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Showing posts from December, 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 …

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 &q…

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 t…

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.

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).

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, …

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.

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…

Real Physical Therapy Begins Today


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 motio…

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.

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.

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.

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 …

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."

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.

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.

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.