The Kindle edition of my book, Slackernomics, is available for free all weekend to Amazon Prime members. You won’t get it any cheaper than that.
No image portrays the true meaning of Memorial Day like the following image. I posted it last year, and I’ll probably post it every year I draw breath. It best encapsulates the day’s meaning for me.
Freedom isn’t free. And it doesn’t come without a horrendous cost. God bless the fallen. And God comfort their families.
[In memory of SP4 Stuart Lee Barnett, KIA 8/26/70, Republic of Vietnam]
I‘m not really one of those people who goes to events like Salute Our Troops in Las Vegas and spends his time trying to get interviews. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just isn’t my style. Maybe it should be if I ever want to go anywhere doing this, but its not what I’m comfortable with.
I’m more of an observer. A listener. Oh I talk and laugh and exchange small talk, but for the most part I’m one who likes to sit back and watch the interaction of a group, see what they’re all about and then relate my impressions in writing.
That’s not always as easy as I’d like it to be, but it works for me.
The 3 days and nights I spent in Las Vegas at the Palazzo hotel with our wounded warriors was probably one of the more inspiring and satisfying times I’ve spent in a long time. From the moment I watched them walk into the hotel until I watched them leave 3 days later, I was on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.
Pride was a dominant emotion. I was extraordinarily proud of how they conducted themselves. The event was very emotional for them as well. You could see the trepidation in their faces when they first got off the busses on day one. A perfectly human reaction. But as they moved through the welcoming crowd, you could see the unease disappear and the wonderful emotion of the moment begin to take hold.
The genuineness of the welcome made the whole experience resonate with the warriors. Remarkably it remained a constant through out the entire visit. It was real. Tangible. The thanks rendered wasn’t perfunctory or pro forma, it was heartfelt and always present.
As I watched the wounded warriors begin to interact with the crowd, I knew they felt it too. I wasn’t just proud of the warriors, I was equally as proud of the crowd.
Over the next few days, as I got to know the personalities within the group, certain things became obvious to me that might have been missed by those who didn’t have the opportunity to spend the time I had with them.
Brotherhood. In this case it’s a generic term that includes the wounded women as well. This small group was a brotherhood who in so many subtle and unthinking ways took care of each other the entire time they were there. It wasn’t a duty. It wasn’t something they had to do. It was what they did. It is who they are. They had a shared experience and shared sacrifice that made them unique. But they also had an entirely human desire to ensure those they had shared that experience with were well taken care of. Nothing was too much for their friend or comrade.
Families. Families by marriage. Families by service. Family by experience. One of the extraordinary things about wounded warriors is they belong to many families and all of them were evident in Las Vegas. All of them were at work as well. It was gratifying to see but not unexpected. Marines checking on other Marines. A wife taking care of her wounded husband. One wounded warrior watching out for another.
Normalcy. One of the more poignant moments for me was overhearing two chaperones talk about a request by one of the wounded. Each of the warriors and their guests had been given a blue t-shirt identifying them as a part of the Salute Our Troops group. One of the wounded had asked if they had to wear them all the time or might take them off. The chaperone relaying the request said, "they just want to be normal, to blend in, to be part of the crowd. They don’t want to stand out". I found that request to be incredibly endearing. They just wanted to again, as much as possible, be normal.
As I watched these young warriors interact with others, another impression hit me – quiet dignity. It was how they handled themselves. Their humbleness. Their gratefulness for what the Armed Forces Foundation, Sheldon Adelson and all the other sponsors were doing for them. None of them took it as their due. None thought they were owed this. All of them showed and expressed their appreciation throughout the week in countless ways.
Humor. As you might expect there was plenty of that. Self-deprecating humor. Ribald humor. Ragging. Among military folks nothing is sacred and lord help you if you start feeling sorry for yourself. These men and women kept each other up, took and delivered shots with the best of them and acted like every Soldier and Marine you’ve ever known. It brought back fond memories of times gone by for me.
Humor was their currency. The night of the Blue Man Group show is a great example. During their show the 3 Blue Men walk through the audience literally moving from arm rest to arm rest as they advance row by row through the theater. At intervals they’ll pause, stare, pick something up from the audience, hold it up and examine it. When they got to our group one of the guys handed a Blue Man his prosthetic leg. The place went wild. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
But the reality of what these fine warriors face never quite left me. I couldn’t forget it. There was a young Marine that who had lost his right leg and wore a prosthesis. He may have been 5′ 4" if you’re being kind, and maybe weighed 100 pounds with rocks in his pocket. He was an infantryman. He tried to bluff his way into a club that night but he wasn’t old enough to get in (not to worry, being a good Marine, he did a recon, gathered intel and got in the next night).
For whatever reason that incident struck me hard. He had lost a leg in combat in service to his country before he was old enough to buy a drink legally. Next year he’ll be legal but he’ll also be medically retired from the Marine Corps. At 21.
When I was at Brooke this past year with Cooking with the Troops, I remember one of the people who worked there standing next to me as we watched the wounded moving through the serving line. He said, "what you have to realize is not one of these young warriors you see are working on their "plan A" anymore." That made an impression on me.
You have to imagine yourself in that situation and wonder how you would have coped with having to come up with a "plan B" at such a young age. All the hopes and dreams you might have harbored about a certain way of life are now radically and totally changed forever.
Yet even understanding that, the most important message I gathered from all of them is they aren’t victims. And please don’t treat them like they are. They’re proud of what they did, what they suffered, even what they’ve sacrificed. They may not like what happened, but they accept it. They understand that what happened to them was a part of the risk of the service they willingly undertook. They knew and understood that risk and yet they volunteered anyway. And since they’ve been wounded, they’ve been dealing with the aftermath . But as one amputee told me, "yeah, this happened to me, but others gave their all". Context. Clarity. Strength.
Not one of them was asking for sympathy, just understanding. These were Soldiers and Marines. They are used to adapting and overcoming. And while they still have much to endure, and many low points to weather, there was no question that the spirit was willing.
As one of the chaperones at the event said as we were quietly sharing a drink and watching the group finish a wonderful dinner, "you don’t have to worry about the next generation and the future of our country. These guys are that future and the future is bright".
I’ve thought about that a lot since he said that. He’s right. They are our next "greatest generation". They stood up. They answered the call and I’ve come to firmly believe that the strength of our nation is to be found in those who serve. If what I saw in Las Vegas is any indication, the future is indeed bright. If nothing else, my time with our wounded heroes made that point crystal clear to me.
It’s been a tough week. A good friend and neighbor died this week after a year long bout with cancer. He put up a hell of a fight.
Then, last night, I learned that milblogger extraordinaire and retired naval aviator Carroll LeFon had been killed when his F21 Kfir fighter jet crashed near the west gate of Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada.
Lex, as most people knew him, was probably one of the best writers in the milblog community, bar none. A retired Navy Captain and former carrier squadron commander, he loved flying and detested “life in a cube”. After retirement he managed to land a dream job for men of his ilk – flying fighter jets for a civilian company contracted to provide the opposing force for naval aviators at the TOPGUN school. Lex, during his active duty days, had been the Executive Officer at that school.
I had the privilege of meeting Lex at one of the milblog conferences and then, over the years, kept up an on again, off again email relationship with him. I enjoyed our conversations immensely and I was a huge fan of his blog. I mostly lurked because, well, I’m a grunt and that wasn’t my world, but I learned more about naval aviation and aviation in general than I would have ever learned elsewhere. I also enjoyed his slant on other topics as well. He had a large and engaged commenting community, the sign of a healthy and well-loved blog.
The stories in tribute to him are just now starting to come out. There’ll be more as the days go by. He was a heck of a guy, a brilliant writer, a man who loved and adored his family and died doing what he loved best – flying a high performance aircraft.
His last post at the blog was a bit eerie but pretty much stated his philosophy best when it came to what he was doing. He’d had a drag chute malfunction on landing and had to “wrestle snakes”, as he put it, for a bit before finally landing the aircraft safely.
When I taxied back to the line the maintenance guys told me to go away for 10 minutes. Just in case the brakes might, you know: Catch fire. Which they didn’t, so no harm done.
It’s funny how quickly you can go from “comfort zone” to “wrestling snakes” in this business.
But even snake wrestling beats life in the cube, for me at least. In measured doses.
Every fighter pilot out there, in fact every pilot in general, knows that at some point or other they’re going to have to wrestle snakes. And, they also know that the possibility exists that the snakes may, at some point, win.
Yet even knowing that, they’d never trade the opportunity to do what they do for that “cube” of safety.
Lex was a good man doing a necessary and dangerous job training our future naval aviators. He paid the ultimate price. But he did it his way doing what he loved to do.
Fair winds and following seas, CAPT LeFon. You’ll be missed.
Yesterday, on my ride home from work, I decided to go by North County House of motorcycles. While there, I saw a brand new 2010 VFR1200F with the DCT automatic transmission on sale. They’d marked it down from $17,499 to $11,999. So, I traded my FJR1300AE for it on the spot.
This is the only picture I have of it, a crappy cell phone pic the sales guy took just before I geared up and rode off on it. Here’s a professional picture of it:
I didn’t get saddlebags with it, but I put my tailbag on it as soon as I got home.
In short, the VFR1200F has a V-4 powerplant that puts out a peak of 170HP, and weighs approximately 600 lbs—which is about 60 lbs less than my FJR, with 145 peak HP. The performance is noticeably superior. It’s shaft-driven, with the shaft putting power to the rear wheel via a single-sided swingarm. It does the 1/4 in 10.2 seconds @ 136MPH. That’s about as fast as I need.
I had a lots of work to do today, so I only got a chance to ride it to the store and back. So I’ve only got 20 miles on it. I can already tell that there’s a bit of a learning curve for it.
The transmission has an interesting setup. Honda took the dual-clutch transmission they use in their Formula 1 Race cars and fitted it to this motorcycle. So, there’s no clutch. You can can either manually shift using buttons on the hand grip, or you can switch it to an automatic transmission with two modes.
In automatic, there’s a standard Drive mode that short-shifts and is very strongly biased to fuel economy…to the extent that you’re in 6th gear by 40mph. Not very exciting at all. Like a moderately sporty scooter. Then there’s the Sport mode. It’s…the opposite. It shifts at redline. And, while I can’t really use the sport mode much during the break-in period, it is…exciting. Let’s just say you can leave rubber from the rear wheel…in 3rd gear, though with brand-new tires.
You don’t need to know how I know that. Or how badly my pants were soiled.
The main difference is that, unlike the FJR AE model, you don’t have to hit 2,500RPM on the tach before it starts to move. Touch the throttle and it goes. And I mean goes. The performance simply outclasses the FJR in every way…if you want it to.
It’s got lots less wind protection and general cushy comfort than the FJR had, though I knew that going into it. I miss the heated grips, too.
But it’s a stonkin’ great engine. Which is what I was looking for in this case.
My cunning plan is to have both a fancy man’s sporty bike like a VFR or K1300S, and a fancy man’s touring bike, either the R1200RT or K1600GT. So, I guess I’m halfway there.
Now, before I ask this, keep in mind that I’m a National League fan, being a life-long Astros fan, as well as a Dodgers fan. I also like the Rangers and the Tigers, but I’m primarily an NL devotee. As such, I am inclined against the designated hitter, because I grew up watching the National League brand of Baseball, prefer it, and only later developed a taste for AL teams.
But here’s the thing. Albert Pujols is 31 and has a shiny new 10-year contract with the Angels. As of today, Prince Fielder(28) is going home to Detroit for 9 years with the Tigers. That puts them at 41 and 37, respectively, when their contracts are up. Do we really think Pujols will be holding down the first bag at 41? Jeez, will Prince Fielder be able to play first at 31 with his…ahem…physical stature. No, of course not.
But, they can work out big deals in the AL because of the Designated Hitter rule. Even when they can’t play a position any more, big hitting still gives them a place on the roster.
But what NL team can take a risk on long-term contract for a big-hitting position player in his 30s? Doesn’t that force star hitters into the AL, and make the NL a weaker league offensively? I mean, not only do you have the pitcher at bat, but the remaining players are lesser sluggers than the AL guys. Is the NL really all about pitching, or is it just weaker hitting?
There seems to be a bit of a push to make the DH apply to the NL, in order to keep the leagues competitive offensively. The reasoning is that, at this point, everybody but the NL uses the DH, and it’s a bit silly for the two major leagues to play two different brands of baseball. And the DH really does result in a different kind of game. Not only would applying the DH to the NL equalize the game, it would allow sluggers—and teams—more options to keep sluggers kin the game, even when they get a bit too old to hold down a position well.
Could the NL just give in and accept the DH? Should they?
I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and other appropriate greetings of the season. I also want to take time to thank QandO’s loyal readers and commenters for another wonderful year. A couple of weeks ago we rolled past 8 million unique visitors on Site Meter. Since that’s always been the way we’ve celebrated another million unique visitors, we’ll continue the tradition.
What it tells me, since we average about a million a year, is that QandO is and remains relevant after all these years. That’s nice to know.
We look forward to another great year in 2012 and a very interesting political season as well.
The best to you and your family … may this be the merriest of Christmases and all the best from the QandO gang. Here’s hoping for a very happy New Year as well.
The wife of one of our own, James Joyner of Outside the Beltway blog, passed away over the weekend. Her death was obviously untimely as she was only 41. James started OTB about the same time QandO started and has been a friend to this blog and many others over the years.
We here at QandO want to express our most profound sympathies and condolences to James and his family. Kimberly leaves behind two young daughters. Please include the family in your prayers.
I wrote this in 2006, and it is as true today as then. Our combat troops are the best the world has ever seen – but without those who support them so well they wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as they are.
Anyone who doubts all veteran’s are heroes need read no further. But for the vast majority of you who do, I’d like to take a little different slant in my tribute than you might read elsewhere. Most of the time when you read tributes to vets, they’re filled with the stories of those who’ve suffered in combat and we see pictures showing the battle-weary combat vets which pointedly make the argument about the sacrifices our veterans have made and continue to make.
But not all sacrifices are made on the field of battle. While infantry, armor and artillery are the combat arms – the tip of the spear – they, better than anyone, know how important the team that makes up the rest of the spear are to their success on the battlefield.
Those F-16s don’t show up on target at the right time unless that gal flying the boom of a KC10 tanker at 30,000 feet at 2am doesn’t do her job. That sabot round from an M1A1 fired at a threatening T72 isn’t there unless the truck driver hauling ammo day in and day out gets that ammo where it needs to be when it needs to be there.
Veterans are the guys like the cook who gets up every morning at 3:30 am and begins to prepare breakfast for his soldiers. The young man below deck on an aircraft carrier who makes sure the F/A 18 he’s responsible for maintaining is in perfect shape and ready to fly. The nurse who holds a dying soldier’s hand as he takes his last breath, wipes away the tears, straightens her uniform and heads out to do it again.
He’s the youngster in the fuel soaked coveralls who hasn’t slept in 2 days gassing up another Bradley from his fuel tanker. The company clerk who makes sure all of the promotion orders are correct and in on time, or the instructor in basic training who ensures those he trains get his full attention and who puts his all into helping them learn important lessons that will save their lives. He’s the recruiter who’d rather be where the action is, but does what is necessary to make sure he gets the best and brightest available for his branch of service. Or the MP at the gate who shows up every day, does her job to the very best of her ability and never complains.
Most vets have never seen combat in the sense we think of it. But every single solitary one of them has contributed in vital ways to the success of our combat efforts. Without those who support the combat troops, success would impossible. Without the wrench turners, truck drivers, fuel handlers, cooks, clerks and all those like them, the greatest military the world has ever seen is an “also ran.”
It doesn’t matter what a vet did during his or her service, it matters that he or she chose to serve and do whatever vital job they were assigned to the best of their ability. It isn’t about medals, it isn’t about glory, it isn’t about what job they did. It is about the fact that when their country called, they stood up and answered. They are all, every one of them, heroes.
To all the vets out there – Happy Veteran’s Day.
And thank you for your service.
You may have noticed that there was no podcast this week, and that there haven’t been any economic statistics reports this week. That’s because I had to travel to Houston, Texas this weekend to attend the funeral of my grandmother, Mildred Davidson. Many years ago, my grandfather bought their funeral plots at Brookside funeral home, and, though the family migrated out to California, we took them back home after their deaths. My grandfather, Paul E. Davidson, died in 2003. Now, he and my grandmother are finally together again.
When I returned for my grandfather’s funeral, I didn’t have a lot of time to do much beyond see some family, and go to his funeral. This time, I spent three days in Houston, and had time to travel back to all the places I remember from my childhood.
I was born in Houston, and grew up there. My parents divorced when I was two, and my father moved back to New Mexico, where he was from. I spent most of the year living with my mother, and summers with my father, mainly in Albuquerque, NM. So, I sort of have two homes, and two sets of people—entirely unrelated to each other—who saw me grow up. It’s kind of weird. But, Houston was the place I identify as home. So, I went back to the places I remember.
Below the fold is a picture-heavy story; part travelogue, part history. If you’re interested in all about finding out about me, or my past, this is it.