Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Warm Shower!

I had a warm shower yesterday! It was the first one in recent memory. What a great feeling. We have it so much better here than many of the other soldiers. At least we have shower trailers and running water, and occasionally, even a warm shower!

The worst part of taking cold showers the past few weeks was that I had a respiratory infection. They're pretty common over here. Every day we breathe in the exhaust from innumerable generators that provide our power, exhaust from the vehicles we drive, the aircraft that take off 24/7 just a few hundred meters from our working areas and living quarters, the dump that burns the refuse of 20,000-30,000 folks (also 24/7) not to mention the dust and sand that remains suspended in the air at all times. Add to that the viruses that are passed around in such close quarters and it is a veritable soup of contagion.

On Sunday, before our Brigade Staff meeting, I was talking with our Brigade Surgeon. The Commander had asked him to write a "white paper" on what all is in the air we breathe. It is not a pretty sight, including heavy metals. It is no wonder so many Soldiers return home with respiratory ailments. So, for two weeks of feeling lousy, climbing into a cold shower was not much fun. But yesterday I got a hot shower!

Today it was cold again.

But, I live in hope!

Take care. And enjoy those showers back home.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Operation: You've Got Mail!

What a great response since I sent out the email two weeks ago! So far we have received 38 boxes with many more in transit. That's a total so far of nearly 500 pounds of items valued at over $2,000. The Soldiers love getting the stuff - it is a real morale boost to know that we have the support of the folks back home.

If you would like to send something, here are a few ideas along with my mailing address:

1. Anti-perspirant (not deodorant)
2. Tootsie rolls
3. Twizzlers
4. Trail mix (individual bags)
5. DVD's (used are fine)
6. Travel or sample sized toiletries
7. Foot powder
8. Beef Jerky (yuck, but they love it!)
9. Gummi Bears
10. Starburst or Spree
11. Kleenex (pocket sized packs)
12. Magazines (Newsweek, Time, etc.)
13. Freezer Pops
14. Crackers and Peanut Butter or Cheese
15. Tea
16. Coffee
17. Granola Bars
18. Individual Packages of Cookies (no homemade)
19. Gum
20. Baby Wipes
21. Jelly Beans
22. Ziplock Bags
23. Disposable razors
24 Shaving cream

CH (MAJ) Jim Higgins
HHC, 2-135 GSAB
APO AE 09391

Friday, October 27, 2006

Fall Leaves

You probably don't know Cari Pirello. You may, but most folks reading this blog do not. I don't even know Cari Pirello. That's what makes her so special.

Cari is in my brother-in-law's Sunday School Class. Joe has been forwarding some of my emails to his class and Cari and I have struck up an electric correspondence. One of the things that I have told her is how much I miss autumn. Fall is my favorite season, and one of the things I grieve most right now is missing the changing season back home in Atlanta. Cari knows this, so she grabbed some leaves, put them in a ziplock bag, shoved it in an envelope, and mailed it to Iraq.

Not hard, right? Not very time consuming. Not at all expensive. But like the commercial says, priceless.

And that's the rub. Too often we go through life waiting, and wanting, to do something significant, something big. We wait until we can get a bunch of things together, or we have time, or the urge strikes. And the end result is we do nothing.

While we wait, the Cari Pirello's of the world stick some dead leaves in a bag and mail them 7,000 miles across the world to a combat zone to someone they never met.

Can you guess which package I'll remember 20 years from now?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How's the Weather?

(Click on image to enlarge)

I'm a weather freak.

There, I've admitted it. I am a freakin' weather freak! Always have been, always will be.

I remember sitting on the front porch of our home on Cumberland Road with my son Christian watching an incredible storm when our house was hit by lightning. I loved it. I remember snow storms in Central Illinois during college when Kirk and I would drive through rural Illinois looking for folks who needed help because they were stuck or had slid off the road. I loved it. I remember waking in the middle of the night in Homewood, Illinois and hearing the hush that had fallen over the world after the first snow of the season, the only sound the crunch of the tires from the lone car going down Jonathan Lane. I loved it.

Give me a cup of coffee, a front porch, and a nor'easter blowing in. Or, give me a comfortable couch, The Weather Channel, and a hurricane getting ready to make landfall. Lightning, thunder, rain, wind, these are a few of my favorite things.

Do you have any idea how boring the weather in a desert is?

Hot, sunny, windy. To be followed by hot, dark, and windy (we call that "night") to be followed by hot, sunny, windy. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ad nauseam.

But today, today we had rain! And a double rainbow! A little variety in our life. It will help keep me going another week.

God Bless,


Friday, October 20, 2006

Disciple Bible Study in Iraq

(click on photo to enlarge)

In one of my early posts I expressed a desire to offer several different study opportunities for our Soldiers, and the need I had for groups to sponsor these studies. The response was overwhelming! Two weeks ago we began the 8-week study Inivitation to the New Testament, part of the Disciple Bible Study Series. Pictured above are some of the intrepid souls who are making this journey. Thanks to Milledgeville First United Methodist Church in Milledgeville, Georgia for sponsoring our study.

I have long had a love affair with this part of the world. I have been lucky enough to travel in the Mideast on a number of occasions, but I never thought I would make it to Iraq. So much of biblical import has happened here from The Garden of Eden, to Abraham's sojourns, to Jonah, and Ezekiel and the Tower of Babel. It is a real treat to be able to study Scripture here with like minded brothers and sisters.

Living here, learning about the culture, interacting with the people, all while studying the scriptures is making an impact on these Soldiers. Yesterday one of them was remarking on how little has changed in the culture since biblical times. The upshot of the conversation was that it illustrated for the Soldier how radical Jesus' message of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation really was! That's an important insight for a Believer to have.

Thanks for providing these kinds of studies, and thanks for praying for our soldiers.

If you would like to do something a little more tangible, shoot me an email and I'll send you a list of some things our Soldiers need and want.

God Bless,


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Black Jack Alley

Several of you have asked me to post more pictures. Unfortunately, my digital camera batteries are dead and AA batteries are hard to find here. I'll keep trying; I may need to raid my toothbrush for them.

This is a picture of Black Jack Alley (don't forget that you can click on any picture in this blog to view it in its original size).This is where my office is, as well as the offices for our other staff officers and our Company Command Posts. The large t-barriers are blast barriers to keep shrapnel and exploding ordinance from entering our working areas. Of course if it comes through the roof, well, that will just make for a little more interesting day.

This is a picture of my humble abode, The Ranch. Notice anything missing? Yup, blast barriers. I guess they figure the Chaplain has other means of protection. But relax, the back is protected with t-barriers, and that is where my offices are located.

The hummer parked next to it is my ride. One of the advantages to being a Chaplain is having a vehicle dedicated solely to me and my work. It makes it easy to get around, and makes me very popular with the folks who want to get to the PX, or chow, or over to the other side of the base where the living is easy (the grass is always greener on the other side of the post, right?) It enables me to get soldiers to Combat Stress or other places when they need more specialized care than I can give them. This way I can also head out to visit our guys and gals at the FARP, flight line, MEDEVAC, hospital, and all our other work sites.

I'll post more pictures once I get the batteries. And yes, I will include myself in some of them, as requested.

Have a great day (for those of you just waking up on the East Coast)


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Anaconda/Army Ten-Miler

This morning I ran in the Anaconda 10-miler, a shadow race of the Army 10-miler which will be held later today in Washington, DC.

I was surprised by the number of runners here at LSA Anaconda; during the announcements, with many folks still registering, the number of runners was 700. Also surprising, was how poorly the race was organized. The route was convoluted at best; but that is to be expected in trying to get 10 miles in on an airbase in Iraq without getting too near the wire. The problem was that there were not many people giving directions to the runners at the various turns and roundabouts. I did not see a single mile marker, although one person told me they saw a sign at the 5 mile mark. Normally there are larger signs, some way to draw attention to them, and someone calling out the elapsed time from the official clock. In addition, they ran out of water and t-shirts. Let's see, running out of water on a ten mile run in the desert where safety is the number one issue - not good! But, I will give the organizers kudos for holding the race in the first place, and say that they had a lot of people registering this morning. It makes it harder to plan logistics if you don't have a good handle on how many people will be running.

I was happy with my time. My goal was simply to make it an easy training run and get the t-shirt, and that is exactly what I did. I ran the whole way without stopping, felt great during the run, and feel good now.

For me this was a significant day because it was the first race I have run, of any length, since my heart surgery in May, 2004. I'm not sure I even ran for eleven months after the surgery, which was unheard of pre-surgery when I was running 5-6 days per week. Many people I have met who have had open-heart surgery have said that they didn't feel human for 10-12 months after the surgery. I know that was true for me. In retrospect, 2004-2005 was probably one of the most difficult of my life. I am sure that also made it extremely difficult for my wife and three children. So, this race, in many ways, was a sign that those days are long in the past. Now I can start training for another half-marathon, and then for my eighth full marathon!

After the race and a quick shower I headed up to Freedom Chapel for my service. I'm happy to say that the crowds are growing and the music improving. We have some great soldiers and contractors volunteering in the band and in the congregation each Sunday. This Thursday I'll be starting Disciple Bible Study's 8-week course "Invitation to the New Testament". Thanks to First United Methodist in Milledgeville, GA for sponsoring the study.

Hope you all have a great week,


Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Greatest Generation

I have always been impressed with the GI Generation.

These are folks that went off to war in a completely different era that we did. We do 365 days; they were in it "for the duration". They went to war in troop ships that took weeks to get the the combat zone; we fly in chartered civilian planes (some of us first class!). They waited for weeks for mail, sometimes months; we have email, webcams, telephone calls, and we complain when our packages take longer than 10 days to get to us. They went years without seeing loved ones or new babies; we get 15 days R&R and emergency leave, if needed. We have body armor, live in trailers, watch DVD's, listen to ipods, and play video games; they went into the German forests in winter wearing summer uniforms.

When the war was over and they saved the world, they went home and built the world we know.

I get emails from a friend from that generation named Betty. Betty's fiance was gone for four years. She worked for two of those years at Love Field. When I emailed her about my respect for her generation she replied,

"Not a very long note this time around....but just want to say in regard to your comments that I certainly don't think you have it easier than vets of WWII did...you have a completely different set of horrific things to deal with over there....I don't think any of the vets would want to trade with our servicemen and women of today..and most of us, I'm sure, do not like the idea that you're all exposed to so much danger from the radical factions that are at work in this world today. No easy answers."

That kind of attitude is what makes them still the Greatest Generation.

So, thanks to the Bettys, and all others in her generation, who have paved the way for those who follow behind.

God Bless,


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Keeping Fit; Staying Sane

Many of you have asked me if I am able to run over here. I am glad to report to you that I am.

I run mostly at night, which makes for very interesting runs! There is really only one road I can run on, and it goes down to a "T" intersection right near the wire. Now the fact that this is a road that snipers have targeted before makes me a little nervous from time to time. The only recourse, however, is to stay inside, never venture out, and live in fear. I'm not about to do that. So, I run down to the wire, then back to our area, then back to the wire, etc. It's about 1.5 miles one way, so I can do 3, 6, 9 miles or more, in 1.5 mile increments.

Did I mention that it gets very dark for about the last half a mile before I hit the wire? The good thing about that is that it makes me harder to see, except for the reflective belt I am required to wear. I figure if thebad guys can't see me, they can't shoot me, unless of course they are using night vision optics. The problem with it being dark, however, is that it is difficult for me to see. That became a painful problem a few weeks ago. Have you ever seen, or heard of, a bollard? Bollards are placed in driveways, or wide sidewalks that you don't want vehicles driving on. Our bollards are permanent, four-feet high, and made of poured concrete. I am very careful when I run at night to avoid them. They can ruin your whole day, not to mention any chance of future procreation.

Did I mention that it is very dark in the desert at night?

You guessed it. Two weeks ago I plowed right into one. I didn't see it just a minute before I hit it; I didn't see it until after I had hit it. Full steam ahead. Chest first (at least I know my running form was good). Smack dab in the middle of the chest. The good news is that Doc Kelly noticed my discomfort one night when we were watching a movie. He palpated, squeezed, and kneaded (actually I think he was just missing Patty a little too much!) The good news is that he thinks it's a deep contusion, no broken ribs. So, heat, ibuprofen, and no more collisions are the doctor's orders.

I am currently following one of Hal Higdon's running schedules. I had the opportunity to run with Hal in Atlanta a few years ago when he was running 7 marathons in 7 months, to raise $700,000 for charity for his 70th birthday. What a running stud. I'm shooting for a sub 42 minute 10K. After that I'll work on a half-marathon, then probably a full again. It is a great stress reliever.

This Sunday morning there is a 10 mile race here on Anaconda. A few of our younger soldiers are running, so I'll probably run it with them as a training run. Mainly I'll run it for the t-shirt. That way, when I'm back racing in Atlanta, I can wear a race shirt from Iraq. That should be a conversation starter!

All is well here. It's a balmy 100 degrees at 1:45 p.m. We are beginning to see some clouds for the first time since we've been here, a sure harbinger that the rainy season can't be too far away. I stay plenty busy with our soldiers; 16 hour days are the norm. The running provides a nice relief, and a nice release.

Take care, and God Bless,