Friday, February 26, 2010

Mini-Review of "Waiting on a Train - The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service"

Trains have always played a significant role in my life. Growing up in a working class neighborhood in Newburyport, MA (hard to imagine, given the town's current real estate prices!)), we had a spur track of the Boston & Maine Railroad running through our backyard. The train moved slowly enough over the old tracks that the kids in the neighborhood would often jump on the freight cars and ride them for several miles. My first symbolic dream as a very young child involved a vividly clear image of a steam locomotive merging with a diesel locomotive as they converged from opposite directions on the track that ran past our neighborhood. I would have been about six or seven years old when the last steam locomotive on our branch of the B&M gave way to progress and diesel power. As a kid, I had the obligatory electric train set - first the triple tracked scale, and eventually a small N-gauge layout. My final year of college, I paid tuition and living expenses by working as a switching foreman in the West Chicago yards of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad.

As an adult, I was able to bring my family with me on a three-month trek by train from London to Kiev. I have logged many thousands of miles on the railroads of the former Soviet Union, Romania, Hungary, Serbia and beyond. So, clearly I have a special affinity for railroads. James McCommons book, therefore, attracted my attention when I first learned of it. This book is not a nostalgic look back at the "good old days" of passenger rail service in America. It is a very carefully reasoned and meticulously researched analysis of the current state of railroading in the U.S. and some very practicable suggestions for the future.

Michael Dukakis, former Vice-Chair of the Amtrak Board of Directors has written about this book: "This is a must read for anybody who cares about the transportation future of this country." I have had opportunities to speak with Governor Dukakis in the past about issues relating to Amtrak, so I personally know him to be both knowledgeable and passionate about our need to seize the potential for this country to more fully embrace the benefits of passenger rail service.

I echo the words of Governor Dukakis and encourage you to read this book. McCommons has done a great service to those of us who care about adding reliable and efficient rail travel to the menu of transportation choices in the U.S. - as well as for those who have not yet embraced the need for passenger rail service to be more widely available and efficiently operated. I think you may have his arguments convincing and compelling.

All aboard!



Mini-Review of "Every Day in Tuscany" by Frances Mayes

Almost twenty years ago, the publication of Frances Mayes' "Under the Tuscan Sun" signaled the dawn of a new era in the perennial love affair between American travelers and all things Tuscan. This month, she continues her string of fascinating memoirs with "Every Day in Tuscany - Seasons of An Italian Life."

I am one of those Americans who has fallen under the spell of Tuscany - Firenze, Siena, Chianti, the Ponte Vecchio, the three versions of Michelangelo's David that can be found within Florence, the Duoma, the Uffizi. I absorbed the sights, sounds and flavors of this book with great gusto. If, after reading Mayes' latest offering, you are not tempted to book a trip to Italy this summer, then I will be surprised.

The structure of this latest memoir is set between the bookends of Mayes' arrival with her poet husband, Ed, in Cortona for their annual season in Tuscany at her beloved villa of Bramasole and their departure for their winter home in North Carolina. In her chronicling of the intervening months, she leads her readers down a leisurely path that introduces them to some of the colorful characters in town, her life-embracing neighbors, the kitchens of some of the best cooks in the world, and the vineyards and olive groves of the surrounding hillside towns.

Another thread that weaves together her meandering narratives is her love for the paintings of Luca Signorelli. She and Ed visit many Tuscan towns to have another look at some of her favorite Signorelli paintings and frescoes. Spicing up the pages of each chapter are recipes that Mayes has gleaned from treasured Italian friends, and words and phrases from the colorful Italian language. Her use of these phrases is wonderfully instructive, rather than intrusive.

She describes in loving detail some wonderful places I look forward to visiting - townsal like Urbino, Citta di Castello, Sansepolchro, Umbertide, Perugia.

When she first made the investment in the crumbling Bramasole, Mayes was regrouping after a divorce. The town folks embraced her - but cautiously. Along the way, there have been occasional indications that she was still viewed as an outsider. But the anecdotes she shares in this latest memoir make it clear that as a byproduct of her investment in the community of Cortona - and in her serving an evangelist for the ethos and frame of mind that is Tuscany - the Tuscans have now embraced her wholeheartedly as a valued member of the community and family. She describes the subtle growth and evolution of her own mind set about Tuscany - its people, its foods, its wines, its history, its joys and challenges.

This book is a total delight - like a warm and comforting taste of freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil. I encourage you to read it if you love Tuscany - or are open to being seduced by its multi-sensory beauty and charming homeliness.




Monday, February 22, 2010

A Must Read - "Start-Up Nation " by Dan Senor and Saul Singer

Almost exactly a year ago, my phone rang. "Hi, this is Dan Senor. I am writing a book about the impact of the military on the economy of Israel. I was told that as part of my research, I needed to talk with you. Is this a good time for a conversation?" And so began my involvement with the watershed book, "Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle."

Dan Senor was told to contact me - not because I know anything about the Israeli economy - but because I have strong opinions about how American military veterans are impacting - and will in the future impact - the U.S. economy. Senor and his collaborator, Saul Singer, have written a book that I now consider a "must read" for anyone who has an interest in innovation and entrepreneurship. By almost any reasonable metric, the Israeli economy has emerged as the most innovative in the world. This book explains the complex reasons behind this unlikely success story.

Using carefully reasoned argument and convincing case studies, Senor and Singer tell a compelling story about the unique qualities that allow Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) veterans to perform at a very high level in the business world. Some of the factors that they describe in detail involve the process by which promising Israeli high school students are selected and trained for elite military units, the unique sense of camaraderie that develops within those units and perpetuates through years of military reserve service, the willingness to challenge authority, and the sense of urgency that is part of every day life in Israel.

Early in the book, the authors compare these characteristics with the U.S. military:

"Former West Point professor Fred Kagan concedes that Americans can learn something from the Israelis. 'I don't think it's healthy for a commander to be constantly worrying if is subordinates will go over his head, like they do in the IDF,' he told us. 'On the other hand, the U.S. military could benefit from some kind of 360-degree evaluation during the promotion board process for officers. Right now in our system the incentives are all one-sided. To get promoted, and officer just has to please more senior officers. the junior guys get no input,'" (Page 53)

A culture that embraces an assiduous commitment to thoroughly debriefing every aspect of performance is a hallmark of Israeli business culture that has its roots in the shared IDF experience of many Israeli entrepreneurs:

"Israeli air force pilot Yuval Dotan is also a graduate of Harvard Business School. When if comes to 'Apollo vs. Columbia,' he believes that had NASA stuck to its exploratory roots, foam strikes would have been identified and seriously debated at the daily 'debrief.' In Israel's elite military units, each day is an experiment. And each day ends with a grueling session whereby everyone in the unit - of all ranks - sits down to deconstruct the day, no matter what else is happening on the battlefield or around the world. 'The debrief is as important as the drill or the live battle,' he told us. Each flight exercise, simulation, and real operation is treated like laboratory work 'to be examined and reexamined [is subjected to] rich - and heated - debate. That's how we are trained'" (Pages 93-94)

Leave it to me to see evidence of Renaissance Men at work and "intersectional thinking" in operation in the way in which Israeli entrepreneurs conduct themselves. Here is one such example:

"I was working on a creative project with an art graduate from Bezalel. He looked the part - long hair, an earring, in shorts and flip-flops. Suddenly a technological problem erupted. I was ready to call the techies to fix it. But the Bezalel student dropped his graphic work and began solving the problem like he was a trained engineer. I asked him where he learned to do this. It turns out he was also a fighter pilot in the air force. This art student? A fighter pilot? It's like all these worlds come colliding here -- or collaborating - depending on how you look at it." (Page 183)

The authors compare the performance of the Israeli educational system, which encouraging vigorous questioning to that of neighboring Arab countries, where rote memorization is the model
for teaching:

"This emphasis on standardization has shaped an education policy that defines success by measuring inputs rather than outcomes. For example, according to a study produced by the Persian Gulf offices of McKinsey & Company, Arab governments have been consumed with the number of teachers and investments in infrastructure - buildings and now computers - in hopes of improving their students' performance. But the results of the recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study ranked Saudi students forty-third out of forty-five." (Page 213)

Israeli focus on outcomes versus the Arab world's emphasis on inputs reminds me of a recent conversation with my friend, USN Vice Admiral (Ret.) Wally Massenburg. While he headed up Naval Aviation, he pushed a paradigm shift within the naval community to begin measuring outcomes rather than inputs, and the result were dramatic. At the end of his career, he had transformed a very tradition-bound part of the U.S. Navy into an entity no known as "Naval Aviation Enterprises."

I have not touched with any detail on the results of my conversation with Dan Senor. He was gracious enough to include several quotations from that interview in one of the book'ss chapter. Those quotation will be the subject of a separate upcoming Blog post.

I have been recommending this book to anyone who will listen. If you have any stake in leading innovation in any form, you will find challenge and inspiration in the pages of this book and in the practices it describe among Israeli start-up companies.



Sunday, February 14, 2010

OK Go - This Too Shall Pass: An Endearing Music Video

I do not recall ever before having offered on this Blog a link to a music video, so today I am plowing new ground. I subscribe to a marvelous site called VSL, or Very Short List. They send out a daily e-mail with a very short blurb about an interesting topic - a book, a film, a video - that might have otherwise escaped your notice.

Very Short List

One of last week's VSL e-mails pointed to a YouTube video of a musical group by the name of OK Go performing with the Notre Dame marching band. All I can say is that it made me smile and is well worth the investment of four minutes of your time.

This Too Shall Pass



Saturday, February 13, 2010

Make Up for Lost Time - Discovering "The Phantom Tollbooth"

A few months ago, I was having a conversation with a friend. Somewhere along the way, something we were discussing reminded him of his favorite childhood book, "The Phantom Tollbooth." He was astonished when he learned that I not only had not read the book, but had never heard of it. I am not sure how, among the hundreds of books I read to my sons over the years, I missed out on the wonders of "The Phantom Tollbooth." He was deeply concerned about this gaping lacuna in my literary experience.

The next time I saw my friend, he smiled and silently handed me a lovingly dog-eared copy of the book. I am so glad. Brilliantly illustrated with line drawings by the incomparable Jules Feiffer, Norton Juster's simple morality tale reads a Pilgrim's Progress for bored children everywhere. Milo, bored with everything in his life, is transported - in the style of C.S. Lewis' wardrobe - through a magic tollbooth to a land where adventures await him and a bevy of memorable characters populate his Herculean challenge of releasing the princesses, Rhyme and Reason from their imprisonment.

When Milo returns to his bedroom, he has learned his lesson and is never again bored. Neither will you be when you read this magical tale.

Juster's clever plays on words are fun. The story is engaging for children and poignant for adults. Anna Quindlen says is best when talking about his classic tale: "I read 'The Phantom Tollbooth' first when I was 10. I still have the book report I wrote, which began 'This is the best book ever.'"

For the eternal child in all of us, this book is food for the soul. Go back and have another taste.


"The Information Officer" by Mark Mills - Calling Humphrey Bogart!

Mark Mills arrived on the literary scene with his bestseller "Amagansett." "The Information Officer" is his third fiction offering. The novel, a period peace set amidst the incessant Axis bombardment of the island of Malta, engaged me enough for me to now want to visit the tiny wind-swept Mediterranean rock.

Mills writes in a voice that has elements of Alan Furst and of Robert Ludlum. I envision a classic film noir made from this story featuring Humphrey Bogart, or at the very least, Ralph Fienes. The tale is a convoluted one of intrigue, espionage, double agents, propaganda and counter-propaganda.

As the embattled Maltese population tries to hold on in the face of relentless German and Italian bombardment, morale is dropping faster than the bombs launched by the Luftwaffe. A string of murders of young Maltese women threatens to tip the scales of loyalty of the islanders, and Max Chadwick, a British officer charged with spinning the news to keep the "natives" from becoming too restless, risks his career and his life to get to the bottom of the murders. Mills adds some spice to the recipe for this saga by giving Max several love interests who complicate his life and the plot of the novel.

I enjoyed Mills writing enough that I now plan to seek out his first two novels and add them to my list of books to read.



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Talent Search - Experienced Warehouse Manager Needed in Eastern North Carolina

Experienced Warehouse Manager Needed

My client is a fast growing and successful wholesale distribution company that is seeking a warehouse manager in eastern North Carolina, in the Tidewater area near Greenville.

If you know of interested and qualified candidates, have them contact me at:



Monday, February 08, 2010

Kathy Lockwood Deserves Rookie of the Year Award for Her Book: "Major League Bride: An Inside Look at Life Outside the Ballpark

I walked into a business meeting early this morning with a book in my hand. For those of you who know me, you will realize that this is a normal state of affairs. But this morning's book was the one the cover of which you see above. One of my friends quipped: "Oh, very nice. Are you getting married - are you about to be a bride?"

Despite the teasing I received from carrying around a book that looks at first blush like a bridal magazine, I boldly recommend this book to men and to women. Kathy Lockwood has done a wonderful job in capturing the nuances of what it means to support a husband who is attempting to carve out a career in baseball.

Skip Lockwood, who spent time with a variety of baseball organizations, including the Milwaukee Brewers, Yankees, Mets, signed in 1979 to pitch for the Red Sox. As a former Sox player, Skip is now a regular signer and a popular figure at Fenway Park's Autograph Alley. Last summer, when I was helping to staff a session at Autograph Alley, I had a conversation with Skip's wife, Kathy, and learned that her book was going to be published in a few months. I had been eager to read it, and was delighted when my copy arrived in the mail a few weeks ago.

This book is not a light weight "puff piece." Kathy Lockwood, a graduate of Regis College in Weston, MA with a degree in English, is an eloquent writer and an erudite commentator on the world of baseball and beyond. I love her writing style and her sense of humor. This is a book that will prove relevant not just to sports aficionados, but to all who contemplate the complex lives of professionals from all walks of life who must learn to juggle stressful careers, uncertain schedules, volatile career paths and the vicissitudes of parenthood. Kathy sets the scene very well in establishing the broad scope of her readership:

"At one time I thought that it was only the wives of professional athletes who were thrust into this protective custody role. I now recognize this same quintessential quality in strong and supportive women from all walks of life. The gift of creating an oasis of serenity has been bestowed on countless families across the country by ordinary women just 'doing what needs to be done at the time.' The military bride whose husband can be deployed at any time, the politician's spouse who needs to maintain a serene presence in her home state as well as entertaining constituents in Washington, D.C., the corporate weekday widow whose husband is constantly traveling, the family of the firefighter who can be sent to 'put out the fires' anywhere at any time, and the wife of the doctor who is constantly managing life-and-death situations all recognize the need to provide a sanctuary for her hero to regroup in the comfort of home." (Page 5)

One of the things that I find delightful in Lockwood's writing style is her ability to weave prose from situations and lyrics of songs that have been meaningful to her. Often, the allusion is subtle and may escape the notice of the casual reader, but that touch adds a layer of elegance and whimsy to her writing that I love. Here is a wonderful example of her distinctive style, taken from the period in the Lockwood's life when Skip was pitching for the Mets and they lived in Greenwich, CT, close enough to make frequent forays into the theater world of Manhattan:

"We were not alone in our obsession with theater. I remember Sandy Swan raving over Ann Reinking's performance in A Chorus Line months before it showed up on everyone's must-see list.

We enjoyed the same singular sensation the night we took our seats in the audience of A Chorus Line for the first time. Still riding high from the afternoon game where the entire fan base of Shea Stadium had given Skip a standing ovation as he entered the game and remained on their feet cheering loudly until the final strikeout, we headed over the 59th Street Bridge and on towards the theater district. As we entered the lobby of the Schubert Theater, it seemed that every eye was turned in our direction. They probably were, but it was not our presence but that of our companions, Tom and Nancy Seaver, that had heads turning. I don't recall the how and the why, but Nancy had become friendly with Anne Reinking, and the incredibly talented dancer had left her four tickets to the night's performance. We had been invited to join the Seavers at the theater even before Skip had saved Tom's game in the last inning that afternoon. Maybe it was my imagination, but it appeared that the entire cast was spotlighting its performance to the gregarious gentleman whose name was synonymous with the Amazing Mets. The play was every bit as entertaining as we had been told, and Ms. Reinking's dancing far surpassed the superlative praise Sandy had given it. As heart-stopping as the theatrical experience had been, the most exciting portion of our evening was just about to begin. The star of the show, Ann Reinking, joined us for dinner after the play. At the time she was in the midst of breaking up with a famous Broadway producer and anxious to leave the drama of the theater behind and share a meal with a few out-of-industry 'normal' individuals. I guess we fell on the fringes of that category." (Pages 139-140)

Ms. Lockwood then goes on to make an apt connection between the fragile world of a Broadway dancer and the fragile career of a baseball player.

"Whenever I hear the refrain of 'Kiss Today Goodbye,' I'm transported back to the days when Skip was given the extraordinary gift to do what he did for love for such a long time." (Page 140)

At the risk of quoting the entire book, let me share one more delicious snippet of the prose that sparkles throughout the pages of this delightful volume. The author loves to weave together clever plays on words. This one caught my eye as she was describing the challenge of a group of Mets' wives facing the national team of Bermuda in a softball tournament on that lovely set of islands in the Atlantic:

"Perhaps a little more practice should be added to our itinerary. We didn't want to embarrass ourselves or the Mets organization. We have to forget about collecting charming little sea shells on the coral sand for the moment. We needed to corral our team to practice improving our softball skills, or we would be shelled ourselves." (Page 154)

This is a book that deserves a broad readership. It will make a great gift - birthday, anniversary, Mothers' Day, Opening Day, etc.

The book can be ordered from the publisher, McFarland:




Saturday, February 06, 2010

More than Football to Think about This Weekend: A Soldier's Story - In Memory of Captain Paul Peña

I guess this is a weekend to think about football - and to not think about football. Within moments of my posting the Blog piece reviewing Jon Krakauer's book about Pat Tillman, I read a sobering e-mail from a friend in Atlanta paying tribute to yet another fallen warrior. He offers a deeply moving reflection about where our thoughts should be this weekend amidst the hoopla surrounding tomorrow's Super Bowl clash between the Saints and the Colts.

Here are the words from Michael G. Boulegeris in tribute to Captain Paul Peña:

"Surely this weekend’s social calendar is crowded with multiple “must-see” events An expected record 100 million viewers will tune in to watch the Super Bowl, perhaps the biggest TV event of the year. CBS should be thrilled. Not only will the recession keep many Americans home to watch the Colts and the Saints, but a massive winter storm will further bolster ratings as many northeasterners stay home glued to their HDTV sets as well. We will be subject to a blizzard of media analysis Saturday through Sunday ranging from critique of football players, $3 million one-minute ads, the host city and whether the halftime show lives up to expectations.

Amidst the parties and gatherings, it seems as though somehow we might pause for perspective, reflect for a moment in time and bend the calendar back 14 days. Which explains why the memory of Paul Peña comes to mind this weekend.

Captain Paul Peña, 27, died on January 19, 2010 in the Arghandab River Valley from wounds suffered from an explosive device. One member of his unit, Sergeant Adam Ginett died along side Peña and five members of the patrol were wounded. Peña was a company commander, assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Ft. Bragg, N.C. He had previously served a 14-month deployment in Iraq where he was awarded a Bronze Star for valor. The favorite son of San Marcos, Texas, Peña graduated from the San Marcos Baptist Academy where he earned the Eagle Scout award and was voted as the “best all around student” by his National Honors Society. Pena graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2004. He was an Army Ranger.

From all accounts, Peña was highly respected by his soldiers. His leadership was marked by a reassuring smile, humility and quiet courage. When questioned why he decided to go out on a “routine” patrol with his company’s soldiers, Lieutenant General Frank Helmick who commands the XVIII Airborne Corps said, “Paul knew exactly where he needed to be, out in front of his paratroopers, leading them through danger.”

His attributes were not limited to bravery, as his soldiers admired Peña’s humanity. SSG Ian Combs, who served with Peña in Iraq, related how during a nighttime firefight Peña maintained his mettle, as tracers lit up and screamed through the darkness. Combs said of his platoon leader, “He always had that secret smile. He'd look at you. He was good like that ... He made sure we came back the same people we were when we left." The uncommon leadership of Peña knew no boundaries. General Helmick noted that Peña forged close relationships with the local Afghan police the Americans were training. When Peña’s unit was assigned a mission in another province, several Afghans said they wanted to quit to follow him.

Leading soldiers was the lifetime dream of Paul Pena. He lived his dream. His devotion to his soldiers was matched by his love for his mother, an elementary school music teacher. SSG Combs observed the close relationship that Paul, an only child, had with his mother, Cecilia, a single mom. Combs said, "He's a seasoned veteran, and you see him turn into a boy again with her. It was beautiful. She was his world. It was obvious to anyone who saw him. He was very protective of her. Before I met her he told me, 'Look man, if you tell any stories, make sure they have a happy ending.'"

Who are the men and woman that serve the nation with such selflessness and honor? What defines their character and goodness? When you have an opportunity, take a few minutes and read the eulogy delivered by classmate Matthew Bodie (“Paul was the best of us all.”). Here is the link:

Paul Peña was buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery last Friday. He was the kind of man who might have been embarrassed for so much personal account in print. But he would have understood the reason for it.

There is a little more to this weekend than the Super Bowl"

* * * * * * *

I followed the link that Michael provided above, and it led me to an eloquent and heart-felt eulogy offered at Capt. Peña's memorial service by his West Point classmate, Capt. Matthew Bodie.

"On behalf of Mike Normand, Cory Wallace, TJ Root, Danny McManus, and everyone else from Paul's West Point family that could not attend this service, I would like to offer our deepest sympathy to Paul's mother, Cecelia. Madre, it is not by choice that these young men could not be here with us today, for they are somewhere far away fighting the very fight that took Paul away from us. I have spoken with each of them, and they each offer their sincerest condolences. I first met Paul on 29 June 2000 at West Point on what is called "Reception Day," or R-Day for those familiar with the institution. This is the infamous day where new cadets are "welcomed" to West Point to the tune getting yelled at and hazed by upperclassmen. Aside from getting hazed and doing push-ups with fellow recruits that I just met, my only other recollection of R-Day was that it relentlessly poured down rain that day, and many times that summer. Perhaps I never realized it at the time, but as I started to forge new friendships with cadets such as Paul, this rain truly foreshadowed that something bad was going to happen to several members of the Class of 2000. Well, unfortunately it is raining once again today, and Paul is officially the 11th classmate of ours to die in action in the past 6 years. The reason that I mention R-Day is because aside from JROTC in San Marcos, R-day back in 2000 was officially the day that Paul began doing what he loved -- serving our nation as a soldier. While the rest of us cadets were scared of the unknown that summer, Paul truly enjoyed every minute of his training. Up until that fateful moment of Paul's death in Afghanistan, Paul was proud to don the uniform each day, and he loved being a soldier more than anything in the world. The Army was truly Paul's home. Through our years at West Point, I can remember sharing just about every memorable moment with Paul. I have vivid memories of Paul from each important event at West Point including Beast, Camp Buckner, Yearling Winter Weekend, 500th night, Ring Weekend, 100th night, and Graduation. One thing that I will never forget about Paul is his unwavering faith in our Lord through the good times and the bad. Anyone who knew Paul, knows that he was a man of faith. As we progressed through West Point together, Paul and I used to go to mass together on many Sundays. I remember that no matter how hard things got, Paul always relied on his faith to help him achieve. While the rest of us found ample time to moan, groan, and complain about how difficult it was, I never once heard Paul complain about how hard things were. Paul had a quiet confidence about himself that I always wished to emulate, but could not. I truly looked up to him because he was the humblest friend I've ever had. Even though Paul didn't exactly graduate at the top of his class, he is truly at the top of the Class of 2004 today when it comes to valor, bravery, and dedication. Not only was Paul dedicated to all of his friends; he was truly dedicated to being the best soldier he could be for his country. Simply put, Paul was the best of all of us. While the rest of us may not have appreciated all aspects of being a soldier such as hard, physical training, and "roughing" it out in the wilderness, rain, cold, and mud, Paul loved it for some strange reason. Anyone who knew Paul knows that Paul loved the outdoors. Paul told me that he dreamed of moving back to Alaska after he retired from the Army. Although I've never been to Alaska, my wife, Megan, and I dreamed of visiting Paul up there someday in the future and experiencing the majesty of the outdoors that Paul loved so dearly. Unfortunately, this dream will never happen because the last time that I will ever get to spend outdoors with Paul was fishing on a lake in Georgia last year before he deployed. Neither of us caught any fish that day. Perhaps this is another sign of what was to come. Like everyone here, I wish that I had cherished the last moments I spent with Paul just a little more. His death was so sudden, and when I first heard of it, I honestly did not believe it. I spent the whole morning of the 20th researching casualty reports and story boards with my Brigade S2 officer down in our vault. I did not fully believe and comprehend it until Paul's cousin, Cristina, called me on the phone to confirm it. Calling Paul's mom that night to offer condolences was the hardest phone call I ever had to make. Paul truly was not only a good soldier, he was a great friend and a wonderful son to Cecelia. My heart truly aches for you, Madre, for words cannot express how much of wonderful son Paul was. Please know that as we try to move forward, all of us who were friends with Paul are here to do anything for you. While our friendship will never take the pain away from losing your son, I sure hope that it will help his spirit live on within each of us. While today is truly the saddest day of my life, I will offer everyone this. We should be proud of Paul, not only for what he accomplished, but for who he was. He was the most humble and loyal friend that I have ever known. He truly was a brother in arms, and a man of faith. His legacy will never be forgotten. I do not have any bad memories of Paul, and I will never forget the good times we shared together. In closing, a wise man once told me that everything happens for a reason. Well, right now, it is hard to think of a good reason for Paul leaving us. However, God works in mysterious ways, and whatever that reason is, I am sure that Paul is in a better place right now. We will all see you soon, Paul. We love you, and we will never forget you."

CPT Matthew Bodie
USMA '04

"Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman" by Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer has a gift for telling stories of extraordinary achievements by remarkable individuals in such a way that those heroes become accessible to the reader and appear as fully-realized human beings. This was the case for me when I read "Into Thin Air" and "Into the Wild." He continues his string of soul-stirring stories with "Where Men Win Glory."

I first learned of the death - the sacrifice - of Pat Tillman in the Sports Illustrated article that told of his decision to leave his job in the NFL to enlist in the Army and fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was so moved that I hung a picture from that copy of SI in my office as a reminder of all those who make similar sacrifices to serve our nation. Little did I know how much more there was to this story. Krakauer's book brings to light the rest of the story of his death by "friendly fire" that has been teased out over the active resistance and obstruction by many in the upper echelons of the Army, Department of Defense and White House. As told by Krakauer, this is a story that makes one proud of Tillman and other heroes who have covered themselves sacrificially in glory. The story also makes one cringe at the ineptitude and mendacity of those who acted less than heroically - on the battlefield and in the comfortable offices back in the Pentagon and in the White House.

The blurb on the back of the book gives an apt overview of this book:

"Pat Tillman walked away from a million-dollar NFL contract to join the Army and became an icon of port-9/11 patriotism. when he was killed in Afghanistan two years later, he became a tool for white House propaganda. Thus a legend was born. But the real Pat Tillman was much more remarkable, and considerably more complicated, than the fiction sold to the public."

If you are anything like I am, reading this book will make you weep and gnash your teeth. Our sons and daughters who step up to go abroad and fight our wars deserve better treatment than that which was given to Pat Tillman, his brother Kevin and others in his unit. The families of those who fall deserve better treatment than that accorded to Tillman's wife and family.

At the end of the day, I reflect on what I want to think and feel as a result of the multiple-layered tragedy that was the death of Pat Tillman and the subsequent cover-up. As I reflect, I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln's parting words as he stood by the gravesite of the thousands who had fallen at Gettysburg as a result of the large-scale fratricide that was our inglorious Civil War:

"But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."



Friday, February 05, 2010

Two Chapters of My Life Collide - Haiti and the 82rd Airborne - Eyes, Ears and Boots on the Ground

If you have been reading this Blog in the past few weeks, you are aware of the fact that my heart is deeply touched by the events transpiring in Haiti. You are also aware, then, that back in the 1970's, I helped to run the small village hospital in the mountains in Fermathe operated by Haiti Baptist Mission. In monitoring the Haiti Baptist Mission website, I learned that members of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division out of Ft. Bragg were helping to evacuate patients from Port-au-Prince to the medical facility in Fermathe.

I became aware that a soldier that I know from his days as a West Point cadet, LT Eric Wong, was among those deployed to Haiti with the 82nd. He and I have been communicating about his team's mission in Haiti - exchanging questions and answers mostly through the wonders of Facebook. When I asked for his assessment of what is currently happening in Haiti, he offered some frank and moving observations, which I share here with his permission:

"Well there are many needs--pretty much everything you can think of. The primary needs are the basic ones: food, water, medical care, etc. In the military, we use SWEAT-MS to evaluate an area, that is sewage, water, electricity, academics, trash, medical, and security. We've established most of the necessary security and medical needs. We are attempting to address the water situation by giving out water, establishing water purification systems, and other means. We also distribute huge bags of rice daily. We are still not close to meeting all of the water and food needs.

Once we leave Haiti, the medical situation will probably dip but be ok. Security will be questionable at best. The sewage situation here is non-existent. People excreting on the streets and sidewalks is a daily and common occurrence, which poses a big sanitation problem. Electricity is in and out throughout the city. If buildings do have power, it is likely coming from a local generator, which is how our hospital is run. As far as I can tell, academics here are non-existent. There are schools, but they don't seem to be running. Most are damaged, completely destroyed, or condemned. Finding motivated Haitian teachers (or any motivated Haitians for any unpaid work) is very rare. Trash is everywhere, period. I don't know if there are trash dumps or even trash collecting companies, but if there are, they are certainly failing. It is evident that some dump trucks have just dumped their trash load in the local water canal (which no longer has water because it is so full of trash). As I said earlier, security will be an issue once the military pulls out. Any Haitian security forces, whether government, police, or contractors, are often corrupt, underpaid (if paid), lazy, and careless. Local security forces will have a very difficult time controlling local gangs and the 7,000 convicts that recently escaped.

From my perspective, it will take a very long term international effort to get Haiti up to a decent living standard. Even before the earthquake, as I'm sure you know, Haiti was the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. And even after the earthquake, it is severely over populated. As the months go on, attention towards Haiti in the international sphere will dwindle and fade, as will hope for any major changes in Haiti. The world's attention span is very short. Other national entities and non-governmental organizations are already pulling out, only three weeks after the earthquake.

I hope some of that helps. Please let me know if I can answer any other questions or give you any information. The prospect of possibly continuing to give aid to Haiti in the long term definitely has my interest. Please keep me in the loop with your plans, and maybe I can help you while I'm here on the ground working with other organizations."

Here is clearly a soldier with a cold and analytical eye and a warm and caring heart. He warns of the danger I wrote about in this space last weekend of "compassion fatigue." Once Haiti falls off of the front page, it must not retreat to the back of our minds.

I have a growing list of individuals who have asked me to keep them in mind for-long projects for rebuilding Haiti and its people's sense of hope. Please let me know if you would like to be added to that list.

Keep praying and giving.

God bless.

Eric, I thank you and your colleagues for your service and for serving as our eyes and ears in Haiti for the moment.


Mini-Review of "The Baroque Cycle" by Neal Stephenson

I first became aware of the writings of Neal Stephenson when a friend suggested that I might enjoy reading "Cryptonomicon." How right that friend was. I would describe Stephenson's style as "Dan Brown with a bawdy sense of humor." He creates complex plot threads, uniting a kaleidoscope of colorful characters - some historical and others merely fanciful - who bump into one another in ever-shifting ways.

To follow my reading of "Cryptonomicon," I discovered that Stephenson had written a long series of books entitled "The Baroque Cycle." I have just finished reading the first two books in the series, "Quicksilver" and "King of Vagabonds." I can't wait to continue reading in the series. The action is set in Europe in 17th century, and takes the reader on a picaresque journey from the London of King Charles, the Amsterdam of Leibniz and a Turkish harem set up as part of the Ottoman siege of Vienna. This is rollicking good fun written with a clever and acerbic voice and wit. If your literary tastes run in these directions, you cannot go wrong in reading Stephenson.



Thursday, February 04, 2010

Get Out the Vote For MyVetwork - Pepsi Cause Competition: Refresh Every Vet

Please make note of the information below from MyVetwork Founder, John Campell, and then follow the link and vote to support MyVetwork's Refresh every Vet program, and send this message to others in your network who want to support our veterans.

Please support MyVetwork and our veterans. Our project “Refresh Every Vet” is in the running to win a $250k grant in the Pepsi Cause Competition. You can vote here. Just one click.

If our project wins–-winners selected solely on number of votes cast--MyVetwork Foundation* will provide crucial resources to vets looking for meaningful jobs and a new future.

Vote now. And as often as you can... throughout February. You can make a difference for our Nation’s servicemen and women and their families.

Kindly forward this to friends, add to your facebook, twitter, myspace pages, and spread the word!

The URL is:

Thank you!


*MyVetwork Foundation is non-profit, non–political 501 c (3) organization.