Arsenal

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

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //

Nostalgia

[SUPPORT A VICIOUS CYCLE]

OFFICIAL:  I am able to continue my journey in May, 2018!!  My VA PAC Team linked me up with Dr. Tammareddi, an Orthopedic Surgeon at the campus in Murfreesboro, TN.  There is moderate tearing throughout my PCL Ligament, as well as some damage to the cartilage around my patella.  There is not a full tear, so they would like to avoid surgery.  For now, it’s IBUprofen, physical therapy, and slowly re-strengthening my knee and body.  Dr. Tammareddi is truly a talented and caring doctor.  I gave him one of my A Vicious Cycle cards at our initial consultation back in October.  Two months later, my Airborne Infantry friend, who also had an appointment with him, told me that my AVC card was still sitting at his keyboard, on display.  I couldn’t believe it…  That meant so much to me.  I see Dr. T again on January 18th to follow up.

I would like to extend a very special thank you to my great friend: Vietnam Combat Veteran and Army 1st Infantry Division Brother,  Captain Jerry Bell.  He surprised me by sending an OIF Veteran hat, which I received the morning of my MRI appointment.  His impeccable timing and thoughtfulness brightened my day immensely…  CPT Bell served from ’66 – ’72 as a Small Unit Commander.  He is a two times recipient of the Bronze Star Medal as well as the Air Medal, for heroic acts in combat.  He took the time to meet me on my journey (a 20 hour drive for him) on his way to the annual Big Red One reunion.  It was incredible to hear him speak and I’m so thankful to have gained the continued support, encouragement, and friendship from a man of his caliber.

After resting my knee for a few weeks, I submerged myself back into my Photography business.  A positive way to keep busy and forget about being suspended in this recovery limbo.  This is my 10th year as small business owner and I truly do love capturing moments for others…

Quite a lot of Veterans have increasingly noticeable memory issues, including myself, and I often rely on photos to specifically recall people and events.  They are important.  One photo can bring back a whole day of memories.  Images can paint the complete picture of an experience, or summarize an existence.  Someday, it could be all we have left of someone.  Many of my clients have been coming to me for over a decade now!  Their trust and business have meant so much…

My sister took the time to make a trip from Ohio and visit me in Nashville.  After stopping at Halcyon Bike Shop and photographing murals around the city, we spotted two homeless Veterans sitting near highway I-65.  An Army Vet and a Navy Vet.  They waved and smiled at every single vehicle that passed them by.  It was incredibly heartwarming on a cold November day.  We found a gas station and got them two hot coffees and some Clif bars, then parked on the shoulder and walked over.  We had a great talk, shared some laughs, exchanged stories, and ended with long hugs.  It was pretty special.  Always try to leave people better than you found them.  Take the time, make the effort.  I only wish I could have done more…

Outside of a visit from family and meeting clients for photo shoots, I have admittedly been isolating myself heavily with little to no social interactions since early September.  It still isn’t clear why isolating feels like such a necessity, regardless of how unhealthy and dangerous it can be.  This sort of pattern is part of what this journey was mending, and continuing my ride in the spring has never felt more crucial.  After several months of self-inflicted cabin fever, fight or flight anxiousness was setting in.  It was time to try and fly.  I decided to head north for a few days and return to a few special spots I’d discovered along my bicycle journey.  Bag packed, gas tank full, on four wheels rather than two.  Time to hit the open road and pay Bicycle Route 76 a visit.

Sonora, KY: A small town along the TransAmerica Trail that will forever hold a  place in my heart.  My parents surprised me back in June for my birthday in this very patriotic place.  Nostalgia swept me back to June, when I rounded the corner of Main Street on my bicycle – my Mom and Dad waving ecstatically from the front columns of Brooks General Store and Cafe.

It was just as I remembered; the table where I opened birthday presents, the wall of signatures, and I even ordered the same meal again.  Grilled chicken sandwich, cottage cheese, coffee, and water.   The owners remembered us vividly and we looked through the log book together for my entry.

On my way into the Cafe, I spotted a truck parked out front with a Special Forces license plate and couldn’t help but asked who it belonged to.  A gentleman raised his eyes from a newspaper and lifted a couple fingers in the air.  “That would be my truck, ma’am.  Name’s Jarvis Burton.”  We began talking and he shared some incredible stories from his tour in Vietnam and his time as a Green Beret with the 6th Special Forces out of Fort Bragg.

SPC Burton led my imagination through a couple of intense combat experiences, to include a descriptive witnessing of the infamous “Puff the Magic Dragon” warship in action.  The Douglas AC-47 ‘Spooky’ (radio call sign “Puff”) stockpiled 45 Flares and 24,000 rounds, including three 7.62 mm miniguns, each of which could selectively fire either 50 or 100 rounds per second.  As he spoke, it felt as if my ears tripled in size, as to not miss a single syllable this hero was telling me.  On the way out to my car, I remembered a special little spot, hidden from view, where I watched a sunset on my journey.  There was no better way to end my visit in Sonora, KY…

Nothing beats getting lost on Memory Lane – a welcome diversion when plagued with choosing a path…  Nostalgia is a beautiful escape – it’s hindsight’s charming stunt double.  Hindsight can be a harsh educator for somebody with a warm heart and cold mind.  The 20/20 vision hindsight affords can stain you with resentment and cynicism – particularly when you’ve allowed yourself to only see the beauty in others.  While people and nature are equally seasonal, one ironclad truth remains: Nature never disappoints.  My stop for the night was a humble, secluded cabin near Falls of Rough, KY, where I had taken several cycling days off to spend time with my parents back in July.  It was nice to be back.

The memories came flooding in as I pulled into the Rough River Dam Lodge, located in Falls of Rough, KY.  Smiling ear to ear, I recalled exploring the grounds, the endless buffet at Grayson Landing Restaurant, playing putt-putt golf, laughing with the lodge staff…  Recalling having to fix three flat tires while there even made me chuckle.  And the staff members remembered me!  It was so cool.  Being back here made it clear – I was really onto something out there.  The anticipation for continuing this journey has reached an all-time high.

As the sky darkened, it was time to refocus on the reason I came here: some internal conflict resolution, free from interjection or external insight.  Closing the door is soothing because it’s safety, but sad because it’s selfish.  Locking yourself in also means locking everyone else out.  But no one has a better chance of solving your puzzle than you do.

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// NOTHING FOLLOWS //

Veteran’s Day

My Veteran Brothers and Sisters
We replaced words with action.  Anger with precision.  Fear with bravery.  Personal safety with selflessness.  We stood up and stepped forward to defend our country and it’s people.  The American Flag flies backward on our uniforms because while others would stand still or run away, we charge deep into the flames.   It was our HONOR and PRIVILEGE to serve you, America.

Our hearts and minds may be charred, and while the fire inside does its best to consume our days, we chose to carry this responsibility for those who are not capable or willing.  We’ve experienced life and death on a significantly grander scale.  We’ve tapped into a facet of ourselves that some may never discover.   Keep sharp, aware, and ever wary, Brothers and Sisters; as that call to protect and defend never fades.

2004, Operation Iraqi Freedom

It’s a call that can’t be explained.  Only answered.
More than words, my Brothers and Sisters.
Never alone, never forget.

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //