Co-op City ~ What did you experience?

Last week I wrote about how Co-op City influenced and shaped who I am today.  The sheer amount of people who were interested in this discussion was mind boggling.   I was essentially inspired to add-on to the blog in order to bring to light some other realities of living in Co-op out of fairness for those of us who experienced difficulties of growing up in Co-op.

We were all sitting behind one of the “Triple Cores” I think it was Richie and Blanqui’s building on a laundry vent that we huddled together on in the cold of winter and of course the conversation was about when the hell we would get out of Co-op.

Co-op was an island that was wrapped by the city.  It was different from living in Manhattan or even living in the Bronx.  We could easily find ourselves in the Bronx but Co-op certainly was something different.  We had everything you would need all in shopping centers that we could easily walk to from any building.

With all that we had access to and all of the people we knew some of us wanted to escape.  I know I felt there was a world outside that I didn’t know or experience.  In my last post, I was thinking about the positive and peaceful aspects of Co-op relative to the world I experienced when I left.   That wasn’t to say that Co-op didn’t have its fair share of problems including hate.   My point was that there was more harmony and acceptance of a person for who that person was as an individual as opposed to because they were black, white or other.   This brings me to two short stories that I feel I should share on behalf of those who mentioned to me that I didn’t necessarily paint a clear picture.

While there were many time that we fought as kids and dealt with some issues related to being different, there is one story that I want to share that some of my close friends observed while I was at Truman high school and ultimately led me to leave Truman for a school in the South Bronx.  truman high

I don’t really remember what happened during the day, I think it was a normal school day and I was just doing my thing being the cool and most popular kid on the planet that I was (just kidding).   I walked out the back door of the school towards this long line of steps.  I saw some of my friends and waved to hook up with them.   The doors coming out of the school were big metal doors with a big long metal bar on the inside, a lot of kids would kick the bar to open the door, I guess it was the cool thing to do.    The door would fling open and make a loud noise.    That is what happened on this day.  I naturally turned around to look and within a few seconds I was surrounded by a bunch of guys. ( Note, the friends I was referring to that I was waving to and walking towards were all girls.)

They started pushing me around and tripping me.  I didn’t want any trouble and I just wanted to leave so I started to try to negotiate my departure.   Then it happened, I knew I wasn’t going to get out of this when I heard “You know.. your people made us slaves.”   I looked to my right and I saw a young man named Sean that I was an acquaintance with sort of friendly over the years, never any problems and he looked me back in the eyes dead on and said “I am sorry Howie.”  The girls ran up the steps and tried to intervene but it was too late,  I was trying to fight off 5 guys by myself and unfortunately for me I left my Chuck Norris instruction book at home.   I was getting kicked in the back while two of the guys were holding me up and I yelled ” I had nothing to do with slaves, I’m Jewish!!!”

“Oh that’s worse.. ”

I couldn’t shake them off and I think at some point Marilyn, Blanqui, and Helen (forgive me if I forgot someone) pulled me out of the fist storm I was in.   I wound up in the hospital that night with a fractured tail bone from them kicking the crap out of me.   I think the worst part for me wasn’t the beating, it was that Sean didn’t have it in him to stop them or help me.  I couldn’t win that fight but I wasn’t going to lose without trying.

Yeah, it sucked but I still don’t think it was a racial thing, I always felt it was just something else.   There are plenty of stories like this that we can share and talking about it is good but I would rather focus on the fact that the girls who were my best friends were also black, hispanic, white and other.


One of the other memories that I want to share with you is of a kid named KC in Section 5.

We had to sit in the car for hours to wait for a parking spot, sometimes we would fall asleep in the car double parked.  This night my mother and I were in the car.  We drove around for a while, you would drive in circles hoping that someone would leave.  We came down this street.

section5No place to park

On the right side, you can’t see it from here, there was or maybe still is a security booth.   I don’t remember what year they put it there but it was sometime around 1989.    So, mom and I were in the car and we saw a car speed past and turn right almost make a full 360 degree turn.  The gun shots went fast.. it was automatic and we didn’t even see it.   I can’t remember what time of night it was but it was early enough for a lot of people to be outside.

A crowd gathered around this young man home from college.  I think two people were shot and unfortunately I only remember the initials KC and the name Kevin.   I didn’t know him but we met his mother, she was holding her son dying in her arms.    The police came before the ambulance and the crowd yelled and screamed and pointed to the police 45th precinct if I remember right. “They went that way!!!!” pointing to the left up the street.   “Get them!!!”   The mother was holding her son in her arms with people screaming and I don’t remember what else was happening because I only remember his mothers face and the police driving the opposite way that the people told them to go.

Unless someone can correct me, I heard that he died.   I don’t know what happened to him though from an authority of any kind.   I just remember what I saw.   He was black and the people who shot him were black.   I don’t think that mattered much to me or mom we cried just like everyone else.

As others I am sure could tell you Co-op had a fair share of problems especially when the young man from Howard Beach 1986 was attacked and ran from some white men out into a street and was killed.   It was an unfortunate series of events including street fights and unprompted attacks of which I can’t easily quantify.

I have a lot of memories from my youth in Co-op but in my mind’s eye and from my perspective there was more love, peace and understanding from Co-op City and no known boundaries on friendship unless people created those boundaries themselves.    Sure, I experienced hate and there were questions about culture but it was more subtle and more often than not children knew about cultural differences and consideration early on.

Later when I went to school in the South Bronx I first experienced a lot of hate or disinterest but within a short period of time, I was accepted for being Howie.

What did you experience? 

Kenny in the field 14 July 2012


It has taken awhile, attached are a few photographs I requested from the combat photographer assigned to our command. He is a talented young soldier and a good man.

As you can see from the photos, life here is far from pleasant. My living conditions are much better than theirs.  The thing I look forward to most is a daily bowl of oatmeal and a cup of terrible coffee for breakfast. The food for the rest of the meals from the mess hall all tastes the same.  If I were to guess, what most of the men in the photographs look forward to, they would simply say, “tomorrow”.

This war in Afghanistan has quietly fallen from the hearts and minds of most Americans, but I know not from yours. I sincerely thank you for that.  As MacArthur so wisely reminded us:

“The soldier is the one who prays most fervently for peace for he is the one who has placed his life on the altar of freedom”.

My burns are healing.  Last week, work was done to the showers by local Afghan workers. I am now convinced they are Taliban and reversed the dual Hot and Cold knobs on purpose.  In an instant, I was scalded down the front of my chest and received 1st degree burns complete with large blisters and pain.  The worst places I applied bandages with 1st aid ointment.  I knew that was necessary due to once removed, they were yucky.  I now approach the showers differently.  I go through a long start-up and shut-down process to prevent future incidents.

I purchased a new knife here in our little PX. It is the Benchmade “330 Infidel”.  Besides really liking the name, it is a spring loaded stiletto with a 4 inch blade.  I’ve used it to remove staples so far.

As I experienced during my time in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, people stink. I hope I do not, but might. Thirty years ago, I told Pam not to throw away my bottle of “Hi Karate” and “Old Spice” cologne for I could use it now.  I am convinced the smell has to due to the food or the poor laundry process. I have been told that they do not use detergent because of possible bomb making potential.  Damn those IEDs and the bastards who are responsible for them!  So many of our good men and women are killed and severely injured by the cowards who make, plant, and install them. I read all the causality reports every day.  I consolidate them and send them forward.  You have no idea the horror I read.  It even makes my cold heart sad.

The other night’s “Fallen Hero” ceremony was especially difficult.

Because of on IED, six good men sent home to God leaving their comrades and families to morn their loss.  It does not matter how many of these ceremonies I attend, tears fall and I am unashamed.  I refuse to miss any for that is the very least I can do for those who have done their duty. You can tell when things are to go badly.  The night previously, I knew something evil this way comes when I first heard than saw multiple MEDIVAC choppers land and take off at the field hospital here in Bagram not far from my office.  Unfortunately, I predict the situation here will only get worse as we draw closer to leaving this miserable place.

Fortunately, tomorrow will be new and no one knows what it will bring.

I pray for protection, safety and success for our men and women in harms’ way. It is sad to note that I replaced the word “victory” with “success” in the previous sentence.  There will be no victory in this place called Afghanistan.  We the United States military are a decisive fighting force, period! We make our mistake(s) when we linger AFTER the victory trying to diplomatically dabble in democratic experimentation.

It is time to return to the “speak softly and carry a big stick” era, no more country building. Never works except to create a cesspool of greed, corruption, criminal activity and a considerable drain of our National treasure.  Too often that includes the loss of treasure bled from our closest allies.

Today is a new day.  Maybe, just maybe, it will be a good day.

Semper Fidelis,


CJTF-1, ID, CJ5 Assessments

Task Force Defender

Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan

APO, AE 09354