Sunday, December 7, 2014

What You Can See from the Blind

Camouflaged men clustered in the predawn darkness, huddling amongst rows of heavy trucks that rumbled at idle. The smell of diesel and coffee hung in the night air. Their vehicles were loaded with equipment: guns, ammunition, maps, binoculars, food and water, medical supplies.

Some were veterans and had been in this theater of operations
Creative Commons License, SpaceManor
before. They were at ease, checking weapons and gear, plotting routes and where they’d sit in ambush. The vets reassured the novices among them, their recently issued camo new and unwrinkled and yet to fade. It wouldn’t be long before the shooting started.

It might have been the Kuwait/Iraq border in 2003. Or it might have been last weekend along Highway 22 in Samburg, Tennessee, with guys getting ready to hunt duck.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


"Patient or visitor?” the valet asked each driver arriving at the treatment center. Sander had been shaving his head since the Navy. His smooth pate had nothing to do with chemo, but the parking guys didn’t know that. In this case, Sander didn’t mind being profiled. If they didn't bother to ask him "patient or visitor," he was fine with that. He felt like he was undercover, with cheap parking.

He registered, let the clerk tag him with a barcoded wristband, and settled into a seat with a dog-eared copy of Sports Illustrated. Lindsey showed up, kissed him on the forehead, and planted next to him.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

High-Speed Malfunction

The stadium was a mile below as Wheels and I stepped into the night air and dropped away from the Cessna 182. We both had smoke canisters and streamers, and I had a football strapped to my rig.  Slyde and Kivett were already 1,000 feet below us, their parachutes deployed and towing American and Indiana flags.

The plan was for Kivett and Slyde to glide their banners toward the high school football field as the National Anthem played across the crowd.  Wheels and I would deploy 500 feet above the flags, pulling the pins on our smoke canisters and dropping them below us on a length of paracord.  Then we’d each unfurl a 50-foot Mylar streamer and commence an artful spiral around the flags as the four of us all came in to land just as (if we timed it right) the crowd sang along with “… O'er the la-and of the freeee, and the home… of the… braave.”

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nawzad Rendezvous

Thirty minutes until boarding and Trevor Kilkenny had his eyes on the fellow seated on the other side of the waiting area. The guy's hair was cropped close, high-and-tight. A polo shirt was snug across a hard chest and flat belly. A duffel in MARPAT camouflage was to his side. Trevor’s final point of observation: the man was in a wheelchair and had no legs.

Jenny looked up from her magazine, saw Trevor’s gaze locked on, and followed his line of sight. “What is it, hon? Something the matter?” she said. Trevor glanced to his wife, and tipped his head in the direction.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Welfare Check

John's grandmother listened to the police scanner when she knew John was on duty. At the end of each night shift, he'd stop in for breakfast with her and Gramps. When she heard John call dispatch to mark "out of service," she knew to raise the garage door and put on the bacon and eggs.

She teased him with questions he knew she knew better of. "I heard the dispatcher send you on a welfare check," she'd say. "Do they really make you deliver welfare checks? Ain't that what the mail is for?"

John had been on duty through the night and Grams had been up since 3:00. Gramps, on the other hand, she had to shake to get him out of the rack. Gramps sipped at the coffee she set down in front of him and rubbed a knuckle around his eye. "When do you move to dayshift, boy? I love ya, but I'd rather be eating supper with you."

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Marck and I joined the Marines together. We were 19. For six months, we were inseparable. We trained through the summer leading to boot camp: running, pushing iron, studying military history, and cooling off with some beers. During the three months that followed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, we were on each other’s wing. Every day.

A bus brought a load of us recruits from the airport. Somebody whispered to his seat mate, wondering if they'd give us a snack before bedtime.  The bus rumbled through the gates of MCRD and pulled up to a placard that said "Receiving." The bus doors swung open and bedlam commenced. We grab-asstic civilians piled out the door and were herded onto columns and rows of yellow footprints painted on the asphalt.

Drill instructors swarmed and circled, barking and bellowing and snarling. It was like running a gauntlet of rabid shepherds and pit bulls and Dobermans, their ears laid back and their mouths foaming and their fangs bared, their chains just long enough to keep them from getting to our throats. It had begun.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thank you for your service

A misunderstanding at Texas Roadhouse led to my being named a “Local Hero.”

The restaurant manager, Joel, presented himself at table side as we were tying into a couple of Roadhouse steaks, medium rare. He seemed early – usually the manager waits until you’re sopping up the last of your gravy before he drops by to ask the enthusiastic and leading question, “Was everything delicious tonight?”

“Are you former military?” Joel asked. My first thought was that my carry might be showing. “Excuse me?” I said, rearranging my sweatshirt.

“Your hat. I noticed your hat and thought you might be former military.” He pointed to my ball cap, olive drab with a large blue/gold Indiana state flag patch. He said he thought I might be Indiana National Guard.

“Military, yes. But Marine Corps,” I said. “Tonight I’m just showing some Hoosier pride.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Andrew and Prasad

Prasad has muscular dystrophy and lives in an orphanage near the Godavari River in southeast India. His best buddy is Andrew. They're both 12. During a mission trip, my brother Steve's crew played a game -- mock "job interviews" to help the kids build some skills.

On one question, Steve asked, "How often are you late to school, Andrew?"

"Five times," Andrew said.

"Five times a year? Five times a month?" Steve asked.

"No. Five times a week."

"Andrew, why are you late to school five times a week?"

"Because I carry Prasad on my back."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Coleridge's Flower

Marty sat on a chair in the middle of a darkened stage. An overhead spot spread a cone of light around her.  I stood in front of her and she looked up at me and gestured.  Her lips moved, but the stage was silent.
It was clear she was trying to tell me something, to ask me something. She was near imploring.  I sensed another person in the shadows just outside the circle of light.  It felt like a male presence. A young man.  He seemed to be waiting and watching, and also silent.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Fifty miles to the east, snow melts on Mount Baker and lightning flares in the roiling billows of ash. The windows of our lighthouse on Patos Island rattle as the ground bucks and rumbles, like birth contractions of the earth in labor. Diane plays Debussy’s “Reverie” and it seems to calm the children.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Before Gulliver, there were New Year's Resolutions

Looks like it’s time for “New Year’s Resolutions.”  But we’re not the first.  Before he wrote Gulliver’s Travels, a 32-year-old Jonathan Swift wrote some resolutions that he titled, “When I come to be old.”

Here are some selections from his 1699 list, [[refreshed for 2014]]: