There are certain memories that stay with us and never leave our side. Such is my remembrances of my youth and my experiences with the military lifestyle. I remember seeing a clear blue sky, I remember my mother holding me as other mothers were crying and yelling “one more, one more!” Looking up in the sky, I remember seeing a B-29 on fire. All the sudden white parachutes emerged from the blue sky, these parachutes were carrying men to the ground. A few seconds later there was relief in the crowd as a last parachute appeared. This was the one they were looking for, that “one more”.
Later, when I was much older I asked about this memory. I was told that the last parachute belonged to an Air Force Pilot instructor, a WW2 Veteran, who stayed with the plane and risked his life to make sure the plane did not crash in a people occupied area. This was the Korean War, and this was the sacrifice and service that was part of these men and women’s DNA, and it did not matter what color or race they were.
What mattered was the honor and loyalty in their character. I grew up with all races, and religions, my classmates were my classmates. We all had trials, we constantly had to adapt to changing environments, new schools, new acquaintances, I refer to them as acquaintances because most of the time we did not allow ourselves to become close because we knew that at any moment our father would be transferred—adapting to new environments was our norm.
In my school years, I went to eight different schools in as many different locations and environments. We could be in the Southern states one moment and in New England the next. Talk about culture shock! We quickly learned how to assess individuals and we made judgements upon those initial assessments. These assessments were uniquely related to each person’s character. We learned to scan a crowd, we could differentiate between “Officer” children and “Enlisted” children at a glance. We were as a writer once said, “Children of the Fortress”.
We were “military brats”, as we were called, and our emblem is the seeds of the dandelion, strewn as we were by the winds to all corners of the world. My wife Pamela was raised the same way. Later in life, we in turn served as did our son who enlisted and my daughter who married a military man. Nine of our first 11 years of marriage were served overseas! Our son was born in Ethiopia, now Eritrea, and our daughter in San Diego, CA.
I cite these narratives to give perspective on why I see life the way that I do. My family and I loved our travels, Pamela and I went to school overseas—as did our children—our perspectives were broadened as a result. True enough there were issues we encountered and challenges that arrived at our doors frequently. Some of the issues were run of the mill and part of living life, others issues were more arduous. The issues I am referring to are those of the mind and the traumas one experiences wearing the uniform.
They now call it PTSD, the challenges military personnel face when trying to fit back into civilian life. WWII vets know this condition well as do veterans who served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Often unnoticed are the burdens that are passed down to children of military men and women, I remember having “comport ourselves” so that we could be good representatives of our country. We had to dress a certain way, many of us had to attend dance lessons and young ladies had to attend charm school.
After we married, and when overseas, Pamela and I sought out the true cultures that existed where we were stationed, we sought authenticity above all. We did not judge the people we visited nor did we try to force others to adapt to our American culture. To the contrary, we tried our hardest to adapt to theirs. We ate the local food from the real “Mom and Pop” Cafes or from the street vendors, we avoided the tourist locations.
Why all this testimony? Because if we, as a United States military society—with all the challenges and conflicts we have encountered in our life can get along—then any group of people in the world can get along as well. People are people; some good, some bad, but for the most part they get by as best they can in the environment allotted to them. Envy and greed, as well as frustration over the inability to control one’s destiny, are the things I consider as the biggest obstacles in any society.
Most societies today have varying degrees of these problems. I did notice this as an issue in Ethiopia during my deployment there. Coexistence was the norm, especially in rural areas where most are just getting by, and accept what they have. The relative serenity we witnessed in the rural areas to be sure did not exist at the same level in urban areas where lack of jobs and bleak future prospects made it harder for people to live in harmony as they did in the rural parts of Ethiopia.
There are many reasons for this lack of tranquility that is growing at alarming rates. One issue is land and property ownership. It is my understanding that the government is still in control of most property. Individuals need to feel secure that they and their families are safe and have some guarantee that they will not be arbitrarily removed from their residence. They also need to be assured that which they produce, or pursue, is maintained instead of being threatened by uncertainty. If people do not feel secure, they will not give 100% to anything. Likewise, urban youth and adults that do not have gainful employment or training will be disenfranchised from the population and they can be easily manipulated. Their motivation needs to be toward something positive. There are many things that could be accomplished.
There are ways to change this dynamic. The first and foremost step is to believe in an “Ethiopia First” concept. The primary goal of leaders should be ensuring a healthy and vibrant Ethiopia. Each area of the country has unique history, and that history should be honored and promoted. The people should be proud to share their culture instead of competing over tribe. This will require a rethinking of the very definition of citizenship.
The next step should be a strengthening of civic responsibility within every sector of Ethiopia. Hospitals, and public buildings could use maintenance, paint, landscaping and simple inexpensive improvements. A wonderful use of the human resources within these areas would be to clean and provide them with an upgrade, an overall appearance and attitude that fosters good will and contentment. These improvements would foster pride in and could create a substantial movement toward tourism.
These concrete steps would also help in fostering good will among Ethiopia’s neighbors in the horn of Africa. Instead of competing, the aim should be to collaborate in order to realize mutual benefits. For example, Eritrea has seaports and beautiful coastlines, the coast line of the Red Sea is wonderful—I speak from experience. Superb tourist possibilities could reap huge benefits for both nations. Most importantly, Ethiopia would benefit by gaining access to sea ports while Eritrea would benefit by collecting more revenues from incoming and outgoing cargo. This is what is known as a win-win scenario.
There are other benefits that have yet to be thought of. Cruise lines from the US or Europe through Suez down through Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia could transform the entire economy. The history that could be shared, the outings ashore, Axum, Lalibela, Gondar, the Rift Valley, and all those tourist dollars coming into the hotels, restaurants, transportation services, souvenirs would inject billions into local economies. Throughout the world tourist destination points greatly benefit many nations, the horn of Africa could one day become just as valued. After all, Ethiopia is a Great Nation on the African Continent.
Of course, agreements between the military of Eritrea and Ethiopia must be made, some type of common defense memorandum of understanding and protection of the sea lanes for commerce and the tourists that will be visiting will have to be reached. This would also be of great benefit to Somalia and Yemen, as well as other countries in the region. Commerce may be moved through the Gulf of Aden and into the Indian Ocean to the Far East and Australia.
To accomplish this, key individuals with the right training and motivation must be identified and placed under local control. Laws will need to be changed, internal control of the provinces must be shifted back to strong local leadership, property must be returned, and a feeling and pride of ownership and security must be achieved. If you believe in something, anything may be accomplished. People will do what is expected. If you expect them to do great things they will, if you expect them to be nothing they will be that too.
This would be another positive bi-product of the return of the Monarch and the Kings of the various groups. The history of the Lion of Judah, and all it inspires, could have a transformational effect in Ethiopia. The pride and love for each community while being united by one Ethiopia would be a sea change compared to the tribal politics that is endemic of Ethiopia at this moment. It would be helpful if the current leadership of Ethiopian Government would take these issues up in the legislature, discuss and move them quickly and return the people’s basic rights. Now is the time for change; as we were fond of saying in the Navy, “Lead, Follow or get out of the way”.
The feature picture is of Emperor Haile Selassie inspecting US Navy personnel, Johnny Corbin is not pictured in the image.
Johnny Corbin served as a US service in the Ethiopia from 1970- 1973. He recently returned to Ethiopia where he participated in medical and Eye mission for the provinces of Gojjam, Gondar, Tigrai, Wollo. Shewa, Sidamo and Gemu Gofa. Johnny Corbin worked at Eye examiner and determined the value of children Eye during his 21 day visit to Ethiopia.