Army brat

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In my first post I mentioned my childhood…and described it as great.  It was.  I grew up in a military family.  My brothers and I were part of a subculture of “Army brats.”  By the time I left home for college, I had already lived in 21 different places.  My dad was an Army aviator and retired as a Colonel after 28 years of faithful service.

To this day people tell me that such mobility must have been difficult, emotionally and socially.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  You see, all of my friends at school and sports teammates were Army brats as well.  Moving every year…sometime two or three times in one year as I did in second grade…was normal for us.  What really seemed strange was that so many people, our civilian cousins for example, were living in the same place year after year.

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It was no fun when my father left for Korea without us for one year.  We missed him terribly when he was in Vietnam on two separate tours lasting a year each time.   That said, all my friends and classmates were dealing with the same reality.  Our fathers were soldiers.  Soldiers often leave home, not because they want to, but because it is what soldiers do.  I was proud of my father.  I took seriously his parting words to me before each hardship tour, “Remember, Bruce, you are the oldest.  You are the man of the house while I am away.  Take good care of your brothers.  Do your best to help your mother.”  I took his words to heart…and prayed each night for his safety.  My classmates sent care packages to my father’s unit so they could enjoy homemade treats from back in the States.  We also sent food, medical supplies and clothing for him to distribute to the locals.

When Dad was not stationed far away from home, we moved as a family from duty station to duty station.  We lived in places as diverse as Ft. Lewis, Washington, Ft. Rucker, Alabama, Ft. Hood, Texas, and West Point, New York.  Each move was an adventure.  Familiar faces could be found at each new post as our paths crossed with other Army brats time and time again.  To this day, I cherish friendships with fellow Army brats from over 40 years ago.  Social media, such as Facebook, certainly helped many of us to reconnect.

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My last two years at home were spent in Fairfax, Virginia.  Dad was assigned to the Pentagon.  This meant we had to buy a home in the civilian community as there isn’t any “on post” housing with this assignment.  I attended and graduated from Robinson Secondary School…along with many other Army brats, some of which I have known since elementary school while living on post in many different states.

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Looking back, I thank God for my father’s service to our nation as a member of the U.S. Army.  I thank Him for a life that was blessed in so many ways, in spite of the hardships.  I am grateful that I learned to make friends quickly and to enjoy each and every day right where you are…for you may be gone before you know it.  I thank my parents for making sure that wherever Dad’s assignments took us, we had a home where love, kindness, devotion and faith in God were alive and well.

Persian Ibex in New Mexico

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Each year thousands of hunters complete and submit their applications hoping to be drawn by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in the annual lottery.  This annual drawing only permits so many applicants to take to the mountains in pursuit of big game. Some hunters get lucky and are drawn for several different hunts each year…many years in a row.  Other hunters are not so lucky. They are drawn for nothing and must wait patiently…sometimes for several years…until their application is pulled in the lottery.

This year I applied to hunt elk, deer, bear, oryx and ibex.  I was drawn for ibex only.  This is an archery hunt in the unforgiving Florida Mountains of southern New Mexico near Deming.  A friend told me, “The Floridas remind me of the asteroid in the movie, ‘Armageddon’ with Bruce Willis…only the asteroid didn’t have rattlesnakes crawling all over it.”  Many serious archers consider this to be the most challenging bow hunt in the lower 48.  I take their word on it.

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So I have entered a serious training regimen in preparation for this hunt which will take place October 1-14.  I can’t be away from work for the entire two weeks, of course, so I will have to select my days carefully.  Many hunters, especially those who do not prepare themselves mentally and physically, pack it up and head home after just one or two days.  I am following a training program by Zac Griffith, a young bow hunter I have come to like and respect.  It involves weight training five days a week and cardio workouts just as often: http://www.zacgriffith.com/train/

I am motivated for this hunt not only because I know how challenging it will be, but because of the journey I have traveled for the past six months.  In January, a perfect storm of illnesses attacked me at once…severe influenza and Fifth Disease.  My temperature stayed at or above 102.5 F for three weeks and I was unable to walk as my knees and ankles became swollen with off the chart pain.  It got so bad I had to use a wheelchair.  After seeing many specialists who each made their best “educated guess” as to what was going on with me, I finally met Dr. Pamela Costello…a renown neurosurgeon who also specializes in anti-inflammatory regimens and detoxification. Both were needed as my immune system was hit hard by the Fifth Disease virus when I was already sick with flu. Before I met Dr. Costello, there were some dark days where I wondered if I would ever walk again…let alone strap on a back pack and head to the mountains.  My wife, Kirsten, loved me, prayed for me and gave me all the encouragement I needed.  “For better or for worse” we said to each other 34 years ago.  This was not for better, that’s for sure.

That was then.  I now feel better than ever before…stronger too.  Between Dr. Costello’s regimen and Zac’s training program, I have lost 36 pounds and am pain free: Psalm 150

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As the summer progresses, I will let you know how the training goes.  Did I mention practicing with my bow?  More on that later.  Those who have hunted ibex tell me I need to be proficient out to 80 yards.  This ain’t hunting deer from a tree-stand in Minnesota!

When it all began…

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During the summer of 1972, my Boy Scout Troop from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, made the trek to Philmont.  It was a two week expedition in the rugged wilderness of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico.  To put it plainly, I fell in love.  As an Army brat, I lived in twenty-one different places before my 18th birthday.  All of them were unique and part of my great childhood (more on that another time).  Yet the mountains and panoramic views of New Mexico were like nothing I had ever experienced.  Every sunset was like watching a living and moving painting unfold before my eyes.  I had never seen so many stars at night…far from the lights of any city or town.  Every sunrise was the start of a new adventure as we hiked up to 15 miles daily moving from one camp to another.  Black bear often wandered through our camp.  Early in the morning deer would visit the streams and lakes nearby.

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It was on top of Mt. Baldy near the end of our expedition that I remember saying…praying would be more accurate, “God, it would be great to live here someday.  If it’s possible, I would really like to come back and live in New Mexico.”  It was a long and circuitous route, but the Lord did answer my prayer…and brought me back…twenty-six years later (more on that another time as well).

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Living in Albuquerque, I am able to hike in the Sandia Mountains most mornings.  My work schedule requires that I do this at 5:30AM as my days and evenings are always busy.  That’s not a problem as I am wide awake by 4:30AM without an alarm clock.  After a cup or two of fresh coffee, checking e-mail for messages that were sent my way after going to bed (and replying when necessary), saying my prayers and getting my gear ready (a head-lamp in the winter…hydration pack in the summer), I head due east into the mountains with my dog, Max.  I would do this for the sheer enjoyment of being outside and exhilaration of climbing.  We see rabbits, quail, hawks and coyotes on most mornings.  Every now and then we see a bear or cougar.  The extra benefit is that these morning hikes prepare me for archery hunting if I am lucky enough to draw a tag for deer or elk (more later).  The miles I put in during the winter, spring and summer prepare my legs and lungs for the challenge of pursuing Odocoileus hemionus and Cervus canadensis nelsoni through the mountains with my bow and arrows.  Every morning and without exception, I think of and remember those first hikes long ago in the mountains of Philmont…and I am thankful.  I thank God for the wonder of His creation…for the joy of returning to my beloved Land of Enchantment after all those years…and for my father, our Scout Master and expedition leader, who took a bunch of teenage boys to New Mexico where so many precious memories were made.