Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Favorite Soldier/ Third Favorite Veteran*

July 18, 2011

My favorite soldier in the United States Army, SFC Michael Elliott, retired recently after  more than 24 years of service. I was honored to attend his retirement ceremony at Fort Bragg and to read a letter from President Bush #41.

Fort Bragg, located just west of Fayetteville, North Carolina, is named for Confederate General Braxton Bragg. It covers more than 251 square miles, which is about 3 times the size of Boston. Fort Bragg is best known as the home of the US Army Airborne Forces and Special Forces. It is also the headquarters of the Golden Knights where Mike was a team member for 10 years.

I was very excited about going to Fort Bragg, so allowed for plenty of time to drive the few miles from my hotel, in order to arrive in plenty of time for the 10:00 AM ceremony. What I didn’t allow for  unfortunately, was a problem at the gate. Mike had told me to enter Fort Bragg at the Butner Rd entrance because that road leads directly to the Golden Knights’ headquarters. I tried entering at Butner Rd but quickly learned  it’s only for military.  I was instructed to make a u-turn, exit the base and enter at another entrance a few hundred yards away.  Having very little time to waste, I entered the first available checkpoint at the second entrance. So what, that it said something about a ‘dod card’?  I entered anyway, hoping it was like driving into the ‘correct change’ booth by mistake and being allowed to pass through. No such luck.  I told the guard that I had no idea what a ‘dod’ was while kinda hoping at the same time that maybe I had one and just didn’t know it.

Should have known that 'dod' stands for Department of Defense.

The guard wasn’t amused, told me to take yet another  u-turn, exit Fort Bragg for the second time and go to a different checkpoint. Time was fleeting. When at last I found the right place to enter, I had to get out of the car so it could be inspected.  I wasn’t surprised as this was the same procedure when I visited Lakehurst Naval Air Station a year ago. The drill consists of the driver popping open the trunk and hood then exiting the vehicle and opening all doors. The reason the driver must do everything is so the guard can read  his/her body language in an effort to determine if there is an explosive in the car. All went smoothly until I was asked to open the hood of the rental car. It had popped but had not unlatched. I can’t open the hood of my own car let alone that of an unfamiliar one. I admit, I wasn’t trying very hard because I did not want my hands to get dirty. One can not read a letter from a former leader of the free world with dirty hands. It’s the truth. The annoying guard, who obviously didn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation, continued to insist that I stick my hand under the hood, with absolutely no regard for my newly manicured nails. After many attempts, the hood finally opened. When I noticed black grease on my finger tips, I almost cried. Seriously. The guard, probably in an effort to get rid of me as fast as possible, ran and got a bottle of  hand sanitizer hoping it would solve the small crisis. Fortunately, the grease came off. I got back in the car and floored it through Fort Bragg in order to get to the ceremony on time.

Golden Knights' Headquarters~ Notice how the roof looks like a rectangular parachute.

Upon finding the Golden Knights’ headquarters, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Relief lasted only seconds though as I was horrified to see that every available parking space had a sign saying ‘Military’.  Now that’s just rude!  It was about 9:58 AM and panic was setting in big time.  I found a dirt lot nearby, parked my car and with only seconds to spare,  walked as fast as I could, down a hill in 3 inch, wedge sandals back to the Golden Knights’ headquarters.  I was met at the door by a very nice man who said, “You must be Nancy.” Dang, I realized that meant I was  the last person to arrive. He swiftly lead me to the room where everyone was waiting for the ceremony to begin and showed me my seat along the wall with the other speakers. (Obviously they  all knew which gate to enter and how to open the hood of a car.) The ceremony started about 8 seconds after I arrived.

Singing National Anthem

After the National Anthem, the Battalion Commander said a few words. He singled out several young Golden Knights in attendance and asked them all to stand. He proceeded to point out that everyone standing had not even been born yet, when Mike Elliott joined the Army!  Before I knew it, and pretty much before I could settle down, it was time to read the letter which was written to one of my favorite people by one of my favorite people. It wasn’t easy.

That is a bruise on my arm not a tattoo.

Next up was the Battalion Commander who presented Mike with the Retirement Award for over 24 years of faithful service to our country.

Then Mike was presented with the Excaliber Sword by the Sergeant Major.

There were more presentations including a litograph, Certificate of Achievement from President Obama, Retirement Certificate, and a US flag and lapel button. At retirement ceremonies, flowers are typically presented to the retiring soldier’s mother and spouse. Mike made sure that every woman at his retirement ceremony received a yellow rose.

The floor was then opened up to team members and guests. One by one, they went to the front of the room to talk about Mike. Some stories were funny, others were serious but all were heartfelt. It was pointed out by many that Mike had so much fun while being a Golden Knight that he really hasn’t worked a day in the past 10 years.

One of the many friends who spoke.

A short video clip was shown of Mike preparing for his final skydive as a Golden Knight. In the clip, he is seated at a table piled high with Golden Knight medallions. He explained that he was going to take them all on his last jump then pass them out at the retirement ceremony.  I asked Donna Dixon, the  Golden Knights’ media director, if that was a Golden Knight tradition. She replied, “No, that’s just Mike.”

Picture of video clip.

Last Jump

A nice lunch followed where I had the pleasure of chatting with many of the guests including Mike’s proud parents and fiance. I loved that his father wore a necktie from the USS BUSH aircraft carrier.

SFC Paul Sachs very kindly gave me a tour of the Golden Knights museum where a great deal of attention is given to President Bush’s jumps. President Bush’s most recent jumpsuit is on display complete with a cardboard cutout of his head so it looks as if he is standing there in real life. The museum includes countless trophies and awards all won by the Golden Knights over the years. There is also a separate room in honor of the Knights who have lost their lives. I wish I could have spent more time in the museum.

An old style parachute on display in the museum.

After the tour, I said my good-byes, took my yellow rose and  Golden Knight medallion and sped out of Fort Bragg before another guard could stop me.

* Two WWll vets have first and second place locked in the ‘favorite veteran’ category. That would be my father followed by President Bush#41. Mike Elliott has a lock on third place.

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Jumping the Shark

June 4, 2011

This is not your typical jump story. It’s scary and poses some risks but doesn’t involve a plane or a parachute. This jump is off a boat into shark infested waters in the Bahamas. True, they may be ‘nurse sharks’ and not considered dangerous to humans “for the most part” but they are sharks nonetheless. THEY. HAVE. TEETH. My friend from the dock, a 35 year old guy named Food who grew up homeless in Nassau said, ” If the shark bites your fingers, it won’t bite them off, it will only break them.” (That is the reason I am beginning this blog entry before the jump while I can still type.) Food also told me not to wear anything that shines and to make sure I don’t smell like meat. I’ve got both of those things covered so I guess I am all set.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term ‘jumping the shark’ it is an idiom used to describe a moment in the evolution of a television show (or blog) when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery. It comes from an episode of Happy Days when Fonzie, while waterskiing,  attempted to jump over a shark. I fear that posting pictures of myself in a bathing suit might be this blog’s ‘jumping the shark’ moment.

As with skydiving, it is very important to be prepared so I met  with Food on the dock the morning of the ‘jump’ for an intense briefing on the correct procedure for coming face to face with sharks.

Very serious preparation course with Food. "Don't wear anything shiny and don't smell like meat."

More of the intense preparation course.

Q&A. "So you mean I actually go IN the water?"

Later that day, when the sharks had just enjoyed scraps given to them by  local fisherman, I decided it was the best moment to open my eyes and jump.

Locals cracking open conch shells and throwing scraps to the sharks. We ended up with a delicious conch salad for lunch that day.

I put on my bathing suit, walked to the boat’s stern and began to wonder why the hell I had decided to do this. It was the same feeling I had on the plane while walking to the open door to skydive. What was I thinking and why did I get myself into this?  I took a deep breath, hoped for the best and slipped into the water. My eyes continually darted in all directions as I waited for Mack the Knife and his friends to appear. The wait was nerve wracking. For a second I imagined I would feel the same way if I were in the mountains of Afghanistan on alert for the Taliban.

First glimpse

And immediately right back out of the water!!!!

Getting braver and swimming away from boat's ladder. Note shark in upper right corner and my main concern is looking at the camera.

Too many sharks moving in. Time to get out.

Food, who stopped by to watch my shark encounter, later told me, “You was tremendous and not scared. You were brave enough to want to touch a shark. A lot of people don’t want to even go near the water. I am proud of you.”

When we said good-bye,  Food decided to offer me some last minute advice on life which I thought I’d share.  He said,”Take things slowly, never rush. If you rush the brush, you’ll spill the paint.”

Maybe tomorrow, I'll swim with the pigs.

If Anyone in the Military Ever Asks You for Anything, Say YES!

July 20, 2010

When Dennis McCaffery, the principal at Lincoln School  in Cranford, NJ, received a call asking if he’d like to skydive with the Golden Knights, at first he thought it was a prank call.  Principals must be used to that sort of thing.  “When I realized it was for real, the decision was a no- brainer.” He explained, “I always tell the students at my school, if anybody in the military ever asks them for ANYTHING, they should always say ‘YES’.” When members of the military speak at Lincoln School, Dennis always reminds his students that “these people fight for us, they give us our freedom.”

Sgt Tony Schumacher and Dennis McCaffery

Long before Dennis worked in education, he was a professional baseball player with the Angels. While playing for the Angels, one of his best friends, a gym teacher at Lincoln School, asked him to speak to the students. Dennis must have had a special way with them for when he finished, the principal asked if he would like a job. Over time Dennis earned his teaching certificate and taught at that school during the off season. When he was cut from the Angels, he taught full time and is now the principal of Lincoln School.

Love this picture.

While waiting for his turn to jump at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, Dennis said, “I heard that the guy who jumped with President Bush is here. Do you think I could meet him?” It’s funny how so many people think of SFC Elliott as ‘the guy who jumped with President Bush’ when he’s really  the guy who jumped with me.

At times, I feel a bit silly asking men how they feel about the jumpsuit. When I ask ‘does the color suit you’ or  ‘does it make you feel cool’ sometimes an awkward silence follows.  Hasn’t stopped me from asking though. FYI, Dennis told me the jumpsuit made him feel like ‘Top Gun’.

Chatting with 'the guy' who jumped with Nancy Sosa.

When I  caught up with Dennis at the drop zone after his jump,  he said he had felt “confident and comfortable knowing he was with the best of the best”, but couldn’t help being nervous when the door of the plane opened. I know exactly how he felt. You kind of get caught up in the fun of wearing the jumpsuit, and flying in an Army plane with the Golden Knights and forget that at some point, the door will open. I still get butterflies in my stomach thinking about it. Although he was a little nervous, Dennis felt the odds of getting hurt while entering the plane were greater than from jumping out.

Dennis with his tandem master, Joe Jones.

“The Golden Knights are gentleman, sharp, decent people, on top of their game,” Dennis said.  The next day when he shared his experience and jump video with the students, someone asked, “Mr. Mac, were you scared?”  He replied, “Of course I was but sometimes you learn more by trying something you’ve never done.” I am pretty sure he added, “Go Red Sox”.

Just for Fun

July 2, 2010

Scientists from Boston University  reported in the journal Science that they have designed a medical test to help determine whether a person could live to be 100 years old.

Co-author of the article Thomas Perls, who has not taken the test said, “Actually, the various authors of the paper feel this isn’t quite ready for prime time.” In addition to the test not being 100% accurate, the authors worry what people would do with the test results. For example, if people learned they would unlikely live to be 100 they might stop exercising and watching their diets. Perls added, “They might even start doing dangerous things like jumping out of planes!”

We can only hope!

Happy  4th everyone.

Moms

May 9, 2010

My niece Maria suggested I write a special post for Mother’s Day. I loved her idea and got to work on it right away.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the mother’s of soldiers and knew they needed to be remembered. Then I started thinking about soldiers who are mothers and knew they needed to be remembered too.  I interviewed a few moms but the problem is my Mother’s Day post started getting too long so I have divided it up into three separate posts. Please scroll down and read about Tara Boyce, Nicole Cope and Marijo Hamilton.  Make sure to read all of them as each woman is amazing.

Stay tuned for more jump stories.

“If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space.”

April 11, 2010

I don’t know who said that but I love it. We don’t all have to be thrill seekers but I think it is good to try something outside of our comfort zones once in a while. You’ll be amazed how good it makes you feel. Just ask Beatriz (one of my blog subscribers!) how she felt after competing in a Dancing with the Stars-type competition in Chicago.

Bea the Dancing Queen

I still have a bit of a skydiving high leftover from my jump six weeks ago. So please think of something you’ve never done, it doesn’t have to be huge, give it a try and let me know how it goes.

My apologies to everyone waiting for jump stories. Don’t give up, there will be more. Why not sign up as a subscriber of the blog so you will be alerted when the jump stories start appearing? In the meantime, there will be a special post on April 13th.

Eyes Wide Shut

February 22, 2010

I skydived in June 2007 with 4 girlfriends at a ‘Jump for the Cure’ fundraiser in Massachusetts.  We all had different reasons for jumping. In my case, I wanted to prove to my family (and probably myself too) that I was not a chicken. It was the scariest thing I ever did. My goal was just to exit the door of the plane.

I had no intentions of enjoying it. I just wanted to do it. Once out the door, I closed my eyes, kept thinking I didn’t want to leave my children without a mother (not the best thought while free falling) and tried staying calm.  I thought if I panicked, my tandem partner and I might suddenly start tumbling into a tailspin.

Photos were taken of everyone while free falling. My friends had great photos of themselves waving, smiling and looking directly into the camera lens while giving the thumbs up sign. In every  one of my photos, I had my eyes completely shut and a tight-lipped grin. I looked like a corpse dropping out of the sky.

In case there was any doubt in the other photo, here's an ugly closeup showing my eyes tightly closed.

When the parachute abruptly opened, so did my eyes.  I  felt nauseous from the tight harness across my chest. I nervously babbled non-stop for the rest of the ride, probably without taking a breath until landing.  I accomplished my goal of getting out the door of the plane but every time I look at my closed-eyed photos, I get a pit in my stomach knowing I need to jump again with eyes wide open. Gulp!

Incidentally, in a weird kind of way, it helped me with golf. Now when I step up to the tee, I don’t worry as much. What’s the worst than can happen? A bad shot perhaps but certainly not death.