Friday, June 29, 2007

Three Men, Two Points of View

Every other Sunday or so, I have one of two visitors over. Over coffee and tea we speak of “things.” Sundays, especially those Sundays, have become my most favorite day of the week.

One of my two Sunday visitors, “E-Man,” matches up almost perfectly with me and my worldviews; the other, “Tommy Gun,” likes to argue about nearly everything. So, Tommy-G is “Mr. Contrary,” while E-Man is “my choir” (and conversely, I am his). I enjoy conversing with both of these fellows, but there is a marked difference on how I feel during and after our lengthy discussions, depending on which of them it is that comes over that day.

E-Man, my intellectual “bird of a feather” is just plain fun to talk to. Our “speak easies” start at noon and end only when the sun’s light has faded. Sometimes it seems we come to our senses when it starts to get dark out, having lost all track of time. Without his own transport, he doesn’t like to be on this side of town trying to catch jeepnies home in the dark. I don’t blame him; this part of the Philippines can be dicey even in the day.

Now Tommy-G, well, he challenges me on almost every subject. As far as the two of us goes, no two people could possibly be so seemingly opposed in viewpoint; therefore, I’m sure he purposely “goes adversarial” on me mostly because it’s his nature. That’s why I call him Mr. Contrary. The time goes by pretty quickly with him as well, but I’m tired and mentally used up when its time for him to jump astride his motorcycle and roar off into the evening.

Both men are a study in where they come from. E-man is from the Northern Midwest; he’s exceedingly polite, diffident and self-effacing. Tommy is from the Northeast; he’s brusque, impatient, and strident. If you had to characterize the people of those two stateside regions, both men’s personalities would match up as expected with the average profile of the region where each comes from. In other words, to put it succinctly, Midwesterners are nice and Northeasterners are ornery! I wonder what it says about me that I’m also from the Midwest like E-man, but my personality more mirrors Tommy’s aggressive persona than it does E-man’s more serene one.

These days, Tommy and I have an unspoken agreement to NOT discuss Middle-Eastern politics, including and especially Iraq and Afghanistan. However, on his way out the door last Sunday Tommy-Gun snuck in a couple jabs at me stating snottily, “9 more of our brothers died the other day—did you see that?”

What Tommy-Gun believes is quite simple: The Middle East is a screwed up place filled with mean spirited people that have been slaughtering each other for millennia and not one of them is worth even one American GI’s life.

Tommy is a military veteran just like E-man and myself; so all three of us have that in common. Tom’s dad was a marine in the early 50s and his pop is vociferously against us being in that part of the world even more than his son is. For Tom, perhaps it’s a case of “sometimes we are who raised us.” Now, that is somewhat true with me too; my parents are very traditional and I absorbed many of their worldviews, but my views ALSO come from my own world travels and travails.

In the case of E-man, who is a fellow from one of the most liberal States in the union, HE (like me) is definitely a man who has BECOME decidedly conservative BECAUSE of what he has seen in the world, and he has lived in and seen a lot of it. When college professors told us how we SHOULD feel about things, neither of us made our minds up based on the lectures of these mostly half-baked theoreticians who had never been anywhere or done anything. Both of us have spent years (hell, decades!) in college classrooms, but because we have very pragmatic backgrounds, unlike most of our easily impressed and inexperienced younger classmates, we did NOT simply swallow every professorial opinion we were subjected to.

So, with Tommy-Gun I find myself mostly debating, defending and arguing. He’s a very smart guy (just ask him!) and I rarely feel like I’ve ever made much, if any, headway on convincing him of anything. Of course even if I did manage such a thing he’s so headstrong that he’d never admit it. The good thing is that in going through my points in my arguments with him—by being forced to give voice to them—in the light of day they either make sense or they don’t. So, once spoken, there are times that my line of reasoning doesn’t seem quite as vigorous as I thought. It is then that I find myself “evolving” and even rethinking my positions. This is especially true when Tommy finds “holes” in them. (Call me a flip-flopper if you must; I call it being thoughtful and open-minded).

History and culture are E-man’s forte; in fact, he has a degree in history. I love history; and I can’t get enough of being around others who love it as much as I do, especially since fellow lay historians are so few and far between. With most folks, once I start into my “lectures” on some historical aspect, I can practically see the glaze come over their eyes. When E-man and I start “swapping knowledge,” as I call it, before we know it, six hours has flown by. If you can imagine sitting in the same chair through 3 extra long movies and not even noticing their length, THAT is how a Sunday afternoon passes into evening when E and I have our discussions.

The funny thing about E-man is that even though he comes from such a socially and politically liberal place, he has been taught by his experiences of living in the 3rd World that most tenants of progressive liberalism are faulty and untenable. Based on E’s viewpoint, Katana, one of my fellow bloggers and a very nice person, would undoubtedly label him a “neo-con,” which, by the way, is liberal-speak for “moron.” These days, anyone with a strongly traditional or conservative belief system is called the “n word,” which seems to be a tag with negative connotations made up by “progressive” academia for anyone with whom they disagree. (The left loves to label people negatively and then dismiss them outright as being contemptible and stupid).

A final point on my “Sunday conversations” with both E-man and Tommy-G are our blatant and persistent lack of observance of political correctness. We trust each other implicitly, thus, we are totally comfortable with using any words and expressions we desire, no matter how racist, sexist or otherwise inappropriate they would be in any other setting. Generally, we don't say too much that would be considered anti-social, but if one of us "slips," we don't jump down the other's throat over it. I have to admit; being free to say anything, no matter what, is cathartic; I recommend it to anyone every so often.

After all, there’s a time and a place for everything… For me, its Sundays.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What's the difference between the VA and a con artist?

Nearly everyday I meet with veterans to discuss their next moves in their ongoing struggles with the VA. Today was no different. This time I met at a local hotel restaurant with a retired master gunnery sergeant, a marine of course.

Strategically, I chose a table with a direct view of the pool—you never know what you might see, hopefully NOT some fat hairy European in a Speedo. Fortunately, even when there is a “Mr. Speedo” there is also usually a cutey in a bikini to keep him company; so I guess it all evens out.

My friend had an uncharacteristically troubled look on his face as we shook hands and took our seats.

“Up until about ten minutes ago I wasn’t sure I was even going to make it here,” he said, shaking his head while opening his briefcase. “I was in my car stopped in traffic just down from Kokomos, and this chick walks up next to my car. She put one hand on her forehead and then slammed the side of my car with her other hand. Then she fell down on the street and started groaning like I’d hit her.”

“Oh man! She was trying to scam you… It just never ENDS around here,” I complained bitterly. “So what happened?”

“A bunch of people suddenly surrounded me, all of ‘em looking at this woman lying on the ground. I didn’t know what the hell to do. And then a motorcycle cop came up and grabbed the woman by the arm and forced her to her feet. He told me he saw everything and to go ahead and go.”

“Dude! Good on him! He saved you a whole bunch of hassle, if not a whole lot of pesos.”

“Yep. He acted like he had been watching her, like he knew she was going to try something like that. She must have a history of scamming foreigners.”

“I hope he takes her to jail and roughs her up on the way there. I wonder how many tourists and foreigners she has already bilked? I guess its just one more trick we have to watch out for.”

He shrugged resignedly, “Well, at least that policeman helped me out. All’s well that ends well…”

I chuckled, “Well, if it’s not the VA screwing you over, it’s a local con artist. You gotta love it!”

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Gulf War I Revelations

Sometimes you think you know things, and then, when you learn otherwise, the particulars can come as quite a shock.

While sitting on the recumbent bike and peddling away like I do almost everyday in my neighborhood gym, I had a running conversation with another retired military man, an ex-Marine ten years my senior, a man I highly respect. I’ve known him for more than a year. I’ve long recognized in him the telltales of PTSD, so I watch what I say. His anger can flash over in a heartbeat, and I would just as soon keep him as calm and agreeable as possible.

He was an ordnance man over the bulk of his long career; although back in the 60s during the Vietnam War, he started out in intelligence. Just before calling it a career in the mid-90s he served in-theater during the 1st Gulf War, which coincidentally was the only war in which I had the opportunity to serve during my own 27-year career. So, as far as having shared experiences to discuss, other than my comparatively brief time in the Corps, The Gulf War is about it.

But, compared to my buddy’s experiences in the Gulf, my own were myopic. My “little” job was to directly supervise and manage a dayshift of aircraft repair specialists. We kept a fleet of a dozen or so C-130 transports in flying shape by fixing them when they broke, and better yet, by maintaining them so that they wouldn’t break. Our mission was much complicated by the dusty sandy atmosphere that played hell with the engines, hydraulics and flight controls. Those 30 odd men and 12 aircraft was my world for the 7 months of that very short war. In other words, I had a very narrow view of the whole thing. I did not have much of a sense of the “big picture” at all.

On the other hand, during that 1st war with Iraq, my friend was a senior ranking warrant officer, a “gunner” as they are called; his job being to keep our frontline troops stocked with bombs, shells and bullets. In a way, it was probably one of THE most important jobs of the war. Without guys like him—the army, air force, marine and naval “trigger pullers,” like the bomber and fighter jocks, artillerymen, infantrymen, and tankers—NONE of these actual war fighters, can do their jobs.

In a very nonchalant way, Gunner shared with me two startlingly eye-opening pieces of information about “our” war that I hadn’t a clue about—not even an inkling. As he shared them with me, I asked him if he was sure the info was no longer classified. He assured me that it was all declassified by 2001, ten years after the war ended.

The first incredible piece of intelligence he had for me was of the presence of tactical nuclear weapons onboard the ships he served on. Now that alone is not shocking to me, since tac nukes are always an optional part of any American theater commander's list of “possibilities,” albeit a remote one. What I found incredible was how apparently ready we were to use them. I asked if he was sure, and he promised me that it was absolutely so. “Guns,” another nickname for “ammo” guys like him, vowed that he personally oversaw the preparations of these miniature nuclear devices. They were armed and made ready for immediate and judicious “delivery” to the very heart of Iraq.

He claims that the “trigger” for the “nuking” of the Iraqis was simple—if Hussein dared to use chemical or biological weapons on our troops, and it was confirmed, then the use of “tac” nukes was going to be our “measured” response. I’m sure Hussein was apprised of our intentions; otherwise the “threat” of their use would have been lost on him. I must admit that just the thought that we were that close to escalating the war to a nuclear level makes me shudder, even now.

The second bit of eye-opening information came about as I opined to him of my deep dissatisfaction with Colin Powel and the first George Bush, about how angry with them I was that they had “pussied out” and did not finish off Hussein and his malevolent army when we clearly had the means to easily do it.

I explained, “Because of those two numbskulls, Hussein had 12 years to prepare the current insurgency that’s got us all tied up in knots now. If that idiot Powel hadn’t gotten soft after the so-called “highway of death” we wouldn’t be in the pickle we are in today. We had them beat. All we had to do was go to Baghdad and take over!”

Gunner chuckled at my apparent naiveté and deigned to straighten me out, practically flooring me in the process, “Well, I hate to bust your bubble, but all we had available at the start of the offensive was just 30 days of ordnance. That’s all any of our contingency plans called for. The opening bombing campaign went on for a lot longer than that. What was it—40 some days? By the time our ground troops started rolling in we were all but out. We had shot our wad!”

I was incredulous. “You’re kidding. Why in God’s name would we put ourselves such a situation?”

“At the time we thought our factories and supply pipeline would be able to step it up and keep up with wartime requirements, but it didn’t turn out that way. At the end, as soon as the ordnance arrived in theater we offloaded it for immediate use. It went straight out of the crates and packaging and into the war. We could not rebuild an inventory.”

Some things began to dawn on me as I listened to him. I remembered how intense our C‑130 cargo missions had been towards the end of the war.

He continued, “We were so short on deliverable ammo that I remember offloading obsolete bombs that were clearly marked for disposal. We ended up dropping everything we had in the inventory, even the outdated stuff, and still we ran out. We just didn’t have enough ordnance to keep the war going at that intensity.”

Hearing this stuff, I was dumfounded.

“They asked me to figure out a way to safely stack bombs on deck and get underway because we needed to move as much as we could all at once. The Navy ended up paying me $20,000 based on the procedures that I wrote to do exactly that. Everyone else in the ordnance career field said it couldn’t be done. As far as I know they still use my procedures.”

I congratulated him. “Nice bonus! Its true isn’t it, that necessity is the mother of invention?” I chuckled at my own clichéd cleverness.

I’ve read lots on the Internet and seen plenty of TV productions concerning all aspects of The Gulf War; yet, I’ve never heard a thing on either of my very credible gym buddy’s two amazing assertions. Of his two claims, I find the most amazing his allegation that the war might well have ended prematurely NOT JUST because of a lack of willingness on the part of our leaders, but MORE PROBABLY because we had simply run out of bombs.

I would go so far as to deduce that at that moment, as a nation, we were in a very dangerous state of military NON-preparedness. The fact that the Cold War was over and won was a VERY lucky thing indeed; otherwise, it would have been the perfect time for the Soviets, or any enemy for that matter, to attack us or to pursue some other act of aggression.

On further thought, perhaps the fact that we were so low on conventional armaments is a prime reason Gunner had been ordered to rack and stack those tactical nukes. When it comes down to it, if we had actually run out of the conventional stuff, perhaps Schwarzkopf saw the use of “non-conventional” explosives as a viable alternative. It’s not likely, but still its food for thought. After my revelatory discussion in the gym I’m realizing all the more that sometimes things are not always as they seem.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Listen UP! I'm STILL in my 40s!

For another hour and a half I can STILL say that I am in my 40s.

This past year has been a different one for me compared to past ones. Before my 49th, starting every April or so, when asked my age I’d just bump it up to my upcoming one. I don’t know why I did that—its just a habit that started when I was very young when I still actually looked forward to being older and hopefully wealthier and wiser.

It’s funny—I just haven’t been able to get myself to say the response, “I’m 50.” I’d start to think about what I’d say and I’d just go with “Oh, I'm 49.” I noticed that the apparent extra thought I put into answering it would cause a few raised eyebrows. But starting tomorrow, I’ll have no more choice; although I suppose I could just lie. Nahhh! That’s just not in me to do that I guess.

I’ve been thinking a LOT about age lately—imagine that! I’ve been considering how we look at it. Generally, it seems to me that we classify people by the decade in years they are.

We think of teens as inexperienced and searching for identity. We give them absolutely no credibility whatsoever. The teen years are something to "get through." I despised my teens ALMOST as much as my pre-teens.

The twenties and thirties tend to be lumped together—those are the years of our physical if not our mental “prime.” I LOVED my 20s and 30s!

When folks hit 40 they start thinking of their mortality, and of course the deadly idea of "middle age" rears its ugly wrinkled dried up old head. But, we do tend to give folks in their 40s lots of extra “credit” for intelligence and experience. In truth, most folks hit their "working prime" during their 40s, supposedly the years noted as prime for making the most money, which was certainly true for me.

Military folks (like me) rarely stay in the service past the age of 50, except for some generals, E-9s, reservists and guardsmen. Most of the rest of us are in fact forced out before the age of 50. So, over the years, 50 isn’t an age I ever gave much thought to. To me, anything past 5 decades was a black hole of nothingness—its not something I ever wanted to consider.

The age of 60 denotes the beginning of old age; while 70, or OLD age, for most of us marks the beginning of the end of our last decade on earth. Anything past 80 to me is gravy, and 80 is a slim 30 years away for me now. (Mom and Dad, disregard this paragraph; it doesn't apply to you guys!)

So, in less than an hour I will be 50, and I must admit that I feel a little distressed about that. I didn’t feel anything at all when I turned 30, and 40 barely rated a shrug. But 50! For the first time in my life I kind of want to turn back the clock. It tastes unpleasantly bitter and I want to spit it back out before even tasting it.

After all, 60 is ONLY 10 short years away, and I DO mean short. I can’t believe that time can spin so quickly forward. I really thought that once I retired and had fewer things to do with my days that the passage of time would slow down.

But no, the passing days, weeks and months seem to be quickening their passage, even as I have less to do during them. Perhaps that’s the origin of the phrase “its all downhill from here!” because ALL things speed up when going downhill, right?

Ahhhh "momentum"--you SUCK!

Friday, June 22, 2007

The dogs of North Carolina

My first assignment in the U.S. Air Force was in the Midatlantic State of North “Kack-a-lackey,” as some of us airmen stationed in North Carolina used to jokingly refer to it. Why we called it that, I have no idea. Regardless, it was a beautiful place for enjoying outdoor activities, like running, and I was in my running prime back then at the very start of the 1980s.

I’ve run back roads, trails and streets in lots of American States, many of them breathtakingly gorgeous to behold—and I well remember that North Carolina is definitely one of those. But, it was not without its drawbacks. For instance, I found that without a doubt NC was also the worst in terms of “mean ass dogs per mile."

It was my experience that NC dogs were bigger, toothier, fiercer, and more aggressive than in anyplace I’ve EVER lived, bar none. To make matters worse, all those nasty Carolina canines were also THE most unchained and untied, also bar none. Even so, that didn’t stop me from venturing away from the comparative dog-free safety of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, my home.

In the style of those “ancient” bygone days, I hit the streets wearing little shorts, a tight tank top, baseball cap and running shoes. With so little on, I was as vulnerable to a dog attack as I possibly could be; and I wasn’t the only one to feel that vulnerability. Rick Chandler, a shopmate whose disc-jockey name was “Slick Rick,” was a 6-foot African-American. He loved riding his 12-speed bicycle long distances over the rolling North Carolina country roads. After suffering several scary “chasings by dog,” he began to ride with the protection of a heavy chain linked with a bike lock around his shoulders and neck. During an attack he could wield it to deadly effect against almost any dog foolish enough to nip at him. It wasn’t long before I learned for myself how crazy-mean the dogs were in that area.

Being in pretty good running shape meant that I could cover some pretty long distances, and like Rick, I disliked doing all of it within the confines of the air force base. I could run 15 miles easy on a long slow day and I did exactly that 3 or 4 times a month; but usually, I did more prudent runs of between 6 and 10 miles. It was on one of these shorter routes that I found myself in mortal canine combat.

One spring afternoon, after my shift at the component repair shop, I headed out on a run from our place at 206 Kenly Road in base housing. I started off briskly, and in ten minutes I was through the back gate and heading straight up the road to East Ash Boulevard, as I remember, a 4-lane major thoroughfare about a mile up from the gate.

Twenty or so minutes after the start of my foray, I popped down, into and through a 6-foot ditch, across the busy 4-lane East Ash, and into a gas station lot that may or may not still be there some 25 years later. Just behind the gas station was a low rent trailer court. My plan was to cut across a gravel access road that teed off of one from the trailer court; and then I figured to jog across an open grassy field into a large municipal nature park, which was actually my ultimate objective all along. The park, a favorite of mine, was all trees and grass, laced with plenty of trails, and absolutely perfect for what I liked more than anything, cross country running. However that’s not quite how it turned out.

“GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!”

My spine went cold and my legs weak at a sudden fearsome rumbling coming from my right and slightly behind me. It was a deep angry reverberating growl, and whatever its source it was approaching fast. I knew that because upon snapping my head around I saw that the growling snarl was issuing from the throat of a large and charging German shepherd.

I had a life and death decision to make, because that mad dog monster was sprinting right at me up the middle of the gravel road from the trailers. 10 feet of chain snapped wildly behind it from its thick leather collar; he must have snapped the chain with a mighty lunge upon seeing me. Some dogs see a runner and its chasing instinct kicks in; it’s the wolf genetics, and in this case, I was irresistible fleeing prey. Well, this was one human “deer” that was going to fight back.

I knew not to try to run away; all that would do was inspire it to tear out the backs of my legs. No way! Not my legs! A runner’s legs are his life. My brother claims that all anyone has to do in that situation is to point forcefully at the charging animal and yell as loud as possible at it, “NO!” That might well have worked in this case, but by the time I saw it, the dog was almost on top of me. And besides, I had never seen anything like this crazily intense animal. He wasn’t barking, he wasn’t blustering, his only intent to close with and kill me horribly. I knew this instantly; I FELT it in my gut.

Skidding to a stop on the gravel and turning quickly to face it, I had only a moment to assume a classic fighting stance—legs apart with the right foot slightly behind as a brace, body crouched, and fists held high with the right one pulled back. In this case, I also pulled my chin as far down to my chest as I could get it—I’m sure I did this because I could feel its intense gaze locked onto my throat.

In far less time than it’s taken to read this sentence, the deeply growling animal swiftly closed in. I was shocked that he continued his furious charge, as most dogs will check up and cautiously circle before coming in for the first snapping bite. I think this one had some training though, because there was no pause in him at all; he was a freight train and I was Pauline atrussed upon the tracks. Like a Looney Toon animation character, the rampaging beast’s scrabbling paws and claws threw a shower of gravel and dust behind it.

Five feet to my front, it gathered itself for the final leaping lunge and threw itself headlong, paws first, up and at my face. I noticed things in that split second that still spill into my memory—its chest broad and muscular, the fur there a lighter brown than the shoulders, legs and body; glittering dark eyes half-closed in a black face; teeth yellowed and glistening with saliva, every single pointed one of them; and at the end of the attack, I recall a mouth as gaping as a hippo’s, apparently to facilitate the ripping out of my windpipe. I observed too that it cocked its head slightly, exactly like a person does to adjust for biting into a taco. Funny the things one notices in stressful moments.

In an instant, all traces of trepidation disappeared from my trembling gut. I became as enraged as my attacker. I WANTED him to attack. I pulled my right fist back a little further to create more leverage and threw the hardest twisting punch of my life. It was a right cross, and it was perfect.

In golfing and baseball the most powerful hitting and driving strokes feel absolutely effortless when performed. It was like that with that right cross. I caught that shepherd directly on his gaping lower jaw and suddenly his world flipped upside down. The rumble in his chest turned into a whimpering shriek, as my crashing right fist unexpectedly unhinged and dislocated his lower jaw. Of course it was a lucky punch—a dog’s jaw muscles are some of the strongest of any creature its size.

The yelping would-be-assailant collapsed in a thumping crash to the ground on his broad furry side; his dislocated jaw stuck over a good inch to the right. His pain must have been enormous. However, I wasn’t done with him. I roared obscenities at the stricken animal and kicked and stomped its struggling body as it lay writhing in agony. I really wanted to kill it and I was dead set on accomplishing that task when a plaintive voice in the most exaggerated southern black accent I’ve ever heard interrupted me.

“Whet yo dewin ta MAH dohhhg?”

It was the fallen dog’s owner, an ancient black woman in curlers, slippers and a bathrobe, and none too happy with my treatment of her “pet.” Anyway, her question brought me out of my berserker rage and back to my senses, slightly.

At that moment I was surprised to hear cheering and horns honking from a multitude of cars. All four lanes of traffic on the busy avenue had halted upon seeing the huge animal bearing down on me. The drivers must have been amazed and probably relieved at how quickly the tables had turned. Many of them, broadly grinning, pumped their fists at me, while others waved, nodded approvingly and gave me the thumbs up. Some had even gotten out of their stopped cars right in the middle of the avenue, probably to lend assistance if need be. Still stunned, I just stared at them and gave them a feeble return wave. I can imagine the stories told around some dining tables that night.

Adrenaline still coursed through me like a freshly injected speedball, and turning back to the old woman, I answered her loudly and angrily, “I hope I hurt your damn dog BAD lady, because he was trying to KILL me! You’d better keep him chained up, or next time I WILL kill IT!”

I spun around and continued my run, not waiting for her response. I really didn’t care what she had to say anyway.

But as I said, there were lots of mean dogs in North Carolina…

Later that winter, on a bitterly cold and windy day, I found myself jogging in a part of Goldsboro where I’d never been before. It was semi-rural, with widely spaced houses built well back from the road. Passing a split-level, I heard before seeing an outraged dog, another shepherd, which soon set itself upon me. It had charged, barking irately the entire time, across a large expanse of snow-dusted yard; and it paused only momentarily before trying to bite my legs through my sweat pants.

I tried kicking at it while continuing a running escape, but it was almost impossible to make any headway, so unremitting were his snapping attacks. I could hear the alarming sound its teeth made as it repeatedly strove to snap them shut into me. In a moment my baggy pant legs had several tears and rips from the effects of the toothy attack.

I had retreated to the center lane of the road when lucky for me a Good Samaritan in a sedan slowed down and yelled at me to use his car as cover. It worked. I was able to keep the slowly moving vehicle between the dog and me until I could make good my withdrawal. The man saved me from a sure mauling. I gave him a heartfelt high sign as he drove away.

But, now I was pissed! I wanted revenge. I planned another run for the following weekend that would once again pass by that spiteful animal. Only this time I was determined to turn the tables like I had done with the first evil shepherd. I owned a knife that looked like a stick when sheathed. The 5-inch blade was sturdy, pointed and sharp and it had one good cutting edge. For a week I dreamed of exacting some payback. The idea that I should have to suffer an assault while running on a public road was not something I was willing to accept, from neither man nor beast. That dog would have to pay—by bleeding, and hopefully, dying!

My goal was to draw it in close before jumping on it, grappling it and stabbing it repeatedly in the chest and head. I figured I was going to take some damage as well, but I accepted that as part of the wages of war, a war that it had started and one that I was “doggedly” determined to finish.

It was a Sunday afternoon; I found myself almost to the house of my four-legged enemy. I slowed down at the place where its owner’s yard first came up to the road and pulled out the knife. Removing the wooden sheath, I hid the knife up along the inside of my left arm. Then, I heard the dog take up its mad bark and start its charge.

Yes! Here he comes!’ I thought eagerly. ‘Come on! Come and get your medicine!’

I slowed down even more, feeling a jolt of thrilling energy surge through me. I was ready for Freddy! ‘Come on Freddy!’

Then, suddenly, it stopped. I glanced to my right to where I thought the animal would be and it wasn’t there. The dog had stopped about 20 feet from me and was just barking weakly, refusing to come another step. I stopped and turned toward the now cowardly beast.

“Well, come on you piece of dog sh*t!” I yelled goadingly. I even took a step or two out onto the brown winter-dead grass of its yard, but it only retreated. It looked like the same dog, but it sure didn’t act like the same snarling snapping creature of only a week earlier. My long imagined fantasy of being locked in a death struggle with it was not to be. I think I was disappointed AND relieved, maybe mostly relieved.

The shepherd must have smelled or sensed something different about me. I had never shown it even a glimpse of the knife, but it knew something was up for sure. I carried that knife with me on all my runs for the rest of my Air Force tour in North Carolina, always hoping that I might someday get a chance to use it. Only problem is that every time a dog seemed willing to come at me it would suddenly stop its attack, look confused and skulk away.

Well, maybe not every time….

There WAS another terrifying time that my little sheathe knife would have done me very little good. It was a balmy Saturday morning, and I had asked a buddy to drive me out to a State park some 15 or 20 miles out into the countryside so that I could run back on the straight.

Less than three miles into my return and I saw something in the distance that made me sick with dread. Way off to my left, out across a field planted thick with tobacco, was a pack of about a half-dozen farmer’s dogs. I could see that at least two had the distinctive shapes of Dobermans, while the others were just BIG.

Oh SH*T! I’m dead!

I pulled the sheath off my knife, but I knew it wouldn’t do squat against a pack of those baying wolf-like creatures. My only chance was to GO! I kicked into the fastest gear I had and began to pump out a fear-powered mile that I hoped would put me out of whatever territorial range they had.

I knew I couldn’t outrun them if they were determined to catch me, even though they did have a very steeply inclined slope to negotiate to get to me. I looked down that slope to my left and saw them begin to lope across the field in my direction. Apparently they had done this before, because they weren’t running directly at me, but were angling towards the place they figured I would be once they got to the road. Smart creatures.

I put my head down and ran like the wind. I continued to take the occasional leftward glance as they drew ever nearer, but stopped looking for them after a half-mile when I came to the end of the expansive tobacco field where a long patch of thick woods crowded both sides of the two-lane country asphalt. I could still faintly hear their excited howls, but I began to relax when I realized they probably weren’t going to catch up to me. Nevertheless, I continued a fast pace until I was sure I had gotten away. Thank you God!

Anyhow, running in North Carolina is like that—lots of big mean dogs with rows of sharp teeth in their loudly barking salivating mouths.

Run there at your own risk—and if you must be on foot, carry a weapon.

Believe it or not, as a kid, I loved dogs. That changed when, as a youngster, I took up the “double dog” whammy of both running AND delivering newspapers. From harsh personal experience I can say positively that dogs don’t like runners and they HATE paperboys even more. So, I learned to hate them right back. In fact, when it comes to dogs, we’ve been mortal enemies for a long time. Of course I realize that there are a lot of dog lovers in the world, and if you are one, lets agree that if you keep your animal away from me then I won’t fight to the death with it!

I should have entitled this post “Man Bites Dog!”

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The 107th U.S. Open and my Beef with Tiger Woods

I don’t know when I’m going to be able to post this. One thing about living in the Philippines, when things break or everyday services like power, cable and telephone cease; you just never really know when you’re going to be able to get them operational again.

My Internet has been FUBAR for almost a week now. I’ve called the service reps going on dozens of times; they are always very pleasant, and twice they sent repairmen out who seemed to have a handle on the problem; but then, well, I’m STILL offline.

Living here, it helps to be languidly retired with no overly developed sense of urgency, …OR, you can get drunk and take lots of deep breaths—either way. My advice: leave back in the States your American-style need to have everything fixed IMMEDIATELY, ...Or...risk acquiring hypertensive disease or some other stress-related disorder. To keep one’s sanity here in the islands, especially if you are not from here originally, it’s best to be very patient (longsuffering?) and happy go lucky. In other words, “be like the Romans, …OR, …get soused.

Anyway, at least my cable TV is working and for me that’s even more important than the cable Internet. I stayed up the whole of both Saturday and Sunday nights tuned in to the 107th U.S. Open. Starting at 1 a.m. I watched fascinated through the wee hours until well after sunup, till around 6:30 or 7 both mornings. Now its 8:15 Monday night Philippine time and I’m still a little groggy from my self-induced “jet lag.” Just the same, I NEED to get some of my “post U.S. Open” thoughts and bitches off my chest.

You know, I don’t get to watch Tiger Woods as much as I’d like. It seems most of the golf on cable here is either the U.S. women’s pro circuit, or broadcasts of one of the lesser men’s PGA tournaments. I can take or leave most of that fare, but whenever one of the four major opens is on, I’m there for almost every second of play.

No matter what the golf venue, if he’s playing, I root for Tiger. I was analyzing why I do that, since I normally pull for the underdog in any other sport. With his #1 ranking, which he seems to have retained uninterrupted for the last decade, Woods can seemingly never be considered the underdog. But, he’s so incredibly good and impossibly consistent at being good that I can’t help myself; I yearn to see him squash his “unworthy” competitors every time he plays, to witness as he continues to rack up the wins. Its incredibly riveting, the idea of seeing someone like him, a living sports legend in the midst of his best playing years; and knowing that it might be another 3 or 4 generations, or even longer, before his like comes along once more. Go Tiger!

Okay, having said that, having made my obligatory tribute to the altar of Woods, now I shall carp a little. His putting! What the heck? I tuned in a little late on day 3 and missed his two early and ONLY birdies. What I DID see was some very ordinary and unimpressive putting from him. It can certainly be argued that he wasn’t all that bad, since he managed to have so few bogies, and over the last two days I can’t remember him suffering any double bogies at all. But just not screwing up is NOT what we expect from a champion like Tiger Woods. I want, I expect, perfection from my golf deities.

Announcer Johnny Miller commented late in the day during the Saturday round that Woods’ command of his driving, his ability to hit the lean fairways at will, and his near perfect rate at sticking “greens in regulation” portended that Tiger was SURE to win the tournament. As Miller pointed out, no one else came close to hitting as many fairways and greens. By the middle of the final round though, the writing was on the wall for me. Tiger’s putting was NOT getting any better; in fact, it seemed to get, if not worse, certainly more and more ordinary; and ordinary does not win championships.

The frustrating AND fascinating thing about golf is its nuances. The muscle memory required to stick a 320-yard drive is a whole lot different from that needed to make a tricky putt or a touchy chip or flop shot. From what I saw this week of Tiger Woods, it appears that he’s been working harder on perfecting shots requiring large fast-twitch muscle and sinuous tendon; watching him muscularly swing through his drives and long irons was breathtaking. Obviously, he’s been hitting the gym nonstop—what a body! He probably has THE most impressive build in professional golf. But here’s a newsflash, someone needs to tell him to lay off the protein shakes, let go of the “lat” bar, and GO for some balance. Muscles and putting evidently don’t mix?

His wear of the tight muscle/golf shirts is clearly designed to show off his perfect V-shaped back and superman-like protruding pecs. Even his pants are in on the showoff game! I’ll stay above the waist and keep it clean (NOT!) by not overly mentioning his well-developed buttocks; they clearly strain the seams of his perfectly tailored form-fitted trousers! (Ahem!)

Seriously… Simply put, Woods missed out on winning lifetime Major #13 today because he’s forgotten how to putt to WIN. I watched him “manage” most of his putts instead of trying to seriously “make” them. I’m sure it had a lot to do with the trickiness of those greens (more on that after this little bit of critical analysis), but he seemed to purposely lag anything over 12 feet away; while I watched a host of other supposedly lesser golfers drain plenty at that length and longer. So my bitch with Tiger is that he putted “NOT to lose” instead of going for it, and “going for it” is what he’s always been all about. I hear him in his interviews talk about “course management” and all that cerebral malarkey, but sometimes he just needs to get inspired like he used to and just GO FOR IT.

Maybe it’s time for a new caddy—one that can READ putts. His longtime caddy, Steve Williams, is one of his best buddies and he’s a great cheerleader, but apparently he and the Tiger are on the same WRONG page when it comes to reading greens. Most of the many birdie putts he missed over the weekend resulted from a severe lack of greens instinct. Typically the putts didn’t drop due to a serious inability to read the direction and speed of the break.

Most of those missed putts were easily “called” and “read” by the announcers who could tell before the putt was even struck that he was lined up and aimed at the wrong spot. THAT is the caddy’s job, and he shares the blame when his guy lines up on the spot that DOESN'T drop the putt. And it wasn’t JUST a putt or two; it was one after another. Tiger, you make a lot of money—get off the pot, put loyalty and friendship on hold, and hire a caddy that can read the break! I’m really getting impatient with your majors winning rate; you’re slowing down mate!

Okay, we ARE talking Oakmont, a course with the most ridiculously tough greens anywhere. Now I want to bitch about THAT. I hated it! Those aren’t greens; those are slippery tracts of slate laid spitefully over the sides of treacherously sheer mounds. I just don’t understand the concept of making the surfaces so slick as to be impossible to roll a golf ball across it to a predictable stopping point.

If I want to see golfers humiliated I can go to any course anywhere and see amateurs do that. Why would I want to see the best in the world put into a situation that makes them look like everyone else? Lets get REALLY silly…why not blindfold them, have them golf using only one arm, and forced to use only a total of three clubs? We could make it a driver, a wedge and a 7 iron. How about that? I mean we can figure out all kinds of bizarre ways to make golf more difficult than it already is.

So I’m watching these guys flail around a course so impossible that some of the best in the world can hardly manage to shoot less than 15 over. My beef is that these guys don’t golf or practice on greens like those at Oakmont for the rest of the year, mostly because it would be a waste of their time. So what happens with a place like Oakmont is the PGA creates these stupid “trick courses” that makes golfing in THAT tournament seem an entirely different sport. Those pros were so out of their element at this Open that it was about like watching football players from Texas try to play outdoor ice hockey in Canada. Sure, it’s entertaining for a bit, but soon it becomes just a cheap stunt.

To me, Oakmont’s greens are just plain gimmicky. They are gratuitously challenging, almost arrogantly so, but believe it or not, that’s my only grumble about the course. I like the longer narrower fairways, the thick roughs, and the stacks of deep bunkers and devilishly placed fairway traps. All those complications exist on all PGA courses to some degree or other and can be compensated for based on typical golfing skill. But as far as I know, there are no greens anywhere else on the tour like Oakmont’s, except for maybe at the Masters at the end of a long drought on an exceptionally hot, dry and windy day! Even so, I’ll bet Tiger and his PGA pals could STILL actually putt for score on them.

And that reminds me… Remember Tiger’s first Masters win? He putted back then like he wasn’t human, as if HE WAS THE BALL, like he was “a golfing god of the putting kind.” I miss THAT Tiger! I hope we see that one again at The Open next month.

Care to make a bet?

Some interesting U.S. Open sidebars:

Jim Furyk’s caddy, Mike "Fluff" Cowan, was Tiger’s caddy before Tiger fired him and hired his current caddy, Steve Williams. Jim Furyk finished just behind Tiger because he made a foolishly unnecessary error by going for the green off the tee on the par four 17. I wonder if Fluff tried to talk him out of that idiocy? If he hadn't gone with driver on 17 he probably would have won the Open.

Angel Cabrera, the winner of this year’s U.S. Open is from Argentina. That nation lost its war with the U.K. over possession of the Falkland Islands on the 14th of June 1982. Exactly 25 years later, Cabrera began his epic struggle to win Argentina its first U.S. Open. Viva Cabrera!

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Part 4: VA Disability Claims Advice

  • Do NOT wait to file! Let me stress the importance of NOT waiting years to file for disability by describing what the VA requires to grant service connection for a disability.

· First, for most conditions, you should be able to show that it existed while on active duty, or was diagnosed within one year from the day you got out.

· Second, you must have medical proof that you currently have the condition.

· And finally, you must show nexus, or proof of “connection,” which is best done by medical opinion (See "medical opinion..." below) from your doctor that your claimed condition is indeed the same condition that you suffered with while in service… Since some veterans wait years to file, many can show little or no evidence of treatment for the claimed disability over those years since discharge. By the VA’s rules, they can deny service-connection to that veteran for lack of proof that the current condition began in service. The rationale is that the problem might not be the same one shown in the veteran’s medical records.

· (For instance, you show a knee injury in your service medical records 5 years before discharge and you also checked the “knee problem block” on your last several active duty medical exam questionnaires. Its now 5 years after discharge, and you have little or no post service medical evidence to show that the knee has continued to be a problem. YOU KNOW or believe that it is, because it’s been painful for 10 years. All well and good, BUT, the VA needs medical proof and opinion that states as much. Also, if continuity of treatment evidence is unavailable, personal affidavits from workmates, friends, relatives, etc. ARE acceptable as evidentiary documentation that can be submitted).

  • Appeal—and DON’T QUIT! Keep in mind that if your initial VA decision is not to your liking then you should appeal it. My experience with the VA disability claims process is that it is nearly 100% faulty. In other words, if you receive a VA decision letter, chances are they screwed you.

· A common VA decision error is to underrate conditions, but worse than that is their notorious disregard of their “duty to assist” the veteran by explaining exactly WHY a claim is not considered service-connected, and more importantly, to explain WHAT is needed to show that service-connection. Instead, they will only state that no evidence was submitted or that it is insufficient, or that the condition is not shown in the vet’s service medical records. OR, they state that there is no current diagnosis of the claimed condition. HINT: The VA will NOT normally provide it for you, especially here in the Philippines! Usually all that is needed to counter ALL this so called lack of evidence is a medical opinion from YOUR doctor (see "medical opinion..." below).

· The claims process is broken with a huge backlog that is getting bigger. Much of this backlog is due to the VA’s poor decision-making process, which results in errors and subsequent appeals. The VA in Manila brags that it has only a 15% error rate, but that is untrue. Evidently, they ONLY count the errors brought to their attention by complainants, and don’t count what they consider to be “minor” ones. I can tell you without a doubt that nearly every decision turned out by that office contains errors, so that in my opinion they have a near 100% error rate! Personally, I have little confidence in them and can find important problems in virtually every decision letter they send out. No wonder their backlog is so big. Once veterans learn that nearly every decision is suspect, THEY WILL challenge EVERYTHING, which only adds to the backlog.

· As I said though, appeal and DON’T quit. As long as you can survive the lengthy appeal process, as long as you have the evidence and medical opinion, you WILL most certainly prevail.

Reopening Closed Claims. A claim is considered closed 1 year after the VA’s decision unless the veteran has appealed it within that year. Reopening it means providing “new and material” evidence that is pertinent to the VA’s “reason for denial.” Many vets think that they have to find “old” pre-existent evidence from the time of their service, but this is not necessarily true, although it could be. The most common form of new and material evidence consists of your doctor’s medical opinion (see below).

  • Medical Opinion is CRUCIAL!

· This opinion should be written by YOUR physician to state that he/she believes based on current diagnoses and treatment, assessment of service medical records and all subsequent medical records that the current condition in question more-likely-than-not IS service-connected or was caused by or made worse by a currently service-connected condition. It sounds kind of complicated, but truly its not.

· A common mistake by veterans is to use the VA doctors’ medical opinion ONLY. This is dangerous, since the vet is now at the whim of the VA. Remember, when it comes to the ratings process, the VA IS THE ENEMY! When you throw yourself at their mercy, keep in mind they HAVE NONE! Costly though it is, GET YOUR OWN MEDICAL OPINION from your OWN doctor. It will certainly be even MORE costly when you leave it up to the VA to provide the opinion. Consider the expense an investment. Do NOT hope that the VA will do right by you, because they almost assuredly will NOT!

  • Use the Internet. Knowledge is power! Therefore, go on line to the 38 CFR (US Code of Federal Regulation Sections 0-17 specifically parts 3 and 4) and become familiar with it, specifically with parts 3 and 4. It is the procedural manual the VA uses in adjudicating disability ratings for veterans. It includes all the possible disabilities, the codes assigned to those ratings, the various levels of severity, and a whole host of other valuable information including every part of the claims adjudication process. Use this info to first figure out what level you should be awarded for each disability, and then when you get your initial ratings you can compare what they give you to what they should have given you.

Also, you can print out the ratings descriptions and show them to your doctor to see if he thinks you meet the next higher level of ratings severity.

· It is useful to know that the VA almost always underrates the veteran on his initial application and they actually seem to expect the veteran to challenge them for the higher level. This is best done by having your doctor use the criteria language verbatim from the ratings level charts in part 4 of the the 38 CFR.

· As part of the initial appeals process, an entirely different rater will evaluate your claim, and by regulation, this new rater MUST take your doctor’s evidence to heart and give you, the veteran, the benefit of the doubt. (Well, that's the theory anyway).

  • “Perseverance Works in Favor of the Veteran” should be your motto. The VA system rewards those that won’t take “No” for an answer.

Stay tuned for part 5. Also see parts 1, 2, and 3.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

June 12, 1898 and July 4, 1946, Two Philippine Independence Days

I'm certainly not the expert on the facts surrounding Philippine Independence, but AS USUAL, I have my observations and opinions as an American outsider on what I see and hear over here.

So, when it comes to this topic, what DO I see? That's easy—not much, as in not much happening.

Like so many aspects of this country's history, Philippine independence seems to inspire little more than ambivalence among the common folk that I know. It’s not really even celebrated, at least not like what I’m used to back home. I can’t imagine such indifference in the States during our own July 4th celebrations. Yet, based on the actual events of June 12, 1898, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. In the end, things did not go well in the months and years that followed. By the end of 1898 a soundly defeated Spain ceded the Phils to the United States, and right or wrong, President McKinley decided to keep it. What followed was The Philippine Insurrection, a long war that was ultimately lost by the Filipinos to the USA.

The average citizen doesn’t know that June 12 was not even the original holiday. Or perhaps more appropriately, they don’t realize that it HAD BEEN the original, before being superseded. Until 1964, starting from 1946, July 4th was THE day marking this nation’s independence. The current president’s father, Diosdado Macapagal, who was the president in 1964, must have decided that sharing July 4th with the U.S as their Independence Day was just too much a source of national embarrassment.

I can understand the pride that went into his decision. After all, the way they see it, we “granted” them their sovereignty. The July 4th date was a reminder to those mostly academics and elite “in the know” that their freedom was more our decision than it was theirs. Basically, the Americans “gave permission” to the Philippines that it was ready for self rule, and that must have been a pretty bitter pill to have to swallow.

At the time, it was probably done in what we thought was a spirit of good will, but in hindsight, we should have done it on a different date—like June 12th maybe? But, who knows—(And I’m sure someone does)—perhaps Filipinos were in on the decision as well? To put it mildly, sometimes feelings between nations change over the years. In the jubilant months just after WWII I’m sure there was a lot of Filipino-American cooperation and friendship, which apparently had melted away by the 1960s.

Interestingly, the original 1898 declarer of Philippine Kalayaan (freedom), Emilio Aguinaldo, was still alive in 1964 at the age of 94, when President Macapagal made his decision to change the official date of independence to June 12; although Aguinaldo died on February 6, a few months before the actual new independence date could be celebrated. Knowing politicians and their sense of the theatrical, I’m sure Macapagal wanted to make some political hay out of having Emilio around during the big kick off.

In a way, the Philippines has three Independence Days. It could be argued quite strongly that the overthrow of the Marcos Regime on February 25, 1986 is THE most appropriate day of the three to celebrate. And without a doubt, of the three holidays, the February 25th EDSA Day is probably the most understood by the populace. Sadly, not much has changed here since then. I clearly remember the heady exuberance and optimism that followed the days of “people power.” Unfortunately, not much has come of it.

Academics here would never admit to such a thing, but the Philippines was neither ready nor capable of maintaining its territorial integrity in 1898. The Spanish had seen to that. Thanks to the Spanish, indigenous Filipinos did not speak a common language; they spoke a sea of them. And, the host of different peoples certainly did not yet have a sense of being part of a single nation nor did they share a culture, except for that given to them by their Spanish overlords. Thus, the archipelago was easy pickings for continued control by the rest of the colonialist world. The Dutch, Germans, Brits and a host of others were waiting for the U.S. to leave so they could swoop in, pull it apart, and take over.

Personally, I think the July 4th day, now called Filipino American Friendship Day, is the one that marks the true spirit of Philippine independence. By the end of the war against Japan, Filipinos had certainly proven they were capable of self-rule. And even though it could be said that we had consented to their sovereignty, in reality, it was pressure from the Filipinos themselves that had finally made it happen.

Then again, who says that any country has to have the same kind of spirited Independence Day that the States have? After all, the French still proudly celebrate their so-called Independence on Bastille Day, which marks the day in 1790 when the masses stormed the hated Bastille. Thing is, it was also the start of one of the bloodiest and most unsavory periods of France’s history. Who needs that?

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Human Trafficking in Angeles City?

I was just looking at one of the Wikepedia articles entitled "Human Trafficking in Angeles City." What a piece of misleading propaganda!

In it, the author claims that this place is a haven for sex tourists looking especially for child prostitution opportunities. Wrong. Any tourists coming here to Angeles City looking for kids will be disappointed, will put themselves at great risk, and they shouldn't even try. They MIGHT be able to find an underage bar girl who lied about her age to get a job in one of the clubs, but she certainly won't be a child.

Granted, this is an exceedingly poor country and you WILL see children living and playing on the streets, more so in Manila. It kills me every time I drive through it. I see unsupervised filthy kids aged 3 and up all over the place, apparently living on the streets. Sometimes I have to just close my eyes to it or scream. It tears me up to see those innocent little children playing in the gutters or begging for beria (small money) in traffic. If there is a place ripe for child trafficking then MANILA is where it is happening. It's not here.

I'll tell you why child prostitution is not happening in AC. Around here, the police and other opportunists are always on the lookout for some idiot tourist who is asking around for sex with kids. Countless pedophiles have come here and paid out the nose for trying to make "an arrangement." What happens is that they will make a deal with some local "pimp" and they'll wait in a drive in "love" hotel for the girl or boy to delivered. Instead, a squad of cops will bust in. From there, the hapless tourist will be made to pay some large sum or go to jail.

Its a great scam for the people on the receiving end of the pay offs, because they ALWAYS get their money. They'll take a check, your credit card, or they'll even escort you down to an ATM machine. If you insist that you have no money, no problem! They'll just let you stew in a cell with 20 local unwashed criminals until you convince your parents, or your friends, or siblings, or ANYONE at all to advance you the cash. It could cost you anywhere from $5,000 and up, usually UP, depending on their whim at the time. And remember, none of this will be official.

Or, you could try to make it official and claim innocence. BIG mistake! You will probably sit for a year or so in a standing room only cell, again with a host of other cell mates where you will take your turn for the opportunity to squat in a small area on the concrete floor, while you wait JUST to be charged. I've only seen one American actually wait out the system in these conditions, and only because he in fact did not have any money. After a year he was released with all charges dropped. Chances are they let him go only AFTER they realized that he really and truly DIDN'T have any money to pay his way out.

What pisses me off about articles like the one in Wikpedia is that it actually misleads pedophiles into coming here and trying their luck. Sometimes I think the contributor is in cahoots with with the con men who prey on the would-be child rapists. Well, don't fall for it. Do NOT come to the Philippines for kids. I live here. I have my own children and I don't want your kind anywhere around me or my family. Go to Thailand or India for it and stay away from the Philippines!

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Fields Avenue, now and then

A buddy and I did some barhopping last night. We decided to truly hop, to have only one drink per establishment before hopping on to the next. We started at 6 pm. Before I knew it, midnight was nigh, and my scooter a pumpkin. It was a lot of fun, so naturally, time flew.

My first time barhopping in Angeles City was January 4, 1983, more than 24 years ago. A lot has changed since then—some good, some bad, some neither good nor bad.

With my 50th fast approaching, I often find myself thinking back to the past. I suppose it might be a sign of looming old age. It sucks knowing that there is much more behind than in front of me. Still, it is something to do, to make the comparisons between now and then.

One thing hasn’t changed here—the girls. They still trickle in from all over the islands. They come at the prospect of making some money and meeting a foreigner for possible husband material. It isn’t a myth; it happens all the time. Most of the guys I know are married to one of these young fillies.

Twenty-four years ago the girls were certainly here, only then, there were multitudes more of them—there were thousands, perhaps ten thousand. Clark Air Base was still an active U.S. base with its own thousands of airmen to add to the mix. When all those beautiful and willing Filipinas met up with all those young American military men, well, things got crazy. Truthfully, I’m glad those days are gone, and I’m glad the base is no longer a U.S. one. It made all Americans political targets and towards the end of the large scale American presence here the NPA assassinated several of us. To hell with that!

There were hundreds of clubs back then; now, by comparison, there is only a handful. In the old days the bar clientele was mostly young American men (like me), full of vim, vitality and vinegar. Naturally, the girls were kept quite busy. I remember several times being released from my nightshift work on the flightline and heading downtown with some squadron mates. Even before midnight I often noticed that the bars were almost empty of most of the girls who were already otherwise “entertained.” Considering how many ladies there were back then I thought it quite amazing that so many could already be out and doing their “thing.”

What was nice about the Air Force base being here is that it was Air Force. I rarely saw violence or strife between the partying troops like I used to see during my time around fellow marines and sailors. Go to Okinawa today and very carefully observe the young marines while they are out on the town. I say carefully because you might just find yourself getting your ass kicked. Chances are, however, they are too busy kicking each other’s. Man, I could tell you some stories!
Now, you’ll rarely see young men’s faces in the bars of Angeles, almost never in fact. I recall back in the day seeing customers in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and thinking it remarkable to see “old” guys like that. Now, around here, men in their 40s are considered the younger ones. Occasionally these days, when a tourist shows up in a bar in his 20s he looks like an intruder to the old denizens who live here permanently. How dare that whippersnapper come in here and show off his youth? Feels like he’s rubbing our faces in our own old age. The bastard!

I was sitting in a bar once when one of these young foreigner studs walked in. He was a strapping, good-looking blonde lad and yet he was not stirring up any attention from the ladies. I had bought a young hostess a drink and asked her why the girls were ignoring him. She sniffed that he had been in before, was a cheapskate, and wasn’t very nice. Then it hit me. Many of these girls had made that mistake once already in their young lives, to let themselves be hoodwinked by a pretty-boy ladies man, or babaero, as they call them here. A babaero, pronounced ba-ba-ero, is a man who goes after “mga babae,” or “the ladies.”

One of my interests is talking to the bar girls and hostesses, to find out why they come here from all over the Philippines. It seems that more than half have a young child or baby. Many tell a similar tale: Some local lothario back in the province talked her into giving up her virginity. After a while, once tired of her or if a baby is on the way, the guy disappears. Or, many of them tell the story of a husband that takes off with some other cutie after getting her or perhaps both girls pregnant.

Women here, especially poor ones, have virtually no protection under the law. There is no divorce, and for the most part, deadbeat dads are left undisturbed. With no divorce, and with annulments difficult and expensive, many men just start up new families after simply abandoning the last one. Not many people anywhere are want to do the right thing without being forced to, and its true here as well. So there you have it. Few men who do wrong by their families in the first place EVER do right by them, since the legal system does not pursue them or make them comply with their familial responsibilities. It's a very unfortunate situation, especially for women.

I’ve seen foreigners trying to marry their Filipina fiancee pay huge sums to bribe a so-called “missing husband” so that he will agree to the next step, an annulment, because the husband must agree to it first, no matter how pathetic a husband he might be. All that, so that the love-struck foreigner can then pay further large sums for the actual legal end of the marriage in court, the annulment.

Aside from the legal difficulties, a “deflowered” Filipina, and certainly one with a child, has few options. Even if she’s otherwise single, few Filipinos will want her for marriage, probably not one that could support her well.

Then, these forlorn ladies find out about Angeles City. They learn that it’s where foreigners come to meet Filipinas to have a “good time,” and that many come as well to meet girls for potential relationships. Unlike many traditional-minded Filipinos, most Americans, Europeans, and Australians don’t care if the girl is not a virgin; and if they fall in love, even a child or two is not a problem. It’s almost the perfect solution for both sets of the “hopeless.” It’s a place where hopeless old 1st world men can come and find an attractive loving 3rd world wife, who would also be otherwise JUST as hopeless.

Just today, I spoke with a fellow retiree, a 60 year-old marine with 7 failed marriages under his belt. Four years ago in search of the perfect gal, he met his 8th and probably his last wife. She’s 26 now and seeing them together, they seem like the ideal couple. He’s taught her everything he knows about martial arts and now they travel Asia together as she competes for trophies. He proudly told me that last week she bungee-jumped from the 54th story of a hotel in Thailand. If you know Filipinas, you’ll know that seems VERY unlikely!

Speaking of unlikely, how can a 26-year-old hard-bodied beauty and a 60-year-old bespectacled bald-headed man be the perfect pair? Well, I’ve seen it for myself, and it can probably happen ONLY right here in the Philippines. However, my advice to him and to anyone with a young beautiful wife from here is to never take her back to the States. Funny how quickly "true love" can quickly “turn off” as the young lady’s head is “turned around” once these old fellows take their youthful brides back home. The solution: stay here and have no fear!

Getting back to my recollections, last night I visited 6 or 7 bars. I usually like to buy one of the girls a drink or two, but anymore, more often than not, I don’t. And that brings me to another drastic difference between "now and then"—the girls’ attitudes and demeanors. Then, the girls working in the clubs were extremely aggressive, not so now. In the old days I couldn’t sit for more than a few seconds before a lovely lass would approach and say hello. Last night, I noticed that most of the ladies avoided looking at any of the customers, par for the course for most of the places these days. My policy is not to buy a ladies drink UNLESS she has at least looked at me once and smiled--EVEN if she has to FORCE herself to do it!

Although last night, in the very first bar I went into with my friend, Don, I made an exception to my rule of “a drink ONLY AFTER a look and a smile.” We sat together with the manager, Rod, drinking and talking about “veterans things,” since all three of us are military retirees. I sipped my mango juice and watched the bikini-clad dancers. None were really dancing, most were talking, standing and fidgeting up on the platform. All except one, and I was really pleased to see that she was dancing VERY well, enthusiastically even.

I interrupted, “Hey Rod, see that girl? The one actually dancing with the white ribbon in her hair? I want to buy her a drink. She deserves one for dancing like that. I don’t care if she sits over here or not; you don’t have to call her over.”

Obviously ignoring the part where I said she did not have to come over, he snapped his fingers at a waitress, and told her to tell the dancer to come over. The deed was done, and soon, very unladylike, the fetchingly dancing teenager hopped over the railing and made her way over to us.

I raised my glass to her, and nodding, greeted her with, “Mahusay kung sumayaw.” (I like your dancing.)

She smiled at my Tagalog, thrilled that I know some, so few of us do after all. I asked her why she was the only one dancing so actively, and that I wanted to reward her for her fine efforts with a drink. She thanked me and explained that she was cold from the air con and was just trying to warm up.

“Ah, I see. Well, if that’s the case, I wish the other girls would warm up like you do. Your dancing is very nice, almost as good as the girls used to dance when I first came here 25 years ago.”

Just 19, she had no idea what I was talking about. Many of the dancers these days, when they even bother to try, do what I call “The Balibago Shuffle.” Usually, with their arms folded across their chest or with hands clasped shyly in front of their bikini bottom, they stand in one place, and merely shift forward and back from one foot to the other, sometimes not even to the music. Oh, and Balibago is the Angeles City barrio where most of the bars are, thus the name of the boring pseudo-dance. It really is quite dreary to watch them do it, so I don’t; and the girls look even more disinterested doing it.

Ah, for the good old days when they really danced around here! It’s funny to think about now, but all those beautiful young women who danced so alluringly for us back then are all now in their 40s and 50s, all probably grandmothers. I wonder where they went?

I know many got married to GIs and went to the U.S., but I still think of them as they were then, not as grandmothers, but as the girls I see dancing today. I like to pretend that they are the same girls, as if they never got old and stayed forever fit and lovely.

If only it were so.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Paris, back in the Hilton...

What a world we live in.

It looks like more than half of the news today on the stateside channels is going to be about Paris Hilton's premature release from jail. This, while what SHOULD be the far more important news of the Immigration Bill's languishing death in the Senate ALSO takes place. Kind of makes me feel sorry for the poor Immigration Bill--to be upstaged by something and someone so trivial. Yet, that's the world we live in.

I wonder how the troops feel in the war zones as they watch on CNN and FNC, and see for themselves what most Americans truly find important back "in the world?" Skewed priorities? No wonder so many people in the military feel so much contempt for their civilian citizen counterparts. I wonder if civilians know how many troops feel this disdain? Believe me, they do! Even now, 5 years after my discharge, I don't like to think of myself as a civilian. I watch how flittingly weakwilled our average citizens are and it makes me wonder how in the hell we are ever going to keep our enemies at bay when the average citizen's attention span is no better than a puppy's in a field, flitting from one fanciful subject to another?

Looking at the latest Paris Hilton development, it does remind me of at least one good thing about the US--our semi-egalitarianism. I love how we go after our rich, powerful and famous. I love how how we put them up on pedestals and then wait anxiously and expectantly for them to fall off, so that we can then slap 'em in irons and throw 'em in jail. It certainly doesn't happen that way in oligarchies such as the Philippines and Mexico, where money and power means never having to say you're sorry.

You'd never see a senator war hero like Duke Cunningham go to prison for what amounts to the rest of his life in most of the world, unless a coups took place first to make it happen. You'd never see a high ranking aide of a sitting president, like Scooter Libby, go to prison for what amounts to fibbing to a judge. You would never even see a national sports hero, like an O.J. Simpson, go through even the semblance of a trial for murder, although he DID get away with it! Nope, in most places in the world, a movie star like Mel Gibson would have been quietly escorted home instead of being arrested for driving drunk.

The way I see it, so what if Hilton only served less than 3 days of 45, then of 23 for what she did. If she had been a Filipina or even a European celebrity she NEVER would have gotten in trouble in the first place. The very fact that we are so much in arms over it at least shows that we are TRYING to make sure no one is above the law. I like that...

Now, Gretta Van Sestran, Geraldo, Anderson Cooper, et. al., can we now get on with the REALLY and TRULY important news? Please!

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Out of Iraq and NOW?

I’ve figured it out. It came to me while I watched Al Gore on a TV sound bite the other night.

Thinking about our occupation of Iraq, as I do a lot, I tried to reckon why the left is in such a hurry for us to leave.

They make several disparate arguments for our immediate evacuation. In the order they occur to me I list them below:

1. American casualties

2. Iraqi casualties

3. Our presence foments Islamic hatred.

4. Bush lied; people died.

5. We can’t win, so why try?

6. We have no business being in the middle of a civil war.

7. Al Qaeda attacked us, not Iraq.

Now, allow me to examine the apparent logic behind each rationale, only from the so-called far left’s point of view as seen through MY prism:

1. American Casualties. From what I can see, the leadership of the far left cares very little about “the troops.” Mind you, I’m talking about their leadership and not necessarily their minions. I’m positive that the president feels more sorrow for the fallen than almost anyone from both the left and the right. The personal responsibility he feels for our casualties is crushing, but that comes with the territory. Those of us who volunteered to go in harm’s way understand this implicitly.

The left learned from mistakes made during the Vietnam War how counterproductive it is to blame openly our people for their war service, even though I’m sure the “Move On Dot Org” folks secretly consider our warriors to be little more than storm troopers and baby killers. At best, they look at our service personnel, all of them volunteers by the way, as misguided morons worthy only of contempt.

Rosie O’Donnell, a liberal mouthpiece, recently explained away our troops’ continued willingness and determination to fight on in Iraq by declaring that they are the uneducated desperate poor with few options.

George Soros (Rosie’s de facto boss) and his crew of “lefties” realize that few servicemen and women support the far left’s various visions, and most also don’t appreciate being used as pawns in the left’s arguments to bug out. Soros and his progressives understand this and so could care less what happens to the troops. Progressives know too that most service personnel are not likely to support the left’s schema, so why should they care about them? In fact, the hard core left doesn’t. Read on…

2. Iraqi casualties. If you are even slightly aware of what’s happening in Iraq you’ll know that Americans aren’t killing Iraqis; Iraqis are killing Iraqis. For the most part we are there trying to get them to stop. The far left knows this, and chooses to propagandize anyway that it is OUR presence causing them to kill each other. They claim that if we leave then the killing will stop. That’s another crock.

Or, uninformed folks like O’Donnell actually come out and say that WE are indeed the killers of innocents. Based on the enthusiastic applause she used to get on “The View” for her inane comments, equally uninformed people choose to believe her, mostly because they WANT to believe her, despite the facts.

By the left’s reasoning we are evil to be over there, even as we do our best to train Iraqi soldiers and police to bring order to their country—to stop the bombings and killings. Mind you, this is the same liberal crowd claiming that we SHOULD be in Darfur to stop the Arab-on-African killings going on down there. I ask them, WHY is it more righteous for us to stop the killings in the Sudan and not in Iraq?

As I said, I think I know the answer…

3. Our presence foments Islamic hatred. Here’s another fallacy used by progressives calling for us to immediately egress from Iraq. The fact is that we don’t need to be in Iraq for Islamic radicals to hate us, although I will admit that it makes it easier for them to get access to Americans. Thing is, the really nasty killers will simply come after us no matter where we are—just as they did on 9/11.

It’s ironic that what the Islamists hate the most about us is our liberalism. If anything in the world drives them to want to exterminate us it’s those aspects of our society most embraced by the left—things like free speech, open sexuality, self-indulgence, homosexuality, women’s rights, and secularism.

No, progressives don’t really care how much Muslims hate us, otherwise they would do as the radicals want, which is to end their “evil” ways, and convert to Islam. We all know that isn’t going to happen.

4. Bush lied; people died. Whether WMDs ever existed in Iraq, four years after the invasion THAT is now irrelevant. I won’t even use the argument that virtually EVERYONE was sure they existed (including Edwards and both Clintons); because—I repeat—it doesn’t matter. The point is that we ARE there.

Why would we simply leave the region and let it fall into complete turmoil and chaos just because we didn’t find nerve gas and nukes? I can already hear someone murmur that chaos already exists there—that it can’t get any worse. Well, it certainly CAN get worse, and if we leave precipitously, it WILL.

Aha! We are getting closer to the REAL reason Soros and his followers want the troops out, and IMMEDIATELY. Have patience; I’m almost there…

5. We can’t win, so why try? This kind of defeatist talk does nothing but fortify our enemies. The far far left doesn’t believe that ANYTHING is worth fighting for, appeasement being their watchword.

Honestly, our people running our efforts in Iraq know that we can’t kill every radical or even change many of the hearts-and-minds of the extremists fighting us. What our people DO realize is that we must continue to try to help the new Iraqi government’s efforts to bring their people together as a viable nation. Obviously, no one realized how difficult this was going to be. But that begs the question: Do we ONLY do those things that are easy? By that reasoning, once things get too tough in other places, such as Afghanistan or Korea or even right at home in the USA, do we just say it’s too hard and quit? Of course not!

Like it or not, Iraq is an extraordinarily strategic spot. We CANNOT just quit—we MUST stay until we figure it out. The world as we know it will change in ways extremely awful unless we stay and achieve a workable non-radical Iraq.

The truth is that the ONLY way we CAN’T win is if we quit. But, quitting is what the far left wants us to do, and as I keep saying, I believe I know why….

6. We have no business being in the middle of a civil war. This is another ridiculous argument. If you study history then you know that much of all warring could be classified as “civil.” Bill Clinton, the left’s darling, has admitted that he should have intervened in Rwanda, which was a civil war.

Genocide, which if declared to be happening by the UN must be stopped by “the world,” usually happens by way of civil wars. We intervened in Kosovo, Somalia, and Bosnia because of it. The current Darfur turmoil is in effect a civil war, yet there is a massive hue-and-cry by the left for us to intervene there.

Obviously, the far left is not serious when they use this argument. There MUST be another reason they want us out of Iraq… Stay with me…

7. Al Qaeda attacked us, not Iraq. This is another red herring, much like the “Bush lied…” argument. In truth, Hussein never complied with any of the UN’s demands after he “surrendered” to us in 1991. In truth, the war never ended; he continued to shoot at us and to subjugate and kill his own people. While he did this, most of the rest of the world helped him to regain his military capabilities by illegally paying him billions through the “oil for food” nonsense.

But, just as I stated above under reason 4, at this point, it just doesn’t matter. Al Qaeda in significant numbers IS in Iraq NOW, and they have great plans for it once the naysayers force us to up and leave. The far left knows this and they DON’T care! As I keep saying, I have a pretty good idea why…

And now, the REAL Reason…

By now, you may have deduced that I’m convinced that the extreme left doesn’t actually care about any of the above rationale—it’s all pretext. What occurred to me the other day while listening to “Bitter Al” prattle on about his “inconvenient truth” is that the people running the progressive show under the very liberal Mr. Soros are ONLY truly concerned about ONE subject—global warming. It hit me then that global warming is the only actual reason the far left wants us out of Iraq and NOW.

You ask, what does leaving Iraq have to do with rising temperatures? And how would the eviction of tens of thousands of U.S. troops be looked at as a good thing by those on the left fringe obsessing over global warming?

Well consider this; 40% of the world’s oil passes through the Straits of Hormuz. Obviously, therefore, it’s a critical chokepoint for the world’s petroleum-based economy. I can think of several scenarios that would cause the Gulf region to flare up into something ugly that would close off that chokepoint, especially if we leave Iraq in an unstable state.

Believe it or not, our presence in Iraq at this time is actually keeping things relatively calm in the region. As bad as the violence seems, most of it is centered in Baghdad and in a few other Iraqi-only hot spots. But, if we leave, all bets are off.

At this time there is a tenuous balance between the Saudis, the Iranians, the Syrians, and all the Islamic militant and extremist factions in a very shaky Iraq. Two events will probably send this fragile framework spiraling into bedlam: 1) U.S. troops leave before a viable Iraq is set up, and 2) the Iranians achieve their nuclear weapon ambitions.

If we leave Iraq in its current mess we basically hand it over to Al Qaeda and Iran. I predict that once that happens, within a very short time we will find ourselves having to go back into the region with even more troops with even bigger guns. Only this time, chances are we will probably have to attack Iran. The Iranians will sink a few ships and lay hundreds of mines, which will quickly close Hormuz. At that point, life as we know it ends, and that’s when the extremely far left GETS their wish—unaffordable oil.

The big brains behind these cunningly sly progressives fully understand that the only way we earthlings, especially us car-crazy Americans, will stop driving gas and diesel fueled vehicles is if we are FORCED to. Even though the technology already exists to replace petroleum-powered transport, as long as relatively cheap oil is available it’s never going to be fielded.

So you see, George Soros and his lieutenants want us out of Iraq all right; but NOT for any of the humane or bogus reasons many claim. No, the goal is simple—to get all of us onto mass transit and into cars powered by batteries and fuel cells.

It’s brilliant in a cynical underhanded way.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Part 3: VA Disability Claims Advice

I say again, the VA disability claims system is stacked against the inexperienced veteran UNTIL he gets help. THEN, the advantage goes to the vet. I liken it to a card game where the VA plays its hand, at which point the knowledgeable veteran is allowed to pick up the deck and choose the cards necessary to win the hand... Read on to see what I mean...

  • Retirement / Discharge Physical. When you retire or separate from service, I wouldn’t worry about whether or not the Air Force (or army, etc.) actually does your retirement physical, because it doesn’t really matter. As far as your retirement physical goes, unless you are being medically discharged, your service hospital won’t really look for anything wrong with you anyway. The only reason the military services do so-called retirement physicals is to fill a square—it’s mostly cursory. The examining doctor will have you fill out a form that has you describe your current medical issues that you plan to claim for from the VA. It will help to have already gone over your records with a fine-toothed comb and pre-write EVERY item you intend to claim. Have this list with you when you go in for your physical. As I said, I would go to the VA without first getting a full-blown physical done by your service. I waived my retirement physical and it turned out perfect for me. I was able to “manage” my VA physical very nicely this way, but as long as you know what to expect, I would suppose that you could manage your discharge physical in the same way. The point is that YOU want to control what happens to you—don’t let the system push you around. Stay in charge—stay proactive! Do so by reading on.

Find a Veterans Service Officer to represent you. Before you make your claim at a VA Regional Office, contact a well-trained AND experienced Veterans Service Officer. These people do NOT work for the VA—they work for YOU! The VFW, DAV, American Legion, etc., all those organizations provide Service Officers. Keep in mind these folks are not supposed to charge you for their help—most of them get paid from local city, county or state funds to assist Vets.

    • Call around, interview a promising Service Officer candidate, and ask about success stories and so forth. If they don’t have time for you, find some one else. Many folks try to do it on their own and they get beat down by the VA system, mostly out of ignorance. Or, they get an award and don’t ever realize how underrated they actually are. You don’t know what you don’t know!
    • The VA is not supposed to be adversarial, but it IS! The VA Disability System is complicated, and time-consuming. I know folks who have struggled through it, got what they sought after many years of fighting and learning how to fight, and could have received the same award first time, if they had only used representation from the start.
    • A good Service Officer will act exactly like your lawyer—a good lawyer of course (a contradiction in terms?).
    • Most veterans are either NOT told of the existence of Service Officers during their Transitional Assistance Program (TAP) briefings, or they are not told how crucial they are for a successful claim. I got out in early 2002, and although we were briefed at the time by what I thought was a very informative VA Representative; HE did NOT mention once that it might be a good idea for a veteran to attain the services of a Service Officer in the veteran’s quest for disability benefits. Is this a conspiracy? It seems so.

  • Maximizing your disability rating is all about strategy!
    • Get with your Service Officer Representative and map out what you want. Make two copies of every page of your active duty medical records BEFORE you get out. One copy you might have to submit to the VA and you will keep the other copy. (You’d be surprised how often the services or NPRC (National Personnel Records Center) loses SMRs (service medical records) after you last see them at your separation).
    • Get a highlighter and mark every medical issue, the date, the inclusive dates of treatment, the clinic and its address, and the doctor or clinician involved. You will need all this info when you make your claim. Then, using the format provided in the VA Form 21-526 (used for initial application of benefits), make a table just like the one shown in the form. The one in the 21-526 is not even a page long and the blocks are too small for the information they ask for. I suggest you do this using a program like MS Word. List each and every medical issue per line.
    • Once you get them all loaded, group them together by issue still in chronological order. Do not worry about listing too much. When I filled out my form, I turned in 12 pages of disabilities, and I used a font of only 10! Overwhelm them with your preparation! Most veterans do very little to prepare, so the VA workers that receive yours will be very impressed and in fact appreciative. In reality, they want to do what’s right for the veteran; so, why not make it easy for them to do exactly that?

  • Get Every Test You Can!!! This bullet is very important, so read this one and its sub-bullets carefully.

· What you want to do is to have every possible assessment, lab test, and procedure done to you while you are in or within a year after you are out.

· For example, if you have a bad back and an MRI to show any kind of disk abnormality, it may be worth upwards of 20% depending on pain and limitation of motion. And remember, most conditions, if discovered during the first year of your discharge, will most likely be rated as SERVICE-CONNECTED, based on presumptive connection to service.

· The bad thing is that it works the other way as well—if you find something wrong with you 366 days after you get out, it is NOT service-connected. Automatic DENIAL is a sure thing.

· Thing is, neither the VA nor TriCare in the good old USA will want to rush to getting an MRI accomplished. In the States, before a doctor will order an expensive procedure or test, she wants to be convinced that it must be done. This means you might have to complain about your back, or whatever, continuously until your doctor relents and consents to the cost of the test. What happens if a year passes before you can finally convince your doctor to tell TriCare that you NEED an MRI? The answer is you might lose the possibility of getting service-connection for your condition!

· Here's an important one for you over-40 vets... increased urination! If you notice you are voiding a lot more than you did when you were in your 20s and 30s, chances are you have some kind of problem with your prostate, kidney or bladder. Go to the clinic and FIND OUT now! It's easier to do it while you are still on active duty.

· Of course, every time you complain about a twinge, or a pain, or a pang, that is EVIDENCE, and it is no little thing because it shows chronicity, severity and history. My advice is NOT to worry about being a “sick call ranger” because believe me, the Air Force, Army, Navy, and especially the USMC is NOT going to be there for you once you get out. Take care to get ALL your problems documented and DIAGNOSED while you are in. That way, once your service washes IT’S hands of YOU, the VA can start to take up the slack. Hey, you deserve it!

Stay tuned for part 4… parts 1, 2

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