Saturday, December 21, 2013

Catching Up: The Leprechaun at 60

So I hit the "Big 6-0" a couple of weeks ago, and this birthday brought a diverse range of gifts. The best one was being able to spend the evening with my truly beloved Spousal Unit, who is truly "the gift which keeps on giving". Without her, this would have been a bleak day indeed. Second in line for the "good gifts" list was getting to return to great friends and colleagues at my civilian job. When folks talk about "coming home" to a place of employment, that perfectly describes my situation. I have the best boss and co-workers anyone could hope to have, and the added pleasure of a rewarding profession. Public service, whether in the form of being a cop, a soldier, or a non-glamorous emergency planner, provides a real motivation to show up each morning with a good attitude. What we do usually results in the world being a better place, at least if we are doing the right things! I'm grateful to be part of work unit which embodies that service ethic, yet has fun while "committing emergency management"! My third gift, which I must confess I selected and purchased myself, was a new golf club. Yep, the Spousal Unit has mentioned that someday I'm gonna get referred to a 12-step program for this powerful golf addiction, but hey, it's GOLF we're talking about here... I really needed a new driver (TaylorMade R-1, for those of you fellow golfers wondering) which could be custom-fitted to accomodate my changing physical skills and game. And yes, I made the right choice...haven't hit a really bad shot with it yet, but I have hit some excellent ones! The last "gift", courtesy of the U.S. Army, was orders honorably discharging me due to reaching the "mandatory removal age". While the fight continues (Senator Patty Murray's staff hasn't given up on me, which I deeply appreciate!), and I'm in a quasi-military status with six months of Tri-Care medical coverage, it still feels strange to be an "ex-soldier" once again. Still, with all things considered I ended up to the plus upon reaching 60 years old...and I don't feel a day over 40. In dog years.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Is This The End?

There has been a lot of back-and-forth email traffic with the Senator's staffer who is working on my case to stay in the Army, but it's not looking real optimistic at this point. I begin my week of demobilization and out-processing this morning, and conclude my military career next Wednesday when I sign my DD-214 Discharge Certificate. I've inventoried all of my issued clothing and equipment in preparation for turning it all in to the Central Issue Facility on post next week. I'll turn in my 39 rounds of ammo to the arms room this afternoon, and my pistol to my reserve unit next week. (Yes, you read that right...Army CID stateside issues agents 39 rounds of 9mm hollowpoint ammunition, which has to be carefully accounted for, and those same 39 rounds have to be turned in whenever going on leave, TDY, Permanent Change of Station, deployment, or in my case, getting out of the Army. This practice perfectly illustrates the low-level of trust accorded Army CID Special Agents by "The Big Green Machine".) While there's still a slim possibility of either a last-minute reprieve or being restored to the Army Reserve somewhere down the road with time enough to complete my 20 "good years" and qualify for a retirement, I'm already looking ahead. I return to my civilian employment with an emergency management agency on the same day as my Army discharge takes effect, so there's no gap in income, and no temptation to take a week off and play golf every day...though now that I've just written this, maybe I could just delay starting...naw, not a good idea. (Note to Spousal Unit: I was only kidding...really!) It looks like I will get to work again for my former boss, who is an outstanding manager and leader, so life is good. So, I'm donning my ACUs for probably the last time, and heading out to face reality. It has been a good run, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to serve a second time. I've learned a lot of new skills, survived a combat deployment relatively unscathed, and had the pleasure of getting to know some of America's finest young warriors. And hey, anytime you can hand off all of your case files, that's a good thing!

Remembering November 22, 1963

Like most of us who were old enough to be aware of world events, I have vivid and painful memories of the day when President John F. Kennedy was killed. I was in class at Tustin Memorial Elementary School in Southern California that morning when the principal came into our classroom. She was crying a bit, and held herself very rigidly as she said softly, "Children, President Kennedy has been shot." One of my classmates, Patty McShane, yelled "Good! I hope he dies!" My teacher, Mrs. V, strode over to Patty's desk and slapped Patty's face, hard enough to knock her off her chair on to the floor. The principal looked over at Mrs. V and quietly said, "Thank you." She told Mrs. V to turn on the television (this being Southern California, every classroom had one), and left for the next class to deliver the news. We all sat there, stunned by the news, by Patty McShane's outburst, and by Mrs. V's dramatic reaction to that outburst. Patty McShane had gotten back in her seat, and didn't utter another word. Once the TV warmed up, we kids were riveted by the chaos in the newsroom, which was normally a staid, boring deal. Of course, the channel was tuned to Walter Cronkite who was as much a part of our daily lives as our teachers. I kept hoping that Mr. Cronkite was going to announce that the President was going to be okay, since he was at Parkland Memorial Hospital. My hope was crushed when after what seemed like hours later, Walter Cronkite took off his glasses and with glistening eyes told us that President Kennedy was dead. I remember we were let out from school early that day. I walked home and joined my mom in front of the TV as it alternated shots of Air Force One and scenes in Dallas. Then the news came about a Dallas police officer being shot, and then that the police had arrested Lee Harvey Oswald as the suspected gunman. I still remember everything from that weekend, but in black and white since we didn't have a color television. I was watching live when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. It's amazing how much that stuff makes an indelible impression on a ten year old kid. Even with all of the violence portrayed on TV, movies and video games these days, not many young people have actually witnessed a murder on live television. That's a good thing. Regardless of the historical impacts and subsequent discussion about President Kennedy's flaws, I know that my personal view of the world was changed dramatically, beginning that day in November, 1963. It doesn't seem like 50 years have elapsed since then, mostly because I still feel strong emotion whenever I see a film clip or photo from those events. For me (and I suspect a lot of my peers), the terrible end to "Camelot" took its toll on us. Things were about to get a whole lot darker and real for an entire generation of American kids.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ying and Yang, Army Style

My ongoing efforts to get several years of service credit restored, so that I might remain in the Army long enough to earn a retirement, and continue serving on the investigation task force I'm currently assigned to has hit a few speed bumps. While I remain optimistic that I will win this battle, I have learned something about the stark difference between my active duty hierarchy and the reserve side's chain of command.

When this latest issue surfaced early last month, I got good help and support from the admin folks at the local reserve personnel center, but they were limited in what influence they have. On the other hand, when I informed my active duty bosses of the potential for my impending discharge I was stunned by their immediate offers of support, including a plan to get several commanding generals involved to add their considerable weight to my side. These offers were genuine, though it remains to be seen whether some "heavy hitters" are going to bat on my behalf. But at least they are providing tangible help. (They aren't doing this just to be nice, they recognize the contribution I'm making as part of the task force, and want to keep me in the fight. That makes a lot of sense to me, and motivates me to not give up.)

I contrast this tangible and heartfelt readiness to do whatever it takes to keep me on the team with the response from the reserve side of the house, outside of my home unit. Our higher headquarters (battalion-level) is located in California, and their reputation for losing personnel paperwork is epic. Once my situation came to their attention, their apparent worry has focused upon how quickly they can get me out the door, and thereby rapidly resolve the inconvenient mark on the battalion's unit manning report. No phone calls from the S-1 asking if there's anything they can do to support me, or the Battalion Command Sergeant Major trying to retain one of his NCOs by exerting his influence. Of course, these are the same bunch of folks who showed zero concern when our senior NCO in my detachment has had to resubmit his retirement papers FIVE TIMES, and they still haven't processed them correctly.
That kind of slovenly treatment by staff and commanders would get active duty folks relieved on the spot.
No matter how this episode turns out, I will never forget how my current active duty superiors have behaved in the finest traditions of military leadership...and how some of their reserve counterparts have remained on their collective asses. By the way, I'm hedging my bets by filing a request for assistance from the Inspector General, and seeking even bigger firepower from Senator Patty Murray's office. Watch this space for updates... UPDATE # 1: I headed down to the post IG's office on Wednesday, and a very professional and courteous Master Sergeant informed me this case would have to be referred to the Army Reserve IG folks.(The MSG said she'd handle the referral, and send the documents I had provided.) My initial trepidation at this development, given the lukewarm performance so far by the reserve side of the house, was quickly overcome by the outstanding response I received by the next morning. First, I received an email from the USAR IG HQ, letting me know that they had opened a case on my behalf. Later that morning while in the office, I received a phone call from the Assistant IG who will be handling my case. She was very squared away, quickly grasped the elements of my situation, listened to my detailed expalnation, and then laid out her plan of action. While she predicted this would be a challenging fight, I am confident the USAR IG will indeed strongly advocate on my behalf. So, score one for the Army Reserve! In the meantime, I am preparing my cases to be handed off to some "lucky" agent for final action, and set up my out-processing appointments. The fight continues...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

"Shoot/Don't Shoot"

That's the common term for law enforcement firearms training scenarios, where cops have to decide if they are justified with using lethal force. It also accurately describes the roller coaster we experienced today, 24 hours prior to a police combat shooting competition our office was entered in. Our team, with me included, consisted of five agents, and an MP Captain from Battalion.

A number of factors combined to make this competition projected to be less fun than we initially thought:
First, the weather here changed from mild and mostly sunny to rainy and windy...and the real heavy stuff is predicted for this weekend. No matter how much fun getting to shoot government ammo at targets (which aren't shooting back at you!) usually is, when doing so outside in a monsoon, that quickly sucks pretty much most of the enjoyment out of it.
Second, this event is planned, organized and will be carried out by the U.S. Army, which by Army Regulations is required to obliterate any remaining chance of fun. From the looks of the briefing powerpoint slides I saw, they accomplished that mission with room to spare.

The final factor leading to our team's ultimate "Don't Shoot" decision was when the rest of the agents on the squad ended up with "duty calls" (CID-speak for reported crimes requiring immediate investigation) last night. They were expecting to be working long past midnight, which left only me (I am exempt from stuff not directly related to my task force assignment) and the Captain. I gave him a call, and it took little convincing for him to throw in the towel. He notified the competition's organizers that we were withdrawing, and that was that.

UPDATE:  The next morning, right about the time we would have been going through the first course of fire, the heavens opened up, dumping what the weather reporters claimed was over two inches of rain in less than three hours. This deluge was coupled with wind gusts of up to 40 mph. None of us felt any guilt over bailing out, though it looks like I may be stuck with a case of shotgun shells.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Golf-Related Quote of the Day

"Golf seems to be a cocktail, made by mixing equal parts of hope, disappointment, joy and despair...and stirred with a credit card."     ___The Fighting Leprechaun, September 2013

Farewell To "Old Faithful", Hello To "Mr. Versatile"!

I suppose it's a "guy thing", but I felt a few pangs of sorrow when I traded in my old shotgun for a new one this afternoon.
I bought my old shotgun, a Winchester Model 1200 with a long-ass barrel, in 1968 for $75, which was pretty much my entire two-week paycheck from my weekend job at trap and skeet club. It was a rental gun which hadn't been used much, and when the owner got in a bunch of brand new Winchester shotguns, he let us high school employees get first crack at buying the old ones. I won more than a few matches with that gun, and came THAT close to qualifying for the 1972 US Olympic trapshooting team. It was a good pheasant gun as well, as that long 32" barrel gave it longer range with a tighter pattern.
After I joined the Army and was stationed in Germany, I went out a few times to the Rod and Gun Club in Mannheim and shot trap with some of the other officers, but eventually I lost interest in that sport. Plus, I'd left my shotgun back home with the folks, and loaners just aren't quite the same.

When I came back Stateside after three years overseas, I retrieved my shotgun from the back closet at the folks' new house. To my dismay I found that it had rusted, and the nice walnut stock was covered in mildew, even though I had oiled it all down before leaving. I removed all the rust, re-blued the metal, and tried to refinish the wood, but it looked pretty sad, like a once-favorite shirt with a now frayed collar, and a big ink spot on the pocket. I went trapshooting a couple of times, but never regained that old thrill.  After becoming a cop, I bought what was supposed to be the right model short barrel with rifle sights, so I could carry it in my patrol car. (My department issued 9mm carbines, and got rid of most of the shotguns, but sometimes only a shotgun will do, you know?) Well, the barrel fit, but it wouldn't allow me to chamber a shell, so that was a failed experiment!  "Old Faithful" went back in the gun safe, only emerging to receive a fresh wipe-down of lubricant and preservative, and a nostalgic shouldering while I softly yelled, "Pull!" Even though replacing it with a more suitable tactical model entered my mind on a regular basis, the timing was never right. And despite increasing worries about a so-called "Zombie Apocalypse" or the desire to have a shotgun useable for deer hunting, skeet shooting, or home defense against non-zombies, I just never seriously considered parting with that unwieldy 12-gauge anti-aircraft cannon.

Fast forwarding to the beginning of this month: Our SAC (Special Agent in Charge) asked me if I'd be willing to put together a team to compete in the post's "Three-Gun Match", a tactical shooting competition which draws law enforcement officers from around the region to use pistols, rifles, and shotguns (hence the name "Three Gun") for engaging various targets while moving and using cover. While we all planned to use our Army-issued pistols and rifles (because if you do, the Army provides the ammo for the match), none of us owned a tactical shotgun. Our unit doesn't even have them in the inventory. Well, one thing led to another, and when our local Cabela's Outfitters store advertised a big sale this week on, among other things, TACTICAL SHOTGUNS!!!,  the die was cast. And even though my beloved Spousal Unit didn't mention it, I wanted to honor our informal agreement concerning firearms, to wit: "One Gun In, One Gun Out." This meant trading in "Old Faithful", which ended up cutting the already great sale price of the tactical shotgun I had picked out by more than half.

Still, as I pulled my long-time scattergun companion from the gun safe, wiped it down one last time, and gently peeled the red "Dymo" label with my name which had been stuck on the fore-end the day I bought it 45 years ago, I felt a twinge of guilt and sadness. Which lasted until I got my new light-weight tactical gun home, pulled it from the box, cleaned, lubed and assembled it, threw it up to my shoulder, and softly yelled, "Pull!" 'Cause like they say, "Honey Badger and old shotguns don't care!"

(IMPORTANT NOTE: This story is in NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM, an allegory about any kind of relationship other than with that one inanimate firearm; no one, especially any Spousal Units who might happen to read this, should draw any inferences of any kind. Thank You.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Confessions Of A Fantasy Baseball Failure

I had a short and unsuccessful career as a baseball player in junior high school. In the one game I started, I missed two out of four fly balls hit to me in right field, struck out once, flied out once, walked, and was picked off by the pitcher when I tried to emulate one of my favorite Dodgers, Maury Wills, by taking a big lead in order to steal second base. Needless to say, I didn't try out for my high school baseball team.
Despite being a crummy player, I was a big fan of major league baseball, ever since my dad took me to my first game at Dodger Stadium, where some guy named Sandy Koufax pitched for the home team that day. Growing up in Southern California in the 60s and 70s, I rooted for the veterans who had moved from Brooklyn, as well as the upstart LA Angels, who played in "the other Wrigley Field" until Anaheim Stadium was built. When I joined the Army and left Southern California for good, I kind of lost interest in baseball, until my new home team, the Seattle Mariners, drafted some guy named Ken Griffey, Jr. So now I'm a Mariners fan, with all of the perennial hope and ultimately disappointment that comes with it.

Fast forward to Baghdad, 2010. I was invited to join in a fantasy baseball league by one of my fellow agents. I had always thought fantasy sports stuff was for geeky dudes who spent most of their lives in their parent's basement playing "World of Warcraft". I soon learned that my preconception was invalid; normal folks, including women (!), really got into fantasy sports competition in a really big way.  I had really no idea of what I was doing, but managed to "Forrest Gump" my way into the playoffs that year.

I've been doing fantasy baseball ever since, and added football a couple of years ago. One of my best friends from high school invited me to join the leagues he runs, and so I was in two baseball and two football leagues every season. Through all this fantasy sports  activity, I learned a couple of things about myself:

1. Playing in fantasy leagues has added to my knowledge and enjoyment of both baseball and football, leading me to follow other teams outside of my region, and keep my interest going even when my home teams get bounced out of post-season contention on a regular basis. (Especially those damn Mariners!)

2. I absolutely suck at fantasy sports.

I'm sure a big reason for #2 is that I don't spend a lot of time tweaking my daily/weekly line-ups. I usually draft pretty good, even great players, but I hang on to them way too long after they go from "hero to zero", or I make the mistake of dumping someone who has underperformed, just in time for them to get picked up by another team at the start of the player's MVP comeback. Also, I'm really don't get too bummed out if my team loses. Don't get me wrong, I prefer to win as much as the next guy, but if I do my best, but my players stink at the wrong time, oh well, I did my best. There are undoubtedly lots of strategies I could study to improve my team's performance (that's why some guys usually win every year, even without a roster full of superstars), but I've got other things which interest me more.

This year's fantasy baseball season is drawing to a close, and once again my team isn't going to make the playoffs. I'm cool with that. Unfortunately, my "fantasy slacker" attitude led me to commit an apparent faux pas the other day. After realizing I was eliminated from playoff contention by my third straight loss, I figured I would help out the other teams still in contention by dumping most of the players I wasn't planning on keeping for next season, and replacing them with up-and-comers who may be the rookie sensations of 2014. Turns out that this approach is frowned upon in fantasy sports circles,
which my good friend was kind enough to let me know. So I guess there is even an etiquette to sucking at fantasy sports. (Which makes it more like golf than I previously realized!)

Oh, well...Lesson learned. Now it's time to get ready for fantasy football. Which, by the way, I've already set the tone for a dismal season by trading for an all-star receiver, who was arrested for murder the week after the trade went through. At least you can be assured I won't be dumping my players after we're eliminated from the post-season!

Monday, July 8, 2013

If A "Poor Workman Blames His Tools", Should A Good Workman Praise Them?

I am playing better golf these days, partly because I am getting out more often, but also because I am using equipment which maximizes my strengths, and minimizes my weaknesses. While I have pretty much resisted buying gimmicky stuff (like Rene Russo's character in "Tin Cup"), I realized earlier this year that I needed certain new "tools" if I was to significantly improve my game, and consequently my enjoyment.

Here's a brief inventory of what "stuff" has lowered my scores, and made golf a lot more fun:

1. Clubs:
a. Irons/hybrids: When I transitioned from 35 year old Ping Eye 2 irons to Adams AOS12 hybrid/irons, I was able to reach a lot more Greens In Regulation than I ever had before. It has taken me some time and practice to start striking the ball with anything like mid-handicap consistency, but better than 60% of my shots are either on the green, or very close. I used to dread having to hit my I get excited! In fact, one of my most reliable clubs is the sand wedge I picked up for $22 on E-Bay; it's the women's version of my irons, and maybe channels Annika Sorenstam considering how accurate it is. Adding 30-50 yards to my iron shots hasn't hurt either.

b. Fairway Woods: I have named my only fairway wood "Kristen" in honor of one of my golfing gurus, "The Golf Chick". (Check out her excellent golf blog: ) Even on bad days, the one club which always comes through in the clutch is my Ping G-15 5-wood. I can reliably hit a draw shot off the tee, and have launched a ball over 200 yards from the fairway at least half the time I've used it. While the G-15 model is several years old, I predict it will stay in my bag for the rest of my golfing makes me appear to be a much better golfer than I really am. (That quality comes in handy during tournaments, especially in "best ball scramble" events.

c. Balls: All testicle puns aside, balls are really important to consistent play. One of my golf coaches, Molly Miller, strongly urges her students to find a single brand/model of ball that works for them, and use it exclusively. I hadn't really considered that bit of wisdom before, and had stocked my bag with a mixed lot of whatever was on sale or I had found on the course when looking for my own lost ball. Again, Molly's wisdom made perfect sense, because how else was I going to develop consistency if the ball characteristics were not? Now I only play Wilson "50 Elite" balls, in high-visibility orange color. Yeah, a lot of my playing partners and my brother give me a bit of crap about playing an orange ball, but who cares? I can find my ball in the rough or undergrowth, and also track its flight and roll so much easier than with traditional white or optic yellow varieties. I can knock it just as far as any other ball out there, and with my military discount at Puetz golf stores, I pay just about $10/doz., so what's not to like? (I add a black shamrock mark using a "Tin Cup" stencil, making it 99% certain no other golfer will successfully claim my ball as theirs.)
As an addendum to this category, I recently discovered a product called "Flex-Head Tees". These are miniature marvels of engineering, allowing me to consistently tee up my ball at the same height for whatever club I'm using. They come in different lengths, but all feature a solid, fluted pointy end and a flange, plus wide prongs to hold the ball solidly. They are guaranteed to be unbreakable, and are easy to find after I've hit my drive. You can find these awesome tees at and they are reasonable priced.

d. Cart and Bag: I prefer to walk whenever possible, but carrying my bag over a hilly 18 holes on a hot day saps my strength. I acquired a Clic Gear folding 3-wheel cart and matching bag last year, and couldn't be more satisfied. It's a great combo; keeps my clubs from bunching up, there's plenty of storage pockets in the bag, and the cart rolls like a dune buggy, handling all terrain with ease.

e. Other Accessories: I just got a super deal on a Bushnell "Neo-X" GPS watch, which has some 3,000 courses pre-loaded on it. I've used it twice, and both times I've shot lower scores as a result. Now that I have a really good idea of how far I hit every club in my bag, knowing exactly how far the front, middle, and back of the green is from wherever I'm standing has simplified my club selection. Again, more Greens-In-Regulation means more pars, and fewer bogies.

By the way, I haven't received any compensation from any manufacturer or retailer for shilling any item mentioned here, and although I've gotten most of my gear on sale, none of it was free. I just enjoy sharing some of the good quality equipment out there which has led to making golf a lot more fun. The one downside to that fact is that I am seriously looking forward to retirement (and playing several times a week on a regular basis) more than ever!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Like A Dyslexic Elvis... unit is singing the "I. G. Blues". That dazed look on SGT Elvis Presley's mug is very similar to what most folks in my unit were sporting yesterday, as we completed the final preparations for our Inspector General's (IG) inspection this week. 

For those of you who have never experienced one of these events, you can get an idea of what an IG inspection is like by watching an episode of that reality show, "Hell's Kitchen", where British chef (and hypercritical "Adam Henry") Gordon Ramsay descends upon a troubled restaurant and figuratively blows it up.

I went through a number of these traumatic incidents in my early Army life. Back then, they were called "Annual General Inspections", or AGI for short. A team from Division HQ showed up, usually with several month's warning, and inspected every aspect of our battalion's operations and administration. In the motor pool, vehicle logbook entries were checked against deficiencies found by the maintenance team, and all those excess repair parts a good motor sergeant had accumulated to keep our elderly tanks and trucks running had to be carefully hidden in a neighboring unit's area, or in some cases buried out in the local training area. All the clerk's filing cabinets were checked to ensure every folder was numbered in strict accordance with the file numbering regulation. ( was no coincidence that "Army" and "Anal-Retentive" both start with the letter "A".)

All the staff officers and NCOs spent long hours making pretty charts (this was before Powerpoint existed, so everything was hand-drawn by the battalion draftsman), which were compiled into briefing binders. Company Commanders, XOs, and Platoon Leaders micromanaged their First Sergeants and Platoon Sergeants who were busy supervising troops cleaning the barracks, cutting grass, painting rocks, and starching their fatigues/spit-shining combat boots for the in-ranks inspections. Pretty much nobody slept for the 36 hours before the inspection.

While I was fortunate never to be in a unit which failed an AGI, that sort of epic disaster used to occur on a pretty regular basis. If your unit blew an aspect of the AGI, such as vehicle maintenance, then you'd get 30 days to make corrections before the IG team returned to re-inspect that area only. Failing the re-inspection usually resulted in the commanders being relieved, which essentially ended their career.

 So with that historical perspective, I watched with mild amusement as selected case files were "scrubbed" and collected for the inspectors' review, desks were polished, empty computer cartons were jammed into storage closets, the grass and shrubbery surrounding our building was weeded and trimmed, and any cubicle decorations which might be found "inappropriate" were hastily removed. One big change from the "Old Army" is that we no longer have to starch our uniforms, or shine our combat boots. (I can't believe I just wrote that, but just like the WWII and Korean War veterans who still populated the Army when I came in observed, there have been a lot of changes over the past 30 years!) Since only one of my case files was identified for inspection, and I am not assigned any additional duties, nor do I have any leadership responsibilities this time around, I'm definitely getting over. (I did vacuum the office bay where my cubicle is located, so don't think I'm a total slacker, okay?)

While I probably won't report any specifics after the inspection concludes this Friday, there may be an anecdote or two of epic magnitude which I'll be compelled to share with y'all...after "the names have been changed to protect the innocent", of course! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

TURDUCKEN: The Culinary Equivalent to "ManBearPig"?

Anyone who has read through the Cabela's Holiday Catalog is familiar with the unique amalgamation of poultry called Turducken, which combines Turkey, Duck, and Chicken. When I first spotted this  culinary Frankenstein monster several years ago, I immediately thought of the South Park episodes featuring a supposed Al Gore nemesis named "ManBearPig". The difference between these two is that one can be deadly to humans, and the other is a cartoon character. (Oh, I just cracked myself up there with fifth grade wit!)

Seriously, I like pretty much every kind of cooked bird that I've tasted...even the roasted pheasant that I shot with my Dad and Uncles back in the early 70s which was seasoned liberally with lead pellets. (I had made the cardinal sin of blasting that bird just a few feet in front of my shotgun's muzzle due to my excitement at flushing it only seconds after stepping into the beet field.) Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey and stuffing, is my favorite meal of the entire year. So when I learned about the tryptophan-laden combo, which by the way usually contains STUFFING (!), I added that to my gustatory bucket list.

Now while my Spousal Unit rightly accuses me of being prone to making occasional impulse purchases off the internet, the high cost of the Cabela's Turducken...over a hundred bucks...kept me from indulging this particular whim. But as the saying goes, "Good things come to those who wait", and so it was last weekend. While cruising the frozen food cabinets at our local Fred Meyer Superstore, (I was looking for frozen Maryland-style crabcakes, as the last time we dined on the ones from the seafood counter I found a big old deceased housefly embedded in mine.), I spotted a half-shoebox sized package emblazoned with "TURDUCKEN". I checked it out with a cynical eye, because finding such a gourmet treasure at a Western Washington Fred Meyer was surely too good to be true. Examining the box's bona-fides, this definitely looked to be the real thing. The next challenge was convincing my Spousal Unit to make room in our shopping cart for this grocery outlier. She is more skeptical of new, untried products than I am, and I think she even muttered something about being suspicious of any product whose first syllable is "Turd". That concern hadn't occurred to me, but she did have a valid point. On the other hand, she tends to be supportive of my adventurous approach to cooking and eating, so once the Spousal Unit realized there weren't any weird ingredients, she assented.

Once committed to a course of action, my Spousal Unit goes all in, so within a couple of nights she had roasted our bowling ball of bird goodness for Saturday Night dinner. While it had been cooked perfectly, and was clearly comprised of good quality poultry, our first Turducken experience was a bit underwhelming. The meat was a bit dry, and very salty. It was more than edible, but not what I had dreamed of. The remaining couple of pounds of Turducken went into a Tupperware container, awaiting its fate. I admit to a lack of enthusiasm for polishing off the leftovers, but then it occurred to me what this Turducken was missing...the STUFFING! This version featured pork sausage in place of traditional bread-based stuffing, which was good for our low-carb diet, but left us wanting.

Tonight, we rectified this omission with a vengeance. We picked up a box of "savory herb" Stovetop Stuffing and a jar of low-sodium turkey gravy at the market, and after dicing up the slabs o'Turducken we had a savory casserole simmering on the stove. This concoction was definitely "much mo' bettah", though just before she dished it up, my Spousal Unit noted we should have included a small side dish of cranberry sauce to make it perfect. She was right again, but despite that minor quibble, we dined happily, knowing the whole Turducken experience had been nicely salvaged.

I'm not sure whether we will ever buy another Turducken, but it doesn't matter. I've crossed that off my bucket list, and will be able to resist the urge to drop a couple of C-Notes with Cabela' least for another Turducken.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Adventures of the "Distracted Detective"

Working out of an Army CID Office has advantages and disadvantages. Most of the cases I'm working require lots of telephone interviews, and that's not how CID usually does things. The open cubicle bays are generally chaotic, filled with jocular insults, loud complaining, and discussions about ongoing investigations or administrative requirements. A couple of times each month, we are tasked with completing internet-based training covering such gripping topics as "Equal Opportunity/Prevention of Sexual Harassment", "Information Security Awareness", and my personal favorite, "Accident Awareness and Prevention"...because the script is a close parallel to that Driver's Ed movie they used to show in high school..."Blood On The Asphalt!!!"

On the plus side, interaction with fellow agents makes the day go by faster, I can get advice on CID procedures quickly and easily, and I really enjoy the seriously funny stuff that comes out of peoples' mouths in the active duty Army environment. My case files, which weigh about 5 pounds each, are within easy reach.  And all the documents saved to my office hard-drive which I haven't found time to upload to the shared-drive or download to a CD (because we can't use thumb-drives or external hard drives) aren't available on my remote laptop. But mostly, I just like the camaraderie.

This morning I was faced with a choice: try to conduct a whole bunch of telephonic interviews from the office, or grab a case file and head back home. I decided on the latter course of action, and I'm glad I did. Not only did I make more progress in one day with this investigation than I've accomplished over the past month, I was able to space my calls out to encompass the post-dinner-hour, reaching more of my contacts than usual. My Spousal Unit was supportive, as usual, and we had zero conflicts over telephone or computer usage, since I was issued an Army computer for home use.

I think this will be an option more frequently...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Remembering Major Glenn G. Jacks, USMC

I grew up in Southern California during the Vietnam War, just a few miles from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. On our quiet street in Tustin, the majority of our neighbors were Marine officers, and the majority of those were Marine Aviators. Our family always liked our Marine neighbors; the kids had interesting stories of faraway, exotic places like Japan or South Carolina, their moms generally spoke with cool Southern accents and used expressions we native Californians had never heard before, like, "Y'all are some cute lil' boogers!" And of course the fathers exuded the (usually) quiet bravura common to most Marines, and especially the aviators. (Early on, I learned NEVER to call them "Marine pilots"...They were Marine AVIATORS!) To this junior high school guy, these warriors were the essence of awesome. My dad, a World War Two Army Air Force veteran and former National Guard infantry officer, seemed to gravitate to the Marines, and treated them with great respect.

Of all of those Marine officers who were neighbors, the one who made the greatest impression on my entire family was Glenn Jacks. Captain Jacks was one of those people who everyone in the neighborhood instantly liked. The same was true of his wife and two children. This was a family that just seemed to brighten up Chirping Sparrow Way by their presence. They'd always show up to the barbecues, curbside fireworks displays, and block parties, and Captain Jacks would draw folks in with his infectious grin and slow drawl.

When Captain Jacks got orders for Vietnam, it didn't seem that momentous to the non-Marine families; we'd never had anyone go over there and not come back. The war was on TV most nights, presented by Walter Cronkite, but it wasn't REAL. Until October, 1967, anyway. Not too long before, the neighborhood celebrated the news of Captain Jacks' promotion. (I'll never forget his young daughter announcing proudly, "My daddy's a MAJOR!" to everyone she encountered for almost an entire week.) One afternoon, I came home from school to find my mother sitting on the couch, sobbing. She looked up and said quietly, "Glenn Jacks' airplane crashed in Vietnam, and he's dead." I was stunned. How could a man who was so full of energy and confidence, who had only just left about a month ago be dead? 

Soon, we all got to see what a Marine Corps Family is made of. Mrs. Jacks didn't hide; she met with her neighbors and friends one by one, and told us how her husband and his crewman had taken off to fly a mission. When the jet engines failed, Major Jacks stayed with the aircraft to fly it away from the village where it would have crashed had he ejected. He and his crewman crashed into a mountain, killing them both. They didn't make a big deal about his heroism, as if this sort of act was to be expected of a Marine Aviator.

October, 1967 is when my concept of war changed from words and photos in history books, and grainy black and white television pictures, to an actual human face. Every Memorial Day since then, I have taken a moment to remember the bravery, sacrifice, and personality of Major Glenn Jacks, USMC, and that of his family. I shall not forget them, and their service to our nation.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Review of "That's That", an Irish Memoir by Colin Broderick

I finished reading Colin Broderick's memoir, "That's That" in two, very long sittings. I'm usually suspicious of the reviewer's cliche, "I couldn't put it down", but I even got out of bed two hours earlier than usual (on a weekend, no less) to keep reading this amazing book.

Being of Irish heritage, and having traveled to Ireland and Northern Ireland, I've developed a strong interest in learning more about the place my great-great grandfather emigrated from. Although I have read a number of books about various aspects of Irish history, none grabbed me anywhere as viscerally as "That's That". Colin Broderick is a superbly-talented writer who has the ability to put the reader inside his skin, and his mind. I felt as if I was present during so many of the scene's at home, at school, and at the much so that I was a bit mentally exhausted after reading some of those chapters. While I won't pretend to really understand what it was like to grow up in Ulster during "The Troubles", I sure developed an appreciation for what Catholic families experienced for so many decades.

I won't rehash what Mr. Broderick has recounted in perfect detail, as that would surely spoil the tremendous impact of his story. I will say that this is not a book for anyone seeking a pretty, Disney-version of growing up Irish in the 70s and 80s. Colin Broderick's story is painful, funny, and sad, sometimes all at once. I am sincerely grateful that Mr. Broderick was willing to share his story with the world, and highly recommend "That's That" as a Must Read for anyone even casually interested in Ireland.

Friday, April 12, 2013

My Review of "Loopers, A Caddie's Twenty-Year Golf Odyssey" by John Dunn

John Dunn has led a life that I suspect many of us golfers really envy. On the other hand, I doubt that most of us possess the requisite talent and courage needed to live a similar lifestyle portrayed so engagingly in "Loopers". Fortunately, folks like me can live vicariously for a few days through Mr. Dunn's excellent first book.

What I liked best about "Loopers" is the way John Dunn managed to effectively transmit many of his emotions through the way he described his experiences. While many of his vignettes will resonate the most with golfers, for example caddying alongside Masters legend Arnold Palmer at Augusta National, I think non-golfers will be able to appreciate John Dunn's tales for his self-deprecating humor, perceptive observations, and well-crafted paragraphs. Reading "Loopers" reminded me of playing a fast solo 18 holes on a deserted course, when most of my shots go where I intended, and the experience becomes purely concerns about slow play, competition, or anything else besides my swing, the flight of the ball, and appreciating the golf course. "Loopers" lasted just the right amount of time, never staying on one particular hole too long, but still savoring gorgeous views along the way.

While I've only caddied once in my life, at a local club tournament in Southern California in the early 70s, I've often wondered what it would be like to become a part-time looper in a few years after I retire. John Dunn has made that notion seem a lot more inviting. That's the mark of a good writer, opening our eyes to new possibilities and challenges. But even if I never carry a bag (other than my own) at Chambers Bay, I will always appreciate having been a "Virtual Looper" alongside John Dunn. He deserves a big tip for his work!
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Monday, April 8, 2013

My Review of Alafair Burke's Newest Mystery, "If You Were Here"

Alafair Burke is a talented novelist, which means that she is willing to take some risks with her novels. While she has written several series, one featuring a deputy district attorney (Samantha Kincaid) set in Portland, Oregon, the other starring an offbeat NYPD detective (Ellie Hatcher), Ms. Burke isn’t afraid to produce standalone mysteries. As a result, Alafair Burke is really adept at character development.
If You Were Here, Ms. Burke’s latest novel, requires a great amount of development of her lead character, former deputy prosecutor-turned-journalist, McKenna Wright, and in a hurry. That’s because the novel’s focus is almost exclusively on McKenna, with the rest of the cast remaining two-dimensional for a lot of the story.

I’ll confess that it took me a while to get into this novel, which is unlike my experience with all of her previous books.  I was also a bit uncomfortable with her portrayal of many pre- 2001 West Point (as in the United States Military Academy) graduates actively seeking ways to avoid being recalled to active duty for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.  I’m sure that Ms. Burke’s characterization must be fairly accurate, as her husband is a West Point grad of that era, but it sure didn’t portray that group in a very positive light. (My own military experience most certainly framed my reaction, so I decided not to let that get in the way of the story.)

Once I had gotten through a quarter of If You Were Here, the story quickly picked up momentum and plausibility. Alafair Burke excels at braiding seemingly-unrelated plot lines into a beautiful cord, and this novel was no exception. Toward the final third of the book, shadowy characters began emerging in sharper detail, making the final chapters into a perfect, believable mosaic…if a mosaic can be called “believable”.

As a result, I highly recommend If You Were Here.  It is entertaining, well-written, and would serve as a good launching pad for another excellent series, should Alafair Burke be so inclined. (I hope she is!)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"It Takes Balls To Play Golf The Way I Do!"

And clubs too!

After playing golf for the past 25 years with a set of Ping Eye-2 irons, which were used when I bought them, I realized that it was time to transition to "Senior Clubs" if I was going to improve my game to a substantial degree. Although I hit the old Pings reasonably well, I was unable to get much distance with them. Golf teaching pros recommended that I consider going to Super Game Improvement (SGI) irons, which usually feature graphite shafts, and oversize, hybrid-type heads. 

After researching what kinds of SGIs were available and the reviews online, I narrowed my choices down to a couple of different sets. When I went on a recon mission to my local golf superstore, I discovered one of my possible selections was on sale for a deeply-discounted price. I spent some time with the club fitter, and he determined the best specifications for my swing. The launch monitor revealed that on average, I got between 50 and 75 more yards from the mid and long irons/hybrids. That's the type of improvement I was seeking, so after a call to the Minister of Finance, also known as my Spousal Unit, I made the purchase. I ended up with a set of Adams 12OS hybrid-irons, which were featured on Golf Digest's 2012 "Hot List". (That's them in the photo, just in case you hadn't already figured it out.)

Since my clubs were custom fitted, it took a couple of weeks for them to arrive from the Adams factory in Texas. When they arrived, I couldn't wait to pick them up...this was the first time I had ever bought brand new irons, and it felt a lot like the first time I had purchased a new car. Granted, there isn't really such a thing as a "New Golf Club Smell", but aside from the missing olfactory reward, I got jazzed unwrapping each shiny stick from its bubble-wrap.

I've spent a couple of hours at the driving range getting used to the "Adams Family", and played nine holes yesterday afternoon at the Fort Lewis Golf Course. These clubs are by no means magic, and I've discovered that they are going to take some serious work before I'm at all consistent with 'em, but when I hit the ball just right, WOW!!! That orange sphere takes off like a 4.2 inch mortar shell, high and far.
Fortunately, the need to spend adequate practice time is supported by the return of decent weather to the Pacific NW this weekend...and my apathy toward organized religion helps me ignore the fact that tomorrow is Easter Sunday, which should result in the 9-hole practice course being less-crowded.

My goal last year was to break 90 at least once on a regular golf course (not just a nine-hole executive course like where I'm practicing tomorrow), and that didn't happen. I'm renewing that same goal for 2013, and I have the feeling these new clubs may really help me to do it. I'll let you know when it happens. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Travels With Morrie

It was finally time. My 87 year old WWII veteran father, who resided in a private care group home in Arizona, was approaching the point when the progression of his dementia would require a higher level of medical support.  It was a tough decision, as Dad, aka "Morrie", was very happy living where he had been since 2011. If it wasn't for the growing likelihood that Morrie would need to be moved on short notice, my brothers and sister and I surely would have voted to maintain the status quo. Unfortunately, private long-term dementia care facilities are very expensive, and Morrie has only his monthly Social Security and veteran's benefit checks. The other consideration was the distance made it tougher to keep on top of Dad's progress and maintain a good interface with his medical providers.

(By the way, Dad got his alias when he lived up here with my Spousal Unit and I, and then in an assisted-living community which caters to former military folks. I regularly reserved Tuesdays to drive over from my civilian job to have lunch with Dad. Some of my more literate co-workers dubbed these lunch appointments as "Tuesdays with Morrie", and the name stuck. Hopefully, Mitch Albom won't sue us for copyright infringement.)

Fortunately, our state has a very modern and well-staffed Veteran's Residence, with a state of the art dementia care center. Morrie had been on the waiting list for this place back in 2009, but my deployment to Iraq resulted in Dad's move to Arizona. I re-submitted admission paperwork late last fall, because sometimes it can take up to a year on the waiting list before a room becomes available. This time it only took six months before I got the call to complete the final processing.

I made the preparations to bring Morrie up north with a fair amount of trepidation. He was no longer able to do most of the simple tasks, like using the restroom, without assistance. While it had been a while since he truly recognized any of his kids, he had able to fake it pretty convincingly...once a salesman, always a salesman, I guess...but that was no longer the case. One thing I had going for me was that Morrie often thinks that he is still in either the Army Air Corps or the National Guard. I decided my strategy was to tell Dad that he had received orders transferring him to Fort Lewis, and that I had been detailed to escort him to his new duty station. While I felt guilty lying to Morrie, this fictional reason behind uprooting him did seem to make sense in his universe, as he accepted it with the resignation typical of all soldiers getting Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders.

It was one of those missions that could easily have gone either way: complete success or Epic Fail. Fortunately, thanks to a lot of folks, this one went off without any major problems. I made flight reservations on Alaska Airlines, where we have a substantial amount of frequent flyer miles accrued. I took a couple of days leave mid-week, flew down to Phoenix in late morning, rented a van to make easier access for Morrie and his luggage (I brought a gigunda, hard-sided suitcase which I use for Protective Service Detail missions, where ya gotta carry the world's supply of bulky gear.), and after checking in to my hotel I headed over to the group home.

Rowena, the group home owner and operator, definitely runs the place like it is filled with family...which it usually is! When I arrived, Dad was sitting out in the backyard, wearing his favorite straw hat, and having a semi-coherent conversation with one of the more lucid residents. While I could tell Dad had no idea who the heck I was, he greeted me jovially, and inquired if I was there to discuss the operations order. Seeing that he was in the "Army Morrie" mode, I let Dad know that I had orders for his immediate transfer to Fort Lewis, and that I was his escort. "Oh, that sounds pretty good!" was Dad's response. My youngest brother was at the house, getting ready to prepare tonight's dinner for everyone. He's a pretty talented cook, and has been the main support guy for Dad while he's been in Phoenix. While Morrie got back to his conversation with the other resident, I retrieved the suitcase from the van, and with Rowena's assistance got all of Dad's clothing and personal items packed up. There was already an old, battered roller bag from Morrie's original move to Arizona, so I crammed that piece full of old family photos and documents, and stowed both bags in the van.

After a festive dinner, and tying up loose ends of Dad's account with Rowena, I headed back to the hotel. Next morning, I headed back to the group home, picking up my brother on the way. Morrie was "Out on Pluto" as my other brother says, with no clue that he was about to embark on his penultimate adventure. No matter; I refreshed his memory, and Morrie snapped into Army Mode without complaint. We said our goodbyes, and trundled out to the waiting van. Dad happily commented every couple of minutes about the number of buildings and cars that had appeared since he was last here in 1945, followed by inquiring if we were "headed back home to California."

I really wasn't looking forward to transitioning from the Hertz rental car drop-off point to the shuttle bus ride to the terminal, having to lug two big heavy-ass suitcases and keep Morrie moving in train. Fortunately, the gentleman at the Hertz check-in line, Gary, immediately offered to have one of his folks drive us over to the terminal in the van, so we didn't have to unload luggage or anything. That was an unexpected but really welcome courtesy. The fellow who volunteered to drive us to the terminal was a really nice fellow from Northern Iraq, so we chatted about his country's current situation on the ride over.  I only had $20 cash to tip this fellow, which felt like not enough for the service rendered, but such is life.

Good things continued to go our way as I got us checked in at Alaska Airlines. The agent was (as usual for Alaska) very friendly and helpful when I asked if there was any way to get our seats moved together in the First Class cabin. (I had made our return reservations for First Class, figuring this would be the only way to make the flight somewhat tolerable and comfortable for Morrie. I hadn't been able to reserve adjoining seats, though.)  The check-in agent made a change to my seat to improve its location, and then sent a request to the gate agent to work out the rest of the move. Now unencumbered by monster luggage, we slowly made our way to the next potential obstacle; the TSA security checkpoint.

I was kind of worried that Dad's expired Washington State ID card might prove problematic, as that was the only photo identification he had. Once again, fortune smiled upon us as the TSA officer noted Morrie's escort (me) was a federal agent, so the likelihood of Morrie being AQA (Al Qaeda in Arizona) was minimal. They didn't make Morrie remove his shoes or belt, and my own screening was a breeze, so it was off to our gate in plenty of time before boarding. At the gate, yet another outstanding Alaska Airlines representative picked up the second half of the seat assignment request, and with the consent of a very agreeable fellow passenger, we were seated together...Dad in the window seat, and me on the aisle.

When we boarded, Morrie asked me if we were headed to Lowry Field, which was the airfield in Colorado where he had trained as a B-24 turret gunner. When I told him no, that we were going to Fort Lewis, he grinned and said, "Good, cuz that's where my unit is!" It was moments like that one which pretty much erased my guilt over the deception plan.  Once airborne, Morrie was fascinated by the clouds and mountains, which pretty much kept him occupied the entire flight. When lunch was served, he devoured his hot turkey melt sandwich, and settled back for a nap. We did experience one "not for publication" moment on the flight, involving the First Class restroom and a very understanding flight attendant, but it was mostly smooth sailing.

SeaTac Airport proved easy to negotiate, and I had parked close to the Alaska baggage claim skyway, so in a matter of minutes we were cruising down I-5 in the carpool lane. Morrie was astounded at the overcast skies, cool temperature, intermittent rain showers, and most of all, the abundance of greenery. (I could relate, as it was the same way I had felt the day I returned home from Iraq.) We made it to the Veterans Home by late afternoon, and began the lengthy check-in process. It reminded me of the first day of Army Basic Training, minus the yelling drill sergeants. I had to inventory and mark every piece of Morrie's clothing with his serial number, then stow it all in the wardrobe and dresser drawers in his room. The medical staff and activities director did their preliminary intake stuff, which Morrie took in stride after I reminded him again that this was the usual procedure when signing in to a new unit. I had planned to eat dinner with Dad, but when the meal was served I was still busy marking and folding, so the nurses escorted him to meet his new mess hall buddies while I finished up. I had just completed putting everything away and briefing the activities director about Morrie's background when he returned from chow...wearing someone else's travel vest. Turned out it belonged to his neighbor, Ray, who either loaned it to Dad to wear during dinner, or Dad saw it on the back of Ray's chair and decided he liked it. At any rate, Ray came looking for his vest, which had his glasses in one of the pockets. Dad pulled out Ray's specs, and said happily, "I've been looking all over for these!" I stopped him from trying to put them on over his own glasses, and gave both the glasses and vest back to Ray.

By now Dad was completely tuckered out, so I got him ready for bed. He said, "I think I like this place..." before dropping off to sleep. Although I knew he'd need to be re-oriented in the morning, it seemed like an agreeable end to this episode of "Travels With Morrie."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

On Being of Irish Ancestry

You don't have to be a detective to figure out that anyone using the pen name, "The Fighting Leprechaun" more than likely claims Irish heritage. Although my father's family never much discussed our background when I was growing up, one of my cousins gathered a substantial amount of genealogical information about our Irish ancestors, and shared it with me about four years ago.

Our Celtic family came from County Wicklow, which is in the southeast area of what is now the Republic of Ireland. They immigrated to Australia in the 1850s, not as convicts, but rather to homestead and farm. From there, the lure of the California Gold Rush brought the family to Northern California, which is where my grandfather, father, and I were born and raised.

I had several nicknames in junior high and high school, most of which were not very complimentary, but my favorite was "The Leprechaun". Maybe it was the combination of my diminutive stature, reddish-brown hair, and very ruddy complexion, or perhaps that I was always involved in some sort of shenanigans which earned me that nickname, as I do not have a last name readily associated with being of Irish heritage. When I became a cop, and was assigned to a detachment where everyone was assigned a nickname, once again I became The Leprechaun. (This was greatly preferable to the other tag my teammates gave me, "Bald Boinker", which was indeed intended to be flattering, but it's not the kind of handle a respectable deputy sheriff wants to be known by, right?)

I developed a great fondness for Irish music, food, and history, and on occasion sported a faux Irish brogue which some confused with a Swedish accent, but without a clear understanding of my Irish roots, I was just a phony "Eireaphile" (yep, just made that word up!) Once I learned that I did indeed come from legitimate Irish forefathers, I decided that I had better cement the deal by actually visiting Ireland.

Thanks to my supportive Spousal Unit, we were able to tour the Emerald Isle last September, said tour being documented in this blog with a small fraction of photos and narrative that we gathered there. Even more significant than actually walking the streets of Wicklow, and visiting the old Gaol where family legend has it that my great-grandfather was briefly incarcerated, was the connection to Ireland fostered by our tour guide, Stephen McPhilemy. Steve wasn't just our tour guide...he brought us through the secret door, taught us the secret handshake, and helped us see beyond the veneer that most tourists are limited to.

I was reminded of this connection to my Irish heritage last night, when I got the word that Steve and a fine fellow named Liam O'Riordan,  a retired Garda and most excellent singer/musician/songwriter, who I'd gotten to know in Kinsale, were at Kells Irish Pub in Seattle this weekend. Hanging out with these guys reinforced how unique the Irish are, and to be part of that is something I am truly grateful for. Make no mistake, I know that I'm not an actual Irishman, merely an American of Irish heritage, but the affinity and the bonds are there nonetheless. It feels very good.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New Book: Harry Potter and the Hat of Ass

Where Harry, Ron, and Hermione seek to discover which members of Congress have been replaced by Dementors and Death Eaters.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Experience With the VA; Forrest Gump's Box of Chocolates

The Veteran's Administration, or VA for short, has been receiving its share of criticisms for the past four decades, mostly in regard to how they handle service-connected disability claims. There have been some significant improvements to philosophy and funding since about 2006, but the vast numbers of us combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, when added to our predecessors from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, have clearly overwhelmed the VA Healthcare System's ability to keep up.

My own experience with the VA has mirrored Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, in that I never know what I'm going to get. Although I was briefed very extensively about the VA benefits I was entitled to after I returned from Iraq in 2010, including five full years of free medical care, I delayed signing up because I immediately resumed my civilian job, which provided decent health insurance for me and my Spousal Unit for several hundred bucks each month. I figured that the VA Healthcare System was crowded enough with vets who didn't have access to other health insurance, so why add to that burden.

Eventually, I did sign up at the local VA facility, which is located only a few minutes from where I live. I was initially told I didn't qualify, until I pointed out (using their own literature I was handed during my outprocessing) that I was a returning combat veteran. Oops! The registration folks apologized, added me to the database, and assigned me to one of the outpatient clinics. They took my photo for my VA ID card, and told me to make an appointment for an initial exam once I had received my ID card in the mail. Well....I never got that ID card, and since my civilian health insurance was working just fine, I put it out of my mind.

My other reason to deal with the VA arose when my WWII veteran father needed assistance with his own care. He was developing dementia, which meant he could no longer live on his own. I learned about a new VA program, called the "Aid and Attendance Benefit", which provides financial support to war veterans, regardless of whether or not they have a service-connected disability, so that they may afford assisted-living or nursing home facilities. It's an excellent program, but at the time very few of the VA's employees were aware of its existence. Consequently, even though my father clearly qualified for this benefit, his application kept getting rejected on the grounds that he didn't have a service-connected disability. By this point I had a General Power of Attorney for my dad, and began following up with the Regional VA Office in Seattle. One "helpful" bureaucrat advised me to re-apply with a brand new application, instead of appealing his original request. Since I had familiarized myself with the applicable VA regulations, I quickly realized if I had followed this guy's suggestion, if my dad's claim was approved, it would not be retroactive to the original application date (which was over a year ago). I finally asked for help from our U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, who has proven herself to be one of the most relentless and effective advocates for military and veterans ever elected to Congress. Within two weeks after contacting Sen. Murray's office, the VA approved my dad's application, retroactive to his original submission date. (To the VA's credit, once Dad's benefits were granted, they have continued uninterrupted with zero bureaucratic foolishness involved.)

While I was deployed, my father had to be moved to a group home in the Phoenix, Arizona area, as he required a greater level of care than the assisted living residence up here could provide. He was signed up for medical care through the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, which provided excellent primary care. I flew down there about a year ago and met with his VA social worker, Ms. "T", who is a caring professional, and clearly passionate about serving veterans. I knew my father was in good hands with Ms. T as his advocate. Each time I had to communicate with the Phoenix VA folks, I got what I needed, including straight answers and no dumb obstacles.

When it came time to make arrangements to move my father back up here, to take up residence in the Washington State Veterans Home in Retsil, WA where he could receive full-time dementia care, part of the admissions process required me to obtain a copy of his VA medical records. Knowing that the VA has everyone's records online, I checked with the same local VA hospital where I had signed up, and was directed to the "Release of Information" office. I drove over there, and contrary to what I had been told on the phone, a different clerk said she couldn't access records from another clinic. She offered to fax my request to Phoenix, so I filled out the records release request form, and handed it to the clerk. She assured me I'd have the records in the mail within a week or so.

(While I was at the facility, I stopped by the registration office to inquire about my never-arrived VA ID card. The clerk looked up my online file, said there was no need to have my picture taken because my digital photo taken the last time was there in the file, and he'd have another card mailed to me. About 45 minutes later, a woman from the ID office called me and asked me if I could return, because they needed my photo in order to do my ID card. When I explained about the clerk saying that he had seen my photo in my computer file, she told me I was wrong, that I must have misunderstood the clerk. Needless to say, I still don't have a VA ID card.)

Anyway, three weeks went by, and no records arrived. I found the number for the Phoenix VA "Release of Information" office and called to inquire about the status of my request. "Sorry, sir, we've never received any request for your father's records," a polite fellow named "Greg" told me. "Greg" explained that I could simply fax him a letter requesting those records, (He'd verified my Power of Attorney, which I had provided the Phoenix folks when I met with them.), and they'd get 'em in the mail. I faxed off the letter as directed. Ten days later, I started to get antsy, as I feared the space the WA Vets Home was holding for my dad might be given away. I called the Phoenix Records office again, and spoke to "Connie". She verified that they had received my request, but it might be another week or so before it could get processed. I explained my dad's situation to "Connie", and her response was fast and concise: "Give me your street address, and I'll overnight the file to you." Boom! Just like that, a dedicated Phoenix VA employee cut through all the red tape, and solved my problem. Two days later, I hand-carried my father's records to the WA Vets Home Admissions Coordinator. Turned out that they needed one more form to be completed by the Phoenix VA. I scanned and emailed the form to Ms. "T", and it was faxed back to the WA Vet's Home a few hours later.

So now my father is "Good to Go", thanks in large part to the outstanding assistance from the staff at the Phoenix VA Healthcare System Team. I am very grateful for their dedication and professionalism.
As for my local VA Healthcare System Team...they have so far earned a grade of "EPIC FAIL". When it eventually comes time for me to actually use their medical services, I will likely provide an updated grade report...but for now, I'm sincerely glad that I have alternatives.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

iPhone Update: "It's ALIVE!!!"

I scheduled an appointment with a "Genius" at the local Apple Store, using the online webpage. I figured I'd call the store in advance to make sure I brought all needed hardware and documentation. Spoke to a dude who asked me when the WiFi access went sideways. When I replied, "Right after I uploaded iOS 6.1," he said, "We've seen this issue before. Try re-booting your Wireless Router."
I did that, and like magic, my iPhone was happily connected to my wireless network once again.

Fifty points to the Apple Genius guy for both fixing the problem AND getting me out of a trip to the mall! Five days later, and all systems are working fine.

Friday, February 15, 2013

So Tired of Political Crap!

One of the many downsides of having my lungs all dorked up is that I am not getting anything near my normal amounts of sleep and exercise. I can't even hold a conversation for more than 30 seconds before the coughing spasms pretty much end it.

This has left me much more short-tempered and intolerant than usual. As a result, I have become really frickin' tired of all the political bullcrap spewing out of the television and the internet. I can't seem to escape it. If I read the newspaper, easily 70% of the articles are related to some form of domestic political conflict. My Spousal Unit is fascinated by several of the programs on one particular political TV channel, so there's an hour or two of strident ranting injected into every evening. (Throw in that angry asshole Judge Judy, another program SU is fond of, and my brain is ready to explode!) The local and national TV news is of course saturated with bits about sequestration, cabinet nominations, fillibusters, and the (mostly) overweight white people showing up everywhere with handguns and assault rifles, demonstrating against any perceived infringement of their "rights" to prepare for armed insurrection against the federal government.

This glut of politically-themed fighting on the TV has led me to retreat from the living room for hours at a time. Now if it was summertime, and I wasn't coughing like a lawnmower filled with five year old gasoline, I would likely head for the pastoral pleasures of a golf course or driving range. Baseball season is on the horizon, (Pitchers and Catchers have reported to Spring Training!!!), so I'll have the relaxing refuge of listening to a ballgame on the radio very, very soon.  But it occurred to me that I have   another opportunity arising from my aversion to the tsunami of politics and stupidity, combined with the physical infirmity; I can spend those cloistered hours working on my novel!

Yep, even though sleep deprivation will reduce the overall quality of what I write, at least I'll have something to edit once I am again "Fully Functional". Shouldn't be much different from cranking out all those term papers in college at the eleventh hour, typing away (when we relied upon actual typewriters, and the clacking sound helped keep us awake.) and producing pages of brilliant critical thinking, which often turned out to be less than brilliant when viewed in the cold light of professorial scrutiny.

Looks like a short-term solution is at hand. Let's get to work!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thanks For All the iPhone Suggestions!

Just wanted to update y'all, and add my appreciation for all of the great suggestions for getting my iPhone back to a fully-functional state.

The best advice came from the daughter of one of my high school buddies...She used to work for Apple, and suggested making an appointment with a "Genius" at the local Apple Store. (We have one of those just 30 minutes away, so that's an easy mission.) If I make it clear that this is a software issue, not a "Sorry, gotta charge you big bucks to fix this" hardware problem, they should take care of me, gratis. Thanks, Nanelle! (And thanks, FreqGod!)

By the way, the patch that Apple released to help mitigate some of the iOS 6.1 insanity is for iPhone 4S only...and since I have an iPhone 4, it won't work.

All in all, everyone's good ideas (You are all "Geniuses" in my book!) saved me from applying my own "patch"...made of C-4.  Any solution not involving a loud detonation will keep my Spousal Unit and neighbors happy, not to mention the local gendarmes.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How My iPhone Went From Handy Companion to Useless Piece of Crap

I generally like Apple products. I've had a MacIntosh desktop computer for all but three years of my home computing life.  They are usually easy to use, and packed with decent features, which helped overcome the paucity of software able to be used in my Macs.

When it was finally time to buy a "smartphone", I naturally gravitated toward an iPhone, as our current desktop computer is an iMac, and I have a pretty good collection of music on iTunes. I needed a phone which could take the place of a personal laptop when I traveled on business. The iPhone 4 that I got with a government-discounted phone plan has worked very well in the three years I've owned it...until now.

The problems started when I finally updated from Apple's iOS 5 operating system to iOS 6. Actually, iOS 6.0 worked okay, although there were a few minor challenges. The WiFi still worked reliably and connected automatically at home and hotels, Starbucks, and other hotspots. Less than a month later, I unintentionally clicked on the popup which downloaded iOS 6.1. I tried to abort the download, but it was too late. "Well, iOS 6.0 was okay, so this ought to be just fine!" I thought to myself. I'm an idiot.

Within minutes, my iPhone refused to connect to my home WiFi router. 3G signal strength was also mysteriously cut in half. "Hmm", I mused, "Perhaps I should start fresh and reset my phone, then download iOS 6.0, returning my phone to its happy state. NO CAN DO, DUMMY!  I went on the Apple Support website, and posted a question in the "iPhone Community". Most of the responses went something like this: "Dude, you are so screwed! Did you try resetting the phone, then re-downloading the iOS 6.1 software? It didn't work for me, but maybe YOU'LL be lucky." Well, I wasn't.

I have reset the phone three times. The WiFi occasionally works for about six minutes before a little popup message proclaims, "Unable to access this WiFi network."  I've tried turning the iPhone off, then turning it back on. No joy there either. Now when I return to the message boards on the Apple website, I see hundreds of complaints similar (and some far worse) to my own. Most of the problems seem linked to iOS 6.1...more than enough evidence for me to make an arrest, if this was a criminal investigation.

At work, a few fellow iPhone users have talked about buying an iPhone 5, the newest offering, as they think the latest operating system must have been designed to go well with the newest iPhone, but not so much with the older models. I have no idea if this theory is true, but I know for sure that I won't follow along. It's more likely that I will just use the iPhone as a "Dumb Phone", and get used to lugging my laptop with me when I travel in the future. When it comes time to replace this electronic paperweight, I have grave doubts that the new phone will have an Apple logo. Thankfully, my 120 GB iPod still works well, so if I really feel like sending this iPhone to Digital Valhalla, there will be no regrets or second thoughts of rehabilitation.

In the meantime, if any of you readers have a solid suggestion for fixing the damn thing, I'll welcome any and all of 'em.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Author and War Correspondent Nathan Webster Shifts the "Full Metal Jacket" Paradigm

Nathan Webster is a Gulf War veteran and supremely-talented war correspondent who served several embeds in  Operation Iraqi Freedom. In his really smart blog, "Can't Give This War Away", he recently posted an analysis of the film classic, "Full Metal Jacket", and the novel which spawned it.

When I saw the tweet where Nate Webster referred to FMJ's director Stanley Kubrick's "cowardice", I was prepared to yell "HERESY!!!", for FMJ has always seemed to me to be gutsy and powerful. After reading Webster's insightful comparisons and I saw what the movie could have been, I had to agree with his point 100%.
Read his post, and let me know if you agree with Nate Webster as well... (Click on the link below)

Now that I've successfully click-whored a few visitors, I will explain...


Friday, January 25, 2013

Pleasantly Surprised By Madigan Army Medical Center

One of the downsides to being recalled to active duty is having to switch to Army medical providers, instead of the civilian doctors I've used with great satisfaction. It was with no little trepidation that I decided to "bite the bullet" and get integrated into the system at Madigan Army Medical Center, known to the locals as MAMC...or "MamCee", as Doctor Al Jolson would have surely called it.

While I knew my medical records were filed somewhere in the main building after I reported for duty last fall, I had not in-processed through the Tricare Service Center at MAMC, so I hadn't been assigned a Primary Care Manager or clinic. When my good old Iraq burn pit cough resurfaced a couple of weeks ago, I still resisted the idea of going to MAMC, and requested authorization to be treated by my civilian pulmonologist. I ended up seeing him anyway before Tricare ruled on my request, and got treated. When my cough persisted past its usual time, I figured that it'd be smarter financially, and also for documentation purposes, to get going with the Army medical folks.

The few experiences I've had with MAMC have been relatively positive. A couple of blood draws for my required HIV test and pre/post deployment medical exams were handled quickly and competently. On the other hand, I still remember how dorked up dealing with Army docs usually turned out to be, and the patient administration end of things was always a nightmare of bureaucracy...and you know how much I hate dealing with bureaucrats!

I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I called the central appointments phone number on Tuesday, in order to be assimilated into the "Borg (MAMC) Collective". While I got the anticipated initial response of, "If you aren't in the system, I can't make you an appointment!", the call-taker actually listened to my reason for needing an appointment, and got me scheduled for what she called an "Establishing Care" visit to one of the clinics. Not only did I get an appointment, but within 24 hours of my call...So far, so awesome!

Now one of the frequent horror stories I've heard about appointments at MAMC is the requirement to arrive at least an hour, preferably two hours, in advance of your appointment time in order to find a parking place. Those stories are true. I drove through four different huge parking areas without success. I ended up parking almost a mile away from the hospital. I didn't mind the exercise, although the streets and sidewalks were coated with ice, but wondered what a less-able bodied patient would do if stuck with a similar situation. Of course, if I had even briefly entertained any thoughts of whining about the trek, my route took me past the Warrior Transition Battalion buildings, and a morning formation of Wounded Warriors armed with canes, crutches, and wheelchairs. Nope, no whining from this guy.

I made it to my appointment on time, and was handed a relatively small bunch of forms to complete. Once those were filled out, I was immediately shown into the exam room, had my vital signs recorded, and within minutes met up with the friendly civilian Nurse Practitioner (NP) who was my new Primary Care Manager. Didn't take her long to get up to speed with what I needed, and so after an exam confirming my malady I was out the door with a referral to an Army pulmonologist, a prescription for super heavy-duty cough syrup, and a note permitting me to stay home from the Army for two days.
All this cost me a total of Zero Dollars, which certainly overturned the conventional wisdom of "You get what you pay for." (Yes, I know fellow taxpayers, we did already fork over the money for my treatment.)

Getting my prescription filled took close to three hours. The pharmacy waiting area is almost as big as a high school auditorium, and you take a number when you arrive. There were over 100 people ahead of me. (Thanks to the kindness of a friend from the American Legion who gifted me with a spare number slip which was over 50 spots lower, I got my prescription before my tour of duty expired...Thanks, Karen, I owe you one!)

So despite my dire predictions of uncaring military medical bureaucracy, I can honestly report that Madigan Army Medical Center provided me with competent medical care, and great customer service. While it might have been more entertaining for you to read about everything going horribly wrong today...and believe me, I would have ranted about that in great detail...this was a better outcome by far. Besides, there are enough dumb things going on with the other aspects of my military life to provide this blog with lots of snivel-ammo.

UPDATE: Knew it was too good to be true...Got a call last Monday, scheduling me for my appointment at the pulmonology clinic. Yep, it's for a MONTH from now. Hopefully my cough will have subsided by then, although that'll surely trigger the old, "Why did you request this appointment?" response. In the meantime, I'm still "sleeping" in the living room recliner, covered by my trusty poncho liner, alternately dozing and coughing a lung up every 30 minutes or so. Thanks to the sleep deprivation, I can handle about a half day in the office, doing my Val Kilmer "Tombstone" impression. Just waiting for the first person to call me "Lunger"...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Grant Me the Serenity..."

When it comes to being adversely affected by mindless bureaucracy, I have learned to suffer in (mostly) silence, like the average lower-ranking drone that I am these days. While "silence implies consent", I believe that consent can be withdrawn at whatever point the stupidity becomes more trouble than it's worth.

I've become an observer of my particular "military microcosm", given my substantially different background and experience, and what I'm seeing on a daily basis saddens me. Not heart-ripping despair, to be sure...This is more like the dull ache of a wisdom tooth emerging after close to six decades of lurking beneath the surface of my jaw.

Speaker of the House John Boehner has reportedly taken to reciting the "Serenity Prayer" during his frequent moments of frustration, and he's taken a lot of heat from the media and political opponents for doing so. Fortunately I have a significantly lower profile than Rep. Boehner, so nobody has seemed to notice when I mumble my own version in the aftermath of another "Drive-By Stupiding" incident.

At least I've come to the realization that it is highly unlikely that I am going to effect even a modicum of change upon my military organization. I'm not even going to be successful in just "doing what has to be done" by flying below the radar and focusing on key tasks I know will lead to accomplishing my missions. Instead, I see now that I'm stuck in "Crazy-Tasty Town". (I got that phrase off of a single-serving packet of Spam, and have been trying to insert it somewhere in a relevant way for the past year!). By the way, for the record the ratio is 89% Crazy, and only 11% Tasty, which falls well below my minimum acceptable standard for a non-deployed environment.

So, this leaves me with a couple of rational choices: I can resign myself to another winter, spring, summer and fall of my discontent, and then repeat it once more, or I can explore healthy, positive ways of bailing out and returning to my previous situation. Bailing carries some risk of a financial downside, both short and long-term, but with an offset (also long-term) that would partially balance things out.

In the meantime, I'll just keep muttering the Serenity Prayer under my breath, and do my best not to let the Droids of Dumbass piss me off to the point where I try to change the things I cannot.
("It's Chinatown, Jake!")

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hooray for the VA "Burn Pit Exposure" Registry!

As one of the hundreds of thousands of people who was continuously exposed to an open "burn pit" while deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan, I was very pleased to read that the Department of Veterans Affairs, aka the VA, has been ordered to establish a "Burn Pit Registry".

President Obama signed legislation Thursday requiring the Veterans Affairs Department to establish a registry for troops and veterans who lived and worked near open-air burn pits used to dispose waste in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas.
In addition to including new requirements for providing a casket or urn for veterans with no known next of kin and establishing care for a military cemetery in the Philippines, the Dignified Burial and Other Veterans Benefits Improvement Act, S. 3202, aims to pinpoint the number of veterans who may have been exposed to burn-pit smoke so VA can track their medical histories and keep them apprised of new treatments for associated conditions.
Troops deployed in support of contingency operations and stationed at a location where an open burn pit was used will be eligible to register.
Veterans advocacy groups and families of service members who have become ill since their deployments hailed passage of the law as a “victory.”
“It validates the truth behind every death, every illness associated with exposure,” said Rosie Lopez-Torres, co-founder of Burn Pits 360 and wife of former Army Capt. LeRoy Torres, who developed a rare lung disorder known as constrictive bronchiolitis after serving in Iraq.
VA said Thursday it will announce directions for signing up when the registry becomes available. (The Army Times)

Although the Department of Defense (DoD) and the VA first took official notice of the respiratory effects caused by long-term exposure to these burn pits in 2006 or 2007, and ordered the open pits to be replaced by low emission incinerators, very few of the Forward Operating Bases (FOB) fully transitioned to clean burning alternatives. 
In my case, while stationed at FOB Kalsu in beautiful Diwaniah Province, my Containerized Housing Unit (CHU) was filled most nights with noticeable amounts of foul-smelling smoke. Since my CHU was located only 500 meters downwind from the burn pit, I had to "embrace the suck", so to speak. After a couple of months of almost nightly exposure, I developed a deep persistent cough, which remains to this day, although at varying degrees of effect.  The docs at the FOB aid station provided me with an inhaler, and more importantly, documented this stuff in my medical records. When I redeployed, a similar notation was added to my medical file. 
Without going into detail, although I continue to receive treatment the effects remain. And whenever I get exposed to someone with a cold, I develop a heavy duty cough which sometimes lasts up to 3 weeks. That's the condition I find myself in right now, and it's pretty crappy.
You can bet that when the VA opens up registration for the Burn Pit Exposure group, I'll be right there.