Fifty

I don’t make a big deal about my birthday.  I don’t usually tell people when it’s coming or take the day off from work.  It’s really just another day to me.  But this time is different.  This will be a landmark I really didn’t expect to make.  In a couple days I’ll be 50 years old.  50.  Fifty!  Half a hundred.  It’s not as old as it sounds, so I keep telling myself.  But it does feel old some days.

Actually, I feel pretty good overall.  I don’t look my age, so I’ve been told.  I certainly don’t act my age, and don’t plan on starting any time soon.  My body hurts with aches and pains now more than ever before, but I’m getting used to it.  Considering what I’ve put my body through in the first 49 years, I’m just thankful to be here.  My memory sucks.  Although I can remember song lyrics and movie lines from the 1980’s like I just finished hearing them.  But for some reason I can bring up Google on my phone and forget what I’m searching for at the same time.  Go figure.

It’s been a wild ride so far.  Many successes, many failures.  Way too many failures.  One thing I don’t think I’ve ever talked about in my blog is my past business ventures.  I’m 0-5 in business endeavors.  That’s probably why I haven’t mentioned it before.  LOL.  But one of my favorite failures in business is when my daughter and I opened a restaurant together.  It was short-lived, but it was a wonderful experience.  It was a huge success just getting it opened.  One of the 0-5 businesses includes starting a sub S corporation with a buddy of mine that we ended up doing nothing with.  Does that even count?  I still have the corporate seal and binders from that one.

I feel like I’ve worked a thousand different jobs in my life.  My first job where I received a W-2 was at a TCBY.  I made $3.35/hr.  My second job, before shipping off to Basic Training, was construction.  That lasted one day.  Since then I have had an eclectic variety of jobs.  I’ve worked in the food service industry in a number of different of capacities, including at a restaurant in an airport. I’ve driven produce delivery trucks, worked at different retail stores, served in the United States Army Reserves.  I tried sales jobs twice, not for me. And now I have a job I would have never guessed in a million years I would be doing.  I work for the sewer department for the city where I live.  It’s a shitty job (sewer humor), but I actually enjoy it.  Most of what we do is not nearly as bad as you might think.  But there are those days….

I’ve done some pretty cools stuff in my life.  I’ve been to over a dozen countries.  I’ve been inside the White House.  I’ve been inside the gates of Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guards up close.  Somewhere I still have the invitation from that incredible day.  I’ve climbed Mt. Fuji and ridden on the Bullet Train.  I had a 1967 Mustang for a while.  That was my favorite car of all the ones I’ve ever had.  I’ve surfed in the Pacific and swam in the Atlantic.  I’ve dipped my toe in the Bay of Bengal and I’ve caught a shark in the Gulf of Mexico. 

I’ve gone to war twice.  I received the Bronze Star at the end of my last deployment.  We traveled extensively while in Afghanistan.  And when we did, it always seemed like someone was trying to kill us.  We survived being shot at and enemy rocket attacks.  We could feel the explosions shake the buildings when we went to Kandahar and Bagram.  We flew on some helicopters that probably could have used some extra maintenance, but we survived that, too.  Of all the airplanes we boarded over there, the British C-130 was my favorite ride.  From take off to landing, it was like a rollercoaster on steroids.  I loved it. I’d go back for a day if they let me do that again. But they won’t. I got medically retired a couple years ago.

My life might seem like a completed bucket list for some, and I barely scratched the surface here.  But there is so much left to do.  What could possibly be left?  To just live.  That’s all.  Every day, just live and enjoy life.  I still fret over some of my failures, but I don’t let it consume me.  I still smile about the few things I’ve been successful in, but I know I’m not done, there’s more to come.  For example, later today, I plan on successfully taking a nap.  That might not seem like much, but sometimes it’s the little things that can make a whole day successful.  Don’t ever forget that.  So, Happy Birthday to me, I’m old now. And I’m grateful to still be rotating on this Earth and orbiting the sun.  Thanks for stopping by today and listening to me ramble on as I look back at my first 49 years. It’s really been a good run so far.  Good day, God bless.

Dave

Finally!!!!

I’ve written many times over the years about my struggles with the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Finally, one of my ongoing battles with the VA is coming to an end.  I’ve waited more than six years to get my foot fixed and it was operated on yesterday.  Better late than never I suppose.  But that was more than six years of extra pain to deal with.  Fighting with the VA about what you’ve earned and deserve can, and usually is, an exhausting undertaking. 

In 2013, I was in the belly of a plane loading bags for our trip to Ft Hood for pre-deployment training prior to heading to Afghanistan.  We were tossing bags to each other as they come up the conveyor ramp.  Toss, catch, turn, toss, turn, catch repeat.  As I went to catch one of the duffle bags, it hit my chest, slipped through my arms, and slammed my foot.  The Kevlar helmet that was packed in the top of the bag crushed my toe.  Turns out it wasn’t broken, but it was definitely not well.  It’s been swollen ever since.

After arriving at Ft Hood, “Doc” sent me to get it looked at.  X-rays showed it was not broken, but had in fact exacerbated an issue that I didn’t even know I had.  My foot had good days and bad days after the injury.  Sometimes it was bearable and sometimes it was excruciating.  And without a doubt, having to favor that foot created other issues.  Like when I injured my hip getting out of a helicopter and rocky ground. Now I was having to favor my right foot and left hip.  It was bad enough that the doctor at my little base wanted to send me to Germany for treatment then home.  I declined.  I wanted to finish what I started with my fellow Soldiers that we began the previous year.  But if I had taken the doctor’s advice, I wouldn’t have had to wait six years to get my foot fixed.  But I don’t regret my decision.

The hardest part in this battle with the VA had been getting them to acknowledge that my injury was service-connected.  Even with medical documents from the hospital at Ft Hood, the VA was denying that my injury was service-connected.  It wasn’t until 2018 that the VA sent me a letter saying (and I’m paraphrasing) “Oops, my bad, your foot is our problem.”  That’s what I’ve been telling you for years!  With the documentation I had, it really should have been an open and shut case.  But, being a reservist, sometimes we get swept under the rug.  And the Army didn’t do me any favors.  As we were out-processed at Ft Hood after coming back from Afghanistan, we were told that unless it’s a life-threatening injury we would be passed on to the VA.  I was examined before leaving Ft Hood and the doctor told me what needed to be done. He wrote it down.  It was in my records.  But the Army didn’t want to do it and the VA denied that it was their problem to fix.

Eventually I wasn’t able to get around like I used to.  Couldn’t run.  Couldn’t pass the Army physical fitness test.  I was eventually medically retired, which turned out to be a good thing.  But all the physical issues and poor self-image I developed from my physical decline only added to the downward spiral I was going through in life.  That led to a failed suicide attempt and being diagnosed with PTSD, major depression, and all the wonderful things that go along with that.  The deterioration of my body played a big role in my mental health.  The Army not fixing me and VA denying me made it feel like an insufferable weight.  I hit rock bottom.  Thankfully I failed and am still here today.

Yesterday, the doctor cut open my big toe, shaved some bone, took some bone out, sewed me back up.  Not only is my foot fixed and on its way to recovery to where I can hopefully fully function again, the VA hooked me up with a civilian doctor.  Turns out the Covid problem shut down all non-life-threatening surgeries being done by the VA when I started this process.  My VA pediatrist asked me if I would like them to see if a civilian doctor would do it.  For those of you that have dealt with military or VA doctors I don’t need to tell you how fast I jumped at that option.  I know I painted that last sentence with a wide brush, but there are more bad doctors than good ones at the VA so it’s easy to lump them all in the same group of being subpar. 

I’m off for at least the next three weeks from work.  I’ve been saving my vacation and sick leave for this.  I can’t drive until after my second follow-up appointment when the doctor will remove my stitches.  I’ll just be sitting on the couch eating snacks if you need me.  I have 150 channels or so on cable, a couple streaming sources, and more DVDs than anyone should own in 2020.  Who wants to bet I can’t find anything to watch?  LOL.  I’m getting around well on my crutches.  Last time I was on crutches they were made of wood.  I guess I’m old now.  The surgery shoe is not comfortable, but I have to leave it on until the stitches come out.  I’ll be sleeping on the couch because I don’t want to climb the stairs to the bedrooms for a few days. 

I want to thank my daughter for babysitting me yesterday, getting me to and from surgery, picking up my meds, making me lunch.  My girlfriend is also taking care of me and spoiling me.  I’ll be back to doing a few easy things around the house in a few days.  But I’m taking advantage of this downtime for the time being.  I will rest my body and let it heal.

Healing is important.  And it’s all tied together, both physical and mental.  I had to learn that a few years ago the hard way.  And I do much better now in my understanding that you must take care of both.  Each has its own time table which can be frustrating because physical and mental injuries can’t always heal at the same pace but they can have a huge impact on each other.  Take care of yourselves.  Take time to let yourself heal when needed.  And go easy on yourself when it seems overwhelming.

Thanks for stopping by today.  Good day, God Bless.

Dave

I’ll Do My Best

I finish many of my conversations by saying “I’ll do my best.” Usually when someone tells me to have a good day, sleep well, have fun, or some other well-wishing suggestion, I respond with, “I’ll do my best.” And I mean it. It is a misnomer of sorts, in that I can’t always achieve my best, but I try and that’s the point. Sometimes my best is pretty good and sometimes it falls way short. I think “my best” can be characterized as an ultraviolet light wave. It goes up and down; and depending on where I’m at in the wave cycle depends on what “my best” will be at any given time or circumstance. And, like the ultraviolet light waves, it’s invisible to the naked eye. Sometimes I don’t even know what “my best” will be until it’s time to find out.

Doing my best isn’t always easy. And sometimes I fake it, or I realize during an event that I need to not lose my cool and adjust to a situation. That happened a couple of times last month. First, I was rear-ended on the job. I stopped at a red light, the young lady behind me did not stop in time. It was very minor, barely worth mentioning, but since I was in a city truck for work, a police report had to be made. I watched in the rearview mirror as smoke rose from the road because she locked up her brakes and the tires screeched. I prepared for impact. It ended up being just enough of a jolt to shake my truck. I was momentarily enraged. I’ve written many times here that traffic and driving are a trigger for my PTSD. But by the time we pulled off the road I calmed myself and handled the situation well.

More recently, as I had laid down one night to go to bed, I heard a commotion outside in the parking lot of the condo complex I live at. After about five minutes of listening to the yelling, I decided to go outside and see what was going on. I wasn’t happy about this. When I got outside I saw a young man holding a baseball bat and two young ladies walking away from him. At that point I went from being not happy to thinking I might have to take the bat from that guy and beat him with it. And in my mind as I saw him, I had already disabled the threat. I walked straight up to the guy staring at him the whole time. Two steps away from him, he dropped the bat and put his hands up by his shoulders. He continued to yell until the cops arrived despite my suggestions that he shut up and go back to his condo. Right before the cops showed up he bent down to pick up the bat. I was very calm and clear, but firm and direct in both tone and language, when I told him what the consequences would be if he picked it back up. Fortunately, especially for him, it didn’t come to that.

In both of those instances I did my best. I had to work on it very hard in a very short amount of time. I had only a few seconds each time to realize where my mindset was going and change course. I did good for the most part. But here’s the side effects of doing my best sometimes when I’m not ready to. After the minor wreck and all the waiting and paperwork was over, I had a splitting headache the rest of the day. Forcing myself to calm down in that situation created a lot of stress and anxiety that I carried the rest of the day. I handled the event well, but the rest of my day was horrible. As far as the baseball bat incident goes, I kept my cool enough to not harm that guy even when he bent over to pick up the bat again. After the cops interviewed me about what I saw, I filled out a police report as requested, and was free to go back to bed. The problem was I couldn’t fall asleep. My adrenaline was still going until 1 a.m. I kept replaying it all in my mind, even the part about pulverizing the guy which never even happened. I only got about four hours of sleep before I had to be back at work.

I understand why I dealt with those two events the way I did and had “side effects” afterwards. That’s how I, and many others, dealt with things at war. Focus, get the job done, keep your cool, don’t go crazy, know your surroundings, know all the rules of engagement. But when an incident or attack happens we end up with loads of energy and adrenaline spikes coupled with not knowing the outcome of a situation as it’s happening or having to be prepared to fight at any given time, whether we’re needed or not. It’s stressful. Unlike the two things that happened last month where I could process the events shortly after they happened, I waited until coming home from Afghanistan to process it all. That was dangerous, but I hardly had a choice. And the side effects of waiting until I got back from war were catastrophic. Failed suicide attempt, diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety, unsociable, jumpy, anger issues. The list could go on and on.

Some days are harder than others, but I’m getting there. And I’ll end here as I do many of my conversations, I’ll do my best. Thanks for stopping by. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Welcome Home

His eyebrows sagged and his countenance fell. His lips tightened as he went into a blank stare. He wiped a tear from his eye. He was somewhere else in the world right then, a different place, a different time. He had come back from that place years ago, probably before I was born. He had to come back from it again during our conversation sitting at the bar. I wondered how many times he’s had to come back from there in the last 45 years or more.

During my last trip to Ft Jackson, I stayed for a week instead of the usual weekend. When I’m there for only my army reserve weekend, I have a routine I generally follow. I get to town on Friday, check into the hotel, then go to Sonic. And why not? They’ve gotten my order right 3 out of the last 5 times now, getting better. Saturday is usually blur, and Sunday afternoon I head back to Florida. But when I’m there for a week at a time, I usually go to a couple different restaurants instead of eating drive-thru food for a whole week.

One particular night I went to a place I’ve enjoyed a few times before. It’s a sports bar with a killer burger. Not only is it good, but it might kill you, too, at half a pound of beef. Hence, a killer burger. But I’ll take my chances. The beer is cold, there’s sports on the TVs, and the people are nice. That’s where I met Chuck.

The conversation at the bar had to the with the heat that day. Then Chuck started talking to me, saying something about a “dry heat” like in Arizona or something. I told him that only works until it gets to a certain point. I told him it was a dry heat where I was in Iraq, but once the temperature got over 110 degrees, it was just hot. Dry or not, it was hot. Side note. For the record, I took a picture of the thermometer outside our Preventive Medicine office at my base in Iraq. It was at 146 degrees. But it was a dry heat. LOL.

Then Chuck told me he had been to the two worst places in the world. The first place being Detroit during the riots in 1967. The second place was Saigon, 1968. He was a Vietnam Veteran. He told me how he went from Detroit to the jungle. Then he told me that of all the men on the plane that took him to Vietnam, only 4 came home. That’s when he retreated into his mind for a minute. I imagine he was taking a moment to remember each of them. I believe he could see them in his mind, maybe as they sat next to him on the plane or maybe as they drew their last breath, I didn’t ask. Either way, he needed a minute.

When he returned to reality, we changed the subject of our conversation to sports. But in only two minutes before that, I knew his pain. I had a sense of his war stories. I could tell where he had been in some respects. His face spoke it all very clearly. Sports brought a completely different face to Chuck. His sports stories were amazing and fascinating. The sports figures that he met over the years, the autographs he told me about, the memorabilia he said he has in his sports room. It all had me in awe. And he was happy talking sports. It’s his life now, and his job.

Everyone I went with to Iraq and Afghanistan came home. I personally knew a few people that died serving, but everyone I went with both times came home. I can’t imagine what goes through Chuck’s mind when he thinks about being only one of four surviving members of the group on the plane that took him to Vietnam. The only inkling I have of what he goes through is what I saw in his face while he revisited the fallen in his memories.

I have my moments where I get triggered to memories of war. On occasion I get jumpy because of unexpected noises. Being in traffic is hard for me. I battle anxiety and depression all the time. I’m still figuring out a lot of this since coming home from my last deployment. I don’t know his stories, but I can very much relate to how Chuck reacted when taken back to 1968. I also do that from time to time. And I wonder if years from now I’ll still have my moments like that. We’ll see.

I’ll say again what I told Chuck the other night. Thank you for leading the way with your service. And Welcome home. I’m glad you’re one of the four that came back.

Thank you all for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

SGM Pamplin Saves the Day

I spent this past week at Ft. Lee, Virginia doing Army Reserve stuff. Specifically, I attended a conference put on by the training command I fall under. It was a gathering of all the chaplains and chaplain assistants (now called religious affairs specialists) within the command. A host of guest speakers were there throughout the week, all with a plethora of useful information, including a one-star general that took the time to address us. Ok, maybe all the information wasn’t useful, but if my unit commander asks, that’s what I’m going with. Overall, the trip was definitely worth it.

 

I had only one moment where I wasn’t happy to be there. I was trying to watch the and pay attention to a particular presenter at the time, but there was an attendee standing behind me, talking the whole time. He was either interjecting to the entire group, interrupting the speaker, or he was talking to the person next to him, disturbing those of us sitting in the area. At one point, I made a comment that the guy behind me should give the class since he knows it all and seems to like to talk. Yes, I said it loud enough for him to hear on purpose. Like I posted in a previous blog, I don’t really pull punches anymore at this point.

At the end of that lesson, as we were going on break, the gentleman that annoyed me approached me. He looked at my name and rank on my uniform and addressed me, “Staff Sergeant George, what was the deep sigh for? You might be an expert on this subject, but others might need to hear this.” Oh, my goodness. Did he really just talk in a condescending way like that to me after he was talking the entire time over the presenter? I said, “Sir, can I speak honestly here?” He said yes, please do. So, I told him how I felt about him speaking the whole time, distracting us, that my sigh wasn’t about repeat information, that in fact it was my frustration of his non-stop talking. I got nothing out of that presentation because of him. He apologized, and I believe he was sincere. I took my break outside for some nicotine, actually a double dose of nicotine, I was still pissed, despite his genuine apology. Mostly because of his condescending attitude at the beginning of our conversation. He didn’t even know he was being an ass.

The next speaker after the break was Sergeant Major Pamplin. His presentation and his words were exactly what I needed to hear. For some reason, whatever he was talking about, seemed to put everything in perspective. I was no longer fuming about the rudeness I took personally. In fact, the guy wasn’t trying to be rude, he was trying to help the group, although it was still irritating me and others the way he was going about it. My frustration escalated his talking to rudeness and disrespect in my mind. But it occurred to me that my anger was as much to do with how I deal with situations as it was the guy that kept talking during the previous presentation. With his words of wisdom, SGM Pamplin saved the day. Again.

I first met SGM Pamplin in 2008 while at Ft. Dix (he was a Sergeant First Class at the time). He was in charge of one of the chapels and I was a chaplain assistant preparing for deployment with a unit I had just been cross-leveled to. Just a few days before my unit was to board a plane to Iraq, one of our Soldiers died. I had to help put together a memorial service with no materials, no venue, and with almost no training. I had just recently become a chaplain assistant at that time, after a 14-year break in service, and the training to become a chaplain assistant was very lacking, almost a waste of time. I had never put together a memorial service, not even in training. I was basically set up to fail. Not because it would be anyone’s fault, just because of the circumstances.

I went to the chapel, where I met SGM Pamplin. I told him the situation that my unit was dealing with. I explained that I was new to the job, that my unit was not prepared for this situation, that we were on our way out the door in just a few days. He didn’t bat an eye. He provided everything we needed, and then some. I had all-access use of his resources to put together the memorial service. He gave his guidance. He made sure I was set up for success. He saved the day. And I will never forget it.

I’ve seen SGM Pamplin at various events and functions over the years. He always has an encouraging word when he speaks to a group and always tells an audience that if we need something from him, to reach out and he will do what he can to help. Everyone says that. But I know SGM Pamplin means it. He’s a leader that I’ve tried to model myself after.

What’s the point of this story? Sometimes, just doing your job with a good attitude or helping someone develop their sense of purpose in a job can make a long-lasting impression on someone else. I’m sure the Sergeant Major had no idea the effect he had on me with his leadership and willingness to guide me. As far as he knew, he was just doing his job that day, just another day at the office. I’ve had people in my life, both in and out of the military, tell me years later how much an impact I had on them. I didn’t know. I never thought twice about things like that. I was just doing my job or trying to help someone along with theirs. We all have the capability to make a difference and might not always realize it in the moment. Think about that once in a while. Food for thought. It’s never just another day at the office.

Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave