Friday, December 31, 2010

Swamp Patrol

In 1988 I was attending the U.S. Army Ranger school having progressed through City week and the Mountain phase I was now located at Eglin AFB Florida for what was called "Jungle Phase." It really should have been called "swamp" phase in my opinion since we spent most of our time knee deep in water. This phase concentrated on platoon size operations and all of us Ranger students had to pass a patrol as Platoon Leader (PL). We were also graded on other leadership positions such as squad leaders or Platoon Sergeant (APL). Upon initial arrival we were given the obligatory speech about how we had had it easy up to this point but that this phase would weed out the wannabes. Our Ranger instructors also showed us a huge American Alligator. This thing was about 20 feet long and lived in a pond surrounded by a fence on the Ranger compound. It had a name but after over twenty years I can’t remember what it was.
Eventually we were allowed to put our gear in the barracks and we spent the next two days taking classes and trying to stay awake. Even though we were in a garrison environment for those two days we still were only given one Meal-Ready-To-Eat a day and four hours of sleep a night or less. At this point after about thirty days of this regimen our bodies were starting to seriously break down. We thought about food constantly and we fought against fatigue on a minute by minute basis. This was supposed to put stress on us similar to what we might face in combat as leaders. Funny thing though, when I actually got to combat later on in my career I was always well fed and I usually got enough sleep, that’s because in real combat the Army doesn’t want a bunch of sleepy, hungry guys performing high priority missions if they can help it.
So during one class on poisonous snakes indigenous to the area, as we were dozing through a PowerPoint presentation, our instructor pulled out a large wooden box and said he was going to show us a live rattle snake. So as he reached into the box he let out a loud yell. “Oh my God it just bit me!!!!!” Then we saw this large snake go flying across the room as he flung it away from himself. He had thrown it towards the opposite side of the room than the side I was sitting on and the students on that side were climbing over each other, over the chairs, and up the walls trying to make some distance between themselves and the snake. When the snake landed it just lay there, upon closer inspection it was discovered that it was a rubber snake. All the instructors where laughing their asses off at all the dumb ranger students that had been trying to run from a rubber snake. Looking back I admit it was pretty funny and he sure kept us awake for the rest of his class.
Eventually class time was over and we started the by now familiar routine of operations order, gear prep and deployment for a ten day patrol in the swamps of Eglin AFB. We loaded deuce and a half trucks and after about a two hour ride in the covered back of these trucks, the Ranger Instructors “encouraged” us to un-ass “their” vehicle and pull security as they drove off down the sandy road. I was prone with my M16 rifle facing out towards the enemy as part of the 360 degree security we established while the student designated at PL got his bearings. I was just a squad member on this first day so I had nothing in particular to worry about. In addition to my regular gear I had a 120 foot nylon rope back-fed into my rucksack for our anticipated river crossing of the Yellow River. The Yellow River meandered its way through the training area surrounded by a large swamp. This swamp was due to the fact that elevation changes where practically non existent as we looked at the map. I was pretty happy about this after finishing the mountain phase of the course I was ready for some flatness. Little did I know that even flatness has its drawbacks.
As we got started on the patrol I was a rifleman on the left flank of the B-Team or the second team of the 3rd squad in the patrol order. Each team consisted of a point man, a Team leader, an automatic rifle man and three rifle man. We were all arranged in wedges with the Squad Leaders and Platoon leader positioning themselves with their RTO’s (radio operators) in the center of each formation. We started walking keeping a separation of 50-100 meters between elements as the terrain dictated. As in most of the south we were patrolling through sandy soil, covered with pine needles from the tall pine trees and short scrubby pines that were growing thick in the area. As we had been dropped off in late afternoon eventually we stopped to conduct a listening halt right around EENT or end evening nautical twilight. This served two purposes, it allowed us to acclimatize ourselves to the sights and sounds of the “battle field” as darkness fell and it allowed our PL to orient himself to our objective.
Our initial objective was a cache of Zodiac rubber boats with which we were to move ourselves and our equipment to our raid objective. The boats were more than a days patrol away so we would be spending the night in a patrol base before we reached them. Eventually after patrolling until about 0100 through the pie forest we stopped as the PL did a leader’s reconnaissance for a night time patrol base. Once an acceptable spot was located we all moved in forming a cigar shaped perimeter with inter-locking fields of fire and automatic weapons strongpointed along likely avenues of approach. As one ranger pulled security the other one utilized his entrenching tool to dig a shallow fox hole. Once everyone was dug in we were allowed to pull 50% security. This meant one ranger could sleep while the other stared into the darkness straining to see the “enemy” or more likely a Ranger Instructor sneaking up to try and steal equipment from a sleeping ranger.
Morning came early after I got about 2 hours of sleep and we moved out again towards our objective. Shortly after moving out we started to encounter the swamp surrounding the Yellow River. From this point on I would not have dry feet for about a week. We slogged through the mud moving now one behind the other in a “Ranger File.” Due to the terrain I couldn’t see anything but the rucksack of the ranger in front of me. My goal became a struggle to keep within arms reach of my platoon mate to the front so as not to break contact. All the while under water roots and branches continued to try and trip me up and the mud tried to pull the jungle boots from my feet. Eventually we reached the bank of the river where several Zodiacs where pulled up on the bank. Each boat could hold 12 rangers. We piled our rucksacks in the middle and straddled the side of the Zodaic with one knee in the center and one on the outside edge with our leg almost but not quite dangling in the water as we tucked it behind us. We launched our boats and tried to get in rhythm as we paddled down the river for what was to be a 12 kilometer movement to our disembarkation point.
Paddling down the river was almost a relief with the exception of trying to stay in cadence with my fellow rangers. Our Ranger Instructor sat in the back giving us “constructive criticism” on our technique and navigation down the river. I said almost a relief because shortly after we pushed off I started noticing some of the local fauna sunning themselves on the banks of the river. The fauna I was seeing was many many alligators more than this Iowa boy had ever seen and certainly the only ones I had seen in the wild. I started being very aware of the leg that was inches from the river and continually tried to tuck it further up under my butt as I kept a watchful eye out for any reptilian predators.
Eventually we beached the boats and the little river ride was over, we disembarked as it was getting dark again. We climbed out straight into the water about waist deep and started to slog our way on azimuth towards our next objective which was a patrol base on the dry side of the river. We would not reach it that night and would be spending the night in the swamp with no sleep. Once we entered the trees and bushes surrounding the river it instantly got pitch dark. The only thing you could see was the luminous “cat eyes” sewed on the rucksacks and patrol caps of the ranger to your immediate front. It was so dark you could literally not see your hand in front of your face, and the branches and roots of the very closely grown together trees in the swamp constantly looked to poke you in the eye or trip you up.
We spent the next 10-12 hours wading through the waist to chest deep water, keeping our weapons above our heads so as not to get them wet and struggling to keep up with the man ahead. At one point we halted and the word was passed back to bring up the 120 foot rope as we needed it for a river crossing. As I struggled to the front of the file I was thinking to myself, that I thought we had been walking through the freaking river for the last 5 hours. One ranger tied the rope around his waist and left all his gear as he swam across the 100 meters to the opposite shore. He then secured the opposite end to a tree and pulled security while we sent his gear across with another ranger. All of us took turns snaplinking to the rope and making our way rucksack, weapon and all across the river.  When it was my turn being, fairly short at 5’7”, I almost immediately lost my footing as the river got deeper. My rucksack actually acted as a buoyancy device and kept me afloat as I held my weapon out of the water and pulled myself with my other hand along the rope. Unfortunately it was also pulling my chest strap across my throat and threatened to choke me out before I got to the other side. Eventually I did make it though and pulled security while the rest of the platoon crossed and we re-stoyed  the rope in my rucksack. The now wet rope weighed about a million pounds as we continued along in the dark.
As the sun came up we entered a clearing that was on some higher ground. While not totally dry it was dryer than anything we had walked on in the last 10 hours. The sunshine was sending its early morning rays through the rising mist of the swamp causing light to bounce off in tiny rain bows. As I looked to the left and right of me my fellow students, muddy, wet and bedraggled looked like something out of the living dead as they emerged from the mist on to dryer ground. I wasn’t in any better shape myself as somehow I had managed to rip a hole in the entire left leg of my BDU pants and my muddy leg kept poking its way out every time I took a step. It is funny how some images remain with you forever. But I will never forget this image of our platoon emerging from the swamp after an exhausting night of patrolling into a bright morning sun. I can see it now in my minds eye right down to my prune-like hands and muddy boots. I participated in many patrols in my career, both in training and combat but this one was one I will never forget.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

So this is Christmas

I haven't been blogging much this month, been pretty busy and also the old creative juices just weren't flowing. I was thinking today however about Christmas past and some of the good times I have had and the things I am thankful for. As you know I am in to lists so I made of my Christmas thanks in no particular order.

I am thankful all my children are safe and productive.
I am thankful for the 20 gauge shotgun my Dad bought me when I was 10, I still have it.
I am thankful my Wife still puts up with my BS, I think we were made for each other which is the point.
I am thankful for the ipod and my forerunner GPS both presents that are the most useful my kids ever got me over the years.
I am thankful I have a job(s)
I am thankful that in 22 years of active Military service through war and peacetime, even though I missed every other holiday and birthday, I made it home for every Christmas. One year I flew in on Dec 24.
I am thankful I like to run
I am thankful I can still run
I am thankful my dogs like me
I am thankful that I live in the United States of America

There is so much else to be thankful for I couldn't possibly put it all down, So I say Merry Christmas to you all and to all a good night!!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2010 In Review : Former Action Guy by the numbers

In it usually about this time of year that all your radio stations start their top 100 countdowns or VH1 broadcasts best of the year videos or any number of places select their"best of."  I thought I would hop on the band wagon and countdown my last year by the numbers. So here goes:

 Officiating by the numbers
Football games officiated-77
Baseball games umpired-100
Wrestling matches officiated-100-150 ( just a SWAG on this, I never counted actual matches just dates of tournaments and dual meets)
Top Ten Athletes or Teams officiated-17
Hall of Fame Coaches whose hand I shook- 2 (Butch Pedersen Football West Branch, Iowa High School Coaches Hall of Fame and Marv Cook Football Iowa City Regina,West Branch HS and University of Iowa Hall of Fame also NFL for 7 years with Chiefs)
Number of Coaches that told us good job-5

Running/Biking by the numbers
Ultramarathons complete- 1 (Hawkeye 50K)
Marathons complete- 1 (Quad Cities Marathon)
1/2 Marathons complete- 2 (Rockford 1/2 Marathon, New Bo Fest 1/2 Marathon)
 8.8 mile prediction races complete- 1 (Mall to Mall prediction race)
8K run complete- 1 (Return of Turkey Trot 8K)
5K run complete- 3 (Alliant Energy 5K,Lisbon Kraut Route 5K, Freeze Fest 5K)
Mountain Bike races complete- 2 ( Decorah Time Trials, Sugar Bottom Scramble Iowa State Mountain Bike Championships)
MTB races where I finished dead last- 1
IMBCS points-261
Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series Cat 3 final standing-18
Cedar Valley Running Association Circuit points-120
CVRA 40-49 age group final standing- 4

Social Media by the numbers

Social media accounts-9 (twitter,facebook,myspace,linkedin,dailymile,googlebuzz,blogger,tumblr,youtube)
Tweets-3967 (yep I have no life)
Blogs started- 2 (Former Action Guy , Former Action Guy 2
Blog Posts-  143 ( again no life and I like to talk about my favorite
Articles published on the internet-2

Emergency Medicine by the numbers

Ambulance Services working for-2
Number of calls-69
Car accidents dispatched to-20
Standby for Fires-1
People that thanked me for saving their life-2

Fandom by the numbers

Times I saw the Troy Trojans- 0
Times I wished I could watch them-12
Times I disowned the Iowa Hawkeye football team- 5
Times I said I wouldn't watch them again -6
Times I watched them-13 ( this counts the bowl game at the end of the month)
Times I disowned the Minnesota Vikings-7
Times I said I wouldn't watch them again-8
Times I watched them-11
Times I disowned the Chicago Cubs-Never mind this is pointless

Random Numbers
Part time jobs I quit-1
Part time jobs hired at-1
Years since Army retirement-6
Years since joining Army-28
Years since graduating Airborne School-27
Years since graduating Ranger School-22
Years since graduating Special Forces Qualification course-20
Post military pounds lost-25
Post military pounds regained-5
Time I miss Special Forces -Everyday
Kids graduated this year-1
United States Practical Shooters Association Matches competed at-2

So there you have my year in numbers. I probably missed some things but I will get them next year.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hawkeye 50K UltraMarathon

OK so the day I trained for came and went and it was everything I wanted it to be. It was challenging, a suckfest (but not a bad suckfest like this but a good suckfest that left you feeling good), and well organized. I had been wanting to run an Ultramarathon for 4-5 years, in fact I was training for one 4 years ago when I tore the meniscus in my left knee and it took this long for me to get back to where the knee could handle the distances. I must admit the weather forecast for race day called for some pretty crappy weather and that part messed with my mind a little bit. In fact I almost wimped out and downgraded to the 25K but I am glad I didn't.

So the morning of the race I woke up and jumped in the car. I stopped at a local convenience store and grabbed a pre race breakfast of Gatorade and honey buns (yum yum) and then drove the 25 miles to the race start. The race was held around the Coralville Reservoir in the Macbride Wildlife area. When I arrived I was able to park only about 100 meters from the start. I got out of the car grabbed my camelbak and drop bag and walked to the start/finish line. I had put my ipod in my pocket and drapped my earphones over my shoulder, big mistake, by the time I got to the drop bag area I had lost my earphones. This was not good, I looked around for about 10 minutes but couldn't find where I dropped them. As I walked back to the car to put my now useless ipod away I was thinking, awesome what am I going to do without the 8 plus hours of carefully selected tunes and podcasts I had hoped to use to take my mind off the whole running thing? Just deal I suppose.

So I got back to the start about 5 minutes before racetime and as luck would have it, the rain started pouring down. It was about 38 degrees at this point which is almost worse than anything else, cold and wet really sucks. All the racers where trying (about 125 of us) to huddle under a little overhang and stay as dry as possible before the race started. The course for the 50K was two 15.5 mile loops that would end up at the same place as we started. Each loop was divided basically in thirds, the first third was along a two lane highway, the second third was along crushed gravel paths around the lake, and the last third was on single track mountain bike trails in the woods.

Well the race director gave a little motivational speech and hit the starter pistol and off we went. The first .5 miles was on a mountain bike trail and it was pretty stop and go as all 125 of us tried to funnel on this trail. Eventually it dumped us out on a service road which we ran on for about a mile before we got to the highway. Did I mention it was still pouring buckets? Just after we hit the highway and people started stretching out a lady ran up beside me and started a conversation. Her name was Dorothy and she is a middle school music teacher. She told me her husband was running the 50K and she was running the 25K, he was somewhere up ahead of us. She also told me she had brain surgery last May, it was pretty amazing that she was out running a 25K. We had a very nice conversation for the next 6 miles as the highway stretched ahead, eventually we turned left as we hit the town of Solon Iowa and we came up on the first aid station. I walked through the aid station and we continued on hitting those crushed gravel paths. These paths were soggy and had a lot of standing water from the rain, but it made for better running on my knee. About mile 8 Dorothy told me to go ahead. I wished her good luck as she started to slow to a walk. I kept running along the paths as they followed the shoreline and through the woods. The houses on the lakefront where all very rich looking and most had private docks. About mile 9 was the second aid station where I grabbed some water and used the porto-potty. I then hit the woods for the third leg, this leg was the toughest as far as terrain, it reminded me of some of the terrain I had walked through on the Appalachian trail. Up and down and around trees and ridgelines and draws. At mile 10 we had a stream crossing, it was fairly wide about 50 meters and about ankle deep. It took me probably 5-10 minutes to pick my way through jumping from rock to rock but I managed to make it without getting my feet wet. Immediately after the stream we had to actually free climb a short section of rock to get back on top of a ridge line and hook up with the trail. From this point forward I started employing a run/walk strategy. The ridge lines where just too steep,too muddy,too many roots and leaves to run up. I would walk uphill using a tree every now and then to get over the steeper sections, I would then run downhill and the flat parts. I still had to be careful going downhill though because the mud and leaves was like skiing at some points. At mile 12 we suddenly popped out of the woods and there was the start finish, on my first lap I was thinking, no way my GPS wasn't off that much! I was right because the course went right by the start and took a hard right straight up another ridge. We continued on about 3.5 miles more of muddy trails until we looped back to the start/finish. It was during this section where I started talking to a lady whose name I never got who said she had run a few 100 miles races. Pretty impressive. When we got back to the start/finish, I made the decision to put on my dry shoes as I was muddy up to my ankles and my feet where soaked. I finished the first lap in 3 hrs 10 minutes and it took me about 4 minutes to change my shoes and socks. I grabbed a banana and a PBJ and headed down the trail. So at 3:14 race time I was back out starting my second lap.

The second time around was a very different race, all the 25K runners were off the course so I ran most of it without seeing anyone to my front or my back. Also the weather had changed from rain to snow. The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees and the wind picked up, it was a blizzard the second time around. My jacket froze stiff as a board and I had snow encrusted on my front from top to bottom. The highway section on my second lap took a lot out of me, just seeing it stretch off into the distance with no one around and the wind howling was a real mental challenge. Along the highway about mile 18 I heard this big clap of thunder. I thought "oh great thunder snow!" I started looking for somewhere to take shelter from lightning but I didn't hear any more. I made it to the first aid station and stopped for a drink. I asked if anyone was behind me and they said " a few." I joked with them and said' I better slow down then." So I continued on to the gravel section, which by now the wind was blowing the snow straight off the lake into my face and all that standing water was freezing into ice.I was running downhill during this section when I got a massive cramp in my left thigh about mile 20. It was horrible never felt anything like that before. All I could think was that I was not going to quit. I walked for about 15 minutes until the cramp went away while downing some power gels and water from my camelbak. That seemed to do the trick as it never bothered me the rest of the race.

Between mile 20 and the next rest area I actually passed two people that had slowed down to a walk. I was still doing the run/walk thing by running 10 minutes and walking 2. When I hit the last aid station about mile 22 I downed the pedialite they offered me and ate half a frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I headed back into the woods for the last section. The second water crossing was a lot different than the first, by now all the rocks where snow covered and even though I tried to follow my original line I managed to fall in and get my right leg wet up to the shin. No big deal though as I was pretty much already soaked from head to toe anway. I scrambled up the rocks and headed into the last 3-4 miles of the course. It was about this point that I crossed into ultramarathon territory having went over 26.2 miles. It had taken me 6 hours, compare this to my last marathon time of 4 hours 44 minutes and you can see how the conditions and terrain affected my race. By now everything was snow covered so I had to contend with leaves,roots,snow and mud as I went up and down the ridgelines and draws. The course was well marked and I could follow footprints of the runners ahead of me so getting lost was not my concern. I rounded the curve at the start/finish as a guy asked me for my number I yelled it at him as I headed up the ridge. As I ran through the woods the wasn't a soul in sight except for the occasional squirrel and deer print. It was very still and all I could hear was the rustling of my frozen jacket as my arms swang back and forth. It was somewhere during this time that the song Will Ferrell sang in Step Brothers kept going through my head.

Eventually I started singing it out loud or at least as much as I could remember, if someone would have seen me they probably would have thought I lost it. I rounded the last corner and saw the building at the start a few hundred meters ahead. I ran up and just stopped. I finished in 7 hours 21 minutes and 44 seconds. The second lap took me 1 hour and 7 minutes longer than the first. Everyone was inside staying warm it was kind of anti climactic at the finish. I grabbed my bag and walked inside. Everyone looked at me all snow covered and said" Did you just finish?" I said " Yeah" They said "Here's your medal good job" I said "Thanks." So I ate another PBJ got in my car and went home and took a nap. Awesome.

I am writing this the next day. I got up this morning and was a little sore but I officiated a wrestling tournament this morning and now I am on duty at the ambulance garage. I think I will be losing some toenails though. This was a great race and now I am seriously thinking about doing a 50 miler this spring more to follow on that

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Twenty Seconds

Twenty seconds doesn’t seem like a long time. Think about it, what do you do that takes 20 seconds? Microwave some leftovers, read some junk mail, or many other small insignificant things come to mind. During my time as a Military Freefall Instructor twenty seconds was the time it took me to exit an aircraft, target, and chase down another jumper that was unstable and out of control. This was commonly known as the “twenty second drill.” It was a defining test for Military Freefall Instructor candidates and a must pass. Most Special Forces schools I attended had a test like this. These were tests that were tough, difficult, and required you to use all your collective skills. In the 18 Bravo Special Forces Weapons Sergeant Course it was the “pile test” where they would detailed disassemble 5 weapons, one from each sub group (pistol, submachinegun, light machinegun, heavy machinegun and rifle) pile them together and tell you to put them back together and perform a functions check in a specified time period. In the Special Operations Target Interdictions Course it was the final stalk and shot at the sniper range. During the Special Forces Operations and Intelligence Sergeant Course it was the Order of Battle test, I could go on and on but suffice to say that these tests all had an immense amount of stress attached.
The twenty second drill was run like this, a candidate instructor would exit the aircraft using a poised exit (backwards) and as he exited he would click the stopwatch he held in his hand. The instructor candidate (me) would have to slow count to four thousand-one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, and four one thousand. Then it was permissible to exit the aircraft yourself with the intent of getting within arms reach and touch the instructor within twenty seconds on his stopwatch, sound easy right?
Unfortunately by the time we were allowed to exit the instructor literally looked like a microscopic black speck that was continuing to fall away from our fast moving Air Force aircraft. To intersect this small speck within twenty seconds the instructor candidate had to exit the aircraft and immediately put himself in a head down dive. Normal freefall speeds reach 120 mph, I have been told that jumpers in a head down dive reach speeds approaching 180 mph. To achieve the head down dive a jumper must be perfectly aligned and symmetrical. Immediately upon exiting the aircraft you need to bend sharply at the waist pointing the top of your helmet towards the ground, at the same time you need to bring your lower torso and legs up so they are inline with the top half of your body and point your toes, arms are tightly at your sides. When done correctly your body becomes a speeding dart hurtling head first towards terra firma, when done incorrectly the jumper is violently spun across the sky flapping and flopping like a fish out of water.
Once the correct body position is achieved and the head down dive is underway a problem develops, you can’t friggin see the target because you are looking away from it!! Many candidates tried many techniques to overcome this obstacle, some flipped around so that they were facing the target with their back to the aircraft; most employed the technique I used which was to count. I would count to 12 and raise my head to look; the very act of slightly raising the head would terminate your dive and put you in a steep “swoop.” If done correctly this swoop would intersect you directly with your target within the twenty second window. Unfortunately most times everything did not go correctly, my body position was wrong causing me to flip and flop, or I pulled up too early causing an incorrect tangent to my target. I don’t know how many times I touched the instructor at 21,22, or 25 seconds. One time I touched his arm at 20.5!!! However on my 75th attempt (yes, 75 jumps on this drill, don’t judge) I executed it perfect and pulled a time of 18 seconds, mission complete.
So why all this effort on one drill and why so much emphasis? Because learning this technique saves lives. Later on after I had been a Military Freefall Instructor for a year I had occasion to use this technique to save the life of another soldier. This is how it happened. It was during the one on one jump phase in the initial part of the first jump week, this student jumper had progressed past the instructor assisted exits and was doing his first solo exit of the aircraft. I had instructed him to employ a poised exit because it was a more stable exit for the novice and I had told him to give himself a count of “up,down,out.” On his internal “out” he was to jump out of the aircraft. 

What happened in reality was when he attempted to exit it was very weak and he hit his face on the ramp of the aircraft, this disoriented him and flipped on his back, putting  him in a violent spin. During the exit I had been positioned at his right side or ripcord side as was our SOP, however when he started spinning he kicked me in the face and spun me away from my position. When I regained my composure and located him he was 1500-2000 feet below me on his back and still spinning. I immediately employed the head down dive technique which had become instinctive; counting silently to myself I raised my head and once again located him. Looking at my altimeter I saw we were about 8000 feet AGL, I had to close the distance fast!!! I continued to swoop towards the student and due to my haste I slammed into his side a little rougher than I had intended nevertheless I flipped him belly to earth and stopped his spin. I glanced at my altimeter again and saw we were about to go through the designated pull altitude of 4000 feet AGL, I gave him the pull signal once but he either didn’t see it or was still disoriented. Seeing we were now approaching 3500 feet I grasped his ripcord myself and gave it a vigorous tug. As his pilot chute was deployed it pulled his canopy and suspension lines out of his pack tray. When it caught wind and started to inflate he was pulled violently from my grasp. Now it was time for me to save myself, I tracked away a few seconds so as not to be directly under him and I threw my own pilot chute, my canopy deployed and I breathed a sigh of relief. Looking at my altimeter once again I saw that I had a good canopy at 1500 feet AGL, not much room to spare.
Later after we landed I asked him what had happened, he said he thought when he jumped up the plane would just fly out from under him, another rocket scientist. I told him in my best instructor voice that he was a moron and he better pull his head out of his fourth point of contact. He did end up graduating however becoming a pretty good jumper.
As a side note later on when I was a candidate instructor myself and was conducting the twenty second drill those guys barreling towards me like human missiles used to scare the piss out of me, never knew if they would be able to stop or not. Good times

Sunday, November 21, 2010

There Is a Little Nerd In All Of Us

I was teasing my oldest son earlier today about the fact he likes Japanese Anime ( I mean really likes it) and how that makes him nerd. He attends conventions, costumes,videos you get the picture. He countered with the fact that I plan my weekend around any new Doctor Who episode and how I used to do the same thing about LOST or Star Trek. This is all true, I am a sucker for Science Fiction always have been. The point I got out of the whole conversation was that everyone has a little nerd in them.

This nerdiness is exhibited whenever anyone talks excitedly about any subject while everyone else kind of looks at them and nods their head. My family does this when I talk about any number of subjects such as football,wrestling,baseball,shooting, Doctor Who, skydiving, running, or the Red Green Show. My eyes glaze over when my kids talk about Twilight, Anime, Harry Potter (Ok not Harry Potter).

We need a little nerdiness in our life, every person is the sum of their parts and without the balance of nerddom to keep us Former Action Guys on the straight and narrow our heads would swell. Being a nerd is like eating your favorite candy bar, so good but you feel a little guilty about it. Well nerd on my friends as I get older the nerdier I get.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Return of the Turkey Trot 8K 2010

So this morning I ran in the Return of the Turkey Trot. This race is the closest thing we have to a Thanksgiving run in the immediate area but I wish they actually had it on Thanksgiving or at least that weekend before. I had been meaning to run this race every year but something always came up mostly work related so I haven't actually run in this race since 2005. I had planned to use it as part of a training run for my upcoming ultramarathon by running 10 miles from my house to the start running the race then getting picked up . The logistics for that went to hell ( no one could pick me up)so I started off the morning by getting up and just driving to the race site. I picked up my race packet then decided to go on a short run before the race started to make up for at least some of those missed miles and to warmup. So I probably ran about a mile before I ended up back at the start line 5 minutes before race time.

I read this race had over 1000 entries but it really has a small race feel to it ( more on this later), The local Mayor gave the starting speech and after the Star Spangled Banner and the Invocation he told us to ready set go. The street we started on was really narrow so it felt like I was in the starting pen of some of the larger marathons I have participated in. Unless you were in the front, which I never am, you were running shoulder to shoulder for the first mile to mile and a half. To make it worse they started everyone at once with no segregation so you had little kids doing the fun run, walkers, 4K runners and 8K runners all mixed up together. This caused me a lot of problems with my pace at the beginning. The first 2 miles of the course were hilly and I passed a lot of people on the up hills. Shortly after the 2 mile point was the first water stop and I grabbed a cup and took a few swigs. Glad I did because there wouldn't be a water stop until almost the end.

Once the 8K split off from the other races it got better and there was some room to run. I felt pretty strong so I picked my pace up a little and was steadily passing people the entire race, that's why I like starting in the back gives me a psychological boost. As we headed south towards the turn around a good stiff breeze was hitting us in the face which made the 40 degree temperature feel even colder. At the 2.5 mark we turned around and headed back north winding our way through a residential neighborhood. The wind was at our backs now and I picked it up a little more as I could smell the finish line. We made the final turn heading west and I could see the finish line about  3/4 of a mile in the distance. At this point we were catching up with some of the walkers and had to zig zag to avoid them as they didn't really listen to the instructions pre-race that had told them to stay left. I crossed the finish line with plenty of gas in the tank and headed in to get some coffee at the post-race pancake breakfast. All in all a good race although I didn't get the mileage in I wanted today. I do have some suggestions though. This race has got to the point were it is bigger than a little local 5K and needs some professional management and amenities. Adding a few of the things below would make it more enjoyable:

Chip timing
More water stations (there were only 2)
More Porto Potties ( Only 4)
Segregate the start times for the different races and have the routes be somewhat different.

Good day though and I ran a good race in 44:22

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My New "Golf"

OK so this weekend I found my new "golf." It has been a long time since I had a "golf "but now I do and I will obsess over it for as long as it interests me. You are probably wondering what a "golf" is, well "golf" is any hobby in which you compete against others but mostly against yourself, you are also required to have specialized equipment that is fairly expensive. "Golf" will consume your weekends because you will never be quite good enough. You will hang out with your "golf" friends and talk "golf." But mostly you will spend money in a vain attempt to be better at "golf."

Not surprisingly my first "golf" was actually golf, my Father gave me a decent set of clubs which I still have and I started teaching myself the game when I was in my early twenties. That was mistake number one, if you want to be any good you can't teach yourself "golf." Teaching yourself "golf" promotes bad habits that you will spend many weekends trying to overcome. So for a few years and especially when I was stationed in Germany I played a lot of Golf. I actually got pretty decent but then I moved away from my golf friends and it is no fun and too expensive to play golf by yourself, at least for me. I still play about once a year whenever my brothers and Dad can all get together. They are all way better a Golf than I am so the normal result is I swing the club,cuss, and drive the cart. It's good to do stuff with them though.

My second "golf" was bowling. When I lived in Arizona I belonged to two bowling leagues. One was a Men's league in which I was serious, the other was a CoEd league which my wife also bowled in. I really enjoyed bowling as I could compete and drink beer at the same time. Drinking beer was pretty important to me back then. This was also the only hobby which my wife also participated in. It was fun to do something with her and I still have the two patches I got for bowling over 200. The season was eventually over and I never bowled in a league again. I might someday though.

My next "golf" was skydiving. This was also why I was in Arizona but it stretched to other places as well. It reached its peak in Arizona. I haven't jumped out of a perfectly good plane in over 6 years but at one point I ate,slept,and breathed skydiving. I was a skydiving instructor in the military for three years during the week teaching Military Freefall and then I would go out on the weekends and teach it to civilians as a United States Parachute Association Accelerated Freefall Instructor. I have thousands of jumps and a one time I was probably pretty dang good. Once I got out of the military though I lost all my skydiving friends and insurance and paying for jumps is just too expensive as a civilian. I am still a member of USPA however as I may yet jump again. Here is me and some of the fellows doing some training:

So that brings me to this past weekend, my new "golf" is competitive shooting. Specifically USPSA competitive shooting. My friend John has been involved in this for quite awhile and he has been trying to get me out to a match for about 4 years. I always had to work or something came up, but finally last Sunday I made the trip down to the range with him. I wasn't sure what to expect but I brought my pistol (S&W MP 40) some ammo, and my range gear.I followed John and his group of regulars to a little range in southeastern Iowa that looked like every other range I had ever been to. Picture dirt berms and pine trees, where they found pine trees in Iowa I have no idea. When we got there we went in to the range shack, plunked down our entry fee and grabbed out score sheets for each station. There where four stations set up with various obstacles and targets. The shack was so thick with cigarette/cigar smoke I thought it was coming out the chimney. As quick as possible I went back outside and we started shooting the courses of fire. Our group provided our own safety officers and we ran ourselves through going to what ever station was open and keeping score for each other. It was very relaxed and enjoyable. It reminded me of going to the range with my team and just blasting ammo in a relaxed none stressful environment. The courses were challenging with both paper and steel targets, but not overly so. I had a good time and as it turns out even though I don't practice a lot I actually shoot pretty well. I will be going back soon and as often as I can. Good people, good times. Maybe someday I will look like these guys:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rebuttal from a Coach

In the interest of fairness, I recieved a rather long rebuttal to my earlier rant about coaches. So for the first time ever here are comments in full sent by a "guest" blogger:

"I read your “Where is the Decorum?: Coach heal thyself” and while I agree with some of your points and could also point out some characteristics of youth referees if pressed J, I took personal offense to the “Coaches at all levels should be required to … pay a fee to get the privilege to coach our young people.”  Just wanted to remind you that we do.  I paid for the background checks, I paid for a course to get my copper card to coach youth wrestling, I paid for a USA wrestling membership, I pay for water and ice on occasion for practices and games because it is not necessarily provided but still our responsibility.  I pay a little extra for the appreciation party at the end of the year.  We also have to make the majority if not all practices and games while other parents may be able to “skip” a few for other commitments, and also we wait behind with other people’s kids who are “just a few minutes late” picking them up, no big deal, right?  We also pay for the right to have other parents who focus solely on their child and tell us he needs more playing time or if we would just do this (meaning let their child play running back) the team would be better, etc. etc. after watching practice or the game for 5 minutes when we have been practicing and evaluating for weeks.  We are even tutors on occasion when some kids can’t seem to pass a simple grade check in school because the parents are not capable of helping (all it takes is effort which is what is wrong with America).  I have been mentor, tutor, male role model, friend, financier, bus driver, whipping boy and scapegoat all so my son gets to be coached by me (really who better J )and because I am a sports nut.  We receive absolutely no compensation for our time whatsoever except for the occasional “thanks, coach”.  I think we’ve paid enough.  I wouldn’t be opposed to a knowledge based quiz however, but I think we know how that will turn out, in my case at least.  Just some other side of the coin perspective for you bro."   

So there you have it, I have been rebuked. But since this is my blog I have the final word and we all know I wasn't talking about the kind of coach that takes the time to write such a convincing response. So we can agree that both officials and coaches need to be role models and be professional. We can also agree that the coach above is exactly the kind of coach kids need.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Married to Me Appreciation Day

So I was perusing the Runners World website today and I read this blog post  .I very much enjoyed the post and at the end of it the author challenged us to write a blog about our wife. The premise of the post was that runners wives put up with a lot and they do. I am a runner and my wife puts up with quite a bit, like just yesterday when I went on a 3 hour run and then came back and tracked mud on the kitchen floor. But I got to thinking that not only does my wife put up with my running but she also puts up with... well me in general.

I will be the first to admit that I am a very hard person to live with. I am macho, egotistic, somewhat self centered, demanding, picky, and at the same time oblivious. I find it hard to show emotion. I care for people deeply but often they don't even know because I suck at telling them. I think about telling them usually after they leave the room. Mostly I act pretty grumpy. My kids call me sour marshmallow because of the grumpy outer shell that surrounds the gooey inside. I try to work on these things but after 22 years in the military I think my brain is hard wired for a low BS tolerance and unfortunately it thinks most people and things are BS. Over the last 6 years of civilian life I have been slowly trying to retrain myself to be a more caring and thoughtful person however so far I am a dismal failure at that. My wife on the other hand is very caring and thoughtful . I thought I might list some of the things she does for me that I very much appreciate in no particular order.

She makes awesome rolls and fry bread
She irons my dress clothes because I am a freaking wrinkle bomb waiting to explode
She puts flannel sheets on the bed and lets me sleep with the window open even though she is freezing
She reminds me to take my clothes out of the dryer and then after I forget she does it.
She lets me officiate sports and be gone many many weekends and nights
She lets me work as an Emergency Medical Technician(see above)
She waited for me day after day, month after month when I was deployed overseas keeping our family together
She brought 4 wonderful children into my life who I would die for( that is a true statement)
She knows I like pie
She lets me watch Football/Wrestling/NASCAR/Baseball/Gun shows without once asking me to turn the channel
She lets me run and bike and swim whenever I want as I try to stay active and keep a little of the competitive spirit alive.
She tells me I am handsome and not fat even though we both know she is fibbing
She has moved all over the planet with me to 7 different states and 2 countries, leaving her friends behind at every instance.
She makes me laugh

And the list could go on and on. I can't possibly list everything my wife does or has done. And sure it hasn't always been a bed of roses, whose marraige has? But we have been married 23 years. That is 23 years of growing together and learning each others likes and dislikes, fears and hopes. I wouldn't have done it any other way.

I love you Sparrow

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where Is the Decorum? : Coach Heal Thyself

So I don't normally whine about things that I know I don't have control over. I also know that this subject has been discussed ad naseum by many many people, generally complaining about the younger generation. I however am not going to complain about young people, the people I am going to complain about are older and should definitely know better. The people I am talking about are so called youth sports "coaches." As I have related in the blog before I officiate sports from high school down to the elementary school level. Officiating is generally an enjoyable experience and the State High School Sports Associations keeps a pretty tight rein on unsportsmanlike behavior of coaches,players and fans.

Youth sports or those sports for younger individuals that are generally played outside the auspices of an official organization, however are a different story. Different leagues have wildly different standards  between them as to who can be a coach and how that coach should act. This is fine, I am all for free enterprise and letting the market decide on the best process. However, what generally happens is the process is no process and if your kid or kids participates in the sport you're a "coach." There is where the problem lies, none of these so called coaches have any idea how to be a coach. They think because they watch a sport on TV that they know everything about it and their coaching technique amounts to browbeating the kids and yelling at the officials. Few if any of these Vince Lombardi want-a-be's actually take the time to study the rules or any coaching techniques that involve positive reinforcement. Oh they may throw the occasional " Have fun" when they are talking to their minions but the say it halfheartedly in an attempt to be politically correct.

Youth sports in my opinion is the time to positively model the good aspects of competition and being a member of a team. This is the opportunity to give the children involved good character traits before they grow up and the sport becomes more about winning conference championships than building character. Unfortunately rather than acting as a team in concert with the officiating staff to promote good game play and good sportsmanship too often coaches at these lower levels try to prove they're the next Bill Bellicek or Dan Gable and they run up the score, continue passing when ahead by 35 points, or just plain humiliate an opponent. This is bush league at its finest.Coaches should be modeling the good sportsmanship that they expect from others.

Coaches at all levels should be required to pass a knowledge based rules test, and pay a fee to get the privilege to coach our young people. Where are your manners, shame on you Coaches, heal thyself

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Operation Display Determination 1985

In 1985 I was a salty know it all member of the "Spec 4" Mafia assigned to Weapons Platoon B Company 1st Battalion 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment 82nd Airborne Division Ft. Bragg NC. I was assigned as the gunner for the main gun of our 81 mm mortar section, a somewhat prestigious position given to the lower enlisted guy who had managed to stick around the longest without getting chaptered out. The All American Division as the 82nd is known, was and is the only Division size paratroop unit left in the US Army. The army of the 1980's was different than today's military. It was struggling to make a cohesive professional force as it also transitioned from the draftee army of the 1970's to an all volunteer army. Times were a little turbulent, like the summer we had to walk to every training exercise closer than 12 miles because the military had run out of money for fuel.
Some of my good friends were Roger, Richard, Don (Duck), B.J., Bobby (The Ragin Cajun) , Mark,and Ernest T. All of these guys were awesome friends, some got out of the military and I lost touch, some like Duck who proceeded me into Special Forces made the military a career like I did.They say you never forget your first and Weapons platoon was my first military unit and I will never forget the characters that belonged to it.

In 1985 our unit was deployed to the European part of Turkey in an Emergency Deployment Readiness exercise called "Display Determination 85." Every platoon provided two soldiers to act as an advance party and I was chosen to be one of those two for our platoon. The other soldier accompanying me was a "newbie" to our platoon named David. Dave had come over from the 4/325 stationed in Vicenza Italy so he was familiar with Europe where my only trip overseas at the time had been to the Sinai Peninsula. The 4/325 would be redesignated the 173rd Airborne Brigade some years later. We departed North Carolina via C141 cargo plane on our way to Turkey and after a long and very boring flight we landed in Istanbul and unloaded our CONEX containers and vehicles for the move farther west. We convoyed west along the highway until we entered a tent city built next to a Turkish Commando base. The Commandos would be participating in our exercise but I never really saw them during our time there. We spent the next two days reconning the drop zone and preparing for the arrival of the rest of our battalion who would make a night mass parachute drop after flying straight from North Carolina.

I was tasked to be the jeep driver for the Drop Zone Safety Officer (DZSO) so at the appointed time and place I was dozing off in the sparsely cushioned seat of an M151 jeep when I heard the unmistakable sound of low flying aircraft. The DZSO was taking wind readings and talking to the lead aircraft via the radio that was on the other seat of the vehicle. The wind reading was 10 knots gusting to 13 knots which was the maximum limit for a static line parachute jump such as the one being attempted. Either way it was a little windy and pitch black. By straining my eyes I could make out the darker outlines of the aircraft against the night sky. Suddenly I saw little green chem lights shooting out the tail of  multiple aircraft as the heavy drop of vehicles and equipment was released prior to the jumpers. These chem lights were attached to the cargo parachutes rigged on this equipment. Heavy drops were normally released at the leading edge of the drop zone so as not to clutter the rest of the landing area for the personnel.

However on this particular night after flying thousands of miles in total darkness and conducting nape of the earth low level flight for 2 hours prior to the jump the Air Force got it a little wrong. The lead sortie of aircraft released their equipment in the center of the drop zone which did two things. Number one it pushed their troops off the edge of the drop zone forcing many of them to land in a water filled canal that was 500 meters from te trailing edge. Number two when the trailing birds adjusted for the error they dropped their troops smack dab on the equipment that had been previously dropped. Factor pitch blackness and high winds into the equation and you had a recipe for disaster. After all jumpers where away we started driving across the drop zone using blackout lights trying to estimate the number of injured and confused paratroopers. Along the way I happened to find a few members of my platoon and they hitched a ride to our platoon assembly area. A few of them like my friend Roger had actually been dragged by their parachutes down the shallow canal like bobsledders on their back. He told me how he struggled to release one of his canopy risers as the water kept flowing over his helmet and into his mouth and nose. After finally releasing the riser he stopped being dragged but he had to retrieve his soaked rucksack and sodden parachute and start navigating to the assembly area. He was especially upset because the disposable camera he had in his ruck was ruined. He was very glad to see us. As dawn approached all individuals were accounted for and we started hearing the war stories and rumors of injuries, things like our battalion commander slamming full force into a large truck that was on the drop zone (this one was true he was sent back home and spent 3 weeks in the hospital) or the guy who landed in some village and was arrested by the local police ( not true).

We moved out on foot and for the next two weeks we walked and walked and walked all over the Turkish countryside lugging our heavy mortar equipment with us. Occasionally we would get a fire mission and we would run some dry fire drills dropping imaginary mortar rounds onto imaginary reference points or objectives. The whole time we conducted the exercise I never knew where we were on the map and it was all I could do to slog through the muddy freshly plowed fields. It was 3 years later when I attended Ranger School when I was taught the importance of keeping all members of your unit informed. I give our platoon leader an F on that little skill. Every night we would set up the guns and sleep beside them, waiting with one ear next to the field telephone for the sound of "Section!!!" which indicated an incoming fire mission.

Eventually we made it back to the tent city for some R and R prior to leaving to go back to the States. The first night in the tents we managed to obtain some Turkish Arak, which is a liquor similar to Sambuka or Raki. If you have never had any of those they are all clear and taste like black licorice and will kick you butt. We mixed this liquor with the dried fruit we pilfered from our first generation Meals Ready to Eat to make a jungle juice par excellance'. After about 2 hours we where howling at the moon and rolling through the bonfire outside the tent. Bobby burned his hand in the fire but we told him to quit his whining and have another canteen cup full of the juice. The next day we all had heads the size of fresh watermelons but we were told we would be getting a cultural tour of Istanbul. This was actually pretty cool, we visited the Grand Mosque and other attractions. I bought a little ivory jewelry box for some reason. I kept the box and 2 years later I gave it to my wife who at the time I hadn't even met. She still has it. Later on that evening we went to the Kervan Seray night club and were treated with a show featuring traditional dancers. We drank a bunch of beer and things were going along well until we reached the beer limit established by the chain of command and also discovered we had been locked into the night club. I guess the muckety mucks didn't want any drunk and testosterone filled paratroops invading downtown Istanbul. Disheartened and half sloshed we used all the money we had left to bribe one of the waiters to provide us with some alcohol. He delivered us ten bottles of the most god awful red house wine I have ever drank. Of course we proceeded to polish those off and the night ended with us doing jump commands and Parachute Landing Falls off the tables of the night club.

The next day we poured ourselves into the planes taking us back home and lifted off for our refuel stop in Madrid Spain. The flight back was no picnic as this was still the Cold War. Our route took us close to the airspace of some Eastern Block countries and our pilot did some pretty nifty evasive manuevers when he reported we where being shadowed by two unknown MIG Aircraft. I expected a air to air missle to come through the fuselage at any moment. Eventually we landed in Madrid however and had a 4 hour layover that was prolonged when after takeoff our landing gear woudl not retract and we had to make an emergency landing back at the airport. Rumor had it the Security Police had the bomb sniffing dogs out giving the plane a once over.Finally we landed back at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg. I was happy to be back in the States.

Post Script: As I write this blog entry it has been one year since my good friend Roger was killed in a bicycle accident. Airborne All the way

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quad Cities Marathon 2010

So last Sunday had disaster written all over it. I had registered and committed to doing the Quad Cities Marathon, that however was not the disastrous part since this was my 5th marathon the experience was not new to me. But several things did make it a gamble. This was my first marathon in the two years since I had knee surgery, I had originally planned to do the Des Moines Marathon but had cut my training short by 3 weeks because frankly I was pressed for time to get the long runs in. Speaking of long runs it turned out the longest training run I did was 16 miles and I walked part of that, I had also only ran three days a week to try and keep my knee in good shape. I had been mountain biking the other days. So although I knew I would finish, when and how tired I would be was a big old question mark.

So I got up at about 0430 Sunday morning and drove the 100 miles to Moline Il. I arrived at 0630 for a 0730 start. I found the check-in table and grabbed my swag bag, which included my number,timing chip, and coveted t-shirt. I continued to hydrate with one of the two 32 ounce Gatorades I had purchused at a convenience store on the way down. I had finished the other on the drive. The Quad Cities for those that don't know consists of Moline, IL.,Rock Island, Il., Davenport, Ia. and Bettendorf, Ia. The start line of the marathon would be in Moline but the race itself would go through all 4 cities.

Because of my apprehension about my training I decided to hang with a pace group something I had never really done before. I found the guy holding the sign indicating he would be running a 10:52 per mile pace which equated to a 4hr and 45 min marathon. I thought I could handle that pace. The gentleman acting as Pacer was named Paul W.  Paul had completed 26 other marathons and 3 ultra-marathons and was 54 years old. A good pacer must be congenial, conversational and above all stay on pace. Paul was all of these. Before the race started I hit the Porto Potty again and removed my hat for our national anthem. The race with started with the firing of a civil war cannon and off we went. Our pace group had about 10 people to start but more on that later.

The first two miles of the race were flat through the downtown area of Moline, we then turned north and crossed the mighty Mississippi river for the first time crossing over on the interstate bridge which the authorities had blocked one north bound lane. Paul kept up a constant stream of banter as we crossed over the river. It was a very eerie feeling when the bridge started to sway and bounce in rhythm with the thousands of pounding feet. Coming off the bridge we were in Bettendorf, Iowa and we encountered the first of a few hills on the route this started about mile 5 and continued for a mile or so then we took a right and made a 3 mile circuit of Bettendorf. I marveled how fast the first 5 miles had flown by as we talked and kept our steady pace. Paul was very good and announced our splits every mile, he would announce our actual time versus our goal time and we were generally no more than 3-4 seconds one way or the other. At about the 10 mile mark we started heading west along the river as we crossed into Davenport, Iowa, we had gained a little on our pace and Paul was actually disappointed that we were now averaging 37 seconds faster than out goal. He vowed to slow the pace down and keep that 37 second cushion for the rest of the race. He managed to do this by the way.

At mile 12 we once again crossed the Mississippi this time heading south, we had lost about 1/2 our pace group with 2 forging ahead and 3 falling behind. This time we were in Rock Island IL. and in no time we crossed back over half the river and we were on the US Army Rock Island Arsenal, which was actually on an island. This is were I first noticed I was starting to get fatigued but it wasn't an overwhelming fatigue and I was still keeping up with Paul no problem. It was on this island between miles 13 and 19 where we just ground out the miles and got into the rhythm of the race. I got a little nostalgic as I passed the officers quarters and saw the same style nameplates,quarters and street names I had seen on a dozen other military posts. Paul was an engineer by trade and was doing math in his head as he calculated how much time we had left and what our splits would be. Me being me I started to tease him and called him the "numbers guy."
 Here are some Paulism's that were uttered during the race:

"Age is a moving target." "Connect your head to your heart." and "One time I pissed blood when I finished a race."

That last one is funny I don't care who you are. So anyway as we left the Island we crossed the 20 mile mark and the real second half of the race began. It is after mile twenty when it becomes mind over matter. As luck would have it mile 20-23 were along a deserted bike trail between the river and some warehouses. No scenery and all the bands and spectators from earlier in the race had decided to congregate elsewhere. This was the loneliest part of the race for me as we were down to myself, two other guys and Paul in our pace groups. No one was doing much talking. At mile 23 we emerged back onto the street we had started on in Moline but we had to run away from the finish at first. The last 3.1 miles were an out and back course along this road and as I saw the faster runners heading my way towards the finish I kept reminding myself there was only a 5K left to the end. So we slogged along and as we rounded the turn to run the last 1.5 miles or so back to the finish I noticed I was the only runner from our original pace group that was still hanging with Paul. As we made the turn he said" If you have any energy it won't hurt my feelings if you want to go ahead." I told him " I am already using it." In reality I had decided that I had begun the race with Paul and I would finish with him.

So we made it back downtown to the cheering crowds with myself and Paul crossed the finish line together in 4 hours 44 minutes and 17 seconds about a perfect a race as could have been run. I discovered when I got back home and looked at my logs that this qualified as my third fastest marathon time. I want to thank Paul though because of his course management, steady pace, forcing us to walk at water breaks, forcing us to take water, I finished this race feeling better than I ever had at the finish of a marathon. Following a pace group was definitely worth it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wrong Place Wrong Time

            We pulled up below the military crest of the small hillock and dismounted our vehicles as quietly as possible. It was just before end evening nautical twilight (EENT) and we were switching out split teams at our hide location. My half of the Special Forces team had arrived to relieve our compadres who had been on site the last 24 hours harassing Iraqi armored forces with airstrikes and relaying back intelligence to the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF). Once our in-brief was over and we took over security, my junior Weapons Sergeant relayed to me a funny story about how earlier in the day a B2 bomber had requested to deploy some unexpended ordinance (bombs) and was wondering if anyone in the area had a target of opportunity. The Air Force Combat Controller that was attached to our team had already plotted the coordinates of one of the larger bunkers that were occupying the ridgeline across the valley from our location. He gave the coordinates to the aircraft and told them to have at it. To everyone’s surprise and amusement shortly after that, what looked like an entire platoon of Iraqi soldiers exited the bunker and lined up dress right dress on the hillside beside the bunker. Well it wasn’t to long before that hillside was lit up like the Fourth of July with the ground shaking concussions and shrapnel of some 1000 pound bombs. After the dust cleared my junior Weapon’s Sergeant told me all they could see was a red stain on the side of the hill. Bad day to take a smoke break!!! Morbid but still funny.

He also told me that they had observed what appeared to be a small pickup truck moving around the valley and in and out of the Iraqi lines unimpeded all day. At one point the guys thought the occupants of this vehicle might have taken a few shots at them but they couldn’t confirm as it was too far away for effective fire. Just as the other half of the team was loading their gear into the vehicle to head back to our patrol base one of the guys whispered that they had spotted the pickup again and it was heading our way. We watched through our optics for awhile to see if it would turn but it was obvious that its current route would take it right directly through our location. Instantly a hasty plan was formulated, the split team members that had been leaving would conduct a hasty ambush while I and the other half of the team would remain where we were and support by fire.
Quickly they grabbed the squad automatic weapon and their rifles and moved perpendicular to the projected route of the pickup. Watching through binoculars in the fading light I saw them emplace the ambush and as the truck drew nearer I trained my own M4 on the cab. Everyone was at a high state of alertness when the vehicle suddenly stopped and one of the occupants got out to relieve himself. He was followed shortly by two of his buddies. They about shit themselves when our senior Weapons Sergeant and our interpreter popped up from the side of  the road and told them to drop their weapons and get face down on the ground. They were quickly flex cuffed using the flex cuffs we all carried in our gear and frog marched over to my position. The three were dressed in typical Iraqi Kurd garments and where armed with AK-47 rifles. After a few questions from our interpreter that mainly resulted in denials from the prisoners we blindfolded them with cravats from the M5 medical bag and loaded them in one of our vehicles. It was decided I would take them back to base camp and one of the Peshmerga that was accompanying us would drive their vehicle.
Myself and the split team we had relieved made the bumpy ten kilometer trip back to Klaw Kut with the prisoners in the back of our vehicle, blindfolded and eating the dust kicked up by the back tires. Once we arrived at the patrol base about midnight we rousted our Team Leader and briefed him on the situation. Our Communications Sergeant sent a situation report back to the AOB (Company HQ) informing them we had captured some prisoners, meanwhile our Team Leader conducted a hasty field interrogation with the help of our interpreter. He individually brought the prisoners into a small room, unblind folded them, and gave them food and water as he asked them what they had been doing. They were obviously scared shitless and once the blind folds were off they gave one word answers and kept their eyes glued to the M4 rifles we carried loosely in our hands.
Not getting much out of them the decision was made to transport them back to the AOB and eventually to turn them over to the Military Police. Unfortunately the closest MP was somewhere south close to Baghdad but that wasn’t our problem. As we exited the small room we heard a commotion and some yelling. We saw that in the darkness a small crowd had gathered around our team and the other two prisoners who had been standing outside. Word travels fast, (telephone, telegraph, tell a Kurd) and what looked like all the village elders had surrounded our prisoners and were yelling at them and shaking their fists and shoes in their faces. My guys were trying to calm them down but not speaking much Kurdish they were having no luck.
Our interpreter finally figured out that these individuals were known to the villagers, and in fact in it was alleged they were former Peshmerga that had defected a few weeks before. Peshmerga or not we were very suspicious at their ability to drive freely through the Iraqi lines. The prisoners claimed it was all a mistake and they were just some poor Peshmerga that had gotten separated from their unit in no man’s land. Discretion the better part of valor we replaced the blindfolds and loaded them in the vehicles once again. The last I saw of them as our Team Leader drove them away to the AOB, they were sitting in the back of the Land Rover being chased by children who were hurling small rocks and shoes at them. Deserters,defectors, or just plain bad navigators these guys had definitely showed up at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Extracurricular Activities #2: High School Sports Official

A few weeks ago I posted about how sometimes in addition to my regular job I also volunteer as an Emergency Medical Technician at a rural ambulance service. In addition to this activity I also do another quite regularly. I am a High School Sports Official for the Iowa High School Athletic Association. I officiate 3 sports pretty much keeping me busy year round. I officiate Football, Wrestling, and Baseball. To become a registered official in Iowa you have to pass a written rules test and pay your dues. Most officials also belong to some kind of officials association. I belong to the Cedar Rapids Area Officials Association (Football), The Iowa City Area Officials Association ( Baseball, Football), and the Eastern Iowa Wrestling Officials Association (Wrestling). These associations mentor officials, provide training, and generally assign lower level contests Junior Varsity and below. Varsity contests are arranged between the official and the host school and an official needs to get a reputation and get his or her name out there for a few years to get these contests..

Wrestling was the sport I started officiating first and it is my favorite sport. Not really a surprise but it is also the only sport in High School that I participated in at the Varsity level. The state I grew up in and currently live in is one of the hotbeds of Collegiate style (Folkstyle) Wrestling. The University of Iowa Hawkeyes have won the last 3 NCAA Wrestling Championships and are second all time in number of national championships won. People in this state take their wrestling serious and it is as popular as any of the "revenue" sports like football or basketball. I started officiating wrestling shortly after I got out of the military. I was attending the state AAU youth championships as a spectator and I approached one of the officials and asked how I could become one. He gave me a phone number and the rest is history. Wrestling is unique among the sports I officiate. It is the only sport where the official is solo. An official has to live and die with his call, there is no one to confer with and no one to blame but himself if a call is blown. Officiating wrestling can be exciting but the pressure is incredible. Alone on the mat in a crowded gymnasium with the crowd almost on top of you, an official must be quick, athletic and knowledgeable if he is expecting to do a good job. The nuances of the sport and the changes in control can be quite intimidating at first. I have been officiating wrestling for 6 years from Varsity level to youth.

Football is the sport I started officiating second. One of the guys who mentored me as a wrestling official suggested I give it a try. I did and I liked it. I started out my first year doing Junior Varsity contests and below working all the positions on 3,4, and occasionally 5 man crews. My second year I was invited to join a Varsity crew as a Back Judge. I really enjoy the camaraderie of football officiating. It is sometimes like your officiating crew is the 3rd team on the field. We really work together as a unit to get the call right and to look sharp. Our goal is to administer the game fairly by the rules but to go unnoticed while doing it. It is a great compliment to be told you did a good job even by the losing coach. Football Friday nights in Iowa are electric as they are in all parts of the country. Marching bands are playing, the crowd is in to it, and the kids are hustling on the field. Officiating a well played football game can be very satisfying, on the other hand a bad game or one with a lot of poor sportsmanship can be very tedious. As a Back Judge on my varsity crew I don't throw a lot of flags but when I have to they are generally game changers. Pass interference calls mostly and the penalties for that infraction both ways are very punitive. 15 yards and a loss of down or an automatic first down depending on who committed the foul. You have to make sure those calls are correct. I have been officiating football for 5 years from Varsity level to youth.

Baseball is the johhny come lately. I started umpiring baseball to round out the year and because I really like watching baseball. Baseball has a culture all its own, it is the only sport where it is acceptable for the coach to come on the field of play and argue a call with the umpire.They tone it down quite a bit in High School but a certain amount of showmanship is still tolerated. I like behind the plate but working the bases is all right as well. Nothing beats being behind the plate on a nice summer evening calling balls and strikes. Baseball is the sport I really have to study both because the rules are very complicated and because I actually never really played baseball beyond little league. I believe I have made myself into a pretty decent umpire however and I pride myself that my strike zone is consistent. I have been officiating Baseball for 4 years from Varsity to youth.

I like officiating and like anything else I would like to be the best I can be. I want to possibly " white hat" at the Varsity level in football someday and I would love to officiate at the college level in all sports. Both of those things are going to require hard work and a little luck. being at the right place at the right time helps. At the end of the day I just enjoy being involved in the competition, and hope in some small way I am contributing to the positive development of the student-athlete.

Monday, September 6, 2010

New Bo Fest Half Marathon 2010

The Inaugural New Bo Fest Half Marathon was the first half marathon held in my hometown in about 15 years I think. Despite just finishing a mountain bike race the weekend before I wasn't going to miss a chance to be in on the first running of a race right here in the local area. So the race as the name suggests started in the New Bohemia area of Cedar Rapids. This area is still struggling mightily to recover from the flood of 2008 and almost every building except the one we started at, which happened to be a bar, was boarded up or closed. It is sad really, the point of the festival is to showcase the area and maybe get people to visit but it may take a few more years to make that happen. The race had about 300 entrants so it was small, I expect it will grow larger as the word gets out. This first year was pretty minimalist, entrants got a t-shirt and a goodie bag which is normal but the t-shirt was the same for finishers and volunteers and no finishers medals were handed out. I did like the fact though that the t-shirt was a cotton blend and not one of those tech shirts most races are found of handing out. When I run a race I want to wear the shirt and those tech shirts just don't really lend themselves to everyday wear, I much prefer a cotton shirt.

I met a fellow wrestling official who was also running the race and we chatted before the start, he mentioned this was his first half marathon and he was shooting for under 2 hours. I mentioned that I felt like crap from working outside the whole day prior and was using this as a training run for my upcoming marathon. Just prior to the start we told each other good luck and I moved to my normal place at the back of the starting pack. A local news personality started the race with a rather quick "ready, set, go" and we were off!!! I started out at an easy jog fully intending to get the most out of my money and run the race at training pace or slower.

The first mile was easy along city streets then we headed out of town along the river, it was shortly after this first mile that I saw my friend just ahead so I got up beside him and we talked a little more, it was about then when I remembered that I had been gabbing and forgot to hit the porto potty pre-race. So when I saw an inviting group of trees I headed into the bush to do my business. He kept running of course. When I was done I happened to be at the base of what was the start of a group of fairly steep but short hills between miles 2 and 4. Something I have noticed is that when I run I usually pass a lot of people on hills. They catch up later but I guess all that road marching just made me strong on uphills. So I powered up this hill and eventually caught up with my friend and with a wave and a few words I passed him. I was feeling pretty good and holding a steady pace through mile 4.

Mile 5-7 was fairly flat and along a country road, I continued to hold a steady pace but I could feel the heat start to rise as the day progressed. At race start it had been overcast and fairly cool but now the sun was out. Water stops were about every mile or mile and a half and the even had a GU station at mile 6. I had to stop somewhere in this stretch and tighten my knee brace up as the velcro was coming loose. At mile 7 we got off the hard surface road and hit the Sac and Fox trail as the course started turning back towards the start.

The trail was a little rough at first, it was showing the effects of the heavy rains we had experienced a few days before and rocks and sticks were everywhere. I turned my ankle slightly on one of the rocks but for the most part the sandy/dirt surface of the trail felt better than the pavement had. This part of the race was the most tedious and it is also where I think I lost some time. It was harder to run in the sandy soil and also running through the woods along the river it was hard to see ahead and behind. It felt unlike a race and more like I was running on my own. I could see people up ahead but no one behind. This went on for 3-4 miles while I tried to maintain a pace with really no references. Miles were not marked and there were no water stops on the trail.

At mile 10 we popped out of the woods and hit the pavement back into town, back along the first 3 miles of the course. Up one more very steep hill ( thanks music guy that was the perfect place for your motivational tunes) and it was fairly flat until the end. I continued to try and maintain a steady pace even with all the jack rabbits behind me speeding up and passing me in the last mile. It is a personal point of pride with me I don't sprint at the end to beat someone, people who do irritate me because it means they have to much energy left. At least that is what I think. Turning the corner I saw the finish line ahead and steadily ran on through.

I looked at my time and I had missed my PR by about 6 minutes. I had lost a lot of time on the trail but still it was a good steady pace and I was satisfied with my time. I grabbed a Kolache, banana, and some Gatorade and went back to the finish to see if my buddy was coming in. I waited about 30 minutes and never saw him. When I got to my car his truck was gone. Since I know he didn't pass me I must have missed him when I got my food and drink. All in all it was a good race, they will be posting results later today.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sugar Bottom Scramble 2010

OK, so again I entered the fray and tried my second mountain bike race of the year. My first attempt at mountain bike racing did not go very well at all as I wrote about in this post :

Normally I run, I am not much of a mountain biker although I do enjoy it, I was pretty apprehensive about this race but having said I would do it by God I was going to do it. The Sugar Bottom Scramble was billed as the Iowa State Mountain Bike Championships and the race was held 23 miles south of where I currently live so it was definitely convenient. The course would be run on the mountain bike trails in the Sugar Bottom recreation area around the Coralville Reservoir.

Things didn't start out the best as I was on call at the ambulance service the night prior to the race and as luck would have it we got a couple calls that were spaced out so I really didn't get much rest. I also could not find my bike tools, extra tube or chain lube in my newly cleaned garage. I did try to hydrate though and I definitely succeeded as I had to use the porto potty several times before the race started. Myself and Jessie arrived about 0900 for the 1000 start of the Cat 3(beginner) category. We had to walk about 400 meters to the sign in point where I filled out the necessary waivers, then Jessie stayed there while I went back to the car to get my bike and equipment. The first thing I noticed about this race as compared to the time trials earlier in the year was everyone didn't look like Lance Armstrong. There actually looked like there was a few guys I could beat and everyone was not wearing spandex. The atmosphere was much friendlier and less cliquish.

At 1000 we all lined up on the gravel round headed east for the mass start, there was 27 of us Cat 3 riders as well as 3 Collegiate Division guys that had decided to race with us. I stayed to the back of the pack not really knowing what to expect with the mass start. After a few words of  encouragement the race organizer blew a whistle and I hit the start button on my GPS and away I went. I was at the back of the pack as we pedaled down the road and up a steep hill, as we climbed the hill the first rider fell out as he was having chain issues. I passed him and took a right into the woods. 

The first thing I noticed was that the trails were not as difficult as the ones at Decorah as well as being dry. Decorah had been brutal as well as muddy. The course went generally downhill for the first two miles and I was keeping one of the collegiate riders in my field of vision as I shifted gears into the second chain ring and concentrated on keeping my pedals spinning over the roots and around the turns. Somewhere in the first two miles the rider with the chain problem passed me on a turn and I was dead last. No problem I thought I just need to finish. The chain guy had issues two more times and we passed each other twice in the next two miles until he must have resolved the problem and he pulled away and I never saw him for the rest of the race.

Approximately mile 4 I passed the collegiate rider who had been slowing down since we entered the uphill section, at mile 4.6 I passed two more riders on a hairpin turn, they were stopped and looked like they had some medical issues. I resolved to keep a steady pace. 5 miles into the race we popped back out onto the gravel road this time heading west, I knew that we were about half way but I also knew the most technical part of the course was to come. My legs were starting to fell the burn from all the climbing in the first 5 miles.  As we entered the woods again we paralleled the lake for about .5 miles and the cool breeze and the boats on the water made me glad I had entered this race. As we crossed the road again I saw a long uphill section of single track and slipped down into the easiest gears.

I was alone, I could see no one ahead nor hear anyone behind. I kept pedaling telling myself no matter how slow I went I needed to keep pedaling and not to coast. We were hitting intermediate and expert level trails at this point and there were several places were I had to push the bike uphill when I lost momentum on an obstacle. We crossed and recrossed a little creek on wooden plank bridges that were usually followed by steep rocky uphill climbs. It was at mile 6.8 as I was going down hill on a particular steep and rooted section of the course that I got too far over my handle bars and went ass over teakettle. Bike going one way and me the other. Unlike Decorah this was my only crash and I recovered quickly jumping back on the bike and heading down the trail. I heard voices ahead and saw an incredibly steep hill with people standing at the top. From pre race recon I knew this must be the double black diamond "Cyclocross Hill." Discretion being the better part of valor at this point, I just hopped off my bike and ran and pushed my bike up the hill. I waved to the spectators as I  hammered it ( for me anyway) towards the finish line, which I knew was less than a mile ahead. I rode passed the finish line as Jessie clapped for me. This race was much better than my previous experience. For one thing I didn't finish dead last and I actually enjoyed myself. I will definitely be doing this race again next year.