Tuesday, June 30, 2009

US withdrawal

From a NY Times slide show.

I hope it works, though my heart aches for the families of four U.S. soldiers who died in Baghdad yesterday. A day too early.....

Monday, June 29, 2009

Emergency prayer request from ABNPOPPA

Good Evening fellow bloggers and followers.

I have an Emergency Prayer request.

I received a text from Jacob at 1203 hours this afternoon. He knows I get out of church around 1200 hours. When I saw the time I knew it was important. I called immediately. As best as has been determined at this point one of his fellow soldiers that he has kept in contact with since Basic Training and AIT was seriously injured yesterday. It seems he was involved in a secondary IED attack while going out on a rapid response to a primary IED attack. He received numerous shrapnel wounds on the left side of his body and face. He was talking and we are hoping no brain damage occurred. It appears the IED was packed with ball bearings which cause severe damage when traveling at explosive speeds.

Please put in your prayers and pass it on to your friends the complete and full recovery of Specialist Monte "Ike" Lesh.

Thank you so very, very much and Jacob thanks you also.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Right on

The Washington Post's media critic scolded CNN's John King this morning about not enough coverage of events in Iraq.

John King agreed and said some are now calling the war in Iraq, the forgotten war.

Excuse me?

We have a 130,000 troops in Iraq.

The coverage Michael Jackson's death underscores a trend that started in late 2007 when it was apparent that the surge was making a difference. Celebrity news trumps war every time these days. Only bombings and IEDs make the news these days.

And Afghanistan?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Off topic: Wild weather

Thunderstorms yesterday produced a water spout on the St. Johns River yesterday. No real damage but it was a very chaotic afternoon. That is downtown Jacksonville in the background.

Photo by Julia Bluett from WJXT News4Jax.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday news and notes

Seeds planted early will flower later in life: See La Florida to see how our trips to parks has shaped the life of my oldest son. No nature deficit disorder in this house.

First day of classes: Mark is chuckling over his new classmates. Most are just 18 and don't know how to do their laundry.

Doggie mayhem: See www.glider.shutterfly.com to see how we are spending our weekends these days. Managing an energetic Aussie pup is a full time job.

Economy: Gayle is a graphic artist who has done renderings of high end homes for developers. She is also a great predictor of the economy. About six months before a housing collapse, her business dries up. And about six months before the housing market improves, she starts receiving calls for work. Today, she received her first phone call since November 2007.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wednesday news and notes

Glider (left) and Olustee (right)

How the pups got their names: Glider is named for the 1-325th Glider Infantry Regiment formed in WWII. It later became the 1-325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, in which Mark served for more than three years.

Mark's first dog was a golden retriever named after the Battle of Shiloh. She died more than four years ago and when our border collie arrived on the scene, Jon named her after the Battle of Olustee, the largest Civil War conflict in Florida.

Civilian life: Classes started at the University of North Florida today for Summer Session B. While Mark was waiting for classes to begin, he shadowed me to a couple of meetings, including one with the UNF president and the other with the St. Johns River Alliance.

Ironies:One of the bloggers I follow is named Lolaberly. Her husband is in the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. However, he is currently on R&R and they had their reunion this weekend...in all places...at the Jacksonville International Airport. She thought I was actually on her flight because my name was paged in the waiting area in DC. I am guessing it's the third Mark Middlebrook in Florida, who happens to be a banker in Tampa and occasionally comes to Jacksonville. Ironic.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Beatin' the heat

Olustee decides swimming is the only way to retrieve a Frisbee in 100 degree heat.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dads don't write

For whatever reason, few dads write about their sons or daughters who are at war. I never really understood this. Sure there are plenty of political blogs but rarely any family blogs.

When Mark first went overseas in 2006 (seems like a lifetime ago), I searched the Internet for someone who was in the same shoes as me. I found plenty of excellent blogs, but they were all written by moms, spouses or girlfriends.

After many months, I found Infantry Dad, whose son was in on the "surge" as Mark was. Later, I found Abnpoppa, whose son was in Mark's brigade and in Baghdad the same time he was.

But that's it.

Why is that?

BTW, Happy Father's Day everyone. Having all my sons nearby and safe and healthy is all one could ask for.

I love Florida but......

Saturday, June 20, 2009

First week

The first week since Mark came home has been pretty uneventful as well as it should be. He has had to make some choices though: take his dog to the beach or play golf or both. Decisions, decisions.

Next week, he starts classes at UNF. In the meantime, he has been interning with me attending some meetings with the St. Johns River Alliance.

I am no longer reading the Fayetteville Observer on a daily basis or checking Ft. Bragg weather on Weather Underground. All very pleasant changes.

Monday, June 15, 2009

End of the road

Video by Mark M.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

First days

Mark's second full day as a civilian found him trapped on a rented pontoon boat with his girlfriend and six others yesterday in the Matanzas Inlet south of St. Augustine. The storm doubled in size in a matter of minutes and produced a funnel cloud. Thankfully, some residents waved them ashore but the boat driver ran the boat aground and Mark jumped overboard and towed the boat to shore, cutting his feet on some oyster shells in the process. Everyone made it ashore and they weathered the storm in some Good Samaritan's garage.

I wonder what day 3 will be like?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday news and notes

Arrival: Mark arrived around 10 last night. His brother Mike and sister-in-law Tara had come over for burgers and brats before he showed up. After he arrived, his girlfriend Andrea came over and then friends Steve, Susan and Duncan. In the midst of all of this confusion were five very excited dogs.

Steve, Susan and Duncan are special friends because they have been there from the beginning. Steve and Susan came to visit Mark when he graduated basic training at Ft. Benning. Duncan lives in California and came here twice when Mark had finished his first tour in Iraq and later for R&R.

With all of this celebration, did anyone think to take any pictures.....no.

Observation: Now that he is home, is it too soon to ask him to finish the Tiki Bar.... :)

Victory/butterfly garden: is in full bloom. An assortment of photographs can be found over at La Florida. Technically, it's not really a victory garden because we only have one tomato plant. But it helped us keep our minds off of Iraq.

The butterflies have arrived in full force.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Some final words

From SGT Mark (now civilian):

It's pitch black in the back of those things. Pitch black and the noise from the engines is deafening. Packed in one on top of another, it was a very long ride. Though it was my first mission, first trip “outside the wire,” I wasn't scared. The first half an hour after we left Camp Spiecher my nerves settled. A coolness and a calm came over me. My breathing became shallow and my heart rate slowed. My mind completely focused, not a stray thought crossed. I felt what I imagine a cat feels as it crouches in tall grass just before it pounces.

Someone next to me yelled in my ear, “Six minutes!” A quick, tense sigh escaped my nostrils and my heart rate tripled the moment those words entered my inner ear. Instinctively I reached down, laid a belt of ammo across the feed tray of my M249 machine gun between my legs. The bird shook and banked hard and forced my stomach into my feet. Then came the three-minute warning and, a lifetime later, came the thirty seconds. The Chinook helicopter hit the ground with a thud. “Go, go, go!” In the noise and confusion, I grabbed myself up off the cargo net, turned and started running towards the ramp.

* * *

It was only fitting that today was overcast. The day I was to sign out of the Army and end my short career, only an overcast morning would do, as depressing as that sounds. Turned my truck into the 2nd BCT brigade area. After making several passes, I finally found a parking space within a reasonable walking distance of my battalion headquarters building. Pulled past and backed into the tiny parking space. (Don't get me starting on the parking situation around here.) After straightening out and resting the back tires on the curb, I shut the engine off and pulled the keys into my lap. I sighed and looked toward the building.

The commanders flag was posted on the flag pole out front of the Red Falcon headquarters. The dark blue flag with a large embroidered falcon flapping gently in the morning wind. With every flicker the metal clips which secured it to the pole tapped the steel pole. the steady clanking noise flowed with the breeze through my open windows. I sat there motionless, staring intensely. I slowly blinked and looked down at my cell phone. 0900. “It's time.,” I thought aloud.

My left hand reached across and grabbed the lever popping the door open. The sound of the door brought back that old familiar feeling. My heart rate jumped and I let loose a measured sigh. With the pause over as soon as it began, I pushed open the truck door and stepped down to the asphalt. After closing the door and pulling my beret across my head, I turned and started walking towards the building.

* * *

Most would think that both of those moments in my life could in no way be related. And yes, there is considerably less chance I will be shot or blown up leaving the Army to attend college. As crazy as it sounds, I was never really afraid of that when it was likely. Then, just as now, it's the unknown. Signing that piece of paper and taking off the uniform, I am shedding the persona of the sergeant stripes. No longer a double life. Using one life to hide myself from the other and vice versa. I can no longer disappear into the uniform. I can no longer share that weight with my brothers. It is only up to me whether I fail or succeed.

But, as usual, I am not afraid and will do what a paratrooper does. Always demonstrate nothing but confidence though I maybe nervous - and put one foot in front of the other in the direction I have to go. Though now it's the direction I want to go.

Last Day

Mark notes that his last day in uniform is also the U.S. Army's 234th birthday.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Winding down: No longer a Red Falcon

The battalion commander awarded Mark an Army Commendation Medal and gave him a great send off today. Battalion SGT Major also had some kind words. He received a couple of coins, which are a big deal in the Army. His leave papers are signed and tomorrow he stops by finance for his final out-processing and he heads home a civilian. For the first time in many years, he is no longer a Red Falcon.

Tonight, his friends are taking him out for a celebration, one tinged with mixed emotions and a little sadness. Men in combat experience a camaraderie that we can never understand. God bless them all.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Baghdaddy Beat

One last time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Winding down: Memorial Day 2008

Over the next few days, I will be posting some videos, some of which have been here before, some of which have not.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Counting the days

The countdown clock says SGT Mark has six days until he is finished with the Army. But he and his unit, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, are signing out for block leave on Friday. Could it really be just 4 1/2 days?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Jon graduates

We have had a son in St. Johns County schools for 23 years. Yesterday, our youngest graduated. Our congratulations to him.

If anyone is a certified One Percenter, it's Jon. His entire high school tenure was dominated by a brother at war.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

D-Day and Arlington National Cemetery

A day to remember and to say thank you.