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A Skunkweed by Any Other Name

Annual Training was once called AT. Now, it is ECT for Extended Combat Training, because too many people were taking the “2 weeks in the summer” quote for gospel. Hence, Samurai and I found ourselves living on the set of MASH for a month at Fort Foghorn Leghorn, California. We’re going to mix in more code names to protect the innocent and idiotic. I will let you decide which is which. Let’s do this. *flips down sunglasses

Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves, and Chaplains

Samurai and I are hobbits. We like adventures, parties, and wizards, but also enjoy the comforts of home. The military has trained us to appreciate midnight chow just as much as 2nd breakfast as well as the importance of healthy feet. Changing your socks might fix everything. We pack like a Boy Scout turned hoarder and can be counted on for duct tape, band aids, power cords, and snacks if you are lucky enough to share our tent.

Dwarves are the Soldiers who have been in the military long enough to have lost an inch or more in height over decades of service. They long for the days when they can grow a beard and will gladly tell a tale of the old days if you cannot escape in time. You shall not pass! Their vast knowledge and toughness are their armor against changing times. Often, low grumbles precede and follow every statement. Don’t party with Dwarves unless you have a week to recover. Their livers were pickled after their first deployment and they prefer whiskey to water.

Elves are also known as officers. They are shiny, clean, and accustomed to finer living. The best of them still know how to fight with the rest of us, but they are bound to be dragged back to Rivendell and reminded of their gifted heritage. Those who can live in both worlds are pointy-eared treasures with whom I will gladly share my snacks.

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Hobbits and the Head Elf

Most importantly, we have Chaplains. Now before you go searching your Middle Earth reference guide in confusion, I know Tolkien never mentioned Chaplains. They are magical like wizards, travel like nomads, and always know the best Dad-jokes. They can embody Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves while spreading magic with their presence. I have been blessed with incredible Chaplains during my career and will continue to support their mission as they have supported mine. In the darkest mines of the military, they share the light.

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Chaplains are a Driving Force

Can I get a barrel to float down the river?

We were told of three issues with our transportation for necessary adventures:

  1. We didn’t bring your eagle, so you’ll have to borrow one when they aren’t all out flying.
  2. Minimum 3 eagles per adventure or you will definitely be killed and eaten by Orcs.
  3. Get out to all the other adventure sites with either your magic ring or a Chaplain.

Our magic ring turned out to be the ability to drive more military vehicles than any other hobbit on the base. Need that water buffalo, hippo, elephant, and extra trunks moved to another location? We’re the hobbits for the job. When we weren’t moving vehicles or flying with the Chaplains, we attended meetings. Meetings, pre-briefings, briefings, post-meetings, AARs, huddles, reviews of accompanying documents shrouded the camp like oppressive camo-netting. The days became a repetition of meetings with adventures thrown in-between. Oddly enough, without the adventures, there would be nothing to discuss at the meetings. One fine break from both were the nightly grand feasts. By grand, I mean standing among a collection of generators and trailers that served as tables. By feast, I mean the hot meal that did not come out of a brown, plastic bag with a shelf-life of 50 years. Despite the picture I have painted, the meals were delicious, and the time spent among the make-shift tables was full of smiles. I do wish that some of the generators didn’t need to be running as we stood near them, but everything in the military must serve multiple purposes. Hobbits appreciate power in their tents.

Camping with SGT Bold

Our small tent endured some varying weather in the Springtime in the merry month of May. All of you who have ever served should now have a cadence involving a yellow ribbon stuck in your head. You are welcome. After the 2nd week of alternating rain and sweltering heat, SGT Bold moved into the tent uninvited. While we were all too busy with missions and meetings to fully investigate this new inhabitant, signs of our tentmate were evident in subtle ways. First, was the mysterious cough that everyone began to share. Then, the smell that was blamed on everyone, in turn, for leaving bad food in the trash. The trash was removed, but the smell intensified. SGT Bold preferred the tent flaps down all day, but we tried to open them whenever possible. On the final day, once the tents were taken down and packed away, the irrefutable presence of SGT Bold was discovered. The patch of ground where our tent once stood was white and green with mold. Coughing, we looked towards our next adventure further down the coast of California.

Ventura Mountains to Beach Half Marathon

What is the best way to cap off a full month of forced camping and military shenanigans? By running 13.1 miles in a half marathon, of course. You didn’t expect this to be a two-part blog, but here we are heading to the Ventura Mountains to Beach Half Marathon.

After making our way back from Fort Foghorn Leghorn, we met up with Samurai’s fluffybabybunnyboo, or bae, as the kids are saying. He gets the codename of Harley for reasons I cannot disclose without G14 classification. We picked up Sonic from the airport and all headed to my favorite beachy keen Marriott hotel. Being so close to the ocean, we decided to try a local seafood restaurant with excellent reviews. I’m not going to name the restaurant here because we don’t need them trying to kill Samurai again. Let’s just say the name rhymes with “pure” and was anything but. Samurai was poisoned by a jealous mermaid, cursed by a sea witch, or got more than her fair share of bad shrimp. Commence 24 hours of super crunches and reverse hydration. Like a starfish stuck to the porcelain shore, Samurai repeatedly, called the ocean on a giant white conch shell. We feared her chances of attending the race or managing to leave the hotel for more than an hour were slim. Never underestimate the Samurai.

Our bus to reach the race start line was scheduled to leave at 0430am. Harley bravely took the three of us to our bus while Bee picked up Ariel for her bus to the full marathon start. Ariel is an ambassador for the Mountains to Beach Marathon so we can lovingly blame her for this whole plan. She is an avid runner with her own following on Instagram under retrorunningmom. She will be running the New York Marathon in November. I’ll stick to my half marathon torture, thank you very much.

The start line is up in beautiful Ojai, but it is still dark up in the hills. Sonic was freezing and refused to remove his flannel. To deal with the cold, he curled up on the curb next to the course and looked homeless. We supported him by taking pictures. Sonic’s mantra for this race had become, “Run this race before it runs you!” Flannel flying, we chased him along the route, beating our previous race time by 10 minutes. The course ended along the beach with crowds of people cheering louder than the breaking waves. The snack plate offered at the finish line was beautiful. Watermelon, bread, chips, filet mignon, rack of lamb, Cougar gold cheese… So, I don’t remember exactly what was offered, but we ate it all like we hadn’t eaten in weeks. Harley was distraught that he wasn’t able to meet us at the finish line due to parking. After walking a good three miles of cooldown back to Harley’s parking spot, and complaining most of the way, we congregated in Sonic’s room for a post-race beer. Running with Samurai and Sonic is always an adventure I can drink to. Don’t forget to stretch. Safe travels, my friends!

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