Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chapter 11 - Back to the Rez

11. As he prepared his church group to go to the Rez, he tried to answer as many questions as he could. But each time he answered, he felt like a five year old being quizzed on physics. He knew a very little, but also knew he had so very much to learn.

He asked for permission to start a funding drive for shingles at his church.  After it was OK’d he gave a short presentation to the congregation asking for funds for the Remember Shingles Drive. He also sent out a plea online and to family and friends for support. In the weeks between the trips, he was able to raise almost $3000. He was astounded at the generosity of the Social Mission team at his church, the support from the congregation, and the very generous amount that his parents donated.

How on earth would he get $3000 worth of shingles out to the Rez, though?  They were heavy, and they would already be hauling eight people and all of their luggage. Jack talked with Ted, the director out at Re-Member. He suggested just putting the money into a Menards gift card. Then they would use it when they went up to Rapid City for supplies.  This idea appealed to Jack and so he built a little trailer (skirted, of course) and used gift cards as shingles on the top.

He was kept so busy by the preparations for the next trip that he didn’t have much time to ruminate on his first experience.  Although he had been in contact with some of those he had met, he was still nervous as he headed back to the Rez with a church group. But his dad would be along for the trip this time, and Jack was thankful that he could share the experience with him.  It would be a strange and wonderful week for him, though not for the reasons he expected.

Jack was excited to be back on the Rez. He felt like he was heading home as he drove the last few miles to the Re-Member camp.  He was shocked to drive up to the buildings and be greeted by a whole bunch of staff that he didn’t recognize. He would later learn that staff members are there for four to six weeks at a time.  The amount of work they do leads to burn out pretty fast, so they have short stints to avoid that.

He did see some familiar faces, and as Saturday passed he felt right at home again.  The groups from other places were fun to mingle with, and Jack was soon in the rack for the night, reflecting on the fact that he had not put his watch back on since the first trip out.  He fell asleep hoping for a stress free, fun week.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chapter Ten - The First Week on the Rez

Monday through Wednesday were work days. On Monday, Jack went out with a group of about ten others to help skirt a trailer belonging to a man named Bart. Bart had lived off the Rez for a while, but came back to be near his kids and grandkids.  He was a horse rancher, and had originally planned to sell horses as his herd grew.  Except that as the horses were born, he tended to give most of them away to his kids, grandkids, and other relatives and friends. He was very generous, and worked alongside us as we skirted his trailer, explaining that this project would have taken him months.  As they talked, Jack asked him about what he saw as differences between life on and life off the Rez.

                Humidity was a big one, the weather.  There was much more money to be made off the Rez.  But here on the Rez he was amongst his people. 

                “Did you encounter a lot of racism off the Rez?” Jack asked.

                “Not in Minnesota where I was living,” Bart said. “But there is a lot around here.”

                The two had a nice ongoing conversation as the day went on, and when the volunteers packed up to leave, Jack made a point of going to shake Bart’s hand.

                “I’ll be honest,” Jack told him “You’re the first Lakota I have spoken to for more than a minute. And while I didn’t expect there would be many differences between us, I am impressed with your moving back here after being pretty comfortable out in Minnesota.”

                “Family.” Said Bart. “This is our land. It called me back. There is a larger population of traditionals out here, and we are all family.”

                Jack thanked him again for the conversation, and Bart called him “Wasichu Waste”, which he explained meant “Good White Guy”.

                That night the Lakota speaker was a man named Will Peters.  He looked like quite a character.  He had long black hair drawn back in a ponytail. He wore a sleeveless t-shirt with Bob Marley on it.  Both of his ears were pierced, and he wore sunglasses that hid his eyes.  He was not too tall, but built like the sort of guy who could handle himself in a tough neighborhood.  He had a tattoo of a turtle on one arm, and a medicine wheel on the other.  Jack wondered if he was in a gang of some sort.  When he spoke, he had a Lakota accent, and spoke like he was from the street.

                Jack was therefore surprised to hear that not only was Will a high school teacher, but had been on the tribal council and between he and his wife had five college degrees.  Jack felt foolish because he had always believed that one should never judge a book by its cover, but here he had fallen into that trap.

                Will spoke of what the youth experience was like on the Rez. How hard life was when there was little hope of a future. How their culture had been attacked and oppressed not just a hundred and fifty years ago, but continuing through the years and was ongoing even today.  He opened the volunteers eyes to the dysfunction of the tribal council, the stresses on the education system, and finally of the suicide rate amongst the youth.  Multiple times higher than anywhere else in the country. One sentence that he spoke struck Jack right through the heart.

                “Probably not one of you has been to more funerals for kids than I have. Do any of you know what it’s like to have to deal with a teenage suicide? It tears your heart out. Tears it out.”

Will’s words echoed in Jack’s head.

                “Do any of you know what it’s like…”

                Jack flashed back to one of his runs as a medic.  A teenage girl had hung herself. They had worked her as best as they could. Even gone so far as to get an IV started and pushed meds.  That had been the first time Jack had placed a ET tube, or breathing tube, in the field.  He remembered feeling pleased that he had got it in on the first attempt. He remembered feeling a bit sick that he had felt happy about the tube.  They couldn’t save the girl. The whole scene was nightmarish.  But the other medic he worked with was phenomenal, and the two of them were able to do what needed to be done. Jack had seen other suicides, but this one stuck with him for some reason. He spent a lot of time wondering why that girl had taken her own life when she had so much going for her. She had often appeared in Jack’s dreams carrying the three month old SIDS baby.

                As Will spoke, Jack couldn’t help but to compare him to one of his favorite people. Pastor Bill Yonker was a friend of both Jack and his wife, had in fact married the two of them, and was a terrific public speaker.  He had the ability to tell a story such that the entire audience was hanging on every word. Will had the same power over a crowd, and Jack enjoyed the talk immensely.  He also felt like he wanted to talk with Will and learn more. A sentiment shared by most of the volunteers, as after his talk he was swarmed by more questions.

Jack hung in the back of the crowd, not wanting to impose on others, but wanting to make sure he got a chance to talk with Will.  He finally got his chance as Will was heading for his car to go home. They talked about suicides and Jack told Will that he did know what it was like. They only spoke for a few minutes. But in that time Jack mentioned that he would be back with a group in a couple of months. Will said that he had to get going, but told Jack to be sure to talk to him again the next time he came out.

The whole group went on a tour of the Rez on Thursday, visiting the college and the radio station, having lunch where Black Elk Speaks had been told.  Seeing and learning more and more about what had happened on the Rez from the past to the present. 

Something happened to Jack that week. He wasn’t sure exactly when, but he soon felt like Re-Member was another home for him.  At first since he did not have a group to debrief with, he talked to the staff. They shared stories with each other, and by the end of the week Jack considered them friends, if not family. Later in the week he was ‘adopted’ by a college age group from Hope College in Michigan. He became fast friends with many of them, and at the end of the week they invited him to join them up on the hill for their final debriefing meeting. They were a pretty special group of young adults, and he told them so. He had some very eye opening experiences, and realized that the Lakota people on Pine Ridge were pretty much invisible to the “outside world.”  He made a pledge to himself to try and change that however he could.

Before he left, he asked if there was anything he could bring back when he brought his group in a couple of months. Any supplies or just raise as much money as he could.  What could he do?

“Shingles” one of them told him. “We have many roofs that need repair or replacement, and we are running low on shingles.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Jack promised.

After all of the groups had gone, Jack joined some of the staff at the Lakota CafĂ© for breakfast before he left.  As he sat at the table with them, he felt a little sad that he had to go, but so very thankful for having met them.

As he drove home, he listened to the CD of music he had purchased from Will. It was filled with very powerful lyrics about life on the Rez along with some love songs for his wife.  Jack knew that it would take months to process all that he had learned and experienced. He had been on many mission trips, but none had sunk into his heart like this one seems to have.  He wondered what the future would hold for him and the Rez.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Chapter Nine - Sunday on the Rez

And what a week it was. Every day would begin with ‘Wisdom of the Elders’, a reading of quotes from people from many tribes giving a perspective on things from a Native American view. It was also a review of history, going more in depth into things glossed over in public school. “Battles” that were really massacres, like Wounded Knee.  “Massacres” that were really battles, like the Fetterman Massacre.  It was a valuable lesson that the victor writes the history, and many eyes were opened to the historical inaccuracies taught to most people in schools across the country.

                Sunday the volunteers were taken to Wounded Knee to hear the history from a descendant of one of those killed in that massacre.  It was shocking and eye opening. 
Then they all went to the Badlands for a hike back to a place called the Sanctuary. 

Jack walked with one of the staff who told him to try taking off his watch and letting himself learn to be peaceful.  Not worry about time or anything back home.  Just let the experiences that were going to happen this week sink in.  This was a little strange to Jack, as he was a bit of a control freak.  He liked knowing what time it was, knowing what time things were to happen so he could be a few minutes early, or at the very least not late for something.  But the woman he was talking to told him that things worked differently out here.  They were on ‘Indian Time’, which meant things would happen when they happened.  Something starting at 3:00 PM may start ten minutes early or a half hour late. Time didn’t matter too much. Everything happened in its own time. She told him that people “out in the world” cared too much about the detail of time, and not enough about the detail of people, or the event. Jack took off his watch and put it in his pocket.  Maybe he’d try ‘Indian Time’ for today or this week.  But he figured once he was back in “the world” he would fall back into wearing his watch.

                They stopped at the entrance to the Sanctuary and were told to spread out. Find a place alone and meditate, pray, sleep, whatever you felt like doing.  There was no pressure to do anything, and such a non-structured time seemed a little strange to Jack and some of the others.  But they were there for the experience, so the volunteers spread out into the giant valley.  Jack chose a spot up on a hill.  There was no shade, and the sun was beating down, but he had sunscreen on, a bottle of water, and a good hat.

                He prayed a short prayer to God that he would be open to whatever happened this week, and for patience now that he didn’t have a watch.  Then he stretched out on the rough, dry earth, pulled his hat over his face, and fell asleep.

That night they heard from a Lakota speaker named Inila Wakan, who spoke of taking back land that had belonged to his Grandmother.  She had been removed along with 800 others during WWII.  They were given a week to get out of their homes because the US Government was going to use those acres as a bombing range for B-17’s to practice on before they headed over to Europe.  Most of them took what they could carry, and the next week their homes were destroyed by the US Army Air Corps. After the war, the land was leased to white ranchers.  Inila watched his grandmother live the rest of her life bitter and broken.  His father had been born in the house, and he too had lived a bitter and broken life.  Inila decided to break the cycle and one day he took his family out to his grandmothers land and started living.  He built a house, drilled a well, basically started homesteading.  The rancher came with a pistol at his side to demand he leave, but Inila chased him off with a shotgun.  Then the BIA came out and threatened to take him to court. Inila dared them to do it, as he had all of the paperwork and documentation that the land still belonged to his grandmother’s family.  He has not heard back from anyone for years now.
Jack fell asleep quickly that night. It had been an exhausting day.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Chapter Eight - To the Rez

Jack scheduled a trip to Re-Member in March and looked forward to it with each passing day.  His wife suggested that he talk to the mission pastor of their church, to see if there would be interest in the congregation to donate supplies or money to the Re-Member group.  So Jack met with the pastor and told her about the organization, what they did, and about his trip.  It just so happened that the mission trip the pastor had been setting up had fallen through, and the Re-Member trip sounded like a perfect replacement to her.  Soon Jack found himself helping organize a second trip to the Rez later that spring with a group from his church.

                The weeks passed quickly, and soon it was time for Jack to bid farewell to his family and head for the Rez.  He stopped in Mitchell, South Dakota that night to sleep.  The next morning he made a quick visit to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, and got back on the road to the Rez.  The miles passed quickly, and soon he found himself in Batesland, a small town bordering the Pine Ridge reservation. He stopped for a Pepsi, and calculated how much longer it would be until he reached the camp.

                20 minutes.  That was all he would need to finish the drive.  But he was still an hour early.  He parked his car at the local post office, looking across the street at a structure he could not identify.  Logs, about 4-6 inches in diameter, had been placed upright in the ground in a big circle.  Other logs had been circled inside of those, and pine branches covered the top like a roof.  He wondered if it was a powwow circle.  He was also amazed at how quiet everything was.  The only sounds he heard were a few birds singing, and the wind in the grass.  It was peaceful, but Jack was a bundle of nerves.

                What would the coming week hold for him? Would he be able to do the work expected of him? Would he feel like an outsider since most everybody else would be coming in groups?  Finally anticipation got the better of him and he headed to the camp.

                As he drove up the dirt road to the camp, he noticed people working in a circular garden that served as a vehicle turn around.  There was a large, red Morton building, a large orangish/brown building, a mobile home, and a tipi.  He pulled up next to the garden and saw a tan, dark haired woman approaching his car.  Perhaps she was a Lakota? He wondered.

                “Welcome!” She said.

                “Hi.” He said back. She’s not a Lakota, he thought. She sounds Italian.

                Sure enough, he met Erika, an Italian woman who worked on the staff.  After the two of them had taken his things into the big red building and found him a bunk, they went back outside. Jack met Jen, the program director, Ted, the camp director, and a few others. They welcomed him and told him that today his only mission was to relax and acclimate to the weather and the place.

                Jack went up on top of a hill at the suggestion of the staff and took a look around.  It was amazing.  Quiet everywhere, a 360 degree view of the land.  Pure peacefulness. Whatever was in store for him, he felt ready for whatever the week would hold.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chapter Seven - From Memory Lane to the Present


                Over the years, Jack would Live in Chippewa Falls for a time, have many adventures with many friends, be adopted by a black German Shepherd named Shoba, be honorably discharged from the Marines, marry a wonderful woman, have two amazing kids, become a paramedic and end up living in Rochester, Minnesota.

 His wife was a nurse at Mayo, and he was working for an ambulance service in Decorah, Iowa, seventy miles away. After nearly a decade in EMS, Jack was feeling burned out.  He was tired of dealing with people who were sick and injured. Tired of treating those who weren’t really that sick. Tired of battling Death for the life of people from 101 years old down to three months old. Tired of dealing with a manager who seemed more concerned with keeping the hospital administration happy than with how he treated his medics, or how the medics were coping with things they saw day in and day out. He was haunted by dreams of children that had died in his arms, kids he could not save, no matter how hard he tried.

                Without realizing it, he was developing Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He became short tempered and irritable. Finally, at the request of his wife, he went to see a doctor.  She diagnosed him as probably having PTSD, and after a few worksheets of questions, was positive beyond a doubt.  Jack went to see a counselor, not really thinking that it would help much. But to his surprise, it did.  His outlook on things changed. Although his job was challenging, Jack felt like he was good at what he did and he loved and respected the medics he worked with like he felt about the Marines he served with.  But things with the manager were getting worse.  After some serious deliberation with his wife, and not caring much for the hostile work environment that was developing, Jack retired from being a medic and decided to become an artist.  He had started several artistic hobbies while a medic to help him escape from the stresses of the job. He worked with stained glass, became a knife maker, had taught himself to make traditional archery equipment, and had just recently started working with warm and hot glass.

                Life was moving along for Jack and his family. But Jack didn’t feel like he mattered much anymore.  After all, as a Marine he had been a defender of his country.  As a medic he had helped save lives. As an artist… well… he made neat things, but what difference would that make? Fortunately for Jack, he had married an amazing woman who had the ability to not only get to the root of things, but was incredibly supportive of all of his foibles.  As they talked, they discussed God calling people to certain things.  Jack didn’t put much stock in that.  He had never felt “called” to anything. But he did feel like he was meant to serve others. He served as a Marine. He served as a medic. But now, how could he serve?

                He really wanted to be a philanthropist, and be able to make things happen to improve the lives of others. Unfortunately, he did not have the millions of dollars needed to be a philanthropist.  But his wife, over dinner one night, asked him why he couldn’t donate his skills instead of money.  After all, his father had taught him to work with his hands as he grew up, and he was sort of a jack of all trades, and could do some construction and other things.  Perhaps, they reasoned together, he could volunteer with some organization that built houses or drilled water wells or something.  In thinking things over, Jack considered the situation on the Pine Ridge reservation.  It was the most impoverished county in the entire country, with 90% unemployment, high rates of alcoholism, diabetes, suicides. The lifespan for the average male was 47.  Women did a little better with an age of 54.  Jack thought that perhaps he could start an organization that would go to the reservation and fix up houses, put in windows, patch up roofs. Just improve the living conditions a little.  His wife came up with the excellent idea of looking online to see if such a group already existed.

                After some research, Jack found a group doing the exact things he had envisioned.  It was called Re-Member, and took volunteers each week out to help fix up houses on the “Rez” as they called it. The other part of their program was an immersion into Lakota culture, including tours of the Rez, and Lakota speakers who came each night to talk about the history of the people and the problems faced today. So Jack would go to volunteer for a week on the Rez, and see if he could make some sort of a difference to anyone.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Chapter Six - The Canupa Begins


When spring came, he was offered a job as the waterfront director and chief lifeguard. The job entailed living in a small, one room cabin on the beach, nicknamed “The Honeymooner” by the staff.  Jack thought this would be ideal, as his faith had really grown during the year.  He still doubted many things about organized religion, but was now convinced that God was around somewhere.  Jack felt the closest he had come to meeting God had been on the trip to Pipestone.

                Over the summer, he had lots of time to ponder things, and he decided that perhaps he should carve a pipe from a piece of the stone. He didn’t smoke, but he thought that maybe it would look good as a decoration. In these days before the internet, he had only his memories of pictures in books to go from, and spent many days thinking about what sort of pipe he would carve. The artists in his family – his dad and aunt – had always said that the key to carving was to just take away what didn’t belong. He finally decided to try to carve a killer whale, as that had always been his favorite animal. Using only hand tools, he made the initial cuts into the stone. Then using files, he ground away what he thought didn’t belong.  As he worked, he thought about God.  What it would take as proof of God? Would he ever know what it was that God wanted him to do with his life?  Lots of people, especially at camp, talked about how they had felt called by God to do this or that, to get a job doing such and such.  Jack had never felt called by God to do anything. He wondered if he ever would.  He carved and chipped away at the pipestone with the realization that this could take all summer to complete.  But he had time.

                He was working on one of the pectoral fins, or flippers, one day and thinking that perhaps he didn’t need proof of God, just some proof of what God wanted him to do with his life. Jack’s middle name was Thomas, and like his biblical namesake, Jack had to see real, physical, nearly overwhelming proof of something to believe in it.

                “Maybe,” he thought “God wants me to…”

                But that was as far as he got.  The pectoral fin popped away from the piece with a “snikt”, and Jack sat dumbfounded at what had just happened. His first attempt at a pipe was ruined. It would never look like a killer whale now. He got angry and considered throwing the whole thing into the lake, was seconds from doing so in fact.  But he remembered that some of the pipes he had seen were just plain.  Maybe he could just make this one into a plain pipe for practice.  So he sat on the porch of the Honeymooner, filing away at the piece now and then for days, not giving it much thought.

                One day as he carved, he watched a Red-Tailed Hawk circling above the shoreline. Jack smiled at the peacefulness that his accommodations provided him.  He looked down at the pipe in his hands, and noticed that the front of it sort of resembled the hawk’s head. With a little more filing and some scratching with the other end of the file, he soon had a rough hawk head on his pipe.  Maybe this pipe will be something after all, he thought.

                He decided to drill the holes in the pipe before he did too much detail work. After all, if it broke apart during drilling, he didn’t want hundreds more hours invested in it.  So he used a hand drill and a vise to do the drilling. Since he had never smoked a pipe, or anything else in his life, he made a guess as to the hole sizes.  He used a ¼” bit for the hole where the stem would fit in.  That drilling went well.  Then he drilled down into the bowl with the ¼” bit until it was almost level with the top of the hawk head. He switched to a 1/16th inch bit to connect the bowl to the stem hole. He drilled carefully, but at about a half inch in, the bit broke off in the stone. He grabbed another 1/16th bit and drilled a second hole right next to it, being even more careful. This time he met with success, and connected the two holes.

                He set aside the half-finished pipe, and on one of his days off, went walking along the roadway near camp where hundreds of Sumac trees grew.  The leaves had already turned red for the autumn, and Jack didn’t know exactly what he was looking for.  In the books he had read, they spoke of using Sumac for stems. Finding a piece about 16-18” long that was straight, then burning the middle out with hot wire.  Jack found a relatively straight piece and thanked the tree for letting him take it. When he got it back to the Honeymooner, he stripped the bark off and carved a narrow piece that fit into the pipe. Then he wondered how on earth he was going to hollow it out.  He got a wire hanger and cut it into a long, straight rod.  Then he lit a candle and held the wire over the flame until it was glowing hot.  With a quick prayer for success, he pressed the hot end into the center of the stem. Smoke curled up from the wood as it sunk into the wood. Jack felt resistance, and after about an inch he withdrew the wire to reheat it.  When he plunged it in the second time, it went about an eighth of an inch before it popped through into open space.  Jack was surprised, then amazed as he pushed the wire through the hollow area until it was about an inch from the other side.  He flipped the stem, reheated the wire and in no time had a hollow stem that fit quite well into the pipe.

                He worked on the pipe from time to time, not knowing that it would not be finished for another two decades.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Chapter Five - More Memory Lane, Marine Corps and Beyond

Jack had many, many adventures during his time in the Marines.  The best thing about it for him was the people he served with. He grew to respect them and loved them like brothers.


                Nearing the end of his time in the Marines, Jack worked for a while at a bible camp. It had been a strange journey to get there, involving a friend who was a youth director inviting him to chaperon a ski trip, and later, be an assistant in the youth group.  He did both, with the understanding that he would not proselytize to the kids, but probably challenge them as to why they believed what they did.  His youth director friend had agreed. As time went on though, Jack found himself conflicted by his disbelief.  Soon he came to believe that yes, God did exist, but that no organized religion held all the answers.  He had become a seeker of the truth, just as Larry Perrault had challenged him to do.

                His time at the bible camp was challenging only in that he did not go blindly along with the faith that was put forth there. But he did meet some amazing people who helped him develop his faith, and one particularly beautiful woman who would later become his wife.

                One of the people he hung out with was a guy named Jay Diers.

  The two would often travel to Sioux Falls for a change of pace, or go out on photography sessions, shooting things in nature.  Jack had heard that Pipestone was not far from the camp, and one autumn day the two drove up to visit.

                Pipestone, Minnesota, is the home of the pipestone quarries, where according to books Jack had read, early Native Americans dug out the soft, red soapstone to make their peace pipes with.  When the two arrived, Jack began his alternative education.  What the history books don’t mention is that Native Americans still quarry the stone, and still make the pipes. They are called Canupa (cha-NOO-pah) or sacred pipes. The two walked around the quarries, and both of them felt a very strong presence. A strong feeling that this place was really a holy place. It was not a feeling Jack had often, and could only think of one other place that had the same feeling. Before they left, Jack worked up the courage to ask one of the park employees about obtaining some pipestone.  She was Native and directed him to her house in town, where her son would sell him some.

                When they arrived at the house, an older man came out and after hearing Jack’s request looked him over with a critical eye.

                “What are you going to do with it?” He asked.

                “I don’t know, really.” Jack answered. “I may carve it someday, but for now I’ll probably keep it as a reminder of my visit.” Jack didn’t want to sound too swirly or new-agey and say it would remind him of how holy the place felt, and perhaps a piece of the pipestone would contain some of that holiness that Jack could be near.

                “You gonna sell it?” the man asked, still seeming doubtful as to whether to sell some.

                “No.” Jack said, surprised by the question.

                After a few more long seconds of deliberation, the man finally agreed to sell some to Jack.

                “How much you want?”

                “How much will this get me?” Asked Jack, holding out fifty bucks.

                The man grunted, and headed over to a box filled with large chunks of the red stone. He handed a couple of cup sized rocks to Jack, and cut a chunk off a larger piece that ended up being about the size of a two inch thick dinner plate.  After a little silent deliberation, he added another saucer sized, inch thick scrap to the haul.

                Jack was ecstatic. He thanked the man again, and again, and then he and Jay headed back to camp. He wrapped his new rocks in a bandana and tucked them in a drawer, wondering what on earth he was going to do with so much of it.  He left a chunk out to look at, a reminder of the visit.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Chapter Four - Artillery School


                Jack packed up his gear. Infantry school was over, and he was headed to eight weeks of artillery school. He had kept journals of his experiences in Infantry school, and decided that his two notebooks were pretty ratty after being jammed in his rucksack for the past few weeks. He made the decision to get a new notebook when he arrived in Oklahoma for artillery school, and re-write all of his adventures in a cleaner book, perhaps even with more legible handwriting.

                Once at Fort Sill, he bought a few more notebooks for journals and started transferring memories.  He didn’t get too far though, there was too much to do and learn for his specialty, and the studying kept him busy.  He had another dream about the Indian guy, this time the two of them stood in a field and watched red-tailed hawks and bald eagles soaring above them.

He met a Marine who was part Apache named Guy Sullivan. The two had fire watch together sometimes, and during one of these Jack told him about the dream, but not about what had happened during the ambush.  Guy said that perhaps Jack should look into Apache religion, and gave him a book about Shamanism. Jack read through it, but it seemed more New Age than actual Native religion. Though he gave it much thought, Jack decided that New Age Shamanism held even less for him than organized religion. 

Artillery school was also a good time for Jack.  It was a competitive class, and his journaling soon gave way to studying to try and keep ahead of the other Marines.  He made it a goal to graduate in the top five. After all of the hard work and a great many adventures, he graduated third in his class.
He hadn't thought much about God, and felt the old feeling of not really caring setting in once more.  Maybe someday he would meet God again. But he doubted it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Chapter Three - The Strange Dream


                Infantry school continued, and as it came to a close in the middle of May, the Marines were told that during the last week of training there would be a three day war, where the platoon would be split up and set against each other to practice all of the skills they had learned in the previous month. Everybody was psyched up for the war, and when it started the first and third squads were set against the second and fourth squads.  Jack’s fourth squad was put into trenches around a “command post”, and for 48 hours sent out patrols, conducted raids, sat on guard duty, and basically ran through everything learned. On the third night, the fourth squad conducted a very successful raid on 1st and 3rd squads by pretending to be members of those squads who had captured a corporal.  After the raid, fourth squad fell back and set an ambush for anyone following them.

                It was a typical “L” shaped ambush, with the short line crossing the road, and the long line hidden just off the road.  Any enemy walking into it would be caught in two lines of fire, and there was no escape but to charge the ambushers and hope you survived.  Jack had been placed at the very end of the long line, and would be the first to see the enemy approach if they came down the road. He would then signal the next man that bad guys were coming, and the signal would go down the squad so everyone was ready to surprise the enemy.

                Jack and everyone else was lying prone (on their bellies), M-16’s pointed into the kill zone. Minutes of waiting turned into what seemed like hours. It was well after midnight when they had set the ambush, and everybody was tired. They had been awake more or less for three days. Jack knew that he couldn’t fall asleep, because if he did it could jeopardize the ambush and perhaps even get them all “killed.” But the strain on his neck was bothersome, so occasionally he would put his head down to stretch his neck, rocking his head back and forth, then look back up and down the road.  Still no contact. At least the scenery was nice.  Far from any city or town lights, the pitch black sky was awash with stars.  Jack could see the Milky Way clearly, and passed the time finding as many constellations as he could remember.

                Jack put his head down to stretch his neck again. When he opened his eyes and raised his head though, something had changed.  The sky, once inky black, had turned a rusty reddish orange color. He could still see the stars and the Milky Way, but the red color had filled the black of space. He was wondering at that when he noticed a man crouched in the grasses next to him. It was a man about his age, but dressed only in an Indian breechcloth and moccasins.  He had long, black hair with a feather in it. His face was painted from a line going from one ear, across the top of his nose, and down to the other ear. Above the line was red, below was not painted. In his right hand he held a spear, and on his left arm was a shield painted green, with some dots and a lightning bolt painted on. They looked at each other and smiled a greeting.  Jack felt no fear or surprise. It was as if the Indian had been there all along. No words were spoken, but somehow Jack heard the Indian tell him that he would always be safe in combat, that he would never be injured or killed because the Indian had his back. This seemed perfectly normal to Jack, and he wondered if he had somehow gone back in time and was now an Indian waiting to ambush the blue coated soldiers who invaded his lands. Jack felt that all was right with the world, and everything would be fine. His warrior friend pointed down the road with his spear, and as Jack turned his head to look, the sky fell instantly into blackness again.  Jack blinked, but saw the first ghostly shapes of infantrymen coming down the road.  He turned back to where the Indian had been, but the ground was, of course, empty.

                “What a dream!” Jack thought as he moved slightly and signaled the Marine next to him that the enemy had arrived.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Chapter Two - A Trip Down Memory Lane, Marines


                Jack had always been interested in Native American cultures, particularly the Oglala Lakota of the old West.  As a child, he had heard family stories about a great, great grandmother who was Oglala. As he grew, he read stories of the old West. Stories about the battle of Wounded Knee, and Little Big Horn.  He knew the names Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, George Custer and George Crook.  The older he got, the more his interest in Indian lore faded. When he joined the US Marines at age 20, he was proud of his Indian blood, but not more so than his English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch, German or Norwegian blood.  He considered himself a true American Mutt.

                Marine Corps boot camp was tough.  But as he strengthened his body, he realized that it was more of a mental game than physical.  Sure, the physical regime was brutal. It was intended to build the strong bodies required to fill combat roles.  But the mental games that the DI’s played were just as tough, weeding out anyone who did not have the mental toughness to work through the pain or the tedious repetition. Of the seventy that started training that January of 1992, only around 60 would graduate in April, proud to claim the title of United States Marine. 


Jack did well in boot camp. Losing about ninety pounds, and gaining a sense of self respect that he had lost somehow after high school. It was also the beginning of his search for some spiritual truth as well. After high school, he fell away from his Methodist upbringing, and identified as an atheist. But during boot camp he met a guy named Larry Perrault, a deeply religious man from Louisiana.  They became friends, and would often debate religion during free time. Jack wanted to believe in God, but had been disillusioned with the organized religions that preached “It’s our way or hell”. Larry would tell him the most important words he could hear.

As they sat cleaning gear with only a few days of boot camp remaining, discussing again the existence of God, Larry told Jack that it was OK to not believe right now. He also made Jack promise to keep an open mind to whatever came in the future.

“Don’t close God out completely.” He told Jack that day, “He wants to be in your life.  Just promise me that you’ll keep looking for the truth.”

Jack promised, though he didn’t expect much to change.

  Jack would be going to artillery school to train to become a Fire Direction Controlman. His job would be to sit behind the big cannons and get information from the Forward Observers about where the enemy was.  That information would be plugged into electronic and physical computers and changed into a set off numbers to be sent to the gun line so they could deliver the rounds where the FO’s wanted them.  It was, in Marine lingo, a high speed, high stress job, as an error in computation could lead to 155 mm rounds dropping on friendly troops.

                But before he went to artillery school, he – and every other Marine fresh out of boot camp – would have five weeks of infantry school training.  In the Marine Corps, every Marine is a basic infantryman first.  The Corps is too small to have specialties like the army, where a cook or an administrative clerk could go their entire career without touching a weapon. Marines are all infantrymen who happen to specialize in other things.

                So after a ten day leave to visit friends and family back home, Jack shipped out to 29 Palms, California, to complete his infantry schooling.  He had a good time at infantry school.  He had earned the right to be a Marine, and the Sergeants rarely yelled at them or put them in the dirt to do push-ups for punishment.  It was just solid schooling in infantry tactics and techniques.  He remembered Larry’s words, but they were way in the back of his mind as he crammed as much infantry knowledge into his head as he could.  He also had a little more freedom to write in infantry school. He didn’t dare keep much of a journal in boot camp. But he started keeping them again at infantry school so he could remember all of the things he was learning, and record his experiences in case anyone would be interested in reading about them one day in the future.

                One night in the second week of training, his company did a night fire exercise, with heavy .50 caliber machine guns, lighter SAW 240 machine guns, a couple of Mark 19’s that fired grenades like a machine gun, and dozens of M-16A-2’s, the rifle of issue in those days.  All of the weapons were loaded with tracer rounds, and the firing range was lit up with the thousands of burning rounds heading downrange at the burned out husks of old vehicles that served as targets. It was a very graphic demonstration of just how much firepower could be brought to bear upon the enemy. A confidence builder for grunts to see that well-coordinated fire was deadly to the enemy.  After the show, Jack and his platoon filed out of the bleachers. A sergeant stood at the head of the line pulling Marines out and directing them to a tent. Jack was one of those tapped to go. He thought it was another “voluntary” work detail.

                When the sergeant came in, he told the Marines that this was a mandatory religion class. He then spoke about his extremely fundamentalist views on God, and how God only favored certain people. Certain races. Jack looked around and noticed that every other Marine was Caucasian like him. The sergeant told them that they should not call “other” Marines brother, as that was an affront to God.  After ten minutes of this, he asked if anyone had questions. One private up front asked if he could leave, as this was not what he believed at all.  The sergeant asked him to explain, and the private said that the God he believed in was the God of everyone. Not just whites. The sergeant nodded his head for a moment, then struck the private with an openhanded slap that made everyone jump.  The sergeant had two others there that took the private and bodily threw him from the tent as the sergeant morphed into a fire and brimstone messenger, telling the assembled men that anyone who thought as that private did would “join the niggers and the gooks and the Jews in eternal hellfire.”

                Nobody else had questions after that, and after what seemed an eternity, the sergeant released them. As the troops left, they were forced to sign a “class roster” saying they had attended. Jack signed in as Buck Rodgers.  He later found out that many others had signed different names and had been equally creeped out and disgusted by the “class.” A few of them reported the incident to their platoon sergeants, but nobody ever saw that sergeant again, and the issue was dropped.

                The incident just confirmed Jack’s belief that organized religion was just a way to control people and oppress others. Though in his heart, he wanted desperately to hear from a loving God that He did indeed exist.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Chapter One - After Midnight at the Shepard house.


                Jack Shepard stood in the hallway of his house, looking at pictures of his family. His wife and him on their wedding day. Pictures of the kids from birth to today.  A montage of his life from the past ten years. It was the middle of the night, and he couldn’t sleep again. Things had happened in the past fifteen months that he could neither explain nor avoid. Wondrous but slightly scary things, as these events seemed to be leading him down a road he had not foreseen in his future. He felt at a crossroads of sorts. Down one way was what he had always known. Comfortable, pretty safe. A continuation of the life he had been building for twenty years.  Not too much change.  Down the other way was different.  It held unknown and unknowable things. At least unknowable from his current vantage point.  There were new things to learn down that road, customs of a culture that seemed at once so familiar yet in reality so different from his own. It held judgment from others who would think he was abandoning his faith, or ruining his current, comfortable life, who would roll their eyes when he told them of things that were happening. It held some risks for certain. The two reasons he could see travelling that road were the signs that had appeared, and the belief that the road that was so different would take him closer to God.