31 July, 2006

Jonathan Benson, Update 2

[Please note the spelling of his first name; it was incorrect in the intial info Soldiers' Angels received. Orginal Post, Update 1 ]

As promised, Jonathan's mother Marjorie has updated us on his condition. This has been a better week than last week, despite numerous surgeries and a close call. Things are looking up, but his situation is still fragile:

Jonathan is a fighter. He's fighting for his life now. All of his numbers are better, But he is one sick young man.

He has a long road ahead of him. He needs your love and support.

We are setting up an account for him. Some have said they would give flying miles. That would be GREAT!! We have to go back and forth [between Minnesota and Texas]. If that works for anyone, it is much needed. The Doctors have said that they think he will be there for 1-2 years.

Again, THANK YOU FOR EVERY CARD SENT!!! He needs encouragement. He is a great kid.

Here is the contact info to write to Jonathan (I'll post info on how to contribute to the fund when I get it):

Jonathan Benson
c/o Marine Liason
Brooke Army Medical Center
3851 Roger Brooke Drive
Ft Sam Houston, TX 78234-6200

I recently met a severely wounded Marine (incl. amputation of both legs and burns) who participated in a long-distance bike ride only 7 months after being wounded. He credited a positive attitude for his amazing rate of recovery (normally it takes at least 1-2 years to reach his stage). So if you can, please keep sending cards and notes to help Jonathan and his family maintain the positive attitude necessary for recovery.

Update: I wanted to share a comment that was left on a previous post about Jonathan:
I have a letter coming Jonathan's way as we speak. When it becomes available, please post the account information for whatever fund might be set up to assist Jonathan and [his] family (financially and airline miles). My wife April and I want to help out. I'm deployed in Iraq currently and hope to be back home no later than October. I don't know Jonathan personally, but let him know there's a Marine Sergeant at Al Asad who's pulling for him. Semper Fi.
We dont' have to be Marines to remind Marine Jonathan that those of us who support the troops are Always Faithful and that he will not be forgotten in his time of need.

Update: Johnathan passed away on September 9, 2006.

More: original post, update 1, update 3, update 4, update 5]

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29 July, 2006


Two. From Soldier Ride.

One natural,

The other man-made...

...and a gift from the author himself:

Update: details, and photos of what Soldier Ride was really all about.

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Military Wife

Homefront Six did one of the hardest things a wife can do this week: stand with two young children at her side and hug and kiss her husband goodbye as he goes off to war.

HFS was my roommate at the MilBlog Conference. She's a great lady, and a fine military wife--no-nonsense, adaptable, strong, funny, and wise. Like any good woman she looked around her at the unit send-off and found she was proud and honored to be a part of the strong and courageous families who stood with her.

She has a tough year ahead of her, but I know she will come through with flying colors. Please go visit her and show her how much gratitude, love, support and respect she and her family will have during the year ahead.

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27 July, 2006

At the USO Again

I wasn't even supposed to be at the USO yesterday, but I think may turn out to be providential that I was--for several reasons. I did a typical airhead thing and kept thinking yesterday was the 27th, not the 26th, and thus drove all the way down there. Once I arrived I figured I could hang around and learn by observation, and I did.

I stayed for a bit after my shift ended at 6:00 (to avoid traffic). The final shift volunteers included a retired navy NCO of rather elevated grade. However, one could be forgiven for thinking he'd never retired, haha!

As soon as he was informed I was "trainee," his eyes lit up and he set to work instructing me in exactly how he did things. I bit my tongue when he assumed I didn't have a clue. But as he continued, I started completing his sentences and echoing back what he said to me with different vocabulary. For example, "So ________ is the same as __________, right?" or "That's also called ___________, yes?" He also watched me interact with some of the people who walked in and saw that I had some basic military-related knowledge and competencies. His expression began to change and he started to do more than give me directives and unnecessary instructions.

He loves (and I do mean loves) charts and graphs. He asked me to make up a chart for him to use for keeping track of various things we needed to do for visitors. When he saw the Excel command shortcuts I knew, I definitely had his attention: "How did you do that?" he demanded, then studiously attended as I showed him new things about his favorite software program (Excel).

Within an hour he was questioning me about my background and how I ended up working at the USO, etc. I told him about Valour-IT and how I'd been doing "troop support" things from the other side of a computer screen for years, but now that I'd recently moved here I could do things with more direct interaction.

I told him of my frustrations at trying to volunteer with the wounded, but being almost entirely rebuffed because I was not military-related. He was not happy to hear that I was running into roadblocks and literally started to pick up the phone before he realized what time it was.

The upshot is that he has the ear of (among others) a very bigwig at the Navy hospital. Our discussion started with merely my desire to volunteer, but as we talked he started making references to employment. He has asked for Valour-IT info, my contact info, my resume, and a bio to share.

This guy is a force of nature. He gets things done. Period.

Now, finding a job is all about networking, isn't it...? ;)

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I was tagged by BillT. How nice of him to think of me on my Birthday! ;)

Here are Three--

1. --things that scare me:
a. Driving in Southern California (including parking lots).
b. Volunteering at the USO with a retired Sr. Chief Petty Officer who doesn't
know he's retired.
c. T.I.A.D. stories.

2. --people who make me laugh:
a. Lex
b. Cassandra
c. BillT

3. --things I hate the most:
a. Incompetence in customer service.
b. Embarrassing a guy by paying for lunch because he forgot his wallet.
c. Trying to be as funny as BillT.

4. --things I don't understand:
a. Men
b. Women
c. Teenagers The rest of humanity

5. --things I'm doing right now:
a. Wishing my brain would've let me sleep in this morning.
b. Trying to keep my cat and my mother's cat from killing each other.
c. Laying on my back with the laptop on my stomach.

6. --things I want to do before I die:
a. Visit Europe
b. Ride in the backseat of a fighter jet (or at least tour an aircraft carrier
while it's active)
c. See all the people I met at the MilBlog Conference again.

7. --things I can do:
a. Impress the heck out of a retired Sr. Chief Petty Officer (see 1b above)
b. Take apart my PC and put it back together again with only a few parts
left over.
c. Ride my bicycle four miles with the tires half-inflated.

8. --ways to describe my personality:
a. Sweet (I'm good at pretending)
b. Unconventional
c. Fuzzilicious

9. --things I can't do:
a. Understand why more politicians aren't struck by lightning on a regular
b. Tolerate the humidity in San Diego.
c. Look like I'm older than the average college student.

10. --things I think you should listen to:
a. J.S. Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G-minor.
b. Uncle J's video podcasts
c. People who have worked hard for their achievements.

11. --things you should never listen to:
a. People whom you know have no honor or integrity, no matter how
charming or fascinating they are.
b. Slow Jazz, if you're home alone
c. Anything by David Hasselhoff

12. --absolute favorite foods
a. Freshly-made falafel sandwiches from Pita's Mediterrainean Grill in
San Marcos
b. Raspberries
c. Chocolate

13. --things I'd like to learn:
a. All the officer and enlisted insignia for the Navy and Marines, so I don't
embarrass myself at the USO.
b. How to consistently make eye contact in a one-on-one social situation
without blushing or looking nervous--i.e. out to dinner.
c. How to drive from one place to another the same way twice (in other
words, not get lost).

14. --beverages I drink regularly:
a. Water
b. Milk
c. Rootbeer

15. --shows I watched as a kid:
a. I Dream of Jeannie (in reruns)
b. The Smurfs
c. Remington Steele

16. --people I'm tagging
a. Army Wife Toddler Mom
b. Da Goddess
c. Sgt. B (maybe if we tag him twice, he'll actually do it...)

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26 July, 2006

Jonathan Benson Update

[Background on Cpl. Benson]

Benson's mother reports in comments here:

I am Jonathan's Mom. Thank you, thank you!

Jonathan had taken a turn for the worse. He just had a week from hell. We were watching and praying knowing it is out of our hands but into GOd's and the best doctors in the world. But today is a good day. Everything is looking better, the doctors have new hope. Please pray for him.

We are a large family and we all want to be here. We do have to go back and forth but we always want one of us to [be] with him at all times. Jonathan's greatest need is love and support and the wisdom for the doctors. Please do send letters! Our greatest need at this time is flying back and forth.
She also offered weekly updates. I'm in contact with her and we're going to see if there's an easy way to do that without burdening her further.

Soldiers' Angels is working to help this family, though no specific SA fund is set up for them at this time. However, you can help them by donating to Soldiers' Angels in general.

To write to Jonathan and his family:

Jonathan Benson
c/o Marine Liason
Brooke Army Medical Center
3851 Roger Brooke Drive
Ft Sam Houston, TX 78234-6200

Update: Johnathan passed away on September 9, 2006.

[More: original post, update 2, update 3, update 4, update 5]

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25 July, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me!

Erm... my blog, that is.

One year ago I started off in this space, having given into the pleas and gentle nudges of my friends but unsure where it all was headed.

Looking back now... wow.

I made my first post on the 25th of July, but the official announcement didn't come until the 28th. By the 29th I had found my reason for blogging: I was already discussing what would eventually become Valour-IT.

I am stunned at the turns my life has taken because of this blog. Were it not for the people I've met, the opportunities presented by my contacts through this blog, and the things it's allowed me to do.. I would be a vastly different person today.

But more importantly, it's been through this blog that I've finally been able to do my part in supporting those who have put themselves on the line for the rest of us.

The following is long and somewhat navel-gazing, and probably rather uninteresting to most readers. But I had fun going down memory lane and so I figure I might as well not waste it. Enjoy (if it suits you)!

Highlights of a year of blogging...

August 2005: By the 10th, Valour-IT was up and running thanks entirely to people met through blogging.

On the 20th I finally came up for air and wrote this:

No one could ever have convinced me I would EVER be in a position called "Project Team Leader" for a charitable project. [snip]

The first week was insane, but I think it's finally starting to settle down, as the "lift-off" work is done and it's "running itself" a bit. But as I look at the parts of myself I've discovered in the last few weeks, I know this will be one of those before/after points in my life: a time when I can see so clearly that I'm no longer what I thought I was before. [snip]

You know, I'm gonna avoid it like the plague, but if the day ever comes that someone tries to thank me for what I've supposedly done, I'm gonna be one of those terribly cliched people who says, "I didn't really do it; it was the wonderful team that gathered around a shared dream." Because that's the truth. And why I was blessed enough to be swept up into this amazing project, I'll never know. But I'll be forever grateful for the opportunity.
One year later, my sentiments haven't changed one iota.

On the 26th, the first big bloggers outside the Castle linked Fuzzilicious Thinking.

November 2005: That amazing Valour-IT fundraiser. It still shocks me when I think of it. Milbloggers I respected and lived in awe of actually followed my(!) lead as we leveraged the power of the Internet and milblogs out into the wider media and raised $100,000 in 10 days for Valour-IT. As I wrote about the the wounded and our responsibilities to them, Fuzzilicious found its voice/purpose as a "troop support blog." And more importantly, I found the confidence that comes from seeing a dream become a continuing reality: Valour-IT was here to stay.

December 2005: The linchpin on which my year turned. Because of the opportunities developed through Valour-IT, I visited the Under Secretary for Veterans Affairs in Washington DC, met for the first time face-to-face with wounded warriors in recovery, and walked Arlington National Cemetary as an adult. It wasn't life-changing, but life-shifting--everything I knew, suspected, and had previously only intellectually or intuitively understood was in front of my eyes and in my hands, was now heart-knowledge. And as I integrated the emotional impact of my trip into the rest of my life, some my amazing online friends helped me sort it out.

I also had the joy of meeting people and confirming friendships in realspace, of discovering that people I admired thought I wasn't so bad, either. And on December 16th Fuzzilicious Thinking totalled a modest 10,000 visitors.

I closed out 2005 with these words:
As for me, I cannot think back on the year without remembering the extraordinary people I've gotten to know this year who have taught me so much about life and the world, helping me to find the courage to break out in so many ways...
Again, the words still apply today.

January 2006: Fuzzilicious Thinking was selected for an ill-fated (and ill-conceived) attempt by the U.S. Army to engage bloggers. It was a total flop, but it sure attracted the moonbats (and the Washington Post and a whole lot of government types, too). That mostly wasn't one of the good things, but in conversations it spawned with friends, I learned there were people looking out for me in both literal and figurative ways. Fuzzilicious also got some more notice from the bigger bloggers.

February 2006: Not a good month. But when I tried to go on hiatus, so many people were so kind and supportive, including ones I never suspected were out there. You were salve for my bruised spirit. And I realized that I couldn't let my blog go, that in my small way I was here to help the wounded.

March 2006: I hit bottom. And low and behold, people were there to catch me--people who understood, people who helped me begin to believe in a future of careers I'd never considered, who helped me see skills I'd never realized I had, people who believed in me when I didn't believe in myself.

April 2006: All about Fran's and the MilBlog Conference. I went on a crusade and wrote almost nothing but Fran O'Brien's for weeks, resulting in a huge upswing in visitors, Fuzzilicious Thinking's appearance in a London newspaper column, and contact with an east coast reporter. But the highlight of the month was the MilBlog Conference. I left there with more interviews and business cards on behalf of Valour-IT than I could count, and a burgeoning self-confidence... Along with a personal glow from all the wonderful people I met and kind attention I received that still hasn't subsided (I miss you all!!).

Fuzzilicious Thinking reached 25,000 visitors, about 24,000 more than I ever expected.

May 2006: The Fran's story continued. And in a real stunner, I discovered my blog had been noticed in the Secretary's Office at the Department of Defense, which I still find absolutely hilarious. In back-to-back days Fuzzilicious Thinking was featured in an article on FOX News' website, and the BBC article about Valour-IT came out. I was mortified by the attention, but thrilled for how it helped Valour-IT.

I also met Neffi and got to guest blog for the amazing Cassandra (yikes!).

June and July 2006: It's been all about change. But in the midst of my personal transitions, Valour-IT distributed its 500th laptop to the wounded. I'm still amazed.

I feel incredibly blessed to know and work with those who have come into my life through this blog. I couldn't possibly list all who have made this a personal and professional year to remember. But I know that I will never forget you, for you are all a part of who I am becoming...

When I figure out what that is, I'll let you know. ;)

What a year.

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Regarding recent posts here...

It turns out that the young Marine who assured me that "any self-respecting military man wouldn't be caught dead with a man purse!" may have been slightly mistaken. Or else there are more self-disrespecting military men out there than we thought. ;)

Witness the camouflage man purse--complete with extra pockets for sunglasses and cellphone. [h/t Castle Denizen JMH]


On a much more serious, but very joyful note, check out this story about a blind soldier. I first wrote about Scott Smiley in conjunction with Vail Colorado's Veteran's Week. It turns out there's a lot more to the story (via Blackfive).

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Soldier Ride

Here's a "support the troops" opportunity for Southern California:

Soldiers' Angels (the non-profit that runs Project Valour-IT) has been working with another organization that helps America's wounded military personnel: Soldier Ride.

Take a close look at the picture of Soldier Ride cyclists below.

Every year Soldier Ride sponsors a cross-country cycling trip to raise money for their adaptive cycling events and the Wounded Warrior Project, and to show the wounded they are loved and supported. Soldier Ride is stopping at 70 major cities from coast to coast, where they participate in activities that highlight the sacrifice of military personnel or the physical and emotional suppport that is out there for our wounded vets.

One wounded rider wrote after his participation:

Soldier Ride was designed to raise money and awareness for wounded soldiers coming out of this war, but what it really did was prove to wounded soldiers like myself that anything was possible. It proved to us that society would accept us the way we are and not outcast us... This event was life-changing and the memory will last forever!
Here's a biographical sketch of another participant, taken from the Soldier Ride Website:

Cpl. Kevin Blanchard is a 23 year old retired Marine who lost his left leg and suffered severe wounds to his right leg in an IED explosion while serving in Iraq... Kevin joined us on the ride from Little Rock to Branson, his second cycling trip with Soldier Ride.... When Kevin first joined Soldier Ride for a cycling clinic in Florida this winter, his right leg wasn't strong enough for him to use a traditional bicycle. He used a handcycle, a three wheeled bicycle that you pedal with your hands. "It's a testament to Kevin's courage and determination that he was able to transition so quickly to using a traditional bicycle," [Soldier Ride Exeuctive Director] Nardizzi said. "He was even able to tackle the tough hills through the Ozarks." Kevin attributes his recovery to the excellent medical care he received at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and his participation in rehabilitative events like Soldier Ride. When asked about participating in Soldier Ride again, Kevin replied "I'm hooked... I'll be doing it as long as you guys do it."

[Soldier Ride's website has more rider profiles and video of participants and events.]

Most participants have ridden only portions of the cross-country course, but a small group of both wounded and non-wounded soldiers have ridden the entire distance from coast to coast. They will be arriving on the West Coast this Saturday at San Clemente Beach (just south of Los Angeles). Representatives from Soldiers' Angels will be there for a press conference, special ceremony and beach party that will be attended by various dignitaries, celebrities, and reportedly some pretty good bands.

Supporters of our military men and women are invited to join the party at San Clemente State Beach this Saturday (July 30) to welcome the Soldier Ride paritcipants as they complete their coast-to-coast trek. Festivities begin at 3 p.m. Hope to see you there!

To donate to Soldier Ride, click here.

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23 July, 2006

San Diego Mini Blogmeet

Actually, it was more a San Diego Protest Warriors planning meeting and lunch yesterday, but most of the people there were bloggers.

I finally got to connect with some of the local blog scene. I met Da Goddess and her very sweet son, Mrs. Smash, Mad Mikey, and the self-described "Blog Groupie" Gracie, who would probably make a pretty good blogger herself. Even Smash himself showed up via cell phone, though he's on TDY in Washington, DC.

I knew Da Goddess and Mrs. Smash from the work they did on the fabulous Valour-IT fundraiser last November, and I'd met the Smashes in person at the MilBlog Conference last April. I already knew a little bit about Mike and Gracie from reading Smash, but had never interacted with them in any way. All of them went through a lot with Mike's stroke and coma last January, so it could've been somewhat like an outsider stepping into a tight-knit family when I joined them.

However, they made me feel completely comfortable and I had a great time. Da Goddess is hilarious but very kind and her son is a sweetheart (I'm sure I'll have more stories about her, since we're going to the Wild Animal Park soon). Gracie is a riot, and Mrs. Smash has a great, quiet sense of humor. Mikey and I seem to have run in largely different circles, so he didn't have a clue who I was, but he was still very nice and I look forward to getting to know him if I get the chance to join in Protest Warrior activities.

It was great to finally meet up with some familiar faces and feel like I was making friends here in SD. Thanks so much to Da Goddess for inviting me!

Now, if only I could get my blogpapa, SD blogger Lex, to answer my emails. I mean, it's not like being a husband and raising teen and pre-teen daughters while working on a vice-admiral's staff, completing a master's degree, writing a fabulous blog, and planning for an impending career change really takes that much time and energy... ;)

Update: Da Goddess reports from her perspective (and says embarrassing things about "your humble correspondent"). And reading her reminded me I forgot about Mad Mikey's daughter! Oops! Just like Da Goddess' son, she's a very cool kid.

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22 July, 2006

A Day at the USO

Yesterday I was supposed to spend about four hours at the USO. I spent almost eight--and the only reason I left was because the parking validation only lasts eight hours!

When I walked in the door to the USO at the airport yesterday morning, a sailor in civilian clothes was off to one side with iron in hand, his uniform laid out on the ironing board in front of him while a volunteer held his wrinkled scarf taut for easier ironing. A young bride headed to her husband's new post was trying to blend into the furniture with her laptop. Somebody was shooting an electronic target in the arcade room, and Marines of all ages were laid out on the couches... most of them snoring.

It was my first day as a volunteer, and I had a fantastic time. My fellow volunteers were half the fun: from the South Seas Islander who played her ukelele and sang for the new bride and her Sailor, to the the Vietnam vet and former officer who teased the young Marines and Sailors who walked through the door until I laughed so hard my sides hurt! And the stories she could tell--from close calls in Vietnam to the "fun" of escorting visiting military men from countries where women weren't military officers... if you catch my drift.

And then there were the people we helped. There was everyone from the blushing Marine who talked about whether or not he should marry his girlfriend before he went to Iraq in a few months (when she would be heading to boot camp herself), to the first-time mother with the brand-new baby there to meet her husband on leave, to the group of USNA Midshipmen trying to be nonchalant about having just returned from their first cruise, and the middle-aged Naval officers who walked in as if they owned the place.

The former officer and I had a grand time teasing the young ones as they arrived. A member of the Coast Guard would walk in and she'd say, "I'm sorry, we don't serve Coast Guard here" as he laughed right along with us. Or she'd look at the smiling picture on a Marine's ID and say, "I'm sorry, but this is a fake." When the Marine protested, she said, "Oh it's definitely a fake. Marines don't smile in their pictures."

"No, Ma'am. But that was taken two days before I left Iraq. I couldn't stop smiling."

And then there was the young Marine who had a baggie containing bills and change, paper clips, keys, momentos, and a little piece of paper, among other small items. As he searched for the correct amount of dimes and nickels in the baggie to exchange for quarters for the arcade games, I told him what he needed was a wallet:

Young Marine [very seriously]: Oh no, Ma'am. I already have a wallet. This is junk I normally carry in my pockets.

FbL: Ahh... [pause] You know, this is why women carry purses.

YM: Yes, Ma'am.

[Long pause while YM continues to search...]

FbL: I know what you need... A man purse!

YM [earnestly]: Oh no, Ma'am.

FbL [gently]: You do know what a man purse is, don't you?

YM [uncomfortably]: Yes, Ma'am. But... no, Ma'am!

FbL [leaning over the counter and smiling warmly]: But don't you know, it's all the rage--all the men in New York are using them these days. Very stylish and convenient! It's exactly what you need!

At that point the poor thing stopped searching through his coins and looked up, obviously deeply perturbed: "But, Ma'am!! No self-respecting military man would be caught dead with a man purse!!!" He almost spat the last two words.

I couldn't keep a straight face any longer. I cracked up with laughter. He cocked his head and looked at me suspiciously for a moment, then held up a finger and waved it as if to say, "ah ha!" as he looked at me out of the corner of his eyes and laughed and flushed a bit.

I can see that former officer and I are going to be a deadly combination for those poor kids... too much fun!

But there were serious moments, too. We had one person come though who had just been discharged, had almost no money, and whose flight was mis-scheduled. He looked near tears the entire time he was in the USO station, but he kept it together somehow. Fortunately, we were able to find him a place to stay for the night.

Most interactions were happier, though. In general, it was great to be able to help people in small ways that made things easier for them. From replacing a missing pin or stays for a uniform to swiping a three-hole-punch from the director's office so an officer could work while he waited or holding the infant of an exhausted mother so that she could rest, it was very satisfying work. Instead of being all about rules and regulations, the guiding principle was, "How can we help every active-duty person (or dependent) who walks through that door?" I love being solution-oriented!

If you are looking for a way to put your "Support the Troops" talk into action, I highly recommend your local USO.

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20 July, 2006

Help a Wounded Marine


I have a contact point for those who asked how to support the severely-wounded Marine I mentioned on Tuesday.

Corporal Jonathan Benson's injuries are even more serious than those that Joey Bozik has miraculously overcome. Cpl. Benson was wounded by an IED just over one month ago and is coping with a stunning level of physical trauma. He has lost his right foot, his left arm and left leg up into and including the left side of his pelvis, his left kidney and part of his intestines. Complications include failure of his remaining kidney.

However, he is now awake and communicative. He's scheduled to receive a Valour-IT laptop and the Soldiers' Angels Wounded Team is making him a special project. But he is not "out of the woods" yet and will need a vast amount of support, appreciation and encouragement as he copes with his new physical reality and tackles the recovery process.

So if you feel the urge, please send him cards and letters at the address below. If you don't know what to send, just get him a funny card and write "Thank You" inside. What will matter most to him and his loved ones is simply knowing that his sacrifice is recognized and appreciated, and that he will be not be forgotten as he faces these new challenges.

He has given so much... surely you can spare a stamp and a brief note to sustain his spirits:

Jonathan Benson
c/o Marine Liason
Brooke Army Medical Center
3851 Roger Brooke Drive
Ft Sam Houston, TX 78234-6200

Update: I just discovered this evening that Powerline and the Minnesota press are covering this in more detail on a parallel track to what I've been reporting.

Powerline also writes, "Reader John Furutani of CENTCOM has copied us on his message to Corporal Benson:"
Your dedication to service and country is incredible, and your sacrifice is duly noted and thanked. In order to provide a measure of that thanks from one fellow citizen, I will be going to the Valour IT site and donating sufficient monies to fund a voice-activated laptop for your personal use.

I have been in Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2006, so I am familiar with the conditions which we ask our military to endure for the country’s sake. The fact that you have gone in country--twice—speaks well to your courage and honor.

Again, please accept my thanks on behalf of myself and my family. Please remember during your rehabilitation that you have the support and well wishes of other beyond your immediate family and community.

If any member of your family, or someone close to you, may need frequent flier miles to make the trip to San Antonio, please have them contact me [email address omitted].

Not all can do as the Mr. Furutani has, but we can all express our gratitude and support with a letter. Please do.

Btw, as I typed this update I received an email from Mr. Furutani himself, asking how he could donate towards a laptop for Cpl. Benson.

Update: Johnathan passed away on September 9, 2006.

[More: update 1, update 2, update 3, update 4, update 5]

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19 July, 2006


Chuck has a TINS that'll blow your mind.

I can't stop grinning everytime I think about it. And I can't think of two people I know who deserved it more. :D

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A Different Kind of Courage in a Marine

Meet Kris, a U.S. Marine.

I met him last March when I was visiting San Diego and asked Soldiers' Angels if there was a hospitalized service member who needed some support. I had thought I'd be meeting a wounded combat vet. I did, but it was a different kind of combat.

Kris is 18 years old and in the fight of his life. When I met him he told me his amazing story. I didn't share it at the time because I didn't want to breach his privacy. But considering the news coverage, I feel like I can now tell you about him.

He wanted to be a Marine all his life and as the article mentions, he was so determined that he collapsed just after Boot Camp rather than admit to the headaches and dizziness that were plaguing him due to his undiagnosed brain cancer.

But his determination and amazing life started long before that. He was living independently by age 16 and earning enough money to pay the rent and bills while still attending high school (and taking college courses). Although he's never attended college full-time and has been coping with cancer since only a few months after graduating from high school, he has completed the credits for an associate's degree in psychology.

Talking to him, one sees that "old soul" of children and young adults who have had to look Death in the face. When we met, he had not a bit of pity about him and the only outward acknowledgement of his health situation was the backward baseball cap that covered the huge scar running from the base of his neck to halfway up his skull. He was matter of fact but positive, open and honest about the physical and emotional challenges of his situation.

I'm so glad to see he is with his mother (as reported in the article above). His family wasn't with him in San Diego, and when I met him I saw how much he needed that family support. It made we wish I knew how to mother a teenager. 'Cause if ever anyone has had to do enough combat alone, it's Kris.

Please do read the whole story. Not all the amazing men in the Marine Corps are found on the front lines...

[h/t Soldiers' Angels Network]

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18 July, 2006

Valour-IT: The Need Continues

[Updated below]

Two things highlight Valour-IT this week. One is an article in the Armed Forces Press that contains info about how Valour-IT has grown and adjusted.

The other is a request for a laptop that we just received from a Marine wounded by an IED almost exactly one month ago. Friends/family or medical personnel filled out the request for him:

[The Marine] lost left arm, left leg, left kidney, left part of pelvis, part of intestines, right kidney failure, right foot; is alert and aware of surroundings.
I'm sure this Marine is still psychologically reeling from the new situation he finds himself in regarding his battered body. He is exactly the kind of person for whom Valour-IT was created. With a huge mountain of recovery ahead of him, he's going to need every morale booster and bit of independence he can find.

If you haven't donated recently, please consider dropping a couple dollars in the hat for Marines like this (remember, every cent goes to purchasing and shipping the technology).

[More news at Valour-IT project blog]

Update: The Marine mentioned above is going to be a high priority for the Soldiers' Angels Wounded Team, and there may (notice: may) be a mechanism for anybody who wants to encourage this Marine as he recovers to send a card or letter through an intermediary. I'll keep you posted.

Update II: Address and additional information here.

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17 July, 2006

A Man and His Ship

I was doing some wandering around the blogosphere this weekend and found this by John Carmichael, a lover of all things naval aviation, whose father was a captain of U.S.S. MIDWAY. I've completely fallen in love with MIDWAY, and so found his pictures and descriptions of several visits to the ship with his father fascinating. But this picture says it all:

RADM E. I. "Hoagy" Carmichael enjoying the view from his once "Captain's Chair" on the Command Bridge of the USS Midway [click on the picture for more photos and some great memories of a Tiger cruise in 1980].

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16 July, 2006

Gifts Given and Refused

I haven't written much about the war(s) lately, or the soldiers. But they've been on my mind and weighing on heart. There's an ugly darkness swirling that I haven't wanted to turn and face.

We have several high-profile cases of alleged wrongdoing by our warfighters that aren't quite convincing at this stage but are being treated in the media as decided fact; the fighting in Iraq has moved into a phase that is requiring a level of restriction on use of force by America's fighting men and women that increases their vulnerability; major media figures like the NYT editorialize and report (often the same thing) as if the war on terror is trumped up, or distort the news about it to the extent that returning veterans don't even recognize the news as covering their experiences; anti-troop and anti-war types are feeling bolder and bolder about saying some of the most hateful, ignorant, and repugnant things... words and emotions our nation hasn't experienced in nearly 35 years.

We are faced with the almost undeniable truth that the major media is morally and intellectually corrupt beyond repair, that the politicans on both sides have allowed the siren song of re-election to turn them from their obligations of good governance, and our "allies" are showing signs of being the moral midgets we've always feared they were. War rages on, as these groups play games with the lives of Americans and others alike. They impugn the honor of those who have given us their innocence and faced the demons for us, they use and abuse the likenesses of those whose ultimate gift means they can no longer speak.

In the middle of this, I don't know how the warfighters keep their composure. People like Uncle J rant (quite appropriately), but it's still somewhat restrained, it's still expressed in only the proper forum. Other respected voices quietly and methodically peel back the layers to expose the disgusting filth hidden behind the terms objective, citizen of the world, nuanced, and elite. But no one has taken to assaulting journalists. No military member of stature and sanity has threatened the life of an ignorant and opportunistic member of Congress. I don't expect they ever will; honor and discipline won't allow it. But it seems so much emotion founded in experience and knowledge is out there there under the public surface, usually only acknowledged in the presence of brothers who understand from experience the logical dissections that underlie the powerful emotions of those who have "been there."

Today Lex wrote about the disgusting fawning over a Time magazine photographer doing Soldier of Fortune-style glamour shots of a Mahdi Army "insurgent" sniper shooting at Americans in Iraq. Commenter "Captain J" shared his thoughts on those who praised the photographer:

One wonders if Ms. McNally has ANY idea how much blood there is in a human body. Add the smell of cordite, voided bowels, the sickly sweet hint of early stages of decomposition; or the rare roast beef whiff of a partially-charred corpse.

Maybe NYT photos should come with a “scratch & sniff” patch on the back for that extra frisson of “authenticity” the enabling MSM lusts after.
That hit me in the gut. Not because of what it described, but what it said between the lines. It was restrained, an almost medical discussion of something CPT J has surely experienced first hand. Something I hope never to experience... and due to the efforts of Captain J and others, I (fortunately) likely never will.

And that's what got to me about it. How many hundreds of thousands of veterans of wars do we have among us who know exactly what Captain J is describing? Who don't usually say it outloud, but who cannot help but remember, smell, hear all over again when some ignorant twit like Ms. McNally blithely talks about the aesthetics and heroics of photographing an enemy who is killing and maiming Americans, an enemy whose actions thus require the soldier to cross that line from Before to After. What emotion must well up at the thought of Ms. McNally's "elevated" and "nuanced" approach to war that celebrates the fact that a photographer is accepted by the enemy who would kill him by hideous means were not his willful ignorance and moral blindness helpful to their propaganda campaign.

I have written before about my appreciation of those who stand in my place, who face the darkness, who find they must fight for the brothers on their right and left because they long ago made a decision to put themselves in that position for their country. But this adds another layer of gratitude. And another something I wish we could change for them.

I am grateful for their self-possession and quiet confidence that allows them to respond to people like Ms. McNally in coherent and eloquent ways with the emotional or intellectual impact of a sledgehammer. But I wish so much those responses were not necessary. I wish they didn't have to protect against the battlefield dangers of people like the photographer as well as the homefront dangers of the enemy within like Ms. McNally (it reminds me somewhat of spending my career as a music teacher fighting to be allowed to simply do my job). Their duty to the war should end with their redeployment. The nobility of their sacrifice should not be treated as merely a choice between political candidates or even a question of religious philosophy. This is not a gray area! It is not a matter of equal philosophies and worldviews that one can pick and choose like a salad bar. They are not equivalent to terrorists, "freedom fighters," or insurgents. They fought to free and liberalize; the enemy fights to enslave and oppress. Their struggles on the battlefield are not staging and props for a reporter's career! How many times do we have to repeat, "This is not a game?!!!"

And so I wish we all understood how serious this war is, what is lost by all who return from the battlefield... understood that this is deadly serious.

To pretend that all is equal and that one can merely observe from afar is to lie to oneself. More graciousness and gratitude is shown by the average recipient of socks on Christmas morning than is shown by many who think they can operate supposedly above the fray of this war. They wouldn't dream of turning up their nose at a misgiven gift, but they do worse than that every day they pretend that what they do doesn't affect the very people who allow them the freedom to throw a gift back in a warfighter's face...

...on the business end of a sniper rifle.

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I Saw Three Ships...

United States aircraft carriers, to be exact.

When I went down to the airport yesterday to see about volunteering at the USO, I took the opportunity to document a somewhat unusual sight: 25% of the U.S. aircraft carrier power (IIRC) in my backyard.

From left to right, that's NIMITZ, REAGAN and STENNIS moored in the San Diego Harbor. Check out the sailing ship in the right foreground for a size comparison.

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15 July, 2006

Sunday Funnies

Expressions for Women on High-Stress Days

  1. You - Off my planet!
  2. Not the brightest crayon in the box now, are we?
  3. Well this day was a total waste of makeup.
  4. Errors have been made. Others will be blamed.
  5. And your crybaby whiny-assed opinion would be...?
  6. I'm not crazy, I've just been in a very bad mood for 25 years.
  7. Allow me to introduce myselves.
  8. Sarcasm is just one more service we offer.
  9. Whatever kind of look you were going for, you missed.
  10. I'm just working here until a good fast-food job opens up.
  11. I'm trying to imagine you with a personality.
  12. Stress is when you wake up screaming and you realize you were not asleep
  13. I can't remember if I'm the good twin or the evil one.
  14. How many times do I have to flush before you go away?
  15. I just want revenge. Is that so wrong?
  16. You say I'm a bitch like it's a bad thing.
  17. Can I just trade this job for what's behind door #2
  18. Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?
  19. Chaos, panic, an ddisorder--my work here is done.
  20. Earth is full. Go home.
  21. Is it time for your medication, or mine?
  22. How do I set a laser printer to stun?
  23. I'm not tense, just terribly, terribly alert.[source unknown]

Somehow I couldn’t help but think of Princess Crabby, especially while reading numbers 1 through 9... ;)


Some guidelines for the software engineers and programmers among us...
Always code as if the person who ends up maintaining your code will be a violent psychopath who knows where you live. (John F. Woods)
In any software development, once you have exhausted all possibilities and fail... there will be one solution, simple, obvious, and highly visable to everyone else. [source unknown]
Weinberg's Law: If builders built buildings the way most programmers write programs...

The first woodbecker that came along would destroy civilization!
And as for me...
My mind is so fragmented by random excursions into the wilderness of abstractions and incipient ideas that the practical purposes of the moment are often submerged into my consciousness and I don't know what I'm doing. [source unknown]

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14 July, 2006

Trying to Volunteer, Update

You are reading the words of someone who is now an official USO volunteer at the local airport! I'm also going to try to do some hospital volunteering at Pendleton through NMCRS, but I'm so glad to finally have found a way to do some hands-on support work (next Friday will be my first day).

I thought I liked the USO director from the moment I spoke to him on the phone, and I was sure I did after meeting him. He and the volunteer director are both retired Navy, and were impressive in an accessible and down-to-earth way. I could see the director silently evaluating me as we talked... considering what his gut was telling him. It made me nervous, but I was impressed with the director's warmth and kindness and so I had confidence he would recognize my pure intentions to simply find a way to serve those who serve us.

Frankly I think I charmed the socks off both of them, haha! The director mistook me for 10 years younger (of course) and at the end of the interview after asking offhandedly if I had kids or was married, teased me about the "many handsome and virile young men" I would be meeting. I interrupted and laughingly exclaimed, "Oh, yes! And most of them will be about 15 years younger than me!" He paused and then cracked up, saying, "Oh, I'm sure we can find a couple older ones for you..." When he noticed I was turning a little pink he exclaimed with a triumphant laugh, "Oh look, we made her blush! We made her blush!" Though I knew he was just teasing, I didn't deny it and instead stuck out my chin with pugnacious playfulness, "Don't think you've done anything special. Most of my male friends can make me blush at the drop of a hat." Which made my cheeks even more heated of course, and just increased the laughter. After he finally stopped laughing, the director offered me an appraising glance and said warmly, "I think you're going to fit in very well here."

Let's hope he's right. I liked every employee/volunteer I met, and they all seemed to "feel right" on the intuitive level I have that usually pegs people. It all had a great "feel" to it. The only drawback is that it's a pretty long trip for me to get there, with freeways almost the entire way. So, I'm probably only going to do it once or twice a week (fortunately Pendleton is much closer).

But it feels really, really good to finally be doing something like this. The support-the-troops stuff I've done via email, care packages and blogging, etc., has been very satisfying, but I'm more a people person: this is exactly the kind of thing I've wanted to do for years.

All-in-all it was also a good self-esteem boost, which I've sorely needed lately...

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13 July, 2006

Trying to Volunteer

Update: Thanks to Barb's links in the comments below, I have some new leads that are very encouraging. I can't wait to start calling them tomorrow!

You'd think this would be easier...

As far as I can tell, the only way into the Camp Pendleton and Balboa hospitals is through the Red Cross. But I'm told I'll be "doing filing" in the RC office. Argghhh!!! I did more good sitting behind my computer in the middle of the Arizona desert!

They're great about saying that they want to find the right place for me, but they're telling me there really isn't anything they do that deals directly with people in the hospitals (other than message transfer).

Maybe I'm working through the wrong organization... maybe I should try some of my contacts... Maybe the hospitals don't really neeed anyone and I don't have anything to offer.

This is not looking good.

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12 July, 2006

Are You a San Diegan?

Hey, you San Diego bloggers and blog readers! Where are you?

Yes you, the one with the "rr" ISP who viewed 10 pages Wednesday night. And you from cox.net who drops by every other day... And a couple of you bloggers I KNOW live in San Diego. And you over there that I don't know, but I know I've seen you around before. ;)

I'm here in North County, not too far from you! Here sharing 680 sq ft with my mother, and without any familiar faces in San Diego 'cept the older generation of my family!

Doesn't that make you feel desperately sorry for me?

It should! :P

So, let's do something about it. I've been here two weeks as of about 3 hours from now. I'm completely settled and looking for work again. But a girl's gotta have fun too, ya know... ;)

And besides, how could you resist something as cute and sexy as this?

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On the Road Again...

I'm once again headed into the Belly of the Beast, also known as the San Diego Freeway system. This time I'm on a mission of mercy, so nothing could possibly go wrong, right?

My purpose for once again braving association with insane SoCal drivers this afternoon is my initial screening/orientation for volunteering with the Red Cross. I hope to volunteer in the Pendleton or Balboa hospitals. This is the first time since I've been involved in troop support that I've lived close enough to do anything like this. Everything I've done--"adopting" soldiers, Valour-IT, etc., has all been via long-distance (with the exception of my trip to DC and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs last December).

Apparently the Red Cross acts as kind of screener for those who want to do military volunteer work. I guess I have to convince them I'm not some nutjob who either worships service members or is planning to husband-hunt in the hospital (apparently this is a real problem with some volunteers), and then the RC will turn me over to the Navy for more training.

Hopefully it won't be too hard to get the RC to take me seriously (looking as old as I do, haha!). I'm thinking my involvement with Valour-IT will help me, but I'm starting to worry they'll take one look at that and put me somewhere administering something via computer, haha! I don't want to do that because I'm sick and tired of interacting with the world via only computer; I want to get out there and actually work directly with others! I'm a people person!!

Anyway, I'm not looking forward to the drive downtown. I had hoped I'd perhaps be able to have lunch with Lex as my reward for facing traffic again, but he's at sea this week. But please send all prayers and thoughts you can this direction. I've never liked driving, and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm a bit cursed these days...

But I'm excited to finally be able to volunteer, and I'm not gonna let any latent driving fears get in the way of that. But so help me... if anything else happens, I may just crack! :)

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11 July, 2006


Just for the record, I don't believe in it. I mean, what did I do to deserve this and this, and this (which resulted in this)? I mean, really...

I swear, the only thing that is getting me out of the house is the fact that I have my initial Red Cross training Wednesday for volunteering at Pendleton/Balboa hospitals. I've always been the type that thought I was in control of my own destiny. I'm beginning to wonder, though...

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10 July, 2006

Deja Vu All Over Again

I think I'm just gonna give up driving in SoCal.

This time damage wasn't limited to inanimate objects. I was looking over my right shoulder as I pulled out of a view-obstructed parking space, which means I wrenched my back when I was hit. A young woman was apparently zipping along the parking lot and decided she could get around me instead of stopping when she saw me halfway pulled out of the parking space. Dumb.

I wish she would've done a hit-and-run like the last one did, though. Instead, she was driving her father's car and her stepmother was in the store when it happened. The driver instantly apologized to me, but everything changed when Stepmom showed up and father arrived soon after. To make a long story short: lots of threats and condescension, lots of nastiness, lots of revisionism and accusations against my integrity. It's gone from her admitting fault to the police officer to them saying it was all my fault and that the damage was pre-existing.

Ugh. I'll let the insurance company sort it out. In the meantime, I'm taking some Advil and hoping the extremely tight muscles in my back are just temporary.

Two accidents in four days is bad enough, but why did they both have to be with total jerks?

Update the morning after: Ow, ow, ow! Lots of stiffness and muscle pain in my back, but I don't think it feels any different than any typical muscle strain... just more intense. *crossing fingers*

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In Praise of Hands

Dear reader, I've been trying oh-so-hard to turn this blog back toward military matters and the typical troop-support posts I've written in the past. I thought I was headed back that direction today, but Cassandra and the Oink Cadre blind-sided me this morning.

Now (thanks to comments on her post), I'm rather distracted. We got to talking about hands... particularly men's hands.

I don't know why hands hold such fascination for me, but they do.

Perhaps it has something to do with being a professional pianist/organist... the hours of focus on moving my hands just the right way in the practice room, the obsessive focus on my professors and fellow students demonstrating techniques with their own hands, the transcendant experience of watching up-close-and-personal as a world-class player caresses the piano/organ/violin with both fire and tenderness. Even watching an expert trumpeter--who primarily uses only three fingers--was endlessly fascinating.

But I have a similar reaction to watching a man work with his hands in any capacity--from swinging a hammer to opening a jar of pickles to simply typing... it's all beautiful.

Hands are truly one of God's greatest creations; from crushing strength to caressing tenderness... from a fist of anger and protection to a well-trained tool of delicacy and expressive conversation. And as with all things male and female, the beauty is in the contrasts.

I'm short, and my hands are proportional to that (my feet, alas, are not). And so, every man who has taken my hand--whether in business or pleasure--has given me pause in our contrasts. Short little fingers against those nearly twice their size, thick and calloused fingers entirely engulfing another's hand. I'm always struck with the whismy of how wonderfully different those hands really are... the desire to take the offered hand, turn it over and compare finger and palm length and width, to run my fingers between his and see how much space there is between each one, to see if his are as flexible as mine (half double-jointed), to check for callouses and scars and hear the stories of each, to thumb wrestle and tickle and laugh...

Hands are amazing. It's not the visuals and the pictures; it's the movement, the graceful dance that the most "uncoordinated" of us perform without even thinking. Whether the typist, the farmer, factory worker, or public speaker, we all use our hands for what we've taught them to do. And they do it so very well... a beautiful dance of everyday life.

And as JHD said over at Cassandra's, "Who would've ever figgered that hands would be the deal!"

You men really have no idea. ;)

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09 July, 2006

Lamest Hatemail Ever

I know I shouldn't feed a troll, but still...

I received the following via the email address I use for Valour-IT related correspondence. I would've chalked it up to typical spam except for an interesting little line:

From: "I_knowThatYou'reA_maggot at MySpace"
To: thelioness_________________
Subject: I_knowThatYou'reA_maggot invites you to MySpace
Date: Sun, 09 Jul 2006 08:45:04 GMT

I_knowThatYou'reA_maggot is a member of MySpace and is inviting you to join.

I_knowThatYou'reA_maggot Says:

Prove that you're not a maggot and go to www.meewsic.com. www.meewsic.com/meewsicradio.asp #1 talk show featuring EVH, Eric Carmen...
100,000+ dead in Iraq but you probably care more about spam because you're brainwashed.

Join MySpace and you will instantly be connected to I_knowThatYou'reA_maggot, and to each of I_knowThatYou'reA_maggot's friends.

Click Here to Join: [link removed]
Bwaahahaaahaha! I can't tell you all how deeply it pains me to know some nameless idiot out there thinks I'm a maggot.

Again, this was sent to my Valour-IT email address, which appears only on the Valour-IT project blog.

What a collossal buffoon.

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07 July, 2006

Playing in Traffic

I'm still getting settled in my mom's house. So, I had to drive today from the northern suburbs down to San Diego proper for to get me some of these. On the way down I had ample opportunity to contemplate the fact that SoCal drivers are... how shall I say it? Crazy!!! I can't count the number of people who (with and without turn signals) cut into my lane about two feet in front of me on the freeway as traffic moved at speeds approaching 80 mph. On inclines when I could see ahead, I swear it looked like a video game up there. I can't count how many times narrow misses ahead left me with visions of my position in a multi-car pileup, either. And my brain just refused to comprehend that in the lane next to the slow lane the prevailing speed was 75+ mph.

And yet nobody crashed, and traffic kept going rather smoothly in the early afternoon as I headed south. But purchases purchased and stowed, I returned north during rush hour. Bad idea.

Not too bad, though. Traffic zipped along for half the trip until I rounded a curve and was confronted with a sea of redlights out to the horizon. But two miles of hills in a Honda Civic with manual transmission at 5 mph with the sweet sounds of baseball emanating from the speakers wasn't intolerable.

Happily minding my own business next to the exit lane, relaxed and unstressed over it all as I coasted along in neutral... beautiful hills... puffy white clouds... idiot in the SUV behind me...

Yup. Wham!!!.

She hit me nice and solid with her big SUV. And I wasn't even stopped! My previously happy and relaxed body bounced and flailed around the front seat. Fortunately, no damage to me other than a bit of a headache this evening. But my three-year-old car now has some very colorful streaks and mangled whorls on the back bumper.

But oh no, it's never simple.

Traffic was crawling along at about 5 mph, so I got out to talk to the woman who looked at me like I was crazy, saying nothing. I asked her for her insurance info and she demurred, suggesting we first move from the 2nd lane to the side of the freeway. I protested, as experience has taught me (painful lesson) not to move the vehicles after a crash. She seemed quite prepared to argue--pointing out the traffic backing up behind us--so I figured she'd be more cooperative if I acceded to her wishes.

Bad move.

Perched in her SUV behind me, she patially blocked my view to get over a lane, and unlike Arizona nobody slowed down to let me in. Behind me she started to aggressively nose her way into the lane, and I figured she was getting impatient with me. But as she pulled out and passed me I began to have a very bad feeling. I memorized her license plate and managed to pull in two or three cars behind her.

By the time I got to the exit it was obvious that she was gone.

I followed the exit to a new and unfamiliar freeway. It promptly led to another right-bearing exit, and each yard led me deeper into unfamiliar territory. Shaken by the accident and panicking, I ended up in the space between the freeway and an exit, without a callbox, business sign, or street sign in sight.

How did I tell 911 where I was? I didn't, 'cause I wasn't really sure where I was, though I tried. The CHP eventually found me and the officer was very nice. They'll be tracking down the driver and if she doesn't fess up, they'll put her in a photo lineup for me.

Mostly I just wanted to sit and cry. These last two weeks have been so hard, and this was kind of the last straw. But I was still twenty minutes from home in freeway traffic and falling apart wasn't an option.

Managed to still be rattled enough to take the wrong exit home... the very one that required miles of backtracking and side roads to correct. Finally made it home, of course. Ugh.

I really hate driving. And going from the Arizona outback to SoCal freeways? There are no words...

Update: Playing in Traffic, part deux

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06 July, 2006

Pause for Self-esteem Boost

These were just too good to pass up...

What Kind of Cute Are You?

Kitten Cute

You are KITTEN CUTE! You are as cute as it gets. You are adorable, snuggly, playful and small. Everyone loves you, and if they don't they're probably mean.

Well, others have said I look like a Hummel figurine, but I'll not argue with that result. ;)

What Item of Clothing Are You?


You're sexy and fun! You go, girl!

Cute and sexy?! Watch out, world! ;)


And speaking of cute and sexy... I've found another benefit to living in SD: Yesterday as I waited for a clerk to help me at Home Depot, I watched two sailors my age in the checkout line all decked out in their summer whites. As my blog papa would say (though not in quite that situation): "Verrr nice!"

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The airwing of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan carrier strike group did their fly off to Lemoore yesterday, and the ships are scheduled to pull into San Diego this morning (the first destroyer--Decatur--is already pulling into the harbor as I write this). They are completing their maiden deployment, which was to the Persian Gulf in support of the GWOT, and their crew of 5,000 are being greeted at the North Island pier today by an estimated 10,000 people.

#1 Local radio talk show host Mark Larsen has had repeated extensive visits with the strike group both before and during this deployment. On July 3rd and 4th he spent his entire show broadcasting live and archive interviews with ship's crew--everybody from the average sailor to the airwing commander and the admiral. Great stuff! You can find streaming or podcasts of the interviews here for at least the next 4 weeks or so (yeah, Larsen looks like a dork, but he has a long and respected history here with San Diego and the Navy).

You can hear live coverage on local radio station KOGO here. Between 9 and 12 pacific time they'll be covering it at the hour and half-hour, but Larsen will be on with full coverage at 12:00 [apparently I was misinformed. But I believe Larsen was out in the middle of the festivities and may be broadcasting on them at a later date. I'll post if he does].

More pics here. High-res photos here.

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04 July, 2006

Flying the Flag

I learned to respect the flag from my mother, and both of us get very upset when we see a worn and tattered automobile-mounted flag or such waving in the breeze.

But today I was reminded that sometimes that worn flag is the living history of a story, such as the flag from the World Trade Center that made a trip around the country after 9-11.

Cassandra wrote a lovely post about patriotism and the flag today. In the comments, JarHead Dad (who should be blogging!) had this to say about a flag his family loves:

...Good thing y'all don't swing by here and see the condition of Old Glory on our flagpole. She's torn, has three little round holes in her, and even a patch of red smeared on the upper side by the Stars.

This lovely Flag was carried by Da Grunt throughout OIF2. The tear was from his pack getting hung in some rubble, the holes speak for themselves reminding us of the usefulness of SAPI [body armor] plates, and that red splotch is the Blood of a Brother that was winged beside him. She smells to High Heaven as well. He still doesn't know how that Flag made it home as the buddy pack where She was secured was ripped to shreds. She wasn't leaving his side I guess.

Have no fear though, this is the only day we fly Her so maybe we'll be forgiven. She is an ugly Flag, all beat up, faded, and such. I know of no other that I own that brings the feelings and emotions this one does! I am in the process of building a full size display for Her. Complete with photos of Brothers and Brothers Lost, engravings, medals, ribbons, etc. It's something I want him to have for a wall somewhere in his home someday. He presented that Flag to us but it no sooner belongs to us then the Man in the Moon. There are no power tools being used in this construction. Hand coping saw only. There will be no need for caulk or putty in the fittings of this display. It will take a large wall, a fine wall, with hangers mounted directly into studs for a secure foundation. The same foundation that She represents. Truly a labor of love.

You will also not see this Flag hung in distress. Ever! But I guess I could wrap myself in Her to accomodate our brethren on the Left that are constantly accusing us of blind patriotism. Shame they have no clue and cannot understand the sheer affinity of a Flag of this type. It is a shame to never believe in anything bigger than yourself and not have the courage to lay down your life for anything. So yeah, I will will fly this tattered symbol of out Nation's strength. Proudly with no apologies!

Happy 4th of July folks. May the Good Lord continue to take a liking to you!
You too, JHD and family.

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Their Lives, Their Fortunes, Their Sacred Honor...

Here in this hall Patrick Henry had once thundered: "I am no longer a Virginian, Sir, but an American." But today the loud, sometimes bitter argument stilled, and without fanfare the vote was taken from north to south by colonies, as was the custom. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

There were no trumpets blown. No one stood on his chair and cheered. The afternoon was waning and Congress had no thought of delaying the full calendar of routine business on its hands. For several hours they worked on many other problems before adjourning for the day. [source]

The results of the vote went out, but it wasn't until later that the public heard exactly what had been voted on.

The Declaration of Independence was printed during the late afternoon on Thursday, July 4, by John Dunlap, a local Philadelphia printer. Congress ordered that copies be sent "to the several Assemblies, Conventions, and Committees or Councils of Safety, and to the several Commanding officers of the Continental Troops, that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the Army." By the next morning copies were on their way to all thirteen states by horseback and on July 5 the German Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote, published by Heinrich Miller, became the new nations's first newspaper to announce that the Declaration had been adopted . On Saturday, July 6, the first newspaper print edition of the full text of the Declaration appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Post.

Though the resolution was formally adopted July 4, it was not until July 8 that two of the states authorized their delegates to sign, and it was not until August 2 that the signers met at Philadelphia to actually put their names to the Declaration.

On Monday, July 8, the Declaration of Independence was "proclaimed" (read aloud) by Col. John Nixon of the Philadelphia Committee of Safety at the State House in Philadelphia [outside the building in which it had been ratified--in what is now called Independence Square]. It was also read again that evening before the militia on the Commons. Throughout the city bells were rung all day. On that day as well the Declaration was publicly read in Easton, Pennsylvania, and Trenton, New Jersey. It was these first public readings which constituted America's first celebrations of the Fourth of July. Typically in towns and cities across the nation accompanying the oral declarations were loud shouts, huzzas, firings of muskets, and the tearing down of the British emblems. [source]

What kind of men were the 56 signers who adopted the Declaration of Independence and who, by their signing, committed an act of treason against the Crown? To each of you the names Franklin, Adams, Hancock, and Jefferson are almost as familiar as household words. Most of us, however, know nothing of the other signers. Who were they? What happened to them?

I imagine that many of you are somewhat surprised at the names not there: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry. All were elsewhere.

Ben Franklin was the only really old man. Eighteen were under 40; three were in their 20s. Of the 56, almost half--24--were judges and lawyers. Eleven were merchants, 9 were land-owners and farmers, and the remaining 12 were doctors, ministers, and politicians.

With only a few exceptions, such as Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, these were men of substantial property. All but two had families. The vast majority were men of education and standing in their communities. They had economic security as few men had in the 18th century.

Each had more to lose from revolution than he had to gain by it.
William Ellery, delegate from Rhode Island, was curious to see the signers' faces as they committed this supreme act of personal courage. He saw some men sign quickly, "but in no face was he able to discern real fear." Stephen Hopkins, Ellery's colleague from Rhode Island, was a man past 60. As he signed with a shaking pen, he declared: "My hand trembles, but my heart does not."

Even before the list was published, the British marked down every member of Congress suspected of having put his name to treason. All of them became the objects of vicious manhunts. Some were taken. Some, like Jefferson, had narrow escapes. All who had property or families near British strongholds suffered.

Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost his 13 children. Two wives were brutally treated. All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned. Yet not one defected or went back on his pledged word. Their honor, and the nation they sacrificed so much to create, is still intact.

And, finally, there is the New Jersey signer, Abraham Clark. He gave two sons to the officer corps in the Revolutionary Army. They were captured and sent to the infamous British prison hulk afloat in New York harbor known as the hell ship "Jersey," where 11,000 American captives were to die. The younger Clarks were treated with a special brutality because of their father. One was put in solitary and given no food. With the end almost in sight, with the war almost won, no one could have blamed Abraham Clark for acceding to the British request when they offered him his sons' lives if he would recant and come out for the King and parliament. The utter despair in this man's heart, the anguish in his very soul, must reach out to each one of us down through 200 years with his answer: "No."

The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence proved by their every deed that they made no idle boast when they composed the most magnificent curtain line in history. "And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." [entire speech]

Today as our military fights in places whose names me know and those we will never hear we often say, "May we be worthy of their sacrifice." But the courageous men and women today who ensure our freedom and liberty stand on the shoulders of the giants of yesterday who kept the pledge they made on a hot day in Philadelphia 230 years ago. They call to us today to make the most of this Grand Experiment.

[Note: all but the italicized sections are quotes from the sites linked above. The first two pictures were taken by FbL in Philadelphia last winter.]

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Planning for the Fourth

[John of Argghhh! linked me before I had my official 4th of July post up. You can find it here, and another one here.]

Last July 4th I was moving from Phoenix to the Arizona outback I lived in for the last 11 months but this year I have time to plan and a city to explore.

Here are the parameters:

Location: San Diego metropolitan area (North County)
Local social circle: nobody but my mother's friends
Finances: willing to spend up to $50
Context: As usual these days I'm very aware of the dual streams of the idyllic Norman Rockwellesque 4th of firecrackers and picnics against the gritty and often-painful realities of warfighters and war. Lex described similar thoughts last year.
Any suggestions for a good way to spend the 4th of July in SoCal?

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03 July, 2006


I barely had the patience to deal with my students the last few months of school. I have zero patience for dealing with people who are paid to do a job and can't do it right.

Here's the setting: my mother has paid for cable Internet, but didn't have a modem. Conveniently, I brought a cable modem and wireless router with me. I went to hook them up last Thursday and discovered the incoming cable didn't work. I called the company, which assured me a repair technician would arrive between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. this morning. I was told to be sure there was somebody at home to meet the technician.

Meanwhile my mother and I have organized the possessions I brought with me and boxed them to go to the storage facility I hope to rent. This morning we loaded our two vehicles and waited for the tech to arrive so that we could then put the boxes in storage since she has the day off today and we have plans for the 4th.

We patiently waited for the tech while we rested.

And waited...

And waited.

After 11:00 I called the company. After being repeatedly routed to the wrong person and waiting over 5 minutes to speak to a human, I was accusingly told they didn't come because nobody answered the phone when they called us!!!

My reply: That's because we were using the dial-up Internet because the cable was down and nobody told me you would be calling!

How hard would it have been for the scheduler I spoke to on Thursday to check the phone number and inform me that I needed to keep the line free because the tech wouldn't come if he couldn't first contact us and confirm we were home?! We do not pay people to be incompetent!!

The person I spoke to today said they would try to "squeeze" us in today (after leaving me on hold for ten minutes, she told me that the moment they can't reach the tech in the field). I was also told that if a tech "doesn't show up by about 7 or 8 p.m. tonight," then we should "call to reschedule."

Meanwhile my mother can't do some emergency work she needs to at home because she has to use the dialup program on her laptop that should allow her to access her company's network isn't working for some reason, and her office is closed for repairs this weekend.

And we're both driving ourselves crazy not being able to be on the Internet at the same time.

We were counting down the hours to a supposed repair today.

I know there are worse problems, but... Grrrrr... Like I said, we don't pay people to be incompetent.

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01 July, 2006

A Very Happy Anniversary

Yes, it commemorates a terrible day, but the fact that he's here to celebrate what has happened in the year since makes this anniversary very happy indeed.

I missed the actual date (wrapped up in moving), but it was just over a year ago that CPT Chuck Ziegenfuss got his "ass splattered all over Al Abarra province." In a beautiful post the normally uber-tough-guy Chuck looks back and catalogs all the good things that have happened during his year of continuing recovery:

But other things have happened in this year. I came to truly appreciate and understand the depths of love, and inner strength that my darling wife has. The trauma I suffered physically and emotionally cannot begin to compare with the ordeal she faced in putting me back together again. When she finally smartens up and sees what a rat bastard I am, I’ll miss her.
As for me, I am so glad I can still call him friend. At the MilBlog Conference in April finally meeting him and Carren face-to-face was something I can't put into words. Carren and I kept hugging that weekend as if we'd had months of hugs stored up for each other--which we did; she felt like a long-lost friend or sister to me. And Chuck pulled me aside and gruffly ordered me to "spill!" as he inquired what was going on with me that had me writing such dark stuff on my blog in March/April and threatening to quit (I'm doing much better now). It felt so good to see him for myself, to touch him, to know that he really was recovering.

They're both such wonderful people; Carren's strength and dignity should be the standard for anyone facing tough times, and Chuck's attitude of gratitude and ability to look for the silver lining in what has in many ways been a year of hell is beyond inspiring. Since I read Chuck's blog long before he was wounded, I can't credit his wounding as having drawn me to them. But being allowed the privilege of watching and supporting them through this has impacted me in professional and personal ways that will reverberate through my life.

Happy Anniversary, Chuck! It was the day the "sons of whores" (as you put it) tried to put an end to you. But it was also the day that set you on an amazing course that has enriched both your life and ours--and others you will never know, and that we celebrate with joy and gratitude. You've had quite a trip (and it still continues); I'm so honored to be a small part of it.

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