By Tom Demerly for


The Olympics celebrate unity and cooperation, sport and humanity.

They also support a greatly maligned human aspiration: Winning.

Contrary to modern myth everyone is not a winner. And that is just fine. Some people are better than others at specific things. They are winners at that task. No one is a winner at everything. And therein lies one of many reasons we need unity and cooperation, but not false equity.

We’ve moved toward a society that enforces a synthetic equity for fear of offending, fear of excluding, fear of discriminating, fear of discouraging.

That’s wrong.

Offense, fear, discrimination and discouragement are all bad things, but they are all part of life. Sport is a microcosm of life- an entire life played out in the time it takes a person to swim a length, run a lap, fall off a bike. It is life, concentrated. And that is part of what makes the entire spectacle so beautiful, so powerful, so tragic and so magical. It’s life in a one-minute swim heat.


Eyebrows went up when U.S. swimmer Lilly King made derogatory and accusing statements about Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova. Efimova has been banned two times for testing positive for performance enhancing substances. King called bullshit on Efimova, mocked her gestures, then went out and kicked her lycra-covered well-trained Russian ass in the 100-meter breaststroke.

Talk the talk. Walk the walk. King delivered. Good story. End of story.

Michael Phelps raised eyebrows by giving the stink-eye to South African swimmer Chad le Clos who beat him in the 200-meter butterfly in 2012 by only 0.05 seconds for the Gold Medal. That is only five-one hundredths of a second. No human activity takes that little time, except losing your ass, and Phelps has built a career of kicking ass. So that loss to Le Clos in 2012 was a bad day at the office for Michael Phelps. He wanted payback. Phelps settled his account with Le Clos last night by swimming 1:54:12 to Clos’ 1:55:19 in the 220-butterfly. In Olympic swimming that is a rout.

And Michael Phelps isn’t sulking anymore.


In the Women’s road race Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten crashed heavily on a dangerous descent of the closing lap only a couple minutes from a potential Gold Medal ride. Annemiek was out-descending American breakaway companion Mara Abbott of the United States, at least for the moment. But Van Vleuten gambled, and the reason they call it gambling is because sometimes you lose. She lost. Broken vertebrae, concussion, dashed medal hopes. Tragedy. But she is recovering, and she will race again. The U.S. rider chasing her, she lost too, only meters from the line. Ironically, Mara Abbott lost to one of Anniemiek van Vleuten’s teammates.

So one thing we’ve learned so far in this Olympics is there are very definitely winners, and losers. Not everyone is a winner. There has to be losers to perform in valiant, tragic contrast to winners. And there is nothing wrong with that.





By Tom Demerly for


November 9, 2016:

In one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in U.S. history, news outlets report that Donald Trump has won the 2016 presidential election.

How did a non-politician with a sensational and even salacious history win the top elected spot in U.S. government?

A forensic examination of U.S. political and social trends over the previous decade predicted a Trump win, however unlikely the idea sounded when his candidacy was proposed two years ago.

“You’re Fired!” Americans Were Tired of Politics- and Politicians.

A pervasive argument in the last decade has been “how much government is too much government?”

Trump’s campaign was built on rhetoric (if not reality) of less government. This follows two administrations that expanded government in the U.S. A swing in the opposite direction was predictable.

Americans Are Afraid.

A widening gap between upper and lower classes, stagnant wages, the looming threat of domestic and foreign terrorism and structural changes in the European economic environment have left Americans with a sense of uneasiness and fear.

The current political environment, both domestically and internationally, is extremely nuanced and complex. While Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was undoubtedly more experienced at both understanding and navigating this environment Americans were attracted to a more guttural approach.

Can Trump deliver on promises of enhanced security, refined immigration and more conspicuously decisive foreign policy? Only time will tell.

Americans Had Difficulty Visualizing Globalization.

Most Americans can’t find Syria, Libya, Iran or even China on an unmarked world map. They perceive foreign trade and increasing international commerce as a threat to the U.S. economy and to their personal economies. Trump’s isolationist doctrine rang true with them.

Few Americans are students of history, and the ominous portend of Trump’s isolationist doctrine is that, in previous eras of U.S. isolationism, global conflict has followed. There is an argument that increased global connectivity during the last decade will subvert another conventional global conflict and instead trend toward increasing insurgencies as opposed to a conventional war. Trump leveraged a patriotic, “America First” doctrine that was comforting to middle America.

Trump Is a Great Salesman, And Americans Were Susceptible to a Great Pitch.

The effusive lethargy of American government in everything from the postal service to the judicial branch and the war on terror has made Americans increasingly impulsive and impatient. They were susceptible to Trump’s pointed sales presentation on being President. Trump was the perceived “one click” button for change.

It’s unlikely Trump will be able to execute on much of his “Being politically correct takes too much time. We have too much to get done!” doctrine, but it sounded good, and it’s what people wanted to hear. Trump understood his market and tailored his political product to that consumership. It got him the Whitehouse. Now we’ll see what he does with it.

Clinton Did Not Play Well in Media.

Having lost the Democratic nomination in one election already in 2008 Americans perceived her as a perpetual “first place loser”.

Interestingly, Clinton lost the nomination in 2008 to former President Barack Obama when he began to pitch a doctrine of “change” as opposed to Clinton’s continued emphasis on her political experience. Obama’s “change” narrative won then in a similar way to how Trump’s message of political change won this election.

While both candidates had a wake of scandal in their pasts, Americans seemed accepting of their respective violations but ultimately forgave a brash Trump for either owning his transgressions unapologetically or denying them categorically, but never waffling. Clinton’s responses to Benghazi and the classified e-mail question were measured and political. This did not play well with voters who quickly sensed the “Potomac Two-Step” from Clinton. And while Americans have forgiven the Clintons for dishonesty in office before, they have grown cynical now. America was ready to overlook Trump’s transgressions from legality in the name of business.

Clinton played the gender card, leveraging an opportunity to become “Our first female President”. This had some appeal but ultimately was sexist in and of itself, suggesting gender- male or female- ought be a determinant for political office. This shined on one side, and was abrasive on the other. Stacked against the other factors it was one more minor straw that ultimately broke the back of Clinton’s campaign. Gender was never an issue for Trump because, well, like it or not, he’s the gender all U.S. Presidents have been and voters were comfortable with that.

Record Voter Turnout.

The silent American voter roared in this election, across the plains and into the swing states. People who did not vote before voted this time, and most voted for the perceived change that Donald Trump pitched.

In a haunting similarity to the coup in Egypt and election unrest in several Middle Eastern countries the electoral college, who controls the outcome of the election, was put on notice by the popular vote; follow the popular vote or face the consequences of an increasingly divided nation.

Americans Are Broke and Don’t Want Higher Taxes. 

Incomes have not kept pace with expenses for most middle class Americans. Few Americans understand the true extent of their tax burden. But Americans do understand they are working more for less, or for the same, and that many things either cost more or there are more expenses than a decade ago. There is an axiom that people vote their pocket books, and Trump ran on a doctrine of lower taxes, while Clinton’s doctrine was heavy on social programs that would drive tax burden even higher. America didn’t want that, so they voted Trump.










By Tom Demerly for


The 14 July Bastille Day terror attack in Nice, France is the third major terror attack in France during the last year according to, an intelligence and security think-tank.

Media reports 84 killed and many more wounded.

In addition to Bastille Day July is also a prominent month in the French holiday season because of the Tour de France bicycle race, a month-long international event contested on open roads in daily “stages” that usually cover over 100 miles. Professional bicycle racers from around the world compete in “The Tour” which is the most famous event in bicycling.

The Tour de France is a unique spectator event because of its geographic scale and almost entirely unrestricted access to the sporting venue, the open roads of France. These features make the event impossible to secure from terrorist threats such as roadside bombs, suicide bombers, car/truck bombs, air attack, sniper attack, mass shooting and other threats.


In February 2016 bicycle racing expert and journalist Caley Fretz quoted researcher David Murakami Wood for publication Velo-News, “I don’t mean to be too alarmist, but the Tour de France is almost impossible to secure.”

The Tour de France race organization, a company named ASO, does not provide overall security for the event. The security role is performed largely by a mix of French national law enforcement, regional police forces, local law enforcement and even some volunteers on the lowest level.

A special national police unit, the Gendarmerie national, is the primary security asset for the Tour de France. This unit includes a special motorbike contingent called the Republican Guard or Garde républicaine.

The primary role of the Republican Guard motorbike units is protection of the riders from spectators and control of external traffic.

A French Gendarme restrains a fan during stage 19 of the 2015 Tour de France from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Troussuire on July 24, 2015 in La Toussuire, France.

A French Gendarme restrains a fan during stage 19 of the 2015 Tour de France from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Troussuire on July 24, 2015 in La Toussuire, France.

The bicycle racers in the Tour de France are accompanied by several hundred support and marketing motor vehicles that drive slowly in front of and behind the bicycle racers in a long, slowly moving procession. This large group is divided into three sub-groups; the publicity caravan that precedes the race, the race peloton or group of bicycle racers, often segmented into smaller groups as riders attempt to accelerate away from the main group in smaller sub “breakaway” groups- this group also includes press motorcycles, cars belonging to officials and the Republican Guard security motorcycles- and finally a trailing support caravan of cars belonging to the bicycle racing teams.

The race itself moves along the route with unrestricted access to the athletes from the sides and above the riders. This makes them vulnerable to both accidental and intentional collisions with spectators. Both have happened on a regular basis in the Tour de France.

It is the threat of unrestricted access to competitors that makes the security challenge at the Tour de France unique. This is combined with the high media profile, including live television and Internet coverage of the event. These factors make the event an optimal target for extremists and terrorist attacks.


Given the escalation of terrorist style attacks in France and southern Europe, an uncontrolled influx of foreign national refugees that could conceal trained insurgents or lone wolf insurgents and the high media profile of the Tour de France in a dynamic and unsecured setting, it is almost inevitable that these factors converge in some type of willful, injurious act. This could include a mass-casualty event with both spectators and competitors.

Effective countermeasures to reduce the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the Tour de France competitors and spectators include increased aerial surveillance of the route via remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) and helicopter, fixed wing surveillance aircraft equipped with sensors to detect unusual materials and activity.

Interestingly, race officials have begun using FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) viewers to inspect bicycles that have been equipped with miniature electric motors that may illegally assist in propelling the competitors’ bikes. The detection for this “mechanical doping” could also be employed by security personnel to find abnormal thermal activity from radioactive devices and other threats.

However, these proposed route surveillance techniques are only for threat detection. Threat eradication upon detection is even more difficult given the proximity of spectators and competitors. If a terrorist threat were detected, acting against the threat would result in the inevitable disruption of the event. Any armed response also presents the challenge of avoiding peripheral casualties in a dense spectator setting.

The primary countermeasure to terrorist attacks on the Tour de France is prevention. Thankfully for the Tour de France most attacks in France have been located in close proximity to immigrant populations. The Tour de France route has been in more rural settings so far.

Foreign correspondent for The New Yorker George Packer wrote, “France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants. Conceived as utopias for workers, they have become concentrations of poverty and social isolation. The cités and their occupants are the subject of anxious and angry discussion in France.” It is from and around these immediate areas where most of France’s immediate terrorist threat emanates based on an examination of previous attacks.

In conclusion, the inability to provide increased route security without compromising the traditional format of the Tour de France set against the backdrop of a rising frequency of terrorist activity within French borders presents an ominous portend; that a terrorist attack at the Tour de France in the near future is almost a statistical inevitability.

All Photos and Story By Tom Demerly for


The day before the tragic Dallas police shooting on Thursday, July 7, 2016, where five policemen were killed and nine other persons injured, I was invited to embed with a Dearborn Police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) training operation by SWAT Team officer Sergeant [name withheld for operational security].

I did not know the techniques employed by Dearborn Police SWAT would be showcased in international headlines 24 hours later in Dallas.

The Dearborn Police simulation a day before the Dallas shootings was hauntingly similar. What is it like to be a Police SWAT Team operator entering a building with a deadly shooter barricaded inside? Come inside a SWAT team operation and find out…

0830 HRS. Wednesday, 6 July, 2016: Joint Dearborn Police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team, FBI, U.S. Army Training Operation; Ford Research and Innovation Building (RIC), Village Road, Dearborn, Michigan.

John David Smith is dangerous.

Anxiety, depression, paranoia and substance abuse. Coworkers reported his angry outbursts to managers. They counseled him, offering help on three occasions. Today he must be separated from the company.

Smith knows this, and he is irate. He puts a hunting shotgun and a homemade pipe bomb in a garment bag and drives to work.

0843 HRS. Wednesday, 6 July 2016: SWAT Training Simulation; Ford Research and Innovation Building (RIC), Room 2155.

The Ford Research and Innovation Building is where vehicles of the next decade are engineered today. PhD engineers keep Ford Motor Company at the top of market share with innovation for 2020 and beyond.

The Ford RIC building is a modern facility in the center of a large complex across from The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village and next to the luxurious Dearborn Inn. It is a safe place to work, with OSHA compliant safety placards and employees certified in safe work practices. A massive decade-long rebuilding of the complex was announced earlier this year. This is one of few buildings modern enough to remain as building the new complex begins.

Workers in Room 2155 see John Smith storming toward their office. He is bent over at the waist; head down, carrying a stiff garment bag. Smith has always been standoffish, but staff is trained to engage with dissatisfied employees and make conversation to lighten the atmosphere.

Smith responds by pulling a pump action shotgun from his garment bag and shooting them.

A mass shooting from a mentally disturbed assailant has begun at the Ford RIC complex.

0851 HRS. Wednesday, 6 July, 2016: SWAT Training Simulation; South Parking Lot, Ford Research and Innovation Building (RIC).

 I am embedded with the Dearborn Police Special Operations, Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Unit. I will move as part of the team, “stacked up” in the line with their rescue and assault element. The special police officers carry advanced first aid equipment, breaching and rescue gear, bulletproof shields, surveillance equipment, and an array of cell phones and tactical radios. They are also armed with M4 rifles with holographic sights, handguns, smoke, tear gas and stun grenades.


In the training scenario an explosion of 911 calls arrives at Dearborn Police Dispatch miles away on Michigan Avenue in east Dearborn.

“Someone is shooting!” “We hear screaming.” “It sounds like bookshelves fell over and people are running up the hallway.” There is no clear picture.

Through the confusion dispatch officers trained to make order of chaos alert the SWAT team. Regular officers and Ford Security have cordoned off the building with an expedient security perimeter. SWAT positions their vehicles inside the secure perimeter at a concealed location in the south parking lot. The team is gearing up and getting their briefing. It only takes minutes.

By most comparative metrics Dearborn has one of the best law enforcement units in the United States. The department is modern and practices advanced training around the U.S. and the world. Its Special Operations SWAT Team is made up of officers with diverse backgrounds and extensive training, most with military experience, some with combat tours. But this is a civilian setting, vastly different- and more complex- than a battlefield.

The SWAT team leader is one of the older operators. His name is withheld here for security reasons. With his team in a tight circle around him the team leader briefs his men in calm tones:

“One shooter. Our objective is to get to him as fast as possible and neutralize the threat.” He shares the intelligence gathered from 911 calls, Ford Security and from cell phone communications with employees still inside the building being evacuated.

This is a near worst-case scenario: a shooter inside a massive building a city block in size. It’s an ant-maze of cubicles, engineering spaces, workshops, laboratories and vehicle service bays. There are flammable chemicals, explosive gases and high vantage points. Hundreds of places for a gunman to take hostages and barricade himself for a standoff that could end in the loss of innocent lives. The shooter can move with impunity and has demonstrated that he is willing to kill.

While hundreds of people are running out of the building, these men in black uniforms with Spartan patches on their body armor are running in.

We quietly cross an open zone behind ballistic shields and make entry. Fire alarms are blaring. The emergency exits are flung open by escaping employees. It is impossible to communicate above the din.


The team enters against a rushing tide of fleeing, panicked employees. They jam up in an emergency exit. The SWAT operators calmly establish order and clear the evacuees to open the exit. They do it without a word, quickly searching the evacuees and signaling them to raise their hands. The shooter could be concealed among them. Fast action by the team insures he is not. Police outside secure the evacuees and move them to a safe assembly point.

Once inside the team separates into two elements without a word. They are each lined up, or “stacked” behind a thick bullet-resistant shield wielded by point men. If they come around a corner and find the shooter, the operator holding the ballistic shield will stop the incoming bullets at point-blank range while his teammates neutralize the target.


We split the team. One assault element moves to an area where there may be hostages. They operate on sketchy intelligence gleaned from 911 calls that keep coming in, keep changing. The second element, the element I am with, moves immediately to the top floor. We begin a top-down clearing of the building, room by room, in case the first team cannot locate the shooter.

The fire alarm stops blaring. It falls deathly silent in the building. And it is getting hot. The team’s intelligence support unit operating in a large black van outside the building has disabled phones, Internet and air-conditioning. It is critical the suspect shooter does not have access to media. He could use it to watch live video about police response.

First problem: Research equipment in the building is interfering with the team’s tactical radios. The team leader commandeers the radios from Ford Security that are still working. They do a communications check on cell phones and radios. Within seconds new communications are improvised and tested. Problem solved. Forty seconds.

We are sweating now. I carry three heavy cameras and some extra equipment and wear a similar uniform as the SWAT operators. They carry 6-pound rifles, wear heavy body armor, and have on large backpacks with first aid gear, crowbars and door breaching tools. Each man has at least 40 pounds of gear on his back in addition to his ballistic helmet and eye protection. They wear special lightweight tactical boots that make no noise on the floors as they move and provide traction on wet floors. Each one wears hard-shell kneepads in case they must kneel or dive to the prone position.

I’ve done Ironman triathlons and can barely keep up with the team on the stairs with only half their load. These men are in superb condition. When we reach the top of the stairs the only sound is my breathing.

Element 1, the team moving to the possible assailant location, has located an “IED”, an improvised explosive device. A bomb. The U.S. Army and other law enforcement/intelligence units are here for the exercise to provide support and to learn from the operation. I am not allowed to photograph the techniques used to disable the bomb.

In only minutes the EOD team announces “clear”. The bomb is disarmed. There are two (simulated) casualties. SWAT operators use marking pens to write a letter on the casualties’ hands coding their condition for triage by EMT’s once the building is safe.

Our team silently rounds another corner in the systematic sweep of endless corridors.

There is carnage.

The floor is slick with (simulated) blood. There are… 10, 12… 14 casualties down in the hallway. Some dead. Some wounded. Some dying. Some screaming.


It has gone from a hostage situation to a mass shooting, and a small tactical team in a huge building with limited emergency medical capability must make an instant, and agonizing decision: stop and render aid to victims or continue the search for the shooter- who may be creating more victims elsewhere in the building at this moment.

This is a test. A test of the team’s training in decision-making and prioritization. Like most decisions made under extreme circumstances there is no perfect outcome, only a “least bad” choice. Training and mission dictate that choice, and it is made instantly and without hesitation.

The team leader radios the first element. They move to link-up with our team in under two minutes. Instead of briefing the first team members when they arrive, which would take valuable seconds, the team leader briefs them over the radio while en route to our position in the casualty hallway. Seconds are everything.

Wounded people see us. They are screaming for help now. They may be rigged with explosives, one may be the shooter, the shooter may be in any of the doorways emptying into the hallway.

This is a kill zone filled with casualties and the team must manage the conflicting priorities of saving lives and avoiding becoming another victim. The first rule of rescuers: don’t create new victims.


We split again, assault element sweeping to the front of the hallway, our medic moving behind us while the assaulters secure the hallway in front of us. None of the victims are rigged with explosives. None of our victims match the description of the shooter. In seconds the team has swept an adjacent office, secured it, checked the casualties for explosives and weapons and begun treating them. Regular Dearborn Police are pressed into service to help evacuate the wounded. Several victims are dead. We leave them behind. There is a (simulated) bloody bandage stuck to my boot.

After the shock of seeing shooting victims it’s hard to get back into stealth mode. It’s hard to calm my breathing. I look at the operators around me; their faces are neutral with focus.

We enter a meeting room. One operator sweeps left, one right, without a word, skirting the walls of the room with their M4 rifles in the ready position, weapon moving as one with their eyes. They avoid the fatal “funnel” inside the doorway where a shotgun blast from the shooter could cut the team down.

I’m momentarily puzzled when one man scans above us for disturbed ceiling tiles. The other checks a large waste container. The shooter could be anywhere- hiding in trash, concealed in the drop ceiling.


Top floor. We have cleared the entire upper building. The shooter has moved and intelligence suggests there may be hostages since the count of employees rescued, the wounded in the hallway and the number of people who are supposed to be in the building does not match.

Intelligence and training suggest the shooter has moved down to a place where he can secure his hostages and remain defensive. It is rapidly evolving to a standoff hostage situation.

That situation must be avoided.

From the top floor both elements move quietly and quickly to the bottom floor engineering spaces. In total with have covered more than a mile of hallways and stairs. The Ford Security workers show signs of stress, their uniforms soaked through with sweat. I could use water. The building continues to get hotter.

The lower floors are not office cubicles. They are shop spaces and laboratories. Hundreds of places to hide. Flammable chemicals. Gasoline. We enter a large garage area with shiny, new F150 pick-ups hooked to test equipment. The team leader looks in the cab of each truck. Another team member checks the bed of the truck.


There is a voice. Shouting.

At the end of the garage, through a high, clear garage door we make contact with the shooter. It’s the first time we’ve seen him. He is a big man, face contorted in a mix of anger and fear. It occurs to me that the role player simulating a deranged mass shooter must have experience with real shooters like this. His performance is convincing. There are several members of the simulation team I am not allowed to photograph for security reasons. He is one.

The team forms up behind their ballistic shields. They remain quiet. The shooter is shouting something, muffled by the clear garage door that separates us. One team member, our sniper, speaks quietly:

“I have a shot”.

Our team leader must make a decision: Let our sniper take the shot or advance closer in an attempt to assault the garage where the shooter is, potentially apprehending him alive and securing the hostages.

“Move up.” The team leader directs.

We advance along the wall out of sight of the shooter.

There is no hesitation. A concussion grenade cracks blinding light. The team pours into the room, flowing along the walls, weapons tracking the shooter who is now stunned by the deafening noise of the flash-bang grenade. His next flinch decides his fate, and it is a fatal one. He begins to raise his shotgun.

Two shots. Center mass. It is over.

I’m soaked in sweat, my hair is wet. My back hurts from the tension. The team begins an immediate, systematic search of the hostages. There could be an accomplice. It is too soon for “Stockholm Syndrome”, a psychological phenomenon when hostages empathize- and even defend- their assailant. There is an additional search for explosive devices.

More than anything else the team demonstrated their training enabled them to keep the momentum of their search high enough to end the standoff quickly. There are no easy choices when a life may be taken, and that is weighed against innocent lives being saved. The weight of that decision balances on a delicate fulcrum played out in the court of public opinion and the media days, weeks and months after a real incident takes place.


Drenched in sweat and looking for a cold drink I set down my cameras and loosen my boots. The operators converse in measured tones, attentively critiquing the exercise. The outcome of this exercise will be evaluated for months and even years as a way to assess and modify doctrine against evolving threats. If the situation that happened in Texas ever comes to Dearborn our own SWAT Team is more than ready; they are trained, proficient and experienced in meeting the challenge optimally.



Writer/photojournalist Tom Demerly is a former Army Long Range Surveillance team member and has written for numerous military, aviation and specialty publications while traveling to all seven continents, including Antarctica. He is from Dearborn, Michigan.































By Tom Demerly for


As shown in these conflicting headlines, journalists have failed to use accurate language when describing guns in reporting and editorial adding confusion to the gun debate.

Two rifles, very different capabilities. Lots of confusion.

One of many reasons the continuing national gun debate is so difficult to moderate.

There is widespread misunderstanding of what an “assault rifle” actually is. This misunderstanding makes effective debate over proposed reexamination of gun laws nearly impossible. It is one reason the debate feels so circular and divisive.


This is an assault rifle.

An assault rifle is an automatic rifle: You pull the trigger one time and bullets are fired repeatedly at a high rate of fire.

A sporting rifle is a semi-automatic rifle: You pull the trigger one time and one bullet is fired. To fire any additional bullets you must pull the trigger again.


This is a sporting rifle.

That seems straightforward. It is defined in only three sentences. What makes these distinctions difficult for people is that the two classes of weapons look nearly identical.

I served in the U.S. Army and the Michigan National Guard as a member of an Airborne Long Range Reconnaissance Team, Co. “F”, 425th INF, LRSU (AIRBORNE). I was a Scout/Observer in a five-man reconnaissance team. We were a combat unit, trained to employ a wide range of weapons from handguns to missile systems and even airstrikes with lethal effect. We had to know weapons, how they worked and what they were for. I also come from a family that grew up with guns. To me, guns are no different than power tools. They are both dangerous if misused, useful when the user is proficient and competent. And finally, I am a victim of gun violence. That gives me the perspective of a person who has been threatened by a firearm.

In most states in the U.S. a person cannot buy an assault rifle. But gun laws vary widely from state to state.

Somewhat interestingly, in California it is illegal to buy a .50 caliber long-range rifle, often incorrectly called a “sniper rifle”. This is despite the fact that one has never been used in a sensational crime there. Part of the reason they may be illegal in California is their large size, long range and intimidating physical appearance.

It is also illegal to have a rifle with a bayonet mount in California, even though a bayonet has never been used in a mass shooting anywhere in the U.S.

By contrast, in nearby Arizona, gun laws are likely the most liberal in the United States, with most firearms easily available without any or much documentation.

Journalists and lawmakers have played fast and lose with the vernacular and nomenclature that defines firearms technology. That is one reason some gun owners are wary of new legislation. Legal gun owners are rightfully concerned they’ll be somehow “over regulated”. With inaccurate characterizations of firearms common among politicians and journalists, it seems like this is a valid concern. With spurious legislation of bizarre and irrelevant weapons specifications in states like California the concern over erroneous but well-intentioned regulation seems even more valid.

Why does the understanding of what makes one gun an “assault rifle” and another gun a “sporting rifle” matter? It is one of many distinctions that draw the fine line between reasonable regulation in the interest of public safety and overregulation that some people suggest is a threat to civil liberty.


By Tom Demerly for


It took three days for me to write this, because writing this makes it real and I didn’t want that.

Robert F. Dorr is dead.

Dorr was “an author and retired senior American diplomat who published over 70 books, hundreds of short stories, and numerous contemporary non-fiction articles on international affairs, military issues and the Vietnam War. Most recently, he headed the weekly “Back Talk” opinion column for the Military Times newspaper and the monthly “Washington Watch” feature of Aerospace America. He is also on the Masthead as the technical editor of Air Power History, [1] the journal of the Air Force Historical Foundation, and was Washington correspondent for the discontinued Jane’s World Air Power Journal.[2] He has appeared as an expert on numerous CNN, History News Network, C-SPAN and other local and cable television programs.”

That is from his Wikipedia page. I was too upset to write out my own accounting of his work so I just copied those words. That is what he was.

But this is who he was:

Robert F. Dorr was a humble and quiet man who became vast through the written word. The funnel of his imagination brought knowledge, inspiration, entertainment, education and excitement to readers around the world. He truly opened up new worlds from his pages.

Dorr combined the lessons of history with the most novel aspects of literature and entertainment. His lens focused the stories of an entire world experiencing an entire era. He told them like no other.

I worked briefly with Dorr as a beta-reader on his first fiction novel, Hitler’s Time Machine. Dorr was a non-fiction guy, but Time Machine was masterful work. It felt odd to exchange e-mails with him trying to make recommendations for changes.


Dorr leaves behind a family to whom he was a fine father, husband and friends to whom he was a very fine companion around the world.

And we lose something priceless and rare.

I read excerpts from one of Robert’s books to my 93-year old mother. She lived through WWII in Seattle when my dad worked on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and the B-17 Flying Fortress, bombers used in the air war against Japan and Germany.

My mom lives in an assisted living home for seniors. I read to her in the pleasant downstairs lobby of her home. As I read Robert F. Dorr’s stories from Mission to Berlin other seniors sat down, listening to Dorr’s narrative of B-17 crews struggling for their lives in the thin, freezing air over Berlin:

“In another bomber of Lyle’s 379th group, 1st Lt. Carl L. “Kayo” Cook was minding his bombardier’s position in the nose and possibly feeling some temporary relief that his Fortress had not yet been hit. Cook had just written to his wife, the former Helen Kraft, in Pender, Nebraska, cheerfully reporting that he’d be home soon because he had just six missions left to fly. He was the father of two daughters, including one born just three weeks before on January 12, whom he’d never seen. Cook’s mother-in-law had recently remarried. The family was planning a big homecoming for him.

A fragment of metal, apparently from a flak explosion, punctured the Fortress’s glass nose, continued into the cramped narrow tube of the fuselage, and killed Cook instantly.

No one else in his plane was touched. Cook’s crew would make it home without him.”

One by one more old people sat down. Some looked at me as I read Dorr’s accounting, others looked at the floor. One man wearing a blue ball cap with “ARMY” scrolled on its ample crown stared out the window as I read. More sat down to listen.

“I remember that” my mom told me. “We didn’t hear about it at the time, but the telegrams came and later the stories”

The crowd of geriatrics, now about eight of them, was transported back through decades and miles and lives by Robert F. Dorr’s narrative. His words restored their youth, their fears, their heroics.

For a few minutes I saw the incredible worth and power of Dorr’s amazing work.

Dorr lived a life I idolize, envy, and aspire to. He was a diplomat, flew in fighter jets, and wrote stories and interviewed heroes and adventurers.

If I could have picked my father it would have been Robert F. Dorr.

I have a couple of his books inscribed to me by him. They seem to glow, feel warm.

I do not believe we die all at once, but a little at a time. And while Robert F. Dorr has passed away he is very much living for us through his amazing narratives. But I know that I have died a little too losing Robert F. Dorr, and I fell heavy under the knowledge that there will be no more stories from him, and no one will ever tell them like he did.



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