I received word that the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club planned to recognize me at their Annual Banquet in Northeastern Ohio.  SBMC is a Fraternal Motorcycle Club of Veterans and Non-Veterans alike, whose mission is to support and honor Veterans of all Ages and from all Wars.  Each year, they present plaques to 5 Combat Veterans and I am the second Female Vet to be recognized in their club’s history!

What a privilege to be recognized alongside three Vietnam Veterans, as well my fellow OIF I / II Vet, Amanda Adamson.  Adamson and I spent a couple months pulling 12-hour static security shifts together at the perimeter of FOB Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq in 2004.  She has been a massive supporter of A Vicious Cycle, and an overall solid battle buddy and friend over the years.

As you can imagine, we had a wonderfully wild time celebrating with the members of Second Brigade MC.  Participating in their ceremonies and traditions, swapping stories with fellow Vets, and learning about their Club’s ongoing missions.  I call them the Rock for the Rocks.  After all, what in the world would us Veterans do without selfless organizations such as SBMC…

While up in Ohio, I got to spend some quality time with my close friend and former Squad Leader, Sergeant First Class David Parks.  We had WAY too much fun playing with weapons.  I almost couldn’t bring myself to give that Ruger 7.62 back to him…  And never hurts to dabble in the more intimate forms of medieval combat.  It’s always a real treat for my inner child to get her hands on grown-up toys.

Don’t just turn heads. Break necks. 😉

Every military enlistee has someone they’ve looked up to since the day they arrive at their assigned Unit.  For me, that Soldier is Sergeant First Class Sandra Mesenburg.  My very first formation as a 17 year old Private in the 612th Combat Engineers, I watched and mimicked her facing movements and took note of her behavior.

Iraq 2003, Recruiting 2005, Panama 2002

Over the past 15 years, I have been so very fortunate to have gained a best friend.  We’ve served in three Units together, deployed to Panama and Iraq, went to war and survived combat zones together, worked in Recruiting together, and we confide in and rely on each other to this day.

FOB Speicher, Tikrit Iraq, 2004

Spending time with other Veterans seems to be the best medicine.  It’s a camaraderie that cheers when you succeed and catches you when you fall.  Because when you fail, fail.  We joke on each other a lot and we’re tough on each other.  Don’t be fooled by our grotesque humor and brutal one-liners…  We care a lot.  Unspoken sentiments.  Unyielding loyalty.  Truth is, I would not be alive today if it weren’t for one of my Brother’s ultimate sacrifice.  Which brings me to my final stop up north: The Fallen Heroes Memorial in Sunbury, OH.

It was a cold day in central Ohio, with a high of 13° and wind chill of 2°.  I parked, took a deep breath, and walked into the Memorial.  It was quite an impressive layout, complete with impeccably aligned rows of labeled crosses, marking every fallen Ohio Hero during the War on Terror.  I scanned the grounds silently, impacted and speechless; this was our war, these are my heroes.  I came here seeking out one cross in particular.

PFC Samuel Bowen.  A husband, a father, a Soldier in my section of the 216th Combat Engineers – who because of his ultimate sacrifice and acts of bravery, could not return from Iraq with us.  Still, after 13 years, I have not the words, Brother.  I am forever grateful to have known you and honored to have laughed with you.  Thankful to have received your famous bear hugs, and to have served by your side.  We will Never Forget your courage and selflessness.

After drying my cheeks and circling the sobering grounds one last time, I ended up crossing paths with a man and his wife.  They were taking turns photographing each other next to a cross that read Sergeant First Class Charles “Chuck” Adkins.  I carefully offered to take a photo so they could both be in it.  They looked over and nodded with thankful eyes.

After the photo, the man introduced himself. “I’m Charles Adkins, Chuck’s Dad.”  He paused, adjusting his cover that read Vietnam Veteran and straightened up tall. “That’s my boy…”  Perspective flushed over me like a slow-moving tsunami – Charles had lost his son in Afghanistan near FOB Gamberi during Operation Enduring Freedom in April of 2011.  He took me through the tough story of that day, then shared some endearing memories, and spoke of how they’ve kept SFC Adkin’s memory alive through benefits, charities, and programs such as their Annual Golf Scramble.

His son is a local legend and truly a hero’s hero.  The Charles L. Adkins Memorial Highway (Ohio SR-101) runs from Castalia, OH to Sandusky, OH in Erie County.  It was incredibly special to get to learn about Chuck directly from his father: who is also a Combat Veteran, bravely serving in Vietnam as a Small Artillery Specialist in the First Field Force’s Charley Battery.  We said our goodbyes and exchanged a very lengthy and meaningful hug.  What an unbelievably remarkable encounter.  These coincidences continue to give me chills.

Well, it’s not every day that you find yourself sitting across the table from a bona fide Rosie the Riveter.  Rosemary Keefe is a 93-year-old Michigan native who humbly describes herself as a “plain old farmer”.  However, anyone who has had the pleasure of listening to her stories knows better. She is the loyal widow of Airman George Keefe, a decorated WWII Veteran.  Brave revolutionaries such as Rosemary inspired a massive social movement that increased the number of working American women from 12 million to 20 million by 1944 – a 57% increase from 1940.

Rosemary’s factory was located in Detroit, MI. The riveters drilled holes into the floors of planes, which were then shipped to Buffalo, NY for assembly. The holes along these 8-foot panels had to be perfectly straight and circular as to not let air get trapped under the rivets. One Rosie would drill and another would hold a backing for the metal bolts to tighten against, forcing them flat. The rivets were then affixed and covered with mica glass to ensure they were airtight.

“The day Pearl Harbor was bombed, I was walking out of the theater and when I looked around, people were like statues on the streets.  It was quite a sight to behold”, Rosemary explained.  “They were all frozen in place, reading the local papers.  The war separated a lot of families and it was hard saying goodbye to my George.”

“I had wonderful parents…  My husband and I had 7 children together, and now I have over 80 grandchildren and great-grandchildren”, she paused. “I can’t complain about my life.  All I know is the day I turn 100, I’m going to have pork roast.”

Acupuncture @ Totty Chiropractic, Nashville

Getting to gorge myself on the bare-bones lifestyle of the road has now become a constant craving.  Comfort and convenience leave very little room for appreciation.  Out in the elements, feeling fully submerged in LIFE, free from newsfeeds and click-bait and talking heads.  Disconnecting, being embraced by communities, experiencing kindness, and listening to people’s stories has a remarkable effect on a person’s psyche.  Like sunbeams through societal storm clouds, America quickly begins feeling as indivisible as it was born to be.  For now, I’ll be rehabilitating my knee and counting down the days until May.  Because when it comes to my limitations, I get the final say.  #FinishWhatYouStart #ArmyStrong