Sunday, July 7, 2013

Gary “Doc” Welt (You Can Help Batman)

In the way of warning, this blog post has almost nothing to do with digital forensics and everything to do with something more important. One of the nice things about having my own blog is that I am my own editor and I don’t have to ask permission to write about something that has very little to do with the original purpose of the blog.

I originally set out to write a follow-up to my last post dealing with the deficiencies that I’m seeing in digital forensics education. That blog post generated quite a bit of interest and I’m grateful for all of the responses both in public and private. I’ll get back to that topic in my next blog post and, as an added “bonus”, I’ll even talk about the new CCFP “cyber forensics” certification being offered by ISC2.

But none of that seems all that important to me as I write this on the 4th of July weekend given how many people over the years have sacrificed everything they had to defend the United States of America and the rest of Western Civilization against a whole host of profoundly bad people. Even a cursory glance at world history shows that peace and prosperity is not the natural state of human affairs. Being able to sustain a place like the United States requires an incredible amount of continuous effort by many people with the brunt of the burden falling on the United States military.

By day, I am a mild mannered digital forensics geek who has the honor and privilege to lead a pack of world-class border collies. By night (and sometimes weekends), among other things, I’m a rookie competitive action shooter. I started doing this early this year and it’s been an amazing experience in large part because of the people involved in the sport. They tend to be some of the nicest and most generous people that I've encountered in many years and this generosity reminds me of the digital forensics community in many ways. My primary game is USPSA action shooting and my home club is the Wyoming Antelope Club in Clearwater, Florida.

It’s through the Wyoming Antelope Club that I became aware of a real live superhero by the name of Gary “Doc” Welt. “Doc” Welt spent around thirty years of his life as a United States Navy SEAL. You can read about Gary’s career here and you will also read why I’m writing this. Gary Welt has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) which also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a very tough set of cards to be dealt. Gary provides a very clear explanation of what he’s up against in this YouTube video. The life expectancy of someone diagnosed with it tends to be two to five years. There is a small percentage of people who live beyond that time. This is the same disease that Stephen Hawking has and, as CNN explains...

Most people with ALS survive only two to five years after diagnosis. Hawking, on the other hand, has lived more than 40 years since he learned he had the disease, which is also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease in America and motor neuron disease, or MND, in the United Kingdom.

So if anyone has a shot at beating the odds in the face of ALS, it’s a  superhero like Gary Welt.  What is interesting is that Gary’s military service might be one of the things that increased his risk for getting ALS. The Mayo Clinic reports that:

Recent studies indicate that people who have served in the military are at higher risk of ALS. Exactly what about military service may trigger the development of ALS is uncertain, but it may include exposure to certain metals or chemicals, traumatic injuries, viral infections and intense exertion.

I call Gary Welt a superhero because he is one. Think about it. No one would deny that Batman is a superhero, but he’s a superhero who doesn’t have any intrinsic superpowers. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider or exposed to gamma radiation which provided him special powers. He wasn’t born on Krypton and sent to Earth. Batman is superhero because he's an exceptionally trained, highly intelligent, and supremely well-conditioned human being with a vast equipment budget. That also describes the US Navy SEALS. Most people can’t even get into their training pipeline much less complete it because of the mental and physical toughness that is required. They do incredibly complicated and challenging work with some of the most sophisticated weapons systems in the world. So even if you are mentally and physically tough enough, you aren’t going to become a SEAL if you are a dullard.

What about equipment? We all know that Batman has all sorts fantastic equipment like the Batmobile, Batcopter, Batcycle, Batboat, and all the rest of his goodies. The SEALS have their own stuff that might as well be right out of a comic book. Check out the picture below.

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That’s right. The SEALS have their own version of the Batsub. They just call it a SEAL Delivery Vehicle. Put some capes on those guys and give it a bit more of a snappy name and you’ve got a picture right out of a comic book.

Not enough to convince you? Fine. The SEALS have their own version of the BatBuggy. Look at this:


The SEALS just happen to call their BatBuggy a Desert Patrol Vehicle. Not the most creative name, but it can be equipped with a variety of weapons including a 40mm grenade launcher so it doesn’t need one. Good luck with that, Joker.

The only meaningful difference that I can see between a superhero like Batman and a superhero like Gary Welt is that Batman is fictional and “Doc” Welt and the rest of his SEAL brothers are real. “Doc” Welt is a superhero who has devoted his life to fighting bad guys and protecting the rest of his. Now we have an opportunity to try and return the favor by helping him out when he’s in a tough fight. How often do you get to say that you helped a real life superhero?

As the Red Circle Foundation webpage set for for him explains:

We are raising money to help Gary and his wife modify their home for his condition and for wheelchair access. The VA (Veterans Affairs) does a lot of good, but they are a slow moving bureaucracy and time is critical for the Welt family.

The primary way that you can help Gary is donating money via the Red Circle Foundation website. I think the current setup is that any money you give via that portal will result in 90 percent going to Gary and 10 percent to help pay for Red Circle Foundation costs. If you follow Gary’s progress at the HelpGaryWelt Facebook page you’ll see them discussing how that works.

I know the digital forensics community to be a very generous bunch with a culture of sharing and helping one another out. He’s an opportunity for us stand together to help someone who has done so much for others. How often can you say that you got the help Batman? Please consider giving anything you can to help a real live superhero like Gary “Doc” Welt.

Photo Credits and Captions

SDV Photo:

Atlantic Ocean (May 5, 2005) - Members of SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two (SDVT-2) prepare to launch one of the team's SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDV) from the back of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Philadelphia (SSN 690) on a training exercise. The SDVs are used to carry Navy SEALs from a submerged submarine to enemy targets while staying underwater and undetected. SDVT-2 is stationed at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., and conducts operations throughout the Atlantic, Southern, and European command areas of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Andrew McKaskle (RELEASED)

DPV Photo:

Camp Doha, Kuwait (Feb. 13, 2002) - U.S. Navy SEALs (SEa, Air, Land) operate Desert Patrol Vehicles (DPV) while preparing for an upcoming mission. Each Dune Buggy" is outfitted with complex communication and weapon systems designed for the harsh desert terrain. Special Operations units are characterized by the use of small units with unique ability to conduct military actions that are beyond the capability of conventional military forces. SEALs are superbly trained in all environments, and are the masters of maritime Special Operations. SEALs are required to utilize a combination of specialized training, equipment, and tactics in completion of Special Operation missions worldwide. Navy SEALs are currently forward deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Arlo Abrahamson. (RELEASED)