Thursday, January 28, 2010


Today I got a call from Charlie Brown’s teacher. You know, the adult on the cartoon who speaks with a muffled tromboned “bwah bwah bwah” sound. Well, Daniel called from Afghanistan today. At least I think it was Daniel. My caller ID said it was him and I did manage to hear the word “Dad” once or twice in between the bwah bwah bwahs.

Connections from Southern Afghanistan via satellite phones are sketchy at best and even on a good day it can be hard to understand the voice coming over. After all it’s beamed from halfway around the world, up into outer space then bounced around from the East Coast to the West Coast until it finally makes its way across the pacific to our little island. It’s a wonder it works at all.

But today was an unusually bad connections. In fact, we kept getting cut off and a male computerized voice would come on the line saying; “Your connection has been terminated. Please hang up and try again later.” Daniel tried four times to get through. The calls would last a minute or two until his voice would fade into; “Bwah bwah bwah bwaaah bwah bwaaah bwah” until finally the computerized guy would come on and say; “Your connection has been terminated. Please hang up and try again later.”

(Daniel posing for a photo near the town of Garmsir, Afghanistan, recently)

Each time we were connected, bwah bwah was about all I could make out for the most part so I did most of the talking. I think he could understand my side of the conversation. I could make out a word or two of his every so often, but I had to resort to counting the “bwah bwahs” and just guess at what he was saying. Yeah, I’m one of those annoying people who finishes other people’s sentences, too. If not out loud at least in my head.

I would ask him, "Are you doing alright?" He would answer,"bwah. Bwah bwah bwah bwah. Bwah bwah bwah bwah. Bwah bwah." "oh," I said. "That's good. How's everyone else in your platoon?" "Bwah bwah bwah. Bwah bwah bwah bwah bwah," he answered. "Do you need us to send you anything?" "Bwah, bwah socks bwah bwah bwah." "Did you say you need more socks?" I asked him back. "Bwah." "Oh, OK. We'll send you more, son." And so on.

For the most part, placing the bwah bwahs in context with the subject matter then making some guesses, Daniel and I more or less had a two-way conversation. I deciphered that it was 3 in the morning there and that he may or may not have just gotten back from a patrol. That he still needed more socks and that his portable DVD player we sent him still worked and to send more movies.

Just when we would get settled into our bwah-talk, bwah-talk conversation, the computerized voice would break in; ““Your connection has been terminated. Please hang up and try again later.” Each time it seemed to sound a bit more cheerful. Why do they make automated voices sound so cheerful anyhow?

On the last attempted connection, I couldn’t even begin to guess what Daniel was saying. Even the Bwah bwahs were hard to make out. So I told him I couldn’t understand him. My best guess is he said “Yeah, I probably should go.” I said “Be careful, son.” I heard, “Bwah bwah” (I think that translated to “OK”) I said, “I love you.” And right on que that cheerfully persistent computerized male voice broke in gleefully singing; “Your connection has been terminated. Please hang up and try again later.” Did I mention I hate computers?

Below is a perfect example of what Daniel's voice sounded like today on the phone. Sorry Facebook friends, you'll have to go to my blog to view the video:

Friday, January 22, 2010


Daniel is about halfway through his deployment in Afghanistan. Below is the monthly newsletter from Easy Company's commander. Please keep them in your prayers.

Dear Easy Company Families and Friends,

20 January, 2010
Happy New Year from Afghanistan.
For the Marines, Sailors, and families of Easy Company we are approaching the midway mark of the deployment.  Separation and anxiety have certainly taken a toll on families; it is important that we all remain strong and focused. The Marines/Sailors are motivated and devoted to their mission in Afghanistan. Every day they strap on their gear and seek out ways they can improve the lives of villagers around Easy Company’s area of operations in Garmsir, Helmand, Afghanistan. I had extremely high expectations of our team during pre-deployment training, as did the Battalion Commander. I will tell you, the Marines and Sailors have outperformed expectations at every level. The area we operate in is war torn, poor, and isolated from much of the prosperity in this country; under all of that the people here are desperate for change. Like us, the people of Garmsir want a brighter future for their children and a place to live in peace. Unfortunately, the area is also a vital link for insurgents to keep their misguided fight alive. They do this through fear and intimidation. This places the innocent in the middle. Our young warriors are creating a wedge between the insurgents and the people of this area. The maturity and care our young men have demonstrated is what has truly made a difference. Although we are different on many levels, the people know the Marines/Sailors care.
Our bond with the partnered Afghan Nation Army(ANA) forces continues to grow every day. The Marines/Sailors understand that their success is the critical link in securing Helmand Province. The ANA have become friends and fellow warriors in this fight against terrorism and oppression. They are grateful for the opportunity to work with Marines and for the sacrifice U.S. forces have made coming to help their country. They too have traveled far from their families, often spending 12-18 months away from home. In some cases ANA soldiers are permanently ostracized from their villages for standing up against the Taliban. Most of the soldiers have proven themselves in combat alongside the Marines/Sailors. They are the future security of Afghanistan and your sons, fathers, brother, and friends are playing an instrumental role in providing them a chance to succeed.
Most of you have read or watched on the news of recent riots that occurred in Garsmir. I can say proudly that your Marines and Sailors acted as true professionals. They showed restraint and maturity at every level. The alleged desecration of a Qu’ran was fabricated to create dissent between the people and Coalition Forces by Taliban instigators. Easy Company was at ground zero; the Team’s actions were critical in ensuring the lies and deception tactics employed by the insurgents did not unravel all of the hard earned gains in this district. At no time were Marines asked to avoid shooting in self-defense at rioting crowds; rather they were simply asked to make mature decisions. Each and every single one of our Marines/Sailors did just that. The relationships built over the last three months with the people, and the mature decisions made by our young leaders, were both critical factors in the avoidance of major violence.
In addition to hunting down insurgents and pulling IED’s out of the ground, the Marines and Sailors are working hard on establishing projects in the war torn region. They are helping the people improve canal systems, rebuild roads, and refurbish mosques and schools. Our Corpsmen treat injured children and evacuate those who cannot receive proper medical attention for life-threatening illnesses. It is inspiring to watch these young men sit down with a group of elders and talk through future planning for irrigating their lands, rebuilding wells, and improving security so their children can play. The Marines of Easy Company and the Battalion truly get the mission here in Afghanistan.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Gunnery Sergeant Blanton and the battalion’s S-4, the living conditions and amenities at the company’s combat outpost and patrol bases are improving daily. All Marines are in tents or structures with cots, except at a few of our outposts. Although cold and outside, Marines have been able to shower and hygiene regularly. We are working on getting phone connections and several internet connections at the combat outpost in the next month; increasing the frequency Marines/Sailors will be able to communicate to their loved ones back in the States.
On behalf of the Easy Company Team, another huge thanks goes out to the support we have back in the United States. The messages are inspirational and the care packages are plentiful. These selfless acts provide the Marines and Sailors support mentally, morally, and physically. Families are the backbone of any great organization and we truly appreciate everything you do.
SSgt Whidden for promotion to Staff Sergeant
The Strelke Family- Welcome to little Logan Luke Strelke
Our wounded Marines back in the United States recovering from injuries remain in all of our thoughts and prayers. Every one of those Marines is loved and missed by their brothers in Easy Company. God Bless. We will see you soon.
I will end with a few words: Your Marines and Sailors are true heroes; they selflessly serve their Country in this dangerous land to bring security and deny our enemies from spreading terror and fear in any clime or place. I am motivated everyday by our warriors.
Semper Fidelis,
Capt Gorman

Saturday, January 16, 2010


You o triathlon,

builder of egos and breaker of hearts ...

I hate it when you raise me up

I hate it more when you tear me down.

I hate it when you promise me glory

Then throw me to the ground.

I hate your 5 a.m. wake up calls

and swimming in the dark.

I hate your freezing cold swimming pools

and when I see a shark.

I hate it when its time to ride

and ride and ride some more.

How your gale-force wind is always there

that ain’t no Kona lore.

I hate the way you make me run

I hate it but it’s cool.

I hate the way you challenge me

Like I was back in school.

I hate the fact we cannot draft

Bike refs make sure of that.

I hate those cards of yellow and red

that whole penalty tent format.

I hate it when you make me laugh,

even worse when you make me cry.

But love that you made me an Ironman

then branded me till I die.

I hate it when you’re not around

after Kona’s race in the fall.

But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you,

not even close

not even a little bit

not even at all.

*Inspired from “10 Things I Hate About You”

Thursday, January 14, 2010


This is my week to build the news pages of the newspaper at work. Every week we rotate between working on the feature section and the A-section (news) of the newspaper. That way us designers get a little break from all the “bad news” we deal with when doing the A-section. But this is my week on “A” and the news is grim.

Since the earthquake in Haiti on Tuesday, I’ve had to sift through images much of the public will never see. Images of dead babies, mangled bodies, and heartbreaking photos of grieving and suffering people. I have to find images sent over the wire that convey the scope of the disaster, yet conform to our sanitized view of the news. After all, we don’t want to actually see death -- that would ruin our breakfast.

So it’s my job to censor the news -- Well, may santize is a better word. Your news is sanitized to some extent no matter where you live in the U.S. Americans don’t want to see death and destruction in their morning papers, or on TV. All of the newspapers I’ve worked for, 7 or so, have had policies against showing bodies, or even survivors if they are too bloody. It’s a pretty common policy for most U.S. papers. Don’t expose the readers to the harsh realities of the real world, or so it goes.

So, for the past two days I’ve been wading through grotesque images searching for ones that will speak to readers, yet not offend them. Images that will hopefully move them, challenge them to help, or pray, or at least give Haiti a passing thought. Some may argue that images of people grieving is an invasion of privacy. All I can say is that in an event of this magnitude, the whole world is grieving. We all carry the weight of the loss of life in that tiny little country and that those images should help unite prayers and efforts worldwide.

(Page 1A two days after the quake in Haiti)

Below is an excerpt from a story from Haiti. I hope the Times or the writers won’t mind me sharing it with you. You can find the story in its entirety at The story is written by Joe Mozingo and Tracy Wilkinson. It is heartbreaking and raw, but it tells what the people in Haiti are going through.

... “Look at how many people die here on the ground. No one comes to see them. Right now there is still someone crying in a building down there.” He led a reporter up a bank of rubble onto the roof of a collapsed school. A dozen men holed up in a cave with a small hand pick and a crowbar. The five floors of the school had sandwiched into one. In a little pocket of air between the layers, a woman was alive. They heard her knocking a rock against the concrete about 8 a.m. They started digging.
They found out her name, Emelen Marche. She was a young mother who had come to the school to pay her children’s tuition.
By 5 p.m., the men had been working for seven hours in the muggy heat, gathering flies and the nauseous smell of decomposing corpses. Two bodies were bloating up on the basketball court 20 yards away, a man was sprawled on the roof just a few feet away, and in another hole in the roof, the top half of a man who looked like a teacher lay crushed by a girder, still wearing his spectacles.
Marche, the young mother, appeared likely to make it. The men gave her water and food through the hole. Jean Eddy Fleurantin took his turn with the pick. A young boy came down with a rusty hacksaw to cut through rebar.
She was talking. “Don’t do that!” she would yell, when their strikes with the pick came too close to her hand.
As the sun set behind the mountains, and total darkness approached, a reporter asked when they thought she might come out.
“That’s in God’s hands,” Fleurantin said.
Even if she gets out, there is no happy ending to this story. The two children whose tuition Marche came to pay were crushed to death in their home.

Be safe

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I woke up before the sun today. It was 6 a.m. and still pitch black out. In an hour I would be in the ocean swimming with the Masters group. Civil Defense had issued a high surf warning yesterday so I expected some swells for our morning swim. I wasn't disappointed and rough ocean is always fun and challenging to swim in.

(A wave at Lyman's)

With the rising sun, we were treated to lots of fish swimming below us in the dark, murky water. Well, it wasn't that dark but it was a little murky when we first started. If you have never swum in the ocean at sunrise, you really need to put that on your list of things to do in your life. It's an amazing feeling as your body and the world wake up in sync. The colors, the smells, and the beauty of nature. It's an incredible way to start off your day.

(A wave washes over the beach at Honl's)

After our swim, I came home, grabbed my camera, jumped on my moped and headed down Alii Drive to get some photos.

Well, that's how I spent my morning. How'd you spend yours?

Life is calling ...

(Surfer at Banyon's)

(Quite a view.)

Monday, January 4, 2010


It was a great day in Kona today. The sun was out, the wind had blown the vog (volcanic fog) away making for a clear day. The wind also blew away the smoke from all of our brush fires. Today we could see the where the sky meets the ocean - a rare treat these days. And we could see Hualalai (the volcano kona is closest to) clearly, which is usually shrouded in vog.

(Queen K at the bottom of Scenic hill looking toward Waikoloa.)

(Lava rock - red and black - the ocean and the sky. The horizon. A rare sight most days.)

(Just me and my shadow ... and some go-fast music to make you fly.)

It was a great day to welcome my first official training day of the 2010 season. I started the day at 5 a.m. with a chilly, well let's call it what it was, freezing swim at masters. It was soooo cold that some of the swimmers wore wet suits. The pool is closed the next two days hopefully to fix the heater. It was a great incentive to swim fast though, just to get warm. I think I bumped into some ice early on. My goggles were too fogged up to see if it was ice or just a frozen kick board. I guess it was great training for anyone who is planning on swimming in the North Atlantic this winter.

OK, it wasn't that cold by world standards, but by Kona standards, 74 degrees is freezing. Are we spoiled? 

After swim practice I hit the bike for a beautiful, windy 40 miler. On days like today I could ride forever, but I only had one water bottle and half a power bar and two hours so 40 miles had to do. 

The sun was just rising as I hit Queen K, casting long shadows of me and my bike across the road. Just me, my shadow and some awesome music piped through my earbuds made for a great way to spend the morning and thaw out from my morning swim in the Kona arctic. 

No Lance Armstrong sightings today. Lance is in town and out on his bike quite a bit. I think I've seen him riding two or three times in the past week or so. 

The only bitter note on the start of this season is I'm carrying over a couple of injuries from last season that are being stubborn in healing. Hope everyone is getting off the couch and getting active even if it really is cold where you live. Stay healthy and have fun. 


What do you do when you don't have time to go out on location to do urban sketching? My time is very limited and I often don't have ...