Where do we go from here

It has been a very long time since I wrote anything other than something for work. Odd for me, definitely different.

As I review my old writings I’ve re-read some of the notes I used as posts while still in Afghanistan. I started from the bottom up so to re-post them now would be odd because a simple scroll down to the second or third posts back would see the same things, but I had some odd connected thoughts.

I also stumbled across one I didn’t blog, or don’t think I blogged because I didn’t note when I blogged it. It was a post about the Battle of Bunker Hill but it was symbolic of a stand that I was about to make–and did. It may or may not have cost me what it could but it certainly came at a cost. Or maybe it was a benefit. No one would quite get the meaning or emphasis out of the writing that I did. Yet that never used to bother me. To be honest, still doesn’t.

So maybe I’m back, maybe not. The site definitely needs to be redone but I’m not sure which way to go. Only time will tell, maybe a little time, maybe a lot. We’ll see.

Repatriation

Occasionally on social media I have seen people who rail about how people are quick to mention Miley’s latest panty-free night on the town or Hilary’s claim that her tumor told her to run for President or even that the most popular current Republican found a way to cut taxes for his best friend’s company right before awarding him a no-bid contract to provide unneeded services at exorbitant costs. Each of these rants against the paparazzi, politicians, or the most recent harebrained Hollywood death follows with a frank discussion on how no one seems to dwell on the young 19-year-old that just died the day before in our continuing Global War on Terrorism. While it seems this may belittle the latter somewhat, it is the sentiment intended there that I am attempting to invoke without actually naming any of the inane events that precipitate such actions. After just over one year boots on the ground in Afghanistan, I’ve learned how incredibly pointless such attention lavished on those former activities is.

My job entails a large degree of email, most days I average at least 10 per hour. When you work 10-12 hour days that means an awful lot of chatter. In addition to the two non-classified work email addresses I have (because I don’t count emails to the non-work email) there are two other computer systems that are classified. I call them the red and purple accounts, one is for coalition secured emails, the other American only secured emails. With the barrage of other activities I often find my colored accounts neglected and when I remember them I log in to find that I have again missed notification of repatriation ceremonies. This day was an exception.

Without constant monitoring it is easy to miss these since the notice usually is sent two to three hours in advance and the ceremonies typically occur between 2200 and 0200. This is due more to the arrival/departure times than it is to the weather, but are no doubt many thankful for that reprieve as well. This day was an exception in that there was a five-hour notice.

At 2140 on the evening of 11 June I joined five of the military protecting us on site visits and our interpreter to travel to the airfield for a repatriation ceremony. Based on my track record, it could be my first and only, but I was there. We drove about a mile before we parked and joined the foot traffic headed toward the ramp. The temperature was about 85 Fahrenheit with a warm breeze blowing despite the lack of sun. There was little conversation as we joined the group. The hushed noise of typical runway activity provided a backdrop to the activity.

After walking another half mile, there were two formations facing one another with a wide path in between them. Anyone who has served in the military knows that in addition to the high amount of waiting around, if you see a line you simply join in without worrying about what it is for. After we stood there for about five minutes an American walked by shouting for coalition forces to move to the rear.

In a sea of camouflage, the other civilian I saw stood out as much as me, but it was this that attracted my attention to the fact that this was not merely a gaggle of Americans. Romanians, Georgians, and other ISAF troops wearing different patterns of uniforms were also in attendance. The intent was for Americans to be in the forefront to see our departed soldiers on their way home. The reshuffle brought me to the fifth line of people behind the empty path. Soon an NCO walked down the middle of the formation and gave us the brief amount of information we needed to know for the ceremony. Looking around I estimated the crowd to be between 1000 and 1200 gathered to pay respects.

A short march further down the runway I realized that it has been nearly 16 years since I marched with other soldiers (the anniversary of my ETS being a mere two hours away). As we stood at attention I could see from my peripheral vision vehicles driving up. Each soldier had his own workhorse MRAP as a hearse. I was in the group that faced the airfield and could watch a Remote Piloted Aircraft take off before we went to Present Arms.

While rendering a salute a recording of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes began and the procession started. Five American flag draped caskets and one Afghan flag draped casket went between the lines of formation headed to the C-17 at the far end. Four verses of Amazing Grace and one slow, lone bugle call of Taps later we were given the call to Order Arms.

A second RPA took off as I scanned with my eyes the crowd in front of me. There were short people, tall people, every race, and branch of service was well represented. Some had the look of seriousness, some boredom, and a few looked so dog-tired that I swore they could fall asleep on their feet. Most had long-rifles or pistols though not all were armed. An odd occurrence here.

The ceremony took a half hour all together. A somber, sober reminder that it isn’t all trips to the Boardwalk and gatherings in the MWR. There remains a mission to accomplish and that mission comes at a cost. The cost may be far below what it has been in other wars, but it is no less a bill to be paid. There are lots of reminders in this world. Reminders to wake up. Reminders to go to meetings. Reminders to make phone calls. Reminders of where we are: in the free world, in a first world nation, in a third world nation, or in a war zone. There are reminders to take out the garbage, take the cake out of the oven, and to pass along congratulations. Or condolences. And there are reminders that friendly fire isn’t.

Most of all, there are reminders that freedom isn’t free.

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A Really Big Cup of Tea

In a recent conversation with a friend I was asked the question of what I think about the Republican Party attempting to take out the Tea Party. Then later I watched a short video of a Doctor Who/Rocky Horror Picture Show Parody. What do these things have in common with the description of how the improbability drive on the Heart of Gold works? Everything, of course.

I was a walking down the street just a having a think when it hit me that The Tea Party itself is foreshadowed nicely by the 70s era Time Warp (1973 if you’re counting).

I grew up in the South. The Deep South. I mean can’t get any further South without getting your feet wet, American by birth Southern by the Grace of God South. Southern Living isn’t a magazine, it’s just a record of what goes on. I’m talking north of Wiggins is Yankee territory. I picked on my wife for years for being a Northerner because she was from around Birmingham. I was 14 before I found out that DamnYankee was two words. South. And I came out of the South with traditional conservative values.

My whole career has been spent trying to pay as much in taxes as I possibly can. Not because I want an increase in my tax bracket but because the amount I owe increases with my salary as the tax rate decreases.

Before anyone tries revokes my Alabama residency, I hate taxes. The state motto shouldn’t be “Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere”  but “Alabama, Odious Tributa!” While other people say they hate taxes, in Alabama we put our money where our mouth is on that. So the Taxed Enough Already Party should seem to be the one for me. But again, it’s the Time Warp on many levels.

Take your typical Right Wing (yeah, I’m a Right Wing Nut Job and I’ll say it) Nut Job. Now, “It’s just a jump to the left.” Get away from the idealists who believe in unchecked laissez-faire capitalism without a system of helping out the less fortunate. I’m right there with you.

But the Tea Party doesn’t jump all the way to the Libertarian way of thinking, they stop short, think better of it, “and then a step to the right.” We like Republican candidates, we don’t like Republican candidates. They’re our guy; no they’re not. The Tea Party People don’t seem to commit. Almost like the Southern Democrats of old who proclaim to be Democrats vehemently until such time as they get into the polls and close the curtain–then they voted conservatively.

“Put your hands on your hips,” the traditional body language for I don’t think so, really, and so many other sardonic ways of saying not on my watch. You can take my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands (much different than Molon Labe, because that’s Greek to me). My God, my family, my country. Don’t Tread on Me. Any number of clichés that represent the unchanging way of leave it alone.

Of course, for the true RHPS fans “Your own hips!” Not the guy/gal in front of you. No hanky-panky in the ranks. Do it behind closed doors.

“And pull your knees in tight.” Alright, guess keeping it in your pants, holding an aspirin between your knees for conservative values is not an oft-echoed sentiment though anti-abortion certainly is and I put that in this category. Perhaps its a bit of a stretch but I am using a cult classic song from a drug-haze written movie to describe a serious political movement.

“But it’s the pelvic thrust” which is unfiltered symbolism for sex. Not even hidden, I mean straight up “fuck it.” Which the Tea Party supporters can find themselves doing at election time. Support the Tea guy, support the Republican guy, screw it all up and let the liberal candidate win. For those looking for an obscure reference but perfect example see John C. Breckinridge/Stephen Douglas fiasco that perfectly highlighted a conservative party split that allowed a liberal candidate to win.

Watching network news “That really drives you insane.” I stopped watching it in the mid-90s before it replicated itself. It, and talk radio, is full of near caricatures of extreme ideals attempting to “educate” the masses by merely giving them “talking points” to use in their arguments (because we can’t call them debates) with non-like minded others. Driving people into a frenzy of name-calling and comparisons to debacles and fiascos of all sorts that the other group finds so critical yet fall short of the importance of the current issue du jour.

By all means, “Let’s do the time warp, again.” But what’s my point? Am I saying eschew the Republican Party? No. Am I saying abandon the Tea Party? No. Am I saying to take either of them over the Democratic Party? No. Am I saying we should all become Libertarians? No. History repeats itself because no one listens.

The trip to Frank N. Furter’s Castle was a drug-tripping, eye-opening, life-changing event. It ended in something taking off that left a giant hole and a motley group of people lying around wondering WTF just happened.

It’s astounding, time is fleeting.

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Arrived?

At some point in my not too distant past my Dad stopped playing Mercy with me. The game where you lock hands and attempt to twist your opponents hand in such a way that it causes him to writhe in agony until he calls uncle, or mercy. It may have been just before I joined the Army, perhaps just afterwords, I didn’t really take note even though it was a momentous day. Not because we no longer played the game, it had always been in jest before, but we stopped playing because Dad discerned that he was on the verge of not being able to best me. It was a sign that I was becoming a man.

My Dad has an awful lot to do with the man I am. He was a science teacher. As hard as he tried to not prejudice me towards whatever job I would do for the rest of my life (as long as it wasn’t a public school teacher) I became an engineer–a practicing scientist. He introduced me to Star Wars, Star Trek, and canned spaghetti. All things I have tried to instill in my daughters (I’m still hopeful that Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance or JJ Abrams’s reboot of both movie series will be the final catalyst in the final notch of the trifecta because they don’t like Starfleet). Whether we try or not, we measure our success, and our growth by our parents.

Yesterday I posted a joke, a mathematical joke which my Dad didn’t get. Why do engineers (or mathematicians) get Halloween confused with Christmas? Because Oct 31 = Dec 25. While I may not want to ever admit I have grown up, those around me would argue that I had anyway, I have passed another measurable point along the path.

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And this isn’t to leave Mom out, she’s an important part too. I just don’t know if she knows that the Octal number 31 (Oct 31) is the Decimal number 25 (Dec 25).

Washington’s Birthday

I emailed this to my sister, and then remembered it’s been several years since I posted anything like this on my blog, so maybe it’s overdue.

 

It’s not President’s Day! It’s Washington’s Birthday!!!!! President’s Day is a sale, Washington’s Birthday is a holiday. Congress named it Washington’s Birthday and NEVER re-named it. We stopped celebrating Lincoln’s Birthday when we picked up MLK’s (which in itself is kind of funny) but it was never re-named.

It’s important because we don’t honor the other 43, just the first. If we honored the other 43 it would include the worst president of all times (Harding) as well as the second worst (Grant) and I could go on. It would be nice to celebrate the best (Roosevelt the first) followed by Reagan and that Lincoln guy, and I could go on from this side too. We don’t celebrate Harrison (though we did name a county after his short presidency) and we don’t celebrate Fillmore. We can laugh about Taft (laughy Taft-y?) and question Van Buren’s heterosexuality, but we don’t celebrate them.

In the typical fashion of celebrating idiocy, it is important to note that Congress designated not only the name of Washington’s Birthday but the third Monday of February. Since George’s Birthday is actually on the 22nd, that means that the Federal Holiday Washington’s Birthday can never be celebrated on George’s actual birthday.

Not to be outdone in stupidity, fellow residents of Alabama can celebrate the State Holiday rather than the Federal Holiday. It still isn’t named after a sale, but the State of Alabama celebrates George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s Birthdays on the third Monday of February. Only reason I can figure that out is that TJ’s bday (13 Apr) is too close to Confederate Memorial Day, in itself an ironic celebration since Memorial Day itself began to commemorate the dead from the War of Northern Aggression.

So, enjoy your day off if you have one. Buy yourself something at any one of the myriad President’s Day Sales, but celebrate Washington’s Birthday.

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NOT President’s Day