On Thanks……

A lot to be thankful for this year. Despite larger setbacks in foreign and domestic affairs…..the CI compound stands in good order, ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Until then, I’m thankful for having both of our beautiful, smart Princesses home for the long weekend. The home feels whole again.

I’m thankful that I’m not deployed again this holiday season.

I’m thankful for having a wife who is a partner my soul mate and my best friend. One who doesn’t conform to social norms and conventions just for their sake.……and who’s just as ferocious as I am when the dander is up. It doesn’t hurt that she’s still a smoldering hottie.

And I’m thankful for 57 pounds of good-boy puppy (Loki) for us to love this year……after losing our good girl (Molly) last year.

So today brings putting on the hiking kilt for a jaunt up the Appalachian Trail, followed by some custom pizzas and wine.

Round out the weekend with some quality time with my chainsaw and a bonfire……and hoping I don’t have any calls from work.

Life is pretty good. I need to stop and enjoy it a little more…..

Summer Life on the Homestead

Never a day goes by when I’m not happy about moving to my “zombie apocalypse compound”.

The view in front of the property:

And we’re wicked close to several trailheads:

And most importantly, the most faithful member of the family and chief chicken-herder, gets new adventures every day:

Enjoying as much as I can before I have to take another trip to less desirable places overseas again.

A Simple Thank You

No moving stock photo, no Facebook meme, no yellow ribbon. Just a heartfelt thank you.

Thank you to my Brothers and Sisters…my Comrades-in-Arms. Thank you to some for chewing the same dirt and dodging the same IEDs that I did. Thank you to those who did so much more than I did. Thank you to those who stood ready and willing, but weren’t called. And thank you to those who kept the home fires burning and the homesteads safe while your loved one was away.

A simple thank you to those who know, who endured…..who remember…..and who honor.

Justice and the Race Card

Justice is supposed to be blind, but throughout our history it has not always been so.

Gregory Wallace and another man burst into the Kentucky home of Jordan and Tommy Gray and robbed them and their three-year-old daughter at gunpoint. But at Wallace’s sentencing hearing Judge Olu Stevens singled out the Grays, not Wallace, for criticism. Wallace and his partner are black, and the Grays noted in their impact statement their daughter still reacts in fear to black men. Stevens said those remarks offended him and accused the parents of fostering racist behavior in their daughter. He sentenced Wallace to five years probation.


The judge stated that his remarks regarding race played no role in his sentencing decision, but were the roles reversed, would that argument have traction in the public eye?

On Religious Liberty

The news is rife with stories of opposition to various issues of morality and legality…but none more so than marriage equality/gay marriage/whatever you desire to label it.

The crux of opposition centers around judicial rulings that state prohibitions on gay marriage are unconstitutional. The opposition claims that these rulings override the ‘will of the people’…and inn many cases, based on elections and initiatives, they do. On the surface.

However, this premise rests on the notion that ‘the people’ are Constitutionally empowered to create or retain law based solely on a majority opinion of religious morality….regardless of secular value.

So my question, to any and all, is this: does the American polity, nationwide or at the state level, retain the Constitutional power to create or retain law that prohibits an action of the minority, yet is legal for the majority….and where the basis for such a prohibition contains no public safety risk or burden upon said majority?

Battle Buddies….Reunited

It was a sad parting when Sgt. Jason Bos left Fort Lee in Virginia nearly two years ago and had to say goodbye to MWD Cila M389, the bomb-sniffing chocolate Lab he called Cici. 

Over nearly five years, Bos and Cila — MWD stands for Military Working Dog, and M389 is the identification number tattooed in her ear — had forged a bond as they searched for roadside bombs and hidden weapons caches in Iraq, and screened sites for presidential visits across the U.S. Their partnership ended when a back injury forced Bos to leave the Army in 2012.

Cila was just 5 years old, and still had time to serve as a military dog. While Bos headed home to Michigan, Cila remained on active duty. 

Bos, 33, did not know if he’d ever reunite with Cila. But a month ago, he saw on Facebook that Cila was due to be retired. He was thrilled when the kennel master at his former base contacted him to see if he wanted to adopt her. 

“I said ‘Yes. What do I have to do?’” Bos said.


A Father’s Day Classic

Ten Simple Rules for Dating my Daughter

* Updated to reflect my generation

Rule One :

If you pull into my driveway and honk you’d better be delivering a package, because you’re sure not picking anything up.

Rule Two :

You do not touch my daughter in front of me. You may glance at her, so long as you do not peer at anything below her neck. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off of my daughter’s body, I will remove them.

Rule Three :

I am aware that it is considered fashionable for boys your age to wear their trousers so loose that they appear to be falling off. Please don’t take this as an insult, but you and all of your friends are complete idiots. Still, I want to be fair and open minded about this issue, so I propose this compromise: You may come to the door with your underwear showing and your pants ten sizes too big, and I will not object. However, to ensure that your clothes do not, in fact, come off during your date with my daughter, I will use my electric nail gun and fasten your trousers securely to your waist.

Rule Four :

I’m sure you’ve been told that in today’s world, sex without utilizing a “barrier method” of some kind can kill you. Let me elaborate, when it comes to sex, I am the barrier, and I will kill you.

Rule Five :

In order for us to get to know each other, we could talk about sports, politics, and other issues of the day. Please do not do this. The only information I require from you is an indication of when you expect to have my daughter safely back at my house, and the only word I need from you on this subject is “early.”

Rule Six :

I have no doubt you are a popular fellow, with many opportunities to date other girls. This is fine with me as long as it is okay with my daughter. Otherwise, once you have gone out with my little girl, you will continue to date no one but her until she is finished with you. If you make her cry, I will make you cry.

Rule Seven :

As you stand in my front hallway, waiting for my daughter to appear, and more than an hour goes by, do not sigh and fidget. If you want to be on time for the movie, you should not be dating. My daughter is putting on her makeup, a process that can take longer than painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead of just standing there, why don’t you do something useful, like changing the oil in my car?

Rule Eight :

The following places are not appropriate for a date with my daughter: Places where there are beds, sofas, or anything softer than a wooden stool. Places where there are no parents, policemen, or nuns within eyesight. Places where there is darkness. Places where there is dancing, holding hands, or happiness. Places where the ambient temperature is warm enough for my daughter to wear shorts, tank tops, midriff T-shirts, or anything other than overalls, a sweater, and a goose down parka zipped up to her throat. Movies with a strong romantic or sexual theme are to be avoided; movies which features chain saws are okay. Hockey games are okay. Old folks homes are better.

Rule Nine :

Do not lie to me. I may appear to be a crusty, gray-haired, middle-aged, dimwitted has-been. But on issues relating to my daughter, I am the all-knowing, merciless god of your universe. If I ask you where you are going and with whom, you have one chance to tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I have a shotgun, a shovel, and five acres behind the house. Do not trifle with me.

Rule Ten :

Be afraid. Be very afraid. It takes very little for me to mistake the sound of your car in the driveway for a chopper coming in over a wadi outside of Baghdad. When my PTSD starts acting up, the voices in my head frequently tell me to clean the guns as I wait for you to bring my daughter home. As soon as you pull into the driveway you should exit your car with both hands in plain sight. Speak the perimeter password, announce in a clear voice that you have brought my daughter home safely and early, then return to your car–there is no need for you to come inside. The camouflaged face watching you from the window is mine.

Memorial Day

I have avoided any movie portraying our involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan. A hollywood portrayal is simply not something that I expect to be anywhere in the same zip code as the ground truth. But there are two movies that I have on my hard drive, that I was waiting for the right time. They are Restrepo and Memorial Day. This being Memorial Day weekend…and being deployed away from my family….I figured I could take the plunge, after a fair amount of Clynelishe 14 year SMS. Bear with me because I’m drunk as three Irishmen as I write this. It will, I’m sure, take another hour to edit with the bonus of spellcheck.

I watched the movie Memorial Day with James [and John] Cromwell. I’m glad I was alone. I’ve had this movie on my hard drive for quite awhile now, but have avoided watching it for many reasons. It’s ironic to be glad I was alone alone when I finally did, and miserable because I couldn’t turn to my wife when I need her most. I very nearly called her for comfort, but it would be 0330 EST as I write this…and she’s had a rough weekend already. I’ll see her and my babies in few weeks.

This rambling missive will have more meaning to those who have experienced the tragedy of war, this particular movie simply opened a dark door and I’m compelled by emotion to reference those parts that broke me down. I lost my military bearing early on when the grandson and grandfather had the following exchange, after pulling out a footlocker of WWII souvenirs and memorabilia:

Young Kyle Vogel: It’s Memorial Day.

Bud Vogel: You’re damn straight it is.

Young Kyle Vogel: What am I supposed to remember?

What are our children supposed to remember on this day? Our curious, inquisitive but innocent children. How can they know the true meaning of this day of remembrance? I want to forget everything associated with my experiences, but don’t we have to pass on the horrors of war, so that this day has the meaning that it’s owed? What will I tell my daughters if they ask? Will it have any meaning to them? Can I convey my emotions in a way that will make sense to them? Because of their age, I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about that for at least a few years. If there are things that I haven’t even shared with my wife, can I share them with my children, ever? Should the horrible nature of warfare be buried as if in a grave…or do they deserve the possibly cleansing light of day?

The one person who might get it, in my family…was taken in 2010…possibly by the very ship on which he served, the Destroyer USS Metcalf, in WWII. I never asked him if he was scared, or how he dealt with it. I never asked him how he put it behind him and raised a family that would make him proud. Even before I came home, I buried my emotions regarding war and loss. They remain buried today…but they bubble to the surface on occasion. My lovely wife has comforted me on most of those, but we are separated by distance tonight.

In the movie Memorial Day, the grandfather played by James Cromwell writes a letter to Kyle, which I will post the text of here:

Dear Kylie, my old head can’t hold too much anymore but, today, a whole lot came flooding back into it. You might remember this afternoon as just another Saturday at Opa’s farmhouse. It wasn’t. I’ve never liked the word “souvenirs”, but I guess that’s what they are. Shards of memory, shrapnel. You take them to help you remember. What you don’t count on is they don’t let you forget. Pain. Happiness. Friendship. Death. Smells of diesel and dead animals. Eating meals within arm’s length of corpses. Men you laughed with a day before. People wonder if leaders are born or made. All I know is, you can see it in a man’s eyes. Problem is, leaders end up where they’re needed most. And eventually, that’s war. You’re special Kylie. I hope you know that. I always have. But I need you to stay strong. People look to guys like us to make decisions. If you do wear the uniform one day, remember something, when you put it on, you don’t get to choose the war or what happens when you get there. There’s no right or wrong in combat. Here’s only what you did. You do your best, and you try to live with it. Some day they’ll take me off this porch for good. When that happens, what’s left that matters? Photographs, letters, empty clothes? No. It’s the stories behind them, those are what matter. Stories live forever, but only if you tell them. I may sound like I’ve known this a long time. I didn’t know it until today. I just wanted to say thank you for teaching me that. It was one hell of a souvenir. Love, Opa. P.S. Know why I like birds so much? They don’t just talk their stories, they sing them.

I started watching the movie knowing that it would bring up memories that I’d suppressed, I didn’t know that it would leave me missing my Grandpa so very much. When he died, we grandkids each wrote a piece of the eulogy. I’ve posted this before, almost three years ago, but need to do so again:

Bill Steiling was my grandfather, and one could not find a better man to fill those shoes. But as if that weren’t enough…he was much more. He was my role model on how to be a man, a husband and a father. He was the rock of stability during my troubled years of adolescence, and he was the anchor to which I always knew the family was safe during my many years away. He may never have known the impact he had on my life, and I never realized it until much too late.

He taught me how to be honest and unassuming. He taught by example that the greatest rewards in life were service to one’s nation, community and above all, family. He was an infinite wealth of knowledge, but always made you feel like it was you who had come up with the answer to a problem. The spirit of giving and self sacrifice loomed no larger in any other man. Acknowledging that we are all better for it, is an understatement.

Bill Steiling was also Seamen 1st Class aboard a US Navy Destroyer, during some of the most historic battles of the 20th century. Though if you brought that up, he would probably look away bashfully and steer the conversation towards your latest accomplishments. That he comes from “the Greatest Generation” only serves to honor that term, based not merely on his service during war, but in how he raised and shepherded the family sitting here today. He will be missed dearly, but his strengths have been passed to us…….through blood or friendship….and I can think of no greater gift from him. There is also not a greater duty upon us, than to honor his memory than by continuing to pass those gifts down to our families.

Seaman William Henry Steiling

Great Grandpa teaching his Great Granddaughters

I’m a stumbling wreck right now and it has taken me around an hour to type, edit and retype this post for any sort of  clarity…so I’ll leave it here. This Memorial Day, I remember one who made it home from war….and raised a family in the truest spirit of the Greatest Generation.

The Perfect Day

It is possible to take something beautiful and lasting out of the heart-wrenching experience of seeing the animal you love move inexorably toward death. Nobody can take the grief away, nor should anyone try, but our love for animals is nothing but a gift, and it keeps on giving, even when they go home.

A man named Harry, an Iraq war veteran and tennis coach from Minnesota, hit upon a simple and profound idea to transform this otherwise sad experience into a blessed one.

Read the rest here