By far, the most down moment for me personally was when we headed out of Manas for Bagram on a C-17 in the early am with the temperature at 20 degrees below zero. The engines had a hard time starting because of the cold so we had no heat on the airplane. It was frigid to say the least. If you’ve ever been in the cold for a prolonged period of time, you know that there is not much more demoralizing than being extremely cold! After about 3 additional cold hours sitting the C-17 awaiting takeoff, we finally got on our way. Decked out in all my gear, now flying into a combat zone, that was when it hit me that my delusion about coming home soon wasn’t going to happen. I was headed somewhere I didn’t want to go for too long a time away from Amy and the kids. What made that day more difficult was that when we landed in Bagram, there was about 10 inches of snow on the ground. The base was completely socked in…you couldn’t see 10 feet in front of you. Now I am getting really bummed as we exit the airplane and crowd inside a cramped bus, having to be towed off the tarmac due to the snow. Nonetheless, we finally made our way to the passenger terminal after sliding all over the place. It was time to in process and retrieve my bags. I was exhausted, cold, hungry, and more than anything bummed about being away from home. About the only thing that made the next few moments bearable was that my colleagues on the team were already there to meet me. They were smiling much wider than me because they had already been at Bagram for 5 months and well on the other side of the transition that I had just begun. Their greeting was a huge boost, as many folks arrive and then have to figure out on their own what they are supposed to do next. I am very thankful for the greeting I received and can’t emphasize enough how much this meant to me, particularly given my mood about that time. The funny part to me now is that I ignorantly dismissed them when they told me prior to my arrival that they would meet me. C’mon, I fly all over the country on a regular basis and get into my taxi or rental car and head to my nice hotel accommodations completely by myself. I don’t need no stinkin’ greeting committee. Hah, they fortunately knew that I was completely clueless so smartly ignored my request and showed up anyways. I am more grateful for that greeting than just about anything I have experienced so far. It was a big deal given where I was at the moment. They took all my gear, got me settled into my room, and then off to a hot meal. Alas, I was no longer cold. In moments like this, Maslow’s hierarchy kicks in big time…it’s the sheer basics that count more than anything!
Lest you’re getting bummed out reading this, recognize I am describing the events in somewhat exhaustive detail for memory sake. When my kids (as all kids do) give me the “you don’t know how I feel” line, I can reference this post (yes, Emma, I can still lecture you from Afghanistan!:). The best news in all of this is that I knew this would be the bottom of my 6 months. Everyone invariably tells you that the transition into the theater is the most difficult part as the reality of the separation from family and friends definitively sets in, which is what was happening to me. This may sound silly, but some deeply embedded “tough time” memories from my USAFA days (as Amy well remembers too), especially survival training, provided some terrific reference points that what I was currently going through was not as bad as that! The other major reference point for me still now a full week into my deployment is the countless service members at Bagram and elsewhere around Afghanistan who go "outside the wire" every day executing the ground operation, which is where the vast majority of the risks lie (exponentially higher than what I face in the comfort of my warm office). In fact, there was a group of guys sitting next to me on the C-17 coming into Bagram who were all "EOD" (Explosive Ordinance) guys. They were going to be "outside the wire" within 30 minutes of our landing (they too with little to no sleep) trying to locate IEDs (improvised explosive device), which are what is killing so many of our service members as they travel around Afghanistan because of their conspicuous placement along roads and other paths where we might travel. These individuals (and the many others with similar responsibilities) are the true heroes in the sense that they intentionally try to find explosive devices and then defuse them (or in my simplistic mind do whatever you do to try and make a bomb no longer a bomb). They make one small mental error in their decision-making when they come upon a device, and life is forever altered for them, and that’s presuming they survive the blast. I can assure you I wouldn’t do it for $1 million a year, and they do it for far less than what I get paid (we have stuff very backwards sometimes).
That’s enough for now. A full week into it, I am doing much better now and really starting to get integrated into life at Bagram. I assure you that subsequent posts will be more positive, but I thought it would be helpful in the interest of transparency to share some of the realities of what my transition has been like, all of which is textbook type stuff that most everyone goes through except perhaps the deployment “veterans” who spend more of their careers deployed than they do stateside. The best news of all is that God is supremely good and using these moments to teach me in ways that are far more effective than listening to a sermon (no offense Bruce as you will be glad to know your sermons on my ipod continue to be a terrific source of teaching and encouragement from Bagram, just as they are in Biloxi!:)). Real life experiences with real challenges forces you to grow in ways you simply can't do by reading a book. I am extremely grateful for the "stretch" and thankful for His perfect provision and timing in all things.
1 week down...23 to go...but who's counting!
1 week down...23 to go...but who's counting!