Friday, February 29, 2008

Angelina Jolie

Yes, to many, the idea of Angelina Jolie visiting Iraq is laughable. However, it does seem to me she is a fairly neutral observer. Her main concern as UN goodwill ambassador was refugees, and this is what she wrote,
My visit left me even more deeply convinced that we not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis.
Today's humanitarian crisis in Iraq -- and the potential consequences for our national security -- are great. Can the United States afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won't explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder?
What we cannot afford, in my view, is to squander the progress that has been made. In fact, we should step up our financial and material assistance. UNHCR has appealed for $261 million this year to provide for refugees and internally displaced persons. That is not a small amount of money -- but it is less than the U.S. spends each day to fight the war in Iraq. I would like to call on each of the presidential candidates and congressional leaders to announce a comprehensive refugee plan with a specific timeline and budget as part of their Iraq strategy.
As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.
It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

hail and farewell...

The Army has a tradition where occasionally, a "hail and farewell" party will be thrown. At it, you say goodbye to those leaving the unit and hello to those who just got there. Ours was at TGIF's (fine Killeen dining...bra ha ha! I kid, I kid).

As I looked around the room, I realized that, despite the long day I had, and the fact I have an inventory tomorrow that cuts 1/3 out of my three day weekend off, I was really happy to be there. Why? Because the Army is so goddamned diverse and allows people to really rise to the top if they do their job well.

There was the Puerto Rican female first sergeant who dressed like my cousins from Arizona and had long curly hair that she couldn't control when it wasn't in a tight bun as though in a uniform. She wore a t-shirt from Dick's Last Resort and an oversized leather jacket.

There was the Chief Warrent Officer who was dressed in khakhis with a tucked in polo, bald head, beautiful wife and three kids running around...

The NCO with three kids, not married, from New York

The yount lieutenant from Norwich, whose brother went to West Point, also from Long Island

The Battallion Commander who had been a swimming star in college...

and her Sergeant Major, married to a Chief Warrent Officer who is in the food service.

So many people from all over. I'm Military Intel, so it really was all, women, all the colors, all the backgrounds...all of us there to pursue one goal and with one thing in common...our service. It really is awesome to be in what comes as close to a performance based society as I will ever be a part of. It makes you proud, it makes you humble, and it makes you glad to be a part of it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


My time living with Ingred is almost up. She and I have been roommates for almost two glorious months. Now that I have to move out, I was weighing different options. The first idea I had was to move into a single apartment. That proved silly and expensive. The second and third options came to me at the same time--build/buy a house or move into a house with roommates.

I got very excited about building or buying a house. I have always loved houses and grew up in two my parents built. There are things that are indoctrinated into you without your realization when you grow up, and building a house was one of those for me. I remember my dad coming home from work for years and changing out of his suit into work clothes. He'd get a beer (or, more likely, tell me to get him one) and then begin...tiling, electrical, structural...whatever needed to be done. Over the course of years our house took shape, long nights after work and most weekends. Trips to Tijuana to buy a gate or wrought iron this or that to finish off part of a project. Tiling the floor took some years and allowed me a period of plywood painted floors (it was during the prime of Real World and I think I was the only high schooler whose room looked like it could have been a set with checkerboard avocado green and yellow floors).

I have really always wanted that for myself. A house that I could call my own, and not one that looked just like the neighbors or was purchased through a McDonalds of housing. I want one that I design, that I build, that I fix...mine. I thought I could do it. My friends have bought houses, almost all of them tract homes. Most in the 100-150k range and, with a VA loan, the monthly payments came out to about what I pay in rent. It sounded perfect. I went online and began looking houses. I found some massively decrepit houses in semi-decent neighborhoods for around 50k and some kit homes for the same. I fell in love with one of each and prepared some time tables for when it would be done (in time for me to return from Iraq to my own house, most importantly).

Two days ago, I called a realtor to really get the ball rolling and tonight, we had our first phone conversation. That's when she told me the VA loan can only be used for a house that is "move in ready" and that the Fort Hood area has restrictions against kit or pre-fab houses.

My dreams of owning or building a house sank and died tonight. It hit me harder than I thought, realizing that as long as I'm at Fort Hood, which will probably be my whole first five years, unless I want to live in a tract home (which I don't), I will live in an apartment or with roommates in a rented house. I will not paint my walls, knock down a wall, put in a new sink, tile the floor, rip up the carpet, re-do the backyard or otherwise make where I look look any more like "me" than what I can put on the wall that doesn't leave a permanent pin-prick.

When Dad was 32, he had finished a house and had three kids. I'll be lucky if I move into an apartment with a washer/dryer.

We Love Dick!!

This morning, I awoke at 0330 to make it to work on time.
"That early?" you are probably asking...yes. You see, Dick Cheney was here to speak (!!OMG!!) so, about 10,000 soldiers were woken up early, sat in the cold for six hours and told to "cheer so loud they could hear us in Iraq and Afghanistan" when he arrived. They passed out little flags for us to raise (which most people just stuck in their pockets) and had a well intentioned band play country music before his arrival.

The speech was marked by his typical flair for words and references to 9/11 and Al-Qaeda and Iraq (without any direct links of course) and a smattering of applause. I use the word "smattering" purposely. The marked difference between this election and that four years ago was that military audiences were an easy target for Bush/Cheney in ' longer the case.

After his speech, as he made his way up and down the aisle to shake soldiers' hands, the beeline was for the exit, not the VP.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Having been a private for so long, it is sometimes hard to act as a Lieutenant and give orders instead of taking them. It is an awkward situation to be in, having people do what you say, if you've never been in the position before.

My opportunity working at the DFAC is giving me the opportunity to lead in an area where I do not have the knowledge or ability to do the jobs of the soldiers I am leading and thus, I am learning the importance of leading and decision making versus "doing". I think it is probably pretty valuable for me to learn.

Too often, when there are a lot of tasks to be accomplished, if I know a lot of the are easy, I will take them all on myself, feeling it silly to delegate such a simple task. This often leads to me nickle and diming myself into too much work. Now, I am realizing that the job of a Lieutenant isn't to "do"'s to delegate and decide. The outcome is my responsibility, but not the work necessary to reach that outcome.

Funny how sometimes it takes a situation that you can see only bad in to learn something valuable.

Monday, February 18, 2008


So, I decided last night that I am going to see how long I can go without buying any new "stuff". This means anything I don't consider a necessity, I will not buy. This leads to a value judgment on everything I purchase, however. As I wrote before, what is a "necessity" and what is not? So, here are my qualifications, which are up for debate:

  1. Hygiene products-all hygiene products are OK but personal products (more hair gel for example) are not. Smelling good and not having bacteria all over me is a necessity, having amazingly good looking hair is not.
  2. Work related products- Anything I need for work is a necessity (hence the use of the word “need”). This one may cause trouble, however, because some things for work make work easier, but are not (technically) necessities.
  3. Household goods- This is the lease necessary of necessities and will be used sparingly to justify a purchase. I am moving out of my apartment soon, so will face another host of purchases. Most of the stuff I “need” has already been purchased though (I even have a mattress now…but a bed frame will have to wait until I am through with my experiment).
  4. Food- obviously a necessity, but what about eating out? I am going to try (valiantly) to eat out as little as possible, or frequent the DFAC. Here will be my rule of thumb—if invited out, I can say yes simply to maintain usual social relations, however, I will not raise the idea myself.
  5. Clothes- unless something I have run out of (such as matching socks) or uniform items (or, if for some reason I need to attend a function which requires a tuxedo) I will not be buying new clothing anytime soon.

I am contemplating starting a new blog simply to track what it is I purchase (so as to avoid cluttering this one), where you can all pressure me into following what I set out to do. The point of this isn’t so much to save money (which will, obviously, be a nice secondary effect), but more to stop buying crap I don’t need and wasting as much as I do. Anyway, we’ll see how long it lasts, so wish me luck. I give it a week…tops.


I think this may be ironic...
I know I said I wouldn't write about politics, but this was just too good not to share. Reading about Hillary Clinton, I read the following:
"She made virtually no mistakes under an intense level of scrutiny. I don't think you can fault her as a candidate at all," said Clinton backer Steve Elmendorf, deputy manager of John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.
Yes, that's right. Quoted as a reputable source about how well the Clinton campaign is going is the man who won Kerry's presidential bid. classic.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

love and bacon

For the first time in my life, I had someone to spend Valentines with. Oh sure, it might be an overly commercial holiday and doesn't mean anything and blah blah blah...but whatever. This year, I had someone.

Then, I came to work and stepped into the quagmire that is my Dining Facility (D-Fac). You see, this gem of a leadership challenge has been without adequate officer supervision and run by an NCO who is not highly ranked enough or qualified enough to do his job. I am not saying he's not good enough, I'm saying he, like me, is trying to do a job over his head. In any case, having such a situation go without help for five months can not lead to anything good. Thus, everything...files, finances, schedules...everything, is off.

I cannot take over the D-fac in this condition and so, tonight, instead of going out, we are doing an inventory. Yes, I will be supervising and weighing all the meat that serves the soldiers of this Brigade. Romantic you ask? Not so much.

I am, however, learning some things about leadership that I should have learned long ago. For example, my college habit of organizing all my notes in one unmarked and untabbed binder does not make for good leadership. I have since bought further organizing capabilities. Also, it is true that telling a soldier what to do, not how to do it, is the best option, however, even as a second Lieutenant, when an action is taking place under your watch and you know (or feel) that it is being done incorrectly, it doesn't matter if it's someone with forty years of experience, if you are in a position to tell him/her what to do, make the correction and stick with it. It's a hard thing to accept, but it's the burden we carry as officers. Responsability and accountability are on my shoulders, so, the ultimate decision rests with me...even if it is in regards to something I am unqualified to do.

That being said (written?) Happy Valentines Day to everyone. I'm going to throw 500 lbs of bacon on a scale romantic!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

job satisfaction...

Yesterday, I was ready to quit the Army. I didn't do much all day and had no opportunity to make a decision and the highlight was getting a Dining Facility. Today...Today I love it. I don't know why, but it fluctuates like that. I remember my first chaplain, Chaplain Engles I believe her name was. She was an Episcopilian (she was the first to tell us the joke, "You know what they say about Episcopilians right? When you have four Episcopilians, they have a fifth!") She had red hair and a strange cadence to her speach that sounded a bit like an adorable stroke victim (paraphrase from Fever Pitch). She told us that the Army was like a roller coaster. When you're at the top, you're really high (she demonstrated with her hand), but when you're're low (she said this with her hand lowered and her head cocked to the side kind of swinging as if to say, "how sad and how low...tsk tsk tsk").

Today, I am up. I really can't say why. All I did was move some equipment, finish some paperwork and sit through a miserably boring class on how to fill out paperwork, but today, I am up. I feel like I could do this stuff forever and I am genuinely excited about getting my hands on the dining facility. I know it sounds silly, but I think I will feel accomplished if I can see the place get better. It will also give me more of an opportunity to work directly with soldiers, which will be nice. In any case...I have learned over the last seven years that when I have days like today to dwell on them and remember it. Tomorrow, who knows where on the roller coaster I'll be, but today I'm up, so I'll remember this to fill in the valleys.

Monday, February 11, 2008

generational difference...

I wrote a post about old people (the last post actually) and a frequent commenter, Moville, wrote that one of the things (amongst a list of other good things) about knowing and working with so many older folk is, "sharing potluck lunch after class with expertly prepared delicacies like homemade rum cake." This made me think of my friend's blog, in which she recounted pot-luck luncheons at her work, which is split between young and upcoming twenty-somethings and older folks. She wrote
Fortunately, my office is full of moms and grandmas whose second favorite thing, after slaving away in a windowless cube pouring over computer print-outs, is cooking. Not so fortunate though, is that fact that for as many moms and grandmas in our midst, there are an equal number of clueless men and young people, who don’t have a strong grasp of any meal that doesn’t require microwaving. So along with all the nice, homemade goodies on display at our potluck, were the random, store-bought, plastic trays of grocery store foods. We had a 20 pound turkey, a slow-cooked ham, and a tray of store-bought sushi. (Did the Pilgrims bring sushi?) We had home made pasta salad, mashed potatoes from scratch, and a platter of frozen shrimp cocktail from Vons. Then, there were homemade brownies next to Chinese noodles from the take out place down the street.

Speaking of food, I've gotten my next "additional duty". You see, in the Army, there are loads of random tasks that must be accomplished, but only so many people to accomplish them. Each company must have someone who is the environmental officer, the equal opportunity officer, the storage officer, ammo officer, security officer...the list goes on and on. I am lucky enough to be in a company with seven (yes...SEVEN) Lieutenants, so we divide out the tasks. Today, however, we got what is, in reality, not an "additional duty" but a full secondary job which needs to be filled. This is a job that someone, somewhere, is now training to do, but until said person gets here...we needed someone else to do it. That job, it seems, falls to me. So, I am now the proud owner of the "Always Ready Mess HaDining Facility".

Yes, scheduling, stocking, planning menues and wearing paper hats will all be "my lane" now. Sweet. Just what I joined for, right?

Actually, it's not. What I joined for was to lead military intel soldiers. However, due to some divine joke, I am now not leading anything larger than a squad sized element and have a platoon leader (which is the actual job I had hoped to do) in charge of me. essence, I one step above where I was some five years ago before I started, but instead of getting to do actual intel work, I am now worrying about how many beans to order and if there will be enough coffee made for the morning rush.

Oh least now maybe I can take down the pink and light blue framed pictures of fruit and dog chases on the wall. For some reason whomever decorated the place thought that going for a circa 1980's cheap hotel was the way to go. I will post photos if they ever put up my name under the slot for "Always Ready Dining Facility Officer in Charge".

Saturday, February 09, 2008


I love old people. I was telling Lee that I think I'd be happy living in an old age home...but now. I love hearing how they see the world, and me, and my problems and issues and potential, but from the perspective of someone who's lived the life that still lies ahead for me. That is why I posted the Fix You post earlier. It's a clip from a documentary about a choir of people all over seventy years old titled Young@heart. The gentleman singing it was supposed to be singing a duet, but the second gentleman died before the concert. I can only try to imagine being him...out there singing that song for a friend at his age. I wonder if it's harder to deal with, knowing your death is close, or if it's harder, as you know you will soon be together. I think about death often, but not so much about being old. I think that's why I like old people as much as I do. In any case, I've got to call my grandmother now...I hope she's still up.
I went to see a movie tonight then to a friend's house. There were six people there when I got there, four guys who went to West Point and two girls, one of whom is engaged to an old grad and one of whom was dating one. The conversation went as most of these do (What company were you in? What year were you? blah blah etc. etc...)

It was funny and interesting as I realized that, as I had expected when I graduated, I think in a lot of ways I'll only ever fully relate to other people who graduated from where I did. I guess that's expected of people with so many shared experiences, but watching the way it all went down just made me laugh. Only four minutes into the night, the four of us were in the kitchen drinking and the two girls, who did not go to WP, were standing on the side trying hard to pretend they knew what we were talking about.

And I wonder why people say we're arrogant?

Fix You...


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Pulling in from lunch today, there were a few dozen motorcycles in front of the gate with large flags billowing behind. They were the Patriot Riders, I believe they're called. Bikers who take it upon themselves to escort fallen servicemembers to the grave. Something about the sight of them, waiting for the funeral to reach the gate, hit me.

The men on bikes didn't know anything about the soldier coming to the gate. For all they knew, they could have had nothing in common...ancestry, family, religion, politics...nothing. But because of their service, and because the bikers feel that strongly about being Americans and grateful for that fact, they waited to pay their respects.

It was really a very poignant and beautiful sight that exemplified all the best values people think of when they imagine the military and patriotism. It was what we all hope our Country can be, even when know it isn't always what it is.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Officer Professional Development...

I had my first OPD today. Two days ago, we got a packing list for a rucksack and a list of teams. All the Officers in the Brigade were split up amongst seven teams. I, however, was left off the list. When I got to work this morning, my Battalion Commander was heard walking up to the formation sight (which had litters, water jugs and sandbags all lined up) and saying, "Where is Adam?"

I thought to myself, "Surely she couldn't mean me, Adam Harmon." But alas, I was wrong. Not only did she mean Adam Harmon, but she was also under the impression I was some sort of physical stud. I looked around at my team...a female Lieutenant Colonel who was Captain of the West Point swim team when she was a cadet, an Infantry Captain, a smaller short female major, a female first lieutenant who had a very deep voice and towered over me and a Chief Warrant Officer who was short, but built. I was, surely, out of my league.

We stacked our equipment onto the litter and began to run up the hill. We dropped our things and divvied out the items to carry on a scavenger hunt that would amount to three or four miles. I was left with a sandbag which I threw over my shoulder and began to run. We made it to the first point and my BC came up and said, "Adam, switch out." I said that it was alright, the sandbag was easy to carry. She said, "I know. Take the water-jug instead."

Bummer. I took the water jug and began to run...up three flights of stairs, around the barracks, down the hill and up again...we crossed a field and traffic and otherwise ran all over West Fort Hood. Someone ran up behind me, "Need a break LT?" I, so out of breath I couldn't quickly respond, "Yes! Please! Thank you oh so much..." was surprised to hear my BC running behind me.

"No," she said chipperly, "Adam's fine...he's got this."

We didn't win the race, but I had a ton of fun in the process and think I made a much better impression on her than our first two meetings (one of which involved me straddling her flag and trying to case it myself, the second was at my friend's Superbowl party where I drunkenly told her about a tattoo I wanted to get).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


I apologize for not writing as often. I am now far more cognizant of what I write about and who reads this. Unfortunately, that means I can't write about large portions of my life for fear that I breach the trust that soldiers and the Army have placed in me. For example, if I write about something going on at work (which is often a soldier issue), and that soldier reads about it, it would probably be inappropriate. I would love to write about my new boss, or my new tasks, but what if she were to read this? Anyway, I am trying to continue to find things to write about that you may find interesting and still give you insight into what's going on in my life since, I'm sure, that's why you're reading this.

One thing that I've found interesting lately is the way I've been able to talk about politics with my friends now. Whereas before, it was all very emotional and overwhelming almost, now I find that we have all distanced ourselves from the results. Which is strange because we, more than most, will be effected by the results. In any case, the distance has made the discussions much more interesting as we can talk about the Presidential race much like one would a horse race. Emotion on the side, the issues and tactics become easier to see.

I saw two photos recently that elicited a strong reaction from me. The first I found amazing in that it really captured the spirit of the current democratic nomination process. This picture seems to me to illustrate the difference between now and four years ago when Democrats were scrambling and angry and tired...the "Dean Scream" and Kerry windsurfing and...the overall atmosphere was of the WWF mixed with a carnival. Now, everyone, left right or center, seems to see the Democratic front-runners as, if anything, too good to compete with one another. It just struck me as interesting. I'm sure other photos could be found which show them in the opposite light, and that's the second reason this picture struck me. Simply changing the lighting and coloring makes them both appear so presidential. Amazing. And, it helps me to see this so I know not to be swayed too easily by images.

The second photo which struck me was the one above, but for very different reasons. I'm getting older, and sometimes it's easy to forget that. I remember when William Jefferson Clinton was elected President the first time and Chelsea was in braces and had long awkwardly curly hair. She wasn't considered all that beautiful by anyone I can remember. I was her age, awkward myself, but not the President's child, so no one remembers me now how I was then. Chelsea, on the other hand, has morphed in front of all of us. And now, suddenly seeing her almost sixteen years from the first time I did (when we were both around eleven years old), I realize how old I am. It's an odd feeling to suddenly realize the world has been turning and you just weren't paying attention.