28 October 2010

Have Vest, Will Travel

"Are you a U.S citizen?" (Yes.)

"Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" (No.)

"Do you treat your mother right?" (WHAT?!)

Steve at BulletProofME.com of Austin, Texas, gives me a second hanging on the phone before letting me off the hook. "Believe it or not," he says, "I once asked that of a customer, and he not only answered 'yes,' but put his mother on the line, just to prove it."

After giving Steve more-humbling body measurements than I'd have needed to rent a tuxedo, I have just spent a substantial portion of this year's contribution to the Sherpa kids' college fund. I have purchased a bulletproof vest. A decidedly non-camouflaged, coyote-brown vest. One featuring a Kevlar lining that will stop small-caliber rounds and shrapnel, and capable of carrying thick ceramic plates that will stop a 7.62mm rifle round.

These are, of course, features I hope only to read about, and never to test myself.

It's less of an investment, and more of a statement. It's a commitment, a financial declaration that I'm about to try something that is either the most inspired thing I've ever done, or the most insipid: I'm about to try to follow my Red Bull buddies to Afghanistan, not as a citizen-soldier, but as a 100-percent citizen.

My kid brother doesn't understand this impulse, and asks whether I'm doing it for my buddies, or doing it for myself. The honest answer, I have to tell him, is both.

I'm a Journalism-school-trained reporter, but I left the newsprint grind years ago. For many years, I've been more at home with cushier magazine jobs, discussing trendy house-paint colors, how to remodel your kitchen on a budget, and landscape lighting techniques. A J-school professor of mine once punned that such "service" journalism was more like "surface journalism," but hey--it's helped keep a well-maintained roof over my family's head.

Besides, not all journalists can write about bringing the heat and light of democracy to the world--or can we?

I started the Red Bull Rising blog to help my kids understand, in later years, why Daddy had to leave them for a year of their young lives.

But, after more than 20 years wearing a U.S. Army uniform, I also know the National Guard deserves a little service journalism of its own. After all, I also started the blog to help tell the National Guard story, to explain and illuminate how much we, as a nation, have asked of our friends and neighbors in uniform.

We have asked these citizen-soldiers to drop their plows and their play-dates, to pick up their muskets, and to run toward the sounds of distant guns. We have asked them to re-make a foreign nation in our own image, to train and support a national government where none exists. And, given the number of right-sleeve combat patches seen in the ranks of the Red Bull, we have asked them to do this repeatedly.

So ponying up a few bucks for some personal protection seems like the least I could do.

If not for my peace of mind, at least for my mother's.


  1. I've heard that Texan's Love their Momma's so that might have been a trick trick question :)

    And God Bless and Good Luck with your endevours. I promise that prayers and timtams will follow you about once you make it Downrange (just think.. the troops will be going "It's SHERPA!!! Whaddya bring us?" :D)


  2. Sherpa, I look forward to reading more about the adventures of the Red Bulls, of which my husband is one. Strike First!

  3. Okay, so a civilian embed. Does the Des Moines Register need any stories? Hope you can get this all pulled together so you're funded going over, and also during the time you're there. I have a few ideas. I'll email.

  4. Thank you for your writings! Getting older isn't for sissies, but passing the torch to your sons is even harder.
    We will be praying for you now with all the others.
    Fair winds and following seas, Semper Fi, When Ready...Attack!

  5. YOUR AWESOME! Thanks for doing this for yourself, the soldiers, soldiers families, and our country! Please thank your family for giving you this time to share with all of us "needies" on the homefront! I'll tell Bravo Company to be on the watch for you! (btw, which camp will be be trying to get into?)

  6. Good for you, Sherpa. Email me an address when you get on over there and I'll send you some care packages for you and your interviewees. Most of my folks are coming home now and I need new peeps to take care of. Also, let me know of anyone who gets no mail or very little. I can help them out some, too.

  7. Jeesh, as I was reading I was thinking "bullet-proof vest" for... argh...why would he have to buy his own... of course, duh.

  8. All: Thanks for the words of encouragement and support. I apologize that the Red Bull Rising storyline has been a bit random of late. I felt I needed to bring y'all up to speed on a few facts and assumptions, before delving into my September-October activities.

    Should get clearer in the next week or so ... In the meantime, thanks for reading!


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