Saturday, January 31, 2009

Goodbye at Physical Therapy



On Wednesday, Joe and Gretchen, my physical therapists, gave me final instructions for keeping my shoulder healthy. At Lancaster orthopedic Group they have a wall of shirts of athletes they have treated in one of the therapy rooms. Joe asked me for an Army t-shirt to hang on the wall. Joe is about my age and well remembers the John Wayne movie The Green Berets. In that awful film, a dying sergeant asks that if they are going to make a memorial to him, they name a latrine after him--that way all the men will see it. The sergeant got his wish. And Joe hung my t-shirt above the entrance to the men's bathroom.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Goodbye Ceremony

Tonight we had an official goodbye ceremony for our families courtesy of a group known as the Mechanicsburg Club. We got a catered dinner at the Farm Show. My family and I shared a table with another soldier from our unit and his parents. My youngest daughter Lisa, who is a vegetarian, sat next to the soldier. He got the beef. In fact his all time favorite restaurant is a Brazilian Churrscuria--the ones where more than a dozen kind of meat are served by waiters moving around the restaurant offering various cuts of mostly red meat. He and Lisa made a lot of jokes about what constituted a real meal. My wife said Lisa actually just wants to kill vegetables.

Even better, they had a Kids Food table, so my son (no vegetarian) could have hot dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets AND mac and cheese!!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My First Day & First Additional Duty

At 0730 we had our first formation of the deployment. During that formation we heard again what we had heard ever since we were told we are getting deployed: Accountability is the First Priority. Every leader has to know where his or her people are at all times. So we had a roll call. We traded cell phone numbers. We met the new guys. When I went to the gym at lunch time, I made sure my squad leader knew where I was and when I would be back.

And just before lunch (Chicken with Noodles MRE--I never opened it) my platoon leader let me now he would be in charge of Physical Training (PT) while we are at Fort Sill. I knew he would need a sergeant in charge so I volunteered immediately. I was wondering how I would find time to work out during our training phase. But by volunteering to be NCO in charge of PT, I could volunteer for the aerobic training which nobody ever wants. So the lieutenant gets to be in charge of the PT people actually like, and I get to run. Although it will be with up to 80 guys, some of whom do not share my enthusiasm.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'm a GO

Just a few minutes ago, I got a call from my unit saying I am officially a "Go" for deployment and should report for duty tomorrow morning at 0730.

I have been sure I would get cleared for the big trip. And when I spoke to the administrative specialist on the phone I was making jokes. But when I got off the phone, I was both excited and felt like all the strength went out of my legs.

I am happy and having the biggest "Oh Shit" moment I have had since the pain killers wore off after my last surgery. After all this time and all that distracting paperwork, it's finally real. The one-year clock starts ticking tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Communication Without Words--On the Phone

Today I called my No-Go Counselor again. As soon as she answered the phone I promised I would not ask her anything about my status, because, of course, she was not allowed to say anything. So I told her I did not want to bother that one sergeant's major (SGM) in the whole world whom I could ask about my status. Then she said that the SGM was a very busy guy processing many people for deployment. Since she told me yesterday that she would be lloking for a doctor to sign my form after I sent the additional info from the surgeon, I asked her if she was successful in her work yesterday. She said she was and then added there was no need to bother the SGM about my status and said I should ask the full-time guys in my unit to check the deployment roster tomorrow afternoon.

By telling me to have the full-time guys check the roster, she was saying (if I correctly heard the smile in her voice) that a doctor did sign my form and that by tomorrow I will be a Go.

If the governor of Illinois had the communications skills of my No Go counselor, he wouldn't be on his way to impeachment and prison.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Mute Counselor

In December when I went through the second round of pre-deployment medical evaluations, I was officially a "No Go" because of the shoulder surgery on October 30. I was assigned a No-Go Counselor who said it was her job to "get me through the process of clearing the No Go and getting me ready for deployment." She sounded like a customer service rep.

And she was. Until last Tuesday. That was the day the surgeon who did my shoulder surgery examined me and said I was good to go. He then filled out an Army form saying I was ready to pushups, swimming, carry 48 pounds of gear, etc. At that point, my No-Go counselor became my No-Talk counselor. Once she confirmed she had the form from the surgeon, she said I could not ask about my Go, No-Go status.

What? It turns out Army regulations prevent them from discussing actual decisions on status. What else WOULD I want to talk about except my status with a No-Go counselor?

So this morning I put on one of my best suits and went to the Army Medical Records office at Fort Indiantown Gap. My youngest daughter went with me. It is her 18th birthday and she wanted to get a military ID card. She was also very well dressed. The sergeant at the service window took my information right away. He confused me with a Colonel Gussman. To be fair, he did continue to help me when he found out I was a sergeant, not a colonel.

He said they would call back today. And they did. It turns out the Army form I sent was not enough, they needed another piece of paper. By a very good coincidence, when my No-Go Counselor called, I was at my Physical Therapy appointment, in the same building as the surgeon's office. I went straight to the surgeon's office keeping the counselor on the phone. The surgeon's admin assistant was in and willing to get me the document I needed while the counselor was on the phone.

A half-hour later, I called the counselor back. She said she thinks she has the right piece of paper now and just needs to get a doctor to sign it off. She also apologized profusely, but Army regulations prevent her from discussing the status of my case. She did tell me there is one sergeant's major on the entire who is authorized to discuss my case. She gave me his name and suggested the full-time folks at my unit contact him.

So as of now I am still a No Go and waiting for a doctor's review.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Goodbye For Now at Church

This morning I spoke for a few minutes at both services. We are members of a Presbyterian Church, so this kind of testimony is written out. Here's what I said:

Good morning brothers and sisters. If all goes according to the plans the Army has for me as of now--and they could certainly change--the next time we will worship together at Wheatland will be in February of 2010. For those of you who don't know, I am going to Iraq in May after spending the next 2 1/2 months at Fort Sill in Oklahoma then a couple of weeks in Kuwait to acclimate to the rather warm weather in the Middle East.

So I wanted to say goodbye for now and to let you know I will be praying for you as you face the difficult months ahead.

I know, you thought you would be praying for me, and, of course, I welcome your prayers, but really, it is you who are facing the greater danger, while I will be experiencing many blessings that you folks can only wish for.

Because we all agree, or at least if we are members of Christ's Body we have affirmed many times, that the purpose of our lives is to Love God and enjoy Him forever. And we know from the life and words of Our Lord and the Apostles and the greatest saints that have followed in His footsteps, that the surest path to beatitude is through suffering--not to mention poverty, grief, and forsaking the blessings of this world.

Even in the current economic climate you will all still be spending money on things you need, choosing among competing brands and stores, faced with a dizzying array of choices. You have to decide where to eat, when to eat, what to eat. You can quit your job, choose your doctor, sleep in a room with fewer than 10 roommates, choose your wardrobe, make your own schedule, even have Budweiser and Twinkies for breakfast if you really want to.

In fact, a few of you may even be in doubt as to whether your work is valuable or you are doing the right thing with your life.

I, on the other hand, will not be spending time choosing my clothes, my meals, my forty or so roommates, meal times, or what I am eating. While I may have doubts about the wisdom of the US getting into the Iraq war, I have no doubt that someone needs to be there now and I no longer have any choice about being one of those someones. And I have the distinct comfort of having no choice, that I am obeying the Lord simply by following my orders and giving my will to the Army to which I have sworn allegiance.

Of course, I will need your prayers. I will be without my family and they will be without me. I will be lonely and having spent 55 years getting my own way, the months ahead will hurt as the Army crushes some of the rebellion in me which I have not submitted to Our Lord.

But I will pray for you. The most vibrant faith grows in suffering and persecution, and you are full citizens in the one of the most blessed corners of the richest nation in the history of the world. You, my brothers and sisters, have a real and difficult burden to bear. So I hope you will pray for my family and pray that I will accept the blessing that awaits me. And I will pray that your souls thrive amid the most pervasive temptation on this earth.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Got to 21! (Not My Age)

At Physical Therapy on Friday, did four sets of pushups, 10, 10, 17 and then the magic number (for age group 52 to 56) 21 pushups. So if I need to do a PT test on the spot to convince the Army doctor I am ready to go, I can do that. I probably should not have worried about 21 pushups, but I feel a lot better now that I know I can.
On Monday I will be going to the Army medical records unit in person to see if there is anything I can do to get my records marked Go instead of No Go. I'll have PT gear with me just in case.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nigel's New Truck



I bought a die cast truck very similar to this one for Nigel at a hobby shop near where I work. When I brought it home I told Nigel one of my favorite stories about my Dad. Those of you who read earlier posts about him know he was a Teamster, but he was also a childhood friend of the owner of the company he worked for, so he had more freedom and responsibility than most of the men who worked at Food Center Wholesale Grocers in Charlestown MA. He mostly worked in the warehouse, but sometimes when they were short of drivers, Dad would drive a semi. One Spring day when I was in the third grade, as Nigel is now, we had just finished lunch in Mrs. Day's class when a huge semi with a bright red Mack tractor pulled into the driveway and stopped right in front of the window to our class. Dad knew my class faced the semi-circular driveway in front of the school. A few minutes later, Dad walked into the class in work clothes and asked Mrs. Day if I could go with him to New Hampshire. As well as I can remember, Mrs. Day consented, if for no other reason than to get the truck out of the driveway and the rest of the class back in their seats.

Did I mention Dad drove into the driveway so that the passenger side of the truck was facing the school. Everybody got to see me climb into the cab of the red B-67 Mack tractor. Status for grownups can be very complicated, but Mack trucks with 40-foot van trailers are as cool as it gets for 8-year-old boys.

B-67 Mack Tractor

Schedule Change One


This change is good. We just got an email saying we report for duty on January 29, but we do not yet have a departure date. So unless something changes, we will be at our drill hall until 5pm on the 29th, then soldiers (like me) who live within 60 miles can go home for the night. The next day we have a morning formation, work until 2pm, then go pick up our families for the going away ceremony. After the ceremony and dinner, we go home again and report for the day on the 31st. Right now, we go home again on the 31st. I'll be home on February 1. We may leave that day for our US training base, but if we don't I may be home watching the Superbowl with Nigel.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Speaking of Time. . .

When I leave for work tomorrow, I will have exactly one week (168 hours) to go until I begin the deployment. Tomorrow I will be on a business trip to NYC. My last work day is next Tuesday. There will be a "Goodbye for Now" party at 315pm. The place I work was founded by a British professor so every Tuesday at 315 pm we everyone stops working and goes to one of the big meeting rooms for "Tea and Biscuits."
Maybe later this year I will have Tea and Biscuits on Dirt.

Army Time, Not My Time

Today, I called the admin sergeant at our unit to check if he had heard anything about my status. He said if the civilian surgeon signed off there should be no problem, but he would check later today. In the meantime, I go a clear "Don't call us" message from my "No Go Counselor." The woman who answered the phone said that when the Army doctor signed off on my status they would report the result to the unit. I know it is mostly a matter of privacy--only authorized doctors and my commanders are allowed access to my medical records. So the people on the phone can't say anything about my medical status on the phone. I suppose if I showed up in person they would be authorized to answer the question, but then I would be interfering with their procedures.

No news yet.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Surgeon Says OK!!!

This morning, the surgeon who operated on my shoulder checked every box "Yes" and signed the form that clears me for duty. After he signed the forms, one of the office assistants faxed the signed forms to my "No-Go Counselor" at Fort Indiantown Gap. If all goes well I should hear officially today or tomorrow that I am now a "Go." If the answer is Yes I can breathe easier and concentrate on enjoying today's inaugural celebration. Just 9 days and a wake up till I go. I was up most of the night last night, I suppose from thinking about the shoulder evaluation.

I have been treated in past by Lancaster Orthopedic Group for a broken collarbone, a separated shoulder, and knee trouble. They do good work.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Finally Back to Exercising

Yesterday at the gym I did 35 pushups: 5, 10, 10, & 10. It will be a while till I can do that many at one time, but it is great to get back to working out again. Because of the cold and the ice on the roads, the rest of my exercise spreadsheet looks very different than any other year. Usually bicycle miles are the big number and everything else is smaller. As of yesterday I have ridden the bike 79 miles, walked 59 miles, and run 29 miles. I suppose this year in particular, my walking and running miles might go ahead of my riding miles.

Thanks to the CINC on His Last Day


On this last day of the Presidency of George Bush, I have to say I owe him one last thank you for raising the enlistment age twice in 2006, first to 40, then to 42. (For prior service soldiers like me it is the enlistment age plus years of prior service.) Without that change, I would not have been able to enlist.
So, Thank You Mr. President.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Enlistment Diary--Part 2

So in the late summer of 2006, I realized I could re-enlist if I acted quickly. But I didn't. I did make a major change in my life though. All summer in addition to thinking about being a grunt again, I was listening to my teammates and competitors in Masters bicycle racing. For all of my adult life I have heard men bitch about their wives. The more competitive the guys, the more they thought the world revolved around them and the more they were likely to bitch. So bike racers and Teamsters complain more than graphic artists and copywriters, for example. (I worked on a Teamsters loading dock for four years during college.)

But in 2006, the guys my age were spreading out their complaints across three generations. These guys mostly have good jobs, adult children and at least one living parent. The new complaints: "My son with a degree in Art History is living at home and working at McDonald's." "My mother just broker her hip and wants to come and live with us. She hates my wife and bitches about everything." And a hundred variations on the theme.

I was not worried about my kids, but I realized I was right on track to be one of those 80-year-old ogres those guys were complaining about. Because an "independent" 80-year-old is a joke. Most 80-year-olds are experiencing the failure of many body parts, they need lots of medicine, etc. I know that I am going to be a dependent person when I am 80, maybe way sooner. So I decided I would start thinking that way now. Habits are so hard to make and break and I knew I better start now if I was not going to be that old codger who won't give up his car keys. And bicycle racing is a sport that seems to be OK for older people, but really falls don't get easier with age. I decided to start walking with my family.

Walking lasts as long as I have legs. and it gave me a chance to talk more with my family on the walks. So I cut down my riding and walked more. I also started to work out in the gym--again with my wife and kids. I was working toward some vague time 20 to 30 years away when I would lose my independence to injury and disease and trying to remake myself into someone who would not be a demanding SOB to take care of.

I didn't know at the time I would get a chance to check out my progress in less than a year.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Physical Therapy Going Well

I still have to wait for January 20 for my shoulder evaluation, but therapy is going well. Today I did five real pushups in addition to the incline pushups and other exercises they have me do. The pushups hurt, but not too much. I think I should be fine for the 20th. And if I don't do anything stupid between now and then, I should be a "Go" by Tuesday afternoon.

Dropping Off Bags at Fort Indiantown Gap

Yesterday my wife and I drove to Fort Indiantown Gap (40 miles away) to drop three of my five bags off. In the next few days they will be loaded and shipped to Oklahoma. Yesterday I dropped off two duffel bags and the footlocker--The DBag of a post earlier this week. That leaves just the backpack and one duffel bag to go with me on the 29th. The DBag weighed a lot. I have an extra laptop and a dozen books in the footlocker along with everything else I supposed to have in it. After all the rehab I have been doing, I'll have to be careful not to hurt myself moving my luggage!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Attention K-Mart Shoppers--Fill your DBag

My wife and I are going to K-Mart today to get the last few items recommended on my Army PowerPoint slide: eyeglasses cleaning and repair kits, fitted sheets, handheld mirror, locks for duffle bags, foot powder, talcum powder, surge protector, extension cord, battery-operated alarm clock, etc. All of these items go in the footlocker--the fifth of the five bags that go with me: A backpack, three dufflebags and the footlocker. For whatever reason, the backpack is not counted as a bag and the others are called Bags A, B, C, & D (the footlocker). One of my kids seeing the printed listed noted that the PowerPoint printout for the footlocker started laughing and said, "Dad, this is a DBag?" DBag is a common insult among high school kids. When I was in high school, we used the same insult but didn't abbreviate. According to the Urban Dictionary DBag is most commonly a "playful insult" though it can be nasty. In the 60s I remember it only as a harsh insult. I suppose there is always something to learn about language even when stuffing a footlocker.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Enlistment Diary

During the coming week I will be on vacation, packing, cleaning up final details. I was looking at my enlistment diary and thought I should post some of my recollection of how I got here.

I left the Army reserve July 21, 1984. I completed all the classwork for an MA in American Studies and now had the opportunity to write a book for my Masters project. I needed more time. I could not quit my full-time job loading trucks at Yellow Freight, so I left the reserves. It wasn’t an easy decision. I liked the Army in some ways, but I wanted to get a job as a writer, so I had to cut something and the Army reserve was it.

At that point I knew I had served six years and ten months on active duty, two and one-half years in the Air Force and just over four years in the Army. I thought I had three years in the reserves, but it turns out I had 11 years, 2 months and 2 days of Federal Service. This would be important 23 years later.

I turned 50 during the very successful campaign to invade and capture Iraq and take Saddam Hussein from power. I was very proud to (formerly) have been part of the Army that won such a swift and sweeping victory. And I was envious. The Army I joined in 1972 was about to withdraw in defeat from a far-away jungle war. The Army that defeated the Japanese and the Nazis in World War II was unable to fight a limited war. Despite the great tactical victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation after the major fighting turned bad.

In the fall of 2003 I looked at an Army Web site just to see the age requirements for re-enlistment. I satisfied myself I was too old to join by almost five years. I made jokes about it with my family. Probably too many.

In January of 2006, the military enlistment age went up from 35 to 40. I was three years older, still too old. Then in June of 2006, the age went up from 40 to 42. I was not sure, but now I could go back, but I just laughed at myself when I thought about it. The trouble was, I could not stop thinking about it.

More later.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Packing for the Big Trip



This week I started stacking all of my Army eqiupment in the living room. This weekend I'll start packing a backpack, three duffle bags and a footlocker for training in the US, then on to Iraq. I have a five-page PowerPoint presentation that tells me what goes into each of the five bags. Then I will have to decide what books I will take with me and where they will go--three per bag and ten in the footlocker? Three in each bag and let my kids send me one every other week? How about running shoes. One set in my A bag that goes on the plane to stateside training, one extra pair in stuff that gos by truck, two more for Iraq? We'll see how everything fits.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Junk Food in my Future


One way or another I am going to be eating junk food in the coming year. I watched a news segment recently about a guy who has eaten at least one Bic Mac every day for nearly forty years! He didn't look healthy. But it did remind me of one of my favorite jokes which I wrote down for no particular reason when I was in grad school.


(Should be Told With Exaggerated Gestures and Feeling)

Once there was a town in Western Pennsylvania that was so small it had only one school, one school bus, and one school bus driver--a nervous little man.

One day the school bus driver called up the superintendent at 6 a.m. saying, "It's time for me to pick up the kids and the bus won't start and its six o'clock. . .What am I going to do?"

"Calm down," said the superintendent. "The Sesame Street people are in town. Why don't you run over to the hotel and borrow their bus."

He asked. They loaned him the bus.

The first kids the driver picks up each morning are two little girls named Patty who live next door to each other. Actually these girls are not little. They are so fat that they have to sit on opposite sides in the front or the bus will tip over.

The next kid is Special Ross. Special Ross is the mayor's son, so he can sit anywhere he wants. So he sits on the floor in the middle of the bus.

The last passenger is Leonard Snead. Leonard Snead has bunions and his feet smell, so he has to sit on the back of the bus.

What do you have?

You've got two obese Pattys,
Special Ross,
Leonard Snead with the bunions on a Sesame Street bus. . .

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

November 9, 2001

The road to my enlistment is longer and more twisted than I thought. I got laid off from a dot-com job in 2001. Here's what I wrote the next week:

Friday, November 9

Can lightning strike twice in the same place? Certainly. Especially if the place in question is prone to storms. So, Friday, November 9, is a place in time I will try to avoid.
November 9, 1973, just after 9 a.m. was my first lightning strike. I was connecting wires to detonators at a U.S. Air Force missile test site in Utah. Someone turned on the power, and my world turned bright blue and white. Several minutes later I was strapped in an all-terrain ambulance headed for the first of six eye operations that would eventually restore my sight. Along with the eye operations, I had surgery to reattach two fingers on my right hand and to remove wires, screws and various pieces of metal from my face, arms and chest.
It was Friday. I had planned to ride my motorcycle up into the mountains for the weekend. My plans changed.
On November 9, 1973, I woke up an agnostic. Before the day ended, I believed in God and a few months later, I went the whole way to become a Christian. I would have preferred a smoother path to faith, but at 20 years old, I test-fired missiles for a day job and rode a motorcycle in mountains of Utah for recreation. I was not inclined to listen to a still, small voice—blindness was the right size for God’s megaphone.
Fast forward 28 years. Friday, November 9, 2001, just after 9 a.m., lightning struck at the same place in time. My supervisor took me to a vacant conference room to tell me I no longer had a job, effective immediately. Twenty-eight years before (almost to the minute) I had no faith and no obligations. This time I had faith, a house, a wife, four children and am part of a faith community. Now that I am listening to Him more closely, God can be more subtle. The moment of crisis is over and I can still see just fine. All my fingers are attached and when I shave I don’t feel metal scraping.
But I was not listening as well as I could. The long hours and hectic pace of my job frustrated many of the good impulses I had to serve people in need. If it was my job that tied my hands, then God just cut the ropes clean through.
For most of the year since I started my current job, I have felt uneasy, felt I should be doing something else. But good pay and great co-workers made it hard to leave. Now I am more free to listen. And I can exercise faith in a way I never have before. I worked summers and weekends since age 12 and have never taken more than two weeks off in the 36 years since. Work has defined me. In recent years, I have tried to keep work locked in a compartment away from the rest of my life. I have had some success at this, but at the expense of commitment to my work.
Now I have the opportunity to find work that either serves people in need more directly, or that keeps me closer to home and more involved with my family and community. Wherever God leads me in the coming weeks and months, I’ll be thankful for the time I have had to think, reflect and to reconnect with friends.
But I will also be careful. Friday, November 9, happens again in 2007, 2012 and 2018 before the next 28-year interval ends in 2029. One thing I am sure of: If I am still alive on Friday, November 9, 2029, I am staying in bed.

Monday, January 5, 2009

What Me Worry?!



OK. The most likely outcome of my shoulder evaluation will be: Sergeant Gussman is a Go for deployment. But I have nagging doubts. I am dealing with a bureaucracy and I am currently a No Go. To do nothing is the default setting for paperwork of any kind. So on the 20th I will take the results from my surgeon's evaluation directly to the "No Go Counselor" (really--that's a job title) handling my paperwork.
I'll continue to be optimistic--and make sure my paperwork is correct.

Who Fights Our Wars: Sons of Veterans

Myles P. Caggins, III, promoted today to Colonel Today, I heard one of the best speeches of a man honored in his profession that I he...