Patricia's Blog

tired, dead or both?

What an interesting week it has been. We have been so busy flying that it just seems that one day blends into the other. Actually, it does, because we get alerted in one day and fly well into the next. Then by the time to get back, unwind and get to bed, a second day is done and somehow you are onto day 3 without blinking an eye.
The other night we were on a mission and when we returned here to base we landed 1 minute before the beginning of the fallen comrade ceremony. When we honor the fallen here at the base, the main flying ramps shut down completely; no power, no movement. The fallen comrade is taken to the airplane where the soldier will be flown out of theater. It is 40 minutes of ceremony to honor a lifetime of dedication that ended with the ultimate sacrifice. When we landed, we wanted to be in parking by the time the ceremony started. We missed it by 1 minute. We sat on the taxiway waiting for the ceremony to end. That it what it was to us at that moment; a blip in our day. This would make our day longer and delay us down the road.
When we finally go into parking two colonels came onto our airplane and asked if they could get a ride to our next destination. They were scheduled to go on helicopters but would rather travel with us....no doubt!!
As they sat on the flight deck and talked with us, the one Colonel was in charge of 3 huge geographic areas of the country. His mission was to eradicate the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) threat. He told us about all of the equipment that they had at their disposal to detect and destroy such threats. It was at that moment that he told us that he came to this base because the fallen comrade was one of his men. Two of his men were wounded in the attack but one mortally. You could tell how much this wounded his soul. I have no idea how close personally he was to this soldier but he took this loss hard. They were now flying back to continue their mission of preventing this from happening to other soldiers. Once we departed the airfield the chatting stopped and Jake and I got to the business of getting the plane where it needed to go.
As we landed at the FOB (Forward Operating Base), I leaned back and told the Colonel what a pleasure it was to have him on board our airplane. He sat there still. Headset on, hands in his lap. I said it louder but no response. Then I touched his knee, “Colonel, you okay?” I finally really had to shake him and he came awake. I thought for a minute that something had happened to him. I guess what had happened to him is that he got a 35 minute escape from the hell he had been living. I hope he was in a quiet peaceful place for our flight because I am not sure there are too many of those in this theater.
I handed him a Hollywood Guard coin and he reciprocated with the coin you see above. The back of the coin is pictured here. He wanted me to be sure to know it doubles as a weapon. That is quite a coin.
As we watched him leave the flight deck and head off to the back of the airplane and into the dark, God truly only knows where he will go. God be with him and the life saving mission that he does.
Something has changed here at home base after the slump. Everything is old now. Boring. Uninspiring. Small things are very frustrating and irritating. I wonder if it is because you know you are leaving soon, so your mind finally allows you to see things for what they truly are? I got in from my flight last night at about 3am. I fly today at 6pm so I stayed up until 5am to time my sleeping for the mission tonight. At 10 am, a group of workmen was doing something at my BHutt door. They wake me up with their tools and their loud voices....I poke my head out the door and with as much tone as I can muster tell them it has to stop. They say 5 minutes. They are gone in 5 minutes but the damage has been done. With 5 hours of sleep my body wants to get up. I am forced to take some ambien and try to get more sleep. Then at 1 pm, I get a random call on my cell phone that I use for alert. The caller says, “Hi” in Arabic. I hang up....really?? I turn the phone off. So by 2 pm, I am up. I am irritated and still tired but I think I would rather face all these irritants awake then asleep.
It is time to go home. Mentally, I need human contact that is meaningful. I need to be around people that need me for my soul not my work skill. I miss all that matters to me in my life. I certainly cannot find any shred of that here.
Until next time,
P

why we do what we do

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something in your life.
-- Winston Churchill


I know I just blogged yesterday but I am making up for my week of silence. It seems that the darkness has lifted and everyone is rising out of the ashes to complete the tour here....the dark before our dawn I guess.
I love the quote above. So many times I feel like Don Quixote and I believe many people look at me and my efforts on certain endeavors as a total waste of time. But truly the only person one has to reconcile with, in the long term, is the face in the mirror. I know I put my energies into what matters to me, what will make the world a better place in my eyes and make others’ lives better. The fact that people disagree with what I do or don’t like aspects of my personality is a truest statement that I am staying my own course and not running with the crowd. There is no way the true course for any one person could be singular with that of many. It is inevitable that one will ruffle some feathers or be at odds with the majority along the way...if not....time to look in that mirror.
Enough of that!!
Above is a video put out my the 455 AEW Public Affairs about the mission of the 774th EAS. The 774th EAS is rich in history as you can read here....dating all the way back to WWII.
Hope you enjoy the history lesson and the video.
Until next time,
P

is that a gun in your pocket?

Update: Green Beans had lids!! They also have drink carriers so that you can buy a coffee but also 3 more to take to your friends and carry them with ease.
Sorry that it has been almost a week since I last blogged. I am not sure what happened but there is a quiet that has come over the squadron and this camp. I was at dinner last night and we were discussing that most of us are down to one meal a day. One of our pilots had packets of Ranch dressing that he poured over everything on his tray. We were commenting that everything would taste the same. He replied that is already does but at least this is a taste he likes. Another grabbed the Texas Pete hot sauce and did the same...even in his cream of broccoli soup!! It is amazing how your body just begins to reject what it doesn’t like and you can’t even force yourself to eat it.
Maybe it is the rain that has taken to falling again creating a mud landscape on which we have to walk. Maybe it is that we are so close to getting home that it just feels like it will never come. We break the remaining time down as may ways as we can. I should fly 10 more times or only 3 more shrimp and shoe fridays (they serve steak on fridays at the chow hall and the steaks are very well done...meaning dry and dead....Andrew and Grandma S would LOVE this meat.....to me, it tastes like a shoe).
Since Monday I have flown a lot and most of it was at night so it is more difficult to get pictures but we did have one mission that stood out. The above picture is of me next to a 155mm Howitzer gun. We had to haul two of these this night. The gun took up the entire back of the airplane. The 155 mm measurement is width of the bullet. That means the bullet is about 6 inches in width. that is a BIG bullet. I am not sure if in my mind that can qualify as a bullet anymore...it seems more like a missile to me. It would certainly rip anything it targeted in half.
Sorry for the poor picture quality but with the flash on you could not see the gun in the background I am sitting on the base and as you look to the back of the airplane, you can see the barrel where the bullets or “missiles” come out.
I am anxious to go somewhere new on an upcoming mission but I am not sure that is in the cards. We may get to do one more airdrop before we leave so I am looking forward to that.
I am not sure how people do it over 6 months. All of the general officers that we fly are here for a minimum of a year. It must be simple mind over matter. When I am running at the gym, every minute I want to stop and take a break. Not because I need one but because I want one. But I just keep putting one foot in front of the other knowing that this will make me more fit to love my daughter and chase her around, it will make me happier when I look in the mirror and at Whistler this year, I will be unstoppable on that snowboard! I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and pretty soon it is 30 minutes. That time passed at the same pace whether I was walking or running. but I got much more out of the running.
So for the remaining time, I am going to make it my goal to keep running. That does not mean I am going to eat that crummy food with a smile on my face but I am going to try to savor what days I have remaining as this is like Brigadoon and it will never return or be the same. Everything has changed so much since the squadron was here in 2010, night and day from when I was here in 2006 and I probably won’t recognize anything but the Russian Tower if I come back in 2013.
As life slips away like hourglass sand, so will the remaining time here.
Until next time,
P
Happy Birthday Debs!!

27 days and a wake up

In the land of deployments when you get less than 30 days from being home, that is how you look at it. How many days and a wake up. I know people that do two or three wake ups...heck I could say 1 day and 26 wake ups but that would just be silly.
Ok....Linda and Lee.....fabulous ideas on the costumes. I like the pilot light and I am going to buy a bulb today at the BX.....that is the far and away winner....clever and easy to do. Thanks!! I will take pictures and post them after the party!!
We got to fly two airdrops the other day and they were great!! It is so fulfilling to train for years and years to accomplish something and then you get to actually do it. There is no feeling like it. We dropped into a very hot (combat active) area in very crazy high terrain and a LOT of stuff. It challenged both us and the airplane but we got the mission done and it felt great.
Our last mission was basically an airline mission. We flew people everywhere and large groups of them. Ron (my loadmaster) said that he felt at the end of the night like he moved the entire country. At one point, Garnsey (my other loadmaster) was shepherding a group of at least 50 to the aircraft. As he walked them around the wing, I half expected him to put up one of those tour guide umbrellas and say, “and we’re walking....”. Once he got them to the airplane entrance, he turned around and the amassed crowd just stopped and stared; hanging on the next words that would come out of his mouth. I don’t think he thought much of the event but watching from the cockpit window, he looked like Moses leading the people.
The other day, I heard a pax terminal announcement for a flight to one the more austere places we go. Most of you would consider it hell. I leave my engines running when I am there to be sure that I don’t have to stay any longer than I have to. Anyway, the lady on the announcement was basically like, “those headed for (austere destination), please proceed to door 2. Your flight will be boarding in 30 minutes.” The destination seemed to pleasantly roll off her tongue like she was saying New York or Los Angeles. What she was actually saying was a code word for hell!! Maybe that is what those people standing and waiting were hoping Garnsey would say, “This flight is not taking you to hell, it is taking you to Disneyland!! You won the Air Force lottery!!” Not the case. We gave them a first class C-130 flight to their home for the next 6 months.....a place that I don’t like being for an hour.
As we were sitting waiting to start our engines last night the medivac helicopters flew right in front of us to the ramp. It just makes your heart sink and you pray that they made it in time.
Odd things happen here and you really don’t know what to make of it. While Sheila and I were on the treadmills the other night, one of the gym workers walked around the whole gym and turned the fans off. We both looked at each other like, “you may be cold but we are sweating or hineys off here!!”. That same night after the treadmills, we headed to the mats to stretch. As we were sitting there, the contractors that run the gym just walk over us (literally) to the circuit breaker panel and shut off all the electricity. No warning, no reason....just darkness and quiet. The whirr of all the treadmills, bikes and elliptical machines went quiet. As we gathered our things and headed to the door, all of the hard core weightlifters were still lifting as you could here the clang of the bars hitting the rests after a set of reps. Now that is hardcore. Sheila and I both thought it was really odd and hightailed it out of there. Of course I left part of my Ipad case because I couldn’t see in the dark. So it has been sacrificed.
We have also discovered that the fresh bread maker at the Koele Diner is either very sick, gone home or just stopped making bread. It was work the hike over there to get that fresh baked bread but it was worth it. The Koele pretty much has the same stuff as the Dragon so it is not worth the trip anymore. Even the smell of the chow hall starts to wear on you. When we went in for lunch today, you can almost tell what is on the menu from the smells. Just eating the same meals all the time causes you to lose your appetite. Most people lose weight here even without going to the gym and a lot of it is due to the lack of variety when it comes to food.
Well, we are on the schedule for tomorrow and will probably fly every other day until we leave. It is good to stay busy. Just looking in front of me the last day I have hatched off on my calendar is October 13.....when you are hatching the days off 3 at a time...that is a good sign.

Thanks for all the cards, packages and emails. It is great to walk into ops and see something with your name on it that you did not know was coming.
Until next time...
P

the land of lakes

You know how I said the weather had turned??!! Well, we sat yesterday on the ground at one of airfields we had to fly to for two hours waiting for a nasty thunderstorm to pass through...UUGGHH. But once we took off, we saw that the entire country had been covered in a layer of snow. It really adds an element of beauty that I have never seen here before. Even some of the very desert-y airfields are growing grass.
The picture above was taken at sunrise after we had flown the entire night. At our second to last destination at about 4 am....the load was having to go on and off the airplane one pallet at a time via forklift. Jake and I were sitting up front and the NVGs (Night Vision Goggles) were getting heavier and heavier on our heads. They actually start to burn a red sore into your forehead after about 12 hours. So I took mine off to rest my head and go get a Starbucks Doubleshot. This is my instant fix for the late, late night lull. As I started to search every pocket in my backpack, panic started to set in. DECLARE THE EMERGENCY!! I was out. How careless of me. So I turned to Jake to get a diet Dr. Pepper that he always has...he was out too. The war is lucky that we were able to continue on sheer will because we had nothing but water to aid us in our fight against fatigue.
Once the sun came up at our last stop though...it somehow restarts your body clock....you get just enough energy to finish the mission and then collapse in your hooch.
When we returned to base, it was clear that the storm that we had weathered on the road had passed through here.....now not only do we have to walk on the rocks, but we have to avoid the lakes too. These are not small puddles and you cringe at what you are going to trapse into you small space where you live.
So tonight I braved the lakes and forded my way to the BX. I picked up 12 doubleshots and a case of Dr. Pepper. We are ready for whatever the weather gods, the airforce and the airplane throws at us over the next few days.
It is raining outside right now and I am not sure if I want to wade my way to the gym.....maybe have to run a little extra tomorrow.
PS....we have a halloween party on the 31st and we are supposed to wear a costume...REALLY? Anyone have any creative ideas?? Sheila was thinking that we buy a couple mustaches and put them on sticks...it has promise. Let’s hear any ideas in the comments below...... Now please remember that we only have wood, duct tape and 550 cord. It is primitive pickings here so nothing to crazy.
Until next time,
P

The average day

The weather has definitely turned. It has been rainy almost every day for a week and the sky is filled with thunderstorms. It is also cool.....the days only get up to about 75 now and the nights are in the 50s. I am so glad that I have my down comforter on my bed. The thunder is crazy loud and I can hear it clearly in my hooch. I hear all sorts of sounds. The rain falling on my metal roof on my BHutt, the sound of fighters (there are always 2) taking off in afterburner, the very familiar sound of a C-130 down-speeding the engines as they pull off the runway, the thunder cracking right above the camp, the sound of someone keying the cypherlock to our BHutt to get in etc. I hear everything and the sounds are like that of the big city now. They don’t bother me at all and most times they bring me comfort.
I figured today was about as average day as you get. I knew I was getting alerted early this evening so now at about 4 pm yesterday, you have to plan everything out. I had already been to the gym but Sheila wanted to start weight training so I was going in for a double. Once she was up at about 6pm, we really needed to think about eating. We headed to the Koele Diner for dinner.....now you have to let dinner settle before you head to the gym. So we decided to exchange our laundry...good time filler. On our way there she told me about this Greek restaurant that she found at a FOB (forward operating base) and that it was fantastic....real feta cheese on the Greek salad. YUM. My crew will have to make time for that down the road. As we passed the cadillac (bathroom), we noticed they were cleaning. Hopefully that will be open in 10 minutes or so. Once we had the laundry switched out we headed back. Now since it has been raining, there are puddles all over the Land of Rocks. I don’t think drainage was really a concern when they constructed Camp Cunningham. So we are carefully walking everywhere so that we don’t step in a huge puddle. So I drop off my laundry back at my hooch and head for the restroom. There were a group of us waiting because the two other women’s restrooms in the camp are closed for maintenance. Really?? There is only one ladies bathroom...oh and the Andy Gump (remember the ladies room?) hmmmm....No thanks...I will hold it. So we wait and wait. And of course it starts to rain again. I think they took mercy on us and rushed the cleaning and we finally all got in.
By now it is almost midnight. It is crazy how time flies with just a couple simple projects. I kept myself up until 3am and slept until noon. Now, I have to plan this day..the flying day. I make some oatmeal and coffee and sit down to blog. Then I am going to hit the gym, shower and by then the phone should ring. I will head to dinner and in to ops to fly. It is like a perfectly choreographed dance that when executed properly feels great.

I am sorry that I don’t have any new pictures but we have been flying nights and that makes photos tough.
The picture above is me at a little cafe we found along the way. We never ate there as the menu was pretty sparse but I do think it is funny how they all try to draw in the Americans with catchy names. Who wouldn’t want to eat on or in Air Force One?
A few camp notes. The other night when Sheila and I were walking back from the computer place, we heard music. Then as we walked by the basketball gymnasium tent, I saw colored lights. What is going on? I told Sheila that I had to pop my head in.....it looked like a saturday night dance. There was a DJ on the stage and couples dancing on the dance floor. Obviously the male to female ratio was like 5 to 1 but it was a sight and so out of place. Guys go to the dance to get girls right?....here you end up in jail if you get a girl.....so I am not sure what the point of the dance was for the men. I wish I had had my camera because it was a vision that I will not soon forget.
It seems lately when I have been walking into ops, I cannot escape the sound of helicopters. The medivac helos pull in right next to our operations and they are bringing urgent medivac patients to the best hospital in the desert. Every time I hear those rotors two things cross my mind: a prayer that the person will be okay and a thank you that it is not me. Many of our squadron members have been volunteering at the hospital. It is a great way to gain perspective about our fortunate position to only go outside the wire in the air.
Well, we fly again tonight...all night.
Until next time,
P

one long day

As I landed yesterday from a series of long flights, I looked at my calendar and saw that the last day I had hatched off was the first. Either I am very busy, very tired or a combination of both.
Still no lids.
I am so sorry for the radio silence but I went to renew the internet on the 30th and since then it hasn’t been working. I have the receipt with all the info and Sheila has the computer. We finally hooked up last night at 9 pm and went to the 24 hour computer place (all this time we thought it closed at 5pm) and got things up and running again.
I feel like we have been so busy that I haven’t been able to think. On one of our last missions, we went to a place I have not been before. We were taking a lot of cargo in but zero out. Of course when we get there, they have a plane load of cargo that has to leave. That puts us about 10 minutes behind frag. Then when we get back to base and need fuel and the fuel truck runs out of gas. Really? So we wait for that. Now our load has hazardous cargo, so we have to take the airplane to the opposite side of the field to load. We are going to three more fields during this day and the loadmasters announce that the load is in all the wrong order. Stuff getting off first at the front etc. This is going to be a nightmare down the road. Once we get in the air for our first destination, we find out that it is IFR (instrument flight rules) at the field and we have to wait another 45 minutes in the air to land for traffic. At this destination, we pick up a dog and some cargo. At the next destination, the user seems to have forgotten that we are coming or maybe they are ignoring us because we are 2 hours late. Either way, they leave us sitting there for another hour before they meet us. We finally get to our last stop. Everything is off the airplane. And they come to us with an emergency medical mission that we do have room to take. Collectively we all sigh but if that were me laying on that litter, I would want someone to take me to the best hospital in the desert. We started the day at 1130pm at night and finished at 4pm the following day...3 hours behind frag. Needless to say we were beat but satisfied because mission complete.....then we see the schedule....what?? We are getting alerted in 14 hours for another 16 hour day??
It was immediately time for bed.
The next day we had to fly the General of all desert air forces to a meeting out of the country. Although the mission was long, it gave us all a chance to decompress a bit. The General was gracious and informative. He had so much to say about the future of the war and the air forces. Trust me when I say it is nothing like you hear on the news.
As we were flying over UAE, we got a chance to check out all their building in the gulf. And I mean in the water. We got to see the sailboat shaped motel pictured above and the land outcroppings shaped like palm trees that give everyone gulf front property. The one thing I had not seen was the islands that were amassed to be shaped like the world. It was very clear that the Americas were completed along with Asia and Africa but the rest of it was a bit sketchy. Only one island located (at my best guess) in the Halifax region was inhabited. I guess when the world economy slumped the building of the “world island nation” came to a halt too. Pictures of these land formations can be seen here.
On our way home, we had a chance to talk about the previous day. The loadmasters told Jake and I that that dog was being sent home. He had failed to do his mission. I was sad for the dog but maybe he was smarter than the other dogs and was getting out of dodge while the getting was good. I guess the rejected military dogs go to the police stateside. I just couldn’t figure out how to categorize him on the mission recap...passenger or cargo? I just left him off and figured someone knew he was coming.
When we got back we were so happy to see a day off. We desperately needed to recharge our batteries and resync our body clocks.
These days off are odd though. You are so tired that you definitely sleep longer than you should. Why wouldn’t you? There is NOTHING to get up for really. So you just keep rolling over and over until you can’t roll anymore. Then when you do get up it is a series of simple decisions. Bathroom or food? Laundry or gym? Once all those items are complete then you really have to get creative and that is when you go into ops and hope you are on the schedule to fly. Hard to believe huh?
You need the time off to get caught up but once you are caught up all you want to be is back in the airplane.
Until next time...
P

© Patricia Murray 2014