Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Deployment Mirror - Part I

I was talking to my wife the other day and she asked me why I never write about being deployed? I didn't really have an answer for her. I guess I don't really think that my day to day activities are that exciting. When I told her that she said that she is constantly getting asked by friends and family what my life is like over here. She explained that she often did have answers to the little questions that people ask. That moment kind of made me feel bad like I hadn't let the ones I care about into my life over here enough. Perhaps I had been too concerned with my own sanity by wanting to know everything that was happening "on the outside" without me, and not concerned enough with giving my family and friends a glimpse into the world that has become my own over these last three months. After than conversation I actually started to get excited about the possibilities of writing a week in the life of post. My vision is to have the post read much less like a checklist of events and more like an experience through my senses. I haven't written in this fashion very often and I do not really know where this is going, so hopefully it turns out to be good. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.

Chapter 1 - Monday:
The wave is bright and swift. Dragging me upwards like a powerful fluid vine ascending rapidly towards a destination unknown. The awful noise started far off at first. A repetitive wailing that approached me with a hunter's precision. Familiarity crept into my mind, yet I still could not place the sounds flooding my memory. The light pulling me upwards increased its intensity and my pace exponentially increased. I could feel my heart beating faster as the pulsating far off noise that plagued my mind intensified. As my rapid heartbeat hit a final note my eyes clicked wide open in unison. I was awake. My Westclox battery powered alarm clock had reached the second stage alarm that was even more annoying and awful sounding than the first set of beeps.

I had been having intense and very strange dreams since arriving in Baghdad almost three months ago. Some weird, some good, and few awful night terrors. It is amazing how diet, long hours, and intense workouts can change your sleep patterns. I leaned over and turned off the alarm and saw that it was 6:22 AM. I had made it through two minutes of my mind piercing alarm while struggling to surface from my ethereal dream. I reached for my laptop and cracked it open. My email account, left open from the night before, had six new messages. After deleting a couple LinkedIn updates and a promotion I started to read an email from Chris, a friend who works with me on Checking For Charity. As great as it was to see the charity I helped create flourishing in my absence, it also stung a bit being separated from it. The opportunity to be a part of something like my charity is just one of the many things I took for granted just three short months ago.

I open my Skype account and double click the Heidicell icon. It rings three times and I hear the voice I love hearing every morning. Luckily my room is equipped with wireless internet capability, which has made Skype a godsend for myself and countless members of the armed forces before me. I quickly think of the experiences both my Grandfathers had during World War II and feel a bit of guilt for my "wartime" amenities. My guilt is rapidly washed away by my wife's voice. We are on a ten hour time difference so the call times actually work out relatively well. We talk during my morning time and at least once during my night hours. I wonder how much harder my experience would be if I didn't have the chance to talk to her at will?

We catch up on her day and what her plans are for the week. She asks what my plans are for the week. I say little and quickly change the subject. For some reason it has proven difficult to share to her and my family back home. Maybe their lives are my only escape? Maybe I am just to lazy to try explain experiences out here that are relatively mundane and do not exactly lift my spirits? I tell her I love her and that I have to get ready for work.

I get out of my bed catch the unpleasant whiff of whatever chemical they use while boiling my laundry. My legs are still stiff from Saturday's workout. I walk over to the small TV that was left behind in my room that is used more for a nightstand than anything else and I grab my electronic razor. I step around to the side of my wall locker where I have taped up a cheap mirror from the base exchange and I begin to shave. My beard has been ridiculous out here. I have five o'clock shadow by noon every day. I attribute my enhanced beard growth to shaving seven days a week. No full days off out here. I finish shaving and gather a few clothes off of the floor to place in my laundry bag. I look around my CHU (containerized housing unit) and think how appalled my wife would be if our room looked like this at home. I have had little free time since I arrived at the Victory Base Complex almost three months ago and even less time that I am willing to spend organizing my trailer. For me, it was good enough.

I threw on my bathrobe and flip flops, always a conversation starter out here, grabbed my shower caddy and opened front door to head towards the showers. My face is slapped with the thick desert air. Baghdad is hot. There is no way around it. I have been to Arizona, California, Mexico, Jamaica, and numerous other places all of which are pretty hot during their summer months, however there is not a place on earth that I have found that has hotter air than Iraq. Every day feels like a hot blow dryer is being directed right in your face. Luckily, I have just left the confines of my CHU where I have had an oversized air conditioner pumping in cold air since I arrived in May. The warmth actually feels good against my face. I turn around and lock my CHU door, not out of fear of theft during my time in the shower, but because my Beretta M9 and clips of ammunition are laying on the empty bed on the other side of my room. Another reminder that life is a little different out here.

I walk through the dusty gravel that has become my city's concrete out here and across my 'street' to the shower trailer. I weave through the giant concrete T-walls used to protect the CHU's from mortar and rocket attacks. The door slams shut behind me and I am greeted by the overpowering stench of mold and sitting water. I see Heichs' and Sheeman's towels and shorts hanging from their respective favorite shower stalls. "What's up rookies," I shout out. "Did you check out the new quotes," asks Heichs. I quickly gaze over to the wall and see the picture of a not so loved senior officer that recently returned home. Someone put up her picture with some quotations next to it. We gave up trying to figure out who did it a few weeks back. The weekly addition of new quotes next to the picture speaks volumes of the impact she had on the culture and morale of the office, especially since her peers frequent these same showers and had yet to take her pseudo shrine down. Her mocked persona is a blunt lesson in leadership, just one of the many I have been exposed to in my short time in the desert.

I jump in the shower and begin the challenging task of adequately washing in the 2x2 foot shower stall. The water pressure is good but it is difficult to wash without banging loudly against the cheap plastic stalls. I am grateful for a daily shower though. I rinse off and brush my teeth in the shower and crack a few jokes with the boys before walking back to my CHU. The heat has become a bit less pleasurable as my hours of nightly air conditioning exposure begins to wear. I unlock my CHU and catch a glimpse of the clock that plagued my dreams just a short while ago. It reads 7:01 AM. I had nine minutes to get dressed and head to breakfast.

I throw on my ABU's (airman battle uniform) and curse the bastard who designed it. The winter weight denim texture is a slap in the face to those out in Iraq. We can spend billion's on a war effort but we can't even give deployed troops a non-winter weight uniform in Baghdad. The Navy did it right by adopting the Army's lightweight, athletic cut uniform. The Air Force tried to develop their own identity and instead developed a camouflage horse blanket. The uniform had become a constant gripe amongst our crowd. I think back to the other amenities I have and the fact I am walking into my own room and immediately feel the guilt creep back into my psyche. I wash down a daily vitamin and cruise Facebook for a few minutes before the guys stop by and grab me on the way to breakfast. The social networking site is both a blessing and a curse while deployed. It can be a great way to remain connected to people stateside. It is a way to feel that you are still a part of people's lives stateside. But it can also serve as a constant reminder that your time over here is time away from the life you have built, and it is time that you will never get back.

My guilt is eased slightly by the realization that with the new ways of war come new challenges. My Grandfathers' way of war is gone, and with it the unique challenges they faced. My situation is what it is and all I can do is get by the best I can. The true sacrifice is being away from those you care about. It isn't the lack of everyday conveniences we as a nation have become so accustomed to. People always say that life is like a roller coaster. You are always faced with the ups and downs. If life is like a roller coaster, then deployed life is the biggest damn roller coaster I have ever been on. The ups and downs are much more frequent and they seem to be more intense, if only just in my mind. My morale and daily mood is of constant importance and I try to actively ensure that I am balanced mentally. I cannot imagine the effects that some of my Army brethren are going through 'outside the wire'. Once again, I feel bad for my self pity. Be grateful for what you have, I tell myself before....

Bang, bang, bang. The door handle rattles back and forth after the obnoxious knock of my friends. I stand up and shut down my laptop. It is time to head to breakfast.

To Be Continued.....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Checking For Charity Beef & Beer Tickets Now On Sale!

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Help selling tickets to the Checking For Charity inaugural Beef & Beer event. Tickets are on sale NOW!

Here are the details:

Thursday August 19th from 6-10pm
PJ Whelihans in Cherry Hill
Chinese Auction, 50/50 raffle, games, food and more.
All the beer you can drink.
Cost is $30 per person in advance. $40 at the door.
We expect a BIG Turnout for this event and are not restricted to one room at PJ'S. Our goal is to sell over 250 tickets.

So go out and sell tickets.....wife, girlfriend, family, friends and co-workers.
Ticket sales will be by Pay Pal on our website or by sending a check to:

Checking for Charity Corporation
PO Box 31
Mount Laurel NJ 08054

**Please make your check payable to "Checking for Charity**

When you arrive at PJ's your name will be on the paid in full list. Get a wristband and have fun.

See you go out there and buy/sell some tickets!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Review: Start Where You Are

"Start Where You Are" is a book by Chris Gardner of The Pursuit of Happyness fame. I saw the movie and enjoyed it, however I never really sought out to find the book let alone a different book by the author. However during a long layover in Baltimore on my way out the door to my deployment I purchased Chris' book from the airport newsstand.

The book is described as a book that contains life lessons on getting from where you are to where you want to be. Although the book has some valuable lessons, I almost think I would have benefited more from reading the Pursuit of Happyness than Start Where You Are. For me it was one of those books that probably could have been written in about half as many pages. There were six separate sections with 42 lessons. Some of these lessons were pretty cool and told over the backdrop of Chris's unique life story definitely brings them into context. However, I felt like a lot of them were relatively mundane and repetitive. I almost got the vibe that the publisher mandated that the book be a certain length and left Chris to go back and fill in the gaps. The overarching message is clear. You should always pursue happyness, your destiny is in your hands, and start now! I just think that message could have been delivered a bit more succinctly. Overall, it was a fairly good read. Like I said before I think gleaning many of the lessons from Chris' life story would have been more impactful than having those lessons told to me through Chris's writing. But that just may be my learning style. I have included some notes from the book below.

Overture - Come In:
- Why not let the world be our true classroom? It offers everything we need for attaining our greatest good and highest aspirations.
- Whenever I am asked what happyness is to me, my first answer is that it is the ability to look where I am in the moment, wherever I am, to remember where I came from and how far I've travelled, as a father, a friend, a contributing citizen of the world and to be able to say - what a beautiful life this is, I'm so grateful to be here. More than anything happyness is being able to appreciate everything and know - wow, I created this!

One: Start Where You Are:
- "Live your life so that whenever you lose it, you're ahead." - Will Rogers
- The present throws out a welcome mat as an equal opportunity invitation to come into your own
- Every stage of the journey in what has been my life so far was exactly where I needed to be at that time

Lesson 1: Without a Plan a Dream is Just a Dream:
- The Navy gave me an education and taught me the fundamentals of pursuing those possibilities - discipline, character and initiative, all transferable skills that would serve me in every pursuit to come
- What is the single most important ingredient for successful pursuit? A plan!
- C5 complex: Clear, Concise, Compelling, Committed, Consistent

Lesson 2: We All Have The Power of Choice:
- We all have the power of choice in determining who we ultimately become

Lesson 3: The Calvary Ain't Coming:
- Reclaim the self reliant attitude that made him a hero in the first place
- Own up to where you are and how you got there. 9 times out of 10 I have come to the conclusion that wherever I am Ive arrived there by choice. Only then can you move to change your situation

Lesson 4: Start With What You've Got in Your Hand:
- Resourcefulness is next to godliness
- Believe in yourself and the infinite abundance of resources already at your disposal

Lesson 5: Baby Steps Count Too, As Long As You Go Forward:
- "Its always best to make friends before you need friends"
- MLK - "You may not see the entire staircase, but it is important that you that first step."

Lesson 6: Stop Digging Your Potatoes:
- Its often much easier to stay in our comfort zones, even when we've stopped being very comfortable, simply because it takes less effort to stay where we don't want to be than to summon the energy required to create the change to go where wed rather be
- Change is necessary for growth and if we don't instigate the change that we desire for ourselves, the status quo will eventually change on its own - in ways that can make adapting even tougher
- People want others to validate that their breaking the status quo will be successful and that they're ready, but no one can provide that
- "I was convinced the best was still ahead of me." - Ray Kroc

Lesson 7: What Would The Champ Do?:
- Meets Mohammed Ali and asks him if hes ever been scared
- "Yeah. I'm scared now. Ive got a disease and there is no cure. But I am still fighting" - Mohammed Ali

Lesson 8: Say Peace Be Still:
- The only way we can discover our true power is by living through the crisis we fear

Lesson 9: Even Lewis and Clark Had a Map:
- Start with the maps of others and eventually you will create your own path
- Don't be ashamed to copy your heroes

Lesson 10: Find Your Button:
- There is no plan B for passion, do what you love and love what you do
- There is nothing more practical than harnessing the power of passion
- You can and deserve to love something so much you'd do it for free

Two: The Thorny and Golden Past:
-History is a guide to navigation in perilous times

Lesson 11: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Yesterday?:
- He revealed things from his past he never had while speaking to middle school

Lesson 12: In Your Library of Resources Value All Experiences:
- Everything we've experienced is relevant and part of who we are whether we like it or not
- "All true learning is experience. Everything else is just information." - Einstein
- "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandella

Lesson 13: Draw the Line of Your Life:
- Draw a line and illustrate important events and choices along the way
- Mark an X at critical decision points. You will see its your decisions driving your line not the other way around

Lesson 14: Whose Child Are You?:
- Your identity is important

Lesson 15: Check Out Your Own Version of Genesis:
- "Forgive your enemies but never forget their names." - JFK

Lesson 16: Who's Who in Your Hood?:
- "Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right." - Henry Ford
- The more you appreciate everyone who has played even a modest role in your past- whether to reinforce, challenge, entertain, or inspire you - the more you can trust you have touched them as well

Lesson 17: The Red or the Yellow Bike:
- Don't go with what is safe. Go with what motivates you

Lesson 18: Sometimes You Gotta Give Up Christmas:
- 1. Know yourself (authority) 2. Be yourself (authenticity) 3. Choose for yourself (autonomy)

Lesson 19: No Test No Testimony:
- Life happens
- If you haven't been tested you have nothing to say and nothing to add value to the conversation
- "....the world is messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around....But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this a way that men, in some strange way, are responding --something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up." - MLK

Three: Hitting The Anvil:
- "I learned the value of hard work by working hard." - Margaret Mead
- There is no secret to success or only the elite would be able to attain it and that is not the case
- Success is the result of tactical and strategic applications of learned knowledge toward objectives pursued with passion

Lesson 20: The Law of Hard Work Is No Secret:
- Initiative is available to EVERYONE!
- I went to school with every man I ever talked to

Lesson 21: Core Strengths Forged on your Anvil:
- Confidence is one of those intangibles that can take individuals much farther that the skills or experiences on their resumes indicate they will go
- Confidence is a transferable strength

Lesson 22: Wizards Begin as Blacksmiths:
- Invest in your transferable skills

Lesson 23: Are You Bold Enough to Get Back to Basics?:
- He was going door to door when no one else on Wall St was

Lesson 24: Supply and Demand Ain't Rocket Science:
- Everybody's got their hustle. What they are providing the market
- Everybody is selling something

Lesson 25: Truth is a Hit:
- Effective communication needs a message so low that a goat could get it. Lowest common denominator
- Speak from the heart and only what you are truly passionate about
- Truth is a hit
- Truth, honesty, and integrity always make good business sense

Lesson 26: Learn the Ropes First, Then Conquer Rome:
- Top attribute employers look for is passion
- Its not how fast you get to the top but the wisdom you gain along the way

Lesson 27: Who's Who at the Office and in Your Spheres of Influence?:
- Its always best to make friends before you need friends

Lesson 28: It Takes As Much Energy to Bag an Elephant as it Does a Mouse:
- Don't sweat the small stuff
- Focus on elephants rather than mice

Lesson 29: Share the Wealth:
- Give back with advice and time and shared struggles

Four: Your Empowerment Zone:
- "One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself." - Leonardo Da Vinci

Lesson 30: Seek The Farthest Star:
- To achieve mastery you must see the upsides and downsides and take the risk anyways to go for the gold
- The experience of failure not only teaches how to succeed the next time it is the only way to combat the fear of failure

Lesson 31: Seeing Ghosts Reading Signs:
- Reinvention

Lesson 32: Opportunities, Like Pancakes Are Best Served Hot, But Sometimes You Gotta Set The Table Before You Can Eat:
- I also believe no matter what your endeavor, when you're open to possibilities that can and do show up on your doorstep, all the elements of timing can click for you too

Lesson 33: Stay Open But Don't Wing It:
- Dare to pursue your life's work but do so with a readiness to adapt your plans when needed on the fly

Lesson 34: Mo' Money Mo' Options Mo' Problems:
- Pursue mastery over money
- 1. Does it control you or do you control it? 2. Do you work hard for the money or do you let your money go to work for you? 3. Does money represent the calvary that you've been waiting on or is it only one resource in your pursuit of happyness
- Seek balance

Lesson 35: Money Is The Least Significant Component of Wealth:
- Success is nothing more than doing the little things that unsuccessful people don't do
- Only you can determine your true worth

Lesson 36: Conscious Capitalism: A Personal and Global Primer:
- The caveman with the biggest cave and the best stuff isn't necessarily the happiest
- Contribution makes you happy
- 1. The opportunity to create value for ourselves 2. The opportunity to add value to the world
- Will it have mattered that I was here?

Lesson 37: Make Your Dream Bigger Than Yourself:
- Be the change you want to see
- Don't always seek a mentor be one!

Five: Spiritual Genetics:
- You don't have to subscribe to a religion to be spiritual

Lesson 38: Embrace The Best of Your Spiritual Genetics:
- We all have our lightness and our darkness. Our human challenge is to continuously claim the light of the best that is within us - the best of our spiritual genetics
- "I am a human being; nothing human can be alien to me."
- Alliance for a New Humanity website has instructions to meditate

Lesson 39: Breaking Generational Cycles:
- When confronting tough choices or circumstances we a. emerge and rise b. be beaten into darkness c. maintain the status quo

Lesson 40: Your Divine Inheritance:

Lesson 41: God's In The Details:

Lesson 42: Passing The Torch, Raising The Bar:
- Go make yourself Proud!

Six: The Good Old Everyday:
- "Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Would the child that you were respect the man that you have become?

Lesson 43: Don't Postpone Joy:
- Do one thing for yourself that makes you happy
- Do one thing that makes you happy every day. Top of your daily to do
- Don't spend too much time pursuing whats next and not appreciating whats now

Lesson 44: Claim Ownership of Your Dreams:
- Happyness is a responsibility
- "Paid the price to control the dice, paid the cost to be the boss." - BB King
- Always pursue happyness!