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Strange days indeed

Thumbing through the New York Post this morning allowed for a brief respite from the demoralizing, deflating news of the past few days. On page 3 was the story of the Manhattan couple who lost a stuffed monkey in Brooklyn a week ago. They plastered the neighborhood with posters, offering a $500 reward for the safe return of Bongo. They had "raised" the monkey like their own child, and treated him as such.  Bonni Marcus, Bongo's 47-year-old owner, said, "I never gave up hope -- I prayed, I meditated, and now he's with us again."

Three pages later, there was the story of the 60-year-old man who drove the family minivan into the lake in Central Park, frustrated over his son's girlfriend -- and the free rides she was receiving to support her balloon animal business. The dad was quoted as saying, "She is a face-painter and a balloon-twister... She's got no life because she's got no car!"

On page 10, we learned that Jada Pinkett Smith shops at Restoration Hardware. On page 25: an attempt by a real estate mogul to extend his 149-foot-long private dock in Montauk. He needs the extension, according to the Post, because the water often isn't deep enough to maneuver his 40-foot power boat. Bummer for him. 

Right about then, the cab pulled up to 30 Rock. All distractions were over. Diversions had to go. This was the Monday after we lost 30 Americans in Afghanistan. The Monday after the U. S. lost its credit rating.  While at work today, I watched the markets plunge, not knowing that I was watching the 6th worst day in the history of the Dow. I watched as the stories came in from SEAL headquarters in Coronado, California -- the friends and families of some of the best people we've ever produced as a nation.

I watched my friend Gen. Barry McCaffrey say they fell victim to 1960s technology (apparently a point-and-shoot Russian-made RPG) and I realized something else: they were flying in some 1960s technology as well. The basic airframe for the Chinook first emerged in 1958 -- and while there have been modifications to the avionics and other features, it's still the same basic bird. They are big, and often fly low and slow, full of troops en route to the next fight or extraction or both. As someone who survived an encounter between an airborne Chinook and an RPG at the start of the Iraq war, I've spent more time than most thinking about the Chinook and what we ask of that aircraft. If the Blackhawk is the air taxi of our current dual wars, the Chinook is the city bus. They can deliver a lot of Americans (and cargo) to a target quickly. But aside from the M-60 machine guns in both doors and the back deck, they are hardly gunships. Many of the Chinooks I flew in with my late friend Wayne Downing (a decorated Vietnam veteran) were Vietnam-era birds. Wayne joked more than once that he'd flown on these choppers before... as a much younger man. Wayne was with me when we took an RPG through the rear rotor housing at 100ft altitude and made an unscheduled landing in unsavory territory. I had a lot of time to examine every square inch of the veteran chopper.

What a loss of humanity. What towering individuals they all were. From the 18-year-old door gunner to the most Senior SEAL among them. We grieve for them and for their families. We wonder about the mission they were on, the war they were fighting -- and we can only hope they knew how we felt about them.

These are demoralizing days. Tomorrow morning, I will open the paper looking for diversion, however briefly, once again.