Opinion | Bruce Butler: In service to our country

While this column might seem more suited to Veterans Day, I spent this past weekend in San Diego saying goodbye to a longtime Summit County resident, friend and mentor, Shedd Webster. This is not an obituary. I’m sure one will follow at some point, but just for some context, Shedd and his wife lived for many years in Breckenridge. He worked in homeowner association management at Keystone and then at Copper Mountain, where I met and worked with him. Those who knew Shedd during his Summit County years remember his love for his family, skiing and his willingness to help others. What they may not know is that Shedd had a very distinguished career in the U.S. Navy prior to moving to Summit County for a complete change of pace and life.

Capt. Webster’s memorial service was held on the deck of the USS Midway, which was the longest serving U.S. aircraft carrier of the 20th century. The ship’s service spanned from 1945-92, when it was decommissioned following Operation Desert Storm. It is now a popular museum attraction in downtown San Diego.

Aircraft carriers are, in every sense, floating cities, complete with everything from a functioning airport, obviously, to laundry, food service, medical facilities, repair shops, a post office and even a small jail. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be an electrician, plumber or HVAC specialist on the Midway, or any other carrier. The amount of wiring, plumbing and ductwork is astounding!

Webster earned his wings as a naval aviator in 1968, with extensive service during the Vietnam War. He later served as the “Air Boss” on the Midway for several years. The Air Boss is the officer in charge of all air operations. It is a critical and very stressful job. He finished his Navy career as chief of staff in both Pearl Harbor and San Diego.

It was an honor to meet some of Shedd’s closest friends from his Navy days. They were forthright about the good times, the close bonds that were formed from flight school forward, and the fact that there are some very hard times in military service too. Talking to Shedd’s Navy friends and touring the Midway reminded me the biggest regret in my life is not serving in the military when I had the opportunity.

These distinguished veterans are concerned about the state of the U.S. military today. One of the veterans in attendance summed up war like this: “War is about determining who is left alive to clean up the mess.” They see politicians and policymakers using the U.S. military as a social experiment, not as a force to ensure American security in the world. They view the withdrawal from Afghanistan as a national disgrace and a betrayal of our longstanding national duty to take care of and rescue our own people and allies. They are concerned that our nation’s leaders are not focused on China’s military buildup, nor our increasing dependence on China for critical supply chain items, including medicine, and the recent large-scale purchases of farmland and other U.S. real estate.

On a personal level, these veterans felt sorry, for lack of a better term, for servicemembers today. With the rules of the game constantly shifting, how are they able to fulfill their mission? With a woke worldview, under a microscope of political correctness, and with critics searching for microaggression fouls, small transgressions can turn into career-limiting or career-ending incidents. They are correct, and I suspect this is one of the primary reasons why recruiting numbers are down across the armed forces.  There does seem to be an effort to diminish many of our institutions, American culture and our foundational rule of law. The U.S. military is not exempt from these institutional attacks. 

Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s response to recruitment shortfalls is to reduce overall enlistment goals, and to lower academic and fitness standards, instead of addressing the underlying reasons why young people are not enlisting. Regardless, our military is still a formidable force, and the men and women — and their families — who volunteer to serve our country deserve our gratitude and support.

To Capt. Webster, may you rest in peace.

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