Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ft. Bragg, pt. 2


Bentonville State Historic Site



Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

Mark was right: there isn't much to do around Fayetteville. So we headed northeast to visit a couple of state parks.

First was the Battle of Bentonville State Historic Site. I had seen the signs to this park for decades in our travels up and down I-95, particularly during our days when the kids had a high interest in the Civil War. But we were always in a hurry and never took time to visit. We could have waited another 10 years.

Bentonville was the scene of the last major battle of the Civil War when Confederate Gen. Johnston attempted to stop Union Gen. Sherman's march to the north from Savannah. It lasted three days before the Confederates withdrew. Mark's great-great-great grandfather saw action there as a company commander in the 87th Indiana.

It's a good news, bad news situation. The park could use a healthy infusion of cash. It's very small for such a important engagement. Interpretative and trail signs were missing and there were few stops on the driving trail. The good news, the park is completely surrounded by farms and could be expanded some day into a more significant site than the park currently represents. As Mark noted, life there hasn't changed signficantly in the last 140 years.

From there we went to Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. To get there we drove through a choking haze (heat index 106F) that obscured miles of tobacco, bean, corn fields, and more bean fields dotted with ASGROW - making better beans - signs. We passed through Spivey's Corner, home of the National Hollerin' Contest, and Newton Grove where you can have lunch at the Taco Rico.

The Neuse River is one of North Carolina's eastern watersheds. The cliffs have formed from the various sea level changes and exposes hundreds of millions of years of geology. It was nice park and would probably best to see in the fall. There are a couple easy to negotiate trails but they are infested with carpenter ants. (note to self: when going hiking in 106F heat, wear shorts. When hiking among ants, wear sneakers not flip flops).

We beat it back to Fayetteville for a wings and beer dinner at a bar within walking distance of the hotel.

All-in-all, a priceless day.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ft. Bragg USA

Arrived here yesterday around 5:15 p.m. Traffic on I-95 was light considering it was a holiday weekend. Had dinner with Mark at the Mashhouse brew pub, a short distance from the hotel. All-in-all, he seems to be doing well.

Today, we were hoping to visit some state parks to see if there were any pictures to be had but there is a dense fog advisory in effect until 10 a.m....and looking out the window, that appears to be the case.

The Fayetteville Swampdogs (baseball) are finished for the season and the FireAntz (hockey) haven't started playing, so.....maybe a movie or two.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jaguars fan

Please click on image for better viewing.


Mark's military career has brought me into contact with a number people...particularly through The One Percenters. One is Dan McCarthy, the Jacksonville's military liaison and a former Navy pilot. He works very closely with the Jacksonville Jaguars who are big supporters of the military.

The NFL and Topps, the premier maker of sports trading cards, teamed up to do a promotion this year honoring football fans in the military. Each team selected one. So when the Jaguars went looking for its Armed Forces Fan of the Game, Dan graciously suggested Mark.

The results are above.

Mark's name on the front, for whatever reason, wouldn't scan.

Thanks to Dan, the Jaguars, the NFL and Topps. This is all very cool.

FYI, that photo was taken shortly after a sniper attack in Baghdad. Mark was the gunner and the shot missed him by about six inches.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ain't technology great?

So the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne is getting ready for a night jump this morning. A line of thunderstorms rolls through Fayetteville. What to do? Call Dad.

Him: "Are you near a computer?"
Me: "Sure"
Him: "What's the weather like in Fayetteville?"
(in the background) "There's a f**king tornado warning."
Me: "Well, there's a bad line of thunderstorms south of town."
Him: "What's the ceiling?"
Me: "217 feet"
(in the background) "What about lightning. Is there a lot of lightning?"
Him: "What's it going to be like tonight?"
Me: "90 percent chance of thunderstorms."
Him: "There's a tornado warning 10 miles from here."
Me: "Well, there's nothing much on the radar after this line of thunderstorms."
Him: "Okay. Cool."

I called back later and told him that the thunderstorms were about 30 minutes from Pope Air Force Base and that his house is west of the line of storms.

So a word about technology. There is a neat little tool called WunderMap at www.wunderground.com.

Go there and type in your zip code and the weather for your area will come up including a local NEXRAD radar.

Click on the radar to see the weather moving through your area.

On the left hand side will be a button for a WunderMap. This matches your local radar with a map.
Click on hybrid (top right) and a Google aerial photograph comes up. You can zoom into your neighborhood and see where the weather is in relation to your house. I used it during TS Fay and it is remarkably accurate....and scary.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Random thoughts

TS Fay has disappeared off the radar (literally) and we are about 75 percent done with cleaning up behind the storm. We have one small hole in the roof that will need tending to but other than that, just branches and leaves with which to deal. We were very, very lucky.

Hurricane Gustav is slowly churning through the Caribbean. This looks like a Gulf of Mexico storm but it is too soon to tell. It is forecast to be a category 2 storm by midday Sunday.

We are hoping that SGT Mark will receive a weekend pass for Labor Day and be able to come home. If not, I may head up to Ft. Bragg to see him. We are fortunate that he is only six hours away. All of the Joe rumors have us learning about terms like "stop loss" so we are all in a bit of a funk.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Debris city

Fay has left our fair part of Florida. We fared well, better than many others. Mostly cosmetic damage. - tree limbs etc. Another day or two and we will have it cleaned up. Then we will be ready for the next one.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fay creeps to the west



Fickle Fay is moving west at 6 mph and, as a result, parked the worst of the storm on us. The winds and rains are worse now than they were 30 hours ago when it first started. The band of rain sitting over us now is dropping an inch an hour. We could have another 12 hours to go.

The good news: we still have power, while 65,000 houses don't.

The bad news: the trees are starting to snap. Half of the sweet gum in the backyard is dangling precariously. My son Mike and his fiance Tara lost power but can't get out here because the bridges are closed due to high winds.

We are ready for Fay to move on.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fay refuses to go away


Like many visitors to Florida, TS Fay arrived in Daytona Beach and has decided not to leave. It's been nearly stationary during the last three computer model runs, but on radar it seems to have wobbled a bit north. So we are starting to see our first serious rain. We are hopeful this thing will clear out by the weekend.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Go away Fay

Rain band, TS Fay
8/19/08
Ponte Vedra Beach

What a difference 12 hours makes. Fay looks like it will pass well south of St. Augustine tomorrow, which means we should be OK. It looks pretty ragged on the radar this morning. So we will see what Thursday brings. At this point, there is no need to dismantle and store the computers.

Back to the topic at hand: Pops, we've heard some Joe rumors yesterday. I was wondering if you had heard anything?
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Signing off

The One Percenters is signing off for a couple of days. Tropical Storm soon to be Hurricane Fay has us in the cross hairs. We are going to be very, very busy tomorrow, including taking down the computer system, in advance of a Thursday landfall. We will be back when we can.

Hurry up and wait - hurricane style

Tropical storm Fay is slowing down and really won't get to Jacksonville until late Wednesday. The current prediction has it hanging around the area just off coast for a couple of days. That means, given its slow weakening, it will be a big rainmaker for us.

Like most of Florida, Jacksonville and the Beaches are very low, which means in heavy rains it floods easily. We are just recovering from a prolonged drought, so the ground is already saturated and it promises to be a very wet week.

There is another system at sea, so we will be going through this again soon. The perils of living in paradise. I'll post pictures as needed.


Monday, August 18, 2008

TS Fay 5 p.m. update


Still in the middle of the cone.

11 a.m. update TS Fay

We are starting to prepare....checking batteries, flashlights, battery operated TVs, propane etc.
Looks it will be a weak tropical storm or tropical depression when it gets here, but we've been through them before. Even a week storm can cause extended power outages and flooding. I've canceled all of my Central Florida meetings this week, as well.

Tropical Storm Fay


5 a.m. update.
Looks like it is slowing down.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

5 p.m. update


Various computer models tracking TS Fay.
Click on the map for a better view.

Hello Alpha, good bye Bravo

In recognition of his promotion, Mark moved to Alpha Company Monday as a team leader in third platoon. It was an unexpected turn of events but apparently the battalion is moving around many if not all of their rising E-5's to new companies.

Of course, when he was transferred, so were we. Bravo Company, where he has been since he joined the 82nd Airborne, had a terrific Family Readiness Group (FRG). When you mention the FRG, many folks roll their eyes and on the first deployment Mark, who had heard horror stories about FRGs, didn''t want to sign us up. Eventually, he registered us to receive e-mails and other updates.

The FRG really helped us particularly during the second deployment when a "Swamp the First Sergeant" campaign was organized. A lot of soldiers have extensive family support networks but some don't. So the FRG encouraged us to send packages directly to the First Sergeant who would hand them out to soldiers who weren't receiving any care packages. A friend of mine whose son attends Atlantic Beach Elementary two towns up got involved. We ended up with an SUV full of goodies.

We wish Mark well on his new assignment and if the Alpha Company FRG needs us for any future - God forbid - deployments, we will be there.

Storm update 8 a.m.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Off topic: Wild weather 2

Click on the image for a better view.

Guess we will be watching the Weather Channel this weekend.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Off topic: Wild weather




Yesterday, we celebrated Gayle's 15th anniversary of her 39th birthday. It was quite the day.

Mother Nature joined the party with a 3:30 p.m. storm that spawned dozens of micro-bursts around town. Two 125 ft. tall cranes were toppled at the Port of Jacksonville, 41,000 homes lost power and limbs were down all over the city including our little neighborhood. The good news is that no one was reported injured. We do have a 20 ft. pine tree branch hanging precariously over our roof that will necessitate a visit from a tree surgeon today.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Another outrage

Soldiers pay bag fee on travel to war.


Several airlines have been charging soldiers $100 to $300 in excess baggage fees for their duffel bags as they head off to the war zones. The complete story can be found in yesterday's Washington Times.

Excerpts:

"American [Airlines], which recently charged two soldiers from Texas $100 and $300 for their extra duffel bags, said it gives the military a break on the cost for excess luggage and that the soldiers who incur the fees are reimbursed.

"Because the soldiers don't pay a dime, our waiver of the fees amounts to a discount to the military, not a discount to soldiers," said Tim Wagner, spokesman for American Airlines. "Soldiers should not have to pay a penny of it."

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) spokesman Joseph Davis said service members destined for Iraq should not have to spend the money out of pocket and should not have to worry about filing expense forms in a war zone.

"That's a lot to ask when the service member has much more important things on their minds, such as staying alive and keeping those around them alive," he said."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Coping strategies

video

Early on during the second Iraq deployment, Gayle and I splurged and bought a DVD camera. DVD cameras record directly to a mini-DVD so they are very easy to use even for a certified technophobe like myself. Mini-DVDs record about 30 minutes. You push a button when you are done and it's ready to be used in a DVD player.

Mark had purchased a hand-held player when he got to Iraq. So Gayle and I would send him weekly video newsletters. It was mostly mindless stuff - usually of the dogs running around. No editing or sound tracks. Just point and shoot and send. It kept me busy and it was a little slice of home for him every week.

Haven't used it much since he came back. But it was great therapy for me . . . and for him.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday morning's garden


Starting the week off on a bright note:
Swamp hibiscus, raised from seed
8/11/08

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Army Wives

Jan Wesner, a writer for the St. Petersburg Times and author of the blog Standing By, has written a very powerful story about Rita Odom, on whom the character Roxy LeBlanc is based in the television show "Army Wives." You can find it here.

The story carefully portrays what some families go through when their soldiers come home from war and they have changed.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Barracks life

A little over a week ago, there was an "incident at the barracks," at which the NCOs were called in to settle things down. Since Mark is now a sergeant, he had to go in.

He wouldn't say what happened other than it was disgusting.

His Mom and I had to laugh though.

It wasn't that long ago that he was the one running around the barracks with the fire extinguishers or duct taping 40 oz. beers to his hands in the Airborne version of Edward Fortyhands.

There is a saying that "God invented beer to keep the 82nd Airborne from taking over the world." On the weekends, it's probably true.

But in Mark's case, the Army and two combat tours have grown him up quickly.

It's really the first time in his life he has had to be responsible for someone else.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Leave it to the Army

I had planned to do a post today regarding the summer doldrums. It's been very quiet here (knock on laminated wood) and the temperatures have been over or near 100 every day. And with the delightful Florida humidity, well . . . enough said.

I was home yesterday evening, in between meetings, when the phone rang. (cue music)

It was 5:42 p.m.

The caller ID came up "U.S. Government."

Gayle grabbed the phone and I did a mental check. Where was Mark? He should be in or just out of class for another school he has been attending at Ft. Bragg. I hadn't seen any U.S. Government sedans in the neighborhood. Isn't that the way they do it? They don't call.

"Hello?"

"Is Jon [my youngest] there?"

"Jon? Jon? Who is this?"

"I'm Cpl. [she didn't get the name]. May I speak to Jon?"

"What? What? Who are you?"

"I am the Army recruiter for Nease High School."

"I'm sorry. You shouldn't be calling here. He's just 17. The Army already has one of my sons and you are not getting another. We've done enough!"

Click.

Expletive. Expletive.

So much for the summer doldrums.

Advice to the Army. Use cell phones. Don't call Mom.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Freedom's field - 223 years ago


The path to the North Bridge
Please click on the image for better viewing.



Concord River
7/28/08

After my niece's wedding, Gayle and I had an opportunity to visit Minuteman National Historic Park in Concord, Mass. where the shots fired here between the British and Americans were heard around the world. We lived near Williamsburg, Va. before moving to Florida, so we were used to Colonial era historic sites. But this place is a national treasure and we were overwhelmed with how the National Park Service has maintained the site. We hope to visit again when we have a little more time.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Off topic

A sign we noticed while on our trip to Waltham, Mass.:


The thin will have to live elsewhere . . .

Please click on the photo for better viewing.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Congratulations to:



My son Mike, who graduated Friday from the
University of North Florida with a degree
in biology.


My niece Jessie and her husband Dave who
were married July 26 in Peabody, Mass.

Click on images for better viewing.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Deployment information

From MNF-I, the Associated Press and DoD. It's a little long but it may add some clarity to the Joe rumors out there:

Upcoming U.S. Iraq, Afghanistan Rotations Announced

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Tuesday, 20 May 2008

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department today announced force rotations for Iraq and Afghanistan, including upcoming active-duty deployments later this year and alerts to Army National Guard units to deploy in spring 2009 and 2010.

About 25,000 active-duty troops assigned to a division headquarters and seven brigade combat teams will begin to deploy to Iraq this fall, and continue through the year’s end, Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, announced today.

In addition, four Army National Guard brigades have been alerted of an upcoming deployment to Iraq, he said. About 14,000 affected soldiers are slated to begin deploying in spring 2009 to provide base defense and route security in Iraq and Kuwait.

In other news, the Vermont Army National Guard’s 86th Brigade Combat Team received an alert that it will deploy to Afghanistan in the spring of 2010 to support Afghan national security forces training.

All identified units will replace redeploying units, with no change in force strength, Whitman said. He emphasized, however, that longer-range deployment forecasts could change, based on conditions on the ground and commanders’ recommendations.

The 86th BCT’s alert, issued two years before its anticipated deployment date, represents the model the Defense Department would like to reach to give National Guard units maximum notice of upcoming deployments, Whitman said. “This is where the department is trying to get to with respect to predictability and early alert,” he said. “This unit will be replacing a unit … that has not yet deployed,” he said.

The 86th BCT will replace the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th BCT, scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in summer 2009.

The longer lead time will give National Guard soldiers more time to prepare for their deployment. “They can start their training now, knowing that they are going to be training the Afghan national security forces, knowing that they will be doing it in Afghanistan and not Iraq or somewhere else,” Whitman said. “And being able to plan for a 12-month mobilization two years out from now is something pretty significant about where the department is now,” compared to five or even two years ago, he added.

More notice also gives families more planning time and employers more flexibility in preparing for their employee’s absence, Whitman said.

Active-duty units receiving deployment orders to Iraq based on today’s announcement include:

- 25th Infantry Division: Headquarters and 3rd Brigade, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; and 1st Brigade, Fort Wainwright, Alaska;

- 4th Infantry Division: 2nd Brigade, Fort Carson, Colo.;

- 1st Infantry Division: 2nd Brigade, Fort Riley, Kan.;

- 82nd Airborne Division: 3rd Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C.;

- 1st Cavalry Division: 3rd Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas; and

- 172nd Infantry Brigade, Schweinfurt, Germany.

National Guard units are receiving alert orders now to allow maximum time to prepare for next year’s deployments and to give greater predictability to families and employers, officials said.

Units alerted of upcoming deployments to Iraq and Kuwait are:

- Texas National Guard: 72nd Brigade Combat Team;

- Pennsylvania National Guard: 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division;

- Louisiana National Guard: 256th Brigade Combat Team; and

- Tennessee National Guard: 278th Brigade Combat Team.

From the Associated Press:

7/24/08

WASHINGTON - Top Pentagon leaders are expected to recommend soon that Defense Secretary Robert Gates order hundreds of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan over the next month or so, according to a senior military official.

The units are likely to be small and could include engineers, ordnance disposal troops and other support forces needed to shore up fighting needs and the training of Afghan forces. Officials have not ruled out identifying a larger, brigade-sized unit before the end of the year that could either be shifted to Afghanistan from a planned deployment to Iraq or moved from some other location. U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have been asking for three combat brigades, or roughly 10,000 more troops, to help quash rising violence there.

The senior official said the recommendations have not yet been approved by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or delivered to Gates. The Joint Chiefs and military commanders are reviewing a number of options.

Officials have said that if improved security conditions in Iraq hold, they hope to be able to devote more troops to Afghanistan, where the Taliban is resurgent.

On Wednesday, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that any sizable increase in troop levels in Afghanistan may not come until the new administration takes over next year.

Any decision to shift large units such as combat brigades into Afghanistan after they've been preparing to go to Iraq later this year would take additional training and time, Morrell said.

"You can't snap your fingers and make this happen, unfortunately," he said. He added later that the Pentagon is not kicking any decisions down the road to the next White House. Rather, he said, decisions made now may require months to execute.

From DoD 7/1/08

The units - which include about 33,000 troops - would replace forces already in Iraq, and allow the U.S. to maintain 15 combat brigades in the country through 2009 if needed.

The units are:

- 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas

- 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas

- 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.

- 56th Stryker Brigade, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania National Guard

- 6th Regimental Combat Team, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

- 8th Regimental Combat Team, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The deployment decisions could change depending on whether Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, decides in the fall to further reduce troop levels in Iraq.

If he decides that fewer brigades will be needed in Iraq during the next year, there is the chance that units could simply be directed to the war in Afghanistan instead. Military leaders have said they want to send more troops to Afghanistan because of the increase in violence there.