Is Bush and Company telling the truth about what is going on? This is from my home town paper!
"I'm in serious s--- here," he wrote, typing the message on his laptop, and sending it via satellite. "We are expecting to be overrun and may have
to fight our way to a safe haven. Unfortunately, all of the safe havens are already under attack." True to his nature, he added, "I don't mean to
alarm you. We'll probably be OK! I'll email when I'm safe."
Michael Bloss honored at WP memorial service
by Melanie Stephens
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle."
Entry from Mike Bloss' personal journal *
Did you know him?
Michael Bloss, a Winter Park local and Welsh native, died in Iraq this past week while working for a private security firm. Mike was killed in a gun
battle in the town of Hit, northwest of Baghdad. A beloved employee of the National Sports Center for the Disabled at Winter Park Resort for the past
eight years, Mike was also a trained security professional who had been in Iraq since mid-March.
Last Wednesday, Mike found himself in as difficult a situation as anyone could imagine, evidenced by an email sent to friends that indicated he was in
imminent danger. "I'm in serious s--- here," he wrote, typing the message on his laptop, and sending it via satellite. "We are expecting to be
overrun and may have to fight our way to a safe haven. Unfortunately, all of the safe havens are already under attack." True to his nature, he added,
"I don't mean to alarm you. We'll probably be OK! I'll email when I'm safe."
The next email came on Thursday, delivering the devastating news that Mike didn't make it. His friends report that he died a hero, fighting to hold
off attackers so that the three civilian contractors he was securing could escape.
"I want to be all I am capable of becoming."*
More than 200 of Mike's friends and colleagues came to honor him (by the way mate, don't call him Bloss!) at a memorial service held at Winter Park
Resort last Friday evening. There, they found tables filled with many of his treasured possessions&emdash;a shrine to his 38 years&emdash;a
celebration of his life, much of it lived since his 1997 arrival in the Fraser Valley. Among his many things were a pair of K2 Super Stinx telemark
skis, one of nine pairs of skis he owned, a Yeti mountain bike, flowers wreathing its high-end racing components, a thread-bare T-shirt from the
former Black Dog Mountaineering shop and his extensive collection of boxing gloves.
There were pictures hung about--one of him peaking out of the nylon flap of a tent staked behind the old Adolf's in Old Town Winter Park, where he
survived a frigid winter back in the day and a poster featuring him ripping the pow on Berthoud Pass, sporting a red helmet with a dragon pasted on
the side &endash; a symbol of pride in his Welsh heritage.
"Mike was a guy of great depth," says Beth Fox, Operations Manager at the NSCD and heartfelt friend, noting the range of people at the service.
"People with suits and ties, with nose rings and the mountain man bearded guys all came to honor him. To be able to connect with all those people,
you have to have a lot of different levels to yourself." Beth says it's these layers that made Mike such a great ski instructor. "He would connect
with students and relate with people the way they saw the world. When he was out with his students, he was all about them."
Mike got involved with the NSCD early on during his Fraser Valley days, working as a volunteer for five years before gaining the credentials through
the Professional Ski Instructor's of America that would afford him a staff position as Instructor Coordinator, which he held for three years. When on
occasion he returned to the United Kingdom to renew his visa, recalls Beth, he couldn't wait to get back to the place he considered home. "This
valley had a hold on him," she says.
"Enjoy yourself. These are 'the good old days' you'll miss in the years ahead."*
Was it was his six-foot, 185-pound sturdy frame with just a hint of belly that made him seem bigger than life? Maybe it was his strong Welsh accent or
shiny bald head that he shaved because it was cheaper than getting a haircut and more aerodynamic on the downhills. Whatever the reason, Mike left an
impression, and often drew a crowd, wherever he went. Friends say he told a great story, always outrageous and usually true with eyebrows up and eyes
bright. They would find him often at Totally Wire Cyclery, the Rocky Mountain Roastery and Winter Park Athletic Club, raising dialogue to an art form,
throwing out an occasional "Cheers," or "Buggers, let's go ski," to someone across the room.
Mike Bloss was not just a character; he was a person of character. And although he lived a typical ski town lifestyle, Mike himself was anything but
typical, as evidenced by the piles of certificates and other accolades in view at his service. Proudly displayed was his maroon beret and high-laced
boots, both worn during his service as a paratrooper and army medic in the 1st and 2nd Batallions of Parachute Regiment of the British Special
Services. Before his military service ended abruptly in the mid-90's due to a severe ankle injury, he had been deployed in Northern Ireland. Before,
during and after his military service, Mike pumped up his resume with sports and people-oriented jobs, including working as a lifeguard, a child care
officer for children with behavioral difficulties, a volleyball, orienteering, weight training and archery coach and a sports promoter. His
achievements included earning the title of South Wales Badminton Doubles Champion and he received various awards as both a coach and teacher.
In addition to skiing and biking, Mike's other love was marshall arts and he was highly accomplished in many aspects of it including Tai Boxing,
Brazilian Jujitsu, Kenpo and Kendo. Says James, himself a ranking expert, "Mike could probably break a 2 x 4 with his elbow. If I was to meet him in
an alley, I would probably use my running skills more than my fighting skills." Among Mike's friends, it was a running joke that he never officially
received high ranks for anything, because he trained in so many different places. Explains James. "He wasn't interested in the ranking. He just
wanted to build a repertoire in self defense." He recalls that in a recent training course in Virginia, Mike was named as the top student in his
class, scoring 'expert' in every aspect of weaponry, like shooting while running, sniping and even technical photography. "He was like the second
most powerful nation in the world."
It was these credentials that earned him the call from Custer Battles, which provides high-risk security services. He would likely leave on the spur
of the moment, probably before the end of the ski season. "He was really upset that he might leave NSCD in a lurch," recalls James. Although it may
have created a staffing dilemma for the NSCD, Beth says she understood his situation and was concerned for him personally. "I was begging him not to
go," she remembers. "But, Mike is the kind of guy who is going to do what he's going to do. He is a very distinct individual, who didn't let other
people's hang ups become his."
"Do not fear going forward slowly, fear only to stand still."
As close as his friendships were, Mike didn't talk much about how he felt about the overall situation in Iraq. "We never had a political
conversation about it," says James. "I'm sure he had his opinion but I never heard it." James did, however, talk extensively with his friend about
why he was going. "Some say Mike went for the money," he explains. "But, this sort of demeans what he was doing. The one thing I can say is that
Mike's character wasn't about getting rich. It's not that he didn't need the money, but it was more than that. He told me 'There are two things I
know how to do. The first one is to teach. The second one is to protect.'" Mike had spent much of his life training for this kind of work. "If he
was independently wealthy, would he have gone?" asks James, going on to answer his own question. "None of us probably would have, but none of us are
that wealthy, either. You don't go into that situation unless some part of you needs it."
Mike left for Iraq in the middle of March. "He knew what he was getting into, but the situation changed rapidly," says James. Mike called his friend
from Baghdad a week before his death, telling him the situation was taking him closer and closer to danger. "If there was ever a time to express
fear, that would have been it. He knew he was heading to Fellujah. But, he was very methodical and precise about it all." Mike used his precious
minutes on the phone to share details of the challenge of traveling on the roads--avoiding fire from the enemy while preventing misunderstandings with
the U.S. military.
Friends watched as the situation in Iraq worsened. Just days after that phone call, four contractors were brutally murdered by extremists in Fellujah,
their charred corpses drug through the streets and hung from a bridge. Then, a few days later, Mike's friends received what would be his last email.
James, the kind of friend who can identify what year a picture of Mike was taken by see the color of shell he was wearing, offers insight on how Mike
might have handled these final challenges. "We have skied steep chutes on Berthoud Pass and mountain biked everywhere. Mike was fearless in every
aspect of his life. I mean, he used to fight his brother-in-law, who is the Welsh heavyweight kick boxing champion with an arm the size of Mike's
head! When we sparred, he never took a step backwards. He was always coming at you."
Through his years in the Fraser Valley, the people here became Mike's family. Estranged from his father for ten years, his mother died last year. He
has a sister and nieces who he adored. "He was an effervescent personality that gave this valley a lift. He connected with so many people and we are
richer for having him here," says Beth.
Did you know him?
If not, you will surely recognize him, because he is so much a part of who we are. We will miss him.
* Reprinted with permission from Mike's journal