Wednesday, December 22, 2010

He sees you when you're... ballin'

Santa Claus and his elves watch closely as the Lady Colts defeat North Hills 51-42 Wednesday night. No word if Mrs. Claus was also in attendance. Read both the boys and girls varsity basketball game stories on Chartiers Valley Patch.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Old train station found new life as library

By Mike Jones
Chartiers Valley Patch
Dec. 19, 2010

Passenger trains had all but stopped rolling through Bridgeville by the early 1960s, and the freight lines from Pittsburgh were being used less and less. So the old Bridgeville train station sat unused and unattended for more than a decade. And as it rotted away, it became a symbol for what the railroads used to mean to the borough.

Meanwhile, the newly formed Bridgeville Public Library had already moved out of its cramped space inside the Trust Building on Washington Avenue and into a slightly larger home in a nearby apartment building. Looking to expand even more, Ernie Mihaly of the local Kiwanis Club had a wild idea: rebuild the dilapidated train station and turn it into a literary hub for the borough.

That decision likely saved a century's worth of history.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We begin anew

My new journalism website, Chartiers Valley Patch, launched at 6 a.m. Monday. I welcome all of my followers here to visit the site and pass along the hyperlink to anyone who lives in and around Bridgeville, Collier Township, Heidelberg and Scott Township. Your support, opinions and suggestions on this blog over the past 17 months have been very-much appreciated. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


While we build our website and prepare to launch the Patch, you can follow my Chartiers Valley news and updates on Twitter by going to Any news tips and story ideas are greatly appreciated.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I will spend my final day of unemployment by traveling by plane to New York City to begin training tomorrow for my new job. Unlike most training I've had for jobs (mostly on the job) I will be staying a plush hotel on 44th and Broadway before taking my MacBook/iPhone to the AOL for a two-day training class on Monday and Tuesday.

It hasn't sunk in yet that it's over.

I still am having trouble coming to grips with the fact I have a job that will pay the bills. How sad is that? But once I come back to Pittsburgh, I'll be spending every waking minute building my website and promoting it to everyone living with in the boundaries of the Char Val school district (and beyond).

So while The Bread Line Blog may be winding down, my work is heating up. Stayed tuned to this blog to find out where I'll be writing next. Your readership will be incredibly important to me as I try to build a local website and try to expand into your neighborhood.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day games

Election Day is an exciting time for Americans. It's the opportunity to participate in government and make changes or confirm policies. What it shouldn't be, though, is a game. Unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing that the media considers important.

The horse race is more important than the platform, or so it seems. I watched with head-slapping disgust as CNN discussed what it meant for a Florida candidate's poll numbers when she viewed a text message offering her advice during a commercial break in the gubernatorial debate. Shouldn't the media be asking how they will try to get people back to work and try to stem the bleeding caused by the financial meltdown?

It's more fun to talk about campaigns than it is to talk about how complicated policies will actually affect our everyday lives. But it is those platforms of the the new Congress that restarts in January that should be the highest item on the news agenda.

Republicans may win the House today. But two months later they'll have to govern. Or the Democrats might hold onto both chambers. But two months later they'll have to govern.

Too often the media portrays these races as a sport where there are winners and losers. Sure, half the candidates win and the other half lose. But it's the policies set into motion by the victors that will change our lives. I can't help but to think how those policies may have helped to trigger (or failed to prevent) the economic meltdown two years ago. Would I have spent the past 16 months searching tirelessly for a job that I should have never lost?

So go to the polls today... or don't. I plan on going, but I'll let you decide for yourself if you want to invest 10 minutes into our democracy. Just remember that this isn't a game. In a few months, the politicians elected today will make serious decisions about our future.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The end game

It had been 16 long months since I opened my morning newspaper and didn't thumb through the want ads. This morning, though, I went directly from the Local News page to the Sports section with nary a thought of finding work.

It's a relief.

I had applied to AOL's in August after my aunt told me about the internet company's start-up news websites. I really wasn't sure what the job would entail, but the resume went out in assembly line fashion as it had for months. It wasn't until two weeks ago when a recruiter in Virginia called me to set up a phone interview. A few days later, I sat down with Western Pennsylvania's regional editor for a one-on-one interview at a South Side coffee shop. On Monday, I whizzed through a three-hour writing exam that asked me to use faux police reports to cobble together multiple stories on a fatal fire. I finished the process with another phone interview on Tuesday with a local editor in Illinois.

After that, I hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. Then I received a phone call yesterday morning from the original recruiter. There was a sadness in her voice that I detected -- or maybe it was my own pessimism -- that quickly turned to delight when she asked me to come aboard.

The position of local editor will be to build and launch a news website for the Chartiers Valley area around Bridgeville. The company expects me to work from my home, and it is sending me an iPhone, Mac laptop, copier/printer/fax machine and police scanner. I will be responsible for all the happenings within my local beat. They also are providing a small budget for me to hire freelance reporters. This is a new concept in journalism, but it is an exciting opportunity that I intend on giving the best chance to succeed.

I have been unemployed for 16 months, but I haven't forgotten how to work. It's time to get out of the bread line and back into the workforce. I can't wait.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's over

At 10:54 a.m. today, I accepted a position as a Local Editor with AOL's to cover the Chartiers Valley area.

I begin Nov. 8 and will offer more details about the job and beat in the coming weeks. Thank you for your support over the past 16 months.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Obama campaigns at W&J College

(Candidate Barack Obama shakes hands with a supporter. Photo by Celeste Van Kirk)

By Michael Jones
O-R Staff Writer
April 16, 2008

Barack Obama calmly stood behind a blue curtain, his arms crossed and body swaying back and forth, moments before being introduced to the crowd of about 300 people.

It is a routine the Illinois senator has been through hundreds of times on the campaign trail, but just beyond the curtain, anticipation swelled as supporters wearing campaign garb eagerly awaited the Democratic presidential hopeful's entrance.

"It's time to take our country back," Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner said, "and that's why I believe we are here today to support Barack Obama."

With that introduction, Obama stepped through the curtain and the crowd inside the Rossin Student Center ballroom on Washington & Jefferson College's campus rose to its feet and gave him a raucous reception. It took him several minutes to make his way to the podium as he shook hands with dozens of military veterans seated underneath an American flag draped overhead.

Obama's visit marks the first time one of the three remaining presidential contenders has come to Washington County. His chief rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, will travel to the Mon Valley Saturday.

Philip Fiumara Jr., district commander for the Department of American Veterans, gave Obama an American flag lapel pin to wear before he addressed the crowd. Obama quickly pinned it to his coat and personally thanked him following the event.

"I heard a lot of people say he won't wear a flag pin," Fiumara said. "Well, if he's helping veterans, he needed a pin."

Obama spoke for a mere 15 minutes, highlighting his grandfather's service during World War II and explaining the problems facing many present-day soldiers returning from battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. He then turned the forum over to the audience and took questions for 45 minutes.

Near the end of the forum, Charles "Tootie" Smith, a disabled Vietnam War veteran living in McDonald, took the microphone and addressed Obama for several minutes, never asking a question.

"This is what America is all about," Smith said. "So, Mr. President, thank you."

He then stood and hugged Obama as the crowd cheered.

Jim Trent, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, is a registered Republican and will not be able to vote in the Democratic primary Tuesday. He has not decided for whom he will vote, but said he wanted to see Obama in person to help him choose in the general election.

"I just wanted to hear the man," Trent said after the event. "I like him."

Trent, of South Strabane, dismissed the controversy over Obama's comments at a private fundraiser last week that small-town voters are sometimes "bitter" and that they "cling to guns or religion ... to explain their frustration."

"Yeah, we do hold to our guns and our religion, but that's something we've done for generations in this area," Trent said. "It's part of our background and who we are. I think they're just using comments like that out of context and some people are upset about it. I wasn't at all."

As Obama left, he shook hands with supporters who crammed into a velvet rope near the stage. Heidi Szuminsky of Waynesburg weaved her way to the front and briefly spoke to the candidate.

"I've been waiting to do that for a long time," she said.

As a member of the Young Democrats in Greene County, Szuminsky has supported Obama since he gave a stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

"I think he's the one candidate who can actually unite our country and truly bring about the change he speaks about," Szuminsky said. "There's just so much I like about him."

Obama heads today to Philadelphia, where he will debate Clinton.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A fine line

Steelers linebacker James Harrison should not have been fined $75,000 by the National Football League for his hit on a Cleveland Brown. There, I said it... along with every other human being not employed by the NFL.

Harrison is a monster on the football field, but a softy off of it. He aims to hurt people, as he plainly said after the game on Sunday. But so does every other defensive player. You want your opponent to feel pain, but you do not want them to suffer an injury.

As for Harrison's fine, it makes no sense. Mohamed "Image Redacted" Mossaquoi turned to catch a pass that slipped through his fingers. The minute he turned to look, he saw Harrison barreling downfield on the verge of a monster hit. So Mossaquoi ducked his body into the fetal position and put his head in line with Harrison's shoulder. How could James Harrison ever pull back or change his direction to miss Mossaquoi's head?

Now Harrison is threatening retirement because the game has changed. Say what you want about that suggestion, but I think "Silverback" should do whatever makes him happy. If playing football and earning $8 million a year doesn't do it for him, then so be it. The boys on ESPN's "Pardon The Interruption" couldn't believe Harrison would trade that money for a job as a bus driver, which he previously said in a news interview would be his profession had he never made it to the pros.

Now, I don't know James Harrison personally, but I do believe he would be happy being a bus driver making pennies. Because that seems to be his personality. He has always scrapped his way into the lineup ever since permanently catching on with the Steelers in 2004 after linebacker Clark Haggans broke his hand while weight lifting. Had Haggans never broken his hand, Harrison would be working full-time for public transit.

And I think he would be satisfied with his life doing just that.

So maybe we should all learn something from James Harrison. Football is fun, but we shouldn't put it on a pedestal. He knows his place in society with or without the NFL, and I commend him for willing to move on to his "life's work" before his contract and body say he should.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The forgotten game

Fifty years ago today, the smoky industrial town of Pittsburgh upset a baseball juggernaut.

It's hard nowadays to imagine the Pittsburgh Pirates as a championship caliber team, but the 1960 roster shocked the world at 3:36 p.m. on this date. It still is amazing that this team, which won Game 7 against the feared New York Yankees, doesn't get the historical credit it deserves. Outside the Lines on ESPN conducted an online poll this afternoon and just 8 percent thought it was the most memorable home run in a World Series. It finished last out of six total nominees. That's hard to believe considering it's the ONLY home run to decide the championship in a Game 7.

Although the Yankees had outscored the Pirates by a score of 46-17 during the first six games, the series was tied heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 7. The Pirates blew a 9-7 lead in the ninth, but they had final ups in the bottom half of the inning. And there was scrawny Bill Mazeroski standing at the plate - a player known more for his glove than his bat - cracking the winning run over the center field wall.

While most of the country doesn't even remember this game, a group of Buccos fans and former players still gather at the Forbes Field outfield wall in Oakland to listen to the radio call and commemorate this amazing feat. In a city that has seen 18 consecutive years of abysmal baseball, Oct. 13 is recognized as a local holiday for a city starving for meaningful baseball

Monday, October 11, 2010

Finding my dream job

For a baseball team that has tried and failed at everything during 18 consecutive losing seasons, it's baffling why the Pittsburgh Pirates haven't yet contacted me for the opening at manager. So, I've taken it upon myself to send a cover letter and resume to the Pittsburgh Baseball Club this afternoon to be considered for the field managing position.

Hey, I couldn't be any worse than what they've had since 1993.

In my application, I will tell team owner Bob Nutting that my plethora of baseball knowledge from Little League would be a solid foundation to help me handle the transition to the majors. Plus, I have some supervisory experience on my resume having served as a crew leader during this years census count.

I'll promise to work cheaper than any other managerial candidates the Pirates are currently interviewing, and you know that is important to Nutting. Recently-dispatcher John Russell made $500,000 a year in his three seasons, and he will also be paid that salary again to NOT coach the team next year. Before that, Jim Tracy spent a couple years making a couple million, and Lloyd McClendon prowled the dugout for five years with nothing more than a stolen base to show for his salary. I feel that I could easily manage this underachieving ball club to a losing record for, let's just throw out a number, $50,000.

So, what say you, Mr. Nutting? Wouldn't you like to at least get your money's worth for 105 losses? You know my number, and I look forward to speaking with you about my qualifications (or lack thereof) in the near future.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The new guy

We weren't sure what would happen when we brought the hound home. He had been surrendered as a stray last month at a shelter in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of East Liberty, so little was known about his past. But the terrier/hound they called Cheetah has been a great gift for our household.

After my girlfriend, Tiffany, started a new job Downtown that made a few extra bucks, we decided to adopt a shelter dog. While celebrating her first day on the job last week, we came across some mutts outside the Texas Roadhouse where we dined. We asked questions and got plenty of information on the dogs the shelter workers cared for. We had talked for months about bringing a dog into the home, but only recently decided that the time was right to adopt.

So we went to the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania on Saturday and met the litany of mutts they have in kennels.

I tried to pet each one to give them human interaction, although the volunteers at the Rescue League take great care of the animals and walk them frequently. Then we came upon a shivering hound who pushed his nose to the front of the cage. We met him in a small greeting room, took him for a walk and unleashed him in a fenced-in yard. There was something about him that told us he was the right dog for our house.

We brought him home on Sunday and renamed him Riley.

We have had no trouble teaching the 13-month old how to go outside when needed and behave in our modest home. But it's the volunteers and workers of the Animal Rescue League whom we should thank for bringing us such a well-tempered and loving animal. Still, we wonder where he came from and how we were so fortunate to bring him to our home.

After serendipitously finding Riley, I would strongly encourage anyone looking for a four-legged companion to adopt from one of the various shelters in the area.

Western Pennsylvania Humane Society
Animal Friends of Pittsburgh
Washington County Humane Society
Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Total disconnect

Albert Haynesworth is being paid $100 million over seven years to play a game. And after his offseason of complaining and refusingto practice during mini-camp, he isn't playing that game very well anymore.

So he went on a Washington radio station and made one of the dumbest and most asinine comments I have ever heard. He's bitter and clinging to his guns and religion because the Redskins want him to play a different defensive scheme than he was accustomed to in previous years. I don't have a lot to say about this idiot because I'll let his own words do all the talking.

"Just because somebody pay you money don't mean they'll make you do whatever they want or whatever. I mean, does that mean everything is for sale?" Haynesworth said last week. "I mean, I'm not for sale. Yeah, I signed the contract and got paid a lot of money, but ... that don't mean I'm for sale or a slave or whatever."

No, you're not a slave. You get paid for what you supposedly do for a living. But you WERE for sale two years ago when you signed that record-breaking contract with the Redskins. They may not own your soul, but they are paying you enough money to tell you what to do while at the office

Monday, September 27, 2010

Radio killed the radio star

This wasn't the first time "they" pulled the plug on Stan and Guy. But once again, Pittsburgh is left without the most trusted men in Yinzer sports.

ESPN Sports Radio 1250 will cease to exist after this week because Mickey and Minnie decided that childish radio shows such as Hannah Montana will somehow be more lucrative in this cradle of sports than, well, sports. I knew something wasn't right while driving to the grocery store yesterday morning and 1250 had a national feed talking about the Cowboys instead of the Steelers. Really? The freaking Cowboys! I immediately turned the dial to NPR to find something more interesting.

But this was just a precursor to the real tragedy. ESPN Radio is pulling out of Pittsburgh and firing the entire staff. I ridiculed Ken Laird earlier this year when he erroneously predicted the end of the Bruce Arians era. However, I still think he is a good reporter with excellent insight on the Steelers. Hopefully he will be able to catch on with another radio station in the region.

This decision to end Pittsburgh's most prominent sports radio station is just another example of the demise of journalism. Whether it be newspapers that try to offer token services on their websites or radio stations that can't compete with bare bones staff, it's clear that the viewer/reader/listener no longer wants to pay for his/her services.

And that makes me sad, because this isn't the first time sports fans have faced cutbacks. Fox Sports Pittsburgh neutered us two years ago when they ended SportsBeat and the Steelers postgame coverage. For some bizarre reason, they kept the postgame show of the Triple-A team that currently plays at PNC Park.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and this decision by Mickey Mouse proves that fact. We do not want to pay for news, but we are quickly realizing that the only free services we can find nowadays are barren news pages and dead airwaves.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pittsburgh: Home of the Truthiness

I couldn't stop laughing while watching last night's "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report" on Comedy Central. Those two nuts, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, announced they are hosting competing rallies in the shadow of the Washington Monument on 10-30-10. It's a big joke, but I imagine thousands will attend (including me) in a defiant gesture that there are millions of us out there who are sick of the rancor going around America like a bad case of the swine flu.

After weeks of hearing doomsday clown Glenn Beck constantly blabbering about his Restoring Honor rally, I assumed it was only natural that the professional comedians launched their own rally.

So a few weeks ago, someone from The Series of Tubes launched a website to push Colbert into hosting a "Restoring Truthiness" rally on 10-10-10. It blew up on Facespace and the Twatter like you wouldn't believe. But what we didn't know was that it was the work of a Yinzer to get the faux conservative pundit and his Comedy Central pal/rival to organize a real event in D.C.

Joseph Laughlin, 28, of Pittsburgh, made the pioneering suggestion last month on Reddit. "I've had a vision and I can't shake it," he said when others begin chirping about a response to Beck. "Colbert needs to hold a satirical rally in DC."

It turned into an Internet sensation that has raised a quarter-million dollars for charity. It also pushed the comedians into a corner where they had no choice BUT to rally their troops. Colbert begged his viewers last week to stop sending him live doves and Beanie Babies after Laughlin's website encouraged just that.

I don't know how many people will show up for the Rally to Restore Sanity when it collides on Oct. 30 with the March to Keep Fear Alive. But I'm proud to say one of our own helped to bring the Colbert Nation and Daily Show news junkies on a collision course that very well could bring the end of days.

Well done, Mr. Laughlin. You've made the Steel City proud.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Our broken government

While watching the Senate primary results roll in from Delaware, I couldn't help but wonder how broken is our government? The fact that Christine O'Donnell could win the Republic nomination with just 30,000 votes -- less than the number of people at PNC Park for a SkyBlast -- and could eventually decide such a powerful position is astounding to me. Sure, she still must win in the general election, but how could someone with such poor qualifications get the nod for such an important position?

It makes me wonder why we still allow a bicameral federal legislative body. Why should we give 30,000 people -- just 3 percent of the entire population of Delaware and a micro-fraction of the American population -- an opportunity to be 1/100 votes in the U.S. Senate? That means people in smaller states have much more voting power than people living in larger states such as Pennsylvania.

The founders decided on the bicameral government to give both small and big states equal representation. But it's becoming increasingly clear that the minority in dime-size states has an overwhelming voice in our government.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Super view from the Cardinals section

With gold towels whipping and ear-throbbing cheers following each Steelers touchdown, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., felt more like Heinz Field South than a neutral site.

But two hearty souls sitting in the Steelers' end zone directly behind the uprights found themselves stuck in enemy territory surrounded by fans draped in crimson and white.

The fourth quarter might have looked bleak for Steelers Nation, especially for my father and I stationed in the suddenly raucous Section 123, but Super Bowl XLIII became one of the best experiences of our lives.

I never before gave one thought to attending a Super Bowl. The cost and pageantry of the whole thing made it seem like an impossible journey. But my dad, Howard, who lives three hours away in Jacksonville, Fla., somehow scored a pair of the prized tickets and we quickly planned our hectic itinerary.

That glorious Sunday morning began with the two of us hiking to the roof level of a dank parking garage just a few hundred yards from the stadium. By 10 a.m., it already was packed with Western Pennsylvanians partying and kicking back Iron City beers. Strangers from far-flung areas -- Butler, Somerset, Cambria, Center and Dauphin counties -- instantly became close neighbors.

Three hours before kickoff, we left our tailgate and walked to the stadium anticipating heavy security. We snaked our way through the line and made it to the metal detectors, where security momentarily stopped me for unknowingly smuggling in a $1 bag of peanuts. They immediately confiscated my salted contraband and set me free.

We sat down in our seats to soak up the scene before introducing ourselves to a few Arizonans staggering to their spot a row away. It didn't take long for us to realize we would be surrounded.

After initial jubilation from a couple Pittsburgh scores, the game and the atmosphere in our section began to change. Arizona appeared poised to score at the end of the first half and I turned to my father and suggested the ideal scenario would be a game-tying field goal. But my dad refuted that pessimistic prediction.

"Best-case scenario is a pick-six," he said.

Then it happened.

A Steeler stepped in front of quarterback Kurt Warner's pass and the players rushed down field toward our seats. I didn't immediately know who intercepted the pass until a few seconds later when my eyes fixated on linebacker James Harrison's unmistakable figure lumbering down the sideline.

What eventually would be a 100-yard touchdown return turned into an 18-second cage match brawl. Steelers defenders formed a convoy around Harrison, blasting every Cardinal with the audacity to attempt to prevent the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history. The blocking was ferocious and players' bodies littered the field from either exhaustion, pain or exhilaration.

When Harrison rose to his feet a few minutes later, he was greeted with a bear hug from head coach Mike Tomlin. The stadium erupted, except for our neighbors.

The Steelers had rolled to a 17-7 halftime lead, but I felt queasy even when The Boss took the stage and rocked the stadium. Only Bruce Springsteen's bizarre crotch-first slide into a television camera could distract me from thinking about what would develop in the second half.

Little did I or the other 70,773 fans know what we would witness. The third quarter was dull, but the fourth quarter made up for its lack of sizzle.

Our section exploded as Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald streaked down the field directly toward our end zone with the look of a man prepared to maim anyone in his way. My father and I huddled together to weather the storm from our section.

But the Arizona fans began celebrating their Super Bowl victory 2 minutes and 37 seconds too early. A man behind us threw up his arms and triumphantly shouted, "I can't believe we won the Super Bowl!"

Neither could I.

That's when Ben Roethlisberger got to work at his own 12-yard line. He scrambled, finding enough time to hit receiver Santonio Holmes, the eventual Super Bowl MVP. Each time Roethlisberger eluded pressure, a teenage girl in the next row shouted, "He is so lucky!"

"This isn't luck," I thought. "It's Big Ben at his finest."

The raucous celebration in our section dwindled to a light simmer when Holmes flashed open and stumbled to the Cardinals' 6-yard line. Meanwhile, the rest of Raymond James Stadium rocked, but I remained subdued and nervous, still clutching my Terrible Towel in one hand and my father's shoulder in the other.

Then it happened. Big Ben chucked the ball to the corner of the end zone and Holmes caught it before immediately getting slammed out of bounds.

Was it a catch? Did he have both feet down?

Steelers Nation anxiously awaited the official video review. The stadium remained stunningly silent. Then, referee Terry McAulay returned from the booth, raised both arms in the air and set Raymond James ablaze.

A LaMarr Woodley beatdown of Warner sealed the win. I hugged my father and shouted, "We won the Super Bowl, Dad!" And this time, there was no disputing that claim.

As confetti showered the field, most of the Cardinals fans slithered our of our section and into the cool Tampa night. I looked around and saw a few joyous Steelers fans celebrating in our section among the empty stadium seats.

My dad and I hugged and posed for pictures in front of the swell of players and media that swarmed the field. After the emotional roller coaster we rode for nearly four hour, it was time to celebrate. Even if I needed my Terrible Towel to dab a few tears of joy from my face.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Media censorship

I was watching with great angst the end of the Coal Bowl last night when the WVU Mountaineers lined up at scrimmage and just stood there. Then the television camera focused on a Marshall defensive player for no reason at all. And that's when the ESPN announcers explained what was happening.

A fan had run onto the turf and was playing tag with the cops. The hoard of police officers tackled him and dragged him away before play resumed, but the television cameras never showed this drunken idiot causing problems. They said they refused to show the fan so as not to encourage others to act in a similarly stupid manner.

That's very interesting. Because the media has been unrelenting in covering a similar idiot in Gainesville, Fla., who wanted to burn Korans today. That seems awfully hypocritical to me.

This so-called "Christian" pastor planned to burn 200 Islamic holy books to protest the actions of radical Muslims overseas and the proposed construction of a mosque in New York City. Day after day, the media camped outside this church of just 50 congregants and spent unnecessary time covering this extremist's idiotic plan.

Even ABC News' Jake Tapper asked President Obama yesterday why the administration elevated the story to a national level by having Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates call this pastor and request he reconsider those plans. Uh, Jake, I don't think it's the president who elevated this story. You and your media cronies did a pretty good job giving this guy all the attention he wanted.

In the end, this pastor is clearly insane. Can you imagine the reaction in America if an Islamic imam declared that the Holy Bible should be burned on Christmas Day? So why is this pastor given more than a single minute of air-time for proposing something so radical?

All things considered, I would have much rather preferred to watch that drunken fan get pummeled by police than I would watching this idiot have a weenie roast with Islam's sacred book.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Steelers Nation fan-tastic in Fla.

By Michael Jones
Feb. 2, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. – Terrible Towels twirled and Raymond James Stadium rocked as the Steelers rolled Sunday night to a victory in Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals.

But hours before Santonio Holmes hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, anticipation swelled at tailgates near the stadium as game time approached.

The Corrigan family kicked back at their pickup truck that proudly displayed a sign asserting that Tampa was now Steelers Country. Joe Corrigan, 66, of Sarver, Pa., was tailgating and holding a reunion with his two sons, Sean and Patrick, both of whom left Western Pennsylvania for jobs elsewhere.

"I'm excited," said 39-year-old Sean Corrigan, who now lives in Atlanta. "It's always been a dream of mine."

The overwhelming force of Steelers Nation left an impression on the family.

"I'm amazed how few Cardinals fans are here," Sean Corrigan said.

The fans from Arizona, looking tan and happy to just be at the Super Bowl, made a decent showing this weekend, but were easily outnumbered. Patrick Corrigan, 35, who recently moved to Denver, still was unimpressed.

"When you see them, they have brand new jerseys with the price tags still hanging off," Patrick Corrigan joked about the recently growing Cardinals' bandwagon.

That didn't matter to their father as he kicked back an Iron City beer on the roof of a parking garage overlooking Raymond James Stadium. He was just glad to be here after his wife broke her leg last week but still encouraged him to travel to Florida for the game.

"When this came up, I said let's not miss this opportunity," Joe Corrigan said.

William "Tripp" Kline and his wife, Suzanne, said their flight from Pittsburgh to Daytona Beach was packed with Steelers fans. The couple from South Franklin Township said their US Airways crew even played the "Here We Go" fight song over the plane's intercom.

"From what we can see, the flights are jam-packed with Steelers fans," William Kline said. "We're just going to soak up the whole atmosphere at our tailgate. Take in all the pageantry."

While the Klines were in Florida to enjoy the game, Phil Eonda, was all business. The 49-year-old Tampa police detective, formerly of North Franklin Township and a 1978 Trinity High School graduate, was working security at the city's convention center. His shift was supposed to end at 5 p.m., giving him time to head home and watch the game.

"The chance of this happening was remote," Eonda said about the Steelers coming to his adopted hometown for the big game. "I'm glad they made it, and they're here."

The game wasn't only attracting people from the City of Pittsburgh. Fans from all around Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere partied in the shadow of the stadium. A crowd of fans from Centre County stood in the parking garage and chanted the Penn State fight song as they twirled their towels. Others traveled from Somerset, Johnstown and Harrisburg to represent the black and gold at the parking garage.

Overcast skies in the morning eventually gave way to sunshine as tailgaters more accustomed to freezing temperatures relished the warmth. Mark and Melanie Melfi, of Toledo, Ohio, went to Detroit for the Super Bowl festivities three years ago and were greeted then with snow. This time around, however, they sported sunglasses and short sleeves.

"The weather is totally different," Mark Melfi said. "The atmosphere in Detroit, because it was so close, was great, but it couldn't handle the crowd."

"It was just different then," Melanie Melfi added. "We hadn't won a Super Bowl in, what, 25 years? There was that hunger, and we just weren't going to lose that game."

They couldn't find tickets to Super Bowl XL, but watched it at a Detroit bar. This time around, though, they scored tickets on eBay a few days after the Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game.

"After Detroit, we told ourselves we should've gone," Mark Melfi said. "This is just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Hopefully not for Steelers Nation.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A nightmarish fantasy

No matter how hard I tried, the pop-up window on my computer would not display last night's Yahoo! fantasy football draft. There was no money on the line, but it was just another feeling of total isolationism that is somehow just now beginning to set in. I had been looking forward to this annual fantasy draft for weeks and, just like everything else over the past 15 months, it was taken away from me.

So as I was wrangling with the computer, my seven friends were drafting their players as the automated server was selecting for me Falcons running back Michael Turner in the first round. SERIOUSLY!? Michael Turner in the first round? I would've preferred, of course, to have Aaron Rodgers.

It might seem stupid, but it made me even more depressed than I already was. Here are my seven friends, all of whom have decent-paying jobs, having fun on a Tuesday night and enjoying each others' company. And there I was, by myself, watching the Pirates game on television. The freaking Pirates!

It symbolized everything I'm feeling right now. My friends -- and 82 percent of Americans -- are successful and enjoying the fruits of their labor during this economic jackpot. And then there's the rest of us, sitting around with no hope of anything. No job, no pay, no purpose in society. It brings me back to the Post-Gazette's story on Monday that illustrated how 3.5 million Americans don't exist in the eyes of the system. I still "exist" because I continue to collect unemployment benefits, but it sure doesn't feel like it right now.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Witness to calamity

By Michael Jones
Charleston Daily Mail
Sept. 9, 2005

"I never thought something like this could happen in America," a man told me while standing in the crowded lobby of Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans at 3 a.m. Saturday.

His brand-new white shoes were caked with muck. He had trudged through contaminated water after leaving his original shelter -- an interstate overpass. He removed the laces because they were too waterlogged to be of any use.

He seemed to look through me with his drooping eyes. He was standing next to all his belongings in a couple of suitcases and wondering aloud how he would ever put his life back together.

When would he again see his wife, who had presumably already left the airport on an earlier flight? Would he ever regain his job as a welder? Where would he live until the city could be drained and restored? Would he ever really move back to New Orleans?

"Our world just changed,"

Nothing could have prepared me, or the Air National Guard members I accompanied, for what we saw at that airport. These suffering Americans were too tired and despairing to raise a fuss about the rancid conditions, though.

While the airport was slightly better than the hellish confines of the convention center and Superdome, it was quickly deteriorating. Trash littered the floors throughout the place, and the concourse smelled like urine and worse.

Thousands of people slept on the floor or on baggage conveyor belts while others waited in endless lines for the next flight out of the city. Moans could be heard from some of the sick in a quarantined concourse that housed the most critical patients. Hundreds of these patients, mostly elderly, lay slumped over in their wheelchairs or on green stretchers. Many appeared lifeless.

Those who had been pronounced dead were taken to a temporary morgue set up in the waiting area for a Continental Airlines gate, far from the other survivors and the television cameras.

It's impossible to convey the depths of this tragedy through a newspaper or a television set.

"How do you convey the smell, the sight and the feel of it?" asked Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Heilmann of the 130th Airlift Wing.

I wondered that, too, especially since I had been working for the Charleston Daily Mail for only four weeks before receiving this assignment.

What would be tougher? Seeing the uncensored mess that was New Orleans or trying to put that horrifying picture into words?


Never did I think I would be thrust into a major national story so soon.

On Thursday morning, Sept. 1, I was making my daily "cop calls" to various police departments in the state. Before the day was over, I was standing on a tarmac at the New Orleans Naval Air Station.

When I received the assignment from my editor, I didn't have time to really understand what I was about to undertake. The prospect of working with an Air Guard squadron was intimidating. How would they react to having a reporter on their C-130 cargo plane?

More importantly, would I be able to stand up to the horrifying sights and rigorous work ahead?

Those questions and many more went through my mind before I boarded the cargo plane with nine crewmen.

A local news cameraman, Chris Coyner, and I were granted an all-access pass with a C-130 crew commanded by Maj. Kyle Adams. We were able to observe everything and conduct interviews as they carried out their tough assignment.

The first two days of the mission were slow as the crew transported only Army National Guard troops from Ohio to the New Orleans Naval Air Station.

Early Saturday, though, we arrived at the international airport to evacuate the most critical patients from the city. Nothing could have prepared us for what we were to see.

Much of it will stay with me for years. I hope never to forget the evacuees' faces so I can be reminded of how fortunate I am.

We take our many luxuries for granted. I did before Saturday.

Surprisingly, the air guardsmen I accompanied expressed that same sentiment. Men and women who had served in "The Desert" -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- could not put into words what they felt about the devastation they saw on the faces of the survivors.

It seemed that even the displaced New Orleans residents themselves didn't understand the magnitude of their ordeal. Understandably, they appeared to be more focused on surviving the difficult conditions than worrying about everything they had lost.

As relief workers worked to move thousands of survivors through the airport, the media representatives began to pour in. Dozens of satellite trucks lined the parking lot, but many of the tragic stories had already left on flights to their unknown destinations.


Throughout the week, I got an inkling of why the Base Realignment and Closure Commission might have spared the 130th Airlift Wing. The guardsmen carried out their mission professionally, even with constant confusion.

The crew waited on the New Orleans tarmac for five hours Saturday while volunteers loaded three other planes around theirs. The C-130, carrying 24 patients, left as dawn crept over the horizon.

After unloading those patients in Houston, the crew members requested a waiver so they could continue flying missions. They needed permission to work long enough to make it back to San Antonio, or they would be in violation of flying procedures.

Military rules require a flight crew to stop flying 16 hours after they are alerted for a mission. Although they were working on little sleep, the crew was granted the two-hour waiver, but each member had to approve.

Huddled in a tight circle, each of the nine immediately made it clear they wanted to fly back to New Orleans for another round.

Rescue workers diligently loaded 24 more patients onto the C-130. One doctor thanked a crew member and told him two patients would have died had they not been airlifted immediately.

Another airlift the following evening meant more problems. As the C-130 approached Chennault Airport, a small airstrip in western Louisiana, one patient's pulse rate dropped to 30 beats per minute.

Adams and the rest of the flight crew did everything in their power to get the plane on the ground as quickly and safely as possible. A waiting ambulance crew stabilized the woman, but some of the crew members took the experience very hard.

It was clear to me that their work, and the work of the other crews from the 130th, resulted in many lives being saved.


Despite my experiences, I saw glimmers of hope in the fact that people suffering through unspeakable anguish still could smile or speak a greeting to me.

While returning to Charleston Tuesday night, the crew played "Country Roads" over the plane's intercom system. As we headed home, I reflected on what I had seen over the past six days.

Covering this tragedy has been the most rewarding and disheartening experience of my life. It was an incredible privilege to tell this story.

Friday, September 3, 2010

C-130 crew returning after hurricane duty

By Michael Jones
Charleston Daily Mail
Sept. 6, 2005

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - After a grueling mission to evacuate dozens of critical patients our of New Orleans, the crew of EVAC 306 from the 130th Airlift Wing received word it was going home today.

The flight of the West Virginia Air National Guard C-130 left Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio this morning and headed to Houston to airlift supplies to Louisiana.

Then it was back to Charleston for a much-needed break.

The past several days have been hectic for the 130th, which has endured numerous itinerary changes. Scheduling conflicts on the ground have forced numerous delays, but the crew has worked hard to overcome those problems.

This is nothing new for the 130th. While most people have 9-to-5 jobs, the members of the Air Guard don't have a set work schedule. During the five-day operation, the crew worked a 10-hour shift, 12-hour shift, two 16-hour shifts and an 18-hour shift.

Their hour-by-hour lives are frustrating and exciting all at the same time, they say.

"I would kind of like to know where we're going and when we're going, but in our type of job, you don't get that," said 1st Lt. Tim Street, the flight's navigator. "You have to be able to change as it goes and adapt."

Street, who has spent more than 11 years in the Guard, expects to be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

"It is kind of frustrating when you don't know what will happen and when you'll do (missions), but you get used to it," Street said. "It keeps it interesting and keeps you on your toes, but I enjoy it."Many crew members expected to stay longer than Monday and were surprised to leave just one day after the original departure date.

"I didn't know if we would be here two days or two weeks," he said.

A perfect example of the changing schedule occurred Sunday when the 130th expected to make three trips to New Orleans. After the initial trip, it was clear they would not need to return because the sickest patients had been moved.

Just a day earlier, the crew had to request a waiver to extend their hours so the could evacuate more survivors. Without that extension, their mission would not have been able to move 24 critically ill patients needing immediate assistance.

"That's the name of the game with the C-130 crew," said 1st Lt. Todd Perry, the crew's co-pilot. "As long as you're flexible, it works so much easier for the user."

Many feel the length of any mission is not as troublesome as the question mark of the return date. Some say they do not mind serving for long periods but wish they could tell their families when they are coming back.

Perry, who is from Hico in Fayette County, said that has been especially tough on his wife, who has had to oversee the construction of their new hours while he has been gone.

"It is hard because you're not sure when you're 100 percent positive when you'll be home," he said. "You can't tell your wife a certain date."

He will return to his job as a State Police trooper in South Charleston in mid-October.

But there is always the excitement of traveling to unexpected places and not being completely tied to a schedule.

Maj. Kyle Adams, the aircraft commander, sees positives and negatives to his job as a pilot for both the U.S. Air Force and Delta Airlines. His roles as a commercial pilot is much different because it involves trying to meet strict schedules.

"On one hand, I like the variety the military give yous," he said. "On the other hand, I like the consistency of the airline."

But all of the crew from the 130th understands there area factors they cannot control. They waited in line for more than four hours on the Louis Armstrong International Airport tarmac until it was their turn to load the critical patients.

Understandably, the rushed evacuation created many problems for rescue workers. Still, Adams said a good game plan is most important for a successful mission.

"Perfect planning prevents poor performance," he said, spouting a line he learned in training.

"I hate to waste the time and daylight of loading problems," Adams said. "I can take care of pre-mission stuff, but I hate to burn time."

As the crew makes its final rescue flight of the mission, most are torn between the desire to see their families again and the satisfaction of helping those in need.

"It's bittersweet," Adams said. "I feel good with what we did, but I wish we could help more. But we've got to follow orders."

The C-130 crew that left last Thursday is expected to arrive in Charleston this afternoon. There has been no word of if, or when, a return trip to New Orleans will be scheduled.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Even hardened C-130 crews jarred

By Michael Jones
Charleston Daily Mail
Sept. 5, 2005

LAKE CHARLES, La. - Some might believe there is no greater trauma than the sights of war, but what members of the 130th Airlift Wing have seen seen this week has changed their view.

Nine crew members from a C-130 unit based in Charleston are seeing the human side of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina. On Saturday, they successfully airlifted 48 severely ill patients to two Texas cities.

Just past midnight today, the crew airlifted another nine to Chennault Airport, a small airstrip here in western Louisiana.

Only a few walked the concourses of Louis Armstrong International Airport, but all of them saw the feeble, elderly survivors lying helplessly on stretchers stacked in the back of the plane. Most of these men have been to war, either Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Vietnam. None of them, they say, have ever seen anything like the devastation in the aftermath of Katrina.

Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Heilmann, a full-time guardsman from Scott Depot, said this is the most impressive relief effort he has seen in his 26 years in the Air Guard. He also said aiding West Virginian flood victims couldn't prepare him for this task.

"I don't have words for it," he said Saturday in the airport concourse. "It was heartbreaking. I was awestruck.

"How do you convey the smell, the sight, and the feel of it?"

"Master Sgt. Dave Summerfield of Pinch has seen just about everything after serving in Vietnam and both Iraq wars.

"It's worse than any war I've been in," Summerfield said, referring to the casualties and destruction. "It's something I never expected."

The co-pilot of the crew's C-130, 1st Lt. Todd Perry, wished he could give the survivors the same care his family receives. Perry, a state trooper stationed in South Charleston, said seeing the frail victims made the crew push harder to evacuate more patients even after working an 18-hour shift.

"I felt like I had no control over anything, even with a 155,000-pound airplane," Perry said.

Because the disaster hit America, it made Perry reflect on who he was helping.

"This person could be an old neighbor from West Virginia or the guy working at the coal mine down the street," he said.

The experience has been just as gripping for others, including 1st Lt. Tim Street of Teays Valley, a new navigator slated for deployment in Iraq soon.

"This was the first I felt like I was doing something," Street said.

This morning's operation was the third trip the crew to made to New Orleans in less than 48 hours. Since then, relief workers have made major progress in removing survivors and cleaning the soiled airport hallways. An immense relief effort has been mounted over the past couple of days, seemingly making up for the initial problems.

Maj. Blake Jessen, director of operations for Lackland Air Force Base, said New Orleans had to turn away aircraft for a brief time because of the volume. The airport relief operation was the "largest airlift in American history," Jessen said.

"It took a little while for things to get going because the military won't go until somebody says start," Jessen said. "Once they did, there were enormous amounts of airlifts going in there and grabbing people and taking them out."

Perry saw a San Diego County sheriff's helicopter landing on the runway adjacent to his C-130. He said it was "unprecedented" to see such a large number of civilian and military aircraft landing simultaneously without incident.

"The airlift Saturday was more broad than anything I've seen in my 15 years in the military," Perry said.

On Saturday, thousands filed through endless lines as they waited to leave the airport. On Sunday, only a couple slept in the cramped concourses.

One man, George Deano from St. Bernard Parish, said he waited until Saturday to leave his friend's flooded two-story house. Deano, sitting with his dog, Tucker, waited so long because, for most of the week, evacuees were not allowed to bring their pets to shelters.

"We thought it would be bad, but not like this," he said. "I lost my Harley, my truck and my house."

Deano said he and his friend used a generator to restore power to the house. But many more didn't have that luxury. According to some accounts, more than 15,000 people were shuttled through the airport in four days. More than 2,500 were critical care patients needed immediate evacuation.

In fact, the crew from the 130th took the final nine patients from the airport. They laid on stretchers with Air Force medics in Gate D1. The day before, that gate was used as a temporary morgue.

Heading from San Antonio, the crew flew an ambulance, a team of medics and a crew from ABC's Good morning America coming from the Houston Astrodome.

"Of all the wars I've covered and all the stories, this is the saddest I've ever seen," said Nancy Snyderman, the crew's correspondent.

One hour into the final flight away from New Orleans, one of the critical care evacuees took a turn for the worse. The elderly woman's heart rate fell to 30 beats per minute, and a medic onboard requested an ambulance to be waiting when the flight arrived in Chennault.

The flight crew, led by Maj. Kyle Adams, a Delta pilot originally from Summersville and now living in Atlanta, immediately radioed ahead and focused on getting to the airfield as quickly as possible. Adams said the woman, fading with every passing minute, made him think of his family.

"The (medic) put it best," Adams said. "We had to give her the best chance to die comfortably."

When the plane arrived, she was whisked away to a waiting ambulance. The medics on the ground were able to stabilize her and give her a great chance for survival.

When the crew departed for San Antonio, there was a somber mood in the cockpit, even with the success of the mission. As time passed, though, the crew on the flight deck began to recite lines from the move, "Super Troopers." While flying over Houston, Perry radioed an air traffic controller to announce their position.

"Good evening, Houston Center, this is Evac 306 checking in 'meow' at flight level 200," Perry said, mimicking an inside joke from the movie.

Instantly, laughter filled the dreary cockpit. For a few minutes, the crew could step away from their work and smile.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

'It's hard to put into words'

By Michael Jones
Charleston Gazette-Mail
Sept. 4, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - A crew from Charleston's 130th Airlift Wing landed in New Orleans early Saturday morning and evacuated numerous injured and sick patients to Ellington Air Force Base in Houston.

Less than four hours later, they did it again.

The Air National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing flew into Louis Armstrong International Airport with 10 medical evacuation members and a critical transport team trained to care for patients while in the air. The team was able to extricate 48 people, mostly elderly, who were too sick to leave the flooded city on their own.

As the Hercules touched down to begin its first rescue mission at 12:50 a.m. local time, the only lights glimmering in New Orleans were from rescue boats searching for survivors.

The medical and flight crews were unsure of what they would see upon their arrival at the airport. Maj. Kyle Adams, the flight commander, warned the crew that the "terminal is turning into chaos."

"We don't know what to expect and that's the most frustrating thing," said Capt. Steven Lehr, a member of the critical care team. "We usually get a (casualty) report."

An eerie feeling set over the aircraft as it taxied, most knowing the airport might have little use after the rescue missions are completed. Three C-130s from the 130th sat on the tarmac simultaneously, all shuttling survivors to different cities, including Charleston.

A large red and blue sign reading, "Welcome to New Orleans," hung over the middle concourse, welcoming tourists before the monstrous Hurricane Katrina ripped through the region.

Just below it sat a luggage conveyor belt leading to a large white moving truck. Instead of transporting baggage, though, it was lowering bodies in white bags to the waiting truck. A temporary morgue was set up in a Continental Airlines gate labeled D1.

Medics moved their patients using baggage carts with two or three stretchers in each compartment. Lehr was taken aback after seeing all the people needing immediate medical attention.

"There's a lot of sadness, tiredness and total despair," he said. "It's hard to put into words."

While at least a dozen C-130s from various squadrons around the country carried people from the New Orleans airport, thousands waited for commercial jets to shuttle them to various U.S. cities. The airport has become the third major shelter since last Sunday.
City officials originally opened the Superdome for residents to ride out the storm, but unsanitary conditions and lawlessness forced its closure, leaving thousands without a place to stay.

Almost every person in the airport terminal looked tired and dismayed, with little hope after a week of searching for food and shelter. They sat in metal chairs, waiting.

Others just slept. Either on the floor or on luggage conveyor belts behind check-out counters.

In the morning, one day into the airport's role as a shelter, the terminals were filled with garbage, yet many said it still did not compared to the hell of the Superdome.

One man said he spent four days on an interstate bridge waiting for transport to a shelter. He said he had lost his wife at the airport and believed she had already boarded a plane.

"I didn't know something like this could happen in America," the man said, looking at the thousands of people who surrounded him in one of the airport's concourses. "It's like a nightmare. I don't know how to start all over again. Our world just changed."

A couple looking for a working vending machine said they stayed a the Superdome for four days before conditions became unbearable. They said they saw a man commit suicide by throwing himself from the second tier of the arena.

Some, though, had harsh words for the federal government for not taking care of their needs sooner.

"They've forgot about us," a woman said as her autistic son slept on the tile floor. "It's been like this for a week, and I'm losing my mind."

The lack of communications has made it almost impossible for survivors to gather information about the relief effort. One woman blasted the major and governor while another woman's anger was directed at the U.S. government.

While tensions were hire, all stayed calm, unlike the riotous behavior by looters and vandals in downtown New Orleans.

After the crew members of the C-130 brought their patients to a hanger at Ellington, they prepared for a second trip to New Orleans. But they first had to get approval to extend their shift.

Flight crews are allowed to fly for only 16 hours until they must take a break. If they wished to make another rescue mission, they would need to extend that time by two hours. Within minutes, they received approval, but were still racing against the clock to make the deadline.

"At (11 a.m.) we go, either with air or butts in the seats," Adams said, alluding to the time their C-130 and crew must depart New Orleans.

When they landed, it was a much different scene than five hours earlier. Dozens of helicopters and commercials planes littered the runways and skies, creating a deafening whistle.
Daylight brough more help, and that meant fewer survivors waiting in mile-long lines to leave. The floors were cleaner, spirits were mildly brighter, but the loss from the week still took its toll.

Maj. David Lester, a veteran of the Iraq war, said what he saw there could not compare to the horror he saw at Louis Armstrong International. Just before the final survivors were loaded into the C-130, a doctor came to Lester, thanking him and his crew for returning. The doctor told him two of the patients likely would have died had they not been airlifted to another city.

This afternoon, the 10 men from Charlie West will fly back to New Orleans and continue their mission.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Air Guard in thick of Katrina rescues

By Michael Jones
Charleston Gazette-Mail
Sept. 3, 2005

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Two flight crews from the 130th Airlift Wing began the daunting task of evacuating refugees from flood-ravaged New Orleans to various cities Friday afternoon.

The West Virginia Air National Guard has sent three C-130 cargo planes and their crews to Louisiana to aid in the relief effort following Hurricane Katrina earlier this week.

Another four planes -- loaded with troops, Humvees and supplies -- are scheduled to leave Yeager Airport this morning to head to the disaster sites. Two other C-130s left Thursday.

As tension in Louisiana continues to mount concerning emergency aid in the region, crew members from each C-130 understand the survivors' concerns. Maj. Kevin Meagher has done several tours of duty in Iraq and helped a relief effort after an earthquake that struck Iran in early 2004.

"I think (the mission began) a couple of days too late, but I'm really glad we're able to do it," said Meagher, who was part of the first crew to leave. "There's not enough being done and we've been sitting around for a day-and-a-half now. The opportunity to do it is great, but it's just a little frustrating."

He and his team, which evacuated survivors early Thursday, were grounded Friday afternoon while the other two C-130s extracted scores of refugees. Meagher's feelings of a late response by the federal government are echoed by the sight of thousands of New Orleans residents scrambling for food, water and dry land.

Local police have been over-matched against gangs that have looted and ransacked the already crippled city. National Guard unites from numerous states have been called to restore order to the area.

Some in the 130th understand why relief efforts have been slow from the beginning.

"They didn't realize how bad the storm was going to be," Sgt. Julius Rembrandt said. "They didn't realize how many people didn't evacuate, so it's going to take a while to get everything in order. It looks like things are moving a little quicker (Friday)."

You with thing were a little more organized, bu tit's such a massive operation," Sgt. Dennis Heilmann said. "We're used to this sort of thing."

"I'm sure it's going to take time to get things organized so I think things will come together real quick," Sgt. Steve Dye said. "Hopefully soon."

The three crews from the 130th were waiting in San Antonio for their orders Friday afternoon, but where they will be today is anyone's guess. One crew left for New Orleans around 5 p.m. local time Friday to transport sick and injured survivors to Nashville, Tenn., and San Antonio overnight. Another plane was scheduled to leave at 9 p.m.

One of the major stumbling points in the evacuation process has been finding room for thousands of people who were washed from their homes. The Astrodome in Houston was already filled to capacity early Friday morning, leaving a San Antonio business complex as the best alternative.

Heilmann said the Guard unit is prepared to handle such a disaster, but is more accustomed to dealing with situations in West Virginia.

"It's not different from the missions we do," Heilmann said. "We've always done disaster relief, it's just different to come down here and do it."

All members of the Guard acknowledged they were pleased to help, even while receiving word of the mission on such short notice. Most crew members were not told of the operation untnil a few hours before they left. Maj. David Lester said the delays can be frustrating, but the Guard is designed to be flexible to conditions they cannot control.

"It gives us great personal satisfaction because when you see on the TV and you read in the newspaper about these folks who are suffering, to know anything we can do to help means a lot," he said.

"We're glad to be down here and do anything we can to help with the relief effort," said Rembrandt, who served 15 years as a firefighter before joining the Guard. "There are a lot of people that are desperate for any kind of help they can get."

The Air Guard in Charleston, which has seven planes available to fly to the disaster areas, will continues their mission indefinitely. The three crews already present are expected to stay until Monday, although their departure date is still in question.

The four planes leaving today are supposed to deliver 65 troops and other people and 16 Humvees to the disaster sites. Two of those planes will make additional trips.

Monday, August 30, 2010

C-130s from Yeager fly to flood zone

By Michael Jones
Charleston Daily Mail
Sept. 2, 2005

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Last Friday, airmen from Charleston's 130th Airlift Wing weren't sure what the future would hold for their base.

Today, they were hauling much-needed supplies and personnel to flood-ravaged New Orleans.
Ten members of the West Virginia Air National Guard flew out of Yeager Airport on Thursday afternoon on a mission that placed them on five different airstrips in 11 hours. Their relief effort to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina is expected to last four days.

The first C-130 flight from Charleston departed Wednesday. Officials expect more in the weeks ahead.

"This is exactly why we didn't want to lose our planes," Maj. David Lester said. "We can help in natural disasters.

"It's a perfect example of us doing what we're trained to do."

After a summer of uncertainty and anxiety for local guard members, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission granted the 130th a reprieve last week. The panel overruled defense planners who had recommended that the unit's planes be stationed at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina instead of Yeager.

Lester said the operation is similar to what would happen following a terrorist attack in the United States.

First Lt. Todd Perry, the aircraft's co-pilot, said the mission signifies the spirit of the 130th.

"You would have had the same amount of volunteers even if they would have taken away our base," he said. "We were immediately ready to go."

Most crew members weren't told they would be heading out until 10 a.m. Thursday. "I want to get to New Orleans before sunset and get out of there," Maj. Kyle Adams told them.

The crew loaded up their C-130 and lifted off at 2:10 p.m., only to return 30 minutes later because to a malfunctioning cockpit gauge. In less than an hour, they prepped a new plane and were in the air with Wright-Patterson Air Base in Dayton, Ohio, as their destination.

As the C-130 took on fuel, a Boeing 747 in a paint scheme resembling Air Force One pulled to within 300 feet. Lester said the jet is a mobile command post used to direct relief activities. Before anyone deplaned, 20 armed guards cleared a perimeter around the aircraft.

The smaller, prop-driven C-130 has two crew members designated to protect the plane at all costs. The security procedure, called "Raven," is customary in other regions of the world, but is rarely employed within the United States, said one of the onboard cops, Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Heilmann.The higher state of security for the Air National Guard reflects the escalating danger in New Orleans, where widespread looting has occurred.

"It's difficult to comprehend that something like this is happening in the U.S.," Lester said.

The original mission Thursday was to transport doctors and nurses to Louisiana. Those plans changed when the C-130 landed in Dayton at 4 p.m.

Along with two other C-130s from Mansfield, Ohio, the plane from Charleston was ordered to go to nearby Springfield, Ohio, to pick up armed troops. Carrying rifles, shotguns, and flak jackets, 41 Army National Guard soldiers boarded. They were flown directly to the New Orleans Naval Air Station, 10 miles from the city.

Sixty miles from the base, an eerie darkness crept across the night sky. The only glow coming out of the sunken city was lights from rescue helicopters.

Once the plane touched down, the soldiers quickly left the cramped cargo hold where they had spent the past three hours sleeping. They were whisked away and disappeared into the dark and muggy Louisiana night.

With their mission complete, the crew of the C-130 secured the plane and headed for San Antonio, Texas, arriving early this morning. They were scheduled to leave this afternoon for Louisiana, where they were to transport sick and injured refugees back to Texas.

Friday, August 27, 2010


I became a newspaper reporter because I wanted a job that few other people could do. Little did I know that three weeks into my journalism career, I would be thrust into one of the biggest stories of my generation. We all remember the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast, and how it took days to get aid to the evacuees. But I was just a spectator until four days after the storm when my boss at the Daily Mail turned to me and asked if I wanted to accompany the 130th West Virginia Airlift Wing to New Orleans. I never entered the city, but spent much of the time at Louis Armstrong International Airport. There, I saw things that I could barely describe in words, especially for a rookie reporter.

The response to Katrina was shameful. Each and every level of government failed us during this unimaginable disaster. And I think it impacted us as a nation just as much as the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Rather than blaming a foreign murderer, we had to look at ourselves on how we failed our fellow Americans. The West Virginia airmen whom I accompanied had been to Iraq and Afghanistan, but they could not shake the chilling feeling that a disaster such as this was happening in America. With the national press covering the disaster, it is the perspective of these airmen and their ordeal that I wrote about.

Five years after Katrina, I want to once again share their stories from the week I spent in Louisiana and Texas. Each day, a new story from that award-winning series of my trip to the Gulf Coast will appear on this blog.

Sept. 2, 2005 - C-130s from Yeager fly to flood zone
Sept. 3, 2005 - Air Guard in thick of Katrina rescues
Sept. 4, 2005 - 'It's hard to put into words'
Sept. 5, 2005 - Even hardened C-130 crews jarred
Sept. 6, 2005 - C-130 crew returning after hurricane duty
Sept. 9, 2005 - Witness to calamity

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Problem solved

The speed of the Internet is truly impressive. Less than 22 hours after complaining about Verizon FiOS for problems with its billing service, a company official from New Jersey e-mailed me to say they were looking into the issue. I called him this morning and gave some of my account information that he needed to solve the problem.

By 3 p.m., I had received a call from a local Verizon representative, who said she was contacting the debt agency to have the charge removed. I appreciate that the company went to great lengths today to look into the issue, but I think the problem could have (and should have) been solved yesterday when I called the company billing department to get a clarification on what the $26.19 charge was for.

Say what you want about the internet, but it certainly is more efficient carrying a picket sign in front of a company’s headquarters.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

War is over?

NBC News reported Wednesday night that the last brigade of American combat troops has left Iraq. But how can that be true when 50,000 American military personnel remain in country as "support" for the Iraqi army?

It comes with some relief to know that military operations in Iraq will officially end at the end of the month. Still, it seems like that message is a smokescreen for the reality that we are still bogged down in a country that never wanted us there in the first place. More than seven years after "shock and awe" decapitated Saddam Hussein and his tyrannical government, we found it much more difficult to conquer a people that had never before tasted freedom.

Still, our previous president made it seem like this was the next logical step after 9/11 when the American people were conditioned to war. I was never one of those suckers who thought we should invade Iraq. But I do remember being a naive freshman in college when the world changed for America.

I'll never forget when my father and I attended the first regular season game at Heinz Field on Oct. 7, 2001. During halftime, the crowd roared after President Bush announced that the first bombs were being dropped on Afghanistan. While I knew this was the right action, I just looked at President Bush on the JumboTron and wondered when it would end and whether we would be safer. Little did I know that we'd also be dropping bombs elsewhere 17 months later.

Sadly, we have become a people that accepts war. Unlike the isolationist attitude that built our foreign policy before the world wars of the 20th century, we have become the key global decision-maker in what is right and wrong. As an American, I don't want that burden. There are an untold number of injustices in this world, and how are we do decide which dictator should fall?

The announcement that combat operations are over in Iraq (more than seven years after this foolish declaration) is a bittersweet moment. And I hope that future generations will look at this war -- along with its painful ramifications -- and decide that it's just not worth fighting for.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Stop the insanity

The 24-hours news cycle has an amazing way of churning out useless stories and making them appear important. This week, the "hot issue" is President Obama's comments on the proposed mosque near ground zero in New York City. He told reporters that he agreed with the local zoning decision that allowed a mosque to be built in Manhattan. And that's when things blew up.

Never mind the fact that prohibiting a mosque to be built on private property would be insanely unconstitutional, this story and Obama's reaction has absolutely no bearing on my life. Nor does it affect 99.9 percent of Americans. So why is this story being blown out of the water by pundits on cable news?

And just last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put a story on its front page about a local man who tried to get his name legally changed to Boomer the Dog. This "furries" fanatic said most of his friends know him by that name, so he wanted to make it official. And this concerns me, how?

A few subscribers thought the same thing.

It's time for Americans to take a hard line against news organizations that decide to harp on minor stories rather than report accurately on actual news. The First Amendment gives reporters great latitude as they try to do their jobs properly... and I suggest they stop blowing that right on frivolous stories.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Good for him

I'm sure many of you have already heard about the story of the wayward JetBlue flight attendant who lost his cool when dealing with an unruly passenger, then promptly deplaned using the emergency slide. Although Steven Slater undoubtedly will lose his job for the fiasco, it appears most Americans are on his side. Many have the same opinion on his actions: "Good for him."

Flight attendants have to deal with all kinds of crap from ungrateful passengers every flight. It seems only natural that one of them would finally lose his/her cool in these unsavory situations. But not only did Slater exit the plane in an unusual way, he also grabbed a beer as he hit the slip-n-slide. I couldn't help but chuckle after reading the details of the blowup. According to The New York Times...

"On Monday, authorities said, a JetBlue attendant named Steven Slater snapped on the Kennedy International Airport tarmac. After a dispute with a passenger who stood to fetch his luggage too soon on a full flight just in from Pittsburgh, Mr. Slater, a career flight attendant, had had enough.

"He got on the intercom, let loose a string of invectives, pulled the lever that activates the emergency-evacuation chute and slid down -- making a dramatic exit not only from the plane but, one imagines, also his airline career. On his way out the door, he paused to grab a beer from the beverage cart. Then he ran to the employee parking lot and drove off, authorities said."

Does it get any better than that? The rest of the story can be found by clicking on this link.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A paralyzed body

It has at times been downright infuriating to watch how the federal government has "functioned" this past year. And there is no better example of a dysfunctional government branch than the U.S. Senate, a supposedly collegiate body whose members are acting more like frat boys. This is not to say the majority should jam every piece of legislation through without deliberation by both parties. But it's the simple procedures -- such as judicial appointments that have been stalled for 18 months -- that should not be held up by the anonymous dissent of a single senator. The New Yorker magazine published a lengthy story on the senate that is a must-read for anyone, regardless of their political leanings. It is quite long, but it will leave you baffled at how Senate procedures have been twisted into a pretzel.

By George Packer
Aug. 9, 2010

This is just one of those days when you want to throw up your hands and say, ‘What in the world are we doing?’” Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat, said.

“It’s unconscionable,” Carl Levin, the senior Democratic senator from Michigan, said. “The obstructionism has become mindless.”

The Senators were in the Capitol, sunk into armchairs before the marble fireplace in the press lounge, which is directly behind the Senate chamber. It was four-thirty on a Wednesday afternoon. McCaskill, in a matching maroon jacket and top, looked exasperated; Levin glowered over his spectacles.

“Also, it’s a dumb rule in itself,” McCaskill said. “It’s time we started looking at some of these rules.”

She was referring to Senate Rule XXVI, Paragraph 5, which requires unanimous consent for committees and subcommittees to hold hearings after two in the afternoon while the Senate is in session. Both Levin and McCaskill had scheduled hearings that day for two-thirty. Typically, it wouldn’t be difficult to get colleagues to waive the rule; a general and an admiral had flown halfway around the world to appear before Levin’s Armed Services Committee, and McCaskill’s Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight of the Homeland Security Committee was investigating the training of Afghan police. But this was March 24th, the day after President Barack Obama signed the health-care-reform bill, in a victory ceremony at the White House; it was also the day that the Senate was to vote on a reconciliation bill for health-care reform, approved by the House three nights earlier, which would retroactively remove the new law’s most embarrassing sweetheart deals and complete the yearlong process of passing universal health care. Republicans, who had fought the bill as a bloc, were in no mood to make things easy.

So, four hours earlier, when Levin went to the Senate floor and asked for consent to hold his hearing, Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and a member of Levin’s committee, had refused. “I have no personal objection to continuing,” Burr said. But, he added, “There is objection on our side of the aisle. Therefore, I would have to object.”

Click here to read the entire story.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Same song, different dance

A year ago, I weighed in on Brett Favre's third retirement on this very blog. Now, just 50 weeks later, I think it's time to once again discuss this enigmatic NFL quarterback after he texted teammates telling them he was retiring... only to say yesterday that he is still considering playing. Shocking.

This is what I wrote on Aug. 18...

"Favre's actions show a lazy man who manipulates teams and the system to skip out on training camp. While it is not as overt, this is no different than a cocky wide receiver holding out of training camp until he gets that bigger contract. ... Although I love how he plays the game, I'm sick of Brett Favre's tired act. If you want to play, Brett, then don't announce that you are retired and confirm that decision a few days before training camp only to return three weeks before the start of the season."

While nothing has changed this time around, my beef is more with ESPN lapping up this nonsense and launching wall-to-wall coverage on the alleged retirement. A real news outlet would have reported the facts and allowed reporters to weave through the inconsistencies. In this case, we know Favre texted teammates about not being able to play for the upcoming season due to a bulky ankle. But the red flag should have been when head coach Brad Childress told reporters that he had not heard from Favre about any decision.

To compound this, Favre never came out and stated he was retiring (not that his own words could have been believed anyway). Instead, ESPN's so-called experts rattled off their favorite memories of the quarterback. But analyst Merrill Hoge wasn't fooled when he pointed out, "My favorite Favre moment probably will come this year. Come back, Brett!"

And as a buddy of mine appropriately wrote in a text message: "I won't believe it until the Vikes are eliminated from playoff contention."