Adjusting to life back home: From bombs to baby bibs

July 24, 2008 by

I remember all my visions of what it would be like to finally come home from a war zone. It would be so amazing to return with my health and my friends standing by me. I would get off the plane and everyone would be cheering and clapping and be happy.

And you know what? That’s exactly what happened. Except for one thing – I left as a newlywed husband and returned as a veteran father, with no experience. My world went from precision targeting and bombing to precision vomiting and crying. I traded in my boots and weapons for ‘passies’ and ‘bibs’.

I couldn’t be any more happy or nervous. My wife is amazing. We always hear about the brave and heroic servicemembers who go overseas to serve in a war zone. But you know what, the real heroes are the ones that wait on us to get home. Lindsay, my wife, was mommy AND daddy, in the dead of winter while I was a soldier in Baghdad. She was carrying another human being and working full time and paying the bills; and I have to say that when I got home I had a tough act to follow. Our daughter was happy and well taken care of — Lindsay, I owe you so much. I will just give you my heart and all that I am. Thank you sweetie.

I knew how to be a soldier. I’ve done that for years. However, being a parent is amazing and exciting and fun and wonderful and new and oh yeah, scary!!!  Surely this kid will know I’m clueless about bottles and feedin g and naptime and teething and, well, you know. But she is so sweet to me. She laughs when I mess up. She knows I’m the rookie here – not her. I love her. I’ll try to be a good father.

Anyway, to all the moms that waited on us – including my own Mom, thanks!  Lindsay, Taura, Mom-O, Summer, Penny, Sarah, Becca, Lillian, Mrs Honican, Mrs Larkin, Mrs West, Mrs. Cowan, Mrs Wertzler, Mrs Sims, Mrs Caldwell, Mrs Smith, Mrs Land, Mrs Polston, Mrs McKinney, Kenyatta and all the Mom’s  of the 138th Fires Brigade we love you. To Lexington and all the readers who supported us with your kind comments and packages, thank you.

Finally, to Peter Baniak and Family, David Altom and the Kentucky Army National Guard, and the Lexington-Herald- Leader for allowing me this format to share my thoughts, feelings, and words, I say thank you and please everyone; SUPPORT THE TROOPS.

This is SGT Tressler giving you an order, Lexington; Love one another and take care of each other, See you around everybody!

I love you Lindsay and Kenadee,
YAMWW,
Ste ve
HOOAH!!!

Wahoo! We’re coming home, Lexington

June 26, 2008 by

WAHOOOO!!!!

We come home tomorrow, and as you can imagine everyone is in a great mood! We’re out of harm’s way and back on U.S. soil, and I gotta say it feels great to be back in the United States of America! Our families our excited and anxious and so are we. As I write this and am back in the US, one thought won’t leave my head:

The servicemembers that didn’t get the homecoming that will be waiting on us.

So to the families of servicemembers, who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice, I want you to know on behalf of our whole unit, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your family member that served and the sacrifices your family has made. We will never forget.

I think of those heroes often.

I especially think of my cousin, Taylor Pryznski of Cincinnati, who paid the ultimate price in Iraq just a few years ago.

I think of the more than 60 servicemembers from right here in Kentucky that laid down their lives for us.

The name PFC Sammie Phillips will never leave my mind and will always be a hero of mine. Just like the name PFC Berlin will never leave my mind.

I hope we never forget in this country, that only 1% of the US population serves in the military. That 1% serves on behalf of everyone else. Now that’s called ‘pulling your weight’ and then some.

We owe so many thanks upon our return that I couldn’t possibly list it. I will give a huge thanks though to the active duty soldiers in the 4th Infantry Division, led by the former Southern Mississippi QB and now Kentucky Colonel, Major General Jeffrey Hammond.

To all the 4th ID FEC soldiers – Godspeed home and continue to do the incredible work you’re doing everyday. You guys are awesome and taught me a lot! So to all of you, thanks.

To all of our families, we know it’s not just about us coming home.

I’ll say that again. TO ALL OF OUR FAMILIES; WE KNOW IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT US COMING HOME!!! We couldn’t have done it without you!

We (as a unit) want you to know, especially our wonderful spouses who had it worse than us trying to be both parents in our absence, we love you and thank you for the amazing job you did and we could have never done anything without you and your love and support!

God Bless all of you and God Bless America, I say again, God Bless America!!!!!

I love you Lindsay,

YAMWW

- Steve

PS- Special thanks to Shauna Land and MJR Leamont, SGM Boller, SSGT Corson, SSGT Vonhandorf, SGT Brown, Agt. Saylor who made coming home easy on us and did a lot of our work so we could see our families sooner, rather than later. Thanks guysJ!

The legend of Billy Jack West

June 18, 2008 by

I was born on March 27, 1973 in Lexington, Ky. I am really proud of that. I love Lexington and will try to stay close to it my whole life.

What I find amazing though is that Colonel Billy Jack West, our Brigade Commander, joined the Army before I was born. I mean really think about this….he joined the Army as a Private in 1971, during the Vietnam War.

As a private! He is now one promotion away from General! Incredible!

Improbable? I guess not, because here he is at that door.

But 1971! Wow.

My earliest happy memory as a kid, that I recall in color (since most TV’s weren’t in 1971when he joined) was being at Riverfront Stadium with my Dad, and sitting behind George Foster, watching the Big Red Machine. That was like 1977. He was already a SGT by that point. He joined the Army with the country at war.

I respect that.

I joined the Marines during Desert Storm. He joined the service however, during a time of great resistance to the war, and when soldiers and service members were being insulted by some US citizens, for whom he was giving service to, and yet he decided to join anyway.

Well, here you go-

The Commanding General of the 4th Infantry Division and leader of the Multi-National Division in Baghdad (MND-B), Major General Jeffrey Hammond (also an incredible leader, America can and should, be proud of), refers to Billy Jack West as “a champion.”

His words. “The 138 Fires Brigade from Kentucky did an amazing job and I don’t think they can truly be replaced.”

Why? Leadership.

I love Billy Jack, and let me tell you, he is one cool Colonel. Allow me to count the ways.

His name is cool. I mean how many people do you know with a name, that sounds like it was made for an old western movie? Can’t you just hear it on TV before the days of cable… “Tonight’s feature is our movie week, it’s ‘The Legend of Billy Jack West,’ starring Billy Jack West as he hits the prairie with Ol’ John Knox, the fair law-man! Cool name – check.

I am an NCO (Non-Commisioned Officer) and so was Billy Jack West (in the 70’s). NCO’s enforce the standard, and our NCO Corps in the US Military is the largest, most active and squared away, organized military Corps in the world. Fellow NCO – check.

Billy Jack West just happens to be a Cincinnati Reds fan. Me too. Pretty cool to me – check.

Billy Jack West has an incredibly sweet and genuine family (whom I told before deployment ‘he’ (their dad) was the reason I went with the unit), and that just proves what a good husband and father he has been. Great role model for me – check.

Billy Jack West is tough. I mean really tough. After deploying to Afghanistan twice, in the mountains for over two years, he came home and had quadruple bypass open heart surgery, and then re-deployed to Baghdad for a year. Toughness and intestinal fortitude – check.

He has always made me feel like I was his son and treated me with nothing less than 100% respect every time we have ever spoke. Class act – check.

Want to know the best part though? Billy Jack is a man dedicated to his faith, family, and Army and truly believes in the cause of helping others from all walks of life no matter the background. I’ve seen it firsthand, – wonderful and genuine human being – check.

I love you Lindsay and Kenadee,

Lindsay YAMWW,

Steve

When not fighting, he’s caring for soldiers

June 2, 2008 by

I’ve mentioned Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Terry Cowan in my blogs before, but I think the time to give him some individualized attention and thanks, is way overdue.

Terry lives in Nicholasville with his beautiful wife Sue and four talented and special kids! By the way, Hi Eric, Austin, Adam and Heather! I miss you guysJ!

If you let CSM Cowan tell you his own story, in my opinion, it wouldn’t last very long. It would sound something like this: “I grew up in rural West Virginia, got in a lot fights, learned it wasn’t best to always fight, made some mistakes, joined the Army, learned what was important in life, talked with God, and became more of a man than I thought I ever would be.”

That literally would be as long as he would talk about himself. In a world full of people who like to be the center of attention, CSM Cowan is a breath of fresh air.

He wouldn’t spend much time on himself. At least he never has that I’ve ever seen. He’s the kind of guy that finds others far more interesting and sits patiently while they unload their stories or sometimes just their troubles. He wants to know about your life, and your ups and downs, and would try to learn from you, and will really listen to you. That’s the other thing about him, he’s a great listener. Most of us just wait on our turn to talk. He listens and responds if it’s really needed. Which can be rare in the Army, since we have quite a few ‘type A’ personalities, almost all willing to tell there own war stories.

His business is taking care of soldiers. If you’re unfamiliar with the military, it tends to be the job of a Sergeant Major to take care of soldiers. So really, he’s in the business of taking care of people. You would be hard-pressed to find a CSM that does it as well, or with as much genuine concern, as CSM Cowan.

Are you eating good? No problem, he’s got you taken care of.

Sleeping well? No problem, he’s got you taken care of.

Want to call home and check on your newborn baby and wife? No problem, he’s got you taken care of.

But here’s what really makes him so special:

Ask around and see how many servicemembers had their unit’s CSM as one of their ‘best men’ in their wedding. Then ask how many CSM’s have offered to be a designated driver to a bunch of lower-ranking soldiers, just so he could be sure they got home safe. Then try to find a CSM, in any branch of service, that will come to your house on his free-time and help you move.

Oh yeah and before I forget: Ask around and see how many CSM’s they know, that have randomly tackled them off an elevated pier, twenty feet above the Atlantic ocean, during low tide, at night, with no advance warning and coming close to drowning both of you! You heard me right. True story.

You thought this was going to be a love-fest didn’t you? He’s great! The best! We all just love him! Yeah, right.

My CSM, (not a CSM at the time of this incident – editor’s note) came out of nowhere, tearing down the dock like Charles Barkley entering a casino, in the dark, and tackled me off the edge of a twenty foot high pier, sending us both spiraling into the black of the Atlantic Ocean at night.

Why, you ask?

No, he wasn’t mad. He wasn’t drunk. He wasn’t even upset over anything. I already told you why, weren’t you reading? He’s from West Virginia. The ‘hills’ of West Virginia. He, by his own admission, is a West Virginia hillbilly, and he just likes to fight sometimes. His only rule is; “I have to pick the biggest guy in the room and he has to be bigger than me.”

Sadly, for the last 7 fights or so when he’s gotten his ‘West Virginia itch to fight’ I have been the biggest guy in the room. I couldn’t have picked a better guy to be ‘pummeled’ by with such frequency. Really.

When you ask around the unit for one-word descriptions of Terry Cowan you get words like; giving, concerned, genuine, ‘takes care of his troops,’ dutiful, focused ‘without being a jerk,’ and ‘very likable.’

Not surprisingly, the biggest guy in the unit (not me) said, that CSM Cowan could be ‘a little rowdy’ at times. Yeah, I know what you mean.

The only way I can describe CSM Terry Cowan would be that he is one of the best men I’ve ever been around, a great role model, a friend and an absolute class act of a human being, with a great left uppercut.

Thanks for taking such good care of us CSM, you’re the best.

You know what, though? Even after all that, if I’m the biggest guy in the room on any given day - look out!

I love you Lindsay,

YAMWW,

Steve

I’m so sick of ‘Supporting the Troops’

May 26, 2008 by

Are you sick of hearing ‘support the troops’ yet? The yellow-ribbon bumper stickers on the cars, the American flags on the houses in the neighborhood, signs in the windows, TV news announcing troops are leaving/coming home from the war. Are you sick of it all yet? I’m sick of it, and I’m a troop!

However, I will give you the same advice that Derrick Ramsey (yes, the former UK star and NFL standout) gave me when I was complaining about being ‘tired of going to college.’ You know what he said to that? And I quote: “Steve, get over it. I haven’t had a summer off in 25 years and neither will you.”

Not exactly the encouragement I was looking for but he made his point.

I know how some people feel, though. They feel bombarded with the ‘support the troops’ message everywhere they go. Well, get over it.

It makes me sad to realize that some people really feel this way. You can move to another country. It’s perfectly legal, I researched it for you! That’s why this country is so great! You have that luxury to just go!

Fox news actually had a guy on TV recently who flat out said he ‘did not support the troops because they were overpaid!’ Really? Try telling a deceased service-member’s parents that they were overpaid. I dare you.

So you’re on TV announcing your beliefs against the American soldiers’ payscale. Guess what, you’re able to speak your opinion so freely because service members like the ones overseas and at home are defending that right for you. It wasn’t free. It still isn’t free. You think gas is expensive? Try paying for freedom in blood.

I saw a bumper-sticker once that read “If you can read this thank a teacher, if you can read this in English thank a Soldier.” (To include the mighty Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.)

Freedom has a different taste when you are here as the protector of it, than when you’re home as the protected with it.

America really needs to reassess some major issues. I won’t bother getting into the ‘prayer in schools’ issue here. You can say that there is no prayer in school but as I heard someone say once, as long as there are ‘pop quizzes’ there will be prayer in school. “God please let me pass this quiz. Amen.”

I’m starting to lose track here, what I’m driving at is the sense of entitlement issue and the forgetfulness of us as Americans to just be thankful with what we DO have. We are absolutely saturated with ‘stuff.’ That in the end has no intrinsic value. Your Blackberry will most likely not be in the afterlife waiting for you. America has a real problem with ‘me-ism’ (ethnocentrism). Movies have shown this for years. The pretty American girl in the foreign country being told ‘no’ for something and then screaming, ‘you can’t do this to me I’m an American!’

I used to find it funny. Now I’m realizing some of it’s very true. However, it’s a part of everything we are right now.

Couples who have a baby praising God and saying ‘look what the Lord has done!’ Then the same couple, fifteen years later, are on the Maury Povich show because they can’t handle their child who is acting ‘crazy and misbehaving.’ What’s even more mind-boggling is that they don’t believe as parents they had any part in this either?! Are you kidding me?

Or the married couple who pray for each other and love one another to begin their marriage and now they want them gone because they ‘can’t stand them anymore.’

You know every Sunday you’re not doing God a favor by going to church, God has done you a favor by having a church standing there for you to go into and fellowship. Freedom of religion is pretty nice huh?!

I’m part of the entitlement problem too, don’t get me wrong. My wife and I are shopping for a home and the one we like didn’t have a dishwasher and I told that to CSM Cowan. You know what he said? ‘Be thankful you have dishes to wash, some people here don’t.’ He’s right.

America’s sense of entitlement has made her greedy. All of us have become greedy with her.

You know what, though, we bought that entitlement with blood, and now it’s time to be thankful for what we have again. The economy is down, the housing market crashed, gas prices are high, and all you hear is ‘support the troops’ blah, blah, blah, and now you want answers from somebody! After all this can’t happen to us – we’re Americans!

So you want my advice?

Get over it, and get back to being the America that made us great.

Roll-up your sleeves, put your head down, stop surfin’ the internet, and get to work America.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Well, my unit’s doing it. The service members all over the world are doing it. What are you doing?

And one last thing – Support the troops.

‘I love you Lindsay and I’ll see you in less than a month hopefully:)!!!’

- Steve

‘PS – Happy Birthday Taura! You’re the best sister a brother could have!’

A special message for Mom

May 5, 2008 by

How can I ever really thank you Mom?

As an infant you nursed me and gave me love. I couldn’t do anything for myself. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t read, and couldn’t write.

I could always eat, as you would find to be true throughout my life, especially as a teen. Yet it didn’t matter what I couldn’t do as a baby because you did it all for me, knowing in good time I would get there.

Mom you have always carried yourself with such class. You have always been well liked by your co-workers and subordinates at every job you’ve ever had.

I want you to know you’re a wonderful mother and I’ve always known how lucky I’ve been throughout my life to have had you as my mom, especially when I look around.

I never knew until I got much older that we had some really tough times. Maybe it was because you were such an amazing caregiver. Or maybe because you were a great protector and provider; but it was probably just because you loved me so much you never let me know that you were in pain.

I do remember some hard times.

I remember clutching ‘Teddy-John’ (my Teddy-bear) on the sidewalk, with my sister holding my hand, after we had been evicted from our apartment as a child, because we couldn’t pay rent; you were there smiling at us.

For all I knew it was just a new adventure. My imaginary friend was there with me too, do you remember his name? It was ‘Robby.’

I remember you spanking me for stealing when I was 6-years-old, saying ‘if it’s not yours then don’t touch it!’

I remember you protecting me when people lashed out at me or my sister, even if we were at fault, and then us getting it worse from you for being at fault. Saying ‘you were raised better than that!’

I remember you holding me and telling me everything would be fine when I would cry or was in pain. Even as I got older and still needed your, guidance, love and touch.

I remember you spanking me for stealing when I was 9-years-old, saying ‘if it’s not yours then don’t touch it!’

I remember when Dad would yell at us for something and you would give us a quick look or a wink to let us know everything would be OK, even when we were in trouble.

I remember you working nights because it paid a ‘little more,’ and although you didn’t like it, you did it for us.

I remember you in pain at times, crying in a separate room, and doing your best to shield me from it, but Mom I will always be there for you, so you can cry whenever you need to and all you want.

I remember you spanking me for stealing when I was 12-years-old, saying again ‘if it’s not yours then don’t touch it!’ Dad spanked me that time too when he came home from work and it was a good one. I learned my lesson….finally. If it’s not mine – then I don’t touch it.

No stealing – unless it’s Lindsay’s heart ;) !

Mom, I mainly remember the good times though!

I had a great childhood filled with happy memories. Like when I stole a watch for your birthday! Just Kidding!

I always had great birthdays!

I always had a hug from you (or Dad) if I wanted.

I was always encouraged to be more. I am more. I weigh more – thanks a lot mom!

I cherish the family reunions in Hartwell as a kid, Eddie, Laurie, Christy, Aunt Jinx, Aunt Ginny, Uncle Ed, Machiko, Tinker, Grandpa, you, Taura and especially one of my heroes; my brother Cary, whom I love without bounds!

Mom I remember Dad, you, me and Taura and Annie on Christmas morning, laughing, smiling and being together as a family.

Every holiday was special. St. Patty’s Day before school the tablecloth would be green and I would eat my cereal with green milk.

I remember the Spaghetti Open Houses when we would feed the neighborhood.

Mom, you were always a good example of what a mother should be.

I remember Dad teaching us to sing the ‘Mother song’ – ‘M’ is for the million things she gave me……on Mother’s Day so we could sing it to you.

But Mom, the main thing I could always count on you for was your understanding, sensitivity, and compassion. You were always there for me when I needed someone to be there, and I want you to know I will always be there for you.

Happy Mothers Day Mom,

I love you,

Stevie, ‘Robby,’ & ‘Teddy-John’

PS – Happy Mother’s Day to Mom-O (Judy and Loretta), Mrs. Webb (s) (LBG), Taura, Mrs. Phillip’s, Mindy Horgan, Laurie P. (my cousin), all my aunts, to all my friends and extended families with Mom’s, Kenyatta, Sarah Nunan, Mrs. Baniak, all the wonderful Mothers and Wives of the 138th Fires Brigade, all the Mom’s in Lexington and the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, and of course to you Lindsay, YAMWW.

Happy Mother’s Day,

Love

Steve

The war the media isn’t showing you

April 21, 2008 by

A friend of mine e-mailed me about my latest blog and you know what he said?

“According to your blogs Iraq isn’t too bad at all. You make it sound like a great place to be where everyone does the right thing. We get long with the Iraqi people, and they love us, and we even take care of little homeless babies. Give me the real story! What’s going on man?”

So here’s the real story: When you’re in a war zone where people are killed daily it’s easy to pick out something horrible to focus time and energy on.

Unfortunately that’s our job here. When everything goes wrong, we (US and Iraqi soldiers) have to confront the worst. The worst part of rage. The worst part of hate. The worst part of war. The worst part of humanity.

So do I want to continually focus on that even in my blogs?

No, I really don’t. My commander, (Col. West) and CSM (Command Sergeant Major Cowan) have made it very clear to us that a positive mental attitude and can-do spirit and staying connected to home will help to ensure continued good mental health upon returning. Plus, as you read in the last blog, there are some amazing stories going on here in spite of the conditions.

Why not write about the ‘ugly’ side of what we do? I don’t need to because that’s exactly what the media tends to do already.

But, in their defense, it’s their job.

What they report does tend to be the news – the ‘war’ story. It’s nice to hear about the little baby being cared for by US soldiers, but in some people’s minds if the media were to report that, it would seem like they were saying “Here, read about this pretty, shiny, happy-story and avoid the real horrific things going on.”

If it bleeds it leads. This is one of the catchphrases of the news media. I learned that phrase from my father and heard it again from my professors at UK in the college of communications (outstanding department).

One of my favorite professors, Dr. Alan DeSantis, a brilliant guy and an amazing communicator, had me read a book about 10 years ago titled, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” The point of the book was that television should stay focused on entertaining us but it shouldn’t put its dirty hands into informing us about the world or try to educate us. TV is not for that. If TV tries to inform or educate us then we’ll skew the line between entertainment and news and the war will become a 30 second blurb on CNN or Fox to everyone.

At least everyone who was not touched personally by the war.

Isn’t that the case now? We give the war coverage the same amount of time, and sometimes less coverage, than the sports highlights. Making it seem the two were equally important in our daily life and we should devote the same amount of time to each. When you hear 5 people were killed in Iraq yesterday, and in the same voice, and amount of time (roughly 30 seconds) you hear the Reds beat the Brewers, you get no time to grieve the loss of life. So it’s now not a tragedy about 5 people perishing, but a 30 second informational clip. “Now let’s go to Ryan for sports!”

“All you need is love.” If only it were that easy.

So to answer your question, buddy, I write my blog to expose you to the positives. I want to tell you about all the good things that are going on. I want you and all the American people, especially Lexingtonians to know, that in the midst of a war there is still a little girl passing out flowers to the soldiers.

That our Iraqi translator Ahmed truly loves us like his family.

That Maj. Honican, the firefighter, is still pulling his weight and then some, even though he misses Nathan and Lauren terribly.

That Lt. Whitelow is tougher and stronger than ever.

That Capt. McKinney is still missing ‘his kids’ at Shawnee HS everyday.

That Maj. Elliott, the West Point graduate, has not stopped working for 6 months straight, missing his son and wife.

That Sgt. Blackburn still won’t let me give him a hug. (Hi, Gwen, glad your feeling better, we’ve been praying for you.)

That Sgt. Polston misses his wife and baby.

That Sgt. Land, working hard as always, misses his wife and baby as well.

That ‘Bravo Battery’ 2nd 138th couldn’t be any braver and represented the state any better.

That the little baby that is left in a paper bag to die, is being loved and cared for by the soldiers.

That in spite of the messy and gritty job that our servicemen and women do, and especially the 138th Fires Brigade National Guardsmen out of Lexington, Kentucky do everyday, we remain positive, focused, and committed to representing our state with pride.

Sorrow and regret look down. Worry looks around. But faith and a good attitude always look up.

God bless our families back home, God bless our troops everywhere, God Bless the people supporting us, and most of all God, please bless America.

I love you Lindsay,

YAMWW,

Steve

Just when you think you’ve seen it all…

April 14, 2008 by

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else happens. I’m only 35 years-old but I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world – literally. Let me run through the list quickly: Japan, China, Singapore, Thailand, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Somalia, Kenya, Australia, Panama, Mexico, Venzuela, Canada, Germany, Spain and the ‘motherland’ for me - Ireland.

Some of the things I’ve seen blow me away to this day: The sword-fight in Thailand – a ‘real’ sword fight, mind you.

A man shot in the middle of a street in Singapore – a very rare occurrence because they have an extremely low crime rate and to this day it was the cleanest place I’ve ever visited. Did you know it is illegal to have chewing gum in Singapore?!

A woman getting stoned to death in Somalia, not to mention the mass graves in Somalia. Sadly, Somalia also had some of the most beautiful water and coastline I have ever seen, truly beautiful, until you turn around to look at the land and the plight of its people.

The warmest welcome I’ve ever received was pulling into port in Perth, Australia with literally 100 Australian women holding up signs that read “Any US Marine or Sailor” – ‘Hey, that’s me!’

I almost got trampled by an elephant in Thailand; I was ordered out of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kuwait for ‘Daily Prayers;’ I learned how to ask which way is the border in Spanish while in Mexico, I saw a guy get kicked through a glass window in a storefront in Hong Kong (Kowloon Island to be exact) – the birthplace of Bruce Lee. And my personal favorite – in Australia, I told this girl in a bar in Perth I loved her accent and her drunk friend with a sharp wit snapped back, “In our bloody country you got the accent, you conceited Yank!” Priceless. I have never laughed harder.

However, nothing was quite as unexpected or unique or sad or as beautiful as the story of ‘Alex Callahan,’ which I read about recently in Stars and Stripes.

When soldiers here saw someone get out of a car and drop off a large bag close to the entry gates of their base here in Baghdad they knew that it could contain something deadly. They were alarmed. It wasn’t deadly though. In fact, the bag didn’t bring death, it brought life.

A 3-7 day-old baby boy to be exact.

The soldiers named him ‘Alex,’ after the US soldier who found him, and gave him the last name ‘Callahan’ after the base he was left at (FOB Callahan). Now these US soldiers in their full body armor, weapons slung over their backs, faces caked with sand and sweat, fighting a war, are changing diapers and feeding little ‘Alex’ who now is just one of the guys. Winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people has never taken such a hands on approach. The American soldier couldn’t be any greater than at this very moment in time than he is right now.

The only thing deadly to come out of all this is maybe the smell from the diapers.

I love you Lindsay,

Kiss the baby for me-I miss you so much,

YAMWW,

Steve

March Madness rivalries extend all the way to Iraq

March 20, 2008 by

You don’t know about March Madness, you only think you do. You think March Madness is crazy endings to NCAA tournament games and big upsets. That’s part of it. Now let me explain my March madness.

I  am literally on the opposite side of the world from UK’s opening round game today in Anaheim, Ca. I work during the game, we don’t get CBS, and even worse my immediate supervisor William Aaron VanSickle, a 2nd Lieutenant, 24 years old, is not only a University of Louisville graduate, but an avid sports fan like myself. So all I hear about is ‘the Cards,’ or his girlfriend, Lauren, who’s a very pretty young lady and a lot better topic than Louisville athletics.

He even has red hair, just like the Cards mascot. I’m continually having to remind him that 7 National Titles compared to 2, is not worthy of comparison.

If I have 7 dollars and you have 2, who can buy a Coke at the arena during the game?

He’s a great young officer. Works hard as an Intel analyst and will excel in the military. So I always ask: “You’re young, smart, and work in intelligence; why Louisville?”

To help out in the fight against this ‘Cardinal Sin’ is an active duty gentleman named Major Jason Taylor, a graduate of Texas A&M, who was quick to say: “That Billy Gillispie is a real Benedict Arnold.”

Sound familiar?

Major Taylor’s on my side and reminds the young Lt., always smiling, that A&M and Gillispie knocked Louisville out of the NCAA tournament last year. More ammo for me. 

This time of year though I become a Kentucky fan. Not a UK fan. A Kentucky fan.

A UK fan cheers for just UK. A Kentucky fan cheers on all schools from Kentucky. Hilltoppers, Racers, Cats, Colonels, The Breds (Ky. State), and yes, gulp, Cards.

Good luck everybody, make our State proud!

I miss you Lindsay and I love you and the baby with all my heart,

Steve

PS – Hey, Lt.: Did your hair grow back after our bet on the UK vs. UL football game?

 

News of Patterson’s injury spreads fast, causes reflection

March 3, 2008 by

Patrick Patterson got a stress fracture? Great! There goes the season. Even though it might have left a while ago anyway. We were on pretty good stretch there. We won the last 10 of 11?! Right?

I’m in Baghdad, so we don’t get news on the express train. We did, being UK basketball fans, however, get the above news really fast! Why, you may ask? Because the SEC has a lot fans here and they wanted to be the first to tell me about it. I’m a very vocal representative of UK basketball in Iraq, to say the least. Even the man who works as our interpreter has learned how to yell C-A-T-S, Cats! Cats! Cats!

It’s funny, though. Not about Patrick.

From everything I’ve seen, heard, and read he’s a class act young man.

It’s funny that the message boards make it sound as if UK and its campus have been sucked underneath the earth. That there is no light in Lexington anymore. I even had a friend e-mail me that I ‘might as well stay in Baghdad’, because being a ‘proud UK basketball fan has been put on hold.’ He was joking. I think?!

I read about how PP was already becoming a hero to many UK fans.

CRINGE………

This is where the problem lies with me. The definition of hero.

You already know where I’m going right?

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m a huge UK fan. Don’t put it past me to take the single ticket I have to a UK game and call in sick to work and make the other call to my wife to tell her I’m working late, lying to both so I can be at the game. My first born child had her name changed before birth so her initials would spell KAT, and because her grandmother is a wonderful namesake.

Patrick Patterson, a hero?

Great player. Yes! First team All SEC. Yes! But hero?

Maybe it’s my perspective, but the term to describe a really good 19-year-old young man playing basketball is not hero. Nor should it be. A hero has many definitions. The mythological hero was birthed by the Gods. The tragic hero lived and died in the hands of playwrights.

But let me talk a little about a real Kentucky hero. There are many to choose from. However I’ll stick to the modern era. Picture this:

You are out of high school for three years and you’re working part-time and going to school part-time and work as a store clerk/manager. Then the war breaks out. Your Kentucky National Guard unit is mobilized and you are faced with the realization you are going to war. You put all your belongings away and the only thing that goes in your dufflebag are military issued items and a few reminders of home. The year is 2005 and the war in Iraq is raging. Terrrorist videos released show barbaric images of how people are being killed and yet you pack your bags and kiss your family and go anyway. You could find an excuse to not go. You look at yourself in the mirror and realize you’ll have to see that face for the rest of your life and decide to go anyway. Your personal courage has just trumped your personal fear. You – 1, Terror – 0.

On a convoy in the middle of the desert, southeast of Baghdad the convoy you are protecting is hit. The average person, thankfully, has never been shot at. And when I say hit, I mean 40+ terrorists with AK47 assault rifles, RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades), and heavy weapons (.50 cal. machine guns) start shooting at you and have every intention to kill you. Now you, along with 11, yes 11 Kentucky National guardsmen, not only repel the attack, but kill 30 and take 7 prisoner. All of these guardsmen are heroes, but I want to introduce you to one, who was described as a leader in repelling and then defeating the attack and that I’m really impressed with; Ladies and Gentleman I present to you the Silver Star recipient for Valor in Combat, SGT Leigh Ann Hester – She is one of my Kentucky Heroes.

It would’ve been nice to have Patrick for the SEC tournament, though.

Lindsay I miss you so much, YAMWW,
Love, Steve


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