Injured in the Field: Reeling from a rupture

Sadly, my deployment to United Arab Emirates has been cut short.

Barely a few months in—just enough time to get comfortable doing my job in the desert—I ruptured my Achilles tendon during a freak accident at the gym. I wish I could say that it occurred while I was rescuing women and children amid hostile fire, but in truth it’s the sort of injury that’s just as likely to occur during a pick-up basketball game as in a combat zone.Deployed With General

Because the medical facilities here in the desert are not set up to treat this sort of injury or to aid long-term recoveries, the military is sending me back. Because I belong to an Air National Guard wing rather than an active-duty base, the Air Force is sending me home to Northern California where I will be treated by civilian doctors rather than military doctors.

It sucks—but it’s not the end of the world. The military will pay for my surgery and rehab, and for that I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful for the opportunity to have worked with a top-notch PA team for my tenure at Al Dhafra Air Base. Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson, Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott, and Maj. Jodi Grayson. You will be missed. In the photo is Brig. Gen. Derek C. France, Commander, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, as he bids me farewell.

My recovery should take three to six months. As it’s not a career-ending injury and I’m anticipated to make a full recovery, I could even deploy again someday.

Down but not out.

I’ll be back.

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Public Affairs, Desert Style: What Military Media and Traditional Media Have in Common

  • “Is PA ready to shoot?”
  • “Affirmative. PA is standing by.”
  • “Shoot away.”

PA stands for Public Affairs, where “shooting” a human target is done primarily with a video or still camera. It’s where military meets media, and it’s the only job I’ve had—or wanted—in the Air Force.

PABefore enlisting I spent the better part of a decade in journalism. Newspaper reporter, radio producer, TV anchor. My dream job was foreign correspondent, but due to budget cuts, most major news outlets had already begun downsizing their overseas bureaus if not gutting them altogether. How else could I combine my love of storytelling with a burning desire to travel? Enter Public Affairs.

But is military public affairs really journalism? And is it good training for those new to the field or those simply looking for a way to stay connected? Here’s what they have in common:

Find a good story. Military service has a rep for everyone “doing as they’re told,” but my PA supervisors in the Air Force rarely instruct me on what to report each day. Even in the Mideast desert while deployed, I find newsworthy subject matter the same way I did as a civilian reporter: pounding the pavement (or in this case pounding the sand), talking to people, attending meetings and councils, and handing out business cards. Unless I’m editing, there’s no reason to be sitting inside a stuffy office.

Multimedia, multiplatform, multitask. As traditional newsrooms crews have grown leaner and more versatile, so have military PA teams. Since taking broadcast journalism at the Defense Information School in 2013, the program has already restructured itself so that every student is trained in print writing, still photography, radio and video operations, plus additional courses in graphic design and social media. A generation ago each of those interests was a full-time job in itself. Today they’re all increasingly carried out by one enterprising backpacker. The PA shop at my deployed location, in fact, has only four personnel to cover a base occupied by thousands of service members.

Travel. Journalism can take you places, and so can the military. As a journalist, I had access to major events from NASCAR races and death penalty trials to presidential debates. As a military broadcast journalist, I’ve interviewed generals, flown on helicopters and documented training missions in Hawaii, the Azores and the United Arab Emirates. Note these “missions” included 12-hour workdays and cramped living quarters, such as tents. Journalism by definition will get you in the thick of the action.

“Tell the truth. Minimize harm.” This is the journalist’s creed I was taught. It’s up for debate how many news outlets still adhere to this principle in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, but the military always looks to mitigate risk when it comes to the release of information. Examples: I recently covered a refueling mission that ultimately dropped bombs on an Al Qaeda opium field in order to disrupt their production and revenue stream. Releasing the story too soon clearly would have jeopardized the mission. Or, when producing stories on everyday Air Force activities, I often blur out identifying numbers on planes or last names on uniforms in order to protect identities from those who seek to do harm to the U.S.

Final takeaway: Even if you have no desire to enlist in the military, as a civilian journalist you can still cover the military. News outlets like military.com and Stars & Stripes are largely run by civilians with no military background. Or to get a full-on taste, apply to be embedded within an overseas military unit and see it up close.

Deployment Diary: Welcome to Tent City

When you arrive at your deployed location, there is no “grace period” to get situated, catch up on sleep and learn your way around. From the moment boots hit the ground, you drop your bags at lodging, undergo a rapid in-processing (mine took less than a half-hour), gulp some coffee if it’s handy and get to work.

IMG_5691In my case, lodging is “Tent City” — a row of, yes, tents, filled with bunk beds and wall lockers. In the desert heat of the Middle East, the tents are air-conditioned at full blast; enough that at night I sleep in sweats, socks and a beanie.

Note that while tent cities are par for the course in the Army & Marines, less so in the Air Force. Due to an error with lodging–I was originally assigned a corner room only to find a female occupant sleeping inside, not amused at being woken up by a strange man–I was promptly re-assigned to the tents.

INSIDE TENTOn any given day a tent might cover 1-20 people. The unspoken rule is that you keep it quiet. No loud music (headphones are cheap), no phone calls (do that at the USO or a common area). At first it’s startling to bump into strangers constantly coming and going in the middle of the night; soon you grow numb to it.

So what does an air base in a forward-deployed location look like? Picture a community built on nothing but rocks, sand and mud, a series of flight lines and runways surrounded by lookalike warehouses and trailers, all the same light beige color. Every building, identified only by a four-digit number, looks as though it should be hosting inmates, factory workers or farm animals.

No matter what your job is in the military, while deployed you will be working long hours at a stretch. Twelve-hour days, six days a week is the norm. And of course it’s hot. Damn hot. To quote a line from Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues:

“Boy, it’s hot. It never got this hot in Brooklyn. This is like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.”

Neil Simon wrote a military comedy set in Mississippi, but there is nothing comic about deployment. Through it all, the sun never stops blazing and you never stop sweating. This is why they call it “service,” and it’s right there in the Air Force Core Values: “Integrity First. Service Above Self. Excellence in All We Do.”

Note these are not complaints, only observations. This is what I signed on for; this is the calling I answered.

Coming next: “Public Affairs, Desert Style”

Deployment Diary: First Stop, Norfolk

141101-Z-EM371-006My first deployment with the Air National Guard has come quite by accident. For years I’ve wanted to deploy overseas, but in the end it was a cancellation more so than pestering my supervisors that sealed the deal (click here for a more detailed account).

Unlike the movies, this is not a last-minute affair with some crusty sergeant declaring you now have 12 hours to pack your bags and say goodbye to your spouse and kids before shipping out. I’ve had almost a solid year to prepare, get paperwork and passports in order, get introduced to my soon-to-be colleagues via FB, and even find a sub-letter for my apartment.

Navy Sea MermaidNow that my departure date has finally arrived, it turns out that getting there is quite the adventure in itself. After nearly a week of holding in place at Norfolk Navel Station, eating meals in the galley amid bright blue uniforms boarding on and off ships the size of the Titanic (my favorite monument there is the Navy sea mermaid, pic to the left), I taxi’d to the AMC Passenger Terminal to board my rotator plane. Our first stop will be a 0130 flight to Ireland.. then to Kuwait.. and finally to United Arab Emirates (unspecified location). Nearly two straight days on planes, assuming no delays. If you’re accustomed to direct flights at convenient times, don’t ever join the military.

As a Public Affairs broadcast journalist, I am carrying almost $10K worth of camera gear in a mobility case weighing over 100 lbs, plus two additional oversized bags as well as a carry-on backpack. When I first enlisted at age 36, I never thought I could take it this far.  As of this writing I’m 41 — high time to scratch deployment off the bucket list while I still can.

Adventure awaits; the unknown is what I live for.

The Three Reasons Wearables Won’t Be Mainstream Anytime Soon

Co-written by Brian Jarvis and Janice Cuban.
This article ran in July 2014 on Wearable World News (now readwrite.com).

The wearables market is the hottest tech trend of the past year and shows no signs of slowing down, yet that’s a lot of performance pressure for an industry expected to reach $30B by 2018. Despite the hooplah, wearables are still a niche market, embraced by early adopters playing with the latest gadgets, technology pundits pontificating on the industry, and brands stalking crowdfunded projects for the next great idea to snatch up. Reality check: Many potholes remain in the road to wearables becoming our next generation of personal and household products.

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Going For Broke: Four Ways to Make the Most of Unemployment

In your professional life, there are few Unemployment signthings that suck the life out of you more than the “U-word.” Chances are you won’t find much humor, but you’ll get copious amounts of stress when you struggle to pay off bills and loans—especially as colleagues in your LinkedIn network keep hitting those annoying work anniversaries.

Whatever misfortune or happenstance got you to U-town, don’t dwell there. Here are four things you can do right now to maximize this “opportunity” and maintain your sanity. The one thing you have right now is time. Invest it wisely.

1) Hit the gym: What’s the No. 1 excuse that people don’t work out? Not enough time. Your old job could get crazy busy 24/7, right? Well, now you’ve got time in spades—and the endorphin release will stave off some of that stress to boot. Without a full-time job, there’s no reason not to be in the best shape of your life.

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Veterans Talk Startups, Practice Pitching: 4 Takeaways From “VetCap”

More than 70 veterans of all military branches packed the house for the VetsinTech launch of “VetCap” in San Francisco, a new program geared to teach transitioning vets where and how to raise capital for their startup. Part workshop and part pitch session, VetCap covered the basics of corporate capital financing, angel funding, crowdsourcing, venture debt and small business loans.

Held at Next World Capital in honor of Military Appreciation Month, the event is the first in a series of workshops by VetsinTech set to continue around the country. Here are four key takeaways:

Tech-savvy veterans fill the room. Photo by Brian Jarvis

Tech-savvy veterans fill the room. Photo by Brian Jarvis

1) Think of investors like dating: The analogy between finding a significant other and securing financing for a startup is strikingly similar. As with any relationship, it begins with basic chemistry. “Imagine asking random people for a date and your hit rate will be pretty low. That’s where the power of a personal introduction can’t be overstated,” said panelist David Mayhew, Chief Risk Officer of GE Ventures. “It means making connections by grabbing people at every coffee bar and networking event.”

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