The Middle East Truth—what great quantities of sand can make you realize.

June 10th, 2012

When reading this, take yourself back a year and keep in mind that I wrote this while I was deployed to Kuwait in 2011 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. 

If the prince of Kuwait gave me the most luxurious palace, one of his endless flowing oil fields, and a magic lamp containing a Jennie with the voice of Robin Williams, but with stipulation that I had to live the rest of my life here in his country, my answer would be short and simple–NO!  Well, unless I could use one of my wishes to turn his county into another one, except I would not tell him that.

Roaming desert wildlife

It has been 6 months since I set foot onto a country the size of New Jersey but wealthier than all the other countries in the world except three, based on GDP per capita. But wealth and stability and solidified economic structure is not everything, and that is why the United States of America is by far the greatest country in the world.  Yes, it may be one of the youngest and still maturing, yet most diversified geographic and ethnic lands in the world. A country that has seen one of the bloodiest wars in history, though surprisingly not fought with another nation but between its own people.  The U.S. is a country that allows a broad range of freedoms, structured by a unique set of laws that try to be equal and just, although at times lets in its fare share of corruption.    Yet none of this has anything to do with why I am glad to be a citizen within its borders.  All of what I have just mentioned has to do with organization, structure, innovation, history and inanimate lifeless ideals that do not equate to why almost the entire U.S. population, including me, desire to continue to wake up in the morning.  It is the people, the spiritual beings, living out a human experience and those relationships and interactions between us that keep us going.

No, that is not a cloud in the sky, but a wall of sand.Worst sand storm in 10 years!

I just recently watched the Hollywood movie, The Social Network, which captures the beginning of Mark Zukerberg and the creation of his billion dollar dynasty.  As with any movie based on a true story, not all depictions of the characters and story are true.  But for now, in order to make my point, let’s us say that most of the movie is indeed true.  Throughout the story Mark embarks on a quest to turn what could be called a simple idea into a one –of-a-kind creation called The Facebook.  Eventually shortened to Facebook, this online set of connections brings together a network of friends, family members, acquaintances, business partners, co-workers, strangers and any other term to describe a type of relationship.  An instant hit, it explodes like a super nova, becoming the greatest method of expanding and following those relationships in whatever means users see fit.

After watching the movie, I sat and pondered.  You know it is a good movie when it makes you think.  My take was that fortune or world fame was not his underlying motivation.  Ironically the catalyst that begins his pursuit stemmed from one of his own failed relationships.  Several times throughout the movie, this same relationship surfaces as Mark tries to prove to this female that he is worthy of her admiration. During the final scene, mark sends a “friend request” to her, something he had been waiting to do for a long time, divulging a deeper meaning than just the story of how Facebook became to be.

Making sure operations are running smoothly while conducting a M249 Range at Camp Buehring, Kuwait.

Like all of us, Mark just wanted to be accepted, stand out and be recognized among his peers.  Yes you can have all the money in the world, and yes it will and can buy some happiness, but not a lasting happiness that can permanently fill your heart, mind, and soul with completeness. How many times do we know or hear of people who have a void or awareness that there is something missing in their life?  So many times we confuse a feeling with other yearnings and do not know how to confront it.  It is similar to when your body desires a particular nutrient that is required for it to properly function.  Your body can not tell you exactly—wouldn’t that be nice—instead it may cause fatigue or a sensation that you are hungry.   We just eat whatever, thinking we need those calories but our nourishment is not met.

It is not until we go do blood tests can we really ever know what we are lacking in our diet.  Life can be similar. Take me for example.  While on this deployment I have acquired an appetite for something, but a sensation that I have felt for often that has continued to surface over the years.  Fortunately I have finally figured it out and know exactly how to satisfy instead of suppress. It is not until you find yourself in a place with nothing, to help you realize everything. You could even call it a reward. However, not a physical one you can see like the tax free paycheck, special investment opportunities, ability to serve my country, or the chance to see my weaknesses in my triathlon fitness. No, it is a realization that the relationships in my life are weaker than they need to be and are what I need to make matter most.  This is not a mental understanding that we all know and have heard: “family and friends are the most important precedence in your life,” along with your relationship with your god.  No it is more than that.  It is a profound and radiant understanding that has penetrated down to the core of my bones and the depths of my heart.  In the end, if I can make this happen, I will become a better friend, son, triathlete, Army officer, and healthier person to be able to serve others and obtain an everlasting happiness for the rest of my human existence.


Hanging out with Abe, Christina, Jimbo, and Louis.

I have even been one of those people who does not like saying the word: “love.”  The word has always been something that I have not been able to comprehend and I have been so stubborn to keep to myself unless I felt like I really meant it, even if it were to make the closest people who say they love me happy to hear it. Maybe this stemmed from my relationship with my parents and relatives that I did not always feel close to, but no family is perfect I know.  It is hard to understand something that was said but not showed through actions. It has been different since I left for college.  I have gotten to see the world how it truly is rather from a sheltered community and education.  I have not seen many of my relatives on my father’s side since I was 12 and there have always been constant strife between family members on my mother’s side.  Except if I really want those people in my life then I have to make it happen or at least make the effort.  Relationships are two-way and if I try and do my part, that is all I can do even if it is not returned.


The Brooks family and my mommy in red.

Given what I have said, I want to be clear that I do love and I am very thankful for my parents, Ignatius and Beverly Sterghos, who I don’t tell enough that I love. This also includes my mentor and swim coach, Louis Tharp and his partner, Jim Bumgardner who are like second parents to me.  Then there are the Brooks and Jones who were like parents, brothers and sisters while I was growing up back in Cornelia, GA.  I cherish all my friends back in High School and at West Point who I was close to but have not continued to nurture once we went our different ways.   Then there are those like my current triathlon coach Tim Crowley, and old coaches Tony Deboom, Jerry Quiller, John McCartney and John Perkins who have mentored me and helped me reach and pursue goals in my athletic career.  Finally, don’t forget each relationship I have with my sponsors. I thank them for their continued support, still supporting while I am deployed, most notably Vasa the company that made it possible for me to obtain a Vasa Ergometer, and Jack & Adam’s Bikes in Austin, Texas,  that sends bike parts. Pool access and bike shops are limited here in Kuwait.

Kuwait is a going to be a challenge, but one that I am tenaciously chasing.  I even challenge anyone reading this to look at yourself and evaluate the priorities in your life. Do they line up in a way that will produce true and lasting happiness? Maybe so or maybe not, but what is preventing you from finding  out? You probably don’t need to wander in the desert to realize it.