Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Real Life After Travel and Deployment

On Monday night I got back from San Antonio after midnight.  I started to unpack, did a load of laundry, took out the trash and watched TV before the buzz in my ears stopped and I could go to sleep around 230 am.  For eight days I stayed in hotels, ate in restaurants, went to banquets, rode a rental bike when I wasn't working and generally was either working or exercising from morning till late at night. 

I have not seen "The Hurt Locker" but I am told the hero of the film goes back to Iraq after being bored and bewildered by life back home.  It is different to ride in the back of a commuter plane next to someone nervous about a routine flight on a sunny day after riding behind the door gunner in a Black Hawk in a sand storm so thick that the helicopter we were flying with was all but invisible.

Business travel has some of the unreality of deployment, although different.  Business travelers escape the routine of daily life with long days, too much food and housekeeping done by hotel maids.  Soldiers don't have maids, but work long hours and are reasonably well fed.  My business travel is over for a while except day trips to DC and NYC and staying over in Philadelphia during events.  I think my transition to normal life is a little smoother because of the travel.  

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fox News Looking Like (At) Boobs

Stare at The Sun: breast bombs

A news source (Fox News) famed for its reliability, reprinting news from another news source (The Sun) famed for its reliability, applies this headline:
Terrorists Could Use Explosives in Breast Implants to Crash Planes, Experts Warn
The Sun accompanies its report with the image reproduced here.
Thus does vital knowledge get spread to the general public.
 ===

In the interest of full disclosure you can go direct to the source of this report at Improbable.com

I wonder if the Fox News commentator, in a patriotic fervor, said, "I can't wait to get my hands on these terrorists!"

Monday, March 29, 2010

Who Got Drafted for the Iraq War?

Several of the soldiers I served with could be considered draftees. At least, they were serving very much against their will and were surprised to receive a FEDEX package telling them to report for pre-deployment training within two weeks.  Most of the soldiers I knew who got called back adapted well after the initial shock.  One did not.

One of the Battle Captains in our aviation unit was Jay Hoffman.  He received a FEDEX telling him to report for duty in two weeks for deployment in Iraq.  His home is in London where he works for an oil exploration firm.  Jay was a Black Hawk pilot and had left the service several years ago, but did not resign his commission, so he got the FEDEX and went to Iraq with us.  A couple of days ago,
he wrote me from the Congo to ask me how things were going.  Jay applied for the MBA program at the London School of Economics while we were in Iraq and was accepted for the fall 2010 class so he will be changing his career again.  He also is completing all the courses he needs to be a reserve major so he can be in a reserve unit instead of getting a FEDEX with no warning next time.

Chief Warrant Officer Suzy Danielson left the military in 1994 after serving as a Black Hawk pilot during the Gulf War and in Somalia.  She did not resign her warrant commission, and did not really give the Army a second thought from 1994 until 2008 when she got a FEDEX package telling her to report for duty.  She had not flown a Black Hawk since 1994, but worked as a flight instructor for fixed wing aircraft since she left the Army.  She had to brush up on the Black Hawk, but flight was very much second nature.  When I met her she was flying the chase bird on MEDEVAC mission--the Black Hawk with door guns that follows the MEDEVAC bird.

One of the stranger recalled soldiers was an extremely unhappy female sergeant major who was activated out of retirement to go to Iraq.  She had retired several years before and never expected to be at Tallil Ali Air Base, but the condition on the military retirement is "return to duty" when requested or forfeit all pay and benefits for the rest of your life.  The sergeant major did not want to lose her retirement so there she was running the chapel coffee shop called "God's Grounds."  She was assigned to a support battalion, but was unhappy enough that they sent her to the chapel.  I heard her explain her circumstances several times--losing no vehemence no matter how many times she repeated her story.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Riding in San Antonio

While temperatures dropped to near freezing in the northeastern US, I rode 65 miles in San Antonio today at a high temperature of 82 degrees.  My official work began late in the day with a dinner and ceremony lasting till late evening.  The dinner was a meeting of a group of petrochemical executives who have worked in the industry for 25 years or more.

I have ridden in San Antonio before, but did not realize that all of the several major highways that go through and around San Antonio have frontage roads.  Some pasts of these roads are as crowded as the frontage road on Route 30 in Lancaster, but others are empty, one-way, two-lane strips of asphalt or concrete that are excellent places to ride.

My route was due north out of the city to the outer ring route North Loop 1604.  I rode west then followed I-10 east back into the city.  I ate lunch at a local coffee shop on the ring route about 35 miles into the ride.  It seemed like the kind of place that would serve sandwiches with sprouts and have about 10 veggie sandwiches.  I ordered chicken salad and expected light fare.  I got about a half pound of chicken salad in a sandwich that could have been sold in a New York deli.  Instead of sprouts and leaf lettuce, I got iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and bacon.  I also ordered a side of cole slaw.  It also had bacon in it.  I knew I was in Texas.

A couple of miles before I stopped, I rode by a large very rectangular Church.  It actually looked more like a security firm, almost no windows, set back more than a 1/4 mile from the road.  Then I saw it was the church of Pastor John Hagee, the pastor John McCain had to disown during the 2008 Presidential campaign.  

At the end of the ride I went to the gym at Fort Sam Houston.  Military bases have much better gyms than hotels--at least better than Holiday Inns.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Saved a Little Too Much Money

There are several Holiday Inns within the downtown area of San Antonio.  I usually stay at Holiday Inns which are cheaper than the conference hotels at the meetings I go to.  On this trip the conference hotel is the new Grand Hyatt right next to the San Antonio River Walk.  I stayed just a half mile away for less than half the price.  But sometimes a short distance can make a huge difference.  From the Grand Hyatt to the Holiday Inn Express, you walk under a highway, past a few bars and a Ruth's Chris Steak House, then across the railroad tracks and into a warehouse area.  The hotel is just three blocks away.  But across the street from the very sad looking Magott's Grocery Store.

 
Actually, Magott's Grocery, was established by Theodore Maggot in 1881.

And the whole area around Magott's including my hotel, definitely looked like industrial decay.  Very different from the River Walk and the surrounding restaurants.

I walked over and bought a Vitamin Water.  The guys who work there were very friendly but that is one difficult name to put on top of a score advertising Fresh Meat.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Last Day in San Francisco

Today I flew out of San Francisco in the late afternoon.  I had an 4pm flight to LAX followed by a 715pm flight to San Antonio, arriving at 1159pm--actually 1205am, but very close.

In the morning I rode up to the top of the Marin Headlands just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.  This picture is the view from the top looking back at the city.  Although the climb is less than two miles from the north side of the bridge to the top, it was enough for me.  Three climbs up Mt. Tamalpais in the four previous days left my legs like rubber.

Yesterday I rode through one of the temperature shifts that happen between San Francisco and the top of Mt. Tam in Marin.  three years ago I left a fog-shrouded city of San Francisco on a morning ride.  The Golden Gate was also fog covered.  And the for persisted all the way to the 2000-foot line on Mt. Tam, then it was brilliant sun all the way to the top of East Peak.  I could see back to SF, but the only thing I could see was the cloud of fog that blanketed the entire city except for the peaks of the Golden Gate tower support piers and the antennas on top of Mt. Bruno inside the city. 

Yesterday it was clear and cool all the way from the city through Marin up almost 2300 feet then a cloud covered the very top of the mountain.  I rode the last half mile to the crest in increasingly thick fog.  At the top I could not see a thing.  the wisps of fog were so thick they seemed like they would hurt if they hit me.  I went back down into the cloud, but a half-mile later , below and away from the cloud, the sun was shining again. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Elitists in My Life: My Wife

I am going to start this series at home with my wife. Annalisa Crannell is the oldest daughter of two physicists. Her mother, who passed away last year while I was in Iraq, was a solar physicist as NASA Goddard Space Center. Her father is a recently retired particle physicist from Catholic University. Her parents studied the same subject at vastly different scales.

Annalisa went to Bryn Mawr College to major in Spanish and English, but graduated in three years in math with good enough grades to be accepted as a graduate student at Harvard. She left Harvard after the first year and got a PhD in math from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. After graduation she was hired by Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster where she is now a full professor and Don of a Bonchek House. F&M has a system that puts a professor’s office in each dorm to bring academic life into the residence halls.

She is liberal in her politics and, though we both attend a theologically conservative Presbyterian Church, her beliefs are best reflected in the Quaker Church. In 1997 when we married Annalisa was a single mom of one daughter. She became the step-mother of my two daughters. In 2000 we adopted Nigel. Now we are in the process of adopting Jacari, who is in the same grade as Nigel.

A leader in her field in math, dynamical systems, she spends many hours on campus beyond the class day with student events and meetings. In her spare time Annalisa served for several years as a hospice volunteer and in 2002 was a live kidney donor, undergoing major surgery to help a woman she did not know.

She makes all this look easy. I just hope some of it rubs off on me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who We Fight For--Everybody

Everyone who deploys to Iraq and Afghanistan, or fights pirates off the coast of Somalia, or goes to any of the outposts of the War on Terror fights for all Americans. Even though I am a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, I am a soldier in the Army of all America.

Sometimes, I admit, I wish it were otherwise. When I travel I pay more attention to the news than when I am home and the news during the last week has been sad for me. White people yelling the N-word at a congressman who fought for civil rights in the 60s, bricks thrown through windows of Democratic Party offices, a gas line cut at what was believed (mistakenly) to be a US Congressman’s home that could have killed kids, and on April 19 there will be a gun rights march on the anniversary of Timothy McVeigh killing kids in a Day Care Center and more than 150 other innocent victims. I don't want to defend those people.

But "those people" are Americans, so the American military stands for all of us whatever we believe. And I really do believe that America is all of us, not us and them. In many previous posts I wrote about soldiers I served with in Iraq under the collective title "Who Fights This War?" I will continue those stories when I go back to drilling and catch up with what my fellow soldiers are doing now.

In future posts I decided to also write about some of the people in my life that TEA Party activists, militia members, and right-wing talk show hosts call the enemy. They are people like me. People with graduate degrees who live and work in major cities, who read dead poets, who do all of the research that preserves our past and defines our future, and are dismissed by Conservative leaders as elitists as if six to twelve years of education after high school was a curse. Many of their listeners don’t know anyone with a PhD.

It is clear from email and comments I received in the last year, that some of the people who read my blog don’t know many soldiers. Since I have one foot in each world—the Army and the Academy—I will occasionally write about people in my everyday civilian life.

Just as with the soldiers I wrote about, the profiles are simply my view of people who have chosen to live the life of the mind whether in research or teaching or preserving history in the form of books, documents, art, and artifacts. I like to talk with people who excel. To me, an excellent marksmen, pilot, racer, point guard, goalkeeper, or runner has a kinship with the most inspiring teachers, brilliant writers, innovators and researchers.

I’ve mentioned before that all US military personnel taken together, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Active, Reserve, and National Guard add up to about two million men and women or about 2/3 of one percent of the population of America. Two million is also the number of people in America who have PhD degrees. Two of the most influential groups in America have very separate worlds. But in my experience, the best soldiers and the best researchers share a devotion and passion that people who just bitch and whine will never know. I admire people in both groups. I hope you will too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Meeting One of My Favorite Authors

In the exhibit area of the the conference I am attending, many publishers have booths set up to sell their books. Their top goal is to sell textbooks to the many chemistry professors that attend the national meetings of the American Chemical Society.

As I was walking past the WH Freeman booth I noticed one of my favorite authors standing in the booth. Peter Atkins, a professor at Oxford, is the author of five textbooks and seven popular science books. He had four revised editions of his textbooks published in the past year and one of his popular books published in 2007 Four Laws That Drive the Universe will be published in a new edition as part of the Oxford series "A Very Short Introduction" series of small books about a single topic. So far more than a hundred books on everything from Aristotle to Quakers to Quantum Mechanics to Vikings are part of the series. Atkins will be 70 this year and said he is retired now, which gives him more time to write.

One of the articles I am currently working on is a column about Peter Atkins popular science books. So it was a very pleasant surprise to meet him. I bought the latest edition of his textbook Physical Chemistry and now own an autographed copy.

                                                      Dr. Peter Atkins

It was not entirely Geek day. In the afternoon I rode up Mt. Tam to the first crest where you can turn left for the West Peak and right for the East Peak. On the way down I passed a pair of Toyota Tundras between turns. That was fun. On the way to the mountain I just crested the hill between Golden Gate Park and Marin. A powder blue scooter went past me as we started down the other side. I drafted and passed him before we got into the town below. It's great to be back on big hills.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

San Francisco

This morning at 340am I woke up, dressed and headed for Harrisburg International Airport for a 541am flight to Philadelphia. From there I took a 735am direct flight to San Francisco. I live a lot closer to Harrisburg International--32 miles--than Philadelphia International--88miles--and you might wonder if I am paying a premium to fly from the airport with no wait in the security line instead of driving to Philadelphia. But the opposite is true. I tried booking the same US Air flight from Philadelphia and it was $100 more from Philadelphia. And I didn't have to drive in Philadelphia.

Anyway, after six hours of reading and sleeping (I don't watch movies on planes either in case you were wondering) we landed in San Francisco at 1030am local time. By 11am I had my bags and was on the way to the city on the BART train. Taxis are $40, from SFO. Shuttles are $20. BART is $8 and I was in the lobby of my hotel in 40 minutes. Cities like Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago among others that have train service are much nicer to fly to than the cities that just offer cabs and vans. At least for me.

By 1pm I had registered for the conference I am here to attend and was on the way to Blazing Saddles bike shop to rent a Marin Stelvio carbon road bike. I did not have enough time to ride back to the hotel and drop my backpack and still make the three events I had scheduled for Sunday evening, so I went straight from the shop, across the Golden Gate Bridge and up Mount Tamalpais. It is steeper than I remember (and I am older) so I only got to the first crest before the turn for east peak before I had to turn back. The road is a series of switchbacks with occasional straight sections and grades from 4 to 8 percent. Most of the way down I was riding between 30 and 40 mph tapping the brakes less after each set of switchbacks.

I should be back on the mountain between the morning and evening meetings tomorrow. Too much to do on Tuesday.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Flush with Possibilities

My wife and I take Nigel—on the weekend’s Nigel and Jacari—to the Franklin & Marshall gym with us. The boys play basketball at one of the courts while we run on the upper level track. The track is just over 1/7th mile so we do 20 laps for a 3-mile run and see the kids shooting baskets at the south end of every lap.

Two weeks ago I was running with my wife in the college gym. At lap 10 I told Annalisa I would be turning off at the bathroom on the next lap. I said it in an apologetic way, just because I was slowing us down. She smiled and said, “I’m not disappointed in you but Scott would be.” She was referring to Scott Perry, our battalion commander, who trained himself to use the room with porcelain furniture just three times a day.

If I could ever meet that standard, it has not been in the last 30 years. It made me think about how competitive the smallest details of life in the military can be and how much I thought about trips to the latrine whenever I was in field training or going on a flight.

So I would get up and go to breakfast at least an hour or two before I really needed to get up, because I did not want to be the guy who was praying for the Black Hawk to land or the Humvee to stop because all his bathroom business was not done before the flight. Because every plan needs a contingency plan, I always had an empty 20oz Gatorade bottle with me on flights or convoy training. I never actually used it, but I felt better knowing it was in my right cargo pocket or in my backpack if I needed it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Military Blogging Conference

On April 9 I will be in Arlington VA for a Military Blogging Conference. Like most conference they will have expert panels. It begins Friday evening with a panel and a cash bar and runs through the entire day of Saturday, April 10. I am mostly interested in the social hour Friday night. I want to meet fellow bloggers and this should be a great place to do it.

and compared to a business conference, registration for the whole thing is $50!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Civilian Time

I opened an email this morning and went from placid to pissed off in a millisecond. The email asked me about starting a book group. It wasn't that he wanted to start one right away or at any definite time in the future, he just thought it would be a good idea. His life is swamped right now and he wants to wait until the timing is right.

I have known this guy for years. the timing will never be right. Or if he does get involved he will be less involved over time, because he is the sort of person who life happens to, he does not make life happen. But now when I hear something like this, a voice in my head says, "Make a f-ing decision."

It will be quite a while before I get adjusted to this kind of civilian time: the kind of time that is like Jello, no hard edges, collapses under pressure, and even when it stays in one place, it jiggles.

More than my reaction, I get worried about the different feeling I have about things like this. In the Army everyone is healthy, no one is old--or at least not older than me--and if someone is very sick or badly injured they are MEDEVACed away. It is an unreal world which suits me very well, but the Army is hardly my life and in three years they will toss me out. So I really will be working to adjust to the world I live in where people with money and resources take care of the poor and people who can make an f-ing decision help those who can't.

Otherwise I will be just another rebel who wants to the world that suits his own taste and wants to get rid of everyone he doesn't like. There are enough of those already.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nice Butt!




Bike racers seen from a car window.


To a car driving toward a bicyclist from behind (yes, I meant to say that) all male bicycle racers look alike.  They are thin, folded like a paper clip and wearing spandex.  Today, for the first time in almost two years, a  car with several college-age girls drove by me and the blond in the passenger seat yelled "Nice Butt!" as she went by.


Since the road was flat--West River Drive in Philadelphia--and my head was down, it is possible that none of the young women in the car knew they were yelling at a member of AARP.  I have to say no one yelled anything like that as I rode around Tallil Air Base.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Video from Iraq

The first half of this video and a few of the shots at the end are pictures I took in Iraq.  My photos go from the beginning to where you see a video cameraman in a red shirt.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Entered in Tough Mudder Race on my 57th Birthday

Photo from Rappel Tower Confidence Course, Fort Sill, OK, 2009

On May 2nd when I turn 57 I will be competing in the Tough Mudder race at Bear Creek Ski Resort in Pennsylvania. The organizers call it:

The Toughest one day event on the planet. This is not your average mud run or boring, spirit-crushing road race. Our 7 mile obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test all around toughness, strength, stamina, fitness, camaraderie, and mental grit. Forget about your race time. Simply completing the event is a badge of honor. Not everyone will finish, but those who do make it to our post-race party will have truly earned the right to call themselves a Tough Mudder. All Tough Mudder sponsorship proceeds go to our exclusive charity partner, The Wounded Warrior Project. DogFish Head Brewery has generously agreed to provide FREE Post-Race Beer.

From the Web site it looks like an obstacle course on steroids. Check it out. I am planning on being very sore May 3.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Once a Warrior Always a Warrior

Last week I got a book in the mail that I thought was just for real warriors. After all, most of my service was inside the wire on a very big, well-protected air base and when I went outside the wire it was in a Blackhawk or Chinook helicopter, not in a convoy.

Then I started reading the book and it reminded me of something a medic told me near the end of my tour. He knew how I got in the Army by very carefully answering questions about the accident I had between my enlistment physical and actual enlistment. I thought it would have been the injuries that disqualified me from service, especially from deployment. But the medic said, "It was the concussion. You lost three days man. You got your bell rung like it was in a Church steeple. They would have sent your ass home if they knew."

The title of the book is "Once a Warrior Always a Warrior" by Charles W. Hoge, MD, Col. USA ret. The subtitle is: Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home Including Combat Stress, PTSD, and mTBI.

The last item, mTBI, is the one that affected me before deployment. Since we only had an occasional missile attack, mostly when we first arrived, Combat Stress and PTSD were not part of my life. But the chapter on mTBI made sense out of some stuff that bothers me still, almost three years after the accident. It was also interesting to me that he mentioned combatives training. I wrote about hanging on in my match when I got paired up with a 21-year-old body builder in a combatives match. Twice during that training I was "out" for a moment.

But since the accident I have not been able to retain my ability to read Greek or French as well as before. I gave up on Greek in Iraq and struggled with simple French. But memory is one of the problems with mTBI. It could be I am just getting old, but next month I get a physical from my civilian doctor and I will ask him about both the accident and the combatives and if I should be doing anything with my memory problems.

From the chapters I have read so far, I can say the book is well written and informative. It really made me think about the subject in a new way.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Back with HBO--for 10 Weeks

My wife and I started watching the Sopranos in the 4th season of that amazing show. I refused to watch it at its debut, despite all of the acclaim it received. I thought a show about a gangster visiting a female therapist would be so unbelievable that it would be just silly. But one night I was in a hotel with nothing to watch on TV so I thought I would try an episode of the Sopranos. As soon as I got home, I rented the first season. My wife and I watched the first three seasons to catch up and subscribed to HBO to watch the fourth season once we were done with the first three.

This led me to watch another HBO phenomenon--"Band of Brothers." My wife was not interested in that one. But from 2002 on I have been an HBO subscriber when they have one of their amazing series on. We watched every episode of "The Wire." I watched "Deadwood." Today I resubscribed because tomorrow the new series "The Pacific" begins. It is produced by the same people who did "Band of Brothers." The preview comments say it is a very different series, but just as intense.

When HBO is good, it is the best thing on TV.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lawyers, Car Mechanics, Bankers and Chemical Company Execs

We all suffer from stereotypes. Now that race and religion are out of bounds, at least in public, it is still perfectly OK to classify and dismiss people by their profession. In the past few days I have had delightful conversations with people in every one of the professions listed in today's title: Lawyers, Car Mechanics, Bankers and Chemical Company Execs.

I was going to write about something else today, but changed my mind this morning when I picked up my car at the Firestone Dealer on Orange Street in Lancaster where I get all my auto service work done. I dropped the car off early this morning because the brake pedal was feeling "soft." It was fine when I was driving back from New York on the highway, but in slow-moving traffic, the pedal would go almost to the floor. By the way, I drive a 2002 Chevy Malibu with 97,000 miles.

It turns out there was a little rust around the fitting in one of the front brake calipers. They cleaned the fitting, purged the air from the system and did not charge me. Since I had the car serviced in January when I cam back from Iraq, they thought they should have noticed this and said "No charge." Everyone knows the stereotype of auto mechanics. These guys are great.

At an event where I work earlier in the week, I talked with a group of Philadelphia trial attorneys about public speaking. We talked about practice, preparation, and listening to other speakers. Lawyers are easy to pick on, until you need one. And like the lawyers I ride with occasionally, these men and women were a lot of fun to talk with.

On Wednesday night I was at an award dinner in NYC for a chemical industry executive. Again, these guys get vilified by many people, but they make all the ingredients of the stuff we like and the stuff that keeps us alive. Without pure chemicals there would be little medicine, no clean water, and no computers.

After the dinner I talked to a trio of bankers from HSBC who introduced themselves as villains. They had arranged the sale of one of the companies I used to work for to a Saudi company. The result was a viable company instead of a bankruptcy, and many of my old friends who would have lost their jobs are still working because of these bankers.

Later today I am going to see a couple of the guys I deployed with. As a category and personally, I like soldiers too.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Riding in Central Park

I finally got a chance to ride in Central Park with Jim Dao. We did three laps of the 10k course this morning. It was in the low 40s. Jim rode 20 miles from New Jersey to get to Central Park, I rode two miles from Penn Station. Jim could talk on the way up the long hill in the northeast corner of the park, so he is a very fit guy. I liked riding in the park the previous afternoon, but riding with someone else is always better, and harder.

After we finished the three laps, Jim had to go to work. When he turned off at 7th Ave, I said I was going to take another lap. I got about halfway up the east side of the park. Instead of averaging 19 or 20mph as I was with Jim, I was struggling to go 13-15mph. I turned out of the park onto 5th Ave at 90th St. and headed back to the hotel. The traffic got me rolling with more speed, but as they say in NASCAR when one of the cars blows up, "You can stick a fork in [Gussman] cuz he's done."

On the way back from NYC to Philadelphia, I was thinking how many transitions I made the previous day. I'll write about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Real Crazies

One of the good things the Army took from us for deployment was cell phones. Not that they confiscated the cell phones, but we were not allowed to walk and talk on cell phones from the beginning of training in Oklahoma through out-processing at Fort Dix. The ban included the blue light blinking ear pieces that allow the user to talk on the phone without holding the phone.

For several years before deployment I would be surprised by seeing someone walking toward me talking in an animated way to no one. It usually turned out to be a guy arguing with someone wearing one of the blue light ear pieces. The blue light made the guy look like some kind of animated out-of-shape alien.

This morning in Philadelphia a guy was walking toward me on the subway platform talking to himself. I thought he was on the phone because some phones work in stations now. But as he passed by waving his arms I realized he was actually crazy and talking to himself. He wasn't on the phone. In the last couple of weeks I have been in Boston and NYC and also seen real crazies, not guys just looking like lunatics but talking on ear pieces.

It's always nice to see Old School hanging on.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Gossip

Our unit made the front page of today's Lancaster Intelligencer/New Era in a story about a chaplain who was supposed to deploy with us and who was accused of violating "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

For me, finding out Chaplain (Captain) Aris Fokas was deploying with us was great news. He was the assistant college chaplain at Franklin and Marshall College (where my wife teaches) in the 1990s. So I already knew him and knew he was a really good guy. We saw each other at the battalion Christmas party at the end of 2007 and I could not say which one of us was more surprised to see the other in uniform. Both of us were in the Army because of 9-11. Aris had deployed in 2005 in the bad days of the war with an infantry brigade. He ministered to wounded and dying soldiers under bad circumstances. He was the kind of chaplain I wanted to have if things got bad.

But Aris did not deploy with us. I did not know why until I read the article this morning. Whatever the facts of the accusation, the article makes clear that taking him off the deployment roster and now forcing him to resign is all based on one overheard phone call by one guy. Whatever is good or bad about the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, I did not know that a single accusation with no corroboration was enough to end someone's career.

Unless you are a completely sinless and virtuous person yourself, think how badly that would work out for you if the standard for prosecution was one uncorroborated witness.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fellow Soldier on the Bridge

This afternoon I took "lunch" at 4pm. I didn't have a bike with me so I ran back and forth across the Ben Franklin Bridge. Did I ever mention I have this thing for bridges? Anyway, I was running down the Philadelphia side of the bridge feeling good just about a half mile from the end of the 4-mile run when I passed a couple running up the walkway toward the New Jersey side. Just after I passed them I heard, "Hey Guss. . . Sergeant Gussman?" Actually, he almost said Gus Gus.

I was wearing one of my Alaska MEDEVAC t-shirts. The guy I passed was a chase pilot from the 1/150th stationed in Basrah. He was assigned to the Alaska MEDEVAC unit during the summer as a chase bird pilot. The first Charlie MEDEVAC company assigned to us in Iraq was an Alaska-based active Army unit that flew mission protected by a 1/150th air assault Blackhawk. The pilot (I forgot his name) was good friends with Sgt. Mareile Livingston, the motor pool admin NCO in Echo Company. Mareile has been calling me Gus Gus ever since I got assigned to Echo Company in 2007. She is a big fan of the animated Cinderella which has a mouse named Gus Gus. Mareile introduced me to the pilot in the Coalition DFAC in Iraq as Gus Gus.

Since I served with a Pennsylvania unit, I suppose I will be meeting people from the deployment for years to come.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Life After Yellow Ribbon

I drove home from a full day of sitting on my butt in Philadelphia at the Yellow Ribbon Event. I stopped at the Morgantown Exit of the Turnpike, parked at flea market just off the highway and rode up and down a 1.5 mile hill three times then got back in the car and drove home. Not much, but I am so far behind my riding buddies that I am focusing on just one event for 2010 and hoping to get in shape for the 2011 racing season. The one event for this year is the PA Senior Games at the end of July. They are the qualifying races for the National Senior Games in 2011.

Today I got yet another indication of just how far behind I am compared with my riding buddies. Every Sunday in the off season there is a 40-mile ride for the "A" racers at 1030am and one for the "B" racers at 130pm. My 50+ friend Jan Felice has lately started "doing the double." He rides the 1030 ride AND the 130 ride. Yesterday he and a few other highly motivated riders did the double and climbed some hills during the hour break between the end of the morning ride and jumping into the afternoon ride.

I did the 130 ride. I took a shortcut near the beginning to avoid the worst hills and I still got dropped just before the halfway point on the ride. I watched Jan and the other riders disappear up a long shallow hill on Paradise Lane. I wheezed home. When I got home I ran three miles with my wife then walked with my daughter Lisa to workout at the gym. Business travel lately means I have also falling behind at the gym.

In the Army there is always time to workout--it's part of the job description. Being a civilian is a lot more complicated.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Yellow Ribbon Event

We are all in civilian clothes. The shirts vary but the pants are jeans. Not all blue jeans, some of us are wearing black jeans, but worn, comfortable jeans are the uniform of the day for all of us who are not wearing uniforms. Our first presenters are five retired soldiers speaking in turn about the transition back to civilian life. They are all wearing jeans with black short-sleeve polo shirts.

The first presenter thanked us for serving and told us about the freedom we defended and should be enjoying now. The second guy told us to think about what we missed by being gone and those we missed. We had a short ceremony in which we dropped coins in a bowl to help preserve a memorial to deployed soldiers at the Valley Forge memorial.

The next presenter walked up to the stage with a Claymore sword. It was really shiny. He dropped the sword to get our attention then told us, "You are the weapon. You fly the planes. You go into battle. . . ."

Then we heard a long presentation from a guy who was homeless after his first enlistment in the 80s then went back in during the 90s. He talked about how bad his life got before he got injured in by an IED abd started the road back to being part of his family and society. We then watched a video about a Marine who lost both legs in an IED attack and how he was adapting to life back in the world.

We then watched a role playing exercise about what we missed on deployment and what our families back home took over. we were supposed to shout out what we missed. Sex and booze got most of the shouts. I was going to yell out "Libraries!" but decided not to alienate myself from the group before 10am. Then they asked what we were happy to leave behind. "KIDS!" got a big shout and a lot of knowing laughs. "BILLS!" was next.

The next presenter told us about being single and being deployed. Andrea Magee, one of my office mates at the end of the deployment, was sitting near me. She said, "Not another story" which got laughs from everyone around her. The presenter told us about a relationship that he got into after deployment and how it fell apart.

(Break for sentimental cliche watch: This guy began the presentation saying "Soldiers are the Army's greatest asset." He told us to "Come to terms" with our life. "Embrace all of who you are. . ." "I had to dream in a different way than before I left." "Invite your family to step into your journey." "Trust and embrace life or be out there by yourself."

Then we went on break.

The next presentation gave us all of our mental health options--local and national. Clearly, we are a big dysfunctional family.

The next presenter talked about medical and education benefits. This time he was in civilian clothes. Last time I heard him was in out processing in January. This is the master sergeant who, for the last month, has been my favorite example of how beliefs dictate how we see facts. In January he told us that there was no need for health care reform, then 10 minutes later told us that 42% of the Stryker Brigade soldiers (1,680 of 4,000) had no health benefits when they mobilized. His beliefs say nothing is wrong with health care (he, like most everyone else who sees no trouble with health care has guaranteed health care for life) and is responsible for making sure all of those uninsured soldiers get six months of free coverage after they get back from deployment.

After lunch, substance abuse. First we had a panel game with the presenters role playing as guests on a How Drunk are You? game show. Then they brought three volunteers up on stage and asked them about being angry. Then we saw professional video about a guy who was drunk, angry and ready to kill himself. Then we went to suicide.

The final presentation was a section of the HBO Series "Band of Brothers." The camera stopped on each member of Easy Company during a softball game in Germany and said what each man did after the war. [It was a great show and is having a sequel of sorts in a new HBO series called "The Pacific." It starts next Sunday night at 9pm.]

I suppose on of the things that Yellow Ribbon Events do is bring you together with soldiers you served with in a low-pressure setting. I talked at the breaks with Sgt. Brian Pauli and Spc. Andrea Magee, two of my best friends at Tallil. They both were doing great. Seeing them and making jokes about the Army and the presentations we were listening to was the best part of the day for me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Tomorrow: Yellow Ribbon Day

Tomorrow is my scheduled Yellow Ribbon day of briefings. My briefing is at Lincoln High School in Northeast Philadelphia. I will see some members of my unit, but the soldiers who attend these are whoever happened to sign up. So there will be soldiers from any unit that returned from deployment within the last several months. The whole day is supposed to be about making sure we get all of our benefits. Since I have a job and medical benefits most of the info will not be for me. But it will be interesting to see just what they think will be important for us to know.

More tomorrow. . .

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Courtship on the Ben Franklin Bridge

Yesterday on the drive from the Harrisburg airport, I stopped at home and brought one of my bikes to Philadelphia. At sunset yesterday I rode over the the big, blue Ben Franklin Bridge, a 1.5-mile suspension bridge that rise 150 feet in a graceful arc crossing the Delaware River to Camden, New Jersey.

Yesterday I did three back and forth laps on the 10-foot-wide walkway that is up to 20 feet above the roadway and directly over the New Jersey Transit tracks on the outside of the span. Today I planned to ride five laps, but ended at 4 1/2. As I was riding back and forth across the bridge, a couple ambled across walking as if they both had north pole magnets in their hips. They would sway together then sway apart when they got too close.

For bikes and runners and pedestrians to share the walkway, everybody has to stay right and straight. Every time I approached this couple I had to yell "On Your Left" or "On Your Right" and every time they were surprised. They were so enthralled with each other I passed a half-dozen times before it occurred to them I would be going by every six or seven minutes.

The fifth time I started up the 3/4 mile climb to the center of the bridge I decided I would turn around wherever I met the couple and not go down the other side. Near the peak of the bridge, the lovers were laughing, saw me and moved right. I turned around anyway so I would not have to pass them again. The bridge is a great workout, but I usually only ride on it when it is dark and cold. Good weather brings out crowds and the descents feel like riding in a pinball machine.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

War Metaphor

With our nation in two wars and with conflicts of various kinds simmering or breaking out at various points around the world it is no surprise that war is the metaphor we use for sports, bad relationships, and even conflicts on cooking shows. This week's science section in the New York Times used a war metaphor favored by science geeks and senior military leaders to describe the current conflict over climate change:

"The battle is asymmetric, in the sense that scientists feel compelled to support their findings with careful observation and replicable analysis, while their critics are free to make sweeping statements condemning their work as fraudulent."

Asymmetric can be good or bad depending on which side of the asymmetry you happen to be on. I wrote about my riding buddy Lt. Col. David Callahan of 4th Bde, 1st Armored. He was a tank platoon leader in the Gulf War and was on the good side of assymetry. Iraqi T-62s attacked his platoon. His tanks engaged the Iraqi tanks and took them out with first-round hits at 1,980 and 2,340 meters. The Iraqis could not fire effectively at that range. Asymmetric is good when you have the M1 Abrams with the stabilized gun and computerized sights and the other guy is fighting from Soviet surplus armor.

But we are on the bad side of asymmetric warfare when the bad guys fire at us from mosques and hospitals and we can't fire back.

I am flying home from a gathering of 15,000-plus people who design, build, buy and sell the kind of analytical instruments that the real CSI people use and every lab relies on. Walking around an event like that, listening to presentations on the latest in bomb sniffing devices, water and food quality testing, and all the rest of the instrumentation at that show, it seems just incredible that anyone could be getting their science information from Talk Radio shows, Larry King Live guests, or TV preachers.

In the same article, one scientist said the answer was just to stick to his work, that "Good science is the best revenge." I wish it were true, but it is not because you do not have to believe in science to use it. People who believe the universe is less than 10,000 years old use computers to promote their belief. But all computers are based on 20th century physics which grew out of Einstein's work at the beginning of the century. If Einstein is right, computers exist and the universe is about 12 billion years old. If Einstein is wrong, computers would not exist in their current form. Nothing prevents someone who rejects science from using the results of good science to promote their own lunacy.

Good science extends and enhances the lives of people who reject it. In this way, science arms its own enemies. It is on the wrong side of a very asymmetric war.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jack is Back

My Uncle Jack's response to my blog post on military rating systems:

I believe you captured perfectly the essence of the rating systems for enlisted and officer members of the military. The goals of the troops in the trenches are tacitly accepted but seldom stated. Unfortunately, all the parties involved have different opinions of what the goals really are. The ratings are therefore essentially based on "feelings," the supervisor's perceived needs, personal bias, etc, etc and isolated events, good or bad. I think this applies from the President- Joint Chiefs level on down.

Civilian organizations, at least the ones I've been in, don't usually have such clear-cut systems for rating performance but involve high-minded processes that require a development of "goals," which one commits to. This is followed by events and direction from above that ignore the agreed-upon goals and substitute instead the urgent problems at hand. This is also known as fighting fires. The flaw is that the agreed goals are usually crisply defined, while fire-fighting accomplishments are amorphous and hard to define or measure. The rated party is supposedly empowered to invoke his goals statement as a defense against fire fighting but this doesn't usually work and may even be dangerous to one's tenure. At the end of the rating period the system breaks down into the same personal bias as the military system.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Scorn in the USA

Once I left the relative safety of riding in Iraq, I knew it was just a matter of time before someone would swear at me, swerve at me or otherwise threaten me while I was riding a bike. It happened today in Orlando. I was riding on the shoulder of a 4-lane road and the passenger in a beat-up black Ford Focus called me a "Faggot M-F" or something like that. I am sure of the faggot part.

In an irony I am sure was lost on mid-20s losers in the car, there was nothing about their pasty faces that said military, so while they were accusing me of being some sort of sissy for wearing spandex, I was in Iraq last year and they were in their mom's basement trying to figure out who where they could get money for gas and beer.

Riding here also reminded me of Iraq. I rode for miles yesterday and today against a 15 to 20 mph steady wind and a completely flat road. The scenery was better than Iraq but the drivers are much worse. Even so, I prefer Orlando to Iraq because I can leave Orlando.