Arizona’s Child Homelessness Echoes National Increase

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 14, 2012

TEMPE, Ariz. – Bright futures rarely shine on homeless children in Arizona.

The young runaways fleeing family anger and short tempers hear their own double-time footsteps. Echoing in their ears are their parents’ impatient words clouded with the stress of work, debts, alcohol or drugs.

Do your homework, say their sad-eyed parents, so you can get that diploma. Get a job with a pension. Start a 401k. Don’t end up like us.

Or like the brother or sister who slashed their wrists in desperation over a home foreclosure or failing college classes, sparking a family reunion in the emergency room.

Family troubles are a major factor in child homelessness, says Dr. Randal Christensen, who for the past decade has headed a medical team in the Crews ‘n Healthmobile program providing medical care to homeless youth in metro Phoenix.

Dr. Randal Christensen proposes to expand his program that provides medical care to homeless children and youth in metro Phoenix. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Christensen says a new national report showing a dramatic increase in child homelessness in America mirrors his medical team’s work. The national report says 1 in 45 children are homeless in a year. That, according to the national report, translates into “more than 30,000 children each week, and more than 4,400 each day” nationwide.

Yet, in the face of increasing numbers of homeless youth, there are hopeful signs. More than 20 formerly homeless youth treated by Christensen’s medical team are studying nursing or respiratory therapy.

Another former patient is nearing graduation with a degree in computer science. Christensen describes him as “scary smart now, talking about computer mathematics things I couldn’t even begin to understand.”

Christensen believes many more success stories are waiting to blossom among homeless youth. They walk the same streets as university students and business moguls, but the futures of the homeless are worlds away. Unless they find the door leading to another chance.

“Most of these kids don’t want to be on the streets,” Christensen says. “Most of these kids have to have some sort of help before they can lead those productive lives. Then they can be very productive, taxpaying citizens.”

Christensen is familiar with the new national report, America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010, released Dec. 13 by The National Center on Family Homelessness. The 124-page report, which updates the Center’s earlier study, says 1.6 million children in America are homeless annually.

“This represents an increase of 38 percent during the years impacted by the economic recession (2007 to 2010),” says the new report.

Best, Worst States

Of the 50 states, the National Center ranks Vermont in first place for programs designed to reduce child homelessness. The others in the Top 10 are Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Montana and Iowa.

The bottom ranked states are Georgia, Florida, Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.

“The recession has been a manmade disaster for vulnerable children,” Ellen L. Bassuk, MD, president and founder of the National Center and associate professor of psychiatry of Harvard Medical School, said in the report. “There are more homeless children today than after the natural disasters of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which caused historic levels of homelessness in 2006.”

More Foreclosures Projected

The waves of home foreclosures are cited as a key factor in homelessness today in America. And that mortgage problem may be far from over. A story about Wall Street in the January-February 2012 issue of Money magazine suggests more home foreclosures are imminent. And with foreclosures come family displacement, which officials say can lead to homelessness.

The story about Wall Street quotes Laurie Goodman, a respected housing analyst and senior managing director at Amherst Securities, as saying more home foreclosures are expected. She is quoted as saying in addition to the 2.5 million homes that have been foreclosed upon in the current recession, “another 4.5 million mortgage holders have given up paying and are likely to lose their homes….”

The story says home prices are projected to fall a few more percentage points over the next 12 to 18 months. If this scenario occurs, declining home prices can trigger more foreclosures, and the economic forces create more stress on families living on the financial edge.

Many Causes of Homelessness

Christensen says foreclosures are only one falling domino contributing to homelessness. Other causes include joblessness, learning disabilities, insufficient education, and dysfunctional families torn by mental health issues involving a parent, the child, or both.

Despite their efforts to find and keep good jobs, Christensen said, some families become so financially strapped, they are one major car repair or medical emergency away from homelessness.

Since late 2000, Christensen has headed a medical team that offers medical services to homeless children in metro Phoenix.

The Crews’n Healthmobile program offers medical services to homeless youth. The program is a partnership between Phoenix Children’s Hospital and HomeBase Youth Services. Other support is offered by UMOM New Day Centers and Children’s Health Fund.

Christensen says the national study’s findings resemble his medical team’s latest report, completed Jan. 10. His newest annual report shows that his medical team had about 3,000 visits in 2009; 3,700 in 2010; and 4,749 in 2011. In earlier years, the medical team had 2,992 visits in 2008 and 2,273 visits in 2007.

Medical team proposes expansion

The Phoenix medical team’s numbers show that from 2007 to 2011, the number of visits by homeless youth has more than doubled. The ailments often are related to the weather. This time of year in metro Phoenix, they include colds, pneumonia, bronchitis and ear infections. Other sufferings include infected cuts, rashes and sexually transmitted diseases.

Christensen isn’t surprised by the noticeable increases detailed in the new national report. In metro Phoenix over the past year, he has received requests from school principals and superintendents, community representatives, nonprofit agencies and a couple of suburban mayors to visit their cities to provide medical services to homeless youth. Because of the requests for more services, Christensen’s team is proposing to expand the program with more staff and a second Crews’n Healthmobile.

Christensen says proposals to expand the existing medical care program include another medical doctor, another nurse, another case manager, support staff, and a second mobile clinic. Current donors include Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, Walgreen’s, Courtesy Chevrolet, and FedEx.

Christensen says the program’s expansion proposals will need $3.5 million over four years.

Homeless Patient Nearly Crushed

I last talked with Christensen and his team nearly three years ago. I shadowed them over three weekends that year for a story I wrote in April 2009.  Last month, five days before Christmas, I joined Christensen and his team in their mobile clinic for a follow-up interview. The medical team parked their mobile clinic – a 38-foot Winnebago converted into a medical van – near downtown Tempe. It was a Tuesday afternoon, their regular time at this location to treat homeless youth. Christmas was in the air. Business windows sparkled with holiday scenes and ribbons.

Over the next few hours, the medical team saw several homeless patients, ranging up to age 24, the maximum age to qualify for medical care. Between visits, Christensen recounted a young man’s recent story about sleeping in a dumpster and nearly being crushed.

The homeless patient sought treatment for an injured ankle. The patient said he had been looking for a place to sleep out of the rain. In an alley, he found a discarded loveseat next to a dumpster. The youth lifted the loveseat into the dumpster, climbed in, closed the lid and fell asleep. In the cold and rainy weather, the couch inside the dumpster was preferable to crashing in a recessed doorway or on a cardboard mattress.

“He said it was great because it was sort of warm and cozy in there and he was out of the rain, so no rain was coming in,” Christensen says.

Dangerous Awakening

But at sunrise, the homeless man was jarred awake. He felt the dumpster rising. It was going vertical, on the steel arms of a noisy garbage truck. The homeless man in the dumpster knew that within seconds, he and his cozy couch could be compacted.

“So of course he was scared to death, and he jumped,” Christensen says. “He either twisted his ankle or clipped his ankle or the lid closed and grabbed him, so he sort of fell straight down and twisted his ankle. And that’s why he was coming to see us.”

The young man told Christensen the garbage truck driver was equally surprised.

“He said the garbage guy was really nice about it. He jumps out, too. He was scared this guy came out of (the dumpster). So he came and helped him up off the ground and gave him a few bucks.”

How many times the homeless, seeking shelter from rain and cold, survive similar encounters with sanitation crews each day is unknown. What is known is the increase in numbers of homeless youth seeking medical care.

When most metro Phoenix workers either pack their lunches or flip a coin as to where they’ll grab a bite each work day, homeless children develop their own menu. They learn which restaurant garbage containers have the tastiest daily potluck. Christensen and his staff have heard all the gritty stories about dumpster diving.

And if that doesn’t work, these sidewalk souls – whose relationships with their parents turned dark, sour or dangerous – can rely on survival sex for a few bucks to pay for a meal.

Students ‘couch surf’ and sleep on porches

Christensen says school officials tell him about students who survive by sleeping on friends’ couches and porches. After school, the homeless children wander the streets. The homeless students risk being ostracized by their classmates if their homelessness is discovered. Wearing the same clothes every day could be a giveaway.

“You can imagine the stigma that carries, so they try not to tell anybody,” Christensen says. “But they start showing up in the same clothes, and teachers figure it out. They couch surf a lot, so they’ll spend a week with a friend and a week with another friend and a week living on a porch.

“So a lot of the kids we’re seeing here today are staying on somebody’s porch to stay out of the rain,” he says.

Family Feuds Sparked by Economics

Christensen introduced me to one of his older patients, who is 24. Because of the patient’s unique first name, I am withholding it to avoid identifying him. I’ll call him Mike. That isn’t his real name. Mike and I talked outside Christensen’s mobile clinic that day just before Christmas.

Mike says he’s living on the streets because he and his parents are incompatible, and because of the economy.

Mike says he is a high school graduate, with “a little bit of trade school.” He’s been on the streets for a few months. He worked for a short time at Home Depot, and later for Walmart. But because of the shrinking of the jobs market and the implosion of the housing market, Mike found himself among the nation’s jobless and homeless.

“I had a house and a couple cars. I had a house since I was 23. My parents are renting it to somebody at the moment. I got in a lot of fights with my parents about financial situations, jobs, work.”

Mike is well groomed and mannerly. He carries a bulging backpack he says is stuffed with his possessions.

“We fight all the time,” Mike says, referring to his parents. “I had the luxury and freedom I had that early, you know. I lived on my own. I had my own house. Didn’t have to answer to them. We fight over little things. They treat me like I’m 12 and I’m adult. We butt heads. We just can’t live together any more.”

Mike said his parents also are struggling. “Like, I mean they barely make enough money to keep the houses going. They’re renting the other one. They have trouble barely scraping by with enough money to feed the dogs, my brother, themselves, keep the cars going, the mortgage paid. They barely scrape by on the electricity bills. So it’s pretty rough.”

“….somewhere safe and quiet…..”

Mike says he keeps to himself on the streets, largely for personal safety. “I don’t like to get involved with too many other people. Safety, and then you kind of take on everyone else’s problems. Like, it’s hard enough for me to take care of myself right now.”

I asked Mike where he slept or spent the nights. “Wherever I can find somewhere safe and quiet and away from the police.”

“That safe place might be where?” I asked.

“In like a quiet alley or somewhere abandoned,” Mike said. “Stayed in a couple of parking garages. Somewhere generally quiet and where no one would notice you in there. I usually try to keep away from a lot of people at night.

“I’d rather not be around people with more problems,” Mike continued. “It’s like, I’ve got enough of my own.”

I asked Mike where he saw himself in the near future.

“Short term – with a steady job,” he said. “Maybe in an apartment. Get back into a house of my own. Rent a room from somebody. I could start going back to school, learn something, get a career.”

Homelessness Cycle

I thanked Mike for talking with me. He shouldered his backpack and headed down the sidewalk. His optimism was admirable. Back inside the mobile clinic, I asked Christensen about dysfunctional families.

“How do you put an end to this cycle?” I asked. “The kids you’re seeing now someday may have kids of their own.”

“Many of them do,” he said. “And their models of parents are what put them on the street to begin with.”

The cycle of dysfunctional families that can lead to child homelessness is hard to stop, says Dr. Randal Christensen. He and his medical team in their blue mobile home are well known among homeless youth in metro Phoenix. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

“Ask Me Why I Hurt”

Christensen’s experiences with homeless youth in metro Phoenix over the past decade are in his book, “Ask Me Why I Hurt,” first released in April 2011 in hardcover. This year, again in April, his book will be released in paperback. More information about Christensen’s book, his program and its staff can be found on Christensen’s Web site,

Click here to learn your state’s ranking in the new report on child homelessness.

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Jan 14th, 2012

Holidays Renewed by Studying Historic Footsteps in California

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 4, 2012

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – A few days before the end of 2011, we set out to study some of the footsteps of the first European pioneers in California. They were the Spanish padres.

We headed west out of Arizona on Interstate 8. Our goal was recharging during the holidays at two historic Catholic missions in San Diego County. The first was Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, called the “king of the missions” because it once covered several acres in what today is Oceanside.

The next day, Christmas Eve, we spent part of the day a few miles south in San Diego at Mission San Diego de Alcala. It’s nickname is “the mother of the missions” because it is considered the birthplace of Christianity in the far West. It was the first of the 21 missions founded, making it California’s first church.

The fountain in front of Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside overlooks a peaceful valley in Southern California. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Neither of the two missions is more beautiful than the other. Each has unique characteristics, design and history.

When the missionaries began establishing the string of 21 Spanish missions, most of the Southwest – including California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah – was part of Mexico. Today, the missions are islands of quiet, whether they are in an urban core, in a small town, on a college campus, neglected, or surrounded by urbanization.

Step inside the historic missions and life’s complications slip away. Those jagged edges are polished by the soothing influences of beauty, artistry and history. The solitude inside cushions life’s noise outside. A historic site’s story, its heritage and its headstones have much to offer visitors.

If the missions’ walls and gardens and confessionals and holy water could talk, what stories and music and laughter – and heartache – they could share. Their walls and cemeteries, through many generations, eavesdropped on many words of sorrow and countless desperate prayers for rain and health and good fortune.

Spanish missions

San Luis Rey de Francia was founded in 1798. It was the 18th of the missions. We visited the mission twice during our weeklong adventure. Its location in Oceanside on a gentle south-facing slope makes it ideal for early morning and late evening photos.

San Luis Rey de Francia is decorated for the Christmas holidays in December 2011. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Our first visit to San Luis Rey de Francia was on a Friday, the afternoon before Christmas Eve. We passed adobe ruins of barracks that housed Spanish soldiers who protected the mission. Several colorful piñatas hang on a cable in the parking lot close to the church door. A donkey, a few sheep and some chickens are in shelters in front of the mission, next to the large fountain.

In the 1950s, the mission was the set for several episodes of one of my favorite childhood programs, the Walt Disney television series, “Zorro.”

Inside the church, we were greeted by the lector, who is a volunteer. He welcomes visitors and asks them to sign the register. I stopped at the donation box. The church is requesting donations to help pay for new construction upgrades needed to withstand earthquakes.

The pews at San Luis Rey de Francia will be filled by parishioners, their families and other guests celebrating Christmas. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The church was mostly empty. A woman and a man were busy around the altar, hustling to finish the holiday decorations. A photographer, with his camera on a tripod, waits patiently as visitors meander through his planned photos.

My Best Friend lights candles and offers prayers. I wander and capture photos. She waits for me in a pew near the altar. I read the mission pamphlet about the main altar: “To the left of San Luis Rey is the Archangel San Miguel or Saint Michael. To the right is the statue of San Raphael or Saint Raphael. Both statues are polychrome wooden sculptures dating from the mid-18th Century.”

It goes on to say the central crucifix is from Nicaragua and it dates to the 1700s. Overhead, the wooden dome and ceiling were replaced in the 1930s. On the right is a side altar with a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order. The left side altar includes a sculpture that, according to the pamphlet, “depicts the suffering Christ just before his crucifixion.”

There is energy here. I imagine the dedication and beliefs of the holy men, their parishioners and the craftsmen involved in each mission’s founding, construction and painting.

A short time later, we leave the church to visit the mission museum and the gardens. We see the oldest pepper tree in California, planted by Father Antonio Peyri, who founded the mission. He received the seeds in 1830 from a sailor from Peru.

The pepper tree, framed by the arch, was planted from seeds received in 1830 from a Peruvian sailor. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

I slip into wander mode again, looking for more photo angles in the late afternoon sun. I head toward the cemetery gate, but then I stop. Ahead is a young couple helping an elderly man struggle with his walker from their car to the cemetery. His arms were straight on his walker. His head, sporting a ball cap, was bowed. He appeared focused on his feet. His slow and unsteady steps were the lengths of his shoes. Maybe he was struggling with age. Maybe he was recovering from knee surgery. I can wait.

Later, my Best Friend joins me. We enter the cemetery, where we pass a jovial man who says, “I’ve been coming here for 30 years, and nothing changes.” I suppose he was saying people live and people die, and in between we leave flowers by headstones.

Above the cemetery gate is a skull and crossbones design which, according to mission literature, often is found at Franciscan cemeteries. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

As we walk the cemeteries at the missions, we read some of the headstones. Some date to each mission’s earliest years. I wonder about the goals and achievements of those named on the headstones. I walk between the gravesites so I don’t disturb them.

San Luis Rey de Francia cemetery. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The sun was getting low in the sky. We walk the grounds, enjoying the quiet, the cemetery’s water features, and the cumulative history in the headstones. Our batteries were recharging.

Back at our hotel in Carlsbad, after downloading and studying my photos, I make plans to return to the mission to photograph angles I overlooked. We plan to wait until a day or two after Christmas for a second visit.

San Diego de Alcala is about 6 miles northeast of downtown San Diego. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

On the morning of Christmas Eve, we visited Mission San Diego de Alcala. The mission was founded in 1769 at a site overlooking San Diego Bay. Because of insufficient water for crops and because “the soil was not fertile enough and the American Indians were intimidated by the military,” the mission was moved a few miles to its present site in San Diego in 1774, according to the mission’s history on its Web site.

Over the years, we’ve visited several of the 21 Spanish missions in California. Admittedly, in some cases, history shows that church leadership sometimes was oppressive. I am hopeful that in most situations, religious leadership was respectful.

The interior of San Diego de Alcala. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

We’re attracted to the missions because of their historic importance and their religious significance. California’s known history began with the padres. We find balance in silent walks through history. We are two souls in awe, treading ancient clay tiles, admiring the American West heritage that dates to the 1700s and 1800s. In whispers, we point out the brush strokes in the mission paintings and the skills reflected in the woodwork, the iron hinges and latches, the tiny gardens, and the stone paths.

Gardens at the Spanish missions usually have flowers blooming, like this red star-shaped gem in the garden at Mission San Diego de Alcala. Be sure to carry a camera. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Through the years, we have enjoyed many regions of Arizona, New Mexico, California, Oregon and Washington, from Taos and Canyon de Chelly to San Diego, Portland and Seattle. But there are so many more rainbows, beaches, trails, historic sites and seafood restaurants to enjoy.

When we travel, our itineraries remain fluid, like the spontaneity of jazz and blues. Each creative chord is at our fingertips and in our hearts, awaiting freedom.

And for those quiet sanctuaries we find along our way, whether in a sunbeam in the woods or in the afternoon shadows of a historic mission, we carry a book or two.

Long way home

Our return to Arizona offered a different view of California history. We planned a longer route back home, taking a detour from Carlsbad to Escondido and up the gentle mountain slope to Julian, a historic gold mining town.

The eastbound freeway from Carlsbad ends in Escondido. There, our route morphed into a two-lane state highway that, in places, reminded us of Arizona roads near Sedona, Globe or Oracle. The narrow California highway had a few hairpin curves where a rabbit could keep pace.

In Julian, we stopped for lunch at The Fajita Grill. It’s on Main Street. Google its name for more information. I ordered a chicken chimichanga. It was so hearty, I skipped dinner later that day. When you visit Julian, skip breakfast so you can indulge yourself at the restaurant.

Later, we tried to buy an apple pie in Julian at one of the pie shops, for which the old mining town has become famous. But the lines were too long. At one shop, the line was 30 deep.

It was time to head home. On slower roads, like the one east from Julian to Interstate 8, tree leaves and flowers were close enough to count. We saw livestock feeding at their troughs.

At Lake Cuyamaca, we saw people enjoying the day in rowboats and barbecuing on shore. Others sat in lawn chairs around RVs in the parking areas. The few parking spaces at the lakeside restaurant were full.

The sun set behind us as we headed east into Arizona on I-8. We saw that the stars still were aligned. Slower roads give us time to pause, to think about the stormy and smooth roads we’ve traveled, to continue admiring nature, to share more miles.

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Jan 4th, 2012

History Cruises the Southwest on Steel Wheels

Posted By Mike Padgett

Dec. 10, 2011

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The giant steel powerhouse is history on wheels. This massive black locomotive, parked on a siding near downtown Phoenix, has eight steel driver wheels eye level to a basketball player. The engine represents enormous pulling power and historical importance.

A growing crowd of railroad fans surrounds the Union Pacific locomotive, No. 844. They crowd around the steps up to the engine cab, giving them a look into the engineer’s work space. Personally, in today’s race of rats, studying a working connection to U.S. history is a welcome relief.

No. 844 also reminds me of wandering as a kid into a hobo camp next to the railroad tracks more than half a century ago.

When the engineer on the locomotive parked in Phoenix blows the whistle, after warnings to the crowd, small children jump. One youngster covers his ears. His eyes are saucer big. His open mouth is silent. He is sitting on a man’s shoulders. The man turns and hustles the boy away. The little boy leans forward to encourage the man’s legs to move faster. This close, the whistle on this muscle-bound train is painfully loud.

No. 844 was the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

This aging locomotive, courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad, recently toured the Southwest as part of the upcoming centennial celebrations of New Mexico and Arizona. No. 844 is a giant, but a gentle one. The iron workhorse represents the last of its design, which played a major role in U.S. transportation history. Starting in the mid-1800s, trains blazed trails and built towns. They shaped the opening of the American West.

No. 844’s stops on its centennial run in October and November included towns and cities in Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. It stopped in Phoenix on a weekend in mid-November.

Union Pacific No. 844 is known as the UP’s “Living Legend” because it is the last steam locomotive built for UP. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The engine was delivered in 1944 as a high-speed passenger train engine. It pulled the Overland Limited, Los Angeles Limited, Portland Rose and Challenger passenger trains, according to information available at Until the arrival of interstate highways in the 1950s, passenger trains were popular among vacationing moms and dads and their children as well as business travelers. Today’s older railroad fans probably were among those vacationing children.

In the late 1950s, when diesels began pulling passenger trains, No. 844 was shifted into freight service. In 1960, it was rescued from being scrapped and placed into special service as the railroad’s goodwill ambassador, according to

Originally designed to burn coal, No. 844 later was converted to burn oil. Its tender carries 6,200 gallons of No. 5 oil. Together, the engine and its tender weigh about 454 tons, or 907,890 pounds.

In 2000, workers began a lengthy overhaul of No. 844’s  “running gear, pumps, piping, valves and springs, along with replacement of its firebox and extensive boiler work,” according to It was returned to service in 2005.

Union Pacific Railroad’s No. 844 engine was on public display Nov. 13 and 14 in downtown Phoenix. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Machines this large, like ships and airplanes, take on their own personalities. Their engineers and pilots mentally catalog their iron steeds’ squeaks, rattles, smells and vibrations.

Rare locomotives – UP844 and SP4449

Standing before No. 844 revived memories of my encounter with another of its kind. It was June 1997. I was standing in the three-story railroad roundhouse near downtown Portland, Ore. I was interviewing volunteers caring for Southern Pacific Railroad’s No. 4449, another rare locomotive. At the time, I was writing for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash.

SP4449 was built in 1941, retired in 1957 and eventually donated to the city of Portland. When I approached the locomotive, I felt like I was looking at it through a wide-angle camera lens. A volunteer looked diminutive next to one of the engine’s 80-inch driver wheels. At that interview, the engineer described SP4449 in the female gender, like a ship.

Even sitting still, UP844 and SP4449 look like they are in motion. The long steel arms linking the driver wheels are like muscular arms that flex each time the wheels rotate.

Videos of both locomotives in action are available on the Internet. Go to Google and use UP844 or SP4449 in key word searches. One link shows both locomotives in tandem in Washington State. Another link shows UP844 highballing at more than 70 mph.

Boyhood fascination

Trains, by offering faster and year-round transportation, accelerated the opening of the American West in the 1800s. They crossed broad plains and roaring rivers and deep canyons, offering families and hustlers and other pioneers safer tickets to a new life in a new land.

During my boyhood in the rural West, trains fascinated me. They ran along the Columbia River, across the Cascade Mountains and through fertile farmland. In the long days of summer, the black locomotives – replaced later by brightly colored diesels – pulled freight trains filled mostly with crops.

In the short and cold days of winter, many train cars were filled with coal and other fuel. In hobo lingo, a train of loaded coal cars is a black snake.

As a young boy, trains fueled my interest in what was over the horizon. I wondered about the cities the trains visited and the railroad switching mechanisms and the sidings and the engineers and the workers who rode in the cabooses, or crew cars. Remember the red cabooses? The last one I saw was years ago, parked near the Arizona Capitol and converted into a restaurant.

American nomads

When I was 8 years old and struggling with fascination about everything and everybody, the limits of my world in central Oregon were wherever I could pedal on my bicycle. The hobo camp by the railroad tracks was off limits, according to my parents. I ignored them. One day, approaching the camp but keeping my distance, and hidden by sagebrush and tall weeds, I stopped when I could smell the campfire. It was sunset. A second time, when I heard no activity, I crept closer, wishing the dry grass under my feet would stop crunching.

The camp was empty, except for a cold ring of rocks marking the pile of campfire ashes. And the rickety steel rack that, I imagined, held a makeshift stewpot over the fire.

I remember the silence of the makeshift rest stop for American nomads. I wondered, as an 8-year-old, why they were without jobs and wringer washing machines and places to hide their Christmas presents. And how do they survive the local winters?

A few empty rail cars sat on the siding next to the potato warehouse. I remember thinking, who are these drifters squatting around a campfire for a hot meal? Why are they living like this, with no roof or refrigerator or a home where they could listen to radio programs?

Where are their families? Where do these men get their food? You probably remember how an 8-year-old boy filled with questions discovers the world.

Only later, did this curious third-grader grow up to realize that American society includes those who struggle on life’s edge with economic setbacks, family troubles, mental challenges or drug usage. They are in their own rat race.

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Dec 10th, 2011

‘Just Be Scared Later’ – Victories in Combat and Classrooms

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 17, 2011

PHOENIX, Ariz. – It would be misleading to call Adam Reich’s story over the past 10 years the evolution of a soldier. That’s because his time in the military, including a year in Iraq, is only part of his story.

Reich’s journey evolved over a decade. And it likely matches the challenges faced by many wondering about their future. His story begins in the fall of 2001. He was a 19-year-old student unsure about his future, starting classes at Northern Arizona University. Then, on Sept. 11, as he watched the 9/11 terrorist attacks unfold, he felt compelled to join the military. Eventually, he enlisted in the Army, fought in Iraq, and returned to his studies in Arizona. Today, Reich is an attorney in Phoenix.

In that decade, from 2001 to 2011, Adam Reich found his rhythm. That part of his journey saw him exchange college textbooks for Army uniforms. His takeaways from the military included infantry training, proficiency on a turret-mounted .50-caliber machine gun and other weapons, and combat experience.

He always will remember helping retrieve a soldier’s body. And the time mortars rained during an ambush, injuring several soldiers. And the firefight in which 16 Americans were injured.

“You see all that, and that stuff is going to haunt you,” he says.

On the plus side, Reich gained training as a military policeman, which later sparked his interest in law school. And along the way, between NAU and Iraq, Reich was pleased with what he learned about himself.

Phoenix attorney Adam Reich recently talked about his journey of self-discovery, which started the morning he watched the news about the 9/11 attacks. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Reich, 29, believes his words can help other troops returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. He has more focus on his future and more appreciation for what he learned about himself. He has a stronger work ethic. Most importantly, he enjoys the challenges of working as a lawyer.

On Veteran’s Day, as he does on Memorial Day, Reich exchanged emails and phone calls with a few of his former battle buddies. He didn’t attend any parades or military receptions. Those events are important, but surviving combat creates lifelong bonds that only soldiers can fully appreciate.

Reich credits his safe return from Iraq to that bonding, his training and loyal teamwork. He also attributes his safety to a St. Christopher’s medal that family members carried in World War II and in Vietnam, a bandana with the 91st Psalm, and a ritual involving a specific candy.

But let’s start at the beginning. Reich’s religious medal, his bandana and the candy will become obvious.

Awakening to terror attacks

Reich’s story about the last 10 years of his life begins early on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The alarm on his roommate’s radio, set to National Public Radio, went off about 5:30 a.m. in their dormitory at Northern Arizona University. It was a Tuesday.

Reich says “it was regular NPR stuff for a couple minutes, and then they break in with what was going on in New York, that a plane had hit one of the Trade Center Towers.”

“And so we wake up and we turn on the TV. And from then on, I mean we saw the second plane hit, live, like a lot of people did.”

NAU canceled classes that day. “It was pretty much nonstop watching the TV, like I’m sure a lot of people were that day, for I guess about 12 hours for us after that.”

Terrorists had hijacked four airliners on the East Coast. Two of the planes were flown into the World Trade Center’s two office towers. A third was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC. A fourth one, said to have been targeting another prominent building in Washington, was crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers overpowered the hijackers.

Reich says feelings of wanting to do something began welling up inside him while he watched the day’s news. He had just started classes at NAU, studying political science. He had rejected a notion about studying at a military academy “because I didn’t think I wanted to be in the military.”

But “attacks like Sept.11 can kind of change your opinions on stuff like that.”

“It was kind of a wakeup call, I guess,” he says.

Many Americans watching or reading about the attacks that day have said they were ready to join the fight against whomever was responsible for the terrorist attacks.

“When Sept. 11 happened, it had such a profound impact on me,” Reich says. “I was ready to join up pretty much Sept. 12. There was a lot of that mentality around the people my age at that time.”

Uncertain future

Reich had enrolled at NAU because he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, as a career. He started with political science classes because two of his relatives were congressmen.

His uncle, Congressman Jay Rhodes, served from 1987 to 1993. Rhodes, 67, died in January from complications following an automobile accident a few months earlier. Rhodes was the son of the late Arizona Congressman John Rhodes, who served in the same congressional seat from 1953 to 1983.

Reich says that after the 9/11 attacks, he talked with his parents about his feelings. They urged him to delay enlisting until it was determined who launched the attacks. Reich says his parents were right, so he joined ROTC. He did that for a year. He says it was a good introduction to the military, but he needed something more.

On Sept. 10, 2002, one day before the first anniversary of 9/11, Reich joined the National Guard. A few months later, in mid-2003, he was in Fort Benning, Ga., undergoing basic training as an infantryman.

In December 2003, after learning about pending activation of the Arizona Army National Guard’s 860th Military Police Company, Reich signed up to get reclassified as a military policeman. His training was in the summer of 2004.

The 860th MP Company was deployed in October and November 2004. Reich says the unit left for Kuwait in February 2005, “and we were in Iraq in early March of ’05.”

‘Just be scared later’

It was in Kuwait when Reich, still fresh from training on a .50-caliber machine gun as a turret gunner and now headed for Iraq, received some advice about courage and fear. That wisdom came from a combat-seasoned turret gunner headed back to the states.

“What I asked him was, I asked him how he dealt with it, when he was getting shot at, how did he know that he was going to be able to stand up (in the turret to fire). What he told me, I actually carried with me for a long time. I still kind of think about it.

“He said you can be scared all you want but the second that it goes off, you’re going to have to stand up one way or the other,” Reich says. “You just have to recognize the fact that you just need to make your legs move. And if you do that, take the time to be scared later.

“If you’re consciously thinking about it,” Reich continues, “you can will yourself to do anything. Just be scared later. And I remember that happened. I really had that experience, and I had to stand up and shoot back. I actually thought about that advice, because I was terrified.

“And there was just that split second that I was terrified. And I just said, ‘Okay, I just need to stand up.’ And I stood up and I did my job.”

The 860th MP Company was assigned to FOB Cuervo, a forward operating base in eastern Baghdad. Later, Reich was part of a platoon assigned to a tiny outpost called Camp Ashraf as a quick response force, or QRF.

“We were the first responders to a lot of things out there,” Reich says.

After a few months, the 860th – including his platoon – was transferred to FOB Liberty, which is closer to western Baghdad and near Baghdad International Airport.

The .50-caliber “Ma Deuce”

Reich had volunteered for training with the .50-caliber machine gun, a weapon with a lengthy history. The versatile machine gun has been used in several wars and in many areas of combat, ranging from tripods in the battlefield to use on jets and helicopters. The weapon is called “Ma Deuce” because its designation is M-2.

The weapon’s power and deadly reputation made Reich and his vehicle key targets for the enemy. Reich used the .50-caliber less often than other weapons because “the .50-caliber bullet would travel through buildings and harm civilians. I only used that when we were engaged in heavier fighting.”

Adam Reich, shown seated in the turret of a Humvee, was responsible for the safety of the vehicle and its occupants. Photo courtesy of Adam Reich

“That weapon could punch through a wall and keep on going without any problem,” he says. “I only used that on a few occasions in firefights. The weapon is so powerful that I felt it should be rarely used.”

The .50-caliber “was always at the ready to disable a vehicle that was charging our convoy, but thankfully I never had to use it for that,” he says.

Most of the time, Reich and other troops relied on other weapons, like the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW. “I used this weapon for warning shots, which means I used it virtually every day.”

As military policemen, Reich and other platoon members also carried 9 mm semi-automatic pistols. In addition, Reich kept a rocket launcher in his turret.

Shooting from a Humvee’s turret

As a turret gunner, Reich sat in a turret on top of a Humvee. His responsibility was protection of the Humvee and its convoy.

“Now if you’re in a sustained firefight, obviously you have a different job,” he says, “but in just traveling your job is to stand up, tell cars to get back, fire warning shots if necessary.”

One day, the platoon was escorting a communications convoy on a two-lane highway across the desert. Reich stood up to tell a truck to keep back from the convoy. He was facing the rear of the Humvee when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off on his left, which was the Humvee’s right side.

“So it knocked everyone in the truck unconscious,” Reich says. “It was relatively minor, as far as IEDs were concerned.”

Still, the explosion left Reich with hearing loss in his left ear, which qualified him for a Purple Heart medal.

Only the driver was evacuated for medical treatment. The explosion left the Humvee with a couple shrapnel holes and blast damage. The passenger door, which took the brunt of the blast, had to be replaced.

Reich felt lucky because the injuries he and others sustained in the explosion were minor. The IED had been buried in the road. Luckily, a secondary explosive device on the other side of the road malfunctioned. An EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) unit was called in to deactivate it.

Religious medal from two earlier wars

At some point that day, after the explosion, Reich remembered the religious medallion in his buttoned left shirt pocket, under his protective body armor. The tiny St. Christopher’s medal, in its little plastic box, had been bought in London in the early 1940s by his great-uncle, who fought in World War II.

Years later, the medal was carried in Vietnam in the late 1960s by Reich’s uncle, former Congressman Jay Rhodes. The day that Reich left for Fort Polk in 2004, he received the religious medal from Rhodes.

“All of us returned, and for all of us, (the religious medal) clearly worked,” Reich says. “For me, it was much more about a connection to family.”

The St. Christopher’s medallion that Adam Reich kept in his left shirt pocket, under his body armor, had been carried by other family members in World War II and in Vietnam. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Reich carried the religious medal every day in Iraq. If he forgot it, he would go back to get it, even if he had to make the Humvee driver turn around.

Other platoon members had personal rituals or superstitions. The gunners often would bump their helmets, like football players, before they’d leave their compounds. Reich wore a camouflage bandana printed with Psalm 91.

“There was always stuff that you did,” Reich says. “I know a lot people that had very specific traditions.”

‘Jolly Ranchers’ candy

Though some Iraqi families and neighborhoods objected to the presence of Americans and other troops, others appreciated them.

“It depends on the neighborhood,” Reich says. “No two neighborhoods are really the same. And even below that, it comes down to families and people.”

Reich says children usually were quick to interact with foreign troops, partly because the children knew the soldiers often would give them candy. Reich and his platoon usually carried plenty of wrapped hard candies.

“I was known for having Jolly Ranchers because I thought they were lucky,” Reich says. “So we’d have big bags of Jolly Ranchers in our truck and we’d throw them out to them.”

Adam Reich, right, was the designated lookout the day this photograph was taken. His lieutenant, middle, and an interpreter talk with local children and give them candy or other items. Photo courtesy of Adam Reich.

The candies were more than treats for the children. They became good luck charms for anyone in Reich’s Humvee. “For me, that was one of my big ones, is everybody in my truck had to eat a Jolly Rancher when we were going out the gate.”

“And I swore by them,” he continues. “And I still do. I got to the point that when I got back (to the states) and I was going to class, I would take Jolly Ranchers before I’d go to exams.”

Reich believes that if you feel lucky, you’re going to be lucky. Not necessarily that the candies are lucky, he says, “but that I feel more confident when I have them.”

Many people, whether soldiers, attorneys, teachers or journalists, have prayers or rituals they whisper or perform before tackling challenging tasks. They might have a special coin or religious statue or medal they touch each morning.

Reintegrating into society

Each veteran’s challenges returning to life back in the states will be unique, based on their experiences and personality, the support they receive from family and friends, and their individual goals, Reich says.

When the 860th MP Company returned to Arizona in 2006, the soldiers were welcomed by family and friends at a ceremony. Later, many families held their own ceremonies.

“And so it was great for me coming home,” Reich says.

Reich was staying with his parents until he decided what he was going to do. It was at his parents’ home, after they left one morning for work, and out-of-town relatives had gone, when a new reality made its appearance.

“I remember waking up and I was alone,” Reich says. “And I sat on my parents’ couch and I had no idea what to do with myself.”

He was facing the rest of his life, but with little idea what to do or where to start. “I didn’t have a place to live. I didn’t have a job. All my friends were somewhere else. I didn’t have a car. And it was overwhelming, just overwhelming, the feeling of helplessness. I had no idea what to do.”

No idea, that is, until he began setting new goals for himself. Those goals became the keys to ending his temporary feelings of isolation.

Friends’ deaths

Some returning soldiers have struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Reich says he is aware of four suicides among soldiers he served with. Two of the soldiers he knew well.

“For veterans coming home, I think the thing is, you have to lean on each other first of all, always. There is still a group of people, if I had problems, I could call and they would come, no matter what they were doing, no matter where they were. And I would do the same for them, in a heartbeat.

“You have to remember that that’s there and not feel overwhelmed,” he continues. “You come back and you’re cut loose. You’re not surrounded by the military culture, except for maybe one weekend a month.

“It’s very easy to feel alone, I guess, and you don’t need to feel that way. There are always people you can call. With veterans in general, I think you could pretty much call any other veteran and they will be there if you were telling them that you were having trouble.”

“There are a lot of programs out there to help people,” Reich says. “If you buy into the tough guy culture too much, that asking for help makes you weak, or that recognizing that you need help makes you weak, that’s just going to make it worse.”

The Veterans Administration offers a free hotline for veterans and their families and friends. The Crisis Hotline, which is staffed 24 hours every day, is 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), says Paula Pedene, public affairs officer at the Phoenix VA.

Veterans can also turn to VA for help at http://veteranscrisisline,, on Facebook at or on Twitter at

Pedene adds that veterans seeking counseling services may visit the Veterans Center emergency department on the campus at the northwest corner of Seventh Street and Indian School Road in Phoenix.

Personal goals

Reich says he sidestepped feelings of isolation by setting goals for himself.

“And so what I ended up doing was, I ended up just setting goals for myself. So first it was, I’m going to buy a car so I can go to Flagstaff. And then I’m going to be back with my friends. And then I’m going to find a place to live, and I’m going to start school.”

“I just tried to find goals to set for myself. I wanted to get back in school. And then I wanted to go to law school, and then I wanted to graduate. Having a timeline that I wanted to get to, helps you get by.”

When he returned from Iraq in 2006, Reich had about 30 credit hours from NAU. At the start of the next semester after his return from Iraq, he enrolled as a sophomore in Arizona State University. Over the next two years, he took 94 credits.

Some of those ASU undergraduate classes were related to law, which fit well with his military policeman training. Anticipating graduation in May 2008, Reich took the entrance exam to ASU’s law school in December 2007. He passed the exam, was accepted by ASU and began law classes in August 2008.

After graduation, Reich received offers from three metro Phoenix law firms. He accepted Fennemore Craig’s.

“One of the things I got from the military, especially being a turret gunner, was trust your gut,” Reich says. “When your gut is telling you something, it is telling you something. And for me it was, come to Fennimore.”

Reich says that during the journey that started 10 years ago, he has become more confident, a little more reserved but more determined about his future. Making decisions in combat can do that to a soldier.

Given the chance to relive his journey, when he set aside his college studies to join the military, Reich says he would change nothing.

Reich’s newest victories include marriage, the recent purchase of a home and starting work at Fennemore Craig.

“I would do it again, in a heartbeat,” Reich says. “I think I learned that I can do kind of what I set my mind to.”


Advice on how to help veterans and their families is available at

A video showing the firepower of the .50-caliber machine gun is available here:

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Nov 17th, 2011

Journey to Help Arizona Police Families Started on 9/11

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 9, 2011

PHOENIX, Ariz. – If a meeting 10 years ago in the World Trade Center in New York had gone as planned, Michael Coogan and others might not be volunteering at the funerals of Arizona police officers today.

Coogan’s story begins on Sept. 11, 2001. He and his sales manager, Bill Brown, were to meet with clients at 9 a.m. that day in the lobby of World Trade Center II. When the meeting was rescheduled to 2 p.m., Coogan and Brown planned to have breakfast that fateful day in midtown New York, several blocks from the World Trade Center.

At the precise time when Coogan and Brown were to meet their clients in the World Trade Center, terrorists flew two hijacked airliners into the buildings.

It was 8:46 a.m. when the first airliner sliced into WTC I, the north tower. At 9:03 a.m., a second airliner was steered into WTC II, the south tower.

Michael Coogan says his experience on 9/11 in New York City, where he was to attend a meeting in the World Trade Center, helped change his life.

After the attack, Coogan and Brown rushed 20 blocks to a local hospital to donate blood. But soon after they took their places in line, ready to roll up their sleeves and give blood, they learned there were no survivors.

Many office workers and visitors in the two WTC buildings escaped, but about 3,000 workers, visitors and their rescuers died when the burning buildings imploded.

Cross Country Trip

Coogan needed to return to his job in San Francisco, but all airline flights were grounded. He found his way to a New Jersey airport and rented a car. His drive alone for nearly four days back to California gave him time to think about his luck in dodging death.

“I would say it was definitely a pivotal point in my life where I kinda went, ‘What am I doing,’” he says. “I’d done a lot of things for other companies and worked really hard for other companies and made other people a lot of money but I wasn’t really happy.”

“So the ride back was very rewarding. It was kinda like I said, okay, there’s a reason why you are here.”

Today, Coogan credits his near-fatal brush with history as a factor in his decision to help the families of Arizona police officers killed in the line of duty.

Police funeral

Coogan, 49, was one of the many volunteers helping in Friday’s funeral of Glendale Police Officer Brad Jones. Coogan and others gave small American flags to bystanders and mourners lining the funeral route to the cemetery in Peoria. Jones was shot Oct. 29. He was accompanying a probation officer to a meeting with a parolee. The parolee allegedly shot Jones. The suspect was caught later that night. Within hours, Jones, 26, died in a Phoenix hospital.

Coogan, who today is a reserve deputy with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, has become familiar with police funerals. It’s part of the new journey he promised himself to start, after dodging the terrorist attack in New York on 9/11.

Last year, Coogan and others launched a new Web site,, to help Arizona police families and strengthen the connection between the public and law enforcement agencies.

Coogan says the Website is a collaborative effort that includes Joe Monthie, also a reserve deputy and a master sergeant at Luke Air Force Base; Brien Tapley, another master sergeant at Luke; and Jason Swencki, who also is a reserve deputy and in the computer industry.

The Website’s background is a waving U.S. flag. Its graphics include photographs of police funeral processions. Soft piano music plays in the background.

Photos on the Website show a flag-draped casket, an officer saluting the passing motorcade, and a long line of motorcycle officers in front of a white hearse.

The Website includes links where visitors can donate to memorial funds or visit other public safety sites. When an Arizona peace officer dies in the line of duty, the Website will feature details about the officer’s upcoming funeral.

Coogan, in an interview before the Glendale officer’s funeral, talked about his experiences on 9/11, his background and the Arizona Highway of Heroes program’s formation and goals.

Born into police family

Coogan’s day job is high-tech sales. He’s been doing it for more than 20 years. But on his personal time, Coogan is a reserve deputy with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. He was named MCSO 2010 Reserve Deputy of the Year.

Michael Coogan’s family has been in law enforcement in Denver since 1908 – his great-grandfather was a patrolman, his grandfather was a police captain, and his father was chief of police. Coogan says his father has remarried, and his wife is police chief in Littleton, Colo. Photo courtesy of Michael Coogan

After 9/11, Coogan’s life underwent many changes. His marriage ended. He changed jobs. He and a friend, William Burton, self published a tongue-in-cheek humor book, “Know Your Pig: Playful Relationship Advice for Understanding Your Man.” Coogan says the book can help women understand men. Coogan recently was invited to become a trustee with the Arizona chapter of C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors).

Idea came from Highway of Heroes in Canada

In 2009, Coogan’s application to attend the MCSO reserve academy was accepted. But classes didn’t start for several weeks. He was still working in Canada, selling computer software. One day, Coogan and his girl friend were driving in Toronto when they saw people lining up to stand on highway overpasses. Many had small Canadian flags. Cars began pulling to the side of the road.

“I said, what’s going on. She said turn on the radio. There’s probably a fallen (Canadian) soldier returning.”

Coogan said he pulled to the side of the road. His friend told him that in Canada, the bodies of Canadian soldiers killed in combat receive recognition from the public.

“It’s almost like society just stops. The noise level goes down. All you hear is just nature. You might hear the odd car or two. It’s deathly quiet. You hear birds chirping or something.”

Society’s Fabric Stronger

Coogan says the Highway of Heroes in Canada strengthens the connection between the public and the military.

“I think it makes them appreciate the jobs that soldiers do, and how it impacts what they’re doing. It ties totally into the fabric of society.

“Their kids come out and they’re quiet and they’re listening and their parents teach them about it.  It teaches them to understand how fragile life is. And how one minute you can be here and the next minute you can be gone. So live your life with integrity and honor at whatever it is you’re doing, but do it as an honorable thing.”

Coogan says Canada’s Highway of Heroes program later sparked his idea for a similar program to honor Arizona police officers killed in the line of duty.

Monthie, whose father was a police officer for 32 years in Illinois, says he supported Coogan’s proposal when he first heard about it. He says encouraging the public to line up along a police funeral route strengthens the community.

“I think what it does, just like in the military, it shows a sign of respect,” Monthie says. “It shows a willingness of the community to accept what the officer or officers, or the first responders, have done and sacrificed for the good of the community.”

Arizona Highway of Heroes

Coogan, Monthie, Tapley, Swencki and other volunteers typically give away a couple thousand U.S. flags at police funerals. They also may join other officers at the gravesite.

When Coogan and his group launched their Website in July 2010, they hoped it would be up and running long before it was needed to publicize a police funeral.

But three hours after the Web site went live, a Chandler Police detective was killed. The shooting was in south Phoenix where the Chandler officer was working on a case with Phoenix police.

“We didn’t even have flags,” Coogan says. “We were scrambling to get flags because three days later was the funeral.”

Whether they are rookies or veterans, tough-skinned or not, some police officers struggle with their feelings at a fellow officer’s funeral. The funerals might remind them of their own close calls, or that bad things can happen to good people.

“There’s some officers who love what they’re doing, but they won’t do it (go to police funerals),” Coogan says. “They won’t even stand on the side because they’ve had friends killed.”

Children saluting police

Coogan related a situation in the West Valley last year in which children along the funeral route brought adults to tears.  He said a teacher who heard about a funeral for a policeman arranged for her 30 kindergarten students to line up along the funeral route. The youngsters, each holding a small U.S. flag, saluted as the hearse passed.

The emotions felt at the funerals of police and soldiers represent an overwhelming experience of sights, sounds and feelings. Whether the combat was on a distant battlefield or on a city street, mourners realize that one of the good guys is gone.

Sheriff’s Detective A.J. Jackson says the Arizona Highway of Heroes program “gives the people that love police officers and love the jobs that they do a chance to come out and show their support, when there’s so much negativity and so much emphasis put on the negative side of things.”

Jackson and Swencki say attending police funerals is emotionally draining.

“There’s a (police) brotherhood that’s just hard to explain,” Swencki says. “We’re all drawn together to protect each other’s life and help those in need. And when we hear that one of us has been lost, it’s like a piece of you is gone.”

Emotional experience

“The police funeral is nothing like anything you’ve ever been to,” Coogan says. “It’s one of the things that if you go to it once, you’ll never forget it. It’s a significant event.”

Mourners at a police funeral may struggle to block the thoughts of how they would cope if they lost a spouse. They find themselves standing in silence with a hand over their heart or saluting as the hearse with its police escort passes.

They likely will see dozens of police motorcycles rumbling in slow motion, two by two, leading the hearse and its motorcade to the cemetery.

They may see one or more public safety helicopters hovering along the route.

Sometimes, the funeral procession will drive under a giant U.S. flag that firefighters suspended from the extended crossed ladders of two ladder trucks.

Several police officers on horseback may wait at the cemetery gates to greet the motorcade and lead the hearse to the grave. There, an honor guard and the lone bugler will meet mourners.

“Police and fire and military all represent a piece of us, individually,” Coogan says. “So when one of them dies, whether you admit it or not, it’s part of you because you’re part of that system that they’re protecting.”

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Nov 9th, 2011

Nose to Beak With A Fearless Bird

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 6, 2011

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Taking out the trash this morning, I found visual treasure. I literally ran into it.

I was walking in our breezeway when I had a one-second warning. I heard the hummingbirds before I saw them. I stopped and looked up. They were chattering and feeding in the tall flower bush ahead, just to my left.

The tiny birds hovered for a second, then zoomed behind me, passing just over my head. A few seconds later, before I started walking forward, they returned.

And for the next 30 minutes, each apparently claiming the bush as its exclusive territory, I enjoyed their fascinating aerial behavior. They tolerated my presence and curiosity.

The tiny birds, like flying jewels, have iridescent green backs and grey undersides. Their eyes are shiny black beads. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

They sometimes hovered in front of each other, like a showdown in miniature. When one flew away, the other returned to feeding. I waited for the one to return, and I saw and heard it coming. It was a black streak returning in a blur. Its wings were loud as it zipped over my shoulder and circled around to the other side of the bush.

Then both took off, zooming back and forth in the breezeway on the northwest side of our home. I stood still, and they flew within inches of my ears. Twice, one hovered in front of me. I was nose to beak with a fearless tiny bird. Its beak is like a black needle. It seemed motionless as it stared at me.

A few times, the hummers zoomed at each other, like each was aggravated at the other’s presence.

Occasionally, they flew and vanished around the corner of the house. One returned, then the other. They fed for a few seconds. One flew off, then the other. Seconds later, they returned to feed on the flowers, darting from one to another. One bird landed on a cactus a few feet away, but only briefly.

Then one flew off and the other kept feeding. Always, I could hear the hummers approaching before I saw the little high-speed blurs on wings. They often appeared to be aiming for me, but they turned at the last second and maneuvered into the bush.

I stood still, turning only my head so I could watch them. Slowly, I backed away to get my camera. Surely, if I walked slowly, the little green birds would let me return.

They did. For another few minutes, moving slowly, two of my favorite desert creatures allowed me to capture their images.

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Nov 6th, 2011

A Desert Sentinel Greets a New Day in Arizona

Posted By Mike Padgett

Oct. 31, 2011

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde, Irish poet, playwright, 1854-1900. Copyright © iPhone photo captured Oct. 31, 2011, by Mike Padgett


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Oct 31st, 2011
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Historic Hotel in Portland Offers an Elegant Detour

Posted By Mike Padgett

Oct. 27, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. – What is happening here? Are the visitors entering a time portal into Oregon history?

They remember handing their car keys to the bellman and the concierge following them with their luggage from the curb near Fourth and Pine streets. Downtown Portland is busy, with its eclectic mix of office towers, condo buildings, hotels, restaurants, retailers and light rail.

But inside the hotel doors, downtown’s energy morphs into elegance. The expansive lobby offers a look into Portland’s earlier years. In a world of fast lanes and 24/7 connectivity, a short detour into local history is welcome.

The understated exterior of the Embassy Suites Downtown-Portland belies its history and interior elegance. Photo © by Mike Padgett

The visitors are standing in the lobby of the former Multnomah Hotel. In a few weeks, the hotel – reopened in 1997 as the Embassy Suites Portland-Downtown – will celebrate its 100th birthday.

First-time visitors entering the hotel, if they appreciate history, often can be spotted. They are the ones looking up and around as they walk sideways and backwards on their way to the desk.

These two new visitors are distracted by the seating areas in the grand lobby with its soaring ceiling and the 24 marble and terracotta pillars. The visitors imagine intimate conversations among friends sharing hors d’oeuvres on bone china and coffee spiked with bourbon in demitasse cups.

The charming hotel opened Feb. 8, 1912. It dates to a more gracious and refined era in which women in formal dress often carried lacy umbrellas and men wore suits and hats. The lobby might have featured a baby grand piano, where a pianist played softly during afternoon tea.

Cozy seating areas in the hotel’s carpeted lobby offer quiet retreats for private conversations. Photo © by Mike Padgett

The visitors step to the reception desk at the left inside the door. The concierge, likely smiling at the guests’ predictable reactions, waits nearby with their bags on a brass cart.

My Best Friend and I are the visitors enjoying the historic hotel. She pauses by the display case filled with examples of the hotel’s antique china. The hotel first caught my attention in 1997 when I wrote for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash., just across the Columbia River from Portland. That year, I started a mental folder about Multnomah Hotel because of its role in the history of the Pacific Northwest.

The Embassy Suites Portland receptionist taps her computer. She finds our reservation. We hoped for a corner suite on an upper floor to avoid street noise. I ask her for more information about the hotel. She steps over to a desk and pulls out a copy of a history book about the hotel. She loans us the book, “The Grand Lady of Fourth Avenue,” during our stay. The book, written by Cait Curtin, was given to guests during the renovated hotel’s reopening in 1997.

In the far right corner of the lobby is the entrance to a popular restaurant, Portland Prime. Its specialties include salmon, steak and seafood. In the lobby’s far left corner are stairs leading down to Arcadian Garden, a popular venue for weddings, receptions and other meetings. It also offers complimentary breakfasts and afternoon receptions for hotel guests.

The hotel’s renovation included restoration of plaster details on the columns, walls and ceilings. Photo © by Mike Padgett

The hotel was among the largest in the Pacific Northwest when it opened. It became a favorite gathering place for social groups as well as business leaders, many with lumber, railroad and shipping interests.

The hotel’s lobby, mezzanine and exterior are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The hotel occupies a city block a short walk from the Willamette River. For Portland visitors who appreciate history and a central location, the hotel is an ideal choice. Visitors can leave their cars parked because the downtown hotel is within walking distance of office buildings and a wide selection of retailers and Irish, Chinese, Lebanese, Italian and other ethnic restaurants. We enjoy dining at Portland Prime, Jake’s Famous Crawfish and Kell’s Irish Pub.

During our stay, I wonder who of importance stood here before us. What decisions did they make here? What were key world and local events when the hotel opened in February 1912? Did they appreciate the intricate cast iron grillwork on the stairs?

Each visitor to this Portland hotel – and every other historic site – is like a grain of sand in that most go unnoticed. But some visitors are weightier than others because their business or political importance gives them more impact.

What notable business leader, politician or writer stayed in our room and walked these stairs or punched these elevator buttons before us? While they stayed in this historic hotel, were they inspired to make an important decision or start a new book?

Curtin’s book answers many of my questions. The Multnomah’s guests included several presidents, Queen Marie of Romania in 1926, Charles Lindberg in 1927, Elvis Presley in 1957, and Sen. John Kennedy and brother Robert Kennedy during JFK’s 1960 presidential campaign.

The hotel hosted many notables, including several U.S. presidents and entertainment legends, including Jimmy Stewart, Lana Turner, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope, according to a history of the hotel.

The nine-story hotel was built in the American Renaissance style. Its original employees were recruited from major hotels across the country. A newspaper ad, reproduced in Curtin’s book, says the hotel opened in 1912 with 725 rooms and suites, of which 300 had private baths.

When the hotel began its decline in the 1960s, Lutheran Homes and Hospitals Inc. considered buying it for conversion into a senior citizen life care center, Curtin says in her book. The proposal was rejected.

In 1965, the closed hotel was refitted into offices for the U.S. Forest Service and Internal Revenue Service.

The government offices vacated the building in 1991. The former hotel sat vacant until 1995 when it was sold for $1.4 million to two investors in Vancouver, Wash., according to The Oregonian newspaper.

After a $35 million renovation, the hotel reopened to a welcoming public in November 1997 as Embassy Suites Portland-Downtown with 276 suites.

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a short walk from the Embassy Suites Downtown-Portland. Photo © by Mike Padgett

Our stay in the historic hotel was too short. Each time we left our suite and wandered the hallways and lobby on our way to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, Powell’s Books, or a nearby restaurant, we paused.

The history of the Embassy Suites caught our attention during our travels because we share a passion for local history. Some of our other favorite historic hotels are the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix; Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, Calif.; The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver; US Grant Hotel in San Diego; The Benson Hotel, which is a landmark in Portland; The Palace Hotel in San Francisco; and Hassayampa Inn in Prescott, Ariz.

History found in restored elegant hotels can be intoxicating.

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Oct 27th, 2011

A Drive Through an Oregon Forest to Reach Pounding Surf

Posted By Mike Padgett

Oct. 2, 2011

YACHATS, Ore. – Most of the time, we we were alone on the winding highway while we drove west through the Siuslaw National Forest in western Oregon.

It was late afternoon. Sunbeams became rays of gold filtering through the mist and the branches of moss-covered evergreens crowding Highway 34. Unfortunately, the two-lane highway with a few hairpin turns in wooded areas – right where I wanted to stop for photos – offered few places to pull over and stop safely.

The highway follows the winding Alsea River through the forest from the community of Alsea (population about 1,150) several miles west to the coast. Along the way, houses are scattered every few miles. Many are older. Several are new. Unless these are pockets of private land, the owners probably have federal leases.

To my left, downslope from the road and next to the river, I spotted several small tents squeezed together on a campground.

This green valley bordered by the dense forest stopped us, literally, during our drive west through the Siuslaw National Forest in western Oregon. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Partway through the forest, the evergreens give way to a picturesque valley. The pastoral scene reminded me of a Monet painting. I braked and did a quick U-turn before the highway headed back into the woods. Photo opportunities can fade as quickly as they appear.

I turned onto a side road and stopped. I grabbed my camera from its bag on the back seat and stepped to the edge of a deep ditch at the road’s shoulder. I ignored a dog’s lonesome barking from a house just down the road. If I were a landscape painter, here is where I would set up my easel.

Nature’s palette on this day featured green forests surrounding peaceful fields, the distant dark mountains, a blue sky and deep shadows cast by a late afternoon sun. This is powerful visual magic. Agnostics, if they witnessed this scene, could become believers.

I shot a few photos, and then continued our drive to Overleaf Lodge in Yachats, pronounced YAH-hots. A friend recommended it. This was our first extended visit to the Oregon coast.

The topography on this picturesque drive ranges from farmland around Corvallis in the Willamette Valley, west through Alsea and the forested mountains to the Pacific Ocean. We will exit the forest at Waldport. From there, our journey takes us south a few miles on Highway 101 to Yachats, which has a population of 690, according to 2010 census data.

A brilliant sunset and sounds of the surf marked the end of our first day on the Oregon coast. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Our plan for this trip was different. Our goal was to avoid crowds. We wanted to unwind next to the ocean, enjoy morning walks on the beach and get away from traffic jams and air pollution. The glitz of a crowded resort large enough for its own ZIP code can be overpowering.

From Arizona, we flew to Portland, Ore., rented an SUV and headed for the small communities along the central Oregon coast. We keep flexible schedules during our travels, maybe because of constant deadlines throughout our careers. Our routines now are influenced by mutual interests and by whatever crosses our path, such as an unexpected deadline or taking the longer road. Or an urge to go walking along the beach to find a lookout point suggested by another visitor.

Slowing the daily pace, and maintaining flexibility, allows one’s scattered molecules to regroup. Plus, slower routines often bring out the best in people.

I found that friendly human nature the minute I stepped onto the Oregon Coast Trail in Yachats. It was almost sunrise the day after our arrival. The trail is next to Overleaf Lodge.

“You’re going to miss breakfast and lunch, walking around here with a camera,” the stranger with the goatee and military buzz cut said. “That’s why I left my camera at home this time.”

The visitor from Canada was right. The photographic lure of the rugged Oregon coast is powerful. This is where the ocean meets the forest of Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, red alder and western hemlock. Rainfall of up to 100 inches annually has been recorded in parts of the Siuslaw National Forest.

The beach in Yachats, Ore., disappears in the distant mists. After storms, beachcomers search for agates, fossils and other treasures. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

My Canadian friend and I saw each other a few more times during our stay in Yachats. We talked cameras ­– his needed repair – and Ansel Adams, how many pixels are enough, and local photographer Bob Keller’s work at his nearby Wave Gallery.

One morning, while waiting for sunrise, I stopped near a blowhole on the rocky beach. Waves rolled up a long and deep slot to the blowhole in the black bedrock. About every 10th wave, water and white foam exploded out of the blowhole with more force.

Maybe they’re called spouts. That’s what it was called by a woman walking her dog. “Seen any spouts,” she asked me on the trail one morning. The question rolled off her tongue in italics. I pointed the way to the spout.

Another morning, I watched an elderly couple fishing in the surf from the rocky beach. Each carried a bucket with bait. They wore rubber boots and warm jackets. I didn’t see them catch anything, but I didn’t watch long because it was time for breakfast. And I hadn’t had any coffee yet.

A mix-up in our reservation put us on the ground floor. We had asked for a room on an upper floor with a better view. One night (luckily it was for only one night), a guest checked into the room above us. I secretly named the person Thunderfeet.

Despite the one night of noisy footsteps, we enjoyed the view and sounds of the Pacific Ocean. Our patio door opened to the surf pounding the rocky shore. The surf beat like distant thunder, sometimes soft, occasionally powerful. It lulled us to sleep every night.

One morning, which was too misty for photos, I saw waves that were larger and more active than usual. Occasionally, a large wave slapping down on itself sounded like thunder. Gulls dipped and soared over the surf. Behind the waves, several pelicans glided in single file inches above the ocean. I don’t know if it was the wind or the visual power of nature that caused my eyes to water.

Weathered benches along the trail offer places to pause and recharge. From their perches on the rocky shore, fishermen cast their lines into the surf. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Another morning, the coastal fog at dawn created an eerie scene that reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe’s work. The world was a blend of mostly black and white, because of the fog, and the sound of the unseen pounding surf.

After breakfast, the sun burned off the fog, allowing the arrival of the day’s colors. My traveling buddy and I sat on a weathered bench off the trail to watch the surf. She tried to use her laptop, gave up and pulled out a book. I tried reading, too, but then I dozed in the sunshine and the music from the waves.

On the trail behind us, a few joggers and other visitors enjoyed nature’s views and sounds. Dogs straining against their leashes like sled dogs led several of the hikers.

The Oregon Coast Trail near Yachats sometimes meanders through thick undergrowth along the beach. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

We had already walked the trail a mile or so up the beach and back. The trail was free of trash. We saw signs warning about “sneaker waves,” or wave surges that can reach higher up the beach than usual. We saw a few hikers using their cell phones. Maybe their calls were critical. They could be working business deals or coaching an elderly single parent seeking a little conversation to pierce the loneliness.

This is Oregon’s central coast, where the interstate highway can be a two-hour drive to the east. I don’t know the location of major shopping malls or sports arenas, but they aren’t close. Which is good, if you’re seeking a place to recharge.

Crime is here, though. Recently, according to a local newspaper account, a man stole a car and led police on a high-speed chase for several miles. He surrendered after he ran over a spike strip an officer placed across the two-lane highway. The news report didn’t say how many flat tires the car had when it was returned to its owner.

The average age of housing in this area is 30 years and more. Custom homes in this region, based on local advertising, start at about $700,000. But I’m not sure these numbers are accurate. I’ve checked different web sites, and found different numbers. You’ll have to do your own research.

All I know about the winter weather here is that it can be windy, cold and overcast. That’s what we learned from some local residents. They said it matter-of-factly. Unless they were exaggerating to discourage growth in their local Shangri-La.

But there are other clues. There is the sign we saw inside a local restaurant, warning patrons as they leave the front door: “Careful – Strong Winds.” There are the signs at the approaches to a local highway bridge, warning motorists about strong winds as they cross the bridge.

This tree along the Oregon Coast Trail has grown under the influence of ocean winds. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

And some of the evergreen trees at the edge of the beach offer clear meaning to the word windswept. On overcast days, even in late summer, the gray sky mirrored in the steel-colored ocean makes it difficult to see where the sky meets the Pacific.

We also heard about storm watchers who visit the hotels to watch the exploding surf of winter storms. These storm chasers scour the beaches after the powerful storms pass, searching for agates, fossils, and glass floats from Japanese fishing nets. Local hoteliers market their properties for these weather fans. For more information about Oregon’s coastal weather, check and

For us, and especially during warmer months, the ocean is magical. The surf’s rhythmic sound is nature’s heartbeat. Add the fresh salt air, ocean sunsets, fresh seafood and opportunities to walk hand in hand on the beach, and the results are positive for the soul.

Life is short and fragile.

* * * *

For more

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Oct 2nd, 2011

An Arizona Sunrise With a Dose of Emerson

Posted By Mike Padgett

Sept. 15, 2011

A September sunrise in the Arizona desert. Copyright © iPhone photo by Mike Padgett

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in, forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day, you shall begin it well and serenely…” Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882. Emerson, a poet, essayist and philosopher, is considered by some as the intellectual center of the American Renaissance.

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(Copyright Mike Padgett: All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all content on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)

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Sep 15th, 2011
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