I started this petition
. I'd like you to sign it. I'm having some trouble gettng the link widget thing to work properly, but if you see it and want to support it, thanks.
The truth is that I'm tired of feeling harassed by debt collectors who claim that they just "bought" my college student loans, and want to "help" me resolve the debt into an agreeable repayment plan. Whatever, man.
I still don't understand how what originated as a $40-$60K debt has ballooned into a $122K debt. Really? I don't accept it. I don't believe it; and if I had $122K just lying around, I'd still want something other than the scripted conversation from a service rep to convince me that I owe all that money.
News flash: You can harass me. You can berate me. You can even threaten me with wage garnishment and witholding tax returns, and whatever else the hell an "involuntary collection measure" is. But you cannot bully me. After a year getting rockets thrown at my head, unable to sleep, eat, or take a shit in peace, a year of my life dealing with the deaths and injuries of my comrades, beat down, burned out, stressed out for months on end, ironically, supporting and defending some random debt collectors' rights to phone thug me in an "attempt" to collect money that I'm not even 100% sure is theirs to collect....I think it's safe to say that bullying tactics do not work on me.
Sure, I borrowed some money. And three degrees later, I don't know anything more about how a petition works now than I did when I was watching the Schoolhouse Rock cartoons on Saturday mornings, watching Bill sing about hoping to become a law. I suppose that the petition, with enough signatures, eventually makes it to Congress. If that's the case, maybe Congress will support a bill that will become a law for the President to sign that will forgive the debt completely. Awesomeness!
It sucks that you can't, at least not without some great level of pain and anguish, file some kind of bankruptcy to discharge such a debt.
ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS seems more than a bit of an exaggeration. Give me a break. Or don't. But leave me the hell alone about it.
So...with all of this recent hubub about petitions, and in light of the fact that any petition can be started and signed and seen, for any number of reasons, I started this one.
Like anyone who starts a petition, I think it's a worthy one. I'm nicknaming it something the military student loan bail-out for combat vets. I think it would be pretty awesome if that would happen. Stimulate the economy, alleviate some stress, and make those bastards leave us alone. Sure would make a difference in my life. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Sometimes, happiness is as simple as lying in bed, eating Nilla Wafers, getting fat, getting crumbs all over the place, and not giving a damn.
While doing a little weekend spring cleaning, I found a box of stuff I'd had in storage since before my deployment, and came across a box of old cards and letters, from family and friends who'd written to me while I was in basic training, or college, or somewhere other than home.
My (recently deceased) Uncle Greene wrote, in a letter dated over 20 years ago, "Beanie, be happy no matter what, because, 'life is too short to have sorrows. You may be here today and gone tomorrow...' I got that from a song, but it's true." And then he drew a smiley face. Lord, I miss him.
In another letter, also dated 20+ years ago, my Uncle Bro. wrote, "Don't let anything get you down. And if it does, don't let it keep you there." I miss him, too. He's not deceased, just living back home in Georgia, while I'm up here in New York.
Simply put...eat the cookies, for goodness' sake. And savor the moments when being happy is as simple as that.
My uncles, the wise men, circa summer 1970. Larry (Bro.) Penn (holding me), our neighbor, "Toot" (standing in the middle), and my uncle Harvey (Greene) Penn (holding my cousin, Drucila)
Although many of us celebrate Memorial Day as a day of exclusive remembrance for those fallen in combat, I am humbled and honored by all those who have reached out to me and my comrades who have served and are still serving, though we be not casualties of war.
The sentiment is overwhelming and difficult to put into adequate words of appreciation. It is a sobering reminder to me that, "there, but for the grace of God..."
1SG Billy Siercks (Pathfinder Co., 27 Sep 11)
CW4 David Carter (Extortion 17, 6 Aug 11)
CW2 Bryan Nichols (Extortion 17, 6 Aug 11)
SGT Patrick Hamburger (Extortion 17, 6 Aug 11)
SPC Alexander Bennett (Extortion 17, 6 Aug 11)
SPC Spencer Duncan (Extortion 17, 6 Aug 11)
Life is full of an abundance of fears. Most people have fears of something, and I suspect that most fearless people are those who have never fallen, failed or been felled.
Me? I've been falling down all my life, failed innumerably, been felled constantly; so fearlessness has never been a luxury of mine.
And the list is endless for many of us.
Fear of rejection, especially as a writer.
Fear of being laughed at, talked about, picked on, disliked, or excluded.
Fear of losing. A job, a loved one, an opportunity, a competition, a tooth.
Fear of being alone, dying alone, dying, period.
Fear of Armageddon. Not so much for me, but other folks really have an issue with it.
Fear of reality TV.
But at some point, while you're still living, you've got to say to hell with it. Shit. Put your fear in your fucking back pocket and move. Even just a little bit. What's the worst that can happen? You'll die? Sure. But you're gonna die if you stand still, too, so go already.
There will always be somebody out there who gets the guy, the girl, the job, the attention, or the money, when you feel more deserving, but so what? Get tired, but then get tired of getting tired and get to gettin'.
And here's a thought. Just maybe the reason you didn't get what you think you should have gotten is because you're not as good as you think you are. It happens. Trust me. So get better. Shucks.
That's not to say that everyone should and can learn to be fearless; but just because you're born in a barrel doesn't mean you have to stay there. Hell, the crabs who got out are probably the ones who lost a leg or two from being pulled back down. But isn't getting out worth taking the risk? What's holding you back? That fear again? Patooey!
Sure, I've seen the fearless fall in what I imagine it would be like to watch one of those giant, larger-than-life trees (redwoods, I believe), in a thunderous, unsettling crash, wreaking mayhem and havoc on its way down and in its wake. But even then, I can't help but admire they way they once stood up. Tall, straight, and always certain, even though their time on this earth is as uncertain as the rest of ours. Living and standing in spite of, or perhaps, in reverence of time. The way we all should live, despite our fears.
Yes, the mighty fall hard, but so do the rest of us. Who the hell cares who was closer to the ground at the time? Blah.
I'm not always certain, but I am certain that fear of dying is no reason not to live. I cannot, will not let fear cripple me. Immobilize me. It's madness. And I'm already crazy enough. I've come to believe that that whole thing about dying a thousand deaths is true. I live to die only once, if I can help it.
I originally wrote this post on 13 November 2011, three weeks after returning from deployment in Afghanistan.
I originally wrote and posted this on Facebook on 16 October 2011, the day before I left Afghanistan.
Now, harder than ever, I'll work the rest of my life to be more than the sum of my broken parts, recalling with reverence the days when only things that kept me from putting a bullet through my head is my genuine fear of God and a closed casket funeral. The nights I spent screaming inside with no sound coming out. The days when it was all I could do to stumble out of my tent and vomit out the word, “Fuuuuuuck!” at the top of my lungs to keep from suffocating. And piecing together the moments of sanity that I have left. Recognizing sounds and images for what they are and not what they represent.
My own episodes of experience are nothing in comparison to what many others could recount. Many people I know have done and seen things no man’s eyes should see, taken mental footage of atrocities no mind should capture or have to remember, and they deal with demons more vicious and vivid than mine will ever be. I don’t claim to have looked the devil in the face, but I know what it means to be in hell.
This is the kind of shit that makes you want to chuck 16 years of service and take it to the house. I'm tired of getting shot at. I'm tired of people I know getting shot at. Tired of people I know getting blown up and dying all around me.
How the hell did this happen? Oh yeah. I said that I was tired of not doing my part. Left the relative safety of The Pentagon for a rapid deployment unit at Fort Drum. But then again, where is really safe? Some fool just got arrested for plotting to bomb The Pentagon with C4 in model airplanes. Lord Jesus.
Now I'm sitting in the desert, feeling that whole fish in the barrel complex, like I'm just waiting for the next round to land. I'm tired of that obnoxious alarm, absolutely the most obscene noise I've ever heard in my life, going off all the time telling me, “Incoming! Incoming!” I'm tired of getting to know people by completing their casualty reports and preparing family notification documents.
How do people do these multiple deployments over and over? They are most certainly better men and women than I could ever hope to be. I will never regret counting myself among them, and when I am no longer among them, they will always be in my prayers. They will for the rest of my life be the people I most admire.
Lord knows, I love every one of them, and I pray for them constantly, wishing I could somehow protect them from all of that from which I cannot even protect myself; but I really want to catch and kick the asses of whoever the little nasty, inconsiderate bitches are who keep using up all the damn water in the shower, and then refuse to flush their own waste down the freakin' toilets.
I mean, my gracious! Everybody went to basic training. Why get to the desert and be a nasty ho? And I just want to kick the men's asses for thinking it's funny. Of course, if you have no problem bathing with a bottle of water and then pissing in the empty bottle to keep from going to the latrine, I guess a woman having a conniption about being out of water would amuse you.
Yes, thank God for baby wipes, but baby wipes were never meant to take the place of running water. Jesus, hold my tongue. Too many of the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart have not been acceptable in Thy sight. Oh Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
I'm so not anymore the person I was when I came here. I don't mind hurting random feelings of anybody who wants to put on their big boy/big girl panties and come at me with a smart mouth. I guess it's somewhat unfair, as they haven't a clue that my words are my weapons, my venom is in my tone, and my inclination to get with them on a whim will leave them sliced to verbal pieces, left telling me how I don't need to get defensive, or how I need to watch my tone. Umm, nope. Tone of voice is everything. Don't start none, won't be none.
Offensive calls for defensive regularly out here. I'm dejected and much disenchanted by what I've been through, and the time to shrivel up and cry foul is not after they've pushed me over the point of pissed off just enough for me to let them know what's on my mind. One of my own monsters, with whom folks become acquainted more than even I'd like.
*This is an excerpt from a journal entry from Monsters Under the Bed, which I'm hoping to have the courage to publish when I get home.
These are just additional thoughts that I might try to use in an upcoming work that I'm planning to call Monsters Under the Bed. It's a work of non-fiction, so I'm not sure where it would fit in any of my other forums just yet. Just need to share and get it out.
So many events of this past year have taught me that the simple things deserve appreciation more than most others. A good box of Kleenex and some Vicks salve (VapoRub, for you uppity folks) works wonders for my disposition, even though I'm a little under the weather. Has me looking forward to my next sneeze as I listen to music from my childhood on YouTube or my iPod. I hear bits and pieces of my life set to music, as so many people pass through, some fleeting, some lingering.
The Kleenex treat me like the cool side of the pillow. The Vicks comforts me like my grandmother's hands. The music plays a soundtrack to a life I'd forgotten how to love.
Current plans have me attending the funeral of a fallen comrade and the wedding of a dear friend in the same weekend. And such is how life goes. And as life goes, I find that I'm moving along with it, but only making motions. Watching it more than living it. Observing, listening, appreciating, respecting it, but yet to revisit it. Life. As it goes.
A friend suggests that I might be exhibiting subtle symptoms of PTSD, but I doubt it. It's natural for folks to worry. I wish they wouldn't. The monsters don't come for me every night. Something about the music seems to keep them at bay.
Post deployment indeed has me hovering between perpetual states of mourning and celebration. It's true that my patience is shorter. My threshold for bullshit is even lower. Self-control is a thin, yet deceptive enough veil over crazy. Grief strikes me at the oddest moments. Tears and dread and angst almost always follow. For life lost, life wasted, lives forced into destinies of struggle and turmoil, and for others who will choose to walk the most difficult, misguided, and ill-advised of paths. And then I smile or laugh in remembrance or anticipation. Or appreciation.
My bathroom is two, maybe three feet away from my bed. My bed is soft and warm. The water in my shower is hot. I just bought new shoes that I have absolutely no plans to wear any time soon. And I no longer write with a rifle on my lap. Simple things.
The good Lord already knows every speck of dust of the dirt I've done. And there is plenty of dirt on the bottom of a lot of other people's shoes that I own. Yes, I own it. But that's between me and God...and maybe another book of fiction in my not-too-distant future.
But even as I smirk and muse about some of messes I've made, bemoaning the life I live about some of the others, I find myself on the tail end of this deployment, heavily considering my dirt and the portions of my conscience that I'd like to clean, given the opportunity to do so. Trust me, when I say there is much to be considered. Even those who know me well don't know me well enough.
Afghanistan. Literally the dirtiest place I've ever been in my life. I write this knowing that I will never be the same for having been here, not even sure that I'd want to be. I write this knowing that life goes on without me back in the real world, with folks on the same bullshit they were on before I left, and some fertilizing their minds with an even more pungent load of crap. I am forever compromised by what I've done, and said, where I've been and where I am, what I've heard and what I've seen.
I'm thinking of the young, young soldiers who come to my office on the day-to-day, their eyes just a little dimmer lately than they were a few months ago, many compromised by what their eyes have seen. One who came back from a mission speaking frankly of how he thought he was going to die out there. "I thought I was gonna die," he said.
Another one, even younger than the first, I distinctly remember kicking boxes at Christmas time because he was sick of being inside the wire, missing a taste of what his peers were getting, what he'd come here to do. Last week, all he wanted to do was get out of this country as quickly as possible to hold his baby daughter in his arms again. I see his edginess all but gone, his toughness faded for the fascade it was, his genuine appreciation for the relative safety back inside the wire that he resented so much 7 months ago, and his smile at random blasts of marshmallows from the pump shotgun of a grumpy S1 NCO. It's a beautiful thing. Yes, I have a marshmallow shotgun, and I sometimes, shoot customers with it. Damn that Amazon.com.
And I'm thinking of another who won't make it home. At only twenty-six, still a baby in my eyes, who will never see his own baby again. He'd only been here six weeks. I gotta tell y'all my heart is breaking off in little pieces at a time with every day that goes by.
God knows I wanna go home and shake it off. I'm tired and I don't sleep. If you know me, picture me screaming. It's a different kind of dirt. And it sticks.
Good morning, everyone,
I hope this note finds you all well. I'm doing okay. It's very cold here right now, but no snow or rain.
Deployment is an experience that I shall never rush to visit again, although I'm very thankful to be making whatever my contribution is to the mission here. As some of you pointed out before, it is something of a re-learning of the Army for me. Any of you who is familiar with the movie "Groundhog Day" will understand when I tell you that I wake up feeling like Bill Murray. Well, except for the random IDF that manages to adjust my perspective from time to time.
Our Christmas holiday was pleasant enough with an attempt at a traditional dinner, followed by a small party and gift exchanges. My guess is that when folks bragged about how good the food is downrange that they must have been talking about Iraq, or even Kyrgyzstan. Here, not so much. During the party, my office, the S1 shop, did a skit of "A Christmas Carol" where I played Bob Marley. They tell me I was a hit. :)
The new year entered quietly and R&R season is already upon us. We recently had to take some extra effort to accommodate a young couple who plans to be married while on R&R, but somehow forgot to request the same leave dates. That was fun. Not. God bless 'em. No matter that they've only been acquainted for about 3 months.
And then there are my soldiers, most of whom seem to be adjusting well enough, except one who I suspect has that adult ADD thing, or perhaps didn't get enough attention as a child, or a combination of things. God bless me. He's a very bright kid, but makes me wonder if I was ever that young. He loves to marvel at how I'm almost his mom's age, but "look so young." *Grumble*
And then, there's his issue with authority thing. He's been counseled three times by three different NCOs in the short time we've been here, and I promise to goodness, the other day I wanted to punch him square in the chest. *Sigh* But the urge subsided soon enough. Somebody, please tell me that this too, will pass. Geez Louise! I haven't had soldiers in almost 7 years, and every day I wonder what it was that I did as a younger soldier to have such nonsense revisited upon me.
They have something here call CSM-led NCO PT. Our CSM seems to have lost his mind when it comes to PT. Dragging fuel hoses (full of rocks) and running with sandbags (full of rocks). Heaven forbid that the sandbags break open while you're lifting them onto (or off of) a T-wall, and dirt, sand and rocks pour directly onto your head and all in your face. Or worse, the top of the fuel hose pops loose and Sergeant Major says, "SSG Swint, put more rocks in there! And hurry up!"
Hurry up? More rocks? How about a handful of sand and a quick tightening of the top while Sergeant Major wasn't looking. God bless America. I'm definitely feeling my age, and ever-looking forward to re-deployment home, but hanging in here. My knees seem to be holding up so far. Lord, get me to retirement.
All in all, I feel like we have been extremely fortunate and blessed not to sustain any major injuries/casualties, although strangely, some soldiers (mostly the Pathfinders) seem to be annoyed that we're not more engaged. Go figure.
I still pray constantly. It also helps to combat my occasional bout with the blues, I believe. I miss my grandma. I miss my uncle. Some days, I cry in my tent. Thank goodness, NCOs get our own rooms, so I can keep my brave face on.
For those who missed my Facebook status, I'm driving here in Afghanistan. Yes, someone let me loose on the roads, albeit just here inside the FOB, thank goodness. It's a small thing, but it helps break up the monotony of it all.
Planning my R&R in Vegas (my first trip), so I may not manage a short stop in the DC area during R&R. Either way, I hope to see as many of you as possible upon my return later this year. And oh yeah. Sold about 10 more books. Woohoo!
Well, that's about it for now. I'm off to go drive something called an LMTV (I think). They tell me it's a 5-ton vehicle. I hope it has windows and a heater. Outta the way and clear the roads, bishes!
As always, take care and God bless.
Aside from living and working in a place where folks are overtly and covertly hostile, and being ever-conscious that folks are trying to kill me, I find it most disturbing to have a full bladder and have to get up and get fully dressed to leave the warm tent to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night...several times. Gone, it seems, are the days when I could pee one time before bed and not have to get up again until the sun came up. *Sigh* And yet, among many blessings is the fact that the facilities are only across the street and not several miles down the road, praise God. Oh, the horror stories. The horror stories.
And HALLELUJAH (or however you spell it) that there has been running water on most days. Thank Jesus for sparing me the ordeal of the port-a-john. I even hated writing that. Lord only knows how I'd survive 300+ days, several times a day in that thing.
All that to say this: Perspective can be a glorious thing. Sure, clarity is most often a bitch, but it is invaluable for sorting through the rubbish of this precious, precious life.
From one minute to the next, I don't know if I'm standing next to the guy who's planning the next IED attack, or if he just wants to get a tomato and cheese omelet. And I try not to give much thought to the possibility of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the next random rocket is fired, try to resist the urge to rip a new asshole into the inconsiderate heffas who don't know the meaning of combat showers or flushing their own waste down the freakin' toilet, try to treat each day here as any day anywhere else but here, because the truth is that anything could happen to anybody anywhere.
But the truth also is that there will be days and nights where sleep won't come easily, and so I jot down my thoughts, hoping my bladder doesn't refill itself before I'm able to lie down and get some fast sleep before I have to jump up and run across the street in a dancing tight. For some reason, I always wait until I'm in a dancing tight to get up and go pee. *Shrugs*
Every few minutes of the day, I'm praying, "Lord, Jesus, please keep us safe." If you read this, and you pray, feel free to pray with me.
Funny how it took me all these years and a trip halfway around the world to learn to weigh and measure properly the people and things who matter and those that don't. Funny how I am now in a better place than I've been in a very long time. I can only hope that others won't take as much time or distance to say and (and mean) good riddance to bad rubbish.
Here's to perspective and clarity. To the people and things they help us to appreciate and to put away. The sooner, the better.