90 years of a life well lived and some wisdom

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on October 8, 2017. It can also be found online here.

My grandmother-in-law turns 90 this weekend, so I called and announced myself with a self-deprecating ice breaker: “It’s your good-for-nothing grandson-in-law.” Before I got the last syllable out, she pushed back with infectious positivity, telling me, “What do you mean good-for-nothing?” and then how excited she was for the great-grandkid pictures I’d recently posted.

The young don’t spend much time with the aged outside gift-giving events, which seems almost criminal in that it robs younger folk of the real presents on offer: wisdom and experience. Continue reading “90 years of a life well lived and some wisdom”

Good marriage is a connection where two shine as one

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on September 22, 2017. It can also be found online here.

Chances are you’re going to a wedding soon. 40 percent of weddings now take place as the fall sets in and leaves change color, up from 30 percent in 2009, according to the largest industry survey of its kind. And September and October are tied for the months of the year with the most marriages.

These numbers make my wife a walking statistic: she’s currently on a two week excursion to two weddings, one overseas in Croatia and one domestic in Pennsylvania.

With all the time and expense that weddings entail, as the average one nowadays tops $35,000 (without the honeymoon), it’s worth thinking a bit about why we go to so much trouble. What does marriage really do for us? Why do we bother?

I’m certainly no expert on the subject. Just someone working hard at my own marriage, like many others. But I’ve had nearly a decade of experience at it by now, and have observed the ups and downs of many other marriages. And so I feel qualified to offer some thoughts on our curious custom of coming together. Continue reading “Good marriage is a connection where two shine as one”

The Way Home from ‘A War’

*Note: This essay was published at War on the Rocks on February 11, 2016. It can also be found online here (or PDF). 

Something is revealing in Denmark; Hamlet would be proud. In this case, it is the third film from writer/director Tobias Lindholm (English title: A War, Danish: Krigen — Danish with English subtitles). This Academy Award-nominated Best Foreign Language Film opens in the United States on February 12 and stars Pilou Asbaek as Capt. Claus Pederson, a Danish officer, leading an infantry company on the Afghan front, and Tuva Novotny as Maria, Claus’s wife, leading her three children on the home front.

As with most foreign films, some anchoring is helpful as Denmark seems only to come up in America as a political football or potential nuclear target. For comparison, Denmark shares the rough physical size, population, and economic weight as Maryland, and has lost an eerily similar number of soldiers in Afghanistan (Denmark 43, Maryland 46). As a country that has not encountered intense combat since the Second World War, Denmark’s experience in Afghanistan has been brutal — the Danes have lost more soldiers there, relative to population, than any other fighting coalition country — topping even the United States and United Kingdom. For filmophiles, A War bears resemblance to the award-winning Australian movie Breaker Morant. For fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Asbaek is set to star in April’s upcoming sixth season. For fellow students of war, the core readership of War on the Rocks, there is much, much more.

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.

The Painful Privilege: Why Deployed Soldiers Feel Like ‘The Walking Dead’

*Note: This essay was published at War on the Rocks on July 30, 2015. It can also be found online here (or PDF). 

My birthday is today, and it hurts. I’m a deployed Army officer, living a half marathon distance from the Demilitarized Zone in Korea and 6,000 miles from home (which may as well read “1,000,000”). Service is a privilege; deployed service is a painful privilege that grinds at the soldier’s soul like cancer corrodes the body.

It’s the little things that wear you down, like the videophone calls that go wrong. We thought it would be nice to set up a “goodnight” for our 4-year-old daughter, and it was, right up until she asked, “Daddy, will you be home tomorrow?” It stunned me, and tears dripped down my face before I could form words. If I were a traveling salesman, my response might have been an excited “yes.” But I’m not; our family is still inside of the first month of a yearlong separation.

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.

On Deployment: Love and Duty in Modern War

*Note: This essay was published at War on the Rocks on June 25, 2015. It can also be found online here (or PDF). 

Ellen DeGeneres is wrong.

Misleading, maybe. Her show features military family reunions, following a year of separation, complete with hugs, kisses — all for the cameras. Sometimes even a free trip. The audience loves it; millions take in the YouTube clip.

Unfortunately, this happy view is as inaccurate as focusing on a marathon’s final strides. What about the other 26.1 miles? Or, oppositely, the start? What about the military experience, the moment of deployment departure, when family and all that matters is about to fade into the rearview mirror — what does this feel like?

In my case, excruciatingly conflicted. I love my wife and adore my two daughters, but this coming weekend I will leave them for a year to guard the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in South Korea.

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.

A Real "Silver Linings Playbook"

This past September, my younger brother Kevin gave a modified, generic greeting card to my wife Rachel and I, that, in conclusion, read: “you saved my life.”  I hugged him and reminded him of how far he had come through his hard work.  Then, when Rachel and I went up to bed, in the quiet of our bedroom, we acknowledged how stunned we were.

Kevin had come to live with us at West Point, New York, where I teach a course at the United States Military Academy on military strategy to cadets, in order to lose enough weight to join the U.S. Army.  In mid-June I weighed him in at 222; the Army standard for his height is 189 pounds.  Kevin arrived just before Independence Day weekend and set to work.  Three workouts a day (the vast majority being non-impact aerobic exercise) with some running mixed in to keep things interesting.  Small, light meals and dinner was always at the table to encourage discussion and fellowship.  Oh, an a little boxed wine to keep the spirits up (good for the environment and good for the soul).

Continue reading “A Real "Silver Linings Playbook"”