Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mailing: The How To's

It's time to talk about proper mailing procedures for care packages & letters to our favorite soldier!

Please feel free to connect with me for Jake's address. As this is a public space, we prefer not to share his exact address here.

To mail a letter to Jake: simply stamp your letter as you would within the United States. Same postage rates apply.

To mail a care package to Jake:

There are now flat rate boxes that are specific for APO or FPO addresses. I ordered 25 boxes for free, so if you are in our area and would like a box to mail a special package in, please let me know and I'll be happy to provide you with one. The boxes are 12 x 12 x 5 1/2 and they ship for $12.50, no matter what or how much you can stuff inside!

Along with your package, you will need to have a Customs Declaration and Dispatch Note, PS Form 2976-A, available at any post office location. There are instructions to fill out the 6 copy form included, but to make it simple here's the lowdown:

From: This is you! Need your name & address in the first section.

To: This is Jake! The APO addresses are kind of funky, so the best way is to just write it in as I provide it to you.

Detailed Description of Contents:
The woman at the PO told me food doesn't need to be claimed, but other items (say books, DVDs, etc.) are supposed to be claimed, including the quantity and approximate weight & value. Most care packages will not be valued at more than $20-25.

Then, you must sign your declarations form and date it. There are other sections on the form (insured amount, sender's custom reference, importers reference, HS Tariff Number, etc.), but it is my understanding you do not need to fill those out. There is a section that says, "If non-deliverable & then you can choose from
  • Treat as abandoned
  • Return to sender
  • Redirect to Address below.

I always checked Redirect to the address below. I believe it is still OK to write Commander & then Jake's address following that (without his name) & the box will become a free-for-all for the other soldiers there. This would only happen (I believe) in the case that Jake was no longer at the base.

The US Postal Service has created a link with a lot of information regarding mailing to our troops at their website. You may view that information here. Information found by following this link includes:

  • Addressing Tips
  • Mailing Restrictions
  • Packaging Tips
  • & more!

Some items that Jake has said would be helpful for him to receive in care packages:

  • "Good" toilet paper
  • Baby Wipes
  • Shaving Cream
  • Phone Cards
  • Keurig Coffee K-Cups
  • Deoderant (Axe Phoenix is his preferred brand)
  • Gold Bond Powder
  • Paperback books (just stuff you pick up at garage sales/Friends of the Library sales are great - these get passed around!)
  • Greeting cards that he can send home
  • Ibuprofen
  • Dayquil/Nyquil Capsules
  • Febreeze
  • Refresh Optive lubricant eye drops
  • Snacks - Some of his favorite things are anything with peanut butter, Swedish Fish, Twizzlers, Skittles, Popcorn, & Gummy Bears. Hard candy, nuts, chips like Pringles, and mini tuna packs or beef jerky usually travel well. He loves Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

Please feel free to leave comments here if you have other ideas of things to send!

Make sure to pack your boxes tightly. Squeeze as much as you can into a package before sealing it. Maybe give it a little test shake to see if you hear any rattling. It's helpful to seal anything that may leak inside of a Ziploc bag. Additionally, the gallon sized bags may be useful for jake on his end to reuse. Another tip that we heard last deployment was to include on the inside of the box lid a list of the "contents" of the box, so that your soldier will know if anyting is missing. Also, no need for delivery confirmation or insurance...as far as I know the "insurance" is only good while it is in the USA.

I know Jake is so appreciative of all the mail, love, and support that we have received from our family and friends. Let's blow him away with lots of "love" through the mail!

Ready, set, GO!


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Facade

And just like that, the wall came tumbling down.

After reading Jake's last post, the reality of what's going on here hit me like a ton of bricks.

It's not that I haven't noticed him gone...but he has been gone since about mid-May, so sometimes it feels like just another day of him not around. It's not that I've gotten used to it, but somehow I've managed to "cope" and just keep going in his absence.

But today, after reading his last blog post, the awful reality of what's really happening, why we're in this position, and where he is now just weighed down heavily on me.

I know that I've been in denial about this portion of the journey. It's been a long time coming, so it felt like maybe the day would never come. Maybe my life is so much more full of things to do this deployment than last deployment, perhaps I have less time and less mental capacity to worry as much as I did before. Maybe I have a better support network or more usable coping mechanisms this time. I don't know what it is...but so far this deployment, for me, has been a lot easier to manage.

Today, though, I read his words. I know my husband...and I know his heart. I know what he's feeling...and what he said there for all to read, that is truly him.

It makes me hurt that he saw that. It makes me sad that he was a part of it. It makes me long for his arms to hug me...or maybe for my arms to be hugging him, too.

He has been a part of so many of these funerals and processions and memorials for heroes on our soil. Too many. And he has always been selfless and brave and proud to do that. But he has also felt those losses deeply. I cannot imagine what it felt like to stand there on ramp duty at Bagram and watch someone just like you, draped in the flag. But I can. I can see it through is eyes and his words. I know why he shared that, but why why does it have to be this way?

When the Twin Towers fell, I was SO naive. I didn't even know what the Twin Towers were, and I had no idea what a terrorist was. I was 20 years old. Now children hear that word on a regular basis...they know what a terrorist is, they hear about them on the news daily. It makes me sad that my son will have to know that.

So many of my hours of Jake's last deployment were consumed with worry. I couldn't just "be" in my apartment without fretting that "they" were coming to tell me he was dead. I developed an almost OCD-like response to a car door slamming: Car door slam. Check the window for the men in uniform. It was exhausting. I didn't realize until he came home how much rest I was not getting while he was gone.

And now, here we are again. He's been so reachable, so available in the States that I almost took it for granted. But now, when something happens, or I want to talk to him, I cannot just pick up my cell phone and text him. With the development of technology like Skype, we are able to connect and communicate, which has been wonderful, but again, perhaps just another way for it to feel like he is so close, when really he is a world away and in a very dangerous place, after all.

I cannot let this consume me. I cannot let this dominate my emotions and my thoughts. I have to stay focused, much like he has to remain focused on his task at hand. Still, it was difficult to watch that facade break away...Jake revealing himself to us, and for me to realize that we truly are still at war and that until I see his smiling face next to mine and hold him in my arms that I will have an empty place in my heart.

Last night I had a particularly odd (probably not the right word, but I don't know what word really is appropriate) experience that I was proud and saddened to be a part of. Last night we said goodbye to a hero and sent him home for the final time.

There are a lot of opportunities that are available to me being stationed at Bagram...education, good food (or at least not as bad food), MWR (morale, wellness, recreation) opportunities and some interesting work opportunities...there is another detail that I hadn't thought of when I first knew I was going to be stationed here...ramp ceremony.

What the ramp ceremony is, is its a final goodbye and payment of respect for a fallen soldier, or fallen hero. Its not something that is fun, exciting or thrilling, but unfortunate and necessary. I have been a part of a lot of ceremonies, funerals, honor guards, etc for soldiers and police officers back home, but here - in this place - it is a bit different. There is a sense of...I don't know, something that is in the air and is felt by all who are there. Some take it better than others, some act different than others, but when I realized the MOS (military occupational specialty - job in the military) of the soldier, it hit home hard...he was a combat engineer like me doing a job that I have trained to do in the past and am quite confident he was every bit as capable as I am.

Seeing the flag draped coffin carried off the humvee by the pallbearers and watching the soldier being loaded into the cargo area of a C-130 for transport back to the States reminded me of the people that I knew and have lost...and of the family members of others I have been a part of burying. It serves as a solemn reminder that the fickle finger of fate can tap you on the shoulder at any time and call your number.

God speed Sapper, and peace be with your family....


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Parenting Across the Miles...

An excerpt from a recent card that Jake sent to Asher for Halloween:

I'm sorry I have to miss trick or treating this year, but I will be home soon
and next year, we'll have a lot of fun!
I love you, little man, be good for Mommy, take a nap, and eat your dinner!
Love, Daddy
I love that this man was hours away from heading to a warzone & he's writing his son things like "Be good for Mommy, take a nap, and eat your dinner!" ...three things that totally stress me out & cause Asher & I to butt heads pretty routinely.
I love that man. Thank you for being my best friend, Asher's daddy, and my partner...even thousands of miles away.


Well, we have finally arrived in Afghanistan - actually we got here a few days ago, however my opportunities have been limited to get online - I'll explain.

When we arrived the first thing I thought to myself was, "Self, this place stinks!!" All the familiar smells that I thought I would never have to smell again came rushing back to me as the rear ramp of the C-17 lowered and we taxied towards our stop. The mixture of diesel fuel fumes, burning trash (mostly plastic), dust and all the waste we produce as humans was overpowering for many of the people I was with that had never been deployed. For me, it was a reminder of how dangerous this place really was the first time and could easily be again if proper precautions are not taken.

The living conditions the first few days were pretty interesting and pretty tight. We had over 80 people crammed into a "circus tent" that was probably big enough to comfortably fit 50 and had no way of keeping any of the fine, moon-dust like sand out...so needless to say everything was covered in dust!! After we figured out where we could squeeze all of our people in, we were finally given some free time to either wander around Bagram or just chill-ax...I chose to walk around.

Having been here before has afforded me a small luxury of knowing almost exactly where I am going and where I am at most times. However, since the last time I was here, things have grown and expanded immensly...like the fact that the troop levels here went from 10,000 (at most) to over 35,000 just on Bagram! I quickly found the PX (post exchange) and the coffee shop and tried to take in my surroundings. The level of activity was pretty amazing - seeing as it was not even 6 in the morning here yet!

The last few days have been busy at times (going to the range and getting some theater specific threat training) and extremely boring at others. This is going to be a deployment where I am going to have to initiate a lot of work, because I just don't think I'm gonna be that busy. Today there is a meeting and then I am going to try to find whoever it is that I am replacing and start getting my head around what it is I need to do here...

Will write again soon!!


Monday, October 18, 2010


He called.

After leaving the US on Friday and our last phone conversation at about midnight that night, he has finally called. I was actually in the shower, but I've had the phone pinned to my hip for the last 48 hours. Of COURSE he'd call when I'm in the shower!

Sweet relief. It was HIM. His voice...his laughter...his smile. I could hear his smile. It was him.

I will rest easy tonight. I will sleep in peace.

No, he is not home. No, he's not in my arms. No, I wish he was was not there.

But he called. And it was him. And he's OK. And I'll be OK. And we'll be OK.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Leaving...on a Jet Plane

Well, my love has been traveling all day...and he's not even gotten very far, yet.

He started out in California, 2 hours behind us time zone-wise. Originally I thought he'd be leaving early this morning. Well...I should recall that everything in the military a) never happens when you think/expect it to, b) takes a million times longer, and c) is much more involved and/or disorganized that any normal activity.

First Jake & friends took a two hour bus ride to an airfield. He didn't even know where he was headed at that point...just got on the bus when they told him to. I could NEVER be so NOT in control!

Then they sat around awhile, loaded the plane, etc. These activities pretty much took the entire day while I was at work. Sometime around 6 PM our time he was preparing to fly away in the airplane....onto New Hampshire, a 5 hour plane ride.

Just now I received a phone call from my love. He has arrived safely...still in the USA....and made his last call to me from our country. Soon he'll be boarding again and will be flying into the night sky to be in the air probably for the next 12 hours until he arrives in a European country. He still has a very long journey ahead of him. I *hope and pray* that he has reached his destination by Monday morning. Remember, once in Afghanistan, he will be 9.5 hours ahead of us. I'm exhausted (and wishing for a shower) just thinking about his journey.

I've had lots of love and support from friends and family today, and it feels good to know we are so surrounded by those who care and wish good things for us. Thank you for your prayers - both Jake and I can feel them!


Game face...

Tonight I had my last Skype session with Emily before heading to Afghanistan. It was a bittersweet set of moments (connection problems) to be able to see her, hear her, but not hold her and be able to kiss the tears from her face.

These last 2.5 months have been difficult, but there has always been the opportunity for either one of us to send the other a text at anytime and know that other person is going to receive it in short order...that is all about to change very dramatically very shortly. I have no idea what my work cycle will be, I have no idea of what availability I might have once I get to Afghanistan or what my availability should be...and it kills me, physically hurts to have to say that.

This is harder this time because there is probably a better chance for me to be able to communicate home, but everytime I do, it will take my mind from the mission at hand. I am responsible for keeping soldiers alive by doing what it is that I am supposed to be doing. So far I have been able to easily put my mind in two different places at the same time...that is no longer going to be possible. I will have to be completely focused on my job, my mission and my men down range and outside the wire. If I fail, if I falter in any way, people die...very simple. I am not going to be able to simply pick up my cell phone and either send my wife a text or call her just to see how her day is going. The adjustment is going to be difficult for sure...just don't know who it is going to be harder for.

I apologize for this post kind of bouncing between topics, but my mind is racing at a couple hundred miles an hour in several directions. I am not anxious, scared, worried, etc about this mission yet...and it's not because I am some kind of super soldier - I just don't think the gravity of it has really hit yet...and when it does, I know it will hit hard.

I leave for a warzone in less than 10 hours...time to put the game face on............


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sadie Ate the Jellybean Today


God Speaks.

I'm convinced God speaks.

I've learned we just have to quiet ourselves long enough to listen and receive his messages. And be open to however and through whomever they arrive.

For instance, the other day I got a birthday card in the mail from my dear friend Maggie, and enclosed was a special magnet that now resides on my fridge. It says:

"Faith is believing that one of two things will happen," she said. "That there will be something solid for you to stand on or that you will be taught to fly."

And I get that. I know I was meant to hear that.

We've now learned that Jake will be heading to Afghanistan within the week. So yesterday, I decided to drive Jake's truck. I figured it needed to be driven, and I wanted, in some way, to feel close to him, so I gave it a whirl. Hanging from his rearview mirror is a wooden cross, and a dog tag with Joshua 1:9 on it, which says:
I command you: be firm and steadfast! Do not fear or be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go."
Hear ya, God...loud & clear.
Tonight I was really missing Jake. I haven't been able to recall the name of our favorite Chinese restaurant...silly, really, but I just couldn't call it to mind. When I asked him the name, he immediately said it. At least both of us haven't forgotten....
So, I stopped and got some Chinese for dinner tonight...and ate it while Asher munched on some chicken nuggets...and of course, I was hoping the fortune would have something great to say.
This is where I'm convinced that God has a great sense of humor....you know what my fortune said?!
"A need is a really strong want."
Uh...yeah. TELL.ME.ABOUT.IT. I now understand that the song Unchained Melody and the Righteous Brothers were oh, *SO* right... "I hunger for your love..." "I hunger for your touch." A need may be a really strong want, but hunger....food...that's a necessity....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

One more step....

Well, we have just completed our "field exercise" where for the last two weeks our brigade has been evaluated on every task we may or may not be called upon to perform overseas. Everything is dirty, stinky and dusty...everything except the prayer shawl and laminated Asher hands I received just a few nights ago!

The gift was not necessarily expected by any means but did make sense when those items arrived. I probably should have chosen a different location for opening the box and seeing everything in it than I did (I was right in the middle of my work tent!) due to the fact that the big, burly grizzly bear had to get up and leave the tent for a moment to compose myself when I received those gifts! It was very powerful to have those tangible items to remind me of Emily, Asher and home.

Things in the field went ok, though no matter what the final evaluation will be (we - my group - finds out tomorrow), I always feel like there is more that I could have done or should have done. From the sounds of things right now, my section did a good job and may be a little ahead of most active component units that have not delpoyed in the last 1 1/2 years with the mission I have. That part makes me feel ok about going forward with the people I have around me and will be working with.

Things here in California are slowly winding down with our groups leaving and sleeping tents having fewer and fewer people in them all the time. I can't say I am sad to have this chapter pass, however it does invoke some emotion...just not sure what exactly that emotion is just yet. I can't say for certainty that I am excited or anxious or nervous or anticipatory. I am just kind of in a holding pattern waiting for the next mission or task. I know when I finally get on the bird to fly over, my mind will start to truly "click" into full military mode and some of who I am will need to be shut down and some of who I am will have to be amp'd up. It is truly a weird thing, this experience that is "going to war." Anyway, one more step closer to the end....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

(Happy) Birthday Cake Disaster

I'm hosting my bible study tomorrow night. And on Friday, it's my birthday. So, I decided I'd make myself a birthday cake to serve at bible study.

Hmmmm....well...the bundt cake decided to not "release" the cake.

Perhaps I didn't grease & flour it well enough? It's now in about 5000 little pieces.
So, in the spirit of "What would Jake do?" if he were here...he'd try to make it better. You see, this sort of thing *sort of* happened last year when I was making Asher's 2nd birthday cake...I hadn't let it cool long enough, and the cake fell apart...into a million pieces. When I screamed, Jake dutifully came up from the basement, looked into the recycle bin so he'd know what I was attempting to make, ran to the store, and came back with 2 replacement boxes. *SIGH* See why I'm so lucky?!

Tonight I had already bothered my best sister ever for 2 cups of sugar, since I had of course, just been at the grocery store and didn't realize I was almost out of sugar. I'd spent over an hour on this cake...therefore, I decided the show must go on.

So....this is what we've got. Here it is in all it's glory, with the almond icing on top.
And...this is what I'll serve. Do you think anyone will notice?

Body Count

The body count in my backyard has risen once again.

You may remember that 6 little creatures died in my yard already...well...one day when the boys were mowing the lawn, they found a big, fat crow dead under the tree in the front yard. So, we were up to 7.

I was a witness to the most recent death in the yard. Just yesterday, while enjoying the beautiful, autumn weather on my lunch hour, I was taking my lunch outside & Sadie was soaking up the sunshine.

Sadie is a German Shepherd, and I've never seen her catch anything. She stalks, but she is always too slow. She never makes her moves fast enough, so any bunny rabbits she chases have always gotten away.

Yesterday was a new day. I watched as a squirrel walked around in the yard like "I own this place." I could see Sadie had spotted it, and she was slowly stalking it, just like she usually does. The squirrel did notice the dog...it looked up and saw Sadie, but kept doing whatever it was doing...walking around the yard. All of a sudden Sadie took off and the two were in a game of chase around the tree. At one point I think they must have bounced off the fence...or perhaps the squirrel tried to get under and didn't make it, but all of a sudden the squirrel was in Sadie's mouth!

"Drop it! Drop it! Put it down! EW! Sadie! No!" Shocking enough, Sadie DID drop the squirrel and slunk away like she had done something very, very bad. The squirrel had a few little spasms, and then it stopped moving.

"Get up! Get up! Go...GO little squirrel!" But, this guy was no Lazarus. He was not only merely dead, he was really, most sincerely dead. In.my.yard. Ew.

If there's one thing I just CAN'T do, it's pick up dead animals. My dad suggested that I "just pick it up with a shovel, put it in a plastic bag, and put it in a dumpster." Um...HELLO?! Have you ever seen the movie Tommy Boy?! I had to keep the kiddo and the dog away from the definitely dead squirrel after work, and of course, Asher always being a "very good helper" offered to scoop it up with a dustpan for me. Oy!

Thankfully, Doug & "Uncle Josh" came to our rescue. They even brought their own box to put rigor mortis squirrel into. You wouldn't have even known it was in there had it's big, bushy tail not have stuck out of it! EW EW EW!

So, the body count is up to 8. Please? Please....no more dead animals in my yard?!