Men and women of Annapolis gave me the inspiration for this blog while we were running around the post (base to Navy personnel) one morning this September. They reminded me of the differences between the cultures of the various military branches -- I'm Army -- and our essential sameness regarding courtesy, fitness, getting up early to get the day off to a good start and sharing a vibrant, wholesome, uplifting life.
This essay is going to wax a little philisophical...however, we'll stop short of platitudes -- I promise.
Everyone knows that success breeds success and the process starts with confidence. The issue is: how do you get, keep and maintain confidence when everything is going wrong and nothing is working out. Ever been there?
Easy answer -- fully accept your situation and step out from there. The answer is easy, but actually doing it can be hard depending on your mood, recent experiences, outlook at the time, etc. So start with the acceptance part. This winter I had an interesting experience and as it was happening I was already starting the acceptance phase...this stinks! ( See my blog from January "Soft Hands" about spinning off the road in a snow storm.)
Had a similar experience about a month ago when I blew out a tire by hitting a massive pothole (and, Pat, I did slow down as soon as I saw it). That happened to be a day when I left my cellphone at home, and given the rust and torque on the lug nuts, the wrench I had and where the car was positioned changing the tire was very problematic. Without a cellphone...getting a road service truck to come was too. Will spare you the boring, excruciating details on how I spent time addressing the situation.
Bottom line, my secret to coping and responding successfully was to get started right away on accepting that what had happen really stunk! After getting over wishing I had my cellphone, and wishing I had gone another way, and being upset with the city for letting that pothole be there and ..... Once I was over all that I was ready to start sizing up the situation and developing courses of action. Fun? It was fun when I got back on the road. And I was grateful. What the experience reminded me is the truth of a Chinese proverb, "Easy and hard are phases of achievement."
So when you've been rejected, put down, disrespected and whatever else, rather than fighting it accept it fully. Feel the pain, the frustration, the sorrow, the despair and all that good stuff. Enjoy! Now you're ready for your next move. That move, particularly if your're thinking clearly, might just be what you need to achieve success. Of course, as in downhill skiing, success is relative. You revel and savor success for awhile then go to the next phase...that's the game so get in step.
How to get confident when you feel useless? First get the negative emotions out as per above then take the first step. Sometimes it's a case of "fake it til you make it." Other times its the result of intense planning, self-talk and souping up. The bottom line is...get in the game and do something positive. Yeah, anything. Once you catch a wave, take it from there.
Bonus tip: I said I would avoid platitudes so I'm going to refrain from saying, "Succeed at being yourself." What you want to do is be your best self, your good self rather than your bummer self. Go with your strenths, minimize your weaknesses. If you try to be someone other than your (good) self you'll have to spend to many resources faking it.
Grow from where you are, look at the bright side and trust. There's an old saying, "Be in the moment, want what you want, take chances, be real, dive in." Dice la verita' Buona Pasqua, Happy Easter!
Given the winter we're having here in the NE, I would love to be in Berkeley with it's dream-like weather, ambiance and outlook. One can understand why the City's Peace and Justice Commission sponsored a resolution to welcome Gitmo detainees to the city. Peace & Justice Commissioner Rita Maran said the idea is to invite to Berkeley "the kind of people you'd like to have living next door to you or dating your cousin."
As a candidate, President Obama happily referred to Guantanamo Bay as "a recruiting tool for al-Qaida." Once in office, he signed an executive order to close Gitmo within a year. Yet, as president, Obama came to see that it's a lot easier and more fun to bash Bush than to have to be responsible for what released detainees might do and whom they might hurt if released.
Consequently, two years after his executive order to close the facility it remains open, and the trial of Kalid Sheik Mohammed in NYC has been shelved. So in a new act of high-mindedness, Berkeley's P&J Commish envisions Gitmo detainees dating your cousin. The Berkeley City Council at least had the common sense to vote down the resolution 4-1 with a bunch abstaining.
As one observer put it, "Frankly, my stand is ENOUGH of all city councils making stands on WHATEVER comes up on the world stage. Nobody cares. You don't know squat. It's not your job."
Couple of creative ideas:
1. Ask Hollywood celebrities to sponsor a detainee in their home to act as a mentor. They could arrange dates and possibly marriages too.
2. Have a reality-based discussion between liberals and conservates on what will be the aftermath of the changes in Egypt in Tunisia. Will they go the route of Algeria after the FLN victory almost 50 years ago? Could they have happened unless there had been a change in Iraq where a broad coalition now governs?
First side to inject vitrol or to accuse the other of being extremist loses. Doubt this would ever compete with the Kardashians. Looks like that idea will go the way of the KSM trial in NYC.
Women, of course, know all about the importance of soft hands. We men think of them in somewhat different terms. They often remind us of sport stars, particularly during football playoff season. (Anyone who saw Joe Montana find Dwight Clark in a corner of the end zone can testify to the importance of soft hands and a soft touch.) Just means that despite being powerful and able, soft hands make special things happen by adding a little give at just the right moment.
First noticed the importance of soft hands when I was about 4 years old. We got a new swing set and when my older brother was on one of the swings I learned how to grab onto a crossbar and swing my body out in front of him when he was on his back swing -- then I would swing my body back out of the way as he came forward. When I called to my Mom to watch this acrobatic feat I kind of lost track of where my brother was in his swing. I'll always remember the look of horror in my Mom's eyes when I finally got her attention. I was swinging out while my brother was swinging forward and next thing I knew after the collision I was airborne.
My father, seeing the same accident about to happen as my mother, moved like a cat toward me and snatched me up in his arms. I think I passed out for a moment when I hit the ground and when I came to he was stroking my forehead and hair asking me to speak to him. After determining that all limbs were intact he cradled me like I was a baby and carried me into the house to put me in my bed. I remember his soft hands as he held my head to his chest.
A year or so later after my family moved to Paris we visited the Bois du Boulogne, a heavily wooded park on the western side of the city. My younger brother and I wandered off a little too far and suddenly realized we were unsure how to get back to where we had last seen my mother. We kept moving in the direction where I thought we might find her, and after perhaps 15 minutes we heard her voice calling us. I remember how beautiful she looked when she laid eyes on us again. She rushed to us and hugged us both, one in each arm. Except for her joy and relief we would have seen her cry, and I can still feel on the back of my neck her soft hands.
When I was in basic training we went for a 15 mile road march into the wilds of Ft. Dix. The day before I had banged my ankle against something on the bayonet course and by the morning of our march it had begun to swell. I laced up my boot tightly and took my place at the front of our column as First Squad leader. As squad leader I also got the honor of carrying about 50 pounds of 50 cal. ammunition along with 70 pounds of personal gear. When we took our break halfway through the march the Drill Sergeant asked me if I wanted to ride back to catonement on a truck -- an option heavily discouraged yet offered out of concern for safety and health. "I'll be OK, Drill Sergeant," I replied.
During the break I found another soldier willing to carry the 50 cal. ammunition and relaced my boot. Once back on our feet I counted one step forward at a time as we marched along the sandy trail. "That's real infantry," Drill Sergeant said to me. "Follow me, I'll tamp the sand down so it will be easier to walk on." Doubtful that walking behind him made much of a difference, however, his words of encouragement and expression of concern made a huge difference. Truth be told, some of those Drill Sergeants are hard on the outside, yet like Joe Montana they can add a soft touch when needed.
Last week on the way to work during a snowstorm I was driving on a secondary US highway from my home in the hinterland. I was having a little trouble getting up some of the hills so I accelerated just a little one a downslope to gather momentum. Suddenly I saw a tractor trailer coming at me from the opposite direction and swerved ever so gently to get more distance as it when past. It was just enough for my car to start fish-tailing. Several times I thought I had pulled out of it successfully. But given the conditions and the little extra speed I had taken on, the next thing I knew the car was doing a 180 degree turn and heading for a steep downhill embankment on the other side of the road.
My thoughts were of a time when I had just returned from Iraq, swerved to avoid deer while driving at night near Ft. Drum and ended up in a swamp on the side of the road. When the local bars let out shortly afterward, a group of young farmers came by with their 4x4's and pulled me out -- I was able to proceed on my own power. All I could do last week was hope for the best and pray my car would stay out of a rollover down the embankment. The 180 turned out to be a blessing because I went down the embankment rear-end first, avoiding front end damage. Except for the fact that snow melts, it would be a great packing material because it compacts when pressure is applied and absorbs impact. Accordingly the snow brought my Volvo to a gently stop. I knew right away that the car was fine -- I just wondered how I would get it back on the highway.
A neighbor saw me and called a garage about 15 miles away and a truck arrived within 20 minutes. Volvo's have a peg you screw into to front bumper that allows a winch to pull the car while avoiding damage to the frame or suspension. For 75 bucks I was back on the highway less than an hour after slding off between two telephone poles. And as I drove on toward my office I discovered that even my front end alignment was still good. I marvelled at how lucky I had been. Too lucky it seemed to me.
As the sun rose in the winter sky, it dawned on me that was God working. He really knows what He's doing, and He's got soft hands.
My time with Adrianna that evening is one I reflect upon as a model for a perfect "first date". The key to success was that we both came to the piazza leaving our expectations behind. "Andy?" she asked when she first saw me in the piazza. In ten years I had changed too, yet I noticed she was looking in my eyes, as if to find me there. "Sei tu?" Her voice and her brown eyes were very soothing. My former drill sergeants quickly faded from memory, replaced by lines from a James Taylor song, "Something in the way she moves, or looks my way and calls my name..."
First we walked around the piazza as she pointed out the architectura and showed me the River Po. We saw the electric vehicles charging their batteries in front of a government building and I told her of a company developing a new EV battery. (No names or symbols, however, as US securities law restrains me.) We completed our short tour in front of the ristorante she had chosen, and sat down when there were still plenty of tables available. She knew I was struggling with my Italian and gradually transitioned into flawless english. Early in our conversation she asked me where I would stay that night, to which I replied I would find un albergo. "Andy," she said, "you should have told me, I would have found you a hotel. We'll do that first after dinner so you can leave your luggage there." And so we did, leaving us free to enjoy the evening festivities.
The 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of Fiat was going on, and there were exhibits, concerts and people everywhere walking under the glorious Roman portici / arcades. Italians come to il centro / the downtown of their cities at night and they dress in style. Her sister had said in an email to me "abbiamo aggiunto al popolazione d'italia" -- 'abbiamo' being the first person plural of the verb 'to have', which I took to mean that both she and Adrianna had children and added to the population of Italy. Accordingly I was certain that Adrianna was married. She made no attempt to hide her wedding ring. Early in the evening she received a call on her telefonino and she spoke for several minutes then said "Ci sentiamo piu tardi. Permettimi di tornare al mio ospeti." "That was my husband, Paulo", she explained, "he is with our gemelle (female twins) tonight." Her smile indicated she was perhaps a little flustered, yet her honesty was like a deep river flowing with grandeur and sparking with the reflection of sunlight.
At the end of the evening we returned to my hotel. She spoke to the attendant at the desk to be sure my luggage was in my room, and that everything was ready. "Tutto posto, Andy" -- (everything is in place). They will serve prima colzaione (breakfast) in the morning." She paused in front of me for an intstant -- I gave her un abbracio and kissed her on both side of her lovely face. "Arrivederci." She turned to smile and wave as she left the albergo. When I returned to Italia for an assignment on the first anniversary of the Torre Gemelli / Twin Towers attacks she met me for lunch near the train station. Afterwards we went to see the Shroud of Turin and she showed me more of the city. At one point she asked to see my train ticket so she could be sure I would be at the stazione ferroviaria on time. She looked up from my biglietto excitedly and informed me, "Andy, your train leaves in trenti minuti!" Her situational awareness and knowledge of the city was outstanding. "Corriamo, Corriamo! (Let's run!)" Adrianna ran with strength and style, if that's possible, and yet maintained her dignity and grace.
We found my binario / train track and she hurriedly took me on board to find me a seat, hugged me sweetly and sat me down. After she exited the car, she came to my window and we exchanged a few words, smiled and waved as the train left the stazione. On the way back to my duty post I wondered why I received the immensely uplifting "Italian treatment" from her. Was it because she remembered the time my family and I had reached out to her and her sister when they were alone in Paris that Christmas years ago, or did she really just enjoy my company? What did she want? I knew from experience that adultery is an egregious breach of trust that harms self, spouse, family, children and friends. I trusted and do trust that Adrianna understood my views in this regard, otherwise I believe she would have avoided meeting me alone at the piazza. Upon reflection I realized my questions were superfluous because what she had given me was sensitivity, consideration and hospitality that honored me both as a person and a friend.
Here's my "love-making tip" for today -- one I believe trumps anything you'll read or see in Sex in the City, Cosmopolitan or Men's Health. True intimacy and erotic pleasure can only be experience in a relationship based on respect, love and trust. Tutto posto -- "Dove il tuo tesoro, la sara' anche il tuo cuore."
Italia is approximately the size of Florida with 80 million people packed in. There's a joke that if all the Italian diaspora who live overseas in the USA, Australia South America and other parts of Europe -- all people who still are eligible to vote in Italian elections -- ever returned, Italy would sink. Fortunately the buildings and the scenery are a little different than Florida. Italy's architecture offers more to look at than the almost countless shopping malls in Florida. Mountains range along the spine of the Italian peninsula and slope down to the Mediterranean Sea. Often Italy is referred to as "bel paese", the beautiful country.
Driving from Napoli to Torino is about the same distance as from Naples to Panama City, Florida. The drive north in Italia might be just a little more special, though. Depending on the route you take you'll go through Anzio and Nettuno, Firenze (Florence), Rome, Livorno, Pisa, Viareggio, Genova (Chris Colombus' hometown), Savona (port city for Torino/Turin) and then into Torino itself, a magnificent city designed by the Romans around a system of open piazze / plazzas.
Allied troops landed at Anzio and Nettuno to get behind Nazi lines and Nettuno is now Italy's "City of Baseball." Florence, Rome, Pisa...need I say more about the wonders they are to behold? And everywhere along the way was the greatest treasure in all Italy...la gente Italiana, the Italian people. They serve cappucino at rest stops in china cups. Coffee to go / da portare is still a little unusual there. They fashion a paper cup for you, but the lid rarely fits. (Hey, entepreneurs / imprendatori there's a business idea -- export paper cups and lids to Italia). Needless to say, Italians like to linger and converse.
Adrianna had told me to meet her in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele dalla chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio, named after an Italian king and Mother Mary. And somehow despite the distance and my confusion with the Italian highway system I was on time. At one point in frustration I told a toll collector north of Savona, "Non capisco il sistemma Italiano!" She just nodded and laughed knowingly. The fact that even as a stranger in a strange (and friendly) land I was able to show up on time up in a piazza where I had never been before says alot about male psychology.
When I had met her while she attended college in Paris ten years prior, Adrianna was already lovely. Now she was fully a woman, taller, even more graceful and refined, and as beautiful, charming and intelligent as ever. Veremente io dico...intelligente, gentile, simpatica. When I saw her in the piazza I paused for a moment as she stood waiting and watching for me. Her posture was excellent and she wore a one-piece, sleeveless beige dress that looked like it has been created by...well...an Italian. Her shoes were elegant, high-heeled...well...Italian shoes.
In that instant before walking forward to greet her, I heard fleetingly the voice of one of my drill sergeants in basic traning...only this time he actually sounded encouraging, "Take a deep breath."
"Ciao, Adrianna, ben tornato fra noi. E' una gran piacere di vederti di nuovo, car'amica."
To his soul mate who remains with us we say a silent prayer. They fed off of each other, to say the least. Together they pushed the limits until gravity asserted itself bringing high-spiritedness back down to earth. Hum-drum now rules, but in our hearts we remember the reign of the Toga brothers.
A valiant run it was. May the remaining "great one" -- Timberoo -- find comfort and solace this Christmas. Rumor has it that a posse of desiring, desirables lay in waiting for him, hidden among the trees at his favorite Christmas tree farm in southern Jersey.
Oh great one, Timberoo. This Christmas give into your fondest desires. These angels of your better nature will help fill the void left by your blues brother, the late, great Johnny B.
Merry Christmas, lad. A passion even greater than your passion for toga parties is about to enter your realm. Relax and enjoy the mistletoe.The better angels of your nature are about to have their way with you. You rock, Dude! We'll all light a special light this season for JB.
This morning I'm thinking of a time when I was a boy growing ups in West Texas. It was a time when the eyes of Texas were upon President John F. Kennedy as he flew from Ft. Worth to Dallas on the morning of November 22nd, 1963.That was a morning full of excitement and anticipation and a day when suddenly fond hopes were shattered. Everyone who witnessed that day still remembers the thousands upon thousands of Americans of all races and creeds who filed through the Capitol rotunda to pay their respects to our young President who was struck down in the prime of his life before he could labor long.
We still remember the strength and self-discipline shown by his wife and family and by the members of the military who served in his honor guard. We still remember our nation's flag draped over him as the caisson carried him to Arlington, Virginia. We still remember the muffled drums that gave the cadence that laid his body to rest. The look I saw in my parents eyes brings to mind the poet, Langston Hughes who asked a very profound question, "What happens to a dream deferred?"
That sorrow-filled time is when I began to realize the spiritual dimension to life and the power of dreams. The civil rights movement for which John Kennedy was so strong an ally has seen many victories since then. The movement for nuclear disarmament that he nurtured today bears fruit. The Berlin Wall which he rallied the free world to challenge today has fallen.
Speaking at Brooks Air Force Base deep in the heart of Texas on November 21, he explained that the New Frontier "is not a partisan term, but refers instead to ... the fact that we live on the edge of a new era...that calls for the best efforts of all those who would test the uncertain and the unknown in every phase of human endeavor." He bequeathed to us his vision on the day we last saw him wave and smile, and he reminded us how important it is that we strive for excellence, peace and freedom.
His last public words spoken as he boarded Air Force I to Love Field remain true, "We will continue to do as we have done in the past, our duty. The United States of America is still the keystone in the arc of freedom." With her dignity and poise, Jacqueline Bouvier Kenneday presented to people everywhere the truth of George Washington's words when he spoke to his officers at the New Windsor catonment near West Point, "Future generations will look back and say, 'Had (courage) this day been wanting, humanity would never know the highest stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.'"
Five years ago this month I touched down again on American soil after over a year tour of duty in the Iraqi theater of operations. As we were going into Kuwait in October of 2004 the Marines were preparing their second advance on Fallujah. At great cost they had halted a previous advance to give the Iraqis an opportunity to form their own brigade to provide security in the city. Perhaps only some Americans realize the sacrifices the Marines made as they went house to house establishing the security which eventually led to the Iraqi Awakening movement in Anbar Provice, a movement which rallied Iraqis to fight for their country against Al-Quaeda intrusion.
The situation in Iraq after our intervention was never as bad as the media reported here, and the situation before we toppled the former regime was much worse than reported. One of the most under-reported stories of this century is the former regime's practice of executing Iraqi citizens and burying them in mass graves.
Kurds we visited in the north estimated that 200,000 of their people disappeared at the hands of the former regime. In addition, there were the thousands who died from chemical weapons used against them as Saddam Hussein attempted to ethnically cleanse the north of Kurds so Arabs could be resettled there.
Due to poor reporting, Americans miss that our country is held in high esteem and considered a source of hope. I recall going into a neighborhood in Tikrit -- Saddam's home town -- to meet with a sheik, and virtually every resident came to the street to wave. Iraqi children in particular ran to our convoys, and members of the Iraqi Army I met were very friendly and positive. Once after a meeting with Kurdish leaders, their interpreter pleaded with us, saying. "Please, please...when you return home thank the American people for standing with us in our hour of need."
Many Iraqis also found employment on our base, and one day I pulled "guide" duty keeping an eye on a group of Iraqi boys who were hired to do cleaning and janitorial work at one of Saddam's palaces that we used as a command post. They were age 15-16 and as I supervised them I would asked them about the Arabic alphabet and the translation of key words to Arabic. One boy, Abdullah, spoke english quite well so we were able to communicate freely. They were enthusiastic and also seemed to enjoy getting their work done.
Several weeks later I was sent to the palace as a courier, and when I entered the foyer just inside the building entrance I could see Abdullah and his friends across the room waiting to be assigned an Army guide so they could begin their workday. As I walked toward the hallway I needed to go through, Abdullah saw me. His whole face lit up and he ran toward me saying, "Sabaah al-khayr, sabaah al-khayr (good morning)." When he reached me he looked up, smiling and asked, "Are you going to be our guide today?" I grinned at his apparent joy at seeing me, and replied, "No, I'm here on another mission, but your guide will be here soon." His face fell a little but he still smiled and warmly wished me a nice day.
As I walked back to my duty post from the palace I thought of our exchange. There was something about the genuineness of his greeting that made me pause and reflect. Walking alone where no one else could see me for a moment I wept. His offer of friendship was a welcome relief from the constant criticism of the media and sometimes taunting questions or remarks from family members and friends.
Before returning to the U.S. I stayed several more weeks in Iraq in November to help clean the palace so it could be returned to the Iraqis. During that time I have occassion to see Abdullah again. In the six months or so since I had seen him, he had grown several inches and his beard was beginning to come in. He had become a young man and was somewhat more reserved, yet I could feel in his handshake and see in his eyes and smile that our bond of friendship remained.
For that and for the warmth of human kindness I was very thankful as I returned home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. For the blessings of friendship and freedom I hope I will always be thankful.
Apologies for allowing myself to get sidetracked by daily life, political issues and fellow bloggers whose posts cried out for reposts. Here it is...where we left off I was stepping off the plane in Napoli, Italia where a new world awaited. Or at least I suppose you could call it a new world. It was one represented by my new NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge). No, he was not in uniform -- we try not to give ourselves away overseas and besides this assignment called for civilian clothes most of the time. Mind you, Italians, always told me they could spot an American GI a mile away, civilian clothes or not.
After we shook hands and introduced ourselves I said, "I'm ready, let's go." "What about your luggage?" he asked. "Got it all right here, Sergeant," I replied, nodding toward my suit bag. He laughed, saying, "That's all you brought?" "What can I say, Sarge, I travel light and acquire stuff where I go. Besides, when it comes to baggage handlers, I've got trust issues." On the drive to Pozzuoli where the barracks were just west of Napoli / Naples I realized that although I had never been there before, everything seemed familiar -- almost like I had lived there in another place and time. Southern Italian cities are kind of a mess with trash everywhere. There is elaborate architecture mixed in with apartment buildings of questionable structural integrity and remains of Roman edifici.
Our barracks were just down the street from the Italian Academia Areonautica -- the Italian Air Force Academy. They were by the sea with a beautifull view of the bay and harbour. Proximity to the sea made the barracks very vulnerable and they were closed down right after 9/11. But in that pre 9-11 world I lived large. Right outside the gate was a newly opened cafe bar, and I met the proprietor / proprietario the next morning as I emerged from the barracks to explore my new world. He took me up to the cafe and there I used my most recently learned Italian phrase: "Che cosa e' quella / What is that?"
Never mind that I couldn't understand the answers I got -- at least not right away -- it was still a great conversation starter. At least it got the Italians going. And that cafe became like my living room. I would go up there morning and night to socialize and learn Italian. Fortunately for me the owner, Mario, had a young daughter, Claudia, who spoke fairly good English. She would help me, but at certain points she would tire and let me know I was on my own to communicate as best I could. And it was fun, but believe me there were many times when frustration was my basic experience. Those were the times I thought of Adriana, whom I had met more than ten years earlier in Paris at Christmastime when she was a student at the Sorbonne. My stepsister had received an inheritance from her aunt and paid for her husband, my stepmother, a Canadian friend, my sister and me to travel to France for the holidays.
Since stepsister had been an exchange student and lived with a family in the south, they all took off leaving my stepmother and me in Paris on Christmas Eve. We went out to eat and I could see the two ladies next to us in the mirror looking at me when they thought I wasn't looking. (Ladies, you do undercover so well.:) I spoke to them in my pitiful, halting French, proving once again that if there's chemistry it doesn't matter what you say.
To my good fortune, Adriana was at the Sorbone to study English, so both her and her sister saw me as a likely subject for language learning. They were both really sweet and when my stepsister and the gang got back from the south of France we met them in front of the Notre Dame to go out together for Christmas Dinner. What a time it was...we opened and closed the place. Now ten years later here I was in Italia in need of a fast track for learning Italian. I had left their address in the US figuring that by now they both had families and deserved to be left alone. But in my desperation I emailed back to a friend who had the key to my house and told him where my address book was. With Claudia's help I wrote them in Italian to give them my email address, figuring if they wanted to they could totally ignore me. About three days later Adriana's email was in my inbox -- that's good for the Italian postal system.
Had some trouble translating on my own so I printed it out and brought it to Claudia who was quite interested in Adriana's reply. "I think she wants me to write back," I said. Claudia grabbed the printout and scanned the message. She smiled and giggled. "She says you have to come and visit her in Torino."
Hey everyone, thanks for the input on what titles you want to see on the Men and Women of Annapolis blog. Know we're spending most of our time in an Army environment, however, the blog was inspired by the men and women of Annapolis. We'll elaborate more on that later. Always feel free to request topics regardless of the "24 Hours" timeframe I posted -- I only put those hours out there because I'm thinking of writing a screenplay for a drama series I'm going to call "24 Hours". Sounds like a cool title :)
Today is the perfect day to share "Be Transformed" which gleaned some notice -- renamed it "Fountain of Youth" because its that too. Setting for this little parable is Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas where boys and girls from all the services were getting good training in specialized areas. The Air Force is a very professional service, they put their officers into combat in the air while enlisted soldiers provide support. And because the combat pilots are relatively few in number they avoid the expense of maintaining troops in the field. Instead they spend the money DOD gives them on "quality of life", including some great golf courses.
When we were done there and moved on to Ft. Huachuca, re-entry into Army culture was a little tough and a little bit of a bummer until I got back into the swing of things. One thing I loved about Goodfellow was wathcing the Marines -- regardless of the training environment they always do the same things. Early morning formations, sounding off in unison and maintaining the discipline and "tyranny" of the Marine Corps. (I say that affectionately, of course, and will explain more fully in a future post "Ferocious Fallujah".)
May be hard to believe, however, on the Air Force base members of the military were allowed to wear costumes to class on Halloween. I felt like I'd rather wear my favorite costume in a party atmosphere off post on a weekends somewhere where you can do what you want rather than during working hours on an military installation. Oh well, it was someone else's call and I love the Air Force so I'll leave it there.
In our morning formation before going to class as witches, goblins and ghosts cavorted around us, I explained to the soldiers in my squad, "Today's your chance to be different -- we're going to march to class instead of going over in a gaggle so remember what you learned in basic training." Naturally there was some grousing. The Army recognizes all legal religious practices, including the Wicken religion which had a number of members in the ranks. They appeared to heartily celebrate Halloween and a number did show up in costume.
One soldier even said, "Give us a break, Sergeant Hugos, let's forget the marching and just have fun doing what everyone else is doing today." It was an honest expression of desire to "chill", as we did on weekends and when we were off post. "Marching to class is going to take all of five minutes," I said, "and then you're release to do what you deem appropriate throughout the day.""May sound weird to some," I continued as their eyes rolled upward, "but I think marching is fun."
"There used to be an old cigarette commercial for a brand called Tarryton," I explained to shaking heads and guffaws, "All the Tarryton smokers had black eyes and said they would rather fight than switch. Well I'd rather be different than conform. If you really want to 'be out of uniform' and get away from your usual routine today, here's a thought that will help you experience a rejeuvenation that will truly set this day apart."
Later got some bounce back from a couple of soldiers for my next line. The words came from alot further back than the Tarryton commercial. "Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Merrily we marched off to class together smiling ghoulishly.
Ya gotta love soldiers -- the gummint provides them with food, housing and clothing (never have to think about what you'll wear to work in the Army). There are other important perks that come with the job, yet, as many people will react when you give them something, soldiers often want more and they want it handed to them on a silver platter.
Sometimes they act like the Army's also supposed to provide them with the perfect romantic partner and social life as well. At Ft. Huachuca I had a group of tag-alongs from Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. After basic training they had been sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, California at gummint expense before coming to Goodfellow where we received analytical training before heading to Ft. Huachuca. Hard to think of any better place to be stationed than DLI. The weather is warm and the post overlooks the beautiful bay. To put it mildly DLI is too much like a country club, so my young tag alongs were having trouble readjusting to real Army initial entry training.
At Goodfellow they were back under the watchful eye of their own personal Drill Sergeant. They were back in an environment where fraternization was frowned upon, and even the several who had gotten married to classmates while at DLI had to live on post in separate barracks. By the time they got to Ft. Huachuca, they were bucking and bridling in a big way, so our commander called a meeting to reiterate the rules. I forget exactly how you had to toe the line, but the gist of it was that there were to be no romantic relationships with soldiers in your class unless you were already legally married.
These young'uns were linguists and fairly smart so they peppered the commander, a young Captain, with questions like, "What if we were already dating before we got here?" and other inquiries pointed in the same direction. The Captain seemed to be getting flustered so I jumped in and asked, "Ma'am do you mind it I share a couple of thoughts with the group? To be honest, I've never seen anything like this in the military." She was only too willing and immediately answered, "Yes, please, and neither have I."
For a moment I looked at the group as the soldiers awaited my words of wisdom. Gradually I began to grin slightly and shake my head. "You know, if any of you joined the Army to improve your social life, you may need to take a good long look at why you had so much trouble making friends when you were a civilian." Again there was a silent pause, then the whole room including the commander burst out laughing. "Give me a break," I said, "get a life, have some fun and if you're going to break the rules have the good sense not to get caught. But let's not have any more meetings about this."
Like many people, soldiers will often stay within their comfort zone, hanging out with people they know in places they are familiar with. A little less than a year later, with that memory in mind, I headed to NATO HQ in southern Italy as the Kosovo campaign began. I knew only a few words of Italian at that point yet I had promised myself that I would become immersed in Italian culture rather than indulging in the "barracks rat" routine. In "Social Situation II" I'll explain what awaited me as I stepped off the plane in Napoli, Italia. To be continued...
Those of us in our late 40's and beyond remember the phrase "drink the kool-aid" well and its origins. A crazy man named Reverend Jim Jones led a group of followers from California to Jonestown, a colony he founded in the jungles of Guyana, South America.
Hundreds followed him as they idealistically sought a new world free of racism, sexism, pollution,poverty, unemployment and loneliness. What they got was a forced taste of poison kool-aid that sent them into the next life. Jim Jones failed to deal successfully with the disappointment, slights and indignities of this world, so he decided to kill himself and he wanted company. His followers got the call whether they liked it or not. At the point of a rifle men, women and children were told, "Drink the kool aid." Hundreds died.
The expression, "Drink the kool-aid" has taken on a slightly different and more positive meaning over time. Today it can be a wry way of saying, "Do what you've gotta do to get the job done." In other words, "Pay the price and feel the pain to get where you want to go" -- a variant of "no pain, no gain" or the Marine slogan "pain is weakness leaving the body." ( I've heard members of the Air Force refer to Marines as "Uncle Sam's misguided youth".)
What does all this have to do with the men and women of Annapolis? They're "drinking their kool-aid" so to speak, particularly during their first year when the upperclassmen + women are totally on their cases. To get that outstanding education they receive at the Naval Academy they have to get up between 0400 and 0500 every morning to do their morning run. During my visit in September I remember seeing a class running around the quarter-mile track and behind even the stragglers was a Midshipman named Johnson, struggling just to keep moving. The class leader was yelling at him, "C'mon, Johnson, pick it up! That's not running -- not even close!" Johnson was drinking his kool-aid.
During basic training one cold miserable late winter-morning at Ft. Dix as I was hating life and cursing my decision to enlist, a buddy brought me a tepid, raunchy, worthless plastic cup of something someone was calling coffee and smiled as he said, "C'mon, Private Hugos, drink the kool-aid." That lousy drink was one of the steps that got me here today with its good and its bad. That putrid cup of coffee helped get me to Italy, to England, to Annapolis and to all the friendship and camaraderie, not to mention gummint benefits.
In a recent post wwww12345 (http://www.millionairematch.com/blog/wwww12345_) raised an important point: When you marry someone you choose your poison because nooooo one is perfect. Go ahead and list all the qualities you love about your significant other, but before you marry them you're smart to find out everything you can't stand. That's what you're going to have to forgive to have a happy life together. See, stated positively, "drinking the kool-aid" is about deciding what you're willing to forgive. Forgiveness is that soothing balm in Gilead that makes the wounded whole.
And its different from being an enabler. It's more about acceptance of the essential truth of this life -- we all fall short. There's a reason Jesus cried out to a loving God, "Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do." The ability to forgive comes from being familiar with your own intractable shortcomings...and it's a relief. "Learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest...my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
It is that time, boys and girls. Decision time. One decision I made for myself long ago was to be different from a certain quarterback some of us may know who always forces issues and tried to fit in passes where they really don't belong.
To be sure I've received some interesting feedback from this blog, however, I've also had people express concerns that I'm giving away national security secrets. Some where surprised to find that teddy bear pajamas have been worn indeed in Army barracks or that we have personnel overseas.
A number of compagnos (comapagni) and compagnas (compagne) have expressed encouragement and given sincere compliments on my writing style. My mother would have been proud as she worked hard to ensure I knew the difference between an adjective and an adverb. Tolerating slackers and poor grammar was never her thing.
Although this may sound selfish I envision a more participatory community. If what I write is interesting, let's dig a little deeper and share some thoughts that really count -- and here I'm excepting the Bloggers Emeritus group: Sophy, John, Pat, Tinkerbelle, D, Bill and 123. Goes w/o saying you signore and signori are always on the case and thinking even when it hurts. Makes our country and the entire NATO alliance great.
Whether I got it from my Mom or the Army I've always believed it's important to have broad participation or you pack it in. I've never looked for a handout or wanted to be a freeloader and freerider because life is abundant. And hey, I'm a big boy who knows that silence is an answer. Right now I've got an opportunity to start a new website I could name in honor of that previously mentioned QB -- I'm thinking of calling it "xxxxx" We could have alot of salacious stuff or resort to jokes, cartoons, cooking recipes and little trinkets of positive thinking, which all have merit for leading a nice, soothing life wherein you keep your blood pressure down. Or I could post be run times and workout routine.
On the other hand, it you want to get this observer's account on the reality of military life and the issues of life within and outside the military, then participation is important. You've gotta be motivated (similar to mandatory fun). I truly believe the men and women in our service academies -- West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs -- deserve our prayers and support because they represent all that is noble about our country. Trust me, they participate in their learning, education and growth.
So here's an assignment. From the list of coming attractions below, choose your top three and let me know what they are with your words, your catcalls (sorry cat lovers) or your silence. This is your chance to put Migliore downwind. ("Gas leak" refers to the gas leak that caused an explosion recently in California and a plot in NYC). Ready? You've got 24 hours.
Some of you maybe thinking that military life is all about being thick-skinned, shaking off emotions and driving on to the next objective. Sometimes it's like that -- sometimes it's gotta be. However, as in any life there are those days when everything goes well and your choices are to pinch yourself to see if it's a dream or just experience the fulfillment. Hint: only a total grouch, grinch and curmudgeon would insist on refusing happiness.
When I received orders to take two others on a training mission to Italy during September of 2002, rather than asking questions I smiled quietly and thanked my lucky stars. For one thing the location we were being sent to was only a trainride from Italian friends adept at administering "the Italian treatment" which is a warmhearted, magnanimous "benvenuto" that is good for the soul.
We flew all night and arrived in Italia as the sun began to rise and shine on the Alps. The first day I was a little bleary-eyed, but the next morning I awoke...in Italia! That alone is like waking up in heaven. The weather is temperate, the town we were in made its own wine and sold bottles for a pittance, women dress in tantalizing yet tasteful fashion, senior citizens ride their bikes to market, the food is fresh, people are friendly and they speak a beautiful language.
As we drove to post I remembered I had promotion orders to Sergeant First Class in my pocket, having received them just before we left the US. After we parked the van the junior enlisted soldiers went to their duty stations as I walked in the sunshine toward the military clothing store to get my new rank insignia. The walk back was even better, and all that had changed was the second rocker below the chevron on my collar signifying that I was a Senior NCO.
Young soldiers 20-something years old stood at parade rest until I released them saying, "As you were, soldier, as you were." Being treated with respect is always fun. When I got to the chow hall for breakfast -- the DFAC (Dining Facility) in new Army parlane -- I was about 5 minutes late. Based on past experience I figure the chances of getting in were zero. Yet, when I arrived at the entrance, the NCO at the door said, "The DFAC is closed, Sergeant, but for you we'll open the doors. Welcome, and enjoy your breakfast." Yeah, I like this.
When I got outside I met the Italian officer who was in charge of the Italian troops in our barracks. I spoke with him in Italian on the lawn in front of the DFAC and happened to see one of the young soldiers I came with walking toward us. Since she was only mildly enthusiastic, young and did not speak Italian, I guessed she would walk right by us and ignore the Italian officer. Instead when she got close to us she stopped, pulled herself to attention, saluted the Italian officer and spoke the words, "Buongiorno, Signore." The Italian officer truly was impressed.
He said to me, "Se solo posso fare i miei soldati da fare quello -- If only I can make my soldiers do that." Clearly I was on a roll. That evening there was a national broadcast of "Saving Private Ryan / Il Privato Ryan" and the Italian soldiers asked me to be their guest. An American officer asked me to go on a trip with him as his interpreter to several Italian cities. I got a day pass to see my friend in Torino whom I had met in Paris when she was a student at the Sorbonne.
On the anniversary of Sept 11, an Italian diplomat interviewed on Italian TV at ground zero told her nation, "Credo che oggi tutti noi siamo Americani / I think that today we are all Americans." What could be better? We have a phrase in the Army that is both a recognition of reality in grim moments and an expression of fulfillment in times of joy -- "It doesn't get much better than this."
John, do we have the same expression in the Navy? Need to know if I can use it next time I visit Annapolis.
This post takes a look as some of the past and potential consequences of fraternization. Here's an honest warning: if you continue reading, what you will read may put you in a sad and despairing mood. Often we are convinced that understanding is always a good thing -- and that may be true -- yet knowledge can also be a burden. As Bob Seeger once wrote, "I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."
Over the last few decades, rather than having separate officers and enlisted clubs for off-duty socializing, some posts created "all-ranks" clubs. In 1993 a talented and energetic Second Lieutenant who had recently graduated from Princeton attended one such club while she was awaiting her first assignment. A respected enlisted soldier asked her to dance with him, and she turned him down.
She was pronounced dead the next morning. A military jury found the enlisted soldier guilty of her murder. In apparent violation of another aspect of the principle of non-fraternization, he was housed in the same temporary barracks as her, so he knew where to find her. Fraternizing blurs the professional relationships which must remain clear in a military environment and creates dangerously unstable conditions. How her parents must have wished the traditional non-fraternization policy had been enforced.
A commanding officer of a company I was assigned to got around the non-fraternization policy by dating a female enlisted soldier who was in another section outside of his command. Although not technically a violation this type relationship is still discouraged. They began living together and when he tried to leave her she used a pistol in their home to shoot him and then herself. As the rifle fire rang out during his 21-gun salute, crackling unpleasantly in my ears, I thought of what I would say to his father. "Sir, I am very sad about your loss and I will pray for you and your family." She had a family too.
During a tour of duty in NYC I met an outstanding police officer who had been a hostage negotiator for many years before beginning a new assignment in counter-terrorism. She was a person of immense intelligence, compassion and insight. My understanding is that she was dating a man who held a high rank in the police department before retiring. According to news accounts, she was found dead of an apparent suicide in the building where he lived. A week after meeting this gifted woman I had the opportunity to meet her family at her memorial service.
When handling a difficult circumstances I can hope for the best, yet I also need to be congnizant of dangers inherent in many situations. The non-fraternization policy exists because playing with fire is unsafe and life is worth living.
Often when after giving another member of the military the greeting of the day, I'll say, "Are we having fun yet?" Most will answer with reasonable sincerity, "Always." To which I add, "If you're having fun, getting paid and accruing gummint benefits, that's a win-win-win. And two out of three is good too."
Just a reminder that due to our mission and service we do what we do fun or not. Some people view military life as one comprised of arbitary rules and unnecessary discipline. Others reckon that our mission calls for focus and precision. There are rules of courtesy members of the military are required to observe. We even have "mandatory fun" wherein soldiers are ordered to participate in wholesome, "fun" activities. Sound like fun?
What does this have to do with the men and women of Annapolis and my barracks at Ft. Huachuca? Persons training at both locations live in accord with certain rules that support an appropriate level of discipline so we can accomplish our mission. When I stepped out in the hallway of my barracks at Ft. Huachuca in response to the concerns expressed by one of the female soldiers in residence there, tradition and rank empowered me to apply those rules and enforce standards necessary for us to have a healthy living environment.
Every soldier -- including officers -- knows the importance of a lawful order to observe established rules of conduct. As I went through the barracks during my initial inspection there was alot that was below standards. I also found soldiers out on the fire escapes using them as balconies as they drank liquor and enjoyed the temperate Arizona winter weather. When I stepped out there with them my words were simply spoken, "Get on your feet and show me your ID tags and ID Card."
There were some older males out there socializing much younger soldiers who refused and told me they were officers. "Sir," I said to the apparent ranking officer, "these are my barracks and only officers in our chain of command are authorized to be here, otherwise you're fraternizing. With all due respect, Sir," I added, "either you show me your ID tags and ID card or you need to leave immediately." They left.
Later they went to my chain of command and accused me of being disrespectful. My superiors in some ways would rather have had me do nothing, because my actions had created fallout for them and may have called them into account to enforce essential standards. However, what could they say to the rationale I presented, "Sir," I explained to my company commander, "they were in civilian clothers and they refused to show me identification so who they were was a mystery to me. As officers they know that for them to engage in fraternization with junior enlisted soldiers -- particularly female junior enlisted -- is ill-advised."
May sound arbitrary, ominous and heavy handed to many for the military to continue to observe the seemingly arcane rule which discourages officers and enlisted from mixing socially. That's a matter worth examining, which we will do in my next post which will take a look at whether the non-fraternization policy supports or prevents healthy living and positive growth.
That run that morning in Annapolis was like a dream because in it I fulfilled a lifetime of aspirations. And this morning I got it!
So here it is for those of us seeking the man or woman of our dreams through this website...
...This website is more a support group and group of friends than it is a "dating site".
Yet I kind of like that. Come to think of it, that's a pretty fair environment in which to find inner resources and let things happen. So often it's when you're relaxed, happy and just enjoying the fulfillment you already have that wonderful people walk into your life.
When you're demanding and setting high expectations for others, you sometimes set the stage for frustration. Easing up is different than throwing all your standards of behavior out the window...what it means is observing and being thankful for all that is good in your life
Said another way, you enjoy what Italians refer to as "La Dolce Vita." Speaking of which, I recently learned in Italian a saying that reveals the secret of life...
Dov'e si trova il tuo tessoro, la' sara anche il tuo cuore.
Anyone who would like the translation, just "ask and it will be given unto you". Thanks John and Mac. I will "write on" about Annapolis and Huachuca next time. Your words of encouragement are appreciated -- you rock!
Grazie e buon giornatta tuttil / have a nice day everyone and a happy Columbus Day!
John asked me to get right to it as regards how my run one morning at Annapolis relates to my time at Ft. Huachuca, so I will. When I got back out in the hallway at Huachuca, everyone had either disappeared or complied with my wishes and stood at parade rest with their ID tags military ID where I could see it. Any NCO has general command authority to check IDs, and soldiers must stand at parade rest if so ordered.
Some of the young bucks were really bristling and probably could have banged me around a little. Instead they reasoned that I could still give them a pretty good run for their money and they would face severe disciplinary action so it was easier to comply. After I was done with my inspection I informed them that lights would be going out in 15 minutes, and added, "Starting tomorrow morning whenever you see me walking in these hallways you'll give me the greeting of the day -- i.e. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening -- an you'll address me as "Sergeant" because that's the way we do it here (reference to a cadence everyone calls in basic training).
The next morning it was quiet(er). When I went out in the hallway to go to the latrine to shave, the soldiers who passed me did say, "Good morning, Sergeant". Couple of them really didn't want to because they didn't like me, but they did anyway. They too realized that the situation the previous night had almost spun out of control and we needed to remember our training and take pride in our service. And then I saw what came back to me when I went out to run that morning last month at Annapolis.
As I passed the female latrine the door opened and out walked the roommate of the soldier who had come to my door the night before. The roommate was still in her pajamas -- nice comfy pink and white pajamas with yellow teddy bears on them. When I saw the Navy physical fitness uniforms at Annapolis, the Midshipmen wore blue trimmed with yellow. Even though all the services have alot in common with one another -- mainly the desire to serve -- we each have and do many things differently.
Although I definitely noticed how different their uniforms were at Annapolis -- and they knew right away that I was a visitor -- there was also an immediate acceptance of those differences. Because we were all there to move forward a common purpose. The teddy bear pajamas caught me a little off guard at first because I had never seen them before in a barracks. As I shaved I thought about it and figured, so what, no need to ban teddy bear pajamas.
What was important was that we learn to live together by observing common courtesies and accepting each others differences so that we could each serve in our own way. Oh by the way, that female soldier wearing the teddy bear pajamas, she did say "Good morning, Sergeant" as I walked by, and I answered, "Good morning."
***OK all let me know if you want me to go on about what else I found in the barracks during my inspection, how I decided to go about maintaining order thereafter and how the troops -- including the young male types who sometimes drank too much -- decided to respond to the new approach.
Meanwhile, Happy Columbus Day / Buongiorno di Colombo!
If I may, I'd like to take a "pause for the cause" here to make a few observations about the relationship between the genders. The Army and military services used to be more or less the exclusive domain of the male gender -- sort of like saloons and pool halls were once -- and that has changed. Forget about ever rolling back the hands of time. Even if we wanted to try it would be fruitless and so now it's all about adjusting to the new reality.
Although I may have my own views on the subject, changing or advocating Dept of Defense policy has never been my goal in life. Would rather focus on accepting the current sit (situation) and move forward from there. Were I ever in mortal combat with a female soldier on my side I would keep foremost in mind that we're in it together and the goal is to accomplish our mission while helping each other to stay alive.
While I was in Iraq during 2005, SGT Leight Ann Hester, an MP in the Kentucky National Guard became the first female soldier since WWII to win the Silver Star. My understanding is that she was helping to provide security for a convoy when ambushed by terrorist insurgents. She worked in close coordination with other solders, flanking the enemy and did what had to be done in a highly effective manner.
Her courage, ability and professionalism speak for themselves. I can only say that in similar circumstances I would want to act with the same presence of mind and valor as she did. My view is that the female soldiers make a greater sacrifice when they enter military service because they give up more. Call me biased, I just think it is easier for men to throw a bunch of stuff in a duffle bag, give up our privacy and deal with the conditions we face during basic training and our duty posts.
So there I was standing at the door of my room in the barracks at Ft. Huachuca with a female soldier in front of me asking me in a respectful, military manner to do my job by taking charge of the deteriorating situation in the barracks that Saturday night. By holding me accountable as the NCO closest to her in the chain of command she was doing what she could to help create a positive living environment that would support junior enlisted soldiers as they sought to complete their courses of study and perform their duties. How could I find fault with her request? Foregoing further excuses, I thanked her for coming to me and said I would take immediate action.
Before opening the door I had managed to get my Tshirt and uniform trousers on, so I stepped out into the hallway and yelled loudly, "At ease." Enlisted soldiers will respond to this order by training (or programming) and out of concern the call is a heads up that a high ranking officer is entering the area. Or maybe worse, a Sergeant Major or other senior NCO.
"Every enlisted soldier in my barracks needs to stand at parade rest against the wall with their dog tags and ID card out." I declared. "If you're not authorized to be here, you've got about two minutes while put the rest of my uniform to move out. While I'm in my room all I want to hear out here is dog tags and ID's coming out."
Couple of caveats before I continue: I was wrong to say "dog tags", I admit it. The proper terminology is "ID tags". A sergeant (NCO) is addressed as "sergeant" rather than "sir". Sir is for officers and we NCO's have a joke, "Don't call me sir, I work for a living!" In my next post entitled "Teddy Bear Pajamas" I'll get back to the action and describe what I found once I had my uniform on and went back out into the hallway. And trust me, I'll relate this all back to Annapolis -- stay with me and we'll get there together. Right now, "I gotta run!"