What I did today

Today I went up to Camp Casey to watch the Second Infantry Division change of command ceremony. I’ve been to a few of these, but this one was quite impressive. Seeing the famous 2ID warriors in formation and marching in review was pretty awe inspiring. Major General John Morgan accepted the unit’s colors from LTG Valcourt and I’m thinking he’s going to be a great leader. Met him a couple of times (well, been in the same meetings anyway) and he always impressed me. So congratulations and I’m sure he will carry on the 2ID tradition of being “Second to None”!

Damn, it was cold up there this morning. I wore my long underwear but couldn’t find my gloves this morning. I did alright, except for my feet which lost feeling during a ceremony that lasted almost two hours (plus one hour waiting for it to start). So, I told myself not to be a pussy and remembered the stories of the Soldiers at Chipyong-ni during the Korean war, and it wasn’t so bad. Except for my feet. Did I mention it was cold?

So, what are you going to do after a cold day in the field? You are going to come home and bake! Oatmeal raisin cookies to be precise. And while they are baking why not fix yourself a couple of hearty bbq pork sandwiches? Wanna see?

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I may not have any money, but tonight I had some dough…

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Hot out of the oven and they taste better than the look. Here, let me upload the smell. Oh, we don’t have the technology for that do we? Sorry.

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What did you think I meant when I said bbq pork? That I actually barbecued it? Duh. This is the 21st century! I DEFROSTED it all by myself though!

Ok, time to digest. Later all!

Movie reviews

Stayed home on Saturday night and chilled by watching some DVDs. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m pretty much out of touch with the movie world these days, so my purchases tend to be of the hit and miss variety. Don’t know if the overall quality of American cinema is slipping or if I’m just making bad choices in my ignorance.

Anyway, here what I watched:

License to Wed. Starring Robin Williams, Mandy Moore and John Krasinski (the guy from The Office).

This movie was so bad it actually made me cringe. Totally predicable and flat out lame. In addition to bad acting, bad writing, and a storyline that was ridiculously improbable; it just wasn’t funny. Although it tried to be. Too hard. If I hadn’t been too lazy to drag my sorry ass off the couch I would have put in something else one third of the way through. But lord, it was painful to watch.

Reign Over Me. Starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle.

Actually, Adam Sandler did a surprisingly good job in a dramatic role. I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say he plays a man who lost his wife, three daughters, and his dog during the 9/11 attacks. Cheadle encounters the shell of the man who once was his college roommate and fellow dentist and sets about trying to save him. But Cheadle needed saving himself from the domestic quagmire his seemingly happy married life had become. Quite emotionally intense in places, but I found it pretty moving and well done overall. At least it was worth my time.

Butterfly on A Wheel. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Maria Bello and Gerard Butler (never heard of the last two, have you?).

Well, this story had potential. It was nice to see Brosnan playing the bad guy, and he actually pulled it off. I’m probably going to have a spoiler or two the rest of the way, so proceed at your peril. Butler is married to Bellow and they have a young daughter. Their life at home seems happy enough with outward appearances of love and devotion and all that. Butler is quite an asshole at work, but justifies it as being the survival of the fittest kinda deal. So, Brosnan is laying in wait in the backseat of the couples Range Rover and indicates that the babysitter has their child hostage. If they ever want to see her again, they will do exactly as he says for the next 24 hours. So, he makes them jump through a series of increasingly difficult hoops that pretty much will wind up destroying Butler’s career and puts some strains on the the relationship with the wife.

Now, as the movie progresses you are caught up in why Brosnan’s character is being such an asshole. You think maybe the guy Butler recently screwed over at work is behind it, but you never really know. In the end it turns out the Butler was having an affair with Brosnan’s wife. Ok, maybe I should have seen that coming, but still it worked and he had gotten pretty good revenge. Then they ruined the whole movie by having Bello’s character in on the plot from from the beginning. You know, it just wasn’t believable. Especially when thinking back on the times during the movie when Brosnan and Bello were alone together, but she continued to play the terrified housewife. A plot hole big enough to drive a Mack truck through. I hate being dicked with that way. It actually pissed me off. So, if you did read the spoilers you saved yourself the two hours of life that I’ll never be able to get back. Bleh.

Ok, there you have my movie reviews. And yes, I know. Don’t quit my day job. Got it.

AAR

tg2.jpg tg1.jpg tg6.jpg tg8.jpg tg11.jpg tg16.jpg tg9.jpg tg10.jpg tg12.jpg tg13.jpgThat’s Army talk for After Action Review. Which is what this is.

The Thanksgiving get together at Dolce Vita went extremely well. I was a little nervous about the turnout. We had two big turkeys and lots of side dishes. There was also a similar party going on at the VFW, so I was not sure how many folks would actually show up for our gig. Turns out we had a very full house. In fact, we had 26 folks sign up for the dart tourney, which was our biggest ever. 13 doubles teams playing on four boards in a double elimination format made for a long night, but we had plenty of food and of course Dolce was well stocked with all forms of liquid refreshment.

Lonnie really outdid himself with his contributions to the feast. Made a great green bean casserole, candied yams, tasty stuffing and his famous cheese dip. He topped it off by playing some fine darts and finished 3rd in the tourney.

We also had a little ceremony to honor Jim and YJ (owners of Dolce Vita) and to thank them for their outstanding support of the dart league. The Dolce teams took up a collection and we presented Jim and YJ will an all expense paid trip to JeJudo Island (the Hawaii of Korea, don’t ya know). Kudos to Grant for the idea and handling all the details with the travel agency.

At the tourney I was partnered up with Jesse of Dawg Pound and I just had one of those nights. In our first match I was lucky to get a one mark on most of my throws. So, we got into the the losers bracket right out of the box. We took our next two matches before going down to defeat against Dan and John R. Well, that was good enough for 4th place at least. Alistar from Scotland and Matt took first and shared the W200,000 payoff. Congrats.

My darts were a tad better in the Friday night tourney, taking a first in singles and a first in doubles. My ability to throw consistent darts remains elusive, but if it was easy it wouldn’t be much fun. Or so I keep telling myself.

Anyway, even by my standard the photos I took on Thursday were extremely poor. But by God, I’m going to post them regardless…

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Matt carves the bird while Dan helps himself to the scraps. Nothing like teamwork…

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Matt is focused on the task at hand…

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Result! Two birds carved and ready for consumption.

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Tera was the first to arrive and the first through the food line…

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And John was not far behind. He’s an English guy, so maybe his distant ancestors were among the Pilgrims who participated in that first Thanksgiving feast. Hey, it could be possible…

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So Yung is one of the Dolce bartenders. She rescheduled her day off so she wouldn’t miss out on the Thanksgiving dinner. And she loved my fruit salad so she is obviously a smart gal.

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YJ claiming the pecan pie.

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Jim and Lonnie.

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Grant’s wife Myung Hee and her Canadian friend Margaret.

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Now that we are all stuffed with turkey it’s time to get on with the darts. Here Jim collects the entry fees. The bar kicked in W100,000 which made the total purse W360,000. Not bad at all. Although my share of the payout didn’t cover my entry fee. Alas.

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Here’s Jun at the oche (the line your foot can’t cross when throwing). Yeah, crappy photo. It’s hard to take a good dart picture because most folks don’t appreciate a flash when they are throwing…

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Tom C. is one of the best darters in Itaewon. He taught me a lot about the sport and playing strategically. A great guy and a fine Soldier as well.

All right, I think that about covers it. Hope y’all had a great holiday.

Giving thanks

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Hard to believe but I am preparing to spend my third Thanksgiving in Korea. Hmm, I guess I’m not preparing at all, Thanksgiving is here regardless of whether I am prepared. So with that profound revelation out of the way we can move on.

Happy Thanksgiving to all Americans, wherever you may be. As a nation we continue to be blessed and on this one day of the year we can set aside the petty politics and give our heartfelt thanks for our freedom, our prosperity, and all the good fortunes that come with our birthright.

As we pause to give our thanks this year, please take time to remember the brave men and women who are guardians of the freedoms we cherish but too often take for granted. For without the sacrifices of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines all that makes America great would not be possible. “Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” –George Orwell

To all those serving in the military, at home or abroad, I thank you and honor you for your service to our nation.

I am also thankful for my parents, my children, my sweet and beautiful granddaughter, my friends, the people who love me despite myself, my coworkers, and for all the undeserved opportunities that have allowed me to live a comfortable life. My complaints and worries are mere trifles, for I have indeed been blessed beyond all expectations.

So what is on the agenda today? I am going to make my world famous Aunt Pat’s recipe fruit salad. I will bake (i.e. take out of freezer, put in oven) two pumpkin pies and a pecan pie. I will drive to the base and pick up two fully prepared turkey dinners with all the fixin’s. And I will carry this bounty to Dolce Vita for our Thanksgiving celebration and dart tournament.

Yes, we are going to carry out that tradition that started over 300 years ago when the native Americans shared their harvest in a feast with the English pilgrims. And after the meal, the pilgrims taught the indians to play darts. Hey, you can look it up!

Verbal essence…

Well, I had my Korean lesson last night. Acquired some more verbs. So, let’s see, along with my approximately 200 word vocabulary, I can now use verbs for things like put on (separate ones for clothes, hat/glasses, and shoes and socks), and its useful counterpart “take off”, drink, eat, hear, see, walk, touch, smell, sleep, hot, cold, say, and my personal favorite “hay-yo” (no, I still don’t have Hangul software. Any ideas?). I used “hay-yo” some at work today. Like every time I gave my secretary something to do. I’m told it translates as “do it”. She kinda didn’t like it though. Maybe its rude to give work and say do it? She did say my pronunciation was getting better everyday, so that’s something I guess. Now, if I could actually remember how to say these things without the freaking word staring me in the face I might feel more of a sense of accomplishment. Little by little (heh, poco a poco in Spanish) I suppose.

My lesson is moving from Tuesday to Saturday. I’m usually pretty worn out after work and my tutor is probably tired of me being too brain dead to get the value of her well-prepared lessons. And she really does work hard at teaching me. Always makes up a little game to play using what I learned. You know, just like in kindergarten. Don’t believe me? Check out my workbooks:

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Yes indeed. I am the master of my universe. And how many of us get the opportunity to be six years old again?

Anyway, I am reading pretty well, but my comprehension still sucks. It’s funny, I will read something and sound it out (in see Dick run fashion), and be thinking what the hell does that mean? Example, coming home the other day I read the back of the tour bus in front of me. I’m like: Duh ee na stee. Duh ee na stee. No clue. Then I notice the small English lettering underneath: Dynasty. Yeah bud, I’m still pretty much clueless. But I’m trying.

So this is how it went down…

Last night’s first round playoff match ended with the Take it Easy lads getting a pretty good spanking. But we didn’t take it laying down, and we are not hanging our heads.

Contrary to my initial belief, we did not play Cake Mix, we played Eberhardt. Eberhardt was ranked 3rd, Cake Mix 4th, and us 5th. 1st and 2nd place teams had byes this week. So, normally the highest ranked would play the lowest ranked, but for some reason (the league President gave an explanation, but I’m not sure I understand it), 3rd played 5th and 4th played 6th. My only gripe is that our “reward” for finishing higher in the standings was to play a higher ranked team. That seems backwards.

But games are won (or lost) at the oche, so on with the match report. Eberhardt is always a powerhouse. This year they had the number 2 and number 3 ranked players in the league (Dennis and Greg). I surmised that they would play in the first two spots in the lineup. I decided our best shot was to put our two best players up against them and hope to come out at least 3-3, then let our 3 and 4 players take their chances in more evenly matched games. So, when lineups were exchanged I was surprised to see Greg in the #3 slot and Dennis in #4. Ah well, the best laid plans and all that.

So I had Sean in the opening match and pretty much had my way with him. To be honest, the way I was throwing I would have liked my chances with either Greg or Dennis. I owned the cricket numbers and threw a 90-out in ’01 (20, 20, double bull). The Eberhardt guys were calling me Barry Bonds (alluding to steroids). But all I had in me was a burrito, beer, and nicotine. So, we start out 3-0.

Matt is up next against John. Matt is our new player picked up to replace Cuatro. He’s been throwing decent all season and I was pretty confident he would take at least two legs from John. Well, they played 3 outstanding legs. Matt took the opening cricket leg, but had to do it by pointing out on bulls for a come from behind win. The ’01 match also went down to the wire, and Matt had a couple of shots at the out, but John got their first. Matt won the diddle and called ’01, and a very similar game took place with the same outcome. So, after two matches, we are sitting on a 4-2 lead.

Greg and Jim were up next. Jim has really been coming on strong in the second half of the season, but Greg was just too much for him last night, and he took a 3-0 sweep. Now we are down 5-4.

It’s a race to ten legs won in the playoffs, so Rick was under the gun in his match with Dennis. Rick had to work, so the match was delayed for about 15 minutes while we awaited his arrival. It’s tough to start throwing cold, but throwing cold against a quality player like Dennis is usually fatal. Dennis dominated the cricket leg, but Rick played well in the ’01 leg, taking a couple of out shots before Dennis caught up and took the win. Same thing in the third leg, so now we are barely clinging to life, down 8-4.

It was Lonnie and Matt in the ’01 doubles, and we had to have 2 legs to avoid elimination. They were throwing against Dennis and Charlie so they had their work cut out for them. After a real dogfight, Lonnie outed to take the first leg. Charlie had a monster game in the second leg to even it up. So, it was do or die time. And after a mighty struggle we died, losing 10-5.

Although the match was over, Greg offered to go ahead and play it out. That gave Rick and me the chance to see what we could do in cricket doubles against Greg and John. Nothing on the line but pride, but hey, I’ve played for less. And we had some titanic battles, back and forth, pointing, and contesting every number. With some clutch come from behind darts from Rick (i.e. double bull for points, 15 to close and triple 18 to close) we got a 3-0 sweep. So, one more leg up top and we would have been sitting 9-9 going into the team game. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, and all that.

Well, we wound up getting spanked in the team game anyway, so kudos to Eberhardt who played an excellent match. Good sports (now that a certain fella from England no longer plays on the team) and a good time, all in all.

Yeah, winning is great. But one thing about Take it Easy, when we lose, we do it with class. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Yesterday I went shopping

Grocery shopping. Which is not something I would normally do on Saturday. I don’t like to hassle with Itaewon weekend traffic. But apparently at some point on Friday night I agreed to have some friends over for dinner. Which required the unscheduled trip to the commissary.

Actually, traffic wasn’t too bad. But the commissary was packed. The checkout line wrapped almost all the way down the frozen foods section (they use a one line queue system, get to the front of the line and get the next available cashier, which is good because it takes the guesswork out of which lane will move the fastest). It seemed as if everyone with a ration card had decided to do their Thanksgiving grocery shopping at the precise time I made my appearance. So it was pretty much playing shopping cart bumper cars, but what are you gonna do?

You know, Kevin at Hairy Chasms often does photo shoots of some of the delicacies he concocts in his spartan kitchen. The man can definitely cook. As can most of his friends, given the frequency of links to other blogging chefs. I freely admit that I lack all but the most rudimentary culinary skills. It just doesn’t seem fair. No, I don’t mind that I can’t cook. But damn it, I’m trying hard to post something everyday and it just doesn’t seem right that a whole potential category of blogging is denied me. So the hell with that. For your entertainment I offer a photographic record of last night’s adventure in the kitchen. Perhaps you will find beauty in the simplicity of my endeavor. Or not.

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My bounty from the commissary.

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The ingredients for my dinner party meal.

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The appetizers.

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The salad.

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The side dishes.

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The bread.

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The meat.

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The dessert.

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The wine.

Ok, now it is time to get down to business and whip these raw materials into a meal. Pay close attention and perhaps one day you too will be able to experience the miracle of no talent meal preparation.

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Pie out of box and onto cookie sheet. Not as simple as it may appear. First I had to consult the internet to discover that 375F equates to 190.56C. With this information in hand I was able to correctly preheat the oven.

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Pie is in the oven. You know, situational awareness is the key to success in my kitchen. For example, the pie takes over an hour to bake and then has to cool for two hours. Timing baby. It’s all about timing!

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Ok, let’s make a salad. First thing to do is boil them eggs.

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Lettuce into bowl. The tricky part here was pouring from the bag while taking the photo with my left hand. It was a struggle, but it worked out.

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Cucumber skinned and sliced.

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A few carrot slivers or shavings or scrapings (I think learning the cooking lingo is the first step to making people believe you can cook).

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Here’s a tip: It ain’t a salad without tomato. You may also be interested to know that the Korean word for tomato is: TOH MAW TOH.

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Ok, it is best to let the eggs cool before you attempt to slice them. The yolk was all over the place. Heh, the YOLK was on me! Sorry.

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You know, grated cheese is one of those magic ingredients that goes with almost everything. At least almost everything I prepare.

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So you put it all together and you shake it all about (have the lid on tight!) and that my friends is a tossed salad. Not real pretty to look at, but tasty. Dressing selections were limited to Italian and blue cheese as I discovered that my thousand island and poppy seed bottles were out of date. I’m a strict adherent to the “use by” date on the label. I think that’s part of being a good citizen. Like not removing the tags from your mattress. Rules are what bind the fabric of society together. But you know that already, right?

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Did you know that 38% of all accidents in the kitchen are caused by fatigue? You didn’t? Well, then prove that I am wrong! I was exhausted after tossing that salad around, so I took a break for a smoke and coke. And carefully considered my next steps. Planning, people. A good plan will get you where you want to go. A bad plan is defined as a good plan that didn’t work out. Got that?

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Ok, back to work. Time to prepare the beef. Yes sir, those are rib eyes. USDA choice cuts. I say if you are going to ruin meat, only the best will do. You know, I bought that cookie sheet when I first moved in only to discover that it is too large for my oven (see the good/bad plan definition above). Well, it is perfect for marinating, so the good plan that went bad worked out good in the end. I think that pretty much sums up the way I’ve lived my life come to think of it.

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Another tedious step in the preparation process. Pouring a liquid while holding a camera can be perilous, but using the hand-eye coordination I’ve developed as a darter really paid off and I successfully completed this task.

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Pie out of the oven…

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…potatoes in. I’ll tell you, sometimes cooking can be like a well-choreographed ballet. Oh yeah, use oven mitts.

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Now it is finally time to fire up the grill and cook that sausage. Has anyone been to South of the Border? As Pedro says, you never sausage a place.

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The appetizers are ready for consumption. Now comes the hard part.

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The garlic bread is ready and waiting to go into the oven currently occupied by the potatoes. The cobbed corn is in the microwave…

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…and the steaks are on the grill!

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Uh oh! I’m having a little trouble controlling my fire. One of the guests requested well done and damn at this rate it’s gonna be blackened ribeyes for all!

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Well, overcooked but edible. The guests were hungry and respectfully requested that I put down the frickin’ camera and let them eat. As a good host I complied with those wishes. And after two bottles of wine and full stomachs everyone decided it was time to hit the Itaewon bars.

And so we did.

People at work

So, in keeping with the theme of my working life, here’s a photo of my coworkers (well, the picture was taken on October 11, so my coworkers at that time).

My new family in Korea.

My new family in Korea.

 

L-R Front Row: Corine Rodriguez; Kim, Yong-im; Yi, Kyong-ae; Sharon Alsop; Yi, Yong-in; So, Chong Cho; Yi, Tok Hui; Joel Springer
L-R Back Row: Choe, Song Won; Donna Cole; Kim, Yong-tae; Me; Bill Dyer; Leora Andersen; Bosong Mayer. (not pictured: Walt Washington)

Handsome group, eh? You can see our cool shed that serves as office space in the background.

So, since October 11 here’s what changed: Walt died. Corine left for a job in DC. Joel left for a promotion in HR at Installation Management Command-Korea. Donna has accepted a lateral assignment at the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center (CPAC) in Yongsan (although we are not releasing her until we have a replacement selected). Leora also took a job at the CPAC and left last week. Bosong took a job at the U.S. Embassy and leaves after next week.

As you might imagine, things are pretty f’d up at work right now. We are at 33% of our (already lean) U.S. staffing authorization. At this point we are just trying to avoid a critical mission failure, but my stress level is way up there. We will get through this. I’ve actually found replacements for Bosong, Joel, and Corine, although they won’t come on board until late January. Just got to suck it up until then.

You know, I don’t fault people for doing what they need to do to advance their careers. In a way, it’s a compliment when your people get promoted. Donna to her credit has been a real trooper in delaying her departure pending getting some new staff on board. I’m extremely disappointed in one individual that I consider selfish and disloyal. Everyone is replaceable though. And you burn bridges at your own peril. ‘Nuff said about that.

So that should bring y’all up to speed on my working life. Far be it from me to complain…

The Korea Cookie Lady

Another recent change in my work life was the loss of Corine Rodriguez. No, she didn’t do anything as dramatic as dying, but her returning to the U.S. has been devastating nonetheless. Yes, she is that good.

Corine accepted a big promotion with the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, DC. I can’t fault her for that, especially when she gave me 2 1/2 years of devoted service. And she was lonely here and missed her family. So, it was the saddest of all the many partings I’ve experienced here. Yes, I miss having the go to person on my staff who I could rely on to get the job done right. But she was also my friend and a trusted confidant. As she said when she left, “you are going to miss having a big sister around”. ‘Tis true, ’tis true.

I’ve actually known Corine professionally for many years. We both spent the majority of our careers with the Postal Service. She was one of the few people at Postal Headquarters I could call on and get a straight answer. When I left the States she came to my going away party and I think we both figured it was the last time we would ever see each other. So, I was pleasantly surprised when she applied for a vacancy on my team six months later. Of course, I had the good sense to snatch her up, and her outstanding work made me look like a genius.

She headed up our transformation to the new National Security Personnel System, a major initiative that was extremely high profile. One of those projects that requires frequent interaction with command leadership, including the Commanding General. Well, she is quite the charmer, and LTG Valcourt was impressed enough by her performance to present her with one of his coins and the Superior Civilian Service Award.

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Corine getting pinned by the CG

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The medal presentation took place at the weekly Battle Staff meeting, so all the brass on the Korean Peninsula was in attendance (live or via VTC). Corine told General Valcourt “now I have medals too, just like you!”. Which was funnier live than I make it sound here.

Anyway, Corine did Korea right. Made many friends, was active in church and the community, and did a fair amount of traveling. So she took many fine memories home with her.

Here’s an example of the kind of person Corine is. One weekend per month she spent baking boxes and boxes of cookies to send to our troops in Iraq. And the letters she got back in thanks were always quite moving. The 8th Army Chief of Staff recognized her with an award for Patriotic Civilian Service. She cried when she received it and said later it meant more to her than the Superior Civilian Service Award because this one was about doing something for others. I had the honor of preparing her nomination package for the Chief and this is what I wrote:

Justification for Certificate of Appreciation for Patriotic Civilian Service

The vast majority of Americans are justifiably proud to say “I support our troops”. Perhaps too few of us put forth the effort to demonstrate that support in a tangible way. That has not been the case for Corine Rodriguez, also known affectionately by many Soldiers in Iraq as the “Korea cookie lady”. Each month for nearly two years Ms. Rodriguez has taken it upon herself to prepare several large boxes of fresh baked cookies to send to the troops serving on the front lines of the Global War on Terror. She does this at a considerable expenditure of her personal time, money, and effort. She often jokes that she expects the “ration control police” to knock on her door inquiring about the vast amounts of butter she has purchased at the commissary. Her reward has been many cards and letters from Soldiers expressing appreciation for Ms. Rodriguez’ generosity, her baking talent, and most importantly how much it meant to them to be remembered. Without fail, these brave men and women also thanked Ms. Rodriguez for her service in support of the Army on “Freedom’s Frontier” in Korea.

Perhaps this story best illustrates the far reaching positive impact Ms. Rodriguez’ gifts from the heart have had on the welfare of Army personnel in Iraq. Recently, while TDY in Atlanta, DHRM Director Sharon Alsop was chatting with a Soldier who was returning from leave to Iraq. She mentioned that COL Kidd, the former 8th Army Chief of Staff, was also serving in Iraq. The Soldier responded that he was working for COL Kidd. He then asked if Ms. Alsop knew the “cookie lady” from Korea, and when she responded that Ms. Rodriguez worked for her, the Soldier talked at great length about how everyone always looked forward to those boxes of cookies, how fast they disappeared, and how much it meant to the troops that she worked so hard on their behalf.

Sometimes the smallest gesture or act of kindness can have a tremendous impact on the morale of those serving under the harshest of conditions. Ms. Rodriguez’ generosity of spirit exemplifies how civilians can make positive contributions to the well being of our armed forces. Her dedication and initiative clearly warrants the honor and recognition associated with the Certificate of Appreciation for Patriotic Civilian Service.

PROPOSED CITATION

Certificate of Appreciation for Patriotic Civilian Service is awarded to:

Corine T. Rodriguez

In recognition of her contributions to the morale and welfare of our troops serving in Iraq. Each month for nearly two years, Ms. Rodriguez, also known as the “Korea cookie lady”, has taken it upon herself to prepare several large boxes of fresh baked cookies to send to the troops serving on the front lines of the Global War on Terror. She does this at a considerable expenditure of her personal time, money, and effort. Ms. Rodriguez’ generosity exemplifies patriotic civilian service in support of the mission, Army values, and the well being of our Soldiers.

Corine Rodriguez: A great employee, a wonderful person, and the best “big sister” I ever did have.

Obituary

I wrote an obituary today for the Army Civilian Human Resources Bulletin.

Here it is:

It is with sadness and regret that we note the passing of Mr. Walter E. Washington, Deputy Director, Directorate of Human Resources Management, Eighth United States Army. Mr. Washington died 29 October 2007 following a long and courageous battle with cancer.

Mr. Washington had served as the DHRM Deputy Director since 2003. His outstanding leadership, dedication, and technical expertise will be sorely missed throughout the command. His many contributions were recently recognized by the 8th Army Commanding General with the presentation of the Superior Civilian Service Award.

Mr. Washington began his civilian personnel career at San Diego, California as a Department of the Navy Intern with Naval Air Station, North Island. After completing his internship, he served as a Position Classification Specialist with Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Japan in 1985. Between 1986 and 1999, Mr. Washington held the positions of Chief, Integrated Wage and
Classification Branch; Chief, U.S. Staffing Branch; and Chief, Operations Division, Human Resources Office, Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Japan. In October 1999, Mr. Washington transferred to the Korea Region Civilian Personnel Operations Center, Taegu, Korea as a Personnel Staffing Specialist and in March 2001, he transferred to the Directorate of Human Resources Management, Eighth US Army as a Human Resources Management Specialist.
Mr. Washington was promoted to Deputy in November 2003.

Mr. Washington’s legacy lives on through the many people he helped and mentored throughout his long and successful career. His peers and coworkers will always remember him for his professionalism, honesty, guidance, and friendship.

Walt was my boss. He had the confidence to select me to work in an important position even though I had no Army or DoD experience. We worked closely together on many issues and he really helped me learn and understand military culture and protocol.

When I first arrived in Korea he and his lovely wife Miseon had me to their home for dinner and really helped me feel welcome. I also attended his “Korean” wedding (they had been married several months earlier in the States). Here’s a picture from those happier days:

walt.jpg

Walt had first been diagnosed with bone cancer about ten years ago. He had a successful bone marrow transplant and had been in remission. Last year the cancer came back. We all encouraged him to return to the U.S. for treatment, but he was a stubborn cuss. So, he began treatment at a Korean hospital and it wasn’t pretty. Lots of communication issues and drug therapy with side effects that sometimes seemed worse than the cancer. Even as we watched his condition steadily deteriorate, he and Miseon were convinced that he would beat the cancer. Yes, they were in complete denial, but the strength of their faith was quite inspirational. Walt was no quitter, that’s for sure. Whenever he could manage it he kept coming to work, despite his obvious pain and discomfort.

I don’t know why he kept holding on. He was eligible to retire. He had a beautiful young wife who all but worshiped him, but maybe work was his lifeline and he wasn’t ready to let it go.

I was in Busan in early October and got a call on my cellphone from Miseon. Walt had taken a turn for the worse and the drugs were making him hard to control. The doctors said there was nothing more they could do and suggested he return to the States for treatment that was not available in Korea.

It turns out it is very difficult to get a civilian medically evacuated. After several days of dead ends we finally found a “legal” to fly him and Miseon to North Carolina for treatment at Duke University Hospital. I saw them the day before they flew and they both were optimistic that this new drug program would work or that he could get a second marrow transplant. Miseon called after they arrived and was very excited because the Duke people were so caring and had assigned a team of doctors just for him. They had run many tests and she was certain he would be getting better soon.

Two days later she called after getting the test results. The cancer had spread throughout his body and there was nothing they could do for him. They said at most he had days or weeks to live. Miseon was devastated.

Walt died less than two weeks later, one month shy of his 57th birthday. Corine (a coworker who took a job in DC last month) represented the DHRM staff at the funeral. His Superior Civilian Service Award citation was read during the service, and Corine pinned the medal on Walt.

So, that was that. I have been doing Walt’s job and mine these past few months and it looks like I will be “promoted” into the Deputy position permanently (I was a GS-14 before coming to Korea and can be placed non-competitively). Miseon is back in Korea and I am trying to sell Walt’s car for her. And life goes on for the rest of us.

About darts…

Another dart league season has drawn to a close. Kind of a mixed bag for the Take it Easy boys this time around. We finished in 5th Place, but we had a hell of a good time doing it. We lost a couple of players (military guys that rotated out), but played with a lot of heart and we were competitive in most of our matches. And we qualified for the playoffs where anything is possible.

Blessed Bulls, from our neighbor bar Bless U Pub, took the league championship this year after a real dogfight with the reigning champions from 3 Alley Pub. It was decided on the last night of the season. The other top team is Eberhardt from Scrooge Pub. The have a couple of tough players and really came on strong at the end.

Monday night we will play the guys from Wolfhound, with the unlikely team name of Cake Mix. They are also a quality team, but we managed to eek out two victories in head-to-head play during the season. Of course, all bets are off in a single elimination playoff round.

The two players we lost this year were Mario and Cuatro. Mario left at the beginning of the season, but we really missed his heart, spirit, and clutch darts all season. Cuatro is also a big loss. He left two weeks ago and was ranked #5 in our division. We had him in both of our previous match ups with Wolfhound, so we will really have to kick it up a notch come Monday night.

I had a decent season, although I was a little disappointed that I didn’t play with a little more consistency. I had nights when I couldn’t miss, and other nights when I was mediocre at best. I went through a couple of weeks when I just could not hit the 20 with any regularity, and that is a killer in cricket. My ’01 game was ok, except it is taking me too many darts to close. With the exception of one or two legs, I had a shot at the double out in every game that I lost. No excuse for that. Anyway, I finished ranked #4, down from my second place ranking last season. I don’t feel too bad about that because the two guys who passed me have been playing awesome darts, week in and week out. My Canadian buddy Craig (aka The Goat) wound up with the number 1 spot, and he definitely earned it. Congrats!

On the bright side, I finished first in 5 marks, and second in 6 marks. I also threw my first 9 mark in competition. So, all in all I am not unhappy. If you are interested, check out the webpage for the Seoul International Dart League (SIDL) and follow along as we attempt to pull off some upsets in the playoffs.

Just to prove what a dart fanatic I have become, I went back and crunched some numbers to try and measure my progress as a darter. Here are the results:

Season 1: 38-25 (60.32%) 6.49 quality points and 21 total marks

Season 2: 92-22 (80.70%) 8.54 quality points and 44 total marks

Season 3: 66-21 (75.86%) 8.29 quality points and 50 total marks

Current: 70-23 (75.27%) 8.54 quality points and 83 total marks

So, if you just look at winning percentage I appear to have hit the ceiling as far as improvement goes (ok, strictly speaking, regressing). But you really can’t measure performance on wins alone because there are too many variables. For example, it depends on who you play. I think I drew the top players from other teams more frequently this season, and you can throw well and lose in that situation. Another variable is doubles where the outcome also depends on your partner (I played cricket doubles with Cuatro most of the season, and we played excellent, so that is not an excuse).

Quality points is a mathematical formula based on wins, marks, and legs played. While a better measure than winning percentage, wins are still worth 10 QPs, and marks are worth between 1 and 5 QPs. After my rookie season, I’ve been pretty consistent in that regard.

So, being a “glass half-full” kinda guy, I choose to measure progress by marks thrown. Marks are scoring 5 or more hits per throw in cricket (i.e. a triple and two singles or two triples etc.), or scoring 100+ points in ’01. In that regard I showed marked improvement this season. So, I will call that a positive trend. If I can improve consistency and do a better job with my mental focus I can hopefully take my game to the next level.

Still with me? If so, I’m worried about you. But that won’t stop me. I’m also playing in a Thursday night soft tips league (you know, those monstrous machines that make a lot of noise and require you to feed them copious amounts of money). I joined somewhat reluctantly because I really don’t have a feel for it and I worry that it will affect my steel tip play (I throw 26 gram darts versus 16 grams in soft tips). Bottom line, I really stink at soft tips. My darts are like butterflies in a strong wind as they meander to the board. Just don’t have a sense of control and it is frankly embarrassing to play as poorly as I do. I’m no quitter so I will finish out the season, but absent some miracle it may be a one time thing.

Ok, that’s enough darts for one night, don’t ya think?

So, where did I leave off?

Well, it doesn’t really matter because not much has changed here since my last post way back in August. Well, the leaves have changed because summer is long gone and autumn is in her death throes. It’s actually been quite beautiful, I love the yellow and red leaves blowing about the city streets like confetti. Bleah, my writing has not much improved has it?

Anyway, I’m not going to try and catch you up on everything in one fell swoop. First, it would be boring as hell. And second, after my long hiatus I expect I’m down to literally one or two faithful readers and they probably can guess what’s been up. But thanks Jenn and Susan and Nomad for checking up on me. I actually had a couple of other acquaintances ask what happened to my blog and expressed some remorse that I was not posting. As did my mother. So, I may never have had many readers, but damn those few of you are loyal. I did miss my little blog more than I would have imagined and I am resolved to post with some semblance of regularity now that I have her back. I know, promises, promises.

For those curious about why my account was suspended so long I’ll share that story. Even though it makes me look stupid. It was really all just a misunderstanding. Here’s how it went down:

Way back when (late August, early September) I happened to check my credit card statement. I only do so periodically as I am lazy and disorganized. And it is actually not a credit card, it is the debit card for my checking account. So, I see this charge to “West Bend Web” for $172.80. And by God, I never even heard of West Bend Web and I damn sure didn’t make a purchase from them through PayPal.

So, I marched on down to my bank (which is actually a credit union) and in my outrage filed a dispute and canceled my debit card since someone had obviously stolen the number somehow.
About a week later I get a letter from the credit union saying they had notified PayPal of the dispute and had provisionally credited my account in the amount of $172.80. Ok, so far so good.

A couple of days later my blog was suspended. What’s up with that? I went to the help page at Blogs-about.com (my blog host) and initiated a claim ticket. I started this blog in December 2004 so I figured I was paid up until December (I pay annually) and besides, I had never gotten a bill. It took several days for Blogs-about to get back to me with the news that PayPal had rescinded my payment in the amount of $172.80. Oops!

Turns out, I had been on a month-to-month basis until August 2005, and then switched over to the annual payment. Not that I remembered doing that. And it also seems that I set this up as an automatic payment, which is why I never got a bill. Well. Geez. So, I’m stupid, ok?

And then began the nightmare of trying to reverse the events my ignorance had set in motion. First, I went back to the credit union and said “my bad, West Bend Web is the name Blogs-about uses for billing (no, I don’t know why, but that’s what caused the confusion) so, please withdraw the dispute.” A few days later I get the letter confirming that the dispute was withdrawn and advising that the $172.80 credit was being reversed. Ok. So, I figure PayPal would remit the money to West Bend and I would be back in business. Nope.

After waiting a few days, I went back to Blogs-about and asked what was going on. They said PayPal had not remitted the funds and I should contact them for the status. Trust me, if you have never navigated the Byzantine world that is PayPal consider yourself fortunate.

Since I had made a disputed payment claim, they had blocked my account. To reinstate my account. I had to jump through several hoops. One of which involved FAXing my credit card statement. Except I had canceled that account. The other involved FAXing a utility bill from the address on my account, which is in Virginia. And as most of you know, I live in Korea these days. And oh yeah, PayPal has no record of the $172.80 being remitted by my bank.

So, I found a phone number for the PayPal folks and actually talked to a real live human being. I explained the situation in detail and the kind female voice on the other end of the line was very understanding and promised to see what she could do.

A couple of days later I received an email from PayPal explaining in step-by-step detail what I needed to do to reinstate the the account. And yes, it involved a credit card statement for an account that no longer exists and a utility bill from a place I no longer reside. And no mention whatsoever of the $172.80 that was withdrawn from my account. Hmm.

So, I emailed the woman at the credit union (in San Diego) who had handled my initial dispute and got an “out of office” reply indicating she was no longer employed there. I then emailed the contact address at the credit union explaining the situation and got a form letter reply with a dispute form attached. Yeah, that worked out well for me last time!

So. I decided to try and work an end-around. I registered for a new PayPal account (which required me to use a new email address (only one account per email address apparently). To establish a new account PayPal bills your credit card $1.95. When that charge appears on your statement there is a four-digit number. Then you send that number to PayPal and you are verified and can make purchases. This took about a week.

So, with my new account in hand I paid for a new subscription at Blogs-about. And waited. And waited. And wrote the help desk. And wrote the help desk again. And then in the wee dark hours of last night, my blog as if by magic reappeared.

Meanwhile, I have no idea where the $172.80 currently resides. I’m wondering if the woman at the credit union took it with her. Assuming PayPal has the money, it will be placed in the account I can no longer use because I can’t verify I am who I say I am.

So, after all this hassle all I’ve got to show is a blog I’ve paid twice for and this crappy post. Well, I’m not done fighting to get this resolved but I’m pretty much exhausted at this point and lord knows what havoc I will wreak by filing a new dispute with the credit union. Stay tuned for more of my exciting life.

Ok, I also need to bring you up to speed on my dart life and happenings at the office. But we will save those posts for another day. I have my Korean lesson tonight and I have not studied since the last one. I’m learning verbs these days which I think may be a key ingredient to me speaking in actual sentences someday. I have an amazing vocabulary consisting of fruits, animals, seasons, body parts and the like, but practically speaking, it’s not much help in conversation with the natives. Although one night when a Korean guy called me a hippo I said “do you mean hama?”. He was quite impressed with my grasp of the language. Well, hell, I can order beer and ask where the bathroom is in Korean. Really, what else do you need to know?

History Lesson

Although I am loathe to jump right back into politics, I got the following in my email today and thought I would offer it up for your consideration:

Humans originally existed as members of small bands of nomadic hunters/gatherers. They lived on deer in the mountains during the summer and would go to the coast and live on fish and lobster in the winter.

The two most important events in all of history were the invention of beer and the invention of the wheel. The wheel was invented to get man to the beer. These were the foundation of modern civilization and together were the catalyst for the splitting of humanity into two distinct subgroups:
1. Liberals
2. Conservatives

Once beer was discovered, it required grain and that was the beginning of agriculture. Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented yet, so while our early humans were sitting around waiting for them to be invented, they just stayed close to the brewery. That’s how villages were formed. Some men spent their days tracking and killing animals to B-B-Q at night while they were drinking beer. This was the beginning of what is known as the Conservation movement. Other men who were weaker and less skilled at hunting learned to live off the conservatives by showing up for the nightly B-B-Q’s and doing the sewing, fetching, and hair dressing. This was the beginning of the Liberal movement. Some of these liberal men eventually evolved into women. The rest became known as girlie-men. Some noteworthy liberal achievements include the domestication of cats, the invention of group therapy, group hugs, and the concept of Democratic voting to decide how to divide the meat and beer that conservatives provided.

Over the years conservatives came to be symbolized by the largest, most powerful land animal on earth, the elephant. Liberals are symbolized by the jackass. Modern liberals like imported beer (with lime added), but most prefer white wine or imported bottled water. They eat raw fish but like their beef well done. Sushi, tofu, and French food are standard liberal fare. Another interesting evolutionary side note: most of their women have higher testosterone levels than their men. Most social workers, attorneys, journalists, dreamers in Hollywood and group therapists are liberals. Liberals invented the designated hitter rule because it wasn’t fair to make the pitcher also bat.

Conservatives drink domestic beer. They eat red meat and still provide for their women.
Conservatives are big-game hunters, rodeo cowboys, lumberjacks, construction workers, firemen, medical doctors, police officers, corporate executives, athletes, Marines, sailors, airmen, soldiers, and generally anyone who works productively. Conservatives who own companies hire other conservatives who want to work for a living. Liberals produce little or nothing. They like to govern the producers and decide what to do with the production.

Liberals believe Europeans are more enlightened than Americans That is why most of the liberals remained in Europe when conservatives were coming to America. They crept in after the Wild West was tamed and created a business of trying to get more for nothing.

Here ends today’s lesson in world history: It should be noted that a Liberal may have a momentary urge to angrily respond to the above before forwarding it. A Conservative will simply laugh and be so convinced of the absolute truth of this history that it will be forwarded immediately to other true believers and to more liberals just to hack them off.

So, there you have it.

I’m back!

Well, it has been a long time gone, hasn’t it?

No time to catch you up right now as I must get to work. Tonight. Promise.

Jenn, thanks for missing me! You noticed my blog had been reinstated before I did (but then, I wasn’t surfing the ‘net at 3 a.m.!)

Anyway, it’s good to be back. I’ve missed y’all.