Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas With the Few, the Proud...

Dear Gang,

The trip down to San Antonio was a great event and I think I’ll bid for this trip next year as well because if I have to be away from my family then I’ll go see my “Other Family…Marines.”

I arrived on time in Texas, after another 4:30 am wake-up call in Dayton, Ohio. Very tired, but the anticipation of the visit brought me my second wind. Changing into my dress blues, I waited just a short time for LtCol O.B. to pick me up from the hotel for the ten minute ride to the Brooks Army Medical Center.

Just to give you some background, this is the process if you are wounded and burned while in Iraq. Depending on what base is closest, they stabilize the trauma patient, medivac them to Balad north of Baghdad and then they have a dedicated C-17 airlift on two hour notice to fly them to Germany. From there, they have another C-17 fly them directly to San Antonio Texas to the burn center. Each plane is basically a critical burn ICU and set up with EVERYTHING required to work on a Marine or Soldier while they fly over the Atlantic. It is amazing to know that one of our wounded servicemen or women can be snatched from the filthy streets of Iraq and within twenty-four hours, they are stabilized in an ICU stateside.

They have the VERY best Doctors and nurses on staff plus all the outside Doctors who come to treat our boys as well. There are apartments built next to the hospital called the Fisher house where the families stay so they are able to be with their wounded sons/husbands during their recovery. I was so impressed with every aspect of treatment that our guys get, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of the Army for the facility they have put together.

As we drove over to the hospital, the Colonel briefed me on what to expect and that some of the guys were in very serious stages of recovery. The first time he went into one of the wards, he said it was enough to make you want to vomit. We first started with a Lt (we’ll call him Lt Dan). He was wounded two months ago, and now was a day away from being discharged. He was there with his Mom and Dad while his wife and son were back at the Fisher house. This Marine was burned over 60% of his body and within two months was on the move and ready to leave. I’m talking about sheer will power, positive love and faith from his family and friends, and a will to live and a drive that if I could bottle, I’d be a multi-billionaire…

He was joking about being back up to a 300 PFT (the run test I hate) in less then a year and I believe him. We had a great time joking about some of the knuckle heads we had while over there in Iraq. I am thinking that I will have to have an arranged marriage with his son and my daughter since they both have blue eyes and their daddy’s are Marines. Lt Dan is ready to heal and get back in the Fleet with his men. I tried to talk him into moving into the Aviation field, but I don’t think I was able to convince him.

The tour started with him and then progressed through the others who were in various stages of healing. It is amazing how fast these guys pull through. They have the treatment down to a science and are able to show a guy what things will be like in a few months which to me, is a positive thing. I was overwhelmed by the positive attitudes they had and the jokes they told.

The last two Marines I saw were in Intensive care and we had to dress in gowns, hats, gloves, masks and shoe covers. See, as they repair the skin, the temperature in the room is elevated to around 90 degrees or so to keep them comfortable since they have no blankets etc. to help keep them warm. They were on drugs so the visits were very short.

It really blows the mind to see them from just a week back in country from Iraq and then about to check out two months later. I have to say that I was amazed by the dedication of the staff, the volunteers, the facilities and the love that surrounded these men. I left with a great appreciation for the young men that volunteer for the service, and believe that we have the best military in the world!!

As I stated at the beginning, next year, I will bid for this trip again if I can and since I can’t be with my family, I’ll be with my “Other Family.” It sure was a blast playing Santa Clause and passing out those cards and Wal-Mart gift cards thanks to the generosity of so many friends and family members. Next year, I'll start earlier. I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas and have a safe and Blessed New Year!!!
Semper Fi,

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"I'll be home for Christmas"

I will be on the road for Christmas this year. It’s not a new thing; if I’m not deployed then I’m flying for my company, and taking folks to where their love light gleans. This is explained to my children as follows; “Santa comes to visit all the houses of Airline pilots early because he knows that they will be gone helping Santa out.”
Being gone is just a fact of my life, so I make the best out of it. I’m the junior guy on the Super 80 and for the past eight years have flown all major holidays, birthdays, you name it, and nothing is off limits. I did have a trip to Memphis one Christmas morning that I put on my Santa’s hat, Elvis wig and glasses and sang Blue Christmas to all the passengers. This year will be just a bit different and barring any weather delays, this will be how I spend my Christmas on the road 2006.

Four a.m., Christmas Eve, the alarm goes off. I get up, shower and dress as quietly as I can so not to wake my wife. Let the puppy out; eat my oatmeal, kiss the girls goodbye and slip out of the house at 0435 onto the empty highway to DFW airport. Go through TSA’s finest, sign-in and then preflight my plane. All this before we depart the Airport at 0640 for our first leg to Jacksonville Florida. The Co-pilot (me) will greet all the passengers with a Santa’s hat on, and small candy canes tucked in a large red stocking hanging with care on the bulkhead of the cockpit.

My day will end in Dayton Ohio at 1630 (four thirty local) Christmas Eve where I will have dinner with an old Marine buddy named Don. He is a geo bachelor there and as it turns out, can’t make it home due to his business. It’s the end of a long day as I settle into the Holiday Inn around 8:30pm, my home away from home, and call my wife to see how her day went.

Christmas day, the alarm goes off at 0500 (east coast time, four a.m., my body clock) shower, pack up the suitcase, and meet the crew in the lobby for our trip to the airport. Go through TSA, preflight the plane, take off and watch the sunrise… again. This time we fly back to DFW, sit for two hours, and then take off to San Antonio, arriving by noon.

Today is going to be a bit different though. Last year, I spent Christmas with Marines in Iraq, my other family. This year I will spend it with Marines again only at Brooks Army Hospital burn unit. A friend there is the Officer in Charge of our Marines that return from Iraq, badly burned from IED’s. I asked Col “O.B.” if I could spend Christmas day with the young Marines there in my dress blues and asked what I could bring them. He said, “If you get some gift cards from Wal-Mart, that would be great, then the parents could go pick something up for them, since they would have an idea of what they could use.” I went to the Officers of my Squadron first and passed the hat. Then I contacted family and friends and told them of my mission on Christmas day. The checks flowed in. I’m proud to say that $1,540.00 is going to them this year, and all because the spirit of giving to others still exists.

I feel strongly about this visit because, but by the grace of God, walk I. It could be me, or one of my friends, going through the painful recovery that these brave men are facing. Later that day, after I get back to my hotel room, I will write about the visit.

Folks, this is what my Holiday will be like this year and although I’d love to be at home, I have to look at the bright side and say, at least no one is shooting at me, so I have that going for me. I hope that you all have a wonderful Christmas and that the weather allows everyone to get home safe and sound. If you are walking through DFW and hear, “I’ll be home for Christmas or Blue Christmas, look to see if it’s me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank some folks as well. Friends at VMGR 234, Kurt W, John and Mary B, Ron and Mary H, Jack F, Mike H, MAG-41 Officers, Dan and Cynthia B, Guss R, John “Cuz” W, and Susanna S from Newsweek. Thanks to all of you for your support on this last minute, crazy idea. Merry Christmas all!!!
Semper Fi,

P.S. Go wish Major Pain a Happy Birthday, today is the big one for him…
P.S.S. go check out Maj P and I are there in the Iraqi section.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Where's the Beef??"

The Marine Corps has many fine traditions that they can point back to the early days and say, “That program really sets us apart from the other services.” A lot of the time, there may be some ancestor worship going on that just hasn’t changed because that’s “the way we always done it.” Take for example the P.F.T. (physical fitness test) that active duty Marines must complete twice a year and once for us Reservists. You are required to run three miles; max time is 18 minutes and to fail it, depending on your age, is around 27 minutes. You can score a hundred points for this event. Then, they make you climb up on a pull-up bar and going from a dead hang, you pull yourself up. Max is 20 for five points each and minimum is three. Followed by crunches (sit-ups), max 100 in two minutes and minimum of forty.

In the “Old” days, the run never bothered me, as I was in good shape and a former cross country guy who could turn his mind off and just run like Forest Gump. The pull ups didn’t faze me much either because I could knock out twenty in a heartbeat using the “kip” technique where you sway your body, and in a snake-like motion, use the momentum to hurl your body back up over the bar. The Corps figured out that this was sort of cheating the system and outlawed the “kip” in the mid-90s, but it was a good thing when we had it…

The sit-ups in the old days were a breeze too, if you just did one sit-up every two seconds then at the end you could pace yourself, and knock out the rest before the two minutes were up. Put all this together and you would have a pretty decent score for your fitness report that year.

Well, going from running three to six miles a day when I was 29 to walking three a day at 41 is a big life change. Of course I’m a procrastinator who likes to wait till the last minute to get something done, and pushed off doing my PFT till Sunday, the last day this year we could run it. The days prior to Sunday, were, oh, around twenty-two degrees each early a.m. and didn’t warm up to fifty till around the afternoon. I couldn’t figure out why we were having our PFT at 0800 in the morning but figured that next year I would be smarter and run it in October or November when Texas weather is really pleasant.

That prior Saturday night was also our Officer’s Christmas party, and I tied on a good one with the wine, rum and beer. That helped the next day because it made me not even care how cold it was. The Lord was watching over us, as Sunday arrived and a warm front from the South moved in making the temperature at 0800 a lovely forty-five degrees, but with a stiff wind from the South. That gave us a tailwind going out to the mile and a half point and a head wind coming home. So the best bet was to find a big guy and use him as a wind block and draft the whole way back (thanks RonJon for being my windblock)

What bothers me is that the Marine Corps should change this test to reflect today’s situations. I’m proud to say that I ran 24 minutes for three miles (good for an old reservist) but where is the true test for our Marines? This test was put together by a bunch of skinny, office pencil-pushing geeks who liked to run at lunch, and decided that the whole Corps should be like them. Here is where common sense is not coming into play. We punish Marines who are all bulked out from lifting weights for being over weight by these 1950 standards and charts. Do you think our Marines are running a 5K in Iraq with all their gear on? No, of course not!! They run in short bursts from house to house with tons of gear and loaded for bear. If I was in a grunt unit, I’d want the biggest, meanest, son of a gun toting the M-60 next to me and laying down some serious covering fire on the bad guys and able to carry thirty pounds of extra ammo with him. Instead, they are punishing those big guys with bad fitreps and eventually running them out of the Corps if they can’t get their weight down or achieve faster run times. Face it, big heavy muscle guys can’t run like the wind.

Now, of course I’m going to offend all the skinny “I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in two hours and twenty minutes” types, but I say let’s change the test. Let’s turn our Marines into these giant WWF-looking types who can bench press four hundred pounds and could not only throw your wounded butt over his shoulder, but could return fire as well. I want to see the Army match that!!! I say “Where’s the Beef??”
Oh well, I’m dreaming about when I take over as dictator again… until that time, I have to go for a walk, take care and talk to you soon.
Semper Fi,

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Marine Corps Ball

Hey Guys,
This is a month off, but Gunny Baker from our PAO was able to put together some clips from our ball. This was a great night and I really enjoyed being the MC/Narrator for events. Here are three links and I have one more that should be ready in a day or so. When you watch it, there may be dark spots with me reading till the action happens. This was the living memorial that we put on. I hope you enjoy it too.
Semper Fi,
I had to move these You-Tube video's to the bottom of the blog, let me know if they work. They appear dark and you hear me talking, then after a minute or so the living memorial kicks in, hang tight.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dec. 7th 1941

“Was it over when the German’s bombed Pearl Harbor???”

This was the famous line shouted by Jim Belushi in Animal House, a film made famous in the Seventies, but with real undertones that bother me a bit. You know the man on the street series that Jay Leno does? He walks around Hollywood Blvd and asks the average American history questions that EVERYONE should know. I remember once he asked “So what year did the Germans bomb Pearl Harbor?” They stumbled, all of them and the sad part is, not only did they mess up the year, not one of them piped up and said “Germans??? I thought it was the Japanese?”

Sixty-five years ago, the Empire of Japan, attacked our country and killed thousands of our servicemen and Americans. That was the straw that broke the camels back and got us into the whole World War act. Those generations are leaving us at the cyclic rate and pretty soon, say in the next ten years, our children will only hear about this in a chapter in their textbook at school. What scares me the most now, is how the Japanese are changing history little by little and now their books show that America forced the Japanese to attack us. Can you believe that? Now fast forward sixty-five years to the year 2071. What will the history books say about America then? If it keeps going the way I imagine it will, all of the history books will show that America forced the Muslims to attack us on September 11th 2001 and all the other attacks that we have endured.

I only hope that we never forget these brutal attacks on our country and to those men and women who survived that day in Hawaii, I will never forget, nor will my children.
Semper Fi,

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Day in the life around Little Rock

Dear Gang,

I’ve been flying with a Captain who lives in Jacksonville, Arkansas, (outside of Little Rock proper and along side the Air Force base.) Little Rock sparked a memory of my initial C-130 training. After pinning on my gold Naval Aviator wings January 16th 1991, I packed up my house, put my Dalmatian “Dale” in the passenger seat of my truck and with my ditty bag, moved to Little Rock. Unfortunately, the base didn’t allow pets in the BOQ, and I couldn’t bring myself to put her in a Kennel for two months. So I began calling every apartment complex around the base that allowed pets. This landed me in a cozy, rundown 1960s-style furnished apartment with faux wood paneling and ugly orange covered sofas and chairs. Pretty bad, but after the manager told me it was a renovated like-new place, I didn’t feel bad about saying that my seventy-pound dog weighed twelve pounds…

I was on the ground floor, the middle of three apartments, so my bedroom butted up to my neighbor’s living room. The second night I was there, a pair of headlights turned into the parking spot outside my window that created daylight out of the pitch black. Rolling over, I tried to ignore it, but after they both slammed their car doors, Dale started to growl as a couple approached their front door just feet from my bed. Talking loudly, they entered their apartment, slamming that door as well. The walls were poorly insulated, allowing me to hear EVERYTHING going on next door.

A loud female voice shouted at her companion, “Damn it Demme!! Get on your knees and take my boots off!!” The sound of a muffled male voice complied, but apparently not exactly as she wished. “Damn it Demme, not fast enough, get up you bastard!!” She shouted this, and it was now accompanied by what sounded like a leather belt striking flesh. Flashbacks of my Dad’s 1970’s thick leather disco belt coming into contact with my rear came to mind as I rolled over and couldn’t restrain myself from listening.

For the next hour and a half, I had to endure this lurid S&M show as she beat him unmercifully. Part of me wanted to bang on the wall to let them know that I was sharing their kinky experience as well, but being the new guy there, I was afraid of making waves, plus she might come over and kick my butt next. I just went over to my flight suit and pulled out a pair of earplugs. Of course, that didn’t work. I could still hear them.

The next day, looking a little worse for wear, I relate this story to my classmates who tossed out the usual comments like, “Hey, was she hot???” or “Why didn’t you go join ’em, then you could beat them” and “hey, you can stay in my BOQ room and I’ll stay at your place.” This crap went on all day.

That night I settled down in the rack with Dale on the floor next to the window. It was a repeat of the night before. She made that guy do things that would cause a whore at the Mustang Ranch to blush. Another long night…

The next morning, tired and pissed off, I was walking my dog around the apartment complex, when I saw the door to their apartment open. My interest peaked as to what kind of man would take the abuse I heard all night. Out he stumbled, about my age and size, but with something obviously wrong with him. He walked past her beat-up Chevy Nova covered in “Elect Bill Clinton for Gov” and “Vote Democrat” all over the bumper to a half way house across the street for handicap and mentally retarded adults.

Lots of thoughts went through my mind as I knocked on the door of this house. A small girl with mild Down’s syndrome opens the door. I asked to speak to the manager if he or she were there. She scurried off and the manager returned. I introduced myself and then asked if she knew the guy who stayed in the apartment across the street. “Oh yes,” she said, “That’s Demme, he has a girlfriend there.” I proceeded to tell her about the abuse I overheard for the past two nights and how something needs to be done to protect this guy. She shook her head and said, “Unfortunately, Demme is well enough to know better and he chooses to be with her and we have no say over it.” She thanked me for stopping by and closed the door.

My blood was boiling now, what to do… I went right over to her apartment and knocked on the door. I could hear her moving around, coming towards the door. Lot’s of things were going through my brain right then, as I was ready to lay into her with my Drill Instructor voice!! The door opened and standing in front of me, barely three feet tall and around fifty years old was the “look alike” from the movie Poltergeist, you know the little woman that says, “Stay away from the light, Carolyn.” With the sweetest voice, this little person looked up at me and said, “Can I help you, young man??” I was actually lost for words; my mouth was just opening and closing, nothing coming out while I pointed at my apartment and dog. “I, erhhhhh, live next door and well since the walls were SO thin, I hope that my dog’s barking wasn’t bothering you???”

She just beamed and rolled her head from side to side, “Oh no, your doggie sure is sweet when she looks out the window at me.” Damn it, I wanted to say something, but what could I say? This midget next door was beating up a six-foot tall guy and he liked it. Embarrassed I told her “Good-bye” and walked away.

That night, round three. I couldn’t take it anymore. The next day I went to an adult store, bought a nice porn film, and hooked my VCR up to my kick-butt stereo, and put the speakers up against the wall in my living room, which shared her bedroom. I waited that night till she was done spanking her slave-man around, and then I put the film on. I cranked it so all you heard were moans and screaming as this actress “made love” and then I went into my room, put my ear plugs in, and Dave Clark headsets on and went to sleep. I only had to do this two more nights before she got the message and the beatings stopped.

Well, what can I say?? I was in Little Rock; stranger things have happened, I’m sure. Oh, what a military man has to put up with as he moves around…
PS, here is the link to the slides I put on YouTube.