ETD

Mondays usually mean evaluations—pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, a three-mile run, 1500-meter fin, underwaters, mask and snorkel recovery, buddy breathing, treading water and then a break for lunch before heading back to the school house and paying the man. All through evals, every time, cadre keeps track of slip-ups from the team, things that would usually get us all dropped. The cones have to hit newer standards each week, and an extra set of iron mikes or 8-counts would only subtract from the maximum effort expected of us. Tick marks accumulate until after the events, which is when the instructors finally get to unload a day’s worth of collected animosity on defenseless trainees.

Today, when cadre pulled the team leader and team commander aside, they came back with nervous smiles.

“Well, it’s ETD. Pack up and get ready for alternates at the Skylark,” Smith said to everyone a little anxiously.

Suddenly motivated, everyone took to their rucks, packed up quick and made for the busses. It’s a twenty-minute ride from the Palo Alto pool to the Skylark back on Lackland, offering plenty of time to either prep for the impending obliteration or let the anticipation eat away at whatever confidence once remained.

One of the cone from balls 001, Grosso, sat next to me towards the front as I tried to muscle down an MRE and some snacks. I was chewing over my food, thinking about how long of a day my team and I were in for. Under my helmet, my ruck on my lap and my dummy rifle resting on the floor by my leg, I tried to stay calm. That’s the name of the game: stay calm.

“You nervous?” Grosso leaned over and asked.

“I’d be an idiot not to be.”

“Yeah, just stay calm and keep your head on straight. It’s nothing anyone of you guys can’t handle. Just take it one event at a time,” he replied.

I looked forward and sat back, trying to let the music from a teammate’s speaker ease the nerves. Down regulating, you know?

By the time the busses passed through the gate and pulled up at the Skylark, we shifted from down regulating the nerves to up regulating into adrenaline mode. We shuffled out ready for the next however many hours of burning lungs waited for us. Before we even made it in to drop off rucks, cadre had us down in the leaning rest position, counting out pushups and throwing loose gear wherever the hell they wanted. That’s all it took to light a fire under our asses.

We lined up our rucks and fumbled to don ABU tops. A five-minute time crunch to prep the pool means uneasy cones hustle every which way, scattering like ants with no distinct pattern but a collective goal in mind.

Needless to say, we missed the timeline, but that’s practically guaranteed. It’s what Cadre wanted. They wanted us on the side of the pool, masks flooded, fins on, hands under our asses, flutter kicking away. They wanted our heart rates jacked up before the underwaters hit.

Before we even lined up on the gunnel, one cone dropped out. The first of many to hold their hand up and their head down, yelling “I quit!” to the sound of the blow horn ringing out.

Underwater, after we’d lined up to make our way across the pool, the muffled sound of the horn wasn’t as abrasive. Of all the things going on—oxygen converting into carbon dioxide, cadre circling above like sharks sniffing out blood in the water, eyeing the slowly nearing crack at the other edge of the pool, pulling harder as the burning sensation grew—the only thing worth focusing on was maintaining a sense of calm.

On the way back from the deep end, when lined up waiting for another iteration, when crunched over on the gunnel ready to fall in, it was always about breathing deep and calm, slow and smooth.

From underwaters, we stepped into dive booties, grabbed snorkels and stacked up for buddy breathing. Rows of four with teams of two formed sitting with legs around backs. Being one of the last to finish underwaters, I brought up the end of the group. Looking for a buddy to share breaths and a snorkel with for two minutes underwater as cadre let loose, I ended up forced to settle with one teammate every other cone avoided.

The trick with buddy breathing is, like every other water con event, to stay calm and focused. Instructors always tell us to focus on the task at hand rather than the discomfort. The advice seems like taunting when they say it, but it’s best in any military training situation to listen to what, rather than how, something is said.

Unfortunately, once the snorkel starts passing back and forth, then the instructor lets loose capping, ripping and whaling, all the effort to remain calm disappears. All anyone wants is a clear breath of dry air, but the only way to ever get it is with a straight snorkel with one end above the water line and the other with an unbroken seal between your teeth.

Smith and I made it through, but just barely.

Cadre lined everyone up again, ready to throw us back in for another round.

“Do not simply expect to survive these events,” one instructor yelled at us. “You have to come into these events ready to crush them. There’s still plenty more to come. Now line up for ten ups!”

Half the remaining cones on one side of the deep end lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in the leaning rest position, the rest on the opposite side, waiting for the deck man to call the pushup cadence. One cone yelled out from across the water, “high siiiide,” in an annoyingly high-pitched soprano. From the opposite end, everyone retorts, “loowww siiiide,” in a bass tessitura.

“Doooowwwn,” yells the deck man as every trainee lowers to a ninety-degree bend in the elbow. “Uupppp. Go Go Go.”

A quick breath out as everyone’s feet shuffle to the edge of the deck and a quick breath in before splashing water leads to a sudden quiet fury underwater. Across the width of the pool to the bottom corner on the other end, each cone scrambles for traction while trying not to kick his teammates in the face.

Up for air, we crawled out and lined back up, trying to breathe slow and smooth again as instructors in the pool threw waves in our faces with shouts for everyone to straighten their backs. Two more slow pushups, then plunging back in. Again, again, each time with one more pushup as heart rates climbed higher, faster, and the stinging sensation in lungs grew more concentrated.

I climbed out fast each time, ready to run from the water, gasping for air. I looked back across the deck to see Fykson being pulled from the water by a flight medic, his face white and the buoyancy compensator fully inflated around his neck. The horn continued to echo across the way as quitting cones hung heads in self-inflicted defeat and exited to their dry ABUs in rucks outside. Fykson pulled the oxygen mask from his face and lined back up with the team, not willing to pull out while the team carried on.

Another breathless travel across the width of the pool and I climbed out ahead of my team. Sadowski hung from the wall, trying to mount the gunnel with lifeless limbs. “Andersen, get me up,” he pleaded.

I reached down, grabbed him by the BC and pulled him out, rolling over onto the deck and squaring up for another round. That’s the way the team works. If anyone falls short, two more come in—despite tiring motivation—to pick up the slack without hesitation.

“Alright, line up for buddy breathing,” the deck man bellowed out.

“Fuck, again?” every cone thought internally.

This time around, I paired up with Hulbert, thinking he had the cool head ready to tackle the situation. Below the surface, with a dive mask wrapped around the mouth and PJ instructors throwing you around, no one stayed calm this time around. Cadre capped the snorkel every two out of three breaths, offering a chance at air every twenty seconds or so. When nervous hands kink the shared plastic tube the only time hope for a breath passes by, the last glimmer of hope flies out the window. I popped twice, Hulbert a couple times.

Accordingly, we both had to go again. This time, they paired me with Hamilton, who was far from relaxed. Wide-eyed and already breathing heavy, he linked arms with me and we submerged. Not even thirty seconds in, he broke grip and popped. I tried my best to stay underwater without my buddy, passing my snorkel to myself, but a broken grip alone is grounds for failure. After trying again a couple times to link up, we were sent to the corner to await instruction.

“You’re receiving a failure to train,” the deck man said to us.

“Hooyah, Sergeant,” I replied with resentment.

“If you don’t pass this time, I have no choice but to pull you from the team. Get back in there and pass or you’re no longer trainees.”

I convinced myself it wasn’t my fault, that my buddies blue-falconed me and I was more than capable of passing this time around. In reality, any trainee should be able to pass with any partner, but this kind of thinking is what I needed to muster up the confidence to charge into this challenge.

I linked up with another new buddy, Ajila, and swam out to a different proctor. We held tight, stayed close and passed fast for two minutes until cadre tapped our heads and sent us off to our gear. Red, chlorinated eyes looked around bewildered in a haze, but we made it through. It’s funny how the threat of failure, and the close relationship between failure and a life of regret, can lead to the strength enough to grip tighter and hold faster.

Another hundred flutter kicks with fins on the ide of the gunnel, then we lined up for over-and-backs. Just like ten-ups, but without the pushups and wearing fins, lined up in the water as close together as possible. When cadre calls the green light, everyone fights for a place on the wall to push off and streamline towards the other end. It seemed more like a game of sharks and minnows from simpler times with the swim team, but not everyone fighting to make it through had the same outlook. To stay out of the way as most fought tooth and claw to make it across, I stayed streamlined and narrow, out of everyone else’s way, content to wait my turn.

From cross-overs we moved to a full 25-meter mask and snorkel recovery. After completing five underwaters with the ABU top and BC, one more underwater didn’t seem impossible. Make it across, smooth out the straps, clear the mask, snorkel in mouth, ascend, “hooyah, sergeant I feel fine,” and back to the gear.

Water con would usually end there, but the deck man obviously wanted to keep us longer. We buddied up again, counted off and lined up to carry each other across the pool. Fifty-meter buddy carries, competing against each other for the right to exit the water. After an exhausting session, a simple task like this turned into an arduous struggle with restricted breathing. Anderson and I missed our first chance to exit the water, but claimed the spot our second time around.

As the others continued to pull each other back and forth, cadre lined us up for a couple hundred air-squats on the side of the pool. We counted out quietly, watching each other’s reflections in the glass wall, keeping a subdued chuckle behind controlled grins.

Back outside, clear of the chlorine for the day, we dressed hurriedly under the Texas sunset and loaded onto the bus for a tired, triumphant ride back to the schoolhouse. We blared music, patting ourselves on the back for making it through the first test. We scarfed high calorie snacks and tried to figure what trial lie ahead.

Far from finished, we cones repacked rucks outside under the awning, adding four MREs for the night’s caloric intake, enough diving weights to reach the minimum capacity for a seven mile ruck and glow sticks on the front and rear to ensure accountability in the lightless night.

After an hour on the pavement, trying to stretch out, eat and prep for the ruck, the pace man stepped out and we lined up in two column formation. Follow the fence, stay ahead of the pace man, turn around at the checkpoint and don’t stop for the 15-minute/mile pace with a fifty-pound ruck. It seemed simple enough.

“If you’re behind me, you’re wrong!” the pace man called out.

I started a light jog, moved towards the front and eventually linked up with Deckard. Despite stinging shins and creaking hips under the continuous, shaking weight of the ruck, we kept the jogging pace for the first three or four miles. A sense of distance dissipates in the dark as sweat starts dripping from a ballistic helmet. The only distance that mattered was that stretching out between the pace man and me.

At the checkpoint, we stopped to hydrate, checked our time with the Senior and split up. I chased after the lead on my own at a slower pace with soaking wet combat boots.

Alone in the night, trudging onward towards an invisible finish line, I started to feel the shoulder straps digging in and waist straps rubbing raw on my hips. The only thing to do, the only option and the quickest path to relief, waited forward, ahead somewhere over the next hill. I came in third out of the group, an hour-and-a-half in after seven miles.

Only one more cone quit at that event.

I unrucked next to Dinsmore and Rick, aired out my feet, changed my socks and loaded up on calories. Every chance to try and relax was taken advantage of. We capitalized on any small comforts available: muscle rollers, moleskin, baby powder, and shitty, morbid jokes.

After our brief reprieve, we strapped back up with sore necks and aching shoulders for the next trial: jerry cans. One mile from the obstacle course to the schoolhouse with full rucks and fifty-pound gas cans in each hand. We lined up as usual, and the instructor started his watch.

Mazur, the 210-pound soccer playing outdoorsman took off and never looked back while the rest of us had to stop every 50 yards to ease the tension in our forearms and fingers.

Deckard and I leapfrogged through the parking lot. I’d find a checkpoint up ahead and refused to stop until I hit it. He’d catch me just as I picked back up and carried on. Rick kept the same pace, leap-frogging with Deckard.

Leg strength wasn’t the challenge. Holding on with cramping forearms presented the worst of the troubles. The trick, we soon found out, was to move as fast as possible in between breaks. The faster we crossed, the less time we had to hold the jerry cans. Just outside the schoolhouse we lost the luxury of landmarks. The only thing to do was sprint until we couldn’t, stop, and start all over again.

I dropped my cans across the finish line second for my class.

“Way to put out,” said the instructor recording times.

I could have been happy had I not been so focused on dropping my ruck and rushing to take a seat on the ground. As the rest of the team trickled in, I ran to the classroom with an MRE, filled my Gatorade bottle and sat down in depleted liberation.

We stretched, ate, hydrated and filled out paperwork as cadre gathered in the camper outside to plot the next challenges. By the time everyone started to recover, an instructor came in to direct us.

“Grab your running shoes and form up in two groups,” he ordered.

By this point, most of the team started growing irritable. We argued outside with sarcastic jabs about which group the faster runners should join, but it didn’t matter once the two instructors came out to take us for a run. Two miles at a six-thirty pace shouldn’t usually take so much effort for special operations candidates, but the day’s tribulations were stacking up fast. Fatigue was setting in.

Somehow, only one trainee fell out during the run, but he caught back up by the time we sprinted back into the schoolhouse. We walked in a circle to cool down as the instructor told us to form up down below the schoolhouse for grass and gorillas.

Groans, grunts, chuckles, none of it mattered. We still had plenty coming our way.

Down in the grass, six wide and six deep, formed up for tumbling PT, we went to attention as the instructor crossed the trough. Across the way, some of the pre-team trainees hosed down the mud hill, greasing it over for us to rub it up and down in a low-crawl caress.

But first, time for some up downs, fireman carries, crab-walks, front and back rolls and springing pushups. By this point, sheer exhaustion started to tease the psyche with the alluring thought of sweet sleep. The only thing to keep people moving was the light at the end of the tunnel. If we made it this far, and were 19 hours in, how much more could there really be?

By the time we started crawling up the hill, any thought of backing out faded away. Cadre made sure no part of our bodies stayed clean of mud. A front crawl up, then a bear crawl back down. A backwards low crawl up, then a bear crawl back down. Face in the mud all the way. As the instructor ran inside to grab a camera, I noticed ants biting my wrists, neck, waist and legs. The stinging didn’t matter, all we had to do was cover head to toe in mud, leave no space uncovered other than our eyes, and form up for a muddy group photo.

After the flash snapped off, the instructor gave us the go ahead to run to the creek and clean off. Dirty, cold, creek water never seemed so refreshing. We submerged and scrubbed away what we could before running back across the field.

The orders were to change into dry ABUs and head to the classroom. But, by this point, we had no clean ABUs left. I dressed in one pair of dry trousers and the chlorine soaked top from water con, then jogged in to the classroom without boots.

Inside, the long-sought blue ascots were displayed on the desks. The instructor told us to stand, so as not to soil the clean office chairs. He spoke for a while about the value of these ascots, what they represent, and what a PJ’s job really entails.

“Anytime, anyplace. That’s when we’re ready and that’s what the job demands of us…. So, needless to say, you’re not done for the day.”

One more task, at least that’s what we assumed. The Mogadishu Mile—where teams of seven carry a litter and a patient for a mile at a time—is meant to commemorate the battle of Mogadishu, in which special forces had to run through a combat zone for an hour without any vehicular cover. There’s no time to stop, to rest, to refuel, to recover. All you can do is press on and deal with the circumstances with full effort.

I dropped the litter once while changing hands with a teammate, but cadre didn’t seem to notice. We picked up quick and continued to try and take the lead. We set down the litter at the finish line and waited for the next instruction. One lap, one mile, and the rain continued to fall.

Everyone left by this point could have kept on till the morning, and Cadre new that. They yelled for us to march back to the classroom once again.

“Alright, no jokes this time, there’s no more events for the night. You’ve made it.”

We were relieved, but new the night was far from complete.

As the instructors were about to explain, we still had to clean our team gear, wash our laundry, re-tape all our equipment and be ready for the next day’s training.

The Master Sergeant continued to reiterate with a fat dip in that we had yet to achieve anything, that we weren’t PJs yet and that the pipeline had yet to start with four weeks of indoc still to make it through.

Marching back in the rain after 21 hours of training, dripping wet, 12 cones down with a full load of team gear, it turned into every man for himself. We bolted and came back together in the laundry room, where everyone stripped down and threw everything into shared washing machines.

It took hours to clean everything up. Teamwork came through once again though. All the prior trainees and the pre-team guys came together to clean our team gear while we worked on personal equipment. In fact, all those guys took care of us from the moment we learned was starting. They prepped our gear. They cleaned the pool deck. They guided the washouts. They refilled our water bottles. They had pizza waiting for us back at the dorms. They reassured us before and after every event.

In the end, the team—those who stayed and what was left of them—pulled each other through. When personal motivation waned, we turned to one another, not to ask for help, but to offer it.

I taped until 0600, teammates falling asleep in their chairs around me, then called it a night. With just under two hours of shuteye, we headed out the next morning for another training day.

 

Prrroooblleeeeeemms, prrrroooblleeeemms….

Social media exploded yesterday at Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. Convoluted opinions of the new President of the United States flooded the feed both for and against. People bickered in digital space over the new Commander in Chief before he had the chance to act in any official regard.

I get it; people are scared. They’re worried about the possibilities of a Twitter-ranting, misogynistic, xenophobic, unchecked, loose cannon of a representative controlling one-third of the checks and balances system. The bill of rights protects such ranting, raving speech. It’s necessary, but only briefly.

I’m not legally allowed to publicly attack/insult my new boss. I took an oath to “obey the Orders of the President of the United States.” While I fear what such an allegiance may require of me, I’m a man of integrity and will do as I’ve sworn to do. Degrading international relations with global super powers, conflicts in the Middle East and walls going up could mean a number of things for any member of the armed forces, but service is service.

In truth, I’ve never felt much effect from bureaucrats hundreds of miles away (though I may now). Other than having to buy health care or discuss the policies of my representatives while being labeled as an ignorant American traveling abroad, I’ve gone about life on my own terms.

I solve problems as they confront me on an individual basis, which is what I hope most people were attempting yesterday. To ever solve any problem, it must first be defined. Desirably, people posting about Trump said something about his policies, about the implications of his outlook, not just about him looking orange, having bad hair, or some other mud-slinging vitriol.

Now that the problems everyone sees are identified, they can move forward in progress of solutions. Next, they have to break down the greater problem into smaller, more solvable tasks. Then they can identify possible solutions for each, evaluate those possible solutions to select one, and, finally, execute.

Everyone had their chance to scream in caps lock on social media. They had their day to cry, cheer, riot or praise. I didn’t; I had to work. If people really see such a problem in politics though, they can involve themselves in the process more than the election season demands of them. If you aren’t happy with the two party system, with the candidates offered up to the executive altar, with the way your country, state, or city is heading, with the decisions made in your name, then serve. Run for town council, for the school board, for some kind of representative office. If you’re tired of being labeled a lazy millennial, then quit boofing MDMA and dancing all night in celebration of nothing, get busy with something of substantial value. If you’re tired of people abusing the planet, then find ways to heal it. If you’re tired of people promoting negativity on websites, blog about it.

I get it, you’re mad. Maybe you don’t know why, but you know something’s wrong in the world. You let it out. You screamed or whatever, but now you have to do something more. You have to (excuse the cliché Ghandi quote) “be the change you wish to see.” Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, just focus on what you can do with what you have where you are. Then, progress.

Bow out from the race against others and turn to the race against yourself. While they try to bring you down to their level, to play their games their ways, move forward in your own chosen direction.

Present solutions, not problems. Provide resolve rather than disdain. Promote progress to resist contempt.

Seven month briefing

What a difference between then and now. Seven months since a post and a world of changes in between. From longhaired, wayfaring journalist killing time substitute teaching, weighting tables and playing drums to clean-shaven Airman struggling to become a Pararescueman. If the me from back then could only see the me now.

Just a couple months ago, I trekked routes in Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Vientiane, and Sa Pa with nothing but a light backpack and my camera. I forgot about Loose Knots and focused on taking in as much as possible with friends and family, at the places that mattered, tying up loose ends. Who has time for social media with so much to tend to?

After a bittersweet sendoff, I boarded the plane and shipped out to San Antonio for basic military training (BMT). Taxing as it was to get in step, march in line and sound off when ordered to, I made it out in uniform as an honor graduate. The challenging aspects weren’t in physical training, but in social dynamics. Flight 044, mostly composed of PJ candidates, ranged from 18 to 24-year-olds, hailing from all over the country. I could list stories from the dorm, the pissing contests between muscle dummies, gargoyling, chow running, one by threes and base liberty, but that’s for another time, and some things go better left unsaid.

Wyoming welcomed me home for a ten-day leave just in time for Christmas and New Years libations. I worried time back home would snag me, convince me to bail out and try to stay. But, to the contrary, it only reaffirmed my decision. No mistake; Cheyenne, Laramie, they’re home, but no man should let the ache of stagnation set in long enough to turn callused. I had to get out, and I’m set in this new direction—for now at least.

Now, I’m shacked up at Medina in the 350th, recovering on a three day weekend before shit officially hits the ceiling and the most physically and mentally demanding ten weeks of my life start out. The pipeline has and will consume me, but the yield of this course and those to come will show a conviction unlike any I’ve felt before. All I have to do is stay healthy, stay calm, and never quit.

We started the DEV course with 83. After the last week-and-a-half, the team trimmed down to only 50 candidates. The original physical ability and standards test claimed the largest chunk, but the equalizer—the pool—claimed a good bit of the rest one by one. Indoc supposedly averages a 10 percent pass rate, mostly because of the physical rigmarole and the constant grinding pace over time. I’d say don’t hold your breath, but that’s exactly what I have to do most of the time.

The details of the calisthenics, the formation runs and the water confidence sessions will come with time, followed with specifics of burning lungs, sore muscles, creaking joints and sweat-soaked shirts. It’s one day at a time until the finish line in this world. For now, you know roughly what went on for the last couple months of radio silence. I’ll tell you about the job once I get there, maybe even keep you up to date once in a while along the way.

Hooyah, balls two. Here comes the suck.

T-minus Ten Weeks

 

Leaning through the bend, straightening out and climbing up to 50 mph into the straightaway, there was no time to react. The wide eye flashed green before the headlight plowed into his ribcage. The bike fell to the left, crushing. The front end caught, the rear flipped over to take flight, bounce off the back bar and tumble away into the grass. The deer kicked his hind legs and gasped as I stood up in disbelief.

The night started so well, like the kind of night that people come back to sometime far off when they need to remember something better. Then the joy ride ended in four quick seconds on the side of the road home. Blowing red hair under an oversized helmet, light rain in tall grass, river water under a split cottonwood, it all disappeared when the headlight shattered.

One gloved hand removed the chinstrap as the left, bare, patted torn clothes for signs of breaks and bleeding. Luck? It never seems to come around for want, but bares soft when the moments turn dire, when necessity strikes. Nothing burned, stung or rang, other than the wreckage growing red under a flickering taillight. If this substitutes for lottery numbers, let’s just hope there’s more than one lucky ticket crinkled up in later pockets.

Shock faded by the time a ride out showed up. A couple deep breathes, a two o’clock call home (which is never good news), and a few “are you okays?” filled the gap between incident and evacuation. No red and blue lights, badges or interviews, just a quick hug and the struggle to roll the heap onto the trailer made the transition from the foggy, cloudless night into the comfort of a warm, quiet ride home.
Whatever happened can be dealt with in the morning when the swelling takes hold and the abrasions start to scab over. The last few weeks, the past couple days, they can all wait their turn for recovery to settle in. Put it all off for the morning.

On the other side of sleep’s much-needed decompression, it’s safe to say things got a little fucked. Nothing outside of material value went down with the bike, which is a blessing in itself, but the backpack to brake the fall housed the DSLR worth more than the whole bike. Luck dodged the scene when the zipper peeled back to show a cracked plastic body and broken light sensor.

Maybe it’s salvageable before the summer really kicks off, but there are always other ways to capture the moment. Nobody ever thought, “I need a camera,” when shit hit the ceiling or fireworks popped, not until afterwards, at least. The moments that matter, they etch themselves into the backs of brains like tattoos permanently saved to a mental database.

Summer’s great so far. There’re bumps and bruises, road rash, financial instability, a little romance, a pair of lost sunglasses and some buttons missing from a linen suit coat. It beats the hell out of sitting in a cubicle, trading time for money.

Committing

Yesterday started early and ended late, but somehow everything passed by in a hurried blur. The hotel, the medical exam, the written test, the briefing and the ride home, they all rushed by. The only instant where time stood still was in the waiting room, and then in the ceremony hall. Legs snapped together from shoulder-width apart to snapped together, a right hand raised and the words fell out with the eight other young men.

“I, Trevor Andersen, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

That was around 4:15 (or maybe I should say 1615), just under a half day after the 4:30 wake up call at the downtown Denver Sheraton, third floor.

Sleep took hold on the long drive home in-between second-guessing bout with doubt, where thoughts of young kids signing up for something they weren’t able to comprehend flooded the periphery. I woke up in a puddle of drool on my backpack, sitting in the back of a 2015 Yukon XL next to a 17-year-old kid who was making jokes about IEDs just a couple hours ago, being driven by an ex MP that was talking with another Air Force recruit about how the US should just carpet bomb North Korea.

“This isn’t what I signed up for,” I thought to myself, too worried to disturb the status quo of the vehicle. “These aren’t the kind of people I want to risk my life for.”

Back in Cheyenne, in the front row parking spot by the Mall, I sat in the silence of my car for a half hour before turning the engine over and heading home. I made some calls, let the family know, but couldn’t keep conversations going through offered congratulations and questions about future steps in a beginning career. Spike and Shelby ran off for miles on the open ranch out back, until the light in the west faded away, listening to coyotes call each other over for fresh meals and red necks firing rounds into the night towards the highway.

My old man was waiting at home with beers and dinner when I walked up the hill in the night. He could read it on my face, so he pried it out with the TV off.

It just seemed too real, so official, like no turning back for the next four years, like the feeling of summer sucked dry by fall leaves before the branches had even sprouted.

The purpose, the rational, the focus, it was all lost in the “Full Metal Jacket” quotes and inter-branch pissing contests between teenage kids. It’s not about killing anyone, that’s not the reason. It’s about helping people. It’s about being there when someone needs you, regardless of what happened.

I want to help people, to save some people who deserve it. I want to be challenged to do better, the best. I want to see the world with a better understanding of my country and it’s international interactions, surrounded by people with similar interests. There’s no urge to put up with the chest-beating, grunting, and “oohrahing” of foolish youth.

But MEPS isn’t the best example of the kind of people I’ll be working with. The recruiter’s office isn’t where I’ll get what I’m in for. It’s all just precursory. This haze of bullshit won’t last into tech school or orders.

I took the oath. I’m in the Delayed Entry Program. I have the summer to tie up any loose ends here at home and set myself for a long two years of tech school. People might say I made the wrong decision; they might say I made the right decision. Either way, I’ve made this decision and I’m sticking with it.

In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to write (despite the lack of posts from the last two months). Maybe it’ll be a little more motivational than the last couple years of criticism. I’m going to be a PJ. I’ve committed, and at 26, I’m glad I didn’t try to drag it out any longer.

Everything else, the state department, the band, the traveling, the money, they can wait for me to handle this. They’re all on the other side, but hopefully with some bits and pieces trickling in along the way. This summer isn’t a bad time to spend with people who matter, I have plenty of preparations to make before leaving, so the work schedule is hitting the backburner, but that’s a post for another day.

The better of me

 

Work’s gotten the bet of me over the past week. I’ve lost track of the blog and let slip further my grasp on the daily post. It’s a constant balancing act between waiting tables, filling in in the classroom, adding kindling to a dwindling social life, flipping pages on new literature, sleeping and staying relatively fit.

Time management has never been a strong suit, but it’s fair to assume that prioritization is the most important aspect. Take those six examples form the above list; each one bears its own level of importance dependent on expectations of the future, yet each one is routinely sacrificed for the other, or even worse, to leisure and vices, social media, or laze.

I read this Henry Rollins quote the other day: “No such thing as spare time, no such thing as free time, no such thing as down time. All you got is life time. Go.”

Sometimes I sit at home, lethargic and apathetic, wishing I was somewhere else with other people doing something grand and inspirational. It pours over and floods the room, surrounding me in some fake desperation, like I’m an artist without a muse. In reality, the only muse I could ever rely on should come from within. All that time wasted laying in bed, wishing there was something to do is a farce. There’s always something to do. All that time spent loathing the passing of time is hypocritical. To look back on wasted time is to continue the cycle, to never achieve any new frontier based solely on the fact that it wasn’t achieved back then.

So here I am, killing time between shifts. I just taught Ceramics class at the high school for seven hours and am about to head into the Chop Houe to wait tables for another seven. It’s a fourteen hour day. Usually, I’d use this schedule as an excuse to not pursue anything in this gap. Usually, I’d sit in my car thinking about how little time there is for personal aims. Fuck that. My eyes are turning bloodshot. My feet hurt and my mind is drifting into thoughts of distant beaches and long-sought naps. Then it blocks out and I come back to reality. If there’s anything worth having, it won’t come easy, and pushing further at these supposed limits is the only way of reaching further.

I can let the pace tire me, get the better of me and convince me to call it in until I whittle down the days into old age and look back longing to retake the time. Then again, I can suck the marrow out of each and every second, pull faster with the pace and come out ahead of the schedule.

There’s only six things on my list: sleep, social life, substituting, waiting tables, reading and working out. How hard can it really be to cram all those into each day? Scratch that, combine both jobs into one and add writing or some other kind of creative venture to the list. It’s not hard. It’s just taxing.

This is totally written to motivate myself. Can’t even pretend I know who’s going to read it.

Saving

 

This old vet sat with his friend and both their girls at the table. His large stature overwhelmed his steel chair. His white beard stretched down over a large belly and smiling eyes squinted behind glasses. He couldn’t hear much, so conversations were yelled from his counterparts while he made smart-ass comments at just about everything. They all drank, laughed and worked their ways through meals, but he handled the majority of the appetizers. At first, the group of bagger bikers—the old vet, the younger vet in his leather jacket and their women—seemed like they might be a handful.

By the end of their visit, their hesitations with the perceivably unwelcoming environment morphed into comfortable conversations and laughter. The host caught up with the sidework and other tables enough to stop by for chitchat. The hard-of-hearing old vet paused the check’s progress with life advice. “Everything you make here, put at least ten percent away into a 401K or some kind of retirement fund. You’re young now and want to spend it on fun time, but you’ll appreciate it once you’re my age.” His friend butted in, “I never did that and now I’ll work until the day I die.”

Up until then, work had lost its momentum. The tables came and went with the fleeting months. People passed through with the resetting of silverware, ran through the dishwasher, dirtied and reset. The money changed hands and the reason behind it all got lost somewhere along the way. A stash of bills accumulated between the mattress and the box spring until a lump grew in the comfort of the cushion. The motivation was slipping though. Having that all, saving and saving without a resolute purpose seemed like a pointless tussle while everyone else ran through cash each night at the bars in motion-blurred still frames of repetition.

Maybe it wasn’t all for not though. Maybe it shouldn’t all be blown on some extravagant three-month-long escape before reverting to some other menial workload for another couple months. Maybe investment isn’t only for the middle-aged, but for anyone ready to quit playing catch up and tae the reins on the future.

Everyone else seemed content in the eternal workload like they had all the answers for questions they had yet to ask.

All this and more flooded the brain in a matter of moments as the old vet continued making recommendations and selling his case even further. Outside, the sun was beating down on what seamed like the first real spring day of the year. A motorcycle passed by, a woman with her hair flowing in the breeze on the back of an old man’s Harley with 1200ccs rumbling between their legs.

The goal wasn’t definitive, but the general idea couldn’t be denied. Comfort, a means to an end without a boss, a punch card time system, a self-determined schedule and an Aphrodite to share it all with; it seemed so obvious, so attainable. For now, the silver wear needed resetting.

CONTENT

 

All jokes aside, April fool’s day seemed foolish. It started in the early hours of the morning, spilling over from the day before. It paused for a few hours of sleep and woke up in a haze sometime before noon on the carpeted floor of a town meant for youth on their collegiate rumspringa. Maybe it’s self-defeating and overstated, but the good ole days are never coming back. They were great, but trying to relive them only disservices their memory. The past is the past, the future has infinite potential and the present is the only opportunity to make anything happen.

It’s like in high school, when the kids would come back to stand on the football field like they were still part of the team, or those older guys would wait in the parking lot to pick up their underage girlfriends for open campus lunch, only now the girls are almost 21 instead of 18. It’s like if Wooderson were to substitute college in when he said, “that’s what I like about these high school girls; I keep getting older, they stay the same age.” Guys are supposed to fantasize about the tight-skinned, youthful idealism of women in their early twenties, but it starts to feel like an abuse of authority when they fall swooning for “mature” facial hair, a list of degrees and a couple salaries worth of job experience. That’s just the girl scene though.

Then there’s the recognition that some people there—some soon-to-graduate guy that interned at a fortune-500 company—are actually doing something with themselves. They’re on the cusp of a bright future and have every reason to celebrate. They can saunter up to the prettiest girl in the bar like it’s nothing because she really doesn’t matter in the bigger scheme of things when he’s probably headed off to some big city to make six figures and bed a different woman every other weekend. He won’t be slowly dying in his hometown waiting tables, begging for a couple extra bucks with fake smiles and feigned interest. He won’t feel it when she laughs in his slack-jawed face because she probably won’t when he orders a top-shelf drink for her and says something smooth about the month he spent on some exotic Tuscan coast.

It’s financially, self-consciously neutering to fall back from the promise of the future after the degree is handed over after the walk across the stage. It’s even worse to recognize it. Sometimes, the 28-year-old who couldn’t care less that he might have peaked at 22 is the stuff of envy. Sometimes, being able to say, “that’s good enough” and just coast through life without constantly wanting something more out of it sounds like the best option. Being fine with the surrounding, not caring that there’s more to achieve somewhere else, never minding the long list of betters ahead sounds comfortable. Who cares if someone else changed the world when you can say you had a ton of fun until the fuse burned out? Who cares if nothing ever changed along the way, as long as you were content?

Volunteering for the caucus

 

The Bernie Sanders campaign office in Cheyenne opened this weekend, though it isn’t quite up and running at the appropriate pace just yet. It’s run by two guys from Kansas and I think Pittsburgh who supposedly were extremely successful with the caucus races in their respective states. Other than that, the caucus campaign relies entirely on volunteers. Last night, while one of the supervisors was handling the heating, plumbing and aesthetic issues at the office, the other set up shop at the county library.

I stopped in at the headquarters first to see what I could offer, but was sent down to the library to help out with calling registered democrats. At first, I was the only volunteer at the library. It seemed like Wyoming would be a losing fight, especially in Laramie County where only 4500 people out of the roughly 60,000 population were registered democrats. Our 14 pledged delegates might not make a huge dent when compared to states like New York, Wisconsin, Texas or California, but as the gap between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton narrows into the July 25th national convention, every delegate makes a difference.

It took a while to set up the phone bank account, and I made sure to review Sanders’ campaign platforms before making the first call, but I was assured by the organizer, David, that embracing the awkward lack of on-point knowledge can make the phone calls more effective.

So I jumped right in and made some calls. The first couple went easily. If people wanted to vote for Hillary, don’t try to persuade them otherwise and don’t inform them about the absentee ballot. If people weren’t supposed to be on the call list—say they were actually registered republicans or something like that—just say thanks for their time and move on to the next number. If people are supporting Bernie, talk with them a little bit, make sure they’ll be attending the caucus or have the means to fill out an absentee ballot if not.

I reached a couple callers under each classification. The funny ones were the Trump supporters. One guy responded with an aggressive tone, yelling over the phone, “we aren’t supporting a felon or a socialist!” Another yelled, “there’s no Sanders supporters in my house!” A couple people were in the middle of dinner and couldn’t really say much other than to answer the questions quickly and get back to their families.

The fun ones—and I really do mean fun here—were registered democrats still on the fence about who to support at the caucus. I’d ask what the most important issue was to them in making their decision. My computer sat at the long desk in front of me while I was on the phone, so I could look up any evidence to convince them in the right direction. One guy was concerned about guns, which Bernie takes a hands-off approach to, so I convinced him to support Bernie and fill out an absentee ballot. Another lady actually schooled me on politics in Wyoming, letting me know that Cynthia Lummis’ seat as a Representative was up for election also this year (notice how distracting the executive election can be?).

As time went on, two more volunteers trickled in to make some calls. One was the stereotypical campaign supporter donning a large button that read, “of course it hurts, it’s an elephant that’s doing it to you.” He was a little loud and overly humorous about republicans, but at least he was there. The other was an older, extremely timid lady who didn’t respond well to questions about her support for the campaign. Apparently there were a couple others out on the beat canvassing neighborhoods, which David said he would like me to get involved in as well.

All in all, I learned and retained more about the campaign and politics in general by discussing with people than I ever did reading pages online. That fact applies to any situation though; actively engaging with other people is a more effective method of educating oneself than sitting alone with a computer.

I’m not sure what the result of volunteering will be. Sanders could still lose to Hillary even if he wins in Wyoming, but at least I’ll be able to say that I participated in supporting democracy and my candidate. I won’t have any reservations if it turns out that Sanders doesn’t win the primary and Hillary ends up facing off against Trump in the general election.

 

 

Trollin’

 

It’s political season. Technically, every day in a democratic country should be considered political season, but here in America it’s political season for more than half the population every four years. With all age groups and demographics now easily accessing social media sites, the memes, posts and links are running rampant.

Maybe you could call it trolling, but I’ve taken it upon myself to challenge any idea I disagree with. There’s no intention to snuff people’s ideas or points, but to openly express a counterpoint and engage in a public discussion on social media about the opinions they feel such strong enough convictions about to associate their profile feeds with.

So far, it’s been rather dismal. Some people just ignore the comment section and continue to post. Some people ignore the comment section and desist from posting. Some people—and these are the fun ones—make accusatory comments that have nothing to do with the discussion and post even more. Some people—and these are the ones I’m looking for—engage in debate with calm civility and argue their points back and forth until a stalemate is reached or one party ultimately succeeds.

Maybe it’s trolling, but there’s more of a point to it than to piss people off. The point is to make people explain themselves in their opinions. If they’re going to engage in free, public speech and potentially shape other people’s opinions, than they need to be able to back up their information with information from reputable sources. Thus far, my ‘research’ has found personality similarities between individuals and the candidates they seem to support.

One group in particular hails from the North Eastern region of my home state: Gillette, Carbon County. It’s a county well known for spending money on unnecessary things like extra high school campuses. There’s a hard drug problem with the mostly migrant population. The economy revolves around the coal industry that plays a huge role across the entire state, but is slowly turning stale. People are a little worried about losing their livelihood and likely to lash out at anyone who points out the global recognition of climate change.

Anyways, these guys are hardworking Americans, there’s no doubt about it. Some of them serve in the National Guard and they all put in some serious hours in a harsh work environment. I’m not out to attack their work ethic or morality. In all honesty, I respect them for what they do to pursue the American dream.

That said, their political points are completely unfounded. Their points don’t concern economics or rational discussion, but rather how anyone supporting a liberal candidate is a pussy communist freeloader that never worked a day in his life. Of course I had to get into it. The discussion quickly devolved further name calling on their part as I and a couple other individuals tried to convince them to address more than the fact that Wyoming is a red state and Trump leads in the polls.

What can you do though? Is it a losing game to try and convince your countrymen to look further into their beliefs than what conservative media sources feed them? Is it irresponsible or inflammatory to try and convers with people of different ideologies?

I say not. It’s important to talk with people form all walks of life to try and understand their points. Maybe they just need to understand that then. Maybe I’m just a liberal commie pussy that needs to fight for his country before speaking freely though.