Friday, November 30, 2007

No iternet

The internet is down in my hotel...where I live. So, don't expect much in the way of posts until I leave in a couple of weeks.

Monday, November 26, 2007

YouTube Debates

I am going to watch it because I want to see the candidates. In all honesty though, who is it that came up with the idea that this is somehow more "democratic" and more driven by the voters than having a moderator ask the questions? The videos are parsed, the questions are chosen before hand, the only difference now is they can put the questions they want to put to the candidates to them by having "everyday Joe" ask the questions. If anything, it's a lie--a way to make us, the average voter, feel like we have more of a say than we do.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

watering hole...

I went to a country bar tonight to celebrate my friend's birthday. It was definitely an interesting crowd and an interesting night, especially from an anthropological sense. You see, I've never worn a cowboy hat or boots and my jeans have always been baggy enough that I could, if necessary, put them on while wearing a pair of shoes. This isn't necessarily better or worse than what people wear to a country bar, just different. I had grown use to bars I normally go to and how people act and dress at them and one tends to assume that what one is use to is what is "normal". This means, when confronted with something different, it seems strange. What was cool about it, however, was that people, no matter what they are wearing at a bar or what kind of music, still act the same, but since people were dressed differently and I felt out of place, I was able to watch what normally goes on at a bar (drinking, dancing, flirting etc.) from a distance and remove myself from it. Bars are like watering holes and, if there were a voice over, it might say something like, "The females of the species will now move to the edge of the watering hole to perform a dance to entice the males. The males will stand to the side feigning disinterest until eye contact is made. Males can attract the attention of the competing females by making an offer of food or drink or making aggressive moves at one another in order to prove their superiority over the other competing males..." This could go on and on all night...there are even "wounded" animals who can't compete with the others and fall to the jackals (those would be the males you know are slime who walk in and circle the floor looking for easy prey).

All things considered, it was an interesting, and definitely fun, night.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Radio Football...

Heartbreaking defeat for Army football today which we listened to in my room with a one hour delay. The hotel doesn't get ESPN Classic and the internet is too slow for the live internet broadcast which left us to listen to it over my computer. We hooked up the speakers and sat down after Boges had a 15 mile ruck march this evening at 0430 in the morning. I made breakfast and Boges, Tyler and myself sat around listening to the game. Army started off strong outscoring Tulsa in the first quarter 17-14 and the game went back and forth from there. Down by eleven with five minutes left, Army scored and converted for two points bringing them within three points of Tulsa. Tulsa drove to the two yard line and Army stopped the drive picking up a fumble. Two minutes left and Army had the ball...95 yard drive necessary to win the game.

At this point, the simulcast was almost running at the same time as the live game since the telecast didn't stop by half-time or commercials. The phone rang and I picked it up without was a friend at school who said over the noise of the crowd, "We lost."

I hung up to hear that Army had turned it over again at the five, Tulsa had scored a run and the game was over.

While it was fun to listen to a game instead of watching it, it would have been more fun to see an Army victory...guess I'll have to wait two weeks for the Army/Navy game for that.

Friday, November 16, 2007

old and new country

I love country music. There is, however, a caveat. I love old country music. Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline--those are the artist I grew up knowing as "country". They tell stories, stories about cowboys and jilted lovers, about pain and loss, suffering and love. Now, I have friends who listen to (what I call) new country. Toby Keith, Keney Chesney and whomever else they play on the country station here. The songs all sound the same to me and have only one emotion, nostalgia. They can all be summed up with the idea that one grew up in a small town, one misses a small town, meeting a girl/guy (here is some difference) either in a small town or in a big city (so you miss the small town together), and being happy that one is from said small town. There may be a throwback to first loves or throwing a baseball with your father or, if one if feeling especially patriotic, some talk of "being all you can be" (since even they know Army Strong and Army of One don't make for a good chorus). I don't intend to lump all new country together, but two of my best friends listen to that exclusively...after three hours in the car with them, I can't help but generalize.

I miss the old Country, when the songs told stories that stirred the heart, not just tugged at the heart strings. I wonder when things changed and why it is they stopped writing them the way they used to. Is the audience different or the artists, or is it just what sells now? In any case, I'm going to go to sleep tonight listening to Red Headed Stranger. I remember growing up when my parents would play Willie Nelson getting upset because I wanted to listen to whatever crappy artist was popular at the time (I'm sure it was probably MC Hammer or Mariah Carey) and I could listen to Willie sing and I can hear his voice echo over the vast desert. His voice seems to carry with it the weight of all the loners and drifters who ever made their way West. Like an audible Georgia O'Keefe poster, his music is solitary and lonely. It stands on its own and says what he wants it to say without hitting one over the head with a blunt object. Beautiful and sparse, like the desert or plains themselves...Toby Keith can't hold a candle.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

swift punch to the face

Last night, we did the clinch drill. The clinch drill is the culminating exercise of level one combatives certification. Technically, this means I am now allowed to teach combatives to other people. Combatives is something I first did at West Point. When I was at basic training, we were still doing the old hand to hand combat stuff where we'd line up and punch the air and kick the air and then fight one another with pugilsticks. Combatives, however, is something new where they teach you how to fight one another more like what you see in UFC. No, I am by no means anyone who would fight in UFC, nor do I claim to be. It's an Army school just like any other.

The point...the clinch drill basically involves being hit in the face for four rounds. The goal is to stop the aggressor from hitting you. You have head protection (in the form that you'd wear in an amateur boxing match) and they wear gloves. The first round, they come at you with 25% and they escalate it from there up to 100% in the last two rounds. You can't hit back and simply try to "clinch" their arms to their body so they can't hit you any longer. In essence, you eat a few punches to the face from people who make a living out of fighting in order to stop them from hitting you.

What's the point? Well, primarily it's to see if you're learned to clinch, however, it's also obvious that clinching someones arms in a real fight isn't the most practical solution, especially in combat. The clinch is a basic level one's not an end in itself, so please don't take it as such. So, why test it? To get hit in the face. Yes, the Army is fond of such exercises, designed less to teach you how to do something than simply to get you to face a fear or experience you've not had.

Prior to the first bout, you're nervous. I've been hit in the face before (plebe boxing) and I know what it felt like...but, that was also against people in my own weight class and I could hit back. Now I was facing someone over 200 lbs and couldn't hit back. I was so damn nervous that I was going to get my nose broken or get knocked out my lips went chap and I felt like I could piss for a year. I went out, took a few good shots to the face, and eventually achieved the clinch. Second bout? I got a strong uppercut to the stomach which drove all the air out of my chest. I wanted to stop, to hold up a hand and say, "one second man..." but before I could even think that, another couple of blows rained in on my head. Again, I eventually achieved the clinch. The third bout, I missed the clinch and almost ended up two feet from the striker...not where you wanted to be since it's basically at his full arm extension and where he throws the most powerful blows. By the time my fourth fight came, the nervousness was gone and an aggression had set in. I charged into him more quickly than the other three despite the fact the blows were coming harder and faster. He fought the clinch harder than the first three bouts and made it more difficult for me to attain it. I was second to last in line so the rest of my classmates were now watching and, when I achieved the clinch, I had the benefit of a crowd cheering for me (mainly because it meant they were one more bout closer to going home themselves, but that's besides the point).

Something about being forced to do something you don't want to do, even something as seemingly unnecessary as being punched in the face, really does build your character I think. Sure, I'd been hit in the face before, but every time you do something you don't want to do, something that makes you scared or nervous, you gain a better understanding of yourself...of what you can do when pushed. As for this drill, I don't want to get hit in the face ever again if possible, and I'll avoid it. But, if it least now I know I can take least for four minutes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Climbing a mountain...

I had a four day weekend and spent the majority of it cooped up in my room reading, watching movies or listening to music. Today, I couldn't stay in. Behind the barracks there are some large hills (maybe they qualify as mountains, but I don't know for sure). Since the day I got here, I've been wanting to climb them. I won't bother going into the details, but there is one mountain that anyone who knows me has heard the story of. It involves me, Tanner, my father and one really long night. (Maybe I'll post about it later).

I originally thought I would just climb the shortest one closest to the barracks and packed a book, my Ipod, phone (in case I got bit by a rattle snake), and a bottle of water and took off. The sky was amazingly blue with a few clouds that gave me some nice shade. I made it to the top of Reservoir Hill (the small one directly behind me) fairly quickly and turned around to see the view. It was an alright view, but I soon noticed a small dirt road that seemed to wind its way to the next peak...a little further, a little steeper, but, it seemed, well worth the travel.

I turned again and headed further south along the ridge line and made it to the second peak only to find yet another road leading me higher and further. I hesitated again, wondering how far I'd gone, how long it had been and how rough the going would be. I turned to take in the view and, while it was nice, I knew there would be a better view, possibly even with someplace nice to sit and read. I continued upward to the next peak realizing that the odds were high there would possibly be another enticing road and was proved correct upon reaching the "top" again. At that point, I made a decision...I wouldn't look back to see the view, nor would I ask how far I should go or how high, but just to continue walking until I reached the top.

I kept going for however long the hike was and the road got steeper and rockier. What began as a vehicle path turned into what barely had room for me alone and wound its way up the hill/mountain. Eventually, I reached the top, sweaty and out of breath, and turned around to see an amazing view of the desert. I could see all of Fort Huachuca, Huachuca City and Sierra Vista...all of which was dwarfed by the awesome expanse of the desert surrounding it. The mountains on the other side of the valley resembled a sepia toned photo due to the sun getting fairly low on the horizon and the dust in the air.

I can remember a time when mountains didn't entice me to climb or trails to hike. I couldn't help but think of the whole thing allegorically as I climbed. There was a time when I attempted nothing and didn't push myself. If I never tried, I never failed and, for some time, I was happy with that. I don't know when things changed, when I decided that I wanted to see if all the "potential" my parents and teachers had talked about was true, but it has changed. I may not run marathons like Chuck or otherwise prove myself to be among the best of the best, but I have goals and it's nice to know that I have the faith I will achieve them.

(The photo above was taken by a friend of mine the morning we were released early from PT. The sunrises are beautiful here. This is a view from the second "peak" I walked to looking in the same direction at an opposite time of the day. I didn't have my camera with me, but you can imagine how it looked this afternoon also.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

livin like a hampster

My friend has a pet hamster, Lucky. He has a ball you can put her in which allows her to run freely around the room without getting into your things. As we watched a movie tonight, the little ball was running everywhere, bumping into walls, my legs, stacks of books and doors. I quickly lost interest in the movie and followed the ball...up the room, into the bathroom, to the door, under the bed, between my legs and around again. I began to wonder what it would be like in the bubble. How strange it would be, I thought, to propel yourself around in this construction that separated you from the world around you, all the while, you were nearly experiencing your surroundings, but always from a realm of safety and a distance as to make it artificial.

I left his room and remembered I wanted to read a book which I left in my car and went out to get it. As I sat in the passenger seat looking for the book, I realized...I was in my own sphere of sorts! The realization was actually genuinely exciting to me and I sat for a moment imagining myself using my car as a bubble. Up the mountains it would go and through the desert, over the river, under the bridge...I would bounce off buildings and speed away to the forest.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's Day

Senior year, as I was walking to class, a freshman approached me because he had seen a picture of me with his older brother's best friend. His older brother, Matt, had been an Eagle with me. I told him his brother was a good guy and that I had fond memories of him and we parted ways. Until last night, that was the last I had thought about Matt. Last night, I found out Matt was killed in Afghanistan.

Another company mate of mine, and a friend of Matt's, recently was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross making him the seventh person to receive it since Vietnam. After being shot, he treated a fellow soldier, carried him to safety, was shot again, returned to save another soldier and waited help.

A comment was left on my last post asking how I commemorate Veteran's Day. I have been thinking about it ever since, wondering what it is I can do to commemorate Matt, what I could do to emulate Bryan and I can think of nothing. The service they have given, and in Matt's case, his life, is worth so much more than a day off or a parade...but that's not why they did what they did.

The other day, my friends were making fun of me because I was excited to see the Army-Rutgers game. One asked me why it is I like Army sports so much and I tried to explain to him that I feel the cadets deserve to win, that they had earned the joy they get whenever an Army team wins. Thinking about Matt's sacrifice and Bryan's actions I can more fully explain why I respect the cadets of WP as much as I do. They not only go to school, they go to school training for situations like Bryan faced and knowing they will risk sacrificing what Matt did. That is why I love the Army team.

So, to Bryan, congratulations, and for Matt...

Be Thou at Peace.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My Mom...

I fell asleep in class today durring a break and had such an amazing dream that prompted me to remember one of the earliest and best memories of my mom. We have ten minute breaks every hour and we had just finished a bit of an uphill ruck march that morning, so I was exhausted. Normally I don't sleep durring the duty day as I find it unprofessional. Today, however, I racked out without a second thought...I don't even remember intending to do so, it just happened.

In any case, as I was sleeping I got the sudden taste of chocolate and peanut butter in my mouth. In my half-sleep state, I was no longer in uniform, but I was sitting on the step between the dining room and living room in our house in Lomita with rust colored carpet and yellow lanolium in the kitchen. I was excited because I'd gotten an Easter Bunny made of chocolate that I was able to eat by myself without sharing with my sisters. I wanted to have some and said my mom could have a bite. We broke the ears off and I laughed at the rabbit with no ears...we laughed and laughed and ate the ears. I wanted another piece, but knew I wouldn't get more because...well, I was a kid and kids didn't get two scoops of chocolate!

My mom asked if I had tried it with peanut butter and I said no. She opened the peanut butter and we both broke off new pieces of chocolate. We dipped them in the peanut butter and ate...and it was delicious. We sat on the step breaking, dipping and eating and laughing at how good it was and how much fun it was and, before we knew it, we had finished the whole rabbit and almost all the peanut butter.

I don't remember why that memory came back today, but it did. I woke up with a huge smile on my face and that feeling you get when you've hugged your mom for the first time in a long time. It was nice...but hopefully I can go home and get that feeling again in person.

Monday, November 05, 2007

my military history...

Seven years ago, I was a private. I was the second lowest rank one could be in the military. There are some things that stick out in my mind as being formative and some people who I will never forget. I will never forget MAJ Outzen, my first CO. He was the first officer I respected and really thought the world of. In my mind, he was as smart as I could hope to, stronger than I would ever be and could basically leap tall buildings in a single bound.

More important than MAJ Outzen, however, were the soldiers, sailors and Marines I had the chance to serve with at DLI. Sure, it was TRADOC (training) and basically school, but we were all young and impressionable and new to the military. We had daily shoe/boot shining contests that Qa'ed, our class leader, would judge (he was a Warrant Officer and thus, the highest ranking, so we figured he would be a good judge). We drank together, studied together and otherwise made each other better people. One, in particular, was my friend Nubia. She was in the Navy and one of those people who really took to the Military. For some of us, such as myself, the Military is a bit of a forced fit. I do well because I have to and want to, but it does not by any means come naturally. For Nubia, when she put on the uniform, it was as though something had been missing her whole life and she was now complete.

I, being in the Army, never understood Naval rank or uniforms. We had an instructor who as a higher ranking Naval Non-Commissioned Officer and thus wore a different uniform than Nubia did (I know it's confusing, but unless you're in the Navy, you'll never understand what they wear or's foreign). Nubia laughed a condescending laugh and explained to me that because of her rank, she'd never wear that uniform.

I kept in poor touch with most, and Nubia was no exception. I talked to her tonight, however, for the first time in about seven months to find out she has since gotten married and also got picked up to commission as a Naval Officer. She will soon be Ensign Betancourt. She told me she remembered me asking about her uniform and realized that she will soon wear the brown uniform of the Naval Officer (it is brown right?). We laughed and realized how long it's years...since we joined the military, and how much we've both grown and changed. Now, seven years later, we're both going to be leaders-her in the Navy and me in the Army. Like children who have grown up to be parents, we will now be in charge of the Soldiers and Sailors we once were.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


An enterprising gentleman started a website which is an informational sight for anyone aspiring to go to a Military Academy (Army, Navy, Coast guard and AF). I was reading some of the entries on the conversation threads which I found really interesting. It was kind of nostalgic to read what the kids were writing…their hopes, fears and questions mirroring those I held myself six years ago.

One of the threads revolved around a posting by an old grad by the name of John T. Reed. I went to his website and read all he had to say about West Point and West Point graduates and found myself getting angry. I know, I know…most of you are probably pretty tired about reading my thoughts about West Point after all this time, but I was so worked up by his posting that I had to respond. (admittedly, I have put more time into writing this than it deserves…)

I wont bother doing a point by point because 1. that’s just annoying and 2. it takes forever, so instead, I’ll point to some of the areas I most strongly disagree (or simply think he’s made a mistake in logic). Basically, his premise is that West Point graduates don’t do as well (or, at least, relatively better in payoff with regard to the cost incurred) than their ROTC/OCS counterparts in the military sector or civilian counterparts in the civilian sector. To backup this argument, he mainly compares West Point graduates and educational experience to Harvard Business School graduates and educational experience. While at first this may seem a valid comparison since he attended both institutions, it seems unfair to compare West Point (an undergrad institution) with HBS, a graduate school.

Oddly, I think the largest problem I found with his critique of West Point was his argument against the level of education, breadth of education and instructors. I writes:
None of my classes ever applauded a teacher at West Point. I never heard of anyone ever doing it at West Point. The teachers there were focused just on teaching at least for those three years, but they were workmanlike, not great. Many of the teachers at Harvard Business were great. Ovations were commonplace there.
I got a great education at Harvard. At West Point, I got a good education. Roughly speaking, the Harvard Business School professors are full-time, long-term teachers. The West Point instructors are just passing through and they are primarily trying to succeed as Army officer bureaucrats, not teachers. As teachers, they are temps.

I can’t speak of the level of instructor he had when attending West Point almost forty years ago, but I can speak of the instructors I had while there. The level of teaching was not only amazingly professional, but also personal. Where else would your Statistics teacher re-tool a weeks worth of lessons because he knows his students are having trouble in Physics? The Professors at West Point, both civilian and military, are approachable and professional and were some of the smartest people I have ever met. To name a few, Dr. Schake, Dr. Silverstone, COL Jebb, LTC Nielsen, Dr. Sherlock, Dr. Beitler, Dr. Forest and COL (Ret.) Jacobs—Medal of Honor…and those are just the professors from the Social Science Department I had the privilege of learning from. To claim that simply because teachers rotate through on a three year tour is a bit misleading. The rotating faculty does come through for three year tours, however, many of them go into the Army to gain more experience and return to West Point for another five year tour before becoming permanent teaching faculty.

One of his silliest arguments is where he points out that UC Berkley has parking spots that read “NL only” for Nobel Laureates while West Point reserves spots for the Supt., Comm, Dean and others of rank thus proving that West Point values rank over accomplishment. First of all, it should be obvious that it is simply military protocol anywhere on post to have reserved parking for General Officers (and Sergeants Major) regardless of if the building is the headquarters or the bowling alley. However, why is it that there are more Nobel Laureates at Berkeley than at West Point? He points out earlier that West Point has an advantage because the Professors are there to teach not research or publish…but, how does one get a Nobel Prize? They are awarded for breakthroughs in Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Economics and Peace. It seems to me that one would have to devote himself to researching in said fields (minus peace of course) to be awarded the Nobel, however, focused on teaching, our Professors can’t achieve that level. (One of the members of the Nobel Board, COL Franz (Ret.) does work in West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center however). My point is simply that choosing an arbitrary measure such as the number of Nobel Laureates at an institution as a measure of what that institution values is flawed. (Not to mention, one must question how likely the Nobel Foundation would be to give the award to someone in the Military in any case…while I can’t find any numbers, I can only think of three off the top of my head—if you count Yasser Arafat.)

I could probably write more about how he has no concept of what a West Point cadet’s schedule (daily or academically) is like now, forty years later, or of how he constantly compares apples to shoes in an attempt to draw distinctions in which West Point comes up short, but I will stop now. Where he does have a point, however, is that having a West Point degree probably doesn’t “open doors” or give a marked advantage in the civilian sector like it once did…however, if that’s someone’s reason for going to USMA in the first place, maybe s/he should consider going elsewhere?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What a Day...

Army 10 Air Force 30. Yeah, that was the score. Meanwhile, on the screen right next to the Army game, I was able to watch Navy beat Notre Damne in triple overtime for the first time since the Civil War or something like that. I think the only way the experience could have been worse is if the pain I felt in my legs and groin from the 12 mile ruck march I did at 1 in the morning had been inflicted by a swift kick from a half-navy half-af "cadet" kicking me in the balls. Yeah, that may have been the only thing that could have made today worse. I would say "there's always next year" or something like that, but I just don't feel up to it today. Thinking about my friends at the Academy and all the other dissapointed cadets who work their asses off getting beat when they deserve a win more than anyone just depresses me. least they'll have the Dave Mathew's Band concert to look forward to...and they won that, so...yeah.

Beat Air Force!

oday is the Army/Air Force game. A lot of my friends make fun of me because I'm what they call an "Old Grad." I think they use it pejoratively, but I consider it a compliment. So, maybe I am Army's biggest fan, but hell, I'd rather be considered Army's biggest fan than one of those kids who graduates and just tries to pretend he went somewhere else. In any case, in honor of the game today (which I have high hopes of winning as 1. it would set the ball rolling into the next three games culminating with Navy and 2. The only thing that would make me feel better than seeing AF lose would be to see Navy lose--see point 1) I am posting a video I found on youtube. I don't know who made it, but it pretty much gave me chills as it portrayed my four year experience in ten minutes flat...good stuff. Anyway, Go Army, Beat AF!

Oh...and for the record...this is our competition. No...seriously.