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This blog exists only as an archive. It is a journal that serves as a window into my life as a Marine combat veteran serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; it was written with no filter, no politics and no agenda. Please feel free to follow my journey from beginning to end. Welcome to my life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two Stories

Have any of you been following what's going on with two high school coaches, one a girl's basketball coach, and one a varsity football coach?

http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/01/26/football.coach.indicted/

http://www.suntimes.com/sports/couch/1398705,CST-SPT-greg27.article


This stuff is so outrageous it makes my blood literally boil. The football one in particular, probably because I credit so much of who I am as a person to having played that sport under what I would argue are some of the toughest coaches in the business. Let me say that having a kid die during two-a-days is a tragedy. Its not funny, he didn't deserve it, and its not a reflection on him as a person, as a man, or as a player.

That being said, football is a tough sport. Gee, what a revelation. There is an inherent danger in practicing in full pads, in the August heat, for two practices a day. But that is what makes football great, it's what teaches kids what it takes to be a winner, where they are forced to find out what they're made of. It sounds so cliche, but fall camp literally takes in boys and spits out men. In my eyes, it is an outrage to try and hold this coach accountable for homicide. First, how is that even legally possible without intent to cause harm? Second, here's a man that undoubtedly does more for the community by taking kids off the street and making them men than anyone else. And you're going to hang him for a freak accident that happens to occur on his watch?

The second article is a little more tricky. I'll start by saying that I'd have to have actually seen the game in order to pass proper judgment on what happened. However, 100-0 does say a lot. But, so long as the winning coach wasn't full court pressing in the second half, launching 3's and playing his starters, what else can you do??? Pass the ball to the other team? That's not competition. If the other team sucks THAT MUCH, then you cannot put the ball in the hoop for them.

I guess what really gets me about this one is that the school fired this coach for speaking his mind after the game, saying that he felt his team had played the game the way it was meant to be played, with honor and that the other team should not be embarrassed.

What happened to competition in this country? There's this pervading attitude that its okay to be mediocre, that trying to be a winner or the best makes you a bad person. That somehow, crowning a winner simultaneously crowns a loser, and that, for whatever reason, this is a bad thing. Gasp, kids might learn about winning and losing, and that, gasp, they might learn about losing more often than winning. Sorry America, you're gonna suck at some things in life. Better to find out so you can spend some energy finding out what you're good at. I found out that I sucked at baseball, I was inconsolable, but I discovered I could be a decent football player, and, luckily by this point I knew what it was going to take to be good at it. Then I got to college and found out I sucked at college football, but discovered that I could be a pretty decent Marine. Again, all because I had learned some pretty valuable lessons from winning and losing along the way.

I'm going to stop writing because I could go on forever. I'll close by saying that my kids wont attend a school that doesn't allow dodgeball because it's mean (and I sucked at dodgeball too).

Friday, January 23, 2009

On to the weekend...

Well, hike complete. It was about the least challenging hike I have ever done in the Marine Corps. Our platoon was out in front, so we didn't have the pleasure of watching the feeble minded/ weak/ hung over Marines fall out, but we were hearing the reports come up on the radio. It was hard to imagine anyone was struggling with it, but as the saying goes, "there's always one".

Since we were out in front the Battalion Commander had the misfortune of listening to us complain the entire time about the hike being a waste of time due to it's lack of any challenge. I think he got the hint right around the last mile, because he turned around and asked us if we wanted to go for a run, which we of course readily agreed to. Nothing beats hazing an entire battalion worth of Marines with a nice little ruck run. The BC can hold his own in a run, as can the Sgt. Major, but the guidon bearer fell out, along with a couple of officers. Unfortunately the hike was over about a mile later, which meant we weren't able to really hurt anyone, but as the rest of the battalion staggered to the finish line it sounded like an asthma convention. Have some pride guys.

On to the weekend.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Our Numbers Swell

This morning I woke up, not exactly at reveille, but before noon, and stepped out onto the catwalk outside my barracks room door. Something was different, but I couldn't quite place it. That's when I put it all together- the cleanly swept catwalk, the slight glean of the concrete, the aromatic tickle of Pine-Sol in my nose.

I love the smell of Pine-Sol in the morning.

Pine-Sol in the morning means there are boots on board, dutifully sweeping and mopping the catwalk, picking up cigarette butts, removing chewed gum from railings, and scampering out of the way. Apparently 2/7 received a boot drop of about 250 new Marines (a boot is a Marine fresh out of boot camp and the school of infantry). Now, I don't have to deal with boots on a professional basis, none of them come to the sniper platoon, but I do reap the benefits of having them on board. Benefits like a citrusy smelling front door.

Tomorrow we have a battalion hike. Supposedly about 6 or 7 miles. I'm interested to see how this turns out. Apparently the sniper platoon will be out front setting the pace (sucks for the battalion). What I really want to see is all the 'salty' vets who are going to fall out of the hump because all they did for their month of leave was drink and eat Taco Bell. The boots, on the other hand, just graduated SOI, and had their 20 miler not too long ago. I remember my first long hump in the fleet, a 16 miler with full combat load and packs. At the end, I, the boot, was carrying 3 rifles, 2 of which belonged to 'senior' team leaders. It was my second week in the fleet, and after that I had one of their jobs. We'll see who the boots are tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good WSJ Article

Article

This is a link to an article sent to me by my buddy Jon in Hermosa. It outlines how Bush's 'real sin was winning in Iraq'. I always say I don't like to discuss politics on this blog, but I think that this article and it's line of thinking has a lot of merit. I truly feel that many people, not the majority, but many folks truly wanted to see us lose this war a la Vietnam. Having served, that disgusts me.

Justified or not. WMDs or not. Unilateral or not. Preemptive doctrine or not. Whatever side of those arguments you are on, once in Iraq, the right thing for us to do was to win. Bush, love him or hate him, stuck to his guns and did just that. I hope history can judge him through a less subjective lens than current perceptions allow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Transfer of Power

Let me first say just how remarkable I found today's inauguration. It blows my mind, that with all the partisanship surrounding politics in this country, at times rising to the level of open animosity and hostility, we can, without the slightest disturbance, remove one president from power and within moments swear in his idealogical opposite.

Whomever you voted for, McCain or Obama or Bob Barr or any other crazy write-in, it's impossible to deny the magnitude of ushering in our first black president. On our road trip, my dad told me how he never thought he'd live to see it. My first thought in response was, "I'm surprised it has taken so long." But then I thought about how I'm only 25 years old. The civil rights movement is nothing but a chapter in my high school social studies book that I skimmed through. I didn't live through Rosa Parks, or Martin Luther King, or Malcom X. I didn't see people getting pummeled with fire hoses in the streets or threatened with K-9s. Because of my youth I'm able to dismiss Jim Crowe laws as a silly, albeit dark, chapter in our past, and before I really stop to think about it, I consider it our country's distant past. But its not. So today IS a big deal. It will rank high in my generation's 'events we lived'. My dad's generation had the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, and Kent State (amongst many, many others). Well, my generation's list is short- the Berlin Wall, the shuttle disaster, 9-11. This absolutely belongs on our list.

NOW. All that being said. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that President Obama is a fantastic speaker. I thoroughly enjoy listening to him every time he gets behind a podium. I don't always agree with what he's saying, but he certainly says it in remarkable fashion. Today I was sitting around a tv with some guys, watching the constant replay of his speech. We started talking about how he was saying a lot but not really saying anything. Really a lot of what Marines call 'touchy-feely' stuff. We didn't really expect him to get up there and talk major policy and strategy, that's not what the inauguration is for, but what cracked us up was the look on the faces of the people in the crowd. The "I would love you no matter what you said right now" look. I really think they would have been cheering, clapping and crying even if his speech had gone like this-

"America is a land where unicorns and leprachauns can live in relative peace and harmony. We have moved beyond the politics of our individual cloud castles, and into an era where we can share that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, where no unicorn will be judged by the length of his horn, and where affordable green outfits with pointy, gold buckled shoes are available to everyone. My fellow Americans, join me now in our epic battle for Mordor. We must destroy the ring of financial crisis..."

I'm gonna stop before I get too carried away. Like I said, I didn't expect a State of the Union on his first day, I just don't think anyone on that lawn cared what he said, they were just digging that sexy voice and frequent dramatic pauses...

Best of luck President (no longer elect, which I didn't even know was an 'official' office until you had people in sandwich boards with 'Office of the President Elect' walking around). I truly hope that you take this country in the right direction.

In case you're interested, here's a LINK to TIME Magazine's top ten speeches of all time.

Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK Day

I'm travelling all day, literally, thanks to a Moline-Chicago- Dallas-Palm Springs- 29 Palms itinerary, so I don't have time to write anything absolutely, positively profound about MLK Day. But, I did stumble across a good post by a writer over at BlackFive, a blog I surf every once in a while.

Here's the link

California here I come.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Greg on Jimmy

So a few nights ago my dad and I went into Chicago to meet up with Greg Root. The conversation was all over the place, but eventually we came to what guys we used to play with were doing these days. We started talking about Jimmy Leonhard, a guy that was in our recruiting class. If you live in a cave or under a rock, or are currently deployed to Afghanistan, you may not know that Jimmy is BALLIN with the Baltimore Ravens right now. The play tomorrow for a shot at the Super Bowl.

Really the only reason I'm telling this story is because Greg said that his first memory of Jimmy was when we were at fall camp our freshman year. Our team was staying at the Seminary for about 3 weeks doing two-a-days, and there was a Golden Tee video game in one of the rooms. Greg's memory was of he and Jimmy playing the game, and him punching Jimmy as hard as he could in the arm every time Jimmy beat him on a hole. Which, of course, was every hole for 18 holes. Greg was running about 260 pounds back then, Jimmy probably about 170 soaking wet. Figure out how that turned out for Jimmy.


Anyway, here's an excellent article on what Jimmy is doing with the Ravens.

Article

Umm, Let Me Reconsider


So explain to me why I'm visiting schools back in the Midwest. What for? So I can drive around in this mess 4 months a year?

Paging Stanford and USC...

On a side note, Kellogg seemed like an excellent school. But it was -12 degrees when I arrived at its front doors Friday morning.

Friday, January 16, 2009

BadgerBall

So my pops and I met up with Greg Root last night at a bar called Redmond's, which bills itself as the Badger Bar of Wrigleville/ Lincoln Park. It was great to be around Badger fans again. Unfortunately, Wisconsin decided not to play the final 3 minutes of the game, or all five minutes of overtime.

Oh, and Bo Ryan might be my favorite person of all time. That guy is hysterical to watch. If I could watch a tv that had a dedicated camera on him the entire game, I'd have no problem missing every jump shot and dunk that happened.

Alright, off to visit Kellogg.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Grad School Road Trip

My dad and I are on day 5 of our little whirlwind grad school round-up. Unfortunately, many of the schools that I wanted to visit were not in session this week, so we had to strike them from our itinerary. We started out on Sunday by heading over to Indiana to see my Uncle Paul and Aunt Joanna. Those two are my most reliable dvd pirating champions when I'm deployed. When I left Monday morning, Paul handed me a spindle of DVDs that had about 60, many of them with titles like, "Man Eating Zombie Cats" or every single episode ever made of "The Simpsons".

From Indiana we headed due east into Pennsylvania, eventually ending up at the University of Pennsylvania and it's Wharton School. Wharton was very impressive, and I was fortunate enough to meet up with a Marine veteran who was able to show me around and explain to me the ins and outs of applying to business school as a vet.

We took off from Wharton and headed straight west, trying to cover some miles before we go snowed in by mother nature. We got as far as Bedford, PA, where we shacked up for the night. Of course we didn't get settled in at our hotel until we closed down one of the more honky tonk bars in the area. Very, very honky tonk. And on a side note, you might not realize how miserable living in a state that allows smoking indoors was until you step back into a bar located in a basement, that is the only bar in town that allows you to smoke. It was like hitting a wall.

So last night my dad and I arrived in Chicago, which was an adventure because we definitely did not miss the snow storm pummeling the midwest. I swear, people in Indiana must not pay taxes, because they obviously don't have enough money to pay to have roads cleared.

Today was spent visiting the University of Chicago's Booth Business School. You've probably never heard of it, but it is actually the top ranked B School in the country, and a guy named Milton Friedman kind of made it famous. I saw two Nobel Prize winners, and more than one nerd. Again I was able to meet up with some vets, which has really been the most beneficial aspect of the trip so far, talking to people that have come from the same background and who have had the same hurdles in the application process.

So tomorrow is Northwestern. Surprised that a die-hard Badger is visiting Northwestern? I am a little concerned about it, but I think I'll get over it. I will admit though, that I was too immature to include Michigan on my list of schools. It was on the list for about 10 seconds before I threw up in my mouth and crossed it off.

Speaking of the Badgers, I'm meeting up with Greg Root down in Lincoln Park in about an hour to watch the Badgers take on the Gophers at the Wisconsin Alumni bar. On, Wisconsin.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Milwaukee Weekend

Well, after spending a little quality time with my new little friend, I headed up to Milwaukee to visit my old college roommates Jeff and Will. I knew going in it was probably going to be rough. So did my mom, I’m pretty sure the hug she gave me on my way out the door was a little longer than normal. She knows Jeff, she knows me, and she knows the combination is often chaos.

I showed up and the first thing Jeff wanted to show me was the bottle of Wild Turkey that he bought for the occasion. Gee, didn’t see that one coming.

Before we began Jeff took me down to the Fire Station that he works at. I was really curious to see it, seriously, who doesn’t have a man crush on firefighters? I’m not afraid to admit it, they do it for me. Funny thing is I think there was a little mutual man-crushing going on though, so it almost got weird. After spending adequate time drooling over heavy equipment, big trucks with sirens, the jaws of life, and 4 inch hoses, Jeff and I took off to meet up with Will, Rock Star Extraordinaire.

I won’t go into the night in much detail. It was typical, except that when we got back from the bars we still had 2/3 of a bottle of Wild Turkey left, and well, we’ll be damned if we allow ourselves to go to bed with that bottle staring us in the face. Wouldn’t be right. So we spent the next 5 hours sitting at the kitchen table recounting college stories, cringing every time another round was poured.

Pour shot. Cringe. Talk about how bad it’s going to be. Pick up shot glass. Look at shot glass like it contains rat poison. Talk about how tired we are and how it wouldn’t be too shameful if we went to bed without finishing. Smack some sense into ourselves. Take shot. Contort face. Make various ‘blah’ sounds. Swear to never buy another bottle of Wild Turkey. Ever. Realize we’re kidding.

Repeat until finished.

Saturday was much the same, except it included a lot more guys. Jeff and I were temporarily not on speaking terms when I returned from the liquor store without a bottle of Wild Turkey. Outwardly he was angry, but I think that inwardly he was rejoicing. This time around, as we were drinking at Jeff’s house, every round was preceded by a favorite college memory. Here are a few samplings of how these ‘memories’ began-

Will- “Remember that time I came home from work? I went into my bedroom, and when I walked back into the kitchen, that homeless guy was holding a meat cleaver and cutting the chicken I had bought?? And then when I asked him to leave, he chugged my big cup of Tang before walking out??”

Me- “Remember that time Jeff heard the kid walking home from the bar get on our porch and steal our grill? He chased him down the street, threw him into a bush, face washed him with snow, stole his shoes and then carried the grill home.”

Jeff- “Yeah, and then he knocked on our front door 10 minutes later, ran into the middle of the street, and when we answered he quietly asked me for his shoes back!”

Oh 206 Marion St. You are missed.

Austin James Mappin

This past Friday I was on my way out of town to go up to Milwaukee when I got a text message from one of my best friends, Tommy Mappin.-

“Austin James Mappin was born at 8:59 am 1/9/09, 20 inches, 8.46 pounds, mom and baby are doing well.”

He then followed to me specifically-

“Jake, sorry we didn’t get a hold of you for the video taping, come visit”

I may or may not have convinced Angela that I was going to crash the delivery room with an HD camera to capture the moment on video. I think it might have freaked her out a bit.

Well, Austin, Angela and Tommy, congratulations. You are officially the first of my close friends to take the plunge into parenthood. Austin is the first kid I’ve ever trusted myself to hold, and I could tell he had an instant affinity for me. Yup, Crazy Uncle Jake and Austin are going to have LOTS of quality time Angela. LOTS. Scared yet?

I see a moment 8-10 years from now going something like this. I’m sitting in the Mappin’s living room, Austin on my knee, Miller Lite in hand, telling stories about the time I spent pirate hunting in the Philippines. “So there I was…” Angela calls from the kitchen, “Austin, could you come here a second?” Austin gets up and runs to the kitchen, I then hear Angela say in a hushed tone, “I told you, you are NOT to be alone with Crazy Uncle Jake for story hour!”

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Camel Spiders Rule the Day, Again

Well, it is safe to say that a 4th grade elementary school class does not provide the same moments of hilarity as a 2nd grade herd of kids. My visit to Lone Tree Elementary School yesterday went by pretty uneventfully, save for one or two moments. The questions were more or less the same, lots of inquiries about dogs and animals, weather, electricity, etc. Once again, I think the only thing the kids are going to go home and remember are the stories they coaxed out about camel spiders. For some reason kids love larger-than-life, man-eating arachnids.

Really, the only question I received that made me step back and go "whoa", was when a little girl raised her hand very politely and patiently waited on me to call her. Now, to give you a visual, you have to understand that all the other kids are frantically waving their hands back and forth, or using their off-hand to prop up their raised hand, with their heads slumped down towards the desk, as if by asking me a question they were taking years off the end of their lives.

So here's this girl. I see her, notice a sliver of civility and call on her. She lowers her hand, and in her best political candidate voice asks, "What is the health care like in Afghanistan??"

Whoa. Time out. Did I really just get that question as a follow up to "Can dogs smell bad guys?" (for the record I responded with 'I don't think bad guys smell any different...but maybe') So I'm flabbergasted. I don't have any pictures that display healthcare in Afghanistan. I haven't even thought about health care over there myself. But I owed it to her, so, after about 60 seconds of me praising her for such an intelligent question (secretly buying time to develop an answer) I went into a lengthy discussion on the Afghan people's lack of adequate health care/ doctors/ hospitals/ medicine/ understanding of health issues/ hygiene/ clean water/ everything under the sun that Afghanistan lacks that leads to a host of health issues. I may have broken her heart... but she deserved the truth...

I did get one inappropriate question. Unfortunately it came even though my sister Meghan aka "Ms. Wood", had discussed with the class the day before the difference between appropriate and inappropriate questions, even writing down and making a list of the ones that the class developed. So here's this kid, sitting with a list of 'good' questions in front of him, who then raises his hand and asks, "Did you ever see anyone get blown up by a bomb?". Now, I'm pretty easy going, so some kid that's asking a question that 4th grade Jake would have wanted to know is not going to upset me, but, I knew my place and I simply turned to Ms. Wood and said, "Ms. Wood, would you like to take that one?".

My sister was pretty upset with the kid, it was funny, because she put him in his place, but the look on her face was instant "puppy training mode". I thought she was going to pull out a squirt bottle and start spraying him in the face with it or put him in a kennel.

I'll finish this up with a quick story about the only inappropriate thing I said while there. After talking to the class for an hour, it was time for them to head to art class. So Meghan and I walked them through the hallway down to the art room. As the kids are filing into the room, one of the boys stops and proudly turns to me, jubilantly displaying his zip-up hoodie. He looks and says, "Look at my awesome Iowa Hawkeyes sweat shirt." My blood instantly came to a slow boil, he then unzipped it and said, "And look at the sweet Iowa shirt I have underneath it, aren't the Hawkeyes awesome!". I couldn't hold it in any longer. I looked down at this kid who was looking at me in my uniform with wide-eyed wonder and said, "Kid, I hate to break it to you, but I hate the Hawkeyes." I turned and walked away.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lone Tree Elementary

I suppose before I write about what I set out to discuss I'll say that I'm alive and New Year's Eve did not swallow me whole. Oddly enough, people seem to worry more about my safety when I'm approaching and tackling a major party holiday then when I'm out in a combat zone. Well, NYE was great, spent it in Chicago with a few friends, some of whom the Badger fans that frequent this board would recognize. I'll post pictures another time.

Alright, enough about that. Tonight I'm driving up to visit my two sisters, Sarah and Meghan, up in Iowa City. Tomorrow I'm visiting my sister Meghan's new 4th grade class to discuss fierce firefights and sniping techniques. Kidding. I'll probably talk about how culture and geography and local wildlife and what the kids do (...scout for the Taliban, carry weapons, etc.)... you know, the fun stuff.

It should be interesting. Last year I spoke to her kindergarten class, which was quite an experience. This year, the kids are a little older, and obviously probably a little more aware. I'm a little worried that the questions I get won't be as easy to handle as last year- "Ummm... I forgot what I was going to ask" or "Did you ride ponies in Iraq? Unicorns?". Seriously, I know what 4th grade ME would have asked a Marine just coming back from the Gulf Storm. Top of the list- "Did you ever shoot a gun?" Second- "We're you ever blown up??". Entirely inappropriate, but that's what 4th grade boys are- inappropriate.

So, wish me luck, hopefully there are not too many 'cringe' moments.

Here's last year's post Lucas Elementary and a follow up here