Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve--2009 by the Numbers

What an odd year for a 56-year-old guy who works at a museum. This year I have lived in two US states and two middle eastern countries--Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Iraq and Kuwait. Lance Armstrong wrote a book titled "It's Not About the Bike." If I wrote that I would be lying. so the first numbers are about the bike.
Miles: 7100 total
I competed in four races. Three in PA while I was on leave, one in Iraq.
I rode four bikes outside PA. Two I bought for the trip and broke them both. The single speed 29er and track bike are in Conex containers on the way to America. The post chaplain at Fort Sill OK loaned me his bike while I was there (May the Lord bless him!) I bought a $100 bike for the two weeks I was in Kuwait in the spring, broke it and traded it for a latte at Starbucks. I bought a bike for $250 in Iraq in December after I broke the 29er. I sold it the day before I left for $250 and threw in a pump.

I read only 15 books this year--lowest total since I started keeping track. And almost all of them were re-reads: six by CS Lewis, Inferno & Purgatorio, Aeneid, and The Three Musketeers (an old edited French version). New to my reading list were George Orwell's Essays, another of John Polkinghorne's books on theology and physics, and The Audacity of Hope by President Obama.

The unabridged Democracy in America is my first book for 2009. I am halfway through The Oak and the Calf by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and a second (very different) abridged French version of the Three Musketeers and should finish them during the long hours in Kuwait.

By a rough calculation I have written more than 75,000 words on my blog and am just short of 50,000 visitors too my blog since I started keeping track in June of 2008.

Since August I have written more articles than I ever have in my life. The 16th weekly issue of the newsletter goes out Monday. I also wrote four newsletters for Echo Company and had stories picked up by many Web sites and newspapers--none cooler, of course, then the New York Times "At War" blog on Thanksgiving!

Although many are different angles of the same shot, I have taken more than 5000 pictures. It will be very strange to have no camera when I leave active duty.

Counting each take off and landing as a flight, I have been on two dozen helicopter rides, mostly on Blackhawks, but also on the big Chinooks. It was the Chinooks that turned out to be the best single photo subject. It was wonderful watching them hover, six feet above a container with a flight engineer on top of it who hooked the 5,000-pound load, jumped to the ground and ran through the hurricane-force winds as the big helicopter flew away with 2.5 tons dangling 20 feet underneath.

I bought just two meals the whole time I was in Iraq--pizzas at Ciano's. But I bought a few hundred lattes at Green Bean's. The last one was free. I am sitting in Green Bean's in Kuwait writing this post.

I fired a lot fewer rounds this year than I did as a Cold War tank commander in the 1970s. But then we were training for a real war that seemed immanent. Now we are in a real war that is ending.

Oh right. And I made 387 blog posts in 2009. I will continue posting every day until we are released from active duty. Then I am going to take a break during the 17 days I am still on terminal leave. And when I am finally and officially a civilian again, I might write about some of the stuff I can't write now.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Step Closer

Today we flew to Kuwait by way of Basra stopping at three bases before finally arriving at the transient base. We will be here for several days and, just as when I was stuck here for seven days in July, I won't know when I will leave here until I am on an airplane. Several times on the last trip, my name got called, I was on a manifest, I dragged my bags up to the meeting area, I was ready to board the bus then. . ."Sorry. Come back at 0500 hours."

But it's OK with me. We are on the way back to America. I am out of Iraq. I have lots of work to do, assuming I can do it using personal computer on a wireless hookup. Sometime in late January this year will end and I can go back to being a civilian again. I liked some of this year. I hated some of this year. The parts I hated probably helped me grow.

One thing it confirmed for me is how very difficult and very worthwhile it is to build community. It is very clear very fast that even people who think of politeness as optional, a sort of window dressing in life, rapidly find that politeness of some kind is necessary to live in close quarters. And they believe more strongly every day that if politeness is not natural it had better be enforced by someone.

An hour ago we moved eight of us moved into a 16-man tent, filling the all the available bunks. The lights are supposed to stay on 24/7, but if everyone agrees, the lights can go out until someone needs them. We may or may not have lights out, but if we do, it will be because 16 men agreed to shut off the lights at a given hour and turn them on again when needed.

It's very likely (though not certain) I will spend New Year's Eve and Day in a transient tent without any of the usual celebration. Certainly no alcohol. But it won't dampen my spirits. In a month or so, I'll be home.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who Fights This War? Public Affairs Officer, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division

Today I have a guest post from Maj. Myles Caggins of the 4th BCT, 1st Armored Division. We have had a chance to work together on a few projects and even to talk politics.
Twelve months ago I was in Washington, D.C. having just finished my graduate degree requirements from Georgetown. D.C., the most powerful city in the world, is an easy draw for the media and the military. In contrast, Contingency Operating Base Adder just south of Nasiriyah, Iraq is relatively unknown and military operations here seldom gain wide-spread press attention.

At least not until December 18.

This day Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our nation’s highest ranking military officer visited my brigade at COB Adder. Mullen was traveling with seven members of the Pentagon Press Pool among the 20+ other staffers and security personnel in his entourage.

Serving as an Army Brigade Public Affairs Officer my job is to tell the story of the 4,000 Soldiers assigned to the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division. I want audiences to know who they are and most importantly what they do in Iraq in 2009.
Gone are the days of U.S. Soldiers kicking down doors and rounding up IED makers, terrorist mortarmen, and other outlaws. In today’s stability operations environment, we are simply here to advise and assist Iraqi Security Forces.

Most readers of this blog believe that. However, if I stood in downtown Nasiriyah and tried to explain “stability operations” doctrine the local citizens would be skeptical of the message and the messenger—and of course 30% of what I say would probably be lost in translation.

Imagine if some dude from a foreign Army pulled up in your driveway in a 10’ tall armored truck; stood in your front lawn with body armor, an assault rifle, and a team of security then stated “I’m your friend, I come in peace.”

Needless to say, I might come off to be a Kevlar-clad Joe Isuzu to the average Iraqi. Remember him here and here.

So on my next post, I’ll explain the solution to gaining and maintaining a positive perception for American forces in southern Iraq…and how I changed the price of oil 2% with one quote on December 18.

Monday, December 28, 2009

For Nigel--Blackhawk Banking Left

Yesterday I was on an all-day flight that lasted into the night. It was the first time I flew in a Blackhawk at night. I flew in a Chinook at night, but I was up inside the fuselage and could not see out very much except through the tail door.
I was sitting right behind the door gunner on the Blackhawk and could see all the countryside on the final leg of our trip. The desert is prettier at night than in the brown dusty day. The shallowest ripples look deep in the dark and trace out shapes that are much more interesting than simple sand ripples and ditches.
The trip went from here to Kalsu for hot fuel (with the engines running and rotors turning) then to Baghdad and a visit to one of Saddam's bombed out palaces. I'll try to put a few more photos up soon.
After Baghdad we flew up to Joint Base Balad, where we should have gone back when we got here. It's a beautiful base. Oh well.
Then Back to Kalsu in the fading light, then back to Tallil in the dark. I was not told till the night before I had to go. I had a lot of work to do the next day and asked the commander if he really wanted to me to go. He said, "This is a war Gussman. You're going." So I went.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Who Fights this War--Coach on the Range

During the two days Echo Company ran the marksmanship qualification range on COB Adder in November, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Guinn, 30, strode back and forth on the dirt mound where the shooters were firing. Guinn adjusted a body position here, made a suggestion there, pushed in an elbow, all to help soldiers to qualify with their M16, M4 or M9 personal weapons.
Guinn served for four years on active duty as a Marine before joining the Army National Guard. “We don’t spend enough time on PMI (Preliminary Marksmanship Instruction),” said Guinn, NCOIC of Operations for Task Force Diablo. “In the Marines we moved out to the range for two weeks every year. We would a full week just practicing different firing positions.”
Guinn serves full time in the Army National Guard and is planning to work as a Readiness NCO in 28th Combat Aviation Brigade after this deployment. He currently has the additional duties of Master Weapons Instructor and Master Marksmanship Instructor for the 28th CAB. During his service with the Marines from 1997 – 2000 Guinn was a Master Marksmanship Instructor. “In the Marines, marksmanship can be a primary duty. In the Army it is always an additional duty,” said the Enola, Pa. native.
In addition to weapons training in the Marines, Guinn has received six months of advanced weapons instruction from several Army schools, including the five-phase Master Weapons Instructor School which he completed in 2004. He is currently on his third deployment. He went to East Timor with the Marines in 1998. He went to Kosovo with Bravo Company (Attack) 1-104th Aviation in 2005-6 before his current tour with Task Force Diablo.
Guinn says “practice makes perfect” in marksmanship as in many areas of life. He practices partly through competition. He has earned the Governor’s Twenty tab for marksmanship and competed in international events. He is especially proud of being a member of the team the beat the highly rated Italian Special Forces team.
Later this week, on December 3, Guinn will be conducting a marksmanship class for his staff in operations. “It’s a full day just to go over the fundamentals of shooting,” he said.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

For Nigel: The Best Picture

One more sling load photo because I did not include the best one. This is the one of the ground crewman setting the hook.

For Nigel: A Chinook Sling Load

A few days ago, three Chinook helicopters hovered 20 feet above the north runway waiting for the signal to fly over to the south ramp and pick up sling loads. The Chinook can haul a container with thousands of pounds of stuff underneath and fly. These pictures show some of the views I had. It was tough to get some of the pictures because Chinooks are named after the near 100mph wind in the mountain west. For the picture looking up under the Chinook with the sling load, I laid down on the airstrip 100 meters ahead of the Chinook as the sling was attached and took the shot as it flew over me.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Who Fights This War? A Father and a Son

It’s a very proud Dad who has a child that follows him into his profession, so Sgt. First Class Gary Williard of Delta Company, Task Force Diablo, is a doubly proud man. Williard has two professions and each of his two sons has chosen to follow Dad into one of those professions. Williard is a retired police officer and Army National Guard aircraft maintenance platoon sergeant. His older son, Gary Jr., joined the Tower City police force where Dad retired in 2006 as chief of police. His younger son is Sgt. Joshua Williard, of Bravo Company, 628th Aviation Support Battalion. Joshua worked in the next hangar over from Dad during much of the deployment and is currently completing his deployment with final processing in America.

“I pinned on Joshua’s sergeant stripes when he got promoted here on August 27,” said Gary Sr. “That was quite a moment for me.” Joshua said he plans on a career in aviation maintenance with the Army National Guard.

The Williards are a close family. Gary Sr. and Joshua managed to get the same day off, Friday, through most of last summer here in Iraq. They watched bow hunting and deer hunting videos and football together on their day off. Gary Jr. worked for his Dad for five years in the Tower City police department before moving to the Pennsylvania State Police where he has worked for seven years. Williard and his wife Dina ran an automotive repair business together. Now they have apartments which they rent. “Dina runs the apartments while I am away,” said Williard. “With Joshua and I deployed and Gary Jr. busy with work she’ll be very happy for us to come home.”

Gary Sr. began his military career in 1976 as a prop and rotor mechanic for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and remained with the Guard through his entire career. He had an eight-year break in service from 1982-90 and after returning to the Guard has worked in maintenance on many aircraft. Gary Sr. previously deployed in 2003-4 to Kuwait in both aviation maintenance and security roles. “Even on deployment, I was still a cop,” said Williard.

Who Fights This War? And Just Keeps Going

I have mentioned my roommate before. Sgt. Nickey Smith joined Echo Company with a dozen other guys from Connecticut at the beginning of the deployment at Fort Sill. All the other CT guys in our company are fuelers and have mostly been assigned to remote bases to refuel aircraft. Nickey was the only CT guy assigned to the motor pool. And from his first day he was put in the squad with the squad leader who was already showing signs of being overwhelmed at Fort Sill. More and more as training progressed, Nickey found himself in charge of a team and picking up the slack as his squad leader fell apart. Shortly after we arrived in Iraq, Nickey got assigned to as the maintenance sergeant at one of the fueling bases. Life is a lot more Spartan on these bases, but one of Nickey's best friends was there and he was away from the drama of his squad. He was very happy to go and not so happy to be back.
When he got back, his squad leader fell apart completely and was assigned to another company doing and enlisted man's job. Nickey took over as squad leader and as a maintenance team leader. For a while he was the only sergeant double assigned that way.
Despite all this, he was rated as just average when he got his NCOER (NCO evaluation report). When many other sergeants, myself included, took jobs at battalion or somewhere else, Nickey stayed in the motor pool, worked at a job a pay grade above his own, and did everything necessary to continue the mission. When the PT Test loomed before us, and the maintenance soldiers had to report to the motor pool at 0600, Nickey was getting up at 0300 to work out at least three days per week.
Two nights ago when I came back from my work he was sitting on his bed surrounded by papers making sure all of his squad got good evaluations for the work they did here in Iraq. Earlier in the year he made sure they got awards when that ball had been dropped by his predecessor.
Nickey fits no definition of average. I encouraged him to appeal his NCOER. He was told it was too late and he would have to wait until we return to America. Nickey deserves better. There's a lot of things I will miss about my year in the Army when I return to civilian life, but I won't miss the way paperwork crushes reality.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Who Fights This War--Col. Newell and The Battle For Fallujah

I wrote the following form published reports about Col. Newell at the Battle for Fallujah. This is a sidebar to yesterday's post.

The Battle for Fallujah, November 2004

The battle for Fallujah in November 2004 was the biggest operation in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad at the beginning of the war, an assault on the city that had turned into Iraq’s nastiest nest of insurgents.
Commanding the lead battalion of the Germany-based Task Force 2-2 was then Lt. Col. Peter Newell. He said the battle for Fallujah was, "as pure a fight of good vs. evil as we will probably face in our lifetime."
Newell said he never doubted his troops would win the battle “It was [over] before the fight started,” he said. “It was just a matter of how long it was going to take.”
The 550 soldiers of Task Force 2-2 fought for 12 days in Fallujah, killing 330 insurgents and foreign fighters including the No. 2 man in the Jordanian-born militant Abu Musabal-Zarqawi terrorist organization.
Nine men earned Silver Stars for valor. Five of them — including Newell’s and his three company commanders’ — were for bravery at Fallujah. Newell’s 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment earned a Presidential Unit Citation, the Army’s highest unit honor.
Lt. Col. Newell’s Silver Star Citation:
Newell deployed a 550-soldier mechanized task force on 72 hours’ notice to Fallujah in November 2004, leading a continuous 12-day attack in the heavily fortified Askari district. His forces overwhelmed resistance in the first 14 hours, ultimately killing 330 enemy fighters, capturing 48 others, destroying 38 weapons caches, two roadside- bomb factories and one car-bomb factory while becoming the first battalion in the division to achieve its objective.
On Nov. 12, Newell was caught in an ambush following an 11-hour night attack. Narrowly escaping enemy fire, he left his tracked vehicle and personally assisted in the evacuation of a mortally wounded officer.
From published reports in The Stars and Stripes and The Rolling Stone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who Fights This War? Warriors Reunited from 2004
Making new friends and saying goodbye to comrades in arms is a regular part of Army service, but sometimes chance and circumstances can reunite soldiers in new assignments after years apart. Just such a reunion happened in May when Alpha Company 1-106th, part of Pennsylvania-based Task Force Diablo, was assigned to support the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division commanded by Col. Peter Newell. In 2004 Alpha Company deployed to Joint Base Balad for 15 months as part of an Illinois-based Army National Guard Aviation Battalion. Part of their mission was support of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, commanded Newell, the lead Army unit in the Battle for Fallujah.
Because National Guard soldiers can often serve in the same unit for their entire career, sixteen of the 53 soldiers in this Air Assault Company deployed with Alpha in 2004-5. Alpha flies daily “Adder” missions in support of Newell and the 4-1. “Our mission is to support the ground mission,” said Capt. Jason Henderson, the Alpha Commander. “The Adder mission gets Colonel Newell and [Lt. Col.] Callahan and their staff out where they need to be.” Lt. Col. David Callahan is the Deputy Commander of 4-1.
When the Adder mission began Henderson would adapt the mission schedule to Newell’s needs. Initially there was resistance from aviation brigade headquarters “but they came around,” said Henderson. Chief Warrant Officer Herb Stevens said flying for Newell is easier than for many senior commanders. “Many commanders want dedicated aircraft. Colonel Newell will free up the Adder aircraft for other missions when he does not need them,” Stevens said. “He’s all about helping soldiers. If there is an empty seat, he will take soldiers waiting for flights on his missions.”
“The support provided by Alpha Company is essential for my brigade to operate effectively across three provinces in southern Iraq,” said Newell. “I’d fly with these guys again on any combat tour; and, consider them part of the Highlander Brigade’s family.”
“One Day Colonel Newell said a 4-1 patch would look good on the nose of his aircraft and we made it happen as soon as possible,” said Henderson.
Col. Teresa Gallagher, commander of the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade—the former headquarters of Task Force Diablo—was initially against putting unit patches on the nose of aircraft. “But when I heard about the depth of the relationship between Alpha Company and Colonel Newell, I was in favor of it,” she said.
“Several books have been written about the Battle for Fallujah,” Stevens said. “We are proud to be flying Colonel Newell again.”
Together Again in Iraq
Of the sixteen members of Alpha Company who deployed in 2004 and are back in 2009, eight are in new jobs. First Sgt. Tom House was a platoon sergeant in 2004. Chief Warrant Officers Ashley Higar, Damien Germscheid, Thad Simpson and Nate McKean were enlisted in 2004, with Higar working in maintenance. McKean, Simpson and Germscheid were crew chiefs. Sergeants First Class Daren Cagle and Mike Simard moved from crew chief to platoon sergeant and Staff Sgt. Garath Mills to assistant platoon sergeant.
Eight are in the same seat they occupied in the previous deployment. Chief Warrant Officers Pat Schroeder, Herb Stevens, Dave Hammon, Greg Calvin, and Scott Wiley were all pilots on the previous deployment and are still flying with Alpha. Sergeants Robert Kulage, Joe Seitz, and Craig McGuire served then and now as crew chiefs.
Although not among the sixteen who were actually in Alpha, Staff Sgt. Mike Maass was a fueler and crew chief in 2004 in Headquarters Company and returned this tour as a door gunner. Henderson was a member of Alpha Company in 2004, but was at flight school during the deployment.
When a unit has this kind of continuity many procedures that other units must develop over time are already in place. Alpha uses a “Push Crew” system. Crew chiefs and door gunners who are not flying get missions ready to go, bringing weapons and equipment to the flight line, removing doors and windows in the summer and performing maintenance checks while the flight crews are going through briefings and planning. Alpha developed the system in 2004 and adapted it to operations at COB Adder.
New members of Alpha Company join a band of brothers, men who have served together for many years, rely on each others strengths and share a bond that only years of service and sacrifice can forge.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Who Satirizes This War?--PT Belt Facebook Fan Page Tops 6000

Spc. Jason Guge of Delta Company, Task Force Diablo, has attracted more than 6,000 fans to his Facebook page dedicated the Army PT (Physical Training) Belt. He almost certainly will have 7000 fans by the year’s end. Guge has added an average of more than 60 fans every day since he created the site on September 5 of this year. In fact, he has added more 100 per day in the last month. He topped 1,000 fans in the first month then added 3,000 more in the last six weeks.
Asked about his method for success Guge said, “I promote it within Facebook at other pages, and I send out messages within Facebook. I also rely on word of mouth. My wife tells people back home about the site. She has even written on the site a couple times as Mrs. PT Belt.
Typically, more than 100 fans leave messages every day , most trying to be more silly than the last:
“My PT Belt keeps me safe in combat. It is my "DO NOT SHOOT" Profile, so the enemy knows not to shoot at me.”
With a philosophical twist: “If you don't wear your PT Belt in the Forest and there is no one to see you without it, will a Command Sergeant Major still hit you with a Gator?”
“I didn't know what I was missing out on when i was in the Navy until I joined the I'm in the PT belt circle!”
“I read that the only reason Apollo 13 made it back was because all three astronauts had PT belts.”
As of late November, the top countries where fans live: United States 2,805, Iraq 415, United Kingdom 165, Germany 123, Kuwait 92, Canada 79, Hong Kong 74.
It is not surprising that Canadians would be PT Belt fans, but why would there be nearly as many PT Belts fans in Hong Kong, one big city in China, as the entire country of Canada? So many PT Belt questions to answer! Other countries with more than 10 PT Belt fans: Afghanistan, Italy, France, South Korea, Serbia, United Arab Emirates, Greece, Lebanon, Japan, and the Netherlands.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Clarissa Landeros is a fan with seven PT Belts and three more on order from the states. “They are all different,” she said sitting in Coalition Dining Facility with a group of soldiers and airmen. “I’ve got pink, basic white, orange with a stripe, checkered—Wait, look at that lime green one,” she said pointing to an Air Force Staff Sgt. with a lime green PT Belt. She was clearly thinking about her eleventh PT Belt. “You can’t have too many.”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Who Fights This War--Mother and Daughter

Sgt. JoAnn Wevodau, a technical supply sergeant and technical inspector
in Delta Company, joined the U.S. Marines in 1977 when her current
company commander, Capt. Michael Girvin, was just four years old.
Three years later, in 1979, Wevodau finished her enlistment and returned
to civilian life.
Then after 20 years as a civilian, she re-enlisted in the Army National
Guard in 1999 along with her daughter Sgt. Amy Torres, who is now 28.
Wevodau and Torres work together as technicians at Fort Indiantown Gap,
Pa. She will return to her technician job and rejoin her daughter after
this deployment is complete. This is Wevodau's second deployment. She
served at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, in 2003-4. She is eight years
from retirement and expects to have one or two more deployments before
she reaches 20 years of service.
A resident of Jonestown, Wevodau is the mother of five grown children
and has three grandchildren. She is married to Mike Wevodau, Command Sergeant Major of the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

TODAY--40th Anniversary of My Driver's License!!!

Among the many milestones I reached in Iraq is one I have celebrated for more than a quarter century--my driver's license anniversary. On December 19, 1969, after a one-semester delay while my grades got better, I went to the Registry of Motor Vehicles office in Woburn, Mass., and there took and passed my driver's test.

I had already bought and sold my first car--a Black 1963 Dodge Dart and so did not have a car on that wonderful day. But my Dad let me drive his car--a 22-foot-long 1965 Chrysler New Yorker. I was in Heaven. I had wanted to drive as long as I could remember and the day finally came. With my license my obsession with cars moved from wanting cars to owning cars.

In three weeks I had a 1964 Opel Station wagon. A month later it was a 1963 Chrysler Newport. Back then I thought I liked working on cars, but really, all I wanted to do was drive. I wore cars out. I broke them. I am the same with bicycles, although with bikes I know I do not want to work on them. I just want to ride.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Meeting Mrs. Mullen at MWR

On Friday, December 18, Deborah Mullen accompanied her husband, Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, on a visit here at COB
Adder. Sgt. Monique Usher NCOIC of MWR (Morale, Welfare & Recreation)
for the Garrison Command asked me to meet Mrs. Mullen as part of her
tour of medical and MWR facilities. I have led two book discussion
groups since July. The six books we have read are by authors who have
been dead for half a century to two millenia.
Mrs. Mullen walked straight up to me and introduced herself, then asked
why I limit my book choice to dead authors. I told her that you know
dead authors are good by the judgment of history, that's never true with
living authors. She said I should try reading live authors which led to
a discussion of who and what I should read. In the end she is sending
me a copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary
Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
The choice shows how gracious and funny Mrs. Mullen is. The book has
two authors. Mary Ann Shaffer died last year. Annie Barrows is very
much alive. A charming compromise.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

5000 Miles In Iraq

At 6:30 this evening on Perimeter Road, I passed 5000 miles on the bike in Iraq. I need 99 more miles to have 7000 total for the year. I should make it by Christmas.
That makes more than 400 times around the Perimeter Road. I am a hamster!!!

For Readers of The Screwtape Letters

We are currently reading Screwtape in the CSL group here in Iraq. I wrote this a few days ago. It's how I think Screwtape would look at Creation Science. If you haven't read The Screwtape Letters, this won't make much sense--and if you had to choose, it would be better to read a really Screwtape Letter than my imitation.

My Dear Wormwood,

Very true, I did tell you in my very first letter to keep your patient
away from science, but I meant real science based on math in which
theories are the best description of observed reality. Of course you
should let your patient immerse himself in Creation Science. That
ridiculous pairing of words is one of the many recent triumphs of our
Infernal Marketing Division.

Real science is wretched for us. The Enemy has made the material universe so complex that the deeper the humans penetrate reality the more surprised they are at what they find. And He made it so vast that in time and space that no one can fully comprehend it. We know he did this for the sophomoric reason that he wants the human vermin to be free to choose to Love Him, or not. The universe is so complex from the micro scale to the galactic, that no amount of mere facts can convince anyone of the Enemy's existence. All this disgusting beauty is more of what He calls Love.

But Creation Science does away with all that. It says Einstein was wrong, Darwin was wrong, Mendel was wrong, Watson and Crick were wrong, and an Australian biology teacher who built a museum with saddles on dinosaurs is RIGHT! All the messy reality of life, the universe, and everything is tied up with a bow in Creation Science. All of modern science that does not conform to their particular literal view is wrong.

Wormwood it is wonderful. I could show you cages full of proud fools who watched a four-hour Deep Science video series and from that day were able to look down on the millions of people who have held science PhD degrees in the last hundred years. Pride, Wormwood. It is the best path to Our Father's House and who could be more sneeringly proud than a man who cannot solve the equation that describes a falling rock yet believes he knows physics at a deeper level than Einstein. If we spirits had lips I would kiss the man who dreamed this heresy up.

Your Affectionate Uncle,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blogging Blackout!

The following is from David Marron, editor of The Thunder Run blog:

Wednesday 16 December 2009,

Many if not most, fellow milblogs -- including This Ain't Hell, From My Position, Miss Ladybug, Boston Maggie, Grim's Hall, and those participating in the Wednesday Hero program -- are going silent for the day. Some are choosing to go silent for a longer period of time. This blog will resume operations on Monday December 21, 2009.

The reason for this is two-fold.

First, milblogs are facing an increasingly hostile environment from within the military. While senior leadership has embraced blogging and social media, many field grade officers and senior NCOs do not embrace the concept. From general apathy in not wanting to deal with the issue to outright hostility to it, many commands are not only failing to support such activities, but are aggressively acting against active duty milbloggers, milspouses, and others. The number of such incidents appears to be growing, with milbloggers receiving reprimands, verbal and written, not only for their activities but those of spouses and supporters.

The catalyst has been the treatment of milblogger C.J. Grisham of A Soldier's Perspective. C.J. has earned accolades and respect, from the White House on down for his honest, and sometimes blunt, discussion of issues -- particularly PTSD. In the last few months, C.J. has seen an issue with a local school taken to his command who failed to back him, and has even seen his effort to deal with PTSD, and lead his men in same by example, used against him as a part of this. Ultimately, C.J. has had to sell his blog to help raise funds for his defense in this matter.

An excellent story on the situation with C.J. can be found at Military Times: While there have been new developments, the core problem remains, and C.J. is having to raise funds to cover legal expenses to protect both his good name and his career.

One need only look at the number of blogs by active duty military in combat zones and compare it to just a few years ago to see the chilling effect that is taking place.

Milblogs have been a vital link in getting accurate news and information about the military, and military operations, to the public. They have provided vital context and analysis on issues critical to operations and to the informed electorate critical to the Republic.

On Wednesday 16 December, readers will have the chance to imagine a world without milblogs, and to do something about it. Those participating are urging their readers to contact their elected representatives in Congress, and to let their opinions be known to them and to other leaders in Washington.

Some milblogs will remain silent for several days; some just for the day. All have agreed to keep the post about the silence and C.J. at the top of their blogs until Friday 18 December.

The issues go beyond C.J., and deserve careful consideration and discussion. We hope that you will cover this event, and explore the issues that lie at the heart of the matter. Contact the milbloggers in your area or that you know, and hear the story that lies within.

A Partial List of Participating Blogs:

This Ain't Hell
Boston Maggie
Miss Ladybug
Drunken Wisdom
Grim's Hall
From my position
CDR Salamander

Two cartoonists join in!

Private Murphy
Delta Bravo Sierra

Check them out as well...

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Monday, December 14, 2009

For Nigel--Blackhawks at Sunset, Big Trucks in Iraq

Dust Clouds

Tonight I rode through clouds of dust to get to my office. I went to the office after the CSL book group. The night was absolutely beautiful when I left our living area. You can only see up where we live. Twelve-foot-high blast walls surround our trailer homes. So I looked up and saw Orion's belt and sword so clearly I almost thought the mythical warrior could step out of the sky and come to our base. So I looked up at the blue-black sky till my neck hurt then rode south to my office. On both dirt stretches the air was brown from long convoys raising dust. The front of the convoy was stopped and the back closing up to the front as they stopped and waited. Dozens of flatbed semis waiting to load with containers and drive to the port. It's strange how the sky can be clear and beautiful just a mile from where it is choked with a stagnant cloud of dust.

At my office I am trying to copy all of my photos off the hard drive of the computer I am using. The computer is cheap and sometimes quits. It is a PC and I am a very committed MAC user. Every time I use a PC I become more convinced that I love my MAC. I did not work very much. I have been up early and am too tired to work effectively late.

Eleven days till Christmas.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Flat Out of Luck

Not me for a change. David, my riding buddy got a flat on Wednesday, fixed it. Broke a spoke on Friday which warped his wheel right away. So he dropped his bike off with Larry the Bike Guy who was kind enough to give him a loaner. Today David wanted to ride 100km before he goes home on Tuesday--just to do it.

This morning the weather was cold but better than it has been, maybe 50 instead of low 40s. But if the weather was good, David was not. He is a former body builder and has been dong P90X along with 9-mile runs and biking about 50 miles per week. He hurt his back.

But he decided to go anyway this morning. About three miles into the ride as we passed the burn pit, it was clear this lap would be his last. He asked the shortest way back, then got a flat. One of our Apache pilots was driving to the other side of the base and picked David up. So I decided I could at least pass some solo milestones. I rode 50 miles today--enough that I am within 100 miles of 5000 in Iraq and within 200 miles of 7000 for the year. And no problems with the new bike. I went to the gym and did enough sit-ups so I am over 11,000 for the year, 9,000 pushups and 800 pull ups. I guess that means the shoulder surgery worked out well.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

You Win!! Too Bad

At chow tonight I was sitting with a sergeant who just won NCO of the month. The prize is two days at Camp Victory near Baghdad, actually an interesting trip to see Saddam's palace and some other sights of the old regime. I am in aviation so I congratulated him. He didn't look so happy. He said he would rather have two days off here. I started to say how many of my friends thought Camp Victory was cool. He then said, "I'm infantry. If I take the prize I go in a convoy." Great!! He gets to roll for hours in an armored truck hoping he does not get hit by an IED.

He's right. If I were him, I would take two days in my room at Tallil before I took my prize-winning trip to Baghdad in the back of an armored truck. We were trying to think of a civilian equivalent. Maybe a trip to Florida by bus stopping in every major city from Boston to Miami--and never being allowed out of the bus.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Two Bikes Down, One to Get to 5000 Miles

Today the fifth spoke broke on the rear wheel of my single-speed mountain bike. The wheel is twisted. I put my last mile on it. So both of the bikes I brought here broke beyond my ability to repair them after 2700 miles each: 2721 on the road bike, 2767 on the mountain bike. So now I have a Giant mountain bike to ride until the end of December. I only need 162 more miles to get to 5000 in Iraq and 265 to have 7000 miles for the year.

And I have a buyer for the mountain bike at the end of the month. At this point I am not sure exactly when I will be leaving, but it should be sometime in early January.

This Sunday is my riding buddy's last day before he goes home on leave. If he is stuck in Kuwait for any more than a day, I may not see him again. He wants to ride 100 miles Sunday. I may go 100km. Either way, I will have most of the miles I need before Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, I am going to be the emcee at the Christmas music night they will have here on Christmas Eve. It will be good to have something to do on Christmas Eve. Christmas will be just another work day except the lines in the DFAC will be longer.

And to continue on with yesterday's post on music--sometimes I ride for a mile or two with no hands, just to do it. Last night I was riding the 29er in the dark with my super bright light and singing as I rode with no hands for three miles. It can be boring riding here, but turning corners with no hands keeps my concentration up.

One more month and I should at least be in America.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Emotional Roller Coaster

Tomorrow is the goodbye ceremony for most of our Brigade. We will be the last battalion to go home in Pennsylvania's biggest deployment since World War 2. Not the distinction I wanted. Many of the soldiers who are going home very much wanted to stay. They came here because they wanted to earn tax free money and would rather stay longer than leave early.
A good indicator that I am over tired or in emotional disarray or both is my iPod. When I am healthy, happy and well rested, I listen to New Yorker podcasts, "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" from NPR, Books on Tape, Mars Hill Audio or Teaching Company courses. I am currently listening to a course on "Democracy in America" by Alexis de Tocqueville. But not tonight.
Everyone at home is happy, ending the semester, getting ready for the holidays. I had to tell my wife to tell everyone not to send anything because they will be sending our mail back home beginning some unspecified date before we leave. And since by Saturday, I will only have a duffel bag and a half to live out of, anything bigger than a pen will stay behind.
When I am a mess, I listen to music on the iPod. I bounced back and forth between Amy Grant, Toby Keith, Joan Jett and Aerosmith--Hey, it's my iPod.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Report for the New York CS Lewis Society

The following is a report I just wrote for the New York CS Lewis Society. I have been a member since 1980 and, as far as I know, the only member in Iraq.

One of my big goals when I knew I was getting deployed to Iraq was to start a CS Lewis book group and, if possible a Dante group. We arrived here in early May 2009 after two weeks in Kuwait and two months at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I thought about starting the groups right away, but I went on leave five weeks after I arrived, so the book groups started in late July. The CSL group, Beyond Narnia, met on Monday nights at 8pm. Our first book was The Weight of Glory. The Dead Poets Society started meeting on Tuesday nights at 8pm reading Inferno--it would be hard to find a more appropriate book. We read five cantos a week for six weeks. During each of those six weeks, the mid-day tempo topped 130 degrees.

The first night of the Beyond Narnia Group, I talked about CSL's life and works. Then we read "Why I am Not a Pacifist." I thought it would be good to start with an essay that describes CSL's clear-eyed view of pacifism and his service. On the following night, the Dante group had a long discussion of the Seven Deadly Sins and their order in Hell. From the first week the two groups had a surprising (to me) difference in
participation that has carried on right to the end (as I write there will be just two more weekly meetings before I go to Kuwait and back to America).

The Beyond Narnia Group was older, almost all officers, and was very steady in attendance except when on missions. The Dead Poets Society was almost all enlisted soldiers and airmen under 30. When I say old I mean 40s. At 56, I am beyond Methuselah in Army years. I was surprised because I had the idea that the Narnia movies (which I have not seen) would inspire someone to read more of Lewis. The Captains and Colonels in my group all had wanted to read CSL long before the movies ever came out and for one reason or another had not got around to it. After The
Weight of Glory we read The Four Loves and are finishing with The Screwtape Letters. Over time the group became more and more animated.

One of the Chaplains in the group disagreed with CSL on something every week, but was very happy to discuss more. The meetings were set for an hour, but The Four Loves discussions went almost two hours.

After Inferno, the Dead Poets Society voted to read Aeneid. We are now reading Purgatorio and should finish it by the time I leave Iraq. This group was very taken with Virgil and upset that Dante kept him in Hell, especially when they found out Cato was going to go to Heaven.

These groups allowed me to meet and talk with soldiers who really care about books and ideas and the Faith--at least in the case of the CSL group. The Dead Poets Society included non-believers. Despite everything and anything I had to do, I never missed these meetings. And I am sure I will miss them when I return to America where weekly
meetings to discuss books is simply impossible. But I am also very ready to go home.

Book Groups

Tonight it occurred to me (I don't know why it took so long.) that the book groups here are almost done. Depending on when we leave we will meet just two or three more times then I will be either on the way home or caught in something I can't get out of. It also occurred to me that I have not missed a meeting since the groups started. I really wanted them to continue and I managed to keep from flying anywhere or doing anything that would keep me from the book groups. I think we will finish both Purgatorio and the Screwtape Letters or get very close before we are wheels up and on the way home.

This year was supposed to be a year I would do more reading, but it was less. By the time I started doing the weekly newsletter I was already overcommitted. When the newsletter began I was buried. If it weren't for the book groups I would not be reading much of anything. Although I am still dawdling along in Les Trois Mousquetaires. If we get stuck in Kuwait, I should finish it. I read a very old simplified edition in Fort Sill. This one is newer, easier and flatter than the 70-year-old one. The ardent love of The Duke of Buckingham for Anne of Austria is very subdued in this one--as is the confrontation between the Musketeers and the Cardinal's men, the key scenes of the book.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Newsletter 11

Today I sent my 11th newsletter in as many weeks. Actually it's 12 in eleven weeks because I also did an Echo Company newsletter in the past 11 weeks. I will do three or four more in Iraq, then one in Kuwait (maybe) then the last one in America--or maybe two. Many things could still change about our trip home. But I am planning for about 16 issues before my newsletter goes into electronic storage, just a memory of being in Iraq. Every time I think about going home the idea is more real, but I just cannot quite believe it. My world is trailers on rocks. I ride an endless circle on my bike. There are so many things I repeat dozens of times that being here has a permanence that is spooky.

Even though I have ridden hundreds of times with Scott Haverstick on the same daily ride, I have ridden more than three thousand miles just on Perimeter Road, Tallil Ali Air Base. There is no single road on the daily ride, not even River Road, that I have so many miles on,in such a short time. When I get back to America, I will be able to ride on just about any road I want to. And I won't have to carry a rifle.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

For Nigel--MEDEVAC Trip to Bases at Al Kut and Garry Owen

Today I flew with the new MEDEVAC unit to Al Kut (FOB Delta) and Garry Owen. The trip was routine, the weather was good and I got some pictures of Blackhawks flying, getting fuel and landing. Here's pictures for Nigel--and anyone else who likes helicopter pictures.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Who Fights This War?--The Construction Boss

Staff Sgt. Elisa Long, 27, of Selingsgrove, Pa., builds, repairs, and improves offices, workshops, containers, hangars and other structures wherever the 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion has soldiers and facilities. Long is the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) of special projects for the battalion. Anywhere a pile of lumber is becoming a deck or a new CHU (Containerized Housing Unit) is being fitted with electrical wiring and air conditioning to serve as offices, Long is likely to be there with a hammer, saw and drill.
"Construction is kind of a hobby for me. A few years ago I helped one of my friends renovate a huge old farm house in Beaver Springs," she said. "When I was in junior high, my Mom and I built a deck on our hunting lodge in Potter County."
Long has served for nine years in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, serving first as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. She volunteered to join the 755th Chemical (Nebraska) in 2007 for her first deployment, serving at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The unit was assigned to convoy operations with Long serving as the wrecker operator on convoy security missions.
In addition to her role in special projects, Long is NCOIC of Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) Warfare for the battalion. While in Iraq, Long completed four college courses for 12 credit hours toward a bachelor of science degree in biology. She plans to work in a medical field, but has not decided on a specialty yet.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Getting Ready to Go Home

In a week we will turn in a footlocker, a duffel bag and a rucksack (big backpack) to begin the process of loading them in containers for shipping home. On the same day I will be packing the Trek T-1 Single speed. I thought it was going to be a tough decision which bike to keep, but the right crank and chain ring worked loose from the shaft that connects the two cranks through the bottom bracket. I can't tighten it, Larry the bike guy is still on R&R leave, so I will box the bike up and send it back home for the Bike Line guys to fix.
The other bike I will probably sell cheap or maybe mail it back. Not sure yet. I would have sold the roadie bike, but I don't want to sell a damaged bike in a place where there are no shops.
I filled the footlocker this morning--mostly books and boots. I will fill a duffel bag next week before turn in. I will also mail a box or two home. I can bring a duffel bag and a half with me on the plane--we need half of one bag for the bulletproof vest and helmet.
In the afternoon and evening I was worn out with two really good interviews. I got to interview our brigade commander--the first woman to command a combat brigade in Iraq. Other women have commanded support brigades. She is the first to be the top officer in a combat aviation unit. In the evening I thought I was talking to a Blackhawk company commander about a routine part of his mission, but it turned out 1/3rd of his soldiers were here to support operations in the battle for Fallujah five years ago and the Armored Brigade commander here was a battalion commander in that battle. So the pilots and the ground commander were reiunited after five years. It shoudl be a good story.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanksgiving--168 Hours Later

Last week we ate Thanksgiving dinner which was opulent by any buffet standards and was free--except to tax payers. But even with shrimp cocktail, ham, turkey and every kind of fruit and vegetable you could want, it really wasn't much better than every day fare here. Last night there was a huge line at all four main serving lines when I walked in the chow hall. Wednesday night is surf and turf night. Last night was king crab legs, fried shrimp and prime rib. I was meeting some friends who were already at the chow hall, so I went to the wings line, got lemon pepper wings--my favorite here--fresh cut watermelon, celery sticks, and fruit salad--apples, kiwi, pineapple, melon in yogurt. 20 minutes later the line went down so I got fried shrimp and a chocolate milkshake. I also had orange juice.

Tonight, I had shrimp scampi and everything else I had last night. The food here is the best I EVER ate in the Army and for sheer ridiculous opulence, the only time I eat better is at expense account dinners.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who Fights This War? -- All Female MEDEVAC Crew

“Charlie’s Angels” Fly First Mission as All-Female Crew
For the three days before Thanksgiving, one of the on-alert crews for Charlie Company, 3-238th MEDEVAC, is the first all-female MEDEVAC crew to fly in this company’s history. “This is the first time an all-female crew has come up in the rotation for us,” said Maj. David Mattimore, 38, of Hampton, N. H., the Charlie Company Commander. “And it would not have been possible until one of our avionics sergeants became a crew chief.”
The four women that comprise this crew have a total of nine deployments and each has between eight and twelve years of service. “This is the first all-female crew any of us have flown with,” said Capt. Trish “Cocaine” Barker, operations officer. According to the other members of the crew, Barker got her nickname because she is high energy and addictive. She has ten years service enlisting in 1999 as an aircraft fueler. Barker, 30, went to Officer’s Candidate School in 2003 and Flight School in 2004. A native of Menominee, Michigan, she was deployed to Bosnia in 2005 as a MEDEVAC section leader.
When she returns from this deployment she will return to her job as the State Occupational Health Specialist for the Michigan Army National Guard.
“Same for me. Never flew with an all-girl crew,” said Staff Sgt. Misty “Monkey” Seward, 30, of Owosso, Michigan. Seward enlisted in 1998 and has severed as a medic for a total of eleven years. She has four years as a flight medic and seven years on the ground. She deployed to Kuwait in 2001-2 and to Baghdad in 2006-7, both tours as a ground medic. When she returns from serving as a flight medic in a war zone, she will resume her job as a security officer at a Level One Trauma Clinic in Lansing, part of Sparrow Health Systems.
The Pilot in Command for the crew is Chief Warrant Officer Three Andrea “Anddie” Galatian, 31, of Lansing, Michigan. “There must have been another all-female MEDEVAC crew somewhere, but I haven’t seen one,” she said. Galatian enlisted in 1997 and served five years as an administrative clerk before going to flight school in 2002. She has served seven years as a pilot including a deployment to Bosnia in 2005. As a civilian, Galatian is the business analyst for the Real Eastate Division of the Michigan Department of Transportation.
The newest name on the flight roster is Sgt. Debra “Guns and Knives” Lukan, 43, of Keene, New Hampshire. She enlisted just after 9/11. “I just barely made the age cutoff,” said Lukan. She trained as an avionics mechanic and just recently switched from the shop to flight crewmember. Lukan deployed to Camp Spyker and Tikrit in 2005-6 in avionics and is happy to be on the flight rotation this time. “My family doesn’t know I’m flying,” said Lukan. “They worry a lot, but I suppose I’ll have to tell them eventually.” Lukan is a federal technician working in avionics in the New Hampshire National Guard.
“It may be months before this crew comes up in the rotation again,” said Mattimore. “We only have nine female flight crew members and everyone rotates to our remote bases, so the odds of them being back together again are low.”
“I’m glad we got a chance to be first even if it is just first for us,” said Barker.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Does Socialism Look Like? It Looks Like Us.

When I listen to the TV or radio news commentary from back home I
hear political commentators accusing each other of Socialism. Many of
those commentators have no idea what Socialism really looks like.

But we do over here. It looks like us.

In a Socialist system, all the money is collective--there is one budget.
Just like us. There is an Army budget. If pay goes up, procurement
goes down. The opposite is also true. Reduction in Force (the Army's
version of layoffs) means more money for equipment.

Medical care is free, or the same price for all, but no one gets to
choose their doctor. Just like the Army.

In a Socialist system everyone gets the same pay if they have the same
rank, regardless of their productivity. Unions work this way. In the
Army an E4 with four years service who is a first-rate Blackhawk crew
chief, fit, and fully qualified makes exactly the same pay as an E4 with
four years service who is truck driver flunked the PT Test and still
can't fill out a maintenance inspection form.

In a really ideal Socialist society, no one owns private property. Your
housing depends on your rank. If you lose your rank you lose your
house. Since there are no privately owned vehicles, the only vehicles
are state-supplied and go with a position. So a unit commander gets an
SUV, a platoon sergeant takes the bus.

In a really radical Socialist system, everyone would dress alike and eat
together. If they had to carry weapons, they would only carry the
weapon designated for their job.

So here we are with assigned housing, assigned vehicles (or not), and
assigned weapons. We eat in the same three DFACs. We all dress alike,
both men and women. The commercials on our radio and TV do not sell
products, they attempt to modify our behavior for the betterment of the
state. We get the same pay for very unequal work. We all have the same

In a radical socialist system we would not have freedom of worship as we
have here. In an interesting socialist aspect of life here, all
Churches use the same building. So the Catholics, Lutherans,
traditional and contemporary Protestant services, Gospel service, and
any other group that wants a worship service holds it in the same room.
This aspect of our socialist world emphasizes that all Christians really
worship the same Lord. I like that.

In America, in the active Army, even though we still dress alike at
work, we can wear our own choice of clothes after work. A Colonel can
choose to drive an 8-year-old Chevy and a Specialist with a
re-enlistment bonus can drive a new BMW M3 or a Suzuki GSXR. But not
here in Iraq.

We are defending freedom but for now, we are what Socialism looks like.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bike Update

By the time I go to bed, I will have close to 850 miles this month. So I should get to 5000 miles in Iraq and 7000 miles for the year by mid December. If I time it right, I should be able to hit on of the milestones on December 19--the 40th Anniversary of my drivers license!!!

I celebrate that day every year. Usually I can mention at a holiday party and say I am pretending this particular celebration is in honor of my driver's license anniversary. It's usually good for a laugh. It turns not so many people celebrate their driver's license anniversary.

In sad bike news I think I am losing a bearing on the road bike. It makes and awful sound when I pedal and the freewheel is not very free. If it is a bad bearing, I don't have to sit up nights trying to decide which bike to ship and which to keep. The road bike goes in the Conex, the Mtn. bike stays.

On a completely different topic, I got my 7th Army Coin today. It's an unofficial award that recognizes a good job, sometimes on the spot and has no paperwork. I'll take a picture of mine, but the ones on the photo above are typical. Today's coin was for being the emcee on Veteran's Day from the Garrison. I got another one from my brigade commander for the same event.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Evangelical Icon Fading

At Chapel today the Chaplain asked the audience "how many people know the name Joni Eareckson?" Three of us raised our hands. I suppose there were 80 or 90 soldiers and only three raised their hands. If you don't know the name here are the first two lines of her Wikipedia entry:

A diving accident in 1967 left Tada hospitalized and paralyzed (as a quadriplegic; unable to use her hands or legs.)[1] After two years of rehabilitation and in a wheelchair, Tada began working to help others in similar situations.
Tada wrote of her experiences in her international best-selling autobiography, Joni, which has been distributed in many languages, and which was made into a feature film of the same name.

when I became a believer in 1973, it seemed Joni was everywhere in Christian media and even secular media.

Two years ago, Joni returned to my life in a way. She and I had very similar injuries. She smashed the fifth vertebra in her neck, I smashed the seventh. In 1967 MEDEVAC was rare. More importantly, medical science was only beginning to bring the discovery of DNA into practical treatments. In 1967 Joni's first responders may not have put her on a backboard. She was not MEDEVACed from the scene. And her hospital did not have a neurosurgeon who just returned from Baghdad and was very skilled in replacing smashed vertebra with bones from cadavers. All of which I had.

Joni has touched millions of lives with her ministry as a paraplegic. I may have had a ministry as a paraplegic, but I consider it a very awesome blessing that I do not have her ministry.

The advances in medical science since Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA (They knew from Mendel and Darwin what they were looking for) are something I am VERY thankful for on this Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend. Younger Christians here often talk excitedly about how Christian rock stars cross over and get played on secular stations. The new icons of Evangelical Culture play metal and alternative and get picked up on secular stations. They make movies, or at least animated vegetables. More sadly, they put saddles on dinosaurs in an indoor theme park labeled a science museum.

It's strange to think of Joni as passing to the margins of Christian culture.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Life Here Seems to be on Hold, but Life Goes on Back Home

Last month the last of the six Gussman brothers died. My father, George, was the fourth of six sons born to two Jewish emigres from Odessa, Russia. My grandfather died in 1932 just over 20 years before I was born. I have very few memories of seeing my father's three older brothers: Abraham, Emmanuel and Ralph, but I occasionally saw the youngest of the six, my uncle Harold, and most often saw the fifth brother, Lewis. In our family, everyone referred to him as Uncle Louie. He was the most successful of the five brothers, following Grandpa into the produce business and building a highly regarded business of his own.
Louie always drove Cadillacs and often drove too fast. My father liked to tell the story of Louie being one of the first to get a new Cadillac after the auto plants started making cars again after World War 2. Louie wrecked the car not too long after. He wasn't badly injured, but no one seemed to car about him anyway. People at the scene and after said what a shame it was to wreck a new Cadillac.
Uncle Louie had one son, Bob, who I always thought of as an uncle rather than a cousin because he is about 15 years older than I am. I saw Bob more than any of my cousins. He had a very dry sense of humor, in contrast to the loud exclamations that characterized most of the people at Gussman gatherings. Bob, like his Dad, is still working long past the age others retire, and if he lives to 100 like his Dad, he will also probably work till he is 98.

The obituary below is from Produce News--a trade paper. It says a lot about Uncle Louie as a businessman and as a person that they would run his obituary.

Mutual Produce founder dies at 100
by Brian Gaylord

BOSTON -- Lewis Gussman, founder of Mutual Produce Corp., here, died Sept. 30 at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, MA, following a brief illness. He was 100.

Mr. Gussman launched the wholesale company, formerly named Mutual Produce Inc., at the New England Produce Center in 1955. He sold the company in 2000 and continued to work for Mutual Produce Corp. until he was 98.

"He paid his bills on time, he ran a good business," Richard Travers Jr., co- owner of Mutual Produce Corp., said of Mr. Gussman. He added that some shippers have been doing business with Mutual Produce for 30 years.

Mr. Travers said that Mr. Gussman loved the produce business because "no two days are the same." He said that Mr. Gussman would "jump on the phone" to tell callers that he'd rubbed elbows with their grandparents.

Sadly for Mr. Gussman, he outlived his contemporaries in the produce industry. "He was the oldest guy around here for 15 years," Mr. Travers said. "He was an icon of the produce industry."

Mr. Travers recalled that Mr. Gussman "loved playing with fruit, creating displays that were outstanding."

Paul DiMare, president of Boston-based DiMare Inc., said that Mr. Gussman was a mentor of sorts to him. He described Mr. Gussman as "honorable" and "one of the best produce people."

"He was a double A house in [the] Blue Book," which meant that he paid his bills every week, Mr. DiMare said. "There aren't a whole lot of companies that do that."

Mr. DiMare said that "everybody respected [Mr. Gussman] in Boston" and that he had a "great list of top-notch shippers."

Mr. Gussman's five siblings -- all brothers -- also worked in fresh produce, though not at Mutual Produce. Mr. Gussman's father also worked in fresh produce.

Mr. Gussman is survived by a son, Bob Gussman, and his wife, Trudi, of Winchester, NH, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Lewis Gussman was preceded in death by his wife, Ethel Rosenberg, in 2004.

Bob Gussman said that the family is considering holding a memorial gathering in the spring.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ups and Downs

Last week I mentioned that I have been sending friend messages to my high school classmates on Facebook. After 38 years away from Stoneham, I am missing my childhood home in a way I never thought I would. I suppose getting homesick in Iraq is about as surprising as getting thirsty in a desert.
Today I got a brief message from one of my high school classmates thanking me for getting in touch and asking me to Google his son. His son was killed in action in Baghdad in 2006. I read the many messages from his friends and family on the memorial web site. Seems clear from the messages he was a good soldier and a good man also. He was 22.
Before I went through the pre-deployment processing and training for this trip, I made three visits to Brooke Army Medical Center, which everyone refers to as BAMC--pronounced BAM-See. BAMC is the treatment and rehabilitation center for those who lose limbs. I was in San Antonio for four days, had some free time and thought I ought to go and see what this war really costs.
I talked to parents at BAMC. But they are different than the parents of the dead. Even when their child is maimed, he or she is alive. The parents of the dead have only memories. I have other friends who have lost children. Two men in our unit lost children during this deployment. I went to one of the funerals when I was home on leave.
Part of what we are here for is to comfort each other when we face grief. On this day after Thanksgiving, I am very thankful for four healthy children. And I will put the grieving parents I know at the top of my prayer list.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Won the Race--Story in the New York Times "At War" Blog

The race went off fine. My runner and I won the team competition. And the story is on the "At War" blog in the New York Times!!

Here's the story. Photos tomorrow.

Among the hundreds of things I miss about home during my year in Iraq is the Turkey Day bike race in Lancaster County, Penn. This unofficial final race of every season draws 50 or more racers from around the county, and it shows which cyclists kept up with their fitness routines since the end of the season in September. So when I finally got a chance to organize a bike race on Tallil Ali Air Base after six months here, I wanted it to be on Thanksgiving Day.

As far as anyone on the base knows - and there are civilians who have been here since late 2003 - no one has ever organized a bicycle race at Tallil base, or as the Army calls it, Contingency Operating Base (COB) Adder. To the purist, the Task Force Diablo Biathlon was not exactly a bicycle race, but bikes raced in it and bikes crossed the finish line, so it was a bike race.

A biathlon was also an easier sell at Garrison Command because the cyclists don't ride in packs. In July I tried to organize a race for Labor Day weekend. I had a promoter, Rich Ruoff, who put the race on his Web site and was going to handle registrations online. Bike Line of Lancaster gave me two boxes of prizes. I could get medals from the KBR people who organize the running races. Everything was set, but then I met with a sergeant major (who has since left) and the race was over before it started. He wanted me to guarantee participation of at least 100 entrants and guarantee their safety - a tall order for a bike race.

The current garrison sergeant major was stationed in Italy and rides a Colnago road bike himself, so he was more amenable to hosting a race. Early in November, we had a meeting at Garrison, got the green light and started to put together road guard crews, medics and advertising.

Everything was in place, then the day before the race it rained. Real rain. After six arid months here the roads were awash in mud. Tallil has about 20 squat, dirty trees in 20 square miles of base and no grass. As soon as it rains, the armored trucks and fuelers with their four-foot-high tires drag mounds of mud onto the road. I rode that morning and found myself and my bike caked with mud by the end of the ride. I thought the race might be canceled. But by afternoon the sun was out, and an east wind was drying the mud.

We had both team and solo racers. The really cool people race solo. (I have a heel spur and raced as part of a team.) Being half of a team also solved a problem I had with organizing a bike race and riding in it. I was worried about winning my own race. But since I was in the "less cool" category I did not worry. We also kept the distance short -5k run, 15k bike - which favors the runners.

At 5:00 a.m. I walked the ¼-mile to the start/transition area at the House of Pain gym. I walked both of my bikes because my commander, Lt. Col. Scott Perry, was borrowing my single-speed mountain for the race. By the end of the race he wished it had gears.

The coffee shop is just 200 meters from the House of Pain so I could start the day caffeinated. The road guards started arriving right away and the medics followed soon after. By 5:45 there were only 20 competitors. Five minutes later we had the safety briefing and I gave the race instructions. I thought I was very clear. But not everyone listened.

At 6:10 a.m., 30 racers started the 5k run. Ten were doing only the run. Six of us stood at the side of the road and watched the runners disappear in the pre-dawn gloom of this cloudy morning. We were the riders in the team event. Around the edge of the House of Pain parking lot, leaning on the concrete blast walls, sat two dozen bikes - from a perfectly clean 20-speed Giant carbon road bike with bladed spokes to a $100 mud-covered PX special.

After the runners left, I did a few sprints to get warmed up. There's just no way to be a race organizer and warm up. As the race timing clock neared 18 minutes, my partner, Sgt. Derek Miller, made the final turn on the 5k run. When he finished, I took off riding as hard as I could into a 10mph east wind. Our main competitors were a pair of Air Force security police. Their runner was nearly a minute behind mine, but their rider had gears and I was on a single-speed road bike. As it turned out, the only other rider I saw was the guy on the 20-speed Giant. He was coming toward me when I was just past half way. He yelled, "Am I going the wrong way?" I said yes and kept pedaling. He won't do another race without riding the course first.

At 50:12, I was the first finisher. The Air Force team was two minutes behind. The next finisher was the overall solo winner, Maj. Joel Allmandinger, followed by two more solo competitors. Their race for fourth was the best race of the event. The two riders are both colonels, Colonel Perry, who commands the aviation battalion, and Lt. Col. David Callahan, the deputy commander of the armored brigade at COB Adder. The pilot beat the tanker in the run, but Colonel Perry was on a single speed mountain bike. He was O.K. on the first part of the course riding into the east wind, but on the south side of the course the tank commander could change gears and was going 6 or 7 mph faster with the tail wind. Colonel Perry got passed on the south side. Colonel Callahan stayed ahead until the finish.

After the race I handed out the helmets, gloves and water bottles from Lancaster Bike Line and the medals from KBR. I am hoping we can do one more race on December 19th.

Sgt. Neil Gussman rejoined the Army in 2007 after a 23-year break in service. He blogs every day about his experiences as a 56-year-old soldier at Sergeant Gussman is a Category 3 masters racer. He has done more than 120 races since he turned 50, including three while he was home on leave in June.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Who Fights This War?--Coming Back to Iraq

When the IED exploded it ripped through the left side of the humvee. The vehicle commander and the other passenger were shaken but not badly injured. The driver, 19-year-old Spc. David Broome was not so lucky.

His legs and hands were bleeding. His right thigh was badly damaged.

Medics were at the site in moments. They stabilized Broome, then loaded him in an M113 armored personnel carrier for transport to a MEDEVAC site.

After that short ride, Broome began a long journey from rescue, to recovery, to return to duty.

He was flown by Black Hawk to Baghdad hospital and initially treated for what he remembers as two or three days.

After that, he was transferred to the hospital at Joint Base Balad, where further treatment was performed on his badly injured right thigh. The next stop was the Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, then Fort Gordon, Ga.

In all, Broome was a patient in four hospitals for nearly two months before going home to begin the rehabilitation process.

After several surgeries and treatments, he regained the use of his right leg, but some of his thigh muscle is missing so he has limitations.

In 2008, when the pre-mobilization training began for his current deployment to Contingency Operating Base Adder with Task Force Diablo, Broome looked at deploying a bit differently from most Soldiers.

He knew how dangerous duty in Iraq could be. But he also was ready to go back.

“I’d say I am 50/50 about being outside the wire,” said Broome. “Part of me wanted to get back out on the road and see how much had changed from 2005, but part of me is happy to stay here on Tallil.”

At 23, Broome already has six years of service. The Manayunk , Pa., native enlisted at 17 after being a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) at Roxborough High School. He went to basic training in June 2003, and then to advanced training in 2004 to become a human resources specialist.

In January 2005, he was mobilized with the Pennsylvania National Guard’s “B” Troop, 1st Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment.

In June 2005, he was in Ar Ramadi.

Two of the biggest battles of the war were fought in Ramadi. According to Michael Fumento, who wrote about 101st Airborne operations in Ramadi, the phrase “The graveyard of the Americans” was scrawled on the walls of the city of 400,000.

Broome was assigned as a human resources specialist, but spent less than a week in that job.

“They needed more soldiers on patrol, so I was attached to a Vermont line platoon,” Broome said. “My truck commander taught me room clearing, convoy route security and detainee operations.”

“We responded when the gate got attacked,” he said. “We were attached to a Marine unit for missions.”

Broome served four months on security and patrol duty until he was injured and evacuated from Iraq.

“I know this tour is rough on some of the first timers,” said the Purple Heart recipient, resting his hand on his right leg as he spoke. “But compared to my first tour this time is cake for me.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

100k on Sunday, PT Test on Monday

On Sunday my bike buddy had to cancel our plans to ride 100 miles, so I decided to ride 100km. It was a beautiful day yesterday so I did three laps of the base then stopped for lunch. I did another lap then met up with the HHC first sergeant to make sure of road guard placement for the race on Thursday. My first sergeant was part of the meeting also. He told me that I had to take the PT Test in the morning--this morning. So I decided to finish the 100km and use 6.2 of the last 15 miles to time myself on the bike distance for the PT Test.

So I got up at 0440 and went to the gym to take the PT Test at 0530. The first event is the pushup. I need to do 56 in two minutes to max--get 100 points for the event. I got 49. Not bad. I was tired. I have done 56 when I felt really good, but after the 100km ride, I did not feel "really good." The situps were next. I needed 66. I got 66 in a minute, 50 seconds. Because I am over 55 I can take an alternative to the run. For the bike I have to ride 10km in 30 minutes. I am not allowed to change gears--which is fine since I have single-speed bikes. I rode the 6.2 mile course with 7 turn arounds in 20:03 on the road bike. For the PT Test, I ode the mountain bike and finished in 22:37.

I expected to have a full day's rest before the PT Test. I didn't. It's nice to know that I can score 288 out of 300 on a day when I am tired and haven't had much sleep. But I was wiped out afterward. I worked in the morning, but felt like I had cotton inside my skull. I took a nap at lunch.

Now I have to just be cool till Thursday morning and the race.

The Kid Who Wanted to Play Army

I recently sent a bunch of "friend" messages to high school classmates who are on Fcebook. I left home when I enlisted almost 40 years ago and have been mostly out of touch with Stoneham ever since. But now I am looking forward to my 40th reunion in 2011.

Being over here made me think more about high school and how life twists and turns. In September, when I started writing stories that got picked up on the Web across the world, my friend Meredith Gould reminded me that "wherever you go, there you are." Taking a year off from public relations had the result of me getting more stories published than in any two-month period in my life. So I go 6,000 miles from my writing job and--here I am.

Steve Thorley, a neighbor on Oak Street who graduated in 1973, wrote to me on Facebook remembering me as the kid who always wanted to play Army--even when the other kids had moved on to stick and ball sports. At six or seven, I was the kid with the toy gun. And here I am, fifty years later, back in the Army and carrying a gun, when every other soldier in my age group has long since left the Army or is retired. I left the Army in 1984 because I wanted to be a writer and thought the commitment the Reserves required would mean I could not both become a writer and be a soldier. Turns out I would have been OK.

My wife Annalisa, following Steven Covey and philosophers all the way back to Aristotle, thinks we are defined by out habits. CS Lewis agrees. He says real virtue must become habit. It must not be simply an act of will, but virtue should train the will to respond correctly.

I have written recently that I had a soldier's reaction in situations where a public relations manager would do something different. My habits right now say I am a writer and a soldier and they do not seem mutually exclusive. So I am both the man who is observing intently to get the right detail for the story or the right picture to go with it. And I have the habits of a man who safely carries a weapon everywhere every day and who reacts to do the right thing for his soldiers first and get the story second.

Friday, November 20, 2009

“Country” Calls Iraq Home Since 2004

One stop on the same mission in the last post Camp Echo. When we landed, the crew told me there would be grilled steaks waiting for them after they got their paperwork and loading/unloading completed. I was skeptical, but when I came back from a visit to the Charlie MEDEVAC TOC (Tactical Operations Center) a smiling man with a big black cowboy hat, an enormous belt buckle and, according to the Alpha crew, an even bigger heart, was grilling steaks outside the blast wall.
That man was James “Country” Curtis, 46, of Olden, Texas. Curtis has been the passenger terminal manager in Diwaniya since June of 2008. Curtis controls the airfield and does what he can to help soldiers passing through Camp Echo “enjoy the time they spend here.” The Alpha crew definitely enjoyed Country’s cooking. It’s a skill he has had a long time to perfect. Except for R&R leaves home, Curtis has worked in Iraq since February 2004. “I was a truck driver at the base in Babylon,” he said. “When that closed we took over the former Spanish base here at Diwaniya. I drove trucks till last year when I started working at the airfield.” Curtis plans to return to Texas next year, maybe to work his farm, maybe to drive trucks, maybe both. “That’s next year. I’ll see what happens when I get back home.”

The fuel crew at Diwaniya is very good at their work according to the air crews. They roll out to fuel the birds as soon as they land. And they dress so brightly only one wears a PT Belt.

Who Flies That Blackhawk? The Whole Story

Last Month I wrote part of the story below--about the Blackhawk pilot who was a pilot for Gov. Blagojevich of Illinois in civilian life. Here is the four-man crew and their four very different backgrounds.

Task Force Diablo is based in Pennsylvania but includes units and soldiers from across the nation. Because National Guard soldiers bring a variety of life and work experiences with them on deployment, even the smallest unit can include soldiers with a surprising array of skills and experience. In September Alaska-based, Charlie 1-52nd MEDEVAC needed a crew for the chase bird for a routine flight to two of their remote sites. Alpha 1-106th from Illinois supplied a crew for a Pennsylvania 1-150th Blackhawk helicopter. The four soldiers who comprised the Illinois crew on a Pennsylvania helicopter following an Alaska MEDEVAC show how different the members of a four-man unit can be.

Flying in Iraq and Flying in the Spotlight

In the left pilot seat is Chief Warrant Officer Four Patrick Schroeder, 38, an Instructor Pilot with 21 years of service. The Sherman, Illinois, native joined the Army in 1988 and served as a UH-1 “Huey” mechanic for four years before attending flight school. He has been a pilot “24/7” ever since. In 2003 he took a job as one of the pilots who fly the Governor of Illinois. Because he deployed in January of 2009, Schroeder served as a pilot for Governor Rod Blagojevich from shortly after the time he took office in 2003 until shortly before the notorious governor was removed from office in 2009.
Schroeder would say nothing about flying the governor except to say that he enjoyed the times he was able to fly Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn and looks forward to flying for Governor Quinn when he returns from deployment. Schroeder was married just a month before his current deployment and took his R&R (Rest and Recreation) leave as a honeymoon in Australia. Schroeder is on his second deployment. He first deployed in Iraq in 2004-5 with Alpha 1-106th for 15 months.

Pilot Engineers a Successful Dual Career

Next to Schroeder in the right pilot seat was Chief Warrant Officer Two Nathan McKean, 31, of Decatur, Illinois. McKean has served 12 years, beginning with four years in the Navy building bombs on the aircraft carrier USS Stennis and in a combat search and rescue unit based in San Diego. McKean came home in 2001, enrolled in college, and joined the Army National Guard. He trained as a crew chief and later deployed to Iraq for the first time with Bravo Company 1-106th in 2004-5. After leaving active duty, McKean decided he needed a good job that would allow him time off for military duty—lots of time off. In 2002, he took a job as an engineer on the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Within a year he was training to go to Iraq, then left for a deployment of 15 months.
Soon after he returned he went to flight school for a year, then had additional training before his current tour in Iraq which began in January. McKean estimates he has worked on the railroad for 2-1/2 years, but has more than seven year’s seniority.

Blackhawk Crew Chief Plans Fixed-Wing Future

Behind McKean on the right side of the Blackhawk was Sgt. Steve Sunzeri, 26, of Naperville, Illinois. Sunzeri has six years in the Illinois Army National Guard. From 2003-7 he served as a scout and infantryman with
Charlie Company 2-106th Cavalry. In 2006 he completed the require-ments for a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. Then in 2007-8 he reclassified to become a flight crew chief, deploying in 2009 with Alpha Company.
After nearly two years of service in helicopters,
Sunzeri will return to college to earn a degree in Aviation Management at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and at the same time train to be a commercial pilot. If everything falls into place, he will start school in the Spring Semester of 2010. “My goal is to fly fixed wing aircraft for a major airline,” Sunzeri said. In the meantime he will be earning the ratings necessary to become a fixed wing pilot while earning a degree that will help him achieve his career goals. He will continue to serve as a crew chief in the Illinois Army National Guard while he attends college and completes flight training.

Door Gunner on Third Deployment at 24

In the left seat behind the pilot is the door gunner, the youngest member of the crew and the one with the most combat deployments. Cpl. Michael Randazzo, 24, of Queens, N.Y., is on his third deployment in six years of Army National Guard service. Randazzo enlisted shortly after graduating high school serving first as an infantryman with the New York based 1-69th Infantry Regiment. In May of 2004 Randazzo deployed with the 1-69th to Baghdad and Taji patrolling and conducting raids. Randazzo also worked route clearance patrolling Route Irish. When he returned from Iraq, Randazzo worked for an executive protection company until June 2008 when he volunteered to return to Iraq as a door gunner with 3-142nd Aviation Regiment. Near the end of that tour, he volunteered for a second consecutive tour as a door gunner with Alpha 1-106th. When this tour is complete Randazzo plans to return to New York City and “squeeze in a semester of college” before going to flight school in the fall of 2010. After flight school he will continue his college education until 2012 when he plans to deploy to Afghanistan as an Army helicopter pilot.

Who Fights Our Wars? CSM Donald C. Cubbison, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division

In the fall of 1977, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division got a new Command Sergeant's Major.  Donald C. Cubbison, veteran of the Vietna...