Monday, October 26, 2009

The Last Salute

The flight back home was grueling. It takes a day to make the trip from Iraq to Kuwait and back to Oregon. The processing, waiting and endless security checks are infuriating. By the time I got to the airport in Oregon (two hours from Mom's house) it was one in the afternoon. For me though, it was still about 6-am and I had only gotten about 6 hours of sleep during the flight.

I gazed out the window of the plane, across the sun and the rolling fields of clouds and wondered why couldn't he wait? I got the news when I called my boss from Kuwait. He had been in an induced coma for three weeks and he finally succumbed to respiratory complications and an infection which had been caused by a terrible bout of flesh-eating virus he had miraculously survived many years ago but had lived in pain since and his condition was worsening. I hadn't realized how bad it was when I first found out. Before I had even left Iraq my Dad had already died.

My Mom and Dad got divorced when I was about two years old. My Mom had to deal with me and my two sisters. I was the real hellion though. I went through a foster home then she took me back and finally put me up for adoption. I was just five years old when Mike and Marsha adopted me. It wasn't easy for me being taken away from my family. I didn't understand and I guess looking back I felt betrayed, unwanted, and discarded.

Growing up I was somewhat of a social misfit and eccentric to say the least. My parents and I had a rocky relationship. I won't deny it wasn't easy raising me. I was wild, hyper-active, and always getting into some sort of trouble.

After I graduated high school I joined the Marine Corps. During that time I met Tatiana and I later had to inform my parents that I was getting married and she was pregnant. Well, Dad didn't quite approve and things were said. It was hard after that.

Over the years, things got better between us but it seemed like exchanged politeness mostly. I would call and we would talk for a minute or two usually and he would hand the phone to Mom. The last conversation I remember with him went pretty much the same way. I told them we were going to Iraq for the second time.

Life teaches us hard lessons. If you have something you want to say to someone, treat every moment as if it was your last chance to say it. I wanted to be angry at him. I was angry at myself too. But all I could think now was that I wish I could have told him I loved him one last time.

During the trip home, I had to stop a few times in a private corner and stop the flow of tears from my eyes. I've always been stubborn with my emotions. I don't think a man should be seen crying. That's foolish, of course. So instead, I kept it in during the trip home. And through the entire trip my head ached and my stomach hurt but I didn't want to make a 'scene'. I didn't want strangers' pity.

I started writing this down on some paper I had and it felt a little better, as if I was talking to someone.

Our flight to Denver got delayed and when I got off the plane I had about 15 minutes to get to my connecting gate which was on the opposite end of the terminal. I had to practically race down the moving walkways just to get there barely in time to board.

As I was making my way through the terminal I noticed a comical character. A man, tall and thin as a rail in his 30s or 40s, wearing stone-washed designer jeans, a black leather jacket, aviator shades and sporting a styled hair-do reminiscent of Elvis. But I didn't have time to stop and gawk.

On my flight to Oregon I struck up conversation with a contractor for a company that specializes in sniper equipment and had just come from the annual sniper competition in Fort Benning, Georgia. After talking to me and hearing my situation he handed me a coin. It's one of those military coins engraved with his company's logo on it. I also sat next to a retired hunter from Roseburg, Oregon just a quick drive from Oakland where my Mom lives. He offered me a ride if I needed it but Mom was going to meet me at the airport.

It was raining when I got there. A couple days later we went to a viewing. My Dad didn't want a ceremony or a service or anything like that and had requested to be cremated. He was stubborn too and didn't like people fussing about him. He hated being nearly crippled and admitting he was in pain.

I finally broke down and cried. He looked peaceful. At one point, I almost thought he was just sleeping maybe. We may have had some bad times but we had good times too. My thoughts drifted back to when I was younger. I love my Dad and this is how I'll always remember him.

 Before I left I joked with my Boss. I said bad things happen in threes and my dog would probably die. Well, today my dog Hilde had to be put down. She was an old German Shepherd and had severe arthritis and was succumbing to it finally. My Mom still has Hilde's son and daughter Lothar and Falkie thankfully though. So when the chips are down they really are down.

My fondest memory of my Dad is when he read The Hobbit to me when I was 5 years old. He would read a chapter every night to me and every night I would beg him to read just one more. I've been an avid reader ever since.

When I get back home from this deployment I'll read The Hobbit to my kids too.

As we left the viewing and said our final goodbyes I walked over to him alone. I looked at his face. It was him but just a shadow. I'll always remember him as he was in that photograph. What I had to say to him required no words to be spoken.

I stood straight and at attention and slowly raised my hand in salute to the former Marine who had served in Vietnam and perhaps more admirably had served as my father, then slowly lowered my hand.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Going Home

Well, my Dad has been in the hospital for a while in critical condition with an infection in his leg from complications from a bout of flesh-eating virus he had some years ago. He has been kept in an induced coma for a while but now his condition is worsening. He has organs on the brink of failure and is being kept going by an array of medical machinery.

I don't want to go into the full details of it but I got a Red Cross message today and I've already got a flight going out tonight. This wasn't exactly how I envisioned spending my R&R but this is it. But if anything, I have to hand it to our unit for getting me out of here so quickly on their end. I hope I will get a chance to say goodbye to him while he's still alive.

For those of you keeping up with my blog you probably won't hear from me for a week or two. There isn't a whole lot I or anyone can do right now but pray.

As always you can get the latest news from the Dragon Brigade by checking out the Dragon Brigade Facebook Fan Page and other links (see links on the right).


Monday, October 19, 2009

What a Feeling

As a broadcast journalist sometimes we have to do stuff that may seem dumb or embarrassing to other people and even ourselves. Today, I was working on a story about health and fitness and I was doing a stand-up in the chow hall. A stand-up is something where the reporter is on camera, talking about something and showing something to illustrate the point of their story. Well, needless to say I got a lot of funny looks in the chow hall as I was setting up my camera. I took my camera to the main chow hall last week too and managed to scare everyone away from the dessert bar.

My OIC (boss), CPT Walsh just happened to sit down at the table next to mine as I was setting up the shot. She asked me if I ever felt weird doing this stuff in front of people. I said no, not really. When I was in high school I had a reputation for doing almost any trick, stunt or silly bet in the cafeteria for a flat rate of fifty cents.

Once I drank a cup of insanely hot salsa for 3 bucks and change. My lips burned for the rest of the school day. We also had a friend whose dad grew jalapenos and he brought a bag of those to school one day. I'll just say this, if you're going to eat an entire jalapeno in one bite you better have a big glass of something ice-cold standing by.

Anyway, for fun last night I put together a half hour, non-stop dance mix for aerobic workouts I call 'The DJ Workout'. I might share it online sometime but the mp3 is over 50 megabytes so it would take forever to upload. As a note to anyone whose deployed out here with us, see me if you'd like some pumped up jams to groove out to on the treadmill or whatever.

I also made a little music video for fun last night. What's a Soldier to do when they want to cut loose? We're not exactly next door to FunLand so we make our fun (and fun of each other).

Anyway, just to prove that it would be absolutely impossible to blackmail me,  I submit this:

How does the saying go? Is it "white boys can't jump" or is it "dance" ...or is it both? You decide.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Cakes of Wrath

Today I finally got off the overweight program. I've been struggling with my weight ever since I succumbed to chronic back pain. Since I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease I've been on a permanent profile. I've been on therapy, had painful shots and tried all sorts of drugs. Of course pills can control my pain to an extent but they have a down-side too and there isn't anything that seems to fix it and the docs said splitting me open would probably make it worse.

Anyway, since my physical activity has been slightly limited since I got on profile I started to pack a few pounds and learned the hard way I had to start watching what I was eating and working harder.

When I was in the Marine Corps I had terrible eating habits. We got smoked so much in the Marines that most of us could eat whatever we wanted and however much we wanted. While we still work out in the Army, they don't tend to subject Soldiers to what I would classify Marine Physical Training as...i.e. Soul-Crushing Torture. I must have consumed like 3000 calories on average a day during my time in the Marines and weighed 160-165 pretty much my entire tour. It's frightening to think now the horrible things I subjected my stomach to as a Marine. Also, as a sidenote cat and dog don't taste too bad. They taste kind of like chicken if it were gamy (gamier than game hen).

People say diets don't work and they're right. Diets don't work! You have to make lifestyle changes which is what I've been learning. So, I'm within Army standards now with a bit to spare but I'm still working on losing more weight (trying to get my Marine bod back) and as I said in an earlier post restoring my abs to kicking-sand-in-your-face-at-the-beach-and-stealing-your-girlfriend quality. Each of my abs used to literally have their own six-pack.

I don't want to have to keep telling people what I great bod I used to have. I want to be able to play the marimbas on my stomach.

Anyway, to reward myself tonight for dinner I had...(drum roll) a chicken salad. :P

Yeah, I could have had a cheeseburger or some ice cream or a piece of pie but, it seemed like a step backwards rewarding myself with junk food so, I'm just gonna keep staying the course.

Our PAO shop did an interview over our DVIDS Satellite to AFN and the Pentagon Channel tonight. We had to work out a few kinks on both ends but it turned out sucessfully and it's actually scheduled to play tonight along with my video of an Explosives Ordinance Disposal demonstration at an Iraqi Security Conference held here in COB Speicher last week.

My partner in crime, SPC Campbell left us this morning to visit another one of FOBs (Forward Operating Base) and do some canoodling with Soldiers there. I got to visit FOB Summeral earlier this week and got a chance to talk to some Soldiers there.

I'm currently working on a fresh and funky album of Electronica Breakbeats called 'Electric Dream' which is coming out really nice. Also, I was googling myself "DJ Colletta" tonight and I found people are torrenting some of my music! Torrents are what people normally use to trade pirated software, games and music. I don't mind that people are torrenting and sharing my tunes though. I think it's pretty cool.

Sadly, my room-mate PFC Bruno left me last night. His section shuffled their guys around and they moved him in with another guy in his section. So, I was left all alone. Sniff. And just when we were about to become BFFs.

But, it's okay. I'm supposed to be moving in with a guy who I'm on good terms and share similar interests with tomorrow and hopefully I won't have to play anymore musical trailers.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dreams and Goals, TOPs and LOLs


I have been having some really weird dreams lately. Last night I was trapped in a strange tower. At the top of it was a room filled with gears, cogs and other strange machinations. No doubt the 'steampunk' part of my brain was working overtime. At first it looked as if there was no way out and then I spied a strange panel with a faint glow on the wall. It looked like it was missing a gear. I looked around the room again. Lying in the middle of the room was an old top hat with a rusty gear affixed to it. I picked up the hat and ripped the gear from the old felt then popped it into the wall panel. Suddenly a trap-door appeared on the floor in the middle of the room. At the same time a giant cork-screw gear in the room began turning. The walls and the cieling suddenly began closing in on me. I leapt for the trap-door and as I jumped down I began sliding down a long winding tunnel alarm began beeping and I woke up.

I have even crazier dreams than that sometimes and I keep a dream journal online called REMLAND.


As much as I hate being away from the wife and kids, being deployed does give you the benefit of a little extra 'me' time albeit the fact of course that Iraq isn't exactly Happy Time Fun-Land Supreme.

I want to get promoted, lose some weight, restore the previous glory of my once mighty abdominal muscles (my abs had their own abs), read a hundred books (2 down), write a couple books (working on one right now), have a little extra fun with my job, pay off some bills and learn some conversational Arabic.

I've got a Nintendo DS that doubles as an e-book reader (with the use of a special R6 game card) and I've got enough e-books to last me a life-time. I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. So far I've read two books by Robert Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. If you don't know he's the guy who wrote Starship Troopers and one of my favorite authors. The movie was okay but the book was ten times better. I like stories that intermingle genres and that have an equal amount of action and humor. I'm also a big fan of Piers Anthony, author of the famously funny Xanth series and also an awesome book called On A Pale Horse about a guy who accidentally kills Death. On my last deployment, I wrote to him and I got a box full of books including a signed auto-biography which was super cool.

I finally found another rock of sufficient size and weight to complete my rock collection. So I now have two rocks that are both about 30 pounds although one is slightly heavier. I put each one in a laundry bag and I call them my "PT ROCKS" rocks. I've been Rocks-ercising with them, doing curls, lifts, and other stuff. I actually got some burn on earlier tonight. :P

I also started writing a book called F.O.G. V.S. F.O.E., a somewhat humorous story about a boring file clerk in a bureaucratic re-visioning of heaven who becomes a rogue angel to put a stop to a demonic plot. It's actually a re-write of a super-shot story I wrote some years back. I might post a preview of it later.


No not a spinning top. This morning was our Brigade's official Transfer of Partnership ceremony with the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. We were at the gate early this morning to round up media but they came a handful at a time and we had to bus them back and forth. It was a regular circus type affair. We had members of the Iraqi Army, Police and local community as guests as well. As luck would have it I got stuck on the last bus behind a long and slow-moving convoy while trying to get back so I wouldn't miss the beginning of the ceremony. Sure enough I did. But our tenacious photographer SPC Shantelle Campbell was on the scene getting the money shot of the Brigade colors being uncased.

Col. Hank Arnold (left) and CSM Michael McCoy (right) unfurl the Dragon Brigade's colors.
(photo by SPC Shantelle Campbell)

I can't confirm this but I'm pretty sure if you combined our Brigade Commander and Command Sergeant Major they might possibly form another Chuck Norris. Unfortunately, the paradox of having two of Chuck Norris inhabiting the same plane of existence would inevitably bring about the end of the world or Chuck-ocalypse ending all life as we know it.

After speeches and media interviews we entertained our guests with tea, cake, ice-cream and finger food afterward. I've seen so many cakes cut since I've been deployed I'm starting to wonder how much the Army budgets for cakes and pies. I know it probably doesn't sound terribly exciting when I describe it but I'm not a big fan of ceremonies.

The other day I was at a conference and it ended with an American and an Iraqi in what I feared might become an endless loop of thanking each other. But finally one of them relented and it ended. I was almost envisioning having a leg-locking moment. I've seen this happen before. When we were on a parade field for some big ceremony in the Marine Corps one of the short scrawny guys in our unit locked his legs out and fell flat over, mouth agape and taking a big bite of grass and dirt as he hit the ground. He was in the rear of the formation and our Medics quickly removed him from the scene. Some guys have all the luck.


We get time off here and there but working a 7-day work week can get to people quick. Unfortunately, there are only four of us in the Public Affairs Office so shift-schedules are pretty much impossible. Not to mention it's pretty easy to tap out a 4-person shop. Anyway, the other day I swore I was going to X out all the days on the calendars and replace each day with the the letter 'M' because here...everyday is Monday. :P

Don't worry. I'm not losing it. It's actually that quirky sense of humor that keeps me going most of the time. Speaking of which...

OPSEC aka Operational Security is all about keeping military information secure. I've noticed a few computers around our brigade sport sideshow screen-savers with little OPSEC ads or messages on them, similar to WWI and WWII propaganda posters but on a much less over-the-top scale.

AFN, Armed Forces Network TV also runs PSA's (Public Service Announcements) about OPSEC and can come off as kinda funny sometimes even un-intentionally. That's not to say OPSEC isn't serious business. It's a vital part of all military operations but, it never hurts to have a laugh as long as you remember the message.

So with that in mind, I made a few unofficial OPSEC posters of my own. I guarantee gandering at these will cause people to ponder OPSEC at least twice as often on any given day. (Also, cats are awesome and as we all know everyday is Caturday which actually supercedes the everyday is Monday rule)