Monday, April 29, 2013

On the Ambulance

As a member of EMS in rural Iowa I pick up my fair share of older folks. Iowa has a large geriatric population and it is getting bigger. However the other day I had a patient that both made me proud and sad. Recently we picked up a 95 year old gentleman from a care facility to be taken to a local hospital for evaluation. This gentleman wasn't too thrilled with  the idea to say the least. The sad fact is these folks often go to the hospital never to return and the other residents know this. We EMS providers have a duty to transport them for care but it often isn't a very pleasant job.

It was my turn to attend the patient so we loaded him on the cot and placed him in the back of the ambulance. Once he was comfortable and hooked up to the monitor my partner hopped in the driver's seat and started heading towards the hospital. I wasn't providing much but comfort care so I struck up a conversation trying to ease some of his stress.

He was wearing a hat that said " WWII/Korea Veteran" so I asked him which war he was in. He said "Both". I mumbled some comment about being a Vet myself but I find it hard to compare my service to men such as this. Men that spent years away from home, with no contact but the occasional letter. I don't know if it is hero worship or just much respect. This gentlemen told me he had been in the Navy and was a gunner on a Torpedo Bomber. He had been in Navy for 10 years much of that in combat. Then he had come home and driven a truck for 40+ years. Raised a family and went on with life. His wife had recently died and now he was all alone. By the time we reached the hospital I had him laughing but inside I felt sadness that great Americans such as these ended up so lonely.

We are losing the Greatest Generation day by day and week by week, our newest greatest generation. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are everywhere. Working jobs and raising families. I hope in 40 years things do not turn out the same.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Marion Rotary Marathon

I had registered for the Marion Marathon for a few reasons. Primarily it fit into my training plan for the 100 mile ultra I was going to run in June and I just couldn't pass up a marathon, road or not, that was so close to home. This inaugural event was being held literally 30 minutes from my house. So it had been on my calendar for a few months. Then on the Monday prior to this race, some terrorist assholes decided they would bomb the Boston Marathon. They killed three innocent people and wounded over 170. The entire week prior to this marathon was spent with America riveted to the television as the manhunt for these cowards commenced and finally ended less than a week later with the killing of one terrorist and the capture of another. I won't go into the whole scenario because they will be talking about it for years to come. Suffice it to say that the running community was shaken to the core by this senseless attack on what is usually a happy occasion full of triumph.

I thought for a while that the organizers of this marathon may overreact and cancel. But I was happy to find out that they merely tightened up some security measures and decided the show must go on. I also decided to run this race in solidarity with the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. I would do this by carrying the US flag for the entire marathon. I arrived about an hour early on race day. Enough time to visit the facilities and get geared up for the race. Since this was to be a training run I was going to carry a hydration bottle as well as the flag. It was slightly chilly and threatened rain but generally looked to be a good day to run. I really had no expectations for the race. I was hoping to finish somewhere between 4:30 and 5 hours.

There were about 400 1/2 marathoners and about 200 marathoners moving toward the start line. I saw the police K9 patrol sweeping the start area before the race. I made some small talk with a friend of mine Darrell, who was running the half marathon, while we waited. After the National Anthem and the invocation the gun went off and we headed out. As usual I was well hydrated and I had to stop literally 300 meters after the start to hit the porto potties. This would be a recurrent theme during the race as I stopped for the call of nature about 5 times during the race. Someday I will get this hydration thing down.

The course headed north over the first 3 miles on a road that was hilly but closed off to traffic. We then took a right along a highway that was also closed to traffic for another couple of miles before taking another right and heading back south. Once we headed back south the roads were no longer closed and we had to stay to the right of the coned area. Approximately mile 5 I saw my friend Kelly up ahead and I eventually caught her and we exchanged some words of encouragement. I was feeling pretty good and joked with her that I was going with the go hard and blow up early technique on this race. I had found a comfortable place to carry my flag and had just settled into a nice pace. At mile 6 I got some more support from a lot of my running friends that were manning an aid station. Just about that time I caught up with another running acquaintance ,Clayton. He was running his first marathon and we would swap places back and forth for a few miles. Me passing him and then him catching up when I stopped to water the grass. The route headed south for about 5-6 more miles before starting a wandering track through the town of Marion.

It was about mile 10 that I decided I had a chance to set a personal record. I had previously run a sub 4 hour marathon the spring of 2012 and I thought I could do it again today. If  I could just hold my pace I would be good. Of course this being a race in Marion Iowa we had to run up the soul sucking and steep cemetery hill about mile 13. I don't think I have run any race in that town, and I have run more than one there, that didn't include that hill. But it wasn't to be the last hill. Once we passed through the cemetery we headed east back through town and then eventually turned north again to head out of town. I was still feeling good at this point approximately mile 18 or so and was well under PR pace.

 However once we headed out of town , going north along the highway, the weather we had been promised materialized. There was about 5-10 minutes of sleet, which was no big deal but it was the wind that started to make the difference. Once the buildings no longer blocked the wind it hit us on the side at about 20 mph. My flag kept flapping in my face and whipping me in my eyes. Once we hit the top of the course and took a right to head back east we were running into the teeth of the wind. Full force into your face, it was hard to move forward. I wasn't fatigued but the mere act of running against the wind slowed everyone down. I saw my cushion start to dwindle but I was still under PR pace. Eventually we turned back south for the last 3 miles down the same road we had originally started on heading the opposite way. Someone in the intervening hours since I had last saw this stretch of road had added a bunch of rolling hills that I didn't remember. Between the hills and the wind I had to put out a good effort to maintain my previous pace. I looked at my watch and saw I had 10 minutes and what I estimated as about a mile to go to beat my PR. I focused my gaze on the last hill as I could see runners ahead of me turning left and heading into the football stadium to the finish.As I crested that hill and turned into the parking lot I glanced at my watch quick to see I had just a few minutes left. I lengthened my stride as I hit the high school track and ran the last 300 meters with a purpose. I crossed the finish line approximately 2 minutes under my previous best marathon time in 3:51:34. I was extremely happy with this race and I am looking forward to my 50 mile race in 3 weeks.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Red Shamrock Trail Race

My friend Ross has been turning me on to more of these shorter trail races lately. I enjoy doing them because it keeps me off the road but I can still race. Also in the smaller races I am more competitive. This race was just a little over a 5K and it was held in Hickory Hill park in a town (Iowa City) about 20 miles south of where I live. I had ran in Hickory Hill park before but mostly at night so I wasn't quite sure what to expect during daytime conditions.

I had to work an ambulance shift the night before ( poor planning on my part) and we had a call early in the morning so I didn't get a lot of sleep the night prior to the race. But that is semi normal as my schedule is always packed full of work,school and running. I arrived about an hour before race time and picked up my number.

This race had no shirts but they did hand out these cool water bottles that had the race logo on them. So that was different. There was a little confusion and disorganization handing out the numbers but eventually it all got straightened out. After getting my number I went and sat in my car  for about 30 minutes, staying warm, as it was right around freezing despite it being mid April. About 20 minutes before the race I stripped down to my Team Red White and Blue t shirt and my shorts. I then ran just about a half mile of warm up and hit the porto potty.

Quite a few of my running friends where on hand for this race and we stood around talking in the cold waiting on the start. Eventually it did start and with  a "Ready,Go" from the race organizer, we took off. We started off on the high school track and did almost a full lap before heading across the grass and into the park. My strategy was to get ahead of as many people as possible because I thought there wouldn't be much room to pass once we got on the trail.

 So I was ahead of all but about 5 people when we hit the trail and headed downhill into the park. However I could hear people right on my tail as we took a left and headed along a fairly flat gravel portion. In the distance probably about 100 meters or so ahead, I could see my two friends Ross S and Ross K battling it out with another runner for first as the headed towards the woods. I wanted to keep them in sight as long as possible but lost them never to see them again once they hit the treeline. As I hit the treeline we ran up hill then downhill in what would become a recurring theme during the race. After a short flat section we turned right and uphill again. It was on this hill I was passed by two guys that looked like triathloners based on what they were wearing. One looked to be in my age group so I tried to keep up but his long legs left me behind.

My Garmin buzzed just about the top of the hill and I had ran a 7 minute mile for this first mile. I could hear people behind me however so I channeled my inner Kilian Jornet and bombed the downhill figuring I would either crash or gain some distance. Then we turned left and headed for another flat section ending in another hill. During this section a young lady passed me as we headed up a twisty hill. I tried to maintain my pace and run upright because I had plans to run some more after the race and didn't want to injure myself. I glanced behind me at this point and saw my friend Kelly about 30 yards back. As we went downhill again and then uphill she also passed me. She gave me some words of encouragement and pulled away going up the hill. Are you seeing a theme here? I need to work on some hills. This is the second or third race Kelly has caught and passed me on a hill. At this point I had hit the 2 mile mark running about a 7:40-8:00 mile. I couldn't see for sure as my Garmin was a little foggy. The last mile was pretty standard but smack dab in the middle of it was the biggest hill of them all. I did feel good as I powered up it because I passed the young lady that had passed me earlier. I looked a head though and there was a kid about 12 years old ahead of me. How did he get there? He must have been in front of me the whole time. I spent the rest of the race trying to catch him but it was not to be. This kid was pretty fast for his age and maintained our separation. So I took the last left and headed up the hill to the finish line. Crossing the finish line I hit my Garmin stop button at 25:00 on the dot. I ended up averaging 7:45 per mile which is pretty good for a hilly muddy course. Ross S ended up being 1st overall and Ross K was third. Kelly took 1st female. I think I came in 2nd in my age group and 10th overall. That is my story and I am sticking to it. After the race Ross S, I and Kelly ran another 2 hours and 50 minutes to get in some extra miles. Was a good day.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April 9th Redux

I can't believe it has been 10 years. It seems like just yesterday I was laughing as Ian was running for cover from the artillery while dragging the satcom radio by the handset all the time yelling " WE ARE EXPERIENCING HEAVY FIRE!!!!" I miss those time of my life. Please enjoy my post from 2 years ago.

So their I was hugging the ground like a little bitch trying to see how much of my body I could fit into the 2 ft wide 2 foot deep trench I was sitting in. Meanwhile Iraqi artillery shells were hitting less than 5 meters away raining shrapnel, rocks and dirt down on top of my Ballistic Helmet, Personnel, Ground more commonly known as the “Kevlar”. My Special Forces A Team had been calling devastating air strikes on the Iraqi Division dug in along the Kani Domlon ridgeline in Northern Iraq for about two weeks and I guess we pissed them off. The Iraqis had taken a terrible pounding and I had observed some of them even shedding their uniforms and deserting via a tractor earlier in the day. I had also observed about thirty of them turn into little pink smears on the grass as a B2 bomber unloaded its entire payload on their bunker.
We had been operating out of some fighting positions the Iraqis had abandoned as they retreated before the Kurdish Pershmerga and US Special Forces teams that had infiltrated Northern Iraq. The Iraqi military had consolidated their defense in a loose ring around the strategically oil rich city of Kirkuk. Occupying many concrete bunkers that were spread about five hundred meters apart; the Iraqis had also replicated their tactics of the first Gulf War and set some of the oil wells on fire. Apparently this was done in an attempt to obscure their positions from our aircraft. Earlier as I peered at the enemy positions through my binoculars and worked up coordinates for the next strike, I wondered if I would be permanently affected by breathing in all this oil smoke which covered us like a thick but slightly greasy fog.
However as I was getting more intimate with the Iraqi countryside I was worried about the more permanent problem that seemed to be facing me. It was about 2300 and pitch dark. Prior to nightfall we had seen some artillery fire land about 2000 meters away but didn’t pay it much attention other than to note it for our situation report. But now as half the team was preparing to bed down and the other half was on watch, the artillery started to bracket our position. The enemy observers added and dropped in range until they let a full blown fire for effect loose on our position.
My commo guy was yelling into the satcom radio that we were experiencing contact; meanwhile I was rousting the rest of the team trying to get them under cover. “Here it comes again, boys” I said as we heard the muffled report of the Iraqi artillery that was followed not to long after by another series of earth shattering and ear ringing explosions. The Kurdish Major who was my counterpart on this patrol, grabbed my arm and was trying to yell something about the incoming in my ear. However between his broken English and the noise I could only catch the word “Peshmerga” as he shook his head in a negative fashion. Was he trying to tell me we were not the primary target of this barrage? Was he trying to indicate the primary target was the Peshmerga forces that had been probing the Iraqi positions along the ridgeline?
Primary target or not when under stress soldiers always fall back on their training, every school I had went to from Basic Combat Training to Ranger school had drilled into me that when you are on the receiving end of an artillery attack you un-ass the area as quickly as possible. So this is what we did, I instructed my team members to grab the small amount of gear we had around our position and to load up in the white Land Rover Defender four wheel drives we were traveling in. We piled into our vehicles and clipped our night vision goggles to our helmets. Meanwhile the Kurds loaded up in the one rusty suburban they had for transportation. Except for the red tracers flying down the valley toward and around our position and the artillery flashes surrounding us there was no light. We drove in blackout conditions using our night vision goggles to navigate as the Kurds followed behind in their vehicle. My plan was to try and find another location to set up shop, one that had not been compromised by the Iraqi observers. Everyone was at a high state of alertness as we drove across the Iraqi countryside paralleling the bluff that ending abruptly at the steep valley that it seems Peshmerga forces where advancing up towards the Iraqi positions.
We were approaching a linear danger area (road) when suddenly my driver who was our senior weapons sergeant yelled “Ambush!! We have men and weapons on the road!!” He immediately threw our vehicle in reverse and tried to break contact. Unfortunately he forgot we were the lead element in a line of 4 vehicles. The vehicle immediately behind us managed to stop but was hit in the front fender by my vehicle as it backed up. The third vehicle in line was the Kurdish vehicle which continued the accordion effect and slammed into the spare tire on the back of the vehicle in front of it so hard the front of their vehicle was pushed into the radiator cracking it and busting a headlight. I yelled at him “What the fuck dude, you need to fuckin think before you go hauling ass!!” Meanwhile, whoever he saw on the road had disappeared, if they where even there at all.
So there we were in the middle of no mans land with two smashed up vehicles, one which was barely drivable. I had my team members pull security as I tried to assess the damage by red lens flashlight. We were barely 1000 meters from where we had just experienced the artillery attack and I felt like the leader of the ass clown circus as I tried to explain to the Major I was sorry we had destroyed his truck. I determined our best course of action was to return to base and see if we could repair the Kurdish truck. Our patrol base was in the village of Klawkut which was about 10 kilometers east of our current position. We limped back to base with the Kurdish vehicle in tow, driving thru the countryside of Northern Iraq it took us 4 more hours to move those 10 kilometers and we arrived at out patrol base about 0400 exhausted. After waking up my Team Leader and explaining the situation I told the guys to bed down and figured we would sort things out in the morning.
The next morning we reported what had happened to our company headquarters and we were instructed in no uncertain terms to get our asses back out there and establish a new observation post. So I loaded my team back up in our vehicles, taking only 2 Kurds with us we established a new OP a little farther north of our previous position. Shortly after we arrived we received radio traffic that we were to engage no one west of a particular gridline on the map. Shortly after that we received word that the Iraqi forces had deserted the ridgeline and Peshmerga where streaming hell bent for leather towards Kirkuk. I informed my Team Leader that the Kurds where heading towards Kirkuk and agreed to link up with them at a small village that we had used as a reference point before. As we waited at the linkup for the remainder of our team we saw a regular parade of buses, cars, dump trucks, and pickups filled with Peshmerga streaming south west along the main highway to Kirkuk. What happened when they got there is another story.
I found out later that April 9th was a watershed day for the invasion of Iraq. It was the day the famous statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled. It was the day that Baghdad was taken and the Iraqi forces collapsed. Although I will never know for sure I believe the fierce direct and indirect fire we experienced on that evening was the last attempt of the Iraqi forces to cover their withdrawal as they melted before the onslaught of American air power and Kurdish foot soldiers. For me the evening of April 9th will always stick in my mind as the night I had a fender bender in the middle of a firefight.