Mike's Blog

This stuff didn't fit anywhere else

Well, the site has been down for quite a while as I fell behind in keeping the CMS up to date and as a result my host shut it down until I could upgrade it.  Turns it was more of a migration to the new version than a update and it was not a pretty thing to do, but it is done.  I hope to make the site look less "vanilla" in the coming weeks, but for now I'm just happy to have the site back.

Yesterday my family and I made the trip to Arlington National Cemetery to observe Memorial Day and honor the more than one million men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service our great nation.  The traffic in and out was dreadful, mostly due to road closures for Rolling Thunder Run, but in the end it was something I felt we needed to do and I'm glad we went.  The plan was to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and then visit the grave sites of a lost friend and a few others that were buried there this year.

The Changing of the Guard ceremony is really something you have to see to appreciate and The Old Guard does an outstanding and impeccable job of fulfilling this duty.  Moreover, The Old Guard also places flags in front of the more than 260,000 graves at Arlington just before Memorial Day which really makes for a spectacular show of patriotism to those visiting the cemetery.

We then visited the grave of my friend Msgt. Ronald Geza Katona who passed away in 2004, just 19 days shy of his 43rd birthday.  While I'd never served in the same unit with Ron, I'd known him for years having met at an autocross being held at Ft. Meade where we were both stationed.  Ron was epitome of the nice guy, always looking to extend a helping hand to the new guy and get them hooked on this sport that he loved so much.  I was pleased to see that others had been to visit with him recently as evidenced by the stones left on his headstone, typically a Jewish ritual.  I will never forget Ron and as long as I live in this area I will make every effort to visit and pay my respects to him yearly.

I had intended to visit the burial sites of several other young Americans who died and were laid to rest this year and to that end had researched their stories some before the weekend.  My plan was to utilize the cemetery's smart phone app, ANC Explorer, to find the sites of these individuals once we arrived at the cemetery.  Unfortunately, this app was cumbersome and not very helpful in finding any of the burial sites for the individuals I had intended to visit.  I have written a little bit about each of them below and will endeavor to plan better next year and pay my respects to them.

Capt. Sara (Knutson) Cullen -3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division

Capt. Cullen was born and raised in Eldersburg, MD which is were my family and I currently call home.  She was a graduate of Liberty High School and West Point and was trained as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot.  She and her crew or four perished on March 4, 2013 when their Black Hawk crashed during a training mission near Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Capt. Cullen was 27 years old.

Sgt. Aaron Wittman - 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

Sgt. Wittman was the first U.S. combat casualty of 2013.  He was a decorated veteran on his second combat deployment to Afghanistan and had earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star during his service.  On January 10th while on mounted patrol, his unit was attacked with small arms fire and Sgt. Wittman died of his injuries; he was 28 years old.

Capt. James Michael Steele - 77th Fighter Squadron

Capt. Steele was killed April 3rd when his F-16 fighter crashed near Baghram Airfield in Afghanistan; he was 29 years old.

Chief Special Warfare Officer (SEAL) Brett David Shadle

Chief Shadle was a decorated combat veteran with several decorations including two Bronze Star Medals of Valor. Chief Shadle leaves behind a wife and two young children.  He died in a training accident on March 28, just 11 days after his 31st birthday.

Capt. Andrew M. Pedersen-Keel - 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne)

Capt. Pedersen-Keel, of Miami, FL was one of two soldiers killed on March 11th when an Afghan police officer opened fire inside a police station in Wardak province, Afghanistan.  Capt. Pedersen was 28 years old.

That is just a handful of the stories out there of military members that paid the ultimate price this year alone. On this Memorial Day, and every day, let us not forget the sacrifices made by our military members and their families in the name of freedom.

Memorial Day in the United States of America is a day set aside for us, as Americans, to commemorateU.S. Service Members who have died in military service.  A day to reflect on those who have perished defending the values each of us should hold near and dear to our hearts.  I often become emotional on this day thinking about the totality and finality of this selfless act.  If I had to venture a guess I'd say that well more than half of Americans today never consider this holiday for anything more than another day off, a time for barbecue, the beach or an extended weekend camping; never taking into consideration the sacrifices made by our service members which allow them to "celebrate" any way they see fit.

On this Memorial Day I offer these thoughts I wrote some 4 years ago.  I also ask that you remind your lawmakers of the consequences of their actions when it comes to our military and service members.  In addition, remind them that it is their duty to ensure that our military members are taken care of and provided with the best equipment available to ensure that when conflict is over, they are able to return safely to their families.  Contacting your lawmakers takes only minutes to do via email and contact information can be found here.  These things are very small sacrifices you can make today to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation.

Today, consider these numbers: Nearly 1.4 million Americans have died while serving in our military service in various conflicts beginning with the American Revolutionary War, with another 38,000 missing.  In the past decade alone more than 10,000 service members have been killed, each of them escorted to their home in America with the utmost diginity and honor.  If you have never seen it, I highly recommend the movie Taking Chance, which details the journey home for a 19-year-old Marine, PFC Chance Phelps after he was killed in action in Iraq.

Lastly, if and when you encounter the men and women of our military during your daily routine, thank them for their service.  If you know someone who has served, thank them for their service.  All of them have at one point or another made the decision that they would fight to the death for you.

Happy Memorial Day.

So this past week I took an unexpected trip to Florida to help my mom out.  She was scratched on the hand by her cat and spent almost seven days in the hospital, culminating in surgery.  Long story short, surgery was successful and she is recovering well, but is pretty much down to one (non-dominant) hand to conduct her life for the next couple of weeks.  I went down, drove her where she needed to go (doctor, grocery, etc), helped her with some chores and just  generally tried to get her setup to be on her own, in the house, for a couple of weeks.

Incidentally my Florida friends, if you ever need to go to the hospital I recommend avoiding Westside Regional Medical Center in Plantation.  The care my mother received here was abysmal. She requested a diabetic menu and, when they decided to bring her a meal, was consistently served meals loaded with carbohydrates and sugars.  The day after her surgery no one put in the change to remove the "Nothing By Mouth" orders so they neglected to bring her a lunch until I called and inquired.  Even though she controls her diabetes at home with diet and one medication they wanted to give her insulin shots during her stay and stopped taking her sugar measurements when she refused because "what difference does it make, you aren't taking the insulin anyhow".  The board in her room contained the instruction "elevate L(eft) hand"; the surgery was performed on her right hand.  Those are just he screw-ups I noticed; I'm sure there were many more that went unnoticed.

This was the first time I'd been to Florida in probably seven or eight years, and if I took one thing away from this trip it was that I can never, ever move back there.  Now, my mom doesn't live in a major city like Miami or Ft. Lauderdale, she lives in Lauderdale Lakes which, compared to Eldersburd, Maryland, is an apparent metropolis.  The number of people there is obscene as was the density of retail space which seemed to be at ~80$% occupancy.  Public transportation is plentiful yet it seems that nearly everyone drives and driving, for me, was extremely stressful, to the point where I just didn't want to do it.  The vast majority of the drivers were rude beyond belief.  As an example I witnessed a funeral procession moving down a fairly major road in the same direction I was traveling.  It was a long procession with all vehicles using their hazard lights and they did have a police escort getting them through intersections without stopping when they encountered a red light. At one point the procession made a right hand turn onto another road and as they slowed to make the turn one of the vehicles exited from the line of cars, turned off his hazards and continued on his merry way, having utilized the free police escort to its fullest extent. Completely rude and disrespectful, but not unusual from my observations.

Surprisingly I didn't experience rudeness where I most expected it, or at least where I tend to get it back home: customer service.  With perhaps one exception (excluding the hospital), every cashier, server or other retail employee I encountered was friendly and helpful, even in the Jamaican restaurants!

A few other observations from my trip on the local environment:

 

  • 90-95% of Honda products are Civics or RSXs
  • 90-95% of Civics and RSXs: (a) are lowered, (b) have an annoying exhaust, and/or (c) are pretty well wrecked
  • All public buses have bike racks and they were almost always in use
  • 90: the minimum sum of one wheel from each of the first three donks I have ever seen in person, all seen within the first 15 minutes of crawling behind the wheel
  • Turn signals are apparently an option on every vehicle sold

 

This Thanksgiving I have so much to be thankful for.  First and foremost I am grateful to have the most wonderful and supportive wife, Karrie, and two beautiful and adorable sons, Brady and Lucas.  I'm thankful that they are all healthy and happy.  I'm thankful for my health and that I've been graced with the most awesome family and friends anyone could ever want.  I'm grateful for my mom, Linda, and the lessons I learned from her that made me the man I am today; we all miss you mom, so come visit us soon!  I'm thankful that in these difficult economic times I have a great employer that pays me very well and a job I love in a very stable market.  I'm thankful that we don't want for anything, realizing that not everyone is so lucky.  Lastly, I'm thankful for living in the greatest country in the world and am grateful to all the men and women serving in our armed forces, many of whom will not eat a turkey dinner and many more who will not be with their families this Thanksgiving; thank you for your service and sacrifice.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone.