#PROTIP: Make A Schools Box

I’ve done a lot of things in the Army that require packing lists. Early on in my career I would take my packing list to Commando’s or General Jackson’s and go down item by item, putting in my cart whatever gear I hadn’t already been issued. This was efficient but also pretty expensive, especially as I started realizing that I was buying some of the same items over and over but never actually using them, like sewing kits or whistles or 10 different combination locks. I knew I had these items, and sometimes several of them, but I had no organized way of locating them every time I needed them before heading to a school. So I created a “Schools” box.

My schools box is pretty simple, just a plastic container that has the stuff I don’t use on a regular basis but always seem to need for packing lists in it. It has things like my barracks bag, 12 different sewing kits, an extra set of dog tags, 100 feet of 550 chord, those random glove inserts everyone makes you have even in the summer, a couple cases of ear pro, mini flashlight/maglite, three or four prepackaged terrain model kit, two whistles, two brown towels, an unopened toothbrush and toothbrush case and a bunch of bungee chords. Now, before I go out shopping, I go to my schools box and see what I already have. It saves me time and money, just wish I’d thought of it a couple of packing lists ago.

Meaningless LinkedIn Endorsements

A few years back I joined LinkedIn, mostly in an attempt to stop the barrage of “please join my network” emails I seemed to receive daily and also because I wanted to make myself available for the 7 figure plus job offers that I understood came with being a member. LinkedIn has a feature where you can endorse a person for having a certain skill and I’ve noticed that my civilian contacts love endorsing me for any skill that sounds even remotely militarily related. Below is a screenshot of the “skills” I’ve been endorsed with having.

LinkedIn Skills

Whats notable about this is that, in most cases, the people doing the endorsing, while I’m sure acting with the best intentions, have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. My aunt endorsed me for “Operational Planning”. So did my stepmom’s best friend. I don’t even know what “Operational Planning” is supposed to mean, though it does sound important and I’m glad I guess that people think I’m good at it? Apparently I can turn off the endorsements but I’m kind of curious what I might get next. I’m still waiting on those job offers by the way.

Things to do in Fayetteville

It is somewhat popular to make fun of Fayetteville but I like it here! In the interest of promoting this place here is a list of places to eat and activities to do that I have personally done myself and enjoyed. Two notes, 1) Yes Fayetteville has all the usual national chains (i.e. Five Guys, Chipotle, etc.) and 2) again, these are only the places I’ve been to, if you have suggestions of places to eat at or activities to try please get in touch.

(Last updated 31 July 2015)

Places to eat

Army City (website) – Couple of different locations, good subs and greek food. Fries are also delish.

Boonma Thai – Best Thai food in Fayetteville, hands down. Has only a couple tables and I’ve actually only ever carried out from here. Also closes at like 8pm but worth it.

Don Ramon’s Tacos (website) – The Burrito California has french fries inside it. Not with it but INSIDE it.

Great Harvest Bread Company (website) – Different speciality breads made every day, the Apple Scrapple is to die for.

Habana Cuban Restaurant (website) – My former Company Commander was Cuban and he loved this place. The Ropa Viieja is one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Hot Diggity Dog (website) – Delicious hot dogs, do I have to say more?

Luigi’s (website) – Italian food, also has live music some evenings.

Mash House (website) – Local brewery that is also a good place for a little more upscale dining, good steaks.

Memphis BBQ (website) – I always get the brisket platter, also a good carryout option.

Off The Hook (website) – Original, delicious tacos. A little pricey but the tacos are pretty large. Also have daily specials, so check out the Facebook page I linked to before you head over.

Superior Bakery (website) – The fried croissants are some of the most devastatingly delicious sweets you’ve ever had.

Activities

Blueberry picking at Carter Farms (website) – Good way to get outside, also pretty cheap, blueberries are only $1 a pound.

When A Division Is Not A Division (Updated)

Today I was scrolling through my Twitters, looking to catch up on the day’s news, when I saw the following headline in a tweet by Stars and Stripes:

Whoa, big if true as they say. A Division deploying to Afghanistan. Depending on which Division, thats approximately 10,0000 troopers which would nearly doubling our current presence there. Except it is not true, as you find out when you click the headline and read in the third paragraph of the article:

The deployment is small, fewer than 100 soldiers.

100 people? Thats not a Division, thats barely 1/100 of a Division. The article, by Adam Ashton, is syndicated from McClatchy. Lets look at how Stars and Stripes headlines it:

Stars and Stripes

And then here’s how McClatchy plays it:

McClatchy

McClatchy’s sounds a little more accurate right? This is shameless clickbait Stars and Stripes, you are better then that.

UPDATE:

I make things happen people:

And so they did:

New Stars and Stripes Headline

Good on you Stars and Stripes!

Ranger Dip

Desperate times call for desperate measures and normally I would be hesitant to take instant coffee, put it in two thin sheets of napkin paper and stick it in my mouth but the Army is all about adaptability. Ranger Dip. All you need is the coffee and napkins that come in MREs. If you want to get exotic you can mix in the sugar or even creamer powder. Why would you do this? It will (maybe) help you stay awake, it will give you something to do and if you dip in the real world it may be the closest you’ll get to getting your fix.

Watching RGIII in Manas

I wrote the below post for the Mottram brother’s Mr. Irrelevant after correctly predicting the outcome of Skins vs. Seahawks game this year. Thanks to Chris and Jamie for hosting me.

Robert Griffin III Griffining

In this time of depression and hopelessness with the Washington Football Team I thought I’d use my guest post to go back to a time when, for one night at least, everything was perfect.

At midnight on 9 September 2012 I was sitting in the Green Bean coffee cafe at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan on my way home from what had been an unenjoyable seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. With access to wireless internet for the first time in months I’d been camped out in the Green Bean soaking up the goings on in the world and was planning on refreshing ESPN.com to keep up with the Washington season-opener against the Saints and, more importantly, Robert Griffin III’s NFL debut.

In my normal life I’m one of those who’s always on top the latest news and rumors, checking the Twitters, reading Mr. Irrelevant (ahem), etc. In Afghanistan, with long stretches of no access to the World Wide Web, I was out of the loop. No internet was not something new in my Army career; I’d been similarly isolated before, kept abreast of the latest (days- and weeks-old) news by letters from my Dad and then-girlfriend (now wife) filled with cut-out newspaper articles and box scores. When I left for Basic in April of 2010 the Caps led the Canadians 3-1 in the playoffs, and it wasn’t until a month later I found out how that turned out. (Freaking Halak, man.)

With the way Washington-area teams had performed of late I thought I wasn’t going to miss much. When I left the States, Washington was coming off a year that featured Rex Grossman and John Beck (John Beck!) doing something that was supposed to resemble being an NFL quarterback, and RGIII was the newly crowned Heisman Trophy winner. When I went to the MWR tent at our FOB in May all of a sudden we’d traded away every draft pick that ever was and ever will be, and RGIII was my team’s quarterback. When you’re away from the firehose of information that is following sports in this day and age you miss a lot of the small stuff that never mattered anyway. I missed the rumors, the pros-and-cons debate was all over already, and RGIII was the QB of the future for my favorite football team.

I lucked out that night in Manas. The Skins/Saints game was playing on the Armed Forces Network; no need to refresh my browser so I could watch it live. Another guy, from another unit and whom I didn’t know, pulled up a chair next to me. He was a Skins fan too, and he couldn’t believe we were about to watch RGIII in a Washington uniform either. Sports man, bringing two strangers together in the strangest places. I’ll admit to half-paying attention in the beginning as I tried to catch up on the Orioles’ success (naturally they waited until I was halfway around the world to have their best season in forever), and then this happened:

Not since Brunell hit Moss with that second TD in Dallas had I felt like that. All the tension, the stress from the deployment felt like it lifted right then, that I was going home and that I was physically all right. Yeah, sports are stupid and lots of stuff is way more important but they really can take your mind off things. The other guy, whose name I’ve forgotten, and I watched the rest of the game making grand predictions about number of Super Bowls and MVPs (we agreed Garcon and Morris and Griffin would probably split the votes). Finally, at four in the morning, with the first win of the new era under our belts, we said goodbye and went back to our respective tents, full of optimism for the future of our team.

A few days later I was home in North Carolina, back with my family. I actually ended up going to a game, at their lowest point of the season, the home loss against the Panthers (and inadvertently helped my Platoon Sergeant turn the Carolina season around). That season ended … poorly, last year was worse and this year, well, let’s not talk about this year quite yet.

But that first game, that first TD pass. As bad as it gets, and it’s pretty bad, I’ll always remember that night in freaking Kyrgyzstan when home was on the horizon and everything seemed possible in Washington.

Review: “Unbroken”

Unbroken Movie Poster

Last Friday night my wife and I went on a movie date and saw Unbroken at the new Fayetteville IMAX theater (sidenote: the IMAX is very nice and seemed to be doing good business, recommended as your next date location). As an avid fan of Laura Hillenbrand’s book (I think I’ve given it as a gift three times) I was a little nervous to see what had become of Louis Zamperini’s story in Angelina Jolie’s hands. With good reason it turns out as the film is decent but it fails to live up to the book, mainly because of it only tells half of what makes Zamperini’s story so special. Spoilers for the movie (and book) follow, if you want my quick verdict its this: read the book, feel free to skip the movie.

Here’s Zamperini’s story in a nutshell: juvenile delinquent who, with some mentoring by his older brother becomes an Olympic runner. Serves in World War II as a bomber in the Pacific, his plane crashes and Zamperini and the pilot survive for 47 days on a life raft only to be “rescued” by the Japanese. He spends the remainder of the war, about two years, being tortured and abused in a POW camp. The movie tells this story well, although visually it looks indistinguishable to me from Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.

It is the second part of Zamperini’s life though that makes his story so special, worthy of a bestselling book and a feature film. After struggling with alcohol upon his return to the United States, Zamperini attends a Billy Graham event in 1949 and recommits himself as a Christian. Part of that is forgiving his captors for what they did to him, remarkable in itself but Zamperini actually goes further, traveling to Japan to forgive his abusers in person. I’m not ashamed to say that I find his ability to forgive incredible and completely beyond anything I’d be capable of myself.

This remarkable act of forgiveness is left almost entirely out of the movie. Jolie includes a brief slideshow that mentions he forgave his captors as well as, to her credit ,a great video of the real Zamperini running with the Olympic torch in Japan in 1998 but its a few moments at the end of a long movie. Zamperini’s ability to keep going despite the suffering, being adrift in the Pacific for over a month, abused mercilessly in a POW camp for two years is amazing but the heart and soul of the story is his capacity for forgiveness, for living a life without bitterness or anger. That the movie misses this key element is a disservice to the man and the story.