31 August, 2006

Sickness of the Soul and the Community

Update: As usual, Lex says it all, and far better than my feeble scratches that only hinted at it.

It's worse than the headline, so I've included the whole thing here:

PARKLAND, Wash. -- The Pierce County Sheriff's Department is searching for five people who allegedly attacked a uniformed National Guardsmen walking along 138th Street in Parkland Tuesday afternoon.

The soldier was walking to a convenience store when a sport utility vehicle pulled up alongside him and the driver asked if he was in the military and if he had been in any action.

The driver then got out of the vehicle, displayed a gun and shouted insults at the victim. Four other suspects exited the vehicle and knocked the soldier down, punching and kicking him.

“And during the assault the suspects called him a baby killer. At that point they got into the car and drove off and left him on the side of the road,” Detective Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department told KIRO 7 Eyewitness News.

The suspects were driving a black Chevy Suburban-type SUV.

“This is something new for us, we have not had military people assaulted because they were in the military or somebody's opposition to a war or whatever,” Troyer said.

The driver is described as a white male, 25-30 years old, 5 feet 10 inches tall, heavy build, short blond hair, wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, and armed with a handgun.

The vehicle's passengers are described as white males, 20-25 years old. Some of the suspects wore red baseball hats and red sweatshirts during the attack.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and charging of the individuals involved. Informants can call 253-591-5959, and callers will remain anonymous.


Besides the extreme fury and grief I feel at the idea of a soldier being physically assaulted for his service, I am taken aback at the idea of a gun-wielding "pacifist." What this tells me is actually deeply disturbing. It says that a group of 20-30 year olds have been thoroughly steeped not in a carefully-reasoned (if arguably misguided) philosophy of political pacifism, but instead in the idea that soldiers are somehow sub-human or deserving of violent treatment. That kind of twisted brain-washing that is completely devoid of thoughtful philosophy or rational considerations is frightening.

Here's why I say that: these men were not pacifist anti-war types, but merely thugs looking for a convenient target. Apparently there's a strong enough segment of their broader community detesting and dehumanizing soldiers that they felt a soldier would make a good target. That speaks volumes about not just them, but their neighbors as well.

I feel such a combination of grief, revulsion and anger [and fear] that I've run out of words...

[h/t Argghhh!]

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The Conversation Continues

Commenter "PG, joined our recent discussions about men and women:

I just don't get where you guys are coming from. I'm a single, never-married over-40 guy who: -thinks Sex & the City is easily one of the best TV shows of the last 20 years. -thinks neither good nor bad about Oprah. -loves to talk and has no problem doing so. -has plenty of female friends. -has a fair amount of dates. What's all this hand-wriging about? There are all sorts out there. It takes a while to find someone compatible, that's for sure. But it's far more likely now than 50 years ago. And all this complaining about a lack of "virtuous women"....huh? Send them my way if you've got a problem with them. Yeesh!

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27 August, 2006

A Small Favor*

The next time I display the slightest doubt about something--anything!--please remind me to follow my intuition.

It'll make my life simpler and a lot more enjoyable.


*This post has been brought to you by the school of "I Shoulda Known Better."

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The Book(s)

It's finally here! Blackfive (aka Matthew Currier Burden) has spent the last year working on a milblog anthology and it's finally shipping out via Amazon.com.

It's always exciting to see people you know in print, but this is extremely exciting because not only can I say "I know Matt," but I also count as friends a number of the bloggers excerpted in the book and [ed.--shameless plug ahead] I can even take credit for the inclusion of several posts I brought to Matt's attention.

But here's the important part: if the rest of it is as impressive as the opening pages you can view at Amazon, then it's going to be an awfully good book (click on the pic above to order--link fixed).

And while we're on the subject of books, don't miss this one that offers an intimate look at the kinds of people Valour-IT works to help:

Reviewer Roland Green of Booklist writes:

Prizewinning Time reporter Weisskopf went to Iraq embedded with the First Armored Division. One day he picked up a strange object from the bottom of his vehicle--and woke up with his right hand missing. His next journey was to Ward 57, the amputee ward, of Walter Reed Hospital. He skillfully depicts his own experiences and those of his wardmates... This thoroughly distinguished addition to the literature on the Iraq War adds further distinction to Weisskopf's career, which he plans to continue to the best of his remaining abilities.
I can't review the book myself as it isn't out until October, but I have been in touch with Weisskopf and I'll probably have more to say about both him and his book in the near future.

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25 August, 2006

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before...

Blogpapa Lex kindly posts a general link to me, and what do I go do? Put up a post like this, of course! Oh well, it's Friday anyway--good time for less-than-substantial blogging. Just scroll down to the next post if you're looking for quality content.

I had a great day at the USO yesterday. It was very busy because a local unit is beginning pre-deployment block leave, so that kept things interesting. My fellow volunteer for my second shift (we were understaffed, so I hung around) was the self-same retired Naval NCO of Elevated Rank who had put me in touch with Big Guy. As I wrote before, once you understand the fact that he doesn't know he's retired, he's a great guy. And if you've been lucky enough to earn his respect, he's a true joy to associate with.

We got to talking about all sorts of things--music, leadership (it's a lot like teaching!), personalities (he's the "I want the info, not your life story" type, while sometimes I like to talk just for the sake of talking), etc. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves with laughter and thought-provoking conversation when he suddenly stopped, looked at me and asked in an almost fatherly way, "So what do you do for fun? Do you go out? Do you have a boyfriend?"

I told him lightly, "Not much. I don't have many friends here, since I just moved here. And no, I don't have a boyfriend, unfortunately."

"Why not?"

"Well if I knew that, I'd have myself a boyfriend!" I replied laughingly. He started to say something complimentary about me, but I interrupted him: "Oh yes! I'm wonderful and charming and amazing and the men my age must be idiots. Right?" He nodded and laughed. "Of course, the guys who tell me that are all just like you--happily-married older men," I added. Cracked him up!

He offered up that typical line happily-married people give to someone like me and I playfully asked him whether he'd want to hear that were he in my position (30-something single who'd never found the right person). He got it.

The rest of our conversation (and some recent experiences) got me to thinking a bit, too. Perhaps I have unreasonably high standards for someone I'd consider "boyfriend material." Here's a list just off the top of my head. He must be...

Confidently mature--"I know myself and my capabilities, both good and bad"
My intellectual equal or superior
Active--enjoys exercise in various forms (not necessarily "athletic")
Honorable--having integrity, trustworthiness, etc.
Chivalrous--(most people don't truly know what it means, so click the link)

Now tell me, is that an unreasonable list? Seriously, I want to know. Because now that I'm no longer hanging out in the ultra-feminine world of elementary education I'm encountering a lot more guys than I used to, but I haven't been impressed with most of them. Now that I think of it, I can't say very many men I've met recently match up well with a list like that (and yes, those who do are married or twenty years older than me).

Are those qualities that only appear in long-married men, or something? Is it something that develops because a naive young woman married him when they were both 21 and together they went through the agony of learning from experience so that now they're better people for having lived it? Is it as commenters alluded to in this post--that a good women inspires a man to improve himself? So does that mean I'm gonna have to start with the raw material of a 21-year-old in a 35-year-old's body?

That can't be right.

But if it is, I give up. I might as well just join the "men are ignorant louts" crowd; at least that way I can pretend the reason I'm alone is because I'm just too good for them.

[And if you didn't read the first half of this post closely enough and so you say in comments below, "You're just so awesome I know there's someone out there for you," I will be forced to kick your butt. Hard.]

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24 August, 2006

Soldier Ride, part II

Part I: Tears and smiles and the amazing cyclists

The soldiers were definitely the stars of the day at the event, but there were also a number of dignitaries. I had lunch with the Chief of Staff for Camp Pendleton, the mayor of San Clemente, Patti Bader and other Soldiers' Angels leadership, and the kid of a famous classic movie star (Da Goddess was much more star-struck about that than I was). There were also a number of the leadership and general membership of veterans organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and Military Order of the Purple Heart in attendance at the Soldier Ride event. Yeah I was way outta my league, but it was great to see the kind of support there was.

There had been a lot of buzz about the fact that Matthew Modine was going to be attending. That name rang a bell for me, but I didn't really pay much attention to it (Patti told me he was a movie actor). When Da Goddess and I were walking up the hill to the ceremony after the riders arrived, she nudged me and pointed to the tall, thin man walking alone in front of us with a towel around his waist. The ensuing conversation between the two of us wasn't overly loud, but I'm sure he heard every word. "Look, that's him," she said.


"Matthew Modine!"


"Right in front of us!"

"Who's Matthew Modie?"

"The movie star." She about rolled her eyes at me.

I gave her a blank look for a moment. "Oh yeah, I heard he was supposed to be here. What movies should I know him from?"

Da Goddess rolled her eyes at me, "Like Full Metal Jacket, maybe?"

"Oh... yeah..."

"Haven't you seen it?!"

"Just bits and pieces."

She told me what character he'd played and I know my response made it obvious that I didn't really know what she was talking about. I asked her why he had a towel around his waist and she reported that he'd ridden the last few legs of the trip with the soldiers, and so had been in the surf with them a few moments before. I then felt kinda guilty that Modine had probably heard our conversation, but I didn't think I'd been rude and I figured his celebrity ego would have to tough it out. However, by the end of the day I was totally impressed and had added Matthew Modine to the short list of celebrities who have my respect.

At the ceremony I snagged a seat as close to the front as I could get, across the aisle from the area set aside for the riders. The riders found their seats in dribs and drabs as well-wishers and friends came up to congratulate them while we waited for the program to start. The bigwigs came up to speak to them with obvious respect, and the bonds among the riders were vividly clear. Particularly telling was the reaction to Modine. He came walking down the aisle with bare feet and the towel still around his waist. As he made a move to sit with the rest of us, catcalls and shouts of "Get your scrawny ass over here with us!" erupted from the riders' section. When Modine looked puzzled, a soldier yelled, "Hell yes, you belong with us!"

Yes, that's Modine in the picture above. Notice that there is no chair behind him; he spent most of the ceremony squatting down and strongly resisted when someone tried to give him their chair. But the most amazing people are standing just to Modine's left. See how the man has his hand on the woman's shoulder? That's Cpt. Ryan Kules. He's holding onto his wife for balance because his left leg is missing at the top of the thigh. This is the couple I mentioned in Part I--the woman who carried her husband on her back up the beach at the end of the ride because he couldn't hop like the other leg amputees. A news article writes about Cpt. Kules' desire to participate [the entire article is great]:

"Kules lost an arm and a leg on either side," Nardizzi [Executive Director of Solider Ride] said. "This presents a challenge because usually you rig a bike for one injury or the other, not both.

"But Kules says, ‘Put me on a bike.’ So we did," he continued. "We consulted with the professionals, and we made one work and he can take it home."
During the ceremony Soldier Ride participants were given individual plaques commemorating their efforts, and offered an opportunity to share their thoughts. One person who spoke was a Ukranian immigrant who had completed the entire cross-country distance. He was obviously considered a leader in the group and spoke eloquently about those who didn't survive the battlefield as he had. Others talked about their satisfaction in "serving you" and their appreciation for the support citizens showed at stops across the country.

By acclamation of the riders, Matthew Modine was asked to speak, though he was obviously uncomfortable with the idea. I snickered at the thought of an actor speaking without a script, but he spoke movingly of growing up as a patriotic American and reaching a whole new level of appreciation for the military after 9-11. He was neither condescending nor saccharine, but instead he so obviously related to those wounded warfighters as men he loved and deeply respected. I was very impressed with him.

Part III: The story of the man in the picture in Part I.

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22 August, 2006

Johnathan Benson, Update 5

As most of you know, my last report on Cpl. Benson was not good.

A couple of hours ago I received a report about him that is not any more encouraging than what I last posted. Please keep him and his family close to your heart in these coming days, with prayers for strength and healing for all of them if you are so inclined.

I will post more as soon as I can.

Update (8/22/06, late): I wrote to his mother, Margie, saying that I had heard his condition was very poor, mentioning this post, and telling her that Johnathan and her family will continue to be remembered. She replied with only two sentences: "Thank you. Our hearts are breaking, but we will keep on keeping on."

That last bit has been a recurring phrase for her in our communications. She has been very clear-eyed in acknowledging what Johnathan has been facing, yet hopeful and courageous nonetheless. A great mother and strong woman...

Update: Johnathan passed away on September 9, 2006.

[History: original post, update 1, update 2, update 3, update 4]

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Men and Women

[Update below]

Yup. One of those kinda posts...

SWWBO tipped me off to a great essay by Fausta that starts out as a discussion of why "love and life" is so much more difficult for men these days, but is also a (right-on) analysis of the cultural behavior and values of so many women today. Go read it all, I'll wait.

Okay, you back? I think she's got it right, though fortunately not all women are as she describes.

I encountered some of this myself recently when a 40-year-old single recounted to me his dating experiences of the last couple years. Most of the women he'd dated recently were socially coarse, financially and emotionally manipulative, and slutty--and this was just on first dates! Imagine what they would've been like after a couple dates when they felt comfortable enough to be themselves!

Reading things like Fausta's essay tends to give me the urge to stand on the rooftop and shout, "I'm not like them! I'm not like them!" Due to my conservative upbringing I never felt that I was entirely a part of the culture, but that sense of separateness has grown as I have. How in the world can I be expected to operate in a culture like this that is not just foreign to my "outward values," but foreign to my very way of perceiving and judging the world? I don't see men as the enemy (I see them as a thoroughly puzzling, charming, delicious and somewhat elusive alien species, but that's another post, haha!).

Fausta starts off with what she calls the "Church of Oprah" whose main tenet is apparently that women are superior to men (of course, Oprah is not the originator of this idea, but at times seems to be a the high priestess of it). In an attempt to balance the scales, early feminists rightly pointed us to what makes women so special and to the characteristics or qualities that are often more obviously expressed in females than males. But somewhere along the way we overdid it and the pendulum swung back too hard. Instead of jokes about airheaded and overly-emotional women we now get ones about idiotic and loutish men.

In the quest for "female empowerment" we've now done to men what society did to us for so many years. Various "thinkers" have been warning of this for quite awhile, but it seems that the average man is now feeling it himself. It's gotten so that a girl like me who loves men for how they're different and who doesn't expect a man to be an inept version of a female is greeted with skepticism at best.

Fausta also talks perceptively about one of the things that makes men and women different, something which I've been repeatedly reminded of in my interactions with military men in the last couple of years. Men communicate, it's just that most of them speak a different language than women (this is especially true in a military environment where both loquaciousness and tender emotion are often sidelined by the tasks at hand). It's a language of short phrases and single-sentence paragraphs, of deeds and not dissertations. They bare their hearts by inference, in a gentle touch accompanied by a vow that "if there's anything I can ever do for you, just let me know," in actions and attitudes that speak for themselves if only we would listen.

Yes, men can be infuriatingly silent, and even dismissive and chauvinistic at times. But in a world where we women can run that gauntlet of emotional cruelty to each other that reaches high art, men are at a loss as they discover we've decided it's okay to sharpen our claws on their just-as-tender hearts. They're not going to come to us in tears over it, but if they're smart they quickly realize there may be little payoff for making themselves that vulnerable again.

We single women go around asking where all the good men are. Sometimes I wonder if the beyotches scared them all into hiding.



Update: Masked Menace writes a comment over at Fausta's that must be shared:

I think fuasta's point is something along the Biblical Proverb:

For who can find a virtuous wife? She is worth far more than rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her and he lacks nothing of value. Proverbs 31:10-11

It's the same as the addage "Behind every great man is a great woman."

There seem to be a shortage of virtuous women, and consequently there is a lack of men with anything of value. There are many fewer great men.

Women have tremendous power whether they realize it or not. A woman has the power to absolutely destroy a man, to drive him to the depth of suicide, and never raise her voice much less her fist.

Ladies, you make us who we are. With you by our side we can do anything, overcome any obstacle, and do so with confidence that even if we fail, we'll kicks its ass tomorrow.

With you needling us in our backs we couldn't cross the street without fear and doubt that perhaps it's better just to stay over here.

For who can find a virtuous wife? I'm very fortunate, indeed.

I'm reminded of several people I know who have completed extreme military training (i.e. Ranger School, BUD/s, etc.)... and have told me that the one near-universal factor in those who didn't washout from training is that there was a woman in their lives whose memory they turned to for inspiration when their body and mind had reached the limits of endurance. As MM says, we women have tremendous power.

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21 August, 2006

Something's Wrong Here

Grim says it best, and in fewer words. But if you'd like the long version, read on:

Cutting programs that support the treatment and rehabilitation of veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) right now is absurd. TBI is one of the most common combat-related injuries coming out of Iraq today. Anybody who has suffered severe wounds from an IED blast also likely suffers from TBI caused by the blast wave of the explosives. Even those with only very minor shrapnel wounds or scratches can end up with serious TBI.

When I went to the VA in Washington, DC last December we were given a tour of a Polytrauma Center. This is a new concept that the VA is very proud of. These Polytrauma Centers are special units in select locations that are designed to treat patients who have TBI plus other serious injuries such as amputations or paralysis. The VA and the DoD recognize that TBI is going to be one of the biggest issues in healthcare for this generation of wounded vets, and so they are very serious about providing these special centers.

And what does the idiotic U.S. Congress do? Move to cut back funding on TBI-related programs and research.

Contact your Congress Critters and politely tell them that they've apparently dropped the ball. Appeal to their patriotism and sense of electoral self-protection. This is an election year after all...

Update: John of Argghhh! is on the story, with links to others and more info.

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Cassandra of Villainous Company issues a cri de coeur:

What put that lump in my throat and what continues to worry at me day and night, is that a small part of America still believes in this ideal, still possesses this purity of vision. But it is dwindling daily, being replaced by a 'smarter', more effete nation that believes in nothing whole heartedly. That will commit to no promise, will see no course of action through to the bitter end. That finds, paradoxically, wisdom in expediency and intellectual honesty in being morally flexible when the going gets tough. That eschews idealism for the new God of the 21st Century Man: realism.

It's a must-read
. And as for me? I wish I'd written it... every single word.

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Coming Home

[update below]

Dadmanley has an wonderfully wise and insightful post about how he had the men he leads as a First Sergeant in the National Guard have been affected by their deployment to Iraq.

His unit didn't see a whole lot of violence or combat in the year they spent in Iraq. But as Dadmanley points out, they still deal with the after-effects of their service in a warzone:

It really had nothing to do with whether you got shot at, or rode through an IED, or witnessed first hand a mortar or rocket strike. It had most to do with what was inside of you, what made you tick, how you coped, how you pushed both the crazy mundane, and the hopped up combat rush out of your mind, just to do the next necessary thing.

Because war really does bring a man or woman to a point of clarity, and maybe refinement, as in the way precious metals are refined by fire. Not everyone makes it through the “refiners fire,” as scripture reminds us, to be tempered like steel, or purified like gold and silver. Some end up as a lot more dross than treasure.
BillT of Argghhh! once said something similar: "War takes a rasp to the veneer of civilization which covers a man and scrapes until the solid metal which forms his soul is exposed. Most soldiers are iron or steel, a few--very few--are base metal. And some are solid gold." Dadmanley and his leadership discovered that some of their soldiers were perhaps of base metal or metal that hadn't been forged quite right. But he and the unit's leadership are not leaving these guys behind. The genuine concern and affection for those struggling with the aftermath is clear in Dadmanley's writing.

And one more thing jumps out at me... the guilt:
Today’s veterans face very different circumstances [than Vietnam veterans], but can still end up in the same place, mentally and emotionally. We are often overwhelmed by the support and encouragement of our fellow citizens, family, neighbors, friends and co-workers. The American people seem bound and determined to never again make the mistake of blaming the soldier. The military stresses that we not keep anything to ourselves, and the entire deployment and redeployment processes reinforce constantly that we need to look out for each other, and refer ourselves and others for services if necessary...

But in our heads, we’re thinking, “suck it up. Quit yer whinin’.”

Guilt again, but this time for a different reason. “I’m no hero,” most of us say. “I didn’t have a hard time at all,” or “I never saw any action,” or even, “I never really thought I was in any danger.” Boredom, tedium, routine, and more American style services and amenities than any prior generation of soldiers could dare to imagine. Like R&R all the time. For most, but obviously not all. Like a lottery in reverse, where only the very unlucky lost. The rest of us won.
Dadmanley, you and all those who were lucky enough to deal with the war largely from the safety of a major base with all the amenities or were lucky in your outside-the-wire activities are just as valued for your service as those who came back with wounds to prove the danger of the work they'd done. Soldiering is sacrifice, whether facing down a hail of bullets or not. So much of it is about pushing yourself to physical and mental limits in training, leaving half of your heart on the other side of the world while you step into the unknown, knowing that being ready to do what must be done (even if it is never actually required of you) is a gift to the rest of us.

The common saying is that combat comes down to fighting for the guys next to you. True, but was it for the guys next to you that you didn't know until you joined that you signed up? And so you are loved, appreciated, and taken care of by public and private agencies because you stepped up and filled the slot: you coped with the separation, the times of fear (no matter how short or long), the life-altering experience of being deployed... you did what we asked of you, in all its mundane and terrifying moments. Thank you.

For those who may want to understand bit more about what goes on inside many soldiers' heads in this war, don't hesitate to read the rest of Dadmanley's excellent essay.

Update: Papa Ray left this poignant comment about "coming home" over at Dadmanley's:

Thanks for a great post, one that I wish I could have read years ago.

You are what the Army needed, but never trained their leaders to be, back then.

"Home can’t ever feel like Iraq, thank God, but home doesn’t feel like home anymore, either."

I can identify with that statement. I had the guilt of being a survivor and the feelings that I had left before the mission was finished and to top it off with the ant-war crowd was just too much for me.

I bummed the country on the back of a Harley, drinking too much, job to job until I grew tired of it. Trying to find "home", I wound back where I started. Tried to build a life, screwed up too many times, but managed most of it. Got help late (my fault) finally from the VA and got to where I made friends with all my ghosts and got rid of my guilt (mostly).

Now I'm blessed, in more ways than one. It's a good thing, and I hope all of our new Warriors, never have to go to hell to get back HOME.

Papa Ray
West Texas

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What They're Doing With Their Lives

Captain B (himself a college-educated airline pilot before he enlisted) writes a beautiful answer to those who ask the young enlisted Marine, "Is that all you're going to do with your life?"

To my surprise there are a lot of people out there who think our services are made up of people who couldn’t find a job else where and then turned to the military. Wow, did that surprise me. Especially, when my radio operator (a Corporal) back in 1997 was a college graduate and decided to become a Marine to serve his country. Since Sept 11, many highly qualified Americans have joined to serve and today is the foundation of our great military service. Another example is a very successful NY stock trader who I served with. He had plenty of money and a great career, but after Sept 11, he felt compelled to make a difference and now he fought along with me in Afghani and Iraq.
Please do read it all.

So what are military personnel doing with their lives today? We already know about those in Iraq and Afghanistan and other hotspots around the world. But that's not all they're doing today. Here's a brief sample (click to enlarge):

Snipers watch from a hangar roof as suspected drug cartel leader Francisco Javier Arellano Felix and other men are brought to Coast Guard Station San Diego on Thursday. The crew of the cutter Monsoon detained Felix and the men on a fishing boat in waters off the coast of Baja California (Denis Poroy / AP Photo).

Soldiers with the Presidential Salute Battery of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) fire howitzers during the grand finale of a U.S. Army Band performance of Tchaikovsky's Overture "1812" at the Sylvan Theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. The annual performance is a favorite of tourists to the Nation's Capital (M. Scott Mahaskey / Army Times).

Dr. (Col.) William Walters of the Tennessee Air National Guard listens to the lungs of a Ugandan patient during the training exercise Natural Fire 2006 in Soroti, Uganda, on Aug. 8 (Master Sgt. John E. Lasky / U.S. Air Force).

More pictures and captions here.

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Johnathan Benson, Update 4

Corporal Benson continues to struggle and it has been a very tough couple of weeks. He has suffered several strokes (both sides of his brain) that appear to have caused some lasting damage, including possible loss of sight. However, his mother reports he is now responding to family members.

This is no longer about just Cpl. Benson; his entire family needs our love and support. Marjorie writes:

Our hearts are breaking watching Johnathan go through this. He has had the tuffest road to go down. We as a family do make sure every letter and card is read to him. Thank you so much for loving my son!! Please keep praying.
I can't help but remember the young wife I met at the VA hospital on my DC visit last December. There is nothing but a very hard road ahead of this family, regardless of what their final destination is.

Please continue to support Johnathan and his family by sending cards and praying in whatever manner fits your spiritual practice. Whether or not Johnathan will be able to recover, he and his entire family desperately need our continued love and support.

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 1, update 2, update 3, update 5]

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19 August, 2006

Saturday Silliness

I couldn't resist sharing this photo. I figure it could make a good caption contest, but I'm a little hesitant.

However, let's do it! Try and keep it reasonably clean. The obvious R-rated caption is easy. It's the subtle stuff that takes skill... ;)

I'll start things out:

(Marine on the left): "Duuude! I've been looking for rhinestone heels like that. Where'd you get 'em?"

[Thanks to Bloodspite for the pic]

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17 August, 2006

Meeting the Big Guy

[For the sake of the nosy Google-bot, I must be vague. My apologies for how it detracts from the story].

As described here, I recently made some excellent contacts among the local branch of our fine military. This resulted in my receiving a summons from a member of the leadership of the local mil-hospital.

The meeting was today and it went well. But in typical FbL style nothing is ever that simple. Knowing that fact, I alotted myself nearly twice the travel time needed. I figured that would give me at least half an hour to get lost and still have time to put on some makeup in the parking lot. Unfortunately, yesterday I had removed the wallet that usually resides in my car 24/7.

Problem number one: halfway there I realized I didn't have my wallet (ID) with me.

Problem number two: I was thirsty (had coins in ashtray).

I arrived with over 30 minutes to spare and figured I'd slip around the corner to a nearby intersection to solve problem number two.

Dumb move.

Very dumb move. The streets near the hospital do NOT run at right angles, nor are they consistently two-way streets. Add a tangle of two major freeways and FbL's sense of direction... and it goes downhill from there.

Knowing I might possibly be a little bit late as I wandered in a haze of one-way and dead-end streets, I tried to call Big Guy's office and let them know of my possible tardiness as well as ask them if they would call down to the gate to let me pass without ID. Unfortunately I only had the phone number of the main switchboard (Big Guy's number was in my email). After literally 10 minutes on hold with the switchboard, during which I finally found my way to the security gate with two minutes to spare, the following occurred:

Big, Intimidating MP with Uncaring Expression: ID, please.

FbL: (hands over face) I don't have it! And I have a meeting with Big Guy and I'm running late!

BIMPUE: You don't have any ID?

FbL: No

BIMPUE: Then you can't enter.

FbL: ...


FbL: There's no way to get in?

BIMPUE: Not without ID.

FbL: How about if I have Big Guy's office call down here?

BIMPUE: (obviously humoring FbL, almost rolling eyes) If you can get him to call down and verify, sure...

I spent the next 5+ minutes on the phone with my mother, talking her through getting into my email and finding Big Guy's phone number. Meanwhile I'm thinking to myself: Late to meeting with Big Guy where I'm supposed to impress him with my stellar character and competence? I think I'll just kill myself now and get it over with.

Two minutes after I call Big Guy's office, an impressive-looking MP steps out of the guard shack with a phone to his ear. Contact is made and permission is given. MP asks me if I know where Big Guy's office is. Turns out it's moved. He tells me exactly where to go and to park right outside the office, adding "I'll call up and tell my guys to leave your vehicle alone."

I whip into the parking space outside the door, grab my organizer, and run my fingers through my hair as I jump out of the car. Another MP steps out of the doorway on cue and offers to escort me down the two flights of stairs to the office. I arrive seven minutes late, feeling like I'm gonna throw up.

And here's the miracle: Big Guy's still sitting in a meeting and Secretary is debating whether or not to interrupt him 10 minutes after I arrive! He never knew I was late. *whew!* I had time to take a few deep breaths and try to loosen the knot in my stomach.

But it's not over... sitting in his office moments before he walks in I glance down at my multi-strand beaded necklace. One single dark strand is hanging by one end straight down over my white blouse. I reach for it and yank it off, spilling tiny little glass beads down my blouse and into the chair. I fold up the metal strand and stick it into my organizer as he walks in, standing up to greet him and praying that I managed to shake all those little beads into the chair before I stand up and they bounce along the floor (they stayed in the chair).

Actually, the meeting itself went very well. He obviously knew my resume inside and out. He handed me off to the person coordinating the volunteer activity for a special new ward in the hospital after a few minutes of conversation, saying that several things I'd said jumped out at him as indicating that was where I should be. I'm thrilled because that is exactly what I would like to be doing.

We talked about my desire to make a career of military personnel/family advocacy or support. He gave me some advice and said that volunteering and networking as I am is exactly what I should be doing. He also said he'd keep his eyes open and share my resume. I have definitely found a supporter in him, which still floors me when I think of it.

The tension I'd built over the day didn't unwind until about 10 minutes after I got home.... and then I crashed. I can't remember the last time I was so utterly, bone-meltingly exhausted!

But I think I'll call the day a success. :)

P.S. Lesson learned? Always have Big Guy's direct phone number at hand.

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Soldier Ride

On July 29 I had the privilege of attending the closing events for the cross-country bicycling trip sponsored by Soldier Ride at San Clemente Beach in California.

Soldier Ride sponsors adaptive cycling events for wounded military personnel, especially amputees. They conduct clinics and short rides to help recovering wounded, as well as longer rides for those further along in their healing. The amputees ride regular or special reclining cycles, depending on their needs. Participants report that it is an empowering experience, and that it's very motivational for their recovery. They also said that the events held in each major city they passed through on the cross-country trip helped them realize they were loved and appreciated.

The event on July 29 was a celebration of the completion of a coast-to-coast bicycling ride by wounded and non-wounded personnel that raised money for the Soldier Ride organization, including a ceremony and a beach party. There was a band, BBQ, and a Soldiers' Angels booth where people could purchase memorabilia or write letters to deployed personnel. Members of Patriot Guard Riders, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Military Order of the Purple Heart also attended to honor the cyclists.

As the day developed, I found I wasn't as emotional as I expected to be. But soon we saw the local police escort followed by the Patriot Guard bikers. My heart swelled a little at the thought of what the Patriot Guard has done to protect the families of the fallen from rude and cruel protestors at funerals, and I was so thrilled to dicover they had accompanied the cyclists throughout their ride.

At this point the cyclists were a bit behind. Then they turned the corner and I suddenly saw them in their shiny bikes and bright outfits. We lined the road, cheering as they came down the hill to the beach. It was great to see their joy and confidence. I saw several using the reclining bikes and was impressed with their skills.

But then I saw a soldier without an arm. And I went from happy and proud to emotional overload in a hearbeat. The tears poured out and I ran for the parking lot behind me where I could have some privacy. In that moment I realized that what I was witnessing was the other end of Valour-IT. Valour-IT focuses on getting laptops to them when they are first reeling from their wounds, shows them that they are still functional and connected despite the loss of a hand/arm. But Valour-IT is just the beginning; Soldier Ride is showing them they can still do amazing things, that the whole world is still open to them. Something like Soldier Ride is the kind of thing we dream for them when we first give them that laptop and show them their lives are not over. It was powerful. My chest felt tight and it seemed as if someone had reached in and grabbed my heart.

By the time I'd pulled myself together, they were down on the beach. I turned and walked along the cliffs above and watched as they tumbled into the water like playful puppies. They literally rode their bikes right into the surf and jumped or fell off into the waves with shouts of exultation. Loved ones joined them and embraced them or rolled with them in the surf. I watched a double leg amputee sit in the surf and simply grin before trying his hand at swimming a few strokes. His obvious freedom in the water was poignant, but their joyful exuberance was clear.

The band played "What a Wonderful World" and I stood on the cliff with tears rolling down as the onshore wind made them feel cold on my cheeks. Such a strange combination of joy and sadness: thrilled to see genuine joy and pride in those who have over come so much, wishing that we could help all the wounded vets discover how to win the horrible hand they'd been dealt... the horrors of war and knowing that sadly not all will figure out how to win with their new burdens...

I finally dried my tears and walked down to the beach as the riders were getting out of the water. The bonds were obvious as the more able-bodied riders helped their brothers get seated in wheelchairs or find a place to sit and reattach their prosthetics. One young wife literally carried her husband on her back. He had lost one leg at the upper thigh and the opposite arm above the elbow so he didn't have the balance to hop up the beach as many of the amputees did, and the sand was too deep for a wheelchair. So she carried him on her back with a dignity and love that even the tough old Patriot Guard bikers remarked on with awe.

It was somehow a cross between comedy and sacrament. On one hand there were all these bodies moving in strange ways we don't normally see. But on the other, that didn't matter one bit and the bonds between all involved were as real as if a ribbon stretched between them. The acceptance in the air was palpable. There were people hopping around or strapping on prosthetics or carrying each other in ways that I suppose should've been off-putting or demeaning. But they weren't--for them and their loved ones and most of the crowd, it was just a part of life. Help was matter-of-factly offered where needed, but their independence and self-confidence was obvious. And in the middle, such joy and pride at such amazing achievement. Such a poignant mix of beauty and pain and the triumph of human spirit--both wounded and loved ones.

[Picture by Da Goddess, who files her report here]

The Patriot Guard asked everyone to back up and give them some privacy. And so we did, heading up the hill to the ceremony.

Part II: The brotherhood and the bigwigs. And I'll tell you all about the guy hitching a ride in the pic above.

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Trash Bin

"Imdougandiruletheworld" came by for a visit and unloaded a lot of off-topic erroneous information and assumptions in this post about thanking those who have served. One might even go so far as to call it revisionist history, ignorance, and slanderous assumptions. I showed a lack of self-discipline and engaged him. It's gotten rather "interesting," but it's off-topic from the post were it started. So, I've transferred the comments here. Here's a sample:

On the subject of my supposed education...

While I have no way of determining the accuracy of that assumption, I will say that degrees from Tech schools, corporate owned schools like National Univ, and Fundamentalist Christian schools like Liberty "University" or any school in Kansas do not really count.

On his raison d'etre (and why I'm no longer going to argue with him):

And currently, I am doing my part to piss off, iritate, annoy, and offend as many neo-con, republican christians (all the same) as I possibly can as your very existence offends, iritates, and annoys me.

On the military:

As for those in the military who have re-enlisted, they were forced to.

On my supposed desire for adulation:

Unlike you I don't feel the need to brag about all of my past accomplishments on my blog and then,at the end, say, "But I don't want any recognition."

On the "red states":

...just full of poor, lazy, fat slobs who vote against welfare as they pick up their welfare check - now that's rich - noone ever thanks the great Republic of California for paying for everything in this country

Have at it, folks.

[I'd previously banned him, but I've had a change of heart. Go ahead and keep posting here. I'm not going to join you.]

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14 August, 2006

Stickers and Magnets and Well-worn Words

Though I've been involved in "troop support" activities of various intensity and manner for several years now, there's one thing I've never been entirely comfortable with...

Saying simply "Thank you" to a stranger.

It's not that I'm bashful or that the feeling isn't there. Quite the opposite. I actually find "thank you" a preposterously inadequate way to express my feelings, and it seems almost cliche.

"Thank you" is just two little words that can slip so easily from the tongue, regardless of depth of sincerity or understanding or lack thereof. It's like when a friend of your mother's hands you a $200 check out of the blue (happened to me over a decade ago when I had holes in my shoes and no coat). "Thank you" doesn't even begin to cover the feelings. The sense of indebtedness is acute, but emotional scenes would make all involved uncomfortable.

I get a similar feeling these days at the USO. A segment of our local Marines are within just over a week from deploying to Iraq. When they walk into the USO and someone says, "Where are you heading?" they'll say they're back from pre-deployment leave. Often they volunteer that they're headed to Iraq for the second or third time. Their emotional states range from solemn acceptance to muted excitement, to the bravado of irony-dipped jokes about "killing terrorists."

And then there are the guys redeploying or on mid-deployment leave. I'll never forget the senior Marine officer who dropped in on the day we had a couple hundred civilians packed into the USO as they awaited pick-up for their Tiger cruise. He walked in dressed in digital cammies and carrying a small camouflage bag. He greeted me brusquely but politely and barked a few terse and irritated-sounding questions about the swarm of civilians as he signed in and flashed his ID.

He then thanked me, picked up his bag, backed up the 10 feet to the wall alongside the entrance doors... and stood there in coiled tension with his back inches from the wall, visually scanning the room for the next 40 minutes. I pointed him out to a fellow volunteer: "Check that guy out."

After observing him for about 20 seconds, she looked at me blankly. "He's on leave from combat," I said, hoping that since she had more experience she might know how to encourage him to sit down and try to rest.

"He told you?"

"He doesn't need to. Look," I gestured. Her expression remained puzzled.

I got distracted by someone who needed help and lost track of him for awhile. I finally saw him again an hour after he'd arrived. He was sitting in a chair along a wall that afforded him a view of the two hallways and most of the main room of the facilities, still in coiled tension, still silently scanning the room.

I wished there was a way to set him at ease, but I knew he might not even be aware of what he was doing. I wanted to walk over to him, to shake his hand and say, "Welcome home," then tell him how unspeakably grateful I was that because he faced the darkness I didn't have to. I think I would have, if other things hadn't constantly demanded my attention that day.

But yet I would've hesitated, for who am I to intrude on someone in that manner? What could the words "thank you" possibly mean when I am merely a stranger? Just more empty words from a random civilian who doesn't have a clue what he's been through?

Other volunteers seem more comfortable. They toss off a "Thank you for your service" as a guy walks out the door to catch his next plane or meet the local shuttle. They tell the Marine recruits nervously waiting for their DI, "You're doing the right thing."

Me? I find the words stick in my throat. Instead, I try to smile warmly as I tell the about-to-deploy "Good luck. Stay safe," and give the recruits or those arriving for SERE training a hearty and sincere "Good luck."

Sometimes I manage to add "thank you" as they turn and leave, but the words rarely come out sounding casual or easy, and they always feel facile on my lips. I marvel at those who toss off a light-hearted "thank you for your service" to everyone who walks through the door.

And sometimes I wonder whether a "thank you" from a stranger on the street really means anything to a warfighter. Yeah, it's nice that someone cares, but surely they wonder whether that someone knows what he or she is really thanking them for and whether that someone has ever done anything more than offer lip service...

I don't have a "Support the Troops" magnet on my car. I used to have one that meant a lot to me. It was given to me by a veteran of OEF, but it was stolen off my car in a school parking lot two years ago. I haven't bought another one because it feels somehow self-aggrandizing to do so. What is the purpose of the magnet? To advertise that I support the troops? Why advertise it? I don't want attention for what I do. I just want to do it.

I was reading and lurking in a rather high-intensity military chat forum recently. It was interesting to hear some of the members say that it doesn't matter to them what any "outsiders" think of their service. They say, "I know what I did and why I did it and why it mattered, and the only thing that matters to me now is what my brothers think of it."

Isn't it awfully presumptuous for me to think some stranger cares what I think of him, cares that he has my verbal approbation? If someone I didn't know told me they thought I was a nice person, I'd look at them like they were nuts; I don't care what some random unknown thinks of me. Does a warfighter?

In days when people claim to be able to "support the troops but not the war," does an easily-spoken "Thank you for your service" really mean anything anymore?

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09 August, 2006


Sorry for the spotty posting lately. I think I took an unintended vacation from blogging this last week.

My goal is to post my reports on Soldier Ride and meeting Barb by the weekend. Coming soon, I promise.

Meanwhile, people like Lex, Cassandra, and John keep blogging up a storm. If you're not a regular reader, why not check 'em out?

On the personal front, I'm excited about an opportunity I have. Next week I will be meeting with the enlisted head honcho at the local mil-type hospital [I'm avoiding the Google-bot by being vague. Those who know, know, I suspect...]. Wish me luck (and courage)!

And yes, I have some email to catch up on--especially SH and a guy whom I suspect is no longer a JH Dad...

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07 August, 2006

Johnathan Benson, Update 3

It's not going well (background here).

Here's what I can decipher:

Like many who are wounded in Iraq, he's had a tenacious but mysterious infection that has been causing a fever. His abdominal wounds are not healing, and his mother reports that he has often been near death in the last week.

Johnathan is still fighting for his life. Every time he starts to do a little better, He has a major setback... Johnathan has a big hole in his abdomen. The Doctor said it was like sewing up wet tolet paper. Again Johnathan surprised the Doctors. They have found bacteria now. We are excited about this because it gives them something to work on. This will only take 2 days. Maybe now they can get rid of the fever.
As much as he and his family need cards and letters, they need your prayers, healing thoughts and whatever similar support you can offer. It has been a tough week for them, and the rollercoaster of his recovery has been having greater dips than heights lately.

Update: Johnathan passed away on September 9, 2006.

[More: original post, update 1, update 2, update 4, update 5]

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04 August, 2006

Navy Blue and Gold Green


If I die in the next few hours, you know it'll be from envy.

I'm sitting here at the USO. It's usually very slow (boring) on Friday mornings. But this morning U.S.S. Lincoln is in port, waiting to pick up people for a Tiger cruise. And guess where the Navy has instructed Tiger cruise participants to wait to be picked up and taken to the ship?

I'm turning greener by the minute. Argghhh!!!

Update: I survived (the envy, the volunteer who had to cancel, 11 hours at the USO, and a couple hundred Tigers who were introduced to the military tradition of Hurry Up and Wait). Lincoln and an accompanying destroyer who also had Tigers aboard pulled out this morning. I'm still green-tinged, but my envy was slightly assuaged by the knowledge that the airwing would not be accompanying the carrier in its trip up the coast. It's all about the birds, ya know... ;)

I never used to care about naval aviation, other than thinking it was vaguely "cool."

I blame Lex entirely.

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02 August, 2006

A Personal Note...

It occurred to me recently...

I must have some incredible luck with friends. I count among those whom I admire and who surprisingly care what happens to me a number of amazing people. Amazing not just for accomplishments past and present, but for "who" they became along the way, and who they are striving to be today.

I am so blessed to have them in my life.

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01 August, 2006

Still Looking for Work

[scroll down for new posts, please]

I'm looking for a military-related job in the fields of education, social services, or general support/advocacy. Details here.

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