Friday, November 30, 2007

n.ever a.gain v.olunteer y.ourself

While my brothers-in-blog were contemplating the loss of their pimp-a-rific mustaches, I was contemplating the continued forfeiture of my freedom.

I re-enlisted today for an additional three years, bringing me to 17 total years of service. The ceremony was performed while I was piloting our plane over the Horn of Africa.


*Ass-Cancer = Army.

p.s. And to a certain very special Project Manager / Office bitch: I'll be home before we know it. I tore a ring today, by the way.

Friday, November 16, 2007

i could be the next hemingway

Evidence against:

I do not write particularly well.
That which I do write is not "characterized by economy" or "understatement."
I possess neither a gnarly beard nor mats of gnarly chest hair.
I do not have any cats.
I have never been to Cuba.
I dislike Paris.
I have not been awarded a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize.

Evidence in support:

A cold beer, a hot cappuccino and a good novel at sunset in Africa.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I am sad, shuttered. Distant. Removed. Separated.

It is time to escape again.

Instantly, mottled grey and khaki sweeps beneath me. Knees aching, my mind swimming. Her voice compels me further, but my breathing is labored.

A cloud of choking fog and soot parts as I charge it, but it's always there. Ahead of me. I will myself further.

For a moment, there is silence. Thoughts crash at me. A choir of doubt and sadness and longing echoes against the chamber walls of my mind. I alone listen. I alone can hear. It sounds like a dirge: unfair.

I ask to be loved but I am never there to return it. I am perpetually absent.

Absent: this refrain repeating itself again and again, in time with the swoosh-swoosh of blood against my eardrums.

Suddenly... erased. It is pushed aside; gone again, if only for noise. It waits just beyond the edge, though.

A moist, acrid wind pushes against me; I draw my face down. Before me and behind, I notice half-crescent dimples in soft gravel. They mark my path.

Every three feet or so, there is evidence of where I have been, and where I am going.

I make the last turn, and I remember being here before. I am brought to the same place I'd just departed. I am tricked. I am tricking myself.

Trapped in a circle.

I'm done now. Panting. Seated outside my tent beneath sickly yellow light. My elbows rest atop my knees. I realize nothing has changed. I am not escaping.

A smile cracks. Beneath me, little drops collect and turn the grey cement black. It feels like I went somewhere. Like I tried.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

the culture of suck

"The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned. When you hear a lot of talk about it, it's usually lousy." -
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

"Please taste this and let me know what you think. I'd like to serve it to the men."

"What is it?" asked Yossarian, and took a bite.

"Chocolate-covered cotton."

"This stuff is better than cotton candy, really it is. It's made out of real cotton. Yossarian, you've got to help me make the men eat it. Egyptian cotton is the finest cotton in the world."

"But it's indigestible," Yossarian emphasized. "It will make them sick, don't you understand? Why don't you try living on it yourself if you don't believe me."

"I did try," admitted Milo gloomily. "And it made me sick."


I am deployed to the Horn of Africa. There is a lot to complain about.

Over fourteen years, I have been deployed all over the Middle East. There has always been a lot to complain about.

But where does it end? When are we -- the boys and girls of your American military -- happy?


Let me give you a recent example:
I have been tentatively promised AAA batteries by an in-camp hook-up, which I need for my GPS watch and are NOT FUCKING AVAILABLE HERE... why, you ask? A good question. The story:

Me. In the "Exchange." Hey, look, I can buy a FUCKING 32" FLATSCREEN TV. That's neat. For a war zone and all. Man, I need batteries. Hey, where are the batteries? No, really, where the FUCK are the batteries? ANY FUCKING batteries? AA, C, D, AAA, 9-volt? Anything, you FUCKING RETARDS? What? You don't have a SINGLE FUCKING BATTERY? How is that possible, you ignorant smiling motherfucker? You must not be understanding me. I'm going to speak to the only American in here. He must be the manager. Oh, look, he is! And he called me, "Chief." This should work out, after all. Hey, Mr. Manager, how come I can't find any batteries? Umm, sorry Chief, it's because we don't have any. How in the fuck is that possible, Mr. Manager? Well, we get cases every month, but the minute they come in, the women on the Camp come in and buy them all up. WHAT? Why the fuck would they.....ooooooohhhhhhhhh. GOD DAMN IT. VIBRATORS SUCK.
  • We have peanut-butter, but no jelly.
  • We have air conditioning, but it fails.
  • We have wildlife, but it is the kind that kills you.
  • We have yogurt, but no spoons.
  • We have juice, but it's not filled in the magic little dispensing thingies until 10 minutes before the chow hall closes.
  • We have "Containerized Living Units" but less than half of them have toilets.
  • We have water heaters for our showers and 60" widescreen flatpanel televisions in the chow hall but neither are not connected to power.
  • We have an oven on the plane to make nifty little heated meals, but we have no aluminum foil.
  • We have shampoo, but no conditioner.
  • Alternatively, we have conditioner, but no shampoo.
  • We have body wash, but no pouffs.
  • We have razors, but the blades only fit the razors we don't have.
  • We have a chow hall, but (sometimes) it has no roof.
  • We have mosquito netting, but no cord with which to hang it.
  • We have Maxim, but no Economist.
  • We (evidently) have vibrators, and some of us have batteries.
And yet we laugh. As recent as only a few years ago, the prospect of posting a blog while in a combat zone was ridiculous; our only connection to the Real World was official message traffic. We prayed for "FamGrams" -- a sort of pseudo-telegram limited to 40 words. Food came out of a brown plastic bag... and among the variety, there were the "Three Fingers of Death."

We're never satisfied, because something is always dicked-up. Complaining establishes a lowest-common denominator. It actually works, I think, to establish a sense of camaraderie. An esprit-de-corps (we have it worse than everyone else, right?)

And kind of like in Joseph Heller's Catch-22, it is sometimes necessary to complain because it reminds us we're alive.*

Last night, I may not have had batteries for my watch (and there may have been an annoying multi-volt chorus coming from the female-only tents), but I got to call someone wonderful who is very, very important to me. My night and day and week and even deployment has been made.

Wouldn't have happened, yesteryear.

Perhaps tomorrow, though, we'll have aluminum foil. Cotton balls -- even when covered with chocolate -- taste like shit.

*Alive (recently overheard):
"Flight station, I need a right turn to 250."
"Flight station, turn right to 250."
"Flight station from Nav, I need a right turn to 250."
"I'd love to, Nav, but right now I'm busy making sure we don't stall."
Me: "What?!? Is there suddenly a 300-knot headwind? Why are we just now hearing about this?"

Saturday, November 3, 2007

stripper pole father

When my precious daughter was but still a growing and kicking zygote pushing at the soft boundaries of her mommy's belly, I was already preparing to be the best father I could.

I remember, then, reading a short story that profoundly affected me; its lesson has since so deeply colored my parenting that it has since become second nature.
A proud father is playing in the surf with his children, a young daughter and her brother. They are of similar age, perhaps only a year or so apart. All of them are facing the open ocean, and each child is gripping one of Daddy's hands as they kick and giggle at the swirling green water.

Suddenly, a wave somewhat larger than the others approaches, and without thinking, the father raises his daughter up and out of the water, clutching her to his hip. Meanwhile, he strengthens his grip on her brother so that he might not be swept away.
What has Dad unconsciously taught his children?
  • Girls are not strong enough to face the same adversity as boys.
  • Girls should expect, as a matter of nature, that boys will rescue them in the face of challenge.
  • Boys must be strong and must depend on themselves.
I disagree. Though it is unquestionably my hope that my Madison builds relationships in her life in which she can depend on another's strength and support -- not the least of which mine -- I am forever adamant that she learns she is capable of facing and conquering the same challenges as anyone else, even boys. That... just because she's a girl, does not mean that she can't win and accomplish and overcome... and that she doesn't need a boy to help her.

It is for this reason that I may --to the casual observer -- seem the dispassionate and unconcerned Dad. At the park, she is encouraged to climb the same rock wall as her boy counterparts. Conversely, I routinely witness other parents rushing over to their daughters and propping and pushing them up by their little butts, whereas with their sons they expect them to get up to the top all by themselves.

Mind you, Madison knows I'll be there, and that I'll stand at the bottom to catch her if she falls, but the assistance she'll get from Daddy is going to be in the form of encouragement: Come on, sweetheart, you can do it.

These days, that little monkey routinely beats me to the top.

Two digressions:
I remember a lovely summer evening in Georgia. All the parents were gathered on the porch and front lawn of Danny's house, talking as parents and neighbors do, enjoying sweet tea and idle banter. All of the neighborhood kids were playing together; Madison and her best friend were madly racing those God-forsaken motorized Hot Wheels cars.

My neighbor, with whom over the years I had developed a close kinship, asked me in a moment of reflection: "Justin, do you ever sit and watch Maddie and wonder what she'll be when she grows up? What do you want her to be?"

To which, completely without thinking, I replied, "Honestly, I don't care what she becomes. It sounds cliche, but all I want is her happiness. Whatever she wants. If I had to guess, though... let's see... she is very strong, very independent. She is unbelievably smart. She routinely kicks your son's lily-white ass. For all I know, she'll grow up to be the first lesbian President of the United States."

My neighbor recoiled in horror: he had once been a Baptist seminary student, and he was died-in-the-wool conservative Georgian besides... I had predicted that she'd be gay?
Shortly before leaving the States for the deployment I'm currently on, I took Madison to a local park in Gaithersburg. She was spinning around and around and around on one of those climbing poles. A stranger to my right on the bench turned to me and said, "She's pretty good at that!" To which I said, "She's learning how to pay for college."

In summary, I may be constantly thinking about the lessons I'm teaching my daughter -- consciously and subconsciously -- but I still have a sense of humor about it. And if she grows up to be the first former-stripper, lesbian candidate for President... well, at least I won't have had to answer the door with a shotgun in the teen years. Plus, she'd likely have hot friends.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

alcohol-fueled dromedary death

Group discipline in the military is nicely summarized with the following maxim:

"The majority shall be punished for the crimes of the minority."

Alternatively: "You are only as stupid as the stupidest asshat among you."

Recently, I mentioned the Bitter End. It is a beer-filled oasis to which we warfighters repair when operations and sleep and our general tolerance for other people* is sufficient enough to warrant a couple cold Tuskers and maybe a round of darts.

The Bitter End (and its sister cantina mantina**) is closed.


Because some fucktard violated the rules*** and had a few dozen too many while patronizing the mantina, then promptly left our camp driving an (ubiquitous) Land Cruiser, and ran into a camel****, killing it.

No more Tusker.

* Other people: Fugly personality-void Frog Hogs notwithstanding.
* Mantina: So-called because of its gender imbalance. Some have referred to it as "Dry Sausage Soup."
*** Rules: Daily consumption is limited to three drinks.
**** Camel: "There is no other community in the world where the camel plays such a pivotal role in the local community and culture as in the Somali community." (source)