Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting Back Some Speed on the Bike

A year in Iraq left me in generally better shape than when I left, but I am way behind on bike training.  This long weekend I started to train to actually get back some fitness.  On Saturday, I got up early and rode to Philadelphia.  I covered the 72-mile distance in 3 hours and 48 minutes.  That's 24 minutes slower than my best time a few years ago, but better than I thought.  It is also the first time I rode more than 40 miles in one ride in more than a year.  In Iraq I usually rode just 10 or 20 miles at a time because of the dust.  I took the train back to Lancaster.

I had the departure time for the train wrong and rode harder than I needed to.  I wouldn't have pushed myself that hard if I knew the right time for the train.

On Sunday I rode the daily ride with Jon Rutter, the reporter who has been writing about my return to the Army for the Lancaster Sunday News.  He had never done Scott Haverstick's daily ride and wanted to see the course.  So I got 30 more miles in Sunday.

On Monday I did one of the traditional Lancaster Bike Club rides climbing steep hills in Ephrata.  Except, I only did two of the four big climbs, then rode back on state highways.  I was wiped out.  But when I got home, my I rode six miles with my son Nigel on the tandem and Lisa on her bike.  Then Nigel had enough so Lisa and I did nine more miles.  Then Lisa ran five miles while my wife and I planted trees in the yard.  Lisa finished her run about the same time we got the last tree in the ground.  So we ran three miles with Lisa.  After that Nigel and Lisa and I did a few pushups and situps.

My last activity was reading a book.  I did not actually opened the book.  Two hours later when a big thunderclap woke me up, the book and my glasses were on the bed beside me.  

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Editorial in Today's Sunday News

I wrote an editorial in today's Lancaster Sunday News about Conservative Talk Show hosts who never served in the military.  I like the headline they wrote.

Radio/TV patriots snipe from safety of homefront

I was surrounded.

I was taking fire on all sides.

No, not from Iraqi insurgents, but from the conservatives I was eating lunch with in a dining facility or DFAC on Tallil Ali Air Base in Iraq.

Last year I was deployed to Iraq with the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard. I knew I would be in the minority when I voted for Barack Obama for president, but sometimes I really felt like an Army of one — the one white, male Obama voter among the thousands of soldiers and airmen on base.

We were real curiosities for each other, the conservatives and I. The most ardent among them listen to Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and others tell them that liberals are cowards and trying to destroy the nation and who knows what else. But there I was sitting in the DFAC, my rifle under my chair, serving in the Army. The radio/TV patriots were home in America where they had always been and always will be.

I was arguing with some of the best men and women I ever met. While we disagreed on politics, they were the kind of men and women who left home to support their families and maybe make their lives better. When we were done hassling each other about politics, we could go back to complaining about the heat, or the garrison, or talking about what we were going to do when we got home.

It did seem strange to me that these soldiers and airmen, many on their second and third tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, would give such respect to men who never served. Often someone would say that the president should be a veteran. If, as usual, Fox News was playing on the DFAC TVs, I could point to O'Reilly or Beck and say, "They never served. Why should they be the ones to say who is and isn't a patriot?"

Foreign visitors often see the strangest things about America more clearly than we do. Recently I was talking with an Israeli writer working in America. He thinks America is a great country, but he does think it very odd that all of the leading radio/TV patriots in America have not served in the military. Odder still that in America you can be a draft-dodger and be calling someone else a coward on your daily show.

Israel has compulsory military service, so the situation is different, but no one in Israel who avoided military service could pretend to be a paragon of patriotism.

In 1972 when I first enlisted, my enlistment meant a poor kid would not have to be recruited or drafted to take that place. Military service is a zero-sum game. If enough people walked in off the street to fill the ranks, the thousands of sergeants on recruiting duty could go back to leading squads and platoons.

When Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh avoided the draft, a poor kid who could not afford to duck the draft took their place. When a draft-dodger said the Vietnam War was the "wrong war," that implied they would serve in a "right war." But if other Americans are fighting and dying, how can that be a wrong war for a patriot?

I can understand avoiding the draft if you are anti-war. I can't understand it for someone who is yelling about patriotism on the radio, or accusing others of cowardice on TV.

I don't think the war in Iraq was the "right war." Reasonable people still disagree about whether we ever should have invaded. I did not volunteer and serve because Iraq was the "right war." I went because, just as in 1972, if I went, one less person had to be recruited.

Although they are too young to be draft-dodgers, I also wonder why Beck, Hannity, and for that matter Ann Coulter, did not at some point take a temporary pay cut and show us liberals how brave conservative media mavens really are. Coulter and Hannity were born in 1961. They could have enlisted any time between 1979 and 1996. Coulter is an attorney and may still be able to get a waiver before her 50th birthday next year.

Born in 1964, Beck had from 1982 to 1999 before he became too old for an initial enlistment. Technically, Beck could have enlisted during 2006, when the Army raised the enlistment age to 42. That way he could have been in "the surge" instead of just talking about it.

I would not want to return to a draft. That we can fight two wars and patrol the world with an all-volunteer force that is less than 1 percent of our population says volumes about how good our military is. But I do think that those who accuse others of cowardice should have served themselves, especially Savage, Limbaugh and O'Reilly who avoided the draft and let someone else fight and maybe die in their place.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

70th Armor Reunion

Tonight I spoke with Sam Rushing who is organizing a reunion of the 1st Battalion, 70th Armor, Wiesbaden, Germany.  I served with Bravo Company of the 1-70th from 1975 at Fort Carson, Colorado, to 1979 in Germany.  the reunion is for anyone who served with the battalion from 1976 when we arrived in Germany through 1984.

The reunion will be held from July 23 - 26 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  It's the same weekend as the Pennsylvania Senior Games, so I may have to fly in for just a day or two.

It will be great to see people I served with during the 70s!!!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Second Hand Music

This morning on the train and the subway to work, I did not have my own iPod, so I listened to second-hand music radiating from the ear buds of a 20-something guy on each train.  The guy on the Amtrak train to Philadelphia was Hispanic.  The guy on the subway was Korean.  Otherwise they were identical.  They both wore sideways baseball caps, the both wore t-shirts and jeans.  The guy on Amtrak wore boots.  The guy on the subway wore hightops.

Both had music pounding their ears at enough volume that I could hear it from five rows away.  They reminded me of my bunkmate during the first week of pre-deployment training.  Then Pvt. 1st Class Eric Ward was 19 and went to sleep listening to metal music loud enough that I could hear it from the top bunk.  He fell asleep before me so I would shut it off when I went to sleep.  He was already snoring.  Eric was the first soldier to leave Iraq.  He hurt his knee playing football.  After that football was banned for Echo soldiers.

Usually, the Amtrak train is completely quiet, but it is a holiday weekend, so different people ride the train than the usual commuters.  The subway is always noisy.  I missed my iPod.

If you were wondering, I listen to "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" and the "Political Scene" from New Yorker magazine.  I also listen to "Distillations" produced by my coworkers and my current audiobook is "The Origins of Totalitarianism" by Hannah Arendt.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Poo Pond

From today's New York Times "At War" blog, Dexter Filkins on "The Poo Pond" at Kandehar Air Base.

Christoph Bangert for The New York Times The view of Kandahar Air Field, one of the largest NATO military bases in Afghanistan. The round-shaped lake in the middle of the base is where raw sewage is treated.
Visiting a city like Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, the subject of human excrement is not something that ordinarily occupies much of your thinking. After all, unlike much of the rest of the country, Kandahar has toilets, even if most of them are just holes in the floor made of porcelain. As a pedestrian, the only issue that would probably prompt any thinking on this subject are the sewers that line Kandahar’s dusty streets; they are the open-air type. You’ve got to take care to avoid them, or you’ll fall in.
But avoiding the lake-sized pool of human excrement that fills a section of the sprawling American and NATO base known as Kandahar Air Field is something else. Avoid it you cannot. This I discovered recently while visiting the base itself, which occupies a chunk of chaparral just south of the city itself.
I had flown from Kabul to interview a senior officer about some things the military has in the works. Wandering through the base at sunset, I suddenly found myself enveloped by a terrible smell. What on earth? I thought. Did a sewage truck hit an I.E.D.?
Then I saw it.
“The Poo Pond,” as the servicemen affectionately call the place, is an enormous liquid pit for all the human waste at the airfield. That’s not a small amount: The airfield is a small city, with at least 20,000 men and woman at the moment, many of them having only recently just arrived as part of President Obama’s escalation. The pond is perhaps a hundred yards across. Its contents form a kind of brownish bog — a swamp, if you will. The swamp is cordoned off by a single rope and an array of warning signs: “Biohazard: Do Not Enter.” It’s not as if I was planning to!
I stared at the bog for a few moments. Not a trace of life stirred on the surface, not even a mosquito. Out there in the middle sat a decorative fountain, happily spewing and bubbling.
From this smelly sea wafts a never-ending cloud of stench, which sometimes sweeps far and wide across the base. What gives the pond its piquancy is its location. It has not been shunted to some far corner of the airfield — which is miles across, with plenty of open spaces — but rather sits squarely in the middle of the base, among the multitudes. Just across the road are several rows of barracks.
“Wow, who has to live next to that?” I said to two American service members as we drove near the pond in their S.U.V.
The two Americans — one man, one woman — smiled at each other like an old couple.
“We do,” they said in unison.
I looked out toward the pond, breathing through my mouth.
“Do you get used to it after awhile?” I continued naïvely. “Do you get used to the smell?”
“Never,” said the man, who was driving. “Not for a second.”
It should be said that the pond does, apparently, serve as some functions useful beyond the absorption of sewage. Taliban fighters often bombard the place with rockets, which sometimes explode and injure people. During one recent attack, an officer told me, a Taliban rocket struck the pond and disappeared inside.
It hasn’t been heard from since.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More Troops in Afghanistan Than Iraq

As of today, there are more US troops in Afghanistan Than Iraq as reported today in the NY Times At War blog.  I am glad to hear it.  The war is over in Iraq--unless the civil war starts and if it does, it is not our war.

Really good news.  The American troops who have to be in the Middle East are moving to where they can do the most good in fighting terrorists.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

American Chemistry Magazine Published a Story I Wrote

Because it is in a PDF, I cannot post all three pages.  If you want to read it, send me an email:

Friday, May 21, 2010

WHYY to Teach Soldiers Video Skills

After breakfast with Carl Kassell on Tuesday, I got a tour of the new Learning Lab at WHYY in Philadelphia from Craig Santoro, the project manager.  During the tour, Craig and I talked about the possibility of WHYY training soldiers in video skills.  In a minute, Craig had a plan for a "Boot Camp" weekend.  A full day of shooting, framing shots, and technical instruction with WHYY professional staff.   The second day will be video editing and other technical considerations.  Craig suggested we bring our own cameras so the training will be on the equipement we will eventually use.

I knew I was going, whether it was an official Army weekend or not.  Yesterday, I called Sgt. Matt Jones at the public affairs office on Fort Indiantown Gap.  He said that, depending on the schedule, we could certainly use video cameras at the PA office.  I called Capt. Ed Shank of the 56th Brigade Combat Team (Stryker).  Capt. Shank said he would be attending himself and bring his PA staff. 

Tentative dates would be in September or October.  It's a great offer.  Thanks to Craig, WHYY and the Learning Lab.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Breakfast with Carl Kassell

This morning I went to the new Learning Lab in the WHYY FM91/TV12 Studios in Philadelphia for a breakfast event featuring Carl Kassell.  I got to sit with Carl during breakfast and took several photos during the presentation.  He was interviewed on stage by Dave Heller of WHYY. 

Carl talked about his life, NPR News, and Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me.  He joined the army in the 50s and served two years in Italy where he met his first wife.  His high school drama teacher was Andy Griffith and in the mid 70s he hired Katie Couric as a summer intern.  In response to an audience question, Carl said Gene Simmons of Kiss was the worst guest in the history of WWDTM.

                               Carl and Me

                      Carl Kassell during the on-stage interview

Dave Heller and Carl Kassell on stage at WHYY

Monday, May 17, 2010

28th Combat Aviation Brigade Barbeque

On Saturday, our drill day ended with a Barbeque for the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.  I got a lot of photos of soldiers waiting for and eating hot dogs, burgers, macaroni salad, and chips.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Family Photos with Jacari

After drill yesterday, I picked up Jacari and Nigel at Jacari's foster home.  We drove back to Lancaster and just as the sun set, Jan Felice (bicycle racer extraordinaire!) dropped by to take pictures of all seven of us.

Front row:  Jacari and Nigel
Middle row:  Iolanthe, Lauren, Lisa
Back row:  Annalisa and Me

From left:  Jacari, Nigel, Iolanthe, Lisa, Lauren, Me

Front row:  Annalisa, Jacari, Nigel, Me
Back row:  Iolanthe, Lauren, Lisa

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Growing Bolder Again

Today I was on on public radio in Florida and on the Web.  This is my second time on this very high energy show. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Every Time I Put My Helmet on. . .

Every time I put my helmet on, whether an Army Kevlar or bicycle helmet, I know I could actually need it.  I keep a crushed, bloody helmet that held together in last big bicycle accident.  It is hanging on the wall in the room where I keep my bikes.  I can take a look at it on the way out the door if I am ever stupid enough to ride without a helmet. 

On May 1, I rode to a race in Millersville PA.  The start line was just eight miles from my house.  When I got within two miles of the race, I started to see bicycles on both sides of route 999.  The riders were warming up for the race.  When I got a little closer a long double line of motorcycles went past me heading east on 999 toward Lancaster.

I would guess 60 or 70 motorcycles thundered past in three or four minutes.  Most of the bikes were Harleys without mufflers.  Most of the riders and passengers were not wearing helmets. 

I have had a few motorcycle accidents, one that left me in the hospital for two weeks.  In the "big crash" I tore both of my knees open and had a lot of other injuries.  The bike flipped in a turn and I flew though the air, landing face fist on my full coverage helmet.  Until I quit riding motorcycles, I kept that helmet to remind me that even if helmets were not required I should wear one.  The visor and the chin bar of the helmet had deep grooves from sliding on rough pavement at 75 mph.  Without a helmet I would have been dead.

At the time of the crash I was young and just out of the Army so I was in pretty good shape for the long recovery.  I also wore a heavy leather jacked and boots that spared me some injuries.

The riders going past me at 55 mph were wearing t-shirts and jeans along with a bandana instead of a helmet.  Many of the riders stretched the fabric of an XXL t-shirt tighter than bicycle racers spandex.  Some statistics put the death rate on motorcycles at 30 times higher per mile than cars and trucks. 

I was riding at an average speed of 30 feet per second wearing a helmet.  The chugging cruisers were traveling 90 feet per second without helmets.

Makes no sense to me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

A group of Military Bloggers has published a statement in support of repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the military.  Like Admiral Mullen, the bloggers take the repeal of DADT as inevitable and say that the military can handle it and should get ready to comply.  David Marron at Thunder Run posted the statement and I am sure will cover the on-going controversy if you are interested.

I admit to being of two opinions on the issue.  I served with gay soldiers back in the 70s and now.  There will always be gays in the military, but in the tight confines of Army life, no one currently has to deal with gay behavior.

So on the one hand, DADT is like the porn policy.  All through the tour last year, pretty much everyone admitted or bragged about watching porn.  But, no one was subjected to other people's porn because the rule was Zero Tolerance for porn.  So when I walked in a room, the person who was watching porn was careful to turn the screen toward himself and have earphones in.  The soldier watching "Saw V" had no worries about me or any other sergeant seeing his horror movie.  DADT keeps gay behavior out of view.  If the end of DADT means having to deal with openly gay behavior, it will be difficult.

On the other hand, after seeing the difficulties women have in the intensely male environment of the Army, it may be easier for gays to integrate than women.  I first enlisted in the 70s and found the military more integrated than my hometown of Boston.  Louise Day Hicks led her last busing riot in 1977 in Charlestown, Mass. just across the Charles River from Boston.  During the 70s young soldiers of every race found out that they all had two things in common:  they wanted to get high and they wanted to get laid.  This lowest common denominator meant that the kid from Newark, the kid from Watts and the kid from Sawyerville, Alabama, had a common interest.  Especially on the subject of smoking dope.  The drug tests did not begin until 1971 and were not effective for years after.  The dope smokers of all races helped each other cheat the test.

When I was in Iraq last year, men ate with men who did the same job, followed the same sports, or wished they were home fishing.  The older the were, the less likely they were to gather by race.  Women, on the other hand, sat with women.  Since women are just 10% of the force, a table of women stands out in a DFAC that seats 400. 

It seems to me it will always be difficult for women because their off duty interests are so different.  But I certainly don't know for sure.  Since it seems inevitable that DADT will end, I hope I am right about the gays integrating quickly.

One odd side note is the difference between acceptance of gay men and women.  I never heard a male soldier say they wanted all the Lesbians out of the military.  The only soldiers I ever heard say they wanted gay women out of the military were women. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Medals and Changes of Command

This weekend there will be changes of command ceremonies at several companies and formations for medals and awards.  For me the weekend will be about logistics. 

Will all of the change of command ceremonies be at the same time?  If so, I'll have to figure out how to shoot as many as possible.  They should all be at the armory, but if someone gets creative and uses an alternate location, I hope they use an alternate time.

Same with the medals.  There could be hundreds of individuals receiving medals.  If four companies hand out medals at the same time, I won't be able to get many pictures.  And since the Army is socialist and all about getting fair treatment, which ceremony do I go to if they are simultaneous?

Then the real big logistic issue comes later.  If I would by creative scheduling get pictures of each change of command and every ribbon and medal, how do I get those pictures to the soldiers in the photo?  For security reasons, Army computers do not allow any USB devices to be used with them.  If I have 400 high-res pictures, I will need to get them onto an Army computer where individual soldiers have access to them.  The photos will have to be mailed or burned onto a disk, but who is going to do that? 
And if we can resolve that, I have 5000 more photos from Iraq that soldiers may want and currently can't get to because they are on my USB external hard drive.

And you thought the Army was about guns and war.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cell Phones on the Train and in Oklahoma

What do a pleading mother on a train and a young soldier trying not to get dumped by his girlfriend have in common?  They both seem to be willing to let anyone within the sound of their voice know their lives are a mess--at least while they are talking on the phone.

This morning there was not a free seat on the inbound train to Philadelphia.  In the middle of the car a woman spent 15 minutes on the phone telling her son that he could make breakfast himself and he had to go to school even if he didn't want to  and much more.  She made at least half of the other 50 people in the crowded car listen to half of her unpleasant conversation with her disobedient child.  It is strange how holding a cell phone gives the caller permission to speak about things she would not say directly to a room full of strangers.

When we were in Oklahoma for training, some of the soldiers were already seeing their romantic relationships fall apart.  When I was in Germany in the 70s and there was no email or cell phones, the relationships ended abruptly.  A soldier would get a "Dear John" letter or, worse, spend the $1 a minute (when he was making $500/month) to call home and hear that his wife/girlfriend/fiance was dumping him.

But in the modern Army with cell phones, I could walk into the dayroom or down the hallway and hear the arguments that precede the breakup or the last efforts at persuasion.  The otherwise proud young man would let everyone within his hearing know that he was dumped or getting dumped soon.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Article on MREs

Last week I posted a video that went with an article on the science of feed soldiers in the field. Here is the article.

Looks like the article requires membership.

Here's the text:

Chemistry Improves Battlefield Food
When Neil Gussman joined the Army in 1972, meals for the battlefield were served in little green cans. Open those tins, recalls the Chemical Heritage Foundation's communications manager and Army sergeant, and you were likely to find culinary delights like "gelatinous, fat-coated Spam slices" and "big wads of grease."
Known as C rations, "the 12 main courses were ham and eggs, beans and franks, spaghetti, ham slices, and permutations of Spam," Gussman says.
He reenlisted in 2007 and, to his pleasant surprise, found that the green cans had been replaced with sleek tan packages stamped "MRE," for Meal, Ready-To-Eat.
"When I got my first MRE, I was in gastronomic love," Gussman says. Inside were crunchy crackers, brand-name candy, and a heating bag that gave off no smoke or light signature. Tactical eating no longer meant meals of congealed fat, he says.
But moving from cans of "green eggs and ham" to pouches of moist lemon poppyseed cake and hot beef ravioli requires a lot of scientific innovation. "Everything in the MRE involves chemistry in some way," says Jeremy Whitsitt, the Department of Defense's combat feeding outreach coordinator. From the packaging designed to withstand downpours and airdrops to the chemical heater that warms meals and beverages, the Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center (NSRDEC), in Natick, Mass., has spent years developing the modern MRE.
The unpredictable nature of military life means that battlefield meals must meet a set of strict criteria. MREs need to maintain their freshness for three years when stored below 80 °F, or six months when stored below 100 °F. "They must also be able to withstand rough handling conditions and airdrops from altitudes of 100 feet by helicopter, without a parachute, or 1,200 feet by plane, with a parachute," Whitsitt says.
An MRE's packaging presents the first line of defense in keeping it from getting beaten up during transport and in preventing oxygen, water vapor, and insects from infiltrating and spoiling the food. "It's a critical part of the overall MRE," says Danielle Froio, an NSRDEC materials engineer.
It's also the first thing you notice about an MRE as you pull apart the seal of its tough, tan meal bag made of low-density polyethylene. The food inside this bag is stored in two types of pouches, Froio explains. There's the retort pouch, which holds food that's been sterilized, and the nonretort pouch, which houses food that doesn't need sterilization.
Both pouches have a polyester outer layer that's easy to print on, so nutritional information is included with each of the MRE's components. Beneath the polyester is a layer of foil, which, Froio says, is the ultimate barrier to oxygen, water vapor, and light. A polyolefin layer also makes it possible to seal the package. And retort pouches have a fourth layer of nylon to make them durable enough to withstand the rigors of the sterilization process.
Researchers at NSRDEC are currently working to find a replacement for the foil layer in both types of pouch. "In low-temperature situations it can develop pinhole cracks that reduce the shelf life of the package," Froio explains. Although the group has examined many different polymers as possible replacements, all are permeable to oxygen or water vapor, she notes.
The researchers are now looking toward nanocomposite materials, Froio says, because their nanostructure "creates a tortuous path for the water and oxygen" to travel. They've had some success with montmorillonite- and kaolin-based nanocomposites, and a low-density polyethylene nanocomposite has been used as a meal bag in field tests.
Of course, the guidelines that govern MREs aren't limited to their durability. MREs are, after all, meals, and they have to provide enough nutrition to sustain a soldier engaged in intense physical activity. By regulation, Whitsitt says, each MRE must provide approximately 1,300 calories.
And then there's taste. Responding to the complaints about the old C rations—the ones Gussman describes as variations on Spam—NSRDEC has made an effort to create meals soldiers actually enjoy.
So how do you make cooked pasta and cake that can sit on the shelf for three years? "We build hurdles into these different food matrices to make it hard for 'bugs' to grow in them," Whitsitt says. Using acidic tomato-based sauces keeps the pH low, for example, thereby preventing bacterial growth. As for the baked goods, by tinkering with dough conditioners and adding iron-based oxygen-scavenging packets, the researchers are able to control pH and water levels to keep the breads and cakes tasting fresh.
All items packaged in a retort pouch are also sterilized by boiling. But certain foods simply don't hold up under the extremes of temperature and time—120 °C for 30 minutes—the military uses for this process. For example, says C. Patrick Dunne, the senior adviser in advanced processing and nutritional biochemistry for the Combat Feeding Directorate, "We have yet to get a really good mac and cheese out of the retort pouch."
To expand meal options and improve food quality, NSRDEC has been working on advanced processing techniques for sterilization that use microwave radiation and high pressure. "The challenge we have is to conquer the chemistry that happens during and after the sterilization process that will lead to degradation of quality," Dunne says. "You're not going to get fresh salads all the time, but we would like to give our guys something that goes beyond basic vitamins."
The novel microwave sterilization process that NSRDEC has developed in collaboration with researchers at Washington State University uses a microwave that operates at 915 MHz. This is a lower frequency than the average home microwave uses and penetrates the food to a greater extent. To keep the pouches from exploding, Dunne says, they are placed under pressure in a water bath. All told, the sterilization takes less than 10 minutes.
The one drawback to using this microwave sterilization process is that it doesn't work with the standard retort pouch. Its foil layer can't be placed in a microwave oven. Dunne says NSRDEC is looking into alternative packaging.
The military is currently testing MREs with chicken and dumplings sterilized via the microwave method. There are "benefits in taste, color, and texture" that come from microwave sterilization, Dunne points out. "You can make a salmon filet that tastes like the poached salmon you'd get in a restaurant. It does not taste like cat food."
NSRDEC is also working on high-pressure sterilization. The process places a food pouch under 100,000 psi for about three minutes. Heating is also used if the food being sterilized hasn't been pasteurized.
The result, Dunne explains, is greater variety of food that doesn't have the "tinny" flavor that comes from the current processing method. Mashed potatoes sterilized with this process have already passed the military's shelf-life and field tests.
Perhaps the most tangible chemical contribution to the MREs is the small chemical heater that makes it possible for soldiers in the field to enjoy the comfort of a hot meal and a hot cup of coffee. The heating technology, which gives off no light or smoke, makes use of the exothermic reaction of magnesium metal and water. The heater is composed of a postcard-sized polymeric "tea bag" filled with 9 g of Mg, which sits in a plastic sleeve. A solider adds just 1 oz of water to the sleeve, slips in the MRE entrée, and waits about 10 minutes.
The temperature gets up to about 60 °C, according to NSRDEC chemical engineer Peter Lavigne. "The reaction product, magnesium hydroxide, is essentially milk of magnesia, so it's disposed of without environmental concerns," he says.
The Mg powder pack also contains a little bit of salt and iron. These penetrate the magnesium oxide coating that tends to build up on the metal and prevents it from reacting. Chloride ions react with the Mg(OH)2 product to form MgOHCl, which dissolves the MgO coating. The role of iron is less clear, but it's thought to cause bimetallic corrosion that promotes the reaction between water and Mg.
Although the heater works extremely well, Lavigne says that there is concern about the hydrogen gas generated in the reaction. "We've always had an interest in eliminating hydrogen from a user-safety point of view," he says. NSRDEC is currently exploring heaters based on calcium oxide and phosphorus pentoxide exothermic hydration reactions, as well as Mg oxidation coupled with manganese dioxide to quench hydrogen generation.
"The challenge is to get at the heating profile that's safe to handle yet capable of heating a food product in a short time and is suitable for use with food," Lavigne notes.
As far as soldiers like Sgt. Gussman are concerned, any further improvements to the MRE are a bonus. "The soldiers who only know MREs sometimes bitch about them," he says. "Old soldiers who remember the canned rations know better."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Back to Racing--First Time Trial

This morning I rode the first time trial race since before deployment.  The French call this race contre la montre, against the watch.  It is my least favorite kind of racing--alone, curled up into the smallest space possible and suffering at the highest speed you can maintain. 

This time trial was short, just 11 miles.  It was very windy.  The course was South-North out and back along a road that parallels the beach on the Chesapeake Bay near Delaware City.  The wind was above 20mph with gusts out of the west.  It was a side wind in both directions sometimes turning into a brief head or tail wind when the road twisted.

It was very cold and I got up late so I did not warm up very much--about 10 minutes.  I should warm up for a half hour and some of my best results came with an hour warm up.  I don't know where I finished, but I feel bad enough at 9pm tonight that I know I tried very hard.  

No racing next weekend, I have to play Army.  It will be a whole weekend of change of command ceremonies and awards, so I will be taking pictures for the entire weekend.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Emergency Leave

One of the stories I did not have time to write was a process story about how our unit handled emergency leaves. From the week we mobilized till the last weeks in Fort Dix, New Jersey, soldiers in Task Force Diablo got a visit from their commander and first sergeant to deliver a Red Cross message. In fact, for soldiers who knew the procedure, seeing a company commander and first sergeant together, walking to someone's door, both looking stone faced, almost certainly meant bad news for someone in that room.

The soldier at the center of emergency leaves was Sergeant First Class Lori Burns, the NCOIC of the battalion S-1--the people who handle the paperwork. When the brigade received a Red Cross message, they passed it to our Operations (S-3) section who notified the battalion commander and command sergeant major and Lori. She started the paperwork and the very delicate process of determining whether this emergency was actually an Emergency Leave or not. An official military emergency leave is for immediate family--parents, siblings, children, and spouse. But some soldiers are raised by their grandparents.

As some of you may remember, I was one of the soldiers who received a Red Cross message that did not qualify as an actual emergency.  My mother-in-law died on Mother's Day last year, just a week after I arrived in Iraq.  Because there was space in the leave schedule at the time, I could have gone on emergency leave, but my wife thought it would be better to keep my leave as it was scheduled because we already had plans made.

But other guys who fell into the "not emergency" category that I was in really wanted to go home.  And most got to go home by giving up their scheduled leave.  The company and battalion commanders as well as the first sergeants and command sergeant major all would get the soldier home if they possibly could.  And unless they were off base on a mission, LTC Perry and CSM Christine were woken up and briefed on every Red Cross message.  The company commander and first sergeant delivered the message.

We had more than 50 Red Cross messages during the year of deployment and most of them got home one way or another.  Two soldiers lost newborn children during the tour.  One sergeant who lost his father went home twice.  The first time his father rallied and recovered, the next time was for the funeral.

Life seems on hold during the year of deployment, but life goes on back home.  The people who handle the emergency leaves have to deal with the reality of tragedy back home through the entire tour.

Friday, May 7, 2010

First Time Trial Coming up

On Sunday morning I will ride my first Time Trial since 2006.  It is not my favorite event, I don't have a TT bike.  For this event, I don't even have the special handlebars, wheels or helmet real time trailers use.  But I do have a nice new Main Line Cycling/Bi-Kyle team skin suit.  So if I don't ride well, I will at least look like a real bike racer!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Who Fought the Iraq War: Coming Home the Hard Way

About once a month, I would run into Chief Warrant Officer Tim Blosser on Tallil Ali Air Base.  He is a funny guy in a very dry way.  We would occasionally have serious conversations, but mostly we made rapid fire bad jokes then went back to whatever we had been doing five minutes before.  

Last weekend I called Tim up just to see how he was doing.  He is the sort of guy who can make the best of any bad situation and I expected him to be back into a comfortable life and having a good time. 

He's not.

Tim came back to primary custody of his two high-school age kids and a job that disappeared while he was in Iraq.  The people who rented his house while he was in Iraq left a big enough mess that he is renting an apartment until the house can be repaired.  Worse still for someone who spent a year away from his wife, he only sees his wife two days each month.  She lives in Maine, has two high-school-age children also.  She will continue to live in Maine until they graduate.  Tim wants his kids to graduate with their friends, so he will continue to live in Pennsylvania.

Tim said parenting is about sacrifice.  He and his wife knew when they married that they would only have occasional weekends together for the first four years they were married.  He said that an arrangement like this really makes him appreciate the time he has with his wife.  He even said they plan to continue to have special weekends together when they live in the same place.

He got a job, but it is with a small company and he is the new guy, so he did not sound really secure in his prospects.  But he talked about how the company is expanding and if everything goes well, there could be real growth.

Tim is an amazing guy. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tough Mudder Pictures

the event photographer posted some pictures form the event on line.  They found several mud-covered shots of me.  I am looking through their "Lost and Found" section before I order the high-res pictures.  In the meantime, they are here.

I have photos from the event I took after it was over.   It would be a fun event to shoot with all the costumes and mud.  I was so tired after it was over, I hung around for a while, but decided to go home so I would not be sleeping on the side of the road.

Kendra Boccelli, my niece, handled publicity for the event.  I heard about the event through her and my sister.

One of the event organizers with his Dad.  The founders of Tough Mudder are two Brits who like extreme sports.

One of the costumed competitors. Three guys wore blue body paint and yelled Avatar down some of the hills.

The Amish guy had a British accent.

Sophie Pollit-Cohen, who sent email and text updates to competitors about everything from start times to parking.

The water slide--we went down the hill in pairs.  The guy who went down the hill with me ended up on top of me in the pond.

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 3

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 2

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman is Here

Second Tough Mudder Report

First Tough Mudder Finish

First Tough Mudder Photos

First Tough Mudder Entry

Ironman Plans

Ironman Training

Ironman Bucket List

Ironman Idea

Ironman Danger

Ironman Friendship

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tough Mudder---I Finished!!!

The most important news about Tough Mudder is that I finished.  It was a grueling event and laid out in a way that made it especially difficult for me in the last mile.

At the beginning, we recited the following pledge.  UNLIKE any other event I have ever run, ridden etc, people really did help and encourage each other all along the course.  This event really was like being in Army training and not a civilian event, because the others mud-spattered competitors really were helping.  They helped me through three obstacles near the end when I was worn out.

As a Tough Mudder I pledge that…
* I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.
* I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.
* I do not whine – kids whine.
* I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.
* I overcome all fears.

The race started half-way up one of the steep slopes so we began with a "Braveheart Charge" downhill.  We turned and ran, then walked (most of us anyway) up the longest climb of the course.  More than half-way up, was a snow, slush pit that we crawled and walked across, then continued up the climb.

On the way down the other side we crawled under a long net sliding in the muddy grass on hands and knees.  We continued down to a pile of firewood.  There we each grabbed a small log and went up then down a 200-yard climb.  We went from there to the steepest climb which was actually OK for me.  It was bike riding muscles on the hills.  Down the other side we ran through hip deep mud, crawled through smooth sewer pipes, then went down a long hill to a low crawl under wire through the mud.  After that we ran through the woods for a couple of miles.  When we emerged from the woods, I was in trouble. 

First, I had linked up with a group that called themselves the Pandas.  Panda 6 said their leader dropped out.  I told him he was the leader.  In the Army 6 is the number the commander uses.  So our commander in Iraq was Diablo 6.  Panda 6 was happy--"the Army guy said I am in charge."  I ran with the Pandas to the water obstacle.  I dragged myself across a really cold pond hand over hand on a sagging rope.  Panda 6 thought this would be better than going over on a two-rope bridge.  Maybe I spoke too soon.  All the energy went out of me in that cold water.

The next obstacle was under barrels in another pond.  I was colder.  It was in the high 80s.  I was cold.

Next we jumped off a pier and swam around a buoy and back to shore.  To the trained swimmers in the water, I looked like a practice dummy.  One swam up to me and asked if I was OK.  I said No.  His partner on the pier threw me a line and towed me in like a boat with no engine.

Out of the water, I jogged to the 12-foot wall climb.  I had to climb two 12-foot walls.  Other Mudders helped me over both.  From there we went down a 100-foot water slide into a pond.  I flipped into the pond butt first and landed on a rock with another guy's legs landing on my head.  He helped me up and I swam for shore.

After that the run between the burning hay bales was positively refreshing.  I took a few pictures at the end, but I was so tired, I ate everything in sight then drove home.

I was SOOOOoooo happy to finish.  It really was a happy 57th birthday.

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 3

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 2

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman is Here

Second Tough Mudder Report

First Tough Mudder Finish

First Tough Mudder Photos

First Tough Mudder Entry

Ironman Plans

Ironman Training

Ironman Bucket List

Ironman Idea

Ironman Danger

Ironman Friendship

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Racing at Turkey Hill

I missed the last two Turkey Hill road races.  Held the first weekend in May, I have been riding in this event since 2003 and did very well (for me) in it from 2003 through 2005.  Those three years I finished 7th, 10th, and 7th.  In 2006, I was 27th.  In 2007, I dropped out out and a few days later broke my neck.  Turkey Hill was one of the few races I did that year, and definitely the last one.  In 2008 I was at pre-deployment training for the race and in 2009 I was in Kuwait packing up to fly to Iraq.

It's a hilly race with some spectacular crashes.  In 2006, Chuck Waterfield broke his skull in several places crashing in this race.  Trevor, a new racer who lives in my neighborhood, crashed in almost the same place Chuck did, but only had cuts and bruises.  We rode home together from the race with a couple of members of the Franklin & Marshall College cycling team.

This year I was the last finisher still pedaling.  I got dropped on the second lap.  I was at the back of the pack and saw the strong guys up front pick up the pace on the first climb on the north side of the course.  I watched them disappear.

I should be better next year.

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...