Why I joined the Army and what happened after…

My final reenlistment in 2008 - I would be out of the Army less than a year later.
My final reenlistment in 2008 – I would be out of the Army less than a year later.

A question I used to get asked a lot was “why did you join the army?” Over the years my answer has evolved into a succinct one liner: I didn’t have a lot of options and the army seemed like the best thing to do at the time. However, this is only a small part of the truth. The real answer is a bit more complex than my default response.

In February 2002, I decided to move out of my parent’s house in the middle of the night after a verbal altercation with my step-dad. I was 18 years old and thought I knew everything I needed to know about the real world. Within the course of the following month I bounced around from one friend’s couch to another, quit my job, and dropped out of high school. That final point was a sticking point for me since I had a perfect GPA and, by all accounts, was on a fast track to a four year degree. My life was falling apart before I really got it started.

Some time in March I found myself in my best friend’s house with her then husband and his family. The days were short and the nights were long as I tried to figure out what I was going to do next. How was I going to support myself? What could be done about my destroyed education? Why had I taken such a menial dispute with my step-dad so seriously? Had I ruined my life?

While drinking Smirnoff Ice (yeah, there’s a blast from the past for all of you) one night, I listed out my potential options:

  • Work a dead end job while working to get my GED and hope to make it through community college within the next 5 years.
  • Get my GED and apply to the local police academy with fingers crossed.
  • Get my GED, join the army, serve the minimum number of required years, walkaway with the GI Bill, and forget it ever happened.

That same night I talked it over with a small group of friends. This resulted in the immediate dismissal of the police academy since I would have to arrest all of them for a variety of charges. The appeal of working a dead end job never sat well with me so I crossed that off the list. This left the Army. This left an organization I had protested against throughout my rebellious teenage years for a number of reasons.

Me...in high school - Don't judge too much.
Me…in high school – Don’t judge too much.

The next day, I went to the local recruiting station in Midland, Texas. The attacks of 9/11 were very fresh in everyone’s minds and the war in Afghanistan was still being fought primarily by irregular forces supplied by Special Forces and the CIA. Recruiters were hard pressed to meet their quotas but the graduating class of 2002 hadn’t finished high school yet so the recruiters were under pressure. I walked into the office dressed in all black, wallet chain, and spiked hair – likely the picture of a problem child. Three pairs of eyes quickly settled on me and almost immediately rolled into the back of their owner’s heads.

“How can I help you?” one of them asked without standing up.

“Yeah, where do I sign?” was my slightly enthusiastic response.

Three grown men nearly climbed over their desks to be the first to reach me, apparently Midland wasn’t supplying them with enough interested bodies to meet their quotas.

“Come here son,” said a gruff voice from the back of the office. The Sergeant First Class in charge of the recruiting office was standing in front of the only closed room in the space.

I grinned (as I often did back then) and headed back to the mid-30 something man holding his office’s door open. The room was cramped, but I took a seat without it being offered. Arrogance masked as confidence. I knew I needed the Army as much as it needed me at that moment, but it didn’t deflate my ego one bit.

“What’s wrong with you?” the SFC asked.

Taken aback by the direct question, I hesitated, before sheepishly responding, “I don’t have a diploma…but I’m getting my GED as soon as possible.”

He simply nodded, picked up the phone, and scheduled an appointment for me with a local charter school. At no cost to me, the charter school evaluated my school records and determined what would be needed for them to issue me a diploma. Within a week I had graduated from high school.

Throughout the recruiting process I maintained that I would only go in as infantry. At the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), the officer in charge of my first contract offered me an Intelligence Analyst Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) with a signing bonus, secret clearance, duty station of choice, and 4 year contract, but I stuck to my guns. If I was going to serve in the Army, I was going to fight. I was going to do the most difficult job in the entire organization to prove to myself and others that I could do it. Pride stood in the way of what would have been a more beneficial job once I gout out of the Army.

In the end, I got what I wanted: a 3-year contract as an 11X (unassigned infantry MOS – assignment occurs during One Station Unit Training OSUT) with no duty station of choice, clearance, or signing bonus. I couldn’t be happier at the time. I was proud that I stuck to my guns for the job I thought I wanted. I stuck it to the man!

However, my mindset had yet to change towards the Army as an organization. I was convinced I would serve my 3 years, get out, and forget it ever happened. Remember, this was a year before Operation Iraqi Freedom began so the chances of seeing combat were minimal at best.


Fast forward one year and I am soon to be promoted to PFC (E-3, Private First Class) while stationed in Korea. I would soon earn my Expert Infantryman’s Badge (EIB) and was the model of a young soldier. It was likely that people thought I was born in the uniform since I never seemed to take it off.

Sometime in Basic Training I decided I liked the Army. It was structured, disciplined, rigid yet flexible, and rewarded results instead of effort. The core functions of the infantry job made sense to me (close with the enemy and destroy them) and I found I was fairly good at all of them. I was hooked and happy for it.

During my leave after Basic Training I had decided I wanted to accomplish three things in the three years I was planning on being in the Army (yeah, still hadn’t adjusted that target):

  1. Become a Non-Commissioned Officer
  2. Attend and graduate Sniper School
  3. Experience combat

I ended up accomplishing two of the three goals in my first three years in the Army and letting go of the dream for Sniper School over the next few years. Once I experienced combat it was all I felt I needed in my life – but that’s a series of posts for later.

I reveled in the physical pain of the training. I longed for the mental and emotional roller coaster of training and, later, combat. I was able to push myself without boundaries. I was pushed to the edge by my leadership and fellow soldiers. Everyday was a challenge. Everyday proved I could do more than the day before.

I am on the right - smiling - taken immediately after a non-enemy accident
I am on the right – smiling – taken immediately after a non-enemy accident

Over the years in the wet woods of Korea, dry desert of Iraq, and army-friendly Clarksville, my opinions of the Army changed. I loved the Army. I loved the infantry. I loved the experience I gained at such a young age. I loved the soldiers I was responsible for training and leading into combat. There was nothing more important than the soldiers I led – nothing.

I learned and experienced the brotherhood of the Army infantry. I lived for it.

Six years was shorter than I intended to stay in the service, but it was long enough to know I will likely never find anything else that is as fulfilling as the Army was for me.

Did you serve in the military? Why did you join? Why did you stay in or get out? Leave it all in the comments and don’t forget to like, share, and follow this blog!

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Army Infantry Reboot

Post 8 - PTSD
Me in Iraq, circa 2008

I was scrolling through my LinkedIn account yesterday and ran across an interesting article detailing changes coming to the training regiment for new infantry soldiers. Though I have been out of the Army for 10 years, I still feel a personal sense of responsibility to remain aware of current trends in the army. In the past decade, a focus on drone capabilities, developing and introducing new technology to all facets of the force, and what the next war will entail typically hold headlines. However, a vital flaw in our army’s readiness and capacity to fight wars began to form while I was still in uniform: poor training and preparedness of new enlisted infantry soldiers.

In the article, Brigadier General Christopher T. Donahue (Infantry School Commandant) mentions the need to ensure ” that the right people are being selected for the Infantry Branch”. They need to be intelligent and capable of handling austere conditions at their worst and for long periods of time. Many assume that only those who failed to get a high score on their entrance exam (ASVAB) join the infantry, but this has always been a misconception. “The right people” should not simply refer to intelligence, but also the ability to assimilate into the army structure without losing their ability to critically think.

Donahue mentions that infantry soldiers need to be able to continue the fight even when everything goes sideways with or without guidance from superiors. Just because the radio was shot or pierced by shrapnel does not mean you pack it up and go home – you have to complete the mission objective. To do this, you must have good on-the-ground leadership as well as soldiers capable of (and willing to) think critically.

Due to the need for boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan too many waivers were issued for individuals who had no right being in the army, let alone the infantry, in the early to mid-2000s. Felons, no diploma/GED, assault charges, and other waivers permitted young men to enter the army without any real dedication or commitment to the organization or its mission. This permeated the army with undisciplined, rebellious, dangerous individuals – some would go on to great careers that changed their lives while others refused to grow up. These individuals took away from those who joined to serve, fight, and close with the enemy with honor.

As a leader for a majority of my service, I regularly received new soldiers who were straight out of Basic Training. As the years in Iraq and Afghanistan ticked by, I noticed a significant decrease in these soldier’s professionalism, basic soldier skill sets, and general discipline. These new soldiers could barely fire a weapon or execute basic fire drills (infantry maneuvers) safely – it was mind blowing to me.

Donahue is experimenting with a significant increase in the amount of time new infantry soldiers remain at One Station Unit Training (OSUT – the combination of Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training). More time in a strictly training environment will do these new soldiers some good and take some of the burden off of regular units upon receipt of these soldiers. The most difficult thing to do is get a new soldier, straight out of Basic Training, ready for a deployment – I hope these changes help.

Another major improvement will be to marksmanship qualification and training. Moving from the out-dated model of foxhole and prone firing positions to a more realistic prone supported, prone unsupported, kneeling, standing approach is long over due. In the real world (i.e. war), you don’t get to choose the best position to fire from every time and practicing different positions does help.

The next thing that needs to happen is the line units (regular infantry, not Rangers or SF) need more advanced and regular marksmanship training. This should include situational awareness training (shoot/don’t shoot scenarios) as well as advanced tactics and firing positions. It’s a misconception by the general public that regular infantry soldiers simply sit on a firing range and plink away for hours on end with an endless supply of ammunition. I can count on one hand how many times I had more than 40 live-rounds of ammunition for live-fire exercises (not qualification ranges) in the 6+ years I was in the army.

A final point that should be addressed (though it is not included in the article) is soldiers of the 21st century still need to learn how to do things without technology. A GPS is great until the batteries die or the screen is shattered and unreadable. Personal computers and future exoskeletons are wonderful until sand and grit break the CPU or lock up a joint. Soldiers will always need to know how to navigate with a paper map and a compass. They should know how to shoot their weapons accurately with iron sights. They need to know basic first aid when they don’t have an expanding bandage or Quikclot at their disposal. Knowing how to accomplish the mission when you don’t have modern conveniences is a very important skill set to maintain.

I applaud the army for its efforts to improve soldier readiness through training and a better selection process. I hope those who are currently serving in war zones around the world see a positive impact from these changes.

Did you serve in the infantry? What did you observe as some of the greatest weaknesses or things of greatest importance to be improved? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments and don’t forget to like, share, and follow this blog!

A little known part of my life…

Many people who know me would likely describe me as a grounded, practical, hard-working, no fun kind of guy. To a great extent this is true. I have always been more serious than I need to be; I have always defaulted to a frown or grimace over a smile; I have always worked hard in life for what I have.

However, there is another, lesser known, side of me that I am finally ready to share with the world…

I am a gaming geek.

<Heavy sigh and deep breath in> That feels good to get off my chest. For most of my adult life I have suppressed my creative endeavors in favor of practical life progression. I have found that this suppression actually hinders my practical nature. Without an outlet for the creativity my mind wants to produce it negatively impacts my daily grind work product due to distraction and unfocused blocks of time. In essence, it has the opposite affect than what I intended.

Thinking about this deeper, my writing of this blog was a practical attempt at releasing my creative captives in order to improve my day-to-day existence. Up to this point, my posts are grounded in reality and have a deterministic flare to them, but underneath these are attempts at creative outlet. The original execution has become secondary to the original intent.

World of Warcraft Orc
Nargaterst – My Orc Warrior who just wants the quiet life, but duty calls

With my confession in the wild, I can now let my creative efforts loose on the world. My primary conduit for creative release is through role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and (on specific servers) World of Warcraft. It’s not that I want to be a fantastical beast or race in reality, but the break from reality is a recharging point for me. It is a freeing feeling to downgrade my intelligence to act out a scene as an Orc guard or charge into battle as a Blood Elf warrior with no concern for my safety.

Sitting in front of my computer to level up my characters on World of Warcraft is as fulfilling as a hike on the Rio Grande.

Reading about the creation process of a character and writing an origin story for that character in the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse releases the same endorphins I would have received form a 5k run.

All of these actions clear the clutter from my mind and allow me to focus more on my day-to-day work without compromising my personal growth. In fact, these creative elements expand my capacity to fulfill my obligations to the startup I work for at the moment. I have also noticed that embracing these creative outlets help increase my critical thinking and problem solving for my clients. When creating a character’s backstory, you have to think of every possible nook and cranny of their personal history that helps explain why they are doing what they are doing now. This isn’t much different than when you take on a new project at work and need to get up to speed quickly – you have to think outside the box, gain knowledge quickly through pointed questions, and lay out a plan to meet your commitments.

With my internal geek standing proud now, I am certain I will have more gaming and geek related posts in the future. These will all be filed under the category “Gaming” or “Geek Culture” so be sure to check them out in full.

What is your creative outlet? Is there a side of you that you don’t share with a majority of people who know you? Do you have an inner geek screaming to be let out? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to like and share this post where ever you find yourself online!

It’s been a while..

I am living the stereotype of a blogger right now. Sitting in a quiet, local coffee shop with my computer taking up half the table while sipping on sun brewed iced tea is the picture of a millennial blogger in my mind. Glancing about to see well-oiled beards and mustaches, couples whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears, and groups of seniors enjoying a midday coffee and water. Is this the college experience I missed out on? or simply the feeling of freedom my daily grind doesn’t typically afford me? Who knows, but I should make a point to be the stereotype more often because this is the quietest and calmest I have felt in quite some time.

So, what’s been going on? Why the long delay between posts? I could make up some excuse (it’s not like any of you could fact check me) about how life is overwhelming and work is crazy and the kid broke his leg (to be clear, I don’t have any kids), but, instead, let’s try a little honesty in this online world of fake news. Are you ready? Here it is:

I’ve been too lazy, distracted, and/or not focused enough to put together a coherent blog the past couple of weeks.

There it is. Simple and straightforward. No fluff or extended reasoning behind it, just simple truth.

However (you knew something was coming), I have noticed an uptick in productivity while at work throughout the week which isn’t related to not pushing out a blog post, but is interesting. I work at a tech startup in sunny (and hot) Albuquerque New Mexico. The short description of the primary product is: a patient engagement platform that utilizes secure messaging, surveillance, and automation to get patients prepared for or recovered from an acute medical event (think surgery). My role is effectively relationship/project manager which means I work directly with hospital staff to implement our product within their team and improve their human processes to accommodate/embrace our product. On a daily basis, I am good at my job, but there are days when I do not have the motivation or focus to push through a list of tasks. This has not been the case recently.

I have done two big things in the past couple of weeks that could be positively impacting my work productivity. The first is remaining hydrated. I am not a fan of water. It is plain and boring. Other than when I am obviously dehydrated, water just isn’t my drink of choice. I prefer sugary, sweet sodas, coffees, and teas over water. But, drinking upwards of 100 ounces of water a day (just under a gallon) led to a couple of positive effects:

  1. I found myself in the restroom a lot more frequently – obviously.
  2. I haven’t been suffering from the mid-afternoon lull that usually knocks me down.
  3. It’s been easier to wake up in the morning (as early as 5:00 AM).
  4. I feel better overall

I highly recommend that everyone try drinking more water and less soda, coffee, and tea to see how it positively impacts your life.

The other thing I have been doing is scheduling all of my time. Now, this can cause some people stress and be a negative thing to do. I have found it pushes me to fill my time with productive activities instead of making it up as I go. Going into a day without a plan leads me to binge watch television, sleep, or generally lounge about for longer periods of time than I should. My productivity is linked to what I know I need to do within a single day; anything above and beyond what I need to do is simply icing on the cake.

Time block your day on your Google Calendar or iCal and see what happens.

Now that I have broken my 2-week drought for blog posts, I am going to sip my iced tea, chat with The Husband, and enjoy my Sunday afternoon – I hope all of you do the same!

What leads you not to accomplish your goals? How do you increase your productivity? What methods have you found to stay motivated? Let us all know by leaving a comment! Also, don’t forget to follow this blog!

Hiking the Rio Grande

Start of the Hike
The trail near Tingley Beach where The Dog and I started our hike.

I woke up this morning looking forward to the block of time scheduled on my calendar from 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM. I know, who the heck looks forward to anything at seven in the morning on a Saturday? Most people are still asleep or just waking up to their first cup of coffee around that time on a Saturday morning. I, on the other hand, had made sure I had dedicated time to pack up the dog and a small backpack early enough to beat the crowds on the trails skirting the east side of the Rio Grande.

These excursions into the Bosque are my escape from the riggers of day-to-day life. Limited technology, only the faintest sound of traffic in the distance, and quiet head space to explore those thoughts normally suppressed by the rush of daily existence. It is a peaceful place to find yourself in on a Saturday morning. I don’t take this time nearly enough.

The Dog was less than impressed with the early start to the day. She doesn’t get out enough to understand events like this should be a regular aspect of her life. However, she sat quietly as I put her vest, collar, and nose-guide on in preparation for our excursion. Obediently, she hopped in the front passenger seat of the car and began to shake. It was chilly this morning, but her shaking was simply from being put in the car (an experience she still isn’t fond of).

We drove the one mile distance in just a few minutes. Passing downtown’s multi-story buildings, the outskirts of the zoo, and the older parts of the Barelas Neighborhood. It was quiet and almost no traffic. The perfect start to the day.

We unloaded at Tingley Beach and headed off into the wild. It sounds childish, but despite the number of times I have hiked these trails, I still feel like an explorer far from civilization discovering new places in the world. It’s a freeing feeling to think that so few people (statistically speaking) have walked the same trails I have walked. The Dog led the way with enthusiasm as she smelled the scents of a hundred dogs who came before her, trying to cover all of them as quickly as possible – suffice to say, she failed.

 

With a brisk breeze and a rising sun, we headed north along the well-worn trails between the Rio Grande and The Paseo Del Bosque Trail. The cottonwood trees swayed back and forth, the river flowed just beyond the trees, and we hiked our way through a corridor used throughout history. It was very calming, almost meditative, as we passed the river viewing area just south of Central Avenue.

The quiet and centering feeling continued through our turnaround point at Interstate 40. It was only after we took a break, about a quarter of a mile south of the Interstate, on our way back to where we parked the car that we started to see more foot traffic. For the most part, the other trail users were polite and courteous – making sure their dogs were properly handled, moving to the side to allow us both to pass each other, and taking care to not overly disturb the surrounding vegetation off trail. However, it is important to note that many of the dog owners do not keep their dogs on leashes unless they see someone else on the trail. This can cause a canine confrontation calamity if you’re not paying attention.

Throughout the return trip, The Dog and I got to listen to the river, a wily woodpecker trying to force its way through a Cottonwood, and (presumably) the mating calls of geese and ducks. It was all very grounding for me personally and helps me appreciate the world we live in just a little bit more than I do on a daily basis. This is an experience people of all ages can enjoy.

All in all, The Dog and I walked a little over 5 miles at a leisurely pace in about 2 hours. I highly recommend that everyone takes some time to disconnect from the modern world and return to the nearly raw nature of a hiking area – even if the trails are improved and you’re not breaking brush to get where you’re going. I know I will be making sure to regularly block out time on my calendar (and in my head) to hike the trails in and around Albuquerque.

Where do you like to hike? What benefits do you get out of a quiet walk through nature? Do you take your dog(s) with you or prefer the company of bipeds? Tell us all about it in the comment section – don’t forget to like, follow, and share this post on your favorite social media site!

Why I Deleted My Facebook Apps

Facebook Logo
Facebook logo obtained from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:F_icon.svg.

Facebook has been in the news recently for its complicit behavior towards Cambridge Analytica’s use of their API to data mine tens of millions of users. This sparked a #DeleteFacebook campaign (for which, I am sure Twitter was very grateful for) to protest the social media network’s handling of user data and its apparent unwillingness to regulate third-parties accessing that data.

With that brief synopsis out of the way, this most recent situation is not why I deleted my Facebook apps from my phone. Anyone who does not understand (through common sense, the terms and conditions, or privacy policies of social network companies) the data you put into these social media systems can be used for just about anything the company wants to use it for. These are content companies that do not create content because the masses are willing to do that all by themselves. Anything that goes into “the cloud” or on a social media site is free game for these companies. I accept all of these facts as necessary evils of the “online world” and do not have an issue with what I put online being used to profile me (after all, I put it there willingly).

However, I have been noticing a pattern of behavior over the past several months that I realized had been there since I got my first iPhone. I was spending an inordinate amount of time scrolling through my Facebook news feed and on Messenger. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and my friends are not avid post makers; I was just scrolling through it to see if I had “missed” anything. Hours and hours spent staring at my iPhone 7 reading headlines and click-bate.

A few Saturdays ago, I realized I spent 4 straight hours staring at my news feed. I had tapped on a number of entertaining items, but I hadn’t internalized any of the information (makes sense since none of the information was worth remembering). My eyes hurt from staring at the small, high-definition screen. My body was achy from being in the same position on my couch for so long. The day was shot due to my apparent inability to get out of Facebook and off my phone.

There have been a number of studies conducted that show people spending hours on social media sites (primarily from their smart phone). We aren’t addicted to the technology (whether it be the code of the social media site or the phone itself), we are addicted to wanting to be “the cool kid” who sees the next viral meme first and shares their insight on the best meal in town or the next “hot” event.

I am 34 years old – I was never the cool kid and I haven’t had the desire to be the cool kid in over a decade. So why was I spending so much time scrolling through Facebook?

Passive entertainment. It takes zero effort to scroll through a news feed and very little conscious drive to tap a thumbs up button indicating you liked someone’s content. Unlike a hike or run, you get a pleasure from the content of your news feed on Facebook that is so easy to acquire you don’t want to do anything else.

People talk about cutting the cord when it comes to cable television providers (opting for online services like Netflix and Hulu), but so few people talk about the negative impact on kids and adults alike of needing to be on social media. These sites prey on a person’s desire to be entertained and informed. They are not inherently evil for doing this (it’s a business model created by my generation after all), but I doubt they would apologize for sedating my generation and the generations to come.

With all of this in mind, I have deleted Facebook, Messenger, and my Facebook Admin apps from my phone. I do this not as an official form of protest, but as a way of saving myself from wasting any more time staring at my phone. I will still utilize the services from my web browser on my laptop (for some reason it is less engaging in this format), but will no longer burn through 60% of my battery simply scrolling.

Since logging out and deleting the apps, I have found myself with hours to fill with much more productive activity such as gardening, reading, writing, and spending time with people in the real world. It has been amazing so far and I plan on keeping it this way.

How do you all feel about social media and its use of our freely provided content? Have you #DeletedFacebook form your devices? Did you close your accounts completely? Share in the comments below and don’t forget to visit this blog’s social media accounts to like and follow for additional content!

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 4

20141121_045532890_iOS
Eating green tea ice cream circa 2014 in Taiwan – I had already packed on 40 pounds of excess weight at this point.

Like so many veterans, I left the Army and immediately stopped doing any form of physical training (PT). I began ingesting far more calories than my newly lethargic lifestyle could ever process and, as happens, started to pack on the pounds. Over the years, my weight and fitness level have yo-yo’d from fat and cardiac-event risk to slim and fit. During the valleys of fast food and little activity, I constantly sell myself on the idea that I am as good as I was in my mid-20’s running mile after mile everyday, packing rucks with 50+ pounds and walking until my feet bled, and being “tactically cool” as I cleared houses in Iraq wearing 90 pounds worth of gear and ammo. Unfortunately, despite my success selling myself on these ideas, the truth is much more grounding:

I am overweight, out of shape, and not as good as I once was.

The truth hurts and putting it out to the world in this way is very embarrassing for me. I have always prided myself on being disciplined and ready for whatever the world throws at me. However, with my inability to complete the full course of the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 comes the realization that I have bought into my own lie, hook, line, and sinker.

Fortunately, it is not too late to turn this all around. It is possible that I will never be as good as I was as a young sergeant in Iraq, but I can be a whole lot better than I am today. My 2018 goals are geared towards my own improvement including physical fitness – not just weight loss, but physical ability to accomplish tasks that I currently struggle with or outright fail at. In line with this physical improvement is preparation for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March taking place on March 17, 2019.

Selfie - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018
A horrible selfie sometime around Mile 10 or 11

As I have written about my experiences at the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 in Parts 1, 2, and 3 of “The Day After” series, my physical preparations were insufficient to complete the full route this year. I have two more physical challenges in 2018 as a part of my 2018 goals which do not include any “from the hip” entries I may have in other events that pop-up in the next 9 months. These events will help drive me to improve my physical capabilities and increase my chances of completing the 2019 Bataan memorial Death March 26.2 mile route.

My rough training plan for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March:

  1. Albuquerque “Run for the Zoo” 10k – May 6, 2018
    • I have 5 weeks to train for this event and will be detailing that adventure in future blog posts.
  2. The “Duke City Marathon” – October 21, 2018
    • I plan on finding a 3 to 4 month training plan to up my distance from 10k range to a full marathon and will be detailing this journey in future blog posts.
  3. 20-week Bataan Memorial Death March provided training plan
    • After an appropriate rest period following the Duke City Marathon, The Husband and I will follow the 20-week training plan provided by event organizers. I will be recording our experiences on this blog.
  4. Weekly Ruck Marches
    • I plan on utilizing the wonderful terrain in and around Albuquerque to ruck short to long distances with light to heavy weight at least one day a week throughout the year until I start the official Bataan training plan.
  5. Strength Training
    • Incorporated into all of my training plans for the above events will be regular strength training. This is something I have never been fond of (pick up heavy things and then put them back where I found them), but I am weaker today than I have ever been in my entire life. This is not something I am okay with and I am willing to take whatever steps are necessary to correct this problem.

Since the above points are my rough plan, I am sure I will provide more refined and tested training plans for each event in the future. Keep in mind, I am not a nutritionist, certified trainer, or other certified sports exercise professional so don’t follow my plans without first checking with a healthcare professional. I am willing to use trial and error to improve myself until I am in a position to consult with professionals.

I know this is going to be a very difficult road over the next year, but I am committed to fixing the problems I have created. I am glad I chose to share my own embarrassment with everyone who happens upon this blog because it provides me a higher sense of accountability (much like I had in the Army). It’s time to prove through hard work that none of us are stuck with our present situation!

Are you a veteran or do you know a veteran who let themselves go after leaving the service? Have you (or they) come back from that bad place? How did you (or they) do it? Any advice for me or the readers of this blog? Share in the comments below! Also, remember to follow this blog and like us on social media!

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 3

Sunrise Over the Start Line - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018

Here is Part 3 of my “Bataan…The Day After” series. In Part 1 I recounted my experiences during the actual Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 while Part 2 shared some lessons learned from the event. In this installment, I am going to air some grievances about the event and its organization.

WARNING: This post should not be taken out of context. I greatly enjoyed my experience at the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 and will be registering for the 2019 event as soon as registration opens up in October. This was my experience and my observations and in no way should be taken as an end all, be all of the event.

PURPOSE OF THIS POST: I am writing this post to vent, yes, but also to help set expectations for first time marchers in years to come. It is my hope that this post will help people better prepare for the event thus improving their experience and helping them through a very difficult event to feel the exhilaration of finishing.

I have covered a lot in Part 1 and Part 2 as to what annoyed and irritated me during the event, but I wanted to vent a bit in this post for my own sanity. Going into the march I understood there were going to be a lot of people, difficult terrain, and general discomfort/pain. However, I was hoping against hope for a bit more courtesy from my fellow marchers and timeliness of execution for the event itself.

VENTING AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:

  1. SCHEDULE AND TIMELINESS – I spent time in Part 2 explaining the start times for civilian categories do not start at 7:00 AM as the literature implies (but does not specify) which results in a lot of standing around through a chilly desert morning. Here, I want to talk about the late start to the Opening Ceremony (only a few minutes, but that adds up quickly) and the long delay between each corral being released. Why the long delay? This is to allow each marcher the opportunity to shake the hand and say “hi” to all of the attending survivors (of the actual Bataan Death March). Obviously, it takes some time to get 8,400 marchers through the choke point where the survivors are posted up. All-in-all, it takes about 90 minutes to get the marchers through this process. When the first corral (runners) aren’t released until 7:15 AM, that’s a lot of standing around in the chilly air for the last corral (Civilian Heavy).
    • Possible Solution – Start earlier. Instead of a 6:35 AM start to the opening ceremony, go for 6:00 AM. I understand the later start time is likely for the F-15 flyover to be visible, but burning daylight for the Civilian Heavy division is quite unfair (Military Heavy ends up with about 12.5 hours to finish the full course while Civilian Heavy have about 11.5 hours).
    • Possible Solution – Break up the starting line into two lanes: Lane 1 meets the survivors and Lane 2 goes straight to the Starting Line and onto the course. Personally, I took the time to meet and greet the survivors at the Finish Line when I felt like I could truly understand some of their sacrifice and the pain they went through (some, not nearly all).
  2. MARCHER COURTESY – Just like on the highway, if you’re going slower than the people around you, move to the right and let people pass you on the left. The Husband and I got stuck behind several small groups in the first few miles that were more interested in talking about home renovations, workplace drama, and kids than taking in the experience they were actively participating in or being aware of their surroundings. In the narrower portions of the trail it takes a lot of self-control to not rudely bump people out of the way so we could continue at the pace comfortable for the both of us. I understand that everyone has their own motivation, purpose, and reasons for being on the course, but courtesy is universal and should not be dependent on whether it is a competitive event or not.
    • Possible Solution – Pretty simple and almost impossible to enforce, but slower marchers stay to the right while faster marchers can pass on the left. It’s common courtesy.
    • Possible Solution – Also impossible to enforce as an organizer, but maybe people should remove the earbuds/headphones, quiet down about their day-to-day life and pay attention to their surroundings. When someone is obviously moving faster than you are and attempting to get by you, move out of the way.
    • Disclaimer – Wounded Veterans, the disabled (their were blind marchers on the course), and the elderly — DO WHAT YOU WANT! In these cases, it is the responsibility of the masses to find other ways around these marchers. Double standard? You are damn right, get over it!
  3. MARCHER COURTESY (PART 2) – Okay, lot’s of courtesy going on here, but lack of it was the most irritating part of my experience. Water and Check Points. These are not “stop in the middle of the trail and have a conversation, throw my arms out, and take a break in the middle of the trail” points. The Husband and I stopped at several of these points but we did so only after getting off the main thoroughfare to allow those who weren’t stopping to continue on without us getting in their way. It gets back to paying attention to your surroundings. The mile markers were another area in which this bottlenecking occurred because marchers wanted to take pictures with the placard. I completely understand the novelty and recording the experience with a picture, but that doesn’t mean you should impede other marchers while doing so.
    • Possible Solution – Marchers should pay attention to their surroundings and, unless physically unable to do so, move off the trail before stopping.
    • Possible Solution – Marchers taking pictures with the mile markers should do so by getting off the trail or, if using a second person as a photographer, the person taking the picture should hug the edge of the trail to stay out of other people’s way.
  4. INFORMATION FROM THE ORGANIZER – I am a veteran of the Army Infantry and I can’t recall a single time when I found myself participating in a ceremony or at an event that I didn’t know the exact sequence of events to take place. In the case of this event, I knew how the opening ceremony would unfold (and it did, to the letter), but no information was shared as to how or when the march would actually kick-off. We were cordoned off into corrals, check. The opening ceremony occurred, check. Then…well, I don’t know what happened for about 60 minutes other than motivational music from the 80’s and 90’s blasted over the loud speaker. This resulted in a handful of false starts on my part based on observing the events around me (i.e. “I think their moving, let me ruck up…oh wait, false alarm”).
    • Possible Solution – Use the loud speaker to help release the corrals as well as inform the other corrals as to what’s going on. Simple: “Military Heavy, step-off; Military Light prepare to move in 15 minutes”.
    • Possible Solution – Set proper expectations in the literature that it will take approximately 15-20 minutes for each corral to move through the survivor meet and greet area, prepare accordingly.

In the end, despite some annoyances and irritation, I greatly enjoyed the event and will be participating in next year’s march (the 30th to take place). I hope that people returning next year will have more courtesy than they did this year and that first-time marchers will keep some of these points in mind when on the course. We are all out there and we are all suffering to some degree or another, don’t make it more difficult by purposefully getting in the way in order to facilitate your own experience at the expense of others.

Also, understand that for 99% of marchers this is not a competitive event; it is to honor those who were forced to march 65 miles in the Philippines with quarter rations, almost no water, and substandard equipment. Though the start is slowed by meeting and greeting the attending survivors I gladly accept this delay as a point of pride to shake the hand of men who survived events I will never have to live through. I salute each and every one of them though I chose to do so at the finish line.

Overall, this was a very well executed and supported event that I will always cherish as a great memory. Nothing is perfect and there are always things that could be improved. I have also sent my feedback to the organizers so don’t think I’m not trying to contribute to improving this event and am only looking to bitch to the world.

Did you participate as a runner, marcher, or volunteer? What improvements do you see for this event in the future? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! Also follow this blog and on social media!

 

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 2

Pre-Opening Ceremony - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018
Final prep before the opening ceremony – Photo courtesy of Bud Cordova (The Husband)

I wanted to write a post right after finishing the march, but found myself a bit on the tired side and opted for sleep instead. This is part two of a multi-part (number to be determined) postmortem of the Bataan Memorial Death march 2018. Don’t forget to get caught up on how we did by reading Part 1

Regrettably, the husband and I were unable to complete the full 26.2 mile march. At mile marker 8 (Checkpoint 3/9), we each performed a medical self-assessment which resulted in the very difficult decision to merely complete the 14.2 mile Honorary Route. The husband twisted his already tender knee coming up the 2-mile sand pit that started at mile marker 6 and was fairly certain the much steeper (and sandier) march up the hill between mile markers 12 and 15 would result in serious injury. Meanwhile, my own review resulted with mild dehydration setting in and light bruising on my feet. Since it was only 10 AM and I was already showing signs of dehydration (despite regular water intake interspersed with electrolyte-rich drinks) it was unlikely I was going to make it around the hill and to the finish line without suffering from heat stroke. Together, we concluded our lack of preparation in similar conditions as the route and our general unwillingness to severely or permanently injure ourselves meant we wouldn’t finish the full route.

But not all was lost!

Each of us came out of this experience with some hefty lessons learned that we plan on applying to next year’s event. Hopefully, some of these lessons will help any of you readers planning on participating properly prepare for this arduous event.

LESSONS LEARNED

  1. PREPARATION IS KEY – If you are a serious competitor and are not simply doing this march for the fun of it all, this lesson goes without saying. For those of you simply completing the march to check it off your bucket list, pay homage to those who have sacrificed their lives for this country, or because you have nothing better to do in mid to late March, pay attention! The organizers have provided a fairly detailed 20-week training plan (especially important for those entering a Heavy Division) which looks very promising and will be used next year to properly prepare for this event.
  2. TRAIN IN COMPARABLE ENVIRONMENTS – We don’t all live in a desert environment (I mean, I do, but not all of you) and don’t have regular access to 6 inch deep coarse sand with tiny pieces of gravel throughout it. Not everyone is in an environment of high-70’s to low-80’s dry heat with direct sun exposure for miles on end. Some of you don’t have 5-20 mph wind gusts at the ready to pelt you with small rocks and cloud your vision with dust. However, if you want to make it through this march, it would behoove you to find these conditions, ruck up, and start walking. The husband and I have already found several areas around Albuquerque that match this description and we will be burning holes in our boots over the next year so we can finish the full route.
  3. DON’T COUNT ON YOUR OWN PACE – 8,400+ people walked, marched, or ran the course this year. Each category (Military Heavy, Military Light, Civilian Light, Runner, etc.) was released onto the course one right after the other. The civilian categories were let loose last. The husband and I had 8,000 people ahead of us, all going at a different pace with different goals and motivations. The first two miles weren’t bad because we were on a four-lane road with plenty of room from side to side. However, Starting mile 3 you find yourself in sand (get used to that word) on a barely improved (more like used) dirt road that is only 10 feet wide at its widest. Many of the people are not paying attention to their surroundings so slower walkers/marchers in the center of the path can force you to slow down until there are a few inches on the side to pass them. Getting stuck behind a larger gaggle of people may force you to slow to an uncomfortably slow pace until you break through. This can cause pain! be ready for the varying pace and inattention of your fellow marchers.
  4. THE (CIVILIAN) START TIME IS NOT 7:00 AM – Based on all of the published schedules, it looked like the start time was going to be 7:00 AM with the Runners starting it off followed by Military Heavy and all the other categories. However, the Civilian Heavy category did not get released from its respective corral until 8:10 AM (leaving one hour less than planned for to complete the course). What does this mean? Well, if you followed the instructions and were in the corrals by 6:00 AM then it means you have been standing, sitting, or laying in chilly conditions for at least 2 hours before you take your first step towards the start line. This leads to tense muscles, potentially sore feet, and a bit of frustration. Now, I get it, all 8,000 marchers can’t be released at the same moment due to traffic build up on the route and by doing staged releases you allow the field to spread out more. Unfortunately, this timing was never communicated which led to a lot of uncertainty the day of the march which isn’t the best way to start 14.2 or 26.2 miles.
  5. IT’S UNUSUALLY COLD WHILE YOU WAIT TO START – This one hurt the husband more than me (I like to think of myself as more of a polar bear than a lizard), but it was still more uncomfortable than I expected. This lesson ties back to Lesson #4, but more specifically points to wearing a sweater, jacket, or bringing a blanket to stave off the chill of the desert morning. The husband was shivering and leaning against me for hours in an attempt to stay warm (not comfortable, just not freezing) which did not help his mood at the start of the march. This is something the organizers communicate to the participants and should be listened to in all seriousness.

I hope that some of this information helps fill in the knowledge gaps for anyone who hasn’t participated in this event in the past. I know we will be remembering these facts as we prepare for the Bataan Memorial Death March 2019. Check out Part 1 to learn more about the course and event execution!

Have you participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March and have a lesson learned not included above? Share with everyone in the comments below!

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 1

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Well, the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 has come and gone. I can now officially say that I have participated in one of these outstanding events and I couldn’t be more proud of that fact.

Unfortunately, my husband and I were unable to complete the entire 26.2 mile route as we had planned. Instead, due to reasons made clear through the rest of this post, we completed the 14.2 mile Honorary Route. I am disappointed we were not in a condition to finish the full route, but I am also very proud of my husband for digging deep and making it through the shorter Honorary Route. I am also proud of myself for not giving up when it was made clear that we wouldn’t be doing the full course.

So, what happened?

We arrived at White Sands Missile Range around 3:20 AM in order to avoid the long lines of traffic in the hours ahead of the opening ceremonies at 6:35 AM. This was a good idea. Starting around 4:15 AM the line of cars could be seen from the parking area we were comfortably situated in. The husband tried to take a nap while I walked around to calm my nerves. I don’t like large groups of people and I knew I would be on the course with over 8,400 of them so I needed the calm, quiet hours of early morning to keep the anxiety levels down. It was a successful exercise.

By 5:15 AM, the husband had abandoned all hope of any restful slumber and we began our final preparations for the march. Popping the trunk of the car, we slathered ourselves with SPF 50 sunscreen in an attempt to stave off heat injuries and weeks of painful peeling. We even shared with the older gentleman parked next to us as he related how sunscreen was the one thing he had forgotten. A short, light conversation later, he departed and we put our racing bibs on. Since we both wore button down hiking shirts, this was more of a task than we assumed it would be. Getting flimsy pieces of wax/plastic coated paper to remain taught and straight with four safety pins is challenging in the dark at 5:30 in the morning. However, this was success #2 for the day.

By 6:00 AM we had found ourselves in our respective corrals (me in Civilian Heavy and him in Civilian Light) per the warnings of the literature we had been given (anyone not in their corral by 6:00 AM would not be let on the course). Unfortunately, this guidance proved wrong. About 50% of the marchers wee still at their cars or, more likely, waiting in line for one of 3 dozen porta-potties that lined the west side of the field the corrals were located in. It did not appear as if the organizers were about to bar 50% of the field from participating so those who followed the instructions simply got to shiver through the chilly desert morning.

At 6:38 AM the opening ceremony began. Fairly standard content: welcome message, posting of colors, national anthems (Filipino and American), invocation, motivational speech, F-15 flyover, symbolic roll call – you know, standard stuff for anyone who has every been to a military ceremony of any kind. Other than starting a couple of minutes late (sacrilege for any commander), this also went off without a hitch.

The husband continued to shiver through the wee-morning hours (he really doesn’t like any temperature below 70 degrees Fahrenheit) as we waited for the other corrals to empty and our respective starts. Seeing a lack of organization and accountability, he moved into my corral so we could start together and not have to try to find each other in the sea of people that were the marchers. Since we ended up near the back of the pack, I don’t think this had a negative impact on anybody’s march.

An hour and a half after the opening ceremonies, we set foot on the course at 8:10 AM. Admittedly, we skipped meeting the survivors of the Bataan Death March (you know, the event that this memorial march is named after) and opted to see them at the end of the long walk. The husband didn’t want to be last and I was a bit antsy from the 3 hours of pointless standing I had just put myself through so I upped the pace to a respectable 14 minutes a mile. We soon found ourselves coasting by people who had been released in the corral ahead of us (Civilian Light). All was good in the first mile because it was a wide, 4-lane road and the marchers were spread out (left-to-right) with plenty of room for individuals or teams to maneuver around those going slower.

At the start of the second mile, things got a bit more cramped. We went off road to circumvent a large grass field and the foot pounded trail was only 2-3 people wide and showing signs of 7,000+ pairs of feet having already pounded over it that morning. A few more passes of slower movers and we hit Water Point 1 and mile marker 2. Both of us were doing good as we grabbed some cups of water from the volunteers (great people!) and bobbed and weaved through the mass of stopped or barely moving marchers gathering in the middle of the course (a theme that repeated itself many times over in the miles to come).

IMG_2715Miles 2 thru 5 were ultimately uneventful. We maintained a good pace (about 4 miles per hour) and were doing quite well navigating the masses of people without getting pushy. Remember, we weren’t looking to complete for a medal, but we also didn’t want to get stuck at a pace that put us on the hardest part of the course during the hottest part of the day. So we pushed on.

Miles 6 and 7 got interesting really quickly. At around mile marker 6, the terrain begins to slope upward. It is a slight incline. It isn’t a mountain nor is it steep enough to really notice at first, but it is there. Then you realize, “oh crap! I’m on a frickin’ hill!” Next thing you realize is that you’re slogging through 6-inch deep sand with enough give in it to require additional energy for each step. Coupled with the maneuvering around people who aren’t paying attention to their surroundings or placement on the trail and your energy starts to drain quickly.

At some point in Mile 7, the husband twisted his knee pretty hard which resulted in a grimacing look of concentrated effort. Underneath that concentrated effort was an internal monologue of cursing, berating, and hate towards me for pushing the pace on a hill in deep sand. Fortunately (for me), buried underneath the pain and momentary dislike for my presence was his undying love and affection for me (otherwise I may not have come down from that hill). Finally, around 10:30 AM we passed mile marker 8 and rolled into Checkpoint 3/9.

This was the moment for a decision to be made.

I turned to the husband and asked the very serious question, “if we continue on the course, will you be able to complete it without a high possibility of a serious injury?” As he contemplated, I asked myself the same question and came to a very abrupt conclusion: I wasn’t going to make it even if he could. At some point after mile marker 6, I had stopped sweating as profusely as I had been and my hands looked like over-stuffed sausages. I tried to make a fist and couldn’t get my fingertips to touch my palms (something I can usually do without thinking about it). The pack I was wearing was cutting off circulation to my arms and dehydration was beginning to set in with 18.2 miles to go. I wasn’t going to make it the full length of the course.

He answered my question with a negative, an apology, and some tears welling in his eyes. I wrapped my arm around him and smiled, letting him know what my answer was going to be even if he was good to finish the course. We sat on the side of the road for a while longer before picking up our packs and turning left towards the Honorary Route instead of right for the full course. Our day was over (except for the 6.2 miles to the finish line in order to get off the course) and we were disqualified marchers.

I swear to anyone that reads this, Miles 9-14.2 were each longer than any of the miles before them. In the first 8 miles, the mile marker signs were frequent and motivating. Mile 9 felt more like Mile 11 and Mile 13, I swear to you, was actually Mile 17. They were so far apart and took so long to get to I became very frustrated with the world.

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The Husband somewhere around Mile 12

Admittedly, my mind had already moved from Mile 8 to the Finish Line by the time we stepped out of Checkpoint 3/9 so the thought of 6.2 miles of walking (somehow uphill a majority of the way) in the same sandy conditions we had just come out of was not putting my in the best of moods. Somewhere around Mile 11 I was pissed at the world and ready for it all to be over. The husband wasn’t doing much better and together in our collective misery we made it to the Finish Line. Crowds of people cheered and encouraged us through the last mile and we gracefully shook the hands of the survivors as we crossed.

In the end, I didn’t even weigh my pack because we were already disqualified by not completing the full route. We were both disappointed, in pain, and ready to be rid of any clothing/equipment we didn’t need without being arrested for indecency. Unfortunately, the Finish Line was about 3/4 of a mile from the Start Line which is where our car was located. Such a rough end to a rough day.

Check out Part 2 in “The Day After” series of posts to read about some lessons learned from this experience!

Did you march in this year’s Bataan Memorial Death March? Did you complete the course you signed up for or did you make the difficult decision to cut it short? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!