Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving is over

SGT Mark is slogging his way back to Ft. Bragg on one of the busiest days for highway travel of the year. A cold front is hugging the coast so he should have lousy weather all the way to Fayetteville.

No family pictures this year. Dad, in his old age, left his camera at the house when we visited Mike and Tara for Thanksgiving.

Spent a good chunk of the weekend following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai when I was advised by my soldier that if I watch, they win. So I quit and indulged in Rivalry Saturday (Virginia lost, Florida won).

Friday, November 28, 2008


You will notice a new gadget at the top of the page today. It's link to our other blog La Florida. It's also a shameless ploy to drive traffic to that site, on which Google places ads. So far, we've earned enough money to buy a Starbucks coffee :) (I don't drink coffee anyway)

News from Afghanistan

NBC aired a piece on "the other war" last night. You can watch it here. The commercials takes 29 seconds.

Off topic: Britain's Got Talent - Kate Nicholas and Gin The Dog

We are a border collie family. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving everyone

Ft. George Island

Christmas a month early

Fayetteville Observer photo by Raul R. Rubiera
Capt. Matthew Canada, who will deploy to Iraq next week, celebrated Christmas early with his wife, Kristi, and three daughters. From left are Elise, Emily and Eden.

From the Fayetteville Observer:

Holiday, any day: A military family adapts

By John Ramsey
Staff writer

Kristi and Matt Canada tried to stick with family holiday traditions this year even as he was set to deploy to Iraq before Christmas.

On a Saturday three weeks ago, Kristi Canada closed all the blinds in her home to shut out the rest of the world.

Her husband, Capt. Matthew Canada — a self-described “little boy at Christmas” — cranked up the holiday music and got to work with his three young daughters: Emily, Elise and Eden.

Inside the four walls of their beige and brick home, Santa Claus himself would have had to check his calendar.

Boughs of holly raced up the staircase handrail. Wreathes hung above the sofa.

And Daddy was home for Christmas.

The war in Iraq has been pushed off Page 1 for many families in America, behind Barack Obama’s election and concerns about the faltering economy. But here in Fayetteville, for Fort Bragg families, it’s still a part of their daily lives.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Thanksgiving, part 3

Recreation of Ft. Caroline, the first French settlement along the St. Johns River.

From The New York Times

Op-Ed Contributor
A French Connection

Published: November 25, 2008

TO commemorate the arrival of the first pilgrims to America’s shores, a June date would be far more appropriate, accompanied perhaps by coq au vin and a nice Bordeaux. After all, the first European arrivals seeking religious freedom in the “New World” were French. And they beat their English counterparts by 50 years. That French settlers bested the Mayflower Pilgrims may surprise Americans raised on our foundational myth, but the record is clear.

Long before the Pilgrims sailed in 1620, another group of dissident Christians sought a haven in which to worship freely. These French Calvinists, or Huguenots, hoped to escape the sectarian fighting between Catholics and Protestants that had bloodied France since 1560.

Landing in balmy Florida in June of 1564, at what a French explorer had earlier named the River of May (now the St. Johns River near Jacksonville), the French émigrés promptly held a service of “thanksgiving.” Carrying the seeds of a new colony, they also brought cannons to fortify the small, wooden enclosure they named Fort Caroline, in honor of their king, Charles IX.

In short order, these French pilgrims built houses, a mill and bakery, and apparently even managed to press some grapes into a few casks of wine. At first, relationships with the local Timucuans were friendly, and some of the French settlers took native wives and soon acquired the habit of smoking a certain local “herb.” Food, wine, women — and tobacco by the sea, no less. A veritable Gallic paradise.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving part 2


Where was the first Thanksgiving held for European settlers in America?

Thanksgiving part 1

From the Fayetteville Observer:

Feeding a small army

By John Ramsey
Staff writer

The ovens in the 3rd Brigade mess hall stayed on from Monday night to Tuesday morning, cooking enough food to feed a small Army.

From 6 p.m. until 7 a.m., 22 cooks prepared 823 pounds of turkey, 526 pounds of ham and 319 pounds of pot roast, not to mention the boatloads of gravy, stuffing and all sorts of Thanksgiving fixings. And that was just for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s mess hall, one of several on Fort Bragg that will feed more than 13 tons of holiday feast food to soldiers this week.

Cornucopias in the center of the room — facing a fridge full of pumpkin pies — overflowed with grapes, bananas, walnuts and M&Ms.

In about five hours, officers in their dress blues shoveled mashed potatoes, meats and more onto the plates of about 3,000 soldiers.

Soon after mealtime began at 11 a.m., a line snaked outside and around the corner of the mess hall, a building that may see a lot less traffic come next week. That’s when the 3rd Brigade Combat Team — about 3,500 men and women who make up part of the 82nd Airborne Division — will deploy to Iraq.

Three such soldiers — all in the Brigade Support Battalion, Alpha Company — sat around a table Tuesday afternoon, the food on their plates tipping over onto their green trays.

They said the food was juicier than the usual fare, with more down-home flavor. And seeing the bosses doing the serving was an added treat.

Pfc. William Benis said sharing a Thanksgiving meal with Pvt. Lorne Russell and Pfc. Angela Santos seemed fitting.

“We’ve been in the same place, going through the same stuff for a year and a half,” Benis said. “This is family after a while.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tickets anyone?

You know it was a bad game when the fly over by the Air Force was the best thing about a football game. This will likely be my last post about the Jacksonville Jaguars, who suffered a humiliating 30-12 loss to the Minnesota Vikings yesterday. Mark's beloved (well maybe not this version) team were down 14 points in the first 1:40 minutes of the game.

As I have written before, I opted for season tickets this year instead of a vacation as a reward for Mark for his service overseas. But it looks like he won't get to see any games in person this year. Darn all that training :)

But there were some heartwarming moments at yesterday's game: Our friends who sit the row behind us brought their son who had just finished a tour in Iraq for the Air Force. He was all smiles and looking quite relaxed.

In the third quarter, a Marine gunnery sergeant in dress blues came into our section of the stands looking for his seat. We see him in the tailgating area of the stadium almost every game collecting donations for Toys for Tots.

Turns out he was in the wrong section. But as he made his way out, he was given a standing ovation and offered dozens of hand shakes. This would have never happened 40 years ago. I remember.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Around the news dial

Been on the road again a lot lately, so I haven't much time to post. I am hoping things will be slowing down a bit over the holidays. SGT Mark has a 4-day leave and will be home for Thanksgiving.

Fayetteville, home to Ft. Bragg and Pope AFB, is trying re-brand itself into the "world's first sanctuary for soldiers." Time magazine has written a short story about the city that used to be called Fayettenam. You can read about it here.

The Pentagon has started a new project called Troop Tube, a You Tube of sorts but for service members and their families. Newsweek has written a short piece on how it works.

Hope everyone is having a good weekend. It is very cold here for North Florida (record setting freezing temperatures overnight).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deployment information

From the Fayetteville Observer

From this military family's perspective, the last sentence is the best news.

3rd Brigade headed to Iraq

By Henry Cuningham
Military editor

The first of about 3,500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division will begin leaving for Iraq this week.

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team will begin a yearlong deployment.

A small group will leave before Thanksgiving, and most will leave after Thanksgiving, said Col. Timothy P. McGuire, the brigade commander.

“It’s always hard to deploy and be away from your families,” McGuire said.

“But I actually think with a 12-month deployment, by heading out now, our paratroopers should be home for Christmas on the back side of the deployment so it can really be a great celebration on return,” he said.

The soldiers will operate in the Baghdad area.

The brigade combat team is formed around the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and includes two infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron, a field artillery battalion, a special troops battalion and a support battalion.

Some mid- to senior-level leaders in the brigade are on their second or third deployment, McGuire said. Some paratroopers are making their first deployment, he said.

McGuire visited Iraq in late September.

“It’s great to see the gains that have been made,” he said. “You can really feel it. It’s exciting on our watch. The elections will occur shortly after we arrive.”

Provincial elections will be held in January.

The arrival of a new U.S. president and Congress in early 2009 will provide an example of U.S. democracy as the Iraqis hold their elections, he said.

“I think we can point to our elections as how a democratic state goes ahead and solves problems,” McGuire said.

A big focus of the work will be on the relationship with the Iraqi Security Forces.

“We will try to work ourselves out of a job,” McGuire said. “Every day the Iraqi Security Forces get stronger, we get one day closer to coming home.”

The Iraqi Cabinet on Sunday approved a bilateral agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain in the country for three more years.

“The Status of Forces Agreement will impact how we do operations,” McGuire said. “Our main effort is building partnership, working hand-in-hand with the Iraqi Security Forces.”

McGuire’s brigade will replace soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division.

The 82nd Airborne’s 4th Brigade Combat Team and 1st Brigade Combat Team expect to deploy in mid-2009.

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team will be kept at Fort Bragg in coming months to serve as a worldwide rapid-response force.

Monday, November 17, 2008

To paraphrase a commercial

Tickets to the the Jaguar v. Titans game: $58 a piece;
Groceries for tailgating: $46;
Beach Road fried chicken for tailgating: $39;
Beer at the game: $8 a piece;
Watching 105 young men and women take the oath of enlistment for all military branches during halftime: Utterly amazing, given our times.

It was military appreciation day at the Jaguars game and the field was filled with military, including WWII vets. A Stealth bomber did the opening flyby and the National Anthem was sung by a soldier in Balad. Quite a night. For the military families in the stands, there were few dry eyes.

Now if only the Jaguars could put together four quarters of decent football.....

These soldiers reenlisted.

New recruits

From The Florida Times-Union website -

Sunday, November 16, 2008

From the New York Times

A baby shower for 1,000 new and expecting mothers was held Saturday at the Crown Exposition Center in Fayetteville, N.C.

At Army Base, Stork Landed With the Airborne

Published: November 15, 2008

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Joanne Chavonne saw pregnant women everywhere in town, shopping at Target for diapers or dining at a Mexican restaurant.

The base has seen an estimated 50 percent surge in births.

Then she heard that so many families were calling the medical clinic at nearby Fort Bragg for the results of pregnancy tests that the Army had to install an extra telephone line.

And finally, over the summer, an administrator told her that the hospital on base was overrun with women in labor, and was delivering nearly 300 babies a month. “I was shocked,” said Ms. Chavonne, whose husband, Anthony, is the mayor here. “That’s 10 a day.”

For the first time since the Gulf war, the entire 82nd Airborne division was deployed during the surge in 2007. Nearly 22,000 soldiers joyously reunited with their families when they began returning last October. The base is also host to 29,000 soldiers from other units, which all contributed to what by August was an estimated 50 percent surge in births at Womack Army Medical Center, the base hospital, compared with the previous year.

The community has turned this into a celebration. On Saturday, about 1,000 recent mothers and mothers-to-be gathered as guests of honor at Boots & Booties, billed as the largest military shower ever.

Under billboards with fuchsia butterflies, at the Crown Exposition Center, pregnant women in stretchy pants and flip-flops drank red punch and helped themselves to deviled eggs and cupcakes spread out along a buffet table. Sarah Deady arrived at the extravaganza right from her recovery bed — she had had a Caesarian section on Thursday and walked gingerly.

Catherine Robinson, 35 and pregnant with her third child, was experiencing contractions. “I have long labors,” she said, explaining why she decided to come anyway.

The impact of the baby surge is being felt all across Fayetteville, a city of 210,000, from the registries at Fleishman’s Tiny Town to the civilian hospital, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, where the overflow of military patients sometimes has to labor in the waiting room until beds become available. Dr. David A. Schutzer, who runs the Highland Ob-Gyn Clinic in town, said that last month his practice delivered 50 percent more babies than usual, most of them military.

It is impossible to walk through the produce sections of the commissaries on base without seeing bellies or newborns in car seats. “Overseas, our soldiers concentrate on their mission,” said Tom McCollum, the public affairs officer for Fort Bragg, which occupies the north and west sides of Fayetteville. “But they can’t wait to get back home.”

At Dads 101, a class for new and soon-to-be fathers that helps ease the transition from soldier to caretaker, attendance has doubled. Maternity-size Army combat uniforms in the digitized, sand-patterned camouflage used in Iraq and Afghanistan are on backorder at the base clothing sales store. And in anticipation of growing demand for home visits and other family services, the base’s New Parents Support Program has increased its staff from 5 to 19.

Baby furniture is selling so quickly at the Target on Skibo Road, a few miles southeast of the base, that pregnant women are despairing when they cannot find matching cribs, dressers and changing tables. “They’ll be, like, ‘I just called and y’all said you had it,’ " said Tyneisha McRae, a clerk working the night shift, when the infant department gets restocked. The store opens at 8 a.m., she said, “and most of the time, we’re sold out by 8:30 or 9.”

Lisa Olivares, a manager at CCE Headgear Plus, a kiosk at the mall that offers custom embroidery, has been inundated with requests to stitch unit crests and nicknames onto baby onesies, polka-dot bonnets and camouflage diaper bags. “It’s all I do,” she said.

Soldiers have noticed the boom among their ranks. “Four females in my unit have had babies,” said Staff Sgt. Bill McSwain, as he held his own new daughter, Gabrielle, in his lap in the waiting room of the Ob-Gyn clinic at Womack.

For the rest of the story, click here

Saturday, November 15, 2008

U.S. Coast Guard: A salute

I was rummaging around my hard drive and found some pictures I had forgotten that I had taken. The first was taken in Sail Jacksonville in 2004 and the second was taken while we were on the cruise ship Celebrity in February 2006 (back when we had an economy). We don't talk about the U.S. Coast Guard much here, so today we will give them a tip of the hat.

U.S. Coast Guard Eagle

Guarding a cruise ship as it leaves the Port of Jacksonville

Photographs are best viewed by clicking on them.

From the Fayetteville Observer

Sanford resident and Army wife Chelsea Shand, left, is presented a Ford Mustang by ‘Army Wives’ star Kim Delaney.

'Army Wives Gives Back'

By Hilary Kraus
Staff writer

SANFORD — “Army Wives Gives Back” has been very generous to breast cancer survivor Chelsea Shand.

Shand, a 34-year-old Fort Bragg Army wife and mother, received enough free bling from the Lifetime TV series to fill a foxhole.

There’s the big-ticket item: a 2009 limited-edition Ford Mustang convertible with dark pink stripes, which is part of Ford’s Warriors in Pink breast-cancer awareness program. She also was given a gift basket with items worth hundreds of dollars.

Shand was overwhelmed by the gifts, but she is taking advantage of the opportunity so she can give back.

On Oct. 26, her journey — about her diagnosis and recovery — was told in a two-minute segment that aired during an episode of “Army Wives.” The popular Lifetime TV series, which recently finished its second season, follows the lives of four Army wives, their families and life in the military.

Lifetime Television sponsored a campaign called “Army Wives Gives Back.” Women were asked to submit their stories of life as military wives. Two of the five stories selected came from wives of Fort Bragg soldiers: Shand and Jetta Fuhrman. Shand’s husband, Stefen, is a Special Forces soldier. Fuhrman’s husband, Patrick, is a jumpmaster. Both soldiers are deployed.

Now Shand, a talkative, self-confident Army wife is sharing first-hand knowledge of the importance of breast cancer awareness, particularly for young women.

Her message is this: Don’t put off getting a suspicious lump checked out, even if age is on your side and there’s no family history of cancer. Positive reassurance from doctors also shouldn’t be enough, she said.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On parade

The Red Falcons official battalion photograph. This was taken in the spring and then SPC Mark is in there somewhere. The photograph is best viewed by clicking on it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Today is Veteran's Day when we pause to respect those who have stepped in harm's way to keep us free. In reality, every day, particularly when we are at war, should be Veteran's Day.

So today we remember those who have gone before us. We owe them respect for what they have done for us and we honor their service to the country.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dwell time

The Red Falcons have been home for a little over a year now, which means they are eligible for redeployment. The good news is that there is little Joe talk about what's going to happen in the future. And it's hard to discern from the current training cycle that they are going anywhere anytime soon.

They came in out of the field Friday for a long Veteran's Day weekend and resume training on Wednesday.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Editorial: Give him a chance

From the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette Journal:

"The election being done, the prize of the presidency is now in the grasp of Barack Obama. It may be hard to forget the ugly, ugly ads, emails and statements that preceded Tuesday’s voting, but for the sake of the country, it is imperative to do this. John McCain lost and conceded graciously. Obama won and claimed his landslide victory with respect for those who did not support him, and with an eye to the hard work ahead.

Given the nature of modern partisanship and the deep divisions apparent in the past three presidential elections, it may seem impossible to weld together one national interest again. But our times and the present degree of separation are nothing compared to some experienced in the past.

We have survived a Civil War; the nation will be observing this war’s 150th anniversary by the time Obama’s term is ending.

Forty years ago, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War tore the national fabric much more deeply than any trumped-up "liberal" and "conservative" and "values" and "same-old" voting campaigns have ever managed to achieve. At the core, American people are decent and generous. They can be swayed by the politics of fear, but their innate optimism usually triumphs over the dark predictions that warn against this candidate, or that one.

Now Barack Obama has his chance to govern. We should vow to grant him an opportunity to introduce his propositions and work with the Congress without the usual sniping and slamming that permeate the airwaves. Give him a chance and let’s see what the new man can do."

The publisher of this paper is a gentleman named John Warren Cooke. He was my first publisher/editor when I started out in the newspaper business in 1978.

He has a remarkable family history: His father was Maj. Giles B. Cooke, who served on Gen. Robert E. Lee's staff during the Civil War. He was on Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg and at the surrender at Appomattox Court House. Maj. Cooke was 70 when John Warren was born and he lived another 20 years.

Mr. Cooke (John Warren) grew up hearing firsthand accounts of the great battles of the war that divided the country.

In the 50s, Mr. Cooke was an influential politician and was among the first to call for the reopening of Virginia's public schools after they were closed after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

By my reckoning, he must be 92 or 93. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall on his office Wednesday when this editorial was written.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

More wedding pics

OMG, we are coming up on a two-week anniversary.

Mike and Tara

Mike and Tara

Dad, Uncle Steve, Melanie Sheppard

Bob Ryan, father of the bride, and SGT Mark.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Day

Lot's of chatter today about yesterday's historic election. And historic it was.

Record turnouts everywhere. Democracy broke out everywhere, in every community across the country.

But for the Red Falcons of the 82nd, who have been out in the field for 10 days, the soldiers patrolling in the deadly Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, to the Marines in Anbar, the airmen at Balad and the sailors at sea, it was just another day...another day at war.

And yesterday, we did our duty, which is why they do theirs.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A story of service and leadership

The Story by Dick Gordon

On the day when voters are choosing a new leader, this is one story that's certain to inspire.

Army Capt. Ivan Castro was on a rooftop in Iraq trying to secure a safer position for his unit when he was attacked by mortar rounds. Two soldiers under his command died in that attack, and Ivan sustained life-threatening injuries.

After months of rehab and dozens of surgeries, Ivan was finally able to get out of bed and start walking on his own. But he had one injury that could not be fixed: Ivan lost his sight. But blindness has not stopped Ivan Castro from achieving his goals. He has found way to continue to serve and lead despite his injury. He talks with Dick Gordon about how he made the decision to continue serving the nation as an officer in the Army's Special Forces.

To listen, click here.


SGT Mark says we should listen to NPR today at 1 p.m. One of the soldiers wounded in a mission that Mark participated is being interviewed. I will try to post the transcript or a link to audio file if that happens.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


This is SGT Mark's big brother Mike in 1984.

And now he is married. Where did all the time go?

If only he would finish the tiki bar. :)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bark v. Bite

Today is the annual Georgia-Florida football. The city is full of Bulldog (bark) and Gator (bite) fans. The Gators football team went by in a full, sirens blaring, police-escorted motorcade this morning around 10 o'clock. By law, I have to root for the Gators because we live in Florida and because the Gator's quarterback played football at SGT Mark's high school (they didn't know each other).

I am betting on the Bulldogs this year because their fans have left all of their dogs at friends houses in our neighborhood and they are barking up a storm.

SGT Mark has the day off today and will be back in the field tomorrow. The good news is that is warming up a bit at Ft. Bragg. The bad news: he will miss the Jaguars game against Cincinnati.