Thursday, April 24, 2014

In Honor of "A Real Tiger," Phyllis Galanti, Tireless Advocate on Behalf of American POWs

Last night I received a call from one of our mil-family members, whose tone instantly told me she was bearing sad news. Mary Ripley, whose father is the legendary John Ripley, called to ask if I'd heard anything about Phyllis. I knew who she meant: Phyllis Galanti, a hero of such standing that to those who know her story, she needs no last name. Mary knew Phyllis as a longtime family friend (Mary's father and Phyllis' husband Paul were Naval Academy roommates). I knew about Phyllis from years ago, when I first began writing about POW's from the Vietnam War.

Which is where Phyllis Galanti's heroism comes in.

On June 17, 1966, Lt. Cmdr. Paul Galanti, a Navy pilot, was shot down in his A-4 Skyhawk over North Vietnam. Paul was captured and imprisoned by the enemy, and wound up in the horrific Hoa Lo prison, AKA the "Hanoi Hilton." Paul's wife Phyllis, who had a degree in French from William & Mary but was too shy to teach in front of a class, carried on as best she could at home in Virginia.

Over the next seven years, Paul remained an unwilling "guest" of North Vietnam. During his imprisonment, he and his fellows were subjected to brutal, systematic, and sustained torture. I won't go into the details here, but trust me on this: it was bad.

The mood on the homefront in those days was volatile. Our country was deeply divided by our presence in Vietnam. Activists cast aspersions not only on the war, but also on the warriors - to include the noncombatants who struggled to survive in captivity. One infamous American dilettante, whose name shall not be mentioned here, visited North Vietnam and came home to dismiss reports of torture, and to declare that the POW's were war criminals, "hypocrites and liars." 

But Phyllis Galanti knew only that the men needed to come home, now.

The shy woman rallied herself, tapped into her deepest inner reserves, and found what Paul later called "a real tiger."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Letter From Manila, 1989: "We're Still Reeling From the Shock of Col. Rowe's Assassination"

More from the Nick Rowe files. These are excerpts from a letter from a friend (no longer with us, RIP) who was stationed in the Philippine Islands in 1989. Notice what he says in the second clip. Things don't change much, do they?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Raise a Glass to Legendary Green Beret Col. Nick Rowe, On the Anniversary of His Murder

Let's all raise a glass in memory of an old pal and legendary Green Beret, Col. James Nicholas Rowe, who died 23 years ago today. Nick was ambushed and killed on 21 April, 1989, while driving to work in the Philippines. At the time, he was assigned to the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group in Manila.

He was only 51 when he died. I got to know him when I wrote about Vietnam-era prisoners of war for The Washington Times. I wanted Nick to tell me about POWs. He was happy to comply. But he wanted something, also - for me to join his effort to secure a posthumous Medal of Honor for his fellow Vietnam War captive, Rocky Versace. I included Nick's story and words in my 'Nam POW book, Prisoners of Hope.

Nick's story is an inspiration.

By the time the bad guys finally got him in Manila, Nick had evaded death many times. First, while fighting in Vietnam; and then, while being held captive in the hands of Viet Cong guerrillas. In 1968, Nick pulled off one of the most spectacular POW escapes in history. He was one of only 34 Americans to make the break to freedom during the Vietnam War. He was a prisoner for five years. During that time, he repeatedly tried to get away. He never accepted the lessons his captors tried to beat into him every time they recaptured him. Finally, his guards got tired of him. They decided to kill him.

 On New Year's eve, a band of Viet Cong marched Nick to where they planned to shoot him. 

"When I saw Cobras, it meant only one thing.... we were in for a bad day."

The mission quickly became complicated. The band stumbled into the kill zone of a flight of American helicopters: the deadly Cobras. As Nick told me in 1987: "When I saw Cobras, I knew it meant only one thing. If they spotted us, we were in for a bad day."

There ensued a bizarre sequence of events, in which the communists relied on Nick to help them evade the lethal choppers. Nick - who was carrying his injured pet dove - complied, all the while formulating a plan and waiting his opportunity. At one point, he somehow got access to the group's radio. While tuning the frequencies, he found Petula Clark singing Happy Heart. The song, he told me, bolstered his courage to act. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

In Which My Grandpumpkin Liam Celebrates Turning Four!

Has it really been four years? Yep. It sure has. 

Exactly four years ago today, I woke up early to a phone call from my oldest young'un, Erin, who was nine months into being pregnant. She was so out of breath she barely could talk, but I knew what she was saying. Her baby was fast on the way. 

A few moments later, Courtney and I were out the door and headed for the hospital. I guess it's safe now to admit that we jumped into the HOV-3 lanes with only two in the car - our only hope of making it in time through the thick of northbound morning rush hour. 

How thick was the traffic? So heavy that Shawn and Erin (who by now was in hard labor and hanging out the window) came to a dead standstill - fortunately alongside a Virginia State Trooper, who instantly got them onto the shoulder and safely in place for a roadside delivery. More fortunately still, though, an ambulance materialized to whisk Erin off to an actual delivery room.

Courtney and I arrived at the hospital soon after Erin did. We raced through the halls, shouting at nurses: "Where's the girl who came in an ambulance?"

We skated into the delivery room just in time to greet Liam entering the world. It was a remarkable and joyous experience. Afterward, I was so worn out from watching my dear, heroic Erin give birth to Baby Liam that my BFF Concrete Bob did the announcement: 

8 lbs 4 Ozs 21 Inches
No those are not the measurements for the last fish I caught, those are the vitals for Gramma Keatings new grandson. Born this morning, almost in traffic, except for a State Trooper who called an ambulance and fire truck and shut down the northbound side of 95 at Prince William Parkway,

Congratulations to Erin and Shawn and Gramma Keating and Aunt Courtney and Kelly.

And now Baby Liam is Kid Liam: a rambunctious four year old and fabulous big brother to Baby Sis Giselle.

Happy fourth birthday, Liam!  You are a wonderful Grandpumpkin!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Nevada Cattlemen Weigh in On Rancher Bundy: No Scientific Proof Cows Hurt the Tortoises

A moment of respect at the Bundy Ranch,
captured by Rick Wright Photgraphy
If you're looking for some Western (as in, the American West) perspective on current events in Nevada, here is an outtake from a statement from the Nevada Cattlemen's Association. 

"Ranchers such as Mr. Bundy have found themselves with their backs against the wall as, increasingly, federal regulations have infringed on their public land grazing rights and the multiple use management principle. 

"This is not only devastating to individual ranching families; it is also causing rural communities in the west to whither on the vine. In the west, one in every two acres is owned by the federal government. Therefore, the integrity of the laws protecting productive multiple use is paramount to the communities that exist there.

"The situation in Nevada stands as an example the federal agencies’ steady trend toward elevating environmental and wildlife issues over livestock grazing – in violation of the abovementioned laws and principles. Well-­‐intentioned laws such as the Endangered Species Act—which are factors in Mr. Bundy’s case-­‐-­‐are being implemented in a way that are damaging to our rights and to our western families and communities.

"In Bundy’s case the designation of his grazing area as a critical habitat for the endangered desert tortoise gave the BLM the rationale they needed to order a 500% decrease in his cattle numbers. There never was any scientific proof that cattle had historically harmed the desert tortoise."

This is an enlightening perspective from people who share the same challenges that landed Rancher Bundy in the crosshairs of the BLM. You can read the rest of the statement here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

While Harry Reid Aligns With the Crown - I Mean, Feds - Madison Rising Heads for Nevada

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says Rancher Cliven Bundy's supporters are "domestic terrorists." Why? Because they abide by the Constitution?

Sen. Reid seems to forget who first brought in arms to a situation involving cattle. Yes, cattle. The Federal government went to Nevada to "settle" a grazing dispute, carrying rifles and wearing camo. That looks to me like provocation.

Sen. Reid also seems not to understand that you can't pretend to care about turtles when you chase after cattle - including newborn calves - in helicopters. 

The whole situation smacks of heavy handed Federal aggression. And Reid has aligned himself with the Crown aggressors.

As one observer wrote to Reid via the Las Vegas Sun newspaper: 

"The militia men aren't the terrorist here you are, you sent Federal Agents down there with assault weapons dressed in camo fatigues, fake beards , fake ID's , these are supposed to be BLM officers? All the BLM officers running around in their lil pickups out in the desert look nothing like the goons you sent as henchmen. You sir are the epitomy of what terrorism is, you just hide it behind some stupid turtle and conservation act. Forcing a rancher off federal land smells really fishy if you're so concerned about it."
Bundy's supporters, meanwhile, continue to grow. Today a big bunch of 'em are throwing a shindig at the Bundy Ranch. My good friends Madison Rising will be there. I asked their manager, my pal Rich Mgrdechian, if he's concerned about safety.

Said Rich: "The boys will be fine."

They always are! Their music rocks, and is just the thing to keep Harry Reid's "domestic terrorists" entertained while supporting an issue that is much larger than the travails of a single cattleman. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Remembering Virginia Tech, and What the Shootings Can Teach Us About Combat Trauma

A screen grab from seven years ago
Seven years ago today, my editor at People magazine called from New York with a tentative request: "Hey... there's reports of a strange incident in Blacksburg. Something about a man with a gun on campus. Can you look into it?"

At the time of the call, the only thing we knew was that someone had opened fire on people at Virginia Tech. Police had little information, and at first we heard speculation that this was a lovers' quarrel turned violent. 

We were horrified, but partially relieved to think the incident had been contained. By the end of the day, an entire People team - and the international media - converged to cover the deadliest and most infamous shooting spree on an American school campus. 

The process was both surreal and intense. Part of our mission was to create tributes to the fallen; to collect poignant details about lives cut shockingly short; and to craft the right words that would appear in a magazine sure to be handed down to generations. All of us correspondents were determined to do "our" people justice - and those of us who live in Virginia prayed fervently that our friends' and neighbors' children would not appear on our rosters. The job was both heart-wrenching and purposeful. 

I also was given a secondary duty: investigate the killer, Seung-Hi Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech.

People produced a comprehensive, compelling, and respectful story in only two days' time. 

Afterwards, as People carried the story forward, I continued to investigate the shooter. I spoke to people who had known him in childhood, who lived in his cul-de-sac, and sat in his high school classrooms. I talked to the neighbors who peered through the curtains from across the street, watching to see if he were on the sidewalk. I spoke to mothers who told me their children appeared on a "hit list" Cho wrote while in middle school. I listened to teachers who told me how scary and unreachable Cho was.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Campfire Duty? Me???

Marine Guy says I violated the Vietnam Rule, and deserve to be put on Campfire Duty. He must be smoking some bad s'mores... or something...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fully Back From Assignment, Covering the Sad Events at Ft. Hood, Texas

I'm now completely back from assignment, covering the recent sad events at Ft. Hood, Texas. My heart goes out to those who lost their loved ones, and to those who now are working to recover and heal. The story is in the April 21 issue of People magazine, on newsstands now.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Further Discussion on the "Crazy Pilots" Issue: It's Not Just in the Military!

Now comes Marine Guy with HIS contribution to the "crazy pilots" convo. "Military pilots are nuts? What about civilian pilots? What about THIS?" Okay, so MG has a point, too...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dear Ask-a-Pilot: Do Flight Attendants Wash Their Pantyhose in the Hotel Coffee Pot?

Our trusty Ask-a-Pilot is back!
We have another communique from our very own Ask-a-Pilot, Mitch "Taco" Bell, who also can be found lurking at his place, The Sandgram, where he talks about serious issues involving the military and such. Here, he addresses the world of the civilian airline pilot (because he is one).

Today's reader question involves health, comfort, and lodging.

Question: Dear Ask-a-Pilot, I want to know if it's true that flight attendants wash out their undies in hotel room coffee pots. Signed, Dbie Johnson, Hell, Norway.

Answer: First of all, does Hell ever freeze over there where you live in Norway? Crazy. OK, your question makes me say Decafe Panties or Regular?

I heard they boil their pantyhose in the coffee pot. I don’t know this for sure but maybe one day they will write into People Magazine and confess. They give us pilots separate rooms from the flight attendants, so I haven’t tasted anything strange. But then again, I don’t normally drink the coffee in the room.

You have brought up a good point though, about staying in hotel rooms.

I have stayed in (guesstimating) over 2,000 hotel rooms over the last 15 years. They are mostly the same. Some are tiny with crappy beds, like in downtown NYC where every piece of furniture touches the next piece; others are beautiful suites overlooking the ocean.

If you are a germaphobe, then staying in a hotel would gross you out after seeing all the 60 Minutes reports where they watch how the maids clean the room and with what, and what they find. I just block that out. All I care about is cold AC, a good television, and Wifi.

Based on my experience, I have come up with some lodging guidelines for travelers. They are as follows, after the jump.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"You Want Crazy? I'll Show You Crazy!" In Which FULRO Mike Defends Army Pilots

My longtime Army buddy FULRO Mike tells me I'm not being fair to Army pilots, singling them out for being lunatics. "You want crazy?" FULRO says. "I'll show you crazy!" And he sent this. Well, he does have a point...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why Does Vulture 17 Appear Under "Crazy Pilot" in Google Images? A Chance Discovery

I've been toying around with the idea of making a poster about the five most dangerous things in the Army. As part of the poster, I need a picture of a maniacal pilot. I couldn't find any such photos lying around my office, so I turned to good ol' Google Images for help. I typed in a couple searches: "Crazy Army pilot;" and "Crazy Huey pilot." Imagine my shock when both searches resulted in pictures of our very own Vulture 17! I mean, I knew he was a bit wild, as evidenced on these pages. But I was startled to see him appear as numbers two and five, respectively, on Google Images.

Naturally, I had to report this information to the Vulture. He expressed complete puzzlement as to how he turned up topside among the crazy pilots. "There is a very long list of them," he said. "I'm kind of honored."

This lead to additional conversation about why lunacy and piloting go hand in hand. Are crazy people driven to become pilots; or does piloting cause the practitioners to go a bit... off balance? The Vulture seemed to lean toward the first theory. I couldn't entirely follow him, though, because it was hard to understand him while he was laughing.

The Vulture can't be completely nutty, I've decided. He doesn't turn up at all on "Crazy helicopter pilot" (in the first couple screens, anyway; I was too lazy to search all 18,000+ pictures). But I still need a picture for my poster, and I still am whittling down those five most dangerous things. Hmmmm.... what to do? Hmmmm....

Monday, April 7, 2014

Back From Assignment, Covering the Shootings at Ft. Hood, Texas

I've been immersed for the past few days in the shootings at Ft. Hood, Texas, as part of the People Magazine team covering this very troubling story. The physical magazine will appear later this week, but our first version is up on the "Dot," at One of the reader comments caught my attention. Wrote Emily about the gunman: "I'm sure he wasn't a bad guy until he was a bad guy." I'll post more about this, when the magazine appears on the stands.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Thursday, April 3, 2014

And Back on Assignment Once More...

Focused on Texas. AAR to follow...

Back From Assignment: Meet the Hunt Family, in People Magazine

Here is that assignment I've been working on: A heartwarming story about a family that is adopting a 19 year old biological sibling to one of their daughters. Meet the Hunts, in this week's issue of PEOPLE magazine!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

No Combat Stetson, No Quieter, Sneakier Cat From Army Public Affairs

I waited all day yesterday for the Army to announce some awesome new program, like the Combat Stetson or the Military Working Cat. I finally gave up in disappointment. Come on, Army PAO guys! What gives? April Fools' Day just isn't the same without one of your pranks!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hey Mr. Airline Pilot, I Have a Question: Our Very Own Ask-a-Pilot Responds

Would you trust this face to give you
a straight answer? Of course you would!
In the contrail of making his true confession the other day, our very own airline pilot, Mitch "Taco" Bell, has received a bit of fan mail. "Larry from Arkansas" is first off the ramp with a serious question. And Taco, of course, is happy to provide a serious answer.

Herewith "Ask-a-Pilot." Take it away, Larry and Taco...

Q: Hey Mr. Pilot, how come we can’t fly through a Thunderstorm? - Larry from Arkansas

A: Larry, that was a softball question. Aliens period. See, they refuel their UFO’s inside a thunderstorm using the kinetic energy. If we hit the mother ship inside a thunderstorm, it would put a permanent staple in your health record.

Actually it's because they are big and dangerous, and the forces inside could snap the wings right off. Imagine a giant thunderstorm looks like a carrot. The core inside like a carrot is rushing air to the top and there are shafts of air going down. It would exceed the max forces the aircraft wings are stressed for and you would become a giant smoking hole in the ground.

But since you are from Arkansas, that reminds me of a story. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

At Ft. Belvoir, With a Group of Recovering Warriors Who Don't Get Out of the Ward Much

One of my frequent stops at Ft. Belvoir
I've been spending a lot of time at Ft. Belvoir lately on behalf of Cooking With the Troops, and have been finding more and more troops to support. 

I love going to the SFAC [Soldier and Family Assistance Center] and the VA Clinic to deliver bagels and goodies, which always are very much appreciated. I also am happy to support some hungry families who are struggling to put food on the table. Some of them can't afford to buy bread, so it's nice to be able to eliminate at least that one worry.

I now have added a new group of recovering warriors to my rounds. I can't say too much about them, other than to let you know that most of their time is scheduled. They have a socialization activity once a week. I've been giving them bagels, sweet rolls, and cookies for their weekly gatherings. 

Their chaplain asked if I have a few extra items to go with the baked goods. The chaplain could use a bagel slicer, toaster, and a microwave.

I'm scrounging around now to make that happen. If anyone would like to contribute to the kitty (AKA, the Tip Jar), it will happen sooner rather than later! In return, you will rack up some awesome karma, and a special thank-you from me and Cooking With the Troops. And I bet the chaplain would put in a good word for you, as well.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

True Confessions of an Airline Pilot: Inside-the-Fuselage Insights Into Aircrew Behavior

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be on the other side of the airplane manifest? The crew manifest? Have you ever thought about what these people really do behind the scenes, when they're not enabling you to defy gravity and arrive safely at your destination?

I have an inside source: My good buddy Mitch "Taco" Bell, a genuine actual airline pilot. Thanks to Taco, we now have inside-the-fuselage insights into aircrew behavior. Taco tells me that, among other things, the flight crews like to read magazines. They even have ways to acquire the magazines off grid. What is their secret?

Take it away, Taco...

"I never buy People... I search the back of the plane after we land and before the cleaners get a chance to hit the jet. When I score a People, the Flight Attendants get all upset because I found a Flight Attendant Bible - Old Testament (Us Mag is the New Testament). I'm a cheap Pilot, what can I say? If you stay at my house don't open the closet door or the box of hotel soaps/shampoos might hit you in the head.

"I have it down to a science too. I walk down the row and look for all the subscription deals that fall out of the magazine and land on the floor. When I see those, 9 out of 10 times they have left the issues in the seat back pocket. A transcon from JFK to LA is the jackpot...some People (my favorite) Popular Science, Us, Glamour, Vogue (must pay by the pound) Guns and Ammo, Maximum, a few USA Todays with the NY Post thrown in. Makes for good reading in the hotel later."

Taco reports that he spreads the bounty at home: "The wife is happy too. Something to read as she shaves her legs in the tub."

So there you have it. The true confessions of an airline pilot, offering a rare glimpse into life on the other side of the manifest.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Farewell to Jeremiah Denton, POW Who Signalled "Torture" Via Morse Code

I am very sorry to learn that  former POW Jeremiah Denton has died. I spoke to him often during the research and writing of Prisoners of Hope. He was a brave and honorable man, and I am honored to have known him. See the interview where he blinked, in morse code, that American prisoners of war were being tortured in captivity in Vietnam. May he rest in peace.

On Assignment...

...AAR to follow. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why Cooking With the Troops Loves Warrior Hike

And why we continue to support them.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Vulture 17's Vietnam Jungle Survival School, Part 2: Saved By the Moon

By Vulture 17

Continued from yesterday...

I headed in the direction I thought best, as there was no Moon to guide me. I was on a hillside with a road running through it. I heard three guys walking and talking down the road. I hid behind a small pine tree and let them pass. I threw a rock after them, but got no reaction.  

It was pitch black. I heard guys screaming for help. I saw bonfires with guys waiting to get captured, tortured, and then put back out to try and finish the course in the allotted time. I was having none of that.  

I scaled to the top of a hill, and climbed a tree to get my bearings. Off in the distance, I saw a and heard a running Huey at a heliport. It was quite a ways away.  

The night got darker, and I couldn't see my hands in front of my face. My hat got whipped off by a branch, and there was no way I was going to find it in the dark. I let it go.   

A short time later I was pushing through the vines and brush. The next thing I knew I was falling,,, but not for long. A big log caught me in the stomach. I flipped over, and ended up hanging like a piece of limp spaghetti on the log over a stream. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Vulture 17's Tales From Vietnam: Into the Dark of Jungle Survival School

By Vulture 17

For this episode we have to jump into the Time Machine and return way back to 1969 during my "sentence" in Army Flight School. I had made it all the way to the last big test, Escape and Evasion (known from here on in as E&E). But first a little explaining is due. 

The Dreaded "PINK SLIP" was a pink piece of paper on which was the report of a major failure or screwup on a procedure or written test. Three of these would get you recycled back two weeks to another class and all new people. I had already clocked up two for a failed navigation test (which 95% of the class failed) and one for "forgetting" a rule in instrument flying. Seems the instructor never told me the rule, but he was having none of that excuse, so I got The Slip. In his defense, he did have a large number of other students. But I did NOT need another Pink Slip for failing E&E!

E&E was the Army's version of jungle survival school. The school had a "VC" village set up in the swamps of Alabama. We had classes in the swamps during the three days we were out there, unfed. 

Among other lessons, the cadre gave demonstrations of what would happen to us if we got caught by the "NVA/VC," portrayed by American enlisted. 

After being stripped to our shorts, we were stuffed into a pit. Boards with a head hole were placed over us. You couldn't kneel or stand up. A BIG (300 pound) sergeant stood on the boards to hold us in place while we were water boarded. 

After that, they hauled us over to the next station, a hut with an electric generator. There, they introduced us to how they would wire our genitals and shock us. Another lesson was tying our arms behind our backs and lifting us up by the hands with ropes. Time has faded the lesser tortures, but these were sufficiently memorable. They also made it easy for me to decide I wasn't going to get caught! 

Decision and reality are two different things, though.

Monday, March 24, 2014

X-Marks the Airstrip in Dubai: The Unpaid Americans

A couple days ago, I wrote that I have the names of American companies owed money from working on Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport. One company that is owed a staggering sum is an Annapolis, Maryland-based firm called ARINC. Two sources confirm that Dubai owes more than $70 million (yes, American dollars) to ARINC. And, to clarify: In Dubai, the big contracts, such as airport work, all bubble upwards. Eventually, the buck stops at the palace. Dubai itself owes the debt.

Since 2007, Maryland's ARINC has tried to collect for its role in making Dubai International a key hub for air travel to the Middle East. The efforts have brought nothing more than a dazzling display of tapdancing from government agents in Dubai. 

"In the U.S., we call it 'the dog ate my homework,' " says one ARINC insider. Time and time again, disbursers in Dubai have promised to pay by a certain date, with no follow-through.  

As I mentioned in the previous post, I don't feel right publishing my findings without first consulting the accused - in this case, government folks in Dubai - for comment. So I've been on the phone to Dubai.

I managed to reach Ahmed Bin Jassim, personal assistant to Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Airports. I called Bin Jassim, who handles airport matters, on his personal cell phone.

After identifying myself as an American journalist, I asked Bin Jassim about the debt to ARINC. 

"ARINC? What is an ARINC?" Bin Jassim said. "I do not know this."

"The company that provides communications to airplanes coming in and out of Dubai International," I prompted. "They're a central part of your operation." And then, to jar his memory, I added: "They're American."

"I do not know them," Bin Jassim said. 

"Sure you do," I said. "You promised to pay them more than $70 million, and they've been asking for their money."

A series of muffled sounds came through the phone, followed by the transmission from a new, gruff voice.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Old Case is Not a Cold Case: FBI Seeks Help Solving Murder of Contractor James Kitterman

This just in from the G-Men. They want help solving an old case but not a cold case. Take it away, Feds...

American contractor James Kitterman was last seen alive on the evening of May 21, 2009, in Baghdad, Iraq. His body was found the next day inside his vehicle, and his killer or killers are still at large.
Although nearly five years have passed since Kitterman’s death, the FBI investigation continues. Today we are announcing a reward of up to $20,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murder.

“We have put a lot of effort into this case,” said Special Agent Marc Hess, who is leading the investigation from our Washington Field Office. “We have interviewed more than 100 potential witnesses in Iraq, Afghanistan, the U.S., and the Philippines—but despite our efforts, we need the public’s help.”
A poster seeking information has been placed on our website and is available in Arabic and Tagalog in addition to English. Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact their local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate, or to submit a tip online. All tips can remain anonymous.
Kitterman, who was 60 at the time of his death, owned a private construction company and was contracted by the U.S. government to build a helipad at the U.S. Consulate in Baghdad. The work was taking place inside the Green Zone—the roughly four-square-mile area housing U.S. military personnel and their international coalition partners located in central Baghdad. Kitterman lived and worked inside the Green Zone, which was considered a secure area for Americans and had security provided by locally recruited guards.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Mystery of Flight 370: Why I am Proud to be a Storyteller

This is what I've been working on the past couple days: The mystery of Flight 370, for People magazine.

Here is something to consider. In stories such as this, where families are confronted with overwhelming tragedy and have no choice but to experience unbearable pain, people very much want to talk to the press. They want to tell their stories. They especially want to honor the missing and the lost, to make them come alive for a world that might not otherwise know them as anything but a statistic.

This places great gravitas on journalists who gather and record the stories. The process immerses journos in tragic circumstance, and compels them to get the story right, because they know they are creating a permanent record. The physical magazine will be stored in data bases and libraries, and will be preserved in someone's memory box until the scraps fall apart in the hands of a far-future descendant.

In this story, I am grateful to have had the "easy" part, the Whodunnit. My colleagues who tracked down the loved ones in distant lands, and treated them with sensitivity and grace, once again have earned my respect and admiration.

Here is something else to consider: The value of truth. If you think it's a cheap commodity, look what happened when bereaved family members tried to speak to my fellow journos in Malayasia. People were forcibly dragged away from reporters, and a BBC journalist was shoved to prevent him from talking to willing family members. 

Opinions, emotions, words, and truth matter. That's why forces work so hard to suppress them. And this is why I am proud to be a storyteller.

May God bless the missing and their families.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

X-Marks the Runway in Dubai: American Companies Owed Staggering Sums for Contract Work

I now have the names of American companies owed money from working on Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport. One company that is owed a staggering sum, I'm told, is an Annapolis, Maryland-based firm called ARINC. I had to ask three times for the figure, because I can't quite wrap my head around an unpaid debt that large. As a journalist, I don't feel right publishing my findings without first consulting the accused - in this case, government folks in Dubai - for comment. Time to pull out the long-distance calling card. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Warrior Flight Team to Honor USMC WW II Fighter Pilot Who Earned His Final Set of Wings

My good pal Bill "Pinch" Paisley just told me about an upcoming event at Arlington National Cemetery, to honor a pilot who flew in WWII and Korea. 

On April 22, Warrior Aviation's way-cool Warrior Flight Team will hold a flyover at Arlington in honor of 1st Lt Bruce Guetzloe, who earned his final set of wings last August. 

Lieutenant Guetzloe flew the F-4U Corsair. This aircraft holds a special place in my heart. The first model plane I owned as a child was a blue F-4U, which my Dad built for me. It even had the folding wings. I kept it in my bedroom, and used to stay awake at night imagining missions for my little plane. I am happy to see one of the real aircraft's pilots being given a well deserved airborne salute. Planes in the flyover will include an F-4U, two P-51's (wow!), plus four tactical jet aircraft.

Read more about Warrior Flight and the April flyover at Pinch's place. 

Oh, and a big congrats to Pinch for being a member of Warrior Aviation. They do great work!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Meet the 2014 Class of Warrior Hikers Heading Out Along the Appalachian Trail

And wish them well! Cooking With the Troops will support these fine hikers as they traverse the Appalachian Trail for the next six months, aiming for Millinocket, Maine. With huge thanks to the wonderful folks at Sweetriot and my local Starbucks for sending goodies to help fuel the journey. Onward! 

Two of these cheerful faces belong to Warrior Hike founder Sean Gobin (far left, in green) and my BFF and master BBQ'er Concrete Bob Miller (black tee, bottom right). The rest are hikers, including 84 year old Robert Crampton, bottom left. Cooking With the Troops saw them off, and reconnected with some of our fave hikers from 2013 (Sharon Mamagoose Smith; Popeye; and Kevin Grape Lightnin' Reed). We cannot wait to meet up with the fresh batch of trekkers along their path. I'll keep you posted on their progress, and meanwhile show some snaps from last year, after the jump...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Warrior Hike Hits the Trail - With a Sendoff From Cooking With the Troops!

Happy trails, Warrior Hike Class of 2014! Cooking With the Troops is proud to support you as you trek the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine! We will see you at various spots along your journey. We couldn't send you out improperly fueled, which is why Concrete Bob and Mike "Fishmugger" Russo gave you a BBQ'ed sendoff. Now, that's what I call a road trip...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

X-Marks the Airstrip in Dubai: Runway Closures Signal Problem With Unpaid Contractors

Inside Terminal 3
As I asked the other day: Is something amiss in Dubai?

Yes - and, as "Watchman" indicated in the comments on my previous post, the trouble centers around Dubai International Airport. In that previous post, I focused on crumbling runways at Dubai International. 

The farrago isn't limited to the runway closures, though. Those are both temporary and manageable. Airport spokesman Ali Zaigham tells me another airport, Al Maktoum International, will pick up most of the closure-induced traffic slack in Dubai. But the young runways' rather odd and quick breakdown points to another issue. 

Has Dubai stiffed itself into a contracting bind?

Watchman raised the intriguing scenario: "The emirate will have a difficult time finding contractors to work on a new project when it has failed to pay contractors on the existing airport," he wrote in a comment on this blog. "I suggest you cull through your contacts to find contractors who worked on that airport. Ask if they have been paid. That is where the trouble trail your source put you on leads to." 

In a followup email, Watchman suggested I pursue American contractors.

It took some doing, but I indeed found some American companies that involuntarily gifted Dubai its showpiece airport. I use the term "gifted" because, as Watchman predicted, many have not been paid.

A huge debt centers on Terminal 3.

Terminal 3 is the largest airport terminal in the world. The 11-level facility has more floor space than three combined Pentagon buildings, and boasts it own hotel, shopping mall, mosque, and more.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Following the Dubai Airport Leads...

... as per connections supplied via Watchman. This is going down an interesting route, indeed. Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Sixth Annual Erin Birthday Post, With Archival Photographs

First birthday: cake and observation
Twenty-seven years ago today I went into labor at the height of evening rush hour in downtown Washington, D.C. For the duration of that harrowing ride, which included a stop to fill a near-empty gas tank, it seemed as if my first baby would be born in the back seat of a Washington Times company car.

Instead, I made it to the hospital and gave birth to a child so precious, so blessed by angels and surrounded by pixy dust, that to this day she takes my breath away.

Erin Marie grew into a corkscrew-haired child so clever that she really did know how to spell "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" aloud in second grade; and so striking that Eunice Shriver once stopped dead in her tracks on the streets of Washington to stare at her. 

Over the years, Erin danced ballet and competed at gymnastics, horse shows - and academics. The only member of the immediate family who truly has the math gene, she was a champion competitive "mathlete."

The oldest of three girls, Erin always has had core K-Girl traits: The inclination to observe and analyze; a goofy sense of humor; and the ability to score interesting t-shirts. 

The Big Land of Open Carry, equine version
Once, Erin saved my life when she ran for help after something went horribly wrong following the birth of my second daughter, Kelly. 

Another time, Erin helped keep her desperately ill sister, Courtney, conscious during a harrowing ride to the emergency room. She was president of her 4-H club. She earned a perfect  "5" (on a scale of 5) on er AP English exam.

She was devoted to her best friend, a horse named Bazile. Together they galloped wildly across the land, laughing and whinnying from sheer exuberance. To this day, Erin keeps a braided lock of Bazile's tail that her sisters and I snipped when she wasn't looking.