Saturday, June 6, 2020

Seniors 2020, I Feel Your Pain. My Graduation Was ... Unique, Too.

The 2020 school year is in various stages of wrapping up, and COVID has taken the stage instead of the graduates. Seeing the graduate's disappointment reminds me of my high school days and how much I hated school, and just how fitting my final day in high school was. That day will always be one of the funniest incidences of my youth. I should preface by saying that I now have a GED.

So, I was valedictorian of my graduating class, which might sound impressive until you discover that I was also the very first graduate of my school, Christian Fellowship Academy. Yes, I attended a small, private school, which was basically, a one-room schoolhouse attached to a church, which was out in the middle of a cotton field, which was out in the middle of no where. I would love to tell you that I was outstanding in my field, but I would have to clarify that I was actually out, standing in my field.

Being a homeschool graduate in the 80s was being a pioneer in many ways, and it was certainly unprecedented. As the first graduate of a school, I was allowed some creativity, and the principal commissioned me to choose the school colors!  Not many people can boast that claim, (if it’s a claim worth boasting.)  I chose blue and white, the colors of Westbrook ISD, my former school before leaving the public school system. 

Being the first also presented some challenges that were unique. In order to graduate, I would have to acquire my own graduation gown. (In those days, you didn't simply order one on Amazon.)  I went down to Westbrook and asked if I could order an additional gown when they ordered their blue robes.  They agreed to help me and we arranged to have the gown shipped directly to my school.  The gowns were scheduled to arrive a week before graduation, but they were shipped late.  In fact, the shipment came only two days before graduation, and I was highly stressed over my predicament.  However, the real stress began when I opened the box.  Somehow, the order got mixed up and they sent me nine red gowns, instead of one blue gown.  It was too late to fix the mix-up, so I changed the school colors to red and white.  Not many people can claim to have enough influence to change their school’s colors on a moment’s notice! But, it makes for a fun story, so let’s roll with it.

My family and I practiced my march down the isle of our small church, but realized that “Pomp and Circumstance” wouldn’t play one full round due to the short isle.  So, we decided that Vicky, our pianist, would play the song all the way through, and then I would step out, and walk as painfully slow as I could manage. (I must have looked like a bride’s maid slowly gliding to the altar.)  We practiced until everything went smoothly. 

An hour before graduation, Vicky called to tell us that she was not going to make it that night, but she had given the music to an alternate pianist.  Barbara had never played “Pomp and Circumstance” but felt reasonably certain that she could handle the piece. 

When time came for the march, I stood in the back with my red gown and listened as Barbara started playing.  In all the confusion, no one told her that she was supposed to play the entire song once through before I would start my painfully slow march.  When Barbara started playing and realized that I wasn’t marching, she assumed that something was wrong and stopped playing. I didn’t know what to do, but someone told Barbara to start playing again.  She did, but stopped again when she didn’t see me marching.  

The only other photo I have of graduation.
In the back of the church, we huddled up and decided that when the music started again I would march without waiting for a full round.  Unfortunately, Barbara was becoming rattled from all the confusion.  While we were reorganizing my march, someone whispered the original plan to her, but we didn’t realize that she was up to speed.  She decided to set a faster tempo for the first round, and slow down for the actual march.  

Alas, we didn’t know that she would play one full round.  So, when the music started at that fast tempo, I stepped out.  I was making good time until Barbara saw that I was marching to her rhythm. Surprised, she slowed down in the middle of my progression.  I had to alter my speed and almost fell down.  Fortunately, it was a short isle and I was at the stage in a flash.  I called it my “Prompt Circumstance.”  The rest of the ceremony went fine, except that I was redder than my gown, and I dropped my graduation trophy and bent it in half.  Oh—and I should mention that there is no evidence of this event, as the only known recording was accidentally recorded over a few weeks later while hastily attempting to catch an episode of MacGyver.

And the reason I have a GED—no college would accept my high school transcript and I had to get one before I could enroll. Not every valedictorian proudly displays a GED alongside his diploma! 

My life is always eventful. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Will’s Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse Trail Run …

You can’t just settle in on the couch and endlessly watch Netflix for more than a couple of days. You have to stay active and create a purpose for yourself.

First: Get out of bed. Sure, enjoy these lazy days, and get your full 8 hours. But don’t lay around in bed all day. Get up! Set yourself a schedule and stick to it. I make myself wake up around 06:00 and begin my day. I also set my target bed time between 10 and 11 in the evening.

2: I limit myself to two cups of coffee. No need to embrace the jitters on top of the isolation.

Third: Don’t watch the news longer than needed to grasp the state of affairs. There’s nothing on except updates on how bad things are. Just don’t go there!

4: Plan your big meal of the day early in the morning. Make it something special and enjoyable. Don’t resign yourself to bread and baloney. Make it a meal you’ll look forward to and begin the prep work early, so you’re really looking forward to it. Try something new. Something that will take some time to cook. What else do you have to do, anyway? Now is the time to experiment!

Fifth: Don’t eat the same leftovers for more than two meals in a row. Don’t throw them out! Just keep some variety in motion. Avoid boredom as much as possible.

6: Don’t touch anything alcoholic until 6 PM. Nothing good will come from drinking away your entire quarantine from morning to night.  Trust me on this! Plus, it gives you something to look forward to in the evening.

Seventh: Make yourself exercise! YOU MUST DO THIS! You will fight off depression and anxiety by burning calories, plus your mind will be clear and alert if you keep active. Find a way to make it happen. Climb up and down your stair case for 30 minutes. Find a workout you can do at home. Take that long walk! Just do something!

8: Be patient with each other. This is hard on everyone. A lot of grace and forgiveness goes a long way. 

Ninth: Enjoy your kids. I KNOW! Right? But seriously, enjoy them. Maybe this is the trial run you’ve been searching for to see if homeschooling is the right choice for you. Find new ways to keep them busy. Research home science projects. Sit down with them and read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, or dig up your old Harry Potter books. They’ll love reading those books with you! Teach them how to play card games. Avoid Monopoly at all costs. Teach them how to win and how to lose. Teach them how to survive this “crisis” with dignity. You won’t regret it.

10: Plan something you’ll do after this “crisis” ends. Plan a nice family vacation. Plan a weekend road trip. Plan something that will be fun and refreshing, and make is something out of the ordinary. Trust me on this! If you start planning an amazing vacation now, you’ll have something great to look forward to, and it will be a great diversion. It doesn’t have to be the day you’re released. It can even be a year out. Cruises are selling for pocket change right now! Airline tickets are cheap! Seize the day!

Eleventh: Don’t take yourself too seriously. You see what I did with my numbering system on this post? I find little things to keep my mind fresh and active.

12: You can always take solace in the fact you have enough toilet paper to last into your nursing home days. Spend time counting the rolls and enjoy your wealth.

Thirteenth: Do something nice and thoughtful for someone else. Make it a surprise. Make it meaningful. If you’re focused on doing something nice for others, you won’t be focused on how miserable or bored you are. You can make the difference in someone’s life. Just do it. Do it now!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Tractor Tales and Pickup Panic

As a boy growing up on a ranch, I learned to drive at the tender age of five. I remember helping my dad feed the cows. He would stack hay in the bed of the truck, put the pickup in granny gear, and I would stand on the seat and steer while he dumped hay over the tailgate. As I grew older, my skill set improved to the point that, by the age of ten, I was driving the old Farmall—a tractor with no power steering, sun shade, or shocks. But, I didn’t care. I latched on to the grain drill and followed my dad, who was turning fresh soil a few rows ahead of me. There were a few times I ran my tractor through the fence and got barbed wire wrapped around the axles. (I could do a whole series of stories about my tractor accidents.) Thankfully, my dad was a kind and patient father, who simply unwound and rewired the fences, and let that be the end of the matter. I learned to respect the fence and stay on my side.

Once, when I was about twelve, my grandmother put me in her old Pontiac and sent me to the store to pick up a few groceries. I drove a few blocks down and back without incident. I have no idea why she did that, but it was a huge event for me! I know,Sweetwater, Texas, is not a huge town, but still! 

As I got nearly old enough to take Driver’s Ed, I felt pretty confident with my driving skills. And then it happened … I’d been watching a Charlie Chaplain movie where he would drive his Model T to a gate and, without stopping, jump out of the car, run ahead of it, open the gate, and then close the gate for the driverless car. He would then run and catch up with the Model T and keep going. Lickity split. 

Several things went wrong when I tried it. First, I should have put the pickup in low gear. Second, I should have remembered the iron gate was chained and pad locked. Third, I should have jumped out sooner and given myself more room to work. Fourth, I shouldn’t have tried it at all. 
I lined the pickup on the road, and then jumped out and started running to the gate. The driverless pickup passed me before I got to said gate, which was still secure with a chain and a pad lock. I remember the sound the pickup made as it slammed into the gate, and the reverberating sound the gate made as it rang like a bell while the pickup continued down the road and was about to cross the highway. I managed to get back in and stop the truck before it hit the cattle guard across the highway. In retrospect, I should have let the pickup run over me rather than have to conduct the drive-of-shame to the house to tell my dad what I’d done. (I even tried to bend the gate back in place with the pickup before I concluded the entire situation was irredeemable.)Imagine trying to explain how this happened.

Gates and fences are important. They provide boundaries and protection. And they make for good neighbors! If you respect the fence and properly use the gate, it will help you keep your act together.

Writing is like this sometimes. Authors envision grand plans, but sometimes the characters refuse to cooperate and the plot laughs at you as the story takes a different turn than you anticipated. The gate that was designed to keep you safe within the boundary is busted open, and can’t be repaired without help. It happens. Fortunately, it’s only words on paper, and no one actually gets hurt. Well, not until the editor sees what you’ve done. But, that’s a different post! Writers know they have boundaries and they usually respect them. When a gate is locked, there’s a protocol to open it. Just pushing against the boundary or gate is not something we should do without good reason. Busting through the barrier is something you should only do in an extreme response to something else. Sometimes, once the gate is busted, it can’t simply be put back in place without help.

My promise to you: I won’t deliberately push the boundaries for the shock effect. That’s not who I am.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Border Patrol--A Snap Shot

Ah, the old checkpoint.
“Are you a US citizen?”
“Have a good day!”
While not usually more than a minute or two delay in your journey home from either El Paso or Las Cruces, it is an annoyance at best and an inconvenience at worst. But, what’s the point and why are they there? And what exactly does the Border Patrol do anyway? Who are these men and women who make up one of the largest police forces in the world?

I’ll get the boring part of this journey over with quickly. The checkpoints exist due to a congressional mandate found in the Immigration and Naturalization Act Section 287 and 8 USC 1357. The authority of the checkpoint operations have also been reinforced by the Supreme Court in the Martinez-Fuerte case. But few people are worried about those kinds of details—which are too tedious to discuss here. 

But, there’s so much more to the Patrol beyond a checkpoint in the middle of the desert. The history of the Border Patrol is long and rich, and some of the stories I’ll share will surprise you beyond measure! 

The Border Patrol began its illustrious journey back in 1924 when the Labor Appropriation Act birthed the organization that would eventually become the US Border Patrol, which is responsible for patrolling the 6,000 miles of Mexican and Canadian international borders and 2,000 miles of coastal waters surrounding the Florida Peninsula and the island of Puerto Rico.

In the early 1900’s, the US government supported the Mexican government headed by President Carranza, a political rival of Pancho Villa. Angered by American support, Villa and his army of 400, rode into Columbus, New Mexico and attacked the garrison, killing 17 Americans. President Wilson then sent General Pershing with 5,000 soldiers to the border to protect the nation. Within a year, the military presence grew to several hundred thousand.

In 1916, the Mounted Guard was formed in response to increased alien smuggling and bootlegging on the Southern border. Originally a force of about 50 men, they found themselves overwhelmed with the work and begged congress for more help. Congress responded by changing their names to Border Patrol Inspectors and granted them more authority to board and search, arrest, interrogate suspects, administer oaths, and execute warrants. 
As smuggling grew, so did the crime associated with this action.  Smugglers protected their cargo at the tremendous cost in the lives of law enforcement officers.

Let’s skip through some of the tedious history and focus on a few amazing highlights. When WWII began, the Border Patrol was assigned security duty at internment camps during the early part of the war. 

Fast forward to 1961 and the racial disturbances in the South. Patrol Inspectors were used to prevent violence and ensure the demonstrations remained peaceful, and help with riot control. In 1962, a Border Patrol plane transported James Meredith to the University of Mississippi for the purpose of enrolling in that institution. 

Despite a crowd of more than 10,000 protestors, and the violence that ensued, the Border Patrol protected Meredith and secured the Registration Building so he could become the first African-American enrolled at Ole Miss.

 The Border Patrol was also instrumental in preventing the first domestic hijacking in El Paso, Texas, on August 3, 1961. Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Leonard Gilman was a passenger on the plane and subdued the hijackers, securing the aircraft.

The Patrol of today leaped forward and became a high tech organization following the events of 9/11 and the terrorist wars that followed.

And that brings us to today. We are all keenly aware of the border and the border issues simply by watching the evening news. While trying to catch nothing more than the weather, you’ll see images of Border Patrol agents working on the international boundary. And depending on the news source, the stories will be either positive or negative. And, as life is neither good nor bad, there will be truth to what you are watching. The political powers in Washington seem not to care about the people who are the agents of the Patrol.  It seems the buzzword, CARAVAN is a favorite word on the news. What’s up with that? The answer might surprise you…

Remember when the Border Patrol was under fire for separating parents from their children, and sending the parents to jail to await their immigration hearing while the kids are kept in a separate facility until being reunited with their parents and sent home? Well, that was a huge deal, and a very effective enforcement strategy. Attempted illegal entries nose-dived while this practice was in place. And try to bear in mind that anytime an adult who has children is arrested for a crime, they are separated from their families and sent to jail to await their day in court. This has been the practice for centuries. But, the 9thCircuit Court of Appeals ruled that practice unconstitutional and effectively removed the Border Patrol’s ability to enforce immigration law on the border. 

And it was a game changer! What resulted was something commonly referred to as “catch and release.” Catch and release is when an illegal alien crosses the border with a child in tow, and as long as they are a “family unit” the agents arrest them, issue them court documents for a future court date, and release them to further their entry into the United States. As remarkable as this practice is, the reality of it is quite startling. This began the surge of caravans to make the journey from third world nations to the utopia of the United States—and they are coming by the thousands. Clever smugglers figured out they could assign a child to an adult, and as long as they claimed to be father and child, or mother and child, the agents were forced to issue them court documents and release them into the United States. While this is certainly child trafficking, and highly illegal, it is almost impossible for the agents to combat. When thousands of illegal aliens make entry every day, each carrying a child, the agents don’t have enough resources to properly investigate to whom the child actually belongs. Reports are now emerging that the same children are being “recycled” by smugglers who use them over and again—for a fee—to the illegals who are willing to use the child to make an entry. 

As horrifying as this is to think about, the agents are dealing with this daily, and they are suffering the effects of this new reality. To date, four Guatemalan children have died as a result of this practice, and they were deaths that will long haunt the agents who are giving everything they had to properly care for the aliens. And when they come by the thousands, the task is insurmountable.  

To be fair, not all aliens buy or borrow a child. Many of them are actually related to the child in their care. 

And this topic is rapidly becoming unpleasant. So, let’s talk a little about the agents and try to figure out who they are—beyond the person leaning into your window and asking you personal questions. Yes, they seem robotic and indifferent when you see them at the checkpoint. You’re in a hurry and simply want to get back on the road, and you won’t want to roll down your window to answer a silly question. I get it! I hate the annoyance of it as well. 

And I can only imagine what it must be like to stand there in the summer’s blistering heat or winter’s biting edge to carry out a congressional mandate. Yet, most of the agents are polite and courteous, despite the robotic repetition of the job. And a question comes to mind. Are they making a difference?

According to statistics released by Customs and Border Protection, the US Border Patrol has apprehended the following:
·     2016—415,816
·     2017—310,531
·     2018—566,281
·     Total:  1,292,628 aliens caught in three years.
What about narcotic arrests? (Only using 2018 statistics to save space)
·     Cocaine—6423
·     Heroin—532
·     Marijuana—439,531
·     Methamphetamine—10,382
·     Fentanyl—332 
What about gang members? (A three year total)
·     1,966 arrested gang members who are illegal aliens
·     Of those arrested, 858 were members of the dreaded MS-13
What about criminal aliens arrested? (A three year total)
·     27,632 criminal aliens encountered
·     7,919 criminal aliens with outstanding warrants of arrest 

Their job is dangerous. Most agents don’t work at a checkpoint. There are roughly 20,000 agents across the northern and southern borders, and the largest bulk of them actually work on the international boundary. The agents from Alamogordo are too far from the Rio Grande to work the river, so they are permanently assigned to the check points. The agents on the River and the Line are subject to gunfire from Mexico, rocks thrown (and if you snicker at that, remember how David killed Goliath. Rocks kill, especially when they are the size of softballs), physical attacks from aliens who don’t want to be apprehended, and disease exposure.

To date, the Border Patrol has experienced 128 line of duty deaths, four of whom were women.

I’ve given you an overview, a snap-shot, if you will, of an organization that is too complicated to be properly covered with one article. And I thought I’d share some information with you that you probably didn’t know, or even stop to consider:

·     Agents work a minimum of 50 hours a week, and regularly work an additional 2-3 hours each week trying to keep up with the volume of alien traffic.

·     400 rescued aliens have been saved in the last few months. 46 saved from being locked and transported in tractor-trailers. 

·     In certain locations, one or two agents apprehend as many as 50-250 aliens by themselves until transportation arrives to take the aliens to a processing station. It’s more and more common for the agents to apprehend as many as 300 at one time. 

·     On average, it takes about 1 hour to process the court documents and issue the paperwork for an alien’s case for removal, or to send the alien to immigration court. Many areas catch as many as 1200 aliens a day. El Paso Sector generally apprehends between 800-1,200 aliens daily. These are “family units” of one parent and one child.  ·     Almost always, line agents work by themselves, and their backup is multiple miles away from them. 

·     Agents regularly conduct K9 demonstrations, citizens academies, stakeholder meetings, and other community events designed to help educate their communities about their operations, and give the citizens an opportunity to them feedback on the job they’re doing. 

·     Although agents have to work most weekends and holidays, a majority of them are men and women of faith, and sincerely observe their faith as a daily practice. 

·     Most agents sympathize with the aliens they detain, and are compassionate for their circumstances, but are duty bound to honor the law as it’s written.

·     Many times, agents give their lunch away to hungry aliens they apprehend. Some even keep extra food in their vehicles to help sustain those who are starving. 

·     Most agents keep up to five gallons of water in their vehicles to give to aliens when they catch them. 
 Sometimes, agents carry the weaker aliens on their backs until a vehicle can get to them. 

·     Most agents have children of their own, and are careful to treat alien children with the same respect as they treat their own. They often give them toys and coloring books, which they donate from their own homes.

 ·     Agents have apprehended more than 700 gang members in 2018, about half of them were MS-13.

·     Most agents don’t broadcast their job on social media for fear of hostile and hateful attacks against them and their families. 

·     While most of the aliens they encounter are generally good people, agents still regularly capture aliens who have open bench warrants for violent crimes, sexual offenses, and domestic violence. About one in three woman are sexually assaulted in their journey. Most young women are on contraceptives to prevent pregnancy during this journey.

·     Every single alien is fingerprinted and identified by the FBI database before determining what to do with them. 

·     Many silver alerts and amber alerts are apprehended at Border Patrol checkpoints. 

·     The agents provide a warm meal to the detained aliens as often as every 3-4 hours until their case is closed. 

·     The Border Patrol apprehends more dangerous narcotics than any other agency. 

·     Travelers through the checkpoints daily try to catch agents having a bad day and/or try to provoke them into losing their cool so they can post videos about them on social media. 

·     A large percentage of the agents are registered with the Democratic Party and vote as such. 

·     Agents are required to take refresher courses every year on topics such as proper care of aliens in detention, preventing assaults and reporting violent crimes, ethics, etc. 

·     The Border Patrol Academy is almost 6 months long, and the agents are required to pass all subjects, including Spanish, before graduating. 

·     Agents are trained annually on how to treat their wounds in event they are shot or injured, apply their own tourniquets, and bandage their own wounds, just in case. 

So, you’ve seen a snap shot of who they are and what they do. I’ll leave you with these parting words…

I’m proud to be friends with many agents of the Border Patrol. I know them to be honorable men and women who’s priorities lie with their faiths and families, and, despite being used as political pawns by politicians, they are stubbornly determined to carry out their sworn duty: to protect America and the American way of life. They are from all races, colors and creeds. There are Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Buddhists. They are black and white and red and brown. They come from Europe, Asia, Africa, Mexico, and South America. They are mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. They live and work in isolated areas along both borders and endure harsh summers and cold winters. They risk their lives each and every day to do a job with little to no thanks. And they all—each and every one—love this country. I’m proud to say that I, as a patriot, stand along side these great Americans!