FAQs for virtual in-resident remote NCO Academy and Airman leadership school

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. – With so many things impacted by COVID-19, the U.S. Air Force response included a suspended NCO academy and Airman leadership school for Airmen. Both courses are requirements for promotion to NCO and senior NCO, as well as provide essential knowledge for aspiring leaders.

Here’s the good news: they are available remotely now through virtual in-resident remote enlisted professional military education.

Continue reading “FAQs for virtual in-resident remote NCO Academy and Airman leadership school”

the Fly Trap

the Fly Trap
a short story

Our explanation would be the August heat. It stewed Delaware’s East coast in all kinds of ways after an unusually cold and stormy spring that extended into July. Thousands suddenly fled to the ocean for some relief in its breezes and waters. Their pale bodies laid out on towels that carpeted the beach at Cape Henlopen State Park. A full parking area showed the incentive through hazy convection – how visitors hot-hopped quickly beyond the sand-dusted boardwalk and restrooms to the water. Cool ocean breezes reached the expansive campgrounds, and there were isolated areas to explore. Still, no one paid interest in the sandy marsh trails that cut into the protected wetlands. Swim-suited vacationers focused on the shore. Signs about marsh history and its protective role to the ecology posted, but no one paid them notice but as useful places to hang wet things. Park rangers offered walking tours, but those events canceled – they became too busy policing crowds.

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The shore’s pristine beaches came from the state’s good stewardship and millions in annual restoration and maintenance projects. In wintry weather when shore-casters were the only witness, ocean storms eroded the coastline. The frigid, salty waters spilled over high, grassy dunes and flowed into the frozen wetlands where their nutrients fed an ecosystem. The campsites closed, but a short drive away, weekenders crowded the area’s tax-free shopping outlets and souvenir shops to stretch holiday budgets.

When late summer of ’98 arrived, I traveled south from Saratoga, N.Y., during a week-long visit to see my stepfather, Arthur Merritt, in southern Delaware. He bought a house near it all some years before, and my stay felt well overdue. The drive would take seven hours.
Art embraced retirement since leaving his job in Schenectady building steam-turbines for General Electric at a youngish 55. His middle age began to show through a suddenly greyer mustache. His stocky posture remained straight, but his handsome face turned less elastic and gained some wrinkles that made one wonder about him. I knew Art spent considerable time refurbishing the one-level ranch. He also explored the area, visiting shops, museums, parks, and such. My mother, not retired, stayed in upstate New York and seemed comfortable with their separations. When I visited her, she would tell me how Art bought this thing for the new house, refurbished a room, or seen some attraction. I enjoyed her stories. She traveled south when she could and seemed ready to end her remaining years of work and join him. I held no interest in purchasing the country home I grew up in – they hinted to that. It measured small and sat on the bank of a creek where, as a child, I felt it might wash away. They paid a fixer-upper’s price for it in ’72 and made it an excellent place to live on a budget, but after 30 years of refurbishments, its limitations remained. My mother kept it tidy, gained compliments on her flower and vegetable gardens, and cut the grass, but for the first time, I saw the place as a burden rather than an old friend. I considered the inevitable day when my older brother and I would sort their possessions. So, when it took so long to see their newer home, I figured in my meditation on all that.

I left on a bright morning and navigated the highways using directions penciled down on scrap mail. I opened a McCrandall Road Atlas with the pages dog-eared for New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, and I carried a schedule for the Lewes Ferry that, they said, would cut an hour’s drive by crossing the Delaware River from the New Jersey border at Cape May. I liked the ferry ride very much. The trip through Jersey brought good memories of my first military enlistment when I lived at Philadelphia Navy Yard. Those few months stationed there were the earliest times being on my own, so thoughts of joining straight out of high school made me smile. When I knocked on Art’s screen door, I felt content rather than tired from my drive. Instead of opening, he appeared from a corner of the house.
“Hey, Michael. It’s good to see ya,” he said, shifting his concentration from an overturned rider lawnmower in a drainage ditch. Sweat dripped from his glasses and the green bandana tied to his head. I hugged him anyway.
The house offered three-bedrooms, with a one-bedroom apartment added onto the side closest to the driveway. He provided the tour by pointing out how he fixed or refurbished areas, or planned to. I complimented him; although, the main house smelled a little musty. I recognized some of the furniture and items from the other house. I also noticed a real-looking treasure map lying in a pile of corner-clutter. “Ooh, a treasure map,” I said, picking it up to reveal the state park system flyer released for kids “At the Beach.” The previous owner left some junk behind, he said. He explained how he renovated the apartment at that point. He lived there while making steady progress on the rest. After the tour, I helped to pull the mower from the ditch. He took a tow chain from the detached garage to drag it out using his Isuzu Trooper.
That night, we sat outside, drinking spiced rum and caffeine-free diet soda. He liked listening to public radio, but on this occasion, he played a mix-tape of Doctor John, starting with the song, “Just the same.” We talked carefully and listened to the Doctor’s raspy voice and laid-back style. Recalling the treasure map that I ribbed him for, he suggested that we visit the shipwreck museum at Fenwick Island the next day. It sounded interesting, and I added that we might take the bicycles if time permitted, remembering the state park he mentioned when I last saw him. He went on about the pirates that sailed the nearby coast – that there were many shipwrecks out there, and how he walked the beaches with a metal detector. I looked across the flat, expansive field of soy that surrounded the property. I pictured him on the beach, swinging his detector back and forth, looking for treasure. He handled aloneness well. He had no need of a job on his pension, nor did he want one. He had escaped. His curiosity was economical, too, but not intentional. What he enjoyed required little more than a walking stick, some tools, something to fix, a radio, or a good book. I realized that he would never travel or sail the world as I had done in the Navy. There was more than enough for him to experience down his road while everything else ebbed and flowed. Doctor John now sang a funky song, “I been in the right place, but it must have been the wrong time.” And Art got up from his chair to make another round. I felt happy to sleep on the enclosed porch that ran the length of the back. He crank-opened the windows, so the fresh air carried the ocean’s scent from a 20-minute drive away. Later in the night, I woke up with a plugged nose and dry throat. I walked outside, off the porch, and across the back yard to where the moon shone brightest. The bordering soy grew knee-high, and despite my stuffed up nose, I could smell the damp, turned earth. I breathed in as deep as I could; the fresh air clearing my head. There were sounds of insects, frogs, and distant traffic. Things kept on. It felt peaceful. I felt happy that my parents found a lifestyle and place that suited them. I walked back to my cot and slept soundly.

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We drank coffee and ate scrambled eggs cooked in an iron skillet. Then we loaded the bikes and a cooler into Art’s boxy vehicle. It was apparent that Art followed a familiar routine when preparing to explore, but this time with some company. He drove and acted as our guide. The southern part of the state included mostly agricultural areas beyond the beaches. Costal rains drained quickly from the sandy soil at sea level. It supported vast corn and soy. The crops fed chickens for corporate farmers. Processing plants dotted the countryside. Not until within a few miles of the coastline did housing developments and multi-level condos, recreation, shopping, restaurants, and hotels overtake the open spaces. It sprawled inland as more farmland sold, he said.
Within the museum, of course, were relics accessioned from ocean divers and fortunate beachcombers. It seemed hard to believe the enormous sum of wealth on display in a place that, on the first impression, looked like any other boardwalk souvenir shop. But their exhibits included gold bars and coins, gems, and priceless jewelry found lying at the bottom of the ocean by licensed salvagers. It’s important to note that state authorities forbid an average person from picking up objects more than 100 years old. In this way, tourists still have a metal-detecting hobby, and the state protects its archeological resources.

Art’s tales of a treasure beach would prove strange. A weathered-looking man came up to us and began talking about ships that sailed the eastern coastline during the 17th century, including the Gallant – a 40-gun slaver, stolen by Adarsh Rimpoposhe during the summer of 1636. Rimpoposhe sailed on the run over a horde of 90 barrels of stolen gold coin wanted by the East India Trading Company. When Rimpoposhe’s notorious but charming reputation won over a 100-man crew in Bali, they left the captain and a few loyal men marooned with 330 salves on an island off of Portugal. They renamed the pirated ship Lhasa, which is where Rimpoposhe once lived in Tibet as a Buddhist oracle before officials severed his left hand as punishment for casting spells. The ex-monk and his followers sought to start a new life on the other side of the world. Starving and near death, they eventually landed ashore at Fenwick Island but were no sooner attacked by an indigenous tribe and fled back to the Lhasa. With only some 20 survivors aboard, they put back to sea in a gale. No one saw them again. A colony north recorded hanging two men for stealing in 1638 who claimed themselves survivors of the Gallant.
Our storyteller grew animated as he described how Rimpoposhe created a tulpa, or a thought-formed spirit using a Tibetan spell to protect the buried treasure. Native Americans also tell stories of a cursed place in the marsh. “It takes physical form,” he said. “The shore casters see a floating-orb and hear humming noises out there,” now talking secretively. “They find nothing. [chuckle] It’ll make ya think twice about wanderin’ around alone.”
We assumed that the museum hired storytellers to entertain visitors – the man looked the part. But it got spookier: no one knew who we meant when we thanked the manager at the gift shop register. They could not recall the Gallant or the Lhasa. Whatever happened, we laughed in the parking lot and mocked our hokey encounter with pirate impersonations.

We ate burgers on our way north, which followed the coast. Art stopped on the back road to buy a melon from a lone vendor. The afternoon’s heat corralled the dark-skinned woman to a lawn chair under a large umbrella. He dropped some of his change during the transaction. “Oh … be carfull wha’ you pick up ‘round here,” she said in broken English. “Is bugs bad. No good.” We smiled and nodded politely but not understanding. I could feel the temperature radiating through the door’s glass as we drove on. Large cardboard boxes full of the day’s harvested melons littered the opened land. The pickers likely finished before noon. We continued, nearly out of eyesight, where the park began.
There wasn’t any question that we would explore the marsh with our similar style cross-bikes suitable for off-road riding. We heard the same ghost story. Neither of us suffered crowds too, so the area felt secluded from the main beach.
Testing my brakes and double-checking for my water bottle as I peddled. I followed Art from the pullover to the trailhead between the grassy dunes. Art wore his usual bandana over his head, cotton shorts, and a sleeveless shirt. I dressed a bit technical, wearing a lightweight poly sun-visor, running tank, and shorts.

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The dune trail looped quickly through the marsh and back in on itself, but a trailhead map showed us a connection to the paved path that ran behind a pavilion, and further on to the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. Getting to that connector was our plan. We started on crushed stone, through some dunes, and toward an area with over-the-head pine scrub. Thinking back, I should have let air from my tires for more traction, but the immediate conditions did not warrant it.

The trail smells like pine needles and the ocean. The needles are thick and packed atop the sand and gravel, and they keep the ride smooth. The heat remains, and I feel my sweat starting. Up ahead, Art weaves around pine cones and rocks. The air is dead back here, which increases the discomfort. It will improve when we break out to the coast, I think. There are no other tracks, so no one ventured back here for some time. The trail widens abruptly to a small clearing of thick sand. Our tires dig in and stay. It’s too loose and too deep to peddle through. And Art dismounts. He looks back at me. I’m thinking; we’ll need to walk through this part. I’m looking at him – his glasses are moving, or fuzzy. “What’s wrong with your glasses?”
Two masses of deer flies crawl on the lenses as he examines them – we are swatting. I am slapping everywhere. They land in our hair, on our arms, hands, and legs. They are biting. I am off my bike, running in circles trying to brush the swarm off. And I see Art scoop handfuls out of his eyes and shake them off. I think, “beekeepers get attacked less.”
There’s no other choice but to push our bikes. “We gotta get out of here,” I say as we clear the sand, and the trail returns to the packed needles.
“Go on,” Art says through his shirt pulled over his nose and ears, worn out. He has resolved himself to being bitten and covered, no longer trying to swat the flies away.
“I can’t take it, okay?” I peddle hard and get some speed while leaving Art behind. The flies chase me but clear up as the loop leads me back to the parking area.

Long back in my memory, when Art first spent time with us. We took a hike in the woods behind our house. My brother and I had explored pretty far into those woods on our own, but Art took us further, back into a property where an old junk pile and ‘50s automobile were dumped and forgotten. In an exposed area were rusted food cans and wire. I pulled out a chipped object of bright green glass that Art described as an old insulator for power lines. How did it all get back there? I kept it but lost it eventually – I always lost such things. Without warning, Art suddenly tried to run off on us to see if we could find our way back, but we were too fast to escape and had stayed on his heels. He later explained how his older brother did the same trick to him, but successfully, and that it took him some time to find his way. His brother watched him the entire time, wanting him to appreciate surviving on his own.

I see Art emerge from the trailhead as if someone I’ve never met before, and it feels very odd. I’m feeling guilty that I left him behind but glad that he did not have a heart attack. He is still calm, but he looks pale and tired.
“What in the heck was that?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “Never seen anything like it. Wow. I just …”
We kickstand or bikes at a picnic table and sit in silence.
Something has changed between us. I can feel it. “I’m sorry I took off, I had to get out of there …” He holds up his hand.
“No, no, Michael. That was crazy; I’d have run if I could. I’m glad you did.” We sit some more.

Art then retrieved the melon from the car. “Heh,” he said while he starts cutting thick slices. “Ever read that story about a lost Roman jewel found in a gardener’s cabbage?”
“No.”
“Amazing … … a vegetable grew around it.”

(Written by Mike R. Smith) 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

 

 

Education center staff and faculty push their development, despite adversity

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. – U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the Air National Guard’s training and education center in East Tennessee did not stop their own personal and professional growth in the face of teleworking.

Leaders noted how the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center’s 80-plus staff and faculty enrolled in online learning. More than 30 Airmen joined recently in a 20-hour course entitled, “leadership engagement, increase communication and trust,” which included individual coaching sessions.

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Rancher Ropes in Top Warrior Title [repost]

June is PTSD awareness month. This news article on the Army’s best warrior I wrote in 2008 highlighted how PTSD should not stop service members from achieving their best when seeking counseling to overcome it. The Guard Bureau would send me to these annual, total Army-level competitions, which was a great experience as an Air Force journalist covering Army training. I also wonder where these high-achievers are today. Photo by Jon Sucy.

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By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 14, 2008 – A Montana National Guard noncommissioned officer, recently named as the Army National Guard’s NCO of the Year and the Army’s Warrior of the Year, said the best warrior is the one who knows when he needs help.

Staff Sgt. Michael Noyce Merino, honored Oct. 6 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting and exposition in Washington, credits free counseling sessions he received through Military OneSource with helping him cope with stresses that accumulated during combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“That really helped me,” Noyce Merino said.

Noyce Merino won the Army Guard’s final competition in mid-August at Fort Benning, Ga. That achievement allowed him to match his skill and knowledge against 12 soldiers representing the Army’s other major commands for a final Best Warrior competition at Fort…

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USAF instructors prove their agility with classroom-to-camera skills

LOUISVILLE, Tenn. — U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Megan Francolini and Tech. Sgt. Renee Wiederspahn recorded sessions in the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center TV studio, June 4, on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base in East Tennessee, during camera-work for virtual in-residence remote NCO academy for the total U.S. Air Force.

Their efforts are among just a few weeks’ worths of turnaround by TEC’s Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center – the Air Force’s largest EPME center – as it kicks off VIR-R NCO Academy as well as VIR-R Airman leadership school mid-month.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Steven Durrance, the EPME center commandant, said in March that his team was focused on preparations to instruct a new curriculum as well as alternative learning methods.

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Instructors learned television-studio camera skills from broadcasting experts, including reading from a teleprompter, to record their curriculum. TEC operates the Air National Guard’s broadcast center and Warrior Network television studios.

“This was an extremely quick turn for Lankford; especially considering the circumstances,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Beiting, NCO academy superintendent. “It really has been a massive effort with a lot of challenges.”

The Air National Guard’s Lankford Center is a total force institution and graduates thousands of students annually. The 38 faculty include 19 enlisted Airmen from the regular Air Force, 18 from the National Guard, and one from the Reserve Command, as well as three support staff. They focused on coursework revisions and transformations from home since the worldwide pandemic suspended classes on campus.

More than 250 EPME students will connect from their homes across the nation beginning June 15.

Airmen interested in these courses should speak with their assigned education managers concerning VIR-R EPME opportunities.

Every dog has its day

Every dog has its day
a short story

Rob Bartell spent sessions with his therapist discussing methods to channel his anger. Now he focused on cranking the window down in his cheap rental. The cool air refreshed him. The folded American flag and medal they tossed him at the capital were in a backpack on the passenger seat. He still felt the governor’s handshake, which tried to match his.

[You were there, Bro.]

He could not recall what the governor said, but instead remembered that the man looked up at him. Bartell stood a stocky six-foot-seven. His Army recruiter told him that he represented the poster boy for the Lynyrd Skynyrd song that went, “lean and mean, and big and bad, Lord.

He sat cramped in the little car and breathed consciously, slowly, in and out. “Suck it,” he whispered on exhale. Parked, with his head on the wheel, his hands remained unaltered from the mad grip that connected skill and anger in road rage.

He drove here daydreaming when something bounced off the windshield. Left, he saw a man hollering,  gesturing and trying to pull alongside in a silver truck. Bartell veered to block the man’s next approach as he’d done in convoys. The truck, forced toward the ditch, pulled behind to avoid the busy oncoming traffic. The man did not relent, and he tried to match Bartell at a faster speed. Bartell braked hard and fell behind to steer into the pickup’s rear bumper. The driver tried to correct but lost traction. The car nearly flipped, fishtailed, and stalled. He sped on.

Bartell’s mood lifted from that fog. He looked around the empty parking lot and expected to see a pickup roaring toward him. A one-lane road offered the only entrance to the riverside park. The battle ended.

[I will waste you.]  Inhale, exhale, inhale.

IMG_0828Dead leaves scattered. Surrounding fields of big river grass yellowed and bent. The park looked void of seasonal boaters who wintered out until Memorial Day. A plastic porta-potty door rocked on one hinge toward a stack of boat docks and picnic tables. Tractor tracks crossed the grass. A bike trail intersected the road beyond. He drove here after the ceremony. It suited him well as a running sanctuary since his homecoming – the fourth deployment after the attacks. He wanted to be alone.

SLAM! The porta-potty’s door lashed to a gust. He flinched. His ghosts rustled as he got out and stretched. He zeroed the chronometer on his watch. He tightened his leg strap and observed the muddy Mohawk waters flow slowly toward the Hudson. The historical marker pointed out where workers camped the river bank two centuries ago as they dug the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo.

“I’ve got a mule, her name is Sal,” Bartell mumbled half-heartedly. [Fif-teen miles on the Er-ie Ca-nal.]

A static ran through his head while he checked the car’s front bumper for scratches — a small ding in the plastic cover meant nothing too noticeable. He felt like kicking it in. But he regained himself and thought of mules pulling barges. He thought of ditch diggers with bent backs, their clothes muddy, and shovels of heavy mud. They were resilient, many immigrants, who helped invent modern excavation. The newspapers praised their progress but called their effort worthless. “Clinton’s Ditch,” his father recalled. “The project seemed unfathomable, like men on the moon.”

The street remained void as he ran. He jogged slow, warming up passed stubbed fields of clipped corn stalks that hid scattered deer runs and irrigation pipe. Where the area stopped, he turned right with his breath rapid, onto a crushed-stone bike trail that stretched past a farmhouse and a crooked cow-barn. His feet crunched the cadence. His breath adjusted quicker. He saw a battered, thick-wheeled tractor parked like an odd ornament, out of gas, or maybe under repair. The November air warmed from the bright sunlight; nevertheless, he saw no others. The trail continued 12 miles to the Town of Pallentine. Half paved. The gravel half Bartell favored for his carbon-fiber foot. He also liked the serenity of the forgotten canal nearby. “I can run up to town,” he thought, overzealous. “Then up the highway, maybe to Utica. When would I stop?”

It felt difficult to find that sweet spot, he told his therapist, because his throttle sometimes stuck at high or low, with no cruise. The feelings were too strong, and he failed to see the things now beyond. They prescribed him medications, “for a while.” Their effect in the last two weeks seemed noticeable. He did not feel so battered.

[We’ve hauled some bar-ges in our day
Filled with lum-ber, coal, and hay
And ev-ery inch of-the-way I know
From Al-ban-y to Buff-a-lo.]

IMG_0892Overgrown, the abandoned canal stretched west and paralleled the path, the main road, and the river. Oak and maple trees now filled its low areas where diverted water once floated cargo and people west across the state. His father said that when the railroads came the mule-powered barges were no match for steam engines. Then the thruway.

Bartell’s father considered himself a canal historian. He brought him and his brother once to find an unknown, abandoned lock hidden in the woods. He said he snowshoed to it during a winter storm, as a kid, and whistled on an acorn top for help after twisting his ankle. It’s sheer rock walls were collapsed and half-buried. His father retraced the steps. Bartell was seven, and his brother, John, was nine. Their mother just died, and so they hiked through the woods to cope with the loss. Bartell awed at the massive granite blocks that looked tumbled and turned over by gods rather than decades of river ice. Each block seemed as chiseled as those in a Roman cathedral. He thought to find that magical, rooted place now to keep a chunk of stone over his parent’s graves. Maybe that’s what brought him. He wished his father saw him at the capital. He wanted to recover sooner.

He passed between un-mowed edges of Queen Ann’s lace, purple burdock flowers, and milkweed. He knew the way, soon a low bridge over a creek, and then a long, level ditch.

[Filled with explosives, your boot came off in the muck. We’re trapped. Then that jackass turned back, and after him, to unscrew it. He needed a step, but it’s deep. Up to the hips deep, and it bit a leg off. A disappearing joke in the quicksand that the bullets boiled? No. You’re gone. Never coming back. My mangled meat will also outlast me. Horfreakinray. That’s my joke-a-day. Mine cauterized. Mud took it away.]

A silver truck crossed an intersection ahead of him, slowly. His eyes strained. If the driver approached him, he might hurt him. The medication would not help.

Its tires squealed. It sped on.

Bartell ran unknowingly toward the unmarked grave of Danny McCann, who Sheriff William Stillwell shot dead during the 1818 Canal Strike. The diggers walked off the job after a foreman tried to dry their camp. Thirty young men took out on a cold November night into Palatine. They busted up the town and stalked into the Spraker Inn on River Road. In a wild, drunken stupor, McCann snatched Stillwell’s drink from the bar and proclaimed that no one could stop a man from his right to drink. Stillwell, too old, with one seeing eye, left the room but returned shortly with his young deputy. He then leveled an old musket on the men and told them to get back to camp. McCann leaped toward the sheriff and the others moved over when he crashed to the floor, gunned down in a cloud of powder. The men got their whiskey but were no longer allowed into towns. There would be no trial. They shoveled McCann’s grave as they dug foggy-headed, up the Mohawk Valley toward Buffalo.

[“Shit. Get my leg!”]

Bartell’s team encountered stiff resistance sectors and elaborate minefields on his last patrol as they pressed into insurgent sanctuaries. There were many gunfights, and their efforts to clear the roads bogged them down. The patrols were slowed further by the deep mud and the irrigation ditches that crisscrossed their path. John said they reminded him of the canal, but Bartell realized that the canal back home did not require armor to plow for hidden bombs. They slogged their way forward slowly, through that morning muck when John died. They called for close air support with laser-guided weapons and strafed to flatten enemy positions. Then they came upon an impassable ditch filled with quicksand. Impossible. They inserted on Black Hawks to flank, with their position now under major attack. John thrived in those intense situations. It proved a prowess underestimated by many. “It’s gonna be a mud fight,” John said to him using a weak hillbilly impression. “We’ll crawl right into Clinton’s Ditch.” The orders were to wait, but insurgents targeted the team stuck and exposed down in a flooded, overgrown area. They agreed, they did not have long.

[“It’s an acorn top. You blow across it with your thumbs in a V-shape, and it’ll whistle. Here … you try.”]

What sounded like a sharp “yelp” brought his mind back to his run. Then an orange flash in the corner of his eye. Something flew through the air, into the canal and landed with a wet thud. The sound of breaking tires seemed last.

IMG_0389Bartell stood on the shoulder of the trail, trying to catch his breath. He looked down into a sunken area between the road and the bike path — nothing in focus.

“Bartell, that’s you,” asked a bellied, unshaven man across the way. He looked in his 40s and wore a dirty t-shirt and sweatpants. His hands looked filthy, and dirt marked his side like he crawled from a pit. “I heard you were with the governor. You got the Silver Star, right? You know, I was just messin’, why’ a go off like that?”

Bartell took a deep breath, made a tight fist, and crossed over to the road. The man smelled of cigarettes. He thought to confront him but he suddenly recalled John’s mechanic buddy, Griff. There existed in those personal effects a photo of them drinking at Spraker’s before training. John felt nervous then, which seemed funny since he thought up enlistment.

“My brother, you meant …

[… my brother.]

“It was his. Posthumous.”

“Shit, sorry.”

[A friend of mine once got her sore
Now he’s got a bro-ken jaw
‘Cause she let fly with an iron toe
And kicked him back to Buff-a-lo.]

The two looked down. Blood streaked across the weeds in a red flight path toward the canal for 50 feet. Further down, through the cattails and lying in a stagnant puddle, was a dog. The mechanic’s silver pickup with its trail of brake marks and plastic shards from its front grill shadowed over the grass with a piece of orange-red fur stuck in a shattered headlight. A smell of burnt rubber lingered.

In 1821 Orville McCann parked his wagon near the same spot after a desperate search for his son’s grave, but to no avail. He camped the night and set out toward St. Louis the following morning empty-handed. The man spent weeks on his hands and knees, in muddy fields and with no company to unearth the marker canal workers said they placed. What he did not know was that river ice buried the stone in the winter of 1819. His distant Missouri relatives still recall him saying “that it just wasn’t right, leaving his boy’s bones in that god-be-damned place.”

[Not my blood.]

“It’s an Irish Setter,” Bartell asked no one, unsure in its mangled state. The animal panted, from somewhere. He thought, “maybe a year old?”

Bartell read every news story, book, and magazine he got at Walter Reed to escape. They found him there on occasions in open debate with an empty recovery room, shouting at the by-lines and quotes with his monitor’s alarm tripped. Medics once found a raving madman in his place — Bartell checked out, just for a moment. Months of medical limbo, trying to move again, were maddening; after all, what did anyone know? They came one evening shortly before his move from intensive care to tell him about his father’s severe stroke. He died the day John’s personal effects arrived.

[“… a mud fight.”]

The man with the silver truck flicked a cigarette into the canal and then climbed down its embankment to examine at a closer distance. He hunched over it and folded his face as if he smelled something foul.

“Man’s best or not, they say these injured ones’ ill bite you, if you give ’em a chance.”

IMG_1161Bartell stood silent, now on the edge of the road. The air seemed lighter. He waited, trying to breathe. Steam rose from his heated body with a ghostly effect as passing clouds let in sporadic sunshine. Then a child’s scream from the other side pierced the air and broke the spell. A frantic girl ran toward him, down a driveway and to the road, with no regard. “Casey!” She screamed for the dog.

He thought, “I’m too far,” but this time, he vaulted a great deal using the spring of his prosthesis. Strong and swift, he catapulted the girl clear of traffic, then tumbled down into the ditch.

[On behalf of the State of New York and a grateful nation, I thank you for your brother’s ultimate sacrifice.]

Blurry eyed, he saw her sitting above him. She looked maybe nine. She transformed, calm, like an angel.

[I know, it wasn’t my fault.]

Bartell rolled onto his side. His breath knocked out of him. Then he noticed a battered old gravemarker half-buried in the weeds.

(Written by Mike R. Smith) (Song lyrics, Low Bridge, by Thomas Allen 1913)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Virtual in-residence remote EPME scheduled for 251 Airmen

LOUISVILLE, Tenn. — U.S. Air Force professional military education instructors assigned to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center in East Tennessee were wrapping up the final recordings for virtual in-residence remote NCO academy and Airman leadership school this week for the total U.S. Air Force.

TEC’s Lankford Enlisted PME Center began developing the inaugural VIR-R classes in March through telework and in the TEC-TV studios when classes suspended on campus due to COVID19.

More than 250 EPME students are scheduled to connect from their homes across the nation beginning June 15.

Airmen interested in these courses should speak with their assigned education managers concerning VIR-R EPME opportunities.

Longest-serving on TEC staff, Billie Laux, dies at 85

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. — Billie Laux, who provided decades of service and support to the Air National Guard training and education center, died Sunday, May 24, at 85.

Laux was hired in 1968 by the Director of the Air National Guard to serve as a civilian administrator at the ANG’s first NCO Academy. She was among its six initial instructors and staff, including a deputy commandant, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Paul H. Lankford, and a commandant/commander U.S. Air Force Maj. Ed Morrisey. Continue reading “Longest-serving on TEC staff, Billie Laux, dies at 85”

Interactive gatherings bypass traditional auditorium events

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. — The Air National Guard’s training and education center in East Tennessee recently held two core organizational events virtually that would fill an auditorium under normal circumstances.

The interactive gatherings online included the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center’s quarterly commander’s call, as well as the organization’s all-staff tactical pause day. They are the most extensive and latest gatherings of assigned personnel to be affected by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Continue reading “Interactive gatherings bypass traditional auditorium events”

The combat effective couch commando

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. – “I forgot how to do homework. My back is killing me. I need to get off of this old couch.”

“Then you need to take care of that,” my wife recently told me over the phone from Missouri. “There’s no one there besides you to see it and point that out.”

“You’d think for a writer that I’d have telework down,” I replied. “I need to use a desk and a good chair. I’m too old to get by long with poor posture.”

Alright. In perspective, my aches and pains are small potatoes in this terrible pandemic. Hardship and suffering are rampant. And I was not battling the virus or at any significant risk, unlike our courageous health care workers and essential services workers. I was working from home, writing an article about how U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center are teleworking.

As it turns out, that and my hurt back all got me thinking about ergonomics. Continue reading “The combat effective couch commando”