Thursday, January 31, 2008


The school bus for my youngest son waits in front of our house. Holding his six year old hand in mine, I walk out into the early morning half light very much aware this will be the last time I will perform this ritual for a year. Half way down the front steps I scoop him up into my arms, which causes him to reward me with a smile and a laugh I’ll not forget. The total joy in his face tells me that in his world all is right. Mildly autistic, he still is not aware that I’ll not be putting him on the bus again for some time to come. Or that I won’t even be home for dinner that night, or the next, or the next.

The bus driver and matron, seeing me in my ACUs, Army Combat Uniform, pick up right away that’s there’s something different about this morning. I put my son on the bus and tell them I’m going away. The driver asks, “yeah, but your not going over, are you?”

I shake my head and give them my one word answer, “Afghanistan.”

Not knowing what to say, they sigh and give me a look of sympathy as I place my son on the steps of the bus. I hug him, kiss him on the head, and tell him I love him and will miss him very much. Grinning, he takes his seat as the driver pulls the bus away slowly so this moment will last longer. He laughs and waves at me as I wave back and try not to choke up as he disappears down the Brooklyn street.

The oldest, the nine year old, is a different story. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone away for a long time. The GWOT over the past few years has taken me to other Army posts where I’ve worked with other soldiers either going to war or coming back. He grasps that I’ll be away for some time, and he’s aware that there is a war going on. The difference is that this time I’ll soon be in it. The previous few weeks he asks me repeatedly about what I’ll be doing and where I’ll be. I constantly assure him that I’ll be with many other soldiers, that I’ll be safe and very well protected, and that I’ll be home before he knows it. He doesn’t completely believe it. I don’t either.

But I walk him to his school, my arm around his shoulder, reassuring him the best that I can that all will be okay. At the entrance to the school, I hug him, kiss him on the head and tell him also how I love him and will miss him. He hugs me back, gives me a brave half smile, then, head down, shoulders slack, trudges through the doorway of his school. I walk the two blocks back home, again trying not to well up into tears, at least until I can get home.

My wife greets me at the doorway, coat on, car keys in hand, ready to take me to my armory in Manhattan where I’ll continue my journey. Earlier in the week we went back and forth about taking the boys out of school for the day so they could see me off from my armory, or the “castle” as my youngest calls it. Ultimately, we decide against it as there will be enough disruption in their young lives, and that the best thing we can do is try to keep them to as normal a routine as is possible. Normal, such as normal is anymore.

Holding each’s other hand, she drives me northward towards Manhattan as I take in the scene of lower NY harbor, the Verrazano Bridge, Staten Island across the narrows, upper NY harbor, and then the Manhattan skyline on the other side. Two things I notice as I always do. First is the Statue of Liberty, which looks so tiny and lonely on the other side of the harbor, symbol of hope, and aspiration of the promise that is our nation. The second is the Manhattan skyline. Or more accurately, what is missing from it. Anyone who has lived in NYC in the last quarter century knows exactly what I’m talking about. We remember what once was and it hurts. It’s a pain very much like that of an amputee’s phantom limb.

We cross through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and get on the FDR drive on the east side of Manhattan. I’m silently grateful not to have to go up the West Side, past the Pit, the reason why all this has come into our lives. But I am also very much aware of the friends we both lost there that horrible morning. I say my goodbyes to them in my thoughts as my wife and I make small talk while driving north along the East River. We finally arrive at my armory in mid-town Manhattan where the inevitable has to happen. We have one long last kiss goodbye, and then it’s time. I pull my gear out of the car and wave to her as she drives off into the city traffic. She rounds the corner onto 23rd street and is gone. For a year. I pray to God that we both have the strength to get through whatever the next year has to offer.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Less Then 1%

Why blog? Why me? Why am I doing this? Good questions, really. The answer comes down to a disturbing statistic, less than 1%. That is the percentage of the approximately 300+ million of us fortunate enough to claim U.S. citizenship that are actively fighting the Global War on Terror .

(Henceforth referred to as GWOT. It's easier for me to type, and besides, I like the funny sound it makes when you say it. Go ahead and say it out loud - GWOT! GWOT, GWOT, GWOT! Okay, enough of that, back to business).

When the nation is at war, but the country is not, this is not healthy for the Republic. Don't get me wrong, its definitely not due to a lack of support by Americans. I have first hand stories of acts of kindness and respect from citizens that will bring tears to your eyes. And I'm not going to bash those whose sole act of participation in the GWOT comes down to sporting a "Support Out Troops" magnet on their car. Because in most instances, that is the only thing they know to do. Because to them, the GWOT is some vague abstract, yet horrific thing fought on their behalf, but doesn't affect them directly other than a hassle at the airport and obscenely high gas prices (who'd of thought that it would actually cost me $50 bucks to top off my '99 Dodge Intrepid - clearly these are dark, foreboding end-times).

However, to the 2 million plus of us actually fighting the GWOT, 9/11 truly did change everything. I'm not just talking soldiers, but all military folks - uniformed and civilian. I also include homeland security and intelligence services types, as well as first responders of every stripe. We're the ones for whom the GWOT is a harsh, daily reality, for whom "normal" is a profane word. We have fallen through the rabbit hole, our lives been turned inside out, our families stressed in every way, our careers forever altered, our health, physical and mental, pushed to the limits and beyond.

Before you get the wrong idea, I'm not looking for pity, but rather understanding. We volunteered for this in most cases. Our nation most definitely is worth the sacrifices being made. It's just that we as a country, need to know what those sacrifices are and the price they exact. The U.S. citizenry has not only a right, but a duty to know what's being done on their behalf.

Hence this blog, along with many others written by my brothers and sisters fighting the GWOT. Since we make up a tiny portion of the populace, chances are pretty good that most people don't know anyone personally effected by the GWOT. So, it is our duty to keep the rest of the nation informed through venues as this. As it is the nation's responsibility to stay informed.

Keep reading America! I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from George Orwell:

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hello World

Welcome to The New Normal and thanks for stopping by. I'll get into who I am and why I'm doing this in more detail in latter posts, but for now, this says all that needs to be said:

8:00 AM - Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. Having just completed my civic duty of casting my ballot in the NYC primary elections, I'm sitting on the X28 express bus working it's way up Church Street towards my job in mid-town Manhattan. As I had done countless times before, I gazed at the usual street scene of the throngs coming and going around the World Trade Center, paying attention to nothing in particular. Although I didn't know it, I would never, ever see this scene again.

120800RSEP01*. I am walking up Church Street in battle dress uniform, full combat gear, and armed with an Army issue 9mm Berreta pistol loaded with hollow point bullets on loan from the NYPD. Before me is a scene of horror beyond my ability to express with words. I am numbed by the sur-realness of it all. Although I didn't know it, this would now be my life, this would be the new normal.

110300RJAN08/111230DJAN08** - 6 years and 4 months later I am with my wife and children in Brooklyn for as much precious time I can hoard away from Big Army. I am a week away from getting on a bus to begin a journey that will find my way to Afghanistan. Just in time for the Taliban's Spring Offensive. I sense this story is heading towards some sort of denouement. I dread what I don't know.

More to follow....

* This is the Date/Time Group (DTG) format used by the military for expressing time and date. The format reads as: the day's date, the time in 24 hour clock format, the time zone designation, the month, the year.

** Time Zone Romeo (R) is Eastern Standard Time. Time Zone Delta (D) plus 30 minutes is the time in Afghanistan. Time Zone Zulu (Z), is Greenwhich Mean Time.