Thursday, 19 September 2013


The last few days have been wonderful, but I need to back up by a week!

So a week ago Wednesday morning the Army Reserve Office hosted a pancake breakfast for us. Coming off sleeping in the transient tents and the insanity night when the casework system shut down I was far too tired to enjoy it. I went to bed shortly after and woke up in time for my last Zumba class. Given the date was September 11th however, I went onto facebook just to make sure the class was on... cancelled. :-( It was too much of a risk to hold the class on September 11th so I missed my last Zumba class.

The next 12 hours was a revolving door of goodbyes at the office. I worked my shift overnight and then left early at 5am to participate in the 9/11 5k, my last base run. Sort of fitting it was our last morning in Afghanistan. Also, it was run on the 12th for security reasons. The 5k was the greatest way to end the deployment. Tons of my friends were running or supporting the event and I managed to run my fastest 5k ever (didn't hurt I was pacing with one of the Vets who had run cross country!). After the run I went back to the office because we had a farewell with the Bagram Garrison Base Commander and Command Sergeant Major. It was the first time I have ever been so formally thanked for a deployment, it was pretty incredible.

I also had a visit at the office from several of the Afghan female interpreters that I worked with at the Korean Hospital. They had come to say goodbye and to bring me an authentic Afghan shirt which began the first of my tearful goodbye. From there I headed to the Korean Hospital to say goodbye to the staff and to Fatimah. I brought over my bedding and towels to donate to the hospital and I really started crying when I said goodbye to Fatimah. I had finished the flyer to the base community a few days previously and it was already being distributed. I think it's not knowing what will happen to her and even more so, I feel guilty for leaving the Korean staff to deal with this tragedy without me. I feel like I'm copping out. My heart was further broken when the staff gave me a piece of Korean artwork to remember them by.

After this goodbye, I went back to the transient tent to finish packing. I managed to catch only two hours of poor sleep before we were back up and heading to the Pax Terminal to check in for our flight. I had a bunch of friends come say goodbye at the airport, and was thrilled when it was confirmed that my Veterinary friends were on our flight home. This was compounded by learning that there would be two military working dogs on our flight who to honor their service, get their own seats on the plane :-)

In an unusual twist of luck, we managed to get the first flight out of Bagram that day and after flying to Kandahar, we arrived in Kuwait at 12:30am. In a more typical run of bad luck, we learned that we would be stuck in this remote desert shelter where they had taken us after landing for the next 5 hours! We literally sat in the desert sand for hours waiting for buses to come and transport us to Camp Arifjan. Due to the drawdown, all of the travel arrangements have changed significantly and I have to say, the new arrangements don't make much sense :-/

Once the buses came around 5:30am we boarded and began a two hour bus ride through Kuwait city to get to Camp Arifjan. But despite running on only two hours of sleep in 48 hours, when we arrived that Friday morning I had a major second wind...Arifjan not only has a shopping mall with dozens of restaurants... it has an outdoor pool!!! Ahhh!!! From that moment on "pool" was the only thought on my mind. After collecting our bags, manifesting for the Freedom flight which would be the next day, Saturday, we dropped our duffels into the transient housing and headed off to find the pool.

After having lunch at the mall, and buying the world's dorkiest bathing suit and goggles (no swim cap) we went to the pool and I was like a racehorse that's been trapped at the gate for the last 5 months. I swam and swam and swam and got thoroughly fried in the Kuwait sun, but it was worth every second. Once we got back to transient housing, it's fair to say I basically collapsed. It was 3pm in the afternoon on Friday... I slept until 6am Saturday morning.... 15 hours!

Once up though I was super charged to go to the pool again. I got some breakfast and went to the PX to buy food for the flight and then went back to the pool for a few hours. We didn't have to be back at the Pax Terminal until 2pm so it worked perfectly.  Back at the Pax we met the Kuwait Red Cross team who we hadn't seen since the beginning of our deployment in April.

Together we went through the tedious briefing, paperwork and customs process and then went into lockdown for 4 hours. At 9pm Saturday evening we boarded the buses that drove us to Kuwait International Airport where we boarded our long long long flight home. First flight was 6 hours to Germany, the second flight was 8 hours to New Hampshire, the last leg was 4.5 hours to Ft Bliss, TX. There were two great parts about this, I was so insanely overtired I slept every flight and kept waking up in a different country. The second was that I got to sit next to one of my best Vet friends!

Another incredible part of the trip was the reception that we received in New Hampshire. We were met by the Pease Greeters,  a Pease Airport with deploying or redeploying personnel has a warm send off or welcome home. I have never ever seen anything like it. Hundreds of people had come out to welcome our flight, they had dozens of pizzas, donuts, a room with free calling anywhere in the world, free wi-fi, free gifts, free professional photos and best of all, a ceremony for the everyone where several Vietnam vets spoke. Everyone cried. It was remarkable.
not-for-profit whose purpose is to make sure that every flight that comes into

Once we FINALLY arrived at Ft Bliss later that Sunday evening, we were in-processed, given dinner at the airport hanger and then bussed to the Ft Bliss CRC (Conus Replacement Center) because the Ft Benning CRC, where I've always deployed in and out of, has been closed due to the drawdown. After waiting an HOUR in line to get a room, I unpacked as best I could and collapsed in bed because we had a 5:45am formation Monday morning.

Unfortunately, jet lag had other plans and at 3am I was so wide awake I got dressed and played on the computer until the formation at 5:45am.  We loaded our military duffels on trucks and then were bussed to breakfast, then bussed to the health out-processing. As civilians we don't do the health processing, but we still got to get up and share in the joy ;-)  The fortunate thing though was that after some phone calls, the CRC staff was able to arrange it so that while the military did health, we were able to turn in our gear which meant we were able to get to the airport in time for our flights that afternoon.

Once at the airport, we settled into a Mexican restaurant for Tex-Mex and margaritas. I'll be honest, 5 minutes in and I was pretty tipsy!  I said goodbye to my team at the airport and then promptly passed out on my flight to Chicago.

My wonderful mother met me at the airport and we just spent a few glorious days at a hotel in Chicago, where I became reacquainted with double beds, indoor plumbing and metal silverware.

I can't thank you enough for all your emails and messages and care packages and donations to the Red Cross these last several months. Your support continues to carry me through the hard times and help me realize how lucky I am to have such incredibly thoughtful, loving and generous people in my life. Please feel free to reach out again at any time.

Until the next adventure, signing off....

Doing nothing for hours sitting in the Kuwaiti desert

Just arrived at Arifjan, Kuwait and desperate for the pool!

Sweet Home Chicago, lunch downtown at a childhood favorite ;-)

Saturday, 14 September 2013

On lockdown in Kuwait for the Freedom Flight! Promise a recap of these last few days when I get home.

Should be stateside by Sunday night! Signing off for now from the flip side...


Friday, 13 September 2013

I'm too tired to string a real blog post together, but wanted you all to know that after 36 action packed hours we made it to Kuwait and I am currently in refugee style transient housing, everyone is living on top of each other. There is so so much to write since Wednesday morning, but I'm going to have to save it for when I can think straight. I promise more to come. On track to be in the US early this coming week!

We spent hours literally sitting in the sand in the middle of nowhere Kuwait
 waiting for buses to come get us.

Exhausted but still functioning after arriving a Camp Arifjan, Kuwait

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Wow, I know I talk a lot about nights being crazy and hectic, but this one wins. Hands down.

I woke up about half an hour before my alarm was set to booms and incoming alarms and general chaos. I was already sleeping really poorly in the tent so this certainly fitting. The first round of alarms went off for about 40 minutes before they sounded the all clear. Just when I was about to emerge to the head to the showers, I hear an enormous, jarring "crrraacccckkkkk" noise and I actually swore out loud the incoming was so close. Then another serious of booms and alarms went off and the long and the short of it is, we were attacked for almost two hours.

When I got to the office we were trying to do accountability both with our team and the new team, which was a nightmare. Two of the new team members had left for dinner in between the two attacks and we had no idea where they were until we got a call from Air Force Persco saying that they had bunkered down with our two team members.

Once things settled down at the office, I came to find the replacement team member I am supposed to be training does not have access to log onto government computers so we can't do any training! So I am trying to cover the emergency message queue by myself and train her at the same time on one computer.

THEN around 2:00am the Red Cross emergency casework system goes down. At first I didn't think much of it because this occurence is pretty common. But then 15 mins passess, 30 mins passes and by this point I've called Kuwait and learned they are down and then I call the National Headquarters to find out that the system is down worldwide! So! No more training for the night.

THEN about an hour later the system comes up only for the caseworkers in the US, where people are starting emergency messages. A supervisor in the States calls me and tells me that the US caseworkers are going to start passing me the messages over the phone so that I can then pass them over the phone a second time, all without access to the casework system and while training to train my replacement! As soon as the supervisor hangs up the phone lights up with US caseworkers trying to call out there cases and I am getting so many calls from the US I can't deliver a single message in Afghanistan.

Suffice to say I am completely exhausted, but one of our neighbor units is hosting us a pancake breakfast so it's not quite bedtime yet!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Today was pretty representative of a deployment transition - hectic, sleepless and rather stressful. This morning the new team arrived at the office at 9am and both the new and old teams went over to base billeting. My team checked out of our Bhuts and the new team checked in. Then we did a run to the PX to buy supplies and my team leader and I brought the very last plate of mom's fudge over to the Engineers who had a mass casualty incident a short time ago. Saying goodbye to the units and my friends out here is really difficult.

Once we were back at the office, I took the truck and officially moved by duffels out of the Bhut where I've lived the last 5 months... and into the tents. Heaven help me. The tent is insufferably hot and it's- communal men and women, with only a small divider separating the two tent halves. There are two giant fans blowing air around the tent, but truthfully it is cooler outside at 90 degrees than it is in the tent. There are literally huge gaps in the tent walls where the tent has come apart and the daylight and the heat come in. It made for sleeping during the day, with the sun beating down on the tent, just torturous. Only two more "nights" :-/

I was so over tired I actually slept through my alarm which I never do, but still managed to make it to Zumba. Then I came to start my shift and found out my replacement wouldn't be come in to sit chair side with me until 3am so at midnight I went over and did one last Medevac at the Hospital.

Then this coming morning, the end of my shift, the Bagram Garrison Commander and Sergeant Major have requested a meeting with our team at 9am so we will all be in uniform for that audience. Then I will imagine it will be time to drop! :-)  

3 more days!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Another action packed day!

This morning we did the Russian Tower tour which was SO fascinating. The Russian Tower is one of the few remaining buildings still standing on Bagram (our office building included) from the time the Soviets built this base in 1979.  I learned so much about the history of Bagram as well as the political history of Afghanistan. I wish I had taken this tour our first week here! I also learned that you can reserve the actual air traffic control tower room -which overlooks the entire base- for personal events. It's insanely last minute but I am trying to reserve the room for this Wednesday to have a farewell party with some friends!

After the tour, I went to the Korean Hospital to do the interview with Fatimah and her family. The interview was truly one of the most incredible opportunities I've had in my life. I had an Afghan interpreter with me as well as the Program Director for the hospital, but truly the most inspiring part was sitting with Fatimah and her father, who sat cross-legged on his daughter's bed, as she received a blood transfusion and the two of them spoke with me about what the funding of her cancer treatment meant to their family.  The affection displayed by her father is in stark contrast with the reputation of Afghanistan's treatment of women.  And in an incredible coincidence, Fatimah's father, who is a local of Bagram, actually assisted in the construction of the hospital in 2010. I've finished the first draft of the flyer to the Bagram community and we hope to release it to the base community this week.

And finally, tonight was my co-worker's birthday so a bunch of friends came over to have a small party and after the party ended, two friends of mine brought over Pizza Hut and we were enjoying one of our last nights together when I get a phone call out of the blue from our replacement team...saying that they were standing at the Bagram Pax Terminal! Wow!! Shifting gears!! They've arrived! We cut our lunch short and I drove over to pick them up, arranged for their billeting, took them to the DFAC for a 2am sandwich and then got them sorted into their housing for the evening. Official transition starts tomorrow!  I should also mention we got attacked pretty hard tonight, booms going off all over the place, although none close enough that I was particularly worried. We are officially in battle rattle "until further notice" :-/

I can't believe the new team is here. It's real now. So much is happening and it's all coming to end, it's so hard to comprehend.

The Tower balcony view

Russian bunker in the basement

My Vet buddy and I in the Russian Tower Air Traffic Control Room

The center of the Air Traffic Control Room

Photo of the Russian Tower when the US forces first occupied
the building in 2001

Hanging in the control room...which we can hopefully
reserve for Wednesday!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

What a day! Lots of news to share.

Beginning tonight it seems we are going back in to battle rattle because this coming week has the highest record of attacks annually, with both the anniversary of 9/11 and the anniversary of the death of General Massoud. We picked a great week to try and redeploy :-/

The base is likely going to be put on the highest security threat level we have yet experienced and rumor is we will be in 24 hour battle rattle, something I've not experience before in 4 deployments.

Later today, I went to visit my friends at the Korean Hospital to inquire if I could donate any of my clothes or bedding to the hospital. I spent almost an hour chatting with Director who caught me off guard by asking if there was any way I could help them on a last minute project. 10 days ago they acquired a 12-year-old Afghan girl dying of bone cancer. If she does not receive life-saving chemo and radiation the oncologist states she will die in 6 months time. The hospital cannot afford the drugs so they want to ask the Bagram base community to contribute to raising $10,000 for her treatment. The Director asked if I would interview the girl and her family and write an article to distribute to the Bagram community. So tomorrow morning I am going back to the hospital to meet Fatimah, her parents and her 4 younger brothers and put together a short article to share with the Bagram community.  I am so thankful for one last opportunity to assist the Afghan people.

And then tonight was the Bagram's Got Talent show hosted by the USO and MWR. The Red Cross was asked to set up our Lemonade stand and together with about half a dozen volunteers, we served refreshments during the show.  The event was  blast with about 20 people performing from the base community.

As exhausted as I am, it's days like these when the thought of leaving Afghanistan fills me with regret...