A Veterans Day Letter

Ladies and Gentlemen, I begin this article tipping my hat to two podcasters who equally match wit and chemistry.  The podcast they share, on episode #561 of print, is one that others often try to emulate.  Financiers will spend tens of thousands of dollars in advertising budgets to build a brand that these two organically developed through talent alone.  That trinity of talent, chemistry and attitude ushered in a new era.  That effort has captured the entire globe in a cult following of professional wrestling and pop culture.  We quickly learned talented people are standing by to place pillars of excellence to further build upon.  This all started with a crackling into an MP3 file called “The Place to Be”.  Stumbling upon the new movement of radio on demand and jumping on the bandwagon these two were encouraging in the ProBoards format.  That is where I met Derek Cornett for the first time.  Then I met Jay Ouimette.  We will talk about him later.  The privilege in podcasting genius has made entertainment fun again, and we have had a decade of laughter in the process.  I can honestly say my quality of life is better because of that nucleus moment in February 2011.  Hence penning an article and being honest in my words.  To be accepted by a wide audience without judgement.  That, to me, is the Place to Be.  

             I woke up at about 9:45am on Tuesday Morning, September 11, 2001.  I turned on the news, hoping to hear more about Michael Jordan returning to the basketball court, and I see Peter Jennings on the local ESPN channel.  I am probably getting ready to smack my remote when I see a building standing amongst a billowing cloud of smoke.  I was trying to figure out where it was, and I saw New York on the scrolling headline. There is only one place in New York that looks like that.  Beginning to imagine the horror taking place before my eyes; this is clearly an act of terrorism before Mr. Jennings said it.  Not even 15 minutes later, another building collapsed. This day changed my life forever.

            My father has experience in emergency management as a career firefighter.  He has also served loyal and faithful duties to the United States.  On top of those, he is also a veteran. His service was interesting, due to his ability to duck and dodge a draft.  He enlisted in 1971; taking the test like his life depended on it and got college money as a bonus.  He spent a hair over two years in the United States Army as a welder in Germany, all the while when a Palestinian terror organization kidnapped and held hostage the Israeli Olympians.  No attempt in getting political, but these events have happened close to home for me all too often.  Coming back to that moment, as I am watching Mayor Rudolph Giuliani walk through the streets of New York, directing everyone away from the destruction, I have had enough.  As the days and weeks lumbered on, the more despair I felt because I wanted a piece of the action.  We have seen the shenanigans of the Al Qaeda terror network for far too long.  We watched the Beirut bombing in 1983, the first WTC attack in 1993, 1998 twin bombings of U.S. Embassies on the horn of Africa, and the 2000 bombing of a Naval Ship off the coast of Yemen, killing 19 Sailors in the process.  Osama Bin Laden has been practicing what he has been preaching for far too long, and by hell or high water, I wanted to be part of the solution.   We all watched the same terror training camp videos on the news, and I was hook, line, and sinker in to getting my hands on those bastards.  

            This decision to join the military happened fast, and over a six-month period, all at the same time.  I was deliberately not watching the news to cognitively process my emotions. Is this a decision I am ready to make?  Do I want to risk my life to take another?  These were questions I was saying yes far too easy to.  Hearing bag pipes at funerals for the next three months were a serenade to my thoughts.  

            What did not help in my congitive thought process was living so close to something like that, the entire community was hurting. In the summer of 2002, fresh off a split with my ex-wife, I went down to the World Trade Center site for the first time, out of respect and reflection.  What stood out to me were the flyers of loved ones everywhere. Old, young, man, woman, and child.  People were there crying over losses and having a hard time moving on.  These things that I was experiencing with my senses: the smell of a disaster, the sound of construction workers and crying, the vision of the enormous hole in the ground, and looking left and right and seeing the flyers. It was not necessarily my calling, but it was a gut feeling that I have never experienced before.  I just simply knew what I wanted to do, and I what I felt I had to do, for my own personal closure to such a horrific event that impacted not only America, but my community.  If these men can give their all for a greater cause, then why the shit shouldn’t I?  John Fogerty said it best, “Put me in Coach.  I’m ready to play”.     

            My real life was imploding because of my obsession to join the military, to defend a lot of different things I could not express openly, because I was not able to do so. I was only a civilian.  I had no credentials.  I wanted to defend our children against bullshit cowardly attacks that destroy our lives.  I wanted to defend the people who decided to jump to their death instead of using anymore time to save their life.  I wanted to defend the mothers, wives, daughters who lost a brave man to careers that scream danger.  Most of all, and I carry their mantra with me to this day and beyond, I will defend those first responders and civilian heroes on the battlefield (volunteer efforts and United 93 Passengers), who died attempting to save others.  The average reaction time for all the heroes, professional and volunteer, of September 11th was an incredible and astonishing FOUR SECONDS.  That is all the time they needed to cast their vote and say, “Not on my fucking watch”.  To me, those moments of pure adrenaline and selfless service were the first victories in the Global War on Terror campaign. Those heroes of the battle showed me the courage needed to take on a terror organization.  

            To describe my demeanor, at best, I am socially inept.  I am admittedly way more Dwight Schrute, or Andy Bernard than the cool guy Jim Halpert.  With that said, on September 17, 2002, I deliberately walked up to an Army Recruiter in his office and proclaimed, “I want to jump out of airplanes and kill the Taliban”.  I will never forget his response. “That is terrific, but you kind of have to sit down and watch this video first and discuss options”.  We discussed options, and the best he could do for me was an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) of 11B, which was an Infantryman.  If I wanted to go to a Special Forces detachment, I would have to meet their qualifications after initial service.  I accepted, scored well on the test, background check squeaky clean, signed the dotted line for a First Blood match with some Iraqi and Syrian forces, and only one walks out victorious.  I was headed to Fort Benning, GA for the first round of qualification bouts to step into the arena and dance with the Devil himself.  

            For the next 18 months, I trained and trained hard for a deployment to Iraq, with the 2-5 Cav (2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Regiment).  We went through grueling simulated combat operations for weeks at a time without so much as a shower, let alone a beer.  We were not simply going through the motions, we had leadership from the top down that firmly believed that combat training should be more difficult then real-world combat operations, so the fog of war will be easy to operate in.  We received our orders in November of 2003 that we will be headed to Sadr City, Iraq.  Everyone was pumped and excited to get their hands on these same individuals who believe that democracy must be defeated in war.  There was also motivation to let out aggression for the months of grueling training.  I was primed and ready to go.  

            To be prepared for battle in which a known enemy has you in its sights and ready to destroy you, you must have a certain mind set.  We were a highly trained unit, but only a handful have seen combat in Afghanistan since this was the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  We would talk amongst ourselves about being able to look another man in the eyes and pull the trigger.  The answer always came back to “its either you or him that is going to die.  Have a vote in the outcome”.  We all had that swagger in the tent in the days prior to actual combat, but none of us, commanders included, had no clue on what we were about to embark, a life changing moment for every single man in that formation.  

Through the Place to Be, I have been able to meet so many wonderful people who inspire me to be a better man.  JT has never left an empty message, even if it were to simply send a DM about a great show he had.  Andy Atherton for allowing me the opportunity to write this article.  Will from Texas, I was a fan of his before I discovered the Place to Be when he had Good Will Wrestling on Blog Talk Radio.  He allowed me to do one of the “For Your Consideration” podcasts.  Not only was that a gift in itself, but it was a three-man booth with Johnny Sorrow posted on the Fourth of July, 2017.  I listen to it back once, but the live experience was so good, that could never be duplicated.  Aaron Stolz and the genius he brought to the Saturday Morning Spectacular, and we served together in the same unit in Iraq.  Ben Ivanson, Steve Rogers, Chad Campbell, J. Arsenio D’Amato, Derek Cornett, JT Rozzero, all guests on the Spectacular, all come from the Place to Be genesis.  I say thank you to you all, and most importantly, thank you ALL for YOUR service!