Friday, January 06, 2006

So here I sit...only a matter of days before I climb aboard a C-17 and make the long ride over to the sand box. My friends and family keep asking me, "How do you feel?", "Are you excited?", "Are you nervous?", and ofcourse, "Is there any fear?"

Anxious. Yeah. Not really. Nope.

To be honest, I'm rather ambivolent about the whole thing. I mean, sure, I'm getting ready to fly into a war zone...on purpose. But all in all, I'm really not too concerned about it. I'm more concerned about being away from my daughter for three months. You want to talk about fear? Fear is not knowing if your beautiful little girl will know who you are when you get back. That's what weighs the heaviest on my mind. Not the bombs, bullets, and bad guys...but the confused look on a little girl's face when a strange man walks into a room.

Everyone tells me not to worry about it, that even if she does, within an hour of me being back, it'll be like I never left. And you know, I really want to believe that. I really do. But it doesn't quell that nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. It just doesn't. And what's worse, is I have absolutely no life experience to fall back internal wisdom to ease my conscience. For the first time in my life, I'm completely and utterly on unfamiliar ground. For almost thirty years, I've trudged through life, picking up experience here, there, and everywhere...and about everything.

But this.

If only there was a way to slit a hole in the universe and slip back and forth; sandbox by day, daughter's bedside by night.

Unfortunately, there's not. So, I've done the next best thing. I dug out a tripod, set up the video camera, and gave her a good 40 minutes of my neurotic babbling, conveniently burned to a DVD. If anything, she'll have a permanent recollection of some goofy guy rambling on about the same thing over and over for three months. Poor thing...she'll probably be scarred for life.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The time was two years ago. The place was a sidewalk along the outer perimeter of The Mall in Washington D.C., with the affectionately known "tooth pick" leering in the distance. I was walking; having a conversation about the definition of irony. Sometimes, it's such an elusive concept to put into words. Ask five people and you'll get five different definitions, but give five different people an ironic situation, and they'll all recognize it. Odd how that works.

Well, it seems I've found myself in just one of those situations. One dripping with irony, and easy to spot.

After eight years in the military, and two years out....I'm finally going to a war zone.

As a civilian.


Sunday, December 04, 2005
Operation Care Package

Friends & Family,

The year of 2005 is quickly coming to a close. We’ve just had our first long weekend to spend with our family, gobbling up as much turkey and gravy as humanly possible, and pondering those things we’re all thankful for. In the weeks to come, the engine of capitalism will be operating at full capacity. We’ll flock to the malls and department stores, slinging cash and credit cards like there’s no tomorrow. We’ll get yet another long Christmas weekend, followed soon after by the dawn of the New Year. But all the while, there are 160,000 men and women, young and old, currently fighting the wind, sand and hosts of unsavory characters in Iraq. They won’t get a long weekend. They won’t get to sit around, peacefully enjoying the holiday season with their friends and family.

Instead, they’ll find themselves on patrol, in a convoy, or on a security detail. The extent of their holiday will be a brief meal in a crowded chow hall, tinged with an air of uncertainty; and a Kevlar helmet, flak jacket, and M-16 at their side. This holiday season I ask that you take just a moment, and remember those men and women. Try to think about, and understand, the sacrifice that they have made. Look at where you are in your own life, look at all that around you this Christmas, and imagine for one second what it might feel like to have it all replaced with the grit and sand of a far-off desert.

Now ask yourself, “Do I have $25 dollars to spare?” If the answer is yes, and I can almost guarantee it is, I want you to take a look at the following website: It is home to the USO’s Operation Care Package. For a minimal donation of $25 you can sponsor a care package and include a personal message of support and encouragement to one of the troops deploying, or already deployed, overseas. These USO Care Packages, at minimum, include requested items such as pre-paid worldwide phone cards, sunscreen, travel size toiletries, disposable camera and a message from the donor thanking them for their service and sacrifice. For the veterans among you, I don’t need to tell you how important these seemingly insignificant items are when you’re deployed. For those of you that aren’t, let me just say, these items would most likely bring the same reaction as that which you might have when you get that 42” plasma TV on Christmas day!

I know everyone has varying opinions and politics regarding the war in Iraq, but what should not vary is the degree of appreciation and support we show those men and women. They know no politics. They don’t have the luxury of agreeing or disagreeing with the war. They are the war. They put their lives on the line each and every day for the sole purpose of accomplishing their mission and earning the right to come home.

I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s Christmas, I just want you all to think about that this year; and maybe try to spare $25 to put towards what we all can agree is a good cause. When I heard about this program, it was a no-brainer. It wasn’t a matter of if I’d donate, but when. I’ve been there, and I know how something so simple can mean so much.

I wish you all the best this holiday season, and an even better New Year.

Thursday, October 20, 2005
High School Socialization

On April 20, 1999, two high school students armed with guns, ammunition and explosives embarked upon a plan to end their high school career prematurely. In less than fifteen minutes, the two students murdered thirteen of their teachers and classmates and wounded almost two dozen more. The final act of their ill-fated plan involved turning their weapons on themselves. In sociology, the term socialization is roughly defined as the process by which young people are taught to honor the values and embody the norms of a society. If I were to tell you socialization was the ultimate education in high school, did these two students pass or fail?

Almost a decade ago, I stood on a stage in Manning, SC where I accepted the once coveted high school diploma. Superficially, that thick, well-decorated piece of paper told the rest of the world that I had successfully completed four years of high school and ultimately 12 years of primary education. Below the surface, however, it meant that I had been properly introduced to the American way of life; a way of life that thrives on money, status, and novelty. This is a difficult pill for some people to swallow. Although, the people who have trouble swallowing it were closer to the top tier of this high school hierarchy, and most likely still remain there.
I had the pleasure of attending both public and private schools throughout my educational career and found that this high school stratification system was visible on both sides of the fence. In public school, the system was more diverse and widely spread; encompassing an array of income levels and ethnic groups. On the other hand, private school offered a more concentrated and strict system among higher class white students. Nonetheless, the two presented me with an accurate look at how the greater American society would prove to operate.

Consider the current political situation in this country. The highest office in the land is presently occupied by a gentleman chosen not by his merit or performance, but by his last name; a name that, if possessed, brings with it a certain level of prestige and respect. I’m sure we all remember that family in high school. It was the family that owned the big business downtown, drove the nice car and whose kid starred on the football team. Their kid might not have been the brightest young man in school, or even the best looking, but with his last name he brought that same level of prestige and respect. The best thing about his prestige was that it was contagious. If you were lucky enough to be included in his circle of friends, you contracted his prestige by default. For an equal example, look at the President’s cabinet. While some may or may not be adequately equipped for the job, the public still provides them with the same level of prestige and respect given to the president himself. Why? Because if he chose them, they must be fit for duty.

Now consider the young African-American kid who ran the forty yard dash in under four and a half seconds. Within weeks of his fabled time hack on the field, his name was common knowledge. He began to show up at the rich, white kids’ parties. He could be seen eating lunch with the school’s most popular students. He most likely had a following of young, white girls that were infatuated with him. Consider the same African-American young man without the record-breaking time in the forty yard dash. He’s still the same person; the same personality. The difference is, he’ll be eating lunch and going to parties with a completely different set of students. American society is obsessed with novelties. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines novelty as “something new or unusual.” The rich, white students didn’t like the track star because he was a great guy to hang out with, but because he was something unusual. He was cool at the moment, therefore those students seen associating with him were considered cool just the same. We’ve all heard of Tiger Woods. If he wasn’t trained from childhood to play golf, would we all know his name? Better yet, would we trust him to tell us how wonderful it is to drive a Buick? Chances are we wouldn’t. But because he is an African-American golf superstar, he has become mainstream; which, in high school, would just be called cool.

At first glance, this theory of socialization in high school may be construed as the bitter rants of a high school geek. Contrarily, this wasn’t the case. I was one of those students who didn’t fit into any social category, but was included into all. In public school I was friends with the jocks, the preps, the nerds, the outcasts, and even the minority groups. After two years in the Sumter public school system, I decided I wasn’t getting what I needed educationally. Therefore, I transferred to private school on my own dime. I, in turn, became the only student at this school that financed his own high school education. Maybe that was the key that allowed me to observe the dimly lit socialization system among students. Murray Milner, Jr., a professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, wrote a book titled Freaks, Geeks and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption. In it, he claims that “teenage behaviors stem from their lack of power over the central features of their lives.” J. Michael Smith, of the Home School Legal Defense Association, interprets this to mean that due to the fact children have no control over whether or not they go to school, “this encourages them to promote the only power they do have -- the power to decide whose cool and who's not. In other words, teenagers can control the status levels of their peers.” Fortunately this entire line of hypothesizing did not apply to me, which allowed me to float in and out of social groups, collecting what I wanted from each while still retaining my own objectivity to how they interacted. Dr. Milner’s book goes on to conclude that this theory of socialization not only shapes how students interact with one another, but directly contributes to how individuals interact with their other people for the remainder of their lives. I can only echo this conclusion in saying that, while high school may teach you the basic fundamentals of math, science and English; it also instills in you a methodology of social interaction that directly relates to how American society as a whole presents itself.

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The Social Thinker originally began as an innocent exploration into my own social thoughts and observations, with the occasional political rant thrown in. Somewhere along the line, my focus was lost, and politics had taken over. While the core of my political ideology hasn't changed, I've found that it's just not something I feel like ranting about any more. So, I'm wiping the slate clean, and going back to the basics.

Wish me luck.
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