Published: February 9th 2011February 9th 2011 Video Playlist:
First, I have to warn you that this is a long blog entry. This covers the first month of life in Afghanistan, and the current conditions here.
I’ve been here a month (as of Jan 30) and have settled into a routine. Life in the ghan is much as it was in Al Asad last year. There are some key differences, but deployment life is slow and relaxed (for medical, anyways) and I have lots of time to attain personal goals. Last deployment, my goals were to get my FMF pin, run a marathon, and get my MCMAP (Marine Corps martial arts) belt. I did 2 out of three (the first two) and had a decent deployment. This time, my goals are to do some research, and not run another marathon (haha). Seriously, there is one here in mid-March (beware the ides!) , and no plans to run it. Running out here sucks! The roads are either covered with rocks of varying size (which I believe are supposed to be for the rainy season so it doesn’t become a mudpit –they’re planning on paving some of the roads soon— but really just serve as mini-obstacles on the road) or this
Stands for Transfer of Authority. It's the ceremony that marks the changing of the Osprey squadrons here. If you look at the Ospreys, they are all in different degrees of transition of the rotors.
fine sand which is more like powder. This stuff is EVERYWHERE. Walking through it is seriously like walking through powdered sugar, only brown. It’s that fine. It fluffs up around your boots when you walk through it and everything gets a fine coating (probably including our lungs). When running through it in sneakers, it gets through the little pores in your shoes and ends up between your toes and coating/filling your shoes. I hate it. Gross. I suppose if I was 5 years old this would be really cool.
As for the research, since it doesn’t look like I’m getting a dermatology residency for next year, doing some kind of research may be my best chance of getting it in the future. Trying to find something to write about, but nothing solid yet. On the plus side, there’s an acupuncturist here (well, actually he’s a sports medicine doctor who is in charge of the concussion center), who has adapted a technique for tobacco cessation, and has had amazing results! I don’t think we have time to do a formal study, but he may let me get in on a case series about it. Very cool!
My schedule is
Me and Merrilyn
Not the most flattering pictures, but these are at the TOA with Merrilyn, the flight surgeon that I replaced. She went back home to New River (lucky!)
pretty laid back. Everyone works 7 days a week, so a routine is easy to fall into. Most of the marines here do 12 on 12 off. This may sound like long work days, but given that there’s not much else to do here outside of work, it’s not bad. Our medical space in the squadron is manned 24 hours a day with one of the corpsmen (we have 3) and I usually come in the morning sometime and stay until the evening. When we had gotten here a month ago, this building had been put up about a week before we arrived. It’s that new. There was an old flight line, and right around the time we got here, EVERYONE moved over to the new flight line. It was a pretty big move, and from what I hear, we were lucky we weren’t here yet!
On the flight line, we have several different squadrons with different types of aircraft, but we’re the only Osprey squadron (MV-22 if you want to wiki it). Each squadron has their own flight surgeon and a few corpsmen, but there’s also a Flight Line Aid Station (FLAS) that’s manned 24/7 by corpsmen and
Me and Merrilyn
With a different background.
a flight surgeon (we rotate there for duty). That’s a slightly higher level of care than we can do in our squadron (like if I have to do any suturing, I’d go there). There’s also a hospital here, which is joint British and American. It’s pretty small, but has a decent trauma bay. Every day I get the patient tracker which lists the injuries that come in, and they are definitely seeing a LOT of IED injuries. The nice thing about our mission is that we are in the air, so not exposed to IEDs, and when we take marines around from one FOB (forward operating base) to another, we save them from that risk as well. Our primary mission is to move marines and equipment from place to place. And we’re pretty busy doing it! I think a lot of the younger marines feel like they’re not contributing to the war because they’re doing maintenance or administrative stuff here “behind the wire.” There really is almost no risk here on base. It’s extremely safe here. You’d probably be at higher risk at home just by driving on the highway. There’s something to be said for deploying with an air
What most of this base looks like. This is actually "The Wire". Just beyond are farmers and a healthy oasis (healthy because it gets our sewage run-off. EW!)
unit! We have to remind the younger guys that their job, while seemingly not related to the war, is important because it contributes to the functioning of the squadron whose mission is to save those marines from the risk on the roads.
Besides working at the squadron every day (which is more watching How I Met Your Mother, seasons 1-6 than “work”), I have 24 hour duty at the FLAS every Wednesday and a second day a week once a month (supposed to be Tuesday, but without showers up here, I’d rather not do 48 hours in a row up here if I can help it). It’s not too bad – there’s a bed and a private back office with a computer. The FLAS really isn’t that busy, and for the most part I get to sleep through the night, or mostly.
Tuesday nights we have a Continuing Medical Education (CME) lecture down on mainside. I’m a nerd because I like those things. :) I miss organized lectures! I should be doing more reading up at the squadron, but have finally started reading my dermatology textbook, so we’ll see how it goes. At this point, the Tues lectures
Vehicles are so limited here that when someone gets to take the van to a meeting, we all pile in to piggy back on the ride!
is the majority of my learning out here so far. The flight line is about a 30 min car ride, which translates into a 45min bus ride. The ONLY thing up here is our work spaces and port-o-potties. They bring food in for each squadron (called Mermite) which usually consists of one disgusting kind of “meat”, a starch (usually rice, but sometimes mashed potatoes – which REALLY taste like dish water. Seriously). And a vegetable or fruit. Not much to choose from and really gross. The DFACs (dining facilities) on the main base aren’t much better, but at least there are more choices there. Since I’m ever the scrounger, I usually keep sandwich stuff in the fridge for when the meal is particularly unpalatable, and have a well-stocked snack drawer, with a few instant meals just in case. There are some pretty decent desserts out here, so at least you won’t have to worry about me wasting away. Ha! And I guess the upside is that we don’t get ice cream here, so I’m not so tempted by one of my favorite treats (they have it at the DFACs though so whenever I make it down there for a meal,
Not sure why they call them that. Most of the workers here are from other countries (TCNs = Third Country Nationals), many of them Indian. Apparently this is a big custom there. They also plaster the front windshield of heavy equipment with pictures, seemingly out of magazines. Weird. And possibly a safety violation.
I sometimes splurge!) Amazon is pretty good about delivering to FPO addresses (about 10-14 days), and my best purchase out here so far is a Panini press. So awesome! My roommate, Maggie, uses it a lot too, and the trend is starting to spread. A simple ham and cheese sandwich on a hot dog bun suddenly turns into an exotic pressed sammy. Yum! I even had some wraps (hard to find!) and had made some ham, cheese, and egg (saved some scrambled egg from bfast) and pressed that. Sooo good! And a very good friend has been sending moon pies in care packages, which can also serve as a meal replacement in a pinch. They will also come in very handy for the moon pie eating contest I want to have in March (probably gonna need more moon pies though).
The other fab purchase I’ve made so far is the cotton candy machine. First they laughed at me, then they complimented the fluffy candy-flavored cotton candy. For Christmas, I had gotten a cotton candy machine from Bed Bath and Beyond. I was telling Maggie about it and we soon decided we should have one out here. I placed my
The upside to the TOA is that we had a decent lunch -- chicken, "hamburgers" (convinced it's not real meat), hot dogs, beans, potato salad. Not bad!
order and 3 agonizing weeks later (no idea why it took so long!) we had our own deployment cotton candy maker! It’s only $40 and uses 2 pieces of hard candy (smarties DO NOT work, we found out) to make whatever flavor cotton candy! And it totally works! Highly recommend. However, avoid the tart candy, like jolly ranchers. We want to try life savers, because I have a feeling that would be pretty good. The dum dums were good, but getting them off the sticks is such a pain I’m not sure if it’s worth it. It may be weird, but I kind of want cotton-candy flavored candy so I can make cotton-candy flavored cotton candy! Werthers was an amazing second though. :) Oh, and the officers are getting together and pitching in for a popcorn machine in the ready room, so I’m not the only one who enjoys carnival treats. Who knows – funnel cake next?
My routine also includes Sunday morning church. I’ve actually enjoyed it (well, the past 3 weeks, this Sunday’s sermon kinda sucked – or maybe I was just too tired haha). I’ve been going to the 0900 Protestant service, for which there’s usually
I have an addiction to Scratch-off Lotto. Best care package ever! :)
about 4-8 of us there. I hear the 1030 contemporary service is usually pretty full, but I’m a bigger fan of tradition. Maybe I’ll try out the singing version one of these days, but I feel a little too bah humbug to go to a lively sing-songy service on Sunday morning. I’m easing into it. It also gives me an excuse to take my time Sun mornings and just go in a little later. I like the Sun morning off schedule. :)
The way the base is organized is that there’s a pretty sizable area on the main part of Camp Leatherneck where we have PEBS (pre-fabricated buildings) where we live (we call them cans), DFACs, MWR (phones/internet/games/movies), USO (phones/internet/movies/lounge), laundry, PX, and other services. It’s where most of the ground units and headquarters are based. I want to say it’s like 5mi from one end to the other, but that’s just a guess. I’m sure if you wiki it, or google map it, you can see for yourself. It’s pretty big though. Easy to get lost when you first get there, and LOTS of walking to anywhere. There is a rudimentary bus system, but it sucks. Apparently it’s
Well, the outside anyway. I'll take more pics inside.
100times better than it was, which really highlights how awful it must have been (I heard the buses used to have broken windows, broken doors, full of dirt/dust, and when it rained you got wet with muddy water from the holes in the roofs). Now the buses are a little nicer, play the local British radio station (broadcasting from Camp Bastion here, and has a decent selection of rock – plus it’s kind of fun to listen to British accents on my way to work every morning. Makes me feel like I’m on vacation in Europe), and are starting to be on a better schedule (I’ve still waited over an hour for a bus). The speed limits here are so ridiculously slow that it takes between 30min-1hr to get to the squadron. Oh, the layout – it’s Camp Leatherneck, where we live, next to Camp Bastion (there’s a Bastion 1 and Bastion 2) where the Brits, Aussies, Danes, Canadians, etc live and work, then allllll the way out is the flight line, where we work. Eventually they’ll have cans and DFAC and PX and MWR all up on the flight line so you never need to go to main side,
We plan to start composting and have some semblance of a real garden, but until then... The aerogrow has since grown larger with a very full and healthy tomato plant, without tomatos. :( We've tried everything including self-pollinating. Maybe it just needs another tomato plant? If that's so, it'll have to wait. Still smells great though! And lots of pink flowers!
but that’ll probably be finished right around the time that the squadron leaves, this summer. It’ll be nice for the next squadron coming in! Our squadron is already planning on coming back out here in about a year after getting home, so they’ll eventually get to see the new place too. I will almost certainly not be with them anymore at that point. Sad to leave, but won’t be so sad about not deploying again! Twice is enough for now…
I’ve been keeping busy at the squadron by taking up crocheting again. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead very well, and quickly ran out of yarn in 2 days. I placed a pretty sizable order on Amazon, but still waiting for it to come. And not sure what to make! I guess a blanket? There are only so many scarves you can make haha. And not very practical in a place where everyone wears uniforms. A fun pastime though. I like having something to do while I’m watching movies or (many) episodes of How I Met Your Mother (currently on season 6 and really hoping a morale drive comes back up soon because I’m going to need something new to
Maggie playing with our inherited nerf guns with her friend Nick in our room. My bed area is on the left -- hers is out of the picture on the right. The beds in the middle are our "dressers".
watch soon! There was a so-so one up when we got here, but it’s since been taken down. Not nearly as good as it was in Iraq!)
Over the course of the past year, I have become ADDICTED to a game called Mahjong Titans. Yes, mahjong is fun, but that specific game is the only one I want to play. For some reason, I think because I played it a lot when I got back from my last deployment while sitting contentedly in my parents’ house with Christmas music and family around, it reminds me of really happy times whenever I play it. Plus it’s really addicting. The only problem is that the game is only compatible with Windows Vista or 7, which I do not have, and none of the computers here have. I tried and tried to get it on my netbook before leaving, but to no avail. However, I was pleasantly surprised recently to see that my corpsman has it on his computer! And he leaves his computer at the squadron. This means that I have unlimited access to Mahjong Titans. I’ve already spent entire days playing and watching tv. Awesome! That’s the really big upside
The bed to the far left is actually my desk (Maggie has the same on her side of the room). And that's my makeshift closet in the background.
to deployment – picture being on vacation, as in having the freedom to just do whatever you want to do, but still having to go to work (you know you miss work after too long of not doing anything). It’s the best of both worlds – a light schedule to keep you involved in the living world and make you feel productive, and complete flexibility to do whatever you want a work, like watch movies, play games, read, etc. The only thing missing (and it’s a biggee) is the freedom to come home when you want, and family/friends. I also have a little cot set up in my office with a memory foam on it for “patient rest”. The only problem with napping in there is that it’s such a small space that there’s almost always someone needing to get in there fairly frequently for meds or something. The upside/downside to being so accessible to the squadron is that they come in for EVERYTHING. Cut on finger, very minor headache, sniffles. Everything.
The other downside to the flightline is the lack of bathroom facilities, as I’ve mentioned. There are 2 small gym tents right next to the squadron (almost
We found out you can make cupcakes using a can of sprite and a microwave! Wow! I really worked! I have a couple more boxes and just got some ice cream cones to cook them in.
attached). One has a lot of free weights, the other has an elliptical, rowing machine, bike, and some mats (they ordered a treadmill. It’ll be here in 4-6 months. Great.). I’ve been trying to work out fairly regularly, but it’s such a pain up here. First off, we HAVE to wear uniform PT gear (green shorts, green shirts for marines, blue shorts, yellow shirts for Navy – or a mix of the two for Navy), but we can’t go ANYWHERE in PT gear (like ride the bus back home. Annoying), and there are no showers up here. Hello baby-wipe showers. Good thing there are lots of baby wipes around from care packages out here. It’ll be so nice when they finally have showers up here! Real toilets too! I vowed to use the port-o-potties as little as humanly possible when I first got here (even swore off coffee because it’s a diuretic). I’ve since become a lot more comfortable in there. Don’t get me wrong – I still think they’re nasty. They are pretty clean though. They’re cleaned twice a day with large pressure washers, which has the upside of making them clean, but the downside of making them soaking
A for ingenuity
This is part of a porch set outside of the Combined Aid Station. Not bad! The wire pieces are usually part of the hesco barriers that are filled with sand.
wet for half the day. They don’t smell bad (wait until it gets hot and the flies start), and with the current temperature being mild (I think it’s usually in the 50s or 60s – not even that cold at night anymore!) it’s not that uncomfortable to be in there. I guess I’m getting used to it. They’re not your grandfather’s port-o-potties! Haha
As for working out, I’ve been trying to go frequently, and Maggie and I have been doing yoga, and are about to start Tai Chi! I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully it doesn’t suck. I saw a movie where they were moving all gracefully (The Last Airbender – awful movie!) and I realized that I am not nearly that flexible and mobile anymore. The next day I ordered a Tai Chi video from Amazon (love that site!). I got it a couple of days ago and it’s still in the shrink wrap, but I think tomorrow’s the day! Beyond that, I’m mostly just doing elliptical to stay active. I’m on book 2 of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, so that keeps m e interested for now. Hunting for book 3 has also given
At least females have our own one on the end. And those other ones get gross! Guys are dirty...
me a goal whenever I see bookshelves around. No luck yet.
The upside to the long bus rides is that I have tons of time to read – about 1.5 hours a day. I flew threw 2 books in the first week, and just finished my fourth. I had found a pretty good Tolstoy book. It’s a book of 3 short stories, and they’re actually really good (Happy Ever After, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and The Cossacks). I have a nice collection of classics that I’ve found in the plethora of bookcases out here. I may not get much medical reading done here, but I’ll be working on some classic literature at least. I also have the Bible, and the New Testament on audio (a dramatic reading – interesting…) I figure I should read it at least once. I tried Bible Study, but it was not at all what I was expecting, and I quickly crossed it off my list of activities. It was a bunch of Bible thumping men (almost all men) who sat around telling stories about why they think God is so great. Really? Seriously? I felt like I was in a self-help group or
This might be the only thing green in Afghanistan right now (other than the oasis near crap river -- which is literally downstream from where they dump the septic tanks). I inherited this little grass head from someone else, but sadly it's not doing so well...
AA meeting. I was hoping for some analysis of the Bible stories, and educated discussion. Ha. Not so much. It’s ok because it conflicted with my Tues night CME lectures anyways.
After riding the bus every day, and getting used to that free time, I realize that riding a bus back home really wouldn’t be that bad. I used to think it was something I would NEVER do, and would almost certainly hate – being reliant on public transportation forces you to plan way ahead or have really flexible plans. But I bet would be even better if you actually had a schedule that said when the bus will come. However, remember when I mentioned that the marines are doing 12 hour days? Well add an hour bus ride on either end of that, and it starts sucking really fast. That doesn’t include the sometimes ridiculously long wait for a bus. Some of these poor guys don’t get much time to sleep, never mind anything else. It will be very practical when they finally build living quarters up here. For me, pulling my 8-10 hour shifts, it’s a nice relaxing book end to my day (no pun intended) to
This table was sitting outside through all kinds of weather, and through the efforts of my scrounging and sweet talkin, I managed to acquire it for our squadron. It's currently sitting in someone's room, but I hope it will someday soon end up on our new deck!
get some personal reading in.
Our cans are designed for 12 people, with 6 bunk beds, but being only one of 2 female officers in the squadron, I share it with one other person. We have lots of storage space, but a way bigger space to make our own. I have a pretty sweet privacy curtain around my bed, though, so we pretty much sleep with the Christmas lights on (so she can have light when she’s getting ready to go to work at 4am) and it doesn’t bother me. I like my little hidey hole. We really don’t spend much time there, though. I was trying to think why I ended up spending so much time there in Iraq. I think the big difference was having TV and internet in my room. Without internet, phone, or TV, there isn’t much to do in there. I bought a wifi extender (from Amazon), but it’s still not powerful enough for me to get the crappy wifi signal in my room. It’ll be nice when they install wired internet, but because of politics, that probably won’t happen for at least a couple more months. My roommate is pretty cool, though. Maggie
On a good day... I've seen stuff get here in 6d, and some take 3 weeks. The average seems to be about 10-14d.
is from Illinois and is an O2 (one rank below me) and works in intelligence in the squadron. Her hours are a little off from mine, but we often can leave at the same time, if I’m not in the mood to stay late that night. It’s so nice to have another girl around! The guys in the squadron are great, but sometimes you just need female companionship to commiserate with!
I think I should probably stop here. I could go on for quite a while, but this blog entry is about to be prohibitively long. Props for those of you who have made it this far haha I will try to write more! Now that the first big one is out of the way, and the background scene has been set, little updates should be a lot easier. Thanks to everyone for the emails, packages, and well-wishes! Looking forward to coming home! One month down…
There are more photos below