Thursday, October 28, 2010
It's 92 miles one way to Camp Ripley compared to 40 miles to the cabin. Needless to say I live at the cabin during the week and travel home to the cities for long weekends. This is the biggest drawback. Being separated from my family again isn’t easy. Fortunately for me Susan (unfortunately for her) recently had surgery and has been living at the cabin with me. Life is great right now not saying that it wasn’t great before!
I’ve been busy with small projects at the cabin. Finally installed the ceiling fans upstairs; built a temporary wall where the double garage door is to save on the heating bill: minor landscaping; moved the fish cleaning house; installed metal inside the fish cleaning house along with sink and counter (water and electricity to follow). Did I mention that Susan thought moving the fish cleaning shed by myself was one of the stupidest things I’ve done to date? NOTE to self – “Self I wonder what she knows and what she compared it too? Actually I had Susan running the winch switch on the 4 wheeler and standing by with her cell phone in case it went from bad to worse! We also mounted an antenna outside went from 1 channel to 5 and still nothing on. Cleaned out some more underbrush dropped more trees and together we burn just about every night.
Last night Bella (Susan’s Lab-r-doodle) acted up and I noticed the wild turkeys out in the trees. A little later I noticed them hauling ass out of the area and noticed a wolf out of the corner of my eye. The wolf was almost transparent and blended in with its surroundings. Night life has everything from the loons on the lake; Grouse starting their outboards; to the coyotes yipping in the distant it is awesome!
A couple of weeks ago before Susan and the dogs came up I was outside burning when off in the darkness I heard the coyotes yipping. They sounded like they were hunting and then I heard a scream that made my short gray hair stand up and gave me goose bumps. I'll be honest after that I watched the fire from the comfort of our cabin! The next day the guys at work said it was probably a bunny rabbit dying (Who would have thought).
I find myself smiling a lot more, not sure if it’s the ankle socks, delivery man shorts, or the never iron short sleeve dress shirts that I wear everyday to work. Or it could be that Susan’s at the cabin waiting for me. Then again it might just be that the kids are doing fine and are making their way in the world and are contributing to society. More than likely its D: all the above and the fact that I’m a civilian after over thirty years of wearing a uniform.
I also have come to terms with missing so much of my family’s activities throughout the years. Susan has told me on more than one occasion that I did the best I could given the cards that I was dealt. One example that comes to mind was recently while attending Josh’s Prom. I was sitting in the audience watching the grand march. I whispered to Susan they should have done this for all the kids. She whispered back they did you were never hear for the whole prom. (Her tone was a combination you’re a dumb ass mixed with a little life sucks). You see I only caught bits and pieces of each Childs prom. I could feel really bad or accept the fact that I had a job to do and I did it well given the circumstances.
In closing all I can tell you is to enjoy every moment with your kids as if it’s your last. You’re going to reach a time when they don't need you as much, don't worry they come back. Be prepared and buy a smaller house –just kidding. Seriously my older kids didn't need me so much because they knew more than their old man. Now they call me once in a while and ask me what I think. Life has a funny way of working out. If you look down at your left hand at your wedding ring you will see the symbol of what I'm talking about. Life goes on but sooner or later it makes the full circle.
That’s all for now!
Hope everyone is well!
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I just wanted to do a blog trying to recap some of the highs and lows of our deployment. I have so many memories of the time leading up to the deployment; the time spent at Ft Lewis Washington training to deploy. Then there are the last 10 months of our time together at Kuwait, Victory and Basra Iraq.
Before we actually deployed there were so many trips, expectations, and tasks that we needed to complete. One of which was reading the numerous professional readings to help us understand the people, the culture, the mission and to help us understand the behind the war. The titles were interchangeable in my eyes and most of the readings became one after a while. I’m not complaining, in fact I never slept better.
Then there was the Iraqi born guest speaker from the SCSU to raise our awareness of the local customs, courtesies and the concerns of the Iraqis. Understand he has lived the last ten years or more in the United States and only briefed us based on his two to four weeks spent here every summer and the phone calls home. It amazed me when he spoke of America’s promises after the war that has not been fulfilled. Excuse me I thought, you tell us that not all the people of Iraq have power. My question is of those that had power before war, do they have power now? Then he said the same thing about the water and our countries promises to provide water. From my window I see water plants being built, and the lights glowing in the city of Basra off in the distance at night. Had my inside my head voice not been under control I would have blurted out “If America is so bad why are you still here, go back to Iraq?”
You see, of the locals that I have talked to they see things differently. The one lady I dealt with has known nothing but war her whole life. When you ask her is her life better, she says better than what. Her family has nothing to compare it to because of the war. Her family was used to moving from one hostile area to another less hostile one. Yes they have power, yes they have water, and yes her life is better today.
FT LEWIS, WA (FLWA): What can I say except what an experience? On our way over to serve our country we had the pleasure of staying at North Fort. The old World War II barracks where our forefathers stayed. I’m sure they told the soldiers back then that it was temporary and they were going to tear them down and replace them just like they told us. The place was definitely not the Pierce Motel that you can rent by the hour. At the same time it was far short of your expectations of a Motel 6. Trust me they didn’t leave a light on for us. What made it special was the people that had been to war and back. Maybe they didn’t serve in Iraq, but definitely Vietnam. So many of the civilians that worked with us had already been there and done that, but never received the T shirt.
There was a Vietnam veteran named Glenn in the mess hall that greeted us every morning with the phrase “Would you like an Omelet my friend?” If you said no his automatic reply was “Maybe tomorrow”. His enthusiastic comments every morning made more than one soldier smile.
There were others like him of course. For example the Catholic congregation at church for our going away mass made us feel special as well. The church was located on the base so you can imagine how the soldiers serving there understood us and what we were going through. One older gentleman from the World War II era pulled me aside and reached his shaking hand into his pocket to retrieve his pamphlet on how to pray the rosary. His voice broke as he expressed his gratitude to me and those I serve with.
On a lighter side there was the notorious paint peelers club that was founded by our friend Ms Asset visibility. I won’t go into the details but those of you from my section that were there that day, know. Let me just say we should have gotten the T-shirt that day that said we survived the first paint peeler 2009. She may have been the first but she was definitely not the last.
Let’s not forget the Ninja! This high ranking NCO showed the young punks how to use simulated numb chunks to defeat their opponent. Instead, he defeated himself (literally) in the mud. One observer mentioned that he did a Kamikaze move as he spiraled into the ground.
What about the quotable quotes that was on our wall of fame. Like the one “They want the same information in a different format, let’s just turn the chart sideways!” or “You can’t make this shit up”. Of course you can’t bring up the wall of fame without mentioning the overall cribbage champions Crotteau/Howe who dominated the Ft Lewis series over Townsend/Ulmen. I know that most of us felt that they needed a road map and a compass as their pegs were moved first one direction and then the other.
Who could forget the shower scene? Many a joke has been told about reaching over to pick up a bar of soap in the shower. Let me set the mood: the showers were cramped, the steam was in the air, but the shower looked less gloomy with the single 60 watt bulb hanging from the ceiling. As you walked into the shower you might have to squeeze by one of your 30 roommates or by a total stranger from the first floor. You didn’t want to be the guy to have to work his way down to shower spout #4. My most awkward shower was the day my bar of soap launched itself out of my hands and landed between me and the other guy. It was slow motion as the bar launched high into the air twirling end over end, our eyes met briefly as the bar of soap continued to tumble. When it landed between us I laughed nervously and asked him if I could use his soap. We both laughed I felt as if the whole experience would have made a great opening shot in some X rated movie. It was childish but the scene I just described to you could have gotten a man in prison compromised.
Sure there was time out for good behavior; we got almost 3 hours one night. We would have gotten all four if we didn’t have to drive back and forth to get our leave slips signed. What a way to send soldiers off to war right! But the evening out was well worth it, we went to our last supper that night in the good old USA. After that we went for a night cap of ice cream and talked nervously of our travels the next day.
Movement Forward: 24 hours in an airplane oh my! We traveled ahead in time through several time zones and ended up 9 hours ahead of those we left behind. During our trip here we went from Ft Lewis Washington, Kansas, Bangor Maine, Germany, and finally Kuwait. We all looked like death warmed over with hat hair, wrinkled uniforms and fuzzy faces. Old Chuck looked like he had been rode hard on the chain gang. I bet you thought I was going to say something else?
Temperatures definitely weren’t what they were back on the old homestead. I left Minnesota on 2 February with temperatures at 30 below, Ft Lewis was 30 above when we arrived, and now on 6 March in Kuwait it was 60. It can’t get much better than this I thought to myself. Trust me it didn’t, the temperatures crept a little higher each day and it finally reached well over 130 one day.
We were in tents stacked like sardines awaiting movement into Iraq. We each had 3 duffle bags, and a large ruck sack complete with our choice of carry on. We had a few tasks to complete including shooting our guns on the rifle range. We were cautioned on the way to the range if a camel should cross the range you had to yell cease fire! I’m not sure what the cost was exactly but the cost varied between brown and black camels. I do remember you could buy a 1985 4 x 4 Chevy ¾ truck for the price of a camel. That day nothing crossed our path except for the thought of what in the hell am I doing in this god forsaken place. Looking out the curtained covered windows (You weren’t suppose to look out due to force protection) of the bus you saw sand to the front, left, right and rear. In fact in the days ahead you found out how fine the sand was and where the sand could get in the cracks if you know what I mean.
Our first sandstorm was similar to a Minnesota blizzard driving along I94 headed to Fargo. Lucky for us we were trapped in a mess hall when the day became night. We were eating breakfast one morning when the sand storm struck. It suddenly got dark outside as the winds increased. Fine sand particles were in the air in the mess hall as the storm unleashed outside. It wasn’t pretty afterwards but it was an experience. That night I discovered why my friend rolled his sleeping bag up each and every morning. I had sand in my sack and in my crack that night. The next day when it rained the downpour became mud as the air was cleaned by Mother Nature. It’s was kind of funny as the mud drops hit the earth, splat, splat, splat.
Victory Base Complex (VBC) Iraq: Well we’re finally in Iraq and ready to start learning from our counterparts from the 10th MTN. It didn’t take us long to discover that they were a lot like us. Even though they were active they still blew off steam the only way possible. They had fun, threw a beanie baby or two or whatever else was on hand. They worked together, ate together, and looked out for each other. Most importantly they welcomed us into the fold. Granted our sleeping accommodations made us miss the old vinyl covered mattresses in the World War II barracks back in Ft Lewis. But the cots and my 30 tent mates were happy to be inside out of the elements. They talked of moving us closer to where we worked but most of us had already settled into a routine. It wasn’t until just before we headed south to Basra that we found out the tents they wanted to move us to have regular beds with mattresses. It’s OK though, the indentation on “my not a kid” anymore hips went away with time.
It was there that I learned the humor of the civilians from other countries that were there to support us. One day when Peter (name changed to protect his feelings) went to pick up his laundry, the little Asian lady behind the counter said to him in her best English “Big man, little package”. Now I wasn’t there but the Asset Visibility lady was, she swears the laundry lady wasn’t talking about the size of his laundry bag. I might add that his laundry bag was the size of a back pack that my 2 year old granddaughter might carry. Its funny how nick names are born, right BMLP (Big Man Little Package)?
We were excited to continue our deployment and head to our final destination of Basra Iraq. You see the Division we were replacing was moving from the comfortable country club setting of Victory to the yet developed base of Basra. They were taking over the Basra base from the British. It wasn’t pretty down there by any means.
BASRA, IRAQ: 4 April 2009 we had boxed up the equipment in Victory, called the moving company and headed off to our new digs. Nothing was ready except for the cubicle furniture already set up in barn 3. We called it the barn because we were in stalls (cubes) in this rather large barn, with concrete walls, and in the roof over head. We later came to love our barn during incoming attacks versus being outside in a bunker sweating your butt off listening to the echoing voices of the Base Defense Operations Center (BDOC). You see there were many speakers not all in sync so you would here “This is the BDOC” from multiple speakers with 1 – 3 seconds delay between them. Once the speaker was done near you, the speakers in the distance could still be heard.
This is where reality hit in the middle of the night the alarm would sound and you would drop to the floor and crawl under your mattress. When the BDOC sounded again you were instructed to head to a hardened structure. You grabbed your body armor, helmet, and your weapon and off to the bunker. For a while there it was common for once or twice a week to be in the bunker. You learned early on to stay at work if there was a threat of the neighbors acting up.
My friend MAJ Flikke described our recent out burst from the neighbors in her blog. I couldn’t describe it better when she said:
Your knee and your foot hurt where you hit them on the floor or knocked them against the bed frame. The alarm and the incoming message continue to sound. The big guns outside explode with sound and fury. You are no longer confused, but you are wide awake. You remember exactly where you are and why you are here. You check your watch – midnight. You know that the quick reaction force is on the move to the place from which the incoming came. The alarm stops and the fury of the guns die down. You also know that you will be required to go to a bunker until the ALL CLEAR is given which could take anywhere from a half to four hours. Now you have a choice: do you bring your blanket with you to the bunker or a book. I chose the blanket and tried to sleep, my Buddy chose a book. This isn’t your average wakeup call – for one thing it was way too early.
Trust me after the loss of our three comrades early on, the voice of the night was what could bring you awake in an instant. The voice had a way of bringing you back to reality in a heartbeat.
What does all this mean? Well I’ll tell you, it means for the most part that we came together as individuals and became a team. There wasn’t a star quarterback at the front of the pack, or matching jerseys, just soldiers that wanted to play in the big leagues. There would be no need for a ticket taker to be at the front gate collecting money. The game that we play for those that we supported was for the most part transparent. No one knows what we do until we’re not there to do it. As long as the operation is running smooth no one even looks our way. Once there is a serious oversight on someone’s part, it suddenly becomes our problem and we should have taken care of it yesterday.
Some of my team mates I will never see again and that’s OK, others I will keep in touch with as I grow older. A wise man once said some people bring a smile to your face as they enter a room and others bring a smile to your face as they leave. Most of my team has made me smile as they come into the room, and a few will see me smile as they leave. Truth be told, I will miss them all, for it takes all types to make what happened here possible.
Our team could not have been successful without our civilian contractors. Mark, Tonya, Isiah, Patrick, Ken, and Rose without your guidance, patience, and quiet understanding we could not have made this journey without you. You can play on our team anytime!
Last but not least I need to make honorable mention of LTC Muskrat. Here was a lady that came to us after we were already in country. Her story of being out for 17 years and being called back to serve still make most of us smile. Her real name is LTC Mary Yusckat. Because of my hearing I mistakenly heard her say my last name sounds like muskrat instead of musket. Another nickname was born and her smile and laughter that produces happy tears will not be forgotten. Mary you were an inspiration to us all, and your patience with dealing with the “Man” is remarkable. You truly were an inspiration to us all!
Sometime February 2010: To my family and friends both old and new I thank you for your support, your sacrifices, and your friendship! If you’re ever in Minnesota in the winter knock on the door of my ice shack and say hi. Or join me at the cabin as we gather around the fire to say a silent toast to our Soldiers serving. Let’s not forget that we are Americans first and foremost as we live our lives and enjoy our freedom. I ask at a minimum that on Veterans Day and Memorial Day that you participate in the day and that you reflect on the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters that have gone before us. Share the memories, tell a story or two and never let our youth forget the sacrifices that so many have given so we can live the life that we do!
Susan to you I say “Baby, I’m coming home!”
That is all,
Friday, January 1, 2010
You must be excited, two blogs in one week! Technically I sent one late last year, and one already this year. 2009 has come and gone and the future looks much brighter already. I just got off the phone with my lovely bride and my grand baby. What a nice way to start the day and the New Year! Aubrey knows I’m coming back sometime February, she is ready for grandpa to “Thump” her. Her voice just sparkles when you talk to her somehow making the stress of being here disappear.
I’m not normally one to make New Year’s resolutions but this year I feel that the message I received below has some profound thoughts to live by. It’s a great story that I adjusted to fit my life, read on and enjoy!
This year I vow I will never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, and my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly. As I've aged, I've become kinder to myself, and less critical of myself. I've become my own friend. I don't chide myself for eating that extra cookie, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly cement frog that I didn't need, but looks so awesome in my garden. I am entitled to a treat, to be extravagant.
I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging.
Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4 AM and sleep until noon? I will dance with myself in my boxers if I want to those wonderful tunes of the 60, 70 &80's, and if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love ... I will.
I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set.
They, too, will get old. I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten. And I eventually remember the important things.
Sure, over the years my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when somebody's beloved pet dies after being faithful for so long? But broken hearts are what give us strength, understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.
I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning gray, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.
As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. Or maybe it’s the voice’s talking to me inside my head that really scare me! I don't question myself anymore. If in the middle of the night I have to go to the bathroom I better. The longer the wait, the faster you have to move to get there. I've even earned the right to be wrong, or so I’m told.
So, to answer your question, I like being old. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day (if I feel like it).
MAY OUR FRIENDSHIP NEVER COME APART ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART!
Hopefully you can make it to our families annual New Year’s Eve Bonfire that was postponed to 27 Feb 10. If you have questions on what to bring please contact me.
In closing I wish you and yours a wonderful New Year and wish you all the best!
That is all,
First off I just want to say the closer it gets to the end, the harder it gets to say good-bye. There are a few flights scheduled over the upcoming month to bring us all home. I opted to go with my daughter so we could come home together. What that means is that I was one of the first ones in and will be one of the last ones out. That truly is the story of what it’s like to be in the logistics world. The sad thing for me is that most of my friends and support team are going home before me, and will soon be with their loved ones. I on the other hand have to say good-bye to the people that have become my second family. I will turn the lights off after they leave, and wonder how they are doing, or maybe wonder where are they right now in the process?
It’s kind of bitter sweet when you think about it. I am so glad that they are headed home soon but part of me screams (subconsciously I hope) that it should be me going. The feeling for me can be compared to being the youngest child living at home. At one time there were 5 kids in my parents’ house and the chores were split up according to ability and seniority. As my siblings moved out their chores were divided up to the rest of the kids. As more moved out the last man eventually gets stuck with the work that needs to be done. They say that life’s not fair so deal with it, trust me I am.
To all of you both here in Basra and back home that have supported us while we were here I thank you. Your thoughtfulness made the difference in someone’s life. Knowing that you’re back there supporting the men and women of the armed forces is nothing less than remarkable. The men and women that I serve with are some of the finest people in the entire U.S. Army. Some of us may not have always seen eye to eye on everything but when the dust settled the job was done.
I wanted to share part of an e mail message that Jacki sent to her favorite great aunt. She truly has the gift of writing and her description of the Christmas Turkey brought some rather unpleasant flashbacks to me.
Merry (belated) Christmas!
I figured you are probably curious how exactly one celebrates Christmas when you're surrounded by a sea of sand, and not 23 inches of snow (or whatever the count is now).
We tried to recreate the traditions of home... I went to midnight mass with my dad. I have been horribly sick the last week... I sounded like a little boy going through puberty or on some days... like Marge Simpson. Either way, not attractive. being said, I was pretty miserable at midnight mass. Coughing and all that other fun stuff.
But this was probably one of the best Christmas masses I've been to. Because I wasn't really singing, I silently observed the people who had came to worship that night. A lot of the people who come to support the soldiers by providing services, like AAFES (the PX or basically a Walmart of sorts), Iraqis, Mung, Kenyans and Ugandans, were in attendance. The best part was that the church incorporated all of these differences. Some of the prayers were done in Swahili and Arabic. While we were receiving the Eucharist, an Iraqi choir sang one of their songs. The Ugandans also chimed in with their native music as well.
It was just really nice to see all these people from such diverse backgrounds worshipping together. I'm not a regular church goer and I often choose a route God just might not approve of. Sometimes my beliefs are a little skewed... but I do know that I believe in people of diverse backgrounds being brought together for a common cause. That religion can be a great uniter. And it was nice to know that even though we knew nothing about each other, we all still had something in common.
The base also served a Christmas dinner, but it was nothing compared to the Thanksgiving meal. My piece of turkey had taken on a weird form. Either they gave me the ass of the turkey, or it wasn’t turkey at all. I didn't really want to risk it being the latter... so I consumed my weight in potato cubes (a safer choice than the fake potatoes).
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas! Any grand plans for New Years Eve?
To all those here that I have served with, I thank you for your patience, support, and your understanding. We have laughed, cried, and thrown an occasional beanie baby (- CW4 Schillinger) at someone to relieve the stress. The road we have traveled together has been filled with ups and downs, sorrow and joy, and maybe at times touching just a little bit insane to say the least. I mean it when I said earlier that you guys made a difference in my life and for that I thank you!
Another door is closing for all of us, another chapter in our life has passed, the memories of our time together will be something that I look back on always. May god bless you in your travels, and your life ahead!
That is all,
P.S. If you’re still interested in getting a souvenir tattoo please let me know I can still get a group rate!