Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’

I came to the Army a little later in life than the average soldier did back in ’93.  I was a few years out of high school already, had a 6 month old daughter and was on my way to bad things in life if I did not get my act together.  Back then, at the ripe old age of 23 I was older than some of the NCOs running around telling me what to do and when to do it.  In the close to 20 years since then I have come to realize that I am not as atypical as I once thought I was.  In fact as I get closer to retirement I realize that late bloomers are more the norm these days.  It is a pretty hard job to get fired from, the benefits are good and if you have a family to take care of it is well worth it.

Over the last 20 years, to this point 12 of them at war, I have come to realize there is no universal truth as to what possesses people to put on the uniform and risk their lives for our country.  For most, the reasons they came in for often are not the same ones that they stay in for.  This has been the case for me as I went re-enlistment by re-enlistment working towards retirement.

Some people come to service because they are patriots.  9/11 introduced our country to a whole new way of war for our people.  Some are legacies, the LT Dans of the world.  They are expected to follow in some set of footprints or another.  Many sign up simply for the benefits.  Those we can only hope will change their minds at some point and realize one of the key tenets of military service is selfless service

Somewhere along the way, the realities of the uniform set in.  I do not mean the endless reactive “classes” we are forced to take because something is seen as problematic in the ranks.  It is not the endless parade of service and professional development schools we have to go to.  It is not putting up with the micro-management of leaders who should have never been in charge of people and take every word of what they learned in those schools as the gospel and only way to lead.  It is none of those things or the countless other mundane tasks that happen day in and day out.

The realities of the uniform are the losses we face, in training, in combat, and sometimes just because it was someone’s time.  It could be at PT, a car wreck, mother nature’s ever present assault on the body.  It is the wounds we see, and the ones we cannot.  It is seeing your comrades in arms coming back from their wounds and setting the example for all around them.

The realities of war are ever present and never ending.  When I first came in the Army if you had asthma you could be put out medically.  In the last few years I have had the privilege of knowing numerous people who have lost limbs just to fight for the right to come back and serve alongside their men and lead them as if nothing has happened.  It is witnessing the changes of trauma medicine on the battlefield and seeing soldiers survive wounds that at one point in the not too distant past would have been fatal.  The realities are making phone calls from 8000 miles away to inform your friends wife that he has been wounded.  Fortunately, not fatally and since returned to do good things.

Despite the advances which increase survivability we have all lost people.  It is inevitable and it is no less painful the more it happens.  The death of my first soldier as a NCO, SPC Michael Gleason, on 30 May 2003, was painful because I had moved on to another organization by the time he died in Iraq.  He was the first soldier I was responsible for as a leader.  In the 10 years since I have lost more than 20 comrades and been to memorials for easily five times that amount.  I have witnessed the movement on to the next objective, putting aside what could be put aside to complete the mission and I have seen their families fall apart at their memorial.

I have seen wives comfort their children as we spoke about their daddy.   I have seen little boys soldier on because that is what they think their father would want them to do.  I have seen the eyes of a fallen soldiers princess fill with tears because their hero is no longer there for them.  There have been numerous times where the angry words of parents cut deep because they just want to know why their child died and we have no words for them.  It is usually less the how they died and more the why.  Seldom is there ever an answer for that one, not one that would satisfy the reason for asking it anyway.

So in the midst of all this tragedy, why do we continue to serve?  Why do we continue to follow orders and do things that others not in the service feel should not be?  Again, there is probably not an answer that would make sense to most.  How I answer will probably not be the same way that someone in a foxhole next to me would answer the same questions.  The difference is that we would understand each others answers.  We would not even question them, despite the fact it is not our answer, we know that it is still the right one.

After all these years I have come to realize that I serve in spite of these things rather than despite them.  I am part of a legacy that serves the memories of the fallen and has a responsibility to pass that legacy on to their loved ones, no matter how they may feel about it.  As frustrating and mind-boggling as it may seem at times, I am truly comforted to know that I live in and fight for a country that has the spectrum of freedom which allows our citizens to span between embracing the patriotism and questioning the use of our most precious resource.  It is comforting to know that our country has a respect for life despite some of the examples we see each day.  In the same breath that it is tragic it is inspiring that we can witness the mourning of others and that they have the ability to demand answers.

There are many places on this planet in which that is simply not the case.  Humanity is a commodity to be spent with no regard.  Loss of life in these places is used as a means to perpetuate and foment hatred.  As fucked up as things may seem from time to time, we pale in comparison to many of the places we currently have people in support of our country.

We do the things we do simply because someone has to.  Someone has to make sure that little princess can wipe away her tears.  Someone has to take the weight off the little mans shoulders.  Someone has to help a widow navigate the maze she is thrown into.  Someone has to try and answer the angry parents “why?”.  Someone has to make sure that Westboro Baptist has the ability to speak their vitriol at the same time we  protect the rights of thousands to stand between them and the bereaved.

Through our history support for our military has waxed and waned.  We are still fighting a war that started more than a decade ago which saw a complete sellout of American flags as a civic response to our military answer to terrorism on our shores.  Today that patriotism is not nearly as strong as it was then and some of the loudest proponents for using us then are now questioning our continued use.  Through all our history we have continued to serve.

We serve at the leisure of some who are unpopular and most often do not understand the power that they possess.  We contractually obligate ourselves to a life of servitude in support of agendas not our own, but to support an ideal which has never changed.  We fight so that others do not have to and we grieve at the most inopportune times.  We serve because our country cannot serve itself and despite her faults relies on us to be there when needed.

We celebrate Memorial Day, not for those of us who have been fortunate enough to make it through.  We celebrate it so that our country has a reminder of those who have sacrificed for it, whether they agree with how it was done or not.  Memorial Day is for those left behind, a chance to honor our fallen.  The sacrifices they have made have been to honor those to their left and right and for the legacies of those who have fallen before them.  It is the least we can do to honor them, to serve them and they did us.

Rest In Peace My Brothers and Sisters

Your sacrifice is honored this day

You have paid the ultimate price for your seat at the table

It shall be reserved in your names and with honor

 

 

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I have been pretty delinquent in posting lately.  It is not like there has not been an abundance of things I could write about and keep within the theme of the blog.  It is not like I have been overly faithful to that theme over the last year and a half, I have strayed off the path on numerous occasions.  That is something I am going to do yet again.

Those of you who know me personally know what the current living arrangements are with me and my family.  For those that do not, we are living in opposites sides of the state for the near future.  This is not negative, not by any means.  We made a decision based off of where we were living, my retirement in just 2 short years and our desire to have our kids settled in where we wanted to end up without simply uprooting them at our whim when they would be close to completing their respective schools.  A career in the Army has caused them enough problems in their short lives for us to cause them more when me and the Army are done with each other.

So unlike the multitude of times I have gone off to far and distant lands, not really knowing what the outcome may be, we spend the majority of time apart, safe in our respective cities and as many weekends together as we can possibly spend.  In the last 10 months or so, we have managed going just a couple of weeks between visits, all except this last trip.  It was just about a full month, and it really truly sucked going that long.  My wife and son have been around this life since long before some assholes decided to fly some planes into our nightmares.  My little princess on the other hand has only ever known her daddy to be in and out of her life for periods of time.  For the first few years of her life I was actually gone more than I was home.   The last few years there has been a much better balance, but for a little girl that is only going to be 8 years old in just a couple of weeks, it is a substantial amount of time away.

There have been two times in my baby’s young life that I have witnessed that I crushed her little heart.  As long as I have know her I have been her hero, literally, her hero, and I managed to bring her to tears twice because I was leaving her.  The first time she was just about two years old.  The family was dropping me off for yet another trip and as I took my little girl out of her car seat to say goodbye and give her her hugs and kisses she looked me in the eyes and was aware, in that moment of her little life that I was leaving her.  Needless to say as I looked into her beautiful blues I was heart broken at how crushed she was and how little I was going to be able to do ease the pain she was feeling.

Yesterday was the second time I watched her little heart break.  This time she was old enough to both articulate her heartache to me and her mom and at some level understand what we were telling her and that it was just a temporary thing and I would be back no later than the end of the month to celebrate her birthday with her.  Despite all of that, it crushed me yet again to break this little girls heart.  This was after we spent a pretty cool day together despite the crappy weather, having a decent lunch and seeing Iron Man 3.  Great movie for all by the way, each of us loved it even the teenager, who it seems nothing is enjoyable anymore.

As I was driving my way home today I received a text from wifey thanking me for making them a priority this weekend and how much they miss me.  That long ride home got me to thinking a little bit once I got that text.  My first thought was that I never imagined they saw it that way.  I mean, it never dawned on me when I said I was going to get out there this weekend that I was doing it for them.  I guess on some level that was true.  The fact of the matter is that when I decided earlier in the week to get up early Saturday and head west, I was doing it because I missed them and I needed them.  It was a shitty week overall and it was far too long since I last got out there and visit my family.  So, my week ended overall on a very positive note and while I thought I was going to visit  for my own selfish reasons, I got a chance to do what any good parent should and simply be there.

When I say be there, that is exactly what I mean.  I was there wholeheartedly.  No work, no personal issues, nothing but me with the family.  We shared time together and it was good.  I left this morning disappointed that I was leaving, but feeling pretty good, that despite the life we have chosen for our children, they understand that we all have it pretty good.  They understand, whether it sucks some times or not, that we can be apart, but we are still together.  That we we do not have to be in each others pockets all the time in order to be a good, solid family.

I love what I do for a living.  I am good at it, I work with the best there is in the business.  It has never been the safest life but we have done our best to prepare, as much as anyone can in this career field, to be able to exist without each other.  We have never lied to our kids or downplayed the significance of what happens down range.  For is, we have found this to be the best course of action for our children. This is much to the chagrin of a my son’s grammar school when he decided to tell his class one day many years ago where Iraq was and how dangerous it could be.  I guess that did not sit too well with the parents of some of his classmates as we were asked to not be so honest with our enthusiastic child.

I have seen the loss in the eyes of children whose parents did not make it back.  It is unforgettable and it is unique each time, but we owe it to those children to see it.  We owe it to those we have lost.  My daughter recently asked me what Memorial day was and I told her it was our time to remember those who died in the military.  The part that I did not, could not get across to her at the time is that it is not just honoring those who gave their lives, but it is also honoring the sacrifices they made before, during and after the last moments of their lives.  It is the time away, the time their little princess will never get again.  It i honoring the loss that goes on long after the pain starts to fade and they move further along in their lives.

Bottom line we need to make the most of the time we have with our family.  It is precious and you never know when it will be no more.  Time is not simply a clock ticking away, it has depth and dimension and the time you invest now lives on long after you do.  I thank my family, my wife, my son, and my little princess for reminding me of that constantly.  Not because I need a constant reminder, but because sometimes we all need to be reeled back in to the things that matter.

9/11 Flag of Honor hung in the hallway at my daughters school. The names of all those who died are contained within the flag.

As we move on towards Memorial Day this coming Monday, it will be easy to forget the reason we (most of us anyhow) have the day off.  As we get ready to attend or host a BBQ the memorial part of Memorial Day can sometimes slip by the wayside.  It is very understandable, things, especially ideals, get lost in the shuffle.  It is not a crime, it is just something that happens.

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer with the opening of public pools, the first nicest weather (fingers crossed) to start hosting BBQs and parties, the beaches begin to become a little bit more attractive, hemlines get just a tinsey bit higher and Southern women can again begin to wear white shoes.  All of these things would still be possible even without Memorial Day, it is not like the weather or seasons are going to change just because there is a National holiday.

The Federal government has seen fit however to give us a moment, a day really, on which to reflect before we begin the 100 or so days of summer and all that entails.  That moment of reflection is significant as it is predicated on people taking the time to appreciate the sacrifices made in order for us to remain a free country and give our citizens the ability to enjoy the coming days as they see fit.

For many folks it can be amongst the most painful of times, they are the family survivors of someone who has paid the ultimate price.  They will have constant reminders as they see numerous parades in honor of veterans throughout the country, Old Glory lowered to half-staff, motorcycle poker runs with flags flapping in the breeze behind them, and the loud music and boisterous partying of their friends and neighbors who have probably not felt the loss as they have.

Major League Baseball, each and every Memorial Day stops play at 3:00 PM and holds a moment of remembrance.  The Homeplate Umpire steps forward and removes his mask signifying the moment, regardless of inning.  Baseball has always been one of the most patriotic of sports, the players across the league each year sending messages to the troops deployed downrange and hosting veterans and their families in very special ways.  Satellite radios Octane channel will stop music and play TAPS at noon on Monday.  Various other museums and memorial locations will also host their unique tributes to veterans and their families during the day.

At some point this weekend as the frivolity goes on, take a moment at any time, stop what is going on and call for just a moment of silence in the festivities.  At the end if the environment is conducive, raise a glass and have a shot.  Play the video for TAPS that I am including here:

Whatever your flavor may be it is still possible today thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of veterans and their families.  Here is one I have heard too many times through the years at memorials and funerals for the following.  I happen to like this one as it includes police officers as well as the military.

Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those who have lived in the Fayetteville/Fort Bragg area for more than a day are familiar with this annual tradition.  Despite it being an annual event, due to deployments over the last 10 years, there have been a few times when this week long tradition of honor, tradition, sporting events, demonstrations of military power and an assembly of thousands of Paratroopers in their full military splendor have not taken place.

Each year during the week leading up to Memorial Day, the 82nd Airborne Division and her Brigade Combat Teams and other supporting elements that wear the distinctive Double A patch of the division, hold a week long festival of competitions and team building that involve all of its close to 20,000 soldiers.  There are sporting events such as flag football, soccer, volleyball, tug of war and it looks like the trend of mixed martial arts has replaced the traditional boxing smoker for good now in the always competitive man-to-man (or woman) martial skills competition.  The week is always kicked off however with the Division run and will kick off right after the bugle call for Reveille with the leading elements, led by Division Leaders, often finishing not long after the trailing elements finally get to take off.  One thing is for certain though, the Division Commander will be standing there congratulating each troop as they cross the finish line, as is the tradition.

Key events for the week will be the Division, “Pass and Review” , in which all the available elements remaining behind will assemble for inspection by the Division Commander and his staff.  This impressive aassembly of soldiers is almost impossible to catch in its entirety with one photo and often takes place in the oppressive North Carolina heat and humidity that you can only find in May, often as if the Division has ordered it up special for the event in order to demonstrate how tough the soldiers of the Division really are.  There will be plenty of medics and doctors on hand to deal with the inevitable heat casualties along with the runners who will pull them from between the long ranks of assembled soldiers and take them to awaiting I.Vs and other replacement fluids.

One of the culminating events happens on the Friday of the week, traditionally a day off for the rest of Fort Bragg and the military in general, again demonstrating the sacrifices the Paratroopers of the Division are willing to make.  The event if the weather permits it is a demonstration of a “forced entry” in order to seize and airfield using the techniques of delivery by parachute, otherwise known as an airborne operation, out at Sicily DropZone on Manchester Road, Fort Bragg.  This is the only real event the public is  highly encouraged to come out and see.  There is plenty of parking, along with it may be some serious walking.  There will be displays of various weapons, artillery systems, and other force enabling systems.  There will more than likely also be various helicopters for the kids to sit in and parents to get pictures of them in.  It will end like it has in years past with a simulated attack by an Air Force aircraft of some sort on the drop zone, a drop of “heavy equipment” followed by the parachutes of the designated BCT and the troopers who will do a controlled fall to he ground under them.  Hope for good weather on Friday the 25th, it is well worth the walking and sunburn associated to see this impressive event.

I have never been in the 82nd, despite being on Fort Bragg for close to 20 years.  I am however a paratrooper and I have had the pleasure of the experience of being able to walk in combat across al-Anbar province, Iraq for a couple months of 2005.  I was there to provide support to the battalion commander and the people I was working for at the time in order to help make the first democratic elections in that year a success.  Thanks to the bold planning and constant presence we were able to get out in the most contested geographic area of the almost 10 year war, in the arguably most dangerous time of the war, we were able to stop and limit the violence that was going to be directed against the population as they were going out to vote.  It was one of the key, if not well known things to happen during that dangerous period to help bring Anbar province into the fight against the insurgency, rather than supporting it.  I had the pleasure after that time, of working with different battalions form the 82nd for short periods over the last several years.

The professionals of the 82nd Airborne Division deserve their time to celebrate, they have had many soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice since 9/11.  This is their week and if you visit the Fayetteville or Fort Bragg area through this week, you will know it as the celebrations will not be limited to Pikes Fiels or Ritz-Epps gym, but will extend to the bars, clubs and restaurants of the area too.  As the old Thin Lizzy song goes “The Boys are Back in Town” and it is their well-deserved time.

Well, May 8th, the vote for proposed NC Amendment 1 will be here this Tuesday.  We will either lead the nation in rejecting the discriminatory amendment or have to start figuring out what to do the effects of it passing.  Either way, I am going to need a new topic to run amok with.  I have decided that as often as I can post, I will dedicate the word space to leading up to Memorial Day, which is May 28th this year.  Once Memorial day has passed I will continue with some patriotic postings right up through Independence Day.  There are quite a few remembrance days that should be noted between the two major holidays.  Those of us who grew up in the 70′ and 80’s or earlier actually were taught U.S. history so some of these we will remember while others may just be coming into popularity as a day of remembrance.

I live in a military town and it has proclaimed itself a “sanctuary” for retired and former military and Fayetteville has the motto of “History, Heroes and a Hometown feeling”.  While the governance of the city may leave a bit to be desired, the chamber of commerce along with the visitors bureau does a pretty good job of getting the name out there as a place to stop along I-95; as you travel from NYC we are about the midway point to the Disney World area in Florida.  My NJ peeps that I grew up with, if you are heading down to the land of Mickey and oranges and looking for a place to stop for the night or just a meal, hit me up and I can offer you some suggestions for lodging, food or something to do.

I look forward to a change of pace from what I have been posting about and reblogging lately.  I will still push a rant from time to time, you just cannot live in this town without reading about something that gets the blood boiling from time to time, but this should be a fine change of pace.  Lets just make it to the 9th first.