Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mini-Review: “Lost Soldiers” by James Webb

Once I find an author whose work I really appreciate, I will often read several works by that writer in succession. I have been on a James Webb kick of late, so here is another mini-review of a Webb novel. “Lost Soldiers,” written in 2001, continues Webb’s life-long process of coming to grips with what happened to him and other Marines and soldiers in Viet Nam.

The protagonist, Brandon Condley, never really left Viet Nam – at least not emotionally. In this novel, Condley works on behalf of the teams that are tasked with identifying the bodies of those who were KIA and whose remains are finally being turned over by the government of Viet Nam. This is a complex tale of promises made and broken – on a personal level and on a trans-national level. The characters in this book together provide a window into the aftermath of the Viet Nam war. The tale is told with intricate and intimate writing. I often felt that I had been transported to Viet Nam as the author wove a web of intrigue and stunning details – sounds, smells, and sights of the mysterious Southeast Asian nation that has captivated the imagination of America for so many decades.

Here are some samples of Webb’s superb writing:

“Brandon Condley loved Sai Gon. It was the museum of his own heart, a tortured and yet insistently happy city where along the streets his memories could once again race and dive amid the fecund ferment, the mangled but sly-eyed beggars, the crumbling old French buildings now conquered and abused, the rivers muddy and eternal, the toothless cyclo drivers suborning him from the roadsides, the motorbikes loud and reckless, begging for the future, the never-ending stares, the measuring smiles, welcoming and wary, the con games of bright minds trapped inside dumb lives, the odd, funky food cooked on the streets, the black puddles on the sidewalks, wet from rain and urine and wash water thrown out of doorways, the stench of all that mixed together. In all an instant beauty, pushing up through the muck of a fierce and dreadful past like Buddha’s lotus, a beauty just as real as what his own past might have become, always pushing, insistent as a weed, fresh as the future.” (Page 40)

Reading this paragraph makes me wish I could paint a picture with words as skillfully as Webb is able to do. Here is another passage that sets the scene for two warriors – one American and one Vietnamese – taking the measure of one another:

“Colonel Pham’s formality was to be expected. Perhaps fifteen years older than Condley, the former Viet Cong soldier was rarely emotional in public and almost deceptively nondescript. Condley had learned tat the colonel’s controlled emotions were a camouflage that hid the kind of man whom in Asia too many Americans overlooked at their peril, and usually to their later regret. The colonel’s teeth were stained from years of strong tobacco and poor dental hygiene. His glasses looked as if they had been bought forty years before. Several long strands of hair grew from a mole on his chin, just to the right of his mouth. His small, paw-like hands hung slightly in front of his thighs, as if he had spent so many years carrying weight on his back – pack and weapon and rice roll – that his shoulders and fingers were permanently curved. And he clearly did not belong in a suit. He wore it loosely and messily, the collar too big, the knot on the tie too fat, the shirtsleeves too long, making him appear ungainly and even more diminutive than he actually was.

But from the first, Condley had picked up a sureness in the older man, a toughness that those who had not fought the war could never fully penetrate. Pham had made hard decisions, of the sort a mere businessman could never conceive. He had endured years in the jungle, conquering it and making it his friend. He had ordered soldiers to their death. He had killed people. And form the measuring look he and Condley had always exchanged behind their smiles, it was clear that Pham had killed Americans.

Condley knew that Pham had always read his own face just as quickly. Yes, their eyes said to each other every time they met, we both endured and we both killed. But that was then, and this is now. So where do we go from here? In a way this knowledge gladdened both of them, giving them an odd but unbreakable bond. He and Pham shared a secret kinship. They knew the truth of the battlefield, a conviction so real and permeable that neither of them would ever need to mention it to the other.” (Pages 55-6)

Webb shines the light of personal experience and understanding on the arcane fraternity of those who have fought wars and strive to make peace with that reality. Add this to your list of books well worth reading.



Monday, December 17, 2007

Mini-Review: "A Country Such As This" by James Webb

Jim Webb, the Junior Senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a gifted writer of fiction and non-fiction. Because I so enjoyed reading “A Sense of Honor” and “Fields of Fire,” I determined that I would eventually read all of his books. I have just finished “A Country Such As This,” the action of which is set in the time of the Korean conflict and the Viet Nam War.

As is always the case with Webb’s writing, his own experiences as a midshipman at Annapolis and as a Marine in Viet Nam strongly inform his world view and the characters he has created. In this case, the narrative revolves around three roommates from the Naval Academy whose careers veer off in dramatically different directions. Red becomes a pilot with the Navy’s Blue Angels and eventually is taken as a prisoner of war in Viet Nam. Joe becomes a pioneer in the U.S. missile program. Judd, a Marine officer wounded in battle, serves in the FBI, where he is again shot. He eventually becomes a minister and then a Member of Congress. The evolving relationships among these three musketeers and the various women they love serves as a fascinating and satisfying platform that allows Webb to wax eloquent about the cost of war, of leadership, of freedom, and of deep relationships.

In this excerpt, he paints a vivid picture of the history of anti-war movements in the U.S.

He also sets the scene for why the anti-war movement emerged against our involvement in Viet Nam. The lessons seem particularly relevant to the current conflict in Iraq and the response by the American people to that protracted war. Joe’s wife, Sophie, is talking to Judd during the time they are awaiting word about Red as a POW in Viet Nam:

“ ‘It’s just so vicious, Judd. And so wrong. How can they [the anti-war protesters] call themselves Americans?’

‘We’ve always been this way. It’s just gotten more out of hand this time, that’s all. Lyndon Johnson tried to sneak a war past the American people, and whether it was a good war or not became irrelevant. Red understood that. He even wrote me about it before he was shot down. You don’t fight a war when you haven’t articulated what you’re going to do, and expect people to go cheerfully off to bleed for years on end. And Nixon came in with the promise he was going to end it. Once he started pulling people out, that was it. The North Vietnamese have him cold, because the antiwar movement has taken away his negotiating leverage.’

He felt awkward making is speeches. He knew it wasn’t what Sophie wanted to hear: ‘I know I’m not consoling you, much, but I’ve been trying to put this in perspective. Did you know there were antidraft riots in World War I? And did you know that the Selective Service Act only passed by one vote in World War II – in 1940, with Europe already overrun by the Nazis?’

They passed by ugly, despairing neighborhoods along New York Avenue. Judd Smith watched black faces staring at his car, and thought some more. ‘No, here’s a better example for you, Sophie. Did you know that during the Civil War Lincoln had to deal with an antiwar movement? Imagine, the same people who created the abolition movement losing their stomach for the war. Robert E. Lee went north into Sharpsburg to try and defeat the Yankees on their own soil, so that the antiwar movement would force Lincoln to negotiate a settlement. There you have it in a nutshell. The idealists didn’t want slavery, but they didn’t have the stomach for the bloody part of it. They wanted the world to be rational and sane, even when their very cause was the essence of the war!’” (Pages 473-4)

Webb wrote this novel in 1983. In reflecting on the mood of America in the 50’s and 60’s in response to Korea and Viet Nam, he was presciently offering insights to help us to understand the mood of America in 2007 on the heels of years of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Rick Springfield's Support of Gold Star Mothers - "Christmas with You"

On many occasions in the past year and a half, I have written about LT Robert Seidel III, a West Point graduate who died fighting in Iraq in May of 2006. Several of the postings have related to his family and the ways in which they are remembering him and keeping his spirit alive. As I sat down early this morning at my desk, I was catching up on a backlog of e-mails. My attention was arrested by an e-mail I received a few days ago from Rob's mother, Sandy Seidel. Sandy has become active in the Gold Star Mothers, an organization that exists to support those who have lost a son or daughter in battle. As Sandy suggested in her e-mail, I clicked on the link to a video of a song that Rick Springfield has recorded for this Christmas season. I was deeply moved, and am typing through tear-filled eyes. My first impulse was to share my thoughts with the readers of The White Rhino Report, but then I hesitated. I asked myself this question: "Do the readers of my Blog want to read one more story about a soldier who has died in Iraq? Will they feel it is too much?"

The fact that you are reading this posting tells you that I found an answer to those questions. My answer to myself was that most Americans think too little about those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan - not too much. Few Americans have been touched directly by the loss of a loved one in military service, so it is difficult for us to know how to empathize and be supportive of those who have suffered that devastating loss. The fact that I know several families whose sons and daughters will not be coming home this Christmas gives me both an opportunity and a responsibility to share with those who care to listen something of the reality that these families are dealing with each day.

I am pleased to share the content of Sandy's e-mail and encourage you to listen to the Rick Springfield song:

"I wanted to share a Christmas Video with you that Rick Springfield has just put out. It is really beautiful. It honors our fallen heroes and the men and women in our armed forces. You may have to cut this link and past it but is is worth viewing.

Rob is the 6th soldier in the video."
The direct link is:


If anyone is interested in purchasing the Christmas CD you can order it on line at:


All proceeds go to US Military Veterans Organization, American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.



The holidays can be particularly difficult for families that have suffered a loss. I urge you to reach out as you are able - in prayer, in thought, in word and in deed - and remind these families that they are not alone and their sacrifice does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Opening a Dialogue - Considering Business School

As an executive recruiter, I place many leaders who have earned an MBA degree from some of the world's top business schools. As a result, I have learned a great deal about some of the top MBA programs. Consequently, I am often asked for advice by those who are considering applying to one or more of the top schools. I frequently network together graduates and prospective students. I recently brokered a meeting between a recent West Point graduate, who is about to apply to MBA programs, and a more seasoned USMA grad who has earned an MBA and is currently working in the world of finance. The meeting prompted my friend to think deeply about his own experience in considering whether to attend business school, and which programs he should apply to. My friend shared his thoughts with me, and has given me permission to share his thoughts anonymously.

I offer the thoughts of my friend with the hope that they will serve as a catalyst for an ongoing dialogue in the comments section of this Blog. I encourage comments by those who have considered business school, are current MBA students, have graduated from business school or have a visceral reaction to the ideas being shared here.

Here are my friend's final introductory remarks before he launched into the substance of sharing his B-School ideas:

"If you want to use them to start a spirited debate throughout your network, I'm happy to be the fodder."

Overall opinion: thinking too hard about which B-school at the outset (instead of which 5 or so) reflects a dangerous assumption that the process is efficient. When I say "process" I mean the candidate's ability to identify the best school for him/herself, and the ability of B-schools to pick the best candidates. I say this based on the countless conversations I've had with people looking at B-schools, and after reflecting on how I thought about the process. Early on I learned that my efforts were best spent thinking of the criteria the led me to my top 5 choices instead of finding ways to compare A vs. B. That allowed me to use my time (and that of others) much more effectively.
- In my book it is pointless to debate the merits of a single school vs. another until the following:

a. you've been accepted to said schools (even a 700+ GMAT, pre-acceptance, hardly means that debating the two is a good use of time)

b. you've gone to the Admitted Students Weekend and had a chance to see the school up close

c. granted, I believe there is a value in having a "Plan A" or even that ideal outcome in your mind, but too many people waste their time whittling away too early
- You should never apply to just one school (or even 2 for that matter), unless you have your heart set on a particular school and are willing to reapply the following year, for the following reasons:

a. very few people (the top 5% of my peer set, at best) can afford to take that gamble. Also, regardless of how qualified you are, you never know what factors in to the application process.

b. to my first overall point, you've yet the do the proper research to narrow your choices so severely.

c. likely your first and second will be the worst applications you do. Applying as a learning/efficiency curve.
- The best approach is to pick anywhere from 4-6 if you are pessimistic, and 3 if you are more optimistic. Baseball is a good analogy:

a. Even the greatest hitters, on any given day, can go 0 for 3 at the plate, so assuming you'll go 1 for 3 is not unreasonable

b. however even that is relatively optimistic if you plan on ONLY those three at bats for your entire life.
- While I agree there are differences in the opportunity sets as you look at individual schools within the "Top 30" of the world. However, most of these schools can/should be used as a platform to access the 'sweet spot' of the MBA job market.

a. I define the sweet spot, if you were to poll most MBA students, as top 5 consulting firms, bulge bracket investment banks, and strategy/leadership development programs in companies like GE, Google, P&G etc.

b. A good school will also allow you to tap unconventional opportunities like top hedge funds/private equity shops (more mainstream now, but still less conventional from a recruiting standpoint), VC, and cutting edge industries like clean energy and others.

c. The same type of student who wastes their time/money at HBS will do the same at Yale, Anderson/UCLA, Columbia, Wharton, etc. The type of student who makes the most of his experience at any of these places is likely to experience a better opportunity set at some than others (i.e., HBS over Yale).

d. However, just because one school is in fact better, it does not follow that if HBS will accept you, Yale will also. In fact, I've seen HBS be the only school (out of 4) accept people, while lesser institutions passed on the same candidate.

e. The admissions process can be subjective once a candidate satisfies the easy to recognize prerequisites (GMAT, quality undergrad institution, good resume, good GPA, not a train wreck in the interview, decent essays).

f. As a result, you never see a company solely target a particular B-school. They spread their efforts around because they recognize there is a general level of high quality throughout the top 20-30.


I thank my friend for sharing his thoughts, and look forward to the comments, dialogue and debate that will ensue.


Master of His Own Destiny - Film Maker Ti Alan Chase Profile

The Portsmouth Herald recently ran a feature article about the film making of my oldest son, Ti Alan Chase. I share the article with the readers of The White Rhino Report with pleasure and with no small measure of fatherly pride.


After linking to Seacoast Online, in the "Find It" Section, type in: "Master of His Own Destiny." That will lead you to the article.

If you would be interested in investing in any of the projects of Laurelin Films, I will be happy to put you in touch with the film maker!


Sunday, December 09, 2007

"Why Me?": A New Lease on Life - Tom Glass Recounts His Bypass Surgery and Beyond

My friend, Tom Glass, e-mailed me a piece he had written and asked me to read it. Upon reading his account of his bypass surgery experience, I immediately wrote back and asked for his permission to share what he had written with the readers of The White Rhino Report. During this holiday season, we often pause to reflect on life and the importance of relationships. Tom's piece - a reflection on a life-changing experience he had several years ago - does a wonderful job of focusing attention 0n the things that matter.


“Why Me”
is written for my children, so they may understand what it was like to experience a life changing event. Other folks that have questions or find themselves in a situation similar to mine ,“Why Me” will provide information as to what to do. Better yet, it may give them a clearer picture of what happens emotionally. The intent of “Why Me” is to ease the fear, doubt, and mystery that surrounds heart by-pass surgery.

The best direction or advice , “Be not afraid”, do your research, prepare the best you can, find a Doctor Stephen Michaelson, find a hospital like St. Vincentʼs, and find a surgeon like Doctor Dan Rose. They were all my plus factors.

“Why Me?”

It has been 8 years since I was told I desperately needed heart surgery. The feelings that raced though my mind were of utter disbelief, total denial. The diagnosis couldn't be mine. But the results of the heart cauterization had my name written all over it. How did this happen? Why me? I felt good; I was all set to play golf the following day. But for right now, my world had come to a grinding halt; at least it was put on hold until we (my wife Patty and I) could figure out what I was going to do.

I needed a quadruple bypass. Who was going to perform the surgery? Where would it be done and when? All these questions had to be answered quickly. It was shortly after this life-changing
event that I put pen to paper and recorded my story. And shortly after that I put it into a folder and promptly forgot about it. Then recently, after cleaning out a few old files, I came across the
dog-eared manila folder marked “operation”. Everything came flooding back; the words flew off the pages as if they were written yesterday. Now I realize I have to revisit this episode every so often to bring back the fact that life, as we know it, is extremely fragile. So read with me (and hopefully laugh with me) as I relate a four-day roller coaster ride I like to call “Why Me?”

“Wake up, you need bypass surgery.”

Those words still ring in my head. I couldn’t figure out why I, 57 years young, 6’1”, 210 pounds, a wee bite on the heavy side with a so-so diet needed bypass surgery. I didn’t do sausage, eggs and home fries regularly; occasionally, maybe. Sweets and chips weren’t out of the question, or my reach. (Oh by the way, I’m an adult diabetic, Type 2). The Irish would classify this as “a touch of sugar.” (It’s similar to being a little pregnant.) Stress really didn’t bother me, though I may have just been used to it. I loved my job in ad sales; traveling domestically 24 times a year. The remainder was spent on Metro North commuting into Manhattan. I’m also a Type-A personality: everything seemed important and accomplishing goals regardless of how trivial were a must. Telling aggressive drivers where they should go and how to get there were daily occurrences. So yeah, I guess you could say I had the warning signs. But still, why me? How did my arteries get blocked? Not 100%, mind you. One was 90%, two others 85%, and a fourth 70%. I did have some shortness of breath, but only when I climbed the stairs at Grand Central two at a time. Other than that I felt fine. I just couldn’t come to the realization (or even visualization) that the blood supply to my heart was being interrupted, gradually being cut off by platelets of fat with life-threatening results.

"Let's go to the video tape.” Watching a heart cauterization is fascinating. You enter a well-lit
room in a backless, sanitized green gown. It only comes to mid thigh; a surgical mini-skirt. You’re placed on a gurney and wheeled into surgery. Then things start happening. You’re IV’ed up to a glucose drip next to special wires for a monitor. The rolling bed is placed under several TV screens. A needle is placed into the IV and a fluid begins to rhythmically flow into your arm, providing a warm sensation throughout the body. As you watch in a semi-conscience state, the surgeon makes a small incision in your arm. (Many times the surgeon prefers to make an incision in the upper thigh). He then inserts a miniature series of wires. He works the controls like that of a video game, and maneuvers these little wires into position.

Eyes are glued to the TV screens. (There is no pain but there is very good reception). It’s an eerie feeling. It reminded me of the Denis Quaid movie “Innerspace,” where a miniature person is injected into a human body. Only difference being that this time the video was transmitted from inside Moi. I could see my heart pulsating with spider-like arteries, pumping vital blood to the chamber. There was a synchronized rhythm to what we were all seeing. It was alive and it was me. We watched as a microscopic wire was positioned near my artery. An ink-like fluid was then injected through the wire and into the artery. When the inky molecules flowed freely through their target, the artery illuminated. If an obstruction existed, the dark substance would
plum back out of the artery like a black cloud. With the procedure underway I could hear several murmurs coming from the nurses and attendants. When the fluid was emitted
successfully into the blood vessel, I would hear “OK, fine.” But when we viewed a black cloud no one said a word.

My experience was very quiet, almost grim. My bed was rolled back to the recovery room and I waited. My wife Patty, Dr. Michaelson ( Cardiologist, Chief of Staff at Norwalk Hospital, a neighbor and friend), and I reviewed the film. I couldn’t help but think that this was what a football coach would do to analyze and review that day’s game film: Looking for what went right, what went wrong, and where we went from there. The discussion that followed was very brief and matter of fact.

There were a number of black clouds. Four of them, to be exact. In other words, taking a few pills and saying, “let’s see what happens in a month or so” was completely out of the question.

“You’re a candidate for bypass surgery, four grafts.”

Those were precisely the words from the good Doctor. There were no ifs, no ands, no buts and no passing Go to collect $200. Wow, why me? I asked Steve if he’d mind if I got a second
opinion. He nodded OK.

“You need bypass surgery”, my two-second opinions concurred.

So rather than think the situation to death, I decided I was ready; the sooner the better. Let’s do it. But where and with whom? Minor concerns but essential elements to consider. Should I go to Mass General, a world–renowned facility for cardiac surgery or to Portland, Oregon, where my sister Carol was an assistant to the creator of the Star Heart Valve? I consulted with Steve Michaelson. He didn’t hesitate. He said St. Vincent’s in Bridgeport was a terrific facility for
cardiac care. The hospital also boasted a Cracker Jack doctor named Dan Rose, a cardiothoracic surgeon with a Cornell hospital background. Doctor Rose had a very high success rate. And he had completed more by-pass surgery’s then Jiffy Lube has done oil changes. He was a mild mannered guy who exuded confidence. You felt assured that he knew what he was doing
and how he was doing it. He got right to the point, telling me: “You need a quadruple bypass. How’s tomorrow?”

He was my type of guy. Patty and I then proceeded to complete the admission process: blood tests, X-Rays, EKG’s and medical history. Looking back, it felt like these procedures took more time than the actual surgery. After what seemed like forever, one of Doctor Rose’s assistants told us “we’ll see you at 6:30 tomorrow.”

Wow, hospital protocol had really changed. There were no more nights before surgery spent dressed in a backless mini-gown or chewing on unidentifiable, tasteless food. We drove home. On the way down the Merritt Parkway, I had a brilliant idea: this would be a great time for a sumptuous Italian dinner. Weren’t Doctor Rose and his team going to clean me up and give
me replacement parts anyway? So, why not go for it…in moderation, of course. To our favorite Italian joint Marisa’s we went, and her garlic bread, linguine and clams and salad we ate. But I didn’t want to clog up 100%. I might not make it to St. Vincent’s in the morning.

From past experiences I found that checking into a hospital could be both intimidating and sobering. So Patty and I determined there would be little sense in her getting up and driving to St. Vincent’s to spend the entire day wandering the halls while I had surgery. I wouldn’t have any knowledge of her being there, anyway. So I drove and left the car in in-patient parking. (It was a free pass, me being an in-patient and all). Patty could then go to Norwalk Community College, teach her class and check in on me periodically.

St. Vincent’s had a wonderful system for keeping spouses informed of the patient’s progress: When you told the hospital your telephone number, they called back with updates. The first call announced that you were on your way into surgery. A second happened when the surgery starts. The third call came when the surgical team was halfway done and a final call (sorry, we better make that the fourth call) was made when the patient was brought into the recovery area. This method was far less stressful for the person waiting and wondering alone in a stark room. It’s proactive rather than reactive and adds a nice human touch to a normally difficult

6:15 AM Oct. 7 1999:

I pulled my car into the parking lot of St. Vincent’s Hospital. After locking up, I grabbed a few things and walked to the patient admitting building. Within minutes a nurse arrived. She took me to a small, non-descript green/gray room. It had a single bed with a gray tinge to it and drab gray wraparound curtains. She handed me a bag, the same color as the room. It looked like the hospital-purchasing agent had gotten a deal on color during some one-stop shopping. Along with the bag came that lovely green backless gown. You would think by now there’d be a better design. Have you ever tried to tie the little string on the back into a bow? It’s virtually impossible. Finally, I was together and ready…well somewhat.

As I lay on the sanitized rubber bed my mind raced. It played the “what if” game. “What if I don’t make it?” “what if I don’t come to?” My anxiety level was ratcheting up. As if on cue, an intern walked in to take my blood pressure. I was told it was rather high, but considering the circumstances, that was understandable. A friend of mine had sent me a tape. According to Doctor Herb Benson (from Harvard’s Life Science, Mind, Body Medical organization, a noted authority on stress), listening to his techniques and applying a series of recommended breathing
techniques would help lower my anxiety. Dr. Benson suggested listening to the audio the night before my surgery and then again before entering the operating room. I had suggested listening to the tapes while driving to St. Vincent’s, to which Herb suggested absolutely not. I gathered from his reaction that listening while driving was not such a good idea. So I followed his advice.
The soft, calming words followed by breathing slowly and rhythmically through my nose then exhaling slowly from my mouth seemed to work. The process became somewhat hypnotic
and eventually very relaxing; it created a real feeling of serenity.

The intern came back for yet another test. This time my blood pressure was lower. He actually asked if I was given a sedative. When I told him no he was surprised. Herb’s techniques had
really worked. To be honest, I thought the whole tape thing was going to be a bunch of B.S. But I actually felt confident as I was rolled into surgery. Thank you Doctor “B”.

Just before I left my little gray cube, a nurse took my bag and belongings. Now I was given a real sedative. Groggy and slightly disoriented, I was wheeled down green/gray hallways, staring at fluorescent ceiling lights, a nurse in front guiding the bed and one at my head pushing, everything in slow motion. As we arrived outside the operating room, the doors electronically opened and a blast of the Arctic hit me. (The temperature in the room was much colder than the hallway). I also noticed that everyone was dressed in green gowns and masks; a real surgical fashion show. The sedative was now taking more of an effect. Just trying to say a few words was difficult. The sounds that came out were slow, labored and awkward. Each letter took forever to say. Everyone’s movements were slurred. Their speech came from a tunnel.

The IV that hung from an aluminum post at the side of the gurney had several plastic bags attached to tubing that extended downward into my arm. An anesthesiologist seemed to be
smiling behind a green mask. He asked if I was feeling OK. Before I could get a word out my
world turned hazy. Then there was nothing.

I began to stir in what seemed like nanoseconds. Doc Rose had warned me about coming to: “Your hands will be gently tied down at your side.” I was on a breathing apparatus and my first reaction was to yank it out. My secured hands prevented that. My eyes blinked several times as I became aware of my surroundings. Pain emanated from every fiber of my body.
Panic started to set in. I remember what they had said and tried to relax. Then the room and everything in it went dark.

I’m not sure how long it was but my eyes blinked again, slowly. The same feelings rushed back. My hands were still tied and I started to have that panicky feeling. I still couldn’t breath through my mouth. The apparatus was continuing to breath for me. I couldn’t move. God, the pain was non-stop. The nasal gastric tube in my nose and mouth made my throat dry and raw.
It was impossible to swallow. Voices said, “You’re in recovery. The surgery was successful.”
I saw a very blurry vision of my daughter, Tracy, and then Patty. They were fuzzy. I was hurting, everywhere. I couldn’t talk though I tried. Tubes were attached to virtually every orifice of my body, including some places where there were no openings. There was a tube in my neck and I’m quite sure there was no opening there. I desperately needed something to ease the rawness in my throat. The tube was causing an extremely painful irritation. Ice came to the rescue. The cold melting liquid hit the raw area and it felt like never before. Then a shot of morphine released into the IV tube and I slowly floated back under.

As I came to again, still very groggy, nurses were removing the breathing tube. It wasn’t painful at all; I just had a weird sensation that something was being taken out of my body, through my mouth, like a garden hose being removed from my stomach. The feeling could best be described as getting onto a moving bus through the windshield. But my hands were no longer tied and my eyes were focusing a little better. Ice was continuing to ease the rawness in my throat. My chest, however, felt like someone had just landed a 747 on it. Dr. Rose had performed four bypasses, taking three veins from my left leg and one mammary artery. Three veins through three one-inch lateral incisions. One just below the left knee, another slightly above it and a third
near the groin. The procedure was relatively new. It took longer because each vein had to be delicately extracted through small openings. Two years prior and the incision would be made below the knee and extend to the groin. It was susceptible to infection and the recuperation time was much longer. Still, many surgeons continued to use this procedure.

I was really hurting. I didn’t want to shift my weight in bed or even breathe deeply. However, the recovery team wanted me to sit up and, if I could, stand. Helping hands came from all
directions to assist in my sitting and standing. God I was dizzy. Everything began to spin. My stomach was starting to erupt, my muscles ached. I was nauseous and loaded with gas; not a good combination for sitting on the edge of the bed. I really didn’t want to move, let alone stand up. As I got to edge of the bed, with all my tubes, wires and monitors attached, it dawned on me again: my ass was hanging out. I didn’t really care anymore. Then I erupted. A projectile of water flew in every conceivable direction. The team got the message. I wasn’t standing tonight.
I placed my head on the rubberized pillow. It felt great. Things stopped spinning. Twisted in wires and tubes, IV swinging in every direction and totally soaked from my eruption, I was wiped out. The end of Day One.

Day Two was a different story; not that I was full of piss and vinegar, mind you. I was far from it. It’s just that the second day felt much better than the first. There were far less tubes to
contend with, breathing was my responsibility, not the machine’s, and the anesthesia was pretty much winding down, though not completely. My eyes were focusing better even though my day had started at 5:30 AM. I was able to recognize more of what was happening and I was getting to know my surroundings. And as an added bonus, I had a new toy: An oxygen bottle with a tube that attached to my nose. This contraption was the size of a big thermos. It carried a warning, printed in large red letters: “Combustible/ Flammable.” It advised me that anyone within a three-block radius should not smoke or light any combustible material, unless they would like to experience a rather large and noisy mushroom cloud. I then noticed a
rectangular bandage that spanned my entire chest. It was approximately 4 inches wide and covered the incision, among other things.

After a series of blood tests, pokes and prods, breakfast arrived. The tray held six dishes containing more sugar than I’d seen in years: whole milk, juice, sugarcoated cereal, Jell-O, fruit and coffee (with sugar). The nurse advised me that this was OK. They were monitoring my sugar levels very closely and would give me insulin if the levels got too high. This breakfast had the capacity to blow the lid off the insulin bottle. Confident in her guidance, I dug in and devoured everything. Afterwards, I lay back and relaxed. Then it was time for another blood test. Leno, a young intern, stopped by and introduced himself. He had just passed his written medical exam and was waiting for an appointment to take the verbal portion. When this part was completed, Leno would fulfill a life long dream and become a doctor. I didn’t realize it at the moment but I was one lucky camper. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to help me along the recovery path.

His first instruction to me was: “Let’s stand and then take a few steps.” Fat chance! I was still dizzy. Leno said it was the effects of the anesthesia. It was giving me a feeling of seasickness. He left and returned a moment later with a little blue pill. “We’ll be ready to go in ten minutes.”
He was right; in no time at all I was sitting on the side of the bed and nothing was spinning. In a few more minutes I was standing, aching, wobbling, ass hanging out, my IV hooked up and in hand, pulling my oxygen bottle attached to a wheeling apparatus, ready to go. One foot placed in front of the other (not an easy task), and with Leno keeping me balanced, we strolled down the 6th floor hallway, ass out and all.

I felt great. Walking a few steps was an accomplishment, especially the morning after major
bypass surgery. It’s amazing how your world becomes reduced to a few tiny steps. Little things really matter. At that point, thoughts of accomplishing anything larger took a back seat; they
just weren’t important. After what seemed like a very lengthy walk, I was back at bed, exhausted. A stuffed little teddy bear was there to greet me. He came with a note. Clearly, he had a purpose, and it centered on my recovery. “TAG,” - the bear’s name and my daughter’s initials- was there to make sure I performed a series of directives. I was to squeeze him against my chest, breath deeply and cough. This was to break up the mucus congestion in my lungs. Much easier said than done, of course.

My first attempt was wimpish; it hurt like Hell. To help me there was a gray (again with the color discount) cylinder, a breathing apparatus, made of plastic. It had a tinyball, the size of a marble, inserted, so when I exhaled the ball ascended to the top of the tube. After exhaling deeply 10 times into the tube I felt the mucus start to break up. I quickly grabbed TAG and squeezed him tightly, then coughed. The congestion broke up. TAG’s instructions were to complete this process 5 to 6 times daily or more. All day long it was bing, bing and a cough. It was the new version of marbles for adults, mostly men. On night two sleep came easily. I was totally worn out from walking the hall and the marble game. Dinner was off the sugar chart again and I needed another insulin shot. My ass really hurt. They also reduced my pain medication to 4 little beauties. I saw how one could easily get addicted. They really packed a wallop and got you to a state of ‘I don’t care’ in no time at all.

On Day Three, 5:30 AM arrived quickly again, as did the blood tests, needles and temperature gauges. The night crew put together their report and had to make sure they prodded, poked
and stuck me before leaving. They also happened to be a great bunch and really professional. After they completed their procedures, I found there was not much to do. I was totally awake and sore. I was glad to have TV but the programming sucked at that hour. I think there should be a channel just for hospital patients at 5:30 AM, considering all the baby boomers and their illnesses and such. There would be a captive audience with nowhere to go, nothing to do.
Breakfast arrived at 7:30 AM with more calories and sugar than dinner. I had been told I needed to build up my strength. My glucose levels were high (180/220) and insulin shots became the order of the day. My weight was down to 200 lbs.

I was feeling much better and ready to stroll again with my IV and oxygen bottle when a resident appeared and informed me that today was drain removal day. The large bandage spanning my chest and covering the incision also covered three drain tubes inserted during surgery. They were located about three inches apart directly below my rib cage; their purpose was to remove the fluids that had been accumulating there. The tubes were plastic and hidden beneath the 4X8 bandage. They really didn’t hurt and only one-third of the tubing was visible. Rachel, the resident, slowly and meticulously removed the tape. As I watched Rachel work, I asked her what I could expect in terms of pain. Without lifting an eyebrow she said: “I promise it’ll be quick, so take a deep breath when I tell you, and yes, you will feel pressure.” As the bandages were removed exposing the vials, I noticed they were all connected by a single piece of tubing. Rachel looked at me. “Are you ready?”

I felt her yank the connecting tube. The sensation was indescribable. Pressure was an understatement. It felt like someone took a vacuum cleaner hose and inserted it into my
body cavity under the ribs, then sucked out the insides. My mouth opened and all the air in the room was sucked in. Then the whole room turned white. I felt like I was losing it and falling into
a white hole. My tear ducts opened and water flowed down my cheeks; at the same time wax came out of my ears. Slowly, I came back into the now. Rachel was holding a torturous-looking
device. Each tube was approximately 6 inches long, covered with blood and attached to a single drain tube. She blurted out: “I’m sorry, but there was no other way to describe it beside

As I managed to take a breath, I suggested she tell her next victim that it’s like having your insides sucked out by an Electrolux. Needless to say, my walk was delayed until I could
determine that my ass was still attached to my body. And, sure enough, it was hanging out the back of my green dress. The walking and rehabbing soon became easier. My 6th floor strolls were longer, faster and unassisted. My cumbersome IV was retired. Now it was my oxygen bottle, my green dress and me. I received a lot of encouragement from the staff and other
patients. I heard remarks like, “keep it up”, “stop it, you’re making us look bad” and “what are you doing, practicing for the marathon?” They all lifted my spirits and pushed me to continue.

I must have been on the road to recovery because it dawned on me I hadn’t taken a shower in 4 days; I was starting to smell ripe. Even the teddy bear was avoiding me. The only thing that
remained constant was the pain. It was a reminder that I just gone through a life-changing event. Doctor Rose stopped by to inspect his handiwork, then explained (in layman’s terms), what he and his team did. He said the procedure was successful and the recycled parts should do very well. From now on it was up to me. Exercise, diet and stress reduction were a priority and my progress would depend on how diligent I was at executing his directives. I didn’t hesitate to ask him if there was a lifetime guarantee and if so, could I get it in writing? Doc Rose smiled and said: “If you take care of yourself these parts will last a long time, in fact they
should last your entire life.”

He also had more good news: I would be going home later that day; Day Four. As he waved goodbye, I thought back to what this man had done in just four days: sawed open my chest, split my ribcage, removed four large veins (including a mammary artery), surgically grafted them to my heart, sewed me back up and said: “Go home!”

It was inconceivable.

I was taking a shower when Patty came to get me. She had taken care of the paper work and billing details. As I was getting into my street clothes, I was still wondering why that damn green dress was backless. It had to be that it was an easy bull’s eye for needles. I walked to the elevator and out the first floor door into a bright sunlight autumn day. Thank God there was no mandatory wheelchair with escort; standard operating procedure in years past. I took a long deep breath of the crisp air, just as doctor “B” had suggested. God it felt great to be alive. I strolled though the patient parking lot holding a teddy bear with a grin on my face a mile long. I wasn’t going to drive today and probably wouldn’t for some time. However, knowing that I was on my way home with Patty made me feel terrific and very fortunate.

It would take a month to recoup at home before I could think about going back to work. All the time I would walk, starting with a mile, then two and eventually getting to four and five. I added
some weight training to my weekly schedule and my diet, well, like most things, it could have been better and is still a work in progress. My weight is 188 lbs. I’ve been able to keep that extra 22 pounds off by taking better care of myself. And as far as stress is concerned, I solved that; I retired three years after the bypass. Thirty-five years at one company was long enough.
In today’s business world I would be considered a dinosaur and they eventually became extinct.

I am truly grateful to have a family that cares and that I love deeply. I’m grateful to have a friend and doctor like Steve Michaelson, to have had a skilled surgeon like Doctor Dan Rose
perform his magic on me, to have Doctor Herb Benson and his tapes to aid me and help reduce my stress levels and to have a resident like Leno be my guide to recuperating (I sincerely hope
he is the doctor he always dreamed he would be).

I am fortunate. If I were diagnosed with heart disease years ago, I would not be typing on these pages. Life is too short and very fragile. It’s the little things we take for granted that make up who we are. We have a tendency to reach for the brass ring and tackle the next big thing, when if we just take care of the little things the big things will take care of themselves. John Lennon said it best: “Life happens when you’re busy doing something else.”

Patty, Dave Tracy…I love you guys!

The results: today Iʼm able to walk and run four to five miles at least four days a week and build stone walls, the old fashion way. I even started a small consultancy firm, attend culinary classes, take courses in photography and video editing, travel extensively and still find time for an occasional round of golf. My weight is where it was when I entered college and the diet is very much improved, although it could use adjustments now and then. Exercise is a regular part of my daily routine and stress, well my resting heart rate is in the mid-fiftyʼs. Given everything that happened I'm one luckily guy. Several years ago you more then likely would not be reading this piece, because I wouldnʼt be here to write it.



Thank you for sharing your heart with us - in every sense of that phrase! May your story inspire each of us this holiday season to live life to the fullest and to express our love and gratitude to the important people in our lives.

God bless.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christmas Wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery - Thanks to a Patriot from Maine

As long time readers of The White Rhino Report are aware, Arlington National Cemetery holds a special place in my heart. I attended the burial of Dennis Hay there when he was laid to rest in 2005.


So, I was thrilled when my friend, David Thistle, a military veteran, made me aware of a heart-warming Christmas tradition of laying wreaths on over 5,000 graves at Arlington.

Here is a quick summary of the tradition, taken from an e-mail that David forwarded to me:

"Christmas at Arlington and one big, American thank-you is certainly due to Merrill Worcester and the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine. To do something like this year after year is above and beyond the call of duty. Here's a salute to you, Merrill, and I hope you get many more."

Arlington National Cemetery

Rest easy, sleep well my brothers.

Know the line has held, your job is done.

Rest easy, sleep well.

Others have taken up where you fell, the line has held.

Peace, peace, and farewell...

"Readers may be interested to know that these wreaths -- some 5,000 -- are donated by the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine. The owner, Merrill Worcester, not only provides the wreaths, but covers the trucking expense as well. He's done this since 1992. A wonderful guy. Also, most years, groups of Maine school kids combine an educational trip to DC with this event to help out. Making this even more remarkable is the fact that Harrington is in one the poorest parts of the state."


The link below shows volunteers laying the wreaths a year ago:


As I visited the Webstie for the Worcester Wreath Company, I learned that L. L. Bean is the largest retail distributor of their wreaths. So, if you buy a wreath from L. L. Bean, you are supporting this worthy tribute to our fallen heroes.

The Website also directed me to a link to an organization called: Wreaths-Across-America. If you are motivated to do something locally to honor those who gave their lives for America, there is information on how you can become involved:


Let us each use the inspiration of Mr. Worcester's generosity to prompt us to make a concrete gesture this holiday season to honor the memory of a warrior or reach out in support to a returning veteran or family of a veteran.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Mini-Review of “Gone Baby Gone”

Boston can boast of many teams operating at the top of their game these days. The Celtics blew out the Knicks last night at The Garden by 45 points! The Pats remain undefeated. The Bruins have won 6 of their last 8 games. BC is in the thick of the BCS Bowl sweepstakes and the New England Revolution made it to the finals of the MLS Cup. But our sports teams are not the only ones working at a high level of artistry and achievement; the brothers Affleck have recently presented Boston with a winner in their film “Gone Baby Gone.” Older brother, Ben, has directed this film with note-perfect fidelity to the feel of Boston’s neighborhoods. Dorchester, Everett and Chelsea are significant “characters” in this morality tale. Younger brother, Casey, best know for his recurring role in the “Oceans 11, 12 and 13” franchise, emerges as a bona fide star in this breakthrough role.

The storyline of this film includes a nicely nuanced ethical dilemma that Affleck’s character must confront. It is a case that probably is not being studied in the Ethics course at Harvard Business School or covered in the CCD classes at St Leo's parish!

The Afflecks are dyed-in-the-wool Red Sox fans, so it is the height of irony that the Red Sox post-season success has hurt box office figures for this fine film. It was released as the Red Sox juggernaut was rolling toward the inevitable final reel of a World Series Championship, so much of this film’s natural audience was otherwise occupied. Most fans were too busy sitting behind the screen at home plate at Fenway or watching their high definition plasma screens filled with images of Sox players romping around the base paths to attend a screening of “Gone Baby Gone.” Now that the trophy is safely in the hands of the hometown baseball team, it is now time to support the hometown team of film makers.

I have the utmost respect for Boston Globe film critic, Ty Burr – a brilliant writer and astute observer of the cinema scene. I cannot improve upon his incisive and insightful review of “Gone Baby Gone,” so I urge you to connect to the link below and read his thoughts on the film. And then I urge you to catch this film while it is still in the theaters or when it is released on DVD. I predict we will hear more from this movie come Oscar nomination time.

Here is a small taste of what Ty Burr has to say:

“Yet it's anchored throughout by an insider's knowledge of this particular street, that specific turn of phrase, this local actor cast in a key bit part. The sag of a three-decker and the sag on the faces of the people who live there.”




Holiday Harmonies at Harvard – Din & Tonics at Sanders Theater, Friday, December 7 at 8:00

Harvard University’s renowned a cappella group, Din & Tonics, will be performing next Friday, December 7 at 8:00 at Sanders Theater, and I plan to be there. I first became familiar with “The Dins” when I heard them sing the National Anthem at a Red Sox game this past baseball season. I am not easily impressed by vocal groups, having pretty high standards. In fact, it is fair to say that I am bit of a musical snob. These guys got my attention, and hit a “homerun” when they stood at home plate at Fenway Park and captivated the pre-game crowd. Ever since that night in Kenmore Square, I have been waiting for an opportunity to go across the river to Harvard Square to hear them perform a full concert program.

Here is how they describe themselves and their style:

“The Harvard Din & Tonics are one of the world's most beloved collegiate a cappella groups. With a repertoire centered on the American jazz standards of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, these 12 Harvard gentlemen - who perform in white tie, tails, and lime green socks - have an enviable reputation for their impeccable musicality, snappy choreography, and hilarious antics. Their music is, unquestionably, a cappella 'with a twist.'

If you are going to be in the Boston/Cambridge area next Friday, I encourage you to join me in drinking in the intoxicating and sensational sounds of the Din & Tonics. For a small taste of their mixings, click on the link below and play their version of “Misty” (or any of the other sample tunes available on their Website).


I look forward to seeing you next Friday. Let me know if you plan to attend so I can look for you.



Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Blue Spaders – Part I of the Militarytimes.com Series on Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment

My friend, Alex Gallo, is finishing his graduate studies at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. A West Point graduate, Alex was deployed as an Army officer in Iraq with the 1-26 IN (1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment). Alex made me aware of a series that is running on www.militarytimes.com on this unit, one of the most decorated of the Army’s units.

I invite you to read Alex’s introduction and then to click on the link. Of particular interest to me is the story told by Staff Sgt. Ian Newland about his difficulties and frustrations in trying to get adequate and compassionate medical care after being wounded in Iraq. His story strikes me as a microcosm of the systemic failures we have been hearing about in terms of the administration and the VA underestimating the scope of the medical care that veterans would need in returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here is Alex’s introduction and invitation:

Please check out this four part series in the Army Times on my old battalion, 1-26 IN out of Schweinfurt, Germany – they just got back from their recent tour in Iraq.

It’s unbelievable what they have overcome especially when you consider that during our OIF II deployment in Samarra, we had our BC, CSM, and S3 fired all on the same day and had a catastrophic attack on our battalion by al-Zaqawi. However, 1-26’s experience is merely a subset of the numerous acts of heroism being executed daily throughout the force.

This series also talks about SPC Ross McGinnis who is likely to be the next MOH from the GWOT. I served in the same company with him. These are truly incredible Soldiers.

The link is below.



Alex Gallo


Thanks, Alex, for the service that you and your brothers have performed. And thanks for making us aware of this series.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

“Bobby’s Best” – We Do the Work So You Can Shop with Confidence

My friend, Bob Glazer, has created a terrific Website that offers his personal “consumer reports” on a variety of products and services. The special holiday edition has just been published and could make your holiday shopping less daunting.

Here is the way Bob describes the purpose of his on-line service:

“Today, buying even the most standard household and lifestyle products can be overwhelming. Who's got time to research, compare and price match? Don’t you wish you had someone that would just tell you the best product to buy or the best service to use? Bobby's Best is your unbiased source for everyday product research and buying tips. We get to the heart of what's good & bad, we won't bore you with comparing all the minor details of products and services. We also find deals and coupons to save you money on our recommendations.”


Bob tells me that the most popular page, by a wide margin, is this special offer for holiday photo cards




A Portrait of a Fallen Soldier and His Family – Kaziah’s Painting of LT Robert Seidel III

Readers of The White Rhino Report are already very familiar with the story of Rob “Sly” Seidel, the West Point Class of 2004 graduate who died in Iraq in May of 2006.



The Seidel family recently shared with me a video that lovingly tells the story of a painting of Rob that was painted by a woman in Utah. Kaziah Hancock has donated her skills as an artist to paint portraits of American’s fallen heroes – those who have died in combat. Rob’s mother, Sandy, tells of how perfectly Kaziah captured the essence of Rob in getting his eyes just right in the portrait that she sent to the Seidel family as a gift. Rob’s dad, Bob, shares his feeling that the portrait reminds the family they the nation is mourning with them the loss of Bob and Sandy’s son and Stephen’s brother.


It is fair to ask the questions: “Why am I sharing this information with the readers of The White Rhino Report, and what do I expect as a response from those who take the time to watch the video?”

I share this information because of the truth of the Honduran proverb:

“Grief shared is half grief; Joy shared is double joy.”

By sharing in the grieving of the Seidel family – and the thousands of families who have lost loved ones in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan – we take a small portion of their grief upon ourselves, and by celebrating and honoring with them the remarkable character of Rob – and those like him who have died while serving their country – we add to the joy and the pride that they feel in the fine son they raised.

What do I expect? I do not want readers to respond in a maudlin way or a self-absorbed way. The ideal response would be to find a personal way to take a concrete step in helping a wounded warrior or the family of one who has given his/her life. Kaziah was moved to give of her art. I would hope that we would all pause for a moment and ask: “Is there something I can do as an individual that would be helpful and healing to one person or to one family?

Not everyone can paint a portrait, but we each have the capacity to add a “brush stroke” of a letter written, a memorial gift made to a scholarship find, a job interview granted to a veteran or a visit to a hospital or rehabilitation center. Take a moment to reflect, and I am confident that you will know what you can do. And in acting, we each add our own gilded frame around the portrait of Lt. Rob Seidel and his brothers and sisters in arms.

God bless.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Counting My Blessings – A Thanksgiving Greeting

Bing Crosby sang a song (I think he may also have written the song) that has been rattling around inside my head for over 50 years. I often think of that song during this time of year.

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

We have a lot to be thankful for, so as I prepare to drive to Maine to share Thanksgiving with family, let me enumerate some of the blessings I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving season.

  • God’s love and blessings
  • A wonderful family and extended family scattered as near and as far as New Hampshire, Maine, Virginia, Florida, California, Romania and Poland.
  • A vast network of friends in virtually every one of our 50 states and dozens of nations.
  • The opportunity to work in a profession that gives me great joy and satisfaction
  • The client companies and candidates that make my work such a delight
  • The men and women who serve in our armed forces – both at home and abroad
  • The privilege of living in a country that gives me the freedom to enjoy all of the above
  • The opportunity to live in Boston – one of the greatest cities in the world!
  • The joy of being a Boston sports fan at a time when the Boston Red Sox are World Series Champions, the New England Patriots are undefeated, the Boston Celtics are setting the standard for excellence in the NBA and even the Bruins are winning more than they are losing!
  • The chance to share with readers of The White Rhino Report my thoughts, opinions and observations.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Don’t forget - before you fall asleep tonight - to count your blessings.

God bless!


A New White Rhino Report Feature: Spotlighting a Veteran in Transition – Michael Aldred

On this day before Thanksgiving, I cannot thank of a better way to say “Thank you” to the men and women who serve in our armed forces than by helping them to find appropriate work when they return from defending our nation as soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines. Therefore, with this posting, I am launching a new feature that will periodically highlight a man or woman who has recently served and who is looking for an opportunity to deploy their skills and experience in a private sector job.

I am delighted to lead off this series with Michael Aldred of Franklin, Massachusetts. Michael has just concluded a 20-year career with the United States Marine Corps, where he most recently served as a Chief Warrant Officer-3. His areas of specialization included Project Management, Personnel Management, Logistics and Transportation. He has earned a B.S. in Management from the University of Maryland, where he consistently appeared on the Dean’s List.

I asked Michael to share with me a story from his days as a leader among Marines. I am pleased to share that story with you.

After checking into my new unit as a new Warrant Officer my boss assigned me as the senior Embarkation Officer for a war game training exercise with our Korean counterparts. After 6 weeks of living in the isolated, rural, barren camp in the Korean city of Pohang, a relatively short distance from North Korea, we anxiously awaited our departure to home cooking and warm showers. A nice soft bed was a scant memory at this point. It had become crystal clear why my bosses were conveniently unable to attend, making me the senior Transportation Officer in country, as a brand new Warrant Officer. It’s funny, but looking back they never missed our Hawaii and Hong Kong exercises!

Two days before our departure our global tracking system showed our departure flights home being cancelled. Something about President Bush’s unscheduled trip diverting Air Force planes away from us. This was not good news…not the type of scenario I had dreamed up for my initial briefing to the Commanding General. The last thing my budding career prospects needed was being the bearer of bad news, so I went to the grizzled, hard-lined, steely-eyed Commanding General’s living quarters and prepared the joyful news of the unexpected delay, especially since the training operation with our Korean counterparts had ended. I went in there with apprehension and left with a clear, concise mission statement, “Get my unit home!”

We immediately went to work and contacted any available flying units in the area; I spoke to a Navy Commander in Guam, an Air Force Major in Japan, and any and all Marine squadrons. We finally reached an Air Force liaison officer who related to the pain of being stuck in Korea. Within 24 hours, at the expense of a tremendous amount of paper work and coordination, we had a commitment from the Air Force to fly four small airplanes round-robin to get all 2,000 people home. Our return home was on tactical noisy cramped airplanes that could only take fifty passengers at a time.

A huge difference from the large comfortable civilian contracted planes we had arrived in. We then prioritized every single passenger and over the next several days we flew everybody home, I become the most popular travel agent on that first flight out of town…Oh yea, that intimating General stopped by my tent with his entourage on the way out and gave me a nod of approval. He said nothing, but did not have to. I felt a huge sense of satisfaction with the work my team had accomplished.

Michael Aldred is clearly someone who knows how to take responsibility and find a way to get the job done. He is currently in the midst of a job search in the Boston area. He is looking for a chance to serve his next employer as loyally and as faithfully as he served the USMC. If you know of a company that could use someone with Michael’s experience, skills, initiative and character, please contact me and I will be happy to put you in touch with him.

Michael, thank you for your service to our nation.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Review: “In the Company of Soldiers – A Chronicle of Combat” by Rick Atkinson

I can tell when an author has reached out and grabbed me by the throat when I become so engrossed in reading a book that I miss my stop on the subway! Last evening, while poring over the last few pages of “In the Company of Soldiers,” I just barely noticed that the doors of the Orange Line car were about to close at Downtown Crossing – my stop to transfer to the Red Line heading to my home in Quincy. Charles Dickens has the ability to pull me into his stories with that kind of rapt attention; so does Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Atkinson.

My friend, Kevin Kalkwarf, a West Point grad and Black Hawk pilot, suggested that I read “In the Company of Soldiers.” Thanks, Kevin, for the recommendation. In 2003, as the U.S. prepared for the invasion of Iraq, Washington Post journalist, Rick Atkinson, was embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Atkinson was personally assigned to shadow the 101st Commanding General, David Petraeus. The resulting book paints for the reader one of the most vivid and insightful pictures yet of the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The writer not only was able to look over the shoulder of Petraeus as the 101st traveled from Ft. Campbell Kentucky to Kuwait and then on to Baghdad, he was also able to peer into the general’s soul. As a result, I found that this book had a dual impact on me. At one level, Atkinson allowed me to grasp some sense of the hardship that our soldiers have endured in fighting in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. In reading some of the passages in this book, I could almost smell the pungent odors of Najaf and Karbala and almost choke on the ubiquitous sand and dust that insinuates itself into every crevice and orifice. At another level, I was glad for the intimate portrait of Petraeus, the man that many of us are counting on to lead us somehow out of the labyrinth that Iraq has become.

Atkinson’s writing is so good that I feel compelled to let him speak in his own words. Here he describes the scene at Camp New Jersey, a way station in Kuwait that the 101st called home while awaiting orders to invade Iraq.

“Yet a desolate, edge-of-the-empire beauty obtained. As Dwyer and I walked, dawn spread over the eastern horizon in a molten brew of orange and indigo, silhouetting the wooden guard towers. Platoons ran wind sprints across the desert or jumped about in calisthenic exuberance. The cuffs of the troops’ desert boots were indelibly inked with their blood types, a legion of Os and As and A-positives. A soldier ambled past with a grenade launcher on his shoulder, singing in a sweet falsetto: ‘Sha-na-na-na, good-bye!’ I fancied that in its remote, martial spirit this encampment was of a piece with the Roman outposts, perhaps ancient Timgad in North Africa, built by the Third Legion in A.D. 100, where a traveler described the scuffing cadence of Trajan’s soldiers helmed in bronze, and ‘barbarians from the outer desert in paint and feathers flitting along the narrow byways.’(Pages 79-80)

One of the aspects of this book that I found most compelling was Atkinson artistry in connecting the Iraq of the 21st century to the Mesopotamia of biblical times and of ancient glories. The following passage is an excellent example of his giftedness in bridging these disparate worlds:

“Chickens scattered into the brush as Warlord 457 [Petraeus’ helicopter] and our two Kiowa bodyguards carefully threaded the telephone wires and touched down on a two-lane blacktop a few hundred yards from where the car bomb had detonated this morning. Objective Jenkins, as the Army called this place, occupied the western bank of the Euphrates, fourteen miles north of Najaf. The road continued another eight hundred yards, the crossed the last bridge spanning the river before a great south-flowing fork in the Euphrates. Beyond the bridge lay the town of Kifl. In this place the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, humorless and God-besotted, had preached to the Jews during their Babylonian captivity in the sixth century B.C., foretelling the restoration of Israel. The 3rd ID [Infantry Division] recently had battled through Jenkins and into Kifl, and I spotted a couple dozen dead Iraqis in body bags stacked under the palms. Here, at least, the corpse traffic still thrived. . . . At 1:35 P.M., a convoy of five Humvees came down the road, trailed by a Bradley. [Lt. General William Scott] Wallace climbed out with Major General Buford C. Blount III, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division. For half an hour they stood on the road with Petraeus and studied their maps. Blount was keen to plunge on toward Baghdad, but Wallace insisted that he wait until all three of the 3rd ID infantry brigades were gathered above Najaf; only today was the 82nd Airborne supplanting Blount’s 3rd Brigade at Samawah, where Army intelligence estimated that five hundred entrenched diehards were coercing another fifteen hundred Iraqis to fight through executions and extortion.

I heard the dull crump of a mortar round detonate on our side of the Euphrates. A minute later Army 105mm howitzers barked in reply, dumping fifteen or twenty counterbattery rounds across the river.

Wallace drove off with his entourage. We reboarded the Blackhawk and angled east before swinging south. The lovely green ribbon of the Euphrates scrolled past Kifl, which lay badly smashed on the far bank. Ezekiel’s tomb stood somewhere in that desolation. ’There was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to bone.’ The prophet had written. ‘And the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army.’” (Pages 197-199)

Atkinson shares a poignant litany that became an almost predictable exit line whenever Gen. Petraeus would end a conversation with the journalist. The commanding general would wonder out loud: “How does this end?” His thoughtful query becomes even more significant in light of his promotion and the fact that he now holds in his hands the reins for determining how the U.S. military on the ground in Iraq will extricate itself from the quagmire. He is a significant player in determining how it will end.

Atkinson saw the soldiers of the 101st in all kinds of conditions and under the most extreme of circumstances. He eavesdropped on their decision-making, their laughter, their frustrations and their fears. On the day he flew back to Kuwait to return to the U.S., part of him felt as if he were abandoning comrades in arms. His respect for the leadership of Petraeus is heart-felt and well-earned. “His pragmatism and broad peacekeeping experience in Haiti and Bosnia had prepared him for the thankless work of a proconsul in the American imperium.” (Page 294)

The writer’s admiration for all the soldiers he had come to know comes through loud and clear in this valedictory: “The division’s soldiers had done well, demonstrating competence and professionalism. Capably led – the division’s brigade commanders and two assistant division commanders were uncommonly excellent – they took hardship in stride and refused to let bloodlust, cynicism, or other despoilers of good army cheat them of their battle honors. They were better than the cause they served, which would soon be tarnished by revelations that the casus belli – that Iraq posed an immanent, existential danger to America and its allies – was inflated and perhaps fraudulent. If the war’s predicate was phony, it cheapened the sacrifices of the dead and living alike. Yet such strategic nuances were beyond the province of soldiering, and I believed it vital not to conflate the warriors with the war.” (Page 294)

This fine book brings the non-combatant reader as close as possible to the rigors of the modern battlefield, and leaves one with a renewed sense of admiration for those who fight and serve. Atkinson has handled well the trust that was placed in him, and we are all enriched by his thoughtful response to the time he spent in the company of soldiers.