The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY |

December 06, 2006

HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Name: CAPT Matt Smenos
Posting date: 12/6/06
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Santa Maria, CA
Email: msmenos@hotmail.com

The day before the day you turn 30?  I doubt I would even think about it if I were somewhere other than here, a tiny battle-FOB in the ice-locked December of another Afghan war. I walked to the gym to knock out some sit-ups and some cardio. I thought about how long I'd been concerned about things like push-ups, sit-ups, running, and fitness in general.  As a teen I'd been a swimmer, and kept swimming into my twenties. Those twenties that were about to end. Those twenties in the latter part of which I'd done very little swimming at all.

Fitness, as a concept, seemed to rise in importance in my mind only after the swimming had ended. Poppy taught me how to swim -- my granddad, the only other ancestor I'd known to go to war. He fought the Japanese in the Army Air Corps half a century ago. His big arms held me as I thrashed and paddled and learned what it meant to relax, let go, trust myself and float.  He's been dead for a long time, but his Army photo sits next to mine in my parents' house. People say we look alike. Broad backs (from swimming), broken noses and blue eyes. I remember how it felt when he finally let me go. I remember feeling my own weight in the water, and the thrilling confidence in my ability to stay afloat. Swimming became second nature after that. Second nature with a fitness side-effect.

When I joined the military, and stopped swimming, other measurements were applied to decide my fitness, my readiness, my worthiness. I grew stronger in these new areas, but it was never the same. "Swimming" was a game from my youth. I remember begging Poppy to take us, and the outrage of the "30 minutes after you eat" rule. Swimming was a reward. "Fitness" was a chore.

As proud as it makes you feel to max a PT test or break that bench-press plateau, there is no reward but the knowledge that you've passed for another year. How many years until it's over? What are we training for? As I cranked up the interval on my treadmill, as my legs burned and my capillaries screamed, I reminded myself that after this tour in the war zone I'm truly going to be fit. I'll do very well on my next PT test. Then it hit me. What's the point? If the PT test is to prepare you for war, and when at war you prepare for the PT test, they cancel each other out.

I miss swimming.  Swimming made me fit, but swimming also made me happy. As I mulled this over, trotting and sweating and going nowhere on the treadmill, I wondered if such thinking was a benchmark of maturity. Or was it a sign that I still have a lot of growing up to do? I think fitness in the military is meant to make more than hard muscles. It's a pair of strong arms to hold a young man up until he learns to do it on his own. Strong arms with a fitness side-effect. I looked around the gym as the treadmill wound down. I was alone. No one was there to see me train or measure my effort. It was just me, and what I wanted to do for myself.

I set the treadmill to a walking pace and relaxed a minute. I let go. I thought about turning thirty, and the next ten years. I wondered how many miles I'd run, or stairs I'd climb, or pounds I'd lift before my next decade gives me the slip. I thought about the other jobs I might get, if I swim off under my own power. I could do so many other things and still make a difference. I could do so many other things and feel successful. If it was all prelude and no performance, then why do I train?  If this war isn’t the experience that asks the final question of me -- Can I or can't I? -- then what am I waiting for? If it's all a race with myself, if I'm the only real judge...then I'd rather swim. On my 31st birthday, I'm going for a swim. This year is for me.  Happy Birthday to me.

Comments

Happy birthday! May God be with you and keep you safe so you reach many more birhtdays...

Happy Birthday, Capt Smenos. Next time you go swimming, tell your Poppy "Thanks." I'm certain he's watching out for you now. Be safe, Be well.

Happy Birthday. Keep well and keep the faith. May you have many mor and happier birthdays.
Thank you!

Happy birthday. Many more. 30 is the new 20. Stay safe Matt and healthy. you have inspired me to try that treadmill myself ;-)

Happy Birthday, Captain! I hope you get to go swimming on all of your subsequent birthdays. Wishing you health and a safe return and many more birthdays!

Happy Big 30!!! Enjoyed the commentary on your relationship with your grandfather. The extended family members that played important roles in our childhood have a lasting impact on the balance of our lives. Your Poppy would be so proud of you! Here's to your swimming next year on the 31st BD!! Meanwhile stay safe and God bless.

Ha! Bullshit you wouldn't notice turning thirty! My experience is that life isn't made up of big, defining experiences. Even the ones that seem big at the time diminish once the years start piling up. The weight of time is far heavier than individual moments.The prelude IS the performance. The real can you/can you not question is who you become; and no, that is not defined by power, prestige, or money. I hope you have a good year!

Go back to the swimming, and stick with it and share. I do the road work, jogging, but that is where I can cool out as I sweat and lumber along, one needs the place to cool out and think calmly. I get to be fifty-nine next month and really over the hill, but I keep the weight down, the push ups and sit ups done and I am doing more chin ups and pull ups, and I am the only one that cares and counts. Do the swimming for you and those that love you, the Army will find another way to measure you and brag about how they made you. And they never knew Poppy.

I think I’ll take a moment, celebrate my age...
The ending of an era, and the turning of a page...
Now it’s time to focus in on where I go from here...
Lord have mercy on my next thirty years...

Hey my next thirty years I’m gonna have some fun...
Try to forget about all the crazy things I’ve done...
Maybe now I’ve conquered all my adolescent fears...
And I’ll do it better in my next thirty years...

My next thirty years I’m gonna settle all the scores...
Cry a little less, laugh a little more...
Find a world of happiness without the hate and fear...
Figure out just what I’m doing here...
In my next thirty years...

Oh my next thirty years, I’m gonna watch my weight...
Eat a few more salads and not stay up so late...
Drink a little lemonade and not so many beers...
Maybe I’ll remember my next thirty years...

My next thirty years will be the best years of my life...
Raise a little family and hang out with my wife...
Spend precious moments with the ones that I hold dear...
Make up for lost time here, in my next thirty years...

Thirty is just a number, and if you're like me your thirties will be the best time of your life. Happy Birthday, be careful and thanks for your service to this great country.

When I was 30 it was nothin'! When I was 40 it was something. When I turned 50 ... I wondered why I am still alive myself?
I see brave young men, men better in every way than I, show up on the daily causality lists - and I ask God ... why? Each day in America we see the grim toll taken on the brave young men and women of this great country ... and I ask why? It seems that life is just one big "?" sometimes - especially now. I pray for you all.

Dave. Rochester NY. USA

Happy Birthday! Your Poppy would be very proud of you. My wish for your 31st birthday is that we are one step closer to world wide peace, and that you're back home among smiling faces who say your name with love in their voices. Maybe your next role can be a swimming teacher, to pass on your Poppy's valuable lessons! Thank you for all your generosity, from here in the frozen east..

i was 20,when i swam in the mekong and jumped in water-filled bomb craters.we do need the redemption that water offers.tell your travel agent that you want better locations for the rest of your decembers and i hope they are many.be careful out there.if you're near fob abad tf spartan give lt.rick powell a hug for me mike

I hope you are still planning on that swim, young man. You most definitely deserve it after a challenging year of being 30...

My wish for you is happiness...from 31 on. Nah, from NOW on.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c5f3053ef00d83504e13369e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference HAPPY BIRTHDAY :

« Previous Article | Main | Next Article »




Search Doonesbury Sandbox Blog

LINKS


About

My Photo

FEATURED BOOK