By Jim Kuiken
You’ve probably seen, have, or know a child (or maybe were that child) who got caught with their hand in the cookie jar. I’m not talking about adult behavior, I’m talking about a tender-age child caught pilfering a fresh cookie, or maybe the ultimate transgression…grabbing a handful out of a perfectly good chocolate cake.
Of course, as an “adult”…you confront them (hopefully with some humor and well-hidden amusement), and ask them “Do you know who got into the cake?”
The denial, with cake all over their face, is the best part. I know you’ve seen the videos or TV commercials – or better yet, the culprit in real life, face to chocolaty face.
I, of course, never did that. No…actually! I never did! Would I fib to you?
Frankly, it’s the truth. I know you (and those who know me) don’t believe that, but to my best recollection…
I just wasn’t all that interested in sweets when I was growing up. Don’t get me wrong, if there was nothing else available, I’d chow them down like I was starving – but they weren’t my first choice.
I know, lots of you who read my “Frontline Tales – My Deepest Craving” post from last year would think that it was Oreos…but believe it or not, I didn’t crave those as a kid. That came along during my stint there at the Army’s Special Forces Qualification Course back in my 30’s, probably due to the austere conditions while we were in “isolation” – and the fact we were all hungry most of the time.
When I was a kid, it was generally a protein source. My mom couldn’t keep cheese (especially cheddar) in the house, and I was known for snatching a large 53 oz. can of pork and beans and a spoon, and polishing off that whole can in one sitting. Between meals.
Of course I also drank all the lemon juice (she used to buy those bottles)…and occasionally, I’d pound down a few cokes if left unguarded. I never did figure out why I drank the lemon juice.
I guess it ran in the family though, because my brother was riding in my grandmother’s shopping cart when he was a little kid, and when she got to the checkout and started putting her groceries on the counter, some of the ladies there started laughing. She turned around, and saw that he had a round of gouda cheese (the ones that used to come in the red wax covering), and, with the two teeth he had in his head, had started gnawing through the wax into the cheese.
She hadn’t picked up any cheese, so she must have parked the cart a little too close to the cheese display, and not kept a close enough eye on him… She had to buy the cheese with the notch cut in it by two sharp little teeth.
She actually had a habit of underestimating John and me. When I was very little (I don’t remember this, but I’ve heard the story all my life…I think I was around 2), she took me to Penny’s while she was shopping for a dress or something – and was “watching” me for my mom, who was probably at work.
She put me down on the floor for a minute while she looked at a dress, and when she turned around…I was gone. After frantically searching for me for a minute or two, she heard some ladies in the next section laughing, and headed that direction.
And there I was. (Now, this is going to date me, but that’s life…) There was a popcorn machine standing in the corner. One of the old style ones that had popcorn in the upper glass section, a red and white striped “skirt” below the glass, with a slot for coins (you had to put the coin in, then turn the little butterfly handle to rotate the coin down in), and a holder with some paper bags to dispense your popcorn into…so you could munch on the popcorn while you shopped. (and for all you youngsters, that used to be the norm…some form of snack and coffee or “soda pop” in the stores for customers, to keep you happy and shopping longer…)
Somehow I had squeezed into the corner behind the machine, and gotten up and into the little door or hatch on the back where they opened it to re-stock the popcorn when it got low. I was sitting inside the machine, stuffing popcorn into my mouth as fast as I could with both hands.
When the store personnel got there, moved the machine out from the wall, and reached in to pull me out, I was still reaching back in, grabbing the popcorn with both hands as they extracted me…
For some reason, my grandmother took me and left the store. And didn’t go back to that store for a while – and never with me.
I know, I was a weird little kid. Thank goodness I grew out of that ;)
So anyway – it’s fall here in Virginia. Lots of leaves, lots of rain, and in my yard, lots of mud and soft soil.
I let Freedom out back for a while (there’s no fence in the front, but he doesn’t go past the corners of the house, because I taught him not to). As a Service Dog, he’s highly trained, and highly trainable. A VERY well behaved, good and loving dog (see what he did with Kyle Carpenter from last week’s post).
He likes to sit out there and watch (and if the opportunity presents itself – chase) the squirrels.
After he’d been out there for a while, he came up to the deck and wanted to come in. When I let him in…I had some hard questions for him.
“Do you know who’s been digging in the yard?” He said he saw a deer out there, digging. Kids…
If You’re Really Lucky…
By Jim Kuiken
You get to meet someone. Special.
I’m going to take you on what looks like a trip down memory lane, a composite of previous articles and posts…but what actually isn’t. It’s a reiteration of the basic truth of what makes our country, its people, and especially those very few – Great (and no, that’s not a political reference, don’t get all riled up – it just happens to be the appropriate word).
I’m going to talk about Heroes (again). Because we should. Often.
Last week I went down to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico VA, to attend a talk and book signing by one young man who I’ve spoken of before. Medal of Honor recipient, retired Marine Corporal Kyle Carpenter.
I’ve had the honor of knowing more than a couple Medal of Honor recipients, so while I was there at the Marine Corps Museum, I walked down the hall that contains exhibits of the major wars that the Marine Corps has been involved in, to the Medal of Honor display.
Of course, these are just the Marines who have received the Medal (I know some Army guys who’ve received them as well – but this IS the Marine Corps museum…) I was just looking to see if I could find the ones I knew on the wall. I’m privileged to call these men friends (and now one new acquaintance)…and all but one are still living. And there they were.
Lots of folks think (big H) Heroes are tough guys/gals. Bad@$$es. In some cases they are. But lots of those who make sure you know how big and bad they are…aren’t.
Actually, real Heroes are that way because of something totally different than you may think. I posted a picture a couple of years ago of a young soldier that gave her life in defense of her fellow soldiers, trying to save them. She (like most of them) was so very young…and so very selfless.
I wrote a comment about her, which others then picked up and quoted. “Courage knows no gender. Courage knows no race. Courage comes from within, from a deeply ingrained sense of duty, from service to something bigger than just yourself…from love.”
It’s not bravado. For most real Heroes, it’s because they care. They feel a sense of duty, of service. Trust me, there are some serious Heroes out there who go unnoticed.
A couple of years ago, I dedicated the following song to my youngest sister, because it (in my mind) describes her.
It also fits Kyle. Someone I can respect – selfless, humble and kind. Exactly what I expected, for a Hero like him. If you’re really lucky, you meet one every now and then.
It’s a Process, Not a Destination
By Jim Kuiken
It’s certainly been a long time coming! And I will have to say it was a couple of specific events that helped me see that I was arriving at the train station!
I don’t want to dwell in the past, but many of you have seen the evolution over the last 3 or 4 years, in some of my articles like “Let's get real about Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury”, “Gaining Freedom - A Personal Journey in Surviving PTS and TBI”, “The Long Hard Road” and several others.
The progress was very gradual, almost unnoticeable – but it was steady thanks to several non-profit organizations, especially K9s for Warriors (who gave me Freedom to start back up the slope), Give an Hour (who worked through the tough walls to get me started on opening back up), Healing our Veterans (who helped me tremendously, with SPECT brain scans, hyperbaric oxygen treatments, etc…but then went out of business for lack of support and donors…), and finally, Headstrong Project (who gave me the tools – and used some innovative technology – to really start putting some of those demons back where they came from, and taking power away from those that remain…).
So…after years of struggling, I didn’t realize how far I’d come, until those specific events I mentioned came along.
I had started working out again (didn’t even realize it was because I was finally pulling my head out of my 4th point of contact – that’s for you old-time military jumpers – and was feeling much better). I had also started being more regular in my efforts to write, in my personal relationships, and several other areas.
And although I belong to several veteran, military, law enforcement, etc. organizations, I have never gone to reunions or fraternal get-togethers. I supported all the organizations, but was never really moved to participate in reunions.
So imagine how surprised I was when I saw the Marine Corps Force Recon Association 2019 Reunion, and got all excited about going and seeing (and meeting new) Force Recon brothers! I was eagerly anticipating that reunion for months! I just couldn’t get it out of my head!
I’ve written about Force Recon before, in a couple of articles, but let’s just say of all the things I did in the Marine Corps over 30 years…it was where I felt most at home – with guys who I felt were “my guys”, who had the same peculiar mindset I’d always had.
And I wanted to “go home”, feel a part of that unique brotherhood again. THAT’s when I first noticed that I was Getting the Mojo Back! Feeling like I used to – strong, focused, alive…happy…like before.
Finally the date arrived, and wouldn’t you know it, Hurricane Dorian was going to hit town the same time we were scheduled to be there in Camp Lejeune. I went anyway. I figured I wasn’t going to miss it, and my Force Recon brothers had to have the same feeling I did. Never give up, never back down, never quit. Period.
Imagine how disappointed I was when I got the message (I was already there, in my hotel room) that it had been cancelled! I was thunderstruck! These guys couldn’t have backed down! I was shocked and in total disbelief…
And then I got the emails. A bunch of the old (and some young), hard-core guys (and their wives) were already there! With a “hospitality room” already set up and going strong. Regardless of the base shutting down facilities, supporting units shutting down activities, etc., we were still going to get together and have fun – regardless. It was a great time, and I felt at home – again – with my fellow “Dorian Diehards”!
And then serendipity struck again. Right after I got back to Virginia, another friend reached out, and let me know he (Brick by Brick) was partnering up with Skydive Orange on the “Courage Project” to bring a bunch of combat wounded veterans out to jump out of a perfectly good airplane – solo (by themselves) or tandem (hooked to an instructor). I hadn’t jumped out of any planes for decades, and was thrilled at the opportunity! I’d seen a video of one of the Dorian Diehards (Cpl. Todd Love, the one holding the flag in the picture) when he got his civilian skydive certification (you really should watch that one), and that only made me more excited to go!
Of course, being a Force Recon Marine, I’d jumped quite a bit while I was in the military.
But this is civilian skydiving, and I’d have to go tandem…strapped to an instructor. Some of the guys asked me if I’d be willing to do that, and my response was that I could sit there on my macho ego and look down my nose at something so demeaning to an experienced military freefall qualified tough guy…or I could just hook myself to someone else and go have some fun!
I’ll let you guess which way I went… (Egos are so cumbersome to drag around)
Now I just have to go get my civilian skydiving license, and renew my SCUBA diving certification!!
Dual Fool (as we used to say)