Veteran’s Day Is Today

veterans-day-2015Since yesterday’s collection of various veterans was so popular, I’m going to post another bunch of pictures of people with whom I’ve served over the years and some notable friends and others I admire who served honorably.  Some of these are reruns and others may not be.  I’m feeling less lazy today, so I may caption these.

To all of you pictured below, to those colleagues not pictured below and to all who have served honorably, thank you!

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Staff of Army Forces Central Command – Saudi Arabia in 2000. Some great Americans in this group. Loved this job.

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The ORIGINAL Joint OPERATION TRIBUTE TO FREEDOM Class photo at the Pentagon’s River Entrance.

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Family portrait, Dad, me and Jefferson, now a lieutenant colonel.

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Dad immediately after his release from active duty, circa 1970.

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Dad and Mom.

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Riyadh Air Base, Saudi Arabia circa 2000.

Signal Officers Advanced Course, 1985.

Signal Officers Advanced Course, 1985.

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Official Photo, first as a colonel, 2002.

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Hank Minitrez, Shawn Woodbridge and me at Shawn’s birthday party, I think.

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Me on TV as a second lieutenant.

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Retired 3-star Ed Soyster and retired colonel Larry Brom during the WWII 60th.

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Finance Officer Branch Qualification Course, Fort Jackson, SC in 1999

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This one has a built-in caption.

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Garold Holcomb, Bill Carnegie and Daryl Pooler on our way to Korea for an EXEVAL of the U.S. Army Finance Command at Yongsan.

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My brother, Jefferson, with his unit in Columbus, Ohio.

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A reunion of members of Southern California’s 326th Finance Group at National Harbor, MD some years ago.

Veterans Day is Tomorrow

veterans-day-2015Rather than post a whole bunch of useless words, I’m going to post a whole bunch of pictures of people with whom I’ve served over the years and some notable friends and others I admire who served honorably.  These are all reruns, so don’t get overly excited about new content. And they’re not all captioned because I am lazy.

To all of you pictured below, to those colleagues not pictured below and to all who have served honorably, thank you.

Lt. Col. Speedman, me, Lt. Col. Stan Kensic and Master Sgt. Jeanie West.

Lt. Col. Speedman, me, Lt. Col. Stan Kensic and Master Sgt. Jeanie West.

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George Lopez, me, Shawn Woodbridge and Eric “Chuckles” Harding.

Then Major Mike Downs at the Grand Canyon of the Middle East.

Then Major Mike Downs at the Grand Canyon of the Middle East.

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The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines of Joint Task Force – Los Angeles.

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ROTC Advanced Camp. Some of these folks probably never made it to veteran’s status, but I’ll bet most did.

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MG Anders Aadland announcing the start of OPERATION Tribute to Freedom in 2003.

MG Anders Aadland announcing the start of OPERATION Tribute to Freedom in 2003.

The Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee

The Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee. Click to enlarge.

Left to right: Shawn Woodbridge, Jeff Keane, Yours Truly, and Jeff's wife, Ethel Keane. We were celebrating something or other at the Ritz Carlton's Suinday brunch in 2003.

Left to right: Shawn Woodbridge, Jeff Keane, Yours Truly, and Jeff’s wife, Ethel Keane. We were celebrating something or other at the Ritz Carlton’s Suinday brunch in 2003.

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LTG (Retired) Ed Soyster and I at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas in 2005.

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The late Commander Bob Moran, a friend of mine.

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Just ’cause he’s awesome.

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Former Coast Guardsman and fellow actor Ken Parham

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Maurice Simmons, Mary Grossich and Scott Marvin

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On the Fourteenth Anniversary of 9/11

PentagonI wrote this back in 2009 in response to all the “Where were you when 9/11 happened?” questions and recollections that were being circulated around the Internet.  I’ve reposted it many times in the hope that I’ll continue to recall not just the horrific facts of that day’s events, but the feelings with which I associate it.  To this day whenever I hear replays of the news broadcasts of that day, the feelings, anguish and anger can be nearly overwhelming.

Even though I wasn’t near any of the three places that were scarred forever by the acts of a few, 9/11/2001 changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined then and which I sometimes don’t believe even now.  Regardless, I will never shake the feelings that 9/11 evokes in me nor do I ever want to.  More importantly, I wish that all of us could share the unity, resolve and dedication to our nation and our common defense that we all felt in the days and weeks following that awful day in 2001.

Thanks for reading.

“So, do you think the Army’s going to call you up because of this?”

“I sure as hell hope so.”

That was the big question my supervisor at the E! Channel asked me on 9/11. While I did eventually get called up, I’d gladly give up all the financial and professional gains which resulted if it had never happened. But that’s not what these words are going to be about.

I was awakened that morning by a phone call from my mother-in-law who told us in frantic, disjointed words that something bad was happening. As a native New Yorker, she was understandably shaken at learning that Manhattan was under attack. The message was related to me by my spouse at the time who slammed into the bedroom and shook me awake and said “Wake up! The Pentagon’s under attack!”

I got up, rushed to the TV in a groggy stupor and saw the story as it was unfolding, still in chaos. Information was rolling into news agencies willy-nilly and much of what was heard and reported was unconfirmed. I dressed and hurried to work in the Wilshire District in LA, near the La Brea Tar Pits. The streets of Los Angeles were relatively deserted – not empty as they were during the LA riots in 1992. But it was clear that people were staying home. Businesses closed for the day and many more operated on essential staff only. Which is why I was going to work.

When I arrived at E!, I could see that many of the national cable networks which shared our satellite space had either gone dark or were carrying coverage from one of the big three networks. It was at that moment that the enormity and the immediate practical impact of this event on this Nation became apparent. Even broadcast commerce stopped for a time – shopping networks were carrying round the clock news coverage. Sports channels and others had full-screen graphics up telling people to tune to a network broadcast and follow the news.

One of the positive things about working at a TV network with all measure of high-tech TV equipment is that we could monitor as many TV stations as we had monitors. And we had plenty. CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC all raced to get pictures and firsthand accounts of the unfolding tragedy on the air. I flipped back and forth from moment to moment and channel to channel trying to find the best pictures. No one had a lock on the best, so it was back and forth from channel to channel.

As for what I was doing in between times, E! was trying to decide whether to take coverage from a major news network or stay with the on-air schedule without regard to the situation. My job was to design on-screen graphics in support of either option. Ultimately, E! chose to stay with their own programming rather than switch to one of the majors. I will not debate that decision, but I will observe on my own behalf that I had no interest in entertainment fluff at that point, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else feeling differently.

From the moment it sank in just what was going on, my heart was heavy, but my fists clenched in preparation. When my terrific boss, Ken Mason, asked me if I was going to get called up, not only did I hope so, but I was hoping it would be within the hour. For the rest of the day, most of us sat in network control going about our business with about as much feeling as the machines supporting us. It was quiet and the sounds of our air signal were mixed with the sounds of the coverage coming from ancillary equipment racks where the carnage of the day was being replayed over and over.

I would be many months before I actually got called up and reported here to Washington, D.C. in January, 2002. I spent the next 71 months assigned to the Pentagon in various assignments, some 9/11 related and others not.

A year after the attacks, our office moved into the rebuilt section of the Pentagon and shortly thereafter, the small indoor memorial and chapel was opened. Whenever I thought I was being unfairly put upon, I’d stroll the 30 seconds down the E-ring to the 9/11 memorial and stand for a minute or two.

It gave me perspective in two profound ways. It made me recognize that getting picked on that day wasn’t really so bad, and that any one of these people whose biography and photo were in one of two books would give anything to be in my predicament. Alive. Within reach of those about whom they cared. And it humbled me. Standing there for only a moment made me remember why I was there and that I had better do the best job I could.

Eight years have passed since the attack on our Nation. Today, while driving into my civilian job, I listened to replays of the coverage from that day and remember what it felt like that day. How shocked and horrified. How angry. How resolute. I suspect that will never change. I suspect that I’ll always feel the intense mix of emotions on this day. And I’ll fight back the tears on this day just as I did on this day eight years ago.

For many, the feelings we experienced that day have already escaped us, relegating the horror of the day to a collection of historical facts, figures and stately memorials to those who perished. It is right that we recall the facts and honor those who were murdered that day. However, it is my wish that somehow the shock, horror, anger and resolution I felt – that most everyone felt that morning – stay with us and unite us as it did on 9/11 and in the shadows of that day.

Eight years hence, we find ourselves a divided Nation when in truth, there’s so very much more about us that is alike than those things which divide us.

I wish we weren’t so divided and I have no solution as to how to unite us. I just know that we have it in us. The days following September 11, 2001 were some of America’s finest.

Remember what that was like. Not just today on this horrific anniversary. But every day.

It would serve us all well.

War Stories

JonMy oldest and Belgian-born son, Jonathon and I correspond infrequently, most often choosing to relay critical elements of information via text message, Skype or Hangouts.   He’s a former chef turned Electrical Engineering student who lives in Portland, Oregon, the setting for the TV show “Grimm.”

A couple of weeks ago on the way home from work (Jon has great faith in my potential texting while driving skills, which of course, I NEVER do) I received the following out-of-the-blue text message about my former Army career:

Jon: “So I told my coworkers about being born in Belgium and some of your military history. They are convinced you were spying on eastern Germany.”

This made me laugh out loud and had I actually been texting and driving (which of course, I NEVER do) I would have swerved dangerously thus providing myself a valuable lesson.

Since I spent most of my career as an Army Public Affairs Officer with multiple assignments with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, my work was usually about publicly broadcasting (literally) information about the Army. This is antithetical to the whole idea of secrecy and spying.

Keeping both hands on the steering wheel at the 10:00 and 2:00 positions, I replied, eyes firmly fixed on the road because I understand the dangers associated with texting and driving (which of course, I NEVER do:)

Me: “Shoot, I never made it near the border except for [Grafenwoehr, an Army training area relatively close to the former East Germany.] After I left Germany and got to Belgium, I wasn’t anywhere close to bad people. Of course when I was in Bosnia, I was around Russians all the time. But they were all friends by then.”

My phone chimed a new message:

Jon: “You should write a blog about some of your deployments if that is legal.”

Ok, Jon! You asked for it, you got it! Here’s a short summary of some of the cooler things I got to do while in the Army. I assure you, I conducted no spy missions.

So far as any of you know.

And even though today I work adjacent to the CIA Headquarters with the Federal Highway Administration in public affairs, I assure you I am conducting no spy missions.

So far as any of you know.

 

Germany, 1981-1983

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“If you’re going to be one, be a Big Red One.”

After a public affairs assignment at Fort Gordon, Georgia, I took over the Signal Platoon of the 1st Infantry Division (Forward). The closest I ever got to the border with East Germany was when the division trained at the aforementioned Grafenwoehr training area. If memory serves, this happened three times during my 18 months there. We also did a couple of long “deployments” to the German countryside for REFORGER exercises.   One of those was a good four weeks long, and there were other, shorter exercises leading up to it. I don’t recall any of those being perilously close to the border.

Incidentally, of all the assignments I had in nearly 29 years, this was by far the worst. This was due overwhelmingly to my own severe ineptitude as an officer in 1981. In my defense, at the hail and farewell upon my arrival, the commander of the 1st ID(F), Brig. Gen. James R. Henslick, when he heard I was taking over the Signal Platoon, shook my hand and with sad, sympathetic eyes said “I’m sorry.” I wish I had been prepared for the potential failure that he knew awaited me in that assignment. I was not and I failed spectacularly.

Worst.  Platoon Leader.  Ever.

I’m not exaggerating.

I learned a lot in that assignment about myself and about leadership from Master Sgt. John Kingeter. He actually left the HHC 1st Sgt. job to take over our Signal Platoon’s NCOIC job after some real failures in our NCO leadership and mine. By the time I left to go to Belgium in 1983, I had grown considerably as an officer with a far more realistic self-image and drastically different expectations and understanding of the Army.

Toward the end of that assignment, I was on all-night staff duty at Hohenfels training area which was much like the Grafenwoehr training area, but even less luxurious. Master Sgt. Kingeter came into the staff duty office after an evening at the NCO Club which apparently included the overconsumption of spirits. A fairly short conversation ensued after which he awkwardly stood, saluted and with slurred speech gave me one of the highest compliments you can get. He’s said “Sir, you’re a good officer. You’re good.” And he meant it sincerely and in the most complimentary way. Yeah, it might have been the alcohol talking but I chose to believe that he was being tipsily truthful in his compliment. So even if the rest of that assignment was a total disaster – and it was – it ended well.

Master Sgt. Kingeter was the NCO I should have had on my first real assignment and gave me the training I needed to learn to be an officer.

I am forever in his debt.

 

Belguim, 1983-1985

AFN_logoNot a deployment, but an awesome assignment – my first with AFRTS. AFN SHAPE also molded me as an officer (who wants a moldy officer?) and helped restore the confidence that was obliterated during my time with the 1st ID(F). Made some lifelong friends from there as well including Dave Malone, Kim Danek and Kyle Osborne.

It’s also where I was introduced to fatherhood by the aforementioned offspring.

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Chef Jonathon Wolfe BEFORE his palate became sophisticated.

I’d have stayed there forever if I could have.

 

Alaska, 1985-1990

Not a deployment, but a so-so series of jobs in a magnificent setting. Again, made some terrific lifelong friends including Raymond Brady and Ben Sherburne.

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Me, Raymond Brady and Ben Sherburne. Ben is also a fellow graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy.

nomajSince I had two public affairs assignments as a company grade Signal Officer, I was understandably not among the best qualified for promotion to major in the Signal Corps and left active duty for the Army Reserve where I was promptly promoted. (I was considered fully qualified for promotion, just not best qualified.)

The arrival in 1986 of Andy, offspring number two, highlighted this particular assignment. Andy still lives in Anchorage, and I don’t visit him or his brother nearly often enough.

Andy, aged significantly since his birth.

Andy, aged significantly since his birth.

 

Los Angeles Riots, 1992

Not technically a deployment, but probably the most dangerous environment in which I’ve operated.

16991917_1567536365001_vs-1567525197001I have a zillion stories from getting the page in the supermarket that then President George H. W. Bush was federalizing the California National Guard, to my first time ever talking with a reporter from NBC News. So much happened in the days prior to our activation to support Joint Task Force-Los Angeles that was more heartbreaking, disillusioning and downright frightening that a recounting of events once activated are genuinely dull by comparison. We weren’t called up until the third day of civil unrest, May 1st, and so I spent much of the preceding days watching the destruction and mayhem on TV and staying the hell home.

It was awful.

I heard more gunshots in the preceding days in my neighborhood in North Hollywood than I heard in all my deployments before or since. It was a frightening time to be an Angeleno.

On the upside, once I got the page and got on the road, the usually ridiculously crowded L.A. freeway system was empty. And I mean empty. I breezed through the East L.A. interchange at 70-80 miles an hour, not a law enforcement officer in sight. Made it door-to-door from North Hollywood to Los Alamitos in something like 40-45 minutes. This was usually a 90-minute plus trip at best.

The highlight of this was working with a talented group of local Soldiers who I knew well as well as the assembled Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines from the active duty force that President Bush activated to augment the state forces to restore order.

This is a photo of the entire Joint Information Bureau staff from JTF-LA:

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I don’t remember all their names, but here are the names of my Army Reserve comrades who were activated for JTF-LA:

Lt.Col. Stan Kensic, Capt. Rod Anderson, Master Sgt. Jeanie West, Staff Sgt. Jim McGehee, Sgt. Ted Bartimus, Cpl. Kent Ambrose, and Spec. Ralph Streifel.

Jeanie West and I are still in touch and we often talk about this as being one of the more rewarding assignments during our time in the 63rd Army Reserve Command and the great people with whom we worked.

Lt. Col. Speedman, me, Lt. Col. Stan Kensic and Master Sgt. Jeanie West.

Lt. Col. Speedman, me, Lt. Col. Stan Kensic and Master Sgt. Jeanie West.

 

Bosnia, 1997

This was my first real deployment.

SFOR_coloreI’ve written a lot about Bosnia here, so I am not going to rewrite the history yet again. In a nutshell, I was assigned to the Stabilization Force (SFOR,) a NATO-led multinational peacekeeping force deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina after the Bosnian war. We were in close proximity to bad guys and former bad guys, but by the time I and my colleagues got there in late January, the shooting had stopped.

Our mission was to keep the AFRTS radio and TV stations on the air and provide radio programming to the U.S. forces assigned to SFOR. We worked with the public affairs folks from all of the nations assigned to SFOR including the Russians. My interactions with the Russians produced one of my fondest memories.

I took a year’s worth of Russian in college and got a good, solid D for the second semester. I totally earned it, too. But I DID pay attention in class. Fast forward to Bosnia. The Russian PAO major, whose name I regrettably have forgotten, came to the radio station with his interpreter to conduct business of some sort. Summoning up all the courage I had, I said hello to him in Russian based on what I remembered from college nearly twenty years before. The Russian major’s eyes lit up. He smiled broadly, excitedly shook my hand and said through his interpreter, “You greeted me in our language!” It was a magnificent moment for me and proved to me that you don’t necessarily have to have perfect grades to get something valuable out of academics. You just need to pay attention.

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Just a few of the folks from our trip to beautiful Tuzla, Bosnia in 1997.

AFN Bosnia was really a terrific experience and I would have stayed longer, but by law we weren’t allowed to do so. So after nine months, it was back home to Los Angeles.

This deployment generated more lifelong friends than I can list here. But I listed most of ‘em on the original article linked above. Thanks to all of the folks who contributed to our success there.

And I assure you that even with the Russians around, I conducted no spy missions.

So far as any of you know.

 

Saudi Arabia, 2000-2001

Second real deployment.

I can’t tell you much about this deployment. Not because I have secrets or anything, but because not much happened in the seven months I was there.

I was a one-man PAO shop there so I was more of a worker bee than anything else. But it was really a great assignment and I accomplished as much as we could considering that there was no civilian press allowed there without the permission of the Saudi government. You can guess how often than happened. (Hint: zero times.) So I concentrated on internal communications which the Army calls “Command Information.”

I was there with the USS Cole was attacked. While that was in neighboring Yemen, it’s close enough to Saudi Arabia that our alert status shot up.

I was at the gym running on the treadmill when it happened. I was in the middle of my run watching the TV when the Giant Voice, the post-wide public address system, sounded a siren and announced the elevation of the alert status, or whatever the correct term was at the time. Without missing a stride, I ran off the treadmill and just kept on running all the way back to my room. I quickly showered, put on a uniform and headed to the office per our standing operating procedure. Some hours later, we held a staff meeting to discuss the incident and that was about it.

Then Major Mike Downs at the Grand Canyon of the Middle East.

Then Major Mike Downs at the Grand Canyon of the Middle East.

The longer term impact was that we were restricted to the compound where we were living. No more trips downtown to buy gold or rugs from the local merchants in Riyadh. This happened about three weeks into my seven month deployment and they didn’t loosen the restriction until about three weeks before I left. So I didn’t get to see much of the countryside. That was OK though because the countryside was mostly stark, ugly, trash-laden desert. I’ve never seen so much nothing in my life! Sure there were other sights to see, like the Grand Canyon of the Middle East, or whatever we called it. And the capital of Riyadh was magnificent in many respects. Trips like that were infrequent at best. But as far as I am concerned, Saudi Arabia didn’t have much to offer in the way of tourist destinations.

Senior Master Sergeant Ken Adams in Aviano circa late 2000's.  Ken led a distinguished career and retired a couple years back.

Ken later in his distinguished career.

I did run into Bosnia colleague Ken Adams from the U.S. Air Force. He was there for a couple of days for some reason I don’t recall. But he’s a great guy and it’s always good to see a colleague and friend like Ken when you’re locked down and isolated like that.

(I have a photo of me and Ken in Saudi somewhere, but after looking through a half dozen CD’s from back then, I am unable to locate it. Once I do, it’ll go here.  Until then, this’ll have to do.)

In 2002, I “deployed” to the Pentagon and completed nearly six years of active duty doing everything from working in the Army Operations Center to being the temporary military technical advisor on the first Transformers movie.  Other than traveling through some of the seedier parts of DC, I was never near any enemies of which I was aware.  Assigned to the Army’s Office of Chief of Public Affairs, I was involved in telling the public about the Army not keeping any big secrets.

So far as any of you know.

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Just cause I always loved this photo of me, Jon and Andy. Alaska, 1990.

 

2014 – An Even-Numbered Year

No, I suppose that’s not the best thing I can say about 2014. But it was the first thing to come to mind when I wanted to describe the year in a nutshell.

2014-logo-stock-market-forecast-predictions-goldman-sachs-gold-europe-japan-options-trading-technical-analysis-etf-educationThis past year was actually pretty decent as years go. It had its high points and it’s low points and a lot of points in between.

Sidebar: My Dad always used to say, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” I always parodied it as “The shortest line between two distances is a straight point” or something like that.   The straight point always made the mathematician in me giggle.)

This year marked my return to the world of the employed. I wrote about my first year at Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center a while back.   In July, I unintentionally acquired the mission to coordinate a presidential visit to the Center. That turned out to be a huge shot in the arm both professionally and personally. I had not experienced any real successes for along time and successfully coordinating that visit was the kind of confidence builder that I didn’t know I really needed – but I did – much more than I’d thought. So for that opportunity, and for all of the great people at the Center and at the White House who contributed to that success, I am very, very grateful.

Emmett, biting an object that for a change isn't my arm.

Emmett, biting an object that for a change isn’t my arm.

We lost Bella and gained Emmett as our family dog. While in my mind, the jury’s still out on whether this is a good thing or not, in moments of clarity, I recognize that Emmett provides me with a little bit of calm quiet time when we go on our evening walks around the neighborhood.

Of course, when I come home from work in the evening, he’s at the top of the stairs wagging his tail like a garrison flag in a tornado, his teeth are often bared in an aggressive grimace that rivals that of a battle-readied Klingon, and he’s growling in a way that to the uninitiated would be a clear indicator for future avoidance.

Oh, he’s also licking my hand as fast as his tail is wagging. In between growls, there are squeals of either delight or constipation. But so far, he’s not pooped, so I’m going with delight.

He’s a canine nutcase. But we have a mutually beneficial relationship even though he’s bitten me on a couple of occasions. So Emmett, and you’ll only hear me say this once, I’m grateful for your presence in spite of that time you sank your teeth into my left forearm.

10711081_10204501114865980_4278450657355952218_nAnd to Beth Geyer, Mistress of the Universe and Supreme Leader of All She Observes, I am grateful for you, for finding Emmett, for believing in him when I didn’t and helping me find his inner sweetness. Really, REALLY inner. And not very sweet when you get right down to it.

Oh, and thank you for taking such good care of me, Nate and Garrett. You do good work and we all love you! And you’re really, really pretty too, which is a plus!

The Prius, some years ago.  It doesn't look much different today.

The Prius, some years ago. It doesn’t look much different today.

I’m grateful for my Toyota Prius. At over 205,000 miles, it’s going strong, in good mechanical shape and still fun to drive. It’s unexpectedly comforting to have a vehicle that is reliable, comfortable and fun to drive even if the technology under the hood is ten years old. Thanks, Toyota, for making such a terrific car. (I just noticed that I was grateful for the Prius last year because I paid it off. Well, at least I’m consistent about something.)

My brother, Jefferson, and his family at a German Ikea store which looks remarkably like the ones here in the U.S.

My brother, Jefferson, and his family at a life-changing German Ikea store which looks remarkably like the ones here in the U.S.

I’m grateful to the U.S. Army for a number of reasons, but the latest isn’t even something that affects me. Thanks for sending my brother, Jefferson and his magnificent family to live in Europe for a few years. I mention this because back in 1981, the Army sent me to Europe to live and it was an overwhelmingly positive, life-changing experience that I really do cherish to this very moment. I hope that for him and his family it is at the very least an equally positive experience.

Another sidebar: I admit I am more than a tad envious. I’d always wanted to go back for another permanent change of station to Europe. So I am grateful for the opportunity to hear about their experiences over there.

Here’s a quote from last year. It’s not like my social life has changed much at all, so this really still applies:

“I’m grateful to the online community for keeping me company when I can’t get out of the house, which is pretty much always. Thank you for entertaining me, engaging me and giving me an outlet for socialization even if it is virtual in nature. I recognize that you’re all real people on the other side of my screen, and I value your friendship, your candor and your confidence. I’m extra grateful that I DO get to see many of you in person from time to time. Thank you for being so welcoming and so supportive.”

I’m pretty sure I’m grateful for a ton of other things, but at this moment, I am too sleepy to write about ’em all. So for the moment, I’ll be particularly grateful for the opportunity to count my many blessings at the end of this very eventful and positive year and say thank you to all my friends for just being.  You all matter to me.

If I had to do 2014 over again, I’d do it with more comfortable shoes. Other than that, 2014…? You go in the “win” column!

Oh, and thanks for reading the stuff I post on this blog. It’s always a pleasure to interact with you even (especially!) when we don’t agree. Let’s make 2015 the year of cogent discourse!

And chocolate. Yeah, 2015 should have more chocolate.

Cool Pictures That I’m In or That I Took: Facebook Cover Photo Edition

I’ve used this photo collage around Veterans Day both as a header for this here blog and for my Facebook cover photo as well.  I call it my “Career at a Glance.”

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I’ve received a lot of kind feedback from people on this collage.  I even made similar ones for other people.*  I chose these photos of me as I passed through the officer ranks of the U.S. Army during my nearly 29-year career.  There’s two of me as a captain because I spent an unusually long time as a captain before getting promoted to major.  Here are the original photos and the brief story behind each.  Click on any one of ’em to see it full sized.

 

Army ROTC Cadet, 1977:

AdvCamp77-editedThis was taken at Fort Lewis, Washington at graduation from ROTC Advanced Camp.  I’m third from the right on the next to the top row.  We had great weather that summer.  It only rained one day and it was the one day we had leave around July 4th.  Our platoon produced one general officer that I know of, Maj. Gen. Megan Tatu, who as a cadet is standing in the front row second from the left.

 

Lieutenant,1980, U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon:

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I’m not certain the occasion during which this photo was taken.  But here’s a semi-educated guess.  It may have been at the promotion to lieutenant general of the post commander at the time, Maj. Gen. William J. Hilsman.

 

Brand-New Captain, 1984, AFN-SHAPE, Belgium:

Dan&Esme001

This is me and my dog, Esme.  I’m sitting outside our apartment in the Belgian countryside about 20 miles or so from the office.  My oldest son, Jonathon was born in Belgium some months after this photo was taken.

 

Captain, USAR, 1992, Camp Pendleton, CA:

DANJEAN

This was taken during WOUNDED WARRIOR 92, an Army Reserve medical exercise conducted at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in Southern California. That’s Captain Me and Master Sgt. Jeanie West. We both worked for the public affairs office at the 63rd Regional Support Command at Los Alamitos, CA.  Army Staff Sgt. Jim McGehee took this photo of us as we were sharpshooting Lt. Col. Stan Kensic’s rehearsal press briefing or some such thing.  I remember laughing uproariously during the rehearsal with all of these folks plus Ted Bartimus, who was 63rd’s full-time civilian PAO. I’m pretty sure this is the first digital photograph I ever saw.

 

Major, 1997, AFN-Balkans, Bosnia:

Bosnia051-med

This was taken outside the Armed Forces Network station in Tuzla, Bosnia.  This was relatively early in the deployment, as I recall.  In the photo with me from left is Capt. Shawn Jirik (now Colonel Shawn Woodbridge), Spec. Darius Sims, Spec. Jennifer Lopez (now Jennifer Lamb O’Cuinneagain, according to Facebook), and Sgt. Jennifer Braden.  Shawn, Darius and I were Reserve Soldiers and the two Jennifers were active component broadcasters on loan to us for a few months from AFN Europe.

 

Lieutenant Colonel, 2001, Army Forces Central Command – Saudi Arabia:

LTC-Wolfe&GENFranks

This may have been taken in 2000.  Hard to tell – it’s always summer in Saudi Arabia.  Anyway, Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. Central Command at the time, paid us a visit. As a one-man PAO shop, I was doing all the photography for the event.  By the time this photo was taken, I think I had room for just one or two more photos in the digital camera’s storage.  Maj. Mike Downs, who went on to retire as a lieutenant colonel, took the camera from my hands and said “Let me take this.  PAO’s never get their photo taken.”  So Gen. Franks and I assumed the “grip and grin” position and Mike took the photo.  That was a terrific assignment and people like Mike made it memorable and fun.

 

Colonel, 2003, Fort Benning, GA:

DanAndyBJ

This one was a truly special occasion. My nephew, Andrew Kimes, went to the U.S. Army Airborne School at Benning as an ROTC cadet. When he was ready to graduate from the Basic Parachutist Course, my sister and Andy’s mom, Bobbi Jo, invited me to come down to his graduation and pin his jump wings on him. So she and I flew to Columbus, GA where we had both lived for a few months as REALLY little kids while my Dad was in his branch advanced course. I carried an extra set of airborne wings in my pocket so that I could remove mine from my uniform, pin my wings to his uniform, and then replace mine with a different set so I wouldn’t be out of uniform. This photo was taken after the graduation ceremony. Andy went on to have a great career and is currently a major and the acting battalion commander of a unit in Ohio. My sister was recently award a Doctorate of Nursing Practice from Otterbein University. I’m crazy proud of how they both turned out.

 

* The first one of these I did for my Dad:

Dad-CoverPhoto

Then I did one for Shawn Woodbridge:

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And one for my younger brother, Jefferson Wolfe.  Jeff is now serving somewhere in Africa in support of the Army’s Ebola eradication efforts there.

Jefferson-CoverPhoto-1_edited-1

 

On the Anniversary of 9/11

PentagonI wrote this back in 2009 in response to all the “Where were you when 9/11 happened?” questions and recollections that were being circulated around the Internet.  I’ve reposted it many times in the hope that I’ll continue to recall not just the horrific facts of that day’s events, but the feelings with which I associate it.  To this day whenever I hear replays of the news broadcasts of that day, the feelings, anguish and anger can be nearly overwhelming.

Even though I wasn’t near any of the three places that were scarred forever by the acts of a few, 9/11/2001 changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined then and which I sometimes don’t believe even now.  Regardless, I will never shake the feelings that 9/11 evokes in me nor do I ever want to.  More importantly, I wish that all of us could share the unity, resolve and dedication to our nation and our common defense that we all felt in the days and weeks following that awful day in 2001.

Thanks for reading.

“So, do you think the Army’s going to call you up because of this?”

“I sure as hell hope so.”

That was the big question my supervisor at the E! Channel asked me on 9/11. While I did eventually get called up, I’d gladly give up all the financial and professional gains which resulted if it had never happened. But that’s not what these words are going to be about.

I was awakened that morning by a phone call from my mother-in-law who told us in frantic, disjointed words that something bad was happening. As a native New Yorker, she was understandably shaken at learning that Manhattan was under attack. The message was related to me by my spouse at the time who slammed into the bedroom and shook me awake and said “Wake up! The Pentagon’s under attack!”

I got up, rushed to the TV in a groggy stupor and saw the story as it was unfolding, still in chaos. Information was rolling into news agencies willy-nilly and much of what was heard and reported was unconfirmed. I dressed and hurried to work in the Wilshire District in LA, near the La Brea Tar Pits. The streets of Los Angeles were relatively deserted – not empty as they were during the LA riots in 1992. But it was clear that people were staying home. Businesses closed for the day and many more operated on essential staff only. Which is why I was going to work.

When I arrived at E!, I could see that many of the national cable networks which shared our satellite space had either gone dark or were carrying coverage from one of the big three networks. It was at that moment that the enormity and the immediate practical impact of this event on this Nation became apparent. Even broadcast commerce stopped for a time – shopping networks were carrying round the clock news coverage. Sports channels and others had full-screen graphics up telling people to tune to a network broadcast and follow the news.

One of the positive things about working at a TV network with all measure of high-tech TV equipment is that we could monitor as many TV stations as we had monitors. And we had plenty. CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC all raced to get pictures and firsthand accounts of the unfolding tragedy on the air. I flipped back and forth from moment to moment and channel to channel trying to find the best pictures. No one had a lock on the best, so it was back and forth from channel to channel.

As for what I was doing in between times, E! was trying to decide whether to take coverage from a major news network or stay with the on-air schedule without regard to the situation. My job was to design on-screen graphics in support of either option. Ultimately, E! chose to stay with their own programming rather than switch to one of the majors. I will not debate that decision, but I will observe on my own behalf that I had no interest in entertainment fluff at that point, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else feeling differently.

From the moment it sank in just what was going on, my heart was heavy, but my fists clenched in preparation. When my terrific boss, Ken Mason, asked me if I was going to get called up, not only did I hope so, but I was hoping it would be within the hour. For the rest of the day, most of us sat in network control going about our business with about as much feeling as the machines supporting us. It was quiet and the sounds of our air signal were mixed with the sounds of the coverage coming from ancillary equipment racks where the carnage of the day was being replayed over and over.

I would be many months before I actually got called up and reported here to Washington, D.C. in January, 2002. I spent the next 71 months assigned to the Pentagon in various assignments, some 9/11 related and others not.

A year after the attacks, our office moved into the rebuilt section of the Pentagon and shortly thereafter, the small indoor memorial and chapel was opened. Whenever I thought I was being unfairly put upon, I’d stroll the 30 seconds down the E-ring to the 9/11 memorial and stand for a minute or two.

It gave me perspective in two profound ways. It made me recognize that getting picked on that day wasn’t really so bad, and that any one of these people whose biography and photo were in one of two books would give anything to be in my predicament. Alive. Within reach of those about whom they cared. And it humbled me. Standing there for only a moment made me remember why I was there and that I had better do the best job I could.

Eight years have passed since the attack on our Nation. Today, while driving into my civilian job, I listened to replays of the coverage from that day and remember what it felt like that day. How shocked and horrified. How angry. How resolute. I suspect that will never change. I suspect that I’ll always feel the intense mix of emotions on this day. And I’ll fight back the tears on this day just as I did on this day eight years ago.

For many, the feelings we experienced that day have already escaped us, relegating the horror of the day to a collection of historical facts, figures and stately memorials to those who perished. It is right that we recall the facts and honor those who were murdered that day. However, it is my wish that somehow the shock, horror, anger and resolution I felt – that most everyone felt that morning – stay with us and unite us as it did on 9/11 and in the shadows of that day.

Eight years hence, we find ourselves a divided Nation when in truth, there’s so very much more about us that is alike than those things which divide us.

I wish we weren’t so divided and I have no solution as to how to unite us. I just know that we have it in us. The days following September 11, 2001 were some of America’s finest.

Remember what that was like. Not just today on this horrific anniversary. But every day.

It would serve us all well.