Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hello Goodbye

So….I got invited to the Change of Command ceremony at DLI yesterday. My friend Col Dave was relinquishing command of a Military Intelligence battalion. Amanda was invited as well, but she passed due to potential tears….Due to guaranteed tears. We went to the Army Birthday Ball…and Amanda not only cried during the various ceremonies….she cried describing the various ceremonies.

Amanda and I are among the last folks one would think of when someone says: “US Army!”…..but there you have it.

We are fans…..and a lot of it is because of Col. Dave. And Col. Pick. We won’t talk about DJ and Mattie.

Dave is a soccer guy….coach and referee out of Florida. Went to school in the Carolinas, which is to soccer like Saudi Arabia is to Muslims….the heartland. Mia Hamm, etc.

Dave and his crew were also the ones who supplied the manpower for our Carmel Arlington Beach Memorial for our military dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. 5,000 crosses on Carmel Beach. Try to not cry……

We met Dave through DJ…at The Store. The first time Col Dave and Col Deano came out to The Store they were a little late, and came in all grubby. A client of ours…Carey…had a flat in his brand-new SUV, and Carey had no idea what to do or how to deal with it. No cell phone coverage, so he couldn’t call his lawyer or accountant. As the Cachagua citizens streamed by uncaring, the two colonels stopped, figured shit out, changed the tire, and got Carey on his way. They all arrived late for their rezzies…..who cares?

Carey later wrote a fat check for Paradox….the 501c3 that builds sports equipment for disabled vets that the two colonels support.

Through Col Dave we not only met the leadership at DLI, but the sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines that are there learning languages. And not just Americans…..we met Frogs, Danes, Germans, Indians… name it. Col Dave encouraged his troops to engage us and trek out to Cachagua, so many Monday Nights and Sunday Brunches would feature humble tables of closely barbered, extremely fit and smart young folks….partying down with the locals.

This is not really a normal thing for Monterey and Carmel. We have a khaki ghetto….despite the extreme importance of the DLI and the NPS to our national security and our military in general… civilians rarely have any contact with our soldiers. Lord knows parents don’t let RLS, York and Carmel kids join the Army. (Oh, hello Andrew Armanasco……)

Dave went a long way to make that change. Not only did we in Cachagua wind up knowing the kids…..but we met their parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, grandparents…and we got insights into a level of routine commitment and dedication to supposedly worn out old-school ideals that most locals never see. And saying goodbye to these kids as they ship out….full of hope and confidence… Kunar Province and other horrible, deadly places. Amanda and I cry…..and we are just the caterers…..not the family. Well, maybe the extended family.

Speaking of family…..earlier this year I was trying to scramble and save the life of one of my knuckleheads….in jail for drugs, and facing a possible three year stretch for being a complete fucking knucklehead, even among knuckleheads. Still, the kid was smart, hardworking….there was hope. Dave wrote a letter for him….got him out of the slammer and got him another chance at life. Got him an Army award that he sent to the judge….just on my say-so.

Colonel Dave has been in the Army for 20 years. He was in Iraq the first time, Germany, Korea….where he was a head spook. Then back to Iraq for a couple of tours. He has been in command of the 229th Military Intelligence outfit here for two years at DLI.

Dave has a Bronze Star. They don’t just hand these things out. You get a Bronze Star for surviving things and making decisions that haunt you for the rest of your life….decisions of courage that 99% of your fellow soldiers would not have made….and your fellow soldiers do not suck……

Dave’s family lives in the East. I have known him for two years…..I have not met them. His duties here keep him apart from his own wife and son.

Before the ceremony I talked for a minute with Dave. “Jeez, I hope I can get through this OK. This is very emotional.”

In his short talk, Dave talked about his soldiers and all the normal valedictorian-type stuff…..thanking everyone. Blah, blah, blah.

Then he went off message….Uh oh.

“At risk of embarrassing myself, I am going off message here. I was in Whole Foods the other week, buying some lunch. A girl in a peace t-shirt came up to me and started yelling: “Get out of Iraq! Get out of Afghanistan!”

(Side note: independent of Col. Dave….who is a silent MI type guy when it comes to his job…..we have other contacts at high levels of our military in Afghanistan and Iraq. They all know and have known for a long time that it is an impossible job they have been given, and that it will never work. They are working to bring that information to our elected officials and the public….without being in any way disloyal to their jobs and their oaths as soldiers. General McChrystal is a first casualty….but down to the grunt level there is an awareness that they are very possibly going in to die in a losing cause….just to earn the time it takes the rest of our country to use the democratic process they are dying for to figure it out. And get them out of there. Is there a better definition of heroism? Forget Thermopylae…..)

The irony of some coddled hippy chick yelling at a military intelligence guy….a fucking colonel… about the futility of our various wars abroad….like it was his fault or choice….is mind-blowing.

The saying in the military is: “The Army went to war; the country went to the mall…..”

And to a Bronze Star holder….who has experienced the death of his friends and co-workers first-hand….at lunch? At Whole Foods? Fuck.

Dave turned away to the check out counter, dazed. The woman behind the counter asked him: “Have you been to Iraq?” “Yeah….twice.”

She came out from behind her register and gave him a hug: “Thank you for your service.”

Telling this story in front of his battalion….Dave’s voice cracked and he lost it for a second or two.

There it is…..

Bronze Star winner. Guy who thinks two years in Monterey without his family is the highlight of his career…..almost breaks down relating the one time somebody local actually showed some love and said “Thanks.”

Minutes later, with all the soldiers assembled out front doing nutty soldier shit…..”Attention, Parade Rest, Order Arms” forever…..they played the retreat…bringing down the flag at 5pm. They had a brass band that Dave had somehow browbeaten into getting together…beats hell out of the recording we all know so well.

The Retreat is from the French, by way of the Romans….and they play it when the flag comes down every night.

I was there as a guest…..and outside the military, almost all the other guests were people who looked at me like a bug….WTF is this guy doing here? May I just point out that Sheriff Kanalakis was invited, mentioned in all the speeches….and did not show. Fucking pussy piece of shit.

When they played the retreat, and all the soldiers did the Atttention thing, and the flag started down…..I actually gasped and sobbed out loud. (This is why Amanda did not go). I caught it pretty quick, and coughed. Damn allergies!

Col Dave sent me an email later saying that he hoped I didn’t think the less of him because of his brief breakdown in his speech.

No, Dave…..this is the whole point. You showed us your world, and showed your folks our world…so that we all know what we both are getting into. Has not happened much in the past.

And the best part? Dave is going on to Fort Meade….where he can no longer tell us what his job is. Basically, listening to our phone calls and reading our emails. Bring it. And munch a ton of blue crab and killer oysters from the Chesepeake, Dave.

And thanks.

And, if you see a man or woman in uniform…..just go up and say: “Thanks for your service…..” You don’t have to believe in the war, just the people….


Blogger Michelle said...

All I can say is thank you. Your 100% right "You don’t have to believe in the war, just the people". That is forgotten way to often.

3:50 PM  
Blogger teejay said...

some years later...visiting my nephew who was giving an address to the graduating class at NPGI...he told them the same thing as Dave. Kid (29) now works civilian in DC looking at 7 monitors all day, hooked up to all parts of he world, trying to outsmart the bad guys. So f'ing smart, but it is so f'ing BAD out there.

9:48 AM  

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