I’m Back

I’m back. Finally. I’ve missed y’all. It’s been three weeks since I’ve written or posted. I think that’s the longest break for me in at least the last two years. This month has been busy and it seems to be flying by. And while I feel pretty good about life lately, I’ve lacked the motivation to sit down and write. I keep some ideas in my head, but none of it seems to make it to the computer. There’s been a lot going on. Let me catch you up.

The inconsistent weather had me sick for a week. I think Mother Nature is drunk. Where I live in Florida it’s been pretty nice overall. But the occasional drastic drop in temperatures at night followed by days that require the air conditioner to be run had caused me to get sick. Not bad, mostly sinuses, allergies, and headaches. But my power bill has looked good the last couple months, only having to run the A/C or heat a few times. Dear Mother Nature, please get back on your meds, sincerely, all of us.

That week was followed by a week on orders at my army reserve unit. For those of you that serve or have served in the “One weekend a month, two weeks a year” reserves, you may have had to do that. Most units do the “two weeks” as a unit, usually a training mission designed to enhance and broaden the skills of the soldiers. I, however, am in an instructor unit. Each instructor does a separate training mission in support of a greater mission. Since I’m in the process of a Medical Evaluation Board, I don’t have any real missions. That would have been a perfect week for writing, sitting around the hotel each night bored out of my mind. Unfortunately, after sitting in front of a computer all day at the unit, I was disinclined to do so at the hotel in the evenings. But I did get to watch the Red Sox on TV beat the Yankees 2 out of 3 games. So, that was a good week.

Now to my current week. I feel good. My kids spent the night with me this week, on a school night. They don’t usually stay with me on school nights, so that was a treat. We went swimming, had hamburgers, and watched Big Bang Theory for two hours before bed. Nothing terribly exciting, but I had a wonderful day. I had a physical this week for a new job I will start on Monday. A little more money, better hours, benefits, and weekends off. Weekends off. I’ll get to see my kids more often. That makes me smile. I had to go to the VA for lab work and they didn’t piss me off. Actually, they took me in two hours early. I showed up hoping to get it out of the way and they accommodated me. Another good thing this week. I could get used this “good week” thing.

Ups and downs this month. But for right now I’m on a high note. And not because yesterday was 420, I don’t participate. LOL. I just feel good about things right now. And that feels good. I am tempering my excitement to an extent because I’m a realist. And because I’ve been here before. I know life will continue to go up and down and some of the downs can be pretty bad. I wonder if that’s why sometimes, some of us won’t let ourselves be as happy as we should be, because we know the high peaks won’t last. We know the rollercoaster called Life that we’re riding will go up and down, turning, looping, jarring from side to side, until it makes an abrupt stop. It may be a week, a month, or even tomorrow that something comes crashing down that forces me into a battle with depression. But for now, I’m enjoying this feeling of feeling of good. And I’m going to milk it for everything I can. Because it will be gone soon enough.

Find something good today and enjoy it while you can. Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Advertisements

March Madness and Life

I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I love the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. It may be the best sporting event in all of sports. Especially the weekend of the first two rounds. And especially this year. I don’t watch all the games, but I watch a couple games each day that interest me and try to catch the highlight shows at the end of the night. This year’s first two rounds last weekend certainly lived up to the madness of March Madness. Buzzer-beating game-winning shots, the #1 overall seed going down, elation, heartbreak, chaos, poise, desperation, and confidence. Just a few things from the first round alone. Every game for the seniors is potentially their last, and every freshman that takes the court has a chance to do something historic. Underdogs can win and overrated teams usually reveal their weaknesses. All of our brackets are busted. It’s madness, complete madness.

While March Madness might be the most exciting sporting event, baseball is my favorite sport. Yes, baseball over football. At no point in a baseball game is the game over until the last out is made. There is no clock. There are no flags to be thrown. No turnovers. Baseball is the only sport that can’t change from offense to defense in the middle of a play, the defense must get all three outs to change sides. And one of the most interesting things in comparing baseball to all the other team sports is that every ballpark is different. In all the other sports, they have the same playing fields, same dimensions, same yard markers, same goal height. No two ballparks have the same dimensions, only the standard 60’ 6” from the mound to home plate and 90’ between the bases.

My life sometimes feels similar to March Madness. It’s chaotic and anything can happen. It’s had excitement, surprises, moments of success, and plenty moments failure. And there are times that even though I’m living my life, I can’t believe what happened and would like to see a replay. I get happy when a good thing happens to me and I get upset when a bad call happens that’s not my fault. Sometimes I feel like that team that’s down by 5 with 15 seconds left but doesn’t have any timeouts left to stop the clock to regroup in hopes of making a final effort to avoid defeat. I’m probably like the 16 seed that people root for as the underdog, even though they know there’s no chance of winning.

But a 16 seed won a game this year, for the first time ever.

March Madness also means that Major League Baseball is right around the corner, something I start looking forward to as soon as the world series ends. My life is like the madness in the first weekend of March Madness from time to time. PTSD doesn’t follow a season. The symptoms come and go as they please. Sometimes my frustrations turn into anger. I become depressed without warning. I go from having a great day to a horrible day in the blink of an eye. I’m often on edge and tense and hypervigilant. I get stuck in that madness sometimes, some of which is from outside sources and some of which comes from within my own mind. I don’t always do a great job of looking passed it. But I’m learning. I’ve found that the periodic madness of my life doesn’t last, I just have to make it through it, that there’s something ahead that might be good. It helps to find things to look forward to. But even then, it can sometimes be a challenge.

Even with the unpredictable madness, I see baseball coming. In baseball, the game ain’t over until the final out. No lead is insurmountable, no clock will expire. And no series is won or lost until the final out of the final game. And I’m still in the game. It’s madness, but I’m still in the game, still swinging for the fences. I’m striking out a lot, but every once in a while, I connect and hit one out of the park. And if I find myself at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, with the game on the line, I’ll make contact or I’ll go down swinging.

The madness of life is a given. Don’t get stuck there. Something better is coming, whether you can see it or not from where you are now. Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless, and Go Red Sox!

Dave

The Hanging of Saddam Hussein

My deployment to Iraq (2008-09) was pretty boring for the most part. I was at a little base called Camp Bucca and my job was not very exciting, it kept me at a desk in the chapel most days. A few times a week, I would escort the chaplain to the TIF (theater internment facility) to visit our troops, medics, and command staff. Sometimes when the chaplain was counseling with a soldier, I would get to pull tower duty over one of the compounds while the chaplain and soldier walked around and chatted. A couple of times when visiting the SHU (special housing unit, where the worst of the worst were kept in solitary confinement), I was overwatch during a detainee being moved from his cell to the small fenced patio for his outside time. That was almost exciting. I held the taser for that job, just in case the detainee had the guts to do something stupid while being moved. They never did, they knew better. That was one cool thing about deploying with a Military Police battalion. I was trained on their non-lethal weapons, trained in combatives, self-defense, and other exciting things. I could have done without the required OC spray (pepper spray) followed by an obstacle course, but that was part of it.

Overall, it was a boring deployment. Nothing like my time in Afghanistan (2013-14) where I traveled all over the country escorting my chaplain. Camp Bucca, Iraq, at least while I was there, was not exciting. And in some ways, that’s a good thing. Very few times was our base threatened, and even if it was, it wasn’t anything like I saw in Afghanistan. I probably saw and heard more attacks in any particular week of travel in Afghanistan as I did my entire deployment in Iraq. Boring can be good in that case. But boring can also be tough on morale. My fellow chaplain assistants and I did what we could to make Bucca a little better for those of us stuck there.

Sometime in 2008, a bootleg video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging was circulated via email. It was a very different view from the official video footage released by the Iraqi government after Hussein’s hanging on December 30, 2006. That video stopped just short of his actual hanging. The unofficial video being circulated that I saw was of poor quality, obviously taken on a cell phone. Lights seemed to be flashing, but that was probably the cell phone camera not having enough light to take good video. And the picture was unstable, lots of movement. Obviously, whoever was filming the execution was moving with the action as it happened, while Saddam was being escorted to the gallows. I watched that cell phone footage of him being led to the noose. I couldn’t understand the Arabic being spoken. I watched that video as the rope was put snuggly around Saddam’s neck. He spoke defiantly, or perhaps he was praying, I don’t know, but it was no help to him. The floor dropped out from under him, and after a few seconds, he hung lifeless and still.

That was a morale boost for me. Does that make me a bad person? Nope. That’s why we were there. Do you have any idea how hard it was to be present during the times a soldier was notified of a death of a loved-one from far away, or to organize a memorial service for a fallen soldier, or to inform a spouse that her husband’s plane went down in Afghanistan and there were no survivors? Do you know how hard it was to read casualty reports on the secret-side email and see how those events unfolded? Do you know how hard it was to see those burned children? Honestly, I think it would have been easier to see corpses instead of those children in pain and suffering, crying, scared, with no chance of ever being bodily normal again. Sometimes I still see those three children when I lay down to sleep at night.

I’ve seen some horrible things and I’ve seen some wonderful things. And I can say that the only time I’ve ever witnessed a death (on video or in person) and smiled about it, was watching the hanging of Saddam Hussein. The unofficial video was a couple of years old when I saw it, but at the time, that bootleg video was new to us. To me, it put to rest any doubts. There had been talk for a while that Saddam wasn’t really dead, because the official video didn’t show his neck snapping like the bootleg video did. The official video stopped just before the floor fell out from under him. But the scratchy, unprofessional, dimly lit video from a cell phone that I, and others saw, was enough to make it a good day for me. Saddam’s neck snapped and all life left his body. I smiled. And I didn’t feel bad at all when watching Saddam die in that video. It made me happy, really happy. Once in a while, though, I do think about it and wonder if my feelings about watching that video were normal. That doesn’t usually last long. Maybe I’m demented, but I don’t feel bad about it. He got what he deserved.

I write about a lot of things here, some uplifting, some dark. When you visit Story of My Life, you agree to take the good with the bad. Thank you for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

You Don’t See Me

I had a conversation with the new Command Sergeant Major at my army reserve battalion. It was a little one-sided. Those of you who have served in the military know what I’m talking about. I’m coming up on the end of my military career in the reserves, an ending that is not as much my choice as it is the army’s. With that said, I’m a little less likely to hold my tongue than I might have before. I’m still respectful, I just don’t pull my punches anymore, I leave no doubt as to what I’m thinking. I don’t remember exactly what I said that started, “With all due respect Sergeant Major.” But I know it was the truth. Then the Sergeant Major spoke. And what he said was also the truth. I had hoped to talk with him more that weekend, but with a busy training schedule it wasn’t to happen. So, I thought I’d write out what I would have liked to say to him.

The Sergeant Major doesn’t see me, the soldier. He only sees what’s left of me, the soldier. He sees the old guy whose best days are behind him. He doesn’t see that I came back into service at 36 years old after a 14-year break, because the army needed people to do a job. They needed people really bad at the time, and I answered the call. And I would do it again.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/26/the-cost-2/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that can’t pass the army physical fitness test. But he doesn’t see that until my deployment to Afghanistan (2013-14), I was passing the PT test at the standards of an 18-year old (the standards get easier as the soldier gets older). Yeah, I was in my early 40’s passing it with the numbers an 18-year old would have to do to pass. He sees an older, slower soldier. But he doesn’t see that the last two months of my deployment to Afghanistan I was injured. I sucked it up and completed my mission. He doesn’t know the doctor at my little base over there suggested I go to Germany for treatment, then home. He doesn’t know I decided to stay, despite the pain I was in.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/18/yard-work-and-running/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that moves slowly. He doesn’t see that on my two deployments, I brought my chaplains back safe and sound. And that on my last deployment, we traveled Afghanistan extensively. He doesn’t see that in the narrative of my Bronze Star award it tells how I performed my duties under hostile enemy attacks. He doesn’t see that while I was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were soldiers that had been hiding in the instructor unit (my current unit) for a decade or longer.

Left:  Kabul, Afghanistan 2103.  Right:  Umm Qasr, Iraq 2008.

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that lacks motivation. He doesn’t see my ribbon rack on my dress uniform. He doesn’t see that if I were to update my rack, I’d have 15 different awards on my chest. He doesn’t see all the times I volunteered for different things. He doesn’t see that at a previous unit, I had used up all my allowed time for the fiscal year but still drove 50 miles to give a brief for free (retirement points only). He doesn’t see that I coordinated the suicide intervention training for a CACOM I was in, and that my CACOM was the only command in USACAPOC that met standards by the deadline. Yeah, I got an award from the USACAPOC Command Chaplain for that.

The Sergeant Major sees a somewhat disgruntled soldier. He doesn’t see that I’ve been stuck in a broken system that hasn’t fully addressed my physical and mental injuries. He doesn’t see that I never chose to be a substandard soldier, that in fact, at one time, I was a damn good soldier. He doesn’t see that the circumstances and stresses of all that I’ve gone through have made me what I am now. He doesn’t see that the weight I bear from the physical and mental issues of not being able to perform like I used to was a contributing factor in my suicide attempt in 2015. That, among other things. He doesn’t see how much this kills me inside, only how it currently affects my attitude, something I know I need to work on.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/25/breathe-in-breath-out-if-you-can/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major doesn’t see me. He only sees what’s left of me. That’s not fair to either one of us. He probably doesn’t see that I’m my own worst critic and that I absolutely hate that I’m not able to do the things I used to do or handle situations and stress like I have in the past. He has no idea how valuable an asset I can be in the right environment. I could see it in his eyes that he plans on creating the right environment. I could hear it in his voice when he spoke to me. It’s a big job he’s taking on, and I don’t think the odds are in his favor, only because the problems he wants to fix have been there for so long. But I truly hope he pulls it off. It’s probably too late for me to experience the right environment again, but perhaps it will be there for future soldiers in that unit. When my time in the army reserves is over, I will leave satisfied that I made my area a better place overall. I might limp across the finish line, or even fall short of it altogether, but I did my job and did it well. And no one can ever take that from me, no matter what’s left of me at this point.

Thanks for stopping by Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

What Did We Learn?

“What did we learn?” I might be the only one I know that liked the movie Burn After Reading. And that was my favorite line in the movie, “What did we learn?” At the end of the movie, J.K. Simmons, who plays a CIA superior, asks that question. You might recognize him and that line from the Farmers Insurance commercials from a while back. In Burn After Reading, Brad Pitt was excellent as a goofy, idiotic fitness center employee. John Malkovich was superb, as usual. Tilda Swinton perfectly plays a woman you want to hate. And some guy named George Clooney was in it also. Really, why am I the only one that likes this movie? It’s on Netflix. Y’all should check it out.

But this isn’t a movie review, per se, but more of a reason to ask ourselves, “What did we learn?” Throughout the whole movie, there is a comedy of errors with the CIA, other branches of the government, and even the Russian Embassy at one point. Nothing seems to be going right for anyone involved in the plot. It’s a hilarious mess. And at the end of the movie, the CIA superior (J.K. Simmons) simply asks, “What did we learn?” No one in his office had a good answer. Even though he had no idea what had happened to cause all the craziness he had to deal with, he answered his own question by saying something along the lines of, “Let’s not do that again.”

As I mentioned last week, I recently changed jobs. On a shift before I left, I was talking to my buddy I worked with in the kitchen. The lack of hours was the only reason I left that job, one of the points of our discussion. We had both been frustrated with the cut in hours. I mentioned to him that I learned a lot during the year I worked there. That upset him, at least that’s how I took it with his response of, “I didn’t learn anything. I didn’t get anything from this.” I guess I see his point. As a cook, I got very few new lessons from that job to add to my skill sets of working in a kitchen. So many people, like my friend, fail to see the bigger picture. I did learn some things, albeit, not much related to cooking. But I did learn.

I’m 47 years old. There is not quite as much new stuff for me to learn as when I was in my 20’s, and there’s even less desire to learn some of it on purpose. I doubt I’ll learn Mandarin at this age. I’m probably not going to learn how to rebuild a car engine at this point in my life. And I’m certainly not going to learn how to perform brain surgery. There’s a ton of new things I’m not going to learn as a whole, and I accept that. However, every day I can find something to add to what I already know. I think that’s why I’m so engaging with people, because I might learn something. And I’m always open to new experiences and adventures, and the lessons that come with them.

I’ve learned a lot of important things in my life. I’ve learned there’s plenty more things that I don’t know than what I do know. I’ve learned that listening can make a world of difference for someone. I’ve learned that sometimes the best way to sound smart is to say less. I’ve learned that others can make me happy or sad, or elicit other fleeting emotions, but that I am solely responsible for my own happiness in my life. And that starts with me being happy with myself. Which I’m not. At least not completely, but I am working on it. It’s hard sometimes with periodic bouts of depression, some of which last for weeks. But I’ve learned it doesn’t last forever. I’ve learned to keep moving forward.

While I might not learn something new like how to navigate a ship using the stars, I will continue to take each day as an opportunity to add to myself and learn something. What did we learn? It doesn’t have to profound or life-changing, or even a good lesson for that matter. Because even in the craziness of life, no matter what the lesson is, you should be able to give an answer at the end of the day when asked, “What did we learn?” Even if the answer is, “Let’s not do that again.”

Thanks for stopping by this week. I hope you learned something. Good day, God bless.

Dave