Sunday, December 21, 2008


I remember it distinctly....
The day I walked into the office of the newly formed 211th MPAD. I was on my way out of the Army, and it was a last-ditch effort of a certain Major that I knew to keep me in. I'd been with the 7-6 Cav for the past six years and my time was up. "Just go talk to the command and get a feel for the MOS choices there," he said. I'd driven the 120 miles from Houston thinking, "I'm done, why is he sending me here?"
As I said, I walked in early that morning and introduced myself to a 1st Lt. Tony Lopez who asked a lot of questions and joked around quite a bit. I also ran into Staff Sgt. Tim Williams, Staff Sgt. Robert Ramon, and Spc. Alex Delgado. Williams and Ramon introduced me to the 46-series specialties (print and broadcast journalism) and I fell hard. I realized that I can stay in the Army and do what I enjoy (photojournalism, which I taught at school) and 'retire' from aviation (the Cav).
As we were leaving that afternoon, Lopez asked me if I was still interested in transferring to the 211th. I said yes. Ever since that day back in early 2001, I've worked in the building where we've been completing a lot of our pre-mobilization training for the unit's second deployment. The next day, back at work, Maj. Beesley had a grin on his face as he asked me how I liked what I saw over the weekend. He knew.
Now, he's Col. Beesley, Chief of Staff of the 90th RRC. Sgt. 1st Class Ramon is still serving in Public Affairs. Williams is now a captain serving with the National Guard and Staff Sgt. Delgado will soon become an officer (no, I won't go direct!). Maj. Lopez is now with the Public Affairs Operations Center that we'll be working with in Iraq. We've all moved on and grown professionally. I've been working for the 211th in that same building since its early days. I had a short hiatus from the 211th when Col. Beesley tapped me to be his PAO with the 321st Sustainment Brigade from 2005-2007. Now, I'm back as a team NCOIC.
So, it felt kind of strange when we began cleaning our offices and moving our unit stuff into storage in preparation for our year-long deployment. Everyone was moving about quickly amid the clamor of office furniture being moved around. Bulletin boards were being taken down and boards were being erased. Funny, I didn't feel like this last time when we went to Afghanistan. I felt like a lot of time has passed since that fateful day when I decided to venture into Public Affairs. Older....I guess you can say. I know that if I wasn't working in PA, I would've already left the Army.
We have one more day at the Moore Memorial Reserve Center, current home of the 211th MPAD before we go home for the holiday break to be with our families. Once we leave, the 420th Engineer Brigade assumes most of our office space. When we come back from our deployment, all but a few of the Soldiers in our unit will either go back to the unit they cross-leveled from or transfer somewhere else if they are AGR. I'm going to be in the same situation I found myself in 7 years ago: re-enlist and stay with the 211th or get out of the Army when I return home. I'm sure Col. Beesley will have something to say about that. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Modern Inferno...

I guess it's the teacher in me....
Ever since we've had our first cold blast (and ensuing snowball fights), the heat has been on in our building. Normally at this time of year, that's not a problem. Right now, however, with the extreme fluctuation of temperature (the high for today is near 80!), we're enduring a sort of hell.
So, I've been comparing this building and its many rooms to Dante's Inferno. When it's warm outside and the heat is on, there is little relief to be had while you're working.
Unfortunately, we don't have a great Roman poet to guide, I'll be your guide if you'll follow me. We start by entering the 'drill hall' or what was the chow hall in the old days. That cavernous area is usually close to the outside temperature...where the trees are so it's like the wooded area that Dante wanders around in. This is the Vestibule.
The double doors to the building can function as the Gates of Hell in a sense...Abandon All Logic Ye Who Enter Here. Come on in...we open the door to a blast of heat. Welcome to 'Hell'. Charon is not available right now to ferry you around, that's still me.
The first floor of the building could be Limbo. So many things that can kinda happen or not....we just never know. Many souls here claim innocence. Then you have the Circles of Hell, nine in all. For our purposes these Circles are some of our rooms here in the building. Each room or circle has its own level of 'punishment' and temperature.
We enter a small stairwell and work our way up to the second floor. Upon entering the 2nd floor of the building, the heat becomes uncomfortable. Little beasties surround you screaming, "Get out!", their faces contort with pleasure and they writhe in euphoric bliss. Stroll into my office and the temperature rises. In here the River Styx winds around the desks, the wrathful pulled here and there in the current.
At one end of the building is the City of Dis. A city within our confines of Hell. Flaming demons guard the gate and an Angel arrives to force the door open for us. Major and minor creatures rule here. Centaurs, angels, and demons stomp about, focusing on this and that. As you leave you can see the souls of the wicked strike and bite each other and fed to the god of riches, Pluto. The Hall of Hounds lead you to our destination...
The beasties flutter about gasping and pulling at you to enter the mouth of Hell. You may want to stop to examine the masses of policy letters and announcements curling on the bulletin board...but you need to keeping following me into the Ninth Circle...the admin room. Standing at the threshold of the room, the heat pounds your body in waves.
In this room is Sgt. Zoeller, frothing into the phone, typing frantically with three hands, and guarding his hoard of bottle caps on his desk. Here, his eyes glance upon you and me and he rants off into a rapid, incoherent tangent and we are told to climb down the stairs and float down the River Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, back out to the wood. The burly demons who guard the building rudely request a card swipe or you will never get to make your exit.
The Gates of Hell slowly close and we are left to contemplate our remaining time in the reserve center. Another cold blast is forcasted to hit us very soon and we'll be heading back home for a short time. Wait....didn't we just go somewhere?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

INCOMING! Get Down........Shut Up!

For those who don't know, we have a saying in the Army about our training. "If it ain't rainin' we ain't trainin'..." This is usually mentioned during a pretty crappy day when we're doing some tough training. It peps people up. Well, today, that mantra came to light. When I walked out of our illustrious hotel this morning I stopped short--there was a light layer of sleet on all the cars and it was pretty cold. Starbucks time...
During the day, while we worked inside, it was overcast and precipitation. Well, when we started changing into our PT clothes it started to snow a bit...just little flurries. By the time we got to the track, the snowfall had increased to where it would sting your eyes as your were running into it. PT today consisted of running up and down the stairs of the stadium twice and running around the track. By the time we had finished our run, it was snowing heavily. We were all freaking out...except for our northerners: Spc. Anderson who is from Wisconsin, Staff Sgt. Burrell who is from Chicago, and Maj. Daneker who is from Minnesota.
After hopping into my trusty tissue box, I drove back to the hotel in a small Texas blizzard! The wind was whipping little swirlies of snow around all the vehicles. It was cool. We had to keep explaining to everyone that this weather is a rarity in Texas. We had a few from Hawaii who have never experienced this much snow.
Once we all got to the hotel, the fight began. I was lying in wait...and the others began to exit their vehicles. Bap! Bap! Snowballs rained down on my fellow Soldiers. Some ran into their rooms while others proceeded to scoop up snow and try to return fire. Of course, their aim sucked and I started call calling, "Come on Chicago boy!" Staff Sgt. Burrell gathered more ammo. "Hey Hawaii girl...bring it!" 2nd Lt. Douglas (from Hawaii) had to move quickly to avoid the barrage of snowballs from the lot of us.
Even Pvt. Snowman took part in our festivities. Not really, but we all had a great time...a nice way to wind down after a hectic day of prepping all kinds of things for mobilization, writing features, and editing video. Of course, this weather will be nothing compared to the weather we will encounter at Fort Dix in January. Brrrr...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Once More Into the Vein...

I consider myself lucky (I guess) that I'm a person who doesn't freak at the sight of blood. Loving horror movies helped somewhat I imagine. Needles, however, will cause a shiver and quick scoot across the room. I hate them. I mean, think about's a long, thin, VERY sharp steel thing that you're inserting into an essential part of the body!!
Yesterday we finished up our Combat Lifesaver Certification Course by giving each other intravenous injections. Yay. Oh yes, there was blood. Some bled a little...others a lot. This medical stuff is pretty easy, especially with all the new stuff that we're issued to take care of someone who would need first aid. I just don't like getting stuck with big needles...and the instructors are saying that the needles were using aren't big. I'd hate to see the really big ones.
So, Spc. Soles, the newest member of our unit, was my 'stick' buddy for today. Now, he's told me that he's had a history of passing out during this type of thing. "Great," I thought. I was more worried about myself...would I remember all the steps? Would I make him pass out? When it came down to it, he did very well. I ended up going first for the entire group (dang guinea pig!).
I turned out to be a 'bossy buddy' because I kept verbalizing commands to Spc. Soles. He took it in stride though...thanks Spc. Soles. So now we're all heading into theater combat lifesaver certified. Another check off for our block and another sign that January is getting closer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Things Sometimes Make You Go Hmmm....

Have you ever second guessed yourself before? I mean you’ve made a major decision that impacts your life greatly….and sometime later on….you’re thinking, what if? What if I’d done this or that and then that would’ve happened instead of this? Hmmm….brings to mind Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”.
Read the poem. Stand at the fork in the road and lean this way and that, taking a really long look down each path. One’s worn and the other, not. Which do you take? Why? Which of those paths stemming from that road are you on right now? The path that was worn or the one that needed wear? Since that decision, whenever it was, are you stopping and wondering…what would’ve happened if I’d gone the other way? What’s made you stop to think? Ugh…what if?
North Shore students of mine…remember that little kid I told you about? Remember how he ended up at North Shore and what he did while he was there? Read the poem now? Makes sense eh?
There are 65 plastic Army name tags in two groups at home. One being the LOTC Class of 2003…best group I’ve ever had and the biggest surprise of my teaching career. The other being the LOTC Class of 2005…they were the last of the best and the most definitive year of my career. Sixty-five reminders out of the thousands. Which road are they taking? There’s a good what if for me.
In Afghanistan, I ran into a cadet buddy of mine that I had ROTC classes with at the University of Houston. When we ran into each other I was an NCO (E-6) and he was a Captain. What if?
The end of the poem holds the revelation. That road that we take, whichever we take, makes all the difference. I took one. It’s made a lot of differences. What if??