Sunday, October 31, 2010

Infection Gets Worse

I got a different antibiotic this morning, but now my arm is more swollen than ever.   The nurse on call at my family doctor said I should wait until tomorrow before going back to the doctor.  So I will wait till morning and see if the swelling goes down.  If not, I'll get an appointment and try to get this infection under control.

More tomorrow. . .

Back to the Emergency Room Again

Yesterday, the MRSA infection seemed like it was going away.  This morning I woke up with my arm swollen so much I had no wrinkles--not easy at 57 years old.  The cut they made Thursday night to drain the would had opened and blood and pus were coming out.  The MRSA is back.  I called my doctor and they said to go back to the emergency room.  I got a different antibiotic which is already giving me a weird taste in my mouth.  They said to soak my arm in hot water.

At the hospital Jacari was hoping they would do something he could watch, like cutting and squeezing pus out of my arm.  Nigel was happy when they did not do anything visual.

Looks like I am going to be a lab rat for infectious bacteria.  

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My First Blister!!!!

Today I got a half-dollar-sized blister on my right heel.  I ran three miles in combat boots--clearly not a good plan.  But when I took off my boot I realized it was the first foot blister I have had since rejoining the Army.

I felt the blister coming on at the end of the first mile, but my son Jacari was running with me and this would be the first time he ran more than a mile without stopping.  He usually sprints, stops and sprints again.  He's a boy.

So we ran up a hill at the beginning of the second mile and my foot felt a little better, but down the other side it was worse.  But Jacari was still running and I did not want to be the reason he stopped.  So I kept on running.  Jacari made the whole three miles.  So it was worth a blister.

It shouldn't be too bad since it is on the back of my heel, not the bottom.  I rode the bike thirteen miles after I got the blister and that's no problem at all.  Nigel rode with us.  He was encouraging us and not at all interested in a three-mile run.

Nigel and Jacari

Friday, October 29, 2010

Back to the Emergency Room for an Infection

Yesterday a bug bie on my arm swelled from an inch to four inches long in one day.  I made a doctor's appointment for Saturday, but the last time I waited with a fast-swelling infection, I had to get about a square-inch of skin cut out.  So at 11pm I went to the emergency room.

When I got there, one of the nurses walked up and asked me how I was doing.  She had taken care of me in May of 2007, the last time I was in the ER at Lancaster General Hospital.  I broke ten bones and spent 9 days in LGH on that visit.  This visit was over and I was on the way to the pharmacy by 1:15 am.  They did cut the skin and drain some of the swelling, but nothing like last time.  I'm glad I went early.  The MRSA bacteria work fast.

Now I am climbing onto my soap box.  I joined the Air Force in 1972 when I was 18.  After eight months of training I went to my first permanent base, Hill AF Base in Ogden, Utah.  At hill as an airman I got a two-man room.  Our chow hall served five meals a day.  The food was great.  We had almost every weekend off, extra duty maybe once a quarter.  And everybody bitched.

Four years later I was in the Army.  The food was bad and there was not that much when we were out in the field.  We trained on weekends.  We slept on the ground.  The soldiers I served with bitched much less than the Air Force guys.

I learned then one of the weird rules of human life:  the better a person has it, the more that person will bitch.  Who is most like to sue their doctor--the higher the family income, the more likely they are to sue.  Who sends their food back at restaurants, bitches about coffee temperature at Starbucks, people who have a great life.

So now I come home to people bitching about the government, the economy, health care, Hollywood, TV, and who knows what else.  People in America bitch about everything and live better than kings did two hundred years ago.  Clean water from the tap, medicines that really cure disease, safe food, surgery with anesthesia (versus none), vaccines against disease, effective dental care, antibiotics, and lifesaving surgery of many kinds--I have had several myself.

We have all this and an epidemic of bitching.  And those who cannot bitch enough themselves listen to professional whiners bitch for three hours at a time on the radio.

I am so thankful to be alive at time when I can break my neck and nine other bones and join the Army three months later.  A decade early I would have spent a year in a halo cast.  A few decades ago I may have been paraplegic.  I ate better in Iraq than 90% of the people in the world.  I flushed better water than a third of the world drinks.

This really is a great country.  I wish the whiners could see it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lauren's Last Regular Season Game

Championships start next Wednesday.  Lauren's finger is healed up.  She played the full game plus two OT periods.


October Drill M240B Range Photos--Chinook Door Gun

Safety Check
Long Shot to small targets
10-round bursts

Beautiful weapon

Changing firing mechanism

Switching to prone firing position

Monday, October 25, 2010

Article in USO magazine "On Patrol"

The following article was published this spring in "On Patrol" the USO magazine.  I never saw it and the link is broken on the web site.  There is a pdf copy on line, but it is not easy to get to.  I also posted on a soldier stories Army web site.


On a cold, wet morning in early May of 2008, I climbed into the back of a canvas-covered 2 ½ ton M35A2 “Deuce and a Half” truck for the bumpy ten-mile ride to Urban Combat training.  I was carrying an M16 rifle.  We were beginning combat training to get ready for deployment to Iraq in January of 2009.  I re-enlisted in 2007 after leaving the Army in 1984.  I had been a civilian for 23 years and now I was back.  Up to this point my service had been one weekend a month.  But climbing into that out-moded truck that would soon be retired even from National Guard use, I had a moment of doubt whether I really belonged with these guys less than half my age and a moment of déjà vu.

Thirty-six years ago, in February of 1972, I was 18 years old in basic training.  I climbed into the back of a Deuce and a Half truck.  They big three-axle trucks were new to the military then, as was the M16 rifle I carried at the time.  We all knew we could end up in Viet Nam, although the war was ending.  Riding out to the range made the war more real. 

And 36 years later, bouncing and lurching on rutted roads toward the range I wondered if I was really ready for deployment to Iraq.  I never left the United States during the Viet Nam War, but in one of those ironies that make the best war stories so good, I was the only one of the five guys I enlisted with to come home in bandages.  They served in Viet Nam and came home just fine.  I was on a live-fire missile test crew in the desert in Utah.  On November 9, 1973, some detonators went off and I was blinded in the explosion.  I had my sight back in a month after six operations to remove wire and small fragments from my eyes.  I retained as a tank crewman after that and served another nine years, mostly as a tank commander on active duty and in the reserves.

In 1984 I left the Army because I wanted to work as a writer and, although the reserves is billed as one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer, the leaders spend a lot more time than that.  So I left the Army.

When America was attacked in 2001, I thought about re-enlisting, but I was too old.  At that time the maximum enlistment age was thirty-five.  Eleven years prior service meant I could enlist until age 46, but I was 48 when the terrorists attacked.  In addition, the baby we adopted the year before was not quite two years old. 

Five years later, in 2006, congress raised the maximum enlistment age to 42 for the Army.  It took a few months for me to find a recruiter willing to go through the waivers and hassles necessary to get a guy my age back in the Army, but Sergeant 1st Class Kevin Askew was sure he could get me back in. 

The déjà vu comes and goes.  In a very digital world, the Army still runs on dog-eared file folders of papers and uses more clerks to shuffle paper in a 2000-soldier brigade than a civilian company with ten times that many employees.  Most of the men I served with in the 70s (there were no women in combat units back then) were from inner city or rural backgrounds.  Most of the men and women who enlist now are the same.  They want a job, they want the benefits for their young families, they do not have the money for higher education and want to go to college or technical school.

Inside the fences that surround most bases, the Army is very much the same as the 1970s.  But the first time stopped on the way home from a weekend drill to get coffee at Starbucks, I knew perception of the Army had changed completely.  In the 70s we did not wear uniforms off base if we could avoid it.  Now people thank me for my service almost anyplace I go.  I came home from Iraq through Fort Dix, New Jersey.  I took an Amtrak train home to Lancaster.  Several people I never met thanked me for my service between Trenton, New Jersey, and home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  A few of the guys I served with in Iraq had enlisted back in the 1970s.  They remembered very well what it was like to be a soldier back then.  Sometimes when a stranger thanks me for my service, I wish some of the men I served with in the 1970s could spend a day in the uniform now and get some of the gratitude that they missed back then.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Death and Motivation

In an odd coincidence, I watched episode 2 of "Band of Brothers" the HBO series with my two sons and talked with my daughter about her recent visit to a charter school in Harlem.  My boys are (almost) 11 and (just) 12.  Even though they don't have video games in our house, they play them with their friends.  In video games you die regularly and come back to life.  In the "Band of Brothers" they make painfully clear death has no re-dos.

The boys really like the series.  We will watch the whole thing together over the next two weeks.

On the same evening, I spoke to my daughter Lisa, a sophomore at the U. of Richmond about her Fall Break trip to NYC to see schools in Harlem.  One of these amazing schools she visited was located in the worst area of Harlem.  The school starts at 730 in the morning and goes to 430 in the afternoon, but the kids stay later if they need to finish their work.  They go six days per week, 11 months of the year.  More than 90% of the kids they graduate go to college.

The schedule is rigorous.  The work is hard.  So what is the biggest motivational problem for the school?

The student death toll.

Of the 1200 kids in that school, two to five die every month.  That's right, 2 to 5.  By the end of the year, that adds up to about 5% of the student body.

More than a million soldiers have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  To date, about 6,000 soldiers have lost their lives in these wars or 0.6% of all soldiers.  If these wars had the same death rate as this relatively small school in Harlem, the death toll in these wars would already be worse than Viet Nam.

The unit I served with brought everyone home from Iraq--more than 2000 soldiers flying thousands of missions in helicopters.

Lisa said the teachers she met in these schools are amazing.  That is very easy to believe.  For all the problems with education, the best teachers really are miracle workers.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lauren is Back in the Goal--and Whacked Again

Lauren called me Saturday evening to let me know she played the 2nd Half of the game between Juniata College and Drew College.  She didn't know she would be playing, but the doctor cleared her to play so she was happy to get back in the goal.

When she started in goal Juniata was down 2-0.  By the end of the game they lost 3-1, but Lauren felt she played well and made good saves--with her hands.

Then she told me she took a ball to her face.  She was seeing a black shadow in her eye.  Her mom and I worried about serious injury, but it turned out she just had some blood in her eye from the hit.  No bad problem, just a swollen eye with a red patch.

We had a chance to talk about her future.  In the short term, graduate school, in the longer term all the different ways she could do social work.  She hasn't yet decided which kind of social work she will do--adoption counseling, veterans assistance, probation, and others.  But she was clear that her career intent is to help people. so that is the important thing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Latest Book Review

I reviewed another book for "Books and Culture" magazine.  It is a history of science book.  It's most interesting chapter is an aside on the author's debate with Henry M. Morris, one of the founders of the modern version of Young Earth Creationism.
The book is titled Much Ado About (Practically) Nothing: A history of the Noble GasesMuch Ado about (Practically) Nothing: A History of the Noble Gases.

I have another review coming out in the print edition next week, but it won't be on line for a month or two.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Staying as Long as I Can

Before and during the last drill weekend, I decided to stay in the Guard till they throw me out which likely will mean going to Afghanistan in two years or so.  Our unit should be getting new aircraft at the beginning of next year.  If all goes well, I hope to go with them.

When I started working full time in Iraq writing about soldiers, it became clear that in an ideal world I would have been in public affairs all the way through the training to get ready to go to Iraq.  That way I could have gotten information about every soldier before we went on active duty and written about the whole process--civilian, to soldier in training, to the desert and back again.

So I will write about all the training we do until plans for the unit become more clear.  Then I will have to get waivers both to stay in the Army past 60 and to deploy.  Our sergeant major thinks both waivers are possible, but nothing is ever a sure thing with waivers and exceptions.

On Monday when we were at the Corn Maze, PA State Senator Mike Brubaker was welcoming the veterans as we went in.  Later when we were eating he came over to our table and asked if there was anything he could do for us.  My wife said, "Neil wants to stay in the Guard and go to Afghanistan.  Can you help him with that?"  Sen. Brubaker called his aide over.  It turns out we live in a different senatorial district, but he said Senator Smucker would certainly be willing to help.  My commander in Iraq, Scott Perry, is the representative for the PA 92nd district, so maybe I will have other help getting a waiver.

At least now I can stop thinking about what to do next.  I will try to stay in as long as I can.  If I can't stay, at least I tried.  Next drill I will take an eight-hour ride in a Chinook and take pictures of aerial gunnery.  No matter how long I get to stay, I will get to do a lot of fun stuff while I am in.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Three-Day Drill Weekend

This drill weekend was a three-day Friday to Sunday weekend.  I will be posting pictures from the weekend.  I also shot video with a camera loaned to me by the WHYY Radio TV Learning Lab also known The Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons.

I shold be posting pictures in the next few days of pistol, rifle and machine gun ranges.  I should be able post video once Craig Santoro and the other folks at the WHYY Learning Lab help me figure out how to edit.

More posts in the next few days.

Today, my family got a free day at the Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in Strasburg, Pa.  They had free admission and free food for veterans today.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Another Half Marathon

Last Saturday I ran another half marathon--the Hands on House Half Marathon in Lancaster.  I ran it partly because it was close, partly because it was hilly, and because several friends from Church were in the race. It was a beautiful Saturday morning.  The race started at 9 am.  Just 1,200 people started the race, compared more than 15,000 at the Philadelphia event two weeks before.  Before the race started I hoped I could finish under two hours, but wasn't sure.  I felt better as the race went on and my pace was staying close to nine minutes per mile, so I thought I was going fast enough.

At mile nine, my left calf started to hurt and my legs started to feel heavy.  I thought I was keeping the pace up, but at the finish line the clock said 2 hours, 1 minute, 58 seconds.

Oh well.

I can try again soon.  There are several events reasonably close in the next two months.  My leg is recovering.  I ran three miles each of the last two days.  The winner in my age category finished almost 20 minutes ahead of me, so that goal is a long way off.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Go? Stay? Retire?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about whether I should stay in the Army National Guard.  On one level, I did more than I set out to do.  At first, I did not think I would go to Iraq.  That turned out different than I planned.

I would like to retire, but I have only a small chance of actually meeting the requirement for retirement.  In fact, I have a very good chance of ending my Army career just as my father did--months short of a retirement.  Dad served almost 19 years and was mustered out due to the Age in Grade act.  It was passed in Congress and supported by then representative John F. Kennedy.  Dad never voted for a Democrat and hated the Kennedys for that one.

To the best of my knowledge, when I turn 60 years of old, the Army National Guard will end my service.  At that point I will have 17 years of active, reserve and guard service.  I can get a waiver from the Adjutant General of PA if he or she is willing.  The waiver is good for one year.  I can get another year too, but age 62 is the upper limit.  At that point I will have just over 19 years which should be enough to get me the retirement.

To seal the deal, I would very likely deploy to Afghanistan or some other war zone by 2013.  But I could spend another year at one of our wars and still not get the retirement.

My current enlistment ends the month of my 60th birthday in May of 2013.

Actually writing this down makes it look less likely I can actually retire than when the words were just floating in my head.

Monday, October 4, 2010

PA’s Top Enlisted Man Started His National Guard Career in 104th Aviation

Command Sergeant Major Nicholas S. “Chip” Gilliland

His career in CH-47 Chinook helicopters spans three decades, but it took about three seconds for Command Sergeant Major Nicholas S. “Chip” Gilliland to decide on his most memorable mission in a Chinook. One long night in late January 1996 four Chinook helicopters from G Company, 104th Aviation Battalion flew to Williamsport to rescue residents from raging flood waters. In nearly ten hours using every rescue technique they knew, the G Company Chinooks rescued a total of 65 flood victims.

“We set the back end of the bird down on buildings and pulled people up the ramp,” Gilliland said. “We pulled people up with the winch. We set down wherever we could to save flood victims.”

Gilliland operated the winch. For most of the night he and the other members of the crew used night vision goggles and struggled against the rapidly changing weather that caused terrible floods. The temperature was almost 60 degrees during the day, then dropped to below freezing at nightfall and was ten degrees below zero in the middle of the night. Snow squalls hampered both rescue and refueling operations throughout the night.

The floods swept rivers across Pennsylvania causing 14 deaths, damaging 30,000 homes, closing 570 roads and destroying 8 bridges. But the act of rescuing residents altered the life of one of the rescuers

Gilliland is currently serving as Senior State Enlisted Leader for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. At the time of the flood, he had served for almost ten years, that included three years on active duty, two stints in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), a ten-month recall to active duty during Operation Desert Storm, finally joining the Army National Guard in 1994.

Then in January of 1996, the rescue operation showed Gilliland the importance of well-trained aircrews ready to respond in hours to a statewide emergency. Ten years after his initial enlistment in 1986, Gilliland knew what his life’s work should be.

He served in Company G until May of 1996 when he was hired as a CH-47 instructor at the Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site. Since May of 1996 he has been fully committed to aviation maintenance. At the Eastern AATS he has served as an Instructor, Enlisted Standardization Flight Instructor, Senior Instructor, Section Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant, First Sergeant, culminating in his assignment as Commandant/Command Sergeant Major.

Command Sergeant Major Dell Christine, 2-104th Aviation, credits Gilliland’s leadership at EAATS with creating a culture of safety and thorough maintenance procedures that contributed to the enviable safety record the Pennsylvania National Guard Aviation has had on major deployments to Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Iraq. “The record speaks for itself,” Christine said. “We deployed an aviation brigade to Iraq 2009 and brought all the aircraft and personnel home without a major incident.”

Gilliland says the mechanics and flight engineers who were his first mentors taught him correct procedures. “They were careful, they went by the book. They taught me to do things right.”

From overseeing flight training Gilliland took a big step up in becoming the senior enlisted leader of 17,000 Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers and airmen. “We have 750 men and women deployed at any given time. Thousands in the last two years,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Jessica Wright selected Gilliland from many accomplished Command Sergeant Majors and Command Chief Master Sergeants in the Pennsylvania Nation Guard. She said, “Selecting CSM Gilliland as the State Command Sergeant Major was a clear choice. Though he was surrounded by several highly qualified peers, he stood out as the person for the job.  He is a technical and tactical expert.   Chip is also a Soldier's Soldier; he serves under the mentality that he works for them, the Soldiers do not work for him."

Gilliland’s office in the headquarters building at Fort Indiantown Gap shows at a glance the care and attention to detail that mark his long career. The plaques, certificates, flags and rack of coins that mark milestones in his career are carefully arranged. His desk is organized and clear of stray paper.

When his three-year tour as Pennsylvania’s Senior Enlisted Leader ends, Gilliland said he will retire. He plans to return to work in aviation.

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...