Patricia's Blog

final thoughts….

A wake up.....I am finally there. A wake up and then the wave of guard members start their journey back to Channel Islands. It has been a fast and slow 90 some odd days here in the desert.
I was so busy complaining about being sick in the last blog that I never told you about my last SOF shift. It was the day before I came down with the full blown crud. Ahhh SOF. You just dread that ride up to the 6th floor of the tower; only bad things await you. So of course I am about an hour into my shift when a marine airplane blows a tire on the runway. Runway closed. Really??!! Today??!! Well of course that is a whole slew of paperwork and a call to the Colonel. I try to call the Colonel, he doesn’t answer. oh geeze...no! I call the Colonel on the walkie talkie and he doesn’t answer. I call anyone on the walkie talkie and no one answers. This is not good. So I call the Colonel on the phone....ring...ring.....ring....of course he isn’t there. Email...I send an email.....ok it’s lame but it is all I have!! Then comes the best part....a little airplane is low on fuel and needs to land and that is something only the Colonel can approve with the broken airplane on the runway. The weather is horrible everywhere and I am going to send this little airplane 1.5 hours away to good weather if I can’t get a hold of the Colonel. Now the little airplane is down to 5 minutes of fuel....I have 4 paris of eyes on me waiting for a decision. Basically as SOF, you are the voice of the Colonel...but this is a Colonel that does not like to be spoken for. Ring....Ring....Ring......email inbox....empty...radio dead....Patricia dead!! I think of what I would want the SOF to do if I was in that airplane.....”let him land”. Decision made....for better or worse...done. Ring. Oh...caller ID.....it’s the Colonel. “Why is the runway closed down??” “Well sir, it is actually.....open......(long story explained to the Col)” Then I learned that the Colonel, although understanding why I made my decision, would have sent him 1.5 hours away. He had good reasons, his reasons. Hmmm....I guess that is why there is chocolate and vanilla ice cream.....but in this instance, he owns the ice cream shop. I HATE SOF!!! I also learned that the walkie talkie had been broken for days...nice. The Colonel was probably wondering why it was so quiet on all the SOF shifts. I think the tower folks were empathetic and impressed all at the same time. Quite a story huh? I think I blocked it out for a couple days.
Today was our last flight and I have to say with the exception that I had absolutely no voice, it was perfect in every way. We watched the sunrise as we sat on a FOB ramp facing east. We had enough time to hit Coffee Time and the Gyro joint on the Boardwalk for the last time (who would have thought that they serve Gyros at 0830 in the morning?). We could see for a hundred miles in every direction; snow peaks in the distance rising to 20,000 ft and covered with snow. All of that bad weather must have cleared out the whole country because in my 10 years of coming here, I have never seen a day as beautiful as today. We got to go to a new airfield which added an element of interest to the usual destinations that we frequent. We found ourselves 2 hours ahead of frag and no one was trying to slow us down. At the end, we picked up two critical patients to bring them to home base and realized how fortunate we were that we had had an uneventful rotation. All of the landings were perfect, and with the exception of poor Jake having to operate radios and fly at the same time (my voice was useless), the flying was spectacular.
Tonight in the Dragon Diner, I had the tower chief stop me and say, “Major, aren’t you leaving tomorrow?” I was shocked that he would remember. I guess when something remarkable happens on every one of your SOF shifts, that gets the attention of the Colonel, the tower remembers you. I told him that I was. He said that he would be working at the time I was leaving and to be ready for the VIP treatment. I am not sure how VIP you can get here in the desert but in 29 hours I guess I will find out.
I snapped as many pictures as I could today. They are posted here. They are chronological and will take you through our whole day.
When we came home today there were piles of rocks all over the base. It reminded me of Andrew’s home back east where the leaves are piled up and hauled away this time of year. But these rocks are not being taken out, they are being brought in...to spread around the camp. I can only imagine with snow how horrible this place would become with all the mud. I am not sure which I would prefer..walking on rocks all day or mud...both options stink.
That is how they truly get you here. They make you wish for less stink. Instead of hoping anything good will happen, you become conditioned to just hope nothing bad happens.
Here, in my last blog, I would like to summarize a few of the things I liked and disliked about this place. Now, I am a silver lining kind of gal. So keep in mind that this is an optimist talking here. Let’s start with the dislikes:
The fact that right outside the Dining Facility is a row of Port O Johns that you see all the workers in their white hats and uniforms going in and out of. All the hand sanitizer in the world will not keep the filth out of my dinner.
The smells....all bad......new bad smells all the time. I think this is the place they invent bad smells.
Outdoor plumbing.....really?
Nothing in the BX to make you drowsy. Everything is non-drowsy. And all you want to do is sleep your life away here. Are they afraid you are going to buy 20 NyQuils and try to get hammered?? Maybe.
While we are on that topic....no booze.....they want you to feel the pain every single day. Or maybe they don’t want you to shoot anyone. Either way...NO BOOZE.
12 hours on NVGs. Hard to imagine right? Here ya go.....Take a pair of binoculars and tape it to a really small colander....put it on your head. Now to keep it from falling forward take a book and tape it to the back as a good counterweight....now go do your job for 12 hours, oh also do it at night and see if you have a headache and permanent mesh prints on your forehead at the end of 12 hours.
Things that I like about this place:
After a beautiful day of flying today, I get to leave.
As I sit here typing, I have almost completely packed up my little hooch. I have not had the heart to take down all the wonderful cards you all have sent me or the photos of my little miss. Those will be the very last things to go...I couldn’t bear this place, even for a minute, without the things that matter most to me in this world. My family, my friends, my relationships that mean so much to me. The isolation here is numbing. I think that as odd as it is going to be for Carlyn to see her mom after 3 months of only seeing me on Skype, I cannot even imagine at this moment how it will feel to have someone hug me, love me, care about me the way only those who know your soul can.
Thanks for tuning in and giving me a reason to keep blogging. It has been a great way to share the frustrations, joys and realities of this experience with those who may never experience it for themselves. I am not sure how people do this for 6 months or a year without becoming completely shut off to the outside world....my hat is off to them as they are made of stronger fiber than me. We are all a part of the war....I have done my part, you have done yours in supporting us over here and it all matters. Those two soldiers today did way more than their part and I will pray that God will bring them peace in the life they now face.
It is odd that like the ocean on the shore that has kept pounding every day I have been gone....this place will soldier on as well. I don’t even think it will notice that I have departed, as the very next day, a crew comes into replace me. That is probably the hardest part for me to grasp....you are a part of a big machine here.....there is no individual part that matters here...we matter to you at home, but here, we are just a tiny piece of a massive machine that keeps moving. It makes me think of the civil war soldiers that once they were mowed down, another soldier just moved into fill the empty space. It is hard to feel important in such a machine but if you started removing tiny parts, I am sure it would begin to fail. One thing I know, we cannot fail. It would make the sacrifices of all who have given everything they had to give, meaningless. I hope my rotation here and my personal contribution was honorable to those who paid the ultimate price.
I thank God everyday for my life, my husband, my daughter, my family and my dear friends.
Until we see each other again,
P

The end is near….

Well, I am sitting in my bed today. Not because I want to but because my body is forcing me to. There has been this crud that is going around and I have been dodging and weaving and going through hand sanitizer like nobody’s business...but it got me. So here I lay....my chest feels like it has C-130 sitting on it and I still wonder what the purpose my body thinks it is serving my completely closing off my main breathing passage, my nose.
I will not be on the flying schedule tomorrow but I am hoping to get my act together by Sunday for one last trip into the desert skies.
The photo above was taken by Nick Hull, one of our life supporters and I just thought it was beautiful.

It has been miserable weather here for the last few days. Up north it is snowing so much that they are closing airfields for the winter. We really saw the gamut of weather here on this rotation and I much prefer the heat. Especially with no indoor plumbing. It is downright freezing for that 3 am potty run.
I did some inquiring about the laundry here and I found it very interesting. When we were stationed down south on previous rotations, they contracted out our laundry. I remember the Mariott used to do it at Al Udeid. But here it is all done on base. The laundry runs 24/7 365 days a year in a 10,000 square foot facility. They process 1500 bags of laundry every day. They have 158 washers and 158 dryers and 300 laborers to wash, dry and fold all of the laundry. Yes, mom, you would be impressed with their folding skills...my shirts always come back in a neat little square.
My last laundry went in last Monday and I will probably pick up all my laundry tomorrow. The only thing I have left to do is turn in my gun.
Going home is going to be strange. I have not driven a car in over 90 days and I think I will feel naked without my gun. I find comfort in always having it right there to protect me. It is not often in your life that you walk into dinner and all 300 people present are armed. Maybe in Texas...but i still think it would be rare. I think for that reason alone it is wise to ban alcohol here.
I realize too that I spend so much of my time in silence. Here in the Bhutt it is 24/7 quiet hours and with it being so cold outside I am in here a lot lately. There are days that I don’t see Sheila that I will realize at 3 pm I have yet to speak a word.
Sheila and I had a big day yesterday. We tried on all of our clothes that we ordered and organized our returns. Then we headed off for the post office where there was no line......crazy, I normally wait over 30 minutes every time I want to send something. Then we had to renew the internet on her computer.....what? No line again.....so we thought with all this good line karma we should try the biggest line of all...Pizza Hut. There was a little line...but in about 15 minutes we were sinking our teeth into a pepperoni and olive pie. It was actually quite good. Now I am not sure if that was good pizza good or good compared to our other options. Nevertheless, it tasted good. I knew that this desert flu that I have would be blossoming today so it was nice to get out and have one last meal.
I will blog once more before I leave...hopefully after my last flight.
Until next time....
P

dream a little dream

Well, 8 days and a wake up. It is really getting close now. Thanks for all your kind comments! It is great to find out who is following. The unexpected things in life narrow as we get older, thanks for some GOOD unexpected :-)

I am starting to think in terms of “that is the last time I will.....” (fill in the blank). The other morning, we did two airdrops and it had rained the whole night before. Winter is a-comin.... These airdrops were deep into some canyons and the whole area was blanketed in snow. It was spectacular. It was definitely the last of the airdrops our crew will be doing here.
When we got back yesterday afternoon, I decided to stay up. They were showing a Warren Miller movie to get us all in the mood for winter and winter snow sports. They had made a screen with plywood and a sheet, raised it up on a forklift and somehow had a huge popcorn machine. Kudos to the folks that made it happen because it was a packed house in the hanger next to one of our C-130s. I was so tired that I only made it through half the flick. I felt bad because it was the one thing that Sheils wanted to do for her birthday but she was stuck out flying. I went into ops and sent a couple messages to her in her airplane wishing her the best and headed off to bed.
I slept more than 12 hours before I had to get up for the combat out-processing brief. The briefing was short and sweet. But I really felt the need to take a nap...a nap??!! I had only been awake 2 hours but really...what better did I have to do? And then I did something that I don’t think I have done since I have been here...I dreamed. When you talk to people, it seems that no one is dreaming. I have no idea why. Maybe your mind is always on edge and not relaxed enough to dream. Maybe it is the medications you have to take to sleep when you are supposed to and be awake when you need to. These are not your run of the mill vanilla dreams either. Crazy dreams mind you.....trying over and over to get into my uniform but somehow always ending up in jeans....my hooch walls were see through....the base is under attack and I am annoyed because I am trying to sleep....etc. I am sure someone out there can tell me how warped my mind is these days based on those dreams but I was just happy that I dreamed. I woke up feeling rested and ready to face my day, which is actually the night.
Took the time to walk the 25 minutes to BBQ tonight for dinner. I had not been there since that first night when Bill, Sheila and I ventured our way down disney drive to partake. Well, tonight it did not disappoint. The pork ribs were fall off the bone and the chili was superb. It was a great feast. A great Saturday night out on the town...so to speak.
You are probably wondering what that picture above has to do with any of this. Well, I wanted to show you a little of the Russian influence here in the desert. I know that I posted pictures of the tower on our base, well the one above is from another base and you can click here to see more. These towers are all identical. It is like the Russians had a huge tower making machine that just plopped out the towers like sugar cookies on a baking sheet...or maybe it was a cost saving measure because they could just use the same blueprints over and over again. I wanted to get some more pictures of towers but with only flying at night, I have not been able to. Just suffice it to say that at most airports here in the desert, you can find one of these cookie cutter towers.
Speaking of Russian influence. The other night when we had the Colonel on board who fell asleep sitting up..remember him?.....he told us he interacted a lot with the locals. So I asked him about those little villages we see all the time with no roads in and no roads out. Did he ever visit any of those type of villages? He said that he did all the time and most times they greeted him and thought he was Russian. Wow! He said most of them are not aware that Americans are even in their country. Isn’t that crazy? We have been here more than 10 years...this base has been here more than 10 years. Some people will probably never know that we are here.
Anyway, that is all the news I have for now....
Until next time,
P

I’ll have a Cafe Mocha Vodka Valium Latte to go....please...

We have had a long couple of nights....I feel like that is all we fly is nights. It is nice in a way because the world is much quieter at night...even here. And Jake always points out that it keeps us on the California clock. It is true, I am sleeping when you all are but the difference is, I am only awake during the night for the most part. Last night we had a hodge podge mission taking all sorts of stuff around the theater. When Jake and I walked through the back of the airplane and saw these couches...there were two identical orange couches...I had to snap a picture. We also had a lot of racing fuel too. I guess the little UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) that the Army flies run on this type of fuel.
At our last stop, we decided to hit coffee time. A 24 hour coffee joint on the “boardwalk”. I always get a couple dozen donuts that I never eat...I just take them into ops and watch the masses consume. Maybe if I make them all bigger, I will get smaller by default?! At every stop now we try to find coffee...any kind of coffee. It makes me think of home and home is so close I can taste it now. Julie got me a sign that I have posted in my hooch that says the phrase, “I’ll have a Cafe-Mocha-Vodka-Valium-Latte to go. Please”....when you are at the coffee window, you just want the strongest thing they will give you to dull the pain and frustration....unfortunately is is nothing so creative as the above drink.....it is always just coffee black.
As the sun came up this morning, it was beautiful. It rained last night so there was a lot of new snow on the mountains. The approach into our home base was really a sight..the sunrise to the east and the snow caps to the west. We were all tired but we really did a lot of good work during the night.
The Halloween party was a success. Brats and beer....well non alcoholic beer...but everyone has an imagination and made the best of the situation. I have posted some pictures here. The best costume has to go to a crew that dressed up as Mario and Luigi from Mario Brothers. They even had the “power punch” moves down. I remember Atari Donkey Kong....here it is over 20 years later and people still know who Mario is. You can see me with my lightbulb around my neck as the “pilot light”. Got a lot of moans but people had to admit it was clever. Thanks Lin!
Picked up my outprocessing checklist tonight...wow. That really hits home that we are getting outta here. It is odd to start thinking that some of these places I will never return to. Not that I am going to miss much except that I know a lot about this country and most of the world does not. I will not miss the chaos of the skies (it really is a free for all up there), the army flying their little (only 350lb) UAVs around trying to kill me, people trying to put way too much stuff on my airplane, etc. This place is like driving around LA at 80 MPH....you can get away with it for a while but eventually you are going to get caught. The trick to this place is to not get caught. Every time we fly into this one base, there is a somber reminder of what can just happen. There is a C-130 that had a tangle on approach with an Army UAV. The win went to the C-130....but every time we have to park on the ramp, the sad, broken, dark airplane is a reminder that even the best can get caught.
I flipped to November on the calendar yesterday. It is the last new month I will see. Whoever lives in my little hooch next will get to flip to December.
I guess that is all for now. Thank you for all your comments and prayers. Only 4 more flights to go. 11 days and a wake up. It cannot come quick enough.
Until next time,
P

© Patricia Murray 2014