Monday, June 28, 2010

Initial Assessment Part II: Sweating It

Well ladies and gentlemen, I made it. I am now enjoying my extended stay in sunny Afghanistan. The temperature in MeS is a steamy 110 degrees and daylight extends from about 3:45 AM to well after 9 PM.

So anywho, wow, that's really all I have to say. I forgot how hot it could really get. I'm dying here. I know in 7 to 10 days I will acclimate to the temperature, but, man, it sure is going to be a miserable week. I've only been here a day, but all I've been doing is sweating non-stop. Unlike Iraq, the air conditioning capabilities are seriously underdeveloped here, so there is really little respite from the heat. But let me tell you a little about the flight over here.

So, in typical military fashion, this is how our flight to MeS (Mazar e Sharif) went down. Originally, we were suppose to drop our bags the night before our flight at around 10 PM. Since that was the case and because the night before I stayed up to watch the soccer game, I figured I would catch up on my beauty sleep before I had to go drop my stuff. Well, at about 7:35 PM, I get a tap on my shoulder and the brigade S-1 tech is standing over me.

"You need to be at bag drop right now," she says. Of course, at this point, I had not looked at the clock, so my immediate assumption is that I had slept through my alarm. It was only after I glanced at my clock that the tech told me that our flight had been moved up.

"Well, when does it take off now," I ask.

To which she replied, "in an hour and a half."

An hour and a half? Are you kidding me? Not only was none of my stuff packed, but I was completely disoriented. I still needed to get my stuff together, take it down to the baggage site (a little less than half a mile), get my IOTV (our protective vest) and helmet, get to the bus, drive out to the airfield, load the plane (which involves both personnel and pallets). Needless to say, it was a complete cluster @#$%. My original intent was to do all this without sweating prior to having to load the plane, but that proved impossible after the flight was moved up.

In the end, we literally pulled up to the plane, boarded, got situated and took off. There were no breaks and no rest. Needless to say, I was a completely drenched, lugging all my equipment with me on to the flight, completely flustered and miserable. Now, anyone who knows what a C-130 looks like knows that these things are completely cramped. Inside, there are 4 rows of seats, two pairs facing each other (the middle seats are back to back, the other two rows line the inside of the aircraft). All passengers sit sideways facing each other for the entire flight. The rows that face each other are so close that your knees hit the front of the other person's seat, so you have to sit with your legs intermingled with those of the person across from you. Oh, and on top of that, you have to hold your carry on bag on your lap, while wearing your IOTV and helmet. As if this wouldn't be torturous enough, there is very limited airflow, so it is normally very warm and uncomfortable. Now, if you happen to be prone to motion sickness or claustrophobia, flights like these are your krytonite. I happen to fear the latter.

Luckily, I didn't have time for my panic attack due to the limited time prior to the flight. It was actually probably a good thing that we didn't have all the normal build-up to the flight, because then that would have just given me time to get all worked-up before boarding the plane. Fortunately, this isn't my first rodeo, so I made sure I boarded last (the end seats have a little more leg room), popped a Dramamine and prepared to stick it out. Of course, I got some flack from a 1SG in our group (I'll call him the Honorable because he was the FOB Mayer during a pre-deployment exercise) because, apparently since I am "small", I should have to be crammed in the middle. Meanwhile, his company commander who is about the same size as me, was sitting on the end of the seat. The hypocrisy is amazing.

Anyway, I digress. We rolled into MeS in record time, thank God, because I seriously had to go to the bathroom, and there are no toilets on the plane. Even if there were, there would be no way to access them. After arriving, we got a quick inbrief, retrieved our bags and headed for our temporary tents, about which we had been hearing horror stories for the last week. In all honestly, they really aren't that bad - not much worse than my last deployment. The air conditioning was weak and there are no wall lockers in which to put any of your belongings, but otherwise, ok (at least that is my assessment for the time being). The word on the street is that we are moving into a new tent tonight (I will give a rundown of the politics of MeS and Bear Village in my next blog), so we will see what that's like. For now, I will have to go, not only because the Internet is rationed, but because you probably don't want to read anymore.

Until next time....

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Moving On

Well, it's been a nice last couple of days - probably the most break I've gotten in the last 6 months. With nothing to do, life at Manas has been easy.

Nick's flight got in yesterday morning and we got to spend most of the day together, which was great. Nick seemed like he was doing really good and even stayed up with me until midnight so we could spend the most time possible together, but let me back up.

Nick's flight took off about the same time mine did which brought him to Manas about 3 AM. Knowing the integration process, I hit the snooze button for about an hour an a half (4:30 in the morning is the latest I've been able to sleep since I got here) and then headed out to try to track him down. Of course, having already done everything he was going to do, I knew exactly where to look. It didn't take long for me to find him and set up a rendezvous point at the local hot spot, Pete's Place.

Nick finally finished all his inprocessing (getting his bags, linens and a tent assignment) and met up with me around 8 AM. Being that there isn't a whole lot to do around the place, the next natural place to hit was the dining facility for breakfast - another hour killed. I had already set up a pedicure appointment for 9 AM (Kyrgies will do it for $10 here). I suggested that Nick go take a shower (you would be amazed at how sweaty you can get while trying to board a military flight) and change into his gym attire and then meet me back at Pete's for some intensive Internet surfing.

When I got done with my appointment, I found Nick skyping with his parents. We were able to kill another couple of hours at Pete's and then went to lunch - half a day killed. The rest of the afternoon we walked around, bought cell phones and generally just hung out. Around 3 PM, I started to hit my mid-afternoon crash (a normal event for me since I was only sleeping 4 hours a night), so I negotiated a 2 hour break before dinner. Amazingly, Nick was doing fine and I was the one wimping out. Of course, after Nick had already left, I went inside the tent to find it was a toasty 85 degrees. It was next to impossible to sleep, so I ended up just burning 2 hours of my Nick-time staring at the ceiling.

Anyway, we went to dinner around 6:30 PM and spent the rest of the evening together, until I finally had to drop my bags at around midnight. It really meant a lot to me that Nick was willing to stick around for so long considering he had just made a 22 hour flight and then had stayed up all day long with me. I think we both wanted to make the most of the time we had together, knowing that it might be a while before we were reunited again.

After we parted ways, I headed over to bag drop, only to find out that we were given the wrong flight time. So, here I am, having said my final Nick goodbyes (always emotional) with my stuff packed and moved about half a mile down the road, only to find out that our flight time had changed. The original plan was that after bag drop, everyone was going to watch the soccer game while we waited for our flight. Lacking imagination, despite not having a slight, everyone decided to stick to the original plan and head over to the dining facility to watch the game which started at 1230 AM our time.

Well, I made it to the end, watching the entire 120 minutes before going to bed around 3 AM. It was a full day and I enjoyed every minute of it. I'm sure I will be paying the price for the lack of sleep today.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I just had one of the most cathartic experiences of my life. Well, perhaps that is an overstatement but it was pretty @#$%ing awesome!

In a cramped little dining room in the middle of Southeast Asia, for a brief moment, Team America had the hearts and minds of a 100+ American refugees. And, for the most part, it really did not matter if they were a soccer fan, everyone watched with baited breath as America beat Algeria and, even if only for a moment, were converted.

And I’m not just talking about, the kind of “well, that’s nice we won” conversion. I’m talking about the out of their chairs, screaming at the television, fanatical type of conversion – one that could rival any evangelical. And I guess what makes me take such a stock in this excitement is not the fact that America has struggle for years to gain recognition in the soccer community or the fact that I spent so much of my own life worshipping the game, but that for 90 minutes, our little group of expats escaped the fact that we were thousands of miles away from our families and friends, heading into lion’s den where people are intent on killing us.

To me, this is the chief purpose of things such as the World Cup. Sports – competition – above all things, has the ability to unite people across a spectrum of backgrounds unlike anything else and forget the differences between them. That to me is a marvel in itself. That sports, more specifically soccer, have succeeded in fusing us where so many other policies and programs have failed will always stand as a testament of what we are capable of as a human race. This is what makes my eyes well up with tears. I wish you all could have been here to experience it with me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I'm Here...Now What?

Well, so I finished my 22 hour journey to Kyrgyzstan. We arrived at approximately 3:30 in the morning two days after we took off, tired, sweaty, and disoriented. From the plane, we were packed onto buses with our carry-ons bag in our lap and shuttled some 15 minutes from the airport to a small base called Manas. Then, it was off the buses, into formation, and into our first brief where we were given the lay of the land, do's and don'ts, and instructions on what to do next which was pretty much nothing.

Now, despite the fact that it was now about 5:00 in the morning in Kyrgyzstan, it felt like about 7 PM to us. Too early to go to bed, so a group of us went to check out the dining facility, which was pretty standard by military fare with the exception of its having commercial grade, full size candy bars...just great for someone who is suppose to be starting a diet (me). After that, it was back to the clam shell (really, a large tent) to nap until duty called to attempt to call Nick and my parents via my new best friend skype to let them know I'd arrived safely.

I was determined to remain awake for the rest of the Kyrgy day, so I spent a large part of the afternoon surfing the internet, trying to maintain some sort of interest. Finally, at 4 PM I had an actual scheduled event which was a 30 minute class on a well-known Army system, which was not exactly stimulating and my resolve to stay awake was waning.

I finally gave in at around 5 PM our time (6 AM your time) and went to bed. Writing this blog is the first thing I have done since then, so I can't guarantee that there will be much interesting about which to write. And on that note, perhaps I will go back to sleep.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Whoever Said Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow is an Idiot

Well, today I really did it. And this time, it wasn't with a dog. I said my final face-to-face goodbyes with Nick. If saying goodbye to the dog was hard, this was perhaps one of the most difficult things I've. This was the throat-closed-up, stomach-in-knots, lip-quivering, emotional rollercoaster goodbye that I've been dreading for months.

I'm really not trying to be dramatic, although I'm sure I am a little - no one else seemed to be on the verge of tears as we waited in the airport to board the plane - but it felt like about the closest thing to a loved one dying as I've ever experienced. I couldn't even call Nick one last time before we left because I genuinely thought I couldn't hold it together, but neither did anyone else. And that's when it struck me that everyone was feeling the way I was, which is why when most Soldiers walk onto the plane that's the last time they contact their family until they are in country.

For a long time, I've almost scoffed at families in the military as necessary biproducts, often times more trouble than good, but today, I definitely got a little taste of the other side. You see, my last deployment, I saw Nick on almost a daily basis and, while that arrangement presented its own assortment of trials and tribulations, it doesn't even compare to losing a family member for an entire year.

The main point I want to convey is this: the sacrifices the families of our men and women in arms make, repeatedly, are no less significant than the sacrifices the actual Soldier makes. To allow someone you love to go in to harm's way is, without a doubt, the most self sacrificing thing anyone can do. I'm typing this as I sit in the middle of a tiny airport in the middle of Maine on the first leg of my flight to Afghanistan, so I will keep it short. The next time you see a Soldier with their family, please don't forget to thank their families as well, because they are the ones that really bear the brunt of our country's burdons.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Long Goodbye

Last weekend Nick and I were forced to do the unthinkable: we took Marvin (our toy poodle) to hand him over to my parents for a year.

Yes, while it might not be quite the equivalent of handing Jesus over to Pilate, it still felt like we were betraying him just a bit. We met in Dallas and, as we were driving home, I had ample time to think about our little pooch. Particularly, I reflected on the walks we would often take him on after Nick and I got home from work. During these walks, Marvin would often times get "stuck", so to speak, on a particular scent. To relieve the fixation, we would have to "reset" him, which normally meant we would have to pick Marvin up and walk a few yards until we had past whatever was holding him hostage.

As I thought about this, I contemplated the possibility of Marvin "resetting" at my parents house. Would he remember us? Would he still want to be our dog? Or would he simply need time to move past his old life with us and on to something new. I realize personifying you pet probably seems a little pathetic, but I think my questions highlighted a deeper fear. Marvin will stay a dog, no matter how long we're gone. He's not human and he's just not that complex. People are different.

This line of thinking really got to the heart of my fears about deploying. At the end of the day, how much can change in a year when you are completely cutoff from the rest of the world? I am constantly concerned that I will change so drastically that I will remain cutoff for the rest of my life. Only this time, my fears are heightened because Nick will not be coming with me on this one.

For me, the bond between myself and Nick is not set in stone. We are two separate people, completely capable of going down separate paths unlike, say, my parents or my sisters. No matter how much I change, there will always remain the irrefutable fact that we are related. When is comes to a spouse, that blood connection is not there. Which brings me back to my original question, how much can one person change in a year? For us, this will probably be the test of lifetime. I don't think we will ever be separated for this long again. Many people don't make it through these sorts of test, but I am confident Nick and I will.

I remember when Nick and I had only be dating about a year and were about to go our separate ways after graduation - he to flight school and myself to OBC. We were so sure that we could make it through anything. Four years later, with hindsight on my side, I realize that even the best loves falter; however, I think when we make it through this, our relationship will only be that much more solid - perhaps incapable of ever being reset again no matter what stops us in our tracks. And that, my friends, is change you can believe in.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One Week and Counting

I hate to say it but I'm really looking forward to getting out of here. More specifically, I can't wait to go a couple of weeks without internet access. I'm really just going to relish cutting ties with the 50 emails I feel obligated to read daily and with everyone constantly bombarding me with questions - most of which I don't have an answer to thus creating more work for me.

I guess what I'm most looking forward to most is having time to reinvent myself. Deployments are really great for getting back in routines and I have quite a few goals in mind (lose 20 lbs., study for the GMAT, learn spanish, learn piano...ok, the last ones a stretch). I'm sure most people would read this and think, really, while your deployed? I'll admit, I never thought, and I'd hoped I'd never be, that person who would rather be deployed than in in the Army stateside, but here it is - I'm saying it:

I would rather be deployed than here.

Of course, once things start to sink in I'm sure I will be biting my tongue. I say this now only after getting my second "Well-Woman's" exam in two weeks (I'll let you use your imagination here) which took 5 hours to get due to delays at the clinic and then working until 6 PM only to return home to spend the rest of the night packing all my earthly belongings into a 10x20 storage container. In a few weeks, I'm sure I'll be crying in my pillow, saying "what the hell was I thinking", but for now I'm going to try to look on the bright side. I only have a few days left here and I would like to keep from having a total meltdown.

And as always, tomorrow's another day and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm down to 12 months and after that, I refuse to be a glutton for punishment anymore. I've already got my resignation typed and saved to my computer, waiting for the moment for it to be printed and dropped squarely on my commander's desk for his approval. Until then, I will most likely keep bitching to myself on this blog. Sigh.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Initial Assessment

This is my first post to this blog and my first blog ever. I know, I never thought I would sink this low, but as some of you know, I'm about to head out to Afghanistan again. I decided I would try to do this regularly in order to prevent total boredom and disillusionment. I can't promise that there will be anything interesting at all on this blog because really the only thing I will be able to talk about is my day-to-day existence, BUT my close family and friends (and anyone else who cares) can stay connected to me this way. My goal is to post once a day - even if it is short - just to get into some sort of routine. We'll see how that goes. Anyway, I hope you follow me along my journey. Enjoy!