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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
Animal or Human…
By Jim Kuiken
Lots of folks are animal lovers. I just happen to be one of their biggest fans (animals…not the “lots of folks”). I LOVE animals!
I will admit to being prejudiced though…I love all animals, but tend to have a preference for mammals. So I’m a bigot, sue me. (or you can always read one of my, and lots of other folks’ favorite previous posts, “That’s Offensive”).
There are many people who don’t like animals, or are cruel to them. Don’t you wish they could all just be as loving and gentle as animals?
Now don’t get me wrong here…I do not condone animal cruelty (nor will I put up with anyone in my presence who is cruel or mean to animals)…but…
Animals are animals. They can be gentle and loving to their families, and yes, animals (particularly mammals…there goes my prejudice…) do feel love, tenderness and kindness.
And fear. And anger, petulance, and many other emotions. And they can be terribly cruel – sort of.
I’m not sure they feel cruelty, like many humans do. They don’t necessarily get their food from the supermarket…so in most of the world, animals have to get their own food, and many times that means killing other animals. Is that cruel? Well, if you’re the one being killed…yeah! But if you’re the baby they’re bringing the food home to…no.
Most of the time, animals do things that seem cruel to us because that’s their instinct. Cats play with mice. Dogs (like Freedom) love to chase squirrels. All kinds of animals do all kinds of things because of their instincts.
But people… People do some horrendous things, to each other, to animals, etc., because they are unthinking, or mentally deranged, or just evil, cruel people who take pleasure in their cruelty. Sometimes they even believe it’s “justified”, like the trolls and idiots who spew hate and filth on social media, in crowds or other “safe” anonymous venues, or when they think no one can see them.
Horse $#!+. It’s not justified. It’s not “normal”. I don’t care how many other people are doing it, it is not “ok”. And no, politics is not an excuse to be a jack@$$ either. Be civil.
And if you think it makes you look tough, that’s a load of cr@p too. I personally know some of the toughest people on this planet…and to a person, they have big, loving hearts. They’re tough because they don’t hesitate to step up, often at the risk of their own lives, to protect, not to victimize or bully – and they don’t back down. Ever.
I know someone is going to point out my stance on hunting and fishing as cruel. Yes, I do believe that hunting and fishing is a good thing, because it’s a way of bringing food to the family table, and hunting and fishing are regulated and taxed, which is used to improve the overall health of the herd or school by managing the population.
I do not trophy hunt or fish…I only hunt or fish for food that we’re going to eat. Others have other opinions, and that is fine. They have a right to their opinions…as long as it’s legal and not wasteful or designed to be deliberately cruel. I’ve been asked why I don’t just get all my food from the supermarket… (many of you will see the irony here, but some won’t, and that’s ok too).
I grew up with pets. I worked on my uncle’s dairy farm. I brought home lost, abandoned, and hurt animals all my life, both in my childhood (just ask my parents…), and as an adult. I love “Animal Planet” and other Discovery Channel programs with animals in them. I’ve been around, and in love with animals all my life.
And as a career military man, a law enforcement professional, and former firefighter / EMT-A (my absolute favorite job, by the way…), I’ve seen a lot of people, in good and bad situations. My goal (and the goal of those I worked with) was to protect those in need, and serve (my community, my country, and those people that I could).
So, animal or human? I tend to like them both…especially animals. They tend to be more humane…
Endeavor to Persevere…
By Jim Kuiken
Well, it’s that time. I do a lot of things (just ask anyone…especially those “friends” who call me the Energizer Bunny…). I write (books, blogs, articles, etc.), I work out, I help organizations (veteran / first responder) fundraise, I do speaking engagements (Leadership through adversity, building winning teams, etc.). And I work on behalf of those who risk all, and suffer the consequences of their service for all of us. (Military, Veterans, Law Enforcement, Firefighters, EMS, etc., and their families).
All of these things are in service to and recognition of those who serve and protect us. That is where my life has brought me, and that is my purpose.
So a new year kicked off (I know, that was a blatant reference to last week’s post), and with the new year comes new and renewed effort to effect change. This year, like last, I’m focusing hard on helping some of our Veterans – specifically those who were contaminated by toxic exposures through their service to this Nation, as well as those who are still fighting with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to receive benefits they are entitled to…that they earned.
Last year I joined forces with Military Veterans Advocacy (MVA). There are a LOT of Veteran Service Organizations (VSO’s) and other non-profit organizations that do everything from providing Service Dogs, to helping families of the fallen pay off their mortgage, suicide prevention, assisting with housing, and offering support in all sorts of ways.
MVA is a bit different. Basically, they write draft Bills and push legislation with Congress, trying to make the Dept. of Veterans Affairs take care of our veterans. To uphold the promise that was made to each of these servicemembers when they joined…that they would be taken care of if they suffered sickness, injury or death because of their service to the Nation.
When Bills don’t work, MVA takes them to court, and again, tries to make the VA do its job.
As an example, last year MVA drafted, supported and worked with many Representatives and Senators to pass H.R.299 - Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, which was designed to RESTORE the presumptive exposure to Agent Orange benefits to those who served offshore during the Vietnam War…and who already had those benefits granted in the original bill in 1991, until they were stripped away by an administrative policy interpretation by the VA in 2002.
After HR-299 bill was passed in the House (382 – 0…yes, that’s right, by a unanimous, bi-partisan vote), it went to the Senate, where two (yes, just 2 out of 100) Senators put a “hold” on the bill in committee, effectively killing the bill. And the VA vociferously opposed the bill the entire time.
So, again, we’re moving forward this year with a re-drafted bill to try to restore the benefit that was stripped away by the VA, and make sure the 90,000+ (still surviving, with many fading fast) veterans affected get what they earned – care for the illnesses they incurred because of their service to our nation, during war.
BUT, we’re doubling down! Not only are we working on the Blue Water Vietnam Veterans bill to get their benefits back, we’re going after multiple Toxic Exposures for our Veterans!
Agent Orange / Herbicide exposure. (Vietnam era, but in multiple locations where it was used and stored throughout the Pacific and other areas).
Gulf War exposures. Radiological exposures. Asbestos exposures. Others…
And the big one that everyone’s talking about today – Burn Pits exposure, from Iraq and Afghanistan, and other areas (and times…because it’s not just a recent thing, we’ve had burn pits in many wars and areas in the past).
And court cases! Besides individual benefit cases, MVA pursues cases that have wide-reaching impact (for classes and groups of veterans), in the Court of Veteran’s Appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States!
I applaud all those organizations that help or support our veterans and first responders. Heck, I’m even developing a non-profit of my own to do just that.
But I’ve chosen to step up and take it to Congress and the Courts, to force the VA and the government to hold true to the promises that were made to our service men and women, and their families. We’re not asking for handouts. We (the servicemembers and veterans) paid our price up front. They stepped up when many step away, and put themselves and their families on the line, and many of them are suffering and dying because of that sacrifice.
Going after the government is a lot like tilting at windmills… But you can have an effect on government – and actually make it work! You just have to not take no for an answer.
Sometimes, waiting for your benefits isn’t enough. You have to “Endeavor to Persevere”.
“This, I will defend…”
By Jim Kuiken
I was talking with some friends last night over dinner, and they were asking about my writing – specifically, what I would be writing about in this week’s post. I wasn’t really sure, but after a short discussion, I said “Family”.
How apropos that turned out to be...with President George H.W. Bush’s funeral today, huh…? I always liked him. The servant-leader, gentleman, warrior/diplomat, staunch defender of decency, loyal to his friends, and deeply devoted to his family.
It only makes this week’s topic more poignant.
So…as with many of my articles, let’s set the baseline as to what I’m talking about when I say “family”.
The generally accepted meaning of family has something to do with a fairly homogenous nuclear family. Dad, Mom, 2.5 kids, and a dog.
Wow! That’s so not my family!! Nothing wrong with that, it’s just not mine.
My family consists of a hodgepodge of folks from all walks of life. First, my siblings.
I have one brother (from my mom and father, but we were raised by my mom and dad – who married my mom a few years after she and my father were divorced.)
I have three sisters…one from my mom (and dad), one from my father (and his wife), and one with no parents in common…
And I have a dog…my Freedom. Who everyone loves.
None of us (siblings) has 2.5 kids. A couple have 5, I have 3, one has one, and one has none. And the fun part is we are anything but homogeneous…if you base that on ancestry.
We’re all different, and a few of us have blends, but our family portrait looks like the United Nations. Between us, there are some that are Scottish, Native American, Dutch, African American, Lebanese, Korean, Mexican, Chinese, Filipino, Italian, and probably a few more I’m forgetting. And that’s just between my 3 (blood) siblings and our kids!
But…we ARE homogenous! We’re family. Period.
Some are hard left progressives / liberals, some are hard right conservatives, some are in the middle, and some are non-committal. Who friggin’ cares? We’re family. We may not agree, but we do so civilly. I enjoy some of the discussions, and always love my family, no matter what. And each and every one of them knows that if the $#!+ ever hits the fan, I’ll be there. Because I have been, every time.
That’s my immediate family. My extended family, through my dad (the Kuiken’s), my father (the Rose clan) and my in-laws (the Farías family) is quite extensive – but they’re still my family, and the same applies to all of them.
Family, to me, is kind of a concept more than blood. Don’t get me wrong, if someone’s related to me by blood, they’re family…but even if they’re not, they’re still family. My dad is a great example. Even though we’re not directly related by blood (we are, peripherally, through my oldest sister), he’s the one who raised us. Love trumps all, and he loves and is loved by us – as our dad. There are other relationships like that in my family, but that doesn’t make those relationships any less real or close than if we shared blood. It’s the relationship that makes family in my eyes, not the heritage.
I also have a larger family, in my friends. Some are brothers or sisters in arms, who have gone through things that bond us together closer than most will understand…and why many of us spend our time trying to help each other through those tough times.
To a lesser extent, that includes my community, where I spent many years in public service – because I felt that connection – as a firefighter / EMT-A, and as a local, State, and Federal law enforcement officer, serving, helping and protecting my community.
And in a broader sense, my country, as a combat-wounded veteran with a 30-year career in the Marine Corps, serving and protecting my country.
President G.H.W Bush epitomized family. He deeply loved his family, was loyal to his friends, and devoted to serving his country. Each of the eulogies at his funeral service all held a striking similar theme. Love and service. Self-sacrifice, and caring for others.
That is family. Immediate, extended, friends, community and country. Today we saw a brief glimpse of what it could be…if we treat each other as family. Disagree, discuss – even argue (civilly, without personal acrimony or hatred), but always remember to treat each other with respect.
I love my family (first, foremost, and always). I care for my community, and I love my country. I’m pretty easy-going about a lot of stuff…but not family.
And I will protect them to the last drop of blood in my body. As I’ve said before in my quotes, for those who don’t understand that…or me…
“I HATE violence, more than most, for I have seen it. But I will visit its full wrath upon you without blinking an eye if you attempt to harm me, my family, the innocent, or my country.”
Duck and Cover
By Jim Kuiken
In the old wooden sailing ship days, they came up with a command to “Batten down the hatches” which has turned into a common phrase…even though we no longer batten down hatches in the modern Navy…they “dog” the hatches now.
In any case, the current meaning is to prepare for trouble, like an incoming hurricane, a ticked off boss, a tough personal issue, etc.
Duck and cover is a phrase, originally from the 1950’s relating to a response to a nuclear attack (which we were all nervous about during the Cold War, and even practiced “duck and cover” in our classrooms…once again, I’m giving away my age…), which is now a common term among the infantry, and means to “duck” when you start taking fire, and “take cover” behind something that can protect you from the incoming bullets. It has also become a common metaphorical phrase now, meaning to take cover from anything dangerous or unpleasant – again – like a hurricane, boss, issue, etc…
And as long as we’re using former military terminology that is now used as a metaphor in normal conversation…both battening down the hatches and ducking and covering can lead to a “bunker mentality”, where someone hides in a bunker, and then feels so safe that they tend to stay behind walls or in a metaphorical bunker, and not want to come out…more comfortable in a bunker than they are exposed to everyday life.
It can happen to the best of us if we’re not paying attention. Events just overwhelm people sometimes, and before you know it, you’ve gone from ducking and covering to preserve a bit of control or sanity in your life, to finding yourself barricaded inside a bunker with only slits for windows, and wondering what the heck happened!
Let’s say, (not so) hypothetically, that a series of events takes place over several weeks, or a couple of months. Things like:
You can stay there if you like. It’s quiet. Cool and dark. Uncrowded.
And a self-imposed trap.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with taking a break, getting some fresh air – even walking away from everything for a while just to get some sanity and perspective back.
But then, as my grandpa told me (after he got done laughing when I got thrown off of a young bull calf I had jumped down onto from the corral fence, and ridden for almost a full ¾ of a second...just because), “you gotta get back up on that horse and ride’im!” As I limped away with my bruised hip, back and ego, I replied “good thing he’s not a horse” – which only made him laugh again.
So, there are two choices. Stay in the burrow, or, as a friend (my former Campaign Manager) was once told by one of my fellow Marines – with a grin (when she mentioned that a meeting time he suggested was pretty early in the morning), you can “Suck it up and quit’cher whinin’…ma’am” – and pop your head back out and take a look around!
Refocus, reengage, and reprioritize your time and commitments. Besides my already published techniques (“B.R.A.S.S.” and “The Next Steps”), I’m also going to re-establish my time management, but with an updated system from when I went through the 1980’s traditional system training…and start prioritizing what I need to get done, and not get drawn back down the rabbit hole of over-commitment, other people’s priorities, and time thieves, especially #s 1, 4, 8, 9, and 10. Like it says at the end of # 12, “in short, by not letting the thieves steal your time”.
It feels almost like spring time again…just as the leaves are starting to fall in my yard! It’s really good to see the sun again.
The Unguided Missiles – Young Grunts
By Jim Kuiken
In the modern military there are “fire and forget” weapons, like some anti-tank missiles. You aim at your target, the missile locks on, you fire it, and the missile does the rest. You can duck back under cover or go on about your business, while the missile does its mission.
Kind of like the Ronco© Showtime Rotisserie… “Set it and forget it!” Put in your chicken, turn it on, and it cooks all on its own – or so they say.
Young Marine Corps Grunts are not. They’re more like an unguided missile, a hand grenade, or very large sledge hammer… Do NOT turn them loose on their own and expect a genteel result.
So…way back in the early-mid 1970’s (I’m guessing early ’74 or so) I was a young Corporal, and one of my ship-mates (we were in the Marine Detachment, or MarDet, stationed on the USS Proteus AS-19, a Submarine Tender stationed in Guam), who was an even younger Private First Class (PFC), were hanging around the MarDet area one day…when the Gunny stepped out and asked for volunteers.
Any normal person would have immediately gotten very busy, left the area at a dead run, or done something to disappear quickly…because everyone knows that when the Gunny asks for volunteers, it’s going to be what we euphemistically call a “work party”. And trust me, that “party” part is an oxymoronic misnomer…
But, as I said, any normal person would’ve gotten very scarce very quickly. Grunts are not normal, and to say that Brian and I were far past that “not normal” state is actually a very significant understatement.
As we say in the Grunts, “Pain is weakness leaving the body”. We had our own (somewhat twisted) extension of that quote. “Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good!”
As soon as we heard “working party”, we jumped on it. Not only did it sound like it was going to be a lot of hard, physical work…it got even better! It was going to be hard, physical work in a tight, enclosed, very hot space for an extended period of time!
Doesn’t get any better than that!
Our ship was going through some retro-fits (repairs, upgrading, etc.), and the MarDet had its own spaces. A berthing space (living quarters with our bunk beds, TV room, armory, office, etc.) and our “head”, or latrine for you Army folks, and bath/rest room for Air Force and civilians.
We were responsible for the cleaning and upkeep of our own spaces, and all the heads on the ship were being refurbished…sort of. The decking (or floor) was some sort of hard, thick black waterproof material applied over the steel deck – since a ship is basically a big steel boat divided by steel decks (floors) and steel bulkheads (walls) into compartments (rooms).
If you get the impression that the Navy has its own language, you’re correct…
Anyway, we were told to go into the MarDet head, and chip out the flooring so new material could replace the old… And no further instructions…
There is a reason the Marine Corps insists that junior Marines be given very specific tasks, followed with guidance by someone a little senior, constant oversight, and instruction. Young Marines are nothing if not enthusiastic – and Brian Moyer and I were known to be very enthusiastic. We called it “motivated”.
After a couple of hours of increasing complaints coming from sailors in the decks below our spaces, the Gunny came over to check on our progress, and frankly, to see what the h#!! all the complaints were about. We had taken “initiative”, and decided it looked so bad we were going to get it all up, and had attacked the decking with 20-pound sledge hammers…which we had been “enthusiastically” employing with all of our strength and speed – in, as always happens when Marines “work” together, a competition to the death… (sorry these old photos are hard to see…they’re as faded as my memory)
Not only did we not “chip” at the decking material, we had beaten it all out by smashing it up, and had even dented the steel decking below it. Evidently, we were just supposed to chip off a layer or two so they could pour the new material in over top of it.
The Navy Chief (of the Department responsible) was flaming mad, the Captain of the Ship heard about it…but the Gunny did not impose the normal punishment for overly enthusiastic behavior…which would have been a “working party”. I think that was probably for the best…
It was a learning experience for all involved. The Gunny never put Brian and I on another physical task or working party unsupervised – we enjoyed it too much.
Brian and I ended up volunteering for Operation New Life about a year later, and worked out in the hot sun for weeks building a huge tent city for the Vietnamese fleeing at the end of the war. It was extremely rewarding work, helping all the folks…but it was also another opportunity for hard, physical work out in the heat, and to compete on how many areas could be cleared, big “GP” (general purpose) tents we could set up, etc., etc.
It was hard, long, dirty, sweaty work under extremely trying conditions – and we loved it! Heck, Brian even got to help a Navy Corpsman deliver a little baby girl in one of those tents, when her mother went into labor!
The days were long, and it was a huge international story, with press swarming all over the place, as we helped house, feed and reunite families as the refugees poured in.
However, as we know, the press is not always accurate… One newspaper published a bunch of photos, including this one, of Brian and another Marine running through the area where they were building tents, with a caption that said something like “Marines running to render assistance…”
The word came down that the “beer truck” had arrived, and they were running to get their beer. The only reason I wasn’t in that picture is that I’m a much faster runner.
Grunts. What can I say…?