Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Update on Lauren's Broken Finger


Lauren is back at practice and in physical therapy to get complete her healing process. She said it was definitely painful when the doctor and the therapist started bending her finger, but she hopes to be back in the goal before the end of the season.

She also hope to keep her bones inside her body from now on!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Speaking at the Mount Joy Rotary Club

Last Tuesday I was the guest speaker at the Mount Joy Rotary Club.  I had never been to a Rotary meeting before.  I was not surprised the chicken was on the menu or that I could have three desserts if I wanted them.  I was surprised at the opening of the meeting when we sang a song together.  Service clubs like Rotary have existed long enough that singing together is one of their traditions.

We pledged allegiance to the flag, sang the national anthem and sang "Roll, Rotary, Roll."

The audience numbered about 30, mostly men and three women.  I wore my uniform since I was speaking about serving in Iraq.  After I was finished speaking one of the women said, "I saw you come in the building in uniform.  I thought you were too old to be a soldier, but you explained how you got in."

Randy Wolgemuth, the president of the Mount Joy chapter gave me my opening joke.  He asked how long I lived in Lancaster County.  When I said 30 years, he said, "You're a native."  I said, "No way!"  When I got up to speak I told the audience what Randy said, then told them about about something I heard from a Mount Joy resident 30 years before.  In 1980, I met Harold and Helen Keller.  They were in their mid 50s at the time.  They had lived in Mount Joy in the same house since they got married 30 years before.  They raised eight kids and were active in their Church and the community.  But Harold told me there was a group of women in their 70s and 80s who lived on their street who still referred to them as "The Kellers from Manheim."  Manheim is the next town to the northeast, five miles away.

I spoke mostly about the men and women I wrote about while I was in Iraq.  As I flashed their pictures up on the screen, I was wondering how they were doing now.  Telling some of those stories again reminded me that I met some of the best people I have ever known in that miserable country.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Article from Tactics about Iraq--from my Day Job

If you want to read it, send me an email and I will send a copy. ngussman@gmail.com 

Ran Half Marathon Sunday

On Sunday I ran the ING Philadelphia Half Marathon.  It was great.  I have never run in such a big event. More than 19,000 runners started the 13.1 mile race.  They filled the Ben Franklin Parkway lining up for the start.  I started in group 20 out of 22 groups.  There were roughly 900 runners in each group so I started with 18,000 runners in front of me and about one thousand behind me.

We ran from the the parkway through Center City to the Liberty Bell then looped back to the parkway past Chinatown and the Convention Center.  We then ran down Kelley Drive to the city line, crossed the bridge and ran back on West River Drive, finishing in front of the "Rocky" steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

I ran with my friend and former editor Kristine Chin.  She brought her family to the race, so we had a four-person cheering section at the start, 5-mile mark and the finish.  This year and last year, Kristine and her husband Rick rode the RAGBRAI on a tandem.  Kristine did the 400-mile+ ride across Iowa without training.  She did train a little--riding about 100 miles (total) in the months before the ride each year.  So she convinced me I could do a half-marathon with minimal training.

She was right.  I finished!!!!  Not fast, 2 hours 23 minutes, 33 seconds.  But I moved up from 18,000th at the start to 11,208th at the finish.  And I improved by 45 minutes over my time doing the half-marathon on Tallil in Iraq last year (3:08).  It was so much fun to run in a crowd with thousands of people.  I was in lot of pain on Sunday and Monday, but I hope to do another one this year.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Echo Company Back to Fueling

On Saturday of this weekend's drill, while the country remembered 9-11, Echo Company was training for the next mission.  The Echo fuelers set a a fueling point on Medina Ridge at Fort Indiantown Gap.  Fox Company set up communications for the operation.  Three Blackhawks came in for fuel just after lunch.  I was waiting for a ride to the military-vehicles-only training area and missed the Blackhawks.

I did have a chance to watch a pair of Chinooks fly in from the east and head southwest into the sun after practicing flying into the refuel point.  They did not refuel for reasons they never tell the guy with the camera.  But it was fun to get another chance to get near the rotor blast of a Chinook and get pictures of the big birds flying off into the sun.



Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Milestone in Context

Today this blog passed 100,000 page views since June of 2008 when I started keeping track.  It's a big milestone for a small subject, what it's like to go back in the Army when you are older than dirt.  Just to put in context, I checked the traffic on one of my favorite blogs, pharyngula.  This very entertaining blog by PZ Myers has had 88 million page views in the last several years.  I suppose Justin Bieber has 88 million page views on a good day.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Citizen Soldiers are not Entirely Civilians

I got a google alert on Sunday that my battalion commander was in a picture posted on the Penn Live blog, the on-line section of the Harrisburg Patriot-News.  When I went to the page all of the pictures were of the 2-104th homecoming--both soldiers and families.  Since the eight images pictured soldiers in our unit, I called the current battalion commander, the former battalion commander, my company commander (all of whom were in photos) and the battalion Command Sergeant Major.

If a civilian communications manager calls a civilian executive during a holiday weekend, that executive will hope the news is good and be ready for something bad, but will call back because his or her phone/blackberry is always on.  None of my leaders called back until this morning.  My current battalion commander, Maj. Joel Allmandinger, said he saw the photos.  Since it was good news, no reason to call during the weekend.

Since I am the kind of workaholic who brings his laptop and cell phone on EVERY vacation or day off, I admire people who really shut off their cell phones/laptops etc and actually go on vacation.  My disconnected time is on the bike.  If I don't hear from the others by this weekend, I will try to call them again on Friday.

I admire them, but won't emulate them.  I was asking for my cell phone in the hospital after I broke my neck.  It would take some kind of psychic surgery to get me away from digital communications for more than a day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Digital Barbarism

After my latest on-line argument earlier this week, I decided to see what my favorite living writer, Mark Helprin.  His book Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto paints a beautiful picture of all that was marvelous without digital communications.  Helprin is a writer of tall tales.  His main characters are marvelous man and women who perform unbelievable feats--an old man who walk effortlessly on mountain trails, an out-of-shape young man who goes from fat boy to climbing alpine ice cliffs in a year.

Helprin says digital communication needs rules.  He is right, but it does make me wonder how that can happen.  I never make anonymous comments, but what does that mean in a world where many people do?  Facebook is somewhat better because you deal with people you know personally--unless you have "friended" strangers.  If you are interested in the topic, Helprin entertains, not just complains.

Reading this book reminded me that many of my favorite writers are political Conservatives--CS Lewis, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Helprin are soldiers and men who want to preserve high culture: literature, the arts and everything that makes life worth living.

Here is Helprin on the 2008 election:


What a kerfuffle! Half a dozen talk-radio hosts whose major talent is that, like hairdressers, they can talk all day long to one client after another as they snip, have decided that the presumptive Republican nominee does not hew sufficiently close to their gospel.
As anyone who has listened to them knows, the depth of their thought is truly Oprah-like. And if a great institution of the left can weigh-in as it does in the choice of a nominee, why not its fraternal twins on the right? It doesn't matter that Mitt Romney, suddenly their Reagan, became a conservative in a flash of light sometime last year, or that their other champion, a populist theocrat, is in many ways as conservative as Vladimir Lenin. The task is to stop the devil McCain.
As a mere print person whose words are not electrified and shot through walls, automobiles, pine trees, and brains, I realize that what I write in the bloody ink of a dying industry may be irrelevant. But from my antiquated perspective, something is very wrong.
Ostracism following tests of "right thinking" is a specialty of the left. Not that it doesn't exist on the right, blooming with great malice especially on the radio. But in light of their prospects, conservatives have no room for it. For by their neglectful forfeit they have lost the battles of culture and education, and to remain other than an occult force they must express their beliefs through politics, from which, after November, they may be for a time excluded.
Why? To begin with, American columns should have cut through Baghdad after three days and exited three weeks later, leaving Saddam dead and a pliant Iraqi strongman to keep the country harmless or suffer the same quick take-down. Rather than being broken on the wheel of irreconcilable Muslim factions, a supple and intact American power would have shattered Arab elation following Sept. 11, and then by threatening their rule been able to discipline the various police states of the region into eliminating their terrorists. Far more efficient that way, without six and more murderous and unavailing years in which neither a single democracy has appeared nor will one. The surge is merely coincident with a change in Sunni strategy. Instead of watching the U.S. and Iran arm the Shiites for a major sectarian war, the Sunni choose to avail themselves of American arms while simultaneously removing the lunatic jihadists nipping at their heels.
The Democrats' advantage in 2008 is that the costs of the war in Iraq have been highly disproportionate to its effects, not least in the decline of the American military, when it could have been otherwise. Conservatism has been dehorsed, because though conservatives rightly seek victory, it has not appeared except in the minds of those suffering from cognitive dissonance.
This and the economy threaten to throw the conservative enterprise back to where it was before Ronald Reagan or even William F. Buckley. Along comes John McCain, who has an 80% positive rating from the American Conservative Union but who as a truly independent soul does not fit, at the margins, some of the transient notions of what makes a conservative. Because of his independence and flexibility, he is the only Republican candidate who has a chance of winning, and thus preserving the core principles of conservatism, in relation to which he is unimpeachable. They are national security (in particular the strength of the military after Iraq and vis-à-vis China and a resurgent Russia), Constitutionalism (as in individual vs. collective rights), and the economy (free markets vs. government industrial policy).
One can agree or disagree with his peripheral positions, but political orthodoxy is political death. If those who are in a hissy fit about Sen. McCain would rather have Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, they will get Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton -- how delightful to go to jail for building your house on land once visited by an exotic moth -- and they will wake up to a great regret, as if in their drunkenness they had taken Shrek to bed.
But, guess what? Even if, as the country veers left, living conservatives gnash their teeth and dead ones spin in their graves, a small class of conservatives will benefit. And who might they be? They might be those whose influence and coffers swell on discontent, and who find attacking a president easier and more sensational than the dreary business of defending one. They rose during the Clinton years. Perhaps they are nostalgic. It isn't worth it, however, for the rest of us.
So, rather than playing recklessly with electoral politics by sabotaging their own party ostensibly for its impurity but equally for the sake of their self-indulgent pique, each of these compulsive talkers might be a tad less self-righteous, look to the long run, discipline himself, suck it up, and be a man. And that would apply equally as well to the gorgeous Laura Ingraham and the relentlessly crocodilian Ann Coulter.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Transformed in a Moment

One morning in Iraq, I left battalion headquarters to ride across the base and go to a meeting with the Command Sergeant Major of the Garrison.  We were meeting about the 9/11 Commemoration Ceremony.  We had much of the program in place, but we needed a chaplain for the invocation.  When I told the commander's assistant where I was going, two or three people in the office right away said, "Sergeant Major F*&K This!"  And smiled.  The garrison CSM had a reputation for swearing that was noticeable in an Army unit in Iraq.  I had not heard a sentence from him without an F-bomb.

The chaplain everyone assumed would give the invocation had just been transferred to the north.  Chaplain Valentine, the post Catholic chaplain, taught philosophy at Fordham University in New York City.  After 9/11 he decided to volunteer for the chaplaincy.  He was on his third tour.  From our base, he rode convoys and flew to every outpost in the south of Iraq.  The north was short of chaplains, so he went off to minister at the small outposts north of Baghdad.

My pick for the invocation was Chaplain Eugen Henke of the Wisconson National Guard.  He is an inspiring speaker and left his post as top chaplain in the state to volunteer for deployment.  

I knew as Chaplain Henke and I walked toward the CSM's office that the meeting would go well, but I was a little uncomfortable at the prospect of talking about a prayer sitting between a chaplain and the CSM.  I could hear the CSM talking as we neared his office.  "Get this F--ing request to headquarters. . ."

When we walked into the office, I introduced the two men.  We sat down and talked about the ceremony, the invocation and the flow of the event.  We spoke for almost 15 minutes.  Not ONE use of the F-bomb.  It was an incredible performance.  In fact, no one believed me when I got back to our headquarters.

As I walked down the hallway with Chaplain Henke after the meeting I made small talk, but in my head I kept thinking "Un-f*&king-believeable!!!!"