Have a happy, and thoughtful, Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a particularly special day for those who have served; it is an opportunity to remember those who have given so much to protect our shared way of life.  America is truly the greatest nation on Earth, and it remains so only because of the selfless sacrifice of those willing to give their lives in its defense.

So have a great Memorial Day, but take a moment to reflect and remember why we all have this Monday off from work and school.  To have sworn an oath to protect and defend the United states and to wear the cloth of the nation is to personally and viscerally feel the loss of those who will never return.  It is for them that this day is honored.

Below is one of my favorite poems.  It honors fallen soldiers from the First World War, but its message transcends the near-century since it was penned by a Canadian Officer, Lieutenant Colonel John McRae in 1915.   McRae himself fell some three years later, scant months before the war’s end:

In Flanders Field

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. 

John McCrae


Memorial brings closure: this week’s column in the North County Times

Last weekend I was extremely fortunate to join many of comrades in arms from my first tour in Iraq.  I had not seen many of them since the 6th of March 2006 when I left the war-torn city of Ramadi and began the journey back home.  We gathered at a memorial service for the 83 Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who were killed in action during our shared deployment.

It was a truly cathartic experience.  I was thrilled and honored to be able to join friends I had not seen in over half a decade as we paid our respects to the fallen.  I wrote about the experience for the North County Times:

I have been writing about PTSD for the last few columns because it is something that every combat veteran, including myself, faces upon his or her return to polite society. It is neither good nor bad, but instead just a fact of life that most veterans do their best to shut away in the dark corners of the soul.

There are occasions when light penetrates those corners, however, and this past weekend was one of them. A few short days ago I was privileged to be part of something that for me was visceral and heartrending and heartening and wonderful. I went home in a way that only those who have felt the bony finger of Death pass by without lingering understand.

Last Sunday, I attended the memorial dedication for 83 of my fellow warriors who died in Iraq.

It was a particularly emotional ceremony for me because it provided a bit of closure that been eluding me for over half a decade. It also brought me back together with comrades in arms whom I had last seen carrying rifles or driving tanks in the dust and heat of Iraq.

I spent two tours there, both in the war-torn city of Ramadi. I served there at the nadir when it was savage and bloody and relentless, with my first tour beginning in 2005 and my second ending in 2007.

Although I was a Marine, my unit specialized in fire support and liaison and we were tasked to integrate with non-Marine forces. We provided liaison and fire support to the infantry, tank and artillery units of the 2d Brigade Combat Team of the 28th Infantry Division, a U.S. Army National Guard unit from Pennsylvania and 30 other states. We linked them into the 2d Marine Division.

We fought side by side for months on end. I made tremendous friends with the Guardsmen and women, and was never short of amazed at how hard they fought and how well they worked together as a team. It was an honor to serve with them, and an even greater honor to be counted as one of their own. It was with these Guardsmen that I first saw the elephant, and it was from them that I learned to surmount fear.

Many, too many, gave their last full measure in Ramadi.

I chatted with my friend “Mac” McLaughlin on a chilly January morning before he went out to recruit candidates for the Iraqi police forces, little knowing that he would be struck down by a suicide bomber before lunch. Brent Adams, another Pennsylvanian, took care of my vehicles as if they were his own when we could not get support from the Marines. He was snuffed out by a rocket before I could express my gratitude. Mark Procopio, a promising young Vermonter, was mortally shattered by an IED as he came to my aid in a tough fight.

This past weekend, you see, was the dedication of the 2-28 Brigade Combat Team memorial in Boalsburg, Pa. The memorial, conceived while the unit was still in the fight in Iraq, was completed with Sunday’s dedication and remembrance of those who died. It was also a celebration of life for those of us who could meet, break bread, and pick up conversations that lay silent for over half a decade. It was the catharsis of sorrow and joy that only those who have seen the elephant together can fully understand.

It was an honor to serve with the Pennsylvanians and the Vermonters and the Utahans and the North Carolinians and the countless other Army and Air Guardsmen and women who made up the brigade. It was a thrill to see so many of them again on Sunday, and it was closure to finally lay to rest those 83 souls who gave their all.

It was a light that makes the dark corners a little less so, and one that will stay lit.

http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/military/columnists/grice/grice-memorial-brings-closure/article_6e545675-0de1-5994-9da8-f9133fe9c029.html

Starting a new career, Part 2

When I last left you we were working on a little self discovery.  A big part of starting anew is finding out what you are really suited to do; not just what you want to do or are good at, but something that will be rewarding and meaningful.

That isn’t to say that you can’t go out and be whatever you want to be, but we live in the real world and not everyone is independently wealthy or capable of living on dirt, rocks, and rainwater.  As you depart the service you have a whole new life to live, and the best way to live it is to have an idea of where you really want to go.

In the previous post I left you with four sheets of paper in front of you.  It has been a few days, so you should have one sheet filled out with a list of things that you are good at and another with a list of things you are bad at.  Go ahead an put those two sheets aside for now, but don’t lose them.  We are going to need them in a few days.

Now take out the two blank pieces of paper.  Our previous lists evaluated our skills, and today we are going to look into ourselves and evaluate what our desires are.  These are not the same things as skills!

Here is why.

Everybody has had a job that they hated.  Maybe it was delivering newspapers in the snow and rain, and maybe it was working in an office.  You were probably very good at whatever that detested job was, but just because you were good at it doesn’t mean that you want to do it for the rest of your life.

So, as you probably have guessed, you are going to pull the first sheet of paper out and write this at the top in big, bold, capital letters:

THINGS THAT I LIKE TO DO

List out those things that you really enjoy.  Not just work or professional items, but everything that you truly take pleasure in doing.  Maybe it is fishing.  Perhaps you love writing.  Maybe you love the outdoors…or the indoors…or watching football.  Your list is yours.  Take some time and write things down that make you happy.

As you have probably also guessed, the next sheet of paper should have this written at the top:

THINGS THAT I HATE TO DO

Go ahead.  Vent.  It is good for the soul to actually put on paper those things that you absolutely despise.  It doesn’t only have to be things that you abhor, so go ahead and include the things that you just don’t like.  After all, you are in the driver’s seat of the car that will take you through the rest of your life, so why not make it a sweet ride free from the stuff you don’t enjoy?  Think beyond the context of work – do you hate crowded places?  Cigarette smoke?  Broccoli?  Whatever it is, write it down.

Take a few days to compose your lists.  Have them handy and jot down things as they pop into your head.  Sleep on it.  You’ve got a few days until we take the next step, so go ahead and take your time.  Write as much as you can!  The more you vent the better you will feel, and also the more you write the more effective this exercise will be for your future.

Starting a new career

One of the things about transitioning from the military is that you cross a very bright line from being in uniform to being out of uniform.  One day you are lacing up your combat boots and saluting the flag while the next you are suddenly faced with deciding, on your own, what shoes you are going to wear after sleeping in well past reveille.

It can be a bit jolting. One of the most jarring bits is realizing that you have crossed the line into the civilian world, and that there is no going back. With that realization comes the need to start your next career, and that is what we are going to be talking about for the next few posts.

Before you can find a job or a new career you need to determine where you want to go.  For a lot of reasons it isn’t as easy as it seems!  Where do you even start?

You start by getting out four sheets of paper.

Take two of those sheets and set them aside- they are for the next post.  The two that remain are today’s focus. A real challenge that transitioning military types face is not just what they want to do in the future, but what are they suited for?  What is really a good career choice for the way ahead?

It isn’t that people don’t have an idea of what it is they would like to do next, but they don’t know how to get there.  How do they start a new and rewarding career? We’ll go down that road together, starting with your two blank pages. At the top of the first sheet write, in big capital letters:

THINGS I AM GOOD AT

Now start listing things that you are good at.  Not just work, but hobbies, sports, or anything else that you (or others) feel that are your strengths.  Maybe you are a great aircraft mechanic.  A terrific infantryman.  A woodworking hobbyist.  A mountain biker.  Whatever it is that you are good at needs to go on the list.

Now pick up the second sheet.  On this one, write in big capital letters:

THINGS I AM BAD AT

This one is more difficult than the things that you are good at because it requires a certain amount of reflection and honesty about your abilities and talents.  Once you begin, though, it is surprising how quickly it is populated.  Maybe your penmanship is terrible (like mine!).  Maybe you can’t type.  Really take a look at yourself; are you indecisive?  Maybe a little too decisive?  Are you overly aggressive or passive?  Are you an introvert who finds cocktail parties excruciating?  Afraid of public speaking?

Take the lists with you for a day or so.  Don’t expect to write everything down at one sitting, but instead jot down bullets as they come to you.

Then sleep on it.  When you get up the next day take a look at the lists again over your coffee and breakfast.  I guarantee that you will have a few more thing to jot down.

I’ll give you a couple of days to work on your lists.  Then we’ll get to work on your other two sheets of paper…..

Good luck and be honest with yourself – especially on the second list!  It will pay off in the future.  I promise!

Another column in the North County Times

Hello again!  I have been a bit task saturated this week, so I apologize for missing out on presenting more transition content.  I will fix that next week- I promise!  I did manage to bang out a column for the North County Times.  Here it is:

So there I was. All good military stories start that way —- even the true ones.

So there I was. I had experienced a jarring moment of clarity and recognized that I had PTSD. After quickly going through things like denial and blame shifting, I decided that I did indeed have a problem —- and in typical Marine Corps fashion, it was up to me to figure out what to do about it. Waiting around for someone else to show up and solve your problems is not how Marines operate, so I swallowed my pride and picked up the phone.

I called the Deployment Health Center on Camp Pendleton. They were surprisingly supportive and had obviously received plenty of calls from pensive Marines who, like me, were seeking help but were not quite sure how to go about it.

“Come on down,” said the voice on the other end of the line, “We’re here to help!”

So down I came. The center, next to the Wounded Warrior battalion and just down the road from the base hospital, is specially designated to help Marines and sailors returning from combat deal with the stresses associated with deployment and the return to society. In typical military fashion, it is an unassuming “temporary” building that has been in use for years and will likely be there for many more years to come, but in its own quaint, utilitarian way, that is perfectly OK. What it looks like is not nearly as important as what goes on inside.

In I went, and as I walked down the passageway I was instantly conscious that all eyes were upon me as I passed by Marines and sailors and civilians. I felt a little uncomfortable, particularly considering the enthusiastic reception that I had received on the telephone only a few minutes before.

I found the door I was looking for and went in. Several Marines were seated in a small reception area, and they warily glanced in my direction, then quickly looked away. Odd.

At the reception counter, I was met by an obviously efficient and experienced receptionist who unflinchingly looked me squarely in the eye and asked if there was anything she could do for me.

As I explained that I was there to arrange for an appointment her features softened, and she smiled. “Sure!” she said. “We’ll set you right up. Please fill out these forms and bring them back up as soon as you are finished.”

So I found a seat in the waiting room and started writing. As I did so, the tension flowed out of the room, and the atmosphere subtly changed.

It changed because when I walked into the room, I was perceived as a personification of the institution that is the Marine Corps —- a senior officer and an authority figure who was intruding into the sanctuary of the Deployment Health Center, where people who were not seeking help are outside the circle of trust.

As I penned my answers to the questions on my clipboarded form, however, my threatening stature as an instrument of authority evaporated, and it became clear that I was not looking for people who were seeking help. I was joining them.

During the year and a half of Wednesday afternoons I spent at the center, I noticed something. I must have seen hundreds of others seeking help, but in all of that time I saw a grand total of one other officer seeking treatment, and one senior enlisted Marine.

No wonder I was viewed with distrust when I first showed up; so few leaders sought help that to see someone like me in the building was surprising. I was a statistical outlier, but not because I was the only one of my age and rank who suffered from PTSD. There are many more like me.

But they stay away.

And the winner is…….

Well, if you are reading this post then you see the new format for Orders to Nowhere.  Many sincere thanks to everyone who helped me decide on a new look!  I received a lot of feedback from posts here on the blog as well as emails and Facebook messages.  Overall the most popular look was light grey text on a darker grey background (as you are reading now) but the format was “clunky” and unpopular.

So, as a compromise, I found this format.  I hope that you find it easier to read!!

Now, back to some transition stuff.

I got another letter from the Veterans Administration today.  I was excited, because I am expecting to hear from them in regards to any disability rating that I may have been assigned, but wary because they have teased me before.

Well, guess what.  Here is what the letter said:  “We are still processing your application…”

Sigh.

Teased again.

It has been nearly nine months since I submitted my package to the VA, and despite my efforts to be efficient and proactive my package sits forlornly on some desk somewhere as it wends its way through the bureaucracy.  At least I am not alone in my plight, though.  According to a recent article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/us/bay-area-veterans-disability-claims-are-buried-under-paperwork.html?pagewanted=all) returning veterans in the San Francisco Bay area are waiting an average of 313 days for a decision to be made on their case.

My simple math puts me around the 270 day mark, so I should receive at least one more monthly reminder that the VA is still processing my application.

I’m not complaining, though.  After all, nobody is shooting at me and the VA does have my address.  I’ll just keep an eye on the mailbox…

Last chance! Help pick a new look for Orderstonowhere (Day 4)

This is it!  The last day to vote on what you would like Orders to Nowhere to look like.  For those just checking in, here is what’s going on:

it recently came to my attention that some of you, my friends and followers, have a hard time reading the white text on the dark background.  In order to make sure that my posts are as easy to follow as possible, I am conducting a test.  For the rest of the week I am going to change the look of the page three times.  You, the reader, get to pick how it will look.  I will post each new page for 24 hours, and the page style that receives the most “likes” will be the one that I use in the future.

Thanks for participating in this test- Ready, Set, Vote!

Here is a recap:

Day 1 – larger black text font on a white background.

Day 2 –  medium light grey font on a dark grey background

Day 3 – light blue font on a darker blue background

Day 4 – the original format (smaller white font on a black background)

We’ll get back to the thrilling adventure of transition as soon as we pick a new page.  Let me know what you like and I will announce the results on Monday as we unveil the new look…

A test: Help choose a new look for Orderstonowhere (Day 3)

Hello again!

It is now day three of our test to see which format is best for my blog.  So far there has been a lot of positive feedback on the larger font and change in background color.  Thanks for participating and helping me decide!  Today we are trying something a little different with blues both light and dark.

For those just joining us, here is what is going on:

t recently came to my attention that some of you, my friends and followers, have a hard time reading the white text on the dark background.  In order to make sure that my posts are as easy to follow as possible, I am conducting a test.  For the rest of the week I am going to change the look of the page three times.  You, the reader, get to pick how it will look.  I will post each new page for 24 hours, and the page style that receives the most “likes” will be the one that I use in the future.

Thanks for participating in this test- Ready, Set, Vote!

We’ll get back to the thrilling adventure of transition as soon as we pick a new page…

A test: help choose the look for Orderstonowhere (Day 2)

The excitement continues to build as readers everywhere help me pick a new look for Orders to Nowhere.  For those who are just joining us, here is what is going on from yesterday’s post:

It recently came to my attention that some of you, my friends and followers, have a hard time reading the white text on the dark background.  In order to make sure that my posts are as easy to follow as possible, I am conducting a test.  For the rest of the week I am going to change the look of the page three times.  You, the reader, get to pick how it will look.  I will post each new page for 24 hours, and the page style that receives the most “likes” will be the one that I use in the future.

Thanks for participating in this test- Ready, Set, Vote!

We’ll get back to the thrilling adventure of transition as soon as we pick a new page…

A test: Help choose the look for Orderstonowhere!

Hello again!

I have been writing this blog for nearly a year now, and I have been using the same format and style sheet pretty much the whole time.  I have changed a few colors here and there, but stuck with the basic black background and white lettering for no other reason than I thought it looked good.

However it recently came to my attention that some of you, my friends and followers, have a hard time reading the white text on the dark background.  In order to make sure that my posts are as easy to follow as possible, I am conducting a test.  For the rest of the week I am going to change the look of the page three times.  You, the reader, get to pick how it will look.  I will post each new page for 24 hours, and the page style that receives the most “likes” will be the one that I use in the future.

Thanks for participating in this test- Ready, Set, Vote!

We’ll get back to the thrilling adventure of transition as soon as we pick a new page…