Monday, June 25, 2007

On Our Anniversary

There are not enough words. Nor will there ever be.

When I mourned for another, you held me and dried my tears. When I had to place to live, you fed me and clothed me as best you could. When the myriad cruelties of the world have seemed just too much to bear, you were there, a soft place to fall. Through myriad glories and hardships, you have stood fast, a mighty oak amid the saplings.

You are the most steadfast and loving friend I could have ever asked for. You are beautiful, and you are good, and I love you more than life itself.

"You have given me a gift,
Such as I had never dreamed of finding
In this life."

--Franz Kafka

I am but a man, but with you I am more. Together, there are none brighter, more brash, more beautiful. We rule the world, and yet we spurn it for each other. Together, wherever we go, we are more than husband and wife.

We are gods.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Flashback: Garmisch, Part I

It occurs to me, somewhat too late, that stepping into the cable car might have been a bad idea.

We're in the Alps, outside of the German city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, just along the Austrian border. It's cold but snowless day in March, and my third day of leave, and so we've come down to Edelweiss, a mountain resort owned and maintained by the United States military.

I've enjoyed my stay so far, but I must admit that I'm not really inclined toward the sorts of activities which excite most tourists and vacationers. Having worked as a tour guide in my adolescence, I tend to despise the vacuousness of group tours, and being from a town dependent on summer resorters for business, I feel compelled to explore the more remote corners of any given place. I am one of those sorts for whom "the road less traveled" is not merely a choice, but a lifestyle.

So here I am, a two thousand feet up the wooded face of a mountain called the Dreitorspitze.

It started with a couple of polite questions posed to the concierge at our hotel, a bookish young American named Dierk. Dierk is former military, and married now to a German citizen. As a result, he lives in Garmisch full-time, and so he knows the area fairly well. I simply asked him where an enterprising young couple might go to escape the throngs of Americans, expressing a desire to experience the parts of Bayernische (Bavarian) culture that others might never see. Dierk, being the savvy young man that he is, pulled out a map and pointed us in the direction of a few obscure foot trails leading up out of the valley, just on the edges of town. It took some work to find them, and in the process Anne and I got into a hellacious argument, but in the end all wounded egos were soothed and we began our trek up the side of the Dreitorspitze.

The trail we've chosen today begins east of the old Olympic ski-jump, leading through the bottom of a deep gorge that looms up on either side of us as we walk. The floor of the chasm is surprisingly flat, and over the tops of the lowest mountains the early-evening sun plays across the gently-tended plots of winter wheat. Here and there, bordered in by frail looking barriers of barbed wire, unruly flocks of mud-covered sheep graze and mill about restlessly. Meanwhile, the forested canyon walls high above us throw deep shadows across the valley. At one point, I comment to my wife that the whole scene looks like a backdrop from the "Lord of the Rings" filmography.

Before long, the fields fall away behind us, and the path begins its winding, tortuous trajectory upward. Our knees and quadriceps soon rail in protest, but we continue. We soon find ourselves surrounded by dense forests of alder and birch, and as we make our way upward we stop to marvel at the nearly half-dozen mountainside settlements that dot the roads going up. I can't help but reflect how important parking brakes must be on these steep inclines.

We continue upward for at least another thousand feet. Before long, our ears begin to pop with the change in pressure, and for a brief moment it seems that the path will come to an end. The gorge that we entered through, it seems, has hooked a dramatic right somewhere, and now cuts directly across our path, terminating the trail in a thousand-foot drop onto a bed of roaring rapids and jagged granite boulders. We find ourselves perched upon a rocky outcropping over the gorge, on which sits a small cabin posted with signs in German. They advertise a cable-car that leads over the gorge, but they don't even look open. Anne and I spend a moment debating over whether we should continue, and at last we elect to peek inside and have a look.

Stepping in, it becomes clear that this building is really less of a cabin and more of an Alpine garage. The only features of the place are a ticket booth and some empty benches. A tattooed and bored-looking young German in mechanic's attire lounges in the booth, nursing a toothpick, and after a few moments stumbling through German with him over ticket prices, he steps out and leads us through a door, which turns out to be a makeshift docking bay.

I have to say, I'm less than encouraged. A thin strand of steel cable dangles from the ceiling and leads upward by at least another thousand feet. Just before us, hanging from this precarious suspension, is the cable car. It's covered in flaking red paint and showing spots of rust, and as a stiff breeze suddenly gusts down the mountain, it sways in a fashion that fills me with waves of nausea. We bid our thanks to the operator, and graciously step into the windowed gondola. The door closes with a spring-loaded groan, and after a brief pause we start our ascent in near silence. The car sways again, and I find myself bracing my feet on either side of the cabin. I feel my throat tighten a bit.

I look up, and see Anne staring at my wryly. Her eyebrow arches coyly, but not without concern. She smiles.

"You okay?"

I purse my lips and nod. "Yeah, I'm good." The car dips a bit in the wind, and we finally get a good look at the drop as we climb. I find myself staring down at a chasm that could easily hold the Sears tower, and though my terror of heights tells me to look away, I continue to stare regardless. After a moment, I speak again. "Maybe not."

Anne's grin broadens in sympathy. "Ohhh, honey, c'mon," she says. "Where's my big strong soldier, huh? Least it's not a C-130, right?"

I nod grudgingly. "I guess."

She rewards me with another grin. "See? C'mon, how many people can say they've done this? It's gorgeous up here."

I nod in agreement. "True." She's right, it is quite pretty up here. I could be content in this place. A few minutes pass in contented silence, until another sight appears that makes my heart stutter a bit.

"I think we're gonna scrape this cliff."

On our left a sharp stone wall approaches ominously, and below us, on another outcrop, branches of virgin pine brush the bottom of the gondola.

"We are not, baby. Come on, just take deep breaths. You're doing so good, you know that?"

"I guess. At least it's not a combat landing."

Anne sighs, and smiles again at my stubbornness. She plants a kiss on her thumb, and presses it to my lips, letting it linger gently across my mouth. After a moment, she smiles and looks down at her feet, taking a moment to brush a lock of newly-auburn hair behind her ears.

"Yeah," she says. "I'm so proud of you. You're my Superman."

I can't help but smile.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


I see that Doonesbury linked me. I can't even check my email now. My Inbox is fifty deep with new messages.

I just want to take a moment and state how grateful I am for all the responses I've received. I know I've been busy, and I'm sorry for that. I'm surprised that so many people seem to want to read me. It's overwhelming, the amount of support I've received, and so I want everyone to know just how much your encouragement means.

However, I feel I need to post a clarification. It seems that people--on both sides of the fence--may have come here seeking something they may not find. Amidst all the comments showing support, it seems I have received a few messages from unwelcome types.

Given my politics and spirituality, I can't say I'm surprised--I'm not exactly Captain America. However, I do feel compelled to respond to some of the ad-hominem attacks leveled against me in recent days. So what follows is a reminder for readers all over America. Listen, and listen well.

I am a soldier. I am a soldier in arguably the finest Army in the world, and I am proud of that. However, I must admit I'm frustrated with the course of things lately. Hence my writing. My morale as of late is low, but I will be damned if I tolerate anyone who dares to say that I am unfit to serve, or dares to question my honor. To those who would issue such vitriol and threats, I say this:

You are not fit to lick our boots, try as hard as you might to do so.

I may be frustrated at times by my fellows, but they are good and worthy human beings, for the most part, and contrary to popular belief, many of them--volunteers, as so many of you point out--do not support this war. There's a difference between disagreeing with the higher-ups and refusing to obey their orders. So for those of you who would threaten me, or any who feel as I do, I would remind to you tread carefully. You betray yourself and your supposed values.

Do I agree with this war? No. Never have. Did I vote for Bush in either election? No. Am I angry over being deprived my wife and family? Hell yes. Am I tired of seeing my comrades die in one useless war while they could have been protecting troops fighting another (Afghanistan)?


That being said, never forget this. I AM A SOLDIER, and according to my leaders, a damned good one. To wish death on me or any of my comrades is an unforgiveable sin, and one I won't tolerate from anyone, regardless of his purported rank. I would rather take a bullet than abandon my fellow soldiers, but I would rather face court-martial than be silenced. My anger is my own, and my right to bear, and you will not take that. Not as long as I ensure your right to openly express your wish for my death.

As for the rest, again, thank you all for your encouragement. It means the world to me. It is people like you who remind me of my country's true virtues--tolerance, compassion, enlightened value systems, respect for the beliefs of others. If I may, however, I'd like to offer a warning.

Please don't make me an emblem for a cause.

I am a proud soldier, and I am a proud liberal. There was a time when I believed that those two things weren't mutually exclusive, but I am beginning to have my doubts. Nevertheless, duty is duty, and I have a dozen reasons to continue to suffer through this. Their names are Oz, and Brooks, and Mueller, and Jameson, and most importantly Anne. These people need me here, and they need me back in one piece. To do that, I must swallow my disillusionment with this enterprise and, as Brooks puts it "soldier up." Don't think for a moment that what I write here can come before my job.

In closing, I thank everyone again for their support, but before my site collapses again under the weight of another politically-charged flamewar, I would remind everyone here that, like it or not, I am here for the long-term. So are my comrades. Shouting each other down won't silence the opposed, it won't stop the attacks, and it won't bring home the troops. So I must respectfully request that everyone abandon their illusions about me before I continue.

Black, white, soldier, pacifist. Whichever of these labels applies to me is irrelevant.

At the end of the day, I'm just a guy trying to get back home to his wife.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Wonders Never Cease

There's enough info on your blog to ID you. Once it's done I'll forward it to your PAO and let your chain of command take care of this.

For the rest of you, if you are in or came out of the military as a liberal, it's a shame you didn't learn anything while enlisted. It would have been better had you died in uniform, because at least people could have looked back at your life and knew it served some useful purpose.

This little piece of blowhard skwawking is the reason I am up at four thirty in the morning, nursing a cup of tea. Milo called me first thing to ask me to take care of it (time difference be damned). He's far too busy working hard at doing his job this weekend to handle this kind of garbage himself.

My first response to the good "Colnel's" words was to simply delete them. Anybody who would wish death upon my husband over a blog post doesn't deserve to have his voice heard on this site. Nevertheless, I am always hesitant to censor others, regardless of my feelings about their commentary. The more I thought about it, I realized that deleting was not the best option. I prefer to drag this little rat out into the daylight for all to see clearly.

Milo will never say this, but I will. He is a damned fine soldier. Milo is intelligent, respectful, responsible, and capable. Despite his feelings about why he's there and his difficulties with a few of his less-enlightened battle buddies, Milo works hard and gives his best every day. The nature of his job puts the safety of his fellow soldiers in his hands, and he takes that responsibility seriously-- more seriously than some of his young counterparts.

Unfortunately, none of that matters to people like "Col. Scott C. Smith, USMC (ret.)." (I don't think I could roll my eyes hard enough right here to convey my exasparation.) All that matters to him is that Milo is silenced, and fast. This man would rather disrupt military operations than allow him to speak his mind and work in peace. He wants to hassle the Public Affairs Office and guarantee that every member of Milo's already overburdened chain of command has to take time out of their busy day to deal with a stinking blog. These guys work hard day in and day out, and every minute spent on this garbage is a minute not spent on the mission. Take Milo out of the motor pool, and another overworked soldier will have to take on his duties. That crap risks LIVES, because people get sloppy when they have too much work and not enough time to do it. All that because one person doesn't like what Milo has to say.

I sure hope the "Col" is proud of himself. What kind of patriot wishes death on his fellow soldier? What kind of patriot would rather see his brothers in arms dead than holding political beliefs he disagrees with? What kind of patriot would rather disrupt military operations and put lives at risk than allow a soldier to utilize the rights he's supposedly defending? What kind of patriot wishes death on somebody who stares death in the face every single day?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I am proud as hell of Milo. He does a hard job and faces things that I can't even stand to think about. The fact that he doesn't drink the koolaid doesn't detract from what he does, but adds to it. This is a man who disagrees with virtually the entire premise of the conflict he's been ordered into...but he's still out there, working hard to bring his whole unit home safe.

For those who would like Milo to "shut up and do his job," know this-- he's doing his job, and he's doing it well, but he is never going to shut up and I wouldn't have it any other way.