Monday, June 29, 2009

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

Multiple times last week I meant to post an update to my blog. Then it was, I'll do it Friday...okay, I'll do it Saturday...definitely Sunday... So here I am on Monday finally doing it, and this isn't even what I intended to write about. But since I made an issue about the week flying by, I thought I'd talk about what happened during it. There's surprisingly little considering I felt I never had time to write.

I've been having some health issues off and on lately. Mainly sinus pressure, but also nausea, headaches, fatigue, etc. Last Sunday I ended up sleeping about 7 hours during the day. When I was awake I mainly laid in bed and watched the US Open golf tournament. Nothing special happened Monday and, really, looking at my notes from last week, there wasn't a whole lot going on throughout the week. It's the little pop-up jobs that take up so much time. However, there were two projects I worked on last week.

Starting on Tuesday I coordinated a visit here by two colonels from Baghdad. Basically, I coordinated their schedule for while they were here and which offices they would visit. That took up a good amount of time right until Friday evening when they cancelled just before they were supposed to fly up here. Oh well, hopefully they can visit another time.

The other main project I worked on last week was putting together an application package for the squadron commander's selection board that meets next month. Squadron command is the opportunity for 2 years to lead anywhere from 100 to 800 people on a specific mission. Although not required, it is considered a key step toward making the higher ranks of colonel and general. I'm not so concerned about the chance for promotion (although it would be nice!) as I am the opportunity to lead a group of people and see if I can do it. The idea of being a commander is a little scary but also exciting. Putting the application together required me to write a paragraph explaining why I think they should select me and write a paragraph on behalf of my commander about me. I loathe writing self-promotional pieces and struggle through the process. That's why it took me 3 days to get it done when the instructions say it should take 60-90 minutes. My commander reviewed it and made some changes but kept most of my material. I resubmitted it and now just have to wait until about September for the board results to be released. This is my last chance to apply to the board, so I'm hoping for good news.

Saturday, what did I do Saturday? What did I do that is other than oversleep. I set my alarm but forgot to turn it on. I woke up that morning about 4:30am but that was way too early to get up so I went back to sleep. I woke up again later but didn't look at the clock so I had no idea what time it was. In the last few weeks there have been a few times I woke up in the middle of the night, was wide awake, and couldn't fall asleep for over an hour. I thought this was one of those times. After tossing and turning for a few minutes, I decided to look at the clock and see if it was close to time to get up. There was a good reason why I was wide awake, it was after 9am! I finally rolled into work around 10am. Thankfully it was a slow day, so no one noticed.

Saturday evening we had an awards dinner for the people on the staff. There is a small group from the staff who I usually eat lunch and dinner with. I enjoyed the chance to have dinner with the other people on the staff in addition to my usual group. After people were given their awards, we watched a video that was made for the outgoing wing commander. It was hilarious! Well, probably funnier for us here than it would be for any of you. After the dinner, a few of us got together to smoke cigars (I passed on that), have some near beers (I had one of those), and talk. It made for a nice way to end the week.

Sunday morning I woke up and planned to go for a run. I stepped outside though and it was like pea-soup fog, except it was dust not fog. I didn't think it would do my body any good to run in that, so I went to the gym to run on the treadmill. I showered afterward and went to church. I wasn't needed as a Eucharistic Minister, so I filled in as an usher since our usual ushers were gone. I definitely get more out of the service when I have a role in it. After mass, I returned to my CHU and called a friend. We talked for a while and had a great conversation. After I hung up the phone, I was playing on my laptop but my head started to hurt. I decided to lay down and ended up sleeping for 2 hours. When I woke up, my head hurt even more. I popped a couple of Ibuprofen and then went to join some friends at the movie theater. We saw the movie "The Proposal" with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. If you like romantic comedies, you'll like that movie. It is cute and there are some very funny moments.

I meant to do some work after the movie, but I just couldn't get motivated. Instead I went back to my room, played some video games, and worked on my bike. I talked with my mom when she called at 8pm and then went back to working on the bike. I finished it up and took it out for its maiden voyage around the housing community. I have a light on the front handlebars, so thankfully I didn't hit anything. The bike is nothing fancy. It only cost $200, I couldn't even buy wheels for a road bike for that amount. However, I really enjoyed riding again and am looking forward to putting some miles on it.

So that catches you up with what I've been doing other than writing in my blog for the past week. I will try, emphasis on try, to write another post later this week.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mission and People

I’m sure some of you have wondered why I volunteered to come to Iraq (I know my mom has). The two main reasons are the mission and the people.

I have been in the military for 17 years. I have never had more job satisfaction than during the times I was deployed (South Korea was close because the circumstances were very similar to a deployment). Most of the time when we are at our home stations we are training to do the deployed mission or working on organizing and equipping our units so they will be ready to do this mission. So here you get to do the things you have been training months or even years to do. I haven’t met anyone yet who prefers practice to the real thing. The simple truth too is that I am in the military and this is where the action is. I would feel I hadn’t done my part if I didn’t spend time in Iraq or Afghanistan sometime during the 7+ years our military has been operating in at least one of these two countries. When I am done with my career, I want to be able to say, “Yep, I was there.” I hope that makes sense and doesn’t sound bloodthirsty or like I’m looking for a thrill. I’m in the service and this is the place to be.

When you deploy, you leave behind family, friends, coworkers, and all that is familiar. You are thrust into a foreign environment and have to start anew. You quickly get to know your new coworkers and develop relationships. If you don’t, your deployment will be significantly more difficult. Someone told me recently that he uses the more personal forms of communication (face-to-face meetings and telephone) over here more often than he does back in the States. Due to our military’s rotation policy (most Airmen are here for 4 or 6 months), you have to develop work relationships quickly because the players change frequently. Over here rarely do you have years of knowing someone so that you can communicate effectively via e-mail. You need the people who you are deployed with to be part of your social network too. You can’t be with your family and friends, so those around you here become your support structure. We are brought together by our shared experience of being here and working together for the same purpose. Finally, you meet amazing people during deployments. Yes, they are serving their country and putting themselves in harm’s way. But I’m talking about how they go above and beyond while they are here. One person volunteered over 1,000 hours at the hospital. Other people have started or are running a charity to help out local children (check out People are amazing even doing the mundane. We have kids (18-to-20-year-olds are kids to me now) checking IDs at a checkpoint outside during a sandstorm who smile and are more courteous than people working in a store in the US. Now I’m not saying people don’t do wonderful things or aren’t great people back in the States. But over here it is more apparent because we are so close together and it is more impressive considering the circumstances.

Do I like making my mom worry, leaving my dog behind, or giving up the comforts of home? No. But I have no doubt I’m where I’m supposed to be.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I e-mailed this to a few people, but I figure my blog is a better way to get the word out about this wonderful program.


WHAT IS IT? Operation School Supplies is a KRAB Chapel sponsored humanitarian outreach project that puts bags of school supplies directly into the hands of local children and their teachers. It directly impacts the next generation of nation builders here in Iraq and shows them that we care about them and the importance of education so freedom can flourish.

WHAT IS THE NEED? In mid August, five (5) schools will be opening not too far from our gate. The Army, who takes the bags of school supplies out to the children, have requested one thousand (1000) bags of school supplies for the new schools (200 per school). We want to provide for all of these children, but unfortunately we do not have enough school supplies on hand to make that many school supplies bags.

HOW CAN I HELP? Attached is a flyer explaining the Operation School Supplies program, what items are needed, how people can donate supplies and how to mail them here to be part of this nation building program! Please send supplies soon so we can be ready for the five school openings in August! Be part of a program that directly impacts local children’s lives!

Thank you for your assistance! Without you there wouldn’t be an Operation School Supplies Program!

Fr. Mark P. Rowan, Ch, LtCol, USAF

Sunday, June 14, 2009

One month checkup (6 days late)

Last Monday marked 1 month for me in Iraq. I thought that a good time to review how I am doing personally. However, I traveled last Monday on short notice to Kirkuk and was there for 3 days. I've been busy catching up since I returned, so here is my 1 month and 6 day checkup.

Professionally. I really enjoy the challenges of my job. It is not clearly defined and I don't have anyone telling me specifically what to do, so I have a lot of latitude. I recently felt like I wasn't doing anything of consequence. Shortly after that I felt I had more work to do than I could possibly get done. I think overall I will be busy but there will be times when it will be slow, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. My biggest concern is not getting all the things done I want to do during this year. I had several things I wanted to complete during my first month here and some of them are still works in progress. I'll talk more in another post about what deploying means to me professionally.

Emotionally. I feel I am doing pretty well emotionally. Working in a one-person shop can be lonely at times. I typically have a bad habit of staying at my desk all day. So I've made a commitment to get out of my office everyday to either visit with other people in my building or go to other offices. I've stuck to that so far. I've spent time with friends outside of work a few times, probably more than I did in DC (in fact I have to leave shortly to meet up with friends to see the move "The Hangover"). I also recently got to see some very good friends that I hadn't seen in a while. I really enjoyed that. The important thing is for me to stay engaged with other people.

Spiritually. This is the one area that is not going as well as I would like. I am going to church every week and I'm regularly a Eucharistic Minister at mass. However, I don't feel as engaged spiritually as I would like. Sometimes I'm almost going through the motions. I haven't been consistent with reading the daily e-mail I receive through my Cursillo group. Most importantly, I haven't done any volunteer work since I have been here. For me, volunteering is putting my faith into action, that has especially been true since I arrived in Virginia in 2006. There are two primary options for volunteering, the hospital and the fellowship center next to the chapel. I've inquired about volunteering at the hospital, but I haven't heard back from them. I need to pursue that more aggressively, I know I'll be happier if I do.

Physically. I'm feeling good and getting into shape. I avoided the crud (cold/flu like feeling) that many people get when they first arrive, so that was good. I like the challenge of the CrossFit program (I'm still sore from Friday's workout) and plan on sticking with it. I want to get back into running and swimming. I just need to get off my butt and get started. I have a goal of completing an Olympic distance triathlon (1km swim, 40km bike, 10km run) while I am here (still need to get a bike). Except for a few meals, I'm sticking with my vegetarian diet. I could still eat healthier though by laying off the fried foods like onion rings. I'm looking forward to being a lean, mean, (not really) fighting machine when I leave here.

Overall, I would say it has been a very good first month. I'm looking at my time here as if it was any other assignment, so I'm not counting the days or focused on when I'm leaving. Just trying to do the best I can each day. I don't plan on doing these checkups each month, but I'm sure I'll do at least one or two more.

Thanks to all of you and everyone who has and continues to support me and the rest of our service members over here. That means more to us than you will ever know. God bless.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

VIP Visit

We had some very important visitors last weekend, NCAA football coaches. The head coaches for Ohio State (boo!), UCLA, Wake Forest, Texas, and Mississippi were here, but the only one that really matters is Coach Troy Calhoun from the Air Force Academy. The coaches visited the hospital and Security Forces Group before going to one of the rec centers for an autograph session. I went there and was able to speak with Coach Calhoun for a few minutes. He is a very humble person and just loves coaching the Academy cadets. He is a grad (Class of '89) and I'm glad he is our coach. He autographed an AFA t-shirt for me (no, that's not me in the picture with him). I'm glad I got to meet him. You can read an article by our Public Affairs pros about the visit here. This is another example of the many activities going on here.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I previously told you about my CHU, so now let me tell you about my housing community and the base. There are multiple housing areas on base, I don’t know exactly how many or how big they are. The base has over 25,000 people, so obviously there is enough housing for at least that many people. Within the housing communities, the CHUs are organized into pods. There is nothing special about a pod, it is just a way of organizing the CHUs. For example, I live in B-32. Our housing community has a town square area. Within that area is our housing office, chapel, BX (a small store), gym, recreation center, drop off laundry service, do-it-yourself laundromat, barber shop, Subway, cyber café, coffee shop, library, and muscle therapy (aka, massage). The bigger places, such as the gym and chapel, are semi-permanent facilities. Some of the other facilities, such as the Cyber Café and Subway, are in trailers. The gym has everything you could want; there are two rooms full of aerobics machines, a room full of weight machines, a room of free weights, and a general-purpose fitness room, which is where my CrossFit class is. Outside the gym are three basketball courts and two sand volleyball courts. The rec center has pool tables, two large-screen TVs for watching movies, a video game area with multiple consoles, and tables where they regularly host card tournaments. I haven’t gone to muscle therapy yet, although I thought about it after straining my neck during CrossFit. Other than a dining facility, you could easily spend all your free time in the housing community.

The base itself is quite large. There are two other gyms similar to ours. There is also an outdoor Olympic-size swimming pool with a 10-m platform, an indoor swimming pool, and a stadium. Apparently this base was used for training by the Iraqi Olympics team. There are two other BXs, both bigger than the one in my housing community, and rec centers. Each BX has a food court area (Pizza Hut, BK, etc.) and additional specialty stores such as an electronics store and a gift store. There are at least four dining facilities. I’m not sure of the exact number because there are four official DFACs, but I know of other chow halls on base too. There is a movie theater that seats several hundred people and shows first-run movies for free. I have seen “Star Trek,” “Terminator,” and “Night at the Museum 2” since I have been here. The food at the Turkish restaurant on base is quite good and a nice alternative to the DFACs, although it is hard to beat free food and plenty of it. An Iraqi bazaar where merchants from the local area can sell their wares just opened today. Not only does that benefit us, it helps the locals get a business started.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a hospital on base that does amazing things for anyone who needs it. I was at a brief yesterday where two military doctors, one AF and one Army, talked about two locals they treated for gunshot wounds to the face. The doctors showed us x-rays of the damage the bullets caused (basically one side of each man’s face was destroyed), pictures of the surgeries (definitely not for people with queasy stomachs), and then after pictures of the reconstructive surgery. Wow! I hate to think what life would have been like for those two men if our doctors had not been here. There are stories like that from the hospital on a regular basis.

The bottom line is we are well taken care of here, from security to our health to our mental well-being. All of those things enable execution of the various missions on the base, whether it is flying, moving equipment and people, or anything else. The US military, especially the Air Force, learned that if you take care of the people, the job gets done. That is especially true when deployed overseas. All of these services make it easier to take of everything from the basics, such as eating, to recharging your batteries so you can work your next shift. If you are bored here, it is your own fault.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More Pics from My ECP Visit

Here is our group walking on the road away from the gate. You can pick me out in the pictures because I am the one wearing a leather shoulder harness.

On either side of the T-walls (the large concrete barriers) are farmers' fields. Grapes are being grown in this one.

We are at the end of the road talking about the local area. The village across the road (over my left shoulder) used to be the officer and NCO housing for the base when it was run by the Iraqi Air Force.

Security is not only about protecting our people, but also keeping Iraqi civilians safe. So this sign, and others like it, are there to ensure there aren't any misunderstandings.