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Commentary: Anger, Respect and Homeland Insecurity
By Mitch Traphagen
Sep 15, 2005 - 5:08:00 PM

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I grew up in a small, conservative Midwestern town. As an elementary school student I was taught that the United States was the land of opportunity. I was taught that we did good things around the world and that there was nothing that the USA could not accomplish.

Two weeks ago I learned otherwise.

After days of seeing horrific images at the Louisiana Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center, I wrote a very angry commentary that included praise for those working hard and harsh words for those I felt dropped the ball and directly caused the deaths of innocent Americans.

But then people started talking about the "blame game" and suggested that the first priority needed to be on saving lives. I have no doubt that some people suggested that in the hopes that the relatively short attention spans of many Americans will soften the blow. But there were also people I held in high regard who made the suggestion — as such, that commentary was not and will not be printed.

But there is something critical to keep in mind here. Despite those who seem eager to duck responsibility, it is absolutely vital that we find out what went wrong - it is vital that we find out what could have been done better.

Why is it so important? It's important because hurricane season isn't over yet. I am fairly certain that the country could not easily endure more images of the needless death and despair of Americans should a major hurricane strike Tampa or Miami. There are serious problems in the system and they need to be fixed. Right now. Nature has made it clear that she does not operate on our schedule and time truly is of the essence. Despite those who loudly claim otherwise, it is critically important to talk about what went wrong and how to do better next time.

Because there is almost certain to be a next time.

Governor Jeb Bush was an impressive leader when four hurricanes struck Florida last year. He was just what a frightened and weary public needed. But the devastation caused by Katrina went far beyond the resources of any governor or mayor. There is only one entity on earth with the resources to take on a catastrophe of this magnitude. Now the public needs to know that they will be on the ball and do everything possible when the next catastrophe occurs.

I don't want to believe that I was lied to as an elementary school student. I do still know that this country can accomplish incredible things. Seeing the U.S. Coast Guard saving lives from the very first minute was proof of that. But the images of our fellow Americans - children, mothers and fathers, grandparents all suffering day after day in a major U.S. city was too much to comprehend. It is painfully clear that something went wrong and much needs to be fixed.


If I ever get in trouble I'm very glad to know that the men and women of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office are just a phone call away. In my past life, I worked at a fairly high level in one of the most successful companies in the world. I saw the rare and unique efforts they made to be successful. I can see those same efforts at the HCSO District IV office in Ruskin. The men and women of the HCSO are truly world class in professionalism and in their honest, heartfelt concern for the residents of this area. My respect for them, for what they do and how they do it is extremely high.

And that respect went even higher when I came across officers loading up donated supplies for fellow officers they have never met in hurricane stricken Covington, LA. Their efforts were that of private citizens — there was no county money or time involved.

I just happened upon them, they didn't call and they certainly weren't seeking publicity. But I wanted to tell you the story because they deserve to be recognized — as does numerous organizations that do good work for people in need. I also wanted to tell the story because I suspect like me, few people stop to think that law enforcement officers and all first responders are simply not able to put themselves first — they have an oath to serve the public and they do it day in and day out. They do it despite any personal tragedies they may be experiencing.

That alone deserves much respect.


Having spent many 1970s afternoons as a kid watching 1960s re-runs on TV, I have to say with a very heavy heart: So long, little buddy.

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