Thursday, December 30, 2004

Field Expedient Ministry

Some things are worth remembering simply for the sake of how awful they were. I learned yesterday, in a very tangible way, that being a chaplain does not make one impervious to danger.

There are some chaplains that serve as an example of what not to do and other chaplains who serve as a paradigm of what I'm certain a good chaplain should be like. The former are few but glaring while the latter are even fewer and even more glaring. My friend, "Jay" is the latter.

When I grow up, I want to be a chaplain like Jay. He knows every soldier in his unit by name. Scripture is always on his lips and always appropriate to what soldiers are going through. He brings comfort where it's needed and a swift kick in the pants where it's needed. He plays the guitar and has a big picture of his family on the wall of his office, even in the desert. He has the respect of every member of his battalion from the commander to the private. He knows his lane and stays in it, and others come to him for help, advise, friendship, or to just grab a guitar and jam. I want to be a chaplain like my friend Jay.

Tonight I went to bed a bit early and grabbed a book to read. It was comfortable in my little hooch and for a moment or two I escaped my immediate situation. Before long someone knocked on my door and said I was needed in the TOC. When I arrived, our Medic said there had been a plane crash and the injured were being brought to the hospital. We jumped in his vehicle and zipped down the street. On the way there said something like, "I know you're good friends with Jay so I thought you would want to see him."

To that point, I didn't know Jay was involved. My heart sank. The medic said they didn't expect him to make it through the night. I've seen a lot of carnage here, but never a friend and fellow Chaplain. I began to feel ill at the prospect of seeing him. When I arrived in the ER the medic pointed to a man laying on a gurney and said that was him. He was being tended by several nurses and doctors and was awaiting transportation out.

I approached him and thought, "Wow, that looks nothing like Jay". His face was swollen and bruised. Tubes were coming out his mouth and nose. A nearby ventilator kept him breathing. The medic explained to me that he was on some kind of medication that paralyzed everything so he needed the ventilator to keep him alive. For the second time in as many weeks, I felt entirely helpless. All I could do in that situation is pray.

I am from a school of belief that takes Saint James literally when he writes, "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up." With that in mind and being were I am, I usually keep a small vial of oil with me for just this kind of situation. Wouldn't you know it, I left it in my room. I began to look around the ER to find a substitute. My medic asked what I was looking for. Medics are know for their battle field improvisations to mend broken bodies so I said in a joking sort of voice, "Behold, battlefield ministry!" and grabbed a tube of the only thing I could find to anoint my friend with, surgical jelly. I squeezed a small amount onto my fingers and drew a cross on his swollen and purple forehead with it as I prayed for his recovery, his battalion, and his family. Soon thereafter, a helicopter arrived and he was taken away.

Jay's assistant was also injured quite badly and was in intensive care. I went in to pray with him also. He would be spending the night, as would one of the load masters on the aircraft. This morning I returned to the CSH to visit both. The load master had a broken elbow and told me that he had seen the pilots pull Jay out of the burning plane.

In the end, Jay and everyone elso on board that plane will be alright. He is on his way to Walter Reed Medical Center where he will see his wife and kids again and begin the long road to recovery.

I'm ready to go home.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Rooting out the Non-Essentials

They are officially called, "Non-Essential Personnel". That is, anytime the Army must deploy these people don't necessarily NEED to be invited. How they got to be "Non-Essential Personnel" in the first place is a complete mystery, although I have a theory. I theorize that once upon a time there was a guy who lived comfortably in his ivory tower, looked down upon the general populace and, thrusting his very long, very bony index finger downward, declared, "those guys aren't necessary! Don't invite them" And the events of today prove beyond all doubt, at least to me, that they are not persona non grata. I'd say they are a grata as anyone. "They" are dentists.

In my post dated October 21, 2003, I wrote about my need for emergency dental work and the lessons I had learned about why one shold not wait to have such problems treated. Note to self: Listen to self! I apparently did not learn a thing.

About 2 weeks ago, while enjoying a wonderful Iraqi afternoon, I perchance took a swig of nice cold water. Immediately I thought to myself, "Perchance my face is gonna explode!" Unsure of the cause, but certain it was a tooth that had gone to the dark side, I did what anyone who had been in this siuation once before would do...I took motrin. Lots and lots of motrin. That seemed to work for awhile.

As the days passed, the level of discomfort grew until it dawned on me that I hadn't slept in 48 hours because of the pain. So last night, right around 2 am, I headed to the doc's room. He felt so much sympathy for my plight that he laughed and asked what took me so long to tell him. He gave me a rather high powered pain killer called Tylox and sent me home with instructions to go see the dentist in the morning. I took my medicine and proceeded to writhe in agony for the rest of the night.

After painfully staring at the darkness until it ceased to be dark I dressed and headed to sick call. Until the night before, I didn't even know we had dentists here. I figured I was going to have to wait to get home and just kind of endure. I am thankful I was wrong. Upon arrival and initial assessment by the "Non-Essential Personnel" at the dentist office, I was x-ray'd and given a chair. Being entirely tired, I nearly fell asleep within moments.

The dentist (I wish I had his name because he deserves a medal) began to drill and poke and pull and jab all the while using words like "lingual" and "mezial" and "no wonder that hurt so much, you should see this!" When all was said and done he had performed what is lovingly called a "pulpectomy" which turns out to be something of a modified root canal. I was totally intimidated by the title but it was almost an entirely pain free procedure. That dentist is a god amongst men as far as I'm concerned.

So now my pulp has been ectomied and I am looking forward to a solid night's rest. All thanks to the most essential "Non-Essential" on the battlefield.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Front Line Family

Compared to recent days, today was fairly uneventful. A steady, cold drizzle ensured that this was quite possibly the muddiest and least comfortable Christmas I've ever experienced. For all appearances, it was not very noteworthy. But appearances can be deceiving.

From Bastogne to Baghdad, Christmas and war have always seemed to travel hand in hand. Soldiers from most generations have endured Christmas in the face of battle. And in the past 36 hours I have learned two very important lessons about Christmas, the nature of war, and the spirit of the American Warrior.

Lesson Number One ... war is unrelenting. Despite the fact that today is a national holiday and a time normally spent relaxing, opening presents, and watching or playing football, the fighting didn't stop. Throughout the day the drone of war could be heard in just about every direction. Whether it was an aircraft of some sort zipping overhead, the rapid ping of nearby gunfire, or the thump of a distant explosion, it didn't stop. War continues at a breakneck pace. Even in moments of relative silence it hung in the air. There is no escaping the fact that we are in harms way. Some more than others.

Lesson Number Two ... Christmas is unrelenting. Last night we held a Christmas Eve service in celebration of the birth of Jesus. In that service, I came to realize that the American soldier is indeed a unique and awesome individual. Despite the roar of mortars in the background, smiling faces sang, Silent Night. Despite the complete lack of greenery for miles, men of all ranks shook hands and sang, Deck the Halls. And despite being away from friends and family, our battle-hardened brothers joyfully sang, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Men who look like they'd just as soon break you in half as speak to you, smiled at one another and hugged one another as wishes of "Merry Christmas" echoed throughout our little chapel. After the service we gathered in a small trailer converted into something of a theatre to watch a Christmas movie or two and laugh together. Believe it or not, gifts were exchanged via Secret Santa's and we laughed as men hollered, "Thanks, it's just what I always wanted!" upon unwrapping a bar of deodorant, or a ball cap, or whatever else could be found at the Post Exchange. Today has been no different. With each soldier I passed a hand was quickly extended in greeting as "Merry Christmas" hit me like a freight train. I think I've been patted on the back one million times today.

It would be easy for today, Christmas, and the circumstances we find ourselves in to be an excuse to foster self-pity or to retreat into a shell of depression. However, our soldiers don't work that way. I am at a loss to express, today, my pride at being an American and my love for my brothers-at-arms. Because while I do not have my wife and children with me, I am nevertheless with family.

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

MASCAL

By the time I got back to our compound it was all over the news. It seemed like the thing had just happened when in reality I had been neck deep in it for several hours. And there it was on TV. Frankly, it's kind of a blur.

The day began early as I didn't sleep very well last night. Once I was awake I decided not to just lay there and stare at the darkness so I got up, got dressed, shaved and headed into the TOC, the heart of what goes on. In the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) they monitor several different radio nets to keep abreast of what is happening in the area. It's the place to be if you want up to the minute information. When I arrived it was fairly calm. I made small talk with the guys there and sipped that first cup of morning coffee. The day was clear and there was very little going on, or so it seemed. A very short while later we received the initial reports. In this area there are several "camps" or "posts" that house the various combat and support units that do the day to day fighting and working around here. The first report said that a mortar had just hit one of the nearby chow halls during the middle of lunch (I'm on GMT so my morning is actually the middle of the day). It's called a MASCAL or Mass Casualty event and it's where the rubber meets the road in military ministry. They said there were approximately 10 casualties. That was the extent of it so I kind of filed it away in the back of my mind and continued to sip my coffee. The next report wasn't so good. 10 dead and approximately 50 wounded. They were being transported to the Combat Surgical Hospital down the street. The Chaplain at the CSH is a good guy and I knew he'd be in need of help so I woke my assistant, SGT Crawford, and we rushed to the hospital. I didn't expect what I saw.

The scene was little more than controlled chaos. Helicopters landing, people shouting, wounded screaming, bodies everywhere. As the staff began to triage the dead and wounded I found the chaplain and offered my assistance. He directed me to where he needed me and I dove in. I would be hard pressed to write about every person I had the opportunity to pray with today but I will try to relate a few.

I found "Betty" on a stretcher being tended by nurses. I introduced myself and held her hand. She looked up at me and said, "Chaplain, am I going to be alright?" I said that she was despite the fact that I could see she had a long road to recovery ahead of her. Most of her hair had been singed off. Her face was burnt fairly badly, although it didn't look like the kind of burns that will scar. What I do know is that it was painful enough to hurt just by being in the sun. I prayed with Betty and moved on.

"Ilena" had been hit by a piece of shrapnel just above her left breast causing a classic sucking chest wound. The doctors said she had a hemothorax (I think that's what they called it) which basically meant her left lung was filling with blood and she was having a very hard time breathing. For the next 20 minutes I held her hand while a doctor made an incision in her left side, inserted most of his hand and some kind of medical instrument and then a tube to alleviate the pressure caused by the pooling blood. It was probably the most medieval procedure I have ever been privy to. In the end she was taken to ICU and will be OK.

"Mark" was put on a stretcher and laid along a wall. A small monitor on his hand would tell the nurses when he was dead. Even a cursory glance said it was inevitable. Mark had a head wound that left brain matter caked in his ear and all over the stretcher he was lying on. I knelt next to Mark and placed a hand on his chest. His heart was barely beating, but it was beating, so I put my face close to his ear to pray with him. If you've never smelled human brain matter it is something unforgettable. I had something of an internal struggle. He's practically dead so why stay? He probably can't hear anything! A prayer at that point seemed of little value. But I couldn't risk it. I prayed for Mark and led him in the sinners prayer as best I could. There are few things in this life that will make you feel more helpless. After that, I needed some fresh air.

I stepped outside and found the situation to be only slightly less chaotic. The number of body bags had grown considerably since I first went inside. I saw a fellow chaplain who was obviously in need of care himself. I stopped him and put my arm around him and asked how he was doing. A rhetorical question if ever I asked one. He just shook his head so I pulled him in close and prayed for his strength, endurance, a thick skin, and a soft heart. Then I just stood and breathed for a few minutes.

Regardless of what some may say, these are not stupid people. Any attack with casualties will naturally mean that eventually a very large number of care givers will be concentrated in one location. They took full advantage of that. In the middle of the mayhem the first mortar round hit about 100 to 200 meters away. Everyone started shouting to get the wounded into the hospital which is solid concrete and much safer than being in the open. Soon, the next mortar hit quite a bit closer than the first as they "walked" their rounds toward their intended target...us. Everyone began to rush toward the building. I stood at the door shoving as many people inside as I could. Just before heading in myself, the last one hit directly on top of the hospital. I was standing next to the building so was shielded from any flying shrapnel. In fact, the building, being built as a bunker took the hit with little effect. However, I couldn't have been more than 10 to 15 meters from the point of impact and brother did I feel the shock. That'll wake you up! I rushed inside to find doctors and nurses draped over patients, others on the floor or under something. I ducked low and quickly moved as far inside as I could.

After a few tense moments people began to move around again and the business of patching bodies and healing minds continued in earnest. As I stood talking with some other chaplain, an officer approached and not seeing us, yelled, "Is there a chaplain around here?" I turned and asked what I could do. He spoke to us and said that another patient had just been moved to the "expectant" list and would one of us come pray for him. I walked in and found him lying on the bed with a tube in his throat, and no signs of consciousness. There were two nurses tending to him in his final moments. One had a clipboard so I assumed she'd have the information I wanted. I turned to her and asked if she knew his name. Without hesitation the other nurse, with no papers, blurted out his first, middle, and last name. She had obviously taken this one personally. I'll call him "Wayne". I placed my hand on his head and lightly stroked his dark hair. Immediately my mind went to my Grandpa's funeral when I touched his soft grey hair for the last time. And for the second time in as many hours I prayed wondering if it would do any good, but knowing that God is faithful and can do more than I even imagine. When I finished I looked up at the nurse who had known his name. She looked composed but struggling to stay so. I asked, "Are you OK?" and she broke down. I put my arm around her to comfort and encourage her. She said, "I was fine until you asked!" Then she explained that this was the third patient to die on her that day.

"Rachel" was sitting in a chair with no injuries. She was worried about two friends that had been moved to other hospitals in country. So we prayed.

"John", a First Sergeant, asked me, "How does my face look?" knowing he had been badly burned and would probably have some scaring. He was covered in blood, pus, and charred skin so I said, "First Sergeant, you look better than some people I know back home." He laughed and we prayed.

One of the many American civilian workers had been hit in the groin. He was happy to be alive and even happier to be keeping, "all my equipment." It was a light moment in a very heavy day.

As SGT Crawford and I walked away at the end of the day I saw another chaplain and a soldier standing among the silent rows of black body bags. The soldier wanted to see his friend one more time. We slowly and as respectfully as possible unzipped the bag to reveal the face of a very young Private First Class. His friend stared for a few seconds then turned away and began to cry.

The last count was 22 dead, and around 45 wounded. Nevertheless, our cause is just and God is in control even when the manure is a yard deep. I'm where God wants me and wouldn't change that for anything, even if it means death. After all, "to die is gain".

Post Script: all patient names are fictitious.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

An Open Letter

To My Dearest Wife,

Once again we find that by force of occasion and occupation I am separated from you. War is, indeed, an ugly business. However, the death, bloodshed, and emotional turmoil that it generates are but a small part of it’s ugliness. It’s most grotesque face can be seen in the soldiers I almost daily speak with who are suffering the ravages of war in their homes and marriages. And as I speak with each, I cannot help but thank God for you, my very heart.

My desire, above all, is that you would know of my deepest admiration and gratitude for the sacrifices you make each day to the cause for which so many have given so much. Would that all of my soldiers had such a rock to rest upon, such a place of solace, as that which I find in one word from your lips. I can’t help but believe that their hearts would be bolstered, their spirits lifted, their minds put at ease if only they could know the love of a woman as I find in you. I consider myself the most fortunate of men and am compelled to tender to you my sincerest and life long love.

My love, thank you for being such a wonderful mother to our children, thank you for the smile forever found on your beautiful face, thank you for your willingness to follow my calling, thank you for being my bride. I am all the better a man for having you as my perfect companion.

Please kiss the children for me and ensure they know of my pride in each of them, as well as my heartfelt love for their mother. I long to see you again, and anticipate doing so very soon. Until that wonderful moment when my lips taste of the nectar of your kisses, always remember,

My Heart Is For You.

Brad

Thursday, December 09, 2004

On A Dime

It is becoming clearer every day that events here can turn on a dime.

One moment everything is quiet and still, the next there is a huge burst of M-2 (.50 cal) gun fire and several small explosions and then, just as suddenly, it's quiet again. One minute you are chilled by the fact that someone may be dying right then, the next moment you are chilled by the cold desert nights. Not that I'm afraid of anything happening to me personally. I really don't fear for my safety. But once in a while the entire situation makes me stop and realize that every thing here is tenuous at best.

Tonight presented one such moment. It's quite cold outside and there is a mission planned for later in the evening. There is a nearly imperceptible edge to the tone of peoples voices and their overall attitudes. No one is nervous, per se, at least not any more than they would be preparing for any other mission. A better word would be focused. Everyone is focused on what part they play in tonight's mission. It's like this every time our guys are preparing to go out. But tonight, it would turn out, is a bit different. Tonight, for some, History and Fate would conspire to change the future.

On any airfield you have what's called a FARP (Forward Area refueling Point). Aircraft of all sorts will move to this location at the beginning of every mission to top off and then again at the end of the mission to refuel. This is tricky business in the day time and even more so at night. Tonight, one of the units stationed here had a UH-60 Blackhawk with 6 or 7 personnel aboard. It made it's way to the FARP and set down to refuel. As this was going on, an AH-64 Apache approached under night vision, and not seeing the Blackhawk, pretty much landed on top of it. I can only imagine what the next half second must have been like in the middle of that mess. By the time we knew what was going on all that could be seen from our position was a big fire down by the FARP. Remember, there is a lot of jet fuel at the FARP so naturally we all kind of held our breath a bit. My first question dragged slowly out of my mouth. I was afraid of the answer. "Is it ours?" "No" someone nearby, standing in the darkness answered. My heart leapt back to life as I slowly exhaled. The calm yet jagged preparations of the evening were turned into a few tense moments for our battalion as we stood on the roof of our TOC (Tactical Operations Center) and watched the fire rage.

I think you'd have to be made of stone not to look at a scene like that and ponder your own mortality. None of us here fear death neither do I invite it. Certainly we court it on a regular basis, but were it to become our focus we would surely become less than effective. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but think about all those men that at that moment were standing on the edge of eternity, wondering in a split second if they would see tomorrow. I could hear the prayers of their families back home. I could see Christmas gifts that are still in the mail, headed for a recipient who may not be here to receive them. I could see a commander struggling over what words would be appropriate for a letter of condolence or sympathy.

Yet where History and Fate conspired, God intervened. All of the personnel in the Blackhawk escaped without injury. No one on the ground was injured. Only the Apache pilot and crew lost their lives. God again proved that despite the fear and confusion of a moment, He is still in control. His mercy is an unfathomable thing.

It is becoming clearer every day that events here can turn on a dime.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Conversational Angler

Most of my blog entries concern people or events of the day. The subject of tonight's entry is not unique, which may be why I don't usually discuss the religious side of my job. It's just not unique enough. However, it is more exciting than all the jumps and bullets and explosions because it is eternal.

The best part of being a chaplain is the conversations guys strike up. Nine times out of ten the conversations begins with, "Hey Chaplain, if there's a loving God why would he allow..." (fill in the blank) or "I used to go to church but people..." or "Hey chaplain, I'm a pagan!". I get all kinds and thrill with each one. Tonight at dinner, a soldier started one such conversation. He began with seeming innocuous questions about various religions and belief systems. I answered as best I could. He had lots of comments and opinions about religion and faith as a general topic. One of my more enjoyable strategies is to try to engage the soldier in a moderately prolonged conversation loud enough to be heard by anyone nearby without seeming to be broadcasting what we are discussing. After five or ten minutes we had a decent sized audience full of soldiers who didn't know I was aware that they were listening. This is what makes it so fun and rewarding. I answer questions that one guy asks for all of them. Then I pounce. I told him his problem is that he is making excuses and asking all the wrong questions. As always, he is taken back and not sure how to respond. Every listening ear immediately tunes in because of my tone and his befuddlement as I slam em with the Gospel. And they don't even realize what's going on.

Now a dozen soldiers know the gospel truth and soon 3 or 4 of them will come ask me some follow up questions when no one else is around.

I love my job.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Plaster and Gold

Every story deserves a happy ending. Unfortunately that's not always the case. However, no matter how dark circumstances may seem, there is always a small sliver of hope that manages to shine through. So it is with Rami and Fami.

Despite their personal situation, these little boys continue to touch my heart. A couple of days after Thanksgiving, they came into the chapel to make themselves useful. They decided that the shelves of books and comfort items for the soldiers needed to be organized a bit. So they began working, quickly and happily. I saw what they were up to so I strolled over to them to thank them and supervise a little. Since they had the situation under control, I didn't stay long. They made small talk as they worked. Before leaving them to their work, I presented both of them with a one dollar bill, the equivalent of about a days pay for your average Iraqi (I'm told). The boys didn't want to accept payment from me but I insisted and they smiled and continued to work. The next day, Rami came into my office and motioned for me to come look at something. He took me out to the lobby area, near the shelves they had organized the previous day, and pointed to a small plaster sculpture. It is a small cheesy souvenir type trinket with camels and palm trees. It says "Iraq" on it and has a big chip out of the front. He said in his broken English, "Me go to supermarket buy you." He had taken the dollar I gave him and purchased a gift for me. There is really not much I could say to that without breaking down entirely. It's not just plaster and paint. It's gold!

Yesterday, Rami returned to my office to chat. His hair was combed, his face washed, and he was wearing a new set of clothes. He smiled and told me that he was able to go home and see his mother because the police, with the help of the Americans, had run the Anti-Iraqi Forces (AIF) out of his neighborhood. He had delivered his savings to her and spent the night in his own house.

So hope continues to carve it's way into the Iraqi landscape.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Thanksgiving for a Price

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and I was once again away from my family. In all reality, I was a bit peaved by it but, of course, I had to put on my best game face because what good is a Chaplain with a bad attitude? So I made the best of it. However, I wasn't actually all that thankful. Why should I be. I'm away from home for the second year running, sleep is a fleeting activity, dry turkey in a chow hall full of dusty people in the middle of a war torn desert is a far cry from Tina's home made stuffing and mashed potatoes. Gee, thanks! I have ample reason to complain and put aside any vestiges of thankfulness. Don't I?

Well, this being a holiday and me being a chaplain provided all the ingredients necessary for your average compulsory holiday worship service. There are currently two other chaplains here with me, Ron Webb and Jeff Jay. So the three of us put our heads together and came up with a simple game plan, Jeff would lead in a couple of songs, Ron would present a meditation or sermonette relating to thanksgiving (he did an excellent job) and I would polish off the evening with communion. Fellowship afterward would include pie and coffee and some good old conversation. So, we set out early in the day to implement the aforementioned worship plan.

At this point in the story I'd like to introduce the reader to Rami and Fami. They are brothers from the local community. Rami is eleven years old and Fami is about nine. As we were preparing for the evenings festivities of forced fun I had a nice little conversation with Rami. He wanted to help me fold bulletins, so I showed him what to do and as we folded, we chatted. His English is broken but understandable and when he encounters a word or concept he doesn't know the word for he uses hand gestures rather effectively. I had heard rumors about his situation but they were unconfirmed so I decided to confirm them. "Where are your mom and dad?" I asked. In his own broken way he launched into his story.

Rami and Fami come from a family with 5 boys and one girl. At some point in the past his father left, never to return. He may have simply abandon them or he may have been killed by the Hussein regime. Either way it was very clear that he would not be coming back. So their mother was left to raise them. Of course, Rami and Fami being the oldest sought work to help their mother.

"Where is your mom now?" I asked

"At home" came the very simple reply.

"Do you go home at night." I queried, half knowing the answer.

Rami explained that he sends all his earnings home to his mother. He used to live with his mother and siblings, but there were bad Iraqis that would shoot all the time and explode things and he couldn't sleep very well. So now he stays on compound somewhere.

"How do you sleep now?"

Holding up his fingers in an "OK" fashion, he said, "Very good!" Then he added. "If I go home the Iraqis..." At this point he gestured by making a cutting noise and drawing his little hand across his neck. So Rami, 11, and Fami, 9, have a price on their heads for working with the Americans. When I was nine the price on my head was self imposed and valued at the price of one large orange that I owed my older brother.

Later in the evening, as I celebrated the Lord's Supper, I was thankful. For my freedom, for the chance to share that freedom with others who have none, for my family, for my job, and especially for my salvation.

It's amazing the perspective one can gain by having a conversation with an eleven year old.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Becoming a Veteran

Yesterday was certainly an exciting day, for a number of reasons. First, it was Veterans Day. That's always a good day to sit back and reflect. However, there was very little time for reflection this year.

It all started rather early with another loud explosion. Obviously it wasn't really close, but it was big enough to wake me up. So my day started with a mortar and went on from there. Throughout the day we experienced sporadic mortar and rocket attacks that, once again, were less than intimidating due to their complete lack of accuracy and apparent randomness. However, once the sun went down, the fun really began. I was sitting in my office writing email or studying or reading, with SGT Crawford dutifully at my side, trying to while away the time. A soldier came in and said, "Hey you guys need to see this!" We grabbed our Night Vision Goggles (NODs) and ran outside. In the direction of the front gate to the base here could be seen tracer rounds shooting into the sky and small explosions could be heard. After watching for a while, and being confident our soldiers had things under as much control as can be had in such circumstances, we headed back into the chapel. Soon someone else ran in and said, "AIF is inside the wire!" AIF are the bad guys, terrorists, insurgents...call them what you will, they can taste American blood. So SGT Crawford and I grabbed our ballistic vests and helmets and he grabbed his weapon and we proceeded to the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) to find out what was going on. As we stood in the TOC listening to the intel reports coming in and the Battle Captains assessment of the situation, one of our senior NCO's came running in, almost ashen and said, they're attacking our compound. Every guy grabbed his weapon and headed outside. Someone or something had tripped a trip flare on our perimeter, about 100 meters from the TOC and the guard towers had opened fire on it. Tracers continued to fly for the next several minutes, only meters from my position. I told SGT Crawford to grab the soldiers not actively engaged in the fight and set up a defense around the TOC. He did that perfectly. I continued to monitor the situation from inside the TOC so as to be able to respond quickly should someone need a chaplain. The fight at the fenceline soon died down but everyone remained on edge and ready to cap the first guy who didn't know the password. Throughout all this the fight at the front gate continued and intensified. Grenades and .50 cal bursts could be heard. At one point someone out front cut loose with a Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher. That is one bad weapon and they certainly put some serious hurt on haji.

A couple of hours later, around midnight Zulu, I felt it sufficiently safe for SGT Crawford and I to make our way to the air field, where several of our soldiers were manning fighting positions, prepared to defend the airfield. We walked the 200 meters or so and began making our way from one firing position to another, checking up on the morale of the guys and saying a quick prayer. As we stood and talked with each team inside their bunker or next to their vehicle we watched with interest the goings on at the front gate, approximately half a mile away. Gunfire and explosions continued. Overhead we could hear the drone of what turned out to be an AC-130 Spectre Gunship circling over head watching the fight and waiting for it's opportunity to strike. The Spectre is the bad boy of airborne armament. Armed with two 30mm cannons and a 105mm Howitzer it strikes fear into any enemy that knows it's in the area. Haji didn't know! As we watched it circle suddenly it "lazed" something on the ground. That means it pointed an onboard laser at a potential target. The beauty of the laser is that it is invisible to the naked eye. However, to those of us with NODs it shows up clearly as a bright red line from the plane to the ground. That lasted only a second or so before we heard 3 explosions in rapid succession as the rounds from the Spectre's Howitzer hit their intended target with ferocious accuracy. It was terrible and beautiful. Haji continued to fight but even if he didn't know it, his efforts had been crushed. Then, as if to add insult to injury, it appeared. We didn't even hear it coming because it was flying only about 200 feet off the ground and going very fast. It was either an F-15 or F-16 and it flew toward the fight and then pulled up and punched it's afterburners. Beautiful. We didn't hear anything and assumed that it had abandoned it's run for some reason. Later we learned it had struck what it wanted and done so with impunity as yet another of haji's "secure" locations was pounded into the realm of the unrecognizable.

Not too long after that the fighting died down. Today we learned that despite their being direct and indirect fire fights in at least 5 locations throughout the city, only 5 US soldiers received minor injuries and were returned to duty before the sun came up. On the other side of the coin, one of those 5 locations reported 52 AIF dead. We also got pictures of some of the damage done. The most encouraging picture of all was one of an AIF "soldier" lying face up next to a mortar tube, with something of a surprised look on his face. His hair looked to be parted strangely. In reality the top left side of his head was missing. Speculation is that when he attempted to fire a mortar at us, the mortar cooked off too slowly and he got curious and decided to look down the tube to see why it hadn't fired. Timing is everything!

Things continue to be tense around here with Ramadan coming to a close and the events in Fallujah being what they are. The bad guys are looking for somewhere else to hole up. This may be that place. So the next couple of weeks should be exciting.

Happy Veteran's Day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Another Day at the Office

Lunch yesterday began as it always does. We wash our hands and move to the line to get chow. My Assistant, SGT Crawford, and I sat at a table with the hospital chaplain and a nurse. Earlier in the day there had been a mortar attack about 2 miles from where we are and the wounded were brought into the hospital, so as we ate they brought us up to speed as to the disposition of our soldiers. One KIA and the other two hurt pretty bad. So with that in mind we continued to chat and eat. Not too loog after that there was a rather loud boom. The people in the chow hall scattered like mice off a sinking ship. They cowered next to walls and ran outside to bunkers. SGT Crawford and I continued to eat. The next one was a touch closer and then...boom...closer still. By this time there weren't many people left in the chow hall but we continued to eat. Not that we are terribly brave or terrible stupid but the odds were definitely on our side. The fourth round hit about 4 or 5 hundred meters from out table and prudence said we should get down, just in case. So we knelt by the table and continued to eat. That fourth impact was something of a surprise to me as they usually come in threes. That one left a nice looking impact crater in the middle of our flightline. Nevertheless, once we were certain there would be no more we got back in our chairs and finished lunch.

That was the beginning of a very long and interesting night. Also that night, we enjoyed a concert by a guy named Russ Lee. He used to sing with Truth (Living Life Upside Down) and New Song. Now he sings solo and writes songs that other artists record. What a neat guy with a great testimony. The 5th Special Forces Group Chaplain arranged the whole thing. Well, as Russ sang and spoke and unashamedly preached the gospel, another very close, very large round hit...BOOM. The building actually shook. But we continued to sit and listen and he continued to sing. It was a great concert. There were several other smaller booms throughout the evening, as well. All said there was probably 20 mortars and rockets launched in our general direction.

This morning began with a very loud explosion at about 8am. And pretty much it's been a day of having stuff blow up. Well, our intelligence guys said that the bad guys have taken over several police stations in town and are working out of them. Apparently, someone figured out where they were staying because early this afternoon a Howitzer battery a mile or so from our position opened up. The sound of those things going off was musical. I'm tempted to feel sorry for Haji on the receiving end...nah! Now we are hearing news of 1 to 5 hundred AIF moving in our direction. We are at Threat-Con Delta (that's bad) awaiting a long night of mortars and gunfire.

However, as I sit here writing I'm at peace and confident not only in the abilities of our soldiers to destroy anyone stupid enough to even think of attacking us, but in God's ability and willingness to protect His people. So it's gonna be a long night with much happening, but as Russ Lee said to me only 3 minutes ago, "In my humble but accurate opinion, it's a bad night to be a bad guy!"

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Night Fireworks

One of the few benefits to living in an actual combat zone is the imminent danger pay. This is a small stipend paid to soldiers in designated places around the world that Congress feels puts them at risk of actually loosing their lives, or worse, their ability to play video games. Such is Iraq, most of it anyway. Well, in my little corner of Iraq imminent danger is generally kept at bay. Generally.

Today, as we all sat around in anticipation of the imminent election projections, there was an extremely large explosion about a quarter mile away that shook the building we were in and threatened to blow out the windows. I'm told these things always come in groups of 5 to 10 if they are mortar attacks. Well, this seemed to be an isolated explosion so we slowly ventured out to see if we could ascertain what had happened. That's when my First Sergeant was heard to say, "That Fu@#*& is burning down!" We looked to the horizon an there were flame shooting up about 100 plus feet with an occasional explosion type ball of fire and smoke like you'd see in a movie. It was both terrible and beautiful. None of the subsequent explosions were as loud or produced the kind of shock we all felt after the initial boom.

The primary assessment was that a rocket had hit the compound (the initial explosion) near a fuel depot (the subsequent explosions). However, the investigation the next day concluded that a connex (a small outdoor storage building) full of acetylene tanks had ignited when a spark produced when a soldier shut the large metal door lit the contents of one of the canisters that had a small leak. Acetylene is used for welding and is extremely flammable and explosive. The soldier at the door received very serious wounds and burns over much of his body and is not expected to live. Two others were injured as well. I am unsure of their disposition.

So today we earned our pay.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Dust Devils & Side Arms

If I had to describe Iraq in one word or less it would be "Grapes of Wrath dusty"! Holy Mackerel it's dusty here. It's not like a huge dust storm or anything, more like you can smell and taste it in the air kind of dusty. Rather hot days and slightly cool nights but our weather guy says it's gonna start getting a bit cooler over the next month or two.

This is a great unit to serve in for many reasons, not the least of which is that my uniform consists of combat boots, black shorts and a brown T-shirt. Also they gave me some high speed Oakley glasses for the day and a Petzel light for the night.

Our living conditions might be considered Spartan but it's not as bad as some other guys have it. My little hooch looks like the trailer on an 18 wheeler except it's only about half that size and has no wheels. More or less a big metal box with a window at either end, a door and a small A/C unit. There are bunk beds in it but fortunately there are enough of them so that I don't have to share it with another officer. RHIP!

The chow is not bad either. It's not home but it's not totally unpalatable. However, the Iraqi people who make it seem to really like cabbage. Not Korean kimshi type but it's cabbage nonetheless. Not often the main course but almost always included as a side dish in one of about one million configurations.

My unit operates on Greenwich Mean Time rather than local time so we get up around noon local and hit the sack around 2am. That's actually up around 9am zulu (GMT) and then to bed at a quasi decent hour. Where I am is relatively safe, or at least as safe as a war zone can be. We hear gunfire periodically but it's fairly far off. Besides which, we are surrounded by other units and everyone is carrying loaded weapons. My unit all have pistols they carry around loaded. Kind of old west style. The conventional army guys around here carry their ammo separately so they don't accidentally shoot someone. I always thought that was the point of fighting a war. Silly chaplain. They watch us walk around and get a bit ticked that they have to wear flak vests and ballistic helmets all the time while we wear shorts and Oakleys. Nice!

It's exciting around here at times. Last night our guys went on a mission and jacked up three bad guys transporting mortar tubes. They won't be trying that again.

I'm glad to be a part of this effort. Our guys are doing a wonderful job for the cause.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The 50,000 Foot Nap of Death

It seems the nature of this business in this day is separation. Again today I loaded a plane without my family and headed to Iraq, alone. The past several weeks have been spent preparing so that once on the ground and settled in I can begin to reach out to our soldiers in their place of business, the field. I don't regret my calling or career choice. I know I'm doing what God wants me to do. However, it would be nice if I could do it with my family.

At any rate, after several hours of loading our gear, we finally boarded a C-17 and headed out. This is not a small aircraft. Exactly what we brought with us is kind of classified, but we did bring a lot of stuff. And then we crammed in a lot of guys. Once we reached altitude, we each took an Ambien to help us sleep, picked a nice spot on the floor between boxes and machinery, and tried to get some sleep. About 2 hours later the flight crew woke us up to buckle in while the aircraft was refueled in flight. That took about an hour or so. Then we moved back to our own piece of airborne real estate and tried to sleep some more. However, sleeping on a hard metal floor that is in no way uniformly smooth while flying close to the arctic circle at about 50,000 feet is not easy. It was cold, with emphasis on the word "freaking"! This had the effect of making one believe the notion of "sleep" was a fantasy only to be hoped for and never actually achieved. This meant that in the course of multiple hours of flying, I laid on every possible side I could think of, critically damaged several hip joints and induced the kind of all over pain one normally associates with prolonged wearing of medieval armor. Couple that with the giggly euphoria one experiences from mind numbing fatigue and you will get a slight idea of the wonders of last class travel. Finally we landed in Germany to switch out flight crews and have our last taste of western culture (Burger King) before moving on to the big sand box.

After another mid-air refuel and another unsuccessful attempt at sleep, we landed in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. The month of Ramadan was about half over so there was an extremely full moon. Thus my first impression of the desert was that it was much lighter than I had expected. As we taxied to a stop, someone turned on all the lights inside the plane. At this, everyone started shouting to shut off the light. Then I remembered we are in a war zone and lights equal targets. Mortars not being uncommon here I was pleased to join in the call for darkness.

After doing a little paperwork and unloading our gear, we were assigned a hooch and allowed to crash. So now here I am, at war , supporting the fight for freedom in Iraq, and sleeping well. It's not home but it ain't an airplane floor either.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Universal Terror

Orlando vacation, Day 2! Universal Studios. As was the case yesterday at Disney World, this was a day filled with memories. We did it all from fighting off bad guys with Buzz Lightyear to racing through time in a DeLorean with Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future to trying to rescue Princess Fiona with Shrek. A couple of things stand out and are worth mention.

First, I can hardly explain what a joy it was to hang out with my boys eating ice cream or watching a show or hearing them laugh. It was a tiring day and by the end nerves were on end, but that's part of the game and after the fact it's part of the good memory. They were way too much fun. We took pictures and Samuel explained everything to me while Wyatt asked me a million questions and Mason held my hand. Each one had a few dollars they had saved from various projects and gifts and were itching to spend it. Since it was their money, we let them buy whatever they wanted or could afford. It was an interesting lesson in economics for them. Suddenly they were faced with purchasing quality versus eye candy. And with limited resources they were forced to make some important decisions. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them make those decisions. I was very proud of them. This was a great day for me.

The second thing worth mentioning was Olivia on a couple of the rides. Jaws was great because I knew what to expect and she didn't so I put her on the end between me and the open sea! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened. When things started exploding and Jaws raked the side of the boat inches from her, she almost had a heart attack. Her screams were incredible. After that we headed for a ride that I thought would be a bit less frightening, Earthquake. On this ride they explain to you some of the secrets of movie special effects. They illustrate how rain is simulated and how a blue screen works. Then they load you on a mock up of the Bay Area Rapid Transit for a ride into San Francisco California. Here's where it got a little crazy. I knew it was about an earthquake, no one tried to hide that. Again, Olivia was between me and the effects so that she could get a good look at what was going on. When the earthquake hit we were underground, the train skipped off it's track, the roof began to cave in, a huge tanker truck from the street above came crashing through the roof and slid right toward us, gas pipes burst and flames shot every where and then the bay began to flood in threatening to drown us. With each new method of impending doom she screamed louder and louder and gripped me tighter and tighter until she was in my lap with her arms and legs wrapped around me screaming at the top of her lungs, "Daddy, are we gonna get dead?" I tried to console her as we were ushered ever closer to the pearly gates and the people around us looked at me as though I were the worst person on earth to subject my beautiful daughter to such terror. As we exited the ride, with her still wrapped around me, she said very sternly, "Daddy, I did not like that ride."

Never the less, the day ended with us alive and full of stories to relive for years to come.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Magic Memories

Since leaving Ft. Polk, we have slowly meandered east, enjoying time in the van with the family. We stayed in Baton Rouge and Tallahassee and have really been having a good time with the kids and each other. The dogs have traveled well and Deacon has not been car sick once (a huge answer to prayer). This trip had been masterminded by Tina. During my year in Korea, she has been planning and saving, determined that we would spend some quality family time together before diving head first into my new position, a new city, and a new life. I can't explain how grateful I am tha God blessed me with a woman who thinks ahead and puts family at the top of her priorities. She is such a blessing.

Since being on the road, the weather has been not so great but we drove on to Orlando, FL anyway. We stayed at a great hotel, the Holiday Inn Family Resort. This place is really geared toward families on vacation. The pool ranged from one inch deep to 5 or 6 feet deep so everyone could swim. But more than that it had several fountains and water guns and all kinds of cool stuff for the kids to play with and on and really wear themselves out before retiring for the evening. The restaurants were nothing terribly fancy which, again, fit the family motif.

This morning we got up bright and early to discover that the rain had stopped but the clouds were still over head offering shade for a day of fun. So we headed to none other than the Magic Kingdom itself, Disney World. Man, we were pumped! It was a great day from the very first moment. This being the first time in this place of wonder for the kids, they wanted to do everything. However, since Tina and I had both been to Disneyland as kids, we wanted to go on certain rides, not only to introduce our children to the things we enjoyed at their age, but to relive our youths for a little while. Throughout the day we ran into several well known characteres such as Micky, Minnie, Cinderella, and others. Some of them we were able to meet, others had huge lines up tothem so we only saw them from a distance. We bought a small note book for the kids to collect the characters signatures and Olivia quickly took charge of that task and asked every character she met for their "ortograph". She was a girl on a mission!

We rode Space Mountain (glad that all the kids were tall enough), Dumbo, and the Tea Cups (a real hoot). We also ventured into the Haunted Mansion. The boys had a great time laughing at the ghosts and trying to figure out how the illusions were created. Olivia did not like it at all and took every possible opportunity to say so. "Daddy," she said, "I don't ever want to go in there again." I don't recall her acting scared during the ride, but she was not enjoying it either. Afterward, as I carried her out, she had a smile of releif on her face. I think she was glad to be able to say she did it but will probably not want to do it again for several years.

At days end, we picked up our kids, packed up our memories, and were glad for the chance to build a history worth having.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

More Goodbyes

The past few days have been rather hectic. I got home from Korea about a week ago and today we pulled out of Ft. Polk for the last time. As much as we hated it when we first got there, it was really hard to leave. Especially for Tina who has made some wonderful friends in the neighborhood while I was overseas. God really blessed her with good Christian ladies all around her and that made it easier on me to know she had a good support system in place.

Our church was also hard to leave. Pastor and Sherlene Reddout have been wonderful fellow Kingdom workers. Brother Roy has been incredible with my boys in the Royal Ranger Program. There are many wonderful friends and memories that will make Leesville a place we look back on with fondness.

Certainly it will be nice to get out of the forest and into a cityscape but the family atmosphere and the peace that comes with a rural life will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

...To Greater Things

After just shy of 12 months, I'm going home. It is hard to believe that I will be home in just a few days. It seems like I've been here forever and for just a day or two. This has been a very rewarding assignment. I've made many friends and done what I hope was some good ministry. I'll know on judgment day, I guess. Usually, within a few months of leaving some place I have trouble remembering the names of the people I knew there. Remembering the events is not too difficult but remembering the names is nearly impossible for me. So here are a few of the people I have met...

Major Anthony Benitez. First the Battalion XO then the Battalion S-3, Major Benitez was one of my favorite people. He is genuine and fun and professional. Major B was always the one I could talk to personally when I needed an ear to bend. He was always in chapel and bible study and a real asset to my time here. He even served in chapel, leading the singing. That was a huge help. His wife, Christy, and his daughter, Lydia, were absolutely wonderful. They kind of served as my surrogate family.

Major Jon and Mary Ring. He is the Battalion S-3 turned XO. Their 5 children Brandi, Jon, Nick, Sam, and Maria were great to be around. They didn't always like their days up here but Mary saw to it that since Major Ring couldn't get down to Seoul, where they lived, that she would bring the family up here. She was and is determined to make her family work. She sewed the curtains for the chapel and was a huge help in redecorating it (since I have zero color savvy). The Rings were always in chapel.

LTC Matthew and Teresa Margotta. He was the BN Commander for all but a month of my time here. They and their boys, Chance and Chase, we also very faithful to chapel. He is one of the gentlest men I think I've ever encountered in the Infantry, but at the same time there was no denying that he was in charge.

CPT Jeff Wood, Battalion S-2 and fellow No Name. We went through the fabled, "Monk-In" together and his room was right next to mine. He got married last month and tried everything he could think of the get the Army to fly me to Nebraska to wed he and his wife. I was honored just to be considered. Also a faithful chapel attender and good friend.

CPT Light Shin. He's only been here a short while but I have really grown to appreciate him. What a solid Christian and friend. I sincerely wish I had more time with him as he was a great influence on me.

CPT John Serafini. He just got out of the army to return to Boston and attend Harvard. Rabid Red Sox fan and wandering seeker. John asked some of the best religious questions. I am not certain he has yet made a commitment to Christ, but he certainly is headed in the right direction. I could always depend on John to be in chapel and then ask question later. What a delight.

I could go on all day...PFC Benjamin Dye, CPT Brett Turbyfill, CPT Tony Braxton, CPT Gary Kuczynski, CPT Ryan Roberts (a good friend), Air Force Maj Gen Tom Kane, SGT James McMillian (my second assistant), CH (COL) Sam Boone, CH (LTC-P) Mike Tarvin, CH (CPT) Jeff Jay, and on and on.

This has been a terrific year filled with terrific people. But now, I'm off...

Sunday, July 04, 2004

228

July 4th. What a day! BBQs...fireworks...picnics...the grandeur of Independence Day!

Then there's Korea. We awoke to a July Fourth filled with the edges of a local typhoon. And when it rains here it doesn't mess around. It's more like an airborne flood. But, being the hard charging military types that we are, we went ahead and held the annual Toilet Bowl, a flag football extravaganze pitting the Non-Commissioned Officers against the Officers of the battalion. Basically it was a contest to see who could slide around in the water and mud the least...cause that guy was gonna win. Sadly, that was the NCOs. 18-0. But I got in a few good plays. I received one good pass in splendid fashion and then turned to run only to find my feet sliding the way I didn't want to go. And of course the freight train that was trying to take my head off couldn't stop before cramming a knee into my forehead. Later, I got the ball again, and blinded by the rain ran into a mob of very large, very muscular, very uninclined to move for me sergeants who proceeded to pummel me into the ground and then takeing the flag off my near corpse and proclaiming down over. The last thing I remember was shouting, "A little help?"

Well, the toilet bowl ended around 11am. Just in time for chapel. So soaked to the bone and a bit chilly, I went to service for our special 4th of July Water and Patriotism service. I've never preached in shorts and running shoes while covered in grass clippings. Another first on the DMZ for me.

At any rate, Happy Birthday America.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Meet Deacon


Before today I have not made much mention of my new little friend other than a quick reference to his snake hunting skills. His name is Deacon and he's my dog. I didn't mention him because I was not sure I would brin him home. Initially I adopted him thinking I would give him to someone here when I left. After all, how attached can one become to a silly little dog? Well, pretty attached.

I believe he was born in January or February of this year, while I was on leave. He is one of a litter of 4 and they caught my eye as being particulrly cute. Well, for a couple of weeks I would just stop by their little house where their mother kept them and play with them a bit. Deacon grabbed my attention because he seemed to be rather lively without being a total spaz. Plus he was a bit bigger than his siblings and seemed quite healthy. Well, after visiting for a while, I couldn't take it any more and I took him to my hooch.

A couple of weeks ago, he got his puppy shots and they made him very sick. He had to spend 2 nights at the vet with an IV in his little arm, so now he has a shaved front leg. Also, he gets car sick. The other day I put him in the van and he started salivating before I even started it up so I think it's partially psychosomatic. The 24 hour plane ride home will be interesting. I'm gonna feed him vast quantities of drugs so he'll sleep most of the time.

He is definately my dog. He responds to me and plays with me and walks with me even when other dogs are around (most of the time). He is by far the best dog on compound. He's just a good dog. So I'll be taking him back to the states with me to become a part of our family. I sincerely hope he and Scout get along and that the kids like him because I'd hate to have to send my kids to live with a distant relative :)

The funny thing is, I never knew how lonely my little room was at night until he came to live with me. He keeps me company and even lays down next to the tub when I'm in the shower. In fact, he hates baths so I have to get in with him (ya just gotta watch the claws).

So that's Deacon, my dog. Hopefully he'll be with us for a long time. Posted by Hello

Friday, May 21, 2004

Addendum of the Unwise

It's not very often that I see snakes so this mornings encounter on the bridge of no return was rare and exciting. Well, the story continues. As usual, I had dinner in the Montastery tonight. Afterward, as is my custom I sat and watched a little TV, sipped a little coffee, and played with Deacon a bit. My coffee ran out so I headed into the next room, where dwelleth the pot o' brew to refill. As I was doing so Deacon decided to go absolutely nuts. I looked where he was barking and there was another snake. This one was about 8 inches long, mostly dark green with black stripes and had a tint of red or orange between it's scales on the front half of his body that showed up nicely when he flattend himself out and stood up to look at me. Well, he's just a little guy...I'd better pick him up! So very cautiously I did what needed to be done to pick him up without hurting him or getting bitten. I did the Erwin method of holding him by his tail and allowing the front half of his body to stay on the ground. He never struck at me or did anything aggressive so I coerced him into a couple of styrofoam cups and took him outside and released him. Feeling good about my herpatological self, I began to do some research and ask around as to what kind of snake my little friend may have been. Turns out he was a Tiger Snake. Click on his name to discover the details about the little bundle of joy I was handling!

Honey Nipples

Today's little incident bears noting. The president of a large Seminary in Texas came to the JSA for a tour. Since I'm the religious expert on post, I got to serve as the escort for the tour. This was a small VIP tour consisting of the VIP himself, his wife, a chaplain friend of theirs from somewhere else in Korea and his wife. with the tour guide and me we had a grand total of 6 people on the tour. Well, when you have a tour that small,it allows you a little more flexability than a big group because you can move a little quicker. There was another tour just behind us at the JSA consisting of two full bus loads so I knew I could deviate from the normal tour stuff just a bit and it would be easy to stay ahead of them with little effort. Near the end of the normal tour we drive by the Bridge of No Return and people take photos from the bus, but we don't usually get out. Well, the group behind us was clearly visable from the Bridge, at checkpoint 3 so I let the VIP group get off the bus to take some pictures next to one of the border markers. We approached the bridge and right where we were going to stand for photos was sitting an absolutly huge snake. It had to be over 5 feet long and was every bit as thick as my wrist. He just kind of watched us but didn't move. So I decided to get a little "Steve Irwin" on him. As I approached he began to slither down his hole. I reached out to take him by the tail and do the herpatologist act when I remembered Honey.

Honey is a rather large dog that belongs to one of the officers in the battalion. Honey was out playing in the local rice fields last year when she was bitten by a snake. It didn't seem all that bad at first but it nearly killed her. The nice part was that the skin on the area surrounding the bite began to literally rot off her leg. It just wouldn't heal no matter what the vets did for her. Finally, they had to graft some skin from her belly onto her leg to stem the disintegration of her flesh. Remember, dogs have about 5 or 6 nipples down each side of their belly. So Honey, to this day has several nipples on her leg. Not only that but the hair is entirely different. As a result, she has a band of long hair with nipples around her hind leg. Well, I don't really want nipples on my arms so instead of grabbing the monster snake I just tapped it a few times with the anntena of my radio until it was completely inside it's lair.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Partying, Painting, and Syllabification

You may remember the Orphanage Christmas Party I wrote about back in December 2003. Well, Spring has sprung and so we decided to have a spring party, too. Again it was a great event. While the younger kids played a bevy of games, the older ones were taken on a tour of the JSA and introduced to North Korea. After their tour they went over to the Engagement Simulation Trainer (EST). This is basically a huge video game that utilizes real weapons hooked up to a big computer and projector. All kinds of scenarios are available, ranging from rescuing hostages in an urban environment to an all out gun fight in the desert. The weapons even "kick" using compressed air so it's extremely realistic. The kids loved it (as did the soldiers). As was the case in December we had dinner with them followed by a fabulous show consisting of various speeches and traditional dances by the kids. One young lady bears mention. She is about 6 or 7 years old and her name is Yi, Chi Soo. She speaks no English and since I don't speak Hangul we spent the day not talking together and entirely enjoying each other. Well, we each understand at least one thing the other was saying...our names. I would say, "Yi, Chi Soo" over emphasizing each syllable. She would reciprocate with "Moke Sah Neem" (Hangul for pastor or chaplain) also over emphasizing each syllable. We probably said that to each other a million times during the day. Eventually it became a game. She would disappear for a minute or two and then from about a hundred yards away I'd hear a faint "Moke Sah Neem". I, of course, would reply, "Yi, Chi Soo". And so it continued until they left (and she shouted it once out the window of the bus, just for good measure I suppose).

This party, however, unlike the Christmas party was a two part event. Part one was the party itself. Part two was strategically scheduled less than a week after the first so as to capitalize on the sympathy factor. Part two was a clean up day at the Orphanage. We took nearly 40 soldiers to the Pyong Hwa Orphanage to pick up old stuff, fix broken stuff, and paint ugly stuff. It was great. However, the Korean culture doesn't really have an equivalent for "don't look a gift horse in the mouth". So after my soldiers had painted a swing set a lovely orange, we were informed that orange is not a playground color and we would therefore have to repaint it a more appropriate red. Well, unshaken and enjoying a good bit of American sarcasm in English, the soldiers filled the rest of the day with warnings about playground versus indoor colors. We also removed 2 truck loads of old junk, broken appliances, and trash. Not your standard Toyota half ton pick up loads. Rather these loads were 2 entirely full military 2 1/2 ton trucks. If you can't picture it, just let me say, that's a bunch of junk.

At lunchtime, we barbecued burgers and hot dogs and enjoyed a refreshing beverage. Now, if you've ever been responsible for planning an event such as this you know that there are millions of details. Most of them were seen to. However, in the shuffle I forgot condiments and ice. So lunch was meat and bread washed down with warm soda. Yummy! This whole event took place while the children were at school so as to minimize the amount of paint on things and people it wasn't intended to be on. In the middle of the afternoon the kids started trickling in, enjoying the look of their freshly painted, tidied-up, orange-free playground. And as we were cleaning up our brushes and rollers preparing to depart, I heard from the far end of the compound, "Moke Sah Neem"! She ran and jumped into my arms and gave me a huge Yi, Chi Soo hug and with the exuberance of a 6 year old she proceeded to tell me about her day. I was glad to listen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Political Ventilation

Every once in a while, everyone needs to vent a bit. Behold, the beauty of the blog. Of course, I don't usually get very political. There's an old axiom that says you shouldn't discuss politics or religion because you never know who you're going to upset. Perhaps. But world events being what they are, there comes a time when you have to stop worrying about who might not like the fact that we live in a free society and can therefore say what we feel without fear, and say what's on your mind.

I have heard in recent days pundits, pinheads, and public personalities sharing all manner of opinion regarding the War in Iraq and the need for a "global coalition" and the United Nations to take command in that theatre of operations for the good of all mankind. Apparently, it would be way better for everyone if anyone but the US were in charge of what goes on over there. Perhaps. But now it's my turn.

To those who have advocated giving the mission in Iraq to the UN as a way of equalizing the political "burden" of giving freedom back to the Iraqi people I say, "It won't work. Period." How do I know? What makes me such an expert on international affairs? I know because I live and work 400 meters from the southern boundary of the Demilitarized Zone in the Republic of Korea. What does that have to do with Iraq? Well, at the end of the Korean war the 17 countries fighting in the south under the UN banner, and ultimately making up the United Nations Command, were the Republic of Korea, The United States, The United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey, Australia, The Philippines, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Greece, Thailand, France, Columbia, Belgium, South Africa, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg. All agreed to the conditions of the Armistice which stated that the United Nations Command would oversee the maintenance of the Armistice and the DMZ. And for 50 plus years, the United Nations Command has done just that. However, I look to my left and right and see not one Canadian Mountiee in arms...not a single French Legionairee...no Columbian freedom fighters...none of the mighty Ethiopian hoards...not even a Greek militiaman. No one except Koreans and Americans. Maintianing a United Nations Armistice.

I believe the Koreans are here mainly because this is Korea. If they really believed in the cause of global freedom and not just homeland security, they would not be hedging on their pledge to send a whopping 3,000 troops to Iraq to guard some remote and relatively safe plot of Iraqi desert as opposed to the 36,000 American soldiers currently residing in this cesspool of a nation and living in places like Camp Bonifas, Camp Greaves, Camp Giant, Camp Gary Owens, and many other "Camps" that offer the US Soldier little more than a place to eat, a place to sleep, a place to work, and a bunch of whores and bars waiting to take their solid American dollars.

I was not entirely truthful about there being just Americans and Koreans living in or near the DMZ. There is a contingency of Swiss and Swedish officers as well. They form the Neutral Nations Supervisory Committee (NNSC) put here to negotiate with the North Korean Army regarding armistice violations. That contingency is actually more like an ensemble. There are 9 of them. That's right...Nine. And they, of course, have their families with them. However, our neutral compatriots usually stay in Seoul while we live in squallor guarding their caviar eating derriers. Of course, they don't have an infrastruture to support their incredible efforts on behalf of freedom so we support them. Yep the good ol' USA supports those 9 fat cats who have live in chefs while we have rotating cooks...they drink brandy while we drink brown water...they throw parties while we guard those parties...they eat off china and silver while we eat off plastic and tin. And what do you suppose it costs the American taxpayer to support 9 whole guys from Switzerland and Sweden? $900,000 last year! Not a typo. Nearly a million US dollars. So, to believe that handing the mission in Iraq to the UN is good for America is stupid and niave. Because once that's done, everyone but the US will go home, pat themselves on the back for everything that went right, and then turn and point their soft, pudgy fingers at us for everything that goes wrong.

I've learned that the difference between expressing an opinion and whining is the presentation of options to cure the problem one is opining about. I recommend the following: 1. put all other countries in the world on the front lines until the number of their mourning mothers equal ours; 2. enforce repayment of debt from all countries who have benefited from our generosity and given nothing in return (Canada would be a exceptional example here); 3. if said country cannot afford to repay their debt, we seize whatever national treasures they think they own until said accounts are settled; 4. leave Korea and see how long they remain a democracy. My guess is they'd be absorbed by their brothers to the north within a week; and finally, just for grins, invade Mexico and show the world that there is clean water there if you care to work for it. Besides, we could use just a little more space to drive our SUVs.

But that's just my opinion.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Dirge of the Homesick

Today I am writing from the Post Library at Osan AFB in Korea. About once a month the JSA sends a bus down here for whoever wants to come because there is some incredible shopping just off base and it's a nice way to get away from the DMZ. The library here is very nice, complete with gourmet coffee and over-sized chairs for reading, and of course, computers for guys like me. That's just background. I didn't really even want to write about the library. The real reason I decided to jump in here is because I have a recipe I want to share with my myriad readers (I'll call my mom and my wife "myriad"). It is not your average recipe. It is not something most people even enjoy. Nevertheless, I know how to produce it perfectly.

I have been in Korea for about nine and a half months and have only been to Osan one other time, when Tina was visiting last October. Those two facts form the basis for my recipe. So now I will tell you my recipe for homesickness and superb loneliness.

First, leave home for an inordinate amount of time and remember, you re not allowed to take anyone familiar with you. Next, get a visit from the one person in the world that is most important to you but ensure they don't stay very long. Then go home for an even shorter time several months later and then return to the utter silence of your room / flat / hooch / apartment. Finally, go somewhere you and Mrs. Important went together and try to enjoy yourself in the middle of thousands of happy people.

It may sound to the casual reader that I am experiencing a world class pity party. Not so. However, I find myself in circumstances that are out of my control while watching everyone else enjoying the company of their important people. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and that seems to simply highlight the fact that I'm still in the tunnel. I only have about 75 days to go. That's better than 76 but infinitely more distressing than 74.

It is time to go home. Today at least, I hate it here! I miss home. I miss the smell of America. I miss people who know how to drive. I miss food that's fantastically delicious and not merely edible. I miss understanding what people are saying. I miss Samuel. I miss Mason. I miss Wyatt. I miss Olivia. I miss Scout. And, more than anyone, I miss Tina.

75 days and (sing it with me), "I'm leaving on a jet plane...blah blah blah not coming back again...ya ya ya I hate it here!" (Everybody) "La la la leaving Korea. Everything here tastes fermented. yada yada no more rice with every meal."

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Old Man Smithers

I was always under the assumption that it would come quietly, gradually, unnoticed. I expected that it would happen a little here a little there until I was held firmly in its unyielding grip. Actually, it happened for me exactly the other way. All was well until one day, seemingly at a preordained moment, it hit me like the proverbial piano being dropped by the clumsy movers from the 3rd floor. I am talking of course of none other than age itself. That's right. I'm getting old. Only recently did I come to realize and/or accept it. But it's true and unavoidable. Well, that begs the question, how do I know I'm getting old?

As I said it all seemed to happened in a blink of an eye. One day everything worked swimmingly. Then next day, parts of me began to fall off, stop working properly, and hurt. If you remember my entry of 21 January 2004, The Six Year Follow-up, you'll recall that I mentioned that I now wear glasses. That was just the beginning.

All of my recent dental work is yet another testimony to the need for medical intervention should I wish to continue leading a somewhat normal life. Well below the tip of that iceberg lies some splendidly geriatric problems.

About a month ago, while playing street hockey, I took a puck to the shin and thought my foot had been knocked off. In fact, that puck pinched a nerve against my shin bone. Only until recently, such a injury would have disappeared quickly. However, I still limp! A month later! What a sissy! I'm getting old.

Later, I went to our doctor to help with some basic cold symptoms. He decided it would be a better idea if I had allergies. So now I have allergies. I'm getting old!

Only a couple of days ago I was studying for Sunday service and had to remove my glasses and put on reading glasses just to read my Bible! Next it's bi-focals, tri-focals, and google-focals! I'm going blind and I'm getting old!

Every wonder why soldiers shave their heads? I'll tell ya. I recently went to get a hair cut and as the barber proceeded to cut and trim I noted an ever growing pile of grey in my lap. I'm turning gray and I'm getting old!

I hate to admit it, but I found an ear hair about 17 inches long and 2 inches thick! I have ear hair! I'm getting old!

Next on the agenda is probably something to do with the prostate, "male itch" (if you know what I mean)and a walker!

So, I'm getting old all at once. Just yesterday I was a carefree and life loving 38 year old youth. Today, I'm a broken down, blind, gray, hairy-eared, life loving, 38 year old semi-senior citizen.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

There's a Hole in My Head

Sometimes, life takes an unexpected turn. Right now I'm doing two things at once. I'm writing, obviously. I'm also in some rather superb pain. It all began about two yeas ago.

While stationed back at Ft. Polk, LA, I had to have a cavity filled in my number 2 molar. If you've had your wisdom teeth removed it would be the first tooth in the back on the upper right side of your mouth. Oddly, this is the tooth directly above my famous double root canal tooth. Well, when the dentist did that work he said that he would need to put in a temporary filling for reason blah blah and factoid yada yada dental talk. So he put in a temporary filling meant to stay there for about 6 months. 2 years later I returned to the dentist.

The dentist here in Korea is an excellent dentist who explained everything to me and proceeded to clean out the old "temporary" filling in Molar #2. Once done, he said something like, "OK. The good news is I got all the old filling out. The bad news is I have to pull that tooth." This was significant news for me. All of my wisdom teeth grew in straight and useable. I still have them. This was to be the first tooth pulled since I was about eight. Immediately, my stress level jumped to just slightly above ludicrous.

The tooth pulling process is a time honored process, steeped in tradition that begins by giving the victim papers to sign that outline some of the possible side effects of tooth extraction such as a broken jaw, the need to extract neighboring teeth, and an inability to chew for the rest of your life. Next, the dentist, wearing a black hangman’s hood, injects the victim with just enough anesthetic to ensure that his face is asleep while his mind stays alert. This ensures that the victim’s anxiety levels stay dangerously high.

The actual instrument of extraction looks very much like your standard wire cutters. This is very comforting. The peace that overwhelms the victim at having wire cutters jammed into their unnaturally wide open mouth is something that must be experienced to be understood. Once the dentist gets a good grip on the tooth in question, he simply and gently pulls, tugs, twists, and pry’s. Then he says, in a mocking / whispering tone, "You should feel a little pressure." Yeah, that's what I was thinking. A little pressure. To simulate how very little pressure I felt, grab your nose and gently push it into your mouth through the soft palette. I was certain my eyes would find their way into my throat. A little pressure.

But even then the pressure was not the worst part. One of the side effects of the kind of pain killer they use is that it heightens the sense of hearing. As a result, the sounds created in my head were among the grossest things I have ever heard. It was the sound of bone and sinew being slowly separated and torn. Crunching, tearing, ripping noises that bordered on nauseating.

Finally, just before my nose caved into my head I gave birth to a healthy molar. It's three roots fused into one which made extraction much easier than anticipated. It still had bits of gums attached and looked like a lumpy, blood covered bullet. I asked the doctor what the jagged little hard bumps on it were. He calmly said, "Oh, those are bits of your jaw bone." When I woke up...

So now there is a gap in my formerly uninterrupted tooth line about the size of my fist. So now instead of getting small bits of food stuck between my teeth, I get whole meals.

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Hello Daddy, Goodbye Childhood


There are lots of things that happen in life that are nice to remember. There are other things that are important to remember. And there are still other things that if forgotten constitute an emotional crime. The events of last night and today fall into the latter category.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I had a rather harried and hurried day getting home. However, I did get home. And what a home coming it was. My plane arrived earlier than expected and so when I landed there was no one to greet me. However, I knew they were on their way. I disembarked and headed to the luggage claim carousel. As I waited for my luggage, I kept one eye on the street outside anticipating the arrival of my beautiful family. In short order I saw the van drive by and knew they had arrived. I went outside to see what would happen as I knew it was going to be a contest to see who could get to me first. Mason was the first one out of the car. However, instead of running he looked at me and stood there. I think he didn't realize it was me a t first. Samuel and Olivia got out and that's when Mason sprinted and hit me full steam ahead. As he jumped into my arms it was all I could do to stay on my feet. He was immediately followed by The other tow kids. Kisses and hugs all around. What a great moment! I grabbed Samuel and pulled him in close rubbing his crew cut hair and loving every second of it. Olivia seemed so small in comparison to her brothers but so much bigger than when I last saw her. She gave me about 300 of the best kisses I've ever had and said that we had to go home right then so I could giver her "training wheel lessons", which is to say she wanted me to teach her how to ride her bike like a big girl. I had to explain to her that it was too late and that we could do it the next day or some other time. She seemed OK with that.

But there was a child missing. I looked up and along came Wyatt. Except he wasn't running. He seemed to be prompting his mother to go ahead and greet me before him. She pushed him forward however and he gave me a world class hug. It was the kind of hug that makes you feel like a dad. It was a hug stories are written about. He held onto me and I to him for what seemed like ages. He's getting so big and I just held him savoring the fact that I can still hold him. Later I learned that the reason for his hesitation was that he had told his Mom that he would greet me last because, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first."

The ride home from the airport was unbelievable great with all four kids telling me everything that had happened during the previous six months I had been gone. All talking at the same time each trying to be the loudest and all talking faster than the speed of sound. I would not have traded the noise and confusion for all the peace and quiet in the world.

Since I'm married to the world's greatest woman (who just happens to be a hottie, too) I was ostensibly supposed to sleep in on my first full day home. In stead I was awakened by a smiling little face, all dressed and ready to go sometime around dawn. This was to be the big day. "Daddy" the face said, "it's time for my training wheel lessons!" No if's, and's, or but's. Today was the day. She was certain there wasn't even time for me to get dressed and have some coffee first. Just lessons, right now! Well, somehow I convinced her that if she could wait an hour or two we'd get it done before noon. So I got some coffee, some breakfast, and a shower.

Finally, the moment was upon us. Olivia and I headed out to the back yard to remove her training wheels and begin the tedious process of running up and down the street until that wonderful moment when she could do it alone. This would be my fourth time at this. I knew from experience with each of the boys that in order to get her the confidence necessary to go forward, stop, and turn would require that I spend most of the morning (at least an hour) running from the sign near the corner to the van near the Madkins house. This would be repeated over and over with me holding onto her a little less each time until finally rode her bike all by herself. So, with that expectation in mind we mounted the street and, with her pointed in the right direction I gave a few last minute pointers. "Keep peddling and don't worry I'll be holding you the whole time so if you start to fall I'll catch you. Are you ready?" I asked. In a shaky little voice mixed with fear and excitement she said, "I'm ready." So she started peddling and I started running. The next 20 yards were scary and fun and over almost immediately. "Good Job! You did great!" I said and proceeded to pick up both child and bike and turn them to face the other way. "Let's do it again" I said and grabbed her shirt as before ready to run. "Let go dad. I got it." she said confidently. It'll be a good lesson to have one small crash, I thought. It won't hurt her, only let her know she's not invincible. And with that I let go and she proceeded to peddle. And she didn't stop. She kept going and going. She even stopped and turned around and went around corners and probably would have attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon if it had been in front of her. Man, I was jipped! One lap holding on! What's that? I was supposed to be running all morning getting impatient and upset that she wasn't getting it. What happened here? My little perfect girl is growing up. And for the rest of the day, she was glued to her bike. Back and forth, around the block, each time she passed me she smiled as if to taunt me and rub my pride in her success.

I couldn't have been prouder of her. Posted by Hello

Friday, January 30, 2004

Cuttlery in a World of Hurried Travel

What a day! As I mentioned before, I can't really say what actually happens in the assessment process for my new unit, but I made it! For a minute or two I was sure I would be taking a position at Camp Dungheap in central Saskatuan, but I made it and we report this summer. Here's where the day gets fun. I finished with everything early in the afternoon and so have time to kill until my plane leaves tomorrow morning. I talked to another guy who was in the same situation and he said he was able to get on an earlier flight. After all, why wait? I had to check it out.

The airport is about 1 hour or so from here and it takes a few minutes to check in and get through security so I gotta allow for some extra time plus I still had to check out of my room which shouldn't take all that long. So after calling the airlines I determined that if I left within 38 seconds of hanging up the phone and zipped through the hotel lobby and then drove non stop at about 183 miles per hour, I could make it to an earlier flight and see my family for dinner (I haven't seen them for 5 1/2 months). I quickly packed, which didn't take very long, except that I think my t-shirts had kids because all of a sudden I didn't have enough room for my stuff. After much pounding and prying on my luggage, I headed down to the lobby to stand behind a guy with an unsolvable problem. He had the clerk tied up over something like getting a different room because his wasn't clean. AS IF! So, I finally cleared the hotel and jumped into my rented car and headed for the airport. It was a pleasant enough drive. But as I approached the airport I remembered the rental agreement stating, "If you return this car missing any gas, you will have to pay approximately the annual GNP of Andorra to have us fill it for you. Thank you for using Franks Rent a Car!" So I had to stop and waste precious time filling the car with gas. Come on man! Finally, I got to the airport and headed for the rental turn in. And after being directed by the guy in the blue vest to go there, the guy in the purple vest said I had to go there instead. Bill's rentals on the left, Franks on the right. At last I'm on my way to the ticket counter where my ticket is waiting (I reserved it over the phone). But in my haste I went to the wrong counter. The gentleman behind it was very helpful and really wanted to get me squared away which he did. As I left the counter he put a nice red sticker on my newly purchased ticket and I headed for the plane. After easily flying through security of course! Here enters the Curse of the Red Sticker. Because my ticket was a last minute purchase, I was a security risk. That's right, Chaplain Lewis, US Army, loving husband and father, minister of the Gospel, is a security risk. So I got to go to the special line where time stands still. I put my backpack on the conveyor to be x-rayed while I removed some of my clothing and all of my shoes and received a severe "wanding". As I was being "wanded" I noticed a funny look on the x-ray technicians face. Back and forth the conveyor went as if he was trying to figure out what he was seeing. He called a buddy over and they had a look together. Soon there was a small party going on at the 12 inch black and white TV and almost in unison, as though rehearsed, they looked at me, Chaplain Terrorist. I knew with out a word from my audience what they where looking at. I had left my pocket knife in my back pack. I finished taking my "wanding" and proceeded to try to explain the knife. I'm not out to take over the world. I just want to see my family. Fine with them. But what to do with the knife? They kindly informed me that I had several very good options. First, I could put it in my checked luggage, which at that point was buried in 8000 other pieces of checked luggage. Second, I could return to the front desk, get the necessary supplies and mail it home. This, of course, would mean another "wanding" upon reentry. Lastly, I could simply put it in the amnesty bin. Well, hey that's perfect. It's just a very nice knife that I paid good money for that I'll never see again. Can I give you a hundred dollars with that, too? Well, seeing as my flight was soon to depart, I opted for the amnesty (my boy will love this new knife I found at work) box. Thank you Mr. Lewis for your understanding and cooperation. Could you please step right over here while we complete the necessary paperwork for your generous donation. So I stood and explained the "forgotten knife in the backpack in hopes of taking over the world" trick to the extremely quick penned clerk. Once we finished Amnesty Form 1452-45s and the necessary Knife Disclosure Statement I headed for the gate. And believe it or not, I made it home early, and had dinner with my wife and kids.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The Joy Of Floaties

It snowed a little last night. Just a dusting. And when I got up at 1 million AM it was dark and cold. I think I'll go swimming! I arrived at the pool (an indoor pool fortunately) and entered the water ready to learn how to float. I tried and tried but still I sink. I knew all along that I would be taking the retest at the end of my hour of "training" so I was more than a little nervous. I'm not real big on omens or signs, per se, but as I sank time and again, the snow storm outside grew and grew until it was an angry white out. And as before, just to make things even, I gulped a lung full of water and proceeded with the test. Ultimately, I passed...not because I learned to float, but because I learned stay only 15 inches below the surface instead of on the bottom of the pool. Apparently, floating is a big part of serving in this unit so I better figure it out somehow. I wonder if they allow implants?

Monday, January 26, 2004

Like a Rock

Today I began the assessment process into my next unit. I am excited about the prospects of ministry it offers. If I successfully complete the tasks given me this week, I will be assigned there for about the next 3 years or so. The best part about a move to out of Louisiana is that my family will be in a decent city should I ever have to deploy or leave for training. No more Sherwood Forrest or Leesville. I'm only guessing but there are probably more than 2 restaurants in town and more than just a single Wal-Mart for shopping. So I am glad they will have new opportunities. I think it will be a good place and a good unit for raising our kids as they enter their teen years.

At any rate, the assessment process is something of a secret. They made me sign a non-disclosure statement so that no one outside of the unit would find out what really happens (such as the secret handshake). Actually it is simply a way to ensure that future inductees experience the same level of uncertainty and stress that I did. And I did. What I can tell you this far, is that it began with a PT test and a swim test.

The PT test was your standard, hateful, stress inducing US Army torture session that it always is. I think I did fairly well (or at least well enough to pass). After the PT test they had us do some pull ups. This is not a good time to do pullups. It'd be like striking your legs with a ball peen hammer for several minutes just to tenderize them nicely and then doing 600 pound leg presses. The nice thing was that the grader said something like do as many as you want any way you want. It didn't really matter, he seemed to be saying. So the rest of the group ripped out hundreds of perfectly styled pullups, each one showing supreme definition of the very fibers of muscle in their arms, chest and back. I, sporting my legendary pipe cleaner arms, did three. I just figured, if he wanted 40 he should have said 40.

The swim test is terribly misnamed. It did actually began with swimming. Mind you that we were in our BDUs, boots, flight vest, and helmet during this wonderful test of aquatic dexterity. First we had to swim several different strokes for a certain distance (measured in furlongs, I think). This went great. Sure, I actually inhaled several pints of chlorinated water but I finished the swim. Here is where the title "swim test" should end. Next we had to tread water for about 17 hours using no arms or no legs or whatever. I did it using no lungs. I discovered that while swimming is not a problem, not swimming is. When horizontal motion stops, vertical takes over and I sink. Full lungs were of no help. My fatless body sinks like a rock. Well, I did so great on the sinking test that they asked me to come back tomorrow. Joy.