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 ;-)

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