6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
GreenZap online payments – Send and receive money online to or from anyone
Search For Blogs, Submit Blogs, The Ultimate Blog Directory Subscribe with Bloglines Subscribe with myFeedster
Web Unburned Pieces of the Mind

Listen to this blog on your phone


Swirling the snow in a frenzied dance - random thoughts on Dubai and Sheehan

When it comes to the weekends, I pretty much have my routine down fairly well. Saturdays are usually my do-whatever-I-feel-like days. And usually what I feel like doing during this time of year is going out for breakfast, snowshoeing, taking a drive, browsing at the bookstore, or just sitting at home doing nothing but relaxing on the couch with a magazine or newspaper.

This winter hasn’t been much for snowshoeing, though. Come to think of it, I haven’t been out snowshoeing once this winter. A week before Christmas, we had a half-footer that was washed away by the rain that followed the week after. What snow we’ve had since then has been of the 1 to 2 inch variety. Here today, melted tomorrow, and a lot of rain in-between.

It’s been plenty cold this week. Coldest week we’ve had thus far this winter, but a little late considering we’re going into March. The temperature this morning was bumped down right next to zero, and tomorrow morning, it actually might be sub-zero. Even though it feels like winter, the struggle continues with actually trying to look like it. If not for the snow squall we had Thursday that dropped a couple of inches, we’d still have bare ground.

I’m not sure what six weeks of winter Punxsutawney Phil had in mind, but as far as I’m concerned, this winter is pretty much over. Of course, there’s that one chance of getting a one-footer before the vernal equinox, but at this point, I don’t see myself digging the snowshoes out of the closet.

Usually when I sit down to relax with the paper, I’ll have the news on. Why, I don’t know, especially since I don’t seem to pay much attention to it. Much of what is reported on the news is hyperbolic rhetoric, a slug fest of words between the Democrats and Republicans that the media feasts on as if it were the best prime rib in town.

In response to any perceived blundering or acts of incompetency by Bush, you can pretty much count on Kennedy or Clinton or Schumer to say bananas and baloney. But this weeks response by the Democrats and a few Republicans to the news of P&O’s proposed purchase by Dubai Ports that would “surrender management of our ports to an Arab-based firm” went beyond bananas and baloney: “Bush not aware of the Dubai Ports World bid of P&O before it was proposed;” “Hillary Clinton and other Senate leaders oppose Dubai’s 6.8 billion dollar purchase of P&O;” “Take over of our ports by Dubai poses a serious threat to our national security.” Excuse me, but can anyone say, “Xenophobia?”
If the faulty assumptions that are being made here cannot be clearly seen and understood, then I think we’re in even bigger trouble that goes way beyond last week’s fodder-all over Cheney’s accidental shooting of one tough old bird. The United Arab Emirates, aside from being a very strong ally, also represents the very model of a “moderate” Arab/Muslin government that is beginning to take hold in Afghanistan, and, hopefully, will begin to take hold in Iraq.

Contrary to what some people would like to think, this is not a case of the fox being let in the hen house, or as Letterman put it, “letting Britney Spears baby sit your child.” If anything, it’s a case of ignorance on our part, thus kudos to Karl Rove for suggesting a “cooling off period” so that we might put this argument in proper context, and back away from absurd arguments such as given by Schumer, who said we should be careful before we outsource our “sensitive homeland security duties.” First of all, “security duties” are performed by our U.S. Customs and U.S. Coastguard. The actual operation and management of the port would be by the company, which, incidentally—and I’m sure much to Schumer’s surprise if someone where to tell him—is now operated and managed by a British owned company.

If the brouhaha over the Dubai purchase wasn’t enough, the media’s Chicken Little News Events has turned the spotlight once again on Cindy Sheehan. Like the caricature in the game, “Where’s Waldo?” Sheehan keeps popping up in the most unlikely places. Newsflash: see Cindy Sheehan arrested while attending the State of the Union Address; see Cindy with Cesar Chavez; see Cindy with Veterans for Peace in New Orleans. And where will she be next? Who knows? Who cares? Yawn.

Whatever sentiments one may feel toward her, especially considering she has experienced the loss of two of her children, she is not a modern day Joan of Arc, and the more the media strives to portray her causes as noble and worthy of our attention, the more pathetic and contemptible she becomes.

Enough of the couch and TV. Tomorrow is Sunday. Clothes to wash, and then housecleaning. Later in the afternoon I’ll be going over to my mother’s for dinner. I make a cup of orange spice tea with a dab of honey, and then sit down at the table. I turn the light off, and stare out the window. On a cold night like tonight--the wind busy swirling the snow in a frenzied dance across the yard--I’m amazed by how bright the stars shine.

By S. L. Cunningham


Jumping into an open heart and sky -- my son earns his wings

When my ex-wife and I attended our son’s graduation from Infantry OSUT at Fort Benning last month, we followed him to his next assignment at Airborne School. At first, we were told his processing would only take two to three hours, so we decided to wait for him out in the parking lot; that is, until we found out later that he wouldn’t be finished with processing until about 8 o’clock. Before we left to pass up the time at Barnes and Nobles in Columbus, I did get to observe some of the training that was going on that gave me a pretty good sense of how rigorous his next three weeks were going to be. One of the companies that marched onto the field broke into a run, chanting as they went:

“Airborne, airborne, everyday
Airborne, airborne, all the way.”

I stood about 100 feet away in front of one of the thirty-four foot towers with mock airplane doors. Cables descended from the door to the ground. Wearing harnesses, the soldiers would attach to the cables, jump out the door, and slide down at an angle similar to how you would come in for a parachute landing. That didn’t seem such a fearsome thing to accomplish. But in the field just beyond the smaller towers stood the three gigantic, 250 foot steel framework jump towers I had heard described by one of the parents after the graduation ceremony that morning.

I stopped one of the soldiers walking by. “Excuse me, Sir. Could you tell me how they get you up to the top of the tower?

“Sure,” he said. “You put on a parachute harness, and then you’re attached to a cable that hoists you to the top. Once you’re all the way up, a mechanism releases you and your chute.”

“Oh,” I said, thanking him as he turned and walked away. Just looking at the monstrous towers was enough to make me experience vertigo. I couldn’t actually imagine being hoisted up to the top of one and let go.

After I brought my son back to his barracks Sunday evening after his mother and I spent the weekend with him, my last image as I left was of the towers, their blinking red lights casting an eerie glow over the barracks. After I got back home to Maine, I settled back into my routine while my son finished Ground Week. He called me on Friday to let me know he was doing well and the training wasn’t as bad as he thought it was going to be. “Next week is Tower Week,” he said. “I’ll call you next Friday.”

Saturday night at about 9 pm, he finally called. As he described how it felt to be hoisted up to the tower and let go, I could hear a couple of women in the background talking and laughing with each other, but they weren’t speaking in English.

“It sounds like there’s a couple of young ladies close by you speaking in Spanish.”

“Yeah,” my son said. “They’re talking about how funny they find American soldiers.”

My son then cut me off, and I heard him say something to them in Spanish. There was a pause, followed by laughter, and then a response from one of the ladies. Next thing I know I’m listening to my son and a young woman conversing with each other in Spanish. At first it sounded like Brendan Fraser in “Bedazzled.” Since I don’t speak that language, I was left clueless as to what they might be talking about, but whatever it was, it was evident they were both enjoying the conversation.

“Dad, gotta go. I’ll call you in the morning.” And just like that, he hung up.

The next morning he called and said, “Guess what.”

“You won the lottery,” I said.

“Better than that. I have a date for tonight.”

“Let me guess, the young lady you started talking with last night?”

Not just any young lady, as it turned out, but the daughter of a Colonel in the Paraguay Army who was at Fort Benning for a training exercise. “Gee, better be careful,” I said, giggling.

“Not a problem. I met her father and asked for his permission to take his daughter out tonight. We’re going to go out for dinner, and then we’re going to see “Underworld: Evolution.”

Imagine that, I thought, my son, going out to dinner and a movie with a young lady from Paraguay. Maybe Army life isn’t so bad afterall. “Just remember,” I said. “Be a gentleman, and have a good time.”

He called me the next night to let me know how his date and his first jump went. “She’s really sweet, and we both had a good time. We’re going to keep in touch by writing letters to each other.”

“So, you made your first jump.” I said.

“What? Oh, figuratively and literally, yeah, I get it. Very funny, Dad. Actually, my jump went pretty good. Well, jumping out of the plane and landing, that is.”

“What, something happened?” I asked.

“Yeah. After I jumped from the plane, I got caught in a little turbulence that sent me spiraling head over heels, and when my chute deployed, I got whipped back up pretty hard. It almost felt like I was going to be split in half at the crotch by my harness. Oh, man, that hurt. Anyway, when I looked up, I saw my chute was only partially deployed.”

I wasn’t sure if that’s the part I wanted to hear.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “I saw what the problem was and I made a couple of moves that opened the chute all the way. Besides, I had my reserve just in case.”

“Gee, you must have been a little nervous about it,” I said.

“Not really. Actually, it was kind of peaceful.”

“Peaceful?” I asked, uncertain as to whether that’s a word I’d use for a situation such as he just described.

“Yeah, the jump itself. When you hop out of the plane, you’re just out there in the open sky, floating in the air. You count to four and wait for the tug as the chute is pulled out by the static line. Whatever fear you have is left behind on the plane.”

“How’d you land?” I asked.

“PLF’ed on my tippy toes,” he said.

I laughed. “It seems I’m going to be learning a lot of interesting terminology as you go along. What’s PLF?” I asked.

“Parachute Landing Fall. It’s the technique we’re trained to use to minimize injury when we come in for a landing. If you pull up just right before hitting the ground, you can come in as if you were landing on a feather pillow.”

“How’d everyone else do?”

“Pretty good. That is, most of us. Had one guy that came down in a tree, and I don’t know how, but another guy came down in the middle of a pond. Anyway, I gotta get going.”

I wished him well and then told him to make sure he called me as soon as he earned his wings.

“I’ll be sure to do that,” he said. “Love you, Dad. Talk with you later.”

The rest of the week went by and he hadn’t called. Friday and Saturday came and went, and still no call. I figured I probably hadn’t heard from him because he was busy getting his gear ready for his next move to Fort Bragg. Still, knowing his first jump seemed a little wild, I was more than curious as to how his other four jumps went, especially the night jump he had to make. Considering what I had learned so far about the rigors and dangers of jump school, the countless stories I’ve read of broken legs and head injuries, I was pretty anxious to say the least.

Sunday morning, though, I had enough of waiting, and needed to find out for sure. I called his step-brother, Jimmy, in Houston. Sure enough, Michael had called him on Thursday to tell him he passed his training, and earned his “wings.” “He called me while he was waiting to be transported to Fort Bragg on an Army bus,” he said. “I don’t think he had time to call anybody else.”

That Sunday night, my son finally called me from a pay phone to share his good news. “Fort Bragg’s huge,” he said. “It takes forever to get from the base into Fayetteville.” We spent the next ten minutes talking to each other. His next four weeks attending Special Operations Preparation Course (SOPC) will present him with an even greater challenge by testing his physical and mental stamina. After SOPC, he continue on to Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course (SFAS).

Reflecting on my experience when I was in Marine Corps infantry training, I said, “You’re going to have quite a few days that will be real suck fests. You up to it?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s a definite,” he said. “But I’ll do just fine.”

By S. L. Cunningham


Becoming An American Soldier

Michael standing between his friends

Posted by Picasa

On January 20, my son, PFC Michael Cunningham, completed Army Infantry OSUT (One Station Unit Training), which combines basic training and Infantry AIT (Advanced Individual Training) in a 17 week course, with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia.

When his mother and I arrived on the 19th for Family Day, we walked up to the Company Area at the barracks for the Turning Blue Ceremony. It could not have been a more perfect day for the occasion: sunny, and a near 60 degree temperature. We gathered with the other family members while waiting for the ceremony to begin.

One of the parents approached me. “Is your son in the third platoon, or fourth?” I looked at him and said I didn’t know. Figures there’d have to be a small glitch. I walked over to my ex-wife. “You know, it never occurred to me to ask what platoon Michael’s in. The first and second will be on the right, and the third and fourth will be on the left.” She positioned herself on the left side of the viewing area, and I on the right.

As the soldiers rushed out in a loud roar and fell into formation, all I saw was a blur of green uniforms and black berets. Trying to pick my son out felt like trying to find one specific collector’s penny in a whole jar. I looked over at my ex-wife, who was now motioning me to come over where she was. “He’s in the Fourth Platoon, last row, first from the right,” she said as I followed her finger to the young man she pointed out for me.

Countless push-ups, sit-ups and 14 minute two-mile runs from when I last saw him, I barely recognized him. He looked taller, and reminded me of how I looked when I graduated from Marine Corps boot camp. As his mother said later, “Slap a pair of Calvin Klein’s on him, and he’d be the perfect model.”

The Drill Sergeants called the men to attention. In a booming voice, they recited “The Soldier’s Creed:”

“I am an American Soldier.
I am a warrior and member of a team
I serve the people of the United States and live the Army values. . .”

The Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hickenbottom, then welcomed us to the ceremony and reflected on the experiences these young men had had during the last few months, congratulating them for a job well done. He then gave the parents the opportunity to “turn their soldier blue” by attaching the coveted blue shoulder cord representing the infantry to the soldiers uniform. After a few minutes of fumbling with trying to attach the loop of the cord to the button of his epaulet, my son looked at me and said, “Dad, you were a Marine. It shouldn’t be that hard.”

“We didn’t have cords,” I said as I finally finished the task of turning my son blue by buttoning his epaulet back after I had attached his cord. After several pictures taken of the event, our son introduced us to his Drill Sergeants and his friends he had made while in training.

The soldiers were called back to formation, and leave passes for the day were given. The parents were instructed to make sure we got our son back by 2000 hrs. When the ceremony concluded, his mother had pictures of him taken by a studio photographer. Finished with that, the first thing my son wanted was real food from an Italian restaurant. “Have you eaten at Carrabba’s before? It’s really good,” he said.

The graduation ceremony the next morning was a completely different experience. As my son’s mother and I sat in the reviewing stand on Pomeroy Field, the Battalion Commander welcomed us back and asked that our attention be front and center. Next we knew, we were under attack.

A couple of smoke grenades were tossed onto the parade field. “Bad to the Bone” started playing over the loud speakers as two Bradley Fighting Vehicles entered onto the field from opposite directions and came to a stop in the cloud of smoke. When the smoked had cleared, we found ourselves staring down at an Infantry assault platoon, their M16’s drawn at the ready. “Mommy,” said a little girl sitting just below us, “that’s really scary.”

After the demonstration, you could hear the drill instructors calling cadence. Off in the distance to the right, you could see the soldiers marching in formation toward the field. I was completely unprepared for what happened next. Overcome by an enormous sense of pride, I found myself wiping tears on my shirt sleeve. My son’s mother would later poke fun at me—good naturedly, of course—by mentioning the episode to my son.

The Battalion Commander gave another congratulatory speech and then dismissed the soldiers. Our son, though, was not allowed to leave as many as the other recruits were. He, along with 35 other 18X’s (Special Forces Option) who had successfully completed their training, was ordered to fall out, gather his gear, and head over to the parking lot across the street.

“Your son’s,” said the drill sergeant who had gathered us parents around him, “will be reporting to Airborne School for processing. When they’re finished, which will be two to three hours, they will be given weekend passes.”

It wasn't until about nine hours later that our son had finally finished processing. At eight o’clock at night, we were all hungry and a bit tired after what seemed to be an exceptionally long day that his mother and I had passed by browsing books at Barnes and Nobel at the shopping mall in Columbus. Longhorn Steakhouse sounded like a good choice by my son, who said he could eat the biggest steak they had since he hadn’t eaten lunch.

He settled for an 18oz Porterhouse. After we finished eating, we went back to his mother’s hotel room at the Marriott and watched Nicholas Cage in The Lord of War. The next day was spent at the mall shopping for civilian clothes. When it came time for my son to say goodbye to his mother later that night, I could tell she was very proud of what our son had become. After he completes Airborne School, he goes on to Special Forces Assessment training, and then the actual Qualification Course at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Considering his desire and determination to make it all the way through, I have no doubt he’ll succeed.

As for his mother and me, we were able to share our son’s achievement without any awkward pretensions. Both of us were entirely comfortable and relaxed around him, and it felt good to share another momentous event with one of our children. Last year it was our daughter’s high school graduation. This year, our son’s graduation from Army Infantry OSUT. If all my ex-wife and I ever have left in common with each other in this life are our children--aside from grandkids maybe later on--well, that’s just fine by me.

By S. L. Cunningham
Village Soup Citizen, 2/15/06:26