Saturday, March 31, 2007

Brotherly Love

Many people tend to express their affections for their loved ones in a number of various ways. My brother (one of three) has continued to set the standard for letting me know how much he loves me. He’s been in the military since 1982 and, at different points in our careers; we’ve been in the same unit together. There is, depending on the month of the year, a four year difference in age and a lot of differences in personalities and life experiences. Given the right circumstances, we have been able to fool a lot of people into thinking one is the other.

My brother and I have always been pretty good at keeping in touch with each other when we have been in different corners of the world on different deployments. We have always sent funny packages, letters and messages to each other in order to stay sane and (honestly) to torture each other. With that being said, he found out about our extension here and pulled strings in order to send a replacement soldier to take my place so that I can go home. It didn’t go exactly as planned but I still appreciate the thought. This is how you know you’re loved.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Girl Scout Cookies!

I would like to take the time to share with you how much all of us LOVE Girl Scout cookies. I recently received 70 lbs. of Girl Scout cookies from my brother. Here in the desert, once it really gets hot, we are constantly sweating. All that sweating coupled with the amount of equipment we wear, continuous missions, and all the additional exercising we do, we are able to eat quite a bit of “fat pills’. So we do end up receiving a lot of them from family, friends, co-workers, different organizations and other channels. The thing we like, in particular, about Girl Scout cookies is that they help fund individual troops throughout the states and the organization as a whole

This particular batch was provided to my brother from the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council in Orlando, Florida ( In an age where parents and some societies as a whole tend to treat women and girls as “less than” it is refreshing to see that they are provided with a very positive organization that reaches out to ALL girls in order to reach out to girls of all ages, races, and religions in order to positively teach, mentor and guide them in order to set them up for lifelong success. Here is a brief history of the organization.

Women have been involved in Scouting since its earliest days. Charlotte Mason first perceived the educational possibilities of Scouting as applied to children. In April 1905, she put Baden-Powell's Aids to Scouting on the syllabus of the Parents' Union School. Baden-Powell later credited Katherine Loveday, a governess trained by Mason, as the means of inspiring Scouting for Boys.

Girls themselves have chosen to be involved in Scouting since the publication of Scouting for Boys in 1908. In the UK, girls set up their own patrols, sometimes affiliated to local Boy Scout troops, sometimes existing on their own. In New Zealand, the Peace Girl Scouts began in 1908.

In September 1909, a number of girls turned up to the first Scout Rally at the Crystal Palace, calling themselves Girl Scouts. This was a turning point for girls in Scouting: Baden-Powell accepted that girls were going to be involved in Scouting. In the October issue of Boy Scout Headquarters Gazette, a monthly newspaper for scoutmasters, an instruction appeared that all applications for membership for Girl Scouts or Girl Guides should be sent directly to headquarters, as arrangements were being made for them. A month later, in the same publication, The Scheme for Girl Guides was published. Baden-Powell knew that the girls needed a separate organization if it were to be successful and if it were not to prejudice the success of the Boy Scout movement. The Girl Guides were named after the famous corps of guides in India, the Khyber Guides. Many girls in the UK who had been Girl Scouts were suspicious of these new developments but were persuaded to accept them.

In 1910 Baden-Powell set up the Girl Guides as a parallel female movement, run by his sister Agnes Baden-Powell. She had to overcome a lot of prejudice against Guiding at that time. Many people thought that it would turn girls into tomboys, although as the Rev W. T. Money in Greenwich, London wrote in a report of 1910:

“A troop of B-P Girl Guides was only started recently. I know many who read this will shake their heads and say 'No earthly good; it will make the girls tomboys'. Well, the girls about here are already that. But to clear up a misconception, may I say that the Girl Guides are quite distinct from the so-called Girl Scouts, or for that matter, the Boy Scouts.”

While Agnes played a major role until her death in 1945, Baden-Powell's wife, Olave Baden-Powell, became Chief Guide of England in 1918, and World Chief Guide in 1930. Baden-Powell wrote a separate handbook for the new organization, The Handbook for the Girl Guides or How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire (1912).

In 1914 a junior branch, originally called Rosebuds shortly changed to Brownies, parallel to Wolf Cubs in Boy Scouts, began. Girls can joins young as 5 years old in some countries. At this age, they are called "Sparks" in Canada, "Daisies" in the United States, and by various other names in the more than 150 countries that participate in the Guiding and Scouting Movement.

Today, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) is the world's largest organization of girls and women. Guides have come a long way since they were founded after the Crystal Palace rally and the new programs for all sections reflect current values and interests.

If you don’t think that the Girl Scouts have had a positive impact on us and the United States as a whole, visit their web site and see for yourself what they have accomplished, are accomplishing and will accomplish in the future. Here is a short list of famous Girl Scout alumni:

Madeline Albright - Former US Secretary of State
Laura Bush - First Lady and Wife of President George W. Bush (43rd President)
Lynda Carter – Television Actress
Sheryl Crow - Singer/Songwriter
Sandra Day O'Connor - Associate Justice, US Supreme Court
Kathy Frost - The Adjutant General of the Army
Star Jones - Co-host, "The View", ABC-Television
Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee - 1988 Long Jump Gold Olympian
Jeanne Kirkpatrick - Former US Ambassador to the United Nations
Rita Klimova - US Ambassador, Czech & Slovah Federal Republic
Ann Landers - Advice Columnist
Susan Lucci – Emmy Award Winning Television Actress
Shannon MacMillan - Women's World Cup Member
Jane Pauley - Television reporter, "Dateline"
Nancy Reagan - Former First Lady and Wife of Ronald Reagan (40th President)
Barbara Walters - Anchorwoman of ABC "20/20"

Monday, March 19, 2007

Kriesel's First Steps!

SGT John Kriesel (Still My Friend) has made another incredible leap forward! After surviving an IED attack that killed two of his fellow soldiers, multiple surgeries, infections, devastating news and a long journey home, John has taken his first steps since December 2006!

If you didn’t know, John almost died from the attack. Both his legs were amputated as a result of the damage inflicted from the IED. In a time when others would have given up because things were “hard”, John survived and continued to push forward.

Katie, his wife, has been an incredible inspiration not only to John, but to us here in country and other wives back in the states. She, along with his dad, flew to Germany when he was first brought there and has never left his side since the beginning of this whole ordeal. The company she works for (Eagle Global Logistics) has assisted them both spiritually, mentally, and financially. Her coworkers have donated their own personal vacation time in order for her to stay with her husband without worry of finances or anything else.

In any case, this is an incredible example of how good people can be. If you’re interested in making a donation, here is the information for you. Thanks!

The John and Katie Kriesel Fund
American Bank (headquarters)
1578 University Avenue West
St. Paul, MN 55104

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Challenge Coin

Hello everyone, I wrote this for an article to be published here in country and thought you may find it interesting.

Throughout the military, one can find these medal artifacts displayed proudly by soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen at their desks and in their offices. Some are simple and colorless. Others are ornate, filled with intricate designs and etchings. All of them have a story behind them.

The following story, which dates the history of military coins back to the 1st World War, has been passed down from one soldier to another.

During World War I, American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy young men who left colleges such as Yale and Harvard in order to enlist in the military. In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered solid bronze medallions embossed with the squadron emblem for every member of his squadron. He carried his medallion in a small leather sack about his neck.

Shortly after acquiring the medallions, the lieutenant’s aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire during a mission. He was forced to land behind enemy lines where he was captured by a German patrol. In order to discourage his escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except for the small leather pouch around his neck. He was eventually taken to a small French town near the front lines where he managed to escape during a night bombardment. During the attack, he donned civilian clothes and fled without personal identification. After escaping, the brave pilot succeeded in avoiding German patrols until he reached the front lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no-man's land and stumbled into a French outpost.

Unfortunately, the French in this sector had been plagued by German saboteurs, who sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot's American accent, the French thought him to be a saboteur and made ready to execute him. Just in time, the American remembered his leather pouch containing the bronze medallion. He showed the medallion to his would-be executioners. When the French captors recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion, they gave the pilot enough time to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him, they gave him a bottle of wine.

Eventually the pilot made it back to his squadron, where it became a tradition to ensure all members carried their medallion or coin at all times. This was accomplished through a challenge. A service member would ask to see the coin. If the challenger could not produce his coin, he was required to purchase a drink of choice for the member who had challenged him. If the challenged member produced his coin, then the challenging member was required to pay for the drink. This tradition continued through the war and for many years after while surviving members of the squadron were still alive.

Today, military service members often trade these coins while deployed. In some cases a coin can be earned meritoriously for a job well done. Regardless of how they are required, the history of the challenge coin remains a part of military tradition, and all branches will continue to display them proudly for years to come.

So what exactly goes into a unit challenge coin and how is the process done? There are several routes from concept to completed samples in order to acquire a challenge coin. Traditionally, the initial idea and concept for the coin is originated by the commander and NCOIC of the unit. Whether it is at division level or company level, the tradition is still carried on just as strong as in the past. The most common denominator is the fact that, both the commander and NCOIC want their coin to stand out while not looking like an “off the shelf” product and make their soldiers proud to earn one and carry it with them as an example of esprit de corps.

Common traits that appear on coin designs include the unit crest, patch, motto, slogan, home location, current operation (if applicable), color, numbering and a whole host of other characteristics in order to positively represent the unit and its members as a whole.

Here is how the process works for about 90% of the time. Having the coin made today is relatively very easy. The catch is a lot of companies will rake you over the coals on additional or complete computer rendering and concept design artwork in order to “adapt” your idea to their machine. It’s usually the secondary (sometimes the primary) source of income for the company; manufacturing and shipping are usually tied for the number one source of revenue. Always write down your ideas for EACH side of the coin and then work with someone to develop an art rendering of your idea. Make sure that each side will mean something (emotionally, professionally, etc) to you and especially to those you will be presenting the coins to. Keep your ideas and thoughts to a group of no more than three. This group will consist of the commander, senior NCO and the artist they will be working with. Always chose the artist from within the unit itself in order for him/her to apply additional effort into the coin design so that it turns out more “meaningful. This will also save you the headache of having people associated but not in the unit that have no clue, trying to provide “good ideas”.

Keep refining your ideas for a total of three renderings of coin designs so you can chose the best qualities from all three and adapt them into your final design. Power Point is a very user friendly program for starting out your design for its ability and flexibility to cut and paste different components digitally. Once you have your final design, save it in a JPEG format because it is the most adaptable and flexible format for computer machining. Finalize the design with your three person team and ALWAYS make a back up copy. Remember, no coin company will mint a coin with copy written artwork or trademarked slogans. Your unit’s history is always a great place to begin for components for you coin design. Military related artwork, such as branch insignia, rank, or patches can be fount at the Institute of Heraldry’s web site.

Once the design is finalized, it is sent (usually digitally) to the company for manufacturing. Price is set on the amount of coins ordered (300-400 initially) plus the set up fee for the die (mold of the coin). Prices will vary, depending on what you want, so research thoroughly and carefully. The company will send a final digital adaptation of your artwork and a photograph or the coin prototype for final approval. Once the “GO” is given, manufacturing will begin followed by shipping. The amount of time for delivery of the order will vary by company, size of the order, and time of year. Some companies are busier than others depending on the time of the year and how popular they are.

If any lingering questions still reside, research for at least one month prior to your final rendering. This will insure a great product for your unit to provide its soldiers. In the last 10-15 years, coin design and manufacturing has advanced with the aid of computer and machining technology to a level unpredicted by our military forefathers. One of the new trends as well is that we see civilian organizations such as fire, police, and EMS departments have joined the ranks of "coining" for their members. This is the final digital rendition of the coin for our cell (no pun intended) and the photograph of the prototype for final approval. I think we achieved our goal of it meaning somethin to us and the soldiers that earn them.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lunar Eclipse

The other night (March 3rd) we were privileged to enjoy a front row seat to the first of two lunar eclipses for 2007. I was able to take a pretty decent picture through my camera and had the opportunity to observe it from the time it started, through the total zenith, and the time it finished. Funny how, when you get a chance to slow down here, you stop and realize how small and insignificant we really are. When those chances to slow down present themselves to us here, you start to think. Home, family, friends, are usually the first on the list of topics, followed by deep and philosophical thoughts you didn’t pay much attention to in the past. And yet, in poetic irony, those thoughts come back to the forefront of your memories.

One of my first Army mentors in Germany on my first tour there, many years ago, was SSG Steven Suth. He was considered an old school soldier and quite an enigma for young soldiers at the time (1986). Steve was a Vietnam veteran with the 173rd Airborne Division. He never really went into too many details on a lot of things he did but I remember him telling us many stories about the place, the war and his friends. His last tour there, he was telling us about a mission he was on and that they (his team) had just inserted into the jungle through a waterway. Steve told us that what made that mission one of his most memorable was the date, July 20th, 1969. That was when the first astronauts landed on the moon. He told us that he remembered looking up at the moon and suddenly feeling very small and insignificant.

I found myself smiling at the “full circle” irony of it all. I thoroughly enjoyed my “slow” time for the eclipse and the time to reflect. I just thought I would share this event with all of you. Take care.