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Money Laundering

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Wednesday

Quote of the Day: “When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him.”

- Thomas Szasz

I think there is something wrong with the electrical system of my new house.

First it was the boy’s computer that went “fssssst” and now there is another, more expensive sign I’m hard-pressed to ignore.

Carrie loaded up the washer for our first official load of laundry in our new house. It’s kept out in the garage so she set it in motion (I really don’t know how that magic thing actually works) and she let it do its thing.

A little later she opened the garage door only to be greeted with a lot of smoke, and it wasn’t Buster out for a break.

Ut-oh.

I didn’t do it!!!!

Upon further inspection, it seems that the washer machine engine burnt out. Hmmm, worked fine in Virginia and then amazingly, the FIRST time we use it here and it just happened to be its time to go to the big laundromat in the sky?

I don’t believe in such coincidence but what could I do?

The answer is simple: have Carrie go out and buy the most expensive son-of-a-bitch on the market.

First, it was a refrigerator we had to buy. Then came the grill. Now a washer that is worth, as far as I can tell, the gross national product of Bolivia.

The damn thing cost more than BOTH the old washer and dryer. And, to make matters worse, it takes some special-ass soap because it uses less water or some shit.

One more thing, since I’m paying 6 month’s wages of this pile of metal, you would think I would get an agitator (you know, that pole in the middle) but I seem to be the only agitator around the house these days. They would have you believe that the jets spray out the water a certain way and the motion of the drum negates the need for a center pole.

If you ask me, just another feminazi statement.

OK, so we sign off our kids inheritance, get the Wash-O-Matic Ten Billion, buy specialized soap made by unicorns and liberal Republicans, do without the agitator extraordinaire, and are now the proud owners of the cleaning potential that rival the gods. Supposedly.

As far as I can tell, the coolest thing about it is that it counts down the minutes until it is done and for all you women out there, that is the ONLY thing that men will dig about this. We really don’t know nor care about the 67 different settings because to us, there are lights and there are darks. Period.

Delicates? No clue.

Permanent press? Is that an NBA strategy?

Here’s what we know:

Whites: set it for HOT/HOT
Darks: Set if for COLD/COLD

And the relative difference for choosing which pile to put our clothes into is very transitional, directly proportional to the amount of beers we’ve had and how many of the darks we can slide over to the tiny whites pile to get away with only two loads total.

And don’t even talk to us about the size setting. We will wash a single sock using the “FULL” setting.

But the minutes thing, now that is cool. How many times have I gone out to a washer wondering how much more magic has to happen before Willie the Washer is going to be done spinning my clothes into the 14th dimension? Granted the number that happens to be the answer to that is rather small, it still represents EVERY time I’ve ever had to wash my own clothes. So a bonafide countdown is the shiznit!

Now that we got that straight, let me brag about owning the most expensive washing technology known to man. The best part: Carrie still takes care of all the wash so it really doesn’t matter to me if we would have bought a wooden board. But for the price I paid, the lid should pop open and a little lady should pop out to scrub all my clothes by hand.

I’m just sayin’!

Free Advice for Today: “When eating at a restaurant that features foreign food, don’t order anything you can fix at home.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

3 comments


It Ain’t Too Much For Me To JAM

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Tuesday

Quote of the Day: “Most people have seen worse things in private than they pretend to be shocked at in public.”

- Edgar Watson Howe

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. I had my first traffic jam on the way home today and although I was none too pleased when I got home, I have to remember that it still wasn’t as bad as when I lived in Virginia.

When I lived on the Wrong Coast, this kind of jam was an everyday event. It drove me nuts and made my general mood on any given day somewhere between “Don’t fucking talk to me” and stabbing nuns with serrated machetes.

I don’t even know how this happened today since there was nothing that would indicate that today’s traffic was any different than any other day. And of course the perpetrator never materialized as I got closer to home so I still don’t know. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I want to see gore, flames, wreckage, and naked midgets on fire when I crawl along the highway for two hours. Give me a reason or at least something to hope for when I’m sitting there wondering if my car will fit up the ass of the driver in front of me for 120 minutes.

Looking around, everyone was on their cell phone which, in the situation shouldn’t bother me but it did. I am guilty of this myself on occasion but is there a deeper hate than passing some moron who gooned up traffic for miles only to see him talking on his cell? There’s not a jury that would ever convict me.

So there you have it, my first traffic jam. California is somewhat famous for their crazy-ass traffic jams but since I’ve been here, they can’t hold a candle to Virginia. I don’t know what this endless debate is about California highways being like parking lots but I can tell you this: I’ve had smooth sailing up until today every time I come home and in Virginia, it was a given that I would be stuck it a river of shit for over and hour each night. Regardless.

Just one more SOCAL thing to be thankful for and one more thing that Virginia can suck on.

Free Advice for Today: “When you’re uncertain of what you should pay someone, ask, ‘What do you think is fair?’ You’ll almost always get a reasonable answer.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

6 comments


Shut Up Daniel Powter

Monday, August 28th, 2006

Monday

Quote of the Day: “Books to the ceiling,/ Books to the sky,/ My pile of books is a mile high./ How I love them! How I need them!/ I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.”

- Arnold Lobel

Some days are just shit.

Not “the shit” but rather just plain “shit.” As in deep-fried in fecal matter.

Today was one of those days.

I don’t know why, it might have just been a Monday thing but suffice it to say I just didn’t want to be there and everything I did, I ran into a brick wall.

My job is just a series of decisions and taking care of individual issues. I make lists and I try to take care of them but today was one of those days where every issue I addressed, I was stopped cold by one reason or another. I would move on only to run into something else.

By noon, it was a definite “What the fuck is going on?!” kind of day.

One of the first causes of this travesty of a day was the random urinalysis. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to do this (you know, honor, courage, commitment and all that) but even my beloved Marines sometimes falter and succumb to the societal peer pressure to use drugs. If they do, and we catch them, they get processed for separation. This normally results in them getting kicked out but in a few cases, very few in my experience, are allowed to stay in.

The SACO (Substance Abuse Counselor) comes to my office and hands me a list of random names, approved by the Battalion CO, that are required to show up and give a sample.

OK, I thought, no problem. First Sergeant, get the word out and let me know when they are complete.

More of the day happens as I described above and at about 4:00, I start getting phone calls from irate officers who say they just found out about the urinalysis. I go to my First Sergeant to see where the breakdown occurred and she explained to me one of the ongoing problems of communication we have.

The First Sergeant did indeed get the word out to her counterparts in the relevant sections. It would seem to me that they would pass the word up and down the line so that those that needed to know, and take action, would get informed.

Not only did this not happen but now I get a bunch of irate senior officers wondering why I didn’t call them directly to let them know. The fact that I told their “right hand” who failed to let them know not only seemed to answer the mail, but the very fact that this is an accepted status quo on the base just blew me away.

Yeah, it was that kind of day.

What was the lesson?

Short term: call all Officers when they are required to donate body waste.

Long term: fix this communication problem between the Staff NCOs and the Officers.

So I went home and kicked the dog.

Free Advice for Today: “Don’t eat anything covered in chocolate unless you know what’s inside.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

8 comments


On the 8th Day, He Created Cable/Internet/VOIP And It Was Good

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

Sunday

Quote of the Day: “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”

- Steven Wright

With all the excitement as of late, you would think that, based on the way we acted, our house was all set up and ready for Better Homes and Gardens, right?

Uh, if you could just give us a sec….

“What the hell, we’re not ready, tell them to go away!”

Although we still had cardboard all over the place, I decided to set up the most important room in the house. No, not the shitter, although you make a very convincing argument.

What I meant was the computer room. OK, maybe it’s only important to me but I counter with the fact that if my geek side ain’t fed and happy, no one’s happy, if you know what I mean.

Yeah, yeah, the kitchen would rank up there, hunger and all, but that’s the wife’s department. And if you think that sounds chauvinistic of me, let’s all take a little trip into the hypothetical and watch as I start messing around with taking stuff out of boxes and making decisions about where they would go in the kitchen.

Yeah, not so pretty, is it? Carrie would have 15 conniptions ’till Tuesday so I prove my point. I might benefit from the kitchen getting in shape but to even entertain the thought of me having anything to do with actually, gulp, ASSISTING or even worse MAKING DECISIONS in that room…

Puuuulease!!!

So I know my place and that place is in the Computer Room, or what I like to call “Where All The Magic Is Made.”

(I’d like to claim this is the master bedroom but let’s not fool ourselves, folks.)

Like a mad scientist’s laboratory all in pieces, my Dellzilla setup was all disarrayed around the room. I had to once again play the Creator, lovingly piecing together my magic machine out of sheer chaos. I needed to do all of this prior to the cable guy arriving so that I would prevent him from escaping before the life-providing juice of the Internet flowed through my machine like the life-blood it is.

I got it all put together, turned it on, and the world of Delzilla once again breathed fire. But the final transformation had to happen before I could call it a success.

When the guy showed up, he was young and seemed a bit jaded. This presented a problem because of course I had to kiss his ass to a pitiful degree. I know that sounds bad but this one man was going to be responsible for providing all the entertainment in my entire house. More than I even knew when he arrived.

You see, here where we live, Roadrunner (meep!meep!) offers internet access, cable, and phone service all for $99 per month. So yeah, this guy’s ass was getting kissed.

I had high hopes. When I learned that we were getting a brand new cable modem, I got the crazy idea that I could have one in my office and have the old one in Alex’s room, thus speeding up the sluggish connectivity he’s always complaining about. They said this would work but when Cable Guru tried to call it in, he was informed that no, this idea had the same possibility of Paris Hilton getting into Mensa. Tough luck, Alex. You get the wireles connection just like before.

Cable Guy got the Internet hooked up and yes, it worked like a champ.

I cried.

Next was the phone. We got the last four digits of, and I did not plan this, as “0001.” It was so binary that once again, I cried.

I also found out that it’s VOIP which to Luddites like Killjoy, I’ll explain means “Voice Over IP” or in more simple terms, over the Internet rather than over POTS (Plain Old Telephone System). That’s really the term but because I KNOW Killjoy still has the look of a dog staring at a 5-dimensional Euclidean inversion equation, means over the regular telephone system.

The quality is not what I would rave about but I really don’t know if that’s due to my service or the crappy house phones that I have. I think they are going bad because the sound is for shit and the LCD displays are all jumbled which makes identifying who is calling a bit of a challenge.

The third in the triad was the TV cable. I had spent many hours late last night hooking up the snake’s den of wiring behind my entertainment system which introduced potential disaster. I didn’t set my self up with success by waiting until after a long day so I was tired.

That meant, of course, I was a total dick about it.

With a big screen digital TV, surround sound system, a TiVo, and a VCR/DVD combo in the mix, the connections were numbingly intricate. I had benefited from my brother-in-law showing up when I lived in Virginia and rewired the entire system. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own thus the tagging system.

“Set this up EXACTLY like it was in ole Virginny” was my overriding thought process.

I thought I had it made because I had spent a mirror-image long, pissy night back in Virginia painstakingly tearing little strips of duct tape and writing what wire went to what connection. Then I taped the little tags to the end, creating little flags of simplicity. I thought I would be cashing in on my hard work by enjoying a stress-free, easy set up after such a work-intensive tear down process.

This is when the world conspired against me to rob me of my sanity.

OK, maybe I was just tired both when I made the tags and when I tried to interpret them.

It wasn’t pretty folks, as my angelic wife can attest. I really don’t know why she hasn’t thrown me out on my ear after all these years.

Anyway, can we move on from talking about my inadequacies, please? Criminy, this is like the Nuremburg trials!

I got it all hooked up last night (grumble, grumble) so it was all set up for Cable Guy to do his thing. I was not letting him go until he finished and I saw full on entertainment.

He had already spent about 4 hours rewiring the house. It seems that the Einstein that did this before used metal staples to staple the wiring around the house instead of using plastic attachment brackets. In some places, they had stapled THROUGH the plastic sheath, as though a little piece of metal surrounding the wire (hello creating a divergent electrical field) (Killjoy, again with the Euclidean equation, just move on..) was not enough. Oh no, they had to puncture the minimal protective shield and introduce a sliver of metal right into the conducting wire. Nice job, guys. A little bit of a dirty signal you say? Hmmm, wonder why.

Cable Guy also brought with him another remote which, at last count, brings my grand total up to, oh, I don’t know, let’s go with 50. Now I have a TV remote, a TiVo remote, a DVD remote, and now a Roadrunner cable remote, most of which claim to be universal but don’t cut the mustard on all the components. So now it’s like a slight-of-hand magic show trying to switch back and forth.

It seems that you can’t route a true digital signal into the generation of TiVo I own so I can’t record digital. Not a big deal but I have to change the source of the signal and the sound (two different remotes) whenever I want to change from digital Roadrunner service and TiVo service. Nary the two ever touch. It sucks but you get used to it.

But here was the moment I will never forget. We bought this big screen TV back in Virginia and have been happy with it for a couple of years. It was digital CAPABLE but in Virginia, paying for digital was akin to investing in Microsoft stock. I wasn’t about to shell out that amount of duckies so I went analog the entire time I owned the TV.

Until today.

Digital service comes with the service and when Cable Guy hooked it up and switched to a digital channel, that’s right, I cried.

I know these explanations are cliché but it really was incredible how clear everything was. It was strange to see the astounding picture quality from a TV you’ve owned for years.

Plus, we get around a million channels. The options have overtaken what I know about cable TV so new concepts were flying at me at light speed (OK, pretty bad pun but work with me here). There’s this On Demand concept where you can order up movies or shows whenever, some even for free.

I don’t spend a lot of time watching TV (mostly just SNL, Scrubs, and The Daily Show) but with such a cornucopia of choices, I might strive to be more of a couch potato. That’s assuming that with a million channels, there is something worth watching. Big assumption, I know because I’ve learned from experience that more channels many times just means more shit to skip over. But it does succeed in making me feel like I’m missing something, many somethings in fact, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Thanks for that.

When all was said and done, I turned the TV on late at night and got a chance to see how it looked. The first thing I saw was Jay Leno come out and it didn’t take long to discover that if there is one thing I DIDN’T want to see is a crystal clear picture of Jay Leno’s ginormous mug. It was downright scary. Some things need to be blurry.

So what did I do? I turned the channel to what? David Letterman.

Yes folks, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it gets quantum leaps worse. A detailed view of David Letterman is not something I will soon forget no matter how much mental floss I use.

The conclusion I can to was simple: shit in digital is crystal clear shit. Ooooh look, you can see the multi-faceted eyes of the flies buzzing above the heap.

Free Advice for Today: “Don’t eat anything covered with gravy unless you know what’s under it.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

3 comments


Now It’s Football?

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Saturday

Quote of the Day: “Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it.”

- Dan Quayle

After yesterday’s exciting, emotional, and late adventures, I looked forward to having a nice, quiet Sunday with the family. That lasted a few hours and I was impressed.

The rent we pay also includes admission to a country club. OK, it’s really just a pool and some picnicking areas but I’ll call it what I want to, thank you very much.

So we are at the country club sunning by the pool when my phone rings. Right before that, I remember thinking how relaxing it was to be sitting in the California sun beside a pool on a Sunday afternoon. Could life get any better?

“What are you and Carrie doing tonight” asked Marisa, my long-time friend and fellow-Adjutant.

“Nuthin’”

“You’re are from Seattle, right?”

“Yep.”

“Do you want to see the Seahawks play the Chargers tonight? I already have tickets and my neighbor just walked over and gave me two more.”

I almost turned them down. I was so comfortable sitting in the sun looking forward to a quiet evening that I almost lost my ever-loving mind and said no thanks.

I had gone to the Freedom Concert. I had gone to the Padres Game. I had met the American friggin’ Idols just last night. I think I’ll just sit this one out…

WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, ASSBAG?

Really? You’ve been here, what a couple of months and you are already getting so used to having freebies thrown your way that you are going to pass on SEAHAWKS tickets because you are a little peaked from recent tomfoolery? What, are you 80?

Luckily, I came to my senses and graciously accepted Marisa’s offer. We made plans to meet up and head to the stadium.

What I didn’t know was that the tickets from the mystery neighbor were season tickets that ran in the neighborhood of, oh, I don’t know, let’s say $180 per ticket!!!!! Even the actual physical ticket was bigger than the average ticket, probably due to its big-pants cost and seating proximity to the field.

In fact, Marisa was bummed because they were better than the ones she had but she had a party of three so the set of two did her no good. Tough shit, Marisa.

We met downtown and caught the trolley to the stadium. Why? Because it would be easier to get Rosie O’Donnell’s fat ass through a mail slot than getting a car through the traffic going to the stadium.

We got to our seats and it was great. The view was perfect and other than having these tickets fall out of the sky like they did, there would be no way we would normally get to sit in $180 seats. We have come a far way but we ain’t anywhere near “there” yet to rate dropping so much dime.

Marisa’s guests left early so due to the miracle of cell phones, she got in touch with us and if you think that you can’t crash even the $180 section, you have never met Marisa.

The Hawks beat the panties off of the Chargers so the night was complete. We made our way home and stumbled through the door late again only to face the reality of going back to work the next morning.

My biggest regret about this weekend was that we were gone both Saturday and Sunday night, leaving the kids at home. Yeah, they are getting old enough to stay at home alone but we have never done that to them two nights in a row.

Opportunity versus temperance. I don’t know if we chose wisely.

On the one had, opportunity is a stingy bastard sometimes but then again, it seems like there will be no shortage of these events while I’m stationed here.

The kids will only be as old as they were today…. today.

Free Advice for Today: “Be the first to apologize to a family member after a disagreement.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

7 comments


American Idols and Heroes

Friday, August 25th, 2006

Friday

Quote of the Day: “I am at two with nature.”

- Woody Allen

You are not going to believe this story because I hardly believe it myself.

Let’s start off by explaining my involvement with this thing called American Idol.

Despite the danger of looking like a 13-year-old girl, I have to admit that I got into the who AI thing this year. In past years, I’ve watched only the first few episodes where wannabes make complete idiots of themselves on national TV but I was always able to extract myself before my manhood was stolen from me.

Not this year, though.

I was sucked into the vortex all the way to the emasculating end which I shamelessly blogged about.

OK, with all of that said, I was recently offered tickets to the road show in connection to the Wounded Marines in my Company. With a little finagling (read: not everyone was as excited as I to attend probably due to their general maleness), I was able to secure an extra ticket for my lovely wife to attend with me and the group.

All I was told was that we might get to see the Idols before the show so I was naturally so excited my braces started to hum and acne broke out all over my prepubescent face.

Leading up to the show, I got no end of crap from people I work with, mainly centered around my, er, interest in a certain Idol whose name escapes me… OK, it was McPhee, of course. Have you seen this woman? She popped up on the cover of a free magazine we get at the base and I was delivered not one but two copies from people who thought I would be googly-eyes at the very site of her. What a bunch of ….. sorry, I was staring at a magazine cover.

I met my wife at the hospital where we climbed in a van with a dozen wounded Marines and Sailors. I think a few of them wanted to go and a few of them were told they wanted to go but nevertheless, the general excitement was palpable.

No matter what you think of them, the show was a powerhouse and these people were rising stars or at least widely recognizable. Carrie and I had watched every show so as a result of the interviews and background stories, we knew quite a bit about them or at least what the Hollywood Machine wanted us to think we knew about them.

We got to the stadium way early so we didn’t even have to pay for parking. Not many people were around so we found and checked into will call which was manned by a woman who was about as warm and friendly as a judge to a pedophiliac murderer. She was severely underwhelmed at who we were and why we were there. We’ll just call her Jade as in “-ed.”

The first thing we were told was to wait in line with the others who, I ascertained, were the winners of local radio station contests and the like. We were supposedly on “a list” which we could neither confirm or deny even existed. So we stood around and waited with the others, hoping we weren’t there hours early for no reason.

Finally an assistant of some sort (these places seem to have hundreds of them walking around like “ins” and you are most definitely part of the “outs” which in action and attitude the ins make sure you know it) shows up and luckily, we ARE on the list so we get special stickers.

The possession of said stickers makes us part of the ins. We are in. Lucky us.

There was some sad flotsam that didn’t make the list and instantly started to beg and plead first the List Master and when that failed, started to beg us for ours. It was like being on the only life boat and people were begging to come aboard. To prove myself as part of the ins, I kicked them away from the boat. Scatter you unwashed masses, I’m “in!”

Sad really. I’m a fan but not insane, at least not enough to lose my dignity.

Now that we possessed the all-important sticker, we had two hours to kill but with nothing to do. I took a quick poll and discovered everyone was hungry. The problem was that we had people on crutches, missing limbs, neck braces, etc. We weren’t exactly the most mobile of groups so walking was out of the question.

By this time, they had started the traffic plan so were charging for parking. If we left in the van to get something to eat, not only would we get caught up in the horrendous traffic jam outside the stadium, but we would have to pay to get back in to park.

I knew I had to take charge but the next problem was that although I’m the Company Commander, I had virtually no power out here. I had the Wounded Marines with me but it’s not like I had a badge for that to flash at the people who only understand the “in” and “out” concept. Although I had a sticker, that only meant I could get into the pre-show. I wasn’t THAT in that I could call any shots.

The next thing I discovered was that when you want something, EVERYONE has the power to say no but NO ONE has the authority to say yes.

All I wanted was to let the Wounded Marines in to the concession stand to buy an overpriced hotdog. That seemed like a bridge too far so my next request was to find someone who could give me a parking pass so I could go and get something to eat and get back in without having to pay.

I might as well have been asking for enriched plutonium.

After talking to a dozen people who sent me to the next clueless drone, we finally had to depend on the ace in the hole. We pulled up to the gate guard earning minimum wage at the gate and tried to explain to him who we were and what we wanted. I was lucky this man, who probably hears dozens of lame stories per night, understood and respected our situation. He told us to return to his gate and he would get me in.

All this happened in front of the Marines and there was a high potential that the guy would tell me to pound sand. When he didn’t, I feel like my authority, or at least esteem in the eyes of the Marines, was maintained.

Some of the Marines had never had In-N-Out so naturally, that’s where we decided to go. The fact that some of them had never been, although stunning, was a golden opportunity. In-N-Out virgins!!!!

When we got there, some of the Marines stayed in the van, having given their orders to friends. There was on Marine in particular that refused to give an order on the pretense that he wasn’t hungry. He had never eaten there before and I knew he was hungry. What I suspected was that he didn’t have any money. He was a PFC so that wouldn’t be surprising, and he was still in bootcamp mode which meant that he was hyper-respectful towards me. Even though this young man had been to war, wounded in war, he still maintained a high level of respect and protocol even in social situations. I was impressed.

When I went in and it was my turn to order, I ordered an extra fry and burger which kind of confused Carrie. She was adamant about not picking up the bill for the entire van which she knew I would if left to my own devices. She just thought I was extra hungry.

When the order came, I asked the worker to put the burger and order of fries in a separate bag. When we got out to the van, I handled it in a way that the PFC would understand.

I threw the bag at him and said “Eat this, PFC.”

He never hesitated and said “Yes Sir” like I had told him to charge a bunker. That was all that was said and we both understood on a personal and professional level. No big presentation but no lack of understanding either. No one saw it but Carrie, me, and the PFC, just as I wanted.

When we got back, just as promised, the gate guard let us through with a huge smile and a smart salute. My heart swelled with pride just as it does every time the public recognizes my Marines for what they do and what they’ve sacrificed.

This is where the rock star treatment starts because we were gathered and led to a room where we were to meet the Idols. I didn’t know what to expect but the excitement was building as we were led to the depths of the stadium past many levels of security until we made it to The Room.

As we entered, it was a little reception area with food, couches, a bar, etc. It was obviously used for these types of receptions and my mind raced at how many famous people had ever visited this place. My reverie was short-lived.

Along the back wall was a row of long tables and sitting there were nine of the ten American Idols, sitting in a line of chairs at the table. It was the weirdest sensation because after watching these people twice a week for months on TV, there they were. My wife accuses me of being a hopeless fan prone to be startstruck and I guess I can’t argue that much.

They. Were. Right. There.

Each person in our line was given a glossy group photo of the Idols and the deal was that you gave it to each one and they signed it as you talked to them. Since our daughter is a big fan, we asked if they could make it out to her.

We were put at the end of the line with the explanation that we would have the most time with the Idols while the others would be rushed along. We gaped at the Idols as we waited in line and in return, I noticed that they were giving curious looks at the short-haired motley crew coming through the line. I realized they hadn’t been informed of who we were so the sight of a bunch of people on crutches, neck-braces, etc. were a curious site to them.

I was snapping pics like crazy, trying to get the Marines in the frame with the Idols but most of them came out blurred due to the distance I was at. I would do better when I was two feet in front of them and just getting full frontal American Idol.

As the first Wounded Marines were getting to the front of the line, one of the assistants was whispering something in each Idol ear. By the reactions on each face, I could tell what he was saying. He was telling them that these were Wounded Warriors. The look on each face was one of the best parts of the entire night. In that instant, the tables turned and each Idol acted as though it was their honor to meet us.

The first Idol I came to was Ace. (Yes, I’m going to just go with first names for brevity sake. Shut up.)

He was very gracious and very interested in each of the Marines that he met. Despite his “pretty-boy” status, I had to begrudgingly admit that he was a pleasure to meet and very sociable.

Next to him was Elliott who was also very gracious. I told him that we had just moved from Virginia and remember the big hoopla surrounding his return home to Richmond. He said it was one of the most rewarding days of his life.

Then it was on to Bucky who also seemed very genuine and asked more questions about us than we did of him.

Then it was on to the ladies. The first one was Kellie and she was just as sweet as she seemed on TV. She was thrilled to see us there and it was especially rewarding to talk to her because I had been charmed by her the first time I saw her on the show. I had commented to my wife that she was going to be a finalist after her first audition. Or at least that I wanted her to be a finalist.

I also told her that Killjoy was her biggest fan and they should start corresponding.

I’ll be honest here. It was a blur so I don’t know if I instigated it or her but somehow, it was decided that I should get a hug from Kellie. There was a lot of love in the room so it didn’t seem out of place and given the chance to hug the ladies from American Idol, well, I wasn’t about to pass that up.

So I hugged her across the table and realized she was about as tiny as my 12-year-old daughter.

This started a trend and so it was just natural that I should give Mandisa a hug and she was more than happy to comply. She thanked us for our service and seemed genuinely happy we were there.

It was at this point that I joked that I appreciated her hug and that Elliott had steadfastly refused me. That got a laugh from the whole panel. OK, maybe you had to be there but suffice it to say I was transforming into my joker personality and unlike everyone else who seemed to be in muted shock, I was trying to put a little levity into the scene.

Next was Paris and she too was tiny. She stood without asking and gave me a hug which I thought was nice. I was getting hugs from all of them and while it was neat for me, I couldn’t help thinking how many other people would lop off a leg (ew, sorry, Doc) to be where I was, doing what I was doing.

Sorry, lapsed into startstruck mode there for a second.

After Paris came Lisa and I got my hug check mark there.

No one will believe me when I say this but the hugs down the line was in appreciation for the way they treated my Marines. They were all very attentive to these Warriors and with the celebrity aside, I was feeling a warmth for these people that had everything to do with how they received the Marines.

Then came the awkward moment. The next in line was Katherine. Right in front of me was one of the most beautiful people I had ever seen and it was no secret, even to my wife standing next to me, that this woman was beauty incarnate to me. I would be untruthful if I ignored this fact.

There I stood, staring, wondering what to do. The precedent all the way down the line had been set and the momentum was obvious. I was hugging all the female Idols and all of them seemed genuinely eager to hug back. So as I stood there, I decided to continue the flow and ignore the superficial attraction I had for this woman.

I said to myself, “Just treat her like you did the others” and then smiled at her with my arms open.

She looked at me with a curious smile and said “What?…”

At this moment, I don’t know who was more confused. Had she not seen me coming down the entire line hugging each woman? I was the first to do this so I think pretty much everyone in the room noticed and those that went before me were cursing themselves for not instigating it themselves. The people behind me were following suit and hugging like there was no tomorrow.

So how could the beautiful McPhee not know what I was going for here? I mean, I was trying to play it off smoothly. I had hugged them, now I hug you. I dismiss anything sexual about the whole thing and give you a hug in appreciation for you spending a moment with the Wounded Warriors and entertaining me for a few months and we call it good.

Then she somehow missed all that and is sitting there like I had asked to father her first born.

I don’t know if she finally realized or just relented to my request but it made an awkward moment JUST that much more awkward, thank you. That was great.

So we gave each other what I refer to as a “man hug” which is all stiff, awkward, and very brief. In the confusion, I didn’t even mentally snapshot the moment when I hugged Katherine McPhee so my initial goal was reached: there was nothing to that hug whatsoever. I’ve had more sensual contact with my dog.

After that bright little moment, the last Idol was my favorite. Taylor Hicks was my pick from the start, although I never thought he’d make it. A graying, older-looking, slightly pudgy singer from Alabama doesn’t exactly scream American Idol but I was glad he won.

I thanked him for putting us gray-haired guys back on the map but in case you were wondering, no, I didn’t hug him.

After we were done, we were led from the room but there was a back up of some sort and we stopped just outside the door. Since we were the last to meet and greet, the Idols were done too and headed to their dressing rooms which happened to be along the same route we were stopped at. So right after we had talked to them, we found ourselves in a narrow hallway with them in an unexpected “everyday” situation with them where we were all standing there making small talk while waiting for the path to clear.

It was surreal.

I was hugging all over Katherine… not really, I was actually talking to Ace. The Staff Sergeant and I were teaching him the finer points of saying “Ooh-rah.”

Ace: “You guys say ‘hoo wa” right?”
Me: “No, it’s ‘ooh rah.’”
Staff Sergeant: “The Army says ‘hoo wa’ and we think it’s gay.”
Me: “You should say it on stage to give us a shout out.”
Staff Sergeant: “Yeah, go ahead, let’s see if you got it.”
Ace: “hoo rah.”
Me: “No, it’s ‘OOH rah.’”
Ace: “OOH ya”
Staff Sergeant: “No, Ace, look, say ‘OOH’…”
Ace: “OOH…”
Staff Sergeant: “RAH!”
Ace: “RAH!”
Staff Sergeant: “Now say it together, ‘OOH RAH!”
Ace: “OOH RAH!”
Staff Sergeant: “You got it, now say it on stage and we’ll hear ya.”
Ace: “OOH RAH!”

At this point, I had a few words with Bucky and thanked him for all of this. Then the obstruction broke and we started moving. We peeled off a bit but got stopped again. The Idols were going straight and as I turned, Ace was last and was walking by so I held out my hand for a low five.

It was one of those moments that was unrehearsed but he was stepping forward right in stride to slap my hand and when he did, it made the sound of a clap of thunder. It left my hand stinging and the thought hit me, “Did Ace from American Idol just smack my hand to an almost painful degree?” If I didn’t have a newfound respect for him, I would have questioned my masculinity at that point.

We had no idea what to expect. We had not actually received our tickets yet and thought since we were backstage kind of people (the “ins” if you will), the tickets would be choice.

The choice ended up being, nosebleed or way off to the side. Oh wait, we could have both.

I’m not complaining because they were free and we had a chance to see the Idols up close and personal but it was kind of humorous to realize that the wounded Warriors, many with crutches, wheelchairs, and lacking limbs, had to climb endless sets of stairs to get up to our seats where we could touch the stadium ceiling.

The concert was thrilling, except for the crazy lady who kept bugging us. When she realized who we were, she started hugging each one (who would do that kind of idiocy?). As she came down the line, I thought she knew some of them because she was talking up a storm. But by the time she got to me and Carrie, we knew she was drunk and intrusive. She informed us of her recent divorce to a man who left her for another woman, her book she’s writing about it, and among the endless more details she decided we wanted to know about her and her life, the fact that she had more alcohol in her than straight gin came up.

It didn’t matter that we were completely ignoring her after a spell but my ire mainly centered on her two daughters who saw what was happening and made no move to save us. I guess they figured it was better us than them.

The show went a little something like this. An Idol would come out and the crowd would go nuts. Then he or she would sing about 3 songs and at the end of the last song, the next Idol would stroll on stage and join them. And the crowd would go nuts. At the end, they all came out and sang a couple of group songs.

Then the first Idol would make an exit and after the transition song was done, the Idol would address the crowd.

About half of the Idols recognized the Marines on stage but the crowd was so loud when they would mention the Wounded Marines that no matter how much noise we made to get noticed, the fact that were in the stratosphere ensured the Idols didn’t pinpoint us. But it made my heart pound hard when they would thank us and the crowd roared.

Ace blew it. He mentioned us but didn’t give us an “OOH RAH!” We’d have to have a talk with him about it after the show.

When it all ended, we hobbled down the stairs and were escorted to the after-show. Before that, we were seated in the lower level where groups waited to be called like contestants on the Price Is Right. For some reason, they were taking groups at different times so we had to wait our turn. In the meantime, we were able to watch the roadies tear down the stage and clean up the stadium floor.

I have to mention this. I think it’s bullshit that concert-goers think they can just discard their trash on the ground. It was disgusting. The workers had to remove all the folding chairs and then take enormous mops to push around all the shit people threw down.

I could never have a job like that. I’m not making a judgment on the people who do it, I’m just saying that I would be constantly pissed off knowing I was picking up crap that people couldn’t walk over to the trashcan. I would be irate every time I did it.

When we were finally called, we got a little speal about not doing stupid stuff with the Idols like asking them to sing or shoving a cell phone in their faces. I thought this was stupid but then again, they wouldn’t say it unless it had been a problem in the past. My guys knew if they did something like that, they’d have to answer to me. I love these guys but I wouldn’t let them sully the Marine reputation by acting the fool.

This post-reception was a little different than the beginning. This time it was just a big open room and the Idols were just wondering around all sweaty. Groups of people were all around them, talking to them, trying to get close enough for a picture or an autograph. It was all very unrestrained and I thought a bit strange. After all, as protected as these people are, they seemed strangely approachable by anyone in the room.

I soon discovered why we got the talking to before we got to meet all of them. It became increasingly obvious that no one was adhering to the rules. While waiting to talk to Taylor, some lady shoved her way to the front and crammed a cell phone in his ear and asked him to say hello to her fifth cousin removed. It was very rude of her to do and put him in a bind. He talked a little while signing an autograph but as you can imagine, the whole thing was a bit awkward for him.

Later on, when we were waiting to talk to Ace, some lady got to the front of the line and stood about 6 inches from his face. Then she began to scream. In his face. Hysterically.

He looked at her with a bit of fear, a bit of humor, and then put his finger up to his lips and whispered “Shhhhh… I’m right here.”

That didn’t seem to help all that much.

The other thing I was impressed with was that when a little girl came up to Ace, he bent down to her level, talked with her, and let the mother take a picture with him crouching at her level. He took plenty of time with her and each person he talked to which made me respect him even more.

The neat part about meeting them all was that they remembered the Wounded Warriors so when we made our way to the front of the crowd, we were met with recognition from all of the Idols.

When we got up to Ace, the Staff Sergeant I called him on the whole “OOH RAH” situation.

“I know, I’m sorry but I didn’t want to screw it up and have the Staff Sergeant yell at me after the show!”

We spent a lot of time talking with each one of the Idols. Katherine was not there (they said she had an early photo shoot the next morning) but Chris was there which was great since he had missed the pre-show gig.

We made sure we got plenty of group pics with as many of them as we could and made each one pose with the Marines.

As I do each time we get treated to such special events, I sat down and wrote a thank you to each of the Idols. Here is some of the writing I included in each letter:

Last night we were your guests at the American Idol tour show in San Diego. I brought some of the wounded Marines to see your show and we were all treated not only with a pre-show opportunity to meet you, but also tickets to the show and a post-show meet and greet.

I can’t tell you how much it meant to the Marines but wanted to give it a shot. Originally, I was excited for them and for myself as well to see “The Idols” because we were all big fans. During the pre-show, you did not disappoint. We were put at the end of the line to give us a bit of extra time to talk with you and you were very giving of your time and attention.

During the show, you made mention of us and this changed everything. You must understand that we don’t do what we do for accolades nor certainly for the money. We do it for the simple concept of service to our country and fellow Americans but unfortunately we don’t often get equitable feedback for what we do. I am not complaining, we have become used to this and like I mentioned, it’s not for the “fame.”

So you must understand that when we DO get some recognition, especially from the very people we make these sacrifices for, it’s both overwhelming and humbling. You, along with your fellow Idols, represent that American concept we protect so when you take the love, adulation, and appreciation that you get from a stadium full of people and turn that focus back on those of us that serve in the military, you have no idea how that feels. I know that is a presumptuous statement seeing how you have thousands of fans screaming at you every night but consider THAT feeling turned on those of us that very rarely experience it. This old Marine is at a loss for words to adequately convey that feeling.

With me last night I had a 20-year-old Marine who was shot in the leg from an Iraqi sniper last month. It shattered his lower leg and the dirty bullet infected his wound with bacteria indigenous to the area. He’s had multiple surgeries and held up a drip IV on the way to the concert. After the show, standing on crutches, he told me that the sniper might have taken him down that day but this day he was standing next to the American Idols. He considered himself victorious because he was in your presence and his enemy had not won this one. YOU were his indicator he had bettered his enemy because he was still standing..

We also had a Navy Doc with us that was blown up by an IED. The event cost him his leg from the hip down and he was wearing a prosthetic leg last night. He negotiated a very long set of steps, hopping one step at a time, to come down to see you and you greeted him as a hero.

The Docs are the ones that come running when the bullets start flying, armed only with a medical kit. During and after the fight, they take care of us and then turn their attention on the enemy who may be wounded, treating them as best they can. When they get hurt doing this, you can imagine the deep emotional feelings we experience when our angels get blown apart.

As I stood there last night watching you talk with these men, it occurred to me that these Marines and Sailors represent the thousands of deployed military and wounded Warriors while you and your fellow Idols represent the American dream they fight for. It was a perfect symbolic union and I will never forget that you personally engaged these men with warmth and respect.

You gave us something we will always remember and I want to make a reciprocal offer. If you would ever consider visiting either the Balboa hospital or the Marine Corps Recruit Depot here in San Diego, I would be honored to be your personal guide. At the hospital, you would be able to meet the entire group of wounded Marines and Sailors. At the Depot, you would be able to see how these Marines are made by the Marine Corps Drill Instructors you might have heard about. They tend to make a lasting impression.

Please contact me if you ever find time to give us an opportunity to repay you for what you did for us last night. I promise you that, like last night was to all of us, it will be an experience you never forget.

I don’t think any of them will take me up on it but I hope they at least got to read what I wrote to them.

Last but certainly not least, happy birthday, Mom.

Free Advice for Today: “Let your children know that regardless of what happens, you’ll be there for them.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Has Anyone Seen That 20 Pounds?

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Thursday

Quote of the Day: “No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.”

- Elbert Hubbard

2005

2006
(minus 22 lbs)

The other day, I talked about the BCP program and to be fair, I should talk about my personal battle with weight as I creep into the upper 30s of my life and the upper teens of my Marine Corps career. It’s only fair.

I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost but it has been enough that I should be saying something about it about now.

It started when I got here to San Diego and a combination of factors gave me a starting point that was quite nasty. First, for some unknown reason, I couldn’t consistently keep the weight off when I was in Virginia. I was within standards thanks to a first class PFT and the taping break but even with all my running I did, I just couldn’t seem to get to where I wanted to be.

The other day I put out a blanket challenge that we Marines do what we have to do in order to get down to standards and believe me, I fought that battle for 2 years.

Then I got orders to San Diego and I knew that meant I would be wearing my tighter (read: shows more) uniforms and I would have many sets of eyes on me each week. I didn’t have this at Quantico where I led an ass-sitting existence daily and could hide in loose cammies. Like I said, I was within standards but not by much.

So I knew I would need to crack the code on losing the weight but I had another thing to contend with before I reported to MCRD: leave. On the one hand you could say that I had time off to do nothing but exercise to get the weight off. On the more chubby hand, living out of a suitcase and being on vacation really makes it tough to buckle down in the PT department.

I hit somewhere in between and showed up within standards but feeling I had a ways to go if I were to be impressive in my uniform.

The first month I was here, I took the effective but not preferred method: I didn’t eat. In the morning I would down a bowl of cereal and then MAYBE I would eat a cup of yogurt or some applesauce but more often than not, I would just work through the day and stumble back to my barracks room at about 10:00 PM and eat the same thing every night: Top Raman (beef, of course) noodles mixed with a can of Campbell’s vegetable beef soup, a sleeve of crackers, and a Gatorade.

On the weekends, I would treat myself to a big breakfast and normally some fast food just to keep myself sane.

I didn’t even PT because I didn’t have the energy but the weight started falling off. Pretty soon my uniforms started fitting better but I knew it was a race to lose as much as I could because when Carrie arrived, she would be making good dinners and I would ineveitably regain some of the weight.

OK, that was phase one: shocking the body into rapid weight loss.

Phase 2 started when I introduced PT into the equation. My good friend George and I started running at lunch and the hot San Diego (relative, I know) kept my weight manageable but obviously, I needed fuel to make this work. My stomach capacity shrank because of the weight loss and lack of eating so I couldn’t down as much food as I used to and this made it easier. The rich just get richer, I soon discovered.

Running 3 times a week at lunch and then a long run on Saturday has really done the trick which kind of confuses me because that was what I was doing in Virginia but couldn’t lose the weight. I can only guess but I think that I am a lot more mobile during the day here so I burn calories throughout the day here that I wasn’t when I was in Quantico. And I think I’m eating better and smaller portions here (still occasionally skipping lunch in lieu of PT) which isn’t the best thing to do but tantalizingly helps.

So how much have I lost? Well, I think about 20 pounds.

How much do I want to lose? I would like to get to 180 and then drop to 175 whenever a race comes around. I still have some work to do to get there but I know how to do it if push comes to shove. Sure beats lopping off an arm which is what I thought I would have had to resort to when I was in Quantico.

The obvious deduction is simply this: Virginia makes me fat. San Diego doesn’t.

Free Advice for Today: “Remember that a lasting marriage is built on commitment, not convenience.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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PT Does Not Stand For “Pretty Tough”

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Wednesday

Quote of the Day: “I’m thirty years old, but I read at the thirty-four-year-old level.”

- Dana Carvey

PT, PT, EVERY DAY!!!

Or, in the case of Battalion BT, every month.

Once a month, the Colonel holds Battalion PT, normally scheduled during the week when we don’t have a graduation (most times that happens only once a month). You would think everyone could corner off one hour per month to come and join this easy little shuffle around the base.

The Battalion consists of cats and dogs. This means that my Company is a collection of smaller sections each run by their own leadership, thus breaking the cardinal rule of leadership: only answer to one boss.

So the result is that the Marines can play the mommy versus daddy game and what’s worse, the divorced mommy and daddy game. This I try to guard against by maintaining a good relationship with the Officers and leaders of each section and inform them of all the requirements we have of them.

So let’s just say it’s a challenge to get everyone together that is supposed to be there each month. We are constantly trying to figure out the least intrusive way to get this to happen.

The physical requirements themselves for this PT falls way at the bottom of the spectrum of what the average Marine should be able to accomplish. If we run, it is at a pace that would fail them in a physical fitness test. The formation runs are slow and are made easier by the fact that NCOs are out to the side bellowing out cadence to keep everyone motivated.

My place is at the head of the Company right behind the Battalion Sergeant Major to my immediate front and the Battalion CO to my front right. In other words, I have no way to see how my Company is doing because they are all behind me and my Company Gunny goes apeshit when I fall out to take a look.

It’s all I can do not to jump out there when I hear the cadence-caller struggling. I can sing cadence thanks to my 10 years as an Enlisted Marine but the calling of cadence falls squarely in the realm of the Enlisted ranks. To have an Officer come out and call it (most of them can’t anyway), would be an insult to the highest degree. It would mean that the Enlisted were not doing their job and an Officer, of all people, has to come out to maintain the motivation.

It feels good to run in formation here on the Depot. How many people get a chance to relive the most influential time of their lives in the exact same place they experienced it? How many are physically able to relive these memories 19 years later? I am truly lucky because I kind of doubt my fellow bootcamp platoon-mates could keep up on a formation run on the Depot after all these years but that’s one of the benefits of being an active duty Marine for so long: I can still bust out a run on the same territory as I did as a 18-year-old Recruit.

And I get to do it as the leader of other Marines making their own memories.

I have a feeling but hope that it’s untrue that I might be the only one in the Battalion other than the CO and Sergeant Major who sees the Battalion PT formation runs as an honor.

Free Advice for Today: “When the best in the world visits your twon for a concert, exhibition, or speech, get tickets to attend.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Weekly Wounded Warrior Worries

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Tuesday

Quote of the Day: “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.”

- Jack Benny

The battle rhythm at my job has weekly events. How I would love to have the time to take care of everything I think I need to at my own discretion but because I’m like just about every other person in this world, I too have constraints on my time bounded by required events.

Mondays are kind of open but Tuesdays, I have a morning meeting at the hospital. Wednesday afternoons are taken up by the Battalion meeting. Those are the two events that are normally immovable and I must work out everything else around them.

Every Tuesday morning the XO and I drive over to Balboa Hospital and sit in a conference room with the powers that be who take care of our Wounded Warriors. Roughly half of these Marines are there as a result of the current war so we also take care of seriously wounded Marines as a result of training, accidents, and the like.

We all get a spreadsheet with the details of each and every Marine in our care and what we do is go down, line by line, and discuss anything and everything there is to discuss about each Marine. There are representatives from many various interested parties who all have input to the meeting and we all take notes about what is going on, what to watch for, and a host of different decisions.

One of the first decisions we have to make is if the Marines should be transferred to our unit administratively. When they get here, they still belong to their old unit and we are just treating them. If we can get them fixed up in a reasonable amount of time, we don’t transfer them but treat them and send them back to their unit. If their unit is still in Iraq, then we send them back to their RBU (Remain Behind Unit) at their duty station and let them decide what they will do with them.

If the Marine is severely injured and it looks like they will be with us for an extended stay or if the injuries are so severe that they will not be returning to full duty, we transfer them to our rolls so that we can take the burden off the units. As callous as it sounds, the units need a replacement and don’t rate one until the Marine is off their rolls. More importantly, we take on the injured Marine and are responsible for all his care until he either recovers or can be sent back to another unit.

The challenge we have is that the hospital is run by the Navy but the Marines belong to their own unit called the Medical Hold Platoon. Since the Marines normally have more than one injury, they see different specialists which means they have multiple appointments at different times. With input from multiple doctors, various appointments, and an overlying requirement for them to be Marines and are held to that standard while simultaneously “living” under a Navy-run environment, there are a lot of cracks that they can fall into unless their treatment is coordinated.

That is the purpose of the weekly meetings because there are the doctors, the case workers, the admin, and the Marine leadership all present to discuss the coordination and requirements of each Marine. Without such a process, the system would quickly degrade and the Marines would have an unfair burden to try to make sense of the various requirements made of them when the focus should be on getting them healed and on their way.

The responsibility is a heady one because we are dealing with our most revered flavor of Marines: the Wounded.

Is it a pain in the ass to give up an entire morning at the beginning of a busy week to sit in a room and go line for line over a monster spreadsheet?

Yeah, any reoccurring meeting can get like that.

Plus, we deal with the unpleasant details such as the wounds suffered and the aftershocks for the Marines. It’s a draining meeting every week made worse when the Marine gets in some form of trouble and we have to decide how we appropriately maintain discipline, taking into consideration most of these Marines are on medication and have psychological trauma due to combat.

Many times we become the enemy and have to face the fact that we must proceed despite the potential backlash of “punishing” the Wounded Warriors. Without the details that we don’t advertise of why they are in trouble, the uninformed are indignant that we would treat our heroes in such a manner. Based on their half-informed story many times exaggerated by the Marine who understandably isn’t too happy about the repercussions of the other side of the story they brought on themselves, we end up looking like we are running another Abu-Graib.

So when the meeting starts to become mundane, I snap myself out of it by reading the column that describes why they are at the hospital. I picture each face as we read his or her name. I think that he or she is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister. I imagine my son’s or daughter’s name on that list ask myself if they were there, would I be happy with the job everyone in that room is doing?

Normally after taking all the notes, I go back to my office and meet with my First Sergeant, passing all of my notes and my orders. The next week I will use that spreadsheet and bounce it off of the new one we get to make sure we followed up on everything we should have the previous week.

I think it’s a pretty good system but I just wish it wasn’t necessary. Or at least we didn’t have as many names to deal with. Hopefully someday before I’m finished here, the meeting will be really short.

Free Advice for Today: “Do all you can to increase the salaries of good teachers.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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Fat Marines? Can’t Just Ignore It Now Can We?

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Monday

Quote of the Day: “What’s the difference between a boyfriend and a husband? About 30 pounds.”

- Cindy Gardner

Many of you might not know this or even believe it when I tell you but not all Marines are svelte. Because we come from American society at large, some of us are, well, at large.

The big difference we have is that not only do we make standards, but we enforce them when it comes to appearance and weight.

Here is how it works, quite simple if you think about it. We have a chart that states how heavy you are allowed to be based on your height. You look up your height and then it tells you how heavy you can be.

If it stopped there, it would be kinda messed up, don’t you think? I mean, people, even Marines (which some would question belonging to the “people” category) come in all different shapes and sizes. While the Marine Corps enforces that to actually BE a Marine, you have to maintain a certain body composition, we understand there are realities we must address.

OK, we have bodybuilder guy. Since muscle weighs much more than fat, a Marine that spends a lot of time in the gym can pack on muscle which will make him blow right past the weight standard for his height.

Let me also point out at this point that the fatbodies more often than not will either use this as an excuse (“Yeah, I work out a lot” as his gut protrudes in many directions) or use the same reality as an excuse NOT to work out (“If I work out, I get all muscle-bound which puts me over.”)

These flimsy attempts to bypass the standards are obliterated by the second phase of the standard.

If you, for any reason, exceed the weight standard for your height, you’re body fat percentage is measured. I won’t get into the politics of HOW they measure this which is always under contention by those who are either close or measure out at high percentages of body fat.

So, if you are over the weight limit, you’re body fat is measured and for males, you get 18%. If you are a gym rat and have muscles on top of muscles, then you should have no problem getting under this standard. If you are over your weight but under the 18% body fat, then the Marine Corps takes no action. You are deemed the coveted “Good to go” status.

If you are NOT under your max weight AND you bust past the 18% body fat, well buddy, you are out of standards and the Marine Corps doesn’t look all that kindly on such an existence.

It’s here where the most contention is raised. The fatter among us squeal about the fairness of such a system but to me, it’s kind of annoying since standards are just that. YOU joined the, and let me bold this out just so you get the idea, THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS, which, if you haven’t heard, kind of needs Warriors who are ready for the fight. We have both a real world necessity to be trim and ready to fight as well as an image to maintain. Like the old adage goes, if it was easy, everyone could join up. But it isn’t. And they can’t.

Let me tell everyone right now, it’s hard to stay under the requirements, especially as you get older. Without exercise, my natural weight soon billows up way past the max weight for my height. It’s tough to get out there every single day and work my body. What’s tougher is pushing away all those foods that are SOOOOO good. I’ll tell ya, I love all those wonderful, tasty, and satisfying foods that give instant gratification. I really do love them so to me, it’s harder to resist gorging myself than it is to go out and run a dozen miles.

But I do both (resist and run) and sometimes, it really sucks. I run to the point of exhaustion just about every day. It’s not easy for me because “I’m a runner.” No, wrong answer. It hurts. And it takes a mental discipline to go out there and put my body through something that I know for the beginning is going to hurt.

Not only does this keep much of the fat off my frame but it teaches me the mental discipline required of my job. Not only does this benefit me with my weight but for the much more important skill of applying that discipline to my job.

I hear people argue that just because they are fat doesn’t mean they aren’t good Marines.

I would agree that in some, maybe most, of the jobs Marines do, having a few extra pounds does not make or break the quality of the work.

But along with the mechanics of doing a good job of a Marine goes obedience to orders, and standards, and the ability to apply discipline in all areas of our lives. If you are not within the standards, then either you haven’t the discipline to do what it takes despite the price or you refuse to put yourself through that treatment in order to get within standards.

Either alternative does not represent the ethos of being a Marine.

We all have the potential to be fat and out of standards just as we all have the ability to work ourselves daily to the point that we fall into and maintain those standards. The first is easier than the second by far and for some, it will always be easy to stay within standards. It just comes down to if we are willing to do what it takes which, to me, has always been the bedrock of being a Marine. Mission accomplishment.

I don’t look down on heavy Marines because they are heavy. It’s just insulting to me and every other Marine who works hard and battles the lure of overeating and skipping PT every single day. To me, it’s a defiance and a lack of dedication to why we all signed the dotted line. It’s not a physical problem but a mental one.

But that’s not the end of it.

What I can only guess to be a result of the changing demographics of the average American, the Marine Corps revamped its policies to allow for a little more leeway. What they decided was that to put the focus back on performance, they tied a buffer to the performance of the Physical Fitness Test (PFT). We take this once every six months and now, if you get a first class score, you get an extra 4 percent on your body fat percentage.

So if you come under your weight max, nothing happens.

If you exceed your weight max but tape under 18%, nothing happens.

If you exceed your weight max and exceed 18% body fat, then they look at your PFT score. If you scored a first class, then you get up to 22% body fat.

If you either get a second class or worse on the PFT or get a first class but measure past the 22%, then you are considered out of standards.

What happens at this point is that you are kicked out of the Marine Corps with no questions or compensation whatsoever.

That would be might Klingon of us, wouldn’t you think? But again, this is where the public perception of the Draconian measures the Marine Corps supposedly practice and the reality come into sharp contrast. You’ve read my rather black and white views above but note that I never addressed what to do when standards are not adhered to.

Just because we HAVE standards and ENFORCE standards doesn’t mean we go right to Hammer Time when people falter. Quite the opposite. The Marine Corps is the most incredible organization I’ve ever known when it comes to helping their own. Whether in battle or in situations like weight control, we don’t leave our people behind.

If you fall out of standards then you are put on the Body Composition Program (BCP). Unfortunately this has taken on a “kiss of death” quality which it was never intended to represent.

If you are put on the program, you are given six months to get within the standard. You are examined by a doctor to ensure there is not an underlying physical problem and the doctor calculates how much weight and body fat percentage you should shed in the allotted time to arrive at the proper body fat composition. You are then put on a physical fitness program, weighed weekly, and offered a nutritional program.

No matter how much you lose or how fast, you are required to stay on the program for the entire 6 months. During this time, you are not eligible for promotion and a statement is put in your record indicating you are on the program.

If, after 6 months, you did not make it OR if you are ever found to be out of standards ever again, you are once again put on a 6-month program period. This time, you can get off the program ANY TIME you fall under the standard. You do not have to stay on the program for the entire 6 months but there is a price.

Three strikes and you are out. If you are ever to be found to be out of standards after the two periods of BCP, you get processed out of the Marine Corps. It’s an administrative discharge so it’s not like being court-martialed but the fact remains, you are no longer allowed on active duty.

So that’s it. If you exceed the standard set forth by the Marine Corps, you are given three chances with help to do what you are required to do. If you can’t or won’t, well, that’s why they call them standards.

Free Advice for Today: “When you are totally exhausted but have to keep going, wash your face and hands and put on clean socks and a clean shirt. You will feel remarkably refreshed.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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