Saturday, December 6, 2008
The volunteers from the USO are great and were just outside customs with smiles, handshakes, thank-yous and a little goody bag. It was humbling to have my hand shook by several people as I pushed my bags along and to feel that I was finally home.
I hopped on a plane for a 20 minute flight to Philadelphia and then hopped on another plane for an hour flight to Norfolk, where I am now. My east coast mom and dad, my cousins Jay and Sue, were waiting for me at the airport and helped me get settled in. It was so good to have family waiting for me at the airport, to get hugs and have someone else carry MY bags for a change. It was even better to finally take a shower without shoes on and use all the hot water I wanted. I didn't turn off the water to shave my legs either... Heaven.
The next morning I started the admin process for coming off active duty and returning to my real life as a civilian and a reservist once a month. I finally got to the go the dentist to check on a tooth that had been annoying me for about three months. I ended up spending the afternoon reclining in the dentist's chair getting a root canal. Not my idea of a fun way to spend my first day of freedom, but my tooth is not bugging me anymore and it was the least painful root canal I've had thus far.
I can now walk barefoot across the floor to the bathroom. I am sleeping in a comfortable bed. I can walk anywhere I want to and walk for more than two minutes before I'm at my destination. I saw one of my best friends. This is my first weekend off I've had in close to 10 months. I'm in a real home with my cousins, eating home cooked meals and sitting on a real couch. I went shopping and bought a new dress. I drank water from the tap without fear of getting some horrible waterborne parasite.
This morning after breakfast in my pjs (luxury), I sat and watched the birds and squirrels feeding in the backyard. The bird bath had ice on it and I watched a robin trying to break the ice. I watched squirrels chasing each other across the yard and up and down trees. I saw a bright orangeish-red cardinal bouncing along on the ground scooping up seeds. Heaven.
The highlight of today was raking leaves for about an hour outside this morning. It was great listening to the sound of leaves being piled up on one another, it's one of my favorite sounds. It was beautiful just being able to rake leaves.
While it's great to be home, it is a bit of an adjustment. My heart hurt last night as we drove through a shopping area and I compared it to what I left behind. We have so much and they have so little. I hope I don't start to take it for granted. I hope I remember frequently how much I am blessed with.
Life is good and the simple things in life provide the biggest pleasures. Home!
Friday, November 28, 2008
A lot has happened this past year, some of it I can talk about and other parts I can't or don't really want to remember, but over all I'm really glad that I had this experience. I learned so much about myself, other people and a new place in the world. I'm sure that I will be using my experiences and learning from this past year for the rest of my life. My biggest hope coming into this was that I would help to make a difference in the world and I feel that I have.
Everyone has a role to play and even the person in the back corner of the stage must play their role well in order for the whole production to succeed, at least that's what every play director says to their cast. It may seem cliche but it's true. I was not the one out in front making decisions or going outside the wire everyday, but I supported the people who did those things and tried to make sure they had less to worry about.
I think our team did make a difference. The Farah Provincial Governor Ahmin said this a few weeks ago, "Peace doesn't have feet. It's up to us to bring it here. Peace doesn't have a voice. It's up to us to speak for it." He summed up our purpose for the past year and our ultimate goals in Afghanistan beautifully. We are hoping for peace, working for peace and in some cases giving up everything for peace.
One day while at lunch we were eating bananas, a rare treat in Farah. One of our intrepeters told us that during Taliban times bananas were not allowed in some places. We asked why. He said, because in order to eat a banana you must take its skin off, making it naked. We laughed thinking he was joking and then realized he was serious. Think about that the next time you peel a banana.
The steps to peace are small in Afghanistan, but not insignificant. There is hope and peace will one day have a strong, supported voice there.
P.S. Okay, totally off subject: My mom fell down a flight of stairs at home a few days ago and broke her collar bone, some bones in her face and cracked a couple ribs. Thankfully, no brain damage and so far no surgery is needed because all the bones stayed together and didn't separate. However, as you can imagine she is in a lot of pain. Hopefully, she was able to leave the hospital on Wednesday. Please keep her in your prayers as she recovers. Thanks.
See you all soon at home in the U.S. Much love, Christine
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Earlier today I was writing to a friend of mine, actually he’s a retired senior chief, about life here. He had asked me how life was in Afghanistan. Most days that's an easy question for me, but for those who live here it is so not easy.
Lately I’ve thought a lot about our team’s mission of helping the Afghans achieve self governance. It seems like a losing battle at times, but we are very blessed right now with what seems to be a good city mayor, as well as a very bright and good governor. At least they seem to be less corrupt than the previous ones. Nevertheless, it is difficult to identify substantial changes and quantify them as we look forward to the end of our deployment. We hope we made the right decisions and took the right steps in implementing programs which encourage not only self governance but self sufficiency as well.
In our leadership training at Ft Bragg, NC one of the take-away points was more or less this: “We are not here for touchdowns, but first downs. Teams that come behind us may score the first touchdown and we should not expect to leave a huge scorecard behind.” This is true because every move we make doesn’t reveal the results right away, and all we can do is hope it works right and move our objectives closer to the end zone. (I’m not a fan of sports analogies, but they do work.) I think we are achieving success, but only time will tell.
While this is not the place to go into details about some of our successes I can relate this story. I listened to a post-mission brief this afternoon. One of our teams had gone out to do a quality assurance check on a project funded by us, but carried out by local Afghans in a remote village. One soldier related his conversation with one of the village elders. The elder told the soldier that he really liked it when we came to his village, because for several days afterwards his people are in a good mood. He also said that he likes us to come because we treat his people with respect and we genuinely help them.
This is good for us to hear. It means we are getting part of the job right and our soldiers are doing their jobs right. It also means that at least in this village these people are open to their own government and are probably more willing to work the provincial government now. This is good news for us, but it’s only one village. It’s a drop in the bucket.
In the email to my senior chief friend I used this analogy to describe measuring our success. It's like having a 5 gallon bucket that you need to fill with water and the only water source is a drip from a faucet outside in the middle of a desert. So, you put the bucket underneath the drip and hope that it fills up. Granted it's going to take a while, but eventually it will fill up. It's overwhelming to see the need in our province and know that we are only looking at a drop in the bucket and that maybe our effort is only a drop in the bucket to them.
It's a difficult thing to set out to win a war by conquering the hearts and minds of a people. No one is sure that it can be done, because quite frankly where has it been done before? We can't leave now that we are here. If we do, then Afghanistan becomes a safe haven again, where Al Qaeda can regroup, train and prepare attacks. Granted we have that now in Pakistan, but they are focusing on getting us out of Afghanistan and hopefully don't have the resources to do much more.
I think we are making good things happen here. There are good people everywhere who make the right choices and living according to the light and truth they have in their lives. There are good parents everywhere too, who are trying so hard to get the best opportunities for their children, the best education and the best jobs. So many have limited choices and all they know is the fight to put food on the table, let alone clothes on their children's backs, but they still try. We can't give up on them. We have to keep putting drops in the bucket because eventually and with enough drops of water the bucket will start to fill and we will see more positive changes and so will they.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens... Okay, seriously a few of my favorite things.
Letters. There's something about holding a piece of home in my hands and that's a letter is--a piece of home. It helps shorten the distance and depending on the day makes you either really homesick or just feel loved.
Pink. Not the hugest fan of pink, but I do like it. With my limited wardrobe choices, pink is a favorite thing. I have pink sheets, pink pjs, a pink mug, pink blanket, hot pink Crocs, pink nail polish and even pink pens (with black ink). It helps me feel like a girl and I really need that here.
Music--any kind, but here I especially love MOTAB--Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Not only are they America's choir, but they are also good for when I need that extra boost in my day. I usually don't have time to stop and read during the day, but I can turn on my iPod and listen to them anytime I need to.
Scriptures. I love reading the scriptures. Not only do they bring peace into my heart, but it helps me to escape the daily grind of being here. The same with reading books.
Friends. I have some really good friends here. They make this whole thing worthwhile.
Jets. After a few hours of being rocketed, the sound of a jet flying low is a beautiful sound. It's a safe sound. It means we really aren't alone out here.
Thoughts of home. Yes, I get homesick, but thinking about home is a good thing. It's what I'm here for. Lately, it's been fun to think about what I'll do when I get home. For instance, not set my alarm and shower barefoot and drink a glass of real milk.
Running. Yes, Rob your big sister is actually saying she likes to run. I don't love it, but I do like it and it's great for stress management.
Funny one-liner jokes. For instance: Why do gorillas have big nostrils? Have you seen the size of their fingers! Or this one, my new favorite from Reader's Digest... A dyslexic man walked into a bra. (Seriously, I'm laughing here.)
Game Over. The call sign for when our guys are back inside from their mission. It means they're safe.
HIMYM. For those who don't know Barney, and "Have you met Ted?", if you need a laugh this is the show to watch. As they say on How I Met Your Mother, "It's gonna be legen-wait for it-dary!" I love the laughs on this show. It's one of my guilty pleasures.
The sunset. Lately, the only quiet I get somedays is when I'm standing at wire looking out over the walls at the mountains as the sun goes down. The rocks change color as the sun goes down--purples, reds, pinks and oranges. It's beautiful. My camera doesn't do it justice.
Pancakes every Friday with strawberry syrup. The strawberry syrup is made fresh and has whole strawberries in it. They're the best food thing here and we have them every Friday for brunch.
....these are a few of my favorite things.
Anyway, I know you all want to hear more about my adventures here, but I really don't have any. I haven't left the FOB in a while, which is kind of boring, so there's just not much to tell. Life here can be pretty simple though and I do like that. Simple is a good thing.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Imagine being in a place with little electricity and very little pollution. Now look up at the sky while you're outside in the dark... Amazing, right? Yes, amazing. The sky here is the clearest sky I've ever seen at night. The Milky Way is so clear and the stars are so big here. This almost makes being over worth it.
So, we have this cool little thing called Night Vision Goggles (NVG) here. NVGs are awesome and really fun to play with. They help us see in the dark, which is good in many ways.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
A few days after we had the little girl with the tumor, we had another little girl incident.
A four year old was riding on a motorcycle with her uncle, when they came under fire. Not exactly sure why, but probably because the uncle is the nephew of one the government leaders here in Farah. Anyway, bullets passed through him, killing him and then into his niece's head.
Of course, when Commander C got the call asking if we could help she said yes. The father and other uncles brought her here and our medics got to work. Once they had her hooked up to the monitors and everything they could tell that she was brain dead, so there was nothing they could do. The father just didn't believe that we couldn't work a miracle and bring his little girl back. One of the uncles fainted. It was awful.
Once it sunk in for the father, he cupped his daughters little face and began kissing it. The family took her away after bringing in a couple of female relatives. The keening noise they made as they cried will not be forgotten soon.
I wasn't there for the whole episode, rather I got there just as they were preparing to leave. It was really hard on everyone, the medics, and the command staff, even for me. It's heart wrenching to see people's pain at losing a loved one. She was so young. No one deserves to get a bullet through the head let alone a four year old girl.
It just reminded what we are here fighting and working for. Every person through out the world deserves to feel safe and secure and ride on their uncle's motorcycle without getting shot by people who hate your other relatives. We are trying to create a place here where people can live without fear and oppression. Slowly but surely I think we are making progress, but it's going to take a while.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
(by William Cowper)
God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. I sure don't understand this life sometimes. The violence here makes no sense at all to me. It's even scarier when friends are involved in it. I just trust that God knows what He is doing. That's all I can do.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
So, life here is going on as usual. The good news is that we just had our boots on ground (BOG) hump day last week, so we are now more than half way done. Woohoo!!!! Seems like time is slowing down though and I just want it to keep moving.
We've been busy here this month. I think I told you in one of my earlier postings that I provide female security for all local national females who enter our base. Basically, I search each female that enters our base.
About two weeks ago, I was called down to the gate to search two females. When I got out there it was a mom and her daughter. My heart broke when I saw the little girl. She's 8 or 9 years old, but looks about 5 or 6. She was in so much pain, she couldn't move on her own and so her mother had to do everything for her. Pain was written all over her little face and her dark brown eyes were absolutely blank. I took them inside the small office for privacy. I searched the mother and then I searched the little girl. I tried to be so careful of the little girl, because I didn't know what was wrong with her and then I felt it. I knew immediately why she was in pain. She had this enormous growth in her abdomen. My heart fell, because I figured that it was a tumor of some sort and probably cancer.
Later that day, our surgeon removed a 5.5 pound tumor from her along with one kidney and one ovary, and part of her pancreas. Our docs figure it's cancer. I forget what kind but it's got a good a survival rate if chemo and radiation therapies are used. She's lucky we're here, because we can make arrangements for her to go to Pakistan or Iran to get the the treatments she needs.
In the meantime we are spoiling her. She got her nails done the other night and has lots of stuffed animals and crayons. The nurses love her and are working with her to get her to eat and move around. She was doing good, but then suffered a minor setback with vomiting and a fever. They had to go back in and repair a hole in her bowel. She now has a colostomy bag and feeding tube, and we'll just have to see how she does over the next few days.
Her mother and uncle come almost every day to visit her. It's a pretty long trip for them, from one side of the province to the other, so it's a big deal for them to get here. At least they get a good meal when they come.
We are able to work small miracles here. Let's hope this one keeps working.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Funny story: A few months ago some of SECFOR (security force) guys were talking to some soldiers from Slovenia. Now keep in mind that all the coalition forces have their country names or flags on their uniforms. One SECFOR soldier asked the Slovenian where he was from. The guy covered up the "s" and the "nian" on his name tape on his pocket, and answered, "The country of love." We busted up laughing, not just because this was a classic moment, but also because our SECFOR guys just didn't know what to do with this and was really uncomfortable. Brilliant!
Another funny story: I was reading out loud in Harry Potter (in Italian) with one of my Italian friends trying to get the Italian pronunciation right. We stopped to discuss a word for a moment and when I understood the point he was making and we were ready to continue he said to me, "Go hide." I looked at him really confused and replied, "No, I don't want to." "Go hide," he said again looking at me, and again I replied to the contrary. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why he was telling me to go hide. The third time he said it, he gestured to the book and all of a sudden it dawned on me that he was saying, "Go ahead." We laughed and laughed at that one. Language and accents are a wonderful thing.
Sorry this is short, but it's like 0130 in the morning and I'm really tired. I can't think of anything else to write really, but mainly just wanted to post something new to show I was alive and kicking. Plus, my MWR watch is over in about 5 minutes.
I love hearing from everyone via email. Keep them coming. I actually have space in my head now to think of things other than here.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I didn't sleep much the night before, cause my head was spinning as I was thinking about all the stuff I needed to remember and concentrate on. I really had no idea what to expect, but I went through all the convoy and IED defeat training they gave me at Ft Bragg. A word of advice, when you want to sleep well, don't review the IED defeat training in your head. Take my word for it and think of something else.
I wish that I could have taken photos of Farah city, so you could see them, but when you're out and about here you can't be a tourist. As we drove into the city, I really had no idea what to expect. The only place I've ever been that was even close to a third world country was Chile and even the worst places I saw there were nothing compared to what I saw. It's amazing how poor people are here.
The bazaar area covers a couple of small blocks, and everything was pretty grimy with splashes of bright colors from some of the fabrics catching my eye as I went through. It was hard to concentrate on what the town looks like, because I had to focus on where people were outside my window and what directions cars were moving. Here's an idea of what was going on in my head: Do any cars have tinted windows? Are they moving out of our way? Is the weight evenly distributed or is that car really leaning more towards one side than the other? What's that guy over there holding in his hand? Okay, it's a shovel of some sort. Now, there's a kid running up on the left side of the humvee waving like mad at us to get some attention and hoping for a handout. Okay, what's that piece of blue on the side of the road? Plastic or something, maybe nothing to worry about... Where's that kid headed? Why's he running straight toward us? Why isn't that woman in a burqa moving out of the way? Is that really a woman in a burqa? Okay, there she goes back on the sidewalk.
It's a little overwhelming to try to take everything in, and I was so worried that I might miss that one thing that would make all the difference. I was praying so hard that if there was anything I needed to see that I would be able to see it clearly and know it was a threat. Thankfully it was a quiet trip both ways.
Our first stop that morning, was to the Center for Excellence. That morning they were holding a graduation ceremony for about 20 women who had successfully completed a business course. The women had learned how to make jams and jellies and then sell them in the local bazaar. They were taught simple business procedures for tracking their expenses and profits. A young woman, about age 15, was the master of ceremonies. A young boy about age 9 or 10, started off the graduation by reciting/singing a passage from the Koran. Then two more young women gave brief speeches and an older woman also talked.
LT P and I were the reps from the counsel for Women's Affairs at the PRT. She and I talked briefly about the importance of education for women and how courageous it is to seek out opportunities for education. Then we handed out some certificates, got some refreshments, shook hands with all the women, took photos, put our body armour and helmets back on and headed out the door to the next meeting.
Our next meeting was at the Department of Education with the Director. Because I don't get out much here, Capt B let me accompany them inside for the meeting. It was interesting. I was the only female in a room full of village elders, PRT leadership and the director and his staff. The meeting was about the security issues with a potential school site. The contract had been signed to build the school, but due to security the contractor wasn't able to start construction. The villages were not owning up to the responsiblity of providing security, because the contractor was an outsider not from the village. We spent two and a half hours there debating this problem, with no resolution.
The room was a pretty big room and it was even air conditioned. The director's desk was in the corner and big, green sofas lined the walls, with coffee tables and end tables positioned in front of each one. All the important people sat near the front of the room by the Director. Me, I was so important in this setting that I set near the back by the door keeping an eye on who was coming and going from the outer room. We also had a soldier out in the hallway keeping an eye things as well.
The director's 15 year old son was there as well. He sat next to me and explained the purpose of the meeting to me. He speaks really great English and wants to be an economist when he grows up. He is majoring in economy in high school. He was a really funny kid and very proud of his dad. He was proud to act as my host for the meeting and also curious to ask me many questions.
The first question he asked me after learning my name was every single girls' favorite question: Are you married? When I said no, he asked if I wanted to be married. He seemed relieved to hear that I did indeed wish to be married. He wondered why I wasn't married and I explained that the right opportunity hadn't come along for me. He nodded very seriously and then proceeded to explain that it was good to be married and that one must be careful when making this decision because it was a lifelong decision. Fabulous, I thought, I'm receiving marriage advice from a teenage Afghan boy. Ah, the ironies of life.
This teenage boy had lots of questions about TV shows, schooling, where I was from and where I lived. He was very impressed that I live in Washington, DC. It's a very important and famous place in Afghanistan, because decisions made there affect us here in Farah. He even knew where Utah was and was able to tell me about the Great Salt Lake. He asked me about my purple CTR ring, and so I got to have a small missionary moment with him by explaining that CTR has many meanings. The most common meaning is Choose The Right, but my favorite is Christ The Redeemer. He thought it was pretty cool that I wore a ring that reminded me of these two things.
About halfway through the meeting refreshments arrived in the form of bottled water for the 3 Americans in the room and plates of cucumbers and small saucers of salt. The cucumbers were piled high on the plates with knives in order to peel them. Interesting choice of refreshement, I thought. It was explained to me that these were the famous Farah cucumbers, which are exported to many other places in Afghanistan and Iran. He proceeded to peel a cucumber and split it with me. It was good, probably one of the better tasting cucumbers I've had.
The meeting ended and like I said earlier the elders weren't able to resolve anything about the security issues. If the contractor had been from one of the villages by where the school was to be built maybe we could have gotten an agreement. But as it stands, if the school were to be built there, they would probably burn it to the ground because no one stands to gain anything from it financially. So dumb!
We headed out to our trucks where the rest of the team had sat for two hours baking and sweating in the 100+ degree Farenheit heat. I climbed back in the truck and belted myself in and off we went for the 10 minute drive back to the base. Again, I had to keep myself in the game with my mental dialogue about what I was seeing.
We got back to the FOB, cleared our weapons, had our mission debrief and went to lunch. Not bad for a morning's worth of work in Farah. I don't have photos yet of me in action, but I'll get them soon and post them for you to see. I hope to get more opportunities to go outside the wire. It's exhausting but fulfilling.
I love hearing from you all. The mail is pretty slow right now, but please write and I'll write back. My love to you all from AFG.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
As many of you know from reading my blog, we Americans are not alone here at FOB Farah. We share our little home with Italians who are part of NATO International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF). They do some PRT missions, however they are primarily security forces. We have several groups that come and go on a regular basis supporting different operations and this includes helo pilots.
I became friendly with the commander of one of the helo squadrons that was here for a few weeks. We would talk about different things where we were from, books that we had read and about how we both feel helpless when we see the poverty around us. We also talked about the gospel and how Christ is the ultimate example for helping others. On their last morning in Farah, I woke up early to inspect their tent before they left and saw my friend one last time. He asked me how long it would take for me to get ready for a helo ride. I told him five minutes and took off running for my office.
I had to tell our Ops officer where I was going and grab my kit. My kit is my body armour with all the attachments for magazines and tools, my weapons and helmet. I also had to grab my camera. I raced back to the helo and the crew was waiting for me. I climbed in and found my seat up by the front gunner (you’ll see the gun in some of the photos). I had no idea what to expect, but was so excited I didn’t even think about being scared. This was my first trip “outside the wire”. We say outside the wire, because when we leave the FOB we are outside the razor or concertina wire. I’m no longer a FOB-bit, meaning I’ve now left the FOB.
When they start the helo, the engines go first. Once the engines are at the levels they need to be, then they start the propellers. It’s kind of weird when the propellers first start because the centrifugal force isn’t smooth as they pick up speed. I got thrown back and forth a bit until the propellers had reached the proper speed, then it was pretty smooth. When helos take off they also take off backwards, or at least these ones did. That was a little disconcerting.
Once we finally got up in the air, the front gunner motioned for me to move up behind the pilots, so I could look out their front windows. That was pretty cool. They really do have a bird’s eye view of things from there.
From some of the photos I have posted, you can see that Farah really is a desert. However, once I was in the air and flying over the outskirts of the city, I was surprised at how much green there is. There is a small canal flowing through the country here and of course anyone who farms is an expert on irrigation. The compounds or homes have walls all around them and inside it’s green—amazingly green.
The ride itself was really cool. It’s like being in an airplane, except that when the helo banks for making turns you can really tell and your center of gravity totally shifts. That’s kind of fun, like a roller coaster ride.
We were up in the air for about 10 minutes and I got some amazing views of the mountains, the city and our FOB. Operational security prevents me from sharing the aerial photos of the FOB, but I’ll share everything else.
While this was the highlight of the past week or so, there was also a bit of sadness. The group of Italian men that were our Italian teachers left. They are redeploying back to Italy, and get to spend the next few months with their families and friends before coming back to Afghanistan again next year. We have all grown really close and developed a great friendship. These guys were like best friend brothers to us and watched out for us. They also cooked dinner for us on a couple of occasions and we would stay up late playing games and just talking. Somehow the language barriers didn’t seem to matter and we all improved our language skills.
The guys were very protective of us and when other Italians started making comments about us they would tell us it was time to leave. They would also warn us which ones were losers and which ones were nice. They claimed that the other Italian men only had one thing on their minds when it came to us girls. However, they were typical guys in that they had pictures of scantily clad women cut out of magazines and on their door, but they said that when they come back next year they aren’t going to bother putting photos of those women back up on their door. Instead they are going to put photos of us on their door, because we are their “real” girlfriends. I love it—American women in ACUs on their door.
I’m doing well and getting an awesome soldier’s tan from running. (Ha!) I go out and run on the flight line with a group from the PRT. Well, I was running. Somehow I either tore or stressed my left calf muscle and now I can’t run. So, I ask you all to pray that I heal quickly and can get back to running. As I told one guy, it’s either go running or hit someone, and the running seems like a better choice. Anyway, life here is still good and busy, but that makes time go by more quickly. Yay!
My pilot friend, if only more older men looked like this. (wink, wink)
The top of one of the smaller mountains. Amazing to be up that high and have no windows. The photos don't do this justic.
This gives a really good view of some of the homes or compounds as we call them. You can also the canal to the right of the two women who are walking there. Look at all the green!
More green. I love the contrast between the sand and the vegetation. There is also some new construction down in the bottom left corner.
I thought this was interesting, and it wasn't until after the ride when I downloaded the photos that I realized this is a cemetary.
That was my last view of the helos. They flew over the FOB as they headed off to Herat. The tents are for visitors and also some of our contractors.
This is my group of beautiful Italian men. From left to right: Me, Toni, "Cameron", Andrea, Cristian, Enrico, "Lucy", and Nazzareno. In front: Domenico and Samuel. This is team Jackal as we said goodbye to them.
Yes, Dad I know you want more photos, but this is all I had time to do. Internet here is really slow. Love you!
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Last Tuesday, I spent the morning at the free clinic for the first time. It was so much fun and I enjoyed getting to interact with local people for the first time. It was also extremely humbling for me and made me very thankful for the comforts that I have here.
The morning went by extremely fast and just in our room, we saw over 40 patients, all women and children. One woman would come in and bring all her children with her. Our interpreters would start the interview off by asking why they had come. The women would start with their own ailments and once they were done, move onto everything that was wrong with her children. Of course as in all places, there were one or two women who came just because it’s the free clinic and they might get something free. However, most of those who came had real ailments.
One fifteen year old girl, who came in, had one leg shorter than the other. She had fallen or something when she was four years old and had dislocated her hip. It was never properly doctored and so her hip over the years had simply grown into the wrong place and the socket had filled with some sort of tissue which had her whole pelvis out of alignment. The only thing we were able to do for her was take her foot measurement and measure her legs, so that one of our doctors could make her an elevated shoe to even out her gait. He is ordering some shoes and taking them apart to make her an orthopedic shoe.
A woman who was six months pregnant came in for help. A year and a half ago, she was badly burned in a propane explosion. She’s lucky to be alive. Her torso from the breasts and then on down to her knees is one huge mass of scar tissue. Now imagine that scar tissue being slowly stretched over time due to her pregnancy. As you can imagine, she is in a lot of pain. Unfortunately, all we can do is give her lotion which we hope might soften her skin a little, and some Tylenol to take the edge of the pain. Seriously, the worst scarring I have ever seen, not that I’m a medical professional or anything.
One little boy had a huge ulcer on his foot, and of course he didn’t have any shoes. Apparently, he had stepped onto a red hot piece of metal and burned his little foot or should I say melted his little foot. My friend HM2 A. (Hospital Corpsmen Second Class) cleaned his foot and cut away some of the dead skin and then bandaged his foot up. It was clean for a few minutes before he jumped down and ran out the door barefoot with a stuffed animal in his hand for being a brave boy.
Sometimes the clinic hands out little toys, stuffed animals or school supplies to the kids when they come in. It just depends on what they have on hand. I got to hand out toys to some of the kids, and almost started a riot when I made the mistake of handing some out through a window. Okay lesson learned, only patients inside the clinic get stuffed animals.
So, what don’t I take for granted anymore? Clean medical facilities and the very latest in medical technology. Okay, a bottle of Tylenol is a luxury here. Clean water from a faucet, or maybe just clean water, or not having to walk to get water. Shoes of any kind—all of sudden my hot pink Crocs seem so frivolous. Grass. Paved roads. Clean smelling people. A vacuum that actually sucks. Driving, cooking my own food, seeing friends and family. Internet that downloads in seconds, not minutes (3 hours to download just one session of General Conference). Just lots of little things I didn’t think about or give much thought to at home.
These few weeks here have been eye opening as I reflect on what my life is like in the U.S. I have it good. We all have it good for that matter. Funny, how the littlest thing going wrong in our life can be so huge, and yet here the littlest things are missing from people’s lives. Just a pair of shoes makes a difference. We complain and complain, and forget to take notice of all that we have. Life is good! I hope I can remember the lessons I’m learning here.
Below are some photos from my morning at the clinic.
This is me, of course, and a little girl name Reza. I loved her outfit. It's made of the fuzzy, furry yarn that is fun to make scarves out of. She's beautiful. Her dad runs the pharmacy at the free clinic.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
As you know I'm the S-1, which means I the admin girl here for the whole base. Granted it's not a very big base and with all the people here it tends to be a little crowded. We have our PRT, the coalition forces Italians, lots and lots of civilian contractors who take care of us and help to maintain the base, all the intrepreters, plus other groups of military personnel on the base. Me, I have to keep track of all these people and report our numbers daily to our chain of command.
I also manage "Hotel Farah". We get lots and lots of visitors here, and I have to make certain they have a place to sleep. Lots of people get to sleep in the transient tents, which doesn't require much from me other than to make sure the AC is working and that they stay clean. However, when the big wigs come or females come it's a different story. Then I have to make beds and clean rooms and basically be a housekeeper. Well, sometimes I have my assistant do this.
All the correspondence for the command comes across my desk. I edit and format everything for the CO's signature. I keep track of personnel issues and assist with evaluations. I also track leave, awards, finance and... Yikes, I think I'm gonna pull my hair out.
In addition to my normal duties, I'm also on the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) board. Bet'cha can't guess what I do? I'm the secretary. We plan all the fun activities for everyone. For instance, last week we did 3-on-3 basketball, danced salsa one night and had a movie night. This weekend we are hosting a poker tournament, playing flag football and of course hosting movie nights.
I'm also active in my church group and when the chaplain comes down from Camp Stone I lead the music for her services. It's pretty fun and the guys do a pretty good job of singing. They say I sing like Sandy Patty.
I'm also learning Italian from some beautiful italian men... And they are beautiful. I've wanted to do this for a long time now, so I'm excited for this. Basically, we sit in the chow hall after dinner and talk about things that interest us. We take turns speaking in the language we are trying to learn and write down the new words and phrases we learn each night. I even bought the first Harry Potter book in italian and have plans to start reading it as soon as it arrives. I'm also still trying to learn a little Dari and Pashto and getting all confused between Spanish, Italian and well everything. I'll be starting guitar lessons this week as well.
I have an Italian roommate for the next few weeks. She speaks very little English, so this is really good practice for both of us. We've had fun trying to figure out what the other is saying, but we're getting there. I just ask my friends how to say different things and then she and I can talk a little.
Basically, while I'm here I don't want to just sit around. I want to be busy and learn as much as I can while I'm here. Next week I get to start volunteering at the free clinic so I'll be spending a couple of mornings a week helping with patients and playing with kids. Plus, I'm a member of the women's issues council and help to plan activities there.
La vita e bella. I'm really enjoying myself here and am so thankful I'm working with such great people. I'm also meeting some really great people and making really good friends. I hope we keep having a good time.
Here's some photos of the latest activities.
Monday, March 24, 2008
One of the guys shared his photos from the first mission out with me. This what Farah, Afghanistan looks like, desert and mountains.
Looking down into Farah city during the first mission out.
Mountains outside the wire. Beautiful aren't they?
Me at 0200 in the morning, sitting inside a C-130 waiting for take off on the way to Kandahar. Yes, that's one of the new up-armored Humvees in the background. Notice my new, short haircut.
Me and one of the guys in front of Boyer Hall at FOB Farah. This was taken on Easter Sunday after all the excitement at the gate.
I hope you enjoyed the photos. I'll post more when I can.
It was our official change of command ceremony or as the Army calls it Transfer of Authority (TOA). Everyone was extremely busy on our little FOB preparing for the ceremony. We cleaned up the place and set up extra security measures, because we were visited by several high level VIPs. The governor of Farah, and a couple of generals and a full-bird colonel who are the top dogs in our chain of command, were some of the bigwigs who graced us with their presence. Everyone had a part to play, even me the S-1.
Because all local nationals who come onto the base must be searched, I was asked to assist down at the front gate by searching females who came to the ceremony. Due to the heightened security measures, I had to wear full-battle-rattle, in other words, my armor, kevlar helmet and weapons. Normally, we don’t wear this, but today we did. I searched the females as they came through and then was told to stay down at the gate, and help out with anything that might come up during the ceremony. We closed down the FOB and nothing was to come in or out during the festivities.
In a combat zone, if there’s ever a day when you don’t want anything to go wrong, it’s the day when you are responsible for the security of high level leaders. You become paranoid. Even the most routine situations must be questioned and scrutinized and treated as a potential threat. Basically, you just don’t want anything to happen or go wrong, but as luck would have it Murphy was working overtime yesterday.
We received a call that the Afghan National Police (ANP), were headed our way with two injured men seeking medical assistance. We weren’t sure if this was real or a ruse to get inside our security perimeter try to do some damage, so we locked and loaded our weapons. The sad thing to me is that we had to question the motives of people who were just bringing us their injured friends and family. But if you don’t treat every potential threat as real, you don’t come home safe.
We already had ANP and Afghan National Army (ANA) outside the gate waiting for the governor and chief of police, so they of course were very curious about the two men in the back of the truck. I helped with crowd control, because they all crowded the truck and it was hard for us to get into see what was happening with the casualties in the truck.
The men had been in an car accident. The ANP drive Ford Rangers around with rocket propelled grenade launchers (RPG) in the back of some trucks, but other trucks are used to carry four men in the back. These two men had been riding in the back, when somehow their truck overturned and they were thrown from the back of the truck. The younger man was drifting in and out of consciousness, but responsive to the medics. The other older man was completely unconscious and unresponsive to the medics. He had suffered sever head trauma and basically there was nothing that our docs could do for him. Now our docs are excellent doctors. But when it comes to head injuries unless you have the neuro skills there’s really not anything you can do to help them, and we just plain don’t have the equipment either. He was in really, really bad shape with barely a pulse and blood bubbling out of his nose and mouth.
Once our medical team got there, they moved both men out of the truck and began concentrating their efforts on the younger man who was less severely injured. They got him stabilized and called ahead to the Farah hospital to let them know to expect a patient. I’m not sure what his injuries were, but he was fully conscious when he left. Meanwhile the medics were making the older man more comfortable, by administering morphine and trying to control his bleeding. However, before too long his pulse disappeared and he passed quietly on.
It was a sobering, humbling experience to be that close to someone who died. I’ve never really experienced anyone dying while I am in the near vicinity. As he was lying in the back of the truck and I was helping to establish a perimeter to keep people away, my mind was wandering a bit. I was trying to concentrate on the job at hand and trying to keep an eye on the other men who were there. I wasn’t really thinking about anything, when I found myself singing quietly under my breath, “I believe there are angels among us, sent down to us from somewhere up above.” I stopped, realizing what I was singing. “They come to you and me in our darkest hours, to show us how to live, to teach us how to give. To guide us with the light of love.” (Angels Among Us, sung by Alabama)
There I was, with weapons loaded, at the ready, standing guard over two injured Afghan men, one of who was dying and I was singing Angels Among Us. I know God works in mysterious ways, and I know there were angels there that day watching over us and receiving the man who died into God’s presence. I was reminded in a very poignant way how much all of us are loved by our Father in Heaven. The song is familiar to me, but not one I sing when I need comfort or need to invite the Spirit into my heart. I can’t think of a reason why I would have sung it just then other than to say that the words were put in my mind for a reason. I needed some comfort in a very human, raw experience and God knows that for me music is my comforter.
Easter is such a wonderful day. I’m thankful for the reminders of Christ’s sacrifice and what it means. He overcame death for us, each one of us. This is his gift, his grace to us. He was the only human who could do it, and he deliberately chose to take our sins and shame upon him, and to give his life for us that we might live. Isn’t this wonderful!!
Interesting how God chooses to remind of his mercy and bless our lives. I hope you take some time to think about what Easter really means and the promise of life that Christ gives. I know you’ll blessed for doing so. As for me, this is one Easter I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Happy Easter to all.
Monday, March 10, 2008
There are beautiful mountains on all four sides and it's a lot less dusty here than in Kandahar. The FOB is pretty small, but a lot bigger than I had imagined. We have barracks that are 2 foot thick concrete barracks, with bathrooms attached. We are living in the lap of luxury! We have lots of other concrete buildings that house the engineering staff, the mechanics, the civil affairs and our operations center. I'd post some photos, but for some reason the internet connection times out when I try to post them.
Needless to say, my time is valuable and I'm learning a lot right now. Sorry this is short, but I'll be able to update more frequently now that I'm in Farah.
Friday, February 29, 2008
We finished our training at Ft Bragg on 17 February—FINALLY!!!! I am now a warrior according to Army standards. I qualified expert on the M-4 rifle, barely qualified on the M-9 pistol, disassemble, clean and re-assemble both weapons, throw a grenade, set a claymore, low crawl through muddy clay-red sand with all my gear and weapons, navigate through the forests of Ft Bragg with a compass, read a map, administer IVs, stop bleeding, apply a tourniquet to myself when my leg gets blown off, look for and recognize land mines and IEDS, search persons and vehicles, guard the entry gate at 0300 in the morning, “enjoy” MREs (meals ready to eat), choke a person 5 different ways, get by on about 5 hours of sleep a night and wear about 40 pounds of body amour and assorted gear with ease. Yes, I am now a sail-der in the NArmy. Ha!
So, now that I’ve left Ft Bragg, I’m losing my bitterness about the living conditions and the attitudes of most of the instructors. I have mixed feelings about my experience there, but I suppose most people do. There were days that totally sucked and a couple of days that were actually fun.
One day that was actually fun was when we did mounted land navigation. This is when we ride Humvees through the woods of Ft Bragg with a military GPS looking for certain points that we have coordinates for. Basically, the ultimate off roading experience at Ft Bragg, lots of mud and water, and bumps. Woohoo!! The day we did this, the paratroopers were also doing training and we were following an access road along their landing site, which is cleared of trees as to avoid injuries and equipment destruction when the paratroopers land. It was cool watching the Chinook helloes flying overhead with paratroopers falling out the back and their chutes opening just a few seconds later. We were looking for our first point and kept running into dead ends at a body of water and having to retrace our routes when we passed a paratrooper who landed in a tree and had just released himself from his harness as we drove by still looking for our first point. A few minutes later we turned around at yet another dead end and passed by him again. This time he flagged us down and asked for help. The four of us in the Humvee hopped out and it took all of us plus the paratrooper to pull his chute down out of the trees. In the process my feet got tangled in all the chute cords and I lost my balance. I found my self run-falling down hill towards the paratrooper—keep in my mind I’m wearing my body amour and Kevlar helmet, so it’s next to impossible for me to regain my balance. So, there I am run-falling downhill straight towards the paratrooper who reaches out to catch me and I land right in his arms staring up at him. He helped me regain my footing and untangle my feet and that was it.
Of course being the only female in the Humvee the guys couldn’t let it be that simple. So, by the time we finished finding our points they had the story all worked out. Their vision was blinded by the hearts shooting out of my body armor towards the paratrooper. They couldn’t believe how hot and steamy the looks were between us. I didn’t lose my balance and fall into his arms, I swooned into his arms and was revived by love’s first kiss. It was obviously love at first sight and we were having babies by the time I got back in the Humvee. My only response to this was “My goodness it all happened so fast I didn’t even get his name. However, will I go on living?!?!” It was pretty funny. Plus, I’ve found a few of the guys hanging from trees trying to get my attention. ;)
My team is really great. It’s always amazing to me how a group of people who don’t even know each other can come together to be successful as a team. We spent 5 weeks doing individual and group training which culminated in a training exercise to see how well we could apply our training in “live missions”. Some of our missions included visiting a village where a young boy had been killed by a Humvee, visiting the provincial governor and local leaders, guarding the entry gate and being approached a mother and father with a very sick baby seeking medical help, conducting security operations for a dignitary’s visit and reacting to casualties when the security fails, conducting disaster relief operations and other similar situations. We really came together as teams and discovered who our natural leaders are. I think we did a great job and the Observer/Controller/Trainers (OCT) agreed.
I’m just really glad to have Ft Bragg behind me and be on the way to where I get to do my real work. I wish I could share some really cool photos of Kyrgyzstan with you all, but it’s been very foggy here, with rain and snow, so there is no beautiful scenery available. I’m currently inside the female transient barracks, which is a big tent filled with bunk beds and sleeps about 200 people. This is where I’m living as we wait for our military transport to Bagram Air Base outside of Kabul. It’s not too bad because I have time to rest, read and regroup for the first time in a long time. Yes, I did get a four day pass, but I had lots to do while I was in DC and here I have nothing to do but wait. I read two whole books yesterday which were brain candy and completely escaped my reality.
I‘m told that mail takes between 8-10 days to arrive in Farah and it’s recommended that when you mail packages that you put the contents in zip lock bags otherwise it arrives coated in sand or destroyed from the weather.
I’m going to try and post photos of me in my uniform and body armor, but the connection here is really slow, so hopefully it will work.
I’m doing well and looking forward to Afghanistan. My dad says that I now have the prize for having traveled the furthest from home in the family. It’s weird to think I’m on the other side of the world from home, but that’s what having big adventures is all about. I’m sure God is laughing still.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Basically, we are learning how to be soldiers. I've been issued body armour, a kevlar helmet, an M4 rifle and an M9 pistol. Anytime I leave the Forward Operating Base (FOB) I have to wear all this gear and take my weapons with me. And my weapons have to go with me everywhere except the shower, and that includes going with me to eat chow and to pee. I've decided they are my new boyfriends. My rifle is Chuck and my pistol is Chico.
I get two hot meals a day, and lunch is an Meal Ready to Eat (MRE). Yummy! Meals in the chow hall are eaten standing at a table. There are no chairs. But the food is good.
Our tent is a 16 man tent, and there are 7 females on my team, so we have the run of the place. The tent is pretty huge and we have HVAC heating and air conditioning. It's not too bad, but I'll be glad when I'm not sleeping on a cot.
We are learning lots of fun things, like how to drive humvees, shoot our weapons, convoy security, gate security and more language training. It's all good stuff that we will definitely need over in AFG. And this is only for 5 more weeks until we get to AFG where we'll have hot water and live in real buildings with flushing toilets and heat and be a lot more comfortable then we are right now.
I had a great Christmas. Sorry to everyone I missed in UT, but my time was so short that I only had time for family. I got to see all my siblings and I even got to see my newest nephew who was born on 27 December while I was visiting my sister. He was only 3 hours old when I got to see him and he'll be over a year old before I see him again, but at least I got to see him.
I'm doing good. I get to go to church tomorrow morning, before I head off to the shooting simulator to learn how to shoot my M4. What a way to spend a Sunday! Life is good though and I'm managing to keep my smile on.