Published: May 25th 2010January 28th 2010
Sunset in the desert
Gorgeous sunsets out there!
A little after-the-fact... I didn't even realize that I still had this blog unpublished. I've thrown in the last of my pictures to highlight my time in Iraq (/Bahrain/Kuwait/Qatar). I plan to make my other deployment blogs public (as opposed to the private status they're in now) as soon as I comb them over and make sure there's nothing compromising in them. I also hope to blog the upcoming adventures I'll be having (as well as the couple I've just had!).
MY FIRST DEPLOYMENT (cont'd)
I write this as we fly over Europe - the first leg of our long journey home. I had intended to blog my way through deployment. There’s no question that there was ample time to blog, but my laziness kicked in (or is it just inertia?) and here I am, catching up on my Qatar blog and wrapping the last 2 months of deployment into my end-of-deployment blog. It’s funny how the more time I have on my hands, the less I get done - like the frenzied pace of a busy week forces me to make more efficient use of my time. Well, it was a fun, if lazy, 5 months.
One of my favorite Iraq pastimes -- Making S'mores! YUMMO! With Lisa outside at her squadron bonfire. Turns out that's a little hot for s'mores (or we need really long sticks)
Prior to deployment, I had no idea what to expect. I think I expected to find empty desert, tents, port-o-potties, and MREs, all set to the backdrop of exploding mortars and constant gunfire. The reality was so much different. Being deployed to Iraq at this stage in the game is like being stationed in Germany. It’s another country, but safety is a rarely-questioned truth. I think we had one mortar the entire time I was there and it didn’t even land very close to base. There were a few can fires (thank God not mine!), a few medevacs for non-emergent problems (fractured ankle needing surgery, a psyc case, laryngeal polyps), and no emergencies in our clinic. I never went “outside the wire” as some of the others do on a regular basis. No convoys for me. I flew plenty, but there’s safety in a C130 flying so high. Even in the helos, we were never shot at. So I haven’t seen battle, but I guess I’m now a veteran (although according to the VA DMV you have to be out of the military to be a veteran of a war).
I had some personal goals in mind when
OMG I LOVE CHEERY CRISP!
One of the better desserts there was the cherry crisp, which started as "cherry crips" (accompanied by gang signs whenever we ate it) and towards the end, someone finally fixed the sign. Thank God because it looked like they couldn't spell!
I deployed, and some I developed while there. The only goals I had in mind before arriving were to get my FMF pin and earn a blackbelt in MCMAP, the Marine Corps’ martial arts program. I achieved one of those, and I don’t regret not getting the other - the MCMAP program is more intense than Jiu Jitsu and more dangerous. Wasn’t worth the very real risk of getting hurt. I think I’ll stick to martial arts that haven’t forgotten the “art” part. Once in Iraq, I learned about the marathon and added that to my list. A life-goal that I was finally able to achieve! I think it might be the thing I’m most proud of during my deployment. I also found out about the Air Medal, and set that as a goal as well. I didn’t fly much in the beginning besides the few trips with the Chinooks and the odd trip with the C130s to Bahrain. In Dec and Jan I flew a LOT with the C130s and a few times with the Phrogs. When it was all said and done, I ended up with just over 75 hours, the required number to earn an Air Medal
My presents under the tree :) Thanks to the Notos, Lisa, Netty and Terry, and mom and dad!
for flying in combat. Sort of feels like a con since we were never shot at, but I guess because we COULD have been shot at, it counts.
Flying with the C130s was very comfortable. It’s heated, pressurized, and fast. It also has very little fluctuation in Gs, something which never fails to make me queasy. Flying with the phrogs, on the other hand, was cold as crap. I feel like I earned my time there. True, I was essentially a passenger on both, but I was so miserable on the Phrogs that it felt like a sacrifice to be there. No matter how warmly I dressed, I froze my butt off. There’s no heat, the door windows are open for the guns, and they flew with the ramp open most of the time. The only cool thing was that I got to shoot the guns. :) That was fun! And because it was a helo, you could actually see the ground as you flew over it, as opposed to being above the clouds in a C130.
I had settled into Iraq life fairly comfortably. I had my routine of being in clinic most of the time, going
to dinner with friends, Tues afternoon lectures at the hospital, and lazy Sunday sleep-in days. I nailed down the DFAC specialties, to the constant amazement of my companions when I rattled off where we should eat on which days for what specialties - reubens at Ripper (DFAC 2) on Tuesdays, Caesar salad at DFAC 1 T/R (which lost its appeal pretty early for me), banana splits at DFAC 1 on Wed, Indian at DFAC 1 on Fridays, decent pizza at DFAC 1 on Sat and at DFAC 2 on Sun (good but different), yummo pancake Sunday brunch at DFAC 3. There was little else to amuse ourselves. For most of the deployment, Saturday nights were special. Whether it was s’mores and hookah at the ALD building (read frat house), barbecue, or just a movie, pedicures, and juice, there was some fun social activity followed by the bliss of not having to get up early the next day! Almost like a real weekend at home. Throw in the occasional bonfire and it was a lively social scene.
I haven’t had a day off, except for the few in Qatar, since early Sept, but it doesn’t feel like I've been working
hard. Medical started to feel like my second home. The workload wasn’t bad. I expect to feel more overworked at home with my nights and weekends free. There’s something freeing about setting your own hours and being your own boss.
My Iraq routine was only marred by the coming and going of friends. AJ had left just before I went to Qatar. When I got back, there was about a month left before Heidi went home. We hung out a lot and often did dinner at the DFAC. About the same time, a new flight surgeon, Lisa, had just gotten there from the West Coast - she was with the Phrogs. We hung out occasionally, but after Heid left and Lisa’s clinic schedule calmed down, we hung out a lot more. A short while later Bridget arrived - the flight surgeon with the Navy Prowler squadron. She was up on the South Side, a good 15min drive from the rest of the base, so we didn’t see her much, but she was a lot of fun to hang out with. In Jan they started a yoga class. It wasn’t bad! And it turns out Bridget used to be an
Happy T Day!
They had a great spread in the DFAC!
instructor so she came along to some of the classes with me. It would have been a nice Tues/Thurs routine if I’d been there longer. We did a couple of Sat night parties at her place up on the South Side on her sweet back porch area. If only I’d known that was there sooner!
The holidays in Iraq were really lame. I expected good USO shows with big-name stars coming out to visit us since we were stuck there for the holidays, but instead we had some no-name comedians, cheerleaders, and Cross-Fit instructors. Big whoop. Oh and some more country singers. Blah. Thanksgiving was only marked by a special lunchtime meal at the DFAC. It wasn’t bad. I think my favorite was the pumpkin spice cookie dough they served as a dessert. Haha. We were eating it and I couldn’t help thinking that it REALLY tasted like cookie dough and had the same consistency. I asked the manager what it was, and she said she thought it was probably cookie dough that was supposed to be baked. Oops. Well it was mighty tasty! Haha
Christmas was a little more special because I decorated the bejesus out of
Turkey Cream Puffs
They tasted almost as good as they looked!
medical. :) I also hung Christmas lights in my room, which gave it such a warm glow! It was about that time that my can was complete and extremely cozy. It was so comfortable that it was like my haven that I could “go home” to after working. The only thing I needed was a phone (to be remedied next time by buying Magic Jack!) I had a little mini Christmas tree on my desk, decorated and lit (thanks Netty!), under which I had wrapped presents waiting for me until Christmas (thanks Netty and Terry and cousin Madelyn!). We had a squadron Christmas party (arranged by someone else so I didn’t even have to plan it!) that I helped decorate and shared some AWESOME Christmas cookies sent by the family :) Thanks everyone!!! The party was nice with good food and a nice way to just hang out. Too bad all my friends had already gone home! I had a great time opening my presents, and enjoyed the gluttony of good food and sweets that Christmas usually entails :)
New Year’s came and went with little to do. I didn’t even get to see the ball drop because I’m
still not sure what time or if it was actually broadcasted. Oh well. Maybe next year.
January passed in a flash. I had learned that the C130s were going home via Scotland for a day. Since I had been flying with them so often, it was fairly easy to get a spot going home with them, plus I think I might get flight hours for the whole trip! After a few close calls with details like orders not being right and the threat of someone denying my trip, my spot was finally secure.
I had already mailed home 2 trunks of stuff and had 2 more boxes almost ready to go (the best $100 I ever spent!) Isn’t it amazing that you can have all your stuff delivered to your door for such a cheap fee? I’ve heard of businessmen doing that now when they fly. Makes sense if the airlines are going to charge you for your luggage anyway. I might start doing that myself. Way more convenient than checking a bag, hoping it makes it ok, then standing around waiting for it. This way, my bags are well on their way and insured for a very
Pirate Ship in the desert?
Made all out of edible stuff! (Well, it was edible at one time...)
small fee (a few dollars!) I ended up mailing everything I didn’t need out to AJ's unit in Afghanistan as part of my redistribution effort. I also passed a lot on to Bridget since she’d be there until June. Lisa was leaving shortly after I was. All my comforts in Al Asad were going to make someone else’s deployment better, and that made me happy.
There was SO much stuff being thrown out it’s a sin. If you could see all the food, furniture, appliances, brand-new equipment being thrown out and destroyed, you’d cry. And much of that is your tax money at work. Great. I tried to do what I could by sending as much as possible to Afghanistan since we’d be there for a while longer (I bet 5 more years). Some of the squadrons did that as well on a larger level, but not enough. Most of our medical stuff went to someone at the hospital who was putting together large containers to donate to local Iraqi hospitals, in addition to the 9 million dollars worth of almost brand-new medical equipment he found in the junk pile. Though Al Asad would stay open as a base
Yes, the C130s fly with Bobble Head Jesus on the dash. He even goes on the NAVFLIR (record of the flight) as a crew member!
for Army, Air Force, and Navy personnel, almost every single other base in Iraq had been closed down. All that equipment was transferred to Al Asad for “disposal”. Fortunately, someone saw all that medical stuff and decided we shouldn’t just throw it away. It’s a shame that there’s a good chance that it’ll get sold by unscrupulous hospital administrators, or used until broken, then junked because they don’t have anyone to fix it (or can’t afford to pay to have it fixed). But I guess it’s better than throwing it out from the get-go. I managed to swipe a few things for our clinic in the mix. :)
On Jan 23 was the Transfer of Authority ceremony, which officially ended the Marine Corps’ tour in Iraq. We’re done. The final few would stick around until early February to clean up, turn off the lights, and hand the keys over to the Army, but that’s it! Now to focus on Afghanistan. My squadron is slated to be deploying to “ghan” sometime between Nov and Feb. With luck, I’ll be around for the holidays this time!
My last day in Iraq was spent throwing the last few things in boxes
Why don't Marines smile??
and taking them to the posf office, Bridget, or packing my bag to take home. I drove up the South Side (thank God I had the chaplain’s car one last time!) and had dinner with Bridget. My last meal was unimpressive, but I did top it off with a nice pumpkin spice cake and a scoop of the most decadent chocolate ice cream! I’m gonna miss their ice cream. After that I got the details of the next morning from the squadron and moseyed on over to see about lodging up there for the night. The guy who was working the night shift at the billeting office was super nice and hooked me up with a can (!) for the night instead of the big tents, and even found me one right next to the women’s bathroom! How easy! I even had internet :) A decent last night. The morning was gathering my stuff and driving over to the plane. Not bad!
And here I sit, on my way to Scotland, debating how to spend my precious time. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do, but hopefully the hotel will have internet and I’ll have time to blog away
Put together this gingerbread tree -- thanks mom!! :)
just like old times :) I’m sure whatever I do, I’ll pack as much Scotland into 36 hours as humanly possible.
There are more photos below