Oct 082010

His first pictures also arrived this week!

His first pictures also arrived this week!

Good morning everyone and Happy Friday again! And yes, it is a very happy Friday for this mom, because Ryan is home and sleeping soundly. I missed him so very much, and yes, our reunion is rather bittersweet due to his setback. But that’s all it is – a setback.

Ryan had so many stories to share with us after we met him at the USO* last night – some good, some not so good, but never was he negative in anything he had to say. He is ordinarily on the quiet side, so for him to jabber on and on about everything was a pleasant surprise. I think he said “it’s the little things” at least a dozen times, in reference to what he now appreciates.

While at OSUT, Ryan attended church once out of curiosity, but he did not find it to his liking. I don’t think he’s ever been to a service before, with the exception of his baptism into the Catholic Church as an infant (I wanted to make Grandma happy). He’s been inside churches before, especially back when he was a Cub Scout, but I don’t believe he’s ever sat through an actual service.

So, he went along with most of the other guys to a non-denominational Protestant service, as he wanted to partake in a new experience. He said it was interesting to see how things worked, but it just wasn’t for him. He also said they had to march to and from the service, and his feet were already so torn up, so he figured he’d rather stay behind, cleaning his rifle and picking up cigarette butts, opting instead on working meditations and reflection instead.

Speaking of his feet – wow. I sent him moleskin, which he said did relieve some pain, but after he came home last night and began to settle in, my heart just ached for him. I waited tables for several years, I delivered newspapers in gym shoes through black, salty slush, and I’ve stood at cash registers for entire full-time shifts without an opportunity to sit, and never have my feet looked so bad. I do believe some hot water and Epsom salts are in order, along with some sage-infused olive oil rubbed into them while chanting to help them heal. I can now see where his physical issues reside, so while he is home, I will be helping him toughen up his feet the gradual way.

I’ve learned quiet a few details about his post’s military culture, which may or may not be similar to the cultures of others. The following are outlined for the curious, though it may be unsettling or offensive to some readers:

  • There are fundies down there, some of which are high ranking, but they are indeed the minority. Even the Chaplains, which some would assume would be the most likely to push their beliefs on others, are actually very considerate and tolerant. Most folks are Christian, but that is not the highest point of their identities. Actually, many of the recruits and personnel seem to be merely Christian by default or happenstance, but then again, he hadn’t gotten quite as much of a chance to get to know them better.
  • To further clarify, even the fundies do not truly concern themselves on another person’s beliefs, as the Mission is number one. But, they relish discussing their beliefs, even passively, at every opportunity. Ryan just figures “that’s their thing” and went with it as being the tolerant person he is. It’s not like their last names are Phelps or anything!
  • Anything and everything posted on the message boards (and their accompanying pictures) is viewed by the Drill Sergeants, and the information is passed around freely. They don’t judge a recruit by his family outright, but they do take certain behaviors into consideration when sizing him up.
  • Some Drill Sergeants’ preferred term of endearment is “damn retard”. (I guess they didn’t get the memo.)
  • Using the derogatory word “fag”, even ala South Park, is unacceptable by anyone. However, calling someone a Chapter 15 is standard, though Ryan did not specify if it was only the recruits calling each other that or not. Ryan knows that is insensitive and just plain wrong, but he sure has taken a liking to “…unlawful carnal knowledge” sprinkled in any and all conversations. Jeez, I’m not even that bad!
  • Outright misogyny is not tolerated, whether or not a woman is present or even in earshot. However, like the tap dance around calling someone a “fag”, calling someone a “buttercup” is the norm.
  • As too in Texas, football is sacred, and pro athletes are revered as saints.
  • The food is fairly decent, even for someone who is overly picky. Raw, fresh fruits and vegetables are widely available, though vegans would not be able to consume the required 3000 calories a day, since there is simply not enough “chow time” to consume the few animal-free offerings. Desserts are available, but pity be to the recruit who takes a slice of chocolate cake! In the MREs, the cookies are okay to eat, but the candy snack packs are to be turned into the Drill Sergeant.
  • Taking all of that into consideration and then some, I’m not at all surprised Ryan was so appreciative of the little things, even the simple act of sleeping between the sheets. Most guys sleep on top so they can save a few moments in the morning making the bed from scratch.

    The Chaplain did speak with Ryan about his return, and acting as a gentle liaison on behalf of Ryan’s favorite Drill Sergeant and the Commander, he basically told Ryan the Army could put him to much better use than as an Infantryman. He told Ryan about looking into becoming an Officer, as he believes Ryan would do very well there, based on his knowledge of military history, his high line scores and his tenacious spirit. The admissions director at West Point is now heavily recruiting from the enlisted pool, as their graduation rates are depressingly low. With the war now entering its tenth year, I can only assume at least some of the legacies may be opting to choose a civilian career.

    Ryan seems very interested in exploring that option, as he meets the basic qualifications, and he has a Battalion Commander vouching for him. It does indeed sound like a wonderful opportunity, and I believe with the recommendation letters he received, he definitely has a crack at it. Without quoting verbatim, here are just some of what the Commander had to say:

    “…I fully appreciate the importance of selecting the right individuals to become Soldiers in the United States Army. PVT _______ has demonstrated the requisite mental attributes and skills to serve. His intelligence, maturity, and professionalism make him uniquely qualified. He has my highest recommendation…

    “…It would be a disservice if he were not granted another opportunity to serve as a Soldier…

    “Ryan _______ is extremely motivated and displayed all the intangibles of having ‘heart’…

    “…If every Soldier had the desire and motivation that Ryan _______ possesses, our jobs as leaders would be considerably easier…

    I do not give my recommendation lightly.”

    I told Ryan I have reviewed literally hundreds of resumes and attached reference letters, and never once have I seen one so glowing and from a VIP. I showed it to my boss, and he was equally floored, as were everyone else who read the letters. Needless to say, I sent an inquiry email to the admissions director at West Point with the letters attached, just to see if it would pique his curiosity at all. (I received an auto-response he’s away until Tuesday, so I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if I hear back.)

    So yes, at this point, it appears a door has been closed but a very large window has been opened! In hindsight, I find it interesting too Ryan entered under a Full Moon and returned under a New. Sure, it can be construed as pure coincidence, and the cynic in me says that’s all it is, but the Pagan in me wants to believe otherwise.

    * I will say I truly love the USO. I have been looking for a place to volunteer time rather than money and/or goods for several years, and it seems to be just the sort of thing that suits me well. Half of it looked like Tony Soprano’s media room, with big comfy chairs and couches centered around a giant flat screen TV – sports bars take note! Another portion was more like a breakfast area in a nice hotel, with plenty of healthy and snacky foods and drinks freely available, as well as free computers open for folks to check their email and such.

    The one at O’Hare is also always open and away from most common areas, so it’s pretty safe and secure. That’s just so nice for military personnel traveling; they don’t have to drop money on a hotel if they’re unable to afford it or worry about missing their flights. And, because it is located before the security checkpoints (and nearest the parking garage), it served as the ideal place to meet Ryan – O’Hare is just so incredibly big and meandering to flying novices like us!

    Oct 012010

    Good morning everyone and Happy Friday once again! This week, quite a bit of military news I at least found relevant has come up, as well as the Ryan Update, so grab a cup of motivation and read on!

    On Wednesday, Ryan was given an opportunity to call us, and he stated he was pretty sure he was coming home next Thursday. In spite of everything, he still sounds rather positive, so I really have to give him some kudos for his tenacious spirit. He’s in what I’ve heard referred to as the dreaded holding area now, AG30, where everyone who is being prematurely discharged is housed while waiting for their discharge papers to go through. (I heard they call it the “broke dick unit”.) From the countless posts I’ve read, it’s the last place any Soldier wants to be. No matter the reason, even due to injury, the guys are all treated as “quitters”, which really snubs out a lot of morale. I asked Ryan if anyone was “giving him shit,” and he nonchalantly retorted everyone gives everyone shit, that it’s no big deal. So fortunately, he has a tough enough skin to let that wash over him.

    I was thinking I should make him a cake for when he comes home next week, as I’m sure he hasn’t had any real treats down there. Besides, whenever I want to get him to talk, all I have to do is either take him out to eat or make him his favorite foods. I’ll even make him a greasy bacon double cheeseburger and seasoned fries for dinner. If we’re lucky, it might even be warm enough to use the grill. I went apple picking with a couple friends last Saturday (wonderful place, by the way!), and I still have over a peck of Fugi’s left. I’m thinking of making something delicious with them for Ryan as well.

    I think of him always, and of course, I think of “the bad stuff” that could happen, but I try not to. He desperately wants to go back, even though some people have said to me that perhaps the Goddess had intervened so that “the bad stuff” wouldn’t befall him. Maybe She did, maybe She didn’t – I doubt I’ll ever know. She has Her own prerogatives I’m sure, and Ryan will just have to deal with the cards he’s been dealt.

    This has me thinking about what Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday, that “too few Americans bear the burdens of war”. I whole-heartedly agree with him, that so many of us take for granted somebody else will just deal with it. Ryan wants to serve so desperately, but the majority of Americans have zero interest whatsoever. “That’s not my job!” is a phrase I absolutely cannot stand; we’re all supposed to be working together toward a common goal, no matter the reason, as long as the goal is for the betterment of us all. It’s only because the job market is so bad the military has been “making mission” or coming close; a few short years ago, recruitment was so bad Soldiers were being deployed several times over and being retained several months longer than they were supposed to. If people did their fair share, our government wouldn’t have to be shelling out millions of dollars in Stop-Loss Pay, and our guys wouldn’t be bearing the grunt of its effects! (Which, by the way, Stop-Loss has been extended for those who haven’t filed yet, and it’s available even for family members of the deceased. It’s an additional $500 for every extra month – you deserve it!)

    And what really bothers me is the people who push for socialism the hardest are overwhelmingly the same ones who are really selfish. Voter turnout is disgustingly low, yet people have no problem complaining when they’re getting screwed by the government. People want the war to end, but they think posting a comment on a blog or merely holding a picket sign is going to change anything. People want a job, but they only want to accept particular jobs. People want violence to end, but when they see it happening right in front of them, they mind their own business and go the other way, maybe calling 911 if it’s not too inconvenient.

    It is because of the relatively few real doers though that I still have faith in people. I like to think those special few will inspire everyone else to get off the couch (or Teh Interwebz) and actually do something meaningful. (Again, I’m thinking positive here!) A mom couldn’t stand the thought of her son being buried alone, so she fought for two years to get the law changed. (The bill is now on our President’s desk waiting to be signed!) Another woman, who was discovered to be a lesbian – even though she was abiding by DADT, fought to be reinstated after her discharge from the Air Force back in 2004 – and won! These two women spoke up and spoke out, which I can only assume consumed almost all of their time and resources. And because of them, they made the military, and our country, a better place.

    It is acts like these that have me questioning if I have done enough to serve my country and community as a whole. I was never a viable prospect for the military, as I was struck by a speeding car when I was six, leaving me with a few issues, but I suppose I could be looking into more supportive roles. I vote regularly, but I admit to missing a couple elections. (The reasons are inconsequential.) I donate money, toys, food and clothes to local charities (even hair!), but I could be donating more time. I feel I do my part environmentally speaking, but until my carbon footprint is zero, there is always room for improvement. I support local businesses to keep people working, but I still shop at Target for many necessities. And, yes, I could be doing more to promote our Pagan community in a positive light, which I suppose I’ve done a fair job, but I could do better.

    Instead of “What have you done for me lately?”, I’m just saying we should be asking ourselves “What have I done for you lately?”, with “you” being the collective of our community as a whole.

    Sep 242010

    Sadly, Ryan is being ELS’d, but it’s nothing he did wrong. He just physically isn’t able to quite handle the training right now, though he has the potential and tenacity to do so. But, Ryan wants to come back, which he certainly can!

    We initially found out Sunday night when Ryan and the rest of his platoon were able to make phone calls. When he called us, he said they are discharging him. It was hard to understand him, because the payphones are so crappy down there (*crackle-crackle-crackle*), but I distinctly heard him say,

    “I don’t think I’m going back,” and
    “They’re discharging me. Do you know what that means?”

    I didn’t see how that was even possible, as per their own rules,

    2. No private will be ELS’d prior to his 4th week of training unless he is highly disruptive or suicidal. In this event, the battalion commander may approve the ELS.”

    They weren’t even out of Red Phase at that point, so it didn’t make sense at all. Those upbeat letters certainly do not indicate suicidal tendencies, and even his recruiter says if anything, Ryan is on the quiet side, so highly disruptive is out of the question. So because of that, I felt an extreme injustice, as if they were not giving him a chance. Ryan’s wanted to be down there since he could talk, and he spent all summer training with the Future Soldiers. How could he not be prepared?? Ron nor I could sleep a wink that night, because our hearts absolutely broke for him.

    I contacted the Chaplain’s office three times (two calls plus an email), and I contacted the Drill Sergeant who worked with Ryan for FS, and it took until Wednesday to get a call-back from the Chaplain. I understand they’re busy down there, but that didn’t make the anxious wait any less easy. He jotted down a few details I have already provided in my messages and said he’d call me back. It wasn’t him who did though; it was the 2-19 Battalion Commander, which I acknowledge is something that just doesn’t happen everyday.

    He said Ryan is most definitely welcome back in six months (which is a lot earlier than the 2 years I’ve seen in Google searches), and that he never quit on anything. He stated further Ryan is mentally and spiritually a model Soldier, but he simply wasn’t ready to meet their physical demands, that he doesn’t want Ryan to get hurt before his career even begins. This is especially the case, because Ryan wants to be a lifer.

    He also said he is going to notate everything into his file and provide a written letter of recommendation so the recruiters back here at home (and quite possibly MEPS, too!) know he is not “a waste of time”. He also assured me he is confident Ryan will do very well on his next go-around, because he’s already “been there, done that”, so the initial shock of entering OSUT will not be there. In fact, he’d be able to mentor his new platoon a bit and keep them strong as well.

    One thing he said too that initially kind of creeped me out (but made me so proud at the same time!) is he’d been reading my posts on Teh Faceypagez. (See! Gotta watch what you put on there, folks! Hehe!) It was partly to better understand Ryan’s mental state by seeing what kind of family he comes from and whatnot, but mostly, he said he simply genuinely likes Ryan and was interested in him. Out of a thousand new recruits coming in each week, our son indeed became a standout for his tenacity and drive. And, he thinks highly of me too for helping out the new moms coming on the boards. (I don’t know much – just been around a lot longer and passing on the info.)

    So, after I got the call from the Commander (which I completely acknowledge is a real honor!!), I called Ryan’s recruiting office and relayed everything said to me. When I told the FS Drill Sergeant the Commander called me personally and said he was providing a written recommendation, he was beyond impressed. He said in all his many years (twenty-two if I’m not mistaken), he’s never heard of that occurring, much less seen such a letter. He said uninjured ELS’d guys are usually written off as quitters.

    He then said he is going to work Ryan over very hard to make sure he comes back next spring. “Like flies on shit!” is the way he put it, which is rather intimidating to me, as that guy’s a total Ving Rhames brick house: 6’4” and 300lbs. of solid muscle – even in his face! The man has no neck! He wants Ryan to come back…


    [Cue music and sound effects]

    He also wanted me to know the Commander would not bullshit me, nor would he, so as long as Ryan was indeed dedicated. I assured him yes – most definitely, Ryan wants to come back!!

    Yesterday, that was validated when Ryan called me from the Commander’s office phone (another thing that doesn’t happen every day!) after being debriefed, and we talked a good fifteen minutes. (That’s forever with that boy; he hates talking on the phone!) I told him everything the Commander said about him, and I told him about the “flies on shit” comment (which made him laugh a lot!), as well as told him just how very proud of him for impressing so many people. (The amount of supportive posts on Teh Faceypagez is crazy and just makes me so proud!) That’s not easy to do, and we know this. I also told Ryan to make sure he gets that letter, because that is a piece of gold! I plan on not only framing it but making several copies, especially for the MEPS people! I don’t want any delays or confusion!!!

    Ryan said he’s in holding now, and it’s boring as hell. I really hope it’s only boring, because that’s where the quitters go too. So yeah, there’s a stigma attached, even for the obviously injured. I read many moms’ posts over the months who said the guys in holding are pretty much brushed off, no matter the reason. I hope Ryan can brush that off and comes home soon too, so we can get the ball rolling on getting him back to Ft. Benning.

    Besides, the cat misses him, and we have a big surprise for him, too.