Memorial Day 2019

Take a deep, luxurious breath. How’s it feel? It probably feels like the millions of breaths before it. It’s hard to even notice that it’s a free breath because it’s so common. You’re an American breathing freely while pursuing your life’s happiness. Historically speaking, there are thousands of men and women who sacrificed in order to maintain the freeness of these breaths, this freedom, that we take for granted.

We created a holiday, Memorial Day, that is supposed to honor the service members who committed the ultimate sacrifice – losing their life in the service of their country. Yet it has turned into a weekend of debauchery and gluttony.

Regardless of your political view on war, the recent wars, or the military itself, this is a day to acknowledge both the sacrifice and the reason for it. Most of the time when a young adult swears to defend the Constitution of the United States of America via military service, they are doing so because they believe they are serving the country. Our “country” includes all of the people in it, regardless of race, gender, or any other discriminatory identifier. And the service member knowingly makes a decision that reduces their freedom in hopes that it benefits both the country and everyone that exists in it.

USSF Soldiers conduct a patient movement during medical training.

While it’s true a service member has chosen their path of their own volition, it doesn’t mean the sacrifices are not multiple and varied. For years, I’ve written essays about this. Service members are told how to look, what to where, where to live, and what to do every day. They are often sent on training trips away from their family. And the silly bastards who choose to fight or support the combat arms are subjected to a litany of annoying discomfort, pain, and environmental duress. Deployments take service members overseas into war zones and third world countries. And if this wasn’t enough – being away from family and sacrificing freedom – people die. Friends die. Brothers and sisters die. And for the survivors, their reward is living with the physical and emotional effects of it all, including chemicals in the air, burn pits, horrible food, TBIs, and being worn down from wearing 50 to 100 pounds of additional gear on a regular basis. Children miss their parents, relationships end, hearts break, and suicide rates remain high.

I know all of this because I’ve fucking done it. I’ve trained for war at the expense of attending weddings, destroying relationships, and degrading my body. I’ve served in war and have almost been hit by RPGs, mortars, and machine gun fire. And now, after heart break and rebirth, I barely escaped death one more time after I stepped on an IED. The blast took its toll; I’m a double below the knee amputee. My testicles were blown off and I don’t know if the frozen samples taken from my body will allow me to father children. I’m just one person, just a regular dude who loves combat. But I’m not the only one.

We still regularly lose good men, good friends like Will Lindsay. I know there’s a lot of us, including his family, that would give anything to have him alive, even if he were a double amputee.

SFC Will Lindsay and EOD SGT Joseph Collette were killed in combat operations on 22 March 2019.

Americans celebrate Memorial Day by partying, drinking, and feasting throughout a long weekend. But I humbly ask you to do two things. First, please take a moment to memorialize the fallen brothers and sisters. Consider their families and what happens in the aftermath of their deaths. And also remember those who live on with significant deficits. Second, after you’re done barbequing, the best way you can thank the fallen is by living as honorable a life as you can. Memorialize them by working hard for success and showing compassion to your fellow Americans and humans of the world. It’s the best celebration of freedom I can think of.

The life of a service member is not all shit and death. The point is that the people who do it believe they are doing it for you. For everyone. And themselves. And that they would die for you to maintain the right to criticize them is proof enough that it’s an amazing sacrifice. And they do die. And you don’t know their names. And that’s okay, because most of us don’t want a pat on the back. Instead, remember the fallen and live as honorably as you can on this Memorial Day and beyond. Lest we forget.

Checking In

This is a piece I wrote for the curious users on StartingStrength.com. You can view it HERE.


Taken in Afghanistan, 2018

A handful of years ago content on 70’s Big was hard to come by. You fine folk have been asking where I’ve gone ever since, and now I finally choose to let you know in the face of extraordinary circumstances. I am a United States Army Special Forces soldier, also known as a Green Beret. Ever since I put on the hat, I poured myself into this job in order to prepare for and participate in war. I wanted to kill people that deserve to be killed, save people that deserved to be saved (medically), and free people that deserve to be freed. And I did all of those things on my first deployment along with all kinds of combat and near-death experiences. I don’t think I’m cool; it’s more that I’m lucky to have been in a handful of fire fights and done things in order to live through them.  I assure you, there are much finer men than me who have been in much more combat and done much better things than I have.

While there were exciting times, there were others full of terrible loss. There are much finer men than me who have been in much more combat and done much better things than I have. I don’t think I’m cool; it’s more that I’m lucky to have been in a handful of fire fights and done things in order to live through them.

While there were exciting times on the first deployment, there were others full of terrible loss. We lost a US Army Infantry soldier and I lost a long-term relationship. Because of those hardships, I spent 2018 preparing for a second combat deployment and, just as importantly, bettering myself as a healthy individual.

About one month into the next deployment we were on a combat operation in a very mountainous area. My element conducted a short hault and I discussed how we would clear a set of compounds that were tactically in a disadvantageous area. The area I stood had been cleared by EOD personnel and had foot traffic around the area. I shifted my weight under my ruck, took a step, and was blown up. As my best friends and teammates treated me, I gave them medical instructions to help their care. My teammates were heroes that day. Despite the initiation of a “troops in contact”, I didn’t die in the dirt in a far away land. Instead, they put me on a helicopter and countless other fine individuals did and continue to do their jobs of caring for me.

I am a double below the knee (BTK) amputee. The fact that my right leg is a BTK is amazing and a testament to the fantastic surgeons at Walter Reed. My testicles were also blown off, so I require testosterone replacement therapy for the rest of my life and whether or not I can have children is an unknown. I work hard every day to improve and will continue doing so. There’s no definitive date because there are too many variables, but I’ll leave the hospital some time later this year.

Lastly, the next question I’m asked is whether or not you can do anything for me. Your support is invaluable and all I could ever ask for. There are currently more of us wounded and killed, my friends included. If you should feel inclined to donate money, the Special Forces Foundation is an amazing organization. All of the money goes to us “wounded warriors” and the Gold Star families (the wives and families of personnel killed in action). I know the gentleman who runs it personally, and he’s both honorable and kind.

As for me, I’m good. My big medical issues are progressing as planned. Physical training and rehab are a part of my daily future, but I also rest and taking care of myself via meditation and journaling. I’ll take some time to let this situation percolate, but I’ll be back. There’ll be more writing, podcasts, and other ways to facilitate teaching, learning, and sharing. I’m especially interested in stories of extreme human experience and the lessons learned from them. Strength and conditioning will always be here, but my scope of practice has grown. It’ll be just like old times, but I’ll dive into any topic that is interesting and helpful.

When I was MEDEVAC’d, I went to the Role II and received 68 units of blood. Which is a lot. Above all else, I’m grateful to be alive. I’m honored you still think of me and even more honored when you want to donate. You can do so through the Special Forces Foundation (SFF). There’s also a fundraiser being conducted on my behalf called Climbing for Casualties. My friend Matt Randle will conduct an asinine climb in Nepal and donations go to the SFF. Look for @climbingforcasualties on Instagram. Again, thank you for your interest and I look forward to getting my legs jacked, pressing over body weight, entertaining you, and learning along the way. Stronger every day.


Justin, Rip, and AC pose by the Bill Starr Memorial in WFAC around 2009.

Memorial Day 2018

We’re at the end of a long weekend where most people party, drink, and generally enjoy having Monday off. In the past, I routinely made the point that the way to memorialize service members who have died is to live as honorable a life as possible. But this year I’d like to add to that, because I’m not quite sure having parties is how everyone would celebrate the death of their own family members.

Regardless of your political view on war, the recent wars, or the military itself, this is a day to acknowledge both a sacrifice and the reason for it. Most of the time, when a young person swears to defend the Constitution of the United States of America via military service, they are doing so because they believe they are serving their country. Our “country” includes the people in it. A service member knowingly makes a decision that reduces their freedom in hopes that it benefits the country and the people who exist in it.

While it’s true a service member has chosen their path of their own volition, it doesn’t mean the sacrifices are not multiple and varied. They are told how to look, what to wear, and what to do. They are often sent on training trips away from their family, and the silly bastards in the combat arms are subjected to a litany of annoying discomfort, pain, and environmental duress. Other trips take them overseas, and at times those trips are in third world countries and war zones. And if it wasn’t enough being away from family, freedom, and the United States of America, people die. And if they don’t die, they are exposed to things physically and emotionally that will affect them throughout their lives: chemicals in the air, burn pits, horrible food, TBIs, sleeping on cots, and generally getting worn down from all of it while carrying 50 to 100 pounds of gear on a regular basis.

Children miss their parents, relationships end, and hearts break for one reason or another. And suicide rates remain high.

It’s not all shit and death, but it’s not waving flags and barbecue. Love or hate the military, my point is the people who do it believe they are doing it for you. For everyone. And themselves. And they would die for you to maintain the right to criticize it. And they do. And you don’t know their names. And that’s okay, because nobody wants a pat on the back.

So, if you use Memorial Day for drinks and parties, just take a moment to acknowledge the masochistic decision to serve the country we all enjoy. And then please get back to living honorably.

Smokin with Sousa #3 – Ribs

Is there anything as primal feeling as eating ribs?  I mean, you have to be really going at a carcass to rip apart a rib cage in the pursuit of some good eats.  I am personally incredibly thankful for the carnivorous pioneers who discovered the meat fiesta going on along a pig’s rib cage and for passing that wisdom along for future generations to enjoy.  Humanity at its finest.

 

For this cook I am smoking a couple racks of back ribs, more commonly referred to as baby backs.  If you aren’t familiar with the differences in cuts of pork this is a great article to help get some learnin’.  Around my area the biggest thing to know is the difference between back ribs and spare ribs since it’s what the stores carry.  The main difference is pretty much that back ribs are a bit smaller and more tender than spare ribs.  I’m normally a spare ribs guy, but the market only had backs this time so here we are.

The first thing I do is a bit of trimming.  You can see some fatty stuff, particularly on the bottom right of the rack on the bottom of the pic above, that I’ll trim off.  Also, if there is a skirt of meat on the bone side I like to trim that off.  Also, check along the edges of the racks to see if there are any small bone fragments, and if so clean those off.  The last thing I do for clean up is to pull the membrane off of the bone side of each rack.  The best method I’ve used is to take a butter knife to get under the membrane to start.  I’ll caution you though, there are a couple layers (not sure if the bottom layer is also membrane, I don’t science) and you only want the top layer to come off so you don’t expose all of the bones.  Once you’ve started the separation with the butter knife your best bet is to grip the membrane with a paper towel (it’s slipper otherwise) and hopefully pull it all off in one yank.

Below is a comparison shot between a rack that still has the membrane (top) and the one it’s been pulled from (bottom).

Once you are done trimming and pulling membranes you are ready to rub.  Similar to the pork butt I coat the ribs in a bit of olive oil first so the rub will stick nicely, then I go to town with the dry rub.  Again, pork is not a very flavorful meat on its own, so don’t be shy with the rub here.

For this cook I prepped and rubbed the ribs a few hours before putting them in the barrel with the idea I’d do a bit of a dry brine.  The rub I used has a good amount of salt which after some time brining should increase moisture and tenderness in the finished product.  If you’d like some info on dry brining you can read up on it here.  I just kept them on the tray and wrapped the whole thing.

Once it’s time to cook, and the barrel is going, I hang the racks and sit back for a couple hours.  After about two hours I’ll go and take a look to see how the bark is forming, and also see if the meat has started to pull back a bit to reveal the bones.  This is how I determine how close ribs are to being ready as opposed to monitoring internal temps.  At this point I’m looking for a nice mahogany crust and a bit of bone showing.

This step is optional depending on how you like your ribs, but I pull the ribs at this point for some sauce.  I like to sauce them during the cook so it thickens and caramelizes the sugar a bit, and I don’t add sauce when eating them.  Also, if your sauce has been in the refrigerator let it sit out for a while before this to bring it up to room temp.  No reason to add cold sauce onto hot ribs you have cooking.

After about another 30 minutes the ribs should be ready.  Again, take a look to see if the rib bones are showing – I look for about ¼” of bone showing to consider them ready.  After you pull them let them rest for about 20-30 minutes before cutting them.  I suck at cutting ribs so I usually flip them so the bone side is up, but if you aren’t terrible at life you can cut them like a man (or woman for our lady readers out there).  If all went well you should have some tasty ribs!

Lilly approves!

 

When Paul isn’t busy BBQ’ing, he can be found lifting the train wheels at IronSport with himself, while he & himself also looks on, or helping his wife with her new food blog project. 

Smokin’ with Sousa – Episode 2

OG commenter Sousa is back with some more smoked meats for your enjoyment, this time serving up some pork butt. 

Since nobody threw rocks at me after my last post I figured I’d go for another one, this time focusing on some pork butt (which confusingly is actually from the shoulder – stuff like this is why I failed biology).  I’ll be shredding it in the end for some pulled pork which is a great option for a get together, or just a week’s worth of lunches.

 

One thing I’ve come to learn in regards to pork is that it isn’t graded like beef so you have to look at the meat itself to determine the quality.  Luckily there is a handy guide available to help assist you with this.  Another difference between pork and beef is that pork is typically much cheaper than most cuts of quality beef.  I grabbed this 11 pound butt on sale for about 23 doll hairs which is a pretty solid value.

One nice thing about smoking a butt is that it’s a really easy prep.  All I do to get it ready is pat it dry with some paper towels, give it a light coating of olive oil, and then get reckless with some rub.  You might also get interrupted by a Santa footed child asking for chocolate milk.  He is not amused.

Pork isn’t an overly flavorful piece of meat so feel free to go crazy with the rub, the only thing I’d caution is to not overdo it with salt (unless that’s your thing – you do you then).  Once you’ve rubbed the butt (giggle) it should look something like this.

You are now ready to toss it on the smoker!

In my last post I went over the smoker I use and some basics on getting it going so I’m not going to bore you all again with that.  I’ll just add that for this cook I tried a different brand of briquette, and I added a chunk of hickory to the coals.

Given the size of this butt I opted to just use the grate for the whole cook and not risk having it fall off the hooks.  I got my thermometer set up, put the meat on the grate, and inserted the internal temp probe.

I then inserted the rebar rods (those actually play a role in temp control), and covered the barrel.  The good thing about smoking, especially in a cooker that holds temp pretty well, is you can then ignore it for a while.  But even with that it’s still fun to take a peek at how things are going.  Four hours in I was curious so I popped the cover off and was happy to see a nice bark forming.

Pork butt is one of those meats where you should take some steps at specific internal temps, and the first step comes somewhere in the 160-170 degree (Faranheit) range.  For this cook I waited for about 165 degrees.  I set up a couple pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil, and also about a half cup of apple juice (you can use beer, pineapple juice, etc. as well).

I transferred the butt CAREFULLY over to the foil.  It should already be fairly tender, and it is hot, so your best bet is some good gloves so you can really hold it securely while moving it.  You don’t want it to fall apart on you here.

I poured the juice around the butt and wrapped it nice and tight in the foil, then back on the grate it went (with the internal temp probe back in).  I also added some peaches, tomatoes, and peppers as my wife is trying to put together a smoked peach salsa recipe which I am happy to be taste testing for her.

From here it’s another 2-3 hours of just letting the smoker do its thing until the internal temp hits around 195 degrees.  At that point you can take the wrapped butt out of the smoker and bring it inside.  Once unwrapped it should have a beautiful bark and be sitting in a pool of drippings.  As tempted as you may be, do not start drinking the drippings.

Your butt should have some good jiggle to it.

View post on imgur.com

Let it sit for a bit, maybe 15-20 minutes, then move it to a cutting board and the shredding can start.  I don’t have any great tips for shredding, I tend to do a lot of it with my hands as I like to remove big pieces of fat and the occasional pieces of bone and find the tactile advantage to help with this.  I do take off the whole fat cap and toss it, but if you like big bits of fat in your pulled pork feel free to keep it in the mix.  The only other suggestion I’ll make if you are serving it to a group of people is to NOT add any sauce to it, instead offer a variety of sauces that they can choose from.  When you are all done you should have a big pile of beautiful pulled pork which you can then drizzle the drippings you didn’t drink (you didn’t, right?) over.  I dream of a silo filled with pulled pork that I could swim in Scrooge McDuck style, but I’d probably get horribly burned and die.

So a quick shameless plug – one other thing you could do to give another option on a pulled pork sandwich is to whip up some slaw while the butt is smoking.  My wife did this during this cook, and she posted a real easy recipe on her blog over here.  I’m not a slaw guy myself, but the combo was surprisingly good.

 

 

 When Paul isn’t busy BBQ’ing, he can be found lifting the train wheels at IronSport with himself, while he & himself also looks on, or helping his wife with her new food blog project.