I’d planned on doing chainsaw work yesterday, finishing the fence paths in the woods. I’d planned on doing it for the past three weeks, but it kept raining. And raining. And raining some more. Sunday’s forecast looked good for the week—drier, cooler. Great.
Sunday night we received emails and voicemails from the Sun Prairie School District. Our kids’ grade school had developed a significant mold problem due to the weather, and that they needed to cancel school for Monday and Tuesday in order to establish a relocation plan for the students while their school gets cleaned over the next two to four weeks. So much for chainsawing—not something you can safely mix with keeping an eye on two six-year-olds.
Since I’d have the kids at home for two days, I shifted my plans to smaller projects around the farm. Sarah left for work before the kids were awake. She called twenty minutes later to tell me the car had stalled on East Washington Ave. I woke the kids, grabbed some bananas and cereal bars for them while they dressed, and put them and my tool bag in the RAV. Monday, big time. On the way to meet Sarah, I got annoyed with how my day was going (I’d just come in from chores and hadn't had coffee yet) when thought about how much crazier life had once been.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy” is a common military maxim, but in Iraq, I saw that most plans didn’t even survive contact with us. Trucks from headquarters showed up late or too few. Dust storms grounded the helicopters we requested. Communications gear worked on base and failed on patrol. The once-a-week resupply convoy finally brought a generator but forgot to bring the drain plug for its fuel tank. Marines’ collective drive for mission accomplishment made us successful, but sometimes I’d get pissed off cross eyed at our self-inflicted setbacks.
Then we started working with local Iraqi tribes, training Indigenous Counterinsurgency Forces or ICF (a hard way to say “militia”) to fight terrorists. Who needed an enemy with such unpredictable allies? The forty recruits they promised to bring at 10 am, become thirty at 2 pm. The three guys who were supposed to come on patrol at 4 pm to point out weapons caches don’t show, but six guys show up the next morning at 2 am, excited to go patrolling right then. When one of the ICF members accidentally shot himself in the foot, our docs patched him up. We got used to it.
As a company commander, I had to integrate my company’s operations with other units around us. I made an operational calendar every week that listed larger planned operations, resupply convoys, police recruiting drives, etc., so my platoon commanders would understand the bigger picture. Two or three times a week though, we’d be dealing with an inter-tribal squabble or the sheiks asking us to “make operation” right now on some local insurgent, forcing us to adapt our plans.
Late one night in our patrol base, I put “Unexpected Arab Crisis” on the calendar, making it repeat every day until we left the country. The tongue-in-cheek entry reminded me that my time wasn’t my own and that every day would bring new challenges requiring additional time, diplomacy, and effort. My lieutenants immediately understood the joke and the shift in perspective. That perspective shift didn’t reduce the chaos, it just helped us deal with it. Mostly, we laughed. Sometimes, even when bullets were flying.
In an empty parking lot for a car title loans place on East Wash, Sarah’s engine would crank but not fire, something I couldn’t fix on the spot. We got her to work, the rest of us back home, and the car towed off for repairs. I didn't laugh, but I didn't get worked up either.
So the past two days didn’t go as planned, but the kids learned to mix chicken feed (they learned ratios in the process), and we’re deep into the first Harry Potter book. Our twelve-year-old VW diesel needs a fuel pump. The kids will get shuttled to another grade school for the next few weeks. Its’ all good. All family members and livestock still have a roof over their heads and get fed on time. I’ll still get the rest of the fence built in the woods, and the pigs will still get to market in November. I need to make some phone calls and do some chainsawing tomorrow. There’s no “Unexpected Crisis” on my calendar, but I won’t get too worked up if one happens.
*My hat is off to the Sun Prairie School District Staff and Eastside Elementary Staff for their rapid response to a problem and developing and communicating a plan in less than 24 hours to efficiently relocate five grades across the district while Eastside gets cleaned for the next few weeks.
Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
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