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NCIS: La Jolla

By Daniel Norland, Upper School history teacher and global education coordinator for the Center for Excellence in Citizenship
Mark Fallon arrived in San Diego at 1 p.m., on Thursday, January 18, his flight having been delayed several hours due to a snowstorm in Atlanta. He had been awake since 3:30 a.m., so it would have been understandable if he were less than enthusiastic about going directly from the airport to Mr. Shulman’s AP Government classroom. But when asked if he would rather skip class and go straight to his hotel, he declined. Grinning, he said, “I’m on a mission.”

That mission was to inspire students to care about combating injustice, and he carried out his mission with good nature, good humor and an arsenal of fascinating stories about his 27 years of service in the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service). After speaking with Mr. Shulman’s AP Government class and then getting a good night’s sleep, Mr. Fallon spent the next day in a series of history and government classes, answering students’ questions about the NCIS and enthralling them with tales of going undercover to catch drug lords and track terrorists.

Mr. Fallon also spoke with students about the career-defining dilemma he found himself in when he learned that detainees in Guantanamo were being brutally interrogated. In his view, this not only flouted American values but also flew in the face of everything he had learned about interrogation practice over the course of his career. He explained why the “honey and tea” approach is not only more humane but also more effective, and he described making the decision to take a moral stand against torture even if it would cost him his career.

After a full day of classes, Mr. Fallon, author of Unjustifiable Means:The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture, regaled LJCDS students, parents and faculty that evening with stories about the NCIS—both the real thing and the television show, which sometimes sent actors in for training on how to hold their weapons. He concluded his talk, which can be viewed in full here, with an inspiring message about the importance of seeing the humanity and dignity inherent in everyone.

The students who met with Mr. Fallon wrote him notes to express their gratitude and reflect on what they learned from him. Here are a few excerpts:

Alice Irvin ’21: “I cannot begin to describe how much I agree with you about treating every person with simple human decency. Thank you again for lending us some of your time. You are so amazing!”

Michael McClellan ’21: “I thought it was really cool how you devoted 31 years of your life to help better America and the world as a whole. I learned from you that even though people may seem bad, they are really just scared people who don’t know any better. They are still people, just like us. I think your talk not only reminded us about how open-minded we should be, but it also reminded me about how I should approach certain things. Your lessons taught me to be even more thoughtful, patient and empathetic towards everyone I meet.” [Note: This is even more remarkable if you know how thoughtful, patient and empathetic Michael was to begin with.]

Kyla Cordill ’21: “This was a unique opportunity to speak with you, and I’m glad I got to experience it. I found it admirable that you were strong enough to speak your opinion even though it was an unpopular one. Thank you for standing up for our constitution when others wouldn’t.”

Jordan Breise ’21: “Having you come speak to us and answer our questions gave me insight that I would never have gotten otherwise.”

Jon Herman ’18: “Despite pressure from some colleagues and superiors, you defied their advice and did the right thing. Your story has given me the confidence that when I go into a line of work similar to yours, I will make the morally correct decision regardless of its consequences.”

It’s clear, reading students’ reflections, that LJCDS can tell Mr. Fallon something he’s certainly heard before:

Mission accomplished.
 
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