Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Missing in Action- Let me update

Dear Friends, I know some of you may have wondered where I wandered off to, especially after my promise to update the blog during taper for IMFL. I could write a huge story about it all, but I'm going to keep it as brief as possible. I had started to taper down for FL. On 25 Oct, I was at the Longhorn 70.3 doing the swim leg of our "Team Army Strong" relay (we ended up taking 3rd out of the 36 co-ed teams) when, after my swim was over, I got the worst call a commander can ever get. One of my military working dog teams that I had deployed to Afghanistan (part of the MP unit I command are military working dogs, and they deploy individually to Iraq and Afghanistan) had been killed in action by an IED--both the Soldier and the dog. I immediately left the race site and raced back to Ft. Hood to start dealing with this shocking and sad event. I won't go too much into the details, but it was quite a blow to the unit and we prepared to support the family as much as possible. As we began preparing the details for his Memorial Service, we were awaiting the time and date of his funeral. It ended up that his funeral was going to be the 4 November, the Wednesday before the Saturday Ironman Florida. The choice was simple, I would be at my Soldier's funeral. After making the choice I was also asked to speak at it. There was only one SPC Brandon Steffey, but plenty of Ironman races. So, I decided I would not attend. It would be a whirlwind to try and make it down there in time, if I could even do that, and I was in no mental state to attempt that. Triathlon may be a huge aspect of my lifestyle, but being a leader, a commander, and officer is my life.

The funeral was incredible, if one can call a funeral incredible. The entire town of Sault Ste. Marie showed up, and I do not think that is an exaggeration. The amount of support that they gave to honor my fallen hero was awe inspiring, truly a send off for the hero that Brandon was. Thousands lined the streets, thousands more paid respects, and the high school gym was literally packed with thousands more who came to honor him. I am honored to have had the chance to be part of his life, and honored to be able to publicly give my tribute to him as his Commander and fellow Soldier.

I traveled back to Ft. Hood on 5 November. I landed at the airport at just around 1:45PM. Of course, you have all watched the news and are quite aware of what happened at that time on Ft. Hood. I am an MP, and the Soldiers I command do law enforcement. You know where they were when cowardly gunman wreaked havoc on our Ft. Hood community. I was locked out of the post as they had locked it down, but thankfully was able to get passage onto post to help coordinate my MPs actions. I didn't have to do too much. My guys were doing EXACTLY what needed to be done. While the event is horrendous and has shocked and angered all of us at Ft. Hood, the response by my MPs, the Dept. of the Army Civilian Police we work with, the local and state law enforcement that arrived to help, and all of the Soldiers that immediately responded to the incident is nothing short of phenomenal. I could not be more proud of the actions my Soldiers did that day. I have no doubt that they saved lives, and I do know for a fact that their actions led the timely security of the scene and the post. I had K9 teams integrating into the various SRT/SWAT teams, I had other MPs rendering first aid, securing the scene, interviewing witnesses, labeling evidence, etc. All of the major leadership from the unit were out of the net when this happened because we had been at the funeral, but our Soldiers didn't miss a beat. They too are heroes. It's humbling to work in the presence of heroes.

Needless to say, my decision to not do Florida was a good one because if I had whirl wind traveled to Panama City Beach instead of back to Fort Hood, and then been there when the incident went down, instead of with my troops, there is no way I could've functioned. My mind and heart would not be in it. On top of the fact that we had Brandon's Ft. Hood Memorial Service planned for 12 November, the President had decided to come to Ft. Hood on the 10th which results in additional increase in law enforcement requirements that my Soldiers fill. No, being in Florida would not have been fun, it would not have been right, and it simply wasn't going to happen this year.

However, through some incredible friends and great people, I was blessed to have the opportunity to race at Ironman Arizona on 22 November. So, I was able to work with my Soldiers throughout the immediate and follow-up response to the shooting as well as the President's visit (I didn't do much, they did all the heavy lifting), as well as ensure the proper planning and execution of what turned out to be a wonderful and professional Memorial Service for Brandon at Ft. Hood. I did have to stop the taper and throw some early morning runs and LONG trainer rides (5.5 hours for one--I needed to be on quick recall) into the mix, but that's okay. I was able to take care of my priorities and do my duty, and still have the opportunity to race Ironman. I was sad to not do Florida, but in the end, relieved that I didn't attempt it, and so thankful to those who helped me get an Ironman Arizona slot.

SO, 22 November is the DAY! I am now on leave and it is IRONMAN WEEK! I will BE an Ironman. Not only have I raised nearly $3000 for the Wounded Warrior Project (you can still donate! Click this link: https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorreg/donorpledge.asp?ievent=296591&supID=249395962) and I will be racing in memory of SPC Brandon Steffey, my West Point Classmates who have been killed in action, and of course with thoughts of the entire Ft. Hood community in my heart. I have the opportunity, the physical fitness, and the drive to do something that so many will never have the chance or opportunity to do again. I will be wearing my Army tri-uniform and racing Army Strong. I'm either bib #101 or 2266 (if I have a choice, #101--I'm oddly listed twice, but IM said we'll figure it out at registration) so track me at Ironman.com on Sunday! Race report will follow!