Sunday, October 18, 2009

18 Oct 09 - Greetings

I've been on the road the past two weeks visiting and inspecting units. Most of my travels have been by helicopter whether it is a Blackhawk or the much older age defying Chinook. Sorry about how long this blog posting is. I suggest you go to the bathroom, grab a beer and settle in for my update!

Journal entry 5 Oct 09: Today we flew by Blackhawk to base Hunter and did an inspection. The guys there were glad to have us and were very accommodating. Talk about being a long ways from the flag pole. Note to self next time soldiers complain about how rough they have it at Basra they need to come here. Food is prepared inside of Mobile Kitchen Trailer (MKT’s) carried across the way to be eaten inside of the newly built plywood palace. Two hot meals a day guaranteed and warm water in the showers if you’re lucky. Notice I didn’t mention indoor plumbing? Yep it’s all about porta-potties and being smart enough to use the ones located in the shade. I’ll be waiting until Adder before I do my business guaranteed!

Journal entry 6 Oct 09: We finished up our inspection and left later in the night for Adder on a Chinook helicopter. While we were waiting on the landing pad at Hunter the Chinook came in without lights on and was silhouetted against the night sky, it was awesome. The air movement from the propellers sent some stumbling from the air and some baggage was sent rolling by the air turbulence. Let me just say it’s weird flying aboard a helicopter without any lights on. It’s totally tactical and the pilots and door gunners use night vision goggles to see. It was only 45 minutes at best but in a Chinook you ride inside without the luxury of being able to look out. Just picture riding in the trunk of your car where you got in at one place and came out somewhere else.

Journal entry 7 Oct 09: Thank god it was a light day. I'm pretty sure I needed it after flying during the previous night. It wasn’t just the walk from the airport to billeting and then finally to our rooms all while wearing your body armor, helmet and carrying your duffel bag. I had another personal mission while I was there; I wanted to find the memorial wall with my friend Mikes name on it. I was told it was there so I looked far and wide. It took me a while but I finally found it. Seeing his name there before me on the wall was sad. The wall was dedicated to all the men and women that had died in Iraq that called Adder their home. This was the place where Mike had died serving his country. My emotions were mixed and I was glad that I could read his name and remembered the man that had been my friend. Mike was the soldier that I wanted to be like, he was sharp, knowledgeable, and believed that we could make a difference. His passion was like the common cold, you caught it and you believed. He made you want to do the right thing by the soldier and for all. He truly was the leader whether he was in the back of the room or in front. Most of us remember the man and his slight smile. It was sometimes very frustrating when after we came to a solution he would look at us, smile knowingly and offer his advice. Leave it to Mike to make us change always for the better.

But wait a minute out of the corner of my eye I spotted the names of other soldiers I knew that had fallen. My eyes misted over as I read the name of SGT Brent Koch who I had the honor of being both the Casualty Notification Officer as well as the follow on duties of the Casualty Assistance Officer. I had forgotten that he served here as well. I wondered how his family; as well as the other families of those on the wall was doing. More importantly how their lives had changed since the funeral of their loved ones. I said a mental prayer as my thoughts went to the next name I recognized.

SGT Joshua Schmit, his father was a soldier that I had served proudly with back home. If his son was half the man that his father had been he would be greatly missed by all that knew him.
It was very sad for me to face the wall and know that some gave all, and others gave everything to serve in this land far from home. I should say I was very honored as well as humbled to be here in the presence of those that had given so much of themselves so others could know what it was to live free. To be here in this place that they gave their lives was very hard. So many had died but their memories would live on in all of us forever!

Journal entry 8 Oct 09: The inspection we did, started with the usual in brief, followed by the inspection, and concluded with the results being briefed later that night to the Battalion Commander. I know it sounds weird but I could feel the presence of more that those with us physically in the room.

Journal entry 9 Oct 09: Friday we returned back to Basra until our flight out the following Monday. It was my birthday and my daughter was on pass, and my immediate family was in a land far from here. When I got to my desk to write my reports I found the birthday cards and present from friends and family. You will never believe this Jacki got me the 20th anniversary edition of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader. How could she have known? Another birthday, another year older, celebrated in a place far from home. Oh well it’s nice knowing that tomorrow morning I will be in the next Army age group for Physical Fitness. Another minute or two to run, a few less push ups, and yes five less sit ups does life get any better? This kind of motivation makes me want to go do my work out right now. (Not)

Journal entry 10-11 Oct 09: This weekend will be spent catching up on my E mails, messages to my family, and typing up the previous week’s reports. Not to mention the three Army meals of the day whoopee! I’ve died and gone to heaven! So many E Mails, so many responses required what should I do? Yep you guessed it take part of the day on Sunday to go to church and later go to the Bazaar. Who would have guessed that LTC Mary Muskrat and SSG Saundra Urbacke would want to each ride a camel? I was standing in the front, their cameras at ready watching their ride (Pictures to follow). Each of them I’m sure had different expectations. Saundra rode horses and thought it wouldn’t be so bad. What it actually looked like was that scene from the Urban Cowboy where people were riding the mechanical bull. When the camel got up with Saundra on board Saundra went forward, then snapped back wards as the camel got awkwardly to his feet. I was thinking to myself it was a long ways up to where she sat but a lot farther down. Wait a minute! No need to worry this was the very same Camel that had given Jacki a love nip the week before.

Mary on the other hand benefited from Saundra’s ride before her. Then again the look on her face as the camel rose to his full height was priceless. You could learn a lot from Mary, she was out for 17 years when she came back in to deploy with us. She is the kind of person who when given lemons makes lemonade. She steps up to the plate time and again with such enthusiasm it’s almost contagious. While walking with her she knows just about everyone’s name, if she doesn’t I’m sure she will soon.

Journal entry 12 Oct 09: I woke up not liking Willy Nelson very much. I kept thinking of that song on the road again! Another day, another adventure awaits. I was off to Gary Owen (Near the Iran border) for my last inspection for a while. Looking out the window of the helicopter at the landscape below took me mentally back to what must have been the start of the war. You could see the emplacements of where the soldiers had dug in and could visualize the war from above. Here it was years later and still the sites were visible. I was thinking to myself that was where the tanks were; over there the artillery; and that below me was definitely where the infantry must have waited for who knows how long. The sands of time hadn’t erased it yet, but in another few years the physical remains would be erased. However the damage done by war would be forever carried in their hearts. When our helicopter finally got there after going to Bucca, Hunter and finally Gary Owen my first thought was not good. I thought to myself Self “Self Hunter was bad but this place ranks right up there with voluntarily going to the dentist”.

Journal entry 13 Oct 09: Waking up I wouldn’t have minded Willy Nelson to give me a hand getting off that lovely cot. Note to self “Self, there should be two sizes of cots one size for those young kids wet behind the ears, the other size for us mature figured men over 5’10”. I’m now more than convinced that Soldiers living at Basra have it great. I again made a mental note to wait until running water and porcelain to do whatever business I may have. I also knew my Bathroom reader would be waiting for me as well as the now much appreciated phone booth sized bathroom stall complete with running water. The next day was the inspection the rest of today was spent becoming familiar with the surroundings and preparing for the inspection.

Journal entry 14 Oct 09: Another inspection that left me impressed with my guard unit back home at Basra. I guess I thought that the active duty guys would have this down pat. I was wrong most of the units did fairly well but a few need much improvement. I need to write this one up in such a way that their higher headquarters steps up to the plate and helps these guys. The potential is there but the emphasis on Logistics seems to be lacking. It’s never about the logistics of things until it’s too late. Played some Cribbage with Chuck Madden and taught him a lesson about winning and losing. (I have pictures of my victory over Chuck if you’re interested).

Journal entry 15 Oct 09: Woke up very early and the labor pains were five minutes apart. For a brief moment I thought I might actually give birth to a turtle if you know what I mean? There was no waiting for the porcelain it was now or never. Between the labor pains I grabbed my flashlight; the roll of hoarded toilet paper and I was off. There they were waiting for me Jimmy’s Johnnies all in a line. I felt like little red riding hood as I opened door one (no lock); door two (no toilet seat); Door three seemed to be just right, the perfect place to give birth. I’m not sure if I screamed or not but I almost passed out. Thank god it was over and I could return to my cot. I thought about waking up my travel companions but deep down inside I knew better.

All kidding aside I knew that soon I would be back to Basra, my mattress on my man size bed, my family and my friends. Life at Basra was living the life that others only dreamed of.

I have to add I like getting out and working with the troops. Even though they are getting inspected doesn't mean that you can't assist them and follow up on issues with their higher headquarters that they might have.

Man I miss home I just have to tell myself that each day down is one step closer to coming home. Unfortunately the holidays are rapidly approaching. During my stay in Adder while traveling on the base bus system the radio announcer said that if you wanted to get cards or packages home for Christmas you have until 20 November to do it. Man talk about rushing a guy!

That is all,


Friday, October 2, 2009

27 Sep 09 – Sweet dreams

To all those reading our blog I just wanted to bring you all up to date on my life. I spent some time contemplating the best way to accomplish this and struggled with the right format. I finally said to myself “self, just put it down on paper”. My advice to you now is to get up from your computer, go to the bathroom, grab a snack and settle in for a long read.

Dear Diary (Sounded less than manly) Journal entry 4 Sep 09: I’m nervous in anticipation of what time I will fly out tomorrow. Will my flight be at some ungodly hour of the morning? Will the dust storms kick up suddenly to interfere with my flight? Why do I have to wait until after 2100 hours (9:00PM) to hear my flight departure time for the next day? My inner voice wants to cry out loud “Come on people work with me, my bag is already packed”. Items in my bag were 2 sets of socks, T- shirts, underwear, PT Clothes, running shoes, shower shoes, personal hygiene items, sheets, and a blanket. Then you have to add in the soldier support items, such as headphones, reading material, and munchies. Needless to say my bag was full; some might even say it was pushing the limits of carry on. Most of these items were due to unforeseen layovers in Kuwait while you were waiting for your flight home. Some survivors (they wear T-shirts that say been there, done that) of Kuwait have been stranded for as long as 5 days. Finally just prior to 2100 I had confirmation (not holding my breath) that I was leaving for Kuwait the next day.

Journal entry 5 Sep 09: Morning came earlier than usual for some reason. My mind was doing cart wheels, and my stomach was knotted (looking back it might have been the chicken) as thoughts of seeing my wife and family for the first time in seven months filled my head. In fact Susan and I even talked to each other about this many times, but my mind was still wondering. My flight wasn’t until mid day but I was up earlier than normal so I went into the office. Those of you that know me well know that I’m not the best guy to have with idle time on my hands. Idle time plus my mind usually equals up to me getting into trouble for something I did, or something I failed to do. Arrival time at the Basra terminal was getting close I hastily added my out of office replies, removed my auto forward, kicked the cat, said a quick good bye and headed out the door. All my fears of late departure, or sandstorms quickly vanished as we boarded the military transport plane that would shuttle us to Kuwait. Man I was excited but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Rumors of soldiers being delayed in Kuwait for days before departure danced in my head. Touchdown and then we were told our flight out wasn’t tell the next day. Thinking to myself I said “Self, it’s going to be OK, you’re one step closer to being home”. That night in the tent that I was assigned it was like Grand Central station. The tent flap should have been a revolving door the way people went in and out of there. Don’t worry about turning on the lights I thought to myself on more than one occasion I was awake anyhow anticipating the possible flight the next day weather permitting.

Journal entry 6 Sep 09: Man the words “report for roll call outside in the departure area” was music to my ears. It didn’t matter that once we were accounted for that we were confined to the area until departure time. What mattered is that the flight is on and baby I was coming home to the good old USA! As my 2 and a half year old grand baby says “I was so cited”! I can’t tell you exactly how long the flight lasted with all the time zone changes, and the layover (Math was never my strong suit). What I can say is we left Kuwait Sunday and arrived back in the good old USA early Monday.

Journal entry 7 Sep 09: Keep in mind we are eight hours ahead so at one point I may have went back to yesterday during my flight? (You never know it might have happened). No matter what I was glad when the wheels of the freedom flight finally touched down. It was very emotional for me and my fellow travelers when the stewardess announced over the intercom prior to landing that on behalf of the flight crew they wanted to thank the men and women of the armed forces for serving our country. By this time I was on emotional overload. So many young men and women had made this journey before me; I just hoped that someone somewhere along the way took a moment to thank them for their service. I for one will make it my mission to thank those wearing the uniform for their service in the years ahead. We were told prior to our departure for home that we could reschedule our flights to our final destination when we landed in Atlanta. Trust me I hauled butt down the concourse and stood patiently in line to hear the words your flight time is, wait a minute did she just tell me I would be on standby in hopes that a seat would open on the next available flight? Yep my ears hadn’t failed. In the bathroom there were many of us in different stages of undress as we tried to shave and freshen up just a little. I wonder what the civilians must have thought as they entered the men’s room. Trust me it wasn’t long before I was standing tall in line and found myself to be 5th on the waiting list. My hopes were high as the ticket agent announced once twice and then a third time that final boarding was taking place. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I spotted and older couple being assisted to the flight waiting area on a golf cart. Then another couple came running up, and another, man my mind was going a mile a minute. Did I mention that not all my thoughts were nice? The more late arrivals meant that some soldiers weren’t going to make the final cut. As luck would have it they got seven of us on an already full flight. I suspect that air plane crews dead heading back gave up their seats in order for us to get home. I had called Susan by this time and told her if you don’t hear from me in the next thirty minutes plan to pick me up at the airport.

The flight seemed like it took forever and my mind wandered back and forth from our last good bye in February; wondering if my grand baby would remember me; my daughter that I left in Iraq; to my kids that I would be seeing soon. I replayed these and many other thoughts (need to keep it clean) as I looked out the window at the green far below. I knew one thing for sure I was running on empty and I was headed home to my life I left behind. Again the crew thanked us for our service; then again maybe not, one thing was sure when the door opened I was home. From the plane to the baggage pickup where I had arranged to meet my wife was a blur. It was as if time stood still when I ran down the escalator and through the doors to the baggage pick up. I spied her there through the crowd waiting for me. One of us had aged some the other was as pretty as the day I married her. I’m pretty sure we were both misty eyed and those around us disappeared, it was just me and Susan there for a brief instance. Looking into her eyes I knew then that whatever thoughts I may have had of it being awkward at first had quickly vanished. I was complete. I took her hand and walked out to the car for our trip home. My eyes went from looking at nature’s beauty outside the window, to the beauty by my side. Others passing us in traffic may have thought I looked like a puppy dog looking out the window. They may have been right I know if I was a dog my tail would have been thumping.

After the commute home my wife went in the house for something or other. When she returned I had my combat boots and socks off standing barefooted in the grass. Oh what a great feeling it was! I could tell a few more details about the first day home but………..

Journal entry 8 Sep 09: What a great feeling waking up in your own bed with your wife by your side. What a great feeling it was if only my wife’s dog would go outside for a while? Fast forward it’s now latter in the morning and we were off to the Zoo with my grand baby. She did remember me, in fact she crashed and burned in her haste to run and see me! Having my grandbaby holding one hand and my wife holding the other I had to ask myself could life get any better? Lions, tigers, monkeys, and Sparky the dolphin we seen it all. In fact the monkeys gave my grand baby special attention and scared her with their sudden interest.

Journal entry 9 Sep 09 though 13 Sep 09: Were off to the cabin for family activities. Did I mention that by this time I’ve seen Darcie and Josh already? Wow seeing your kids after so long was awesome. Josh had changed so much since I last saw him. He was fresh back from basic training at Ft Jackson SC. He was looking good after shedding 20 plus pounds and was standing maybe just a little taller. Darcie had moved back to Minnesota from Chicago and was looking good as well. Matt met us up north seeing as though he now lives in the Alexandria area. He moved there to start his life over after his girlfriend and him decided to go their separate ways. It was great seeing him as well and watching first hand his interaction with his baby.

So much had changed but the atmosphere at the cabin still is about family, friends and relaxation. So much to do and no plan to do anything more than enjoy our time together. I wanted to make my breakfast the next morning so the smell of sizzling bacon, sautéed onions, and golden brown hash browns soon filled the air. Did I mention that later my mother in law “Harry” felt it necessary to beat me at cribbage? I will admit I was weak and tired after making breakfast, and to be honest a little embarrassed when she beat me more than once? Now I hear that her confidence is still high and she is heading off to Vegas in hopes of making it rich. Just maybe my loss gave her the encouragement that she needed.

We had fires at night and talked of life, love and the pursuit of happiness. Of course we had SMORES with the marshmallows slow cooked by Susan. The stars were bright; the noises of the night were playing a soothing melody. Wow I had to almost pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

One of the nights I woke to feeling warm and wet all over. (Get your minds out of the gutter). My grand baby surprised me by giving me a shower. Had I been laying on my stomach I might have drowned? She has to have a huge bladder for such a little girl

Journal entry 14 Sep 09: Wife has to work today what should I do with my time? I put zed around the garage, shop, and the yard. I cleaned the wife’s garage, moved the trash cans to the curb, tilled the garden, and washed my uniform for the trip back to Iraq. I even trimmed the branches in the front yard and hauled off two large trailer loads of brush. Again I asked myself could it get any better.

Journal entry 15 Sep 09: This is the day that we take our grandbaby in to get her caught up on all her shots. We woke up with Aubrey laying between us, as well as Susan’s dog. She was such a big girl right up tell she got stuck in the arm. My heart broke as she started to cry. What could I do to help her though this. When it was all over the nurse gave her some really cool band aids, and even better stickers (note to self the army should consider the sticker program). That night our neighbor and neighborette had us over for dinner. It was so nice seeing them we have been neighbors for almost 18 years and raised our kids together.

Journal entry 16 Sep 09: Another day in paradise! I went four wheeling with my friends and my boy Josh. Words can’t describe the feeling of taking off riding with you buds! What a feeling of freedom flying along with the wind blowing through your hair. Yes smarty pants (NB) the wind blows threw it even though it’s short. 120 miles, 5-10 serious mud holes, trucker style breakfast, burgers with the boys, and Dairy Queen priceless. At one point after I jousted with Josh over a mud hole we were both covered head to toe in mud and laughing together. Those there that day would admit the wave that hit Josh was much bigger than the ripple he had sent my way. What more could a man ask for? The only thing that could make it better was knowing my wife was waiting for me (get your mind out of the gutter) when I got home.

Journal entry 17 Sep 09: Sometimes I’m not the best brother but I was headed to Cloquet and hadn’t called my family yet. A 2 1/2 hour drive seemed to be enough notice. My time was going so fast at this point. We took Josh to the credit union in my hometown to open a savings account in hopes of getting a car loan latter. Went to our world renowned burger joint “Gordys Hi Hat” and had the best burger so far. Gordy has been run by the same couple since 1960, one of the couple is always there working. I think the best way I could explain the food there is that your mouth has an orgasm while eating the food. We then took Josh to the casino for his very first time so he could understand what it means to piss your money away. Susan left with more than she went in there with, me and Josh well that’s a different story. The next thing we knew is it was off to see my sister and her husband at their home before we went to supper later that night at the Chinese restaurant. It was great seeing them. Later at the restaurant we saw my brother Larry and his wife Cindy, my Sister Sue and her husband Richard and their kids and grandbabies. The visit may not have been as long as some may have wanted but I was OK with it all. We were doing the one thing that we wanted to stay away from and that was travel all the time. Don’t worry were off to the cabin the next day.

Journal entry 18 Sep 09 – 20 Sep 09: Another weekend at our cabin. Early morning walks hand in hand to the lake. Running around on my four wheeler and then having my buddy Bob make us supper complete with steaks grilled to order that were cut to size at the local butcher shop. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Life isn’t about what you get out of life. It’s more about what you put into it. My family has some of the best friends in the world and for that I’m thankful. If great friends were a true measure of wealth, than I’m a very wealthy man. Time to leave is just around the corner and Sunday night we are having supper with Darcie, Josh, and his girlfriend Adriane, at the restaurant that Josh will be working at. The food was great, the company was excellent, and my heart was heavy knowing I would be leaving this again. I just had to ask myself “Self, why did you join the Army”. We all know if I was in the Air Force my tour would already be over.

Journal entry 21 Sep 09: Thinking about the soldiers that I left behind. Wondering if they were OK and wondering what the trip back was going to be like. All this and more are the thoughts I woke up to and had me feeling just a little depressed. I know I had to go back, I know that I had to finish this chapter of my life. It’s funny that your safe at home, far from Iraq but you think about it. You know you’re on borrowed time and that soon you’re going to be back in the sand box. How I wish that it was over, how I hate to leave, and yet I find myself wanting to go back and finish the job I started. Talk about mixed emotions but you can’t talk about it for fear that they won’t understand. I was worried that I might break I needed to be strong for my family. The emotions are running high in the house, and I know Susan can feel my unease. I had to shake it off I had lunch plans with my twin brother different mother Doug at Savoy’s (rated one of the best Pizza places in the cities). It was great seeing him as well and catching up on his life. Did I mention that we had a beer or two? I got home and found out that supper plans for the night with friends were cancelled and I was glad. Time spent with my family was the ticket I needed to kick the funk.

Journal entry 22 Sep 09: Another day left and the countdown clock was rapidly ticking away. So much that I wanted to do and so little time. I fired up the chain saw and cut the rest of the branches that I hadn’t gotten yet with the hand saw. It’s OK my grand baby was there to help me. If it wasn’t for her we would never have gotten the twigs picked up and piled half way to the brush pile. Then she made me pick up the apples that had fallen before the dogs could roll in them. She’s quite the slave driver and her Grandmother and I are so proud of her!

Dinner that night was with our friends Lisa and Kevin so I was able to catch up on the events of their life. Talk quickly changed from our kids to our trip to Hawaii that we were taking together after I retire next fall. Looking back at our dinner that night makes me smile. Like Martin Luther I know have a dream of sandy beaches with water. Drinks in a glass with an umbrella in it, definitely not the drink box that I’ve grown accustom to.

Journal entry 23 Sep 09: Departure day is here what can I say? Where did the time go thank god I have the memories and if my memory fails pictures of my family and friends? Darcie, Josh and Susan are going to the airport to say good bye. Good-bye is so permanent, it should be changed to see you later, or I will meet you in my dreams tonight. Passes were obtained and my family escorted me to the departure gate. When final good-byes were spoken and I headed down the concourse again to leave my family for the last time in my career I hoped. I couldn’t look back for fear that I would lose it. It sucks being a guy but my family knew that I was doing what I could to get through this. Man the thought that rushed through my mind as the door closed and we taxied down the run way.

To those still reading this take this opportunity to reach out and hug someone for me. Call someone now that you haven’t talked to in a while and let them know that they are in your thoughts. Tell them you love them and thank your lucky stars that your home with your loved ones! It will be months before I will awake to find my wife, dog and probably my grandbaby sleeping soundly knowing they are safe. Maybe that’s why we are here to keep the evil away from those that are so dear to us! If you see a guy in uniform thank them it doesn’t matter if they are a soldier, fireman, or a police officer they do what they do so you can sleep safe.

To my family and friends thanks for the great time, the great memories, and for being there for me and my family. To my wife Susan I know it can’t be easy to love a soldier, especially me. Trust me I know I’m a lucky man and I will get through this with you by my side.

The bright spot in my return was seeing my daughter Jacki and to quiz her about her comment that she made to her mother on the phone. She said when asked if she missed me that it was like having your parents away for a long weekend. That topic is still under discussion but the pictures that I brought her I’m sure will be looked at several times over the next few months.

That is all for now,