I recently returned home to attend the funeral of my best friend’s brother. He had fought a hard battle with cancer for the past 2 and a half years, and although valiant he lost his battle on 27 March 2016. All in all, I reflected on the implications that death has on our psyche and the lens that it adds to our ever-evolving perspective on life. I believe there are two distinct types of deaths: those that follow a natural timeline and those that don’t. An example of the former are grandparents, those that have lived a full life and it becomes time to move onto the next life. The latter was this case, where we all felt that a full-life had not been lived, we had been deprived of an awesome individual who had started a successful career and possessed so much potential. It is in these types of deaths that while we reflect on their life, we also reflect on our own. I am reminded to have a greater appreciation for those around me, for the things that I am able to do and to cherish relationships with my family and friends. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” has been a popular phrase that I often repeat to myself. Those small things that seem like a big deal fade away in the big picture of life enjoyment. I continue to cherish the relationships I have, both old and new and constantly think of ways that I can build those relationships. As an avid gamer in the past, I chose to put that hobby behind me to pursue more productive hobbies that have greater social implications. Hiking, instruments, photo and video production continue to be emerging hobbies for me as I push into my 30s.
I was able to spend some time at the house where I grew up and where my folks still currently live. I haven’t been home for 5 years and from hearing the stories and walking around the neighborhood I was able to relish a bit of my childhood. I grew up on Edgewood avenue and was a latchkey kid growing up, babysat by a family friend occasionally on Elf Road. Someone put an elf on Elf Road! Love it.
I hopped into my folk’s Beamer and took it for a “test drive” around. I think I’m definitely picking one up when I get back to Hawaii in May. Totally sold on the Ultimate Driving machine once again. It’s been a while since I had the 330ci at Fort Leonard Wood.
South Mountain Arena on Northfield Ave has a changed quite a bit. From being just a NJ Devils practice rink and go-to graduation spot for those that attended West Orange Mountain High School it now sports a 2 mile track around a pond, a zoo (again, Turtle Back was closed for a long time due to renovations), and a zip-line in the woods nearby. There was also an education center but since it was closed I wasn’t able to check it out. The McDonald’s hasn’t changed at all and it was a staple in my childhood since my grandparents would always take me there.
St. Cloud school, a K-5 grade school it was a place of great memories growing up. From playing O-U-T, 4-square, arguing with my folks over the “celebration of Halloween” and simply a place I ran away from home once to (don’t ask) there is so much nostalgia here. I also first fell in love with chicken patties here and the practice of mixing ketchup with mayo. It was at this gymnasium I learned how to play bean-bag spin and dodgeball.
Lastly, I was able to walk around with my folks and Casper. Casper’s getting older but he’s still pretty spunky. I think the transition is complete between the folks and me – they’re definitely his owners now after all these years. He’ll play and jump on me but at the end of the day, he sleeps in their bed. Oh well, that’s life right?
DISCLAIMER: None of the links provided are to advocate for one company or another. This is merely to provide reference from a personal perspective.
Video Summary Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bXz-d8DsHo&feature=youtu.be
The idea started with a buddy attempting to revive a dream from the time he was deployed in Saudi Arabia. When he suggested that we climb Mount Kilimanjaro the idea stuck with me. Otherwise known as the Roof of Africa and one of the Seven Summits, Kilimanjaro stands at a towering 5,895 meters or 19,341 feet at its peak. That’s higher than Mount Everest’s base camp! Local laws dictate the use of professionally certified guides for the climb, it is illegal to climb without using a guide service so we looked around and decided on using Ultimate Kilimanjaro (http://www.ultimatekilimanjaro.com/). They have a few testimonial videos on their website supporting wounded veterans and celebrities so we figured it’d be a safe bet. We chose the 8-day Lemosho route. The max size for a group is 12 and we had 10 in ours. It was a mix of Americans, Canadians and UK peeps. Below is a picture of the group, from left to right Vicki, Bruce, Steve, Ryan, Sue, Neha, Mike, Jared, Erin and myself. This was the first day of actual trekking but more on that later on.
Arrival into Dar es Salaam was hectic – people everywhere, no lines and papers flying around the arrival gate. Best of luck grabbing one of those pieces of paper to fill out and apply for a visa. Cash only, bring $100 USD. The country prefers dollars over the Shilling and we saw that evident everywhere. It takes approximately 30mins – 2 hours to process through the visa process. We hopped onto the connecting flight into Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO) where we were picked up by an Ultimate Kilimanjaro (UK) representative. The bus ride to the Stella Maris hotel (http://stellamarislodge.com/) took approximately 35 minutes. There we received a quick familiarization brief on the hike and were able to request additional equipment. Walking poles cost an extra $20 and sleeping bags cost $50. I recommend bringing your own if possible for quality purposes. The sleeping bag you bring does NOT need to be inside your duffel bag. I found this out on day 6 unfortunately, since they put your duffel and the sleeping bag into a water proof bag of their own before the porters carry it. That’s 6 frustrating days of unpacking my entire bag’s contents and stuffing my sleep system into it. Checking in was a painless process and the rooms were amazing. Two beds to a room, it had a mosquito net and the mattresses were tempurpedic material. We had a great view of the objective from our balcony.
The adventure starts early the next day at 0800. The buses were loaded after bag weigh-in, they are strict on the 15KG weight (but you can get around it by overloading your day pack on day 1). The first leg of the journey is to Londrossi Gate for registration at Kilimanjaro National Park and then a ride to Lemosho Gate to start (see first pic). Day 1 is easy, it’s only half a day to the first camp at 9,500 ft. It’s a stairway to heaven climb, I recommend walking poles for the entire trek, you won’t regret it. Keep in mind your group is one of several hundred that are trying to reach the same camp. Around you will be other hikers and even faster will be the porters that carry equipment from the lower to higher elevations. Pure speed demons, they will only grunt “jambo” at you before swiftly side-stepping you. The terrain is mostly rainforest and dirt paths for the 1st climate zone, hot and humid.
The first stop is Mti Mkubwa at 2,895m/9,498ft around 1200 hours. Short half-day climb that lets everyone know that this will be a serious hike. The follow-on days will follow the same format, sign-in on location and then locate your own tent. We were glad that we didn’t overpack the day pack and found our tent easily. The rest of the time is yours to relax, chat and get to know the other people we were climbing with. Snacks and Kilimanjaro PREMIUM tea is always provided in the mess tent.
After settling down for the night, day 2 is a 0800-1300 climb. Wake up was 0630 hours for a quick wash, hot water was provided and then breakfast. ASK for the spanish omelet! I wish I had known this early on, it remains my favorite to this day. The temperate climate on day 2 is the same as day 1, t-shirt and pants/shorts. The Shira Camp 1 lies in a valley between mountain ranges and provides a great view of the summit if clouds are not blocking the view and will be the stopping point at 3,505m/11,500ft. The climb was a lot of up, some down, but mostly up. Think stairmaster. If you didn’t like the stairmaster before the trip, you’ll hate it even more now. The up-side was the scenery – breathtaking with a lot of picture opportunities provided you can whip the camera out fast enough during the hike. After the stop, there is enough day light to explore the area to check out the foliage and a small stream at the base of the camp.
Day 3 we departed camp and set foot through moorland-type terrain with the mountain in the background. Hats off to mother nature for providing an excellent and unobstructed view of the summit.
After the desert trek which is mostly flat for two hours, we moved onto a ridge line encompassed by white-tipped bush and rocks. The incline climb lasted approximately another 2 hours and there was a nice stop in a cave along the way. On top of the ridge-line there was an awesome Eco-system in the mountain with water and grass that grew inside smaller caves. Moir Hut is the final stop for the day at 4,200m/13,800ft which sits in the middle of a glacier recession point (a Geology major might be able to provide the technical term here). We reached there at lunch, took a short break then did an acclimatization climb another 1000 feet up a trail to the ridge line. Beautiful views. The climb for this day was a test in intestinal fortitude, certain parts of the climb required all fours and was a distance trek. By the end of the day every just passed out but I did end up grabbing a night sky shot. After this night, I put the DSLR away for the treks, in hindsight I wish I hadn’t.
Day 4 we took off from Moir Hut in the opposite direction up an 45-50 degree angle mixed in with all porters and other groups. The climb looked like a giant traffic jam. After a quick 20 minute climb the trail flattens out as we circled the mountain and walked through the clouds. Approximately 2 hours is spent circling around the mountain, on the left you have Uhuru Peak standing out prominently and on the right you have the city and countryside below with clouds hanging overhead. The last part of the trek gets difficult as you head up towards Lava Tower at an altitude of 15,100 feet (15,200 if you climb the actual tower like I did). This will be the highest altitude you reach until base camp on summit day which is 15,300 feet. We were told that we if felt good here, it would be a promising road ahead. After a quick lunch at Lava Tower, we prepared for the descent through clouds. The trail was flush full of green plants in contrast to the rocky climb at the beginning of the hike. Prepare yourself for nosebleeds as the air starts to become extremely dry. It was a straight descent through clouds until Barranco Wall. Halfway through the descent we had to pull out the rain gear. Barranco Camp puts you right at the base of the wall. What we saw was a straight uphill climb with a giant cliff drop on the right. Take the time to explore here if you have any energy left, it’s worth it. Sue was gracious enough to lead a short yoga session for some of us. Definitely welcomed, especially the pigeon! Oh, bring some cards – some fun memories came from a couple of friendly card games that night.
Day 5 started off with the usual fight against the stuff sack and repack of the duffle. The guides pushed the wakeup time an hour back but I honestly felt no difference. Once the party was ready to move, we headed off across a few streams and started the Barranco Wall climb. [GoPro video to follow soon!] The process was slow because of the porters and other groups. I highly recommend wearing gloves since certain parts of the wall are technical climbs requiring hands and feet. The rest of the trek also had technical elements to it but nothing that required putting away the trekking poles for again. There was a brief stop way up above the clouds at a great scenic view point where we practiced our jump shots and where we found out that some can jump more naturally than others 😀 After that it became an up and down trek ending at Karanga Camp located on a ridge overlooking the city of Moshi; elevation 3,995m/13,106ft. The most impressive part of this climb was seeing where the last natural water source was located, in a draw just below the ridge 1,000ft down where porters constantly milled back and forth carrying water jugs up for us. Seeing that shut me up from complaining the rest of the time. The second impressive part was one of our own that imagined my ass for that of a woman’s as his motivation to complete the day’s hike. Definitely a first for me. The day ends around 1500 hours giving us enough day light to explore the ridge line and see the sun set over the city.
On Day 6 we kicked off with breakfast and another routine health check with the friendly neighborhood pulse oximeter before heading straight up the ridge. A nice 45 degree angle to get the juices flowing, can’t get a break on leg day here! We shot up and across loose dirt and volcanic rocks with a final 300ft climb up to Barafu Camp, the final stop before the summit. The first thing you’ll notice is the wind! It cuts hard across the camp at 4,673m/15,331ft. As always, the tents were up and we just had to sign in before we could take a quick nap. We ate lunch, took another 3 hour nap, ate dinner and were told to sleep until 2330 hours when it was time to assault the summit. Between the adrenaline and thoughts of reaching the summit, it was extremely hard to catch shut eye.
At exactly 2330, the team suited up (5 top layers, and an arbitrary 4 bottom) and met in the mess tent. We were given snacks and some black tea for the 9 hour trek ahead of us. As we followed our guides to the summit, we saw a trail of torches (headlamps) also headed up the same path. We were always able to see what the path was ahead of us since multiple tour groups illuminated the way ahead. Over time, groups of torches would pull to the side as their clients couldn’t continue on and soon we all were feeling the toll that a lack of oxygen takes on the body. Until we actually started climbing, it was hard to anticipate the challenges – I just kept my head down staring at the boots ahead of me and every now and then pushing for a short piss break. By the time we hit our first checkpoint, Stella Point I barely could recall events happening around me. For many, this was the final stop since groups were turning their clients around as they saw Acute Mountain Sickness set in.
To my discredit, I cannot remember taking this picture but I’m glad we captured the sign! Once we started moving again towards Uhuru (Freedom) Peak, I found myself without a headlamp which was replaced by a GoPro on my head. The sun was just below the horizon at this point giving the mountain an eerie blue and gold glow. To the left of us were the glaciers, barely visible and to the right was a long drop off into the crater. The cool factor was that as we continued to ascend, the sun ascended with us. In the last 100 yards, I reached into the bag and pulled out my flag that has been with me since I joined the service. Steve assisted me and jokingly commented that one of the stars represented the Pikey state. Sorry if that offends anyone but it cracked me up and as soon as I started laughing, one of our guides snatched the flag and started sprinting up the ascent. It was a glorious moment, seeing his enthusiasm and I was almost overwhelmed with emotion having reached this pinnacle of my life.
The burst of motivation cleared the mind and all senses were on alert – looking around the view was incredible. Uhuru peak was quiet, almost in reverence to the power of the mountain that can create its own climate, break the health and will of humans and stand as the highest point on the continent of Africa. As we took our final steps to the marker, the rocks crunched beneath our feet from frost that had not yet melted from exposure to the sun, some sobbed softly while others carried a solemn look on their face that bore the memory of having just assaulted up a 20 degree slope for the past 6 hours to reach this point. I can only imagine the the thoughts of others as my mind was comprehending the crucible I had just passed.
When our chance finally came to take a group shot, we had maybe 5 minutes to take all the pictures we wanted. Other groups behind us were finally experiencing AMS and they wanted to be up and off the summit. Eunji and Zoey, your picture is there and it’s buried about 50 meters in the ground under a rock behind the sign post. Maybe one day we can find it when Zoey is old enough.
Overall the experience was exhilarating and definitely a worthy challenge for anyone that loves to hike but doesn’t want to learn anything too technical. Diamox is key, so is sunblock ~50SPF keeps the doctors at bay, baby wipes are key and bringing enough layers is perhaps one of the most important aspects of this climb. Lastly, pick a company that you feel comfortable with – on a trip like this, paying more is actually worth more. Safe travels, until the next adventure!
Below is the summary of our route with the stops.
Featured Gear for the trip:
Backpack: Kelty Redwing 32 (http://www.amazon.com/Kelty-Redwing-32-Liter-Backpack/dp/B00GZHVEV6). Great backpack at 2lbs 8oz. Selling points for me were the two water bottle slots, trekking pole slots and a camelback-friendly loop through the top. Recommend the rain cover as well, not included with backpack.
Boots: Merrell’s Moab Mid (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00132GBRU?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00). Goretex on the outside worked great when it was wet and kept the boots durable the entire trek.
Jacket: North Face Men’s Resolve Jacket (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008DJPJ8S?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00). Light-weight, durable and comfortable all I had to worry about were my internal layers.
DuffleBag: North Face Base Camp Duffel (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00WI09NLW?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00). The quality of this bag was of utmost importance especially since it was being thrown around a lot. The bag held up to the challenge and was extremely easy to pack.
TL;DR: Worthwhile broadening experience, use Triposo App and you can avoid using local guides that just talk to you anyways, budget $1000 for a comfortable time, be prepared to negotiate everything.
Over Labor Day weekend some friends and I decided to take a 4-day vacation to some place in this part of the world. After all, how often would we fly all the way from the states? Usually when you fly from the states to a similar part of the world you would rather go to Thailand or Moldives. Sri Lanka is a small island located southeast off the tip of India. The capital is Colombo and the airport is about 45 minutes north of the city by highway. It costs around $33 or 4550 Sri Lankan Rupees (SRL) one way.
Before our arrival, we pre-arranged for a rental car from Sixt. Since I wasn’t involved with the selection of the rental car, on arrival we found out that they sent a driver to pick us up from the airport to bring us to their company which is located in downtown Colombo. This might be an important detail for someone planning to use a rental car. There are some rental car and SIM card booths outside of customs at the airport if anyone needed to do last minute planning. It’s also important to note that in Sri Lanka everyone drives on the left side of the road and the driver sits in the right side of the vehicle. My buddy who never drove in this part of the world before picked it up pretty quickly.
In fact we made it a point system for him to “level up” since he compared driving to a game of frogger where you are the car instead of a frog. We rented a Hyundai Sante Fe from Sixt for $250 [you can find my review on Tripadvisor] with a $750 security deposit. From there we drove straight out to Dambulla, stopping by the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage along the way. The elephants were being herded around by handlers wielding pikes with sharpened tips.
You can see my Tripadvisor review for details. The orphanage takes about 1 hour to experience, has feeding opportunities and a souvenir shop for the cost of 2500 SRL. Parking across the street actually costs 100 SRL despite no signs stating that. Being a skeptic of South Asian countries and the difficulty discerning between scammers and legitimate business practices I’m not sure you have to pay if you don’t want to. Fighting the payment would only be a matter of principle since 100 SRL is less than $1. The drive from Colombo to Dambulla totaled about 5 hours because of traffic and the two lane road the entire drive. At the end of our destination was the Heritance Kandalama, a hotel/resort set into the side of a mountain. We were told it was off-season and paid about $116 for the night. The hotel came with free amenities such as an infiniti pool but also has a spa, breakfast and dinner buffet.
After settling in for the night, the next morning we checked out and drove out to nearby Sigiriya to climb Lion Rock fortress. I definitely recommend an early arrival time to avoid the long wait times and the heat. We got there a little later around 9am and it was already nut to butt climbing up the mountain. I also recommend wearing comfortable shoes because although the path is straightforward, be prepared to stand on your feet for a long time. Do not get a “guide” they don’t do anything for you unless you absolutely want another companion.
Climbing Lion Rock was an amazing experience, especially since it was declared a World Heritage site. It also has an amazing backstory. After completing the climb, we rolled back to Dambulla to visit The Golden Temple. This was probably the only attraction in the entire town as everything else we passed by in the town was shack stores with fruits and electronics. Entrance to the Golden Temple costs 1,500 SRL and requires a lengthy climb to the top, half the length of Lion’s Rock though. Meanwhile, on the way up you have to negotiate peddlers, stray dogs and monkeys. At the top, you must take off your shoes and you are given the option of paying 25 SRL or putting your shoes in your backpack. There are five caves to explore and I recommend reading about them beforehand so you know what you are looking at and can appreciate the experience.
After we left the temple we commenced the long drive back to Colombo. Along the way, there are plenty of side shops for snacks and breaks. We checked into the Cinnamon Red hotel in downtown district 03 for $106 a night. The hotel included a roof top bar, breakfast/dinner buffet, gym and another “infinity pool”. The feel of the hotel is incredibly modern and it was also rated the best HISCA 2015 Best Hotel for the Mid Market Segment.
If it is your first time visiting Sri Lanka, I highly recommend this hotel as a starting point for your stay. At night, we checked out Bally’s Casino – it’s a free taxi ride from the hotel to the casino for obvious reasons. Not too impressed with the place, no bonus for sign-up, one room casino with a stage for entertainment and terrible table service. We stayed there for 6 hours and only got 3 drinks and a hookah. The hookah was initially denied by a server (told me it was broken) until I chatted with the manager puffing on one and she finally gave me one. Blackjack was a 500SRL/$3 buy-in minimum though. The next morning we “attempted” to scuba dive but weren’t able to wake up in time so just grabbed breakfast and a cab down to Mount Lavian beach front for 1,600 SRL. Cab took us to the Mount Lavian hotel since it was the most recognizable land mark and we walked the beach from there. We went up the north end and it had small chinese and local restaurants. The restaurant we ate at was non-descript but definitely had great food. Waves were about 2-5m high because of monsoon season which was awesome but there was trash floating around the water. Getting to the beach and back to the mainroad for transportation requires crossing a two-way railroad track that has actively running trains. On the way off the beach, locals will try to talk to you acting as a “guide” then demand money at the end of the conversation. We had one talk to us but we left him on the side of the street after he grabbed us tuktuks.
From Mount Lavian we went to Majestic City mall. The local mall had your assortment of fake everything like electronics, shoes, bags and jewelry but there was one unique one in there called Run Ruwan that sold sandblasted paintings, local stone jewelry and trinkets for reasonable prices. It’s located on the 2nd or 3rd floor. Maybe it was because it’s a Sunday or the selection of fake stuff was overwhelming but we were done with the mall in 1 hour. The only other things there were a movie theater that played both local and American movies on the top floor and a small child amusement park on the bottom floor. Going back to the Cinnamon Red cost 200 SRL and was a mix between negotiation and pressure from a police officer to move. Trick is to set your price, realize when you might be a little low but keep moving through the drivers. Some business is better than no business.
That night we went to eat at Park Side Mews, just north of the park near the hotel. You could either take a taxi car for 625 SRL like we did or walk 10 minutes through the park and out the north entrance onto Park street. Park St is pretty hip with classy restaurants and lounges. Prices are reasonable and still cheaper than a US equivalent.
That pretty much concluded our stay, the next morning we checked out after having breakfast and grabbed the hotel taxi back to the airport. Sri Lanka was a great place to visit for 4-days and especially a great way to temporarily increase your purchasing power (refer to The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris).
To date I’ve had the chance to test this sweet ride for 3 weeks. I was lucky enough to have a friend that linked me to the product and I have to say it’s definitely a piece of life-changing technology. Like Beats by Dre or wireless headphones this technology can definitely be incorporated into daily life, the question is only whether or not anyone is willing to lean forward and adopt it. Weighing 22lbs and with a top speed of 6km, this is a very portable transportation device. So far, news media has shown only celebrities rocking these hoverboards (see Justin Bieber, Wiz Khalifa, and the unfortunate cameraman that knocked out Usain Bolt.) Celebrities are not the only ones these hoverboards cater to, it has pragmatic applications for the everyday person. Commuters are already implementing these devices into their daily routine because they are as efficient (both in fuel and cost) when compared to bicycles but smaller, practical and can be ridden up all the way to the cubicle. CEOs and employees have already incorporated it into their routines as a method to increase productivity hours during office hours. The basic concept is that the quicker it takes for an employee to get to the water cooler and back to the keyboard, the more work they can accomplish.
Then…. 2 days ago I got the Sipone S1. The difference between the previous version and this one is night and day. Whereas the previous version was straight-forward in control functions (lean forward to go forward, backwards left and right) this one has a different stabalizer and price point. My buddy called it the “Lamborghini” of the hoverboards, and it sure as hell feels like one. The stabalizer for one auto-compensates for the forward-lean when moving forward and backwards, allowing the user to increase the previous speed of 6km to 12km. Unfortunately, it comes up just short of $1,000 and would be hard for most to justify the cost when the previous version is just as practical. The Sipone S1 is the definitely for those with richer tastes but for the average user the smart hoverboard is just as good.
When I saw this article pop-up today I couldn’t help but feel a sense of disbelief that a 15-year old received 25 years to life for his prank on another gamer… that is until I scrolled down and saw the amount of injury inflicted on the victims. Stepping back a little I don’t know where in this society we have lost sight of humanity when it comes to video games. Having grown up playing video games, first with my father during the early days of Wolfenstein 3D and then later venturing off on my own playing games like Digger and Diablo I have always kept the virtual world separate from reality. Even as games like Call of Duty, HALO and Counter-strike came out that expanded the envelope of online gaming and instilled competition amongst gamers, once that console turn off or you pressed ALT + F4 that was it. You got up off the chair and went on to live your life.
Somewhere along the way, gamers have lost the ability to distinct between reality and the virtual. Their pride, ego and sense of self-worth have all been rolled up into one single identity. Games are supposed to be providing escape, not identity. It’s supposed to be a hobby where one can enjoy themselves for a few minutes to a few hours. Today, the youth of our nation strive to be at the top of these virtual ladders thinking that it translates into real worth. While I feel compassion for this kid who didn’t know any better, I can only ask, “where are the parents?” Why have they not been more involved with this kid’s life, guided him and raised him to rise above such petty and dangerous actions? It’s too late now.
It’s never too late to look back into your past and see what was the current state of operations. Found this 2010 reflection before I kicked off my military career.
“Reflections of a civilian.
I’ve never imagined a life in the military. All my life through high school I always held a negative view of it – believing what one person told me ‘that the bottom 10% of our high school class fights our wars’. Then, at the beginning of my junior year when I was deciding on colleges, my father suggested that I apply to West Point and become an officer. I half-halfheartedly did so and to my surprise I secured my Senatorial recommendations and passed the entrance process. But as senior year passed, I heard my friends talk about college and all the glory of the social scene: drugs, alcohol, and popularity and I lost sight of my goal. Plus, I also was involved in a relationship that I didn’t want to end so eventually, being that I had only applied to USMA and Rutgers as my backup (I wrote “Hi.” for my essay), I gave up on West Point and started freshman year at RU.
Looking back, four years of drinking and the social life did nothing for me in the REAL world. Yes, I learned the different types of alcohol and ways to mix it – hot spots in the city – made many acquaintances and even learned how to build my own computer.. however, for what? Even with an internship at the prosecutor’s office junior through senior year I still could not form my future with all the mosaic pieces I acquired. All my experience was for nothing. One redeeming factor from college was the blessing of having met an amazing person who turned my life around. A person who took all of my preconceptions of what “fun” college is supposed to be, showed me how poisonous that lifestyle was, and showed me what purpose I should have in life. This person turned my life 180 and propelled me in the opposite direction. I am not discounting all other influences my friends have had on my life, but this was the most profound.
Therefore, my first goal after obtaining my BA was to acquire a job. Easier said than done. As amazing my resume was (i kid i kid), none of it landed a job for me. In fact, it wasn’t my BA that got me my first job, it was my hobby on the side, my EMT certification that landed my first 9-5. To this day, had I not had that I could have been working Mickey D’s at $8/hr for all I know. For this, I am thankful to my father who pushed me to be “well-rounded” in high school and helped me become an EMT. With this job I then reached my second goal, obtaining “liquidable income.” It manifested itself in the form of my beloved Honda Accord Coupe. My first purchase, milestone, and major accomplishment. I now had something completely owned by myself, something I alone was responsible for.
I was unhappy with my current situation. I knew my calling wasn’t to be an EMT. I went through college to become a lawyer! But, again, with advice my father gave me since I was young, I kept all my options opened and applied everywhere for a job. Spread enough seed and something will grow is the Confucian saying. Uncle James passed away in March. He was a Colonel in the Army. My family went to his funeral in Hawaii and was immediately welcomed by all sorts of uniformed personnel. Through all the accommodations provided to us a new understanding of the Army developed and I immediately applied through a recruiter when I returned home.
As time passed, applications and phone calls led to interviews and as interviews led to dead-ends I didn’t want to be one of ‘those guys’ who joined the Army because they had nothing else going for them. I promised myself I would find purpose for joining, purpose for being a part of the strongest fighting force in the world.
It wasn’t until 2 months ago that I finally found that purpose. After my first job, I realized I could not live the tedious, repetitive 9-5/ M-F job. It was all too boring and held no purpose for me. I wanted a life with meaning. We get one shot at this life, I wanted to leave a positive mark in this world.
So without further ado, HOOAH.”
Bangpodae-gyo Bridge in Seoul
Intro. A while ago, well, almost 2 years ago on July 2011 I arrived in Korea to start my brand new career in the real military. Coming to Korea was just almost a full year of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the mandatory Army Basic Training, Officer Candidate School, and by chance selection, Airborne training. My knowledge base was theoretical and my military experience pool shallow. What I did have with me, (2 years later I consider this indispensable) was my common sense, morals and values, and real world living experience from my early teenager years through college graduation. What further developed me was the year I spent after college graduation as an frictionally unemployed young adult working as a per diem Emergency Medical Technician in the inner city of Newark and the less gangsta West Orange suburb. The close contact I had with individuals experiencing real pain and suffering gave me a real lens with which to view life on earth and awoken my own sense of empathy.
Empathy. Standing For What’s Right. Taking Care of Soldiers. Building Positive and Productive Interpersonal Relationships.
The above would describe the main concepts experienced and reinforced during my 2 years in this awesome country. These are now deeply ingrained in my mental psyche as necessary concepts to be grasped in order to be not only a positive, but EFFECTIVE leader.
Empathy. I responded to 911 emergency calls from when I was 16 until I turned 23 and saw real people experiencing real pain during their weakest moments. I held a 1-month old baby and felt his heart stop beating when died in my arms while performing infant CPR. I caught myself wondering what his eyes would have looked like if he ever had the chance to open them. I watched jocks cry after splinting their arm, leg, and popping back a dislocated shoulder. I knelt over a young black male holding pressure over his chest wound and felt his sense of betrayal while he kept asking me how his daughter could stab her father and where that “bitch” was now. There was a 53 year old lady that I met once in passing at a nursing home only for me to return the following week and hold her hand as she passed from this world to the next because the doctors never fully evaluated her medication list for contraindications. Heart and liver failure that could have been prevented. Leadership failure. I asked myself how those entrusted as doctors could be so callous towards their patients and felt my trust in them dwindle away. I spent some time at Kessler, where Superman Christopher Reeves spent time rehabilitating and watched others with similar challenges conquer their new life without legs and arms while others failed and cried themselves to sleep in their hopelessness. These are but a fragment of my medical experiences that have shaped my understanding of others. To this day I am thankful for my medical background and continually find myself scrutinizing the actions of medical “professionals”.
Standing For What’s Right. I attribute a lot of this to my father. Growing up in the L. household was never easy, but it was also one of the greatest learning experiences I could have had (in hindsight). I had a Christian background, we attended church every Sunday which gave way to an establishment of a moral base. While I do not consider myself a fanatic, I do believe there are solid principles to live upon found in the Bible. It’s hard to know where the fence that divides the fields of right and wrong are when you don’t know where you stand. An early moral base gave me perspective to see what immorality looked like. As I grew up and different experiences shaped my perspectives, I still held onto a senseof what is generally right and what is absolutely wrong. This perspective helped me sort myself, and sometimes others out in my early career. We are provided with Army regulations and policies, sworn to uphold them as officers, and defy them when they are immoral, unjust, and unethical. For many as I have come to learn, without the proper lens of right and wrong, it is almost impossible to define what is immoral, unjust, or unethical. For many, their moral base was formed from a life of hardship and trying to get by, therefore their attitude is “do whatever is necessary” regardless of morals or ethics. On the other end of the spectrum, others have not lived life fully to this point and as a result have not yet established what side of the fence they stand and live to the letter of the law, never understanding the spirit of the law. As leaders, we must have a strong foundation based on morals and ethics from which to draw from. Only we as the individual can create the base, for without the base, experiences that are suppose to shape our perspectives will instead blow us east to west, north to south, and keep us disoriented when we are supposed to be the ones providing purpose, motivation, and direction.
Taking Care of Soldiers. More important than me were the lives of those I led. This encompassed their personal and professional life. A book I read back in OCS was the Mission, the Men, and Me by Pete Blaber.
After reading this book, I never forgot the principles presented in it and applied them towards my own leadership standards. I was inspired to take care of Soldier issues – unfair flagging of admin action, prolonged investigations that affect the Soldier’s DEROs. Why, for the love of God, keep Soldiers extended past their tour of duty away from their loved ones because of completely unsubstantiated erroneous accusations? Why chase after chapter packets on Soldiers who are about to ETS in 2 months? As not just a leader, but a resource manager, I find the allocation of manpower hours appalling and detrimental to the overall mission. Taking care of Soldiers leads directly into my last concept.
Building Positive and Productive Interpersonal Relationships. This is one of the most important, IMPORTANT concepts of life. This extends far past just the military. Everyone should have learned this while climbing or falling off the social ladder during middle and high school. Relationships matter, at all levels, regardless of rank, race, or position. I recognize that the military is a hierarchy and runs efficiently when properly executed as a result. It is not a surprise when all para-military organizations use the Army as a standard when shaping their own organizational culture. However, there are times to set rank aside and just be real with those you work with. I cannot count how many times I have had to rely on a vast network of friends and acquaintances to accomplish the mission. A few quick things that come to mind are my PSG expending volumes of his own personal gas in order to secure 10 signatures so my platoon can conduct high quality training, acquiring not just ammunition but all the pyrotechnics for field craft, and lastly one that I will always remember, the last minute coming together of a Black Hawk re-enlistment for my Air Assault Non Commissioned Officer. KCCO to that one 2LT D.H if you ever read this. The Army has a long list of regulations and policies for processes and rightfully so to establish accountability, but when email and paperwork get sucked into a black hole, its the relationships that remain. The list of last minute coming throughs extends for another mile or so but if I continued on it would end up in a black hole as well. So to save time and resources I’ll conclude with my real exiting thoughts.
Exiting Thoughts. In the two years I have had influential leaders above me, to the side, and under me. I’ve had my share of negative and toxic leadership as well. The Army provides a broad blanket description of toxic leaders, but I consider anyone who does not leave an organization or position better than when they left it (thanks Dad, you told me this since day 1 of my life) a toxic leader. If you just exist, then you are not productive. We are called to be far more than managers, as United States Army Officers we have volunteered to lead the young men and women of this country and as such must conform to higher standards than just the average corporate manager. We must excel at our position in everything from weapons proficiency, physical fitness, tactics, technical and intellectual understanding of equipment, to executing professional emails and memorandums. Anything we touch to the way we look and present ourselves has meaning. Some have forgotten that. I never look down on anyone that cannot meet the standard, but I have written those off that have stopped trying. Imagine if a Spartan had lost the will to fight in the phalanx; do you think his brothers would forgive him so easily for decaying the integrity of their corps? There are lives, careers, and lifelong development resting on our actions. I am tired after this 2 year run, I am looking forward to vacation with family and friends as a reset before I continue my career back at TRADOC. There I am determined to continue positively influencing leaders, peers, and subordinates. I am content with dropping the unfinished baggage here in Korea and taking my beautiful wife and my one 60″ TV with me back stateside.
Thank you to my fellow Lieutenants for your endless friendship and resource support, thank you to two of my previous commanding officers for continuing to set the standard and taking the time to develop me as a leader, but lastly and ultimately (now I can finally understand why every speech always ends with the wife) thank you to my wife for supporting me and my career even when the endstate isn’t clear, having faith in us, and always keeping a cold beer in the fridge for me when I get home at whatever time it may be.
The US Visa Immigration Application Process
Disclaimer: This details my own personal experience with the system and in no way guarantees your process. Given our unique dispositions, attitudes, and interpersonal communication skills every experience will be different.
This blog assumes you have already followed USFK guidance on enrolling your spouse into the DBIDS military system and all the subsequent steps following your marriage.
January was when I decided to file for a US immigration visa for Elise. It was all new to me and my experience in the matter comprised of small hearsay gathered from various sources. I decided to go straight to the source and emailed the contact off the USCIS – Korea website (easily found off Google). I received an email back from a Mr. Leigh who was more than helpful in assisting me with a “to-do list which I had to compile for the initial petition.
We already had most of the documents in Korean so Elise translated to English in the same format with bars and graphs and I took them to a Mrs. Choi at the Camp Humphreys legal office. She is certified to, well…certify translated documents and does it with a two-day turnaround. With documents in hand I withdrew $420 in cash ad picked a day to go to the US Embassy through the infopass.uscis.gov website. Make sure you print out your appointment slip.
The US Embassy is located off Exit 2 at the Gwanghwamun (광화문) station, Line 5 and the USCIS office is located on the 3rd Floor. Be prepared to bring a copy of the appointment print out when you go, I was not aware of this so I made a call to Mr. Leigh who spoke to security and let us in. Security will confiscate your electronic devices so be prepared for that. The process was fairly painless: we arrived on the 3rd floor where I presented my documents to a woman (there was no wait) and after briefly reviewing them and adding corrections in red pen. I’m making the assumption if there was something you don’t know when filing the I-130 or G-325A to leave it blank. It’s much easier to add than cross out and have to reprint. Once the corrections were made the woman sent me to the cashier on the second floor to remit $420 payment. You can go straight to the cashier window for payment.
After I brought my payment receipt back up to the 3rd FL, I received instructions to wait for further email instruction that will arrive in 3-4 weeks that will require your spouse to complete a medical screening and police background check.
More to follow when I receive those instructions.
The day is almost here and I would love for you guys to celebrate it with us! There will be a wedding ceremony and buffet afterwards!
All the information is included in the photos – if you have any questions just call me at 010-7365-2356 or message me. Hope to see you there!
Lastly, here is the mobile link to our wedding invitation online – you can view it through your phone too: http://mcard.bhandscard.com/caleb_eunji
If you are driving, this is the address:
The House Wedding Hall [House Garden], 17th Floor
1413-1414 Finance Building, Dunsan-Dong, Seo-Gu, Daejeon, Korea
Below are the directions (English and Korean) for those who are taking the train:
Hope to see you guys there!