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?!


Monday, June 13, 2011


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.


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.


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.



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.


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!!


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!