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Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Already


I've had a lot of good comments on my last blog entry (found HERE) about escorting the local National Guard unit home. I even had a guy come up to me in a restaurant and shake my hand 'cause he'd read the article! I felt rather famous there for a bit... I do appreciate all the nice things people say! But really, all I did was go ride my motorcycle, then write about it. (I did that once before - you can read about it HERE.) The soldiers did all the hard stuff.

We need to remember, as a nation and a society, that when we send our troops to war, we are asking them to do horrific things. We need to make sure that if we're willing to ask them to do these things, that we're also willing to give them what they need, both while they're on duty and when they come back home again. It was pointed out on New Iowan's blog that our legislators have been falling short of that responsibility.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America took a hard look at how our lawmakers have actually voted on various bills in regard to supporting the troops and graded them accordingly. According to their website, "Every member of Congress claims to support the troops, but this guide shows us that more often than not, the rhetoric does not match the reality." It goes on to say, "A legislator's low score can be directly linked to the unnecessary hardship that US troops, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, and military families often face."

How do our local lawmakers here in Iowa fare?

Charles Grassley (R) - D
Tom Harkin (D) - B
Jim Nussle (R) - C
Jim Leach (R) - B
Leonard Boswell (D) - B+
Tom Latham (R) - C+
Steve King (R) - D+

It used to be that the Republicans were more supportive of the military, but that paradigm seems to be shifting. For me, here in Northwestern Iowa, I'm most concerned with Grassley, Harkin, Nussle (who's running for Governor), and King. Of those, Democrat Tom Harkin is the only one to get a good grade. (Mr. King's D+ doesn't surprise me at all. He's shown questionable judgment at best since we sent him to Washington.) I know I'm going to be careful when I vote in a few weeks!

I encourage everyone to go do some investigating and see how your own congressman has been voting. You can find the IAVA website HERE.

Not that I'm complaining or anything...

...but this is the closest window in my office. Some days I really feel like I'm in a dungeon. Isolated. Kinda sucks. (I haven't been enjoying work lately. It's become, well, work. If anyone needs a freelance writer, I'm getting kinda tired of the graphic design biz...)

When I went home the other day, I saw these guys, hanging around in their tree like vultures, huddled, waiting for winter. It made me cold.

Guardian Angels

A few years ago I did the Heimlich maneuver on a guy at a local greasy-spoon diner. He coughed up whatever he was choking on and we all went back to our breakfasts. (I don't think I ate much more that day.) Believe it or not, after a few days I'd kinda forgotten about the incident. Life just sort of went on, you know? But a couple weeks later my dad gave me a "Hero Gift." Not much, just a little medallion that I keep in my pocket sometimes. When I see it, I remember that for just a few seconds in a diner I was a hero and saved some guy from choking to death, and I feel a little good about it.

Last week I read on a "blog-buddy's" blog that she'd saved a child's life by doing a difficult thing. She wrote in her blog that she was a bit shook up about it (it's not every day you have to keep a twelve-year-old stabbing victim from bleeding to death on a football field). So we sent her a "Hero Gift." Hopefully when she sees the little angel we sent her every now and then she'll think about how she was a guardian angel, a hero, and she'll feel a little good about it.

I wish I could send "Hero Gifts" to everyone who deserves one. There are a lot of good people out there! And we all need to feel a little good about it every now and then.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Chilly Daze

They're Home!

"You're sure you still vant to do this?" asked my Austrian wife, Dagmar. "It's awfully cold out there."

"Yeah, I still want to do this," I said. "Can you help me zip this silly thing?" At the moment I was wearing a nice thick pair of socks, long-johns, blue jeans, T-shirt, long-sleeved baggy T-shirt, long-sleeved overshirt and my old Army boots. I had my leather chaps strapped on, but they weren't too happy about zipping up around my left leg. (That's the fat one. Why I have one fat leg and one skinny leg I don't know, but it seems that I do...)

"Hold on," my wife mumbled, struggling with the errant zipper. "Quit it mit der moving around all the time -- there. I almost have it..." With that she gave a mighty tug on the zipper, which obediently zipped down to my ankle. "There you go."

With that I did the "can't bend my knees 'cause I have so much stuff on" waddle to the table to get the rest of my stuff. Coat, vest, gloves, scarf-thingy around my neck, helmet... "I have to go," I said, pulling my coat on. "Grandpa would have done this."

Grandpa would have been there. My grandfather served in the European theater in World War II. He didn't talk about it much, but he kept on being a Master Sergeant in the Iowa Army National Guard for years and years afterwards. Every morning before breakfast he went outside and put the American flag up outside his front door. He took being an American seriously. People on the street called him "sir" and treated him with respect. So, on this day, the day Troop C of the 113th Cavalry, a descendant of my grandfather's Guard unit, came home to LeMars from serving in Iraq, you can bet I was going to be there to welcome the troops home. "Besides," I continued, "that's my old unit, too. And a couple of the guys have boys in the LeMars unit. I want to be there for them, too."

Troop C (I still want to call it Company A; it was Company K back in grandpappy's day) served more than a year in Iraq. They got released to Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin and were coming across Minnesota on a couple buses. I was on my way to meet them at Worthington, Minnesota on my motorcycle to help escort the convoy the last 80 miles to LeMars (which lives just north of Sioux City in the northwest corner of Iowa). The American Legion Riders (ALR) planned the escort, which was open to everyone via the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR). So, when I said "a couple of the guys," I was talking about my buddies in the ALR and PGR.

"What's that for," asked my bride, pointing to the glove I was pulling on at the moment. "That thing on your finger?"

I looked at my brand new gloves. "Oh, that," I said. "That's a little squeegee to get the rain off your glasses." It's kinda cute - a little windshield wiper on the left index finger. Someone was thinking when they designed that! "Well, I'm off," I said, kissing her on the nose. I waddled out to start the bike. You know, chaps are mighty convenient at times, but boy I wish they covered a bit more sometimes -- that seat was COLD when I plopped my tuckus down.

Twenty minutes later I was happily tootling down the road to LeMars, a full load of gas in the tank and scarf over my nose. As I went through Merrill, one of the small towns between Sioux City and LeMars, I chanced upon a fellow Legion Rider on his cool-looking Goldwing Trike. He was covered from head to toe in snowmobile equipment. At the first stop light in LeMars I hollered over, "How cold do you think it is?" He shrugged and hollered back, "I dunno - maybe 35 degrees? Are those new gloves?"

For those of you who don't have motorcycles, let me pause here to tell you that I've been cold when it's 74 degrees. Wind chill is NASTY when you're going 70 miles per hour! Next time you're out driving around on a 30 or 40 degree day, stick your arm out the window of your car. So this was not a day for joy-riding, lemme tell ya!

"Well," I thought, "At least I'm not the only one doing this..." I have to admit, I had visions of being the only one to actually show up on a motorcycle; that I'd get there to find that everyone else was smart enough to drive a car... When Trikerider and I pulled around the corner and went the last few blocks to the Legion Hall where we were supposed to meet, I found myself looking at about 20 bikes already lined up and ready to go. Evidently there are other people out there who find this kind of thing important! We had to park around the corner, there were so many bikes there. The local news was standing outside, interviewing our Ride Captain, so Trikerider and I hung around taking pictures of each other for a few minutes until the TV cameras were off, then went inside.

After a few minutes, the Ride Captain called us together for a short safety meeting, then off we went to get on our bikes. I know I was wondering to myself if I could make it all the way to Worthington... The 25 miles from Sioux City kind of spooked me a bit, to be honest. My fingers and toes and even my nose were a bit sore. "Hey, before we go, try these," said my buddy, Trikerider. He handed me some of those little hand warmer doohickies. I put 'em in my gloves and immediately knew that I gotta get me some of these and keep 'em in my saddlebags! They really saved the day, as far as I'm concerned!

And about that quick, we were off in a thundering herd. Down the street, take a right on the highway, get the formation correct (we were riding staggered), and settle back. We stopped briefly at the first town up the road to pick up a few riders who were meeting us there, then made our way to the nearest on-ramp. Unfortunately, on that stretch, one of us hit a patch of gravel on the road and went down. The only good thing about the situation is that in a group like this there are plenty of people with medical training (Army medics and such) and plenty of people with the leadership skills necessary to tell us to get our bikes off the road and stay back... Last I heard, K was in the hospital with a broken leg -- I hope she's doing well!

So, we were all a bit somber when we resumed our trip after the ambulance took our compadre off to get fixed, but we did resume.

Another 25 miles or so up the road we stopped again at a gas station. By the time I had my kickstand down and sprinted (as well as a guy can run with that many clothes on) inside I found I was about fifteenth in line for the restroom. Patience is a virtue, I guess, but we decided that discretion is the better part of valor and used the ladies' room. I'm sure the restroom gods will forgive us.

Once we got to the truck stop in Worthington where we were to meet the buses, we were all a bit worried about being able to make it the entire 75 miles back to LeMars in one shot. It was okay riding in this kind of cold, provided we stopped every 25 miles, but to go 75 miles? In the dark...?

"It'll be an hour and a half yet," hollered the Ride Captain, cell phone stuck in his ear. "They just passed Albert Lea - one of the buses had some problems." We all looked at each other. We all looked at the diner, where we could see happy smiley people eating what appeared to be WARM food. We all looked at each other... Within, oh, two minutes or so, we all had our hands wrapped around warm coffee cups and were perusing the menu.

The whole way to Worthington, we'd been followed by a pickup truck carrying two soldiers from the 113th Cav that had been sent home a few weeks early due to medical issues. As we sat at the truck stop I watched these two get more and more nervous, eager, excited... They were really looking forward to riding back to LeMars on the buses with their unit! The whole trip, up until then, had been taken up with thoughts of the cold. But seeing these two so eager to rejoin their unit made me realize all over again just exactly why I was there. I don't know any of the men in the unit, but it's my job to be sure they get honored. They've been through a lot - they deserve a good homecoming!

As I sat, waiting for my grilled cheese sandwich, the guy across the table mentioned that his son was in one of the buses. "He's a driver," he said. "By last May he'd had three Humvee's blown up out from underneath him. He hasn't mentioned it recently, though. I guess you kind of get used to it after a while."

A lady from the next table noticed all the black leather present in the diner. I could see her visibly struggling with her question, but she finally leaned over and asked my buddy, "What are you guys doing here?" He explained that we were meeting the LeMars National Guard unit to escort them home from Iraq. "Oh, what a wonderful thing to do!" she said. "I bet there are a lot of happy people in LeMars tonight!" We smiled and nodded. I thought of Sergeant Sesker's family and wondered what they were doing, what they were feeling. They don't have anyone getting off the bus this night; he was lost in April.

About that time the Ride Captain walked past. "They're in Jackson now," he said. "It'll be about twenty minutes or so."

We all started zipping, buttoning and strapping ourselves into our various outfits and made our way outside to start our bikes. (Motorcycle engines take a while to warm up.) I overheard an interesting conversation while the bikes were quietly rumbling to themselves... "Did you see combat," asked one guy. "Yep," answered the other. "I was a medic in Vietnam." The first guy looked surprised. "So was I! They made me be a forward observer too. Did they make you do that?" The second guy shook his head. "No, I didn't have to do all that dangerous stuff. They just threw me out of airplanes..."

After a few minutes, a call went up - "There they are!" Sure enough, two buses full of soldiers pulled in. The line of bikers all started honking their horns and cheering - and so did the people in the diner. The soldiers piled off the buses and the bikers piled off their bikes for an impromptu five-minute back-slapping session in the parking lot. I tried to find my buddy who's boy was on the bus, but I couldn't find them. I really wanted to get a picture of that moment...

All too quickly the soldiers were back on the buses and we were back on our bikes. With a determined rumble we left the parking lot and headed down the road to home. Before we left Worthington I saw a group of people standing along the side of the road, waving flags, holding a sheet with "Thank You" painted on it. I knew it was going to be a good ride.

We settled in for the ride. I could see a line of flashing taillights spread a good half a mile in front of me. There were at least that many bikes behind me, too. All I could see were headlights and taillights, stretching into the distance...

Fifteen or twenty miles down the road we passed the first town. I could see, miles ahead, flashing lights. As we got closer I started to wonder if there had been an accident on the highway - the lights weren't moving. Ahhh! I see! The local police had all their squad cars parked along the overpass, right above the highway, with all their lights flashing. Townspeople were gathered along the railing, waving flags and signs. I could hear them cheering for the troops over the rumble of the bikes.

The next town had the same thing - firetrucks, police cars, lights, sirens, a HUGE flag, townspeople cheering... So did the town after that, and the next town... People were standing alongside the road, wearing their winter coats and floppy hats, waiting to see the soldiers come home. It was quite the sight!

Soon we came to the outskirts of LeMars. Every single light pole, tree, road sign, car and truck had a big yellow ribbon tied on it. We turned off the highway to go uptown, then to the high school. Horns were honking, people were cheering, flags were waving - it seemed the whole town turned out to welcome the boys home! When we pulled into the high school parking lot, we found that the entire high school auditorium was full to overflowing with people waiting for the soldiers. We parked our bikes and pretty much ran to the front of the high school to see the celebration. The firetruck was parked on the yard, a big American flag waving in the breeze, hanging from the ladder. People were lined up along the front of the school, waiting to catch first glimpse of their loved ones, home from combat. My wife and mother-in-law were there, waving our flag. As I looked around I spotted my mother as well - she'd been waiting downtown for the buses to pass before she came to the ceremony.

The troops came off the bus and formed up in front of the school, then inside they went. We followed, but there wasn't room in the gym for all of us, so we kinda stood in the entryway and watched. Someone handed me a program with the unit's history...

"Troop C, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry, augmented by Troops A, B, and Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry; and 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery was mobilized under partial mobilization callup on July 7, 2005. These 155 soldiers were mobilized in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07. Troop C conducted mobilization training at Fort Lewis, WA from July through October and entered the Iraq theater of operations on October 30, 2005. Troop C was based out of Camp Ashraf, Forward Operating Base Grizzly in the Diyala Province (approximately 30 miles north of Baghdad) where they conducted security escort millions to Baghdad and Logistic Support Area Anaconda, IED route clearance, and security presence patrols. In addition, the unit maintained numerous static fixed and security positions as well as security escorts for the State Department."

The flyer went on to mention that the unit received more than 60 Combat Action Badges, over ten Purple Hearts, and 20 Bronze Stars, and had sustained more than 50 improvised explosive device strikes in the 3,000+ missions they completed.

We couldn't hear what was going on inside the gym, but we didn't really need to know. All that mattered is that there are hundreds of happy families, and hundreds of soldiers home safe. There were lots of smiles!

I'm happy I went. (I have more photos that can be seen HERE if you're interested.)

From the program: "And lest we forget our fallen comrade, Sergeant Dan Sesker, who entered Fiddler's Green on April 6, 2006."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Quick Hits...

They're Coming Home!

The LeMars unit of the 113th Cavalry is on its way home from Iraq! The National Guard unit has been gone for 'bout a year now... I'm VERY happy to hear they're on their way back.

I served eight years in the 113th Mechanized Infantry, back before they switched to Cavalry - six years in Headquarters, and two in the LeMars unit. My grandfather was instrumental in starting the unit there, years and years ago when he got back from WWII - as far as I know they still have his picture hanging on the wall there. I've had a few uncles on both sides of the family serve in that particular unit, too. The last time the LeMars unit was in combat was in Vietnam... There's history there, both personal and for the entire community.

The hope is that they'll arrive home next weekend sometime, after spending a few days at Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin. A bunch of us are gonna ride our bikes up to Worthington, Minnesota and escort the buses the last 80 miles home... I guess the town is planning some sort of homecoming celebration. I encourage anyone in the area to head to LeMars when the Cav comes home - they deserve a good homecoming! If you see something like this, you'll probably not forget it in quite some time.

Football, as in National League.

Sometimes nothing is better than something. The Green Bay Packers improved their record this last weekend by not playing. They had a bye week and didn't play, you see, so they couldn't lose... It was definitely one of their better weekends so far this season.

If'n the Packers aren't doing so well, I always hope for someone in the NFC North (almost said NFC Central there - I don't deal well with change I guess) to pick up the pace. Go Bears! Chicago's playing tonight... They're on a roll! I'm happy for them.

I saw bits and pieces of the Steelers-Chiefs game yesterday, in and amongst my other various (never nefarious) activities. It was interesting that Steeler Troy Polamalu actually got dragged down by his hair, and the hair-puller didn't get penalized for it (though he did get penalized for taunting Polamalu after dragging him down by his hair). I like this, believe it or not. If a football player wants to have long hair, that's fine -- but he should NOT get preferential treatment for having long hair. In other words, if he doesn't want his hair pulled, he has the freedom to get it trimmed. If he wants long hair, he should either tuck it away somewhere or be wary that it can be pulled.


Don't let them bully you. The Republicans, I mean...

Fox News "accidentally" listed Mark Foley (the guy who wanted to diddle teenage boys) as a Democrat rather than a Republican. He's Republican. The Bush administration claims that Bill Clinton is to blame for North Korea's nuclear bomb. I'm pretty sure that North Korea is responsible for having the bomb, actually. If we weren't so involved in Iraq, we could probably spare some troops to scare North Korea a little, but according to the Bush administration, the Iraqis are responsible for the 9/11 tragedy, even though Mr. Bush himself finally admitted the falsehood of that theory. So there are no troops available to send to Nuclear North Korea.

It's not their fault, you see. None of this is the Republican party's fault at all. The all-powerful Democrats tied their hands... Even though the Republicans have had control of the presidency, both houses of congress, and the court system, somehow the Democrats are to blame for North Korea, Mark Foley, Delay, Ney, Haliburton, Abramoff, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, etc...

It's simple. The Republicans simply won't admit that they bungled. We must demand that our leadership take responsibility for it's actions! The Bush administration is setting a miserable example for today's youth, I tell ya... Don't let them bully you into thinking it's someone else's fault.

You know, the Republicans' core supporters should be severely disappointed with this administration. The military generally supports the Republicans, but look what the Bush administration has done - sent the military (ill equipped) into a battle with no end, cutting benefits, ignoring the veterans... The worst in my eyes was when President G.W. Bush put on a pilot's outfit and swaggered around an aircraft carrier proclaiming that the mission was accomplished. If I put on a police uniform and wandered into a police station shouting that the criminal has been found, they'd arrest me for impersonating an officer... And for being a loony, most likely.

The other core component of the Republican party is the religious right. According to a new book out by a fundamentalist who worked in the White House, the Bush administration has been callously using the Christians while poking fun at them at the same time. The Christian conservatives should realize by now that the Republican party does not support them, nor does it reflect Christian values. The Bush administration uses religion as a weapon - NOT what Christ had in mind.

Fiscal conservatives should be alarmed, too. Bush took a nation solidly in the black and squandered all the money and left us with a record deficit. We CANNOT remain on a war footing without raising taxes. We need more troops, more equipment, and we NEED to take care of the troops once they get back home. Mr. Bush has earmarked $20 million for a "Victory in Iraq" party while at the same time many soldier's families are struggling financially. It ain't right.

There's an election in a few weeks. We need a change. They've had their turn... Please, go vote.


They've been redoing a stream half a block from our how for the last four years. This is what I saw when I looked off the bridge the other day...

Got to see the beloved goddaughter, too!

I'm really not ready for this. Yes, it snowed. Yes, I rode my motorcycle the next day. Yes, it was cold. Yes, I feel pretty stupid sometimes.


I realize I've not written anything particularly good, witty, or charming lately. For that I apologize - things have been busy, and to be honest I've not been in a creative mood as of late. But I feel my muse returning... I shall be witty and charming again, someday, I'm sure.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Take Responsibility, Dammit!

Geeze, they've actually said it OUT LOUD...

I just read this. How sickening!

"Leading Republicans, with the support of conservative media outlets, are charging that the Mark Foley scandal was a plot orchestrated by Democrats to damage the G.O.P.'s electoral prospects this November." source

This was NOT leaked suddenly - the story was known by insiders up to five years ago, and the Harper's reporter knew of it last May. The Mark Foley scandal is NOT a "plot orchestrated by the Democrats" as Mr. Dennis Hastert claimed on the Rush Limbaugh radio show - it's a 50+ year old elected official trying to lure underage boys into sexual congress. How in the world can the Republicans blame this on anyone but themselves? A member of their own party perpetrated the crime, and other party members covered it up - thereby endangering other young boys. How can the Democrats possibly be to blame?

We NEED to change things! This cannot continue.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Scientific Experiment

The Rather Large Mug

I've been wondering about this all week... Time to find out.

The answer is: Three! Three delicious Abbeys fit into my Rather Large Mug.
The answer to Part II: About an hour and a quarter.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


They're falling apart, I tell ya...

I've been watching the news a lot. It's been entertaining lately! But it raises my blood pressure, which is probably bad.

First off, the Republican-controlled legislature has approved the building of a wall between parts of the United States and Mexico. This is gonna cost billions of taxpayer dollars, and I think it's a bad idea. Is a wall going to keep illegal immigrants out? No. It's that simple. If you build a wall, people will tunnel under, fly over, sneak through... It's not a barrier. The other part that bothers me is the symbolism. We are truly becoming the Soviet Union of our generation - there is talk of internal passports, we're building a wall, the government can now LEGALLY come and get you in the middle of the night and throw you in jail forever... This is spooky! I don't like it one bit.

Mr. Bush, tear down that wall.

The next item is scary, too... Republican Representative Mark Foley was head of the committee to keep Internet predators from raping, pestering, harassing, and/or luring young boys and girls. It turns out that Mr. Foley is truly uniquely qualified to head such a committee, being an Internet predator himself... It came to light last week that Mr. Foley had been sending nasty e-mails to underage boys.

Okay, the course of action here is clear... The police send in their vice squad and arrest Mr. Foley for all sorts of crimes and take him away in handcuffs. This is what would happen to anyone else in America who got caught doing what Mr. Foley did. But, since Mr. Foley is a powerful Republican, things are being swept under the rug and, true to Bush Administration Protocol, no one is taking responsibility for their actions.

Mr. Foley has been checked into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic. I guess they must cure pedophilia there, somehow. He claims that he bears no responsibility for his actions because he's an alcoholic. And wait, this gets worse.

We have now learned that Republican House Leader Dennis Hastert knew about Mr. Foley sending illegal e-mails to young boys years ago, AND DID NOTHING.

So, Mr. Foley is an obvious danger to society, and has broken the law, and the Republican leadership kept silent. So, Mr. Hastert is going to jail in handcuffs as an accomplice to a crime? Soliciting child pornography or something? No. He's not. You see, Mr. Hastert blames all this on the Democrats and ABC News. (I'm not making this up. Here's the source.) He will not take responsibility for his own (in)actions, either. It's the Bush Administration way of doing things, you see. Blame someone else.

In other sad news, United States President George Walker Bush has officially killed more Americans than the terrorists of September 11, 2001. We've lost more soldiers in Iraq than we did on 9-11.

This all comes from the political part that gained power by touting superior moral values. We NEED a change!


I went on a bike ride through the midst of Nebraska a couple weeks ago.

In contrast, here's downtown Omaha at night...

We saw a real honest Oompah band in Omaha. Dagmar knew all the words to the songs...

I bought a big beer. (That's probably why the photo of downtown Omaha is blurry...) Here's my vunderful vife playing with my mug... I tried to play with her can later but she didn't let me.

It truly is fall.

A note on relationships in general...

Seems like I've inadvertently upset a bunch of people (a bunch being just short of a metric scad) lately. I'd like to say to the world in general and my family and friends in particular that I try very hard to be a good person. I don't belittle people, I try my darndest to avoid saying or doing anything cruel or mean, and I honestly respect everyone I know. Please know that if I've said anything to upset you, it was unintentional (unless I was talking about politics - if my politics offend you, well, there's not much I can do about that).

Thank you for your patience in this matter.

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