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.

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.


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.


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.

Military Pilots Really Have "The Right Stuff"

Tammie Jo Shults, F-18 Fighter Pilot Today I listened to the audio of pilot Tammie Jo Shults calmly speakin...