Friday, August 29, 2008

Speaking of Broken Necks. . .

An article I wrote last year about the history of anesthesia, including my own use of those wonderful chemicals to get through the surgery for my own broken neck, was just posted on the Web site where I work at Chemical Heritage Foundation. The articles in this series were first published in Chemical Engineering Progress magazine in a back page column every other month called "We're History." The column started running in October of 2002 when the editor of the magazine, Kristine Chin, asked me to write something informative and off beat for her magazine. When Kristine became an events manager last year, Cindy Mascone asked me to continue the column. I am scheduled to write one more column for the series in December before I get deployed. I am going to try to continue writing the column in Iraq, but I am not sure I can pull that off.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Broken Neck--Not Mine

I got a call from a mutual friend about visiting a guy who broke his neck. He flipped his 4-wheeler ATV on a race track. He broke the C-5 vertebra in his neck in two places, but it is not displaced, so he should be fine after wearing a neck brace for two months. No surgery needed. I don't know Crash very well, but it is more than ironic that this happened to him. Mr. Crash is 44, owns a big farm and a cabin in the mountains of central PA where he was racing his 4-wheeler.

The last time I talked to Crash was the on Memorial Day. He said he thought about joining the Army, but never did it. He wondered if he was too old to join. I told him 42 is the limit without prior service, but there are waivers, he should call and ask a recruiter. This wasn't just an idle comment. Crash is a big, strong guy who rides a 4-wheeler like a wild man and loves the woods, but he didn't call.

I went to see him shortly after the accident. He is bored and wants to go places. He can't and he knows it. He was close to becoming a paraplegic the other night, and a random fender bender on the way to K-Mart could displace his already broken vertebra and put him in the wheelchair he just missed on Monday. Near death experiences sometimes make people insane safety nuts, and some people join the Army after they get out of the neck brace. Crash seems to be thinking very hard about Life, the Universe and Everything right now. It will be interesting to see where he goes in eight weeks when his neck heals up.

I saw him just two days ago. He's looking good for a guy in a neck brace.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Live Fire Shoot House

For one week beginning September 29 I will be getting Urban Assault training in a Live Fire Shoot House. What's that? Here's the Army video news.

And a first run through for a rifle squad.

And a six-second version.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Juniata College Women's Soccer to Wear Flags in 2009


My oldest daughter Lauren is the goalkeeper for the Juniata College Women's Soccer Team. they are in the midst of pre-season training. Lauren called yesterday to say that her head coach told her that her team will get new uniforms next year with American flags on the shoulder. Coach McKenzie told Lauren that the team will wear American flags during the season I am Iraq.

I thanked Coach McKenzie, but hardly knew what to say. It's quite an honor.

Go Eagles!!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Last Race, Best Race


Since my Army training for the weekend was on hold, I could enter a race right in my neighborhood. Beginning with the end,
--Joe Manacchio, my teammate, won the 50+ race,
--Scott Haverstick, the guy I have ridden with more than anyone else for the past five years, won the 60+ race,
--I stayed with the lead pack for the full 24-lap distance for the first time this year (previously I stayed on the lead lap in most races, but not with the main pack)
--Because no one attacked early, I got to lead lap 2. I haven't done that for a couple of years.
--My wife Annalisa and my son Nigel cheered for me in the middle of the uphill front straight which helped--it was the worst part of the course for me, especially when there were attacks.

There are a few more races this year, but with Army training and other commitments, I won't be able to enter them. So if this is going to be my last race before getting deployed, it's a good one. Definitely my best since my 2007 crash.

Nigel, who is 8, entered the 8&9 year old race, which is just 300 meters, and the 10-12 year old race, one full lap. He was somewhere in the middle of the 18 kids in the 8&9 year old race at the finish. The short distance meant a lot of swerving and Nigel is careful in a pack. In the 10-12 year old race he started at the back and finished sixth. He was very happy because he passed so many other kids.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Course Full

This weekend I was supposed to be in an ammo handlers course--learning how to properly load and store ammunition. I volunteered for the course, because I thought ammo handling might be a skill I could use next year. But I just got a message that the course is full.
So I'll be racing a half-block from my home at the Race Avenue Criterium. Like every other race I did this year, I will be trying to stay with the pack as long as possible, but eventually get dropped. This is one of the first races I ever rode in back in the 90s. Rich Ruoff, the promoter, is reviving it after more than 15 years.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

And a Word About Pain

I am sitting on Amtrak train 600 in the middle of my 2-hour-each-way commute to Philadelphia. Yesterday someone asked me about pain. I thought it was obvious that a guy my age exercising an average of two hours each day would be sore somewhere most of the time. This person was surprised to find my exercise program is designed around training that will get me stronger without pushing to the point of injury. I try to run one day and ride the next so I won't run on consecutive days and hurt myself. It doesn't always work. I ran a 5k race and Monday morning and did a fast 4-mile run on Tuesday. My left knee started hurting on Wednesday. I ran three miles slow last night and this morning I am moving my feet every couple of minutes to keep my knee from hurting.
The change in my push ups bothers my right shoulder, so I added a couple of exercises every other day to strengthen my shoulders. On some days I skip the sit ups because my lower back hurts. On some running days I ride and walk because my ankles hurt.
I am not complaining. I know that various pains are part of any serious training. My main goal is not to get an overuse injury that will have me otherwise healthy and sitting on my butt. Worse still, I do not want an Army profile--a paper that excuses a soldier from duty. When we are assigned training, I do not want to be sitting on a log with a profile.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Nature Update

And following my last post, here's Katharine Sanderson's view of running in Philadelphia on the blog at Nature magazine.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

You're Going Where?

I haven't been home since my last post. I am in Philadelphia for a meeting of the American Chemical Society. Almost 20,000 chemists from all over the world are here for several days. Even though I live just 70 miles away, I have meetings as early as 0630 and dinners that run as late as midnight so I just stayed in town. In fact, I just finished running across the Ben Franklin Bridge and back with a Katharine Sanderson, a science writer from the UK. She is here reporting on the Convention for Nature magazine and writing about Trees That Eat Pollution among other things.
We covered the 4-mile distance from where I work across the bridge and back in 35 minutes. Katharine actually ran six miles, because her hotel in on the other side of Center City so she ran a mile each way to and from the run.

Several times during this meeting events on next year's calendar came up and I said I would be gone from work in 2009. When I said where I would be I going I got stunned looks and versions of "You're going where?!" After they recover from the initial shock, they are supportive, but there are just not that many people who work in my field that take a year off for an all-expense paid trip to Iraq. Tomorrow night I go home for the evening, then back to work on Thursday.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Promotion Picture


Here's a picture of Lisa, my youngest daughter, pinning on my sergeant stripes. This is a simulated photo since we did not take one from the actual ceremony. The twisted collar is just to simulate an action shot!
Photo by Lauren Auster-Gussman

PT Reality Check

At drill this weekend one of the guys on my parking lot detail was a specialist in line for sergeant who just completed the Warrior Leadership Course. The PT is part of that course and I expected this very fit soldier to tell me he maxed the test. He didn't. He ran 2 miles in 13 minutes, 76 situps in 2 minutes and 75 pushups which should have put this 35-year-old Greek God at 300 points. But he said you have to do all exercises in correct form. They did not count five of his pushups and he scored 295.
My form is right for the situps but wrong for the pushups. I either need to keep my head up or drop my body a lot lower. In either case when I do the pushups right I can't get near 56 in 2 minutes. But I have till November, so I will practice a lot more. When I do the correct pushups, it's clear I did not entirely work out all the kinks from the crash last year, so these pushups should work out the last problems in my right shoulder.

Monday, August 11, 2008

First Job as a Sergeant

On Sunday morning our platoon sergeant said I should go and see the first sergeant after formation--he had a special job for me. From the smirk, I expected something ugly. As it turned out, my first official job as a sergeant was to be in charge of four soldiers directing cars to parking spaces at the ceremony for the new battalion sergeant's major. That made me HMFIC of the parking lot (Head MF In Charge--a very old Army acronym, maybe as old as FUBAR). The ceremony was at 1400 Sunday.

Before going to the motor pool that morning, I got 20 orange traffic cones from supply and marked 20 spaces for the ceremony. Then the first sergeant decided the parking lot "looked ragged" because of a half dozen pallets in a crooked line which had not been picked up by the line companies. So I sent the two biggest guys on the detail to get a pallet jack and straighten up the unclaimed freight. Then we went to the motor pool.

Later in the the morning, my three men and I left the motor pool to go to a briefing for everyone involved in the ceremony. My fourth soldier was getting his wisdom teeth pulled.

As is the Army way, we joined the color guard and the men who were in the parade for each company for a briefing and practice at 1100--we didn't have anything to do, but we were part of the event so we showed up.

At 1230 I made sure each soldier had water and sent them to their parking lot posts. For the next 90 minutes I walked from the parking lot out to the entrances on either side of the building to make jokes with the three soldiers.

Seven cars showed up for the ceremony 90 minutes. After the ceremony started, we picked up the cones, returned them to supply and went back to the motor pool.

In my day job I am supposed to make every moment count. When I was a consultant, I had to account for my time and bill for what I did. The Army works on a completely different system. Four of us waiting 90 minutes to direct seven cars to parking spaces is not the way to make money if you are paying by the hour. But we are paid by the day so as long as we are where we are supposed to be we are doing our jobs--directing (on average) one car every 15 minutes to a parking space.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Promotion Ceremony

After we got our sergeant stripes, the two of us who got promoted read the NCO Creed passing a framed copy back and forth. I had never read it out loud before. Last drill I read the Declaration of Independence before morning formation. It's not very long and it makes clear how strange the whole idea of starting this country was. It also make clear how much compromise there was. America should have been the first country to free the slaves, not be the last western country to free the slaves, then add to the shame with a century of Jim Crow laws. Despite all the problems--like the British Army--America became a country that never had a monarch and always had peaceful transitions from one government to the next. No country bigger than Switzerland can say that.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Promotion Yes--PT Test No

This morning at 0800 formation two of us got promoted to sergeant. That was the good news. Just before formation, I found out there would be no PT Test today. That was the bad news. At the end of the formation, our First Sergeant announced he is retiring. But overall, it was a great day. Since I went back, a lot of people have asked me what my rank is. I had to explain that Specialist is a rank between private soldiers and sergeants. Their eyes would glaze about four words in. But Sergeant they can understand. Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury, Sgt. Bilko, Sgt. Schultze, whoever. A sergeant wears a uniform and is in charge of some people. For the many civilians who don't have a clue about military rank, a sergeant is something like a captain or a colonel or a general or an admiral. They are all people who wear uniforms and are in charge of people.

On Sunday afternoon there will be a change of command ceremony. I am in charge of the usher detail. My four soldiers will lead people to their seats. I won't be one of the generals in the front-row seats, but I will be a soldier in a uniform who is in charge of people.

I'll post a picture of my daughter pinning on the stripes in a few days.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Beijing Food


The Olympics are starting tomorrow. Some friends reminded me of what those attending could be eating. From 1998 to 2000 I traveled overseas every month to every continent except Africa. On my first trip to Beijing, I flew direct from Detroit, leaving at 1230 and arriving at 1330 the next day after a 13-hour flight. I went to work then the local rep took us to dinner at the Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing. We began dinner with a Lazy Susan with every part of the duck cooked separately. I ate liver, gizzard, duck tongue and cow face soup, etc until the feet came around to me. I was next to an Australian who said he loved this stuff and ate feet with gusto. Next to the feet were scorpions. I skipped the feet unnoticed because I ate two big scorpions hoping they would be like crawfish. They were. I was fine.

But we had rice wine with dinner and by the time I collapsed in my bed in my clothes near midnight I had been up for 36 hours. At 3 am I woke up because I heard a man yelling—it was me. I was soaked with sweat and convinced those two scorpions had reassembled themselves and were marching up my throat to kill me.

I actually liked the scorpions, but have not eaten them since.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Bike for Iraq


I asked my local Bike Line shop about getting wheels that would stand up to sand. Instead they showed me a bike on close-out that costs less than a pair of good wheels and Linkwill be a great bike for Iraq. It's a Trek T1 track bike, one speed, huge chain, no gear changing. It's the kind of bike people ride in Velodromes, (the indoor bike race tracks with 42-degree banked turns you'll see in the Olympics next week) and on beach vacations because they need so little maintenance. When we are in Iraq there is a chance I will be able to ride a bike inside the wire at the air base. If so, this is the bike.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Sex Book for my Daughters

Last week I read a new book by the science writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer called The Score: How the Quest for Sex Has Shaped the Modern Man by Faye Flam.
The next day I ordered a second copy so each of my daughters could have one. They are 17 and 19 one in college and one on the way. They each have boyfriends who are good guys--I have met them and liked them. But I am going to be gone next year and this book is an entertaining look at the biology that led to males and females from dividing amoebas and how that biology helped to make guys what they are today--for better and for worse. The recurring theme in the book is Flam talking about a seminar she attended in New York where men pay $2150 for a 9-step program on how to pick up women. From flatworms to giant squids to gorillas, we see males fighting to mate with females, but not staying around to set up household. The book alternates between science and mating rituals among modern humans. The book is definitely for readers as interested in learning about science as about sex, but for that kind of reader the book is a lot of fun.

Extra Drill Weekend

I volunteered for an extra drill weekend on August 23-24. I am going to learn how to load and drive an ammo truck. The unit needed volunteers and it seemed like a good thing for me to know how to do safely. A lot of ammo gets moved around an air base getting helicopters ready for missions, and it seemed like one of those jobs for which there are never enough people properly trained.

Friday, August 1, 2008

PT Test in One Week

Unless the schedule changes, I will be taking the PT Test next Friday right after morning formation. Because I work out regularly, many people assume the test will be easy. It's not. In fact, I changed my workout schedule a lot since I joined. It's not that I am worried about passing, but if things go well next week, I have a good change of scoring 290 out of 300, or maybe even 300. To do that, I work out an average of two hours a day. In July that meant walking 94 miles--about half of that with a 25-pound pack; running 54 miles, usually 2.5 to 3 miles at a time; 440 miles on the bike, 960 pushups, 798 situps, 218 pull ups, 7 hours in the gym and three hours of yoga. To score 300 I need to do 56 pushups and 66 situps in 2 minutes each and run two miles in 14:42. To pass I need 21 pushups, 31 situps and 19:30 on the run.
I won't do any exercise next Wednesday and Thursday.
Want to see what the standards are for you? Click here.