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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sick of being seen at "That Girl"

I’ve never had what you’d call long hair.

Sure, I complain when I get close to needing a haircut that my hair is “so long,” but I’ve always had what magazines and beauty experts would describe as short hair.

I just don’t know what to do with long hair. I don’t know how to style it, or have the patience to figure out how to draw it back into a neat ponytail or barrette-based system.

So, when I decided to grow my hair before my wedding a few years ago, it was quite a process.

The outcome was clear — long hair and I do not mix.

I was “That Girl.” You remember the 1970s show starring Marlo Thomas as a young, hip New Yorker.

Her hairstyle was her signature, with its flip on the bottom. Despite having poker-straight hair everywhere else on my head, the bottom part of my grown-out hair had this odd, complete flip at the bottom.

Deciding I was “That Girl,” I opted to hack it off and go back to short-haired girl.

Well, the past few weeks, I’ve felt very much like “That Girl,” but for reasons far removed from my hair.

No, this time it’s because of the perception that I’m “That Girl Who Is Going To Make Me Sick.”

I’ve been sneezing, coughing and gasping for breath for weeks.

It started as just a few sniffles around New Year’s. A few days after the new year, it was a cold, with lots of nose-blowing. It eased slightly before my trip to South Carolina, but during a classroom session my honking from the back row brought looks of concern from a few of the teachers along on the trip.

“Are you OK?”

“Yeah, it’s just the end of a cold.”

“Just wanted to make sure.”

If only it had really been the end. I’m not sure if it was standing outside in temperatures in the teens or the pressurized cabin on the four airplanes in which I traveled, but the morning after my return from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island also marked the return of my cold.

With a vengeance.

This time it brought a sore throat and some mild coughing.

Because I was due to get on another airplane at the end of the week, I figured I’d better see the doctor. A free load of antibiotics later (thank you, Giant Eagle), and I was on a plane into LaGuardia.

That’s when my “That Girl” transformation became complete. Before takeoff, I coughed a few times in the waiting area at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. After landing, while sitting on the shuttle as we prepared to head to the hotel, I doubled-over, gasping for air as I coughed.

I haven’t stopped gasping since then.

At my meeting in New York, we started off by introducing ourselves to the group. I apologized to those assembled for my hacking, nose-blowing and gasping, assuring them I was heavily medicated and likely not passing on germs.

But I’m not sure what happened on that plane. I only know my health was the victim.

I’m actually beginning to think I’m allergic to air travel.

Looking back, I’ve often turned up sick after flying. Once, after returning from Washington, D.C., I was in bed for 36 hours. I got dizzy each time I tried to rise above a horizontal position.

But this time, I’m not achy or feverish. No, this one is centered in my throat and nose.

So, if I seem a bit under the weather when you see me in the next few days, you’ll know why.

My transformation to “That Girl” is complete.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Back at work, where's my salute?

I came back to work this morning after a week of life among the U.S. Marines in Cleveland and South Carolina.

I haven't been called ma'am so far today, and, frankly, I kind of miss it. A girl can get used to that kind of civility.

Three people from my office were away last week. One was in Philadelphia undergoing training; another was on a travel trip to Paris; and I was in Parris Island. I think I had the best trip.

And, it'll take a long time to get over an experience like Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. I'm about back to normal on my sleep schedule; I'm excited to hit the gym again today after too much time off; and it felt good to have a huge salad for lunch.

But, emotionally, I'm still flying high as I remember how hard these servicemen and women worked, both in training and ensuring we got to see what a young man or woman endures in the journey to become a Marine.

If you know a recuiter, be sure to thank him for his hard work finding the right kids who will hold the title of U.S. Marine. If you don't know one, you're truly missing out.

The men who staff the 12 recruiting stations around Northeast Ohio are the best of the best, focused on finding the needle in the haystack who will thrive in an environment of service to his or her country while fulfilling a promise of being a good citizen.

Thanks to all of you who are working so hard to keep me and my fellow Americans safe every day.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The big day

After 70 days of physical and mental tests, hundreds of young men and women will finally be called Marine today.

I like to think I'm above brainwashing, but I'll admit that this week has been a lesson in what the term Marine means. I'll never truly know, because I won't ever walk the Yellow Footprints, or conquer The Crucible, but the brotherhood of this group of men and women is so powerful and so inclusive that it seems as though we've also made it.

The men of the Cleveland recruiting station who have served as our escorts endured a tough road with us, and never wavered. They seemed prepared for whining and moaning about schedule changes, yet it never happened. They adjusted on their feet as snow that in Cleveland would be described as a dusting socked the southern states and kept us sitting in a west side hotel for hours on end.

Instead of shepherding us through airports, they gave us an inside look at their jobs and what the educators can do to help them shape a smart, active and highly skilled Marine Corps. They explained that in return for a few years of military service that these young men and women whose lives the educators now get to shape will be forever altered by a system that provides free educational opportunities and a lifetime of protection for their families.

Today, hundreds more join their ranks. If my reaction to yesterday's morning run by the new Marines is any indication, I'd better bring lots of tissues, because it's going to be a powerful ceremony.

Good luck, Marines. I wish you well and thank you for your dedication to making this country safe.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cold, but warm moments abound

The big news is I only cried once today.

Oddly, it wasn't because it was about 16 degrees this morning when we started out at the physical training field watching recruits going through drills.

No, it was when new Marines, who yesterday finished a hell known as The Crucible, conducted a morning run as their parents looked on. They ran throughout Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, chanting and waving the flag of their platoon.

Their parents, on hand for tomorrow's basic training graduation ceremony, were seeing their children for the first time since they said goodbye 12 weeks ago.

The transformation has been described as staggering, and from the activities we took in today, it's easy to see why they notice their loved ones are a different person once they are finally called Marine at graduation.

Several highlights of the day included a special visit to see what's called "The Yellow Footprints." The Marine Media Affairs office arranged the look-see because much of the Ohio contingent of teachers was delayed a day by weather and missed this first stop in the recruit's processing upon arrival at Parris Island.

Later in the day, the group was treated to a demonstration of the Confidence Course, which is a series of physical activities meant to help the recruits overcome fears of heights, body strength and trust of their fellow recruits. The instructors on hand moved through the stages of the course as though they were Spider Man, drawing gasps from the crowd as they showed shocking upper-body strength.

The Confidence Course provided the only block of media access thus far, as privacy over training regimens is key to the Marines. Photos were allowed, but not video.

Later tonight will be a dinner with our Marine escorts, before tomorrow's special moment in which we get to see the new Marines graduate and receive their Eagle, Globe and Anchor, which is the Marine symbol.

Arrival, and deployment of the 'troops'

Finally, the south.

So, this is what grass looks like. There's ground under that snow, ladies and gentlemen.

At least if you're in South Carolina.

Upon arrival at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Savannah after two flights and two canceled flights, we headed to a bus for an hour drive to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort across the border in South Carolina.

There, we met Lt. Col. Glenn Klassa, an 18-year veteran Marine who described his career path and how he moved from college to the Marines and found his true calling in life as a military pilot.

He then introduced us to six of the young Marines stationed at Beaufort. They held a variety of jobs and arrived in the Corps from even more varied paths.

Speaking to the teachers, they described their various responsibilities and how they will be using the many educational opportunities available to those in the military today.

We heard from those who work locating explosives such as IEDs; in aircraft recovery; as a personnel clerk; as a transfer clerk who relocates Marines to deployments; a martial arts instructor; and an infantryman.

They listed terms of service from seven years to just 18 months, and many said they plan to be what the teachers termed "lifers," or career Marines.

We then headed to a hangar for the chance to check out an F-15 and learn from a pilot about what it's like to fly them, ascending stairs to the cockpit and climbing in for a up-close look.

Then it was time for dinner at the officer's club, where peeks inside are permitted, but not through the lens of a camera.

Every bar in Northeast Ohio should include what we found to be the most interesting feature -- a wall where patrons are permitted to blow off steam by chucking an empty beer bottle.

Standing at a marked line, you heave the bottle against a wall with a mural painted with the faces of Osama bin Laden, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini and Kim Il Jung.

Needless to say, on a military base where men and women are deploying regularly, the center image of bin Laden is the one that's seen the most action.

The teachers didn't necessarily target any of the images, instead just heaving it to ensure it broke, because house rules call for those who skip a bottle off the wall to buy a round for anyone who witnesses the miss.

Today's agenda will be strictly Parris Island-based. A 6 a.m. bus will take us to the Island, where we'll start with morning physical activity with the troops and get a chance at the obstacle course, before lunch with the recruits in the mess hall.

After two days worrying about flights and whether we'd actually get here, the 4:30 a.m. alarm suddenly seems so much more worth it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

So far, so good

Well, I'm at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, which is a world of difference from yesterday, when I didn't even walk outside the hotel.

Of course, looking to my left, there's snow falling and you can't see the concrete ground. Baby steps, I guess.

But all 24 of us are booked, ticketed and sitting at our respective gates, bound for Washington-Dulles and Charlotte before connections into Savannah. My flight into Dulles is posted as on time and set to leave at 10:30.

After we land in Savannah, we take a bus trip estimated at an hour to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.

Today was to be the big day at Parris Island, and the educators remain hopeful that they'll still get there in time to fire the M-16 rifles that today's military personnel use as service weapons.

It doesn't look good, however.

Rather, our flying companion, Major Greg Jones, says we'll likely make it to the Island in time for a dinner at the officer's club on base. He describes the club as the sort of place you probably remember from the movie "Top Gun." I asked if Tom Cruise would be there, and he said no.


But, here's hoping we make it out of Cleveland and finally get to see what we've all by dying to see ... the yellow footprints that welcome all recruits to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This really is a nice hotel ...

... but I'd really rather be anywhere else in the world.

The effects of this nasty winter storm haven't eased up in the South, and now I have to worry about this white stuff falling outside my hotel room window in Middleburg Heights.

Lots of flight cancelations have left about 25 of us sitting in the hotel going through "classes" put on by the Marine recruiters who work around Northeast Ohio. They're a simply terrific bunch of young men who know their jobs and can discuss for hours the opportunities available to our nation's young people.

Below is Major Greg Jones discussing his limitations to get educators to their destination in Parris Island, S.C.

Did you know there's major opportunity if you can play a musical instrument? Neither did I!

If you can pass the audition and get through boot camp, you'll be part of the Marine Corps Band. There are actually 12 different bands with 700 musicians who have all gone through the Armed Forces School of Music.

Those who attend can become conductors, drum majors, instrument repair technicians or musicians, all while gaining credits toward a college degree.

But, according to Staff Sgt. Joshua Rowe, who is in charge of the Marine Corps recruiting office in Lakewood, don't think that just because you play a mean air guitar or score high on XBox that you can hack the Marine Corps Band.

See Rowe discuss his goals as a recruiter for the U.S. Marine Corps. He is stationed at the Lakewood recruiting office.

No, it's reserved for the nation's elite musicians. That is, elite musicians who are ready to serve their country and fire an M-16.

If you've ever had any inkling that you'd like to serve, these are the guys you want to talk with. They're honest about the opportunities that are out there, and willing to spare those who might not be able to hack it the humiliation of coming home without success.

But, here's hoping we have some success tomorrow as we try for one final time to actually leave Cleveland and head off to Parris Island to see our area's Marine recruits in action.

Up early, and waiting

Well, Mother Nature didn't really cooperate.

The winter storm forced complete rescheduling of the flights into Atlanta, and I'm still not sure where I'm headed first. All I know is that leave at 1:50 p.m.

The Marines were up half the night reworking our departures because of the travel chaos created by the storm that apparently will reach up and smack Cleveland today. It forced cancellations of about 2,000 flights throughout the south, and mine was included. I originally was on a 7:30 a.m. flight to Atlanta that was to be followed by a connection to Savannah. 

When we arrived last night at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Middleburg Heights, we were told to meet in the lobby at 4 a.m. to find out our flight information. So, it was up at 3:10 a.m. to make it down there on time.

When I got to the lobby, I learned I'm on the latest flight, but the Marines on hand didn't have all the information, so I am not sure where I'm headed first. Those of us left waiting for the later flight headed back up to our rooms to get some more sleep before we meet up again at 11 a.m. for a ride to the airport.

So, now I'm headed to breakfast and then it's back down to the lobby to figure out where I'm going.

Hopefully it won't start to snow here before my flight takes off. Come on, Mother Nature, give me a break?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hoping the weather won't hamper the trip

Only three hours 'til it's time to report to Mentor recruiting station for my trip to Parris Island, S.C.

First up is overnight in Cleveland, then on to Atlanta, before a connection to Savannah, Ga., and a ride to South Carolina.

A winter storm has been pounding the south for the past day, so I'm hoping we won't see delays in the morning. A bunch of flights out of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport have been canceled today. I've never had a flight delayed due to weather, so it would be interesting to see what it's like. That's not to say I want it, mind you.

The visit to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, will include highlights of what these young men and women encounter when they sign up to join the Marine Corps.

It will include breakfast at 5 a.m., a M-16 live fire, morning physical fitness and a look at the obstacle course. We're allowed to try out anything we'd like while we're there, and I'm planning to get a taste of some of these activities, so I can truly know what they're experiencing.

What I'm really anxious for, though, is daily lunch with the Marines in the mess hall. We're going to have a chance to sit and talk with the young men and women who have volunteered to serve the country, and hear how they are faring as they learn the military way of life.

That is, if Mother Nature cooperates. Come on, old girl -- mess with someone else's schedule!!

Laura Kessel

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Year of the fruit?

It's been about six weeks since Weight Watchers changed its program, and I'm still grumbling.

But now I'm grumbling for different reasons.

At first, I was concerned when the massively popular diet program altered its points system from one based on a formula that took into account calories, fat and fiber, to one that measures fat, fiber, carbohydrates and protein.

In the world of Weight Watchers, "free" is key. Free translates to no points. Point-free food is what you load your plate with to get that feeling that you're full.

Before the switch, most vegetables were "free." Starchy ones (potatoes, corn, peas) were not.

After the switch, most vegetables still are "free." But (cue the heavenly music), so too is ALL fruit.

An apple? Yes! A pear? Yes! A banana? Yes!

You got it. It's all "free"!

"Free" also means that you can have it with every meal. Before, under the old program, those who followed Weight Watchers rarely ate fruit, because they didn't waste their daily points.

The new program encourages better, or more healthy, choices.

If you just count me, I'd say it's a success. I'm eating fruit about five times a day, and in more variety than ever before. Blueberries, blackberries, apples, pineapple, canteloupe, mango, banana and grapes were in yesterday's intake.

It's sweet and satisfying. It's also quite expensive.

Thus the grumbling.

It's just another example of what I've been saying for years -- it's more expensive to eat healthy. You can get a couple burgers, fries and a Coke at McDonald's for the price I pay for a bag of grapes at the supermarket.

But, in addition to tasting good, it's also starting to show in the waistline. And, you don't get that under the golden arches.

No, there you get a spare tire and a sluggish feeling.

 I guess good taste, healthy feeling and a little weight loss is worth the pricey fruits I'm picking up all over town.

Laura Kessel

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New year starts with a bang, bang, bang, bang, bang

Be careful what you volunteer for.

It's a lesson I've never learned, no matter how many times I've volunteered.

You'd think the hours of work that follow, or the use of personal time, would prohibit me from repeating these actions. But you'd be wrong.

I just can't say no. Whether it's working with kids, or flying upside down in an airplane -- I'm always game for a new challenge.

Joining the Marines? They had me at "rope bridge."

Yes, you read that right -- I'm joining the Marines.

Well, OK, I'm not joining. I'm technically visiting. For four days.

Next week, I'm joining with a group of area educators who will be learning just what happens when their students head off for basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.

We're due to see what these recruits go through: breakfast at 5 a.m.; a chance to walk the rope bridge; a crack at the tower; a pass at the obstacle course; and 20 shots with an M-16.


That last one posed a little problem for the woman who's never held a weapon. Good thing I know Jeffrey L. Frischkorn.

The News-Herald's veteran outdoors writer has for years been trying to get me on a shooting range. I've never been sure if he wanted to fire at me, or with me.

I found out on Jan. 1.

Korn, as we call him, arranged an outing that included his wife, Bev, and his brother, Rich, who are all experienced gun users whose focus was on weapons safety and ensuring I had a good chance to try all the weapons they brought along.

And they brought a lot of them.

Yes, my new year started with a bang. A lot of them, in fact.

I liked the rifles better than the handguns. First up was the Target .22-caliber rifle with optics. Be very afraid if you see me holding it, because my first three shots were in the center of the target. Two of the next five also hit in the orange center circle.

Next up was the reason we hit the range in the first place. The AR-15 is the civilian version of the M-16, which is the weapon used by the military. Korn's brother owns an AR-15 and allowed me to shoot a few clips of ammunition to get over the fear of firing a weapon.

You don't have to be as afraid of me with this one, because it's too heavy and I'm too much of a chicken to be able to do anything but squeeze off a few rounds. It has an amazing recoil, which made me afraid that it was going to come back and hit me in the face each time I squeezed the trigger. A few times I caught myself as I was preparing to pull it while my eyes were closed.

After I got the hang of the big boy, as I have come to describe it, Rich Frischkorn told me to fire five rounds as fast as I could. It took about three minutes of preparation to work up the courage to keep my eyes open and know that it would be jumping backward on me. But I did it.

"I know you can do better than that!"

"I thought that was pretty fast!"

"You can do better!"

Well, I pulled it off. They seemed about the same speed to me, but he was satisfied and then we moved on to the handguns.

They're loud. They have recoil. And the Bersa .380-caliber pistol cut my thumb. More specifically, the hammer coming back after I fired cut my thumb.

It's not a bad cut, but it drew blood. I immediately realized why Rich Frischkorn kept reminding me to position my hands properly.

I also knew that I was going to tell people that Korn's gun shot me. True? No. Funny? In my opinion. And, frankly, that's what matters here.

But safety matters more. I saw these owners take great care in setting up for my 20 or 30 shots per weapon. They held the weapons in specific ways as they passed them from their cases to the person who'd be loading them, then teaching me their use. They stressed ear and eye protection, and busted me when I tried to go without when someone arrived to practice with a muzzleloader.

As I walked away from that firing range on Jan. 1, I knew I could handle what the Marines will throw at me next week. I also know I won't be using these skills in the future.

Guns are not for me. They're too loud, there's too much to remember and I don't have good enough aim to make it a regular hobby.

I guess I can say I know the limit for my volunteer activities. Bring on the next challenge!

Laura Kessel