Sunday, March 26, 2006

And Now, Get On With Your Life

So where were we before being so rudely interrupted? It seems for the first time that we have changed while the world around us has remained relatively the same instead of the other way around. While a few new stores and restaurants have popped up around our home in Colorado Springs since I was last here, the place still looks virtually as I remembered it over the past year in Purgatory. While the environment has remained constant my perspective seems to have changed. It doesn't seem to bother me when someone cuts me off in traffic or the overworked and underpaid waitress forgets to bring the hash browns. There are more important things in life worthy of indignation. Even the simple treat of being able to look at the mountains through clear air rather than the dust and smoke of Bagram is enough to bring a smile.

Today is our last day in Colorado for a while as we will soon be headed to DIA for a non-stop to Frankfurt this afternoon. The month has gone by so fast. There have been days and evenings with the neighbors and family, trips to the mountains, Colorado Avalanche game, and hundreds of other normal activities that I just can't take for granted any longer. The highlight of the trip though was the wedding.

On Friday, March 17th, St. Patrick'sricks Day, our daughter Mollie married her fiance Alan at the Peterson Air Force Base Chapel. It was a fairy tale wedding that seemed to go Without flaw with my father conducting the ceremony and friends and family from all over the country in attendance. The reception at the Officer's Club was then followed by a Hooley (a loud and boisterous Irish party) at the house which was an overwhelming success. While there was a decidedly unfortunate turn of events a few days later, it was a flawless day that was the crown jewel of our time at home.

So soon it will be back to work and all the routine tasks that we seem to fill our days with, but while the train of life keeps rolling down the track with unvarying speed, we certainly seem to be enjoying the view more.
A Toast to Mollie and Al

I had a little while to work on this toast that I gave at Mollie and Al's wedding.

"First, I'd like to thank everyone for coming today, I know it means a lot to Mollie and Al, and it certainly means a lot to us that you would take the time and effort to be here to share this occasion with us today.

I don't want to steal any of the best man's thunder here but I've got a couple of things to say. I asked Mollie and she said it would be okay so..well I didn't really ask her, I just told her I was going to do it and she was alright with it..which was kind of a moot point because I was going to do it anyway.

A couple of months ago when Mollie asked me if I would walk her down the aisle along with her father I said 'Sure, I'd be honered.', and I didn't give it a second thought. A little while later though, I mentioned it to one of my staff officers and she said 'I don't know Sir, that sounds a little, well, gay.'

I said 'Gay, what are you talking about?'
She said 'Well, think about it Sir, 'My name's Mollie, and these are my two dads. This is my biological dad, and this is my other dad.'
Well thank you so much for that image, but when you put it that way it does sound a little gay. So, Gary, if you're getting any strange looks around here Big Guy, that's probably why. But, I said I would do it so at the risk of having my hetrosexuality called into question, I did this for you.

Seriously, I was honered to walk Mollie down the Aisle today along with her father, and I'll tell you why. You see, about ten years ago, I found myself in what Dante described as the 'dark wood, the true path having been lost.' Regardless of anything else I had done, I had been an absolute failure as both a husband and a father. I was making my way through life day to day without any inspiration or motivation. Then one day, I came home, and there sitting on the front porch was my redemption.

That's been 10 years Pam. It's been a long road from there to here, and that journey has brought us so many wonderful times that we have been ecstatic to share with those around us, like today. It has also brought us some extremely difficult times that we have had to lean on each other very heavily to get through, but I wouldn't trade a minute of it. I call Pam my redemption because she gave me the second opportunity to be a good husband, and I tahnk God every day for that and for her.

Along with Pam though, came Sarah, and Matthew, and Michael and Kristin, my little buddy Max over there, and of course Mollie, and therein, the second opportunity to be a good parent.
Now Mollie knew this, and she was determined to make me earn this title of "Good Parent". She managed to squeeze enough parent/child anxiety and drama to last a lifetime into a few short years. Now I know that all of you are looking at her right now and thinking 'She looks like a princess, what kind of drama could she possibly cause?' I knew that you would think that, so I brought along these index cards with some examples. Here's the time that Mollie wrecked her car on the way to work. Here's the time that she wrecked her car on the way home from work, quite a feat since she only lived two blocks from work. Here's something about a rocking chair, and...this is going to take too long so I'll just leave these cards up here and you can go through them on your own.

Seriously, I was honered to do this for her today because I know that when Mollie asked me, she was telling me that I had indeed earned that title of 'good parent'.

Now I would like to stand here and wish for Mollie and Al that all good things in life fall at your feet and that joy and happiness folow you for the rest of your days, but I'm not going to because it doesn't happen that way. It's work, a lot of hard work, and it's even harder when your in the military which as of today, you both are.

What I will wish for you though is the challenge to grow a little closer together each day, and to find new ways to love each other every day. I will wish you the opportunity to one day, years from now, look at each other and realize that when you first saw each other you were looking at true love.

So if you will raise your glasses with me, to Mollie and Al, to challenges and opportunities, and to true love."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Were you ever Afraid?

I have been drunk now for over two weeks, I passed out and I rallied and I sprung a few leaks. -Jimmy Buffet -

After two weeks in Germany completing the mandatory reintegration tasks and various administrative functions I found myself at Frankfurt International Airport waiting for the 10 hour non-stop flight that would take me to Denver and finally re-unify me with the other half of my soul.

Scanning the departure board for my flight I was suddenly struck by one of the many stark differences between the civilized world and the war zone. In contrast to the past 14 months of fighting, bartering with, and coniving the Air Force for rare seats on flights from Purgatory to Hades which may or may not depart at the whim of the flight crew, I was overwhlemed by the steadily clicking board indicating dozens of flights departing frequently and punctually to Rome, Amsterdam, New York, Paris, and other destinations all over the world. I thought about how I had whisked over the 100 or so kilometers of autobahn to the airport in a under an hour and recalled how we had waited days for Jingle trucks to struggle over Afghan roads for the same distance. It occured to me that it hadn't been so much a geographical move of a few thousand miles that I had undertaken in early February as an advancement through time of a few centuries.

Even in the 21st century world of civilian aviation, our Lufthansa 747 didn't depart as scheduled, but the time was made up enroute and we slid on to the DIA's runway as scheduled 9 hours later. After waiting what seemed a veritable eternity for my lone checked bag to materialize, I made my way to the customs agent.

"What countries have you visited since leaving the U.S. on this trip?" asked the agent without looking up.

I wanted to laugh.

"Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, and Germany."
The agent peered up at me over her glasses


I displayed my ID card.

"Welcome Home." she said with a smile handing back my passport.

When I finally stepped through the doors to the terminal, I was promptly charged by Max with Pam only a step behind where hugs, kisses and tears that had been reserved for 7 months finally poured out.

When we could finally move again, we walked only a few feet more into the terminal where cheers erupted from my immediate and extended family who had seemingly occupied the entire north end of DIA by force with flags and banners. Two Denver PD officers were drawn by the commotion and started asking a couple of questions only to find that one of these men in blue had been one of my instructors while I was a ROTC cadet back in college. The retirement lifestyle had not agreed with the old Master Sergeant and after a short stint with the Sheriff's department had convinced DPD that his talents were being wasted and has been wearing that uniform ever since. Quite a feat seeing that I graduated college in the 80's.

There was a quick dinner with the family at the Cherry Cricket so I could remember what a smothered green chile burrito is supposed to taste like, then finally back home.

The days since have been filled with wedding plans, train rides to and from Glenwood Springs, hockey games, multiple taste tests to ensure they haven't changed the recipies for Guiness and Fat Tire, and a lot of doing nothing.

During one of these moments of doing nothing when Pam and I were sitting on the front porch watching the sun set over Pikes Peak she suddenly asked me if I had ever been afraid. The answer; the honest answer; was 'yes', but not when someone looking from the outside might have thought. The fear hadn't come when riding in Blackhawks or Chinooks over inhospitable terrain, or when crouched in concrete bunkers with rockets exploding around us. I remember that I genuinely felt the cold touch of fear on my heart while staring into the absolute blackness of a Salerno night and realizing that that darkness held people close at hand that wanted to kill me. Having grown up in the security of America's borders, this thought had been only an abstraction to me as I'm sure it is to most Americans.

I had thought back to another night nearly 4 years earlier when I had felt fear of what the darkness held. I had watched the horrific events of September 11th on the large screen TVs at the Merrill Lynch Campus in South Denver and had felt the same shock, horror, and disbelief that each of us did. Driving home that night though, I had crested the top of an exit ramp on the far eastern edge of the Denver metropolitan sprawl when I had been struck by the absoluteness of the dark. From where I sat that night, I should have seen the lights of dozens of planes either landing or departing from DIA but instead there was just the suffocating blackness of an empty sky. It was the first tangible evidence that I had seen of that day's events and I had been horrified at what the darkness held.

So now as I find myself in a supermarket aisle standing in awe of the hundreds of choices of deodorant or cereal that I have, my mind drifts back to thoughts of Afghan children selling trinkets outside the Bagram gate or of throwing bundles of supplies to beleagured families in the mountains of Pakistan and I realize how fortunate I am.

It is not though, until I think of the my comrades still half a world away standing in an absolute blackness that holds people close at hand who wish them harm; knowing that they continue to stand there so that you and I may never again share that feeling here at home, that I realize how truly blessed I am.