Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Big Update

My commander and I, along with several other leaders in the transportation chain, took a trip to Bahrain to meet with our DHL air carrier counterparts. I flew on a (DHL) 727 and was allowed to sit with the pilots. It was an interesting flight and not nearly as technical as you might imagine a large aircraft would be. The trip was a real eye opener - Bahrain was a nice, sort of a resort-type atmosphere. We were not allowed to wear our uniforms there, so I had to borrow some civilian cloths from the KBR guys we have working with us. We were allowed to drink alcohol in Bahrain, and I marveled at the contrast between how my day started in Iraq wearing body armor and ended with me on stage in the hotel bar singing a horrible Karaoke rendition of "YMCA" with a (.5???) Philippino band.... But that is another story...

The trip went well, as we were able to discuss current and future operations with the DHL managers. We got to venture out into the city of Bahrain and although we stood out as foreigners, we felt somewhat secure. It was really great to see my Commander again. Between R&R and our separation due to our locations, I’ve not seen her in almost three months. We visited the naval base there - not much to it - and we went out to eat every chance we got. Bahrain probably had local cuisine, but all we wanted was American food. I was shocked at how expensive everything was and how weak the American dollar was compared to the Bahrain Dinar, almost 3 to 1. After a few days I was ready to get back to Anaconda and my guys. I’ve grown accustomed to being with them day in and day out, and my daily routine there helps the time go by faster.

I was only at Anaconda a few days before we all traveled again to Baghdad. My Commander had coordinated for a dedication ceremony for the new JMMT-I facility. She was having the structure dedicated to the nine soldiers and civilians that have died since the mission began. It was the first time since our deployment began that the entire unit was together. Everyone was glad to see one another, and the ceremony went great. I could not believe what they pulled off down there. Not only did they coordinate to feed close to 400 people with steak and barbecue, but she also had the 3rd ID Band play. There were several General Officers in attendance, and my Commander did an incredible job recognizing those who have paid the ultimate price in service to their country. My guys and I were just there for a few hours and flew back on UH-60 Blackhawks.

Back at Anaconda we received word that the No. 1 country band, Rascal Flatts, would make an appearance. I was impressed that these guys, at the height of there stardom would take the time to visit with the troops here in Iraq, but here they were. The three of them performed at our theater, very casually, just two acoustic guitars and vocals. They took requests and made jokes about the heat. I was impressed with how good they really were. Their talents both playing and vocalizing together truly showed. More than anything, their gratitude for what we are doing here was evident. The three of them had just left Fallujah the day before where several Marines were killed, and I believe the magnitude of what is going on over here really affected them. Still, like true performers they entertained, and the soldiers really appreciated their presence.

I’ve mentioned several times how tireless and proactive my Commander is. Her latest endeavor was to re-deploy half of our unit due to a reduction in our mission. The reduction in our mission is a direct result of her ability to streamline the procedures we adopted from our predecessors. Well, last week her request was approved and now half of the soldiers under her Command will get to go home. As you can guess, I’m not one of them, but that is OK. Before we deployed, we discussed our overall objective to get here, complete our mission, and get everyone home safe and sound. Thus far we’ve been able to do that and by working smarter we are able to get half of our group home early. The rest of us are in contact with our replacements now and should get home before Thanksgiving, a full month ahead of schedule. Still, anything could happen between now and then so we aren’t home until we’re home!

I came in the other day and checked my emails. My commander had left me a list of things to do and much to my surprise, she announced that the local doctors requested she return home for medical reasons. This news came only days after the approval of our early redeployment package and after she pulled off an incredible dedication ceremony. She will be treated back in the states, and we should hear of her diagnosis within the next few weeks. She arrived home just the other day and I spoke with her on the phone. She seems to be doing well. She is such a strong person spiritually, mentally, and physically that I’m confident that she will be OK. We are all praying for her and her family and for anyone reading this, I ask that you say a special prayer for them as well.

Operationally, things here continue to go well. Two guys still have leave to take and we are preparing for the redeployment of those selected to go home. Most of our vehicles have been shipped or packed up, and we will operate with just the stay behind equipment. Until my Commander returns, I will split my time between here and BIAP. My guys at Anaconda continue to run the show. We had our closest call yesterday when three mortars landed in succession just outside our Hangar. No one was hurt and no equipment was damaged. It did serve as a reminder that things here can change in a moment.

Take Care and God Bless.