Friday, February 29, 2008

Greetings from Kyrgyzstan

Yep, you read that right. I’m sitting at Manas AFB in Kyrgyzstan waiting for the next leg of my flight to Afghanistan. We left at shortly after midnight on 27 Feb stopping in Maine and Germany to refuel on the way here; total travel time about 20 hours including the refueling stops. Today is 29 Feb – Happy Leap Year Day!

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.