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Showing posts from May, 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 Sun…

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 kn…

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!!!

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 Amt…

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…

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.

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:  ngussman@gmail.com

Echo Soldiers at the Barbeque

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. 

Tentat…

More Pictures from the May 15 Brigade Barbeque

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

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.



















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








Growing Bolder Again

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

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 cra…

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…

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…

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 o…

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 crac…

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 comm…

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 eme…

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!

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…

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 sli…

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 clim…

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 pa…