Saturday, October 1, 2011

1 October 2011

I guess it's about time for me to update Nate's blog again. You are all very patient with me. It seems like I haven't stopped to catch my breath since my last update. We were able to visit Nate in July and we were glad to meet Tiffany and Josh in Oklahoma. On this trip we were able to locate the Sgt. Grit store (Mike's paradise) and visit Geronimo's grave at Ft. Sills.

Some of our friends have asked what it's like when we visit Nate (whether we're visiting through plexi-glass, etc.) so I'll try to describe it for you. There is a large cafeteria-style area with vending machines, which is the only food available during the visits. There are several other visits occurring at the same time. We have been told that there are rarely fights among inmates during visits because the visit area is considered "neutral" territory. Well, that's reassuring! You can see that we attempted to play Yahtzee on this visit, but we gave up because it was too hard to teach Dad how to play. We were more successful with Sorry! later in the visit. We were able to visit on Friday night, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning during this trip, and Nathan got to hear first-hand that he's going to be an uncle again in February.

We have found that the hardest parts of the visits are the "unwritten" rules that are randomly enforced. For example, we have scoured the website and read and re-read the posted dress code regulations and still have problems meeting the requirements. The front desk staff will let us in for the visit, and then we will find out that Mike wasn't supposed to have his hat (Josh was wearing his hat in a picture on a previous visit so we thought it was OK) or that I was supposed to wear something to cover a sleeveless blouse. (The posted regulations only state no tank-tops; the outside temperatures were in the 100's most of the summer in Oklahoma). I offered to go out to the car to retrieve a sweater I had meant to wear anyway since the visiting room is freezing cold, only to be told that if I went out the gate I could not come back in that day. Where was THAT posted?! I'm glad they told me before I went out the gate!

Josh is planning to make another visit next weekend, but today he lost his wallet and we are not sure if we can get a replacement drivers license for him fast enough. It will be so incredibly disappointing if he can't visit. I am scheduled to visit again the first weekend in November. I was able to use an airline voucher (I only had to pay $31 for the plane ticket) and I will be staying with another Blue Star mom, so my costs will be very minimal. I'm really looking forward to seeing him again soon.

Our biggest source of frustration right now is with the college courses Nate is trying to take. He did receive another A and another B on his summer courses, but he was only approved for 2 of the 4 classes he tried to take this semester because one was full, and he hadn't met the prerequisite requirements for the English course. I was able to add two additional classes for him, but one of them is a Spanish class that requires a DVD, which we're having trouble getting for him. It appears to be normally only available through streaming video, but Nate has no computer access. I tried to order it another way, to have it sent to the education representative at the prison, but although the tracking shows it was delivered to the prison last week, Nate still doesn't have it.  It looks like he may have to drop that class for the semester after all. So all told, I ended up purchasing books for 3 classes for him this semester that he cannot take. (We have to order the books before he finds out if he's approved, or he doesn't get the books in time because the mail delivery at the prison is so slow). He will be able to take the courses eventually, but it was a big expense this semester that could have been avoided if he had access to better counseling. I will be more pro-active with the courses he signs up for next semester. I have also been working with representatives from the college and have now requested duplicate copies be sent to me of everything that Nate receives so that I can help him more. He still has not been able to get his USMC transcripts sent to the college (2 requests), and his educational plan still does not show his math placement score from last spring (on which he did very well, by the way!) Hopefully the English prerequisite class will be available next semester since he cannot take the English placement test, and here's another catch-22: he can't take the placement test because the state will not pay the $10 fee (there was no fee for the math placement), and the college will not allow us to pay it out-of-pocket (not sure of the reason).  Ugh.

I have just placed the order for Nate's next quarterly package, as well as ordering an early Christmas present for him. He is not allowed to have a DVD player, but he was planning to use his cellmate's x-box to watch them so we thought he was OK. Then his cellmate lost the x-box in a poker game. So I ordered Nate his own x-box 360 in order to watch the DVDs for his Spanish course. Of course, now that he has the x-box we don't know if he will get the DVDs. But he now has the video game player, which will give him something else to do, especially important when they have lockdowns, and hopefully we'll eventually get him the DVDs he needs.  Merry Christmas!


In other news, I was able to attend and speak at the Blue Star Mothers of America national convention this summer, which was held in Washington, D.C. this year. The theme of the convention was "The War after the War," so Nate's story was particularly  appropriate. Other speakers also addressed the issues of veterans courts, and Cabinet Secretary Eric Shinseki (Veterans Administration) also spoke to give us an update from the the VA. Several of the moms from my home chapter received invitations to the 8th and I "Commandant's Own" drill team/silent drill team performance and USMC "President's Own" band concert. We were also able to tour the home of the Marine Corps Commandant (Gen. James Amos) and attend a garden reception for Guest of Honor Colin Powell. We were privileged to meet both the Commandant and General Powell, as well as several other officers and dignitaries. We were each escorted to prime seats for the concert by USMC officers in their Dress Blues. What a perfect evening! 

During the convention I was also privileged to sit with, pray with, and counsel another mom who had just received news that her son was exhibiting erratic and dangerous behavior due to his Post Traumatic Stress issues. Thankfully, I have since learned that he has sought treatment and is doing better. At the end of the convention I was privileged to be elected as the recording secretary to the national executive board. I will do my best to represent my Blue Star sisters faithfully during the coming year. I am hoping to attend the New York City Veterans Day parade on 11/11/11, which will especially honor Blue Star moms this year. If you are able to watch or record the parade I hope you will.

This month marks the 5-year anniversary of the KIA deaths of Chad Hildebrandt (Nate's roommate at Camp Pendleton), and Scott Bubb (Chad's best friend) from USMC 1st LAR battalion. They were killed in Al Anbar province, Iraq, on October 17, 2006. Let us never forget their sacrifice. 
Thank you, as always for your support.

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