Friday, October 24, 2014

A Month and A Moment

As we pulled into the gate at the entrance of Camp Foster, Leora and I collectively realized that this craziness is almost over.

I have been gone for little more than a month as part of the Fall Patrol for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.  The patrol was planned to be short (though they can always call us up and tell us to be on a ship in 24 hours – that’s part of being the Marine Corps’ quick reaction force in the area), but was shortened further by sad events in the Philippines.

A little about our trip to the PI:  We went down to hone skills and work on our relationship with the Philippine military and the local populace.  On the former, we did ok.  On the latter, we excelled (until the last day, and that wasn’t really us).

There is a horrible ash-covered valley at the foot of Mt. Pinatubo; this God-forsaken land is a training camp called Crow Valley.  Luckily for us, 3rd MLG’s Supply Battalion came in a couple weeks earlier and made the place quite comfortable with Big Tents, Air Conditioners, Laundry, Showers, and Port-a-Johns.  Don’t worry, and fear that the Marines have gone soft: It was still a horribly hot place where the rain came in monsoons only to steam away moments after it dried.  

Outside the base, the locals set up a little town with food vendors and merchants. 

I bought a cool thing for my desk. 

My RP flirted; a one-man public affairs mission.
 
My first time that I walked out there with him, and all I heard, from every booth was a flirty, “Hiiiii, Shawn” “Heeeyyy Shawn”. 

Face meet Palm.  This man is supposed to be my protection.

“You said you were only out here once?”

“Yes, sir.  I’m friendly.”

“Friendly?”

“Well, after I had the lumpia at Joe’s, I brought 5 friends over there.  Then at Anna’s, I brought 10 people to eat her pancakes:  strawberry banana.  They’re so good.  You want pancakes, Chaps?”

I do love pancakes.  But no.

During our time out there, RP (Shawn) was one of the first people to eat the Balut (a fertilized chicken egg hard-boiled complete with feathers, soft bones, and beak).  

Almost all the Marines ate the Balut.  I egged them on (I’m proud of that pun), but didn’t tell them until after they finished that I did not eat it.  So gross.  I’m pretty sure that several Marines (and RP) ate a cobra, and I’m pretty sure a few (maybe RP) ate dog.  I ate a coconut!

Good public relations.  A lot of money dropped on an impoverished community.  and Good times.  This was after-all why we were there.

While not as delicious, part of our mission in the PI was to connect the Marines together with Filipino Marines and the American missions that had been a mainstay out there for over a century.  The CO is big on knowing your history; I offered to teach the class.

Aboard ship all the Marines attended a course on the  Bataan Death March.  We did the history of US presence in the PI up to the war (bad), why I hate Gen MacArthur, Battles of Bataan and Corregidor, and the atrocity of the March.  The thesis of which is the atrocity of battle and subsequent war crime brought the two divergent countries back together again.

Somehow I became a tour guide and led Marines through the Memorial Site not far from where we were staying.  It was pretty neat.  To read more:  http://www.marines.mil/News/NewsDisplay/tabid/3258/Article/509898/31st-meu-marines-visit-bataan-death-march-memorial-following-phiblex-15.aspx

In between all of this, the Marines trained with Filipino Marines.  They trudged through rivers and mud.  They traded uniforms and knives.  It was all that we want from these experiences and more.

In all this, I also led High Holiday services on the Germantown and Peleliu, and also out in the field.  I set up a sukkah aboard ship and in the field.  There is something weird about setting up a sukkah, which is itself expeditionary, in an expeditionary environment (It wasn’t much different from the other tents out there, except when it rained).

The last day of the exercise, and we convoyed back to Subic Bay (where our ships would be waiting).  My Marines were pooped but looking forward to liberty in town and eventually in Manila.

As of today, a Marine from 2/9 stands accused of a most heinous act.  I am not going to elaborate further on what every newspaper in the world has reported, except to say that the Marine is not part of the MEU, and his reported actions are those of an individual not the Marine Corps as a whole.

The MEU was locked down to ships in the harbor for the next week.  No liberty.  No end in site.  We just waited (and came up with incredibly legal theories: corporals are good at that).  While everyone wanted leave, more were happy just to go home.

But when I got back to base:  The best was waiting for me.  A wonderful wife.  A beautiful baby girl.  (A wet-nosed highly excited puppy would be standing by dutifully at the apartment).


This was what we had all been waiting for (even if the latter two of those characters don’t know that its what we are waiting for).  The downhill begins. Leora and I looked at each other as we entered the gate, and realized that we have less than two months in Okinawa.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Little Break Would Be a Good Thing

This was written by Yoni last week, but he forgot to put it up.  

Generally speaking a Marine Corps holiday weekend is a good time.  The Marines go out drinking; the beaches are open.  And we usually get 4-days off.

This is my last week of work before Calanit was born:

I went with Engineers and EOD to a demolition range blowing amazing quantities of explosives, and learning a great deal about use of High Explosives as a tool in mobility (really fascinating stuff). 

I watched a CH-53 Super Stallion run night drills in retrieving heavy loads from the ground without landing (I have Marines that run under the helicopter and attach slings to the bottom of a 33,230lb bumblebee). 

I performed chaplaincy as part of an Evacuation Center for Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (if you need to evacuate an entire country of US personnel, call us, we’re pretty good at it). 

I rode around in the back of HMMWVs (Hum-vees) and 7-ton trucks.  It was neat, but it was also very tiring. 

I set up a field chapel/morale tent (in addition to the tent that I slept in during the week).  Between pumping people with loads of Gatorade powder and knowledge (my copy of “Sex in the Text” was a big hit), I think I had a pretty good impact in the field.  

It was Monday, it was Friday, A good week. Success for me.

So now that I’m back to work full time, a good 96 at home with the baby should be the nice calming thing that I need.  Not so much. 

With a deployment coming up, with half the Marines checking out during the weekend, with my mother in the hospital (she is doing well by the way, but a Japanese hospital is more stress than an American hospital – especially if you don’t speak Japanese), and with a one-month old baby at home who you want to spend time with.  It turns a 96-Labor-Day Holiday into a crazy hootenanny.  And that’s not even counting the hours that I wish I spent with my wife before a deployment, but who I’ve been neglecting in this gobbledygook. 

(Fun fact: I misspelled the last word of the previous sentence, and spell check corrected it.  I thought gobbledygook was a 2-word made-up phrase like nervous hoolaliya)

The week at work has been crazy, and I am certainly looking forward to Shabbat.  Hopefully, we get a little time to rest and relax before I set sail.  I’m even willing to change a diaper or two (or 14).  Shabbat will be a very necessary matter indeed.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Calanit's Simchat Bat

Dear Friends and Blog Followers,

This week has been a true up and down week.  In a month frought with craziness that comes with having a first child, living in Japan, and an impending deployment, it was hard to find time to post to the blog.  I (Yoni) bear the bulk of the blame.  

I can't seem to get the youtube clip to post to the blog, so the link is below.  You can skip my stuff, but you should all be impressed that I got the crying baby to be quiet and happy.

Calanit's Simchat Bat

Happy Labor Day!

Friday, July 18, 2014

nakagusuku castle

This past Sunday, seeing as the heat index was only 104 instead of the usual 109, Yoni and I decided to venture out and spend a bit of time exploring. Okinawa is covered in ancient castle ruins (a throwback to the long and complicated history of the Ryuku Kingdom), and even though they all basically look the same, they can be interesting and beautiful.

The main parts of Nakagusuku Castle were built in the 14th century, with later additions put on in the 15th century. It was operational in some capacity (first as a residence and later as a village office) until the Battle of Okinawa when some of the structures were destroyed. Despite the damage, of the approximately 300 castle ruins located in the Okinawa prefecture, this castle is one of the best preserved in its original state. (I got this factoid from the brochure. I can assure you Yoni and I have not visited 300 castle ruin sites. They’re nice, but they all look basically the same. But still – fun for a Sunday outing!)





Our local poisonous snake is called the Habu. Okinawans, however, are not known for their command of English when it comes to signage.




All of the rocks were numbered - we figured they were possibly re-assembling something a la the Jerusalem Stone walls near Machaneh Yehudah.

Yoni says that this hotel is haunted (at least according to local Marine Corps lore). If you're interested, he recommends googling "Nakagusuku Hotel haunted". 
I could not believe how many layers this woman was wearing. It was seriously hot. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Another Typhoon Down...

When I went to Camp Judaea as a kid, there was a large contingent of campers from Miami and Puerto Rico.  I don’t have that many good things to say about many of the campers from those places.   That is not to say that I disliked all my fellow campers in beautiful Hendersonville, NC; it just wasn’t awesome (and I really hated some people). These kids from the extreme South East might not have known basic rules of human decency, but they did know hurricanes.

I remember the really awesome t-shirts that some of them brought to camp in 1993 boasting “I survived Hurricane Andrew”.  As an aspiring meteorologist rabbi, I was already impressed with hurricanes and tracked them at home.  That summer, I learned they came with swag.  Further, there is a brotherhood that comes from having survived one of the world’s great storms.

I really wanted to be in a hurricane after that summer.  Nothing truly devastating, but it would be neat to see stuff fly.  Hampton, fortunately or unfortunately (however you might see it) was too well protected for those kinds of shenanigans.  We had a couple of hurricanes skirt through in my youth, but almost everything downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit Hampton.

We are officially in our last Typhoon season on Okinawa.  By now, Leora is a pro, but I was in Guam or Iwakuni or both when the last really spectacular typhoon hit almost two years ago. 

Even so, I do ok.  Though I’ve never been in anything truly jaw-dropping.  I stare out the window as the gusts of wind blast through the wind tunnel created by my apartment building and the one next door.  I take the puppy out when it seems things are dying down even just briefly.  I get a bad headache from the pressure change…and I pray that the pressure won’t result in Leora going into labor (it can do that).


Supposedly this typhoon was a pretty good one.  Winds gusted over 100 mph on island, and trees with large branches missing can be seen all over.  Many of the “No Parking” signs fell over on base, so it’s a free-for-all (at least in my head). There was also some pretty intense flooding. But at our house, things were relatively calm.  After all, we live in a concrete bunker of an apartment.  Power and water went out.  Fire alarms went off (and after two hours, they were jerry-rigged to cease their noise-making).   We went over to our neighbors’.  Played some board games.  Pet the dogs and played with babies.  Thank God, it wasn’t quite the Andrew experience, but I'm too old for that non-sense.

Friday, July 4, 2014

the end is in sight

As my August 6th due date gets closer and closer, it gets harder and harder for me to find interesting and inspiring non-baby things to write about. (I know, I know, you all think you’re interested in the baby things – but I promise you don’t really want to hear about the hours I spend thinking about baby monitors, changing pad covers, and all manner of other minutia. It’s really not interesting. Just ask my mom.) Add into the mix the fact that we recently found out we’ll be leaving Okinawa in December to move to beautiful Annapolis, MD (about which we’re SUPER excited, by the way), and you can understand why my brain is moving a million miles a minute, and not providing me with much blog inspiration.

That being said, our impending departure does have me thinking about what kinds of things Yoni and I absolutely want to do and experience before we leave. To be honest, I don’t think there’s much on either of our lists – we’ve been living here for a long time, now. But Yoni told me the other day that he still desperately wants to go scuba diving with whale sharks, which is a thing you can do here. And I know he still wants to go deep-sea fishing; he’s signed up for numerous trips over the past couple of years but they always seem to get cancelled. Stupid sub-tropical weather. As for me? I’m sure there are things we haven’t done, places we haven’t seen, but there are no activities in particular that stand out. I do find myself thinking much more seriously about my pedicure choices, knowing that my remaining pedicures on island are few in number. It would be nice to do more exploring around the island, but when it’s not thunderstorming the heat index averages about 108 with about 99% humidity – and that just doesn’t seem like a good idea for this 35+ weeks pregnant lady.

We did brave the heat today to take Penny to the beach for an hour or so. Penny was thrilled to celebrate her independence (and ours, of course), and to cool off in the East China Sea. Since it’s erev Shabbat, we won’t be attending any BBQs or parties or fireworks displays tonight. We’ll be at shul, doing our regular Friday thing. But then again, in thinking about what we’re really celebrating on July 4 and how hard our founding fathers worked to obtain religious (and political) freedom, maybe going to shul is a good way to celebrate July 4. Lounging by a pool, drinking margaritas and watching fireworks would be more fun, but as my niece Dafna says – we get what we get and we don’t get upset. So there you go.  Happy 4th, and Shabbat Shalom!