My view from the cheap seats

November 18, 2016


I went to the Metallica concert here in San Juan, PR a couple of weeks ago.  When I found out they were coming here, I told my wife that we HAVE to go.  She wasn’t nearly as excited about this idea as I was, but I told her this really sad sob story about how I’ve been trying to catch them live for 25 years (which was absolutely true), but something always got in the way.  Once I had permission to shop for tickets, I attacked the Internet in search of the best seats I could find–for the price limit I was granted, that is.

I found what looked like the perfect seats.  The website assured me that it was in the middle concourse, and a quick glance at the seating chart seemed to confirm that we were going to be in great shape.  I couldn’t believe the deal I was getting for such a–well, such a sort of reasonable price.  I bought those tickets, stuffed them in my Apple Wallet, and began wetting myself with excitement.

We arrived at the stadium on the night of the concert, and the place was PACKED.  I hadn’t done my homework on Metallica’s history with Puerto Rico, but I figured there would be a decent turnout.  Decent was a gross understatement.  As we made our way to our seats, I noticed that we just kept climbing and climbing and…yeah.  Turns out we were NOT in the middle of the arena.  We weren’t exactly in the rafters, but I could hit them with a rock from where we were.  I began complaining immediately when we reached our seat.  My wife just rolled her eyes and went to sleep on my shoulder.

Funny thing about heavy metal concerts:  turns out you can hear them just as well from any seat in the arena.  The concert was FANTASTIC, and honestly, what made it even better was the fact that I could not only see the band from where we were sitting, I could see almost EVERYONE in the arena.  Seeing everyone having such a great time actually made the experience better.

My life has always been kind of like that.  I didn’t grow up with much, which set me apart from most of the people I grew up and went to school with.  It felt lonely much of the time, but looking back on it now, I realize that I had an advantage many of them don’t.  Not being accepted actually afforded me the opportunity to take in the world from outside of it rather than having to figure it out from within.

I have always been in the cheap seats of life–mostly because that was all I could afford.  Now I can do better, but I choose to take in the world from outside because honestly, the view is so much better up here.


A Soldier’s Life, iss. 1

January 18, 2009

After spending a year in Iraq from 2003-2004, I had it in my head that I knew exactly what training for this mission would be like. After all, I’m a veteran with a combat patch and a Combat Action Badge! After 14 years in the U.S. Army, I’m ready for anything, right? Uh…right.
What a difference six years makes! I faced a good deal of culture shock when confronted with the training and equipment that is necessary for deployment to today’s version of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and it was honestly not from resting in the comfort of serving two days a month and two weeks a year as a reservist in the interim. I have spent most of my time since returning from Iraq serving on active duty stateside, but we didn’t need 40 pounds of body armor or live-fire convoy training for duty in North Little Rock, Madison, Wis., or New Orleans.
The training and equipment are all different now. We are better-protected physically both in and out of vehicles. We are better trained to interact with the citizens of Iraq because of culture and language classes that we are required to take. We are now much more prepared to handle just about any situation that may arise in the course of our mission. This is because our trainers today have the benefit of six years worth of lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom, and they now have more than just a few weeks to train us for what we are about to face.
The bill for better training and equipment that the soldier must pay, however, comes in the form of physical demand. The fact is, a soldier has to be physically and mentally fit to wear the uniform and serve in a combat zone. I used to think the military required us to be in good shape as a matter of discipline. While this is true, there is also something to be said for the physical and mental demands of the job. We wear tons of gear and carry out missions in the oppressively hot climate of the Middle East while dealing with the stress of watching out for an unseen enemy. The job is hard enough on a soldier who is physically and mentally in good shape.
I have spent the last four months learning how to be a journalist in a combat zone. I have also learned new combat tactics and rules of engagement when faced with a potential threat, all while getting used to new equipment I had never heard of before being placed on this mission. Oh, and I have also had to get to know all but two other members of my unit and form chemistry with them while going through this training. Talk about stress!
The training has been the toughest I have ever endured in all my years of service. Because I am a soldier in the U.S. Army, I have the best training and equipment this world has ever known. As I have come to know my fellow soldiers in the 343rd MPAD over these past few months, I have realized that I have something else that will be invaluable to me during this mission. I have the privilege of knowing and serving with some of the best soldiers, journalists and people the military has ever produced.

This Week In Iraq…or TWII!

December 21, 2008

After all the soldier training we’ve had to do to get ready for Iraq, we finally hit the week where we had to demonstrate to….I’m not really SURE who….that we can do our jobs as journalists in a combat zone.

The assignment? Fall in on Military Police units who were also conducting training unique to THEIR calling and tell their story. The exercise was a 90-hour CULMEX (culmination exercise) that required me to get into “full battle rattle” (all of my protective gear–body armor, helmet, M-4 rifle and all the trimmings), catch a ride out to the training site and start gathering information and taking pictures.

I first went out on Wednesday just after dark to cover a mission with an MP company that was called “route recon,” but basically consisted of us driving around in circles in the woods for about an hour. There was no story to write about this exercise, because I never got out of the vehicle. There were no pictures to take because it was PITCH DARK outside! I *did* manage to get a couple of interviews for a feature I wanted to write on a soldier in the unit, but after giving me an hour-long interview and introducing someone to me for a secondary-source interview, he refused to let me take his picture for the story! Guess what? No story! I returned to the barracks that night plenty frustrated, but determined to make this thing work for me.

I went back out the next day with a different MP unit who was doing Police Transitional Training, or PTT. PTT is the process by which U.S. forces train Iraqi forces to take more responsibility for their areas of security. We convoyed to a mock village to meet with an “Iraqi police chief” to assess the progress of his troops in providing security for their village.

The men and women of this unit were FANTASTIC, very professional, and performed their jobs in a MOST exemplary fashion. I was proud to accompany them on this mission. The biggest surprise I got that day, however, was from the “Iraqi Police Chief,” who turned out to be an actual Iraqi national. I had to interview him through an interpreter as part of the exercise, and it was good practice for me to learn how to use an interpreter to talk to people who speak Arabic rather than English (tip: do not speak to the interpreter…speak to the interviewee as though he understands you and allow the interpreter to do his job). After the exercise was over (or ENDEX), the Iraqi gentleman switched to English and we had a very eye-opening conversation with each other about the current condition of Iraq.

I won’t share all of his views here, but he was very concerned for his people and expressed a hope that American forces would continue to be a part of Iraq’s recovery for a very long time. He is an AMAZING man who feels very deeply for his people and is very appreciative of all the U.S. military is doing there.

I wrote a story about the unit’s mission and took about a zillion pictures, just hoping one would come out good enough to use in the publication we were putting out at the end of the week.

I received quite a surprise when I was shown the final product and my story and picture were on the front page!!! I don’t know if they deserved to be there, or if this was done to give me some confidence in what I’m learning (or maybe the format of the paper dictated the decision), but it made me feel like a ZILLION dollars to see that. I also had a stand-alone picture on page 4 that actually turned out very well.

Today we did our AAR (after-action review) on the entire exercise. Talk about beating your head against the wall! The unit we cooperated with on this exercise dominated the entire thing, leading lengthy discussions on every slide they submitted, while at the same time saying NOTHING of any use that wasn’t already written on the slides! Our unit was rushed through about 2 minutes of review on our performance and we were summarily dismissed as though we didn’t matter. NONE of us were happy, but we were hardly surprised.

Whatever. I’m just grateful for the training. I was so nervous when this thing started, as this was a whole new world to me and I had no idea what I was doing. I still don’t know much, but I feel better about my ability to learn. I also feel really good about the leadership over me and their ability to squeeze some decent product out of a hard-headed dolt like me.

Our unit goes back to the rifle range on Monday to endure sub-freezing temperatures and high winds in an effort to get everyone qualified on the M-4 rifle. It’ll be a rough day, but my motivation will be that I’m going home the next day to see my beautiful wife and GORGEOUS son.

I don’t know if I’ll get another blog written while I’m home, but there will definitely be more from me as this mission progresses!

First blog…random thoughts!

November 24, 2008
Me and Zach at the State Fair

Me and Zach at the State Fair

A couple of fellow soldiers from my Army unit, the 343rd MPAD, inspired me to start my own blog.  I’m sure I won’t be as funny or eloquent as they are, but mad props go to SGT Tigers aka “The Sorority Soldier” and SPC….not sure what his nickname is right now….he’s a TCU Horned Frogs fan, so maybe I should call him SPC Froggie or something.

We are all on Thanksgiving vacation right now after a couple of months of rigorous training.  We started with 20 soldiers and have dropped 3 along the way, including one just the other day.  We have replacements coming though, and I’m hoping they are able to blend with those of us who have been learning, growing, joking, and struggling together already to become a cohesive team.

We go back to Fort Dix in a couple of weeks for more training, then get 10 days off for Christmas.  After that, the countdown starts in earnest for our departure to The Sandbox.

Being home these past few days has been a blessing for a few reasons.  One, I needed a break from all of the Army stuff.  I’m going to eat, sleep and breathe it for the next year, so I want to enjoy this break while it lasts.  Two, I need the time with my wife and son.  Zachary is only 3 months old, but he’s already learning so much.  I will miss many of the firsts in his life over the next year, such as crawling, talking, walking and eating real food.  However, I did get to see one first last night.  He looked at me and laughed OUT LOUD!  It was awesome!  I can’t wait to hear that sound again.

Before I leave, I am going to videotape myself reading stories to him.  Hopefully hearing and seeing these will help him to not forget me while I’m gone.  If it doesn’t, at least I’ll feel better THINKING it did!

I took Gloria to Hot Springs overnight (without Zachary) on Friday for a little bonding time between us.  We left Zach with his grandparents here in Batesville and stayed the night at the same hotel we spent the first night of our honeymoon at.  The Arlington in Hot Springs is a quaint old hotel that is actually quite large.  And by “quaint old” I mean basically crappy and devoid of most modern conveniences you can find at your average Super 8 these days.  They use real keys to enter the rooms, and you have to have some kind of engineering degree to figure out how to spring the lock on those 150 year-old doors.  There is no wireless internet in the rooms, and the tv was a 19″ Zenith like the one my parents sold for $20 in a garage sale back in 1987.  The remote didn’t work either!

Ah, but the trip was well-worth it.  Gloria and I went to see Saw V at the theater that night, which may seem like an odd choice for a date-night movie.  Not for us!  We fell in love with each other the night we saw The Grudge together at the theater!  She and I have always bonded over horror movies, and though I really can’t explain it, I do often ponder why it took a gross, bloody  movie to get a girl to fall in love with me!  Kidding.  😀

Saturday we made our way SLOOOOOOWLY home by hitting nearly every store in Little Rock and North Little Rock on our way through to Batesville.  As our apartment is actually on the way to her parents’ house where Zach was staying, we decided to stop off at home to unload the car before going to pick him up.  We got a call from Gloria’s mom while we were doing this and she let us know that Zach had just fallen asleep for the first time all day.  We decided to hang out at the house and catch some supper before going to get him so that he could rest.  While we ate, we played Phase 10 Dice.  Phase 10 is the other bonding thing we have, and we have so much fun playing while we eat.  We usually split the wins on those games, but yours truly came out on top this time!

Anyway, that’s all for now.  It’s late and time for bed.  More to come later!