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:


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.

07 July 2008

Cap and gown again

A few weeks ago, I attended graduation week for my MBA from Norwich University. It is a bit out of sequence, because I don't actually finish my last seminar until August. However, I am in the distance learning program, and actually completed a quarter of the degree while I was in Iraq, so the Pulp Fiction-style timeline isn't too much of an upset.

For the past two years, I have been staying up late many nights, poring over my laptop and completing business case studies with my classmates, who are as far flung as Canada, Idaho, and Afghanistan. Many times I ask myself, "Why am I doing this?" It is a question my friends and family ask as well. I don't have a good answer. Maybe because I'm a glutton for punishment?

I started out thinking that the degree would help me lay the groundwork to start a new practice. After a little research and having been a solo practitioner for four years I have definitively determined I do not want that fate! I'd prefer to spent the majority of my time taking care of children, not keeping a business alive. Still, it may help me understand the mechanics of keeping a practice going a little better.

Earlier in my military career I had contributed into a fund for my Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits. I paid only a small amount each month for a year. I was repaid many times over because my G.I. Bill benefits paid for two thirds of my tuition. it was just another of many benefits I receive, just because I happen to get my paycheck from the U.S.D.O.D. So, I have to say thank you to all of you for your tax dollars, which in part helped me to pay my tuition.

My studies were actually a good way to keep my mind occupied while I was deployed. I can remember one night when I was on a conference call with my small student group. I was using my satellite phone out behind my hooch. I sat on a pile of gravel piled up against one wall of a bunker. We discussed the marketing strategy we would suggest to a granite company attempting to stay afloat in the face of competition from cheap imported Chinese stone. I had to bow out of the conversation early when an alarm red announced the threat of mortar fire. My, what a different war I had.
Graduation was very enjoyable. It was a blast to finally meet all of my classmates in person. We hit it off like we had been friends since childhood. Maybe it was something about being housed in a dorm room, but I found that I reverted to my behavior in college. I don't think I got to bed before 0200 any of the nights. With no where to drive and thousands of miles out of beeper range, it was a good break to be able to suck down a cold beer or two.

There are a number of online MBA programs available, but I knew I had found the right one when I researched Norwich. Founded in 1819, it is the oldest military college in the U.S. and is the birthplace of the R.O.T.C. One of my closest friends from the neighborhood back home went as an undergraduate, and I loved hearing his stories about his training as a "rook". I got a brief taste of those traditions when we did morning PT in the mud and took a run through the Dog River. The water is a heck of a lot colder in Vermont than it is in Texas!

I needed to visit Norwich to complete my Residence Week. It is a requirement for graduation. In addition to meeting classmates and professors in person, we attended lectures and competed in debates. We visited Rock of Ages, the quarry business we had been studying. It was a wonderful academic experience. It made me certain I had made a good decision to return to the classroom, and to make Norwich my Alma mater.

(thanks to A.S. for some great pictures)

06 July 2008

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

From time to time, I write here about things I experience in my military service. But it is important to remember that we are not the first generation to experience war, and as much as I would hope it to be true, it is likely that we are not going to be the last. I want to take a moment to mention the selfless service of my Uncle L. during World War II. This spring he was awarded a public service award from the state of Connecticut for his military duty in WWII. For all the time I have known him, he has been one of calmest, kindest, and gentlest people I know. It is beautiful to see the love between him and my Aunt J. Spending time with them, it is difficult to imagine back to a time more than 60 years ago when our nation was plunged into a conflict that had a much greater effect on day to day life than this war does. It makes the effect that my military service has had on my life seem smaller in comparison. It doesn't, however, decrease my desire for a rapid end to this war.

05 July 2008

Thank you, Sir and Madam

Dear Sir and Madam,

We don’t know who you are, but we want to thank you. It was so generous of you to pay for our dinner at Le Reve last night. It was the Fourth of July, but we were actually there to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It is one of the high points of our year to visit Andrew and Maureen for a wonderful meal. We didn’t mean for you to overhear that I had returned from my second trip to Iraq this year. The staff knows that I was away and it seemed like each of them individually asked if I was going to have to go back. When you wished me a good evening as you left, I naively took it to be a simple farewell. Meredith asked if we had been talking while she was in the ladies’ room, but I told her that I thought it was just a warm greeting from another friendly diner. At the end of the evening, when the staff told us that you had taken care of our bill, I was dumbstruck. Meredith was so surprised and thankful that she couldn’t keep back tears. It really was far too generous, and wholly not necessary. When I do my military service, I am just doing a job, same as everyone else. It is something I chose of my own free will. Andrew and Maureen have promised they will try to convey our thanks to you. You gave us a very happy Fourth of July.

Chris and Meredith

03 July 2008

Why she plays

Hi, I wanted to tell you all about an incredible new book written by my cousin, Christine Baker, that is being released in August. "Why She Plays" is about all aspects of women's basketball. It is a subject that Christine has lived through and through for most of her life. Besides playing during school, she has covered the WNBA as a journalist. I have had a chance to read some of Christine's work, and it is amazing how she can relate both the excitement and the spirituality of the game. Please check out her website for more information about the book: