Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Up Next on the Home Front

God has crazy timing. And I mean crazy.

Three weeks ago as Jake was making his way back into the country from Kyrgyzstan, he called me from Ireland. He was stuck on a layover through the night, and would be arriving back in the USA sometime early morning on Friday.

A year I had waited for that moment to hear his voice from American soil again. Oddly enough, on this very same day, as I am awaiting his arrival into this beautiful country, I was contacted, seemingly out of the blue, by an attorney.

This attorney was a gal we had been in contact with during Asher’s adoption, and I had not really had any contact with her since then. And then, BING, she contacted me. Her words were simple, direct. She was to meet with an expectant mom on Tuesday, and, was our family interested in having our profile presented to her?

Um, yes!?

I had one weekend to whip my house into shape before my husband was coming home. The same house that I had barely kept manageable for an entire year….and was going to polish from top to bottom in one weekend was now being pushed to the back burner. I had a profile…essentially a scrapbook portraying who we are…to whip up!

I gathered together the paper supplies I had purchased two years ago when we were thinking about updating our profile. I found the book where I was going to lay it all out in. I scrambled to find the most appropriate and attractive (read: no double chin shots) photos of our family, and ended up making several trips to WalMart’s One Hour photo after making numerous orders.

I fretted and worried about what I was saying, and what photos I was choosing. My mom reminded me not to overthink it. It was “us” and whatever we said, whatever pictures I chose, would be the “right” ones.

I finished the 12 page profile, made a few color copies of it, and got it to the attorney at about 2:00 PM on Tuesday…with two hours to spare before she was meeting with the expectant mom. Nothing like sliding in under the wire!

Tuesday was also the day we got the official confirmation of my husband’s homecoming…in 48 hours, a week after the initial contact from the attorney, I would be in Jake’s arms.

Of course, the night before Jake’s homecoming I should have been putting away laundry, cleaning my floors, or doing something constructive at home. Instead, I was getting a manicure/pedicure. I needed to feel pretty, and, well, vacuuming wasn’t going to help my self-esteem.

After some fabulous pampering at the spa, I got into my car. I hadn’t pulled out of the parking lot when my phone rang. The attorney’s number flashed onto my caller ID. A cool sense of peace washed over me. “Whatever she says,” I told myself, “is fine. Stay cool.”

I was cool. I was staying cool. I was fine even when she said the words…

“She picked you.”


Woah...wait a minute...what?! She PICKED us?! She picked US?!

"She's due...in late October....with a little GIRL!"

A GIRL!!!!!!!!!


I got some details from the attorney, and finished up the conversation with her...knowing what lay ahead. In less than 24 hours my husband was coming home...but I just HAD to call him and tell him the news.


Welcome home...and you're going to be the daddy of a little girl...in 3 months time! Talk about homecoming and readjustment! WOAH.


When I called Jake, the first words out of his mouth, after a half-choke, half laugh...were, "Uhhh.....uhhh.....a girl!?" Then more giggles....followed by, "Uhhhh....uhh....hairbows...and...uhhhh bobbypins! And....uh....I'm gonna have to remember to wipe front to back....ughhhh..." More nervous/excited giggles. "A girl?!"


This is the man who will be THE perfect daddy for a little girl...so perfect because she will be wrapped around his finger...and the "front line" in his future will be to NOT be hiding in the bushes with his teeth camoflauged the first time her prom date comes to pick her up. LORD, help us all.


So, the night before my husband was coming home...when I was already excited out of my mind, and now we've just been delivered the ridiculously exciting news that we're going to be parents again! How was I to sleep?! My day had gone from pretty amazing to tremendously surreal in about two seconds. Thank goodness for a nice big glass of wine, or I may not have gotten any shut-eye!


On Thursday we drove to Boone, Iowa, and after much waiting, were happily reunited with our favorite soldier. After the long, tiring day, we arrived home around 6:00 PM. And just a quick 16 hours after that, we were driving to the attorney's office to meet up with "A," the expectant mom who had picked us to someday, hopefully, be the parents of her baby girl. When the attorney said "A" was interested in meeting us in real life, I asked if Friday would be too soon. The attorney said, "I don't think soon would be soon enough for her. She's very excited to meet you." So, there we were.


When we arrived at the office, the attorney had not yet arrived. We took a seat in the waiting area, and shortly thereafter, from around the corner, "she" came. Skinny arms and legs, and a basketball belly. "A" saw us....and she put her hands to her face and said, "Ohmygoodness!" and began to cry. She walked toward us with her arms wide, wishing for a hug....and we walked into her open arms and embraced.


And so, the adventures for our family never end. We go from one chapter to the next, seemingly without a breath. But so it goes. And so it goes.


That weekend, I saw these and I just couldn't pass them up. Every girl needs a pair of ruby red slippers, and no one is too old to remember that there's no place like home.


"There's no place like home...there's no place like home. "


~Emily






Thursday, July 14, 2011

Irony.

Irony at it's finest.

All year I've waited to receive a letter from my beloved in Afghanistan.

Today, 3 cards arrived in the mail.

And he's standing in our living room.

:)

Best line from today?
As the group of soldiers stood at attention with a huge flag draped from ceiling to gymnasium floor, Asher said, "That's my daddy?" And we said, "Yes...that's your daddy." and he said, "That's a lot of daddies!" Yes, and mommies, too.

Welcome home HHC 2/34 ID.

~Emily

Offical Jellybean Countdown: ZERO!




Today's the day!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Something STINKS!

The smell of rotting animal was emanating from my dryer.

Oh yes. As if I could put up with one more small, dead animal during this deployment, this was, as they say, the "icing on the cake."

I don't go down in the basement often. Jake's Man Cave is down there...and, it's a bit lonely to hang out in that space without him. Additionally, the couches have been covered with clean but unfolded laundry for....pretty much the entire deployment. The washer and dryer reside in the basement, so, again, I try to spend as little time down there as possible!

Upon emptying the dehumidifier the other day, a sickingly nasty smell wafted past my nostrils. Having a pretty good sniffer, I smelled around for the offending odor. The inside of the dryer was definitely malodorous.

This was not exactly a surprise. Last weekend, as I moved a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer, the dryer "died" as I tried to turn it on. There was a big "thunk" noise as I attempted to start it, and then it made a buzz/click noise like an engine that won't start. I took the load of wet laundry and dried it at my sister's house, thinking I was dealing with a dead dryer on a holiday weekend.

On Tuesday morning, I went back to the basement to try the start button again so I'd know how to explain the buzz/click noise to the dryer repairman. I was determined to fix the machine rather than go out and buy a new appliance. When I turned the button on, miraculously the dryer started. Problem solved! Or so I thought...

A few days later, the smell began. Ever the "hometown hero" poised to rescue me at a moments notice, was my fearless Dad. He descended, plugged in the wet/dry vac, and set to solving my problem. He fished the hose around inside of the dryer vent, but found nothing but lint. "Sorry, Em, there was nothing in there," he told me.

This weekend, the smell was overwhelming. I was CERTAIN there was something dead, and definitely rotten...rotting IN my dryer. EW.

So, again, I made the phone call - calling in the fearless reinforcements....this time Dad and brother Dylan. Armed with flashlights, tools, and a wet dry vac...they went in. Clanging, banging, suctioning, pounding....they were certain to find the cause this time!

As I was pulling weeds outside of the house, I heard....yelling? Screaming? Not uncommon with my family...but this was more of a "OhmygoshthatstotallygrossIcantbelieveyoujustpulledsomethingsodisgustingfrommysistersdryerdadwithawetdryvacewwwwww!"
16 year old teenage boy scream.

Classic.

Dylan emerges from the depths. "Oh my gosh, Dad just got something...I don't know if it's a rat...or a bird...but... UGH. Give me some gloves."

Hilarious.

Of course I was not going anywhere NEAR the basement, hence the hilarity of this ridiculously raunchy situation. I handed my brother the pink gardening gloves, and a few minutes later he emerged again....claiming it was a tiny, decomposing "Chip and Dale Rescue Ranger" chipmunk.

Such a tiny thing emanating such STINK!

Phew. Problem solved. Again. Such hometown heroes have I, in my fear(less?) Daddy and brother.

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for rescuing me (again!)

~Emily

Friday, July 8, 2011

Breathing Easy

I can breathe again.

Tonight, we'll all be sleeping under the same stars, the same moon, the same sky...all at the same time.

We're still "apart"....Jake in Wisconsin, and Asher & I in Iowa...but we are SO close.

I've texted and called my husband today numerous times. He sent me a message saying how awesome it felt just to be able to contact me whenever he wanted. After not having something so simple that so many of us can take for granted, it's nice to know that we've got this quick and easy method for comminicating back in our life. He's even enjoyed a few pictures messages of Asher that I've sent to him already.

*SIGH* What a relief. I can truly breathe again.

He is not home in our arms, but he is home to America, and to know his feet are on our soil, his lungs are breathing our air, and that the water is fresh makes me nearly weap with joy.

Thank you, again, Lord, for delivering him from evil.

~Emily

Monday, July 4, 2011

My yoke is easy, and my burden light.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”


Yesterday at Mass, this portion of Matthew's Gospel was proclaimed. It's one of my favorite Bible verses, but yesterday it really made me smile.


Talk about relief from a burden...I received confirmation from our favorite soldier himself that he, officially, is in transit, on his way home to the beautiful United States of America! Thank you, God, for delivering him safely from evil.


During the first deployment, I tried lots of things to try to make myself feel better...I did the activities I'd always loved to do, and even tried lots of new ones. Nothing seemed to make me feel better, no matter what I tried.


When Jake returned home, I joined a bible study on the invitation of my best friend. We thought we'd try one book with the group, and here we are, 6 years later, still meeting and growing in our faith with a wonderful group of women.


Over the last 6 years, Jake and I have worked on healing...individually and collectively. War changes people, and we had both definitely been through some battles. The carefree, naive kids we were at the beginning of the deployment no longer existed after. To say we were both carrying some burdens would be an understatement.


Learning and growing in our faith and our marriage helped us to to trust more in Christ and allow him to carry our burdens. Trust is difficult in general for many people. I like to think that I completely trust in Christ....but, usually what happens is that I offer over my worries my cares, my burdens to Him, and then...somehow sneakily take them back. I want to trust in Him, but it is a pretty big lesson to learn to pray for God's will in every aspect of your life. That's why I'm still learning, growing, and trying, every day.


Yesterday at Mass, Monsignor was speaking about how others "yoke themselves" to us, and help us carry our burdens. The sheer number of people who have willingly carried our burdens this past year is actually unfathomable, but I am going to attempt to give you an inkling of how caring family, friends, and neighbors have helped to "share the load" with us this year.



  • Mailing packages and letters to Jake

  • Making a meal for Asher & I

  • Praying for us

  • Buying me flowers

  • Watching Asher so I could get things done

  • Shoveling for us

  • Making us smile

  • Helping clean/organize our house

  • Mowing our lawn

  • Listening to us

  • Sharing a meal with Asher & I

  • Picking up & disposing of the dead animals in our yard

  • Putting up/taking down our Christmas tree

  • Special notes of encouragement

  • Helping us keep our sense of humor

  • Hugs

If you have done any of the above, please know you have helped to carry our burden and that your help meant more to us than we could ever adequately express. THANK YOU for your help in lightening our load.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jellybeans: We've Come A Long Way



We've come a long way together, haven't we?


Not so sad to say, this "journey" is nearing a close.


Remember when we had 400 jellybeans in our jar? The jar was filled with many brightly colored beans, and we hoped that the days would pass quickly. Jake packed away his jar in his rucksack, and mine & Asher's jar took up residency on top of the mircowave. It was soon moved to high shelves inside of cupboards once the boy became obsessed with the jellybeans. (Now, when he sees the jar, he asks for "Red, blue and green...")




We had to count...and sometimes recount...and look forward to the day there wouldn't be any jellybeans left in the jar.



Well, folks...we are nearly there.

While there has been no official word regarding when this journey ends for us, we are close, as you can see.


Won't it be a glorious day when there are NO jellybeans in the jar?!


~Emily









Monday, June 13, 2011

Symbols




The first time Jake was overseas, I was given a pin on the day of his send-off ceremony. For anyone who has never been to one of these unfortunate events, it's a lot of "blah blah blah" and bawling. Like, cry so many tears you don't have any left. Like you're puffy & blotchy for days and you feel miserable. Like you just said goodbye to the love of your life, your best friend, your son, your daughter, your dad, your brother, for maybe the last time. AWFUL.


The pin for me, was something I clung to. I wore it religiously. I put it on in the morning, and took it off at night. I wore it by my heart for all to see.



That was part of the problem, though. I put it out there for all to see. I had this...sense...this feeling that if I was miserable, perhaps I could wear it on the outside to show everyone how miserable I was. Instead, people saw it as a a way to open the door to communication with me. They'd ask me about it. They'd thank me. They'd comment on their thoughts on the war or our troops.




I didn't want questions, or to be thanked, or their political diatribes. I wanted my husband back.




The day he came home, I put away the pin in a jewelry box. I thought to myself, "I never want to wear you EVER AGAIN."




It's not that I wasn't proud of my husband...because I was and am VERY proud of him. The pain that had come through that 16 months of deployment, though, had taken it's toll on me, and I thought that if I locked that piece of metal away, that maybe those feelings would disappear, too. They didn't.




We had to deal, individually, and collectively, with a gamut of emotions and issues that came from the deployment. And, I think we had made it.




But here we are again....winding down another deployment. This time I haven't donned a pin. This time I haven't worn it outwardly on my chest, but I'm sure it's shown on my face with the black circles under my eyes, or the anxiety in my smile, or the exhaustion of dealing with the behavior of our son without my partner to physically lean on.




This time words like "Flat Daddy" and "Skype" have become daily vocabularly. Skype "lunch dates" with my husband has been a major way we've been able to connect this time. Flat Daddy has been such a literal gift to Asher...he has dragged him around the house, hugged him, kissed him, played with him, and even scolded him!




Although Skype and Flat Daddy have been wonderful additions to this deployment, in a way, I'm beginning to feel the same things I felt for the pin....that when my husband finally comes home, I'd like to never have to see or say those words ever again. Soon, they'll become obsolete in our daily routines, and hopefully be replaced with conscious and active participation in each others' physical lives and being sure not to take even one minute with each other for granted.




~Emily

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Damn Engineers...

After posting several times tonight, I realized that I am being very remiss in regards to one group of soldiers I hold near and dear to my heart...my fellow combat engineers. I am still proud to this day to call myself a combat engineer and would not have it any other way.

It definitely takes a different breed of man to be a combat engineer. You have to be willing to out stink your best friends, eat C-4 and do some other things that can't be mentioned in a public forum (you know what you did in Riley, Cal - classic, but DAMN MAN!!). You also have to be willing to get into a steel box on wheels and knowingly drive down a road that has an explosive device buried in it and WANT to find it.

My former company of engineers have had several different missions since starting this little adventure - aerial reaction force, infantry platoon, cav platoon and route clearance patrol/package/platoon. With each new task, they have done what engineers do, adapt and overcome. The way we do things may not be to the liking of very many (mainly the infantry and cav) but one can argue, we get the damn job done.

The men of my former company have done everything the infantry guys have done - conducted patrols, been shot at, shot back and been hit by IED's. They also, willingly, do something that infantry guys don't...go look for the little bastards that blow up our trucks, hurt our friends and kill fellow soldiers. The men of A Co have done well - no matter what ANYONE says...because in the end, we'll take the wrench.

Keep up the good work guys, sorry I blew up and the first round at Jeno's is on me.

~Jake

Injured soldiers...

During this deployment the soldiers of the task forces under the umbrella of TASK FORCE RED BULLS have faced the enemy time and time again. Sometimes our boys have come out on top (like a recent event that involved over 10 hours of constant fighting that resulted in a tally of 65 - 0), broke even and have come out on the wrong end. We have had almost 20 soldiers wounded in combat and 3 that went home by themselves after paying the ultimate cost.

The first event in which our soldiers were critically wounded occurred during an IED blast. The soldiers in the vehicle were severely wounded and came to BAF (Bagram Airfield) for initial and stabilizing treatment before being moved to a medical aircraft and flown to Germany. When these three soldiers got here, a friend of mine and I decided to visit them in the hospital.
By the time we got there, the one that was in the best condition had already been flown out, the next less severely injured soldier was in surgery and the gravest one was in the intensive care unit. As we entered the hospital, a single thought entered my mind. I was reminded of an email I received while serving my first tour here in 2005 that notified me that a friend had died of his injuries during an IED blast in Al-Ramadii, Iraq...SGT (posthumously promoted) Seth Garceau. Seth was a soldier that never complained, accomplished his work (with a little prodding sometimes) and always greeted you when you got to the armory in the morning for drill - he ALWAYS stayed the night there. When we walked into the ICU, I tried to imagine if Seth had been treated much in the same way as these soldiers were being treated...a nurse constantly checking and re-checking the monitors, hovering near - watching for any sign that things were either improving or declining. I knew these guys were in good hands, but remembered, like with Seth, they were far from being out of the woods.

After Seth was stabilized in the Green Zone, he was also transferred to a medical bird and flown to Germany...except Seth died on that aircraft after having gone into cardiac arrest multiple times. Now, since his death, I have tried to remember him every Memorial Day, every Veterans Day, every national holiday that celebrates sacrifice, honor and duty. Sometimes I do a good job, other times I fail miserably. When I saw the young man in front of me, laying on a hospital bed with part of his skull removed because of the brain swelling, seeing his legs in traction because they had been fractured so severely, seeing his arm casted temporarily and knowing the internal injuries he had suffered I became extremely angry...hateful and vengeful. This young man, just like Seth, had been gravely injured by an IED, an improvised explosive device...something that I was supposed to be helping these guys find, defeat and kill the bastards that were emplacing them, making them and financing them. I felt like I had failed him and his friends...and that was not to be the last time I felt that. Thankfully, all three of those soldiers made it back home and are on the long road to recovery...but they will live and they will recover.

The first week of April was a very trying time for our task force and the soldiers of Iowa. In a three day time span we had 2 soldiers killed...again, by IED's. Again, I felt the bile rise in my throat as I felt the shame of failure. Felt the uncontrollable rage rise up in my chest...and flood my vision. One of the soldiers that was killed was in an area of operations that we don't directly control. This soldier was the same age as I am and had gone through the infantry transition course with another dear friend of mine. In the vehicle with him, unbeknownst to me, was another soldier I am privileged to call friend. He and I were deployed together the first time and in the years that passed (as many times happens in the National Guard) our paths crossed several times...each time a conversation was had, much bantering back and forth was done and a good time was had. When I found out that J (I am only going to use the first initial in his last name) was injured, I tried to find out where he was, what had happened and began data-mining for any information I could get my hands on. I found out when he was coming to BAF, what had happened and how they had been injured.

The day that J was coming in, we had planned on visiting him in the hospital after the ramp ceremony for the soldier that died. When we got to the hospital, they informed us that J wasn't there yet and would be in later that day. So, later that day, some of us that were able came back, did. Now, they said J was going to be brought in from the flight line in an ambulance...so when a medical bus pulled up - we didn't think anything of it...we should have. Our First Sergeant did ask the young airmen standing at the rear of the bus if they needed any help, because - well, we were just standing there not doing much waiting, so when he said yes, they did need help, we all walked over. As the soldier was being handed out of the rear of the bus on a stretcher, I was placed in a position where I would have a hold of the handles right next to his head. When he was finally handed down, I looked down and saw....my buddy.

Now, J is a pretty tough son of a gun...someone that I have to give consideration to before tangling up with...when I looked down at him all bandaged up, tubes in him and doped up pretty good....I was pissed all over again. I truly wanted to do terrible things to the people who had done this to my friend, my fellow soldier and father of little ones. We got him into the hospital, into the emergency triage area and then left so the docs could do what needed to be done. After a little while, they started to work on his leg...the one that was the most injured. When they started working on it, the docs asked if we wanted to be in there with him while they casted it up. When I walked back in, you could tell he was still in pain despite the painkillers they had him on. He recognized me again when I got next to his side and, though it isn't very manly, I got the chance to hold his hand and talk to him while they set a temporary cast on his leg. Before we left, he mentioned that he knew what had happened to all the guys in his truck...and seeing the look on his face restarted the rage.

Later that night he was awarded his Purple Heart and prepped to be moved to Germany for further treatment and then to the States. During the entire thing he was chatty - J has never been one to be quiet anyway. It was good to see him somewhat like himself, but still - the image of that tough SOB sitting in a hospital bed with multiple injuries hit a nerve...one that still rages whenever something happens with IED's in our area of operations and with our soldiers.

~Jake

Acceptance...

Acceptance is something that I think we ALL strive for - regardless of color, creed, gender, sexual orientation or military occupational specialty. For those of us in the combat arms MOS's, it means being seen as an equal by others that shoulder the same burden, face the same dangers, know the same toils.

During this deployment I have been lucky enough to be accepted by many different groups of soldiers - the EOD technicians and professionals, our infantry soldiers facing danger everyday and our cav scouts heading out into some of the toughest terrain on earth.

It has not been an easy task as a combat engineer to be accepted by these different and very diverse groups of war fighters. The EOD guys are nuts, just simply insane. To be accepted by them, you have be willing to be as crazy as they are or more so...and I don't mean anything like the Hurt Locker - bring up that movie to some of these guys and see what happens! You have to truly know what the hell you are talking about because if you don't, these guys will see right through you in no time flat. You have to be willing to stand where they stand, go where they go and do what they do.

With the infantry, you have to be willing to do the same...only they don't like to mess with some of the things we engineers call toys...like landmines and other little betties that go boom! You have to be willing to stand against the enemy shoulder to shoulder with them and not flinch. You have to be a man of your word and your word has to be of steel - promise these men something and not deliver the first time and you are done. You also have to show respect and pay your dues.

The cav scouts are a little more of a different breed. They like to be hidden, they like to be in the background of everything - doing their jobs but not being in the spot light. They get out ahead of everyone else and do their work...finding the enemy, fixing the enemy and then bringing the whole world down around the bastards heads. If you can't keep up with them, you better not even try to go on mission...you're going to slow them down and piss them off. The only way you can ever get away with that is to make fun of yourself more than they do and do it first. If you can do that, get them to not be too pissed, and let you come on more missions, you better perform.

These three groups of soldiers are completely different in what they do, how they do it. The thing that has endeared them all to me is that it didn't matter that I was the fat f*ck from Brigade the first time I went out with them...I was willing to take the punishment and come back for more...willing to work as hard as they did just so that I didn't put them in danger...willing to make fun of myself and eat huge amounts of humble pie in respect of what they had to do on a daily basis.

So, this is my thanks to the men of the 744th EOD, the 129th EOD, the 703rd EOD, the men of TF IRONMAN and the cav scouts of Bravo Troop, 1-113 CAV - you guys have shouldered the burden of our tour and come out ahead....thanks boys.

~Jake

SecDef visit to Bagram Airfield 2011

Back in March, the Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Dr Robert Gates, visited Bagram Airfield. It was a very big to do, just like when the President came early in our deployment, and there were many security measures that were taken during his visit.

One of the measures that needed to be taken and enforced, was the clearing of all weapons before entering into the dining facility (or defac) that he would be having lunch at with some selected soldiers. Well, since our task force is the battle space owner (or BSO) for Bagram Airfield, we were tasked with providing the personnel to conduct said checks on said weapons. Now, before I get too "deep in the weeds" on this posting, there are members from ALL the branches of the military and many different agencies represented here that are issued weapons...and for right now, I am going to pick on the Air Force.

When a soldier is issued a weapon and before we are deployed, we have to go through weapon familiarization and qualification...we also have that weapon with us ALL THE TIME!!! We are expected to know everything about that weapon system, be able to strip it down quickly and efficiently, put it back together in the same fashion. So, that being said, one would think that the simple act of removing the weapon's magazine and ensuring the weapon was "clear" (no round in the chamber) would be very, very basic and easy...not so much.

There were several issues that contributed to the confusion, I'll grant that, but when you have someone who is barely able to get their pistol out of the holster they are carrying it in...things get interesting quickly. I was paired up with another senior NCO who has an infantry background, has been deployed previously and has a lot of common sense on this day of adventure. There were four different times that I was approached by a member of the Air Force and they simply handed me their weapon when I explained what needed to happen...THEY.HANDED.ME.THEIR.WEAPON!! They either didn't know how to remove the magazine, clear the weapon and re-holster it or were scared to do it....not sure which. The first time it happened I reacted naturally, just did it for them, didn't think much of it and handed the weapon back...by the fourth time I was in a state of absolute disbelief. Now, I have met many members of the Air Force's OSI and JTAC/TACP's...all of them squared away. When I had that many people from their branch do that - oh yeah, I made sure to point it out to them!!

While I was dealing with the people I had to deal with, my partner was dealing with his own "special cases." I am truly thankful he has really good reflexes, otherwise I might have been laying face down on a hospital bed for a little while. One of the service members he had come to his side of the entrance got so flustered with attempting to clear his weapon, that he actually CHAMBERED a round, put the weapon on FIRE and started to point it at my butt...just about the time that he would have pulled the trigger to complete the sequence, my partner slapped his hands down on the service members weapon, moved it to SAFE and extracted it from the service members hands...thankfully.

At the end of the detail, he and I were laughing so hard because the alternative would have to been so pissed off that neither one of us could have spoke. After we relayed all the details events to the Sergeant Major that was in charge of the detail our sides hurt, our eyes were wet and all the frustration was out...for that day!

Anyway, the Secretary of Defense ended up having his trip cut a little short because he decided to spend more than the allotted time at the hospital with wounded soldiers (not looked down on by any of us) and did not have lunch at the defac that day. Later in the day, the Sergeant Major stopped me on the way into the latrine and told me good job not getting my ass shot off and handed me a coin....it was a coin from Dr Gates. All the soldiers that had stood in the rain and taken all the gruff from all the people who didn't know, didn't care and didn't want to abide by what we were saying were rewarded in kind. It almost made taking a slug in the buttcheek okay...but not quite!!

~Jake

Wow - where did May go?!

As Emily pointed out in the previous post, there have been a lot of things that have happened in May...



  • Bin Laden was killed...what has changed?

  • Many, many nights were spent away from my desk

  • Many, many nights were spent worrying about me away from my desk

  • Friendships were developed and strengthened

  • My awesome wife got my bike all ready for me when I get home with the help of some awesome friends

  • My wife and son have endured a LOT on behalf of my following a passion

When we got word that Bin Laden had finally been found and killed, the feeling here was....like holding your breath. We had been told there were plans for "spectacular" attacks on American bases throughout Afghanistan planned for the 1st of May...but nothing ever happened. The anticipation of something like that takes more of a toll on soldiers and leaders than the actual event does sometimes. In the heat of a fight, we know what to do, we know how to do it...it is waiting for that fight that drives us mad. We fortify our positions, we prepare our courses of action, we prepare our gear and ammunition and then we are ready and waiting...and waiting and waiting. So when nothing happens, we have all of this built up.......aggression I guess that needs to be directed somewhere. This is one of the great challenges that leaders in every military have faced - what to do with your soldiers, your men that have prepared to take on the enemy in a deadly ballet of destruction but are not given that opportunity. So, when Bin Laden was killed in an awesome display of special operations prowess (hats off to the SEALS) we again thought, "this is it, this is going to trigger the big push, the big fight" and were sorely disappointed. It might be morbid or disturbed that I would actually say we were sorely disappointed but look at it from our perspective...they had hyped it up and hyped it up - it was time for them to "nut up or shut up" and we were ready for the challenge.


The first part of this month I had a chance to spend some time with a unit of guys that I have become pretty close to...Bravo Troop, 1-113 CAV. These guys are what are called cavalry scouts. They are normally given the job of being way out in front, working in small teams, collecting as much information about what the enemy is doing as possible and doing so on their own. They are the classic, "eyes and ears of the commander." They were given some of the most unforgiving terrain in our battlespace and expected to dominate it in classic fashion. Now, with some of the rules of engagement that we have to abide by, their hands were tied in many situations. To counter this, they decided, "fine, you won't let me do A and B, so we are going to do C, D, E and F." In the hostile terrain, they decided to dismount their vehicles and push into villages that no one has been to in quite some time on foot...carrying with them everything they would need. They climbed over mountains just to be able to attempt to find the enemy that lobbed rockets and mortars at their patrol base on a constant basis because their other options were limited. During my tour here, like I stated previously, I have become close with many of their NCO's (Non-commissioned Officers, the sergeants)...as a matter of fact, one of their platoon sergeants - a sergeant first class - stated after coming back in from a nice long mission set that it seemed as though I had deployed with them...because I had spent so much time with them. I will get into that in another post.


Anyway, I know that Emily worried about me everyday and every night I was out on mission. The funny thing is, I was NEVER worried with those guys. I was relaxed the entire time! Even though we didn't get much sleep, took rockets a few times, had missions that kicked our butts, it never FELT like work. It felt like....I don't know - its hard to explain...it just felt comfortable. I was in the midst of fellow combat soldiers that accepted me for what and who I was...even if I was just a dirty combat engineer! The friendships that I have cultured and now have with some of these guys have become deep...even if I have only "known" some of them for 6 months! On the other hand, some of the friendships I cherished before I deployed have become deeper and stronger as well. My friends that came down from Iowa City to get my bike, take it back up there, pamper it and prep it, then return it to the house have shown me deep, true friendship - they took something that they know means a lot to me and made it better. My friends at work have really shown my family and I that we are not forgotten and still important to them and to the job. My other close friends have gone out of their way to either help my family, send me packages and letters, send me little reminders that they are thinking about me and my family and the other soldiers here. It has truly been awesome to see the caliber of people that I am humbled to be able to call my friends.


Emily and Asher have endured everything I have since this deployment and more. Em has constantly had to be "on duty," the one parent to take care of EVERYTHING with no hand off readily available. She has had to be the disciplinarian, the comforter, the provider...everything - and she had done a good job - much better than anything I could do in like circumstances! My son has had to endure feelings he can't properly express or talk about. He doesn't know why there is anxiety in the house, he just knows that I am not there and Momma is not happy sometimes. He feels that and doesn't know how to let it out, so he acts out sometimes. He has changed daycare providers and he doesn't have the familiar surroundings and now it is sinking in...and he is scared...and there is nothing his Daddy can do about it. I am very good at looking people in the eye and saying, "no - your not going to do that" or "this is what your going to do" and enforcing that...but taking my son's fear and anxiety away I can't do because I am not there. Just hold on a little longer, Little Man, Daddy is ALMOST home - almost there to be able to quell the fear you feel, ease the anxiety you feel but can't express, wrap you in the protection of my arms...I will be home soon.


As the new month starts, I look forward to many different milestones and markers that are indicators of the impending journey home. As I reflect on this journey thus far, I am happy, angered, saddened, fulfilled, confident and many other emotions and feelings about the job we have accomplished here, the future of this country and the future of our own country. Evil never sleeps, it never rests, it never stops. In this world, evil must be faced by men and women willing to fight and die to protect our friends, families and everything we hold dear. At this point in my life, I have seen that my time standing the line is eclipsing and the next generation is stepping up...but I am not completely useless - I can impart the lessons learned, the skills acquired and knowledge gained by my experiences and the experiences of those around me. I have been very lucky to serve shoulder to shoulder with some awesome people here and I have learned from every one of them.


Its time to come home and start a new chapter in my life...one that concentrates on my family, my friends, my career, and training those that will go after me to stand the line on the cold, dark, starless nights waiting for the wolves to show themselves and face and defeat them. I'll be home soon - love you Emily and Asher!


~Jake

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I'm Already There

Turns out May has been quite a busy month, as this is the first posting either of us have done & June 1 is tomorrow!

What's happened in the past month:


  • Osama bin Laden was killed


  • Jake has been out and about (not behind his desk!) doing secret squirrel missions


  • Emily freaks out when Jake is out and about (not behind his desk!) doing secret squirrel missions


  • Asher started at a new daycare


  • Emily feels as if she's reached her limit (yet again) on this deployment


  • Jake is able to make his mom & wife feel special on Mother's Day with some deliveries of beautiful flowers


  • Emily arranged for Jake's motorcycle to be fixed up and ready to ride when he gets home, and it has been picked up, pampered, and returned home


  • The weather has been cooperating at home, so lots of outdoor time, sandbox play, jogs on the bike path, which means bath time every night for the lil man


  • Hotter weather, allergy season, mixed with dust, sandstorms, bad air, and more dust makes for an unpleasant "springtime" for Jake


  • The first of the "replacements" for Jake's unit have begun to arrive

At this point, we are all tired of deployment. It's wearing thin on all of us. Patience in the combat zone is nonexistent...patience at home has been tested and retested....and the little man, although not privy to our adult conversations most days, has somehow felt the tension amongst both of us and has shown his fair share of "impatient" behavior as well.


Today, after work in my car, I was flipping radio stations and came across the song "I'm Already There" by Lonestar, which I haven't heard in a good 3 years at least.

Listening to the words, I couldn't help but think of my soldier, who has been away now for over a year.



"We may be a thousand miles apart, but I'll be with you wherever you are. I'm already there...take a look around...I'm the sunshine in your hair, I'm the shadow on the ground, I'm the whisper in the wind, and I'll be there 'til the end. Can you feel the love that we share? Oh I'm already there...."


There have been so many moments throughout this year, that I just wish Jake had been with us...to share with us, to laugh with us, to console us....it's been very difficult to be without him, as he is a very active husband and father. Even without his physical presence, he has managed to make a lot of time for us, and we have tried to keep him in every day life with Flat Daddy, the talking story books, YouTube videos, and Skype dates. However, it's just not the same as having him really here.


Some of the things that happen without him here, I wonder if I would react differently about if he was here. For instance, Asher got into some mud in our yard the other night. It was the end of the evening, I was tired, he was tired, and it was getting to be time for bed. When he came around the corner of the house with mud on his hands, legs, shoes, and clothes, I got angry. I didn't laugh, or think it was funny. I scolded him, stripped off his clothes, and carried him into the house to get washed up. If Jake had been here, maybe we would have laughed together? Taken a few pictures? Chuckled in bed later that night whispering about what a funny kid Asher is? I've had a lot of these parenting "moments" that I'm not very proud of. Instead of laughing & tickling him, I yelled at him. Looking back, I feel guilty about how I reacted.


As I listened to the song today in the car, it just reminded me that no matter where Jake is, his heart and mind are on us, his family, even as he's doing "hard hero work." It reminded me that even when I don't think "he's here," that he really is...in the little things...my son's laughter, the dog's playful lick, the burnt dinner, the sunshine through the clouds.

Maybe instead of focusing on "one more mess to clean up," today's song was helping me to see that I need to be sure to find the fun, the laughter, the love in the little things...even the mud. And soon, he will be here.

~Emily

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Paying Forward the Spark

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled
by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude
of those who have lighted the flame within us.

~Albert Schweitzer


I always cringe when people, though well-meaning, say, "I don't know how you do it."


I want to say, "What other choice do I have?" but usually I just say, "I'm definitely not doing this alone."


We've had a village, this whole deployment. I'd be kidding myself to think we didn't have a village before this...from our wedding in a week over 7 years ago that was pulled off without a hitch (except the good hitching of two kids in love), to bringing home our beautiful son the week after the phone call to come meet him....we've had our "village" for many years. Lucky for us, our village has continued to grow, and we are amazed at how blessed we are to be so loved.


It's been a hard lesson to learn that it's OK to need help and take help. When I said yes to a casserole back in September, I had no idea it was going to morph into over 3 months of meals. When a friend offered to take Asher for a playdate so I could clean the day before Jake's R & R, I let her. I've been able to take some "mommy breaks" and go shopping or hang out with friends, while Asher gets to spend quality time with his grandparents, aunts & uncles. When my best friends ambushed me, though not initially on board with their plan, I cannot say enough how much their Christmas intervention boosted my spirits. In fact, the tree is STILL in the corner of our living room. And yes, I realize it is now nearly May. I have come to the conclusion that it does need to come down soon...but only because there are just a few bulbs still lit.


And speaking of lit, that's what this whole journey has been about. Those little "sparks" that have kept me going on the darkest days. Somedays it's knowing I've got a light at the end of the tunnel (Jake). Sometimes it's my little ray of sunshine on a cloudy day (Asher). Sometimes it's that steady shine of my guiding light (my parents' unending love). Sometimes it's the twinkle of laughter and silliness (my sister). Somedays it's the words to a song on K-Love reminding me that the light of the world (Jesus) is holding us in the palm of his hands.


The thing we must remember is that we've got to keep the light going...we can't let the light go out. Sometimes it's hard to keep our own light shining...and that's where others must step in to BE the light for us, or give us that spark again. My husband has been fantastic at being that spark for me through this journey. There were some very, very dark days, and his words, his love, his undying committment and unending loyalty lit me up again. I hope I've been a spark for him when he has needed it as well.


When I was first being showered with amazing dinners by Jake's caring co-workers, I felt overwhelmed. What will I do in return? How will I pay them back? Some dear friends reminded me that those folks were not doing this with the expectation of anything in return, and that that moment in time was not my moment to "pay them back." So, in every thank you note I wrote, I expressed the hope that some day I could "pay forward" the generosity that had been shown to us.


And that time has come. I was recently able to "pay forward" the gift of meals for a grieving family. With the click of a few buttons, friends and neighbors can now use TakeThemAMeal.com to assist in being a light for this family. It saddens me that a casserole won't FIX anything or heal their hearts, but as I know quite well, it CAN meet a need, and sometimes just having those daily needs met is part of the battle. I knew that if I had the capacity to share the light that I've received, that it was my responsibility to do that.


When I was in need, initially it was difficult for me to say "yes" to accepting the help, but once I wrapped my mind around the fact that this was a way that people could help and wanted to help, I allowed myself to accept that help. Sometimes when we think we know how to pass the light onto others, they may be reluctant to accept it. Offer. Let them think about it. Offer again. They'll come around, usually. If you do make an offer, follow up on it. There is nothing so hurtful as an empty promise. Simply asking them what might be helpful is another way to help. They may not know right away, but asking them shows that you care. It doesn't have to be a huge, life-changing thing that you do. It can be as simple as offering to mow their lawn or having them to your house for dinner, and then making the phone call to invite them with a firm date. Pretty simple to do, but something that may be the spark to light their way that day, that week, that month...


Who has been a spark for you? What can you do to keep the light going for others?


~Emily

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

Show me the money...

As most of you know, our elected officials in federal government have failed to agree upon an operating budget for our country. If there is no agreement by midnight, 8 April 2011 (only twelve hours from the time I am writing this post), then our government will shut down. The implications of the shut down are very complex and far reaching. One of the implications is very near and dear to my heart...my pay. My pay that my family depends on to pay the car bills, the electric bills, pay the water bills, purchase groceries, put gas in Em's vehicle so she can get to work, pay for child care...the list is seriously endless.

The pay schedule for the military is similar to many private sector jobs - the first and fifteenth of very month we are paid. We are paid for the previous two weeks of work prior to the pay day. As of right now, 8 April 2011, they have already posted my pay that will be deposited on the 15th...a full 24 hours prior to the possible shut down. My net pay is less than half of what I would normally make...LESS THAN HALF of what my family depends on. The best part, if this thing isn't resolved before the 15th, one week away, then my family will not receive any money on the first of next month...none, nada, nothing, zilch. Oh, we have been promised that it will be paid retroactively, but pardon me if I seem skeptic...what the government giveth, they also taketh.

So, while the elected officials still collect their FULL PAY AND BENEFITS through all of this, the men and women tasked with fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan (and now the forces committed to Lybia) are doing so for no compensation...nothing paid to our families while we risk EVERYTHING in this place. I decided to exercise the one of the rights that I am supposed to be willing to die to defend - my right of freedom of speech. Now, as anyone in the military knows, our right to free speech only extends so far and covers only so much. So, while I will not outwardly NOT support my country and government, I WILL express my concerns for my family and their well-being. The following is the letter that I wrote to my House of Representatives member, the Honorable Bruce Braley...it is my hope that EVERYONE that reads this will do the same :

Sir,

I am contacting you in reference to the upcoming / on-going government shut down and the loss of pay for the service members of Iowa that are currently serving in Afghanistan. The hardest hit are going to be our lower enlisted soldiers, the ones that are shouldering the biggest burden and facing the greatest threat.

These young men and women are facing the enemy everyday and coming out on top...for now. They endure the hardships of 5 - 6 day missions in some of the worst terrain imaginable and are now doing it for even less pay. Although those soldiers don't have an immediate need for their income, there are families that are dependent upon it...but dependent upon the FULL pay. These young soldiers' families are living pay check to pay check as it is, and now they are going to have to sacrifice even more.

What this all means is our families are going to have to sacrifice not only time and closeness with us, but they are going to have sacrifice the every day expenses on items that are needed...diapers, food, gas, etc.

Mr. Braley, I implore you do to everything you can, work as hard as possible to make the rest of your Congressional co-workers understand that because of the budgetary issue, the men and women our government has tasked to defend our country are suffering needlessly at the hands of the greedy few that have decided the pork in many spending bills is worth more than the service members lives or the well being of their families.

With respect,
SSG Jacob Pries
Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan

I hope he listens.....

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Where's My Daddy?

Deployment is hard enough.

But sometimes the words that come out of your precious child's mouth are just too much.

Yesterday morning I was trying to get Asher fed and dressed and out the door in time to make it to meet our running group on the bike path at 8 AM. Asher was playing and I was trying to get him wrangled into one spot long enough to get his entire outfit on him. At one point he headed upstairs, and I could hear him.

"Daddy? Daaaaady? Where's my Daddy?"

Talk about knife to the heart. He NEVER calls out for his Daddy like that when he's not here.

And he wasn't just playing. He was actively looking for his Daddy. He was saying, "I am sleepy. Where's my Daddy?" Unfortunately, I think he wanted to stay at home & NOT go for a jog that morning...and I kind of felt the same, too!

When I got upstairs, I found Asher crawling into our bed. He snuggled under the covers on Jake's side of the bed and laid his little head down on Jake's pillow, then pretended to snore.

I couldn't have wished his Daddy home at that moment more than I already have if I had tried!

On our run that morning, we neared the armory close to our house. It must have been a PT morning, as there were many soldiers out on the park lawn that morning. I pointed all of them out to Asher...the sun was in his eyes a bit too much for his liking, but he noticed all of the men and women in uniform there.

Today as we were driving past that same armory, the soldiers were standing along the sidewalks holding posters saying "Car Wash" and "Bake Sale," so, in need of an inside AND outside car wash, I figured I'd at least knock one out and make a donation to a good cause.

As we pulled in, Asher could see all the uniforms again and he let the female soldier at the window know, "My Daddy is in Afghanistan!" As we pulled forward and they turned on the hoses against our windows, Asher squeeled with delight. The soldiers scrubbed our windows and he and Sadie enjoyed the show from the backseat. There were soldiers in uniform surrounding our car.

"Where is my Daddy?" Asher asked again for the second time this weekend.

"Daddy's in Afghanistan, baby...these are different soldiers." *SIGH*

I can't say that seeing those uniforms doesn't make me ridiculously hopeful. Even if it's completely illogical, a uniform never ceases to make me believe that maybe, just maybe, MY soldier is there....waiting to come around the corner, or turn around from a group and have it be HIM, or scrub some suds on our window. Stupid, I know. But the mind can play such weird tricks...

Later, when we met up with my family, he let them know, "The shol-jers washed our car!"

Soon enough it'll be your Daddy, Asher...Soon, baby.

~Emily

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jelly Beans on High

Asher is fearless.

Asher is determined.

Asher scares the crap out of me sometimes.

We live in a 3 story house. Most mornings, I'm upstairs getting ready & Mickey Mouse or Finding Nemo are "entertaining" Asher on the main floor while I try to get us out the door without being too terribly late.

When it gets too quiet, I yell down the stairs, "Aaaaasher....what are you DOOOOOOing?" And he usually answers me.

One morning I didn't get an answer...and I could hear some peculiar noises. So down I went, to see what shenanigans he was causing this time.

See how high that is? This is a photo of our kitchen cupboards, from the floor. And the streamers we put up when Jake came home. And do you recognize our lovely jellybean jar? If you can't find it, it's up in the top right corner. That was the latest hiding place for the jellybeans.

TOTALLY out of reach for a 3 year old.

Or so I thought.

He moved a chair over, climbed up there onto the counter, grabbed the jellybean jar, climbed down without incident, got the lid off, and was standing in the living room with his hand in the jar when I found him.

So, today, with approximately 4 months left of this deployment (or less!), I decided to recount the jellybeans.

Instead of having 122 in there, we've got just 95.

BELIEVE me. There've been days when I wanted my hand shoved in that jar & to eat the whole darn thing. Really. But I was committed to this daily rationing of the jellybeans. Oh well.

They've been "hidden" again, and I do hope that perhaps in 95 days, rather than 122, that maybe, just maybe, my husband will be home in my arms again.

~Emily

Sunday, March 27, 2011

His Birthday

*SIGH*

I hate lonely.

I feel so damn lonely today.

Tomorrow/today is his birthday. It's morning in Afghanistan now. The love of my life is turning 31 years old. He's in a warzone. He'll wake up alone. He'll shave his face, put on his uniform, drink his coffee, and go to work. Maybe he'll have some lunch, and work out, and eat dinner. Perhaps his friends there will do something to make him feel special today (they will). He probably won't get a hug. (The tears are streaming down my face now). Even tough guy Jake deserves a hug on his birthday. He deserves so much more than a hug on his birthday. I'm sad and lonely because I can't help but think about how much I want to give my love a hug today.

Yes, it's just another day, he'd probably tell you. Sure, he'd rather be anywhere else but there....and probably wishes he was surrounded by all the people who love him most and know him best. Well...maybe surrounded by those folks AND some of his favorite beers...But, it's just another day in a warzone. And he has a job to do...and he'll do it, and probably be embarassed by any attention his day will bring.

I sent him a card. And Asher sent him a card. I traced our son's little hand into the card with a pen. No package. No birthday gifts. No silly streamers or cake or Whitey's shakes (I wish I could have, love...) Believe me, if there had been a way to pack a box to show him how much I love him, I would. But, sorry to say, this love doesn't fit in a box.

This love. Our love. I miss it so much.

Let me tell you how amazing Jake is. This man loves me....even for all my faults. He loves me when I'm my ugliest. He's seen me SO ugly, and he still loves me. He's seen me ridiculously insecure, jealous, and completely unreasonable. I've been demanding, controlling, mean-spirited, even hateful. And yet....and yet...even for all of my shortcomings, faults, and ugliness, he loves me in spite of it all!

That is an awesome love. A love that forgives when I don't deserve it. A love that says "I'm sorry" even when I'm too stubborn to say those words. A love that knows that even thought there's not a birthday gift in the mail, still he tells me that just hearing me say the words "I love you" is the best gift for him. *SIGH* Seriously?

This war has broken me. Again. When is enough enough?

Happy Birthday, love. Wish you were here in my arms, but you're ever in my heart.

TMD.

~Emily

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Thunder Rolls...

In Night Catch, a book we read nearly nightly at our house, a little boy and his Soldier Daddy play "catch" with the North Star. Being only 3, Asher has caught on to how this process works, and although we can't always see the stars clearly, we can almost always see a slice of the moon in the evening when it's time to rest our weary heads.

Asher and his Soldier Daddy have played this game with each other, where they blow each other the moon or the stars nightly...so that by the time they wake up, the other will have "received" the catch.

Well, soon after we began this game, Asher came up with "blowing the funder (thunder)." Where he came up with this, or even learned the word "thunder" is beyond me...but he has shared this routine with his Soldier Daddy.

This morning we were lucky enough to catch Jake on Skype and yesterday Asher spoke nicely on the phone to his Daddy, telling him in his sweet little voice, "I miss you, Daddy." Well, prior to Mass this rainy Sunday morning, there were raindrops pelting the window and thunder rolling across the sky. As we were crossing the backyard to load into the car, a deep, long roll of thunder shook the heavens. Asher was a bit frightened looking, but mostly impressed. I reminded him that that was his Daddy, "blowing the thunder" back to him, and in his precious little voice, he looked into the sky, cupped his hand by his mouth & shouted, "Good job, Daddy...good job blowing the funder!"

~Emily

R&R leave...

There are odd things that happen when you get deployed. Many expectations or realities that are never fully understood or fully grasped. One of those odd things is when you get R&R leave.


The reasons are several that R&R is an odd experience when you are deployed. The first is, the expectation of coming home....seeing family, friends and just being surrounded by civilians. When you out process, you get a briefing on the basics...the old, "don't drink too much, eat too much, drugs are bad, don't beat your wife/husband/kids/dogs/neighbors/etc, and don't be mean." When you get the brief, no one wants to be there and everyone is too busy worrying about what they are going to have to do right afterwards. Rarely is everyone thinking about the weird oddities they are going to find when they get home...or when they get back here.

For the involved individual, you are the central person for something important...whether you are the person that came up with the way to track the battle that works the best, run a program or are just involved in the everyday decision making of whatever echelon you are assigned to. When you are here, you are important, people come to you for decisions, people come to you for help...people just come to you. When you leave here...people don't come to you anymore for whatever it was they were coming to you for...they have to find someone else, someone who knows (because you did a good hand off with that person on everything they need to know to cover down for you) or is supposed to know what is going on and how to answer the questions...or they just figure it out themselves.

The same can be said for our families back home. Before I left, I was involved with my son's life in every way I could be...meal making, bath times, bed time stories, playing in the backyard - the list goes on. I was also involved in my wife's life - being a sounding board for her frustrations with work, Asher, people in general - watching Asher for an hour so she can go grocery shopping and be able to actually get what we needed instead of trying to keep Asher wrangled up long enough to find the necessary items...or very simply to just be able to give her a hug at the end of a long, tiring day and share a nice glass of wine.

So, obviously, when I left home, I tried to make sure that most of the big ticket items were taken care of. Upon returning on R&R leave, I come home to a different house...still looks the same, smells the same and is the same address...however the house is just.......different. And so are the two people and dog that live there. I was a bit worried about how my son would react to me coming home after being gone for almost 10 months (I really left home 10 May 2010) and not being active in his life...not being physically present with him. It was a bit rough the first couple of days - he didn't want Daddy to give him a bath, he didn't want Daddy to read bedtime stories, he didn't want Daddy to make his breakfast or get his movies started...those had been and were Mommy's job and he made that very clear. A few days before I left to come back, however, the tables had turned and I was back into the normal routine...just in time to mess it all up again.

Now, lets not forget about Em in this whole thing. She didn't have anyone to hand off any of the responsibilities to for the same amount of time. She HAD to be Mommy on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days week...she had no other choice. She was gracious enough to let me be able to slide into some of the responsibilities without any fuse whatsoever...I think she was just glad for a break from some of it for even just a few minutes! :) But, then I left again and now sometimes, it seems like I was never really home...because two weeks is a very, very short time. I had expected to be able to jump back into the same roles and responsibilities again and I too high of expectations...I needed to take it a little slower.

When I was getting ready to return here, I, once again, made the mistake of thinking that I would be coming back to the same thing I had left... When I returned, the same people were here, but the people were not the same. Things had happened while I had been gone, missions had been run and we, as a Task Force, had been successful in some areas and failed in others. I expected people to once again reach out to me for the information they had before, I expected people to reach out to me as a source for things they had needed before I left and that didn't happen...not right away and still is a bit different than before I left.

The biggest hurdle to all of this...is getting over the ego of oneself and the thinking that everything will only change because YOU change it. People change, perceptions change, experiences are had, views change and people's reliance on others changes...and you just have to deal with it. You have to deal with it, because at the end of the day a saying that my mother and father taught me at a very young age is true. "The worst news in life is, you're not that important. The best news in life is, you're not that important." This saying has guided me through many times in my life. The only thing I would add is that the best news in life, is that you are important to someone...even if you don't know who that someone is just yet.

~Jake

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wise Words

At this point in the deployment, this is exactly what both Jake and I needed to hear...


"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with
too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense."

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bikes...

On my most recent trip east of Bagram to an undisclosed location (good attempt at mystery, huh?!) I was fulfilling my new responsibility as personal security officer for our brigade's Deputy Commanding Officer, a "full-bird" colonel. Basically, it means that I am to be attached to his hip and ensure his safety where ever we travel...it also has a different, 5 lettered title associated with it that my adult friends can probably figure out!

With the duty does come some perks...mainly getting off post every once in a while and getting to be involved in different things. One of the recent things we were involved in was giving away some bikes to school kids at an all boys school just outside one of the main firebases in the province we went to. It was pretty neat to see the brand-new bikes sitting outside the school waiting for the kids to come out and be presented them.

Well, during the waiting, the COL decided he needed a little air and came out to where I was and where the battalion commander's (one of the people the COL was "visiting") PSO (personal security officer) was. There were a few kids and adults gathered around (we had a female Air Force medic- who, I must say, held her own with all the males that were gathered around) talking and interacting with us. One kid, couldn't have been more than 13 or so, had a bike covered in bright green transparent tape. The COL got the idea (he might have been dared) to ride the bike and wave at the other people on the mission while doing so...I.T. W.A.S. H.I.L.A.R.I.O.U.S!!!! Here was a full-bird COL, in his mid-forties, riding a bicycle that looked like it could fall apart at any moment waiving to the Lieutenant Colonel that was the battalion commander standing on the front steps of the boys school! The boys and men that were gathered around us loved it, they started clapping and cheering when he took off on the bike!

Now, the funniest part, at least for me, was when the COL got off the bike...as he was swinging his leg over the back of the bike he hit the flag that was on a little wooden pole attached to the back frame of the bike...and snapped it clean off! The kids face was priceless and needed no translation - it was literally the, "What the F" face! The COL, of course, felt terrible, so he reached into his pocket and gave the kid a few dollars. That little gesture by someone of his age and elevated position meant the world to this young man. His face brightened up, he had a little more pep in his step and carried himself a bit differently.

That experience is one that can only be had in a combat zone...here are fully dressed, battle ready soldiers riding around on a kid's bike in a walled off boys school compound - UNBELIEVABLE!!

It was a great experience and hopefully, one day, I can share it in full with my son and he will appreciate what it is that his mother and I have done to provide for and protect him.

~Jake

Back in the saddle...

Well, again, it has been a while since I posted! A lot has happened since the last posting, so in the interest of keeping everyones attention I am going to break down a few things over a few different posts.

Today's post is going to focus on surviving R&R leave and coming back. As all of you know I traveled home for R&R starting the 27th of January. After several "show up and wait" calls, we finally left Bagram in the very early hours of January 28th. From there I traveled through Kuwait and finally ended up in Atlanta. When I got to Atlanta on the 30th, I had a bit of a lay over. In the interest of not putting all the information about what we do and where we go between Afghanistan and US soil, if you have questions, you can always ask me over a bottle or big glass of beer! :)

Once I got into Atlanta, however, I had quite a layover. Well, I had packed for such an occasion and was able to clean my self up appropriately - fresh uniform, socks, t-shirt, shave and brush my teeth...I almost felt human again!! Anyway, the flight from Atlanta to Moline was packed, but not terrible. I had the fortunate instance of sitting next to a man that had wrestled at University of Iowa around the same time I was there competing in Tae Kwon Do...so we had a little bit of a common background to start a conversation and talked about family, being in the military, his civilian career, etc. It was nice.

Once we got into Moline, many of you have seen the pictures from my wonderful wife's perspective...it was awesome from mine as well! As soon as I got off the plane I made a bee-line for a side area where I could put my computer back into my carry-on bag and walked as fast as I could towards the hallway that leads to the main welcoming area...I had been on missions that had produced less butterflies in my stomach than that walk! As soon as I cleared the corner leading to the hallway where the welcoming area was, I saw everyone standing there...and my wife holding my son (who really wanted to get down and play with his balloons!). When I saw them, I started running down the hallway...before anyone saw me! When I was a little ways away, Em finally got Asher lined up with me and we saw each other...and it was a.w.e.s.o.m.e. The feeling knowing that my family was right there was amazing and lifted so many burdens from my shoulders in that split instance...and even though my little man had grown so big, he felt light as a feather as I picked him up.

The rest of the two weeks was amazing, as has been chronicled by Em (and there will be more posts extolling the adventures of leave!) so well. It is amazing what just a little bit of a break can do to restore your mind, body, spirit and faith.

Since returning I have been busy...been on mission, been trying to get back into the groove of what had happened and what was happening, getting my head "back in the game".

One of the strangest things about being deployed is the concept of time and reality. What I mean is that when you deploy, you are so focused on what you are doing, what the next day holds and what needs to happen right now that you loose some focus on what is going on back in the "real" world. There is a trap that many people fall into - it is the trap thinking that when we leave our lives stop and everyone in our life stops as well...the reality is that no matter what (and this is a phrase I have said to Emily - and many soldiers going through a rough patch - many times) you do or what happens, you can never stop time. The sun rises and sets regardless of where you are and regardless of what you are doing...

When I returned home, things felt a little bit the same, but were very different. My son was bigger, my doggy had white whiskers under her chin, my wife was much more independent...things were very different. My son didn't want/need me to do anything for the few days - he needed his momma. Sadie returned to my arms quickly, but she was a little unsure why I had been gone for so long. Em ran the house - her word was law and that's what needed to happen, because that is how it had been since I had left.

Now, don't get me wrong, within a few days, things felt very much normal and back to the "proper order of things"...daddy helped little man with breakfast, Em and I got to relax and just enjoy each other's company...and I got to enjoy the fruits of my wife's labor of re-filling my refrigerator in my Man Cave!! All in all, the two weeks I spent at home were exactly what I needed and when I needed it.

Returning here, in the same way, I had expected to be able to roll right back into the same roles I had played when I left. That was not to be - at least not right away. Before I had left, I was the go to man for a lot of things that needed to be done from different people. Well, like with home, when I left other people got tagged with getting the jobs done. They did a great job and I had expected no less, but when you return and go to do something that you had normally taken care of only to find out it was already done, it makes you feel a little different...especially when the task is completed, but not completed the same way you would have done it (wink, wink Babe!! :) ).

Coming back from leave has been interesting...there have been some things that have happened that I am not happy about, things that make me excited and then other things that hang in the future that should be pretty interesting. Regardless of what happens in the near future, I have the light at the end of the tunnel starting to shine and I am back in the saddle...ready to finish this ride.

~Jake

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Flat Daddy Does Fat Tuesday

Tonight Asher and I went to a Mardi Gras Fat Tuesday potluck at church. However, it is a rainy night in Iowa tonight, so Flat Jake had to stay home. He does have some rain gear (a clear plastic garbage bag), but I just didn't want to risk him getting wet...therefore, he remained at home.

Still, we made sure he could join in the fun. Asher let Flat Daddy borrow his beads & mask for a few minutes, just so he wouldn't feel left out of the fun.

Doesn't he look festive?!

~Emily

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Flat Daddy Love

Asher's been very "into" Flat Daddy lately. The other morning he wanted Flat Daddy so I asked "Would you like him to eat breakfast with you?" Asher replied, "No, I want Flat Daddy to watch me." So, he did.

Yesterday morning he was carrying Flat Daddy around and wanting to play with him. This is precisely one of the perfect things Flat Daddy was created for, however, with a rough and tumble 3 year old boy and a precariously thin cardboard neck on Flat Daddy, I do tend to be a little overprotective...

This morning we got a few minutes of Skype time with Jake. Asher's face just lit up when he saw his Daddy on the computer screen. We were about to set it up so that Asher could talk to Jake while he ate his breakfast...Asher even stuck his bare feet on the table and Jake pretended he could smell his "stinky feet" all the way in Afghanistan. And then....he had to go quickly and all the fun was over.

After that, Asher had his breakfast and wanted to play with Flat Daddy again. He picked up the cardboard cut out (which is about as big as him) and said, "Flat Daddy's gonna fly like a Blue Angel!" and proceeded to carry him around the living room as if he were flying like a jet. There were also copious amounts of smoochy sounding kisses from Asher to his Flat Daddy. He also ensured that Flat Daddy got a kiss from me, too. Asher also made note of something very typical of his real Daddy that Flat Daddy also has....rosy cheeks. He said, "Flat Daddy has rosy cheeks. We need to clean him." I tried to explain that Flat Daddy is NOT very good at taking baths or going swimming...so he needs to leave those fun things for Asher to do by himself.

Later, Asher climbed onto my lap and told me, "I love snuggling." So we snuggled for awhile. Then he told me, "I want to lay with my Flat Daddy." So he did.


Look how his precious little hands are resting right over his Daddy's heart! I love this little one!

~Emily

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dessert (Non)Disaster!

Third times a charm, folks!

Check out THIS dessert (non)disaster! Looks pretty fabulous & delicious, doesn't it?


It's a banana sour cream cake.


I'm hostessing bible study again tonight...and as you may remember my two previous dessert disasters?

Well, tonight I'm serving a (non)disaster dessert!

Won't they all be so surprised?!

...when they find out my fantastic mother made it for me?!

Thanks, Mom, for always being "practically perfect in every way" and for always being there for me whenever I need you! Aaaaand....the cake was a HIT! They gave mad kudos to the baker extraordinaire!

See...even Flat Jake was pleased!

~Emily

Monday, February 28, 2011

Jelly Bean Update: 152 to go!

I know. It looks like there are all but 30 left....but...there are actually 152. And, as of today, there are *hopefully* LESS than 152 days left of this deployment.
152 days until I can kiss my love again.
152 days until he can hold his little boy again.
152 days until we can sing and dance and laugh together.
152 days until we can be "normal" again.
~Emily

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bedtime with Flat Daddy

Asher is usually a pretty good boy about bed time.

Sometimes, though, we need a little "reinforcement."

Daddy almost always was daddy on duty for bathtime at our house, and we often took turns at reading stories and putting the little man to bed. Sometimes I miss having Jake here to take on those responsibilities. Some nights I wish he were here so that our precious boy had his daddy to tuck him in. And sometimes I wish we could all snuggle into the race car bed and giggle and read stories together. Soon...very soon.

So, tonight, Flat Daddy made an appearance for the bedtime routine.

First there was some general silliness in the kitchen.

"You can't see us...we're camouflage!"



Then there were some kisses for the BEST.DADDY.EVER!


Next was a little jumping on the bed like two little monkeys.

And then time for Daddy to read a story...and he did.

This book is one of the Hallmark books I mentioned called Guess How Much I Miss You. Jake was able to record his voice reading the entire book to Asher, so almost every night, he "reads" this story to Asher before he goes to bed.

And finally it was time to settle in.


Night, Night, Flat Daddy, we LOVE you!

~Emily

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ding Ding Ding: Round 2

Hear that sound?

It's the bell...*DING DING DING: ROUND 2. Bedtime. Mommy vs. Asher.

Asher has won the first round.
Actually, Mommy gave up.

After the screaming as if I was murdering him, and the "make my body as straight as a board so as not to be able to be carried through doorways" subsided, I ungraciously surrendered the first round to Asher J.
Asher=1. Mommy=0.

As my mom said after we said goodbye at the airport to our hero, "His world has been turned upside down again."

And I know that. And I hate that.

Our first attempt at bedtime ended in him climbing into his toybox and shutting the lid and me sitting on his race car bed and turning the pages in his "daddy book" just to hear Jake's voice.

I'm pretty sure we were both crying at that point.

He wanted more to drink. He wanted to watch a movie. Why fight it? Pick your battles... I wanted a drink and to watch a movie, too.

Asher hasn't asked yet where his Daddy is. We did feel it necessary to take him to the airport to see Daddy leave, so I assume he knows that Daddy has gone away again. As heartwrenching as it was, it needed to happen that way for him to understand. And although he can't tell me he's sad, angry, upset, mad...I know he is.

I'm choosing to look on the bright side. We just made an amazing two weeks of memories together to carry us through. Just 5 more months and then we are DONE with this journey....forever.

I'll be waiting, Love.

~Emily