What’s New??

Back in Michigan! I’m home. I’m chilling in Saginaw on a Friday night at my house right now. It feels like my life has been a revolving door of big adventures that have kept me uprooted and unable to settle. I’ve been back in Michigan for probably 5 weeks now and it’s weird. I’m here and I’m living a normal life again, or at least what constitutes as normal for me. I do know that there will be another definite uprooting adventure for me in the future. I’m waiting on a top secret security clearance, which typically takes a year, and then I’m off to military intelligence school for close to 5 months. That’s more like it. Typical Sam. However, in the mean time Saginaw is the spot apparently!

So what am I doing with my time? In keeping with always trying to stay busy and living life with a good sense of urgency, I’ve dived head first into a master program. What’s it in you ask? It is a Master of Science in Administration with a leadership concentration. So it’s essentially the most generic degree I could have chosen. So why did I chose it? Another good question, but I’ll tell you why. I get $6,000 an academic year for schooling through the Michigan state tuition assistance program. I can also get a 40% tuition discount at my alma mater Central Michigan University (FIRE UP CHIPS!!!) as a military member. So with a 40% tuition discount, my tuition rate is $340 a credit. That means I can essentially take 15 credits (well 17.6 credits, but most classes are 3 credits so really 5 classes for 15 credits) an academic year at zero cost to me! So I don’t know what I may need a master degree for, but I’d rather not be 35 and find out that I have to relearn how to school. Since I’m not that far removed from taking classes and it’s free I’m taking advantage of the benefit! But still why such a generic degree? Wouldn’t an MBA look better? Yes, I see your point but there is no 40% discount on the MBA credits. So there, that’s how I made that decision.

The summer semester is the last semester of the academic year with it resetting for the fall semester when kids typically go back to school. So in order to take full advantage of that $6,000 of state tuition assistance for this year I am cramming five 3-credit grad level classes into my already busy summer. This summer I have two 2-week training periods for the National Guard as well as weekend drills. I’ll be locked up in June at some point and then in August at another point for some good old fashioned Army training. Oh, I didn’t mention all my classes are online, and could potentially be at the global campus in Saginaw. So what am I doing to live? To stay alive and keep the lights on I’m back to work at the guitar shop. I work 10 hour days on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that gives me enough (so far) to support myself if I’m living frugally.

If that wasn’t enough, I’ve started a new hobby! I’ve been going to Jiu Jitsu 4 times a week since I got to Saginaw 5 weeks ago. With my wrestling background and other martial arts background it’s a sport that really suits me. I became pretty comfortable with the pace and technique almost right away. That doesn’t mean there still isn’t a lot to learn! If I roll with anyone who is more than a beginner it feels like I’m playing checkers and they’re playing chess! In Jiu Jitsu a black belt can often take over 10 years to achieve. There is just so much technique and muscle memory involved.

I started going because of a high school buddy who has been going for the last 3 or so years. He kicks my butt, but him and all the guys there are really great and easy to get along with. I’m really appreciative of being accepted into the gym culture pretty quickly. It’s nice to have a new group of guys to hang out with who have a similar interest. Also, my boss from the guitar shop goes a couple of times a week! How many employees get the opportunity to try and choke out there boss after work?! That’s pretty cool!

And that is what my summer will likely consist of! I had a couple of wedding to attend, but it looks like my National Guard drill weekends fall on both of them. We’ll have to play those weddings by ear, but that is part of the commitment I made! I’m excited to keep progressing in Jiu Jitsu, but I’m probably even more excited to finish these classes! I’ll update the blog with more adventurous things that will hopefully be happening in the future!

What’s New??

Almost a Lieutenant and Almost Home

It’s crazy how fast time has flown here at Officer Candidate School. It’s hard to believe I’ve been sleeping on top of my neatly made bed and not under the covers (to keep it inspection ready) for 90 days already!

Since my last post we’ve spent two weeks in the field learning squad tactics and leading those squads on simulated missions with blank ammunition. It gave us good experience at briefings which will be a good skill regardless of whether we have a combat branch job or not. I don’t know if I have mentioned it, but I am officially a military intelligence officer. As a MI officer I will be doing a lot of briefings to higher ranking officers on pertinent intel topics. Sleeping in the woods for two weeks was awesome too. We had a couple cold nights and some rain, but the sleeping bags are so good I would rarely wake up even through rain. The nice thing about being in the field is that when the sun goes down there isn’t much you can do, so I ended up getting a good amount of sleep.

We also had some more classroom time and an intense history course. We spent 8 four hour days learning about practically every military conflict the US has been involved in since the revolutionary war to now. It was pretty much a college level course condensed into a two week span. All our evening free time during these two weeks was spent studying. More recently we had our 5 mile graduation run where we had to maintain a certain pace. Then just this week we had our final inspection in our dress uniforms by the battalion Sergeant Major and Lieutenant Colonel. That caused a lot anxiety for the class and to make things worse it was probably 80 degrees and we were forced to stand in the sun motionless in our stuffy suits for over an hour while they inspected us and our barracks.

Now it just a weekend away and I’ll be getting pinned as a 2nd Lieutenant. My military career is relatively short so far, but in that short time I feel like I have learned so much, especially here. I feel a lot more confident now to show up at a unit and be in charge of the welfare of soldiers than I was just out of basic training. I’ve also met a lot of awesome, accomplished, and motivated people. I’m going to miss my roommate, Reece, a lot. He’s a classic American man. He’s probably the hardest worker I’ve ever met and he is always doing the right thing. He is humble and hardworking and a good example for me. Meeting him and others like him here at OCS makes me have more faith in the system the Army has for selecting and training officers. You can’t really teach character at this age so it’s nice to see those ending up here already have it for the most part.

In other, non-Army related, news I bought a truck while I’ve been down here. I bought a 1999 Toyota Tacoma. It got quite a bit of miles on it, but I feel a lot more confident buying it down here where they don’t salt the roads in the winter. The frame is in much better shape than anything you would find in Michigan from ’99. The adventure in this truck is that it is a manual. I have never driven a manual, but I have been doing some parking lot drills. I’m pretty excited about learning how to drive stick on the long road trip back north. Hopefully by the time I get back to Michigan I’ll be a pro or at least proficient in driving a manual.

When I get back the job is search is on as well. I’m looking at part time work right now because I will be starting a master degree, thanks to some Army benefits, starting in the summer semester. We’ll see where the search takes me.

Almost a Lieutenant and Almost Home

Army Officer Candidate School

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog, and that’s because I’m held up in what my friends and I call “prison college.” We call it that, because it’s significantly better than basic training, we have our own college style dorm rooms, and are allowed some basic privileges like internet and phone access. The “prison” part stands being that we are still in a training environment and really have no control over what we are doing.

In general the atmosphere here is a lot better. We still get yelled at when we screw up, but the feedback is much better. They treat us like intelligent human beings and use those moments to teach us, where as at basic training it was used more to make us conform to authority of those above us. They are definitely catering to different audience here since the majority of basic training trainees aren’t ever going to be officers. Since all of us here will become officer’s there is a much bigger emphasis on understanding the context of what we are doing so that we will eventually be able to present a why what we do matters to our subordinates. Hopefully in that way we can motivate those soldiers under us to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

I didn’t know what to expect for OCS when I first got here, but I’ve settled in and gotten used to the expectations of the classes, training, and field exercises that make up our graduation requirements. I’ve learned a lot more about the history of this school and about some of the great Americans who have gone through. There are numerous generals, politicians, and public figures, including the likes of Bill Gates Sr., who have attended this school. Our class received a speech from the president of the OCS Alumni Society and then were shown several videos on the history and notable attendees. I can’t find the video of the the Hall of Fame Honorees, but the video below is a brief overview of the history up until this point.

While tasks can be frustrating and some people can be the same, those are the minority. On the whole there are some impressive people here. Academically there are people with master degrees, doctoral degrees, law degrees, and former college professors. Athletically there are former D1 and D2 athletes from basketball, wrestling, track, cross country, and baseball backgrounds. One Officer Candidate played professional basketball overseas in Europe and Australia. One was an All-American wrestler who made the Olympic trials. A lot of people have really high character and overall competency. It’s an awesome blessing to be able to be around a group of individuals like this that I get the privilege to call my classmates.

I’ve done a lot in my full 5 weeks here so far and still have 7 more weeks to go. One major thing we did was land navigation were we spent a week out in the field waking up out of our sleeping bags at 3am to start wandering through the woods with a grid map, 5 points, and a compass to try and find all 5 points. It was a grueling week and I tallied over 50 miles walking in three days, but I was able to pass on test day with 5 out 5 points! When we were assigned weapons I volunteered to carry the M240 which is a big machine gun. I volunteered because not many people wanted to carry around the 27 pound weapon. We also received classes on military writing, law, ethics, training management, and many other topics from retired special forces and other high ranking officers. We had the privilege to hear a general speak to our class at one point. We’ve learned how to call in artillery strikes in a simulator. We’ve been tested on assembling and disassembling 3 different types of weapons for time. We’ve been tested on general first aid. We’ve done a lot that’s for sure! We’ll continue doing a lot and hopefully I’ll be back home in no time.

Army Officer Candidate School

My Army Experience (So Far…)

Preparing for the gas chamber…

I’m back! I’m at the tail end of a very enjoyable 2 week leave from basic training in Fort Jackson, SC. I guess Drill Sergeants want to spend time with their families for the holidays too, so we were allowed to book a flight home form Dec 19th – Jan 3rd.

Basic training, honestly, had been pretty fun up until this point. I was fortunate that because of our starting date we crammed all our graduation requirements before leave. So after 8 weeks of training I’ve undergone the soldier ceremony and have “earned” the right to wear my rank and my beret. The week before leave had the Forge. The Forge was the final field exercise of basic training. We spent 4 days outside in the cold with some of the lows reaching into the 20s at night. We started with a long ruck march of a little over 10 miles. 10 miles isn’t as fun with a 65lb pack. However, I really enjoyed rucking because of the challenge, but mostly because I was warm when I was moving! Sleep was hard to come by as we spent a lot of our time rucking at night. In the cold conditions you could see the moisture on your boots ice over. That was a little depressing, but when it came time to actually get a little sleep I was really impressed by the warmth of our sleeping system. Without a good sleeping system I don’t know if I could have done it! The night before the soldier ceremony we had to sit outside in the cold for hours before it started. No sleep and it may have been the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.

I’ve been asked a lot what a standard day looks like for me in basic training. We start the day typically around 5am with a wake up call. 5:30am formed up outside gives 30 minutes for morning hygiene and making your bed. Then we stand outside in the cold (sensing a theme?) until a Drill Sergeant comes out and runs us through physical training. Days typically alternate between running days and “strong” days which is essentially pushups, situps and other related exercises. After our workout we usually head to the dining facility for breakfast and then back to the bays for a shower depending on time. The rest of the morning until lunch is dependant on where we are in our training cycle. For most of basic we would spend this time getting to the range, either by walking or bus, and then shooting until lunch. Lunch is in the dining facility if we are on the battalion footprint otherwise we eat MREs (meals ready to eat). MREs aren’t terrible, especially if you are good at trading for things you want. I always end up with extra food since I know who likes what and more importantly who doesn’t like what. Then after lunch more shooting and then transport back to the battalion. Then another workout before or after dinner depending on timing. Then after dinner or after the workout we typically spend some time cleaning the classrooms, our bays, or whatever they can find for us to clean. Then if we didn’t mess up to badly we might get 45 minutes of personal time to read and write letters. Then lights out is at 9pm. And then it happens all over again…

I’ve made a lot of friends and have enjoyed learning and getting better at a lot of the different types of training. So for me I’ve really enjoyed it and always found a way to have a little fun each day. There’s always something that a Drill Sergeant yells at another trainee that will make you laugh.

I came home to lots of needed time with family and friends. I also came home to a puppy German shepherd living at my house. So much happiness!

Next, I’ll be headed to Fort Benning, Georgia for 12 weeks of Officer Candidate School. Who knows if I’ll be able to update you from there, but just know I’ll be continuing adventuring and learning!

My Army Experience (So Far…)

Getting Good at Saying Goodbye

I have definitely been slacking on the blog posts, and I will continue to slack…

I will be slacking because of some big news. I joined the Army National Guard! I joined back in June and have been going to drills one weekend a month since then. I meant to post about it sooner, but just never got around to it. Now, I am leaving on Tuesday, October 16th. So I definitely won’t be able to update the blog for a while because of basic training.

To fill you in, here is my schedule. I’ll be headed to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for 12 weeks to start with those 12 weeks including a 2 week break for Christmas. I guess drill Sergeants want to be with their families too during the holidays. Then after the completion of basic I will immediately be headed to Fort Benning in Georgia. There, I will spend another 12 weeks and this does not include any breaks. This 12 week training is going to be Officer Candidate School for me. So what that means, God willing, if I pass and don’t get injured I’ll be headed back home to Michigan around May, but not before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant!

I am pretty excited for everything but I know it will be tough. It will especially tough to say goodbye to all the amazing friends and family I have been blessed with. However, this is another one of those things I feel compelled to do. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about and something I think have the skill set to accomplish great things in.

In the gallery above you can see I already started saying goodbye. I had a fun weekend at CMU’s homecoming tailgating and going out with friends one last time before I leave. The one picture of me hugging in the parking lot was on my last day of work saying bye to one of my work friends. I seem to be making a habit out of saying so many goodbyes, but I look forward to a day where I don’t have to do that as much. However, I feel this is the best time in my life, being at this age, to do all these things. It still doesn’t make it any easier.

In other news from me, I bought a house in the Saginaw area. It a big house over 2,000 square feet. I already have 3 friends moved in helping me cover the mortgage. It’s a little nerve racking leaving right after buying a house, but I trust the guys who live here so that is nice. It will be really nice to be able to come back from training and have somewhere to settle.

So that’s a quick update on everything I’ve been up to. I’ll be back around Christmas hopefully with another update!

Getting Good at Saying Goodbye

Exploring East Side Saginaw

A couple friends and I have been on the house search lately. We’ve probably looked at about 20 houses at this point, all in the Saginaw and the Bay City area. Of the Saginaw houses, a couple have been on Saginaw’s east side. For those unfamiliar with Saginaw, Saginaw is a city that frequently graces the FBI’s top 10 most dangerous cities in America with several appearances in the top 5 in this decade. The majority of crimes response for that rank happen on the east side. With that said I am super intrigued by the east side.

Some people might not know, but I have owned a house on the east side for about 2 years now. It’s been a good rental property because the value is so low any rent equates to an abnormally large return on investment. When I first purchased the house those were some of my first experiences on the east side. It’s such an interesting place. In some spots it looks just like a normal safe area. Then in others you see half burnt houses, overgrown vacant lots, and boarded up blocks. An interesting fact is that there is not a single full blown grocery store on the east side. There is no Meijer. No Walmart. No Kroger. The closest thing you’ll find is a Dollar General with no name dollar stores being even more frequent.

Driving on East Gennesse one would see a 10 story apartment complex and right across the street acres of abandoned land former home of the Saginaw County Fair. Due to crime and the general decline of the area the fair was moved in 2002. Left is the unkempt Saginaw Raceway. The raceway was popular before casinos were legalized in Michigan in the late 80s. With competition from casinos horse race betting fell out of popularity. Yet the grandstand remains. How there is a 10 story apartment complex across the road with no grocery stores on that side of the river is another mystery to me. I have so many economic questions raised from things that seem like inconsistencies like the situation above.

 

My photographer friend Kaitlyn wanted to practice shooting some more rustic, urban scenes so she turned to me to find a place. I decided to check out that abandoned raceway.

The structure was in surprisingly good shape. In the stadium we met two other people who were into urban exploration. They were doing some pretty cool graffiti. It really wasn’t that hard to get in. There were giant holes in the fences everywhere. I reckon it is probably a lot for the police to constantly patrol and repair the area. Really it provides the kids something interesting to explore and hopefully sparks an interest in history and how this happened.

It was a fun little exploration and it really peaked my interest even more in the east side. Not once did I feel unsafe. Even as we left we saw a bunch of young guys playing around in the old fair grounds. It really is a shame to see something that is so cool just completely neglected, but I’m taking it as a cautionary tale and maybe more optimistically as a symbol of hope.

Next post I’ll talk a little about some big commitments I’m making in my life. A little soon after that I’ll be headed out West to see some National Parks in the Washington, Oregon, California area. And who knows maybe there will be a post highlighting my move into a house on the east side (not if my roommates have anything to say about it)!

Exploring East Side Saginaw

Wedding Season

The start to my summer and the start to my life back in the states has been busier than expected. That’s why it’s taken me a month since my last post to update the blog!

The past 4 weekends have been weddings; 2 in Wisconsin, 1 in Minnesota, and thankfully one half an hour away in Frankenmuth. Needless to say, since I’ve come home from my trip on the road I’ve been on the road a lot! Road trips with friends are always better than road trips alone! All the weddings have also given me a perfect opportunity to see friends I haven;’t seen in a while and to catch up on everything in their lives I missed out on while I was gone.

The first wedding gave us an opportunity to scout out some cool sights. Did a quick little stop at the Mississippi River and later we got to lookout over the top of a bluff in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The wedding was a huge group of high school friends and it felt almost like a mini reunion, especially with those I hadn’t seen since high school.

The next weekend was another wedding in Wisconsin. Good beer at some Wisconsin breweries the night before. The actual wedding was awesome. The groom was so emotional as the bride walked down the isle. It was beautiful! The reception was a blast too! At the reception I took a picture with all those girls in the picture above, weird to think that everyone of them is married as of me writing this now…

I some how don’t have any pictures of the third wedding, but here are some from the fourth. This wedding was out in Minnesota so to break up the road trip my friend Wyatt and I stayed with our friend Ashley in Madison, WI. We hung out in the morning and got to see the University of Wisconsin campus. It was actual really awesome! The student union was right on the lake and they sold beer and pitchers right in the union. If they did that at CMU, where I graduated, that might have been trouble.

The wedding was another fun one! Got to see a different group of friends from the high school class above. It is always really cool to see how much people’s lives have changed yet we still all seem the same. I’m excited to see how all my teacher friends end up in their new homes and careers wherever God has called them to.

That has been my past month! Lots of fun times and lots of catching up. It was much needed especially after being gone from things for so long. Above all, all the weddings made me realize how blessed I am to have such a large group of awesome, amazing friends!

Wedding Season

Mule!

Finished up visiting friends and family so now I’m chilling in Saginaw. I spent a week without working, which was kind of nice because I was able to do a lot of house hunting. I was even more motivated because I’m staying with some high school friends and I’m sleeping in a spare bed in one of their rooms. They have no stove and no washer and dryer. It will be nice to finally get my own place, but for now I can adapt and I appreciate their hospitality.

This past week I started working at Mule Resophonic Guiatars (http://muleresophonic.com/). I started by going through some power tool crash courses so I don’t chop my hand off on several of the dangerous machines there. Then I started working on making some of the basic parts of the guitars. I’m flanging steel frames and cutting up wood guitar necks. I’m doing the early stages of the process before it gets overly complicated, but eventually I’ll get more involved in aspects of the whole process.

Overall, it’s been an awesome place to work. I had a really good relationship with the owner in high school, and he has really grown his craft and following since then. So It’s pretty cool and I feel honored to be asked to be a part of it. He runs the shop in a fun way where it could be really stressful with the wrong leadership. He is a good teacher which is huge for my lack of experience in making guitars. The work itself is immensely satisfying as well. It’s cool to be involved in the entire process and seeing the craftsmanship that goes into a single guitar is awesome. There is a very human element in the work as well. The connection from the maker to the buyer is huge. In our case they have been on the waiting list to get one of these guitars for maybe more than a year. So talking to them and keeping them in the process and letting them know we are making a specifically guitar for them and them only is huge.

Overall, I am incredibly blessed to fall into an awesome job like this. I’m excited to continue working and learning as much as I can! We’ll see what other adventures pop into my life as I settle into living in Saginaw!

Mule!

Back at Home!

Where I left off in the last blog post I was trying to figure out air fare and travel back. It didn’t go how I had hoped with American Airlines and that flight was essentially trashed. Instead I ended up on a flight with Delta and about an additional $500 over what it would have cost if we had sailed to the US Virgin islands. Regardless I was super excited to get back and see family and friends!

Sunset in Antigua! Still had my sea legs but happy to be back on land!

Late night rec league basketball!

My new flight with Delta took me from Antigua at 9am to San Juan, Puerto Rico where I had a 2 and a half hour layover. After Puerto Rico I got to another layover in Atlanta. Finally back on real, mainland US soil. Unfortunately, my next and final destination was Chicago which was experiencing some major lighting storms. My 7pm flight got delayed to 8pm, then to 8:45, then to 9, then to 11, and then again to 1am. It was delayed to 1am to allow for a crew change as their shifts were over. No new pilots showed up so we got pushed back to 6am. Delta gave us a bunch of airlines snacks and bottled water for the night. In the morning after another in air delay we finally made it to Chicago. I had a train and bus ticket booked out of Chicago, but cancelled them as my friend Ashley happened to be in Chicago for a job interview. Luckily she offered to drive me, so I got my train and bus ticket refunded which I would have actually missed anyways due to all the delays.

Sticking to my original plan I made it back to Central on the Thursday before their graduation weekend. I kept a surprise and just walked into the apartment to surprise them. They might have figured out the surprise, but we had a good time none the less. I am really happy with all travels and adventures, but part of me wishes I would had another year with these guys. Each one of them has shaped me in some sort of way and I am appreciative of that. As a boy from Pigeon, I have to say that my black cultural education benefited greatly from our diverse group. No matter what, I know this won’t be the last time I see these guys, but its sad, nonetheless, to close this chapter of our lives together. Though being in the US again was slightly emotional in itself, I am glad I could be there for the goodbyes.

After spending some time up at Central I headed to Saginaw and Bay City were I saw a lot of my close high school friends. I went to church in Bay City and got to see a lot of families that I am close with. Then a couple of us went golfing which was a lot of fun. That night at about 10pm I got dropped off in my driveway by some friends and surprised my parents! They were happy to see me and felt good to be home. I went in my room and noticed the painting my mom had bought for me hanging on the wall. That verse, unsurprisingly, had meant a lot to me as I traveled. Then I went out the next night to see one of my favorites things from home, a sunset over Lake Huron.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

Then, after getting car insurance renewed and a little work I drove my car to the West side of Michigan to visit my aunt and uncle and my brother, sister-in-law and their little girls. It was really nice catching up with everyone and sharing my stories. It was especially fun to play with my nieces! They had grown a lot and the youngest who was barely talking when I left was now babbling in full sentences.

Overall, it feels good to be back! I have so much to look back on and be thankful for, but also so much to be thankful for right here at home! I am so blessed with amazing family and friends. I can’t wait to see what adventures lie for us in the future!

 

Back at Home!