Posts Tagged ‘military’

The Essential Trust Factor

Monday 21 December 2015 Leave a comment

He said, “You don’t know me from Adam, but here you are out at this time of night, loaning me tools and you don’t know if you’ll see ’em again.” Unspoken was the obvious factor that he was black and I’m white.

“Sergeant, you are in the company of someone I trust. She says you are trustworthy and that’s good enough for me.” Actually, I wish I had said that, because it was the truth. Instead, I filled the silence with standard military verbiage about sergeants trusting each other.

The woman in question was a fellow Christian who told me she admired my ministry in the American military community. She was a pay grade lower and a lot younger. On our tiny installation, the duty fell on her to play hostess for this visiting project coordinator from some higher echelon unit a couple hundred miles away. There was nothing going on between them, I can assure you. It was just one of those crazy things that happens to people. He was driving his own car and she was the navigator, running around to the dozens of small military storage sites scattered around that part of Europe. They were running late and his car broke down near a rail crossing on the edge of some small, quiet little town in the Netherlands where I was stationed.

It wasn’t that far from my house, so when she called me, it didn’t take that long to find them. I brought my tools because he was driving something similar to my own car and I knew about fixing it. We ran diagnostics and determined that his fuel pump was dead. He had no tools and there was no way he could get a replacement that time of night. That meant he would have to wait until the morning, take off the fuel pump and take it to a dealer for a replacement, then put it back on before he hurried to return to his own unit that day. At least his car was in an acceptable spot for someone who had to leave it parked overnight.

So I handed him the necessary tools, a total stranger I had glimpsed only once before while I was doing security checks at our little installation. I knew she was a little uncomfortable escorting him around, being a prim and proper, but lovely petite single gal with long blond hair. She already had a ride coming and he wasn’t too far from his hotel, so I left them there in the darkness at their insistence, unwilling as they were to intrude on my time any further.

We could wish that kind of camaraderie was more common, and we often pretend it exists when it doesn’t. Had it been anyone else with him, I might still have been willing to loan the tools, but with a far higher sense of risk. The young lady’s own office should have been much more involved, but I knew better than to expect that. She was the bottom of the privilege structure in her office. The others felt entitled to insulation from the ragged experiences of us little people, which had a lot to do with why she had made a strong effort to get to know me. We met at the NATO Chapel and my reputation among the regular attenders was better than I deserved — just a sergeant in rank, but very active in the chapel volunteer system.

I did get the tools back through the US military postal system, with a note of thanks and assurance that things had turned out well enough for him. The car part wasn’t all that hard to reach and the new one solved the problem. Given his garrulous manner, I’d be entirely shocked to find he didn’t tell the story to his coworkers. The tools weren’t that expensive, so I could have easily replaced them. It was a risk I might have taken any way, but the young lady’s involvement made me much more comfortable. I wanted to reward her trust by going the extra mile for her where someone else could see it, even if my eloquence at the time was lacking. I’m willing to bet that man got the message.

That trust factor is huge. It’s critical to human nature, and Scripture is loaded with references to it. It’s the final, ultimate currency of human society. Contextual limits notwithstanding, if the promise and fulfillment are a reasonable match, trust grows. Just having a pretty strong sense of consistent boundaries is such a relief to most of us that we can afford to put up with a lot of inconvenience and discomfort on the side. Distrust and fear eat at your soul. Without the assurance of consistent boundaries of trust, we aren’t quite human. We spend entirely too little time and effort trying to understand how trust is wired into the moral fabric of our world.

As a side note, the military demands that kind of camaraderie and trust, but has institutionalized the arbitrary denial of its fruits. That’s what makes US military service so freaking insane. You will learn to trust your buddies individually, but you’ll be ordered to betray them at times, and vice versa. The US military as an institution is filled with some poisonous delusion about how it works. Yet the real thing happens enough that people who manage to adapt never forget, and would gladly find themselves in that environment again, at least on occasion after leaving it. I seriously doubt any of them long for even another nanosecond of time under the bureaucratic madness.

Trusts is fundamental and contextual at the same time; keep your eye on it.

Driving Is Not Fun

Thursday 12 November 2015 2 comments

It was about a three-hour drive to my Dad’s funeral. While I love seeing the countryside out there in the northeastern part of the state — mountains and forests — I was alone and no one could take the pictures. And officiating at the funeral, I also couldn’t take any pictures. However, things went well enough and I managed to say more or less what was in my notes for the eulogy. And I persuaded a couple of folks to add something positive of their own.

Dad had no church out there, and my aunt asked her pastor to come speak a few words. He did the standard Baptist thing, which is fine, because most of those present were also Baptists, if they had any affiliation at all. However, Dad had virtually no friends in that area, just family. We had close to fifty — my siblings, our kids and grandkids, cousins, in-laws, etc. Just about all of us went to the graveside, as well, and we had a pair of very well-practiced US Army Honor Guard troops.

I discovered that, for better or worse, the military honors were quite meaningful to me. Not the business of representing the US government, but the business of ordinary soldiers doing something to honor one of their own. They never knew him nor any of us, but were prepared to carry out a time-consuming military ritual, invest extraordinary care and attention to detail, and disappear without anyone thanking them. I’ve done that job before and I understand perfectly — you don’t want thanks from the family. What you want is the sense of having performed a high moral duty, and you pray someone will do the same for you some day. Forget the government; this is well-earned camaraderie. Frankly, that’s what I miss about military service.

By the way, there was no haggling between the various survivors over the estate. It ain’t much in the first place, but we are more concerned his chosen executrix (his sister-in-law) isn’t worked to death over this. She’s no gold-digger, either, so we discussed without any hint of dissent who took care of what. We aren’t all somehow angels, but this is how people are supposed to act. We never forget that we are family.

Thanks to all of you who prayed for this trip and my services. I bragged about what a wonderful virtual parish family I serve.

Geeks’ Revenge (Fiction)

Friday 30 October 2015 2 comments

Geoff stirred and stuck his head down inside the sleeping bag. Turning his left wrist, he pressed the light button on the watch with his right thumb. Just a few minutes before 0200 hours and he almost chuckled at how at least one part of his aging body had already synchronized with the local time zone. Freeing his right arm from the sleeping bag, he reached for the large-mouthed empty bottle he kept under his cot for such cases. No need to leave a warm sleeping bag for such things.

Others were apparently poorly prepared for such Spartan living conditions. Somewhere in the distance was the faint sound of retching and moaning, almost taken away by the moderate winds blowing over the tent. One of the last things he had done before night fell was wander around the area collecting rocks to hold down the windward side of the tent skirting. Apparently it was enough, because there was no significant draught. More importantly, no one in this tent was affected by what brought at least one man so much misery in one of the other two tents.

Geoff had been watching out the window of the Chinook in the glow of early dawn as they passed over this little draw on the way to the LZ. After the choppers touched down, the men exited the tail ramps, clinging to the loose ends of their carry-on baggage against the artificial tornado of the still spinning tail rotors. Prominent in his mind as Geoff trudged with the others toward the edge of the village while the chopper crews pushed out the heavy cargo pallets was what had occupied that little draw their chief indicated as their new home: goats. There were a couple of stone-walled pens at the bottom of the draw.

There were two different teams on the choppers with their gear. This village was chosen because it was far enough from the operations areas that they would have plenty of lead time if the order came to bug out. Not because everyone was expecting to stay here that long, but because the larger team was there to build a fleet depot for supply trucks, and eventually to construct an airstrip in the valley below. They were rowdy and rude. Geoff was on the team that would stay only long enough to set up communications, to include generators. Most of them were some kind of geek, and suffered some measure of abuse from the construction guys. As the choppers lifted off and the men began unpacking their pallets, another chopper came in low from the opposite direction and disgorged a couple dozen troops. Geoff snorted and mumbled something about advance-party security.

However, the troops were sharp enough to quickly secure the draw with the goat pens and palaver with the older men from the village about some kind of compensation for the losses. This was supposed to have been pre-arranged, Geoff had heard, but that didn’t stop the locals from whining to improve their payoff. Apparently this was so common that troop leaders actually carried extra cash for it.

As the other team began aggressively laying claim to the choice siting for tents within the existing stone enclosures, Geoff held a hasty conference with his team chief. Pointing to a large rock ledge half-way up the northern ridge, he convinced his boss that they were better off erecting their quonset-hut tent there.

Geoff didn’t like the idea that military contractors and troops were so brutal about evicting folks from favorable spots like this draw, but he was far more worried about something else. Though not exactly a country boy, Geoff had been around domestic herd animals enough to remember the peculiar stink that clung to any place occupied by goats. These were not the same breed as the critters common in his home state; still, Geoff had never encountered goats that didn’t have some version of that stink, especially when they were clustered together in a small space. The weather was cool this time of year up in these mountains, so those tents were heated. The loosely packed sand left from removing the stones to make the pens would be warmed after a few hours, especially around the heaters. Warm air rises along with whatever smells it carries, and then runs back down along the tent walls where cots were placed. The communications team had been careful to sweep all loose material off the flat stone surface off their tent site.

Geoff replayed all of that in his mind as he lay in his sleeping bag. More of the construction crewmen were awake now, as their grousing occasionally drifted up against the wind. For all the noise, he managed to drift back off to sleep with a faint smile on his lips.

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Psalm 68

Saturday 19 September 2015 1 comment

David uses here a collection of images and figures of speech we don’t see anywhere else. While we have no doubt that the bulk of his writing is consistently symbolic and loaded with parables, it serves well to tread carefully to deduce the meaning from the context here. This is in essence a marching song. David celebrates the unspeakable greatness of Israel’s true King of Heaven. Survival in battle as leader was the mark of divine favor for the rulers across the whole Ancient Near East (ANE), but the Creator of all things was Israel’s warlord and king.

We associate the phrase “let God arise” with the initial lifting of the Ark of Covenant in preparation for movement during the Exodus. It’s also the image of any ruler rising to his feet in preparation for some kind of action against his enemies, domestic and foreign. Wherever Israel moved under the command of God, no force on earth, nor even all the forces on earth combined, could hinder His people from their ancestral inheritance. Therefore, while marching it only makes sense to sing His praises. He rides not just any white horse, but the billowing white clouds in the sky. Shout His name to bring fear to all those who oppose this march!

Some of His virtues include being the very Father to those with no father, and He welcomes widows into His domestic care. No one is alone in His domain. He sets prisoners and debtors free, loading them with prosperity. Meanwhile, those who reject His reign will be driven out into the desert wastes.

David lavishly praises God as the One who made the earth shake under their feet, a reference to Jericho at the least. When the people needed rain, it came in good supply. He describes how Mount Sinai convulsed at the divine Presence meeting with Moses on the heights. When the people were hungry it rained bread or water or whatever they needed. No one lacked who embraced His authority.

Indeed, on that sacred mountain, God gave to Moses His revelation, the greatest treasure any nation could receive. It was a massive army of people who published it by living its power. Thus, a whole range of powerful nations fled away before them. Back in the camp, the women divided the plunder of those nations. How do you describe such a great God? Had He laid Himself among the stinking herd animals at night to sleep, He would arise with the light of the dawn itself fluttering around His being, twinkling like flakes of precious metals on white wings. By the time the battles of conquest in Canaan Land were over, it looked like snow fresh fallen on Mount Zalmon (AKA Mount Ebal).

Speaking of mountains, God could have chosen any of the greatest peaks in the land for His Temple. Bashan with lofty Mount Hermon? It was His personal property. Don’t be envious, you mountains of Bashan that He chose Zion instead. The thundering chariots of God are innumerable, rumbling like those days when Moses was up on Sinai — the clouds of smoke and quaking ground were frightening. The Hebrew verbiage is a little ambiguous here, but the image of some mighty warrior king riding His chariots off into the heavens is obvious. What most people mistake is that such a mighty One would both receive tribute and then distribute it to those He favors for whatever reason. In Ephesians 4:8, Paul quotes this in the sense of the distribution of gifts (in the form of divine callings). But the image of both collecting treasures from the wealthy and mighty (grateful or otherwise), then tossing out trinkets from this tribute out to the crowds cheering along the side of the road as He passes through is common from ANE times and cultures.

But David notes Jehovah does this every day (verse 19). The God of Israel is one who saves, and David offers two different words that both translate as “salvation” in English. First is the idea of becoming a part of God’s plunder from His enemies; the second denotes being rescued from bondage. He is the God who rescues from death in both literal and figurative senses.

The image of wounding the enemy’s head is drawn from the arrogance of one who tosses his pampered hair and sticks his nose in the air. Thus, the image of blatant defiance will be turned on its head, as God brings back every dead soldier of Israel, from the Golan Heights (Bashan) to the depths of the two seas (Gulf of Aqaba and Mediterranean Sea) that touched land under David’s dominion, to bathe their feet in the blood of the high and mighty. Then when everyone has left, the feral dogs of the land will finish what’s left. Birds of the field ate soldiers’ bodies, but traitors were thrown to the dogs. It’s hard to imagine a more ignoble end on their remains.

David then describes a holy procession into the place of worship (a tent of meeting during David’s reign). It’s glorious beyond words, including just about everyone capable of joining in — choirs, orchestras, lovely young women in the flower of their beauty with something like tambourines, the small warrior tribe of Benjamin, the royal tribe of Judah, Zebulun as the tribe famous for marshaling the hosts, and Naphthali symbolized as the most effective border defense tribe having the most difficult journey to join the throng.

Then David discusses the future Temple that his son will erect in Jerusalem. This would help to unify the nation, and become a shrine to which kings would make pilgrimage. David characterizes those who might resist such an invitation as wild beasts, such as water buffaloes, wandering herds of cattle and skipping calves. It’s not a bad image for the bulk of humanity having no clue about God’s character and the moral fabric of Creation. They’ll be herded by events they hardly comprehend. So let it be, says David, until they are ready to bring God a just tribute, symbolized by silver. Meanwhile, make it hard for marauding nations to engage in raiding on Israel. From as far away as North Africa, let foreign kings come with their tribute to God, not to David and his heirs. So let all the nations of the earth celebrate their Maker.

The final verses are one long benediction of dedication to a king so great as to ride the clouds like horses. Let Israel be sure the whole world knows what a mighty God she serves.

Cycling: Exploring between Harrah and McLoud

Thursday 20 August 2015 Leave a comment

This was not intended as a full workout so much as just poking around areas I’d not seen before. PrairieSE15hnrFishMkt To be honest, it’s not as if I really missed that much. I spent more time calming nervous yard dogs than anything else. They are abundant out here. The area is a triangle with Harrah Road on the west, SE 29th on south and the North Canadian River as the hypotenuse. I never got close enough to see the river, but I noticed there was a lot of open prairie out here.

I chose to head north on Henney Road, then straight east on Reno as far as I could go. Before I was even half-way, a trio of Apache helicopters passed at low altitude heading ENE. You might have heard that the Pentagon has ordered all National Guard units to turn in their Apaches and I’m sure this flight was part of that. They are quite rare in Central Oklahoma otherwise. Nobody is talking, not honestly at least, so we can only speculate why the Pentagon is doing this. Maybe they are running out of Apaches and the money to replace them. Maybe they are making sure the states don’t have one of the most advanced weapon systems in the world should the states choose to resist something like federal marshal law. Who knows?

Once I passed Harrah Road on Reno, much of the traffic was hauling sand, gravel or cement. SandnGravelDepot There were several different kinds of depots for this kind of stuff, including one each from Harrah City, Oklahoma County and something unmarked but clearly a government operation — all within that first mile or so. On the maps, Reno goes out close to the river, then turns south on a very sketchy road tracing. However, that dirt path is actually private property behind a gate, so that ended my wandering in that direction.

I came back to Pottawatomie Road and headed south to SE 15th. Turning east again, I rode past this womens’ “retreat center.”MabelBassetPrison It’s named after Mabel Bassett. I’ve dealt with the state DOC from time to time visiting inmates at various facilities. It’s a very degrading experience just visiting, despite their claims to wishing more folks would visit.

Farther down, SE 15th exhibits one of the most unusual washouts I’ve ever seen. SE15thWashout The water was quite selective in what it dissolved. Pottawatomie County has been exceedingly slow in fixing any of these washouts. Of all the road blocks I ran into during my first few photo-journeys, only those in Pottawatomie County are untouched after these three months.

Heading back to Harrah Road I decided to check out the progress on the widening project down near SE 44th. SE44thBridgeOutnrPottRdIt’s moving along well, and I decided to get a closer look at the washout just barely visible on SE 44th east of Harrah. Now this one falls just inside the boundary for Oklahoma County, and I now realize what’s taking them so long. It’s just a minor loss of material under the bridge apron. I walked over the dumped fill material and stood atop a matching heap on the far side, aiming the camera back at the only visible damage. The hole itself was too dark for the camera to register what I could see inside, but it was not too severe. However, from what I’ve seen, they’ll have to rip out the whole thing before they can properly repair it. So while there were two small washouts near the prison refilled, if not repaved, there’s nothing out here to offer any political leverage, just a few houses and some small agricultural plots. It’s all accessible from one direction or the other.

To make up for being only about 25 miles, I made the last serious hill a hard sprint, coming up SE 44th west bound toward Henney Road. That left me just a couple of miles from home.

Psalm 62

Saturday 8 August 2015 2 comments

David dedicates this song to Jeduthun, a man who served him as leader of a choir of musical priests with prophetic gifts. This psalm is built on the image of faithful retainer, a warlord serving some mighty sovereign. Whatever David might have been in the eyes of men, he was just a servant of Jehovah.

He stands quietly in courts of his Lord, waiting until his master should take a notion to call him. David asserts no one else is worthy of that level of devotion. But instead of the Lord needing his battle hardened experience, it is the Lord who protects David. For this reason, David does not tremble at even the most shocking threats in this world.

And there are threats aplenty against David. Will they never learn, these fools who plot ceaselessly against God’s anointed? He would outlive them all. Their petty maneuvering reminds David of a stone wall that has begun to sag; it’s just a matter of time before it collapses under its own weight. In David’s court he never lacked for yes-men who gave mere lip service while seeking any opportunity to betray him.

So David repeats his first refrain with but slight modification in the wording. David is serves at God’s whim, and God is the only One able to guard him against human foes. It’s like standing on a high rocky cliff looking down on his enemies. David calls out to all who hear his voice: Trust in God alone! Place no trust in human power and authority.

From the lowest to the highest in social status, they are all still mere humans. Pile them on a scale against God and a brief morning vapor outweighs them. Could a man assert violent power over others and confiscate everything they own, piling up all the things men value, he would still have nothing. It could all be gone with the dawn, like that vapor.

Turn your heart to trust in the revelation of God. All power comes from Him and He decides anything and everything that matters. But the Almighty is also merciful. He sees and knows the hearts of men and their moral commitments. So He responds to them, for they can hide nothing.

Photo Log 7: Midwest City

Tuesday 16 June 2015 1 comment

Not many pictures today; bummer.

It should have been simple enough. I was going to ride west on SE 29th into Midwest City, around Tinker AFB and down to the bicycle entrance to Draper Lake. The whole trip would be about 20 miles, but once again, things didn’t turn out as planned.

SE29th2AndersonIt seemed worth the risk since the rain pattern was taking a break for awhile here. I rode off down SE 29th. As always, I have to cross somewhat hilly terrain to get anywhere. At one point, we cross that snaking watershed between the two branches of the Canadian River (the far crest in the picture). Two miles out things start to get easier, with a long slow descent between Westminster and Post Roads. Two more valleys with matching hills on either side and we hit the vast prairie on which Tinker AFB sits.

It was previously a Douglas Aircraft production plant running up to WW2, then passed to the US Government as a centrally located air depot. It was just about the only open prairie in the area at the time, several miles on each side. For a time, much of Midwest City’s existence was as a bedroom and shopping area for Tinker. The core of economic activity for the city is still Tinker.

The primary runway is north-south. At one time there was a problem with some of the aircraft crashing on the northern approach and destroying homes in the flight path. Eventually, the Air Force bought out the neighborhood just off the north end of the runway. What’s left is just a one-block strip on the west side of this square mile section. All the houses were removed, most of them built for adjunct base housing, anyway. It has since been fallow and allowed to grow wild over much of the concrete streets. The Zoomies use it for training to simulate wild terrain.

Back when REX 84 was still a popular subject with the underground militia types, one of the wild stories included this training area as a probable future FEMA camp. However, the real nuts insisted it was already built and ready to use. While there is a high chain-link fence around it, and the trees have gotten thick, you can see enough of the place to know that is pure hogwash. The rail lines running into the base as a whole are all out of service, slowly being dismantled as the railroads decide to recycle the steel. In other words, while just about anything can be strung up with enough tents and fence panels, this place is wholly unlikely to see FEMA use. It would take weeks just to make enough clear space for such an operation. Believe me — my job in the Army involved POW operations, and this place would be a huge pile of work and no good way to ship in large numbers of people as cheaply as the government tends to do such things.

TinkerShoppingMWCHowever, the entrance road to the south gate of this training area also connects to some back roads and such that allow me to get off the main thoroughfare. Right here just outside Tinker’s main entrance is easily one of the nicest shopping plazas in several counties. For some reason I can’t exactly explain, we see less predation than many of more expensive areas of the OKC Metro. None of the stores were open when I passed through, so I continued as far as the back routes would allow and rolled on down to Sooner Road.

This is one of those minor highways that has seen major traffic since before my time. Prior to the Interstate Highway System, it was a section of US Highway 77, pretty much the predecessor of I-35 here in Oklahoma. Sooner Road itself runs down south of Norman. To the north it merges with I-35 near Edmond, and reappears independently somewhere north of that, ending up around Guthrie.

TinkerBikePathThere is supposed to be a link with the Grand Boulevard Route, the Oklahoma River Route, and a few other loops in the Metro, but the various sections are hit-n-miss for now. Turning south on Sooner Road, we hit one of the earliest sections of these extensive bike trails. It’s old enough that the asphalt surface is cracked and has a few serious sags from soil subsidence. Right along the middle of this mile is the typical Zoomie propaganda art, just across from what used to be the Air Force Hospital Gate. It appears to depict the sequence of an AWACS plane doing what we see them doing just about every day: It comes down to the runway, doesn’t quite touch and takes off for another lap. I’m not sure if it’s testing the hardware, training the wet-ware (crewmen) or what, but it’s a fact of our existence. The flight pattern for this endless looping includes our trailer park at times.ZoomieArt

This street is also marked as an official bike route. In the second mile south you have the option of switching from the bike path to a sidewalk. While the Metro unified code says you can’t ride on the sidewalk in a business area, that’s really for urban areas. Out here in the suburbs, enforcement is nonexistent unless you threaten pedestrians, of which there are precious few most of the time. But come SE 59th and the bike route turns east again, clinging to the underside of the airbase. We get to see all those heavy industrial plants and the monster office buildings for companies like Boeing. At the old Air Depot Boulevard, we turn back south. I got to see the queue of trucks waiting at the truck gate and some of the older industrial buildings now devoted to military related contracting. At the end of this southerly mile run, we pass under the railroad tracks that used to feed the old GM Plant.

Back when GM was producing X-body cars (mostly Citations) it was one of the highest paid jobs in the state for regular blue-collar folks. Everyone else considered the workers pampered and whiny. Now the union hall stands empty, and after years of sitting vacant, the massive facility itself is owned by the Air Force. It was a great place of indoor storage and office expansion. (No, I can’t take pictures of anything that belongs to Tinker AFB without prior arrangement.) Oddly enough, the independent automobile railhead and storage yard across the street still received new cars not long ago.

This brings us across SE 74th and the I-240 underpass. It began to sprinkle just as I came within sight of the newest section of bike path. It runs over some open terrain that still gets mowed, and drops down onto the perimeter road for Draper Lake (seen in this last image viewed from the Draper perimeter road). But the rain started getting a little more serious. A cell call confirmed we were in for a heavier patch of rain rolling slowly up from the SSW. So I let it chase me back into the shopping area four miles back and made it into a speed workout. While there, I took advantage of the shelter and reconfigured my riding gear for a wet one. Riding in the rain isn’t too bad, but you have to make some adjustments or you’ll be more miserable than necessary.BikePath

So I came back out to my bike and the rain had quit. Well, nothing for it but to head home and end this trek for the day.


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