Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sings So Sweet

I wake up early in the morning often these days - 3:00 AM - and I have found whether an upstairs window is open or not, I can hear the sounds of birds singing.

Right now it is 5:55 AM, and I have been browsing the morning news on the major city newspapers' Websites, and checking our youngest son's daily 100-day countdown blog. In the background from outside, I hear the coo, coo, coo of a mourning dove over the old-man ringing in my ears. There are other bird songs playing as well, but I am not all that good of a birder, because I don't know them: woo, woo, kaa, kaa, kaa.

On the front page of this morning's Washington Post, is an article all about the influences of urban sounds on bird songs - interesting.

The birds here on the East Coast are remarkable - they are remarkable also in the ways they adapt to their environments.

* Birds may be choosing to sing songs that contain higher notes, or are raising pitches to stand out above the noise.

* The regions of the birds' brains associated with song undergo partial renewal each spring, which may cement into the bird's head certain songs tailored for a noisy territory.

* Birds may learn modified songs, or may not be able to hear low notes, or they may simply drop low notes that aren't effective.

* Females may be more likely to choose males who sing in higher frequencies, and are known to select males that show a proficiency for learning.

* If birds sing more loudly in response to noise, they will use more energy, which could lead to either shorter, more efficient songs or diminished vigor.

Maybe it would be interesting to record how westerners from small college towns adapt to the hustle and bustle of the East Coast as well.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Seven Years Ago Today

It was seven years ago today that I got an email at work from my wife, "Mike phoned home, said he joined the Army, call me." I stood shocked looking at the screen - my knees may have buckled. I called right away, "April Fools, he got us good, didn't he."(1) Was I relieved, and went back to my work.

On the drive home, I had a chance to think - Where did that come from?

The next night, I am sitting in my chair and the phone rings - it's Mike, "Dad, I really do want to join the Army. Can we talk?"

Thursday the 3rd, we are sitting at the table eating dinner and I am asking, "Why not the Navy, or the Air Force?"

"I want to do something significant with my life. I want to be up front."

"They will tell you what to do."

"It's for a purpose, Dad."

It may as well been an Army recruiting commercial on Super Bowl Sunday.

Mike reported for duty on September 11, 2003. On November 14 I flew to Atlanta and drove to Fort Benning for the Family Weekend Visit, the first time the recruits were able to have a night away from Basic Training. Following is a copy of the notes I kept for the weekend.

Visiting Michael at Ft. Benning
November 15 and 16, 2003

I was able to pick Michael out of the crowd when the couple sitting next to me said the 2nd Platoon was marching.

When I first walked up to him he had a really big smile. I shook his hand and then asked if I could hug him. We had a big hug. I kissed him, too, and was a little bit emotional.

Mike explained everything about his M-16. I didn’t have the record button pushed correctly on the video camera, so didn’t get it taped!

Mike’s friend “Smiley” Slaney from Seattle came up and introduced himself along with a fellow named Perez from Puerto Rico.

Captain Paul, First Sergeant ______, and Drill Sergeant ______ gave a briefing in the classroom while we waited for the soldiers to change from their fatigues into their Class A dress uniforms. Also saw a brief video about the Infantry.

After final instructions, Mike was released for leave and we went out to Grand Cherokee. Mike said sometime he would like to have one for himself. (2)

We went back to the Holiday Inn in Columbus to stow his bag.

We went to Ranger Joe’s to get Mike PV2 chevrons put on his sleeves – he didn’t have time to do that since getting his dress uniform. This was important for him to get done. Mike was proud of his uniform and talked about the different kinds of cords he would have: Infantry, Old Guard when he completed the different training phases. He is looking forward to getting his Blue Infantry cord when he graduates, doesn’t feel his uniform will be complete until then. We looked at the different uniform patches that identified which division or group you were with. We found the Old Guard patch with the Washington Monument on it.

We went to Outback Steakhouse for “lunch” at 3:00 PM. We had cheese fries for a snack, and then Mike had pasta with chicken and shrimp. He drank three big glasses of sweetened tea. No room for desert. The First Sergeant had told the families to make sure their soldier didn’t eat their steak in three minutes! Mike had no difficulty eating slowly and talking about all aspects of what he has been experiencing.

I thought it was significant that Mike said if he hadn’t been offered Old Guard he would have regretted not taking Airborne medic training since he would have then only be airborne infantry. He has learned a lot about what kind of environment and kind of people he wants be with. He talked a lot about how he really likes the discipline of the Army and is looking forward to the professionalism of the Old Guard, its rigors.

We didn’t eat supper since we had a big late lunch, but Mike remarked how he was used to eating three big meals a day. He described how much he eats for breakfast. Also mentioned how it seems that when they don’t get much sleep, they seem to get to eat more.

Mike said he doesn’t have a lot of patience for the guys that get upset with the Drill Sergeants being they way they are and why they make them do things they way they want them done. Mike just accepts the Army system for the way it is.

We went to see the movie Runaway Jury. Mike picked it out with the other best choice being the murder mystery with Denzel Washington.

After the movie we went back to the Holiday Inn. Mike made calls talking to Grandpa Imbach and Erinn.

There were a lot of soldiers and college students around. There was a home college football game in town. The people in the room next door we up and making a lot of noise until after 3:00 AM. Mike slept through the whole thing!

We got up Sunday morning around 8:30. Mike had said the Sunday before that he didn’t want to “sleep in” a long time. He took a regular fast shower. Mentioned that he can get away shaving every-other day, but has to use shaving cream then that slows things down a lot. A lot of what he does is to try to save time here and there. There just isn’t a lot of time for him, so time is all-important.

We went to Denny’s after looking all around for a restaurant for breakfast - it turned out that there are a lot of choices on the north end of town farthest away from Fort Benning. Mike had a big scramble dish, with a side of pancakes, and three large glasses of orange juice. The waitress Carol let us plug in the video camera to get it charged while we were in the restaurant. A couple of customers waiting commented/asked if Mike was on his mid training leave. One was a nice fellow who was finishing up Officer’s Candidate School training -a really nice fellow, looks like he would be real quality officer material, was there with his girlfriend/fiancĂ©e, noticed that they prayed before their meal.

After breakfast we went back to Ranger Joe’s for a little more looking around and shopping. We then drove onto the base to go to the PX. Mike showed his ID each time we passed a security check. Mike did a lot of filming of the base and describing the sights. It should be good. We then went to Sand Hill and filmed his entire world there. Also went to the Infantry Museum. Along the way to that we drove by the Officer and NCO housing of the type that was shown in the movie “We were soldiers”.(3) Reading some of the memorial monuments outside the museum was a little emotional for me.

Mike talked about how he has learned he needs not to get all excited about what he is going to do in the future because in the past he gets so over board that he then runs cold. Now he is going one day at a time, one step at a time. He wants to be the best he can be and will take it as each opportunity comes along.

Mike told me how he had signed up for the Montgomery GI Bill for college. $100 per month for the first year and then he is vested in it. He said he didn’t do this when he was processed in Portland, but when processed at Ft. Benning again, he thought it was a good deal. He said that it is able to be used by his family (wife, kids later on, too). I told him that Bill Constadt was really concerned that he signs up for it. He also signed up for the life insurance offered by the Army ($16 per month), though he doesn’t like the idea of setting a price for his life.

Mike told me the story about the details of his pneumonia episode.

He has been a squad leader for about as long as any one has been to this point. The Drill Sergeants are now putting in specific guys that show leadership ability, and not by random choice.

He had a guy really angry with him Friday evening and it got close to a fight, but Mike said he kept his cool. His squad is still problematic, can’t stay focused for more than a few hours at a time. He and the rest of the squad leaders and the platoon leader got smoked the other day, and the guys in the platoon were in line for a few hours, but then lost focus, again.

Mike really likes the Army. He doesn’t know, but may make a career of it. The idea of getting in 20 years and retiring by age 39 appeals to him.

He can go into detail about all of the weapons systems they use.

Said he would want to be in a position of leadership when it counts because he sees the importance of who ever is in charge knowing what they are doing or you would get killed. They did an exercise in the field and were flanked by two guys and Mike was “killed” and he knew they were going to get it because the squad leader wasn’t using good tactics.

We went to dinner on Sunday at O’Charley’s on the north end of Columbus, in the same area as the Cinemaplex. Mike had a big hamburger, fries, and pink lemonade. We called Grandma and Grandpa Steiner before we went in, but the cell phone lost its charge. We charged it while we were in the restaurant. Called Grandma back after dinner. Mike also called Dan and Anna, and then Brian. All together, he called Erinn a couple of times, along with all the calls to Mom. He called Brian Shreeve from the car before 7:00 PM when we were back near his barracks.

Mike told about getting smoked for not following a procedure properly because his Drill Sergeant give contradictory orders to the weapon’s procedures. He still liked getting all sweaty doing the push ups and was satisfied with how well he takes it from the drill sergeants when getting dressed down. In general, Mike is satisfied with how he keeps his cool.

Mike also enjoys observing all the different kinds of people and how they do what they do.

Also, he is impressed with all the different kinds of hair styles that Afro-American women have. He never saw anything like that in Corvallis! The general cultural differences in the South are of interest to him.

We talked a little bit about some perspectives for why the Drill Sergeants do what they do: He mentioned how the DS’s asking and then making a lot of fun of the guys who were having family visiting for the leave. I said that they probably did this because they didn’t want the guys who didn’t have family coming to not feel too bad. Told him how Sr. Drill Sergeant had told us at the family briefing that the reason they don’t want cookies sent is because in this kind of climate in the south, there would be ants and cockroaches all over the place if all the soldiers had food in their lockers. I told him about the Marine book mentioning how recruits who received letters were punished with push ups to equalize it for the guys that didn’t get mail. Mike later mentioned to Dan about my perspectives being helpful for him understanding the DS's more.

(1) Jan was in California April 1, 2010. I text'd her today, repeating the same message she emailed me seven years before - it caught her off guard now, as her message did me the same.

(2) This came true - he bought one after reporting to Fort McNair after Airborne School at Fort Benning. He still drives a Grand Cherokee, though a newer model.

(3) Every spring and autumn we have a neighborhood clean-up at the entrance to our subdivision. One of the regulars there is George who is a retired Army Colonel. Over a couple of seasons' clean ups, I found out that he was at la Drang Valley on November 14, 1965. He later was a consultant for the movie We Were Soldiers, and last year attended President Obama's Inauguration as a guest of one of our state's U.S. Senators. His mother was also in the 1965 Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C., while he was a soldier stationed at Fort Myer.