Thursday, July 24, 2014

In Which Courtney Turns 21: Go, Team Leo!

It's time for a Mom moment.... to announce that our Littlest Reprobate, the Baby of the Family, today turns 21.  This little Leo spreads sunshine and happiness to all she meets. Because she is just so darned adorable...

Oh, wait! That was taken when she was even littler! She's bigger now.

One of the coolest things about Courtney is that she always sees things from a unique perspective:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Writing About the Guard's Role in D-Day, for GX Magazine

The National Guard played a huge role in the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Guardsmen from Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. were at the tip of the spear on deadly Omaha Beach. I wrote their story for the current issue of the Guard's GX Magazine. It also is posted here on-line, with the compelling graphics that help make this a way-cool magazine to write for!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why I Wear an Uzi Bullet On a Chain Around My Neck

My family and friends all know that I am never without my Uzi bullet necklace (unless I go into Washington, D.C., where I could be arrested for wearing it). 

The necklace comes from Israel. It consists of a single bullet with a tiny pewter tank welded to the front. The bullet is threaded on a dog tag-style chain. And, yes: the bullet is inert. I wouldn't wear a live round anywhere but on my hip and properly tucked inside a chamber or a clip.

Last night, I wore the Uzi necklace as always. The gold bullet stood out against my black t-shirt. Someone asked me what the necklace was for.

I said: I wear this because I stand with Israel. Always. I stand with Israel. Today I pray for peace in that land. May her people stay safe, and prevail in this difficult time.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

One Small Blessing Amid Unspeakable Horror: Surgeon Says MH17 Passengers Unconscious

A trauma surgeon tells the Sydney Morning Herald: "No one was conscious or experienced that fall.’’ A blessing amid unspeakable horror. The rest of us, now, must address the aftermath.

Friday, July 18, 2014

In Which Chad Returns Safely Home From Deployment to Afghanistan

Over the past year, my great friend and Cooking With the Troops partner Chad Longell has sent dispatches from his deployment to Afghanistan. His beautiful and inspirational essays are posted here and here. 

During Chad's sojourn, he had many adventures. He bartered for bread, was promoted to sergeant, and grew a way-cool beard! He also scared the living daylights out of us when he went off grid for more than a week during a particularly violent time in Afghanistan. His unit had lost its internet connection, and there was much anxiety among his civilian friends until he resurfaced to say, "I'm fine!"

Now I am delighted to announce that our "Chadwick" is home, safe and secure, on American soil. He called last night from his transit site. I don't who was happier: Chad, to be home in the USA; or me, to know that he is safely back.

There is much rejoicing within Cooking With the Troops and our extended family of friends and colleagues. Please join me in thanking Chad for his service, and in welcoming him home. 

And for all the warriors who remain deployed: Stay safe, and know that you are fully supported by a grateful nation. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Latest on Bowe Bergdahl, on People's "Dot"

I worked on this evolving story with PEOPLE magazine colleague Johnny Dodd. More will continue to emerge in the weeks and months ahead, but here's the latest on the Bowe Bergdahl saga, live on "the Dot"...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In Which Boquisucio Invites Us to Witness a Kaboom... case we haven't seen enough fireworks lately. Says Boq: Herewith a bridge in the Ukraine going slodey-pop:

And the requisite AAR:

Monday, July 14, 2014

With Jon Voight and Our Treasured Wounded Warriors: Old Memories and New Thanks

A couple years ago, when our little Gang of Reprobates frequented the old Walter Reed, we encountered a dedicated troop-supporter: Jon Voight. 

Jon was a regular presence at the Mologne House Super Bowl parties, where he hung out with our recovering wounded warriors and their families. He didn't hold himself aloof to sign autographs from behind a table, either; he went through the chow line with everyone else, and sat with the families to eat.

I was impressed by Jon's sincerity and dedication; and, later, by his outspoken support for Israel. 

Now Jon steps forward once again, to speak the truth about what is happening in our country. Thank you, Jon. You have both courage and class.

Dubai Airport Issue Meets Old Mossback: "This Reminds Me of a Payless Payday in Kuwait..."

This just in from Old Mossback...

I have been following the reported incidents at Dubai Airport, where the American contractors were not paid for their work. While these incidents are rare, payless paydays can and do happen in the world of the overseas contractor. 

Which reminds me of the time (SKK: "yawn") in December 13, 1996 while working at my first site, my entire team was told just before the shift started that due to several accounting issues, we would not be paid that period. For those who had direct deposit, no money would be placed into our accounts; and for those who did not, the checks would not be issued. 

This was the last payday before Christmas. To keep it simple, the bottom dropped out from morale as we all went to our assigned posts at Camp Doha, Kuwait. 

On or about 0015 on December 14, all posts were manned. The land line traffic went hot while the radio chatter was silent. The active duty contract compliance officer, who was also the base Provost Marshal, was concerned and feared a walkout. He went post to post, not to talk so much, but to listen. 

The payless payday broke the dam concerning the long lists of moans and groans the people had against their employer. While the Provost Marshal could not do much to help us get paid, he at least allowed the team to vent, and that did help us to get through the shift. I will be the first to say there was talk of a walkout, maybe a "blue flu" strike.

As the sun went up and the managers arrived, all of them received the silent treatment as they passed through the gate. All the managers at that time were retired E-9s and O-6s, and they knew we had good reason to be ticked off, and that the correct thing for them to do was to suck it up. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dear SKK: Any News on Troubles at Dubai Airport?

This just in from a reader who's been following the Dubai Airport saga....

Dear SKK: You haven't written anything lately about the problems at Dubai International, and the American contractors not being paid. I am especially curious about the $700 million+ owed to ARINC. Any news? Signed, Curious.

Dear Curious: I wish I had good news. I'd love to write that Dubai finally has settled up with ARINC, and that all is well. Sadly, I have nothing to report, other than to say that the situation remains unchanged. Our trusting American contractors, who acted in good faith and performed vital work that keeps things running smoothly at Terminal 3, still have not been paid. Thank you for checking in - I shall have to revisit this matter soon. Yours, ~SKK.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Fresh Submission For the Jeepstakes: Marine Guy Finds a Wrangler Growing in the Wild

Marine Guy found a Jeep growing in the wild! How cool is that! He sent it for my consideration in the Jeepstakes. I really like this one. The only thing is, it isn't yet ready to be harvested. I wouldn't dream of plucking a Jeep while it's still in the growing phase. Thanks, MG, but I'll have to take a pass. Again...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Marine Who Motivates the Wounded is Example For Us All: A Note from Snake-Eater Sam

Snake-Eater Sam writes in to call attention to a Marine who motivates the wounded, but is an inspiration to us all. Writes the Snake: "Each of us has some story to motivate others.Some more….some less….but still your story.This sergeant ordered the photo taken for a reason…. read on…."

The Snake wants us all to remember those who have sacrificed some portion or all of their lives so that this Country would endure and be a shining example of exceptionalism.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The U.S. Navy During Ramadan: Chaplain Corps Sends Out a Photo of Sailors at Worship

The Navy Chaplain Corps sent out this photo, depicting American sailors during Ramadan. Is this a go or a no-go? Thoughts, Dear Ones?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Away I Go to Ft. Belvoir, With Treats for My Troopies!

Courtesy of Minicapt - who continues to accumulate chits that will keep him out of Campfire Duty! And other than that - he rocks! Thank you for sending these, Mini-C! This is awesome!

Genuine actual shipment of chocs,
from Minicapt to The Compound.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Meanwhile, Additional Warrior Hikers Tackle The Pacific Crest Trail

While the gang on the East Coast hikes the Appalachian Trail, another band from Warrior Hike is trekking northward through the land of my childhood. Sigh...

Lone Pine, California. I camped near this lake when I was a young'un.

More pictures of the Pacific Crest Trail, courtesy of Warrior Hike, after the jump....

Saturday, July 5, 2014

More From Our Warrior Hikers Headed North Along the Appalachian Trail

Forward they go, plodding toward Maine: our intrepid band from Warrior Hike.

Joe, above, has reached the half-way point. Click through to see more of their adventures, via pictures courtesy of Warrior Hike!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Letter From Afghanistan on Independence Day: "This is What Motivates Me"

Some of you may not know that Cooking With the Troops has a deeply personal stake in this war. Our own President, otherwise known as Dear Chadwick, is deployed to Afghanistan.

Today Chad sent a note from the front. He sent it to family and friends, but I thought the message resonated for us all. I share it here, with his permission. Take it away, Chad...

My dear friends and family,

I want to wish you all a Happy 4th of July! It is a beautiful and very windy day here in Afghanistan where the chow hall is decorated from top to bottom in patriotic gear and the movie "Independence Day" playing in the background. Fortunately I have been blessed with a low key day to stay on base which has allowed me to finally catch up on some much needed sleep.  

Being deployed on the 4th always is a bit surreal. For the most part it is like any other day, only with slightly better food haha.  But regardless, it always carries a special meaning. With all that is going on in the world in armed conflict, Ukraine, China, Russia, the Middle East, Iraq, etc., many have asked me whether it is worth fighting for anymore.  

I often fight to urge to react in the manner my emotions would like to, but I simply invite them to sit down in a quiet place and read the Declaration of Independence word to word and then come back to me with their own answer.  

I ask, if we don't take a stand for our God given rights, then what is the alternative? What then? But our Founding Fathers on this day, 238 years ago, decided to take a stand, against impossible odds, against history and risked their lives for a dream, the American dream.  That conviction is what motivates me and keeps me going, despite any obstacles or setbacks life throws. 

In Which Our Official Blogstrologer Takes a Look at America's Star Chart

What is a birthday without a horoscope? Our official blogstrologer, Johnnie TwoBrows, previously has read the stars for our Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Now he looks at the birth chart for our beloved USA, a summer baby through and through! For example, Johnnie says this about America's Sun sign: "The USA was born with the sun in Cancer, and shares many traits of that sign. We're always willing to help, and take the time to "mother" other nations in difficulty...We're always trying to keep other nations from harm. The suffering of others also galvanizes us into action...." And that's just a sample. Read the rest of this cool chart over at Johnnie's place - and tell him SKK sent you!

Happy Birthday to My Most Treasured United States

"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States." Our founding fathers were faced with a choice: endure the tyranny, or forge independence. They made the right choice. They are my heroes and my role models. A toast to them and their ideals.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Old Mossback's Advice to Fellow Contractors: Retire at the Top of Your Game!

Speaking of The Old Mossback... he has sent another dispatch. This one contains a personal announcement, and advice to his fellow contractors. Take it away, Mossy...

Farewell to Africa; Hello, Florida!

By The Old Mossback

The clock is winding down, as I will soon be completing my contract here in Benin and returning home. 

It only seems like yesterday I walked off the stern brow of the USS Yellowstone AD-41 with my transfer to the fleet reserve in hand. The Navy was a great run for 20 years and I had no regrets. That was back in July, 1994. 

April of 95 saw me armed with an M-16A2 and an M-9 9MM, walking the wire at Camp Doha, Kuwait for what I thought would be my first and only contract for a king's ransom of $11.27 an hour and $27 per diem.

Here I am now almost 20 years later in West Africa. How did I get here?

Kuwait lead to Qatar. Then later to Russia, India, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Pakistan, Bosnia, Gabon, and Malabo, where I almost died from a bad case of cerebral malaria. Now I will close my career here in Benin. 

It was a great run. When I was in Moscow I dated ladies who would make Hugh Heffner of Playboy green with envy; and time and time again while watching CNN I could look out my window and see what was being reported on the air as it happened. It does not get better then that. 

I am proud to say I went out in my own time. As recently as last week I was offered another contract located in Islamabad, Pakistan. It did not take me long to decline that generous offer from my employer. I am looking forward to returning to Florida and home for good. 

One final word of advice to all my fellow contractors, get out while you are still at the top of your game, as it will be far better in the long run. 


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Curse of the USS Cowpens: Revisiting the Question Yet Again in Wake of Fresh Hijinks

Is the USS Cowpens cursed?
Holly?? No.....!!!

A couple years ago, I was so concerned about the possibility that I consulted our official blog psychic, Johnnie TwoBrows. Johnnie said absolutely not, the ship was not cursed. But I am starting to wonder if someone (who could it be?) has since placed said curse.

In December of last year, the Cow nearly collided with a Chinese warship in international waters. And now this: the latest skipper has been fired, along with the CMC! That makes three skippers within a span of four years! That would be like having three presidents impeached inside the stretch of a single term (hmmm....)

Now the Old Mossback also chimes in with his concerns. He recently wrote to me:

Once again the USS Cowpens is in the news and as before for all the wrong reasons. This is the third CO of that ship sacked in less then four years. I only have the information as provided from the web site and with only that information available to me I will go out on a limb in a way. It seems the USS Cowpens after just completing a deployment failed one or more major inspections and as a result the CO was sacked for - get this - the old classic catch all, "lack of confidence" by his superior officer.

In Which My Local Harris Teeter Garners an SKK Stamp of Approval

I saw this sign outside my local Harris Teeter. Way to go, HT!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Vulture 17's Tales From Vietnam: What Would John Wayne Do in This Situation?

We have another tale from Vulture 17 (AKA Bob Shine), our Huey pilot from the 162nd Assault Helicopter Company in Vietnam. Hang on to your reflective belt, kiddos; this one gets a little tense. Take it away, Vulture 17...

 It started out as just another boring Ash &Trash mission, flying people around. The Army's Green Taxi service. We were working out of Ben Tre, which lays about halfway between Can Tho and Saigon. It was mostly Indian Country. Ben Tre did have a small American compound on one end of town.

Early in the mission, about 10 AM,  the Engine Warning Chip Detector Light came on. Checking the plug, we found metal particles on it. This meant the engine was chewing itself up. I called Maintenance back at the Company area on the radio and told them of the problem. We were told Maintenance would be on the way out.  

We landed in a soccer field on the other side of town, located next to a school and at the other end, an ARVN hospital. We sat mid field.  It was a beautiful sunny day of about 90 degrees.

The Americans at the compound told us we should be out of there by nightfall as the VC were due to attack from the next tree line over.
We spent the time running up the helicopter three times with the same results on the Chip Detector Plug. More metal in the oil.  
Being next to the school there were kids - lots and lots of kids! There always seemed to be kids around in Viet Nam ! I would estimate over 100 of the little buggers playing with us as we waited and tried to keep everything on board from being stolen! 
I and my crew of three were lounging around the rear of the cabin of the ship waiting when at about 5 PM (or 1700 Hours for you military types) we heard the unmistakable "Ploop" of a mortar tube going off close by. Those 100-plus kids were gone in an instant! The mortar shell impacted between us and the school less than 50 yards away. The second shell impacted 50 yards to the other side.
I was already diving for my pilot seat to start the helicopter. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Report From a Devil Dog Dad in Texas: Honoring Those Who Have Honored Us All

The shadow of the Huey...
Robert Aiken and Jim Meiseman aboard Ghost Ship

All photos by Colin Kimball
Our "Devil Dog Dad," Colin Kimball, is back with another report of an event in Texas. Herewith his report. Take it away, Colin...

Honoring Those Who Have Honored Us All

By Colin Kimball, Devil Dog Dad in Texas

Duty, honor, courage and commitment are more than just words. They are principles of thought and deed that define my son and every United States Marine he serves with. I would argue that they also define older veterans who had the privilege of wearing a uniform of our nation in the glory days of our youth, this old Air Force Buck Sergeant included. 

I had the opportunity to participate in a mission to honor those who honored 22 living Medal of Honor recipients who served above and beyond the call of duty as they arrived in Dallas/Fort Worth to participate in the annual weekend Medal of Honor celebration in nearby Gainseville, Texas by flying escort cover in a UH-1H Huey that served in Vietnam. 

Our ship, 68-16197, served in Vietnam in for three years with the 195th, 118th, 92nd and 57th Assault Helicopter Companies. Now christened “Ghost Ship” she is a battle-scarred veteran of numerous perilous Special Forces missions  “over the fence” into the Parrots Beak and Fish Hook areas of Cambodia.    

A low hover over the final ramp overpass display near Denton Texas.
 Note the firetruck ladders outside of the windshield of the copilots seat. 
The ultrawide angle lens used makes the distance look greater than it actually was, as we were very close. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Dear SKK: "What Happened to Cooper Harris?"

We haven't had one of these in a while. This time, a serious question...

Dear SKK: I always see your crime stories in People Magazine. I thought of you when I read about Cooper Harris, the little boy who died in a hot car in Georgia. Are you doing this story? What happened to Cooper? I am shocked and so sad for this child. Signed, Horrified.

Dear Horrified: No, I am not working on this story - which is a good thing, because I probably would have trouble sleeping if I were immersed in the investigation. I can't tell you anything other than to say what I would pursue if I were working the story.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Catching Up With Our Warrior Hikers Along the Appalachian Trail

Our band from Warrior Hike continues the northward trek along the Appalachian Trail, headed for Maine. Wow. What a way to spend the summer....

Friday, June 27, 2014

In Which Boq Encounters the Pilot Who Sank the HMS Sheffield

Take it away, Boq...

As you all know, I am a frustrated International Bidnezzman, whose career has taken me away from the M├ętier that I so much love. But alas, the Boom-Boom Candy Gods doth did smile upon their graces once again. And though tentative as it is, this week I went back into the swing of things.

I was summoned to one of the various Foreign Army Procurement Commissions that dot the Washington D.C. landscape, to submit a bid and witness its opening.  I show-up early, present my bid and credentials and am shown to the front parlor to await the opening of the procurement bid. About ten minutes latter, in comes this distinguished 60-year old man with a fully balded pate and avuncular nose.  Immediately, all conversation stops and eyes turn to him.  I could sense his well centered calm demeanor, but what I did not appreciate at first that everyone around me did, was his storied past.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Speaking of the VA: Away I Go, to My Appointment...

If I don't surface in 24 hours, send in a team. Actually, I have been very happy with my VA health care. But, still; this would be great cover for my enemies to work their revenge....

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Situation on America's Border With Mexico: Navig8r's Reading List

Want to learn more about the situation on America's border with Mexico? Navig8tr has a reading list! Take it away, Navig8tr...

Navig8tr's Reading List 
(all available on Amazon)

By everything I can judge, these authors write honestly about what is in their field of view and don’t try to extrapolate out of it too much. They have different fields of view, which makes a fairly comprehensive but ugly composite.

One If by Land: What Every American Needs to Know about Our Border
by William R. Daniel, 2012

This is the one to read first, especially if your time is limited.  It does a reasonable job of providing an overview in a medium length book.  It  includes a good collection of anecdotes (many from the experiences of border ranchers) current to the time of its publication.  It includes the Krentz case.

10 Years On the Line: My War On the Border: 2nd Edition
by Mike Ligon (Apr 28, 2011)

Mr. Ligon is a former ICE agent who worked the immigration side of ICE.  It is especially important for its coverage of the corruption in the administrative side of who gets let in and who doesn’t.  This is the book that goes into the most detail naming names, dates, times, and places.  The book is a bit larger than “One if by Land” but well worth the read.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On the Front Lines of Arizona's Border With Mexico: Further Observations From Navig8r

Stock photos
More from Navigtor...

I shared some of my ideas with Susan on whether our southern border is securable at all, and she asked me to clean them up  for posting, so here goes.

I became a student of border security issues shortly after arriving in Arizona in late 2001 and seeing how much it concerned the locals around me.  I don’t consider myself an expert, but I have learned enough to be opinionated. How did they say it on that demotivational poster?  “Everyone is entitled to my opinion?”

What caused me to sit up and take notice was seeing signs along the roads saying “Stop the Invasion.”  At first, I thought that was a bit of an exaggeration, but then I learned the numbers involved were in the millions. Considering one of our combat divisions is nominally somewhere around 12,000 to 15,000 troops, and if they were to go into someone’s country uninvited it would certainly be called an invasion, with undocumented immigrant numbers in the millions, we are talking way beyond invasion on steroids.

My own opinion is that securing the southern border is still doable, but not cheap.  It is a lot of miles of some very rugged terrain.  Among the many results of doing so successfully would be a temporary rise in the price of street drugs, causing theft and robberies to go up as junkies have to steal more stuff to support their habits.  

As traffic shifts to other routes (since we North Americans aren’t likely to give up our drugs), the folks on the coasts would find themselves having to share some of their beaches with the cartels until we decide to upgrade coastal security. 

Since Canada has a lot of coastline and territory without a lot of people to keep an eye on it all, some of the traffic would eventually shift there and we would be looking at the need to secure the northern border. The increased cost and trouble would slow the flow of people somewhat. Car thefts in the US would go down as moving them out of the country becomes more difficult and expensive. Life for ranchers on the border would become much safer.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Just When You Thought the VA Health Care Horrors Couldn't Get Any Worse....

Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. And yet.... revelations about VA health care only grow more appalling. Thank you, Big Red, for staying on top of this issue. Keep going. Our veterans need you.

Are Disenfranchised Americans Being Offered the Same Care as Illegal Border-Crossers?

If you look closely at the center of this pic, you will see a splash of blue. That is a plastic tarp, strung up like a tent in the woods in my area. People live beneath that tarp, and beneath others like it. 

I don't know how the woods-people wound up in this situation. I am going to guess that some combination of low-coping ability, bad luck, and bad choices are at play. However, they have managed to find a campsite and community, and have built shelters for themselves.

Once a week I drop off food and sometimes water for the people in the woods. My only communication with them is to honk my horn to let them know that the provisions are there, or to call out a heads-up if they happen to be within view. I never have seen social services vans or government aid workers reaching out to the woods-people. This is not to say that it hasn't happened; only that I haven't seen it. 

Meanwhile, I continue to read about the services being offered to Central Americans who are streaming across our borders unchecked.  

It appears to me that our own disenfranchised countrymen are being left to fend for themselves, while foreigners who disregard our national boundaries are being catered to and encouraged to disrupt our society and to drain our resources.

I don't get it. This makes no sense at all. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

VA Opens Health Registry for Burn Pit Exposure; Ft. McClellan Vets Need a Registry, Also

The VA has announced the formation of its Burn Pit Registry for veterans who served in Southwest Asia, Afghanistan, Djibouti and elsewhere. I encourage all eligible veterans to place themselves on the registry. 

I also am sending out a call for action. Fort McClellan veterans need a health registry of our own. 

As I often have posted on this site, the Ft. McClellan soldiers and Marines (stationed at Marine Detachment Ft. McClellan) were exposed to toxic substances. Many are feeling the health effects. 

Rep. Paul Tonko of New York has introduced a bill to create a registry for Ft. McClellan veterans. The bill, HR 411, is straightforward and uncomplicated. As Rep Tonko recently wrote in The Hill newspaper, though, the bill has become stalled within the gridlock of D.C. politics.

It is not too much to ask that our Ft. McClellan veterans be given the same consideration that has been granted to other groups of veterans and service members. I am asking you, dear readers, to add your voices to those who ask both the VA and Congress to implement this simple, sensible registry.

Please contact your Congressional representative to encourage moving HR 411 to the forefront.

And please write to the Director of Veterans Affairs at this address:

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 
810 Vermont Avenue, NW Washington DC 20420

Many thanks in advance. And thank you, Ryan Phillips and the Anniston Star, for covering this issue. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

In Which Snake-eater Sam Concocts a Plan to Resolve the Crisis in Iraq

Snake-eater Sam has sent his plan to resolve the crisis in Iraq. Herewith his scheme:

We ID the best general there; one who we have a good relationship with. We send in a U.S. general to work/guide and orchestrate a coup to accomplish the initial political and then military victory. We then implement a long term commitment with the U.S., until we get another election with a mix of Sunni and Shia in Iraq's Constitution.

Those Snake-eaters. Always working the A-teams, or variations thereof....