27 December 2008

Loss of a Colleague

Today was a long day. I spent most of it in the hospital struggling to get intravenous access on two very ill children. When I stumbled in the house around 2200, I was feeling pretty tired and sorry for myself. Then I learned from M. that Dr. John P. Pryor, a surgeon from New Jersey had been killed in Iraq on Christmas Day. Suddenly I felt very fortunate and a little embarrassed for complaining about such mild troubles.


Dr. Pryor was a Major in the Army Reserves and it was his second tour in Iraq. He was killed when a mortar struck near his quarters in Mosul. He was 42 years old. His service in Iraq wasn't the first time he answered the call. He also reported to the World Trade Center after the bombing in 2001.

Here is a link to a column Dr. Pryor wrote for the Washington Post in 2007 that demonstrates his dedication better than I could ever describe it.


He isn't the first US doctor to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Dr. Mark D. Taylor, 41, of Stockton, CA died 20 MAR 2004 when a rocket struck his position near Fallujah.
(Source: Military Times)
He was helping others take cover when he was killed. It was his second deployment to Iraq. He had written in a letter home, "I can't think of a finer thing that I'd rather be doing than taking care of our soldiers."


Dr. Brian D. Allgood was an Army surgeon killed 20 JAN 2007 when the Black Hawk helicopter in which he was travelling crashed northwest of Baghdad.
(Source: West Point)
He was a West Point graduate and was described as the top military surgeon in Iraq. He was 46 at the time.


Dr. Roselle Hoffmaster died in Tikrit on 20 SEP 2007.
Her cause of death is listed as non-combat injuries. She was in internist trained at Brooke Army Medical Center. Dr. Hoffmaster, who was 32 years old at the time of her death was only two weeks into her first deployment to Iraq. She had volunteered for her assignment so that colleagues with small children could stay home.

I didn't know these doctors, these fellow citizens who gave faithful service, I just know that I got to come home alive and they didn't. There is no reason for it and I will never understand it. I am thankful and humbled by the immeasurable sacrifice of these individuals and their families.
Lest we forget, our burden cannot be mentioned without remembering that Iraqi physicians have suffered far greater losses. The Red Cross estimates that more than 2200 Iraqi physicians and nurses have been killed since the war began in 2003. In the same time, more than 250 have been kidnapped. At least 20,000 of the estimated 34,000 pre-war physicians have fled the country.

Although the trying conditions of war have highlighted the most heroic qualities in some, it also brings to light the the most base and hateful characteristics in others. Dr. Louay was an Iraqi physician who would volunteer to help whenever the Kirkuk hospital was overrun with incoming wounded. He was also a member of a local insurgent cell. He administered lethal overdoses to 43 injured Iraqi policemen and soldiers in his care before he was discovered. His despicable actions are a betrayal of medicine and humanity, but are unfortunately part of the face of war.

When I consider his treachery, the first thought that comes to mind is the dedicated nurses at the Air Force Theater Hospital who would toil for hours administering their gentle healing art to injured insurgents, some of whom would spit and curse at them.

So I have no excuse to feel tired or grumpy. I am thankful for a challenging day at my little hospital in San Antonio, and I am even more thankful for the chance to return home to the embrace of my family. I will never take for granted that I got to take that long flight home upright in my seat, and twice at that.

23 December 2008

A child's life improved

I wanted to send good news about the child of a dear friend.

M. is 7 year-old-girl, and she has suffered the effects of sickle cell disease for her entire life. Six weeks ago, she underwent transplant of bone marrow donated by her younger brother. She has made an excellent recovery and the transplant has cured her sickle cell disease. You can read more about it here:

http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/12/665830

Her mother is a Ugandan-American who works tirelessly to care for seriously ill children in the PICU. We have taken care of many children together. I am very impressed by her dedication to make children's lives better. In addition to the good work she does in the hospital, she has also founded an organization to help the many children with sickle cell disease in Uganda.

I've posted the organization's website before on the blog, but here it is again:

http://uganda-americansickle.org


15 December 2008

A great American

In sharing these thoughts, Dena Yllescas is showing great bravery. I pass on her very moving words.

(quote)


CPT Rob Yllescas
Back in Nebraska
Posted: 13 Dec 2008 10:22 PM CST
Sorry it's been a couple of days since I last wrote. I've been EXTREMELY busy and also extremely tired!!! The Memorial Service was really nice. I have to say that the roll call they do is the absolute worst. For those of you who don't know what this is, they call out Rob's name 3 times. Of course, each time he doesn't answer. I'm not sure what the reasoning behind this is, but all the memorial services I've been to do this. It just makes it that much more real that he's gone. These past couple of days have been emotionally exhausting. The house, the service, and yesterday I got the Army Times and Rob's picture was under the section "Human Toll". Every week I got the paper, I'd always look at this to see how many soldiers were killed that week in Iraq and Afghanistan. To see Rob there, killed me. Then yesteray I spent all day with my Casualty Assistant Officer on Ft Hood going to different offices for benefit information. I was gone from 8am to 3:30pm. When I got back to the house, my friend who's a real estate agent was there and we got our house put on the market. I then had a couple of more friends stop by. Later I still had to pack up a few more things to take back with me to Nebraska. I took a bunch of Rob's t-shirts, jeans, dress shirts, and acu's. One of Rob's aunts said she would make a quilt from Rob's t-shirts and another friend said she knows someone who will make teddy bears out of his jeans, shirts, and acu's. I figure this would be great so we can still have his things near us without having to put them all in boxes or get rid of them. That's the hardest for me. Right now I can leave our house and come back to Nebraska. But when the house gets sold and I move into a new one, I have to figure out what to do with his things. I can't bear to get rid of them because it's part of HIM and there are so many memories. But I can't bear to look at them all the time either because the scab constantly gets torn off. Now that I'm back in Nebraska knowing that this will be my new reality, things are starting to set in. I MISS HIM SO MUCH. My world as I know it has turned upside down. My whole adult life I've only known the military. I've been married for 8 1/2 years with 2 small children. Rob was an amazing father and husband. He helped me so much. My family will be wonderful and will help me out with ANYTHING I need, but my best friend, husband, and father to my children is gone. And I have so many emotions running through me: sad, scared, angry, uncertain.... I just have to hold on strong to the fact that God will get us through this. I pray every night for Him to help me be the mother our girls need me to be to raise them solely on my own so they can grow up to be happy, confident, christian women. And what helps me so much is knowing how many family, friends, and perfect strangers are supporting the girls and I and giving me those words of encouragment. I know that we will never truly be alone. I thank God every night for all of you who are wrapping your arms around us. More than ever, I can't thank you enough.

10 December 2008

[Fwd: CPT Rob Yllescas]

I am reposting Dena Yllescas' very touching words below. I am repeatedly reminded of the strength of our individual troops. I am blown away by the strength of their families.

Chris
----------------------------------------




Funeral


Posted: 09 Dec 2008 09:57 PM CST

Yesterday was Rob's funeral. It was beautiful. Again, the Patriot Guard showed up holding flags outside the auditorium and a bell was being rung. During the service they had a 16x20 photograph of Rob in uniform in front of a flag. I looked at it most of the service. That picture made it feel like he was right there. They played a slide show before and after the service. My friend Nancy is going to put it on here when she gets the chance so everyone can see it. She did an amazing job. Thanks, Nancy. After the service we went to the cemetary. The police were in front with the Patriot Guards on their bikes, then Rob, and then more Patriot Guards leading us to the site. It was so surreal that the 21 gun salute and presentation of the flag was for MY husband. I still can't believe he's gone. Even though I was there when he passed away, to me it feels like he's still deployed. So many people were there. It's just unbelievable the amount of support. I know that the girls and I are going to be ok because there are so many people that care. Afterwards we had a dinner and I was able to talk to some people who I hadn't seen in years who had traveled so far to say their final goodbyes to Rob. When I left the dinner, I was by myself. I drove up to his grave site. He had been buried and a flag was placed on top. Everything is so final. As much as I wish I could go back and undo the past, I can't. It's the most helpless feeling. But I know he's looking down on us and that gives me comfort. My brother called me and said that before they left town, he and his wife drove past to see Rob with their almost 4 year old daughter. She said "daddy, I see Rob flying away." Aaron said "What did you say, Megan?" "I see Uncle Rob flying away in the sky. He's with Jesus." Amazing. Later that evening, some friends of mine from Ft Hood came over to my parents. Their husbands are in Rob's unit. I swear, only fellow military wives can lift eachother up after the day we had. It ended up snowing. Well, before long one of the wives was making a snow angel and then we ended up in a full fledge snowball fight. When we were done, we sat in my parents hot tub and talked for a couple of hours. It was some much needed stress relief and I thank you for providing me that ladies. Tomorrow I leave for Ft Hood. They are doing a memorial service for Rob on Thursday and presenting the girls with a scholarship. I'm not taking the girls with me because they've been gone too much and Julia needs to get back to school. I'll be back on Saturday. It'll give me a chance to bring some more things from the house back to Nebraska.

There were several news stations that covered Rob's funeral. Here are a few links:

www.omaha.com
www.columbustelegram.com
www.journalstar.com
(I think those are right...I was doing them off the top of my head!)








29 November 2008

Send good wishes out for CPT Rob Yllescas

Cpt Rob Yllescas is a troop who was injured last month in Afghanistan. He and his wife Dena have been keeping up the fight in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC for the past few weeks. He is facing a tough operation for a blood clot in his brain. Send some good wishes out for this soldier and his great family.

http://yllescasfamily.blogspot.com/

Thanks,

Chris

19 November 2008

For those exposed to the burn pits

I've written before about the burn pit at Balad. It is used to dispose of solid waste at the base. There have been recent improvements such as high-temperature incinerators, plasics recycling, and trench-burning have made improvements, but the response has been sluggish for this and other burn pits in the AOR.

For those who have been exposed to the burn pits, or are concerned, here is recent information available at Military Times:

Article on particulate matter at FOB Hammer:

http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2008/11/military_burnpit_chemicals_111908w/

Video featuring the experience of one troop from Balad:

http://gannett.a.mms.mavenapps.net/mms/rt/1/site/gannett-militarypubs-21772-pub01-live/current/launch.html?maven_playerId=testplayer&maven_referralPlaylistId=7e5e9a6875cc4dde06f37f371c765442fc5e6538&maven_referralObject=922675119


(video:)




Written troop accounts.

http://www.militarytimes.com/news/2008/11/army_burnpit_letters_111708w/

If you are a veteran experiencing unexplained pulmonary symptoms, sleep disturbance, or headaches, I urge you to get yourself checked out.

Stay well,

Chris

13 November 2008

Amazing photos from my brother

I am incredibly proud of my brother, A. He is the most laid-back, friendly, and fun guy to have around. You would never know from this relaxed exterior, but he has an amazingly critical and detailed photographic eye.





Sure that's just a brother talking, but here's my proof: He was just chosen as a finalist in National Geographic contest. here is his photograph:



(If you can't see it on the feed, here is the link:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3192/3028076979_7e9608c073.jpg )

I asked Adam to tell me about the shot, and here is what he told me:

(begin quote)

This was taken on the Parker Ridge Trail at the North Western Tip of Banff National Park in Canada. The picture is the view North to Jasper National Park; The Glacier in the background is Saskatchewan Glacier flowing out of the Columbia Icefield. This glacier is about 8 miles long but it is receding at a rate of about 1 mile every 100 years. The Columbia Icefield is HUUUUGE! It's rivers feed the Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and Atlantic. C. and I were hiking and camping out at the foot of the Icefield the day before... It was amazing.

(end quote)

you can see more of Adam's pictures at:

http://www.coppolaphotography.com

11 November 2008

Thanks on Veterans Day

To all veterans and their families,


Many thanks to you for your dedication and sacrifices. I know that my family enjoys the peace and prosperity of our life in the USA directly as a result of your service. My little stints in Iraq seem very very small and painless compared to the heavy burden that was shouldered by so many before me, and continues to be carried on.

I'm flying my flag proudly in their honor today. (With a close eye out the window as the clouds threaten to rain on us in central Texas again today!) This Veterans Day was much better than the last one because I'm home. Today I sent my boys off to school at the bus stop, and got to say hi to one of the many other troops who live in my neighborhood. I'm covering a few hours more for my partner C. until she gets back from a medical mission she ran to transport an ill sailor in the Pacific. If I'm lucky and the call day is light, I might even get to hear my son's concert today. (I will be glad to help M. rein in the two younger two boys through the concert this year!)

It is with great admiration and gratitude that I especially salute the service of CTP Rob Yllescas, who is recovering from injuries suffered in Operation Enduring Freedom. Read here about the Purple Heart he was rewarded yesterday:

http://yllescasfamily.blogspot.com/2008/11/rob-receives-his-purple-heart.html

Please keep him and his family in your thoughts.

Warm regards,

Chris

06 November 2008

Iraq Veteran Daytime Star




( JR Martinez, Iraq War veteran and star of All My Children. Photo Source: Daytime Confidential : http://www.daytimeconfidential.com/2008/11/all-my-children-jr-martinez-a-real-american-hero)


I suppose I can't get away with sharing a daytime drama story without a little background. We all do crazy things in college. It's our time to experiment. One of the many joys of meeting my life's love in school was to discover "All My Children" through her. We had a laugh together at the trials and tribulations of Billy Clyde Tuggle, his HonEstelle, and sweet Emily Ann. And back then, Susan Lucci still hadn't won an Emmy! Well for M. it was just a little diversion, but I dived in as I always do and soon I was skipping classes to watch with JAD who had the corner room down the hall in our fraternity.

I may have kicked the habit, but I still got a charge out of this story. "All My Children" is featuring veteran and war hero JR Martinez as "Brot". He plays the love interest of one of the regular characters who is a veteran "on TV". What is notable is that Mr. Martinez was injured in Iraq in 2003, and spent 34 months in the hospital undergoing many operations to treat his extensive burns. It is great to see veterans in all walks of our society, and of course it is great to celebrate his victory over hardship.

Apparently the show is going to have an unscripted episode featuring other real Iraq War veterans, so I might just have to get back on the horse.

Here is more on the story:



http://soapnet.go.com/soapnet/article/path-articleNum_15447/category_shows/subcategory_allmychildren/page_1

I know there is no way I can recover from posting about this, but sometimes you've just got to let your freak flag fly.

Have fun,

Chris

CPT Yllescas has made it back to American soil!

CPT Rob Yllescas has made the flight from LRMC to Bethesda. It is good to have this American son and faithful troop back home! His wife, Dena, remains by his bedside and is posting about his progress. Keep him in your thoughts.

http://yllescasfamily.blogspot.com/

Growing Iraq's Medical Future


(Photo: Medical students in Baghdad, Source: NPR)
My friend M. sent me an interesting story on the supply of doctors in Iraq:




I had caught part of the story on NPR the day before, but it was great to see the faces of the Iraqi doctors interviewed in the story.


The Iraqi health system has hit on hard times since the war began. Before the invasion in 2003, Medical City in Baghdad was a modern facility. It had a thriving academic center. Doctors tell me they were gearing up to introduce a liver transplant program. Several years later in 2006, I couldn't find anyone who would be able to look after a kidney transplant patient. The hospitals had been looted and damaged. They were hampered by power outages and lack of running water. About half of Iraq's 40,000 doctors had fled the country. Approximately 2000 had been killed. Our military hospitals were the considered the highest acuity facilities in the country.


There have been some sings of progress. As the article states, it has been hard to attract doctors back to Baghdad. Many are staying in Jordan or other neighboring countries. Some have settled in Kurdistan, where there is less daily violence. The most promising source of future doctors in Iraq are homegrown medical students training in Baghdad today. The NPR article profiles Dr. Hamza who has been training young physicians in Baghdad for years. He himself trained to be a doctor there. It was inspiring to see the that the student doctors pictured in the article were women.


From the military hospitals, we have received other news of progress. In January when I was in Balad, we learned that the University Hospital in Tikrit was developing a burn treatment center. Some old problems remain. One Iraqi doctor told us that he didn't dare transfer his patient to a hospital in one city because she was Sunni and was at risk of being killed there.


I have been thrilled to hear of great work from my friend Dr. M. who is a pediatric surgeon in Iraq. Through dangerous and difficult times, he stayed in Iraq to continue providing expert care for children. He did this even though it meant personal risk and periods of separation from family. His program has flourished and he offers full surgical services for children and teaching programs for physicians.


Here is his website:




It is so good to see signs of Iraq's medical system returning in strength. As in all good things, it will be accomplished through the efforts of dedicated and compassionate people who will persevere in spite of the difficulty.

04 November 2008

Barak Obama, Our Next Commander-in-Chief!

M. and I have been watching the election with our oldest son B. It was just announced on CBS, MSNBC, and CNN that Obama is projected to be the 44th president of our United States. I am so proud and excited! I feel like every horizon has been opened for every citizen of our wonderful country. I see a warmer and brighter future for my three sons. I'm struggling so hard to find some way to express this, but the best thing I can say is that this is something that we all have waited for many years, and now we can leap ahead as a country united. United we can fix the problems that have been plaguing us. It's going to be better for all of us.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/11/04/election.president/index.html

03 November 2008

Wheelers for the Wounded: Midnight 4Wheelers Event, Boulder Creek


We had a great time this SAT at the Midnight 4Wheelers Club charity ride for Wheelers for the Wounded at Boulder Creek Park.

The event was held to raise money for an event in May where the club will host wounded warriors and their families to give them a weekend outside enjoying trail rides. Jason of Wheelers for the Wounded is trying to organize a ride in every state over the course of 2009. The boys and I might just get the chance to hit a couple of states.
We skipped the Friday night camping because it was Halloween and nothing was going to stop the boys from rounding the neighborhood for candy. Since we headed out early on SAT, only B. and the dog joined me. It was a great ride. Many of the Midnight 4Wheelers rigs are trailer rigs, so even if they flop, they still have a ride home.
Since we were driving up and back in the JK, I was hoping to at least make it out in drivable condition.

Bumblebee did pretty well; we lost one tire in a river bed, front and back license plates popped off, and I knocked the gasoline evaporation canister off the bottom climbing a hill. Nothing that kept me from making it home, and when we ripped the tire, I couldn’t believe how the Midnight 4Wheelers all pitched in to get it changed quickly and safely.
Dad, B., dog, and JK all made it home in one piece. I should have the new tire tomorrow. (The crew at 4Wheel Parts knew I was looking for it because they had already seen the picture of the damage!)
The evap canister is sitting on my dresser with the glue drying. (I think the Jeep will run without it, but I’d feel bad about the fumes getting into the environment.)
After the ride, we had a great dinner of chicken-fried chicken with white gravy, corn, and fries while the TexasTech game played.
We heard all the plans for the upcoming event for wounded warriors. B. even won a gift certificate to General brake shop in the door prize raffle!
We met an amazing bunch of people: John, Terry, Jorge, Rich, Lynne, Mike, Kyle, Jeremy, Tommy, Al, JD, Dale, and so many others, all very nice. Kyle told me about some amazing experiences driving the HMMWV’s around Ramadi, and Jorge had the good news that his wife just made it home from Iraq.

There were so many organizations and people that gave their time and sponsorship to the event that I want to list as many as I can remember. These are regular folks who want to do anything they can for troops who have sacrificed their bodies to defend us all. If you are in the area, do patronize their businesses if you have a chance. (I'm sure there are others I've forgotten!)

Wheelers for the Wounded
http://www.treesranchoffroad.com/

If you want to see any more pictures of the event, here is my flickr album on the event:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ccoppola/sets/72157608611055649/
(And some of the pictures here are borrowed from Jesus Man and Shane, to give proper props!)

02 November 2008

Keep CPT Rob Yllescas in your thoughts

(Image Source: http://yllescasfamily.blogspot.com/ )

A few days ago, CPT Rob Yllescas was injured in an IED attack in Afghanistan. I learned about him through the Milblogging site. His wife Dena is keeping a record of his progress at her blog:




As a surgeon, I was struck by her description of how horrible it was for Dena to learn that her husband had been injured:




I thought about the thousands of young men and women we ushered through the hospital in Balad, and for every one of them, a family at home suffered a similar shock. Maybe there wasn't time to think about it, or maybe I just couldn't handle dwelling on that devastating news again and again, but I think I just held my emotions at bay so I could keep functioning for the new troops who came in every day.


CPT Yllescas was treated in Bagram, Afghanistan. We have surgeons from our flight there at this moment, and I know they are probably hard at work in the operating room at this very moment. As the violence has decreased in Iraq, it has increased in Afghanistan.


I was comforted to learn that Dena Yllescas was helped out by the Fisher House at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center when she arrived in Germany:




Hopefully the family will soon be making the flight back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Please send them your good wishes for a safe journey and a rapid recovery.


Chris

01 November 2008

10 Reasons to Hire a Veteran


Hi,

The picture above is from one year ago, but it is appropriate because if you ask, "Is hiring veterans good for the company?" the answer is, "YES!"

I came across a great list looking up new services available for veterans. It was on the "America's Heroes at Work" website:




It might surprise you to discover that veterans are having trouble getting jobs.




Some of the difficulty may stem from employers having hesitation hiring veterans. Also, veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) may face other hurdles when searching for work.


That's why I was very happy to find this list on the Heroes at Work website that does a great job articulating the great benefits of hiring a veteran. In addition, there is often the opportunity to patronize veteran-owned businesses in your community when you are searching for a subcontractor or other services.


Without further ado, here is the list from




(Begin quote)



10 Reasons to Hire Vets

1) Accelerated learning curve.Veterans have the proven ability to learn new skills and concepts. In addition, they can enter your workforce with identifiable and transferable skills, proven in real-world situations. This background can enhance your organization's productivity.

2) Leadership.The military trains people to lead by example as well as through direction, delegation, motivation, and inspiration. Veterans understand the practical ways to manage behaviors for results, even in the most trying circumstances. They also know the dynamics of leadership as part of both hierarchical and peer structures.

3) Teamwork.Veterans understand how genuine teamwork grows out of a responsibility to one's colleagues. Military duties involve a blend of individual and group productivity. They also necessitate a perception of how groups of all sizes relate to each other and an overarching objective.

4) Diversity and inclusion in action.Veterans have learned to work side by side with individuals regardless of diverse race, gender, geographic origin, ethnic background, religion, and economic status as well as mental, physical, and attitudinal capabilities. They have the sensitivity to cooperate with many different types of individuals.

5) Efficient performance under pressure.Veterans understand the rigors of tight schedules and limited resources. They have developed the capacity to know how to accomplish priorities on time, in spite of tremendous stress. They know the critical importance of staying with a task until it is done right.

6) Respect for procedures.Veterans have gained a unique perspective on the value of accountability. They can grasp their place within an organizational framework, becoming responsible for subordinates' actions to higher supervisory levels. They know how policies and procedures enable an organization to exist.

7) Technology and globalization.Because of their experiences in the service, veterans are usually aware of international and technical trends pertinent to business and industry. They can bring the kind of global outlook and technological savvy that all enterprises of any size need to succeed.
8) Integrity.Veterans know what it means to do "an honest day's work." Prospective employers can take advantage of a track record of integrity, often including security clearances. This integrity translates into qualities of sincerity and trustworthiness.

9) Conscious of health and safety standards.Thanks to extensive training, veterans are aware of health and safety protocols both for themselves and the welfare of others. Individually, they represent a drug-free workforce that is cognizant of maintaining personal health and fitness. On a company level, their awareness and conscientiousness translate into protection of employees, property, and materials.

10) Triumph over adversity.In addition to dealing positively with the typical issues of personal maturity, veterans have frequently triumphed over great adversity. They likely have proven their mettle in mission critical situations demanding endurance, stamina, and flexibility. They may have overcome personal disabilities through strength and determination.


(End quote)

30 October 2008

Wellsphere video

Hi,
I recently had the chance to be included in a video for the online health site Wellsphere: It is a great introduction to the variety of regular everyday people who are providing their own personal stories to people seeking knowledge about living healthy, even through disease.

Video site:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDPKEyWFC2w

Embed:





My little bit that describes the Air Force Theater Hospital comes at 2:20, but it is much more interesting to hear from others.

If you want to check out the Wellsphere site, you can find it here:

http://www.wellsphere.com/home.s

29 October 2008

More on the burn pit


Last month, I was driving home from the hospital, and something caught my eye as I made the turn from 90 onto 410. There to the west, a car had overturned and caught on fire. The firetruck and ambulance were already there, but what struck me was the column of smudgy smoke rising into the sky. I looked at that plume of smoke rising into the pale afternoon sky, and I was instantly transported back to Balad, trudging to work through the mud and gravel, staring at the smoke trail of the ever-smoldering burn pit. The memory was a full wave of sensation. I could smell the acrid smoke in my nostrils, taste its bitter motes in the back of my throat, and feel the teary sting in my eyes. When I bid farewell to Balad earlier this year, a glance over my shoulder was all it took to know that it would burn on after my departure.


On Monday, Army Times reporter Kelly Kennedy published a piece on the burn pit.




Although it was good to know that progress was being made to reduce the amount of garbage burned there to 147 tons/day, I hope the day comes soon when it is closed down for good. Even one troop suffering ill health effects from the pit it is too many.


If you don't recognize Ms. Kennedy's name, she is the one who was able to bring the American public news of the conditions for injured veterans at Walter Reed.




Even if you knew that, you might not know that she is a veteran herself, having served for all of us in the Middle East before establishing herself as a journalist. It is no wonder that she wants make sure that veterans get the best. They deserve no less.

26 October 2008

Good news for veterans

Good news in the mail! I received a notice that I was part of a study of veterans. Soon I will be receiving a survey to describe any stress that deploying caused for me or my family. If I complete this survey and another one in 6 months, there will be $30 in it for me. It's good to know that there is help out there for veterans.

17 October 2008

I voted!



Today I am very psyched that I completed my absentee ballot as a military member. It is on its way to the Town Clerk. It is odd to consider the true effect of my individual because of our electoral college. In my home state of record, newspapers are predicting the result with a high degree of confidence. So does my vote really matter? It certainly does to me. All I have to do is think of the injured Iraqis I saw on Election Day, proudly displaying their purple fingers as proof that they had voted. When people in the world have the bravery to risk suicide bombers to vote, how dare we not exercise our right to vote? So even if my state's decision was unanimous, my individual vote counts greatly.



I feel like it is so important that we come together to face the challenging problems that have been troubling our nation. The candidate I chose has energized me about my country in a way I haven't felt in a long time. I wasn't alive when JFK was president, but I wonder if that is how people felt back then. It reminds me of the how I felt during the Reagan years when I was inspired me to give something back through military service.



So, I am very proud to have done my civic duty and have exercised my precious privilege to vote for our leaders. Your turn is coming up soon!



Have fun and be mello,



Chris

How can you help the country?

Hi friends.

B. and I were talking about some of his assignments at school. He has been watching the presidential debates as a homework assignment and has some very insightful perspectives. Tonight we discussed if it is necessary to prove your innocence when a bully makes a false accusation against you. If someone accuses you of being something that you are not, are you innocent until proven guilty, or is the onus upon you to disprove the aspersion?

Anyway, I asked him what he thought we could do to help the USA. He replied that it was good that we were providing government money to help people who were in need and he thought we should be drilling for our own oil. I told him what I meant was I wanted to know what he thought he could do himself. He came up with some great ideas:

-Tell a teacher they were doing a great job
-Try to use less electricity by turning off lights
-Never litter
-Help people to get along at school
-Paying off his debts and not buying something until he had saved up for it
-Speak up if someone was being treated unfairly
-Don't break the law

Since he is still in school, there are some things he can't do yet, but it only took us a few minutes thinking together to add these ideas to the list

-Do volunteer work
-Buy American
-Hire American
-Stay in school and be part of an educated workforce
-Stay healthy
-Be sure to have health insurance
-Stay out of debt and save money
-Help troops, their families, and veterans
-Consider a job in community service, public service, or military service
-Get to know the neighbors and watch out for their safety
-Utilize public schools, participate in school meetings, and keep schools strong
-Be tolerant of others regardless of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political belief
-VOTE!!!

Once you start thinking about how you can help, it becomes a fun challenge to try to think of something new!

For more ideas, (including the great suggestion to fly the flag), I found this site from our government: http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Usgresponse/Help.shtml

We all can do something!

14 October 2008

Bad news may travel fast, but good news lights up the wire

A few days ago, I mentioned a recent revelation that troops' phone calls home were monitored by our intelligence community. I was pleased to receive such varied and heartfelt commentary on the matter. As many of you pointed out, It has long been known that the military monitors its own service members' communications, be they written or video teleconference. The most heartwarming comment I received via personal email. My dear friend of 15 years who sent it to me was kind enough to allow me to pass it on:


(begin quote)

At Christmas, 1969 M***** sent me a telegram on Project Hope shipboard in Tunisia that we had finally managed to get pregnant and at that with twins. I had been away from home since early November and had unhappily left M***** feeling quite queasy and we were not then sure about the pregnancy. I just had to talk to her!! Phones were not very good then in North Africa but the radio man on the ship patched together ham radio operators across the Mediterranean and Atlantic to allow a brief chat. Now ham radio operators are very professional but as the message of our conversation sank in around the planet M***** and I began to hear "AHHHH" in many accents. Frankly I was so glad to talk to her I really did not care who heard!! I did not get home until April and our pregnancy was well along. That was our only call. The twins were 38 this summer but I certainly still remember that call!!

(end quote)
(Learn more about my friend's mission here:
Here is an account from the Project: (source: National Museum of American History, "Project Hope", Washington, DC)
(begin quote)
Voyage 8, to Tunisia August 1969-August 1970

"Thursday was a very busy day in the OR. Five of the six operations scheduled in the 3 operating rooms made for much activity. At 8:00 am, in Room 1, little Sabir Bentlassen, age 7, had a delicate brain operation by Dr. W. James Gardner and his Tunisian counterpart, Dr. Bettaieb. . . . The operation was to correct insensitivity in the left side of his body. At the same time in Room 2, a young woman underwent plastic surgery. Though only 34, she seemed twice that age due to past extensive burns."

Ship's Report

(end quote)
In 15 years of knowing him, he has never mentioned this heroic and generous work to me. Through numerous medical missions, on some of which he sent me, I have learned what he taught me to be true: Surgery varies greatly from place to place, but people are the same. Once you have seen surgery in several places around the world, you learn what is the common denominator at the core of surgery, what is merely local custom.)

11 October 2008

What credit crunch?

Well in today's mail, my tween son got an offer from Bank of America for a Platnum Plus credit card! Yep, he's pre-approved for a $100,000 line of credit. Well, to his credit (ahem) he does subscribe to several auto magazines and did just get a job. That job happens to be bringing the newspaper in for an elderly neighbor on weekends. Still, I don't think the meagre bucks it pays will cover the monthly minimum on 100 boxes of ziti. So what is this credit crunch everyone is talking about? How can banks and insurance companies be moaning when my grade school son can get $100K with a signature and a social security number?






We were quite thrilled because after all, we did design our living room around his painting "God Bless America".



(Honest, we designed our living room around a benefit painting for 9/11 relief. It's one of the rooms the realtor suggested we paint over before we try to sell the house.)



Anyway, Mr. Rodrigue has also done some amazing paintings to help provide relief for New Orleans after hurricaine Katrina, such as:

We will rise again: http://www.bluedogrelief.com/we%20will%20rise%20again.html

So I asked him something that I had been dying ask anyone from New Orleans since the banking crash: Was he surprised at the speed at which the government responded with a bailout? I also asked him if he planned on painting any benefit artwork for Wall Street. (At the moment, he is not.)

The book signing was wonderful, and Mr. Rodrigue was kind enough to sign our copy of the Lafayette, LA Junior League's cookbook "Talk about good, II" which features his early Cajun art.

http://www.amazon.com/Talk-About-Lafayette-Junior-League/dp/0935032509

The best part was when he brought up local schoolchildren who had colored their own versions of the Blue Dog and told them "If you can paint a Blue Dog, you can paint anything."

I just hope I can paint myself up a mortgage when the time comes to move. I don't have to worry about the down payment: I'm sure our dog can get it as a cash advance on one of his credit cards.

09 October 2008

Should I be surprised?

Here is an interesting tidbit I read in the news tonight:

http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/10/09/spying.on.americans/index.html

(CNN article: eavesdropping on troops calls home)

This had me wondering, "Hmm... what did I say on those late night calls home to M?" I wonder if there was some bleary-eyed worker on the line with us, silently taking in the contents of the conversation. What did they think? Maybe they were touched by how much we missed each other, or how much I wanted to be home. Or they might have just thought I was whining. Perhaps it was just boring mind-numbing static, after having listened to so many troops that just said minor variations on the same themes.

I would like to listen to a recording of myself from my time on deployment. I wonder if I would recognize the tired lonely airman on the line. That time seems centuries away as I sit here in the comfort of my home, basking in the love of my family. Still, little things like a funny smell, a few words of Arabic in the supermarket, or a column of smoke in the sky can bring it rushing it back. I'll bet hearing that deployment me on the line would bring back every nuance of the memory.

Well, not much use in dwelling on things past. More important to focus on the 144,000 troops still over there. Let's make sure the whole nation is listening for anyway we can help them and their families back home.

02 October 2008

Don't Vote Link

For those of you who didn't get the link to the Don't Vote video, here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UaRXvRwhOk

Take care!

Chris

01 October 2008

Don't, don't vote!

Wow, nearly a month since I've posted. No excuse! We are getting along well in TX. Bit by bit it wears on me to be far from family. It is hard not being able to visit, but very rarely. I know they can get by without us there, but I wish we could be there to share the good times, and also maybe to help out in the bad times.

Since it is OCT, we actually have some mornings that are less than 90 degrees! I wanted to write today because A. sent me a wonderful video called "Don't vote" I think it is aimed at young people, but the message is even good for me, someone who might think twice about voting just because the line is long.

I have been given the great privilege of being able to serve my country. A long time ago, I came to the conclusion that we are so fortunate in the US that we don't even realize how much better we have it that most of the human beings in this world. I felt that it was my duty to try and give a little something back for these riches. I may have ended up experiencing a bit more than I expected, but I feel very lucky that I got to do my duty.

Well, there is a little duty that every American shares: Voting! It is just as important as the job of the troop who gets deployed.

So I couldn't think of any better way of telling you, my friends, how I feel about this than to pass along this video. (Warning, there is a little profanity, but the message is strong.)


03 September 2008

Wheelers for the Wounded



This past weekend, the boys and I went up to Tree's Ranch near Lakey, TX. I turned 40 last week and there could be no better way to mark this milestone than to spend some time camping and off-roading with my sons. As G. said, the ranch was a "good pick for my birthday party." We pulled in late on Friday night, make that Saturday morning since it was 1am. I let the boys sleep in the back of the truck while I set up camp, trying not to disturb the neighbors too much. The next morning, we joined up with a great bunch of drivers and spent the day tackling some trails that were challenging due to crumbling rock and slick mud. At one point our entire group of seven vehicles got stuck at the bottom of an incline and had to winch back to the top one by one. Our trail guides J. and the brother sister team of M. and C. were a great source of experience and know-how.




At the BBQ that night, just before the raffle for the 10,000lb winch, Richard Cruz of Midnight Fourwheelers stood up on stage to tell us about a wonderful cause. I learned about a project called Wheelers for the Wounded. Founder Jason Havlik is a gulf war vet and a private contractor who has participated in OIF. He has heavily modified a JK Wrangler with the help of Overbuilt Customs of Jacksonville, FL, not only for heavy-duty trail abuse, but also to accomodate injured veterans.


(Photo source: Overbuilt Customs)

Starting in February 2009, he is going to tour the country helping wounded troops participate in off-roading and to raise awareness of the challenges they face.
Here in TX, I'm planning on attending the fundraiser sponsored by Midnight Fourwheelers on 1 NOV at Boulder Creek Farms as well as the main TX event for Wheelers for the Wounded on 2 MAY at the same location.
Wherever I go in our great nation, it is such a reassurance and an inspiration to see Americans doing whatever they can for injured troops. Wheelers for the Wounded is especially uplifting because it aims to help veterans get the most important component of recovery: participation in life.

27 August 2008

Iraqi burn clinic shutting down

Friends,

I received this message from Jimmy in the burn clinic at CSC Scania (described in my last post) via Laurel from Books for Soldiers:

(begin quote)

Jimmy wrote:
Laurel,

Thank you so much for contacting me. As much as I hate to say it, the clinic is being shut down. There will be no need for donations by the end of this month.

Thank you,

Jimmy

(end quote)

Don't worry if you have already sent something: I'm sure at Scania, like at our base in Balad, there is a system in place by which the chaplain's office can find a needy home for donated items. If you are looking for an alternate place to help, there are many organizations you can find easily on the Internet (such as Fisher House.) Thank you so much for caring!

Not much to say tonight, got home from the hospital 'round 2300, but at least I'm home. Thinking of all the troops who aren't.

Chris

24 August 2008

73rd Cavalry volunteers tend burned Iraqi children

Hi Friends,

I recently received from a friend, Deb, this great news about US troops at CSC Scania (that's Convoy Support Center) south of Baghdad who are volunteering their time to run a clinic for Iraqis in need of medical care. These aren't people who were sent to Iraq as medical providers. Their official duty is to refuel trucks and keep them running on the convoy line running north and south through Mesopotamia. They treat up to 80 patients a day, many of them burned children. They report that they are seeing the same burns I saw so commonly: scald and oil spil burns from uncovered cooking sources in the home. They rely on donated service hours and donated supplies. If ever anyone needed a reason to be proud of our military, look no further than these troops.

Here's a video on YouTube:



and from CBS:



Here is the information provided for those who want to help:

(begin quote)

Items needed are:

Medihoney antibacterial cream
Kerlix
Xeroform petroleum dressings
Non-adhesive dressings
Chucks
Tylenol/paracetemol (Infant,Child and Adult)
Motrin/Ibuprofen (Infant,Child and Adult)
IV line sets
Benadryl (Child and Adult)

Additional items needed are:

Flip flops/Sandals
Sneakers
Clothes
Toothbrushes
Toothpaste
Toys
Stuffed Animals
Socks
Crayons and Coloring Books

PLEASE DO NOT SEND CASH OR CHECKS

Mail your donations to:

Jimmy Compton
SOC
CSC Scania
APO AE 09331

For more information, send your email to :
jimmycompton@gmail.com

"Thank you to all the volunteers around the world who extend their hand to help another."
And, please spread the word on this one, would you?

(end quote)

06 August 2008

Mainer: Yes, you definitely get a plug!!

Here is a message I received after writing about http://www.forgottensoldiers.org :

(Begin quote)

Mainer has left a new comment on your post "Remember Forgotten Soldiers":

OK, Chris, I have to tout/advertise an organization I belong to. It's Adopt A Platoon (adoptaplatoon.org). It's DoD approved. You can adopt an individual troop, or a unit or a platoon. You can become a penpal only if you prefer and/or have limited funds. Each adoption requires that you send a care package at least once a month and you write letters once a week- REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THEY RESPOND OR NOT. They also have campaigns throughout the year- Halloween, Christmas, July, all summer, etc.

So far I've adopted 10 individuals and 1 group of 14. It gives you a wonderful feeling to know that you are providing a touch of home to someone who is deployed. It's free to join but you do have to pass a screening because of the DoD seal of approval.

OK. That's my plug!

(End quote.)

I am happy to get news of Adopt a Platoon out because it is good work that is greatly appreciated, and I know that citizens want to do something to help. People ask me all the time, "What can I do to help?" Discovering so many different organizations of citizens who have taken the initiative to do something for soldiers has shown me that the 97.5% of our country that is civilian is deeply committed to supporting the military. People have done great things for perfect strangers out of the goodness of their own hearts.

Best wishes,

Chris

Remember Forgotten Soldiers

An old friend told me about some wonderful outreach work she had done for soldiers. I had never heard of the organization before so I want to spread the word. They are called Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, and they can be reached via http://www.forgottensoldiers.org/ .

They are active in Florida (and elsewhere) and recently won an award for the important work they are doing. I emailed Lynelle who keeps the organization going. She told me that she would love to hear from citizens here at home who would like to help, and especially from soldiers who are deployed. Soldiers can register themselves, or someone else can register a soldier from home. Either way, they will receive a monthly care package while they are deployed. Soldiers can be signed up here: http://www.forgottensoldiers.org/soldier-register_1.shtml .

Keep up your wonderful caring work, and believe me, it is appreciated!

Chris

04 August 2008

$4/gallon is worth it if you meet an outdoor humor columnist

A few weeks back, The boys and I rolled north to Mason, TX to go for a rock-climbing trail ride in the JK. Before entering the park for the weekend, we stopped at a gas station to fill the tank and our Jerry can for the ride. While I was watching the dollar dial spin faster than slot machine, and way faster than the gallon dial, a classic TJ pulled up.

When I leave Texas next year, one of the things I'm going to miss the most is the friendly, laid-back attitude of nearly everyone. Kendal is a perfect example of that. He ambled over, complimented my Jeep, and asked how I liked it. Well that's a topic that can really get me going for a while. Even our dogs got along. Mason is a small friendly town, and pretty soon I had met Kendal's wife, and we were sharing stories about our children.

Kendal is a writer, and his work has a definite Texas flair. He has been kind enough to share many of his columns with me. One he sent me this week really struck a cord with me, and he has graciously allowed me to include it here. You can find more of his work with a Google search of his name:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&suggon=0&safe=off&rls=com.microsoft%3Aen-US&q=kendal+hemphill

Hope to see you on the trail, Kendal. Without further ado, here are his words:


California or Bust (or both)
Kendal Hemphill

What happened was, my brother has to travel a lot for business and such, and he saves up his frequent flier miles. So he told his three boys that, about the time they get out of high school, he would take each of them on a father/son trip, anywhere they wanted to go. So far he’s done two of those trips, one to New York and one to Wimbledon.
Which is where I got the idea to tell my three boys the same thing. Except I don’t fly any more than I absolutely have to, on account of everyone who works in every airport I’ve ever been in hates me. Consequently I don’t have any flier miles, frequent or otherwise, saved up. So I told the boys their trips would have to be anywhere in the United States, and we would drive.
By the time you read this my oldest son, Courtland, and I will be gone on the first of those trips. He wants to see Yosemite ‘Big Dadgum Trees’ National Park, assuming it hasn’t burned all up by the time we get there. We’re driving out in the Jeep so we can do the Rubicon Trail on the way back, and swing by Grand Canyon and see the new Skywalk, and maybe drive a few of the Jeep trails in Colorado.
What I plan to do is sort of write travelogues to send back for my columns while we’re gone. Since we won’t be gone very long, it will probably only end up being one travelogue, but I guess I can finish up when we get back. Assuming we get back. You never know what will happen when you travel to a foreign country like California.
We’ve been planning this trip for some time, and saving up the money it will take. That amount keeps growing, what with the price of gas getting higher and higher every day, but I guess if it comes to it we can stop somewhere and get jobs. So there may end up being more than one travelogue after all.
As I was planning the trip, and thinking about this column, someone sent me an email that sort of made me think about how grateful I should be that I live in a country where I can just decide to make a trip like this and then do it. You can’t do that just anywhere, and the freedom we enjoy in America is really a very special thing, even though we often take it for granted.
The email contains a music video featuring a song called ‘If I Die Before You Wake,’ and it was written by Dustin Evans, Rick Tiger, and Dave Brainard, three American soldiers stationed in Iraq. It’s performed by Dustin, who sounds a lot like George Strait. The pictures in the video are of soldiers in Iraq, some of which you’ve probably already seen in other emails making the rounds.
Every American should see this video, and if you have a computer you can probably find it at either www.flashdemo.net/gallery/wake/index.htm or http://g.dwgsee.com/wake/index.htm or both.
For those without internet access here are the lyrics:

Back home now I know you’re probably sleepin’
Over here it’s the middle of the day
I finally found the time to write a letter
Sittin’ here a half a world away

I heard about all them folks protestin’
As if I really want this war
But that don’t stop me from believin’
There’s just some things worth fightin’ for

Tell everybody that I miss them
And I can’t wait to get back home
But until then I’ll serve my country
And be proud to wear this uniform

Chorus:
And if I die before you wake I pray the world will take
A good look at what God’s given us
That we could only understand everything is in His hands
All we need is a little faith and trust
I want you to know it ain’t too high a price to pay
If I die before you wake

While Courtland and I are enjoying the freedom to drive to California and see big trees and maybe learn to surf and gawk at the biggest hole in America, Dustin, Rick, and Dave will still be in Iraq, along with a whole bunch of other U.S. troops. It’s because of people like them that we can make this trip.
And then I realized that a lot of the money we’ve saved for the trip came from a part-time job I have. I work a few days a week for a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant who spent 20 years serving our country, and then moved to Mason and started a construction business. Without that extra income it would have been really difficult, if not impossible, to save the cash for the California trip.
So I want to say thanks to our military for the freedom to go to the west coast, and to Gunny Chris Dyer for financing it. And Gunny, if I can get one in the Jeep, I’ll bring you back a Redwood tree . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist, believe it or not. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or jeep@verizon.net

03 August 2008

This makes me happy...

If this is possible, isn't so much of the worry and strife in this world just a silly waste?



Higher resolution here:

http://www.wherethehellismatt.com/videos.shtml

Also see his outtakes (love the kids!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT8jA_pps3o&feature=user

And learn more at:

http://www.wherethehellismatt.com

Thanks for sending this, A.

C

Discovering a hidden hero


I am always amazed at the spontaneous generosity and enthusiastic volunteerism found in the people I brush shoulders with every day. Me, I'm far too lazy! I go to work, I do my best, I try to give my patients and their parents compassionate and personal attention to their ailments and worries. But then, I go home, and I collapse! If only I didn't need sleep, the many projects I would have accomplished! I have colleagues who use their precious vacation time to organize backbreaking missions to needy communities and provide medical care through great personal effort and expense. I marvel at them in wonder.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that yet another of my colleagues had a secret double life as a super hero. Nurse L. in the pediatric intensive care unit told me about her volunteer work helping Ugandan citizens suffering from sickle cell disease. She was inspired to help from the personal experience of a family member. The ravages of the disease in Uganda, and other African countries, goes largely unnoticed. It is a cause of many deaths, a large proportion of them children. Here too, in the United States, the disease receives less notice than some higher profile illnesses that affect fewer people.

I have known my friend L. for several years and had no idea of her good work. She has raised a significant amount of money here and abroad. Her family has donated land in Uganda for a specialized clinic. She has visited the site and inspired local personnel to staff the facility and carry out humanitarian work. I urge you to read more at their website: http://uganda-americansickle.org/ .

The heroes among us like her are this global society's salvation. She does all this while fulfilling her military duties and living the schedule of a PICU nurse, which is more demanding than mine. She inspires me to look for opportunities to reach out and help others.

Hope to see you soon!

Chris

01 August 2008

Me a Spammer?

Here's a message I got from Blogger (at first I thought it was spam):

(And I quote:)

"Hello, Your blog at: http://madeadifference.blogspot.com/ has been identified as apotential spam blog. To correct this, please request a review by filling outthe form at http://www.blogger.com/unlock-blog Your blog will be deleted within 20 days if it isn't reviewed, and you'll beunable to publish posts during this time. After we receive your request, we'llreview your blog and unlock it within two business days. If this blog doesn'tbelong to you, you don't have to do anything, and any other blogs you may havewon't be affected. We find spam by using an automated classifier. Automatic spam detection isinherently fuzzy, and occasionally a blog like yours is flagged incorrectly. Wesincerely apologize for this error. By using this kind of system, however, wecan dedicate more storage, bandwidth, and engineering resources to bloggers likeyou instead of to spammers. For more information, please see Blogger Help:http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=42577 Thank you for your understanding and for your help with our spam-fighting efforts.

Sincerely,

The Blogger Team"

(End quote.)

Now I haven't been writing too much. But me, a spammer? Ugh, what an insult. As I've mentioned, my life is blissfully boring back here. Sure, I take a beating every once in a while with a couple late days in a row, but when those days are over, I go home to my family. And I am happy for that long night, and the warm wind from the dark highway blowing through the Jeep on the long 33 miles home. I am happy because I am going home. I think of so many who won't see their wives tonight.

Good night,

Chris

15 July 2008

Here's a story we can be proud of

We don't get enough good news from the fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Everyday, there are thousands of troops doing there best to try to get their jobs done and have a positive impact on that part of the world. Here is a great story from the hospital at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Doctors there met a child who had a tumor growing in her right eye. It just so happens that Ophthalmologist D. from our base in San Antonio is stationed in Balad Iraq. He made the trip to Afghanistan and operated to remover the tumor. This is is treatment that would not have been available without the help of the medical corps. It is good to see some benefits stacking up on the balance sheet.

Here are more details:

http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?storyID=123106689

13 July 2008

Rolling 35s and jacked!


Well my metal baby came back from the garage intact. They took really good care of us at the San Antonio 4 Wheel Parts on Broadway. A few weeks ago, when Meredith called them, H. took the time to give her good advice on exactly what was necessary to lift the Jeep's suspension. Meredith and the boys were going to surprise me for Fathers' Day (and my impending 40th birthday) with a new lift and wheels. It was just about the sweetest gift anyone could ever give me! At the last minute, she checked her plan with me (just to be sure she was jacking it up enough!) After I got over my shock, I told her I was all for it, but just as soon as the credit cards were paid off. Yesterday, we dropped off the Jeep, and our rig came home today. The good folks down at 4 Wheel Parts even sweetened it for us with a little military discount.

The view is great on top of that 4' lift and those big All Terrains. It accelerates a little slower with that heavy rubber rolling, but it feels steady and stable with the new 12.5" wide stance. The wood half doors came out well, and after a few coats of varnish, they even took on a yellow tone that wasn't too bad of a match. I took Meredith's advice and cut them at the same height as the rear tub which gave a great line for the whole back half of the vehicle.

I might not get to work quickly, or with any semblance of fuel efficiency, but there is very little out there that is going to keep me from making it there! One thing's for sure, when Meredith and the boys pick a surprise, they rock!

11 July 2008

Paying honor to a retiring hero and friend

This week I went to a retirement ceremony for one of the leaders of our hospital when we deployed to Iraq. I don't go to too many ceremonies for hellos and goodbyes, because I really prefer small, quiet, informal gatherings to the pomp and circumstance of official events. But when I learned that Colonel N. was being honored, there was no way that I was missing it.


He has been a hardworking and loyal Airman for 27 years. In Iraq, he was the nurse commander and kept the place running day after day. He was a solid fixture in the hospital from dawn to dusk, and would make rounds with us to make sure that the patients were doing well. As he states it, the command nurse's job is to make sure that all his troops have what they need to give the best care to patients. Even after his duty day was over, there were many nights I found him in the hospital mentoring young troops and pitching in to help with the endless work.


On first meeting him, I was struck by his serious demeanor and his businesslike professionalism. But it didn't take long to see the depth of his warmth and caring. Whether it is comforting an injured child, or helping a troop handle a problem back home, he puts his heart and compassion into everything he does. I know this because he helped me when I was having hard times. After my grandmother died, his understanding and encouragement helped me get back in the game so I could do my part for the many injured we received. I owe him a lot of thanks. He knows my sense of humor so I'm sure he won't be surprised I dredged up this picture of him wearing antlers during the Christmas season in Iraq.


It has been an honor to serve with him, and I know that some organization out there is going to be very lucky to have him now that he is promoting to civilian. After the ceremony, I had the chance to have coffee with another one of my heroes, Nurse J., a reservist who ran the OR in Balad. I told her that I felt that no matter where life takes us, we who deployed together are going to have a love and respect for each other that is like no other bond in our lives. Through the difficulties we faced and the memories we wish we didn't have, I still feel lucky I now have these people in my life.


After all the awards, accolades, and testimonials, the retirement ceremony ended with the presentation of a flag that was flown over the hospital in Balad to Col N. The Color guard, with crisp uniforms, white gloves, and heel taps, performed a flag ceremony. They slowly marched out to the stage. They slowly and respectfully unfolded the flag, presented colors, and then refolded the flag. As they went through their expertly-executed maneuvers, a recording of John Wayne reciting the pledge of allegiance was played. I couldn't see that banner without thinking of so many who have done so much in it's defense. I thought of the boxes I have seen draped in those colors. I thought of the fine men and women I have the great fortune to serve with every day.

09 July 2008

Hecho en China?

This is a bit of a different post than usual. It will come with a lot of explanation before I get to the point. For a long time, I have wanted to talk about buying American, but didn't quite have the right story. Lately, my family and I have put some time into our latest diversion, Jeeping. Right before I deployed, I finally traded in the Civic we had bought when we were scraping by on resident pay, and bought a Jeep. The Civic had actually been built by Americans in Ohio, but there is no escaping the fact that the parent company is foreign. When I bought the Jeep, Daimler Auto Group had finally given up Chrysler to some American venture capitalists, so Jeep was domestic again. Unfortunately, while I was deployed, the price of gas went up about 90 cents/gallon, but you all know that story. It may cost me $12 dollars to get to work and back each day, but it is worth double that price to be going topless, in American steel, with the wind and/or rain blowing through my hair. My son and I have had some fun lately modifying our Jeep.






Yesterday, I had a bit of a disconcerting tool experience. Don't worry, it doesn't involve loss of any parts. I'm building half doors for the Jeep. That in itself is a long story. There is no sense having a Wrangler if I keep the doors on all the time. However, our boys still have a certain spontaneity. I wouldn't put it past them to choose to exit while the Jeep was moving. The stock doors are fine, but half doors give such a great line, and let in more wind. (More wind is good, it tends to tame the noise from the back seat.) Trouble is, half doors aren't free. Tube doors are a little cheaper, but I still think the kids could squeeze through the gaps in the tube frame.






So I decided to throw together a few wooden doors. For $49 dollars, I got the raw materials, and was able to buy a new angle grinder so I could cut the pipes and shape the hinges. The angle grinder was a tough choice. Every label I checked read"Made in China." I was amazed. I always try to buy American, and I would have thought that I would have been able to find "Made in the USA" in the hand tool aisle. I was about to give up and look for a good American-built hacksaw, when I found a Skil 4 1/2 in. grinder, and written on the box was "Hecho in Mexico." I figured that was at least a little better than sending more of our country over to China. Mexico is almost USA, sort of America light. And truth be told, as many friends from South America have reminded me, America means all of us in this hemisphere.






I got the grinder home, along with a few extra cut-off disks, and it worked well. It was pretty sturdy, even though the 90 degree stabilizing handle was plastic, not metal like the larger models I was used to from cutting pipe for chain link fencing. As I coiled the cord to put it away, I took a closer look at the plate on the housing. There in tiny letters was printed, "Made in China." Mert? What could it mean that the box the grinder came in read "Made in Mexico?" Could it mean that only the box was made in Mexico?






I do understand the value of globalization, and manufacture of products where they can be made most efficiently, but it seems to me that we are buying so much garbage from China that we are hurting our own workers and economy. How much weaker can the dollar get? I think if factories from other countries are going to get free access to US consumers, they ought to at least be required to treat their workers at the level regulated for US employees of domestic companies. It would help level the playing field. It is a lot easier to undersell American products when the workers get paid pennies a day.






So, rant aside, the doors are coming along okay. I usually get a few stolen moments to work on them each evening after a night swim with the boys. Chiseling the wood around the brackets for the hinges was like trimming a piece of polypropylene mesh around the spermatic cord when fixing a groin hernia. The doors open smoothly, and lock securely with a three inch carriage bolt. With a couple coats of marine varnish, they should shine. Also, I think the style of natural plywood perfectly compliments the shark tooth grill and the roar of the aftermarket performance muffler my son and I installed.