By Chief Master Sgt. Ty Foster, Air Force Special Operations Command
/ Published September 11, 2009
HURLBURT FIELD,Fla. -- Throughout the ages, artists have rendered pastoral scenes on canvas. Images of rolling hills of green pastures, dotted with trees and livestock framed by partly cloudy skies evoke a sense of peace and tranquility most can readily identify with. Sheep, their heads down grazing on the tender shoots of grass, seem to be a common character in these scenes.
Conversely, the wolf, has always been cast in roles which evoke terror. His massive merciless strength, slashing razor-edged teeth and cunning instincts hidden behind dark, grim eyes vaguely cloak the vicious predator's intent. The wolf and the brutal, inevitable death it represents have spawned fear in children and adults alike in literature for centuries. For sheep, there is no more fearsome being than the wolf.
"Only a predator can hunt a predator," said retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, noted speaker and author of the books "On Combat" and "On Killing."
Enter the sheepdog.
A valiant warrior in his own right, the sheepdog possesses a vast reserve of strength and resolve. His charges, the sheep, are wary of him though - he is, after all, a predator with sharp teeth, strength, intuition, keen senses and the will to kill just like their ancient antagonist the wolf.
He waits close by his flock, waiting intensely for the enemy to come for his flock - eager to pit himself against the raging foe. The sheep who witness such a battle will run in panic or freeze in terror - shocked by the violence of war. To see their protector embroiled in such bloody, ferocious hostility is unnerving to the sheep. Couldn't their sheepdog just as easily turn on the flock and raid its ranks with the wolf - aren't they really the same?
No, they're not the same.
"Sheepdogs, like wolves, possess the capacity for violence," Mr. Grossman said. "Violence is a tool. The capacity for violence coupled with a love for [their flock] equals a warrior."
Since he retired in 1998, the former Army Airborne Ranger and professor of psychology at West Point has committed himself to teaching, writing, speaking and research to improve understanding of killing in war, the psychological costs of killing and violence, and the pandemic of violence that makes law-abiding citizens victims. This scientific field of study has been dubbed "killology."
"We must prepare for violence like the firefighter prepares for fire," the retired Army lieutenant colonel Airborne Ranger said during recent lectures at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
September 11, 2001, served as a flashpoint in our nation's history. It woke a nation of grazing sheep up to a reality - there are wolves in the land.
"These guys fear one thing," he said. "They fear failure."
In the seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years since the wolves bared their teeth, our nation's sheepdogs have mobilized and charged into battle. Men and women of the armed forces, law enforcement agencies, firefighters and contractors have waged battle with a remorseless, shadowy antagonist.
"Sheep have two speeds - graze and stampede," Mr. Grossman said.
Our flock, the American civilian citizen, has, in large part, resumed their old way of life - even in these up and down economic times, Americans enjoy a sense of freedom from threat - they are grazing comfortably in the pastures. The sting of 9-11 has waned in many eyes - it is an "event" now where we honor those who died, no longer an attack on our soil against peace-loving people forging their happiness in the land of opportunity.
But the wolf is still out there and the sheepdogs are fighting them. Their resolve is unyielding - the wolf is a threat to their flock, even when the flock does not acknowledge it.
"Sheep are sinking back into denial," Lt Col. Grossman said. "Denial kills twice." First it kills because resolve and unpreparedness allow killers to triumph. Second, he said, it kills because the surviving victims live with and die from the guilt of knowing unneeded death from violence could have been prevented.
The wolves are ready to attack again.
In 2004, 32 heavily-armed radical Islamic militants - trained by al Qaeda - took more than 1,200 people hostage at School No. 1 in Beslan, Russia. Three days later, 334 people were dead, 180 of them were children.
They killed the high-school-age boys first, Mr. Grossman said, because they posed the greatest threat. They took the boys to the second floor in back of the school, shot them in the head and pushed them out the window. The pile of bodies was over 4-feet high. The militants raped little girls, then murdered them. The hostages cowered in a stew of defecation and urine throughout the ordeal.
"They've conducted a dress rehearsal," Mr. Grossman said. Bin Laden told us we will experience what Russia did. "Children are 'noble targets.'"
These are the wolves we face. They will strike us where we are most vulnerable - our schools, our children.
"They are criminals," the former Airborne Ranger said. "Their goal is terror. Their tool is terror. Sheep believe the bad man will never come to my house."
It's our job to help people understand the threat is real. It's our job to help them prepare for it. It's our job to remain vigilant, ready to attack to defend. It's our job to kill the wolf because the flock does not have the capacity for violence.
Are you ready sheepdog?