Category Archives: veteran

Keep Going

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This might be one of the “biking as writing” or “writing as biking” posts. More likely, it’s gonna more proof that you’re never too old to do stupid shit.

The end of November didn’t suck, though the potential for major suckage stank up the place. The Bride was bouncing back from not one, but two bouts of strep throat, and the day job had me pinging off the walls. The Saturday before Turkey Day had me 28+K words shy of the needed 50K words to win Nanowrimo. There was lots of Real Life going on inside and outside the house, yet somehow…

Maybe I was having a letdown this morning from the stress, but The Bride got me a Trek Marlin 7 as an early Christmas present, so time to boo-yah some trails. (Hey, I’m a veteran. We can use military slang without understanding the correct context. We’re cute that way.)

Here’s where the “stupid poo-poo” thing sneaks in. It snowed yesterday. The dirt trails were snowy and wet, so they were (follow the logic here) muddy as hell. To multiply the “stupid ca-ca” thing, my spiffy new bike does not have wheel guards or fenders, so (more logic follows) I got muddy from the spin of the wheels. Hey, Mom, I’m a mudder now!

No, I did not have to get muddy and, yes, my pretty new bike is not pretty now, but darn it, I can’t remember the last time that five miles of hard work felt so good. This morning’s ride could be a metaphor for that last week of Nanowrimo: the long, hard slog in the mud. But the followers of this blog (both of you) are the smartest readers in the world and you already figured it out.

While I have your attention, I will mention ASIN continues to be read and bought, making it my most successful book. “Success” is relative, as Mr. King sells more books in a second than I have in my life, but I’m pleased as punch. For those of you who use Goodreads, my profile is updated and I’m posting short reviews of the books in my life. More about GR in the next post.

Time to gird the old loins now and try to hit the daily writing goal while watching truly awful Raiders/49ers football. Y’all be good to each other. Mostly, be kind. And if you’re having any small or large crisis in faith or confidence, gimme a shout-out because I believe in you. Take care.

 

John McCain

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If you’re looking for a Victor Hugo script in the 21st Century, the current Washington DC administration has plenty of fodder for your keyboard. Anger, controversy, foreign intrigue, indictments, convictions: this White House has it all and more. Good people everywhere are pushing back in their own ways to make their points. There doesn’t seem to be middle ground, as you’re either with the President or resisting. Along those lines, the Resistance has its martyr now, and it’s the same man who helped make his party into what it is today.

Unless you buried your head in the sand, you know John McCain was honored September 1st at the grandest meeting of the Resistance since 45 was inaugurated, as noted in the New Yorker. Former Presidents, the Senator’s daughter, and other speakers made pointed personal remarks about the character and behavior to the current White House occupant. Senator McCain found the President’s behavior repugnant to the point that Mr. Trump was not invited to the Washington National Cathedral, three and half miles from the Oval Office (Mr. Trump was at his Virginia golf club, anyway).

Also uninvited was Mr. McCain’s running mate from his 2008 presidential campaign, former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. Her rise to a national stage was one of the key factors in the rise of the Tea Party Republicans, though not certainly the first, last, or most important factor. Her nomination as her party’s standard bearer helped validate and empower thousands of Palins across the country. While some of their extremism is out of fashion, the impact of these vocal ultra-conservatives continues to resonate through the halls of Congress. From the cheap seats where I sit, the momentum created in 2008 played a key factor in Donald Trump’s election in 2016. This version of the Trump-oriented Grand Ol’ Party may not be of Mr. McCain’s choosing, but he certainly had a hand in its creation.

Whatever your opinion of Senator McCain, and it seems very few people sit in the center between the extremes between love and hate, his carefully orchestrated memorial service paid appropriate homage to a complex man who loved his country and helped make his party into the what it is today. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you.

Patriot

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[“Glances at History (suppressed.) Date, 9th century,” from a manuscript in the Mark Twain Papers at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California. (second source)]

I pray you to pause and consider. Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object–robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician’s trick–a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor–none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, “Our Country, right or wrong,” and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?

For in a republic, who is “the Country”? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant–merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is “the Country”? Is it the newspaper? is it the pulpit? is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.

Who are the thousand–that is to say, who are “the Country”? In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country–hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Only when a republic’s life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time.

This Republic’s life is not in peril. The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands. The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: “Even if the war be wrong we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor.” Why, not even a burglar could have said it better. We cannot withdraw from this sordid raid because to grant peace to those little people on their terms–independence–would dishonor us. You have flung away Adam’s phrase–you should take it up and examine it again. He said, “An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.”

You have planted a seed, and it will grow.

 

Civil Servant

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orgchart

Today is my tenth anniversary with my State agency, the longest I’ve worked at one address in my career, and I’ve been a government worker at the federal and state level since I was twenty, aside from a couple of years in private industry. Like any job, there’s been an equal share of highs and lows, and I’ve been lucky to work with the very best at what they do. Here’s some perceptions from this civil servant that may get missed by the general public.

Everyone hates the government… I’m not judging because that’s human nature. Most of us hate being told what to do or being shoved in a cattle chute to pay our car registration fees. We don’t want The Man to tell us what not to do, and we certainly don’t want to pay taxes to have them misused. We Nevadans have this extra special feeling for Uncle Sam, being pinched between the Sagebrush Rebellion and the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.

Until we need the government. Ah, yes. The Paradox of Governance. We want the government when it’s time to defend our family (the police and military), pave the roads (DMV and the highway department), protect and educate our children (CPS and schools), provide elder medical care (Medicare), and so on and so forth. This stuff ain’t cheap, so…

Taxes. Probably the biggest gripe is how the government misspends tax money, and it’s not an unfair perception. We all have our favorite stories (like the million-dollar toilet seat), but here’s the thing: the government doesn’t go out of its way to screw up like that. We know we’re protectors of someone else’s money. The reality is when we’re spending tax money, we’re doing what we’re told to do by the laws governing the program. If you don’t like what we’re doing, call your congressman or legislator.

We’re at our best when the shit hits the fan. I’ve seen dozens of crises of various levels, and we get through these emergencies because we are expert problem solvers with the minimum available resources. It’s not by accident. We’re always working to improve methodologies, procedures and laws so we’re ready the next time the flag goes up.

The single government office that can make or break an agency. Nope, it’s not the political leadership or the money people or those who set policy. It’s Human Resources. I’ve been fortunate to work for a government unit whose HR office was a positive force, using rules and regulations as tools to recruit and retain the best in the business. That’s an empowering feeling, knowing your HR works for you. When your HR department loses touch with common sense, and they prioritize regulations over everything else, offices cannot hire and keep good people. That’s a morale killer.

The old saying goes, “If I knew then what I know now…”. Would I do this government thing again? Depends on time of day you ask me, I suppose. I’ve been very lucky to work with some of the people that I’d not know otherwise, and have been enriched and blessed. For now, I know your government is actually working, and it’s working for you. We may not have the flash or the national spotlight like some industries, and I’m fine with that. I know we’ve done our job right when you don’t read about us in the newspaper.

Chapter 11

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bomber

Posting a day early because who knows what tomorrow may bring? I should touch on the 75th anniversary of the Day of Infamy, but it seems rather small to push a book on a day when many are solemn in joined remembrance of lives lost across the Pacific. Even so, please forgive my family’s small story related to those days.

For most of the Eighties, we were stationed at Offutt AFB south of Omaha, Nebraska, and my military unit was housed in Building D, a humongous edifice on the west side of the base. It was old and well-used by the time I started there, and many might call it a aging heap of i-beams and oils, but entering the doors was a step into the past. While much was modernized, many fixtures remained from the 1940s, and you could easily visualize workers assembling the tools of freedom.

We left Building D behind in 1988, never to return, that former Martin Bomber Plant and the ghostly manufacturing assembly lines of the B-29 Superfortress. The most famous B-29 was, of course, the Enola Gay. Built yards from where I used to work, its crew dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. We departed Building D and Offutt AFB with orders for Tokyo, Japan, leaving on December 7th.

As for Chapter 11, the yo-yo of an exisitence we call Emma’s life continues. Just when things should be better, another life-changing experience wakes from a deep slumber. Here you go.

Picture source: Library of Congress

Wait Until This Year

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cubs-tshirt

This was not supposed be this week’s blog post, or next week’s, or even in my lifetime. Never imagined this could happen: winning. Any kind of winning, for that matter.

A child growing up in Nevada in the Sixties and Seventies faced challenges. All kids do, but the Silver State in those days was extra “special.” It was not diverse, to say the least. If newcomers were anything but white, and we were all newcomers, it probably took hours for people to learn Nevada was rightfully called “The Biloxi of the West” (truth: my graduating class on 430+ had one African American). The K-12 education system got by economically with the few bread crusts thrown from the local table (re: casinos). Someone who looked like me was a frequent playground target, what with the glasses (“four-eyes”) and weighing less than a hundred pounds up until high school.

Yeah, there was not a lot of winning for someone who looked like me in those days. My high school teams sucked eggs and were mere toys for the Washoe County Schools to the north, save for flashes of glory. I didn’t follow pro or college sports, though I admired Muhammad Ali while he danced in the spotlight. There was a brief fling with the Yankees, which I admit was a bandwagon thing during their Seventies glory days.

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Home is where the Heart is

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Cassidy Carson’s and my children, who we lovingly refer to as The Next Generation, were speaking to each other on how to dispose of their parents’ aged carcasses the other day. I say this jokingly because, in all seriousness, it is a discussion that parents and children should have with each other. We all strive to reach “that” age, and yours and our children will deal with an unenviable and inevitable burden: what to do with the old coots when we can’t go to the bathroom by ourselves? (Answer: Depends.)

For myself, I hadn’t given the subject much thought other than a dream a few years ago (more about it later), so it’s only fair that I leave some instructions while I’ve two brain cells to rub together.

First off, I want lots of medication and as many narcotics that can be injected into this frail elderly man without me kicking the bucket. I want that deep stupor that comes with legal prescriptions so I’m free of a body that refuses simple commands like “walk”, “stand”, and “don’t fall down.”

In this state, I’ll dream of far gone days when I was a young Airman in a crisp blue uniform, marveling at my beautiful wife, and holding one of my beautiful young daughters as she looks up at me with the eyes full of wonder. In my dreams, the sun will be bright, the air will be clear, and I’ll be able to see my whole future ahead. It will be beautiful and I will not want to wake up.

For the brief moments I am conscious, please feed me real food that hasn’t been frozen, microwaved, hydrogenated, or whatever they do in nursing homes in the far flung future. If you must give me reconstituted meals, it will remind me of other days gone by, when many warm meals I had as an elementary school child were frozen, tin-foiled concoctions.

These “TV dinners” were baked at 350 degrees for a few minutes, then voila! The perfect meal! We tried not to wonder what part of the cow is a “Salisbury steak.” Instead, we were thankful when the green beans were thoroughly cooked, that the mashed potatoes didn’t overflow their little corner tray too much, and the cherry cobblers didn’t scald our tongues for life.

I suppose this is an unreasonable request because nursing homes have always cooked food with an eye on the price first and nutrition second. Even so, please get me real food once in a while. I’d rather not spend my last few years eating frozen microwave dinners.

Lastly, I want to be cremated. My body is a hand-me-down, you know, the sum of parts from the world and the universe. Some of the salt in my blood once flowed beneath the oceans I sailed when I was nine. This flesh is borrowed from various farm animals who sedately ate soft grass under an open sky. The ideas that lent themselves to this blog, my books, and other writing came from giants in literature to whom I am but a humble servant. The fastest way to return this old hand-me-down is to drop my ashes into the sea where at least a small part was once home.

I don’t know yet what Cassidy wants for her last moments but I dreamt it once, maybe. We were in an old folks home and, for some reason, did not share a room. I sort of waddled in next to her bed and she complained that I’d taken too long to get there. She blamed my tardiness on my personality, as she does, accusing me of flirting with the nurses. I paid her no mind and gently crawled into bed next to her, smiling as she blathered on and feeling warmed by her arm around me. I fell asleep in the dream, happy to be home, which is wherever she is. As I get older, I want more dreams like that.

Milestones

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When it comes to Life, it’s not the date on the calendar, but the memories and milestones that make us what we are. The memories are unique to each of us, but the milestones are fairly common: leaving school, getting married, having your first (second and third) kid, the first real job, and so on. These give us a common ground and help us form a society and culture.

Every military veteran knows one milestone: the first time we raised our right hand and agreed to obey the legal orders of those above us. During our time, the military constantly reminds us of this day because there’s many administrative details tied to this day and your days of promotion, most of them unimportant (except for the pay raises).

On this day, the anniversary of the first day I raised my right hand, I look back at the boy in Oakland who was desperate to leave his hick town (to where he eventually returned) and start a new life. Along the way, he picked up a family, training and experience that helped shape him into a man.

Somewhere today in this great country, there are dozens of kids raising their right hand like I did. They’re about to experience something so far outside their imagination, they’ll never be able to return to the person they were as teenagers. Most of their time in uniform will be good times. They’ll meet the best America has to offer, travel to lands where they can make a good difference, and learn that the best citizen of any nation is one that thinks of others first.

In doing so, they will become the best America has to offer.

To my fellow Airmen and our colleagues in the uniformed services: Thank You for Your Service to Our Country and Our World.

Airmen participate in the Las Vegas Veterans Day Parade