31 December 2009

He'll Tell It to the Mountains

Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Bari, currently deployed with 34th ID to Basra, Iraq, plans to assault multiple mountains upon his return to the United States sometime in the first quarter of calendar year 2010. First, maybe Pikes Peak in Colorado. Then, maybe Mount McKinley in Alaska. Then, maybe Mount Everest in Nepal?

Bari, a medic in the Minnesota National Guard, recently told an Army reporter that he'd gotten the rock-climbing-bug during some Duluth-area climbs in fall 2008. He'd already moved on to parts of the Appalachian Trail before his unit was deployed.
During pre-deployment training at Fort Lewis, Wash., he parlayed a 4-day pass into an assault on nearby Mount Rainier.

"There was some times during the two months we were at Fort Lewis when I thought, 'well, I wonder if I start getting up there - it'll be cold and the oxygen is a little bit less and maybe I have no idea what I'm getting myself into, and I'll hate it - and I'll change my mind,'" he says. "But that didn't happen. I knew that the more I was climbing the more I enjoyed it."

The Minnesota medic is keeping his focus during his OIF deployment. In the relatively flat confines of Contingency Operating Base (COB) Basra, the will-be climber and frequent marathoner (he thinks he's run about 20) is logging about 35-45 miles a week.

"Your leg strength: that's the power that's going to get you up the mountain," he said.

29 December 2009

Plant a 'Heroes Tree' in Your Community

A Heroes Tree celebrates deployed soldiers, sailors, and airmen and their families by placing in the heart of a community an evergreen symbol of remembrance. Such a tree could be placed in an office or school lobby, for example. Any "tree" could also take an alternative form, such as a bulletin board or poster display placed in a prominent and public place.

The founders of the "Our Heroes Tree" initiative recommend placing at the top of the tree two U.S. flags and a yellow ribbon, the latter a long-standing symbol of fidelity and remembrance in U.S. military culture. Ornaments naming or picturing individual service members can be placed in the branches of the tree. The founders have also penned a poem that can be used during a dedication ceremony for the tree:
Our Heroes’ Tree has much to say
For families whose loved ones serve in harm’s way.

People of all ages craft my decorations,
Sharing the holidays of our great nation.

Drawing pictures and swapping stories,
They entrust my arms with family glory.

For I hold faces and places and holiday heart songs,
Each with a whisper: “Loving hearts, stay strong.”

My lights are like stars. Silent and white.
Reflecting the honor of ultimate sacrifice.

See my ribbons of yellow, ripples of love,
USA flags, and guardian angel above.

Star wish for military families, brave heroes, too,
Our Heroes’ Tree…Together with you.
While a tree seems ideally suited for the Christmas holiday season, the concept can be adapted as necessary for displays installed around New Year's Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, or other appropriate holidays; or incorporated into unit days or deployment send-off ceremonies.

Heroes Tree pictures and program starter kits can be found at: www.ourheroestree.com

Additionally, here is an Army News Service report regarding how a Fort Benning, Georgia, elementary class dedicated a Heroes Tree to send-off soldiers of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. Plans call for soldiers to "un-trim" the tree upon their return in December 2010.

The Pencil is Mightier than the Sword

Cedar Rapids Army Reservist 2nd Lt. Shaela Bresnan, an art teacher at Vinton-Shellsburg schools, is currently downrange with the 649th Regional Support Group in Kandahar, Afghanistan. In addition to her administrative duties in theater, she's acting as the spearhead to an effort to supply 5,000 Afghan students and 200 teachers with school supplies.

Bresnan's mother, Rita, herself a music teacher at an Indianola elementary school, helped organize the effort back here in Iowa. The 28 December Des Moines Register reports that, the weekend before Christmas, Indianola student shipped some 300 backpacks and 18 large boxes filled with schools supplies, erasers, and chalkboards to 2nd. Lt. Bresnan in Afghanistan.

The backpack project is an outstanding example of how U.S. citizen-soliders can leverage their civilian-acquired professional experiences, along with their precious off-duty time, multiplied by the contributions of a few people back home, to make a positive and personal impact in the lives of the Afghan people.

And, in the counter-insurgency (COIN) fight, even the crustiest Old Warhorse has to admit that "doing good" is "good tactics," too. The newspaper report notes, for example, that 2nd. Lt. Bresnan's PowerPoint slides (without which today's Army admittedly could not fight) describing the project quotes Col. Haji Toor Jan, security commander of civil affairs with the Afghan National Police:

"If I had a pencil since the age of 7 instead of a weapon, my life would be much different."

For more information on the 2nd Lt. Bresnan's backpack project, contact Ken or Rita Bresnan at: 515.961.0641, rbresnan@indianola.k12.ia.us.

28 December 2009

Our Liberties We Prize ...

On Dec. 28, 1846, Iowa was admitted to the union of states as its 29th member. An Iowa Senate committee soon after proposed the design for a Great Seal, as well as the motto: "Our Liberties We Prize, and Our Rights We Will Maintain."

Side note: The Great Seal of Iowa features the image of a citizen-soldier, one detail of which is correctly and unfortunately described in heraldic terms as having "a plow in his rear."

My adopted home state gets a lot of flak in popular culture. For being flat, for one thing. And predominantly white. And for that whole "Is this Heaven" shtick from Field of Dreams. (C'mon, it was corny, but it was also 1989. It also beats Kevin Costner's Waterworld any day.)

The motto also appears on the state flag, held by an eagle superimposed on the French flag. The latter symbolizes that the state was cut from the fabric of the Louisiana Purchase.

We do not speak French in Iowa. As evidence, just consider the way we pronounce Des Moines ("Duh Moinz"), along with other "duh"-towns, burgs including the likes of "Dubuque," and "De Witt."

God love us, however, if our state colors don't prove true, particularly when it comes to issues of liberty and fairness. Give me the fact that, even before we were a state, our Territorial Supreme Court had in 1839 declared slavery invalid. (Take that, 1857's Dred Scott v. Sandford!) Give me Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School Board (1969). Give me Clark v. Board of Directors (1867). (Hey, Kansas, do the math: We declared "separate" as "unequal" some 87 years before Brown v. Board of Education (1954). And, as a bonus, the Iowa decision apparently had its own roots in the state's mustering of a black regiment of soldiers.)

In short, "Give me liberty, and give me Iowa."

Or, if you prefer: "Vive La Iowa! Vive La Liberté!"

And, while I'm in a Franco-thropic mood: "Thank you, Msr. Lafayette."

27 December 2009

The Fog of Pre-mobilization

Holiday time with the extended family is always a special joy, one full of conversational tripwires about politics, religion, and religious politicians. Add to that all that nog and nonsense, topics such as: What the New Year Can Be Expected to Bring.

There is the Fog of War, and then there is the Fog of Pre-mobilization. My side of the family is prior service. Some Air Force, some Army, some Navy. Everybody has different acronyms, but they all "get" some of the present-day realities of lengthy Army deployments; after all, they've experienced similar separations and deprivations, back in the day.

Household-6's family, however, is generally less familiar with the military, save for one branch that boasts a proud Marine father, an Army ROTC grad already serving her second tour downrange, an Air Force Academy grad who's married to yet another, and one more at Annapolis. (Semper Fi, indeed.)

So, it's hard to come up with an appropriately festive yet realistic assessment of Where Things Are At 2010, in terms of the military world, and in terms of one's place in it, for a concerned audience that

The feelings and opinions are many, and often partially contradictory: First, I'm not paid to have an opinion. Two, you only believe something when you see it in hardcopy orders, and, even then, be prepared for multiple change-documents before the events set out in print actually happen. Three, you do what you're told, because that's the deal for which you signed up; besides, you want to serve your country and community, and you want to do the job for which you've trained. Four, you quickly learn the art of not dwelling the bad things, without losing the capability for planning for the worst.

There is, no doubt, some sort of German word that encompasses all that sturm and drang, a concept that somehow combines schadenfreude--except that it's internally focused--and fingersigzenfeuhl. Translated, the new word would be something about "your finger on the pulse of stormy and stressful things going on around and about you, wrapped in a sort-of-enjoyable gauze, similar to the pleasure one might take from poking at a scab."

So, if there are Rumors of War, dear family, don't go blindly blundering right up to the line and ask a barrage of intrusive and obtuse questions, such as, "When are you leaving? How do you feel about that? What's your wife going to do?" Don't assume that we know anything better than you, or that , if we do, we want to talk about it with anyone but our closest mates, or that you would even understand it fully, given the opportunity.

Instead, express your love, and hope for the best, pray for peace, and leave it at that, until the fog dissipates a little more, and whatever news is at hand becomes reality. Or fails to.

25 December 2009

Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar!

When I read the news, I'd thought "Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar" was just another family-friendly exclamation of surprise, along the same lines as "Jumpin' Jehosophat" or "Great Googly-Moogly."

(The latter is an habitual phrase I picked up from an Iowa combat engineer who refused to swear, even when he was in harm's way. I think the cartoon character Mr. Magoo was the originator, however.)

I'm not yet a patron of the Minnesota business that apparently just donated and sent 10,000 cookies downrange to Iraq, but, rest assured, I soon will be. After all, you can also support the troops ... by supporting those businesses ... that do their darnedest to support the troops.

Yeah, that sentiment is danger-close to a certain MAJ Frank Burns quote: "It's nice ... to be nice ... to the nice." But you get the idea: Vote with your dollars. Or cookies. Or whatever ammunition you have handy.

24 December 2009

Leaning Forward

I was 5 years old when I got the best winter-driving tip ever from Bill Cosby. Yes, that Bill Cosby.

"When the car goes into a skid, turn in the direction of the skid."

Cosby was a stand-up comic then, back in the early 1970s-not the junkyard oracle of Saturday morning's Fat Albert cartoon; not the sage, sweater-wearing Dr. Huxtable of the 1980s; not the pithy social commentator of the 1990s. Dad had borrowed a Cosby comedy album from the base library, and dubbed the record onto glorious, looping, reel-to-reel tape.

Over the years to come, his various routines about tonsils ("Ice cream! We gonna eat ice cream!", go-cart races ("There are kids. Out here, stealing our baby cart wheels."), and late-night scary radio shows ("The Chicken Heart ... That Ate ... New York City ...) would become practically tatooed on my growing funny bones. I made his stories and his timing my own, at least for a little while.

Cosby's punchlines still come up almost reflexively in my everyday speech, little inside jokes knowable only to those familiar with the same routines.

There was, for example, the story about Captain America. About driving on one snow tire, which he labeled with the superhero's name in chalk. "When the car goes into the skid, turn in the direction of the skid ..."

"Yeah, right," he goes onto say, in the same way his Noah would question God's construction directives. "That's like telling a guy, 'When someone throws a punch at you, lean into it.'"

When Cosby fails to head the advice, he ends up on an icy road, sliding perpendicular to the road, watching the scenery pass by through the windshield.

In one of those anachronistic, warhorse clichés that are ubiquitous in the Army, people talk about "leaning forward in the foxhole." You can tell it's from another time, because Uncle Sam doesn't call them "foxholes" anymore. Some manual calls them "two-person fighting positions."

Joe still calls them foxholes, however, even though he doesn't spend much time digging them. The only time a soldier is ikely to see a foxhole is when he or she qualifies annually on the M-16 or M-4. Up until recent OEF history, National Guard soldiers first fired 20 rounds from the sandbag-supported standing position, standing in a concrete pipe dug in and placed vertically into the earth; then moved on to fire another 20 rounds a prone, unsupported position.

The updated firing "tables"--the schedule of which combinations of targets pop up at what distances for how many seconds--require soldiers to fire from the unsupported prone and the unsupported kneeling positions. Prior to this, I hadn't seen the kneeling shooting position since BB-gun marksmanship competitions sponsored by the Beaver Creek Jaycees when I was in Fourth Grade. But it's arguably more realistic than searching out an enemy target from the safety of a cement pipe.

So, even though our firing-range perma-foxholes are just so much government-subsidized housing for bugs and rodents now, we still "lean forward in the foxhole."

Big change of plans? "We're leaning forward in the foxhole." (Making the best of it.) Rumors of a change-of-mission? "We're leaning forward in the foxhole." (Planning for the worst.) Rumors of a deployment? "We're leaning forward in the proverbial foxhole." (Whatever that means.)

One good days on the firing range, when nobody's jinked around with your sight adjustments, and you've got a good weapon, and there's enough wind to be comfortable and enough sun to see your targets without generating glare, firing your rifle is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes still on.

Personally, I get a little zen on the range. You don't think too much. You try not to be in a hurry. You just listen to the guy in the tower give you directions. You're not even supposed to drink water without direction, although Camelbak-style "personal water-delivery systems" have mostly done away with fumbling with a canteen.

You just lean forward in the foxhole. Get good contact between your body and the wall surface. More contact means more stability. Get a comfortable grip on your weapon, but only after you're directed to pick it up. Get a good sight-picture, the same one you used on the zero-range. Focus on your breathing. Stay relaxed.

Listen for Tower-Guy to tell you to put your selector on "semi" ... and scan ... your lane.

And wait for the punch.

20 December 2009


I've been beating my head against my windscreen for about 12 hours, trying to get life and soul and URL to match up with one another. Finally got it to work, everything aligned in a tenuous harmonic convergence. Not sure quite what I did, what I might do to make it all work again, but it works, and that's good enough for government work and combat applications at a tactical level.

Back in the day, they'd tell you to read a manual. Even in the early days of the Interweb, there was an acronym: "RTFM." Stood for "Read the F'n Manual."

These days, with on-line "help" pull-downs, and collaborative forums and fauna, there's not even a manual. You just click and hop and hope from place to place, plucking this thread and that thread and maybe you come to something close to your answer, in the form of someone else's problem.

So I got things to work, no thanks to anyone else in particular. It reminded me of some of that RTO-mojo they used to teach us: If it doesn't work, plug and re-plug. Point the omni-directional antenna in the direction you wish to transmit. Use some toothpaste or a pencil eraser to clean your contacts. Wet a towel and drape it over your radio to help cool it off in the desert heat.

Not In Any F'n Manual, my friends. NITFM.