Thursday, 30 June 2011

Last night was our Timmy (the Combat Stress Dog) Birthday event and it's safe to say we had another successful bash at the Red Cross. We baked 8 cakes in our little oven, and we are pleased to say most of the experimental ones were not only edible but actually enjoyable! At 4pm some of the members of Timmy's 44 Med unit came over to help with the set up. We did a very similar arrangement as we did to our Father's Day BBQ...only difference was we had a Dixie Brass Band show up to play! Honestly, no one knew they were coming, but they arrive half an hour before the party ready to play. We had hoped they could set up on our deck like the band at our last BBQ but unfortunately we were fighting a dust storm and the tuba player basically said he had to play inside or he would tip over!

This meant that the room where we were serving the food was quite cramped (and loud with the band playing!) but we still managed to feed around 200 people over the course of two hours. The highlights of the night were went all the guests stood at attention and this adorable, clueless yellow lab was promoted to the rank of Major by the President of the United States. Later the band played Happy Birthday to Timmy and he looked equally as clueless.

We were again so happy with our turn out and more than anything, so happy to see so many people come out to the Red Cross to hang out and have fun at a party. Times like these make everything worth it, when you get to provide people with a bit of an escape.

In other news I did a MedEvac Tuesday night which was rather crazy as my friends in the old unit are redeploying and flying home this week, so Tuesday was the first night the new unit ran the MedEvac and it was rather....disjointed. Then yesterday we were offered to tour a MedEvac helicopter which would have been super cool except they had to cancel because they had a last minute mission (can't argue with that!) We are hoping to reschedule for this coming week. And on another happy note- we've decorated the office as best we can in red, white and blue for the Fourth of July. Not sure what we will get up to yet, but hopefully something memorable :-)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

So today was kind of a crazy day.

Got up mad early for the Egyptian Hospital, only to drive all the way there and find out that it was not on! Obviously from the farewell ceremony yesterday we knew this unit was leaving but I had reconfirmed with the Commander that it was going to happen today. Clearly there was a miscommunication! So we were a bit bummed, took some pictures with the sign out front which we had always been meaning to do and then headed back to the office.

I went right back to bed once we returned because I had been invited to a demonstration of the military - working dogs (aka the attack dogs) at 4pm that afternoon. Let's just say that this was one of the most exhilarating and adrenaline - rush activities EVER.

Now we are planning the BBQ Party event for Timmy's Birthday this coming Wednesday and I thought I would share this email with you. Being out in a war zone we have no real access to baking resources so this is what my team leader proposed for Timmy birthday cakes:

Smore Cake: One pack of vanilla cake with cut up bits of Hershey bars,
marshmellows, and graham crackers inside

Hazelnut cake: One pack of vanilla cake with vanilla pudding/plain
yogurt drizzled with nutella

Coffee cake: Mix some fine ground coffee in with the vanilla cake batter
and ice with our remaining chocolate frosting

Red velvet cake with icing made from cream cheese and yogurt.

All of these ingredients are what we have through donations lying about in our office or what we can snag from the DFAC!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

So it has been a 24 hours full of surprises! Last night I went to do a MedEvac and it ended up being a back to back outbound/inbound mission. However, there were only 6 ambulatory patients and one litter on the outbound and only one Ckat (life-support) patient on the inbound so my help wasn't really needed. What came as a real surprise though, was when the unit gathered around me in the CASF and did an impromptu awards ceremony. They said a few words about the work that I had done with them and then presented me with a Certificate of Appreciation! Honestly, it was one of the most rewarding moments of the deployment.

Then today, an hour after billeting woke me up yelling that they needed to secure one of the rooms in our Bhut (aka make a lot of noise and let in a lot of day light for no reason), Ingrid came by and woke me up saying that we were invited to a ceremony for the staff of the Egyptian Hospital. I didn't catch everything Ingrid said in my sleep haze, but I got up and showered quickly and we drove off to the "Clamshell" which is a large recreation facility. Inside we learned that the staff of the Egyptian Hospital was redeploying shortly and wanted to present us, along with their other partners, with certificates of appreciation. So Ingrid and I braved the 110 plus degree heat as we watched a commemorative slide show about the unit's work and then a rather obvious video for Egyptian tourism (post-revolution mind-you. They did well to advertise that Egypt is now entirely democratic ;-)

One of the things I couldn't help but notice was how familial the Egyptians were with both each other and the other allied Middle Eastern soldiers. The officers are frequently embracing and holding each others hands or kissing on the cheeks and I commented that you'd never see such familiarity at a US ceremony. They also appear to be just mad for picture and video taking. Both Ingrid and I were taken aback at the number of pictures and poses and filming that was going on. You would have thought we were at a 25 year anniversary reunion. The majority of the soldiers had cameras and were nothing short of recording the whole event.

After the slide show portion finished the Commander of the Egyptian Hospital began to recognize partners who had made a difference in their work. When my name was called I honestly could not stop cracking up. I know only a very few of the Egyptian soldiers who work as guards on the compound, but the clapping and screaming and cheering you heard when my name was called you would have thought they were my biggest fans. I am going to wager that being the only blond at the ceremony may have had something to do with this reaction, but I couldn't help but shake my head and laugh as I went up to receive my certificate.

It is a recognition I will always cherish. I am very proud to have been a part of their work with the Afghans at the Egyptian Hospital

Friday, 24 June 2011

A couple of stories from this week...

Tuesday night I spent the evening with a Major who was waiting in the office for his Red Cross message to arrive. His wife was giving premature birth to twins and the babies weren't expected to survive. I spent the evening working with his command and the Pax Terminal (essentially the bagram airport) to try and get him out on a flight that night. He was a wonderful person, calm and courteous, while he had every right to be a wreck. He did end up getting his red cross message and I am thinking of him and his family.

Wednesday night was our weekly Timmy the Combat Stress Dog event and this week proved quite exciting when a newscaster from AFN (Armed Forces Network) showed up about half and hour before the event and said he was interested in doing a piece on Timmy's service career. He wanted to do interviews and then get footage of Timmy interacting with people. Then he is going to come by next week for Timmy's Third Birthday party and promotion ceremony. It's great coverage for the Red Cross plus Timmy deserves the credit! His handler is redeploying in a couple of weeks, but Timmy has another year out here and will get a new handler.

The final piece of news is that our replacements leave this weekend to start their training and travels to replace us! I'll be honest, this makes me very excited! :-)

Monday, 20 June 2011

Hi all! Sorry again for the delay!

First off, a HUGE thank you to the DeKalb Red Cross who shipped almost a dozen care packages for our Red Cross canteen and for the soldiers over here. Pleas know that your donations make a world of difference!

I am safe and well here in Afghanistan and I confess the reason behind the sporadic blog posts is simply that we are all exhausted and burned out. We have 24 days left on our deployment, have not had a day off in over 100 days and given the nature of the work we are doing, each day now seems to take everything out of us.

That being said, we are still hard at work and doing our best to make a difference, it’s just that we used to be able to squeeze in time to do something small for ourselves and that just doesn’t seem to happen anymore. We are just too tired. Anyways! On a happier note, yesterday was one of the best days we’ve had in Afghanistan. The four of us at the Red Cross hosted a wonderful BBQ event with approximately 200 attendees! The BBQ was a combined Father’s Day/Recognition event for supporters of the Red Cross and it could not have been more successful.

Our food was donated by our volunteers or supporting military units. We had most of our desserts shipped from home including fudge, cookies, freeze ice pops (huge hit!) plus we baked several cakes and such in our tiny easy-bake style oven. The 44 Medical Brigade brought dozens of 6-packs of near-beer (since alcohol is prohibited). We had water guns and water balloons sent from home which were a blast. The First Cav Band played for over two hours and were just fantastic plus we had our good friend Chris manning the monster grill and cooking up steaks, burgers and hot dogs.

The event was such a success that we had people stopping in the office or coming up to us in the dining hall long after the event was over to thank us and let us know how much it was appreciated and most importantly, that for a short period of time they felt like they were just at a BBQ and not stuck in a war zone a thousands of miles from friends and family. The best compliment in the world.

Otherwise, every day brings the regular demands. The Fallen Hero Ceremonies occur so regularly that we are attending several funerals a week. I did a MedEvac last night which is always a rewarding though draining experience. I am still making those once or twice a week. We still visit the hospital everyday to talk to the patients there. Last week I had a young guy, 20 years old, in the ICU tell me I was the first female he’d actually had a conversation with in 6 months. He was stationed at a fire base with 150 other guys. Sadly we missed the Egyptian Hospital this week to prep for the BBQ but Ingrid and I hope to perhaps go tomorrow to make up for it.

And finally, I forgot to mention that I have initiated another weekly event at our office. We are having coffee and cake with Timmy the Combat Stress Dog every Wednesday evening and have had quite a bit of success with this event. In fact, the USO actually came over one night and said they wanted to start doing the same thing over at their place! Back off USO! ;-) It is amazing the number of people who will make the effort to come out and visit our office in order to play with Timmy and we have been very pleased with the response! Timmy’s third birthday is actually next week so coming off the success of yesterday’s BBQ I’m in the midst of planning another one for next week!

After that it’s just two more weeks until our replacements arrive! ;-)

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Yikes! Almost a week since my last post, sorry guys. I confess that with 5 weeks remaining, you can tell the team is getting tired. We've done almost 100 days without a day off and I think we are all looking forward to a break.

Today was definitely worth writing about though. Headed to the Egyptian Hospital in the morning and managed to give out some shampoo, nail polish and hair ribbons to the girls there. It never ceases to amaze me how desperate the women and children are. I offered out a nail polish to one young girl and a much older woman came by and snatched it out of my hand, wrenching it away from the girl and then tottered off. I desperately wish I had the language skills to keep more order among the children and I have managed to learn a few crucial words, but not enough to sort out disputes. The plus side of the morning was that the girls had mixed together a cup of henna and painted our hands. The hilarious part is that they all wanted to help so the girls kept grabbing my hand away from the girl drawing the design causing it to smear. All part of the experience! Now my hand is stained this crazy orange for the next two weeks. You could tell the girls were really proud of themselves though. Typically we are the ones offering gifts and you could tell they were excited for us to participate in something very common to their culture (almost all the women and girls are painted with henna).

Later that night we had another really scary incoming attack. I was at the office by myself when an enormous impact boom shook the office. It was as close as that one terrifying night I spent in the bunker after Osama was killed, so I was up like a jack rabbit, locked the office door and out the back door in 5 seconds. Everyone in offices around me had come out as well, waiting for the sirens to sound, but 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes later nothing happened. Turns out the impact from the rocket was actually outside the wire, which is only about 75 -100 meters from our camp. Because it didn't hit on base the sirens didn't sound, but it was incredibly close.

Then I went on a MedEvac last night which never fails to be an amazing experience. There was one guy who had the most extraordinary burns on his face, I've never seen anything like it and it was tragic to hear the nurses tell him to use Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA) which is a device that when the button is pushed releases a controlled dose of pain killers. You can push the button as much as you want and the device self-regulates and cuts you off when you've had enough, but just to hear them say that really gives you a sense of how much pain the guy is in and how he will suffer on the flight.

The other disturbing part of the night was when an incoming MedEvac landed bringing in an EPW (Enemy Prisoner of War). That was another in your face reality check that there is no denying this country is still very much in conflict.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Yesterday we started the day with the Afghan kids at the Egyptian Hospital and it was the typical free-for-all that it is. This time Ingrid and I brought sidewalk chalk and two blow up beach balls. We tried to keep things calm as we handed out the sticks of chalk, and while we were able to keep control initially, inevitably, it soon broke out into chaos and the kids and even the women fought until all the chalk disappeared. I had better luck with the beach ball. Ingrid had the beach ball torn from her hands before we could play with it, but I actually managed to give mine to one girl who successfully blew it up and then several of us when out and tossed it about trying to keep it from hitting the ground. Then an interesting thing happened, some of the boys came over wanting to play and the girls immediately stopped playing and deflated the ball. My suspicion is that the girls thought the boys were going to take over and steal it, which in this extremely patriarchal society is probably a fair guess.

On a different note, the military has finally managed to fix whatever was wrong with their distro list for months, alerting the residents on Bagram of the "Ramp" ceremonies or the Fallen Comrade Ceremonies on the flight line. Now our inbox is full of them.

In the last 24 hours I have been to the equivalent of 6 funerals.

That is positively extraordinary. Last night was for four soldiers killed in a roadside IED. Tonight was two soldiers in a different unit, I don't know how they died. While I am pleased the distro list is now working and while I have every intention of attending every possible ceremony, it is confounding the number of soldiers that are dying out here. The truly incredible thing though is the number of people who thank us for attending. Yesterday we left the flightline with soldier after soldier acknowledging us "thank you Red Cross". I wonder how long I can last until I can't take them any longer with the frequency they are occurring.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Lots been going on this week!

RECAP: Tuesday our case work program underwent a massive upgrade, which had the system shut down around the world for several hours, meaning emergency messages all over the world were at a standstill. When the system came back up there were several changes to the program which caused caseworkers all over the world much confusion. The result between the shut down and the confusion has been an astronomical number of cases these last few days. On Thursday night there were 23 cases at one time in our queue waiting to be delivered. Absolutely unheard of on my three deployments... I typically do 23 cases over the course of my nine hour shift! To make matters more confusing, the reference numbers assigned to the cases pre-update started with 288- followed by four more numbers, say 2881234. But once the system went back up after the upgrade they restarted at 0. This has interestingly caused mass confusion all over Afghanistan as brigades think they have been given the wrong case numbers and the military airports who schedule seats for emergency leave think the messages are fake! Goodness.

Another story for you, I did a Medivac last night. It was an average sized mission, 8 ambulatory, 6 litters, 2 Ckats, but I had an awful experience with one of the Ckats. Normally Ckats are unconscious, because they are on life support but tonight one of them was awake. I was inside the bus, loading them from the people on the outside of the bus and then securing them to the walls of the bus. I was at this patients head with another air force MedEvac attendant with two other people at this feet when we went to "rack" him (secure the litter to the side of the bus). Both head and feet are supposed to rack at the same time, but this time the feet got into the rack first and normally I would be able to get my handle in without much fuss, even if we didn't rack simultaneously, but unfortunately this guy had huge casts on his feet and another on his left arm, the arm up against the wall. Because of his casts, we couldn't get our end to rack and then the guy started yelling in pain which was absolutely horrible. He was yelling about his foot being in pain, but actually it was the cast on his arm that was preventing the litter from sliding into place. The flight nurse actually had to come over and readjust his arm cast so that we could get the litter in and none of this was our fault, but Jesus, knowing our actions were causing this guy to bellow in pain made me want to vomit :-(

Finally, we took incoming today which was a bit unnerving since I heard a huge boom of impact, and waited for the sirens to off, but when they didn't I thought maybe it was fire from the artillery range. 10 mins later the sirens go off and it's bunker time, but seriously 10 mins later??? Not comforting. Afterwards, I took the car out to run some errands and there were three Blackhawks circling low over one of the villages, I can only assume the two events were related. Also, we found out today that the unit behind our office had four Killed in Action (KIA) today. We were told their ramp ceremony (Fallen Hero Ceremony) will be sometime tomorrow which we hope to attend. It's also Egyptian Hospital day tomorrow!