Monday, August 24, 2009

An Overdue Update from Afghanistan


I am nearing 75% complete of my tour in Afghanistan, and it has been a very exciting and scary ride. Recently I briefed AMB Holbrooke who is the special Ambasador to Afghanistan and Pakistan who works for the Department of State but somehow reports to Obama (the relationship baffles me). AMB Holbrooke has a reputation of chewing people up and spiting them out, I thankfully survived with a thank you at the end, I took my thank you and ran.

The other major event was the IED strike at the front gate of ISAF HQ, which knocked me on my ass. I am very thankful that the KIA/WIA was as low as they were, for all the complaining we do about the concrete barriers, they seriously saved lives that day. The next day a convoy was struck in town, and a Army Master Sergeant lost his life, he was in the IRR and when was asked to come back to active duty, he volunteered for Afghanistan. He would have turned 60 this week, so please think of him and his family in your prayers.

Elections also dominated everyone’s focus for the last three weeks. Elections here are a messy business trying to get equal representation in a country that is geographically split is a major chore in itself. This is of course ignoring the fact that Taliban were threatening to cut off fingers, threaten polling stations, and spreading disenfranchment among the ethnic Pashtun lines. Now we all sit and wait with baited breath for what will happen next, and hopefully this fragile republic will hold together. The people here voted, but were skeptical if their votes counted for anything as the majority believe that the US has already selected its winner. This is not unlike our own country where people believe that the winner is pre-determined on who programs our voting machines.

I want to thank everyone for the nice notes and well wishes, I am particularly thankful for my mother lodge Army #1105 for sending the generous gift of a box of Arturo Fuentes cigars, their gift is truly appreciated.

I hope all is well with you, please keep in touch.

Bro Vick

Monday, June 29, 2009

Life Goes On Without You

During a deployment, there comes a point in a member’s mind that life is moving on without you back home. While that seems like a “duh” statement, things will happen that will hit home for you. Birthday’s, your child’s first words, or steps.

While these milestones can’t compare, Freemasonry has been moving on as well. Both of the lodges I belong to had their elections, and the officers were elected. I feel a level of disappointment/envy knowing that I can’t be there to be a part of the excitement that comes with a new officer year. I have missed a whole slew of new brothers at my mother lodge. Or the installation of a man whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather start his journey to the east as Junior Deacon, I will miss all these things back home, and it does bring a touch of sadness.

Still, I keep Freemasonry in my heart, and while I miss the fellowship and the ritual, it is still a part of my life, and its teachings help guide me every day. For that, I am thankful for the instructions of the Craft and the significant impact it has had and will continue to have on my life.

-Bro Vick

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Letter to my Brothers from Afghanistan

Dear Brothers,

As I write this e-mail it marks the seventh week I have been in Afghanistan, and I wanted to write a message to talk about my adventures thus far, I also want to thank my mother lodge Army #1105 for the nice letter on my second year as a Master Mason. While the majority of my work and operations are classified, there are two events that took place in which aren’t classified. First were the Civilian Casualties in Farah Province, Afghanistan. I was part of the investigation team that went out to determine what happened, it was a difficult investigation because Bala Boluk is for the most part owned by the Taliban, and was somewhat dangerous. While I was there I quietly celebrated my 33rd birthday with a bowl of rice and a BECK’s N/A that someone found (I was hesitant to drink it, but figured it would be insulting not to). Was stuck there for longer than I wanted due to no flying/no convoy’s in and out of Farah. I returned back to Kabul during lots of briefings, conferences, etc. I am getting ready to go out again, I have had two trips that misfired, but am confident that enough people are back from leave that I can start certain operations again.

An additional duty I have is to interact with the students of Kabul University, once a week on Saturday’s I meet with them to discuss their concerns regarding the International Security Assistance Force. I honestly dreaded the meetings at first, as I really didn’t come here to be a punching bag of sorts, but soon learned to realize the benefit of interacting with these students. While a lot of times we go out to ascertain how the population feels about certain subjects (IED, Propaganda, ETC) this was the time for the students to bring their concerns to us, we take notes and send them forward to the 30+ Generals in the Kabul area. The students here are very passionate about their country; they have serious issues to deal with versus the college student in America. Here they get a degree, and they can’t find work within the country, and all they want to do is help rebuild Afghanistan, they usually end up going to Iran or Pakistan getting a job and sending money home, while they are the upper middle class of the country, they still lose to tribal dynamics and racial tensions. I feel bad for some of them that are idealist that want to change Afghanistan, others want to get their education and get the hell out of dodge. This country is broken in so many ways, that I can’t begin to describe the effort it has taken for them to even get this far, yet we (coalition forces) and Americans can’t believe they don’t have a thriving society overnight.

When I talk to the college students, I see sparks of Freemasonry in them, I hear them discuss education, enlightment and equality among men, and it makes me smile. The Pashtun’s (the dominate tribe in Afghanistan) believe that they escended from the tribes of Israel, they don’t have the emphasis on Islam that we are led to believe. They believe they are a Pashtun first, an Afghan second and a Muslim third. The Taliban forced this bizarre cross of Pashtun ethics with radical Islamic law in attempts to appeal to the masses, but it really didn’t stick. Still, I can see lodges one day being apart of Afghanistan, Pashtumwali consists of ualifications such as self authority, equality, assembly, respect for all people, honor, and protection. I believe that Freemasonry would be something that at some point would be very popular among the men of Afghanistan. There are other aspects, which get magnified, including tribal rivalries,pride and call for action which dominates the west impression of the people of Afghanistan.

Well, I have rambled enough, and I need to go back to work. I know that elections are coming up, and I am sorry that I won't be able to be apart of a line up this next Masonic year, but I wish the incoming Worshipful Masters and their officers good fortune and prosperity.

Hope all is well with you.

-Bro Vick

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thank the G.A.O.T.U for Sunday Mornings

I meant to write this two weeks ago, but the craziness of leaving my civilian job, my guard job and personal matters just overcame me in a series of disaster after disaster. The last week of February is a blur of frustration of delays and last minute details. I was able to attend my Mother Lodge Army Lodge #1105 for the last stated meeting of the month the 24th of Feb, we had a lot of business to take care of and the District Deputy Grand Master came out for a visit, it was a full evening.

A quick history of Army Lodge, there was three lodges in the city of San Antonio at the turn of the century, they were Alamo #44, Anchor Lodge, Texas #8. Fort Sam Houston at the time was considered to be on the far side of town and was 45 minute commute one way to attend these lodges. A group of Army enlisted and officers along with some contractors was granted a charter as Army Lodge #1105 and meet in the meeting room above the old gymnasium. There they conferred degrees (mainly on military members) and for the first 10 years only military sat in the east. The lodge has been conferring degrees on military Masons and members of the community ever since. It at one time has members spread across the world serving this country 800 strong, members in the Navy, Army and Air Force. In 1929 they raised enough money to build their own building, which is situated right outside the now closed east gate of Fort Sam Houston.

If you have been reading this blog for a while you know that my Mother Lodge has been in turmoil since I was initiated over the repair of the roof. This turmoil has lasted three Worshipful Masters and caused a strain on the lodge, which has always been the elephant in the room. It was finally settled last month and the current sitting Worshipful Master started a series of initiatives to start repairing/renovating the lodge. The meeting on the 24th was to vote on all of these greatly needed repairs, to which I am happy to report where all approved and the renovations are starting this week! My personal hope is that Army Lodge #1105 will continue its tradition of granting more light to the Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines that pass through the gates of Fort Sam Houston and the greater San Antonio area. I hope that the new building repairs will invigorate not only our base membership, but the community as a whole, and might actually inspire the hope that was promised this past year by many a politicians.

After the meeting I meet the DDGM, who was former military (not unusual in Texas), the man is the nicest DDGM we have had during my short time in Freemasonry, and gave me a pin with the emblem of the current Grand Master, David Counts. He told me to put it somewhere to remind myself that I have brothers in Texas praying for me. I took the pin, just concerned that I wouldn’t lose it.

My second day here the Army issued me more gear than I had been issued in my 7 years in the Air Force, one the of the pieces of gear is an Assualt pack, which I have become dependent on for pretty much everything, I put the pin on the inside front pocket, as a reminder that Freemasonry lives inside of me, and that I have the support of brothers everywhere as I embark on this journey, serving this country.

The training itself can be frustrating, the Army “hurry up and wait” philosophy is wearing thin; thankfully we have nothing scheduled this morning (which is why I am able to finally update this blog). In 13 days I will have completed my weapons training (50 Cal, 240B, 249, MK19), IED detection, convoy operations and of course force protection. This training is paid for by the Army, to ensure my survivability while fulfilling their mission requirements.

I have been reading Masonic papers as a way to disengage my mind from the training, one of the papers “Masonry and World Peace” by Joseph Fort Newton he writes:

”What has Masonry to say, what can it do, in this hour of world crisis when the race is struggling through blood and fire toward something new, shaking off the shams, and coming face to face with the eternal necessities?”

I could post the rest, but I think the Master Masons reading this would have a good idea what he wrote.

Thank you for your prayers and well wishes, they are appreciated.

=Bro Vick

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Letters to MSgt Sawyer

As many of you know in a week I start my Combat Skills Training course in New Jersey and from there will be deploying with the Army in Afghanistan. The only useful advice I got in the preparation for this life altering event from members in the military was from MSgt Sawyer.

He was deployed in a similar situation, and has already imparted the best advice possible. My last day of my civilian job was this past Friday, and he told me that if I needed to vent or talk about the stressful situation to e-mail him directly about it. Don't tell my wife or family, just him. He said that way I could have an outlet. I have been wanting to start a blog about my experiences with this event, and to save me the time of writing a blog entry, I am going to copy and paste my e-mails to MSgt Sawyer in the blog.

So if you care to read about the journey and experiences, I invite you to read , I know the language will be harsher than it has been in this blog, just in case you are offended by such a thing.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Weekend with Chris Hodapp

The 31st of January was the 84th anniversary of Perfect Union #10 a lodge I affiliated with about a year ago. The lodge has a younger line up, while most of it’s members are in their seventies. The Worshipful Master asked me if I knew of any good Masonic speakers, and Bro Hodapp was the first brother to pop in my mind. I went ahead and took the chance and e-mailed him to see if he could speak at the banquet, it was a chance I was glad I took.

I only knew Bro Hodapp from his books and his blog, and was unsure of the type of man he is, my wife was insistent that he was most likely a stuffed shirt, and not to be disappointed if all he does is sit and talk to himself all day long, thankfully she was wrong. Chris is a man who is easy to talk to and his knowledge of Freemasonry and his boldness on the subject is very refreshing. I don’t mean this in any sycophantic way, but rather as the God’s honest truth. Chris Hodapp is to Freemasonry what Suze Orman is to personal finance, when you watch her show people will call and ask some ridiculous questions about cashing in their 401k to pay for their credit card debt. Suze Orman will be firm yet funny in telling them that the individual has wasteful spending habits and they need to change their ways. While some Masonic speakers will lament on how the glory days of Freemasonry lie during 1948-1955, and that the hope of Freemasonry is putting an emphasis on Shrine membership, Chris Hodapp challenges the brothers to stand up and the opportunity to make Freemasonry relevant in today’s society. While our elders and leadership constantly tell us what we want (cheaper, faster, sloppier) he talks about how they never ever really asked us (the younger masons) what we want.
He is part Masonic educator and motivational speaker, when you hear him talk he puts the fire in your belly that makes you want to make a difference in your local lodge. His bold and righteous stance on some unpopular items, inspire you to have more courage and to stand up to those that disagree.

After he left I felt lucky, not only to meet and get to know him, but that Freemasonry is greatly enhanced by his presence.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Do We Have to Put a Square and Compass on Everything?

Getting ready for this deployment I am trying to find a more comfortable grip for my M9 than military standard issue, the motivating factor is that during my upcoming combat training course I will be shooting/handling the weapon a lot, so I might as well make it as “comfortable” as possible. Looking for grips I came across the following picture:

While at first I was intrigued about the square and compass on a M9 grip, I thought about it and really to me it seems somewhat contradictory to the teachings of the three blue lodge degrees (I however think that it would be appropriate for the knights templar symbol to be put on a grip for instance). I mean how are you taking care of your brother man when you are about to put a cap in his ass? If the reason you do it is to identify yourself as a mason there are plenty of rings, money clips, wallets, bumper stickers, watches, hats etc that can do that for you, with out putting it on an instrument of destruction. On the other hand maybe someone feels that having those on the gun will help them remember the teachings when they employ it? Maybe the symbols on the gun will help circumscribe their desires?

I can’t decide if I am being an overly sensitive woman about the whole issue, or if maybe there is something contradictory about putting the square and compasses on a grip of a gun.