27 June 2012

A Month Without - My NTC Rotation

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my unit is set to deploy in the Fall of this year. Part of the training leading up to the deployment is a month long field training exercise at the National Training Center at Ft Irwin, CA. Every MOS has a different experience here, and my post is simply my experience as a 92G, Food Operations (cook).

I am laying on my cot on the eve of my departure, excited beyond belief to go home and be with my wife and now one year old son. We got here as the advance party on May 28th. While most people in the Army were enjoying the 4th day of a 4 day weekend, my wife was dropping me off at brigade HQ at 2:30 a.m. and saying "goodbye" for a month. It never gets easier saying goodbye.

My Field Feeding Team was the first FFT to get here, and will be the last to leave. We have worked hard every day that we've been here. This was essentially the first field exercise that this team has had. 3 of us had worked together previously, one private is a new member of our team, our FFT leader is new to the team, and three were members of another team given to us to help accomplish the mission. 7 of our team members from our last FTX were not with us this time for various reasons. That made the first few days extremely difficult. Trying to set a good example for the new, and new-to-the-team, soldiers turned out to be more difficult than it should have been. Early on it was clear that some members of the team would spend more effort avoiding work than it would take to get the mission accomplished. Others' laziness was a battle I found myself in almost daily.

I was also assigned to pull rations for our team. I don't mind that at all. It gives me something to do throughout the day. Staying busy helps each day go by a little faster. However, from May 28th through June 25th, I was in the rations yard moving and loading boxes each and every day. Some of those boxes weigh upwards of 50-60 pounds each. After a month of doing it, my body is ready to give out. My entire body is sore. I found myself toward the end struggling to lift boxes that a month ago I was tossing with ease.

We got very little sleep, staying up until or after midnight many times, only to have to be back at work at 3 a.m. the next day. We were perpetually crabby. Temperatures in the 100-109 range with daily dust storms didn't help much.

We did have some creature comforts throughout the time we were here, mainly showers. That was very nice. The tents were canvas tents with wooden floors with artificial turf overlayed, and an air conditioner that worked well enough, most of the time. Life could have been much worse.

I'm not afraid to say that I feel old when I'm out here. That, though, is proof that I pushed my body to the max, and feel like I worked hard. Even though others may have gotten more recognition for this or that, I have the self-satisfaction of knowing I did my job, and did it well.

It was difficult at times out here. I missed my 3rd anniversary, meaning I have missed more anniversaries than I've been home for (2 to 1), I missed my son's first birthday, and that was a very difficult day for me. I wasn't alone though. Lots of folks out here missed important things in their lives. The two weeks in the "box" with no phones, computers or other source to learn about the outside world was also difficult. I found myself not only craving the sound of my wife's voice, but also the news, weather forecasts, and other things that are usually easy to access with just the press of a button.

With all that said, I found a new appreciation for what I do. Yes my work hours suck. However, I'm not out on a mission for three days living off of MREs. I'm not out there training to kick down doors, getting shot at, sitting atop a gun truck. Cooks get a bad rap. Many cooks are lazy, but most of us take our job very seriously. If I can do my part to fill the stomach of a hungry infantryman, or communications person, or intel NCO, well, I guess that's all I can hope for. If I mess up at my job, then some people don't like the food, but I get the chance to redeem myself with the next meal. But if the combat personnel are distracted because they are hungry for a hot meal, then they stand the chance of getting shot, killed, and never getting to go back home to the people they love. Even though field food is not always popular, it is important. We are not always looked very highly upon as cooks. However, I know how vital we are. Regardless of how I feel we are treated by the others, I know that without cooks, the mission would suffer. That gives me and the rest of my fellow "get-downs" the self-satisfaction of a job well done.

In short, this last month has been hot, dusty, long and miserable. But during tht time I've learned a lot about myself and what I can do. I've learned a lot about the people I work with and work for, and that is good. I get to wake up and go home tomorrow. I get to kiss my wife tomorrow evening, and sleep in my bed tomorrow night. That's a big deal for me , and I am very much looking forward to that.

Goodbye NTC, and Tacoma , here I come.

28 May 2012

Field Training Exercise

Today is Memorial Day, May 28, 2012. At 2:30 this morning I had to say goodbye to my beautiful wife and amazing son. My unit is going to the National Training Center at Ft Irwin, CA for a month long field training exercise. I am about 35,000 feet in the air right now, and figured this time is as good as any to write a new blog post. Of course FAA regulations prohibit me from actually posting it until we are on the ground, but thanks to Airplane Mode, I can at least write while I think.
It was at our last FTX that I decided to start putting my thoughts on paper, so to speak, and for some reason felt inspired to write again.
It is sad to have to leave them so often. My job keeps me from being home much anyway, so the few hours a day that I get to spend with them, I cherish. This is necessary training for out upcoming deployment, and I've always been told that the easiest way to stay safe downrange is to be well trained. I just wish that I could spend all the time in the world with them before the Fall comes and I have to leave them for 9 months. If I needed anymore proof on how special my wife is, I got all I needed this morning. At 1 AM I had to wake her up so that she could take me to work. That's no easy task when considering the 11 month old little boy who likes his sleep more than Rip Van Winkle. She did it though, without complaining and was tough the whole time. She knows me, and she knows that if she cries, I cry. She knows that I need her to be strong so that I can be strong. She is the perfect wife for me. I couldn't imagine anyone who is a better fit. God knew what He was doing when He brought us together.
I am so proud of that little boy too. He was a trooper this morning. Once we loaded him in the car, he was bright eyed and stayed awake so that I could give him hugs and kisses when it was time to say goodbye. I'm sure he wasn't great once he got back to the house, but he sure did make me feel loved and special this morning.
This month will be difficult, both physically and emotionally. However, I have a loving wife and son at home that will keep me motivated, and give me a wonderful reason to look forward to going back home.

20 April 2012


I found out last week that my unit is deploying to Afghanistan this fall. Rumors have been floating for some time now, but it wasn't official, until now. I know that I signed up to be a soldier in the US Army. I know that I signed up during a time of war. I have always known that deployment was not just a possibility, but a probability. That doesn't mean that I'm not allowed a little trepidation, a little nervousness, a little sadness, does it?

According to what you read and hear, the war in Afghanistan is winding down. Missions are no longer focused on combat, but training Afghan forces. Still though, coalition forces are dying. So, despite what CNN, Fox News or various other media outlets say, the mission is not complete.

Until I joined, the war on terror meant very little to me. I watched the embedded reporters during the invasion like a hawk looking for prey. I could not turn it off. But in the decade since then, very little on the war had struck close to home. There was a guy I grew up knowing that was pretty severely injured in Iraq just a few days into a deployment, but he survived and recovered. Outside of that, I didn't concern myself with it all that much. When my wife and I agreed that this would be the best road for our family, obviously I paid more attention to it. Then, I left for Basic and AIT, and it became more real than before. Now, however, having orders to deploy in just a few months, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I've not deployed before, obviously, so how could I not be nervous? I don't know what to expect, I don't know how I'm going to react, and I can only pray that God and my training will bring me back home in the same condition that I leave. This will be the first deployment for a lot of people I work with, including some NCOs. I know I won't be the only one lost and lonely for the first few weeks. I can only pray that I find my footing quickly.

Even though we know that this is a part of being in the Army, I'm still allowed to be sad, am I not? I've already missed the birth of my son, I'll miss his first birthday because of field training, and now I know I will miss his second birthday because of the deployment. I missed my second anniversary and my wife's 30th birthday because of basic training and ait, will miss my next anniversary and her 31st because of field training and my 4th anniversary and her 32nd because of deployment. I'm going to be away from my family and friends for 9 months or more. I know it isn't 12 or 15 months, and it is only one tour. Many soldiers have been on multiple tours of 12 or more months. Those soldiers are entitled to feel sad as well. I am simply not sure of how I will handle it. I have never been the best about being away from family. Leaving my wife while she was standing on the curb as I was on a bus leaving for basic was the hardest moment of my life. I truly considered bolting off the bus and saying "screw it, I'm not going." I didn't do it, I knew that it was what I had to do in order for my family to survive. In the same way, when our plane for the mountains of Afghanistan is taxiing down the runway, I am sure I will want to jump off and go running back to my wife. Because of what the best thing for my family is, I will fight back the tears, take that plane ride, and start counting down the months, weeks and days until we come home.

So now, we have to figure out how we will prepare for my leaving. We've got to set up the accounts, the phones, get the supplies and creature comforts that I'll need, and figure out how Jamie is going to spend her time. It's hard to believe that I won't get to see her smiling face for 9 months. I won't get a hug or a kiss from the love of my life. I just pray that I will make it through. I know our families will welcome her with open arms, and I know they will know how to support her and our son.

I am ready for what comes my way. I've got a great God to protect me, a great family to support me, and the US Army to train me. Still, I am ready to come back, and I haven't even left yet.

21 March 2012

Reaction to NFL Bounty Punishment

Good for you, NFL, almost. I obviously had a big reaction toward the news of the NO Saints "bounty program" and the responsibilities of Gregg Williams and the players.

From espn.com , here is a quick rundown of the penalties handed out.

- Former N.O. Def Coordinator (current St Louis Rams D-Co) Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely

- N.O. Head Coach Sean Payton has been suspended for one year

- GM Mickey Loomis has been suspended for 8 games

- The Saints team has been fined $500,000 and lost their second round picks in 2012 and 2013.

- N.O. Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt has been suspended for 6 games

Player suspensions (namely Jonathan Vilma) are still possible, as the NFL has not yet finished its investigation. That is why the "almost" clause is at the end of my opening sentence. In my eyes, the players who comprimised their integrity are just as guilty as the man who put the money on the table and the ones who knew about it and did nothing to stop it.

I'm surely not the only one who was surprised at the severity of the penalties, but my surprise is for different reasons than those I've heard on sports radio today. My surprise does not come from the thought that it is overkill, I just didn't think that Roger Goodell and the NFL had it in them to be as harsh as is necessary. I don't think Williams should never work again, in fact, I do think he should get a job after his suspension has been served. I think it is necessary, in fact, in order for him to attempt to reclaim his lost integrity. The NFL apparently said that his case will be reviewed after the season, but his reinstatment is contingent on how helpful he is with the investigation. I liken that to a drug dealer getting a lighter sentence for helping the police track down other dealers and the supplier. There is nothing wrong with dangling a carrot to get him to cooperate.

Roger Goodell had to send a message. His message had to reach coaches, players and front offices of every NFL team. The message had to reach fans. For the NFL's sake, his message had to reach the former players who are suing for back pay and lifelong health benefits. This strong stance on what is and is not acceptable left no gray area in the matter of attempting to injure other players. Goodell made it known that playing to injure is of the worst kind of offense.

Jonathan Vilma will likely be suspended for putting a $10,000 bounty on Brett Favre in what turned out to be Favre's last game. Yes, that is disgusting, but even more so are the players who accepted the tiny sum of $1,500 to knock out a mid-rate slot receiver in a meaningless mid-season game. The player suspensions need to be as far reaching as the rest of the suspensions. The players knew it was wrong, the players knew that the NFL stepped in and told them to stop, and those same players would be pitching a hissy-fit if they knew that their ACL was being targeted by an opposing team for $1,500. They should be held at least AS accountable as, if not more than, the coaches and front office.

This is an important time for the NFL and Roger Goodell's player safety policies. I'm sure he's going to get plenty of calls, emails and petitions during the appeal process. I've already heard people compare these punishments to that of the 1980s SMU death penalty. Maybe the result of these suspensions will turn out to be similar to the SMU program. So be it. The team deserves whatever comes about. Goodell needs to standfast in the tough penalties.

18 March 2012

Wisdom Teeth, and my NCAA Bracket

Wisdom teeth  suck!  Today is Sunday, and I had mine removed on Wednesday at about 8:00 in the morning, along with two other molars.  Thank God that I was given 3 days of "quarters", meaning I didn't have to do anything involving work.  Then, after my 3 days were up, it was a weekend, so I did not have to go into work.  Essentially I have been given 5 days to recover.  I have a phenomenal wife who allowed me to be lazy and whine like a little baby, and she took great care of me.  Here it is though, Sunday at about 5:00pm, and I am still in pain.  I don't know if there is a dry socket, or an infection of some sort, or what, but I have done everything that I was instructed to do in order to prevent those things from happening.  I am thinking that it just hurts.

That having been said, being laid up in bed has allowed me to mourn my horrible selections in the 2012 NCAA Basketball Bracket. So far, I have lost one of my Final Four selections (Mizzou, whom I had losing in the finals), but the other 7 in my Elite 8 are still alive.  I am still competitive with JDaddy, CDog and the 4-year-old, but given the way my early rounds have gone, I don't hold out much hope for pulling it off.

At least I'm not like 8 people from the ESPN bracket challenge.  According to a Mike Greenberg (@ESPNGreeny) tweet, there were 8 people who got every single first round choice wrong.  Click on that link to find the featured brackets of Lebron, Dicky-V, Nick "Used to be married to Jessica Simpson but then I upgraded" Lachey, Phil "The Poker Brat" Hellmuth, and yes, your bracketologist-in-chief, President Obama.  If you selected your own, then take a minute to see where you stand amongst the celebs.

12 March 2012

2012 East, Midwest Regions Selections and Final Four Selections


Round of 64

Syracuse over NC Asheville
Southern Miss over Kansas State
Vanderbilt over Harvard
Wisconsin over Montana
Cincinnati over Texas
Florida State over St. Bonaventure
Gonzaga over West Virginia
Ohio St over Loyola (MD)

Round of 32

Syracuse over Southern Miss
Vandy over Wisconsin
Florida St over Cincinnati
Gonzaga over Ohio St

Sweet 16

Syracuse over Vandy
Florida St over Gonzaga

Elite 8

Syracuse over Florida St

Syracuse is the only 1 seed that I have going to the final four.


Round of 64

North Carolina over Lamar
Alabama over Creighton
Temple over Cal
Michigan over Ohio
San Diego St over NC State
Georgetown over Belmont
Purdue over St Mary's
Kansas over Detroit

Round of 32

NC over Bama
Temple over Michigan
Georgetown over San Diego St
Kansas over Purdue

Sweet 16

NC over Temple
Kansas over Georgetown

Elite 8

Kansas over NC

Yes, that means I have three Big XII teams in the final four, but I have no particular bias toward that or any conference. I truly gave no thought to their conference while making selections. With that said, here is my ...


Mizzou over Baylor
Syracuse over Kansas

2012 NCAA Championship Game

Syracuse over Mizzou
With my score tie breaker at 77-65.

I think the depth of Syracuse and Boeheim's experience will carry them through the tournament and to an NCAA championship. I have loved watching the Pressey brothers and the other 5 regular players for Mizzou. Their fast paced, high pressure style of play will get them to the finals, but not quite to the top.

I'm sure that after the first round my bracket will be torn to shreds, nevertheless, today, I feel confident in my picks.

2012 NCAA West Region Bracket Selections

Round of 64

Michigan St over LIU Brooklyn
St Louis U over Memphis
NM State over Long Beach State
Louisville over Davidson
Murray St over Colorado St
Marquette over Iona
Virginia over Florida
Mizzou over Norfolk St

Round of 32

Michigan St over SLU
NM St over Louisville
Marquette over Murray St
Mizzou over Virginia

Sweet 16

Michigan St over NM St
Mizzou over Marquette

Elite 8

Mizzou over Michigan St

That means I have Navarro College alum Matt Pressey an his Missouri Tigers winning the West region and taking on Baylor in the Final Four.

The East bracket is next, followed by my Midwest bracket and my Final Four selections.

2012 NCAA Play-in and South Region Bracket


CAL over USF


Round of 64

Kentucky over MVSU
UConn over Iowa St
VCU over Wichita State
Indiana over NM St
UNLV over Colorado
Baylor over South Dakota St
Xavier over Notre Dame
Duke over Lehigh

Round of 32

Kentucky over UConn
VCU over Indiana
Baylor over UNLV
Duke over Xavier

Sweet 16

Kentucky over VCU
Baylor over Duke

Elite 8
Baylor over Duke

That means I have 3 seed Baylor winning the South region headed to the Final Four. The West region will be published next.

11 March 2012

My 2012 NCAA Bracket Preview

For the first time in years, I am interested in the NCAA Basketball tourney enough to fill out a bracket. I don't know if being in the high desert, away from all sports, for a month allowed a little more room come March, or what. But for this year, I have filled out a bracket, and am excited to see if my extremely illogical, not-at-all-expert, uninformed selections pan out. Tomorrow I will post my round-by-round selections. However, just for tonight, I will say that I have a few upsets in the early rounds, but my final four appears to be a strong contender for legitimate. It involves top seeds. One of which is a team with a senior who played for the Junior College I used to work for. I didn't have much to do with recruiting him, but I did walk through the steps to admissions with his mom and him when the coach brought him in on a recruiting trip. His new team is a favorite of mine, but not my selection to win it all. So, tomorrow, I will lay it all out, and I hope all 4 of you that stumble across this page will eagerly await that post.

08 March 2012

Pacific Northwest Weather

Things are a little different up here than what I am used to. We moved to Tacoma, WA in September of 2011 because I was assigned to Joint-Base Lewis McChord, formerly Fort Lewis, WA. What they say about the Seattle / Tacoma area is true. It rains almost every day. Many times since September I have wondered why anyone would choose to live here. Then, just as things are too dreary to handle, you get a day like today. I don't know if the pretty days seem prettier because of how few of them there are, or if it really is just this awesome.

I love Texas, even the hotter than Hell summers, but no day in all my years in Texas has ever come as close to the weather today in Tacoma.

If you have ever visited the area, and you didn't get a day like today, I feel sorry for you. It makes all those dreary, rainy days seem tolerable. I never get tired of looking at "the mountain", Mount Rainier. When it is as clear as it is today, nothing could ever look as regal and majestic as that 12,000 foot volcano standing watch over the entire region. I have included a picture, but if you have ever experienced a real view of Mount Rainier, you know that this picture does it no justice.

Make a point to visit in the late spring or summer (when the locals say you get more days like this than rainy days), so that you too can enjoy God's work.

06 March 2012


It is crazy to think how much money is spent annually on advertising. Political ads, energy drinks, tampons, diapers, whatever you are wearing right now, and everything else you can imagine has advertising money behind it. Radio spots, TV spots, NASCAR cars, billboards, hockey rink boards, newspaper (less than it used to be), internet, the most unawkward view at the urinal, anywhere you look likely has some ad money spent to make you notice it.

This post is not to pitch for getting rid of ads. Often times, ads are as entertaining as they are informative.
Certain ad campaigns are powerful enough to become nationally recognized. The highest paid advertising director should be whoever is in charge of GEICO. They have multiple campaigns going, which are all memorable. "It's so easy a caveman can do it" was so successful that someone even tried to turn it into a primetime SitCom. The GEICO Gecko has made everyone think that geckos are Brittish, or Austrailian, or South African, or whatever, but are uncomparably adorable. Their campaign of "Can 15 minutes really save you 15% on car insurance..." was incredibly funny, so much so, that the little piggy that cried wee wee wee all the way home is now ziplining and street luging in his own campaign. Now I don't know how many people have switched to the Government Employees Insurance Company as a result of these ads, but at least it keeps the GEICO brand on the forefront.
GEICO took over as my favorite ads from Budweiser. From the Bud-Wise-Errrr frogs a decade or more ago to the field goal kicking clydesdale more recently, they also had a great ad campaign.

However, those incredible campaigns are few and far between. It seems like more ads are horrible wastes of money. When I drive across the Port of Tacoma bridge on my commute, I see a billboard for Red Wind Casino. They are pushing something called "Windfall". The caption says "Random acts of luck". Maybe I am in the minority, but if I were considering going to a casino, the reminder that it is all random luck would do more to keep me out of the casino. I don't want it to be luck, I would rather you do something to make me think that if I stick around long enough and spend enough money, I am going to walk out a millionaire.

This being election season, I've heard Newt Gingrich's ads (okay, ads from his super-PAC, not directly from his campaign) twice today, Super Tuesday. Both ads said that he is the smartest person in the race. Maybe he is. It may very well be that Newt's IQ is a hundred points superior to that of Mitt, Rick and Ron. However, I don't see anyway that he has taken a step to prove that. Neither of the other candidates have done anything to make themselves look dumb, nor has Newt done anything to prove himself smarter than the others?

Great advertising directors must be very difficult to come by. I worked for an incredible one a number of years ago, and now that I am away from that atmosphere, I realize just how effective she was. People who went to college for advertising, if they paid attention in class, should never struggle to find a job. I think that if a good advertiser walked into the CEOs office at Red Wind casino and pointed out the flaws of the campaign and had better ideas, then the CEO would likely hire him or her on the spot. At least if the CEO was interested in not wasting money he would.

There is no telling how many companies are struggling to keep in the black, but I would like to know how many of them have horrible ad campaigns. A smaller, more effective campaign would be much more successful than a huge campaign that does not catch people, or does not pitch things in a more positive light.

Wouldn't it?

04 March 2012

NFL Player Safety

Gregg Williams is in a lot of trouble. News broke about a "bounty system" in which Williams would pay his players for wicked hits on opposing players while he was the Defensive Coordinator for the New Orleans Saints. That was in and of itself a bug story. Now, reports are coming out that as the NFL is investigating, they are finding that the Redskins had a similar system while Williams was the D-Co there and the Buffalo Bills while he was the head coach. While the system goes against what the NFL is trying to do in terms of keeping the players safe, and Williams is looking like the scapegoat, I don't know that Williams is the only one who should be looked upon for punishment.

Let us just assume that leakers and reporters are right and the bounty system reports are true. Just because a coach puts that on the table, the players are the ones reaponsible for what happens on the field. The players are grown men who make plenty of money. I understand that the playing lifespan is short, but, even the lowest paid players on the team still make 3, 4, 5 hundred thousand dollars a year, plus food, hotels, travel, endorsements, health insurance and more. An extra $1,000 for a painful hit, $1,500 to hurt someone else and whatever else was involved? That doesn't seem to me like it should be that big of an incentive. The NFL has made illegal many hits that make NFL history so fun. Defensive players can barely do much more than play touch football any more. Pass Interference, Horse Collar tackles, hits on a defensless receiver, and other calls that 25 years ago would have been laughed out of the competition committee room are now common place. Why? The NFL wants to protect its most valuable asset, the players. No one disagrees that career ending injuries are no good for anyone. They are bad for teams, fans, individual players and the NFL. Most people agree that dirty hits are bad for the game.

However, with all the money that the NFL has spent trying to keep players safe, doesn't it all seem like a waste when the players ignore the work done? If a player can be bought for $1,000, and ignores the rules put in place to protect him, then what is the point of the NFL stepping in. It seems like the players don't want to be kept safe if they can be bought for such a miniscule amount. Former players, hall of famers, have been fighting for years to get some retroactive help becuse the NFL didn't protect them. Current players, obviously, don't see the former players that can barely walk because of the back and knee injuries suffered in the 60s and 70s. Current players must not respect the sacrifice of former players that has led to the player safety rules of today.

How many times have we all heard the cliche phrase, "those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it." In the Army, there are so many rules and regulations that are in place because someone in the past didn't use common sense. That is the same reason why the player safety rules are in place. It seems though, that current players don't care about their own safety. That is something that, as a fan, I respect. However, purposely aiming to knock out a colleague, that is as despicable as a friendly fire accident. If Williams were to say, "knock Jason Witten out of the game or else you don't have a job next week," okay then I would put the burden completely on Williams. But for a player to put a colleague's career in jeopardy for $1,500 bucks? That becomes the responsibility of the player. If a measely sum can buy your integrity, that's on you. No amount of money could coerce me to sell secrets to an enemy. If I did that, it would put my colleagues in jeopardy. I don't care that player A plays for the Saints and player B plays for the Colts, both players play in the NFL. To put a colleague in jeopardy is the most attrocious workplace crime.

This is a huge black eye on the NFL. If the NFL wanted to, they could bring in OSHA investigators, the IRS, and many other things that could make life for the players and coaches intollerable. Unless the NFL takes drastic measures, it will be hard to take player safety policies seriously. Williams and the players involved share responsibility. If the NFL doesn't take drastic measures and hand out serious punishment, then they too, are equally responsible.

02 March 2012

Green to Gold

It is 0730 on Friday morning, I am sitting in my car after PT with a big smile on my face. Why? Well, let me tell you. (This blog post is not aimed to sound like I am bragging or self-indulged. It is simply a way for me to express my excitement about what just happened.)

PT has never been my strong suit. Going back as far as high school, I've never been the biggest, strongest or fastest. I hate running more than just about anything in this world. After about a half of a mile, my legs turn to concrete, my breathing becomes labored and my mind tells me that I nees to give up. Sadly, for many years, with few exceptions, I have given in. I've always thought that good enough is good enough.

Now, however, I have reason and incentive to work harder than I ever have. I am attempting to become an officer in the US Army. There is a program called Green to Gold that will allow someone with two years of college completed, to get paid a salary to finish school and earn a commission upon graduation. It is an extremely competitive program, and is by no means a lock.

Officers in the Army should be PT studs. They lead company, battery, batallion runs. They can't fall out, or else their soldiers will lose respect for them. After all, how can an officer ask his soldiers and NCOs to do something that he cannot do himself.

Since deciding to attempt to become an Officer, my mindset has been forced to change. Good enough is no longer good enough. I have to be better than most. I have worked harder in the last few weeks to watch what I eat and perform better at PT, than I have in the past. It gets discouraging though, because I don't see a change yet.

However, the reason I am smiling now? I just completed a batallion run. For the first time ever, I completed it without falling out. I didn't fall back to the rear of formation, I didn't even allow someone else to pass me in an attempt to catch my breath. I finished the run, in formation. I went along with the cadence caller, found myself encouraging other soldiers who were struggling, and for the first time ever, finished at the same time as everyone else.

Yes, my legs still turned to concrete. Yes, my breathing got labored. Yes, I wanted to quit. Today, though, I had a driving force behind me. I have to succeed at PT if I want to be accepted to Green to Gold. Back in Basic or AIT I remember an NCO telling a struggling soldier, "your body is stronger than your mind." I have tried to use that as motivation in the past, but only fleetingly. Today, I had to believe it. When we got to our turn around point I realized that I was good. I was smiling at a funny cadence and I realized that I was still up front with my company. We started heading back, and we passed all the soldiers who had fallen out, and I said out loud, "that's not me today!" I thought I said it to myself, but someone in front of me heard and turned and said, "Damn Dugan! You still with us?" From that point through the rest of the run I was smiling. I knew that I was going to make it.

Why put this all down in a blog post? Because, I truly believe that God paves a path for his direction in a persons life. I don't believe he puts speed bumps and potholes in that road. I believe that we allow others, and ourselves, to put those obstacles in the way.

Maybe, God just wants me to be more physically fit in order to live a longer, healthier life. Maybe, He has His mind set on me becoming an officer. I don't know what is at the end of that road. However, I do know that going down this path is encouraging and exciting. I do know that God has allowed me, not to be prideful and boisterous, but proud of myself for this moment. It is only through His grace that I wake up in the morning and complete tasks everyday. But, with His grace, I can accomplish tasks that I have not been able to in the past.

29 February 2012

Ryan Braun

I don't know why, but the situation with Ryan Braun's positive PED test, successful appeal and negative, unsuccessful statement following his appeal, has stuck with me and gotten under my skin.

In the past, issues with PEDs have barely even registered on my baseball radar. Mark, Barry, Roger, Jason, Jose, none of those surprised me, so, eh? ARod and Andy Pettite surprised me, but given my distaste for both, I didn't care. Rafe's positive test did sadden me, and I wish he hadn't. He should have been another Ranger Hall of Fame player. However, his blatant lie in front of congress, and in turn, baseball fans, turned him into a 500 HR scoundrel waste of natural talent. Manny, well, who even remembers what life was like before "Manny being Manny".

Now comes along Ryan Braun. Here is this young, handsome, confident near-superstar in the tiny desperate market of Milwaukee. A new type of "Bash Brothers" when combined with Prince. A kid that brings excitment to baseball, and is poised to do that for a decade or more. A kid that loves his team and city so much that he signs a longterm extension to stay in a struggling midwest city. He wasn't anxious to leave the team that made him for the bright lights of New York or LA. Once Prince left, his town had him to look to like they haven't had since Robin Yount. This was the kid that could carry baseball after the likes of Pujols and Jeter are gone.

When I heard that he tested positive, all those positive thoughts about him just popped like a water baloon over my head. I texted my oldest brother right away, and I kind of felt bad for Milwaukee and the fans. They lost Prince for good, and lost Braun for 50 games. I'm a big fan of baseball, but I don't live and die with everything MLB, especially a sometimes good NL team. So it didn't surprise me that I couldn't even think of anyone the Brew Crew would be able to count on for the first 50 games of the season.

Then, Braun won the fight of his life, while simultaneously throwing mud directly on the face of Bud Selig and MLB. I was incredibly disheartened to know that Braun got off, not on a mistake in testing, but on a technicality. If it had been proven that the test was flawed and Braun was clean, every baseball fan would have been thrilled. But no, we were told that there was a breach in protocol. That the specimin was not taken to FedEx in the proper amount of time. No one claimed an old smoothie supplement did it, or that the tamperproofing was tampered with, or that his personal trainer told him that it was a vitamin pack. There is nothing satisfying about someone getting off on a technicality. Most people, MLB included, feel like Braun got away with one.

However, if that left my mouth tasting a little bitter, then what came next was like tasting straight vinegar. This, I feel, is why I can't shake this story. This guy, who just beat history, delivers a very carefully worded statement indicting "the collector", and trying to ruin a nameless person's career. While his statement didn't outright say "this guy messed with my sample", that is precisely what he implied. Shortly after the statement we learned that what he said in his statement is not at all what his lawyers argued in the hearing. He just tried to throw someone under the bus in order to try to save face. That is straight cowardice. Yeah, I said it. Ryan Braun is a coward.

Soon, we learned that "the collector" is not nameless. He's a teacher and athletic trainer named Dino who collects samples part time and has hundreds of times since 2005. He issued a very logical, straight-forward, specific, detailed statement refuting the claims of the coward. He laid out step by step how he followed protocols set forth by his employer, how he has followed the same protocol in the past, and how he has collected many samples in the past, and has never had the integrity of his work questioned in the past. The reason his statement is much more digestable than Braun's is that he described his side of things. He did not attack his accuser, Dino simply defended himself. On ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning, Herm Edwards put it into perspective. Edwards told the story about how his father told him that he wasn't going to leave Herm with a lot of money, but he was going to leave Herm a clean last name, and challenged Herm to "not screw it up." Isn't that what all dads want for their kids? That is what I feel Dino was doing. He was simply defending his own honor. He was forced to do so because of the unnecessary attacks from a guy who is not innocent in many people's eyes. Just because an independent mediator felt the protocol set forth was not flawless, does not explain how absurd levels of testosterone were found in Braun's sample. If Braun found it necessary to issue a statement, why not just say very simply, "I am excited and relieved, but not shocked at the judge's decision. Now I can focus on spring training and put this behind me." Boom! Done! Everyone is happy, no one is skeptical, and Mike and Mike (and Herm) are not talking about it a week later.

Instead, we as baseball fans are in an incredibly awkward position between choosing to believe this kid who could carry baseball for years to come, or a guy named Dino who has an argument that makes much more sense. We must decide whether Braun winning his appeal on a technicality clears the way for voting for him on an all star ballot, or if he is a scoundrel not worthy of a fan's consideration. We must decide if we can root for a young superstar, or boo a coward willing to throw a loyal part time collector directly under the bus.

For my part, I can foresee no possible way to root for Braun. If my Rangers were to trade for him, win the Series, and he were named WS MVP, I don't see myself being happy for him. I know that when the Brewers play on Fox Saturday Baseball, the cameras will scan the crowds and show all the kids wearing their Braun tshirts and Joe Buck will talk about how beloved he his by those fans. I don't know that I'll be able to stomach that.

Let me be clear. Yes, his reputation has been harmed by the positive test. However, the positive test is not why I feel the way I do. You test positive, serve your suspension, come back and play. That, according to the CBA, is paying your price. My issue is this multi-millionaire kid, who has probably never faced personal hardship, launching an all out attack on a guy with multiple jobs, who takes his son to help with his part-time job (more than likely so that his son can rub elbows with pro ball players), and who did exactly what his employer instructed him to do.

This guy Braun, won his legal battle. He beat the rap. He gets to play on opening day. But, in the opinion of this baseball fan, Ryan Braun is a coward that deserves to be booed, ridiculed and scorned. He has made enough money to be set for life, so I don't feel bad for saying this. I wish that this kid never remembers how to hit a curveball, judge a fly ball or any of the other fundamentals required of an MLB player. I hope that somewhere down the line, he feels the same ridicule that he attempted to push onto a guy named Dino. I don't want him to suffer a career ending injury. That would be too easy. I want to see his career end slowly and awkwardly like Chuck Knoblauch. I'm not hate-filled, just fed up with professional athletes forgetting why owners can pay salaries. Why they have incredible stadiums with retractable roofs. Its because fans pay good money to see a quality, wholesome product, presented by people we love, creating memories that we will have forever.

Thank you Dino Laurenzis Jr., for doing you job, thank you MLB, for doing your best to keep the sport clean, thank you sports news broadcasters, reporters and writers for keeping us informed. But mostly, thank you to the Michael Youngs, Albert Pujols's, Lance Berkmans and hundreds, no thousands of pro ballplayers from the rookie leagues on up who treat the game with the respect it deserves; to the Joe Maddons, Derek Hollands and others who bring spice an color to the game. To the Brauns, ARods, Lackeys, Mannys and Wettelands (personal history there) in the game, if you just imagined yourself in the shoes of those who work for you and pay for you, your entire outlook may just change.