Off the Dial

Jack Ahart Ships Out

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That's our good friend Captain Jack Ahart.  He's the outgoing director of the Charlotte USO, on his way to Dubai for a new assignment.  This in a career that includes tours of duty in Vietnam, at the Pentagon and in Desert Storm.  Captain Ahart has agreed to answer some of my questions before he goes.   I think this is a great opportunity to keep in touch with our service men and women overseas, so  I'm hoping to make this a regular feature.  Email me at staceysimms@wbt.com if you have questions for Jack!

Captain Ahart, Could you start by telling us a little bit about where you are going and what the mission is?

I will be based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which is in the Persian Gulf.  It is fast becoming the New York City/Las Vegas of the Middle East.  Dubai has the world’s tallest building, an indoor ski slope, a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree, another island under construction in the shape of the world, and a Tiger Woods designed golf course.

I will be the Director for Regional Development for USO Arlington and my mission is to raise money to improve/provide more things for the 8 USO Centers in the Persian Gulf, including Iraq and Afghanistan, which will better support all of the military men and women serving in the area.  My hopes are to get better communication lines between the service members and their families and loved ones back home.Have you spent any time in Dubai before this?

I have never been to Dubai, but during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, I flew a jet from an aircraft carrier in the Red Sea to an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, so I’ve been somewhat close.

3.     Where will you be staying? Curious if you'll live with a local family or on a military base as you get settled.

      I will be living in Dubai and hope to get a 2 bedroom apartment.  My wife will be joining me, hopefully, next May.  I also expect to do a lot of travelling to the other USO Centers to help them.

4.    What do you hope people in Charlotte keep in mind when they think about troops overseas? 

      I would like them to remember that today’s military is an all volunteer force and that many of them are going back to the conflict zones willingly because they believe in what they are doing.  Also, regardless of one’s political ideologies, the troops and the USO are non-political.  The troops are doing what is necessary to keep us safe and the USO is doing its part to make that job easier for them while travelling or during R & R overseas.  I hope that they keep the men and women in the military in their thoughts and prayers.

5.       What are you going to miss about Charlotte?

The things I will miss the most are all of the great people I have met and the great friendships I have formed since moving to Charlotte in September 1995.  This is the longest my wife, Susan, and I have lived in one place our entire married life, and we truly do consider Charlotte home. 

I will also miss the “what can I do” spirit of the people in Charlotte.  If anyone would have told me 28 months ago when I walked into an empty area at the airport that the Charlotte USO would have over 183,000 people pass through its doors and that the staff and volunteers would help another 3,000 in the local area, I would have thought they were nuts.  There is absolutely a synergistic effort between the Charlotte community, media, and the USO that has allowed us to be so successful and provide so much to those who truly deserve it and I am going to miss that relationship. 

I will especially miss all of my friends at WBT (Al, Stacey, Charles, Jim, Jeff and Brad) and 107.9 The Link (Matt, Ramona, Doc, Bandy, Matt, Jessica, Candy, Potter, Casey and Jon Wilson at both Fox and WBT.  I also wish to thank Mike Rucker, who has agreed to be the Charlotte USO Ambassador to the troops and their families.  I plan on keeping in touch, so missing you won’t seem as bad.

If I am allowed a request, it would be that all of the great support I have received from everyone continues for Sheila Waskow, the new Center Director, and that with everyone’s help, the Charlotte USO becomes even better and is able to provide services and support to all the troops and their families as they use the center.  I can not truly express how humble and appreciative I feel for all of your great support.  Until I get my own email, I should be able to be reached at usodubai@uso.org after 10 December and by then, I should have my own email.  I look forward to staying in touch with all of you through Stacey.

Love, Jack

Saturday Night with Chris Matthews

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This past weekend was the Gala for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  MSNBC's Chris Matthews was our honoree and I got to spend some time with him before the event.  You can listen to my interview with Chris here.

Very nice guy.  He doesn't know any of us and took the time to joke around and make everyone feel important.  Sometimes the celebs at these things just sit in the corner after the pictures are taken.

I set up my interview with him ahead of time.  His handlers told me no tough political questions – kind of dopey considering that's what he does all day long - and I asked a couple anyway.  He was alone and of course he didn't care.  He was happy to opine on the election, after all, it's what he does every night to a national audience. 

We talked about why North Carolina went for Obama this year.  Matthews thinks it's all thanks to higher education, especially his beloved Chapel Hill, where he went to grad school.  His theory is that if you have a college education or higher you were more likely to vote for Obama in the primaries and general election.  Other polls have indicated that, but he talked specifically about higher education in North Carolina and how that, perhaps more than anything else, has changed this state over the past 75 years.

Chris Matthews has type 2 diabetes – he's been very open about it since being diagnosed almost two years ago.  I'm thrilled that he came to Charlotte for this event.  We don't have the final numbers, but I think we raised about $450,000.  Not too shabby.   (Funny moment – we auctioned off a gorgeous golden retriever puppy for $4-thousand.  Our Chris Matthews package, including watching a taping of his show, etc, went for $3500.  Don't think he didn't notice.  Hey, the puppy was cuter!)

Markgangloff (2) Helping us get to that goal was two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, swimmer Mark Gangloff.  He and his wife, Ashley, live in Charlotte.  They were great.  Mark brought his medals – I think you can see I'm a little embarrassed to be wearing one.  He was very funny and told me to wear it or he wouldn't take the picture. 

Benny actually has a checkup today with our pediatric endocrinologist.  We go four times a year to get an update on his blood sugar numbers and adjust the pump as necessary.  With a three year old who's growing nonstop, the amount of insulin he gets needs to be tweaked quite often.

So after a big night of playing dress-up and celebrating our quest for a cure, it's back to the business of managing diabetes.  Maybe in a couple of years I can stay home in my pj's, these big fund raisers unnecessary because we've got a cure.  Hey – I can dream, right?

Button blues

Animaspump As I've mentioned here before, my son wears an insulin pump. It's an Animas 2020, although that probably doesn't mean much to anyone.  We love his pump and we're so glad that his doctors were willing to let us start when Benny was only two and a half.  Much better than the 6 shots or more a day we were up to.  Not a cure, but much easier, especially for the caretaker.

We're having a problem these days.. and it's making me crazy.  Benny keeps pulling his button out.  The button – or inset – is how the insulin actually gets into his body.  Here's how it works.

Inside the pump, there's a small cartridge of insulin.  A thin, flexible tube comes out of that cartridge and clips onto the inset.  The inset looks like a dime-sized nicotine patch with a nub sticking up.  When you clip the tubing to the inset, you're inserting a tiny needle into the nub.  When we put the inset onto Benny, basically a tiny needle goes in and then comes right out, leaving behind a 6mm catheter under the skin. There's a much better explanation of al this here, but that's how we describe it.

We did just fine with the button for the first year on the pump (although we've had some other issues, nothing's perfect) but for some reasons, since the summer, Benny's just not comfortable with the button.  We seem to do okay for a few weeks at a time, then we go through a few weeks of him pulling it out almost every day.  Aaargh!

It does hurt to put the inset on, there is a needle, after all.  We've started using lidocane cream recently (he was terrified of the cream for months) and that really helps.  But it takes an hour at least to work.  That's fine if it's a planned "button day" (we have to change it every three days) but not so great if his blood sugar is already high, he needs more insulin, and he's just pulled the darn thing out.  If your kid is 280bg, says he's hungry and it's almost bed time, you don't want to sit around for an hour.  3 year olds also are not renown for their patience.

Anyway, just a rant here, I guess.  I'm going to call my diabetes educator this week and ask her.  I think his skin just gets itchy.  It doesn't help that he really hates any kind of lotion or cream (he thinks it's all "button-related" and doesn't want me to get near him).  Just like most things with three years olds, I know this will pass.  We'll find a better "button" or he'll tolerate it better.  Hey, this time last year, I was convinced he'd be going to college with a pacifier!

By the way, this is Diabetes Month. Good video "diary" here about what it's like to have diabetes as a teenager.  It's a little slow but you'll get the idea.  More, great information from our local chapter of JDRF.

Blog the Vote

This morning on our show, we played some clips from election days past.  When I heard Jimmy Carter's concession from 1980, I immediately flashed back to voting with my dad.  Rather, going with my dad while he voted.  I had just turned nine.

We walked into the polling place – I think it was Yorktown's town hall. I went behind the curtain with my dad while he cast his vote and pulled the lever (remember when we had levers?).  I asked him who he voted for, expected him to say Reagan or Carter.  Instead, he said he'd voted for somebody named John Anderson.

Anderson, of course, was running as an independent that year.  I asked my dad why he'd voted for someone I'd never heard of.  He said, "He needs my vote."  I'm sure he gave me more of an explanation, but that's the one that sticks. 

I love that.  I got so many great lessons about voting from my dad that day.  I've never been afraid to vote for an independent, unaffiliated or third  party candidate.  I love the feeling that the candidate I'm selecting actually needs my one vote.  And I never miss a vote.

It helps that my grandmother usually calls me on or near election day.  I'll probably beat her to it later today – I owe her a call.  She'll be 90 later this month and she's always told me and my sister – and probably all my cousins – how important it is to vote.  I'm sure it's  a message she heard from her parents.  They fled Czarist Russia nearly 100 years ago to come to America.  I think about them on election day too. Of course, my great-grandfather was an avowed socialist, so I can't say I usually do him proud with my vote.

This year I voted early for the first time.  I have mixed feelings about that recent addition to the process, but it was convenient.  Went to the library one Saturday afternoon with Slade and the kids, no line, voted easily and took out some books as well.  Lea even voted in the Kids Vote they have this year.

We'll have wall to wall coverage today and through the night at WBT of course.  If you're looking for something a little bit lighter – or trying to pass the time while you wait in line to vote today – check out this quiz.  Full of funny stuff from both sides of the aisle.  I also love this old column from the authors of Freakonomics, although you might not want to vote once you read it!  I'd urge you to do so anyway.

Happy election day!