30 September 2012

Behind the headlines

This is the story: Audacious Raid on NATO Base Shows Taliban's Reach

This is my story...

I received a Facebook message from Randy (one of my best friends who started working for the USO the same day I did, and worked in Kuwait, Kandahar with me, and then Camp Leatherneck)

"As i walk up to the uso so does he and the big voice comes on for opp lockdown. bastion is currently under attack. we can see the helicopters firing. there are big fires on that side of base that we can see glowing. nuts. not like kaf. they just called all off duty fire fighters to their stations."

At this point a Google search turns up nothing.  The world doesn't know yet.  But I do.  I know my friend's base is getting attacked, and she is there, with only one other USO staffer, locked in a tent, unarmed.

Everything else quickly becomes fuzz.  Everyone's updates featuring pictures of the food they made, and the people they saw are insignificant blips.  They keep updating, they keep popping up, unaware of the attack raging half a world away.

Randy's message was sent to our close group of former and current USO girls from KAF.  The conversation right before Randy's message was laughing at one friend's drunken Facebook ramblings about another friend's relationship.

"update. there are people in the wire in uniform - taliban members. everyone is to report to accomodations and stay inside. small arms fire and cobras firing rounds. fires have subsided. Marines have started filing to their vehicles in full gear."

News outlets begin updating their sites with brief 3 paragraph long stories about the attack.

Then her messages stop. 

We're all familiar why.  It's a blackout.  To my understanding with 30,000 plus people KAF never had ordered blackouts because they would be too difficult to enforce, but at smaller bases when there are deaths they order a blackout.  They want to ensure there is time to inform the next of kin before someone posts it on Facebook.  I couldn't think of a worse way to find out about the death of a loved one than Facebook, but it happens.  I experienced my first black out at Camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.  A Captain came quickly pacing into our USO tent, asked for the manager and then quietly, but with forceful seriousness, told me to disconnect the internet and phones until further notice.

One night has passed since Randy's first message and I'm sitting between my parents in my dad's truck on a 4 hour trip to my aunt's house checking my Facebook, USAToday, FoxNews, and Yahoo News every 10 minutes. 

We joke in our Facebook messages to each other to lighten the mood, only our jokes wouldn't be funny to most.  Randy was supposed to travel back to the states in a few days, and Erin lives in Dubai.  We discuss forming new identities for them since the Middle East isn't exactly keen on Americans at that moment.  These two blonde beauties, could they be French?  South African maybe?  We all laugh thinking about Randy with a head scarf and her trademark leggings on.

I talk to Randy's mom for a half an hour that night trying to reassure her.  There's a lot we don't tell our parents while in Afghanistan, but it's a little hard to hide when it's all over the news.  I feel for her mom.  Being on this side of the globe now, I get how my family must have felt. Although, I'm not sure if I'm worried more or less having been there.

The attack had ceased, Randy and her coworker were fine, and her flight was rebooked.

"oh how i am thrilled that you girls are home safe and sound. however it would be nice to have some friends to be in lockdown with"

Randy returned to America safely a few days later...and Erin flew into Camp Leatherneck.

I've never been in a battle, so I can not even begin to comprehend the bond troops have when their lives are in one another's hands.  But when you have your face in the dirt right next to a girl after feeling the ground shake beneath you from an incoming rocket, it forms a special bond. (That was during Megan's going away party, the Taliban sure know how to send us off with a bang).

We all met in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Now we're in Colorado, DC, PA, WV, Dubai (with trips to Afghanistan), and NC but soon to be England.  We're spread across the country and spread across continents, but at a moment's notice we can all be there for one another.

Most of the headlines  wrote about Prince Harry's safety or questioning the drawdown tactics.  Prince Harry wasn't my concern, Randy was.  Thankfully she was fine, because of the bravery and sacrifice of the military men and women defending the base.

United States Marines Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, 40, and Sgt. Bradley Atwell, 27, were killed in the attack on Camp Leatherneck on September 15, 2012.

21 September 2012

Fool me 15 times

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

Fool me 15 times… how did I not get the bloody hint?!

Since I started job searching I have applied for 15 jobs I thought were perfect for me!  I had the experience.  I tailored my resume to each one, and I wrote a cover letter even if it wasn’t required.  Before my interviews I scoured their website learning everything I could about their company and the department in which I would work.  I borderline stalked their employees on LinkedIn and Facebook.  I phoned a friend and called in my connections.  I dressed nicely and didn’t wear any of my rings during the interview (I have a nervous tick where I CONSTANTLY switch my rings from finger to finger or twist them).  I kept my sarcasm to a minimum and my charm to a maximum.  Yet, I am unemployed (and ironically don’t qualify for unemployment, my bad for quitting my own contract).  What am I doing wrong?
I even made an organized job search binder with color coded tabs!

I am applying at the same companies (multiple positions) for the same types of jobs – military non-profit.  This is my passion, my dream job…right?  Question is: when does it stop becoming admirable and start becoming ignorant? 

At first I thought I was resolute and determined for unwaveringly applying for the same types of jobs.  But repeating the same action over and over again and expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity according to Einstein.

When I was in college I dated (I use the term very loosely) a boy who I was enamored by.  I thought everything was going lovely even though he wouldn’t ever admit we were dating.  (I know in hindsight this sounds really stupid on my part, but wait, save that judgment for about 3 more sentences).  Well then after months went by I finally rid myself of him by moving 3 states away and severing all contact.  I’ve always been rather dramatic I guess.  Well 2 years and 2 cities later I ended up back where it all began, back with…yep, him.  Ol’ Einstein was right, this situation produced the same result.  Only this time I totally outdid myself on the move and moved a couple continents and oceans away.

I guess I’m just an optimist…to a fault.  Nah, that’s an easy out, blaming it on a character flaw.  I think the real issue is I find something I enjoy, and I get comfortable.  And who wants to leave that comfy spot on the couch you just nestled yourself into that’s already warmed by your butt?

I just thought it would be easier than this.

I remember I attended a TEC retreat (Teens Encounter Christ) and I was on this great “yay God!” high from a weekend of fun faith filled activities.  Our leader warned us that although we felt changed by the weekend, the world had not changed.  We were in a protected bubble and the real world was a harsh reality that would smack us in the face. 

I’ve left my protected bubble of Afghanistan, and now I’m smack dab in the real world armed with experience, a degree, and a waning sense of confidence.

I am confident in one thing though; I’m not insane.  So, it’s time to do something different.
pretty brilliant dude

30 July 2012

Boomerang Kid, not as fun as it sounds

I am a boomerang kid.  It sounds fun and playful; it is not.  One simple google search immediately confirms the suspicions, this is not a positive word... this is failure. 
Foreshadow: me learning to throw a boomerang in February

A boomerang kid is defined as a young adult who lives with his or her parents after a period of living away from home. Of the 5.4 million search results, three of them on the first page include, "Parents How to Kick Your Kid Out of the Nest," "Don't Let Boomerang Kids Derail Your Goals," and "Five Survival Tips for Parents of Boomerang Kids."  This doesn't sound like a sweet homecoming, but instead a disease ridden pest that needs to be eradicated from your house.

Now of course my parents have NOT made me feel even an inkling of being an unwanted insect.  They welcomed me home with open arms.  Problem is, I don't want to be a boomerang kid.

I lived in a warzone!  I traveled the world!  I spent time in a mud hut in Uganda and managed a travel debacle involving a bus in Dubai.  I got this independence thing pretty down pat...but now I need my mommy.

I wrote about my plan on this blog.  I had it all figured out.  In March I decided to leave Afghanistan in June, and I would spend a month or two traveling to see friends and family; then settle into a new job supporting our troops stateside.  Then reality hit me like a 2 ton brick.  While still in Afghanistan I applied for a job I thought was perfect for me!  I would help wounded warriors go to college.   I mean who else would have the unique work experience of being a college recruiter for 2 years, and work with wounded warriors in a warzone?  Well, apparently someone else did that, or better.  I didn't get the job.  I imposed a 24 hour grief period, then moved on.  I was still excited to go home and start a new adventure! 

Shortly before returning home I applied for another position that involved traveling and supporting our troops.  Again I naively thought, I got this.  Only 5 interviews later I figured out someone else had nearly the same experience as me and was a better fit.  That pity party lasted a wee bit longer. 

So those two jobs weren't for me.  But what is?  I was so sure I knew what I wanted.  I was so sure I set myself up to have the degree, the experience, the attitude to get what I wanted.

I even tried volunteering for a local troop organization and was told they don't take volunteers.  I can't even do the work I love for free?  What?!?!

I've been home nearly 2 months and this is my first post.  It's hard to write a blogworthy life, when I'm sitting on my parents' couch watching Gilmore Girls reruns.  I have 3 gorilla boxes stacked in my room, untouched, because unpacking them means I live here. 

I chose this.  It's not some crazy set of circumstances I've been blindly plunged into.  I chose to leave.  A friend from college asked me the other day what was the hardest thing about being in Afghanistan.  I contemplated answering the heat, the rockets, the living situation, but all of that was manageable.  My response, "leaving." 

I don't want to go back.  I want to go forward.  I just gotta figure out how.

01 June 2012

Goodbye Afghanistan.

Shortly before I departed for Kandahar, my friend Lindsey gave me a bracelet that says, “LIVE THE LIFE YOU IMAGINE.”

Well I never could have imagined this!

I’ve ridden in a MRAP through an obstacle course.
I’ve taken a tour of an A-10.
I’ve flown in the cockpit of a C-130 three times.
I’ve flown in a Black Hawk to COPs and FOBs in Kandahar province.
I’ve taken a tour of a medical rescue helicopter and watched the ParaRescue Jumpers respond to a call.
I’ve spent a night in the control tower watching all the flights land and take off.
I’ve tried on an EOD suit.
I’ve played with military bomb sniffing and attack dogs.
I’ve heard the eerie whistle as a rocket flies overhead moments before impact.
I’ve felt the earth quake under my feet as an incoming rocket has exploded.
I’ve shared a room with 4 other grown women.
I’ve shared a bathroom with 35 of them.
I’ve eaten goat in Africa and a baby squid in Greece.  Eww!
I’ve visited 5 continents.
I’ve snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.
I’ve seen the Caribbean, Uganda, Germany, Ireland, Australia, Greece and Italy.
I’ve made life long friends, and met others I’d rather forget.
I’ve been yelled at by a Sergeant Major, praised by a Lieutenant Colonel, and laughed at by a Brigadier General.
I’ve watched ACUs turn to Multi-Cam.
I’ve seen 3/2 SCR change to Lightning Strawberries and then into the giant Indian patch guys.
I’ve learned greetings in Dari, Pashto, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Slovakian.
I’ve seen an entire unit deploy to Afghanistan TWICE! – the Route Clearance Seahorses.
I’ve ran a marathon.
I’ve felt the pain of loss.
I’ve seen the joy of a proud father at his child’s birth.
I’ve held grown men as they cry.
I’ve rejoiced with grown men as they cheer.
I’ve witnessed a soldier be awarded a Purple Heart while in the hospital.
I’ve seen a soldier wince in pain at the shrapnel still in his side.
I’ve seen a soldier draped in a flag for his final flight home.
I’ve felt deeper sadness and joy than I had ever known possible.

I truly lived.

I gave 20 months to the brave men and women who give us their careers, family, and sometimes even their lives.  I thought it would be a great sacrifice, but instead it’s been a great adventure. 

To every family member, friend, and OLP parishioner, thank you for your undying support that gave me the strength to support our troops.

And to every USO staffer, USO volunteer, SF, MARSOC, SEAL, PJ, Coast Guardsman, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and Soldier, thank you for sharing your experience with me.

To my coworkers who became friends, and to those friends who became my desert family, I could not have made it through without you.  You were my rock, my sanity, and my overwhelming joy.

My sister Gretchen wrote me an e-mail recently in which she said, “Trust me, it all works out if you have the courage to let go.”

As a college recruiter I’ve heard countless mothers talk about the strength it takes to let go of their babies and not feel the guilt of abandonment as they trust they’ll be okay without them.  I feel the same way about our troops.

I know I have made a difference in others’ lives just as they have touched mine, and in that way a piece of me will always be in Afghanistan.

So here’s to a new adventure!

New change, can’t wait! – Daren Hidalgo in his final letter to me. 

28 April 2012

I want a Jeep.

I want a Jeep.

Specifically a 2012 Black Forest Green Pearl Wrangler Sahara 6 Speed Manual with Dual Top (Freedom Top and Sunrider).
The open woods, the Jeep, the gorgeous dog, who wouldn't want this life?!

Now I don’t know how to drive a stick, but I figure our Toyota Surf SUV is so old and decrepit you have to drive it with 2 feet easing off the brake, but not fully because you have to rev the gas so as to not peel out or stall, that I basically know how to drive a stick anyway.  Come to think of it, I should just buy a Toyota Surf, everyone has one of them out here, and they’re all at least 10 years old, yet still find a way to run.

But how could I resist a vehicle with slogans like this:

“Rugged yet refined, authentic to the core,” yeah that’s me!

“Go anywhere, do anything,” I want to!

It’s the “Face of Freedom” for God’s sake!

Now Jeeps don’t have the best gas mileage, and with the rate of gas prices it seems silly, or even downright illogical to not purchase a fuel efficient car, or heck at least a hybrid SUV.  But I want one real bad!  I feel like in a Jeep I can go rock climbing, or schlep my mountain bike, or throw my hiking stuff in the back.  Yes, it’s true my sister can do all of this, and does almost every weekend, in her Hyndai Sonata. 

But the Jeep, the Jeep, would announce to the world that I do it!  The Jeep would make me want to live the life it so boldly declares I do.  If the highlight of my weekend instead of taking a trip to a cabin off the beaten path in the woods is driving to Target while stopping for some Chic-Fil-A on the way, the Jeep will mercilessly mock me with every gear shift, 




(And not in the Anthony Hopkins sweet whisper in Meet Joe Black kind of way, but in the grating, stop you in your tracks, Janice from Friends voice kind of way).

I currently own a Ford Escape with a No Boundaries package that just happened to come on it when I (k, maybe my parents) purchased it used.  The No Boundaries package included a bike rack that flipped down off the top.  It announced to the world, "This ain’t your soccer mom’s SUV, THIS is a young, hip, outdoorsy person’s SUV."  Only, I didn’t even own a bike.  My sister relentlessly pestered me about how my car better fit her, and why didn’t I have a bike.  I was actually relieved when a tree branch in heavy snow fell on the roof creating a large dent in the bike rack rendering it useless.  That is until, about a year later I actually decided to do something about my lack of life and bought a mountain bike.

So you see, now I have a bike!  And I went rock climbing on real rock more than once!  (Okay so just twice, but I was really starting to get into it before I moved).  And I've zip lined, and hiked! 
This picture says to the world, I belong in a Jeep!

Hmmmm…there lies the conumdrum…purchase the SUV that says I live an outdoorsy life, or actually live the outdoorsy life in whatever car I have. 

Well here’s my solution: the Jeep will be like all those brand spanking new beautiful workout clothes I bought when I decided I wanted to get in shape.  Like my favorite Kelly green Nike v-neck, or bright blue with neon green stripe Adidas shorts.  I could workout in an old t-shirt sure.  But would that old t-shirt silently mock me every time I opened my overflowing closet shouting,  "WHY HAVE YOU NEVER USED ME FOR MY INTENDED PURPOSE YOU LAZY ASS?!  GO TO THE GYM!"  No, that old t-shirt would say, I'm so comfy, just wear me, and lounge around, I look so much better paired with slipper socks over tennis shoes any day. So the clothes inspire me, just like the Jeep will.

Only problem is, that Jeep is one very expensive workout shirt.

15 April 2012

Where Does a Memory Live?

Most sane people would think the choice to leave Afghanistan after a year and a half is a no brainer.  For me it’s the most emotionally taxing decision I’ve ever had to make.  There’s one simple enough to say, but incredibly hard to explain, reason.

Leaving Afghanistan is leaving him, 1st Lieutenant Daren M. Hidalgo…behind.

Afghanistan holds the worst moment of my life, the moment I found out the boy I had spent the past 4 months spending every moment he had on KAF together was killed, but it also holds all the best moments…every moment I had with him.

When I leave this place I leave the Dutch PX that he was convinced I was confused about because there is a Deutsch PX as well.  I’ll leave the front desk where I first saw him.  I’ll leave the boardwalk bench where we got caught being on a “date” by his soldiers.  I’ll leave the chair outside my old mod where we sat for hours one day just talking.  I’ll leave the DFAC where we first had a meal together and the spaghetti sauce was so watered down I wouldn’t eat it so he was worried I was anorexic.  I’ll also leave the parking lot that’s now become a motor pool where we first talked about our families, friends, jobs, and dreams for the future.

Last summer I met a soldier who had just been blown up, a wounded warrior.  We became close friends and shared a lot.  I was there through his painful recovery - physical, emotional and mental.  Not knowing it at the time, but looking back now, I can see that that soldier was my chance, the chance I never had to nurse Hidalgo back to health.

Just a few months ago one of our friends got blown up and was life flighted to the hospital here on base, Role 3.  We went to go see him and I held his hand as he lay in the bed.  I tried to joke to cheer him up, and watched him get awarded his Purple Heart.  That friend was another chance, the chance I never had to visit Hidalgo at the hospital.

See by going home now I thought I’d run out of those chances.  But I know through my work, I can still get them.  I can hopefully work for Wounded Warrior Project or continue with USO and still get a chance to be there for someone like I dreamed I could have been for him.

When I was planning my vacation for this winter my friend Erin and I decided to go to Australia.  Then I realized the dates, we’d be gone during the first anniversary of his death.  I immediately didn’t want to go.  I wanted to be in Afghanistan for the anniversary.  I wanted to be where I knew him.  Where our memories lived. 

Besides a few of my coworkers, everyone that knew him was gone already from this god forsaken country, so why did I want to be here?  Erin has lost someone she loved dearly out here too, so I figured she would at least understand me and my dark day and be there for me, so I went.

Here’s the thing… in a hotel room in downtown Sydney, Australia, thousands of miles from where I had met, known and loved a boy, I could still remember his big ass grin, hear his laugh, and see his face at all of those places we shared.

As horrifyingly hard as it is for me to admit it, his memory lives in me and I know that.  I just don’t think until now I was strong enough to realize it.

After he died I slept every night with, as weird as this sounds, a knife he gave me.  I clutched it so hard I got on a blister on my hand.  During the day I wore it in my pocket.  Gradually the questions about the knife got too annoying and prying, so I began just keeping it in my bag.  If even one moment went by when I didn’t know where it was, I panicked.  It was all I had of him.  The first time I left, and couldn’t take it on a plane I was petrified of how I would react without my security blanket/knife.  I got through it.  As time went on I began just storing the knife in my drawer.  I still know exactly where it is, but I now know exactly what it is. 

It is an object, not a memory.  Afghanistan is a location, not a memory.  The memory is in me.  It’s the way I feel when I think about him, and the smile I crack through the tears when something reminds me of him.

That’s where it is, and that’s where it will always be.

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)
-e e cummings

22 March 2012

June 1st: self-imposed deadline to get a life

I made the decision that June 1st I’m coming home!  I originally signed up for 1 year and said okay friends and family see you in September!  Then, umm alright see you by Christmas!  Definitely by my year and half in March!  And…I’m still here.  So, I knew I had to make it official with a date or else I’d never leave. 

When I told my mother that I was coming home by June 1st her response was, “oh.”  Not exactly the response I was looking for.  While my parents’ completely chill persona was awesome in my rebellious teenage years (okay so I really didn’t have those minus that one freshman year birthday incident), now it left a little something to be desired.  In one word, I was underwhelmed.

“Your baby is coming home from war and your response is just oh!” - (my reaction to my mother's chillness if of course to over react in a dramatic fashion to hopefully warrant a more spirited response, this has mostly never worked)
 “I’ll believe it when I see it.” - my mother still completely chill
 Touche, mother.  I’m guess I am the little boy that cried wolf/I'm coming home.

Anyway June 1st is quickly approaching and after applying for 7 jobs, I have heard a rejection from a whopping 1 and a lack of response from the other 6.  I feel like I’ve found my niche working with troops, and I want to use my public relations knowledge.  I’d like to live somewhere on the coast in VA or NC (close enough to home, but not too far).  There’s just this one nagging feeling, what about writing?  I love writing.  Right now I’m in a horrible mood because of some rude people, so after some impulse Amazon purchases, I started writing.  It’s what I like to do, and I think I'm pretty good at it.  I mean I chuckle when I read it back to myself, and I'm pretty uptight about grammar.  (The fact that I typed the number instead of spelling it out when these numbers are under 10 is secretly annoying me right now).  People have offered me advice to getting started in a writing career.  I even bought 4 books about getting published from another Amazon spree a few months ago that sit untouched on my Rubbermaid container.  What am I so afraid of? (ahhhh dangling preposition!)

Here’s an abridged version: embarrassment, failure, becoming penniless, having people tell me I’m not good enough, and being slapped in the face with the harsh realization that this is just a hobby and will never be a career

I’ve been watching this show, Surviving the Cut.  It is a show about the different military schools and how difficult they are.  So far I’ve watched 6 episodes, and I’ve concluded I wouldn’t survive more than 5 minutes at Sapper School, Ranger School, Combat Diver School, Special Forces Selection, and Air Force Pararescue Extended Training Day.  What they emphasize in all of these schools is: it’s mind over matter.  Sheer determination and force of will is the only way to survive and ultimately succeed.  You have to have confidence in yourself because out there in the cold harsh world no one else will do it for you. 

Well not only can I not complete a single push up, I do the struggle dance with the whole mind over matter ordeal.  Yeah, friends and family have encouraged my writing and I’m extremely grateful for that.  But all it takes is an episode of American Idol to shake me to my core.  I’m that girl.  I’m the girl whose whole family is there, and a few friends saying that I’m the best singer since Celine Dion, but then I open up my big ol’ mouth and sound like a cat that is suffering a painful and slow death.  (I’m trying to make an analogy about my writing ability, but if you didn’t get that without this parenthetical notation, then I’m just about as horrible of a writer as I worry that I am).

There’s also this one other little worry that all single ladies my age have…what if I move to a new city and have no friends?  Once you reach a certain age at all the places you could meet possible new friends – gym, church, work, they are married and/or have children meaning they have next to no time for “hanging out.”  Sitcoms lie people!  There are no groups of late twenty-somethings who meet up every day at a coffee shop to hang out.  There are married late twenty-somethings who are busy with work, and houses and children, and their lonely single friends.

I currently live with 2 other females (4 others if Army billeting asks) in a room, in a building with approximately 30 others who all share a bathroom, and I share an office with 8 others, and work at a place where 1,000 people walk through a day.  I’m NEVER alone.  The thought of living alone both excites me and terrifies me.  I’m currently helping out at a FOB in northern Afghanistan, and I hate that I don’t know anyone.  I eat alone; I work out alone; I hang out alone.  If it’s this sucky for just a week, what about when this is my new life?! 

I’m also going to attempt a Tough Mudder on June 9th in Colorado with some of my USO crew.  So there is some major worry going on there as well, what if I suck, what if I let down my team because I have zero upper body strength?

Basically, I’m a big ol’ ball of worry right now.  I just try to keep one thing in mind, the only reason I have this much worry is because I have this much opportunity.  I live in a time where as long as I’m awesome at what I’m doing I can pursue whatever job I want, and live wherever I want.  I’ve been given a blessed life, and it’s my turn to live up to it.  We’ll see what happens.  First step, keep working on that push up.

08 March 2012

Kony 2012

What if one evil man could be brought to justice not with years of war and thousands of dead, but with one year, and thousands of outspoken people that donate a few dollars?

I watched the Kony 2012 video like many others, only I already knew his name.  I already know his children.  I already have seen the crimes he has committed in the faces of women and children who have been raped, had their families murdered in front of them, and forced to live in the wild or fear capture.  I visited northern Uganda in January/February 2011, and I will never be the same.

Me with one of the children from ChildVoice
I visited my friend Natalie (her blog) who volunteered for an organization, Child Voice International that hosts a center for young women and their children to attend to learn life skills so they may provide for their families.  They stay for a year or so and then return to their villages where they can hopefully get a small loan and start their businesses.  (At the time I visited they were working on the last part).  These women and children were all so happy and joyful, it’s hard to believe that they had been tortured just a few years prior.

The “mother” of the center told me a story of how she had to run from her village with just her twins and no supplies because the Lord Resistance’s Army was coming to kill everyone.  She saw many murdered.  She told me of not knowing who of her family and friends survived and who died.  They lived in the bush for years wondering if tonight would be the night they were discovered and killed, or kidnapped to become a sex slave. 

Many of the women have children, not because they are promiscuous, but because of rampant rape in the bush.  I could write for hours about these women’s absolutely horrific stories, you could fill pages with their suffering, but what I want to talk about is their hope.  They WANT a better life for their children.  That’s why they are at the Child Voice center, to work hard for a way to provide for their families.  But Joseph Kony and his LRA are still a threat.  What if everything they have worked so hard for is destroyed and taken from them over night?  This is why Kony needs to be stopped.

Some of the kids from ChildVoice
What’s the best way to stop Kony?  I’m not sure.  I honestly don’t know if blanketing cities in posters is the best idea (sounds like an environmental hazard actually), but it’s the first idea I’ve heard that puts the power in the hands of the citizens of the world. 

Not everyone can afford to fly to Uganda and volunteer at Child Voice, but everyone can afford to post a video to Facebook to raise awareness.

There have been many critics to the Kony 2012 movement, but what good movement hasn’t?  People have issues with Tom’s Shoes and even the Red Cross, but for me all three of these organizations do enough good to justify my donation.

I’d like to imagine a world where an evil dictator can be imprisoned with the power of millions demanding it and a few highly trained people executing it.  No need for massive wars, bombs, or deaths, just a couple hundred troops of the country where the evil man is residing with some additional training and help from others to capture a man that has spent his life capturing others.  This world I imagine can be real.  I’m going to at least try to help make it happen.


14 February 2012

Sister Chaplain Husband Hunter One of the Boys Friend

In my 17 months in Afghanistan I have been called a lot of things.

In this land instead of wearing your heart on your sleeve you wear your rank on your blouse and immediately this signifies which box you belong in.  The box is your stereotype that you fit neatly in and there is no use on trying to punch your way out because this is no hypothetical cardboard box, this is more a gorilla box with a padlock that you got no chance escaping from.

  1. Sister
I started with this one, because it is one of my favorites.  I am one of three daughters, and one of 11 female cousins on my mom’s side, so I never had any brother types growing up.  Now, I have plenty of people to give me a hard time, punch me, teach me how to do a choke hold properly, make fun of my girly attire, tell me I look tired, and threaten to tattle on me to my boss, or to my own mother via Facebook.  I jokingly say that being out here with about 20,000 men is God’s way of punishing me for never having brothers.

  1. Chaplain
Men, especially those paid to carry weapons around all day, are macho.  They are taught to be strong and overcome weakness.  To show other men your worries, hopes, dreams, nightmares and fears seems to be admitting you are weak.  (I do not believe this, but I’ve had this told to me and shown to me numerous times).  They need someone to tell, and sometimes that someone is me.  I have heard in graphically horrifying detail about numerous IED explosions, gunfights, and tragically, deaths.  They usually start by saying it’s things they can’t tell their loved ones back home, because they don’t want them to have to know how bad it is.  It’s a picture you can’t un-see in your head, it’s stories you can’t un-hear.  But, I came here to support our troops.  That is my mission, and if what they need is for me to listen to them, then I’ll do it.  They made their sacrifice, one I’ll never have to make, so I can take the tiny moment of time to listen to their story.

  1. Husband Hunter
This is about the nicest term to label this category.  I’ve heard many other versions.  Let’s just put it this way, if my choices are old maid: living my life tending to my ever increasing population of cats, while hoarding Rubbermaid containers that have lost their lids, and using a broom to the ceiling because I’m trying to watch my game shows OR husband hunter: working in an active warzone with incoming mortar rounds averaging twice a week, with disgusting food, no privacy, and separation from every family member and friend I have ever known for 17 months because those are my only two options as a woman in this world, well then yeah I’m gonna start deciding if Pat Sajack or Alex Trebek is hotter now.

  1. One of the Boys
The insight into a military man’s psyche can be interesting, humorous, disgusting, perverted, and shocking, but mostly just disgusting.  After watching one of my female coworkers walk by one soldier elbows his buddy, “Dammmmmmmn Dude, my team.”  “No man!  I saw her first, I came to the USO 2 days ago and dibbed that shit.”  “You can’t dibs with no witnesses!  It’s like padiddle you gotta have the car in sight first.”   I’ve been told stories that I have repeated to grown men of other military branches that have made them gag.  That’s me one of the boys in my camo ballet flats.

  1. Friend
This one’s my favorite.  This is the one where I get to embrace a soldier I haven’t seen in 3 months since he went on leave.  This is the part where I get to race to Role 3 to see a soldier who has just been blown up get awarded his purple heart by a 2 star general.  This is when I laugh so hard I double over and begin snorting on nearly a daily basis.  This is how I get through every day thousands of miles from home… because they are my home.
Perfect choke hold

19 January 2012

Time for the Big Girl Pants

It feels like it is time to move on…but moving on is such a scary thing.  In a world where death can come at an instant, to you, your friends, your friends’ friends, life is in some ways easier.  Events aren’t overwrought with “he said/she said” discussions, work is work, food is food, and working out is my way to sweat out the toxins that want to scream I hate you Taliban!  Every aspect of life from what we wear to what we eat, watch, and do, has restrictions.  Life is simple.  When you are living on a military base in a war zone it seems that the rule of thumb is don’t color outside the lines, and you’ll be fine. 

When the biggest decision of my day currently is – which one of the 6 DFACs do I want to eat dinner in, how do I go from that to – what country, state, city do I want to live in, what industry do I want to work for, and what goals do I need to work hard at to achieve what I want for the rest of my life?

It’s daunting.  Although no one has placed it on me, I feel a pressure that I have to live up to my experience in Afghanistan.  I can’t go from living in a war zone for 16 months to filing paperwork for the corporate offices of a paper supply company.  What if I get bored?  What if I get restless?  What if I become one of those SUPER annoying people who constantly says, “Well when I was in Afghanistan blahblahblahblah.” 

This job has ruined me, in the absolute best sense of the term.  Every single day I get instantaneous feedback and satisfaction from the work I do.  I don’t have to work on a project for months pounding away at excels to maybe get a pat on the back, I get to hand a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the troops who work at mortuary affairs and see how excited they get and give them a hard time for not liking strawberry jelly.  They are the ones who no one wants to remember they are there.  They are the ones who do what no one else wants to do.  They are the ones who I made a PB&J for to say thank you from every mother, brother, wife, friend, and loved one of every fallen hero who they served with dignity.  All of that from a PB&J!

When I have something this good, I’d be a fool to leave.  To borrow from Carrie in every episode of Sex and the City, “I couldn’t help but wonder…” what more is there out there for me?  I can’t live in a war zone forever (well hopefully that’s not possible).  It’s time to put on my big girl pants and figure it out.

02 January 2012

The Sweater That Saved Christmas

It seems every Christmas story involves the following ingredients:
- 1 widow/widower
- 1 child who has lost belief in Santa
- 1 very superficial businessman/woman
-  1 reason for them to be stuck together over the holidays – usually involving weather
Mix it together and the end product is they fall in love and realize the true meaning of Christmas.

Well our Christmas here in Kandahar had none of the above.  But we did have a sweater that saved Christmas!

It all began on a rainy day in November while I was on vacation visiting home and running a marathon.  In Kandahar, the USO center was ravaged by a flash flood.  I was busy sipping margaritas by the pool with my Grams while our center was about 6 inches under muddy water that to put nicely was not hygienic.  The floors floated up, and washed away, and the connexes that had all of our decorations flooded as well.  While the quick thinking staff managed to save most of the furniture and spent countless hours mopping up and cleaning up the entire center, it still didn’t quite have that “home away from home” feeling when I returned. 

Erin, my roomie/friend/coworker has the most unbreakable, relentless spirit I have ever met.  She immediately had her parents send her Christmas decorations and she transformed our center into a Winter Wonderland.  Randy, my other roomie/friend/coworker took something as simple as empty priority mail boxes and began wrapping them to assemble a HUGE present tree.  Now our center had the look of Christmas, but still not the feel.

I felt the Christmas spirit for about 15 minutes every day when we would pile up the car with stockings stuffed with goodies and knock on MRAP and Stryker doors giving out the stockings to soldiers preparing for convoys.  They were always so appreciative – I’m not sure if was actually for goods in the stockings, for the sight of the first females in months, or that someone remembered them on Christmas.  They would grin from ear to ear and then immediately begin trading candy like it was 2nd grade lunch.  I loved that when we looked at the boxes that some of the stockings came in, they were from Boatsies Boxes operating out of Wheeling, WV!  My hometown made Christmas possible out here.  But besides those few moments, Christmas was largely absent from our lives.  Even a Christmas party for Role 3 that promised to be fun, was interrupted by a rocket attack.  Who invited the Taliban to Christmas anyway?!

With convoys going out every day to take Christmas to the troops at forward operating bases the back of our center became a storage facility of large cardboard boxes and endless care packages.  Upstairs was a virtual Santa’s workshop with boxes everywhere that were sorted with care package items in them, and an never ending stack that needed to be sorted.  It was a good problem to have though, because the amazingly generous people back home sent $83,445 worth of goods!  Although we were super excited about all the goodies coming in, the work involved to organize and pack the items was stressful and time consuming.  Christmas was slipping through our fingertips and it seemed no one cared to mind.

Months before Christmas our boss came up with the idea to have an Ugly Christmas Sweater party, and had USO Fort Riley back in the states send some.  We put them out on Christmas eve thinking oh haha it’d be funny.  After some gentle encouragement from the USO gals soldiers began donning the hideously tacky sweaters.  It looked like Bill Cosby’s closet from 1985 was on the back of every soldier.  They were wearing sweaters that were 2 sizes too big, or 2 sizes too small, sweaters that were obviously made for females, sweaters that had color combinations straight from the 80s…and they were rocking it out.  What began as us begging one soldier to put on a sweater spread into every soldier in the center searching the table for just the right one. 

Our winner for his sweet moves
Justin, my coworker came up with the idea to have a fashion show.  We scrounged up some gift cards and announced the competition.  What unfurled was the single most hilarious event I have ever seen.  Randy, Erin, Jillian and I sat up stools at the end of the catwalk to judge our competitors.  The Airforce band that came to play a live set later in the night immediately took their places and began playing songs like “Walk This Way” and “Dude Looks Like a Lady.”  The first soldier “model” set the stage by doing what can only be explained as sashaying down the catwalk and striking a fierce pose.  What followed included the moonwalk, soldiers blowing us kisses, giving us presents, skipping hand in hand, shaking their bootys, and breakdancing.  Everyone was doubled over laughing.  We crowned two winners, one for his smooth moves, and one for how awesomely hideous his sweater was.  After the competition, they didn’t take them off.  They continued to wear the sweaters as the Role 3 (the trauma hospital on base) choir sang, one of our amazing volunteers JD spread Christmas cheer as Santa, desserts were eaten, garland relays were conducted and Christmas movies were played.  When a troop walked in the front door their face would instantly light up as you saw them trying to figure out why everyone had hideous sweaters on over their camis.  Christmas Day was delightfully awesome too with us handing out gifts to every troop that walked through our doors.  We also stalked the boardwalk and gave out stockings to everyone there.  It concluded with a Skype session with my parents and sister to open up the presents they sent, and the ones I sent them.

The soldier far right won for picking the most hideous sweater

My new recipe for a Christmas story:
-       1 team of dedicated morale boosters
-       Countless people back home who love and care about us enough to send numerous care packages
-       Hundreds of funny troops
-       Some ugly sweaters
-       1 reason for them to be stuck together over the holidays - war
Mix it together and the end product is they have a good time and realize the true meaning of Christmas.
Santa making them earn their presents