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May 2017

DHS Classmates

An Orrill History, Parts I & II

May 29, 2017


Here’s the audio.  There’s two.  The first is similar in format to the other conversations I’ve had.  The second is almost exclusively Eric talking in-depth about his combat and military experiences.  I’m also attaching the transcript for the 2nd.



2nd transcript:


  • On this day of remembrance, this post is fondly dedicated to Sargeant Michael Montgomery and First Lieutenant Thomas Martin, two of Eric Orrill’s friends who were killed in action in Arab Jabour, Iraq.
  • Eric was hesitant to appear on my blog.   Eric and I grew up on the same street and competed in neighborhood ballgames of football and baseball, but we were never what I would call friends.  I’m very appreciative that he agreed to appear on my blog.  He’s still struggling with injuries he sustained in Iraq when an IED went off that effect his cognition, memory, and speech.  More on that later.
  • I am torn how much to write here.  On one hand, I know that the majority of people who follow my blog read the summaries rather than listen to the audio.  In this case, relying exclusively on my writing would be a mistake.  I provide times in here by audio (there are two) to which you can fast forward.  Please make the time to listen to Eric.  He has paid the price serving our country and deserves to tell his own story.
  • Eric describes himself as always being somewhat of a loner and enjoying his own company.  That’s not how I remembered him because I always saw him in the company of groups of people.  Funny, he always struck me as gregarious, although he could also be very serious.  Eric was a natural prankster and jokester.  He reported coming out of his shell around sophomore year.  People liked him and really enjoyed him.  He was, along with Cat Daddy and Paul Carmona, one the more original and entertaining voices in our class.
  • He spent a decent portion of high school answering to the name “Eddie”.   In our class, we had a lot of guys with nicknames…Buckethead, Pony Boy, Snooberry, , Cat Daddy, Dirty Chad, Big Bird…the list is long.  Some went by derivations of their name like Barnyard, Loosh, or Naleep.  Nobody else went by some other common English name.  I don’t know what the story was behind it, but it was hysterically preposterous then and I’m still laughing at the thought of it now.
  • Eric’s still in regular contact with: Beau Harding, Cat Daddy, Brian Moss, Steve Hillman, Keith Campbell, Jay Woolly, Keith Dawson, Scott Sosa, Aaron Verinder, and Mike Hull.  It’s not altogether surprising that they’ve maintained their friendships.  Those guys had fun in HS together, even if their idea of a good time was hiding in the woods and shooting each other with pellet guns.  I have to admit…I’m kind of jealous.  BTW…shout out to Jay Woolly, who towed my kid sister out when she took my Mustang mudding.  Dude never said a word to me about it.
  • Eric was a good athlete  He never really got an opportunity in football – he just came out for the sport too late.  In another tribute to how hilarious Eric could be in HS, he could often be seen chasing running backs down the field with blocking dummies, much to the chagrin of Coach Zernow and Coach Krause.  That made me laugh every single time he did it.  It’s 4:30am-ish and I’m still giggling just thinking about it 30 years later.
  • He very much regrets how he handled a conversation with Glen McWhorter, the varsity baseball coach.  You can listen to the conversation from mins. 12-15.  Missed opportunity for everyone involved.  The team could have used the help.  Glen had this one right – Eric was a very crafty pitcher who had a rubber arm.  He also was very patient as a pitcher; maddeningly so.  He had the perfect mindset.  Pitching was a game to him and he reveled in watching other people chase bad pitches.
  • Eric has made good on that regret.  Has put in 500+ hours volunteering in coaching youth sports.  A lot of dads do that with their own kids.  Eric is currently volunteering with 3 and 4 year olds.  Hats off to him for giving back to the community.
  • Eric has some interesting insights on Dickinson then and now.  You can listen in mins. 18-25:30.  What he describes is how I also experience our hometown.
  • I was curious how Eric ended up in the military.  He had issues with authority in high school.  I never would have put him on a list of people seeking the regimented lifestyle of a soldier.  I’d have put my money on “Saturday Night Live” before the 82nd Airborne.  In minute 30, he opens up about the time immediately after high school where he felt “lost” and was working what he describes as dead end jobs.  That’s what motivated him to join.
  • Eric entered the military in the infantry (around minute 32), doing basic training then airborne at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA before moving on to the 82nd Airborne Fort Bragg in North Carolina.  He stayed with the infantry and rose to the rank of Sr. NCO, Platoon Seargent.  Think Elias and Barnes in the movie “Platoon”.  He was responsible for making most of the tactical decisions on the ground in combat operations.
  • He’s been in airborne in all of his units except for one.  98 career jumps.
  • Eric served in the DMZ between North and South Korea for 18 months.  That’s worth a listen around minute 35.  He also spent six months on the Sinai Penninsula, serving between Egypt and Israel.  When you add in his multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Eric’s witnessed the some of the most tense geopolitical conflicts during our adulthood.
  • Eric talks about the frustration for American soldiers and the limiting nature of the rules of engagement he was required to follow several times, most notably starting around minute 38.
  •  If you’re a dove politically, take off your headphones around minute 43 and go get a coffee for a couple of minutes.
  • Afghanistan three times.  Iraq twice.  Discussion heats up around minute 45.  In minute 49, Eric talks about taking down what they thought was a Sunni / Al Queda command control building that was instead a sex slave operation.  Think “The Kite Runner”.  Eric came face to face with two men having sexual encounters with children, which he discusses beginning at 1:13.  Chilling.
  • Starting around minute 54, Eric begins to talk about reconnaissance patrols on foot.  This leads into the discussion of how he was injured when an IED exploded, killing one and injuring nine.  He he nearly lost his arm and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
  • 2 Purple Hearts, 4 Bronze Star medals, and an Army Commendation Medal are just some of the service honors he’s won.
  • Eric has struggled to adapt to civilian life.  I read about that in regards to veterans quite a bit.  When I do, the thought bothers me but passes.  Weeks have passed since this first interview and this is the thing that I’ve continued to process and has only become more real to me because Eric’s someone I know.
  • Eric insists he isn’t a hero – it was just his training.  He compares the work of the soldier to police officers and first responders in the US.  I can see where he’s coming from.  That said, I don’t think I know anyone who has put their life in harm’s way so consistently.

Notes from 2nd audio:

  • Subsequent to our conversation, Eric was willing to share more.  If you’re interested in hearing more in-depth discussions of his deployments and the mental / emotional challenges of each, tune in here.
  • The purpose of this 2nd installment isn’t to glorify combat or for Eric to regale us with his memories.  His voice tells the story.  He’s bearing witness.
  • Around minute 13, Eric begins to hit upon his time in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).  He talks extensively about the mental challenge of being a soldier.  His unit was under uncertain but persistent threat from enemy forces.  During his 15 month deployment SW of Baghdad, his unit was involved in: 33 reported direct firefights; 7 detonated IED (killed 2 team members, wounded 8 more); 4 RPG attacks; and 2 vehicle-based IED attacks, which killed 16 and wounded another 30+ others.  They also had a chlorine bomb attack and water poisoning attempt that were avoided.
  • In Eric’s brigade, 57 Americans were lost.  13 committed suicide.  He shares the event that drove a member in his unit to take his life.  Something that surprised me was that 80% of the deaths were non-combat related, e.g. getting hit by a Humvee at night.
  • If you start listening around min. 24, you can hear about one of the events that led to his Purple Heart.
  • Eric was in a helicopter on his birthday in 2006 above a Forward Operating Base (FOB) when insurgents were able to blow up about 25% of the facility.  Although he talks frequently about the mental challenges of OIF, this is where he really explores it in a little more depth.
  • I’m sharing just a few highlights in this summary.  That said…at minute 43, you can pick up the most significant incident of his deployment.  Suicide bombers drove a dump truck, full of 1000 lbs. of explosives and loaded with a dozen or so RPGs, into the base.  Left a crater 75’ by 50’.  Of the 22 personnel on base at the time, 14 were wounded and 3 were killed.  The wounded had to pull themselves together and take the fight to a subsequent attack to survive.
  • Another incident he shared regarded a family and the difficult decisions faced by soldiers in an uncertain, confusing environment where communication is virtually impossible.  This is the part I’ve spent the most time thinking about in the days following our 2nd Haunting.
  • Around min. 54, we shift to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan.  Here’s what stands as Eric contrasts OIF and OEF.  Iraq was more mental, as they were fighting an insurgency using guerrilla tactics.  In Afghanistan, Eric and his unit faced a battle hardened group that maneuvered tactically like a well-trained military.  The Iraqi’s would surprise, attack, then disappear.  90% of the time, the Afghani’s would “shoot, spray, and move forward”.  Add to that the physical strain of combat at high-altitude (11,000+’) in mountainous terrain.  Eric as a normal combat soldier was a solid 205 lbs.  In Afghanistan, he would shrink to 170 lbs.
  • During his stint in Afghanistan, Eric experienced 56 direct fire engagements and 2 detonated IED.  The number of vehicle-based IED’s increased.  So did the suicides: 22 in all.
  • In Iraq, his group had one soldier abducted.  Same in Afghanistan, with one directly out of Eric’s unit.  Bet you’ve heard the name Bowe Bergdahl.
  • There’s a lot more here regarding Haiti, the Sinai Penninsula (Eric was there when the USS Cole was attacked in 2000), and Korea.  If you had to listen to listen to one snippet, it would start around the 1:10 mark where Eric describes preparation drills in North Korea.  In short, the troops never knew whether the exercise was a drill or an international incident.
  • If you start back up around 1:33, Eric talks about his tradition of carrying American flags for a month during his deployments, then sharing them with people or businesses back home.  Very cool story and way for Eric to connect with people.
  • Eric has served his country.  We’re all proud of him and indebted to him for his service.  He’s paid the price.  I can tell you this…Eric will never pay for another meal or drink in my presence.
Classmates DHS Classmates

A Rose For Mother’s Day

May 6, 2017

To access Kathy’s GoFundMe page, copy and paste this link:

To hear the audio, click below.  Don’t miss this one.

I’m also attaching the transcript from the call.  First time I’ve done this.

Barbie Vasquez transcript 05042017

  • This is the 25th installment on my blog, which I started in November.  I’m tracking right on target to hit my original goal of fifty conversations with former classmates for the year.  I’ve found the experience for the most part meaningful and rewarding.  If you’re reading this, I hope you do, too.
  • At the halfway point, I’m choosing to circle back to one of my first interviews, Kathy Rose.  What came after that original call was surprising…a friendship between Kathy and I was rekindled, one which outran whatever we shared in our youth.  It started with encouraging each other in our writing and it’s only grown since.
  • As I reported in my original entry on Kathy, talking to Kathy about her cancer can be disorienting.  She’s vibrant and upbeat in her tone and outlook.  When you spend time with her in person, you can see the markers of cancer but they’re easy to overlook because of her animation and smile.  It would be easy to think to yourself, “what’s the big deal?”  Her words tell a different story, though.  After you leave or hang up the phone, her words continue to play on endless loop.  Reality sets in.
  • After the most recent updates from Kathy about her cancer growing, being removed from her treatment plan, and now moving to a new clinical trial, I reached out to Barbie Vasquez for her appraisal of the situation.
  • The audio link above is of Barbie and I talking about Kathy, their friendship, and Kathy’s nearly seven year battle with Stage IV cancer.  Some of it is inspiring.  Some isn’t for the faint of heart.  Kathy works really hard not to burden other people with her pain.  Barbie and I unpack some of what she’s going through.  I’d ask that you listen to the audio of Barbie.  I simply can’t do it justice.
  • Barbie is a fascinating person with her own story to tell.  I’ll be back in the upcoming weeks to talk to Barbie about her life.  For now, I’ll share with you exclusively what I learned from Barbie about Kathy.
  • At min 2, Barbie shares the origin of her lifelong friendship…an unusual intervention from a middle school gym teacher.  I’m speculating here, but Coach Cervantes knew Kathy’s mom, had likely heard about Kathy, knew Kathy would be on a trajectory for success, and must have seen something special in Barbie to match them as locker buddies.
  • It’s fascinating to listen as Barbie describes herself and how she compared in contrast to Kathy’s other Gifted & Talented, upper middle class friends.  This is a friendship that overcame differences in race, religion, culture, expectations, education / career goals, and disapproving parents.  Classic Kathy Rose story…she’s sees past race, class, and the usual clutter people use to separate themselves from one another.
  • Around min. 9, Barbie begins to talk about some of the dynamics in their current day relationship and how the friendship has come full circle.  It’s also the first time that Barbie talks about why Kathy continues her fight:   ‘She’s shared with me on numerous occasions that, “Barbie, I will do whatever treatment they think to ensure my son understands that there’s anything in life that you want, you have to fight for it. You have to give it your all. I need to leave this earth knowing that I taught him that.”’
  • I’m kind of late to the game in terms of what has gone on with Kathy.  Around min. 16:30, Barbie talks about the circumstances of Kathy first being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.  Doctors told her she had 6 months to live.  I love how she huddled with her friends when faced with a life threatening situation.  Especially important in this segment is Kathy’s decision to fight cancer to the end rather than yield to model the way for her son, Sean.  Her message again to Sean and really to all of us: never give up.
  • Probably the most important segment is to hear Barbie talk about the past +/- year, which starts around min. 34. Barbie talks about attending a chemo session with Kathy for the first time and being pulled aside by Kathy’s oncologist and told Kathy should no longer drive and that she needed someone in attendance with her at these sessions.  You get the sense that in that moment, Barbie began to grasp the gravity of the situation.  It was a turning point for both Kathy, Barbie, and their close group of friends upon whom Kathy relies.
  • One surprising aspect of the conversation with Barbie was to learn how emotionally invested Kathy’s team of doctors is, beginning around min. 40.  I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised that Kathy has built a strong personal connection with any of these professionals.  That said, theirs is a difficult business of loss where keeping arms length distance from the patient can be a matter of mental and emotional health.  Sounds like her team is as committed as Kathy.
  • In a worldly sense, Kathy has lost the material possessions that confirm our adulthood.  She’s lost her house.  Kathy’s no longer supposed to drive.  No car.  She’s no longer able to earn.  At some level, she’s a single mother who is living with her parents, dependent on the goodwill of family, friends, and community.  Every day, she swallows a cocktail of pills that distort her mind and senses.  And yet, still…Kathy continues for the most part to be the Kathy we all know and love.  I can’t imagine the energy she must expend to maintain our reality.
  • I’m not going to get into a political discussion about healthcare, but…if you need context to frame the conversation about Medicaid and pre-existing conditions, Kathy sits at those crossroads.  She depends on government support for continued treatment.
  • If you’ve ever experienced cancer with someone you love, you’ll recognize the weight of responsibility that Barbie carries daily.  I refer to Barbie as Kathy’s operations manager (she also provides security detail – she is very protective of Kathy).  She organizes Kathy’s meds, doctor’s appointments, and schedule.  Barbie is also her caretaker when she screams out in the night, must be rushed to the ER, or needs someone to comfort her.  Yeah…if you didn’t know it, that’s going on behind the scenes.  Barbie’s love for Kathy at one point reminds me of a young mother’s – she talks of waking up in the middle of the night and going into Kathy’s room to check her breath to ensure she’s still breathing.  Here’s an excerpt from the transcript: “Kathy goes around and makes everybody else smile, and she almost makes you forget that she’s sick. What an amazing gift. You know something else, Stephen, that people don’t know is that she never complains. You will not hear Kathy say, “My stomach’s upset. My back is hurting.” She doesn’t complain. One of my fears is that Kathy has been feeling so good the past probably four months. It’s the best I’ve seen here. There were times where she would just get too fatigued to even walk to the car.  It was like she was doing a marathon to walk from the front door to the car. People don’t know how sick Kathy has been and the things that keep me up at night and the things that make me cry in private is I’m afraid that Kathy’s going to come back, that Kathy that needs help, because she’s nauseous or the normal side effects of that chemo has. Everybody knows what those side effects are, you know? Am I going to be sitting next to her in the bathroom again, you know? Am I going to have to be laying in bed with her again, you know? I mean, not that I don’t want to do those things, Stephen, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying we haven’t had to have those days for a long time…You know, we want to take it all away from them. You want to make it go away and you can’t. All you can do is be there for her. I’ll do it as many times as it needs to be done. I’ll do it. I’m scared. I’m scared of the toll this is going to have on her body.”
  • If you’ve ever loved and witnessed someone with advanced stage cancer, you now recognize what both Kathy and Barbie are experiencing.  Your heart is now heavy, your eyes may be filling with tears.  This is the proverbial “valley of the shadow of death” that Kathy must repeatedly walk.  Barbie and Kathy’s other friends must walk it, too.
  • As I steered our conversation to the present around min. 46, Barbie shared more in-depth information than I’ve been able to get out of Kathy regarding her current state.  Kathy has an inoperable tumor in her liver that can’t be removed because it’s too big.  Cancer is in her bones, which can wreak extraordinary pain as the infrastructure of her body weakens and begins to cave in on itself.
  • Kathy’s doctors have talked to her about the option of making her as comfortable as possible for quality of life reasons.  She’s just not having any of it.  She’ll keep fighting.  Sean needs his mother and she’s still having too much fun in this life…which just sounds crazy but is somehow true.
  • That said, she has ten weeks of intensive clinical treatment of a two-pronged bout of chemo – oral and intravenous.  Kathy has signed up for the indignity of being poked and prodded as she’s essentially a guinea pig. Barbie discuss around min. 31.  The best she can hope for is that it’s effective and she can continue it.
  • Somehow through all of this, I find myself inspired, full of respect…and maybe even a little envious.  I mean…would I have Kathy’s resilience?  Do I have a single friend like Barbie?  Do you?
  • In spite of everything, Kathy has built a network of family, friends, and community that give her life meaning – the kind of meaning that gives her the daily strength, courage, and will to push forward and not acquiesce.  Very much reminds me of Victor Franks’s book, “The Search for Meaning”.  People who have meaning in their existence and a reason to live can endure tremendous hardship and survive.
  • Money and resources are an issue.  Here’s what became clear – Kathy needs our help.  I want to help.  I need to help.  Kathy has given me her blessing, so I’ll be running a GoFundMe campaign the week leading up to Mother’s Day to raise money to help offset some of Kathy’s upcoming expenses.  We’ll also be sharing stories about Kathy.  Please contribute, where you can.  It’s not about how much you give so much as participating.  Let’s do this together!
  • Link to Kathy’s GoFundMe page: