20 December 2011


As I walked out the door for my run this morning, I took stock of my outfit:
  • Merrell Barefoot Sonic Gloves (trail running shoes)
  • Injinji toe socks
  • Under Armour Cold Gear tights and long-sleeve shirt
  • Aasics running shorts
  • GoLite Wildwoods t-shirt
  • Nike 3/4 zip fleece
  • Mountain Hardwear gloves
  • The North Face beanie
A lot of brands represented there. A lot of expensive stuff.

My dad has a sign in the barn: "Pay cash. Buy the best. Make it work. Rebuild it. Recycle it. Hand it down."

I buy stuff that has multiple purposes. Like my Sonic Gloves, which are great for running, hiking, shooting, playing ultimate, whatever. Or my Cold Gear tights, which have a hole from motorcycle crash but often serve as a baselayer for skiing. And which need to be rebuilt. Or my gloves, which also worked for motorcycling and skiing.

When I tell people I shop at REI, they always say, "Oh... that's expensive." Yeah, it might be. But it's good gear that will last. And if it doesn't last, REI will take it back, no matter when, no matter what. 

And it's pretty easy to find stuff on sale. In my experience, good gear is worth the cost. It lasts a long time, and it works a lot better. 

Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do, or do without.

07 December 2011

Livin' the Dream

It's 2315, and I have a few more hours' worth of work I could do tonight.

But I flew for 1.5 hours today, performing 14 landings. One of which was "frickin' beautiful," according to my IP, and all of which were safe. I was staying ahead of the aircraft, aware of the other planes in the pattern, seeing things I hadn't seen before.

Last week, I had a beer with my fiance and we sat and talked for hours about theology, love, and life. Next week, we're going shopping for wedding rings. In less than six months, I'll be a married Air Force Officer, on my way to pilot training... or the Dominican Republic.

Long days and late nights? Worth it.

24 November 2011

Thank you

Thank you for family, for home, for Home. Thank you for good books and the Book. Thanks for sunshine and for rain, for ice and for snow.

Thank you for football and "little" brothers, for beer and card games, for rifles and pistols, airplanes and cars.

Thanks for phones and Facebook, dinner and walks, couches and wrestling matches.

And thank you for a beautiful woman and a life together. Thanks for her love and her faith, her touch and her laugh. Thank you for wedding plans and honeymoons plans, Air Force plans and Life plans.

11 November 2011

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
          Between the crosses, row on row,
     That mark our place; and in the sky
     The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
     Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
               In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
     The torch; be yours to hold it high.
     If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
               In Flanders fields.

-LtCol John McRae, 3 May 1915

04 November 2011

Another "controversy" at USAFA

Early this week, a first-class cadet sent out an email to the entire cadet wing asking for help with Operation Christmas Child. When I saw it, I thought, "I don't think they can do that," but deleted the email and moved on.

The email was approved by the Vice Wing Commander. I thought nothing of it until today, when I heard of the controversy it sparked. Apparently, 132 people emailed Mikey Weinstein of the so-called Military Religious Freedom Foundation about Operation Christmas Child. According to Fox News Radio, one cadet said, "This just shows how our military is supporting on religion - Christianity."

 "The military" isn't supporting Christianity. One or two cadets made a mistake; USAFA senior leaders were unaware of the project. By sending out a wing-wide email about the program and making a staff tower announcement, the cadets implied government endorsement of a Christian charity.

"According to the [endorsement] test, a government action is invalid if it creates a perception in the mind of a reasonable observer that the government is either endorsing or disapproving of religion" (Wikipedia). As firsties and leaders in the Cadet Wing, the cadets in question are government actors. Therefore, in the course of their duty, they must not endorse a particular religion. As Operation Christmas Child is clearly a Christian charity, they cannot endorse the charity - and now they know their mistake.

 So, let's leave it at that. This place is a leadership laboratory, after all.

16 October 2011

Way up on the great divide

You made this world to look so nice
I wonder what the next one's like
Grays Peak on left, Torreys on right
We left the trailhead at 0820, after two hours on the interstates and a few minutes on a Jeep trail. Other hikers wore boots and snow pants and carried hiking poles, and we wondered if we were under prepared. We stuffed extra layers in our Flash 18 packs and set out, already above treeline.

The trail was wide and not to steep, but it was covered in hard-packed snow and ice. In the valley, the wind was calm, and the sun warmed us once it topped the ridge.

Once we left the valley, we could see Torreys Peak before us and watch the moon as it neared the horizon. The wind picked up rapidly - the forecast predicted gusts to 55 mph, and that's what it felt like.

At the bottom of the wide slope on Grays Peak, we met a man who had climbed Grays over 50 times and Torreys over 30. We planned on climbing Grays, but he said the trail which split off there was icy and long. Instead, he recommended going to the saddle and then taking a trail up Grays from there.

The path to the saddle was a little sketch. On a 45 degree slope, we had a foot or less of trail, often simply stepping in other people's footprints.

In the saddle between the peaks, we met another climber who had just descended Grays and told us the trail was pretty icy. The trail to Torreys was rocky, but exposed to the wind. My fiance put on her shell, we swapped mittens and set off towards Torreys. We looked back at Grays, and we could see the snowy switchbacks.

We were glad to reach the summit - the views were incredible. We could see the curve of the earth on the horizon. But the wind was fierce and the air was thin, so we headed down after snapping a picture together.

29 September 2011


It's a strange feeling, walking around a clothing optional campus in service dress. Thankfully, everyone we saw was clothed, but there were hippies everywhere.

This morning, my Scholars Capstone class took a field trip to the Colorado World Affairs Council Symposium on Arab Spring Events. 500 high school students and various faculty came from all around the Pikes Peak region. We heard from Ambassador Fairbanks, who used to be the US ambassador to the Middle East, and provided his perspective on the Arab Spring. Since most of what he said we'd already read or heard, and it was pretty hot in the room, it was a struggle to stay awake. During the break, I discussed the strange system for appointing ambassadors: they usually don't know anything about their region of the world; they're appointed as a political favor. In the past, that wasn't a huge issue, since the State Department's job was simply to report, not shape, events. Today, however, in order to shape events, the State Department needs more knowledge and expertise.

I grabbed some coffee and stepped outside. It was a beautiful day; the grass was green and the trees were falling. And between the trees, I could see Shove Chapel, where I'll be getting married in less than eight months to the love of my life. We've got a long way to go until we get there - in both time and personal growth - but I'm excited about the journey to the wedding and throughout our life together.

Back inside, we listened to a debate about whether or not the US should increase military aid to rebels in Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. USAFA cadets argued for more military aid; CC students argued that violence spurs violence. Sergent Garcia ran through my head: la sangre llama la sangre, el orgullo la muerte. The USAFA team made some good points, but the CC students came back with very eloquent counterpoints.

After another break, we broke for round-table discussions. I led a discussion between about 20 high school students from various schools in various grades. About six of them dominated the discussion and demonstrated a lot of curiosity and intellect. Some appeared interested but did not speak; others sat sullenly in the corners.

One boy said something that stuck with me: "America wants everyone on the same playing field: our playing field." He was arguing that America wants everyone to have freedom - in a democracy like ours, with an economy like ours, following our rules.

After a lunch in CC's cafeteria - which serves vegan food, a far cry from Mitch's - we returned to the Academy. I changed uniforms and served a Statement of Understanding (SOU), which delineates a cadet's rights leading up to and during a Cadet Sanctions Recommendation Panel (CSRP) or Wing Honor Board (WHB). In this case, the cadet admitted to breaking the USAFA Honor Code. On Monday, I'll write a recommendation to the Commandant: should he be disenrolled, or should he face six months of probation?

Then I did some quick calculations to determine appropriate resistive loads for a PEM fuel cell, and discussed the project with my advisor. Back to my room, I changed, and headed down to the gym for some suicides up and down the rock wall. At the bottom, grab a 'biner, take it to the first bolt. Climb down, grab a 'biner, take it to the next bolt. And so on. Once at the top, climb down to the lowest bolt, grab the 'biner, bring it to the top. And so on.

I grabbed dinner with some friends, called my fiance and talked to her for a while. I coordinated with my NCO to do some work for the Honor Review Committee, which makes changes to the Honor Code Reference Handbook. Then I wrote this.

I'm so well-rounded, I'm pointless.

23 September 2011

DIY Steel Rimfire Target

Here at the Academy, we've got what's probably the greatest metal shop at any undergraduate institution - and it's better than some graduate and commercial shops too. Mills, lathes, drill presses, sanders, grinders, sheet metal tools, MIG and TIG welders, oxy-acetylene torch, water jet, heat treatment ovens... the list goes on.

I decided to take advantage of some of the tools and make myself some steel targets. I completed the first one today, and I'll test it this weekend.

My target had to do three things:
  • Deflect bullets downwards
  • Swing to absorb energy
  • Not cost a lot (ideally, free)

I met all three requirements using scrap metal, a band saw, belt grinder, drill press, oxy-acetylene torch, and MIG welder.

After cutting 8" octagons with tabs out of 1/4" steel plate, I ground the edges to make sure they wouldn't cut me or catch any bullets. Then I placed the tabs in a vice and used the torch to heat the metal to red-hot. Once it was soft, a hammer bent the targets over to the 90 degree angle.

I cut a 2" wide strip from the same scrap steel, and began drilling 5/8" holes in it on the drill press. Once the holes were drilled and the 2" squares cut, I ground the edges and corners and headed down to weld. With the tabs mounted, I found some 1/2" steel round stock, cut it, ground spikes into the ends, and welded it into the upside-down U shape.

The plate angles downwards when it's hanging, and swings easily. The whole project cost me about five hours.

29 July 2011

The one gift I truly have to give

As I was sitting outside YoYogurt in my ABU's, enjoying some Mango Tango and reading a running blog, a college girl came up to me and stuck out her hand. She thanked me for my service. I stood up and shook her hand, and she apologized for the strangeness of it, saying she just came from an Army funeral. I said "It's fine," not really knowing what else to say. She thanked me again, and I thanked her, and she turned and walked away. I noticed she was wearing black dress pants and a dark shirt.

I put down the blog and sat there for a minute. I noticed her got into her friend's waiting car. Well that was nice, I thought. She pulled over just to get out and thank me.  I wonder if those were tears forming in her eyes. I wonder if she noticed that I'm just a cadet.

But then I realized: she didn't thank me because I'm a cadet. She didn't thank me because I take 18.5 credit hours per semester. She didn't thank me because I chair honor boards. She didn't thank me because I woke up at 0345 to train the class of 2015.

She thanked me because this uniform means I'm willing to die for her.

"Without a word, this uniform also whispers of freezing troops, injured bodies, and Americans left forever on foreign fields. It documents every serviceman's courage, who by accepting this uniform, promises the one gift he truly has to give: his life. I wear my uniform for the heritage of sacrifice it represents and more. I wear my uniform with pride, for it represents the greatest nation of free people in the world." - Captain Karen Dorman Kimmel

08 June 2011

Up a creek without a paddle

0939: Physical therapist puts a patch on my elbow that will provide an electrical impulse to reduce swelling around my ulnar nerve. I ask her if I can still run with this on. Worried that I would sweat the patch off, she wraps it up with blue tape. It has to stay on for two and a half hours.

1020: Back at my room, I begin loading my REI Flash 18 pack for my run: proxy, mil ID, knife, matches, Gu Chomps, and CamelBak Antidote reservoir. I also stuff four Gu Energy Gels into the pockets of my running shorts, and pull on my Injinji socks and Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove running shoes. I leave a note which says, "Running Falcon Trail->Stanley Canyon->Stanley Reservoir. RTN NLT 1400." I learned that from Aaron Ralston.

My route (roughly). 4.02 miles one way, according to Google Earth.

Aside - gear info:
The Flash 18 is my go-to pack: it's my rock gym bag, my weekend bag, my daypack, my carry-on, and my hydration pack. Paired with the Antidote reservoir, it's great: the Antidote's center baffle keeps my water from sloshing around, and the bite valve is the best I've tried. Tucking the hose through the loop on the shoulder strap and then under the sternum strap keeps it from flopping around. Injinji socks are my new favorite: they let my toes move independently, and prevent blisters like no other. I won my Trail Gloves from Running and Rambling, an excellent minimalist ultra-running blog.

1040: I leave the southwest stairwell of Sijan Tower. There's a Security Forces SSgt walking towards the ECP, an M16A2 slung across his back. As I approach, he turns and says, "Snuck up on me like a ninja." When you run in minimalist shoes, you run quiet. Which could be risky when you approach armed men from behind.

1105: Reach the Stanley Canyon Trailhead. Take a one minute break in the shade to hydrate, then set off at a run up the trail.

1123: Down a Banana Blitz Gu. Hydrate. Continue hiking up the steep and/or technical parts of the trail, run where I can. Pass four high school guys going fishing. "Is this the way to Stanley Reservoir?" "Yeah, but you're only about halfway there." "Oh, man..." I run on.

1148: Reach the reservoir. Take an 8-minute break, watch the minnows swim in the shadows and four mallards on a double-date: two drakes, two hens. Not a cloud in the sky - the aspens shine a bright green against the darker green of the pines.

1156: Head back down. Meet the fishermen near the meadow. "You're a monster. Are you training for the Olympics?" "Um... nope, just out for a run." "Well you should try out. Beast." "Have fun fishing!"

1209: Stop to take off the electric patch. No noticeable difference in swelling. Down a Chocolate Outrage Gu. Those are good. Hydrate.

1217: Stop to clear rocks from shoes - stepped in a slide of pebbles and sand. Shortly thereafter, meet two guys and two girls I passed on the way up. "Oh my, he's already coming back down! That's how slow we are." They clap as I go by. One guy, out on the outcropping, shouts, "Expletive, is that the dude?"

1228: Reach the trailhead. Press through, back on Falcon Trail, back towards Sijan.

1255: Reach Sijan. Walk slowly up five flights of stairs to my room. Make myself two peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Grab a Gatorade from the fridge. Answer emails.

Awesome run. When I asked the PT if I could go for a run, I'm not sure she realized I meant a two hour, fifteen minute trail run with 2,000 vertical feet...

07 June 2011


I never realized how tiring it could be to teach someone to ride a bicycle. Bending over with my hand under the saddle, running alongside, up and down the road - it's harder than I imagined.

But it is totally, completely worth it. To see the glow in that six-year-old's eyes, to see the smile creep across her face when she realizes that I've let go and she's still riding, to watch her take off on her own... it's incredible.

My parents told her about how I learned to ride, up at Indian lake. When she crashed, I told her that she was doing better than I did when I was learning. "Yeah, I bet it was a lot harder for you, since you were only five," she told me. Then she proceeded to tell me about the comic she read that morning, the tears gone and the smile coming. Then her brother rode up: "Did you crash?" And just like that, the tears came back. I kindly told her brother to keep riding, and asked her about the comic. Then she got back on the bike.

"Okay, here's what's gonna happen, mister. You're gonna hold me with both hands this time." She's pretty demanding for a six-year-old.

But I learned a lot: kids have to know you're there, that you're ready to catch them if they fall. Make them laugh, and their troubles pass. Give them compliments - honest compliments - and their confidence grows. Look them in the eye to make sure they understand. Get at their level to talk to them - either squat down or pick them up.

Later, when her mom sent her and her sister to get ready for bed, she saw a moth at the top of the stairs, and she's terrified of moths. Her parents told her she'd have to get over it, but she was paralyzed with fear. 15 minutes later, she was still standing at the bottom of the stairs, crying. I picked her up and carried her up, approaching the moth slowly. I squished it with a finger, and it flew away. I told her the moth was harmless, that it was like a butterfly, that it couldn't do anything to her - it was so scared it flew away. Her tears began to stop.

But her sister noticed the moth was trapped in a light. "Is it gonna die?" she asked as her eyes got wattery.

Now I didn't know what to do. If I said it wouldn't die, the one would still be afraid of it, and probably start crying again. If I said it would die - which was true - the other would start to cry.

So I said that it would probably die. I picked up the other girl, now crying, and told her it was just a moth, just a bug. "But God made it and he wants us to take care of it," she told me.

Now what do I say to that? With a hug and saying "It's ok," she stopped crying. Now both twins were calm and relatively happy, and ready to get ready for bed.

Again, I learned that kids need to know you're there, ready to help them. And that I won't always have all the answers. Hugs will help, but they won't answer the question.

My fiancée - the older sister of both of these girls - and I have been talking about our kids. We both want to adopt as many as we have biologically. She wants 8. I'm thinking 5's the max.

I've always wanted to be a father. I love kids. I love teaching them, playing with them, comforting them. But having my own... it's such a responsibility. And such a privilege.

It makes me nervous - am I ready? No. I don't think anyone is ever "ready" for a child - dealing with two crying twins taught me that. But I know that God has a plan, and He'll give us as many children as we can handle.

Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Psalm 127:3

09 May 2011

I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like a fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

-U2 (Joshua Tree)

01 May 2011

Fierce Love

The most beautiful words I wanted to tell you
I haven't said yet...
Nazim Hikmet

Is it the one you call home?
Is it the Holy Land?
Is is standing right here holding your hand?
Sugarland - Love

I will say I love you so
When I do it you will know
Darling I will never go
Dierks Bentley - Love Grows Wild

Greater love has no man than this,
That he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

Love is not a place
To come and go as we please
It's a house we enter in
Then commit to never leave
Warren Barfield - Love is not a Fight

Love is as strong as death,
Its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
Like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
Rivers cannot wash it away.
Song of Songs 8:6

I don't know why
I love you
I just know I
Can't stop thinkin' of you
Kyle Andrews - You Always Make Me Smile

And I love you 'cause I know
You give me a heart of my own
You make my blood flow
Like red on a rose
Alan Jackson - Like Red on a Rose

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
David Crowder - How He Loves

Home is wherever we are
If there's love there too
Jack Johnson - Home

Love covers over all wrongs.
Proverbs 10:12

And when life is bitter
There'll be love that's sweeter
And with time
We'll get better at both
The Reveling - Bittersweet

Those three words
Are said too much
And not enough
Coldplay - Chasing Cars

You know a perfect love
Is a world without hunger
Caedmon's Call - International Love Song

Casi todos sabemos querer
Pero pocos sabemos amar
José José - Querer y Amar

Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.
Song of Songs 2:7

And I'm gonna love you like nobody loves you
And I'll earn your trust making memories of us
Keith Urban - Making Memories of Us

Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you
It will set you free
Be more like the man
You were made to be
Mumford and Sons - Sigh no More

And we'll let our light shine across the sea
Showing others of the love now complete
Bradley Hathaway - Lighthouse

Raise your head
It's time to say those words
That I have left unsaid
Needtobreathe - Looks Like Love

And now these three remain:
Faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

I want to love you with a fierce love.

10 April 2011

Mud on the Tires

And with a little luck
We just might get stuck
Let's get a little mud on the tires
-Brad Paisley

It was a great day: the sun was shining, spring was arriving. We drove up Rampart Range Road in my trusty Jeep, Gus, and found some fun side trails to explore a bit. We stopped in a glade, explored a little, set up our hammocks, took some pictures.

After a short nap, we got back into Gus and drove to a nearby peak to watch the sunset. Sitting high above Woodland Park, the wind blew through the trees and into our faces. We watched some stars come out as the light faded.

But we didn't get enough of the stars, so we drove around, looking for a good clearing to lay on our backs and gaze at the heavens. At the bottom of a really steep trail, we found one, set out the blanket, and watched a few shooting stars. We prayed together, and headed back to Gus, hoping we could make it back up the trail.

We couldn't. We got high-centered on some really deep ruts. I dug out the rear differential, and we were able to slide backwards. Still finding no traction, I tried to roll back downhill to find some solid ground.

But in trying to get out of the ruts, I backed into a tree. Not able to go backwards anymore, I tried to go forwards, but the tires just spun. So we shoved a bunch of branches under them, to no avail. Finally, we realized we weren't getting Gus out tonight.

We had no cell phone service were we were, but my phone could get GPS coordinates. So we got those and wrote them down, then grabbed the blanket, flashlights, tomahawk, and my Carhartt and gloves. Abandoning Gus, we hiked up the hill to higher ground to find some cell phone service.

We found enough service to text, but not enough to call. So I texted a buddy in my squad, gave him our coordinates, and told him to call the police. My girlfriend texted her parents. Then my phone died.

Her parents texted back, and her dad would come get us. But since my phone was dead, I couldn't text my friend back to tell him we were OK. In hindsight, I telling him to call the police was probably overreacting; we weren't in any immediate danger. We could have easily lasted the night there if we had needed to. Although her parents would have freaked out, and they probably would have called the police - but not before they checked their own phones, and saw the texts from her. So yeah, getting the police involved was unnecessary.

After several text messages back and forth as her parents tried to figure out where we were, and an eventual phone call, her dad was on his way. We hiked towards Rampart Range Road, since we knew it would be difficult to navigate those trails and find us at night. We got a little disoriented in the dark, but I had brought the map with us, and we eventually found our way back to RRR around 2200.

We laid down on the edge of the road under the blanket, watching the stars. We both eventually fell asleep, waking up when headlights appeared on the road. But it was 0100 before those headlights were her dad's.

On the way back to her house, I called three different police departments to let them know we were OK, just in case my squadmate had received my text. All said there was no search for us.

The next morning, her dad called a buddy of his with an FJ Cruiser and a winch. We drove out to the spot, and sized up the situation.

We had to position the FJ on three different trees to pull me up far enough to get me traction. But eventually, we got Gus up on level ground.

Then we headed to her relative's house for burgers and brats. I showed up with dirty clothes and dirty feet, but that was alright. The burgers and brats were good. She told me about how search and rescue had been searching for us for more than six hours, about how my squadmate had called her house.

We learned a lot: Always be prepared. Don't overreact. And pray. There's a full list of things we learned on Facebook. Thanks to my squadmate for his help, to her dad and his buddy for getting us and my Jeep out, and to her for staying calm throughout the whole thing.

28 March 2011

My Review of Kuhl Revolvr Jeans - Men's 34" Inseam

Originally submitted at REI

From the city streets to the climbing crag, the comfortable Kuhl Revolvr jeans will keep you happy on all your daily adventures.

New Favorite Pants

By Nate from CO on 3/28/2011


5out of 5

Waist: Feels true to size

Length: Feels true to length

Pros: Comfortable, Lightweight, High-Quality Material and Stitching

Best Uses: Backpacking, Casual Wear, Camping, Travel, Hiking

Describe Yourself: Avid Adventurer

Was this a gift?: No

I love my old slim-fit, boot cut Levi's, but they don't let me move very much and they certainly don't dry fast.

These have a similar fit - just a little baggier - but the gusseted crotch lets you move like you don't have pants on. And the articulated knee prevents that bunch-up behind your knee that happens with jeans.

The material looks and feels tough and quick-drying. The cell phone pocket seems unnecessary at first, but it makes grabbing your phone while sitting a piece of cake.

I'll be buying more of these - if only they weren't so expensive.


My Review of REI Classic Duffel Bag - Medium

Originally submitted at REI

Simple yet tough, our medium REI Classic duffel bag offers 2,700 cu. in. of space and a convenient storage pouch for heavy-duty gear hauling.

Rugged Bag

By Nate from CO on 3/28/2011


5out of 5

Pros: Durable, Good Zippers, Easy to Transport

Best Uses: Weekend Trips, Camping, Airline Travel, Short Travel

Describe Yourself: Avid Adventurer

What Is Your Gear Style: Minimalist

This bag is K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple, Stupid. Durable nylon, comfy handles. Stuffed 33 pounds of supplies in this for an orphanage in Guatemala; packed out my dirty clothes, carpentry tools, and souvenirs in it.

The little case/organizer that comes with it is super handy for stashing stuff you want to be able to find quickly, and makes this bag super small for storage.


11 March 2011


As we walk outside, some stars are visible where the wispy clouds don't hide them. Orion sits on top of Eagle's Peak, the crescent moon shines over Mt. Herman.

We form up and crack a few jokes, crane our necks at the sky. But then the mood begins to change, and people quiet down. Seven men stand on Spirit Hill, silhouetted from behind. The Wing Commander calls "Present Arms." We raise our salutes in unison. Three shots from seven rifles echo eerily off the mountains.

A bugler near the chapel begins playing Taps, echoed by a bugler near the flagpole. At the last note, we drop our salutes and walk quietly back to our rooms.

They might shoot those guns for me someday. They might play that song for me. I wonder how my wife, my mother, my brother, my father would feel as they hear those solemn notes.

I pray they never have to hear them, but I thank God for those who have made that sacrifice.

07 March 2011

Better Together

I scan the crowd coming up
And my heart leaps at the site of every blonde
But falls when I realize they're not you.
And I begin to worry:
Did she get lost?
Where did she go?
Then I see your face
And mine breaks into a smile
And for the first time in over five months
We embrace.
Your bags lay where you dropped them
And there's so much I want to say
But the words won't come.
Finally, "Hey Beautiful,"
As you begin to choke up.
We drive to your house, smiling the whole way
You reach out for my hand
And I like that.
We come in, you hug your siblings and your parents
It's all so strange
And beautiful.
I have to go; you come outside
And I thank God for bringing you back.
But then I choke up, and can barely whisper

25 February 2011

NCLS: Things I Learned

The past two days here at USAFA, we've had our annual National Character and Leadership Symposium. I had the opportunity to hear from and ask questions of three Medal of Honor recipients, a USAFA grad and A-10 pilot with three Superbowl rings, and a Lost Boy of Sudan who is now a U.S. Olypmian. Here are a few things I learned:
  • Cut a sub in half at an angle; it makes the first bite less awkward. - SSgt. Sal Giunta, Medal of Honor recipient
  • Leaders are readers.
  • There's no criticism for not doing the action for which you would receive a Medal of Honor. - Col (ret) Leo Thorsness, Medal of Honor Recipient, POW for six years
  • Good LT's never send their men to do something; they do it with them. - SSgt Giunta
  • Any day you wake up and there's a door handle on the inside is a good day. - Col Thorsness
  • We weren't created like John Wayne, we were made for community. - Chad Hennings, USAFA 1998, 45 A-10 sorties in Northern Iraq, three Superbowl championships
  • Competition spurs excellence. - SSgt Giunta
  • If you set the bar too low, they will trip over it. - SSgt Giunta
  • It's easier and more cowardly to give a boy an AK-47 and teach him to shoot it than it is to give him paper and pencil and teach him to learn. - Lopez Lomong, Lost Boy of Sudan, U.S. Olympian
  • Education for women and children is most important, everything else will fall into place. - Lomong
I asked SSgt. Giunta, who has been removed from combat operations after receiving the Medal of Honor, if he would rather be back in Afghanistan fighting, or here, talking to people like us. His answer: 
If this is the greater good, if this causes one spark in one cadet's mind, if the people who invited me here to speak think this is more worthwhile, then this. This isn't about me; this is about us.
 As Henry David Thoreau said: "Heroes are often the most ordinary of men." SSgt. Giunta is an ordinary man, and a great hero - and so are his buddies who fought and died alongside him.

16 February 2011

I used to...

I used to think she didn't like me.
Then someone told me how her face brightened when she mentioned me.

I used to think "You take me breath away" was just something people sang in songs.
Then she took my breath away.

I used to think shooting stars were rare but cool.
Then we laid on our backs and watched a dozen of them shoot across the sky.

I used to never write poems.
Then lines about her started flowing, and I couldn't keep them in.

I used to skip over love songs when they started playing.
Then every love song started reminding me of her, and brought a smile to my face.

I used to think "Distance makes the heart grow fonder" was a silly cliché.
Then she left the country for six months, and I found out it's true.

11 February 2011

Book Review: Where Men Win Glory

When my dad told me Where Men Win Glory was about how the Army covered up the details of Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire, I was a little turned off. But Jon Krakauer wrote the book, so I figured it had to be good.

And it was - very good. Krakauer's book is about much more than an Army cover-up; it's a book about an outstanding American who walked away from a life of comfort with a beautiful wife and a great salary to become an Army Ranger.

But Pat Tillman was more than a football player and an Army grunt; he was a philosopher who wasn't afraid to speak his mind, or write it in his journal. Pat's writings were some of the greatest parts of the book:
Sometimes my need to love hurts - myself, my family, my cause. Is there a cure? Of course. But I refuse to stop loving, to stop caring. To avoid those tears, that pain...
But of course, Krakauer is also a great writer, and he does a great job of superimposing events in Afghanistan and Iraq with Pat's career, two narratives on an unpredictable collision course. And after the collision has occurred, Krakauer pulls no punches, criticizing high-profile leaders in the Army and in civilian life for their deception of Pat's family and the public. Most of these leaders, Krakauer wryly notes, got promoted during the cover-up. So much for integrity in leadership.

The strength of Pat's character is an inspiration, and the reaction of Army senior leadership to the disastrous news of his death is a good lesson in what not to do.

Sometimes, the truth hurts. I can't imagine what it would feel like to tell Pat Tillman's little brother, as he pulled up in a Humvee once the ambush was over, that his brother was dead on a stretcher, killed by bullets from his own teammates. But if I was that little brother, I would want to know the truth, and I would hope the men around me could tell me, even if they had to take my weapon first.

Tillman's alpha male personality may be regarded by some to be his tragic flaw - his bravado led him out of comfort and into death. But Tillman died trying to save the life of one of his buddies from the bullets of some other buddies. Where Men Win Glory concludes with this line:
It wasn't a tragic flaw that brought Tillman down, but a tragic virtue.
If only more men possessed such virtue.

John Wayne was Wrong

John Wayne once said, "Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness." (As Captain Nathan Brittles, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.)

But sometimes, an apology is a sign of strength.

One of the firsties (seniors) in my squad kind of screwed up. I approached him about it, and he fixed it immediately. But then I realized he had screwed up more than either of us had thought, so I told him about that, taking with me the handbook which showed how it was supposed to be done. He listened to me and saw the handbook, but ignored both. As a firstie, he thought he knew better than a two degree (junior) - after all, that's how it was always done. He said he'd "talk to somebody," which meant he'd tried to find someone with more authority than me to back him up. But the handbook has the authority, and everyone above me backs it up. I was ticked. I had shown him the right way to do it, but he simply refused to listen.

So he talked to that someone and found out that he was wrong. And then he came back and apologized to me, said he realized he had become the firstie he'd never wanted to be - the one who pulls rank and refuses to listen to two degrees. He thanked me for confronting him and apologized for being a jerk about it.

That's not an easy conversation to have. Personally, it's always tough for me to admit that I'm wrong, especially to a subordinate. It's a mark of his character that he was willing to admit his error and apologize for his attitude.

So I learned something about leadership today: apologies aren't always a sign of weakness.

05 February 2011

Book Review: Too Small to Ignore

How does a kid who spent nine months a year being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused at a "Christian Academy" in Africa become the world's greatest advocate for poor children?

By the grace of God, he'll tell you. Dr. Wess Stafford was a missionary kid in Africa growing up, and he was the kid who eventually stood up for his friends and classmates at his school and eventually rescued them from the abuse. Today, he is the President and CEO of Compassion International, a non-profit dedicated to releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name. Today, Compassion helps more than 1 million children in 26 countries.

Dr. Stafford's book, Too Small to Ignore, is riveting and passionate. His stories of growing up in rural Africa - when he wasn't at school - offer great lessons for Western parents. In the small village of Nielle, children were part of the community. They participated in the work, learned from the old, and were parented by everyone. They mattered, not just to their parents, but to the whole community.

Some quotes from the book:
Kids want more than entertainment; they want the chance to make a difference. They are itching to get out of the pigeonhole into which we have shoved them.
When the poor and the wealthy get together, each ends up meeting the desperate needs of the other. Too often Satan achieves his wicked agenda by keeping them apart - geographically and philosophically. The result is that one tends to die in need, the other in greed. 
Jesus never admonished children to become more grown-up. He did, however, exhort grownups to become more like children.
Children matter in God's Kingdom, and Too Small to Ignore is a great way to learn how to make them matter in your life.

01 February 2011

The Cremation of Sam McGee

Robert William Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam 'round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he'd often say in his homely way that "he'd sooner live in hell."

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn't see;
It wasn't much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I'm asking that you won't refuse my last request."

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
"It's the cursèd cold, and it's got right hold till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'tain't being dead—it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."

A pal's last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: "You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it's up to you to cremate those last remains."

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows— O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the "Alice May."
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-eum."

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: "I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked"; ... then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.

19 January 2011

Book Review: Shopcraft as Soulcraft

Mechanics don't usually write books. If they do write books, they don't usually reference Aristotle, Kant, MIT economists, 18th Century Banking sociologists, and Robert Pirsig.

Ok, maybe Robert Pirsig. But in his book Shopcraft as Soulcraft, Matthew Crawford references all of the above. Don't let that scare you away - after all, he's a mechanic at heart - and he brings them down to earth. So why would a mechanic write a book? Because he sees something wrong with the world. He does a job which society and high school guidance counselors try to guide young minds away from. 
It is a rare person who is naturally inclined to sit still for sixteen years in school, and then indefinitely at work.
Crawford's writing will make you laugh, and it will make you think. It will make you want to get up from your chair and go build something, or fix something. One of his greatest points is that the trades - plumbing, framing, electrical, vehicle maintenance - can't be outsourced. You can outsource software help to China. You can build the computer itself in China. But you can't pound a nail from China.

At the end of the day, the trades worker finds intrinsic satisfaction in his work: the pipes flow, the house is built, the lights turn on, the car runs. This is what I loved about framing houses with Barry: at the end of the day, I could look over my shoulder and see what I'd built. Or at the Clydesdale farm: I could see the hay - or manure - I'd stacked.

All Barry ever promised me was long hours and low wages. Little did I know that I would earn an appreciation for real work - work I'd be willing to do for even longer hours and lower wages.

17 January 2011

Paul's Letter to American Christians: By MLK

The following excerpt was delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on November 4th, 1956 by Martin Luther King, Junior.

I can imagine the Apostle Paul writing a letter to American Christians in 1956 A.D. And here is the letter as it stands before me:

I, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to you who are in America, Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For many years I have longed to be able to come to see you. I have heard so much of you and of what you are doing. I have heard of the fascinating and astounding advances that you have made in the scientific realm…I have heard of your great medical advances, which have resulted in the curing of many dread plagues and diseases, and thereby prolonged your lives and made for greater security and physical well-being. All of that is marvelous.

But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.

Let me rush on to say something about the church. Americans, I must remind you, as I have said to so many others, that the church is the Body of Christ. So when the church is true to its nature it knows neither division nor disunity. But I am disturbed about what you are doing to the Body of Christ. They tell me that in America you have within Protestantism more than two hundred and fifty six denominations. The tragedy is not so much that you have such a multiplicity of denominations, but that most of them are warring against each other with a claim to absolute truth. You must come to see that God is neither a Baptist nor a Methodist; He is neither a Presbyterian nor a Episcopalian. God is bigger than all of our denominations. If you are to be true witnesses for Christ, you must come to see that America.

There is another thing that disturbs me to no end about the American church. You have a white church and you have a Negro church. You have allowed segregation to creep into the doors of the church. How can such a division exist in the true Body of Christ? You must face the tragic fact that when you stand at 11:00 on Sunday morning to sing praises, you stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America. They tell me that there is more integration in the entertaining world and other secular agencies than there is in the Christian church. How appalling that is.

So Americans I must urge you to get rid of every aspect of segregation. The broad universalism standing at the center of the gospel makes both the theory and practice of segregation morally unjustifiable. Segregation is a blatant denial of the unity which we all have in Christ. The underlying philosophy of Christianity is diametrically opposed to the underlying philosophy of segregation.

I must bring my writing to a close now. Timothy is waiting to deliver this letter, and I must take leave for another church. But just before leaving, I must say to you, as I said to the church at Corinth, that I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world.

So American Christians, you may have the gift of prophecy and understanding all mysteries. You may be able to break into the storehouse of nature and bring out many insights that men never dreamed were there. You may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you will have all knowledge. You may give great gifts to charity. You may tower high in philanthropy. But if you have not love, it means nothing.

I must say goodbye now. I hope this letter will find you strong in the faith. It is probable that I will not get to see you in America, but I will meet you in God’s eternity. And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy, to him be power and authority, forever and ever. Amen.

From Aaron Stern's blog

11 January 2011

Bombers or Hospitals?

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

10 January 2011

Book Review: Starship Troopers

I'm not really into sci-fi. But Starship Troopers was surprisingly good. It's a first-person narrative of a "Mobile Infantry" soldier in some future, intergalaxy war. Although the weapons and "Navy" - read "spaceships" are different, the infantry and Navy maintain traditions dating back to "surface ships" powered by wind sails and earlier.

And the book is quite philosphical, offering a strong critique of America's current system of deterring crime, especially in youngsters. According to Mr. Dubois, the narrator's professor of History and Moral Philosphy, "juvenile delinquent" is a contradiction in terms - and treating someone as a juvenile delinquent until they're eighteen, then giving them capital punishment, is like letting a puppy make messes inside, then killing it for doing the same when it becomes a dog.

Also according to Mr. Dubois, any moral philosophy must be based in survival; otherwise, it's worthless. Almost Kantian.

And the author takes an interesting perspective on voting: only veterans are allowed to vote in the narrator's society. Why? Because they've shown they care. Anyone not willing to lay his life down for his country has no right to guide his country's decisions. This, at first glance, seems to fly in the face of the Western idea of civic militarism. According to Victor Davis Hanson, the West has won because its soldiers - from Greek Hoplites to U.S. Marines - have a say in their government. They care more than a conscript; they fight for freedom, instead of fighting from fear.

Yet the infantry in Starship Troopers still fights for freedom - they just don't have total freedom yet. So, theoretically, it still works.

Even if you're not into sci-fi, I'd recommend this book. It's a quick, and thought-provoking, read.

04 January 2011

When You Come Back Down

You got to leave me now, you got to go alone
You got to chase a dream, one that's all your own
Before it slips away
When you're flyin' high, take my heart along
I'll be the harmony to every lonely song
That you learn to play

When you're soarin' through the air
I'll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare
I'll still be there
When you come back down
When you come back down

I'll keep lookin' up, awaitin' your return
My greatest fear will be that you will crash and burn
And I won't feel your fire
I'll be the other hand that always holds the line
Connectin' in between your sweet heart and mine
I'm strung out on that wire

And I'll be on the other end, To hear you when you call
Angel, you were born to fly, If you get too high
I'll catch you when you fall
I'll catch you when you fall

Your memory's the sunshine every new day brings
I know the sky is calling
Angel, let me help you with your wings

When you're soarin' through the air
I'll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare

I'll still be there
When you come back down
Take every chance you dare,
I'll still be there
When you come back down
When you come back down 

Nickel Creek