Saturday, December 29, 2007

Finding the Hoo-uh In Me or Owning Your Fear

This was written Friday, 21 December, but I didn't have internet access for a week. I hope you enjoy... Photos of me in my gear will follow soon.

So, I’m sitting here in the Fayetteville, NC Airport with just over two hours to kill before my flights that will lead eventually to my brother’s house in WA state. It’s really hard to believe that Christmas is happening in just 4 days. Still I finished my online Christmas shopping on Tuesday night—thank you Amazon for free two-day shipping. That being said, I still find it hard to believe that Christmas is here.

So, I’ll be in WA state for Christmas, then at my sister’s in ID, and then down to Cache Valley UT for a couple of days before flying back to DC. I’m very excited to see all my brothers, my sister and all my nieces and nephews. My sister is due any second and so I may get to meet my new nephew while I am home. Woohoo!

The past couple of weeks have been full of more death-by-powerpoint briefs. I now know more about geo-political affairs in southeast and central Asia then I ever wanted to know. I also know about 25 phrases in Pashto, can count to 20 without really thinking about it, and am learning to write the alphabet as I memorize it.

The most exciting training was the Combat Life Savers (CLS) course, which we did last weekend. Basically, it’s first aid in a combat situation, and it goes against all natural instincts when you think first aid.

In a normal trauma situation when someone needs first aid, typically you aren’t getting shot at, or an IED hasn’t just gone off. In a normal situation, you stop what you are doing and the injured person becomes your first priority, not so much in combat. In combat the first thing we have to do is return fire if being fired upon. Then once we are in a position to administer aid without endangering ourselves or the injured we begin the first aid process. One thing I found interesting was that they also taught us self aid, so we could apply a tourniquet or battle dressing to ourselves if we are able to. That was weird. However, some of the most ingenious gadgets I’ve seen in a long time are the ways that medics have come up with to improve battlefield treatment over the past couple years.

Our instructors were Army medics who had been either to Iraq or Afghanistan. They were awesome and really knew their stuff. They were very focused on making sure that we knew our stuff before we finished our training. We watched video clips of injuries (blegh!) and had plenty of hands-on practice applying techniques as well.

One thing that we learned to do is to insert a nasal pharyngeal airway (NPA). This is a plastic tube that goes up a person’s nose that helps to keep their airway open. The instructor pulled out some mannequins and put them on the table, and then asked for volunteers to insert an NPA.

I was very nervous about all this first aid stuff, because I do not like blood and gore and causing people pain. I don’t like the photos and videos of hurt people either. But I had to start right now de-sensitizing myself to all of this, because when someone gets hurt I can’t freeze up or be sick. I have to be able to see beyond all this and administer aid. I had to own my fear and make it work for me instead of against me.

So, I raised my hand, and the Gunny Sergeant, a Marine, raised his hand. We both walked up front and stood by the mannequins. The instructor then pulled out one NPA and some lubricant and asked who would be the one to receive the NPA. Gunny and I looked at each other and then at the instructor. We were both like, “What do you mean receive the NPA?” The instructor then said that one of us would practice inserting the NPA on the other. Gunny looked at me and asked what I wanted to do. I said let’s rock, paper, scissor it. He just shook his and lay down on the table.

Meanwhile the whole class was cracking up and making jokes. After using Gunny to demonstrate how to clear an airway and check for breathing, I put on latex gloves and pulled out the NPA. The look in his eyes as I put lubricant on the NPA was classic. I could tell he didn’t really want to be doing this, and neither did I. The instructor told me I had to talk the whole class through what I was going to do, and so I did. I put my thumb on the tip of his nose and pushed it up, so the nostrils were open, and then I grasped the plastic tube about halfway up and started to put it in Gunny’s nose. As I did so, he said, “Whoa, stop!” He wanted a moment to gather his wits, I guess. Someone in the class asked why he had volunteered and he said, “’Cause I thought we were going to practice on dummies.” Well, that brought the house down, as several people were quick to point out that I was practicing on a dummy, and that it was commonly known that Marines are short on brains anyway. After we laughed about that for a minute, Gunny looked at me and said okay. So, I tried again to insert the NPA. However, Gunny had broken his nose not just once but twice and I wasn’t able to insert the tube without causing him pain.

The next day of CLS was learning how to initiate a saline lock and start an IV. After watching a couple of videos on how to do it and watching our instructors show us on each other, we got to divide into pairs and practice on each other. Now, you have to know that I hate needles. I do not like them when they are meant to be stuck in me for shots. I do not like them when they are stuck in me for blood draws either. Did I mention that I HATE needles? Earlier in the day I was thinking about the fact that not only do I have stick a needle into someone, they in turn will be sticking me with a needle so they can practice as well. I almost started hyper-ventilating just thinking about this and had to work really hard to get myself calmed down. Needless to say, I was a wee bit nervous about this.

Each PRT has a doctor and so I figured that our Doc had to have learned how to do IVs in medical once upon a time. I talked with him and he agreed to be my partner. I got stuck first and he did it on one try. Poor Doc was such a great sport. I took me four tries before I got it. I got his vein on the first try, but then I went through it. The next two times I missed it, and then we found a bigger vein near his wrist that I couldn’t possibly miss. However, that vein rolled out of the way and I missed it. The instructor rolled the vein back over and I was able to get the catheter into the vein, establish a saline lock and start the IV. Somehow I managed not to lose my cool or let my nerves get the better of me. I was pretty pleased with myself, because this was a huge step for me. I didn't let the fear own me, I owned the fear and made it work for me, which was a pretty good feeling.

We also were issued our body armor (IBA) and combat helmets (ACH). This stuff is pretty heavy and we did a road march wearing all of our gear. I have some photos of me in the ACH, and I’ll be getting some of the IBA soon. Keep in mind that anytime I leave the Forward Operating Base (FOB) I’ll be decked out in this gear. The IBA itself weighs about 40 pounds, add the helmet, assault pack, magazine pouches, first aid kit and weapon and we are looking at close to 80 pounds. Amazing when I think about it. Even more amazing when think that in the dead heat of the Afghan summer I’ll be wearing all this gear. Yikes!

Well, I’m gonna be strong by the time I get done with this adventure. As the colonel on my team said, it’s the Hoo-uh Factor. Basically, meaning I have a lot of heart, and while my first inclination is not to be this tough and do all this hard stuff, I’m succeeding in doing it. That makes me smile. This is not the life I thought I signed up for, but it’s the one I have and so I’m going to have as much fun developing the Hoo-uh Factor as I can. Hoo-uh!

My blisters have healed up nicely and I’m sure I’ll have callouses on my heels and other places by the time I’m done with this. My boots didn’t fit properly, because they were out of my size, so that’s I got blisters in the first place. I now have one pair of boots that fit me and another pair on order through the supply system, so I will have good boots that treat my feet right.

Hoo-uh is Army for "Let's do it", "Yes", and well everything else you can imagine.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Blisters and Singing in Pashto

So, this week is done and I'm exhausted. I'm sitting on my bed in Navy PT gear surrounded by piles of clean laundry that I just can't bring myself to start folding, and listening to MOTAB Peace Like a River and writing my blog. (By the way, civilian clothes are not authorized while in training with Army, so I'm either in uniform or Navy PT gear.) It was a very long week, with lots of new information and some very hard to face facts of deployed life.

I've heard Christmas carols a couple of times this week and it just blows my mind that it's really Christmas time. My mind and spirit are somewhere else completely different from Christmas and I'm finding it really hard to believe that it really is Christmas. There are lights and other decorations up on Ft Bragg, but it's still so weird to me. Hopefully, in the next few weeks I'll find Christmas somewhere in my heart. It's there, I'm just focusing so hard on what I'm doing right now.

I didn't get to go to church today, because we had briefings all day today. I really miss not taking the sacrament and being in church. Capitol Hill Ward I miss you guys! It's gonna be a couple more weeks before I get to go church again, so everyone please keep me in your prayers. Pray that I find Christmas here somehow.

As I mentioned before my day starts at 0530 with some really great Army PT. In addition to running a couple of miles, we also do a stretching warm up, and we alternate between running or doing some sort of calisthenics. On Wednesday morning we did pyramid pushups. Basically, you start by doing 10 push-ups, move to your knees to 10 arm lifts, back to do 9 push-ups, move to your knees to do 9 arm lifts and count down to 1... and then you count back up to 10. How many push-ups is that you ask? Oh, that's 110 pushups, cause in the Navy you always do one more for the Marine Corps. My arms are still killing me.

I got the first of about 7 more anthrax shots in my right arm three weeks ago, and I have a lump in my arm still from where I got the shot. Those pyramid pushups aggravated that lump in my arm, and now my tricep is so tight, I can't life my arm above my head or even just hold it on my lap without pain that goes right up in to my shoulder. I'm told this is normal for some people. Yikes! Vitamin M (Motrin) is my new friend the past couple of days. If this keeps up I'll talk to the Doc and get it looked at.

Thursday morning for PT we went for a 2 mile march in our Army Combat Uniforms (ACUs) and boots. Army boots suck! I was gonna try to be tough and do the whole march, but my CDR noticed me walking funny and made me stop. I wasn't the only one walking funny who had to stop. There were a couple of others whose feet were in way worse shape than mine. The Colonel in our group ran back for his car and drove back for all 3 of us who couldn't walk. I got back to my room and peeled off my socks, which were bloody, and found a lovely sized blister on each heel. I'll spare you the details, but it wasn't pretty and they HUUUUURT! On the plus side I did get to wear my running shoes for the next couple of days to give my heels a rest from my boots.

The first couple of days of training this week were brief after brief of really boring, applicable information that my team needs to know delivered by the driest presenters ever. On Thurs and Fri we finally broke out into groups for job specific training. I think I said in an earlier posting that I am the S1 for my team, which means that I am the admin/personnel person for approximately 100 Navy and Army personnel on my team. (Basically, I'm Radar for my team, except I won't be swindling other units out of their supplies, someone else will do that. Remember, he too had a teddybear.) So, for two days I learned the Army's personnel system for evaluations, awards, personnel accountability reporting and casualty reporting.

The casualty reporting section was really depressing. It was really hard for me to even begin to imagine having to fill out the paperwork for someone who gets hurt or killed. It's not something I even want to be thinking about. Even though the PRT's primary mission is assisting the Afghans to be able to provide basic services for themselves, there are still Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters who do not want us there. So, the possibility for casualties exist. There were about 12 of us in this training and we all left pretty depressed that day. Those of you who know me, know that I am pretty strong, and that I am also a softy, so this was a really hard day for me. I got back to my room that night and sat down and had a good cry.

On a lighter note, I started learning Pashto this week, which really gets me excited. In addition to learning useful phrases, such as: Show me your identification, please and Drop your weapon; I am also learning simple medical phrases. My primary assignment when we go out to on missions, will be to speak with the women and children. Yay!! I'm really excited about this. This is where I'll be in my element. I was bored during one of our briefings, so I took my phrase book and translated the Primary song Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes into Pashto, and have been memorizing it.

For those who don't know it, here it is in English:

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, knees and toes. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, eyes, ears, mouth and nose.

In Pashto (please, excuse the pronunciation guide):
Sar, wuga, zangun, da p-hre gota, zangun, da p-hre gota, zangun, da p-hre gota. Sar, wuga, zangun, da p-hre gota, stargey, ghwag, khulah, pasa.

This is so cool! I love it! Can't you just see me singing this with kids at one of the medical clinics or schools? The Doc in our group was pretty impressed with this and even tried to learn it with me this afternoon. My hope is that when the women and children remember me, they remember me as the nice American girl with the big smile who sang and laughed with them.

This is the part of the mission that I get excited about. The purpose of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) is to assist Afghanis in providing basic services for their communities and assisting the central government in having a presence through out Afghanistan. While the PRT coordinates several aspects for the projects and missions throughout the province, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. Instead of our projects and missions having the stamp of the US government all over it, our goal is to have Afghanis out in the forefront where possible, while we are in the background assisting and advising.

Our job for the next year is not to score major touchdowns, but to score first downs. We are helping to continue the momentum in the right direction and planting seeds for changes to come further down the line. Changes will not happen overnight. It will take a couple of generations before we see the effects of our efforts in some cases. I believe that the younger generations who are starting to receive an education will be the ones to demand and make them in the future. The children now will be the adults taking Afghanistan to the next level. So, right now patience, hard work and sacrifice are required. Plus, any of the small human touches that each of person on my team brings to the table will be what the Afghanis remember, and hopefully they remember us with a smile on their face.

So, maybe to you this sounds a bit idealized and maybe it is. However, the PRTs are doing great work there and we are helping a lot of people to have a better life and to have more opportunities to choose what their life will be. It's not without mistakes, because we are learning just like the Afghanis are. More often than not, we do get it right. This to me is a really great thing, and I'm just thankful to be a part of it.

Follow up on comments:
In my last post I mentioned IEDs. For those of you who don't know what this is, IED is Improvised Explosive Device. I know, it's scary. But like I said I have faith in God and in the training I'll be receiving.

My teddybear's name is Spencer Herbert. Spencer 'cause that's what his tag said and Herbert 'cause my dad said so. So, no Cheryl L., I won't be changing his name to Mohammed, because neither he nor I want to get in trouble. Besides, Spencer Herbert is a much better name. And in case you were wondering, Radar's teddybear didn't have a name.

For those of you who asked about where I'll be spending Christmas, I will be out west the majority of the time visiting my family in Washington state, Idaho and Utah. More than likely I'll be back in DC for New Year's to get the rest of my stuff out of my apartment. Anybody doing anything fun for New Year's in DC?

Many thanks to Andi P. for featuring me on her blog: Independence Kids. You are awesome!!

I also changed the settings so anonymous comments can now be posted to my blog. Thanks to Cheryl B. for pointing that out to me.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

My Mailing Address

I'm glad that everyone seems to be enjoying the blog. Yay!! I hope more people write comments and ask questions.

So, the past couple of days have been interesting. For the next three weeks I am in what is called Staff Training. I am the junior staff member, meaning that I am the lowest ranked person on the staff. However, I will be the administration person for approximately 100 personnel, to include Army and Navy service members. This is a huge responsibility and little overwhelming when I think about it. My commander (CDR) and First Sergeant (1Sgt) both know how much work this is and we are already starting to think about how we will be running the admin shop.

Yesterday, we did lots of country overview briefs and received a brief introduction to Afghan culture. This got everyone real excited. However, the most exciting brief was this morning when we received an introduction to IED recognition and deterrence. We learned about the most recent IED building methods and a little about how to recognize them. In January, when the rest of our team arrives, we will do the hands on training and go out on "missions" to learn how to do all this stuff. So, now I'm a little scared, but I'm also pretty confident in the training I'll receive. I have to remember, that we are just as creative as they are. Just like they are coming up with new methods for IEDs, we are coming up with new methods to deter them.

We have started doing Physical Training (PT) together as a team. As the slowest runner, I got to lead the run this morning. I think I did pretty well at keeping a steady pace. My 1Sgt said that I kept a ten-minute mile pace the whole way. So, we aren't going to win any marathons, but then again a mile and a half at 0530 in the morning isn't that much fun. At least I got my endorphin high early. Hoo-ah!

I'll try and get some photos of me in uniform up later this week. It's kind of funny to be in an Army uniform with Navy patches on it. Army privates, etc. see my crow and start trying to salute me, which gives all of us a laugh or two.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Week 1: NMPS Norfolk, VA & Ft. Bragg, NC

So, the first week has come to a close. NMPS was relatively painless. There was 225 Navy personnel active and reserve who were getting ready to deploy, so I was ready for a madhouse, however the folks there know their stuff and got all of us through medical/dental and pay by Thursday afternoon. I got more shots, filled out more paperwork, started my pay up and got my uniform issue. I was also cleared for deployment, so that means I am officially cleared by the Navy to deploy to Afghanistan.
There was one other LDS person in our group, so we became instant buddies. HM1 Forrest is heading to Afghanistan as well, but is Ft. Riley, KS doing his Army training. (HM1 = Hospital Corpsman Petty Officer First Class). We will both be serving in the western provinces in AFG which means we will run into each other on occasion. YAY!

So, yesterday I arrived at Ft. Bragg after a lovely four hour nap on a bus. It's huge here and nothing important is within walking distance. We are staying in the oldest barracks on base which were built in the 1970s and are pretty sparse when it comes to amenities. But the heat works, the showers are hot and I have a "real" bed I'm sleeping on. I took a couple of photos of my room so you could see my new home for the next three weeks. I've added a couple of homey touches, like a rug on the floor and a curtain for the window, so the sailors on the second deck in the building next door don't get a free peep show.

So, my muscles are hurting from all the PT we've done this week. Navy PT is intense, but the NMPS staff was trying to acclimate us to Army PT. I just hope I can keep up and that my body quickly adapts.

It's been fun meeting all the people I'm gonna be working with and seeing in AFG. We have Army, Air Force and Navy all living the same old barracks. We are from all over the world--England, Japan, Hawaii, Cuba--and all over the US. Everyone seems pretty cool and I'm looking forward to starting to train together.

Well, this is it for this week. Let me know if you have questions. See you next week!