Bob's Basement

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

Painful Childhood Memories

Okay, I have a confession to make - when I was very young, and by that I mean several months younger than the age of two, I was traumatized by the letter "Z."

Now I know what you're thinking; and it sounds ridiculous, right? But I knew that the letter "Z" was out to get me - and I had proof.

First of all, I was convinced that the letter "Z" was a real, live animal. And I knew this for a fact because I had learned that on Sesame Street. Here is living proof:

You can see my point, can't you? The letter "Z" obviously had a mind of its own; it had an attitude, it was reckless and passive aggressive, and it seemed to bring out the worst in Kermit the Frog. There was no mistake about it in my mind: the letter "Z" was a nasty character, and it was something which I wanted nothing to do with.

And yet, the letter "Z" had somehow followed me home, and it was living in my backyard. I saw it there - every day - lurking just outside the sliding glass door, and watching my every move.

But what was even more unsettling for me was the fact that my parents, who were supposed to love me, would plop me down in my high chair and turn it so that I was facing outside. And there I would sit, staring at my nemesis, who wouldn't move an inch. The letter "Z" was sizing me up, and I knew that it was waiting to see if I would fall asleep in my high chair... and then it would attack. So I kept my eyes open, and I never took naps in that house. Oh sure, that meant that I was cranky toddler, but that wasn't my fault; I was a victim of my circumstances, and my parents needed to pay for their transgressions.

Thankfully, I no longer live in that house. Our family moved, and the letter "Z" did not appear to have followed us. But I remember vividly what that terrifying scene looked like every day, and here is my feeble attempt at an artist's rendition...

Stalked-by-the-Letter-Z

You can say what you want, but I'm telling you the truth - that letter "Z" was out there; and somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm sure that it still is.

Posted: Jan 11 2017, 04:31 by bob | Comments (0)
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Sometimes the Deeper Meaning is Missed

I just read the following article about Hasbro's desire to modernize the playing pieces for its best-selling game Monopoly:

Will the shoe get the boot? Board game fans to vote on next Monopoly tokens

The article was amusing for me to read, and I was reminded of the many years throughout which I have played that game with family and friends.

To be honest, despite my admitted sense of nostalgia where this game is concerned, I couldn't care less whether Hasbro decides to update the game tokens; this change will not affect how the game is played, and it might help to attract a new generation of players. I am certainly not one of those people who feels honor-bound to voice their opinion that everything should remain the way that it was in the past.

However, there is one point that the article's author has completely missed: the playing piece in question is not a "shoe," it is a "boot," and the distinction - however small it may seem - is somewhat profound.

A shoe is just that - nothing more. But the boot has a subtle, underlying meaning which most people do not see. When you look at the boot, it has a small loop on the back, which is called a "bootstrap." It is from this appendage on a boot that the English language obtains the word "bootstrapping," which means to "pull one's self up from their current position;" in other words, to take charge of your destiny and to make your life better. This is one of the main points in Monopoly; all of the players are attempting to pull themselves up from their common, humble beginnings, to build their respective real estate empires, and to crush their competition.

The entire principle of the game of Monopoly is condensed into that single playing piece, and it represents one of the deepest metaphors in any board game. However, Hasbro might replace the boot with a T-Rex, which represents... um, let's see... a dinosaur... which is a metaphor for... well, I guess... nothing more than an old, dead, bird-like reptile.

Posted: Jan 10 2017, 22:23 by bob | Comments (0)
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Why Some People Join the Air Force Instead of a Real Branch of Service

An old Army buddy of mine recently posted the following joke on Facebook:

WHY I JOINED THE AIR FORCE

DoD was conducting an "All Service" briefing and the leader posed this question:

"What would you do if you found a scorpion in your tent?"

A Sailor said, "I'd step on it."

A Soldier said, "I'd squash it with my boot."

A Marine said, "I'd catch it, break the stinger off, and eat it."

An Airman said, "I'd call the concierge desk and find out why there was a tent in my room."

Truer words were never spoken. Open-mouthed smile

Posted: Jan 03 2017, 23:25 by bob | Comments (0)
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The Truth about Che Guevara, Castro, T-Shirts, and Motorcycle Diaries

After the recent long-awaited and highly-anticipated death of Fidel Castro, I must admit that I was shocked at the number of "famous people" who were emanating never-ending streams of revisionist history drivel about Castro's many "accomplishments," while falling over themselves in futile attempts to outdo each other with undo praise for this despicable despot. Make no mistake - Castro was a terrible, wicked, horrible dictator who sent thousands of innocent people to their graves.

However, on a completely related note is the number of misinformed idiots who walk around wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the following logo:

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For those who are too stupid to know better, wearing a t-shirt like this in public is exactly like wearing a t-shirt with Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin printed on it. The subject of this ridiculous memorial attire is Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who was one of the worst mass-murders in the 20th century. Countless multitudes of gullible and easily-swayed malcontents read books like Guevara's "Motorcycle Diaries," and they fall victim to his knee-jerk deceptions about how much he cared for the plight of the poor in South America. While I completely agree that the corruption in South American politics is pervasive and often horrific, most people do not realize that the terrors which were brought about by Guevara were far worse than anything about which he had complained.

That being said, I recently discovered the following article which illustrates some of what I mean; this is a great article, and you should take a few minutes to read it:

The Truth About Che Guevara

http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/truth-about-che-guevara

To put it mildly, Guevara was a spoiled, upper-class brat who became one of the worst mass murderers in Communism's long history of putting innocent people to death simply for having a college degree and/or being able to think for themselves. There are no two ways about it - if you lived in a country where Guevara had helped to overthrow your government, you simply would have been killed. No trial, no appeal - just executed.

All of this is to say - there is nothing admirable about wearing a t-shirt with Guevara's faced printed on it; the only thing that it signifies is that the person wearing the shirt is an idiot.

Posted: Jan 02 2017, 14:45 by bob | Comments (0)
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Goodbye 2016 - Hello 2017

Well, suffice it to say that 2016 was a weird year. The United States endured one of the worst presidential elections in decades, in which Americans were forced to choose between two utterly non-presidential candidates. (And of course, everyone on the planet knows how that turned out.)

Nevertheless, one of my favorite traditions each New Year is to read Dave Barry's Year in Review, which examines all of the newsworthy items for the past 12 months. Dave's reviews always remind me that no matter how stupid things seemed to be during the previous year, we should each take a moment to step back and thoughtfully contemplate just how stupid things really were...

And with that in mind, here is Dave's year-in-review for 2016:

Dave Barry’s Year in Review: 2016 - What the ... ?
Posted: Jan 01 2017, 23:00 by bob | Comments (0)
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R.I.P. Greg Lake (1947-2016)

Much has been written by others about the passing of Greg Lake yesterday, so pardon my addition to the fray.

Greg Lake's death follows just nine months after his former band-mate, Keith Emerson, and these musicians were two-thirds of the colossal progressive rock band "Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP)." For those who aren't aware of who these guys were, ELP dominated the progressive rock scene throughout the 1970s, selling millions of records and filling stadiums with hundreds of thousands of fans during their International tours.

As an example of ELP back in their heyday, here's a video of them performing during their headlining performance at the California Jam in 1974:

PS - Since Emerson and Lake have both passed away within months of each other, someone needs to surround Carl Palmer in bubble wrap before something happens to him.

Posted: Dec 08 2016, 18:23 by bob | Comments (0)
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1980s Music Videos

My wife was mentioning how the following pseudo-80s music video for "Pop! Goes My Heart" from the movie "Music and Lyrics" was ridiculous...

I replied that the video from the movie was make-believe; if she really wanted to see a cheesy 1980s music video, she should watch Dokken's "Breaking The Chains"...

It's like a train wreck - it's a disaster, but you can't stop watching...

Posted: Dec 05 2016, 20:32 by bob | Comments (0)
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Bob's Presidential Campaign: Recap

Remember how I was running for President?

Well, it turns out that I would have won both the electoral college in a landslide AND the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who didn't actually vote for me.

Posted: Nov 29 2016, 00:47 by bob | Comments (0)
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Ride Notes for El Tour de Tucson 2016

Another year has passed since my last ride in the El Tour de Tucson. This year is the 34th anniversary of this annual fund-raising event, and once again I signed up to ride the full distance - which was 106 miles this year. This year was thankfully warmer than previous years, but holy cow - the wind was terrible. But I'll get to that in a minute.

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The night before the ride I packed up my bicycle gear, and I made sure that I wouldn't repeat last year's mistake and forget my helmet. As I was putting my things together, I discovered that my bicycle had a flat tire. It was no fun changing it, of course, but it was so much better to have fortuitously discovered that problem the night before rather than the morning of. After that issue was resolved I set my alarm for 4:30am climbed into bed around 10:30pm. However, for some reason I could not fall asleep, so I probably did not drift off until sometime around 2:30am, which meant that I was hauling my exhausted self out of bed after only two hours of sleep. (Would someone please remind me why I do this every year?)

Anyway, I was on the road by 5:00am, and after a brief stop at a McDonald's for some carb loading via an Egg McMuffin, I headed off to Armory Park in downtown Tucson where the ride was scheduled to begin. I had studied the map before the ride, and I noticed that the route had changed for this year. First of all, the long, uphill ride on La Cañada Drive was gone, but it appeared to be replaced by an even longer uphill ride on Oracle Road. In addition to that change, the end of the ride had been changed from the 20+ miles riding Tangerine Road and the Frontage Road along I-10 to Avra Valley Road and Silverbell Road. This was all new territory for me, so needless to say - I did not know what the the day would have in store for me when I would arrive at those sections of the route.

2016-ETT-Route-MapColor

Sometime shortly after 5:30am I arrived at the Tucson Convention Center (TCC), which is where I always park my car for the day, and after a few minutes putting the last of my things together, I hopped on my bicycle and rode over to Armory Park to get in line for the ride. I arrived around 10 or 15 minutes before 6:00am, and there were perhaps a couple hundred riders in line before me. (That number includes the "Platinum Riders," who must have had a ride time of less than five hours during a previous year.)

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Arriving near the start line.
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The group of cyclists in front of me.
(The banner in the distance is the actual starting line.)

As I waited for the ride to begin, I talked with the cyclists around me, and I met a guy whose wife had inadvertently cheated on one of the shorter distances during the previous year's ride. It seems that she didn't want to deal with the large crowd at the start line, so she began her ride 1 hour earlier than the rest of the riders. This meant that she wouldn't have an official time for the ride, but she didn't care. However, she was the first woman to cross the finish line for her distance, so they erroneously listed her as the winner. This isn't an actual race, so it's not that big of a deal, but nevertheless she registered for this year's ride under a different name. ;-)

A quick panorama of the crowd of cyclists around 6:30am.

As I mentioned earlier, the temperature was a little warmer than in past years; it was somewhere in the low 50s while I was waiting. But I had learned from some more-experienced El Tour participants during my 2014 and 2015 rides to wear something disposable like pajama pants while waiting in line, and any clothes which are abandoned near the start line are donated to charity once the riders have left. With that in mind, I had bought a large set of black pajama pants to wear over my legs as I waited, and I had made sure to leave the tags on to show that they were new. As the start time drew near, I removed those, folded them nicely with the tags showing, and placed them on the side of the road. (Other cyclists simply threw jackets and pants over the barriers which lined the street.)

As has happened in previous years, in the last few minutes before the ride begins, all of the cyclists don the last of their equipment, and then all the riders bunch up toward the start line, thereby filling up all the gaps in the crowd.

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Cyclists pushing toward the start line in the last few minutes.
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Shortly before 7:00am we all sang the National Anthem, and after a few perfunctory words from local politicians, they sounded the horn which announced the start, and we were off. I will admit, it always fills me with a small amount of nervousness before arriving at the starting line when I think about heading out as a lone cyclist within a sea of thousands; I am always afraid that I will fall over and get hit, or someone else will fall over and I'll crash into them, but every year it is an orderly affair as the cyclists cautiously start out in unison. (It seems that everyone else is also concerned about avoiding an accident.)

106-mile riders starting out for the day.

30 minutes after the ride had started I found myself at the Santa Cruz River crossing, where all of the cyclists are required to dismount and hand-carry their bicycles across the dry river bed. Once again, a Mariachi Band was playing music for everyone as we arrived on the other side of the river.

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Once across the river, I climbed back on my bicycle and headed off. However, this is where I need to mention the wind which I had alluded to in my opening paragraph; the first 35 miles of this ride is predominantly uphill as we rode south, and we had a great deal of wind blowing to the north, which meant that the first several hours were uphill into the wind. There were brief downhills and a few respites from the wind here and there, but for the most part the beginning of my day was spent tucking my head down and riding into the wind. One of the biggest sources of relief for everyone was around the 25-mile point when we turned north onto Kolb Road and had the wind behind us for a change. It was only for 2½ miles, but still - I heard dozens of other cyclists verbally reacting to the difference, and throughout the rest of the day I heard cyclists complaining about how awful that wind had been.

Of course, one of my personal demoralizers is when I hit the 30-mile mark; that is when the route passes Pima Community College, which is the start of the 75-mile route. I always think to myself, "If I had done that ride, I would be starting from here, rather than having just ridden 30 miles."

As we turned off Kolb Road onto Irvington Road, we entered my section of town, where I train all the time. In fact, I had ridden the northbound climb on Houghton Road and Escalante Road a couple of times that week, so I was quite used to that terrain and the climbs did not bother me. Shortly after reaching the end of Escalante Road, the route turned north onto Freeman Road, where we were all treated to several miles of fast-paced, downhill riding. (With no winds!)

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At the bottom of Freeman Road the course followed the familiar route of Speedway to Houghton to Snyder, which took about 30 minutes to negotiate, and then it was time for the second river crossing. By this time I had been riding for over 3½ hours with no breaks, and I was running low on water, so I stopped to refill my water bottles, eat a few snacks, and remove the last of my cold weather gear.

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After a brief 20-minute rest stop, I was back on the road. My next obstacle was the steep climb up East Snyder Road near North Rockcliff Road. I have mentioned this hill in my other blogs about riding in the El Tour de Tucson, so I won't go into detail here, except to reiterate what I have said in the past - thankfully this climb is only a few hundred meters in length.

Once I had put the Snyder Road climb behind me, I had a short ride to Cowbell Crossing, where my wife, Kathleen, was cheering on passing cyclists around the 52-mile mark with a group of her coworkers and our dog, Boudicca. Kathleen had been watching my progress via my Garmin Live Track, although what she was seeing was a few seconds behind my actual location, so she barely had time to run to the side of the road with Boudicca and wave as I rode by. (I had thought about stopping, but their group was set up on the opposite side of the road so I chose not to stop. In hindsight, I probably should have at least stopped to say "Hi" to everyone.)

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The route meandered west along Sunrise and Skyline Drives, then we climbed north on Oracle Road, which was a departure from previous years of climbing north on La Cañada Drive. This extended the length of the climb by a couple of miles, so I'm still not quite sure if I approve of the changed route. Winking smile

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Around the 60-mile point I ran into an interesting predicament; my Garmin Cycling GPS announced that it's battery was almost depleted and it was going to shut down. I had fully charged it the night before, and I had used my Garmin GPS on several 100-mile rides with no problems in the past, but this year I had more devices connected than in previous years. For example, my GPS was linked to my cell phone for Live Tracking (which was constantly updating my location for family members to watch), and my GPS was paired with a Garmin Varia Radar which helps me know when vehicles are approaching from behind. Fortunately I had planned ahead; my cell phone was already attached to a spare battery and was still fully charged, and I had brought a spare USB battery pack in case of emergency. With that in mind, I quickly pulled off to the side of the road, and then I attached a USB cable from the battery pack to my GPS. Once I had all of that connected, my GPS showed that it was charging and I hopped back on the road. (Note: By the end of my ride, the GPS was fully-charged once again and the battery pack was still half-charged.)

I was running low on water as I reached the 75-mile mark, so I pulled off the road with dozens of other cyclists. I quickly refilled my water bottles, and I also availed myself of the Girl Scout cookies which the volunteers had provided. (No Thin Mints, of course, because those would have melted in the heat.)

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After a 15-minute break I was back on the road and heading west on Moore Road. Thankfully the worst of the climbs were behind me, and the next 10 to 15 miles were predominantly downhill, which was a welcome change after the miles of climbing earlier in the day.

Elevation Profile

As I rode by a family which was cheering on the riders, their boys were all holding out their hands for high fives; most riders passed them by without obliging, but I held out my hand and swatted them all - thankfully without losing my balance in the process.

As I have seen on other long rides, I encountered a variety of interesting bicycles throughout the day's ride; most cyclists were on road bikes, of course, but there were a lot of mountain bikes, several single-speeds, a bunch of tandems, a smattering of recumbent bikes, and a couple of complete novelties - someone was riding a an ElliptiGO for the full 106 miles, and another guy was riding a unicycle. (I have no idea what distance the unicyclist was riding, but it was before we had merged with the cyclists riding for 28 miles, so the unicyclist was riding at least 37 miles.)

The route headed down Avra Valley Road and then onto Silverbell Road, which I mentioned earlier was different than riding down the Frontage Road in previous years. There were a few things about this new route which were a welcome change; namely that the ride was nowhere near as boring as 20 miles of riding along a frontage road next to an Interstate. The biggest drawback was, however, that riding south meant facing into the wind - again.

Nevertheless, after an hour's ride south on Silverbell Road, the route turned east on Speedway, then shortly after that the route briefly turned onto Mission Road and then 22nd Street, thereby retracing the final miles of the route from previous years. After that we turned onto 6th Avenue for the final stretch to the finish.

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Turning onto 6th Avenue for the final mile.
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Approaching the finish line.

I crossed the finish line around 8½ hours after I had started, although my actual riding time was just shy of 8 hours. (The remaining half-hour was spent on my two stops and the several intersections where I had to wait for the street lights to change.) It should go without mentioning that I was exceedingly happy to be done with the ride, and after picking up my silver medal for my time category, I found a quiet place to stash my bicycle for a few minutes and I bought a slice of pizza with a bottle of Gatorade to celebrate my successful completion of another "Century Ride."

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Looking over the miles that I rode, my ride began with 25 miles of riding uphill into the wind, and it ended with 20 miles of riding uphill into the wind; so just shy of 50% of the ride was spent riding uphill while enduring a steady wind in my face. That was subpar, to say the least, but there wasn't anything that could be done about it. I would estimate that the wind added at least an hour to my ride time, although it would probably be more accurate to say that it added 1½ hours to my ride time.

Ride Stats:

  • Primary Statistics:
    • Start Time: 6:58am
    • Distance: 106 miles (105.6 miles on my GPS)
    • Duration: 8 hours, 36 minutes (7 hours, 52 minutes on my GPS)
    • Calories Burned: 3,074 kcal
    • Altitude Gain: 4,259 feet
  • Speed:
    • Average Speed: 13.4 mph
    • Peak Speed: 32.7 mph
    • Average Cadence: 73.0 rpm
  • Temperature:
    • Average: 72.1 F
    • Minimum: 48.2 F
    • Maximum: 86.0 F
  • Heart Rate:
    • Average: 147 bpm
    • Maximum: 183 bpm
Posted: Nov 19 2016, 21:27 by bob | Comments (0)
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A Few Reflections on My Days in the Army

It dawned on me earlier today that this year - 2016 - marks 30 years since I first joined the military. In early 1986 I reported to Phoenix, AZ, for induction into the US Army, where I raised my hand and I repeated the following oath:

"I, Robert McMurray, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

Little did I know the adventure upon which I was embarking, and what a profound difference the next eight years would have on my life.

During my tenure in the Army, I was sent to a a lot of places where I did a lot of interesting things; there are a bunch of stories which I can talk about, and there are some circumstances which I will never be able to discuss. I had some amazing experiences, along with a handful of terrifying incidents, and there are a few decisions that I made about which I will continue to question whether I did the right thing for the rest of my life.

I spent months away from my wife and children in faraway places - quite often in deplorable conditions - and all for a paycheck which was less than I would have earned if I had stayed home and got a job flipping burgers for a living.

On the other hand, I was anorexic when I joined the Army, and in that respect the military may have saved my life. I weighed less than 114 pounds when I reported for Basic Training, and yet I still thought that I was hideously overweight. By way of contrast, I weighed 135 pounds when I graduated Basic Training eight weeks later, and I had learned how to be thankful for eating three meals a day.

Most of my time in the military consisted of serving at three different duty stations: the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, for a year; the 511th Military Intelligence Company in Fulda, Germany, for 3½ years, and the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade in Fort Huachuca, AZ, for 3 years. (My remaining six months of service was spent in Basic Training and a variety of other undisclosed locations.)

Despite the passing of several decades, I am still friends with several of the people with whom I served, and I have done my best to regale my comrades-in-arms in other blogs on this website with some of the stories which I had taken the time to write down during our service together. We were privileged to be first-hand witnesses to some amazing times in history; from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.

Trojan Horse 1

That being said, moving on to each duty station was always a strange experience. Like everyone else before me, I was always the "newbie" when I arrived; I was surrounded by people who had been stationed there longer, all of whom had months or years of shared experiences, and they all knew how everything worked. By the end of my first year, I was no longer the new guy, and I would find myself teaching the newly-arriving recruits all the same important details which I had learned during my initial months. By the end of each tenure, I was an "old timer," despite the fact that I was only 25 years old when I left Fulda, and only 28 years old when I left Fort Huachuca.

I would love to say that I endured all of my military experiences with a positive attitude, but that would be far too dishonest. Those who knew me "way back when" can certainly attest to the fact that my attitudes about the Army often fluctuated, and usually in a negative direction. (That general attitude is reflected in several of my stories on this website.) Eventually I realized that I was not like some of my brothers-in-arms who could survive 20 years in uniform in order to earn their retirement, so I chose to exit the military after two four-year tours of service.

By the end of my time in the Army, I had graduated with honors from every school which I had attended, earned a college degree, received a bunch of awards and decorations, and served exactly 3,700 days. Nevertheless, it was time for me to go.

Awards-and-Decorations

I have never regretted my time in the service, although I must admit that I have no desire to repeat most of my experiences. (Rappelling from a helicopter might be fun, though.) Just the same, I am incredibly thankful for the guys with whom I served; it was an honor and a privilege to work with them.

Posted: Nov 11 2016, 01:39 by bob | Comments (0)
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