Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Finally in Iraq

The intense heat of Kuwait had turned us all into virtual sponges, forcing us to organize our daily routines around the consumption of large quantities of water, just to stay ahead of the constant sweating and dehydration. Perhaps if I had a large hump, like a camel, where I could store water, I wouldn't have to drink so much throughout the day, but that was not likely to happen now was it, probably quite unsightly too?

Fortunately, the army in its wisdom, knowing the importance of hydration, went to the trouble of putting a large ice chest in every tent for the purpose of cooling and storing numerous bottles of the life preserving liquid and resupplied the chest every morning with several bags of ice. The only problem with constant drinking is the frequent Mother Nature calls during the night to relieve ourselves. Throughout the night there was a steady stream, no pun intended, of soldiers making the trek in and out of the porta-pottie outside our tents, for most it was a nightly experience that happened more than once.  

The time had finally come. All the months of intensive training and preparation were behind us and it was to time to leave for Iraq. On our last night in Kuwait, at Camp Buehring, we were going to celebrate by having a movie night, but no sooner did we turn on the DVD, then we realized we had better get some shut eye. We were scheduled to load our gear and board the buses around 0100 (1 am) and to depart for the airfield at Ali Ah Salim.

(For this very purpose I had taken the time to make some couches out of several cots, so that we might all be able to lounge (with back supports) around a laptop strategically positioned for a movie night. A few nights ago, when time permitted, I bought some microwave popcorn at the PX (along with a few other treats), popped it up over at the USO, grabbed several chilled Gatorade's, and invited everyone in our tent for a movie night, watching "The International", which turned out to be quite a nice event for everyone)

At around 2300, I naturally woke to run to the porta-pottie but realized I might as well stay up, since everyone was getting up in an hour anyway. One by one the soldiers awoke to make the final preparations for our eminent departure. With a quick shower and shave, we packed up our few remaining items, grabbed our two duffel bags, one rucksack, and a carryon and made our way outside to the rally point. It was 0100 but still everyone moved quickly with a purpose and in a matter of minutes the trucks were loaded and the buses packed with weary soldiers who were all ready and anxious for the next phase of this deployment to begin.

With the cots now all leaning up against the inside tent walls, the plywood tent floors were swept for the last time and with a quick once through, the tents were left as we found them some two weeks ago. They had served their purpose for this band of transient soldiers, providing us with a cool retreat during the scorching heat of a normal Kuwaiti summer. Hopefully I will never be back here again (some memories of the first time I endured this place back in 2003, still refused to fade or pass away). 

With a renewed vigor and excitement we all departed that night, aboard buses bound for the airfield and onto our respective destinations in Iraq. Somewhat tired of the repetitive routine of intense training and preparations, we all shared the same mindset and feelings to begin the next stage and to get on with our mission at hand. Yes, there were still a lot of unknowns and a certain amount of apprehension but it was time to jump in with both feet, going all the way in. Hold your nose, close your eyes and jump into the deep end, going for it. Many of us have been here at this point before, for some it was our third or fourth deployment, so we know there is nothing like actually being there and doing it. OJT baby.

With our bags loaded onto the cargo trucks, our vests on, our weapons in hand and our carry-ons in our laps, bus curtains drawn, we drove off into the night each of us falling fast asleep for the quick hour and a half bus ride to the airfield.

In true Army fashion we arrived early so that we could wait for several hours in the departing soldier waiting room, in hopes that our flight would leave earlier than scheduled (which it did). There were two departing flights that day, splitting us into two groups, both of course going north into the Northern part of Iraq, one to Balad and the other to, my destination, Mosul. Before we knew it was time, our flight was called, the manifest was read and one by one we loaded the large military transport plane with the usual military configuration, that is palletized gear in the back, side seats facing inward towards a few rows of rolled in seating. Knowing what is best, I chose the seats on the side with the most leg room and we were off, once again sleeping for the entire duration of the hour and fifteen minute flight to Mosul.

At this moment I am propped up on a real bed (oh my gosh) typing this blog in my very own CHU (a military acronym, perhaps standing for a compact housing unit), made of what appears to be a 8' x 20' metal shipping container, or conex, all side by side in some kind of housing project configuration, surrounded by large cement blocks to protect us from any mortar attacks that might occur. At least it is my very own and I get to do whatever I want with it, let the fun begin.

At first glance the whole thing appeared to be like some unkempt dilapidated refugee camp, even the inside of my unit had a thick layer of sand and dirt on everything (even the mattress had a thick coating of sand), but with a little work I had the place looking quite satisfactory. My unit has two single wide beds, two small wall lockers, two plastic drawer sets, and two handmade plywood night stands. At least I am finally able to unpack my duffle bags and get settled into my own place.

Actually I am quite pleased with how I have fixed up my place, with convenience in mind and with a flare of creativity I have created quite a nice environment for myself; not bad for a guy. I think it is going to work out just fine. The community shower/ bathrooms are in a container right next to our units, which is doable, at least it is not a porta-pottie anymore (real toilets and porcelain sinks, yea).

With the purchase of an electrical convertor (going from 220 to 110), I am ready to rock and roll, with my IPOD boom box, my computer speakers and my blender for protein shakes, life is good (can't help but think of Jack Black in Nacho Libre saying that with his facial expressions). It has now all come down to the simplest creature comforts necessary to make life somewhat cushy in a war zone, but of course it is still hot, but I will take the 10 to 15 degree drop in temperature any day over Kuwaiti temperatures. 

Now if I could only get some kind of flavor, seasoning or spice in my daily diet of bland army food. I will have to work on that one. In Kuwait I started eating what the Indian dining facility workers were eating for their meals after serving us, it was chicken curry and Dosha (thin flat bread), really fantastic.

With thoughts of my Intel collection plan swirling around in my head, I am finally ready to embark on my path, the next phase of this journey, to fulfill my destiny, whatever that might be. Stay tuned as that unfolds. Be patient (I am really talking to myself) as all things take time and happen at the speed of a baby learning to crawl and walk. We are now in a new phase of the Iraqi conflict, going from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, as I am sure the President has announced, with the end of all combat operations. I will have to see how that is communicated to our enemies, who are still out there causing trouble? We will see if they have the same understanding, as I believe we are still on their target list.

Love all of you.

Chief Wiggles

Doing it the Wiggles way"


 

 


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Music is medicine:

Too early or not, I was awake with no hope for going back to sleep, my head already so full of thoughts it was hard to focus on any one thing. My watch said 4:45am and darkness prevailed in my totally buttoned up - sealed tent, making it difficult to determine the time of day, weather conditions, or the temperature outside (which has its pros and cons). No one else appeared to be awake, which seemed odd, not even a Mother Nature call this morning. I decided to dive into some new songs on my IPOD, hoping to clear my head before the day began. I scrolled through a list of artists from the back of the alphabet this time, pausing momentarily on Yo Yo Ma, the cellist.

It had been awhile and I decided to enjoy his cello for a moment, or so I thought. Little did I know his music would have such a profound effect on me. His deep perfect tones reached into the depths of my soul and communicated with my inner spirit, generating a deep feeling of gratitude and appreciation for his angelic music.  I was flooded with emotions, as every cell of my body seemed to be completely engorged with feeling. Unexpectedly, thoughts of my daughter Dana filled my head, as tears begin to flow down my cheeks. I miss her and long for her fun and energetic personality, engaging with mine. Feelings of love for her flowed into my heart, as I realized I hadn't spoken with her for over two months now and personally acknowledged the superficial nature of our relationship.

Many more feelings arose from the depths of my heart and soul, as the tears continued to stream down my face, out of joy and sadness. I was somewhat baffled by this release of feeling, but I continued on enjoying every minute and note of his heavenly chords.  I cannot explain what just happened, but his music touched me deep inside, places I rarely go. It was mostly tears of joy and happiness, as my spirit was touched from above by the perfection achieved by the musician and his instrument. This went on for I don't know how long, as I continued to replay the musical numbers one by one, over and over again.

I was grateful for the experience and actually longed to repeat it, as if it would be possible to feel the same way you did after watching an incredible movie, the second time you watch it. I am not sure if it can be duplicated.

As I usual I prepared for the day, showered - ate breakfast - got dressed - but this time I laid down on the floor pondering what had happened in the wee hours of the morning, when my Commander came in to inform me it was time to leave. We have a soldier with kidney stones at a hospital on another base, some two hours away, we intended to visit today. And since we were going south, we also had a couple of soldiers going north into Iraq that needed a ride to the airport, on another southern base, on the way.

It has been some time since I have traveled the roads of Kuwait, some of which I hadn't been on since the Gulf War in 91'. It was great to get out and off the base, on the road again. Of course it is just sand and more sand, but there are buildings and other structures the closer you get to Kuwait City and of course mile after mile of electric towers carrying power to the cities up and down the Persian Gulf and then the familiar site of oil refineries lining the coast.

I drove down the "road of death" and recalled all the vehicles with their loot that scattered the dessert floor, as Iraqis attempted to flee Kuwait City and were met by our A-10 fighter planes that literally destroyed all of them.

I remembered staying in the home of a Kuwaiti politician who one day took us to have tea with the Amir of Kuwait.

Visiting the soldier recovering from the passing of kidney stones was the right thing to do, as we chatted with him and were able to dine with him at the difac.

Keep the faith

Chief Wiggles 



Saturday, August 21, 2010

Another day in paradise:

"She calls out to the man on the street, sir can you help me, it's cold and I've nowhere to sleep, is there somewhere you can tell me, he walks on doesn't look back , he pretends he can't hear her, starts to whistle as he crosses the street, seems embarrassed  to be there, oh think twice, cause it's another day for you and me in paradise, oh think twice its just another day for you and me in paradise", I quietly sing along in my head repeating the lyrics to the Phil Collins song, as memories of a previous deployment back in 1991 flash before my eyes, as I recall the desserts of Saudi Arabia (very similar to these). I remember the smell of the canvas tent (something missing from this one), and remember singing myself to sleep at night to songs by Phil Collins, on a cot with my fellow soldiers (I don't think cots have changed for a hundred years).

Even back then the dessert had a certain mystical quality that intrigued me. The sunrises and moon lit nights are still fresh in my memory. This song sends me back to that time, now some twenty years ago, a much younger me, grateful for the opportunities to make a difference in the Middle East, not knowing how much a part of my life this place would become. I have so many fond memories of times gone by, but still all interconnected with the present - all stepping stones of life - one thing leading to another. It is still hard to believe this is my third deployment to the Middle East.

Darkness fills my tent, as the sounds of people sleeping resonate through the half domed shaped tent. It is 5:00am; I couldn't sleep so I decide to listen to a few songs on my IPOD, starting with a little Phil Collins, and then moving into "Southern Man" (the long version) by Crosby Steals Nash and Young, my finely tuned air guitar gently mimicking the motions of the lead guitarist. One of my tent mates wakes to answer Mother Nature's call, quietly laughs as he glances over at me making air guitar motions. I am sure he thought I was having some kind of a nightmarish crazy dream or something.

Giving up on sleep, I decide to greet the day by jogging the loop around the entire base, which is about 6 miles. I have been trying to do this walk-jog every morning just to get some exercise to keep my slim girlish figure. It takes me about an hour and fifteen minutes so if I get up early I can get it done before it gets too hot and still be back for breakfast, which is a must. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and it is one meal the army has down pat, with a full assortment of eggs, cereals, meats, waffles, fruits, juices, and pretty much whatever you desire.

The early rising tent mate decides to go with me on this long jaunt, for the first time. With water in my camel back and 9mm pistol holstered to my right thigh, we take off quick stepping through the sand towards the piles of sand we refer to as "burms" (not sure of the spelling) that surround the entire camp. Spotted along the way are guard towers every few hundred feet from which I am sure you can get more of a bird's eye view of the dessert floor surrounding the base.

I am not sure why but daybreak is earlier than expected at around 5am, so it is completely light out by the time we get out to run, but at least it isn't too hot yet. Under normal circumstances it would be considered hot already but not compared with the scorching hot temperatures we anticipate of mid-day.

Jogging and walking along the dessert floor, is actually quite peaceful and gives me time to reflect on the activities of the previous day. There was even a cooler breeze blowing across the dessert this morning, which delighted both of us and gave us reason to comment on the sudden change of morning temperature. Walking/ jogging this morning was a lot more enjoyable, as for the first time that I wasn't constantly wiping sweat out of my eyes to see and I actually consumed a lot less water.

All I can hope is that we either move into fall season real soon or that the temperatures up north are somewhat lower than here; functioning in this kind of high temperatures becomes quite a chore in and of itself. Even so, as the days go on, my body seems to be adjusting and adapting to the harsh temperatures of the dessert. Adaption is mostly mental and embracing the heat seems to be the only way to survive it. At least throughout the day, we are able to find refuge from the heat in AC equipped tents and buildings.

We got word this morning that our advanced party is leaving tomorrow morning at first light, giving us all hope of our upcoming departure to Iraq in a few more days. At this point we just want to get there, get settled in and get busily engaged in accomplishing our mission. I believe it would be correct to say that the only kind of additional training we want at this time is OJT training.

Aside from the nicer than usual amenities of this place and our relative comfort, anxiousness is a common feeling amongst the majority of the soldiers, given the fact that we are here to do a job, not just watch time pass away. It is not that we are anxious to move into harm's way, we just want to fulfill the purpose of our journey. We all feel a certain amount of uneasiness regarding the swift passage of time and our continual delay in arriving at our destination. Tired of living out of our duffel bags, we look forward to the time when we can actually get settled into our own place, get set up and look for ways to assist and advice the Iraqis who are taking our place.

According to my belt pedometer on an average day, aside from the jog around the base which is 6 miles, I am walking about 4 or 5 miles, or about 10 total miles. Not bad for an older guy right?

This last week I received word that 3 more forty foot ocean containers are on the water, making a total of 7 container loads that have been shipped and are on their way to me, of course once I arrive. These containers are full of humanitarian supplies from our Operation Give warehouse, destined for needy children in Iraq. This is going to provide us with a huge amount of supplies to be distributed as needed by our fellow soldiers. I am totally stoked about the shear amount of humanitarian aid that we have been able to ship at this time, considering the fact that each container costs us about $6,000 just for the shipping,

Today is Sunday and going to church is the only event scheduled for the day. My plan is to stay in my tent as much as possible, secluding myself from the scorching heat, hoping to diminish the about of sweating I do.  Hoping to find an empty seat in front of one of the computers over at the Internet Café, I was able to get out earlier this morning and over to the computers to take care of emails.

One of the soldiers during the night had an attack of appendicitis and was taken to the hospital at Arif Jan, where we will go tomorrow to check up on him. While there I hope to be able to speak with the people at the HOC who are handling the Operation Give containers. We could use your prayers. God bless us all.

Thanks so much.





 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Back in the Sand

The hot air against my face reminds me of a time gone by; when I was at this very base, back when the war began. If you would have asked me before now, if I thought I would ever be back at this base, I would have very definitively answered absolutely not (honestly, nor did I ever want to be). Well I am back in this sand box and it is still unbearably hot, just as I remember it. Unfortunately this is the gateway to Iraq, just like it was 7 years ago, there is no getting around this place, and no way to bypass it and still get into Iraq.

This morning I ventured beyond the AC cooled confides of my completely sealed tent, outside to feel the virtual furnace like temperatures of what I used to call Camp Udairi now known by a very different name. It has already been 7 years. I thought I would attempt to walk/ jog around the base, to see if there was anything remaining that might resemble the way it was and give me some bearing as to where I am in reference to where I was before. Nothing resembled the way I remember it and it was totally different in so many ways.

This base has grown and sprawled out on the desert floor like a town turned into a city, now full of all the amenities of a base back home (although smaller in size), with such things as Burger King, Subway, a large PX, a real dining facility (not like the small one that burned down right before we arrived the last time), and real movie theater. What a difference a few years make.

There is AC in all the buildings, all the tents, everywhere around the base. I have gained a whole new appreciation for the inventor of AC, who should have received a Nobel Prize for this fantastic invention. For those of you who have by book, "Saving Babylon", please go back to the first part where I describe Camp Udairi where we were positioned before the war began. It was nothing like this. Then, we fought the wind, the sand, the sand storms, and the high temperatures everyday, as we just tried to beat the harsh elements of this environment.

Perhaps the hot temperatures wouldn't be so bad, if I was dressed in Bermuda shorts and a wife beater T-shirt, with the thought of getting a tan lying by the pool or if I hadn't traded in my air-conditioned wheels for a good pair of Army boots to get around in. Walking around the base in full uniform, hat included, in boots with a 9mm pistol strapped to my thigh, is  just not the way you would normally deal with this kind of weather. In the heat of the day the hot air seems to steal your breath making it difficult to speak (at least I don't feel like speaking). I try to concentrate on just breathing and walking as fast as I can, hoping to just survive. And everything is a good walk away, at least 10 to 15 minutes just to get to the dining facility.

Just a few days ago I was back in the Northwest enjoying the cool temperatures and enjoying the occasional rain storms of that area. "I am going to miss the cool clean air and the tall crisp green pine trees of the North West", I said to myself several times, as I pondered my journey to Kuwait and on to Iraq. The weather Gods definitely smiled on us during out stay at Fort Lewis, as we have really enjoyed great weather. The only time the rain really got in the way of things was during our weekend pass, which we handled with an umbrella and a smile. Knowing what was in store for me in the Middle East, I took every opportunity to enjoy the weather as much as possible and be grateful for the pleasure it brings me.

With all the training, all the long days spent in preparation, at times it seemed like this day would never come, the day we would actually be on our way to Iraq. Please don't misunderstand; it is not that we don't want to be home, or are anxious to be in a war zone. It is just we all have bought off on the idea of going to Iraq and we just want to get there to complete our mission. We would all prefer to be busily engaged in doing our job and getting on with our work, to serve our country and provide some type of benefit to the effort or cause at hand in Iraq.

Tears filled our eyes as we drove off leaving behind those soldiers that had been cut from our group, standing there waving good bye as we drove off. It was a very somber moment for all of us, knowing they would not be going or joining up with us later. Unfortunately, one thing is for sure in life, life goes on and we had to quickly regain our focus on the task at hand, that of getting to Iraq and fulfilling our own personal destiny, leaving those staying behind to fend for themselves along their own life's journey. That might sound cruel but there was nothing we could do to change anything. I was sad none the less.

Ignoring the time of day, my eyes filling the weight of very little sleep for the last 24 hours, I succumb to the urge to sleep after having traveled through many time zones, through various cities (having made two pit stops along the way) and crashed onto a cot and slept for 7 hours or so. I am sure you have all experienced that kind of sleep where your eye lids feel like they weigh several pounds or like someone has put a piece of tape on them and no matter what you do you can't open your eyes.

The tent is equipped with AC and somewhat temperature controlled but still no match for the heat outside in the middle of the day, as unavoidably the temperature rises inside causing me to sweat, waking me from my rest. Waking from a deep sleep, looking up I felt like I was in the belly of a whale, noticing the rib cage like structure of the roof truces inside my half dome tent, which totally protect me from the nasty sand and wind of the outside environment.

Fortunately I am in the command tent, which houses only a dozen or so soldiers, unlike the 70 plus soldiers inside any of the other tents. I have staked out a  8' x 8' square space in one of the corners where I have set up my living quarters, utilizing three cots, one as my bed and the others for shelving and have a cord drawn across my area to hang my clothes and other belongings. It is as if we have all settled into this area as homeless refugees, or migrant farm workers, ecstatic about our newly acquired digs. 

Outside I look across the flat sand-scape  of this land and feel at times that I am living on the moon. There is not one form of plant life in sight, no living thing, and nothing that resembles any type of life form. We are out in the middle of nowhere, not far from the Kuwait/ Iraq border and a long way from home. We are definitely not in Kansas and we are totally not able to click our hills together three times, chanting "there is no place like home" and be back home any time soon.

Even so, there is a certain serene beauty about the dessert, especially at dusk and dawn, as the sunsets are spectacular and the moon rises, at times reflecting the suns orange rays, appearing to shine orange light down on the dessert floor. The sands seem to extend forever as far as the eye can see, abruptly coming to an end as the sky begins. Paved roads appear almost to float in midair as they draw lines through the dessert canvas. This morning as we drove across the sands towards our destination, the firing range (so that we might be able to get more practice firing our weapon), I actually had thoughts that it was nice to be back in the Middle East. I have actually grown to like or have a certain appreciation for its beauty, as one might have towards the opposite sex if a man and a woman were stranded on a deserted island, together and alone.

I am appreciative for this additional time I have in Kuwait to prepare my mind and spirit for the journey ahead. I realize that time is of the essence and a sense of urgency permeates my inner thoughts and feelings. Of course I don't know what the future will bring, but for some time I have felt that something big is in store for all of us or in other words that we have a specific mission to bring something of value and benefit to the Iraqi people. My vision is not clear and I haven't seen anything in a dream, but I just want to be ready when it does begin to unfold. Life is more about being ready for opportunities when they pass before us, then anything specifically that you would set out to gain or obtain. It is best to travel through this journey of life one step at a time, preparing our self along the way for what might be placed in our path, not getting too caught up with what the future might bring.

Most things in life seem to be individually somewhat insignificant until at some later date these pieces come together in some magical fashion to create the tapestry of one's life. I am sure it is easy for God who sees the beginning and the end and knows the sequence of all moving parts needed to bring about his desired result. It would be way beyond our human capabilities to understand all the pieces that need to be put in motion at any one point in time to bring about a specific end in mind. I just want to be as spiritually connected as possible so that I might understand his will and be an instrument in his hands to bring about his intent and accomplish the measure of my existence.

The Army appears to know no bounds or have any limit to the money they will spend to insure that each soldier is sufficiently entertained during their deployment. All the latest fast food joints line the "Entertainment Zones", along with a movie theater with popcorn, several internet café's, recreation centers, gyms, libraries, TV rooms and small video rooms, phone centers, MWR rooms equipped with video game rooms, guitar hero room, and on and on.

Looking at all of this caused me to think about the extent we all go to in America to entertain ourselves and to be entertained. Think for a second about all that we do to be entertained on a daily basis and in everything we do we are looking for immediate gratification. The amount of time and money we spend watching sports, watching movies, watching TV, playing games, playing on the computer, gambling, playing games of any kind, and I could go on and on, almost limitless. It is almost as if we are working and living to be entertained. It occupies our conversations and our thoughts and consumes our time and money.

The problem with this in my view is that for the most part this is an inward focus on our selves, hoping to gratify our own endless appetite for entertainment. It is an inward focus, not an outward focus. It is all about the person being entertained, in an effort to satisfy this addiction for pleasure, limiting our ability to look outwardly at others, perpetuating the misconception that life is all about me, the individual. No wonder we have addicts of every form and kind. No wonder in many ways we have become a selfish generation of people, willing to spend more for our large screen TV's and our season game tickets than we are for others in need. Take a look at the pay scale for certain occupations in our society and you will see where we place our emphasis. No wonder porn is such a large industry.

At some point we are going to have to say "enough is enough". We are going to have to start looking outward at others especially those in need, to see how we might benefit their lives. Otherwise our own inward focus and selfish desire to be constantly entertained will be our down fall. Just my opinion, I am just saying.

All I know is that we are definitely on our way to big things. Stay tuned

Chief Wiggles

"Doing it the Wiggles way"

 

 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ready to Go, or not?

It was Monday night, all of us had just returned from a well deserved 4 day pass, full of great food, fun and lots of rest. Spirits were high, all of us having just spent the last few days with our loved ones, enjoying our last weekend as normal people before we are scheduled to leave for Iraq. Still in civvies, one by one returning to our home away from home the barracks we heard the sad news that 44 of our fellow team mates and soldiers were to be cut from the group and won't be going with us to Iraq. Oh how fast the mood can change. What a shock, not exactly the news you would want to hear after returning from a before-departure leave.

This deployment has been in the works for most of us for the past several months, two months of which we have spent here at Fort Lewis training and living together. We are a family, having formed incredible bonds with each other. Team members and fellow soldiers all working together to prepare for the combined goal of accomplishing our mission. How could they do this?

The word came down over the weekend from higher that we were over strength and we had to cut our numbers to meet the new expectation of the Army, of the President. How do you decide who goes home, how do you pick? Boy, I am glad I didn't have to make that decision. Of course, due to hardships or circumstances, there are those that need to go home, but surely not 44 of them. The disappointment, the agony, after having made the decision to go, putting your personal life on hold,  leaving jobs, selling cars and houses, making plans, and saying goodbye to loved ones.  But it was already done, the choices had been made and those being asked to depart had been notified.

As my roommate and I sat on the edge of our beds, discussing what had just happened, there was a knock at the door, opening it there in the doorway stood one of our tall lanky young soldiers. Obviously very distraught, with tears in his eyes he asked if he could come in. We listened for a moment as he tried to get out the words expressing his desire to go with us. "You guys are family", he said. "I don't want to go with any other unit", he exclaimed, holding back the tears with every breath. What do we say, what can we say? I am sure there is a purpose and a meaning for this in the lives of all those remaining behind, but I wasn't sure what to tell him at that moment.

With his head bent down, his voice at a whisper, he asked in all humility if we would give him a blessing that he might know what to do. He wanted more than anything to understand the "Why" behind what had just happened. Obliging we came to our feet, standing over him; we laid our hands on his head and blessed him with strength and understanding. It was a very special moment, one  we will never forget, one that will help shape the meaning behind this deployment for many of us. Not something you would see every day in the military, soldiers praying for and blessing other soldiers, except in this unit. I am sure if you were a passerby and saw the silhouettes of us standing in our room, with our hands on the head of another soldier, you would wonder what on earth is going on.

I am telling you this is a very special group, one like no other that I have been associated with. We all feel a strong purpose and a deep meaning behind why we are here and why this group has been joined together, all with so many special and extraordinary skills and abilities. We are a family! There is a reason for why this group has been gathered together at this time, for a specific purpose, one we perhaps don't fully understand at this time but soon will.

Those who had been notified of being on the chopping block, were given a choice to return home or to continue on to Kuwait with us and be dealt with by the big Army as it saw fit, as an augmentee,  with no specific details about where they would end up or who they would be supporting. Not exactly the choices they were hoping for. Disappointment spread through the ranks as we discovered who had been chosen. All I could say to those is that they will be greatly missed.

Life goes on in the military and we get used to embracing the difficulties and trials or as we put it "embracing the suck". We just deal with it and drive on. I will personally miss them all and will think about them as time goes on. I wish them well in their new journey either back home or on to Kuwait.

On a happier note, we made a remarkable discover in the course of our driving and jogging around the base, we noticed that wild blackberries were growing everywhere. Sweet delicious blackberry bushes scattered here and there around the base, almost as if unnoticed or undetected. How could they be so ignored? Each bush is full of ripe juicy blackberries, ready for the picking. It didn't take us long to come up with a plan, ok for me to come up with a plan. Let's see, the dining facility has soft-serve ice-cream, we have all these blackberries, and I did buy a blender/mixer or as I have always called it an Osterizer. Umm, how about blackberry shakes?

The day before my weekend-leave, a group of us, with a step by step plan in hand, rendezvoused in front of the barracks to put the plan into motion. We commandeered a vehicle, drove over to the mother-load of the blackberries, picked a couple of bags full, then ventured over to the difac to abscond with a couple of large take-out containers of soft-serve ice-cream, went back to the barracks and with a little bit of milk mixed up the shakes. We all hovered over the blender like crazed vultures ready to pounce on our prey, as we waited impatiently for the finished product. We were not disappointed as we each savored the incredible fresh flavor of the blackberry shakes, unbelievable, what a treat. Wow, the best we have ever tasted.

 Having picked up a rental car the day before, and being in civvies for the first time in months, I departed Friday morning for the airport to pick up my wife, who was flying up to Seattle to spend the next four days with me.  We didn't have a plan or an agenda just a desire to eat Korean food, go to some movies, see a few sites, and get a lot of much needed rest. The weather didn't cooperate, but it was Seattle with the usual drizzle and cloudiness. But, who cares, it sure beats the 138 degree temperature in Kuwait we have been hearing about. We had a great weekend, full of Korean buffets, Japanese buffets, Chinese dim sum, and did I say Korean food, with no complaints from me, knowing that is one thing I won't be eating for the next year.

At last my feet were free from the tight confides of my boots, now enjoying the fresh air that only flip-flops can provide. Wow I had forgotten how great civvies felt; loose, open, and cooler. It was my first day off in almost two months. We ventured into Seattle a couple of times, enjoyed Pikes Market, and went on the ferry boat to Bainbridge Island to enjoy the famous Mara's Ice-cream, Doc's fish and chips, and the local Bainbridge museum.  We even traveled down the coast just west of Olympia to check out the local beaches, where we were actually able to drive our car out on the beach, traversing along the shoreline, listening to the waves and feeling the cool ocean breezes. Way too cold to get in the water, but still totally peaceful, we took our time taking in the sites, listening to the seagulls and watching the waves splash up against the shore.

All in all we had a great weekend, just taking it easy and spending time together, just the two of us.

Several days ago, as the commander and I discussed a few details of what might be in Iraq, we had cause to review who might be the right person to work with me once we arrive. I felt a need to inquire about a partner for me, someone of like mind, someone to work with, knowing that I could not do everything on my own. I had thrown out a few possible names to the commander with no real feeling or interest. But, once I mentioned a specific soldier by name, we both knew immediately that was the person who I am supposed to work with.

It is as if the spirit spoke to each of us simultaneously, to our hearts, causing a certain tingling and warmth to come over us at the exact same moment. The minute that person's name entered our discussion each of us pointed to the other, with a sure knowledge and the exact same facial expression of amazement, as we both knew that spirit had spoken to us. It was so amazing, so unbelievable, that we would both have the same feeling at the same time and recognize it and be able to have the exact identical response. We both knew the spirit had just told us who it was supposed to be, no equivocation, no doubt in our minds, we had been told.

One more experience reinforcing our firm belief that the Lord is with us on this journey.

Only two more days before our departure. Finally we are done with the training, received all our gear, and have accomplished as much as we can hear at Fort Lewis. All of us are anxious to leave for the next phase of this deployment, getting us closer to fulfilling our mission and the purpose for our departure from our home and loved ones. There is a greater cause, one we will discover it as we draw closer to our destination.

As I sit on my bed, the door of my room closed shutting out the world; the sound of a helicopter overhead reminds me I am still on an army base, where I belong at this time in my life, headed to Iraq. I hope you all understand. Thanks for all your prayers, I will try to be worthy of your love and concern. The next time I write I will probably be in Kuwait, enjoying the heat of the desert.

Chief Wiggles

"Doing it the Wiggles Way"






Sunday, August 01, 2010

July is gone

As I drove back from the field, for the first time I noticed how beautiful the sunsets are here, as the orange sun sank down below the tree line. It had been another long at times arduous day at the field camp, having left around 0600 this morning. I sit perched against my stacked pillows on my once hammock like mattress in my storage room of a bedroom, the mattress now firmed up by a piece of plywood I found on a construction site nearby.  A cool evening breeze blows through the partially cracked window in my room. The sound of car tires patching out through the gravel outside my barrack causes me to glance out through the separation as the blind is blown back by the breeze.

If my feet could talk they would be thanking me for freeing them from the tight confides of my firmly laced army boots, as I have finally rid myself of my army garb and put on something more comfortable. This is my favorite time of day, free time in the evening in shorts and a T-shirt. Don't get me wrong I had a great day and a lot was accomplished but nothing like being done for the day, kicking back and doing laundry.

Forgetting it was Sunday; the day came and went like any other day of training, without  hardly the thought of what day or date it was. Wow, already August first. Part of me feels like it has been a long time since I was home. But I still can't believe we have been gone for over a month, without even a day off.  I know this up-tempo life style is just the taste of things to come for the next year in Iraq, in that Christmas and Thanksgiving will probably be our only days off.

I

Chief Wiggles

Doing it the wiggles way as usual



Sunday, July 25, 2010

Back at it

Today is Sunday. Finally I feel well enough to write again. It has been a week today since my illness got the best of me putting me down in bed for several days, coughing and hacking. This insidious virus has, as expected, spread throughout the camp, as one by one my fellow soldiers have succumb to its affects. My chest cold, or as the doctor put it my viral respiratory infection, has run its proverbial course for the most part. Only my cough lingers as I can still be heard each morning hacking away in an effort to clear my lungs of this pest. It has been a bugger. Good health is truly a blessing to be appreciated and enjoyed.

It is 0830 and I am alone in my room, having returned from the field late last night with the commander to sleep in the barracks. Except for a couple of sick soldiers, the barrack is empty. The old style hospital beds are free from their usual hanging military decorations and debris, their occupants having left for the field yesterday morning. The humming sound of the large propeller like fan at the end of the hall way is now the only thing I can hear, reminding me of the first scene in the movie "Apocalypse Now".

Last night was my first good night sleep in several weeks; a night free from the now familiar dreadful sounds of people snoring. My IPOD has been my sleeping pill, having resorted to playing music all night long to drown out the unbelievably loud gurgling sounds. I am sure, with this cold, I have contributed to the choir but we have a couple of solo artists that surpass anything I have previously encountered.

The shades in my room are partially drawn allowing me, from my hammock like bed mattress, to see soldiers milling about across the courtyard in between the barracks. The sound of soldiers calling cadence and singing out "jodies" resonates through the area as they go marching by. A few soldiers can be heard joking and laughing below my second story window, as I try to hear what is so funny.

The down time this morning is much appreciated. I tried to take advantage of it by sleeping in late today but my mattress forced me to do otherwise. I welcomed the day with joy and excitement as I saw a glimpse of the clear blue skies through the outstretched branches of the pine tree outside my window. Each day of sunshine, cool breezes and comfortable temperatures is cherished as news of 120 plus degree weather in Iraq and Kuwait reaches us. We have been really lucky, having enjoyed incredibly good weather while we have been here.

Thoughts of family and loved ones back home float through my mind, as I ponder what it means to being deployed. I realize more poignantly this morning the things I am missing, remembering perhaps that I would have prepared breakfast this morning, eaten with my family and been off to church at this time, partaking of the spirit there and mingling with friends and loved ones. Thoughts of military training, gear and equipment, and the Middle East would be the farthest thing from my mind. Simple things come to mind, like the Sunday newspaper in my driveway, hot waffles, driving to church in my own car and lunch prepared by my wife.

Perhaps feeling somewhat nostalgic and melancholy, but not in a sad way, I thought of a movie I once saw named "The Bridge to Terabithia". A kids movie but yet one with adult meanings and messages for me, as I feel like the kid who built the bridge at the end of the movie, so others, namely his sister, could realize their dreams and aspirations. I guess I am a builder of bridges, helping to provide a way for people, including myself, to reach their potential, fulfill their dreams, allowing others to imagine the possibilities, and realize nothing is impossible. I dream, imagine and look for ways to follow my path to my destiny and desire to help others to do likewise, so we all can reach the full measure of our creation.

I have left my home and loved ones in search of my destiny, knowing it is what I must do at this stage of my life. I willingly give up some things to gain other perhaps more meaningful things, some with eternal implications for others, as I simultaneously look for ways to more fully perfect myself in the process. We all have been divinely created and sent to earth at this time for some specific inspired purpose, to contribute to life as it is, to add some value that only we can provide and to build bridges helping others to reach their path of self fulfillment. We all can be bridge builders.

This week as a result of me being sick, others had the opportunity to exercise their priesthood to offer up a blessing of health and speedy recovery through the laying on of hands. This week as a baby was about to go into surgery, the father a soldier was able to offer up a prayer and a blessing for his son over the phone as his wife on the other end held their infant in her arms. This week as military projects and plans were discussed, the spirit bore witness in my heart of the divinity of this mission to Iraq. This week a soldier's heart was touched, a message of hope was shared, prayers were given, goals were made, life was given meaning, loved ones were more appreciated, some got closer to God, and others dreamed of possibilities.

Look around for there are endless ways to serve others, as all are in need.

Yesterday, I heard the commander's voice calling my name, as he searched the area for me. I knew he had something on his mind that probably related to Operation Good Genie, our secret mission. Before being deployed we both had made an oath, done the secret hand shake and traded secret decoder rings, vowing to do all we could to keep Operation Good Genie alive from our previous deployment. We had received the self destructing mission tape from above and knew what we had to do.

"Since everyone is out in the field don't you think tonight might be pizza night?", he asked once he found me. "I will make it happen Sir", I replied. The Pizza Hut driver arrived with the 7 pizzas I had ordered with a deal for two more from another canceled order. With pizzas gently placed in the back seat of the car we proceeded out to the field area where our soldiers are bivouacking, to see if a few pizzas wouldn't brighten their day. It was just what the doctor ordered and another Operation Good Genie mission was successfully completed.

Life is not just about us.

Chief Wiggles

"Doing it the Wiggles Way"

 

 

 

Friday, July 16, 2010

It is 7:30 on a Friday night. The bright rays of the western sun, shine through the old glass windows of this World War II barracks, forming bar like patterns on the two rows of wooden posts that line the inside of the building. Two rows of bunk beds, made from what appears to be old piping, having the appearance of metal beds from a very old mental hospital ward, are all surprisingly empty. The second floor of our barracks is unusually quiet this evening. It is the first time I can recall that every single person, around 25 soldiers, is out doing PT, taking advantage of the nice cool days of the Northwest summer.  Military gear decorates their bunk beds, like ornaments poorly placed on a Christmas tree by a drunken sailor. (I have to say sailor, so as to not offend our fellow army buddies). Every part of the beds is used to hang an item of gear or clothing. At first glance if you didn't notice it was all military stuff you might think you are in some kind of a refugee camp.

Originally I was assigned a bottom bunk bed situated in the middle of the main level, in what I considered to be a small hall way, the choke point where everyone in the building had to pass through to either exit the building or reach the bathroom. The constant stomping of boots passing through our area wore on us, another chief and I, until we decided to move into a small storage room upstairs, where the foot lockers had been stored. It was either charge a toll for each person wanting to pass through or move up to a room somewhat out of the pathway of others.

Having our own space, no matter how small, has become a nice treat, one we are thoroughly enjoying. The 8 x 8 foot room is just big enough for two single beds, two foot lockers and two single wall lockers, like the ones we used in high school only freestanding. I added a couple of wall hooks for my towels and a hanging shoe organizer in my locker for my under clothing, and this place has become my home. The room actually has two windows, through which a nice cool breeze blows at night, and a door which can be used to shut the world out.

Looking out from the bunk bed in my room, I can see the larger room containing the rest of the bunk beds lined up a couple of feet apart down both sides of the room. The plywood panels of the roof can be seen through the wooden rafters above the beds. Cracked and splintered panels of plywood create a makeshift ceiling in my little storage room.  I haven't bothered to ask anyone but I am sure the walls are painted with lead paint and who knows if there isn't asbestos in the attic above our room.

I am sure OSHA would have a hay day in these buildings, probably condemning the whole bunch of them. Mind you I am not complaining, just painting a picture with words.


A few days ago two events occurred which made me aware of the fact that the magic of this deployment has already begun. I share these with you without the consent of the individuals and consequently will refrain from using their names. Deployments are all about serving others, sharing with others, learning from others and helping others whenever possible. I have been greatly affected by these two events in a humbling way, causing me to look inward at myself to see where I need to make improvements, so as to be ready when called upon in the future.

The first one:

The days training was over, the sun had set bringing a blanket of darkness over the area, a cool breeze blew through the barracks and I saw a raccoon running along under the barracks as if looking for a jewel of food. I had retired to my bedroom just to kick up my heels after a tiring day of military meetings, training, and being issued new equipment, of which there appears to be no shortage or end in sight.

My thoughts played pinball in my mind jumping from one event to another as I pondered the activities of the day. I thought of people I should make contact with and felt inclined to call a friend of mine at FedEx who was going through a very difficult time as a result of serious health issues.

She answered the phone and pleasantries were exchanged. As the conversation went on, I felt inspired to talk more of spiritual things and thought it might be a good time to explain in more detail my religious beliefs. I am inclined to follow the promptings of the spirit, so I proceeded for the next 45 minutes or so to elaborate on my faith, its history, and bore my testimony of the things I believe in. I definitely felt the presence of the spirit as it confirmed the truthfulness of my words as I spoke of Jesus Christ, his atonement, and the eternal plan of salvation. We both shared a great experience, which we commented on afterwards. I am so appreciative of that opportunity to be able to share such truths with another.

The second one:

The next day as I was going about my daily routine I received a call from a close Middle Eastern friend of mine whom I had worked closely with on my last deployment to Iraq. Recently she has been going through some difficult times in her life relating to things that transpired when we were together some 6 years ago. She felt uneasy about what was going to transpire and concerned about the outcome, desiring to be at peace, she called to request a prayer of me. We had prayed together before and the memory of that experience prompted her to desire another prayer.

I was happy to oblige and walked over to a secluded place behind the barracks and offered up a prayer and a blessing over the phone, requesting she would be at peace and not troubled by the upcoming events. I blessed her that everything would turn out as she desires and according to his will. I was humbled by her sincerity, her desire for divine help and for her request of me to perform such a prayer. It was indeed an honor.

I walked back to the office where the commander works and related to him the events of last night and this morning. His only comments were the mission and the magic have begun. I totally concur.

I received the following story in an email a few days ago. I was touched by the simple tale but more importantly by the message it communicated to me personally. If only we could all have the faith of a child as we travel through life. The mother almost missed a chance to play in the rain with her daughter, almost missing the chance to have a faith promoting experience and chance to create a lasting memory, one her daughter will have the rest of her life. I am sure in the years to come you will hear her daughter refer back to that moment, "Mommy remember when we played in the rain and got soaking wet". .

All of us have tough times in the course of our journey through life, when life can get us down. Let's not forget to run and play in the rain and enjoy the time we do have on earth and be grateful for every day. Enjoy the following story.


NEED WASHING?

A little girl had been shopping with her Mom in WalMart. She must have been 6 years old, this beautiful red haired, freckle faced image of innocence.

It was pouring outside. The kind of rain that gushes over the top of rain gutters, so much in a hurry to hit the earth it has no time to flow down the spout.. We all stood there, under the awning, just inside the door of the WalMart.

We waited, some patiently, others irritated because nature messed up their hurried day.

I am always mesmerized by rainfall. I got lost in the sound and sight of the heavens washing away the dirt and dust of the world.
Mem
ories of running, splashing so carefree as a child came pouring in as a welcome reprieve from the worries of my day.

Her little voice was so sweet as it broke the hypnotic trance we were all caught in, Mom let's run through the rain, she said.

What? Mom asked.

Let's run through the rain! She repeated.

No, honey. We'll wait until it slows down a bit, Mom replied.

This young child waited a minute and repeated: Mom, let's run through the rain.

We'll get soaked if we do, Mom said.

No, we won't, Mom. That's not what you said this morning, the young girl said as she tugged at her Mom's arm.

This morning? When did I say we could run through the rain and not get wet?

Don't you remember? When you were talking to Daddy about his cancer, you said,  If God can get us through this, He can get us through anything!

The entire crowd stopped dead silent. I swear you couldn't hear anything but the rain. We all stood silently. No one left. Mom paused and thought for a moment about what she would say.

Now some would laugh it off and scold her for being silly. Some might even ignore what was said. But this was a moment of affirmation in a young child's life. A time when innocent trust can be nurtured so that it will bloom into faith.

Honey, you are absolutely right. Let's run through the rain. If GOD let's us get wet, well maybe we just need washing, Mom said.

Then off they ran. We all stood watching, smiling and laughing as they darted past the cars and yes, through the puddles. They got soaked.

They were followed by a few who screamed and laughed like children all the way to their cars. And yes, I did.

I ran. I got wet. I needed washing.

Circumstances or people can take away your material possessions, they can take away your money, and they can take away your health. But no one can ever take away your precious memories.  So, don't forget to make time and take the opportunities to make memories everyday.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.

I HOPE YOU STILL TAKE THE TIME TO RUN THROUGH THE RAIN.

They say it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them, but then an entire life to forget them.

Send this to the people you'll never forget and remember to also send it to the person who sent it to you. It's a short message to let them know that you'll never forget them.

If you don't send it to anyone, it means you're in a hurry.

Take the time to live!!!

Keep in touch with your friends, you never know when you'll need each other -- and don't forget to run in the rain!




Tuesday, July 13, 2010

End of Boss days:

The sky was overcast with the most beautiful cloud formations, but you could still see the clear blue sky in-between, giving me hope for a nice evening. The temperatures had dropped over the last few days and there was a slight cool breeze out of the north. I was on my way to the difac for a very special dinner program with the visiting employers. I passed the mayor cell and paused as I noticed the flag I purchased was still flying over the camp. The Stars and Stripes waived gently in the evening breeze causing me to ponder the patriotic symbolism it represents. It was a suiting beginning for what was to be a very emotional evening.

As I entered the difac I noticed the chaplain conducting a non-denominational church service for a small group of soldiers. It appeared they were nearing the end of the service, so I chose to set in the back and read the scriptures until they were finished. I was pleased to see their faces as they intently listened to his message.

Reading the scripture versus, I made a conscious effort to put myself in the right frame of mind as I prepared myself for the evening's events. As I read the scriptures I contemplated the significance of the message in my life, looking for comparisons and ways to associate it with what I was going through.

As the time grew closer to the start time of the LDS church services the soldiers started to fill up the large tent. I was glad to see so many soldiers stepping through the swinging doors and filling up the seats. Due to the tight schedule we were on the Chaplain started right on time even though the soldiers were still coming in. I took a moment to look around the room to nod and smile at the ones I made eye contact with.

Having Sunday services is the only event during the week that helps we separate the weeks one from another. The days all blur together, nights blur into days and days into nights, as we burn the candle at both ends. Early morning formations and light night training keep us all running just to get through all the requirements. At least on Sunday we pause to reverently worship our maker, giving thanks for our many blessings and to partake of the sacrament.

There are many distractions in the course of our daily regimen, preventing me from totally focusing on the more spiritual aspects of this deployment. I intentionally make a conscious effort to stay connected spiritually in hopes of receiving guidance and direction towards the path of my destiny. But training, military requirements and mission related activities keep my attention fixated on other things.

From the commander's first visit with me requesting my presence on this deployment I have felt there was a purpose and a reason for me to be with him. That day the spirit testified to me that I was needed and there was an inspired purpose for all of us to go to Iraq.  It is not clear yet of our divine mission but I cannot deny there is one. I am sure during the days to come the purpose will become evident. I am sure we have a mission to accomplish that is from our Father in Heaven.

I am sure the sound of our united voices singing the sacrament hymns reverberated throughout the camp, inviting a spirit of holiness to descend on all of us. I paid specific attention to the words of the hymn regarding the Saviors sacrifice, adding meaning to the sacrament service and providing me an opportunity to reflect on my own worthiness. What an incredible thing his atonement is for all of us, offering us an opportunity to start over leaving our sins behind.

Two soldiers recited the sacrament prayer and three others passed the blessed broken bread and water to each of the hundred plus soldiers in the room. The words of the prayer echoed in my head as I made an effort to concentrate on their significance. "Perhaps next time I could say the blessing on the bread or water", I thought to myself.

There were two speakers both touching on the importance of holding tight to the iron rod leading us to the tree of life so that we might partake of eternal life and be recipients unconditional love. The message of not giving into the temptations of the world and staying true to our beliefs resonated through my heart and mind, as I contemplated my actions of the past week to see if I could have improved in any areas.

Pause, it is now about 11:30 pm, the mellow sounds of B B King are blaring through my IPOD headset in an effort to drown out the ear piercing sound of my bunkmate snoring. Even then I can hear him. I might have to sleep with the music playing all night.

Where was I.

Through the cloth windows of the difac tent I could see the blue bus arrive delivering the 50 plus employers who were visiting our training camp. Once church was over they began filing in to look for their deploying employee.  Once seated our commander rose to lead all of us in "The Pledge of Allegiance" and the "Star Spangled Banner". Seeing all of us standing with our hands over our hearts and the soldiers at attention was a very somber experience, causing a surge of patriotism in all of us. I can't sing the national anthem without getting teary eyed as I ponder the divine origin of our history.

After that a pray was said blessing the food and we all filed out back around to the front of the tent as we lined up to reenter the building for dinner. The mess section had prepared a special "holiday" meal to honor our guests. There was an abundance of food and selections, most of which we had never seen before, which kind of gave the wrong impression to the bosses who were partaking of our food for the first time. We even had cake, which we had never seen in the field, and corn of the cob, wow. There was even an assortment and selection of meat, including ribs, chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. We passed through the chow line one by one, as the General and other high ranking officers, acting like servers, piled up the food on our plates, creating a mound of food I was sure I wouldn't be able to eat. Surprisingly it was a pretty incredible meal, considering the circumstances.

We all sat partaking of the meal, enjoying each other's company as we shared stories and humorous anecdotes. We laughed out loud as we made fun of various topics including ourselves, which was good therapy for all the deploying employees. The mood was light and jovial which added to the opportunity for all of us to bond much closer. Even complete strangers were in an engaging interactive frame of mind, of course that is when I am at my best.

After the meal the commander mc'd a short patriotic ceremony to help the employers grasp the nature of our call to arms and our appreciation for their much needed support for each of our soldiers. Several people spoke, including the two star general, sharing words of wisdom and inspiring metaphors of life. It wasn't who spoke or what they specifically said that moved me but it was the overall mood of the evening that choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. I do feel the commander really captured the essence of our feelings that evening with his words on relationships, involvement, staying engaged and being part of the team. We all play a vital role in making this all possible.

After the meeting retired Colonel Gunn presented me with a special custom made key ring that had my initials and my CW5 rank on it. I was very moved by his thoughtfulness. Bob Schartmann with FedEx pulled me aside and with Colonel Gun offered up a very sincere and heartfelt prayer, calling upon God to keep us all safe over this next year of this deployment.

Patriotism is alive and well at least among our ranks. Love for God and country permeated throughout the tent, as we each felt humbled to be partakers of such an incredible event. Feelings of love, togetherness and service were just a few of the emotions shared during the meeting.

Life is good. I love this country and all that it stands for. I offer up no apology for who we are and what we believe in. I am not embarrassed or ashamed to say that America was founded on divine principles by our inspired forefathers. God bless America

Chief Wiggles

Doing it the wiggles way. 




Sunday, July 11, 2010

The sky was overcast with the most beautiful cloud formations, but you could still see the clear blue sky in-between, giving me hope for a nice evening. The temperatures had dropped over the last few days and there was a slight cool breeze out of the north. I was on my way to the difac for a very special dinner program with the visiting employers. I passed the mayor cell and paused as I noticed the flag I purchased was still flying over the camp. The Stars and Stripes waived gently in the evening breeze causing me to ponder the patriotic symbolism it represents. It was a suiting beginning for what was to be a very emotional evening.

As I entered the difac I noticed the chaplain conducting a non-denominational church service for a small group of soldiers. It appeared they were nearing the end of the service, so I chose to set in the back and read the scriptures until they were finished. I was pleased to see their faces as they intently listened to his message.

Reading the scripture versus, I made a conscious effort to put myself in the right frame of mind as I prepared myself for the evening's events. As I read the scriptures I contemplated the significance of the message in my life, looking for comparisons and ways to associate it with what I was going through.

As the time grew closer to the start time of the LDS church services the soldiers started to fill up the large tent. I was glad to see so many soldiers stepping through the swinging doors and filling up the seats. Due to the tight schedule we were on the Chaplain started right on time even though the soldiers were still coming in. I took a moment to look around the room to nod and smile at the ones I made eye contact with.

Having Sunday services is the only event during the week that helps we separate the weeks one from another. The days all blur together, nights blur into days and days into nights, as we burn the candle at both ends. Early morning formations and light night training keep us all running just to get through all the requirements. At least on Sunday we pause to reverently worship our maker, giving thanks for our many blessings and to partake of the sacrament.

There are many distractions in the course of our daily regimen, preventing me from totally focusing on the more spiritual aspects of this deployment. I intentionally make a conscious effort to stay connected spiritually in hopes of receiving guidance and direction towards the path of my destiny. But training, military requirements and mission related activities keep my attention fixated on other things.

From the commander's first visit with me requesting my presence on this deployment I have felt there was a purpose and a reason for me to be with him. That day the spirit testified to me that I was needed and there was an inspired purpose for all of us to go to Iraq.  It is not clear yet of our divine mission but I cannot deny there is one. I am sure during the days to come the purpose will become evident. I am sure we have a mission to accomplish that is from our Father in Heaven.

I am sure the sound of our united voices singing the sacrament hymns reverberated throughout the camp, inviting a spirit of holiness to descend on all of us. I paid specific attention to the words of the hymn regarding the Saviors sacrifice, adding meaning to the sacrament service and providing me an opportunity to reflect on my own worthiness. What an incredible thing his atonement is for all of us, offering us an opportunity to start over leaving our sins behind.

Two soldiers recited the sacrament prayer and three others passed the blessed broken bread and water to each of the hundred plus soldiers in the room. The words of the prayer echoed in my head as I made an effort to concentrate on their significance. "Perhaps next time I could say the blessing on the bread or water", I thought to myself.

There were two speakers both touching on the importance of holding tight to the iron rod leading us to the tree of life so that we might partake of eternal life and be recipients unconditional love. The message of not giving into the temptations of the world and staying true to our beliefs resonated through my heart and mind, as I contemplated my actions of the past week to see if I could have improved in any areas.

Pause, it is now about 11:30 pm, the mellow sounds of B B King are blaring through my IPOD headset in an effort to drown out the ear piercing sound of my bunkmate snoring. Even then I can hear him. I might have to sleep with the music playing all night.

Where was I.

Through the cloth windows of the difac tent I could see the blue bus arrive delivering the 50 plus employers who were visiting our training camp. Once church was over they began filing in to look for their deploying employee.  Once seated our commander rose to lead all of us in "The Pledge of Allegiance" and the "Star Spangled Banner". Seeing all of us standing with our hands over our hearts and the soldiers at attention was a very somber experience, causing a surge of patriotism in all of us. I can't sing the national anthem without getting teary eyed as I ponder the divine origin of our history.

After that a pray was said blessing the food and we all filed out back around to the front of the tent as we lined up to reenter the building for dinner. The mess section had prepared a special "holiday" meal to honor our guests. There was an abundance of food and selections, most of which we had never seen before, which kind of gave the wrong impression to the bosses who were partaking of our food for the first time. We even had cake, which we had never seen in the field, and corn of the cob, wow. There was even an assortment and selection of meat, including ribs, chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. We passed through the chow line one by one, as the General and other high ranking officers, acting like servers, piled up the food on our plates, creating a mound of food I was sure I wouldn't be able to eat. Surprisingly it was a pretty incredible meal, considering the circumstances.

We all sat partaking of the meal, enjoying each other's company as we shared stories and humorous anecdotes. We laughed out loud as we made fun of various topics including ourselves, which was good therapy for all the deploying employees. The mood was light and jovial which added to the opportunity for all of us to bond much closer. Even complete strangers were in an engaging interactive frame of mind, of course that is when I am at my best.

After the meal the commander mc'd a short patriotic ceremony to help the employers grasp the nature of our call to arms and our appreciation for their much needed support for each of our soldiers. Several people spoke, including the two star general, sharing words of wisdom and inspiring metaphors of life. It wasn't who spoke or what they specifically said that moved me but it was the overall mood of the evening that choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. I do feel the commander really captured the essence of our feelings that evening with his words on relationships, involvement, staying engaged and being part of the team. We all play a vital role in making this all possible.

After the meeting retired Colonel Gunn presented me with a special custom made key ring that had my initials and my CW5 rank on it. I was very moved by his thoughtfulness. Bob Schartmann with FedEx pulled me aside and with Colonel Gun offered up a very sincere and heartfelt prayer, calling upon God to keep us all safe over this next year of this deployment.

Patriotism is alive and well at least among our ranks. Love for God and country permeated throughout the tent, as we each felt humbled to be partakers of such an incredible event. Feelings of love, togetherness and service were just a few of the emotions shared during the meeting.

Life is good. I love this country and all that it stands for. I offer up no apology for who we are and what we believe in. I am not embarrassed or ashamed to say that America was founded on divine principles by our inspired forefathers. God bless America

Chief Wiggles,

Doing it the Wiggles Way!




Visitors from Home:

There was finally a break in the action, so I decided to take care of some personal things, like laundry. I arranged for a ride back to the Fort Lewis Laundromat, where I was sitting enjoying the mind numbing sounds of washers and dryers doing their job. My phone rang and the commander was on the other end, requesting my presence at the airport. There was a plane coming in from Salt Lake City with about 60 people, including several distinguished visitors. He thought it would be a good idea if I was part of the 2 man welcoming committee greeting them when they arrived.

This was the weekend arranged for many of our soldier's employers to be visiting us out training in the field. The large gray colored C-130 landed on schedule with all the bosses on board, along with our State Adjutant General and numerous other support staff. Once the stairs were rolled up next to the plane, one by one the dignitaries departed the plane and made their way down the stairs, where they were greeted by my outstretched hand. We all gathered there on the tarmac assisting in getting their luggage off the plane and loaded into the large Budget truck parked next to the plane.

There were many familiar faces and of course the face of my long time co-worker at FedEx, Bob Schartmann who was filling in for Dan Gibbs. I had invited Dan earlier but due to a conflict in his schedule couldn't make the trip.

It was a jammed packed weekend for these supporters of the military. They flew up on a military plane, witnessed a mid air refueling of several F-16s and were scheduled for a reception dinner that evening and a full day of observing training and eating our food out in the field. This was all part of the military's way of showing their thanks to the employers of deploying soldiers for their support and patriotism.

After looking at their faces it was clear to me that they were all very excited about all they were about to take part in. It was like greeting the fun bus when it arrives in Las Vegas, they were all not quite sure of what they were getting into but ready for the experience. They were all in good spirits full of anticipation and easy to joke and make fun with.

I was my usual self with Bob each of us playing tag team comic relief with each other and the other passengers. I shared a few niceties with the general, who is always in fine humorous form and who loves joking around and poking fun with me. You have to be able to make light of things, you know.

The somewhat tired passengers were loaded on an awaiting bus and whisked off to their hotel for a little down time before dinner. Due to the cost and lack of seats I was not invited to attend the evening reception, so I instructed the driver to return me to the Laundromat so I could resume taking care of my personal stuff.

I was grateful for the opportunity to meet all of them and partake of their jubilant attitude. All of us that are National Guard and being deployed appreciate the support we receive from our employers and the people we work with. And I was glad for the chance to thank them personally.

Sunday:

Up at the crack of dawn, I readied myself and hurried on down to the Dining Facility where we waited for the Employers to arrive. They were to have the army field breakfast experience along with all of us. As we waited for them to arrive I had the thought that it would be fun to hurry them off the bus, line them all up against the wall and with blank ammo pretend to be shooting all of them, as if we were some disgruntled postal workers.

Once they arrived I gave up the idea and resorted to just being nice and friendly. As we do every morning we made our way through the weapon clearing area into the hand washing area and on into the difac to partake of the wonderful morning chow, which included processed scrambled eggs, bacon, rosemary potatoes and grits. You might think it sounds good but you would be wrong. We joked about the eggs being laced with salt peter and the packaged pastries at least having been cooked sometime this year.

We were supposed to be receiving the special holiday breakfast but the only thing I noticed were the hostess donuts, a really nice addition, not.

Bob Schartmann, Retired Colonel Gunn and I sat at one table gagging down the morning grub and filling the air with loud laughter and the proverbial jabs of humor and tomfoolery. The General couldn't resist and was soon drawn over to us like a moth to a flame. Ok I might be overstating his reason for sitting down next to us, but he did jump right in with his own humorous anecdotes.  



Saturday, July 10, 2010  No. 2

A Paradigm Shift

Training in the field has taken on a whole new feeling of exuberance, as I am part of a 3 man team working on a new project for the commander. The project deals with developing a new methodology and a new philosophy which will require perhaps most of our soldiers to make a bit of a paradigm shift.  The three of us somewhat volunteered for this project, as it was a topic we had already been thoroughly discussing. All the commander needed to do was to prime the pump with a few words permitting us to move forward and we all jumped at the opportunity.

We totally agree this perhaps is the most important thing we could accomplish before we land in Iraq that will ultimately shape the nature of our success. The window of opportunity to get this completed is closing rapidly as our departure date looms right around the corner. Once our soldiers are in country we will be split up into our teams, platoons and companies and basically thrown to the wind, scattered all over the country of Iraq. Even so we are committed to its importance and to the need to provide at least the basis for a blueprint, in order for the teams to build it the way they want.

We have an extremely bright group of very experienced and talented people who do not always share the same view point. We are not trying to force something new down their throats but more over to get their feedback and input needed to complete the task. We would like them to feel part of the development of this methodology and philosophy and gain their buy-in as a result of all of us co-authoring the creation.

Changing someone's point of view, consequently bringing about a paradigm shift is normally very difficult and at times almost impossible. It is not very often in life that a real paradigm shift occurs within someone's head, forcing them to alter a long held belief. Not everyone is open for such an adjustment in knowledge once held to be part of their internal belief system. Sometimes though truth is recognized and accepted as such, allowing someone to release long held prior beliefs.

Pride at times becomes an insurmountable hurdle, which holds the person down and prevents them from openly accepting a truth. At times our own stubbornness closes down our ability to acknowledge a new truth even when we inwardly know it is true.

It is going to require us to bring together small groups of soldiers who we consider to be pivotal players and influential leaders, for an open interactive discussion, at the same time requesting their input and assistance. Often this development process, involving so many people, can be long and laborious as we endeavor to reach an agreement on the direction we are suggesting. We do know where we want to go; we just hope they agree and will want to get there with us.

Truth:

Over the course of many years I have focused some of my attention in life on what I classify as principles of truth. I have consciously sought for opportunities to experience and discover new truths. I have also come to know and been able to discern the feelings associated with discovering and acknowledging a truism in life. They have come to me as thoughts or feelings with extreme clarity, leaving no doubt from whence they come. I have also come to realize that all truths are not spiritual as you might think and I do consider all things in life to be within the spiritual realm.

Truth is a topic of discussion which is often ignored and left untouched in most areas outside of religion. But, there are truisms that relate to every aspect of our life, encompassing all things of this world and beyond.  There are truisms in nature, in science, in religion, in relationships, and in principles for life.

Sometimes baseless thoughts, once spontaneously created, soon become regarded as reality, which then become internalized as truths as we verbally express them to others and become committed to them as part of our internal belief system. But not all of these self created ideas are truths, but are mere creations of our mind. Truths are usually accompanied by a unique feeling of confirmation given to us as a gift from our maker.

I do believe we all have an innate internal chime that goes off when a truism is encountered. Something goes off within us that perhaps cannot be explained, when a truth is discovered. Something inside testifies of a truth, providing us with a certain inner feeling regarding the point of truth. We then know it is true, whether we fully accept it or not. Sometimes our mind is our worst enemy, getting in the way of realizing and accepting truths in life.

Our spiritual inner self and the light of Christ that we are born with are our internal compasses for what is true or not true. Truths can be beliefs, words, concepts, ideas, statements, discoveries, etc. I relish the moments when I have discovered a truth in life and have enjoyed the feeling received when I acknowledge it to be the truth.

I apologize for how deep this discussion has become. I just got carried away. Hope you know what I am talking about.

Thankfulness

It is 10:15 at night; I am getting ready for bed. As I think over the events of the day, I have reason to pause and give thanks for so many things. I know it was only a couple of weeks ago that I was back home living my normal life and I know that I am not yet in Iraq fighting an ongoing war, but I still have cause to contemplate the nature of my existence and be filled with gratitude and appreciation. With each item that I am about to list on my "What am I thankful for" list there is an associated story and reason behind each one that has brought me to this point of appreciation. I won't go into the details at this time but it sufficient to say that I have my reasons.

I am grateful for

Cold water and cold drinks

AC

Free time

Relationships

Love

Home cooked meals

Cars for transportation

Peace

Freedom

Liberty

Friendships

Email

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Family

Spices

Flush Toilets

Kimchi

Movies

Shorts and t-shirts

Nature

Blue Skies

Sunshine

Hot water

Health

Second Chances

New Experiences

Bonds

Opportunities



Keep it real.

Chief Wiggles

Doing it the wiggles way.








Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Forest:

Last night as the sun was setting I found myself in a grove of pine trees, surrounded on all sides by numerous giant monsters towering overhead. I looked up through the tops of the trees to find the darkening sky in hopes of spotting the first evening star. The dark figures of the tall trees with their outstretched branches made me feel so small and insignificant. I felt the immensity of space the heavens and the earth below. I had seen a deer earlier alongside the road as we drove in. Hopes of seeing other creatures of the forest danced through my head. The grove of trees with its fresh pine aroma seemed to have s certain serenity to it, as a feeling of peace blanketed the area. Which was very ironic given the fact that we were there as a convoy of HMMUVs to conduct live night fire.

The pack of HMMUVs had rallied in a circular fashion under the layered arms of the pines overhead, somewhat awe inspiring. The rumbling sound of engines echoed throughout the forest. Once it was determined by those in charge to be dark enough, one by one the HMMUVs moved out into the thick black darkness utilizing their night vision equipment to conduct night fire. The stillness of the night was broken up by sounds of machine gun fire across a field of grass the vehicles had just traversed.

The pitch blackness of the night and wooded area made it impossible to see anything without special equipment, so the Commander, Sergeant Major and I decided to return to the field base to retire for the day. It was an unusually quite drive back to the base, normally filled with talk of funny events of the day. Now almost 2300, we listened to mellow sounds on the radio and let our minds wander.

Upon entering our fenced facility I realized that two of my team mates were still up and appeared to be working in the TOC. Walking towards the TOC I got a whiff of the ever so familiar smell of the porta-potties, reminding me of my days at Camp Bucca on my last deployment. It is amazing how something so repulsive can muster up so many pleasant memories of times gone by. There are certain smells that automatically bring up past memories, this being one of them. Regardless I walked briskly past them and continued on my way hoping to get out of reach of my nose.

Poking my head into the TOC I realized that my two cohorts in crime were still up discussing our project that we had briefed the commander on early that day. It is hard for any of us to let the day come to an end without getting every possible thought and comment, about the project, out on the table. Our schedules don't always coincide, so we take advantage of the nights to make sure we are all on the same page.  I was happy to see that even without coordination all of our thoughts were moving in unison, along the same lines of thought.

This is a huge project, with far reaching implications, one that will affect everything we do once we land in Iraq. It is probably the most important thing I have ever worked on in the military, at least in my humble opinion. I can't say much about it right now but hope to be able to expound upon it later in greater detail, but it might be a while. So don't get your hopes up.

Lights in our Quonset hut were out at 10:30, I ventured into the sheltered area walking purely by memory as I made my way to my bunk and felt around for my flashlight. The "get ready for bed" process is now engrained in my memory even after such a short time. Hardly without a thought I go through the procedure step by step, insuring that no step is missed and that all discarded or disrobed items are placed in their proper location, so they might be retrieved in the dark of the morning before dawn when I arise.

Have a great day

Chief Wiggles

Doing it the Wiggles Way






ITuesday, July 06, 2010

Events of the 4th of July

my last blog I failed to mention one event that occurred on Sunday July 4th. I know I already relayed the events of Sunday the 4th of July, but after writing my blog one event transpired that was the icing on the cake. It was an incredible day and the final event was the perfect close which encapsulated all of our feelings as we celebrated our nation's birthday.

It wasn't the fact that I finally had some time to myself that day to do some laundry and take a quick power nap, or the good food I was able to eat for dinner, or the fact that I was able to take a second long hot shower. I do have to say that the power nap was incredible and much needed. I was back at Fort Lewis on my bunk in the barracks we were in before we left for the field. Once I laid my head on my pillow I was out like a light. I don't recall that I have had such a restful sleep in such a short period of time.

In that it was Sunday later that evening we attended our LDS church services. It was fast Sunday and a large group of LDS soldiers, around 120, had gathered to partake of the sacrament and share their testimonies. We met in the mess tent, occupying over half of the available seats. It was quite a sight to behold, all of us sitting there in uniform sitting reverently as we blessed and passed the sacrament. Heads were bowed and eyes closed in reverent prayer, as we all enjoyed the spirit and perhaps contemplated our existence and upcoming movement to Iraq.

After the sacrament, one by one as prompted to do so, for the next 20 minutes, soldiers stood and shared their thoughts, feelings and beliefs. It was a very touching few moments, as soldiers shared their inner most emotions. I was moved to tears myself, as I partook of each of their spirits. Insights were gained and bonds further cemented as they showed their vulnerabilities and weaknesses, without fear of any exploitation.  

At the end of the testimony meeting, we all joined in unison as we sang the National Anthem. We were to sing verse one and three, but I could not get through the third verse as I was overcome with emotion. The third verse appears to be a soldier's verse, written especially for someone like myself. Our unified voices reverberated far beyond the walls of the tent, as we all sang with such conviction and purpose. Other soldiers standing in and out of the tent area respectfully stood at attention as we sang.

I was very grateful for an incredible day.

The days have been long and the training intense, as we make every effort to prepare ourselves for life as a soldier in Iraq.  Much of our time is spent learning about the enemy's methods and weapons of war and how to defend against them, so as not to be surprised by anything. Our responses need to be precise, sharp and quick. Our decisions for action must become second nature, calculated and correct, for our lives depend on it.

Back at Fort Lewis, in the food court of the PX, there is a Japanese fast food restaurant, owned by Koreans, that actually has BiBimBap, a Korean dish that I really enjoy. Every chance I get if there is someone heading that direction I hitch a ride so that I might enjoy a bowl. It is a bowl of rice, marinated beef and an assortment of Korean vegetables, such as spinach, bean sprouts, egg plant, radish, etc. and of course a big scoop of red pepper paste and a bit of sesame seed oil. It is an incredible mixture of fresh vegetables, flavor and spice. At times I long for fresh vegetables, ones that are not canned, processed, or boiled to death. I am not sure if canned corn counts as a vegetable, does it? I think the army does. And to my surprise the restaurant at times even has Kimchi, one thing I really yearn for.

I was sitting next to my commander in our HMMUV during training yesterday when he received a call from Mitch, the coordinator of the USO RV, who travels around military bases in this very large motor home, handing out goodies and allowing soldiers to watch movies, play video games and rock band. Their gig for the evening had fallen through and they were looking for another place to park their fun bus. Of course we were excited about the turn of events, promptly offering for him to come over to our area. They parked behind the mess tent and at around 6pm they were open for business with plenty of coolers full of free drinks, boxes of crackers, chips and cookies, and various games and movies.

"Grab the chaplain and let's go down to the pistol range", said the commander, as he looked across the table at me last night. There was a large group of our soldiers, around 70, who were over at the pistol range, firing for record with their 9mm. They had been rushed over there without any thought for dinner and had been there for several hours late into the evening.

We loaded up the commander's vehicle with boxes of tasty eatables from the USO van and headed to the pistol range. Once they discovered we had come bearing goodies, they all gathered round to grab whatever they wanted of the loot. It wasn't dinner but it was a good replacement, one very appreciated by the starving soldiers. It is always a good day when you can take care of soldiers, their content faces being the best reward I could receive.

Whenever I am in a situation without all the normal amenities of life in America and forced to live with only the basic requirements to sustain life, I feel a great appreciation for everything I have been blessed with. Small and seemingly insignificant things begin to matter. Life takes on a whole new meaning, one of more gratitude and appreciation. Hot and cold running water - Flush toilets and privacy - home cooked meals - fresh food - proximity of services - and of course family and loved ones, all appreciated much more. Nothing is taken for granted and nothing goes without being noticed.

I naturally begin to have an increased sense of what matters in life and what is really important. There is so much of life back home that really doesn't matter and isn't worth worrying about or fretting over. Preserving relationships with friends and loved ones stands out as the top priority for life. And serving others becomes the top priority of things that we should be engaged in during our daily lives.

Spend your time working on things that matter most.

Chief Wiggles



Sunday, July 04, 2010

I woke this morning with an unusual excitement to greet the day, on this our country's birthday July 4th. The commander and I rose this morning pretty much at the same time, with the same thing on our minds. It's the 4th of July let's make sure everyone is aware and appreciates what that means. We had our plans. The American flag, I purchased the day before, was still flying this morning when I woke a top the flag pole next to the mayor's cell and our first order of business was to turn on the song "American Soldier" by Tobi Keith, on our IPOD boom box and speaker system. We blared out the song for all to hear and both sang along with the song at the top of our poor voices. 

The commander had made an assignment for Alpha Company to be in charge of the 4th of July patriotic ceremony, which we promptly attended as soon as the song had ended. It was quite a sight to behold. Our battalion, some 300 soldiers, all in military uniforms lined up in formation, at attention, saluting the American flag posted at the front of the gathering. I became choked up as we all in unison repeated the pledge of allegiance. Three individual soldiers came to the front and sang the national anthem and the commander of Alpha Company gave a short patriotic speech repeating quotes from famous American historical figures and generals. It was a glorious moment for all in attendance, especially me.

One soldier, not from our unit, passing by paused to observe and later came up to comment on how wonderful that was, with the rhetorical question of, "Why doesn't my unit do something like that?. I was taken back by his question assuming everyone would be doing something in similar fashion on this our nations birthday. It seemed so obvious and so matter of fact. It seemed like the thing that every American would do, especially an American soldier.

I felt so honored to be in my military uniform on this day, representing our country, serving and willing to fight and even die that we all might be free. We as volunteer soldiers represent what American is all about. Some might ask why us or why me, but the better question is why not me and why not us. We definitely could be doing something else, home with our families and loved ones, having a barbecue and enjoying the fireworks. But we have all chosen to be here doing what we are doing, so that we might be able to make a difference somewhere in the world.

My mind and heart were full of appreciation for all that I have been blessed with and for all the many freedoms I enjoy in this land, the land of America. I appreciate all that have gone before who have paid the price and established the standard for what is required. I am grateful for all the other soldiers who have fought and died so that others might be free in lands around the world, for so many unknown faces, who now are able to live freely as they chose to do so. Many enjoy the benefits of freedom as a result of the sacrifices of so many who have paid the ultimate price.

God bless America the land I love. 




Saturday, July 03, 2010

It's 5:00 am. The moisture filled cold air of the early morning brought a chill to my head and hands protruding from within my warm sleeping bag forcing me to wake. Checking my watch, for a moment I thought I would try to go back to sleep but the urge to relieve myself was too strong to ignore. Changing into my PT uniform, to stay within regulations, I made the decision to stubble through the dark the hundred yards to reach the porta-potties before I explode. Stepping outside our metal Quonset hut, I notice an unusual morning mist hovering over the foliage in our area, as if we were living in some kind of fairyland in Lord of the rings.

I paused just long enough to notice the peculiar nature of the mist before I realized I needed to pick up the pace of my steps. I glanced across the fence and barbed wire surrounding our camp into the surrounding pine tree rich wooded area and wondered what it would be like to be camping there. I wondered what wild life might be lurking in the darkness of the morning. I thought it might be nice to venture into the woods to reconnect myself spiritually with the world around me. I was appreciative of this moment of gratitude for my surroundings and gave thanks in a silent prayer for this land we live in.

Upon returning I realized that the majority of the soldiers were still fast asleep and it would be an opportune time to shower. With excitement I grabbed my stuff and jumped into one of the open shower stalls. Finally alone I stand under the hot water thoroughly enjoying each and every drop of hot water, ignoring the rule to only take five minutes.

After showing I dressed in my usual camouflage uniform as I prepared for the day's activities of training, briefings and project development. With a wave of his hand my BN commander motions for me to go with him to chow. We made our way down the dusty dirt road about a half of mile to the mess hall (dining facility or difac as we call it), to partake of the usual morning cuisine of precooked scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes and grits, of course along with the usual sugar coated cereals, toast, and orange juice.

The difac is in a large army green tent full of tables and chairs and a minimal amount of stoves and equipment. Our food is all prepared and cooked elsewhere and merely brought out to the field to be warmed up prior to its consumption. We line up out front and proceed to enter the circus like tent, pausing momentarily to clear our weapons slung or holstered to our side and to wash our hands.

The line moves quickly as each plate of food paces down the line filled with the specific items each of us desire. I started out requesting each of the items available but as each day goes by I chose fewer and fewer items. Today I only had the grits and the toast. It hasn't taken long for the army chow to lose its savor and I continue to look for other options to partake of during meals.

Every one wakes hungry and for the most part ignores the fact that the food is far from acceptable under any other circumstances. We all pretty much accept it as standard army food, refraining from complaining and just eat to fill the void that has been created during the night. It is not bad, just not very tasteful. I still wonder if our eggs or grits have been tampered with, perhaps laced with saltpeter or other such additives.

Returning from the morning dining experience we geared up for a day of base defense training, which added a substantial amount of extra weight to our body frame. We try to train as we fight, to prepare ourselves for the way it will be when we are actually in Iraq. In full battle rattle, as we call it, we began a day of being out on the road learning a variety of army tasks and duties.

Today being the 3rd of July, the eve of the 4th, as the commander and I were making the trek to the difac we had cause to initiate a discussion about what we might do on the 4th to celebrate our nation's birth, given the fact that it is actually just another day of training for us. A variety of options were discussed and some assignments were made to conduct a small ceremony in the morning, to exhibit some amount of patriotism.

During our stroll I noticed the field camp flag pole bare of any American flag flying at the top. I voiced my concern to the commander, stating "What kind of army camp is this where they don't even fly the American flag". With that on my mind I stopped at the Mayor cell controlling the camp to inquire of the status of their flag. I was shocked to discover that the camp has a pole but no flag of any kind. Hearing that I decided there and then that I would do whatever it would take to insure that an American flag was flying on that flag pole by tomorrow morning.

Later today I was able to convince one of the majors with a car to transport me back down to the main Post Exchange to purchase a flag. With joy and excitement and with a new flag in hand I presented the flag to the mayor cell and asked if they could make sure the flag was raised and left flying every day until we leave this camp. I was elated when during dinner chow, several individuals commented on the glorious site of seeing the American flag atop the flag pole. I was very pleased.

God bless America.





Thursday, July 01, 2010

As expected the clouds have rolled in and the rain has finally started to fall, we are in Washington State you know. Each day the skies have clouded up in various dark patterns only to pass away without dropping any of their precious load, as if to tease us with the gentle threat of wetness. I welcome the slight drizzle they have brought us, remembering what summers are like back home in Utah, with 90 plus degree heat. I have been receiving phone calls from my family members describing the burning and dried condition of our lawn.

The rain, cooler temperatures and the surrounding pine trees reinforce that I am somewhere outside of Utah in July. Really there is nothing to complain about; the cool breezes blowing through the surrounding trees, the slightly cold nights, being with a large group of my closest friends, two hot meals a day, out in nature shooting guns, training and learning all kinds of cool things, etc..  This is a testosterone paradise. Sounds great huh? If we were just camping it might be perfect, but we are preparing to go to Iraq a war zone and we are constantly reminded that we are on an army base, out at a field camp.

Each day is full of training activities preparing us for our one year deployment to Iraq. Every aspect of military life in a war zone is repeated and reinforced to insure it becomes second nature to each and every one of us. Every detail has been taken into consideration, to insure that we all make it back in one piece, with as few of accidents or mishaps as possible. The intent is to get us out of our civilian mindset and into the mindset of a soldier, with awareness of our surroundings, attention to our military bearing, and concern for each member of our team or unit.

With the conditions in Iraq constantly changing, it is difficult to prepare us completely for what we might be exposed to and forced to react to. Many of us have been deployed before but each time we find ourselves in a totally different situation, with a new set of variables that we have to adapt to. Over half of our group has never been deployed before, creating a certain amount of stress and anxiety. It is hard to say what might be going through their minds at this point as we think about departing.

Even so, almost without exception, everyone appears to be taking the training very serious, as each one looks for ways to hone their individual soldier skills, with the mindset that one or all of these skills will be needed to save their lives. I am very impressed with the professionalism and skill level of all those are being deployed. This is a great group, with some of the best soldiers I have ever known. It is a privilege to be able to go with them to Iraq.

My eyes are heavy as my fingers hit the keys. I look up at the page to see a long line of the letter "K" typed a hundred times as I dosed off for a second. Strangely enough I am unusually tired or sleepy today, even after a good night sleep. I am concerned about my typed words making sense but realize I don't have any time to go back to edit my writings. Perhaps it is due to a lack of sleep or a combination of emotional, mental and physical issues. I am sure the events of the past couple of weeks have taken its toll on me, creating a desire for my body to rest. My body's inner clock is telling me to get some additional sleep, but I drive on.

I took a few minutes this morning to tie down my blankets to the top of my bunk and to secure my pillow so I won't be retrieving them all night long from a cold death on the cement floor below.

Music before bedtime seems to be the only thing that helps to keep me connected to the outside world, to my previous life, aside from the occasional calls back home. For the most part we are totally cut off from the outside world, with no opportunities to hear the news, to watch TV, to listen to the radio, or to read the paper and we have very little access to the internet. Our focus is our men and the military.

Humor permeates the field camp as we attempt to bring a certain amount of levity into our mostly serious business of soldiering. Nothing is free from mockery of course in a harmless joking manner and our teasing knows no bounds. We make light of whatever we can and poke fun of each other, especially me the token "old man". We can't afford to be too thinned skin or overly sensitive, for any sense of such would bring additional ribbing and bantering. No harm no foul in our minds.

That's it for now.




Life in the Field

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Life in the field:

The night air was colder than expected, forcing me to stay wrapped up in my sleeping bag with all of my extremities covered until such time that I just could not hold it any longer. The inconvenient location of the porta-potties some hundred yards away, was causing me some consternation. I was making every effort not to make the trek to relieve myself. The night in the field seemed unusually long anyway as I tossed and turned in an effort to get my feet used to the confining nature of the army's mummy sleep bag. I had an additional blanket draped over the slippery surface of the mummy bag but with every turn it ended up on the ground along with my pillow. Throughout the night I had to reach back behind my steel framed bed to retrieve my pillow that had slid off onto the cold cement floor.

Upon receiving a couple of requests earlier in the night to turn on my IPOD player, I turned on some acoustic bedtime tunes for about 30 minutes to set the right mood and atmosphere for sleeping. But in the darkness of the night there were still plenty of nocturnal activities conducted by the soldiers of our hut, which included the usual snoring, sleep talking, nightmares and just a whole lot of rustling and moving about. We all try to make the best of every situation, equally sharing the burden of keeping morale high and the attitudes strong.

Morning came soon enough as one by one soldiers came to life from within the  confides of their cocoon like bag. The soldiers began to rise greeting the morning sunlight with an unusual excitement on this our first morning in the field. Glancing at my watch I noticed that it was only 5:45 am. For a moment I pondered the thought of how nice the hot water of a field shower would feel against my icy skin and quickly rose, grabbed my towel and hygiene items and hopped over to the mobile shower units parked outside our Quonset hut called a K-span.

Each trailer of portable showers has 8 separate three foot wide by 8 foot long individual shower stalls that include a shower, a towel rack and a sink. I was pleasantly surprised to discover they were clean and apparently brand new. As usual I took advantage of the extremely hot water, think perhaps there will be times when we won't even have hot water to shower in. There is just nothing like a hot shower on a cold morning to help me embrace the morning with a renewed vigor.

I overheard one of the soldiers say the mess hall or dining facility was closing in 30 minutes, knowing we would probably be eating MRE's for lunch; I raced off to get a taste of something that resembles hot food. It is pretty hard to screw up breakfast anyway and at least if everything else is bad there is cold cereal to fill up on. Due to the large portion sizes and the amount of bad fat and calories in army cooking, I have decided to take it easy with the food, hoping to slim down a bit. 

"Fall in" the First Sergeant shouted and the day of training had begun. 


 

Back to Iraq

Monday, June 28, 2010

Déjà vu

It's 5:15. The sound of my bunk mate's alarm clock wakes me forcing me to open my eyes. I look around noticing the green camouflaged poncho liner draped down next to my bunk, reminding me that I am no longer in Salt Lake City, Utah. My bunk mate is off for his morning run and I have decided to take some time finally to capture the events of the last few days. It has been a whirlwind of events and activities of which my mind has not fully processed. I don't think that I have totally grasped the reality that I am once again deployed and on my way to Iraq for the third time.

The early morning sun shines through a crack in the blinds covering my window in this World War 11 vintage barracks, which has now become home to myself and some 300 plus group of soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq. The weight of my body creates a serious sag in the mattress and springs of this old styled army bunk bed causing my back to stiffen during the night provoking thoughts that perhaps I am too old to continue to be a soldier, but perhaps it is the weight of countless deploying soldiers who have slept on this bunk, weakening the springs and softening the mattress.  I quickly jump to my feet and force those thoughts far from my reality. 

Realizing that most of the other men are still sleeping, I grab a few toiletries and make my way to the group shower/ bathroom down the hall, trying to take advantage of the limited amount of hot water. I intentionally leave the lights off in the multiple headed shower point keeping it suitably dark so I can meditate for a moment as I allow the hot water to run down my head. One thing I love about the army is the shower heads and the forceful nature of the water pressure that exists in most army facilities. I relish this moment of solitude and time of personal reflection.

Today being Monday marks the start of the third day of my deployment. The hectic nature of the past few days has already blurred the events of my departure and separation from my family and loved ones. As you can imagine it has been an emotional roller coaster, leaving me totally exhausted both physically and mentally. As the day for my mobilization grew closer, the seriousness and reality of my eminent departure began to sink in causing me additional anxiety and stress. The last two weeks have been completely full to the max as I attempted to complete the list of honey do's my wife gave me , the transition of my work at FedEx over to others, the turning over of Operation Give to Elaine and Roseanne, and all the military preparation that is required to be mobilized.

The last few days prior to my departure were especially memorable as I was able to spend a lot of time with my family members, taking advantage of every opportunity to do things together. It was perhaps the first time in many years that all of us have been in town, with time to spend on doing fun things together. We all went out to dinner together several times, we went camping over Fathers Day Weekend, and we spent time up at my friend's home in Midway Utah , playing volleyball, tennis, swimming, and soccer and had opportunities to cook a variety of food together.

The night before I left, while at my friend's home in Midway, my son Daniel took the initiative to gather us all together in a family meeting and gave everyone the opportunity to vocalize their thoughts and feelings regarding my deployment to Iraq. One by one my immediate and related family members, as they were prompted by the spirit to do so, spoke of their thoughts and feelings towards me. It was a very emotional time for each of them as they expressed their true feelings regarding the fact that I am going to be away from them for one year. Words of love and affection were expressed. Words of caution and safety were discussed. The spirit moved each and everyone to convey words of wisdom, purpose, meaning, advice and of good will. Suggestions flowed as each person pondered the reality of how the next year was perhaps going to be without me. 

I was moved to tears by their heartfelt words, as I also pondered my own life without each of them. I will forever remember each of their loving facial expressions as their poured out their souls to me the family patriarch. Now in retrospect I wish I would have had a way to capture the event for posterity sake. It would be quite a treat for me to hear their words over and over again during my one year absence.

I shared with them the personal events that had transpired over the past few months that led to my ultimate decision to go on this deployment. My decision had been one of great spiritual significance, being prompted by the spirit to agree with my commander's request for my presence on the deployment.

Several months ago my commander, once he knew we were going to Iraq, called me requesting a lunch meeting with him. I was unaware of his intentions, but after a quick bite to eat, he informed me of  our units deployment to Iraq and his desire to have me with him. Immediately upon hearing his words I knew through the spirit that it was the Lord's will that I go.  He later requested permission to visit my home to meet with my wife and family members to discuss his desire. Each time the subject was brought up the spirit confirmed the importance for me to be on this deployment.

I knew in my heart that there is some unfinished business for me in Iraq, something that I have yet to accomplish. I still don't know what exactly I will be doing or how this will be fulfilled. I just know it is important for me to go and that the way will be prepared before me. I know it is the Lord's will that I be there to support my commander's mission, to serve my fellow soldiers and to work towards the betterment of the Iraqi people.  This is my purpose and my mission on this deployment.

Our soldiers are leaving for Iraq and will be part of the transitionary force with the mission of helping the Iraqi people to become more self reliant and self sufficient. We really do want the Iraqi people to be able to take care of themselves, to take control of their own neighborhood and to police their own communities. We want them to be in charge of their own destiny.

The best way we can do this is through winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, gaining their trust and building strong relationships with them. We can all support our troops in accomplishing this mission through getting involved in providing our soldiers with the items they need to distribute to the children and people of Iraq, such as; school supplies, medical supplies, sports equipment, hygiene kits, dental and personal hygiene kits, toys, etc.

Through giving much needed items to the Iraqi children we can change their perspectives, win their hearts and minds, promote a positive attitude about their future, encourage education, ease their suffering and prepare them for a brighter future.

Later on Monday:

With the events of the day coming to a close I find myself once again sitting on the edge of my bunk bed, putting words to the day's activities so that a picture might be drawn for my loved ones back home. I find writing somewhat therapeutic and perhaps more meaningful to me as I attempt to keep this experience meaningful and purposeful.  I intend to live this experience deliberately and abundantly, as I always try to do, staying focused on the true mission at hand.

It is easy to slip into a certain degree of numbness, oblivious to the bigger picture and what we are really trying to accomplish through our efforts. If I allow myself to do so the days will slip into weeks and the weeks into months, void of any impactful activities. I refuse to allow that to happen. It is easy to busy myself with self serving activities and to tie up my time just scratching the surface without any long lasting results. This would not be acceptable to me. I am sure that the way will be prepared before me towards a longer lasting more impactful solution for the situation at hand.

The day draws to a close as the sun begins to set, the natural lights of the sun begin to dim and fade into the west. A brisk breeze is blowing through the door and windows that have been left open in an effort to air out the smell of this musky old barrack. As the sun's rays diminish the temperature of the air outside begins to noticeably drop, almost to the point of being cold. Of course I am enjoying every moment of this coolness as I think of what I am about to be thrust into once I reach Iraq. There will be no words of complaining uttered by anyone, as we can all vividly remember the extreme temperatures we experienced last time.

I am constantly reminded of my previous two deployments by all the similarities but still find it difficult not to compare and make mental notes of the differences. So far I find this deployment more enjoyable but I am only a few days into it and will save any judgments at this point, knowing that things could change in a heartbeat. Perhaps I am just getting more flexible and tolerant in my older age and perhaps I know how to manage my expectations as it relates to the military or even it might be due to the level of my rank that offers me certain privileges and preferential treatment.

The journey has begun as I actually now long for the day when we are in Iraq and able to begin doing our job.