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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Six Year Follow Up

As part of my upcoming assessment into what I hope will be my next unit, I have to undergo a two part physical. I've already complete part one which was little more than depositing various bodily fluids into various containers, tubes, beakers, cups and a jar or two. Today however was part two, a totally different story.

Part two of the standard US Army Flight Physical began with a quick check up by the eye doctor who promptly discovered that I need glasses. Well, that'll make you feel old. So now I wear glasses, but only when I need to actually see clearly. The next step was to actually be seen by the local flight surgeon. He checked everything, including things that ought not be check by another man. It was not natural or ever intended by our beneficent creator. Besides which, he had fingers the size of my thighs. Anytime a doctor tells you to "clean up" you know you've been through hell.

That done, we sat down for a good old fashioned medical inquisition wherein he asked me questions such as, "Do you have a family history of heart disease?" and "Have you ever had a panic attack?" and "Are you busy Friday evening?" Seriously, after much questioning he said, "Well, chaplain, every looks good!" and with that he proceeded to sign my paperwork so that I could proceed head out and conquer the world. But wait, what's this? This whole thing was going way too smoothly. "I can't sign this!" says he. "Why not?" asks me. "You must be deployable and you are not due to some necessary dental work." Well this was easily explainable. I had a root canal several months back (see my entry for October 21, 2003, Yin, Yang, and the Zen of Dental Agony) which required some follow up work. Said follow up work would require that I be placed on the "Follow Up Work Required" waiting list. Sadly this list is approximately 6 years long. So I was unable to get the necessary follow up work in time for my trip. Thus I was between a rock and a hard place. The doctor suggested I go to the dental clinic, explain my situation, and ask them to fix me up. On the surface this sounds like a good idea. The problem is that because of where I am stationed, my dental records were 2 hours away.

So, a bit later, I walked into the dentist's office hoping there was a good root canal follow up guy there and proceeded to explain to the clerk that I need a root canal but I don't have records with me and I need it right now and you're gonna have to believe me. Basically I was not just between a rock and a hard place, I was sandwiched between to concrete slabs. After pleading my case to the clerk he asked me to have a seat while he conferred with the dentist. Soon out came a dentist looking guy who happened to be the local root canal expert and happened to be free for a couple of hours and who was just dying to fix my tooth. PTL! Two hours later I walked out feeling like a million bucks, except for the right half of my head which was feeling like a dead fish.

That done, I am now able to go and see if my "new unit" would ever want a guy who's had a root canal twice in one tooth. We'll see.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Korea: Land of Converging Winds

During the summer months in Korea it got so hot and humid that I was beginning to think I was living in hell. Those days are gone...Hell has frozen over. It snowed much of yesterday and last night, and by this morning we had a lovely white blanket covering a freshly beautified Camp Bonifas. Along with the beauty of the snow comes it's tyrannical soul mate, cold! Man is it cold. The usual nice three minute stroll to my office has quickly become a twenty-five second sprint for life. You see there is a wind that blows through the Panmun valley that originates somewhere near the north pole and converges with an unusual south pole wind right in front of my office. It's not a particularly hard blowing wind, but the unique combination of north and south freezing winds allows it to actually freeze thought! And the fact that I weigh 150 pounds soaking wet and have approximately -6% body fat is of no real help in defending against the attack of the demon wind. Get the idea. It's cold.

It's funny how people react. Last night as the snow was really beginning to come down, there were a bunch of guys out on the parade field having a snow fight / football game. Just looking at them as I sprinted by made me cold. Nevertheless, despite the cold, it is beautiful. Last night's snow was kind of wet and it stuck to everything. Thus there is a small layer of snow even on the barbed wire surrounding the camp. And the empty rice paddies in the area are frozen solid. A couple of them look like white skating rinks. Today the snow has stopped but the cold won't let it melt despite the clear skies and blazing bright sun. It is so bright outside you almost can't see.

It's nice to stand at my window and look at everything outside. Too bad it's not as inviting as it looks. The forecast is for more snow in a couple of days. Summer is sounding better by the minute.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Professional Amputation

I'm losing my right arm! Well, kind of. Tomorrow my Chaplain's Assistant, SGT Lanier, is leaving. He is transitioning back to the United States after 15 months in Korea and will be stationed in Texas. This is what the Army is made of and what makes it a unique social institution. As we move from place to place we say goodbye to old friends and immediately begin to make new ones. Relationship building in the military moves in hyperdrive. There is no time to wait around for just the right neighbors or just the right co-workers. If you wait too long, they're gone before you have a chance to meet them and you'll spend your life feeling very lonely.

Over the past 6 months, SGT Lanier and I have worked well together and I have grown to appreciate him as a soldier, a confidante, and a friend. We would spend many mornings sipping coffee and talking about home, family, food, Korea, and anything else that came to mind. We bounced ideas and strategies for ministry off one another and developed plans and procedures to make things run smoother. And when it came down to doing ministry, he was my right arm. I would not have been nearly as effective a minister were he not here, because while I was preaching and shaking hands and counseling, he was preparing and counting and ensuring that the next event was ready to go. He has been one step ahead of me every where I have gone and when I arrived there, I looked like a genius because of his work. What more could I ask for.

I have no idea what my next assistant will be like. Over time we'll sip coffee and talk of home and build a relationship. I do know this, however, if he is half the NCO that SGT Lanier has been during the past 6 months, I am in great shape.