Monday, November 22, 2010

Yep...I'm busy...so...

So, this morning I get to work and get a gentle reminder from my mother that I haven't posted anything to my blog in almost a month. The whole reason for my beginning a blog was to keep the folks back home up to date on the happenings in and around me. I did really good for a few months, but here lately we have been so busy that I don't know whether I'm coming or going. On top of that I am so close to hitting R&R that I just want to get my work done and go home!

As of tonight I've got 23-24 more days until I leave here headed home for R&R. I've mentioned in the past that 3/4 of the team will be headed home for R&R at the same time. At this point we're like giddy schoolgirls just as excited as you can imagine.

We all feel very fortunate that we were able to schedule our leave during the Christmas/New Year holidays. Most of our military friends will be staying right here and serving right on through the holidays; hopefully each of their families will send them something to make it special. On my first deployment my wife sent an 18" Christmas tree that was already decorated and everything...it sat in my shelter way past Christmas too! It really is the small things that make the holidays special while deployed.

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself though, three days from now will be Thanksgiving! We're all really hoping that the dining facilities will have some good turkey and dressing...although they have tried making dressing in the past and is was a monumental failure. On Thursday our office will be slightly manned with each of us spending only a couple hours at work...hopefully the taxpaying public won't mind too much that we're taking the afternoon off!

Just like each of you at home this time of year gets us to thinking about all the things we are thankful for and helps us to put a little perspective on what's important. For myself this year is a bit different because absence from family makes you really appreciate the small things like family pictures on Christmas, watching Christmas Vacation with my brother, and getting together with family to hear the same old stories again that never get old. This year I'm thankful to God for keeping me safe on this deployment, I'm thankful that I have such a wonderfully supportive family, I am thankful to my church family for their love and support, and finally...I'm glad this deployment is 3/4 of the way over!

God bless and ROLL TIDE, Beat Auburn!!!

Monday, October 25, 2010

One step at a time...

For those of you who have never been in this situation one of the things we deployment-prone folks do while on deployment is set a few benchmarks when we get here. Most tours are 12 months long and during that time there is certain to be quite a few things missed, but with each missed birthday or anniversary is just one more benchmark passed. The Team left on 10 April 2010 and for me the marks that I was looking for were as follows:

mid-June...my birthday
mid-July...my anniversary
early-September...football season
late-October...Halloween
late-November...Thanksgiving...just kidding, Alabama/Auburn game!
mid-December...R&R (leave)

I really haven't given a whole lot of thought to the milestones past R&R, I just want to get there first. I assume a good mark will be the Super Bowl, after that we'll have less than a month left here.

My reason for discussing this is because tomorrow marks 200 days of deployment...only 50 more until R&R. We didn't plan for 250 days until R&R, it just worked out that way. By the time we get to mid-tour leave we will have been gone from home for over 8 months and 1 week...entirely too long.

Our office has gotten busy again after the two-week lull that we had for end-of-year closeout. Between work and Alabama football the overall deployment is going fairly well, no complaints outside of the typical Army complaints. It has been interesting in the sense that we are co-located with Air Force and Navy troops, which means that I've had to learn a new language or two. For a while I was in an office that was completely split...1 Army, 1 Air Force, and 1 Navy. We were constantly having to remind one another to stop using acronyms since no one understood them outside of our own service component.

The next exciting thing that is going to happen here is a back-up taping for ESPN of the UA/Miss. State game. ESPN plans to do a live broadcast from Bagram for that game, but just in case there are problems they will be taping ahead of time for the sake of redundancy. Apparently The University sent some Bama gear that we are going to get and there are quite a few Tide Alumni scattered around post. Hopefully I'll be on camera giving a shout-out to my wonderful family!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thank goodness I'm not paid to blog...

I have realized that if I were paid to blog then my family would go hungry very quick, or Loni would have to remind me to write all the time. It's been just over two weeks since I last updated my blog and there haven't been too many new occurences.

The end of the fiscal year came and went without any major malfunctions. It seems that when it's that late in the game everyone has an emergency need that must get purchased before September 30th...which happens for the most part. When we say "no" a General will often get involved and our no quickly becomes a "sure, I think we can squeeze that in."

We had a pretty amazing BBQ last Sunday to celebrate our end-of-year. SSG Martin and I did most of the prep work and cooking with some help from a couple of our Air Force buddies. We were able to grill steak, chicken, and even lobster tails...it really was wonderful. One of the guys said that day, "if it weren't for all this dust I'd think I was at home." We had a great time cooking out and I think everyone enjoyed their food. In the end there were probably 40-50 people who came and ate, we were literally on the grill for over 4 hours and you can definitely tell it by my sunglasses racoon tan. The good thing about that tan is that everyone else looks just like me, nobody walks around outside without glasses due to the sun and sand.

Today, Daniel and I had the opportunity to go meet a local vendor at our entry control point (ECP-1). The ECP goes right into the town of Bagram and we were able to see some things that we hadn't yet seen on this deployment. Even though we were not together on our trip to Iraq we did much of the same tasks with a lot of convoying in/around the country as a primary occupation.

I was just telling Loni last night how I hadn't seen a child in 6 months; I finally saw a few today. This one little boy walked right up and in the best English he could muster he asked for my pencil, which I gladly gave to him. He gave me a huge smile, a thumbs-up, and then ran off screaming about the pencil to his friends...too bad I didn't have enough for them all. It was the same situation in Iraq, the kids wanted to crawl all over you and wanted anything from pens to water to whatever was on your uniform and shiny. It's amazing how many of these people have so little that a child is overwhelmed by the gift of a pencil.

I find that it's easy to become somewhat jaded dealing with the locals and having to endure their business practices and lack of the English language...I'm not saying they should know English, I'm simply saying that their lacking English is a huge source of frustration. Seeing those kids today helps to put things into perspective quickly. I don't directly see the good that happens outside the wires of Bagram, but I pray that my being here helps these children in some way in the future.

That's about it for now...the Tide is 5-0 and they are coming on tomorrow night at midnight so we'll be having a big party (cokes & chips) to watch them roll over South Carolina on the way to #14.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why is my hut shaking?

Just last week in all of one day we went from having daytime temperatures in the 90s to all of the sudden it's not getting above 72 degrees. This sounds wonderful, but it's actually been quite cool around here. The nights are similar to what we experienced when we first arrived in country, hovering in the 50s. We have still been able to spend a little time clearing our minds every couple of nights sitting outside on top of the bunker watching the planes land...we just have to wear more clothes now.

Earlier this week I experienced my very first real earthquake and had absolutely no idea what it was. Once while in college I was awakened around 3:00 a.m. to what I thought was an earthquake, but it turned out there was a cave-in at a coal mine in a nearby town. I think I remember the cave-in registering around a 3.0 on the Richter Scale. The earthquake we had this week registered 6.3 on the Richter Scale and was centered about 125 north of us and apparently the epicenter was 120 miles deep in the Earth's surface...amazing how technology can pinpoint such a thing. Anyway, around midnight the b-hut I'm in started shaking like crazy...I thought someone was just playing a trick or something. Mom basically told me that me being in a war zone is bad enough, she can't deal with that plus earthquakes!

We're working like mad right now as September 30th is the end of the fiscal year, which means all of our contracts must be complete by then. This will keep us really busy for the next week or so. On the other hand, the General is coming in tomorrow (allegedly) so we've been busy cleaning for that as well...good times.

The 1960th as a whole is feeling pretty good right now because we can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel...no it's not the end of the deployment, but rather our R&R is coming up. CPT Campbell will be heading home in the next week or so, the rest of us have about another 80 days or so. College football season will get us through those 80 days much quicker than expected.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More running and a prayer request

I'll start on a serious note tonight by asking for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to lift up one of our Airmen. As I've mentioned, the place I work is a truly joint environment with all services represented. The female Air Force troop that sits beside me at work begun feeling ill two nights ago; loss of vision, numbness, incoherent speech, and dizziness. She was taken to the base hospital and subsequently flown to Germany for further observation. I ask each of you to lift her up in your prayers.

Now, on a somewhat lighter note, this past week was the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America. Here on base we had the 9/11 Never Forget Run which just happened to be 9.11k or 5.65 miles. Just like my last run, my goals were to (1) finish, and (2) keep all miles less than 10-minute in pace. Right off the bat I realized that my legs were not quite 100% recuperated from the half-marathon the previous week. I felt really sluggish!

Let me also say that Ramadan ended on Thursday night before our Saturday morning run. The 3-5 days immediately following Ramadan are called the Eid holidays, which is like rolling Christmas/New Year/Mardi Gras/4th of July all into one big holiday. The locals basically eat, drink, and shoot rockets in a drunken stupor for 5 days or so. The rockets changed our running route on Saturday morning, we weren't allowed to run close to the perimeter. Anyway, the last minute change also changed the run distance from 5.65 to 6.4 miles without any of our knowledge...no wonder my time was horrible. In the end, I met my goals once I found out the distance changed so drastically.

Other than running a lot we're still working crazy hours and staying extremely busy here at the end of the fiscal year.

More later.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Air Force Marathon

Each year in September the Air Force along with a few corporate sponsors hosts the Air Force Marathon. This is the half-marathon that I've been writing about over the past month or so. Saturday, the 4th, was the half-marathon and along with myself there were at least 999 more knuckleheads silly enough to run 13.1 miles in the name of fun. The size of the base determines whether they host a 10k, half-marathon, or full marathon...thank the Lord Bagram could only withstand the half!

We began our run at 5:00 a.m. on the nose and the course took us 6.55 miles out around the airfield and then back. The north side of our base actually has some pretty views of the countryside, we could see the mountains really well in the distance as well as a few of the local homes/huts. Since we ran around the airfield we had the opportunity to see quite a few really interesting aircraft take off and/or land.

Before I began I established two goals; (1) finish the race, and (2) average 10 minutes per mile for the duration of the run. I somehow managed to do both! An exact 10-minute average would have been 2:13:00, it took me 2:07:18. When I finally did come to a stop I wasn't sure that my legs would support me all the way back to my hut, they were quite wobbly and weak. Today is Tuesday and my legs are at 90%.

The most interesting thing that I heard while running was from a young Sergeant whom I kept passing and subsequently being passed by. He would run and then walk, I felt like he was the hare and of course I was the tortoise. Anyway, he passes me once while I'm jogging along and says "come on Sir, only 5 more miles!" If I weren't so weak I think I would've kicked him, but I'm pretty sure my legs wouldn't allow it.

As far as running goes, this coming Saturday is the Patriots Day 9.11k (just over 5 miles). Only two of us ran in the half-marathon from my office, I think there are six planning to run in this one. If nothing else I'll have extra t-shirts when I get home!

Monday, August 30, 2010

General update...

Thank goodness we cleaned for three days...the General was a "no show" for the weekend.

Silver Lining = at least the place is clean and painted!

Friday, August 27, 2010

One of these days when I'm a General...

I've got two main things that I want to blog about tonight...one is my R&R and the other is an upcoming visit from the General. I have finally been here longer than the time left until I take leave. As of right now I've been in country for approximately 120 days, my leave begins in 110 days (or so). The good news is that I'm 54% of the way to R&R and over 40% of the way through the entire deployment!

The other item I wanted to discuss is our upcoming visit from our "distinguished visitor" as some like to say. I've been an officer in the military for just a shade over 7 years now and the trouble some people will go through to please a General never ceases to amaze me. I have full faith that I will serve 20+ years in the National Guard and my goal is to attain the rank of Brigadier General...a lofty goal, but within reach.

A General commands a great deal of respect by the very nature of the rank. The person has put in their time and obviously earned their rank...kudos to them for sticking in there and thanks for the years of service! On the other hand, when it comes down the pipeline that the General (any General for that matter) is coming in for a visit it's like the ranking officers freak out all of the sudden and want to put on a show. I understand their reasoning for wanting to impress their commander, but there's no need to remodel.

The General will be here within the next 24 hours and over the past 5 days we have washed baseboards, painted, cleaned like Danny Tanner (Bob Saget from Full House), cleaned more, hung pictures, removed pictures, swept, installed computers, and had a briefing about what is/isn't expected. We've all been instructed to clean off our desks, which makes absolutely no sense since when they are covered in papers it typically means that we are busy. As the vehicle control officer I had to call in a favor from another unit and swap vehicles with them so that we have one large enough to taxi her entourage. We've been told how she likes her coffee, how she likes her bagels, and even where she wants to eat upon arrival...which we're all expected to attend.

I would assume that she doesn't request or demand any of these actions, however her entourage ensures that these things are known before her arrival. To say that her visit hampers normal operations is like saying that the ocean is wet. Tomorrow we'll all smile and shake hands and act like everything is normal, when she leaves the next day we'll all breathe our long sigh of relief and hope she doesn't drop by anytime soon.

So, the title of my blog for tonight is "one of these days when I'm a General" and to finish that thought...one day when I'm a General I think I'll fire the guy that puts on a show just because I'm coming for a visit!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The DFIP Grand Tour

You're probably wondering what is a DFIP...well it stands for Detention Facility in Parwan, it's the local jail. Parwan is the province where I am located and the Army likes to keep things simple, so that's why you get such an easy to remember name.

One of our main customers here is the DFIP, they buy anything and everything that you might be able to imagine. They are running a prison, so there are a lot of necessities that go along with that. For the past few months we've been trying to get a tour and it has been postponed numerous times...not today! We left early this morning and took a 2.5 hour tour of the facilities.

We had a "tour guide" from LA(lower Alabama) and he was more than happy to answer each question that we threw his way. First, we toured the exterior of the facility and then the inner portions that are still outside the actual cell areas. We were able to climb up in the towers, which happens to be the highest I've been since stepping off of the plane that brought me here. Even though there are mountains surrounding us you could see a really long way, there were even a few nomadic camels off in the distance.

After an hour or so outside and a little too much sun we all went inside to tour the facilities. We toured the warehouse that we, the contracting officers, managed to fill almost to capacity. Next, we were able to walk through the medical, dental, and healthcare facilities. Finally, we took a good long walk through the holding areas to include the secure facility...the worst of the worst.

Touring such a facility was a lot to take in within such a short period of time. The facilities were immaculate, their ability to obtain healthcare was immediate, they could have family visits, their children can come for health screenings, and the Red Cross will help to get their family from anywhere in the country to Parwan to come and see them. My personal opinion is that they are coddled and babied. The average prisoner gains over 30lbs during their stay. Basically, there is no motivation whatsoever for them to rehabilitate themselves to a point where they are able to live in "normal" society again. I'm sure the US does this to keep from getting any bad press like was received in the backblast of Abu Ghraib, on the other hand...I don't think that the prisoners should live better than the troops on ground.

Now you know my two cents.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

28 more days!!!

...no, there's definitely more than 28 days until I go on leave or go home for good. There are only 28 more days until the University of Alabama kicks off its 2010 football season. It seems that even though some people couldn't care less about some sports, you begin to take interest in even the most dull sports during a deployment. I watched a great deal of the World Cup last month and I can remember watching hockey during my last deployment. One sport that I love is college football and as I mentioned, only 28 more days! Technically it'll be 29 more days until I get to watch football due to the time difference, but who's counting?

28 more days until UA football means only 28 more days until the Air Force half-marathon. I've been training as much as possible and have been running a minimum of 5 miles at a time for the past few weeks...typically a little more than that though. My feet are finally beginning to get some good blisters and I'm hoping that I'll be well past that by race time. We learned last week that there is another race coming up in October called Mogadishu Miles, it is ran in remembrance of those who lost their lives in 1993...most people know that as the story of Black Hawk Down. Anyway, that run consists of a 50k (31 miles), 25k (15 miles), or a 5k (3.12 miles) combat run wearing "full battle rattle"...or combat gear. I have been asked to run in the 25k, but we'll have to see how the half-marathon goes first.

Tonight was a great night all the way around. A few of the "scroungers" in our line of work managed to get access to some steak, crab legs, and lobster tail...what a night! Deployments are bearable because of small victories like tonight, getting to feel like I'm at home with friends. Many of the guys like to even drink non-alcoholic beer, or "near beer" as some call it just to feel a little more normal. If any of you have seen the movie Shawshank Redemption then you'll remember when Andy Dufresne (the main character) makes an agreement with the guards and does some tax work in order that his friends can all have three beers each. Andy chose not to drink the beer, he just wanted to feel normal, if only for a few minutes.

All is well in our little slice of the world, the new leadership has done a great job at changing the morale around the office and I have come to really like them...even though I had my doubts at first. We are swamped all the time, but they actually have encouraged us to get out of the office from time to time just to clear our heads. It turns out our Chief is a bit of a rug connoisseur and has challenged us all to go buy a rug just to see what kind of deal we can get from the locals. He also dared all the guys, and girls if they so choose, to grow mustaches. Daniel was the only other guy to accept the challenge and tried this for a couple of weeks, but he cut it after enough people poked fun at him. I told him I'd shave my head instead of growing a mustache, of course he didn't have to know that I was planning on doing so anyway! Although Loni told me it better be back when I get home for Christmas, I'm really enjoying it for now.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A nice two weeks

Please forgive the length of time between posts, I'm so busy that there needs to be two of me!

Since my last posting I put a new countdown on the whiteboard at work. I don't know why I would begin this so early in a deployment, guess I'm a glutton for punishment. As of right now my board has the names of each individual in the office and the amount of days left here in country. The board also includes the number of days until Alabama's first football game of the season (36 days) and how many days until the Air Force Deployed Soldier Half Marathon (also 36 days). The winner of the least amount of time left here is our Navy Lieutenant Commander with 26 days, the loser is 'yours truly' with 240 days left. On a positive note, that 240 is much less than where I started.

As I just mentioned, the Air Force has a half marathon for their deployed troops and all service branches are invited to participate. On the 4th of July I ran in the Firecracker 5k and said I wouldn't do that again since it's so hot here, but again, I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. The half marathon will be 13.1 miles around Bagram Airfield and hopefully it will begin very early in the morning...I can assure you that I'll not miss any of the Alabama football game for some silly run!

Just like it's been over the past couple of months, we're swamped and need more people! One plus about being so overworked is that the days run together and time passes a bit more quickly. Each night when I lay down I think..."didn't I just get up?" No problems though, only 4.5 more months until I get to take some much-needed R&R at home with the family.

God bless and I'll try to write more soon!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Happy 7th Anniversary

Looking back to my childhood I can remember my parents having a framed cross-stitched picture in their bedroom just beside the door as you were walking out. I'm sure I never mentioned it to them and likely never drew attention to it, but I still think of it from time to time. As a child I can remember not really understanding it; as I aged it began to make a little more sense, while now it couldn't hold more truth. It read as follows...

"This day I did marry my best friend. The one I live with, laugh with, live for, love."

Seven years ago today I married my best friend...the one that I usually live with, always laugh with, live for and love endlessly. Were I given the opportunity to go back in time and have a "re-do" on my choices...that is one that I would leave alone. I'd marry Loni again 100 times over...maybe 100 x 100.

Looking at how long my parents have been married (37 years), our seven years truly pales in comparison. However, it seems odd looking back at all we've been through in those seven years. Two children, two deployments, new vehicles, new house, new jobs, travel, job changes...I guess those are all part of this crazy life!

In closing, God has blessed me with a wonderful and supportive spouse...I couldn't ask for anything more.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

No news is good news...

Tonight's update will be quite short as nothing too exciting has happened over the past week since my last update. The expression "no news is good news" is becoming pretty standard for me. We're still working from can to can't and that's a good thing as it does make the time pass by a bit quicker.

The lone exciting thing that has happened is that a few of us went to the Turkish dining facility earlier this week. They served a mixture of meats I didn't recognize, a vegetable/fruit mix I also didn't recognize, and some potato salad. If you were to ask Loni if I like potato salad she would likely laugh at you, but as I didn't want to be rude I decided to partake. Actually, it's not that I was trying not be rude as much as there was just a language barrier between myself and the server...as I said "no thanks" he smiled and loaded me up with an extra helping! I'm still not sure what type of meat we ate...really don't want to know, but it was good. Final though on the Turkish food...after we ate we went to an area where they hang out and watch TV and drink coffee or tea. I decided on the tea as as true Southerner I hoped it would be iced and sweet...well it was hot and unsweet. Milo's might want to consider making some extra for when Daniel and I get back home!

Take care all and I'll try to update again soon!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Random thoughts...

YES MA'AM - My typical morning begins with me spending the first 15-20 minutes checking e-mail. The vast majority of mail is from local vendors asking about pending payments (I work vehicle and heavy equipment leases for the base) or begging me to send a contract their way...but every once in a while I get an e-mail from home. This morning I received direction from my wonderful mother that "it's about time for a blog update" and since I'm not one to blatantly thumb my nose at Mom...here you go!

NO INTERNET - Tonights post could be three to four separate posts and would likely be more logical in that manner. However, with the summer surge of 101st ABN Soldiers the bandwidth around here is horrible and I'm lucky to even get online. The internet has been bad enough lately that there has been no Skyping and there is absolutely no way to post pictures.

I'M GOOD AT COUNTING - Today marks Day #76 that I've been gone from home and Renee (R2's wife) just informed me that we only have 171 more days until R&R...not that she's keeping up with it! Even though the days sometimes creep by, we've been so busy lately that I barely get time to think about much other than contracting. I'm not sure that Loni (Household 6 or HH6) would agree with me, but the past 76 days have actually gone by pretty fast.

AVA CLAIRE HAS BIG FEET - Two days ago HH6 sends me a picture of my daughter in her new bathing suit. She's as cute as a button and is beginning to enjoy the water more this year, but the one thing that sticks out in the picture is her feet. I look at her and it seems she's grown a foot; her legs look longer as does her feet. Her hair now reaches mid-back when wet, but barely her shoulders when it's dry thanks to those curls!

JAX IS WALKING - Apparently this is no longer a big deal to everyone at home, it's just normal. For me however, he wasn't walking when I left therefore it just blows my mind. One weird thing about deployment is that no one ages in your mind unless you see them in pictures; this doesn't mean much to adults, but when you see kids that have grown 6" it'll blow your mind.

GUN RIGHTS - Today the Supreme Court voted 5-4 "in a landmark decision" on the side of gun owners and the 2nd Amendment. I know there are a lot of people out there who are better educated than myself on this subject, however I am excited about this. This rids Chicago and D.C. of their handgun bans. I wish that I could purchase a US concealed weapons permit instead of just Alabama, but I understand the reasoning behind not doing so. I'm not saying everyone should carry around an AK-47 like the folks in Iraq, but having a weapon(s) at home should almost be mandatory. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why the US hasn't been invaded in modern times...everyone can legally own a weapon to protect themself, their family, and their property.

BAPTISM - I haven't updated my blog since last Sunday, but I witnessed one of the more humbling baptisms of my life. Seeing someone get baptized is a close second to actually being baptized yourself, but seeing someone get baptized in a shipping crate that is lined with a makeshift kiddie-pool filled by hand 20 ounces at a time will bring tears to your eyes. The mountains around us are still snow-capped at the highest altitudes and what a wonderful backdrop that made. It felt like I had stepped back in time and we were at a river watching a baptism, everyone just crowded around and prayed. No offense to the modern-day baptistry, but the lack of technology was befitting. No microphone, no waders, no faucet, no frills...just a man doing what's right in the eyes of our Lord.

HEY, TODAY IS FATHER'S DAY - Well, not literally today, but it did sneak up on us. We knew it was coming, but no one really acknowledged it until about 2:00 p.m. last Sunday. It's tough missing every family-oriented holiday for a year, but thankfully with each passing holiday I'm one step closer to holding my wife and children again!

SEVEN YEARS - Loni and I celebrate 7 years of wedded bliss in another 2.5 weeks. I have thought long and hard about what would be an acceptable gift from over here and come to the conclusion that there is nothing here for her...other than me.

DEPLOYMENT POSITIVES - Last week the Chaplain mentioned that his wife was writing down 180 positive things about deployment; one for each day that her Air Force husband would be gone. #1 on her list needs to be..."I'm thankful my husband chose the Air Force, otherwise he would be gone for 365 days." I'm not bitter, but that would fit nicely. I am a much more positive than negative person, I try to find the silver lining even when I have to draw it myself. I'm not promising that I will find 365 things to be positive about; I'm also not promising to share the things that I'm thankful for...let's just say we'll see how it goes.

WHAT TO DO WHEN I GET HOME - Much of the time that SSG Martin (Thunder Dan) and I spend together is walking from work to the chow hall and back a couple of times each day. We typically walk the mile or so to work, to chow twice together each day, and then back home at night. By the time we get to "the hooch" as it's called, we're just ready for bed. Much of our time is spent discussing the same thing that every Super Bowl winner discusses...what to do when we get home. So far we plan to win the lottery, buy some land, buy a vehicle, sail to the Bahamas, take a long vacation, sleep uninterrupted, not look at a computer for 14 hours in a day, hold our children, kiss our wives (him his, me mine...you get it), breath fresh air, not get nervous in a group of locals, and eat a nice meal with real silverware.

This pretty much sums up the random thoughts for tonight...more later, God bless.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy Birthday (to me!)

Thursday made the second birthday (#29) that I have spent away from home due to deployment. Loni and I use to laugh because it seemed that the first few years we dated, were engaged, and eventually married I could manage to consistently miss out on the 4th of July...this was typically due in part to the Army, but no hard feelings. Obviously spending a year here means that I will miss every holiday for that period, some holidays are harder than others to miss out on though.

Even though I was over here in the desert I managed to have a really good day. From the moment I got up I told myself that nothing was going to bother me! My typical day includes seeing at least 10-15 local Afghans and dealing with their problems and concerns...well not on my birthday, they couldn't make me mad if they tried.

First off I had a bunch of 'Happy Birthday wishes' on Facebook and that's always nice. Also, I received a big package from my mother which not only had some cool shorts and a t-shirt...it also had a pan of Otis Spunkmeyer brownies! We cracked open the brownies and had a miniature party (I mean it when I say miniature, that was literally all we did). Even though it was a day late, today I received a few birthday cards in the mail. Loni sent a few pictures and even a little horse made from Ava Claire's handprint at VBS!

So, even though tonight's update was short it is filled with happiness. It's wonderful to know that I have a church family that prays for me, friends that write me, a family that misses me, and a wife that is so much more than I ever could have imagined.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Groundhog's Day

No, I haven't lost my mind...I know that Groundhog's Day is in February and not early summer. However, I'm sure that everyone who reads this post has seen the movie Groundhog's Day. The movie features Bill Murray and he is stuck in some sort of time warp where each day when he wakes up he has already lived that day numerous times in the past...the day he keeps reliving is Groundhog's Day.

My mother-in-law e-mailed me yesterday and after some updates on the kids she wrote that I must be busy because I had not updated my blog since May. I thought, surely that isn't so...then I logged on here tonight and she was absolutely right. This gets me back to my initial point, I feel as if I'm living the same day over and over.

As you all know, I work as a contracting officer here at Bagram. Last week our section commander decided to hone everyone's contracts down a bit in order to allow us to focus our attention on one or two major items. I was given charge of all vehicles and heavy equipment leases in the office. One would assume that there can't be many vehicles on an Army Airfield in the middle of Afghanistan...well, one would be wrong. I assumed that the heavy equipment would be the headache, but the vehicles definitely take the cake.

So, day in and day out I'm doing much the same thing. I'll write a contract for a truck or a forklift or something similar to that, I'll award the contract and notify the winning bidder, the I file everything in just the right way. Yesterday I was able to award a porta-pottie contract...I actually got excited because it was something a little bit different. Looks like I might get to award a legal/cultural advisor contract tomorrow...woohoo!

When we first got here our days were a little staggered, we had a little change occuring each day with new Soldiers coming and old Soldiers leaving. For the past two to three weeks it's been quite monotonous. We get to work just before 9:00 a.m. and we are now required to stay at work until 10:00 p.m., which makes for a long day. I know that we are busier since the surge is in full swing and the 101st is getting here right now, but wow, you can really write a lot of contracts in 13 hours. Don't think I'm down and/or complaining, I'm really upbeat and doing my best to stay positive and keep others positive.

I can see why these people fight all the time...it gives them something to do. Just kidding with the last comment, most of the people I've met here (and I've met a bunch) are similar to Americans in that they want to make enough money to feed the family, enjoy peace, and be left alone. It's true that a rotten apple will spoil the whole bushel though. After an attack you look at each individual with the question in your mind..."I wonder if he had anything to do with what happened?" It makes you quite suspicious and untrusting; typically I'm a trusting person stateside, not so much here though.

I'll do my best to keep you all posted on the happenings around Bagram, but I won't bore you with daily or even bi-daily posts if nothing is going on. God bless!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day!

To each and every person reading this I hope that you have a wonderful Memorial Day. Today was a real good day for us here in Aghanistan...we began by running the Afghan version of the Cotton Row 5k run that is held annually in Huntsville. I must say that I won't be nearly as willing to say "yes" to the next request to participate in a 5k, it really whipped me. All four guys in the 1960th ran and I think we did pretty good considering the conditions!

The main reason today was so good is because we actually had a pretty fun day, mandatory fun if you understand the Army. Two people in the unit were promoted so we had a ceremony for them followed by a cookout. We reserved the grill and volleyball court for the event. We've had quite a bit of planning go into this cookout and we wound up eating steaks, lobster, and corn...it was good! After eating we played probably 10 games of volleyball and now I look like a lobster...and yes(Loni & Mom), I was wearing sunscreen. I must say that my favorite part of the day is that the commander gave us the rest of the day off after the cookout, it's not that I dislike the work because I don't, but even a half-day off is always welcome.

My final thoughts for the day are for all of the thank-you's and well wishes that we've received over the past few days. Memorial Day and Veteran's Day afford us the time to remember the fallen and honor them in some small way. I truly don't feel old enough to fit into the Veteran's group, but I guess I fit nonetheless. Growing up all the veterans I knew were old, or at least that's what I thought. The current wars have changed all that and now there are thousands of veterans yet to reach the ripe old age of 20.

If you have the opportunity today and see a veteran please tell them thanks for their service and sacrifice. I complain from time to time about the fact that I'll be here for a full year, but then I remember that many WWII vets spend upwards of 2-3years overseas at one time.

"DUTY. HONOR. COUNTRY." ~GEN Douglas MacArthur

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Soldier Prayer

As you read from my last post we had one very interesting night last week. The night has been relatively quiet this week in our neck of the desert, however our teammates down in Kandahar haven't been so lucky. They are fine, but it seems their area is a bit more exciting than ours.

Unless you have served in a place like this you really can't imagine what it's like to be awakened to bombs...not that you would want to imagine that. Sometimes the possibility of being awakened like that is worse than it actually happening; someone in the intelligence field will get a lead or have a wild hair and we'll all find out that there is "credible evidence" that we could be attacked tonight. This same thing happened on my very first night in Iraq...just try to sleep after someone tells you that on your first night in a war zone. The unknown can be somewhat paralyzing...you expect a bomb so you sleep light (if you sleep) or maybe you sleep with your clothes on...or if you're like me you lay everything out just right so you know it will take only a few seconds to be fully clothed and operational.

This past Sunday at church the Chaplain spoke at great length regarding a subject that put my mind at ease...my toes got stepped on, but I can sleep better now. For those of you who don't know "The Soldier Prayer" it can be found in the Bible, it is Psalm 91. As the Chaplain read aloud the words of King David (who never lost a battle) I felt a sense of peace come over me. The Psalm is as follows:

"He that dwelleth in the place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; In Him I will trust. Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust; His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand may fall at thy side, ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked, because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample underfoot. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and him my salvation."

These words now hang on my wall and I read them at night...just like a child feels safe when they have a certain blanket or a bedtime story, these words wrap me in the comfort of knowing that man cannot destroy my spiritual body.

Good night and God bless.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Not my favorite way to wake up...

DISCLAIMER: EVERYTHING IN THIS BLOG IS INFORMATION THAT YOU COULD ALSO FIND ON FOX NEWS, WASHINGTON POST, OR ANY OTHER NEWS OUTLET.

As many of you have heard on the news or read online, Bagram Airfield did come under attack yesterday. My wife has a policy that served her well while I was away in Iraq to not watch the news during deployment. A female co-worker of hers while we were in Augusta gave her that piece of advice because her husband was in Vietnam and the news drove her crazy until she stopped watching it.

Yesterday was an exception to policy for Loni. After numerous phone calls and inquiries she deduced that something must have happened so her curiousity got the best of her and she found out after a few minutes of browsing online. Needless to say, I received quite an e-mail this morning...at least Daniel got one too after Marla found out.

I'm not planning on going into great detail other than to say that I'm fine and all is well here. I appreciate all the "keep your head down" posts on Facebook and warm wishes, I do love Facebook for that reason. I will give a story or two from yesterday that I think might lighten the situation...

Story 1) The horrible wake-up.
Once upon a time...no wait...just kidding...you all remember the 6'7" roommate that started as an offensive lineman at Marshall University from his freshman year until he graduated, right? After the first rocket went off yesterday I was still in a semi-conscious, half awake/half asleep state because we have a aircraft bombing range nearby and I assumed the Air Force just failed to warn us like they normally do. It wasn't until my rooommate hears small arms fire that he jumps off his bunk and screams, "WE'RE UNDER ATTACK" and proceeded to hit the door at Mach 1 speed. I was out of my bunk and fully dressed like Superman, likely dressed in under 10 seconds...of course my boots were untied, but that's alright. So now you understand my wake-up situation. When you are accustomed to a light shake from a loving wife a screaming giant just doesn't sit well.

Story 2) The quote.
This really isn't much of a story, more like a simple quote that I really enjoyed from Washington Post. I am not typically a reader of the Post, however, they nailed it this time. For a little background there are over 30,000 people on this post...most of which are military. You obviously understand that means there is a lot of firepower condensed into a relatively small space. According to reports online there were 20 insurgents yesterday that decided to attack. Even if only half of that 30,000 is military that breaks down to roughly 750 gun-toting, well-trained and motivated Soldiers per insurgent...not good odds for them. I know they are expecting 72 virgins after martyrdom, but at those odds...no thanks. Anyway, back to the quote.... the Post yesterday stated "20 insurgents attacking Bagram Airfield is like a dog attacking a school bus." I feel it's more like a fish attacking an aircraft carrier, but not a bad quote for that paper. BAGRAM: 1, INSURGENTS: 0

Again, all is back to normal today. Keep us in your prayers and God bless.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The safest church service ever...

Today is Sunday over here...which means that I had the opportunity to sleep in for a bit before going to church. I might add that it is so much easier to get myself up and to church on time than it is to get an entire family ready to go...but I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Sunday is our half-day so we all report in around 1:00 p.m., the morning is all ours to do as we please. After a long night of watching movies and talking to Loni on the phone I got up this morning around 9:00 a.m. and went to church. As you might imagine, the church here (Abundant Faith Chapel) is a non-denominational worship service...and I do mean worship service. It is very similar to the Wednesday night service back home with our youth group...lots of worship songs with a full band (all in uniform) followed by a message from the chaplain.

The chaplain is an Army Major, but the worship band is quite mixed. Department of Defense (DoD) electric guitar player, DoD backup singer, Air Force Staff Sergeant backup singer, Army First Lieutenant drummer, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel bass player, and an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel lead singer/guitar player. It is quite interesting seeing them all up there worshipping in uniform.

I assume the chapel likely holds 150-200 personnel and it was full from front to rear. Fear and danger definitely make people believe in God! The interesting part of the service and something that you'll never see back home is that most every person in there has either a pistol or a rifle. Only the civilians don't wear weapons...everyone else is armed. I chuckled when we arrived and mentioned to Daniel that "this is the safest church service I've ever been to."

After the morning service we ate some dinner, unfortunately for me it was not Buenavista, and then we experienced our first real good dust storm. We had to walk about a half mile still when the dust started kicking up so bad that we could only see about 5' in front of us. Once we arrived at the office we basically had to take a bath to get the grit off of us.

After getting settled in and starting to work on a contract I put on a little music like I do each day and the first song that came on was very appropriate. I'm not sure who wrote the song, but the version I have on my iPod is sung by Adrienne Leisching...you'll recognize it...

"In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song. This cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest droughts and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are still, when strivings cease. My comforter, my all in all, here in the love of Christ I stand."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What a week...

If you noticed that I haven't updated my blog in a few days there is good reason for that...#1)not a lot changes from day to day over here and #2)we have been absolutely swamped. Our work days have gone from a mandatory 12-hour day to more of a necessary 14-15 hour day. The days are not boring and they really don't seem like they are 14 hours long because we are staying so busy.

I think that Daniel and I have finally gotten ourselves into some sort of routine. Our days are as follows:

0600-0700: Wake up, personal hygiene, call home
0700-0830: Work
0830-0915: Breakfast
0915-1330: Work
1330-1415: Dinner / Supper
1415-2000: Work
2000-2100: Work out / run
2100-2200: Personal hygiene, watch movies, etc.
2200-0600: Sleep and start over!

As I mentioned...the days are long, but they sure are full. Daniel has been working in the Commodities section of the Contracting Center, which means that he buys items (ie. cell phones, desks, computers). I've been working in the Services section, which means that I actually lease/rent more than buy (ie. lease vehicles / dozers / forklifts, food services, janitorial services).

The area we work in is actually quite nice, it's very similar to any office you would see back home in that it is a solid building and not a tent! The only bad thing about the job is that we are constantly bombarded with LN's or local nationals who are looking for more work, trying to get paid, or trying to gain access to the base for their workers. Friday's are nice because that is their version of our Sunday and they typically don't come around, which allows us to get more work done. On the other hand, we only work a half day on Sunday and that allows us to go to church, get some rest, do laundry, etc.

I never judge people back home by what other people say, but a guy who performs background checks on the locals told me today that he would trust about 5% of them...the other 95% are crooked as a dog's leg. As for them gaining access to the base, there is a badging system that I won't discuss at this time...but I do believe they take a lot of pride in the color of their badge; like a caste system. One color means they must be escorted at all times and another color gives them a little bit of leniency...in my book the less leniency, the better for the sake of protection.

As for pictures, I've tried unsuccessfully to upload pictures from here and I just don't think it's going to happen. The bandwidth is just too small here. I'll keep trying, but if it doesn't work I might have to send a CD of pictures home to Loni so she can upload them.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

...to the Mothers in my life...

I'd like to start the blog tonight by saying "Happy Military Spouse Appreciation Day." In case you didn't know, and I'm guessing that you didn't since I just found out yesterday, there is a day (the Saturday before Mother's Day) devoted to honoring the spouses of military members. So, next time you see my wife, the wife of my deployed brethren, or any other military spouse for that matter, give them a great big hug or at the very least, tell them thanks for the job they endure. Their job is truly the hardest in the military. In the absence of their spouse they are required to be mother and father, run a household by themselves, and take on the role of all things fix-it. Those ladies in Good Housekeeping don't hold a candle to the military wife!

Now, other than thanking my wife for being an awesome military spouse, my other reason for writing tonight is to thank the mothers in my life. In case you don't know, I, like many of you, have more than one mother in my life. There are four mothers that have made a significant impact on me or my overall outlook and well-being; my mother (or Mom), my mother-in-law, my step-mother-in-law, and of course, the mother of my children.

First off, the mothers-in-law in my life have made a huge impact that is felt in a very indirect way. These are the ladies responsible for shaping and molding my wife into the woman and mother that she is today. For those of you who might still believe that when you marry someone that you are marrying him/her and not their family...that's just crazy. Eventually you realize that you get the bad with all of the good, and trust me, behind every person is a family member they don't want you to meet. So, to both of my very normal mothers-in-law...thanks for giving me a chance, thanks for believing in us and not being too nosy, and thanks for the job you did raising my wife. Happy Mothers Day!

Next is the mother of my children, or my wife! Now I've never forgotten her birthday and I can assure you that I haven't and never will forget our anniversary, however it has taken me a while to realize that I had better do something special for her on mothers day since our children are still too small to do so. As you might imagine, that is quite difficult to do from such a distance. I've had people offer to pick something up for her, but I just didn't want to go through with that...it just seemed impersonal. At this late hour the best I could come up with (other than sending her a card a couple weeks back that still hasn’t arrived) is tell you what I think about her.

My mother always gave me the advice that I should never date someone that I wouldn't consider marrying. When I was young that didn't make a lot of sense because I wasn’t even considering marriage at the time, but I eventually realized that Mom was trying to tell me that I had better not date someone that I would be ashamed to bring home to meet the family. Now my mother always had the uncanny ability to size up a prospective girlfriend in less than .005 milliseconds...again, it is absolutely uncanny. Also, once a mother gets in her mind that some girl is "not the right one," you might as well move on because moms rarely change their mind on women who are good enough to marry their son or daughter.

When Loni and I met we went on a couple of dates and my mother approved from the very beginning! I should say that it took about half a date to realize that I was smitten and maybe three dates before I knew Loni was the girl I would marry. I had no problem telling her that either...I'm just glad she didn't freak out. Can you believe that...I actually remember telling her after just a few dates, "you know we're gonna get married, right" and her response was "yeah, I know"...some folks are just meant for one another. From the moment we met I could see her holding our children with that wonderful smile on her face. God has blessed us with two little angels and it still makes me smile when I come in from work to see her holding our son in her arms, he is completely at peace in the loving arms of his mother. To hear the excitement in my daughter’s voice when we get home from school and she screams “MOMMY” is a tribute to her as a mom. To the second best mom in the world, happy mothers day!

Finally, for my favorite mother, the one who has been there when others weren’t and has wiped more tears and bottoms than her fair share…where do I actually start with my own mother…how does someone tell others just how much their own mother means to them? Each year about this time my brother and I take our mother out to eat at a nice restaurant after church, this typically includes both of our families and sometimes we even talk Loni’s mom into going with us. Needless to say, with all of those children, it’s sometimes seems to be more about keeping sanity and less about our mom. We mean well, but mom could literally make plans now for the next five mother’s days. We are that predictable and always have been; when we were little we got her the same pair of shoes each year for probably six or seven years because we thought that was what she wanted. It wasn’t until a few years later that we found her stash of white Keds; there must have been five pair as white as the day they left the store. Each year she opened that same gift and managed to be so surprised that we had gotten her exactly what she wanted.

Why tell such a story…because this is quite typical of my mom. Mom would always make the biggest fuss over other people (my dad, my brother, me) at birthdays, church events, graduations, etc…and never once would she accept the same in return…always downplaying her role or passing on the praise elsewhere. My mother made sure I treated girls with respect and dignity, and if you were to ask Loni I think she would agree that mom did a fine job. Mom has always believed in me, she’s always been honest with me, and upon adolescence she has treated me like an adult.

I’ve never told my mother this, but one of my favorite things to do while home from college was to sit and talk with her. Dad and I can sit and talk, but my mother and I can sit and talk and talk and talk. We are both extraverts and love to talk so sometimes we would talk for hours with nothing to actually talk about. Whether she was consoling me over a girl situation gone wrong or something more serious, she’s always been there and made the time to try and “fix” whatever needed fixed.

It’s quite difficult being away from the mothers in my life for such an extended period, but I know now and always will be certain that they back me in my decisions and believe in me and love me unconditionally. So, to my mothers…happy mothers day. I love you all and long to see you all again soon.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Oh Afghanistan...

I'm sure we all remember hearing Dorothy tell Toto, "we're not in Kansas anymore"...I don't think any statement could ring more true here either. If you haven't had a chance yet, take a minute and read SSG Richardson's blog over at http://rchrdsn51c.blogspot.com, he gives some great insight to this country that I'll be pulling from here today.

For those that don't know it, Afghanistan is 9.5 hours ahead of Central Standard Time...or "Alabama time" as my Dad likes to call it. This time difference makes for a very small window of opportunity when calling home, it has to happen just after I wake up or right before I go to bed. I believe that Daniel and I are finally beginning to get into a routine. We get up around 6:00 a.m. and go to the office, eat breakfast around 8:00 a.m., work some more, eat lunch/dinner around 3:00 p.m., work some more, work out around 7:00 p.m., and then we'll either work some more or come back to our room.

The current command has everyone working a minimum of 12 hours per day, however we are required to be there during peak hours...the same hours as you would expect stateside. The Contracting Office is quite nice compared to where I worked during my first deployment; I'm in a building with central heat/air here, in Iraq I worked out of a tent, the back of a truck, or driving in a truck. It seems that if we worked according to our workload we could literally stay there 24/7, but we've been warned to pace ourselves since we'll be here for a year.

The office is broken down with construction and commodities contracts in one building and the services area (where I work) is adjacent. The entire area is surrounded by bunkers, sandbags, and blast protection walls...the doors stay locked and you have to code in each time to enter the area. In all honesty, working where we do could easily make you complacent with all the security measures in place.

The bad news about the area is that we are right beside an entry point to the base and yesterday we received credible information that someone had a VBIED (Vehicle-borne improvised explosive device...aka car bomb) right outside our area. Let me tell you, when someone tells you there is a car bomb outside you manage to get uncomplacent right quick. The good thing is that we were all quarantined, so to speak, until the threat was over inside our little area. Business went on as usual since we are inside such a highly protected area, except we couldn't leave.

According to folks who have been here for a while they tell us that the place is pretty safe with only minimal rocket attacks. I'm sure they're still using rockets from the 80's war with Russia. Anyway, the mountain passes around us are still packed with snow so they can't bring their rockets over the mountains yet. I'm not saying to scare anyone, I'm really saying it more to let you know the situation.

I've got to get to work for now, don't want to be late. I'll try to upload a picture or two later, but the bandwidth is low here and that could take hours. So for now, know that we're safe and working like crazy!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

We're there!

Just before bed on the 29th we were informed that we would be flying to Afghanistan the next morning...which typically means a long day of riding buses and sitting around air terminals. The four of us went to bed, but I don’t think any of us actually slept that well. Each troop had his own thoughts, worries, and prayers. I got in bed at midnight and woke up wide awake at 0300, just so happened that Jeff and Rich both woke up within about 45 minutes of me. Our day went as follows:

ALL TIMES ARE CENTRAL STANDARD TIME +8
30 APR 2010
0300 – Woke up at Camp Buehring and prepared for flight
0730 – Manifest (this is where all personnel are called out by name)
0800 – Load buses
0900 – Arrive at Ali al Salem
1100 – Ate lunch at a McDonalds…too weird!
1230 – Roll call
1500 – Final roll call and departure from Ali al Salem
1700 – Wheels up
2300 – Arrive at Bagram, Afghanistan
2330 – Part ways with CPT Campbell / SSG Richardson
2345 – Directed to our new home
1 MAY 2010
0000 – Begin cleaning / unpacking
0300 – Finish unpacking
0315 – Shower
0400 – Lights out

We arrived at Bagram Airfield just before midnight on the last day of April. Up until this point "The Team" had been told that we would be splitting up and going four separate ways. However, upon our arrival here we learned that we would not be split completely but would go in pairs. Jeff and Rich would have one more leg on their flight before finishing up in Kandahar; Daniel and I would remain here at Bagram.

Bagram is the largest military base in Afghanistan and Kandahar is either the second or third largest. After speaking with my counterparts in Kandahar is sounds as if both Regional Contracting Centers (RCC's) will stay quite busy. I'm not sure about Kandahar, but the area surrounding Bagram is actually very pretty. If it weren't for the fact that we are in Afghanistan, this place could probably be a tourist attraction of some sort...maybe a ski resort.

Daniel and I got set up in a pretty decent "B Hut," which is a plywood room that is probably 20' x 18' (or so) and holds 4 people. Our roommates are both civilian contractors who work in the same office as we do. We haven't met them yet, but one of them has a poster on his door that states..."DUE TO FREQUENT DISTURBING EMINITIONS ORIGINATING FROM THIS LOCATION, ALL PERSONS ENTERING THIS LOCATION ARE STRONGLY ADVISED TO DON PROTECTIVE ASPIRATION EQUIPMENT IN THE EVENT OF AN UNANNOUNCED EMINITION. THANK YOU." Again...we haven't met him yet, but he sounds interesting already.

I will try to upload a picture of my hut or the area surrounding us as time allows, but for now I just don't have the energy to do so. We are both suffering from some serious jetlag and haven't slept more than a couple hours each night we've been here due to our proximity to the airfield. Planes, jets, and helicopters are leaving at what seems to be all hours of the night and day...as you might imagine they are very loud. After speaking with our co-workers it looks like we'll be working at least 12 hour days with a half day off on Sunday!

That's it for now, I'll post more as time and energy allow.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The lost day we'll never forget...

Let me start by saying that at this time none of us have spoken to our families since leaving Ireland. If you all are reading this know that we are all healthy and in good spirits. We look forward to the mission ahead, but long to be back at home as soon as possible.

All in all we have been constantly on the move since Monday morning at 0345…a grand total of 58 hours (not including the time zones lost over the past two days). Below is what turned out to be our timeline, I’ll expand over the next few paragraphs.

ALL TIMES ARE CENTRAL STANDARD TIME

26 APR 2010
0345 – Wake up at Camp Shelby in preparation for flight
0700 – Manifest (this is where all personnel are called out by name)
0800 – Informed that plane broke down in Shannon, Ireland…flight postponed
1830 – Formation for manifest (postponed)
1945 – Formation for manifest
2000 – Leave Camp Shelby en route to Gulfport / Biloxi Regional
2115 – Arrive at Gulfport / Biloxi

27 APR 2010
0445 – Depart Gulfport / Biloxi
0745 – Arrive Bangor, Maine
0945 – Depart Bangor, Maine
1500 – Arrive Shannon, Ireland (County Claire)
1900 – Depart Shannon, Ireland
2230 – Arrive Bucharest, Romania
2345 – Depart Bucharest, Romania

28 APR 2010
0315 – Arrive Kuwait City, Kuwait (Ali al Salem Air Base)
0500 – Depart Ali al Salem
0700 – Arrive Camp Buehring, Kuwait
1200 – Arrive at Transient Tents (“Tent City”)
+8 HOURS (LOST) FOR TIME ZONE DIFFERENCES

Soldier baggage waiting for the flight...notice how easy it is to see those Alabama flags!

The travel arrangements were weak at best; due to the volcano in Iceland earlier this month we had to fly on a 757 (holds about 200 people) instead of a DC-10 (holds well over 300 and has lots more room). Apparently we filled the entire bottom cavity of the plane with cargo and then did the same thing with all of the first class seating.

Trying to catch a catnap at the Gulfport / Biloxi Airport on the concrete outside; it's about 2:00 a.m. in the picture and no we couldn't actually fall asleep.


The guys with their new neck pillows in Maine. Chad...please note that I've always made fun of people who have these and have spoken with disdain about these pillows for years and still refuse to actually spend money on one.


What we didn’t realize is that all of the pain associated with these flights began back in Gulfport / Biloxi. Granted we did have to wait over 20 hours for a flight to materialize, but the way the plane got packed wound up causing the greatest problems. Let me first say that our time in Bangor, Maine was excellent. The Maine Troop Greeters are located at the Bangor Airport and they do a wonderful job. Their sole purpose is to make us comfortable…they give out food, calling cards, handshakes, cell phones to call home…you name it and they’ll give it! The greeters (mostly veterans) are standing in a line when you depart waiting to shake your hand and give you a pat on the back; truly a wonderful feeling. They had a numbers board behind their counter with the amounts of personnel greeted since they started back in 2003; 1,088,938 Soldiers and 238 working dogs.

Back to the flights…I can’t say whether it was the folks at Camp Shelby or the professionals from Omni Air, but somehow the plane got packed incorrectly. Upon our arrival in Shannon, Ireland our flight crew had to change out. Immediately upon our new pilot boarding the plane he saw the way we had stacked duffel bags throughout first class and said it would have to change and after some work he also said that we were too heavy. Our layover in Ireland was scheduled for 1.5 hours, but it lasted for 4 hours. Most Soldiers weren’t too mad because Ireland is one of the few places where we are allowed to purchase one beer each…most Soldiers choose a Guinness since it is Ireland. I didn’t have a Guinness; however I did partake in their free wireless internet! Long story short we were 53 bags lighter leaving than we were landing. The wonderful new crew also decided that we were not allowed to carry knives (every Soldier has a knife) so we had to put them in a box and lock them up. The funny thing is that we all also have a rifle or a pistol, but no knife.

Our next stop was Bucharest, Romania. Romania has a very green countryside and looks like a pretty country. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to disembark the plane for the 2 hours in Romania so we stood in the plane and stretched our legs as best we could.

Henri Coanda Airport; Bucharest, Romania...unfortunately this is about all we saw of the airport.


The next and final flight landed in Kuwait City at 11:45 p.m. CST (7:45 a.m. here). We had planned to stay up all day and get a good night sleep so we wouldn’t have such horrible jetlag. What we didn’t realize is that we would actually be traveling or listening to briefings for the better part of the day and night. When we finally did stop moving around for the day we were at Camp Buehring and it was 8:00 p.m. local time. I’m pretty sure that Buehring is code for Bureaucracy…this place is considered to be “combat zone” but after listening to the briefings we all decided that Birmingham is more combat than Buehring. Any place where you walk around with reflective belts on so the oncoming traffic can see you better is not combat.

View of Kuwait City, Kuwait from the plane.


(NEXT MORNING)

It’s morning and we’ve all had a little sleep now. You would be surprised to know how cold it can get in an enclosed tent…no one expected the chill since it’s around 95 degrees outside. We were quite cold and slept on cots, but it was just nice to get a little rest. We should be here in Kuwait for another day or two before flying into Afghanistan. I’ll be sure to update you again once we arrive there.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The countdown begins...

I didn't expect to have another opportunity to blog before leaving, but it seems we were lucky enough to make another run to the coffee shop before our flight. This afternoon we plan on going to a local establishment (Chesterfield's) for what we hope will be an excellent steak dinner. I still vividly remember my "last good meal" in El Paso, Texas before leaving for Iraq...it was at a Mexican restaurant with four other lieutenants that I didn't really know. Even though I didn't know them we all shared the same common goals, fears, and loneliness that comes with a deployment. Thankfully this deployment I'm with three teammates whom I have grown to share a great bond with and a common desire to come home in one piece as quickly as possible!

Sometime in the next couple of days we'll be leaving Camp Shelby and headed to an airport for our extremely long flight to Kuwait...and then Afghanistan. The flight to the war zone is possibly the longest day known to man, some call it the "36 hour day." We'll be in flight / on a tarmac / loading / unloading for some 24-28 hours and on top of that we'll lose 9.5 hours due to time zone changes. FYI: A little nugget of knowledge for you...Afghanistan is the only country in the world that has a time zone on the half hour. When it's midnight in beautiful Cullman, AL it will be 9:30 a.m. in Afghanistan...that in itself should tell you there's something odd about the country. We'll spend some period of time in Kuwait before heading to Afghanistan, not real sure how long, all of that depends on how many people are needing to get in / out of country.

The pictures below are from here in Hattiesburg at USM and at Java Werks (they spell werks differently). After leaving the coffee shop one day we went across the street and walked around the University of Southern Miss (most famous alumnus = Brett Favre). USM has a beautiful campus and they are celebrating their bicentennial year in 2010. The old growth of trees reminds me a lot of my own alma mater, the University of Alabama! We walked over to the campus and it just so hapened that the gate into the stadium and then onto the field was wide open...I promise! Enjoy the pictures.

One of our new favorite pasttime...Skyping with our families! This is Rich talking to some of his people, likely his wonderful wife Renee.


Me in a state of awe at the sheer amount of "stuff" that is required to deploy. I've got three full duffel bags, a massive rucksack, and a computer bag full of personal gear.


Jeff talking to his son on Skype.


The 1960th on USM's football field, known as "The Rock."



I'll do my best to update the blog again as soon as possible, surely I'll have more pictures at that time to show. All I ask is that you say a little prayer for us and our families upon reading this...it's a tough time, but as I keep telling Loni...this too shall pass.

DUTY. HONOR. COUNTRY.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wrapping things up at Camp Shelby...

Our time at Camp Shelby, MS is coming to an end. By this time next week the 1960th should be in flight, in Kuwait, or maybe even in Afghanistan...either way we shouldn't be in Mississippi. Over the next few days we'll be going through our last few medical checks (SSG Richardson & SSG Martin still hoping to weasel their way out of the smallpox injections), combat checks and inspections, and hopefully a good steak dinner prior to our flight.

We have had a good time here in Hattiesburg, however, there comes a time when you are just ready to strap in up and get in the game. We've trained for months and now it's time to actually get involved. I'll do my best to post one more blog before we leave, but I'm not promising anything. So...if I don't post for a week or so you'll know that I'm likely en route to my deployment destination.

Enjoy the last couple of pictures that I've posted too!


The dryers at Shelby are huge! The guys said this was supposed to be what the inside of a can of "whoop ***" looks like, but apparently I was smiling too much. I was actually trying to scare Rich, but the dryer began rolling.


I'm not supposed to put this TOP SECRET picture on the internet, but this is a picture of a test program the Army is fielding called COMBAT NINJA. Sssshhhhh!


Please notice the speakers being held directly above the washer...somehow they got dumped in. Thunder Dan didn't think about them for a few minutes and they were completely full of water; amazingly they still worked!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A few more pictures of the Team

A few more pictures of the 1960th from Camp Shelby...


SSG Martin after a very successful landing!


SSG Richardson in the weeds.


CPT Campbell directing the charge!


Me beside a really cool old, rusting ambulance.

A few pictures of the Team

Here are a few pictures of the 1960th that we've taken since Tuesday.


Welcome to Mississippi!


Sheets that I was issued to sleep on...No Thanks!


My paperwork stamped "DEPLOYABLE"


The medications we were issued.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The people around Hattiesburg...

This post won't be a long one, but I just wanted to take a minute and tell you about the folks around Camp Shelby. For those of you who aren't familiar with Camp Shelby it is in Hattiesburg. Hattiesburg is known as "The Hub City," although I'm not sure why.

The reason for this post is simply to say thanks to the people in this area for the hospitality, even though they'll likely never read this. We've been off post to town three times now and each time we've been stopped by people of all ages that just wanted to tell us thanks for serving, they're praying for us, or simply that they support what we're doing.

Soldiers don't join the military for accolades or praise and I can assure you that they don't join for deployment purposes...that's the hardest thing most of us will ever do. Soldiers join because they believe in a cause; something larger than themself...we join to make a difference. Being a Soldier can be a tough job, but around here we just keep getting stopped and thanked.

As rough and tough as some Soldiers are or at least try to be...the four of us are pretty much in awe when this happens. You really don't know what to say other than "thanks" or "you're welcome" or "I'm glad to do it"...nothing really reciprocates when someone has the courage to come up and speak.

So...to all the people of Hattiesburg who will likely never read this...thanks!

WAFF 48 reports on the 1960th CCT...

The following article was posted on the WAFF 48 website on Thursday, April 15, 2010.


Alabama guard deploys first contracting team

MONTGOMERY, AL (WAFF) - On Tuesday, April 13, the Alabama Army National Guard deployed its first contingency contracting team (CCT) to Afghanistan. CPT Todd Floyd, CPT Jeffery Campbell, SSG Daniel Martin and SSG Lesly "Rich" Richardson make up the four man team known as the 1960th CCT. The team is only the second CCT the Army National Guard nationwide has deployed to Afghanistan.

According to LTC David Cooley, battalion commander for the 1169th Contingency Contracting Battalion, the 1960th will augment the contracting staff of the Joint Contracting Command – Iraq/Afghanistan (JCC-I/A) and assist them in procuring needed commodities, services and construction projects in support of operations in the joint theater.

"Basically our job is to help grow the infrastructure for the U.S. military and the Afghanistan National Army," explained CPT Todd Floyd, commander of the 1960th. "When a large base is established, we move onto a more geographically separated location and build a smaller base there."

Cooley says the team will also assist commanders in the planning and execution of Commander's Emergency Response Programs (CERPs) which focus on urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects for local populations.

The team is scheduled to be on active duty for 400 days, including a brief training period at Camp Shelby, Miss., before heading to Afghanistan.

Cooley says the team has undergone extensive training in preparation for their mission. "Team members were required to complete two years of progressively difficult on-the-job training to become Level II certified in contracting," explained Cooley. "They were also required to complete coursework from the Defense Acquisition University."

Floyd said that in order to be on the team, members must have a bachelor's degree and at least 24 hours of business credits.

"We are trained and ready," said Floyd. "In my opinion, this team is the cream of the crop and I'd match them up to any unit in Alabama."

Between the four team members, they have seven deployments under their belts. Some team members have already deployed together during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Soldiers on the team come from various military and civilian backgrounds. Cooley says this gives them a varied and unique skill set. "The main factor in determining the success of the 1960th is their dedication and maturity, both as individuals and as a team," said Cooley.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A visit to sunny Camp Shelby!

My apologies for not posting a picture again today. I had planned to post a photo of either myself or one of my teammates getting their immunizations, but the nurse said it is prohibited to take pictures in that area. Apparently, they don't want pictures of American Soldiers getting pricked by needles floating around on the internet.

I was lucky enough to only need 4 shots; much better than my first deployment where I received 16 before leaving. I know some people out there absolutely hate shots (LONI!), but they really don't bother me...until I have to get the anthrax shot. It's a series of 5 shots that are spaced out over a few months; I received 3 of 5 while in Iraq, but only 1 of 5 made it into my permanent record. This basically means that if I can't prove I had 3 then I only had 1 in the eyes of the military. The shot is administered in the arm and the nurse always says something like, "this is going to hurt pretty bad." Let me tell you...if an Army nurse says that then they mean it because most of them are pretty tough. You're supposed to massage it for 10 minutes after getting the shot, but I think that's all just a mental issue to make you feel better. Anyway...long of the short...it hurt!

The only other thing that I had more or less forgotten about from my first deployment that was thrust upon me today is doxycyclene. This is a malaria pill that we are supposed to take daily. I got the prescription and am still weighing the pros and cons of whether or not to take it. First of all, with 100% certainty you will rush to the bathroom multiple times each day...it is tough on the stomach. Next, it makes your body real sensitive to sunlight. Finally, and I'm saving the best for last...it makes you dream some of the craziest things, almost to the point of hallucinating. I just pray that I go somewhere that is low risk for malaria and am directed not to take it.

Camp Shelby hasn't been too bad thus far...we're here and we're settled in. Should be here a few weeks before catching a hop to Asia.

More later.

Monday, April 12, 2010

...the toughest thing I've ever done.

I've read that blogs are a great place to release a little bit of pressure and stress, I hope that's true. I've not updated my blog in about a week...I blame that on a mixture of not having much to say, not knowing what to say, and not knowing exactly how to put feelings into words.

The entire family has kept it together quite well over the past week until yesterday. Our church family brought my parents, Loni, and I in front of the church to pray for protection over us. It was one of the most powerful moments I've ever been witness to. Yesterday was also my son's 1st birthday, I'm very thankful that Uncle Sam didn't need me last week!

The Team was back at the office this morning for some last minute paperwork and packing. If you have never deployed for any period of time, you literally can't imagine what it's like to pack for an entire year. I'm the boy scout in my family...always packing way too much and never needing it, but I'm always prepared for the least expected events.

Tomorrow morning (less than 8 hours from now if anyone is counting) I'll be leaving with my Team for our mobilization site. We should be there for a couple of weeks and then we're off to A-stan, or Fafganstan to hear my 2 year old say it. She doesn't understand what's happening, she just says that she doesn't want me to go. I love the military and all that it stands for, but Uncle Sam never had to try and explain deployment to a curly-headed little two-year old who thinks he hung the moon.

That's all for now, I'll do my best to try and keep you all updated on our happenings. My only request is that those who read this will pray for our protection and for the protection and sanity of those we are leaving to take care of things at home. Tomorrow we'll all dry up the tears and put our focus on the mission at hand, but for tonight we're just going to hold our spouses and children and pray that this deployment goes by quickly.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sweet Home Alabama

Rich and I had an interesting evening on Friday and I know that I'm glad to be home for a few days. We left Barstow on Friday afternoon to spend the night in Vegas before flying to Huntsville. Prior to checking in at the hotel we drove about 20 minutes out of the way to see the Hoover Dam...Wow! It's amazing that with all of the technology we have today this Dam was built between 1931 - 1935, it's huge. After seeing the Dam we checked into the hotel and drove downtown to the strip.

We tried (unsuccessfully) to go in the Silver & Gold Pawn Shop where the show Pawn Stars is filmed; although the sign says "Open 24 Hours" they were closed from 9p - 9a. We cruised the strip and found ourselves in the Bellagio watching people play Blackjack, Roulette, and Craps. Neither of us understand Craps so Rich asked one of the workers...you should've seen the look he gave us...I'm sure our accents didn't help much either. We never gambled any, but we did walk the strip to a few more joints. That place is a real life Soddom and Gomorrah, but the lights sure are pretty.

To make Saturday interesting we couldn't turn in our rental car until 4a and our flight left at 6a. If it weren't for our uniforms and being allowed to pass about 500 people in line we would not have made it. The flights were easy, especially since Rich worked his magic and got us a 1st Class seat from Denver to Huntsville...thanks United Airlines! We arrived back home to our lovely wives on Saturday (after lots of restless airplane sleep) and had a great day.

Yesterday was Easter and some great time with family playing horseshoes, washer toss, good conversation, and great food. Today was "back to the old grindstone" at work to wrap up a few loose ends while we're still stateside. All in all I think the 1960th is just ready to get this deployment started and do the mission that we have been tasked to do. Unfortunately, the only thing left is the hardest part and that's saying goodbye. Keep us in your prayers!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

...leavin' on a jetplane...

I'll give you a few acronyms for tonight's read since I'll likely be speaking in 100% acronyms in the next few months...this should help!

"Household 6" = On a military radio the #6 refers to the commander. Household 6 is the wife, or the house commander.
"Pop Smoke" = This is what Soldiers do when they need to move under concealment; they literally pop a smoke grenade or pop smoke.
"R2" = This stands for Rich Richardson, my partner in crime out here in California...got the acronym from his wife.


So...I really thought about pulling a good April Fool's joke and saying something like "it turns out our country doesn't need us in Afghanistan"...but I thought better because that could've gotten me in some hot water with the Household 6.

It's 10:00 p.m. here on the left coast and I'm finally beginning to pack my bags for the flight home! R2 and I are working about a half day tomorrow before we pop smoke, or make our exit for the civilians reading this. Although we're less than 150 miles from Las Vegas we have learned that it can routinely take upwards of 4 hours to get there from Barstow...traffic really backs up late Friday headed west on I-15. Our plan is to enjoy the sites of Las Vegas tomorrow night before an early morning flight on Saturday.

Hard to believe we've only been here for 2 weeks, but with a deployment lurking right around the corner it seems much longer and we're both ready to be at home spending time with family. Overall we've had a good time; we have learned some valuable lessons in contracting while we've been here and look forward to what lies ahead...at this point we're just ready to get this deployment started.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

13 days and a wake-up

One of the subjects that I truly enjoyed during high school was Greek mythology; I had a knowledgeable and highly motivated teacher. What young impressionable mind doesn't enjoy reading about the legends of ancient Greek gods and heroes? Today I began to feel a bit like one of my favorite mythological characters...Atlas. In case you don't remember, I'll give you a brief synopsis: In western culture, he is seen as a symbol of endurance. Atlas is typically portrayed on one knee and supporting an enormous globe on his back and shoulders. A liberal translation is that Atlas bears "the weight of the world."

Now don't read into this comparison too much, I don't think myself a god, a hero, a symbol of great endurance, and I surely don't bear the weight of the world. On the other hand, it really began to hit home today that I've got what the military refers to as 13 days and a wake-up before I depart for deployment.

The weight comparison comes to mind when I think of all the honey-do items that are waiting at home when I get back this weekend. Another comparison is the heavy thoughts that are a constant reminder of what is to come. You know when you board a plane or get 50 miles out of town on vacation and your spouse says..."Did you turn off the stove?" or "Did you shut the garage door?"...well imagine you're leaving for a year instead of a week. Simple things like who will mow the grass and who will open tight jars become real thorns in the side.

Each member of the team has deployed in the past, so we know what to expect. I think we could all agree that the hardest part of deployment for us is packing up and subsequently leaving home for the last time. I know this is also a tough time for our spouses, but in my mind the true test for those left at home begins when we leave. All four team members have a spouse and between 1 and 4 children...a household is a lot to handle by yourself, especially when you typically share half the work with a partner.

Don't misunderstand and think I'm asking for pity or sympathy, I volunteered for the military and am proud to serve our country. Team members will miss first steps, birthdays, and graduations...but I can say with 100% certainty that if what we do can help others then it's all worthwhile. The one request I do have is that each of you say a prayer for the families that we'll leave at home. Call them for no reason, visit them, and listen to them when they need to cry (it will happen).

Tonight I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Paine, "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace."

God bless.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's not always work, work, work!


This morning Rich, SSG Joe Crowell, and myself went to what the locals call the "high desert." We picked up Rich's son, Nick, and drove to San Bernardino National Forest and hiked, climbed, jogged, and had an overall good time. There was snow atop the mountains surrounding Big Bear Lake and even though it is the desert, it has a beauty about it.

After our hike we found ourselves at the local Buffalo Wild Wings sitting beside two guys smoking a hooka. Don't worry if you don't know what it is, I just found out last week...apparently it's a California thing. I hear they are also quite popular among Iraqi men, but they're not smoking Lucky Strikes over there. Thankfully these guys were smoking flavored tobacco...at least they said they were. We closed out our day by watching Repo Men at the local theater. I won't ruin it for you, but what an awesome twist at the end.

Hope all is well for each of you...more later.