29 May, 2006

Memorial Day 2006

Freedom isn't free.

That phrase is heard a lot these days. And it's very true. Our freedom came at a cost, and the bill continues to come due today. We live free on the shoulders of those who have died on battlefields stretching back over 200 years.

Death on the battlefield hurts those left behind as deeply as other kinds of death. The spouse feels torn in half, parents reel at the realization that fate has erred and they have outlived their child, and children wonder why Daddy or Mommy isn't coming home. Ever.

But we cannot reverse that death and so we must not allow ourselves to drown in sorrow on this day. Instead, let us remember that our freedoms were bought and paid for by others. They are gifts entrusted to our wise use.

So today we remember those who died. But most of all we remember why they died and what they gave.

Go, make the most of their gift as you hold their memory in your hearts. Use your freedoms and opportunities to live a life worthy of their sacrifice: play, love, care for, work, create, improve, challenge, excel in the slice of life that is yours; their deaths are the past, but they enable your future. Let us live a future worthy of their sacrifice.

Update: Lex says it all so much better.


If you're looking for something a bit more eloquent, keep scrolling down at Blackfive, Mudville Gazette, Milblogs, or see the round-up here.

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This morning the air is cool and the thin layer of clouds filter the searing desert sun. So, I'm going to go on a bike ride.

...and think about what to say about those whose sacrifices across over two centuries have created a place where I can do that, where I can live safely and freely and where a world of possibilities now lay at my feet.

Maybe I'll have the right words when I get back.

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28 May, 2006

Meditations for Memorial Day

Meighan Adamouski, wife of Army Captain James Adamouski, receives a
folded flag from Lieutenant General Richard Cody, during a funeral service
for Adamouski at Arlington National Cemetery, April 24, 2003. More here.

As of this evening, I haven't yet been able to pull together my recently wandering thoughts and scattershot emotions enough to make a proper Memorial Day post. I wander from thoughts of military poseurs to Haditha to those for whom Memorial Day is a painfully personal holiday. Somehow it isn't sorting itself out in my mind yet.

But there's a lot of good stuff out there that is worth reading and contemplating this weekend. I'll add to the list if I find more I like, then try to post something worth reading tomorrow. Start here to learn how it all began, then please check out the following:

Memorial Day 2006 - The Notification at Argghhh!
There will be a key post each day through Monday - that chronicles how Memorial Day suddenly, sadly, explosively, numbingly takes on a wholly different texture for military families during a time of war. All of these posts will be long. But however long it seems for you, it's way too short for the body in the casket and a never-ending ache for those standing around the grave site... This is a great country. And this is just one proof. This is the price of freedom, hope, and the fight for the future.

Iraq War Widows Seek Strength Amid Loss at Associated Press
Here are sketches of some of the wives whose soldier husbands were killed in Iraq, and the complex changes they felt after hearing simple words — "Ma'am, we regret to inform you ..."

Memorial Day at Winds of Change
Always as this time of year rolls around, I remember them; the ones who left the paper trail I followed between the present and the past. These people were real to me; I would recognize their handwriting at once. Their quirks of spelling, the references to the novels they had read.

On Memorial Day at Knight-Ridder
We are a nation at war this year, just as we have been for the last five years since the terror attacks on innocent American citizens on Sept. 11, 2001. We are at war, but who among us knows the true cost of war, and who pays the price?

The answer to that question is, of course, our living veterans of wars.

Confront Your Shame and Honor the Heroes at Tigerhawk
When the heroes are draftees, we can honor them for having risen above the misfortune of their low draft number. They lost the lottery, and still they thrived. The draftee is not different from us in the choices he made, he simply made the most of his bad fortune. We imagine we might have risen to the same challenge.

Take Back Memorial Day at Military.com
This morning I opened the paper and a series of circulars spilled onto my lap – bright, colored pages with bold fonts and frenetic language: “Now through Memorial Day only!” and “A Don’t Miss Memorial Day Sales Event!” As I took a deep breath and gathered up the pages that had spilled to the floor, at once it struck me: We owe more than commerce to those who sacrificed the balance of their lives for their country. It's time to take back Memorial Day.

America Doesn't Forget!
at One Marine's View
I think about the warriors from past battles Inchon, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and wonder if they felt the same as us during this Memorial holiday. A time you let the faces of the warriors past stay a little longer in your immediate memory and stare at them and remember them. Here one minute and then gone so quickly the next, its incredible that they are gone. They were just here.

Arlington at Fuzzilicious Thinking
My mind was filled with consideration of what made this memorial site so special and powerful and worthwhile, why the sentinels were so careful and precise. I think that in part it is because this devotion to impeccable ritual and perfectionistic self-discipline is a gift to those who have fallen... to those whom we cannot honor by reading their names or telling their stories to our children. So we selected this beautiful spot overlooking our nation's capital city and offer a representative piece of ourselves, sentinels of total devotion who will ensure that though they are "known but to God," we do know of their sacrifice, we are grateful for it, and we will always remember.

Memorial Day 2006: Yes, In My Name at Some Soldier's Mom
After the deaths of so many of Noah’s unit last year (here, here, here, here, here, here), Memorial Day will never be the same. And after the grief of The Funeral of Spc. Tommy Byrd, the tears I shed on this and every Memorial Day will be hotter and will burn my cheeks deeper than in years past. The playing of “Taps” will stab at my heart and the National Anthem will never sound sweeter nor be more bittersweet. No, Memorial Day will never be the same.

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Murtha Hits Bottom and Keeps Digging

I didn't think he could disgrace himself further, but he has done it. On Memorial Day weekend, this is how ex-Marine Murtha "honors" those whom he used to call brothers:

But Murtha said, "There's no question about what happened. … The problem is: Who covered it up, why did they cover it up and why did it take so long?"

"We cannot allow something like this to fester," said Murtha, a decorated veteran of the Marines. "[The military has] got to put the blame where it goes."

Murtha contends photographic evidence of the incident proves beyond a doubt that the Marines at Haditha committed war crimes, making it critical the military take prompt action.

"These kind of things have to be brought out immediately," he told "This Week," "because if the Marines got away with it, other Marines might think it's okay."

The congressman doesn't know how far the blame will go.

"That's what we're trying to find out," he said. "It goes right up the chain of command right up to General Pace. … Did he know about it? Did he cover it up? I'm sure he didn't, but we need to find out."

I'm truly stunned at the breadth and depth of his lack of honor. How dare he sit there as a member of Congress and throw around intimations of a cover up throughout the entire Marine Corps chain of command when there has been an investigation underway for several months, instituted by the Marine Corps itself! How can he say "there's no question about what happened" when a trial is not even underway yet?! And to suggest there is a danger that other Marines might think that what he says happened (a massacre of innocents) is okay?!


I keep trying to comment further on this, but the thoughts in my head wouldn't be suitable for polite company. And as they are fueled purely by absolute rage at this worthless, reprehensible and honorless man, they probably wouldn't reflect well on me, either.

Update: Blackfive reminds us that what we can do about this is support his electoral opponent, Diana Irey. And we can remember all the good things Marines have been doing in Haditha.

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Memorial Day Past and Present

This article made the rounds of the milblogs about a year ago. As the sad story is being replayed on a regular basis these days, I think it's appropriate reading for us this weekend (h/t to Cpt. B for reminding me of the article)...

The Rules of War

by Col. Brett Wyrick

The first rule of war is that young men and women die. The second rule of war is that surgeons cannot change the first rule.

We had already done around a dozen surgical cases in the morning and the early afternoon. The entire medical staff had a professional meeting to discuss the business of the hospital and the care and treatment of burns.

It is not boastful or arrogant when I tell you that some of the best surgeons in the world were present – I have been to many institutions, and I have been all around the world, and at this point in time, with this level of experience, the best in the world are assembled here at Balad.

LTC Dave S., the Trauma Czar, and a real American hero is present. He has saved more people out here than anyone can imagine. The cast of characters includes two Air Force Academy graduates, Col (s) Joe W. and Maj. Max L. When you watch ER on television, the guys on the show are trying to be like Max – cool, methodical and professional. Max never misses anything on a trauma case because he sees everything on a patient and notes it the same way the great NFL running backs see the entire playing field when they are carrying the ball.

Joe is an ENT surgeon who is tenacious, bright, and technically correct every single time – I mean every single time. The guy has a lower tolerance for variance than NASA. LTC (s) Chris C. was the Surgeon of the Day (SOD), and I was the back-up SOD. Everyone else was there and available – as I said the best in the world.

As the meeting was breaking up, the call came in.

An American soldier had been injured in an IED blast north of here, and he was in a bad way with head trauma. The specifics were fuzzy, but after three months here, what would need to be done was perfectly clear – the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group readied for battle. All the surgeons started to gravitate toward the PLX which is the surgeons' ready room and centrally located midway to the ER, OR and radiology.

The lab personnel checked precious units of blood, and the pharmacy made ready all the medications and drugs we would need for the upcoming fight. An operating room was cleared, and surgical instruments were laid out, the anesthesia circuits were switched over, and the gasses were checked and rechecked. An anesthesiologist and two nurse anesthetists went over the plan of action as the OR supervisor made the personnel assignments.

In the ER, bags of IV fluids were carefully hung, battery packs were checked, and the ER nursing supervisor looked over the equipment to make sure all was in working order and the back-ups were ready just in case the primaries failed. The radiology techs moved forward in their lead gowns bringing their portable machines like artillery men of old wheeling their cannon into place. Respiratory therapy set the mechanical ventilator, and double-checked the oxygen. Gowns, gloves, boots, and masks were donned by those who would be directly in the battle.

America can bring to the war – were in place and ready along with the best skill and talent from techs to surgeons. The two neurosurgeons gathered by themselves to plan. LTC A. is a neurosurgeon who still wears his pilot wings proudly. He used to be a T-38 instructor pilot, and some of the guys he trained to fly are now flying F-16s right here at Balad. He is good with his hands and calm under pressure. The other neurosurgeon is Maj. W., a gem of a surgeon who could play the guitar professionally if he was not dedicated to saving lives. A long time ago, at a place on the other side of the world called Oklahoma, I operated on his little brother after a car accident and helped to save his life. The two neurosurgeons, Chris, and I joined for the briefing. Although I was the ranking officer of the group, Chris was the SOD and would be the flight lead. If this was a fighter sweep, all three of those guys would be Weapons School Patch wearers.

The plan was for me and the ER folks to assess, treat and stabilize the patient as rapidly as possible to get the guy into the hands of the neurosurgeons. The intel was that this was an IED blast, and those rarely come with a single, isolated injury. It makes no sense to save the guy's brain if you have not saved the heart pump that brings the oxygenated blood to the brain. With this kind of trauma, you must be deliberate and methodical, and you must be deliberate and methodical in a pretty damn big hurry.

All was ready, and we did not have to wait very long. The approaching rotors of a Blackhawk were heard, and Chris and I moved forward to the ER followed by several sets of surgeons' eyes as we went. We have also learned not to clog up the ER with surgeons giving orders. One guy runs the code, and the rest follow his instructions or stay out the way until they are needed.

They wheeled the soldier into the ER on a NATO gurney shortly after the chopper touched down. One look at the PJs' faces told me that the situation was grim. Their young faces were drawn and tight, and they moved with a sense of directed urgency. They did not even need to speak because the look in their eyes was pleading with us – hurry. And hurry we did.

In a flurry of activity that would seem like chaos to the uninitiated, many things happened simultaneously. Max and I received the patient as Chris watched over the shoulder to pick out anything that might be missed. An initial survey indicated a young soldier with a wound to the head, and several other obvious lacerations on the extremities.

Max called out the injuries as they were found, and one of the techs wrote them down. The C-collar was checked, the chest was auscultated as the ET tube was switched to the ventilator. Chris took the history from the PJs because the patient was not conscious. All the wounds were examined and the dressings were removed except for the one on the head.

The patient was rolled on to his side while his neck was stabilized by my hands, and Max examined the backside from the toes to the head. When we rolled the patient back over, it was onto an X-ray plate that would allow us to take the chest X-Ray immediately. The first set of vitals revealed a low blood pressure; fluid would need to be given, and it appeared as though the peripheral vascular system was on the verge of collapse.

I called the move as experienced hands rolled him again for the final survey of the back and flanks and the X-Ray plate was removed and sent for development. As we positioned him for the next part of the trauma examination, I noted that the hands that were laid on this young man were Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, Australian, Army, Air Force, Marine, Man, Woman, Young and Older: a true cross-section of our effort here in Iraq, but there was not much time to reflect.

The patient needed fluid resuscitation fast, and there were other things yet to be done. Chris watched the initial survey and the secondary survey with a situational awareness that comes from competence and experience. Chris is never flustered, never out of ideas, and his pulse is never above fifty.

With a steady, calm, and re-assuring voice, he directed the next steps to be taken. I moved down to the chest to start a central line, Max began an ultrasonic evaluation of the abdomen and pelvis. The X-rays and ultrasound examination were reviewed as I sewed the line in place, and it was clear to Chris that the young soldier's head was the only apparent life-threatening injury.

The two neurosurgeons came forward, and removed the gauze covering the soldier's wounded head, and everyone's heart sank as we saw the blossom of red blood spreading out from shredded white and grey matter of the brain. Experience told all the surgeons present that there was no way to survive the injury, and this was one battle the Medical Group was going to lose. But he was American, and it was not time to quit, yet.

Gentle pressure was applied over the wound, and the patient went directly to the CT scanner as drugs and fluids were pumped into the line to keep his heart and lungs functioning in a fading hope to restore the brain. The time elapsed from his arrival in the ER to the time he was in the CT scanner was five minutes.

The CT scan confirmed what we had feared. The wounds to the brain were horrific and mortal, and there was no way on earth to replace the volume of tissue that had been blasted away by the explosion. The neurosurgeons looked at the scan, they looked at the scan a second time, and then they re-examined the patient to confirm once again.

The OR crew waited anxiously outside the doors of radiology in the hope they would be utilized, but Chris, LTCs A and S., and Maj W. all agreed. There was no brain activity whatsoever. The chaplain came to pray, and reluctantly, the vent was turned from full mechanical ventilation to flow by. He had no hint of respiratory activity, his heart that had beat so strongly early in the day ceased to beat forever, and he was pronounced dead.

The pumps were turned off; the machines were stopped, and the IVs were discontinued. Respectful quiet remained, and it was time to get ready for the next round of casualties. The techs and nurses gently moved the body over to the back of the ER to await mortuary services. And everyone agreed there was nothing more we could have done.

When it was quiet, there was time to really look at the young soldier and see him as he was. Young, probably in his late teens, with not an ounce of fat anywhere. His muscles were powerful and well defined, and in death, his face was pleasant and calm.

I am always surprised that anyone still has tears to shed here at Balad, but thank God they still do. The nurses and techs continued to care for him and do what they could. Not all the tubes and catheters can be removed because there is always a forensic investigation to be done at Dover AFB, but the nurses took out the lines they could. Fresh bandages were placed over the wounds, and the blood clots were washed from his hair as his wound was covered once more. His hands and feet were washed with care. A broken toenail was trimmed, and he was silently placed in the body bag when mortuary services arrived as gently as if they were tucking him into bed.

Later that night was Patriot Detail – our last goodbye for an American hero. All the volunteers gathered at Base Ops after midnight under a three-quarter moon that was partially hidden by high, thin clouds. There was only silence as the chief master sergeant gave the Detail its instructions. Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines, colonels, privates and sergeants, pilots, gunners, mechanics, surgeons and clerks all marched out side-by-side to the back of the waiting transport, and presently, the flag-draped coffin was carried through the cordon as military salutes were rendered.

The Detail marched back from the flight line, and slowly the doors of the big transport were secured. The chaplain offered prayers for anyone who wanted to participate, and then the group broke up as the people started to move away into the darkness. The big engines on the transport fired up, and the ground rumbled for miles as they took the runway. His duty was done – he had given the last full measure, and he was on his way home.

The first rule of war is that young men and women die. The second rule of war is that surgeons cannot change the first rule. I think the third rule of war should be that those who have given their all for our freedom are never forgotten, and they are always honored.

I wish there was not a war, and I wish our young people did not have to fight and die. But I cannot wish away evil men like Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi. These men are not wayward children who have gone astray; they are not great men who are simply misunderstood.

These are cold-blooded killers and they will kill you, me, and everyone we love and hold dear if we do not kill them first. You cannot reason with these people, you cannot negotiate with these people, and this war will not be over until they are dead. That is the ugly, awful, and brutal truth.

I wish the situation was different, but it is not. Americans have two choices. They can run from the threat, deny it exists, candy-coat it, debate it, and hope it goes away. And then, Americans will be fair game around the world and slaughtered by the thousands for the sheep they have become.

Our second choice is to crush these evil men where they live and for us to have the political will and courage to finish what we came over here to do. The last thing we need here in Iraq is an exit strategy or some damn timetable for withdrawal. Thank God there was no timetable for withdrawal after the Battle of the Bulge or Iwo Jima. Thank God there was no exit strategy at Valley Forge. Freedom is not easy, and it comes with a terrible price – I saw the bill here yesterday.

The third rule of war should be that we never forget the sacrifices made by our young men and women, and we always honor them. We honor them by finishing what they came to accomplish. We remember them by never quitting and having the backbone and the guts to never bend to the yoke of oppression.

We honor them and remember them by having the courage to live free.

Col. Brett Wyrick is commander of the 154th Medical Group, Hawaii Air National Guard, and is serving as a surgeon in Balad with the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group. This column is part of a series of email reports from Iraq that Wyrick has been sending to his father, a Vietnam-era fighter pilot, who in turn distributes them to a circle of friends and acquaintances.

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27 May, 2006

There was once something else in this space.

I have twice in the last two days posted and removed essays about the Marines and Haditha. I've struggled to balance my desire to speak out with the ethics and morality of whether this was the appropriate time to do so. I've decided it is not. Until we know what really happened, this is my opinion on the matter:

We don't have all the facts, but we have a lot of reason to worry. If the Marines rumored to be about to be charged are found guilty, I hope they fry; they would need to pay not only for the lives devastated and destroyed, but for damage to the country and Corps. Until then, I have my own thoughts and theories and worries. But they are of no value right now except in discussions among friends. Speaking of, this is what one said to me:

Well, the thing to remember is that it's important to minimize political pressure on the process, even if it is true and the men are guilty. If they are guilty, they deserve the punishment they will get, and shouldn't be allowed to escape it by claiming that political pressure kept them from getting a fair trial and/or caused them to face more serious charges or a sterner punishment than was warranted.

The [exculpatory] sketch I offered was only a hypothetical -- not what I believe really happened, as I don't know what happened well enough to say, but just a possible scenario. It could be that they are indeed guilty, both of wanton murder and a coverup.

If so, let's not give their lawyers an out.
Okay. On that basis I will "stand down." But don't for a moment consider the quietness on the topic on this blog an acceptance or tolerance of any illegal or immoral behavior by our warfighters.

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26 May, 2006

Job Search Update

Nothing much to tell ya, but I'm feeling like blogging about it.

I haven't interviewed for the Dream Job yet (position supervisor has had her schedule blown to bits--travel, etc.). We'll be arranging a phone interview very soon, and in the meantime I have a speech to submit as a writing sample. It's good to know they're so thorough, but it's getting more and more intimidating--writing sample involves what I would say if I were addressing a congressional committee!

Hmmm... I think I recently said something like, "Ignore me, I'm "just little Fuzzybear." Guess that's not gonna be an option, haha!

Seriously, I don't mind being the center of attention with a large audience one bit... as long as I'm not talking about myself. In other words, give me something to argue or advocate, or some music to perform, and I'll be completely comfortable in front of thousands. Stand me in front of a handful of people who want to thank me or embarrass me with compliments and I'll be counting the seconds 'til I get outta there!

Anyway, I guess I need to get serious about exploring other avenues. It's hard to find time to do it when school is winding up and everything's going bonkers. I've got a paycheck through July, so I should be okay. But time is running out...

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25 May, 2006

Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company

Update: The program will be rebroadcast this weekend and next (Saturday May 27 @ 8pm/7C, Sunday May 28 @ 12am/11C and 1pm/12C, Monday May 29 @ 8am/7C and 2pm/1C, and Saturday June 03 @ 11am/10C). Thanks to Anna for the tip in the comments.

This two-hour documentary, airing on A&E tonight at 9 p.m., is by Michael Epstein of the widely acclaimed "Antietam," the first in the 10-part series "10 Days that Changed America." It's about Marines of the 25th Regiment, reservists out of Columbus Ohio, covering both combat and redeployment largely in their own words. From the L.A. Times review:

The Marines of Lima Company enlisted to fight. And were disappointed when they figured deployment to Iraq would be boring sentry duty. "We were going to be stuck on the wire," one says.

It didn't work out that way. "Diary" catches the rhythm of a frontline deployment, heart-pounding firefights followed by pizza-eating contests back at base, in this case the Soviet-built Haditha Dam.

"Brotherhood" is a paltry word to describe the bonds that form between the troops. Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Delgado remembered the day Navy corpsman Travis Youngblood was hit:

"His last words to me were, 'Tell the guys I will be back. Don't get another corpsman, I'll be back.' " Youngblood died within minutes.

In the videos shot in Iraq, the Marines are high-spirited and youthfully profane. In the interviews done by Epstein and crew, they've had time to reflect on the meaning of war.

Slowly, painfully, Sgt. Guy Zierk tells of kicking in the door of an insurgent house and, filled with rage over the death of his buddies, coming close to killing two women and a teenage boy. At the last moment, he pulls back.

"It would make me no better than the people we're trying to fight," he says.

"Diary" is free of politics. Epstein knows that foreign policy has little to do with why men keep fighting.

Lance Cpl. Travis Williams, interviewed while fishing in Montana, explains why he wants to return to Iraq.

"I want revenge, and I want to be there for my friends when they go back," he says.

"If something happens to my friends and I'm sitting back here — I don't think I could live with that."


Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company
Where: A&E
When: 9 to 11 p.m. Thursday.
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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24 May, 2006

The War at Home

Steve Shippert of Threats Watch puts forth what could be called a MilBlog Manifesto over at MilBlogs. It's a must-read, and it's inspiring fascinating conversation. He writes, in part:

Something has happened to this country that my grandfathers would scarcely recognize and certainly struggle to fathom. That this requires discussion disgusts me daily.

...And such is the nature of the degeneration of American politics. That this repulsive decay also consumes the very defense of the world's one true beacon of freedom causes true physical discomfort. For we do not own that freedom but are tasked with her defense and care by default.
Go and read it all.

I responded to his first posting with the following comment that conveys my thoughts on the issue:
Hear, hear!

The most important battlegrounds are around our dinner tables and in intelligent and persuasive common sense discussion among our peers, seeking the discomfort of battle and the very defense of defense rather than the comfort and unproductive endeavor of agreement among friends.

But that is exactly why I (to my utter shame) don't enter into discussion and persuasion among my peers. For I find as soon as I open my mouth I am looked on with either amusement or disgust... but never with open-mindedness, interest, or a willingness to engage. And thus I come to the conclusion that it is better to maintain harmony in social and work circles than to fight the futile battle with closed or willfully-ignorant minds.

As Valour-IT has gotten more attention and since I am now pursuing a job in the area of military family support, my role in Valour-IT comes up more in my local life. And I find that I am looked at incredulously by some and with suspicion by others. I.E. "Are you one of those war-monger types or something?"

I fear that maybe it is too late. But then again, I'm not a member of this august blog because I have no specialty in military or foreign policy. Hopefully I'm wrong...

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Good News for Fran O'Brien's?

I signed up for Fran O'Brien's mailing list awhile back, and received the following today. There had been public and behind-the-scenes hints that good things were developing. It looks like Fran's has managed to find some new sites worth looking at, which is half the battle in the super-tight DC real estate market. Very encouraging...

Update on Fran O'Brien's New Location

We have looked at several sites and hope to make a decision soon. It will probably take about six months to re-open. We will keep you posted!

Continuing the Tradition:
Friday Night Dinner for Wounded Heroes at the Embassy of Italy

The Italian Ambassador opens embassy doors to vets from military hospitals

To remain informed about the continuation of the Friday Night Dinners for our Wounded Heroes, please join the mailing list at The Aleethia Foundation.

We wish to thank all our loyal customers for their business during the last ten years and we look forward to seeing all of you at our new location.

-Hal Koster and Marty O'Brien
Let's keep our fingers crossed!

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23 May, 2006

Valour-IT and the BBC

Now here's an article that doesn't make me blush--cause I'm hardly mentioned!

BBC News has an article all about Valour-IT today. It's a well-crafted piece of journalism, and so positive that I don't think I could've paid someone to write an article that would have put Valour-IT in a better light.

The article grew out of the MilBlog conference. Mr. Greene (the author) was there and he and I spoke about Valour-IT as we walked all the way back to the conference hall after lunch. I explained to him why the project was so important and strongly encouraged him to talk to both Chuck Ziegenfuss and Patti Bader about it.

I was thrilled to see that he not only did that, but he wrote a beautiful article that perfectly captures the significance and impact of Valour-IT. Bravo, Mr. Greene!

Now, go read it! And then email it to all your friends, 'cause anyone who wouldn't want to help Valour-IT after reading that BBC article has a heart of stone.

Update: See here and here for more on the two men featured in the article.

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22 May, 2006

Fuzzy on FOX (Ack!)

This embarrasses the heck outta me. Fortunately, linking it here won't give me any additional exposure, but at least it'll let me say my piece.

Mike Lawhorn did a great job with the article. But I cringed at my own words characterizing me as the "idea person" behind Valour-IT, though I don't doubt I used that phrase. It was an attempt to explain that so many people had been involved in such significant ways that I didn't want to take all the credit for making it happen. In the interview, that line of thought actually led to my pointing out the "connections" aspect (how Valour-IT succeeded because we had connections to people with much bigger voices than me or even John) that Lawhorn mentions below.

I truly struggle to describe my current role in Valour-IT, so it's my fault for not expressing myself more clearly (guess that should be part of my interview prep, haha). If anything, Chuck and I had the idea at nearly the same time, it's just that I wasn't recovering from an IED explosion and so was in a position to actively work towards the dream. I guess I need to learn to speak in better sound bites, haha!

Anyway, here's the section relevant to this blog:

Both John Donovan, whose milblog is at http://www.thedonovan.com/, and "Beth," who runs Fuzzilicious Thinking, point out that connectivity is the key. Not all milblogs get large volumes of traffic, but even the seldom-read are often connected to other blogs that have larger readerships or are in turn read by those with access to a greater audience.

Beth calls herself the "idea person" behind Project Valour IT, which provides voice-activated laptop computers to wounded military personnel unable to use regular PCs. Her own blog gets "around 40 hits a day" [Fbl sez: since the conference, the average is 70 to 100] and she credits her success to Donovan's contacts. "He brought in people like The Indepundit... and Blackfive," she said. "It was John that made them take me seriously. I'm not a big milblogger, but I know the biggies."

"My daily traffic is less than that of my local newspaper, but my daily traffic includes people who read the National Review, who read Slate," said Donovan. "So when they come to my Web site and see Fuzzy's post and I chop it off to Jonah, and [others] ... you got 43,000 visits for that post."

In fact, most of the interview with Lawhorn was more my trying to deflect attention from me personally and direct it instead to Valour-IT and how the milblog community at large made it successful. He seemed to be more interested in Fuzzilicious than Valour-IT, so I was trying to explain that Valour-IT didn't happen because I was a big blogger (I'm not!), but because I had contacts with the big bloggers.

My comment about Indepundit and Blackfive was not an attempt to say that I had personal success with my blog, but that I was able to get out the word about Valour-IT through my blog contacts. At that point in the interview, I jumped up and brought John to Lawhorn to explain how his bigger connections gave small people like me a megaphone because the story in my mind wasn't about my blog, it was about Valour-IT.

At that point, Lawhorn seemed to have no more questions for me. And after I didn't see an article from him on Valour-IT, I figured the story was dead. Imagine my shock to see John announce "Fuzzybear made FOX News!" on H&I Fires today. I'll talk about Valour-IT all day, but I'm truly mortified to see Fuzzilicious Thinking featured in a FOX News article.

Mike, thanks so much for the exposure you gave Valour-IT and for your continuing support for the project. Your efforts are going to help the wounded, I'm quite sure, and so I'm deeply grateful. Exposure for Valour-IT was at least half the reason I attended the MilBlog Conference. But too bad there wasn't a way to make people notice the project without noticing me, haha!

Now I think I'll go lay down with a cool cloth on my burning face...

And when I finally go out in public again, I'll be the one with the paper bag on my head. Don't notice me, okay? I'm just little Fuzzybear... :)

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An Open Letter to Hilton Corp.

Dear Hilton Corporation,

This is a friendly letter to try and help you understand what is about to descend on you. You have been greatly misled by the local management of Capital Hilton in Washington, DC in regards to Fran O'Brien's, and that is going to have international repercussions for you. I regret that people are going to be financially hurt along the way, and hope that this letter can have a small role in avoiding that.

Hal Koster (co-owner) and Jim Meyer (his friend who started the weekly meals for veterans) are not your average people and thus the word we hear from them about what has happened should not be dismissed as a negotiation or PR ploy. They and the circle that has developed around the Friday night dinners are combat-tested members of the military brotherhood. That means more than I can express, but I will try...

Among many reasons I and others are so convinced the Fran O'Brien's side of the story is to be believed is the following: were the accusations made against Capital Hilton through Fran O'Briens' connections false, the personal and professional consequences would be devastating to Hal and Jim and all involved. The wounded they have supported and those who have rallied to their defense would find it hard to forgive the deception and the loss of integrity it would bring to all who stood with them. The wounded would respond with fury over being used and those who have supported the wounded through the activities associated with the dinners would despise them for using the wounded. Consider how much heat you have received for simply appearing to be callous toward America's wounded warriors... then consider what the reaction would be to members of the brotherhood who consciously used the wounded for financial gain!

Those of us who have kept this story alive have not done so lightly, out of mindless outrage or petulant disappointment. This is not your averge "blogswarm." Many of the people blogging about this mess have been personally involved with helping the wounded (both in DC and around the country), and have also visited Fran O'Brien's at least once or over periods of months. We know each other through more than just pixels on the screen, and our sources are people directly associated with the dinners. We have heard from others ridiculous rumors that we have not reported, but the more we hear directly from Hilton, the more those rumors begin to be believable. When Matt of Blackfive sounds the call like he did on Friday and people respond as they have, we are serious. And we would not be doing this unless we were not intellectually convinced an injustice had been committed against Fran O'Brien's and the veterans they have supported and encouraged.

I respectfully suggest that you verify every statement General Manager Brian Kelleher has given you. Multiple people of integrity and honesty testify to us that Mr. Kelleher has told them things they know from personal experience to be untrue. I give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume there is much you do not know. For example, are you aware that despite publicly claiming that he and the staff regularly welcomed the wounded soldiers, he appeared at the Friday night festitivities for the first time only when TV cameras were there to record the event after the PR storm broke?

This letter is not a threat, as I am not in a position to cause any damage to Hilton Corporation on my own, nor to lead a phalanx of followers to do so. I'm merely sharing my observations and knowledge with you, trying to help you see what is now closing ranks against you. Read the link to Blackfive very carefully; what is developing is not a temper tantrum of the moment that will burn itself out, but the calm, rational response of the brotherhood who feel compelled to react to the injustice perpetrated against their brothers. It has weight and consequence, and it will endure.

A commmenter at Blackfive said something very astute:

You can't blame higher management and the PR people for believing their man on the scene, at least until other reports start filtering back on what really happened. Once they put Kelleher out on his ass and fix all the problems his ass created, we'll know the higher-ups got the message.
Are you getting the message yet? For the sake of your employees who will be caught in the middle as you continue to lose business, I certainly hope so.



P.S. If you need a primer on what has really been happening in DC, here's a good place to start.

[Cross-posted at Villainous Company]

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21 May, 2006

Italian Hospitality

I just finished reading a news article and I am grinning from ear to ear. The Friday dinner for wounded troops that started at Fran O'Brien's was held at the Italian embassy this weekend and it was apparently as good as I had hoped it would be when I first heard of the plans.

Go read Stars & Stripes' report of the event . It will make your day (don't miss the pictures).

Update: Here's another report of the event, with more quotes from participants than the Stars and Stripes article has.

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The Ex-Marine

He has, for personal gain amongst the lowliest of our nation, and in standing with his disreputable new colleagues, undermined the mission that the US Marines have been ordered to carry out. He has also not only failed to speak up for his brothers dying in foreign lands, he has now gone so far as to condemn them out of hand. He has betrayed his borthers to their enemies, foreign and domestic. He has committed the ultimate sin amongst Marines; He has put himself before the Corps.
Go see doc Russia for the rest. And while you're there, congratulate him on his big accomplishment.

[H/T Bloodspite at Argghhh!]

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Guest Blogging

Cassandra's well-tuned mind must've slipped a cog recently... 'cause she asked me to guest blog over at her place. Of course I jumped at the chance, though in order to overcome my writer's block I've had to try to convince myself she's not an amazing writer possessed of an extraordinary mind and endless sense of wit that I will never match. Can't say I've been very successful with that...

Ah well, I'm doing my best. ;)

So anyway, if you haven't been reading the wit and wisdom that is Cassandra's Villainous Company, shame on you! Get on over there and check out the archives. You'll have to put up with me for this week, but the archives should tide you over until she gets back.

Seriously, I'm deeply flattered that she trusts me with the keys to such an excellent blog. I've put up my first real post over there (not cross-posted here), so go check it out.

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19 May, 2006

Yesssssss!!! (Followed by a Small Squeak of Fear)

My resume's first foray into the job market hooked me a big one! I now have an interview in early June for a very nice job with a non-profit organization that advocates for and supports military families. The job is mid-level and will involve interacting with families, military leadership and government (both elected and appointed). As I understand it, there are some supervisory duties as well.

I believe the interview will be face-to-face. I have about two weeks to prepare...

Any advice?

Also... The most important requirement for the job seems to be a knowledge of the issues facing military families. Since I can't say, "I'm a military brat," or "My husband has been in the military for 10 years," how do I prove my competency in this area during the interview?

And considering that in the last two weeks I've been told by multiple people that I look anywhere from 12 to 26 years old, any advice on getting them to take me seriously in a face-to-face? LOL!

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Today's Must-read, Update

In a recent post I discussed the divisions and connections between warfighters and those who wait at home. I linked to Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard, who then tipped me this morning to a letter from his army-veteran son.

It's consistent with what I've heard from other veterans: no matter their own trials or heroism, they always point to others as their heroes. Gaius' son writes:

I just wonder if it's presumptuous of me to say that I've seen the Elephant when so many of my brethren in green throughout history have been through so much worse. To those men and women, both those who survived and those who fell, my hat is off, and my heart is grateful for your sacrifices.
One soldier's story...

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Hilton in the Long-term

[Update below]

I've been wanting to write about this all week, but haven't had the time or brain cells available. Though corporate Hilton has made some efforts to smooth over the whole Fran O'Brien's brouhaha, they still seem to think this is no big deal. They're wrong, of course. Blackfive explains why, and shows us what we can do.

Hilton won't notice it right away, but as it spreads, they will start to feel the impact:

I don't expect that we'll have an impact right away on the Hilton.
But I fully intend to have an impact over the long haul. A. Big.
Impact. This is no boycott. This is a way to influence the decisions
of everyone doing business with the Hilton for the next few decades.

As Blackfive points out, this is unconventional warfare, and it's very doable. I'm already onboard, having told my mother about it weeks ago. She's tight with the travel agent for her company, a company which racks up hundreds of thousands of travel miles a year--with employees in need of a nice place to lay their heads every night...

This is bigger than Capital Hilton and its incompetent and unethical management. It goes to the top, now: corporate has decided to back them up (they're still employed), so corporate is now part of the story. It isn't "gotcha," it's a rational and reasonable response to an organization that apparently endorses underhanded negotation tactics, the use of baldface lies as a tool of public relations, and a dismissive attitude towards the needs of wounded troops.

Blackfive lays out the intent.

Update: Hilton Corporation is now claiming that Fran's had "numerous health and fire safety violations." This is a new charge, and one that doesn't appear to be backed up by the facts, as Non Partisan Pundit has discovered.

Commenter "Army Veteran/Fran's Volunteer" (a credible source) has left a comment on several milblogs. In part, he writes:
Fran O'Brien's wasn't cited with any health code violations. I spoke with the owner two hours ago about this. He has records. As a frequent customer and Army veteran volunteer at the Friday Night Dinners for the wounded troops, [I'd say that] the Hilton Corporation is believing the BS that lower, local management is telling them. Capital Hilton General Manager Brian Kelleher lied to my face when I question him on a few things.

[...] All the health code stuff is made up. Fran's has NEVER been a dump. Shame on the Hilton for trying to defame a business and its owners ... especially ones who take in severely wounded and their family members and give them an awesome steak dinner EVERY Friday night.

I hope Hilton Senior Vice President Marc Grossman has good legal representation. His letter to Leslie Spiller is so full of lies. He's a foolish man for listening to his local people. I wonder if Mr. Grossman knows about the piles trash the Hilton put behind Fran's service door, among other stunts. Or the water leak from the Hilton restaurant above Fran O'Brien's that made Fran's lose business.

[...] I will take my hotel business anywhere but Hilton-owned properties. That's my way to right a very, very bad wrong by the heartless Hilton. I hope many do the same.
Background here.

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18 May, 2006

A Break for Silliness

With two pretty big news stories on Valour-IT in the works and the job-search-related interest in Valour-IT, I've tried to stay away from frivolous stuff here. But I really couldn't resist this. Apparently this is exactly how I'm perceived by my friends...

You Are a Strawberry Margarita

You're so sweet it's a little overwhelming, and people are a little afraid of corrupting you...

It's a little difficult to imagine you with a margarita. And you're truly a different person after you've kicked back a couple!

Mind you, I'm not saying it's true, just that many claim to think it is... including the friend who recently told me I was so wide-eyed and innocent that I was "velvet painting material." LMAO! How they could think a 30-something woman would fit into that category I'll never know...

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16 May, 2006

Pins and Needles

Well, the deed is done.

I gathered the information, clarified my understanding of the requirements, agonized over each comma and bulletpoint, and finally stopped obsessing over it. It's pretty darn good if you ask me, though I have some superbly professional friends to thank for their guidance and editorial skills. The point? My new, non-education-focused resume is complete and is currently beginning its first foray into the job market.

I've applied for a job that is ideal (or pretty darn close!) on both personal and professional levels at this point in my life. I believe I've got the chops to do it and I've got some pretty impressive/connected people backing me up on that (thanks, guys!). It's one of those things that's so good you're afraid to think or talk too much about it, for fear you'll jinx it. Now I just have to wait... and keep pursuing other opportunities in the meantime.

But oh, if this turns out to be the only application I need to make...

Argghhh!! Waiting!!!

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14 May, 2006

Today's Must-read

Back from Iraq:

After three years, there are at least 550,000 veterans of the Iraq war. The Washington Post interviewed 100 of them -- many of whom were still in the service, others who weren't -- to hear about what their war was like and how the transition home has been.

Their answers were as varied as their experiences. But a constant theme through the interviews was that the American public is largely unaffected by the war, and, despite round-the-clock television and Internet exposure, doesn't understand what it's like.

Some of the unaffected are startlingly clueless, such as the girl who asked a friend if she'd gone clubbing in Iraq. Others presumptuously ask questions that grate on the nerves of a newly-returned soldier, such as, "Do you think we should be over there?"

That pronoun "we..." I know what they mean, and so does the soldier of whom the question is asked. But that's a phrase that's always lurched uncomfortably from my lips or fingers on the few occasions I've let it escape. So terribly callous to equate my peaceful existence at home with the horrors and challenges faced on the battlefield...

It makes me sad to hear a soldier say he won't share his story because a spouse or buddy "wouldn't understand." Yes, we'll never truly understand, but I think that many returning soldiers underestimate those who love them. If they are willing to share their stories, we can respond with acceptance, admiration, and love, helping the soldier to reclaim what was temporarily left behind when he went off to war... and we will understand more than we did before. I think of military wives who describe how they are torn between wanting to know and not wanting to know, but always wanting to understand... and of those who report that when their soldiers finally started to talk, they tried to shock them with their stories, only to find that the wives were actually stronger than they had expected. But I'm no expert...

Greyhawk adds his thoughts on the article, similar to what many warfighters have said to me when the subject of my being so sheltered from war comes up:
I've only been in the US once since 2002 - so I'll have to accept that ["a society that seems to forget that it is living through the country's largest combat operation in more than 30 years"] as accurate. Other than the reporter's unsupported claim of bitterness on the part of the vets, I hope it is. Americans able to go about their daily lives in peace is exactly what we are fighting for. Sounds like we've achieved victory on that front.
I am reminded again of a combat veteran friend who once told me:
You represent the best of what we fight for - your continued existence makes the sacrifices worthwhile...an example of what we fight for - the one who rocks the cradle, teaches the kids, raises the next generation to believe in something as beautiful as music.
Well, the music part is about to change, but whether I am spending a night on the town, simply doing my job, or raising the next generation, I will make the most of the opportunities I have, because I know those opportunities came with a price others have paid. So many more of us than you imagine are aware of what we owe. It doesn't matter what you think of me, but I wish so much that you could know what I really think of you...

[I don't think I expressed exactly what I wanted to here, but this is the best I can do with limited time and attention span. It's even harder because it comes from an only-semi-articulate part of my heart for which there may actually be no words at all.]

Update: Blue Crab Boulevard has some nice thoughts on this article. In particularly, I like:

No, unless you have seen the elephant, the best you can do is try your best to empathize, try your best to understand what you can


All we can do is realize they have seen the elephant for all of us, and we must stand by them. By their sacrifice and service, they have kept us from having to see the elephant ourselves.

And that's another reason why I wish more returning soldiers would share their stories: they help us better understand and recognize what has been done for the rest of us.

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Good News on the Fran's Front?

The Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs (JINSA) has long been involved in supporting Fran O'Brien's and the weekly dinners for the wounded. Last week they reported on the first meal held outside Fran's, and the plans for the future.

Included is this following tidbit that seems quite encouraging: " And Fran O’Brien’s is considering relocating in Washington with the assistance of a local real estate magnate." I hope that means that somebody with major reach and contacts is at work for them, trying to identify and negotiate a favorable location for them under favorable terms. However, I also know that it's not going to be simple to reopen--it takes a lot of money to store and move equipment, renovate, etc., and all while the owners are receiving no revenue from the restaurant. I'm sure they feel like they're hanging by a thread. I'm hoping with all my heart that things move quickly enough that the thread doesn't break.

But go read it all. It's a nice behind-the-scenes view of the latest on the story. Then scroll down for more on the subject from JINSA.

[Archive of Fran O'Brien's stories here]

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13 May, 2006

Weekend Funnies

Top 7 Insurgent Lies and Top 7 Lies We've Told Insurgents...

Insurgent Lie #2

Why do you plant IEDs in the road?
"Because it damages the road and then the Americans fix it and make it better."

Too funny!! Be sure you click on the links above for the rest.

[H/T Holly. And while you're over there, have you spread the word about her painting yet?]

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12 May, 2006

Military Spouse Day

"Those also serve, who only stand and wait." Except they don't just stand and wait!

On 12 May 2006, Military Spouse Day, we pay special tribute to our Army spouses and honor their magnificent commitment to our soldiers and the Army. Without their patriotism, sacrifices, and support, we could not sustain this high-quality army, an army that is the best it has ever been. Although we enlist soldiers, we retain families, and the army spouse’s support is a critical factor in a soldier’s decision to reenlist. We recognize that the army spouse’s answer to his or her own call to duty has been instrumental in sustaining all components of our Army—Active, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve.

- The Honorable Francis J. Harvey, Secretary of the Army; General Peter J. Schoomaker, Chief of Staff and Sergeant major Kenneth O. Preston, Sergeant Major of the Army
It's not just Army. More here.

As much as we focus on the daily strain of deployment for a warfighter, the homefront experiences those strains, too. They must handle the family regular responsiblities minus one important pillar, and navigate the emotional seas of a family with an absent leader. Many a warfighter has told me, "I almost think I had the easy job; being in a new environment and busy with regular activity that had nothing to do with family, it was usually easier to distract myself from the worry and longing. I think those at home had the tougher job."

My hat's off today to the military spouses it has been my privilege to know in person and in writing. Tough, smart, gentle, beautiful of spirit, creative and tenacious, you are remembered and appreciated not just today, but every day.

Army Wife Toddler Mom
Homefront Six
Mrs. Greyahwk

Other Blogging Military Spouses

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11 May, 2006

The Fran O'Brien's Issue on CNN

Update II: The beautiful video introduction of the interview with Meyer is up at CNN. If you didn't see the broadcast, check it out!

Update: Andi has seen it and says "YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS THIS. If you do not have tears in your eyes, and you are not committed to boycotting Hilton over this, nothing will move you." She reports that the segment airs about 40 minutes into the program (see below for times).

Jim Mayer, the Vietnam veteran and friend of Fran O'Brien's co-owner Hal Koster who encouraged Hal to begin the free dinners for wounded troops will be on CNN tonight. Andi reports in an email:

I know it's late, but I just got the word that Jim Mayer is being driven to the CNN studio right now to do an interview with Glenn Beck that will run on CNN Headline News as follows:

TONIGHT on CNN Headline News with Glenn Beck at 7 p.m. [Eastern] and again at 9 p.m. and midnight. Jim Mayer is being taken to a studio right now to be interviewed remotely and will air later tonight.
I don't have Cable TV, so I won't be able to watch. If anybody who sees it can report, please let me know.

Andi also adds that milbloggers are getting some significant appreciation for their work on publicizing the fight for Fran O'Brien's, and shares her thoughts about their impact:
While the email campaign didn't save the restaurant, it did let them know veterans and troops care a lot about this issue. The top three executives had to shut down their email addresses ... I'm sure costing their IT department some bucks and unnecessary headaches. Plus, a PR firm had to [be] involved. They don't seem too successful in squashing the negative press.

It's really nice when you can use your blog as a way to do something good and help those who deserve to be helped. I don't think milbloggers are finished with this story. We still need to help Hal and Marty get on their feet. I should learn more tomorrow night about how we can do that [after attending the Fran's Friday Dinner hosted in another DC hotel]. Thanks to everyone for all you've done already.
So, stand by. It looks like there are still ways we can help.

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Sorry for the minimal amount of substantive posting. First it was my sister's wedding, then trying to catch up again at work. Now I'm getting serious about the job search, and deep in pursuit of a dream job that suddenly opened. It's requiring a complete rebuild of my resume and the need for letters of recommendation sooner than I'd planned.

Anyway, here are some things I've been wanting to blog on:

Holy Aho has a beautiful painting for sale. Please spread the word far and wide.

This is just a weird story...

Andi shares a pointed (ouch!) political cartoon about Hilton.

Speaking of, BillT made an excellent suggestion in my latest post on Fran's problems with Hilton:

How many of us are members of professional or fraternal organizations which regularly host conferences or business meetings requiring the facilities of a large hotel?

An e-mail to our organizational leadership, with a cc to Mr. Kelleher, suggesting that the DC Hilton be removed from consideration as a site for future events due to management's cavalier attitude toward Fran O'Brien's and, by extension, to our troops.

The organizations I belong to are composed of Vietnam vets. That e-mail wouldn't sit well with either council or membership because this situation's an analog of the crap we got slapped with about thirty-five years back...
It's very frustrating that with all my recent increased visibility I haven't been able to keep up the quality of work that brought more readers in the first place. But things should loosen up in the near future...hopefully by the end of this week.

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10 May, 2006

The Latest Developments for Fran O'Brien's

As Andi reports, there are still loose ends in the Fran's vs. Hilton story.

First of all, the reporter who contacted me last week has filed his story (as I suspected, I was not the interview he was looking for, but I'm glad to see he found others who could fill out the story). In his article, Hal Koster publicly confirms several things that were reported here and elsewhere, such as the conflict over rent vs. room service charges, and the Hilton demand that Fran's make decorating improvements without a confirmed lease.

More interesting is the fact that Capital Hilton's general manager, Brian Kelleher, has apparently ignored the American Legion's offer to pay half of the cost of installing an elevator (inspried by the Legion believing that was the sticking point in discussions between Hilton and Fran's). Kelleher hasn't responded at all, but they reportedly contacted him again and asked for an answer by late last night. Even if he has no intention of considering the offer, it's terribly unprofessional (and unwise) to ignore the American Legion. I can't help but pause and wonder if he even understands who they are.

Fortunately (unfortunately, for Hilton), this story isn't going away. Andi reports that no less than four press inquiries were made today, and soldiers and others associated with the Friday Night Dinners continue to speak out:

Austin, who lost sight in his wounded eye, is upset about the restaurant's situation. "I don't understand why they got evicted," he said. "Why would you stop doing something like that? Why wouldn't you support it?"
Andi also points out a suggestion I've seen elsewhere in the milblogs:

The Countervailing Force left this comment on the post referenced above.

CPT J over at Lex's house recommended that we send Hilton reminders a couple times per month just to remind them of the impact of their business decision. I think it would be more effective to periodically blogswarm them then just keep up a daily nuisance level of contact. Andi or FbL what do you think of that idea?

I'm partial to the daily nuisance level, but I think he has a point. How about "Operation Remind Hilton?" What say you?


I'm really not sure, myself. I'd definitely be interested in readers' thoughts on either option...

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08 May, 2006

Welcome, Times Readers

[Bumped up. New posts below.]

Thanks for dropping by via Elaine Monaghan's latest column. I've assembled an index of my posts about the closing of Fran' O'Brien's here.

Please enjoy your visit, and check out the links to Valour-IT on the right sidebar if you're interested in another way to help severely wounded soldiers.

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Meeting Neffi

One of the nice things I'm discovering about all the online friends I have is that no matter where I go, there's always somebody nearby that I've been wanting to meet in person...

This time it was Castle Denizen Neffi. We managed to squeeze in a little time for lunch together before my plane left. It was way too short, but very enjoyable.

The food was good and the companionship superb. Neffi is exactly what he seems to be online--sweet, smart, funny, and just a little quirky. His most notable quirk is his accent: nearest I could tell, it's a cross between British and Texan!

For Castle Denizens who know and love Neffi, I'm pleased to report that he's doing well--happy, with good things going on, even if certain "sacrifices" have had to be made to clear the way for other pursuits. ;)

Unfortunately, there were some complications... For example, he temporarily forgot that I'm a vegetarian Lioness. And when it came time to say goodbye, he discovered there was no actual tail tuft to kiss, as he is wont to do at the Castle. So, he settled for a kiss on the hand instead... a very Neffi thing to do, and very charming.

All in all, it was wonderful to bring another friendship across the electrons and into "real space." Hopefully it won't be too long before we get to do it again. :)

Oh, I almost forgot! Here is a picture of the two of us, documenting the event.

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Blogging and Employment

[Update: I think I wasn't clear enough. One of the areas I'm asking for advice on is how or whether to broach the subject of the blog with a prospective employer. I'm thinking in terms of employers possibly being concerned that I blog.]

I need some advice...

I'm considering pursuing a job opening in a non-profit working on behalf of military families. I believe I'm highly qualified for this type of work, but much of the proof of my skills and qualifications resides in this blog.

Any thoughts on how to handle this?

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06 May, 2006


My MilBlog Conference roomie Homefront Six asked, so how could I refuse? This is the view from the back of the lodge we're staying in, nestled in the mountains above Breckenridge, Colorado at around 10,000 feet.

The plan was to have my sister's wedding ceremony on the patio. Needless to say, plans change...

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05 May, 2006

More Media

I'm getting famous! *heeheee*

Last Wednesday I had my first random media inquiry purely because of the blog. A reporter on the DC beat wanted to talk to me about Fran O'Brien's. I'm not sure I was the kind of source or interview he was looking far, but I pointed him to some other bloggers that might be willing to go on the record. If he writes anything, I'll link it here.

Update: As I suspected, I was not the interview he was looking for, but I'm glad to see he found others who could fill out the story. In his article, Hal Koster publicly confirms several things that were reported here and elsewhere, such as the conflict over rent vs. room service charges, and the Hilton demand that Fran's make decorating improvements without a confirmed lease.

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The Joy of Travel

3.5 hours driving across the barren desert to arrive in Phoenix at 11p.m.
1.0 hours in the air to Denver
7.0 hours in a 3rd-rate motel with an awful bed
2.0 driving up the mountains to Breckenridge

Total: 6 hours travel and 7 hours in the nasty hotel

Driving from home to Breckenridge? 12 hours.

I suppose the first option is better, but not by much. The final determinate will be whether or not I fall asleep and slide off the side of the mountain on the drive up to Breckenridge. Ha!

There are some things I really miss about living in Phoenix--that 20-minute drive to the airport being first on the list. *pout*

Update: Made it up the hill just fine (with a couple wrong turns, as expected). I'm sitting here in a beautiful lodge and watching the pines, which were dusted with half an inch of snow after I arrived--all of which were eminently more enjoyable after my nap. :)

[And yes, Neffi, I was very tired. Double post has been deleted.]

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04 May, 2006

Fran O'Brien's Update

Subscribers to the restaurant's email list received the following email this morning. Take it for what you will...

Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steak House is TEMPORARILY CLOSED. We hope to reopen soon at a new location.

For sending donations for the continuation of the Friday Night Dinners for our Wounded Heroes, please go to www.Aleethia.org

We wish to thank all our loyal customers for their business during the last ten years and we look forward to seeing all of you at our new location.

-Hal Koster and Marty O'Brien

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Some Days...

My day yesterday started with the discovery of the necessity of filing my first-ever report to Child Protective Services...

...and went downhill from there.

Let's just say that after doing something like that, you don't have emotional reserves for anything else.

Update: I encountered the student in question this morning, whom I told yesterday "I'm going to talk to people who can help you." The child has never engaged me outside the classroom, but this morning was obviously anxious to share the books the he/she had read, and there was a sense of peace about him/her that I had never seen before. It's never an easy thing to do, but that was a reminder that I did the right thing.

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03 May, 2006

It Ain't Over...

Some interesting things are still going on in the Fran O'Brien's - Hilton saga.

First of all, reportedly there may have been ongoing lawyerly conversations between the parties as late as Tuesday, and more interestingly, an article by Lisa Hoffman last weekend mentioned that the American Legion had offered to help Capital Hilton pay for the installation of a new elevator. The cost of the elevator had been cited as one of the issues in development of a new lease for Fran's, with reports being that it was more than one year's worth of rent. Apparently that wasn't an idle offer by the Legion. On Tuesday morning the following was hand-delivered to Capital Hilton and faxed to the Chief Executive Officer at Hilton's corporate offices (I have a digital copy of it, but can't convert it to a graphic):

May 1, 2006

Mr. Brian Kelleher
General Manager
Capital Hilton Hotel
1001 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Mr. Kelleher:

The leasing dispute between The Capital Hilton Hotel and Fran O’Brien’s Stadium Steakhouse has been brought to our attention. We understand the owner’s generously cater to the most severely wounded troops injured in the war on terror by providing them with free weekly steak dinners. We would like to see this tradition continue at Fran O’Brien’s.

While we aren’t privy to all the details, The American Legion would like to make The Hilton Corporation an offer in the best interest of these wounded heroes and their families who frequent the dinners at your hotel.

For two and a half years now, the owners of Fran O’Brien’s have offered up much more than free steak. This venue has become an important element to their long recovery from wounds most will have for the rest of their lives. This environment has provided mental and emotional healing we can’t see or put a price tag on.

We understand that the dispute between the Capital Hilton and Fran O’Brien’s is a monetary one. We will meet you half way [in] ending this dispute for one reason: Our wounded warriors and those who care for them deserve better. All parties involved are in a position to make this happen.

We will match 50 percent of the cost of an elevator to help bring Fran O’Brien’s and the Capital Hilton into ADA compliance (American Disabilities Act).

In the spirit of your founder and namesake Conrad Hilton, we would very much like to end this dispute and work together in a common cause also dear to Mr. Hilton’s heart as you can read from his 1968 statement below when he agreed to be a member of The American Legion’s 50th Anniversary National Prestige Advisory and Entertainment Advisory Committees.

Conrad was a charter member of Post 58 in El Paso, Texas and held continuous membership until his death in 1979.

“I am a charter member of Post 58 at El Paso, Texas, and have always considered it a privilege to belong to an organization which has made so many contributions to the Nation and to the welfare of my fellow veterans. I am proud of the fact that shortly after World War I, I helped organize Post 58 at El Paso, Texas, and have maintained my membership in The American Legion continuously since then. The World War I veterans who founded The American Legion created, not just an organization of veterans, but a vigorous defender of basic American principles of justice, freedom, and equality of opportunity. I am proud to have been a charter member of my Post.”

Conrad N. Hilton

We hope to work with The Hilton Corporation in the interests of those who have paid a heavy price for our continued way of life, and we hope you accepted our offer to release some of the financial burden for both parties and install an elevator in The Capital Hilton.


National Commander

Copy to:
Stephen F. Bollenback
Chief Executive Officer
The Hilton Corporation

People associated with the Friday Nights at Fran's passed this letter on with with the request that we continue to keep the pressure on Hilton. You can sign the petition here.

Email accounts have been overwhelmed/blocked, but you can use the Hilton Honors address: hhonors@hilton.com. Also, you can reach CEO Stephen F Bollenbach at 310-205-4656 and Director of Communications Lisa Cole at 305-503-6503 or 786-866-7567. Please encourage them to consider the American Legion's offer.

If anyone has any more good contact info, please share it in the comments.

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Holy Cow!

At the Milblog Conference, John used me as an example of the need for every single blogger to be aware of OPSEC issues. He shared how a post by a little blogger (me) was reposted on his site, which then was linked at NRO, Instapundit, and finally fark.com. This resulted in 45,000 hits in two days. As he pointed out, that's a big reach for a post by a small blogger and it can happen to anyone.

Well, apparently this small blogger also has a reach right into the DoD and the "Office of the Secretary."

Color me stunned (when I'm not laughing uproariously at the very idea).

Seriously, this is very cool. It means that someone in the DoD is paying attention to milbloggers. Let's hope they listen to what the panelists and other thinkers at the conference had to say.

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01 May, 2006

Saying Goodbye

Today I found several articles about the closing of Fran O'Brien's and the final dinner for the wounded last Friday night. American Forces Press Service has an excellent matter-of-fact article that offers insight into the people associated with the dinners:

Some troops have been coming to steak night since it began in October 2003. "We call them seniors," said [owner Hal] Koster, a Vietnam veteran. "They're mentors to the newly injured; they have a job other than just drinking all my beer."
Lisa Hoffman, who has written about Fran's before, has another article that will touch your heart. And probably make you angry, too....
Friday evening, during the last meal for the troops at Fran's, anger mixed with sadness. Several patrons wore T-shirts protesting that "Hilton Dishonors Veterans." Army Staff Sgt. Chris Bain, 35, whose left arm was nearly destroyed by a 2004 mortar blast in Iraq, credited Koster, O'Brien, the volunteers and the dinners with helping him put his life back together.

Fran's "means the world to us soldiers," Bain said. "Shame on Hilton."

Not all was gloomy that night. Pfc. Marissa Strock, who lost both legs after a Thanksgiving Day explosion under her Humvee in Iraq, offered an act of both gratitude and triumph.

Struggling to stand on her prosthetic limbs, Strock, 20, walked unassisted into the arms of Jim Mayer, a Vietnam War double amputee whom Koster credits with coming up with the idea of the dinners. Then, dinner done, Strock walked alone up the 20 steps to the street.

"It was the biggest gift she could give," Mayer said. "Priceless."
Read it all. Then donate here to help these dinners continue (they have some great pictures, too).

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