Supporting Veterans on Memorial Day with Hot Dogs

The SN. John K. Morris and Sgt. David Gonzalez Veterans Hot Dog Stands at the Met

My wife and I met friends who are visiting from the Philippines at the Metropolitan Museum of Art today. We got there early and we hadn’t had anything to eat for lunch, so we were checking out the food carts along 5th Avenue. Last night we were talking about Nathan’s hot dogs at Coney Island so I was thinking about getting a Nathan’s hot dog at their cart in front of the museum.

As we were walking down the block, my wife pointed out a hot dog stand run by veterans (there was only one there when we arrived, but I took the photo as we were leaving in the evening). I’d seen it before, but I had never stopped to take a look at it. I almost kept walking, but it’s Memorial Day, so I figured I’d see what the cart was all about. The Sgt. David Gonzales cart had some information on the window that says the cart is owned by veterans and employs disabled veterans. The cart was named after a US Marine who was killed in action in 1970.

We liked the idea of supporting a business that supports veterans in a tangible way, especially on today of all days, so we decided to get hot dogs there. While the lady behind the counter was preparing our food, I asked her what branch she served in. She said she was in the Marines. I told her I was in the Army. We talked about the military for a few minutes and when it came time to pay, she insisted that the hot dogs were on her. I really appreciated the thought, but slipped some cash into her tip box when she was helping the next customer anyway.

This is my favorite AC-130 Spectre Gunship video

I spent 8 years in the Army. If I’d known better, I’d have joined the Air Force, like my dad did. And if I had joined the Air Force, being on an AC-130 gunship crew wouldn’t have been a bad gig. I wanted to do something meaningful, but I wound up spending most of my time loading and unloading trucks with a forklift or counting inventory. It wasn’t exactly fulfilling.

I was lured into the job by the promise that I would be working with computers. I enlisted back in 1998. Computers were still a new and amazing thing in my life, and probably most people’s lives, if they could even afford a computer and internet service. Windows 95 and America Online chat rooms were still sources of wonder and amazement.

Once I was enlisted and working in that field, I was unable to negotiate to move into a more interesting job when it came time for my reenlistment. Once you’re in an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), you’re pretty much stuck, unless you want to move into a job with a low retention rate, like basic infantry. I’d like to think that if I had the Internet as it is today as a resource, with blogs and extensive forums, I would have made better choices.

These videos are pretty graphic. Please keep that in mind before watching.

The following video (when autoplay is enabled) is pretty interesting too:

Scarlett Johansson’s Autograph from Kuwait in 2008

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When I was looking through some old folders trying to sort and put away documents, I found this autographed poster that I had forgotten about. I didn’t forget about meeting Scarlett Johansson, but I did forget that I have her autograph as well.

She was in Kuwait on a troop morale type of tour, visiting the US military bases that were (are?) set up in the deserts of Kuwait. I suppose it goes without saying that a lot of people wanted to meet her. The line was tremendously long, and we only had a minute or two per group of people to get autographs and chat. I got the feeling she was a little disconcerted by the pace of the event. That’s the military for you though.

Veteran’s Day Dinner 2013

PVT Elma and Me July 30 1999 Fort Lee VA, AIT
“PVT Elma + Me. July 30, 99 Fort Lee, VA (AIT)”

Ever since I enlisted in the Army and businesses started offering Veterans Day promotions, I’ve tried to make it to a participating business each year. I’m not one to pass up free food, especially when it’s from a place like Olive Garden. I’m just being practical. Besides, I’m a veteran, and in a way, I already paid for it. That’s what the day is about, and I’m glad businesses have decided to give back to the veteran community one day a year in a show of appreciation for the efforts and loss that some people went through, or are still going through, for those on active duty.

The first time I remember going to a restaurant for a free meal on Veterans Day was when I was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. I think I went to a Golden Corral or a similar all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurant with a group of guys from my unit.  This year, like last year, my wife and I went to the Olive Garden in Times Square. In addition to the free entree for veterans, the restaurant was offering 10% off for family members. I’m not sure if that was 10% off the rest of the bill, or just the other entree(s). I forgot to check and tossed the receipt already, but it doesn’t really matter to me. A discount is a discount.

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The entree options for veterans were limited, but they offered a nice variety of choices. I went with the cheese ravioli. We also got the stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer and my wife ordered the capellini pomodoro, which she said tasted delicious.  It looked delicious. I also ordered a new drink they have, a blood orange blackberry iced tea. That tasted outstanding.

Blood Orange Blackberry Iced Tea
Blood Orange Blackberry Iced Tea
Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce
Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce
Capellini Pomodoro
Capellini Pomodoro

These guys were outside the Olive Garden. I thought it was pretty cool, so I want to share the photo:

Mounted NYPD
Mounted NYPD

We finished the evening off at Starbucks, which was offering a free tall brewed coffee to veterans and family members.

The evening wasn’t completely free, but the discounts at Olive Garden made our evening out more affordable and gave my wife and I an opportunity to be thankful for my coming home in one piece, to remember those who didn’t, and gave us another reason to just spend time together out of the house. We’re looking forward to doing it again next year.

Semi-Domestic Wild Deer in Fort Lee Historic Park, New Jersey

Wild deer in Fort Lee Historic Park
Wild deer in Fort Lee Historic Park

On Sunday, when my wife and I walked over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey, we stopped by the Fort Lee Historic Park, which is right next to the bridge and offers a great view of the Hudson River and Manhattan, which, I suppose, was the reason the fort was originally built. We didn’t really expect to see a whole lot there. We were just looking for a place to take a short break before turning around and walking back over the bridge. We were both surprised by how much of the historic fort has been restored. We want to go back sometime with real cameras and spend an afternoon there looking around.

The best part of the pit stop, though, was when we saw wild deer snacking on the underbrush in the middle of the park. Even when I lived in Georgia, it was rare to see deer in high traffic areas, and it was especially bizarre for me to look one way and see the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and then to look the other and see a little family of deer hanging out like they were special guests in a petting zoo. It reminded me of a snapshot I’d seen on instagram a few weeks ago (I think) of a deer eating flowers from a planter in the middle of an outdoor, strip mall.

I first spotted them when we were a good distance away and I snapped a few photos, because I expected them to bolt the moment they realized we were there. We kept walking closer though, and they didn’t seem to mind at all. The mother deer kept looking up at us, but she decided we weren’t going to bother her and went back to eating. Later, a large Chinese family with loud kids showed up and the deer just kept grazing. I got the impression that these deer live there and people are used to seeing them in the park. I stood about arm’s length from the mother deer and she ignored me. They’re almost domesticated.

In a way, it’s a great bonus to have wild deer hanging around the park. It helped take me completely out of the city and let me better enjoy the trees around me, the open space, the smell of foliage and dirt, and the lack of crowds.

The Veteran’s Memorial Park in Tupelo, Mississippi

Something that surprised me about Tupelo, Mississippi was the fact that there are so many military veteran’s living there. Some of them I could just look at and tell were in the military before. I don’t know why. That sort of thing sometimes sticks with a person. Maybe it was the level of physical fitness and the haircut, or the way they carried themselves. Others were wearing hats identifying themselves as veterans of previous conflicts. My suspicions were confirmed by the friends we were visiting.

But, what I couldn’t figure out was why those people all chose to live in Tupelo. What does it offer? Is it because they all came from Tupelo originally? Are there that many military veterans in the country now, that small towns are becoming saturated with them? I just can’t see myself getting out of the military and choosing, of all places, to go to Tupelo, Mississippi, especially if I had retired and still had privileges to shop on a military installation. But, that’s just my opinion. Maybe there are people who want both to get away from the military entirely and enjoy a small-town feel. Tupelo definitely offers the latter, but with the number of veterans, it doesn’t really offer an escape from everything military.

Flags at Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS
Flags at Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS
Lake, fountain and pier at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS.
Lake, fountain and pier at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS.
More of the lake at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS and a small water park on the far shore.
More of the lake at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS and a small water park on the far shore.

Whatever the reason, a large park in the town has been designated as a veterans memorial park. It was put together quite well, too. The photos I took don’t really do it justice, because I only had my phone with me and we went late in the evening on a weekday. I can see this place being a pretty popular spot for barbecues.

World War II Memorial at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS
World War II Memorial at the Veterans Memorial Park in Tupelo, MS

I didn’t take photos of them, but there are a lot of ducks living around the pond. They defecate everywhere, and on everything. Most of the monuments, including the World War II memorial monument pictured above, were covered with feces. Walking in the grass was hazardous as well. It would be nice if there were less duck crap everywhere, but what’s the alternative? Kill them all? That wouldn’t be fun either, and they add to the scenery.

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning / Columbus, Georgia

While my wife and I were down in Georgia, it wouldn’t have made sense for me to not show her around Fort Benning. I did my basic training there in 1998, after all, on Sand Hill at 2/54 (2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment). After spending some time driving around Sand Hill, getting lost, using my phone to consult Google Maps and then finding our way back to the highway, we got over to the National Infantry Museum. Technically, it’s not on Fort Benning; it’s just out the gate in Columbus, Georgia.

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia.
The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia.

I wasn’t really expecting much when we drove up to the parking lot. I’d heard good things about the NIM but I remembered how decrepit the old museum building was. I’d only gone there once when it happened to be closed and spent my time outside looking at the tanks. From the moment we walked up to the building entrance, though, I could tell the planners had put quite a bit of effort into making the NIM a place worth visiting.

Statue at the front of the National Infantry Museum
Statue at the front of the National Infantry Museum

There was no fee to get in. That was a bit of a surprise. I guess I’m used to New York City, where every museum and art gallery wants to push you to the brink of poverty with their entrance prices, though those prices are usually just recommended donations, meaning you can give less and still get in. Anyway, there were donation boxes scattered around the lobby and we gave about ten bucks.

Information marker stone in front of the eight historic battle recreations.
Information marker stone in front of the eight historic battle recreations.

The most visually appealing part of the museum is the ramp that stands directly ahead of the entrance. It takes you up through recreated scenes of eight famous battles that were decisively won by the infantry, from Redoubt #10 in the American Revolution to WWs I and II and up to the recent invasion of Iraq in 2003 (of which I was a part). There’s no Natural History Museum or any serious art galleries in Columbus, but having a military history museum available must be nice, especially considering that quite a few people in the area are military or military dependents (wife/husband/kids). While we were looking at the recreations, a man was walking up the ramp with what I assume were his sons, telling them about the battles and why they were significant. The kids looked really impressed. I wonder why it is that war is always such a hook for people (especially kids) when studying history?

Behind the ramp of the eight historic battles was an area that had a lot of photos and videos about drill sergeants and infantry training on Fort Benning, called OSUT now, which stands for One Station Unit Training. Unlike other job specialties in the military, infantryman do all of their training in one spot, from beginning to end as one unit. For example, I wasn’t infantry, so while I did my basic training in an infantry training battalion on Fort Benning, I did my advanced training at Fort Lee, Virginia.

Statue of mother and child left behind by soldier at war.
Statue of mother and child left behind by soldier at war at the entrance to a small gallery about soldier’s families during deployments.

After you finish looking at the training stuff, you can go down to the lower level and look at thematic galleries that address different periods, wars, or theaters of war. Those were pretty cool. There were a lot more artifacts there than I expected, the most surprising of which to me was Hermann Goering’s Nazi baton.

Hermann Goering's Nazi Baton, crusted in diamonds.
Hermann Goering’s Nazi Baton, crusted in diamonds, presented by Adolph Hitler in February, 1938.

The baton made me think about how these days you can’t keep anything you find on the battlefield. Now they call them “war trophies” and a soldier can face legal action under the military justice system for sending that type of stuff home. I don’t know why. If you’re going to ask soldiers to do something stupid for ambiguous reasons, you ought to at least let them keep a souvenir. Not that I think wholesale looting should be allowed, either, though. I suppose the problem of where to draw the line led them to think it would be better to ban it all together.

Mock trench
Mock trench

My favorite parts of the display were the mock trench from the trench warfare in World War I and the explanations of how the 3rd Infantry Division got its motto: “Rock of the Marne”. I was in a unit attached to the 3rd ID during my first enlistment and while I was in Iraq. At Fort Stewart, Georgia, where the 3rd ID used to be based out of, we’d sing the Dog Faced Soldier song every morning before PT, and Rock of the Marne was a go-to phrase when greeting officers (ex: “Rock of the Marne, sir.”)

Captured artifacts from the Philippines Insurrection and Moro Wars in the late 19th / early 20th century.
Captured artifacts from the Philippines Insurrection and Moro Wars in the late 19th / early 20th century.

I also enjoyed seeing the stuff from the war between America and the Philippines, which mostly revolved around fighting the tribes in Mindanao who refused to be subjugated. The information placards there indicated that the US eventually won that fight, though my wife disagreed and said that’s wrong, that those people were never conquered; they resisted the Spanish, the Japanese, the US, and even the national Philippines government. I think just recently the Philippines government had to grant them limited autonomy to get them to stop blowing stuff up.

A POW - MIA memorial outside the NIM.
A POW – MIA memorial outside the NIM.

A family member told me that a person could probably look through the entire place in about 4 hours, but I have to disagree. If we stopped to read and look at each exhibit thoroughly, we could easily spend two days there and not get bored. When we went, two of the galleries, the ones for the earliest periods of US history, weren’t even open yet. That would make the trip even longer. We wished we had more time to enjoy the museum, but we’d only set aside one afternoon of our vacation for the museum. We’ll have to go back again next time.

More Thoughts On The Fort Hood Incident

I’ve been trying to keep up with the news about what’s going on with the incident at Fort Hood and it looks like Nidal Malik Hasan is going to be facing the death penalty.  Well, that’s what prosecutors are pushing for anyway.  He’ll be tried in a military court, rather than a civilian one, and if he is executed it will be the first time that an active duty serviceman is put to death since 1961.

That’s all well and good but honestly I’d rather the guy spend the rest of his life in a Federal penitentiary, without the possibility of parole.  It would be like throwing a child molester into a general population prison.  This guy killed soldiers in a cowardly act of domestic terrorism and I think it would be much fairer for him to get his ass beaten in jail every day for the rest of his life.  Ya, the other people in the Federal penitentiary may have broken the law as well, but I have a feeling that the majority of them won’t take kindly to a person who killed a bunch of soldiers on a US military base, especially given his terrorist ties.

Something that’s bothering me is that the papers and online news sites are still referring to him as a Major.  They’re also still referring to him as a soldier.  While both of these are technically true, I think he’s lost the right to be accorded that honor.  Yes, it’s an honor to be called a soldier.  It’s an honor to be addressed by the rank you’ve been awarded.  It’s an honor to be acknowledged as one of the country’s finest.  He’s a domestic terrorist with ties to known Middle Eastern terrorists.  He killed real soldiers.  He’s not a soldier.  He’s not a Major.  He’s just an asshole.

Also, people seem to be trying to paint Hasan as the victim, or at least a victim, in this whole scenario.  He’s not a victim.  In fact, I read that he wasn’t even a therapist.  He was just one of the people that processes paperwork and occasionally prescribes medication.  It’s likely he never spent more than 15 minutes with any single person.  He certainly wasn’t putting them on a couch and trying to couch them through personal problems or help them deal with PTSD.  That being the case, you can’t even claim that he was suffering from some second-hand PTSD, whatever the hell that’s supposed to be.  Does anyone else notice how medical illnesses seem to create themselves whenever someone does something f*cked up and wants to justify their actions?

It’s pretty clear what happened to him.  This guy never felt like he was an American.  He never felt like he belonged.  He had an ideological difference with how the US does business.  For whatever reason, he joined the Army as an officer.  That was the stupidest thing he could’ve done.  People join the Army for a lot of different reasons, but to some degree all soldiers are patriotic.  So, if you don’t believe in what your country is doing why be in the military?  I refuse to believe that he didn’t have ample time to resign his commission.  Instead of doing that though, he reached out to Islamic extremists and used his position of trust as a military officer to do as much damage to the Army as he could alone.

People are arguing that if this guy was a Christian his beliefs wouldn’t be at the forefront of the investigation, but we’re not at war with a Christian country and we’re not at war with groups of extremist Christians.  Hasan is a Muslim with ties to Muslim extremists, who committed this atrocious act with the idea of protecting his Muslim beliefs in mind.  His religion has everything to do with the investigation and with the cause of the killing of 12 US Soldiers and 1 devoted contracted medical professional.

I’m in no way saying that we should take a hard stance against having Muslims in our military.  I know a lot of Muslims, especially after having lived over here in Singapore, and for the most part they’re good or just average people.  They live their lives more or less the same way any other person does.  Hey, there are even gay Muslims.  I think people have the misconception that all Muslims are hard ass extremists.  That’s simply not the case.  What I am saying is that we need to take a harder look at Muslims who are put into positions of authority and trust, at least for the time being, to make sure they have no ties to any extremist groups.  Consider the minor loss of privacy to those individuals a temporary necessity of war.  At least we’re not throwing them all in concentration camps like we did to the Japanese during the second World War.  Hasan had obvious and known ties to extremists and it was brushed off by top government agencies as legitimate professional and educational research.  I call bullshit on that.  I think someone just dropped the ball.  At a time when we’re at war with Muslim extremist groups I think more care should be given to those who are obviously reaching out to them, especially those who are within our military ranks.  I’m getting really tired of seeing our government drop the ball when it comes to stuff like this.  First the September 11th, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center in NYC.  Now this.  What next?  Are we going to miss connecting the dots and have a whole city get blown up?

I have a feeling this is going to turn into a long drawn out process.  The legal proceedings I mean.  This guy will probably push for appeal after appeal, and the final execution order would have to be signed by the President himself, since he’s technically in the military.  For example, remember the other guy that rolled a grenade into a tent full of soldiers in Kuwait?  Well, that guy, then Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar, was sentenced to death four years ago.  His case is still held up in the first level appellate courts.

Corruption in the Philippines

I was told that in the Philippines, making money depends on how inventive you are, and how entreprenuerial you can be.  The average salary in the Philippines doesn’t count for much when converted to almost any other foreign currency, and most salaries in the Philippines don’t count for much there either.  This is especially true in the provincial areas, where an average salary might be 7,000 – 12,000 PHP (144 USD – 248 USD) per month.

Even the police and military in the Philippines receive low wages and have to do extra jobs on the side just to get by.  To me, this seems detrimental to the overall health of the nation, especially in regards to the military and police.  If the people who are meant to protect you can’t concentrate on their jobs because they’re so poor, they’ll either become ineffective or they’ll exploit their position, leading to corruption.

It’s no secret that the Philippines already has problems with corruption. The Philippines should be listed as an example of political corruption in encyclopedias, as it’s almost become a tradition for politicians in power to screw over the citizens. According to agencies like Transparency International, and Filipinos, the current president, Gloria Arroyo, is considered to be the most corrupt president in the history of the country. So, where do you lay the blame? The people who elected her? Well, maybe in a country like the US, where there are actually checks and balances and a somewhat fair election, but Gloria openly admitted to cheating during the 2004 election to win the presidency.

So, was the corruption in the Philippines evident even to me? Sure it was. The poor quality of public works like roads, phone and water services, the low quality of life, the rampant inflation between my first visit a year ago and this visit, and fees, fees, and more fees. Did you know you even have to pay a fee just to leave the country? It applies to tourists and Philippine nationals alike, except it’s higher for foreigners, because like I said before, all foreigners are rich in the eyes of Filipinos. They like to call it a “Terminal Usage Fee” and it comes up to something like 16 USD. What’s this fee going to? It’s certainly not going towards improving the terminals I’ve used there. That’s for damn sure. Again, I’d like to point you back to a prior post I made about NAIA, in Manila, here. For my wife, the fee is only 100 pesos (about 2 USD) but to get the paperwork done she has to travel to an office in Manila and sit around for an hour or more. On top of that they regularly charge Filipinos who work overseas exorbitant fees for something called the Overseas Workers Welfare Administrations, and Filipinos are required to upkeep their domestic Philhealth healthcare, even though they’re abroad and don’t need it. It’s all just ridiculous. When I left the US, I wasn’t required to pay extra fees. I’m not required to join an organization just because I left the country and have plans of working abroad. In fact, my foreign earned revenue won’t even be taxed up to a certain point (which is pretty high).

The Philippines is a country with a lot of potential that will never be realized as long as people like Arroyo sit in office, embezzling money from the people for the purposes of self-enrichment (and not the good kind like learning a second language either) and self-aggrandizement. It’s almost disgusting to look at. In fact, it’s almost like watching a large group of schoolyard bullies fight for authority, not realizing that there’s so much more beyond the schoolyard fence.