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!
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”.
Kickin’ Off the New Year
By Jim Kuiken
In another “Getting to Know You” post, let’s talk about “Call Signs”. A call sign, in this context, is a name given to a person in the military to identify them over the radio…or in the broader sense, a name given to a military person by his/her peers…which, especially if used in combat, sticks with them for the rest of their lives.
You don’t get to pick your own call sign. You don’t even have any say in what your call sign is – it is given to you by your peers, usually based on how badly you've screwed something up, a play on your name, your personality, or just the whims of a bunch of your peers or supposed “buddies”. Heeer’s yer sign…
And there are some real doozys…
Call signs are not to be confused with nicknames. I’ve had a few nicknames, also given to me by my “friends…” over the years. “Gunny Chunks” was when I went through SCUBA School in Coronado in the mid-80’s, as a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant (E-7, “Gunny”) in Force Recon. Because I pushed myself so hard during all the physical “training”, that I threw up at the end of each session. “If you ain’t pukin’, you ain’t tryin’”.
Also, with my team in LA in the 90’s, when I was the Supervisory Special Agent in charge of “Special Investigations”. We’d go out on gang enforcement, high-risk warrant entries, etc. They (thinking I didn’t know…) called me the “Chihuahua”, because I never stopped, didn’t seem to notice that (almost everyone) was bigger than me, but still never backed down, etc. Yeah…real funny…
And there are false call signs and nicknames. Let’s talk about “Mad Dog” Mattis. That was NEVER General Mattis’ callsign or nickname. That was a tag the media gave him, and that is so far from the truth as to be insulting. He is NOT a mad dog…his actual nickname is “Warrior Monk”, because he is so well-read, thoughtful, educated, measured and deliberate in his every action. It is why his subordinates and “troops” all revere him. And yes, I call him General rather than Secretary, because General is so much more…
It’s like when I was the Dept. of Homeland Security Attaché to Iraq, and Country Director for DHS. As a Senior Executive (SES-6, a 4 Star equivalent rank) I was one of the senior diplomats at the embassy, but the Embassy Marines (and other Marines there) never called me “Director”, or Sir, or even Mr. Kuiken. They all called me Sergeant Major (my Marine Corps rank) – because they all considered that, and rightfully so – to be so much higher than a Diplomat, a Director or an SES…plus, I wasn’t exactly your average diplomat…
So – General Mattis’ nickname is Warrior Monk, but his callsign is CHAOS. Again, for reasons diametrically opposed to what the name implies. It actually stands for Colonel Has An Outstanding Solution, from when he was a regimental commander at Marine Corps Base 29 Palms. NEVER “Mad Dog”, an insulting media concoction.
As my friends all know, sometimes…ok…a lot of the time, I “take the long way around the barn”. So, Kuiken, what’s your callsign?
It’s Mongoose. I didn’t pick it, and actually had no say in it…and unfortunately, it was used in combat while I served in the Gulf War, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Enduring Freedom…and even while I served in a civilian capacity (DHS Attaché / Country Director) in Iraq, so it is permanent.
Like a lot of young military guys, especially special operations types (I was in Marine Recon at the time), I was heavily into all forms of combat arts, especially marksmanship (long-range precision shooting) and martial arts.
I’d been in martial arts since my junior high-school days, and at the time, held black belts in Gogu-Ryu (1st Dan), Hapkido (1st Dan), and TaeKwon-Do (3rd Dan)…and I liked to compete – especially in full-contact “Karate” matches…the precursor of today’s “UFC” matches, without the grappling. One of my favorite things to do was to, when I had time off and the funds to afford it, go up to Los Angeles (I was stationed in Camp Pendleton), and fight in Ed Parker’s Long Beach International Karate Championships. I got to meet some of the real heavyweights in the martial arts scene there, and get my butt kicked on a regular basis. What fun!
My style, like most things in my life, was unconventional. I had the “soft” techniques and Japanese/Okinawan hands, coupled with the “hard” Korean blocking/breaking techniques and kicks, and some of the evasive and offensive Hapkido techniques. And I moved.
On one of my trips up there, four of my buddies from 1st Recon Battalion decided to make it a trip, and all came up with me to enjoy the tournament, and to watch me fight. My fights were generally unspectacular for a bit, but then normally ended very quickly. I even got a review in one of the newspapers covering the event, and the reporter was listing the fighters, and commenting on each of their fights. When he got to me, the review was pretty short. It went something like “And then there’s Kuiken. Mediocre at best…until you hit him…”.
I don’t know why I needed that little bit of motivation, but it seemed to work for me. It got me fired up – and I loved it!
After the fight we all went to a Denny’s for hamburgers (double meat with an egg on it, and a chocolate milkshake for me), and they were all talking non-stop over each other. Seems they really liked the fights, and one of them said “D@mn Kuiken! You’re so ‘freaking’ fast!” (yes, I cleaned that up a bit) “You’re like a mongoose, teasing the snake and dancing around, but when it strikes, just taking it out! He never even saw what hit him!”
And there it was. They got all excited over milkshakes…and tagged me with “Mongoose”.
So…what’s yer sign?
“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.”
Driving the Bus
By Jim Kuiken
I’ve talked about writing before. It’s an obsession. It’s a curse. When I’m in the groove, words and ideas just jump across the synapse between my brain and the computer screen (wow…just dated myself to myself…I almost said “paper”! How arcane!). When I’m off-track, I can sit and cogitate all day long, and get absolutely nothing written.
Besides the joy and agony of writing…there is one big question that picks at the brain of every writer who is or ever wants to be published.
What if people don’t like what I’m writing? What if everyone hates it? If it gets bad reviews…or worse…no reviews?
Who do I write for? Well, as my oft quoted old southern law instructor said (and yes, if you’ve read any of my blogs, you’re probably getting tired of hearing this)… “it depeyands”.
It’s important to know your audience. But that’s only one factor. It’s important if you’re trying to market a product, blog, book, story, etc. However, if you’re just trying to write, or you need to write (like some poor souls), then we’re back to the same big question.
Who do I write for?
As usual, I’m going to take the long way around the barn on this one…with a couple of brief stories.
When I was a youngster, just trying to break into federal law enforcement (I’d already been local and state law enforcement), I wanted to go into the Border Patrol. However, I was getting long in the tooth (fast approaching 35, the cut-off, back then, to be able to be hired as a federal law enforcement officer/agent), so I had to get in under the wire.
I was lucky enough to get hired as an Immigration Detention Officer (IDO) down in the San Diego Sector, at the San Ysidro Detention Facility. That got me in the system, and I got hired as a Border Patrol Agent about a year later…and turned 35 in the academy – and that is a whole ‘nuther story…
Anyway, as an IDO, one of the many things I had to do was to drive to the various Border Patrol stations in the District, pick up aliens who had been ordered deported or who had accepted a voluntary return (who were from Mexico…anyone from somewhere else had to be flown back to their own country), and drive them down to the Port of Entry, and send them back into Mexico through the port.
This meant that I had to not only drive vans, but had to drive a 72 passenger bus…like a Greyhound bus.
When I was going through the training, I mentioned to my trainer (who was also my boss) about my concern to make sure all my passengers were safe while I was driving them. I was surprised by his response.
He said “forget about them. Don’t think about their safety while you’re driving. Just think of driving safely, like you would as if you were alone in your own car. Thinking about them will only distract you. Just drive, and be safe in your driving, and they’ll all be ok.”
Wow! I had to think on that one a while…but he was absolutely right! When driving, drive for yourself, drive safely and be careful, and it will all turn out alright!
So, back to the question – and yes, I know that was a fairly transparent example, but it’s no less true. When you write, write for yourself. (except of course, if you’re doing technical writing for someone else, etc.) I don’t worry if someone else is going to like my writing or not. I write for me. If others like it, I’m honored (and generally surprised...). If they don’t…eh…
The good thing is that there are about 325.7 million people in the United States, approximately 1.2 billion English speaking people in the world (if you target English readers), and approximately 7.7 billion people in the world…so I’m sure you’ll find at least some folks will like your writing! And lots who won’t.
If they do, great! If they don’t, so what? As long as you like your writing, you’re doing it right!
If you’re trying to sell it…that’s a completely different discussion. See the list of some of my writing and publishing tips in the link above about where “I’ve talked about writing before”.
Don’t worry if you hit one of those points where you just stare at the (paper or) computer, and nothing happens. It happens all the time to the best of us.
And if you just really don’t know where to start, I can help you with that as well…
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…?
Geez Dude…Lighten Up!
By Jim Kuiken
I had planned on a bit more light-hearted post this week with another of the often-requested “Frontline Tales” about interesting or funny things that have happened to / with me on the street or in the field during my career as a Firefighter/EMT, Law Enforcement Officer/Agent, or as a Marine – but last week got in the way. It’ll have to wait for next week.
This week’s post is all about last week, and what it means to our Country and its Citizens and Legal Residents, to the Military and Veterans, and to me and mine. It got up-close and personal.
August 7th is the anniversary of the date that General George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, established the Badge of Military Merit (predecessor to the Purple Heart Medal) in 1782.
Each year on that date, we celebrate National Purple Heart Day (also known as Purple Heart Appreciation Day, and Purple Heart Recognition Day), an “unofficial observance”, i.e., businesses and government agencies do not officially close on this day – to commemorate the over 1.8 MILLION American men and women who have been wounded or killed while serving in defense of our freedom since the start of World War I.
I’ve never celebrated this observance publicly…usually I just keep my mouth shut, and raise a scotch, late in the evening, in a toast to my buddies and fellow Purple Heart recipients (who received it while alive – or posthumously). My toast is always the same.
"Here's tae us. Wha's like us? Damn few, and they're a'deid." (Robert Burns)
Roughly translated, that means “Here’s to us. Who’s like us? Damned few, and they’re all dead.” It is a toast given by those who survive battle, to fellow survivors…and to those who did not. Perfect toast for those wearing the Purple Heart medal on that day.
This year was different. I celebrated publicly, in the company of many other Recipients, their families, and supporters of those who paid the cost of Freedom with their health, their blood, or their lives.
Here’s how the week went…
Tuesday August 7th:
Just like every other year, some private time commemorating those who sacrificed and those who fell, with a “wee dram” (or two) of scotch, and “the toast”.
Friday August 10th:
6pm - A wreath laying at (and celebration of the 20th anniversary of the laying of) the Purple Heart Monument – and the origin (mile-marker zero) of the Virginia Purple Heart Trail, at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
7pm – A private evening tour of George and Martha Washington’s home at the Mount Vernon estate, for Purple Heart recipients and their families.
Saturday August 11th – the crowning highlight of the week:
10am – A gathering, then ceremony with staff and leadership of Mount Vernon, and fellow members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for the estate's official National Purple Heart Day Ceremony on the East Lawn overlooking the Potomac River. We were treated to some great music leading up to the ceremony, and later during the posting of the Colors, the National Anthem, by the U.S. Marine Corps Band Brass Quintet.
The highlight of the program was our keynote speaker, highly acclaimed American author Patrick K. O'Donnell, who told us a riveting recollection of his time embedded with the U.S. Marines in combat, and the incredibly heroic but devastating story of one young Marine that he served with.
In addition, PH Recipients from each war from WWII to modern day were called upon to rise (as their war(s) were called out) and be recognized for their sacrifice. It was very moving to see these surviving warriors standing proudly, recognized by their peers.
And more than one speaker (both Friday night and Saturday morning) talked about the medal itself…the shape like a heart – both the original Badge of Military Merit and the Purple Heart Medal. General George Washington understood service, and sacrifice for the greater good. As I’ve said before in my “Quotes” post,
“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.” (James Kuiken)
That’s why he designed the original Badge, and why the Medal that came from that, are both shaped like a heart. Service to something greater than yourself – to your country, to your fellow combatant, to anyone – comes from love.
1pm – A private reception for Recipients, their families and guests, and chance to mingle and talk with some true heroes…and do what military and veterans do when they come together…give each other a hard time and just have fun!
So while the final reception was a chance to let our hair down and just have fun, the most part of the week was spent in remembrance and celebration of those who stepped up when so many step away. And who paid the price.
The funny thing is, they all just looked like regular folks. Guys and gals, lots of older folks, and a few who looked like teen-agers. You just never know…