Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Got a 297 on the PT Test Today!!!

This morning I took the first APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test) since I returned home.  I thought I was slipping a little bit lately, but I got the best score in my life:  297!!!

I was two pushups short of scoring the max of 300.  Maybe next time!!!

I had a little help from the calendar because age 57-61 is the second to last scoring category.  I had to do 53 pushups and 64 situps to max.  I did 66 situps in just over a minute 40 seconds, so that was fine, but 51 was all the pushups I could do in two minutes.

To max the run, I would have to do two miles in 15:13, except over age 55 you can either run and be scored the usual way, walk 2.5 miles or ride a bike 6.2 miles (10k) in 28 minutes.  I rode the bike.  The bike has to be single speed or have its gears locked.  I have a single speed, so I rode the required distance in just under 20 minutes.

When you do the bike or the walk, the event is pass-fail and scoring is the average of the other two events. I got 100 points for the situps, 98 for the pushups, and 99 for the bike--297 total.

Great day for me!!

If you want to check your pt standards, follow this link.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Finding a Dog

Yesterday, my wife and I were talking about getting a dog.  We are going on vacation in August on two different weeks so we want to get a dog in September.

We were talking about going to the Humane League and then were wondering if there was some kind of Craigslist category for pet owners moving to a new town who can't take their dog.  I know when an Army unit moves out for a large deployment or relocation, there is a scramble to find homes for pets.

If anyone knows of a list like that where we could give a home to a dog that needs a home, let me know.  We are looking for a medium-size to large dog.  Definitely a dog who likes kids.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Last Workout Before the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT)

Today I went to the gym before my ride to do one last workout before taking the APFT on Wednesday morning.  Now that I am 57, I need 54 pushups and 64 situps to max the test.  The run time to max is now 15:13.  I haven't been running fast, so I don't know if I could do that, but it doesn't matter because I fall under the "choice of aerobic activity" rule allowing me to either run, walk 2.5 miles or ride the bike 10km.  The walk and bike are pass-fail and my score is the average of the scores of the other two events.

To pass on the bike, I need to ride 10 km (6.1 miles) in 28 minutes.  I have to ride a one-speed bike or lock the gears to one speed.  On a good day, I can ride 10km in 16 minutes.  So if I have a bad day, I will still pass.  I think if I have a flat I could change it and still pass.

I did 66 situps in 2 minutes today and 50 pushups.  Assuming I can squeeze out four more pushups on Wednesday, I might be able to max the test.

At the other end of the scale, I need 18 pushups and 28 situps to pass, so I should be good for at least a pass.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Back to Racing--At the Back

Today my brief Father's Day comeback ended.  I entered the relatively flat, fast road race at Brownstown, PA.  On the 2nd of six 5-mile laps I was wheezing and watching the pack disappear.

Although the race was flatter than last week's climb-every-mile Cargas Criterium, Brownstown has three sharp, square left turns that slow the pack to 15mph leading to acceleration on the way out of the turns.  This kind of acceleration is exactly what I was NOT doing last year and what I need to do to keep up in races.  Also, the race was controlled and won by Thru-It-All Cycling team.  They are the strongest and deepest team racing masters 45+.

So what was I doing in a 45+ plus race at my advanced age?  It was a combined field with 45+ and 55+ racers.  Last week the entire field was 55+.  When fields are combined, the stronger field controls the pace and the rest of us do the best we can.  Thru-It-All attacked three times a lap causing the pack to chase.  The attacks went on until the fourth lap when eventual winner John Spittal got away with one other rider at the front of the field.  At that point the field settled down, but I was already a Zip Code behind the field riding with two other 55+ racers who were summarily dropped from the field.

I might race in New Jersey this Saturday, maybe not again till mid-July.  I have a drill weekend on July 11-12 so no racing that weekend.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Screaming Jelly Babies (Gummi Bears)

On the first friday of every month, the museum where I work opens its doors in the evening.  We are part of the "First Friday" night in Philadelphia.  Last month we had free beer samples from a local brewery and a visiting scholar talking about the history of beer and brewing.

On July 2, we will have chemistry experiments every hour including the Screaming Jelly Baby, as it is known in Britain.  Jelly Babies and Gummi Bears are almost pure sugar and oxidize so fast you can get a screaming sound from a test tube with the right temperature and oxidizing agent:

In Iraq, I would hear serious conversations about MEDEVAC missions, emergency leaves, and other "work" issues in an aviation unit in Iraq.  Today I heard two of my co-workers talking very seriously about how and where we would be setting up the Screaming Jelly Baby experiment.

 Life is different back here in the world.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

I am using Twitter more lately because of a program called Tweet Deck.  I am also using Facebook more and adding friends from Task Force Diablo (2-104th GSAB) and high school.  You can find me on either Facebook or Twitter by searching my name.  I am also on Linked In but use that less.  Twitter and Facebook are made for immediate updates.  LinkedIn not so much.

I know there are hundreds of other social media options out there.  Are there specific ones an old soldier/chemistry geek/bicyclist should be looking at?

Let me know.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Whole Race--I am Coming Back!!!!

Today was the annual Father's Day Race, officially known as the Cargas Criterium and Masters State Championship at Greenfield Industrial Park in Lancaster PA.  I have been riding in this race since I turned 50--except 2007 when I was in a neck brace.  I went to that race and probably caused fights between a dozen racers and their wives after they saw me watching the race in a neck and chest brace with not-quite-healed scars on my face.

Today I got my best result--EVER!!!!

In four races between 2003 and 2007 I never finished better than 26th.  In 2008 I finished 21st.  Last year, it was one of the three races I did in America in 2009, because I was on leave from Iraq during the last two weeks of June.  I finished 20th.

Today I was 19th.  Not exactly a victory in a field of 40, but it is the first race I finished with the main pack since I have been back from Iraq.  I will be racing next weekend in a race I have finished more than once in the top ten.  I am feeling good!

The other great thing about this race for me is that it is six miles from my house and my family comes out to cheer for me.  Today, my wife was at a six-mile mud run of her own, but Lauren, Lisa, Nigel and Jacari were out and yelling GO DAD! on every lap.  In fact, they were so loud that a couple of the riders said they sounded like the horns at the World Cup Soccer Games.

They sounded great to me.  At amateur racers, the participants outnumbers the fans by ten to one.  I had ten percent of the crowd cheering for me.  I was a happy Dad.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I opened a FLICKR page in Iraq and just started using it.  I guess this is considered social media, but it does not connect with Facebook (at least as far as I can see) so I have not made a lot of FLICKR friends.  If someone does know how to connect FLICKR with Facebook, please let me know.
Here's the page.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Barnstormers

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, my hometown for the last 25 years has a professional baseball team called the Barnstormers.  They are a minor league team.  My family has been to several games on different occasions.  I haven't yet been to a game.  I am not a fan of stick and ball sports in general, but they are the local team, so I hope to get to a couple of games before the long baseball season ends.

It will have to be a night game, because if I have that much free time during the day, I'll be on my bike.

Anyway, one of my neighbors has taken her kids to several Barnstormers games and said they are a lot of fun.  Then she said, "but it's sad reading about the players, you can tell they are on the way down in not-so-great careers."

So. . .

They may not be starting for the Red Sox, but they are professional players.  They get paid to play ball.  How many people ever get a chance to play pro ball or get paid to play any sport as a professional?  I know that there are tens of thousands of people who wish they could play pro sports for every one who makes it.

When she was making that comment, I thought about the 50 miles I rode today, part of more than 200 I rode this week trying to get to the point where I can just finish a race.  Nobody among the thousands of masters amateur racers I ride with gets paid.  Really hot shot riders get free jerseys and bike parts, but nobody quits their day job.

In amateur sports, as in the Army, the big dividing line is between those who do and those who don't.  Often when I ride with a group of fast riders who are not racers, somebody will tell why they don't race.  Usually, they are worried about crashing.  I always tell them they made the right decision.  Racers crash.  If you don't want to crash, you should not race.  Frankly, you should not ride fast or on roads either, but that's another topic.

In the same way, there is no safe way to serve.  Get a guarantee for the safest job and a computer somewhere will spit out a requirement for your job in the middle of the hottest conflict.  Enlisting means serving as needed.  It can be dangerous.

And like racing, it is clearly not for everybody.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Awards from Iraq Presented at Last Drill Weekend

Four Companies had award ceremonies on Sunday morning, June 13.  Bravo, Delta, Echo and Headquarters & Headquarters Company gave awards to soldiers in separate ceremonies during the morning.  The photos of these award ceremonies are at the links below:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Freedom Salute Pictures

On Sunday, June 13, 2-104th GSAB received a Freedom Salute ceremony honoring soldiers who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom last year, returning home in January.  All deployed soldiers who could attend the ceremony were honored for their service.  Photos of the ceremony are available for download on a FLICKR page maintained I set up in Iraq.  To view all the photos and download yours, just click on this link.

There are 273 photos in this set.  Please add identifying info to your picture or pictures and feel free to share the pictures with family and friends.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adoption Begins

Our kids:  Lauren, Jacari, Iolanthe, Nigel and Lisa.

Yesterday we officially became the foster parents of Jacari Waddell.  The adoption could take up to another year before the paperwork is completed.  In the meantime, Jacari will be with us.

Our family now has five last names for seven people.

Monday, June 14, 2010

More Change of Command Pictures

Chaplain LaVoie making the Invocation

Master of Ceremonies SSG Shawn Rutledge

HHC Change of Command

Out-going Commanders after the ceremony

Delta Company

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Changes of Command June 13 2010

CFour companies in 2-104th Aviation got new commanders on June 13, 2010.

Here are pictures from the ceremony.  Military tradition passes the company guidon flag from the first sergeant to the outgoing commander to the battalion commander to the new commander and back to the first sergeant.  The four soldiers stand at the four points of the compass facing each other with a flag flying between them.   

The ceremony is a dramatic moment for those involved.  Often the out-going commander is leaving his  first command.  The in-coming commander has been a platoon leader or other small unit leader before, but often is stepping into his first actual command.  

These change of command ceremonies are especially poignant for the men involved.  Every one of the out-going commanders led their unit in Iraq.  The new commanders are taking the place of combat commanders--always big boots to fill.

Battalion Formation                                                          

Capt. Shamus Cragg B Company, 1-150th 

Capt. Nate Smith B Company

Capt. Ward takes command of HHC

1st Lt.  Zettlemoyer commands D Company

Saturday, June 12, 2010

From Larry King While I was in Iraq

One night when I was in the Coalition DFAC in Tallil, I saw a re-broadcast of a Larry King Live program that showed me just how infuriatingly shallow CNN can be.  I expect it from Fox News, but there on CNN was Larry King interviewing Jenny McCarthy about vaccines and autism.

With heartfelt sincerity and a winning smile and an utter lack of scientific training or evidence, McCarthy presented her case that vaccines caused her son's autism.  On the 2nd half of the show, doctors from leading childrens hospitals explained in a very kind way that McCarthy had no evidence her beliefs.  I remember thinking at the time that this is exactly why kids want to get on American Idol--celebrity makesd you an expert in EVERYTHING.

As those doctors found out, it is very hard to criticize the mother of an autistic child.  But here is some very proper criticism:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Getting Ready for a Guard Weekend

This weekend I will be taking more pictures.  Many soldiers will be getting awards from the Iraq tour.  The official change of command ceremony for the battalion will also be tomorrow.

In addition we will have a post-deployment health assessment.  We will be asked a bunch of questions about our health as well as how much we drink and whether we are angry, depressed or have nightmares.  That's all pretty standard.

The interesting thing is the logistics.  Up until a few weeks ago, we could fill out an assessment form on line.  Then the on-line version was closed to National Guard.  There is also an 888 number, but that is the plan B.  The plan A is that we all load up on buses tomorrow and ride over to the VA Medical Center in Lebanon to fill-out the form with counselors on site.  The full time soldiers say that they cut off on line access because the state planned for us to complete the assessment in person.  They authorized work on Saturday and Sunday to get this done.  If we don't show up, the state will be angry because they budgeted for staffing and if we don't use the program they will have wasted money.

So in the tail-wagging-the-dog world of the Army, we will all load up on buses and stand in long lines so someone in state government will not be seen as wasting money.  We are state civil servants.  Most of us are too low in rank to come to the notice of the state bureaucracy, but the top leaders of the PA National Guard are very much part of the state government.

From the time I re-joined, I have heard many of our leaders say "appearance is reality" a truism that, like stereotypes, is true most of the time at the shallowest level.  We do many things just for appearances and many of them involve riding buses.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Different Work Environment

I have written before that my civilian job is WAY different than my military.  One was is by gender.  I work on the fifth floor.  I am one of three men who work on this floor with 11 women.  And the two guys are out of town more than I am.  So I am often the only guy on the floor.

Many of the meetings I go to I am the only guy.  Or I am one of two guys among six or seven women.  Many of the women are in their 20s or early 30s so, as in Iraq, I am older than their mothers.

You could ask, "What's wrong with that Gussman?  Wouldn't you rather be in a room full of pretty women than with a bunch of guys?"

Sure, except I have to make sure exactly where I am before I make a joke.  Jokes among the men I hang around with primarily soldiers and bike racers, are put down jokes.  Some are coarser than others, but they they are part of marking territory, saying who is better than whom.  When I made a joke in the motor pool, it was at the expense of someone else.  And it was better if there were a half dozen others around to laugh at the object of the joke.

At work, we make jokes with no put downs, or a self put down.

In Iraq, if my roommate Nickey Smith had his friends in the room and I walked in he would say, "That's my Roomie.  'Cause of him, I live in a f#&king library.  Can you believe he don't listen to music.  Nothin'!!!!!!!"

Nickey would then make a joke about how fast I was going to bounce in and out of the room.  Usually I was changing to ride or workout.  While I was changing I would make a joke about how much Nickey was going to miss my white ass when we went home.

I don't make jokes like that at work now.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Army Job I was Supposed to do is Open

It's strange to think about it, but the job I enlisted to do way back in 2007 is open at Fort Indiantown Gap.  Every week I get a list of open Army jobs in Pennsylvania.  For the last eight weeks, the list has included a job with the exciting title "Survey Team Member."  This is job is for a sergeant who is in charge of keeping  WMD detection equipment calibrated and ready for use.  He (the job is not open to women, potential for closer combat) also uses the equipment in the field--which could be a football field, baseball field or other place where a WMD might be used.

But even if I wanted the job, I am too old.  The same arcane rules which keep me from passing my Iraq educational benefits too my kids also prevent me from taking a full-time Army Guard or Reserve job.  I need to have five years left on my current enlistment to be eligible.  But I can't have five years on my contract because that would take me past age 60.  I could actually serve five years, but each of the years after age sixty requires a different waiver that cannot be granted except on a one-year basis.

So I can't take the job and I can't give one of my kids the education benefit, because the five-year rule applies in both cases.

In the Army, paperwork always trumps reality.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Talk Radio Defenders are Polite

Today the "In My Opinion" editorial in the Lancaster Sunday News was a response to my editorial of May 30.
And the first four letters to the editor were also responses to my editorial.  Only the last and shortest letter was positive.  But everyone was polite.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Strawberry Fields Forever

On Saturday I went strawberry picking north of Lancaster at Shenk's Berry Farm.  For Nigel and Jacari this meant both the accomplishment of picking a few pounds of strawberries and the added bonus of eating all you want as you go along the rows.  The boys went first up parallel rows.  My wife and I followed behind the boys to pick the hundreds of strawberries they miss.

In the rows next to us were two young women.  My wife talked to them for a while about canning, then they returned to their main topic of discussion.  They were talking about the upcoming marriage of one of them.  The soon-to-be bride was telling her friend how much her fiance would have to change when they were married.  He spends too much time with his friends, etc.

One of the things I did as a father of three girls was to convince them that the silliest fantasy American girls have is that they can change a boy or a man.  My daughters seem convinced that they have to find a guy they like as is, and enjoy the relationship, or move on.  One of the more painful passages to read in CS Lewis's The Four Loves concerns a wife whose life program is to change her husband to suit her, and what sort of man he becomes.

Of course, many woman also end up in bad relationships because they use their maternal instinct to pick a guy.  Relationships in which a smart, competent woman has a grown, male dependent begin with a woman who says "No one understands him but me."  The truth is, everyone understands the creep except her.

When I was in Iraq, there were guys who were happy to be baking in the desert sun rather than listen to their wives "bitch about everything."  I know very well that I am not perfect and I do not know any perfect men. But a wife who's complaints can make Iraq look good has her reward.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Riding with Mike Zban & Cat Hollenbach

Today I had an off-site meeting and got to ride the with the Thursday Daily ride.  Three of the five of us were former employees of Godfrey Advertising. I worked there from 1985 to 1998.  Mike Zban and Cat Hollenbach both worked at Godfrey from the early 90s until a few years after I left.  Both run advertising agencies of their own in Lancaster now.

When Cat and her husband Matt came to Lancaster they were accomplished mountain bike racers.  They had been thinking about riding on the road.  Both of them got road bikes.  We started riding together at lunch and on Saturdays.  The office was in Centerville in the early 90s.  We had a route back and forth across the ridge between Centerville and Columbia we called the "Thousand-Foot Lunch Ride."  It was about 1000 feet of climbing for an 18-mile ride.

Matt and Cat both became great road racers.  In 1997, Cat was on the winning women's amateur team at the 24 hours of Canaan, West Virginia.  That was Team Alloy Nipples.  Later in the year, Cat was the winner in the Altoona Stage Race, the biggest amateur road event of the year in the 90s.  Matt was on the top amateur team at Canaan in 1997 and on one of the top teams in the men's Cat 3 Road Race.  My family went to the Altoona race and handed water bottles to Matt's team and Cat's team.  Today Matt is still racing, Cat is still a strong rider, but is not racing.

During today's ride, Mike Zban reminded me of a ride when, in his words, "You dragged me and one of my friends all over the hills of southern Lancaster County."  I rode with Mike when he started riding.  He got strong fast and is now a top Cat 3 racer on one of the best teams in central PA.  Mike was kind enough to ride in front of the pace line during most of the ride from Turkey Hill to Columbia and to hold the speed of the ride down when we climbed up to Highville.

It was a lot of fun to get back to riding with more friends.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Military Future

It's June and the Army Old Age clock is ticking faster for me.  Without a waiver from the commanding general of the PA NAtional Guard, I will be a civilian exactly three years from yesterday.  My discharge date is May 31, 2013.  I will not be retired on that day.  I am reliving my father's Army Career in many ways.  He lost his pension when the age-in-grade law caused him to be mustered out with 19 years service.  The Army retirement requires 20 years to get any benefits.

I will have 17 years in 2013.  I would have to stay until I was 63 to get a retirement, at least as far as I understand the rules, and that would require three consecutive waivers.

Not likely.

But I knew that when I needed a waiver from a general officer to get in three years ago.

In the short term, I also have to decide what to do for the remaining three years.  A public affairs officer in the Stryker brigade would like me to work in his office--he does not have a staff writer--but does not have an E5 slot.  I am not at all interested in an E4 slot.  The vast majority of people I deal with on a regular basis know there is some difference between a sergeant and a general, but both are in charge of soldiers, so it's not all that different.

For older people, Beetle Bailey cartoons may be part of their picture of Army ranks.  The general and the sergeant both order Beetle around.  How much different could they be?

So I want to stay a sergeant.

I have thought about trying to join an armor unit.  It would be kind of cool to begin and end my odd Army career in a tank.

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...