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.

There is another Fort Bragg

You learn something new every day and yesterday I learned there is another Fort Bragg out there. It is in California and apparently very beautiful and also not a military base so pretty much the exact opposite of the North Carolina version! The Wikipedia tells me (via Anthony Ramienski on the Twitters) it was founded by 1st Lt. Horatio G. Gibson as a military post. Gibson named it after his former commanding officer CPT Braxton Bragg, Bragg of course would go on to become a Confederate General and is whom Fort Bragg here in North Carolina is named after. The Wikipedia also tells me that the film The Majestic was filmed at Fort Bragg, CA and that State Route 1, the Coastal Highway, passes through. Who knew?

Recommendation: C and J Tire and Auto Repair

This is not my usual blog fare but I thought as a public service to other residents of Fayetteville I’d write a quick recommendation for C & J Tire and Auto Repair on Yadkin. I drive an older whip (2000 Jeep Cherokee NBD) that recently required some not inexpensive repair in order to pass a NC vehicle inspection. My method of operation in these situations is to do some obsessive Googling in search of a place that won’t rip me off, very research intensive but also hard to figure out with so many possibilities. Finally a buddy who has a similar ride recommended C & J to me. Some quick research revealed excellent online reviews and I was sold.

I took my car in, got an estimate that was very fair and after a super quick turnaround got my Jeep back in no time. I’m hoping for no further issues with my beloved auto but I’m glad I know where to take her now if anything does come up. Highest of recommendations people of Fayetteville.

You can find C & J Tire and Auto Repair at the address below. Ask for James and you won’t be disappointed.

5522 Yadkin Rd
Fayetteville, North Carolina

910.779.1344

MRE Madness Championship

MRE Madness Finals

Its time. After weeks of anticipation and hard fought battles, we have arrived. Two will enter, only one will leave a champion. In one corner, emerging from the Veggie Region, the #1 seed, Cheese Tortellini. In the other corner, representing the Beef Region, the underdog, #5 Beef Ravioli.

Lets look at how they got here. #1 Cheese Tortellini took out #8 Ratatouille, #4 Kosher and Halal, #3 Spicy Penne Pasta and #7 Chicken w/ Noodles. #5 Beef Ravioli pulled the mild upset in Round 1 taking out #4 Spaghetti w/ Meat Sauce. In Round 2 it knocked out pre-tournament favorite #1 Chili Mac, followed that by beating #3 Meatballs w/ Marinara Sauce and then #2 Chili w/ Beans to reach the finals.

Will #1 Cheese Tortellini finish its dominant run with a Championship? Can #5 Beef Ravioli, an underdog in every one of its matchups so far, finish its Cinderella run? The champion will be crowned Monday morning. Good luck to both competitors. You can see the whole bracket and results here.

MRE Madness Final Four

Well here we are, the Final Four. What a journey its been. Remember when Chili w/ Macaroni lost? I know, right. Crazy. Voting is through Wednesday night, may the odds be forever in your favor (you here is #1 Cheese Tortellini). Pour one out for my beloved Buffalo Chicken.

#1 Cheese Tortellini vs. #7 Chicken w/ Noodles

#2 Chili w/ Beans vs. #5 Beef Ravioli

Shoutout to Mike Denny who came up with the MRE Madness name which I should have been using this whole time.