Sunday, November 23, 2008

One In The Books

Around 10am CST, I arrived at the Fort Campbell airfield to a host of eager 101st family members, including my wife and mother. It was such a good feeling to have the support of such a large group of people immediately after getting off the plane. Our welcome home ceremony consisted of a 3 minute speech by a General Officer, followed by the singing of the 101st Airborne and Army songs.
We were given about 15 minutes with our families before being whisked away on buses to the Squadron area, where we turned in our weapons and other sensitive items before grabbing our bags. I was chauffeured back to the house by my beautiful wife and am now about to pass out in front of the computer. It's been a long 64 hours since I left Iraq, with very little sleep and many thoughts of being reunited with loved ones. All of that has finally come to pass and I can now enjoy some down time with my wife and the television. I would like to thank all of you who followed me throughout this experience and the prayers you offered on my behalf. More to follow on the future of the blog; but for now, I'm just trying to enjoy catching up with, in the words of Golf Analyst/Comedian David Feherty, "She Who Must Be Obeyed".
Take care.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Last Minute Reflections

As of right now, we have a "soft time" for when we're supposed to depart. This simply means a tentative flight time, but it should turn into a "hard time" over the next several hours. While the exact time is still unknown, but could be within the next 24-36 hours (again, just a tentative timeline).
Much of my time over the past several days has consisted of watching movies, working out, a little reading and a fair amount of sleep. However, I find myself reflecting on what I've seen and experienced over the past several months. Although I wasn't here for the entire deployment, and showed up after the most intense fighting our Squadron has seen, I can still say that I came, I saw, and I actually got a t-shirt (that I had to pay for). I was able to experience some things that most other "Loggies" will never do. I went on the patrols with each of the 4 line units and got a sobering look at the realities of war. Some images will forever remain with me, for better or worse; but, most of all I have realized the importance of living life, regardless of the outcome. So far, I've made it through this deployment unscathed and have much to be thankful for. As I prepare to redeploy back to the States, just like those who have gone before me, a piece of me will remain here. It's tough to go to war and come back the EXACT same person you were before you left. I have changed, but I believe for the better.
Look forward to seeing many of you soon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Changing Of The Seasons

I haven't mentioned this until now because A) I didn't want to jinx it and B) well, I just didn't want to jinx it.
After posting a message about the "rainy season", I'm happy to say that it hasn't rained since then! It's been quite a blessing because there were several things we had to get done in order to redeploy, particularly the cleaning of our home station equipment, and trying to get the mud off stuff when it's raining is like trying to trying to get taller by hanging upside ain't gonna happen! Trust me, I've tried.
Another positive weather change is the significant drop in temperature, mainly at night and early in morning. While I'm not talking about "fleece" weather, I do have to put my PT pants and jacket on at night when walking to the DFAC. I've come a long way from the nights where I was soaked with sweat after doing the same thing only a month ago.
What I do not find here is any "changing of the colors." Over here, everything is the same color all year, so it's pretty difficult to tell when you're ending or beginning a season. About the only indicator is the heat. It's hot in the Spring and Summer, cool in the Fall, and cold in the Winter.
Although I've only experienced the Summer and "Fall" over here, I can pretty much guarantee you I was here for the worst part of this region's weather. I don't think I've ever been this hot in my entire life. Hopefully, I won't have to experience this again. Of course, if I end up going to Afghanistan, I'll probably be telling you that I've never been so cold in my entire life!!! You can't win 'em all.
Take care and see some of you very soon!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

One Step Closer

Well, this morning the first half, actually it was about 75%, of our company departed Camp Liberty for Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). As much as I wish I could've been on THAT flight, at least I'm one step closer to going home. There are several variables at play when preparing for departure, and unfortunately most of those decisions rest in the hands of individuals who are not a part of our unit. So, they could care less when we leave!
As I sit here and reflect on my journey, the absence of those soldiers whom I've spent most of my time here with is deeply felt. It is interesting how you can see people all day everyday and not realize their presence in your life until they are gone. The tent we've been staying in for the past couple of weeks is now half empty, and much quieter. Although I will enjoy these aspects when I go to bed at night, having fewer faces to look at and voices to hear seems to make the days longer.
This is going to be a long week.
Take care.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Empathetic Friend

What's the difference between sympathy and empathy? Some might argue nothing, that they are virtual synonyms of each other; however, I beg to differ. Sympathy is when you feel sorry FOR someone. Empathy is when you feel sorry WITH someone.
Throughout my time in theater, I have had a number of sympathetic friends. These people understand how much of a sacrifice it is to leave the comforts of home and go to war. Although, my time here hasn't consisted of the stereotypical aspects of "war", I can say that I have one empathetic friend. This person knows what I have gone through because he has gone through the same thing. This is the case for my good friend Barrett, whom I've mentioned before in an earlier post.
"In January 2004, Barrett was activated and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Iraq he served as a Team Leader and participated in over 60 ground combat patrols and 50 tactical convoys in the Al Anbar province. He earned both a Meritorious Mast and a Combat Action Ribbon for leading his men under enemy fire" ( Sorry, but three years of graduate school has taught me the importance of citations. Don't want to get busted for plagiarism!
Anyways, just like me, Barrett had to put his graduate studies on hold to fulfill his military obligation. Moreover, his experiences in theater have provided me with the kind of encouragement and support during some difficult times. You might have read some of the comments he's left on my blog, all of which have made me laugh, think, and relax during those tumultuous times in my deployment.
There are many things that we will experience in life. Some good, some bad; however, we must never forget that there are a plethora of people in this world who have experienced the same thing. I believe that God allows certain things to happen to us so that we might use our experiences to help those in a similar situation. It's a relation gift He has given us. I thank God for my friend Barrett. He's given me more than just a few words of support, he's shown me the importance of passing along my experiences to those who come after me.
Thanks, buddy.
Take care.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mental Insurgents

Returning home for a soldier who's been in a combat environment, or even just in theater, can be a difficult transition. Those who suffer the emotional scars of battle have to deal with re-acclimating themselves to the normal grind of daily life, and even those (like myself) who didn't have to experience any horrific events also have to relearn how to interact with a civil society.
Last weekend, I was briefed on the different signs and symptoms that I and my fellow soldiers could exhibit upon returning to the States. Some might be some signs of irritability or lethargy, while more significant signs like isolation and suicidal thoughts are also likely to fight their way into the forefront of one's mind. The clinical physician who briefed us referred to these symptoms as "mental insurgents."
Just as we have been fighting a group of insurgents on the battlefield, leaving this environment leads to a new enemy combatant that must be fought in order to preserve our ability to function in society. Regardless of what a soldier experienced over here, it is significantly different from the lifestyle he or she leads back home. As a result, it's a matter of slowly transitioning from a hostile environment to a civil one that could lead to the deterioration of one's mental and emotional well-being. This is something I myself must be consciously aware of a guard against. Small things like being a busy restaurant, or getting stuck in a traffic jam could trigger a reaction that leads to self-destructive behavior. While I'm confident that my faith and the support from my family will aid in re-integration, there are many who do not have these forms of assistance. In addition to praying for the safe return of my fellow soldiers, I ask that you also pray for their mental and emotional recovery from being in theater. This can be just as important to the overall well-being of our military personnel AND their families.
Take care.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hurry Up and Wait

There's a mantra in the military that anyone with experience in uniform can attest to. Regardless of the task, you're expected to be there a certain amount of time before anything begins; yet, nothing ever seems to begin on time! The process could take as little as 30 seconds to complete, but you have to be there an hour beforehand. So, most of your day is spent waiting for your turn to come, then waiting for everyone else do get done.
Such is the case for my departure from Iraq. As early as last Tuesday, I began the process of handing over my responsibilities to the incoming unit SMO. Yesterday, he took official control of the motor pool and all maintenance procedures. In short, my job here (for the most part) is done; however, I still have to sit around and wait for my flight to leave. Now, the normal person might not be too upset at the fact that he/she can sit around and do nothing each day, but there's only so many things you can do to occupy your time. A bulk of my time each is will be spent trying to amuse myself, through movies, TV, Internet, reading and working out. While this might sound calm and relaxing, the worst part about this process is trying not to think about how long you've been here and just how close you are to being reunited with family and friends. The mental aspect is the most challenging part and one that takes discipline to overcome, as the hours slowly pass by each day. What is more, we are being told that at any moment, we could get word that our flight has been moved up and we must be ready to leave immediately. Thus, we have to be prepared, while at the same time not hopeful. Somehow, human nature likes to play a dirty trick on the mind because it's hard NOT to be hopeful for something you want to happen!!!
The days a coming and going in a somewhat expeditious manner; but unfortunately, they cannot pass soon enough. Please pray for patience and discipline as we hurry up and wait.
Take care

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Making A Difference

Although I stated a while back that I wasn't going to be political in this blog, and this continues to be a goal I aspire to adhere to; however, now that our country has officially spoken, I feel it only necessary to acknowledge the reality of our future.
As stated by many a political pundit, academician, elected official and so on, our country is in the midst of tumultuous times and there is no end in sight. President-elect Obama has been elected to the highest office in the world in one of the most critical times in our nation's history. Like him or not, there are a plethora of vital issues he must deal with immediately upon taking the oath of office. Some of you hope he succeeds in turning the country back around, while others hope he fails miserably. Regardless of your political affiliation and preference, I think one thing remains clear....YOU can make a difference.
Forget the fact that our Constitution is structured in such a way that the public elects individuals to represent them in all levels of government. Instead, focus on what you as an individual can do in your local communities, churches, schools, organizations. It's in these areas that you can make the kind of impact that changes the way our world operates. Whatever your important political issues, don't think for one second that by simply voting you have done your part. If you focus on social issues, concentrate your time and energy in finding ways to spread your message WITH LOVE. If your issues are something like energy or the environment, find ways to spread the message of conservation in those areas. All too often, we feel that we have stood up for what is right simply by taking a few minutes (or in some cases, hours) to cast our vote for a candidate who supports our interests and feel we've made a contribution. In short, this approach is a cop-out. If you feel strongly about these issues, don't stop at the voting booth, There are so many more ways for you to make a difference on your own, rather than waiting for elected officials to enact legislation.
For me, this election isn't about making history via race, age, gender, or the like. This election has shown me that the only way to make a difference is to get up off your seat and do it yourself. No one individual is going to change the world FOR you. Only YOU can do that.
Take care.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Making History

By now you've all heard how historic this election is going to be, regardless of who wins. Either we're going to have the first African-American President or the oldest President ever elected. I'm sure that's not something Sen. McCain wants to hear, but it's tough to shake the reality of the situation. This election is also going to be historic in that we are GUARANTEED to see the first U.S. Senator elected President since JFK.
For those of you old enough to remember the 1960 election (sorry Mom and Dad), we're talking about a drought of almost 50 years! For those of you who know me (even just a little bit), it shouldn't come as a shock to you that I'm posting about the election, as election "handicapping" has practically become my new favorite past time. However, it might surprise you to know that I completely forgot we were about to elect a new President. With all the preparations of redeployment on the forefront of my mind, I have been so preoccupied that it never crossed my mind until only a couple of days ago. It's kind of embarrassing to admit; however, you'll be happy to know that I already voted....back in September! I honestly think that after I submitted my absentee ballot, I pushed this issue to the very back of my mind.
The only comment I would like to make on the matter is this:
I personally do not think it's going to make much of a difference who wins today. Yes, there will be some incremental changes to our economy and foreign policy; but they are likely to be modest, as they have been for the past several decades. What DOES matter is how we react as a country and as individuals. People will observe your reaction to the results and are likely to form their own opinions of you as a person. My challenge to you is not to let the results affect your relationships with others, or discourage you from being active the political process. I still believe the people have the power in this country, but we also have the responsibility to do what is right, regardless of our personal preferences.
May we continually pray that we are on God's side, not that he is on our's.
Take care.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Transition

Well, just as we have gradually been making our plans to return to Ft. Campbell, our replacement unit is making their way to theater. Actually, their Boots On Ground (BOG) date was the middle part of last week. It's somewhat of an incremental process, where a few people show up to get a lay of the land and report back to the rest of the unit what to expect and how best to prepare for the process of getting everything organized and situated. About two weeks ago, the first phase of troops touched down and began making preparations for the rest of their unit to arrive, with the first main body showing up last Tuesday.
It's been interesting experiencing the "battle hand-off" between the incoming and outgoing units. Unfortunately, there are no Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for this process, so most of the time you're loosely adhering the transitional process of your predecessors. This is more important for the line units, who are responsible for fully briefing the incoming unit on the events that have transpired in their AOs, as well as the trends they have seen over the past year. On the support side, it's more a matter of just telling them where everything is and updating them on certain issues that have come about during our time here. Those individuals running the CROs will be briefed on those areas of concern to them, while maintenance focuses on informing the mechanics of the various malfunctions they are likely to face while operating the vehicles. Yes, this is all as exciting as it sounds (sarcasm emphasized).
Throughout the rest of my time here in theater, I will serve mainly as an "advisor" to those individuals replacing me in the motor pool, as well as the patrol leaders for the CROs. After a few days of that, they will officially take over and we'll be prepping for our one-way ticket outta here! We're getting closer, but we're still not done yet.
Take care.