9/11 after 14 years

Fourteen years. I can't believe this much time has passed. So much has changed, and yet, so little. I looked back on 9/11 seven years after the attacks and wrote a blog about where I was and what I did. When the SEALs killed Osama, I blogged about it (from Afghanistan no less). I wrote about it back 2013 on the twelfth anniversary. I guess I should say something about it on the 14th anniversary. I can tell you I still hate that day. I tried to watch a video about it and had to put my phone away because I just couldn't watch it without losing my shit. I discovered this Amazing Spider-man written by J. Michael Stravinsky today, but totally missed it when it came out. I kept losing my vision while trying to read it and it's just a bloody comic book. The best quote from it?
"You wanted to send a message and in so doing you awakened us from our self involvement. Message received. Look for your reply in the thunder."
Maybe there is something broken inside of me now. I don't remember crying about 9/11, but today, I nearly lost my shit several times. Too many losses over the last few years. I lost my Mom and a pet this year. I lost my Dad and multiple aunts and uncles between 2005 and today. I think it all added up into a tidal wave of shit.
So I often self medicate with music. Do you have a playlist related to this tragedy? Here is mine:

Don't Tread on Me by Metallica. I chose this because the local rock station in Hartford, CT was playing this song after the second tower collapsed.
Let's Roll by Neil Young. I am sure you can figure out why.
Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue by Toby Keith. Because it's all about 9/11 and kicking ass.
Letters Home from the Garden of Stone by Everlast. Because the line "we're going in with the day light" resonated with me.
If I Ever Leave This World Alive by Flogging Molly. Should be obvious why this feels right.
I found a few more here and there, but these are the big ones. What resonates with you?


Memorial Day Post 2015

It's late for the Memorial Day observance this year, but early for next year! :-)

I saw lots of stuff on Facebook and Twitter, some good, but far too many angry or guilt ridden. The best may have been from Terminal Lance (if you aren't reading this comic, start now), a repost of his 2012 comic and accompanying post. Following the guidance of his character Abe, every beer I drank this weekend was dedicated to the fallen. I drank many beers, because there are many who fell, but sadly, there are more fallen than there is room in my stomach, so the drinking will have to continue same time next year. If you are a civilian, and untouched by this or any previous war, I am not angry that you don't understand or lack awareness. If anything, I am a little jealous. Just understand that your three day weekend means something else to a segment of the population, and that they are hurting a little (or a lot) and are depressed a little (or a lot).

Here is a cool photo that went viral this week. Just a lucky snapshot by a passing journalist at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Haunting and poignant and not at all angry. Share it if you haven't already.

Finally, as has been my haphazard tradition, here is a poem for Memorial Day. Here is the complete Star Spangled Banner (it goes on much longer than we ever sing it). The opening lines of the last verse says it all for this holiday "O thus be it ever where freemen shall stand between their lov'd home and the war's desolation!"

The Star-Spangled Banner
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto - “In God is our trust,” 
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


Smells Like Teen Spirit revisited

So I am driving down the road, windows open, Smells Like Teen Spirit comes on the radio, so of course I turn it up. But it got me thinking, because it's 2015 now, and the song is 25 years old. I wasn't even 25 when I first heard it, which was probably driving in my beat up '85 Impala, heading to Moraine Valley Community College or maybe just driving aimlessly with no particular place to go. So some things were the same, but I am driving a relatively new car, and I have 2 kids riding in the back seat who no doubt think this music is lame. I moved through 7 states, finished 3 degrees, learned to scuba dive, fly a plane, went to war, came home from war, lost both parents, along with many aunts and uncles, and changed jobs several times. So much has happened in those years, so much has changed, and yet here I am, rocking out to the same song, at around the same time of year, juggling school, work, family and friends. Not sure what that was all about, but felt like writing it down.


Memorial Day Thoughts 2014

I am thinking about the dead on this weekend.  Specifically, those who died in our country's military service in war and conflict.  I am not an uninterested observer, as these were my brothers and sisters in arms. But I am not directly affected either, as none of my shipmates, battle buddies and friends have died in combat, for which I am thankful.  But I have been thinking about some that slept in the same camp I did, walked the same broken paths, ate at the same DFAC, used the same gym.  During my tour in Kabul, eight USAF personnel and one contractor were killed by an ANA Air Corps Colonel on 27 April 2011.  This was one of the so-called Green on Blue attacks, which heightened tensions and eroded trust with our ANA allies.  It also led to actual tactical pistol training, as some of the after action reports stated that none of those killed drew their weapons.  It was a bit of a shock around Camp Eggers.  Although we had heard of these types of attacks, it was rarely something we briefed to our teams before leaving base.  We changed some of our policies after that, strictly enforcing a buddy system on ANA bases, and getting our sailors range time to maintain weapons skills.  It changed our perceptions of disagreements and arguments with the ANA.  It left me a little twitchy for a while.  What I remember most though is some guilt and sadness.  These people lived on the same relatively small base.  I am sure I walked past them at some point, but I did not recognize a single face from the photos.  The sad thing is that with almost 3000 people on that base, and regular traffic from the Embassy and ISAF HQ, most faces of people you didn't know faded into the crowd.  I am sorry I didn't get to know them before they fell.  I am sorry I wasn't there to fight beside them in their last moments.  Farewell shipmates.

Here are links to some articles with the casualty list:

Here are some other links to the incident:  http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/04/afghan_pilot_kills_8.php#
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/air-force-advisers-remember-deadly-insider-attack-of-2011/2013/04/28/ec2fa5d4-b02a-11e2-9a98-4be1688d7d84_story.html (this one is a retrospective from last year)

Only 5 days later, President Obama announced the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden.  I remember watching the scenes on TV and internet news reports.  Other than a few high fives and probably a few America, Fuck Yeahs, we just kept doing our jobs.  An important milestone was reached, but we knew that America was committed to staying in Afghanistan through 2014.  That raid was amazing, and although there were a few near misses, we lost no one.

Just three months after Osama's death,  we lost over 30 people in one helicopter shoot down, including members of Naval Special Warfare Development Group.  One of my battle buddies read the casualty list and realized he personally knew almost every SEAL on that helicopter.  It was terrible to watch him deal with that, knowing there was nothing I could say or do to help.  He had also lost one of his brothers to a terrible accident in June.

Extortion 17 shoot down:

It seems Death stalked us all that year.  It seemed I was always somewhere else when it struck out at our forces, but it finally found a member of my family.  A week after the helicopter shoot down, I received a Red Cross message indicating my father-in-law voluntarily ceased dialysis and cancer treatments and was expected to die in 1-2 weeks.  I was granted emergency leave and had priority travel out of Afghanistan (only wounded service members got out faster than me).  I was in Flint, Michigan in less than 48 hours, after passing through Al-Udeid, London, and Chicago.  I lost my luggage and had to buy clothes on the way to my in-laws house.  I actually beat my wife and kids there.  About a week after I arrived, this old warrior fought his final battle with cancer, laid down his arms and breathed his last.

In Memoriam, James Washington Crichton:  http://obits.mlive.com/obituaries/flint/obituary.aspx?pid=153282117

Somewhat grim after good weather, good food and time with friends and family.  Hope you have no tragedies to ponder in your own lives this Memorial Day.

Memorial Day Poem 2014

For this year's Memorial Day poem, here are the lyrics for Sgt. Mckenzie, from the We Were Soldiers soundtrack.  My favorite song from one of my favorite war movies.

Sgt. Mckenzie
by Joseph Kilna Mckenzi
In memory of Sgt. Charles Stuart MacKenzie, Seaforth Highlanders

Original Scottish Version
Lay me doon in the caul caul groon

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

Lay me doon in the caul caul groon

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

When they come a wull staun ma groon

Staun ma groon al nae be afraid

Thoughts awe hame tak awa ma fear

Sweat an bluid hide ma veil awe tears

Ains a year say a prayer faur me

Close yir een an remember me

Nair mair shall a see the sun

For a fell tae a Germans gun

Lay me doon in the caul caul groon

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

Lay me doon in the caul caul groon

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

English Translation

Lay me down in the cold cold ground

Where before many more have gone

Lay me down in the cold cold ground

Where before many more have gone

When they come I will stand my ground

Stand my ground I’ll not be afraid

Thoughts of home take away my fear

Sweat and blood hide my veil of tears

Once a year say a prayer for me

Close your eyes and remember me

Never more shall I see the sun

For I fell to a Germans gun

Lay me down in the cold cold ground

Where before many more have gone

Lay me down in the cold cold ground

Where before many more have gone

Where before many more have gone


12 Years Later

It's hard to believe that twelve years has gone by since 9/11/01.  We invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, bombed Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya, engaged in multiple raids, including one that killed Osama Bin Laden.  Fears of terrorism seem to have faded to background noise.  War seems to be the normal state of affairs.  The TSA has sometimes mindbogglingly foolish rules, which only seem to reduce our dignity without truly increasing our security.  I got married, had kids, buried my father and my father-in-law, moved three times, and changed jobs twice.  I have been to war and came back with minimal scars despite some close calls and foolish risks.  I guess I don't have much to say these days, since this blog has been so dormant.  I just felt the need to say something on this anniversary.  I guess the emotional shock has faded and the trivial, tedious parts of life have once again taken up most of my attention on a daily basis.


Semper Fi, Corporal

I missed the announcement of the death of Cpl. Conner T. Lowry on 01 March 2012.  I found out after a friend posted to Facebook that she had just driven by his house.  I then saw a number of comments indicating people were lining up on streets in my old neighborhood in Chicago, waiting for the hearse to drive by.  Intrigued, I searched for more on the internet, starting with the official DoD announcement (linked in the title of this blog post).  I found quite a few people tweeting about him (https://twitter.com/#!/search/realtime/conner%20lowry).  As I read some of the linked articles, it really struck home.  I have been thinking about this all day.

They took him from Midway Airport (I almost always fly into Chicago via Midway).

They took him to Brother Rice High School, his alma mater and mine (class of '89 for me).  They played Taps for him there.

They took him to Saint John Fisher Parish on 102nd and Washtenaw, which is only a mile from the first house I lived in (behind Steuber's florist shop).

He was South Side Irish (to know us is to love/hate us).

He died in Helmand, Afghanistan.  I was there twice working with Marines and the ANA in 2011.  The husband of a good friend was in one of the most violent corners of Helmand last year, as was the brother of one of my comrades from the war.

There are so many shared experiences here, yet we never met.

His obituary: http://legacy.suntimes.com/obituaries/chicagosuntimes/obituary.aspx?n=conner-t-lowry&pid=156337797&fhid=2596

Some pictures from the motorcade: http://katieryanphotography.blogspot.com/2012/03/honoring-marine-corporal-conner-lowry.html

The Tribune article: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-solemn-procession-for-fallen-marine-20120309,0,2653411.story

A hero left us.  I am sorry I will never get to meet him.  Stand relieved, Marine.  We have the watch now.


Military Service, War and Death

In case you have been isolated from all communications, you have probably heard about the helicopter crash in Afghanistan that took 38 lives on 06 August 2011 (ISAF press release).  There were 8 Afghan nationals onboard, while the remainder were US special operations forces, mostly from the US Navy SEALs.  This was one of the largest single day losses for the US military and the largest single day loss of special operations forces.  More SOF operators were killed last Saturday than were killed during Operation Redwing (see my blog post on Marcus Luttrell's book Lone Survivor).  This is a painful event.  So far, it has not directly affected me.  I am a huge fan of the SOF community, but I only know a few that have worked in it.  I did not know these warriors personally.  Still, it is becoming indirectly painful, as I am seeing what happens to friends and comrades when 20-30 people they knew suddenly die.  I won't even begin to speculate what this event or the continuing press coverage is doing to the families of the deceased. I only hope what I am writing does not add to their misery.

At times like this, I reflect on my choice to serve, and the choices made by others who have made the ultimate sacrifice.  I still have no regrets.  I joined the military precisely because I felt called to serve my country in war.  Others are called to serve in other, less violent and more constructive ways, but I have always heard the siren call of Mars (Ares), Valkyries, and the Morrigan.  I don't think anyone joins seeking violent death (I didn't).  Most would probably choose to die at a ridiculous old age due to sexual exertion (or killed by a jealous lover).  Yet, few join without some understanding that those who go to war due so at some risk to themselves.

The politicians that want us to keep fighting and those that want us to quit fighting will find ways to use this event to support their views.  Boeing will try to explain why these ancient Chinooks are safe, while their competitors will argue for new airframes.  Others will say that the helos will be safe once some expensive piece of technology is added to the aircraft.  The Air Assault guys and helicopter pilots will argue that the birds and their associated tactics are the only way to fight this war.  Others will demand ground assaults, or an even faster withdrawal.

Ignore them all.  Here is what matters.  Thirty eight individuals got on that helicopter to do their job.  They chose to serve their countries in a time of death and danger, rather than settle for a safe place with their families.  Their reasons for joining, for staying, for getting on the helo that night, were no doubt somewhat different for each.  Unless they shared their thoughts with family and friends, we will never know their reasons.  They served faithfully until the day they fell in battle.  Remember them.  Honor their memories.  Help their families.  Support those who would follow in their footsteps.  If you have it in you, step forward and serve your nation for a time.