Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everybody, even if it's a little late.  My Christmas here was fairly uneventful.  Christmas eve, I had a fairly normal day, running errands and chasing down a few administrative loose ends.  I went to a Christmas eve service in our new chapel, recently constructed by an Air Force engineer team.  It's all bare plywood and trussess on the inside, but it's a big step up from the tent we were having services in before.  The service was pretty cool, and with the chapel being pretty well packed, all of those soldiers singing Christmas hymns together sounded pretty amazing.  (As you might expect, our male to female ratio here is alot higher than at your typical church service.  When everyone's singing it gives the music some real resonance.) 
On Christmas day, our sick call was closed for the day, but I got the dubious honor of being the doctor on call for 24 hours to cover our emergency room.  Thankfully, things were pretty slow.  My medics and I kidnapped a flatscreen TV and DVD player from our X-ray section and spent a large part of the day watching movies and cartoons in the clinic while we gorged ourselves on our stash of Christmas treats.  I watched "Up" and "9", as well as a couple of Madagascar shorts that someone had gotten in a care package.  (I was a big fan of both Up and 9, although 9 raised that ever-present question... "I wonder what type of crazy drugs Tim Burton is on?") 
I wasn't able to talk with my family on Christmas day, as the hospital's computers don't have Skype installed.  But, I had had a nice Christmas eve talk with both Cristin and Drew (Drew didn't do much talking) and my family, and I'm looking forward to another video chat later today.
They had another nice dinner set up for us in the dining hall, again with turkey, roast beef, and all of the fixings.  Thanks to a quick 30-minute relief from one of the other docs here, I was able to run over and grab some food. 
Today, I've got the day off.  I spent the morning sleeping in, and now I've got a handful of errands to run.  Thankfully, I don't have to worry about shopping/returns today.  So, I'm just going to relax, get my stuff done, and then maybe read for a while.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mail Call

Being deployed has a different rhythm to it than life back home.  For the most part, every day's the same here.  There's chapel services every Sunday and random weekly meetings, but much of the week/weekend distinction is lost as you're on duty 24/7 in one capacity or another.  There's a long-running joke amongst soldiers over here that there are only 3 days while you're deployed.  The day you show up, the day you leave, and Tuesday, which is every day in between.  (Don't ask me why they chose Tuesday, but that's how it works... "Every day's a Tuesday". ) 
Anyways, one of the things that really adds something new to our day is mail from back home.  Lately, it's been pouring in.  In the last week, I've gotten a number of letters from folks from my church back home in Hampshire, from folks from our church in Waynesville, and a number from various relatives and in-laws around the country.  Christmas presents from home came in as well this week, which added to the pile.  (Don't worry Mom, they're still sitting unopened in a neat pile on my bookshelf!)  I even got a few pieces of the ever popular "random mail".  Someone in our hospital has a contact with some schools in Minnesota, so we've gotten stacks of letters from elementary school students in Minnesota.  It's been fun to read those and to write back to a few of the kids. 
Of course, I'm not the only one who's been getting lots of mail.  We've seen alot of interesting stuff come in to other people in the clinic. I think the weirdest was the box of ugly Christmas sweaters that one of our medic's mothers sent her to wear for our upcoming Christmas party with its associated ulgy sweater contest.  (Trust me, these were bad.  I know there's a number of teachers out there reading this.  Even you guys wouldn't wear some of these.) A different medic, SPC Braa, holds the record for pure volume of mail recieved.  I think she's averaged at least 1-2 boxes per day since I've arrived.  I'm not sure what they're packing them all, but her friends back home certainly keep here busy.
Work continues to go well, and I'm settling into my role.  It's starting to be more and more like work back home.  I even squeezed in a derm procedure and a few sports physicals today.  That's all for now, talk to everybody soon!

Monday, December 7, 2009

I'm Back

Sorry for the hiatus from posts, but I'm finally back.  Things had gotten into a rhythm here and I hadn't had much to write about for a while, but here's an update....
Things are pretty much still the same at work.  The schedule's not too busy as far as seeing patients goes, but I'm picking up some extra administrative and medic training projects to work on as well, so I'm keeping occupied.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, we had a hospital volleyball tournament, which was alot of fun.  Thanks to some recent rain, the court was a bit quicksand-ish in places, but we managed to adapt.  We put together a team from my CSH to play against some of the other medical units here, as well as one team from one of the line units that's located on our FOB.  Most of the soldiers on my team had never really played volleyball, so they had to learn on the fly.  Thankfully, they were quick learners (and the first team we played was even worse than we were).  We ended up coming in 2nd place overall, with the team from the line unit coming back to beat us.  Not too bad for a team that'd never really played together before.
Otherwise, it's pretty much been life as usual.  I've been doing alot of reading, which has been a nice change.  When I was younger (i.e. pre-medical school), I was a voracious reader and used to go through a couple books a week.  As I had to study more for medical school, residency, and most recently my board exams, I seemed to run out of time for pleasure reading.  I was lucky if I could squeeze in 15 minutes before I went to bed at night.  (Having to go to work every day might have had something to do with that too... I don't know.)  Since arriving in Iraq, my reading has picked back up, which helps to fill in alot of the spare time that we've got.  I think I've already gone through 8 or 9 books since arrival in Kuwait.  Thankfully, I planned ahead while I was still back at Ft. Bragg though, so I've still got a stack of books waiting for me.  Some of the books that I've read recently have actually been really good.  A few weeks ago, I read "The Long Gray Line" by Rick Atkinson, which is a non-fiction book that tracks the members of West Point's class of 1966 through their time at West Point and then through the next 30 years both in and outside the Army.  It made for a fascinating look at American history over the last 40 years and was amazing how such a small group of men were involved in so many different newsworthy events.  I just finished "On Call in Hell" by Richard Jadick yesterday.  This book was kinda cool because I'd actually met the author, albeit briefly.  The author, who was a batallion surgeon for the Marines during the battle for Fallujah, was a Urology resident at the Medical College of Georgia when I was doing my residency at Eisenhower, so I met him when he was rotating through our Urology clinic.  The book's a fairly graphic description of what frontline medical care looked like at the peak of the war.  Thankfully, we haven't had to deal with anything like that so far.  Not to worry, it hasn't all been military non-fiction keeping me busy.  I read "The Lost Symbol" last week too.  It was a fun light read, although I still think that "Angels and Demons" is Dan Brown's best book by far.
So that's it for now.  I'm running into a bit of writer's block (Blogger's block?).  So, if there are any questions that you've got or anything you'd like me to write about, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

Friday, November 27, 2009


So, another Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Thanksgiving here was fairly uneventful.  We ran the clinic on a skeleton crew, so I was able to have the day off and get a few things done, including mailing off some Christmas presents, finishing up some paperwork that I'd  been procrastinating on, and getting a haircut.  We had a big Thanksgiving dinner in the mess hall, complete with real turkey (not the "turkey pucks" some other friends had described during prior years' deployed Thanksgivings) stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie with as much cool whip as you wanted. 
It was sad not to be able to spend the day with family, but I was at least able to Skype with Cristin and some of her family who were having Thanksgiving at our house, and my parents and siblings having Thanksgiving in Hampshire.  In talking about Thanksgiving memories with some of my soldiers, I realized yesterday that it's actually been a few years since I was able to have Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family.  The last 3 years while we lived in Augusta, either Cristin or I were always working or on call over the Thanksgiving weekend, so we'd celebrated Thanksgiving with other geographically isolated residents with a pot luck at my friend Zach's house.  He'd cook up a mean turkey and we'd all bring sides.  This year, we'd initially thought it'd be much easier to go home, since Waynesville is an easy day's drive from northern Illinois.  But, obviously, the Army had other plans.
Today's the day after Thanksgiving, so it's officially Christmas season.  I won't be doing any shopping today, but I've got my room decorated for the season.  Cristin sent me a box full of Christmas decorations and candy that arrived earlier this week.  So, my CHU is now festively decorated, complete with what my mom described as my "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree".

  Our medics have gotten into the Christmas spirit as well, and Christmas decorations bought from some of the local national run shops on post are starting to get hung up.  They've even gone so far as to tinsel our air conditioning ducts. 

Unfortunately, alot of these are made in Taiwan and I think the quality control's a little lacking. 

Either way, it's the thought that counts.  Happy belated Turkey Day everybody and enjoy your shopping!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fun Pics

So, I finally broke down and had the internet company run a hard line into my CHU today.  I wish I'd done it sooner as the connection is now stable, and about twice as fast as it had been wirelessly.  Of course, it's still dismally slow by U.S. standards, but it'll work for what I need.  I'm going to find out in an hour or so whether it's finally stable and fast enough to allow me to use Skype.
Anyways, due to this faster internet connection, I can finally put some pictures up.  More will be coming soon, I promise, but these will at least show you what me and my living conditions are like.  This first pic is me in full battle rattle (shortly after doing the whole MRAP rollover ride).

These other two are the interior of my CHU in all of its glory.

That's all I've got for now.  So, talk with you all later.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


So, I woke up this morning and got a surprise... it was cold!  For the most part, I can't really complain about the weather here.  When I initially showed up in Kuwait, there were a few days where it got up into the mid 90's around lunch time, but for the most part it was comfortably in the 80's during the day and down in the 70's at night.  Here, it hasn't been much different.  From what I've researched online, where I'm at can be horrendous in the summer (up to the 130's), but right now weather hasn't been bad.  Most days, it's warm enough that you might get a little sweaty if you're walking a long distance or wearing body army, but otherwise it's fairly comfortable.  Anyways, last night I'd left my window open as there wasn't much wind and I felt like my CHU needed to be aired out some.  I woke up this morning and it was in the mid-50's!!  Thankfully, my sheet and poncho liner (basically a camouflage blanket with a few strings attached so that it can be combined with a poncho to form a sleeping bag in a pinch) had kept me warm.  But, as soon as I was out of bed, I was shivering.  It's warmed up through the day today, but I'm wondering whether we won't need some more of that nifty cold weather gear that the Army issued me than I thought.  It's supposed to be in the low 50's again tonight.  I still don't expect to need the 3-inch-thick snowsuit that I was given anytime soon (which is good because I think it's still on a boat somewhere on it's way here right now), but some of the other lighter stuff may get some use.
 In the grand scheme of things, I probably shouldn't complain.  I've got one friend in Afghanistan right now, with a few more likely on their way soon, and from what I understand, it gets much colder there, to include snow in the wintertime.
Otherwise, things are going well here.  Yesterday I worked in the clinic all day and I'm really enjoying working with all of the medics that we have.  As I'd mentioned before, they've still got alot to learn about taking care of patients, but they're always in great spirits and eager to learn, so I think they'll do well. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Address Change

Just a quick note to draw your attention to a slight change in the address at the left.  We've updated the address slightly to remind a mail clerk that there's another unit using her mailbox so she doesn't send back packages if she doesn't recognize the name of who it's addressed to.  (Thankfully it wasn't one of my packages this happened to.) 
Otherwise things are going well.  I've started working, although I really am not working nearly as hard as I do back when I'm at home in Ft. Leonard Wood.  More on that later.  For now, thanks for all the emails and facebook messages I've been getting, I appreciate them all.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I'm here... finally

So, I've reached my final destination, at least until they decide to move me again.  I haven't really started working much yet, but I was able to feel my way around camp today and get my living quarters set up.  As I'm officer, I get to live in what's referred to in the Army as a CHU (pronounced like you're sneezing), otherwise known as a Containerized Housing Unit.  Basically, it's a small 6 x 12, air-conditioned, furnished shipping container.  It's not huge, and it's certainly not dust-tight, but it's home.  Thankfully, I have the CHU to myself for the moment.  At alot of other sites around the country, docs who outrank me are having to sleep 2 to a CHU, which can get a bit cramped.  Most of the enlisted soldiers here are sleeping in tents that have been "foamed" with this insulating foam that helps to keep in the air conditioning and keep out the noise.  The end result is pretty nice inside... although the outside looks like something out of Star Wars.
The last occupant of my CHU left behind quite a bit of stuff, including a refrigerator and an electric flyswatter!  (It's like a bug zapper fused with a tennis racket, you charge it, and then hold down a button and start swinging. I don't have any bugs in my room currently, but I'm contemplating leaving my door open for a while just so I can try it out.)  So that, combined with a few purchases (sheets, etc) at the PX today and I was good to go.  Thankfully, after a few weeks of sleeping on a cot, all the sleeping quarters here have beds with real (albeit only 3 inches thick) mattresses.  I hadn't realized how poorly I'd been sleeping on the cots before until I slept on the mattress again last night.
There's internet access, and even sattelite TV, available in your room here (even if you live in a tent) if you want to pay for it.  I think the sattelite's probably a bit much, but I may try the internet out eventually.  In the meantime, we've got an internet lab next to the hospital which is giving me what I need.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Break-Dancing My Way to Freedom

I still haven’t moved anywhere, but at least we’re doing more training now. I talked before about playing video games at the Army’s expense. The last 2 days, I’ve been riding a carnival ride on the Army’s dime, also known as rollover training. In this training, they’ve got a few Humvees and MRAPs mounted on these huge motorized wheels that literally flip them upside down. So, we all climb into the vehicles, strap ourselves in with the normal seatbelts, and then they spin the vehicles around a few times (i.e. multiple times being completely upside down held in only by your seatbelt while you desparately try to hold onto the gunner's legs to prevent him from bounding around the inside of the vehicle like a ping pong ball) and then stop the vehicles while they’re upside down. The “ride” itself was kind of fun, but safely releasing yourself was interesting. I was the “driver” when I was in the Humvee, and there wasn’t a lot of room to maneuver on the ceiling, especially when you’re weighed down by body armor and your helmet. As soon as I released myself, I was stuck on my back on the ceiling with my feet towards the door and not enough clearance to sit up. I had to do some sort of turtle-spin move to get to where I could open the door. A nearby Major commented that “all those break-dancing classes finally paid off”… right. Either way, it’s nice to be doing stuff again.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More waiting...

Hey all,
No real change in my status, and really, no a whole lot going on.  We've collectively decided that our current location can be considered a kind of purgatory.  Not so much because it's painful or particularly hot at the moment, but we all feel we're kind of stuck waiting here until we can move on to our final destination.  I've had a few random training events, but for the most part there's been alot of time for reading and free time.  Thankfully, there's enough on post to keep myself and all the other soldiers busy.
I've been spending alot of time in the gym (which as I previously mentioned is much nicer than the Army gyms in CONUS).  Also, we've started tapping into some of the other resources available on post.  MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation... the army's fun department) has a number of tents set up to keep us all occupied.  One is a free movie theater.  I saw Land of the Lost a few days ago (not a great movie, but it made me laugh some) and watched Funny People last night (a much better movie, despite some raunchy jokes).  They've also got other tents set up with some TV's where you can check out and watch DVD's, as well as a bunch of video game terminals (I haven't really hit up either of those yet, I figure the younger soldiers are going to keep those tied up).  The USO's also got stuff set up here with a tent with free phone calls and internet (if  you don't mind an hour or so wait), as well as some other odds and ends to include some board games and a guitar that you can check out (I've already taken advantage of that a few times as I'd let my guitar playing lapse these last few months.) 
My favorite amenity by far though is the United Through Reading Program at the USO tent.  This is a really cool program where they've got a couple of sound proof rooms rigged up with video cameras.  Service members can go in with a children's book and they film themselves reading the story for their kids and then the USO will send a DVD of the recording, along with a copy of the book you read, back to your kids in the states.  I did my first reading yesterday, so hopefully Drew and Cristin will be getting the video in a few weeks.  It definitely brought to the surface how much I was missing them, but hopefully the DVD will be something that Drew can watch to have a little more "contact" with me while I'm gone.
Otherwise, not much else going on here.  I'm sitting in Starbucks at the moment (yes, they even have a Starbucks here, right next to the KFC) taking advantage of their more stable internet connection.  I may go hit the gym later and then it's one more day down before I start doing some real work.  Talk to everybody later.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


So, life goes on here in the now unnamed country. (Our security office has informed us all that we're not allowed to list where we are on our blogs.) We continue with training, etc, although we really haven’t been too busy so far. It’s been nice to have time to spend an hour at the gym every day and lounge around the tent, but I’m ready to just get everything over with and move on to my final destination.
Due to a combination of a mishap involving my normal glasses and a supply screw-up on the Army’s part, I’m now wearing some very goofy looking glasses. Once in Iraq, we’re expected to wear ballistic eye protection (Army-speak for pseudo-bulletproof glasses) anytime we’re outdoors. The Army was kind enough to issue me 2 different pairs of glasses with both clear and dark lenses, as well as a pair of goggles for when the wind and sand gets too bad. All of the various eyewear was made by a company known as ESS, and seems pretty nice. They’re all made so that those of us who are blind as a bat without glasses can get prescription inserts to drop into the glasses so that we can be protected and still see. Unfortunately, the Army decided to issue me inserts for a different brand of glasses. Thinking ahead, I brought in every pair of inserts that I’d been given since I joined the Army. With 3 different brands of inserts, none of them fit the glasses we were issued.
The first day I got here, I was attempting to wear my own glasses from home, but was told we had to have “Army approved” ballistic glasses over the top, which was fine, since the sun was out and a little sun protection was appreciated. Unfortunately, doubling up caused a lens to pop out of my normal glasses and, with the tools available to me here (i.e. my Army-issued Gerber), I haven’t been able to get the lens back in place. So, in the meantime, I get to wear what we affectionately refer to as BCG’s, or Birth Control Glasses. These glasses are what everyone in the Army is issued if they to go an Army optometrist. As you can see from the attached picture, they’re pretty goofy looking. Army tradition has it that, as long as you’re wearing them, you don’t need to worry about any birth control (as you’re going to look too silly to get in a situation where you might impregnate someone. ) One person who will remain nameless previously noted that I look like my dad when I put these on. I’m not even going to touch that one.
I’ve been told that there will be an optometry shop located with us when we get to Iraq. So, hopefully, I’ll be able to get the appropriate type of inserts and no longer have to wear these goofy glasses.
That’s all I’ve got for today. I’ve got one or two more mandatory classes today, and then we’re free for the rest of the day. Nothing too exciting planned for the night. Probably we’ll go to the gym, Skype with Cristin if the Internet behaves, and then I think we’re going to see Land of the Lost at the MWR theater tonight. For those who are interested, here’s a picture of my current living quarters, complete with the obligatory Euchre game in the background.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Waiting in ???

So, I finally made it to my intermediate destination. (My unit has instituted a draconian security policy where we're not supposed to let you know what country we're in, so this blog has been edited, but I'm sure you all can figure it out.) We were initially supposed to be leaving early Wednesday morning, with the typical 12 hours of Army preparation (stand in formation, load your bags on the truck, wait around for another hour, stand in another formation, turn in your keys, wait around some more, stand in another formation, wait around for a while, get issued your weapons, then wait some more). We were about half the way into the process (I'd just been given my M16) when our flight was pushed back 12 hours due to weather conditions. So, we had to turn our gear back in, get re-issued keys so we'd have somewhere to sleep, and then crash out until we got up at 3 AM to re-do it again.
We flew out on a comercial jet and were packed into economy class, just like usual, only there were M16's shoved under the seats. After a stop somewhere in Canada to refuel and a brief layover for crew change in Germany, we finally arrived in our current location.
There's quite a change from the geography and climate that I'm used to. Walking off the plane, the first thing that hits you isn't the sights or the smells, it's the taste. Even before I'd made it down the steps to the tarmac, I could taste the dust and dirt building up in my mouth. There's dust and sand everywhere (and really not much else). The entire country is colored in variations of brown. We flew over the country's capital on the way in, and it was shaped normally, but everything was a tan-brown color. Even the sky is brown. If you look straight up, there's a small patch of white/blue sky, but the closer to the horizon you get, the browner the sky looks. The landscape is pretty boring. It makes Eastern Colorado look downright scenic in comparison. Thankfully, the weather itself hasn't been too bad. There's a constant wind blowing, so you get a face full of dirt everywhere you go, but the temperature's only been in the 80's and 90's, so I really can't complain.
Living conditions aren't too bad either. I'm sleeping in a large tent with 40 of my closest friends. But, it's clean and it's air conditioned with power plugs (running 220V) and a plywood floor, so I can't complain. The food's pretty good here too. The cafeteria's staffed entirely by foreign nationals with minimal English comprehension, but it's clean and the 2 meals that I've had so far have both been great. We went to the gym today, which is nicer than the gym at Ft. Leonard Wood, and obviously, I've been able to get online.
It looks like I'll be here a little while before moving on to my final destination, so more information later.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ceremonies, Packing, and my Internet Addiction

Deployment time is slowly creeping closer. Today, we had our CSH "Deployment Ceremony". Our hospital formed up in tight ranks, marched around a parade field, and then stood at parade rest for 20 minutes in the freezing cold wind while our commander and our commander's commander gave speeches to us and the families of soldiers who lived in the area or who were able to come down for the ceremony. Making a large group of doctors and nurses march around wasn't without its comic moments. Most of us hadn't done any marching in formation since we were in basic training, so we were all a little rusty. Unfortunately, Cristin wasn't able to make it for the ceremony. While I would have loved to see her and Drew one last time before I went, it seemed like a little much to have her fly half the way across the country with a 2-month-old just to see me march across a field.
After the ceremony, I decided to do a practice run of packing all of my gear. I've had all of my equipment for some time now, and was able to send a tough box full of stuff that I didn't anticipate needing anytime soon (the -30 degree cold weather parka and snowpants that the Army issued me?) in a shipping container a week or so ago. But, I still had gear spread out all over my room that I wasn't sure how it was going to fit. After a little bit of work, I was able to squeeze everything into the rucksack and duffle bag that the Army provided me, although I may get a hernia if I try to pick both up at the same time. Of course, the neatness didn't last long, as I then had to unpack everything to get to the uniforms and clothing that I'll need. At least I know that it'll all fit.
Right now, I'm back at Barnes and Noble again. I didn't realize how dependent I'd become on the internet until I started to live without a constant internet connection. I was so used to being able to walk over to the computer and look up something anytime I had a question, I felt lost without it. Living on post in the barracks, we don't have internet connections in our rooms. (There are network plugs in the walls. I think that they're just shut off since the normal unit who lives in the barracks are gone overseas.) Our only options have been to walk across to a little internet cafe that's set up, where you pay an hourly rate for an internet connection that's shakey at best, or to catch a cab off post to somewhere where there's free internet. Thus, lately I 've been catching a cab to Barnes and Noble alot. When you split the cab amongst a few people, it ends up costing less and it's a much more comfortable set-up. Supposedly, we're going to be able to have internet connections in our housing when we're downrange, although I've been told the quality of the connection varies alot. This was reassuring for me, as I hope to use Skype alot to communicate with Cristin and Drew. Still, it's amazing when you look at it in the larger context. We're living in a war zone and will still be able to see and talk with our families most evenings. When you compare that to what American soldiers in other wars had for amenities, it's pretty incredible.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Chaos Everywhere

I spent more time out in the field today. We combined many of the skills we'd learned yesterday in one large training exercise today, complete with M16's loaded with blanks, lots of loud noise, "opposing force" instructors firing blanks at us, and what has to be one of the only bogs/swamps in North Carolina. Just to make sure that we got the whole experience, my unit was kind enough to give us uncleaned M16s and cartridges with "dummy" blanks mixed in so that our weapons jammed every 1-2 shots. (S-P-O-R-T-S... I think I've got it down now.) I felt like I was using a bolt action rifle, I was pulling back the bolt to clear jams so often. As often is the case, nothing goes as planned once weapons start going off and things start going wrong, but I think my team still did fairly well. At end of the day, I was drenched in sweat and soaked in muddy water, but it was still kind of fun.
On the home front, it seems like everything's been going wrong this week. Cristin's cell phone broke, we had plumbing issues develop yesterday, and the car had to go into the shop today. Exactly the kind of stress I was hoping that Cristin could avoid while I was gone. At this point I think we've got everything under control, so hopefully things will be more calm next week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


The Army’s always had a reputation for giving soldiers a lot of vaccines. It’s not unheard of for new basic trainees entering the Army to have to receive upwards of 10 shots during basic training, especially if they forgot their shot records at home. At this point in my life, especially given my 7 years in the Army, I thought I was pretty well caught up on shots… but the Army never fails to come up with a few more. As part of my deployment screening, I had the privilege of getting Typhoid, Anthrax, and Smallpox vaccinations. I got the first 2 while I was still home in Missouri, but deferred the smallpox as it’s contagious and I didn’t want Drew to get exposed to it. The Typhoid wasn’t bad, but the Anthrax made my deltoid hurt for a week. Once I got here, the medics hooked me up with the Smallpox vaccine. It was a little uncomfortable to begin with (see earlier post), but now the real fun begins. The smallpox vaccine is actually an induced infection with the cowpox virus (a.k.a. vaccinia, which is where the word vaccine originated from). The initial inoculation pokes a bunch of holes in your skin to induce the virus, and then you just wait for the infection to kick in. I’ve now got a large blister/pustule on my arm. Thankfully, it doesn’t hurt, but it does get annoying that I can’t scratch it due to the risk of spreading it via my fingers to other parts of my body… no fun!!
On the homefront, I talked with Cristin (and heard Drew in the background) again tonight. Right now, I’ve still got cell phone access, although I’m shutting down my account after I leave the country. We’re going to have to rely on Skype from then on. It’s hard to imagine life before we had such instantaneous access to each other. I’m already starting to miss both of them, and I felt really bad when I couldn’t fix some problems with Cristin’s cell phone over the phone. “Hey Sean, could you fix this?” is one of Cristin’s more common greetings and usually I’m able to sort out a solution sooner or later. But this one (her phone’s microphone appears to have stopped working) had me stumped. After trying everything I could think of and Cristin taking a trip to a Verizon store, which was even less helpful, we decided that it’s time for a new phone.
We’ve spent the last 2 days in the field, yesterday spending all day at the firing range with our M16’s (I qualified the first time I fired it, really not too different from the .22 rifles we used to shoot at Boy Scout Camp, other than the bulky body armor) and then today out working on various Army-type skills. Despite sunscreen use, I’m already starting to develop my “Army Tan”. Much like the fabled farmer tan, the Army tan is a tan or sunburn that involves only the back of your hands, the back of your neck, and from the neckline of your shirt up to a line that runs about an inch above the eyebrows around to about an inch above your ears. When we’re in uniform in the field, we always have long sleeves, which covers everything but your hands, and then your helmet creates this goofy tan line above your eyebrows and ears. I’m sure this is only going to get worse once I move to warmer/sunnier locations.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fun and Games

We got to go play video games on the Army's dime today, even if they were video games with a purpose. They had this complicated set-up where there was a full screen projection of a firing range with very realistic laser-firing guns with pneumatic hook-ups to simulate recoil. It was alot of fun, although I found that markmanship is harder than you'd think when you've got body armor on. Otherwise, not much exciting going on at the moment. The internet connection's kind of shakey tonight, so I think I'm going to cut things off here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Airborne... kinda

So, as some of the more astute observers may have noted, my unit's combat patch designates us as an Airborne unit. This is a designation in the Army that specifies that the unit is theoretically capable of being deployed from a plane... via parachute. I myself have never been through Army Airborne school. And to be perfectly honest, don't plan on jumping out of an airplane anytime during our upcoming deployment. (I always thought that Airborne school would be fun. But in my current job as a doc in a clinic, it's a pretty big stretch to convince my boss that it would somehow benefit the Family Medicine Clinic and let me do my job better if I left the hospital for a month, saw no patients, and learned the proper way to jump out of airplanes.) None the less, as I am now an official member of a Combat Support Hospital, I have become a member of an Airborne unit, with all of it's associated priveleges. Today was another day of death by powerpoint, but the morning's highlight was the Airborne "Beret Ceremony". In it, our unit assembled, we got a speech from the hospital commander about the history of the red beret, and then all of the newly assigned soldiers were allowed to don the red beret, which all Airborne soldiers wear, for the first time.
Having to wear a beret isn't something new to me. Due to an unfortunate decision sometime in the 1990's, everyone in the Army has to wear a beret, just for most of us it's a black one. I've always felt they were kind of silly looking hats. They're tough to maintain, they don't keep your head warm, they don't shade your eyes from the sun, and they take 2 hands to put on, which is a real pain when you're walking out the door with your hands full and have to put on your cover. None the less, the red Airborne beret has a long history, starting with British paratroopers and being passed on to American soldiers early in World War II. It's a cool honor to wear it, even if I really didn't do much to earn it.
In other news, as mentioned earlier, most of my time since my last posting has been spent either sitting getting barraged with powerpoint presentations, or getting issued even more supplies. My newest acquisitions include a sleeping pad, some rain gear, and a folding entrenching tool (shovel to us mortals). What on earth I'm going to be doing with an entrenching tool, I don't know, but somebody felt I needed it. This next week will hopefully be a little more exciting. We've still got many more powerpoints to go, but we're going to the firing range for a day or two this week, and have a few other days out in the field doing soldier-type-stuff as well.
I'm going to try to post up a few pictures soon, but my internet access has been so spotty, I haven't made much of an effort yet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Let the Waiting Begin

So, after a ridiculously long wait in the St. Louis, I eventually made it to Ft. Bragg, NC, just at 11:30 PM instead of 5:30 as originally planned. My unit was kind enough to pick me up at the airport, and initially, I was expecting that they'd just drop me off at the barracks and let me sleep. But, they had other plans. Because of the tight training schedule that we're on, even though we arrived so late, I went straight from the airport to the hospital's offices, where I sat down with the other 3 soldiers who arrived on my plane and spent the next 2 hours filling out paperwork. Finally, at about 2:00 AM, I was taken to my barracks where I got a wonderful 4 hours of sleep.
From Monday until now, we've been continuing to "inprocess". We spent most of Monday getting "death by powerpoint", basically 8 straight hours of powerpoint lectures. (Yes, it's as exciting as it sounds.) On the upside, I now have a much better understanding of where I'll be going and an approximate idea of when we'll be leaving. Unfortunately, for security reasons I can't tell you either one, but you'll all find out soon enough. I found out that I won't be at the main locations that most of my CSH is going to be. I also found out that my commander described the living conditions on the site that I'm staying at as "Hell on Earth"... we'll have to see.
Today, we spent most of the day being issued equipment, some of which is pretty cool. I learned how to put together my bulletproof vest (which has a self-destruct eject handle if it gets caught in an emergency... how cool is that?) and was given a bunch of "free" clothes, coats, and other army stuff. We have to give the big items (backpack, etc.) back, but apparently we're going to get to keep most of the clothes and coats. If nothing else, they'll make good camping gear down the line.
Sleeping conditions here are not half bad. Usually, when Army medical staff get sent to another post, we end up staying in a hotel off post because there's not housing available. Here, they've set our entire CSH up in a barracks that is vacant right now because its usual occupants are already in Iraq. The room itself kind of resembles a dorm room... actually it's quite a bit nicer than any of the dorm rooms that I stayed in in college. I've got my own private bedroom with a bed, desk, etc, and then share a kitchen and bathroom with the orthopedic surgeon who lives next door. Unfortunately, there's no internet access (I had to go to an internet cafe to post this), but that's a small price to pay, especially since we're getting all of our food for free from a nearby dining hall. It's not quite as nice as a hotel (no maid service, no TV), but as none of us were able to bring cars, it's not a bad setup.
Well, it's time for me to sign off. The internet time is running out and I need to go home and pack up my room some. There's still a pile of Army cold weather gear on my bed that needs to find a new home, and we're getting a whole new pile of equipment tomorrow.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Welcome to my new Iraq blog. After seeing a few members of my residency build blogs where they chronicled their deployments, and recognizing my poor record when it comes to regular letter writing, I figured this might be a good way to help me keep friends and family informed of how things are going overseas. I'm going to try to put up posts on a semi-regular basis so that everyone can know what I'm thinking, what's going on, and how things are going. If you've got any questions about what I'm up to or how things on deployment work, feel free to email me and I'll see if I can't explain it for everybody.
At the moment, the "Sean in Iraq" title is a bit of a misnomer, as this first post is being written from St. Louis. I was scheduled to fly out at 12:30 today to eventually meet up with my unit in Ft. Bragg. But, the trip's already off to an inauspicious start. The government bureaucrat in charge of arranging my deployment travel only did half of their job. A reservation for my flight was made, but the flight was never "funded" or paid for, so I had an empty reservation without an official ticket. This error was compounded by a trainee clerk at the Delta check-in desk, who didn't recognize that the ticket wasn't paid for and issued me my boarding pass anyways. The problem wasn't picked up until I attempted to board the plane, when the "friendly" (and I use the term loosely) gate attendant turned me away. So, end result, my duffel bag flew on the scheduled flight to Atlanta and will hopefully end up at Ft. Bragg, but I'm still here at Lambert Field. Carson Wagonlit (the government travel agency) is still floundering attempting to get my ticket funded as I sit and wait.
In the meantime, I'm hanging out here at the USO, which is new to me, but pretty darn cool. They've got a place with free coffee and snacks, a computer lab, a TV-viewing area, free wireless, and even a couple of random guitars sitting around that you can pick up and play while you wait. On the whole, a handy and much appreciated service to provide to our nation's soldiers. I'm able to sit down, plug in my laptop, and type on this while I wait for the travel agents and government travel office to get their act together.
So, in summary, welcome to my blog. Hopefully, more posts will be coming soon, and hopefully none of them will be written from the St. Louis airport.