Tales from the long road. . .
So now I'm home for the next few months, and I've had the opportunity to sit back and think about this year. For the first time in the 14 years that I've been doing this job, I seemed to be gone the most, but honestly probably wasn't. I made trips to the Middle East, the Far East, and Europe this year. And while I was gone, I missed parent-teacher conferences, the kids' baseball and basketball games, birthdays, and more.
Here are some things I've learned this year above all others. . .
Living out of a suitcase (or a duffel bag) sucks. No matter how much you pack, or how little you try to pack, it never works out. You either haul to much crap that you have to drag with you, only to find out that you didn't need half of it, or you pack too little only to get where you're going and realize that you could have used something else. (Example: Germany in July, which is NEVER cold. Except this time. Global warming my a$$.)
Elite status on an airline is just more proof that you're an idiot. Flying 100,000 miles in a year gets you great perks on some airlines, but what does it really mean? It means you were gone WAY too much away from your family this year. Sure, you get to fly up front in a bigger, sometimes faux-leather seat. It even gets you a little better food and plenty of free booze. I used to even argue that more space meant I could spread stuff out a little more and get work done. Yeah, that's a lie. After you have a big meal and several drinks, what do you end up doing? Not working. Sleeping. . and snoring. And not sleeping really well, and feeling more tired than before. And when you finally get off of the plane at your destination 10 hours later (or 12, or in one case, 18) you look just as worn out and tired as the person coming out of the "cattle section." Oh, I forgot. . you get to board first. Hurray!! More time on the airplane then if you got on at the last minute. (A warning: if you ever find yourself in a mideastern country for several weeks, waiting for the flight home so you can get a few adult beverages? Pace yourself. Three quick bourbon and waters and you could find yourself passed out before the meal arrives. And then you wake up 5 hours into a long flight with a terrible headache and unable to go back to sleep. Yes, moron, those are the people in the back of the plane laughing at you.)
Hotels are great for a weekend. . .and they just suck after that. At least you get to unpack all of your s*** and put it away. (See lesson 1.) You can only eat at so many restaurants in Killeen, TX before you're sick of it. You can only go out to so many watering holes before you realize that they all suck. Then you're stuck looking at the same four walls, the same lousy TV, and the same lousy free breakfast everyday. Groundhog day. (The exception to the rule would be a hotel that offers "suites," so you have a method to prepare your own meals. That's good for about another week. Then you're back with the same problem.) Every time someone says "it must be great to be able to go to all of these places," I really want to hurt them. But I just smile and ignore.
Unfortunately, spent yesterday at work and had to listen to the KU/NU game on the Lazer web cast. A good game with a lousy outcome. . .worse, I'm working alongside an MU alum and a KSU alum. . .so had to take a lot of chiding this morning when they came back into work.
But now I'm thinking. . .what's worse? Listening to the Jayhawks lose at home to the Blackshirts? Or being here, an hour away from Austin when they play next week, and knowing what the outcome will be?
Maybe I'll just hide that day.
As America watched President Obama speaking from Ft. Hood yesterday, I was at work less than a mile from Van Fleet Hall, the Headquarters building of III Corps. I stepped outside around 1:00pm, and looked over towards the HQ building, where I could hear the 1st Cav Band playing.
Of course, I couldn't see anything. From my vantage point, any other day I would have been able to look right at the front door of the building, where the flag was hanging. Not yesterday, however. . .to protect the building and all of the spectators, they ringed the south side of the HQ with connex trailers stacked three high. I'm sure the idea was to block a direct line of sight from anywhere on that side of post, but it sure ruined the view.
Instead, I watched the service like many did, I'm sure: from my computer. It was a nice service, although I was a little surprised by the "whooping" and yelling and clapping that came when the POTUS came to the podium, but with the relative youth of a lot of the attendees, I guess I can understand it. It just seemed very somber while LTG Cone and GEN Casey were speaking, and then the atmosphere changed. But even the POTUS seemed a little taken aback by it. . .or at least, just a little uncomfortable. Maybe he was just uncomfortable about the whole service.
Driving through the III Corps gate off of 190 this morning, I came to the realization that Ft. Hood is different today. . .yes, the news trucks at the visitor center, and the satellite vans parked on the Headquarters parade ground is an indicator that something big has happened here. But the mood is different, too.
In the 14 years of working at Ft. Hood for two to three weeks at a time, I've become quite familiar with the greater Ft. Hood/Killeen/Harker Heights area. We've always laughed about it, and we've come up with our own pet names for a place we don't really enjoy coming to. This past Thursday changed all of that. . .
At 1:45PM on Thursday, when we were locked in the building that we are working in, we knew "something" was up, but we didn't have any information. In all of the years in the military and working for the military, I've never been locked in a building. When the post alert system came up telling everyone to get inside, we knew something was terribly wrong. It's pretty bad when you have to call back to Lawrence to get information about what's happening where you are.
We slowly begin getting the information, verifying what we were hearing with the guards in our building, and trying to figure out how long the lockdown was going to last. When we realized that the shooting had taken place less than 3/4 of a mile away from us, and we could hear the sirens from the emergency vehicles screaming by, the seriousness of everything begin to sink in.
At about 7:45 we were released from the building and allowed to drive back to the hotel. . .I had plenty of time to check the 17 voicemails from people checking in with me, as the lines of cars were backed up for miles. I noticed several cars pulled off on the medians and people getting out of their cars to help those who had ran out of gas waiting in the lines. What hit me was that EVERYONE was in the same boat, and everyone was helping each other.
There has been a lot made of the folks at Ft. Hood being "a family," and I had never really thought of that before, but it is true. This Band of Brothers in central Texas has been hit in the gut hard, and they are grieving. But they are standing up for each other as well. The communities outside the gates are standing up, too.
As I stood outside yesterday afternoon at 1:34 for the Army installation-wide moment of silence, I thought about this place. It is still not in my top list of "places to be," but I think I will remember for years to come the day that Ft. Hood became a little more well known to the rest of America.