not. I just don’t celebrate Christmas.

My wife does. My children do. And, I’m sure my two granddaughters, Sammie and Catie, will be taught to celebrate Christmas in a big way. I sort of gave up on it sometime during my teen years, after I read somewhere that many of the Yule traditions and practices were actually pagan rituals that had been rebranded by the Roman emperors in their efforts to co-opt the barbarian tribes. Even then, though, the fact that most people seemed more interested in how many and of what value gifts they’d get, and the efforts to reciprocate in kind, bothered me. I mean, sure it’s nice to be nice to others, but shouldn’t we do it all year long?

In my mid-twenties, after my first time in Asia, I adopted the Buddhist philosophy. After that, it didn’t seem right to make a big deal about a Christian holiday, which I’d not actually made a big deal about for years anyway.

You’d think that would solve my problems. It didn’t really. Except for my wife and kids, who are accustomed to my eccentricities, my friends and relatives viewed my avoidance of the rituals of the Yule season as, frankly, subversive and anti-Christian. Actually, they were miffed that I quit buying Christmas gifts. The fact that I gave presents at odd times throughout the year – birthdays and other events – didn’t mollify them at all.

I could have put up with that; after all, relatives always find something to carp about. It was the reaction of strangers that really got to me. I don’t wear a sign that says, ‘I don’t celebrate Christmas,’ but I avoid Christmas office parties and other rituals. Mostly they’re boring anyway. When this becomes known, some people even have the gall to call me to task about it. When I was appointed ambassador to Zimbabwe, for instance, I arrived in November. I informed my staff that, while I would make the garden area of my residence available for the staff’s annual Christmas party, I didn’t feel that I could host it. There was an uproar from the local staff, who had become accustomed to the ambassador paying for their annual party. My permitting them to use the residence to do their own party was an insult to them. They finally got over it, but it confirmed what I’d long suspected. For many people, Christmas is about what you ‘get’ more than it’s about what you ‘give.’ It’s a time when otherwise nice people go crazy buying expensive, useless junk to impress other people with their ability to waste money on expensive, useless junk. It’s a time when people send greetings to people they don’t even speak to for the other eleven months of the year.

Well, this is yet another year that I won’t celebrate Christmas. At least, not in the way most people think. Instead, I celebrate it 365 days a year. I try to spread good cheer and love every day. I’m not big on giving or getting gifts, but I do it when the mood strikes, not at some pre-appointed time on the calendar.

My greeting, today, tomorrow, and always, is: Peace on Earth. Goodwill to All.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

WIP: Chapter 5 of "Buffalo Soldier: Escort Duty"

     As the convoy approached Pecos Canyon, Ben’s worry was replaced by a feeling of unease. He couldn’t quite pinpoint the source of the unease, but it was definite and strong; an itchy feeling at the nape of his neck, as if thousands of gnats were buzzing around him.
     As he scanned the surrounding terrain, he saw nothing to account for the sensation.  The sky was bright blue with wispy trails of clouds. The air was warm; a hint of a breeze rolled in from the east keeping it from becoming stifling hot. The jagged walls of the canyon rose on his left, red clay and gray rock mixed in garish combinations, with the occasional splash of green where either cactus or scrub pushed its way up through to the surface. The ground fell off gently to the right, reddish brown earth covered in cactus and scrub. Off in the distance, Ben could see a lone coyote loping along, its nose close to the ground. A hawk made lazy circles above the convoy.
     Everything Ben could see and hear made it look like the most peaceful of days; a day when he should enjoy being on the trail; but, he could feel menace in the air, the smell of trouble in his nostrils. It was like the feeling he’d had in the past just before going into combat; but then, he’d known who and where the enemy was. Now, though, he only had the uneasy feeling.
     So strong had been that feeling, when they set out after eating, he’d instructed the outriders front and rear to station themselves where they could see the convoy and be seen. He didn’t explain why he did this, and his men, accustomed to following his instructions without question, and trusting his instincts, asked for none.
     Just as Ben was thinking he might be a touch paranoid, he looked back over his shoulder.
     Tatum and Hall, riding abreast, were heading toward them, and they had their horses running flat out. So much for paranoia, Ben thought.
     “Convoy, halt,” he yelled.
     The two corporals pulled their horses up as they neared Ben.
     “What’s the matter?” Ben asked.
     Tatum was the first to catch his breath.
     “Riders comin’ up behind us,” he said. “Was eight at first, but when we started up this last slope, three of ‘em must of split off, ‘cause I only saw five just now, and they’s ridin’ this way hard.”
     That, Ben knew, meant no good.
     “Pull the wagons into the emergency stop formation,” he ordered.
     The drivers, Danford included, immediately began the drill Ben had had them rehearse. The wagons were positioned, brakes locked, and horses tethered to the tongues of the two lead wagons in slightly over a minute. The troopers dismounted, securing their own horses and removed their pack rolls to create barricades and firing platforms.
     Hightower and Holman had been looking back from time to time to make sure they stayed in sight of the convoy, and when they saw the wagons begin to move into the defensive formation, wheeled their horses around and rushed back to join the rest.
     Everyone was lying on the ground, weapons ready, when the first rider appeared over a little rise in the trail. At first, they only saw his head, but soon rider and horse were silhouetted against the sky, and he was quickly joined by four others. They stopped, just out of carbine range.
     “What d-do you t-think they’ll do?” Danford asked. He was prone on the dirt next to Ben.
     “They’ll probably wait until their friends can get around behind us,” he said. He wasn’t sure, but in their place, it’s what he would have done. “Keep a sharp eye out behind us, and let me know if you see anything.” That last he directed at George Toussaint, who was guarding the trail to their front with three troopers lying beside him. “Don’t shoot, though, until I give the order.”
      “Got you,” was all Toussaint said.
     Ben patted the bag of currency he’d put on the ground beside him. Looking back he noticed that Toussaint had put the other bag beside him along with his ammunition pouches.
     The five riders sat motionless, appearing to be deep in conversation. Then, they wheeled their horses around and disappeared over the rise.
     “Get ready,” Ben said. “I think they might be about to make a move.”
     Just like that, the peaceful scene had been transformed to a battle in the making. Fifteen men, tense and alert, lay on the ground in the makeshift fortress made from the three wagons, their weapons at the ready. The horses, as if sensing the impending peril, whinnied nervously and pawed at the ground.
     Ben was no longer worried. As always, just before going into battle, his mind became calm, his breathing steady.
     As he watched the point from which the men had disappeared, he noticed a glint, probably the sun flashing off a rifle barrel. They were on the move. He took a deep breath and eased his Springfield over the large pack behind which he lay, looking down the barrel as he aimed it at the rise.
     The sound of the bullet smacking into the side of the wagon above him came a second before he heard the sharp crack. He looked quickly from side to side and was rewarded with the sight of a wisp of smoke indicating the shooter’s position.
     “Hold your fire,” he said quietly.
     He could sense tension in Danford and the troopers from the wagons. This was probably new to them. His men, though, had been in similar or worse situations many times. He knew he could count on them.
     “What do you see back there, George?” he asked.
     “Thought I saw a movement ‘bout two, three hundred yards back,” Toussaint answered.
     A geyser of dirt erupted in the cactus field simultaneously with the crack of the shot. The men trying to circle around to cut them off were closer, and therefore more dangerous.
     “Shoot back if you have a target,” Ben said.
     Toussaint made a grunting sound as if to say he already knew to do that.
     Ben meanwhile was scanning the ground to his front, looking for any sign of movement, any kind of target, while at the same time watching the civilian who lay next to him, his face ashen with fear.
     There was a long moment of silence, which was broken by a ragged volley of fire from the vicinity of the five concealed gunmen. Some of the rounds hit the wagons making a dull thudding sound, while some knocked up dirt and rock around them.
     Out of the corner of his eye Ben saw one of the soldiers, the one who’d been on the wagon with the Mexican driver, raise up, his shoulders above the line of packs, aiming his weapon.
     “Get down -” Ben started to yell, but there was a sharp crack and the man grabbed his shoulder, rolling over against the soldier beside him.
     “Ow, I been hit,” the man moaned, clutching at the widening dark spot on his shoulder.
     “All of you stay down,” Ben said with as much force as he could muster.
     He scooted over and look at the man’s bleeding shoulder. He could from the hole in the back of his tunic, where blood was already spreading, that the bullet had gone completely through.
     “Keep down and see if you can stop the bleeding,” he said to the wide-eyed Mexican. He put a hand on the wounded man’s knee. “It went clean through. When he stops the bleeding you’ll be okay.”
     Ben eased back into his position as the man’s jacket was removed, a difficult task with them all lying down. The man gritted his teeth against the pain.
     “We just lay here,” George Toussaint said. “They gone keep shootin’ and pick us off one by one.”
     Ben was all too aware of that. He had no answer for Toussaint, though. His mind worked feverishly to think of a plan to get them out of the trap the robbers had sprung.
     As if to underscore their predicament, there was a volley of shots from the road ahead of them where the other three gunmen were concealed. The robbers’ strategy was clear to Ben now; they would alternate shooting from each position. Those not shooting would move forward while Ben and his men were distracted by the shooting, moving ever closer. It was just a matter of time until one group or the other was in a position to get clear shots them.
     He couldn’t maintain the position for long.
     “You’re right, George,” he said. “We need to take the fight to them somehow.”
     Toussaint’s dark face lit up in a smile. The man relished a good fight.
     “What you got in mind?” he asked.
     Ben explained what he thought the robbers were doing, and suggested using a variant of it themselves. The three men who’d circled around them were closest, and therefore, the most dangerous. His plan was relatively simple. While the rest of the group would lay down a volley of heavy fire at both groups of robbers, four troopers, Davis, Tatum, Hightower, and Buckley, the best shots besides Ben and Toussaint, would slip out of the barricade and work downslope through the scrub and make their way up the trail toward the three, who, if things worked, would have their heads down to keep out of range of the withering fire.
     “It might work,” Hightower said. The other three nodded agreement.
     As the four men eased to the side, preparing to crawl underneath the wagon and into the brush, Ben repositioned the remainder of the group to have an equal number of weapons firing in each direction.
     “Get ready,” he said quietly. He looked at Hightower, who would be the first to go. Hightower nodded. “Fire,” Ben yelled.
      The crash of eleven rifles firing almost simultaneously was deafening. A cloud of gun smoke hung over the wagons, causing Ben and the others to cough. But, between coughs, he ordered them to continue firing.
     It worked; no return fire came from either direction.
     While part of his mind focused on reloading and firing his carbine, another part was counting off seconds since the four troopers had slipped from the relative safety of the wagons. Ben knew that Hightower, with the skills he’d learned when he and his mother had lived with the Indians that had kidnapped them, would be able to move quickly and quietly through the brush. The others wouldn’t be as quick or quiet, but each had experience in the field and would follow Hightower’s lead.
     “Cease fire,” he said, when he felt the four men had had enough time to get well away.
     The sudden quiet was as deafening as the gunfire had been.
     “Think we hit anybody?” Danford asked.
     “Probably not,” Ben replied. “But, the idea was just to keep their heads down, and we did that.”
     “What do we do now?”
     Ben gave the man a sympathetic look.
     “We wait a few more minutes to see what they do next.”
     The crestfallen look on Danford’s face told Ben that this wasn’t what he’d been expecting, wanting to hear, but it would have to do. He looked over at the wounded trooper who seemed to be okay. His tunic had been removed and his shirt torn away so that a bandage could be wound around his shoulder. The bandage was bloodstained, but there was no sign of seepage, indicating that the bleeding had stopped. One less thing to worry about, Ben thought.
     “You feeling better?” He asked the man.
     “It hurt like the devil,” the man said, wincing. “But, I think I gone live.”
     “Next time, stay down.”
     “That for sure.” The wounded soldier smiled weakly.
     The sound of gunfire caused Ben’s head to whip around. It came from the direction of the three gunmen. He recognized the unmistakable crack of the Springfield carbine along with what he suspected was a Winchester repeater; Hightower and the others had encountered the outlaws.
     The fire kept up for about two minutes and then as quickly as it had started it stopped.
     For Ben, the next few minutes were the longest of his life. Had Hightower and the others been able to prevail, or had he sent four men to their deaths? This was one aspect of command he’d never learned to view dispassionately, this possibility that his decisions could cause the death of his friends. Just when he thought he couldn’t take the waiting any longer, a figure appeared on the trail. He could see that the man coming over the curve of the slight hill wore a cavalry uniform, so he began to breathe easier. Then, he recognized Hightower’s lanky form when he raised his carbine high above his head and waved it. The mission had been a success. 
     Ben crawled toward the opening between the two wagons and began waving toward Hightower. First he pointed to his rear, and then he made a sweeping motion to the left. Hightower waved and disappeared over the hill. 
     Toussaint chuckled.
     “So, you gone use they trick right back at ‘em, huh?”
     Ben smiled.
     “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, my pa always says.”
     Ben rearranged the men, leaving only two to cover the east side, while moving the rest to aim west toward the remaining five outlaws.
     “W-what are you planning to do, sergeant?” Danford asked when Ben returned to his position under the settler’s wagon.
     Ben moved to a position on his back, with his shoulders against the packs, so that he could see everyone.
     “Marcus, Hezekiah, Tom, and Lucas are coming with me,” he said. “We’ll ease out front here, grab our horses and ride off toward the southeast to get out of range. Then we’ll turn around and head back along the bottom of that ridgeline south of us until we’ve flanked the outlaws. That way, we’ll have ‘em in a crossfire from Samuel and the others. If you fellas down here see one of ‘em pop his head up, take a shot as well.”
     The four men Ben had named to accompany him nodded, slight smiles creasing their faces. Toussaint, however, frowned deeply.
     “Shouldn’t I be the one to lead this, Ben?” he asked quietly. “You in charge of the whole shebang, so you oughta stay here where you can watch everything, you know.”
     Ben and George Toussaint hadn’t exactly hit it off when they first met, but over the many months they’d served together, had developed a close friendship. He also knew that it would have been tactically sound to put his second in command in charge of the little foray he was planning, but he had to occasionally demonstrate to the men that he wasn’t sending them out to do anything he wasn’t prepared to do himself.
     “I’m tired of layin’ here on my backside,” Ben said. “I’m leaving you in charge here and getting out to stretch my legs.” He smiled broadly.  He lifted the canvas bag and tossed it to Toussaint. “Keep hold of that until I get back.”
     He didn’t have to say, “and, if I don’t get back, it’s your responsibility to get these two bags to the adjutant;” the look in his friend’s eyes told him the message was received and understood.
     “Okay,” Toussaint said. “We’ll provide cover fire when you ready to slip out.”
     Ben and the others checked their weapons and ammunition.
     “You ready?” he asked them. They nodded. “Okay then, let’s move out.”
     As they wormed their way to the horses, dragging their saddles, Toussaint and the others took aim at the rise to the west and began firing methodically. There was no return fire.
     They kept as low as possible as they saddled their horses. When they were done, they took the reins and moved east along the trail a ways and then to the south into the tall scrub. Once they were about a hundred yards deep into the grass, they mounted and began moving at a trot southwest to make their way to a point somewhat south of where they figured the outlaws were.
     The firing from their position kept up. Ben knew that Toussaint understood what he was trying to do, and was doing what he could to keep the outlaws distracted.
     When they’d reached a point that Ben estimated was directly south of the top of the rise, Ben had them ride a bit further west in hopes they would come out behind the outlaws. At they swung north, he heard the crack of rifle fire from somewhere to his front; Hightower and the others must have arrived and engaged the outlaws, he thought. He spurred his horse to a gallop and pulled his carbine from the scabbard. The other four followed suit.
     As they burst from the tall grass onto the trail, he saw that they had indeed worked their way past the outlaws who were now moving toward their horses, firing as they ran. He could hear the crack of carbines and see puffs of smoke from a clump of trees to the northeast.
     “Let ‘em have it, fellas,” he yelled as he brought his carbine to his shoulder and fired one-handed.
     Taking fire from two sides, the five outlaws panicked. They were now scrambling madly toward their horses. The animals, picking up the fear from their owners, were bucking and shying, trying to pull free from the small bushes they’d been tethered to. The outlaws were firing back over their shoulders as they ran, but their shots went wild.
     Ben, on the other hand, was calmly aiming, and as the carbine bucked against his shoulder, one of the outlaws threw his hands in the air and pitched forward. He twitched once and was still, face down in the dirt. Another screamed and dropped to his knees, grabbing at his right leg, where a large dark stain was spreading along his trouser leg.
     The three outlaws in front, ignoring their comrade’s cries for help, leapt for their horses, ripping the reins from the bushes. Lying low across the horses’ shoulders, they kicked them into action, all attempts to fire back at the cavalrymen forgotten in their desire to get as far away from them as possible.
     Hightower got to the wounded outlaw just before Ben did. The man was sitting on the ground, his hands clasped around his thigh, moaning as he rocked back and forth.
     “Ow, it hurt,” he cried. He looked up at Hightower, fear in his eyes. “Please don’t shoot me.”
     Both Hightower and Ben regarded him impassively. Ben walked over and kicked the man’s rifle away. He then reached down and removed the pistol from the man’s holster.
     “Patch him up as best you can, Samuel,” Ben said. “Then tie him up and put him in one of the wagons. We’ll take him back to the fort and let the colonel decide what to do with him.”
     “What about the dead ones?” Hightower asked. “This one here and the three at the other end of the trail.”
     Ben took a deep breath and shrugged.

     “Guess we ought to bury ‘em.”