"For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." John 1:16

A place for us to document and share the grace upon grace we have received.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Amazing - The Pine Cove Way!

I think this is old news for most people that know us...but John made it back from Afghanistan and surprised us at Pine Cove Family Camp!  It was amazing and since last Wednesday, our life has been a whirlwind in the best way.  We are so thankful for all the family and friends that have supported us over the past 6 months and now share in our joy.  The theme at Pine Cove  http://www.pinecove.com/ was to FIGHT - for your marriage, families, children, and neighbors.  It comes from the scripture in Nehemiah 4:14: 


 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

And so we do remember the Lord, who is GREAT and AWESOME and has provided for us in so many ways as we endured this trial.

We have traveled to Pine Cove for 8 summers now and every year there has been something really special for our family.  We are thankful to the staff that recorded our special event and provided the video and pictures.  If anyone is looking for a true vacation from cooking and chores, needs a place of purpose and refuge, wants to make some awesome friends, and your children will talk about it all year long, then we urge you to check out Pine Cove.

Here is the link to the video...just in case!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igHkrLlO3m0&sns=fb

Our 2 oldest daughters, Emma and Lauren jumping into daddy's arms!  Preciousness!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mother's Day

I am just getting around to posting a few pictures from Mother's Day.  It seems that I have been battling allergies and now some sort of respiratory infection the past few weeks and of course that makes everything harder. Nevertheless, the children went out of their way to make Mother's Day special!  We went to church and on the way home, they said that Dad had called in Macaroni Grill and I was to drive there to pick it up! That was nice! They also had gifts of chocolate, bath salts,  and very thoughtful cards.  They cleaned up lunch and let me nap.  We all missed daddy but all in all it was a nice day.  I will have to try and top that for Father's Day??!!

Logan's special card for me.


The children before lunch.

Daddy had sent his signature to Emma to print off for my Mother's Day card.  The kids picked out the card that read, "There is nothing that can come between us...except the kids!" Funny!

My sweet gifts!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

B-Huts and Belly Laughs

I have enjoyed writing about my B-Hut accommodations, all the while still thankful that it was mostly warm at night, even during the coldest parts of winter. On the whole, it's not too bad a place and I am grateful for simply having anywhere to lay my head each night. Nonetheless, you have to enjoy some good laughs now and then at some of the irony regarding the emphasis around safety in Afghanistan.

This particular YouTube video gave me a good belly laugh because it describes the B-huts extremely well and does so in quite a funny way. Although slightly exaggerated, it's closer to true than not. B-Huts are definitely not the place you want to be during rocket attacks because if the projectile doesn't hurt you when it penetrates the plywood, the B-Hut will burn down in less than 30 seconds once it's on fire since it's a 100% plywood structure. Either way, not a good situation! We laugh about it because we have to wear these silly reflective belts at night to avoid getting run over by large tactical vehicles, yet somehow it's ok to sleep out in the open, completely undefended. How do you reconcile that?

60 days and counting! Home is getting closer.

John


Monday, May 7, 2012

April Catch Up


It has been a little over two weeks since I moved in to our home in Schertz (San Antonio).  The family is gone and people are back to their routines.  We too, are working on establishing our new routines, schedules, chore charts, selecting activities to plug into, and finding our new way of life...again.  The boxes are gone and the house is fairly normal.  There are still a few pictures to hang and a few curtains to be hung.  For the most part though we are settled.  After six weeks of being focused on the move, I am now back facing the reality that my husband is deployed.  We have a new bed that he will not sleep in for several more months.  I keep thinking I will just wait until John is home in a week or so and he can handle the mail that is piling up, the ladder that needs to be taken downstairs (ok I just moved it!), finish hanging the pictures on the walls and can help put the children to bed at night.  I have such a better appreciation for all that deployed families experience now that we are facing it personally.

I do have much more support here though, and for that I am thankful.  I have already met a couple new neighbors that have husbands deployed. I look forward to getting together with them.  I have had such good conversations at church!  We are having to juggle activities since there are so many opportunities!  So on the whole, it is much better to be here.  However, I still have a 2 year old and I still have a teenager!  And I have a few children in between that need lots!  In fact, if daddy doesn't get home soon....my five year old may need a counselor...or I might!  All in all, April will be another of those monumental months in the life of the Childs' family.  We continue to give God thanks for his protection of us during the travels (I was rear ended in John's car the day we were moving but all was ok), and the protection of John.  John had a semi- fun birthday Afghanistan style, but he certainly felt loved by so many!  I have felt that love too!  Thank you!

Here are a few fun random pictures from the last month.


Flat Daddy still travels with us!

Easter Cookies

Lily feeding daddy a crouton!

Emma went to Family Gala...a fun home school event!

Every time I turn around Lauren is upside down...I did get her into gymnastics here!

Logan doing a cartwheel on a last trip to the beach

I see a theme...my children are usually upside down!  Luke loved being in the house with no furniture!

Hiking the Moss Preserve in Birmingham...we spent some time with John's parents before we left.

At the Peach Park...a special place south of Birmingham where John took me when we were dating!  You get homemade ice cream and fresh fruit and sit on swings! 

Lily on the trampoline...thank you to so many who put up, took down, and then put up the trampoline!

At the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham.  


Thank you to so many people who continue to bless our family by helping with the driving, teaching my children at church, inviting me for coffee and just stopping for conversation!  

Monday, April 30, 2012

Getting Old in a War Zone

I turned the magic "40" a couple of days ago (Apr 28) so got to experience the momentous occasion in Afghanistan. Having just returned from Kuwait the day prior on an overnight flight (so no sleep for 24 hours), I actually slept through most of my actual birthday. However, thanks to a number of efforts from Amy, my Mom, and my JC2RT teammates (particularly Jennifer Hatzfeld), my birthday was a special one, despite being so far from home. I found out the office in San Antonio even had a full blown birthday party. I apparently even attended in the form of an anatomical skeleton dressed up as me! Watching the video of my actual birthday party was a bit surreal, and the caricature of me was quite funny (and I will confess too close for comfort)! Thanks to everyone who made the day special. Here are a few of the birthday photos from Afghanistan:








John

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Welcome Home!

The month of April has been a busy one for our family! It has been a long several weeks, emotionally and physically draining at times, but I am so thankful for many things!  We had some hard "good byes" in Ocean Springs and we had some sweet  "hellos" in Texas!  It never really gets easier moving even when we are going back to a situation we are familiar with and love. To pick up a family and move across states with 5 children and a husband overseas is still fairly crazy...but it is done!  Now just the re-adjusting, organizing and figuring out life here...I want to tell you all more, but after non stop days, I think I have hit my wall and am exhausted!   I am trying to catch up a bit, but did want to post a couple pictures!  We are so thankful for the meals stocked in our freezer, the milk in our fridge, the help unpacking, setting up the trampoline, the computers and internet, the childcare, and the list goes on.  I am amazed at how many people just knew what they needed to do to help...they said "there will be time to chat later, lets get unpacking!"  And we did!  I get tears just thinking about the love shown to our family in this journey.  It is not over yet...John is still in Afghanistan (actually right now I think he is in Kuwait for a project) and even after he gets back, we will have to be apart a bit...but for now God has brought us back to our home in Schertz....and we are thankful!  May we be faithful!
Lily rubbing mommy's feet with lotion...they hurt!

Lily feeding Daddy a crouton on Skype

Logan in a pair of John's overalls

Good Bye Ocean Springs

The neighbor's made a going away sign

Good bye dinner with the Crawfords (neighbors in MS)

Welcome Home to Texas!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Halfway to Home


Before anyone criticizes my interpretation of the lyrics, I am fully aware that this song from Building 429, Where I Belong, refers to the fact that as believers, we are in a sense strangers here on Earth (Psalm 119:19 and 1 Peter 2:11). Our home is in heaven so Earth is not where we belong in the eternal sense. However, since these song lyrics are not the inspired Word of God unlike Scripture, I am going to take some liberties and twist its meaning to suit my own state of mind at the moment. I officially hit the halfway mark in Afghanistan today! That being said, I can definitely say consistent with the chorus of this song that Afghanistan is fortunately not my home!

"All I know is I'm not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong"

We will no doubt look back on this experience as one of the best of our lives. After all, Amy and the kids are headed back home to San Antonio on Wednesday, which in all likelihood would not have happened absent my deployment. Similarly, I belong at home with Amy and the kids (not Afghanistan!) and am looking forward to a safe return in only another 3 months!

Here’s to halfway home!

John

Friday, April 6, 2012

100 Days and Counting

I've officially been in Afghanistan now for 79 days, which leaves 100 to go...almost in 2-digit territory! In other terms, I am 44.1341% (precision counts) of the way through. The flip side is that I only have 55.8659% of my deployment remaining. I have "expired" 1,896 hours or 113,760 minutes or 6,825,600 seconds. This means I only have 2,400 hours or 144,00 minutes or 8.640,000 seconds left. Of course, if you count from the time I left home for pre-deployment training (which was ~12 days) rather than when I arrived into Afghanistan, the math gets more complicated.

But, who is counting anyways!:) In simple terms, halfway is just around the corner and then it's downhill from there!

John

Friday, March 30, 2012

B-Huts and Mobile Homes


What do B-Huts and mobile homes have in common? We’ve all seen the images on television after a tornado rips through a town. Mobile homes and other structures that are not hardened are obviously the most vulnerable, hence where there is typically a disproportionate amount of destruction in these areas. Of course, the news is also geared around the destruction sites, so we see disproportionately numbers of residents in mobile home parks being interviewed. I even remember thinking as a kid that tornadoes simply had it out for mobile homes and carved out their path accordingly!

I am not speaking with any data here so take these comments with a grain of salt (and a sense of humor please), but here’s the analogy. I am curious if the same holds true for IDF (our “hurricanes” at Bagram) and B-Huts (even more vulnerable than a mobile home because it’s nothing more than a ply wood box). The IDF is intermittent but it’s safe to say that it seems like at least once a week is not uncommon. It's harmless enough most of the time, but when you hear stories about people getting hurt, my recollection is that folks always seem to be in their B-Hut when it happens! After all, they are highly vulnerable since they are made of 100% wood (and will burn down in less than 30 seconds if there is a fire). Speaking of which, I laugh when I see the smoke alarm in my room because I am not sure I’d have time to wake up and get out before the whole thing went up in flames!

In any event (and I am not sure this logic flows), I have to wear a yellow reflective belt anytime after dusk (safety, safety, safety as everyone says) so I don’t get run over by any number of the really large tactical vehicles driving around base like the MRAP. It seems odd to me then that I would be asked to live in a B-Hut, where I spend at least 7-8 hours a day, most of that sleeping. Dead to the world, I am completely unaware of the risk around me. In all fairness, many others at forward operating bases live in tents, so it’s hard to complain. Nonetheless, I think I will keep using a bit of common sense and spend as much of my awake time at the hospital and other hardened buildings and just entertain the odds in my B-Hut while sleeping.

Of course, the great news is that God is sovereign, so all of this is as much for humor and self reflection as anything else. Nonetheless, I appreciate you hearing out a live version of my stream of consciousness this evening! I am genuinely thankful to even have a roof over my head and am still in a relative place of safety.

John

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Decision to Move

I thought I would express a few of my (our thoughts) about the decision we have made to move back to San Antonio.  I never thought I would be in this place (making a decision to move my household by myself and also committing to having 2 household for a little over a year once John returns)...but after much prayer and counsel this is where we stand.  Right after John was deployed, many people suggested I move back "home."  The hard thing was that we had rented our house in San Antonio with a 2 year lease.  So we had no place to go back to and we did not feel that it was God's will to start over with a new house or rental.  However, about a month ago, our renters asked us if we would even consider letting them out of their lease early as they wanted to move onto base.  They have since found out that their father/dad is getting deployed later this year.  We wanted to honor their request and we also viewed this as God opening an amazing door in providing a way back!  Therefore, we have begun the process of all the logistics associated with a move of this type.  We do understand that once John returns from deployment he will still have some time at Keesler before he can retire.  We know he will be managing several projects back in San Antonio and we experienced how often he needed to travel for work even in the four months we were here. 


There have been times when I have felt a little overwhelmed with all my emotions and the thoughts of moving by myself.  One of the gifts my husband has is the ability to assimilate information, ponder it, and make a decision.  That is it!  He is a good decision maker and he doesn't typically look back.  He does make decisions prayerfully and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  However, he is not one to question how God leads him.  This has been helpful to me, as I find myself not so confident sometimes.  I do believe this will be a good thing for our family.  The children are elated!


Yesterday, I was waiting for a child to be done with music lessons and I was driving around the area thinking and praying.  The other children were in the back watching a movie (don't judge me!) and I was able to see real beauty here.  It was in the trees, in some new parks I found, and I thought "God does have beauty in many places and many forms"  For the past 9 months it has been hard for me to see the beauty here.  I am so thankful that my memories of this time in our life will be of that beauty and growth.  It has been so hard and so good.  I have referenced the pruning process of God so many times.  We are pruned down to the branches.  I pray now for even more growth and fruitfulness.  I am also overwhelmed that God would be so gracious to provide a path for us to get back to San Antonio...through a deployment that I NEVER would have imagined.  


I am so appreciative of all your support.  I still have the summer to get through without John.  We will go on our summer vacation without daddy. The boys still cry at night.  So does Lauren.  So do I sometimes.  Lily is still 2 and Emma is still a teenager! The other night Logan asked, "Mommy, has it been 6 weeks in my lifetime yet?"  I finally realized he was trying to figure out when daddy would be home (6 months+his training time).  Right now a paper chain of 110 days is still too much for a 5 year old.  


I thought you might like to see a picture of John...I am thankful to talk with him most days!
There are some great murals on the hallways of the hospital so I get to see him with a good backdrop!

Monday, March 26, 2012

March Catch Up!

I know it has been a while since I updated this blog.  There are good reasons...however the biggest reason is that I am just busy with life.  Also, as many of you may have noticed if you have been reading this blog...my husband is a much better writer than I!  His blog posts have been quite entertaining even for me and I usually get to talk with him at least briefly, once a day.  If you have been reading them, you may have discerned that he has settled into a groove and is making the most of his "sabbatical."  He has been doing an amazing amount of reading (non-professional type stuff).  In fact, for 3 days in a row, he sent me copies of books for my Kindle that I was to read.  I tried to explain to him, that I was not having 12 or more hours a day to devote to reading pleasure material and I was going to need a little time!  I have read 2 out of the 3...hence why I have not been blogging!

He is also having a really intense spiritual retreat so to speak.  It has been so neat to see how God is allowing this time to be incredibly fruitful in his life...and I know that he will be an even better husband, father and more godly man because of it.  For that I am thankful!

 I have also had some precious visits from dear friends.  Karen Fergason and 4 of her 6 children made the drive from San Antonio to spend a few days with us.  We had lots of fun, drank coffee, let the kids stay up late, and we (or at least I) did more talking than I have done in a long time.  Karen and I have been through many ups and downs over the past 8 years as we have added children to our families, fostered, she adopted, our husbands are in similar fields of work, and we have home schooled together for 8 years as well.  When they left, I realized how thirsty my children have been for their long time comfortable friends...and me too!


All the kids at Fort Maurpas Park (a favorite place of ours)

They arrived!

We popped our head in the Hard Rock (it has one of the only Starbucks in a 50 mile radius around here!)

Lovelace Drugstore...we got the kids ice cream at 10:00 am!  That is how much fun we were having!

The other side of the ice cream counter.

A few days later, I had another visit from a dear lady who has spent many years mentoring me over coffee and soup at some of our favorite places in San Antonio.  Darcie Newton has been so willing to make time for me and my family in the midst of balancing her own 8 children and their families.  I was so appreciative to have her in my home (of course Lily was super sick and cranky, Logan was at his worst, and it rained much of the time she was here).  Through it all, she was able to gently share some areas I could work on as a mother and wife, encourage me, pray with me and my children, and keep reminding me of the truths of our God!

Lauren was not here for Darcie's visit because my parent's had taken her back to Tucson to go to Mexico and see some whales!  For many years, my parents have taken friends and families to see the whales as they migrate around Baja Mexico.  Several of the grandchildren have gone as well.  This year it was Lauren's turn!  They also set up a medical clinic for the people of Mexico and Lauren got to play with the children as they waited to be seen by the doctors and dentists. The whales are so gentle and come right up to the boat so you can touch them.  At the same time they are so powerful!



Grandma, Aunt Cathy, Lauren and Papa Wally


March was a full month...It was also the month when we decided that I would move back to Texas with the children!!!  I will blog next time more about the decision and maybe John will too!



They call Al Udeid a deployment?!


I spent a few days last week at Al Udeid just outside Doha, Qatar last week. I can’t believe they call this place a deployment because it is much closer to U.S. standards than the typical war zone type conditions I’ve grown accustomed to a Bagram (ie, it was nice!). I spent a fair amount of time sitting in the lobby area of the BX (which was as nice as many stateside) drinking a cup of my familiar Starbucks. The wifi was U.S. standard fast and also free (I pay $90 a month at Bagram to go turtle speed). There is also a Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Arby's, in addition of course to the Dairy Queen that is attached to an outdoor pool that rivals any pool you would see stateside. The gym was nicer than most gyms stateside, to include multiple workout areas for any purpose, large screen televisions (w/ local cable), indoor lap pool, and locker rooms.

Al Udeid will likely remain a staging base in the Middle East for many years after our exit from Iraq and Afghanistan, hence perhaps part of the reason it is so well built up. Nonetheless, the service members fortunate enough to deploy here are hopefully able to appreciate it as it’s not much different than home, other than being away from family of course, which is still a big one. I would be more than happy to host anyone at Al Udeid who doubts me on a trip to Bagram. I will even put you up in my glorious B-hut for free!:)

Although it was a great trip, it was good to get back “home” to Bagram, never mind the intermittent IDF, lots of pot holes, and a generally run down base that looks like it’s in a war zone (oh, it is!). It was a great trip though and a nice break from a few days of the “Bagram Blues”. Spring is on the way though at Bagram, and I was able to run the perimeter around the base for nice, long run (~8 miles). So, I have plenty to be thankful for so please don’t hear me complaining. In fact, service members at forward operating bases or outposts probably think Bagram is THE place to be when it’s a dump compared to Al Udeid.

The lesson for me is to redouble my efforts to always be thankful, no matter the circumstance. I should be able to smile with gratitude for the rest of my life about the smallest of life’s pleasures after my deployment. We don’t always have the little things.

John






Thursday, March 15, 2012

Unbroken


One of the books I just finished reading was Unbroken. This is the story of track star Louie Zamperini who competed in the 1936 BerlinOlympics. While training for the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo, WWII broke out and Zamperini became a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, ending up being a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down over enemy waters. Our team has been passing it around, and I finally got my chance to read it this weekend. I was so captivated by the story that I spent virtually all of Saturday afternoon and into the wee hours of the morning reading it in a single sitting (and I am a slow reader). I won’t spoil it for those of you who might be so inclined to pick it up and read it, but as the subtitle says, it’s a story of “survival, resilience, and redemption”. As you know from my previous posts, I am sucker for inspirational real life stories. This book certainly fits in that genre of war stories and one of the best I’ve read. As Paul explains in Romans 1:20, even non believers are aware there is a God and instead suppress the truth. This was true for Louie Zamperini as there is nothing like near death experiences that awaken that reality even in the most hardened of hearts. So, for any of my non believing friends who might follow the blog regularly and be so inclined to read the book, be forewarned…it might change your life! Speaking of which, I had a sense of de ja vu while reading the book but couldn’t remember where I heard a reference to his story. Amy reminded me that Pastor Blakey alluded to his story during one of his sermons awhile back. Perhaps I will find it in one of my 53 remaining sermon podcasts! If there are any BF readers out there who have a specific date in mind, please let me know.

John

Monday, March 12, 2012

Deployment Movies and Books


One of the advantages of a deployment is that you have intermittent periods of “hurry up and wait” moments that are opportune for deep thinking, reflection, prayer, and abundant reading. Not to be overly critical of how others spend their down time during deployment, but I can only watch so many movies, and I just can’t stand watching sitcom series...a complete waste of time in my hyper pragmatic brain because of the false reality they project (ie, why watch fantasy). I do have a hard time resisting inspirational sports movies like Hoosiers, Remember the Titans, Rudy, Facing the Giants, and the like, a few of which I have seen since being here. I still get choked up at the same points in the movie as if I am seeing it for the first time. I also watch the occasional "chick flick” with Amy (I am no dummy and have learned a few things over 17 years of marriage!). Limiting too much television while deployed is easy because there are so few options and virtually everything is delayed anyways. Our team got together last night to watch the movie Courageous. It’s not an inspirational sports movie per se but in the same genre as Facing the Giants and Fireproof, all 3 of which are worth seeing if you haven’t already.

I thought I’d also give an update on some of the books I’ve been reading, which for me is a much more logical and productive way to spend time. First and foremost, I am still tracking to read the Bible (it needs no hyperlink I hope!) through this year, which I try to keep as my top priority (ie, no other reading until I am current in my Bible reading plan). I have read the Bible through a few times, but it always takes me longer than a year because I invariably get behind. This year, I have no excuse. Bear in mind I had no excuses before either but I pretended a few. In addition to my Bible reading, I am trying to read about a book a week. I started off with some light reading, Tim Tebow’s recent book Through My Eyes (remember, I am a sucker for inspirational sports stories). I have also finished reading Jim Collins’ recent book, Great by Choice along with Mark Levin’s book, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto and John Maxwell’s book, Thinking for a Change. Other books that I have queued up on my Kindle are John MacArthur’s Slave and Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong. I will also soon be reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. As I have alluded to previously, I also am re-listening to Pastor Blakey’s 2010, 2011, and 2012 year to date sermons on my iPod when running on the treadmill. I have about 53 to go, so I should be current by the end of my deployment.

Of course, none of this reading, thinking, prayer, and reflection matters unless it influences how you think and more importantly motivates action. For all of the difficulties being away from Amy and the kids (I would still come home tomorrow if I could), it’s humbling to watch the Lord use this extended “sabbatical” (sounds more academic than a military deployment, which suits me better!) to do some amazing works in my own life and that of our family. My prayer is simply that you might be encouraged through my own journey asking “why me” regarding this deployment, only to be quickly reminded that God’s timing is never early or late. He is always on time according to His sovereign plan and working all things for His good (not my immediate pleasure). For the first time in 2 months since I left, I can genuinely say that as much as I am looking forward to going home, I am glad I am here.

John

Friday, March 9, 2012

Rocket Attacks at Kandahar are No Joking Matter


Not that we don't take indirect fire (IDF) seriously at Bagram, but at Kandahar, they up their "IDF game" to the hilt. I was running on the treadmill one afternoon at the gym when a rocket attack alarm went off. All of a sudden, everyone in the gym was lying down prone. Yours truly did what I normally do, which is to keep on doing whatever I am doing, only to realize I was the only one in the gym left standing. I pretty quickly remembered and heeded my own advice to others that "when in Rome, do what the Romans do". I quickly got down and joined them! Of course, I learned afterwards more of the reasoning for their IDF procedures. The rationale for lying down is that most of the "arc of shrapnel" that typically occurs following impact happens several feet off the ground such that if you're lying down, any shrapnel will hopefully go over the top of you. You also want your head to be away from the mountains because this is the direction the rockets tend to come from. If your head is facing "downrange", any shrapnel headed your direction is more likely to strike somewhere else on your body besides your head.

I had another interesting (and fortunately funny) IDF experience at Kandahar as well when a member of our team and I were driving around base at night after dinner. All of a sudden, he slammed on the breaks and yelled out "rocket attack, rocket attack!!!" having seen a very bright light in the sky. The suddenness of his warning startled me, but I quickly realized all he was seeing was the afterburner of an F-16 that was just taking off on the runway. We had a good laugh about it (I suspect I could have made the same mistake), but it just goes to show that you get a bit "jumpy" when you're in a war zone and are always thinking disaster is just around the corner. It's good we carry our weapons on safe because this at least gives you that extra couple of seconds to make an accurate judgment as to whether your situational assessment is accurate or not. It's easy to do stupid things when you get too on edge, but you can get yourself killed by being too lackadaisical as well. I like the saying I heard the other day from a Marine who said, "I don't shoot back. I shoot first". I pray I never have to shoot at all, despite probably disappointing my 5-year old son Logan who still asks me if I’ve killed anybody yet. He even asks the question with a hopeful optimism that today is the day I get to tell him the story about the Taliban I killed (only the mind of a child). I can live with my son being disappointed with me on this one.

John

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Return Trip to Bagram from Kandahar


Rather than coming back on a C-130, which is the norm for the relatively short flight between Bagram and Kandahar, someone fortunately suggested that I try and take a "STOL" flight , which I did. As it turns out, there are civilian contract airlines that supplement the military airlift system in theater, especially for passenger transport. The actual aircraft was a DASH 8-100 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombardier_Dash_8), which is the same airplane used by some of the regional carriers in the United Express. "STOL" indicates that this airplane has excellent capabilities for "short takeoffs and landings", which is essential given many of the small runways at the forward operating bases (FOBs) in Afghanistan. No offense to my C-130 friends, but I'll take a STOL flight any day, which was (at least for a war zone) actually very comparable to flying on the regional airlines in the states. Our "showtime" was 10 am, and we took off around 11:30. Landing at Bagram around 1:00 PM, I was back at my office by 1:15 PM. We even had our own "combat stewardess" who read all the various FAA boilerplate you get on stateside flights, showed us how to put on our seatbelt, how to use the oxygen mask, etc. (yep, regulators like the FAA even regulate in war!). I even had to be reminded by the stewardess to turn off my cell phone. However, this was a welcome reprimand because I am accustomed to receiving it when I travel stateside because I am always trying to grab that last minute email. It felt just like back at home!

Of course, when we landed back at Bagram, I quickly became reacclimatized to the fact that I was back in the slums. I am exaggerating because it’s actually not that bad. However, the weather in Kandahar was terrific comparatively so my bias was leaning heavy in that direction. Although no longer at "Club Kandahar", Bagram has become home to me over the last couple of months. I even found myself breathing a sigh of relief when I crawled into my bed in my plywood B-Hut box that night since I was “back home”. It's always good to be home, no matter where the "vacation".

John

Monday, March 5, 2012

Top 10 – Things I Miss the Most about the U.S.


1.     Amy and the kids – This is by far #1 on the list. There is no comparison.
2.     Everyone else I am used to interacting with on a regular basis - It’s primarily about the people, not the stuff.
3.     Reliable internet – It’s apparently much better than previous years but still sketchy service and very slow. I am thankful though to have connectivity. Many outside the wire do not.
4.     Multi-ply toilet paper – You can read about it here if you need further explanation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper).
5.     Access to indoor restrooms and showers a la stateside standards (are you starting to get the point?:))
6.     Real time news and sports – We have Armed Forces Network, but it’s mostly delayed and with a limited selection.
7.     My bed at home – More importantly, I miss the individual who sleeps next to me in it!
8.     Wearing civilian clothes - I am proud to wear the uniform but getting tired of wearing it 24-7.
9.     Driving a car – This is when I did most of my talking on the phone. I now have to carve out time during my day to get this done.
10.  Ruth’s Chris – I eat there on trips to San Antonio since I typically stay at a hotel nearby. “Surf and turf” on Friday night in Afghanistan is a good try, but it’s no match for a 12 oz filet medium rare.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Trip Down South to Kandahar


I've been in Kandahar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kandahar) over the last week or so doing site visits and meeting with our team members there. If you're not familiar, Kandahar is located in the southern part of Afghanistan, which is where the majority of the fighting is currently happening. Despite the reality of being in the middle of where all the action is going on around you, the irony is that I can also now understand why they call it "Club Kandahar". Despite lots of fighting in the area, Kandahar has a bit of a "Club Med" type feel to it, at least compared to Bagram, which is more slum like if you want my humble opinion. Kandahar has a boardwalk that rivals some of what you see in the U.S. alongside various beaches (i.e., San Diego, Myrtle Beach, etc.)…minus the water of course. Even the PX/BX at Kandahar rivals a really bad PX/BX stateside. It's by no means a resort compared to U.S. standards so perhaps "summer camp" would be the appropriate analogy. I sat in a TGI Friday's one night for a couple of hours getting some work done and almost lost sight of the fact I was even deployed.

The other fascinating part about Kandahar was the business and diversity of the flight line activity. I ran around the flight line one afternoon (in very comfortable 70 degree sunny weather compared to a 40 degree haze at Bagram I might add) and saw virtually every aircraft in the inventory (and many NATO aircraft as well) take off and land at some point during the 8-mile jaunt.  I wish I had pictures to share but you can't take pictures of the flight line due to security concerns. Since Kandahar is led by NATO rather than the U.S., it also has more of a laid back European feel to it. For example, you can wear your running suit to the DFACs, whereas at Bagram you have to be in your duty uniform. Kandahar is also a "no salute" base which also adds to a sense of more levity there. Each country even has its own DFAC so you have a good selection of different types of food.

Because I didn't have a good office there to work from, my connectivity at Kandahar wasn't as good as it is at Bagram. However, Sprint still had good international data coverage in Kandahar, which was a great backup. Interestingly, I set up a mobile office each night in the community bathroom of the dorm where I was staying because I had a roommate on most nights and didn't want to disturb him late in the evening. I can now check off on my life list of "to dos" of having had a mobile office in a bathroom...hopefully something I never do again! However, the rooms were still much better than the B-Huts because they at least had indoor plumbing, good insulation and heating, and concrete floors.

Here are a few photos from the trip (bear in mind for security reasons I try to be careful not to show too many pictures of people who might not want their faces to be shown on a blog).


A local ice cream shop on the Boardwalk


Looking down the Boardwalk...it has 4 sides to it so basically a square


I stopped here to get a strawberry smoothie after going to the gym.


They have a Nathan's hotdog stand along with TGI Friday's and Kentucky Fried Chicken.


This was the soccer field in the center of the Boardwalk. It also had a running track and hockey rink in the center.

I am back safe and sound. I will have a few more follow-up posts from the Kandahar trip soon!

John

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Top 10 – Places to Go

I have listed below the top 10 places I tend to visit at Bagram. Before reviewing them, the most important are what we refer to as the “triangle of life”. This is 1) where you sleep, 2) where you work, and 3) where you eat. We call it the triangle of life because these are places you have to go to on a daily basis at a minimum. Everything else is mostly optional. If you get outside of the “triangle of life” and go to other places, which you’re certainly free to do, you’re unnecessarily increasing the risk of getting hit by indirect fire. Generally speaking, you are fine if you’re in a hardened building as most of the rockets are not sophisticated enough to penetrate concrete. The bottom line is that you have to think seriously about whether it’s worth it to go outside the “triangle of life”. In some instances, it certainly is, some examples of which are listed below.

1.     Chapel – I have been going to a contemporary service that starts at 10:30. Fellowship with other believers each week is a major highlight. The chapel is actually very close to our main offices and on the way to the DFAC so not too far outside the “triangle of life”.
2.     Aviation DFAC – A group of us go to brunch on Sunday morning after chapel.
3.     USO near the PAX terminal (AKA passenger terminal or airport) – They make coffee the same way every time…nice and strong. It has a western, rustic feel to it so I feel like I am in a rustic cabin in the middle of nowhere Texas….relaxing place. I tend to only go here when I have to go to the Passenger Termnial (PAX) to pick someone up or when I am headed out on a theater trip.
4.     PX/BX – Calling it shopping would be an overstatement because they are frequently out of things, but it’s a worthwhile diversion a couple of times a week to grab a cup of coffee at the Green Bean or eat at Pizza Hut or Popeye’s to break up the DFAC routine. This is also where I get my haircut.
5.     Gym – I spend at least an hour a day here. This is outside the triangle of life, but it’s a core essential for my mental health. It’s also very close to our main office (less than a 30 second walk) so not far outside the “triangle of life”.
6.     Pink Palace – If I’ve blogged about it once, I’ve blogged about it a hundred times, but this is one of my favorites because it’s where my favorite restroom is located. Hey, when the basics of life are well attended to, life works better. This is definitely a necessary deviation from the “triangle of life”.
7.     Shower at the hospital – Once I took my first shower here, I have not taken a shower in the “Cadillac” since. I almost feel like at home. We also have an office at the hospital so this is within my “triangle of life”.
8.     Nutritional medicine department at the hospital – This is where the best wifi signal is located on the entire base I think. This particular wifi is exclusive to the Air Force because of a past squabble with the Army where they wouldn’t agree to foot their portion of the tab. So, the Air Force paid for all of it and then subsequently cut off the Army’s access. Your access is actually linked to your computer id so even sharing passwords doesn’t work. They seriously don’t want Army folks on it! A friend of mine who is a dietician has an office in this hotspot area. She is extremely kind to loan it to me late in the evening after she’s gone. I typically work from this office until the wee hours of the morning for what I call my “U.S. day” because it’s daytime in the U.S. and when I am able to engage the ongoing research agenda back in the States, do conference calls, etc. Everyone who graciously tells me I should be more separated doesn’t know me well enough…staying engaged at home is rest and relaxation for me. In fact, I feel most at home here more than anywhere else on Bagram I think…a nice office, good wifi, coffee around the corner, and a quality conference phone that I can use to reach out to anyone in the world. This is probably my favorite spot here.
9.      “Motel 8” – This is where our main offices are located. We are fortunate to have a nice “conference room” that is actually a couple of sofas and a big screen TV (shhh, it’s a conference room to everyone else). We even have our own washer and dryer, which is a perk. I tend to work at our Motel 8 offices in the morning and hospital office in the afternoon. Those who know me know I can’t sit in the same spot for too long. I like to move around and change up the scenery.
10.  Dragon sandwich shop – On my way back to my B-Hut from the hospital in the early am just prior to going to bed, I stop here around 2:00 am and grab a cup of soup. I usually then head back to the “Motel 8” and wind down with a cup of soup and some U.S. news on television before going to bed.

After unwinding, I then head back to my B-hut to around 3:00 am and go to bed. I wake up around 9:00 am and then the routine starts all over again. For me, the routine keeps the time moving along.

John

Monday, February 27, 2012

Top 10 Things You Hear in Afghanistan


1.     “Incoming, incoming, incoming” – What we hear over the loudspeakers on base when there is indirect fire (IDF) inbound. Although frequent, I am still not used to this…scary to me.
2.     “All clear” – What hopefully follows the above soon after.
3.     Are you ok? – Hopefully the answer is “yes” when you do accountability checks after IDF.
4.     “Panther 777 (this is a typical call sign for a flight in theater), your flight to Kandahar has been cancelled. You will be re-manifested on another flight that leaves in 6 hours. Please do not leave the holding area in the interim.” – Travel in theater is generally sketchy and takes at least 1-2 days on each end to get to where you are going. A week trip in calendar days is perhaps 3 days of business and 4 days of hurry up and wait. I will never again complain about travel stateside.
5.     “Afgarristan” – We’ve been here so long that Bagram feels more like a base back home other than the IDF. However, only “real” Soldiers who go outside the wire actually use this term. This is still a major austere war zone from my perspective!:)
6.     “Do you want to go to Dragon, North, Meat Shack, Colie, or Aviation?” – We go through this routine at least twice, sometimes 3 times a day in deciding where to eat.
7.     “I’ll be at the Pink Palace” – Perhaps TMI but the closest “real” restroom to our office, about a 5 minute walk. I visit there whenever I can.:)
8.     “Is your internet working?” – The internet is constantly going in and out so there’s this ongoing debate as to whether it’s your computer or a service outage. I don’t know why we ask because it’s never your computer acting up….
9.     “That’s hodgie” – This term probably has some derogatory etymology that is lost on me, but this is the term to describe things when they break (ie toilets, TVs, etc.)….most things, in other words at Bagram are “hodgie” because they often don’t work right. To use the previous example, the internet is “hodgie”.
10.  “How many more days do you have left?” – It’s like you walk around with a countdown clock on your chest. Everyone knows their number of days left like they do their social security number and birthday. Mine is 127.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Park Day!

Some days we just need to go to the park!  We were waiting for Emma during her music lesson and so she is not in the pictures.









I love these ones! (and Emma!)