Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Saturday, 28 May 2011
Thursday, 26 May 2011
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
The day was exceptionally hot, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit/37 degrees Celsius. We were given pretty poor directions to the flight line and what could have been a 5 min drive and a short walk to the flight line turned into a mile walk in the wicked heat and our thick, cumbersome military uniforms. I was already thirsty on the walk over and in hindsight I should have paid more attention to this. By the time we got to Delta Ramp we were halfway down the air field and drenched in sweat. We found ourselves over an hour early for the ceremony so we stayed in the shade as much as possible and chatted to the others gathered for the ceremony. About 30 min later we assembled in formation in preparation for the ceremony. One of the members of the color guard, the soldiers who create a walkway to the plane, fainted after standing out in the sun for about 30 min waiting for the ceremony to start.
We stood in formation for 20-30 min before the ceremony got underway, but sadly by this point I was done for. The band started playing and we snapped to attention as 4 Humvees with the caskets back loaded approached the General. The first time we – the visitors on the flight line - saluted the caskets my vision started spinning and I started seeing stars. I was furious with myself at this point, not wanting to disrupt the ceremony and be disrespectful by dropping out of formation, so I told myself to man up and hang in there. I managed to rally for a few minutes before we saluted a second time, my chin dropped to my chest, I felt like I was going to vomit and I was certain I was going to faint which I decided would be a 1,000 times worse than to just step out of formation. I whispered to Ingrid I was going to faint and with the last of the consciousness I had made it over to the airport hanger and dropped to the ground where a Medic came over and gave me a bottle of water. I was somewhat relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one who was with the Medics.
I felt a bit better after drinking half the bottle and I managed to stand up again and at attention while the caskets where loaded onto the plane, but I only stayed up for a minute or two before I thought I was going to drop again. Overall, I was angry with myself for missing the ceremony and I felt like I was disrespecting the fallen, but I was also completely overwhelmed by the whole experience. Many people in the crowd were crying and I found myself close to tears several times and I had never even met these soldiers - and never would which I think was the larger reality. I have never witnessed a celebration representing the honor and dignity and sacrifice of an untimely death. Standing on the flight line with the Hindu Kush Mountains guarding the base and the fighter jets taking off in the background and the military band playing against the drone of the plane engines, it was impossible not to recognize there are few times in a person’s life when they have the chance to be a part of something so… for better or for worse … profound.
Saturday, 21 May 2011
The Armed Forces Day party today ROCKED! (And the world didn’t end :-)
I am so pleased. I took the lead on this event and really had to throw it together last minute and without a lot of resources because we were denied food service support from the dining facility. I had already booked the Combat Stress Dog for the event so we wanted to still do something to celebrate the day and in the end, the party was a huge success and we ended up with far more support and resources than expected. I think we probably had somewhere between 50-60 people over the course of the two hours.
So I did most of the set up from 5-6pm. It took us a while to get the grill going because of this STUPID wind storm that won't quit so we started the grill around 5:15pm. The Special Forces guys learned that our food service request was denied and as such had told us they would supply whatever we needed. Around noon today they dropped off tons of steak and burgers and hot dogs plus all the condiments. Then once we realized the amount of food we had (when we had advertised the event as a dessert party) one of our volunteers stepped up and purchased 5 bags of chips, 4x dozen cans of pop, plastic plates and silverware! So pretty much all we provided was the desserts. I made up plates and plates of Girl Scout Cookies and then we baked a chocolate cake and an apples strudel in the oven we have in the office. Our team leader was experimenting with recipes since we don’t have access to things like eggs out here and we managed to put together some pretty creative desserts (the ingredients for the strudel came from oatmeal packets and little individual butter servings taken from the dining facility. The Chocolate cake was frosted with chocolate pudding that came from a Snack Pack! )
I had one of my teammate’s iPod speakers hooked into my laptop and we were playing music and the combat stress dog was a huge hit, tearing around and playing fetch and slobbering all over everyone. I had advertised the event with flyers that I put up around the base and then I went through the military Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) to advertise the event on the base website and to the base wide listservs. A ton of our friends showed up and it was SUCH an international crowd, there were at least American, British, Kiwi, Australian, Norwegian and UAE that I managed to count, plus a bunch of civilians and contractors. Our office is very difficult to find in our camp so I got at least one email from a friend saying he couldn’t find it and had to give up which makes me wonder how many others might have showed.
We had our emergency message queue covered by the other stations until 8pm and then from 8-9pm I was going from watching the queue and working cases to cleaning up the mess. Easily one of the best nights I’ve had in Afghanistan. Nothing like hosting a party to make the war disappear :-)
Friday, 20 May 2011
Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the attack on Bagram where insurgents actually got on base and instigated a firefight between Taliban and US forces http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/05/18/insurgents-launch-complex-attack-bagram-air-field/ . There was a cake at the Dining Facility last night with an In Memorium inscription for the contractor who died. This made for an eerie ambiance when the incoming sirens went off this morning at 3:30am. My team leader and I trucked out the Bhut, me in my sandals and dirty workout clothes (being the only thing I could find to put on in the dark) and we huddled in the bunker with about 6 other guys, one of which ran back to his room directly across from the bunker and brought blankets out for Ingrid and I. As the sirens continued to sound I doubt there was a person among us who wasn’t thinking about the attack on base last year and wondering if perhaps this was an anniversary attack. We were in the bunker for an hour before the all clear sounded which was ample time to let your imagination run…and picturing insurgents charging straight for the bunker was not a particularly pleasant thought.
Then today I got up at 12pm and had to permanently move to a different Bhut room on the other side of camp for a reason apparent to no one but the military. So I showered, went over to billeting, got the key to the new room, packed up all my old room, drove the stuff over to the new room, unpacked and rigged up my bed- tent again. Made of sheets and blankets, I’ve taken to completely tenting in my bed to try and make it easier to sleep during the day. Compared to my old room this one is downright huge. It doesn't have a wall locker however which is disappointing because my clothes are going to get all dirty (dust storms like the one we are having now blow straight through all the little cracks and just coat the room). Speaking of cracks the other thing I am concerned about is that there is nearly an inch between the door frame and the door itself which means that the Bhut will never actually be "night time" dark during the day and the air conditioning escapes out the crack. Ahh well, it’s all part of the experience!
Tomorrow we are having a party with the combat stress dog to celebrate Armed Forces Day which should be fun! Originally it was going to be a BBQ but we were denied food service support from the dining facility so we changed it to a “Desserts in the Desert” event. Then some of our wonderful Special Forces friends offered to sponsor the food for us and it looks like we will indeed be having a BBQ. I just hope this dust storm dies down some! ;-)
Sunday, 15 May 2011
Halfway into my shift and I am dragging!
The Egyptian Hospital is always a rip-roaring mass chaos start to the day and between the hyperness of the kids and my getting up in the middle of the night, I am seriously hurting with 5 hours left in my shift. So take it for what you will, but my teammate and I were the ONLY two volunteers at the Egyptian Hospital today, apart from one US solider in full battle rattle which was unsettling. The only other Western civilian person was a woman who works for the State Department in Women and Gender Studies. I had divided several of the bulk beading kits that you donated into smaller plastic bags, each with a section of plastic string, so that each kid could make their own jewelry. The State Department civilian who speaks Dhari, my teammate and I got all the kids settled down after they started circling me like hyenas when they realized they were doing to get a gift. We were able to maintain order about half way round the circle and then maddness broke loose, honestly when the Afghan women started clambering for the bags. Chaos ensued and one of the women actually made off with the remaining bags! Fortunately she only got away with a few. I honestly wasn't too bothered by the whole thing. Most of the kids got a bag and many of them quietly settled down and started making their bracelets and necklaces together which really made my heart smile.
It was a good learning experience though. It is almost impossible to distribute things in an orderly fashion, especially when the Afghan women become involved. The civilian told me that it killed her to see the Afghans, the grown women in particularly, fighting the children to get whatever they could for free, even a plastic bag full of beads for making jewelry. She was fascinating to talk to as well, and I hope to spend more time with her. She told me that she has been tasked with “empowering women” but she cannot even begin such a task for how foreign this concept is to the Afghan women. She said that their lack of education is so profound that the concept of empowerment does not even exist.
So after the hospital it was back to the office for a team meeting which went surprisingly well. I think our team leader was ready for tears with the upcoming housing move, but everyone held it together. The meeting went a lot longer than we had anticipated but we still managed to go scarf shopping at a new bizarre which made the day seem more like a weekend!
Now I just have to get through the rest of my shift, past the “witching hour” when they like to launch things at us, and I am ready for bed!
Saturday, 14 May 2011
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
It’s been a week since the news of Bin Laden’s death broke around the world and in that time, our base in Afghanistan has been attacked more in one week than it has in the last year. That attack last Tuesday resulted in a crater the size of a bunker less than 100 meters from our office. Although our new circumstances out here are unnerving, keep on keeping on. We have taken to running for the bunkers when the alarms sound and then afterwards returning to the office or to sleeping or to the gym, whatever the activity may have been. There have been noticeable changes to base operations and we do our best to look out for our own safety.
We also hope to be able to return to the Egyptian Hospital this weekend for the first time in three weeks. Many of you have sent such amazing donations for the kids and I cannot wait to visit again and start distributing the supplies. On a brighter note, we celebrated Mother’s Day by taking advantage of free calling that was provided by Morale, Wellness and Recreation (MWR). My sister happened to graduate from her Master’s program on Mother’s Day so it was nice to be able to speak to the family all at once.
Staying busy is certainly no challenge, but we are now twice as motivated to arrange morale events for the servicemember’s since life here has gotten more difficult. Armed Forces Day is on Saturday May 21 and we have submitted a food service request for support from the dining facility to have a BBQ for the soldiers. We have also requested that the Combat Stress Dog, Sgt Timmy, make an appearance. I actually got to play with Timmy today when I went to extend the invitation and that was a pleasant distraction. Meantime, life goes on and we still visit the patients at the Joint Theater Hospital, support the Medivacs, brief incoming units of red cross messages and deliver over 300 messages a week.
Keep thinking of us out here. Even though Bin Laden is gone, the danger out here is anything but.
Saturday, 7 May 2011
Friday, 6 May 2011
Wednesday, 4 May 2011
These are the events that happened to me on Tuesday Evening 3 May 2011:
At approximately 8:45pm I was on the phone in the office delivering a case, when I suddenly felt two successive tremendously powerful booms that landed to the left of my office which shook its foundations. It took me about 2 seconds to realize that this was the real deal and I needed to get to a bunker immediately. I quickly told the solider on the phone I had to go. I set down the phone and ran out the back door to the office as I saw the two other soldiers who had been watching TV in the office bolt out the front door. As I stepped out onto the deck, the sirens went off. They sound like air raid sirens punctuated by the announcement “IDF Impact, IDF Impact, Shelter in Place, Shelter in Place, Don IBA, Don IBA.” As the ominous warning sounds over and over I can hear booms hitting around me through the drone of the siren. As my mind attempted to process which was the safest bunker in relation to where I could hear the booms, I saw soldiers with guns and body armor sprinting in every direction.
I finally ran as fast as I could to the bunker behind our office in the courtyard. Inside there were probably about 20 people already and due to the location of this bunker it continued to fill and fill until a soldier yelled for every second person to take a step forward so that we could fit more people in. This same soldier was yelling for soldiers with guns to remain at the two entrances of the bunker for protection. I found myself squashed into the center of the bunker with a woman suffering a head wound leaning into me. I still have the blood on my uniform. She had hit her head running into the bunker and blood was running from the wound down her face. Because of my position I ended up being the one to provide whatever basic care for her I could. People handed me some tissues and I called for a bottle of water and I did what I could for her in the circumstances.
The sirens stopped wailing after about 10 minutes and the air became eerily quiet. Because soldiers needed to report in for accountability people became brave enough to start sprinting to other buildings and bunkers. Our office was only about a 10 second sprint so I ducked and charged back, ran in and got on the phone to another Red Cross office to tell them to watch our emergency message queue because we were taking incoming. Then I ran back to the bunker and settled down to wait. The sirens sounded again and continued going off successively for another 20-30 min. I didn’t know where my team was but I could only hope that given all the noise they had all made it into a bunker.
Once the “All Clear” siren sounded, I went back to the office and waited for my team members to report in as was designated in our emergency action plan. Everyone was safe and had made it to a bunker. We did a short debrief and listened to each other recount their experiences. And then, typical to a deployment setting, everyone departed and I went back to delivering cases.
That was yesteday. Today is Wednesday 4 May 2011 and I’ve already been back in that same bunker once today.
Monday, 2 May 2011
The best way to sum up this historic day from
I had hoped that I would be able to learn more from the Armed Forces Network (AFN) which supplies our TV news coverage over here, but I was dismayed to see that a bunch of servicemembers had already commandeered the TV and were watching a DVD. So I started my shift not really knowing what was going on in response to the news. My team leader and I agreed that when the movie was over we would turn on the news. This did not happen however, as 5 minutes into the start of my shift, we went into a rolling blackout that lasted an hour. In consisted of 10 minutes blackout, followed by 5 minutes of everything reloading, followed by another series of beeps and pops and everything would go dark again. These blackouts have continued throughout the day.
I can tell you one thing I have observed. I would not describe the mood out here as one of relief or celebration. In fact, in my opinion and in my experience, I would describe it as somber accompanied by heightened caution. As many of you are likely aware, both the Taliban and NATO released news statements just a few days ago acknowledging the start of a new offensive by the Taliban. On Friday morning, Billeting went round our camp and checked the smoke detectors in the Bhuts. On Saturday I did my daily hospital visit and there were so many people in the Ward, they were doubling up beds in the curtained off partitions. Running errands on the base today there were numerous changes evident from just the day before.
The death of Osama Bin Laden is undoubtedly a significant event. But in my own opinion, the news does not resonate the same way for the Americans and Allied forces in
Sunday, 1 May 2011
Amidst growing “excitement” in Afghanistan, we managed to have an enjoyable and uneventful Sunday afternoon. Our team leader’s mother-in-law shipped over Bisquick, cherry pie filling and a recipe for how to grill shortcake on our outdoor grill. Despite the 100 degree heat we gathered round the grill to cook shortcake and roast leftover Peeps (which seemed kind of cruel as their faces melted) and relax a bit in the calm. The day was also a success in that earlier in the morning, while I was still sleeping, our team and some volunteers set up two bookshelves, one at the Pax Terminal, one at the Green Bean Coffee, for a project we started to help give away more of our donated books. We are going to stock the bookshelves at each location weekly and hope that in this way, more people will be encouraged to take and/or leave a book!