Patricia's Blog




The Last…...

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I am sorry I have not blogged in so long.  8 days to be exact.  It has been a hard 8 days.  We have been so busy trying to execute the needs of the region, trying to get prepared to get everyone out the door and home to their families and making sure that the people taking our place are ready to go.

Today though, I leave this base in a short 9 hours……and it was full of lasts.  The last time I get my coffee from my friend Shanti in the Greens Beans Coffee Shop.  The last time, I have a cell phone and can be called for a problem or emergency.  The last time I drive my truck back to the dorm.  The last time I go to the pool.  The last load of laundry.  The last time I go to the fitness tent.  The last dinner we eat together……everything is a last.  As I left the fitness tent today, the girl (who sees me everyday) says, “Goodbye ma’am.”  Only I know that the goodbye is forever.  It may take her a few days to wonder where I went but then she will forget me or rotate back to her family.  But I will probably never see her again.

I breathed a sign of relief as they dropped off about 50 unassembled beds in front of our dorm.  I have no idea what their plans are for those beds and to be honest, I don’t care.  Our guardsmen should not be separated from their families for pulling weeds, assembling furniture or painting dorms.  It was nice when we were tasked for our capabilities and we were able to really do what we do best…the flying mission!!  But I guess if we are doing that, then there is unrest somewhere…..what a double edged sword.

All I can say now, is that this is my last blog and my last trip to the Middle East.  My husband often marvels at how unfeeling I can seem when it comes to days like tomorrow.  The day Andrew and I drove out of Enid after pilot training, he asked me, “Don’t you want to look back and say goodbye?  Won’t you be sad?”  Nope….not even for a minute.  That is exactly the same with here.  I am glad I came, I did a great job but it is time to get home.  See you in 4 days!!!

8 days and a wake up….

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It is so close now I can smell it…the sweet smell of freedom.  Though, I am extremely disappointed that there were no flights to Africa which is where my nephew is based.  I really thought I could fly down there, find him and give him a great big hug.  He is still in theater for another 8 months after I leave.  I actually started packing tonight.  I have to move to a tent to make room for the folks coming in so it is going to be slumber parties with bunkbeds for a few nights before we get up at O dark 30 to head home.  Andrew always wonders why the military has to do everything so early…to be honest, our departure can’t be early enough.  My last rotation to Afghanistan, the day we were allowed to leave we left at 0001.  We sat at the end of the runway and watched when the clock hit the next day, “Cleared for takeoff!!"  Too bad we cannot do that here but things are a little different now.  This is a completely different war.  I have no desire to ever come back because the focus has totally been shifted from the mission to refreshing dorms and taking people for airplane rides.  

I had a girl from public affairs today call me in the office.  She wanted to take video of our C-130 that was departing the ramp.  She asked me what runway the airplane would be taking off from.  This is where I get a little edge on my responses…I can tell she has no idea what she is talking about and I smell blood in the water. We have two runways that are side by side and only one of them is open.  The information she wanted could not help her in any way.  “Would you like to know where the plane is parked?”  Now she lit up…..”yes..yes”  “It is on the Kilo Ramp” “Uhhhhhh”  That is as far as I could help her.  She had no idea what a ramp was…I could tell.  She called back 5 mintues later.  “Is there a C-17 departing too?  Is that also your airplane?”  I couldn’t take it…I wanted to ask her…..are you in the AIR FORCE??  Shouldn’t there be just a basic knowledge about what we do as a service?  We have airplanes…different airplanes…and different people fly them.  Call those people to find out when their plane leaves.  I think she was suprised that we even had airplanes….It is a different time and a different war.

Am I getting snarky??  Sorry…….

Can’t wait to get home!!

Pool Party….?

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Even the inmates get a day of fun!!  Saturday was Mia’s birthday and we had a group of us that traveled off base to a hotel and enjoyed the pool and a fabulous buffet lunch.  It was so hard to leave once the day was over because for that moment, you are able to imagine that you are home.  That you can walk out the front door, get in your car and drive home.  It is nice that in this country, we have the freedom to leave the base but there is always something to snap you back to reality.  As we were all lounging at the pool, it was an interesting spectator perspective.  One man was wearing a sailor hat like Hugh Hefner and he was half the size of his wife in every way…also, a woman in an Abaya and Hijab just got up form her seat and went right into the pool.  Head to toe clothing and in she goes.  It is odd things like that that snap you back to the reality that you are in another country with another way of life.

12 days and a wake up now.  So hard to believe how close it is.  I talked to Carlyn yesterday and it warmed my heart.  I have been sending her presents the whole time I have been gone to have something good happening while I am away.  I told her that when I got home, there would be no more presents from me coming in the mail.  She said. “That’s okay mom….I would rather have you.”  I can’t wait to get home and love my entire family…I miss them so much.

Today it is gale force winds out there and the visibility is down to nothing.  No point in going anywhere but I think at 3pm we are all going to rally for a movie, then probably dinner and finally the gym.  Sound familiar?  There are limited options here but I guess it keeps life simple.

Can’t wait to head home…just a few more tomorrows.

Happy Birthday…to me.

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Well…..thank you to all of you who showered me with birthday cards, presents and surprises.  What a great birthday…Mom and Dad’s cards came very early and I had already opened them and my great presents from them….and the package from my family at home and my best friend Julie was delivered today on my birthday….emails from my sisters and dear friends.  Thank you all for making this day in this lonely place so incredibly special!!

This is the place we live…”The Rock”.  It sits atop a hill and that is a sword coming out of the top, not a cross.  Behind me and out of the picture is a memorial to September 11.  I am off to the gym and then our squadron is planning a fun game night.  Just put in laundry and on that note will say goodbye to my birthday for another year.  

If you are watching the news, you know that things are carzy here.  Glad we are leaving soon but I hope that we can help if we are needed in the meantime.  Please send prayers to the poor folks in the areas of unrest. 

Roll Them Balls…..

Just a little blurb about our Bingo night….I can’t believe I won two games.  One regular bingo and I got the final game of blackout bingo but unfortunately two others won on O67 as well for blackout.  They have you draw cards and the highest number wins…..I didn’t get that one but I did win $40 with my regular bingo….too bad I can’t head to Vegas while I still have a little luck!!  Anyhoo…just thought I would share.  Weigh in at the gym tomorrow….eeekk….wish me luck!!

Grand Mosque

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Wow…..what a great day.  Full of every sort of new experience.  Well, first of all a huge thank you to the Air Force Chaplain Corps. They do these tours for folks that cannot make the regular tours and it is so generous of them to take their time.  That is the one thing that the Air Force is great at…supporting their Chaplains who are always and incredible oasis at these bases.  They are essential to the community and I thank the Air Force for not thinking them non-essential.  

So, as we headed off base, I had heard lots of talk about the crazy drivers.  With the exception of a crazy man tailgating at 120KPH 3 inches off our bumper, the driving was quite similar to LA driving with no defined lanes in the road.  As we went along the road, all the houses looked like strand houses in Manhattan Beach but no beach.  All of them appeared to be no less than 3 stories and about 5000-6000 square feet.  I guess for many natives they have a floor for each wife.  

As we arrived the Grand Mosque, in the center of town, we had to put on the Abaya and Hijab prior to entering.  The picture above is Mia and I in our dress.  They showed us an outer courtyard and then took us into the inside room.  It was grand indeed.

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It was comprised of marble, tile and a lot of 18k gold  the floor seats 175 across and 58 deep.  When the mosque is full inside and out, it can hold about 80,000 people.  It was facinating to learn that the dome you see in most mosques is practical not ornamental. If you stand at the front in the alcove and talk out to the crowd, the dome carries the voice so all can hear.

After the mosque tour, the chaplain made a lunch reservation for us at the Raddison and we had the most wonderful meal.  Fruit that was ripe, meat that was tender, cheese (I have not seen cheese since Greece) and deserts that I had to sample.

Then believe it or not, they had a pirate ship!!  It has never sailed but designed as a meeting facility.  Below is a picture of me on the boat.  It was an interesting day.

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Hot Hot Hot

Ok…well this weeks temperatures are averaging about 115 deg…whew…it  is warm.  Last night, we also had the pleasure of a Host Nation Thunderstorm.  Not only do you get the thunder and lightening of a regular storm but you get the sand blowing at about 50 mph.  Everyone eating decided it was God’s way of making the decision about ice cream for you.  Might as well partake since we are not going anywhere for a while anyway.

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As we left the DFAC, Mia exclaimed…"lets get our facial on".  I guess in a way this sandstorm is mother natures version of dermbrasion treatment but God help you if you open your eyes.  

As we walked to the DFAC last night, I thought I would take a picture of these signposts.  This has been somewhat of a staple at most bases I have been to.  There was not a California sign so we need to work on that before we leave but it is nice to see where everyone, who has traveled through here, is from.

Got my pool on today in the 115 deg heat…the only problem is that they only sell SPF 50 at the BX.  Of course the Air Force doesn’t want you to tan.  I am not sure if I am going to get any color with 50 but I guess it is better than being a lobster.  

Three days ago we all lost our Imminent Danger Pay (IDP) in our paychecks…you know…. the $200 someodd dollars that vanished?  So for all of you worried about us here… the greatest threat we face until we fly off this base is the food, the sun and the sandstorms….Breathe a sigh of relief and we will see you all in 36 days!!

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ATC

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The scale finally moved!!  After three weeks of going to the gym everyday but two…..I finally saw a definite change.  It is an eye opener to the fact that I HAVE to do this now because I am sure as I get older, that scale will be harder and harder to move in the correct direction.  Even though I had not seen a great deal of change on a scale, it is amazing how I could see such an increase in my fitness.  Also, how many little annoyances are starting to disappear as my body embraces my new regimen.  

It is hard to believe too that I am about to see that clock to the right roll to 39 days in 3 hours.  The time is actually flying on this rotation!  

Oh I took a tour of the Host Nation air traffic control (ATC) tower and it was sure interesting.  As we exited the elevator you could smell the wafts of smoke fill all the passageways as we headed toward the tower cab.  As we climbed the final staircase, it was so hard to keep your footing as the stairs were made of marble.  Dang….OSHA would have a field day with that…..It really looked grand but was highly impractical.  The tower Chief told us all about their systems.  They use the strips just like they do in the states but there are defnitely some funny things.  We found out why it takes so long sometimes to get our flightplans in the system.  It is because the agency they call to check on the flightplan does not issue it.  They are a middle man.  That agency then calls the people that actually file the flightplan and then they call the tower back.  It is amazing how our American brains immediately beg the question of just eliminating the middle man.  Ohhh nooo…that is how it is done.  Probably a jobs program of sorts but that type of redundancy is so common in most of the world and the local populous does not ask why…it is just an accepted way of doing business.  The young tower companion to the Chief spent the entire tour looking at his iPhone…..ahhh…now that seems to be a world wide commonality…..why talk to people that are here, when I can text people who are not here!  Before I left, I tried to take in all the random stuff that makes its way into spaces like this.  There was a green Christmas ornament hanging from a nail in the wall, a brass teapot with dust an inch thick, pieces of a computer and a microwave that really needed a scrub.  You wonder how all those things came to be in those places…who brought them there and how long they would remain before someone tired of them and changed their disposition.

I am glad I did the tour.  Next weekend Mia and I signed up for the tour of the Grand Mosque downtown; now that should really be an adventure.  Until next time.

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…...

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The desert has always been an odd mix of everything.  You truly never know what to expect.  One of the things that caught me by surprise was on my trip to the pool the other day.  Amidst the lounge chairs, sitting proud and still, was a bench with Ronald McDonald sitting on it…..really?  A complete non-sequitor.  I could not believe with all the rotations that have come in and out of this base that he has not disappeared on the final flight off station of a C-17 or C-130.  But then I saw that someone (who must know the airlifters penchant to steal items to decorate their squadrons at home) wisely has chained him to the concrete pad on which he sat.  I did not have a camera to get my own moment with Ronald but I googled a photo of him to show you here.  Now why is Ronald McDonald visiting us here in the desert?  Much of the character of these bases evolves over time.  Things that are created and left by someone who has taken a life break to come over and do their part of the mission for a span of time.  As I was googling for the photos of Ronald McDonald to show you, I came upon these picture of the McDonalds that used to be at this base; and Ronald sat right out front.  Wow….I am sad I missed that era. I could really go for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese about now.  I have a feeling though, that once it was known that the McDonalds was closing, that someone took Ronald and put him somewhere he would be safe from the demolition.  The pool has 8 foot high walls around it and it was a good hiding place….being that he is still here, even today.  By the way, the subway is still here.

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Our rooms are like that too.  When you are assigned a room, you inherit the improvements of the previous tenant.  Your TV, refrigerator, furniture and mood lights are all a product of each person who lived there and what they contributed to your little space.  I have a particularly good trash can.  Like I have said before, it is the little things.

As we approach the halfway mark of this rotation, I am assessing this one compared to the other ones I have completed.  This one, so far, is the best for several reasons.  Just like the collections of “stuff” that make up the personality of this base, the personalities of the personnel make up the essence of the rotation.  I have never been on a rotation that was so full of kindness and peace.  This compilation of squadron mates really has a grasp on the brevity of each situation we face, good and bad and a sense of cooporation to get the mission done.  A group of our folks are forward deployed.  On arrival, they faced a very difficult siituation with no place to stay and had to erect a tent in which to sleep and conduct operations.  Each day we see that they are conducting and completing the mission despite the hand they have been dealt.  There have been a few times in the past few years that my love of the miltiary machine and faith in its people has faltered but this deployment has really renewed it.  I am so proud to be serving with these folks and if you are reading this and your love one is deployed with us…be proud.  The 115th AS is serving with honor and distinction here and forward each and everyday.

A Day to Remember

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A day like this humbles me.  As I sit in my air conditioned office, talking on telephones that work, eating at a resonably decent DFAC and watching movies in the base theater, I realize that war is different now.  Different than when there were no computers and airplanes were generally unreliable.  Now, I have been in my share of situations when I truly thought that it may be my day to meet mortality, but the vets to the right had some ominus statistics to deal with daily.  The Bomber Command in WWII had a 50% survival rate.  When you know those are your odds, that truly is courage to continue with that mission day in and out and those truly are the heroes.  I have no doubt that during my six tours, I have made a difference and kept the wheels of the machine over here in motion but we would not have the freedom we have today if not for those who sacrificed, those who gave all.  Many of the streets around this base are named for fallen soldiers from the first Gulf War.  It is amazing how learning this fact has made those street signs look totally different to me now.  They are more than markers, they are all that is left here of someone who died for the freedom of these people, this country and should not be forgotten.

Today is appropriately dreary for such a somber day full of gravity.  It has gotten significantly hotter in the past week and the only way to decribe the weather here is if you stand outside, it is like have a big huge hairdryer pointed at your whole body.  It actually rained a little bit last night and Mia and I just stood there and felt the cool drops on our body.  It felt kind of magical.  But today is back to ops normal…windy and hot.  I am thankful though…the humitidy is pretty low.  You know what they say…it is hot, but it is a dry heat:-).

Thank you all for your kind messages on Facebook.  My Best Friend Julie really knew how special that would be for me and she is always so kind and thoughtful to all of us who are so blessed to be loved by her!!

Love also to my family at home, my parents, my sisters and those who have continued to love and support me my whole life.  

Hug someone you love today because I wish I could and Happy Memorial Day.


© Patricia Murray 2014