31 December, 2006

Happy New Year!

Dear Friends and Readers,

May you have a wonderful evening, no matter how you choose to spend it. And may the coming year bring you all that your heart desires, as well as those good things you didn't even know you wanted! You are loved and appreciated.

Happy New Year!

Read More......

The Newness of the Year

I noticed bloggers doing retrospectives for New Year's Eve, so I went back and looked at my posts for the year. Turns out this year was really front-loaded with almost all the interesting stuff happening before the end of July, which I covered on my blog Birthday post.

Yeah, there have been great moments, but this also has been a rough year in a lot of ways. I can't quite bring myself to say good riddance to it, though. They say hardship brings growth, and I've had just enough hardship to grow, I suppose--on both personal and professional fronts. I often wonder what my life would be like if I were still teaching... I don't think I'd be the more mature and confident person I am, and I don't think I'd be dreaming what I'm dreaming now on the career front. The problem is putting that confidence and dreaming to work...

But there are actually huge bright spots. The MilBlog Conference still stands as the highlight of my year both personally and professionally. It would take a dozen posts and more personal revelations than I care to make in order to explain, but things that had been developing since I encountered the blogosphere just crystalized at that conference, and I came home a different person with a different view of the possibilities.

And while all my motivation to keep developing Valour-IT was to help the wounded, it's growth into a stable and respected program has helped me too; it opened to me new aspects of myself. I laugh when I think of it because in some ways I'm still not sure how it all happened, how I got swept up in this amazing project and ended up in a leadership position.

It's all actually kind of frustrating. I've been feeling for about a month now that I'm on the cusp of something, something involving both the personal and the professional development I've undergone behind the scenes finally breaking through. So many potentials are lining up that if just one of them would become reality, everything could change. But individually they are 50/50 at best and nothing has happened yet, so I don't let myself hope too much.

I guess my mood and situation are quite appropriate to New Year's Eve: it's all new and unknown and full of potential. Here comes Baby New Year! Let's see what he brings...

Read More......


Today's Day by Day is just too good to miss (click to enlarge)...

Read More......


It's been rather serious around here lately, and this caught my eye...

From Yahoo News: Sheridan Adams,9, from Thornton, Colo., catches some air while sledding at the Thornton Recreation Center, during a snowstorm, Friday, Dec. 29, 2006. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Read More......

30 December, 2006

Bringing Doc Home: Arlington

This is a follow-up on an earlier article by Jim Sheeler and my post Bringing Doc Home.

What "Doc" left behind...

"While we were in the Humvee, I could feel myself slipping away, wanting to go to sleep, and Doc started yelling at me," Edwards said. "I was ready to enter whatever afterlife there is, and he kept yelling at me, telling me it was going to be OK."

[Doc]Anderson later would tell his friends and parents that it was the most terrifying day of his life - that he constantly second-guessed himself, wondering if he had done everything he could have and should have. He told his closest friends that he had lost the sergeant's pulse three times on the way to the clinic but that each time he had managed to bring him back.

The Sergeant...
"I lost my legs not for this country, but for the country of Iraq, so their children will be able to run around, just like mine," he said as he watched his daughters, ages 3 and 5, playing on the hospital grounds. "If time was turned back, I'd do it all over again."

What Doc meant to "his Marines..."
Now, Edwards said, he plans to send his Purple Heart to the Anderson family.

"It's the only way I can say thank you," he said. "I can't put it into words, what a corpsman means to his Marines."

I've said it many times, but it's true: people like this live on in those they've left behind. Their examples, their actions, their character... all live on in those who knew them and were changed by the knowing.

It's a "tissue alert," but read it all. These--the families, the wounded, the fallen and the fighters--are our military today.

Update: The hometown response, and pictures from the first article and from Arlington.

Read More......

29 December, 2006

Another Name from the Past

SGT Bryan Anderson, early Valour-IT Laptop recipient.

It was the last day of Valour-IT's first Veterans Day (2005) fundraiser, when I was still stunned by its success and thrilled Valour-IT was now a viable project. Amid that emotion, arrived an email requesting a laptop for Bryan, then just two weeks into his recovery. I shared it anonymously here: "If I have to think enough to comment on it, I will end up on the floor in a puddle of tears, and I don't have time to cry today," I wrote. The email read:

...He has a long road ahead of him. His mother said that they are doing everything for him and it is getting very frustrating for him. He wants to talk to his friends but he just is not ready to do it yet. With this laptop he will be able to communicate with family and friends and will be able to do it without the help of anyone. This is going to be the first step in showing him that he will be able to do things on his own.

When I told her about project Valour-IT, she almost cried. She couldn't stop thanking us for this wonderful gift and opportunity that you are giving to B. She says that B is a fighter and that he will be getting prosthetic legs. She also said that he will be water skiing again in the future. She is so upbeat and positive over all of this.

Thank you so much for this project. This project Valour-IT is an amazing project...

Less than four months later, in February 2006, Bryan was walking. The same correspondent shared:
B came in town for a benefit dinner to help raise funds for his family. He walked into the room with his prosthetic legs, he was smiling and overwhelmed at the support he and his family received. No one was aware that B was going to be there. I do not think there was a dry eye in the room. He still has therapy but his spirit is strong. He has an amazing support group of family and friends.

The laptop was the first step to the road to recovery. It proved that he was going to be able to do all the things that he did before.

I was once again overwhelmed.

And today, out of the blue, I found him on the cover of Esquire. As my correspondent predicted, he did do all the things he'd done before... and so much more:
I've been wakeboarding, water-skiing, jet-skiing, tubing, rock climbing, snow skiing, playing catch with my brother. I try to do the same things. I'm not going to let it stop me. We did a 110-mile bike ride from Gettysburg to Washington, D. C. Sixty miles the first day, fifty miles the second day. Hand cycle, three wheels. I ended up ripping the glove, breaking the hand, breaking the whole socket. I might do it a little differently, but I'm still going to do it...

He knows who he is:
This doesn't define me. It may be how I look on the outside, but it's not who I am. I guess you could remember me easily as being a triple amputee, but it's not who I am, has nothing to do with who I am. I've always been the same person...

His spirit is indomitable:
You have two options once this happens: Roll over and die or move on. I chose to move on. I'm still me. I'm just 75 percent off. Get a deal on Bryan Andersons this week. You know who actually told me that the first time? My mom. We were in Vegas, talking about T-shirts we should make, and she said "75 percent off." She said, "You should get a shirt showing off your personality."

I keep thinking back to that line: "The laptop was the first step to the road to recovery." I'm stunned, I'm touched, I'm humbled, I'm... I don't have words for what I am feeling. I don't think the right ones exist in the English language...

Just... wow.

[h/t Cop the Truth]

Read More......

27 December, 2006

"Sergeant X" Replies

Two weeks ago Sergeant X's request for a Valour-IT laptop brought him once again across my path. I wrote to him, doubting he'd remember me, but telling him how Valour-IT had started and that I was glad to be able to help him again. He replied today [SSG B handled Any Soldier packages from me for SGT X's unit after X was wounded]:

Hello and Merry Christmas.

Of course I remember you, how could I forget? I really am extremely happy to hear from you. It really is a small world.

Thank you again for what you are doing for all of the wounded. It does so much for us to know how much you guys really care and pay attention to what we have endured. Although, I will still tell you my injuries are not major and will tell anyone that, simply because I am still very capable of doing my job. I have all of my arms and legs and eyes for that matter, and the heart to continue on. The Doctors think I've done my part and since I want to stay in must change jobs... They have won, so far... lol!

Sorry to ramble on. It is really good to hear from you and I have been telling everyone the story of how we met and how we have come across one another again...and they are amazed. [SSG B] was like, "No way. That's God's work, no doubt!!" And I can't agree more. God works in mysterious and beautiful ways, doesn't he?

Well, you take care, and hopefully this email finds you in good spirit. I wish you and your family all the peace and happiness out there b/c you are truly wonderful. God Bless you, [FbL], and thank you for all you have done for me and continue to do for the Warriors of OUR GREAT NATION!!!

What a beautiful email! I was already having a great day, for a number of small reasons, but that just topped it off.

But note in particular his attitude, as highlighted in the bolded section. Chuck himself will tell you that there are certainly dark times during a warrior's recovery, but that "can do" positive attitude is very, very prevalent among the wounded. Obviously, SGT X has it in spades. The enthusiasm of that email sounds very similar to his communications before he was wounded, and I'm just thrilled that regardless of what he has endured in between, his spirit has obviously survived.

I still haven't stopped smiling...

Read More......

26 December, 2006

Me, Myself and I

Update: Questions have been raised about the legitimacy of this photo. Powerline answers them.

I was wondering if we would get anything more than the official photos and reports from Senator Kerry's recent visit to Iraq. He had the benefit of a couple compulsory events with an unlucky unit out in the field, but in the Green Zone in Baghdad he had to make do with what companions his charm could muster. ...

And according at least one report, lunch breakfast wasn't the only time he spent with Me, Myself and I. He may think he's supporting the troops, but it seems the vast majority of them disagree with that characterization...

Update: Deployed milblogger Ben of Mesopotamia has another picture that makes it clear Kerry was dining completely alone, as well as many more details of the trip.

[H/T Powerline]

Read More......

Christmas in Wartime

Army Wife Toddler Mom has a lovely essay on that post-Christmas letdown. One part in particular jumped out at me:

However, we sit here unsure of DH's current status. Will he be here? Will he be in Iraq [again]? We have no idea.

So through the entire Holiday, the uncertainty of the situation loomed. Me taking a photo of everything imaginable. Trying to savor every moment, every smile, and giggle. Presents opened...

It is what we have learned to do as military families during war time, and we are not the first, nor the last, and it is what it is.

And I was once again reminded... it's not just the deployed soldier who serves.

Read More......

Operation Santa: Walter Reed and Bethesda

Milbloggers helped raise the funds, and Andi shared the preparations with us...

Now we get the After Action Report.

Carrie (who came up with the idea) discussed it with a BBC blogger/podcaster, and Andi herself was on Constitutional Public Radio.

[Fast-forward about two minutes into the BBC podcast for Carrie's interview. An archive link for Andi should be up soon].

Read More......

Three Kings and Valour-IT

A Christmas (Epiphany) story of a different sort...

Chuck Ziegenfuss, the guy whose wounds started us down the path of Valour-IT, was back prowling the halls of Walter Reed a week ago in preparation for yet another surgery. Each time he goes back, he literally searches the wards for people who need Valour-IT.

This time he found three amazing men in Ward 57 who have given him permission to share their stories. Here's one:

Bruce...was pretty excited about the Valour-IT laptops, and really excited about this post and picture, because as he put it: “I hope the enemy does read your blog. They’ll see me and it’ll be a great big “Up yours! You missed, you failed, I’m still here!”

Wounded, bedridden, and still trying to take the fight to the enemy.

Bruce shared his address, and Chuck asks that we send him Christmas presents and other supportive things, even though it's already December 26. As Chuck says, "The suck that goes along with being in the hospital on Christmas lasts longer than the 25th of December. Be sure to show this to everyone who says 'I want to help but don't know how...'" Here's the address:

SPC Bruce Dunlap
Ward 57
Walter Reed Amy Medical Center
6900 Georgia Ave. NW
Washington DC 20307

But don't stop there. Chuck also has the stories of a generous medic named Stephen , and a courageous lieutenant being tended by his brother. Go read the rest of Chuck's post about the Three Kings, then help these spirited men down the long road to recovery.

And yes, the laptops will be delivered by January 6, the Feast of Epiphany. Or as it is known in many countries... "Three Kings Day." Now, don't forget to go read Chuck's entire post.

Read More......

25 December, 2006

How to Have a Merry Christmas

A deployed army chaplain wrote this Christmas Season:

I believe I am about to get the best Christmas present of my whole life. Here it is! I will never again be able to take Christmas for granted. I will never again be able to have even a small bit of “bah humbug.” I will never again be able to ignore the greatness of this event. After this Christmas every Christmas that is to follow will be a treasure.

I'm not deployed, but my Christmas has been significantly curtailed. I usually take great joy in finding the "right" present for everyone on my list. Yeah, it's somewhat stressful as I search for the "perfect" present on sale to fit my always meager budget or a gift I can make myself at small expense, but I usually succeed. And the joy comes when I'm sitting down and carefully wrapping the present, thinking about how the recipient is going to enjoy it or (if I splurged) be so surprised. In fact, my favorite part of Christmas (next to actually giving the present) is wrapping it.

But this year, no present wrapping, no careful selection of gifts, only a sense that I am not quite part of the holiday. I'm not facing the stress, frustration and fear of a deployment, but as the chaplain who will now value Christmas more, next Christmas I will feel very grateful to once again have even that meager budget to go Christmas shopping for my family and friends.

Here are others who have thoughts about Christmas when it's less than ideal...

Christmas Duty: Spending the Holidays in a War Zone
Christmas in Iraq: Major Bourland's Memories
Lessons in Gratitude: Major Bell's Memories
Christmas as an Airline Pilot: Major Bell Isn't Quite Home This Year

And for our sheepdogs around the world, who are making the best of things, too:

Yet time again Dogs surely prove,
When comes a wolfine danger,
The Sheepdogs will most swiftly move
To guard the lambs, the manger.

So here’s to Sheepdogs everywhere
At this Christmas time of year;
Just know the flock is with you there,
And we wish you Christmas cheer.

We wish we could advance the clock,
Cause truth is, Dogs, we miss you,
To the day that you’ll rejoin the flock,
When we’ll sheepishly then kiss you.

-Russ Vaughn

Merry Christmas one and all!

Read More......

24 December, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Dear Friends,

May you have a Merry Christmas, Happy Channukah, et cetera. Whatever your tradition and whatever your faith, may this be a time of joy and peace for you and your loved ones.

And to those of you serving our country far from home, or who have loved ones in harm's way: thank you for your courage and devotion. May this day bring you smiles, laughter, a respite from worry and fear, and the surety that you are loved and remembered. The greatest gift I could receive this Christmas is the one you bestow through your service, both here at home and around the world. Thank you--not just this Season, but every day of the year.



P.S. If you're sitting in front of your computer 'cause you've had just a little too much "togetherness," here's something to keep you occupied. :)

Read More......

Christmas Spirit at the USO

I can't vouch for the whole country, but the Spirit of Christmas and love for our troops is alive and well in my corner. How do I know?

As you're probably aware, shutting down the Denver Airport for 2.5 days had a cascading effect, wreaking havoc on the entire transportation system. Locally, it left about 150 Sailors and Marines stranded at the airport USO on Friday night, along with thousands of fellow travelers.

In typical fashion, the stranded servicemembers instantly devoured every scrap of food in sight. But word went out on the 11 o'clock TV news that night that 150 Sailors and Marines were stranded at the USO and food had run out. The phones didn't stop ringing until 1 a.m. At least two people had a total of 80 pizzas delivered (they eventually lost count on the pizzas), a retired Sailor dropped off 80 hamburgers, another patriot left 50 sandwiches. People walked in the next morning with bags of chips and cases of soda and water. And it kept on coming...

I arrived to fill in for someone later that morning (Saturday). Marines were napping all over the floors and couches, and moving about the room meant navigating a maze of sea bags, along with the legs of those who had staked out a patch of floor. Pizza boxes were still stacked in the kitchen, and the overflowing trashcans outside the building testified to the feast.

But people were still calling and offering help, and so I ended up in the kitchen most of the day, serving food and coordinating the incoming donations. A homemade smoked turkey was delivered, and a young family offered up the gourmet glazed ham they had ordered by mail for their Christmas Dinner. Grandmotherly types came by with pot pies fresh from the oven and tins full of cookies and brownies. A local deli donated 40 delicious sandwiches and a gourmet pizza parlour said they'd deliver the next time people got stranded.

The servicemembers going through the food like a swarm of locusts were amazed and appreciative. I overheard a young Marine fresh from SOI talking on a cell phone to his family. He ended the call and turned to me, "My mom is gonna be so mad at me." Surveying the spread in front of him, he explained, "She's been spending the day cooking because she thinks I'm starving. But I'm gonna already be stuffed before I even get home!"

We told callers we were okay now and suggested either monetary donations or bringing food at a later date. But some didn't call: they simply arrived with bags of fruit, boxes of instant oatmeal, breakfast bars, crackers, hot chocolate, pudding cups... it was endless. Both fridges and every cupboard in the kitchen were literally packed, and we started stashing things in a side room.

Some of the most touching things were reasons people gave. Many had stories of what the USO had meant to them during their service, or they had children who were either in training or now serving. Others said things like, "They do so much for us, how can we not help at a time like this?" Wives called and said their husbands had always talked about the USO and so they knew "how important what you do is for those boys."

I stayed on for my regular afternoon shift. At 5:10 the news station rebroadcast the story from the night before, leaving the community with the belief that we still had 150 starving Marines and Sailors at the airport (actually we had about 80 excessively-well-fed servicemembers still stranded!). The phone didn't stop ringing for 40 minutes. I sat at the desk and my partner stood next to the kitchen phone. My mouth was tired from talking; everytime we hung up a line, it immediately rang again. This time they wanted to donate money, but others insisted on bringing food.

What a day! Unlike the usual slower pace, there hadn't been a moment to sit down. At 8 p.m. things finally wound down and I staggered out the door to my car, bleary-eyed, feet screaming, clumsy from exhaustion. Riding home I realized I'd been so busy for the last twelve hours that all I'd eaten was a snack here and there. I hadn't even had breakfast that morning, but I'd been too busy to notice I was hungry! I soon fell into bed, sick with exhaustion (I now know what that means!). I slept for 10 hours: joyous, wonderful, luxurious, restorative sleep.

But you know the funny thing? I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. As I said with a wink to those who repeatedly thanked us, "We can't all be Marines/Sailors, so we gotta do our part." It's a privilege to see how much "support for the troops" is out there, a privilege to be needed, and a privilege to have the capacity to do something for those to whom we owe so much. I guess one of the bright sides of unemployment is that I have that capacity for now...

Read More......

23 December, 2006

The Christmas Meme

I saw this one making the rouds. Yup, I got tagged. It could be worse.

List 3 things that you would love to get for Christmas and three 3 things you definitely do not want to get for Christmas. Then list and tag 5 friends, leaving a comment on their blogs that says “You’ve been Christmas tagged!”

I don't have very good answers for this meme, but blame it on Princess Crabby. When she says to do something, we do it.

Three Things I Want for Christmas

1) A job. Yup, as a gift. 'Cause working my butt off for it doesn't seem to be effective. Well, either that or a Sugar Daddy. I mean, a girl's gotta eat (Juuuuust kidding, Mom!).

2) Windsor Pilates DVD. It's too cold for cycling (Yeah, 60 is too cold. I'm a wimp).

3) Unlimited free airline miles so that I can go visit all the wonderful people who read and even bestow comments on this blog.

Three Things I Don't Want for Christmas

1) Chocolate. I've already eaten way too much

2) A Playstation 3

3) Another troll

I'm going to break the rules and tag just one: Kris, in honor of her new blog.

Read More......

21 December, 2006


I just couldn't resist...

You Are a Gingerbread House

A little spicy and a little sweet, anyone would like to be lost in the woods with you.

*wicked grin*

Read More......

20 December, 2006

Christmas and the USO

Headed off to the USO again, today (was there yesterday, too).

It's an interesting place these days. It's rather busy due to typical Holiday travel. Yesterday ranged from new graduates of SOI brought in by the busload to meet their flights home for Christmas, to a man visiting his son in the psych ward of the hospital, to a buffed-out sailor headed to Iraq after volunteering to be an Individual Augmentee.

Here, the impending charges on some of the "Haditha Marines" and the names of those who were recently KIA are in the air, for those are "local" stories. So many Marines pass through that I can't remember all their faces, but each time I see a picture of a local fallen Marine I wonder if he was one of those I welcomed at the desk beginning or ending pre-deployment leave not so long ago...

But usually overpowering the twinges of melancholy are the joy and exuberance of the Boot Camp and SOI graduates, such as those who arrived via buses yesterday and swooped through like a cloud of locusts. I was manning the kitchen when they arrived, and I literally couldn't stock things fast enough to keep up with the hordes! Fortunately, we had donations of hot egg & cheese croissants, homemade cookies, and eggnog to augment the usual pastries and muffins. But as crazy-busy as they make us, their energy, enthusiasm and shouts of gratitude upon seeing the spread are always heart-warming. In many ways they're like playful puppies: anxious to get to the food and ever so grateful that you've put it out for them.

And how can puppies ever make you anything but happy? ;)

Read More......

Spread the Cheer

Argghhh! and Blackfive have the inside scoop on a military family that could use some Christmas Cheer:

Life's been tough for a Marine Corps family lately, including the loss of a dear family member. Every year for the past three years they have lost a loved one between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This family has been an active support group for Marines for years - inviting troops into their home, participating in Operation Santa and other troop support projects, etc. Many of you who regularly read military blogs and discussion forums are familiar with this family.

We want to protect their privacy, but it's not right that such good people who have given so much to our country should not be feeling the joy and love of the Christmas season. So let's show this family the Christmas spirit! Please send them a Christmas card.

Mail your cards or notes to:

970 W Valley Parkway #223
Escondido, CA 92025

It only takes a moment to grab a Christmas card and write, "Thinking of you and grateful for your service," then drop it in the mail. Please take the time to lift the spirits of a great American family. And bloggers, let's get the word out on this!

More at Castle Argghhh!.

Read More......

18 December, 2006


It's just a silly online quiz, but it struck a chord with me and led to a whole lot of navel-gazing that may or may not be worthwhile:

Your Dominant Thinking Style: Visioning

You are very insightful and tend to make decisions based on your insights.

You focus on how things should be - even if you haven't worked out the details.

An idealist, thinking of the future helps you guide your path.

You tend to give others long-term direction and momentum.

I can make some things happen through sheer dint of effort, regardless of ability, resources or situation. I once had a dear friend tell me that she'd never seen someone be as successful as I was in a certain area with as little background and raw ability as I had (which is nicer than it sounds, as I was existing in rather rarified air at the time and was meeting all standards).

But despite that kind of tenacity, there are things on which I've exerted far less effort that have been far more successful. And looking back, these successes are in the areas of visioning and inspiration/leadership. That's what I've finally come to accept (albeit still grudingly) about Valour-IT. I didn't do the hard work (the distribution system, etc), but I took up the idea, fleshed out the detailed vision for implementation and pitched it to the bigshots, then drew together the people (suppliers, designers, fundraisers, contacts) who made it happen. I relied heavily on the knowledge, advice and work of others to get there, but I knew without a doubt where I wanted it to go.

[Caveat: this is why I repeatedly resist the idea that I'm responsible for what Valour-IT has accomplished. I just held out the vision and trumpeted the mechanism for the vision to succeed. Everyone else worked their butts off to make it happen; I prefer the title "Nag in Chief."]

I was a great music teacher of little children because I had a vision of what they could do and I could intuitively get them there. My students did amazing things, and I never had an evaluator who found me at or below average in overall pedagogy. But at the same time, things like complicated schedules, records for every special needs student in the school, minutiae of the law and the codes of learning objectives, all the mundanity that is being a teacher and working in that environment... that was much more of a challenge. I was moderately capable of that part of it through fear-driven effort, but it was like a fish trying to spend half its time breathing air.

And I realize now that maybe that wasn't the right place for me, since public school teachers are (sadly) often rated more by their bookkeeping skills than their inspirational teaching. All those strengths that are listed at the top of this post are not appreciated (and perhaps mostly not even appropriate) in a new-ish teacher. But sadly, neither do they lend themselves to entry-level office jobs.

It's funny... I've always had big dreams and visions of how I thought things should be, of what I wanted to do. But now I see that somewhere along the way I let myself be convinced they were unreasonable or that I was incapable of implementing them. As a child I was always the one who bounced around with energy, trying to draw others into my wild activities. If not that, I wanted to be involved in what everyone else was doing and I had a reputation for being "bossy" in such circumstances. Looking back, I suspect "bossy" is just the descriptor of a child with a vision of how things should be trying out her nascent leadership skills, hehe!

Seriously, I'll never forget later in life receiving the strong and clear message over the course of years that I was not to stand out. But how does a person of crazy dreams do anything but stand out? Standing out is how you get other people to join your dream and make it happen! Standing out is what leaders do! (No, I'm not talking self-aggrandizement, just the fact that leadership literally reqires being present and known, among many more-important qualities).

And I'll also never forget how I started to change on a personal level after Valour-IT got off the ground, and what began to crystalize in my self-image after the 2005 Veterans Day fundraiser. By the time the DC trip (December 2005) was over, I felt like an entirely different person. I didn't know it then, but through Valour-IT I was living out the kind of "job" that truly fit my skills. I had a great relationship with my principal last year, and she said that whenever I talked about Valour-IT, I would "light up." She said, "All the joy and energy and faith in yourself and your dreams comes shining through when we talk about it. But when we talk about you growing as a teacher, none of that is there."

Maybe that's because even then I knew what I've only been able to articulate today: I am at my best in a job that is all about the dream, making things happen: seeing how things should be and communicating that vision to others. I think people have tried to tell me that before, but I didn't understand it.

I don't know, maybe I'll all wet here. Maybe I've got an over-inflated sense of self. I'm mostly just thinking aloud here, but since so much of what I've laid out in this post involves what many of you have said to and about me, I think I'd appreciate your input. Am I on to something here, or do I need a smack to put me back in my place?

Read More......

16 December, 2006

A Moment of Navy Zen

This picture was taken at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego last Sunday, just before the Chargers trounced the Broncos, clinching their divison title with three games still left. Go, Chargers!!

P.S. If anybody has insight into how this amazing photograph might have been captured, please share.

Read More......

Bringing Doc Home

From the same reporter who brought us the heart-wrenching and award-winning "Final Salute," comes this profile of a sailor and the fallen hero he accompanies home to a grieving community:

The last time Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class John Dragneff saw his friend was the same day Hospital Corpsman Christopher Anderson left for Iraq....

Tuesday afternoon, the young sailor stood on the chilly tarmac in Philadelphia. As the casket made its way up the conveyor belt, he snapped to attention, grasping his hands into fists, thumbs at the seams of his pants, trying to squeeze back the tears.

His eyes emptied as he brought his hand to his face in a salute, which he tried to hold steady until the casket disappeared into the plane's belly.

As he turned, the sailor's face melted, and he walked into the embrace of Pamela Andrus, the United Airlines service director. The ground manager took his other side, supporting him.

"I'm so sorry," Andrus said.

Together, they walked back up the stairs, into the plane, where a cheery flight attendant came over with several tissues plucked from the lavatory.

"You can cry," Christine Sullivan told him. "All of us want to send our love and blessings to you and be here for you.

"You're going to do great."

Like any good "Doc," Corpsman Anderson had earned the respect of Marines and Iraqis alike:

In Iraq, he asked to be stationed with the front-line Marines and was assigned to a 12-man unit. One of his first tasks was to memorize each Marine's medical records. His medical expertise stretched beyond his unit to the Iraqi people, who would talk to him "because he was 'the dictor' (as the Iraqis called him). "There were times that nobody would talk to anyone except him," [father and former SEAL] Rick Anderson said.

Read it all, and bring some tissues.

Update: Lex has the airline pilot’s perspective on these journeys.

Read More......

15 December, 2006

All They Want for Christmas...

Where do most people want to be during the holidays? Where do they want to be when they're sick, hurt, or in pain? Home, of course. Put both of those scenarios together and imagine what it's like for the wounded warriors during the holidays.

Fortunately, somebody is doing something about it:

Retired Marine Capt. Jim Casti thinks it makes simple sense for those who traveled across the globe and were injured fighting for their country to be able to travel home for Christmas.

But holiday travel money isn’t a military perk, and many of the 57 military personnel from Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune at the Wounded Warriors Barracks aboard Camp Lejeune base can’t afford the trip.

A member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart himself, Casti, a Vietnam War veteran from Newport, is heading the national group’s North Carolina effort to raise money to make sure that those injured in the service of their country get home for the holidays.

If you would like to help Capt. Casti get these Wounded Warriors home for the holidays, you can make a check out ASAP to Wounded Warriors Leave Fund at the following address:

Wounded Warriors Leave Fund
PO Box 636
Newport, NC 28570
H/T Flightpundit

Read More......

14 December, 2006

A Name from the Past (updated)

He was the first one to write to me from Iraq...

I had started writing to deployed personnel in the summer of 2004, using Anysoldier.com. It was back when they were still a small operation and I daily scrolled through the new/updated profiles, even those I hadn't written to. In September, one particularly caught my eye because "Corporal X" said that he was signing up his unit since they'd just suffered their first casualty: "I thought this would be a way to bring their spirits up a bit."

I was between classes, but I stopped right there and wrote CPL X a brief note, telling him that I was grateful for the service of his unit, that I knew the pain of losing someone, and that the service and sacrifice of his brother would be always be appreciated and remembered.

When CPL X wrote back, he was newly-minted SGT X.

He sent a handwritten letter straight from Iraq, and it bowled me over to hold in my hands something that had traveled so far, that was connected to those who were serving in such hardship on behalf of all of us. It's one thing to send hearfelt wishes to anonymous soldiers, but quite another to have someone write to you from the middle of a war. Suddenly there are shared names and now "real" people were reaching out to touch me. Silly me, I remember sniffing the envelope, wondering if it would smell different since it came all the way from Iraq.

His profile had been updated and it had a picture of him, complete with a great smile.

SGT X invited me to email him, and I did. I also sent him more letters and several packages full of snacks and field-specific hygiene items for his unit, since it seemed they were often "outside the wire." Surprisingly, I didn't hear from him again for six weeks. I was starting to worry, and began to daily check the lists of those killed in action.

Finally, just after Thanksgiving, I received an email [edited here for privacy]:

Thank you for all you have done for me and my men! I am no longer in [Iraq] but most of my men are. [About three weeks ago] our convoy was hit by a suicide car bomber and [many] of us got burned or injured in some form or another. We are all alive and healing so breathe easy knowing no one was killed... (thank God).

I was both relieved and horrified. In subsequent emails with Marty Horn at Anysoldier, I learned that he was at Brooke Army Medical Center. I worried he was seriously wounded, though he had played down his injuries and there was no indication he'd dictated the email he sent. I knew nothing about how wounded warriors were cared for and I felt so helpless... wondering whether there were people supporting him, wondering if he had what he needed, wondering what his prospects for recovery were, but afraid to bother him for any answers to my questions.

I didn't know how to help him, but in the next three or four months I sent him two emails (non-mil address), letting him know him he wasn't forgotten. He never replied. I began to think that perhaps his wounds were as non-descript as he'd implied and that he was already recovered and out and about, too busy to care about me. I didn't know then that his descriptions of dizziness and balance problems were the classic signs of TBI, or that the fact he was at Brooke implied serious burns...

Today SGT X crossed my path again. Two years ago when he was wounded I didn't know about Soldiers' Angels, I didn't know a thing about combat casualties, and even though SGT X had wounded hands it hadn't yet occurred to me that he wouldn't have adaptive computer technology at his disposal. But today I knew what it meant when I read the details of a request for a Valour-IT laptop:


I knew the name the moment I saw it. Two years on, and he's still recovering. And in those last two years I've been busy. And now maybe I know how to help him. I only wish we'd started sooner.

Small world, huh?

Update: Before posting this last night, I wrote to my Valour-IT colleagues and told them I know SGT X and he's a great guy. Based on that (and his injuries), he was instantly approved. He happened to be at Brooke for a therapy apointment this very morning (12/15/06) and was able to meet Valour-IT's representative and pick up the laptop 15 minutes after he was called. Twelve hours from request to receipt (no, that's not normal). Pretty cool, huh?

Read More......

13 December, 2006

A Work in Progress

I'm still working on updating to Beta Blogger, but things are starting to smooth out. If you use Internet Explorer and see anything new that looks weird or doesn't work, please let me know in comments or email.

Thanks again to Logical Philosopher, I found a lot of cool additions for Blogger templates at Hackosphere. I now have "extended entry" capability [at the moment, it doesn't work in this template] and "peek-a-boo" for all the entries in archives or categories (see here). There's a lot more at Hackosphere for both Beta and "regular" Blogger, so I'll probably be adding more features in the future.

However, I still can't make comments and trackback show up in individual posts, just in the main page. I sent an email to LP; hopefully he'll help me out. Also, I'm still having trouble with formatting in some posts. It seems to be connected to the use of the "p" and "blockquote" HTML commands. I can't figure it out completely, but over time I'm going to be going through old posts to try and straighten out what I can.

Anyway, hope you enjoy the new featues. Let me know what you think!

Read More......

11 December, 2006

Children and Touch

The story of the 4-year-old boy suspended for "sexual contact" after hugging a female aide at his school has been widely reported, but something Ala said at Moby Rebuttal got me going again:

I am calling for this aide to be evaluated by a court-appointed psychiatrist. Seriously. This is someone that works with children everyday and obviously has some deep-rooted issues...This is someone whose mind immediately went to sexual contact when hugged by a four year old... La Vega Primary School would be remiss to let this incident pass without addressing the red flags it immediately sent up in my mind.

I agree that the aide has some serious issues. Anybody who has worked with small children knows that they have a very different sense of personal space than adults (not to mention that a healthy child that age has little/no concept of sexuality). I mean, there were perfectly well-adjusted kindergarteners I taught who hadn't yet learned that showing your underwear under your skirt was inappropriate (or at least weren't yet self-aware enough to notice when they did it).

I can't count the number of little Kindergarten hands that ended up by accident on my butt when I was a music teacher! Or times I was sitting on the floor in a circle with children and a child wanted to hug me, which meant heads/hands often ended up on my chest and neck.

Then there were the encounters with the very smallest children who didn't stand as tall as my hipbone when they hugged me. Due to their height, tiny hands would end up in awkward places. I'd just take their hands and move them up to my waist. They didn't know they'd done anything wrong, and usually didn't consciously notice I'd moved their hands (if it was an older, developmentally-disabled child who had trouble with social cues, I might add, "Put your hands here when you hug me"). Or there were the times after circle games sitting on the floor when the entire class would joyfully dogpile me and I'd swear every inch of my body had a little hand covering it.

This is just ridiculous. And yeah, that the aide felt sexually threatened by it just speaks volumes about her and her ability to interact in a healthy way with the children in her care.

Read More......

Caring for the Wounded, part II

Besides learning a lot about combat casualty care at the Summit [start here], I did a great deal of networking and learned some things about myself. But primarily I was fascinated by the brainstorming session, and am excited about the role of non-profits in supporting the treatment and recovery of combat wounded and their families.

In the brainstorming session we were discussing the need to integrate the collective knowledge of points of contact and services available in the military system. The local admiral had dropped by and mentioned the early attempts to do that, as well as the limitations of what is available in government services. Being the fearless advocate that I am, I raised my hand: "I have a question for all of you. I've seen for myself that the non-profit world has an unbelievable amount of money, expertise, and desire to help; they just need to know where to apply it. Would it be useful to have a one-stop national charity database, a charity version of what the Admiral was talking about?"

There was an explosion of sound as many of the 150+ attendees shouted, "Yes!" with murmurs of approval rolling across the room in its wake as people turned to see who had spoken. I have to say, I don't think I've ever had quite that effect on a roomful of that many people before! I had spoken before I had time to be intimidated by the setting, but was left with a pounding heart when it was over.

Immediately after the brainstorming, we broke for discussion groups and I was one of the first people out the door (I got focused on getting to my group). Most attendees didn't hang around after that, so I didn't get the chance to talk to anybody about the database idea (however, I have some contacts I can follow up with).

The amazing thing is, I've been talking to a few people online about this very thing, but we've been at a loss for how to go about doing it. A database like we envision--searchable by keyword and zip code--would be gigantic, with intense hardware requirements. It would need a very, very good programmer to set it up, and a fulltime director to maintain relationships with the charities, and collect, verify and update information about them. It could be set up as a business enterprise, but frankly I think it would be more effective and credible as a non-profit. But since it's not a "sexy" idea, constant fundraising to support it would be problematic; basically, it needs a perpetual endowment. And that's where we again run up against our limitations. But it was very exciting to realize that there is a need for it, and that the professionals would welcome it. So I'm not giving up on the idea.

As far as the rest of the networking, it was stimulating to talk to others who are both dedicated to helping the wounded and bright, educated, idealistic, out-of-the-box thinkers. Their attitude is, "I'll do whatever I can to make sure the people I help get what they need. That's how I feel, and this is the kind of environment I would love to work in.

In general, I cut a wide swath through the event, haha! From piggy-backing on the Admiral's comment/idea to throwing around Valour-IT business cards, I think I made an impression. In the discussion session we were asked to introduce ourselves. And when I explained the Valour-IT concept there were approving smiles around the table, followed by gasps when I said we will soon have distributed 850 laptops. The head of the summit led our group, and she was taking frantic notes. She also stopped the introductions in order to question me closely about Valour-IT. I talked to everybody from the head nurse to the director of the base chaplains (who is on the CC "quality team" and asked if I'd be willing to address them), to the local VA liaison. A lot of them didn't know about Soldiers' Angels, and only one had heard about Valour-IT (I'm sure we're going to be flooded by laptop requests from this area today, haha!).

I had extended conversations with most of the people I met, and what was most amazing and gratifying was to see how we kinda "lit each other up." It was that same recognition of kindred spirits I'd experiened at the Soldier Ride event. I came out of the Summit event so "revved up." I wished, in ways so deep I can't describe, that there was a professional place for me in that kind of environment. It's thrilling and stimulating to be in the middle of such intelligence, dedication, and creative thinking put to such noble use. It was downright humbling.

On a personal level, the contrast of the Summit experience with the kinds of jobs I interviewed for and have done recently (the skill set required, etc.) couldn't be more stark. I spent last Tuesday on a one-day temp job that literally involved me sitting for minutes at a time with hands folded while I waited to be told a one-word piece of information to enter into the computer in front of me (repeat ad nauseum). That these two worlds bookended my week is almost mind-blowing. My "extra-curricular" activities border on the executive level, but my paid work history doesn't measure up (I don't have a chance for an executive job). So I apply for a secretarial job and am told I'm over-qualified, apply for a mil-related job and am told I'm just a civilian, and meanwhile keep going down a professional path that is exactly the opposite of what I'm good at and what lights my fire. I don't know the answers to this situation, but I'll always treasure days like last Friday where I know that for at least a few hours I was where I belonged.

Read More......

Caring for the Wounded: Military and Community

Last Friday I was privileged to spend the day at a local mil-hospital, interacting with the entire team of caregivers for the combat wounded. It was extremely informative and inspiring, and offered great networking opportunities. It was just all-around awesome!

The event--a Casualty Care (CC) "summit"--was created as an official opportunity for people in this region involved in the care and support of the combat wounded to meet, brainstorm, learn about services and treatment available, educate each other about their roles, and discuss the logistics/procedures of patient care (that last one is a huge issue). The event included everyone from surgeons and medical records specialists down through to the leader of the pet therapy volunteer team. I was there as a representative of the Armed Services YMCA and Soldiers' Angels/Valour-IT.

It was an absolutely fascinating experience. We spent the first part of the day learning about typical combat injuries, treatment issues, and the various hospital caregiver teams that contribute. For example, I learned about the diagnostic techniques and treatments for balance issues that can result from TBI, and the techniques the hospital uses to try and keep all members of a caregiving team appraised of a patient's progress in his/her many treatment regimens. We also heard from a panel of patients and family members who shared their experiences, ideas and concerns. The last half of the day was spent in brainstorming the care issues and logistical complications for a set of case studies, followed by smaller discussion groups (Clinical Care, Caseworkers, and Support Services). Finally, we met to share the issues we'd identified in the discussions.

I was so impressed with the thoroughness and dedication of the hospital staff. There were problem areas, but it was obvious they are doing absolutely everything within their power to meet the needs of both their patients and the families who stay with them. This was particularly clear in the case studies we brainstormed. They looked at everything from "How do we make sure the soldiers' home-base command is aware of his post-hospital medical needs/follow-up" to "Where do we house the mother who has accompanied her son if Fisher House is full?"

The answers to those questions were part of the singular, over-arching issue that came out of the Summit: integration. Integration between medical, military, and non-profit services is a big area of weakness. The resources out there are so vast that not everyone is aware of what is available or how to access it.

On the military/medical side, the caseworkers, caregivers, and patients' home bases need to know who their points of contact are at various points in the recovery. For example, who does the caseworker in a Naval Hospital talk to on the Army base in another state when a patient is transitioning back to limited duty at home? Or, if a patient is leaving the military, are there medical and social services closer to home than the VA facility that is two hours away?

On the non-profit side, caseworkers and caregivers need to know what is available when they run up against bureaucracy and the limitations of government medical care. This can be anything from the housing issue mentioned above to the morale-building effects of Valour-IT. And on the flip side, if there is no non-profit meeting an identified need, how does the military/medical community communicate that to the non-profits and community organizations?

Right now, the solutions to both of the integration problems are very ad hoc. The local hospital has a new database/form that tracks patient care in a general way (much less detailed that a typical "chart") so that all involved know the patient's trajectory, and caseworkers are developing contact lists as they go. But that doesn't address the larger issue of communication across organizations. The dream of the caregivers would be to have a kind of "national database" on the military Intranet that would allow them to easily identify both the points of contact and services available at military medical facilities--from the major medical centers right down to base clinics. On the non-profit and community services front, it's a similar deal.

This presents both a challenge and an opportunity. And this kind of thing--looking at the big picture and then following it down to the smallest level while looking at how it all fits together--is a way of seeing things that "lights me up." I love looking at systems and how one thing affects or necessitates something else.

My thoughts on the day and ideas here.

Read More......

10 December, 2006


I've converted this blog to the new "Beta" Blogger (still have to reconstruct the sidebar). It's much faster and has some great features.

One of its best features is that it now has categories that allow me to group posts by subject matter. Category labels are automatically printed at the bottom of each post. So far, here are the categories I have:

Culture and Ideas
Fran O'Brien's
Politics and Media
Support the Troops
Those Who Serve

I'd appreciate any suggestions you have for rearranging or renaming categories; I'd like to have as few as possible, while still making them useful. Also, if someone out there can help: how can I reduce the font size of the links for the categories listed in individual posts?

Update: Conversion to the new template has affected spacing. I'm working on it. The new template doesn't work with Haloscan commenting, so I've reverted back to the old template until Haloscan catches up.

Read More......

08 December, 2006

I was privileged to spend today in a roomful of amazing, brilliant, dedicated, creative medical people and volunteers at a local mil hospital. It was humbling, inspiring and educational.

I'll write more this weekend, but it was so wonderful that I just had to share! ;)

Read More......

07 December, 2006

More Valour-IT in Action

[UPDATE: Welcome, Stand-To! readers! Valour-IT is a project of Soldiers' Angels providing nearly 850 adaptive laptop computers to OIF/OEF wounded so far. You can find more behind-the-scenes info at the project blog, the official website, and a recent article on pbs.org.]

Soldiers' Angels/Valour-IT has recently received more thank you notes from laptop recipients. The first comes from a female soldier (somewhat of a rarity among the wounded we serve):

To Soldiers' Angels,

I wanted to express my gratitude for the computer I was given by all of you. Words cannot convey how very much this means to me. I have never had a laptop before, and being an E-4 I would not have been able to afford one for some time to come. All of you are Godsends. Thank you so much. I wish there was some way I could repay you for this. Thank you again.

Most Sincerely,
Specialist W

And this, from another type of soldier who is somewhat rare among the lists of wounded:

Thank you for the computer donated that I picked up at [the hospital] today. Organizations like Soldiers Angels that reach out to service members are never forgotten and are always in our hearts.

Our jobs as service members are just like anybody else's jobs. We are proud of what we do as servicemembers, but we never see the real reality of our jobs until we go to war. We never wanted to see the reality because if we are lucky we come back normal or the other.

My injuries during my deployment to Iraq, which consist of burns and other injuries, I have finally accepted. And with the generosity of your organization, it brings a lot of comfort to my recovery.

When I was in the burn ward I was probably the first senior-ranking person as a patient. When I was recovering with therapy with the other servicemembers, they thought I was one of the lower ranking personel. When I told the servicemember I was a master sergeant, he was really surprised and shook my hand and said," Only lower-ranking people get hurt or killed!" He felt good that at least someone in a leadership position cares! His statement brings back to [mind] your organization, an organization that cares and reaches out. Thank you again, from myself and my family, and the servicememnbers and their families.


Just two more people who have been touched by Valour-IT, thanks to generous donors and dedicated volunteers...

Read More......

06 December, 2006

The Valour-IT Story

Mark Glaser, freelance writer and author of PBS blog MediaShift, has once again spotlighted Valour-IT. This time he has written an in-depth post. Here's how he introduces it, via email:

Hi all,
Just a note to let you know that my latest in-depth post just went up at PBS MediaShift, this time a look at Valour-IT, an ad hoc charity organization that has given out hundreds of laptops with voice-recognition software to injured soldiers. It started last year when Army Captain Chuck Ziegenfuss injured both his hands and wanted to get back to blogging. His blog readers pitched in for Dragon Naturally Speaking software, and he and another blogger, FbL, put together Valour-IT and have raised more than $330,000 with two online Veteran's Day fundraisers fueled by milbloggers.

Key quote:
"We made our goal [to raise] $24,000 for the 10 days leading up to Veteran's Day [in 2005]. To my utter shock, we raised $100,000. I thought, 'Holy cow, what did I get myself involved in?' The VA [Veterans Affairs] and Military Order of the Purple Heart heard about us and the Undersecretary of the VA invited us to come out to visit one of the trauma units and deliver the laptops there...This year, we raised almost $230,000 in the two weeks leading up to Veteran's Day. We've delivered almost 700 laptops now. I figured this time around, with more media connections, I decided to think big and shoot for $180,000 and we blew right through that to $230,000." -- FbL, co-founder of Valour-IT

It's a real old fashioned holiday story, refashioned for the new media age...


Mark has a very interesting blog, and he did a wonderful job telling the whole story of Valour-IT in a post born of thorough research and multiple interviews. It's definitely among the best media coverage Valour-IT has received so far. Check it out at MediaShift.

[Cross-posted at Valour-IT's project blog]

Read More......

05 December, 2006


Just wanted to acknowledge that this blog has been far too personal in recent months. I hope to rectify that in coming days and will try to return to making this mostly a "troop support blog."

Read More......

02 December, 2006

The Big Question in Life

Decisions, decisions...

My Blogfather Lex is Navy. I live in a Navy town.

My Blogbrother and Valour-IT behind-the-scenes-cohort John of Argghhh! is Army. My BF is Army.

What to do, what to do?!

It comes down to self-interest...


Yesterday I interviewed for a job on a Navy base. I want them to be very happy when they sit down and decide to hire me. ;)

Read More......

Bureaucracy, and an American Dream

So, you want to hear about FbL's interview adventure? Of course it was an adventure; it's always an adventure with FbL!

It's a good thing I left early, for two reasons: 1) There were two recent accidents on the freeway still affecting traffic; 2) That meant I arrived 30 minutes early.

Why would that matter, you ask? Because unlike the Marine Corps bases and the hospital base I've been frequenting, regular Naval Bases require special preparations. So I find myself stoopped at the entrance and redirected to the security office to get a day pass. At least I have half an hour to take care of that, right? [All you Navy types can kindly pick yourselves up off the floor and stop laughing now, okay? Thank you.]

FbL: I need to get a pass.

Sailor-Receptionist: You need a clearance.

FbL: A clearance?

Receptionist: The form inviting you. The people you're visiting should've sent us one.

FbL: Well, did they send you one?

Receptionist: How would I know? Call them.

I call them. They had not, and scramble to correct the mistake. Moments later they call and ask if the fax of the document went through.

FbL: They want to make sure you got the fax.

Receptionist: See that older man chatting with the officer over there? When he gets back to his desk he'll tell me if he got the fax and if there's anything for me to do.

FbL: (momentarily stunned, then quietly sitting down to wait, contemplating the fact that she's applying for a job where she needs to demonstrate she's not the average ignorant civilian, but she can't even get through the gate).

Twenty minutes later the older man and officer are still brainstorming (officer is not in unifrom and obviously on his day off). I call ahead and explain why things aren't moving. Five minutes later I get a call from the director. The master chief from the hiring board is sending a duty driver.

That was actually the bright spot of the day. The duty driver was a classic American success story. He knew I was headed for an interview and mentioned that he was going before a promotion board soon. Unbidden, he talked about how he liked his work and was looking forward to the pay increase of a promotion. He said that past promotions made him confident this time, too.

I needed to demonstrate only mild interest before the rest of his story poured forth. Five years ago he arrived in the U.S. from The Phillipines with $50 and the clothes on his back. Having grown up with the American military presence in The Phillipines, he decided to enlist in the Navy. He had lots of good things to say about the opportunities he'd had in the Navy and how it had improved his life. He said that he and his wife had worked very hard and they "already own three properties:" his home off the base, a rental place, and an "estate of 4.2 acres" in Arizona where his wife and children live.

I commented that while we have our problems, America is certainly the land of opportunity. "It's not easy, but if you work hard enough you can actually change your life. In other places there is no way to move up." He grinned and heartily agreed. I asked if it was true that the Phillipines had gotten very bad in the last few years. He said yes, and laid that at the feet of the local government, especially its mismanagement of base negotiations that allowed the closing of American military bases.

He had a particularly immigrant view of the base closing discussions. He said the Catholic church had urged Phillipinos to push for closing the bases because of the prostitution associated with them. His perspective was that he was a good Catholic, but prostitiution wasn't necessarily a bad thing because, "Some of the girls they fall in love and sailors marry them and then they can go to the U.S. and have a better life, too."

Now, I certainly wasn't going to dig very deep into that minefield of conversation, but I found his take on it absolutely fascinating and was once again reminded of how lucky Americans and American immigrants are to be here.

He was so friendly and polite that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and didn't even have time to get nervous before the interview.

Read More......

Interview AAR

On the good side, it turns out the job is only half receptionist. The rest is dealing with clients in a more detailed way--everything from interviewing them to determine their needs to actually educating them about their situation and available assistance... which on one hand makes me want the job more, and on the other makes me think I have a lesser chance of getting it (even though I know I'd be good at that kind of work).

There were four people on the hiring board, all extremely thorough and professional: the director, someone who seemed to be the leader of the caseworkers, someone more focused on the clerical side of things, and a master chief.

I honestly don't know how I did. I didn't totally bomb, but I didn't feel like I aced it, either. Unlike the usual in my interviews, I couldn't really figure out what type of person they're really looking for or what their personal response to me was. What worries me most is that I didn't feel a personal connection with them, and I've never gotten a job where I didn't feel that we "hit it off."

As usual, it was an adventure. Due to a security-related foul-up, the master chief ended up having to request a duty driver to pick me up. When I finally sat down before the hiring board, it became very clear that they had never considered the possiblity that I was a civilian. They apologized for not making the proper security arrangements, but I insisted it was my fault as I had been uesd to dealing with more-open USMC bases and the hospital, and hadn't thought to check about the access requirements at a Navy base. I tried to spin it as a matter of habit rather than ignorance (I had a vague memory of hearing about day passes before), but I don't know if I succeeded.

I felt like the pass debacle had already shot me in the foot, but I soldiered on. The director asked if a duty driver had brought me. I said, "Yes, thank you. And a very nice duty driver he was!"

She instantly turned to the master chief and said "See, a compliment for your driver." The chief asked for his name and I couldn't supply it, as I'd never gotten a glimpse of his nametag. But the bright spot in this was that I was able to give the chief details about the sailor that made it clear I'd taken genuine interest in him and conversed as I rode.

Ah, well... the rest is mostly fuzzy and unclear to me. I didn't feel like I bombed, but didn't leave feeling nearly as confident as I'd like. I began to strongly suspect that they would've never interviewed me had they known I was a civilian. The master chief was the last of the four to ask me opening questions, which I felt (up until that moment) I'd answered pretty well. He somewhat condescendingly apologized in advance, saying, "I'm going to have to ask you a couple of unfair questions."

I tried to smile invitingly and said with a confident laugh, "Ask as many unfair questions as you'd like." His first question: What do you know about pay and allowances... what's the difference? In response, I discussed Basic Pay and Special Pay, then mentioned BAH and BAS, and explained BAH. I then kind of petered out because I wasn't sure what he was really asking. I said, "What exactly are you looking for? Is there a specific question you have in mind?"

He thought for a moment and then said, "No, I think that covers it." He then threw me a curveball, "There are times when something becomes serious enough that you must contact a sailor's command. How would you go about doing that?"

Huh? I really didn't understand what he meant. I said that I assumed there were procedures and guidelines about when and how that would occur, but that absent that guidance I would call and say, "I need to talk to you about one of your sailors." I pointed out that I would share the name and information with no one but the proper person, but then started to founder a bit. The chief interrupted and commented that there are "some very difficult commands to work with."

That gave me a lifeline and I pointed out that at the USO we often have people coming in with partial or confusing orders, or they're really clueless. "In those circumstances we have to figure out who can help them. That often means starting at the quarterdeck and digging from there to get to the people who have the answers and the power to fix things." I said that I have experience in asking the right questions about how to get things done and who really runs things. But I felt like I kind of biffed that answer. I still don't have a clue what he was getting at with that question. I wish I'd been quick enough on my feet to say with a wink, "Why, I'd call the Chief, of course! Everyone knows that's who really runs things..."

There is some hope that I may have overcome the "ignorant civilian" label. At the end of the interview I acknowledged that they may have concerns in that area and said, "I strongly encourage you to contact references A and B if you have any concerns about my understanding day-to-day military life and culture in general." I then offered them copies of a letter of recommendation from an officer stationed on that very base, which says I have much to offer and should be hired immediately and which they accepted. Unfortunately, I then promptly shot myself in foot again by saying that the letter was the kind of thing that I hope to someday actually live up to (Doh!!).

Like I said above, I really don't have a clue about how the interview went overall. All I've got is my intuition, which is currently being short-circuited by my pessimism and battered confidence, and my over-developed ability to pick myself to pieces and focus on the worst of anything I do.

At least I'll know by the end of next week, so I'll have only a week of torturing myself. Heh.

Read More......