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Showing posts from January, 2009

Goodbye at Physical Therapy

On Wednesday, Joe and Gretchen, my physical therapists, gave me final instructions for keeping my shoulder healthy. At Lancaster orthopedic Group they have a wall of shirts of athletes they have treated in one of the therapy rooms. Joe asked me for an Army t-shirt to hang on the wall. Joe is about my age and well remembers the John Wayne movie The Green Berets. In that awful film, a dying sergeant asks that if they are going to make a memorial to him, they name a latrine after him--that way all the men will see it. The sergeant got his wish. And Joe hung my t-shirt above the entrance to the men's bathroom.

Goodbye Ceremony

Tonight we had an official goodbye ceremony for our families courtesy of a group known as the Mechanicsburg Club. We got a catered dinner at the Farm Show. My family and I shared a table with another soldier from our unit and his parents. My youngest daughter Lisa, who is a vegetarian, sat next to the soldier. He got the beef. In fact his all time favorite restaurant is a Brazilian Churrscuria--the ones where more than a dozen kind of meat are served by waiters moving around the restaurant offering various cuts of mostly red meat. He and Lisa made a lot of jokes about what constituted a real meal. My wife said Lisa actually just wants to kill vegetables.

Even better, they had a Kids Food table, so my son (no vegetarian) could have hot dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets AND mac and cheese!!

My First Day & First Additional Duty

At 0730 we had our first formation of the deployment. During that formation we heard again what we had heard ever since we were told we are getting deployed: Accountability is the First Priority. Every leader has to know where his or her people are at all times. So we had a roll call. We traded cell phone numbers. We met the new guys. When I went to the gym at lunch time, I made sure my squad leader knew where I was and when I would be back.

And just before lunch (Chicken with Noodles MRE--I never opened it) my platoon leader let me now he would be in charge of Physical Training (PT) while we are at Fort Sill. I knew he would need a sergeant in charge so I volunteered immediately. I was wondering how I would find time to work out during our training phase. But by volunteering to be NCO in charge of PT, I could volunteer for the aerobic training which nobody ever wants. So the lieutenant gets to be in charge of the PT people actually like, and I get to run. Although it will …

I'm a GO

Just a few minutes ago, I got a call from my unit saying I am officially a "Go" for deployment and should report for duty tomorrow morning at 0730.

I have been sure I would get cleared for the big trip. And when I spoke to the administrative specialist on the phone I was making jokes. But when I got off the phone, I was both excited and felt like all the strength went out of my legs.

I am happy and having the biggest "Oh Shit" moment I have had since the pain killers wore off after my last surgery. After all this time and all that distracting paperwork, it's finally real. The one-year clock starts ticking tomorrow.

Communication Without Words--On the Phone

Today I called my No-Go Counselor again. As soon as she answered the phone I promised I would not ask her anything about my status, because, of course, she was not allowed to say anything. So I told her I did not want to bother that one sergeant's major (SGM) in the whole world whom I could ask about my status. Then she said that the SGM was a very busy guy processing many people for deployment. Since she told me yesterday that she would be lloking for a doctor to sign my form after I sent the additional info from the surgeon, I asked her if she was successful in her work yesterday. She said she was and then added there was no need to bother the SGM about my status and said I should ask the full-time guys in my unit to check the deployment roster tomorrow afternoon.

By telling me to have the full-time guys check the roster, she was saying (if I correctly heard the smile in her voice) that a doctor did sign my form and that by tomorrow I will be a Go.

If the governor of Illinois…

The Mute Counselor

In December when I went through the second round of pre-deployment medical evaluations, I was officially a "No Go" because of the shoulder surgery on October 30. I was assigned a No-Go Counselor who said it was her job to "get me through the process of clearing the No Go and getting me ready for deployment." She sounded like a customer service rep.

And she was. Until last Tuesday. That was the day the surgeon who did my shoulder surgery examined me and said I was good to go. He then filled out an Army form saying I was ready to pushups, swimming, carry 48 pounds of gear, etc. At that point, my No-Go counselor became my No-Talk counselor. Once she confirmed she had the form from the surgeon, she said I could not ask about my Go, No-Go status.

What? It turns out Army regulations prevent them from discussing actual decisions on status. What else WOULD I want to talk about except my status with a No-Go counselor?

So this morning I put on one of my best suit…

Goodbye For Now at Church

This morning I spoke for a few minutes at both services. We are members of a Presbyterian Church, so this kind of testimony is written out. Here's what I said:

Good morning brothers and sisters. If all goes according to the plans the Army has for me as of now--and they could certainly change--the next time we will worship together at Wheatland will be in February of 2010. For those of you who don't know, I am going to Iraq in May after spending the next 2 1/2 months at Fort Sill in Oklahoma then a couple of weeks in Kuwait to acclimate to the rather warm weather in the Middle East.

So I wanted to say goodbye for now and to let you know I will be praying for you as you face the difficult months ahead.

I know, you thought you would be praying for me, and, of course, I welcome your prayers, but really, it is you who are facing the greater danger, while I will be experiencing many blessings that you folks can only wish for.

Because we all agree, or at least if we are members of …

I Got to 21! (Not My Age)

At Physical Therapy on Friday, did four sets of pushups, 10, 10, 17 and then the magic number (for age group 52 to 56) 21 pushups. So if I need to do a PT test on the spot to convince the Army doctor I am ready to go, I can do that. I probably should not have worried about 21 pushups, but I feel a lot better now that I know I can.
On Monday I will be going to the Army medical records unit in person to see if there is anything I can do to get my records marked Go instead of No Go. I'll have PT gear with me just in case.

Nigel's New Truck

I bought a die cast truck very similar to this one for Nigel at a hobby shop near where I work. When I brought it home I told Nigel one of my favorite stories about my Dad. Those of you who read earlier posts about him know he was a Teamster, but he was also a childhood friend of the owner of the company he worked for, so he had more freedom and responsibility than most of the men who worked at Food Center Wholesale Grocers in Charlestown MA. He mostly worked in the warehouse, but sometimes when they were short of drivers, Dad would drive a semi. One Spring day when I was in the third grade, as Nigel is now, we had just finished lunch in Mrs. Day's class when a huge semi with a bright red Mack tractor pulled into the driveway and stopped right in front of the window to our class. Dad knew my class faced the semi-circular driveway in front of the school. A few minutes later, Dad walked into the class in work clothes and asked Mrs. Day if I could go with him to New Hampshire. …

Schedule Change One

This change is good. We just got an email saying we report for duty on January 29, but we do not yet have a departure date. So unless something changes, we will be at our drill hall until 5pm on the 29th, then soldiers (like me) who live within 60 miles can go home for the night. The next day we have a morning formation, work until 2pm, then go pick up our families for the going away ceremony. After the ceremony and dinner, we go home again and report for the day on the 31st. Right now, we go home again on the 31st. I'll be home on February 1. We may leave that day for our US training base, but if we don't I may be home watching the Superbowl with Nigel.

Speaking of Time. . .

When I leave for work tomorrow, I will have exactly one week (168 hours) to go until I begin the deployment. Tomorrow I will be on a business trip to NYC. My last work day is next Tuesday. There will be a "Goodbye for Now" party at 315pm. The place I work was founded by a British professor so every Tuesday at 315 pm we everyone stops working and goes to one of the big meeting rooms for "Tea and Biscuits."
Maybe later this year I will have Tea and Biscuits on Dirt.

Army Time, Not My Time

Today, I called the admin sergeant at our unit to check if he had heard anything about my status. He said if the civilian surgeon signed off there should be no problem, but he would check later today. In the meantime, I go a clear "Don't call us" message from my "No Go Counselor." The woman who answered the phone said that when the Army doctor signed off on my status they would report the result to the unit. I know it is mostly a matter of privacy--only authorized doctors and my commanders are allowed access to my medical records. So the people on the phone can't say anything about my medical status on the phone. I suppose if I showed up in person they would be authorized to answer the question, but then I would be interfering with their procedures.

No news yet.

Surgeon Says OK!!!

This morning, the surgeon who operated on my shoulder checked every box "Yes" and signed the form that clears me for duty. After he signed the forms, one of the office assistants faxed the signed forms to my "No-Go Counselor" at Fort Indiantown Gap. If all goes well I should hear officially today or tomorrow that I am now a "Go." If the answer is Yes I can breathe easier and concentrate on enjoying today's inaugural celebration. Just 9 days and a wake up till I go. I was up most of the night last night, I suppose from thinking about the shoulder evaluation.

I have been treated in past by Lancaster Orthopedic Group for a broken collarbone, a separated shoulder, and knee trouble. They do good work.

Finally Back to Exercising

Yesterday at the gym I did 35 pushups: 5, 10, 10, & 10. It will be a while till I can do that many at one time, but it is great to get back to working out again. Because of the cold and the ice on the roads, the rest of my exercise spreadsheet looks very different than any other year. Usually bicycle miles are the big number and everything else is smaller. As of yesterday I have ridden the bike 79 miles, walked 59 miles, and run 29 miles. I suppose this year in particular, my walking and running miles might go ahead of my riding miles.

Thanks to the CINC on His Last Day

On this last day of the Presidency of George Bush, I have to say I owe him one last thank you for raising the enlistment age twice in 2006, first to 40, then to 42. (For prior service soldiers like me it is the enlistment age plus years of prior service.) Without that change, I would not have been able to enlist.
So, Thank You Mr. President.

Enlistment Diary--Part 2

So in the late summer of 2006, I realized I could re-enlist if I acted quickly. But I didn't. I did make a major change in my life though. All summer in addition to thinking about being a grunt again, I was listening to my teammates and competitors in Masters bicycle racing. For all of my adult life I have heard men bitch about their wives. The more competitive the guys, the more they thought the world revolved around them and the more they were likely to bitch. So bike racers and Teamsters complain more than graphic artists and copywriters, for example. (I worked on a Teamsters loading dock for four years during college.)

But in 2006, the guys my age were spreading out their complaints across three generations. These guys mostly have good jobs, adult children and at least one living parent. The new complaints: "My son with a degree in Art History is living at home and working at McDonald's." "My mother just broker her hip and wants to come and live wi…

Physical Therapy Going Well

I still have to wait for January 20 for my shoulder evaluation, but therapy is going well. Today I did five real pushups in addition to the incline pushups and other exercises they have me do. The pushups hurt, but not too much. I think I should be fine for the 20th. And if I don't do anything stupid between now and then, I should be a "Go" by Tuesday afternoon.

Dropping Off Bags at Fort Indiantown Gap

Yesterday my wife and I drove to Fort Indiantown Gap (40 miles away) to drop three of my five bags off. In the next few days they will be loaded and shipped to Oklahoma. Yesterday I dropped off two duffel bags and the footlocker--The DBag of a post earlier this week. That leaves just the backpack and one duffel bag to go with me on the 29th. The DBag weighed a lot. I have an extra laptop and a dozen books in the footlocker along with everything else I supposed to have in it. After all the rehab I have been doing, I'll have to be careful not to hurt myself moving my luggage!!

Attention K-Mart Shoppers--Fill your DBag

My wife and I are going to K-Mart today to get the last few items recommended on my Army PowerPoint slide: eyeglasses cleaning and repair kits, fitted sheets, handheld mirror, locks for duffle bags, foot powder, talcum powder, surge protector, extension cord, battery-operated alarm clock, etc. All of these items go in the footlocker--the fifth of the five bags that go with me: A backpack, three dufflebags and the footlocker. For whatever reason, the backpack is not counted as a bag and the others are called Bags A, B, C, & D (the footlocker). One of my kids seeing the printed listed noted that the PowerPoint printout for the footlocker started laughing and said, "Dad, this is a DBag?" DBag is a common insult among high school kids. When I was in high school, we used the same insult but didn't abbreviate. According to the Urban Dictionary DBag is most commonly a "playful insult" though it can be nasty. In the 60s I remember it only as a harsh insult.…

Enlistment Diary

During the coming week I will be on vacation, packing, cleaning up final details. I was looking at my enlistment diary and thought I should post some of my recollection of how I got here.

I left the Army reserve July 21, 1984. I completed all the classwork for an MA in American Studies and now had the opportunity to write a book for my Masters project. I needed more time. I could not quit my full-time job loading trucks at Yellow Freight, so I left the reserves. It wasn’t an easy decision. I liked the Army in some ways, but I wanted to get a job as a writer, so I had to cut something and the Army reserve was it.

At that point I knew I had served six years and ten months on active duty, two and one-half years in the Air Force and just over four years in the Army. I thought I had three years in the reserves, but it turns out I had 11 years, 2 months and 2 days of Federal Service. This would be important 23 years later.

I turned 50 during the very successful campaign to invade and c…

Packing for the Big Trip

This week I started stacking all of my Army eqiupment in the living room. This weekend I'll start packing a backpack, three duffle bags and a footlocker for training in the US, then on to Iraq. I have a five-page PowerPoint presentation that tells me what goes into each of the five bags. Then I will have to decide what books I will take with me and where they will go--three per bag and ten in the footlocker? Three in each bag and let my kids send me one every other week? How about running shoes. One set in my A bag that goes on the plane to stateside training, one extra pair in stuff that gos by truck, two more for Iraq? We'll see how everything fits.

Junk Food in my Future

One way or another I am going to be eating junk food in the coming year. I watched a news segment recently about a guy who has eaten at least one Bic Mac every day for nearly forty years! He didn't look healthy. But it did remind me of one of my favorite jokes which I wrote down for no particular reason when I was in grad school.


(Should be Told With Exaggerated Gestures and Feeling)

Once there was a town in Western Pennsylvania that was so small it had only one school, one school bus, and one school bus driver--a nervous little man.

One day the school bus driver called up the superintendent at 6 a.m. saying, "It's time for me to pick up the kids and the bus won't start and its six o'clock. . .What am I going to do?"

"Calm down," said the superintendent. "The Sesame Street people are in town. Why don't you run over to the hotel and borrow their bus."

He asked. They loaned him the bus.

The first kids the driver picks up each morning …

November 9, 2001

The road to my enlistment is longer and more twisted than I thought. I got laid off from a dot-com job in 2001. Here's what I wrote the next week:

Friday, November 9

Can lightning strike twice in the same place? Certainly. Especially if the place in question is prone to storms. So, Friday, November 9, is a place in time I will try to avoid.
November 9, 1973, just after 9 a.m. was my first lightning strike. I was connecting wires to detonators at a U.S. Air Force missile test site in Utah. Someone turned on the power, and my world turned bright blue and white. Several minutes later I was strapped in an all-terrain ambulance headed for the first of six eye operations that would eventually restore my sight. Along with the eye operations, I had surgery to reattach two fingers on my right hand and to remove wires, screws and various pieces of metal from my face, arms and chest.
It was Friday. I had planned to ride my motorcycle up into the mountains for the weekend. My plans …

What Me Worry?!

OK. The most likely outcome of my shoulder evaluation will be: Sergeant Gussman is a Go for deployment. But I have nagging doubts. I am dealing with a bureaucracy and I am currently a No Go. To do nothing is the default setting for paperwork of any kind. So on the 20th I will take the results from my surgeon's evaluation directly to the "No Go Counselor" (really--that's a job title) handling my paperwork.
I'll continue to be optimistic--and make sure my paperwork is correct.