Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ragnar Etiquette: Dos, Don'ts, and Please Dont's

When my dad and I were preparing for our first marathon in the spring of 2010, I told him that we were starting an expensive habit.

"Expensive.  How is it expensive?  You buy a new pair of shoes a couple of times a year and you're good."

"The running gear isn't the most expensive part of it.  It's the registration fees and travel costs."

All of this was before either of us had run our first Ragnar.  We weren't even contemplating the following types of costs:

  • Van Rental Fees
  • Fuel
  • Hotel rooms
  • Massive amounts of snacks
  • Painkillers - the legal, over-the-counter type
  • Digestive aids
  • Van decorations
  • Running costumes - (This one's not bad for us--we just dress up like runners)
On top of these monetary costs of running a Ragnar, there are the short and long-term psychological costs of being in a van with family, friends, and strangers in extreme and smelly circumstances for hours on end with little to no sleep.  There's also a steep psychological cost of being a team captain, which I've done six times with my seventh on the way.  (It's always fun when the team members complain about a bad start time and tell you it's your fault, after they refused to register until the very last minute.)

After running five marathons, 11 Ragnar Events, 1 Red Rock Relay, and a handful of other races, I've learned to deal with the cost and find a way to cover it.  (My dad thinks I pay for it by avoiding his requests to reimburse him for the registration and other costs).

Along the way, I've developed what I call "Jarad's Ragnar Etiquette: Dos, Don'ts, and Absolutely Do Nots, or Common Sense and Courtesy."  I spent some time contemplating these in great depth during the Ragnar Del Sol 2014 while some of my teammates took all the sleep time and I navigated.  (Please excuse some of my underlying negativity as these thoughts were developed and formalized by a sleep deprived mind.)

Here a few of my rules of etiquette:

Registration and Race Prep
  • If you commit to the team to run, then do everything you can to run it.  If you can't run it, it's your responsibility to help find a replacement.  
  • If you pay your money for the registration and then back out within three weeks of the race, you forfeit your entrance fee.  That belongs to whatever poor, fortunate schmuck who gets pulled in at the last minute without the proper training.
  • Respond in a timely manner to your team invitation.  Don't leave the team hanging for a final pace and start time because you can't open an email and log in.  If you're too busy to complete the registration, then you're too busy to run a Ragnar.
  • Put an accurate pace in your profile.
  • Spend some time training--at least enough that you don't get life threatening blisters on your feet after the first three mile run.
  • Bring snacks and drinks to share with the other runners.

Running the Race and Riding in the Van
  • Cheer your runners and other runners on as often as you can, especially those running their third leg in the middle of the heat on the second day.
  • Decorate your van, at least with some drawings.
  • Costumes are optional but please don't try to make other runners vomit by wearing an outfit that is inappropriate for anyplace except your bedroom or the mental hospital.
  • Learn how to eat appropriately so that your not anxiously awaiting the Honeybuckets at every single exchange.  
  • Be courteous to those who are experiencing digestive problems.  It's in your interest to get them to the needed facility in time--no need to make the odor problem worse!
  • Take turns driving and be patient with the navigator especially from 1:00am to 6:00am.  Mistakes are natural for the sleep deprived.
  • Take a water or gatorade to the exchanges for the runners coming in--even if they don't want, it's nice to know that your team is thinking of you. 
  • Always feed your hungriest runner when he or she needs it--otherwise they'll complain about the need for food at 3am when nothing is open. 
  • Run in together as a team at the finish line.  If you're the last runner, slow down enough to allow your sore and stiff teammates to keep up.  No need to sprint at that point. 
  • Lock the door of the HoneyBucket/port-a-potty when you are inside taking care of your business.  Nobody wants to pop the door open to see you in the act, hear you scream, and see the look of terror on your face.  LOCK THE DOOR.

The Don'ts
  • Don't hog all the sleep time by allowing your teammates to be responsible for getting you everywhere.  Help with navigation, cheering, and driving.  Remember, if you are sleeping the whole time while others are driving you places, they may be considering places to drop off your body in the desert.
  •  Don't be grumpy the whole time.  Some grumpiness is expected and acceptable.  Remember, your teammates don't have to pick you up after your next run.
  • Don't overreact to others' grumpiness.  Some reaction is fine, but keep it at a level that will keep you out of jail.
  • Don't tell the overweight runner that it's easy and they should just keep running instead of walking.  Tell them they're doing great!
  • Don't put your sweaty body or sweaty clothes on others' clothing or stuff.  
  • Don't hog all of the phone recharging time.  The world can live without your witty posts for a few hours if your phone dies.  My witty posts, however, tend to keep people going and are necessary.   
  • Don't ignore other runners when they greet you in passing.  Even a grunt in reply is better than ignoring another runner. 
  • Don't accidentally navigate your van to Exchange 30 when you are supposed to be going to Exchange 24.  You will not get the sleep time you need, your driver may abandon his post, and the runners in the other van may put out a professional hit on you.
  • Change into clean running clothes at least once.  (Some think you should put on clean running clothes for every run.  I think that's bad for the environment.)

The Absolutely Do Nots
  • Do not consume alcohol on the course.  It's not worth getting killed or killing someone else because your in desperate need of a buzz.
  • Do not honk in residential areas at night during the quiet time.  The Ragnar staff works hard with local cities and authorities to get us great routes for our runs.  Don't ruin that by being stupid and inconsiderate.
  • Do not cheapen the experience by pulling your runner off of the course and driving him or her further down.  Do everything you can to complete the course.  
  • DO NOT use another person's body glide.  Some things should NOT be shared.
  • DO NOT run out of medals at the finish line.  Really, you didn't know that many teams were going to be running?
Please let me know if you have any rules of etiquette that you would like to add.  

And remember the most important rule: Ragnars are supposed to be fun.  HAVE FUN or GO HOME!

(Just don't go home until you finish your last leg because I don't want to have to do it for you.)

For more entertainment and enlightenment, please check out my other Ragnar Blogs:
Why I Ragnar
Confessions of Ragnarian
Profile of a Ragnarian
Ragnar Zion - To the Trails
Experimental (Trail) Running - Ragnar

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sochi: The Russian Adventure

Family, friends, and colleagues are surprised to learn that I haven't watched any of the Sochi Winter Olympics.  We don't have cable or satellite, just Netflix.  Life is busy enough that I haven't taken the time to go watch it anywhere else.  I'm torn.  Part of me loves to watch the Olympics and part of me would love to see the pieces on Russian culture and history.  Another part of me is just too exhausted to put forth the effort to find a way to watch it.  (It's interesting because during the Vancouver Winter Olympics, I was in Russia watching the coverage each night from my hotel rooms.  The unique Russian take on the Olympics was interesting.  I became a fan of the Russian Women's Curling Team.)

Despite my failure to watch it on television I have followed several stories about Sochi and the Olympics online.  I always love the stories of the athletes, of their struggles, their successes, and their failures.  This year the stories of the host country have held my interest as much as, and possibly more than, the stories of the athletes.

As some of the initial stories came out from the press and athletes of conditions in the Olympic Village and around Sochi, I was amused and gratified.  Their descriptions are so accurate of the conditions I have experienced on so many occasions.  My amusement derived more from their shock and discomfort than from the actual conditions.  It was gratifying to hear about someone else experiencing the adventure that is Russia.

The coverage of the myriad of problems associated with the Olympics is prolific and, in most cases, accurate.  I find the coverage and the reaction to it interesting.  In the West, there seems to be a sense of glee as the shortcomings of the Russians are highlighted.  Among the Russians, there is a feeling of being victimized and criticized unfairly.  Reactions on both sides to the coverage stem from centuries of history, culture, and politics.  Psychology, played out at the national and individual level, also play a large role.  Battling senses of superiority along with a national inferiority complex add fuel to the fire.

All of the negative hype and reaction have overshadowed the greatest part of the location of the Olympics--the adventure.  Russia isn't like the United States.  It isn't like London.  It's not even like Beijing.  It's more like what we should expect in Rio de Janeiro or what thing were like in Seoul. 

Russia, with it's history, culture, and politics, is an adventure, the same as it's been for centuries.  Their standards and expectations are different from ours.  Not all of that is bad.  Much of it simply is the way it is.  The Russian people are amazing and strong.  In many ways they understand the things in life that are truly important--family and friends.  There is so much about their culture, people, and history that is amazing.  Like their geography, their national character is vast in scope and rich in depth.

Those experiencing Russia for the first time should take the time to truly experience it.  Rather than complain and spend time wishing for something better, they would gain so much more by trying to understand why things are the way they are.  They would benefit from thinking about the life that the everyday Russian lives and appreciate them for who they are.

Russia is a place where suffering is part of the national experience.  There is a certain pride in the ability to make it through trial and tribulation.  I can't help but think that they feel incredulous when they hear others complain about conditions in Sochi.  This is a city where billions of dollars were invested to improve the infrastructure to include living facilities for the athletes and hotels for the guests.  Visits to the apartments and homes of the locals would show the discrepancy in conditions.  At the same time, despite the corruption, they feel a sense of national pride at the efforts and success their country has achieved in preparing for these Olympics.

Russians value progress, but it comes so slowly and often with a high cost.  Monumental efforts toward modernization are central to Russia's history--Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Stalin, Yeltsin, and finally Putin.  Epic successes and failures have been part of their history for centuries.

These Olympics are a wonderful opportunity for the world to appreciate their successes, their progress, and even their shortcomings.  It's an opportunity to learn from things that aren't as we expect.  It's an opportunity to learn why some things worked out and others didn't.  It's an opportunity to have an experience, even one that is incomprehensible and frustrating, and simply to enjoy it or at least enjoy telling the story later.

One occasion on my mission comes to mind--in fact it blew my mind when it happened.  Only the telling of the experience is enjoyable because of the reaction it elicits, and because I'm still alive.  My companion and I lived in an apartment building next to the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater.  Just to the north of our building was a large park through which we walked several times a week.  On one end of the park was an outhouse.  Public restrooms are rare in Russia, at least compared to what we have here in the United States.  The first time I saw an outhouse in such a large city I was surprised.

Passing through the park one week I noticed that they were digging a new hole for the outhouse.  I hoped they would do a good job of cleaning up the old hole.  A few days later we were in a hurry to get to another part of the city to play ultimate Frisbee with some other missionaries.  Hurrying through park I passed by the outhouse.  Suddenly I found myself calf deep in what looked like a mud hole.  Then the scent hit me.  Quickly I jumped out and onto dry ground trying to convince myself of what had just happened.  As I stood there in shock and disbelief.  I heard a question being asked repeatedly and with increasing volume.  I looked up.

My companion was standing in the "mud" hole, asking, "What is this?  What is this?!?"

Quietly at first, I said, "Crap.  Human crap."

With a confused look, unwilling to accept what I was saying, he asked, "What?  What did you say?"

"It's crap, HUMAN CRAP!"

"What?  What is it?"

"It's $@#%.  A big pile of it from the outhouse."  I pointed.

He roared and jumped out.  He started to scream about the craziness of the situation that he was unable to comprehend.  The crew who had moved the outhouse had thrown dirt into the full hole, displacing the human waste onto the dry ground.  They had then sprinkled dry dirt and lye over the top of the raw sewage, effectively camouflaging the bio hazard.  I think of the poor people in the park that day who were wise enough to avoid the pit of waste.  They watched and listed to what seemed like two dim-witted and crazy Americans covered in crap.  That day I bathed in bleach, undiluted bleach. 
The Novosibirsk Opera and Theater.

With all of the wonder of adventure, there are legitimate criticisms of Russia, and particularly of it's government and political leaders.  Russia can and should make a number of changes regarding human rights issues, civic life, and basic freedoms.  They can and should change aspects of their relations with their neighbors and other countries. The Russian government should be more comfortable with the criticism that comes from its educated and concerned citizenry.  The Russian government should embrace a free press.  If their cause and methods are just and effective, then they should allow a true and accurate story to be told.  Further progress lies before them.

One of my favorite quotes is from Viktor Chernomyrdin, a former prime minister under President Yeltsin:

"We wanted the best, but it turned out as always."

Russia is an amazing place.  The people, once you get to know them, are amazing and warm.  Friendships formed are deep and lasting.  The history is intriguing.  The politics are Byzantine.  And all of it, people, history, culture, and politics, are shaped by the vast landscape and geography of the country.  The landscape and geography pull in multiple cultures and philosophies.  They have developed a unique perception of the threats and opportunities offered by the external world.

Russia, I don't believe, can truly be experienced through just one visit to one location during one season of the year.  It must be visited in each of the seasons, the deep winter and the beautiful summer.  Perhaps the seasons of rain and mud in between can be skipped.  The far north, the south, the east, the west, and the center should be visited to get a true feel of the expanse of Russia.

As the Russian adventure continues, it can and should turn out better than "always".  Along the way, though, those of us that can should enjoy the Russian adventure.
Some beautiful photos of Sochi:

Friday, February 14, 2014

Meanderings in Uzbekistan: Bombs, Bread, and a Ferris Wheel

Despite an explosion and the fear of being kidnapped, a trip to Uzbekistan became an adventure to remember.

As Spring Break 2005 quickly approached, I was working overtime to make sure that each of the twenty or so delegations of officers and cadets were ready to go out.  Every spring the Office of International Programs at the United States Air Force Academy would participate in one week exchange programs with foreign military academies.  We would send a delegation of one officer and four cadets to their academies over Spring Break and they would then send their delegations to the Academy for our International Week in April.

With time quickly running out to get all the documentation and logistics in order, I was happy that I wasn’t traveling this time around.  The previous year I had managed the entire program as well as lead a delegation to the Kazakh Air Force Academy in Aktobye.  By the time I left for the trip to Kazakhstan, my left eye was twitching non-stop from the unending stress.  My hope was that I could get all the delegations on the buses to the airport and relax for seven days while they were all overseas.

A few days before the delegations were scheduled to start departing one of the escort officers came to my office.

“Jarad, something came up and I won’t be able to take the cadets to Uzbekistan.”

“But, sir, you’re scheduled to depart in three days.  I don’t know if we can find a replacement for you in time.”

Quickly we ran through the logistics.  In order to make the trip work we had to have a military faculty member, with an official red US Passport, and preferably one who spoke Russian.  It took only a few minutes to realize I was the only one, other than my colleague who was backing out, which fit that profile on the entire faculty.  My list of things to do had suddenly become much longer with a call to my wife at the top of the list.  I swore a slight twinge was starting in my left eyelid.

I wasn’t opposed to going to Uzbekistan.  The country, like much of the region, intrigued me.  My issue was simply a matter of workload and responsibility. 

A part of me, of course, was excited for the opportunity.  Iranian nomads are the first known settlers of the region that comprises modern day Uzbekistan.  Throughout history the area has been part of various empires to include the Persian Samanid and Timurid empires.  With the development of the silk trade between China and western cultures, cities along the route became wealthy.  The Silk Road was born.  Cities with deep historical meaning grew—Bukhara, Samarqand, and Khiva. 

Eventually the area became a part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union.  Since the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, Uzbekistan has been an independent nation ruled by an authoritarian regime.  In 2005 Uzbekistan was an active and serious partner in the prosecution of the Global War on Terror to include operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Due to this relationship, we were able to travel to the country with just an official passport.  No visa was required.

Soon I was in contact with the cadets who would travel with me to Uzbekistan.  One of them was a cadet we sponsored.  He was LDS and had served his mission in Russia about ten years after I was there.  The other male cadet was also a returned missionary who had served in Russia.  We had two female cadets with us, both studying Russian.  One was an experienced glider pilot who loved to regale us with stories of her near calls in the air.  Our final female cadet was a young eighteen year old who was thrilled and scared to be abroad in such a strange land. 

Following an early morning bus ride from the Academy to the Denver International Airport, we were on our way.  During a stop at the Frankfurt Airport in Germany, one of the cadets had his camera stolen out of his backpack.  For most of my trips abroad during my time at the Academy, I used the same travel agency in Colorado Springs.  Usually they managed to work magic with flight schedules.  This time, unfortunately, our itinerary left us with an eight-hour layover in Moscow on the way in and out of Tashkent. 

In Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, we had to stay in the same small area of the airport for seven hours while we waited to transfer to the other terminal for our flight to Tashkent.  After an hour we had seen everything in the stores.  Eventually we sat at a table at a café upstairs to try different dishes.  The entire time we were in the terminal the same CD was played repeatedly.  It was a male Russian singer covering American pop music in heavily accented English.  To this day I continue to hear the words, “Oops!  I did it again.”

The transit area to our departing terminal was only manned as scheduled flights prepared to leave.  We were terrified of missing the transit bus, so we watched the checkpoint closely.  A few times we had asked the ladies who ran the checkpoint when we should expect to leave. 

“When we tell you it’s time.”

“Will you come find us to tell us when it’s time to leave?”

“No, you’ll have to be ready and close by.  Now go away and don’t bother us any more.”

About an hour two before we scheduled to depart we watched as a female, a Russian national, walked up to ask some similar questions.  Unhappy with their answers she pressed them further, not wanting to miss her connecting flight.  The conversation deteriorated to the point of yelling and then screaming.  Finally, a large and hardened woman in uniform, obviously with some authority approached the scene of the altercation.  Hoping for some help the lady seeking information turned to the new arrival.  Instead of help she received an open-handed blow to the side of the head, dropping her to the ground.  The lady in charge told her colleagues to carry the lady to the holding room for further processing. 

We sat quietly and waited for them to announce our flight.

Our arrival into Tashkent came in the middle of the night and was uneventful.  The next day we were free to explore the capital city so the embassy hired a guide to take us around the city.  Before we left the hotel we exchanged some US Dollars for the local Uzbek Som.  I don’t remember the currency rate, but after I exchanged $100 I had to put some of the stacks of cash into my backpack in order to carry it.  The highlight of the day was a visit to the large open market in town. 

Tashkent Bazaar

In the evening one of the US Air Force officers, a major or a lieutenant colonel, took us to an amazing restaurant for dinner.  He was there to work with the Uzbek government on military flyover issues in support of operations in Afghanistan.  At dinner he told us of another Air Force officer whom some local thugs beat.  Upon learning of what had happened the landlord, who was shall we say well connected to those with some clout, arranged to have the thugs taken care of…somehow.  Our host also told us about his mission to buy a nice Persian rug for his wife.  What would have cost him a $5,000 in the US, he was able to purchase for under $1,000 in Tashkent.  He said the scary part was carrying a backpack and two handbags full of Som to pay for the rug.


Prior to our departure from the Air Force Academy we received a threat and security briefing on what to expect and how to behave in Uzbekistan.  The Office of Special Investigation was not excited about our location.  Militant Islamic groups in the Fergana Valley combined with the authoritarian methods of the Uzbek government, had created a touchy situation.  We were told we shouldn’t go anywhere in uniform and should try to hide the fact that we were Americans.  Following the briefing I had to convince two of our cadets not to back out.  

(Two months after our trip, Uzbek police and military forces would shoot and kill over 700 people in Andijan.  This action would begin to unravel the partnership with the United States.)

Our second day at the hotel we were met our military escort, a young captain, from the Uzbek Air Force Academy.  As asked, we wore our service dress uniforms.  Our driver was an ethnic Russian who had married an Uzbek and remained behind after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We drove south out of Tashkent toward Djizzak.  The roads were rough but we passed some beautiful farms.  Cows, goats, and horses were staked along the highway allowing them to feed on the grass.  Our conversation with our escort and driver picked up steam as we got to know one another.  We were informed that as part of our itinerary we would visit the academy in Djizzak, play a basketball game against their school team, take a cultural trip to Samarqand, and then visit a tank school and aerodrome in Chita before returning to Tashkent.  The next five days promised to be exciting.

First, however, we had to get past our fear of being shot, kidnapped, and/or tortured.  In Tashkent police officers lined all of the main thoroughfares, standing every 30 to 50 yards apart.  You could tell, especially in the capital, that there was significant tension and the expectation that something could happen at anytime.  With that experience and the memory of our security briefing, we were pulling into a small town wearing our uniforms.  I did my best to assuage their concerns, reminding them that our escorts would do their best to keep us out of danger.

Our fears spiked when we entered Djizzak.  Luck would have it that we entered on a holiday, I believe it was the anniversary of the city’s founding.  The captain and the driver suggested that we drive down to the celebration, kind of like a county fair, to walk around and see the people.  We pulled up to the edge of the celebration.  There was a roadblock to keep vehicles out of the pedestrian and vendor areas.  Our escort spoke quickly to the police at the roadblock to explain who we were and the plan to have us walk around.  They excitedly pulled the barricade to the side to let us through.  A couple of the police officers then followed us to where we parked and continued to walk around with us, our own, armed escort. 

At this point, the cadets were beside themselves with fear.  Here we were in what was considered a dangerous country, in a public setting, and wearing our uniforms.  Stepping out of the van we immediately had hundreds of people stop whatever they were doing to take look at us.  One of the female cadets almost climbed back into the van.  Our escorts, however, weren’t worried at all.  In fact they were excited to show us their city and have us join in the celebration.

Walking away from the van, the captain said, “Let’s have them ride the Ferris wheel.” 

So, we made our way over the back of a very long line to wait our turn.  As we stood there, wondering if we were going to survive the afternoon, the people at the back of the line turned and noticed us.  Quickly the word “American” began to trickle through the crowd until all of them, parents and children, were looking at us, murmuring excitedly to one another.  Suddenly, one of them grabbed one of the cadets by the arm and made a statement.  In abject fear I looked at my escort.  He simply smiled and nodded his head. 

I thought, “Here it is.  We’re about to be kidnapped and held for ransom and our government handlers are in on it.”

Quickly, before we could react, we were pulled forward to the front of the line and pushed into the next open car on the Ferris wheel.  The locals were so excited to have us celebrating their holiday with them that they honored us by giving up their places in line.  As we rode the Ferris wheel we all agreed that with that type of hospitality, there was a good chance we would make it home alive.
Ferris wheel in Djizzak

That night, after a quick tour of the campus and a great dinner at the mess hall, our group was separated.  I was dropped off at the officers’ quarters just off of the campus.  The cadets stayed on the campus with their Uzbek counterparts. 

My quarters was a two-room suite with a basic living space with a sofa, chair, and desk and a bedroom.  A full-sized fridge, containing some bottled water, stood next to the bed.  Exhaustion overtook me and I went to sleep on my thin mattress.

From the depths of my sleep, I heard a loud boom, and explosion.  Immediately I came fully awake convinced that a bomb had just gone off outside of the barracks.  I rolled off and under the bed, hoping it would provide additional protection in the event of a second explosion.  Lying there I noticed that the explosion had thrown the fridge door open.  In terrified anticipation I wondered if there would be another explosion, whether or not I was the target of the bombing, and if terrorists were on their way up the stairs to get me.

Five minutes passed.  Ten minutes passed.  Fifteen minutes passed.  Nothing else was happening.  I wondered if the attack was coordinated.  How were the cadets?  Were they safe or was an attempt made on their lives as well?  Grateful that I wasn’t injured in what may have been the opening salvo, I thought of having my body sewn up in the local hospital; of a long flight home with serious injuries.  I tried not to think what it would be like as a hostage.

The only sound was the water dripping from the bottles in the fridge onto the floor.  I couldn’t tell how far the explosion had thrown the fridge, but I figured the blast must have been significant to break open the plastic water bottles in my fridge.  After all, I was on the second floor.

Finally, I poked my head out from under the bed to look around, using the faint light from the open refrigerator.  It appeared that the fridge hadn’t moved much.  The door was just hanging open with the water dripping out.  I lay there a few more minutes as it dawned on me what may have occurred.  After a few more long minutes, I pulled myself out from under the bed and crawled to the fridge, not wanting to make any type of silhouette against the window, you know, in case there was a sniper waiting for me outside.

Reaching the fridge door, I pushed it shut some so I could maneuver to peer inside the fridge.  There sat a two-liter plastic water bottle with a hole blown in the side.  Turning the bottle I read the label, mineral water.  There was also a bottle of regular water.  I touched it.  It was frozen.  The bottle of mineral water had exploded as the carbonated water expanded with the dropping temperature.  The bomb had exploded inside my room, inside the fridge.  My hosts had planted it there because they knew, that unlike them, Americans like their drinks cold.  To make sure the water was cold, they had turned the temperature very low on the fridge.  Because they never cooled their mineral water, they had no idea that it would freeze and explode.

I sat on the bed for several more minutes trying to relax.  Once my heart rate had dropped, I took a towel from the bathroom, wiped up the mess, and checked my watch.  It was around three in the morning.  At some point I did manage to fall back asleep, but it wasn’t restful.

The next morning the escort officer asked me if my quarters were comfortable.  I smiled and said they were wonderful.  The second night there was a fresh bottle of mineral water in the fridge.  I pulled it out and set it on the table.


The remainder of the trip was amazing.  Our game of basketball against the school team was a little lopsided.  Out of the five of us only one had any decent skill at the game.  One of our female cadets was extremely competitive, (she wasn’t the one with skill), and managed to put a three inch scratch mark on the face of one of the opposing players. 

One of their officers had been a helicopter pilot during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.  He forgave me for the Stinger missiles that were launched at him and for those that had killed his friends. 

For lunch on our second day the deputy commander of their academy hosted us.  He was an ethnic Uzbek, a lieutenant colonel.  At the close of an amazing lunch, during which he boasted of the service the Uzbeks were providing to the Americans in Afghanistan, he asked us to drink a toast with him.  He was shocked to learn that three of us were Mormon and wouldn’t drink the alcohol.  Perhaps feeling guilty that he, as a Muslim, regularly drank alcohol, he pushed us hard to drink with him.  He challenged our manhood and insinuated that we were offending him.  I told him I had no intention of offending him, but that if forced to choose, I would rather offend him than my God.  In all my time in Russia and other countries, I had never been treated so rudely for not drinking alcohol. 

(A month later I turned the tables on him at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  I told him that I would be offended and that our general would be offended if he didn’t eat a ham sandwich with us at the mess hall.  He didn’t speak English so he couldn’t complain to anyone.  Of course, as a good host I had made sure they had a nice halal alternative for him.)

After two or three days in Djizzak, we loaded back into the van for a trip to Samarqand.  Two of the Uzbek cadets came with us.  Once in Samarqand we also picked up a female tour guide who spoke excellent English.  We visited the Holy Daniel, a site that is believed by some to hold some relics of Daniel the prophet of the Old Testament.  Supposedly it contains his arm bone and some believe that it continues to grow, hence the long sepulcher.  We also visited the mausoleum of Tamerlane and the Registan, or Public Square of the old city.  The Islamic architecture and design of these buildings is amazing.  Again we visited an open market and purchased round loaves of bread to eat while we walked around.

Registan (Public Square) Samarqand

From Samarqand we stopped by an active Uzbek Air Force aerodrome, or air base.  During our lunch with some of their helicopter pilots in the Officers’ Club we were invited to fly with them in their helicopters.  When we tried to decline the offer, they told us that they often fly our special forces into Afghanistan and that we shouldn’t be so scared.  Luckily a storm front moved in before they could get the helicopters, large Mi-8s, ready to fly.  We had to settle for a quick walk through of the helicopters.

Mi-8 Helicopter

Our final stop before returning to Tashkent was a tank school in Chita.  When we arrived it was obvious that they weren’t clear on when we were supposed to arrive.  Nothing was ready but they managed to feed us a late dinner and get us berthed in their barracks.  I was put in a room with a bare mattress and a scratchy wool blanket.  The next morning we played with their tank simulators and then visited their World War II museum that focused on the epic tank battles against the Wehrmacht.

On the way into Tashkent, our escort officer stopped to feed us one last meal at a restaurant.  All of us were tired and would have preferred to go straight to our 5-star hotel for a shower, some sleep, and then maybe some food.  As the gracious host he was thrilled to spend a little more time with us.  He used it as an opportunity to get very drunk.  Our female cadet who was only 18 years old asked if she could partake of the alcohol since she was of legal age in Uzbekistan.  Since Academy rules allowed for it and there were going to be three of us with her who weren’t drinking, I told her I had no problem with it.  She said it was her first time ever trying alcohol and I’m pretty sure she was being honest.

Once we finally arrived back at the hotel in Tashkent our first stop actually was the business center to send emails to family assuring them that we were alive.  I sat next to the young girl who had tried alcohol for the first time.  I watched as she typed her email:

“Dear mom and dad, I’m in Uzbekistan.  I think I’m drunk for the first time ever.”

Then she clicked send.  Immediately I jumped on her computer and sent her parents another email giving them the details and letting them know that she was safe.

The next day at Domodedovo airport in Moscow I sat watching snowflakes fall against the big window, and slowly drifted to sleep to the sound of a Russian man singing, “Oops! I did it again.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Law Enforcement: Threats and the Use of Force

On Thursday, January 30, 2014 Sergeant Cory Wride, a deputy with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed inside his vehicle.  He had pulled over to check on what appeared to be an abandoned vehicle or perhaps a stranded motorist. 

According to the Utah County Sheriff James Tracy, “It appears that Sergeant Wride was ambushed at that time and he was shot in the vehicle and he did not survive his wounds.”

Sergeant Wride had no opportunity to exit his vehicle or to return fire.  His condition was unknown until deputies arrived on the scene to investigate why he was no longer answering calls on the radio.  Later Deputy Greg Sherwood of the Utah County Sheriff’s Department spotted the shooter’s vehicle in Santaquin and engaged in a high-speed chase.  The shooter fired shots during the chase hitting Deputy Sherwood in the face.  Deputy Sherwood survived and is recovering from surgery.

The chase continued south into Nephi where the shooter crashed his vehicle.  Shots were again fired, culminating in a carjacking by the shooter.  Further south the shooter was forced to crash again.  In an open engagement with no cover Juab County Sheriff’s deputies engaged the shooter finally injuring him and taking him into custody.  The next day the shooter, who had a criminal history and an outstanding warrant, succumbed to his wounds and died.  Investigators continue to try to piece together what happened and why.

A similar incident occurred in the City of Draper, Utah in September of last year.  Sergeant Derek Johnson pulled up on a vehicle that was parked at an odd angle.  It was 6am on a Sunday morning.  He was ambushed, shot and killed before he was able to return fire.  The shooter also shot his girlfriend and then turned his gun on himself.


As the son of a career law enforcement officer, I grew up aware that each day that my father went to work he might not return home to us.  On more than one occasion I remember my dad making the extra effort to move past any disagreements or hurt feelings between him and any member of the family before he would leave to start a shift.

My mother never likes to be reminded of the ever-present risk that her husband and other officers face every day.  Understandably she tries to avoid speaking about it.  Growing up I wanted to talk about it.  I wanted to know what he and other officers do to keep themselves safe.  I wanted to know how they handled knowing the dangers that they face every day.  When I had opportunities to go on a ride along or visit with officers, I would ask questions and observe what they did and how they behaved.

The reality of that danger came crashing down on us one day when my dad was a deputy sheriff in Duchesne County in eastern Utah.  I remember my dad getting a phone call one morning.  As a deputy he often received serious phone calls, but I could tell this one was different.  It impacted him immediately and emotionally.  Deputies had been involved in a high-speed chase that morning along U.S. Highway 40.  Three officers had succeeded in boxing in the suspect and forcing him to stop his vehicle, a senior deputy approached the scene in his personal, unmarked vehicle.  One of the deputies had exited his vehicle with a high-powered rifle and saw the unmarked car approaching.  Fearing it was a threat he raised his rifle and shot the senior deputy through the throat, killing him.

Law enforcement officers, by and large, consider themselves public servants.  The concept “to serve and protect” is real for them.  Sure some of them do it because they like the rush caused by the uncertainty inherent in the job, but even most of them cling to the higher purpose of protecting others. 

Every time an officer answers the call, every time they approach a door in response to a request for help, every time they stop to check on a stranded motorist or abandoned vehicle, every time they approach a pulled-over vehicle, every time they step between a threat and a target, they must stand ready to make the ultimate sacrifice and the possibility of using deadly force. 

This desire to protect and do their duty is powerful enough to keep them going out every day and night.  Along with that desire to protect is the lack of a desire to kill or to cause serious harm to anyone.  As a young boy with a father as a new police officer, I misunderstood what motivated him.  In excitement I asked if he was ready to shoot and kill the bad guys.  In a firm voice he told me that he hoped that he never, ever would have to fire his gun at another person.

This is the paradox that our law enforcement officers face—a desire to protect others from those who would do harm combined the fear of having to use deadly force. 

Officers go through intense use-of-force training scenarios.  They are taught to recognize and employ methods for avoiding the use of force when it isn’t necessary.  They are also taught to use varying degrees of force in different scenarios.  Much of this, however, comes down to the situation at hand and the threat perceived by the officer.  Essentially we have asked law enforcement officers to protect us from any danger while accepting a threat against his or her personal safety while expecting them to make absolutely correct decisions, control their emotions in volatile situations, and to engage in only a measured and appropriate use of force.

Good law enforcement officers never want to get this wrong.  Every day these officers go into dangerous and possibly deadly situations.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred these officers handle the situation correctly.  They manage to keep those involved safe and the use of force to a minimum, if it even becomes necessary.  Police departments, the good ones, closely monitor their officers to watch for trends of escalating use-of-force in situations where it may not have been necessary. 

Officers who show signs of excessive or improper use of force often receive additional training and oversight.  They may receive extra time away from stressful situations to allow them to reset emotionally and regain their perspective.  Officers that continue to exercise excessive and improper use of force after remedial action has been taken often are let go in order to keep the public and that officer safe. 

Despite their intense training, almost every law enforcement officer will end up in a situation where force is used to stop or apprehend someone who is breaking the law or is a threat to others.  In the most extreme and unfortunate cases use of force may result in an officer shooting someone.  At those times it is our responsibility as a society to demand that the situation be explained to us in the fullest detail possible.  Each use of deadly force must be investigated and analyzed by those we trust to decide if it was justified and if it wasn’t, what the course of action should be moving forward.

This review process must be fair and transparent in the interest of the public, the victim, the officer, and the law enforcement agency.  An officer cannot be expected to go into a deadly situation with an overwhelming worry that the use of force to protect his or her life and the life of others will be investigated unfairly or with political prejudice.  If such a worry is overwhelming, it may result in a delay of the proper use of force and put the officer and the public at greater risk.

Sometimes we, the public, with the media’s help, are quick to jump up and down and demand that an officer be fired, punished, or imprisoned for what appears to us to be an improper use of force, deadly or otherwise.  Sometimes we fail to consider adequately the environment in which that officer works on a daily basis.  Sometimes we fail to consider the previous stellar performance of an officer in a myriad of other dangerous situations.  Sometimes we fail to understand the emotions the officer is experiencing in a given situation.  Sometimes we fail to understand that circumstances have put that officer in a situation that has escalated to the point that there is no longer a good option going forward.

I am in favor of removing bad law enforcement officers who habitually use excessive and improper force.  I am in favor of removing good men and women who are unsuited to the stresses and rigors of law enforcement.  I am also in favor, however, of giving our good law enforcement officers the biggest benefit of the doubt that I can when they have put their life on the line for yours or mine.  In extremely deadly situations, mistakes will be made.  Most of us will never fully experience the stress that an officer faces when he or she is considering the use of deadly force.  Good officers, those who make mistakes or are simply put in bad situations, deserve fairness and understanding.  They deserve respect and support.


Shortly after he shot and killed a fellow deputy, my dad’s colleague left law enforcement.  I don’t remember who decided he should leave.  He went on to live in the community for several more years, if memory serves me correctly, as a truck driver. 

The Deseret News ran a story on the four deputies from Juab County who engaged the gunman who killed Sergeant Wride and wounded Deputy Sherwood.  These four deputies engaged the shooter knowing that he had used deadly force previously against law enforcement officers and had carjacked a citizen.  Without cover these four engaged the shooter in a gun battle and brought him down.  Understanding the stress and impact that an officer experiences after they shoot a suspect, the Juab County Sheriff placed the four on administrative leave.  They were given the opportunity to recover, reflect, and regain their balance before they returned to the work of keeping their neighbors safe.

As we watch over the actions of our law enforcement officers, we should do it with a high degree of respect, appreciation, and fairness.  As we expect the highest degree of integrity and professionalism from them, we owe them our support whenever and wherever appropriate.  And we should remember that those officers who shoot another person in the discharge of their duty will suffer from wounds that we cannot see.