Thursday, January 26, 2012

Video of Camp Bedrock, Bosnia

Yesterday I posted an article I wrote about my time at Camp Bedrock in Bosnia in 1998-99. While I was posting it I googled "Camp Bedrock" and found this really cool video. While not as cool as "Flash vs The Aliens" (humble brag), it is pretty awesome and brought back some very cool memories.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chowtime at Bedrock



Here is another essay I wrote 10 years ago for an Article and Essay class. It is about my experiences while deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1998-99. Being that I am headed for another long trip working with the military, I think it is fitting to post this here now.

Everything was in place for a good meal: good food, good conversations, good people, and machine guns.  The fortunate, like me, had 9mm pistols instead of M16 rifles.  Thousands of miles from home, it was time to eat at Camp Bedrock, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

To this day I am thankful the Army knew the importance of food on the morale of a soldier.  The dining facility (aka cafeteria) was nothing to laugh at.  It was one of the few semi-permanent buildings on a makeshift basecamp on the top of a rock quarry.  Possibly its best feature was that it was open 24 hours a day.  Bland white walls with our unit crest –the 1st Cavalry Division horse head- posted throughout, marked its interior like a bad attempt at brainwashing.  In the corners of the dining facility sat two large screen televisions, permanently set on the Armed Forces Overseas Network.

We took shifts from duty throughout the day to enjoy a meal made by local Bosnian workers.  Usual American entrees graced the buffet-like area.  An array of vegetables, starches, and meats were on my plate as I walked out to the seating area.

Work in the command post introduced me to many of the other soldiers in my unit.  After a second perusing who was in the dining facility, I knew exactly whom I wanted to eat with.  I walked over to the long white table and took a seat on the plastic white chair right across from Sergeant First Class Smith, Uncle Kev to his friends.

Uncle Kev was an army “lifer”, with about 16 years in service.  A short guy, with a bit of an attitude, he loved to rub people the wrong way.  To his friends and others who may be fortunate enough to share his extremely dry wit, Uncle Kev was the man.

Sitting besides me at the table was Specialist Wayne.  Wayne was very unique, to say the least.  He was one of the few people I have ever met who called his beer belly a “Buddha Belly” and claimed it attracted women.  Wayne’s physical “attributes” didn’t end there.  He would often have trouble eating due to the fact that he lost his two front teeth.  This unfortunate predicament led Uncle Kev and I to dub him the OTB, or Old Toothless Bastard.

In the Army, everyone has their share of nicknames and I wasn’t an exception.  While in Bosnia, I was known as Lawdy Law (a play on my last name), Busta Zit (for a never forgotten large pimple I had on my forehead for a day), to the HEB- Hoagie Eatin’ Bastard (for my habit of getting late night dining facility sandwiches).

There was never any of the stereotypical military speed eating when Uncle Kev, Wayne, and I were together.  We would constantly poke fun at any target we could find, to include each other.  None of it was malicious; it was all good-natured fun.  Being quick with either a comeback or a new subject was a necessity.

Although we rarely went to the dining facility during prime meal time hours when the dining facility was packed with people, we were never alone.  Because of the around the clock nature of the US peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, there were always soldiers coming to and going from the dining facility.  These soldiers provided some of the most ample targets for humor.

One afternoon, for example, a soldier with an extremely large head entered the dining facility.  Uncle Kev was quick to whisper to Wayne and I that we should look to our left.  Whispering was a very handy tool used quite often when talking about people in our vicinity.  Sure enough, when we saw what Uncle Kev was referring to, Wayne and I laughed.  He did have a huge head.  Then Uncle Kev joined us in laughter, with others in dining facility left to wonder what was so funny.  Situations like that made it very hard to get any food eaten so we could return to work.

After our seven months being stationed in Bosnia, my unit deployed back to the states.  Although Wayne, Uncle Kev, and myself would get together to eat sometimes, nothing we said or did would compare to the times when humor got us through the day thousands of miles from home.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bad orders at Burger King



Here is an essay I wrote 10 years ago for an Article and Essay class.

She stood, her back towards me as I entered.  I saw the others scurrying about, but she was a fixture.  Although I knew better, her hands on the hips posture oozed command.  Her delusions of grandeur were shattered, however, when her manager pointed out my presence.

As she slowly turned towards me I felt the contempt building from behind her black-rimmed glasses.  I was an inconvenience.  She strolled towards her post, staring me down, hoping for my demise.  “Welcome to Burger King, would you like to try a Whopper Value Meal?” she dutifully sung to me.

I tried hard not to reciprocate her hostility.  “Can I have a Double Whopper…”

“Would you like cheese with that?” she interrupted.

“Please. And a large fry and a Coke.”

“For here or to go?” she boringly responded.

“To go.”

“That’ll be $6.03.”  I handed her the only money I had, a twenty-dollar bill.  “You don’t have three cents on you?” she asked as if fully expecting me to.

“No, sorry.”  I shook my head to reaffirm.  She breathed an exasperated sigh as she counts my change.  “I’m sorry, can I get no onions on my Double Whopper if its not already too late?” I ask.

Her return gaze made me shiver.  She turned her head towards the grill and yelled, “Did you make that Double Whopper order yet?”

“Counter or drive-through?” the young, high school age grill person responded.

“I am on counter, why would I ask for drive-through?” she snapped in return.  “Of course I need counter.”

“No, I haven’t made it yet,” the grill person’s tone began to match hers.  I worried for my food, hoping it would get to me safely.

“Well, when you finally get around to the Double Whopper for counter, I need it with no onion,” she commanded of the grill person.

“Whatever,” came a muffled response.

After her exchange with the grill person, she slid a large cup in my direction.  “Coke is over there,” she gestured in the direction of the soda fountain.

I walked over to the fountain, filled my cup, found a lid, and returned to the counter.  “Excuse me, can I get a straw?”

“There aren’t any over there?” she replied, as if questioning my eyesight.

“Nope.”

“Here.”  She whipped out a straw from under the counter and laid it in front of me.

I thanked her as she walked over to the fry station to assemble my large fry.  She nonchalantly tossed the fries into the bag and collected my burger a second after the grill person finished making it.  Carelessly, the burger joined the fries in the bag.

“Thank you.”  I walked out, sipping my coke.

When I got home, there were onions on my Double Whopper.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Second Chances and Professional Humility



Last week I started work at the same building I was laid off from nearly a year ago.

I’m not going to lie, it’s a little weird. It’s weird driving the same roads, parking in the same parking lot, walking into the same building, opening the same doors, and sitting at the same type of desk, albeit one a floor above my old position. During my first week, I felt almost detached as I walked down the same halls, saw the same offices, and even smelled the same smells that I was acquainted with for the last few years. They were all the same, yet I was different.

I know not working made me appreciate "being me" more. It made me have a stronger sense of self outside of the workplace. When I tell people I used to work in the building, many have asked what I have been up to. I've told them that I took a year off to pursue my interests. Although that's not 100% true, I like the way it sounds.

What I did not anticipate upon my return was that getting laid off would make me appreciate the work environment more. I don’t think I will be so quick to complain about the lack of parking or the traffic on the way to work. I don’t think I’ll even bicker about the time I have to be at work. I think before I was so accustomed to the environment I almost considered being in the workplace a right, and not a privilege.  I know now that the powers that be made my workplace what it was and what it continues to be and there is no way I can change that. That’s the corporate culture of that environment and corporate cultures don’t usually change from the bottom up.

Another thing I have appreciated more in the few days I have been back working in the same building is the outpouring of support from former work acquaintances. So many familiar faces have smiled when they saw me and said things such as “great to see you” and “welcome back”. Those comments definitely made me feel good and appreciated. Although I stayed in touch with a handful of ex-work acquaintances, many of the people I’ve run into while walking the hall in the last week are people I haven’t seen in nearly a year. So to know that they not only remember me, but are honestly glad I have returned is heartwarming.

That said, I am in no way going to march through the building announcing my return. That would be foolish and arrogant. And besides, there may be people who were happy to see me go. Because I was laid off, there were decisions made by people in power who decided that I wasn’t of maximum value at the time of my dismissal, that keeping me around in my former position was not cost-effective for the organization. These people might think I am not cost-effective in my current position either. So with that in mind, I think it is best to stay out of the line of fine and keep my head down. And if I do run into anyone who is critical of my return, I should stay humble, acknowledge any lessons learned or second chances, and move on quickly.

Fortunately for those situations, I won’t have to avoid any negative encounters for too long as I am headed overseas for business for a year in late January or early February. Although it might mean not seeing all my friendly former work acquaintances or being able to say hello to everyone I would want to say hello to, hopefully my short time in my old building will be to my advantage. Hopefully I won’t have time to take anything for granted or get in my own way. Maybe I’ll even be able to accept the corporate climate and culture for what they are and keep my opinions to myself. Maybe I’ll stay humble and show people that I have learned quite a bit since I was last in the building of my new and old job.

One month isn’t too much to ask for. But in this case, in a familiar place with familiar complaints, temptations, and adversaries, staying positive and looking at employment only for its bright sides – the friends, the new challenges, and the income – is a large step for me.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Going to Afghanistan in 2012



Let me get right to the point first and foremost:

I am going to Afghanistan for a year. I am leaving sometime in late January or early February.

Now that I have the summary out of the way, I want to write about why I am going and a few of the things going through my head in regards to this trip.

First, the financial side. This is easy. I got a job, which is great news. After nearly a year of floating around, working at jobs that didn’t fit, or trying to make ends meet with freelance gigs, I figured it was high time I got a job that would allow me to make some money. With all my experience working with the military, a job in Afghanistan allows me the ability to make up for lost income and save money for when I get back, since who knows what positions will be available and how the defense budget will look when I get back.

That said, I am not going just for the money. There is a scene in Star Wars: A New Hope after Han and Luke rescue Princess Leia when Princess Leia denigrates Han for thinking only about the cash and not for the deeper meaning of his actions.

HAN: It is for me, sister! Look, I ain't in this for your revolution, and I'm not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money!

LEIA: You needn't worry about your reward. If money is all that you love, then that's what you'll receive!

She angrily turns, and as she starts out of the cockpit, passes Luke coming in.





LEIA: Your friend is quite a mercenary. I wonder if he really cares about anything...or anyone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this scene and how Han Solo went from mercenary rogue in A New Hope to leader of a community and man with a purpose by the end of Return of the Jedi. Although I was never a smuggler living life on the lam, I can see how I had few of the wrong things in common with Han.

(Yes, that was a weird Star Wars tangent, and I apologize, but it was relevant to me.)

While I was not steadily employed I did a lot of thinking about my life and career and whether or not I was happy with its current direction. Looking back, I definitely was not. I wrote about this before, but although I was making money and that made me successfully happy, I never could envision long-term happiness until I found something new. Many of the people I talked to called this “following your heart” and I like that term. Not everyone gets to do that, but because I don’t have anyone currently depending on me for their life essentials, I think it’s time I gave it a try.

(Another quick aside: My friend Andrea has a really good post on her blog about following your dreams. She is also trying to figure it out.)

But there is a big problem with following your heart and making a career change: I have to start at the beginning. I have to work my way up from the bottom and I have to network all over again. That’s not easy, it takes time, and odds are I won’t be making much money while in the nascent stages of a new career. Going to Afghanistan and making a year’s worth of tax-free income will provide a nice economic cushion for whatever route I choose.

Maybe my new career will be in writing. If you are familiar with this site, you might know I’ve done quite a bit of that, whether writing about the Tampa music scene, sports, or other miscellaneous projects. I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to continue to write in Afghanistan during my time outside of the office. I’m sure I could work on my short stories and maybe even write a book review or two. My writing network might weaken a bit from time being out of the loop, but it won’t disappear. And there are several projects I am sure I’ll be able to step right back into when I get back to the US.

One of the other thoughts I have had upon my return is a tour of various minor league baseball parks. I talked to a few people who did this during the 2011 season and although costly, they found it fun. And it would fall in very well with my work with Bus Leagues Baseball.com.

I could also take the money I make and use it as the backbone of life as a road comic. This would be much more difficult, but I do have some experience on stage. Not much, but some. And I could travel around the US doing open mics and attempting to network and make a name for myself. Maybe I could go to New York City or Los Angeles for a year and submerge myself in their respective comedy scenes and not have to wait tables like many struggling beginning performers do.

I’ve also visited and exchanged emails with the professors of the University of South Florida’s anthropology department in regards to starting PhD work in August 2013. I am especially interested in working in media anthropology, or the study of media-based creative culture to include fan groups, wide-spread social media usage, and being what Professor Henry Jenkins of University of South California calls an “aca-fan”, or academic fan. Some of the writing I have done on this blog has leaned slightly in that direction in an amateur way, and I think further pursuing that would be a great fit for me. Of course, PhD programs are not cheap, and the money made in Afghanistan will help me pay for this venture.

Am I scared about being in one of the worst places in the world, in a place where there are people who likely want to see me dead? Of course. But that fear is tempered by the fact that I know there are people there who are trained to protect civilian workers such as myself and they are very good at their job. I am also reassured by the dozens of people I know who have been over there already and have come back healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Also comforting is the fact that I will not be there alone. There are friends of mine, some from my career and some from college, who are there right now and some who will be showing up during my time there. As of this time, I am not sure exactly where I am going as there are many US bases in Afghanistan, so I don’t know if I will run into anyone I know, but I’m sure they will be going through many of the same experiences I will be going through.

I am also reassured by the fact that I have gotten emails and even Facebook comments from friends while in Afghanistan which leads me to believe that I can stay in touch, albeit not as often as when I am home. It won't be the face-to-face, but at least it's communication, which is a good thing. I'm not sure how my access will affect this blog, my other blogging endeavors, or my ability to post on twitter, but there are strings available to keep me in touch. And I will be sure to share my physical address when I find that out.

Will I miss my family and friends? Definitely. There is no doubt I will miss seeing my parents, my brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and my 4-year old nephew. They are a big part of my life and being away from them for a year is going to suck, point blank. But when I was in the military years ago, I would only come home for Christmas and this is not much different than that, although the me back then was a 19-21 year old me, a less mature me, a more adventurous me, a less-family conscious me, and one that didn’t value the connections as much as I do now. I've also been thinking that various people go away all the time, such as military members of course, and inmates. And I have a leg up on inmates, they go away longer and don't get paid as much if they do at all.

On a sorta related note, like having to start over professionally, I am a little worried about how this trip will affect me socially. Although I have plenty of friends and people to hang out with, I’ve been single for a long time and lived by myself for most of my time in Tampa and am just now realizing how kinda silly that was and is. While I am sure I won’t have my own tent or room or whatever other living arrangements there are in Afghanistan, I am also pretty sure I won’t be doing any dating over there and the odds that I meet a woman over there that becomes a friend stateside that I could hang out with regularly is probably pretty low. So the social life that I want to work on to has to be put on hold for a year. But like any other goal, as long as I keep what I want in mind and remember not to fall into another social rut, I should be ok.

Sorry this is so long, but it is my blog and this is what I am thinking about in regards to going to Afghanistan. It’s going to be a lot of work packing, putting things in storage, and preparing, but I am sure I will be ready when the time comes. I’m planning on putting a few more posts on this blog between now and the end of January, so I will be around for a little while longer, but I wanted to tell everyone what I know now so it’s not too much of a shock when I do take off.