Tuesday, December 25, 2012

It's a Wonderful CID Life

It's Christmas morning, pouring rain outside the Casa de Leprechaun, and as soon as the clock strikes 0700 hours, I'll begin assembling a small laptop desk. I acquired this mini-workstation in order to set up my "presents" from headquarters: an Army laptop with docking station, flat-panel monitor, and printer. Once the workstation is set up, I'll be spending most of Christmas Day finishing the bits of case documentation from my Temporary Duty (TDY) last week in another state. Although this year I avoided watching that Jimmy Stewart/Donna Reed holiday classic film, "It's a Wonderful Life", I've seen it enough times (approximately 231 viewings, if my calculations are correct) to have the plot indelibly ingrained in my remaining brain cells.
So as I'm working on my case file today, it'll be easy to create my own parallel world to Bedford Falls, for example having ZuZu (my Team Chief) say something like, "Every time you put a suspect in the title block, an angel gets his wings!" That old, irascible meany Mr. Potter is collectively portrayed by the folks who administer TriCare, nickel and diming us little folks to death. My own Spousal Unit is cuter and even more talented than Donna Reed (but much less likely to ever hand over our vacation fund to strangers!), and fortunately, neither of our pups are able to practice the piano when I'm trying to concentrate.

The one thing I have in common with George Bailey? It's the year-round Christmas present of having truly excellent family, friends and colleagues around the world. Some are in harm's way right now, others are just apart from their own families during the holidays while serving our country. So even while I doubt I've been assigned my own version of Clarence, the Guardian Angel-Without-Wings, and spending Christmas Day doing investigation paperwork is "5% Awesome", there's no doubt at all that I do lead a "Wonderful (CID) Life."

Police Navidad, y'all!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"PeopleFinders" Rip-Off Expose'

Yep, I'm resorting to a bit of tabloid phrasing to voice my displeasure at the internet database known as "PeopleFinders". I was trying to find the location of a suspect in one of my cases. None of the government databases I have access to provided anything resembling a current address or telephone number. Running the dude's name and last known location through a search engine gave me some hope, when a "hit" turned up in the right general location.

The hit was linked to the "PeopleFinders" website, which promised me the full address and telephone number for a mere $1.95. Being a dedicated investigator, I figured it was worth that much to track down this miscreant, so I clicked on the "Yes" button. After navigating seven (yes, SEVEN!) different screens which attempted to fool me into signing up for a year-long subscription, I finally got to paydirt...or so I thought.

I paid the $1.95, and got the report for some completely unrelated woman in another part of the state, who had a distant relative with a middle name same as my suspect's last name. Then the bastards rubbed salt into my wound, as they had also managed to charge me $2.00 to send this utterly friggin useless report to my email address. So now I have evidence that I was a gullible dumbass.

I did call the customer service phone number to express my displeasure. Got a response to the effect of, "So? What's your point, Clown?"


Thanks...I feel better now.

Oh, and I later discovered that my bad guy had been booked into the county jail, as three different websites had posted his booking photo for all to see. Now that I know where he is, I'll be dropping in on him soon...no thanks to the sleazy rip-off jerks at "PeopleFinders".

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'm Suffering From the "DT's"

No, don't worry, I'm not an alcoholic with "Delirium Tremens" but rather experiencing the bureaucratic silliness of the DTS, also known as the Defense Travel System. Whenever a military person needs to perform official travel, all arrangements need to be made through this centralized website. Every aspect of the trip is managed here, from assigning cost accounting codes, to reserving airline tickets, rental cars, and lodging.

In theory this is a brilliant idea. (Yeah, aren't they always brilliant in theory?) Of course, all of us old folks who used to arrange our own travel with a few phone calls miss those days when navigating through the DTS maze, especially after running into dead ends time after time. Every service member likely has a horror story or two. My most recent encounter produced more than a horror story, though. I discovered what seems more likely a small-scale rip-off of the Department of Defense. Here's my case:

I needed to travel to Idaho for an investigation I'm working. When I went there for my civilian job last year, it took me about 20 minutes to book air, rental car, and hotel. This time was definitely less efficient.  As I mentioned earlier, everything is booked by the monolithically-named "Central Travel Office" or CTO. (Da, Tovarich!)  When I logged into the DTS website, and began selecting my flights, rental car and hotel from the choices provided, I was a good soldier and selected the least expensive options from the somewhat limited list. While I would have preferred to stay at the Holiday Inn Express, that hotel wasn't on the list, so I picked a Hilton subsidiary. Now I was fully aware that the per diem rate for a hotel room in this part of Idaho is $77/night, but the cheapest hotel room on the list (the Hilton brand) was eight bucks a night more, so I assumed there was a grand government scheme at work here, and called it good.

Several hours later, I got an email from the "DTS Automated Mail Notification System", letting me know that the rental car I had booked was too expensive. "Hmm", I thought, I must have missed the cheapest option on the list. I dutifully logged back in to DTS, canceled the first rental car, went back to the list of available choices, and saw that my earlier choice was the least expensive, by over $50/week. So, I re-booked the same car.

The next day, I got an email telling me that my travel request had been REJECTED...no, not because of the rental car...this time it was the hotel which was too costly. When I logged in to DTS, I noticed that the CTO had billed the government an extra fee for canceling and re-booking the rental car the day prior. I briefly considered the fact that the CTO was making money off of their screw-up, but it was too soon to see the pattern. Anyway, I canceled my apparently exorbitant hotel room, then went to the list of approved hotels again to find a room at the per diem rate. Surprise! The room I had just canceled was STILL the least expensive option on the list. Since I had just played this game with the rental car, I re-booked the same damn hotel room, noting in the justification that it was the least expensive on the list. A "popup" advised me that I needed to select "actual lodging cost" as an option, and that all would be right with the world. I did that, and submitted the request once more. Several hours later, I got another notification that my hotel cost too damn much money, and I had better stop trying to cheat the U.S. Government! (Okay, it was phrased in bureaucratese, but conveyed the same message.) I wandered over to battalion headquarters, and asked the S-4 guy who deals with DTS what the deal was. He explained that if there weren't any hotel rooms listed at the per diem rate, I needed to request CTO assistance to find a room that met the requirement...and that the Holiday Inn Express was usually a good bet to offer the per diem rate. I complied with those instructions, and a day later, I had a room at the Holiday Inn Express.
WTF! (What Terrible Finance!)
But hey, sportsfans, it should come as no great surprise that despite our precarious financial situation, we government folks can still find creative ways to spend more money than we need to.

To paraphrase the great cartoonist/satirist Walt Kelley, "We have met the Fiscal Cliff, and it is us!"

Monday, December 3, 2012

The power of a uniquely American song

One of the best aspects of being back on active duty is hearing bugle calls at various times during the duty day. I don't believe that they still make recruits learn the different bugle calls, and I haven't noticed traffic coming to a halt on post for "Retreat" and "To the Colors", when the garrison flag is lowered at sunset...but that link to the "Old Army" still reminds me of those who served in generations long past.

This CBS clip nicely illustrates the power of a plaintive bugle call on our emotions, as it was meant to do. And best of all, it happens in my corner of the world. Well done, sir! Keep it up!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Blue Ribbon Agility Dude

My Spousal Unit ("SU") has been training with Frodo, our French Bulldog, to compete in the sport of K-9 Agility. While the SU has compiled a very successful record with our previous pups, this weekend was the little dude's first agility trial. As you can see from the photo, both dog and handler took First Place in both of the matches they entered. Obviously, Frodo is overjoyed at his rookie success.

Anyway, I want to add my congratulations to my Spousal Unit. She is a very talented dog trainer and handler, and has proven uniquely adept at making champions out of pups not usually known for speed and agility. Great job, Babe! Here's to many more "Qs and clean runs" in your and Frodo's future!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Using Suitable Restraint...

I started writing a post about the latest Army/CIA leadership scandals back when they first hit the news. After some reflection, I decided to refrain from adding my two cents worth, not due to shyness or lack of opinion, but rather a rare moment of mature insight.

There is ALWAYS more to the story with these kinds of situations. Once the media, pundits, bloggers, and the Twitterverse collide with the participants' lawyers and spokespersons, then the facts are lost in a tsunami of speculation, rumor and innuendo. One more uninformed voice adding to that maelstrom of baloney does nothing positive.

Instead, I'm reading several books written prior to all this drama hitting the news, which are adding to my overall understanding of current leadership issues. One that I'm finding thoroughly fascinating is The Operators, written by Michael Hastings. Hastings is the guy who gained instant notoriety as the Rolling Stone reporter embedded with GEN Stanley McChrystal's staff. Hasting's story ultimately led to  President Obama relieving the General, and replacing him with David Petraeus...which eventually led to, well, you get the picture.

So I'm going to let the whole mess in the media and DC continue to percolate while I try to actually learn something.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Over the Shoulder Pistol Holder

Yeah, I was indeed doing a play on the old euphemism for "brassiere"...but I am instead extolling the virtues of my new, non-Army issue shoulder holster!
I saw a couple of agents in my detachment wearing what looked to be both practical and comfortable shoulder holsters. Since our issued weapon is a heavy steel-frame 9mm semi-auto pistol, wearing a belt-holster tends to pull my dress trousers down a bit...especially because I'm supposed to carry two additional magazines of ammo, and a pair of steel handcuffs (which the Army quaintly calls, "hand-irons".). That's a lot of weight hangin' on the old dress belt.

This shoulder holster, on the other hand, nicely distributes the weight of the pistol on one side, and both ammo magazines on the other, using very ergonomic leather shoulder straps. The whole package is very comfortable; I wore it all day today, and even forgot I had it on a couple of times.
Some additional benefits:
1. I can go to the latrine without finding a ledge in the stall to place my pistol on, as you gotta remove that 4-pound weight whenever you drop trou.  This way I won't leave my pistol behind, like I did once a looooong time ago. (There's little that's more embarrassing than having the Sheriff drop by your desk, holding your pistol in his hand, asking, "So, is this yours?")
2. If terrorists attack the bathroom while I'm enthroned, at least my weapon is close at hand, even if I dive to the floor.
3. I look totally bitchen.

I've owned shoulder holsters in the past, both Army-issue and personally purchased, but they were all pretty much pieces of crap by comparison. This one, I think it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

NOTE: The brand/model of my new shoulder holster is the DeSantis "New York", lined, in always-fashionable black leather. It's kind of pricey, but you definitely get what you pay for. Plus, it really looks bitchen....

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 2012

Four years ago, I was packing my bags and getting ready to spend quality time at CID Agent School in bucolic Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I had forgotten just how "progressive" the Army, or more accurately my fellow soldiers could be. Yes, that was a joke. "Slightly to the right of Attila the Hun" would be more accurate in characterizing a lot of 'em. Let's just say that being immersed in the military environment in the immediate aftermath of a paradigm-shifting election was very instructive.

It's election day today, and once again I found myself in the middle of soldiers. While there wasn't a whole lot of political commentary going on, there was just enough to make me thankful for a couple of things:
1. Our military remains almost completely apolitical...though definitely not apathetic.
2. I happen to live in a state where the state and local elections officials are professional, pretty much non-partisan, and dedicated to enabling everyone who is entitled to vote access to that right. There are no lines outside polling places here. Most of us received our mail-in ballots a month ago, and many of us sent them in at least a week prior to tonight's deadline. There's no good reason why every other state can't follow our example.
3. As of a few minutes ago, we are no longer subjected to "robo-calls", fundraising appeals by phone, email, or visitors at our front door. Even better, those asinine TV and radio ads have hit their expiration dates.
4. We live in a republic ruled by the ballot, not the bullet. I saw the elections in Iraq first hand. Despite our imperfections, this nation is still the best place when it comes to peaceful elections. Yay, us.

So thanks, fellow citizens, for your willingness to stay engaged in the civic process, regardless of the attempts to hijack it by various special interests and power groups. Y'all make me proud to be a voter, and citizen of the USA.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My New Favorite Acronym: DONSA

Unless you are currently on Army active duty, work on an Army post, or left fairly recently, the acronym "DONSA" likely means nothing to you. But for those of us who are currently employed by the Big Green Machine, DONSA is a happy acronym.

DONSA stands for, "Day Of No Scheduled Activities", which is bureaucrat-speak for an extra day off, normally in conjunction with a national holiday. So, according to the installation's 2012-2013 DONSA/Holiday Schedule, not only will I have Veteran's Day off (observed on Monday, 12 November), but I also get Friday, 9 November off as a DONSA! Yes, sports fans, that means a four-day weekend is coming soon to a theater or drive-in near me!

Not only do I embrace this concept whole-heartedly, but the acronym's somewhat Italian-sounding pronunciation has inspired me to compose a little ditty, to the tune of "That's Amore"...

"When the Army says 'Hey, please take off one more day, That's a DONSA,
If your job's pretty tough, three days off ain't enough, That's a DONSA,
When the Army life's tough, CO's giving you guff, take a DONSA...
Like the Fonz-a says, 'Ehhhh', make your weekends four day, thanks to DONZA,
Deal with being annoyed, (Unless you are deployed) with a DONSA!!!"

(With sincere apologies to the memory of Dean Martin, and to Weird Al Yankovic...)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More Stuff I Didn't Have To Make Up...

Last week while going through the meat grinder that is "In-processing", I ran into a minor roadblock. There is a new Army personnel database program which is required when inputting or changing routine human resources forms. The folks at the in-processing center were unable to find me in this database, so I couldn't complete this final step. (Fortunately, the really important stuff, like getting my pay and allowances started, was taken care of before I reached the final station.)
Various administrative types held a number of agitated discussions about how this situation should be addressed. One of the managers (We'll call him, "Mr. X".) told me that he would get the problem straightened out with his counterpart responsible for the database, and he would give me a call when it was resolved.

Yesterday I got a call from a very worried woman, who informed me that since I had failed to complete in-processing, I could very likely be released from active duty. While this possibility definitely had its upside, I could also see the possibility that it could take all of my final years in the Army to unscramble the pay, benefits, and service credit problems such an unscheduled change could very well cause. Besides, I foresaw that if the Army tried to out-process me, they'd encounter the same problem, but in reverse, and I'd be stuck in non-paid "Soldier Ping-Pong" limbo for months. So, I took the mature, professional route, and explained to the woman that "Mr. X" had said that he was going to handle the issue. She put "Mr. X" on the phone, and it was apparent that he had little to no recollection of my case. I refreshed his memory, and received a fresh set of assurances that this would be solved "toot sweet".

This morning, "Mr. X" called me and asked if I'd had any success in resolving the database problem. I reminded him that HE told me yesterday that HE was going to fix it. "Oh, yeah...let me make a call to "Mr. Y", he replied. Barely ten minutes later, the worried woman called me, and said the First Sergeant needed to speak to me. She handed the phone to him, and he explained in a very First Sergeant-like manner that I needed to get this database issue resolved, pronto. I started to explain that "Mr. X" was handling it, but when the First Sergeant heard "Mr. X" he said brightly, "Oh, "Mr. X" is right here, let me put him on the line!" (Yeah, you all can see where this tale is headed.) "Mr. X" picked up the receiver, and asked me if my unit has got this database problem solved. This time, I said crisply, "They said you need to call "Mr. Y" in the next five minutes, and he will resolve the issue ASAP." "Mr. X" said, "Great! I'll give him a call right now...Thank you!"

My appointment to complete in-processing, having been added to the database by "Mr. Y" while he was on the phone with "Mr. X", is set for tomorrow morning.

UPDATE:  I completed the final station of in-processing today...took about 15 minutes, with no drama, and to top off my "Victory Over Bureaucracy" celebration, I discovered that my first Army paycheck was 100% correct in all respects. My thanks to all of the folks at the SRC who got it right!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Fighting Leprechaun Finally Has His Shillelagh!

I've wanted my own Shillelagh, in the form of an Irish blackthorn walking stick, for many years. I had the opportunity to order one from the premier stick maker in Ireland, located in the town of Shillelagh, County Wicklow, during my recent vacation there. It arrived today, and I really like it!

These sticks are the real deal. Each one is handmade, requiring 3-5 years of work before it is ready to be offered for sale. Mine is personalized, and will be just perfect for accompanying me on weekend dog walks, or when strolling through the dodgier parts of the "Big City". (Fills the gap nicely between personal protection options!)

I dealt with Mr. Liam Kealy (or in Irish, O'Caidhla), owner of Olde Shillelagh Stick Makers, and I highly recommend his fine establishment. He offers a full line of sticks, from the tourist-favorite "Lucky Charm" gavel-looking stick, to Battle Clubs and Fighting Sticks. My Walking Stick is definitely less warlike, but then again, so am I... Anyway, if you are seeking an heirloom-quality piece of fine Irish craftsmanship, and a reliable companion for rambles about the countryside, do contact Liam. You'll be happy with the result!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Mobilizing is NOT Deploying!"

I discovered when processing through the beehive which is also called, "SRC", that very few soldiers (like, just one lucky dude, also known as yours truly) go through the place who are not outbound for the war zone. The last time I came through here, on my way to Iraq, the process made absolute sense to me because it was geared toward going off to war.

This go-round should have been much different, because I'm staying stateside for my entire tour of duty. So, I'm not facing exposure to hostile conditions, exotic diseases, poisonous reptiles, or bad guys trying to do me in. Do you think that fact registered with the cheerful folks responsible for my administrative return to active duty? Nope, not for one nanosecond. (By the way, calling these folks "cheerful" was not sarcasm...they pretty much all exude a genuinely pleasant and helpful demeanor, which is definitely appreciated!)
At one station after another, the staff tried their darnedest to give me malaria innoculations, cognitive baseline exams (in case I experienced TBI...Traumatic Brain Injury), an Eagle Cash Card, which only works in Afghanistan and Kuwait, spiritual guidance, legal advice for preparing my last will and testament, etc., etc.  It took copious amounts of explanation, plus the negotiating skills of a presidential campaign spin doctor to get me through each superfluous station listed on my "walkabout sheet". ("G'day, Mate, Oi'm 'ere to in-process me an' me wallaby!") Each station had a checklist, and don't even try to suggest that a couple of items could be marked "Not Applicable".

In the end I managed to pretty much complete just the essential missions, like getting paid and having my medical records stamped "Not Dead Yet" and couriered over to the Army Hospital. I couldn't complete the Personnel station, allegedly because I wasn't successfully added to some ginormous Army database because the three elves empowered to do this for aging geezer soldiers were on a six-month sabbatical to France. No biggie, since I suspect that one or more of these elves would have converted my orders into a ticket to Kandahar, which is so not on my bucket list. The SRC will no doubt discover this omission about ten days before I'm due to out-process...through the very same SRC. I'll let you know in a couple of years just how that works out!

Tag, You're IT!

And by "IT", I am referring to "Information Technology. So here's a brief anecdote from my efforts to get up and running with my office stuff.

I apparently have to use a separate email system for everyday communication, because the regular system isn't sufficiently awesome or something. So, following a set of vague directions, I called some office in West Nosepick, Virginia, and received the following step by step instructions from a recording:
"To set up your new Outoluck email account, you'll need to send an email to the Outoluck system administrator. In order to do this, you first will need to log in to your Outoluck account, as the automated system administrator is programmed to only accept email generated within the Outoluck domain...."

Needless to say, I don't anticipate sending or receiving many emails anytime soon.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's Time to Play..."Soldier Ping-Pong"!!!

For those of you who haven't played this ancient and venerable sport, the rules are pretty simple:

1. Take a soldier (in this case, ME) reporting for in-processing;
2. Send him back and forth between different organizations located in opposite ends of the Army post;
3. Repeat until time expires.

Since I am a veteran at this sport, I pretty much knew what to expect when stepping onto the playing field first thing this morning. I have the further advantage of being close to home, with my own transportation and resources. When the game commenced, I played with good humor and ironic enthusiasm, which caused the other players to wield their "virtual ping-pong paddles"rather gently. This resulted in only a brief rally between offices, and I was scheduled for "Game Two" tomorrow morning, leaving me most of the day to get some practice sessions in...Just in case the rules change overnight, which has been known to happen.
(And now you know why they call it, "Military Service"!)

"It's your serve, Army!"

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Here We Go Again!

I reported for active duty this morning. This time it feels a lot different than when my unit was preparing to deploy to CENTCOM-Land. No training on how to identify IEDs, throw frag grenades, drive armored HUMVEEs, escape rolled-over MRAPs this go-round. I'm not missing the infantry squad tactics, nor crawling through field and forest while sporting body armor, kevlar helmet, and rifle. I shall also NOT miss the repeat prospect of experiencing direct and indirect fire. Of course, while this makes my pen name ("The Fighting Leprechaun") somewhat of a misnomer, I'm keeping it.

This stint, which should be my very last extended active service (barring some incredibly stupid decision to invade some hostile nation), promises to be much more relaxed. The mission is strictly investigative in nature, and the unit to which I am attached seems well-run, with squared-away agents. I also have a very competent, experienced partner, which always improves the long hours spent doing these kinds of investigations.

I expect to post whatever interesting and/or amusing anecdotes arise from my "Last Hurrah" as a soldier...Naturally I will stay within Department of Defense guidelines for military bloggers, so don't expect any juicy bits resembling a script from NCIS!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Man held as bomb-making facility found in Dublin

Man held as bomb-making facility found in Dublin This is an Irish Times story about the ongoing, violent feud between the gang calling itself "The Real IRA" and various criminal gangs in Dublin. While I was in Dublin last month, drug gangsters murdered one of the "Real IRA" leaders. Our tour guide, who is very dialed-in to this kind of criminal-political conflict, predicted that there would be massive retaliation in short order. He was right. (Yet another benefit to our tour, having access to someone able to add perspective and background to the daily headlines!)
While the "Real IRA" is a small bunch of thugs who wrap themselves in the IRA name in order to legitimize their misdeeds (in my opinion, anyway), it's very good to see the Garda (Irish National Police) track down the source of the pipe bombs so quickly. Well done, Gardai!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

No Comment...Well, Maybe Just One...

1-star charged with forcible sodomy, adultery - Military News | News From Afghanistan, Iraq And Around The World - Military Times

I served with this officer in Iraq, when he commanded the 172nd Brigade Combat Team, headquartered at FOB Kalsu. Didn't see any indicators of risky behavior at the time. I just have to wonder what drives highly-successful military officers to (apparently quite literally) "blow their careers" by doing dumb stuff.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hurrah! It's the Obligatory Crapload of Irish Scenery Photos!

As I may have mentioned in an earlier post, my great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland almost 160 years ago. He was from County Wicklow. For me, visiting Ireland at long last was much about getting in touch with those family roots. Much as soaking in the spirit of Ireland was my first priority, my Spousal Unit and I were also stunned by the (cliche' alert!) raw beauty we saw around every turn of the road. Some of the impact came from the unbelievably green pastoral landscapes, or the dramatic rocky cliffs pounded by the sea. The physical symbology of political/cultural conflict, whether the murals and graffiti of Derry and Belfast, or churches destroyed by occupying military forces or adherents of competing religions, packed a visceral impact that equalled the breathtaking scenery atop the Cliffs of Moher.

I didn't spend a lot of time looking at Ireland through a camera's viewfinder/digital screen. Fortunately for our family chronicles, my Spousal Unit is a more prolific and talented photographer than I. But I did manage to snap a few shots of things I found ironic, amusing, or which summed up key aspects of Ireland. So here for your viewing pleasure (!), and brilliantly captioned, is a small but significant portion of the 3,278 digital photographs we captured during our two weeks in a very special place:

Perhaps the only one of my relatives remaining in Wicklow.
This perfectly illustrates the Irish sense of humor!

A view of the dramatic Cliffs of Moher

There are a number of people who leap off the cliffs each year, so a suicide prevention organization has placed these signs along the cliff edges. Ironically, the signs are all located in places where there is no cell phone coverage.

This is a 1,700 year-old Christian "oratory", built entirely without any kind of mortar or supports. It has withstood the elements for that entire time without any need for restoration, and the roof has NEVER LEAKED!

There are lots of ruins in Ireland. Most seem to be situated at the edges of cliffs.

This gravesite tells a sad tale of military misfortune. As a soldier, I couldn't help but think that this family might have chosen another way to serve Ireland, given their repeated, grim luck.

The City of Cork. It's apparently a law that all tourists must visit Cork, or they cannot claim to have actually visited Ireland.

For a dedicated fan of Monty Python, this sign was a dream come true.

Where much of the film "Ryan's Daughter" was filmed. By the way, Ireland is one of the world's most popular surfing destinations. Yeah, I didn't believe it either, but it is true.

It's amazing how such a simple mural can convey so much emotion.

In a lot of ways, Derry reminded me of Baghdad...People continue to carry on with their lives, but the undercurrent of factional tension is still readily apparent.

If not Baghdad, how about Birmingham Alabama?

Dunluce Castle, where they "done lost" the kitchen and all 60 staff when it tumbled down the cliff into the sea.
This is the kind of humor I identify with, to my Spousal Unit's great dismay.

Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. I chickened out.

Hopeful symbolism was everywhere in Belfast.

Another place of worship, sort of.

Nectar of the Gods: Family Photo

Giant's Causeway...Hangin' with Finn McCool

Ashford Castle, aka "Center of Awesomeness"

In the Irish-speaking part of Ireland

This could also describe the Seattle Mariners' batting record this year.

This note in a restaurant illustrates the innate courtesy and classiness I observed in Ireland.

Memorial to the thousands who died during "The Potato Famine". It was very reminiscent of Dachau.

The Fighting Leprechaun Looks for the Real Thing in Ireland

Leprechaun Houses in the Aran Islands
I've had the nickname, "Leprechaun" ever since high school. (One of the better nicknames I've acquired, without a doubt!)
A Good Place to Meet Relatives?

I Sort of Look Like This, Without the Beard and Hat

So when I went to Ireland, I naturally felt compelled to gain a feel for what these mythical wee folk were really like. Were leprechauns jolly fellows, like the cartoon shill for "Lucky Charms" cereal? Evil gremlins of the cheesy horror flicks by the same name?
I discovered that the reality was completely divorced from our stateside stereotypes. Thanks to some timely education by our guide, and also a local "leprechaun expert" we met in Dublin, I learned that leprechauns are indeed uniquely Irish creatures, with fairly pedestrian talents as cobblers. (Did you like how I linked "pedestrian" and the art of shoemaking there?) Anyway, in the magical lore much of the Irish acknowledge, even if they may not actually believe, leprechauns are part of the same community as Fairies. In Ireland, Fairies bear no resemblance to Disney's cartoon sprite, nor Julia Roberts' portrayal of Tinkerbell. They are much more robust, like diminutive versions of Gaelic Football players, but with significant magical powers. (Well, perhaps at least one Gaelic Football team possesses supernatural powers, but more about Team Donegal in another post!)
In addition to making shoes for the netherworld, leprechauns are also charged with handling the banking duties, hence their reputation for access to "pots o' gold" at the end of the rainbow. I was starting to envision a weird amalgamation of Gepetto and Tyrion Lannister by the time our speaker wrapped up his presentation.

While I did not come face to face with any live leprechauns during my time in Ireland, (which by the way is the only manner by which a full-size human can keep hold of a leprechaun...look away even for a split second, and they are gone!), I did manage to get in touch with my "Inner Leprechaun"...and thankfully that doesn't involve eating "Lucky Charms" cereal, nor sewing flaps of leather together!

The Fighting Leprechaun Goes to Ireland: Part II; Hawk-Walk at Ireland's School of Falconry

One of the easiest ways to show you a highlight of the tour is to post a video made by our completely brilliant tour guide, Stephen McPhilemy. Stephen is a talented fellow in his own right, who has made it his life's work to share his country with tourists of the world. We were indeed fortunate to spend two weeks in the company of a fellow who is well-educated about the history, art, and culture of Ireland, both the Republic and Northern Ireland. Even better, Stephen is completely entertaining while being 100% real, which is a rare combination.

As a result, I got even more than I expected from this tour. Sure, the scenery was amazingly complex and beautiful, the Guinness was tasty, and surprisingly, the food was gourmet-level delicious...but the insights I gained as a result of meeting the diverse group of people who call Ireland home will stay with me for the rest of my life.

So take a look at a small chunk of a completely fun day, and be prepared to enjoy the unique dude who led our journey so well! (Okay, so this isn't a professionally-produced video...you definitely get a feel for the relaxed atmosphere we enjoyed on the tour!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Leprechaun Went To Ireland (Part One)

Loyal reader(s) of this blog will recall that I started writing it to chronicle my deployment to Iraq as an Army Reservist. At the time, I named this blog "The Fighting Leprechaun" in a nod to my Irish heritage, and one of my nicknames while serving as a cop. (Definitely one of the more complimentary nicknames I acquired...)

Reviving the "leprechaun" moniker also revived my desire to visit the place where my father's family originated...my "Gaelic Roots Tour" so to speak. While it's kind of a cliche', and Europeans regularly joke about how everyone in the USA seems to claim Irish heritage, my own link to Ireland is relatively recent and well-documented enough to overcome any fear of being taken for a "wannabe".

When I returned home in one piece from the war, several events combined to bring this trip to fruition. My beloved Spousal Unit (who craves internet anonymity, which is why I refer to her as the Spousal Unit, rather than by name), encouraged my desire to set Ireland as our next destination, even though it wasn't high on her personal list of places to visit. (Although she does enjoy going to the excellent Galway Bay Irish Pub in Ocean Shores, which is relatively authentic in food and atmosphere.) Without her active support and brilliant financial management, we probably would never have set foot in Dublin, Wicklow, Kinsale, etc.
Also key to launching this journey was the bequest from my late mother, who had passed away just after I returned from Iraq. That made a comprehensive tour financially possible.
Finally, the family genealogical information compiled by my cousin Mark F. provided tangible evidence of locations and timelines of our ancestors. Validating this link to Ireland provided me with context for understanding what their lives must have been like, and a clue to their motivation for immigrating.

Once the foundation had been laid, I commenced doing what I enjoy almost as much as the actual traveling; planning the trip! I started doing some serious reading about the country, attended an in-depth lecture series on the History of Ireland sponsored by the University of Washington Alumni Association with one of my grad school classmates, also of Irish descent, and picked the brains of friends and colleagues who had toured Ireland.  One of my colleagues mentioned that he had recently gone on a two-week "Rick Steves Tour", and really enjoyed it. For those of you who aren't familiar with Rick Steves, he is the kind of nerdy fellow from Western Washington who has become famous for creating "Europe Through the Back Door" videos broadcast on PBS, unconventional guide books, and putting on tours covering all parts of Europe. Since my colleague, Rob, is a fellow UW Husky, he has a high degree of credibility...so I checked out the Rick Steves website. After looking at the itinerary and the specifics of what the tour package included, I compared costs if we did a similar itinerary on our own, booking a rental car, lodging, admission costs, meals, etc., and concluded that while the Rick Steves option was pretty darn expensive, the higher cost would be offset by not having to drive/navigate through an unfamiliar country that uses the wrong side of the road, book lodging, and deal with all of the potential crap that comes with being a tourist a long way from home.

(End of Part One. Next up, "Rolling the Dice: Report from a 'Rick Steves Ranger' ")

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Review of the Outstanding Iraq War Novel, "Fobbit"

"I'm The Fighting Leprechaun...and I'm a Fobbit." 
(Or at least was one for a year.)

As a recovering Fobbit, who blogged during my deployment as my 

personal journal, I had very high expectations when David Abrams' novel 
was announced. 
I made an advance purchase for my Kindle the first week it was available, 
and my anticipation grew from hearing the positive buzz from other 
military writers I respect and admire. (i.e., Matt Gallagher) 
When the opportunity arose to get an advance copy of "Fobbit" through 
the Amazon Vine program, I jumped at the chance.

"Fobbit" exceeded my expectations in a very big way. 

David Abrams absolutely NAILED what it was like to serve in the 
Baghdad area, both for those who went "outside the wire" 
on a regular basis, and for those who stayed on the inside 
of the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), especially like 
Camp Victory, Camp Liberty, and the other FOBs which 
made up Victory Base Complex. 
Although I was there several years later than Mr. Abrams, very little of 
the culture, aside from different uniforms and the 
absence of multi-national forces, had changed.

Accuracy alone would not have made this superb novel as excellent as it is. 

David Abrams has drawn characters so real and vivid, 
even when they are somewhat of a caricature, 
that they came alive for me. That's pretty tough to do, and it is where 
many military novels fall short. "Fobbit's" cast could very easily be 
soldiers I served alongside...and a few of the scenes came 
uncomfortably close to instances of my own behavior. 
(Thankfully, none of the really egregious examples...
but diving under my desk during an unscheduled "controlled detonation" 
of confiscated enemy explosives is still painful to recall.) 

The divide between Fobbits and combat troops, and 
even "Semi-Fobbits" like I was (30 missions outside the wire) was tangible, 
and often pretty tense. David Abrams artfully illustrates 
that divide with a couple of sentences, which will bring it alive for 
readers, whether you deployed over there or not.

I can't predict with certainty how "Fobbit" will affect readers 

who did NOT serve in Iraq. Obviously my perception is framed 
by my own experience. On the other hand, I was deeply affected by 
military novels such as "Catch-22", "Better Times Than These", 
and "The Thin Red Line" before I became a soldier. 
I'm willing to bet that "Fobbit" will have a similar impact 
on this and future generations. It is that good.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Feeling That Ol' Olympic Games Inadequacy

Every four years, I join with most of the World in cheering the amazing athletic endeavors of Olympians. Their triumphs, and even defeats stir my emotions like no other sporting events. (Of course, being a Seattle Mariners fan, I get so little to cheer about, aside from when Felix Hernandez is pitching another brilliant game, but that's a bit off point.)

For every Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, or best of all the unexpected champions like Andy Murray, there are the competitors who give it all they've got, yet fall short. Those gritty women's marathoners are a prime example of "No Quit in Them".

Sadly, and selfishly, every year since 1972, I've watched the Summer Olympic Games with a nagging feeling of personal failure lurking behind every vignette. That was the year I tried out for the Olympics, as a trapshooter. I made it to the regional trial, where I was promptly swatted out of the competition like a clay target hit by #8 shot...orange dust in the sky. I hadn't made it my life's ambition to qualify, mind you, and entered as an impulse, but once I got caught up in the immensity of "making the USA Olympic Team", I wanted it badly.

So I tried and failed...once...no disgrace in that, is there? Well, it's more what I did after that failure which has left me nursing regret for 40 years. Every time I hear another heartwarming story of Olympians overcoming setbacks, injuries, major tragedies to finally qualify for their national team, all I can think is, "You gave up, dude." Maybe I wasn't ever going to be good enough to make the team. But simply because it didn't fall into my lap the first time, I walked away from ever trying again. Perhaps if I had The Right Stuff, had dedicated my energy and time to improving, reaching the very best that I was capable of being, I could have achieved that rare status of "Olympian". Just before the women's marathon, Desiree Davila, who had qualified as the #2 US woman, was being interviewed about the very painful hip flexor injury she had incurred. When asked if she was going to withdraw from the marathon, Ms. Davila squared up to the interviewer and said, "In order to be considered an Olympian, I have to run the race. I don't know how long I'll be able to run, but all my life I've wanted to be considered an Olympian...so yes, I'm going to start."
That statement neatly summed up why Desiree Davila deserves to be a part of that special group, for the rest of her life...and why I'm sitting in my recliner, cheering her, and others like her, while feeling damned inadequate.

I feel better now...thanks.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Talkin' Bout My Mobe-lization...

Without going into OPSEC-defying detail, it looks like I will be returning to active duty for an extended period of time. That's the Yin and Yang of being a military reservist these days...our sacrifices  are fewer in frequency and duration than our active duty brothers and sisters, but sometimes it's more jolting when transitioning between civilian life and full-time soldier.

I am definitely not whining about this situation. It remains a distinct privilege to be able to serve at my rather advanced age, and hopefully contribute something worthwhile. Re-orienting my mind always takes time, but at least it won't be the complete shock I experienced in 2008 by returning to a completely different Army!

One BIG improvement over my last adventure (which spawned this blog), is that I will be attached to an installation very close to home, so life will be relatively normal. Should be a minimum of foolishness as well, which will be most welcome.

I'll keep y'all posted as this next military experience develops. Besides, until I have orders in hand, and complete mobilization in-processing, nothing is for certain, right?

UPDATE: I definitely spoke too soon with the "Should be a minimum of foolishness..." comment. Although I have a current HIV test result on file, good until 2015, according to the Army Medical System, I apparently need a NEW test, like yesterday, not to mention a new physical. Guess someone must have dimed me out when they saw me eating a couple of sweet potato fries with my salad the other day. As for the HIV thing, at my age, "risky behavior" is defined as setting the treadmill speed to over 5 mph...and while that may require me to start a "Motrin Cocktail", it's a far cry from any unauthorized boinkery. Plus, I hate dang blood draws. Okay, my Olympic Whining event is finished...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'll "Reserve" Judgement...For Now.

As I finish gathering my equipment together for a day of "fun" doing Army weapons qualification tomorrow, I have been reflecting on the latest news from the Department of Defense, or "DoD" for short. I've been reading in a number of online and print articles about how the DoD is seriously considering a radical change to how drilling reservists (like yours truly) are paid, and receive drill points. Currently, and for as long as I've been a reservist (1983), drills consist of two full days of work, but we receive a total of four days pay (just base pay, no other allowances or benefits such as Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), leave accrual, or medical benefits.). We also accrue four "points" per drill (which is now called "Battle Assembly" because evidently that sounds significantly more awesome?). Reservists must accrue between 48-50 points per year in order for that year to count for reserve retirement, which is usually referred to as a "Good Year". We also receive 15 "membership points" annually, and if we go to Annual Training, or Active Duty for Training, (usually 14 days), or an Army school, we receive one point per day of training. Once a reservist has credit for 20 "Good Years", then he or she can retire, and start drawing retirement pay at age 60. (The more combat deployments a reservist has, the earlier he or she can start drawing that retired pay.) Reserve retirement pay is calculated by multiplying the number of total points accrued during service by a factor depending on the highest rank held. Unlike an active duty retirement, it's not enough to live on, but a reserve retirement provides a nice cushion to supplement our civilian retirement income.
This current method of points accrual helps us to balance our reserve obligation and our civilian jobs, by allowing us to skip some drills, especially when they conflict with important projects in our normal lives. The majority of us also contribute a significant amount of time preparing for Battle Assemblies on our off time. For example, I put in about 10 hours this month, writing the operations order, coordinating medical support, and setting up additional classes for our unit's rifle and pistol qualifications, which culminates on the firing range tomorrow. Some unit commanders and leaders, or staff folks average significantly more extra time every month. We do it (usually without complaint) because we are soldiers, and we are just as liable to be called up for combat duty as many of our active duty brothers and sisters.

So it came as a shock and disappointment when I read about the new proposal from a DoD committee tasked with cutting the budget. They proposed a radical change: Reservists would be paid one day's base pay and "one thirtieth" of the BAH per drill day, and receive half the points they do under the current system.  This plan is predicted to significantly reduce Reserve compensation, both while serving and upon retirement.
Without exception, every reservist I have heard commenting on this proposal is strongly against it. It'll potentially have the effect of mid-career reserve soldiers, most with at least one combat deployment, deciding that the continued sacrifice is no longer worth it. That's the consensus I've observed, anyway.

While this possible change would have little effect on me personally, I choose to comment because of the potential for gutting a major segment of our armed forces. If other proposals to restructure active duty military pay, benefits, and retirement also come to pass, we could very well see the best fighting force in the world slide into decline. This probably isn't the best time in our history to cause that decline to occur.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fourth of July Fireworks!

I am lucky to live in a small town which does traditional stuff like Salmon Bakes, summer concerts in the park overlooking Puget Sound, farmers markets, an apple squeeze, and my personal favorite, the old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration. For as long as I've lived here (over 30 years now), there has been a street fair and parade, followed by a big fireworks display paid for by town residents' donations.

When I was a cop working for our town, I really looked forward to this holiday, as all hands were on deck, and we public safety types had as much fun as the visitors. About six years ago, I began serving as the parade announcer, which as my Spousal Unit will tell you is my favorite activity because I have a microphone. (A stint as a DJ for a community college radio station in the early 70s was the start of that particular weakness, but that's fodder for another blog post down the road, maybe.) My deployment to Iraq kind of messed up that gig, but this year I was asked by the parade coordinator to be the traffic director for the groups as they passed by the "reviewing stand". (There isn't really an actual stand, but it sounds more awesome than "the cement stairs by the post office parking lot.") So, decked out in what I  call my "Traffic Clown" outfit, (fluorescent orange gloves, orange reflective vest, and a bright orange whistle), I prepared for this crucial assignment by downing a plate of pork carnitas, obtained from one of the street fair food vendors. It was a tasty lunch, accompanied by refritos, arroz, and guacamole, and a fresh flour tortilla.

 My hunger sated, I had plenty of energy to wrangle the parade participants into moving along the street at the prescribed pace. Only two glitches: a group of tiny Tae Kwon Do students and their instructor, armed with nunchuks, apparently decided to stop every 50 yards and put on a demonstration, which created a HUGE gap in the parade. Since the parade route is a long rectangle using parallel streets, I had no idea what the problem was until the mini Chuck Norris wannabes appeared at the end of the block, with a long line of classic cars and other groups backed up behind them. By this time, the spectators lining the street assumed the parade was over, so they started wandering up the middle of the street. Once I figured out what was going on, I had to clear the street by waving my orange-gloved hands, blowing my whistle, and generally making an ass of myself. Of course, the diminutive martial artists ignored my instructions to "keep moving, no more stops!" I figured that being outnumbered by the 30 or so nunchuk-waving little tykes made that a non-winnable argument, which proved correct.

The other glitch was provided at the tail end of the parade by the town's volunteer firefighters, who traditionally mark the end of the groups with a fire engine and an aid rig. This year's young crews were apparently so focused on checking out the hot babes lining the route that they opened up a 400-meter gap. Once again, the spectators figured the parade was over and filled the street, and once again I had to  "head 'em up and move 'em out, Rawhide!" So that was 5% awesome.

My assignment complete, (after being yelled at by the parade coordinator about letting the gaps develop, but whatever), I walked home to pick up my Spousal Unit and head to our friend's house for the traditional 4th of July BBQ, and to watch the fireworks from their house overlooking the Puget Sound. After a fine meal of grilled burgers, chopped vegetable salad, and fresh strawberries, we all chatted while waiting for dusk and the fireworks show to commence. That's when my innards began to swell and my stomach became really queasy. So here's another life lesson: If you ever need to camouflage serious gastric distress, there is nothing better than a commercial fireworks display. It's just a matter of timing your own explosions in sync to the airbursts, and the drifting clouds of cordite definitely mask any other sulphur-based aromas.

Fortunately, I didn't experience the full onslaught of what turned out to be "Revenge of the Carnitas" until we got home...I ended up taking a sick day in order to recover. I do believe that next year I will eat lunch at home before the parade, despite having gained another tactic to maintain social poise under difficult conditions.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Of Balls and Shoes

With apologies to John Steinbeck...
A while back, I wrote about my search for just the right golf ball to suit my "game". I have played a number of rounds with the Wilson Fifty Elite, which comes in day-glo orange, and I have found my ball! In fact, that's one of the features I most appreciate about the Wilson 50...in many previous outings, I have been unable to find my ball, even when it occasionally landed in the fairway. God help me if my white or even yellow ball wound up in the first cut or deep rough, and I didn't even bother to search if it went into the trees or undergrowth. Not the case with these orange beauties...I think I have only lost two over 72 holes, which is a major improvement. The Wilson 50 works well for my slow swing speed (about the same as a Jamie Moyer "fastball", or approx. 75 mph.) As a point of comparison, Tiger Woods' swing speed averages 130 mph. Anyway, I can drive these balls about 220 yards on a good day, and they play well for my short game too. Just $12/dozen at my local Puetz Superstore.

Since I usually walk when I play golf, shoes are another part of my kit that I have previously found lacking in comfort and utility. Although soft spikes are better than the metal ones I grew up using, they get clogged with grass clumps, and don't transmit an accurate feel of the footing. I became intrigued by the sort of goofy-looking footwear PGA Tour player Ryan Moore has sported over the past year. Mr. Moore often adopts the 1930's golfer look, right down to the tie and argyle sweater, but then he'd wear what looked like Birkenstock golf shoes. I did some checking, and Ryan Moore endorses and wears TRUE brand golf shoes, which are hybrid sole, natural fit animals. I liked the concept of a golf shoe I could put on at home, drive to the course, walk 18 holes, and stop by the grocery store without changing. Most user reviews proclaimed the TRUE shoe to be "the most comfortable and functional golf shoe ever!" So being the dedicated golf consumer, I bought a pair (got 'em on sale at Puetz, which supports the military with a 5% discount, thank you very much.), and have come to the same opinion. My golfing buddies have all used the "Nice clown shoes" comment, but since I resemble the guy who dances in those "Six Flags" amusement park commercials, I am used to that kind of stuff.

Speaking of balls, my reserve unit had a change of command ceremony yesterday. After we got through the whole goat rope in reasonably-professional fashion, we fell out of formation, and were chatting with the friends and family members in attendance. That's when the four year old son of our new commander came racing across the drill floor, wound up, and socked me in the nuts with a punch that Mike Tyson would have envied. Took me to my knees in the blink of an eye. The commander and his wife were very apologetic, but hopefully this incident isn't a foreshadowing of how the last part of my military career is going to go.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Fighting Leprechaun Loved This Lecture!

The link shown below will take you to the first part of an excellent lecture about Ireland's history of conflict, delivered as part of the University of Washington Alumni Association's 2012 Lecture Series. I learned a lot, and enjoyed the debunking of a lot of myths about the Emerald Isle. I'm sure you will enjoy it as well!


Friday, May 18, 2012

"Fun" at the NATO Summit...

I have the privilege of serving at the NATO Summit in Chicago this month. From my perspective as a Seattle WTO participant, this version seems significantly more complex. I've learned a lot of new things, and have been able to apply a lot of what I know from working in my civilian jobs.

While I can't go into detail, for obvious reasons, it's definitely an adventure worth having! (That applies as long as everything doesn't go seriously sideways.) If nothing else, I've had an opportunity to visit all of the international airline lounges, plus the super-exclusive World First Class Lounge of a domestic airline...very luxurious! (It's likely the only opportunity I'll ever have to get past the heavily-guarded front desk without getting the bum's rush!)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Continuing the Gaelic Theme: "Drumline; The Irish Version"

It takes talent, coordination, and rhythm to play the bodhran...which is why I haven't taken it up, but the Gothard Sisters more than make up for that. This is awesome!

"The Gael": Royal Scots Dragoon Guards

What can I say...I'm in that kind of mood this evening...and this is some stirring pipe music!

I'm Getting Ready...

...to experience some serious WTO flashbacks. You'll get the full story in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Still Amazed...

Loyal readers of this blog know of my frequent rants because that the U.S. Army's approach to computer use falls just short of Luddite standards. A wise friend often comments that if the network security people had their way, they would ensure a perfectly secure system which nobody would have access to. The Army has come close to implementing that ridiculous standard.

I have tried to renew my USAR computer credentials on numerous occasions. In order to do so, I have to complete the annual "Information Assurance" training, and pass an online exam. I've tried to do this during my monthly drills, but naturally, without a valid account, I can take the class, but not the exam. I was told that it was not possible to login to the class website from a non-Army computer. Well, I decided to give that method a try as a last resort. Whaddya know, it worked. I completed and passed the test. I then followed the instructions to request an updated account, but was stymied there. I went back to my unit, and was able to submit an application for an account by using a computer already logged on to the system. The application has to go to my unit's parent major command for approval. One week later, no approval. So once again, I ended up going home to do my required travel documents on my own laptop, then returning to the unit to have them signed. Fortunately I live only 20 minutes away from my unit, but the same thing was occurring for almost everyone else, including folks who live an hour or so away. In the meantime, there are five new computers sitting unused in my unit cubicles, because nobody has network priviliges.

Two percent awesome.

Monday, May 7, 2012

When the cops subpoena your Facebook information, here's what Facebook sends the cops - Phlog

This is an interesting article, especially for those of us who deleted our Facebook accounts for reasons of privacy and security. I've subpoenaed Facebook records before in conjunction with a Criminal Impersonation investigation, and it is amazing how much information is stored in FB's servers. Naturally, I'm glad that the bad guys (and girls) are prone to disclosing so much personal detail on a social networking website...it makes tracking 'em down so much easier!

When the cops subpoena your Facebook information, here's what Facebook sends the cops - Phlog

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In Search Of the Perfect Golf Ball...

Now that I'm playing golf on a more frequent basis, I have been auditioning different types of golf balls to complement my style and ability. ("Style" and "Ability" are hopeful euphemisms for "Duffing" and "Hacking".)
Like most golfers who own a high handicap (mine's a 30, but I'm determined to get it in the teens by the end of summer), I ignore the ads shown on TV during the PGA tour events, featuring the pros touting their brand of golf ball. I mean, seriously, why would I spend fifty bucks for a dozen balls just in case I really need that extra 5 degrees of backspin? I've never been able to cause a ball to do that anyway, even by accident. Fifteen extra yards? Not likely, unless I land on the paved cartpath.
Here is MY criteria for choosing a golf ball:

  1. Is it a really bright color, so I can find it in the woods/hillside/rough within the USGA's allotted 5 minutes? (If they ever make a golf ball equipped with a bright, pulsing strobe light, well, that'd be worth shelling out $50 per dozen!)
  2. Can I get away with slipping a box into the shopping cart at Fred Meyer, without causing my Spousal Unit to give me her famous, "Guess I'll have to put back all of the luxury items, like the fish, chicken, and pork chops, so that we can afford those essential GOLF BALLS!" look?
  3. Will sailing one or two balls into a water hazard cause me to recalculate the annual golfing budget, and eliminate three or four rounds?
  4. Does the package, or even more importantly, the ball, sport a really stupid name, or a Sponge-Bob Squarepants logo?  I saw a carton of 36 bright yellow balls on sale the other day...(Why, yes, it WAS at WalMart...what's your point?)...for ten bucks. Score, right? Nope, because as erratically as I play the game, having some other golfer call out to me, "Are you playing the yellow SpongeBob Squarepants?" would cause me to slink off the course mid-round.
  5. Did I mention that it has to be a super bright, "find it in any terrain, burn out your optic nerve if you stare at it too long" color?
I will gladly consider any and all recommendations, as long as they fall within the outlined parameters. Thanks in advance for your assistance!

There's Always One Guy...

...who can be seen in all the disaster movies, frantically rearranging the deck chairs, patio furniture, or place settings on the dining table. Regardless of the impending threat, whether it's an iceberg, conflagration, volcanic eruption, or tsunami, there is always THAT ONE GUY.  I always used to wonder why the screenwriter and director insisted upon including that guy. Comic relief, perhaps? Well, I've got news for those screenwriters and directors...it's not that funny in real life.
In this photograph of the RMS Titanic, you can almost hear that one guy saying, "Okay, if we hit an iceberg, I'm gonna move ALL of these deck chairs to the railing. That'll no doubt save the ship!"

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Outlaw Platoon" is a Must Read Book!

I've read a lot of war memoirs, but have never been moved to tears until I read "Outlaw Platoon", by Captain Sean Parnell (USA, Ret) and John Bruning. CPT Parnell commanded 3rd Plt, Bravo Co, 2/87 Inf, part of the 10th Mountain Division, in Afghanistan during some of the fiercest combat actions of the war. Sean Parnell and his co-author, John Bruning are gifted at conveying the emotions and thoughts experienced by a frontline junior officer. I was sucked in to the story by the middle of page 2, and held there to the very end.
I never review a book by rehashing it, so you will need to purchase or borrow "Outlaw Platoon", and read it yourself. I guarantee that you will be a little different person by the time you finish it, and in a good way.
"Thank you" to my friend and colleague, LTC Hank Cramer (USA, Ret), for sharing this superb story with me...and to the men of "Outlaw Platoon", you have my undiminished gratitude for your service, sacrifice, and heroism under fire.

This Is Why I Still Love the Seattle Mariners!

More audio at MyNorthwest.com

Friday, April 27, 2012

Good Stuff!

I got together for a beer and a burger with my Team Chief from Iraq last evening. This dude is a real professional, and an excellent leader, plus an all-around good guy, despite his exceptionally bad taste in music. Anyway, it was a rare pleasure to hang out for a couple of hours and catch up.

I know that there are folks I deployed with who will always be a pleasure to see, just as there are a few who would cause me to duck into an alley to avoid any contact...(Thankfully, those who fall into the latter category are very small in number!) I'm sure that I also fall into both categories for some of my former "Double Douche" compatriots...but that's what life is all about.

Anyway, for anyone from the ol' unit out there who I haven't talked to in a while, here's to ya, and I hope life is treating you well!


SA Leprechaun  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Running To Honor Pat Tillman's Legacy This Morning

I'm looking forward to be taking part in "Pat's Run" this morning, one of the many Shadow Runs around the country, concurrent with the main event in Tempe, AZ. "Pat's Run" honors the legacy, honor, and courage of Pat Tillman, ASU and NFL football star who left his promising pro football career to join the U.S. Army after 9-11. I'm sure everybody knows his story. What you may not know is how the Tillman Foundation carries on Pat's service to our nation, primarily by selecting military veterans as Tillman Scholars, funding their advanced education. This gives an added boost to those who have shown themselves to be outstanding leaders in the armed forces, private sector, and their communities.

We'll be running 4.2 miles at Point Defiance in Tacoma, wearing Arizona Cardinals Red shirts with the number 42 on the back...That was Pat's football jersey number...and while most of the runners here will no doubt speeding through the course, I will be gimping along, geezer-style, and probably bringing up the rear. No matter, I'm just honored to be able to contribute to the Tillman Foundation, and at the same time pay tribute to an American Hero. Hooah!

UPDATE: I finished, with no major injuries, and although the oldest runner by quite a few years, I was NOT LAST!!!!  The Shadow Run organizer, Major Steve Buchanon, is a very impressive fellow, currently completing his law degree AND an MBA at the UW. Everyone taking part, whether ASU alumni, or military folks, were first class examples of the folks who honor Pat Tillman by their service.

And fair warning to all of my friends who read this blog...I'm going to be hitting you up next year to participate in the 2nd Annual Tacoma Shadow Run! Start training now, because you don't want The Fighting Leprechaun to outrun you!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Proof Positive of the "Chuck Norris Combat Superiority Theory"


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Tale of Two Good Emergency Management Dudes

The emergency management profession is a lot like bouillabaisse: there are lots of different kinds of seafood...but all seafood, no beef, pork, or poultry. Two good dudes in my world have announced their intention of retiring this summer. Both are retired military, one a former Army officer, the other a former Air Force senior NCO. One of the guys was a first responder medic type, teacher, and public safety administrator before winding up working as a full-time emergency management supervisor. My other colleague joined a county as a planner right out of the Army. Each served in Vietnam. Aside from similar Gaelic roots, and a tendency to be, shall we say, outspoken, each of these dudes have very different interests and talents. Yet they belong to the same species: Disasterus Responderis Unselfishus. When the guacamole hits the fan, they are among the first through the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) door, working their butts off to bring order out of chaos. These guys praise common sense, and abhor stupid bureaucracy. (Okay, is there such a thing as smart bureaucracy? Naw, didn't think so.) As a result of their service in the emergency management field, their respective jurisdictions have been better prepared, the organizations have responded more effectively, and their fellow citizens have benefitted greatly from each dude's collective contributions.
I'm going to miss working with those guys. Our shared profession is taking a hit, but I'm happy that they are going to reap the benefits of their hard work, hopefully with a golf club or hockey stick in their hand while we former colleagues have our rear ends planted in the less than comfortable office chairs for our 12-hour EOC shifts.
Thanks, dudes! Happy Retirement!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Beeb help keep the mystique of Augusta alive

 Here's a great perspective from The Irish Times about the BBC's television coverage of The Masters:  Beeb help keep the mystique of Augusta alive

It's BASEBALL Season!

A friend of mine wisely says, "The only thing Seattle Mariners fans are entitled to is disappointment." While he has been (unfortunately) proven correct every year since 1977, such realism doesn't dampen my April Enthusiasm for the M's prospects each season.  This year is no different. While the Mariners and Oakland Athletics officially started the Major League Baseball 2012 season in Japan, last night was their first regular season game back in the USA...and the Mariners kicked Oakland's buttocks...well, a little bit, anyway.
I  do KNOW that this was only one game out of 160, but after watching the M's getting timely hits, and even better, scoring a bunch of runs...well, a fan can dream, right? And the dream can stay alive until tonight's game, which gives me 9 more hours of happiness.
Now if only Freddie Couples can win the Masters tomorrow...

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Movie Review: "Four Lions"

The Spousal Unit and I watched a DVD this evening, which moved back and forth from comedy to tragedy. Four Lions is the fictional story of four friends, three Pakistani-British, and one Anglo Brit, all muslims, who have formed a small jihadi cell in London. I won't reveal the plot, but if you are a fan of extremely dark humor, and are interested in a take on the culture of Britons of Pakistani origin, this film should be added to your movie rental list.
Personally, Four Lions left me feeling both sad and enlightened, which is a rare mix these days. Plus I felt guilty for laughing at scenes which were plainly intended to be funny...and were...but then again, not so much. Yep, that's what a conflicted Leprechaun writes after having his head screwed with.
See Four Lions, then let me know what you think/feel about it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Goldbricks and Fobbits and REMFs, Oh My!

A wise old non-commissioned officer I used to work with, told me he classified problems in one of two ways: "The situation is either a snowball, or an avalanche...the trick is knowing the difference!" SFC Gore often added a caveat to his theorem, something to the effect of "...but sometimes what starts out as a snowball turns into an avalanche!"
Without going into details, I find myself encountering situations at work more and more frequently which begin as snowballs, but thanks to what I'll politely refer to as the "REMF Multiplier", are needlessly morphing into avalanches.
It is downright amazing how the REMF Multiplier can completely dismember a unit's formerly-high morale in the space of a few months, even overcoming that unit's highly effective, positive leadership. Even though I have witnessed similar occurences during my various careers, perhaps it is a symptom of my previously-diagnosed PDD (Pessimism Deficit Disorder) that I still get blindsided by those avalanches from time to time.
I imagine that SFC Gore would counsel me thusly: "Sir, it's time to seriously think about getting your ass out of the snowfield, and leave it to those effing REMFs!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mom...

Today is your birthday. I'm sad that you aren't around any more, but you sure aren't forgotten.

Has America Created A "Warrior Class"?

One of the benefits of being back in the Army is entry into the exclusive society that surrounds our armed forces these days.  It is definitely a different culture now than it was in the 1970s and early 1980s. Eleven years of being at war, with no draft to alleviate the pressure on our volunteer force, will have that effect.

As a result, I'm beginning to believe that a Warrior Class is forming, and this may create far-reaching challenges for our country. There has been a lot of discussion about how only one percent of our population has served, or is still serving in our military, since September 11, 2001, (aka the Global War On Terror, or GWOT.). That one percent, whether active duty, reserve, or National Guard, have almost all served at least a year of combat deployment...and most in the Army have two or more years of combat duty under their belts. While the sheer numbers of combat vets are smaller than immediately after World War II, the predominate difference in demographics lies in the fact that we OIF/OEF vets were 100% volunteers...not a draftee among us.
Our military members are justifiably proud of stepping up to serve when not compelled to do so, especially when the chance of being deployed was about 90%. Even those of us that strongly disagreed with the decision to invade and occupy Iraq are generally okay with the concept of not letting our unit brothers and sisters down. Professional warriors tend to think that way..."Band of Brothers" isn't a slogan, it's reality.
The American Public, as a whole, has been exceptionally supportive of our military during the GWOT. For those of us who were in the armed forces during the Vietnam War era, this attitude stands in marked contrast to the days when soldiers were spat upon in airports, and ROTC buildings were firebombed. I have really appreciated this difference, but many of my younger compatriots routinely express indifference, even annoyance when a civilian says, "Thank you for your service." On various social media sites, in groups where soldiers comment on current events or routine stupidities, many military folks post derisive blurbs about how civilians ought to keep their "thank you's" to themselves, because it doesn't mean anything coming from a non-veteran. And while those same groups brush off civilians, or even military spouses who have the gall to express an opinion about a military related topic, they are just as brutal in their dislike for anyone perceived not to be hard core combat troops, which generally means any Person Other than Grunts, or POGs. By the way, the term "Fobbit" is interchangeable with POG...it's the GWOT's equivalent of Vietnam's REMF (Rear Echelon Mother F****r), or WWII's Goldbricker/ Garritrooper (Garrison Trooper). And God help you if you happen to be a lowly reservist or National Guard member, even if you've served in combat three times longer than your active duty critic!

Anyway, to complete my thought, many soldiers allude in internet commentary that they hate the current administration for not being tough enough, having the willingness to lay waste to the Middle East, for not having served in the military, or for taking away their benefits. Some even suggest that a military-led revolution might be a good course of action.  While I certainly don't believe that the majority of our military personnel would countenance the extremist views, the gap between GWOT service members/veterans and the rest of society seems to widen each year. With support for the war in Afghanistan rapidly shrinking, and recent instances of war crimes or stateside mayhem committed by current or former GWOT vets, the public is definitely less effusive in their gratitude. Add in the media's increasing tendency to portray all of us war vets as damaged PTSD-deranged simmering volcanos of hate and discontent, and we're suddenly separated by a virtual Grand Canyon.

Groups like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) have done yeoman work to help find common ground between vets and the public, and try to balance the media's sensationalism with rational, factual responses...but on the social media sites, an awful lot of service members criticize IAVA leadership for not being radical enough, or (ironically) being out of touch with soldiers, because most of the staff are no longer on active duty.

I started wondering if it this way after the Civil War? WWI? WWII? Korea? (I know it was like this after Vietnam, though the media seemed to pay a lot less attention to veteran's issues, and the public pretty much didn't embrace their military back then.) Again, the key difference was that during those previous wars, the military swelled its ranks with draftees, or volunteers "for the duration" of the war. Once it was over, they were discharged back into civilian life. While the transition issues were pretty similar, (I highly recommend reading WWII's premier soldier-cartoonist-writer Bill Mauldin's  book, Back Home, for a former G.I.'s point of view), none of these wars lasted ten years, nor involved such a small percentage of the U.S. population.

I don't have a definitive answer to my own questions...but it sure is something to consider.