Home is where you can smell the chlorine

There are very few places on this earth I truly feel at home. I've lived in dozens of places - different states, different countries, different houses. I've had dozens of jobs. In all of that, most of the time I feel like a foreigner. It takes me months to settle in to a new home or job. I usually function at a level of awkward discomfort that I suspect most people do not experience, and I long for the comfort of home at the end of each day in a way that settles into my bones.

In all of my life, there have only been a handful of places that I have felt immediately at ease. The pool deck is that place for me. No matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing, I am at home on a pool deck.

I realized that this past week, as I set foot as a coach on a deck that I have previously stood as both a swim parent and an official. The energetic calm (how's that for a contradiction?) that washes over me when I walk on deck is something I crave. The end of this swim season leaves me feeling like I have misplaced a part of myself. I'd say 'lost' but I know I'll be back - I know I'll find it again.

But here it is Monday - the first Monday in months that I've not been on deck - and I am lost. A new routine will soon take over and summer will settle in but I will still be left feeling like I am missing something.

And I am.

- hfs


Veterans do not need Sally Struthers

Nolan Peterson wrote an incredible article the other day, titled "Why Soldiers Miss War". Take a moment or two and go read it. It will be worth your time. 

Back? Good. Thank you for reading that. That article is probably the most important article you'll read all year. The paradigm shift it puts forth is priceless. The money quote(s) as I see it are:

"Contrary to the steady stream of Wounded Warrior Foundation commercials on TV, combat veterans are not broken, and they are not victims.
They should not be pitied or looked at with a sad shaking of the head or some reflexive “Geez, what a shame.” Pitying them belittles their experiences and misrepresents the challenges they face after military life."


And for those who ultimately descend into a darkness from which they cannot save themselves, it was not war that broke them.
It was the peace to which they returned, but never found."

I have never been comfortable with the widely-accepted perception that veterans are victims. It has never sat well with me. This article articulates that feeling for me.

I've never really experienced the full power of the bonds formed during a shared experience such as a wartime deployment, but I've glimpsed it and it's...powerful. It's awe-inspiring. It's intoxicating. And it's worthy of envy. It makes most day-to-day, civilian relationships seem mundane and one dimensional (obviously there are experiences in civilian life that are similar and create similar bonds). It shines a light on what are often superficial connections back home.

And the fact that a veteran was privileged to experience that - voluntarily - makes them not a victim but...something else. I've never met a veteran who was comfortable with the term 'hero' and I don't want to use it here, but I'm having trouble coming up with a term that will suffice. 

These men and women *willingly* walked away from their families, their friends, their lives, and walked *into* the chaos. While it may not have been for some big ideal, it was ultimately for the biggest ideal - to serve their fellow man. Most often, 'their fellow man' was the person next to them in the Humvee, or the helicopter, or on patrol, or in the CHU with them. Or it was in service to the friends and family they left behind. But it was in service to their fellow man. 

Jesus gave us two commandments:
1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. 
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Our veterans are living, breathing testimonies to the second commandment, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, agnostic Wiccan, atheist...you name it. They embody it. Even the ones that joined simply for the college money. Even the ones booted out for their drinking problem or failing a PT test or whatever other trouble they landed themselves in. And yet our veterans are often portrayed as victims. 

They most certainly are not.

Derek Weida put up a video the other day that, coupled with this article, really started me thinking on all of this. His organization, The Next Objective, is a combat veteran-run initiative committed to empowering our returning service members to overcome obstacles and achieve post-military success. He is the example to follow. He articulates the paradigm shift that needs to happen. (I'd mention Team Rubicon here but all 3 of my readers already know that I am their unoffical cheerleader)

The thing is that it's not going to come from the government. It never does. It will have to come from within. Who better to address the needs of veterans than people who have walked in those boots and understand the complexities and layered needs of the veteran community? I can see the grass-roots movement starting and it's electrifying. 

- hfs


Third stripe

"Why do we even try when the barriers are so high and the odds are so low? Why don’t we just pack it in and go home? It’d be so, so much easier. It's because, in the end, there’s no glory in easy. No one remembers easy. They remember the blood and the bones and the long agonizing fight to the top. And that is how you become legendary."

For most people who train through Gracie jiu jitsu, it takes about 6-12 months to earn a blue belt. The blue belt is the first belt above the introductory white belt and is earned when you've mastered the 36 basic and most commonly used techniques (out of 600). Being the red head that I am, I rarely do things the easy way so it has taken me more than 18 months (including 3 moves and 9 months in Korea...in my defense) to get to my 3rd stripe on my white belt. Once I earn my 4th stripe, I will be eligible to test for my blue belt. My goal is to have it by the end of the summer.

Between having to get The Boy to school in the morning and my coaching job in the afternoon/evening, it's been next to impossible to get in to train during the school year. On occasion, MacGyver is able to take The Boy to school and I can go roll but that is sporadic at best. Once summer starts and school is out, I will be able to hit the morning sessions and make good progress toward my blue belt. I'm also hoping to be able to at least make the R&D sessions (reflex and development) in the evenings as well. I need to really work on cementing the moves into my brain and building up the muscle memory so I don't have to think to do them. 

I try not to get frustrated with the snail's pace at which I feel I'm progressing. For me, I want everything to happen RIGHT. NOW. Not 2 years down the road. Patience is not a virtue with which I have been blessed. I blame the red hair. And I try not to compare myself with others I roll with - others who have the privilege of time that I do not - who have progressed much further much faster. My journey is mine and mine alone and comparison sucks the joy out of life, right? 


- hfs


Not done yet

I don't make New Year's resolutions, as I've discussed before. But I do make goals and I had three biggies walking in to 2016: 

1. Get involved properly with Team Rubicon (as opposed to just being the annoying cheerleader).
2. Successfully test for my blue belt in jiu-jitsu.
3. Retake the EMT-B course and pass the NREMT exam.

Two weeks ago, I was able to participate in the largest training event in TR history so #1 on my list gets crossed off. Last week, I applied to the local community college in order to register for their EMT-B course in the fall. And Friday, I earned my third stripe on my white belt. This summer I will earn my fourth stripe and test for my blue belt in jiu-jitsu. Looks like I might actually nail all of my goals this year. I don't remember the last time that happened.

I'm not sure what the difference between this year and previous years is but I do feel a difference in my mindset. I feel like I've been holding my breath for SO LONG, waiting for life's kinks to work themselves out and for things to return to 'normal'. And it's not going to. It's taken me almost 7 years to figure this out (I'm a slow learner in some capacities...) and I'm hoping the lesson sticks.

I still have no idea what I want to BE when I grow up but sitting around waiting for life to get its act together isn't doing me any good. And, since I'm not dead yet, it's best to get on with living.

I have a bunch of other stuff on my list of goals for the year, and as I achieve them and cross them off, I add more. Right now the rest of my list looks something like this:

4. Finish up all of the ICS classes that Team Rubicon offers 
5. Attain my ASCA Level 2 swim coaching certification
6. Become sawyer certified with TR
7. Get my Heavy Equipment Operator certification with TR
8. Begin relearning Korean
9. Work my way through the rest of the Audio Essentials training guide
10. Read 150 books by year's end (I'm on book #31 right now)

I'm sure there's more but those are the top 10. I would add to that 'deploy with Team Rubicon' but I don't want to tie one of my goals to someone else's pain in the face of a natural disaster.

Then there are the smaller goals such as declutter the basement, spend more time at the range, clear the brush on a few parts of our land that I want cleared, repaint my bedroom, install shelves in the laundry room, etc. But those are more of a 'to do' list than a list of goals.

And now I'm rambling. Time to go walk the dogs. 

- hfs


Starfish and Small Spheres of Influence

You've probably already heard this story but it's good to hear it again now and then. 

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer still and the man called out, "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied, "Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can't return to the sea themselves," the youth replied. "When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back in the water."

The old man replied, "But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I'm afraid you won't really be able to make much of a difference."

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled, and said, "It made a difference to that one!"


As we wrapped up things at the FOB (Forward Operating Base for those of you joining us late) at the conclusion of MOBEX Trigger, I was chatting with V, the Operations Director and she was telling us how that story was told at the Team Rubicon National Leadership Conference. I'm not sure who did the telling or under what context but I suspect it had a lot to do with the overwhelming nature of responding to a natural disaster.

I've been involved in my fair share of natural disasters, having grown up in SoCal where the four seasons are: fires, floods, earthquakes, and riots, but I've never been a part of a response TO a natural disaster. I cannot truly imagine how overwhelming it must be to show up on scene after a tornado has devastated a community or a flood has ripped through a town. Just watching the images on television is overwhelming. To see it in person must be utterly indescribable. Where do you start? What do you do? How do you know who and how to help? How do you see through the chaos and figure out where to begin? And, in the face of that level of destruction, the inability to help EVERYONE is paralyzing to the point that, often, you don't even know how to help ONE person.

I think it's that paralyzation that prevents many people from stepping forward to help at all. I know it has me. 

When the earthquake happened in Haiti, a good friend of mine when down with the Coast Guard right about the time that Team Rubicon hit the ground there. Between my friend's reports and TR's reports, just following those was overwhelming. And yet, they were there. Helping one person at a time. And, while neither of them could make a difference to everyone, they made a difference to so many.

V gave several of us this little rubber starfish at the end of the MOBEX training and, while it's just a cute little trinket, the message behind it is enormous. You can't help everyone. But getting up off my ass and doing *something* and affecting my small sphere of influence is something I can do (Blackfive, that story and that lesson have never left me. Thanks for that.). That starfish carries some pretty deep meaning for a little rubber trinket.

Thanks, V. 

- hfs


MOBEX Trigger

Team Rubicon, Habitat for Humanity test disaster response skills, hope to team up in times of crisis

Bear with me - this will probably be long, disjointed, and long. Also, my hard drive on my regular computer died so I am typing this on an old Dell Latitude 620 that I've not used since...2007 (?) and I am no longer familiar with the touchpad so I have kind of given up on arranging the pictures in any semblance of chronological order. I think I'll type out the post and then caption the pictures at the end of it all. 

Isaiah 6:8 says, "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

I sat at dinner that last night in Omaha with dozens of my new framily (friends who are family...just call me Shakespeare), many of whom have served multiple tours in really crappy places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of whom deal with things like traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and other injuries that you may or may not see. They sat there, eating lasagna after having busted their butts working the weekend with Omaha's Habitat for Humanity helping to turn multiple run-down, dilapidated properties into stunning homes for deserving people. These men and women who have already given so damned much took time away from their families, their jobs, their lives to give MORE. And they'd do it again tomorrow if the need arose.

To say that I was humbled would be an understatement. I was blown away by their selfless service, their willingness to drop everything and help their neighbor, and their humility. It leaves me gobsmacked.

MOBEX Trigger (MOBEX stands for 'mobilization exercise') was a first-of-its-kind collaboration between Team Rubicon and Habitat for Humanity, Omaha. It was a mock disaster that allowed TR to bring new members up to speed on how they do things in a real disaster - damage assessment, light demo, safety procedures, chainsaw usage, etc. As if helping those affected by a disaster isn't enough, this exercise allowed TR members to give even more back to the community by allowing them to assist Habitat with some of the FIFTY (50!) homes they plan to rehab or rebuild in the SE Omaha area this year alone. This event was a test-run of a partnership that has incredible possibilities nationwide. I can't wait to see what comes of it.

I was really nervous heading into this. I've loved TR from the get-go but I was completely unsure as to what I had to offer. My fears were completely unfounded. From the moment I arrived on Friday, I was welcomed and put to work. It didn't matter that I wasn't a veteran, that I'm not (yet) an EMT, that I have no construction or demolition experience, that I've never done any of this before. None of that mattered. The only things that mattered were that I was there and that I was willing.

Friday was spent getting signed in, getting an ID card made, getting settled in lodging, and walking through the ins and outs of damage assessment, the technical platform TR uses for said assessment (Palantir), and how to lead a strike team as well as meeting everyone. The entire process went smoothly. One of the things that TR excels at is bringing order to chaos and it was incredibly evident. You could tell that thought had been put into every detail, yet the process was flexible and allowed for changes in schedule when necessary.

The Salvation Army provided lodging at one of their community centers and I set my cot up in the chapel. I was there pretty early and managed to find an outlet to plug my laptop into so I could keep it and my phone charged. There were about 20 of us sleeping in the chapel (6 of whom snore like freight trains), with the rest of the volunteers in the main gym. They took really good care of us, once someone remembered to turn the hot water on for the showers! The Salvation Army also provided meals on site at the HFH locations so this was an opportunity for their people to get in on some of the training as well. 

Saturday we rallied at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) and received our team assignments as well as briefings on how the day would unfold. It was a little chaotic but that didn't seem to slow anyone down and soon we were meeting with our strike teams. My team lead was MT - this kick-ass Hispanorusky (yep - another new term) from Detroit. Supposedly he's some stud Ranger/medic/what-have-you but really he's just a goofball that likes to sing off key and wields a mean sledgehammer along with possessing a wonderful knowledge of how to dismantle just about anything. Maybe that plays into the Ranger thing.

I don't know.

He spent the entire day on Sunday talking in a pseudo-Russian accent like Lev Andropov from the movie, "Armageddon" ("
American components, Russian Components, ALL MADE IN TAIWAN! "). He had us in stitches (not literally. I'm pretty sure he was the only one to bleed all weekend long) all day.

We worked alongside another team whose leader, K, was just as entertaining, just as skilled, and just as wonderful. And he lives in one of my favorite states in the country (Colorado) so now I have even more of a reason to head back there at my first opportunity - I need to buy the man a beer!

The rest of the team was incredible too. I learned so much from each of them and we had a blast demo'ing the basement (and finding 1970s homemade nudie pictures!), pulling off baseboards, hauling out four giant dumpsters of garbage (the right one is for metal only!), donning Tyvek suits for more demo of the basement (yay mold!), picking up 11,867 nails from the aluminum siding they were ripping off and a dead raccoon, eating hotdogs (without mayo!), and generally working our butts off. Oh, and drinking lots of water and Gatorade.

We wrapped up late in the afternoon and headed back to the FOB to drop off our tools and then back to the Salvation Army to clean up before dinner. Dinner was BBQ back at the FOB and the 'beer flag' was raised, meaning everyone could have two beers. TR loves to party as hard as they work but they do so just as safely as they work. Designated drivers were already identified and the beer wasn't the cheap stuff (well, there was some Miller Lite and PBR but they also had some local brews too). It was great to hang out with my new framily and just kind of decompress. 

We crashed out pretty hard Saturday night and we were up again bright and early Sunday to do it all again. We were looking forward to swinging some sledgehammers and tearing into the ceilings and walls but when we got there, we found that we needed to do some other things so we didn't get to do much with the sledgehammers. Maybe next time. I did get to learn how to pull out a fiberglass shower insert which should come in handy when we're ready to redo our upstairs bathroom.

We shut down a bit early on that day in order to head back to the FOB, decontaminate our tools, reload the trailers (each Region has a tool/equipment trailer), and break down the FOB. What seemed like a massive undertaking was completed with an overwhelming efficiency, thanks in large part to V, the operations director. She is a force to be reckoned with and her experience in dealing with disasters is extensive and evident.

I didn't really want to leave just yet so I stuck around for dinner and I'm glad I did. One of the safety leads is also an ordained chaplain and he got up to speak at dinner. He put words to the thoughts in my heart about the unparalleled willingness to serve displayed by the veterans in Team Rubicon. He quoted Isaiah in doing so and about brought me to my knees.

Several other people spoke and one of the things they touched on was 'post-deployment blues' - that let-down after it's all over. I could already feel it creeping up on me as I sat there. It was stressed that, should anyone feel like the blues were too much to handle alone, people should reach out to their fellow TR team members. Suicide rates among veterans is so very high - the reported average is 22 veteran suicides per day. TR is, sadly, well-versed in it all and Clay Hunt's legacy is palpable. Many of the TR leadership have received training on how to help others in that situation and the phrase, "Leave no man behind" is so much more than talk to them; it's ingrained in all they do.

Finally, after stalling as long as I could, I had to head home. The back roads of Nebraska and Kansas at night, alone, are a little unnerving, as is the deer I almost hit but I made it home in one piece, dirty, tired, and thoroughly hooked (I managed to use SIX commas in that one sentence. My AP English teacher would be *so proud*...). I don't know that I've ever believed in an organization as much as I believe in Team Rubicon. I have from the moment Jake and Will hit the ground in Haiti and started posting about what they were doing. To see it in action and to actually be a part of it - to be welcomed to be a part of it - means more than I can put into words.

I'm sure I have more to add and I'm sure I've left people out or forgotten stuff that happened over the weekend. I blame lack of sleep. And this computer. But mostly the lack of sleep. 

My official hard hat. Saved my noggin on a number of occasions.
Not sure if I was supposed to give it back...


(L to R) D, R, and me going through some of the former owner's belongings. Things considered to be of value are given to Habitat to sell at the ReStore. Proceeds from ReStore go to fund salaries from HFH staff. (Photo: K. Starling)

Dismantling the front porch. After bracing it, because that was all that was holding the upper floor up. (Photo: K. Starling)

I didn't get to participate *this* time but chainsaw training was also offered. (Photo: Team Rubicon, Region VII)

Best strike team(s) on the planet. (Photo: K. Starling)

Morning brief. The smart people are standing in the sun. (Photo: Team Rubicon, Region VII)

M, our HFH site director, was amazing. And fun. And even more amazing.
I want to *be* her when I grow up. (Photo: K. Starling)

Salvation Army fed us. Sadly, they did not have any mayo. (Photo: Team Rubicon, Region VII)

My son tells me I look like I walked off the set of 'Breaking Bad'.

Home sweet home. 

1905 Dutch colonial house. Should be done in about 6 weeks. That's M and the Fox team lead, K. I adore them. (Photo: K. Starling)

What I saw when I first pulled up. So. Freaking. Cool. (Team Rubicon, Region VII)

Omaha Habitat's CEO, Amanda Brewer, giving us all warm fuzzies on our morning brief. (Photo: Team Rubicon, Region VII)

We filled FOUR of these bad boys. Metal on the right, trash on the left.
Don't screw it up or M will get after you. (Photo: K. Starling)

Some of us got to swing the sledge. Some of us didn't. Not only is K fortunate to
live in Colorado, he got to swing the sledge. (Photo: K. Starling)

My team lead was cool enough in his yoga poses to make TR's Twitter feed. He also
sang to us because he left his speaker back in Detroit and we had no music. (Photo: Team Rubicon, Region VII)

Monday required some help. 

I cannot wait to go do it all again. I don't want to hope or wish for a natural disaster but, when one does happen, I look forward to being able to help and work alongside these amazing people with this incredible mission. 

- hfs
(see...I told you it would be long. And disjointed.)



I leave soon for the Team Rubicon training I mentioned earlier and I'm a bundle of nerves. Part is excitement and part is what I'm assuming is normal apprehension. I just want to do a good job, be useful. Not screw up.

Not too much to ask, is it? I hope not.

Off to drown my nerves in some kick-ass drums.

- hfs