Archive for January, 2006

A Hero Returns

Clinton’s David Chouinard is happy to be home.  Not long ago, US Marine Corporal Chouinard was the crew chief and driver of his AAV (Assault Amphibian Vehicle, affectionately called the “Pig”), tasked with driving the roads around Fallujah in search of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other booby traps. 

“Our vehicles were armored, so we would be the ones to clear the roads for the convoys.  There was usually at least one found every day,” David recalls. 

Why did you join the Marines? 

“Since I was a little kid, I have always wanted to be a Marine.  My uncle was a Marine, and I saw how much pride he took in wearing the uniform.  The Marines just struck me as the most demanding, the best of the services.  I was in college on September 11th and I watched the planes fly into the towers on television.  I went to the recruiter’s office the next day.” 

It wasn’t long before David was driving an AAV during the initial attack on Iraq. 

“During the initial assault, we were just constantly pushing every day.  There was some resistance, but not that much.  We were always on the move, so there wasn’t much time to think about home at all.  It wasn’t long before we were in Baghdad, set up at Baghdad University.” 

Chouinard eventually rotated out of Iraq and came home to marry his high school sweetheart, Amanda.  He wasn’t home for long; he had volunteered to serve a 7-month tour as part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) on-board a ship in the Arabian Gulf.  He was told that if he signed up for the MEU that it would be his last overseas deployment before the end of his enlistment. 

“We would work shift on the guns of the boat, guarding the oil rigs and watching out for suicide bombers.  Being on board ship wasn’t so bad, but there was more time to think about being away from home,” David says.  There was the ability to call home from the ship, but it cost in the vicinity of a dollar per minute.  Mail routinely took a month or more to reach him from home. 

When the seven month hitch came to an end, David returned to Camp Lejeune, where he received some bad news.  He was being sent back to Iraq. 

“I knew when I signed up that I was the property of the Marine Corps and they could send me anywhere, but I was surprised because they had told me that my MEU hitch would be it.  It was like a punch to the stomach.” 

David was sent to Fallujah, where temperatures routinely reached 140 degrees Fahrenheit, for what would be his most difficult deployment. 

“It was much more ‘in your face’ in Fallujah.  There was more contact with the people there, and we were constantly going out on missions.  My platoon was dealing with ambushes, IEDs, and suicide bombers.  Of the 12 vehicles in my platoon, my AAV was the only one to make it through my tour without incident.  I feel very lucky.” 

Some of David’s friends weren’t as fortunate, however, and were injured or killed in combat. 

“Losing friends was really difficult.  I went through so much with each of those guys and we were all so close; we had been through things together that no one else could understand.  For a while afterwards, it hurt so much that no one wanted to talk about it, but eventually we started talking about it and that helped a lot.” 

Even though you are home now, do you miss it? 

“I do.  Part of me feels like I should be with the guys who are still there until we all can come back, but I’m happy to be home.” 

What was it like on the day you left Iraq? 

“We had to convoy out of Fallujah one last time, so everyone was really nervous, but luckily we got away without incident.  When we finally got onto the plane and it took off, everyone cheered.” 

David returned to Camp Lejeune, and was then allowed to use his built up leave until his enlistment was up.  He returned to Clinton in time for the holidays and lives there now with Amanda. 

When Amanda is asked what it’s like to finally have David back home, she says, “I’m so relieved and happy.  It feels like I can breathe again.”

David_Amanda

The Day to Day Grind Tim 27 Jan 2006 No Comments

Strat Fanat

I’m a geek.  At least that’s what my wife says when, frustrated by the cold and rain of winter, I pull out my old Strat-O-Matic Baseball cards.  Strat-O-Matic Baseball is a game that is played with cards and dice.  There is a card for each major league player; the cards are created based upon the player’s statistics from a given season.  The rolls of the dice correspond to the results on the cards, and from that a dice version of the national pastime is played.  My wife is right, I am a geek. 

But I’m not the only geek out there.  Film director Spike Lee, baseball announcer Jon Miller, actors Drew Carey and Tim Robbins, and players Cal Ripken, Jr. and Lenny Dykstra have all rolled the Strat-O-Matic dice.  There’s even a book by Glenn Guzzo called “Strat-O-Matic Fanatics (I’m reading it now).  On eBay, out of print seasons of Strat-O-Matic cards routinely sell for over $200.  Truly dedicated fans of the game make an annual trip to Long Island (the company is located in Glen Head, New York) to be there when the first sets go on sale.  This year, “opening day” is on January 27th

All of the fantasy sports leagues that are so popular these days can trace their roots back directly to Strat-O-Matic.  The Sporting News has even combined the two by offering a web version of Strat-O-Matic on its website (www.sportingnews.com). 

Strat-O-Matic Baseball was created by a man named Harold Richman when he was 11 years old.  He first marketed the game in 1961 for $4.25 per set.  Over the years, the game grew in popularity and baseball was expanded to more realistic styles of play, adding an advanced version of the game in 1971, and a super advanced version (for those even geekier than I) in 1986.  Versions of the game for football, hockey, and basketball were also released.  A computer version of the baseball game was released in 1987. 

I have played all of the other versions of Strat-O-Matic, but my favorite has always been the old fashioned card version of Strat-O-Matic Baseball. 

It was my brothers’ fault, really.  Back in about 1980, after recognizing my love for baseball, my brothers used some of their old cards and taught me the game.  In early 1981, my oldest brother, Mike, bought me my very first set:  the 1980 season. 

From that point on, my love for baseball, and Strat-O-Matic, grew exponentially.  I memorized statistics and read every baseball book or magazine I could get my hands on; and I played game after game after game of Strat-O.  To this day, if you name a baseball player from 1980, I can give you a pretty good idea of what his card looks like. 

I would hound my brothers to play with me when they were home.  Mike’s girlfriend, now his wife, used to get angry because he would disappear for hours to play Strat-O with me.  There was always time for one more game. 

When my brothers weren’t around, I would play Strat-O by myself.  I recruited the other kids in the neighborhood to join leagues with me and we would spend hours upon hours rolling dice.  My neighbor, Kevin, and I would draft teams of all-stars and play a hundred games against each other.  I think he still has his team socked away somewhere in a filing cabinet. 

Every year, I would beg my parents to buy me the new Strat-O sets when they became available.  One year, when my grades weren’t very good, my parents punished me by taking away Strat-O-Matic.  Needless to say, the grades improved. 

It was that way until sometime in 1988.  I was a junior in high school, and the old card and dice baseball game just didn’t have the same allure.  I stopped buying the sets, got busy with other things in life, and pretty much drifted away from the game. 

Things stayed that way until 2003.  I was moving in with my wife and noticed a box full of my old Strat-O-Matic cards.  I sorted them out and played a few games.  Since then, I have become something of a collector, buying older seasons on eBay when I can find them.  My mailman noticed that I received a package from Strat-O-Matic one day and he admitted to me that he still plays in a league.  Unfortunately for me, his league doesn’t have any openings. 

So, with no one else to play with, once in a while I drag out the old cards and dice and enjoy a game.  When the dice are rattling and the cards are in my hand, I’m suddenly twelve years old again.  Sometimes while I’m playing my wife will walk into the room.  She’ll roll her eyes and I just know what she’s thinking:  “Geek.” 

Guilty as charged.

Sports Tim 20 Jan 2006 No Comments

2005 in Review

2005, like many years, was long and complex.  The following is a list of quotes that may or may not have actually been uttered in the past year: 

January:  “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” – President George W. Bush.  This statement was followed by a loud, strange noise that was later identified as everyone with a Kerry bumper sticker gnashing their teeth. 

“Would you like a receipt for that?” – Worker at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, upon receiving a $750 million donation from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.  Rumors that Gates had found the money in an old pair of pants are unconfirmed. 

February:  “The kick is up…and it’s good!” – Fox announcer Joe Buck, as New England Patriot Adam Vinatieri kicked what would prove to be the winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXIX. 

“(Unpronounceable wretching sounds)” – Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in the Eagles’ huddle, when the exertion of the game got to be just a bit too much for him. 

“Counselor” – Word found typed by gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson just before he took his own life with a gunshot (he was also reportedly on the phone with his wife at the time). 

March:  “I have never used steroids.  Period.” – Baseball player Rafael Palmeiro, while he pointed his finger at the congressional panel in front of him. 

“I’m not here to talk about the past.” – Retired baseball player Mark McGwire, at the same hearing. 

“Remove the tube.” – Circuit court judge George Greer, in his ruling that the feeding tube should be removed from Terry Schiavo, who later passed away. 

“Let me go to the house of the Father.” – The reported last words of Pope John Paul II. 

April:  “Exit, stage left.” – Runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks, who ran away to avoid her wedding, yet claimed that she had been abducted. 

May:  “I am Deep Throat.” – W. Mark Felt 

“The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side.” – Yoda, in Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. 

June:  “We are totally supportive if an individual wants to breast feed.” – Barbara Walters, back-pedaling after crowds of breast-feeding women protested Walters’ remarks on the subject. 

“All circuits are busy?  Don’t you realize that I’m a CELEBRITY?” – A raging Russell Crowe, just before allegedly throwing a telephone at a hotel concierge and hitting him in the cheek.  The incident reportedly came about because Crowe couldn’t get an open line to Australia. 

“There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance.” – Tom Cruise, in an interview with Matt Lauer. 

July:  “And the city that will host the 2012 Olympic Games is….LONDON.” – Olympic official on July 6th, awarding the games to London instead of New York.  

“We will not allow violence to change our societies or our values…the terrorists will not succeed.  We shall prevail and they shall not.” – British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in response to the explosions that rocked London on July 7th

“I have an idea:  We broadcast live from the Live 8 show, but we don’t show any of the actual performances!” – An MTV executive.  Due to public backlash, the performances were shown in a later broadcast. 

August:  “I think they just don’t believe something of this nature can ever happen in their lifespan, and I think they’re going to be wrong.” – Jesse St. Armant, Plaquemines Parish (Louisiana) emergency management chief, speaking to CNN about the people who failed to evacuate from the path of Hurricane Katrina.

“We know we’re going to have property damage.  We know we’re going to have high wind damage. We’re hoping we’re not going to lose a lot of lives.” – Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, to Larry King, before Katrina hit New Orleans.

“I have never KNOWINGLY used steroids.” – Rafael Palmeiro, after testing positive for the steroid stanozolol.

September:  “You simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals…many of these people, almost all of them that we see are so poor and they are so black, and this is going to raise lots of questions for people who are watching this story unfold.” – Wolf Blitzer, on CNN, discussing the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“…It is not a design issue. It has more to do with obese Americans in tight pants putting the nano in their front jeans pocket, and then sitting for extended periods of time.” – Phil Schiller, Apple Vice President of Marketing, in a press release regarding reported problems with the iPod nano.

October:  ”I didn’t get a good read on it.  I tried to rush it, to get two. I just missed it.” – Boston Red Sox second baseman Tony Graffanino, discussing the ball that rolled through his legs, a play that proved to be a turning point in the team’s playoff series with the Chicago White Sox.

“It’s been ten days.  Is this rain ever going to stop?” – Everyone in Massachusetts.

November:  “Next question.” – Agent Drew Rosenhaus, during a press conference with his client, Philadelphia Eagle wide receiver Terrell Owens.  Rosenhaus had just been asked what he had done for Owens, other than to get him thrown off of the team.

December:  “Money, money, money, MONEY…MONEY!” – Johnny Damon, who had once said that he could never play for the Yankees, singing the theme song to “The Apprentice”, after signing a 4 year, $52 million contract to do exactly that.

I would like to wish everyone a healthy and happy 2006.  Happy New Year.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 06 Jan 2006 No Comments