Sunday, March 18, 2012

Shall he?

"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer?"

Henry David Thoreau
from Walden

Friday, March 16, 2012

Life Lessons as We Go

A few things I've learned over the last few days...

In solid determination to ensure that something 'positive' (if that's possible) comes out of my mentor's unexpected death and also due in part to my own introspection and focus on self-awareness over the last several months (it's admittedly sometimes a losing battle), I am contemplating a few concepts. In the past I believe I have;

1) Spent far too much time 'networking' and meeting new 'friends' and I want to focus more on maintaining, cultivating and appreciating real and meaningful people/friendships of equal/mutual benefit. Not every encounter is a lasting one but that doesn't mean they aren't full of potential to make lasting and meaningful impact. Sometimes, we just cross paths to pass along messages and carry on with our lives. I expend a great amount of energy reacting to what's in front of me rather than establishing and maintaining my base and letting the world move on around me.

2) Had a tendency to be and also attract commitment-phobes and I would like to refocus my efforts on relationships where it's understood by both parties that we aren't always at our best but it's in those moments, those opportunities, when we can receive AND give the most compassion and forgiveness. All within reason, of course, as I'm not one for dysfunctional/destructive/unhealthy/toxic people or relationships.

3) Spent far too much energy on other people, projects and commitments. This has left me in an interesting predicament. Although I know what my 'purpose' (generally speaking) in this life is, I do not know what I *want* that to manifest for me. I know what I want to do (inspire/lead/empower others to realize their dreams) but I don't know WHO I want to be, WHERE I want to be or WHAT I want to have. I think the first order of business here is to acknowledge that I am not a martyr (nor do I need to be) and that if I'm to lead others to their dreams, then I should first have some of my own. :) Duh. I know.

And this is only scratching the surface of the last 10 days. March 2012 has been an INTENSE month...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Army Vet Brothers - Nick Palmisciano

Spent the better part of the day on the road to Durham, North Carolina to meet and work with the guys from Ranger Up. As of late, I've not spent too much time hanging out with a group of my male fellow veterans but I needed this. Getting on the road and having some time to catch up on a few personal phone calls, do some thinking and sing a few songs at the top of my lungs (much to Diesel Dog's bemusement/amusement) is what my buddy Scotti refers to as "rubber meets the road" therapy. He told me I needed a road trip months ago.

Although 4.5 hours from DC is probably not going to qualify as a proper 'road trip,' it's managed to achieve what a 15 minute cat-nap would... just enough to reinvigorate me till the next opportunity, I hope.

When I finally got in the AO (area of operations) I rounded the corner and saw the warehouse. With excitement, I walked into the building and felt like a little kid getting to satisfy much of my long-held curiosity on what the RU operation looks like. As someone who claims to own more RU 'chick shirts' than anyone (please feel free to challenge me on this), I found it incredibly cool to see how far Nick and the team have grown the business.

I first met Nick Palmisciano, Tom Amenta and Kelly Crigger back in 2009, I believe, at the Milblog Conference. Matt Burden of Blackfive had mentioned to Nick and me, separately, that we needed to meet. After perusing RU's awesome shirts for military/veterans and reading through some of the blog posts, I came to the immediate conclusion that RU was almost perfect... for guys.

At the pre-Milblog Conference party, I saw a group of guys in MMA-like t-shirts standing in a row across the room. I knew who Nick was in an instant. All I remember is walking straight up to him and saying, "I love Ranger Up but you guys need some bad-ass chick shirts."

I'm not sure what was going through Nick's mind at the time but if I remember correctly, what he said was "You must be Genevieve."

Mark Seavey, Princeton, Matt Bernard, Nick/AG
My memory is worse now than it ever was (and it was pretty bad way back when), but all I remember from that weekend was an early panel with TSO from This Ain't Hell (who wrote a very complimentary blog about the first time we met at the Soldiers Angels Gala in 2008), Matt Bernard who blogged anonymously and founded Brinestone, a man we will refer to as "Princeton" and myself in which the latter of the male species made some (not at all vague) disparaging remarks about the business/actions/motivations of another of his ilk, hereafter referred to as "Amherst," who was not present to respond. Low blow, in my book. I wanted desperately to respond but knew that the one general consensus in that room was the festering disaffection for Amherst. In the brief moments where I considered saying nothing, I looked down, read my name tag and realized that I was not Army Girl but was in fact, Nick Palmisciano... "Don't forget," I told everyone, "...If I say anything you don't like, my name is Nick Palmisciano." :)

There followed some warm (heated is such a strong word) debate on this and other topics like the portrayal of veterans to the American public. Princeton, most likely not knowing his audience as I did (or simply not caring), seemed to dig himself neatly into a hole which I'm told he recovered from on one-to-one conversations following the panel, quite the charmer as he is.

Feeling a bit out of my league as, you know, not having an ivy name and it being my first such panel discussion, I was beyond nervous. Bloggers, especially milbloggers, are an extremely opinionated and sometimes unforgiving lot. You really must always be on your toes, as many a reporter or rogue embedded 'journalist' has learned. (Even milbloggers have their inter-family rivalries.) But I had little to worry about because whenever I looked out at the audience, I saw a row of very intimidating former Army Rangers standing at the back of the room. I felt safe up there. After all, no one was going to mess with Nick Palmisciano... even if he was in a skirt.

That was the beginning of what I have often referred to as a sibling-like fondness and affection for Nick and the Ranger Up guys. He's far more well-versed and experienced in business (which I bug him about often but not nearly as much as I'd like) and he shared the same passion for service to country and values of leadership as I did. (Warning: If you can't handle a few f-bombs, skip the link.)

In many ways, I respect and look up to him like the brother I never had and as siblings do, we've had our issues. I will humbly admit here that in the past, not only was I an outright brat on one or a few occasions (to be fair, he was at times more "snips and snails and puppy dog tails"!), but I went through a very loooong "phase" in which I quite often imposed my opinion and unsolicited 'tough love'-type advice. On more occasions than I care to disclose (and with various friends and family members) I was an outright bitch... in the not-so-cool definition of the word.

Recently and especially since the passing over of Lex, this is something that I feel quite guilty about. Never mind the sometimes inevitable drifting apart or kind words left unspoken. I fully believe that little else compares with the guilt maggots that eat at us from the inside, borne from poisonous eggs fertilized by criticism, judgment and the inability to forgive ourselves and others. I believe, but cannot confirm yet, that the simplest (but perhaps hardest to administer) restorative to this affliction is, "I'm sorry." Which is what brings me to the nature of this post...

Nick and I haven't seen each other in a while and I'll admit that while initially nervous, it wasn't long before I felt at ease. I don't really know how to explain what it feels like to be surrounded by my brothers in arms or fellow male vets. It's a strange but respectful mix of family and professional... the only word I've ever been able to offer that comes close is 'camaraderie' but even that fails to differentiate between the awesomeness of hanging with sisters in arms/vets and brothers in arms/vets. They're equally incredible for different reasons.

Nick, Garrett, AG, Tommy, Raven, Matt, Kelly, Patriot Center, 2009
I don't know what it is about Nick and some of my more forgiving friends that has weathered us through everything from simple misunderstandings to arguments bordering on unforgivable. Maybe they grew up with more siblings/larger families and learned to coexist? Perhaps they saw through my poor behavior and loved me for who I had/have the potential to be? Or, you know, mayhap they're just crazy and like the abuse! I suspect it might be a mixture of those to varying degrees, with a heavy influence of experience in the military. As an aside, I've yet to do so here but suspect I will in time, delve deeply into why and how it is that soldiers can absolutely abhor one another for an entire deployment, and yet meet up at some later time and act as if they were old and dear friends.

Whatever the reason, I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to express my regrets and apologize to Nick. He made it such that I didn't feel the need and thereby made it easier to do so which speaks volumes of his character and the type of man he is.

For the record, the irony and selfishness of needing to apologize does not escape me...

Update: Make sure you check back for what I was doing in Durham at the Rhino Den in the first place... to be continued.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Definition of Success - Borrowed from Emerson

"The definition of success--To laugh much; to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one's self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--this is to have succeeded."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Release His Name

Forgive me as this post is all over the place... but this is a significantly infuriating, at the same time heartbreaking, topic...
"I've contended for years that our moral argument against the Taliban is that they murder children; we (and the forces that stand for freedom in this world) instead work to make places safe for children to learn, grow, and be free. U.S. and Coalition forces have done such outstanding work for so many years in partnership with Afghans as they rebuild their country and their government. But then here it is. An Army Staff Sergeant has murdered Afghan children and women as they slept in their homes... and in a village that the U.S. claimed to be making safe for them. I am deeply and profoundly grieved and angry."
~ Kleio
Here "Kleio," one of my dearest friends, has captured my thoughts more succinctly than I could. So I've borrowed them.

Nine children were killed.

Incidents like this are shocking to the soul. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Luby's Cafeteria. Fort Hood. They are no more easily understood in war than they are here at home. We demand answers because we seek to understand what could possibly be the justification in which a person allows the darkness inside of them to overcome them. Part of us would like to believe it wasn't a choice, that he didn't choose to do this but then would that mean that it lurks in all of us and could, at some point, overtake our sanity? There are others that believe he chose this and that his soul was/is black and could/cannot be salvaged. In either case, we may never know.

And there's a lot of speculating as to what went wrong along the way; Was this triggered by PTSD? Was it the brain injury that news outlets seem to have thrown into the articles, you know, as an aside? Did he just crack? Could it have been prevented? Did he have a motive and if so, what was it?

Then, there are the larger questions; What impact will this have on our efforts in Afghanistan? How much more dangerous is it for our troops, now? How much has this damaged relations?

Many people have asked for my thoughts on this and what I can say, what I know, is that it's a tragedy. Beyond that, all I can offer is my limited knowledge and understanding of the Pashtun culture. And then there's this one request... Release his NAME.

When we enlist, we swear an oath;
I... do solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
When we earn the honor to be called a US Army Soldier, we swear to uphold these values;
Loyalty - Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit and other Soldiers.
Duty - Fulfill your obligations.
Respect - Treat people as they should be treated.
Selfless Service - Put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.
Honor - Live up to all the Army values.
Integrity - Do what’s right, legally and morally.
Personal Courage - Face fear, danger, or adversity [physical or moral].
When we become Noncommissioned Officers, we memorize this creed;
No one is more professional than I. I am a noncommissioned officer, a leader of Soldiers. As a noncommissioned officer, I realize that I am a member of a time honored corps, which is known as "The Backbone of the Army". I am proud of the Corps of noncommissioned officers and will at all times conduct myself so as to bring credit upon the Corps, the military service and my country regardless of the situation in which I find myself. I will not use my grade or position to attain pleasure, profit, or personal safety.
Competence is my watchword. My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind—accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my Soldiers. I will strive to remain tactically and technically proficient. I am aware of my role as a noncommissioned officer. I will fulfill my responsibilities inherent in that role. All Soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership. I know my Soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own. I will communicate consistently with my Soldiers and never leave them uninformed. I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment. 
Officers of my unit will have maximum time to accomplish their duties; they will not have to accomplish mine. I will earn their respect and confidence as well as that of my Soldiers. I will be loyal to those with whom I serve; seniors, peers, and subordinates alike. I will exercise initiative by taking appropriate action in the absence of orders. I will not compromise my integrity, nor my moral courage. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget that we are professionals, noncommissioned officers, leaders!
When we become warriors, we live by these words;
I am an American Soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.
When we engage in war/conflicts, we follow the rules of engagement as established in theater and the Geneva Conventions... 

No, based on what we know, I do not believe this man was my brother nor does he deserve to wear the rank and uniform of an US Army Soldier. I would prefer it if they would release his name so that we could stop referring to him as such.

**After much discussion on this topic with fellow veterans, I think it necessary to clarify: 

My post - isn't so much about a call for the act of releasing his name as much as it's a plea/request and an expression of my personal sensitivity to his actions. I take it very personally when someone shames the uniform that I wear, the family that I love, the country I'd die for. And I say this knowing that it's very possible that I know the alleged perpetrator.

His name identifies him as one person. An individual, non-representative of our military, our values, our beliefs. Honestly, they could call him "John Doe", for all I care.

I think the concerns noted by many for his family (it is believed that he is married with children) are noble and I respect the compassion expressed by my brothers & sisters but sadly, I believe it's just a matter of time. I hope that I am wrong. Even more telling is the fact that we apparently care more about his family than he was able to. I too, would like to believe that he cracked... and that this was not premeditated.


©  2009 Genevieve Chase, Costa Rica
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. 

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. 

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. 

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? 

Actually, who are you not to be? 

You are a child of God. 

Your playing small does not serve the world. 

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. 

We are all meant to shine, as children do. 

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. 

It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. 

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. 

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

~ Marianne Williamson

Monday, March 12, 2012

I felt like Lawrence, tonight.

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.

~ D. H. Lawrence

Where's My Soldier Hat?

Humanitarian Assistance Mission, Near Bagram, Afghanistan, 2006
They say the unexamined life is not worth living. I wonder how many literary works start out that way. I can't help it... it just keeps going through my head.

I now find myself wanting to blog again, wanting to talk? write? vent? rant? share? discuss? Just put out to the world the things that are going through my head. It's almost like, if I don't, I'll go crazy 'cause it'll all just be stuck in there... then I'm alone in all this -in my thoughts, my ideas, my beliefs... my crazy.

Last week, my dear friend, Lex, died very suddenly. I'm not quite ready to write about it but he used to check in occasionally and would worry about me. When I stopped blogging, I stopped updating people... and well, I got so busy 'networking' for AWV that I rarely had time to catch up with myself, much less my 'real' friends. I feel immensely guilty for this... but that's another blog I won't be posting.

As I consider my faith and beliefs and ponder on mortality and the hereafter, I can't help but feel that he's with us now in what Martha Beck calls the "everywhen." He's everywhere, all the time... but if he's anywhere - he's definitely reading our blogs and checking up on us.

So yes, dear Lex, I will blog more. I promise.

I woke up the morning after hearing the news of his jet crashing, to a phone call from my 1SG telling me that not only am I definitely deploying (there had been some questions) but our dates were also being moved up by nearly a month, forcing me to not only cancel previously scheduled speaking engagements for AWV but also cancelling my trip to New Zealand where I'd hoped to spend my Alive (aka Big Bang) Day. (I bought the ticket in the chance that if I do deploy, I'd like to spend my last couple of weeks of freedom in my happy place.) I'll spend the six year anniversary of the suicide bombing in Afghanistan on orders prepping to head back down range. Awesome.

Now before y'all chime in with, "you volunteered," I will say that yes, I'm well aware that I not only enlisted but I REenlisted. I've volunteered for several tours over the years, to include the 32-month tour (deployment included) with 10th Mountain Division. I even tried to deploy again in 2007 (was too soon after last deployment), then again with an invite from Group (BNs couldn't take females BUT THEY CAN NOW, YIPPEE!), and I tried to put together a packet for the CSTs (my contact "didn't get around" to finishing it.) I've tried AT LEAST twice to go as a contractor but all of these times, it never worked out.

As disappointing as it sometimes was, I started to realize that maybe I wasn't supposed to be in Afghanistan. The thought even crossed my mind that I was trying to run away from what I was supposed to be doing which was, I thought, starting AWV.

It's always seemed like the AWV "river" I was on was not only carrying me down so swiftly but it was doing so at such a speed that it was all I could do to keep my head above water. I didn't know what I was getting into and I learned everything as I was being swept away. I couldn't even swim because of the rapids. It was like rolling through class IVs and not being able to see what the next hazard was on the river. In that situation, all you can do is ride through them and hope for a break or an eddy you can swim to. Then when you get to one, you're too exhausted to do anything but try and catch your breath. There's no time to reflect on what just happened because before you know it, you're in the whitewater again.

Not that I was a victim, but I didn't feel like I had a lot of control over where I was going. I knew that if I'd wanted to, I could have gotten out at some point but the resistance, sometimes the effort, isn't worth it. When there's that constant, ever-present feeling of *knowing* that you are exactly where you're supposed to be, doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing, you can get sort of miserable trying to do anything else. The river is unforgiving when you don't go where it's trying to take you. I know. I did try to avoid getting caught up and suffered greatly!

Now the river has revealed it's next hazard and I've misjudged the distance because it's coming up faster than I feel like I can be ready for. I won't even get into what this means for the others that have families to leave again...

The news of deployment changed everything.

For the first time in a long time, I'd chosen to have a serious relationship with someone I cared a great deal for. It felt right... real. Like it was finally, my time. I ended it instantly. I will not deploy and put anyone through that. I'm all too aware of what deployments do to the parties in a relationship and I won't put either of us through that.

Aside from just the relationship, I was starting to feel like I was coming into my own with the organization. We're putting together a rock-star team of advisors, volunteers and finally... board members(!).

And my family. For the first time, my sister and I will be deployed together. (She's going later.) I fear what this will do to my mother and baby sister. It's going to be really hard on them. I don't even want to think about it.

I felt like this year was really taking off. I was starting to see a culmination of sorts, like it was all coming together. All of the work we'd put into AWV... the experts were coming out of nowhere, the support, the momentum! We were selected as semi finalists for 2-years of funding and professional development support for a prestigious start-up fellowship by Echoing Green. I'd hired an executive/life coach to help me make huge strides with residual issues I've fought against myself with (fear of failure/success, etc.) Things were turning around and I was seeing measured progress every day. I still am.

More importantly, things were starting to feel manageable. Like the waters were going to be calmer but even if they got a little crazy, it wouldn't be chaotic. I was feeling ever more confident in myself and my team's abilities to work with the flow. Please don't get me wrong, I still feel this way but...

The deployment news has forced me to question all of that even though I still *feel* everything's going to work out swimmingly. When I got the call, I thought, "You know, of all the times I wanted/tried to deploy and couldn't go, I'm finally in a place where it's not the best timing. Because of that, this time, it'll happen." Because that's when it always happens, isn't it?

So this is the first time I'm being "voluntold." Sure, I could "choose" not to go but most of us know that even as they require you to sign your volunteer statements, it's not really "volunteering."

I used to think that my purpose was to take care of soldiers and to be the best NCO that I could be. Going over there used to be as much about my hopes and dreams for the people of Afghanistan as it was about taking care of the soldiers to my left and right, but now I see what we're doing to our soldiers and it makes me feel like my purpose is to be here, deployed to DC.

After a decade of conflict and all that's followed in its wake, I'm not even sure *I* know what we're still doing there. (And if any of you know me, you know that my saying this is quite a departure from my previous opinions...)

I don't know how I'm going to morph from being an advocate, someone who speaks up and voices things on behalf of others to the person who just shuts up and takes it. And it's already started; I was told the other day, "...Take your advocate hat off and put your soldier hat back on." I don't know if I can do that. I'm kinda thinkin' that they're one and the same damn hat.

What I do know is that I'm going to try because that was the commitment that I made. If I don't go, they'll send my sister or someone else's sister/brother/son/daughter/friend/mother/father in my place. That one reason alone, is reason enough for me to make as much of an effort as possible to "put my soldier hat back on" because I can't quite reconcile in my head, the greater good in that equation. A few of you have said that my "greater good" is to stay here and do what I do but it's not for me to judge that what I do is more important than what anyone else does. I certainly don't see my life or time here as more valuable than anyone's.

Sorry to end on another cliche' but - I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I do know that we don't always know what those reasons are and that sometimes we never know the "why" but I'm also fabulously awesome at making the most out of every challenge and opportunity that comes my way. I don't worry about AWV at all because I suspect that this deployment will do nothing but bolster my resolve to carry out its vision and mission.

I just worry about our families... the single parents, the children, the soldiers on their 4th+ deployments, and the loved ones that have stood by us/watched us go through trying times recovering from previous deployments. I'm worried about a lot of things and these worries are so much different than they were the last time I deployed... but that's another story...