Friday, January 27, 2012


Centerville, Iowa is a quaint little town of some 5,500 people located in the southern part of the state.  To date, it's most notable native has been opera star Simon Estes.  But that might change.

Last week, Master Sergeant Travis Riddick was killed in action in Afghanistan.  His death has impacted this area and beyond.  It is a particularly proud feeling we should all have to see the community's response in honoring Riddick's sacrifice.  Yesterday we began to see visible proof.  Here is a story from the town's newspaper, the Daily Ioweigan.

"Between 250-300 people came to the Centerville Fire Department Thursday afternoon to take part in placing 2,200 American flags along the route the body of fallen Centerville Marine Master Sgt. Travis W. Riddick's body will travel.

The flags were made possible by Larry Eckhardt of Little York, Ill. Eckhardt has earned the title of "The Flagman."

The unloading began...
Eckhardt said he has been lining streets with American flags for fallen military members for six years. In 2011, Eckhardt traveled to 20 cities and so far this year he has gone to five.

"I think you can be real proud of your town and your area," Eckhardt said. "I can't thank you enough to see all of these young people here."

American flags were placed on both sides of Highway 5 approximately 18-feet apart Thursday afternoon, the route Master Sgt. Riddick's body is expected to travel coming into Centerville Friday afternoon. From the northern edge of Centerville flags line Highway 5 to Lange Funeral Home, which is near the southern edge of town. American flags now line Wall Street to Simon Estes Auditorium at the Centerville High School, where funeral service's for Riddick will be held Sunday at 2 p.m.

Eckhardt said the flags will remain in place until 4 p.m. Sunday, after the funeral sevices have ended.

Centerville native Master Sgt. Riddick, 40, was killed Thursday, Jan. 19 in a helicopter crash in Helmand province, Afghanistan, along with five other Marines".
An Image to Remember
In addition to the town's tribute, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad released this press release on Thursday. 

"Gov. Terry Branstad has ordered all flags in Iowa be flown at half-staff from 5 p.m. on Friday, January 27th until 8 a.m. on Monday, January 30th, 2012, in honor of Marine Corps Master Sgt. Travis Riddick, 40, formerly of Centerville, Iowa.
Flags will be at half-staff on the State Capitol Building and on flag displays in the Capitol Complex, and upon all public buildings, grounds, and facilities throughout the state. Individuals, businesses, schools, municipalities, counties and other government subdivisions are encouraged to fly the flag at half-staff for the same length of time as a sign of respect.

Master Sgt. Riddick is survived by his wife, Jennifer Riddick; six children, Victoria Riddick and Levi Riddick and Charles Lovelace, Matt Lovelace, James Lovelace and Zachary Lovelace; his parents, John and Barbara Riddick; and two brothers, Tim and Troy Riddick.

The U.S. flag flown over the state Capitol on the day of the funeral will be presented to Master Sgt. Riddick’s family at a later date, along with a proclamation honoring him".
I can visualize so much more to this coming Sunday.  I can see the Patriot Guard Riders on site with their motorcycles and flags......and hundreds lining the streets as the funeral procession rolls on.....and I can picture people moved to remember this day for the rest of their lives.

R.I.P. Master Sergeant Travis Riddick.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012


PV2 Pete's Journey for Help is a look-see at the thoughts and heart of a young soldier who returned to Iowa from deployment to Afghanistan.  He is facing some real struggles integrating into "normalcy:.  His story, while unique, is one that many of the 2,800 that deployed in July of 2010 and returned home the summer of 2011 are experiencing in one form or another.

It had been several weeks since I'd been to Panera Bread.  But it was that time again.  A meeting with PV2 Pete.  I was ready to sample the homey feeling, the sights, sounds and smells of our neighborhood eatery.  And so was Pete, fresh off his trip to South Carolina and the Republican Primary.  He looked the part of a political junkie...ready to unload all that he'd been through.

I laughed to myself as we stood in line waiting to place our order.  Pete was a bundle of nervousness.  He was wound so excited, he could hardly contain himself.  "Should I ask if you had a good time in South Carolina?", I inquired.  "Did you learn anything special about yourself or politics in general".   "Sir, you won't believe the time I had", he started.  "I learned so much about people and their agendas, but I also found out alot about myself.  More than I ever could have imagined", he continued.

We got our food and sat down to devour some delicious greenery.  Word after word came from Pete's lips.  So much, that he was having a hard time eating his meal.  Talking was more important to him at the moment than food.  I, on the other hand, listened intently, munching on a great garden salad.  Suddenly, I felt the urge to at least say something.  "Go ahead, tell me more", I said.

"You can't believe the energy that exists around a primary", Pete suggested.  "I spent a little over a week traveling the state of South Carolina telling people about Rick Santorum.  Everywhere I went, people treated me with respect.  They listened to what we were saying and I think we got part of our message through.  But in the end, I'm mystified by the final results.  I mean, look, Newt Gingrich got 40%, Mitt Romney had 27%, Santorum did 17% and Ron Paul came in at 13%.  When we first got down in South Carolina, people were talking about a Romney walk-away.  Then all heck broke loose.  I'm still amazed Gingrich got 40% after all he went through with his former wife's TV interview about wanting an "open marriage.  Gosh."

I nodded at Pete and shook my head in disbelief as well.  "Sir.  You know what?  Here is the big revelation I learned in traveling down South.  I don't care if it's in life or in politics, I want the truth.  That's what I saw being overlooked so much during the primary.  I heard so much diatribe from Gingrich and Romney and Paul where the truth was nowhere to be found.  I know as a supporter of Santorum's it would be easy to overlook his negatives....but frankly, I see him as such an honest, hard-working man of integrity.  Speaking the truth, too, mind you". 

I must say, I didn't feel the least bit compelled to interpret my young friend.  He'd found something out.  I wanted to make sure he knew I was tuned in.  "And?", I questioned.

"I've prayed about this alot in the last couple of days.  I'm asking for truth in this election.  Not only in the Republican fight as to who their candidate is going to be, but in the general election this November.  There is so much garbage to sort through.  So much fabrication, so much "spin zone" going on.  Truthfully, I think, Senator Santorum is a man people can trust.  As the days continue on this trail, I hope the lies become more visible to the American people and they give Santorum a chance.  We need someone to believe in.  Someone who stands for the principles this country was founded on.  I think he's the man.  Let me list off the prime people and as I do, think about each person and the image you have in hearing their name.  Obama.  Gingrich.  Romney.  Paul.  Santorum".

"Son, you are dead on",  I exclaimed.  "We should be praying fervently for the truth to be revealed.  The focus shouldn't be on anything but that.  As you were talking, my mind kept wandering to the proper Bible verse that we could read that would increase our wisdom during these times.  And here's what came to mind":
Luke 16:10 - "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

On that note, the two of us pulled ourselves out of the booth.  "Pete", I said.  I'm not sure who learns more when we connect.  But I do know one thing.  You've grown leaps in the last several weeks.  And that's the truth, so help me God".

On further reflection, this hit me.  We're closing in on nine months until the general election.  You've no doubt heard some of the Presidential hopefuls speak of this being "a crucial time in our country's history".  That's if you believe them.  Shouldn't the truth be what saves us from another four years of struggle and discouragement?  Is there perhaps a little irony that nine months are left?  If the seed of truth is planted, watered and cared for, there is no telling how great our future might be.  If not.....

Do you remember Jack Nicholson in the movie, "A Few Good Men"?  Here's a lead into his classic line.........



Friday, January 20, 2012


The words redeploy and reenlistment conjures up a whole series of emotions.  It all depends on who you ask and what the situation is.  For a soldier,  it can mean a return to something familiar...where there is respect and security.  For a family member or loved one, it means reliving the "fear" factor all over again. 

In the past week, I've heard of at least six stories of soldiers who have or are thinking of reenlisting or deploying again.  I thought to myself.  Is this common?  Now that we're around the six month mark with troops having returned from Afghanistan, is it typical for soldiers to want to redeploy or reenlist?  What percentage want to go back into battle overseas?

I placed a call to Colonel Greg Hapgood's office with the Iowa National Guard to check it out.  "That's a real good question", said Hapgood.  "We don't track those that want to redeploy because it's really on an individual basis.  If a soldier wanted to deploy again, he'd have to go through a series of things..for instance, after a waiting period, he would have to move to another unit that has orders.  It's a real small number that do that.  What we're trying to do in Iowa is retain the soldiers we have.  Some 700 are set to have their contracts expire with us in the coming year.  So that's our focus", he added.


I have a couple of soldiers who I'm close to that I decided to ask for feedback.  First off, I gave PV2 Pete a call down in South Carolina.  I should remind you, Pete has had a difficult time landing a job since he returned home in July.  "Pete, I'm checking into the redeployment and reenlistment of Iowa soldiers", I started.  "I need you to be up front with me and tell me your thoughts.  Have you given any consideration to returning overseas?   "Aaaah, interesting you should ask that question, sir", he began.  "Two weeks ago I was that close to making a call.  Now, I'm not so sure.  I've really enjoyed this political trip I've been on since the first of the year.  I love helping Rick Santorum's campaign.  I'm happy doing this.  So for now, I'd say I'm not.  But that could change when all this ends", he added.  "I have a couple of buddies that have told me they're close to reenlisting.  Another one has already asked to redeploy."

Secondly, I thought of my son, Kris.  I've seen several of his Facebook posts suggesting he could go back.  Could.  But that doesn't mean he will.  I do know he's looking for the right opportunity in his life right now.  Where that is, I'm not sure and for certain, he's not sure.  We haven't talked in-depth about his going back, but last night I asked him if he's seriously considering the deployment thing again.  "Nah, not right now, I'm not", he said.  Okay, I thought, that's good enough for now.  However, he could change his mind real quick.  Why?  Call it a gut feeling or a father's intuition.   Kris has wanted to be a soldier since he was a little shaver.  I don't see that changing any time soon.

I guess I can't hide the fact, that today, I'm thinking of 2,800 soldiers, families and loved ones that might, and I stress might, reenlist or redeploy.  I think of a mother I know who could lose her son for a third time.  Is LOSE the right word?  Heck, I'm not sure and I'm sure she'd say the same the thing.  However, when you have birthdays or holidays and that loved one isn't by your side, it's hard to put another word in place to describe it....because their absence is unmistakable.

Sometime soon there will be a number of Iowa Guardsmen facing a decision as to whether they should sign a new contract.  The questions will be......should I, could I and will I?   I recall a soldier who was killed in action in Afghanistan last year who had deployed fourteen times.  14.  I find it hard to comprehend how someone could deploy that many times.  I also find it hard to fathom how a support group at home endured the long days and nights waiting and wondering after he made HIS decision.

Are these soldiers a different breed of people that we're talking about?  In some respects, yes...and in other respects, no.  I've seen the military machine up close and personal for these past two years.  What made the biggest impression on me is the sense of commitment which exists among these men and women that's lacking in today's "outside" world.  I stand in awe of you.  The one big regret I have in my life is not serving in the military.  I'm well aware I won't be able to correct that choice.  But what I can do now, is stand in support of a soldier as they decide their next road to travel.  

My best to you all soldiers.  Whatever your choice, know you've been molders of our future. 



Thursday, January 12, 2012



PV2 Pete and I agreed to meet one last time before he headed off to South Carolina.  For whatever reason, we both felt the need to connect.  More than anything it was for the "new" political animal that had been unearthed in recent weeks.  As you might recall, Pete got involved with the caucuses in Iowa a couple of weeks ago and fell head over heels.  He felt it was his duty to door knock for Rick Santorum.  And nothing was going to keep him from his appointed notion.

As we sat down at the table in Panera Bread, Pete started the conversation,  "Sir, how do you get faith?"  I looked at the young man across from me marveling at the transformation that was taking place in him.  "Pete, that might be the best question you've asked me", I shot back.  "Let's see what we can understand, but first, how about a prayer before we do?"   Pete looked at me and nodded his head in approval. 

Minutes later we began our talk.  "Pete, there is a difference between believing and having faith.  Faith is not about something. Faith is's got substance.  Belief is about's a thought.  Belief is any idea you are willing to consider acting upon.  Belief is required by God.  Faith is a gift and a human ability. Faith pleases God", I began.  "Does that make sense?  If you consider that there is a God and that He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him, you have before you the two basic beliefs which God requires".  "Aaahhh", said Pete.  That's where I get mixed up.  I have to remember that faith and belief are two totally different things.  Belief is thinking, faith is heart.  If I keep that straight, I think I've got it".

PV2 Pete is coming to HELP....

During the next hour of conversation we talked about his upcoming travels to South Carolina.  It was as excited as I've ever seen Pete inspite of Tuesday not being the best day for his candidate, Mr. Santorum in New Hampshire.  But I think Pete will be alright no matter the outcome next week.  For one, he's going to HELP someone and two, it will be a good lesson in keeping the faith.  I recall something a good friend told me one day, that if you consider that there is a God and that He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.--you have set before you the two basic beliefs which God requires. 

So, once you get faith, how do you keep it?  Here's what Solomon experienced:
"At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you."   And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.
And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.

And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.  Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?"  It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.   God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right.  I now do according to your word.  Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.-1 Kings 3:5-12



Friday, January 6, 2012



The meeting place was the same as it's always been...Panera Bread.  It had been a number of days since PV2 Pete and I had spoke with the Holidays and all.  It was time for us to catch up with each other since we went into our "shells" by having spent time with family, traveling and shopping.   The aroma of Pete's iced mocha was prevalent as we began our conversation.  "Good holidays?", I asked.  "We're you able to have some good time to reflect and absorb everything around you?" 

"You know sir, it was a far better Christmas than I thought it was going to be", he replied.  "I tried to slow down and appreciate it all.  Not expect too much, but just enjoy being with people.  And you know what?  I think that made the time that much better.  I really couldn't have expected anything more.  But right after Christmas, you'll never believe what I got involved with".  "I give",  asking with a note of hesitation.  "Politics....can you believe it", Pete said with a smile. 

"I went to a couple of rallys and really got fired up", he continued. " I liked Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.  But then when we started getting closer to Caucus Night, I went with Santorum.  I'll tell you what.  I got an adrenaline rush...and I hadn't had one since coming home from Afghanistan.  My blood was pumping and I was all excited and so were alot of other people.  It was awesome", he exclaimed.  Hmmmmm, I thought.  Who would have thought with all Pete had gone through since coming home, that politics would be an answer?

"Pete, you surprise me man", I shot back.   "When I least expect it from you, I can expect it.  So you're telling me you're a Santorum fan now, huh?"  "Yup.  I might just hustle down to South Carolina and do some beating on doors for him.  I like what he says and he strikes me as being so straight forward and honest.  I like that", Pete suggested. 

And Your Purpose Is?

Pete had opened the can of worms on what we could and could not talk about by his mention of politics.  So with that in mind, I said, "have you been able to ready any more of "A Purpose Driven Life"?   I'm curious if you're sudden awakening has fueled your enthusiasm in other areas."  "Sir, you wouldn't believe it.....I read Chapter Two a couple of nights ago.  And a number of things are starting to make sense."   As I sipped my lattee, I too smiled.  Pete was hungry and his sense of direction was becoming apparent.  With those thoughts, we dove into a discussion on Chapter Two of Rick Warren's book.  Here are some of the questions from "What On Earth Am I Here For":

Have you ever really felt God’s deep love for you personally?

I wrote a song once about my son that starts out: “Christopher knows Christopher’s toes.”  I came up with this idea when he was six months old and sitting in an infant seat with his little feet sticking up in the air.  And in a flash of a moment, I caught him noticing his feet as if he had never discovered them before.  He was totally surprised to find that whatever these things were in front of him, they were attached to his body.

Have you ever stopped and noticed how intricate your hands are—how the joints work and how the flexible skin that covers your blood and tissue can take such a beating, and the way the thumb and fingers work together to do so many complicated tasks—and wondered how you could be an accident?

King David wrote: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). In spite of whatever might seem pointless to you right now about your life, isn’t there something that speaks of a love behind it?  If we were made, what does our maker think of us?  When you make something, what do you think of it? Are you proud? Do you like it?

How would your life change if you began to live each day confident that God loves you deeply and has a purpose for your life?

When I am aware of a purpose, it makes me more focused.  Life isn’t just random.  The little things I do fit into a bigger plan.  Even if I’m not sure exactly what that plan is, I know God does and that adds more significance to everything.

And believing God loves me is probably the biggest thing of all.  It’s hard, because I don’t think I always believe it myself.  But when I realize God loves me unconditionally, it saves me from always trying to earn acceptance from other people.  I think I can be more useful and less needy as a result.

If this is new to you, try it on.  Try on the thought that God loves you—even the things about you that you hate.  How would that change how you think about yourself?  And if He made you with a purpose, wouldn’t you want to find out what that was?  You owe it to yourself to at least go down this road and entertain the possibility.  Because if it is true, it could be the greatest news in the whole world for you.

Think Pete and I didn't have some great dialogue pertaining to the questions above?  For sure, it made our day...and gave it some special purpose.

Still the thought was in my mind.  POLITICS.  Pete, you're something else. 



Monday, January 2, 2012


I was especially fond of Paul Harvey, the famous legendary commentator, and the work he did in his "The Rest of the Story" pieces.  Harvey had a way of directing the way he told a story,  that you were sure you knew what he was going to tell you about someone's life, then presto, he told you the real truth.  So, in honor of Paul Harvey and others who share the inside of a story, here is one for you to remember each Christmastime.

There's a success story told by Robert Fulghum in his book "It Was On Fire When I Laid Down",  about a man who died a failure. John Pierpont was his name.

In 1866, at age 81, he came to the end of his days in Washington DC, after a long string of personal defeats. Things began well enough.  He graduated from Yale, which his grandfather had helped found, and chose education as his profession with some enthusiasm.  He was a failure as a teacher.  He was too easy on his students.  And so he turned to the legal profession. He was a failure as a lawyer.  He was too generous to his clients and too concerned about justice to take good cases that brought good fees.  He tried dry goods next. He failed at business.  He was too liberal with credit and didn't charge enough for his goods.  He tried writing poetry and then he tried being a minister.  He failed at both endeavors.

He even tried politics.  He ran for Governor of Massachusetts.  He ran for Congress.  He failed to win either race. He was 76 years old when the Civil War came along and he signed up as chaplain of the 22nd Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteers.  He couldn't hack it.  It was too much of a strain on his health. Someone found him an obscure job in the back offices of the Treasury Department in Washington, and he finished the last five years of his life as a menial file clerk. From this distance in time, Fulghum tells us, one could insist that Pierpont was not a failure.  His commitments to social justice, his desire to be a loving human being, his active engagement in the great issues of his times, and his faith in the power of the human mind-these are not failures. But every December, especially in colder climates, we celebrate his success for something entirely different.  In our hearts and minds, we carry a memorial to him for a song.

John Pierpont wrote Jingle Bells. 

How often do we measure a person's success through the material they acquire or by the deeds they've accomplished?  Far, far too often we miss the important people in our lives who show up each and every day accomplishing what many think are the mundane, when they really aren't  Maybe you know a John Pierpoint or two....

And now for the rest of the story.... 
As we jump head-first into 2012, conversations will often times focus on the New Year's resolution.  "Have ou made any?", friends will ask.  I haven't been a big partaker in the "resolution" thing in the past, probably because I forget far too quickly.  And.....I don't recall anyone asking me in July how my New Year's resolution thing was going.  We all forget, don't we? is one I had come my way.  It actually has so much to say in making a resolution for me in the years to come.....and I hope for you.            

GOD, IN THIS NEW YEAR, may I no longer be my own but yours. Put me to what you will; rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing; put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full; let me be empty. Let me have all things; let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God — Creator, Redeemer, and Inspirer — you are mine, and I am yours. May this promise that I hereby make on earth be ratified in heaven. Amen