Overcoming a Failure…

I wanted to cover in this blog entry a topic that is near and dear to my heart.

Nearly six months ago WP-ORG had a network outage that was one of the longest lasting outages we have had since we started operating in the mid-1990s. My first concern was that we get operational again, but I was also concerned about why we went down and more importantly, what impediments there were to getting fully operational in a timely manner.

Megan, Warren, and Steve Brunasso did a yeoman’s job in getting us back up and running again. The greatest concerns were: the root cause of the outage and what prevented a timely restoration of services. In terms of the root cause of the failure, we cannot be 100% certain, but all indications appear to be that we had a massive failure of our network attached storage (NAS).

NASs are like the hard drive on your computers, but instead of operating inside of your computer, it operates “attached” to the network. Each of the servers that serve up content for various network functions (web, mail, etc.) get their content from the NASs. NASs by design are generally robust in terms of fault tolerance and redundancies. As an example, a NAS will normally have an array of hard disc drives that compose the storage capabilities of the NAS. A single hard disc drive failure is generally not a problem. The NAS will indicate to the operator that a hard drive has failed and it needs to be replaced. While the single hard drive is in a failed state, the NAS continues to function, albeit slightly slower in speed. Once the failed drive is replaced, the NAS is back to 100% efficiency.

Likewise other major components of the NAS, such as the power supply, have redundant capabilities. Some components in the NAS will not have redundant capabilities and if they fail, the entire NAS may fail. Normally, things like the NAS back-plane and sometimes the NAS controller board has single points of failure. It was never determined exactly where the direct point of failure occurred, but what did occur was corruption of multiple hard drive arrays and the entire NAS had to be rebuilt from scratch. Rebuilding a NAS takes a lot of time. This leads to the second topic area – time required to gain full operational capability.

We first had to bring a new NAS online and quickly. Some of the components had to be obtained and Megan had to drive for hours to get these components immediately. Once all of the necessary components were brought to bear in the NAS, the array (the assemblage of individual hard disc drives) had to be rebuilt. Once the array was rebuilt, then the content had to be placed back on the array. This took the most time of the entire operation. We are re-looking different storage/backup technologies in this area to dramatically reduce the entire time to restore to fully operational capability.

I have been associated with WP-ORG since its early days in the mid to late 1990s in both a non-advisor and advisor capacity. I have seen WP-ORG’s capabilities grow over the years and we have gone from a back closet operation in Ditus Bolanos’s house to a substantial presence in a server colocation facility in Austin Texas (Data Foundry). Along the way we have tried to grow with our membership’s needs, but always being cost conscious on our equipment and software purchases. We made decisions early on to standardize on open source software (which is generally free) and it has mostly met our needs. Where open source software did not meet our needs, we purchased or modified existing software to get the job done. Hardware has been a different matter.

Network hardware such as servers, switches, routers, etc., is inherently expensive. There is really no way around that cold hard fact. In order to keep costs down, we have made a conscious decision to not necessarily go with the newest and fastest equipment. This tends to save a lot of money in hardware expense, but it does so at a potential hidden cost. In the network industry there is a term called “IT refresh.” Here is an article that covers some of the basic concepts of IT refresh and how it impacts an organization:

http://www.archstoneconsulting.com/services/it-strategy-opeations/white-papers/optimizing-it-technology.jsp

The underlying principle is you have to set a target on the wall and abide by that target for the age of your equipment. This target varies based upon the specific type and criticality of the equipment you are analyzing. Certain types of equipment and inherently reliable and tend to continue running without interruptions year in and year out. One such example is found here with a Cisco router running 13 years without a reboot:

http://blogs.cisco.com/datacenter/what-is-the-longest-running-item-of-cisco-equipment-in-your-data-center/

Other devices on the network tend to be more complex and inherently less reliable. Depending upon the type and manufacturer of the equipment, you can go a long way to increase the reliability. Data servers tend to fall in this category. There are many potential single points of failure and some of the higher end manufacturers recognize this and try to build in redundancies for critical components that fail more often, such as power supplies, on-board discs, network cards, etc. Still, you cannot build a server that is completely fault tolerant – it doesn’t exist. In the past we have tried to buy highly fault tolerant servers that were not necessarily new. Generally, this has worked well, but we did so with risk.

This leads me to the final point of where we are headed. In a perfect world, we would buy the newest, best, most highly fault tolerant network gear available. Unfortunately, that would not be terribly affordable for our membership. We are now looking at all of our network gear and seeing how well we are situated with a realistic IT refresh policy, which for us would be somewhere between an oldest age of 5-8 years. We may need in certain narrow circumstances to go older than that but if we do, we will likely procure additional spares to reduce our downtime. An analysis of all our critical network gear yields an increased need for newer and better equipment. In the coming fund drives we will be addressing those needs with increased donations allocated to the capital expense of new equipment. We welcome your support and suggestions.

A Friendly Rivalry

Army and Navy have always had a friendly rivalry since both Academies have been in existence. This rivalry is particularly heightened during one time of the year – The Army-Navy game. For the military academies, there are two football seasons – the regular season and the Army-Navy game. While nobody wants a losing season, it can be effectively reversed with a win over Navy in the Army-Navy game. Real life is much more different.

My experiences have been uniformly positive when working with the Navy. Back in the early to mid 90s, I left active duty and spent my first two years after leaving active duty working for a defense contractor. Who was the government customer? Yes, you guessed it – the Navy, specifically Naval Air Systems Command. I had a great time working with Naval flight officers and other Naval Officers that supported one of the Navy’s largest acquisition commands. I had the opportunity to provide pre-contract and engineering support for the F/A-18 program. I enjoyed my time working with the Navy so well, the Navy ultimately offered me the opportunity to go over to the other side and become a Department of the Navy civilian. I ended up working on contracts for the A-6 and EA-6B programs. In 1997, NAVAIR was moving to Patuxent River Maryland. I had a job and a promotion waiting for me if I moved. My wife had a different plan and a well-paying job in the area, so I parted company on good terms with NAVAIR.

My life took a dramatic turn and I ended up as a Cisco Trainer and consultant. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but in just four years, the world was set to change dramatically. When 9-11 hit, I returned to active duty after nearly nine years of absence. After tours in Korea, Germany and the Pentagon, I was then assigned to Kuwait to be the G-3 Air for US Army Central (ARCENT). While in Kuwait, I was responsible for all organic aviation assets that also included Navy MEDEVAC. The Navy MEDEVAC “Sand Sailors” were some of the best I had ever worked with and we ultimately helped them jump into Iraq when their mission changed. While I was in Kuwait, I got severely injured and ruptured my C-6 disc. After four days of no sleep and non-stop pain, I had to go to the EMF-K (Emergency Medical Facility – Kuwait). I was pleased to find the entire facility was run by Sand Sailors and they did a top notch job. The orthopedic surgeon correctly diagnosed my condition and had me on the road to recovery.

I figured once I retired I was probably not going to work with the Navy again. Fate had a different answer. I was offered the opportunity to work with NAVAIR again as a test flight engineer on the E-2D Hawkeye program. It was a tremendous opportunity and I jumped on it. The Navy folks were great. Within a year after I came on board, my old agency offered me a position with a promotion and my Navy boss wished me well. In summary, I have had great experiences working with the Navy and welcomed every opportunity to collaborate with them.

It is only fitting that WP-ORG collaborate with the Navy Parents in furtherance of its online mission to provide the communications infrastructure to keep our parents well informed about what is happening for their Cadets and Midshipman. Our Navy parent lists have been around a long time. Towanda Curtis has done a yeoman’s job of subscribing and moderating our Navy lists from the very beginning. She is part of the legions of volunteers who make WP-ORG what it is today. Shown below is Towanda’s welcome message to all new USNA Plebe Parents. Note at the bottom of her signature line, she has more than a few of her children enrolled or graduated from USNA.
____________________________

Hello Plebe Parents,

My name is Towanda Curtis and I am the Moderator and Administrator for the USNA-PARENTS.Org listserv.

Congratulations to each and every one of you and your new Midshipman. Welcome to the USNA Family. We here at USNA-PARENTS.Org are happy to have you with us. Your sons and daughters are now part of the US Naval Academy and will have a future where they will learn the value of hard work, professional and physical training, teamwork and get a top notch education. They will form friendships that will span their lifetime. There is nothing they will go through during Plebe Summer that thousands of midshipmen before them have not experienced. They have Company Officers who will oversee them. There are midshipmen “detailers” are in charge of them and challenge them to achieve greater heights. Some of the orders that will be given may not make sense to them or you but know they are given for a reason and there will be a lesson learned at the end of the day.

We encourage you to participate in all the events you can to show support for your new midshipman. It will be well worth the effort. We want you to enjoy the experience with your new Navy family. We can assist you in getting answers to questions that arise, address any concerns, dispel rumors and offer comfort and a shoulder to lean on when necessary. We are also the place to share your midshipman’s triumphs(of which there will be many) and joy. The next few months will be stressful and at the same time wonderful. We will be here for you. We offer top notch service with highly qualified parents that are advisors and mentors. We take great pride in our service. We want you to just sit back and enjoy the experience with us, your new Navy family. The journey is described as a roller coaster ride and the parent motto is “Semper Gumby, Always Flexible”. The culmination will be May 2018 with the hat toss and another adventure will begin.

LISTSERV:
To post to the listserv send your e-mail to usna-plebe-parent@usna-parents.org. If you have a private concern or would like to post anonymously feel free to contact me directly, DCandTC@aol.com. To receive your listserv posts at another address please send me an e-mail and it will be changed. You can only post to the listserv from the e-mail address that is subscribed.
Let’s get started. Send an e-mail to the group and introduce yourself. Tell us about your midshipman, his/her plebe summer company, and your hometown. We are looking forward to getting to know you. Ask your questions, share your thoughts and show your pride here(because half of the people think your mid is in Indianapolis and the other half think he/she enlisted in the Navy and is swabbing decks:-). I know you all have given blue & gold Tee shirts to everyone who stopped long enough to hear about your mid and I-Day. Don’t worry, we all did it. As stated earlier, we are here for you. You are now a part of this great big wonderful USNA Family. You Are Never Alone (YANA). We are happy to have you with us.

ABOUT ME:

My background and experience are varied and plentiful. I am the proud mother of four Midshipmen. My son is a USNA class of 2002 graduate who chose the Marine Corps. My daughter-in-law is USNA class of 2003 and chose Surface Warfare. My oldest daughter is USNA class of 2005 grad and chose Intelligence. My second daughter is USNA class of 2010 grad and chose Nuclear Surface Warfare. And my youngest daughter is currently a midshipman in the class of 2016.

Also, I am the loyal and dedicated wife of a grad from the class of ’76. He has served as a USNA company officer and is involved with the Alumni Association. We have “been there and done that” with brigade activities. For those of you who are wondering about the age differences of my children, I am a Navy wife who chose to only have children during shore duty and for our family it was few and far between.

I have created various spouse and family programs that are currently being used today by the Navy. I also raised scholarship funds for US Navy dependents. My participation on many family and USNA committees throughout the years has kept me informed, current and in contact with those “in the know” at USNA.

Add 22 Navy moves, 14 deployments, living overseas twice, time served as a Blue and Gold Officer, and being a sponsor parent and you have my Navy life. With all of this considered, I feel my greatest attributes are my enthusiasm and desire to assist where and when needed. I reside in Annapolis, attend many activities and sporting events so look around and you’ll be sure to see me. Looking forward to serving you with NAVY pride.

Towanda
Moderator & Administrator
Peri 2016
Crystal 2010 Nuclear Surface Warfare
Nikki 2005 Intel
Danielle(DIL) 2003 Surface Warfare
Marcus 2002 Marines
DC 1976 Surface Warfare
Have a great *Navy* day

A New Service and Capability

Recently I had occasion to upload additional documents to the WP-ORG publications home page found here:

http://www.west-point.org/publications/

I attempted to use my FTP (file transfer protocol) client to upload files and discovered that it did not work. I asked our systems engineer if anything had changed since I last used the system a few months ago. In fact, a significant change had been made that will make FTP transfers much more secure and reduce potential hacking exploits on our servers. All FTP transfers are now made on port 22 instead of ports 20 and 21. The original FTP specification had two ports used to conduct transfers; one for data and one for control. Nowadays, there is a bigger concern about any ports that are open to the Internet, namely their exposure to hackers and whether they use secure or encrypted protocols. Port 22 file transfers are considered Secure FTP over SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). SSL, as you might recall, is the same standard use for delivering e-commerce websites that are secure and encrypted (https://).

The effect that this has is that it should reduce any potential problems with known FTP exploits and attempts at hacking on ports 20 and 21, which are no longer open. You can also rest assured that your files will be uploaded securely and encrypted while transferring to our servers.

If you have any concerns about how to do FTP transfers using secure FTP, we have set up a page to show you how it is done here. We also have links for HTML editors and securing domain names.

http://www.west-point.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2048&Itemid=87

If you have any problems getting it to work, drop Dian Welle an e-mail at feedback@west-point.org and we will get you on your way.

Again, thanks for your continued support. Without you, our loyal members, we would not exist.

Here’s Hoping for a New and Prosperous Year!

I got a little caught up on work, family and the holidays for the past few months, so I got a little bit behind in an entry for the CEO blog.

I want to start off by giving thanks to all of our volunteers that work tirelessly to make WP-ORG the premier organization it has become. Most of the folks who make WP-ORG a world class communications medium tend to work behind the scenes. These are folks who moderate our 300+ lists and maintain a variety of websites, including the WP-ORG home page. We cannot do all that we have done and all that we hope to do without our moderators. I also want to give a special shout out to our 2.5 employees: Megan Klein, Dian Welle and Jack Price. Each provides a very valuable service that fills in the gaps that our volunteers cannot provide.

I am happy to say that we are getting close to migrating most of our accounts off our legacy servers. Recently, Warren Hearnes indicated we are approximately half way through our account migrations. Once this is complete, we can retire one of WP-ORG’s oldest servers. More importantly, we will be better positioned to roll out some long anticipated new offerings, including a web interface for our discussion forums. Many of you have asked for this, particularly since we have learned in 2013 about online privacy breaches fro major online providers. We look forward to offering capabilities that many of our younger graduates have requested.

One of my imperatives as a WP-ORG volunteer is to help provide online content for our homepage. All articles posted to the homepage have some connection to the Army or West Point. Every effort is taken to ensure that connection is made in the opening paragraph for all articles. Much of the process of gathering online content to post to the home page is automated, but a great deal is not. Somebody has to read all *potential* articles for posting to make sure there is a West Point or Army connection.

Generally, about once a week, one of the listed articles will be an obituary. Normally what I do is check to see if WP-ORG has already posted a eulogy site. If not, I forward a hyperlink of the obituary to Dian Welle, who builds a eulogy site on the same or next day. This week I received an obituary for a graduate, LTC Arthur O. Victor, from the Class of 1976. I checked and noted there was a eulogy site already built for him here:

http://defender.west-point.org/service/eulogies.mhtml?u=34260

I also noted that no one has posted any eulogies for his site, so I decided to check with AOG to see what activity was on their “memorial” site. At this point in time it is helpful to revisit a little history concerning WP-ORG eulogy and AOG memorial sites. Officially in the July 2012 edition of the AOG online publication, “First Call,” AOG announced it was offering memorial sites for deceased graduates and their families. Many graduates were aware that WP-ORG had been publishing eulogy sites since the late 1990s with over 16,000+ eulogy entries. Many graduates questioned why AOG was duplicating services WP-ORG had long offered and at a fraction of the cost. AOG’s reply was dismissive in that they felt that you cannot “memorialize” our graduates enough. As evidence of this, they placed a hyperlink at the bottom of every graduate memorial page linking both AOG memorial and WP-ORG eulogy pages for the same graduate. That has now changed…

When I went to LTC Victor’s AOG memorial page, I now noted that there were no longer any hyperlinks to LTC Victor’s WP-ORG eulogy page. More importantly, the button that appeared on the bottom of the page to link to the WP-ORG eulogy site has now been replaced by a “brick and paver” donation link and an AOG donation link.

Please be assured that while I remain CEO of WP-ORG, we will never solicit donations on any graduate’s eulogy sites. If any request for donations are made, they are generally contained in the graduate survivor’s obituary, which is re-posted by permission of the family. Our eulogy sites serve one overarching purpose – to provide a medium for classmates, friends, and family to honor our fallen graduates and remember them in a manner befitting their service. For all graduates and friends of WP-ORG who believe our approach is the best approach, I would kindly ask that you visit LTC Victor’s eulogy site (posted above and below) and leave a eulogy entry for his family. Take note of his accomplishments found here:

http://triblive.com/obituaries/newsstories/5302164-74/victor-county-cranmer#axzz2pBIDebYT

Feel free to leave any kind words to family and survivors here:

http://defender.west-point.org/service/eulogies.mhtml?u=34260

Again, thanks for your continued support. Without you, our loyal members, we would not exist.

As We Enter Into The Fall Season…

It has been a while since I last posted. Things have been busy both personally and professionally. It’s time to catch up.

WP-ORG is currently underway on one of our two semi-annual fund raising drives. It re-affirms our commitment to provide the services we have provided to the extended West Point Community and is a vote of confidence on the job we have done. We appreciate your support in the past, present, and future. Please take a moment to go to our home page and you will see our donation link and our weekly fund drive message.

One service I did want to highlight again that was rolled out last fund drive is the ability to donate via extended/multiple payments. Instead of a single payment, you can spread your donation out up to six installments to allow for better budgeting. We hope to bring the capability in the future of a continuous donation payment system whereby you can specify a set amount each month and once started, will continue until you stop it. We know many of you have asked for this capability but we are not willing to bring it online until we are very confident we can do it safely and securely.

Recently, my class held its 30th Reunion and unfortunately I was not able to attend ( I hope I can make number 35). Although I was not able to attend, I was happy to see that WP-ORG was able to sponsor the Class Reunion site here:

https://secure.west-point.org/usma1983/reunion/

You will note that the site is closed since the reunion is already over, but the site generally had the look and feel of our other reunion sites that WP-ORG has constructed, such as this one:

https://secure.west-point.org/usma1963/reunion/

I noted that there are now other resources out there for providing graduate reunion websites. I explored several of those and I was somewhat shocked to read some of the privacy policies on these websites, such as this one:

“We will not sell, license, transmit or disclose your personal information outside of **contractor name deleted** or its affiliates without notice to
you unless (1) you expressly authorize us to do so, (2) it is necessary to allow our service providers, representatives, or agents to provide services for or to us, (3) it is necessary to provide our products or services to you, (4) it is disclosed to entities that perform marketing services on our behalf or to other entities with whom we have joint marketing or other agreements, (5) it is necessary or we deem it appropriate in connection with a sale of all or substantially all of the assets or business of **contractor name deleted**, a sale of stock or equity interests of **contractor name deleted**, or the merger of **contractor name deleted** into another entity or any consolidation, share exchange, combination, reorganization, or like transaction in which **contractor name deleted** is not the survivor, (6) it is necessary to protect and defend the rights or property of **contractor name deleted**, (7) it is necessary to act in urgent circumstances to protect the personal safety of **contractor name deleted** customers,
visitors to **contractor name deleted** website or the public, or (8) otherwise as we are required or permitted by law. “

Folks, our privacy policy is found here and we hope you find it a little less open ended and more acceptable:

http://www.west-point.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=15&Itemid=32

The bottom line is that we share the minimum required information to get our mission accomplished – and no more. We do not “share” any data with any three letter agencies and the day that happens (other than by a legitimate court order), I will step down as CEO. Your privacy matters that much to us.

On Matters of Security…

It has been a while since I last wrote on the CEO blog. I wanted to make sure I covered a few items that came up since the last entry.

First, the last fund raising drive was a success, largely due to the untiring support of all of our members, not just financially, but more importantly in volunteering. Without WP-ORG’s fleet of volunteers, we would have never been able to achieve what we have.

Second, I want to cover very briefly the issue that has been in the news lately – National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance. Many of our graduates are involved in national security matters ranging from continued service on active duty, to providing support as a contract or DoD civilian. Some of our members also work in the intelligence fields, such as the NSA (among others).

I have been asked indirectly whether the NSA electronically eavesdrops on communications that flow through WP-ORG. I cannot say what the NSA does or will do with respect to surreptitious means as it relates to our network traffic. They have the technical means to monitor everything WP-ORG does. What the NSA has opted to do is serve national security letters on the largest information technology (IT) companies stating that they are bound to turn over all network traffic for the exclusive use of the NSA. These same companies have also been notified that they are not authorized to disclose that they have been served with such a request or to admit or acknowledge the request exists.
Where you stand on this debate underpins what a free society is all about. I am never more than one quotation removed from Ben Franklin’s admonition, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I tend to agree with those sentiments.

I am not one to lie and I will certainly not lie on behalf of my government. If I am placed in the untenable position of having to comply with such a request, I will resign as Chief Executive Officer. This is not to say that one day I will not step down as the WP-ORG CEO – I will. If my departure is in due course, you will know this because I will thank a lot of people who helped me (and WP-ORG) along the way. If I am forced to resign due to conscience on matters such as a national security letter from the NSA, it will be sudden, abrupt and with no explanation.

Let’s hope that day never arrives.

So What About the Cloud?

During the last fund raising drive we had many WP-ORG members mention that they felt WP-ORG could save significant money by moving its presence to the cloud.

Cloud computing is a relatively new phenomenon whereby a company/organization’s presence is essentially contracted out to a cloud computing environment. Essentially cloud computing represents online network presence as a commodity. This commodity can be readily migrated between different cloud providers as simply as we now change cell phone providers. I am dramatically over simplifying, but the essence of it is that network computing no longer needs to be a core inside business function of an organization. It can be bought and sold like any other service or product.

Amazon.com, Google.com, and Apple iCloud are three of the largest and best known cloud computing providers. All three provide reasonably priced offerings for cloud computing. It makes good business sense to evaluate the cost of outsourcing this capability.

What we discovered is that the lion’s share of our expenses (as is the case for most other organizations) is devoted to personnel costs. WP-ORG’s employees (Dian Welle, Megan Klein, and Jack Price) represent the lion’s share of our annual expense. Although Jack is a part time employee, he serves a critical role as WP-ORG’s Chief Financial Officer. Dian is the public face for WP-ORG and she will be the one who answers WP-ORG’s phone and principal email address at feedback@west-point.org. Lastly, Megan is the one who maintains WP-ORG’s servers and will continue that role, even if WP-ORG migrated to the cloud. We will still need to have somebody set up our websites, perform network administration tasks, add user accounts, etc. So how will we save money?

Basically, we can save money by eliminating our monthly expenses for Internet connectivity. We will also eliminate our long term capital expenses for equipment replacement of our servers. Of course, these savings are offset by the cost of renting cloud computing space. If monetary savings were the sole criteria, we might be moving in that direction right now. Alas, monetary savings are not the only criteria in making the decision to move to the cloud.

One of the greater concerns in today’s computing environment is security. Security is a factor in nearly all computing environments, but in the cloud, you cede control of security over to the cloud provider. This is no small decision and should not be taken lightly. There have been several recent notable security and privacy breaches in cloud computing. Some of those breaches and other concerns are found in some of the links below:

http://www.technewsworld.com/story/76019.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/anthonykosner/2012/08/05/how-secure-is-your-cloud-take-the-mud-puddle-test/

http://www.cio.com/article/703064/How_Secure_Is_the_Cloud_IT_Pros_Speak_Up

At WP-ORG, we are dedicated to doing our level best to protect your private email, files, and online accounts. We know and understand what Duty, Honor, and Country means. We want to protect your online presence as well as you expect from us. This is not to say that we cannot fail and make mistakes. We will do everything humanly possible to limit our failures and not repeat our mistakes. When all is said and done, know that your fellow members of the extended West Point Community are the very folks who strive to keep WP-ORG vibrant and safe. For the foreseeable future, we will not be migrating to the cloud.

Please let us know what you think.

Helping our Wounded Warriors…

As the CEO of WP-ORG I get involved in many discussions related to the online activities of WP-ORG and its members.  WP-ORG members devote a significant amount of time to volunteer activities that ultimately benefit the extended West Point community.

Recently I came across a web page that showed additional volunteer efforts that went beyond the scope of what is offered through WP-ORG.  Several WP-ORG members and advisors have been donating valuable time to a very worthy cause.  If you follow these links you will see what I mean:

http://www.west-point.org/family/mem2009/2012ANprint/anprint_projectteam.html

http://www.west-point.org/family/mem2009/2012ANprint/print12.html

Megan Klein got intimately involved in building the website and the ordering page for the beautiful lithographic prints that were created for the Army-Navy march on for the 2012 Army-Navy game. It was also through the direct efforts of Megan and Dutch Hostler that the prime locations were secured to shoot these beautiful pictures.  Jack Price was the money guy that made sure all donations were properly recorded and a proper audit trail was made to account for all expenses. An extra shout out goes to two of our Navy moms: Kim Duffey, and Amy Martin, who were instrumental in reaching all the Navy parents to make them aware of the project. They post on the Navy parent forum and the Parents Facebook pages to help spread the word. Additional thanks have to go out to the lithographic services provided by Drew Bacot, Don Bean, and Paul Fetter.  There were also countless volunteers from North Carolina State University who helped to pack all the prints.

So at this point you might be asking, what was the point of this entire effort and who were these gracious volunteers able to help?  I’m glad you asked and here is your answer:

http://www.helpourmilitaryheroes.org/

Please read about how this great charity got started:

http://www.helpourmilitaryheroes.org/who-we-are

It is seeing all of this, which makes me proud to have been affiliated with WP-ORG since 1996.  Everyday I am humbled by the great work of all of our volunteers.  Please take the time to look at the prints that are available and consider how it might look appropriately framed in your home.

Class of 2013 Commemorative Pistols

Although this might seem an odd topic given the debate raging in this country today, in fact it is one that brings home memories.  Let me explain.

When my father passed away when I was at West Point in 1980, it was a very dark time in my life.  I do vaguely recall the reports of the rifles as the honors were rendered and the playing of taps at Arlington, but the rest was seemingly a blur – not his funeral, but my remaining time at West Point.  We each have our own ways of dealing with death and grief.  Mine was to keep it all inside.  Life went on.

As time went on, my mother asked each of her sons what weapon we wanted from our father’s collection of 50 guns.  Where could I start?  Should I ask for the 1917 artillery luger he captured from the German officer he killed in WWII?  Perhaps maybe the Sauer Drilling, which was a work of art as shotguns went?  Ever the pragmatist, I opted for the .357 magnum.  It had sentimental value and my father taught me to shoot it and it was a practical pistol to have starting out in life.  I made my choice and ultimately my mother sold off my father’s entire collection.  I really hated to see the collection go, but I understood – my mother needed the money.

Fast forward 30 years later.  My cousin down in Florida asked me to come visit.  He had 17 various guns he wanted me to pick up from him and keep in the family.  I agreed and my son and I traveled down to Ocala to visit.  It was then that I reconnected with my father and my past.  My cousin showed me all of the various guns he wanted me to have.  He saved two pistols for last.  The first he presented I immediately recognized – it was the luger.  Truth be told, I never really liked firing the luger.  It always had a bad tendency to jam and the action was always difficult to engage.  Nevertheless, it was a connection back to my father and his time as a combat medic in WWII.

What happened next totally floored me.

My cousin Bill then proceeded to pull out an M1911 Colt semiautomatic pistol.  Bill said, “do you recognize this?”  I said, sure, it’s a 1911.  It was in fact the first weapon I qualified with when I shot at West Point.  He then replied, “yes, but do you know where this came from?”  I was perplexed – had never seen it before.  I noted that the weapon was highly modified from the typical 1911.  It had adjustable sights on the rear and a modified dovetail sight on the front.  The front part of the grip frame had some form of shot peening and the trigger had a wide pad on it.  It was also clear that the trigger pull was nowhere near the standard 7-9 pounds normally found for that gun.  It was closer to 3-4 pounds pull.  As I continued to notice all of the modifications, it was clear that this was not just an M1911, but all of the parts had been stamped, “NM.”  That is short for National Match, which is generally used for competition shooting for high accuracy.  I was stumped.  Bill said matter-of-factly, “this was your father’s 1911 and it was what he used to shoot competitively when he was on the Army Marksmanship Unit.”  It was then that it hit me like a ton of bricks –  so that is what all of those shooting medals were for…

I was really excited about being able to reconnect with my father through his competition pistol.  I couldn’t wait to take it home, get it out on the range and fire it.  Bill had never fired the weapon in all the years he had kept it.  He salvaged both of those guns from the collection of 50 that were sold and felt one day I would probably want to have them again.  He was right. My father was the last person to ever fire that Colt.  I brought it out to the range not knowing what to expect.  I knew I would absolutely need to make a lot of adjustments.  My father was right handed and right eye dominant.  I am left handed and left eye dominant.  Not to worry, I brought 250 rounds and an entire afternoon, along with an adjustment screwdriver, so I had plenty of time to make sure I got it right.  Then it happened.

I placed a seven round magazine in the well and racked the slide and took careful aim and squeezed off a round. It just felt natural – like I had been firing it all my life. I then proceeded to squeeze off the six remaining rounds.  I placed the weapon down and looked through my spotting scope.  I was flabbergasted.  All seven rounds were inside of a three inch circle.  That was physically just not possible.  I reloaded another magazine and aimed for a different spot on the target.  I had the same results.  I cannot explain it other than to say that my father lives through me and that gun truly represents a part of him that I never knew.  It truly was a keepsake and for me, priceless.

Consider that the commemorative pistols that the Class of 2013 have designed could end up repeating the same or similar history for generations to come. If you want to have a part of history,or make your own, take a peek at the Class of 2013′s commemorative pistols.  Truth be told, I only wish we had these when I graduated.

https://secure.west-point.org/usma-pistol/

Content is King…

I felt it was a good opportunity to cover a topic area that has garnered a little bit of interest lately – the WP-ORG home page and the articles that are posted there.

Approximately a year ago I discovered that the content on the WP-ORG home page was a little dated.  I decided to take it upon myself to post articles for the home page.  With a little bit of assistance from Dian Welle, I was able to use the Joomla Content Management System.  Joomla is what we use to keep our website manageable and current.

The next step was to get appropriate content and to have that content pushed to me each day.  I used various search engines to do this and they have yielded pretty good results.  Once I have the content sent to me, the harder part begins.  I have to read through most of the articles to see the connection to West Point/USMA, the graduate community, etc.  There has to be a direct connection and more importantly, that connection has to be evident within the paragraph that is posted on the homepage.  By and large most of the article summaries are one paragraph long.  Rarely, they will be two paragraphs, but those represent the exception and not the rule.

Some folks have asked, how often is the content updated?  The answer is – it depends.  I have had instances where the entire content (ten separate articles) has lasted only one day, to be replaced by ten completely new articles less than 24 hours later.  Thus far, 1190 articles have been posted over a 282 day time frame.  That roughly translates into completely new content about every two days.

Another controversial topic is the nature of the content.  As you might expect, the overwhelming majority of the content reflects favorably upon both West Point and its graduates.  West Point graduates have served honorably in the military, government, business and many other walks of life.  As a rule, they have served with honor and distinction.  Occasionally, as all humans and institutions do, they will fall short or engage in some sort of controversy.  My intent is not to hide or promote any such controversy, rather to make it readily available to the reader and let the reader decide if reading the entire article is worthwhile.

One of the recent articles on the WP-ORG home page that fit into the controversial category was the wedding of a 1980 West Point graduate, Sue Fulton, and Penelope Gnesin.  This was the first wedding of its kind in the Cadet Chapel and it was controversial.  Neither myself, nor WP-ORG, takes a position with respect to this event.  What was important was that it involved both West Point and one of its graduates and was newsworthy.  As such, it was appropriate to place the article on the home page.  Recently, one of our members asked about this very topic.  Here is what was sent by Dian to the WP-ORG member:

“Our CEO posts articles from all over the Web regarding West Point.   None of the articles represent an opinion of WP-ORG.  We simply present the articles that can be found on the Web, and the readers are free to accept or deny the contents of the article.

We are here simply to serve the greater West Point community. This may include lists that have members belonging to a political base, gender or lifestyle others would not appreciate; however, we serve the entire West Point community, which is quite diverse.  We neither approve nor disapprove of those diversities as an organization.  We simply provide a service to each member of the greater West Point community as requested. “

So what does all of this mean?  My sincerest hope is that on any given day you will find the WP-ORG home page the go to place for all information you might need to stay current with West Point and its graduate community.

Let me know what is on your mind.

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