Monday, May 31, 2010

Locked Out

A couple of weeks ago I bought an inflatable pool for the boys but the weather had been so rainy that we haven't gotten to enjoy it yet...until yesterday. I blew it up and placed it on the back deck, which is accessible through our sliding door. The lock on this door has a habit of falling into the "lock" position after it's opened.

It was early afternoon and the sun was scorching. I just started to fill the pool with the boys in tow and decided to get them ready while the pool was filling. I pulled the door and it budged a centimeter and stopped. Oh, you've GOT to be KIDDING me! I gave the door a couple more frustrated jiggles before running to the front of the house. Front door locked. Great. With the kids still in tow, I tried the windows with no luck...except for one: The kitchen.

The good news is that the window was plenty big enough for me to fit just happened to be located above a set of steps. I made several unsuccessful attempts to hop up and through the window, which my boys (who are one and three) found so amusing that they began to mimic me; jumping up and down and giggling every time I made a "leap".

Donning a crusty t-shirt and some old shorts too short and holey to wear in public, I swallowed my pride and went to the neighbors for help. Wouldn't you know, it was the dad and HIS two kids that were home. As composed as was possible, I asked if he had a ladder which he was happy to lend along with his assistance.

So now, our initial three-man party turned into a crowd consisting of a flustered crusty mom, a good-willed neighbor, and four kids now marching into our back yard to watch the spectacle of me trying to balance a ladder on the steps and scramble through my window. If I had more dignity I would have been mortified.

Thankfully, after five minutes of finagling the ladder into position, I managed to launch myself into the window with the exuberant encouragement of four young kids cheering me on at the base of the steps. The neighbor was wonderful about helping me and I was thankful that at least one window was open, regardless of its inconvenient location. Success! That is, until next time...

Remembering Sams

Lance Corporal Sams was a bit off the beaten path, but a good Marine and a great friend. Tall and gangly with a shaved head, he was a country boy as pale as they come. When he wasn’t in uniform, you could catch him wearing Phat Pharm and FUBU around the base. A born prankster, you would be hard pressed to find Sams without a smile or cracking a corny joke that received more eye rolls and sighs than genuine laughter, but everyone knew he was cool. That was Sams.

When our unit of Military Police Officers (MP’s) was activated in January 2003, Sams was one of the only Marines who wasn’t an MP (he was a cook) who got called to pick up a weapon and join the fight. And he did. He got to experience the wonder of coming back onto U.S. soil and it’s astounding greenery (you’d notice it more too if you’d spent a year in the desert). We were home, and everything was good.

Until two weeks later, when Sams took a swan dive out of a five story window.
He didn’t make it. He didn’t fall on the field of battle, but he’s worth remembering just as much as any other fallen soldier on Memorial Day.

Sams and I served on post a lot together. We did some not so bright things to ward away boredom in Kuwait like having a water drinking contest while we still had two hours of watch remaining. BAD IDEA when you can’t leave your post. Or getting into a wrestling match in the cafeteria tent while the Kuwaiti workers howled with laughter. The laughter grew more persistent from all parties when Sams’ foot went through the crappy wooden floor.

Then there was a time where one of Sams’ shenanigans took an unexpected turn. The shotty radio broken and nothing else to do but let humvees in and out of the sandy base, Sams took to throwing rocks past my head. I wasn’t facing him, but I could hear the rocks whizzing past my ear. Agitated, I turned to tell him to knock it off and got as far as “would you knock i—ooof!”. A rock connected with my forehead. I put my hand up to my head (which was covered by a boonie hat) and blood was already soaked through. I took off the hat and the blood came a-pourin. Thanks Sams. By the time the doc got there and Sams was ready to spill the beans on how I got beaned, I quickly told the doc that I fell. On my face. Why didn't I break my fall? Well, my hands were full, naturally. Needless to say, Sams was thankful for his avoiding a butt roasting by the platoon sergeant.

On one of our nightly rounds of patrolling our makeshift base, Sams was talking to me about how things were going out here. He knew that I was having a rough time with some personal issues and without judging or prying, he simply said, “You know Wolf, if you ever need me for anything, I’m here.”

Thinking of it now makes my throat constrict. I don’t know what caused him to end his life, but in the spirit of his good nature, I too will be there for him, at least to honor his memory proudly.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Blood, Guts, and Motherhood

As a combat veteran of the Marines participating in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, you can correctly assume that I've seen a lot of ugly stuff. Sparing you the grisly detail, I can sum it up by saying I dealt with the bad encounters well.

Needless to say, I was overly confident that this iron-clad stomach would be able to carry over into motherhood. I consider myself to have a high threshold for handling the gross. I cruised through the first couple of years of my first son's life without an issue; bravely conquering explosive diapers, runny noses that never seemed to want to drain, and prying out half eaten bugs out of my boy's grinning mouth.

Then came the day that my stomach (and will) was tested.

I was doing some schoolwork in my office when I caught the scent of my little one's dirty diaper. Halfway out of the office and on the way to change my then two year old son's little bum, I noticed something on the floor; his dirty diaper...followed by a brown foot-printed trail that let to his bedroom. Oh boy.

There, at the "scene of the crime", was a bedroom massacre. Poop EVERYWHERE!

In the eye of the hurricane was my two year old son, happily running his trucks through one of the brown masses.

Gag reflex activated.

I ran from the room, sucked in a deep breath of air and held my breath as I evacuated my son from the mess and into the tub. Cleaning him was one of the easier parts...the room? Not so much. It took many trips of me holding my breath, scrambling into the room to clean as much as my oxygen supply would allow before I'd have to leave the room to get another breath. Unfortunately, there were some casualties (puzzles, action figures) that didn't make it back to the toy shelf that day, but that's expected on any battlefield I suppose.

Who would've guessed that my nerves of steel and iron stomach, which was able to endure war,would do somersaults over a normal day of motherhood? Go Figure.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What to know before joining the U.S. Marine Corps

If you were to ask a group of Marines what you needed to know before joining their ranks, you would get mixed responses due to varying experiences. There are some facts and values that remain constant regardless of personal experiences and these are the things to remember before enlisting into "The Few, The Proud".

If you do not have a family member or friend in the Marines, chances are your first impressions of one were formed by the big screen or a book. Marines pride themselves in their superior skill with weaponry and competence on the battlefield. This does not mean all of them skulk around in full combat gear and camo paint all day, waiting for the next war to crop up. Killing people is certainly not the focal point of every Marine's life.

Basic training, or "boot camp", is challenging. It is physically and mentally taxing and you will surely have a moment or two of self doubt. The title of U.S. Marine is earned, not given to you. Just as you couldn't expect to be hired by a prestigious law firm without the proper education, you cannot become one of the elite fighting forces without the proper training.

The Marine way of life is structured, more than you may be used to there at home. There are regulations on everything from your haircut to the cleanliness of your barracks room. There is a code of conduct which you are expected to follow and designated times for Physical Training (PT) and other command activities. This way of life is not for everyone so if you are completely against routines and regulations, the Marine Corps is not for you.

Your work schedule and routines may vary with the Marine Occupational Specialty (your job) you choose, but some things remain consistant for every Marine. You will have 30 days paid vacation every year earned at the rate of 2.5 days a month, more than most civilian companies will give you. You will have a stable job that is difficult to lose and you will always be paid on the 1st and 15th of every month. There are always Marines around you to help you with anything, whether it is losing a few extra pounds or handling a difficult personal situation.

The best way to maximize your chances of a successful career in the Marine Corps is quite simple. A positive attitude, keeping your bearing in the face of difficulty without giving up, and possessing a Marine Corps rank structures and other Marine Corps knowledge and regulations will be helpful to keep yourself refreshed on. All of these attributes will help you stand out in a good way and will also be helpful when promotion time comes around.

In the Marine Corps, you will gain a sense of pride, authority, and moral bearing that will be instilled in you for the rest of your life, long after you may forget your general orders or uniform regulations.

Picky little eaters

Right now, your toddler is experiencing a world of transition and change. They are starting to develop their unique personalities and preferences. This includes their eating habits and what they choose and more often do not choose to eat. Introducing new foods to your toddler's diet can prove to be tricky and downright frustrating at times but can be made easier on both you and your little one with a few helpful tips.


Do not get discouraged if your child does not like a new food the first time that it is introduced to them. Even as adults, our preference for certain foods often changes. We may find ourselves developing a taste for foods we typically avoid and eat foods that we normally indulge in less frequently. This is also true in the case of your toddler and one way to accommodate their developing and changing tastes is to give them the opportunity to try the food again a little later. If and when the initial taste test fails, try re-introducing the food in another two or three weeks. If they still don't like the food in question, try it again after another couple of weeks. You can continue this cycle as often as you like.


There are many factors the could contribute to why your toddler is steering clear of certain foods. It could be anything from an unpleasant texture to the unique flavor that different cooking methods can lend to a food. For example, you may discover that your child likes baked potato wedges but will not eat mashed potatoes or prefers baked chicken over grilled chicken. Offering a variety of preparations of the same food can help you understand your child's food preferences while expanding the variety in their diets. When dining out, most restaurants will meet your specific requests for your toddler.


While your toddler may not like raw vegetables such as carrot and celery sticks by themselves, they may enjoy them served with some peanut butter to dip the veggies in. Pairing an unfamiliar food item with something that your child enjoys is a great way to introduce them to new foods and can let them benefit from several food groups in one sitting. Other food combinations you can try with your toddler next to the above mentioned veggies and peanut butter are:

*fruit with yogurt

*Broccoli and cheese

*fruit salads

*pasta salads

*casserole dishes that can include meat and a variety of vegetables


Let your little one tag along with you to the grocery store. Encourage them to look at, feel, and smell (if applicable) the foods that you put into your cart. Point out the colors and shapes of the grocery items and explain what kind of meals you might cook with them and how they will taste.

When preparing a meal, have your child do safe and easy tasks for you such as rinsing vegetables or mixing ingredients together (under your supervision, of course).

Including your toddler in your shopping and cooking routine will take up more time, but the end result is worth it. Your child is more likely to want to eat what is on their plate at meal time when they are familiar with what it is and how it is made, especially if they helped you make it. Not only is it a good way to add some bonding time into a busy schedule, cooking and shopping with your toddler will help them develop a healthy knowledge of good foods and how to prepare them as they get older.

With a positive approach and a few easy guidelines, your toddler will open up to and enjoy the new foods introduced to them with more ease.

Letting your toddler thrive

Providing your toddler with a happy and healthy environment to thrive in requires a lot of time, nurturing, and attentiveness on the part of the parents. This can be an intimidating responsibility because we are laying the foundation for the physical, intellectual, and emotional well being of our child. As a first time parent and friend to other first time parents, I am finding out that creating the most suitable environment for your toddler to thrive in varies with each child's individual needs.

From the moment we bring our tiny cooing bundle home from the hospital to the time we are all but bubble wrapping our house to prevent trips to the hospital, we instinctively begin providing basic needs for our child. The need for unconditional love and affection, mental and physical stimulation, and social interaction does not change from infant to toddler, but how we cater to those needs does change. As they begin to understand and navigate the world around them, toddlers will be able to comprehend more complex concepts such as learning to talk and carrying out simple requests made by their parents. We can encourage our toddler's growing curiosity about understanding our world by providing them with some essential needs.

Toddlers need plenty of love and affection and will learn how to reciprocate their love and affection to others from you. Make sure you let them know how much they are loved through plenty of verbal and physical displays of affection. Hugs, kisses, and cuddling comes naturally to some parents while others may need to make a more concerted effort to display their emotions. If you are one parent that needs to make more of an effort, by no means does this imply that you care for your child any less than someone who has no problem displaying their emotions. The fact that you do make an effort to provide this vital need for your toddler to thrive both psychologically and socially puts any such implication to rest.

Thanks to modern technology, we have access to a myriad of learning tools, toys, and games built especially to help toddlers expand their physical and mental capacity. Take advantage of them! These games and toys can also give your toddler some independent play time which lets you have some of that rare and sacred free time to relax, if only for a few moments. You can also play simple games with your toddler that achieves the same result at my favorite price: free. Play basic recognition games such as pointing out shapes, objects, and people to your child.

Play with your toddler on the playground or play hide and seek in your own back yard or house. These activities will also strengthen your bond with your little one. Introducing your toddler to other children their age or setting play dates will develop their social skills. Although they may not understand what you are telling them, frequently talking to your child will also help them develop their ability to socialize.

The "nurturing needs" (for lack of a better term) such as physical, mental, and emotional development are not the only needs that provide your toddler with the ability to thrive. I believe it is essential to provide a toddler with the familiarity of routine. When a child has the reassurance of a stable routine at home, they will be more confident and at ease in their environment and in new ones. They will know that regardless of what new situations may occur in their day, they can rely on coming home to the routines that they have become comfortable with. Teaching a toddler discipline is the earliest introduction of morals. They may not fully understand why it is not acceptable to hit or shout indoors but through disciplinary action such as time outs or giving your toddler to the count of three to comply with your request, they will establish a basic sense of right and wrong.

This task of providing a thriving environment for your toddler is definitely not an easy one, especially when you consider the toddler's state of mind. While they are not as dependent upon you as an infant, they are still more dependent on you than a child of school age is. Navigating your way through the toddler years can be trying for both you and your little one. When you provide your toddler with their essential needs, it will insure greater success in helping them thrive into well adjusted children, and eventually well adjusted adults.

So you want to be a Marine? Here's how to prepare.

Known to have one of the most rigorous basic training processes in the Armed Forces, the thought of earning the title of United States Marine can be exciting, challenging,rewarding, and scary. Boot camp is a little bit of each and in my opinion becoming a Marine worth every obstacle that you will face. During some of my duty as a Marine, I was stationed in an RS (Recruiting Station) that manages all of the RSS's (Recruiting Sub-Stations) in the area. The RSS is where your local recruiter works out of. Here I had the chance to work on the processing side of creating future Marines. As a former Marine and combat veteran, I want to provide some insight on how to physically and mentally prepare for one of the biggest changes in your life.


The first step to becoming a Marine is to talk to a recruiter. Recruiters are a very knowledgeable resource that can get you on your way to becoming a Marine. A very important thing that you need to remember starting with your first visit with a recruiter is to be honest. I can't stress it enough because if you try to hide something, I guarantee that it will be found out and will make your journey to become a Marine more time consuming and difficult. You will be asked to disclose drug use, criminal, and medical history. If you did use drugs, had a criminal history, or had some medical issues, it DOES NOT mean that you cannot become a Marine. Further processing may be necessary. After you speak to your recruiter, he will set a date to take you to your local MEPS (processing station) to take a multiple choice test called the ASVAB. This will determine your eligibility for certain occupational specialties. After you've passed, you will set another date with your recruiter to go back to MEPS for a physical screening and another background screen with the Marine at MEPS. I would advise taking off of work this day because the time it takes to process varies with each individual. Once you've passed medical and background screening, you are ready to be sworn into the Armed Forces. After this, you'll go to the RS which is usually in the same building to receive your ID card, brief, and sign a few more papers. You may also be asked to do a partial Initial Strength test (IST) consisting of crunches and pull ups for men and dead hang for women. This process will take around 15 minutes and then you are done for the day. Now comes prep time for boot camp.


Depending on your ship date (the day you leave to go to boot camp), you may have weeks or months to mentally and physically prepare yourself for the training ahead. If you have only weeks and you are not in the best shape, make sure you can at least pass the IST and load up on all the Marine Corps knowledge you can. When you reach basic training, you will take another IST there and be placed into your appropriate fitness grouping. You can always improve and move up, that's what your training is for. Your recruiter can help you reach your goals with your IST and knowledge training. Whether you have weeks or months, weekly contact with your recruiter is necessary to make sure you are staying focused on keeping in shape and to discuss any questions or concerns you may have as your ship date nears. If you have months before you ship to boot camp, you will attend monthly functions with all of the other future Marines in your RSS. These usually involve some physical activity like football, taking the IST or can be informative classes such as learning to apply camo paint and doing land navigation. The functions are mandatory. If you start to have feelings of doubt and uncertainty as your ship date nears, that's normal. I'd be surprised if someone didn't get nervous about it. Becoming a Marine is a big accomplishment and is by no means impossible if you are truely focused.


The change begins as soon as your bus rolls to a stop near the infamous yellow footprints. From that point on, everyone except your fellow recruits are to be addressed as "sir" or "ma'am". Addressing yourself as "I" turns into addressing yourself as "this recruit".You will be asked again to disclose any information that you previously did not concerning your background shortly after arriving to training. To prevent incriminating yourself and committing a Federal offense, be honest about everything before you ship. Basic Training is a large adjustment and some may try to look for ways to be sent home. The fastest way out of training is to complete it and if you think you can take the fast route home by acting foolish, feigning illness, or breaking rules, think again. You will be put in a holding platoon and by the time you are done being processed out, your former platoon mates will have graduated and started their careers as Marines before you get your plane ticket home. Everything in training is done for a reason, even the small stuff. The drill instructors are there to train you, not to simply pick on you although that's what it may seem like sometimes. While they may seem like your worst enemy, you couldn't be safer under the protection of a Marine and they are the standard by which you will set your own as begin your career as a Marine. Respect them. Like anywhere else, you will get along with some recruits and you will dislike others. Leaders don't get to pick and choose who they lead, they look after everybody. If someone's falling behind, you're falling behind too so help them instead of picking on them like everyone else will likely do. Drill instructors will take more positive notice over someone demonstrating leadership qualities over someone that shows off how good they are at something.


* Memorize your General Orders, The Rifleman's Creed, and The Marines Hymn
* It is to your benefit to be in the best physical shape you can prepare yourself for instead of just achieving the minimum
* Bring only what you need to ship: toiletries such as razors, shampoo, etc. will be provided
* Find another future Marine to study/train with before you go to boot camp
* Once you reach basic training, you will not get much sleep if any for the first day so try to get a good night's rest the night before and on the flight there
*You will be drug tested at some point. Don't do anything stupid before you ship
*Memorize Marine and Navy Rank Structure *Forget everything you previously knew about how to shoot a rifle, you will be re-trained
*NO NEW TATTOOS! You can get them after training but it will hold up your ship date if you get them after you've sworn in.

Marine Corps boot camp will change your life. Your fears will be exposed and conquered. You will be pushed to your physical, mental, and emotional limit and be better for it. It may even seem better than you expected. Training is not going to be easy, but you have to earn the title of Marine, it isn't given to you.