After the five day journey, I finally landed at Baltimore-Washington
International Airport (BWI).
My wife and I agreed that we wouldn’t tell our 4 ½ year-old daughter
that I was coming home; we wanted it to be a surprise for her. While I
was flying from Atlanta to BWI, my wife and daughter were getting a
pass to meet me at the gate. However, my daughter still had no idea I
was coming home, but she was full of questions.
“Are we flying somewhere?” My daughter asks my wife while they’re
walking to the gate.
My wife responds with “no,” but she knows what question is coming next.
“Then why are we here?” My daughter asks.
“We’re here to pick-up my friend.” My wife responds.
My daughter continues to ask questions like she’s an interrogator, but
my wife continues to answer the questions until they finally make it
to the gate where my plane pulled-up. They sit down away from the door
and wait for me to exit.
I sat at the rear of the plane, and there were several other Soldiers
on the plane that were also wearing their Multi-Camouflage uniforms
that all Soldiers in Afghanistan wear. My daughter notices the others
and tells my wife, “I really wish Daddy would come home…”
I deplane and I’m excited to see both of them. I almost walk past
them, as they sat away from the gate, but I noticed my daughter and go
up to her. I stand there while she looks up at me, and I grab her and
hug her. She didn’t know what to say, but I told her that I was there
and that I loved her! She began to hug and kiss me back and tell me
that she thought I was away in the Army. She still couldn’t believe
that I was home, but we hurried out of the airport, as I was ready to
take a shower and get cleaned-up.
As my wife buckles my daughter into her car seat, my daughter says
that “this is the best surprise ever!”
We finally make it home, where balloons and a welcome home sign are
placed on our door that our neighbors and friends put up while my wife
and daughter drove to the airport. The neighborhood kids were out to
welcome me, as well as a couple neighbors; it felt great to be home
I quickly got into the shower, which felt great; taking a shower in my
own house, and sitting on my own toilet – some things that we all take
for granted. After showering and changing into some “civilian
clothes,” it was off to one of my favorite places – Buffalo Wild
My daughter loves Buffalo Wild Wings as well, but my wife isn’t a fan
of it; my daughter has missed it just as much as I have these past
seven months. I ordered my usual boneless wings and Blue Moon w/Orange
Slice – ahhhhh!!!!
After dinner, it was some family time now – just the three of us
sitting and enjoying each other’s company. We just sat and talked; my
daughter did most of the talking.
I noticed that kids grow-up so fast and how smart that they become.
Three months after my daughter was born, I deployed to Iraq for a
15-month deployment and during that time, she learned to crawl, walk,
and say her first words – all of which I missed. This deployment, I
missed her first days of pre-school, and now see a “grown” girl that
knows how to write, spell simple words, color within the lines, and
knows more than you could ever imagine. It was fun talking to her
about what she knows and how excited she was to find out if the
Groundhog would see his shadow or not on Groundhog Dog. Over the
course of the fifteen days that I was home, I would learn so much
about how much my daughter has learned in these last seven months; it
My homecoming wasn’t the only surprise that my wife and I had in store
for our daughter – a trip to Disney World was just around the corner.
While my wife packed, I took my daughter out for a Father-Daughter
day, where we enjoyed some time shopping for Valentine’s Day gifts for
my wife. My daughter had no clue that we were going on a trip, let
alone a trip to Disney World.
The next morning we woke-up, and begin the 15-hour drive from Maryland
to Florida. We stopped a couple times along the way, including an
overnight stay at one of our friend’s house in Savannah, Georgia. The
“Shake ‘n Bake” family are really good friends of ours from back in
Hawaii. My wife actually became friends with their wife, “Bake,”
during my first deployment to Afghanistan in 2004-2005. “Shake,” the
husband, was actually deployed to Iraq during the time that I was in
Afghanistan the first time. When we returned in 2005, we both ended up
with the “Wolfhounds” and working in the same section. Our friendship
continued over the years and they actually took care of my wife and
daughter during my Iraq deployment in 2007-2009. After returning from
Iraq, we both moved away from Hawaii, and continued our careers in the
Army. It was great catching-up and it was like old times – starting
off where we all left off. The kids played and had such a blast that
my daughter did not want to leave – neither did we, but it was off to
Disney World we go…Hi Ho, Hi Ho…
As we drove through Orlando to Disney World, I began to get really
excited; excited to see my daughter’s reaction when we drove through
the entrance to the Walt Disney World Resort. We finally drive
through the gate and her eyes opened wide! She immediately knew where
we were at and gets excited! We continue to drive to our hotel and I
notice just how excited she was to be there. We stayed at the Armed
Forces Recreation Center, “Shades of Green,” which is an amazing hotel
on the Walt Disney World Resort.
We finally make it in our room, where my daughter is totally ready to
go to the parks; however we still had a day until we could. It’s Super
Bowl Sunday, and since the Ravens weren’t playing, I wasn’t interested
much at all. We decided to head to Downtown Disney to have some dinner
and walk around.
We begin our week-long adventure to the Disney Parks at Walt Disney
World and have a tremendous time. Taylor rode all the “big” rides that
she was tall enough for, which was all except for “Space Mountain” and
“Rock ‘n Roller Coaster.” Walt Disney World was a blast! I’m not going
to bore you with every detail about it, but it was a great time to
spend together and catch-up with the events and happenings over the
last seven months!
We make the journey back to Maryland; once again stopping-by the
“Shake ‘N Bake” family’s house for a short visit, then continuing on.
It was a great drive and I enjoyed being with the family very much!
My last week of leave was basically a week to relax. We enjoyed our
final days together before I headed back to Afghanistan to finish off
the tour. There was still one more day of excitement to come before I
left – Valentine’s Day!
My daughter and I finished our Valentine’s Day gift buying, and headed
to the flower shop to pick-up my wife’s flowers. I got her some
flowers, as did my daughter. In addition, I got my daughter a single
rose, which she loved a lot. We exchanged gifts and hung out, just
enjoying our time together.
My wife and I decided that we were not going to “celebrate”
Valentine’s Day on February 14th, rather another day to avoid the
crowds. A couple days later, one of our friends watched our daughter,
and we had a nice evening out, eating dinner at P.F. Changs, and
watching the movie, “The Vow.” It was nice to have a date night out.
The time with the family dwindled down to the day that I had to
pack-up the little that I was taking back to Afghanistan with me. We
drove to BWI where I would catch my flight back to Atlanta
International Airport, and eventually back to Kuwait and finally
My family went to the gate with me, again getting a pass to escort me.
We had a small breakfast from the food vendors at the airport and ate
one last “fast” meal together before I had to board the plane. Saying
“good-bye” is always hard for me; it may not seem like it, but it’s
hard! My daughter knew that I was going away again, and I imagine that
it was as difficult for her as it was for me.
I waved one last time to my wife and daughter as I walked down the
Jetway to the plane; the long journey back to Afghanistan had just
It is almost unheard of in the United States where a person works seven days or over eighty-four hours a week. I’m sure there are some occupations where it may be required to work a full week or over eight-four hours, but most of those jobs will not continue for a long continuous period. As a Soldier, or even a Civilian Government Service Employee or Contractor deployed in a combat environment, this is the norm.
Everyone knows that coming to a combat zone is not a vacation; long hours and days are expected without resistance or compensation. However, the Department of Defense has implemented ways to assist in letting those deployed to rest and relax, and just “let their hair down.”
Government Service (GS) employees are entitled to fifteen days of leave (including travel) if they serve a year, while Civilian Contractors are entitled up to thirty days of leave (including travel) for every year they serve. There is not a set amount of days for Contractors as each company has established their own agreement with the U.S. Government/Department of Defense. Soldiers on the other hand receive fifteen days of leave (not including travel) if they serve at least 270 days in a deployed combat zone or eighteen days if they serve more than 15 months.
During my two previous deployments, I traveled to Hawaii for my Rest & Relaxation (R&R) Leave, which authorized me an extra travel day because of the extra distance and travel required. Until just recently, the Department of the Army would “charge” the Soldiers for this leave, however that is no longer the case – its “free” leave now.
This year, I began my journey from Afghanistan to Kuwait to catch a civilian chartered plane back to the United States. As I previously discussed, flying by military aircraft is a challenge and not only undependable, but sporadic.
I was to report for my R&R Leave briefing at 10pm the day I was scheduled to depart. I arrived along with hundreds of other Soldiers ready to go on leave. Soldiers from all of Eastern and Northern Afghanistan come to one base to fly to Kuwait; therefore there are Soldiers that have already traveled by helicopter or other aircraft to arrive at this base and began the long journey home.
The briefers announce the flights going back to Kuwait over the next 24-hours and how many seats are available on each flight. Each flight has a different number of seats, depending on what is also being transported on the plane. Military planes, such as the C130 or C17, can be reconfigured inside to put cargo, vehicles, or additional seats inside. Since it cost the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money to fly these aircraft, the Air Force does a great job of packing the aircraft with as much as they can to make it as full as possible.
Tonight, the briefers state that there is only one flight in the next 24-hours that will hold fifty-four personnel, and throughout the room the Soldiers moan in disappointment. The briefers pull out a list with fifty-four names that will be manifested or scheduled for the flight. The names are being called and those lucky enough to make the list move to another room to receive an additional briefing. Name after name is being called and I’m watching the briefers eyes get closer and closer to the bottom of the page – hope for me flying was decreasing. Another briefer walks back into the room and tells the individual calling out the names something. The briefer calls out three more names, with the last being “SERGEANT FIRST CLASS JASO!” I yell “HEAR” and quickly move to the next room. As I leave, the briefer tells the remaining individuals to come back tomorrow at 10pm to get the flight information for the next day.
I’m excited to be flying within the next 24-hours and to get home! The lucky fifty-four receive our next briefing and we’re told that we must return to the flight terminal with all of our bags in three hours. I make the mile walk back to my room where I plan to take a shower, change into a brand new uniform and grab my bags. This could potentially be the last shower I have until getting to the States, so I had to take advantage of it. I tidy up my barracks room and walk over to the laboratory where one of the night-shift Contractors will drive me to the terminal. Before we go to the terminal, I go with the entire night-shift to “Midnight Chow” at our Dining Facility (DFAC).
“Midnight Chow” is exactly what it sounds like, a meal at midnight. It is designed to provide a meal for those individuals working on the night shift, or those really wanting a fourth large meal in a day. During the “Midnight Chow” hours, the DFAC serves a combination of a breakfast and dinner meals; usually I go for the breakfast selection. This would be one final meal on base before I head out.
I arrive at the terminal at 1am with a large backpack that contains my running shoes, additional changes of undergarments, blanket (poncho liner), laptop, iPods, headphones, Kindle and small hygiene kit – everything I need to survive for a long trip home.
The briefing occurs and we are told that we are on “lock down” and will be moving to another holding shortly, as our flight departs at 3am. I sit there and wait, while reading a book titled “WAR” by Sebastian Junger.
2am rolls around and we still haven’t moved to our holding area, when finally an announcement comes over the loudspeaker stating that our flight, “MOOSE 94,” has been delayed to 6am. I decided that I didn’t want to wait inside the airport for another four hours, so I make the mile walk back to my barracks to take a nap for a couple hours. Knowing how the military works, I wanted to be back at the terminal well before 6am, just in case there were any additional changes. I get back to the terminal by 5:30am where everyone on my flight is gathered in the room and a briefing has begun. I’m a little late for the beginning of the briefing, but they are explaining how the flight will not occur until 5pm later in the day and were told to return.
So, I make the journey back to my room, and go to sleep for a few more hours. Other Soldiers that had previously been on R&R and returned stated that I should just go and sit at the terminal as flights to Kuwait pop-up out of nowhere, so I decide that I’ll go right after lunch. I grab lunch, and also a to-go container with some sandwiches as I know that I’ll miss dinner (I hate flying hungry).
I make it back to the terminal just after noon, and find out that one of those “pop-up” flights to Kuwait had been announced at 11am, and that the seats were now all taken. So, I find a seat, open my laptop and begin watching boot-leg copies of Season 1 of one of my favorite shows on TV, “Hawaii Five-O.”
5pm approaches and announcements are being made that my flight, “MOOSE 94” will depart on schedule and all of us scheduled to fly on it will move to the “lock down” holding area shortly. We move to the holding area and the Australian Open Men’s Tennis Championship is live and on TV. Most of us begin watching it like it’s the Super Bowl, cheering and watching it with deep intensity. It’s the last Set and the winner of the set will be the Australian Open Champion…
“THOSE FLYING ON MOOSE 94, PLEASE PREPARE TO BOARD!”
A flight terminal employee begins announcing our names and we must board a bus that will transport us to our C17 Aircraft. My name is announced and I turn back at the TV to see how close the tennis match is; I’m going to miss the ending.
We take the bus to the plane where it is loaded with pallets of empty ammunition cartridges and casings for the Apache Attack Helicopter. We sit along the side of the plane, facing in toward the pallets. It’s loud and we’re forced to wear ear protection while we fly. The inside of the C17 is gutted out, and you can see the internal workings of the plane. There are no windows or any amenities like civilian aircraft, except for a lavatory inside the plane.
We finally make the four-hour flight to Kuwait where we land in the evening. It’s fairly warm, much warmer than it was in Afghanistan when we departed. We take a short bus ride to a military camp where we immediately go into several briefings. The first briefing explains to us where everything is located on the camp – the important things are clearly pointed out (McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut and the restrooms).
We move into a large tent at 2am where we receive our R&R Leave briefing where we are told exactly when we will fly to the States and get our flight itineraries for movement within the States. We take a Civilian Chartered flight back to either two hubs, Atlanta or Dallas, and then take normal flights to our final destinations. During the brief, we learn that our stay in Kuwait will be two days and our flight won’t leave until the evening of the second day. Ugh!
I go and sign for a temporary place to live, which is a tent with six bunk-beds. I was lucky enough to find a bottom bunk and immediately went to take a shower and go to sleep. Since I had nothing to do and didn’t feel like eating fast-food, I slept-in and watched some more “Hawaii Five-O” throughout the two days I waited for my flight. It was nice to finally just sit, relax and just do nothing.
It is finally our time to report. We report with several hundred people and we hear how the process will work. We receive a briefing from the U.S. Navy Customs, whom will ensure that we are not taking anything illegal back to the States, in addition to a couple more briefings. We also receive our flight itineraries and it looks like I’ll be home within the next 24-hours!
We begin the process of moving to our plane, which still doesn’t depart for another 10-hours. Each individual is weighed on a scale, along with our bags. We move to the U.S. Navy Customs tent, where we walk through metal detectors, and our bags are scanned. We finally move to an area known as the “Freedom Tents,” which is an area for us to sit and wait until it’s time for us to begin the 90-minute drive to the Kuwait City International Airport.
The tents are actually somewhat comfortable. There are several tents: movie tent, internet tent, game tent, sleeping tent, food tents, etc. I sat in a tent that only had chairs and some drinks and snacks in the back. There was free Wi-Fi, so I surfed the internet while we waited.
It was time to finally make our way to the buses, but before that we had to ensure that everyone was present. What better way to do that, than doing it the military way – get in a formation!
Everyone forms into rows and then the military person in charge of our flight, also known as our Troop Commander, states that he needs everyone in alphabetical order by last name. At first people thought he was joking and laughed, and then everyone realized that he wasn’t. How were three hundred Soldiers that have never met each other suppose to get into a formation in alphabetical order, with each row not to exceed 40 people – let’s say it was a mess.
After nearly 40-minutes of trying to get into formation alphabetically, we finally made it, or we thought so. The Troop Commander went down the line checking and verifying that everyone was present. A couple people were out of order, especially when you got to the “Smiths,” “Johnsons” and the other common names. They didn’t alphabetize themselves by their first names, which also had to be done.
As the Troop Commander moves down the line, he notices that someone is missing. He yells out the last name - “Carhartt!” Nobody responds, and then he yells it out again, this time stating the last four digits of their Social Security number. A female in the back says “here – but I changed my name, I got married!” Obviously her name change had not been updated in the military system yet.
The Troop Commander runs into a couple more situations like that where people had gotten married, but their names were not changed in the system yet. As this situation continued the three hundred Soldiers began to say all together – “SHE GOT MARRIED!” It became a huge joke and we all enjoyed it. Well….until we reached a Male Soldier whose name was changed….again the entire formation yelled out “HE GOT MARRIED!”
After verifying that everyone was present and that we were in lines of 40 people, we were ready to board the buses that would transport us to the Kuwait City International Airport.
But before we boarded the buses, the Troop Commander asked seriously “Does anyone need crutches?”
It got quiet, and then someone in the back of the formation yelled out, “Do you have any?”
The Troop Commander responded, “No!”
The entire formation busts-up laughing and we board the buses.
We make it to Kuwait City International Airport where we are transported directly to the tarmac and never go into the terminal. I see a very large Delta plane and begin to get excited. Normally our chartered flights are a small-no-name airline that have uncomfortable and narrow seats; which makes for a long flight. We enter the Delta plane which is extremely nice. It has a wonderful First-Class seating area with seats that recline into full beds and individual on-demand TVs. The First-Class seating area is reserved for the Soldiers that volunteer to load the bags onto the plane, as there are no Delta employees that do so.
The normal seats are comfortable with extended and adjustable headrests so you don’t end up on the Soldier to your left or right when you fall asleep. Each of the seats have their own on-demand TV, which had all the newly released movies, and another thirty or more to enjoy, plus lots of television-series’.
The first leg of our flight was a four-hour journey to Germany, where we would have a 90-minute layover while the plane restocked and refueled. Then it was off to Atlanta for a 13-hour journey and finally Dallas; I got off at Atlanta. Throughout the flight, I enjoyed several movies and slept a little, but I was too excited to see my family!
We arrived in Atlanta where we had to process through U.S. Customs again, and get one final briefing from the military. I had a five-hour layover in Atlanta, so I quickly went to the Delta counter and requested an earlier flight, which easily occurred. I was now leaving in less than an hour, enough time to clear security, grab a quick bite to eat and make it to my flight.
As we cleared Customs, there were nearly thirty Delta employees with noise makers, signs, and U.S. Flags clapping and cheering for us as we walked pass them. They were welcoming us back home! It gave me “chicken skin” (or “goose bumps”) as I walked pass them – it was awesome!
I finally boarded the plane for my final journey home – it was a 90-minute flight to Baltimore and I couldn’t wait to land and be with my family again…
Back in the United States, malls are packed with shoppers, kids are on Santa’s lap, and decorations cover the houses – it’s the Christmas Season. Everyone is trying to get that “right” gift for their loved ones and those last-minute shoppers are getting stressed….
However, this stress isn’t the same stress that Soldiers deployed in a combat zone feel during this time of year. It’s a very difficult time for Soldiers to be away from their family and friends, while some have the opportunity to go home for the holidays, most cannot. Military leaders are always reminding each other to watch after their fellow Soldiers, ensuring that everyone is taken care of and not showing signs of depression or anything worse.
For many of the young Soldiers, this is not only their first time deployed to combat, but their first time away from their family during the Holidays. I was twenty-one years-old the first time I didn’t go home for Christmas; I remember how different things felt that year – it wasn’t the same.
Now that the U.S. Armed Forces have been at war for over a decade, many Soldiers have missed Christmas several times over the years, including myself. In the last seven years, I have been in a combat zone for Christmas four times. For many, Christmas is just “another day” while deployed, while missions continue and the enemy keeps fighting.
Even though we continue to work straight through the holidays, I have always ensured that we recognize the day, and I do my part in helping my Soldiers “celebrate” in the best possible way. This year was no different and thankfully for many of my family, friends and supporters, I was able to make this Christmas in Afghanistan as fun and enjoyable as possible.
In November, I had begun asking my family, friends, and supporters to send Christmas decorations and small gifts that I could wrap and give to my Soldiers on Christmas Day. Over the two-month period, the decorations and gifts flowed-in. Our decorations were outstanding and very festive, with many people coming to our area of the base to just look at our decorations. I would often times see people just standing in front of our laboratory staring at our lights and decorations – probably thinking of the memories they had from previous Christmas’ back in the States.
On Christmas Eve in 2004, during my first deployment in Afghanistan, my soldier, Schwabie, and I placed gifts that my supporters had sent, next to everyone’s cots so that when they woke-up there were Christmas gifts there waiting for them. All the Soldiers in my platoon were excited to open several gifts on Christmas morning, and it wasn’t just another “normal” day! This year I wanted to do something similar, but this year I wouldn’t be running around the base placing gifts next to my Soldier’s cot, instead I placed them under the tree.
Just because someone receives gifts on Christmas Day, doesn’t make or break the day; it’s being around your loved ones and family. As a Soldier, we know the sacrifices that we and our families make and all the time that we spend away from each other. However, our family while deployed is the Soldiers that we serve with. The same people that protect our back during a fire fight, or the ones whose heart drops when they see the lead vehicle get hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) and all they can see is smoke and dust - not knowing the result. The same Soldiers that live each and every day with you; experiencing everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Those same individuals that know more about you than most of your true family does. When you can’t have your family with you, the next best thing is having your Brothers and Sisters in Arms with you. This year was no different!
This year, the team decided to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve where we hosted a celebration with all the personnel in the laboratory. We did a Secret Santa gift exchange where everyone had 6-weeks to get the right gift for their selected individual.
I picked Terry; whom I love to call Terrible Terry! She is a Department of Defense Civilian employee that works for the United States Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory (USACIL). Terry is from the Pittsburgh area, and like anyone from that city, you are a die-hard Steelers fan. So, being a Baltimore Ravens fan, I really had some great gifts in mind for Terry. I know I wouldn’t be getting her a Terrible Towel, but rather I’d get her a framed picture of a Raven sitting on a Steelers helmet pooping on it! Especially after this season where the Ravens beat the Steelers during both games they played each other!! Yep!!! The best gift of all!!! However, I knew that wouldn’t be the only gift I could give her, and I couldn’t bring myself to buying her any Steelers stuff, so I did some research and gathered information about her. What I learned was that she loves Pepsi and the Steelers – Ugh! So, luckily, I was able to get her a case of Pepsi and I did it get her some Steelers stuff. On Christmas Eve she opened her gifts in the right order - all the Steelers stuff first, saw the Pepsi and finally opened the framed picture last – “JASO!” Yep, she knew it was me!
On the other hand, my Secret Santa knew exactly what I loved….THE RAVENS! I opened several gifts including a Ravens Blanket and Bobblehead. My desk back in the States is covered with Bobbleheads, mostly Orioles, so I assumed that my Secret Santa was someone from my unit. My Secret Santa also got me some Starbucks Hot Chocolate and mugs, which everyone knows I LOOOOOVVVEEEE Hot Chocolate in the winter!!! After attempting to guess my Secret Santa, I learned it was one of our Latent Print Technicians, Miss Blackhawk, and not one of the Soldiers from my team!
I thought it was too funny, as several weeks earlier, Miss Blackhawk was bragging to me that she knew who had me as my Secret Santa. She was trying to get information about me, and saying that she was going to pass it off to them…however she was sly!
On Christmas Day, we got to sleep-in. I woke-up, opened the gifts that my family sent me and enjoyed all the Ravens goodies that I received, in addition to everything else! We ate lunch together as a team and just enjoyed each other’s company; it was a relaxing day.
Celebrating Christmas while deployed isn’t the best thing in the World, but being around great people and trying to make the best of it really helps the fact of being away from your family. I look forward to spending Christmas next year with my real family and seeing how excited Taylor gets when opening her gifts!! MELE KALIKIMAKA!!
THIS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON MONDAY, JANUARY 9, 2012.
It was the summer of 1995; the Boys Cross-Country team was meeting behind the football bleachers at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, in Long Beach, California. It was our first day of summer practice, and as we waited for our Coach to arrive, we all talked about our summer adventures.
The scheduled practice time was approaching and we began to see young unfamiliar faces; it was our incoming freshman! We knew that we had extremely good incoming talent, and we were very excited to see who was joining our team. We needed all the help that we could get, as just two years prior when I was a freshman, we were beating only two teams in the league - Compton High School and Long Beach Jordan High School, both of which couldn’t field a proper team, therefore we usually won by default.
Each year, we gained more and more talent and the 1995 Season, which was my junior year, would be the best season that we had to date, and many of us were excited to be competing for the league championship. We had our eyes on that Moore League trophy, which hadn’t see the hands of a Poly student for a very very long time, but it was going to take a lot of team effort to get our hands on it.
I went to introduce myself to the new lads and hear a little about them before we began practice.
The spokesman of the group was Ranger Ryan. He talked to the “upperclassmen” like he was one of us, and displayed no sense of fear when talking to us. The seniors sensed that no fear attitude that Ranger Ryan had, and rewarded him with several dips into the school’s pool during the season. After graduating from high school, Ranger Ryan actually used his determination and fearlessness as an Airborne Ranger assigned to the U.S. Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, even deploying to Afghanistan in the early years of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Another incoming freshman was a kid with a great smile, and longer hair that was parted in the center. You could tell that he was a women’s man – one that all the girls wanted. He didn’t say much at first, just observed.
Coach George Wright finally walked out of his extremely small office wearing khaki short shorts, an old race t-shirt, white running hat, and running shoes. He was carrying his clipboard and approached us and introduced himself in his scratchy deep voice. He explained how we would do a warm-up run to Signal Hill Park, then stretch and continue our work-out.
We ran out of the school, passing by V.I.P. Records, whom Snoop Dogg made famous in one of his music videos, ran through Long Beach City College’s Pacific Coast Campus to Signal Hill Park. It was only about a mile from school, but many of the freshmen didn’t understand how this was just a warm-up.
Tyler Noesen, that young kid with the pretty hair that just initially observed, warmed-up with Nate Dogg and Chaddy, our two fastest runners on the team. After the warm-up and stretching at Signal Hill Park, the two fastest freshmen, Tyler Noesen and Marty, would be joining Nate Dogg, Chaddy, and the Varsity team during the work-out. I was amazed how well our freshmen were doing!
As the Cross-Country season went on, the freshman got stronger and faster, winning their grade divisions at invitational’s throughout Southern California. Tyler and Marty led the way, and as the season progressed, the entire team became closer and closer friends – more of a family, rather than just teammates. We began to all hang-out after school was over, before and after practices, and on weekends – we were becoming a team.
Tyler and I started to become very good friends; we spent a lot of time together. At that time, I was also beginning to organize the 2nd Annual Bixby Knolls 5k/10k Run, which at the time was Long Beach’s largest running event. Long Beach didn’t have many local road races, and as a Cross-Country runner, I didn’t like traveling throughout Southern California to just run in a race, so I decided to start my own race – which I did! As a 16-year-old High School kid, I needed all the help that I could get, and asked Tyler to join the Race Committee – he gladly accepted.
Tyler was very busy in high school. Not only was he running Cross-Country and Track, and volunteering as the Course Director of the 2nd Annual Bixby Knolls 5k/10k Run, but he also played saxophone in the marching band, played on the school’s soccer team, played club soccer, and was in the highest academic magnet program in the school, called “TAPS.” All of that, while still having a social life!
Tyler and I always double-dated to the Formals/Dances, whether it was Winter Formal, Sweethearts or even my Senior Prom (when he was a sophomore). He was a blast to be around, always smiling and always made us laugh! You couldn’t help but want to be around him.
In the summer of 1996, the cross-country team made our annual trip to Coach’s cabin in Mammoth Mountains. Mammoth is known for its awesome ski resorts in the winter, but in the summer we used it for training in high elevations while working on hill-training. It was also a time for the team to become even more cohesive.
One night after eating dinner and playing some Phase 10, the team came together and decided that we would win the Moore League Championship and go to the Cross-Country State Finals in Fresno. That was a difficult task to achieve, as the year prior we placed third in league and qualified for the Southern California Preliminary race, which was two races short of qualifying for the State Finals.
Coach sort of smiled. Tyler knew how much Coach loved his hair and how it always was perfect. Tyler yelled out to Coach and bet him – “let us shave your head if we win CIF [Southern California Championship].” Coach agreed. That would mean that we would have to beat the best teams in Southern California, which was no easy task. Ten years later, Coach’s wife, Mrs. Coach, told me that she asked Coach why he made that bet – “they’re an outstanding team; they’re going to win league, CIF [Southern California Championship] and go to State” she told him - He never responded….
In the spirit of shaving Coach’s head, and to motivate us in achieving our goals, Tyler decided that each week of the season, one runner on the team would shave their head, ultimately leaving Coach the last one with hair. Tyler was the first to shave his head, and each week as a new runner shaved their head, Coach would give them a cycling cap to keep their head warm before and after the work-outs and races. Soon, you’d see all of us wearing our cycling caps, all except for Coach.
Mrs. Coach was right! The team won the Moore League Championship; we won our heat in the Southern California Preliminaries, and won the Southern California Championship! We qualified for the California State Championship race, but before that, we celebrated our victory and prepared to shave Coach’s hair.
A local sports grill hosted a celebration for us following our victory. The local cable networks, along with the newspaper were present for the festivities! We stood in front of the restaurant where Coach talked to the team and how proud he was of us – the accomplishment that we made over the years was remarkable. Finally, Coach sat on the stool and Tyler took the first bit of hair off! It was great!!!
Coach’s hair was now gone and it was time to focus at the State Finals. My Mom & I rode with Tyler and his parents to Fresno. Tyler had just gotten his driving permit, so he drove a lot of the way. We finally made it up to Fresno, prepared for the race, and came in an outstanding 4th Place overall, just a couple points from third. The team would eventually take the State Championship after I graduated, and the tradition of our school winning remains today!
After I graduated from high school, I went to the University of Arizona for a year. Tyler had moved up as the Assistant Race Director of the Bixby Knolls 5k/10k Run, which was now in its fourth year. I still Race Directed the race, all the way from Arizona – lots of meetings over the phone and a lot of work fell on Tyler’s shoulders to keep things moving. We had a very successful fourth and final year of the race – one that I’ll never forget.
After that race, Tyler and I somewhat faded away from each other. I later joined the Army, while Tyler graduated from Poly and went to Cal Berkeley. We were both excelling at what we were doing – he was still running, now running on Berkeley’s Track and Cross-Country teams, while I was progressing through the Army ranks.
For those that know Tyler, he wasn’t very good at returning phone calls or e-mails; but if you had the opportunity to talk with him – it was like old times again – you always started where you left off. Over the years, Tyler and I didn’t talk too much, but exchanged e-mails and phone calls from time-to-time. But I never forgot all the fun times that we spent together!
It was July 8, 2006 – Nate Dogg, whom was the Co-Captain of the Cross-Country team with me our senior year of high school, was getting married. Nate always kept in good contact with the runners on the team, and always kept us informed with what each was doing. After Nate Dogg’s beautiful wedding in San Luis Obispo, California, he told me that Tyler was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer just a couple days before – Tyler was only 25 years old.
I didn’t know what Pancreatic Cancer was, nor did I know what the pancreas does in the human body, but what I did know is that Tyler was a fighter and that he will fight through anything and will be okay. I know so many people that had different types of cancer and were able to fight it off, so I just assumed Tyler would be the same and be okay in a couple months.
Nate Dogg would continue to provide me with updates on Tyler and it seemed like he was staying strong and fighting it. I had called Tyler several times throughout the years but didn’t hear back from him. His mom would also provide me with updates, but things seemed to be going well – at least it sounded like it was.
It wasn’t until I received an e-mail from Tyler asking me for my help in the winter of 2010 did I begin to realize how severe his cancer was. He asked me to go to Washington, D.C. in June to participate in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Advocacy Days. I immediately told him yes and I registered without knowing what I was getting myself into – I just wanted to help a long-time friend!
As time approached, I was getting more and more excited about seeing Tyler and his parents. It was finally the day, and instead of getting a hotel room in Washington, D.C., I decided to drive and take the D.C. Metro (Subway) into the area everyday, which was about a 90-minute trip each way for me.
Since this was my first Advocacy Days, I had to attend the “newcomers brief,” where I first learned what I was going to be doing. I quickly learned that I would be advocating to Congress about the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act! I went from someone that doesn’t know what a pancreas does, to someone that is going to be talking to Congressional members and their staff about a bill that could become a law. WOW! What did I get myself into?
After learning more about pancreatic cancer and about all of those that have become victims, I began to appreciate the fight that Tyler has made. It was nearly four years since Tyler was diagnosed and I learned during the newcomer’s brief that the five-year survivability rate of anyone diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer was only 5%. Tyler was a year from beating the odds….
The newcomer’s brief ended and I went out to look for Tyler and his parents. The banquet room was filling-up with hundreds of people wearing purple – the awareness color for pancreatic cancer. I look over to the tables that the California delegation was sitting at, and saw a ton of people gathered around one table. I walk toward that table and see Tyler’s parents; his Mom begins to smile as she sees me approaching, interrupts Tyler, whom is sitting in a wheelchair talking to another pancreatic cancer survivor, and has him turn in my direction as I walk closer! I’ll never forget the smile, the look in his eyes, and the excitement he showed in just seeing me there!
Tyler and I sat there before the conference began and talked like we were still in high school; non-stop talking, laughing, joking, and remembering the good old times. It was amazing, but it was finally time to begin the first day of Advocacy Days.
The conference began with pre-selected individuals sharing their stories about how pancreatic cancer has affected them. Tyler was one of the pre-selected survivors.
Tyler shared his story about how he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006 at the age of 25 after feeling severe pain in his abdominal area during a soccer game. He went to his dad, whom is a doctor, and they immediately began tests and discovered that he had pancreatic cancer.
As the day went on, more and more people approached Tyler. They knew his story, read about him or saw pictures of him. Everyone loved Tyler and as I spoke with those waiting in line to see him, I learned how much he had influenced, motivated, and energized them in continuing to fight this horrible disease. He was always the popular kid in school, and he was no different in the pancreatic cancer community!
Tyler was still fighting the cancer and was now living with the side effects of all the radiation and chemotherapy that he had received over the years. He was now on dialysis and had to go to treatment centers a couple times a week. His legs were weak from treatment that he was receiving prior to the advocacy days and was forced to use a wheelchair.
He disliked having people cater to him or help him – he could do almost anything himself and he did! I asked Nate Dogg before I went to Advocacy Days what should I expect, or what can I say or not say – he said that Tyler was open to discuss anything. Nate Dogg ended with, “don’t feel sorry for him and don’t help him unless he asks for it – he doesn’t want people to feel sorry for him.”
Tyler had to leave the first day of Advocacy Days early because he had to receive his dialysis treatment a few blocks up the road from the hotel where the conference was being held. Tyler and his dad walked to the center, while his mother and I stayed for the remaining of the conference. We would link-up after the conference was over for the day.
After hearing how our talks on Capitol Hill were going to work and rehearsing with my group that I was assigned to, it was time for Tyler’s mom and I to walk to the dialysis center to meet-up with them. I didn’t know what to do or say once we arrived, and we walked in and said “hi” to Tyler whom was hooked up to many IVs and tubes. He asked the nurse for a chair and wanted me to sit there so we could talk. His parents went to the waiting room to allow us to talk and for the next two hours Tyler and I caught up. He told me about difficulties and struggles that he faced over the years and the reasons why he continued to fight through it and never give up. He wanted to hear about me and my “war stories” from being deployed to Iraq – and I told him so many things that I’ve never told anyone else – only he and those that experienced it with me know! He described himself as a Soldier – like me, fighting a war to stop the enemy from killing innocent people. He was the Soldier, fighting the war on pancreatic cancer, trying to kill it before it killed him and others! He was more of a Soldier that I could ever be – I went out and patrolled several hours a day for 15-months at a time; he fought the enemy 24-hours a day for the last 4-years!
After a very sentimental two-hour dialysis session, we all went to dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse near George Washington University. Tyler had let me push him to the restaurant, instead of him wheeling himself. We enter the restaurant where there are no tables immediately available, and the hostess asks if we’d like to wait in the bar area, which we gladly did.
Before she escorted us to the bar area, she asked us for our name, Tyler’s dad initially began to give them my name, and instead I said, pointing to Tyler’s dad, “George!” Tyler’s Dad name isn’t actually George, just a name I blurted out to be funny.
Tyler’s dad smiles and says, “Yes.”
The hostess responds, “Your last name, Sir?”
Tyler’s dad responds with “Foreman.”
“This way Mr. Foreman!”
Tyler and I look at each other and have huge smiles on our faces – it was like old times – all the fun we had growing-up!!
While we waited for our table, the Noesen’s briefed me on what I should or shouldn’t say during the congressional meetings that were occurring the next day, and discussed their game plan. They had some difficult members of congress, including the Republican Congress member from Huntington Beach, California who had lost his very own brother to Pancreatic Cancer, but did not want to support the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act. They were also meeting with big-name and influential Congressional members that they needed to convince to co-sponsor the Act.
After having a very delicious dinner, we all walked back to the hotel where Tyler and continued talking for several more hours until I realized that it was past midnight. I still had to make the 90-minute commute back to the Baltimore area, get ready for the next day, sleep and travel back to D.C. by 7am!
I wasn’t tired one bit the next morning – a good cup of coffee and some food was all I needed to be motivated to meet with Congress. I wasn’t in the same small group that Tyler was in, so we agreed to meet for lunch after our morning individual meetings with Congress. I linked-up with my group whom consisted of a set of parents that lost their daughter, whom was my age, to pancreatic cancer a couple years before; and also another person that had lost their father to pancreatic cancer. We visited the staff of five congressional members during the morning session, which was all very successful. I later found out that all five congressional members that we met with co-sponsored the Act following our visit!!
I linked-up with Tyler and all 400 advocates in front of the U.S. Capitol building for a group photo. It was very hot and humid this day and I was beginning to sweat through my shirt, but it was all worth it! Before the picture, I was able to meet Mrs. Pausch, the wife to Randy Pausch, the Carnegie-Mellon Professor that gave “The Last Lecture” before passing away from Pancreatic Cancer. If you have not seen his last lecture – you need to – it’s a must – go to the library and check it out for free!
Before and after the group photo, Tyler was surrounded by those wanting to take photos with him, talk with him or just meet him. He was a celebrity and I was just standing back and watching how much he has influenced others. I was thinking that God put him this situation to help others, even though I thought why he was chosen – he and his family have suffered so much!
Like I said it was hot this day, and we had to eat lunch, and then make it to the Senate office building where we had a meetings with Senators Feinstein and Boxer. The title “Capitol Hill” is no lie – it’s a hill! Imagine being in a wheelchair trying to wheel yourself around….I asked Tyler if I could help – he didn’t resist. For the rest of the afternoon, I had the privilege of being able to push him. Some may say that it wasn’t a privilege, but to me it was! After our meetings with the Senators, people came to me and told me how lucky I was to assist Tyler – they all told me that nobody helps him, he does everything himself – I was lucky!
Once we were finished advocating for the day, Tyler wanted to go to the pool at the hotel. I didn’t have anything to wear besides the business-casual clothes that I had been wearing all day – but Tyler convinced the hotel staff to get me something to wear in the pool – which they did!
Tyler’s parents went to Trader Joes to get us dinner chow while Tyler showed me pictures on his iPad from the day that he was diagnosed all the way through all of his treatments, to some recent photos. He showed me the pictures of all the weight that he had to gain to prepare for chemotherapy treatments, to how much he suffered through the entire process. We talked for another several hours, getting in and out of the pool, and even enjoying the Jacuzzi. Once again it was past midnight and I needed to get going home…Advocacy Days was over!
Over the year, Tyler and I talked more, he told me about his trip to Hawaii and how much he loved it. He told me about his wife and how she was excelling in school, and how he was working a few hours a week. He did suffer some set-backs over the year, but he continued to fight, win, and fight again. He was a Soldier that kept fighting.
It was June 2011, only three weeks before I deployed to Afghanistan, and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Advocacy Days was about to begin. Tyler and his parents were scheduled to attend again, and I was super excited to see them. Tyler underwent surgery in late May, so I knew that his attendance was dependent on his recovery. Following his unsuccessful surgery, where doctors were attempting to remove the tail of the pancreas, he suffered high fevers and other complications that prevented him from traveling to D.C. He was hospitalized for a couple weeks, but I still went to D.C. to advocate on his behalf.
During the 2010 Advocacy Days, I had met so many people through Tyler that it seemed like I already knew everyone this year! I was excited to see everyone again and luckily Tyler’s mom sent me many details about Tyler so I could answer the questions of “how is Tyler” or “what’s going on with him.” I walk in the banquet room and immediately people come up to me and say “hi JB” or “how’s Tyler doing?” That popularity that Tyler had in 2010 was still there, and I was able to share his story this year.
I shared his story and took so many pictures with people that I began a small internal competition with “Mrs. Garrett” from the 1980’s TV Show, “The Facts of Life.” She is a Pancreatic Cancer survivor that was sitting at my table and I was trying to see who was more popular – her or I! I have to concede, I think she won, but it was close! J
Over the two –day period, I heard so many stories about Tyler and how much his story has influenced so many others. It was amazing to hear how many people wanted me to say “hi” to him! It showed how many people were praying for Tyler and how much he was loved!
The Pancreatic Action Network asked me if they could add more Congress members to my already busy schedule. They wanted me to visit the same members that I visited last year, in addition to visiting all the Congressional Members that Tyler visited the previous two years. They wanted to make an impact – they wanted me to share Tyler’s story – they wanted me to explain that two years ago, Tyler walked into their office; last year he wheeled into their office; this year he was in the hospital and I was visiting.
I ended up visiting with seventeen different members of Congress or their Staff in one day – it was a very long, but important day! I did what I had did the year prior after the final day of Advocacy Days – I called Nate Dogg!
In 2010 I told him how excited I was to be with Tyler and told him all about everything that had occurred. In 2011, I told him the same thing, but told him how much of an influence Tyler has on others!
I flew to California the day after Advocacy Day, where I met with my family before I deployed to Afghanistan. Nate Dogg, his wife and my family met-up several times in the ten days I was home. We also all made the trip to Tyler’s condo in Malibu before we headed to a Dodgers Game.
This was the first time my wife met Tyler, after hearing about him for several years. She knew all about him, but never met him. It was awesome – just sitting there and talking with him. He was just released from the hospital a day or two before we visited him at his house. I know that he was in a lot of pain, but he never wanted to tell us or show us. He was very much interested with what had occurred during Advocacy Days, and I knew he would, so I brought all of my paperwork and notes with me so I could share. We all laughed, shared stories, and enjoyed our time with him – that would be the last time that I would see him…..
Today, I received a Facebook message from Nate Dogg telling me the news that I wasn’t ready to hear… “We loss Tyler this morning.”
I sat in my office just before our daily morning meeting on Monday, January 9, 2012, just finished seeing the front page of the online version of “The Baltimore Sun” and how everyone was excited that the Steelers lost their first round Play-off game to the Denver Broncos. I was happy and about to post how excited I was as my status on Facebook…..then I saw Nate Dogg’s message…
I sat there with a heavy knot in my throat and just thought about Tyler and everything that he went through over these past 5 ½ years and how he beat that 5% statistic. He was pushing through and continuing to fight each and every day – like a real warrior! I thought about his parents, “Mr. & Mrs. George Foreman,” and how they did everything they could to make Tyler more comfortable and happy! I can’t imagine what they and Tyler’s wife are going through today…I can’t even imagine.
Too many people have lost their lives because of Pancreatic Cancer and it seems that many of our elected officials don’t let it faze them. Pancreatic Cancer is the only Top 10 Killer that hasn’t made significant increases in survivability over the years and still has a survivability rate in the single digits. I can go on and on with statistics, but I’ll leave those to 2012 when I go in front of Congress after returning from my deployment to Afghanistan to tell them that Tyler may not be physically here, but he’s here in spirit!!!
SAC IS FLAT BUDDY – KNOW IT, FIGHT IT, END IT!!!
Tyler & I during the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Advocacy Day on June 21, 2010 in Washington, D.C.
Tyler telling his story and the importance of the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act to Senator Fienstein’s assistant in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2010.
I’m discussing the Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act (S. 362) and Tyler Noesen’s battle with Pancreatic Cancer, with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Legislative Assistant, Nora Connors, on June 14, 2011.
I’m joined with long-time friends and Cross-Country runners, Tyler Noesen and Nate Dogg on June 18, 2011 at Tyler’s Condo in Malibu, California.
I have been deployed for nearly six months and thought I would do a fast update on my deployment goals that I posted at the beginning of December. December was another difficult month for me as we prepared for the holidays, worked on merging two different laboratories into one, finishing two college classes, starting a new weight-training program/plan, and trying to run as much as possible (which wasn’t much). Overall, December was a busy one, but I’m looking forward to January where I hope to get back on track. Thanks again for following my blog and below are my goal updates:
GOAL: Run at least 1,000 miles during the deployment.
UPDATE: I ran 329.98 miles since arriving in Country. In December, I wanted to run 80 miles; however I ran a disappointing 32.48 miles. Along with my 6-week break from running in the October-November timeframe, plus this month’s extremely low mileage, it puts me severely behind in reaching my goal. Since I most likely lost all of my build up and endurance from my first three months here, I must continue to work at building myself back up to ensure that I don’t injure myself and get as close to my goal as possible, which I’m once again motivated to reach. My plan now is to run 80 miles in January, but I still need to run 670.02 miles in 6 months to achieve my goal.
GOAL: Lose 30 pounds
UPDATE: I weighed myself this morning, and lost or gained nothing – I remained at the same weight, which means that I have lost a total of ten pounds since arriving in country. I have been working on weight training a few hours five days a week, which my “trainer” stated that I would most likely gain weight as we all know that muscle weighs more than fat…we’ll see though. This does, however put me 5 pounds behind the average weight that I most lose monthly to reach my goal, but I’m still focused at achieving it and will. I need to lose another 20 pounds in 6 months to achieve my goal.
GOAL: Complete at least 36 Semester Hours of college, which will take me to 120 Semester Hours.
UPDATE: I completed two courses in December, which totaled 6 Semester Hours, earning an “A” in both classes. This now brings me to 12 Semester Hours completed in the last 6-months. As I stated last month, I finally came to realization that I would not achieve this goal, but would continue to make great strides in my education. I actually will not be taking any classes this next term as I will be going on R&R during the next term and wanted to spend maximum amount of time during my 15-days of R&R leave without educational distractions. I’ll get back on-track with classes in March.
GOAL: Write EVERYONE that writes me!!
UPDATE: So far I have written EVERY PERSON that has written me, but I’m about forty letters behind at the moment, especially after the holiday rush. I still plan on maintaining this goal and to date, I have written 500 letters since I arrived in country.
Today my battalion’s Command Sergeant Major (CSM) and Commander toasted in the New Year and talked to us (the Soldiers in the Battalion) about the accomplishments that the unit made in 2011 and how we will continue that in 2012. I’ll go into details in a later posting, however CSM French challenged us to make three professional and personal goals for 2012 – and tell someone! Like I previously mentioned in July, telling someone about your goals will keep you accountable to them, and will also assist in motivating yourself in accomplishing them. I’ve spent the day thinking about goals that I want to accomplish this year, however I’m still short of thinking of three, but I’m sure I’ll think of them as time goes on; so far here are my 2012 New Year’s Resolutions:
PERSONAL GOAL - 1: Run at least 1,000 miles during the year.
REASON: Even though this goal is also a goal that I had for myself during this deployment, I wanted to make it one of this year’s goals in order to continue to motivate me in continuing the successes that I’m making here with my running. During my 2004-2005 deployment to Afghanistan, I came back in the best running shape that I had ever been in and the fastest, however I let it slip as I didn’t establish post-deployment goals in keeping me motivated to continue all that hard-work. This will hopefully allow me to continue my success and prepare me for future races, such as the Philadelphia Rock ‘N’ Roll Half-Marathon (in September); Army 10-Miler (in October); and maybe even a late fall Marathon…
PERSONAL GOAL - 2: Complete at least 18 Semester Hours of college.
REASON: I originally wanted to maximize my “free” time during this deployment to take college classes and get me closer to earning my Bachelors of Science in Public Administration with a Minor in Emergency Management. However as of now, I’m 33 Semester Hours away from earning those Degrees and once I return home from the deployment, I want to maximize my time with my family, so I don’t want to be “bogged” down by classes, so I figured that I would take one class each term and get much closer to earning my degree. Once I complete this goal that will leave me with 15 Semester Hours needed to complete my Degree!
PERSONAL GOAL – 3: Spend More Quality Time with my Family
REASON: In the past, I’ve many times put my work and my Soldiers before my family. Many may argue, including me, that training and leading your Soldiers and being prepared for combat will save your life or the lives of your Soldiers during combat, however balancing that with your family is important too. Since my daughter was born 4 ½ years ago, I’ve spent more time away than with her. Since she was born, I have been deployed for 21-Months, spent nearly 8-months away from home due to training events ; not been home for Christmas 3 times; and came home after dinner a countless amount of times. Now that the wars are coming to a close and less troops are being deployed, I will still make training Soldiers and myself a priority, but will focus at making more time for the family.
PROFESSIONAL GOAL – 1: Apply for 2013 White House Fellowship
REASON: For those that know me well, there are two places that I’ve always dreamed of working at since I was a little kid – THE WHITE HOUSE and THE PENTAGON. Those individuals that work at those two buildings are some of the most influential people in the World, and regardless of political affiliation or beliefs, they are people that can and will impact so many others in the World. I’ve always been attracted to the need of assisting others and doing my part in making our Nation a better place. I may be a small needle in the haystack if I had the opportunity to work at either one of those places, but I feel that if I don’t at least try getting there, I’d always kick myself. So, this year, I not only plan to work with the Department of the Army’s Human Resource Command to attempt in obtaining a position at The Pentagon in 2013, but also plan to apply for the 2013 White House Fellowship.
PROFESSIONAL GOAL – 2: Maximize My Efforts in Scoring the Highest Score Possible in the Army Physical Fitness Test
REASON: Truthfully, I’m not exactly sure what/when the new Army’s Physical Fitness test will consist of, nor when it will take effect. At this point during the deployment, we’re still focused at taking the current Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) which consists of push-ups, sit-ups and a 2-Mile Run. My goal is to get the highest score that I’ve ever had during the current APFT and doing the best possible during the new physical fitness test when it’s implemented. This includes continuing a weight-training program and being focused at getting stronger and faster.
PROFESSIONAL GOAL – 3: Unknown at this time….
REASON: As I think of an additional professional goal, I’ll post it.
***THIS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON DEC. 17, 2011***
I have had a very busy last couple of months and have not had the opportunity, nor the time, to write my blog, but as my semester ended yesterday and now I’m on a three-week break plus the events that have unfolded over the weekend, I felt this was the best opportunity to tell my story again.
Over the weekend, the last U.S. troops departed Iraq, ending the nearly nine year conflict in Iraq which “took nearly 4,500 American lives” (Ziezulewicz, 2011) and changed the lives of so many American Soldiers and their families. Today, I look back at my 15-month tour in Iraq and think about how much Iraq changed my life. I thought about the experiences that I had, the impacts that we made during our tour and how it changed me.
It has been just over four years since I boarded the plane at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii and began my 15-month journey to Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds.” Just two years prior to that, I had returned from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan, so I knew what to expect this deployment, however this time around I had a different sense of nervousness. This sense of nervousness wasn’t the same nerves that I had during my first deployment - a sense of the unknown. This time, it was a sense of nervousness of what was to come. For some reason, I had this internal feeling that I wasn’t going to be sitting in the Tactical Operations Ceneter (TOC) working in the Fusion Cell, which we refered to as the “Snake Pit,” the entire deployment. I had this feeling that I would be leaving the comforts and safety of base, and be out with the local populace.
My days living safely in the TOC didn’t last long, as I was out patrolling within the first 90-days of the deployment. My good friend and our tactical psychological operations noncommissioned officer, Abu Shouarb, told me that I would “get the bug, and always want to be on patrol.” He was correct; I fell in love with patrolling, and trying to make a difference in our area of operations. I loved every part of the patrol, whether it was walking miles after miles with my 80+ pounds of gear and personal armor protection, to sitting in meetings with Iraqi Government officials and discussing ways to improve the community, or going on night missions looking for the bad guys – I loved It all!
Abu Shouarb, had a mustache and related well with the local Iraqi populace, and the locals coined him his name, Abu Shouarb, meaning the “father of the mustache,” as he was the only Soldier in our unit with one. We were first assigned to the Northwestern area of the Taji Qada, which is just north of Baghdad. There, the locals coined me with the Iraqi name of “Jassam,” since it sounded somewhat similar to my actual last name. However, when my unit moved to the east side of the Tigris River to the Istaqlal Qada region, I no longer used that name, as one of the most wanted terrorists in that region was named “Jassam.”
In Iraq, my battalion’s mission seemed simple, or at least sounded simple – Conduct full-spectrum operations to disintegrate Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) and Special Groups, partner with local Iraqi Security Forces, and develop local governance capabilities.
A lot of planning and coordination was made by the Battalion Staff, and countless hours of work went into every operation in order to meet our battalion’s mission. Our Battalion Commander, “Wolfhound 6,” said that he wanted everything treated as a operation, so a lot of long-nights occurred on the battalion staff. I remember initially planning and working from 7am until 3 or 4am everyday during our first month in Iraq. Yes…I said, 3 or 4am! It was a lot of long days, but in the end I believe that it paid off.
Indeed we had our share of enemy attacks, including the January 18, 2008 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack that killed Sergeant (SGT) Jon Michael Schoolcraft III and injured another nine “Coldsteel” Soldiers. Also, a sniper attack that resulted in the death of Specialist (SPC) Gregory Brian Rundell on March 26, 2008. Overall, thireteen Wounded Wolfhounds received the Purple Heart , but when you look back at our tour, we faired well – compared to other units – the Wolfhounds in the Sky protected us!
In our fifeteen months in Iraq, the Wolfhounds executed over 3,600 combat patrols effectively disrupting enemy movement through our area of operations. We also trained over 700 Iraqi Army Soldiers and nearly 400 Iraqi National Police and Iraqi Police, so they could assume security of their own Nation. We focused a lot on assisting the Iraqi Government in establishing essential services, such as fresh water, increased medical services, building sewage systems, refurbishing schools, paving roads and expanding the reach of electricty to the residents. We also assisted in establishing provincial and rural councils, which were able to focus on solving the issues of the residents. We were also able to remove over 100 weapon caches, which contained weapons and materials that have been used and were meant to be used to cause harm to both U.S. Soldiers and the Iraqi Security Forces. The Wolfhounds were also able to detain over sixty insurgents, which directly impacted the safety and security of our area of operations. All of this didn’t come at a small cost; we spent over $28 million to assist in the reconstruction efforts to increase the quality of life for the Iraqis in our area, and over $178,000 on grants to improve local businesses.
My tour in Iraq changed me as a person. It gave me a better appreciation of life and how in a split second it can change or end. It taught me cultural sensitivitiy and how everyone thinks differently and does things differently. It taught me to appreciate the United States and everything that we have!
As I turn the pages through the book that I worked on with Deeds Publishing titled – “The Wolfhound Reflection: A New Generation – Volume 1,” I look at all the smiles on the faces of the Soldiers; the sweat dripping from everyone in the summer; the hardwork, dedication and partnership that everyone put into everyday – I look at the accomplishments we made in our efforts in trying to ensure that we did our part in helping the Iraqis become responsible for their own government and security…that day has come and I can truthfully and honestly say that the Wolfhounds did their part and gave everything that we had to see this day!
I’ll never forget the experiences that I had, nor the men that I served next to everyday – but after nine years of conflict in Iraq, it’s nice to see us finally coming home…NO FEAR!!
It was 9:35am, two years ago today, when the doorbell rang at the Gutierrez household. Staff Sergeant (SSG) David H. Gutierrez, an Infantry Squad Leader whom I had served with in the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds” in Hawaii was now patrolling Howz-e-Madad in Southern Afghanistan with his new unit, the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment from Fort Lewis, Washington. Indeed it was Christmas Day; however this Christian holiday doesn’t stop the Soldiers from continuing their mission while deployed, as most terrorists in Afghanistan don’t take the day off either.
SSG Gutierrez’s three boys (ages 4, 6, and 12) were playing with their new toys that they had received on Christmas Day, while his wife cooked breakfast for the family. SSG Gutierrez’s nephew, whom had served in the Air Force, answered the door, and when he opened the door he saw a U.S. Military Officer dressed in his Class A uniform and immediately knew why they were there…
“I came to the door and froze. I ran back to the kitchen and started crying hysterically,” Mrs. Gutierrez explained to me. Her nephew took the three boys upstairs as she was told that her husband had been killed from injuries sustained when his patrol was attacked by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Southern Afghanistan.
The Gutierrez family had last spoken with their Hero on Christmas Eve, where SSG Gutierrez watched his boys open Christmas gifts via a webcam.
“I woke up Christmas morning. But when the knock came, it wasn’t Christmas anymore,” Mrs. Gutierrez told the San Jose Mercury News.
As everyone enjoys their time with their families on this Christmas Day, I ask that you remember all the U.S. Troops and their families that are sacrificing so much for all of us. Please pray and remember those that are fighting today, and for those that have Fallen. For the last two years, I have thought of SSG Gutierrez on Christmas Day and not only thought about his family, but of all the Soldiers that he has led and impacted over the years. I saw on Facebook today that one of his Wolfhound Soldiers had said that he was the best Squad Leader that he ever had, and still to this day SSG Gutierrez motivates him to do his best and strive for excellence, and the young Soldier continues to not want to disappoint SSG Gutierrez.
“I don’t like people to pity us, there is nothing to pity…we had a GREAT life with David – I’m proud of who David was,” Mrs. Gutierrez told me this week. “David was a huge piece of our family puzzle that is now missing; that puzzle isn’t complete without that one piece.”
I have been deployed for nearly five months and thought I would do a fast update on my deployment goals that I posted at the beginning of October. I didn’t post a November goals update as I was pretty disappointed with not reaching my running goals after I became sick the last week of October. I remained sick throughout the entire month of November, where I only felt good enough to run for two days, but felt really ill again. It has been a very rough and difficult six weeks for me, as I not only struggled through my illness or the fact that I was watching the days tick by without doing any physical training, but I also remained extremely busy in the CEXC laboratory. It was rough, but it did assist in making the time go by, and now I can’t believe it’s already December 1st! I’m looking forward to what this month offers me, and looking forward to getting into the New Year, as then I can say that “I’m coming home this year!” Thanks again for following my blog and below are my goal updates:
GOAL: Run at least 1,000 miles during the deployment.
UPDATE: Ran 297.50 Miles since arriving in Country. In October, I wanted to run 97 miles and 107 in November, but the 6-weeks of being sick put a huge damper on things. I only ran 87.96 miles in these last two months, which is a huge disappointment and puts me severely behind in reaching my goal. Since I most likely lost all of my build up and endurance from my first three months here, I must work at building myself back up to ensure that I don’t injure myself and get as close to my goal as possible. My plan now is to run 80 miles in December, but I still need to run 702.50 miles in 7 months to achieve my goal.
GOAL: Lose 30 pounds
UPDATE: I weighed myself this morning, and I lost one pound in the last two months, which means that I have lost a total of ten pounds since arriving in country. I am actually surprised that I did lose weight at all during my sickness, so I’m a little happy that I did lose something. After not doing physical training the last six weeks and eating a lot more candy (thanks to all that sent it for Halloween), I was surprised. This does, however but me 2.5 pounds behind the average of weight I most lose monthly to reach my goal, but I’m still focused at achieving it and will. I need to lose another 20 pounds in 7 months to achieve my goal.
GOAL: Complete at least 36 Semester Hours of college, which will take me to 120 Semester Hours.
UPDATE: I completed two courses in October, which totaled 6 Semester Hours, earning an “A” in both classes. I am currently taking another two courses, which will be complete this month; again another 6 Semester Hours, which would bring me to 12 Semester Hours by the end of the month. This will take me down to 24 Semester Hours to complete in the next 7-months. I have to concede now on this goal, as I have realized that reaching 36 Semester Hours during this deployment will not be possible. I will be taking another 6 Semester Hours in January, but will go down to 3 Semester Hours each term following that through the end of the deployment. It would be too difficult to take two courses while on R&R leave and also during our redeployment back to the States, so I will finish with an estimated 24 Semester Hours during the deployment, leaving me short 12 Semester Hours.
GOAL: Write EVERYONE that writes me!!
UPDATE: So far I have written EVERY PERSON that has written me. Due to the increase of mail, both letters and packages, I am about two weeks behind in writing everyone back, but I am still writing a couple letters every night. I still plan on maintaining this goal and to date, I have written 399 letters since I arrived in country.
We have all heard of the WikiLeaks incident where a U.S. Army Specialist gave SECRET military documents to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks released the documents on their website, disseminating some of the United States’ classified information. I truthfully have never read the documents that were released and don’t plan on doing so.
The military has established regulations and ways to protect our most treasured classified material and have entrusted many of its military members by granting them clearances to handle and communicate those secrets appropriately. A lot of money is allocated to the long and extensive background checks that go into every Soldier that has a security clearance, ensuring that the Government is entrusting its secrets with the right people.
These secrets are not only military intelligence based, but operational based as well. Something as simple as a capability of our military force or an upcoming operation could be classified as SECRET. Really, anything that could jeopardize the mission could be classified, and releasing that information could mean that another U.S. Soldier could be killed or severely injured. The release of classified material could also mean that the bad guys get away, which again is not good.
To ensure that secrets are not accidentally leaked, there are several measures in place. One of the things that we do in the CEXC laboratory is shred the documents, then burn the shredded material. Many of the units at forward operating bases (FOBs) burn their secret documents in large 50-gallon metal drums. I remember those days when I worked on the night shift in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment “Bobcats;” Schwabie and I would burn the documents and use the fire as a source of heat in the winter.
The military even has screensavers on our computers that remind us to be security conscience, with my favorite telling us that “loose lips could sink ships.”
When I was back in the States, there was one thing that I wanted to do after a long day at “the office” – take off my uniform and put something comfortable on. I like to take off the combat boots that I had been wearing all day and the Army Combat Uniform (ACU) and slip into shorts and a t-shirt.
However, while in combat, our daily schedules are never the same and working 12-18 hours a day puts a toll on many. When we get back to our rooms, all we want to do is the same, take off that uniform and put something on relaxing. Depending on the tempo and commander’s guidance, some units allow their Soldiers to take a “day off.” On those day offs, there’s nowhere to go, but the dining facility and maybe the military exchange where we could purchase things that we need. On my one day off a month that I get, I just sit in my room and write letters, blog, watch a couple movies or T.V. shows and sleep-in. It feels good to just relax.
Because of the uniform standards that have been enacted and regulated, I don’t go to the dining facility at all during my day offs, as the only time that Soldiers are authorized to wear the Improved Army Physical Fitness uniform (shorts & t-shirt) is during physical training. The Regional Command leadership felt that it was necessary to regulate the wear of the physical training uniform and have prohibited it from being worn unless you’re doing physical training. These standards only pertained to the U.S. Military, so other militaries and civilian contractors can still wear theirs anytime they want; include entering the dining facility in their physical fitness clothing.
Too often, being deployed on a large base feels worse than being back at your home station. The standards are stricter and it’s more ridiculous. As a Soldier, you just get the orders and follow them, so I will, but sometimes there are things that are more important that uniform standards while in a deployed location.
Just last week, the First Sergeant for CJTF Hurtlocker sent an e-mail to everyone within the unit with an excerpt from the Army’s Drill and Ceremonies Field Manual that described the proper way of saluting, as we must continue saluting U.S. Military Commissioned Officers here in Afghanistan.
Regardless, standards are standards and they must be followed. I understand that a standard is in place to protect Soldiers, maintain discipline and order in the military, and to keep the over appearance of the U.S. Armed Forces positive. I get all of that, and understand the importance, but there are just things that don’t belong in a deployed location.
These stickers were plastered all over base after the new uniform standards were released, refering to the unit that is currently in charge of our Regional Command.
This week’s TIME magazine stated that “Most Americans have not served in uniform, no longer have a parent who did and are unlikely to encourage their children to enlist….Think of the U.S. military as the Other 1%-some 2.4 million troops have fought in and around Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11, exactly 1% of the 240 million Americans over 18.”
I think of these numbers on this Veterans Day and reflect on the thirteen years of service that I have given to my Country. Over the years, I have met, befriended, been led by, fought next to, and even led some of the finest and best Americans that I have ever met. That 1% of Americans that raise their right hand to “solemnly swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic” – I thank you!
None of us joined the military to get rich or to become famous; but all of us joined the military knowing that some day we may go to war and die while doing so. We have sacrificed things that many of the other 99% of Americans take for granted like holidays, births of children, food & drinks, and just spending time with our family. The sacrifices don’t bother us much, as we have become accustomed to making them.
Over the thirty-two total months that I have been deployed, I have seen and experienced a tremendous amount of stuff. Those experiences and mental pictures will never escape my mind and not a day goes by where I don’t think about something or someone from those deployments. My days of sitting in the tactical operations center in Ghazni and Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan with the “Bobcats” trying to ensure the safety and survivability of my fellow Soldiers and friends, to my days as a “Wolfhound” patrolling the streets of Taji and Istaqual Qada’s in Iraq trying to “win the hearts and minds” of the people, will never be forgotten.
I’ll never forget the day when Schwabie signals me to the tactical radio during the nightly Battle Update Brief (BUB) and tells me that a convoy from B Company “Bushmasters” was hit with an improvised explosive device (IED), and that a Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) helicopter was requested; all within our first week in Afghanistan. Nor will I ever forget the day that Sgt. Jon Michael Schoolcraft III was killed by an IED in Iraq. I remember running to the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment “Gimlets” tactical operations center (TOC) from our battalion’s TOC to find out the details of what was occurring. I remember hearing the radio communication over the speakers and watching as the Gimlet leaders were making tactical maneuvers to assist my unit’s Soldiers that were traveling through the Gimlet area of operations. I watched as the Sgt. Schoolcraft’s First Sergeant stood there in disbelief with a frozen look on his face – a stare into the distance where his thoughts were running rapid. I saw men cry as they lost one of their brothers.
I say “brothers,” because those of us that have served on “the front lines” and have experienced what we have experienced have became so close that it’s unbelievable; we truly feel like brothers. We know each other’s deepest secrets, which will never be told. We know every detail about each other’s likes and dislikes, and have our own way communicating. We can say one word, and we’d immediately know what the other is talking about. Lobo could say “carnation” and I’d know he’s talking about Dodgers Baseball. Or DoDo could say “Halloween” and I knew that he was referring to a raid that we conducted on Halloween night in Husseniyah, Iraq.
The relationships that you build during combat cannot compare to any other relationship. Only those that have served together in combat know what it feels like and one thing I can ALWAYS say about one of the Soldiers that I have served with in combat – they will ALWAYS have my back! They’ll never betray me, and they’ll be there when needed!!
While we’re away at war, things back in the States continue. Everyone continues to live life carefree and enjoys the freedoms that they’re having. However, there is a small percentage of Americans that aren’t living their lives carefree or worry-free. Those Americans would happen to be our families that are at home wondering what we’re doing that day, and wondering if one day that Government vehicle will drive up to their home with men wearing military uniforms to deliver the bad news. Our families, especially our spouses, have a much more difficult time during our deployments than we do. Granted, we are out there while the enemy attempts to kill or injure us, but we have the training and expertise to defeat the enemy and to fight, win and fight again! On the otherhand, our spouses raise our children all by themselves, they take care of the bills, they take care of the maintenance of the vehicles and house, they do 100% of the chores, and answer the difficult questions when our children ask where Daddy is, or when Daddy will be home. They send us the things that we need or want, just to make sure that we’re taken care of and ready to continue our missions. Without our spouses and family, deployments would be that much more difficult and unbearable.
As Veterans Day comes to a close, I want to thank all of my family, daughter and especially my wife for all the sacrifices that they have made over the years and love you all very much; thank you to my CEXC team that I am currently serving with in Afghanistan – let’s continue to work at defeating the IEDs; and to all of my Bobcat and Wolfhound Brothers, I love you all and I can’t wait to serve with you all again!!!
Unlike what we see in the United States, government officials and key leaders, especially those working with the United States and Coalition Forces, are a target for assassination attempts. Unfortunately, an individual that believes in improving the community and ridding the area of terrorist ways is a target, but it’s common.
When I was in Iraq in 2008, an up and coming activist named Sheik Falah, was killed because of his involvement with U.S. Forces and his ideas of improving the western area of the Taji Qada. Sheik Falah was seen in a poster that was designed and produced by my unit which featured all the Shia and Sunni Muslims Sheiks, Police Officers and other government officials in the area, which was meant to show that regardless of religious beliefs and government affiliation, the community would come together and stop terrorism and improve. That “American Belief” probably didn’t translate well into the Arabic culture of Iraq, but as I patrolled the streets of Taji, I saw the posters everywhere; they were even in people’s houses. I think it did bring pride to people and the one thing that I did notice is that unlike the other posters that American Forces plastered up throughout the area, this was one poster that was never vandalized or written on. However, after Sheik Falah was killed and my unit was notified, we tracked down the vehicle that the assassins rode in to conduct their murder, and found this same poster in their vehicle with Sheik Falah’s picture circled; the poster turned into a hit poster.
Back here in Afghanistan, nothing is different. Government Officials are being targeted. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother was killed when a suicide bomber, wearing a bomb in his turban, detonated it at an event in the Kandahar area of Southern Afghanistan. And just recently, the Governor of the Parwan Province was targeted when a car bomb ran into the wall of his compound during a high-level government meeting, detonated and blew a hole in the wall, allowing five assassins to enter the compound with suicide vests, rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. Governor Abdul Basir Salangi, along with the other major government officials, survived the attack, however twenty-two people were killed, along with the assassins. (Faiez & Shah, 2011)
I believe that regardless of how we feel about why some decisions are made in Afghanistan by government officials, I do think that those officials are thinking about their lives. A decision that they make may put a target on their back. These government officials have bodyguards, but nothing like the security and protection that the United States President or State Governors have so things that they do in the process of improving Afghanistan could cost them their life.
Faiez, R., & Shah, A. (2011, August 15). 6 suicide bombers attack Afghan governor; 22 dead. Stars and Stripes , p. 3.
Army Regulation 670-1 directs all United States Army personnel to have a professional haircut, whether you’re a male or female Soldier. There are hair standards established that we must abide by; however I’d say that they are fairly “relaxed.” We don’t have to have the “Jarhead” or “High and Tight” haircuts, even though many Infantrymen sport that cut. The females don’t have to shave their heads like Demi Moore in “G.I. Jane,” even though several females have decided to do that as well. Basically, a male Soldier needs to have a clean appearance with no hair touching the shirt collar or the ears. It also can’t be a “faddish” style or “bulky in appearance.”
Sometimes those standards are even more relaxed while deployed, especially for those Infantrymen that are living at Forward Operating Bases, Combat Outposts, Joint Security Stations, or Observation Posts. Those Soldiers that are in the middle of the fight don’t always have the capabilities to cut their hair, nor is that a concern for them; they are more concerned about “taking the wood to the enemy’s a$$.”
Prior to this current deployment, I was always deployed with Infantry Battalions where I found myself in remote locations with little amenities. My first deployment in Afghanistan found me at Forward Operating Base Ripley in Uruzgan Province. There was nothing there; when I say nothing – I mean nothing. We had PVC tubes sticking out of the ground where we would pee in, which we referred to as “Piss Tubes.” We would go poop in wooden out-houses that had a cut 50-gallon metal drum under the make-shift seat; the poop would be burned on a daily-basis. We had nothing, certainly no barber or hair saloons; so many of us had decided to shave our heads, including myself. This was the first time since I went to Basic Combat Training in 1998 that I shaved my head and thought it probably would be my last time. I have an oddly shaped head with lots of wrinkles in it, similar to a Shar Pei dog. Many of the Soldiers that I served with would rub my head or even squeeze the wrinkles, including our Tactical Intelligence Officer, “Deuce.” A few years later, when I had hair again, Deuce’s big brother would become my Company Commander and would squeeze the wrinkles in my head in hopes of seeing them – no luck; the hair covered them all.
Because of what I had experienced during my first deployment, and knowing how Infantrymen live, I decided to shave my head once again for my deployment to Iraq. It was the day that I was leaving Hawaii for Iraq, and after my last surf session for several months, Melissa shaved my head in our backyard. Even though the Battalion staff was told that we’d be staying on Camp Taji, a major base just north of Baghdad, I knew how things change once you arrive. I was going to be prepared to shave my head for the next 15-months; luckily that wasn’t the case. I stayed on Camp Taji for about 6-months before I moved to a Joint Security Station where we made frequent trips to Camp Taji, which allowed me to grow-out my hair and get it cut at Camp Taji’s barber shop.
This deployment, I knew that I wasn’t going to be exposed to any of the conditions that I had previously experienced. I knew that this would be a much easier and more relaxing deployment – a deployment that would not even remotely compare to what I had experienced in the past. I wouldn’t be running across base with my pants at my ankles as rockets attacked our base on Christmas night while I was utilizing the “piss tubes.” I knew that I wouldn’t be out interacting with the local nationals and wondering what was going to happen next during a patrol. I knew it was going to be different – different in a way that I would have everything that I needed within walking distance. Therefore, I decided not to shave my head for my third deployment.
Since I’m not shaving my head this time, I must go to the barber shop every other week to abide by the Army Regulations that require me to keep a professional appearance. At these larger bases, it’s almost worse than being at home station, where some of our leaders don’t have anything else better to do but identify deficiencies in your appearance.
The barber shop at my base is small, but good enough. I normally go between lunch and dinner hours in hopes of missing the crowd and I see the same barber each time, Abdillah. He is an Afghan who has learned to speak English very well, and has been working on base as a barber for nine years.
Today, as I walk into the barber shop, he sees me and smiles. He prepares the chair for me as he knows that I’m going directly to him. I sit down and he immediately greets me and asks me how my day is going. I normally tell him “busy,” or “it’s going good,” being sure not to tell him anything that would or can jeopardize Operational Security. He tells me how his day is going and then he asks, “same, same?” He is now referring to what type of haircut that I want; I respond with a “yes.” He has remembered me and what “style” haircut that I want, and how I want it. He takes his time and makes sure that he gives me the best haircut that he could possibly give. After it’s all done, I normally tip him $3, which makes my total haircut price for the day at $7.
It’s not like getting a haircut at SportsClips where I get a shampoo and hot towel on the face, but this will do – I guess I don’t have any other options.
If you don’t know, there are some highly expensive and sensitive pieces of equipment in the Military. There are items that, if studied and examined by the enemy, could be used against us. There are high-value pieces of equipment, that if lost may not only jeopardize the mission, but would cost a tremendous amount of money to replace. The Department of the Army has established a policy where all pieces of equipment that are considered “Sensitive Items” in each unit will be inventoried at least once a month by a Commissioned Officer or a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer in the Grade of E-7 or above. This month was my lucky month!
For those that know my leadership style, I am very serious when it comes to maintaining control of sensitive items. I have seen units lose these items while conducting field training exercises (FTXs) and stay in the field until they found them; looking through every inch of the training areas, looking under rocks, grass, bushes, and above trees. I always felt sorry for those units, especially the Soldier that lost the equipment. I never have been in a unit that has lost a sensitive item, however, like Justin Bieber says, “NEVER SAY NEVER.”
Some of my more recent Soldiers can recall a moment when we went to a Rifle Qualification Range in Maryland, and as Staff Sergeant Hollywood refers to as, I went “Range” on them. This was my first training event in my unit where we would handle sensitive items, so I asked some of the Staff Sergeants to ensure that we maintained accountability of them, and that I wanted a list of serial numbers of every sensitive item that we would be carrying. I got the list and before we departed the Qualification Range to head back to our company headquarters, I had asked if they had inventoried the sensitive items. They told me that they had, and then I went on to say, “Did you verify the serial numbers?” One of the Staff Sergeants responded, “Well….” So the answer was no – so I pulled out the sheet of serial numbers that they wrote down for me, then I showed them how I wanted everything inventoried. The first sensitive item that we pulled out, SGT Charles read off the serial number and guess what? IT WAS WRONG! This is when I went “Range!” Most of you don’t think I could ever get upset, but when I do – it’s like an explosion just went off!
We ended up identifying that two more serial numbers were incorrect and at that point, the men knew what they did wrong. I explained to them the importance of maintaining accountability of sensitive items and Staff Sergeant Hollywood later told me that the team was disappointed with themselves. They never wanted to get me upset. That really set the foundation for my team, and they never again disappointed me.
This month was no different. I checked and rechecked every serial number on that sensitive item inventory. I even wrote the location of the whereabouts of each item on the inventory sheet for those that did the inventory in the future knew exactly where everything was. I accounted for everything that we had, and signed the inventory stating that I physically saw every sensitive item on the list. Really, it wasn’t all that hard, but something that we all need to do right the first time!
A continuation of my job as Evidence Custodian includes the packaging and shipment of the cases to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Terrorist Explosives Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) where they conduct further exploitation and store our cases for possible future prosecution.
Packaging and shipping the evidence to TEDAC sounds much simpler than it really is. It takes a couple hours every day for me to prepare for a shipment and then to ship them. It’s not like how you go to the post office, slap an address on the box, and it’s good to go. Inventorying each item in the case, looking for SECRET documents and hazardous items, then packaging and doing all the paperwork adds to the difficulty.
This is how it goes: Once the case has been fully exploited through our laboratory and Major Lego or Sergeant First Class Mijo approves the report, I take the case and open it up and verify that everything is included inside the case. I verify that there are no hazardous materials or explosive hazards, which are prohibited from shipping through the United States Postal Service (USPS), inside the box – if so, I remove them. Then, I remove all SECRET or classified documents that may have been placed inside the box, ensuring that our secrets are not passed throughout the World – heard of WikiLeaks? We can’t accidentally do another release.
Once I’ve inventoried the items in the box and written down what is in each box, I play Tetris and place as many smaller boxes into larger boxes, trying to get as many cases into one large box. The USPS only allows me to ship ten boxes at one time, since I’m using OFFICIAL MAIL, therefore I need to get as many smaller boxes into larger boxes as possible. Once I’ve mastered my Tetris skills, it’s now time to properly package the boxes in the standard brown shipping paper, with the brown threaded packaging tape; another USPS OFFICAL MAIL packaging requirement.
Thanks to Staff Sergeant Roll Tide, who built me a large work table with an attached paper roll holder and a place to store my automatic tape machine that the FBI purchased, it makes packaging fairly fast. Staff Sergeant Roll Tide often tells me that I’ll be an expert Christmas Gift Wrapper by the time I leave Afghanistan next year. He’s not the only one that says that, as many of the civilian contractors tell me that they’re giving me their Christmas gifts to wrap this year! I do have to agree, I am pretty good at wrapping now – something I’ve never been good at before.
Once the gifts, I mean cases, are packaged properly, I complete the customs declaration and official mail forms for each package. At first, it would take me about an hour per package to complete all the steps in this process, but now I’m down to thirty to forty minutes. I actually put my earphones on, and play some music while packaging, which is a great time to just be in my own “world” for a little bit.
I go to the Post Office twice a week, where I mail all the packages that I prepared. Usually I get help from Mr. Charles Jones, Staff Sergeant Roll Tide, or Corporal Berta in carrying the heavy boxes from our large Ford F250 truck to the counter inside the Post Office. This is where Maria awaits for my 10am appointment twice a week. She is the Post Office clerk that deals with Official Mail and has the privilege of dealing with me twice a week. Maria is a very energetic lady that seems to always be in a positive mood. You can’t miss her workstation as it’s fully covered by Beanie Babies that she has received from customers or her family. I have actually contributed two beanie babies to her collection, which I had received in some packages. She even has two CEXC stickers on the side of her computer screen, representing her favorite customer – ME!
I give Maria each of the packages which she weighs, completes the required paperwork, and then stacks behind her counter where she’ll have to stamp the Post Office postmark on every seam of the tape, allowing the FBI to notice if the package has been tampered with after it leaves my hands.
After my Post Office delivery, it’s back to the office where I start the entire process over again for yet another shipment…
We have pretty much all heard of instances when criminal cases were thrown out of court because the evidence wasn’t tracked properly, it was mishandled, or it might have even been lost. For the last few years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Terrorist Explosives Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) has provided an individual to be the Evidence Custodian and FBI Liaison (LNO) at my laboratory. However, things were changing…
The Evidence Custodian was the one individual that tracked, recorded and knew where every piece of evidence was located throughout our laboratory, and knew exactly where it was at once it was shipped to the United States for further exploitation and storage. The Evidence Custodian was the one person that could answer the questions about the whereabouts of the case, what section had reviewed it and which had not. He was also responsible for obtaining the evidence and transferring it to the criminal courts here in Afghanistan, so the judicial system could work and charge those responsible for trying to not only kill U.S. Troops and Coalition Forces, but Afghan Leaders & Military , and caused property destruction.
The day came, like all other agencies in the Government during a harsh economy and even like our own military, withdraws of personnel were occurring. Buddy, who was the FBI LNO and Evidence Custodian, and he was leaving Afghanistan to head back to the United States for good, and not being replaced. As that day approached, we knew that the Evidence Custodian position could not be left vacant and scrambled for ideas of how to replace Buddy. The only alternative that we had at this time was to replace Buddy with myself. In addition to the other duties I performed in ensuring the daily operations of the laboratory occurred, I would be taking on Evidence Custodian duties.
I knew that I could do it, and I welcomed the challenge. Over time, I have gotten into a rhythm on how to track, record and know where every piece of evidence was located. It became a lot of fun as I learned more about the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and how they are assembled and operate. It’s been a blast – literally!
Using a FBI database system, I have been able to track all of the evidence and have provided two reports daily, telling the whereabouts of the cases, ensuring that others knew what was accomplished and what still needed to be worked. Even though it seems like it could be an easy job, it has been difficult at times when minor errors in the labeling are noticed, or when a case takes too long in a specific section of the lab.
So far, it’s been great! The additional tasks have really filled my day, making the day go by faster, and in turn making the deployment faster (in a sense) too.
Inputting the location of evidence in a FBI database.
The first time I walked into the CEXC Laboratory, I noticed that there were three large refrigerators that were empty. The freezers were packed with frozen meat, fish, shrimp and cheese, while the refrigerator itself was empty, with the exception of a few bottles of water and cans of coke with initials written on top of them. I immediately felt that everyone within the lab was defending for themselves. They had marked free bottles of water that were on pallets all over base, and coke cans that were free from the dining facility. Why would people be so concerned to mark something theirs if it was free?
Over the ten days of which we received training from the outgoing team, I watched how people would mark their drinks or food that they had brought into the lab. They had placed items in the refrigerators in hopes that someone else didn’t take it.
During my first trip to Afghanistan in 2004, I drank almost boiling hot water in the deserts of the Uruzgan Province. Central Afghanistan was hot, and finding a refrigerator to keep our bottles of water cold was unheard of. We went so far as to placing bottles of water into the air conditioning duct that provided “cool” air into the battalion’s tactical operations center. So, five years after I left Afghanistan, I saw the same thing occurring; people wanting cold water.
I knew that something as simple as cold water would go a long way with the civilian contractors that worked in our laboratory. As the outgoing team departed to head back to the United States, my team began to carry packages of water and started filling the refrigerators with water. Some of our civilian contractors had even gotten confused with how much water was inside the refrigerators, and others were so accustomed to writing their initials on their water bottles that they continued to do so, until they could break the habit.
The military has ten classes of supplies, such as clothing (Class II), ammunition (Class V), and repair parts (Class IX). To place an order for the different supplies, there must be a need and paperwork that authorizes an individual and/or unit to request and obtain those supplies. I believe it’s the military’s way of controlling the acquisition of supplies, ensuring that money and supplies are not wasted.
Within our first week, I had made contact with our Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Special Agent Bomb Technician (SABT), Tom. SABT Tom had a Class I account, which meant that he could obtain food and drinks. I had talked with him about getting a couple cases of drinks that we could put into our many refrigerators for everyone in the laboratory. With over thirty individuals working in the lab, and the numerous guests that visit the lab, I felt it would be beneficial to have a variety of drinks in our refrigerators, rather than just water. SABT Tom had agreed and brought our first load of, as he referred to them as, “lickies and chewies.”
The civilian contractors in our lab were even more confused. Just two weeks prior, the refrigerators were empty; now they were filled with water and soft drinks – all without names or initials on them. Contractors were seeing a change occur, with one telling me that something as simple as having cold water and soft drinks in the refrigerators made a huge difference; it showed that we cared.
I told SABT Tom what the contractors were saying, and he continued to gather more items, which he increased to some snacks, such as cookies and muffins, and a larger variety of drinks. It was working and everyone had noticed that we were concerned with having happy workers – after all, happy workers work better.
Over time, we have continued to stock our refrigerators with soft drinks, energy drinks, Gatorade, and even began placing individually wrapped snacks on our main entrance counter on a very elegant platter that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Soldiers gave us. As we receive more packages with individually wrapped food and snacks, we place them on the platter for others in the lab to enjoy.
Even though SABT Tom has left the team, and the new SABT, Ben, has continued to make everyone in the laboratory happy. Something as simple as cold water, drinks, and snacks have made a difference.
Production within the lab increased and we have completed the largest number of cases exploited, with the largest number of identifications in the documented history of our laboratory. Can this be related to taking care of EVERYONE in the laboratory? Not sure, but I have to say that it has made a difference!
I have been deployed for nearly three months and thought I would do a fast update on my deployment goals that I posted at the beginning of September. I know that it’s been awhile since I last posted a blog, but obtaining these goals, in addition to work has kept me away from post as much. I promise to get back on it again and I’ll be playing catch-up this month – so much as happened and I really want to tell you all some of the stories – trust me, there are some good ones!! Below are my goal updates:
GOAL: Run at least 1,000 miles during the deployment.
UPDATE: Ran 209.54 Miles since arriving in Country. I wanted to run an average of 22 miles per week in September, which I did, for a total of 89.08 miles in the month of September. My plan is to increase that by 10%, which means that I would run 97 miles in October. I need to run 790.46 miles in 9 months to achieve my goal.
GOAL: Lose 30 pounds
UPDATE: I weighed myself this morning, and I lost two pounds in September, which means that I have lost a total of nine pounds since arriving in country. I am over the average weight per month that I need to lose to achieve my goal of losing 30 pounds; so I’m ahead of schedule. I need to lose another 21 pounds in 9 months to achieve my goal.
GOAL: Complete at least 36 Semester Hours of college, which will take me to 120 Semester Hours.
UPDATE: I began two courses in August, which would give me 6 Semester Hours of college when I complete them in about 3-weeks. It’s face-paced and is keeping me REALLY busy. I’ve somewhat gotten into a routine, but I’m still refining that routine to make sure that I get everything that I want to get into a day accomplished.
GOAL: Write EVERYONE that writes me!!
UPDATE: So far I have written EVERY PERSON that has written me. Normally I write back that person the day I receive their letter or package in the mail, but I’m a few days behind right now. I still plan on maintaining this goal and to date, I have written 231 letters since I arrived in country.
Thank you very much for following my blog and hope you continue to do so throughout the next 9-months! ALOHA!!
It’s only been a month since we arrived in Afghanistan, but things have moved quickly. We learned the tricks of the trade, how things operate, and befriended many of the civilian contractors that worked in our lab, plus reduced the IED cases on hand by more than a hundred while still receiving more.
Contractors come and go; whether they leave country and go back to the United States, or move to another section/department/unit within Afghanistan. This month, we’d be losing three of our contractors; two going back to the U.S., while one moving to our higher headquarters. To thank them for their dedicated service and friendship, our team decided to host a Hail & Farewell for the laboratory at one of the dining facilities here on base.
The conference room in the dining facility was reserved and as everyone was filtering in with their plates of food, I just sat there and thought about the day that we would leave. Yes, we still have 11-months to go, but I think about it from time-to-time; just wanting to go back and be with my family again. However, it wasn’t my time yet, but it was time for Mr. Buddy, Mr. Grizzly, and Mr. Royal.
Mr. Royal was leaving us to go next door actually, to work at our higher headquarters, Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) Hurtlocker. He was going to continue helping the Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) fight at that level; a level that looks and studies the trends and analysis of all of Afghanistan, not just our regional area. Mr. Royal had only been with our CEXC laboratory for two months, a month with the previous team, and a month with us. Major Lego and he hit it off perfectly; on the first day we arrived in Afghanistan, Mr. Royal was wearing a Kansas City Royals baseball hat – Major Lego’s favorite team!!
Along with Mr. Royal, Mr. Grizzly worked in our intelligence section of the CEXC laboratory where the behind the scenes work was accomplished. During and after the IED evidence had been exploited and investigated, it was these two gentlemen’s job (along with others) to assist in analyzing the data and trying to identify the bad guys. They developed trends and analysis, providing feedback to the Infantry Soldiers “on the ground” that are fighting the fight daily. Mr. Grizzly was a country boy from Alabama that had a very bushy long beard, and always wore a University of Alabama hat. He was a former Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician in the Army, and had the knowledge that we needed in this laboratory to make it successful.
Mr. Buddy was probably our most cheerful and energetic of all the contractors that we had in our laboratory. Mr. Buddy was a young, Huntington Beach, California dude that was full of energy, and always excited. Maybe he was just really excited because he only had a month until he went back home once my team arrived last month. Or maybe he was building the excitement up for his upcoming week-long trip to Hawaii. Actually, he was always in a good mood! We first met Mr. Buddy back in February when we went to the Terrorist Explosives Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) in Virginia for a couple weeks of training. Mr. Buddy works there and taught us a lot about how the process works in exploiting and investigating IED evidence, and assisted us in preparing for this deployment. He was also an EOD technician for several years, which brought additional experience to our laboratory.
It was time to say farewell to them three, and welcome the three new additions to our team: Mr. John Smith, Mr. Charles Jones, and Mrs. Tammy Gard. Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones both arrived in Afghanistan in July, but we were finally “officially” welcoming them to the team. Mr. Smith is working in our Biometrics Laboratory as a Forensics Technician, while Mr. Jones, a former EOD First Sergeant, is working in our Triage section. Mrs. Gard is Mr. Royal’s replacement; she transferred from another CEXC laboratory in Afghanistan and was a former Intelligence Soldier in the U.S. Army.
After our Hail & Farewell, it was time to say our final farewells to a group of men that had lost their lives just a few days earlier, on August 6 in a helicopter crash. Our base was conducting a “Ramp Ceremony,” where we would render our final respects to the heroes that lost their lives doing their part in protecting our Country and its way of life.
It was a cool and windy night. A large group of us from the CEXC laboratory, including several civilian contractors left the dining facility where we just completed our ceremony, and walked to the flight line. The flight line was packed; it seemed like everyone on our base was there. There were two C17 Air Force planes with their ramps open and at least 1,000 Soldiers and Civilians that lined the airfield, making a path to the C17s.
It got quiet and then approached fours large flat-bed trucks, carrying the bodies of:
Lt. Cmdr. Jonas B. Kelsall
Master Chief Petty Officer Louis J. Langlais,
Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas A. Ratzlaff
Senior Chief Petty Officer Kraig M. Vickers
Chief Petty Officer Brian R. Bill
Chief Petty Officer John W. Faas
Chief petty Officer Kevin A. Houston
Chief Petty Officer Matthew D. Mason
Chief Petty Officer Stephen M. Mills
Chief Petty Officer Nicholas H. Null
Chief Petty Officer Robert J. Reeves
Chief Petty Officer Heath M. Robinson
Petty Officer 1st Class Darrik C. Benson
Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher G. Campbell
Petty Officer 1st Class Jared W. Day
Petty Officer 1st Class John Douangdara
Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Strange
Petty Officer 1st Class Jon T. Tumilson
Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron C. Vaughn
Petty Officer 1st Class Jason r. Workman
Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse D. Pittman
Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas P. Spehar
Chief Warrant Officer David R. Carter
Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols
Sgt. Patrick D. Hamburger
Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett
Spc. Spencer C. Duncan
Tech. Sgt. John W. Brown
Staff Sgt. Andrew W. Harvell
Tech. Sgt. Daniel L. Zerbe
Once the trucks were positioned in place, Soldiers peacefully took the U.S Flag-draped caskets off of the trucks and carried them inside a near-by hangar. During this time, the Military Working Dogs (K9 Dogs) and their handlers were standing at attention along side of me, paying their respects as a Military Working Dog (MWD) was also killed during this incident. As the caskets were removed from the trucks, the Soldiers honored the fallen heroes by holding a salute; the civilians with their hand over their heart, and the dogs lied down and made the loudest of whimpers. As I held my salute and heard the dogs whimpering, it really sank in what had just happened; we lost 30 U.S. Troops!
After a short ceremony, the thirty fallen heroes, in their caskets, were transported inside the C17s one-by-one. They were leaving Afghanistan for the final time, and we all won’t forget their service and sacrifice…
The walk back to the barracks was a quiet one. The walk from the flight line to my barracks is about a mile and normally you would hear others laughing, talking, and being loud, but tonight, the entire base was quiet. My roommate, Bama, also went to the ceremony and we both arrived at the room around the same time; not saying much to each other. We both just sat in our room quiet, not saying a word or doing anything…just thinking. It was around 11:30pm, which is nearly 90 minutes after Bama would normally be in bed; he broke silence and said to me “I feel for their families. Our families didn’t sign up for this.”
Major Lego welcoming everyone to the CEXC Hail and Farewell.
It was supposed to be a sleep-in Sunday, but instead it was an early-morning wake-up. A wake-up that I had never expected in my wildest dreams in a combat zone…a wake-up to conduct a Barracks Inspection!
The barracks have been the focus for the First Sergeant of Combined Joint Task Force Hurtlocker since we arrived in July. First Sergeant (1SG) Figg has had difficulty in maintaining the two barracks buildings that house the U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen, in addition to several U.S. Contractors that all work for the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF). It has been a headache for her in getting and maintaining accountability of the number of personnel that live in the barracks and which rooms they live them. It sounds like a simple task, but from the first day we arrived in country, I heard that nobody knew who lived in what room and how many people actually lived in it.
It had come to this, waking everyone up on their Sunday morning to walk-thru each of the barracks rooms and get accountability of furniture, keys, and the personnel that live in each room. “It’s easier to control 300 Privates than all of these people,” 1SG Figg, a former Drill Sergeant, mentioned to me while walking through Sergeant Bama and my room. She ensured that we had three beds build, had three wall lockers, and had the right keys to our room; then we resigned our hand receipts, keeping us accountable for the furniture in our room.
1SG Figg walked through all the rooms in the two buildings, checking for not only equipment, but to see what rooms had availabilities for additional personnel. The rooms are small, but due to the number of personnel assigned to CJTF Hurtlocker, some of the rooms require to have three people in them. Having three people in one room is very tight, especially in an already confined space. CJTF Hurtlocker Commander, Colonel (COL) Omar made the decision that U.S. Contractors would be the first individuals with three people per room, then it would move to Soldiers.
I’m not exactly sure what the reason behind that decision was, but most likely because U.S. Contractors don’t stay as long as the Soldiers. There are a few U.S. Contractors that remain in Afghanistan for a year or more, including quite a few in our CEXC laboratory.
Either way, there are several contractors that have three people in their room. Some contractors have even optioned to play deception games with 1SG Figg to avoid the additional personnel in the room. Truthfully, I don’t blame them. These contractors are experts in their field, many with Masters degrees in their field of study, with a few with Doctorates. Others are former military combat veterans, even some with Purple Hearts. I’m sure that they didn’t come to Afghanistan to be treated like third-class citizens; I know in the CEXC laboratory, we couldn’t operate without them. In the meantime, some contractors have made the extra vacant beds, covering them with blankets and filling the wall lockers with personal items to bring an appearance as if someone was living there. It may have worked for the previous First Sergeant; however 1SG Figg isn’t falling for these tactics.
She has walked through the barracks, confirmed and reconfirmed the number of personnel in each of the rooms, but time will tell if the issue remains unfixed, or if other actions will be taken. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to next Sunday’s sleep-in time!
One of the barracks building. (Picture taken by SSG Rolltide).
Just one day after we sold our last CEXC performance t-shirt, Major Lego was told by Lieutenant Colonel Zipper that we needed to remove our “CEXC” Souvenirs” section off of our main website. Lieutenant Colonel Zipper stated that “someone” at our higher headquarters didn’t like that we were advertising our souvenirs on the site, which is understandable. I guess in a way of thinking about things, we shouldn’t really be advertising our souvenirs on the website, but when I put them on the website; it was more of a way to inform the military populace here in Afghanistan if we had items or not.
From the day that we arrived, that annoying doorbell would ring at least a dozen times a week from people only interested in buying our souvenirs. Those individuals had no other business to conduct with us besides that, but that doorbell always rang during the most inconvenient times. Either Sergeant Mijo or I were always in the middle of something. My fix was to put it on the website, which everyone goes to and they could see if we had items available or not, saving them a trip to our laboratory, and saving us time.
However, “someone” didn’t like it, so we removed it and the doorbell rings again….
On this particular Saturday morning, I had decided to sleep-in an extra two hours, rather than wake-up at 5:30am to run. I needed the sleep as yesterday I was falling asleep at work and was very tired. When I walked into the office at 8:59 for the daily morning meeting, I found people just gazing at their SECRET computers, not saying a word. I asked Major Lego what had happened and he said that a Chinook helicopter had crashed earlier this morning, killing a lot of U.S. Troops; we were on a communications black-out.
Communication black-outs are basically a way to prohibit our deployed U.S. Troops from calling or writing home (via computer) until the families of those members killed or injured in action are notified. Nothing could be worse for a Mother, Father, Husband or Wife to be notified by Facebook or by a friend calling and telling them that their U.S. Service member has died or been severely injured. So, the Department of Defense established rules for us to follow to prevent this from occurring.
Since we didn’t yet know the details of the helicopter crash, we ensured that nobody communicated with anyone back home and waited for the updates. Major Lego went to the daily Battalion Battle Update Brief (BUB) where he learned more details about the incident.
According to an August 7, 2011 article in the Stars and Stripes newspaper, “a military helicopter was shot down in eastern Afghanistan, killing 31 U.S. special operation troops, most of them from the elite Navy SEALs unit that killed al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, along with seven Afghan commandos.” (Moore, 2011)
This was the deadliest military crash and the most U.S. troops killed in one day since the Afghan war began in 2001. The most deadliest crash before this was in April 6, 2005 when a U.S. helicopter was shot down in the eastern Afghanistan which killed 16 special operations troops. (Moore, 2011)
There are different rumors to how and what shot down the aircraft, but I’ll leave that rumor telling to someone else. Regardless of how and what shot down that Chinook, we still lost 31 U.S. Troops, and anytime that you lose a U.S. Soldier, Sailor or Marine, it’s a rough day.
For the next few days, all anyone talked about was the crash and how much we were thinking of the families that are suffering. Yes, we all know that dying for our country is a major risk that we all take when we raise our right hand and take the oath; it’s a part of the job. Our families know the risk and we do everything we can to prepare for such an event, even though we never want to think about it. As much as Melissa and I never wanted to talk about the possibility of me not returning home alive from combat, we talked about it anyway. Granted, it was brief, but we prepared a will and power of attorneys to ensure that what we wanted was what occurrs. It’s these steps that prepare a family for such a tragic event, but nothing truly prepares you for that day…
The front page of the Stars and Stripes newspaper on August 7, 2011.
Moore, S. (2011, August 7). 31 U.S. troops killed in helo crash. Stars and Stripes , 4.
We all know that we should protect our skin from the sun by wearing sun screen, but what we never really think about is protecting our buildings from the sun. Today, the team met at 5am to erect a solar sun shade that would provide additional protection from the Afghan sun and heat that beat down on our chemical and triage laboratories. None of us exactly knew how to erect the solar shade, as none of us have actually put one up before, but how hard could it be? After all, we have Sergeant Mojito with his million years of military service (even though he really doesn’t have a million years of experience, but as the oldest person on the team – we make fun of him for his age), so I was sure that we could figure it out.
Major Lego broke open the large wooden crate that the solar system was transported in and we began taking the several pieces out of the box. We carried the items to the chemical laboratory where we began unrolling the shade that was hopefully going to reduce the direct heat that both laboratories were receiving. The heat was causing both labs to get very hot, which was causing some of the several thousand dollar pieces of high-tech equipment to begin to overheat and not work. In addition, the heat was causing the air condition systems to overwork and burn-out, which was very bad for not only the equipment, but for the employees too.
It took us just over an hour to figure out how to erect the shade and stabilize it so the dust storms or high winds that sweep down the Afghan mountains don’t destroy or take it away. It worked!!
Erecting the solar shades are small things that help improve the lifestyle for Soldiers and Civilians out here. During my first trip to Afghanistan, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) had erected several solar shades that were left for us when we replaced them at our Forward Operating Base. These shades were lifesavers and didn’t come down until we had tents established a few months into the deployment. Actually, I use to sleep on a piece of plywood that I placed on the sand under one of those solar shades; it made all the difference in the world.
This deployment, that solar shade is making a difference. The difference this time isn’t making it more comfortable for a Soldier to sleep, but it’s helping us conduct further exploitation to be able to save the lives of Soldiers!
Staff Sergeant Rolltide and Sergeant Frst Class Mijo erecting the solar shade above the chemical laboratory.
Have you ever traveled somewhere and purchased the best looking t-shirt you could find from there? Or buy a shirt because you did something, like survived the Earthquake, or jumped out of a plane? I have…it’s seems that now I look for the best surf shop and try to get a shirt from there. However, here in Afghanistan, it’s hard to find a surf shop.
It seems that t-shirts are available everywhere for purchase. There are several designs carried at the Post Exchange (PX) that focus on our ten years of combat operations here in Afghanistan. Several units have their own t-shirts and we’re no different; we have our own t-shirts too!
The two previous CEXC teams, which both came from my company in Maryland, have stated that selling CEXC T-Shirts is very important and something that we should maintain. On the first day we arrived, people had stopped-by the laboratory and asked the outgoing team if they had any CEXC t-shirts for sale, which they didn’t.
After a couple weeks of trying to figure out what we wanted, we decided to order some performance t-shirts which are great for running and working out in. Since most people’s deployment goals are to do a lot of physical activity, we felt that these performance shirts would benefit everyone.
After waiting a couple weeks for the hundred shirts to get here, they finally arrived. We had accepted pre-orders from workers in our laboratory, which guaranteed them a shirt. Once I segregated the shirts for those that pre-ordered, and put the shirts away in a box to secure them and would begin selling them the next day.
It was 9am; time for our normal daily morning meeting, when our door bell began ringing. The door bell is loud and annoying; every time it rings Major Lego wants to shoot it! Sergeant Mijo opens the door and finds nearly fifteen people outside waiting in line to buy the new CEXC performance t-shirts. The old team told me that the CEXC T-shirts were a “hot” item here, but I didn’t realize people would be waiting outside our door like it was Black Friday!
So, this day turned into a day of selling shirts. Luckily I didn’t have to use any sales pitch or try to get people to buy the shirt; the shirt sold themselves. We had an array of colors that made a decision very difficult for many. As we started to run out of sizes and colors, I had no other option but to begin a Pre-Order sheet for people to begin ordering the next batch of shirts.
By 4pm that first day, we had already sold 88 t-shirts; with only a couple Large and Extra-Large sizes remaining. I couldn’t believe how fast they sold – it was amazing! I couldn’t believe how the word of mouth quickly spread through our base, telling everyone that we had shirts.
For the next two weeks, that annoying door bell rang with people on our doorstep wanting those performance shirts. You could walk into any gym here and see people wearing them while working out, or people wearing them while they ran. It was amazing and I still can’t really figure out how and why CEXC shirts are so popular, but they are!
A few people have asked me about my blog, and how accurate things are in it. So, I thought I would explain the fine print to make everyone aware of this blog.
I decided to write this blog to really educate the “civilians” back home on what a deployment is like for a Soldier. This isn’t going to explain the on the ground fighting, combat, or the interaction with locals in the villages of Afghanistan, rather it’s going to explain my life while deployed. This deployment is not as “exciting” and “adventurous” as my last deployment was in Iraq, but I’m enjoying the more “relaxing” deployment this time. During my last deployment, I worked with Deeds Publishing to produce a photo book titled “Wolfhound Reflections: A New Generation,” which captured photographs and stories of my unit, the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment’s tour in Iraq from 2007-2009. I really wanted to capture what life was like in Iraq through the eyes of an Infantryman, and I think we captured it well. My Soldiers, Willy Will, PooPoo, the Banker, and I went on thousands of patrols that documented what it was like; and we did an amazing job!! Some books are still available at www.deedspublishing.com . I guess enough with the sales pitch! I wanted this blog to be along the same lines as “The Wolfhound Reflections,” a place for people to understand a deployment through a Soldier’s eyes.
The names that I use throughout this blog are not real names (except for a slight few). They are either nicknames or stage names that I have created to protect the identity of those that I write about. I want to protect those individuals, whether I’m writing positively or negatively about them; it’s the right thing to do. I love nicknames, and if you ask any of my Soldiers, they will tell you the same thing! I somehow create a nickname for everyone, which usually sticks!
The events that I write about have occurred sometime during my deployment here in Afghanistan, but did not occur the day that I wrote it. I will write about an event days, weeks or even months after it occurred, which is on purpose. I want to keep this as real as possible, but I don’t want to violate any Operational Security (OPSEC) rules and regulations. This ensures that nothing is accidentally leaked, which could jeopardize a Soldier’s life. I may slightly change the details of the event if I know or feel it could be an OPSEC violation, but the main story will remain the same. If the event is too much of an OPSEC activity, then I won’t write about it.
If there is a question you have, or something that you really want me to write about, feel free to ask. There are things that I’m not thinking about that you may want to know. Someone the other day wrote me in a letter asking if everyone in Afghanistan rides camels, like how back in the day everyone in America rode horses. This person has never been to Afghanistan and doesn’t know what it’s like, so they asked. Same for you, if you have a question, feel free to ask (there’s a “Questions” tab at the top of this page, or you can Facebook me or write me an e-mail).
Overall, I hope you enjoy this blog as much as I enjoy writing it. It really relaxes me after a long day in “the office,” and gives me an opportunity to document this deployment! ALOHA!!
During the month of July, one of my favorite sporting events occurs - the Tour de France or in French, they say “Le Tour de France.” Just a week after the Tour de France ended, we had a group of French Army Soldiers in our CEXC laboratory. We had heard that a French Army unit would be stopping by our laboratory to learn how a CEXC laboratory operates, as the French would be establishing and operating a brand new CEXC laboratory in Afghanistan.
The group entered and began speaking English in their deep accents. Since I had just followed the Tour de France for a month, I asked the French Soldiers if they had followed it, and they all got excited! I guess it would be similar to a Frenchmen asking an American about the Super Bowl. They were so excited about my knowledge of international cycling and the Tour de France that we just talked about cycling. We talked about cycling greats, such a Miguel Indurian; Eddy Merckx; Marco Pantani; Jan Ulllrich; Cadel Evans; and even Lance Armstrong.
I don’t know anything about France, except for what I’ve learned over the years of watching the Tour on the OLN and Versus networks, which wasn’t much! I learned how to say “Maillot Jaune,” which is French for “Yellow Jersey;” the color jersey that the Tour leader and winners wear.
I have read every book that Lance Armstrong has written and several books that other authors have written about him, as he’s one of my favorite athletes! I had read so much in those books about how much the French disliked him and how difficult it was for him in France. So, one of the first questions I asked my French counterparts was how much they liked Lance. I was shocked to hear that they all loved him and knew every statistic about him; they probably knew more about him than I did! We talked more about cycling and the Tour, but we only had three days to train them, so we had to cease our talk about the Tour and cycle into CEXC.
Each of the sections had a French Soldier that shadowed and observed everything we did, and how we did it. I had a French Soldier named Pierre that followed me around for a few days. Pierre was an avid cyclist himself and was not only dedicated to his cycling, but to his mission at hand. We discussed the ins and outs of CEXC and how to make it run smoothly. I discussed how we track the evidence within the lab. I described to him how each case that is processed through the lab is placed inside its own box, which eases the movement of the case, and also prevents its accidental lost. Not only is the evidence inside the box, but also the chain of custody, which is inventoried and signed-by each person within the lab that opens the box and touches anything inside; another way of ensuring that nothing is accidentally lost. I explained how everyone within the lab knows where the cases are placed, and when each section is complete with their exploitation where to put it for the next. The process seems long, difficult, and confusing, but it flows.
Pierre was very excited and saw how much organization and thought had been placed into establishing the system we had in place to track the evidence. He loved it and you could see all the thoughts running through his head as he imagined how and where he wanted to place things throughout his new lab. He loved that we had labels on each of the boxes that described the case number, its priority, the date it arrived inside the lab, and who had completed their exploitation of the case.
He was writing notes in his little notebook, the size of the palm of his hand, so quickly that the writing almost looked Arabic, rather than French. He was so excited and really wanted to get to work! He had that look, the same look and determination that Lance Armstrong had in the 2001 Tour de France when he passed Jan Ullrich on the final climb up Alpe d’Huez, which ultimately secured Lance’s victory!
I have been deployed for nearly two months and thought I would do a fast update on my deployment goals that I posted at the beginning of July:
GOAL: Run at least 1,000 miles during the deployment.
UPDATE: Ran 120.46 Miles since arriving in Country. I wanted to run an average of 20 miles per week in August, which I did, for a total of 80.93 miles in the month of August. My plan is to increase that by 10%, which is means that I would run 88 miles in September. I need to run 879.54 miles in 10 months to achieve my goal.
GOAL: Lose 30 pounds
UPDATE: I weighed myself this morning, and I lost five pounds in August, which means that I have lost a total of seven pounds since arriving in country. I am now over the average weight per month that I need to lose to achieve my goal of losing 30 pounds; so I’m ahead of schedule. I need to lose another 23 pounds in 10 months to achieve my goal.
GOAL: Complete at least 36 Semester Hours of college, which will take me to 120 Semester Hours.
UPDATE: I began two courses this week, which would give me 6 Semester Hours of college when I complete them in about 8-weeks. So far it’s pretty face-paced and is keeping me really busy now.
GOAL: Write EVERYONE that writes me!!
UPDATE: So far I have written EVERY PERSON that has written me. Normally I write back that person the day I receive their letter or package in the mail. I still plan on maintaining this goal and to date, I have written 149 letters since I arrived in country.