"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.


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