Thursday, April 29, 2010


By order of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, Major General Joseph C. Carter, all Installations, Facilities, Armories and Activities within the Massachusetts National Guard are directed to display the Flag of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at Half Staff in honor of Sergeant Robert J. Barrett, Battery A, 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment, killed in action, Kabul, Afghanistan, 19 April 2010.

This honor will commence immediately and will remain in effect through retreat on 1 May 2010.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wait...This Guy's in the WHAT?

A year ago, the white guy with the green helmet on was working as an Admiral's aide in New London, CT, while I was serving as the Admiral's N2 (an MI guy, or as the Operators might say, a booger-eater).

I left the Navy so I could serve as a Civil Affairs guy in the Mass. Guard, and he stayed in. And he took a one-year "in-between" tour (that's in between his Junior Officer 'shore tour' and his Department Head 'sea tour') as an Engineer on a Provincial Reconstruction Team.

In Farah Province, Afghanistan.

So the guy who cut his teeth getting qualified on the nuclear reactor aboard the USS Philadelphia, and stayed in the Submarine Officer pipeline is doing this amazing Civil Affairs job in a province bordering Iran, and the guy who bolted for Army CA is unsure if he's even going to get that qual before going back overseas next year.

So it goes.

I caught up with fellow blogger, neighbor and friend Kad Barma today and we got to talking about the growing civil-military divide in American society. That's not to say contemporary Americans don't appreciate today's servicemembers (just ask any Vietnam-era vet about that one) but they don't understand it in the way that people of past eras did when the military was much larger and more spread out geographically.

There are many pervasive myths about who serves (average enlistee is better educated than the *average* American his or her age), who fights (did you know a Navy guy would be running around the desert with all that cool gear?), and who dies (when the statistical *mode* casualty is far more likely to be Caucasian and to hail from a rural small town than any broad sampling statistic of his age cohort might suggest).

All that said, I'm going to try to more parts solution, less parts problem -- to the degree that I can, whether it's just here on this blog, in professional journals, mainstream periodicals, and maybe even some day between two hard covers, I am going to try to focus my writing a bit more on this issue.

Since "The Long War" commenced, plenty has come out describing the military side of things -- the tactics, the weapons, the triumphs, the blunders, etc.

But save for two excellent works by Robert Kaplan (Imperial Grunts, Hog Pilots & Blue-Water Grunts) not enough has come out about military culture -- who comprises our military and our military families and what it means in the grander scheme for our nation's long-term well-being.

As great as those books were, as was Dana Priest's The Mission, neither was written by a soldier who had trained and lived as such.

There have been plenty of "moments of glory" type books which usually involve some variant of how great the author and its subordinates are/were, but how clueless everyone above him in the chain of command was (and why that just forced him to 'drop his letter').

I don't need to rehash that, and it wouldn't even be genuine if I tried.

But if something could simultaneously capture the sustained dedication and brilliance of servicemembers who go "12 on/12 off" for 365 straight days alongside the barracks humor and ribald culture that helps keeps us going, I think it'd fill a niche.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Medellin Art Exhibit at ICC, Friday 23 APR

A Medellin, Colombia-based art exhibit will be on display from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Friday April 23 at the UML Inn and Conference Center. If I weren't *stuck* down here in Bourne, I'd check it out...and recommend that you do if you're able. Against-their-will kudos go to Patrick and Dan Murphy for their role in bringing this to Lowell. (Click on the image to expand it).

Lowell Immigration Commission Wants YOU!

I just got this press release today from ONE Lowell:


The City of Lowell has announced their search for residents to serve on the newly established Immigration Commission. This is a great opportunity to serve your community and your city, by advocating for immigrants and advising our city leaders on policy issues of concern to the immigrant and refugee communities in Lowell.

The deadline is May 7th at 5:00pm.

This is an amazing opportunity for newcomers to Lowell to have a voice in those policies that impact their lives, and will be a vital step in developing leadership in newcomer communities that can lead to elected representation.

You can find the announcement and application form on the City of Lowell website here.

If you have any questions, you can contact Donna McIntosh at:

You can view the ordinance itself on the ONE Lowell website here

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Happy Sailors, Happy Soldiers

When I went through my Basic Course, one of the prior enlisted guys was a former submariner named Aaron, who had spent just over a decade serving in the fast-attack "boat" community in Norfolk, Groton, and at the schoolhouse in Saratoga Springs.

Whenever he heard members of our class moaning and groaning about anything, he took it in stride. "A bitching sailor is a happy sailor," he would always say.

"Huh?" Because it sounded so counterintuitive, I had to dig for some clarification on what he meant.

"I've spent years in the submarine community, where there's always a concern about sailors' mental health and a high suicide rate." He went on, "As an enlisted leader there, one thing you have to learn to discern is good old-fashioned grousing from something more serious. Bitching about work is just part of being a's when things get quiet that you have to start worrying."

I always remembered Aaron's point, and of course it's stayed with me during the transition over from the active Navy to the Army National Guard.

As you might imagine, during the RISING WATER call-up, I got to hear plenty of bitching -- coldness, wetness, lack of adequate latrine facilities, mission creep, endless tasking, etc. Pretty much across the board, there was a lot of "out loud" complaining to be heard. But it came from a good-natured place, and there was nothing about it that ever worried me. People did it with hardly-concealed smiles on faces -- as I wrote a couple weeks ago, those are the missions that Guardsmen always say they want, and they mean it when they say it.

The same thing happens to no end during drill weekends. When things are too harried, there's griping about it. And when there are the inevitable periods of downtime (when you have to get, say, 45 people through a training evolution but can only take 8 at a time, it can't be helped), in roll the complaints about "why we're just standing around doing nothing."

I never worry when I hear that stuff -- just looking around, it's easy for me to see the people saying that don't really hate it. In fact, they love it -- they're catching each other up about their hometowns, their families, and they're doing what soldiers do best: they're telling stories.

I've been meaning to write this entry for a while (at least since the flood mobilization) but I want to emphasize that I think it has applications that go far beyond the military.

No matter whether it's your organization, your workplace, your family, or your drinking buddies that you're trying to take the pulse of, half the battle is the art of discerning what people are saying because they're really concerned about something versus what people are saying just because, well, they think they're supposed to.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Casino Gambling in the Bay State

So there it was this morning. The Globe headline proclaiming that the legislature has overwhelmingly approved a plan for two casinos to come to Massachusetts.

Even though I don't like gambling, and therefore don't do it, I'll admit that there are multiple sides to all this. If a resort can be built up to become a legitimate entertainment hub (i.e. Mohegan Sun with a WNBA team, big-ticket concerts, conventions, etc.) I can see the upside. I also *get* the idea that Mass. residents cross state lines to gamble all the time, and throw plenty of good money down someone else's drain by doing it.

But what worries me about that argument is that by placing casino gambling much closer, you're just making it a lot easier for those people to throw that money away. And yes, I'll reference my earlier posts about fuzzy accounting here -- if you are a habitual blackjack player at Foxwoods, and you really think you're *up* on the ledger sheet, I have a bridge I can sell you. (And yes, that means I've got a lot of bridges to sell, because I'm still waiting to meet the repeat gambler who is down).

If it's done right, casinos could bring a lot of spillover revenue from the entertainment and services that could spring up alongside them. But my hunch is that the overall cost to society in terms of bankruptcies, family dissolutions, crimes, and substance abuse all fueled by the impact of nearby casinos is going to outweigh whatever good comes in.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Public Space, Private Space

"Home...Is Where You Can Scratch Where it Itches." -- saying I once saw on a coffee mug at a thrift store

If I had known in early 2008 exactly how my life would play out in 2009 and 2010, I would've bought a house instead of a condo.

But I realize that I didn't know that, and I know the condo was the right decision then, so regret is not the right word, at all. In fact, as someone who takes words and language seriously, I spare the use of 'regret' for the situations where I really mean it, which are very few and far between.

But anyway, back to the subject.

If someone were looking to buy real estate in a small city where there was a house-vs.-condo choice to be made, and asked me for an opinion, I would hope to be able to lay out the pros and cons as objectively as possible.

And yes, there are TONS of pros to condo living -- way less hassle w/maintenance, not having to worry (directly) about snow removal, leaf raking, other landscaping, etc. Although there's a fee, you get a lot for it, and from an energy perspective you make out much better in the winter in 1500 square foot condo than in a drafty old Victorian in the Highlands. Also, there's a the major security benefit. I know I don't live in an impregnable fortress, but the design of my building and height of my unit make for a much tougher job than would be a house with an easily-breakable first-floor window and quick access back to the street.

Now that I've said all THAT, as soon as I'm in a place where it makes financial sense to do so (and that might not be for several years, and if I decide to go back to school, several more) I am going to buy me a nice big house somewhere with a driveway, a lawn, and walls, floors, and ceilings that all belong to my family and me. Thankfully, Ratriey and I have similar taste in houses, so whenever we drive around certain parts of Lowell, we sort of keep in the back of our mind where we might make our next move.

Anyway, back to the pro and con thing. For all the pros that I mentioned regarding condos -- and there are many -- the rub is that your space isn't really *your* space.

If I have a long day at work, I'd like to drive home, park my car, and maybe unwind with my feet on the coffee table and a nice cold beverage in my hand. In a house, I'd be able to do that in a straight shot, all in private, with guard fully let down.

In a condo, that's not really always possible. And in the couple of years I've lived in one, I've collected up more than my share of strange -- albeit innocuous -- comments about my patterns, my comings and goings, choices of vestment or other items in hand, or whether I seem *happier these days* than at some other point in time, by someone who doesn't even know the first thing about me and definitely wasn't asked.

And those are the funny times.

There's also the long looks we got when my fiancee had a swollen eye (it was an allergic reaction).

There's the knowing "hmm-mmm" glances when I was still buttoning my shirt, putting on shoes and rubbing the sleep out of my eyes in the morning with a teenage girl in my company (I was taking my sister-in-law, who sometimes stays over with us, to school).

There's the annoyance of not being able to reciprocate after enjoying the company at other people's houses and wanting to entertain -- loudly and freely (and I certainly don't *blame* that on anyone, as I'll admit there are two sides to the's just a fact of condo life).

I guess the bottom line is that you learn things about yourself as you go along. Even though the Myers-Briggs test says I'm off-the-charts extroverted (19 of 20 'E' points for me), some part of me needs a private space to which I can retreat after a long day, and really just relax without having to put a game face on for any stranger's judgement.

In other words, I want to be able to separate the public spaces in my life (work, school, church, clubs, YMCA, etc.) from the private space (a home where I can scratch where it itches).

So back to that mythical person weighing the house vs. condo decision -- I would make sure to list out all the (many) pros, but then I'd also ask this question -- "Are you someone who really values/treasures having four walls, a floor and ceiling that are just yours and being to come home, grab your mail, plop yourself down, all in your own space and freedom?"

If so, give it some second thought.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Neat Opportunity for a Great Cause

The italicized portion below is lifted directly from the website

Run across home plate...

Ever dreamed about running across home plate at Fenway Park as the crowd cheers you on?

Want to be a part of an inaugural fundraising event that will help provide much needed services to local veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan?

Well, do we have the race for you!

The Run to Home Base is a unique 9K fundraising run through scenic Boston ending with the once-in-a-lifetime experience of crossing “home base” (plate) at historic Fenway Park. Friends and family can watch you from the stands at Fenway, with food, entertainment and fun family activities in the concourses of America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.

The Run to Home Base will honor heroic veterans and help raise much needed funds for the new Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program.

Funds raised for the Home Base Program will provide care and community outreach to the many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat stress disorders and/or traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and their families.

Only 3,500 people can run in this fundraiser, so register now! You can become a MVP on the Home Base team.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rendering Honors for ROTC Expansion

I don't take a lot of strong policy issues here on this blog or in comments on other people's blogs. And that's for a VERY simple reason -- if I don't feel like I have enough information to say something definitive, I'll hold my horses and pipe down.

Health care is a great example. I'm really lucky to have health insurance. I've never been hospitalized overnight, and I don't have any history of disease in my family. I'm not sure I like the idea of massive government expansion during a time of ballooning budget deficits and a real risk of looming insolvency. I'm also not sure I like something that doesn't address costs -- as local blogger Kad Barma and many other writers have pointed out, there's a big difference between needing a car for basic transportation and needing a Cadillac...I'm on board with everyone being able to see a doctor, but I'm not on board with my tax dollars paying for expensive surgeries that could be averted entirely by lifestyle changes.

But like I said, beyond that I'm really not qualified by either a) life experience or b) policy expertise to say much more, so I haven't.

The one realm where I can solidly check BOTH those boxes, however, would be for a military-related policy issue -- not only is "the military," broadly speaking, the single thing where I could reasonably claim a level of expertise relative to the rest of the country, it's also the single strongest component of my identity, the singular focus of the past six years of my life, and a major factor for the next few decades to come.

So I've got a strong opinion about recent proposals on several private college campuses to restore ROTC programs -- I think it's wonderful.

Putting ROTC on these campuses would expose many undergraduates to a system and a culture that may in some ways be more foreign to them than, well, studying abroad in a foreign country. This exposure would also dispel a lot of commonly-held myths about who actually comprises our modern military and what it really does. (And if you've ever met a military recruiter, they'd be the first to tell you that despite what any propaganda may want you to think, the overwhelming majority of young Americans are not ELIGIBLE to serve, so they certainly aren't being *preyed upon* by our armed services).

There are many other benefits -- immediate, secondary, tertiary, and so on -- that this would bring...not just for the universities, not just for society at large, and not just for the military -- but in a way that would strengthen all three. Remember, social capital is not a zero-sum game, and neither is heightened understanding and trust.

I'll probably return to this topic but for now it's time to shut the laptop off and hit the rack...I've got a long three-day weekend in Bourne starting in just a few hours.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Here's the Church...Where's the Steeple?

There is going to be a public hearing later this month (26 APR) regarding the proposed steeple/cell tower for the Lowell Mission Church (403 Andover St.) The building currently looks like what you see in the upper-right portion of the image, but would look like the other picture if the steeple/cell tower is approved.

I'm not entirely sure if opposition to the steeple/cell tower is based on aesthetic concerns or health concerns. If we're talking aeshetics, I'd offer that the building would look better with the tower than it does now. In fact, if there were a direct antonym for 'eyesore' I'd want to use it here to describe the steeple. If it's a health issue, then I'd just have to admit here that I'm not qualified to offer an opinion on said matter. But as a member of LMC, I am hoping to attend the hearing (schedule permitting) to listen, to learn, and, of course, to blog.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Git 'Er Dun or Follow the Rules?

The week gone by was definitely a long one which I'm relieved to say is over. I wish I could could say I was doing something at least mildly active or heroic, but I wound up doing mission tracking and other support type stuff from two separate Operations Centers.

Of the MANY interesting things I observed going back and forth between Reading and Lexington (and almost Rehoboth, but I was spared from that trek at just the last minute), one that stands out right now was a Major (O-4) dressing down a Lieutenant Colonel (0-5).

That's not something you get to see every day.

Without getting into the weeds, the crux of the issue was this -- Is it better to do something that's procedurally *wrong* but fulfills the needs of a mission, or to stymie a request for help or information because it wasn't done in the right way, or it was given to someone who could plausibly say "But that's not my job."

In case you're wondering, I have a very strong opinion about this -- within the boundaries of safety and general operational prudence, always lean towards the former option.

That's what the Major thought, too, and he made that forcibly clear when the LTC practically bragged about having spent the shift denying requests for information from a headquarters unit that may have been technically going about it the wrong way (ironically, we all found out later that the headquarters unit was justified in its requests all along, but that's another story).

"Don't stop the train just because a procedure may have been skipped," the Major said. "Write [the procedural error] up as a bullet point for your After-Action Review (AAR), but if someone needs something in the moment, do whatever you can to make sure they get it."

The issue at hand certainly wasn't life-and-death. Sandbags and checkpoints in Freetown and Lakeville aren't quite on the level of a Taliban ambush.

That said, in modern everyday life, there are few opportunities to test the way people are going to react under fire. But the closest that we all come -- and it happens in tons of everyday situations as mundane as an office place or a household -- is to see the way people react during the minor *crises* that pop up all the time.

If the presentation is in five minutes, but your colleague has forgotten to make the photocopies (as he was supposed to), he may ask for your help in a panicked tone. You have two options:

a) You can stand there and lecture him about screwing up for the next five minutes, as the room fills up with senior executives wondering why the handouts aren't ready; or,

b) You can spring into action, you can make the requisite copies, and get them on the conference room table before anyone is any the wiser -- the lectures and the AAR can come later.

I will state here that which option you choose speaks VOLUMES about your character.