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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Seventeen Years of Daily Pain

It may have been there all along. Festering like a half-eaten Twinkie in an open wrapper dropped behind the counter on the way out the door for a month-long vacation. But the last month-long vacation I had was in 1996. When it all really started.

For years I hated it. So badly I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies. I once found myself envious of Fred Flinstone. Fred could stand all day long barefoot. He could power his car manually, stand at the quarry on his brontosaurus excavator, all without pain. When you find yourself envying a cartoon’s ability to do more than you, there’s a clear sign of an issue.

Even today when I’m forced to stop and sit I don’t feel like an injured person in pain, I feel like I appear to be a perfectly healthy individual who is just lazy and doesn’t want to work. And no matter who knows it or understands it, it doesn’t go away.

Others with chronic pain may feel different, but I know I’m not unique. Occasionally someone will ask me why I don’t try certain fixes. Truth is, I’ve tried most. Others say they wouldn’t stop trying, they wouldn’t hold off on a potential fix. But by not trying everything there’s something left to try. What if it does work? Then yes, the pain would be gone. But what if it doesn’t work? Hope is not a course of action, but without it you can’t try anything. Trying everything means that there’s nothing left to try. And if nothing works, there is no hope something can.

Yes it’s pessimistic and unlike me. The glass is not half full, it’s not half empty, it’s not half empty with a hole in the bottom and leaking. The engineer answer may be that it’s twice the capacity it needs to be. The glass is always completely full. It’s half full of liquid, half full of air, but always full. Trying it all means nothing left in the tank to try.

Faith works not by being able to prove the faith was well founded and deserved. Faith works by trusting that there is an answer.

The diagnosis in 97 was plantar fascitis. By 98 I was out of the army and able to get a podiatrist to explain it was bursitis. Often misdiagnosed according to her. Then she moved to a place called Pell City and I got another doctor. One of the best in Birmingham. He took care of me and my custom-made insoles personally, not someone on his staff. We shared symptoms. We shared solutions. We had matching custom-made insoles. Brothers in feet as it were.

When I first met him I gave him two instructions: never give me a remedy that would cause me to need another remedy to fix the side-effects of the first remedy, and we weren’t going to use steroids. It took four years before we broke the second rule.

Steroids are a nearly fool-proof way to fix the issue, but it runs a greater risk of breaking the first rule. But they worked for this fool. The pain of getting the shots were far greater than the pain in my feet. But for all its intensity, it was brief. That pain ended quickly. Then I walked around on unfeeling feet like they were asleep for a few hours. Then, I got a break.

For two weeks I had no pain in my feet. No daily hurt. No limping. No work through it. No ignore it and hope it goes away. No pain. After five years of daily pain, there was none.

Then it began again.

Another three years and I finally got a regular doctor. This doc once gave me a prescription–handwritten on his prescription pad–that told me to smile. It was a doctor’s order for me to be happy. This is the same guy that didn’t laugh or think it the least bit funny when I asked if his telling me I had very low cholestorol meant I needed to eat more red meat and fried foods. I digress but you knew I would.

My regular doctor told me he thought my problems were nerves. He gave me a pill that I swear the pharmacutical companies tried on everything. And it gave me the most severe case of medicine head I have ever had. For the first week if I shut my eyes I fell asleep. I never felt awake. For two weeks my feet again felt no daily pain, but to be honest, I’m not sure it hurt to take things out of the oven without mits either. I could feel nothing except that I was detached from myself.

I went back to the doctor and said take these pills and shove them. I gave him back the pills, not figuratively, I physically handed him the bottle and said, “It worked, but I’m too young to take a pill every day for the rest of my life and if it makes me feel like that I wouldn’t do it anyway.”

So I went back to taking the pill of daily foot pain again.

Three more years, a full decade of going to my podiatrist and he finally admited (as he gave me my second shot of steroids) that it was both plantar fascitis and bursitis. Then he told me to take non-steroidal anti-inflammmatory drugs morning, noon and night, whether I felt pain or not. This time the steroids wore off in a week. Not because they were less potent but because I didn’t quit what caused the pain.

There is no pattern to when or where my feet will hurt. Though there are some things I can do that I know will make them hurt. Why would I knowingly do something that will cause me pain? Because I have to. They are things like stand around and talk. Sometimes it’s on a job site, sometimes its waiting in line for a table, or a meal, or a prescription to be filled. Sometimes it’s working on the roof, or in the yard, or moving someone. Placing a concrete driveway, building a house, putting up a swingset, cutting the grass, pressure washing the drive, these things don’t do themselves and whether they’re done for me, by me, or for a friend, something must be done.

This time, I had to work. The staff I had did not cut it. Failure was not an option and since they weren’t doing it I had to. Yes I should have better motivated them, or fired them, but they were civil servants used to not having to do anything they didn’t want to do. There’s more to it than that, but I had to keep walking up and down the miles of roads I was paving to insure they didn’t need to be paved again. So the third vacation from pain lasted only a week.

Then another pain developed. Abdominal. I got a new doctor, a real asshole doctor. This guy got pissed at his partners when someone changed the automated answering machine and he wasn’t the doctor you got when you pressed the number one. I’m not even sure his wife liked him. This guy was an arrogant prick. One of his former staff warned me I wouldn’t like him. But he was good. And I liked him. We hit it off great because I showed him in the first meeting that he wasn’t going to talk all doctory to me. He wasn’t going to sound intelligent, whatever he said I would dissect, digest, and regurgitate. I trumped his fifty-cent words and got his mutual respect. There was no typical Frosina Doctor/Patient talking down. We were equals. A few years later we spent more time talking about the Kobiyashi Maru and how it related to my four decade physical then the actual physical, but this was the beginning of the dance. Although, I am a Baptist. A Southern Baptist. We don’t dance. The Catholic doctor didn’t dance with me either. He was stumped. No clue as to what caused the pain.

When next I visited my podiatrist I told him of my dance with Dr Dick. In an off-handed manner he mentioned it was probably the NSAIDs. That sugar-pill of a pain reliever I had had a prescription for for over a decade. That he had told me to take three times daily regardless. He broke my first rule. Sometimes when someone gets mad at another person they sulkily end the relationship without revealing why. I did not do that, though he did not know I was ending the relationship. In stern voice I told him that for 10 years I had instructed him ont to give me a “fix” that would cause me to need another fix and after leaving that appointment have not been back to him.

I also left the world of pain pills. Well, pretty much medicine altogether. Not doctors though.

In my five years without a podiatrist my feet still hurt. They have been hurting me since before I started writing even though I’ve been off of them all night long. I did find another doctor, this one not only laughed but when I asked him if his telling me I had very low cholesterol meant I needed to eat more red meat and fried foods he said emphatically, “Yes!” So now every piece of fried chicken is doctor’s orders. But I haven’t yet gotten a new podiatrist.

Five weeks out of seventeen years is not a long time. That’s all I have had relief from my daily foot pain. But the other thing I gained has caused as much pain and consternation without a five week absence.

My daily foot pain began on 23 May 1997 while I waited for the birth of my M. The next day, at 1208 PDT she arrived. Like the Grinch, my heart grew that day and has never shrunk. I’ve worried I could be a good father, I’ve worried she might not make it, I’ve feared her falling, but I have seen her soar. I watched a failed attempt at flying like the PowerPuff Girls, and I’ve watche the Princess fail to sleep atop a pea. Tears well to my eyes whether it’s The Color of the Wind or a desire to Let it Snow. I can’t let those tears Rain on My Parade, but holy larynxes, that girl has some pipes in her.

I will never cease to fear where she may tread but I will be forever proud of every step she makes. Foot pain may come and foot pain may go, but the pain of being a father outweighs it all. Because this pain has a face. This pain is a joy. The pain of being a Dad is immensely offset by being a Dad.

I love you, Emma Byrd. No man will ever be good enough for you, no pedestal high enough, and no eighteen hundred and sixty word essay long enough to describe the joy you bring.

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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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