Down, But Not Out (Sorta…)
By Jim Kuiken
You ever have one of those days? Or weeks?
Yeah, I thought so. At least I don’t feel so all alone. It happens to the best of us. Even the truly gifted (which I’m not one of…) can still trip over air every now and then. And then you look back, right? Like there was actually something there (but there wasn’t…you’re just a klutz).
Not talking about long-standing issues, or things that just keep you out of the norm for extended periods of time – I’m talking about when things just don’t go well, and you have an instance (or streak) of bad luck that just knocks you off-center for a bit.
As many of you know, I’ve had a life of interesting occupations that tend to be a bit on the physical (and sometimes hazardous) side…with which come the inevitable bangs and bumps, and sometimes a few more serious owwees… The kind that stick with you.
And get worse with age (just sayin’…) And overuse (because I’m not bright enough to stop).
So…I had one of those (couple of) weeks. Still working my way out of it as we speak. But first, some context.
Now don’t get the impression I’m whining here, I’m not. But these are a brief list of some of the reasons I have some of these issues that lead up to the last few weeks.
Besides being blown up a few times, a couple of parachuting mishaps and various other little incidents in the military, I’ve fallen through a roof at a fire (when I was a firefighter), and been in more than my share of scuffles and knock-abouts during my career in law enforcement.
Due to these and other incidents, I have three spinal fractures (base of neck, midway between my shoulder blades, and mid-lower back); a couple pieces of shrapnel; eye, ear (hearing/balance) and head issues (no wise-cracks here…I’m watching you!); two blown-out knees, and a few other marginal parts and pieces. (again…hold your tongue!)
Over the years I’ve learned to deal with some of these, and work around the others. Unless I get bull-headed and just do what I want to anyway…which doesn’t always work out well. At least I’ve never been accused of being the brightest bulb in the box!
Stubborn (I prefer “determined”), idiot (“independent”), what the heck were you thinking (“innovative”), bull-headed (“self-motivated”), you just never learn, do you (“focused”), and a few other terms seem to be frequently used. But bright? Not so much.
At least I don’t (normally) say “hold my beer”, or “watch this”! I just refuse to be defined by my well-earned limitations. They do, however, tend to impose restrictions, or step on my brakes every now and then. Like the last few weeks…
So…there I was. Starting out on a great adventure!
Well, actually, I was just sitting down on the floor (a big no-no for me…no back support) with my Dremel tool in my hands, getting ready to file down my dog Freedom’s toenails. He screams like a baby if you try to cut the front ones (they’re very sensitive), so they have to be filed. This is fairly new to me, I’ve only done a couple of his nails once before, and I had to stop to rest my back. I figured I’d just do two or three at a time, with plenty of breaks in between.
As I bent over to take his front paw in my hand, selecting the nail to be filed, and turned on the tool, the lower back slid out of place. When it goes out, the vertebrae mis-align, and pinch the nerves (which is excruciating), which causes the muscles to spasm, and further mis-align the spine…and hold it (out of) place. It’s like a railroad spike being driven in with a sledge hammer…only much sharper. And it is constant, not just immediate.
When the back goes, I’m down (in bed) for a week or two, or for up to a month or so, before I can finally get up (with help) into my walker, and shuffle (with help) to the bathroom and back, for about another week or two. Then, if things are going well, I can transition over to my forearm crutches for a week or two (sometimes longer), and hobble around the house (with help initially, then under supervision), even sitting in a chair (with help and back support) for short periods of time. Finally, I can transition over to my cane, and move about unsupervised, even leaving the house for short excursions until I’m finally able to walk again unassisted…in about a week or two.
The fun part is, if my neck or upper back go out (and yes, they go out independently, and generally with no warning) for doing mundane things like pulling the skin off a turkey neck while I prepared Thanksgiving dinner for my mother (who was visiting a few years ago) and my family, turning slightly, and dropping the skin into the trash can. As I turned with my arm out slightly to drop the skin, the neck went out. For no reason.
So, like I was saying, if they go out, they cause spasms, which immediately pull the lower back out, and here we go again…
Back to this time. I’ll try to wrap it up. I was down in bed, and as I was helped into bed, my leg dragged slightly (I can’t pick them up after the back goes), and my left knee cracked, and went out. It’s the worst one (from one of the explosions…the right one is from the parachute mishap), but luckily, it didn’t hurt that much – because the back masked the knee pain.
A couple of weeks later, as I’m up and moving around (Yay! This one was a short one), I went outside and was moving around, but was still not fully functional because of the imbalance of the back and knee, and some effects of the medication, I lost situational awareness, backed up slightly, and tripped – backwards – over the tongue of my son’s boat trailer. Yup…didn’t even notice a full-sized bass boat on a trailer right behind me…
So I fell backwards over the trailer hitch (which is just over knee-high) onto the driveway pavement, jammed my right wrist (which ended up being wrapped for a few days, and is still painful today…with my still sore, but basically functional back, and sore knee), and in keeping my head from hitting the pavement, hurt my neck.
That’s ok. You can go ahead and laugh. What a frigging couple of weeks!!!
I’m hoping to fix lunch today without cutting off any fingers…
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)
A Woman’s Place is…
By Jim Kuiken
Wherever the h€!! she says it is!
But - Women don’t belong in law enforcement. Women don’t belong in the military. Women don’t belong in politics. Etc…
Really? Pretty much every one of those (and many other “don’t belongs”) have been debunked, with women not only serving in those roles, but excelling – and in many cases, leading.
But they can’t shoot! (tell her that…just don’t stand in front of her when you say it).
Or if you think she’s too “Hollywood”, check out Gabby Franco or any of the other nationally ranked shooters…
They can’t lead effectively! Tell that to Carla Provos t, Chief of the US Border Patrol.
Well…, they certainly don’t belong in combat! Tell that to this 5 foot (something), barely over a 100 lbs. combat veteran of the Gulf (ODS), Afghanistan (OEF) and Iraq (OIF) wars, recipient of the Purple Heart, and Bronze Star (with combat V for valor) medals…retired Sergeant First Class Helyn Stowe (below). (don’t let her appearance fool you, this is a hardened professional soldier)
And there are so many other examples, I’d run out of space before I touched a fraction of a percent of them. CEO’s, Govt. leaders, Military leaders, combat veterans, etc., etc… There is practically no place where there aren’t women, not only doing the job, but doing it well, and in many cases, leading those efforts.
There are so many areas, I’d like to just focus on one for today…the Military. This is not a recent development here in the United States…but it is certainly something that is coming of age, with more and more opportunities opening up for our sisters-in-arms. These opportunities were built on the backs of a long line of service by women in our armed forces.
I was honored to have been invited to attend the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium (JWLS 2019) last month in Washington DC, put on by the Sea Service Leadership Association (supported by Susan Davis International), which was attended by well over a thousand of these Leaders and servicewomen from every U.S. Service Branch, as well as multiple foreign nation military branches…more on that in a bit. Meanwhile;
It actually starts as far back as the Revolutionary War…with “Molly Pitcher”. Legend has it that “she” took her husband’s place when he was killed, picking up his musket, and actually being wounded in battle. That is not exactly true, and “Molly Pitcher” is actually a composite description of at least two women, who both took their husband’s place on cannon crews, in two different battles in two different places. One (Mary Hays) came to be known as “Sergeant Molly” (first woman to ever receive a warrant as a non-commissioned officer (NCO), by General George Washington himself), who at one point during the battle, “a British musket ball or cannonball flew between her legs and tore off the bottom of her skirt. She supposedly said something to the effect of, "Well, that could have been worse," and went back to loading the cannon.” The other was “Captain Molly” (Margaret Corbin), who was wounded in action, and became the first woman in the United States to receive a military pension.
And who can forget Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, M.D., who was a Prisoner of War, and was the first (and only, to date) woman to be awarded the Medal of Honor, for her actions in the Civil War? Ironically, “Walker is the only woman to receive the medal and one of only eight civilians to receive it. Her name was deleted from the Army Medal of Honor Roll in 1917 (along with over 900 other, male MOH recipients); however, it was restored in 1977”. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2000.
I’d love to catalogue all these courageous women, from all the wars and battles up to today, but there are just too many of them. My point is they’ve been around as long as this country has, and have been in the fight from day one – and they’re still out there on the battlefield today.
And don’t think they’re just out there in “admin”, motor transport, as cooks, or any of the traditional places they used to put females in the military. They’re all over, in almost every career field! There are female Army Rangers, Navy Submariners, Marine F-35 Pilots, Infantry small unit leaders (these are two Marines, one who was promoted out of her billet, and the other who is a ground Intelligence Marine, and qualified Sniper), as well as numerous Senior leaders (Generals, Admirals, etc…) – including Infantry Division leaders…all traditional male roles.
I know a lot of folks still don’t believe these women belong in these units…especially combat arms – and for sure, not in any of the “special operations” billets, like Army Rangers or Special Forces, etc – but you’d be surprised (I’ll tell you about that in a minute).
But first, let’s clear one thing up. Yeah, I’m a hard-core knuckle-dragging combat wounded 30-year Marine Sergeant Major (and Force Recon, to boot), but my personal opinion is that any legally qualified person who can pass all the qualifications (without changing them to allow lower standards or giving any special considerations, etc.) for a particular position, should be allowed to fill that position, unless or until they no longer meet the standards (just like anyone else).
So, as one of those “special operations” folks myself, I recognize some people excel so far above and beyond even those “special operators”, that I am in awe of them. Here is one such person – Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent. She (along with many others) spent pretty much her whole career in special operations, with the SEALs, Special Forces and other agencies, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc…
And there are many more women in special operations, as well as most areas of the military.
Which is why I was so happy to have been invited to the 32nd Annual Joint Women’s leadership Symposium last month! (See, I told you I’d come back to this… ;) It was an action-packed invigorating event, with breakout sessions, great dinner speakers, fantastic panels, networking, and just general good camaraderie!
I highly recommend that you check in with the Sea Service Leadership Association, and sign up for next year’s event to join with and support all your sisters-in-arms!
It only gets bigger and better every year.
“A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
By Jim Kuiken
As many of you know (and a lot of you may not), I spent a good portion of my 30-year Marine Corps career in Battalion Reconnaissance (Bn. Recon) and Force Reconnaissance (Force Recon), as well as a few other “special operations” units (ANGLICO, USMC Civil Affairs, etc.).
Suffice it to say that my career (and most of my deployments) did not follow a “traditional” career path in the Marine Corps. Don’t get me wrong…I wouldn’t have had it any other way! The reason I was in those positions for so long was because I absolutely loved it, and I was good at what I did.
It all started a long, long time ago… Back in the early ‘70’s, I was “tasked” for a special assignment, which ended up exposing me to the world of special operations, and I decided that I wanted to do that full-time. When I returned to the United States in 1975, I immediately started bugging my commanders to transfer me to 1st Recon Battalion, and after some wrangling, I was transferred over.
But that’s not how I got into Recon. That’s how I got into the Unit…but not how I got into operations. Before it was a primary “Military Occupational Specialty”, Recon was a secondary MOS (i.e., not permanent)…and before there was a Marine Corps Reconnaissance Training Company, there was RIP…Reconnaissance Indoctrination Program. It wasn’t a formal school like now, it was run by the battalion, and was somewhat akin to today’s Basic Reconnaissance Primer Course (BRPC) – but since it was locally designed and run, there was a lot more flexibility. (i.e., you had to get past them to get in…).
RIP started out with a series of tests, and if you passed all of them, along with an instructor critique and a peer evaluation…then you were moved forward into the training phase…again, having to pass all the training, and another instructor critique and peer evaluation. After all that, if you passed, you were finally brought on as a candidate, and sent to Amphibious Reconnaissance School (which no longer exists…it is akin to the current Basic Reconnaissance Course).
Suffice it to say, it was a tough hurdle to pass. And it all started out with one test…“The Rock”.
I didn’t really understand the test (I thought I did…but I found out much later, when I ended up running the RIP program for 1st Recon Bn.) that it wasn’t at all what I thought it was. And trust me, they didn’t explain anything. Part of the test was to see if you would just do as you were told, without hesitation, without questions. But we didn’t even know that…
They took us out one at a time to the beach, close to “Las Flores”, one of the many small “camps” that house various units on Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Pendleton. 1st Recon Bn. was housed there on Las Flores (before they got kicked out in 1976 and sent to Camp Talega, all the way in the back of Camp Pendleton, away from everyone else...but that’s another Frontline Tale, for another time… ;)
They took us out one at a time, over a two-day period, for “The Rock”. Since I was a Sergeant at the time, the highest ranking “tadpole” there, I had the honor of being woken up at 0400 (4am) on the first day, and hustled out to the beach. (they rode in a jeep, I ran alongside).
When we got there, I got a quick drink from a canteen, then they had me strip off my t-shirt, so I was wearing my boots and utility trousers, with no shirt. When I was ready, they backed the jeep up to the water’s edge, and dumped a big, perfectly round granite rock off into the surf. It was about the size of a small beach ball, was painted shiny black (which made it slick when wet), with a white skull and crossbones (with three painted bullet holes in the skull’s forehead).
As they pulled the jeep back up onto the packed area of sand, they told me to go over and pick up The Rock. I’ve never been one of these big hulking type guys…and at that time, was 5’8” and a massive 130 pounds…wet. That d@mn rock was heavy!!! And hard to pick up. And hard to hold on to…
When I finally muscled it up, and was holding it with both my hands on the bottom with my arms wrapped around it, they pointed south, and said “Stay in the water, half-way between your ankles and your knees, and run”. They didn’t say how far, or anything else, so I started running (if you can call a slog through mid-calf deep surf with boots and trousers, holding a very heavy, slick round rock “running”…) as fast as I could. They paced me in the jeep, and said nothing, as the sun topped the horizon and started to rise.
I don’t know how far I ran, and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I just kept running until I basically passed out and fell into the surf, vomiting.
Evidently they pulled me out, because I came to in the jeep on the way back. They still said nothing until we got back to Las Flores, and then they said “Get out. Don’t say anything about the test. Send out the next one, then get cleaned up and grab chow. Someone will come get you in an hour.” The rest was history! I finished my RIP a few weeks later (doing a few hundred Recon pushups, ridge-runs, surf ops, and a whole bunch of other stuff along the way), and was on my way to Amphib Recon School.
That all sounds like a bunch of macho tuff-guy stuff, but a lot of folks who ran a lot farther than me never made it. Several of them never made it past The Rock…
Only when I finally took over as the SNCOIC (guy in charge…) of 1st Recon RIP, and studied the curriculum did I finally understand. It wasn’t about how far you ran, or how fast. It wasn’t a physical test at all! Those who gave it all, went as far as they could before their body just quit on them, those who asked no questions, just did…were the ones who passed. One of the guys who ran farther than anyone else, but ended just stopping and throwing the rock down was gone that day.
It was about if you quit.
They could make you stronger, they could teach you what you needed to know, and you would practice (ad nauseam), until everything you needed to do was deeply ingrained…but they could not teach you to “Never quit, never stop, never give in…” That was all you.
We ended up re-vamping and modernizing the RIP curriculum after I took over – but we kept
Tempering the Blade
By Jim Kuiken
Adversity sucks. Hard times, desperation, worry, heartache, pain and suffering. Why does the other guy have it better than me / my family, etc? Some people just glide through life without a care, everything always goes well for them – finances, “power and privilege” …
Frankly, I don’t give a $#!+ about how well others have it. As long as they came by it legally, good for them! I don’t care one way or another about those who are doing well. It has nothing to do with me or mine – and I don’t ascribe to the idiocy of envy, jealousy or coveting – or of taking away from those who “have” to give to those who don’t.
What I do care about is those who don’t have, those who struggle. But I don’t believe in giving them someone else’s money, property, or success. I do believe in helping them find opportunity to make it on their own, with their own drive, determination and guts.
Like many of you, I know what it is to struggle. I’ve been to the top, back to the bottom, and back to the top (and back to the bottom) many times in my life. And I’ll bet many people who appear to have it all together actually have too. I’m always careful of assuming, because you never know what struggles (external or internal) that others have or are going through.
When I say that, most people assume (there’s that word again…) that what I’m talking about when I mention my own background is the 30 years as a combat Marine, my time as a Firefighter/EMT-A, and my time as a Law Enforcement Officer / Agent (LEO). Yeah, I’ve seen some rough times there, in some very bad places, losing some friends in very bad places, and seeing the heartache and depravity that only Firefighters and LEO’s see.
But very few people know of some of the personal (external) struggles I’ve seen. Many have seen much worse, but these were just a few of mine.
The first time I got divorced, I had to walk away from my two young children (I still saw them, but I didn’t live with them anymore), and took my 12-foot camp trailer out to Gowan Field (the military reserve center behind the airport in Boise Idaho), where I parked it behind the USMC Reserve Center…in the winter… It was a very small trailer with no bathroom, a small sink and a bed, and not much else. I ran an extension cord and a hose into the back window of the reserve center for water and heat, and when I needed to use the restroom, I went inside the Center (which had anti-freeze in the toilet water to keep it from freezing), and stood in the deep sink (cold water only) to take a “bath”… And I had one box of canned goods, my clothes in trash bags, and my bicycle. It was a rough couple of months, especially since I had just lost my job as well.
After a while, a friend (and fellow Marine) took me in to his house (then a mobile home, when he lost the house because he also lost his job), and we scraped along. I even ended up standing in line at the food bank (for a big 5lb block of cheese, a large bag of flour, a box of powdered milk, and some salt) to get by when we ran out of food! Can you say biscuits and white gravy with sprinkled cheese, and some really watery “milk”? Kept us going for a while!
We both found jobs after a couple of months of searching, and things finally turned around! Life went on…until my second divorce.
Back in the 12-foot trailer behind the reserve center, one box of canned goods, my clothes in bags, and my bicycle. And someone stole my bicycle.
And life went on. I worked my way up (and had a few more deployments), and ended up back in law enforcement (Federal this time), as well as continuing my military (reserve by this time) career, and look how things turned out!
Adversity. Is it a bad thing? It’s rough, I’ll give you that…but is it bad? I actually pity those who have had perfectly smooth sailing. Many of them never learned the tough lessons, or how to stand on their own hind legs.
Adversity “makes (wo)men better or bitter”.
Adversity “separates friends, into the good ones or the bad ones”. Did they cut and run or walk away…or did they step up and stand by you? I know I had a bunch of the first, and a precious (and I mean that literally) few, who I can name. Who were there regardless of other’s opinions, or anything else. They stood firm.
Adversity is the true test of “(wo)men, friends, and family”. (and teams, and leaders!)
Do you know how to make a great sword? (yeah, I know…another example of one of Kuiken’s “linear” thought patterns…) Sorry! (not sorry…)
There are two extremes of swords. There is the stamped, molded or cold-pressed sword. It looks very nice, and is good to hang on the wall – but the first time you hit anything with it, it shatters, bends or breaks. It’s all flash, no fury.
And then there is the Katana (Samurai sword). I know there are a lot of great swords out there, but this one is my example
It is fired and beaten flat, then folded back on itself, put into the fire, and beaten flat again. And it is done all over again. And again – many times. These blades are so strong and perfect, that many of them last for hundreds of years, handed down through families for centuries – and are still strong and sharp.
It is the tempering, the careful beating into shape without breaking, and repeating this over and over that gives the weapon its shape and durability.
Adversity. Celebrate it, embrace it! It will tell you about yourself, your friends and colleagues, and those you hold the closest. It will separate out the chaff and the wheat. And it will strengthen you or break you…a lot depends on you and how you view it. And when it gets to be too much, talk to someone. Consider them part of tempering, and keeping you from breaking. It can only make you stronger.
The 80% Solution
By Jim Kuiken
Everyone is faced with choices. Personal choices. Professional choices. Political choices. Quality of life choices. There is no end to choices…marketers, media, and others make sure of that.
Everything from which brand of toothpaste, to who to elect, to family issues, etc. There is literally (and I mean that literally – not, like, literally…gum pop eye roll) no end to choices. You can get completely overwhelmed. I know I do. Frequently.
Lots of choices are important personally, and a few have very serious consequences. Like those that face military personnel in combat, first responders (law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical personnel), etc. Luckily (more likely, by design), there are procedures, laws, ethics and an organizational ethos in place to guide those life and death decisions, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
And I’m not talking about good/bad, right/wrong decisions. Those should be guided by a person’s ethics and morality (and/or religious beliefs). Legal and illegal are guided by the (current) law…and they change with the laws as they are overturned, added or changed.
I’m talking about all the life choices we face every day, some easy, some not. I’ll tell you about some of mine in a minute…but how do we make all those choices without going nuts?
Something an old Marine Gunny told me one time sure helped me…and it is the method a large majority of those who need to make important decisions use every day.
You can get stuck in the endless loop of what-if’s, indecision, and what is frequently called “analysis paralysis”. Over-thinking. Continuously searching for “ALL” the information, rather than the 80% of the best available information. Assuming hidden meanings or motives in everything, etc.
Sometimes things are just what they look like they are, and sometimes they’re not. I’m not saying take everything at face value, but a lot of the time you just have to make decisions on what you can see, or the best information you have.
It’s called the 80% solution. Do the best you can to make a decision, but don’t keep second-guessing. Sometimes you just have to come up with a solution, and move on. It isn’t always perfect (actually, it very rarely is), but you have to decide, and then act on that decision, letting go of all the what-if’s.
If it turns out to be a bad decision, then recognize it, own it (and if necessary, apologize for it), correct it, learn from it, and move on! Don’t sit there beating yourself up over a bad decision, as long as it was made with the best information you had, and with good intent.
Ok, enough pontificating…as I promised, here are some choices I face or have faced.
Health choices…do I get up every morning at 5am, stick to my 6 times a day eating schedule (5:30am pre-workout, 8:30am post-workout, 11:30am lunch, 3:00pm mid-day, 6:00pm dinner, and 9:00pm pre-bedtime), my workout schedule (Mon-Sat from 6:15 – 8:00am), and start work (writing) at 9:00am every week day?
Trust me, that’s a day by day, and oftentimes hour by hour decision…and it doesn’t always work out well… But I face that decision every single day (and often, several times a day).
Quality of life decisions, like;
Do I do something for myself, something I enjoy on a weekly or daily basis? Do I go out in the morning and sit in my tree stand with a thermos of coffee just before sunrise (usually on a Sunday), and relax into the peace and quiet, as the cool breeze gently rustles the leaves, the sun just starts to rise behind the horizon, and the birds slowly start to wake up and tentatively start to chirp?
Well, no. I haven’t done things for myself in a couple of years at least. But I made a big decision – to start doing those things again. Like every other Friday, take the day off and go hit some golf balls, or head out to the range for some trigger time, or take Freedom and my kayak and head over to the local lake for some peaceful gliding through the water looking at the geese, etc.
Family decisions. Do I push to reestablish closer ties with my family that I had let lapse in the push of all-important business, geographical distance, “schedules and obligations”, etc…? (not to mention, the pervasive effects of PTSd from my years of service as a combat Marine, a law enforcement officer, and a firefighter/EMT). Well, yes! And I have to keep that in the forefront, and focus on actually doing that, not backsliding into the pressing of the immediate over the important…
And my friends too…!
Do I start saying “No” more? Absolutely. See my post “Back on Track” from a couple of weeks ago. And I mean it!
Professional choices. Do I stick to my writing schedule, and actually complete this current book, stick with my articles and other writings, continue to advocate for military, veterans and first responders, etc.? That (the writing) takes a lot of discipline. And a decision to actually sit down every day and write – good or bad, something to keep or to tear up – it doesn’t matter. It’s the act of sitting down and writing that is important. Good will come, and cr@ppy will come, but it will be worth it.
What are some of your choices? Easy or hard, it doesn’t matter. It is the act of sitting down, thinking them through, and making decisions that will matter. You won’t stick to them all the time, and sometimes you will, but it will be worth it!
And please – as I am struggling to do – make some decisions to do something good for yourself, and hopefully for others! The ones for yourself will help you, and the ones for others will help the world.
Now, for some tree stand time…
Don’t Judge the Book…
By Jim Kuiken
So…there I was, a fairly junior, brand new “wet behind the ears” Border Patrol Agent, assigned to the Calexico California Station…
There’s always one thing that’s bugged the (bleep) outta me. People judging the book by its cover. Assuming since I’m whatever (not large, not overtly muscular, not assertive (that one’s a serious mis-judgement), etc., etc…) that I’m not capable, competent, etc.
This time, the general consensus was that I was a newbie. Ok, so I was – to the Border Patrol. However, I was previously a Recon Marine (Platoon Sergeant, when I left active duty), a multi-year Correctional Officer, SRT and SWAT member, Sheriff’s Deputy, Immigration Detention Officer (working with the Patrol), etc.
I get it that I had to learn all the Border Patrol stuff, but I wasn’t new to operating in austere environments in small teams, facing armed opponents (successfully), to law enforcement, or even to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
However, I was junior – in rank, time in service, and several other ways – but I’ve never had a problem with starting at the bottom, earning my stripes, and learning the ropes. I actually like that!
In late 1989, I’d been around for a few months, and was starting to get a reputation for a real go-getter, so they had partnered me with “Jim”. He was a salty BP Agent, had been around the block, and had a penchant for getting into situations others might avoid as too “risky” – my kind of guy. We worked well together, and soon had that bond that comes from working closely in tight situations, and knowing that your partner has your back. He was one of those typical desert dwellers…skinny, burnt mahogany and wiry muscles. And he smoked like a chimney…
At this point, with the background laid out I’d like to say “It was a dark and stormy night”, but let’s get real. It’s Calexico California! It’s a desert environment, with a climate much like Baghdad, Iraq. It was a blazing hot (well over a 100 degrees), dry, dusty, eye-wateringly bright day, just before noon.
Jim wanted a sit-down lunch, and we were out in the sector we called the “west desert” (which should be an indicator…a desert within a desert), and there was really only one place out there. The Mount Signal Café, on the corner of Hwy 98 and Brockman Rd. We headed out there, ordered our ginormous Sweet Ice Teas, he ordered a cheeseburger, and I ordered the taco plate – their specialty.
Just like in the movies…as Jim took his first bite of greasy cheeseburger, and I had just picked up my first crispy (except where it was laying in the “salad” juice…) taco, the radios came alive. It was the spotter plane, so high up you couldn’t hear it or even know it was there unless you knew exactly where to look. He called a “group” (of illegal aliens) crossing just upstream from the “check” (a vehicle crossing over the All American Canal – which, although it was technically north of the US/Mexico border, was the functional equivalent of the border).
I could tell by the lazy drawl that it was Wayne Wa. I’d never met Wayne, but you could tell when he was on the radio. He sounded just like John Wayne in some of his old westerns! I could just see the hat tipped back on his head, and a piece of straw in the corner of his mouth. I didn’t know where he was from, but I was guessing somewhere in rural Texas.
“Thur crossin’ up yonder at thuh check by Mandrapa an’ Rockwood road. Looks like a load, thr’s a white van approachin’. Anyone available?”
Jim let him know where we were, and that we were responding, as we dropped our food, ran outside and jumped into our slightly beat up, heavily dusty Dodge Ram 4X4. With the windows down (you couldn’t put them up in the summer because the air conditioner would overheat and start a car fire), we spun a “doughnut” in the gravel parking lot, eating our own dust, and started down Brockman road, when Wayne told us to turn around, and head east (towards Calexico) on the 98, because they had just loaded up the van, and were headed north on Rockwood, towards 98.
We knew if they hit 98, they’d take a left and head west through the mountains, and come out on US 8 by Ocotillo, heading toward San Diego, so we had to cut them off. Jim stood on the gas, and we shot down to Rockwood, turning south towards the border, and both vehicles saw each other at the same time.
We were heading south and they were heading north, when they cut a hard right turn onto Anza Road, heading back towards Calexico. At that rate of speed, if they hit town, folks could be seriously hurt or killed…so we had to stop them before they got close. I got on the radio and called ahead, and several BP vehicles started out from the Calexico Station headed towards us, hoping to get there before they entered town.
As we were getting close to town, we came up on a sharp left turn in the road, and we were afraid the van would lose it and roll, but he cut another sharp right off the road onto a small dirt road beside the cement canal, headed back towards Mexico. In a deliberate act, he veered left and crashed into the cement buttress at the head of the small canal, knowing we would stop and take care of the injured, and he could make it back to the border canal, just yards away…and escape.
Jim cranked the wheel over, and we stopped just inches from the van as I flung open the passenger door, and thoroughly pissed at the driver for endangering a van full of people (a couple of who were pregnant mothers with children, as we learned later), took off after him at full speed. I knew other BP vehicles were arriving, and that they would be helping those in the van.
As I came around the front of the van at a full-speed run, I dove into a flying tackle, hitting him mid-body, and we both went off into the cement ditch, slamming down with me on top of him. As I put the cuffs on him he looked up, and there was Jim, on the other side of the canal looking down with a grin, holding the shotgun to cover me if it had been needed.
I remember hearing “Was that yeu “Kaken”? Damn, that was a hell of a tackle!”, as Wayne started to laugh, and signed off.
After all that got settled out, I got called up to Sector Headquarters in El Centro a couple of days later. Some of the bosses wanted to see who I was, and give me a pat on the back for stopping the guy who didn’t show any human regard for his “cargo”, including the two pregnant women, when he deliberately crashed that van so he could get away.
While I was up there I got a tour, and as I was leaving, I saw a small Asian (turned out to be Chinese) man in a green flight suit walking towards me. As he got close, he smiled, stuck out his hand and said “Yeu Kaken? Dam, boy, that was some (bleep) down thr thuh othur day, wadnit?”
I just stood there for a second, frozen. What my eyes were seeing didn’t match with what my ears were hearing. A small Asian man with John Wayne’s voice!! My brain disconnected, unable to process… I managed to stammer out “yes Sir, it was some (bleep) alright!”
He gave my hand a final squeeze and smiled…and then (I’m not making this up), with his left hand he stuck the stub of a chewed cigar back in his mouth, said “Good on ‘ya boy!”, and clapped me on the back as he turned and headed back down the hallway. I just stood there watching his swagger as he went out the door. It finally connected that I had just met “John” Wayne Wa…
Turns out his family had immigrated, and he had grown up watching John Wayne movies, always wanting to be like him…and had legally changed his first name to Wayne…
And I had been irritated at others who had assumed things about me. Talk about misjudging a book by its cover! A small Chinese cowboy flying a US Border Patrol plane high over a desert by the Mexican border – doesn’t get any better than that!
By Jim Kuiken
OBE. That’s the term we used in the military… “Overtaken By Events”.
That might be valid in the military, law enforcement, the fire service or emergency medical services – but in pretty much every other endeavor (especially something like writing), it sounds more like a weak excuse.
Oh, and also in the military, we used to say “Excuses are like (bleep). Everyone has one, and they all stink”. Which would lead someone to try to get around giving an excuse by saying “it’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation!” The theory there was to excuse the excuse…or to take responsibility for the lack of mission accomplishment by “taking full responsibility”, but then tempering it with an explanation of how “events” got in the way, and it wasn’t really your fault for not doing whatever it was that you were supposed to have done.
Well…I “fell off the bandwagon” of writing, both in my weekly blog posts and updates, and in working on my current book. I was “overtaken by events”. Not an excuse, but an explanation! (yeah, right Kuiken...sounds like an excuse to me…)
I actually did have a lot of really important events and obligations that took up the time, but that’s just an excuse (which I’ll cover later – including the “fix” for that, so it doesn’t happen again).
The actual events and obligations (i.e., the “explanation” for the derailment) were as follows:
So much for the “explanation” (i.e., thinly veiled excuse…). Sure, I was busy, but that is no excuse for not keeping up with my writing. There were a few ones in there that would have interfered, like the weeks up on the Hill. When we’re walking from office to office all day, seeing up to 8-10 Members or their staffs each day, there is literally no time to do anything else.
However, during those weeks where I was on trips…I can’t say with a straight face that I couldn’t have found a couple of spare hours per week to write the weekly posts and updates. And probably work on a chapter or two in the book.
But I finally realized the BIG problem that was in my way (besides just not “doing the work”). It all hit me square in the face when I read this outstanding article by Robert Glazer. To Be Successful You Need to Say No Often.
I already knew this, several times over. From my Marine training. From my Dale Carnegie training in the 80’s. From numerous other sources over the years. I just let it slip back. I just have a hard time saying No!
It’s the old adage. “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” I have always been a busy person, and I’ve always had people asking me to help, to do stuff. And I keep doing it.
I did it so much, that I stopped doing my stuff!! Well, guess what. That stops now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to drop the ball…but I AM going to shift what I do for people so I phase myself out of being needed. Like reorganizing MVA so it is a growing, self-sustaining successful organization that doesn’t need me anymore!
I’m going to say no – often. And I’m going to focus back on what I need to do, for my writing, my personal life, and my family. Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer to the end you get, the faster it goes…and I don’t intend to turn into an empty cardboard roll before I get back on track!