Friday, April 30, 2010

I'm Home!

Well, I finally made it home.  Cristin and Drew came to the Airport to meet me yesterday, and then we made the drive back to Waynesville together.  I've got a few 1/2 days of re-inprocessing at Ft. Leonard Wood, and then it's time for some much-needed vacation.  This will probably be my last blog post.
(Don't read too much into Drew's face on this one.  He tried to do a faceplant into the tray on his stroller right before the shot.)

I've never been opposed to bribing small children with gifts, so I figured why stop now. Drew seemed to like his "puppy", although given his response, I'm not sure it's because he liked the fuzziness or because it tasted good.

Peace Out!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


So, I've spent all of yesterday and today "Outprocessing", which is the Army's term for standing in lines and doing battle with surly civilian GS employees (who recognize that they get paid the same whether they do any work or not, and who I think are mad at you for spoiling their free ride by making them actually perform their job). The purpose of this is to ensure that soldiers are squared away, medically and administratively, before they leave Ft. Bragg and go back to their home duty stations (who will then put the soldiers through the exact same medical and administrative checks again at that post's SRP site).  By the time I'm done re-inprocessing at Leonard Wood, I will have completed certain portions of an identical health screening and medical record review 3 times at 3 separate locations. 
Nothing stands as a better example of this potent combination of long lines, lazy/surly/inefficient civilian employees, and repetitive procedures better than the SRP, or Soldier Readiness Processing center.  This is a site where large groups of soldiers are shuffled through multiple stations to ensure that they've had all the shots/labs/hearing tests that they need before and after deployment.  I'd love to give you a full description of what this inefficient, often comical process is like, but someone else has already done it better than I ever could.  So, check out the link below.  (Those of you who are my friends on Facebook may have seen this link there as well, I posted it up a few months ago.)

Home Fires: On Readiness

As a great philosopher (Homer Simpson) once said: "It's funny because it's true!"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Long Journey Home

So, today’s post is actually a collection of posts written over the past 2 weeks. I’ve been moving around Iraq a bit during the final stages of my deployment and the Army frowns on us posting troop movement information online as it happens. So, you get my posts after the fact:

Day #1 - Moving Out

I said my last goodbyes to everybody at the hospital today, had one last waffle for “Waffle Sunday”, and then loaded my gear up to head to the airport. (Just realized that I never explained waffle Sunday to you all. May have to work on that for tomorrow.) On the way out the door I got to update my “Where’s CPT Wise” board on my CHU one last time.

At the airport, I learned that Army aviation is no different than flying civilian. I showed up early, checked in like I was supposed to, got ferried out to the flight line, loaded up the craft… and then sat there on the runway for 2 hours while we waited first for some sort of administrative clearance and then for some mechanical issue on a different vehicle. At the end of the day, it was still pretty cool. I got to make the flight in a Blackhawk helicopter, (my first time actually flying in a helicopter) so I had a great view of the Iraqi “countryside” (i.e. salt marshes and miles of empty desert).

Once in my new location, I got a whole new appreciation for just how much stuff I’d dragged over to Iraq… as I had to carry every bit of what I owned on my back as I walked from the airport to my temporary housing here (while also wearing full body armor). Thankfully, it wasn’t too far of a walk, but it definitely made me appreciate the SUV we had to haul my bags to the airport on the way out.

Day #2 - Outprocessing and Waffles

I started my “outprocessing” today, which seems to be even more inefficient here than it was back stateside. My activities today consisted of a 45 minute briefing, 30 minutes of walking around the hospital finding various soldiers to sign a checklist, and then being told that I’d completed my tasks for the day and was essentially free to go by 8:30 AM. So, I had some time to walk around and explore my new base. I quickly learned that this place is MUCH bigger than my old base, so figuring out the bus system is going to be key. It took me almost an hour to walk to the PX and then make it back to my CHU. (I also learned that, if you don’t really know where you’re going or how long it’s going to take, exploring somewhere in the middle of a middle-eastern desert at 11:30 in the morning is a good way to get really hot really fast… probably should have already known that.)

As promised yesterday, I’ll tell you all a bit about Waffle Sunday. In Basrah, Waffle Sunday has become a hospital tradition. One of our senior NCO’s started the tradition before I arrived by acquiring a waffle-maker and some economy-size bags of waffle mix. Every Sunday, she shows up early, fires up the waffle maker, and serves breakfast for everyone who shows up. Waffle Sunday has become a great way for soldiers throughout the hospital to come together and hang out on a down day, chat/gossip some, and get a chance to relax. Waffles even started to serve as a unit of time. (i.e. a unit who had 2 months before they got to go home would have a count-down listing “8 waffles to go”) You’d think that getting the raw materials for supplying half a hospital a waffle breakfast every week would be tough to come by in a war zone, but somehow the waffles kept on flowing. I believe that there was some donated waffle mix from a company stateside, and there was always a steady flow of bottles of syrup and various homemade jams from care packages. One of our nurses brought back a full ½ gallon of Canadian 100% pure maple syrup when he came back from leave. (I didn’t even know they made syrup in Canada, but it wasn’t half bad. It was a little thinner than the corn syrup fortified stuff that I’m used to, but it certainly tasted good.) Anyways, that’s about it for waffle Sunday. One of the things I’m actually going to miss about Iraq.

Day #4 - Tent City

So, I’ve moved on to the next stop on my tour of the Middle East prior to getting back home. We flew out yesterday with a fairly uneventful flight. Unfortunately, due to fallout from the recent volcano eruptions, we’re going to be stuck hanging out here for at least 4 days before we finally fly out. We’re living in a small city of tents, 14 guys to a tent, with nothing to do but wait. As you can see from the picture, it's fairly close quarters.

I can tell this camp is going to get old fast, but at least there’s a bare minimum of activities to keep me occupied. I managed to get on a computer to talk with Cristin on Skype last night (only a 45 minute wait to get a computer!), and they’ve got a gym that I’m going to check out today. Otherwise, I think the biggest draw here is the fast food. I’m not a frequent flyer at fast food places back stateside, but it has been 6 months since I had a good hamburger. They’ve got a McDonalds and a Burger King here. I think there’s going to be a Big Mac with my name on it for lunch.

Day #9 - On the Move… for a while

Well, the trip so far has been interesting. After waiting around for days, our time to leave finally came. I squeezed my stuff into my bags, we had all of our gear waiting outside our tent to be picked up… and then they announced that our flight was delayed by 6 hours.

6 hours later (now around midnight), we started getting ready to leave, which involved sitting through some mostly useless briefings and then a visit to the customs tent, where we had to completely empty all of our luggage and then re-pack it after customs agents had sifted through its contents to ensure that we weren’t bringing any contraband (ammunition, bootleg DVD's, Cuban cigars, > 1 TBS of Iraqi dust) home. We were shuffled into a holding tent and then put on lockdown to wait for our flight. After a fitful night of sleep, we finally flew out around 10:00 the next morning. Thankfully, this flight wasn’t nearly as packed as my flight on the way to Iraq, so there was some room to stretch out.

Things progressed as planned through a brief stop in Germany for refueling, and then we proceeded to Ireland for one final stop before heading home. Here’s where things got interesting. I’m still not sure the exact reason why, but our flight was forced to stop here. Initially, we were told it was related to the volcanic ash issue that’s been stopping flights for the past week. But, the story was changed after a few hours and we were told that both of the engines needed repairs and they were waiting for parts. Either way, it became apparent that we weren’t going to be going anywhere for a while, so we were shipped off to a hotel for the night. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, as they could have just as easily told us to sleep at the airport for the night, but it’s now noon the next day, and we’re all still sitting in the hotel waiting for some good news. I managed to get a good night’s sleep (first time I’ve slept on a normal mattress in 6 months), and the hotel’s got free wireless internet in the lobby, if you can tolerated the “All Lion King and Elton John Hits – Muzak style” radio station that’s playing in the background. The countryside around us is beautiful (if you look closely in the 2nd picture, you can see a small castle/really old church in the distance), and it’s kind of weird to see all of these green hills after 6 months in the flat brown desert.

Unfortunately, they won’t let us leave the hotel grounds. (As they weren’t planning on having us leave the airport in our initial itinerary, I think we might be classified as an invading army if we leave the hotel grounds.) Ditto with enjoying a pint of Guinness or Murphy’s while we’re waiting, as none of us have civilian clothes to change into, and General Order #1 (no drinking, no misbehaving, etc., the usual deployment restrictions) still applies until we get back to Ft. Bragg.

Either way, the trip’s not over yet. We’ve been told that, rather than fly directly to Ft. Bragg (where we left from), once the plane is fixed, we’ll be flying into Baltimore instead and taking a bus down to Ft. Bragg from there. (I think this is related to us still having our weapons with us. Disabled or not, I don’t think there are many domestic carriers that would appreciate 50 folks, uniformed or not, bringing firearms onto their plane.) I’m not super thrilled about a 7 hour bus ride immediately after flying in a plane across the Atlantic, but more on that later.

Day #10 - Finally There

So, we finally reached Ft. Bragg at about 0200 this morning. As promised, when we got off the plane and cleared customs in Baltimore, there were 2 charter buses waiting to take us on an additional 7 hour bus ride down to Ft. Bragg. When we finally got there, they made us go into some huge warehouse to turn in our weapons and stumble our way through a short redeployment ceremony. (If there’s anything funnier than seeing doctors and nurses attempt to march doing drill and ceremony, it’s doctors and nurses attempting to do drill and ceremony when sleep deprived after more than 48 hours on the move. Also adding to the comedy was an attempt to have us sing the Army Song during the ceremony. I’m pretty sure I don’t know all of the words to it even when I’m awake and alert. At 2:30 in the morning, none of us did.) Either way, I finally got to bed in my hotel room at 0400 this morning and then got back up around 0700 for an exciting day of paperwork and outprocessing (i.e. waiting in lines). But, home, Cristin, and Drew are only a few more days away.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Senior Citizens Rock the Desert

So, we had a little excitement on the COB last night. The USO brought the band Bad Company in for a concert. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I’ve got to admit that it was a lot of fun.

The fact that Bad Company is still playing concerts anywhere raises a few obvious questions, which I felt I should answer for you:
1) Aren’t they kind of old?
Yes, yes they are. Wikipedia says they started recording as a band in 1974, and most of them had been in other bands before that.  For perspective, I think that my parents were still college students at that point. That officially makes them old.  (The band, not my parents.)

2) Where have they been for the last 20 years?
I don’t know, perhaps playing concerts in the middle of middle-eastern deserts?  I definitely haven't heard them anywhere outside of classic rock stations.

3) Can they still play?
Believe it or not yes. There wasn’t a single walker, oxygen tank, or set of dentures visible on stage (although who knows what goes on backstage). And, while I obviously don’t have any prior concerts at their prime to compare this to (given the fact that I wasn’t alive during their prime), I have to give them credit. For the most part their lead singer sounded like their studio records, to include being more or less in tune. (Which is a lot more than I can say for a few other rock acts I’ve seen live.)

The lead-up to the concert was funny and even made me feel a little old as I sat in clinic trying to explain to some of my medics who Bad Company was. I think we finally determined that most of them had heard at least one or two of their songs, they just didn’t recognize the band name. In my defense, the band’s probably a little old even for me. (And the appearance of their lead singer would certainly support that… talk about somebody who’s showing his age!)
I was much more excited about this band than some of the previous acts we’ve had on our COB. The USO does a great job bringing in folks to entertain us, but I guess you can’t please everybody. The last 2 acts centered around a former Pussy Cat Doll’s solo act and some country singer who’d been on American Idol (Kelly Pickles?). Neither one was much of a draw for me.
Either way, the concert was fun. It wasn’t a huge crowd, so we ended up within 5 or 10 feet of the stage. (My ears are still ringing.) They played most of their old hits, and managed to make a pretty hilarious mistake by pulling a bunch of soldiers up to have them sing the chorus on “If You Needed Somebody”, only to find out that most of them didn’t know the song or any of the words. (In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t know them either. I had to scroll through the band’s Wikipedia page to pick out what the song’s name was.) It got a little awkward at times because, let’s fact it… these guys are not young and our parking lot stage was definitely not a stadium packed with screaming fans. (Was Bad Company ever big enough to play to a stadium packed with screaming fans? I don’t know.) But, all in all, it certainly beat spending the night watching a movie on the laptop.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It's Getting Kinda Toasty!!

I'm not sure how this snuck up on me, but it's getting kind of warm around here! It seems like a short time ago that I was freezing at night and wearing my cold weather gear for the first hour or two of daylight in the morning.  Now suddenly, it's warm again.  Last week, I was very comfortable, and it felt like a nice, moderate, Midwest summer.  This, week... not so much.  It's been up in the mid-90's, with a high of 97 predicted for tomorrow.  (And this is March!!!)  Apparently, the axiom here is the March goes in like a Lion, out like August.  On the plus side, it's stopped raining for a while.  It's starting to get pretty dusty again, but at least we're not slogging through the mud or dealing with flooded tents.  Also, I feel obliged to say, since I never could when we lived in Augusta, "At least it's a dry heat."  I don't think I ever fully appreciated the phrase before.  Usually, it's folks from Phoenix who are tossing this out, something like "It's so hot outside that your flesh blisters if you get exposed to direct sunlight... but at least it's a dry heat."  I don't think that dry heat really means that you sweat any less, it's just that your sweat evaporates from your clothes so quickly, you don't notice.  (So, net result = still kind of dirty and disgusting, just less slimy)  Thankfully, both my CHU and the clinic are air conditioned, so I don't spend too much time out in the elements.  My CHU's air conditioner is starting to get a little erratic.  It seems to have 2 settings: blowing ambient temperature air and icicles hanging from your nose.  Either one of these conditions could occur at any given thermostat setting, with no rhyme or reason to which one you get on any given day.  So, I've figured out that if I crack my windown to let in some warm air and hope that it stays on icicle setting for most of thie night, I usually do okay.
In other news, the deployment's starting to wind down now.  I'm past the halfway point, and have at least a ballpark idea of when I'll be coming home.  (As usual, I can't post online when that'll be, but it's getting closer every day.)  Cristin and I are starting to plan some trips for when I get back, and I'm getting ready to spend some quality time with her and Drew before I go back to work.  Hopefully, more on that at a later time. 
For those who didn't see it posted on Facebook, here's a picture of myself and some of our clinic staff posing wearing a bunch of wool stocking caps that a group of grandmothers from somewhere in the US knit and sent to us. Given the recent temperatures around here, the stocking caps didn't seem like the most practical articles of clothing. (Although they did come with instructions that said in warm water, they'd cool you head if you soaked them in cold water and then put them on.  Having experienced wet wool before, I haven't been brave enough to tough out the itchy head and try it.)  Either way, we figured if they made the effort to knit them, we ought to let them see a picture of the end result, which you see below.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day... Military Dependents

It’s Valentine’s Day here. This is actually the first Valentine’s Day that Cristin and I have spent apart since we started dating in our first year of medical school. We generally don’t do anything too fancy on the holiday itself as we both hate waiting in lines at restaurants. So, we’ll often exchange cards on the holiday, but reschedule our Valentine’s Day dinner at a restaurant for a weekend before or after the holiday when we won’t have fight through the crowds. We’re going to Skype later this afternoon, but that’s going to be the extent of our celebration this year given the physical distance between us. So, I’ve decided to write this instead. In the interest of full disclosure, I got the idea for the rest of this post after seeing a similarly themed comment that one of our medic’s friends had made on Facebook. I was struck with the truth of what they’d said, so I decided to run with it.

In the terminology of the military personnel and benefits system, the Army considers Cristin my dependent. The further I get into this deployment, the more and more I recognize that they’ve got this backwards. Since I left to start this trip, Cristin has been doing double and triple duty: working a fulltime job that’s probably closer to time and a half, raising Drew without my help, and taking care of the house without having me around to lend a hand.

Like many other military wives, she’s moved across the country (twice) to locations that she never would have considered otherwise. She’s started to learn a foreign culture (the army) and become adept and navigating their frequently frustrating system. She’s learned a 2nd language made entirely of capital letters: ACU, BDU, TDY, PCS, ETS, OIC, NCOIC, CCCC, BAH, BAS, TCMC, TMC, DCCS. She’s bent her career to fit into the jobs that were available where we were posted. She’s settled for housing we know we’ll leave in another year or two when she’d rather stop and set down roots. She’s even developed the patience to accept that where we live next may be out of our control, with the decision resting in the office of an anonymous administrator half the way across the country. She’s learned to deal with the absences, even before the deployment, as the Army shipped me around the country for training for weeks at a time. She’s handled the yard work, plumbing issues, assembling toys, monthly finances, and even taxes without me around to lend a hand. Just like everyone else, she’s had her moments where she’s wanted to throw the uniforms in the trash, toss our stuff in the car, and drive back home. But, she’s stuck with it and we’ve made it through everything together to come out on top.

For these reasons, and a thousand others, I’d like to publicly acknowledge today what every married soldier already knows. The Army’s got it backwards. We’re dependent on our wives, not the other way around, and there’s no way that I could be doing what I am right now without knowing that she was at home, taking care of everything else and waiting for me to come back.

So, to military wives everywhere, Happy Valentines Day! And, Cristin, I love you, I miss you, and I’m coming home soon!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


So I got a haircut yesterday. (Yes, my life over here is really so exciting that I’m writing about a haircut today.) Since I joined the Army, haircuts have become a frequent nuisance. For whatever reason, my hair grows pretty quickly, so I have to get it cut every 2-3 weeks or I end up looking shaggy. Back in the states, this led to a couple of different strategies over the years. When we were in Augusta, it usually meant waiting an hour or two in line at the barber shop in the PX. (Not the most exciting way to spend your day off.) Eisenhower, my hospital in Augusta, actually had its own barbershop. Unfortunately, the main barber for most of my time there was an elderly gentleman with an intention tremor. (A medical condition where you hand starts to shake whenever you try to reach out or control where it’s going.) This made for some terrifying haircuts and I generally steered clear due to a fear that I might come out without intact ears.

At Fort Leonard Wood, I learned the hard way that the PX isn’t the best place to go for a haircut. Leonard Wood is a major training post for the Army, so there are usually a lot of trainees hanging around, which I’d never thought much about until I tried to get a haircut on the weekend there. When I entered to the shop, I found that I was the 250th patron in line!! Needless to say, I quickly found a barber shop off post that could handle my hair without camping out for 5 hours.  (On a side note, the barber shop that I found actually serves beer in their waiting area, while still being cheaper than the PX barbershop.  I haven't ever been in a situation where I could take them up on the offered beer, but it's an interesting business model none the less.)

Back in the day, I used to cut my own hair using a set of clippers. I’d do the top and the sides, and then do the back the best that I could. Then, I’d get a roommate or fraternity brother to touch up the back and make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Now that I’m married to Cristin, we’ve been working on reviving that, but it hasn’t happened consistently. Cristin does a pretty good job, but she’s still not fully comfortable doing it. (And, as you might expect, a nervous barber makes for a nervous customer.)

I’ve noticed an interesting trend about haircuts since starting my deployment. The further I get from home, the cheaper the haircuts get, and the better quality they are. At Fort Gordon’s PX, you never quite knew what you’d get. It wasn’t uncommon for them to cut my hair, only to need to go back 2 days later and touch up a few spots on top they’d missed. (I still don’t understand how barbers can do a haircut that looks perfect in the chair, only to have little missed spots pop up a day later.) Moving to Ft. Bragg, haircuts were slightly cheaper, although about the same quality. Now, out of country, things keep getting better. Since arriving here, I’ve gotten a solid string of great haircuts, and it’s only $4.50.

Of course, there’s a cost for everything. In this case, it’s the fact that your barber often doesn’t speak much English. So, you hope that a couple of the 10 words of English that they speak include “close fade”, “skin” and “number 3 on top”. For the most part, they get it pretty close. And, even if it’s not exactly what you asked for… it’s still better than what I got at Ft. Gordon.

The Super Bowl’s tonight (at about 2:00 AM). I’ve tentatively decided to wake up to watch it. We’ll see how the motivation is when the alarm goes off.