Thursday, March 29, 2012


In the Winter of 1983 I was a “five jump chump”, having recently graduated from Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Ga. After a two week leave back home, I checked into the 82nd Replacement Detachment, the “repple depple” on Ardennes St Ft. Bragg, NC. Upon my arrival I was immediately immersed in the airborne culture. I learned that all non-airborne qualified personnel ie…those that had never jumped out of a perfectly good airplane were known as “legs.” This was a pejorative term taken from the longer phrase of “straight leg infantry” as opposed to the airborne infantry. Being a new guy and never having jumped with “Division” I was now known as a “Cherry”. You can figure out what that means. Legs were to be hated and reviled; Cherries were to be messed with and made to do stupid things for the amusement of Sergeants. “Hey Private, go to the motor pool and get me a box of grid squares” or “Private, I need batteries for my canopy lights, make it happen.”
At the replacement detachment I endured numerous formations, inspections etc.. while I in processed the unit. All TA-50 was issued and accounted for; berets were shaved and properly formed so as not to look like a pizza delivery man. Brass was shined and so were jump boots. In the evenings I got my first taste of freedom since before I had joined the Army. Once we checked out with the charge of quarters we were allowed to go anywhere we wanted, we just had to be back for the 2200 hours curfew. Being 19 and new in town I of course explored all the wonders of Hay Street and its surrounding area. At the time Hay Street probably had more per capita strip clubs and Korean hooch bars than anywhere on the east coast. It boasted Rick’s Lounge that was legendary amongst the airborne and special operations community for its entertainment and beer specials. Quite the eye opener for a not yet jaded young man from Iowa.
After about 2 weeks I received my permanent orders, I was to report to the 1st Battalion 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment for further reassignment. The 325th AIR had the unique distinction of having been straight leg infantry in WWI then glider infantry in WWII. When gliders become obsolete the 325th was converted to parachute infantry. What was unique was that due to its heritage this regiment retained the moniker “airborne infantry” as opposed to the two other regiments in division that were designated parachute infantry regiments.
So I reported to the 1/325 personnel administration center or PAC and was handed over to a company representative. As an 11C or indirect fire infantry man I was to be assigned to Weapons Platoon B Company 1/325. At the time the Weapons Platoon employed the 81mm mortar and consisted of three gun squads and a headquarters section/Fire Direction Center. I was to learn all this stuff later, currently my entire company was out on a field exercise and they would be returning in a week. Meanwhile I was introduced to the rear detachment non commissioned officer in charge who promptly put me and the two other cherries to work painting the barracks hallways. So I spent my first week as a United States Paratrooper scrubbing walls and stirring paint buckets.
Eventually my new platoon mates returned from wherever they had been and they pressed me into service cleaning gear and squaring away the platoon area. I was in a sensory overload situation trying to learn all the new names and seeing where I was in the platoon pecking order. My new squad leader let me know that right away. “You’re my ammo bearer, so shut up and carry ammo.” Roger that Sergeant!!!!
After everything was squared away we were given the warning order that we would be returning to the field the following Monday to participate in a joint field exercise with the armor battalion. After all the troops were released for the weekend I spent a sleepless two days of nervous energy getting together the gear I thought I would need for my first training exercise and my first jump in division. My squad leader gave me some advice but I was mostly left to my own devices. Monday morning dawned bright and early. At 0200 the members of my platoon were outside in the company formation area participating in pre-jump training in anticipation of our parachute infiltration into the training area. Parachute landing falls were completed,malfunction procedures were repeated and actions in the aircraft were rehearsed  in a drill that would become very familiar to me over the next 22 years. This time however, I listened in a high state of alertness in nervous anticipation of the jump ahead.
Eventually the deuce and a half trucks arrived to shuttle us to “Green Ramp” on Pope Air Force Base. Upon arrival we were issued our T-10 parachutes complete with the infamous “dial of death.” Surprisingly this was something familiar. This was the same equipment I had been trained on in jump school. I donned my parachute and a jumpmaster inspected my equipment then instructing me to sit down in chalk order. For what seemed like hours I dozed in and out of consciousness smelling the fumes from the constantly taxing C130 aircraft. Finally the command “ON YOUR FEET!!!” was heard and we shuffled in a ragged line like so many ants up the tailgate and into the red web seating of our designated aircraft. As would become my habit in the future I once again dozed off in an adrenaline induced coma while the aircraft took off. The crew chief and jumpmaster walked up and down the aisle or rather used our legs and rucksacks as stepping stones as they moved from one end of the aircraft to the other. “Twenty Minutes!!!... 10 Minutes!!! …Get Ready!!! …Outboard Personnel Standup!!! …Inboard Personnel Standup!!!...Hookup!!!..Check Static Lines!!!!...Check Equipment!!!.. Sound Off for Equipment Check!!!...All OK Jumpmaster!!!!...Stand in the Door!!!
Jump commands complete the door was opened and the roar of the rushing air filled the aircraft. I nervously hung on my static line as my shoulders were slowly crushed by the weight of my parachute and my rucksack with its attached 81mm mortar base plate and 3 rounds of simulated ammunition. Due to being vertically challenged and being somewhere in the middle of the stick I could barely see the glow of the jump lights as they turned from red to green. Suddenly I was being pushed violently from behind as the paratroopers at the rear started pushing the rest of us towards the door so as not to miss the drop zone. My vision was a blur as I moved rapidly to the door and my body position was anything but textbook as I literally fell out of the C130 and counted “One Thousand, Two Thousand, Three Thousand, Four Thousand..Check Canopy!!” Luckily I had a full canopy although due to my poor exit I had line twists all the way up to the bottom of the material. I bicycled vigorously until the twists worked them selves out. I then was able to look around and I was in awe at the sheer number of troopers in the air. It was only a battalion size operation employing 5 aircraft however we had jumped from a single aircraft in school which held jumpers. There were hundreds of jumpers in the air on this jump, all trying to land safely in the same patch of North Carolina wilderness.
As I was taught I lowered my rucksack and prepared to land by putting my feet and knees together and pulling the risers of my parachute so I could “slip” into the wind. I landed like a ton of bricks, gathered my wits, removed my weapon form the M1950 weapons case and put it into operation. I then gathered my parachute into its kitbag, grabbed my equipment and started a short but intensive death march to the rally point. Once we were all accounted for I moved out with my mortar section to the link up with the armor elements.
The rest of the week I rode on the back of a tank just like in the movies, occasionally dismounting to clear obstacles and do some patrolling in advance of the armor movement. Being a private I had no idea why we were doing this or where we were at. I rode when they told me to, ate what they gave me and sleep where they pointed. My biggest memories from my first field exercise where surprise at how cold it got in North Carolina in February and awe that my Platoon Sergeant ate Milkbone dog biscuits as a between meal snack.
At the end of the week we once again boarded some trucks and made the long dusty trip back to garrison and the company area. I was dispatched to the motorpool to help wash and PMCS vehicles. I cleaned my weapon and put my gear on my bed. Finally in the wee hours of a Saturday morning we were released and told we would be doing it all over again bright and early Monday morning. However this weekend would be different, I would not be wondering about the unknown but thinking about how I could pack my gear better. I was still a cherry but my first evolution was behind me and I was a US PARATROOPER!!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Honor and Integrity

Honor and integrity, those words..those sticky, confusing, and to some menacing words. How can two words both threaten and inspire?  Honor is defined as honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions. It is often said that integrity is doing what is right even when no one is watching. These words are concepts. Concepts requiring us to aspire to be the best persons we can be. These concepts are what threaten and inspire.

Honor.. most of my adult life I have been taught that  you never leave a man behind. You never abandon a fallen comrade. If a teammate stumbles you rally behind them. You coach and mentor, you encourage and support. you never LEAVE A FALLEN COMRADE!!! It is very disheartening to see how quickly some will abandon those with whom they serve. Honor and integrity... are you inspired? Or are you scared? Do those words make you sweat because of the expectations associated with them? Individuals with honor and integrity are expected to lead. They are expected to set an example. To have honor and integrity you can not merely manage, you must lead, and lead from the front.

Integrity is not a word we read off cue cards, it is not a concept we banter about as a theory. You either have integrity at your core or your core is rotten and diseased. Integrity..doing the right thing when no one is watching. Integrity..doing the right thing when we experience no personal gain. Integrity.. the unquestionable bedrock of character upon which a leader's personality is built. Integrity can take us to great heights, it can also console us in our lowest depths.

Honor and integrity ..what say you gentleman? Show me something.Impress me.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hawkeye 50K Ultra 2012

So this was the second running of this race and the second time I have run it. The inaugural Hawkeye 50K was in December 2010 but due to issues with the Park Ranger ( more on that later) the race had to be moved to March. This made the second annual race about 15 months from the first race. The conditions couldn't have been more different as this race day dawned sunny and warm with a high of 80 degrees and a 10-20 mph wind to keep you cool. Quite a difference from the "thundersnow" of the first race which I chronicled here

So as I said race day dawned warm and sunny and I was better prepared having a mini-mule camelbak and plenty of supplements. I loaded everything in the car and drove the 25 miles to the Coralville reservoir where the race would be held. The 50K course was two 15.5 mile laps around the reservoir roughly broken into thirds with the first third being road, the second third crushed gravel trail and the last third technical trail.

Upon arrival I had to park about .5 miles from the start as the closer parking lot was already full. So I parked the car grabbed my gear and made my way to the start/finish. The walk to the start actually took me down a road that I would be running as part of the course later on. Once at the start I put my drop bag up against the building and listened to the Race Director give out last minute instructions. I tied my shoes and double checked all my gear and moved to the start line.

At the starting gun I hit my watch and my iphone running app. I also started the ultrarunning podcast that I have been listening to on my training runs. As I was using this race as a training run for a 50 mile race I have coming up, I had several other new things I was giving a try. I had new gaitors, a new nutrition plan and a new camelbak. I was breaking the cardinal rule of racing which is don't try anything new but as I considered this a training run I was ok with it. We ran down hill for about 50 meters then turned right onto the first section of trail, as expected a huge bottle neck developed and I actually stopped right there for a few seconds. After getting on the actual trail I slowly jogged through the varied terrain as I knew this section was less than a mile long and eventually we would hit the road and everyone would spread out. It was during this section that I got my first trip and fall out of the way. That's right less than a mile into the race I hit a buried root and took a face plant into the terra firma. More embarrassed than injured I popped right up with a loud " I meant to do that!"
Eventually we hit the main road for what would be 3-4 miles of highway shoulder running. This section was slightly up hill the whole way but did have some down hill as well.
It was during this section that Jen R who I know from dailymile caught up with me and we started chatting. Talking to someone always makes the run go by easier. She was doing the 25K and it was really nice to meet her in perso. We would run a few miles together during this part of the race. After about 4 miles we took a left and headed into the first aid station at mile 4.5. The aid station workers were awesome and the station was well stocked. I grabbed a PBJ sandwich and some gatorade and headed over to the woodline to relieve myself. Part of the nutrition plan I was trying to follow involved taking a salt/electrolyte tablet (thanks for the bottle Deborah) and a GU Gel every 30 minutes. I was happy to see I was well hydrated still as I had been drinking out of my camelbak as needed. 

I ran with Jen and a new friend Benny for the next few miles. Benny was from South Africa and was also running the 50K. This section of the course was around the lake and was mostly flat on a wide bike path. It offered some interesting views of waterfowl and boaters and I stopped to take a lot of pictures. Eventually Benny and Jen told me to go ahead as I was feeling pretty strong. I would see Benny again at the end of the race but I did not see Jen again. I continued along the lake taking my GU and electrolytes as planned. My biggest fear was to experience the cramps I had been hit with on my last two ultras. I was hopping this plan would stop those from recurring. My iphone app let me know I was keeping a steady pace and I was feeling pretty good. My plan was to finish the first lap in about 3 hours and then try to hit 6-6.5 hours for the entire race. Last time I ran this race I had hit the halfway in about 3 hours then bonked and slowed way down. I wanted to stay steady for the entire race this time.
At about 9.5 miles we were dumped out onto another service road and we headed slightly downhill to the second aid station. I grabbed some more PBJ and fluids and also a hand full of peanut M and M's. I was staying well hydrated still up to this point. I headed back out, up a large hill then down that hill again to hit the trail. 

I ran this trail for a few miles until I hit the stream crossing. The water was pretty high this year so I plunged right in knowing my feet would be wet anyway. The water was cool and refreshing and my shoes were back to only slightly damp after a few minutes. After the stream crossing you had to climb a large hill and the course got way more technical. It was at this point about 12-13 miles into the race I started to employ power walking up the steep hills and running the flats and downhills.

So I was stilling feeling really good at this point and the course took us by the start/finish where you had to take a right and head up hill and around the trails for about another 2 miles before the first lap was complete. I was starting to pass people and I completed the first lap in 2:56:44. I stopped for a good while at this point. I refilled my camelbak, downed some more water,ate some real food from the aid station and most important of all I changed my wet socks. After roughly an 8 minute rest I headed back out for lap number two. Lap 2 was a not a carbon copy of lap 1. Most of the runners where off the course as the 25k was complete. I would finish this entire lap only seeing 3 other runners. Once I hit the highway section I was starting to compare the way I felt on the second lap to the way I had felt in the previous race. It was night and day. I was feeling very strong at this point. I could see two little black specks a mile or more in the distance and I was determined to run them down. I didn't alter my pace but I just kept running steady. At the turn into Solon I met my friend Dave who was out for a Triatholon training ride on his bike. We talked a few minutes as he rode by my side. He said I was looking good which was a big morale boost as I was hitting the 20 mile point and hadn't really felt any fatigue. I hit the aid station again and was able to pass the two black specks who had turned into runners as we all stopped at the aid station.
When I headed back out onto the trail I switched my entertainment from the podcast to some metal. For the next 7-8 miles I would be banging my head as I ran down the trail. A few miles into the lake section I passed a guy who said he was having some cramping. This was the same area that I had experienced my massive leg cramps the year before. I offered him a electrolyte tablet but he said he had just taken one. Then he said" Hey are you Michael?" I said yes. He said " I'm Ed" Another dailymile friend I had met in real life. He ran with me for about a mile as we talked about the 82nd Airborne eventually he had to walk again. I wished him good luck and kept running down the trail. I was still pushing the GU but after 4-5 hours it was starting to make me mildly nauseous. I knew I needed the calories though as I could tell despite my best efforts I was starting to bonk a little and become dehydrated. I passed the second aid station again and grabbed some more PBJ, M and M's and plenty of fluid. There was a guy there laying on his back trying to stretch his calf out who shouted me some encouragement as I took off. I was starting to smell the barn as I was under 5 hours and knew I had roughly 6-7 miles to go. 6 hours looked like a doable time. Somewhere on the trail to the stream crossing my iphone ran out of juice. I would run the rest of the race sans music. The second stream crossing went much like the first but I could tell climbing the hill out of the stream bed that I was starting to get fatigued. I continued my power walk/run method the second time through this terrain and felt I was keeping a steady pace despite the growing fatigue.
As I passed the start/finish area for the third time and was taking a right to power up the incline, I heard a voice yelling for me to stop. The Race Director came running over and said that the race was officially canceled per the Park Ranger. There had been a runner with a medical issue during the race and the Park Ranger was shutting it down. I was pissed especially since I was about 3 miles from finishing. The Race Director advised me to stop and that I would no longer be timed. I told him I understood but I was going to finish my "training run" as a private citizen. So I took off on the last three miles. It was at this point and will forever be Hawkeye 50K tradition I started humming the song Por Ti Volore song from StepBrothers. During this last section I was passed by a shirtless guy who had also declined to stop. I kept him in sight though and finished just a few minutes behind him. I got back to the unofficial finish line in the unofficial time of 6 hours 8 minutes and 33 seconds. This was a 50K PR for me by 1 hour 13 minutes and 11 seconds. Awesome but nothing like being a race bandit at a race you paid for. I am still upset about the knee jerk reaction of that Park Ranger and immediately after finishing this post I am going to write a indignant letter to the editor and the DNR voicing my concerns about Big Brother, the governmental nanny state, and poor decisions. I will be running in the Trail Mix 50K in 4 weeks which should be another good race.

Jen this is for you

Sunday, March 4, 2012

You Are No Longer My Friend, My Friend: Adventures in the Souk

As many of you know I have spent quite a bit of my life  in the Middle East or on the fringes of the region. Shopping in the local souk or market is a unique experience. In the souk price is no object and the stickers advertising said prices are merely a suggestion. I have shopped in large souks in Istanbul and Morocco as well as small markets in Egypt, Iraq, and Turkey. I have bought mother of pearl inlaid jewelry boxes, refrigerator magnets, fish skin drums, leather backpacks made from camel, hand-carved wooden faces, and painted plates. I have seen trained monkeys, snake charmers, goats, and hundreds of street urchins begging for " just one dollar" or candy. I have eaten cheese, goat, "kabob shish", flat bread and green salads. I have drank chai and coffee so hot you couldn't hold the cup.

Shopping in the souk is always fun most conversations with local vendors go something like this:

My friend please..please my friend I have watches. Beautiful Rolex, you come see.

I can't afford a Rolex

For you my friend 10 dollars

Let me see it, This isn't a real Rolex I will give you 3 dollars

My friend, you are taking food from the mouth of my children. It is an insult my friend. I will sell you the watch for 8 dollars.

I just watched you sell the same watch to that guy for 3 dollars

LIES who tells you these lies? My friend you are no longer my friend. It is lies

I just watched you myself,sell that watch to him for 3 dollars. I will give you 3 dollars for the watch.

But my friend, it is not possible

Ok then forget it, I don't need a watch anyway

My friend, it is making me poor but I will sell the watch.

And so it goes..

I once got a henna tattoo in the plaza of the Grand Souk in Marrakeesh Morroco, while watching a snake charmer make a cobra dance in a basket. All I could think was, how the hell did I get into the middle of this episode of Jonny Quest? I spent an entire day in a similar souk in Istanbul. I bought myself a reversible jacket which is lost somewhere in the shadows of time and a small polished stone jar that at this very moment is sitting on my night stand. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Iraqi  version of a gunshow when I went with some of our Kurdish allies to a market that sold everything from AK-47's to RPG's. All that armament was laid out on tables like so many loaves of bread. I would like to go back someday and do some more shopping in one of the souk's but chances are that will never happen. So I will just keep my memories and laugh with my buddies about the times when we did visit the Souk.