25 September 2010

The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page. - St. Augustine

My travel companions: 
1. Passport
2. Journal with inspirational travel quote on the front
3. Three Cups of Tea - book about a dude who built schools in Afghanistan
4. hideous eye mask that makes me look like a dorky super hero (CVS didn't have any cute ones)
5. Super soft pashmina from India that can also be a blanket/pillow/head scarf
6. Visa
7. "Big G" - Lucky elephant from Gretchen's trip to India (I was going to call him Ganesh, because I remember Nitisha had elephant figurines that are an Indian god who removes obstacles, but I'm not sure if that would be offensive to call him that, so I've just named him Big G).

So leg one of my trip is finished!  We're in Kuwait!  I'm proud to say my luggage was exactly 50 pounds!  Woot!  No overage charges!  (well I had another one that was 30 pounds, and had my mom send some boxes ahead of time, what I'm going for a year!)  Flight was fine minus the guy next to me chewing tobacco and I didn't sleep at all.  We got in and there was a woman waiting to help us through getting our visas and going through customs.  Then they took us on a shuttle to the hotel.  We check in, finally take a deep breath and then all 5 of us had the same thought.  Uhhhhh guys, what do we do now?!  I was nervous for about a half an hour until Dustin knocked on my door and said that Ferron was here to debrief us.  Ferron is the USO liason in Kuwait to help us get everything done.  I love USO people.  Everybody acts like going to Afghanistan is no big deal.  Ferron said, oh yeah was there last week.  People in the headquarters in Arlington when I would joke and say yeah come visit, they'd say, oh we wish we could, actually I might be there in November etc.  When I say hey come visit to my friends and family they think I'm nuts!  It helps to have some people who downplay it, keeps me grounded and my head on straight.  Speaking of nice USO people, they threw us an impromptu going away shindig with cookies and cake before we left.  Hugs abounded and they all said the same thing, "We're so glad you're leaving!"  (not that we stunk, well at least I hope not, but because they knew we were itching to go out in the field and do our jobs).

I had an interesting thing happen in the bathroom in the Kuwait airport, bear with me, it's a good story.  I couldn't figure out how to turn the water on.  I thought, oh great, 5 minutes in and I already look like an ignorant American.  A woman in a burka came out of the stall and looked at the faucet and we both giggled and then she said, "Yeah I don't know how to turn the water on either."  She then pulled her veil over her heavily made up eyes and then offered me part of her burka and said, 'Here to wipe your hands."  I politely declined and said I had antibacterial in my bag.  It was so nice.  

Well, I'm going to go try to figure out how to turn on the shower.  Thanks for all the well wishes and prayers everybody!

22 September 2010

18 September 2010

Hey y'all, let's grab our croakies and koozies and go!

This week I have been working at the USO headquarters, and I LOVE it!  They have me doing work with TeamUSO.  www.TeamUSO.org is a website where you can create a page and find ways big and small to fundraise for the USO.  It's really interesting!  One guy is serving in the military in Iraq right now and he figured out he is exactly 8,000 something miles from home.  He is having all of his friends log how far they run each week and add the totals up until they reach his goal to "run him home" while also raising money for the USO.  USO has also rolled out a new website in the past week.  It has stories of how the USO has touched people's lives on the homepage.  You should definitely read it, but keep the tissues handy!  www.uso.org  I also have been working on researching companies and their corporate social responsibility policies to see if any might be a good partner for the USO.  The funny part is I remember doing almost the same thing for an assignment in Neff's class my Junior year!  That journalism degree is paying off! :)

I'm losing my mojo.  I love working in the headquarters and the farther our ship out date keeps getting pushed back, the less excited I become.  I think it's just because I've been so busy in the past 4 weeks with quitting my job, moving, going away parties and goodbyes that I haven't had time to just chill.  Now that I do, my excitement is just starting to wane a little.

In other news, everybody I meet is AWESOME.  The end.  Nah, I'll give you more details.  Randy and Courtney are two girls going to work for the USO in Kuwait, so they are in the same hurry and wait situation I'm in.  They are both from "The South" and have taught me a lot about Southerners.

  1. Southern men open doors
  2. Southerners say hello and goodbye on elevators to complete strangers
  3. Southerners under the age of 70 wear sunglasses cords called "Croakies"
  4. Southerners bring their own koozies to the bar
  5. Southern ladies dress up to go out, church, and FOOTBALL GAMES!  (and by dress up I mean full on dresses, not cute top and jeans)
When I signed up for the job I thought I'd learn more about other cultures...I was kind of thinking more like Middle Eastern or European, but Southern is a whole different breed as well. :)

14 September 2010

I've been branded and I'm proud of it!

I've been branded. :)

The more I learn about the USO, the more proud I am to work for such an amazing organization!  The Director of Recruitment, Maggie, told me during my interview that there would be at least one thing a day that would make me tear up during this job, and she was right!  Today they were talking about the United Through Reading program where we'll record a soldier reading to his or her children back home and then we'll send the DVD back home.  They said that there was one mom who wrote in that her young daughter would do this weird wiggling thing right in front of the tv when she played the DVD of her father reading and she asked her what she was doing and she responded that she was trying to sit on his lap.  They said another mom wrote in that after the dad was done reading her son walked up to the tv with another book and said, okay now this one Daddy!  I just feel so honored that I'll get to be a part of that!  They also were discussing the Sesame Street Live program.  This is where in a partnership with Sesame Street they take a special performance of Sesame Street Live to families of deployed soldiers in the States, Europe and Korea.   Apparently in one particular performance Elmo said that he missed his daddy when he was deployed and a little boy in the audience yelled out, "Yeah me too!" and then all the kids in the audience started nodding and saying they missed their parents too, they said it became this amazing impromptu toddler support group.  

These are just some of the programs.  Everyone I have met is equally as touching.  Bruce was in my Orientation group, he was in the Airforce for countless years, was also a Thunderbird, retired, and now is working for the USO in Dover.  Dover is where the families of deceased troops come first when their loved one is shipped back from overseas.  I couldn't imagine the kind of strength it would take to do that position day in and day out supporting people who have just lost a loved one.  Everyone is so dedicated to each position they hold.  It's really interesting to see how all the parts fit together.  There's people who try to get corporate sponsorships so our troops deployed can get free phone cards from AT&T and events like a flag football game in Iraq with NFL players because Fritos paid for it.  Then there's the people working with volunteers, and the people that plan the entertainment, and the people that market USO, and the people that do the IT support so we can call back home when we're "downrange" to all the braniacs who compute everything so we have data on our progress.  Without any particular one piece of this puzzle, in nice terms, we'd be screwed.

In other news, our transport orders didn't come through, so we're stuck in DC for a little while until those go through.  I like that we'll have this transition time.  I'll be working in the donor department tomorrow and until we get shipped out.  I'm excited to see this side of the organization and really get a feel for it before I go overseas and start working.

My going away parties were wonderful!  I loved having the chance to just hang out with all my friends from everywhere.  It's sad that it takes someone going half way across the world or a wedding once a year to get together like that.  It was all really fun, even though my Herd lost, in a heartbreaking game :(  I have received so many touching gifts.  Thank you to everyone who gave me a card, or hugged me, or came to my party!
This is Hero, he's been to Kosovo, Iraq, Kuwait, Germany, and Okinawa with the American Red Cross, now he's hitching a ride with the USO to Afghanistan!  My former professor, Maryl Neff who worked with the ARC lent him to me, so he could see some more of the world!  The bracelet around his neck was given to me by my friend, Lindsey because she said she saw it and thought of me.  It says, "Live the life you imagine"

09 September 2010

Skemp's Grand Adventure

So, I started this blog almost a year ago, and haven't posted since.  I felt I didn't do anything "blogworthy." I mean sure there were topics I could've discussed such as the latest commercial that was illogical or the annoyances of work or the latest drama with friends, but I've read some of those shitty daily blogs and let's face it the people who do care about your latest drama already heard it from you on facebook chat, via text and maybe if it was really intense even by phone!   Now, things have changed and I think I might actually have something to say that's interesting, or at the very least provides you with something to do while at work "working."

It all started on a dark and stormy night...okay no, not really, it started a couple months ago when a perfect storm of events took place.  My former roommate and awesome friend, Sarah Hansen up and joined the Air Force.  This got me thinking what am I doing with my life at the ripe ol' age of 25?  I have wanted to do non-profit PR since HS when Matt Velez died and I helped plan the t-shirts for the memorial wiffleball tournament.  I remember meeting the chick who did PR for the American Heart Association and I just thought she had the coolest job ever!  Well flash forward to college and after a failed attempt at becoming an education major (I don't have the patience for that) and theater major (I don't want to be penniless), I decided I liked writing.  I wanted a job so instead of English, Journalism sounded like a good idea (and I couldn't do broadcast because as Professor Hollis lovingly pointed out, "you'll have to be 'on' all the time." a.k.a. look pretty, put together, and not opinionated).  After school I had no direction, so I became a nanny in Raleigh and then a corporate PR intern in Pittsburgh.  I quickly realized I hated the feeling of working to make a rich guy richer.  The past two years I've been a recruiter at Marshall which I love!  I love working for an organization that I feel passionate about.  I loved my time at Marshall and I know other students can have that same awesome experience.  I spent 2 years traveling to PA, WV, SC, TN, FL, KY, NJ and countless other places to recruit for MU.  Then with the "Sarah Hansen impetus" I started to question what I was doing.  Meanwhile I was also getting ready to be in Christina's wedding and Beth has a baby and it feels like everyone I know is getting married.  It felt like the ticking time bomb of: you should be getting married, and if you're not getting married, you should be doing something flipping awesome!  I want a grand adventure before I have to consider others when making a decision.  <- Yeah that sounds incredibly selfish, but hey you only have so many years to be selfish, so I'm gonna live it up!  On the exact opposite side of that I know that all my life I've been taught by my parents or my Catholic education or my role models that to whom much is given, much is expected.  I've been incredibly blessed in this life with shelter, education, family, friends, skills, abilities etc. and I should use those blessings to help someone else.

I started thinking about organizations that I would want to work for and the USO invaded my thoughts.  Our troops give up everything: 9-5 job, seeing their family when they want, living where they want, and sometimes even their lives, so we can practice the religion we want, go to school where we want and wear what we want.  Only 1.5% of the US population is serving in our military, the other 98.5% are just going about life as usual while our brave men and women are out there literally putting their lives on the line, so that we don't have to worry.  I originally applied for a job in Germany, but didn't hear back so then I applied for the job in the SWA (South West Asia - Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Qatar).  I figured it was a long shot and if anything I'd get Kuwait.  Well, after some intense interviews and grilling every person I've ever known who has been to the middle east or is in the military, I got the job!  Thank you to Neil, Lang, Kuhn, Maryl, Justin, Tony and everyone else who gave me advice!

I'll be living with 3 other USO girls on the base in Kandahar, Afghanistan and working 6 days a week.  It's a NATO base so there will be troops from all over the world there.  They are planning a big opening of the USO Center there in a week or two.  It will have a movie theater, reading room, "United Through Reading Rooms" (troops read to their kids and then we send the dvd and book to their kids), computer room, phone room and other fun stuff!  Then we'll plan events like 5Ks, holiday parties, and game nights, all so the troops have some relief from what they do.  They have a Facebook page, USO Kandahar, that will have updates of everything we're doing over there.

Now here I am, chilling at my parents' house waiting to go to DC for Orientation and then on a plane for my 11 hour flight to Kuwait.  Then I'll get "processed" and go on to Afghanistan.  It's a 12 month commitment, but if I like it a lot I can re-up for another 6 to 12 months, or just say peace out and go back to the states.

I have so many people in my life to thank for giving the confidence and support and love to know that I can do this.  From the get-go Natalie, Maryl and Gretch have been inspirations to me!  Through their world travels they've shown me that you can go out and help others while having the time of your life.  My parents, sisters and countless aunts, uncles, crazy cousins, third cousins twice removed and Grams who have said you're crazy but God love ya go for it!  All my friends who since the second I said I wanted to do it they've said good for you!  Erin, Hinie, Emmy, Shansen, Slou, Christina, Steph, Beth, Lindsey, Carri, Sara, Boris, Luke, Todd, Eric, Amanda, Rebecca, Sabrina, Mary, Hollis, Margo, Natalie, Meagan, Tish, Ferg, Mackenzie and everybody else who has well-wished me!

It's going to be a crazy ride, but I think I'm one step closer to answering the question, am I living a blog-worthy life?

PS: The USO does amazing things and I encourage everyone to go to their website www.uso.org and get involved!  It is as simple as typing a note that they'll give to a wounded warrior, or having a bake sale and donating the money to the USO, or buying a phone card so a soldier can call home.  These are small things that ALL OF US CAN DO NOW.