"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, January 19, 2012

“Boots on the Ground” at Ramstein


Well, we just arrived at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, soon to be on our way to Turkey and then Bagram. The local time is currently early am on Friday, Jan 20 so it’s too early to email or call Amy and let her know we completed the first leg of our journey en route to the “poppy fields” of Afghanistan (ok, Bagram, where I am hoping there is no heroin). We were fortunate to have some big tailwinds so an otherwise 8 hour flight was just under 7 hours…not bad! Ambien is a beautiful medication for sleeping in austere places like an airline seat, so I am actually feeling rested at the moment. Also, I must confess that although I miss the usual first class upgrades I get when traveling in the states, make no mistake, flying on these military “rotator” flights is not exactly like sitting in the jump seat of a C-130 (sorry if you’re reading this Brad, but the only good seat in a C-130 is in the cockpit!:). We had decent leg room, and the service was outstanding, with more food than you could eat, someone always wanting to refresh your coffee, and the constant cleaning up of any trash. This was a very pleasant surprise. Speaking of which, I am learning to set my expectations regarding the deployment (where I might sleep, accommodations, food, etc.) extremely low such that when those low expectations are exceeded, I can feel very good even about mediocrity! It’s a terrific psychological ploy that actually works quite well! To be clear, the service on our flight so far was certainly more than mediocre…genuine A+…thanks World Airways for a great flight so far.

Now to digress a bit from the most current events, I thought it would be helpful to give a few updates regarding the last couple of weeks. As most of you know, I left Biloxi for CAST training (which Amy has already blogged about so I won’t repeat) in Guernsey, WY on January 3 after only getting my official notification about the deployment on December 28. Needless to say, it has been quite a whirlwind for both me and Amy and the kids! Having only 48 hours to get all of my pre-deployment activities accomplished (multiple holidays in between the time I found out and the time I left!) turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I felt like what it must be like a VIP to deploy…everyone came to me in a “get ‘er done” mentality, and next thing I knew, I had everything I needed, to include the finance guy who came out to the firing range with all my financial paperwork already completed so all that I had to do was sign in between pulling the trigger! No offense to anyone that works in the MPF, but that sure beats waiting in the usual bureaucratic line that I would have otherwise had to wait in had I had the normal several month notice. God was very kind to me as He knows how frustrated I would have become with the usual deployment processing procedures where if you have 6 months notice, it is sure to take 6 months.

After completing 10 days of CAST training, I headed to Baltimore for a few days of medical research-related regulatory training at Ft. Detrick in MD. The training was super, and perhaps more importantly, it was good to put “faces with names” as the team at Ft. Detrick in many ways serves as my stateside counterparts with whom I will be working closely with throughout my deployment. On this note (and I won’t bore anyone with the details), but I will be serving as the Human Protections Administrator on the Joint Combat Casualty Care Research Team (JC2RT), which is basically to insure that the medical research ongoing in theater is being conducted in accordance with all the various rules, ethics, and laws related to the protection of human subjects. As much as I did not want to deploy (and will get home as soon as I can!), I am very fortunate to have been tagged for what is going to be a terrific job in a role that will heavily leverage my areas of strength and interest. One of my primary teammates in theater is a critical care doc from San Antonio who is an USMA grad. So, we will have plenty of fun giving each other hard times about who made the wrong choice about which service academy to attend. I will be working with top notch, hyper talented teammates. Heck, since most of them are Army folks from the San Antonio area, it will feel like home!

One of the real advantages of being in the military is that you tend to have friends all over the world so that you’re not a stranger no matter where you go. As an example, while in Baltimore for training, I was fortunate to enjoy a nice dinner with good friends Garrett and Robyn Sanborn, who were friends of ours when we were stationed together at Columbus AFB back in 1999-2000. Garrett stays busy in the DC area flying federal VIPs (all the key players except POTUS I think!) all over the world, including Afghanistan. Garrett, I am envious, as I know your accommodations when in the AOR are far nicer than what I am about to enjoy!:) In all seriousness though, thanks for the company and a warm sendoff. It’s the “little things” like this that make a very difficult time in our family’s life just a bit more tolerable. I also got to spend an evening with Steve Larson, who we were friends with when we were stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB. Steve, you are one of those unique individuals who has the ability to uplift anyone you meet with words of affirmation and encouragement. It’s hard to even hear about what’s going on in his life because he spends so much time genuinely wanting to know what’s going on in yours. Steve, you reminded me again why Amy and I enjoyed so much hanging out with you and Paula…you are both dear friends, and I can’t say thanks enough for taking the time. Judd, I simply ran out of time but will take a rain check on my way back assuming you are still in the DC area when I get back in July. It would be great to see you!

In case there is any doubt amongst those reading this, I am fortunate to be married to the greatest wife and Mom on the planet. Although it is difficult for me to be away, all of you associated with the military know quite well that it will be far harder for Amy, especially given the chore of caring for 5 little ones with no assistance from me. We are fortunately very blessed with family and friends who will be visiting often to help out, and I can’t say thanks enough. Although I will be in an austere environment, I will have most of the creature comforts we have back in the U.S. other than perhaps living in a plywood box and of course no kids around to play and wrestle with, which is by far the hardest part. However think about it this way. I will have good wifi connectivity, an international data plan on my phone (my hotspot is working great in Germany!), 3 good meals a day for which I don’t have to prepare or clean up after, a 60 second walk to work or the gym, and even a laundry service! It’s not like I am living the “hard life”, especially when compared to our service members spending most of their time “outside the wire” doing the real dirty work of war (and folks for whom I have always had the greatest of respect but even more so now). Make no mistake, it’s not my preference, and I would not have volunteered to be away from Amy and the kids at their stage of life, but I will ok. Btw, please know that I hope I am not offending any of you who have been at Bagram in a similar role as me. There are still certainly risks (mortar and rocket attacks do still happen so I am not trying to minimize the danger), and I suspect there will be plenty of “downer” moments being so far away from home. Nonetheless, Amy still has it harder than me. In that light, I would just kindly ask that any of you wanting to help out please apportion your attention and encouragement accordingly!:) Heck, I can even order stuff from Amazon, and stuff gets to me in just a few days. What also really helps to make the distance seem shorter is Skype and other electronic media that allows staying in touch on a “24-7” basis a reality. I was even video chatting with Amy on my phone via Skype just prior to our taking off from Baltimore. Amy, speaking of which, you will be glad to know that just like in my normal travels, I am always the last one turning off my phone but fortunately I didn’t have to be told by the flight attendant to shut down my phone. I know you are proud of me!:)

To be sure I don’t leave the wrong impression, and lest you think Amy is depressed and “down in the dumps”, nothing could be further from the truth. As she posted a couple of days ago, we don’t want to waste this deployment but rather see it for exactly what it is, which is a blessing from God to renew our focus on so many levels, which is sometimes difficult to do in the business of a comfortable life together in the U.S. Although I had absolutely no choice about deploying (I suppose I could have chosen to go to jail rather than getting on the airplane!), we do have a choice both individually and as a family as to whether this will be a miserable 6 months or if this will be the greatest 6 months of our family’s life. That clearly is a choice we get to make (it doesn’t get made for us). We choose the latter, and as we're reminded in James, to "count it all joy"! Our singular priority at this stage is to insure that we look back on this 6 months as the greatest blessing that ever happened to our family. I am not exactly sure yet how that will specifically play out just yet, but it will be fun to watch it work itself through. As a tiny and singular example, Amy and I are enjoying reading the Bible though together this year. The time away will also give me plenty of opportunity to exercise intense discipline in every area of life, whether it be spiritual, health, etc. The best part of all of course is that God is either sovereign or He is not (and He is!), so there is enormous peace in just living in the moment and seeing what He has in store. Speaking of which, for any of my non believing friends, I have no idea how you make it through times like this.

As I have shared with many of my professional colleagues, what will keep me sane over the next 6 months is staying connected with everything going on back in the U.S. So, don’t cut me any slack just because I am deployed. In other words, don’t ignore me like I am incapable of doing anything!:) If you need something, please ask. I am hoping to be as responsive and helpful as ever. Finally, in case you haven’t noticed, Amy has been occupying our blog’s “airwaves” over the last couple of weeks with relative silence from me as I have been frantically completing all the last minute preparations and training. However, I will try to chime in from time to time with key updates (in case you can’t tell after this admittedly long initial post), We will see how well it works, but I will also try to do some video blogging as well once I get settled. Some of it will depend on the upload speeds available via wifi, but I will give it a shot!

Many thanks again to our countless friends and family supporting and praying for us during this time away. You are dear to us, and we love you all! The “poppy fields” are just a few hours away. I will let everyone know once I am arrived and well!

With love,

John

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