Thursday, July 31, 2008

We're back

The One Percenters were in Boston the last few days celebrating the wedding of my niece Jessie, the only girl born into our family line since July 21, 1861. It was quite the affair and we had a great time.

I was within a whisker of Infantrydad's place. But we both agreed to try the lobster dinner I owe him later when family activities weren't so jammed packed. His son was still home on block leave. Besides the FDA issued some type of alert on Maine lobster anyway.

Been hearing some rumbling about Afghanistan. More on that later.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Desert weather report

Sand, sand and more sand. These are from a friend of ours whose son is somewhere in Iraq with the Marines.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Off topic: Living in paradise

There are a lot of things we like about living in Florida:

The Atlantic Ocean

Youngest son Jon losing it in the surf
Photo from The Florida Times-Union

Spectacular vistas

Jacksonville Beach sunrise
Photo by Mike M.

Working outdoors

Oldest son Mike, soon to be a biologist, in the background checking a monitoring device.
Photo from A-1, The Florida Times-Union

Zany wildlife

White ibises doing the neighbor's yard work
Photo by Mark M.

But there are some things we don't like:

July heat

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tropical weather

Hurricane Wilma, Deerfield Beach
Photo by Mike M.

For more Florida photos, see La Florida
a photo blog that Mike and I, with a friend, manage

DoD casualty list

from last week's attack in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan:

he Department of Defense announced today [Wednesday] the death of nine soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. They died of wounds suffered when their outpost was attacked by small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades from enemy forces in Wanat, Afghanistan, on July 13. They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503d Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Vicenza, Italy.

Killed were:

1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, 24, of Hawaii.

Sgt. Israel Garcia, 24, of Long Beach, Calif.

Cpl. Jonathan R. Ayers, 24, of Snellville, Ga.

Cpl. Jason M. Bogar, 25, of Seattle, Wash.

Cpl. Jason D. Hovater, 24, of Clinton, Tenn.

Cpl. Matthew B. Phillips, 27, of Jasper, Ga.

Cpl. Pruitt A. Rainey, 22, of Haw River, N.C.

Cpl. Gunnar W. Zwilling, 20, of Florissant, Mo.

Pfc. Sergio S. Abad, 21, of Morganfield, Ky.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Just another Sunday

Our twenty-something neighbors cranked up a three-kegger Sunday. Started at noon and ran until about 10 p.m. with a rousing chorus of happy birthday to Julie, who turned 21. There were so many people at the party, the sheriff's department came and had everyone move their cars because emergency vehicles couldn't get through the street.

Just another Sunday.

Down the street, one of our neighbors was having a baby shower. We've never met them but they are part of the wave of youngsters moving into our neighborhood just like we did 25 years ago. Looked like about 30 - 40 people attended.

Just another Sunday.

One block over, the bunko ladies were having a birthday party for one of their members. It was quite the affair. Gayle escaped early before any serious damage was done.

Just another Sunday.

And the media briefly reported that nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 15 others injured when Al-Qaeda and the Taliban breached an FOB in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. It was one of the worst American losses since the Afghanistan war began. It stayed on the main web page of most of the MSM for a while but drifted down as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae became the story of the day. Not a peep since then except for a story in USA Today yesterday.

Just another Sunday.

The Korengal Valley has been one of the deadliest places for American troops in either war. It has received a passing mention in the New York Times and Vanity Fair but, as with virtually everything that has to do with "the Other War," it has received very little coverage. The 10th Mountain Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade has persevered under the most trying of circumstances facing a persistent and well-organized enemy.

It was not just another Sunday.

Just ask Michael Bogar. His son Jason was one of the nine who died in the attack.

Our hearts and prayers are with the family.

There is a blog thread over at Any Soldier about the Korengal Valley. Click on from newest to oldest to see the most recent post.

Monday, July 14, 2008


In today's Washington Post, Warren Zinn writes about the Army medic he photographed early in the war and the eventual death of the medic himself. You can read about it here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Unfotunate juxtaposition

You can click on the image to see it better

The story about the "9 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Attack in Afghanistan" on the NY Times website today unfortunately was adjacent to a large ad for "Generation Kill", the HBO 7-part miniseries about the war. I cringed when I saw that especially for the families are waiting for the knock on the door.

Last week, CNN ran a story about a woman who had died at a hospital as employees stood idly by.
In the story there was a box that said:

"Don't Miss
  • Tape shows woman dying on the waiting room floor."

Doesn't anybody look at the product they are producing?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Coping strategies, v. 2


Last fall , I wrote about some of things that helped us get through our son's deployment. Of course, our first strategy was tending to our young border collie Olustee, now three. BC's are very busy and as a result, we are too. She is always good for a Frisbee romp and that would force me off the computer and away from the Internet.

Golden thrysallis

Swamp hibiscus



Mallow hibiscus

I also decided I needed a hobby. I was a work-addicted soul who spent off hours on the Internet reading about Iraq while imbibing on adult beverages. Plus our kids had been our hobby for nearly 25 years and our youngest is now a teenager (with a driver's license), so we needed something to do.

We ripped apart the backyard and planted a container butterfly garden. It sounds silly but gardening is kind of a mindless activity. It's in its second year and we have most of the common varieties of butterflies found in North Florida. Plus the butterflies give us something to look at when we sit outside with our adult beverages.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Military Support Group

Our good friend Madeleine Tavares, the leader of our local military support group, has a piece on the op-ed page in USA Today. She presents an aspect of the war I hadn't really considered. You can read the piece here.

Madeleine's son is currently in Iraq.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Change in status

SPC Mark is no longer SPC Mark. Yesterday, he received his stripes and he is now SGT Mark. Date of rank was effective July 1.

Part of the reason he hasn't been by here lately was the amount of preparation he had to do for the promotions board and his attendance at Warrior Leader Course (WLC). And he is up for two more schools this summer, so I'm not sure when he will back.

He's not the first SGT Mark in the family. Way back in the day - 1973 - I was also SGT Mark. Except I was a company clerk and an acting E-5. I was assigned to a small headquarters company that ran training facilities for the National Guard and the Army Reserve. The CO felt he needed another NCO in the office besides the first sergeant. While he's not the first SGT Mark, he is the only SGT Mark who has earned it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Army Wives and a reprise

There has been a weekly conversation regarding Lifetime's show Army Wives going on over at Jan Wesner's Standing By. The show airs Sunday night at 10 p.m. and reruns on Monday at 8 p.m. This week's show, particularly the last 15 minutes, hit us hard. We were still talking about it on Tuesday.

It reminded me of an episode of The West Wing in which a homeless Korean War vet, with the help of a White House staffer, was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

It also reminded me of a post that SPC Mark wrote back in February:

"I consider myself lucky. Lucky to be alive. And
that's it. That's what it boils down to.

If those mortar rounds had landed a little closer. Had those bullets
been aimed just a little bit lower. Had those three
IED kill teams got me instead of me them. In the nearly
16 months I served in Iraq, my unit of about 700 men
lost 13. We came home with 13 fewer men - brothers - than
we had left with. About three times as many wounded. Though I
didn't know any of them personally, it was hard just
the same.

Memorial services. God I hate them. A paratrooper.
A battle hardened veteran is supposed to be almost
numb and without emotion. I think back to standing
there in the desert in a mass battalion formation
surrounded by barbed wire and 10-foot tall concrete
blast walls at one of those damn services.

Always a light desert breeze and fiery golden sunset as a back
drop when we honored our fallen brothers. Every man
there quietly swallows hard pushes those emotions deep
deep inside. Tear ducts screaming for permission to
shed tears, teeth bite down hard and from the outside
little shows the battle waging inside.

It's the end where most lose it. Roll call. A senior NCO begins
calling names. One after the other: “HERE FIRST
SERGEANT!. . . HERE FIRST SERGEANT!’’ until the name
of the deceased is reached. Nothing but silence as
they attempt to call his name three times.

Two days ago was a nice day here. Breezy and cool, great
blue sky overhead with a brilliant sun to warm the
skin. I walked the short distance to my battalion
headquarters running a errand for a platoon sergeant
in my company. Walking inside, by happenstance, I ran
into an old battle buddy. I'd known him from the
beginning of my Army career. Him, me and three other
guys had all gone through basic together, airborne
school and came here to Bragg. Medina, Blaske, Coats,
and Baez, good friends eventually separated by the war.

“What's up man”

“S'up Middlebrook?

“Oh you know man, livin' the dream.”

Smiling and continuing on without stopping. Truth is, I didn't really
want to talk to him all that much. I'd only made it five steps past him...

“Hey man, listen.”

“What's up?” Turning to face him.

“Hey, sorry to be the one to tell you dude. You know
those couple guys that got killed in 1/73 (a cavalry
battalion in my brigade) the other day?”

“Yeah. . .”

“One of them, man, was Baez.” Hit me like a punch to
the chest.


“Yeah man, Baez is dead.”

I wasn't sure how to react. I was in shock and didn't truly believe it. Safe and
sound in the United States, a thousand of miles from that damn desert, and the war ripped me right back. Hell, I may as well be still in Iraq because that unmistakable feeling took hold of my soul.

Spc. Miguel A. Baez was killed in action in Balad, Iraq by an improvised explosive device as he entered a house. He was set to come home to his wife and four children next month. He died on his last mission outside the wire.

An all around great guy. Hell of a sense of humor. After all the things the Army put us
through, I never heard him utter a word in anger. He was a very devoted family man and if you asked him about his kids his eyes would light up and a smile always followed.

How did I survive and Baez not? He had so much more to live for. If I could change places, I would without hesitation. But that is the way it seems to be. Those lost are always most missed.

I will never forget him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. His memory will always occupy a place in my heart."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Block leave

Sunset on the St. Johns
Photo by Mike M.

Block leave officially ended at midnight Sunday. It was a relatively uneventful time and it was great to have SPC Mark around. There was a sunset cruise on the St. Johns River and a rather rowdy - but no casualties - Fourth of July.

Back at Ft. Bragg, there will be a new CO, a new first sergeant and the first whiff of what the Army has in store for us next. November will be here before we know it and terms like "dwell time" and "stop loss" will become part of the daily conversation. We will see.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The knock on the door

This was written by George Will of the Washington Post and was in our paper this weekend.

"The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know."
— Maj. Steve Beck, U.S. Marine Corps

Sometimes Beck would linger in his vehicle in front of an American home, like that of the parents of Lance Cpl. Kyle Burns in Laramie, Wyo. Beck knew that, as Jim Sheeler writes, every second he waited "was one more tick of his wristwatch that, for the family inside the house, everything remained the same."

Beck — now Lt. Col. Beck — was a CACO, a casualty assistance calls officer whose duty was to inform a spouse or parents that their Marine had been killed. He is the scarlet thread — like the stripes on Marines' dress-blue trousers, symbolizing shed blood — that connects the heart-rending stories in Sheeler's "Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives." The book, which proves that the phrase "literary journalism" is not an oxymoron, expands the meticulous and marvelously modulated reporting that he did for the Rocky Mountain News and for which he received a Pulitzer Prize. His subject is how America honors fallen warriors.

More precisely, it is about how the military honors them. The nation, as Marine Sgt. Damon Cecil says, "has changed the channel." Still, Sheeler sees civilians getting glimpses of those who have sacrificed everything. The glimpses come as the fallen are escorted home. When an airline passenger, noting an escort's uniform, asked if the sergeant was going to or coming from the war, he repeated words the military had told him to say: "I'm escorting a fallen Marine home to his family from the situation in Iraq."
"When the plane landed in Nevada, the sergeant was allowed to disembark alone. Outside, a procession walked toward the cargo hold. The airline passengers pressed their faces against the windows. " From their seats in the plane they saw a hearse and a Marine extending a white-gloved hand into a limousine. In the plane's cargo hold, Marines readied the flag-draped casket and placed it on the luggage conveyor belt. "Inside the plane, the passengers couldn't hear the screams."

The knock on the survivors' door is, Beck says, "not a period at the end of their lives. It's a semicolon." Deployed military personnel often leave behind, or write in the war zone, "just in case" letters. Army Pfc. Jesse Givens of Fountain, Colo.: "My angel, my wife, my love, my friend. If you're reading this, I won't be coming home. . . . Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone." To his son Dakota: "I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can still play together. . . . I'll be in the sun, shadows, dreams, and joys of your life." To his unborn son: "You were conceived of love and I came to this terrible place for love."

The manual for CACOs says, "It is helpful if the [next of kin] is seated prior to delivering the news. . . . Speak naturally and at a normal pace." Sometimes, however, things do not go by the book.

Doyla Lundstrom, a Lakota Sioux, was away from her house when she learned that men in uniform had been to her door. She called the father of her two sons — each serving in Iraq; one as a Marine, one as a soldier — and screamed into her cellphone, " Which one was it?" It was the Marine.

Sheeler says that troops in war zones often have e-mail and satellite telephones, so when someone is killed, communication from the area is stopped lest rumors reach loved ones before notification officers do. "As soon as we receive the call," Beck says, "we are racing the electron."

When the Army CACOs came to the Arlington door of Sarah Walton, my assistant, she was not there. She rarely forgot the rule that a spouse of a soldier in a combat zone is supposed to inform the Army when he or she will be away from home. This time Sarah forgot, so it took the Army awhile to locate her at her parents' home in Richmond.

Her husband, Lt. Col. Jim Walton, West Point Class of 1989, was killed in Afghanistan on June 21. This week he will be back in Arlington, among the remains of the more than 300,000 men and women who rest in the more than 600 acres where it is always Memorial Day. This is written in homage to him, and to Sarah, full sharer of his sacrifices.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Good news story from Iraq

NBC Nightly News ran a story Sunday about one soldier trying to make a difference in one Iraqi girl's life. These stories are in rarely it was nice to see Jim Maceda's piece.

You can see it here.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

What a difference a year makes

Baghdad, 2007

Ponte Vedra Beach, 2008

Random pics

Our house was besieged with a ton of twenty-somethings on the Fourth. So I had a little time on my hands and started going through some old photos. Not particularly germane to the topic but what the heck. The last photograph was taken by my youngest son Jon.

Pride of Baltimore, 1981, Chesapeake Bay
Ship was later lost at sea during a hurricane.

Pride of Baltimore 2, 2004, near the St. Johns River

Re-enactment of the Battle of Olustee 2006

Blue Angels, 2005

Yorktown Bicentennial, 1981

Gettysburg 2005

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fourth of July

Have a safe and sound weekend!
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

From the front - three more fallen Marines

From Maj. Margaret Weitzel, USMC:

"I wanted to tell you what I know about Cpl Marcus Preudhomme. My buddies from 2nd Bn, 3rd Marines are devastated at the loss of their Bn Cmdr, F Co CO and motivated Corporal in last week’s bomb at the town hall meeting in Karmah. It is only a few miles just northeast from the base at Fallujah. The Marines of 2/3 have been working so closely with the local Sheiks (Shakes) to develop their organizational management and support the progress of Iraqi government so that we can turn over control of Al Anbar to them. The bomb that killed the N. Florida Marine was an inside job – meant to thwart the efforts of those good people. The Corporal was known to be courageous and caring toward the Iraqi people and was instrumental in assisting in the town hall meetings that were regularly held at the location where the suicide bomber struck. His parents should be incredibly proud of the impact that his service has made on the independence of Iraqis."

SGT Preudhomme - he was just promoted - was a 2004 graduate of Fletcher High School in Jacksonville Beach. He must have been well liked as there are condolence signs up all over town.
He arrives home today at 2 p.m.

Our hearts and prayers are with the family.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July 1, 1863

A reminder: Today is the 145th anniversary of one the United States' defining moments.

On July 1, 1863, two brigades from Confederate Gen. Henry Heth's division stumbled upon a brigade of dismounted Federal cavalry led by Gen. John Buford along the Chambersburg Pike at Gettysburg, PA. The following days of fighting was a turning point in this nation's history.

In November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln said this:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

With U.S. men and women fighting two wars today, these words seem just as appropriate today as they did 145 years ago.

Getting it right

November 2007

December 2006

Over at Standing By (and also the OP), there has been a running conversation about Lifetime's Army Wives. I started watching this season and it's pretty good. While I am not the targeted demographic, it does touch at some of the raw nerves felt by Army families. And so I watch.

But I am stickler for details. While it's fictional, if the writers would do a little more research they might end up with a better story.

Last night (it airs Sunday at 10 p.m. but I catch the Monday 8 p.m. replay), some Airborne troopers returned home from Iraq. They stood patiently at ease on the tarmac in front of a C-130 while families waited and a short prayer was recited. It looked good on TV but that's not how it is done.

When the Airborne troopers come home, they do it right.

The families are a sequestered in the cavernous Green Ramp at Pope Air Force Base. It's a hanger where they prepare for training jumps. The benches are built to accommodate a soldier with parachutes front and back and the families awkwardly sit waiting for the troopers. There are signs everywhere and the noise, despite the 82nd's band, is deafening.

In November, when Alpha, Delta and HHC companies flew in, the charter did a low loop around Pope AFB and waggled its wings before landing. One Dad standing next to me said the waggle wasn't for us but for the Best Buy employees as a sign that business was suddenly going to improve.

When the plane landed, a two-star was there to shake each soldiers hand. The troops formed in a column of eight and the rear guard marched out with the battalion colors, on which there are battle streamers from every major campaign - some dating back to WWI. Even the most hardened are moved by the colors as they move out to the returning soldiers. The troops then march in to Green Ramp. A tribute is given to the fallen and the troops are dismissed to their families, who are scrambling to find them. The soldiers have about five minutes before they reform to turn in their weapons and other gear. It's great theater, far better than a group soldiers standing at ease on the tarmac in front of a C-130.

But in reality, it doesn't matter what it looks like as long as it's "boots on the ground" at home.