28 June 2015

Sometimes you need a reminder...

Lately, I haven't been feeling it.  "It" being that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from helping others.  I wasn't feeling invigorated.  Every day I used to work in a center in Afghanistan.  I'd greet more than 500 Airmen, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Coasties during my shift.  Now, I work at headquarters in a big office building in a suburb of DC.  The passion of my colleagues for our mission is still very much apparent, but the direct connection to our troops is what I've really started to miss.

Then today I went to the Warrior Games.

The Warrior Games were created in 2010 as a sporting competition featuring more than 200 athletes who are wounded service members and veterans from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command, and the British Armed Forces.

"Sitting Volleyball"
I volunteered to help give out snacks and drinks outside the sitting volleyball game.  First, let me say that "sitting" volleyball is a bit of a misnomer.  I watched about 10 minutes of a match, and even though the athletes were positioned on the floor, they slid, and dove, and jumped from their seated positions, constantly.  It was Army vs. Air Force in the gold medal game.  Army fans were doing the wave led by an enthusiastic Sergeant.  Air Force was on the other side of the gym chanting right back.  Service dogs were seated next to their humans, and children were slamming noise makers together.  (We were handing them out; we have no one to blame but ourselves. :))

Me and Adam, former USO Kandahar Volunteer

While watching the game I noticed a familiar face, although I couldn't recall his name I knew he was one of mine.  One of my volunteers from USO Kandahar!  I tapped him on the shoulder and politely asked if he was a volunteer at KAF (Kandahar Air Field) to which he immediately replied, "YEAH!  And you were my volunteer person!"  I re-introduced myself, and he said he'd stop by the snack bar later.  I returned to my post at the snack bar, and felt like something seemed off that he was wearing an Army shirt.  Sure enough, later on when he stopped by I asked him what branch he was in, and he was Navy!  Currently though, he's a civilian working with the Army.  It was great to see someone you know from the other side of the world!

A while later, a young man came up to grab a drink.  I recognized him immediately.  He was the first wounded warrior I ever met at KAF.  He had wandered into our center and wanted to play Playstation.  I had told him I needed his CAC (Common Access Card, aka military ID).  He said he didn't have one to which I replied that he had to have one to use the station. He replied, well they took mine for evidence when I got blown up.  


Okay.  Ummm here's a playstation, you have no time limit, just go for it.  I felt like a fool.  Here I am giving him a hard time, when he literally had just survived a bomb the day before.  Talk about a humbling experience.  After talking to him some more he told me he had a concussion and possible TBI (traumatic brain injury) from an IED.  He came by the center often while he was "stuck" on KAF awaiting to be given the okay to head back out to his FOB (forward operating base).  

We had quite a few wounded warriors come through USO Kandahar while I was there.  They would get medevac'd (medical evacuation, often by pararescue jumpers on a Blackhawk helicopter) to KAF because we had the best medical facilities in country besides Bagram.  Then they'd stay until they were well enough to go back to battle, or sent to Landstuhl in Germany for more medical attention.  During the waiting period all they talked about was getting back out there, missing their guys, and how bored they were.  Some of the bravest men I've ever met still had shrapnel in their sides, yet were volunteering at the USO because they were itching to get back to helping their fellow soldiers.

Anyway, so back to today.  I recognized this soldier.  I said, "Excuse me, where you in Kandahar?"  He said yeah, then looked up, pointed at me and exclaimed,"2010, USO!"  I told him I remembered him.  With a big ol' grin he grabbed his Gatorade and walked off on his prosthetic.  

With some water in my eyes, I felt grateful.  I was grateful that I had the opportunity to boost his spirits after his first injury.  I sincerely hoped someone else was there after that one.

With a USO center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and one at Bethesda where Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is located,  I have a hope, a feeling, an almost assurance, that someone was.

That was the reminder I needed.  Although I may not be the someone handing out the Playstation controller this time, I can be the someone in an office building who supports the someones who do.

06 January 2015

Nicholas Sparks, I got this.

Like millions of Americans, I love Nicholas Sparks' books...and most of the movie adaptations.  (Let's face it A Walk to Remember was just horrid.)

I began reading his books in high school.  While I was busy being awkward and not being asked to high schools dances, I devoured the romance of Noah telling Allie, 'If you're a bird, I'm a bird.'  I imagined a high-school boy driving me to a state line just so I could be in two places at one time like Landon and Jamie.

Because my mother is a voracious reader herself, she was thrilled to see me excited about a book series, and quickly purchased each one as they were released.  My favorite was, and continues to be, The Rescue.  I've read it too many times to count.  I remember loving it then because the hero was a sexy firefighter, and the heroine was a strong single mother providing for her special needs son.  I love it now, because the heroine is a strong single mother providing for her special needs son.

It's worth repeating, because it's a rarity in Nicholas Sparks' writing style.  Novel after novel the "heroine" or perhaps a better term is, "leading lady" (LL from here on out), is weak.  She either has an overbearing father or a jealous ex-lover, and the poor heartbroken LL just doesn't know what to do with herself because all she wanted is love.  Well, bless her heart, praise Jesus, there was a big strong man to swoop in and save that delicate flower.  (And, yes, his strength is actually integral to the storyline given that in most of these stories he does physically beat up the jilted ex-lover.)

A quick work cited page to further my thesis:
The Notebook: LL needs saved from her father, then saved from her impending loveless marriage
A Walk To Remember: LL needs saved from death
Nights in Rodanthe:  LL needs saved from a killer storm
The Guardian: (now we're just getting lazy and putting it in the title) LL needs saved from a murderer
The Lucky One: LL needs saved from a jealous ex-husband
Safe Haven: (again pretty spot-on title) LL needs saved from an abusive ex-husband
The Longest Ride: LL needs saved from a jealous boyfriend

Here's the thing Nicholas Sparks, I got this.  I don't need saved.  I do need a book with a strong leading lady who can fend for herself.  I know I can find this type of book by other authors, but the problem is you sucked me in.  Naive, day-dreaming, 15 year-old Sarah loved the writing, and less naive, still hopelessly romantic, 29 year-old Sarah is hoping I can again.

And I do still have hope for you, Mr. Sparks.  Just look at Disney.  After 76 years of damsels in distress being saved by princes' kisses, Disney served up the highest grossing animated film of all time about the power of two sisters who can save each other.

Law and Order SVU is the 6th longest running prime-time television series of all time, and the 3rd longest running that is currently still in production.  Want to know why?  I think it's because Olivia Benson is one bad ass LL who doesn't need saving.

So next time you're typing away staring at the lapping waves hitting the pier of the charming, idyllic, small, North Carolina coastal town you're writing from, consider this Mr. Sparks...I got this, and your LL should too.