Tuesday, May 26, 2009

To My Seniors...

After what has seemed like forever to many of you, you’re about to graduate from high school. Think back to the great times you’ve had with your friends. Back to when you thought you’d die because a certain class or a certain assignment was blowing your mind. All the challenges you’ve had to face up to now. Feels good doesn’t it?

I remember when I graduated high school…and no, it wasn’t THAT long ago. I went with friends. Parents didn’t go. I didn’t even realize what was going to hit me in the face three months later. I was happy to take that walk across the stage…because a couple years before that, I almost quit high school.

When I attended Sam Rayburn as a student, I was a punk. I worked at a fast food place, got into trouble a lot, and skipped school. I didn’t care about my grades. My GPA sucked. My parents divorced and it kept spiraling downhill. My mother took my little brother and sister and moved up north. That left me and my other little sister, who had to move in with my dad. We enrolled in at Stephen F. Austin in HISD.
School there was different. I made friends and one teacher, Mr. Kendrick, got into my business one day (I was in his radio and TV class). He asked how I was doing. Figured me out pretty quickly. With different friends and more of a family environment, I started working harder at school. Grades got better…slowly, until one day my English teacher called out our averages for the six weeks. “100,” was what he said after calling my name. I was stunned. “How can he have a hundred,” a student asked. “He’s done everything and didn’t miss anything on his test,” said Mr. Hromas.

Well, Mr. Kendrick and Mr. Hromas were across from each other in the hall. Mr. Kendrick taught English, yearbook, Radio and TV, and coached soccer. Kendrick found out that I had done well and asked me to be on the yearbook staff next year…my senior year. In short, I said yes and when we came back from summer vacation, I also had three honors classes, thanks to Hromas and Kendrick.

My senior year was filled with yearbook work, prom committee work, a tough English class, a cool government class (we hosted the city’s mock Republican national convention downtown), and a job at Krogers. I learned that year that, when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it. I also learned that I needed to hit college because I didn’t want to live like my parents did (neither of them graduated high school). I raised my GPA to graduate 107 out of 501.

So, I went to college. I paid for all six years myself (thanks to scholarships that I earned, grants that I qualified for, loans that I applied for and the Army). During that time, I traveled to Europe twice (once as a vacation, the second time I studied there for a summer), and joined the Army (ran out of scholarship money!). When I finished college I had two degrees and a teaching certificate. I chose teaching. Can you figure out why? Yes, I teach English…I’ve taught yearbook and newspaper too…remind you of anyone I’ve mentioned?

Today, I’m in the middle of a hot desert typing this to you. Why? Well, I tell this story to all my students (it’s MUCH longer when I tell it to you in class) at the end of each year. I want my students to know that if school is tough, or life isn’t handing you what you want, you work harder and smarter and earn what you want. I did. Anyone can get that diploma, get that higher education, get that awesome job that you love, and have a nice life. Money isn’t, and shouldn’t be the problem. Don’t EVER let anyone tell you otherwise.

As I said, I almost didn’t graduate high school. And I said that this story is a short version...you should’ve seen me in middle school! Horrible! I failed two grades because I didn’t care.

I’ve missed most of a school year with you. The Army pulled my unit’s number and I had to leave. I remember when some of you were freaking out over the Beowulf literary analysis assignment and telling me you’ve never done anything like that. I remember some of you guys giving me weird looks when I was wielding a sword in front of you while we were talking about Beowulf and Grendel. Well, each of you learned and completed that essay didn’t you? What you have ahead of you is another challenge. Whether you’ve chosen college, the military, or entering the workforce, I wish you all the best in your endeavors. I’m about 8,000 miles away, but I haven’t forgotten about you. Remember what you’ve learned, where you’ve come from, and always know what you’re going for. Congratulations on your graduation!!

A big thank you to my North Shore seniors. You know who you are. Those who came together to create the 2005 NSMS Stampede yearbook staff. Winners of the district's first Columbia Scholastic Press Association Silver Crown award for student journalism. I know one of you is going into college as an English/journalism major. You'll all see me again. Soon.

I’d like to hear from you…where you’ve decided to attend college, major, job, etc. You can respond/comment on the blog or email me. Take care of yourselves. Enjoy your summer.

Mr. Burke

Monday, May 25, 2009

Boo-Boo-Boo-B-B-Boonie! (say it fast)

Yeah. My boonie. I finally found it. Those of you who know what a boonie hat is, you know. Those that don't...well, read on.

I'm a guy who wears a soft cap, patrol cap, whatever you want to call it here in Baghdad. I've only worn a boonie cap once. When I was in the Cav...as a pad chief for an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter (1995-2001). Back then we could curl the edges and string it up-Aussie style. Once all these restrictions were placed on the wear and appearance of the thing, I stopped wearing it.

The temperature here is steadily climbing. It tops well over 100 here just about every day now. When we're making that 1 mile trek to chow in the sun, you sure feel it beating on you, especially when you're wearing just the cap. I've a nice tan line now that goes around my head and cuts off at my neck. People in my unit were telling me, "Hey you're getting pretty red." Or pointing at the line and smirking. So, to protect my ears, face and neck, I had to dig out the boonie from the bottom of my duffle bag and now I have that frumpy grumpy look since it's kinda frilly around the edges.

At least it'll stop that tan line from becoming more evident. I don't want to go home with a white-topped head. Today I was out most of the day taking the newspaper all over Victory Base Complex. That boonie made a difference...the air can go through it and it provides some shade. Go boonie.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tune In and Get the Message

I'm a big-time TV show and movie buff. Ask anyone who knows me really well, and they'll tell you...yep, Burke spends time at night watching shows and spends money watching good movies.

One of my prime time TV favs is Grey's Anatomy. I've watched that show since day 1. Sometimes I've missed a show or two...especially since I've been here in Baghdad. When I was home on leave I was able to catch the latest two episodes. I thought about that show today and remembered SGT Logue using the internet to get on ABC and watch the latest show. So, we're having a slow day...I jumped online and was able to catch up with the latest....

The writers of Grey's Anatomy are exceptional. Why? They show you how the little nuances in life mean so much. They remind you and/or teach you about life's struggles and its importance. The latest episode entailed a group of college kids heading to graduation...and getting hit head on by a semi. Out of 5 or 6, one survived. Izzy is dying and Corev marries her anyway...Torres' flame doesn't see straight....everytime I watch that show we are given a little thread of humanity and we have to hang on.

That's also what my Soldiers in my unit do. They're writers and broadcasters who go out with Soldiers who kick down doors, patrol, build things, etc., and tell their story. They work to show that little piece of humanity that is on display for that day. How hard they work and in whatever conditions that are present. The dangers they face every day. Then, those photos and story and/or packaged video story gets sent out via the internet to military and civilian outlets for the masses to read/view.

The problem with both of these scenarios is: if you don't watch an enlightening show like Grey's Anatomy you won't get that message that that particular show is trying to deliver. The same goes if you don't read/watch what one of my Soldiers has put together. You won't see what Soldiers here are doing to make this country better. The media, on the other hand, oftentimes doesn't show this side of what's going on over here. They mostly put the bad stuff out there...if it bleeds it leads. IED blew up this, destruction, blood and guts. I guess you could say that about the reality shows...compared to a drama like Grey's. We all know that idiot who dumped that girl on the Bachelor...now she's tearing it up on Dancing w/ the Stars.

I don't know...it's kind of like reading a book. In each book there's an amazing story waiting for its reader...you just have to find it, take the journey and learn. I tell my students that. Especially the ones that freak out over the size of the book. I guess if you're only better off if you do watch, or read, and understand the messages. I do. I'm better for it too...I think.

Grey's especially makes me think about things like that. Hence, me jumping on this blog...so, let me know what you think. Comment and stuff....

By the way...my Soldiers' work can be seen on DVIDS (www.dvidshub.net) and the Army's website. Have a good one, hooah.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things...

After six accountability formations and two roll call formations (one where we were about to get on the bus to head to the flight line), I was finally able to make it out of the heat of Kuwait and back to the dust in Baghdad.

I guess I can say that the hassle of getting back here wasn't THAT bad...considering one group got on a bird, was in the air...and had to turn around and come BACK to Ali al Salem Air Base. There wasn't an empty seat on my plane...and there are still hundreds who are trying to get back to Baghdad.

Anyhow, I walk into our building and there are two guys in the broadcast studio doing a radio show. They were from a radio station in Waco (that's the biggest city closest to Fort Hood) called WACO 100, My Country. Zack Owen and Jim Cotyk were interviewing Soldiers about what they do here, etc. So my 1SG says, "Burke, get in line, you're next." I looked at him, "Top, I just got back!" I said. "So!" he said. So, I got on the mic and those guys asked me about what I do here and if I enjoyed my time back home. It was cool.

I'm here and when I made it back to my room, I found a nice layer of dust waiting for me. It covered everything!! I was gone for only three weeks!! Now, I'm working on getting back into the swing of things.

A couple of things about leave: I was kinda bummed that I didn't get to see my students when I visited Sam Rayburn HS. TAKS testing (evil!) was going on during that week...I didn't even know. I was able to talk to my principal and the English dept. chair though. Overall, my leave back home was great. Got to spend a lot of time with my family, play with Loren a lot, see former students and friends at school, watch some movies, hit up Starbucks and Diedrich's, and go shopping here and there.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Not Born a Ramblin' Man...

I don't know how to start this one so I'll ramble. I'm feeling a little light-headed euphoria right now due to the travel. Getting back to the dust, sand, and gravel too. I'm stuck in Kuwait. I don't know how or why...but I knew this would happen. Two accountability formations already and no flights for me. Sucks.
There's nothing to do here but spend your money. I saw people lining up at the fast food restaurants today, people at the little shops, at the PX and here on the computers. When you get bored, you find something to do. I don't want to sleep a lot, especially during the day because I need to readjust to this time zone. That took 2 days back home.
I had a book that I started when I got on the plane in Dallas. Finished it. Good one too. Now, I'm here and the computer is ticking away the time I have left on this thing. 19 mins.
At the last formation, the private calling out numbers called out one group and told them they have a flight tonight. It's like they relish the fact that we hang on their every word to see if we're getting out of here. We'll see what happens tomorrow morning. Did I mention how hot it's getting here? Even in the shade it's like someone's pointing a big hair dryer in your face. The summer months will be interesting to say the least. 15 mins. Well, that's about it for this one.