Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Voice in the Desert

I am in the same building as the wing's Public Affairs office (essentially the AF press corps). I was talking one day with one of the guys in the office. He heard I was writing a blog and was interested because he is writing one too. So we talked that day, and since then, about what to write on and how to say it.

Jake is writing his blog for the Arizona Daily Star. They want him to give an Airman's perspective on what it is like to be over here. He is an excellent writer (quite honestly, he is much better than me) and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading his posts. Here is the beginning of the latest one:

Day 23: No pressure
07/24/2009 12:52 PM
SSgt. Jacob Richmond
So, this is what it’s like to be a military journalist at war.

Back at home, the stories we write are often specialized and geared toward our own military audience; and when our stories are good enough to transcend that category, they’re usually covered by the “real media” (a victory in the public-affairs world). Today, though, after a rare chance to interview a group of true heroes in the combat zone, I realize that their story is one only I can tell. The real media isn’t here to cover it, and even if they were, they don’t have the military perspective to pull it off the right way. So, it’s on me.

It only gets better from there. I encourage you to visit his blog, Indirect Fire, to read the rest of that post and his other writings.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saying Hello and Goodbye

An interesting thing about being deployed is the number of people you meet. The length of AF deployments are usually 4 months, 6 months, or 1 year. The 6-month deployment is now the most common of the three. Since I’m here for a year, I’ll watch the people that were here when I arrived depart, I’ll greet their replacements and also see them leave, and I’ll see the replacements’ replacements arrive. I’ll be happy to see them though because I know they will be here until I leave.

So I’ll work with more people than at a usual assignment because of the frequent rotations. On the plus side I get to meet a lot of people. I love hearing people’s stories. We have young enlisted Airmen who man a desk at the entrance to our building. One day I talked to a young woman who is currently a dental assistant (they pull people from across the AF to do various security details). She plans on getting out of the AF in the fall. She will then use her GI Bill benefits to go to school full-time to finish the last year of her Bachelor’s degree. Then she will go to dental school and become a dentist. That is just one example of the quality people here and everywhere in the military today. A negative of the constant rotations is I say goodbye to a lot of people that have become good friends. Just last week a friend I made since getting here left. She plus two others are the people I usually go to meals with. The other two are leaving in the next couple of months. That will be tough. When a friend is leaving, there is a moment I wish I could be leaving too. But the moment passes because there is still a job to do and there are new people who are counting on you and you are counting on them.

A definite plus is running into people I knew previously. In May there was a ceremony to mark the change in command of one of the squadrons on base. An Academy classmate of mine who is deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq unexpectedly showed up for the ceremony. We were in the same squadron at the Academy and I hadn’t seen him since we graduated in 1992. Another classmate who was in our squadron was also at the ceremony. So out of roughly 25 people who graduated from our squadron that year, three of us were at this ceremony in Iraq. As we looked around we realized three more of our classmates (but from different Academy squadrons) were there. Pretty amazing. Other people I’ve seen since getting here include a good friend I worked with at the Pentagon, a former squadron commander of mine (who is now a general), and someone I met on a previous deployment. As big as the AF is, about 330,000 people on Active Duty, sometimes it can seem like a small community.

I say this at the end of every assignment, and I’m sure this one will be no different, it is the people who make an assignment special and memorable. The details of the job fade pretty quickly from memory. I tend to remember more about the location, but even a great location (such as my assignment in Alaska) doesn’t mean as much as the people I work with. The camaraderie, the shared experiences, and getting to know people are all things I treasure. So even though I know I will say goodbye (or at least, until next time), it is well worth it to say hello.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

God is good...

All the time. All the time... God is good.

Our new priest, Fr. Paul, started his homily with that challenge and response. Even before then I could tell he was going to be different than our last priest. Fr. Nguyen was good, but I was never stirred by him. By the end of today's mass, my heart was on fire. In addition to the challenge and response, he also uses chants throughout the mass, which I like.

In his homily, he told about a poor carpenter who desperately needed a job and was hired by a rich farmer. On the first day of work, his truck got a flat tire on the way in so he was late. While at work, his electric saw broke. At the end of the day his truck wouldn't start. The rich farmer had to drive him home. When they got to the house, the carpenter asked the farmer if he would come inside to meet the carpenter's wife and two young daughters. As they were walking up to the house, the carpenter reached out and rubbed the leaf of a small tree. When he got inside, he was happy and smiling and he gave his wife and daughters hugs and kisses. Inside the house was a very happy place. As the farmer was leaving, he asked the carpenter why he rubbed the leaf on the tree. The carpenter said, oh, that is my trouble tree. When I get home I leave all my troubles on the tree rather than make my wife and daughters sad with them. Fr. Paul said Jesus is our trouble tree.

Fr. Paul is from Nigeria. His full name is Paul Obi Amaliri. He said he gets called Fr. Paul, Fr. Obi, Obi Wan, Obi Wan Kenobi, or Fr. Amaliri ("which sounds Italian but isn't"). He said he'll answer to all of them. He arrived in the US less than 10 years ago to get his master's degree in St. Louis. He then moved to Tulsa, OK, where he was until he joined the AF. He joined just less than a year ago and is now stationed at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas. He told us not to ask what he thinks of Nellis because, as we all know, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

He obviously has a very good sense of humor. At the beginning of mass, his microphone wasn't working. So he told a story about a priest who was at a new church and his microphone wasn't working. The priest started the mass with the sign of the cross, but instead of saying "The Lord be with you", he said "There is a problem with this microphone." The congregation dutifully responded, "And also with you."

I am very excited about him being here (obviously!). I think his arrival is just the lift my spiritual life needs.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

As I write this blog, I am amazed at the multitude of options available for personal communication between the homefront and the war zone. Especially when you consider the options from previous wars. Back in WWII, you really only could mail letters. Considering how much troops moved around both in the Pacific and European theaters, I'm sure it took weeks or longer for mail to arrive. In Vietnam, troops and families still mainly relied on snail mail. It probably was more efficient, if for no other reason than the theater of operations was pretty small, but I'm sure it still took a week or more. I'm sure guys in Saigon or the larger posts could communicate via phone, but there were a lot of guys in remote outposts that wouldn't have that option. When you compare that to what we have now, it is mindboggling.

- Telephone. I can make two morale calls a week and my mom can call me twice a week. The connection is made through a military base, such as the Pentagon, in the US, so the only cost is for domestic long distance. I use a calling card my mom gave me, which has a rate of about 3 cents per minute. But that's not the only phone option. Cell phones can be bought in the BX here. I heard the airtime cost is 25 cents per minute. Ouch. (The woman sitting at the computer next to me just dropped her cell phone. What timing!) I have no idea what plans are available for texting, but I'm sure people are doing that too. I've also seen people using satellite phones. I'm sure that rate is over a dollar (or dollars) per minute. I've seen multiple people with them though.

- Computer. There are the obvious methods of e-mail and blogging. I have also chatted with my brother, friends, and even my mom! I am still active, as are many here, on the social networking site Facebook. I can't access Facebook at work, so I am less active on it than when I am in the States, but it is an option. One that I don't do but is very popular here is Skype. It is a very low cost way to have video teleconferences. You'll see somebody put a webcam on a computer and soon he/she is talking with and looking at his/her spouse and kids. Just amazing and great for the family back home and the person here.

- And of course the old standby, snail mail. My mom mailed packages to me and they have arrived in less than a week. Letter mail is just as fast or faster. Of course, I also can get my magazine subscriptions and bills too.

I'm certainly grateful for all the options. Being able to communicate with family and friends is a huge morale boost, regardless of which method we use.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What I Love

As we celebrate our wonderful country's birthday, I feel inspired to list many of the people and things I love. No list like this can ever be complete, but I will do my best.

1. God
2. Mom
3. My dad (gone 5 years and I still love him just as much)
4. John
5. David
6. Henrik
7. Terry
8. Kenin
9. My faith
10. The United States of America
11. Freedom
12. Jenny and the boys
13. My cousin Theresa
14. My friends and relatives
15. LR
16. Northern Michigan in the fall
17. Snow falling
18. Country music
19. Mountains
20. Ice cream
21. The Internet
22. Baseball
23. Golf (although it is a love-hate relationship)
24. Football, especially U of M football--Go Blue!
25. Red Wings
26. Hearing the National Anthem sung
27. Fireworks
28. Beautiful women
29. Patriotic movies
30. Having good health
31. Volunteering
32. Sleeping in
33. Hiking
34. Overnight backpacking
35. Technology
36. Learning
37. Being a graduate of the AF Academy
38. Traveling, especially my parents taking us to Europe in 1984
39. Someone doing something they never thought they could
40. Good Shepherd Catholic Church and everyone there
41. Reading the Sunday paper
42. Sudoku
43. My mom's pumpkin pie
44. Babbling brooks
45. Marge and Elaine (can't believe I almost forgot them!)
46. My AF family
47. Linux
48. Trivia
49. Lists
50. myself (I think it is important to love yourself)

Thank you to all who read this and everyone who supports our troops. God Bless you and the US of A. Happy 4th of July!!!