Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Wife's Holiday Letter. . .Is Amazing

My wife's letter to family and friends:

One of my resolutions for 2008 to was refrain from complaining about being busy.  That’s a surprisingly hard resolution to keep, I discovered.  Like many people I know, I like to brag about being indispensible and overworked, so when people ask me what I’ve been up to lately, I have to bite my tongue to curb my own self-importance.  And just like dieters who find that people urge them to have one more helping just-this-once, I kept bumping into well wishers who fondly greet me with a, “So, have you been very busy lately?”  I finally learned to respond, “My life has been rich and full.”

Which it has. 

This year I taught a bunch of fun courses, ran a summer workshop, organized the Grand Opening of Bonchek College House here at Franklin & Marshall, and did other things at work that made me happy and kept me out of trouble.  I have one more semester as the don of the House, and then I’ll go on sabbatical.  In spite of the fact that I promised not to complain about being too busy this year (Is it 2009 yet?  Can I complain now?), I admit that I’m looking forward to May when I’ll have time to read, spend time with friends, and do math again.  In the meanwhile, I’ll continue to be grateful that my life is rich and full. 

Children one-through-four are doing well.  Lauren and Io have gone their own ways.  In the order that I listed them, but not the other way around, they are halfway through their sophomore years at Juniata and Bryn Mawr; they are majoring in social work and classic languages; they are playing soccer and acting in the “Rocky Horror Club”; when they’re home for the holidays they enjoy shopping in New York and going square dancing with their fathers. No, definitely not the other way around!  Lisa is running fast, perhaps to catch up with her sisters.  She’s applying to colleges and enjoying her senior year of high school.  And Nigel is wiggling and squirming his way through third grade, learning his multiplication tables and telling anyone who asks him about his favorite subject:  “Math”.  So I must be doing something right.


Greetings, and Happy 2009!

The quest for child number five in our family is still plodding along.  We’ve filled out all the paperwork, including financial statements, life histories, and a dozen criminal background checks.  We attended classes, photographed our family as it currently exists (see the picture here), and had our home study. When they ask us what kind of child we’re looking for, we say “hyper, to keep up with Nigel.”  Now we’re just waiting for the social workers to type up the final reports and enter us into the system.  The wheels continue to grind slowly. 

Neil and I took an inadvertent one-year break from reading books to each other, because we got caught up (I am embarrassed to admit) in watching DVDs from two old television series.  We have also been spending time running and walking together in the evenings, which is less embarrassing to admit – or it would be, if I were in a little better shape.  I pretty much manage to keep up with my guy, and that’s saying something because keeping up with Neil isn’t particularly easy to do through all the plot twists in his life. 



If you recall, when we last left our hero Neil, he had recovered from a devastating bicycle accident and joined the Pennsylvania National Guard.  In this year’s series, Episode 1 opens with Neil getting news that his unit will head out for Iraq in January 2009.  There ensues the physical fitness test, which Neil passes despite his advanced age and recent injuries.  In Episode 2, Neil, who joined the military partly to escape materialism, gets a packing list for overseas and realizes that he can take two bicycles and his espresso machine.  Jubilation follows.  Then, in Episode 3, our hero begins to have shoulder problems—his loyal viewers discover that the old bike accident tore up his shoulder more than his doctors originally realized, and he has surgery to repair his rotator cuff.  He heals well, and is running and on the bike again in no time.  Episode 4 opens with a new physical fitness test.  Can Neil pass?  Alas, no: he’s declared “non-deployable” because his shoulder isn’t yet healed enough to do 22 push-ups.  But wait!  He’s actually “temporarily non-deployable”!  He gets a chance to try again on January 20, just before his unit heads out.  Like any good television show, the season ends on a cliff hanger:  will Neil go to Iraq?  Will his espresso machine go, too?  If so, will he leave it there and come back as frugal as his wife? Tune in again next year to find out!

Lancaster has been a hot-bed of political activity this year; our little Norman Rockwell-esque town got to host many visiting political dignitaries, including Chelsea Clinton, Barack Obama, and the team of McCain/Plain.  Nigel spent the year doting on Obama, and in fact he goes to sleep on an Obama pillow at night now, and Nigel’s mother (me) was so inspired by Obama’s acceptance speech that I memorized the Gettysburg Address, even though the world will little note, nor long remember, that I did so.  Rather, it is us who shall be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us: that our Nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.  Three cheers for government of the people, by the people and for the people!

Hugs and kisses, and wishes for a rich and full New Year!

---------

That's it! Best wishes for the New Year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Some Forms are Worth Filling Out

I am just two generations away from my grandparents getting off a boat from the Old Country, so I like helping immigrants.

I've heard the critics: Who? How many? From where? Focusing on who gets in, we can lose sight of how our own lives are changed by those who fulfill their dream of coming to America.

In December 1994 when death squads exacted revenge for generations-old offenses in the former Yugoslavia, Vladislav and his 9-year-old daughter Branka escaped Bosnia and came to Lancaster to find a new life.

They came to America with a suitcase and a passport each.

At the time they arrived, Branka's mother was being held in an internment camp: a prisoner-of-war camp for civilians.

Almost as soon as they arrived, Vladislav went to work at any job he could find.
No job was too dirty or menial.

Through local churches and relief organizations Vladislav and Branka got money for rent and food and they also got help with the many papers that people who struggle with English are asked to "Read and Fill Out Completely."

Vladislav needed money and was determined to earn all he could. He knew that to get his wife out of detention and out of Bosnia, he would need money. His house, his cars, and all he had before the war were wrecked and burned before he left Bosnia.

Slowly, steadily, he saved money. A year later as Christmas of 1995 approached, he was beginning to sound confident.

The calls and faxes were paying off.

He believed Branka's mother would be in the United States sometime in 1996. Vladislav was also delighted with his latest job.

He had found a place near Lancaster that paid him $1 each to tie together handmade Christmas decorations. He said they hired women who would make 10 or 15 and then go home.

As it turns out, the fir branches cut the hands of the workers and it was difficult to wear gloves. Vladislav showed up early each Saturday morning and stayed till they sent him home.

One day he made 200.

The next day at church he was grinning. His hands looked like they had been stuck in a blender, but he couldn't have been happier. The following year Branka's mother came to America--he got her out of the internment camp.

Vladislav got a full-time maintenance management job.

He wanted his daughter to go to a private school so she could go to a good American college. So he asked me to help him get her into the school my daughters attended.

I filled out all the paperwork for financial aid that would allow Branka to attend Lancaster Country Day School and put my name down as the contact person.

Vladislav kept careful records of his income and expenses so the multi-page form had all the proper information, including his first federal tax return.

Several weeks later I got a call from the agency in Princeton that makes financial aid decisions.

The polite woman on the phone verified the applicant information, the parents' current employment status — all the routine questions — then asked me with evident curiosity and some skepticism about an item under "additional expenses."

The item: "Phone calls, faxes and transportation expenses to get applicant's mother released from Bosnian Prisoner-of-War Camp $4,417.12."

She asked if this was true.

I said it was.

"I must tell you," she said, "I personally always disallow 'additional expenses.' People try to say trips to Disneyworld are educational experiences. But getting the applicant's mother out of a prisoner-of-war camp is nothing I've ever seen before. You may tell them we are granting the full amount."

Branka's application reminded that financial aid administrator why she got into her job in the first place.

And I have never had more fun filling out a form before or since.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Engagement Present

Another story about my family and Fort Indiantown Gap

All around us are married couples obviously mismatched but just as obviously devoted to each other. The basketball player married to a woman barely five feet tall. The flight attendant married to a guy who will only travel on the ground. A stage actor wed to an accountant.

My father was a boxer, a soldier, a Teamster and a AAA league baseball player. He grew up in Boston in a big Jewish family and was a big guy with hundreds of friends. The brothers were a loud bunch. My mother was a quiet woman who read a lot and preferred quiet. She grew up on a farm outside a small town in western Pennsylvania. Meeting her future in laws she said, “Everybody talks and nobody listens.” When they married she was 24 and he was 39. Somehow they stayed together until my father died 37 years later. It was the war that brought them together in Reading, Pennsylvania. But it was the romance wrapped up in my father’s engagement present that helped to keep them together despite all their differences.

Scene: U.S. Army Administrative Offices, Prisoner of War compound, Reading, Pa., spring 1945. The camp, now the Reading Airport, was home to 600 German prisoners of war, mostly former members of the Afrika Corps. Guarding them is a Military Police (MP) company commanded by Capt. George Gussman. Civilian clerks and typists handle most routine administrative duties.

Bang! The thin door slammed open at the push of a burly soldier in the white helmet of an MP. In a moment, the buzz of the busy office dwindled to silence. Even on an Army base with a prison camp, a squad of MPs marching into an administrative office cut the buzz of conversation and the clackety-clack of typing. The first two MPs flanked the door, rifles at ready. Four more soldiers marched in behind, the last man carrying a wooden ammunition crate.

Without a word, they marched in close order to the back of the open office space and the gray metal desk of pretty, dark-haired typist. The sergeant at the front of the line called “Detail halt!” He faced the astonished typist and said, “Are you Arnetta Boul?”

The hush was complete. Arnetta was was a graduate of a one-room school in Mercer, a small town south of Erie. A wartime job on an Army base north of Reading got her off the farm and on her way to the life she only saw in magazines. She tried to answer but only nodded yes.

He coworkers, mostly typists and clerks, didn’t move. The MP with the wooden crate faced left, took two steps, faced right and set the box on the desk. “Compliments of Capt. Gussman, ma’am.”

The detail faced about without another word and filed out of the building. When the door closed the other typists ran to Arnetta’s desk. “Open the box.” “What’s in it?” “Is there a note?”

There was a note. Her name was typed on the envelope. The note inside was written in the in an oddly beautiful hand that made her smile and blush. It said:

Darling Arnetta,
Please accept this small token in honor of our engagement. With Love,
George


She flipped the wire closures, raised the lid and saw Hershey bars. Hundreds of Hershey bars. Rationing made chocolate, sugar, tires and all sorts of things hard or impossible to get. Arnetta loved chocolate, but allowed herself almost none since the war started. Almost all the chocolate went to soldiers. Gold was scarce also. George had proposed to her the previous weekend giving her a band from one of his cigars and promising a real ring as soon as the war ended. What more could she expect during this time of national self-sacrifice? She said yes.

George made a vague promise of an engagement gift, but this was stunning even for the garrulous commandant of the POW camp. Her doubts vanished.

Inside the crate was an official packing list. “Confiscated: 608 chocolate bars from prisoners in Reading barracks.” Now she knew how he did it. The rowdy German prisoners had driven the two previous commandants to beg for transfers. The prisoners knew their rights and lost no opportunity to petition their American jailers for privileges. Then, all of a sudden, they got a commander who straightened the place up.

Capt. Gussman was the fourth of six sons of a Russian Jewish couple that escaped the pogroms of the Czar in the 1890s. He was 38 years old and had joined the Army just a year before he was too old to serve. German prisoners from the Reading camp worked on local farms and were paid five cents per day. Most of the prisoners bought American chocolate and cigarettes with their wages. One of the prisoners caused trouble for the guards on the farm work detail, so Gussman suspended the farm work. He also declared Hershey bars contraband. When no prisoners turned in their chocolate, Gussman led the guards in a search of the barracks. They confiscated 608 Hershey bars. Gussman made very clear who was in charge of the camp, and, despite the privations of war, he presented his bride-to-be with an engagement gift only Milton Hershey or a very rich man could match.

George and Arnetta were married at the base chapel, Fort Indiantown Gap on July 31, 1945. The legend of this amazing gift of plenty during an era of scarity lived on in their marriage and in their children. It is stories like this that keep us going; these stories are gifts of plenty that carry us through the inevitable times of need.
------
I wrote this story for my kids. My Dad died before they were born and my Mom died five years in her 80s after a long illness.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

From the Books & Culture Weekly Newsletter

John Wilson sends a weekly on-line newsletter about books and his bi-monthly book review magazine Books and Culture. He just posted my latest article (with Brigitte Van Tiggelen) on line.

FROM THE NEWSLETTER:
In two French-themed articles from the November/December issue of Books & Culture, David Hoekema of Calvin College celebrates the centenary of composer Olivier Messiaen, while Brigitte Van Tiggelen and Neil Gussman tell a story of "Technology in Translation." Neil, a regular reviewer for B&C, re-enlisted in the Army in 2007 and will be deployed to Iraq in January. Most of his fellow soldiers are young enough to be his kids. You can follow his story on his blog, Back in the Army Now (at 54).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Obsessed with the News

For the Holidays, some stories about my family. First, my paternal grandfather.

I am obsessed with the News. I got that from Grandpa.

Every morning I listen to the news. I read the newspaper on the train. I get a dozen Google news alerts every day in my e-mail. Am I obsessed with the news? Probably, but I have a good reason. My parents were daily news junkies. In my father’s case, his devotion to the news came from avoiding the mistakes of my grandfather, whose ignorance of world events led to the worst year of his life.

Grandpa started his life in the Ukraine more than a century ago; he trapped ermine so he could make enough money for the bribes and the one-way ticket out of Tsarist Russia. He was one of the fortunate few poor Jews who escaped the slaughter of a million Jews by the Cossacks in the 1890s. In America he met my grandmother Esther, and together they started both a fruit business and a family. By 1910 the business grew and Grandpa had dealers in Egypt, Palestine, and Southern Europe.

COSSACKS



In the spring of 1914, Grandpa decided to visit his business associates. He sailed to Europe in much better accommodations than he arrived in two decades before. Grandma was nervous about the trip. She would be raising six boys by herself while Grandpa sailed to Europe. The boy’s names showed how comfortable the couple had become in America. The oldest were named Abraham and Emmanuel. The next four were named Ralph, George, Lewis, and Harold.

While in Egypt, Grandpa decided to visit his old home near Odessa in the Ukraine. He arrived in August 1914, and, as usual, was not paying attention to the news. Shortly after he arrived, war was declared across Europe. The Jews in Russia who had survived the pogroms of the previous century were now drafted into the Russian army. Jews were not given any training as soldiers; they were simply dressed in Russian uniforms and sent into battle ahead of the “real” Russian soldiers to explode mines and make the Germans use up their ammunition.

With the help of some old family friends, Grandpa escaped, but not by sea. The only way he could get out of Russia was through Finland. He walked more than 1,000 miles north across Russia as winter fell on this most forbidding of countries. Months later he reached a bridge to Finland and crossed at night under a hail of machinegun fire. Many others died around him, but Grandpa reached Finland sick and freezing.

Back in Boston, Grandma had waited frantically for nearly a year before she got a terse telegram saying that her husband was alive and on his way back to America in a cargo ship. Grandpa lived 17 years after his escape from Russia until 1932. He never traveled again. My father and all my uncles became news junkies during the year Grandpa was missing and remained well informed on national and international events for the rest of their lives.

Friday, December 19, 2008

39th Anniversary of My Driver's License

Today, December 19, is the 39th Anniversary of My Driver's License. Our company holiday party is tonight so I get a chance to celebrate it. Can you believe some people don't celebrate their driver's license anniversary?
Some of my better cars:
1972 Mustang CJ






1969 Torino Cobra


















1965 Chevelle SS





There were also a LOT of junkers.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cell Phones Change Army Paperwork

Those of you have have read Joseph Heller's Catch 22 know that in any big bureaucracy that paperwork is reality--real life is 2nd place. Today I got a call from our admin NCO saying the battalion was asking for a list of Non-Deployable people so they could start replacing them. I had told 1st Sgt and Sgt Major about the plan for the surgery and that I would be ready to go on the 29th. But the HQ guy with a No-Go list in his hand was Army reality. Our admin NCO called me, verified some facts and got me off their list. Before cell phones, I might have been replaced before they could reach the right people. Paper is reality in the Army.

The best instance of Catch 22 in my life is the reason I am a resident of Lancaster PA. I grew up in Stoneham Massachusetts. I enlisted in 1972, got out in 1974 then decided to go back in the military in 1975. The recruiters in Lancaster offered me a much better deal than the one in my actual home town, so I signed up in Lancaster. I needed a local address so I used PO Box 334, Brownstown PA. Four years later when I was ready to go to college, I assumed I should apply to schools in Mass. The education office said No--you are a resident of PA. My parents were still living in the house they bought when I was 4 years old, but my DD Form 4 (enlistment contract) said Brownstown PA so I was a PA resident. Actually this turned out great because it meant I could go to Penn State U at resident rates and the next year, in 1980, PA decided to give tuition bonuses to soldiers who served during the Viet Nam War. I ended up with most of college paid right through a masters degree. All because of how I filled out a form.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Real Physical Therapy Begins Today


PHYSICAL THERAPISTS AT WORK circa 1500

After three weeks of range of motion and stretching exercises, I started today doing strengthening exercises--rowing motion, arm exercise bike, resistance bands, small weights, and other exercises to begin to build my weak shoulder back up. Most of the exercises felt good. But the last one was a simple elbow lift lying on my back with a four-pound weight. Joe the Therapist (no relation to Joe the Plumber) said to do 15. By 12 I was in serious pain. And my shoulder was stationary. At that moment I remembered why PT is so important. The therapists know every muscle and can isolate and strengthen specific muscles. Every time I have had therapy, that has meant there are some exercises with little or no weight that seem like nothing and hurt like blazes. The therapists know exactly where the problem is and how to fix it--which means they can turn a 4-pound weight into a torture device. The best part, though, was that outside of that one motion, nothing hurts very much.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoulder Looks Good

Today's visit with my surgeon went great. He said my range of motion is good so far. He said there should be no problem signing off that I am ready to go in January. My next appointment is January 20. I will call my "No Go Counselor" tomorrow and make sure I have everything they need. Getting the evaluation on January 20 should give me time to see an Army doctor if something goes wrong at the last minute.

After the doctor appointment, I went to the gym and did the round of machines. For the last week or two I have used the machines with no weight. Today I changed to lifting some weight. Next physical therapy appointment is Wednesday. Everything is looking good.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Out Early and Another Article


We were finished with medical processing at 2pm on Thursday. We had a roll call formation at 330pm, dinner from 5pm to 630pm and that was it for the day. I got to spend another night in an open bay barracks, but there was nothing left to do but clean the barracks. We got up at 5am and cleared our stuff out of the barracks. By 630 we were back from breakfast and cleaning the barracks. At 745 I was on my way to work in Philadelphia, just over 100 miles away. Someone else answered for me in final roll call so I could go back to work.

Also, I got a PDF file of an article that I wrote for a monthly magazine called TACTICS, published by the Public Relations Society of America (I am a member). I was writing for other people in my profession about why I would enlist. Click on the story to make it bigger.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Non-Deployable (for now)

Today we went through another round of medical screening. We got more shots and another dental x-ray. For most of us, the visit with the doctor took about two minutes. Mine was longer. I had to explain the surgery, the rehab and my projected time for recovery. The doctor marked my processing folder "No Go" and sent me down the hill to my "Non-Deployable Soldier" counselor. She went through all the steps I need to get myself declared fit for deployment and gave me the form my surgeon will have to fill out to say I am healthy again. Given the rehab schedule, it looks like I will be very close to my deployment date when the surgeon says yes or no.

I think I'll skip breakfast tomorrow. Eating Army--today it was eggs, sausage, pancakes, and cereal--is make my UnderArmor feel tighter across my stomach.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Paperwork Processing Complete


Today we went through a pre-deployment paperwork review. When critics crab about the inefficiency of government, they could use pre-deployment processing as an example. There were 11 stations which we could complete in any order, except station 11 where we signed out. So it would that the smart move to get through quickly would be to get as many stations as possible completed. But that would be wrong. The first people out of the building and on their way to lunch or the barracks were those who followed the whispered tip of going to station 7 first. Station 7 is ID card processing. Last May when we went through the same processing in a different building, the story was the same: go to station 7 first, get done up to an hour faster.

In May station 7 had four technicians at four computers with four cameras. Two of them worked. Today, there were four technicians, with four cameras and, you guessed it, two of them worked--at least for the first hour. The complaints were exactly the same--the camera interface was unstable and if something went wrong the whole system needed to be rebooted. A for-profit business with a bottleneck and competitors would straighten the bottleneck.

When we get to our pre-deployment training station and do all of this paperwork again, I will go to station 7 first.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Travel Day


In the Army accountability is everything. It is one of the reasons the Army will never be a "flat" organization in the modern sense. Every leader needs to be able to tell someone above that he knows where his people are. So each team leader (in charge of 3 or 4 soldiers) can tell the squad leader (with 10) where his people are. Three squad leaders tell the platoon sergeant where their squads are. The platoon sergeants know the whereabouts of their 40 soldiers. Several platoons make a company (100 to 200) and then a battalion (600), a brigade (2000) a division (6000 to 10,000) and so on.

So we arrived today at 2pm to sign in. We had a roll call formation at 3pm. We had dinner at 5pm. And that was our day--except those who did not mark their duffel bags. They reported in the morning to mark their baggage.

This whole day was devoted to: "All present and accounted for."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Short Day Getting Ready to Go

We were done just after 3pm today. We had a short day of marking bags and footlockers and filling out paperwork. At least I did. Many went out to the range for qualification, but i still am not allowed to lift anything heavier than a coffee cup. And it was a tough day to shoot--30mph winds and a temperature that just reached freezing. And we will all be back Tuesday to once more go through paperwork and medical checks to be sure we are healthy enough to go to Iraq.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Getting Ready to Pack Up the Motor Pool

Today I finished the electronic inventory of our Conex (8 by 8 by 12 foot container) box full of special tools for maintaining Army vehicles. Sometime in January we will be packing all of our equipment for Iraq, this weekend we are finishing paperwork and putting things in places ready to be packed. The thousands of tools I am responsible for are now in my Mac and on a backup drive. They will also be on a PC in the motor pool and in my house, and on a thumb drive before the weekend is over.

I also started doing my post-accident exercise program from last year. I was not allowed to lift more than five pounds then. Now I am not supposed to life more than a coffee cup. So I did ten reps on every machine in the F&M gym tonight, but with no weight at all. I did that for a month last year. It's weird, but it kept me flexible until I was ready to actually lift weights.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pre-Deployment Processing Again

Next week from Tuesday to Friday I have yet another round of pre-deployment paperwork and medical processing. I thought this round would be something different but it is the same thing as the last round. The bad thing for me is that I hoped the next time I would see an Army doctor would be after we began pre-deployment training in February. That way my shoulder would be healed up ior at least far enough along that I could pass a PT test. That way when they asked about the shoulder I could offer to take and pass a PT test on the spot. I can't do that next week. Hopefully I will have until mid-January to get enough rehab to do 21 pushups (the minimum to pass at my age) and I could show up and pass a PT test. I now have official Stop-Loss orders and deployment orders. I don't want to get stuck here on a paperwork technicality at this point.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Back on the Bike

At physical therapy today I asked about riding the bike. The therapist said the reason I can't ride the bike is because I will put weight on the shoulder. Actually, I put more weight on the shoulder when I am riding an exercise bike because there is no wind on my chest. And since they allowed me to ride an exercise bike, I assumed it would be OK to ride a bike. So I rode 22 miles, including a few miles with the Friday 1 pm ride. It has been so long, 30 days, since I rode, that when Jan Felice said to meet at his house at 1 pm, I completely forgot that Scott Haverstick and other Friday riders would be there. I was riding the 1-speed bike in sneakers so I only stayed on to the far side of Millersville. I also ran 5k with my wife and did 100 sit ups. Life is getting better.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Back to Running and Sit Ups

Today my therapy went from passive to active which meant my exercise could start to do the same. Since the day of the surgery on October 30 all I have done for exercise is walk. I walked a lot, 180 miles, but I missed running. Today I ran two miles and did 80 crunches, so I really feel like I am starting to recover.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In the Sunday News Again--And on Video

This morning's Lancaster Sunday News has another article on my enlistment, this time with video. If you click on the video tab at the top of the article it takes you to this video:

I'll be "Hollywood" again at December drill.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Meat Gazer

This morning at formation Top said the big task for today and tomorrow would be cleaning weapons. When the weapons, vehicles and barracks were cleaned and turned in on Friday, we would be done.
And, Oh yes, the following individuals fall out to the right of formation as I call your name, it is time for a random drug test--the piss in a bottle test. After the formation Top said, "Since you can't clean weapons with one arm, you can escort the men taking the test." So I went to the desk and signed the long form with tiny type that said I promise to monitor each person taking the piss test.
For the next three hour I walked back and forth from the men's locker room with the men filling small plastic bottles 3/4ths full. A female sergeant had to escort the women being tested.
As I walked down the 100-foot hallway from the drill floor with one of my charges, we passed a female sergeant from another company--a former marine. She saw me walking down the hall with a guy holding the plastic bottle. I said hello to her. She smiled and said, "So you are the Meat Gazer today." I don't remember what they called the Meat Gazer 30 years ago, but for the rest of the morning I was Sergeant Meat Gazer. I checked on line and there are twelve slang definitions for the two-word description of my job this morning.
In the afternoon printed maintenance forms in the motor pool and was very happy my other task was complete.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

And Now the Real Orders

The Stop-Loss orders were electronic. Today at noon I was the first one in our unit to get a copy of our actual orders for deployment. I now have the official three pages that makes me part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I also called Jon Rutter, the Sunday News reporter, back this morning to let him know about the Stop-Loss orders and to tell him that the generic Army term for someone like me who issues tools from a central supply point is "The Tool Bitch." Since my recent promotion, I am actually sergeant tool bitch. Jon said he will check with the editor of the Sunday News to see if he can actually use that term in a story. I guess we'll see on Sunday.



Today's work was a continuation of the last two days. I added several more worksheets to my FRS inventory, but I have hundreds more tools to go before I have the complete, searchable inventory I want to have for Iraq. If I get really slick I'll have a spreadsheet of everyone in the unit and I will be able to sign out the tools electronically.

Tomorrow and Friday we are likely to stay late to clean guns and barracks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hanging Files

Today while most of the company was out on the range, I made hanging file folders for personnel and annual maintenance records. I also had a two-hour break to talk with Jon Rutter of the Lancaster Sunday News. He came to Fort Indiantown Gap to do another article about how things are going with my pre-deployment training. He came with a photographer and a videographer, so I did most of the interview in front of a video camera. Since we could not go to the range, I brought the news crew to the motor pool to see the coolest tool box in the Army, the FRS, and the truck it rides on, the PLS. They seemed to be having fun, especially the videographer who took a ride in the PLS.

Stop Loss Orders

Because of the surgery and missing the first two weeks of training, I forgot about Stop-Loss orders. Soldiers who are about to deploy, usually 90 days from the deployment date, receive Stop-Loss orders. These orders mean soldiers cannot transfer, retire or otherwise leave the unit until after the deployment has ended.
I (and everyone else in my unit) got Stop-Loss orders on October 26. Lately I have been so busy the deployment has seemed unreal. Stop-Loss orders make the deployment much more real than it was yesterday.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Paperwork

I spent most of today updating a spreadsheet and labeling file folders for annual maintenance forms. It's the kind of thing I can do with one arm. At Physical Therapy, the therapist (His name is Joe, I guess I could say Joe the Therapist.) said the purpose of the sling is to REST my arm, not so I could figure out how many things I can do with a sling on. I had some stiffness in my shoulder that Joe associates with over-active patients. Go figure.

While I was working on some forms I overheard two sergeants discussing who was going out to check the status of a particular HumVee. SGT Inert--a grumpy truck driver in his 40s who flunked all three events in the PT test--yelled across the maintenance bay for SGT Speed--a mod-20s woman who just Maxed the PT test and finished 2nd overall in the run--to go out and check on the HumVee. She is senior in date of rank and told him to "Get his lazy ass out in the cold and do it himself." As soon as SGT Inert was out the door, the soldiers he usually yells at (from the seated position) were pumping their fists and saying, "Yes!"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

First Good night's Sleep!!

Maybe the worst part of the surgery is the trouble I have had sleeping. I usually sleep on my right side so for the past two weeks I have been waking up several times a night--usually when I try to roll onto my right side and wake up from the pain rush. Last night I managed to sleep three hours uninterrupted, then two more until the alarm woke me at 4:45am. Maybe it was the long day at the motor pool that made me tired enough to sleep at night.

Today was another day updating maintenance forms at the motor pool. Dinner was really interesting though. I ate with another old sergeant--our chief cook--who has a daughter in college. He said there is a scholarship available for the children of Army national Guard soldiers who are getting deployed. I will be going to the education office at lunch tomorrow to pick up three of those forms. The chef in camouflage also told me that when he was deployed last he took college courses on major bases like the one we are going to. He said they look for people with graduate degrees among the soldiers deploying to teach classes in Iraq. I am also going to look into the possibility of teaching writing and literature in Iraq. That would be an interesting line on my resume.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

First Day Back--PT Test

When I showed up this morning for my first day back to pre-deployment training everyone was in PT gear. The PT test started immediately after morning formation. They already had enough graders so I read the Task, Conditions and Standards--the 200 or 300 words that begin each event and say what each soldier has to do and how it has to be done to pass the test. Standing and watching in a sling, I really wished I could have been taking the test. Especially the run. The two fastest runners came in at 14:17 and 14:18. If I had been able to run I could have stayed with them, they ran together from lap 2 till then end at a good pace. Oh well.
I spent the rest of the day in the motor pool revising vehicle inspection forms for a file we are setting up for deployment. It's something I can do with one arm.
I also issued some tools and went back to being the tool bitch--as much as I can with one hand. When I showed up in the morning a lot of people welcomed me back and asked how I was doing. It really is good to be back. But in the motor pool a few soldiers seemed very happy I was back signing out tools. One said the guy who replaced me for two weeks didn't like the job. "He really put the Bitch in Tool Bitch Sgt G."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Training in a Sling

Tomorrow morning at 0700 I will be in formation and getting ready for the final week of the three-week pre-deployment training. I missed the first two for surgery recovery but should be able to at least watch the training on the last week. Jon Rutter of the Lancaster Sunday News will be coming to our training site on Tuesday to see how things are progressing toward deployment. I was supposed to be in my second week of Warrior Leadership Course this week, but the surgery ended that. On the bright side of that, our training NCO said I may be able to go to WLC while we are in Iraq. The course would not be in the Middle East but in Germany. So I would get an extra two weeks in a place with trees and grass.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Like Fasting at a Buffet






When I scheduled the surgery, my one regret was missing the first week of training. We were supposed to do individual weapons qualification--rifles and pistols--the first three days of training then the next three days were to be the light (M249 SAW) and heavy (M2 HB .50 cal.)machine guns and the M19 belt-fed grenade launcher.

I just found out we are firing those weapons next week--the week I return to limited duty in a sling. So next week I will be watching everyone else in my unit fire the M2, M19, and M249 while I watch--as much fun as watching other people eat while you are fasting. Firing a machine gun is not a one-arm activity.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Limited to one-arm activity. . ."

Just before the surgery I asked my doctor for a letter to send to my unit because I was (am) scheduled for three weeks of training beginning two days after the surgery. The unit wanted me to observe training if I could, even if I could not participate. So the doctor wrote a letter stating that my full recovery should be the primary goal and I would be wearing a sling for six weeks, but he thought after two weeks I "should be able to ride to the field in a truck." But he made clear: "He will be limited to one arm activity for the first six weeks." I faxed the letter to the unit operations sergeant pointing. He read the letter while I was on the phone and burst out laughing at that restriction. When I do go back to duty I am sure somebody is going to making loud suggestions as to what activities I can do with one arm--and how they will prepare me for next year.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Not Sleeping

Last night I ate dinner late, had coffee with dinner, very much enjoyed myself and was on a 2-mile walk from 1:15 am to 2 am. I got to sleep at 3 am. When I get injured, the LAST thing that recovers is my sleep it seems. I haven't slept well since the surgery. All the more frustrating because the rest of the recovery really is going well. Physical Therapy is tiring. Maybe I will sleep better next week.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Physical Therapy Starts Tuesday

The stitches came out yesterday and the doctor says I can start doing gravity exercises--letting my army hang and moving it in circles. He showed me pictures of all the various repairs he made. The rotator cuff was badly torn and he could fix that completely. He fixed tears in two other ligaments and did something to encourage cartilage to grow back in my shoulder joint.

Physical Therapy starts Tuesday. It's easy stuff next week. Then from Saturday to Friday of the week after (15-21) I can go to my unit's final week of training. Then Thanksgiving week I get the kind of therapy that really hurts. I am hoping to be out of the sling by the first week in December and back on the bike.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

McCain's Concession Speech Tonight

Senator John McCain's concession speech tonight was a picture of grace and good will. In this speech he quieted the boos from his supporters and said, "America First" in the most sincere and stirring way possible. McCain talked about supporting the new President and coming together keep America the greatest nation on earth.

When tomorrow dawns, the whole political world will be second guessing and blaming John McCain, especially the conservative talk radio hosts who live by tearing down others. I grew up in 50s when racial epithets were part of normal conversation. The right wing will be predicting the doom of America in the coming months and years, but I am proud and amazed the country I grew up in could have changed enough to elect Barack Obama President.

My Practical Daughter

I have two daughters who are sophomores in college. My youngest daughter is a high school senior visiting colleges and until this week was pretty sure about where she was going to college next year. That changed with a visit to Williams College in Massachusetts this weekend. They have a winning cross country team and she thought the team was bright and fun to be with. she liked the dorms, the campus, the dining halls--pretty much everything about the visit. She returned late last night. I first heard about the visit this morning. She is applying early decision by the end of this week. I first heard about Williams when she called me this morning.

Lisa said with two sisters in college, the only problem she has is she'll need financial aid in her senior year. She said, "It looks like if you go back to Iraq in 2011, I'll be able to do the whole four years on the money you and mom already saved." Only Lisa would say that among all the kids. Later she said, "I was kidding. Mom will figure a way to get the senior year money." I make different jokes with each of my kids. Lisa is the best at deadpan humor.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Feeling Better

I spent much of today in bed. I had a lousy night, but managed to get some sleep today. But I did not feel I had to get up and walk around every hour. I walked less today. I walked Nigel to school, walked to Starbucks in the afternoon and walked with Annalisa this evening. In between I could read and just lie still--a big improvement. So while the country lines up to vote tomorrow, I will try to get some stuff done for work and do some reading. Thursday I get the stitches out and get a reading on how soon I can start physical therapy.

Next History Article


This week's issue of Books & Culture has an article by Brigitte Van Tiggelen and I about the history of Chemical Engineering in DuPont and the US. If you click on it, it gets bigger.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Walking Back to Health

My surgery got me four repairs for the price of two. I was supposed to get a rotator cuff repair, plus another ligament. Dr. Perezous found a third torn ligament and also repaired the joint itself. What a deal! My daughter Lisa walked with me to the surgery (2.25 miles) at 5:15 on Thursday morning. I was done by 11 and home at Noon. I felt good in the afternoon and walked around the neighborhood (1.75 miles). My wife Annalisa and I walked three miles near dinner time. Lisa and I walked to Starbucks and back in the evening (3 miles) bringing me to 10 miles for the day.

I don't sleep very well because I usually sleep on my right side. So I have spent most of the last four days wither walking or sleeping.

Annalisa and I walk at least two miles each day I am in town anyway, so I have been able to walk between 7.5 and 12 miles the last three days. It helps to get me off the pain killers. I got a lot of prayers and good wishes and my recovery is going very well. Thanks much. The tough part is still to come--the Physical Therapy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Six Things I Have Never Told Anyone

This game just in from the memery. First rules, then game-time:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.

2. Post the rules on your blog…

3. Write six random things about yourself…

4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them…

5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog…

6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up…

Disclaimer: I talk and write for a living. I tell everything about myself at some point. So the six things will be things most people don't know.

1. I asked for my cell phone in the trauma unit after my big crash last year even before the operation to replace my seventh vertebra. When I tell people I can't live without mean cell phone, I mean it.
2. Ring tones. When my family calls it's "Jesus Walks" by Kanye West. When work calls, "I Hate Myself for Loving You" by Joan Jett.
3. I re-read Machiavelli's The Prince every four years.
4. I read medieval poetry. Dante's Commedia and Le Chevalier au Lion by Chretien de Troyes are among my favorite books.
5. I grew up in Stoneham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. When I was 12 I rode my bicycle to the Subway at Sullivan Square in Charlestown and took the MTA to Boston to play pinball machines. I got robbed, but the guy who stole my money left me a Subway token. So I got home. Hungry and sore.
6. As far back as I can remember, the scariest person in my family was my Great Aunt Pearl--5 feet tall, 400 pounds, dyed red hair and sweaty. The first time I came home on leave after basic training, my Dad took me to see Aunt Pearl. He smirked. I didn't know where to look. Aunt Pearl ran a Porno shop in Mattapan.

My six tags:
Chrissy Conant aka Chrissy Caviar, her list will be amazing.

The Science Cheerleader She wants the whole world to know and love science the way she does.

Big-Tobacco
won't even tell his name and he shouldn't, but I'm passing this on anyway.

Captain Hogwash
can make a list from the other side of the world (New Zealand).

Meredith Gould is a prolific and funny author.

And finally, David M, who writes and compiles Thunder Road a vast source of Web info.

Surgery Went Fine!

I just got out of surgery. Everything went fine. The doc ended up fixing two ligaments and the joint itself. Right now the pain killers are still working & I feel great. I am sure it will be worse later when the nerve block wears off.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Off Line Beginning Thursday

On Thursday I get shoulder surgery. The surgeon said to take a bath Thrusday morning because my right arm will be taped to my side for at least 48 hours. I am not supposed to move it--so I am not going to smell very good. It also means typing is out of the question, at least until Monday when therapy starts. Right now lifting my arm the wrong way hurts, so it will be good to the ligaments fixed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bike for Fort Sill

Last week I was talking to my squad leader about packing for Iraq and it occurred to me I would be bringing a lot of cold weather gear. We go to Fort Sill for training in the US for 72 days before we head for the sand box. It gets cold in Oklahoma in the winter, so we will bring our cold weather gear. We get deployed from Fort Sill, so I will have Army long underwear in Iraq.

Then I realized that if I stash my new one-speed bike in the Conex that's going to Iraq, I won't have a bike in Oklahoma. And even for a Yankee like me, Oklahoma is less dangerous than Iraq, so I realized I would need some kind of bike I could possible leave behind--or go without riding for 72 days.



A FOLDING BIKE READY TO RIDE



So I got my old Dahon folding bike out of the garage and took it to Bill and Jeremiah at Bike Line in Lancaster. They are going to clean it up and make sure it works before January. The bike fits in a backpack, so I will just have one more piece of luggage, not a whole bike.

When I rode this bike to work seven years ago--50 miles on the train, 5 on the bike--my co-workers called it the Clown Bike. It should look even funnier when I am wearing ACUs.

FOLDED UP

Thursday, October 23, 2008

We Get New Maintenance Computers


Last Drill everyone in the motor pool got an all-day class on how to operate the Miltope TSC 750M computer. These PCs come in hardened cases with water-proof keyboards. They also come with an accessory case of transducers and connectors so we can use electronic sensors for routine maintenance. For the newest trucks, we can just plug in and get readouts on some systems.

But underneath the armor, they are still PCs. The maintenance master sergeant who taught our class said the DVD drive is the key to security on these computers. He said when the first shipment of computers was delivered to the motor pool at the base he was operating from, all the mechanics took their computer to the barracks every night. Of course, they sometimes came back needing a charge. The TSC 750M comes with two batteries in it's power pack, so if the barracks power goes out, a soldier can still watch three hours of movies. Soldiers take extra good care of essential equipment.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Surgery one day later

The surgeon's assistant called to say my repair job is now on the 30th. With that bit of scheduling out of the way, my wife scheduled a one-hour interview with an adoption social worker for me for 930 am on the 31st. She figured I would have nothing to do and would not be going anywhere, so it would be the perfect time to have an interview. The Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption Network has all of our paperwork together and we are now ready for the interview and home study part of the adoption process.

If you are thinking it is an odd time for me to be considering adopting a child, Annalisa (my wife) decided this time last year that the prospect of me going to Iraq convinced her it was time to adopt a brother for our soon-to-be-nine-year-old son Nigel. And Annalisa has no problem with the first phase of the program called Fost-adopt in which the child we are adopting is still a ward of the state. Annalisa told the counselor that if we could find the child before I left, she would have no trouble with the Fost-adopt phase and it would be over by the time I got back from Iraq. Shortly after I leave for Iraq, three of our four kids will be in college and Annalisa does not want to raise an only child, even for a year. So we will try to find Nigel's new brother before January.

Today is 100 days and a wake up from the when we leaving for stateside training, ten days till surgery and 15 days till we elect a new President. What an exciting year.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Live Fire Shoot House--I Shot Austin Powers


Today my youngest daughter, Lisa, reminded me I left her favorite part out of my blogs on the Live Fire Shoot House. On Day Two we made a four-man assault on the lower section of the building. We hit two doors on the right side of the hallway and one on the left. The hallway leads to a staircase that branches to the left and the right. We were not supposed to enter the upper floor, but we were supposed to secure the stairway and the building. The targets on Day Two were from-the-wait-up paper targets pasted on cardboard backing. Most of the people in the pictures were the instructor and his friends. But the last target, up the stairs to the right was Austin Powers.

The rules of engagement said we were to shoot the armed targets, capture the unarmed targets. I was in the third of four teams to go in. No one on the first two teams fired on Austin Powers. I was the first man through the door, so I secured the hallway. I saw Austin at the top of the stairs. He had blood on his hands and his fingers pointed. I fired.

When we came out for the debriefing our instructor said, "Who the f@#k shot Austin Powers in the head."

"That's me sir," I said. "He had blood on his hands and his movie was stupid."

He agreed about the movie, but said we were not supposed to fire at unarmed targets.

The final team went in. When they came out, there were two three-round bursts in Austin.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Surgery or Else

On Saturday at the end of drill, I was worried. My squad leader was back from Camp Shelby with stories of people pulled from deployment units for medical reasons and sent home. If this sounds good to some of you, it sounded terrible to me. I want to go when my unit deploys for many good, positive reasons and one great, big negative reason: Those who are left behind stay with their unit as the full time cadre during the deployment. That would mean I would be assigned to Fort Indiantown Gap for the entire year maintaining vehicles, filling out paperwork and doing whatever is necessary to keep the unit equipment operational while the soldiers are overseas.

Even that wouldn't be so bad, but the other thing I have heard that the "Left Behind" people do is listen to complaints from the dependent family members of soldiers on deployment. This is a sad and mostly hopeless activity because there is usually a specific place in the Army hierarchy for these complaints and the soldiers in the unit can't do anything to help.

When I told my best friend about this on Saturday evening he laughed. We served together in the 1970s and have been in ouch ever since, though we we live on different sides of the country. Anyway, he knows I enlisted partly for spiritual reasons, to live less at my own will and serve a greater cause. He said, "If you were looking for humility, listening to an angry woman with three kids bitch is a good way to get humble."

He might be right. But I am going to do everything the surgeon says and be sure as I can that I am on a flight away from Fort Indiantown Gap in January.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Surgery on the 29th


On Monday I will be calling to take the 29th for arthroscopic surgery on my right shoulder. My first sergeant said the most important thing is getting the three-month recovery time out of the way before we go to Fort Sill for pre-deployment training. Assuming everything goes well, I will be on something like bed rest for a week to ten days after the surgery--my upper arm will be taped to my side. Maybe the bed rest is because of how bad I will smell after a week without a shower. After the stitches come out I will spend a month in a sling, then six weeks of rehab and I should be pretty well recovered, just in time.

I will post more details when I get a surgery date. The image above something like what is wrong with my shoulder, plus I tore the trapezoidal ligament--the one between my shoulder and my collarbone.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Old Shoulder

I got the MRI results today: torn rotator cuff and deltoid ligament in my right shoulder. I need surgery--ligaments don't heal. The doctor said the recovery time is three to six months. After I left the doctor's office I started adding up days and figuring out how I could get a three month recovery period. I spoke to my first sergeant tonight and went over the possibilities. I can get surgery either October 29 or November 5. The first date would give me another week to heal before January 28. The second date would allow me to qualify with the M-16 on November 4. I'll find out tomorrow if I should hold off till the 5th or not.

I should have a surgery date by tomorrow.

The Language of War

As the Presidential candidates trade slurs, lies and videotape in their effort to prove they are qualified for moral leadership, they should know that use of language can be more significant than words themselves. One of the men I went through the Shot House training with is a history buff. When we talked he reminded me how America speaks of wars we are winning versus stalemates and losses. In World War One, we sailed to "Fight the Hun." Twenty-five years later, our soldiers were going "to kill Krauts and Japs." Popular usage also had us beating the Kaiser, Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. We didn't "go to Germany, Guam and Tarawa." We went to fight armies (or leaders personifying armies) and win.

But when I enlisted at the end of Viet Nam, those who fought "went to Viet Nam." The sons of candidates McCain, Biden and Palin are "going to Iraq." Others are "going to Afghanistan." In 2001 and 2002 American soldiers were going to "fight the Taliban" or "fight Al-Qaeda" and "get Bin Laden." In 2003 we were going to "fight the Republican Guard" or "beat Saddam."

If I lived 150 years ago, I would be "fighting the Rebs" and people who lived less than 100 miles from me would be going to "fight the Yanks."

The candidates can talk about war plans, but when we are collectively talking about fighting an enemy rather than going to an inhospitable place, that's when we'll know that victory is in sight. Those of us who have been dumb enough to take a swing at the wrong guy in a parking lot or a bar were fighting a particular "loud-mouth @#$%."
When things turned out badly we "went to the hospital" or "went to jail."

As of now, I am "going to Iraq." I was glad to hear in the debate that Senator Obama is planning to send someone to "kill Bin Laden" crossing the Pakistani frontier if necessary. I want to win.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Modern Marvels Tomorrow Night

Part of my day job is getting chemistry experts on "geek" TV. Tomorrow night is the first airing of a new Modern Marvels episode on Lead. Three members of the Chemical Heritage Foundation staff will be talk about the history and chemistry of lead. It is on at 9pm eastern and Pacific time.

MRI Monday Night--Reading Tomorrow

Monday night I got an MRI for my right shoulder. It gets read by the doctor tomorrow so I should know then whether I need therapy, cortisone shots, surgery or just different exercise. I never had an MRI because of the bits of shrapnel in my eyes from a missile testing accident in 1973. Before the MRI they did an orbital xray of my eyes and determined whatever is left is not metal, so the MRI would not make me go blind. I should have known this from organic chemistry class, but if any other metal in my upper body was made of iron or nickel, it would get hot in a magnetic field. So now I know positively I am not magnetic.

After the Live Fire Shoot House last week, I assumed the two week rest for my shoulder was over so I went back to the gym and started doing pushups and pullups again on Saturday. Not a lot, just to get started again.

Stay tuned. MRI results tomorrow.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Live Fire Shoot House Day Three

My right shoulder is aching as we ride out to the range in the back of a HumVee.

At 8 am we jump out of the back of the HumVee--except me. I get out out rather more slowly than the other five sergeants in the truck who range in age from 25 to 31.

Frist, we get a half-hour briefing on all the electronic capabilities of the shoot house. We can add noises of gunfire, babies crying, women screaming, explosions and shouting. Today we will fire at the man-sized three-dimensional targets--a dozen plastic mannequins that bullets pass through. The technicians explain that the dummies will fall over when shot, but they can be set to fall down with between one and five hits.

Next we move to the shoot house and Phil starts the briefing telling us that we will be the instructors today. Teams of three will run the exercises as we go through. Also on this final day of live fire we begin in small teams but quickly switch to a full ten-man team for each assault. And the exercises can use the entire building.

Up till this point everything we did was new to me--or so old that it seemed new. But today two parts of the training were things I had recently practiced. During the night, I realized that walking steadily and smoothly forward, rifle on my shoulder aimed forward, finger over the trigger guard, thumb on the safety was a lot like riding a bike fast through city traffic.

Riding in city traffic--cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Paris--you ride between lines of traffic pedaling steady but scanning in every direction looking for the movement that betrays an unsignaled lane changed, a door opening, a guy who hesitates then runs a light. Your hands are on the brake/shift levers, but lightly, only shifting or braking in the split second when something changes. And a mistake can be a disaster. So going into the shoot house is like riding Storrow Drive in Boston or riding the cobblestone traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe in Friday rush hour traffic.

Now I am jazzed.

After the first team of three instructors runs us through the shoot house I get another boost. The guys on these teams know their weapons inside and out and have practiced the tactics of moving and communicating under fire. But they don't speak in public that often.

As instructors we had to make up a scenario for an assault, explain it to the team, and then put ourselves in the line with the team so we can monitor movements and give them feedback. In some cases, the instructor becomes part of the exercise.

Speaking to groups and putting together events is part of my day job. This was looking good for me--or at least a lot better than the rest of the exercise.

My big revelation about the bike made me more comfortable. It wasn't a big difference because I am still out of practice with the weapon and team movements, but I could concentrate more on the mission and less on my own movements.

After six assaults I got the orange vest. Just two of us made up the scenario. The third member of our instructor team was part of the range staff and on the radio with range control. Sgt. M2 (I don't use soldier's names) and I dreamed up the first scenario to use the entire house. Up to this point the instructors had only used half of the upper floor because there is a non-ballistic door in the middle of the house--bullets go through it. So for safety's sake we went down one side or the other.

M2 & I decided to send the team through the entire house, upper floor to lower, but knock down all the targets on the upper floor. That way there would be no reason to shoot on the upper floor and no danger of bullets passing through the door in the middle. All of the "Live" targets would be on the lower floor, but the 10-man team would not know in advance there would be no firing on the upper floor as they passed through it.

Also on each exercise up to this point, the first man in the assault saw targets as soon as he opened the door. Everyone was ready to fire on entry. In our scenario the team would walk over "bodies" and clear a half-dozen rooms before they fire a shot.

Our scenario: "You are entering a building that was cleared of terrorists two hours ago. The team was pulled away and another group of terrorists was seen entering the building. You must re-secure the building. . ."

It went great. I volunteered to be an instructor three more times. My team members were always happy to have me give the briefing before the assault. On the second one I took a cue from Phil as to where to monitor the operation. He stood on the stairway inside the building as we entered on the lower floor. That meant the first men in the building were scanning in his direction before they turned toward the doors. It was a rush to watch the assault from the business end of the weapons instead of from the middle of the line. Since I was up the staircase and the teams were very good, there was little danger and it gave me a great perspective on the action.

The best assault to watch was another one Sgt. M2 and I set up. The major in charge of the range was serving as commander of two fire teams on this exercise. M2 and I set up a "capture the flag" scenario where the team had to find a book with valuable information in it. The teams cleared the lower rooms then the upper room of all terrorists but did not find the book. The team regrouped and covered each other as they went back through the rooms to find the book. I was in the back then the middle of the group and watched the operation move from room to room, then regroup and complete the objective.

On the final mission of the day, I was the last in line in a complex scenario, so I was the first man through the door in the last room we cleared. I went in that room looking over my sights with both eyes open, moving smoothly, weapon on my shoulder, ready to fire. As I went through the door, I turned right. In front of me was a hostage with a terrorist behind him. I was six feet away. All I could see was the terrorist's head. I flipped the safety to semi-automatic and fired two rounds. I hit the terrorist in the forehead and the nose then stood over him, my weapon on him until we were given the signal to withdraw. My partner in the assault pretended to carry the hostage out.

I really learned a lot in three days.

After all that excitement, we cleaned weapons, cleaned the shoot house, got in the HumVee and went back to range control. My skin was tingling and my head buzzing from the excitement of the last three days. I drove home slowly and steadily.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Live Fire Shoot House Day Two

I woke up three times before the alarm rang a 5:20 am. By 715 I was at range control ready to go. At 8 am we were back at the Shoot House. Our briefing from Phil was fast, blindingly fast for an Army briefing. He did take a few minutes to tell us the objective of all of his Shoot House training, whether for law enforcement or military groups.

"Something, maybe everything will go wrong in these operations. My goal in every mission is that at the end of the day we all go home."

He then added what must be an old joke but I never heard it before. "When I get home if I can get in the shower and count to 21, that's a good day."

Then we split into teams of four and started drills securing the lower floor of the building. There were no dress rehersals. We got an order; made a plan; lined up at the door and went in firing.

I went through twice, then was put on ammo guard for an hour at 10 am. this was more like usual Army training--watching someone else shoot while I stood by the ammo.

By 11 am I was back on a team and doing more complicated drills. By Noon Phil added the room at the top of the stairs to the training.

The Shoot House we are training in is a building with two floors connected by a staircase, somewhat resembling an Afghan house built on the side of a hill--common rooms and main entrance upstairs, small bedrooms on the lower floor. The rooms and hallways are made so the building floor plan can be changed with barricades to limit the area of attack.

Since we are the first group through and the building is brand new, the rooms are mostly empty, though Phil set up some barricades and trash for us to move around.

If you have seen a SWAT unit assualt a building, you will get some idea what we were doing. I also recommend looking at the videos on You Tube--just search Live Fire Shoot House. With a four-man team, one man opens the door and the next three move in a line and begin going through the doors, clearing the rooms of hostiles and rescuing the hostages if they are part of the scenario.

By midday I started to get brain fade. I was not moving smoothly. I was dragging my feet as I walked through rooms with my weapon at ready. During lunch I tried to figure out what was wrong. It turns out in the tension of the rapid movement and gunfire, I forgot to walk with both eyes open looking over the sight of the M-4. I closed my left eye and was looking only ahead instead of scanning 180 degrees. This also kept me from picking up both hostile targets when there were two targets in a room.

I walked back and forth during the break with both eyes open looking across my sights to get the proper technique fixed in my head.

By the end of the day my shoulder was aching from holding a ten-pound assault rifle at ready, sometimes with one hand and firing more than 200 rounds in a dozen practice assaults.

I was exhausted at the end of the day.

But Day Three was awesome. More later.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

REAL Live Fire!!!!

I was OK until the opening briefing for the Live Fire Shoot House began. Well actually I wasn't. As the 20 students filled the seats I started noticing half the class was wearing "Governor's Twenty" tabs on their shoulders. As I learned the day before, this patch is for the top marksmen in each state.

We are the first class to go through the new Live Fire Shoot House in Pennsylvania. I thought I was one of 20 guinea pigs.

Then the briefing started. A consultant/instructor named Phil flew in to teach the class. Phil gave us his resume. He is my age: 55. He enlisted at age 15 in the British Army. At 17-1/2 he became a paratrooper. At 24 he joined the SAS, the UK Special Forces. This affable veteran of liberating hostages and fighting terrorists in Northern Ireland and around the world then said, "You (meaning us in the chairs) are the best of the best. You will be the trainers who will run the Live Fire Shoot House."

Oh Shit.

I volunteered for this training because it the last time I fired an M-16 on a range was basic training in 1972. During most of my military career I was in tanks. I fired a 45 cal. pistol and submachine gun and the the machine guns and cannon on a tank each year, but not an M-16. So I thought this course would reacquaint me with the rifle.

After a 30-minute briefing, including the range safety briefing (the fastest range safety briefing I ever sat through because half the class is range control) we went straight to an outdoor qualification range. The instructor set up targets while we signed for M-4 Carbines and filled two 30-round magazines.

Ten minutes later we were firing full automatic in three-round bursts emptying both magazines. This was NOT going to be the usual all-day boredom of live fire qualification ranges.

Minutes later we were firing on the move, firing moving around obstacles, firing stepping over obstacles. We emptied almost a dozen 30-round magazines before lunch.

One of things Phil taught us was how to fire an M-4 on automatic with one hand. This is a very neat trick. I did it. But last Friday I was at the doctor for a shoulder injury. I am scheduled for an MRI next Monday. My shoulder was killing me while I did this.

And then we moved forward for another live fire exercise. I was paired up with a "Governor's 20" guy. After we completed the exercise, I was supposed to clear the weapon. I could not latch the bolt. After three tries I did it. So the guy I was paired with was understandably nervous and I am feeling more out of place than a Nun at a Frat party.

I talked to two other sergeant's from my unit. I told them I thought between my shoulder and my bad recall of weapon's procedure, I should quit the class. They said I should hang in.

After lunch we went to the shoot house. Again "You are all professionals" almost no preamble and we were clearing rooms in pairs. By the end of the day I was worn out. It was a very long drive home, 40 miles seemed more like 100. I started this post last night, but couldn't finish it.

As of now I completed the second day of training. I needed a lot of help, but ended the day on a high note, having cleared the building as part of a 10-man team--just like a camouflage SWAT unit. I'll write more about that as soon as I can.

Monday, September 29, 2008

First Day of Training

We go to a range tomorrow to zero our weapons. As it turns out, the first day of our five-day training session is officially a travel day. Since the three sergeants attending the course from our unit are local, we arrived at 8 am to sign in. There was no training today, but there were barracks to turn in and ammo and spent brass to return to the Ammo Supply Point (ASP).

So the first day of the exciting live-fire exercise began with picking up trash around a couple of barracks used by another training group. Which lead to the joke "How many sergeants does it take to pick up a cigarette butt?" Three--because that's how many of us showed up.

Then we removed many cases of 5.56mm, 7.62mm and 9mm ammo, plus several hundred pounds of brass from the range and brought it to the ASP.

Tomorrow we will actually be out on a range. I should have more to write then. I have been running, riding or both for 20 years, but I haven't fired a weapon since the last time I was in--February or March of 1984. So things should get exciting in 24 hours.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Packing Up for the Live Fire Shoot House


I got together my field gear and extra equipment for the Live Fire Shoot House training that starts tomorrow. I've got my new helmet and Kevlar Vest and several different options for gloves and eye protection. It turns out we are the first class through this new training facility. I report at 0800. They are issuing us ceramic insert plates for our body armor. It should be exciting.

And I will be bringing an electronic camera to this and future training. So Iwill have pictures from the event--not the internet stuff I usually use.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chicken Hawks

When I first enlisted there was a draft, and there were draft dodgers. Many people avoided the draft including a large segment who became conscientious objectors or pacifists during the draft and then flipped to become pro-military conservatives during the Reagan presidency and beyond. In the late 80s these past-service-age patriots came to be known as Chicken Hawks. Among their number are some current icons of patriotism like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. I know a lot of people who listen to these guys. It seems to me that a draft dodger's opinion on patriotism should carry the same weight as Gene Simmons views on abstinence.

So I reread my favorite writer CS Lewis. In particular, his essay "Why I am not a Pacifist." Lewis wrote the essay during World War 2. He was a twice wounded veteran of World War 1. He served in the trenches as an infantry lieutenant. Here's the end of his essay (He is speaking to a pacifist):

"Let us make no mistake. All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you form all you love. Like [jail], it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions. It threatens every temporal evil--every evil except dishonor and final perdition, and those who bear it like it no better than you would like it.

On the other side, though it may not be your fault, it is certainly a fact that Pacifism threatens you with almost nothing. Some public opprobrium, yes, from people whose opinion you discount and whose society you do not frequent, soon recompensed by the warm mutual approval which exists, inevitably, in any minority group. For the rest it offers you a continuance of the life you know and love, among the people and in the surroundings you know and love. It offers you time to lay the foundations of a career; for whether you will or no, you can hardly getting the jobs for which the discharged soldiers will one day look in vain. You do not even have to fear, as pacifists may have had to fear [during World War 1], that public opinion will punish you when the peace comes."

And in today's America, you can have your own talk show and declare yourself a patriot.

I liked John McCain's speech at the Republican National Convention, but I could not help wondering as the camera swept the crowd how this courageous survivor of five years in communist captivity felt looking out an the audience in front of him. The cameras lingered on veterans and famous people and young people, but that crowd is and has been for a couple of decades, the largest gathering of Chicken Hawks on the planet. So many men in that audience--rich, white, conservative men--between my age (55) and McCain's age (72) thought Viet Nam was the "wrong war." And they avoided it. Because of the draft, that meant a poor man--black, white, or hispanic--served in their place.

My Uncle Jack served from 1958 to 1982 in the Air Force. From the time I was five until the war ended he was flying over Viet Nam in a refueling plane or in an F-4 fighter jet. And when he wasn't in Viet Nam, it seemed like he was either home for a short visit or stuck in another garden spot like Thule, Greenland.

I have nothing against the consistent pacifists I know. They were against Viet Nam and are against the current war on principle. I disagree, but I respect their views.

But I cannot understand why the blustering buffoons of talk radio should be identified as patriots and even admired by conservatives.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

One More. . .

My youngest daughter Lisa, captain of the Girls Cross Country Team at McCaskey High School (Her school, Lancaster country Day, does not have a cross country team), finished first overall in her most recent cross country meet. She has finished first twice and fourth twice in her four meets so far this season. For those who know cross country, there is a complex scoring system I won't even try to deal with, but she is having a great season.

And More Family in the News

My oldest daughter has played 227 minutes as goalkeeper on the Juniata College women's soccer team this season without letting in a single goal. Her game last Saturday was a 2-0 shutout against a team in a higher ranked conference. She was named player of the week here and Landmark Conference Defensive Player of the Week (Story below) And this is the game story.

Auster-Gussman and Albert named Landmark Players of the Week

(Posted on September 15, 2008)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Juniata College sophomore keeper Lauren Auster-Gussman (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster Country Day) has been named Landmark Conference Women's Soccer Defensive Player of the Week, and senior middle hitter Erin Albert (Philipsburg, Pa./Philipsburg-Osceola) earned Landmark Conference Women's Volleyball Player of the Week, when weekly conference honors were announced on Monday.

Albert helped the Eagles earn a pair of wins over nationally ranked foes while improving to 7-0 with three victories at this weekend's Teri Clemens Invitational, hosted by Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Albert amassed 33 kills over 11 sets with a .286 hitting percentage, with a high of 13 kills in a three-set win over Bethel University (Minn.). She also recorded 11 kills in the four-set victory against Wisconsin-Whitewater. For the week, Albert also tallied 10 blocks, eight digs, and four aces.

The Eagle women's volleyball team opens Landmark Conference play this Saturday, Sept. 20, with a conference round-robin weekend at Susquehanna University.
Auster-Gussman stretched her shutout streak to 225 minutes this season while leading the Eagles to a 2-0 win over Gettysburg College. Auster-Gussman recorded seven saves to lead the Eagles to the win over Gettysburg; she has not allowed a goal since the 88th minute of a 5-0 loss at home to Dickinson College on Oct. 4, 2007, a span of 279:59 minutes.

The win over the Bullets, who entered the contest ranked 10th in the adidas/NSCAA Middle Atlantic Region poll, improved Juniata's record to 4-0-0 for the season while giving the Eagles their first win over a regionally ranked opponent.

This week, Juniata will host Lycoming College on Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 4:30 p.m. at Winton Hill Field, followed by a road contest at Penn State-Altoona on Saturday, Sept. 20.

My Wife in the NY Times Magazine


Today's New York Times magazine is the Campus Issue. Beginning on page 88 is a section on professors with style. My wife, Annalisa Crannell, is on page 90. They dressed her in $5000 worth of designer clothes including $2500 Gucci boots which did not show in the shot they used. The irony of this is that my wife has not bought any new clothes in this millennium. She only gets clothes from her friends and yard sales. She even considers Goodwill stores overpriced. The clothes she was wearing may have have cost more than all the clothes she has bought in her life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No Pushups for Two Weeks

I went to the doctor last night. I have tendonitis in my right shoulder and right wrist and the doctor said rest would fix it--maybe. So I will skip the pushups and pullups for the rest of this week and go to physical therapy next week. PT helps the injury heal faster. I also am taking it easy because I don't want to go to the Live Fire Shoot House having any trouble holding a weapon.

So now I am adding my right arm to the balancing act I go though with running--I try to run far enough and fast enough to do well on the APFT but have to back off when my knees and ankles start to hurt. 20-year-olds can beat the crap out of themselves, get a good night's sleep and completely recover. Those of us who are chronologically enhanced have to be a lot more careful.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Got my Helmet!!!

Today I woke up and drove back to Fort Indiantown Gap to go to the supply office with our supply clerk to get a helmet. I got a brand-new extra-large kevlar helmet. As it turns out it feels big, but our supply sergeant says the XL fits right and the large sits too high on my head--I wear a size 7 1/2 hat. The supply clerk put i some extra pads, so it should be fine. It certainly fits better than the old-style helmet I was borrowing.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Recovery Training Today


This afternoon I had my first session of Recovery Team training. The recovery teams will use M984E1 HEMMT vehicles to go and rescue broken down and wrecked vehicles. The training was tough and realistic. The instructor handed me the operator's manual and said he would be back in a half hour and I should be ready to set up the M984E1 and go recovery a Humvee. My training partner and I set up the boom and tow chains. Lucky for me, the guy who was tested with me is a fan of "Wrecked" on SpeedTV. He knew how to set up for the recovery.

After the set up, we drove a couple of miles to a dirt road in the trees where the Humvee was off the side of the road. I drove. He guided me in. We had to reposition the M984 once, but got the Humvee chained on the first try and pulled it back to the motor pool. I don't know if I will be on the actual recovery team when we are deployed, but I learned a lot about rescuing vehicles today.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Who's Reading Blogs?

When I first created this blog, it was a simply to give friends and family updates on the weird stuff that happens to a 55-year-old guy who re-enlists in the Army. All of my family and many of my friends live in the eastern half of the US. Add in Belgium, France, Germany, Singapore and the UK and you have got most all of my friends locations.

A couple of months ago I added Site Meter to my blog just to see was looking at the blog. Since I don't get a lot comments I started to wonder if Meredith Gould, my sister, and Burt Friggin' Hoovis were my main reader base. I checked site meter when I woke this morning the first four locations that came up were
Adelaide, Australia
Jakarta Indonesia
Wurzburg, Germany
Taipei, Taiwan
The next 20 on the list were from the US, but mostly form the West Coast. On top of that, a couple of days ago 80 people visited my blog.
It got me wondering 'Who are these people?' But I guess America is nothing if it is not a nation of odd characters. I don't suppose there are any 50-year-old bloggers in the Russian or Iranian armies. Actually, I doubt there are any bloggers at all.

Helmet Tomorrow--Maybe


I have been back in the Army just short of 13 months. Most things are going well, but I still don't have a helmet. I have a lot of other field gear, including every authorized piece of long underwear, but no helmet. One of the squad leaders in my unit loaned me a helmet for annual training, but it doesn't quite fit.

So tomorrow I am leaving New York at 7 am after a late dinner meeting, going to Philadelphia for a couple of hours, taking a train to Lancaster, then driving another 40 miles to Fort Indiantown Gap because our supply sergeant said if I show up in person, he can take me to the folks that issue field gear and I can finally get an Extra Large Kevlar Helmet after 13 months on back order.

I am not sure how much use I will get out of my high tech long underwear in Iraq, but I am betting that helmet will be handy to have.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Speaking of Crashes


One of my favorite bloggers, Meredith Gould, send me a link to the home page of the Wounded Warrior Project. I support their work. It's a great cause. There was nothing like this during Viet Nam.

Another Crash, I missed it by 3 Laps

Yesterday I was at Lancaster General Hospital one floor down from my old room visiting Bruce Olney. He crashed on the sixth lap of the weekly training race last Wednesday. He broke and displaced six ribs, punctured a lung, broke his collarbone and had a mild concussion. Similar crash to mine--touched wheels and slammed into the road. Lucky for him it was at 27mph instead of 51mph.

I was at the training race on the tandem with my youngest daughter Lisa. We rode nine miles to the race and after three 3.25-mile laps I was tired and I thought the riders at the back were getting squirrelly, so Lisa and I turned off and went home. Bruce crashed on Lap 6.

Bruce's painkillers were working well, he showed no signs of bad pain. And his family was lots of fun. When I arrived, his wife, two children and in-laws were in the room. Bruce is about my age. His in-laws are Mennonite and wearing the plain clothes of their generation. We were joking around about bicycle riding and recovering until Bruce's parents left.

After the in-laws left, Bruce's kids, age 17 and 19 started talking about joining the FBI and using Army ROTC to get on the fast track in. Lois, Bruce's wife said is a nurse. She said she was thinking about joining the Army. I told them they are the first Combat Mennonite family I ever met. I have known Bruce a long time, but we talked more in his hospital room than the last ten years put together. When you only see people in helmets and out of breath you don't know how interesting they are.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Another Post About My Day Job

In the Spring Books and Culture published a review I wrote with the historian Mary Ellen Bowden of the book Atoms and Alchemy by Bill Newman. I wrote the parts about the misconceptions about alchemy and Mary Ellen wrote about how Newman corrects the historical record.
John Wilson, the editor of Books & Culture, said I should have one more review published in his magazine before I head for the Sandbox. This review will be of a book titled Nylons and Bombs. It is a history of engineering at DuPont that was first published in French and was quite a different book in English. John let Brigitte Van Tiggelen and I tell just how different the books are and why.