Wednesday, June 01, 2005

One Year Blogiversary

Going Down in the Well

Yes, you heard it here. June 1, 2005 is my one year anniversary for having this blog. It was really lucky that Mister Ghost decided to do an "in-t-view" with me so close to the anniversary and give me a chance to talk about how it came to be.

It's morphed over time. For awhile I was strictly researching and writing up info. Then I did opinion and rants and, finally, some personal stories.

One thing that I said on the interview to Mr. Ghost that I wanted to repeat here again: this blog has meant a lot to me as a place to throw out my ideas and get feed back (positive and negative). It helped me grow in my opinion and analysis of situations. It made me feel connected to something that I felt so far away from, but was very important.

Excuse me if this sounds corny, but, in some ways, I feel like I've done something, however small, for the war effort. Sometimes, all it really amounted to was me reading and getting things straight in my mind. It's helped me keep my morale up, even when some really terrible things have happened over there. Even though I'm far away from the every day struggle, the war is on my mind. Every day, almost every hour. I keep extra windows up while I'm at work so I can cruise during conference calls or on lunch break and catch the latest news or the military blogs.

I don't know about others, but I feel like I've got to know as much as I can because, to put it frankly, I supported this war from it's inception. Honestly, I supported taking out Iraq throughout the nineties. I would have supported, whoever was the president, whatever his politics, because I thought it was important to take out somebody who was a tyrant whenever we could and where ever it is feasible.

Even though I didn't give the command, by supporting it, I feel that I am responsibile for sending our men and women into harms way. I elected the people to government that represent me. By their representation, my voice was heard and they make decisions based on my selection. I know it isn't perfect and that we don't all get what we want when we vote for people, but, in this instance, I did.

Some people have said to me that I didn't give the command for soldiers to go as if that somehow negates my responsibility. If there is one thing in this life I've learned, that is to take responsibility for your actions and words, even if they don't turn out the way you would have wanted it to. In this case, I refuse to shirk any responsibility for these actions. Even when people are shouting at me (in bold face on the internet) about being stupid, or a sheep or supporting "atrocities" or anything else the crazy folks have said in my time in this internet world, I have never and will never say that this war is not my responsibility.

To do that would throw away everything I believe in and throw away the sacrifices of our men and women that I demanded from them. Sometimes, I feel like I have a small inkling of what the president must feel whenever the casualty reports for the day comes in. Every small victory, every "defeat", every soldier's name, knowing that it was by your decision that it happened.

Knowing also that most of them went without a complaint, leaving their families, their friends and everything that they know as right and normal in this world to live in a tent, in the sand and the mud, burning, freezing, rain or shine, doing what we asked of them.

I demanded it of them. Me, with my vote, last November, I could have changed the course of the war (well, me and about 3 million other people if they hadn't believed in it either). But, I think most of you reading here understand that.

No, this isn't self flagellation. This is about why I do it. Why I blog. I'm old (at least older than any recruit the army would actually want without a draft or changing rules to draft women). I'm out of shape. I don't have a degree in anything that would be helpful to the war. Saying my piece here or in the comment section of a soldier's blog is about all I can do besides writing letters, sending packages or donating to charities to assist soldiers and their families when I can.

It's not much, but it's all I have to offer.

Late at night, when I'm sitting here trying to write something, sometimes I can't write. Not because I don't have anything to think or say, but because I have so much and it's hard to know where to begin.

I don't have some romantacized vision of our soldiers. I know who they are because they are me. They are my family. They are my friends. And, I know me, my family and friends and we aren't perfect. I don't expect perfect. In all actuality, the fact that they are "imperfect" and still doing a job that must alternate between boring and depressing to heart pounding insanity and the narrow focus of just trying to stay alive, makes them just about "perfect" for me.

It makes them "heroes". Not mythalogical or invincible kinds of heroes, but the kind of people that you hope you can be on your best day. That kind that gets up and pulls their boots on every morning (after shaking them out for spider and scorpion checks), checks their weapons, shakes the sand out of their DCUs and goes out again, knowing that you don't control your destiny and today might be the day some asshole pushes the button, rams you with his explosive laden car or gets a lucky shot off with an RPG. Maybe you're just an FOB support punk, but even walking to the latrine or standing in the chow line could be the last thing you ever do.

So, it's for them, because I sent them there, that I write this blog. Even on the days that I don't write about the war or politics, they are still on my mind.

Well, I didn't mean to get all maudlin, I just wanted to talk about what makes me write this blog.

Back in the day, when I used to hang with the rodeo crowd and follow the circuit, there's a term used in bull riding that everyone understood exactly what it meant. All you had to say were those five words and anyone that was in the know could picture exactly what you were talking about.

"Going down in the well."

When you're riding a bull, particularly a crazy, wild eyed variety, they are trying to do everything that they can to buck you off. Sometimes the kick up their hind legs really high and then twist them to the side, causing the back of the bull to roll side to side under the rider. Repeat kicks like that can unseat a rider pretty quick. Usually sends them flying pretty far over the bull's head. Then there are "belly kicks" where the bull takes short hopping jumps and kicks his feet up under his belly. Since he doesn't kick out far, this makes for a short, rough ride that doesn't give you much chance to get the rhythm of the bull. It also doesn't look as good to the judges and you don't score as high (the bull's performance is part of the cowboy's score: 50 possible for the cowboy and 50 possible for the bull) if you manage to stay on.

The other thing you don't want the bull to do is to come out of the chute and start running down the arena. Then the clowns (cowboy rescue workers) have to chase the bull and, if you get thrown off, they might not reach you in time to save you from a good hooking. It also gives you a crappy score.

What these cowboys are looking for in a bull is, when the chute opens, the bull jumps out of the chute and then turns back, spinning and kicking in a nice high and rhythmic dance. If it's done right and the cowboy knows how to do it, he can make it look so damned easy. Almost looks like art.

But there are moments, even in that perfect turning, kicking and plunging, when your health and your life are in the most danger. Sometimes the bull will "flatten out" or do a "flat spin" where they aren't kicking very high and they are jerking the rider around in a fast, tight spin, making them hang on the end of one hand. Every time that bull spins, they are throwing the rider to the outside and then jerking them back towards the inside. A lot of cowboys over compensate in one direction or the other. If they're lucky, they over compensate to the outside and the bull throws them off outside of the spin. There they still have a few seconds to get up and run like hell to the fence or have the "clowns" jump in between them and a ton of beef with sharp points, distracting the bull long enough for the guy to get his wind back and his legs under him to run.

Only the clowns stay in and face the bull.

But, the worst moment in a ride is when the cowboy "goes down in the well". That means, as the bull jerks them towards the inside of the spin, the cowboy, either slowly or quickly, finds himself riding on the side of the bull, on the inside of the spin, where the bull is throwing his head back inside in preparation for kicking his hind legs around. It's right then when your life must pass before your eyes. As the bull throws his head around, bull horns or bull head often meets the head of the cowboy and knocks them silly. Sometimes it knocks them out. I've seen these guys with their hands still stuck in the rope, being drug around by the bull like a rag doll, who proceeds to step on them, over and over. It's a scary sight, even if you're just in the stand.

Bull riders wear kevlar vests, too, but guys that go down in the well, usually get up with a broken head, broken arm, broken shoulders, you name it, some bad stuff can happen down in the well.

Usually, the clowns try to rush in and get the bull to straighten out. Then, one of them will run beside the bull, dodging horns and hooves, trying to help get the cowboy's hand out of the rope. You might think that it's weird for a guy to dress up in funny, oversized clothes and paint his face. A lot of people don't really understand the clown's role in rodeo. People always cheer the bull riders and have them as their rodeo "heroes" and stars. Some folks think that they're crazy for getting on a bull in the first place. But, every bullrider knows that his best friend in the arena is a clown. They are literally cowboy life savers. They are the craziest, bravest, balls of steel sons of bitches you may ever meet (short of a battle field, though I happen to know a number of these men who are in the military, too).

I've seen a clown jump on a cowboy who was unconscious or hurt really bad, covering him with his own body, when a bull was charging the fallen cowboy, head down and horns ready to hook him and toss him, taking the horns or hooves instead. Compared to the bullriders, who, if they ride well, can take home some hefty prizes, the rodeo clown gets paid a pittance for laying his life on the line.

Kind of reminds you of some folks, huh?

But, going down in the well doesn't always have to end bad. One of the most amazing rides I ever saw was Adriano Moreas, a Brazilian cowboy in the PBR, get shuffled off on the side of a bull, hanging down inside the well, with one spur on top of the bull and his one hand hanging on by the finger tips, the bull horn wacking him in the head and he still had the presence of mind and strength, using that one boot spur and his fingertips, to pull himself up out of the well and finish his eight second ride. He didn't get a good score because the bull's performance stunk, but he did get a score. And he jumped off afterwards, strutting like he'd just won the superbowl.

With the law of averages, getting out of the well unscathed or at least able to walk under your own power IS like winning the superbowl for a cowboy.

Life is kind of like bull riding. Sometimes you get a good ride and jump off with no problem, sometimes you get tossed head over heels and sometimes you get dragged down into the well. If you're lucky and you have the strength of arms and will power, you can pull yourself up. If you're real lucky, when you get dragged down into the well, somebody is there to save your ass and you get to stand up and walk away. If you're not, they carry you away on a backboard while the audience stands on it's feet, watching your unconscious and broken body all the way to the ambulance. Then they sit back down and watch the next fool try his luck.

One thing I noticed about cowboys, they never wanted to talk about the guy that got hurt. If they had to think about it, they'd lose their nerve and either stop riding or get out of focus during their own ride and end up doing something crazy to get themselves hurt.

There's been a time or two that I thought I was "down in the well". There's been times that I felt like I'd been stomped on by 1 tons of beef with sharp horns and hooves. But, lately, I've come to realize, most of my life has been the "good ride" with a few "head over heel" moments.

Self Pity
DH Lawrence

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

Monday, I was watching CSPAN and they were interviewing soldiers at Walter Reed hospital. The first one I saw, I didn't catch his name, but he was 23 and his left arm had been blown off by an RPG. He had one of the new prosthetics that respond to muscle movements and tension in the shoulders. He was pretty up beat and kept talking about his goal was to stay in the army. He was part of a recon or scout unit. I didn't catch all the details except that he was certain he wouldn't be able to go back to his old MOS. Still, he wanted to do his part, whatever it was. He was learning to use his new arm in the rehab facility at Walter Reed.

The interviewer mainly stayed on him and his progress, his story from injury to his recovery efforts, but she did ask him if it had changed his mind about the war or if he was angry at anyone for his injury.

I could tell that he got a little angry at that question. His answers were "no and no". He told the lady interviewer that people in the states don't really understand the war at all. They don't understand that these men hate America and everything it stands for. They would kill them and their children if they could and they don't care if you support the war or not. To them, the enemy, we are all the same and we all deserve to die if they can make it happen. He said he would rather be fighting them there then fighting them on the streets of New York City. He also said that Americans don't really know what it's like to live in fear and desperation every day of their lives like the Iraqi people did. How many of us would stand up and fight for freedom tomorrow if it was taken away or under threat in our own country? Too many had forgotten 9/11 and these were the same men, however they came to be in Iraq.

He said he was proud of what he had done over there, giving the Iraqis their freedom and giving back their dignity. And, he'd do it again if he could.

The interviewer then made a comment that I was thinking myself: he was really mature sounding for a 23 year old. We think that they are boys at that age, but they turn into men quickly.

That man had been down in the well. He'd been stomped on, but he was standing now and walking out of the arena under his own steam, looking for his chance to get back on and go again.

The next person they interviewed was somebody who is my new hero or heroine as the correct term should be. It's Major Tammy Duckworth whom I first heard about from Blackfive last December. She was a blackhawk helicopter pilot in the Army. Her helicopter received a hit from an RPG. The round came up throught the plexiglass window in the bottom of the helicopter (they use it for eyeballing the ground during landing and maneuvers) and exploded between her legs. Her left leg was amputated below the knee and her right leg was amputated just below her hip.

Back in December, they had fitted her left leg with a prosthesis, but they were still trying to determine what, if anything, could be done for her right leg. She had very little leg left and you need something in order to fit the prosthesis. Her one goal is to get back to the Army National Guard and fly helicopters. In this interview, actually recorded in March of this year, Tammy had her left leg prosthesis and a new, special prosthesis developed just for her to fit on the small stump remaining of her right leg.

Tammy talks about the care she received at Walter Reed Hospital before congress and the need to insure these hospitals get every penny they need to help wounded soldiers recover and return to service if possible.

What was so damned amazing when I saw her was how upbeat she was. Not a false, overly bright "upbeat", but genuinely happy to be alive and to be working on walking again. She had a goal, too: to fly for the military again. Both of the prosthetics she received are state of the art. The prosthetic technician at Walter Reed (some of the unsung heroes, the "rodeo clowns" of the military) had promised Tammy that he wouldn't give up looking for a way to get her a right leg prosthetic. Without it, she would be released from the military and never fly a blackhawk again. He told her, if she didn't give up, he wouldn't either. And, he didn't. So, back in March, she had a special prosthetic and was learning to walk with her walker.

Pretty amazing for someone that had been injured only four months before that interview.

The interviewer asked her the same question, was she angry with anyone about her injury?

Tammy took it better than the first young man and told her "no", she wasn't angry with anyone. How could she be when she had been doing the thing that she loved the most and when so many others had paid more dearly than she?

When they were speaking about her career, the interviewer asked her how she had become a combat pilot and why. Tammy said, when she joined up, everyone had to select and rank five MOS they would want and the men had to list their top three as some sort of combat position. However, she did not have to do the same, she just wanted to because it didn't seem fair to her that they had to take those kinds of risks and she didn't. The only combat positions open to women were fighter pilots and helicopter pilots, so she listed those as her top two.

That's how, many years later, she came to be in Iraq, flying a combat mission and becoming a casualty of war.

Aside from her goal to stay in the military and fly helicopters, she was doing what I think she must have done all her life, not feeling pity for herself, but becoming a peer who spent a lot of time with her fellow wounded and amputee soldiers, encouraging them and helping them whenever they felt down or frustrated. The commander of the hospital had a lot of praise for Tammy.

This is why she represents the best of our soldiers, the kind of officer you'd want leading your men, the kind of person you'd want to be if ever in that situation.

She had gone down in the well and knew what it meant to face your worst fears. She had made it out alive and was working for the day when she would come back and beat that bull again.

I was more than impressed with this lady. In the scores of people through out history that I've always read about: Audy Murphy; Sgt York; Valley Forge; the men of the 54th Massachussettes; Wake Island; the Battle of the Bulge; Inchon; Khe Sahn and every other place where men did what they had to do, more than most of us will ever have to do or have the will to do; here was a real live hero, inspiring me as she had been inspring her fellow soldiers at Walter Reed regardless of her own troubles.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure she's not perfect. Working with people in Maj. Duckworth's condition, I know that she probably gets frustrated sometimes when she can't do what she thinks she should be doing by now. I know she probably cries sometimes when she's by herself and she doesn't think anyone's watching. I know that it hurts sometimes and she's tired sometimes and would just like to tell the rehab workers to take a hike, she didn't want to play that day.

She's been down in the well, hanging on by one spur and her fingertips, but still she's managed to pull herself up on that bull and is insisting that she is going to finish her eight second ride.

Major Tammy Duckworth knows how to "cowboy up".

That's one of the great things I've learned doing this blog. I've learned that I haven't ever been that far down. I've learned that people can and have yanked themselves back up on the bull when every thing seemed to say they were going down before the buzzer sounded.

If ever I get down in the well, I know that I can pull myself back up.

It's just one more thing I have to thank soldiers like Major Duckworth for showing me.

If you ever want to know what happened to the "heroes", stop wondering; they exist and Major Duckworth is one of them.

So, what have I learned in a year?

I've learned that there is a lot more to writing than just tossing up links. I've learned that I don't know near as much as I thought I knew. I've learned that there are some really fantastic people on the internet and in the real world whom I've been privileged to talk to or learn about.

I've learned that there is no such thing as "quick victories" and if our soldiers can bear being away from everyone and everythng, being shot at or shot up; I can bear just about anything.

I've learned what real tyranny looks like and I've learned to take my freedom very seriously. I've learned that this war is going to be long and, if people like the young soldier and Major Duckworth can take it, can still believe in it, I can do no less than be unwavering and supportive, doing whatever little I can.

I've met some great people on the internet and found out that some people in this world really are just plain crazy, conspiracy freaks whom you must wonder about. Like, are they sitting in their houses, tin foil everwhere, nineteen dead bolts and the shades drawn, waiting for the men in black to roll up and take them out. As if they were ever that important.

In closing, I want to say, thank you, my friends and acquaintances, for staying long enough to read this post and for any posts that you've read before. Particularly, the ones where I go off on tangents or have been full of pompous, self important bloviating. Thank you for commenting and being my sounding board in the great wide space of the internet. Thank you for sharing links and pointing me in new directions. Thank you for listening when I griped and ranted. Thank you for teaching me a thing or two about communicating. Thank you for sharing your own knowledge and humor.

Without you sometimes, I don't think I would have or could have kept going.

Thank you for making this a better year than I expected it to be.


Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

I particularly enjoy conspiracy freaks. They beat the hell out of your average TV show, or even a computer game, for what in the middle ages would have been called "sport".


The Sandmonkey said...

Congratulations BABE!

Or is it Happy blogsday?


Either way, u know what i mean!

Never stop sweetie.

Love ya,


~Jen~ said...

Congrats on the big anniversary!!!

Kat said...

thank you all. I really do appreciate meeting you and talking to you.

It's you guys that make it worth the effort.

Ciggy...LOL Dude, as many times as I've heard some of this stuff, I'm still amazed to see how many "reality" based people have no idea what "reality" is. Unhealthy paranoia. That "medieval sport" thing was right on target. i was thinking that the other day that they remind me of some of those people that had an unhealthy relationship with the church and believed that satan was all around them waiting to steal their souls.

Sam, my APU friend. I love your blog. I gotta say that you inspire me, too.

Ciggy as well. I mean, I read your stuff and it gets me thinking about things. I particularly like talking to some of your (ciggy and Sam) commenters that don't agree with me. keeps me sharp.

Jen...thanks. I love you and your dad's writing. Reminds me of me and my dad talking sometimes.

alix said...

happy anniversary kat!
you've done a fine job with it...thought provoking and well researched.
this has been a grand experiment for me, and i've been privileged to run across a quality group! :)

ScottfromOregon said...

You're welcome....

tee hee

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Kat! Sorry I haven't been here recently but a new job has kept me hopping.

And yes you have done something good for the war effort. Everybody has their role to play in the life of our country and this is yours. You do it well, so keep up the good work.

Anyway, I do

Twosret said...


Happy blogiversary, You have put a lot of effort in your blog. Your research effort is outstanding.

Thanks for your sincere interest in the Middle East and I'm happy we came a long way to communicate despite our different political stands.

When it comes to America's internal affairs I can't consult with anyone better than you. I will send you an e-mail soon.

Best wishes and keep blogging.

P.S. sorry for late greetings just had a surgery

Many Regards,