Did He Stutter?

While I haven’t watched much television over the course of the last year, one of my favorite shows of all to watch is Modern Family. My kids think I’m Phil Dunphy, funny enough I think they’re the Dunphy kids, and my wife is hotter than Claire (and now blonde, too). For the longest time I didn’t like to admit I watched the show because of Mitch and Cameron.

It was the fact that it was a homosexual couple on television. Enough to bristle my Christian upbringing. Then I realized it didn’t matter, the show is freaking hilarious (We are animal lovers!) and it has a great cast. The increasing number of TV shows with homosexuals in it is a bit of a sign of the times. Like the ever-present trope against gun ownership, it is just something that those who write include and believe that everyone should accept and enjoy. Social correctness overwhelming things is the norm, so that’s fine. However, I looked and decided that I don’t like the show because of Mitch and Cameron.

It was the fact that it was a homosexual couple on television acting in the stereotypical way that non-homosexuals believe that all homosexuals act. Ever gay man on the show is an over the top flaming homosexual. There are no “normal” gay men on the show. Flipping the channels doesn’t help much. I have yet to see a calm, normal homosexual man portrayed on television that does absolutely nothing to set off your internal, automatic gaydar. Not one.

My dislike for this stereotype is the same as my dislike for any stereotype. The writers, directors, and producers of the small screen only show us this side, yet there are homosexuals that don’t exude their homosexuality out of every pore. They don’t all force their orientation down your throat, except on television. It’s like portraying characters in blackface in the early part of last century. It isn’t a sign of true acceptance. It’s a parody of acceptance and I don’t like it.

It is like the way plantation owners used to treat the poor white people in the early 19th century. They would invite them to their parties, call them crackers and put them down both to their faces and in front of their other rich white friends. And the poor whites would accept it. They laughed it off and felt loved because the rich guy noticed them, they were validated by the attention without realizing the irony of simply being put in their places.

I don’t like homosexuality. It is a sin. It is the same sin as pre-martial fornication. It is exactly the same as adultery. But I love lots of homosexuals. When Jesus said to love others as yourself he didn’t stutter. He never said, only if they’re like you. He didn’t say if they’re your race, your age, your nationality. He didn’t say love them unless they’re Jews. He didn’t say love them if they love my Dad. He didn’t say except at all. He just said love them. Period, no qualifications, no exceptions, no ambiguities. He didn’t say love everyone except those that made bad choices, aren’t your political persuasion, or if they don’t love you back. Not a bit of vagueness in what he said. He said it more clearly than “don’t hate others because they sin differently than you.” More succinctly then “hate the sin love the sinner,” He just said love others as yourself.

At a ceremony earlier, one of the military guys I have been serving with here in Afghanistan received his end of tour award. The normal pattern is for the supervisor to speak, then the award is announced, followed by the awardee getting a few minutes to speak. While he had been planning on retiring as soon as he left, Dan recently was selected for promotion and will be staying in the reserves a little longer. As a part of his farewell he revealed that he had almost retired about 12 years ago but a trusted friend told him he wasn’t ready. Clearly he was right, but what Dan had never revealed to anyone before was what he couldn’t have revealed without being involuntarily retired. The man who counseled him to not retire was, and is, his husband.

Afterwords, I shook his hand and told him that no matter what army he served in that what he did took balls and not that I didn’t respect him before but I respected him even more now.

Dan hasn’t been portrayed on a television show. Men like Dan haven’t been portrayed on television. Maybe one day he will. When he is it could be a sign that rather than the farcical acceptance predicated now that we live in a world more like Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about.

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Waves

An object in motion remains in motion unless acted on by an outside force that causes it to change. Waves are perfect examples of this.

I don’t mean the WAVEs of WWII, though they are also an example as they began their service then and through evolution, integration, and upgrades have become a part of military life. This is but a ripple effect of what I mean.

Waves in the ocean rise and fall depending on their proximity to land. A tsunami created by an earthquake may barely raise an ocean-going vessel an inch yet be several feet high when their proximity to the bottom of the ocean decreases and they reach the shore. Once the shore, an opposing force that changes the direction of the wave, is met, the wave returns to where it came if not whence. Depending on the power and intensity of the wave it may take more interaction with the opposing force to stop and turn around. At that point it has itself lost some of its intensity. The wave, properly admonished, returns to the sea where the vastness of the ocean proceeds to further erode its strength.

Until, one day, it again meets the shore. An opposite shore this time, yet still an opposing force. A force that changes the wave’s direction yet again. The next time you stand on the beach and see a wave come ashore recall that it may have once been a giant.

Simple waves make simple harmonic motion. And at times men can be in tuned with that simple harmonic motion. As the wave comes across a reef, or a sand bar, or any number of other obstacles it rises out of the water. It rises above its surroundings. It becomes a wave worth riding.

Centuries ago someone devised a board that would enable man to feel the power, ride the lightning, experience the thrill of being one with the wave. It isn’t just a desire of man to surf, the surf demands it. The wave wants to be ridden. The wave wants to be experienced in all its intensity, its power, its joy.

Some waves become a pipeline. Crashing over itself making a tunnel of water. Many times I have watched surfers ride the pipeline and many times I have seen them wipe out. But on that rare occasion when the man, the board, and the wave become so in tuned with one another’s harmonic frequency, the surfer finds the slot, the spot, and the line that allows the surfer to shoot from the end of the tube and back into the open air. It is a scene of immense power, that stirs the heart, even if you have never surfed before. I know because I have never surfed the ocean, or any body of water and yet felt the thrill of seeing the emergence.

When someone finds that sweet spot and perfect line the poetry and grandiose choreography of the wave starting to win, no way for the surfer to emerge, certain failure in the face of overwhelming odds, and then from the like a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory with a spurt of unseen speed and grace it happens. You might think you’d see the board first, a precursor to what is going to come along, but you don’t. Ever fiber knows that any second you will see the wipeout of a lifetime instead the surfer, one with the board and wave, appears and escapes the inevitable fiasco with a nonchalance that screams that failure was never an option, the furthest thing from his mind.

It’s all possible because of the danger, and the proximity to the bottom. You can only surf in the shallower water near the shore. The closer in, the higher the wave. The more intense the wave. The riskier the wave. The more phenomenal the end scene as the surfer shoots successfully out of the wave.
The surfer wants it. The wave wants it.

At every point there is a moment of truth when neither knows which will win. But the wave goes on. As does the surfer.

Respect comes in knowing you’re not as big as the wave. It also comes from being bigger than the wave. It isn’t about the respect, it’s about the journey.

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Compliments

A common perception about Department of the Army Civilians that deploy is that we only do it for the money. We take the money, sure, sometimes we even deploy for it, but doing it for the money isn’t the only reason. Some do it for a chance to do something different, some for a promotion. These three working in conjunction with one another means that we get a lot of park rangers and lock operators to be Resident Engineers.

This isn’t to say that park rangers, lock operators, and welders can’t be good engineers. Not to say they can’t work outside their everyday lane, just that sometimes they bite off more than they can chew. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Some of the mess that we have created in Afghanistan is because of that reason. Some of the mess is because we have failed to follow the Corps process. Some of the mess is trying to get those failures back on track. This isn’t trying to be bitter about the mistakes, just to indicate that there are challenges above and beyond just the work and the enviroment that have to be overcome.

The money skews it. Coming over for the money is fine, but if you stay, or only do it for the money, it shows. And everyone gets a black eye for it.

There are a lot of people who can’t deploy. Maybe they have medical reasons, maybe they have family problems, single parents, any number of reasons someone may not be able to pack things up and go to live in a conex box surrounded by concrete barriers and concertina wire with armed guards all around and the occasional rocket, indirect fire, or ground attack alarm going off. They feel like they’re left holding the rope back home. While we’re over here earning big bucks, they have to do their work and ours too. Not necessarily always the case, but sometimes painfully true.

Working 7 days a week is tough. Working 10 or 11 hour days is hard. I find that working only 11 hours a day is harder and at the end of that day there is often still more on my plate than I started the day with even though I knocked things off the list. Often I don’t know what day of the week it is, or what the date is unless I really think about it. A week in Afghanistan seems like a month. A month is interminably long. And yet there are those back home that would say it doesn’t count. Time in a deployed environment, experience gained during deployment doesn’t count for anything. This harkens back to the park ranger Resident Engineers who set things back more than moved them forward.

Over the course of my time so far I have been made responsible for projects that total over $1.3 billion dollars. Under my watch my staff and I have made payments totaling over $175 million on those projects. The money we have earned for the Corps of Engineers to pay their (and our) bills is over $18 million. I have made 47 contract modifications that have added over $6 million to those projects. Maybe not so impressive until you realize I can only do it in increments of $500,000 per modification and most are less than $200k. I have networked and met people from all over the world especially the States. I only partially joke that my goal is to stop and friends houses and get a free lunch from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

I came into this adventure with my eyes wide open. Not because I saw it all but because I wanted to see it all. I didn’t know what exactly I was getting in to, and still may not know it all. Those that came before me for the money, or the promotion, just to get their high three, did sour the pot. Not only did they make more work for those that followed, but they have made those that can’t deploy think that the time spent deployed doesn’t count, it isn’t real, the experience is less than what would be had back home. I didn’t see any of that before I left home.

Last night as I talked with my right hand man, another friend of ours (from AZ and WA respectively when it comes time for lunch) came up and shared something with us. He too has seen the wastes, the bad stuff. He’s seen all the bad that has been done and people who don’t care about the job they’ve done. In his line of work, he seeks out whatever is going on, be it good bad or indifferent. It’s his job to find the stuff no one wants to see, sometimes even him. Yet what Bill told us was that he had also seen the way we work, John and I. Our dedication, our committment, our desire to do what is right for the Corps, for the projects, and for Afghanistan has renewed his faith in the Corps and what we do.

The experience I have had so far has been everything I expected and hoped it would be even if there are those who don’t think it counts. I don’t do it (just) for the money. I don’t do it for the glory, that appears to be fleeting anyway. I don’t do it for the pats on the back. Neither does my right hand man. We do it because it’s right. It’s what needs to be done. It’s the only way to do it.

We don’t do it so that someone will take notice or thank us. But when someone does, it means that much more. Thank you, Bill. Knowing someone can see what we do makes a difference. It makes it worth doing.

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Falling

It’s weird that in an endeavour I entered with the intent of documenting as much as I could that I have fallen off so badly as to not keep up with it. Not that that has anything to do with the title of this entry. I’m listening to the one studio cut The Frequently made, Falling.

I just returned from giving one of my guys a ride to the passenger terminal where he’s headed back up to Herat and on the way back I saw a female Specialist standing on the side of the road with a long rifle (there are still M16s over here, but most have M4s and I didn’t stare long enough to identify the difference), waiting on a bus. It brought to mind an incident back in July when I was walking down the opposite side of the street from another female Specialist with long rifle waiting on a bus. I was with Pat, a Lieutenant Colonel in the National Guard He commented that he wanted to take a picture of her to send to his daughter to encourage her to stay in school, get a degree, and not end up in a war zone in the Army. A sound sentiment ironically multiplied by the fact that between the two of us we had five degrees and we were walking down the side of the street in a war zone. Maybe he just meant that we weren’t waiting on the bus?

I rode the bus once here, it didn’t take me where I wanted to go, or where I needed to go either. After a half hour I got off the bus about 200 meters from where I got on the bus. But the circuitous route to nowhere isn’t the point here.
His sentiment, while a bit misplaced, was sound. It stems from desiring better for our children than we have for ourselves. While I sit in a room in Kandahar with four pieces of parchment on the wall, licensed as a professional engineer in two states, have an Administrative Contracting Officer’s Warrant that enables me to commit the US Government to spend money, and sign all my correspondence with at least 2 of my 6 pretentious initials, I intend to use all of my superpowers for the good of bettering the lives of my family.

Having said that was no intent to slight my wife’s role in any of this. I would not be the man I am today were it not for her and her support. She held the rope for a very long time while I went to school to get those degrees, the warrant, and the licenses. She continues to hold the rope as I have told her multiple times her part in this Afghanistan adventure is harder than mine. All I have to do is go to a war zone and work seven days a week. She has to stay home and manage the family, the house, the vehicles, and everything else. Luckily for me those are her superpowers.

Whenever I hear, or see, my children take for granted the things they have I feel at once angry and satisfied. Satisfied that they don’t know what it took to get it for them. And angry that they don’t know what it may be like to stand on a dusty road in a war zone with a rifle waiting on a bus that goes around in circles and never really goes anywhere.

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TBOC

So my beard may be getting a little on the full side. I’m again starting to look a little like Yukon Jack (the handlebars help of course).

At the Boardwalk two nights ago when I ordered a pepperoni pizza the cashier said, with a serious face, “Our pepperoni has pork in it.”

As you may imagine, my response was delivered with equally straight face, “It better. I also like pork in my bacon and also in my ham.”

Being a member of the Tactical Beard Owner’s Club must make me look like a non pork eater.