Friday, June 26, 2020

Remembering the Forgotten War, 70 years later

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

You’d never know that given the activity on news feeds and social media. That anniversary was but a footnote.

That’s nothing new.

For many years this conflict has been known as “the Forgotten War” because, collectively, we as a nation have ignored it and its meaning because it was bookended by an epic World War and the controversies of the Vietnam War.

It’s rare that we discuss it and as we saw -- or more accurately didn’t see -- last week it’s rarer yet that we give the participants their just recognition and appreciation.

Consider this: Almost everyone can readily identify the center point of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC -- the restrained yet powerful Vietnam Wall -- but how many can identify the primary image of the Korean War Memorial?

For those who don’t know, the memorial, finally built in 1995, is a collection of 19 statues of American soldiers trudging across rough terrain, harried looks on their faces anticipating the next surprise attack.

That haunting memorial perfectly represents the Korean experience. It was a frightening war, full of dreadful fighting reminiscent of World War I’s close-quarters bloodbaths. None of us today can imagine the stressful horrors of scaling a steep hill, wondering if the barrel of an enemy’s gun will be at your head at the next rise. Our soldiers paid a heavy price in life and limb and those who survived saw things on a daily basis that no one should ever see, memories they carry with them to this day.

It started off horribly as more than 1,000 inexperienced and under-equipped young soldiers were cut down in one of the first American battles of the war, U.S. and U.N. forces greatly underestimating the power of the North Koreans. The body count remained high throughout the three-year occupation when battles in extremely rugged and dangerous mountain terrain became the norm. The war was so violent that come 1953 — after both sides each lost more than 1 million soldiers — it ended with an armistice, a cease-fire that left a ravaged land and its two primary nations in no better shape than before the war.

It was a brutal affair, but so few know that. Ask anyone to list in order the three U.S. military involvements of the past 100 years that had the highest number of casualties. Most respondents will answer incorrectly. They will answer in a hurry, and correctly, with number one (World War II) and number two (the Vietnam conflict). After some stumbling over a response for the third slot, most everyone will come back with the nation’s most recent wars in and occupation of Iraq, responsible for more than 4,400 deaths.

That is the wrong answer. As horrific as that death toll is, it is dwarfed by that of the Korean War. The bloody conflict accounted for the deaths of more than 34,000 Americans and the wounding of 103,000 more from 1950 to 1953.

It’s really a travesty that most Americans are grossly uninformed in regard to something so great in scale of sacrifice. It seems that their only knowledge of the War is MASH, the classic television series.

We need to change that and use the 70th anniversary as a means to finally celebrate the real-life heroes, especially since time is of the essence. Less than 40 percent of those who survived their service in the War are still alive today. They are in their twilight years and they won’t be with us much longer. The youngest of the Korean War veterans turned 85 this year. The youngest!

As a country, we need to give them the love that is long past due. The Covid-19 world will likely stymie most memorial events, but you can do your part by sharing a simple heartfelt “thank you.” The Korean War veterans haven’t been told those simple words enough in their lifetimes. Let them know they weren’t forgotten.  

From the 29 June 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, June 19, 2020

A year without role models

My friend is a teacher in a suburban school district. His school, like all others in our state, has had to teach remotely. Without the rigors and routines of traditional schooling, that situation has put added responsibility on students – and, ultimately, their parents – to keep up with lessons and projects.

That responsibility was abandoned by some of his families: A quarter of his students didn’t turn in any work at all.

Think about that.

In an upper-middle class suburban district with legitimate internet infrastructure – criteria that educational leaders and policymakers believe should lead to good outcomes -- he had 26 students who submitted no school work from the third week of March through the second week of June.

Where were the parents?

No one in education, no one in the community expects parents to teach. Outside of the realm of homeschool families the typical parent has not mastered science nor math, for example, and may not be qualified or comfortable enough to expound upon those subjects. It’s asking a lot, especially on top of the duties of being breadwinner or homemaker and dealing with the stresses of the Covid world.  

But, it’s a reasonable expectation to have parents parent. While no one was wanting or asking mom or dad to look over a kids’ shoulder and walk him through every homework assignment, it shouldn’t be a big deal to ask that those guardians make sure their kids are staying on task, turning in their assignments, meeting deadlines and asking for help when needed.

But here, in the case of my friend’s classes, 26 students lacked that guidance for the entire length of the classroom shutdown.   

That never would have happened had the physical school been in session. My friend the teacher, other teachers, counselors, peers and more would have kept the students moving forward.

This should serve as a powerful reminder that many young people need something a little more. They need all of us. As the African proverb goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Not everyone comes from a good home. They need contributions of love and encouragement from the village to rise above that.

Even those children who do come from healthy homes still want and need the village to be exposed to different ideas, different world views and different experiences.

Unfortunately, that village has been shut down since March. It’s coming back to life – but only a little bit – and it looks like further shutdowns are in the works.

Who are the kids missing out on?

There’s the teachers. But there’s also the scout leaders, coaches, music instructors, faith leaders, summer camp counselors, day camp leaders, librarians, and 4-H leaders. Even family members have been considered off limits: Many children haven’t been able to spend quality time with their grandparents over fears of them being part of the susceptible population.

They’ve lost 3 months already -- and many more will follow suit -- with the adults they look up to; the adults who make learning and doing new things so fun and interesting; the adults who show them how to love and serve others; the adults who emphasize kindness and character; the adults who lead in their homes, communities and hearts…their role models.  

For kids who come from broken homes and those who are hungry for more of the world, this loss of time, activity and togetherness seems like an eternity. It might actually work out to be an eternity: Foundations are created in the formative years -- with critical contributors to those building blocks gone, what have those children lost, what has society lost, as part of who they could have become as adults?

Wondering who they might become without that support is especially heartbreaking when you consider the numerous reports over the past few months of stay-at-home orders leading to unconscionable increases in domestic violence and overdoses. For many kids, home was never really the safe place – the classrooms, troop meetings, or ball diamonds were.

If and when these venues come back to life, we all have our work cut out for us: How do we as their guiding lights make up for lost time and help them be the best they can be, especially given what 2020 has become? The kids have always needed us, but they need us now more than ever.  

From the 22 June 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, June 5, 2020

Employers should ramp up their employee wellness programs

As your workplace goes back into operation you will notice that your coworkers look a little different.

It’s just not their shaggy hair or grey streaks showing because of the barbershop and salon closures. It’s also their waistlines: Due to inactivity, stay-at-home orders, and increased consumption due to boredom or depression, many people packed on what some health officials are calling “the Covid 15”.

Quite a few of my coworkers fall into that category, having put on anywhere from 12 to 25 pounds. By the vigorous nature of our work -- the lifting, cutting and fast tempo – they’ll burn off most of that this summer.

Other Americans aren’t afforded that chance because they work behind a register or a desk. A lot of them will lose that weight once the State allows gyms to open, but many more won’t in the foreseeable future. Two to three months equals a lifestyle change; the weight they put on could stay and maybe add a few friends along the way. It’s mentally and physically hard for people to get back into the saddle after such downtime and such impact.

Alas, the outcome of society fighting Covid collectively could make these people fight Covid individually. You see, the coronavirus hit hardest not just the aged but also people with conditions like diabetes and heart and lung diseases. All of those triggers have some if not all basis in the lack of physical activity and/or the enjoyment of vices or bad decisions, such as a poor diet or smoking. So, the various government lockdowns in effect created candidates ripe for pillaging by the virus.  

What we can we do as a society to right that wrong?

I challenge employers to really ramp up their employee wellness programs.

At some businesses, these voluntary – sometimes compulsory – programs are done in an effort to cut back on ever-rising health insurance costs by changing the behaviors of the insured. The bottom line only drives the endeavor and can seem disingenuous.

At other workplaces, these programs are a little less toothless, and maybe a little too cute, attempting to improve outcomes through group activities and challenges, some of them never being enough to change the person or the world.     

It’s time to ditch those mindsets (well, at least make them secondary) and approach wellness in an entirely different way: A strong and healthy body is a necessary weapon in the fight against Covid-19. It protects the person, their families and the community.

How long will the virus be with us? What will nature or biological warfare come up with next?

We could be looking at years of a public health roller coaster as the world fights waves of this and whatever else comes our way.  We need to be ready to win those battles and the war.

To make the pursuit of health attractive you need to give your employees the tools to succeed, just like you would in their workstation. That starts with an employee benefit -- money.

If your insurance company doesn’t have a wellness benefit, start your own. Because our previous versions through our HMOs weren’t the best in terms of consistency or depth, we started our own at the plant on January 1 – coincidentally, the best year to do it.

Through our program, we fund each member of our team up to $200 a year for a gym membership. But, knowing gyms aren’t for everyone – especially now as we navigate the Covid world – we also made that $200 available for home exercise equipment – universal gyms, free weights, heavy bags, kettle bells, yoga mats, treadmills, bicycles and other items. That’s what I meant by giving your employees the tools they need – these literally are tools.  

But, employer commitment is more than just dollars. It’s also constant messaging in your employee newsletters and finding them venues of support and training they may need.

Making such an outlay of money and time may seem unreasonable to some business owners. They should to look at the return on that investment: Healthier employees are happier employees; good health mitigates sick time and prevents downtime of your services or production lines; being able to battle Covid limits the chances of the virus bringing liability to the workplace; and there’s the outcome that wellness programs had always strived for – lower health insurance costs in the long term due to markedly and positively changed personal behaviors.

But, beyond the almighty dollar, do it because it’s right. Covid can have scary – and fatal -- impacts on families. So can all of the ailments that make some people targets for the coronavirus’s worst. Let’s give those we work with the kick in the butt, the incentive they need to live healthier and longer lives. Life’s too short as it is, let’s live it well.

From the 08 June 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News