Sunday, September 27, 2009

Memories of Anasazi

I don't know how many of you know this, but I used to work at a "Wilderness Rehabilitation Center for Troubled Youth", as the official types would call it. But for all of us that worked there we simply knew it as Anasazi.

I LOVED that place and still make contributions and support it to this day because I believe in it so much. It's heavily supported by Barbara Bush and Steve Young among others, and I heard that at one time it had the best success record in the United States for youth rehabilitation programs. I believe it's because unlike other programs for troubled youth, the parents went through rehabilitation at the same time.

Anyway, so here's some pictures that I came across as I was sorting through my archives recently. As an intro, the first picture is of me getting ready to head back out to the trail. I came in for a couple days to go to military drill and things, and then headed back out.

Ready to go, holding a bowl I made from cutting a knot off of a sycamore tree and blowing on a hot coal that I held in place with a knife blade to hollow it out-

Here's a picture of my pack from the back. You can see my "rabbit sticks" which kind of look like boomerangs, my fire bow that I used to make fire without matches, and my steel cup among other things. The cup and a knife were our only cooking utensils.

Here's a picture of my first beard. I took this picture of myself the first time I came back from the trail. This is from 3 weeks of not shaving (kind a big difference from what I get after three weeks now). I got a little sick from eating "normal food" after getting back off of the trail, so you can probably kind of tell in this picture. We only ate things like rice and lentils out on the trail, so when I got back and had meat and some kind of greasy food for the first time in weeks, it didn't sit well.

This last picture is my absolute favorite one. We weren't allowed to have technology out there, but since it was another Trail-Walker's (what the counselors are called that work at Anasazi) last week at Anasazi, she got special permission to take a picture on the last day. Since I was the other trail walker with her out there, I took a picture of her filling her canteen, and then she took one of me doing the same.

Absolutely no joke, this is what we drank. In fact, I was on my way to fill my canteen and she came with me, and that's when she told me she had special permission to take a picture. This is a cow tank, and those floating clumps on top isn't mud. The cows liked to wade in the water to drink and refresh themselves, and didn't care to go else ware to do their business. It's safe for humans to drink if you drop it with some Clorox drops, so that's what we did. I am out on a rock trying to get past the sludge that makes up the shallow parts to the water that's actually deep enough to submerge my canteen. There was also leeches in the water, so you had to be tricky in order to not get them on your hand or in your canteen.
I actually love this picture because it reminded me about what it was like to be out there. I can't even explain it. The idea sounds horrible: camping with troubled youth in the middle of nowhere, eating only things like rice and lentils, drinking water out of cow tanks, hiking all day long for weeks on end with no showers, but it was one of the most spiritual and happy times of my life! Second to the temple and on par with my experiences as a missionary, my Anasazi experiences are some of my most sacred and treasured times of my life.

Check it out!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Random thoughts from people our age...

-I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.

-More often than not, when someone is telling me a story all I can
think about is that I can't wait for them to finish so that I can tell
my own story that's not only better, but also more directly involves

-Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you
realize you're wrong.

-Have you ever been walking down the street and realized that you're
going in the complete opposite direction of where you are supposed to
be going? But instead of just turning a 180 and walking back in the
direction from which you came, you have to first do something like
check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to
yourself to ensure that no one in the surrounding area thinks you're
crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk.

-That's enough, Nickelback.

-I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

-Is it just me, or are 80% of the people in the "people you may know"
feature on Facebook people that I do know, but I deliberately choose
not to be friends with?

-Do you remember when you were a kid, playing Nintendo and it wouldn't
work? You take the cartridge out, blow in it and that would magically
fix the problem. Every kid in America did that, but how did we all
know how to fix the problem? There was no internet or message boards
or FAQ's. We just figured it out. Today's kids are soft.

-There is a great need for sarcasm font.

-Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and
suddenly realize I had no idea what the heck was going on when I first
saw it.

-I think everyone has a movie that they love so much, it actually
becomes stressful to watch it with other people. I'll end up wasting
90 minutes shiftily glancing around to confirm that everyone's
laughing at the right parts, then making sure I laugh just a little
bit harder (and a millisecond earlier) to prove that I'm still the
only one who really, really gets it.

-How the heck are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

-I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than
take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

-The only time I look forward to a red light is when I'm trying to
finish a text.

- Was learning cursive really necessary?

- Lol has gone from meaning, "laugh out loud" to "I have nothing else to say".

- I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

- Answering the same letter three times or more in a row on a Scantron
test is absolutely petrifying.

- Whenever someone says "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart",
all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart".

- How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod
and smile because you still didn't hear what they said?

- I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up
to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers!

- Every time I have to spell a word over the phone using 'as in'
examples, I will undoubtedly draw a blank and sound like a complete
idiot. Today I had to spell my boss's last name to an attorney and
said "Yes that's G as in...(10 second lapse)..ummm...Goonies"

-What would happen if I hired two private investigators to follow each other?

- While driving yesterday I saw a banana peel in the road and
instinctively swerved to avoid it...thanks Mario Kart.

- MapQuest really needs to start their directions on #5. Pretty
sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

- Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the
person died.

- I find it hard to believe there are actually people who get in the
shower first and THEN turn on the water.

-Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty,
and you can wear them forever.

-I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.

- Bad decisions make good stories

-If Carmen San Diego and Waldo ever got together, their offspring
would probably just be completely invisible.

-Why is it that during an ice-breaker, when the whole room has to go
around and say their name and where they are from, I get so incredibly
nervous? I know my name, I know where I'm from, so this shouldn't be
a problem...

-You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work
when you've made up your mind that you just aren't doing anything
productive for the rest of the day.

-Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after DVDs? I don't
want to have to restart my collection.

-There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are
going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

-I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me
if I want to save any changes to my ten page research paper that I
swear I did not make any changes to.

- "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never clean this. Ever.

-I hate being the one with the remote in a room full of people
watching TV. There's so much pressure. 'I love this show, but will
they judge me if I keep it on? I bet everyone is wishing we weren't
watching this. It's only a matter of time before they all get up and
leave the room. Will we still be friends after this?'

-I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello?
Crap!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and
goes to voicemail. What'd you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone
and run away?

- I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not
seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

-I like all of the music in my iTunes library, except when it's on shuffle,
then I like about one in every fifteen songs.

-Why is a school zone 20 mph? That seems like the optimal cruising
speed for pedophiles...

- As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers,
but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists.

-Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still
not know what time it is.

-I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to
answer when they call.

-Even if I knew your social security number, I wouldn't know what do to with it.

-Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car
keys in a pocket and Pinning the Tail on the
Donkey - but I'd bet everyone can find and push the Snooze
button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time
every time...

-My 4-year old son asked me in the car the other day "Dad what would
happen if you ran over a ninja?" How do I respond to that?

-I wonder if cops ever get ticked off at the fact that everyone they
drive behind obeys the speed limit.

-I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

-The other night I ordered takeout, and when I looked in the bag, saw
they had included four sets of plastic silverware. In other words,
someone at the restaurant packed my order, took a second to think
about it, and then estimated that there must be at least four people
eating to require such a large amount of food. Too bad I was eating by
myself. There's nothing like being made to feel like a fat lard
before dinner.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I'm in the process of doing a big post and thought I'd post this one in the meantime, just for fun. It's a post about perspective:

How I Finally Taught the Big Guy a Lesson

I did not provoke the fight, so I feel no remorse for what I was forced to do. We were arguing, and since I was right and he was wrong, he decided to fight to cover his stupidity.

He swung at me first, but because I was in top physical condition, I was able to act quickly and block the punch neatly with my head.

I then jumped to the ground, knocking him down on top of me. I placed my ear in his mouth and poked his finger several times with my eye.

His teeth hurt so much from the strength of my ear that he became irate and tried to kick me, but I cleverly blocked the onslaught with my ribs and face.

I got to my feet and ran to my car in hopes I would get away and save that wimp from my deadly hands, but before I could start the car he pulled me from the still open door. It was obvious this guy needed to be taught a lesson and that was the final straw—I lost all control. I showed no mercy!!

Taking him in my death grip, I pounded him in the knee with my stomach—then I hit him two or three times in the fist with my teeth. He'd had it! I could tell. I laid there as still as I could, just waiting for him to try something else, but he didn’t even try to pick me up off the ground. He was just too chicken.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Transition

It's strange being back. The transition back is always the hardest for me when I'm returning from a foreign experience. I've had three major foreign experiences so far: one to Brazil, one to Iraq, and one to Afghanistan. These experiences have taken me from what I know, who I know, and most of my familiar ground.

The reason that it is so hard coming back is that so many things have changed and so many things seem to be the same that they often mix. When you leave, in your mind you freeze the world as it was when you left it, and many of the people you know freeze you in their mind as well, but both of you know full well that a lot has changed. When you actually get back, it is such a mixed up feeling that you never get used to.

Because of your mixed up emotions, you seem to a lot of people to be either really hot or really cold as far as emotions go. To some you may seem a little insensitive because you don't show signs of missing them like you should, and others are weirded out because you missed them so much or they have changed so much that you tend to overdo it when you see them.

For example, I could never get over how much bigger and different my nieces and nephews were when I returned from Brazil. I was gone for two years and it almost seemed like my nieces and nephews that I knew had disappeared forever and someone else had simply taken their place. My friends and family hadn't changed that much, so it was easier to sort of slip back into where I left off with them but all of my familiar conversations were now two years old.

Often times so much is so similar that your mind quickly returns to familiar memories and it almost seems like no time has passed. I actually don't like that, and I'll tell you why. Take this recent trip to Afghanistan, for example. It almost seems like our time in Afghanistan was just a dream. Here we are, back in the same looking barracks and everything, and it's as though no time has really passed. However, I have grown a huge amount and have really learned a lot, not only about equipment or tools or things like that, but about myself and what I can do. I feel like I was a better person at the end of my deployment and that I was so much stronger and decisive than I was when I started. I even came to respect myself more and had more confidence in myself and my abilities because I did some things above what I thought I could and set my sights higher. I also felt like I had some pretty good perspective and saw the world through different eyes and hoped to continue on like that.

The bad thing about coming back is that when you get back to familiar ground, you tend to return to how you were before. On top of that, people also try to treat you the same as you were before you left. Those new strengths and that new confidence you gained seems like it was in some other lifetime, and the experiences seem more like something you just read about in a book. You lose that perspective and that focus you had, which is what it means to grow. It’s no use learning new things if you never use them after all is said and done. If you give that perspective up or let someone take it away from you, then you are back at square one.

I've had some interesting experiences with all of this. I was always the nerdy little kid and one of the scrawniest in my class, regardless of what class I was in. Often I was awkward around people and pretty immature in a lot of ways. Since high school I have learned a foreign language (which my junior high Spanish teacher told me I would never do), organized a multi-city event in a foreign country, served as a team leader on a special security team at the beginning of the war in Iraq, became a computer forensic technician and later a senior forensic technician, became a team leader/deputy section chief, and now I can say that I have served in both of the main active battlefields now that I am returning from Afghanistan. I have handled explosives and a huge array of weapons and special equipment and have become with several different tactics, techniques and procedures of various military occupations and special groups. To top it all off, I married one of the most beautiful girls that ever went to our high school (I personally think she is THE most beautiful) and have two kids that I am very proud of. The bottom line in saying all of that, is that I've grown. I've had some life-changing experiences and am not the same person anymore. In spite of this, probably most of my peers will only ever remember me and treat me like the kid they knew me as when I graduated. This, my friends, is the greatest challenge in progress and retaining growth: People can only become what they believe they have the potential to become, so you’ve got to forget the limits and expectations that you and others used to have of you and always set higher goals with the real belief that you can reach them.

Well , that’s what I hope to remember during this transition. I don’t want to lose what I’ve learned and the perspective that I’ve gained. Luckily, I’ve kept a pretty good journal for the most part and have a wonderful wife that helps me. Anyway, just remember that I’m still going through that transition phase, so don’t hold it against me if I act weird.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Baby, I'm Back

Let me introduce you to "Jokeahontas". It's a picture from Thanksgiving in Bagram, Afghanistan. I throw this in there as a reference to my returning to America. Yes, that's right. I'm back.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I miss...

Barring the obvious things, like family, friends, etc, I've compiled a short list of the things I miss the most about the United States. I have found these things to be lacking pretty much everywhere I've traveled outside of the United States (excluding Canada, which is basically the same as the US. Don't say that to them though, because they really hate it), and what's more, they are things that can't really be shipped, so you truly do have to be in the US to enjoy them.

Things I miss:

1. Milk
Cold, plain, real, non-UHT (that's the milk that is boiled and sealed so it can last for three months unrefrigerated on the shelf, cow's milk.

2. Real Showers
Two words: Water pressure! Actually those words could also be "hot water", or "clean water", or "consistent water", or any number of different pairs of words to describe what I have found lacking in other countries when I've taken showers. I still have a scar on my foot from where electricity exited my body from touching an electric shower head in Brazil. In the war zone you almost always have to walk a distance to get to the showers from your living space, which if the temperature is below freezing and you are still wet from the shower, it can be a very uncomfortable walk. It's also hard to bring all of your clothes to the shower as well, so you usually are in just your shorts, flip-flops, and a T-shirt.

3. Real Toilets
The US is the only country that seems to take their toilets seriously. I ask a question of you other countries: "What the...?" In Brazil you can't flush toilet paper in the toilet, so they have a trash can next to the toilet to put the paper in. In Afghanistan we have "the shelf". Don't ask.

4. Carpet
Bare feet. No worries. Enough said.

5. Consistent power
Power out here is also consistent. Consistently unreliable.

7. Real Milk
Worth mentioning twice.

8. Grass
They have grass out here but they usually roll it up and light it on fire to inhale the smoke.

9. Washer/Dryer in your house
I know that even a lot of Americans don't have this, but the difference is, they CAN.

10. Drinkable water
You can only bottled water as an American in most other countries. I can't wait, no more getting all the way to the bathroom and realize that you forgot your bottled water for brushing your teeth.

There's a lot of cool things to enjoy when you go to another country, but there are some things that are so nice to come home to!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Greatest Gift

I know it's long after Christmas now, but I feel like I would dishonor an experience I had if I didn’t tell the story. Having said that, I don’t know if I will blog for a few days after this post. All of the things I wanted to say in my other recent posts have sort of led up to this one, and I don’t know if I will want to say much for a while afterward. The reason is that the experience I am about to describe is one I will compare to a moving piece of music or an amazing film. It’s one of those that no one claps after and there is just respectful silence. I wouldn't want to lessen this experience or detract from it by moving on to another topic so soon without giving proper attention and time to the subject. This post is about the greatest gift I got this year.


Bombs were falling instead of snowflakes on Christmas Eve for me this year. Thankfully it wasn’t an attack or anything, but just the regular runs on our aerial gunnery range where the pilots do their practice runs. The familiar hollow sounding explosions of the bombs could be heard as we played Christmas music on my iPod in our team’s office. We were talking about watching a Christmas movie that evening and planning some small festivities in honor of the season and trying to decide what would be the best way to celebrate Christmas in a war zone.


As we chatted, laughed, and ate treats we’d gotten in care packages, we were interrupted by the base loudspeaker. The announcement was that there would be a fallen comrade ceremony that evening. We stopped laughing and just kind of looked at each other for a minute before we quietly went on about our work. “Today of all days”, I thought to myself. Couldn’t we get a break from this for just one evening? I felt bad for thinking it, but I admit that I wondered why they decided to push it for that evening and didn’t wait until a day or two had passed so that everyone could more fully enjoy the holiday.


The day wore on and the time came for the ceremony. We silently went out to the main road where the vehicle carrying the fallen soldier would come by on its way to the airstrip. It was an especially cold evening, which made the mood all the more somber.


As I stood there in the cold, I took a deep breath and thought about my family. I missed home. It’s was my son’s first Christmas and I wouldn’t be there. It would also be the first Christmas that my daughter has been able to really talk and I was missing it. Most of all, I wouldn’t be able to be near my dearest loved one, my sweet wife.


I stamped my foot and shivered until the vehicle carrying the fallen soldier finally came into view. As usual, the crowd silently went to a position of attention. As the vehicle neared each person, they raised a salute and held it until the vehicle was out of their sight. From my vantage point I could see the vehicle come around the last bend and go all the way up to the flight line before it was out of sight, so I had more time to take the whole scene in.


Once the fallen soldier was out of sight, I swallowed hard with a little bit of emotion, dropped my salute, and turned to leave with the rest of the crowd. As I turned to leave, I glanced up and met the gaze of one of the New Zealand soldiers. We held gazes for a moment and then he pursed his lips and nodded in respect, as if to offer his condolences for our fallen countryman. I nodded back in appreciation and went my way, walking past many of our coalition brothers and sisters who also gave friendly nods and Christmas greetings. Even some of my comrades who are Muslim gave me a warm Christmas greeting that evening in respect for our celebration of Christmas.


On a little side note, I’m sure you already know, but Christ wasn’t born in December. No shepherds watch their flocks by night out in the fields in the winter. Christ was born in the spring, which is also when He died. What a symbolic thing that was. The two greatest life-giving events that ever occurred, and ever will occur, both happened in the season where life begins: Spring.


Since its beginning, the celebration of Christmas has become many things. Sadly, only a portion of those many things is the celebration of Christ’s birth. With so many other things going on, like the stresses of getting people presents, old guys running around in fuzzy red suits, busy schedules, parties, etc., it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christmas to certain degrees. That meaning was once again refreshed to me on that cold Christmas Eve.


The true celebration of Christmas is not even just a celebration of Christ’s birth, but His whole life. In John 15:13 it says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Many people think this verse is just about dying for others. I think that more than that, this verse is about living for others. Another name for this is service. That is what service is: laying down your own life, your own wants, your own needs, your own time, for others. Missionaries lay down their own lives for two years to serve others, which is why a mission is called a labor of love. Any time we serve others, we show the greatest love of all, which is charity, or the pure love of Christ.


I think the best part of Christmas time, even in spite of all of the business and chaos (or even war), is that it’s a time when we actually practice what we preach more than any other time of the year. We show brotherly kindness, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and preach peace on earth and goodwill toward man.


A wonderful example of this is the Christmas Truce (click to read about it) of 1914, during World War I. The unofficial truce was called on Christmas Eve and continued on through Christmas day and even escalated into games and gift exchanges. A beautiful song called “Belleau Wood” was written about this event (I encourage you to look up the lyrics or the song if you have never heard it). Coincidentally American Forces Network Radio was turned on and was playing that song as I sat and pondered over the events of the evening.


The scene of the fallen comrade ceremony stuck with me the rest of the evening, through all of our other little festivities, and up until the time that I was alone in my little section of our living quarters, getting ready to go to sleep. I thought about the soldier and how his family must be feeling to get such a call on Christmas Eve. Did he have a wife and kids? Who did he leave behind? Tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes as I thought about how grateful I was for my family and for my safety so far during my time in the two war zones I’ve passed through.


It was then as I was pondering in the darkness that I finally realized what the greatest gift was that I had received this year, or any year: Life. I was so grateful and all of a sudden realized how appropriate it was to have the fallen comrade ceremony on Christmas Eve. That soldier gave us all the greatest gift he could. He gave his life so that others may live, and even more than that be free, which is the same thing that Christ did for us. Now and forever, that reminder of what Christmas is really about will be etched into my memory. It’s about selflessness, service, freedom, and most of all, the precious gift of life.


As you remember back on your holidays, or reflect upon your blessings, I encourage you to also think about our fallen brother that made the ultimate sacrifice on a cold Christmas Eve in Afghanistan. He gave up his greatest gift so that we could keep ours, and we can sleep in our beds tonight safe and warm because of those like him that gave all to serve and protect us. May we honor them by remembering, and may we remember them by honoring our greatest gift and investing that gift in others… just like they did.