Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Easter Morning Sunrise Service

Posted: April 20, 2014 in Egypt, Life

 

The sun trying to peak through the clouds over Tiran Island.

The sun trying to peak through the clouds over Tiran Island.

This morning I had the privilege of attending the Chaplain’s sunrise service down at our little piece of the Red Sea coast here at South Camp.   While it was fairly overcast by south Sinai standards, the sun did its best to finally make an appearance during the sermon and closing music (and I feel like showing up was the least it could do considering we were having a sunrise service, after all).

Now, I can hardly stake claim as the world’s most religious person but it is hard to argue with the peace and tranquility of the view above.  Short of actually being in the Holy Land during such religious holidays, there are few moments more surreal for me than this morning.  To be attending an Easter Service in the Sinai while overlooking a sunrise above the Red Sea is a blessing in and of itself, and the theological significance is not lost on me.  These little moments truly help keep everything in perspective.

There are a number of friends and family members that I wish could have shared in this whole experience with me (not just today), or even in my place, as I know that they would have appreciated it even more so than I do.  I just hope that, at minimum, I have done a fair job of bringing everyone along  with me on this journey thus far.

And, more importantly, I hope everyone enjoys their holiday weekend!

Happy Easter!

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Acts of Kindness

Posted: April 18, 2014 in Egypt, Life, The Army

As I sit in my room, taking yet another break from the packing process that marks the final few weeks of my time in the Sinai, I am able to reflect on the past eight months here in Egypt.  More importantly, as I thumb through the countless letters, cards, gifts, and words of encouragement — most of which are from perfect strangers — I am once again overcome with a sense of astonishment at the kindness of average people, most of whom I do not even personally know.  And I mean absolutely no insult by the phrase “average people.”  In fact, it is just the opposite; incredible people committing extraordinary acts of kindness.  I only use the term “average” in that I have come to the realization that these folks are the rule not the exception.  The only reason such acts seem so uncommon is that those instances simply do not get the recognition deserved.

If you are friends with me on Facebook then you have likely already seen me post on several occasions the care packages or gifts I have received from individuals, organizations, and sports teams leading up to, and throughout, the holidays and beyond.  It all started back in the fall when I was looking for a copy of Jurassic Park and dropped a line to a group known as Books For Soldiers.  This nonprofit was organized during the original Gulf War to provide free, new or gently used books upon request for service members overseas.  After submitting my address, I thought nothing more about the book until a copy of Jurassic Park arrived in the mail a few weeks later with a personalized letter.

From Facebook on October 4, 2013:  Jurassic Park was the first adult novel I ever read back in 5th grade, it was the only book we had in Basic Training when another Soldier snuck it in to the barracks and we passed it around in the evenings to cure boredom, and it's generally one of my favorite books. I've been wanting to read it again just for kicks but couldn't find a copy around here. I randomly stumbled across www.BooksForSoldiers.com the other day and submitted a request for Jurassic Park in paperback, not thinking anymore about it. That was about two weeks ago. Yesterday, a small care package arrived from the Friends of the Hickory Corner Library (East Windsor, NJ) with the book, along with a personal letter thanking me for my service. In reality, I'm the one who should be thanking the person who took the time to acquire, package, and send a book to someone they've never even met. A random act of kindness that really made my day. So while the jackasses in Washington fight like children and play games with many Americans' livelihoods, it's nice to be reminded that there are still good and decent people in this world that just try to make someone else's day just a little bit brighter.

From Facebook on October 4, 2013:  “Jurassic Park was the first adult novel I ever read back in 5th grade, it was the only book we had in Basic Training when another Soldier snuck it in to the barracks and we passed it around in the evenings to cure boredom, and it’s generally one of my favorite books. I’ve been wanting to read it again just for kicks but couldn’t find a copy around here. I randomly stumbled across http://www.BooksForSoldiers.com the other day and submitted a request for Jurassic Park in paperback, not thinking anymore about it. That was about two weeks ago. Yesterday, a small care package arrived from the Friends of the Hickory Corner Library (East Windsor, NJ) with the book, along with a personal letter thanking me for my service. In reality, I’m the one who should be thanking the person who took the time to acquire, package, and send a book to someone they’ve never even met. A random act of kindness that really made my day. So while the jackasses in Washington fight like children and play games with many Americans’ livelihoods, it’s nice to be reminded that there are still good and decent people in this world that just try to make someone else’s day just a little bit brighter.”

As you can tell, I was a bit surprised and even more flattered by the fact that someone I had never met took the time to do something of this nature for me.  Obviously I understand that this is what the organization does, but that fact did not make it any less of a breath of fresh air.

I had seen a number of similar support groups online for deployed service members to that point, but a combination of the skepticism of the legitimacy of any potentially random website, the apprehension of divulging complete personal information to a web form, or just a general feeling of a lack of claim to any “freebies” because I was not deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan had all previously led me to dismiss any such organizations.  And wrongfully so.

After the success with Books For Soldiers I decided to submit my information to a wide array of groups, having a little fun with the process around the holidays, and I was not disappointed.  Since October, I have heard back from a number of charitable organizations, each of which sent more than one care package, including Bunkers In Baghdad, Operation Support Our Troops – America, and Treat The Troops, as well as companies such as Zippo, the Cincinnati Reds, and WWE, all of which sent free merchandise to pass out to my guys at Christmas.

And then I heard back from the Cincinnati Bengals, who sent the following:

From Facebook on December 13, 2013:  "A few of us in my barracks building decided to put posters on our doors of our favorite teams for the NFL season and I started it out with the standard-sized Cincinnati Bengals 2013 schedule poster (not pictured). Amid the boredom of the daily grind out here, I decided to e-mail the Bengals and see if they'd be willing to send anything they had to help my cause since what started as a harmless poster on my door had now become a bit of a team spirit competition among a few of us. To my surprise the Bengals not only responded to my e-mail but also told me that a package was on its way. I was only expecting some left over promotional items, outdated game programs, or expiring team calendars, just something to look forward to getting in the mail. What I received on Thursday went well beyond even my highest expectations. The Cincinnati Bengals sent me a 6 foot by 30 foot canvas banner that one would assume hung somewhere in Paul Brown Stadium during the military appreciation home games of November. The banner reads "SALUTE TO SERVICE --MILITARY APPRECIATION--" and is flanked by the Bengals' and NFL's logos. The fact that someone within the Bengals franchise read my e-mail and saw to it that this massive banner made it successfully out to the Sinai is awesome and it's easily one of the coolest things any company or organization could have sent me. I'm sure they get plenty of requests on a weekly basis so they didn't even have to respond to my e-mail, let alone send me what they did. Kudos to the Bengals for an extremely cool act that many in my building were impressed with, myself included. I'm a die-hard Bengals fan and while I've been a life-long fan of the team I've also been one of their biggest critics for actions both on and off the field. They're not always perfect but this classy gesture only further solidifies my loyalty to the team and makes me proud to be a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals."

From Facebook on December 13, 2013: “A few of us in my barracks building decided to put posters on our doors of our favorite teams for the NFL season and I started it out with the standard-sized Cincinnati Bengals 2013 schedule poster (not pictured). Amid the boredom of the daily grind out here, I decided to e-mail the Bengals and see if they’d be willing to send anything they had to help my cause since what started as a harmless poster on my door had now become a bit of a team spirit competition among a few of us. To my surprise the Bengals not only responded to my e-mail but also told me that a package was on its way. I was only expecting some left over promotional items, outdated game programs, or expiring team calendars, just something to look forward to getting in the mail. What I received on Thursday went well beyond even my highest expectations. The Cincinnati Bengals sent me a 6 foot by 30 foot canvas banner that one would assume hung somewhere in Paul Brown Stadium during the military appreciation home games of November. The banner reads “SALUTE TO SERVICE –MILITARY APPRECIATION–” and is flanked by the Bengals’ and NFL’s logos. The fact that someone within the Bengals franchise read my e-mail and saw to it that this massive banner made it successfully out to the Sinai is awesome and it’s easily one of the coolest things any company or organization could have sent me. I’m sure they get plenty of requests on a weekly basis so they didn’t even have to respond to my e-mail, let alone send me what they did. Kudos to the Bengals for an extremely cool act that many in my building were impressed with, myself included. I’m a die-hard Bengals fan and while I’ve been a life-long fan of the team I’ve also been one of their biggest critics for actions both on and off the field. They’re not always perfect but this classy gesture only further solidifies my loyalty to the team and makes me proud to be a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals.”

The original idea was to have a little fun and cure a little boredom during the winter grind and the response was not only unexpected, it was down right humbling.  Bunkers In Baghdad sent multiple boxes of golf clubs, golf balls, and golf memorabilia; Operation Support Our Troops – America sent several boxes containing snacks and toiletries; and Treat The Troops sent an assortment of cookies, candy, and comfort items on four separate occasions via the Iowa Cookie Crumbs and the Council Bluffs Centennial Rotary Club, both of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  My Platoon and I even received care packages and hand-made cards and letters from the students of Imagine Clay Avenue Elementary School in Toledo, Ohio, the National Junior Honor Society of Falling Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, Virginia, and the congregation of God’s Grace Church in Campbellsville, Kentucky.

A few holiday care packages.

A few holiday care packages.

I never like to be too far from a golf club, even if I live in one giant bunker.

I never like to be too far from a golf club, even if I live in one giant bunker.

Don't worry, Mom, I don't smoke.

Don’t worry, Mom, I don’t smoke.

The WWE has a long-standing reputation of supporting the Troops and as a childhood fan they didn't let me down.

The WWE has a long-standing reputation of supporting the Troops and as a childhood fan they didn’t let me down.

Seeing return addresses from the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cincinnati Reds never gets old.

Seeing return addresses from the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cincinnati Reds never gets old.

As you can see I was more than spoiled but don’t worry, all of the items were shared with the guys.

From Facebook on February 18, 2014:

I continue to be amazed by, and grateful for, the generosity of perfect strangers. Once again, I dropped my name in to a virtual hat and shortly thereafter received an incredible care package for my efforts from people I have never met. This time the culprits were the fine folks of Treat The Troops via the Rotary Club and other thoughtful residents of Council Bluffs, Iowa. I had since forgotten about adding my name to their mailing list so when a box full of cookies, candy, and words of encouragement showed up in today’s mail run I was that much more surprised and appreciative. These gestures maintain my faith in humanity and prove there is a lot of good left in America regardless of what the news will have you believe. As cliché as it sounds, it is the little things in life that can have the biggest impact on someone’s day, as I can attest to with this afternoon’s care package. You may never know what someone is going through but just the slightest act of kindness could be the difference so pay it forward and do something nice for someone today.”

These sentiments ring true now more than ever and I do not believe all of the aforementioned organizations, companies, schools, and people fully understand how much their unconditional support means to me.  This experience has truly renewed my faith in many facets of life.

Not to be outdone, however, are my close friends and my family — my rock and my foundation.  The support and encouragement (and letters, and cards, and packages, and gifts) from those who matter most to me continue to be what drives me each day.  There are too many individuals to name for fear of leaving someone out but they know who they are and I hope they know how much they, and their unconditional love and loyalty, means to me every morning I wake up.

A quote that I recently discovered that has stuck with me throughout this deployment, and I feel is only fitting in this instance, comes from Robert Kennedy, “The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”   No matter how big or small, any positive contribution goes a long way in making things better and can have a lasting impact far greater than one might imagine, as evident by the outpouring of support mentioned above.  And while the media is chock full of negativity and the 24-hour news networks will find ways to further divide our country just to earn a dollar, it is refreshing to see people put their differences aside and simply support one another as Americans and as human beings.  Once again I say that you may never know what someone is going through on any given day so before passing judgement understand that just the slightest act of kindness could be the positive difference that person needs.

So pay it forward and do something nice for someone today.

The Freezer Bowl 32 Years Later

Posted: January 3, 2014 in Life, Sports

It has been seven weeks since I have posted anything on this blog and substantially longer since I have written anything about sports — well over three years, in fact.  Way back in early 2007 a few friends and I started a sports blog to act as a platform for publishing our snarky sports conversations that up to that point had only occurred in text message threads and instant messenger dialogue boxes.  Over the course of the next 36 months we amassed over 1,000,000 hits to the blog simply by ranting from the fans’ perspective; big time for a small time operation.  Unfortunately our venture in to the sports blogosphere began to fizzle in early 2010 as we all got real jobs, started families, and were forced to move on to adulthood full time.  Later that summer I flirted with the Army, ultimately signing on the dotted line in August, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What little writing bug I have had time for since joining the Army has largely been satisfied by this particular side project but thanks to an erratic work schedule and two trips overseas, I have not been able to follow the world of sports over the last three years as close as necessary to be considered well-informed, let alone to be well-versed enough, to write about .  ALL that being said, this weekend’s rematch of the January 10, 1982 playoff game — commonly known as “The Freezer Bowl” –between the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals at Riverfront Stadium in the 1981-season’s AFC Championship game, caused a moment of nostalgic reflection for me compelling enough to put metaphorical pen to paper.

Sseeing the breath of the linemen as they crouch over the ball, the way football was meant to be played -- or at least how we believe it's meant to be played from the comfort of our temperature-controlled living rooms.

Seeing the breath of the linemen as they crouch over the ball is the way football was meant to be played — or at least how we believe it’s meant to be played from the comfort of our temperature-controlled living rooms.

Nearly 32 years ago, to the day, the same teams in the same city as Sunday’s AFC Wild Card game squared off for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XVI in a game largely considered to be one of the coldest ever played.  With modern calculations of windchill, the temperature fell somewhere between -37 and -38 degrees Fahrenheit  (although estimations have varied and some put it at cold as -59 with windchill) as the Bengals went on to defeat the Chargers 27-7 in front of nearly 50,000 of the Bengals’ most frozen fans.

Now the cause for the aforementioned nostalgia does not stem from any memory of The Freezer Bowl — hell, I wasn’t even born yet — but from the tales of legend my Dad would speak of surrounding that fateful game, and the years that followed, that stuck with me through my childhood.  For instance, I will always remember my Dad recalling how Anthony Munoz and the rest of the offensive line lathered their arms up in Vaseline prior to The Freezer Bowl in order to face the subzero temperatures sleeveless in a move of intimidation towards the warm-blooded Chargers of San Diego.  But that was only the beginning.

I grew up with a father who was a one-time Bengals season ticket holder sometime in the 1980s and who, for some reason, still has an official VHS copy of the Bengals’ 20-16 Super Bowl XXIII loss to the San Francisco 49ers.  He used to wax poetic about the Ken Andersons and the Anthony Munozs, the Chris Collinsworths and the Tim Krumries.  Stories that made the players out to be Greek Gods in my imagination as I pondered a brighter, bygone era for my beloved Bengals.  My Dad even used to tell me about that time he played for the Bengals himself back in the 70s, starting as both the quarterback and #1 wide receiver, and throwing a Hail Mary so high and far he was able to run down the field and catch his own touchdown pass .  If you know my Dad you have probably heard that one, too .  An endearing tall tale of grandeur that, while silly, has been an inside joke with my father for years and is ultimately only possible through our shared love of the Bengals.

For me, sports is as much about the journey as it is about the destination.  Many of the fondest memories from my childhood revolve around sports, from watching Wildcats basketball games in the floor of my grandparent’s Kentucky living room to going to my first few Reds games as a child with my parents to being consoled by my Dad after yet another devastating Bengals loss.  For a better or worse outcome on the field these are moments I will cherish forever.  I can still remember my Mom taking me to a charity basketball game played by members of the 1990 World Series champion Cincinnati Reds and ensuring that I got an autograph and picture with my favorite baseball player at the time, Reds first baseman Hal Morris.  I can still remember my Stepdad taking me to see Boomer Esiason, then my favorite football player, in his second-to-last game as both a Bengal and an NFL quarterback as he took on the Dallas Cowboys in Cincinnati in 1997.  And I can still remember my Dad taking me to the second game ever played in Paul Brown Stadium in 2000, a preseason tilt against the Detroit Lions.  Of course, I couldn’t tell you the score of that one, but I do remember getting pizza delivered to the hotel room after the fact and watching the tape-delayed replay of the game and analyzing and pontificating about the future of then-rookie quarterback Carson Palmer. To someone who is not a sports fan that tries to tell me “it’s just a game,” these life experiences are the reasons I give as to why sports are so important to me to begin with. And this is why when people ask how I have remained so faithful to my teams over the years with more disappointing losses than glorious victories to speak of I tell them it is easy: win or lose I wouldn’t trade the surrounding memories for the world.

That’s not to say my life revolves around sports or my happiness is dictated by the outcomes of a game because, let’s be honest, the end results in sports have little impact on the rest of our lives.  Yet, sports and sporting events have given me something to share with those who matter most in my life.  I am a Kentucky Wildcats fan (and alum) because of my maternal grandfather, as well as the majority of my Mom’s side of the family, and I grew up an Ohio State, Bengals, and Reds fan because of my parents and close friends.  So many sporting events have given me, my close friends, and my family members excuses to get together, suspend reality, and share in something that runs deeper than the game itself.  I can still remember aunts, uncles, and cousins from my Mom’s side of the family coming to town when I was a kid to take in a Reds/Cubs game at Riverfront Stadium (my cousin Derek is a die-hard Cubs fan, God bless him).  At this point I couldn’t tell you who won any of the games but I do recall having a great time with my family, and that feeling is not easy to recreate elsewhere and those moments are nearly impossible to replace.

These connections in my life aren’t just limited to watching or attending sporting events, either.  I also have plenty of positive memories through playing and being a part of sports in general over the years.  From participating in rec leagues as a child with close friends on my team and my Dad in the coach’s box, to running races and trading runner’s strategy with my Mom, to the countless memories I have on a golf course, these various levels of sports have, and continue to be, a huge part of my life.

In retrospect this post’s title is somewhat misleading as this had little to do with the original Freezer Bowl in 1982 and was largely about that 32-year journey through sports for me, my close friends, and my family since the last time the Bengals and Chargers met in the playoffs.  As we turn the calendar to a New Year and I turn the biological clock to 30 in the coming months, I look forward to the next 32-year long journey, and beyond, and what it will bring for me, my close friends, and my family and I’m excited to share it all with those I care about most.

And it all starts with a Bengals victory this Sunday.  Who Dey.

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Dad, Aaron, me, and Jackson at the Bengals vs. Jets playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 9, 2010

Uncle Pat, me, and Brandon tailgating for the Kentucky vs .Louisville football game on September 15, 2007

Uncle Pat, me, and Brandon tailgating for the Kentucky vs. Louisville football game on September 15, 2007

Me and Mom before the Ghosts N Goblins 5k on October 26, 2010

Me and Mom before the Ghosts N Goblins 5k on October 26, 2010

Melissa and me at the Georgia vs. Kentucky basketball game at Rupp Arena on March 4, 2009

Melissa and me at the Georgia vs. Kentucky basketball game at Rupp Arena on March 4, 2009

Josh and me at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament in Akron, Ohio on August 2, 2013

Josh and me at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament in Akron, Ohio on August 2, 2013

Me and (most) of the guys during our pseudo-annual golf outing at Hidden Lakes Golf Course on June 9, 2012

Me and (most) of the guys during our pseudo-annual golf outing at Hidden Lakes Golf Course on June 9, 2012

Have no fear, folks, this was taken at Fort Hood sometime last year so I'm neither currently in harm's way OR in charge of anything of significance with mission success on the line.

Have no fear, folks, this was taken at Fort Hood sometime last year so I’m neither currently in harm’s way OR in charge of anything of significance with mission success on the line.

Sunday, November 17, 2013 will mark my three year anniversary with the Army.  It is crazy to think that it has already been three years since I was rudely awaken shortly after pulling in to Fort Leonard Wood in the wee hours of the morning on the 18th of November.  Apparently crossing your arms and catching a little shut-eye before the biggest undertaking of your life is frowned upon by Drill Sergeants with a chip on their shoulder.  He tried to explain to me, in so many words, that I was not in charge of anything; to which I felt like responding that fact was precisely why I joined the Army in the first place, but I figured it best to pick and choose my battles on Day Zero of Week Zero.  Based on the Drill Sergeant’s absence of tact I figured my reasonable explanation was not going to be well-received.

Since then, life with the Army has not always been a perfect relationship and like all others we have had our ups, our downs, and our differences.  But in spite of it all we have found a way to make it work for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I am contractually and legally obligated to show up every morning with a clean shave and a smile.  To mark the occasion, the Army will award me with the Good Conduct Medal for behavior so becoming they saw fit to celebrate it.  In other words, I avoided getting arrested for 1,095 consecutive days while gainfully employed by the government.

If you would have asked me back in the summer of 2010 why I wanted to join the Army the list would have looked something like this:

  1. Serve my country
  2. Pay off my student loans
  3. Open a number of doors to future job prospects
  4. See the world

The first three objectives will have largely taken care of themselves over the course of my career by virtue of enlisting, but seeing the world was set to be a completely different prospect.  Considering within that list I have the least amount of control over where I go, it has taken a bit of good fortune and opportune timing for me to travel as much as I have in such a short amount of time.  Need I remind you that prior to joining the Army I had never been west of the Mississippi River, let alone out of the country.

Since signing my name on that proverbial dotted line, I have become somewhat of an international man with substantial time spent in both South Korea and Egypt, along with very brief layovers in Germany and Japan.  I am also holding out hope for a visit to Israel in the very near future but more on that at a later time.  Even within the good ol’ U-S-of-A I have had the chance to see new and faraway lands with stays in Missouri, Georgia, and Texas, as well as a month-long stop in the shitty part of California — it counts, regardless of what you Bay-area hippies tell me.

Along the way, I have been in 15 different airports for more flights than I am able to count and I have had the pleasure of serving alongside members of 10 different national contingents.  I have played golf in two different foreign countries and have been to several historically significant areas as wide ranging as the Demilitarized Zone, the Alamo, and the Red Sea.

And as enriching and valuable as all of those experiences have been, there is one positive byproduct to joining the Army I naively left off of my list some three years ago that trumps all of the rest, outside of serving my country: the relationships I have forged and the fine folks I have come across throughout my time so far.

I am incredibly lucky to have gotten to know several great people at each of my stops in the Army.  I have had outstanding first-line supervisors, excellent mentors, and made friends with a handful people that I can quite easily file in the “life-long” category (you know who you are, especially if you are reading this blog).   The relationships with all of these people are benefits I never would have fully expected prior to signing up.

The military has a funny way of bringing people together that would not have otherwise crossed paths.  Through bridging those cultural and geographical gaps by putting all of us in the same room and in the same uniform and telling us to work it out, I have become friends with people I would not have normally given myself the chance to get to know simply based upon our perceived differences — stereotypes are a bitch.  The Army does a good job at leveling the playing field by stripping away those socioeconomic assumptions allowing individuals to get to know one another just as people, a learning experience that I am a much better man for having had.

And beyond all of this, and equally as important, I have been able to further recognize, appreciate, and strengthen the relationships with my family members and close friends from back home over the same time period despite the many challenges presented.  The importance of those friends and relatives who know you outside of your military persona and support you regardless cannot be understated, especially when you are away from home for long periods of time.  You learn to not take any of these people for granted and through the mutual sacrifice you see the loyalty and dedication of those who matter most.  Yet another blessing in disguise in the truest form.

While it has gone fast, the first three years of my time in the Army has not always been easy.  The Army will never tell you that any of it will be a cake walk but it could have been a whole lot tougher so I have few complaints. Sure, there have been some long days, a few long nights, a handful of cold showers and even long periods without one, but that IS the Army.  There have also been many missed holidays, birthdays, weddings, and parties since November of 2010, and I am positive there will be even more time away from friends and family before this wild adventure is over, but all of that is a part of the sacrifice I knowingly made when I signed up.  And without signing up I never would have had so many amazing experiences or been positively impacted by so many awesome people along the way.

The road from this point forward will not likely be any easier than the one I took to get here, and I will probably be ready to move on to the next chapter of my life when that time has come, but to say that I have been blessed so far is an understatement.