Why Did You Laugh?

(Click here for the beginning of the story)

I saw an image of Sarah standing around a corner when God told Abraham that he would be a father.

Sarah laughed.

I thought about me wearing a wedding ring and coming home to a wife after work.

I laughed.

Jessica and I had started sending emails back and forth.  It was a lot fun.  We talked about what we wanted out of the future, our plans, our dreams, and the things we enjoyed.  As time went on, we started talking about the things in our pasts, our missed opportunities, goals we let go of, and the stuff we have to do but that we really don’t like at all.

At some point she asked me about my faith and made some kind of comment about how she wished that she was more like me in that area.  That made me feel good, and instead of telling her the truth, I jumped at the opportunity to lead.

The truth was that I really was not mature in what I believed.  The truth was that the only time I really spent reading my Bible or Praying was when I was at the Bible Study on base.  The truth was that, other than the Bible Study, I spent maybe 1 day a week reading my Bible and 2 mornings praying at best.  The truth was that I was probably just as immature as she was.

The truth is she was carried away by my dashing good looks, winning personality, and could not resist a man in uniform.

The truth is…   I had no idea how to respond.

But I knew what the guys who were influencing me were doing.  They were reading a passage of the Bible with me, and then asking questions.  Easy Day!!

So in addition to our standard email traffic, Jessica and I started studying scripture from 500 miles apart.  I had no idea what I was actually teaching and had no vision for where I was leading, but it felt good, was fun, and brought me a little bit of joy.

After a couple months of this, I was sitting at my computer when I got this ridiculously crazy thought.

“Mike… It’s time for you to get married.”

I laughed about that.  Like a whirlwind I saw in my mind as though a movie were playing before me, a woman in a long white toga style dress, carrying a jug of water and a bunch of grapes, jump back behind a wall as she heard the men talking.  “What did he just say?  Did he say I was going to have a baby?  Funny…”  I guess when God communicates something, He does not particularly enjoy being discounted and then laughed at.

It felt like a glass of ice water running down my back as I contemplated the connection between that old story and what was happening in my life.  The implication was pretty overwhelming.

Did God realize to whom he was speaking?  I was a committed bachelor to the rapture.  I was not going to be slowed down by some woman.  I was going to live a wild and dangerous life, free from the burden of having to provide for and please a woman.  I just knew that my future had a lot of travel, a lot of living cheap, train hopping, hitch hiking, running from danger, eating questionable food, kind of elements in it.  Things that do not mix so well with a wife, and lets not even start talking about kids.

For me to get married would mean a complete loss, a total sacrifice of who I was and what I wanted out of life.

This all moved so fast I was left in a bit of a daze.  I left my barracks room and went for a walk.  That walk ranks among the most sobering walks I have taken.  While cruising down the jogging path along the water’s edge and between the command buildings, I presented what I believed to be a pretty iron clad reason why this was all a bunch of garbage that I had made up in my own little head.

I didn’t have a girlfriend.

I didn’t have any girl friends.

I didn’t have any girls who I felt would ever want to be my friend.

I had precious few friends…

So I said,

“If this is God telling me that it is time to get married, then who should I marry?”

Before I could really finish the thought, I immediately thought of 5 different girls.  I wanted to dismiss that too but remembered how I felt when I laughed after the first experience in this developing conversation.

This cannot be.  This is not how it works.  There is a man for a woman and a woman for a man, but not many possible matches for a woman or a man.  There is just the one out there.  I know this to be true because of my extensive background in the dogma and philosophy of Disney and chick flicks…  and the Bible… right?

Wrong.  I will not hijack my own post in order to start a treatise on the will of God, but suffice it to say that this conversation began a really great foray into that topic.

I had a lot of assumptions but no direction and no way to test any of these assumptions.  I was assuming that it was God speaking to me, that He wanted me to be married, and that He was giving me a choice between these 5 ladies.  I felt like I had nothing really at stake yet, so my bets were still safe.

“God… if this is really you speaking with me…  and this is really how this is supposed to go…  then I choose Jessica.  If you really are telling me it is time to be married and I can pick between any of these women, then I choose her.  If all that I have just said to You is true and accurate, then I ask You to affirm this decision by blessing the relationship and making it crystal clear that we are to be married.”

I figured if I was going to play a hand with God I might as well go all in.

I made my way back to my barracks room, got something to eat, and then went to hang out with the couple guys that I usually spent time with.

I told nobody about this conversation.

Nothing changed in my life.  It was like every other time that I thought I had communicated with God.  Big, exciting, encounter and then left waiting and watching… and watching…

      … and then I saw my life changing right before me.


(The final part of this story is here)

Identity, Purpose, and Values

I talk about this one a lot.

I have been very fortunate to have been allowed the access and involvement in the lives of people with the purpose of influencing them to greater maturity.  I have spent a lot more time working with guys than I have girls so this may not be completely accurate for the the lady folks out there, but it seems to be quite accurate for the dudes.

So I said to the tool,

“What kind of tool are you?”

“Are you a screw driver, a shovel, or an axe?”

“Easy question,” said the tool, “I’m an axe!”

“Awesome… how do you know?”

“Because I have this handle and my blade is sharp.”

“I enjoy cutting down the weeds and scrub brush in the ditches…”

“I like when my blade is sharp… that is when everything is right in the world.”

No… I have not ever actually wandered into my garage and selected a tool at random and started a conversation, though I have gotten frustrated enough that I have rebuked my tools for not working as I think they should.  This conversation seems to fit the standard pattern that a lot of my conversations with younger (and some not so younger) guys tend to go.  I am essentially asking them, “Who are you?”  The answers I usually get is, “I am this, because I have evaluated the things I enjoy and the things I value, and that has led me to believe that this is who I am.”

This is not a bad thing.  Introspection coupled with some good observation skills and a little bit of counsel or advice can really help a man define precisely who he is.  Although this is not a “bad” evaluation method, I find it to be a bit flawed.  I would rather start with an identity, and then use this kind of evaluation to bring a bit more clarity, detail, or understanding to that identity.

Why do I think there is a flaw?

Because I have lost count of the men who tell me who they are, and yet live defeated, unfulfilled, frustrated lives of simmering anger and a frozen, stifled resignation to accept the status quo.  They rage within because of the frustration, some of them even going to great lengths to straighten out what is crooked, and often there is no deeper fulfilment, no longer lasting joy, no resonating peace within their lives.   If so many of the men whom I have spoken with have defined their identity in the above manner and yet come to this same end result, then there must be a flaw in the equation.

“An axe, you say?”

“You derive great joy and pleasure from cutting the scrub brush and weeds in the ditch, but what about the firewood?”

“Yeah… about firewood… I’m more of a ditch weed kind of axe.”

“You do not cut wood?”

“Nope… I’ve had a bad experience in the past… really hurts.”

“Have you ever considered that maybe you are not an axe?”

“Maybe your starting premise was wrong?”

At this point it gets kind of grimy.  When I look a man in his eyes and start to imply that he has no idea who he is, I feel as though I am potentially releasing a raging bull hopped up on coke and looking for a fight.  I’m always scared when I broach this part of the conversation.

Here’s why…

Our identity seems to be defined for us when we are young.  Whether this is done by people that we love, or people that we have to be with, it is defined for us.  We go through life viewing everything around us, including our own thoughts, values, priorities, actions, desires, etc., through the lens of our identity.  If I tell a man that he does not know who he is, then I am pulling a card, a bottom card, from his house of cards… his whole world might collapse.  Lucky for me, I am not too convincing the first time I start talking about this kind of stuff!

“What if you are not an axe at all… What if you are  shovel”

“Shovels have sharp blades…

       long handles…

          and do pretty well at cutting the weeds…

              and scrub brush in the ditch…

but they really come alive when they get to dig…”

I get to ask questions!!  I love asking questions.  I never know what is about to get uncovered.  I am not trying to cause trouble for these guys, I want to see them free.  So I ask questions that will hopefully get them to start thinking the “why” questions for their life.  I want to introduce doubt into the equation.  Even if who they think they are really is who they are, a little doubt and questioning goes a long way in shoring up their confidence in who they are.  At the worst I get to help them embark upon a seekers journey…  and sometimes I get to help them figure out who they are.

After establishing an identity, I like to talk about purpose.  The trick is that this is where these conversations usually start.  A man will tell me that he feels so frustrated because he is doing everything that he knows to do, is doing good things, things of value, and yet he is frustrated.  He just wants to make his little mark on the world but feels as though for all his work, he is still waiting to work where he feels he fits.  This is a question about purpose, but I cannot encourage a shovel to keep on beating his head into trees in an axe world.  So we go back to identity and figure out we are a shovel.  Most of the men I have had these talks with have a hard time understanding that identity drives purpose.  They seem to instinctively think that purpose drives identity.  “I am good at this, and it is what I do, so it must be who I am.”  Sorry bro… no.

“Is a shovel a shovel because it digs, or does it dig because it is a shovel?”

So after working out identity, purpose kind of starts to fall into place.

After purpose starts to fall into place, values start to fall into place.

If we judge our purpose and then derive our identity from that, then we have determined who we are.  If we are the ones who define our identity, then our values are really quite arbitrary.

So where does identity come from?

I believe it comes from Jesus.  In the book of Ephesians, I read a line that says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father in Heaven, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”  There are a couple other passages which talk about Jesus giving us a new name or knowing our name.  I understand that my name is the label of my identity.

So I spend time reading scripture with the these guys and sitting at the feet of Jesus.  I encourage them to forget about trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and instead give this a shot and try to figure out who they are.

It has not worked %100 of the time, but it has worked a lot more than it has failed.

As a matter of fact, one of the guys I meet regularly with right now started meeting with me because of one of these conversations.  He was adamant that identity does not matter!  Purpose… what is my purpose?  He trusted me and decided to play my little game… and in the last 6 months this dude has figured out 2 things…

1.  A shovel is not a shovel because it digs, it digs because it is a shovel.

2.  He is not a shovel.

So this is what I say…

Identity drives Purpose, Purpose drives Values.  Looking for the source of identity within tends to be inaccurate.  Looking for the source of identity external seems to produce slightly better results.

If you do not know who you are, send me a message.  I would love to help you start looking for the source of your identity.

Scary Noises

** Disclaimer**    or warning… or whatever you want to call it… I have been told that this post has caused difficulty for some readers to sleep… it looks like the scary noises I heard still have the ability to scare folks, so do not read this before bed, or having just finished fish tacos, or if you are particularly sensitive to scary stories…

And she laughed at us for saying that.

I loved her though.  I felt like she was a distant step-mom in a way.  Her son and I had been roommates for years… and years.  We lived in Okinawa together, we deployed together, we did pretty much everything together.  I would tell people he was not home while he hid in the bathroom, and he may have done the same for me.

We did a lot of growing up together… and because of each other.

So when his family would come up to North Carolina to visit, it was just natural that I would tag along.  He spent Thanksgiving with my folks, I took my wife to spend a week with his family in South Texas even though he wasn’t going to be home.  We were family.  This guy is my brother… not as in, “He is close to me like a brother”… this dude is my brother.  We don’t talk very often because he lives in a state that might as well be a different country from me and our jobs keep us ridiculously busy, but such is life.

So there we were… (the way every legit story begins)

Hanging out with his family, sitting on a screened in porch at a little cottage on a quaint lake in coastal North Carolina on a warm summer evening.  So peaceful.  Crickets chirping in the background, the animals bedding down, and that warm breeze coming across the lake.  Everything felt right in the world.  We were just sitting there talking as the night closed in around us and the last tendrils of conversation were working their way out as we started to settle down for the night.  The tea glasses were mostly ice in the bottom and the last cigarette was smoldering out.

And then we jumped…

His mom started laughing at us, and then attributed our action to our combat experiences.  We looked at each other and said, almost in unison, “Scary Noises.”

And she laughed at us a little more.

I understand.  I laughed too.  We had both deployed, we had both engaged the enemy, we had both treated casualties, and yet we were spooked by scary noises.

I also understand what noises my brother and I had heard before.

We were both very spiritual and pretty disciplined with our individual faith.  His was not mine.  Mine was not his.  Somehow we forged a bond in spite of our religious differences.  I really have no idea how.

I do not believe in Ghosts.  I’m not sure what he believed.  I am not entirely sure how to explain some of the things we heard.  Sometimes it was just little stuff.

Coins falling in the hallway but nobody outside.

A girl talking and then calling for help in the laundry room… with nobody there.

We heard a cat stuck in the air ducts one night and decided to rescue that thing because it was keeping us awake.  We could hear it out in the hallway, and followed the sound to the laundry room, and then it went quiet.


One night in particular, we stayed up talking and laughing until sleeping was kind of pointless.  We both had to work the next morning and we were going to have to go about our tasks on a fewer than 4 hours sleep.  I feel a little embarrassed to say it, but we kept giggling and then laughing and then trying to stop and go to sleep.  Then one of us would say a word or make a sound and the other one would lose it again.  Just like a couple little kids who share a bedroom and have to have their mom chastise them for not sleeping.  Finally we let our fatigue get the best of us and we knew it was time to call it a night.

“Good Night Bro”

“Good Night”

And then the conversation got started

From the foot of his bed I heard a voice, clear as can be, speaking calmly and deliberately in a language I had never heard.  The voice started, spoke a few lines, and then stopped.

I was shaking…

And then another voice, very similar, answered in the same fashion, but this time from the foot of my bed.

I considered throwing up.

The voice from his bed responded, and then from my bed, and back and forth.  The voice from the foot of his bed became more and more agitated each time until I genuinely thought my life was in danger.  A response came from the foot of my bed that sounded curt, as though it was finished with this conversation and was invoking it’s authority or superiority.  Then from the foot of his bed this voice was furious, made an outburst, and then silence.

I could not breathe.  I could not cry.  I could not scream.  I would have urinated 2 days worth if I could have mustered the courage.

I just laid there.

I have never been that afraid in my life.  Not on any of my deployments.  Never.

I wanted to know that this was not in my head, but I did not want to wake up my brother because he needed to sleep for his shift the next morning.

As I lay there in my fear stricken turmoil, I heard the shakiest, fear drenched voice I have ever heard come from him.

“Did you hear that?”

That was all I needed.  Like lightning I was out of my bed, had the lights turned on, and was in the hallway…

I don’t know what he thinks that was.

Quite frankly I do not care.

Sometimes I think my life would be a lot less complicated if I were not a Christian.  Sometimes I think it would be easy for me to reason away my faith in Christ or the Bible since I have never seen anything tangible or concrete to affirm my beliefs.

But I cannot shake those voices.  My hair stands up on my arms to this day when I think about that.

If I accept that we both heard this, that it was not a shared delusion, then I have to accept that there is a world beyond the one which I can see.  Two plays on the same stage.

My search for answers to define and explain what I heard in that room that night has caused me to evaluate my spirituality and the way in which I practice.

That happened close to 11 years ago but I still remember it and feel it like it was yesterday.

So yeah…

That’s why we jump when we hear scary noises.


I’m a Supermodel

That’s right!! I said it.

It seems the purpose of the runway walkers, and I do not mean FOD walk down, is to provide us an example of the fashion designer’s vision for their latest clothing line. In that same line of thought are the fitness and body building models. I’m thinking the marketing folks use these as examples of what we should look like and if we use their products or read their magazines, we will be like them.

“Bro… what on earth made you want to write a post calling yourself a Supermodel?”

Good question!!

Kids and I

So there I was, sitting in Row R, section 20 something, at the Paramount Theater in Seattle with my wife and my 2 older kids watching The Piano Guys… great show too, by the way. At one point in the show, one of the fellas starts telling a story about his development as a musician. He says that one of his music professors said something pretty powerful to him one day. Something akin to,

“I cannot teach you a passion for music, I can be passionate about music in front of you and hope you catch it.”

Then he tells us about his parents. He said that his parents had a deep love and passion for music. They would listen to classical music in their cars and talk about the composer, they would play instruments and dance, they would listen to music as a family. His parents were passionate about music in front of him, and he developed a passion for music because of them.

Is this a fail proof way to ensure my kids love music, or enjoy the outdoors, or become passionate readers? I do not think so. Will me being passionate about the things in my life tilt the scale, or encourage my kids to enjoy, consider, and maybe even develop a passion within them for the things I value? Possibly… and I think more likely than not, the things that I am passionate about will end up defining who they are in the future. Good and Bad.

This is where it gets kind of scary as a parent… with my attitudes and shortcomings… and my volatile past… and the stuff I still carry… with 4 kids watching me…

I feel a pressure to persuade them to fit a certain set of expectations. Are these expectations appropriate or healthy? If they are healthy and appropriate, is it wise for me to “persuade” them to live up to these expectations? Am I living up to these expectations? The thing about this is that, though these are the questions that resonate deep in my heart sitting around campfires drinking a glass of wine, I am not so sure that these are the questions I should be asking.

If my children will be greatly influenced by what I am passionate about, the expectations don’t really come into play. My desire for them is that they live peaceful and fruitful lives experiencing fulfillment and joy.

And this is where I start moving down the runway.

I feel deeply fulfilled in my life right now. I have finally started experiencing a peace and joy that I have not ever known before. Do not get me wrong, I am still pretty mixed up, deeply conflicted, and carry a heaping load of sorrow, but mixed with all that is a soothing rest for my weary soul. This… This is what I want for my kids. Garbage is going to come to them. I cannot prevent the garbage that is inbound. They have already taken some and, at times, it has come from me.

I can try to persuade my kids to be like me and think like me and believe like me in a hope that, as they grow up and start experiencing the ruthless, painful world on their own, they will one day experience the peace in the middle of it all like me. I can try to demonstrate the actions, disciplines, and philosophy that readers and thinkers say lead to this peacefully fulfilled life.

But the musician did not become a musician because his parents told him that music is important and that they would like to see him become a musician.

This is what I choose… I choose to let my kids see that I am passionate for the things that I value. I will try not to make these things expectations upon their shoulders, or lessons for them to remember, but vibrantly lived life demonstrating with gusto that I am deeply moved by, devoted to, and a disciple of the things which I value.

Of the 3 options, expect… persuade… demonstrate, I choose demonstrate. Is there a chance they will not pick up on my values, or will see what I value and choose not to adopt those things as their values. Yup. There is a chance. Is there a chance that not living up to my expectations will leave them with crippling insecurity. Si Amigo. Is there a chance that my kids would see me trying to persuade them to adopt certain disciplines and values that I do not submit to and have not adopted and, in so doing, drive a wedge of distrust between me and them? Sigh… So from my perspective, in this little cramped cockpit, I have 3 choices here, and two of them hurt my kids or hurt my relationship with them. One option allows them to choose what they want as adults and allows me to love them fully while maintaining my relational integrity with them.

All three options have a risk of my kids being hurt. But no option I know of will keep that from happening. My eyes get wet often when I think about this.

So there it is. I am a model. I think I am a Supermodel. My kids see me as an example of what a man is and what a man should be. Regardless of whether or not I am a model of a good man or a bad man is not the point. The point is that I am a model… so the question stands… What, exactly, am I modeling for my kids?  … and why?

A friend of mine told me almost 12 years ago that one of the best things I can do for my kids is to let them see me spending time praying and reading my Bible in the mornings. He seems to think that this will have more impact on them than if I try to teach them the things to believe or set my expectations on their shoulders.

Do I read my Bible and pray in front of them because I want them to do this as adults, or do I read my Bible and pray in front of them because I am passionate about my time with Jesus?

Do runway models and bodybuilder models walking the runway and giving photo shoots because they want to persuade me, or because they are passionate about their art… and the cash that comes from it?  Did they come up with their own fashion line and marketing strategy, or did they submit their talents to a designer and publisher in order to enjoy the fruits of their labor?

I am a Supermodel!!

… and I really hope I am modeling well

Will you be my friend?

(Click here for the beginning of the story)

That was really the question in my heart.

I did not have many close friends from my high school days.  Joining the Navy, moving away, and saying goodbye to my previous life was actually really easy for me.  I had a couple close friends, but they kind of held on to me with an open hand mentality.

I did not want to be in somebody’s open hand.

I did not want to be in an open, all inclusive group.

I had nothing to offer anybody nor did I give any group a reason to include me in their exclusive circles.  I was right where I deserved to be.

On the outside.

I had just returned from my first deployment.  I had toured the nation of Iraq from the Kuwaiti border to Baghdad and then come home to soothing Tennessee.  I spent a month home on leave and started hanging out pretty often with a small group of folks my age.  We went hiking and to get burgers, bicycle riding and to sit around picnic tables talking, going through motions to be friends but I was always trying out, never making the team.

As much as I cared about being included, the things in Iraq which I had seen and done made me feel as though I could never be a part of this college aged social crew.  The truth is I wanted to be accepted but did not want to invest the time or take the risks required to develop these relationships.  I was content, at least superficially, to enjoy the month hanging out with the folks and then forget about them when I went back to Camp Lejeune.

I remember hiking and biking with this group and spending my time chit chatting and flirting with a couple of the girls who came along.  That cute girl in the perwinkle sundress kept hanging out with these people.  I really dismissed her pretty quickly.  She was young.  She was cute.  She was smart…she was soon to be fully enrolled into the Feminazi Training Indoctrination Program, and my mom and sister liked  her.  I was not interested in her.

At one point during a ride around Cade’s Cove, I pulled my bicycle up next to a girl with long brown hair and started talking.  She was sweet and intelligent, fit and refined, and seemed to enjoy my company.  While talking and pedalling she said,

” There is no way I would ever go camping for more than a couple days…”

And before she could finish her statement the little girl with the periwinkle sundress, who happened to be riding next to the girl I was talking to, chimes in with,

” I would LOVE to go camping for days at a time…”

And then she pedalled away.

My thoughts…”Who cares what you would like to do.  You should go home and play with your dolls.”

There was something about her attitude that caught my attention though.  She seemed to never stick around long enough to see what my response was.  She seemed to not pay very much attention at all to the opinions of the guys around her.  It was like she was in her own little world, oblivious to the rest of us.  She interacted with us, but almost as though we were just characters in a big play and not like we were the ones around which the world pivoted.

I kept trying to flirt with this brown haired girl, but I kept an eye on that sundress girl.

She really was in her own world in a lot of ways.  She really seemed to either be completely and totally out to lunch or driven by a desire to please the play’s unseen director.   As much as I wanted to deny it, I was deeply attracted to that kind of confidence.

As the month started to draw to an end, and the lazy days in the mountains numbered in the single digits, and my normal routine of living in the barracks and training for war crept upon me, I found my thoughts drifting back to those hazy, sunny days and the interactions I had with this enigmatic young lady.

The last interaction I remember from this period was back in the same church in which I had first seen her.  I was being goofy and stood in a doorway and would not let people through the door until I had a chance to pick on them.  I know, I know, such a bully kind of thing to do.  These weren’t old people, they were  my age and it was fun.  When I did this to the girl with the periwinkle sundress, she just stood there and looked at me, then delivered a curt, gentle, and fiery, “No, move please…” and walked right by me.

I have experienced that before, but it usually comes with a lot of posturing.  There was none of that.  She conducted herself with the quiet confidence of a queen and glided by as though she wore glass slippers.  I stepped out  of the doorway and watched her walk by…  and I really liked what I was watching.

I left a couple days later.  For the duration of my 8 hour drive back to my home in Jacksonville, NC, my mind raced.  Other than thoughts about firing RPG’s at cars that cut me off and how much trouble I would get in if I drove through the  median of the interstate to get around traffic, I was fixed on her.

What I really wanted to was to connect with somebody in a lasting, meaningful way.  What I did was dismiss everybody in that group.  What I was left with was a few small memories, a flutter in my heart, and the name of a girl and her email address.

I returned to Lejeune and started hanging out with the guys who were quickly becoming my new family, but I did not tell them about this girl.  In a moment of loneliness one night, sitting in my barracks room, I decided to send her an email.

“hello,  I just wanted to drop a quick line tellin you…”

(Story continues here)

Road March to Groton

We hope to be wheels hot no later than 0800, 01APR2014, en route to Groton, CT.

We also hope to still be on speaking terms with each other, well rested, well fed, and excited to start the drive from one side of this great nation to the other.

And by we I am referring to my wife, my kids, and me.

I will be going to school for a little more than  year in Groton in order to become a Submarine IDC.  An IDC is an Independent Duty Corpsman.  A Corpsman is a beastly creature composed of the essential elements of power, strength, and intelligence with a side helping of awesome and gliding with a swagger which cannot be duplicated and inhabiting the nightmares of those who would do harm to the Marines and Sailors entrusted to their care.  We are a proud breed… maybe I should do a post dedicated simply to that…

Anyway, a Corpsman is a medical “jack of all trades” for the Navy and Marine Corps, most commonly filling the role of a combat medic or hospital nursing staff.  After I graduate from the school in Groton (If I graduate), I will be the sole medical provider for the crew of a Submarine.

Pumped… Yes

Intimidated… Absolutely

I am not sure if I am really mature enough to accept the responsibility of the health, the lives of so many men and women in such an austere environment.  Talk about a heavy burden of responsibility.

Sooo… between now and a little less than 2 months from now we have a lot to do and a very little amount of time to do it.  We need to get our household goods packed up, our house cleaned enough to pass a military cleanliness inspection, close up all the business like things we have going, resolve whatever local tasks are still outstanding, load up our cars, and then punch out.

We plan on Visiting family and friends in Portland, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Altus (Oklahoma), Dallas, Lake Charles (Louisiana), Knoxville, Jacksonville (North Carolina), Washington DC, a little town in Maryland, and then stopping in Groton.

I will try to put up a post and some pictures every couple days during the trip.

Until then…

Never Perform CPR in Combat

At least that is what I was told.  That is not, however, what I did.

I don’t know if it was good or bad.  I feel like my soul was caught inside the insidious meat grinder of hell.

On the one hand, I had my brothers’ piercing eyes, seemingly judging my every move, their very sanity and composure hanging on the effectiveness of my actions and the sincerity with which I applied my craft.

On the other hand, I had my own precarious psychological state evaporating like ether on a hot day as my actions invited the demons and nightmares to prey on my heart and soul at will.

I knew performing CPR in this moment was futile.  My brother was dead.  The more time I spent with my lips on his, my nose blending the boundary between my vitality and the burnt flesh of his face, and little bits of that flesh being swallowed by me each time I took a breath throughout the ordeal, I knew I was doing irreparable damage to me.

But I could feel the eyes of those around me.  I am sure they were just watching.  I am sure they were just hoping for all the good in the world that their brother would open his eyes, cough and sputter, and breathe on his own.  I knew as sure as I was kneeling there, that, should I choose to do nothing else, I would never be able to recover that image in their eyes.

Doc.  Kneeling next to a dying brother.  Doing nothing.

This… This I could not do.

This brother of mine was a really small guy with South American ancestry from New York City.  Significantly different from me.  The guy had heart.  He was one of the smallest guys in the platoon, but he never used that as an excuse for not being able to perform.  He never needed an excuse to be honest… he was simply a verifiable little beast.  I held a deep respect for him.

He was a “comm guy”, one of the Marines who takes care of the radios and taught the rest of us how to not sound like morons when sending messages across the net.  In our living area (hooch), the Corpsmen and the Comm guys had our racks (beds) in the same area.  The teams had their own areas around us.  Unless there were missions which kept us out of the hooch, I woke up and saw him every morning, shared tuna and protein with him for breakfast or lunch, and talked about culture, religion, and movies before bed.

We were doing a joint team operation in Ramadi, and we staged at one of the combat outposts.  Around 2 in the morning the two teams departed friendly lines in order to execute justice in a city in which order and honor were severely lacking.

We were good at what we did.  I remember feeling like a ghost.  We would drop off the trucks, and disappear…  nobody had any idea where we were, and then we would appear when we would choose, get on a truck, and go home.  Man, we were good.

So we are slithering around the city, making our way to our destination for the next day’s mission, when all of a sudden the night sky lit up really bright.  I remember this happening sometimes while we would be out walking.  They sky would light up, a resounding boom would roll across us, and we would find out later that some poor platoon had taken casualties from an IED.  I remember thinking that life must be really hard for the guys in that platoon.  I mean, they just got blown up.  I do not remember ever hearing the explosion.  The next thing that I noticed was the debris that started to rain down on me.  And then it clicked.

Life got really hard in that moment.

Chaos was ringing out on our radios as each team tried to gain accountability of the team members.  “Doc’s good” and then I went silent in order to let the other guys communicate.  I looked up and saw that a couple of my Marines were already at the end of the street, gaining entry to a house.  We were all right there with them so fast, and the house was secured and being searched.

One of the guys was counting the members of his team and calling out their names as they came through the door.  Then the horror set in.  We were missing one.  And then I heard his name.

I went busting out of the house with my team leader, running without any regard to what could be happening around me, looking for my brother.  We found him.  He was in a bad way.  Really bad.

And I got to work.

I ended up in the back of a truck that was not meant to be used for QRF (Quick Reaction Force).  The “rescuers” grabbed the wrong truck.  Power steering had failed, the driver’s Night Vision Goggles did not work.  We were on such a tight street that the troop carriers could not turn around.  I got in the back of one of the small trucks with 2 more guys and off we went.

By ourselves.  No gun truck support.  No truckload of killing machines in a troop carrier behind us.

I did all I could do and the last thing on the list was CPR.  I started.  Shortly after that I looked up out of the back of the truck to see where we were and I recognized one of the bridges which took us to Camp Ramadi, home of the Fleet Surgical Resuscitation Team (FSRT).  These guys were sharp.  Really solid surgical team that set up right in the backyard of “this is where everyone dies” alley.  I started to relax a little bit because I knew we were just minutes from the front gate and we would be safe once we crossed that line.

I did not cross it in that truck.

There are these barriers set up in random places in order to control the flow of traffic and prevent vehicle IEDs from making contact with the Marines and Soldiers who guarded the gate.  The ones around us at the time were about 6 or 7 feet tall, solid concrete, and shaped like a capital “T” sitting upside down.  We hit it.  Hard.  Both of the Marines who were riding with me were ejected.  The driver broke a leg, and his passenger dislocated a shoulder.  I slid out of the back and landed on the body of the Marine on which I had been working.  I could hear the screams of the injured Marines coming from the front of the truck.

And then it was really calm and silent.

I looked up at the sky.  Crystal clear and full of stars.  I’ll never forget that, how intensely peaceful and beautiful that sky looked.  I cried out from the very pit of despair.  I was alone, the dead and injured around me.  All that came out of me was a little chuckle and, “Okay… what next?  What do I do now?”

The truck with the rest of the team on it came around a minute later, the Marines who were ejected from the back got on the truck with me and the Marine I was working on, and off we went.  I performed CPR all the way to the FSRT.

As soon as we pulled up, the FSRT staff unloaded my patient.  I got off the truck, took a couple steps, and doubled over on the ground.  I don’t know how long I cried, but it had to have been a while.  I stood up in time to see one of the FSRT staff coming out of the Operating Suite to tell me that my Marine had passed away.

I was ashamed for crying.

I was ashamed for having had my hands so bloody and having done nothing to keep him alive.

And I was sick.  From the stress of what had happened and the little bits of my brothers lips and face which had been burnt and then swallowed by me.

That smell, that taste, those feelings still linger deep in me.  I smoked a cigarette that night and got a dip from one of my Marines in order to get that flavor out of my mouth.  I cannot smoke a cigar to this day because of that.

Maybe I am weaker than my Marines.  Maybe they can carry these kind of painful things and be okay.  Not me.  I am fighting back the tears as I sit here and recall these memories.

I don’t mope around and I am not depressed.  I genuinely love and enjoy my life, but I do have days that are harder to get through than others.

I forgot where I wanted this post to go…  For that I’m sorry.

Hopefully some of this helps you understand a little bit better what it feels like…

Thanks for reading.  I’m sure I’ll talk more about this night at some point.

A Periwinkle Sundress

I was just going through the motions really.  I went to Church with my family because that is what you do when you are home on leave (Navy for “vacation”).  I still shared the same religious beliefs that my parents had, but I did not know anybody in this Church.  It was not the Church in which I had grown up, but in order to honor my Mom and Dad, I stood by them through the service.

Since I knew I would not be in town for long, I did not feel the pressure to connect with anybody in this Church.  I spent the entire first part of the service standing in the back row while everybody else was singing.  Instead of opening my mouth, I was scanning the room.  Seeing if there were any other folks there like me.  You know, relatively good folks, younger 20’s, not so engaged, more or less there to please their parents…  I figured I’d try to link up with these people and see if I could engage in the typical social life of the day.  Go see a movie, get a bite to eat, go on a hike, you know…  You should know that I was paying a little closer attention to the college age girls who were, I was hoping, doing exactly what I was doing.

The part of the service where everybody sits down and somebody from the congregation comes on stage to sing was beginning.  I had a couple girls and a couple guys picked out to link up with after the service and see if I could plan a hiking trip with them.  Sitting there on the back row with my head full of images of the Smoky Mountains, this girl starts belting out a tune with great gusto.  I cannot tell you what song she was singing, but that girl could sing.  She looked like she was either a senior in high school or maybe a freshman in college, but that would have been a stretch.  She was one of the cutest girls I had ever seen.  All thoughts of the Chimney trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park fell out of my head.  I was mesmerized!  And she just stood there, singing her heart out in a periwinkle sundress.  Narrow straps.  Cute shoulders.

I leaned over to my Mom and asked her the obvious question that was running through my head… “Mom, from what magical world has this little princess come from?”  Which, if I recall correctly, came out more like…

“Mom… who’s that?”

“O, That’s Jessica… Why?”

“No reason.”
“Just… she’s cute is all.”

My Mom leans over to my sister at this point and then leans back to me…

“Your sister likes her too…”

I had heard enough.  All the guys I knew who had been married or were dating had significant drama between their sisters and moms and the romantic interest in their lives.  The evidence was overwhelming.  If my Mom and sister liked a girl, then there was no way on earth that I would have anything close to a good relationship with her.

And so… as this sunbeam of cuteness walked off the stage, whatever desire I might have had to go talk to her walked off too.

See, I was plaqued with some really skewed ideas about life and I did not yet have anybody in my life to help correct these things in me.  I had a pretty young relationship with a really good group of guys and men who wanted to work with me, but I had not yet started opening up to them.  I’m sure I’ll talk about these guys in a later post since they did end up having such a significant impact on me.

I knew that I wanted to have a girlfriend and maybe one day a wife who loved me.  I did not want a Feminazi…  and cute, smart, girls who get along with women of different cultures and generations are bound for college, where the indoctrination into full fledge Feminazi culture would be complete.

And so I let this really sweet looking, super cute, periwinkle sundress walk off the stage.  And there I sat… in the back… looking for somebody to talk to, somebody to be my friend...

Sittin on a wall
Sittin on a wall