Thursday, January 18, 2007

I Love This Place

I have now spent a little over a year on active duty. My first month was with the 81st RRC in Birmingham. After that it was on to Ft. Hood for six months with the 2/135 GSAB. Now I've been in-country for almost 5 months with the GSAB and as Brigade Chaplain for the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade.

The other week I had the strange thought that this is now my "normal" life, and my life back home is the exception. All the luxuries and amenities of life in the U.S. have been replaced by a simpler and somewhat more spartan existence. But like any adjustment after a while, I've stopped missing having a shower or toilet in the building where I live. I have grown to enjoy the camraderie of eating in a mess hall with 1,000+ other Soldiers.

It helps that I love the work I do. Here ministry is real, relevant, and immediate. If someone is taken to the hospital you go immediately, because otherwise you'll miss them as they are evacuated out of the area of operations. I regularly deal with people who are suicidal or have serious marital distress. I don't have to deal with the little old lady who is miffed because I didn't greet her in the hallway (never mind that my attention was fully focused on the 35 year-old woman telling me she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer). The little gripes and complaints of life back home are replaced by real life emergencies. I can see why it is so difficult for so many Soldiers to go back home where the priorities and concerns are so different.

It also helps that I love the Soldiers I work with. I have been with these Soldiers for 10 months, 24/7. We eat, work, play, fly, and live together. I have a Command that gives me free reign, and supports me and my ministry more that I have ever been supported before.

This is not to say that I do not miss my family and friends terribly. Nor is it to say that I don't miss life as it was back home. It's just to say that I have made the adjustment and that I am doing important work here. Maybe the most important of my life. And don't worry about me extending or going active duty. I'm looking forward to going back to the local church with a rejuvenated sense of calling.

It's just to say: I love this place.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Rainy Season in Iraq

It's another miserable day in Balad. Remember when I talked about flooding and mud? Here's what the road behind my office looks like. Other areas on the FOB are much deeper. Most of our buildings are temporary, so when you go in you find all kinds of waste baskets catching the water falling from the ceiling. Still, we have it much better than many.

Soldiers find interesting ways to improvise. My humvee has plastic trash liners on the seats so we stay dry. In one building some enterprising soul has used plastic to channel water from a leak in the middle of the room off to the side where it drops harmlessly into a bucket, rather than onto communication electronics.

I'm ready for the dry dusty season to return!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Nothing in Particular

It's a nasty day in Balad. The temperature is in the low forties and it is raining. When it rains here the water pools in the living and work areas and the ground quickly becomes a quagmire. The mud isn't the type you can hose off and be done with. It's the kind of clay mud that Georgia red clay can only aspire to be. Walk across the street and you may be six inches taller than when you started if you're not careful. Of course that means that you track the mud into offices, the chapel, your hootch; wherever you go. Imagine the fun of waking up in the middle of the night and slogging through that mess in your shower shoes to use the latrine. When I return home I may need to put a portajohn in the backyard just to feel at home!

I have a bit of a head cold at the moment. The only symptom is blocked eustation tubes, and that's driving me crazy. It feels like I am under water all the time, and my right ear vibrates at certain frequencies. The most frustrating part is talking with Soldiers who are depressed and speaking quietly and I have to constantly ask them to repeat themselves. All I can do know is treat the symptoms and wait for the virus to work itself out.

My running is going well. I am currently in the eighth week of a 12 week half-marathon training schedule. I ran a 9 miler on Saturday that was too easy. I'm running 5 days a week or so and am doing speed work and tempo runs in addition to one long run a week and some recovery runs. After I finish this schedule my plan is to ramp back for a month or so and then start a full marathon schedule. It's been a little over 5 years since I have run a marathon, so I'm excited about having that mountain to climb again. You need some kind of project here to keep you sane and doing something other than the mission.

Finally, let me say "thank you" again to all the individuals, churches, work teams, and groups that supported Operation: You've Got Mail. We received well over 1,000 boxes valued over $50,000. Fortunately the stream has diminished and we are receiving 25-30 boxes a week instead of the peak of 225 that we had prior to Christmas.

I hope the first week of 2007 has been a good one for all of you, and that you are keeping your resolutions.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Well, planes and helicopters anyway.

In many of these posts I talk about C-23 Sherpas, C-12's, UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-47 Chinooks, C-130's and all the other fun and exciting modes of transportation I've flown on since arriving here. Here's a few pics for the visual among you.

This baby is a C-12, and my favorite ride. I flew this down to Baghdad and back. When we got stuck and extra night at another site the day before the execution this is what they sent the next day to bring us home. The Baghdad trip it was just my Chaplain Assistant, me, and the pilots. We had three others on the other trip. Actual seats; no web seats! It's usually reserved for General Officers, but like the old saying goes, "It's not what you know, it's who you know."

This is the UH-60 Black Hawk. This picture was taken a while back on a round robin trip including Tallil, Diwaniyah, and Al-Kut. If you remove the flag and the people you would see a red cross on a white background. This is one of our medevac birds. These guys are the true hero's out here.

This is a C-130. C-130 is Native American for "Big, ugly, loud, uncomfortable bird that must be avoided at all costs". My initial flight from Kuwait was in one of these, and several of my flights out of Tallil have been in one of these bad boys as well. You know it's going to be less than first class when they have to unload three or four pallets of gear so you can climb in and strap yourself to web seating.

This is a C-23 Sherpa. I did not take this picture; I captured it from the Internet. These things are so damn ugly that I was afraid I would break my camera if I took a picture of it. These are called "flying boxcars". Can you guess why? Still it's a better ride than the C-130.

Well, I've tried posting the picture of the CH-47 Chinook several times, but Blogger doesn't seem to like it. Maybe there are too many pics in this post. I'll post it tomorrow, because I'm late to hook up with a few friends on the way to chow!