Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Standby for heavy rolls as the ship comes about

I have sufficiently recovered from the Bacchanal on the Comal to have regained my senses. Check the link for the latest on the Par-Tay!

Blogfests are a lot like family reunions. Family reunions are a lot like a ship tossed about on rough seas. Tension always abounded when I was at sea and the ship would come about to turn her forecastle into the wind. There is sufficient tension to increase the conversation and the decibel level when having major discussions regarding those usually verboten subjects of religion and politics. There are new faces to greet and familiar ones with which to re-acquaint oneself. One thing that I enjoyed the most was the camaraderie that one recognizes when engaged in conversation. Although it wasn't an outright blue norther, the good ship Sycamore was tossed about a bit in the sea of conversation, plenty of unique adult beverages and perfectly barbequed mammal flesh.

I have discovered something new that I want to share with everyone. When you want to get someone's attention during a heated debate conversation make your point using a subdued voice. When levels of conversation escalate, it's not who can shout the loudest that makes his point. It is the one who is listened to that makes his point. If your voice level is below the din, then your words are heard, instead of the loudness of the presentation.

Try it the next time you are discussing something about which you are either adamant or passionate. Then you can drop me a comment about it and it will be reinforcement that this is one more universal truth upon which this old sea-dog has stumbled.

"YAR!" however, must still be voiced above the din of the crowd!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

83-year-old Normandy Veteran

Last month, I joined the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Paid my dues, filled out my application, provided my DD-214 copy and was told to come back anytime. Everyone around the bar was friendly and I met a fellow named Al Simmons, who is now 83 years old. He was in the Navy, UDT (Underwater Demolitions Team - the prececessor to today's SEALs) and was on the beach at Normandy on D-Day.

Now, stop and think a minute folks, this was before SCUBA was invented; before wet-suits were invented. This was getting your body slathered with axle grease (like that would keep you warm), pulling on your flippers and face-mask and jumping into the water with orders to, "Go that way." His mission was to plant explosives on the obstacles the Nazi's had placed in the water to prevent the approach of the landing craft. He accomplished his mission and hid in a hedgegrove during the invasion. He was picked up by a Marine platoon and marched on Berlin with them.

I offered to buy him a beer and he thanked me and said he'd given up drinking when he turned 80. He had returned from the war with Hermann Goering's (the Luftwaffe chief) hunting rifles - inlaid with gold and if it hadn't been for a fire that destroyed his home, he would still have those priceless relics of days long gone.

I salute you Mr. Simmons.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I have been busy!

Sorry for the lack of posting. Here is why!

Friday, June 17, 2005

I knew it, I knew it!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The further adventures of Major Morse

My post yesterday, about Major Morse, takes on an even more spectacular glimpse into who this man is. Some of you may be wondering about his 135 days in-country. Jay jumped was transferred from the frying pan Korea into the fire to Iraq. His service to his country has not gone unnoticed, to wit:

The White House Announces National Finalists for the 2005-2006 Class of White House Fellows

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2005 -- The White House today announced that thirty-one outstanding individuals from across the country have been selected as National Finalists for the 2005-2006 White House Fellows Program – one of the Nation’s most prestigious programs for leadership and public service. The National Finalists represent a diverse cross-section of professions, including business, medicine, law, non-profit, finance, management consulting, science, and education. Additionally, five branches of the military are represented among the National Finalists. A complete list of the National Finalists appears below.

The White House Fellows Program, founded in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, offers exceptional young men and women first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the Federal government. Fellows participate in an education program consisting of roundtable discussions with leaders from the private and public sectors, and trips to study U.S. policy in action. Following the Fellowship year, Fellows are expected to repay the privilege by contributing to the Nation as better leaders and public servants.

Selection as a White House Fellow is highly competitive and based on a record of remarkable professional achievement, evidence of leadership skills, a strong commitment to public service, and the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute successfully at the highest levels of the Federal government. The program has fostered leaders in many fields, including Former Secretary of State Colin Powell; Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao; Former CNN President Tom Johnson; American Red Cross President Marsha Evans; United Nations Foundation President and Former U.S. Senator Timothy Wirth; and U.S. Senator Samuel Brownback.

Additional information about the Program is located at White House Fellows

2005-2006 National Finalists and Hometowns

Matthew Todd Anestis, Project Leader, Boston Consulting Group, Pittsburgh, PA
Michael J. Baumgartner, Senior Vice President, i4 Communications, Pullman, WA
Rodney D. Bullard, Captain, United States Air Force, Decatur, GA
John Daniel Caine, Major, United States Air National Guard, Oro Valley, AZ
Lisa Jo Chamberlain, Clinical Instructor of Pediatrics, Stanford University, Tempe, AZ
Kenneth Wayne Edwards, Associate, Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, Houston, TX
Doug Margrave Fears, Commander, U.S. Coast Guard, West Ocean City, MD
Benjamin Daniel Fishman, Co-Founder/Consultant, The Grow Network/McGraw-Hill, Brooklyn, NY
Eric Robert Greitens, Navy SEAL Lieutenant, SEAL Team One, St. Louis, MO
Scott M. Hines, Chief Executive Officer, A to Z In-Home Tutoring LLC, Grand Junction, CO
Jennifer Ann Jacobs, Senior Member of the Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM
Anjali Jain, Clinical Editor, BMJ Publishing Group, Springfield, VA
Anja Lucia Manuel, Associate, Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale, and Dorr, LLP, Los Angeles, CA
Sean Padraic McLaughlin, Chairman, CEO, Founder, Eze Castle Software, Inc., Boston, MA
Mark Arthur Moore, Director of Media Relations, The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Flint, MI

  • Joseph Bradley Morse, Major, United States Army, Yerington, NV

  • Koushik Shiek Pal, Antitrust Associate, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Muncie, IN
    Steven Lloyd Parker, Major, United States Army, Watertown, NY
    Kavita Krishnakant Patel, Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar, UCLA, San Antonio, TX
    Keith Albino Pellegrini, Major, United States Army, Westchester, IL
    Robert Lee Reffkin, Investment Banking Associate, Lazard Freres & Company LLC, Berkeley, CA
    Paul Martin Riegert, Major, United States Marine Corps, Alexandria, VA
    Jeffrey Daniel Stern, Deputy Coordinator of Emergency Services, Arlington County Fire Department, Potomac, MD
    Michael William Studeman, Commander, United States Navy, Great Falls, VA
    David A. Tarantino, Jr., Commander, United States Navy, Grand Rapids, MI
    Mark Vincent Vlasic, Associate Attorney, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Thousand Oaks, CA
    Richard Jon Wester, Lieutenant Commander, United States Coast Guard, Concord, NH
    John David W. Willis, Lieutenant Colonel (Select), United States Air Force, Memphis, TN
    Cory Todd Wilson, Litigation Partner, Bradley, Arant, Rose & White LLP, Moss Point, MS
    Kenneth R. Zeff, Operations Specialist, San Diego City Schools, Morton Grove, IL
    Laurie Carmel Zephyrin, Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Fellow, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, New York City, NY

    Of course, all of these folks are great Americans, it goes without saying that if your name is on this elite list, you have done a lot of things right, and you have unselfishly given of yourself. Whether or not On the road with Jose becomes a continuing missive – penned by the good Major, everyone who knows Jay will follow his adventures throughout their lives; and give thanks for knowing him.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    On The Road With Jose

    Major Morse returns to the World and I want to share his latest missive. You may remember him from my previous post.

    So I’m coming home. Today is the 2nd of June, and tomorrow I will leave Baghdad after just 135 days in country. It seems like a long time, but still significantly shorter than the tour of those I leave behind (tour. Such a funny application of the word, though with plenty of company in the Army lexicon: collateral damage, high-value target, smart-bomb, low-intensity conflict, knock and search. Sometimes – don’t tell anyone – I feel funny using these words, like I’m the guy who might believe there’s an alien in Area 51, or that there was someone on the grassy knoll. The language of conspirators).
    Some introspection: I have mixed emotions about leaving. Can anyone commiserate? I want to get the hell out of here – fast – yet I have these feelings of not wanting to leave these guys I have trained, lived with, interacted with on a daily basis since the middle of October; of not wanting to leave this significant thing in my life; of wanting to help improve what seems, at times, a dire situation. Don’t be misled; I do not believe this to be my fight. But these are my friends, and it is my uniform, and it is my job, and I do believe, in spite of it all, that the burden borne to the biggest guy on the block is to make life better for everyone else. But it’s also my family I am going home to, and my country, and all of you. I can also take solace, if you’re into self-flagellation, in the fact that I’ll surely be back here in the near future. Baghdad is soon to be, remember, home of the biggest US embassy in the world. Surely the next time around we’ll have spread our good American cheer far and wide enough that I can get a beer outside the front gate. Already, I’ve had Iraqi school boys sing Snoop Dog lyrics to me and proudly flash me their middle finger (“hey mistah! Fucka you!”). Ah, progress. You cannot stop it, you can only hope to contain it.
    Each morning here I awoke acutely aware of the paradox of being part of something I didn’t entirely agree with. Usually I contented myself with the belief that I’m an integral part of the greater good; by helping soldiers who had made some pretty stupid decisions; by helping other officers to be better people and attorneys and by trying to be a better one myself. But some mornings I didn’t know entirely how to deal with it. Some mornings I awoke wanting to be Russell Means, wanting to be Jim Harrison, wanting to be Marla Ruzicka. I want to shake things up a bit, I want to be anti-establishment. Some mornings I simply wanted some insight along with my coffee, wanted the information I think I deserved, not only as to what makes one country invade another, but also as to what makes a man strap a bomb to his back and run into a dining facility, or a group of people waiting to worship, or into a school. Surely it’s not as simply as oil; surely it’s not as simple as 72 virgins and eternal bliss. Surely it’s complicated, its discovery and pursuit merited by the loss of lives, national identity, religious upheaval, and billions of dollars. Right? Surely it’s an enviable thing, this quality of not only being willing to die for your cause, but to willingly die for your cause.
    For 130 days straight neither the war nor its effects has reached out and touched me; when I’d wanted to see it, I had to go out and touch it myself. But we’ve angered the insurgency, apparently, by encircling Baghdad, and in the evening of day 131, prompted by the sound of gunfire, I stepped outside my trailer to watch tracers ricochet off of who-knows-what and fly into the night sky, framed against the backdrop of a dusty, yellowed Baghdad moon. Then on day 132, while waiting for a helicopter, I watched a VBIED-inspired mushroom cloud rise above the tree-line, the accompanying boom reaching me only seconds later. Day 133 brought a mortar round to my living area, about 200 meters from my own trailer, and today, day 134, I heard and felt – despite a building, a mountain, countless concrete barriers and a distance of about 400 meters between it and I, I felt – the effects of two 122mm rockets, the first landing harmlessly in between the chapel and the finance office, the second landing in the middle of our shopping complex, killing two and injuring seventeen soldiers, civilian contractors, and Iraqi businessmen. Two or three of the injured soldiers, and one of the dead, all members of the Georgia National Guard, had been in Iraq for less than a week. Your length of time in this country does not dictate your chances of death. Day one equals day 100 equals day 135 equals day 365. It’s like flipping a coin: no matter how many times you come up heads, you’re even money for tails the next time around.
    Break. I’m home. I’m home, and I have read my above letter. Such pessimism, Jose! Such despair! Such chagrin! It sounds as if I wrote those words with bombs exploding behind me, on the run, running, leaping to latch onto a departing helicopter, my three duffel bags hanging from one arm as I desperately clung to the helicopter skid with the other (“Keep flying, Copperhead 35, I’m good! Get out of the impact area! Save yourself!). Such (melo)drama in my words, and I wasn’t even loaded when I wrote them! But I’m sending them out anyway, because I’m home now, and have so many good things to tell you – mostly how it’s not as bad as the media (or I) portray it, and that Iraqis and Americans, along with a few Italians, Estonians, Brits, Aussies, and Poles (sorry Michael Moore, I saw no Moroccan monkeys) are doing great things on a daily basis, and that Iraq, the Middle East, and hopefully America, will be the better for it. We hope.
    Two stories to end with, one of ambition, one of optimism (sort of): About three weeks ago, I ran into a young soldier sleeping in the sun, lounging in a folding camping chair while waiting to talk to an attorney. Sergeant Hester, a 23 year-old shoe salesman and member of the Kentucky National Guard, is a Military Police soldier, with a mission to “shadow,” or guard, civilian semi-tractor/trailer convoys while they travel from city to city. At the end of March, SGT Hester and about nine other soldiers were shadowing a convoy of about twenty supply trucks, almost exclusively driven by third-country nationals (Aussies, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshi), when they were ambushed by approximately 75 (mostly Iraqi) insurgents. SGT Hester and the other American soldiers were in their armored vehicles at the back of the convoy when the insurgents initiated the attack with small-arms fire and Rocket Propelled Grenades. The soldiers immediately sped to the front of the convoy, where SGT Hester’s vehicle took a direct hit from one of the RPG’s. After first administering first-aid to the gunner, SGT Hester then left the vehicle and headed for an empty canal where she – yes, she – and one other soldier proceeded to kill or injure 10-20 of the enemy. SGT Hester threw grenades, fired her weapon at close range, went back to her vehicle at least once to get more ammunition, and had to take a break about half-way through the 45-minute gun battle to regain her energy. As she put it, at one point the fighting was “toe to toe.” Though none of the American soldiers were killed, several were injured. An ominous sign of the intent of the insurgents was found at the end of the battle when the US Soldiers confiscated, among other things, several sets of hand-cuffs (for taking prisoners) and a videotape of the early stages of the operation, immediately preceded by a film of the insurgents beheading a third-country national, most likely some truck driver, here to make more money in a year that he might see at home in ten years.
    So is it a good thing that any young American is placed in a position where they must kill or be killed? No way. Do I hope that SGT Leigh Ann Hester, Silver Star pinned upon her busty chest, gets the opportunity to testify before Congress? Or maybe arm-wrestle some charcoal-suited, bespectacled, pomaded gentlemen from (insert red state). Absolutely.
    Second story, also titled “Do it for the Chillren.”: About the same time I met SGT Hester, I hadn’t left the base in about a month and was feeling a bit stir crazy. The JAG officer for the Louisiana National Guard (yes, they’re exactly as you would expect them to be) invited me to go with them to deliver some clothes and school supplies to pre-school aged children in a western suburb of Baghdad. A convoy, in and of itself, is an adventure: the narrow Baghdad streets are absolutely slammed, every traffic circle doubles as an open market, and life zooms by through the small, bullet-proof window of your armored vehicle. Little kids smile and wave, young men glare, and women avoid eye contact all together. I have two loaded weapons, but the quarters inside our vehicles are so cramped that I could never hope to use either without getting out of the vehicle, so you’re literally along for the ride. We drive by the school twice before our translator figures out where it is, but we finally stop, announcing our presence with authority (how could we not?). Our five-vehicle convoy parks on the sidewalk; the front, middle, and rear vehicles each manned with .50 cal machine guns pointing in opposite directions. Our presence has reduced traffic to one-lane, but life continues. People are lined up outside an ice-cream parlor, three men (all in sandals) load sodas onto a truck, a man sits with his daughter on the hood of his car). But for our presence, it seems to be, fundamentally, a scene you would see in any major city in the world.
    We exit the vehicles, about twenty men and one woman, all of us with loaded weapons, armored vests, and dark sunglasses, and meet a few of the teachers at the gate. The school itself, behind a gated entry-way, is two non-descript sump-block buildings without windows. Outside, trash and rubble are strewn everywhere, faded paintings of Disney characters on the walls. We are escorted to a one-room building, where the remaining teachers await us. All are women; two are dressed fully in black and but for their eyes, completely covered (how ironic, I think – I’m completed covered as well). In stark contrast to the outside, the inside of the building is exceptionally clean, tidy, and orderly. A row of miniature plastic chairs lines the far wall, each occupied by a wide-eyed, dark-haired Iraqi child. They are beautiful, apprehensive, and silent. I wonder what they must think, as we roar inside the class room, carrying boxes and talking loudly. Do they think we have come to kill them? To stuff them inside these big boxes, and take them away to teach them rap lyrics and curse words? Some of the soldiers start opening the boxes, unloading stuffed animals, clothes, school supplies, and finally unrolling a long piece of butcher paper, bearing the Crayola-ed words “Sacred Heart Elementary School, Baton Rouge Louisiana.” It appears to be signed by the denizens of that school, surely multiple Thibedeauxs, Simons, Delahousses, Therouxs, Landrys and Beaudreauxes. My friend wants me to stand with the children so he can take a picture; I politely decline. I feel like an intruder, self-conscious of the M16 slung from my shoulder, and wonder what I would have thought had armed men come to my school when I was in kindergarten (I remember my cousins surprising me once, that was alarming enough). Many of the children have begun to smile and chatter, and the teachers appear genuinely grateful and thankful for our arrival, and so I also wonder what it was like here three years ago, or five, or ten.The teachers serve us juice boxes and moon pies (universal diplomacy!), and then as quickly as we stormed in, we storm out.

    Major Morse changed his mind, put down his M16 and had the photograph taken.

    On the way home, we (meaning the guys I’m traveling with) decide to make a quick side trip. They’ve been looking for a local imam, leader of a mosque that is perhaps behind some unsavory activities in this part of the city, and this is, apparently, as good a time as any to see if he’s at home. We are looking for a bad guy. We turn down a side street, the lead vehicle speeding to the far intersection, blocking access and pointing the .50 cal down the road. The trail vehicle does the same at the opposite end, and the three remaining vehicles, me in one, stop about three-fourths of the way down the street. Several soldiers move towards the target house, the others pointing their weapons at rooftops, pulling security. I quickly fall in line with the men going towards the house, adrenaline rising, my mother’s face but Johnny Cash’s voice in my head (“don’t take your guns to town, son, leave your guns at home Bill”), my M16 at the ready (before, during, and after, I am disturbed at my eagerness, how quickly my thirst for adventure trumped common sense, politics, safety, care for others. Something to digest; perhaps safer to just ignore).
    Alas, no one is at home (whew!), and we return to the street where we have attracted a crowd. A few older gentlemen are talking with our translator and the company commander. They look wise and well-educated, and are wearing clean, white dishdashas, or “man dresses,” and how quickly my sense of adventure has given way to another weakness, my sense of fashion. I eye the thing enviously. “I think I could pull that look off,” I contemplate. “Maybe a nice white linen, number, with matching sandals. I could wear it to my cousin’s wedding in July.”
    But back to the point of the story, that of optimism. The older men continue to talk with the translator, sometimes in English, sometimes in Arabic, and it is clear that not only is the imam gone, but he won’t be back for a while. Our commander asks to pass a message to the imam, to come in to talk to us when he returns. Suddenly, quickly, the crowd around the translator grows. Kids. Lots of them. It appears school has let out, and the word has gone around that some Americans are in for a visit. Some soldiers open the backs of two of the humm-v’s, and start passing out paper, pencils, pens, markers, calendars, paper clocks, and the kids are going crazy. They are clean, kempt, happy. They all wear uniforms. Many come up to me, ask my name, where I am from, show me their English school books. The girls hang out in the back ground, all but one, who points out that one of the boys is named “Saddam,” again and again, and the other kids, including Saddam, laugh uproariously each time. I wish I weren’t wearing a helmet, or carrying a gun, wanting instead a soccer ball, a rugby ball, a skate board, two tin cans, anything.
    The kids go from vehicle to vehicle, getting supplies, talking to the soldiers, everyone now laughing and smiling, soldier and child alike, white-haired gentlemen in man-dresses. We are interrupted only by two men with beards and long, skinny switches, who start their flock of sheep down our road. I expect a collision, chaos, confused children and frightened sheep. The two men ably divert the sheep back down the road, however, the herd first swallowing up the armored humm-v blocking the road, then spitting it out the other side.
    At least for now, collision avoided.

    Welcome Home, Major Morse. The you will never have to buy your own adult-beverage of choice again, as long as I am around ye!

    Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    Kitten says, "My country is a litter box!"

    El Capitan has officially wigged out. Check out that link, it's insane in a kittycat kind of way.

    Which reminded me that folks who are "Cat Bloggers" must be cat lovers (duh!), and I received this uncredited photo from EllDee which also reminded me that this feline attraction thing is universal!

    Tell you what, anyone who says our troops in Iraq are there for the wrong reasons, can just look at this man gently petting a kitten. The juxtaposition of the fighting soldier against human love cannot be ignored.

    Awww, I have fond memories of scootching a balloon across the rug and attaching it to our cat's back. Try it! It is especially entertaining when it is punctured by their claws and pops. Man, I am going to go to hell for sure for that stunt … but I was just a kid, so purgatory maybe.

    This just in …

    I am so FOR the de-wussification of Texas. Here is the latest from my favorite gubernatorial (he said goober) candidate!

    Dear Kinky People of Texas and the world,

We've been posting this drawing for the last couple days to let you in on a little secret, a secret weapon, that is. 

Since even Kinky can't be in two places at once, we're building a surrogate to travel the state. This little trailer will represent all the "little fellers" of Texas, all the small towns that the fat cats ignore, and an independent spirit that will not be denied. We're asking you to help us put it on the road. Click here to contribute

    The drawing is by Bob "Daddy-O" Wade, one of Texas' most renowned and sought after artists, the man who put a giant iguana on the roof of the Lone Star Cafe and dancing frogs atop Carl's Corner, and it depicts his design for a new secret weapon for our glorious campaign.

    We need your help building it. Daddy-o has, of course, waived his fee, but we must bring in skilled artisans to make this a reality. This buggy is scheduled to travel at least 50,000 miles over the next 17 months, through every city, town, burg and truck stop in Texas. It will carry the campaign swag, the volunteers and the Kinky message throughout every region of our great state.

    It will be a TV star, a press darling and an ambassador of choice, independence and peace. It will be Kinky's surrogate. When he is shacked up at Echo Hill, working through the programs that will make this Lone Star shine again, our little podner here will be driving through places like Big Sandy, Mineral Wells and Pecos, Texas. It will bring joy and wisdom to all Texans everywhere.

    We need about $12,000 to make this a reality. There are over 15,000 Kinky of you out there now, all pledged or volunteered for this campaign, and we need each of you to make another small commitment. If each of you sends us even a few bucks, we'll have this baby rolling by July. If y'all can send a bit more, we could even have a Kinky Friedman action figure by the fall.
    Start your checkbooks ladies and gentlemen. Please click here to contribute

    Cleve Hattersley
    Campaign Kinky

    I will keep you posted, especially with any Swag Wagon sightings. Go Kinky!

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    Tired of crowding traffic and speeding tickets?

    Want to open up some breathing room between you and the cars around you?
    Step 1. Tie these balloons to your car
    Step 2. Drive As fast as you damn well please
    Step 3. Watch people freak out.
    Step 4. When pulled over, tell the nice officers you thought they were real.