I Was Surprised…..

packed
PACKED

I was so sad. I flew from Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul to Bagram Airbase yesterday. I was genuinely sad to leave. The emotions were real and strong. Please know that I am over the moon excited to go home, but something about being here has changed me and leaving Afghanistan after being here for a year was really hard.

boys and luggage
My Sherpas 

As I reflect on the sadness I think it’s because of two things. The first one is the friends I’ve made and the way we come and go from this deployment. In the past when I deployed with the ship, we all left together and came back together. We pulled in from the deployment and shared the moment of coming home together. Then we would go our separate ways, but it didn’t seem so much like an end but a happy start to the next chapter. With this deployment to Afghanistan we are all coming and going on our own schedules. As I leave I’m leaving behind good friends and there were friends who left before me. I am coming home from this deployment by myself. It all just seems so much more permanent and sticking. This deployment has a finiteness to it that hurts a little more than the end of others. There is something sad and unsettling knowing that many of these friends I made over this year I will probably never see again. And it hurts having to leave some in the fight while I go home!

navy
A small sample of the great Navy friends I’m leaving behind….DF JH for life!
crazy navy
Stole my phone…maybe I should rethink missing these fine Naval Officers!

The second part of my sadness is leaving the Afghans I got to know over this last year. I am sadden that there are such good people living in such an unsafe place. During my last week one of the Afghans, Amir, who owns a coffee shop on base invited me to Iftar. Iftar is the special dinner they eat to break the fast each day of Ramadan. The wife of one of his employees made the dinner and it was so delicious. I was honored to be included in this celebration and will miss these people.

This leads me to a long over due update on the Afghan Girls from Free to Run. First of all I want to thank everyone who to contributed to the GoFundMe campaign I created to raise money to buy the gear they need to participate in their races. All of you helped me raise $2300 and I was able to purchase everything needed plus a few extras. They were delighted and I am glad we were able to do something so simple yet so impactful for these women of Afghanistan.  I handed the runs over to two very capable and lovely women who will continue to bring the girls to the base to run every other Friday.  This program has been so important for both the women of Afghanistan and the military personnel.  For the women they are given a safe place to run while being supported by another group of runners that includes men who are bringing them up rather than bringing them down.  For the military members on the base we are able to see the goodness in Afghanistan rather than the negative we see otherwise.

last sunday run
Last Sunday Run

Without a doubt it’s time for me to go home and I know I am ready, but it can still be sad to leave something knowing it will be forever.  I rode my last ride on the Watt bikes and after that last ride I threw my shoes away.  I’ve had those shoes since I was 17 and over my time here they rotted away and there was basically nothing left of the back of the right shoe.  I’m sure if someone did a lab culture on the shoes they would come back with more bacteria than a truck stop bathroom.  I do have a new pair waiting for me at home along with my new bike I have yet to ride.

For the first half of my time here I would eat breakfast with group of watchstanders from the Joint Operations center.  Many of those personnel moved to a different base and my breakfast crew changed.  When I got back from my mid-deployment leave I flew back from Kuwait with an Army Lieutenant Colonel.  In general I am not a huge fan of the Army and especially Lieutenant Colonel’s (I might tell that story in an upcoming post), but this one didn’t seem so bad.  We started eating breakfast together back in March and it just became the daily routine.  He would eat his two hard-boiled eggs with fruit and I had my peanut butter english muffin with fruit.  We were also often joined by a few other Naval Officers and he always joked that the only friends he had on base were Navy.  He has six kids and one day he was going through their names and he couldn’t remember his youngest son’s middle name.  He said, “oh he’s the cute one, but I just can’t remember.”  Of course I had to say you probably have too many kids when you can’t remember all of their names.  He was a great friend and made the mornings better.

breakfast
The Last Breakfast

On my last Wednesday a Navy Commander I traveled to western Afghanistan with back in August was back at Resolute Support Headquarters filling a gap for a week.  Andy (the Commander) and Chris, a good friend of mine (hopefully new life friend), and I went out for lunch together.  I thought it was really nice to see someone I started this journey with the same week it was coming to an end.  It really made me appreciate how far I’ve come this year.

lunch with chris and
Lunch…A Year Later

To all my family and friends please know this journey home is going to be long.  I won’t be home for another month or so.  I have a lot of little stops a long the way before I finish.  Be patient with me as I transition back and let me do it on my own time.  It took me time to get used to being gone.  I’ll need time to get used to being home again!

365+ Elephant Pieces

one-bite-at-a-time-001

June 4th marked the 365 day mark of Uncle Sam’s Vacation! When I started this journey, June 4th of 2018 felt like an eternity coming.

As I approach my last week in Afghanistan I’m finishing up last minute work and tying up all my loose ends. The part that is surprising me the most is I am having a hard time giving up my responsibilities. I find myself still caring too much about my work and not turning it over, which is not good for anyone. Each day I try to spend less and less time in the office just to ensure I don’t do more than I should and allow my replacement the time he needs to learn while I’m still here to answer questions. My replacement and I have had a strange turnover. He came here to replace someone else, but my actual replacement didn’t seem to have what it takes to do this job, so they sent him somewhere else. This means the person taking my job has been here for a month and we’ve had a turnover much longer than necessary. Now I am just waiting for our NATO Civilian to come back from leave, and then I. CAN. LEAVE! I was asked to stay until his return to make sure there was some continuity in the office.

I’ve taken this deployment in stages and broken it up in small pieces. I did the best I could to always count up and never down. #countingnotcounting Before I did my first marathon my dad told me never count down. When you’re approaching mile marker 26 the following point two miles can feel over whelming. Instead he told me to think about the 26 miles I just ran not the less than a quarter mile remaining. This is good advice for this deployment as well.  As of today I’ve made it well over 365 days, yet the month I have left until I get home seems so long even though it’s such a small portion of this entire journey. Before my I left my dad said don’t forget about the elephant. You can’t eat such a large animal in one giant bite; it takes many small bites and lots of little elephant pieces.

me and food
YUMMY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best part of this deployment has been spending time with the Navy again and wearing a uniform proudly.  Most days I was in an Army uniform, but having my Navy friends here made even wearing an Army uniform bearable.  Most Saturdays we, the Navy,  would get together for dinner and enjoy our fellow sailor’s company.  For my last Saturday we did my favorite, Afghan food and Cards Against Humanity.

Our “rug guy” Arian “smuggled” food in for us.  Since it is Ramadan there are a lot of religious rules around when food can be prepared and eaten.  I’m not sure how he managed it, but he brought in some super delicious food.  We were even honored to have him stay and break his fast with us.  It was really special and meant a lot!navy night

 

 

We had a few extras for this Navy night since it was my last Saturday here.  I may have had to apologize to them since they were all new to Card Against Humanity.  Although they were all good sports and had fun with the these dirt Sailors!

 

So just a few more small bites and this deployment elephant will be gone. Then onto the next one! #ironman2018  I was honored to be presented with a patch from my Navy friends saying Death Before DNF.  I decided I’m bringing this patch with me and will have it on my person during the entire Ironman!  Afghanistan is where I did the majority of my training.  Afghanistan certainly represents a Death Before DNF time in my life.  If I was able to get through this year, there is no reason I can’t finish my Ironman….There is no DNF in my future!dnf.jpg

555-6792

 If anyone other my sister can tell me where 555-6792 comes from I will be fully impressed. Any takers?? This is a phone number that was sung on an episode of Cheers. For years afterwards my sister would repeat it. Last year I watched all of Cheers and I heard it again. Neither of us knew the context of which the phone number was sung, but she always remembered it. When I finally got to that episode I remembered instantly Charlsie singing the phone number. I called her that same day and gave her in the context of the phone number.  In season 10 episode 16 Frasier and Lilith take Frederick to see Nanny G, a children’s performer, for his second birthday. Nanny G ends up being Frasier’s ex-wife and an ex-wife Lilith knows nothing about. At the end of the episode Nanny G sends a jack in the box clown to Cheers and when Frasier winds it, it sings 555-6792 which is Nanny G’s phone number.

So why this long story about a random phone number on some TV show from the 80’s? Well this little jingle of seven numbers jumped into my head on Friday. As I was setting up for a four hour and fifteen minutes ride on the bike my phone fell off the bike and turned off for its last time. I want to give you a little history on this phone. My phone is four years old and the screen has been severely cracked for eight months. Every time I turned it on I was thankful it actually turned on. When I call home it often switches on and off. Although what I found was this phone has become my security blanket….as I’m sure this is probably true for at least 80% of the people reading this right now.

I started my four and fifteen minute ride with no phone. It was just a steady state endurance ride. I didn’t need my app to tell me how hard to ride, I knew, but I just kept thinking how will this ride count if it doesn’t register on the app? Reality is the ride counts and it still happened weather my phone told me it did or not. I struggled through the entire ride. The first ninety minutes there was a spin class in the room so they kind of distracted me. Then I asked a fellow Naval Officer if she could stop by my room and grab my surface pro so I could as least have music. She brought it back, but I could not get it to connect to the WiFi, so no music, but I did have some TV shows downloaded so I watched Big Bang Theory for the last two hours. Although TV is not nearly as motivating as music.

I learned a lot on that ride. I was shocked with myself at how easily I fell apart. Without my workout app and music you would think someone cut my legs off and I was not capable of riding at all. I even just gave up with less than a minute left of the ride. I got off at four hours, fourteen minutes and two seconds. I never do that. Usually I ride longer than I need to, NEVER shorter. I know at some point while I’m racing I will remember how hard it was to finish (well almost finish) that ride. I won’t have my phone or music while I’m racing so I really needed this.

In the days that followed the loss of my phone I had to get comfortable without it. I had all kinds of issues syncing my Garmin to my surface pro. I don’t think I actually ever did and it messed up the time terribly. For a while it was a week off, but when I turned on the GPS to run it fixed its self. Without going on and on about the loss of my phone this gave me a moment to really evaluate my training and I really needed to. How in this last year did I get so addicted to workout technology? I sat down and looked at my Ironman training plan and figured out how to make it work, and convinced myself my workouts all still count! I found some peace in it all while 555-6792 kept going through my head.

ready for parade
Pre-Parade Enthusiasm

 

To put things in perspective this last week we celebrated Memorial Day. This makes my phone “drama” seem very silly. We all celebrated, but we in Afghanistan celebrated by doing what we do every day here. Go to work. We are working for what you are celebrating. My parents took the kids to a Memorial Day parade. We never missed the Memorial Day parade growing up. If only I had a picture from high school in my marching band uniform! This year I’m wearing a uniform, just an Army one! Happy Memorial Day! I hope everyone took the time to enjoy a long weekend, but also took a few minutes to remember those who wore a uniform and worked so you could rest in freedom!

Cultural Syncretism

This week I was introduced to a social concept that hit home for me and I am committing to fully utilizing this phenomenon for my last few weeks here in Afghanistan. The idea is called cultural syncretism. One of my Italian friends mentioned it and it stuck. This is the definition of which I’m embracing: Syncretism is a combination of separate concepts into one new, unique idea. Cultural syncretism is when an aspect of two or more distinct cultures blend together to create a new custom, idea, practice, or philosophy.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been escorting a few Italians over to the pool twice a week to swim. The pool is at the U.S. Embassy and the only way our international partners can enjoy it is if one of the U.S citizens escorts them. I was honored to be asked by a Two Star Italian General if he could join me twice a week while I swam.  So now Tuesdays and Thursdays we go over to the pool. I swim for an hour, they swim for 40 minutes and then catch some sun while I finish my workout. The Italians are enjoying the American culture with the ability to swim here in Afghanistan, but then they blend it with their cultural norm by also resting and enjoying the sun.

general swimming
Proof of a Two Star Swim!

This last week while they were sun bathing the General asked the Major, Francesco, how old he thought I was. So when I got out of the pool the General asked me how old I am and I answered thirty five. Well the General took this as an opportunity to say Francesco thinks I’m old, he thought I was forty. I was instantly slightly offended. Francesco did his best back pedal and said he calculated my age by taking into account how many children I have and my rank in the Navy. Based on those two facts, and those two facts alone, he says he figured I had to be forty. I probably will give Francesco a hard time about this until I leave!

chesco and I swimming
Right After Being Called OLD

As we about to leave the pool the General made a comment about speedos.  So all the Italians swim in speedos and then put shorts on afterwards to sun bath.  His comment was he doesn’t understand the American’s aversion to them, they still wear swimsuits which show just as much anatomy.  He was referring to a speedo style swimsuit, but long, like bike shorts.  I believe this maybe a topic in which Americans will not synchronize with the Europeans.  Although the Americans do blend a speedo with a more traditional swimsuit, so that is still Cultural Syncretism.

Since I started swimming with the Italians, I’ve certainly started to embrace cultural syncretism. Francesco is actually the person who introduced me to the concept. When I was done swimming I used to go back to the office and eat lunch there. Now I do my afternoons Italian style. I go to lunch with Francesco, the first time I went I ate quickly and left early to get back, but I quickly realized what was I getting back for? Nothing was the right answer. So now I enjoy my lunch with them and I’ve even started accompanying them to the Italian NSE (national support element), the building they lounge in, and having an afternoon Italian coffee before I head back to the office. So far I have missed nothing at work and I’m enjoying my time that much more. I like Italian syncretism!

This last weekend I received my NATO medal at the monthly NATO medal parade. Each month everyone, and I mean everyone, who has been here more than a month receives the non-article five NATO medal. This medal doesn’t really speak to any true accomplishment other than breathing, but it has become a rite of passage.   I am close enough to leaving that I was given a medal. I now have a medal proving I survived the NATO environment of Kabul, Afghanistan. I was fortunate enough to get a picture with my Italian Two Star General and swimming partner, Major General Bettelli.

general and award
My Italian General after I received my award!
russ and award
A Running Friend, Russ, we’re out of here soon!

 

 

While I was home my dad mentioned something that stuck with me.  He said you know you are the one that is changing.  The people at home will be relatively the same when you come home.  I believe, for the most part, he is right.  When I get home I will have to sensitive to the fact that I will need to reintroduce myself to my family.  I will have to learn where I fit and culturally synchronize myself with them.  This experience certainly has changed me and opened my eyes to a world I can’t truly explain.  Afghanistan, like many things in life, unless you’ve been there you can’t describe it, it’s an experience.  However much I’m ready to go home and be with my family I will have to be aware that I’ve changed and they managed without me for over a year.  Although I have no doubt, that with a little time we’ll be back culturally synced blending ourselves back together creating a family that is wiser and stronger and ready to take on anything!

Wilted Roses

As I reflect on this last week the image of a wilted rose continues to run through my mind. At one point this rose was growing on the branches of a rose-bush. Then someone picked the rose and this rose was given to someone as a gesture of love. Inevitably as that rose sits in a vase on the table it begins to wilt. The rose is still beautiful and represents something special, but it’s losing its luster and is beginning to die.

The world celebrated mother’s day this last Sunday. Prior to being here, in such an international environment, I had no idea that the entire world, or at least the troop contributing nations here in Afghanistan, celebrate mother’s day. I really did have a sad day. It’s funny how most mother’s days you just want to be by yourself and do something for you. Well this one all I wanted was to be with my babies; after all they are the ones who made me a mother. I ended up going for a long run, like every Sunday and then went into work. However, I did spend the afternoon using the money you all so generously donated and purchased the gear the Afghan running girls so desperately need.

As a tribute to the handful of mother’s here, the dining facility served a special dinner and gave us all roses. I proudly displayed my roses in a plastic water bottle at my desk, but by the following morning they were already wilted. These roses represented a special moment of remembrance of mother’s day, but they quickly earned their spot in the trash can. Although even as I threw them away I could see their beauty.

wilted roses
Wilty Mother’s Day Roses

My heart is heavy this week. My family had to say good-bye to a very close family friend. There are those friends who you forget are friends and forever believe them to be family. The entire Nackers family are those kind of friends.  Greg Nackers was fighting ALS, a disease of which there is no cure. He fought bravely and passed away with his family in dignity. My dad and Greg were high school friends, but their friendship reached beyond high school and spanned a lifetime. In their younger years, my dad and his high school friends were known for their long bike rides together. A century ride was just another Saturday morning for them.

As a child, each summer we would go camping with the Nackers. Both families would pack up and drive north. Greg, Judy, and their two boys Steven and Chris, who were close in age to my sister and me, would spend the week enjoying the outdoors and the company of friends we call family. As we kids grew and left home, my dad and Greg continued their annual camping trips. They added another high school friend Gary and my dad’s brother, Uncle Dean. The four of them continued these camping trips even after Greg was diagnosed with ALS. The picture below shows the four of them on their last visit together.

greg
You Are Missed!

I will always remember Greg with love. Unfortunately ALS turned him into the rose that had been picked. He lived a life loving and caring for those around him, but the time came for him to wilt. His beauty always shown through and it showed right up to his very last breath. He never became the ALS, he fought with pride until the last moment and showed his family and friends his true beauty until the very end. I know God lifted you up, removed your pain, and you are now riding your bike through heaven keeping us safe while we wait to join you!

The same day that Greg took his last breath Timyra celebrated her First Communion. I love the contrast of these two moments. Timyra was taking the Body of Christ and strengthening herself in her Catholic Faith while a dear friend was joining Christ in Heaven. Timyra’s rose strengthened its self. This reminds me of the day Timothy was born. The day he was born was the same day we buried my Grandma Rueden. A newborn baby entered the world the day my Grandmother entered the earth for eternity.

baby buddy
Newborn Buddy

 

 

Grandma's grave 2
Grandma’s Grave

My family and close friends helped to make Timyra’s First Communion special and the blessed event it should be. TJ and my mom took her to all her preparation classes and helped her prepare spiritually. My sister was so generous in doing both the girl’s hair. They looked amazing. I have to mention that 26 years ago my mom made my First Communion dress. Timyra, with a few alterations, wore the same dress. I know I wasn’t there, but with all the support she received, my prayers were enough. Timyra’s rose is full.

first communion family
My Handsome Family

 

same dress 1st communion
Picture of Me in the Dress Too!

 

 

 

hair dresser 1st communion
The Expert Hair Stylist

 

As I look around Afghanistan, I can’t help but see it as a wilted rose. There is so much good amongst all the bad. The good people of Afghanistan are losing because of the bad. There is beauty here, but its life is being sucked away and the roses are wilted. I hope someday Afghanistan will find the water it needs to stop wilting and stand on its own.

roses at RS
A Random Rose-Bush on the Base

Renewal

As you read last week, it was a tough week for me. Although through the amazing outpouring of support I received last week, I know I can make it through this last little part of my deployment. All of you renewed my outlook on humanity. You reset me for the rest of this journey.

First of all I sincerely need to thank all those who donated to the Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for the Afghan women of Free to Run. I had high school cross country friends, college friends, fellow service members (past and present), family members, neighbors, co-workers, and people I don’t even know who gave generously. Social media most certainly helped me reach such a broad audience. This money will be used to purchase gear these women desperately need to make their dreams a reality.  If you were considering donating, and have not yet, please do so at: https://www.gofundme.com/manage/afghan-women039s-running

The one of the biggest hurdles Taylor, the US citizen here in Afghanistan who trains the women, faces is her inability to receive mail. I obviously don’t have that problem. So this is why it is so important to raise this money. With the money I can order the gear and have it shipped directly to me. Then I can make sure it gets to the girls. I am honored to be able to help!

The start of last week was awful, but the end of the week renewed me. We were able to host 18 more of the Free to Run Women for an afternoon training run. This time they ranged in age from 14 to mid-thirty. We offered a 5k, 10k, and 21k distance. All the volunteers naturally spread out with all the girls for the various distances and ran with them at their pace. We hosted the 5k and 10k runners for Gatorade and snacks while they waited for the runners who were going for 21k. Some of the volunteers even walked them around and they watched a volleyball game that was underway. The girls loved it. Once again we were able to give them positive interactions with men who also believe in their dreams and want to help them come true. One of the volunteers, Matt Gill, spoke extensively about his family and children and showed them many pictures. These are the moments that go beyond a run and reach to the hearts and minds of the good people of Afghanistan. It also helps the deployed service members here remember why we are here and who we are helping.

our last run
Sunday run group, our volunteers!

This week I also had to say good bye to a women who was many things to me during this deployment. Although good bye is not correct, this is truly a see you later and soon moment. I was honored to serve with and work for the first female US Marine Corps pilot. Although I had no idea what her history was until we had already been working together for over five months. She would say this was her favorite deployment, because she could just do her job and she wasn’t known for her history making efforts. She was more than just my colleague.  She was my running partner, confidant, and most importantly she was and is a new life friend.  I will miss her dearly, but her leaving brings me one person closer to my departure.  This was a moment of sadness and renewal.  Sarah and I have already planned to meet up for the Monster Dash Half Marathon in October in Chicago. She lives in Michigan just over the border from Indiana. Chicago makes for a great meeting place! Sarah thank you for being there for me this entire deployment and I can’t wait until we meet again in the civilian world outside of Afghanistan!

recreation picture
Last run selfie…recreating our first selfie after the half marathon last October….MISS YOU!

I’ve been distracted these last few weeks and I missed a few milestones at home. First and probably the saddest for me was Taylyn turning 3. It was sad for two reasons, I wasn’t there and my baby turned 3! She still had a really special day. They took her to Chuck E. Cheeses for dinner and games. My sister brought my niece Quinn. Another part of this deployment that I will treasure forever is how close my children have gotten with their cousin. My mom watches Quinn every Wednesday so Taylyn gets to play with her at least once a week. They have turned into two little peas in a pod. They drive my mother crazy with their screaming, but they have bonded in a way they never would have had I been home.

Tay and Quinn
#troubleforlife

When I was home on leave Taylyn would play with an imaginary baby  she called her Ceesa. When we were at Disney she would push her imaginary Ceesa around in the stroller. I thought  an actual Ceesa doll would be the perfect birthday gift. I found a website that would embroider rag dolls. I wanted Ceesa to be a doll she could take everywhere with her, since the imaginary one went everywhere. I called the morning of her birthday and was able to watch her open the present from me. She was excited and from my understanding Ceesa does go everywhere with her.

ceesa
Tay’s Ceesa

 

Tay with Cesaw
Nap time with Ceesa

Timothy has started spring soccer and is enjoying practice and games.  He maybe small, but he’s fast and is certainly the team’s number one scorer.  Timyra dove right into the swim team.  She’s already had her first meet and it went well.  She took first in 2 events and, well last in the other.  You can’t win them all and if she hadn’t done two flips turns to turn around in the 100 free the outcome may have been different.  Although she loves going to practice and I’m really excited to see where this goes for her.soccer gameswim team meet

Thank you everyone for the support these last couple months.  I believe I have what I need now to finish this.  We are all in the home stretch!

$CSLF*&#$(*Y A

No the title of this blog post is not a typo. It just sums up how I’ve been feeling this week as well as what I may have said more than once throughout the week. This was truly the first week where I really felt like it was time for me to go home. I’ve done my time here in Afghanistan and I’m just REALLY ready. Never in any of my blog posts have I really written about what it’s like here from a kinetic perspective. I certainly did this for two reasons, one I just don’t want to think about it or write about it.  Secondly it’s probably better I just don’t have you read about it. This week I do want to write about the kinetics. If you don’t want to read about it, just stop reading….

To help set the stage for Afghanistan in the last couple days I need to mention that the Taliban officially kicked off the fighting season. This is no different than any other year and if you Google Taliban and fighting season you can read their objectives on open source.fighting seasonIf you are still reading I want to write about April 30th. The day started out like any other Monday. I got up and went to the gym. I enjoyed a moderate eighty minute ride on the bike. Afterwards I went back to my room, showered, and got ready for the day. At 7:58 when I was about to put my pants on to leave for breakfast I heard an extremely loud boom. With the explosions that are close we hear them, but not only did I hear this one I felt it. The windows of our building blew open. I knew it was only a matter of seconds before the base alarm would sound and we would be sheltered in place. Although in those few seconds I was praying I had just heard and felt something falling nearby and it wasn’t an explosion.

I finished getting ready while I waited for the all clear alarm. I spent those forty or so minutes watching Big Bang Theory and cleaning my room. I went to the Facebook page Kabul Security Now where the locals post the latest incidents,.  From there I figured out it was a motorcycle born improvised explosive device (IED) that exploded. I later found out it was 200 pretty close. After about forty minutes the all clear alarm sounded and I proceeded to leave my room and head into work.

bloody camera
There were a large number of reports killed in this attack and this was on Kabul Security Now

 

No sooner did I make it down my steps and a few feet down the sidewalk than I heard and felt another explosion. I was with someone else and we both said some explicit words and proceeded back to our rooms. The shelter in place alarm sounded once again. ISIS-K (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) claimed responsibility for the attacks on April 30th. To put it simply, they are the terrorist of the terrorists. The Taliban may have kicked off a fighting season, but there is an effort underway for reconciliation with the Afghan government. They also state they are trying to mitigate civilian casualties not create more. These ISIS-K f#$ers detonated a motorcycle IED then waited for the first responders to arrive on the scene and detonated a personal born IED (suicide vest). There is no excuse for that type of human carnage and in my mind simply put it is pure EVIL!

after IED
I found this picture in the New York Times article

 

The all clear alarm sounds again and I go into work. Ironically I spend the rest of the day teaching a class with my office to the tactical level advisors on Civilian Causality and Mitigation. The course goes well, even though the start was delayed due to the happenings of the morning. After the class I went back to my office to check my email for the first time that day. As I’m going through my emails I realize that along with what happened that morning we also lost a US Special Forces Soldier. Out special forces got into a ground engagement with the enemy and one lost his life and another was critically wounded with a gun shot to the chest. The gun shot victim is in stable condition, but at this point in the day after everything I saw, heard, and felt this was just too much. I looked at my computer and said I just want to go home. This was the first time I cried regarding the situation here. I’m not sure why that day and not any other, but I had just had enough. I’m tired of watching this. I think it’s just that I’ve put in my time and it’s my time to go. I’m ready to turn the watch over and go home to my family!Gen Nick

To add more insult to injury down south that same day a vehicle born IED made its way into a coalition force convoy.  It detonated and caused many injuries to the Romanians in the convoy.  Thankfully they were all in tactical vehicles and walked away from the blast.  The unfortunate part is 21 innocent Afghan children on the road were killed from the blast.

Again it’s time to go home!  While I was waiting for the all clear alarm after the second IED I did pack a sea bag of things I won’t need for the remainder of my time here.  I will mail this sea bag home this week.  A sign I’m getting closer!

I apologize for writing about the dark side of Afghanistan.  I still do hear and see amazing things everyday.  I’m just tired of watching the terror!

But to end with some sunshine.  I am working to raise money to buy gear for the Afghan women who run with Free to Run.  I created a GoFundMe account.  https://www.gofundme.com/afghan-women039s-running  Please visit the link and donate.  I will use the money to buy the gear and have it shipped here to Afghanistan.  One of the issues they are having is getting the gear shipped here.  I can help with that (and so can you)!

True JOY

This last week I wrote most of a blog post I planned on publishing on Friday like I normally do and then something happened on Wednesday that changed my mind. I will still publish the one I already wrote, just another week. I’m just planning ahead for when I have writer’s block.

On Wednesday we were privileged to be able to escort six Afghan women onto the base. These women are part of an organization called Free to Run. The mission of Free to Run is: to use running and outdoor adventure to empower and educate women and girls who have been affected by conflict. We support those living within conflict areas as well as those who have been forced to flee their country and live as refugees. Free to Run operates on the basic principle that sport is a human right and not a luxury. Recently the first ever Afghan Ultra-Marathon Team completed a 250km race across the Gobi Desert. Two of the six girls who came to run with us were part of the team.  It was awesome to be running with them. Please go to www.freetorun.org to read more about what they do and see how you can help.

Gobi run

The Gobi Desert Girls!  They are even wearing shirts from the half marathon we did on the base in October…they came that day and ran with us! (although then I had no idea who they were)

 

There is one young U.S. female, Taylor, who works for Free to Run and lives here in Kabul.  She courageously trains these women. She is living in an apartment on her own in Kabul.  That takes guts and thick skin.  The Afghanistan group consists of approximately 150 women who just want to exercise. Taylor came on Wednesday night with the six Afghan women who  came to run.  She was telling me that when they first started training they only had access to a 100 meter track for running.  Many of these women were training for ultra-marathon distances and they were repeating the same 100 meter track countless times.  I will never again complain about the endless circles I do here.  At least our route is just over one mile and safe. The dedication it takes to do what they do is amazing, but there is more to their running that is even more inspiring. Every time these women set foot outside to run they are taking a risk. Afghanistan is inherently unsafe and especially for women. These women run outside completely covered enduring rude and demeaning comments from their fellow Afghans. Yet they train hard and are competing in some of the hardest races the world has to offer.

before girl run
Before Run Picture

 

Our normal Sunday running group met us and we all ran together with the Afghan female runners. One of the Afghan women had just joined the group and this was her first run ever. Within our group there was a smaller group that stayed with her the entire run. As we ran we naturally broke out into different ability levels, yet  we were all waiting for each other when the 5k ended to high-five and congratulate each other as we finished.   It was so special to be able to give these women a safe place to run. We gave them a place they could run freely without the worry of being heckled. Some of them even removed their head scarves while they ran. I was extremely touched to be part of something so amazing. The joy these women were exuding was something I have never seen before. A moment I will truly never forget and certainly makes being here in Afghanistan worth it!

after dutch
After Run Picture…tummy’s are full of pizza thanks to our Dutch friends

 

When we were done running the Dutch National Support Element (NSE) hosted us for dinner. They purchased pizza for everyone and we shared in each other’s company. The Dutch were so kind to share their space with us. Every single Dutch citizen on the base came and welcomed the girls. They really added to the amazing night. They allowed us to continue to show the Afghan female runners hospitality.

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The Dutch also gave us all a little pair of shoes!

 

There is a curfew for everyone in Kabul, so by 8:30 that evening we had to escort them off the base so they would arrive home prior to curfew. As we were walking them to the gate to leave three of the women were giggling like young school girls (which they are probably not much older than school girls).  Another Afghan female runner asked me if I knew why they were giggling, and since I only understand about ten words in Dari of course I said no. She explained they were giggling because in their culture they are not allowed to touch another man in public and especially not their hands. When we finished running we gave everyone high-fives so they were touching men’s hands. Then when we left the Dutch NSE people were once again high-fiving and in some cases hugging. All of these social norms of touch that are normal for all of us are very strange for them, although watching them giggle leads me to believe they enjoyed the touch! Again watching the Afghan girls smile and laugh and be free brought me such joy. My heart was overflowing the entire time we were with them.Dutch after smallAfter we dropped the Afghan female runners off at the gate I went back to my room to shower and go to bed. I was on such a high from having spent time with these special Afghan women. I was about to get in the shower when our base alarm went off locking down the base. This only happens when there is an eminent threat. My heart just sank and I was quickly reminded of the reality of where I am. I was extra sadden because I had just taken six Afghan women back out into those streets where the threat is real. I was acutely aware of the good people who are out there every day facing this threat. For two hours on a Wednesday evening we were able to bring them in and give them a safe place to run, laugh, be free of head gear, and allow them to forget. The unfortunate part is that it was only temporary and afterwards they had to return to their reality. I am so thankful that I was able to be part of an escape for them, even for only a few hours.

The threat that triggered the alarm was quickly removed and fortunately no one was injured in the process. The bad guys were arrested, and at least for now, removed from the streets so they can’t terrorize the good people of Afghanistan.

Purist

I started running on a consistent basis when I was a freshman in high school, so over twenty-one years ago. For twenty of the last twenty-one years of my running career, I didn’t keep track of anything more than the time I spent running. Even then I only kept track for the duration I was running.  I never officially logged anything. For many years, I simply hit the timer on my watch and ran for a set amount of time. I often found myself arriving home short of my time goal and I would run up and down the block until I was at an even number. Then I would walk inside and clear my watch and start again the next day.

As I became more familiar with my running routes I found it very liberating to sometimes run without my watch. I would wear my watch and check the clock time when I left and then I would just run my predetermined route and only check the clock time when I arrived home. Since I wasn’t directly timing my run I would stop when I arrived back home. There was no need to run up and down the block to get an even time. Sometimes it was just nice to be free of the watch and enjoy a run with no feedback. People would ask me how much I run and I would look at them silly. First of all, I told them I was a purest and had no idea.  I just ran whatever I felt like doing. I usually ran three days a week. I would do a shorter run with friends at work, a track workout on Wednesdays, and a long run on the weekends. If I had to put a number to it I would say I ran twenty to maybe thirty miles a week. But I also had weeks where I didn’t run at all and it never bothered me as long as I got in some kind of workout each day.

When I started my job at Lift Fitness over four years ago, they gave me a Fitbit. My first Fitbit just tracked my steps. I quickly became addicted to step counting. If I wasn’t at my 10k steps for the day you would find me walking circles around the main floor of my house at all hours of the evening to make sure I got there. When I was home on maternity leave with Taylyn I upped my step goal to 12k steps a day and that is where its stayed for the last three years (almost three, Taylyn won’t be three for another week and I keep reminding people she’s still two. I don’t want my baby growing up!).

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First walk with all my girls, 2015

In April of 2017 my Fitbit bit the dust for the third time and I knew it was time to upgrade to something that did more than just track movement and steps. Since I was training for an Ironman I felt I had graduated to the next level in activity tracking. Lucky for me, I had saved up three years’ worth of birthday presents from my parents so I asked them for a Garmin watch. I felt it was time I had a watch with internal GPS that could count my laps while I swam, something a little more Ironman training compatible.

 

Mid-April last year I started counting my mileage for the first time in my over twenty years of running. So now not only did I care to reach my step goal every day, but I had convinced myself I needed to run at least 100 miles every month. I stopped being a purist. As 2017 progressed I upped my monthly running mileage goals, connected my watch to the bikes here to keep track of my mileage, and of course I kept track of the meters I was swimming. By December I decided to run my first 200 mile month, I think I can confidently say ever, but I will never know for sure. Then in March of 2018 I was twenty-two miles away from another 200 mile month when my Garmin decided in the middle of a swim it had, had enough. People joked I did three years’ worth of workouts in one and it just couldn’t keep up anymore. The day it died was tough, but my natural instinct to everything is do whatever I can to fix the problem. I contacted Garmin as soon as I returned to my room after the swim. They gave me an address to send my dead Garmin to and once they received it they would send a replacement one to my house in the states. I was content with the solution, but now I’m without a watch, step counter, GPS, bike mileage counter, and lap swim counter. Really I was panicked. How was I going to train.

6 miles
The last 6 miles to 200 for March

 

Then I started to think, ok, you went over twenty years with no knowledge of what you were doing and you still finished 16 marathons, multiple triathlons, and so many road races of various lengths you can’t even count. Firstly, I decided to run out the twenty-two miles to get to my 200 mile month. Initially I was just going to skip it. My results weren’t going to show up on my Garmin app so so why do it if I’d have no record of the miles. The truth is those miles still count and I can count to 22, so why not finish. I almost started to believe if I couldn’t see the workout on my watch, then it didn’t happen.

stregth training
dedicating 2 days a week to strength training

 

What I’ve discovered over the last few weeks without a watch that tells me everything, is nothing has really changed. I’m a little more relaxed when I run on the treadmill because I am not stressing trying to keep the indoor running mode on my watch in sync with the treadmill. It works rather well, usually within three one hundredths of a mile, but I have to ensure I move my arms a certain way to keep them synced. I have to think more than I would like to keep the treadmill and my watch together and I can’t just zone out and run. I’ve been enjoying zoning out. I’m still writing down my mileage, but on a piece of paper. I’ve taken a step back from the technology, but I don’t think I’ll never be able to be a purist and just time my runs every again! This break from the technology has been a little liberating. For biking my phone still connects to the bikes and is tracking my workouts via the app I use to set up my workouts. I’ve even started strength training again twice a week and I really needed to make that commitment. Since I am not obsessing over how many miles I run I’m taking the time to improve other areas of my fitness I’ve been ignoring.

kids picture day
I just had to…too cute (pre-picture day snap shot)

My replacement Garmin arrived at my house this week and my mom already put it in the mail. I am excited for its arrival and I will be ready to start counting again, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy a little break from all the information!

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Last year we took the BIG kids with us to Denny’s

Also this last week marked nine years since TJ and I went on our first date. We went out for breakfast at Denny’s in San Diego. I know on April 16th of 2009 we never would have believed that nine years later we would have three amazing kids and he would be home with them while I’m in Afghanistan.  But here we are!  The thing is with TJ I’m never counting. I’m not keeping track. Every time our wedding or dating anniversary comes around I have to do the math to figure out how many years we have been together. It just feels like we’ve always been together, in a really good way. I just simply don’t remember life without him and I really don’t want to. He’s doing an awesome job keeping the house together while I’m gone and getting everyone everywhere while I’m away. He is my partner in life. I will remain a purist when it comes to our time together. If I start counting I will realize there is never enough time for us and our life together. Instead I’m going to enjoy every minute and continue to be thankful for our life! Don’t let me go!

Anniversary Final
Some of Our Shenanigans
TJ mohawk
7 years ago, sushi dinner date, post Navy, Mohawk

 

 

 

Girls!

I am going to dedicate this blog post to the girls in my life, the ones here with me and the ones at home waiting for me. I believe you are all strong and amazing and are doing great things for yourself and everyone around you! KEEP BEING AWESOME!

sarah and I profile
YEAH…we rock!

On Sunday prior to our weekly group run there was an organized Fun Run for Kids that started at 8 in the morning. The run was comprised of teams of 4. We made a team of all women. I was with a female U.S. Marine, an Australian Naval Officer, and an Australian Army Officer. There was a staggered start and each team started five minutes after each other. We were the first team to start.  We started by running to the first station.

girls running away
Running to Our Next Station

 

At each station we were required to perform a certain task and then given a slip of paper with directions to the next station. Our all-female team, the only all-female team participating didn’t win, but we did come in third (I might need to mention there were only six teams). We did however win the award for most ingenious team. At one of the stations we were expected to conduct fifty pull ups. I think if I had to do fifty pull ups I would still be at the station. I am not capable of doing one proper pull up, much less fifty. I truly believe I am much more capable of completing a full Ironman than I am of completing fifty pull ups. This is where our ingenious came in. The instructions stated we had to complete fifty pull ups with our chin coming over the bar and then fully extending our arms. The pull-up bar was on a set of racks. I stood on the pegs on the rack and did squats which allowed my chin to go over the bar and then I extended my arms fully. I didn’t break any rules and knocked out fifty pull-ups within the rules of the race in less than a minute. Then we were off to our next station. We had a really great morning running around and having fun.  Plus we proved how smart women really are.

pull up
Ingenious Squat Pull Ups

Recently I took a day trip over to Bagram Air Base to touch base with some of my colleges. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone, but the military is a male dominated career, although while over there, and just by chance we ended up having an all-female lunch. The lunch was joint and multinational. We represented the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the Australian Army and Navy, and the British Army. It was nice to share some comradery with my fellow female service members from around the world. The food, well that was just ok!

girl lunch
Ladies Lunch

Last week my lovely mother turned 60. Her birthday fell during a week when the kids were really busy with activities. We were able to find a sitter to help out and I think we were still able to make her birthday special. Thank you mom for understanding! My sister took her out for dinner, while TJ ran the kids around to their various activities. Our neighbor Rosie, an amazing make-up artist, did my mother’s make-up. If you are looking for of a make-up artist, please check her out on Facebook at Rosie Dow Makeup Artist. Timothy did think Grandma looked scary, but only kind of scary. The next day Taylyn asked her where her mask went. Sometimes kids!   I am proud to say I have these genes, I hope I can look this young at 60!

mom's birthday makeup
Mom on Her Birthday…thanks Rosie!

In the middle of all that was going on last week, Timyra had swim team tryouts every evening. She had been looking forward to trying out for the swim team for a while and this was her chance. Between everything else that was going on, with the help of a babysitter, everyone made it where they needed to all week and Timyra was able to go to tryouts every day. By the end of the week she was exhausted. The tryouts went until 8 and then she’d have to come home, shower, eat a snack, and wind down before going to bed. I call TJ most mornings when I get up and he’s usually on his way to bed. Last week Timyra was still up after tryouts.  In the end, it was all worth it. We found out Saturday she made the team. Thankfully practice doesn’t go as late as tryouts did and she’s only swimming two or three days a week instead of every day. I am very proud of my little mermaid, but now is when the work really begins. I’m excited to get home and watch her compete! (If you haven’t noticed, I love this stuff and I find it really rewarding watching my babies do what I love…watch out world if any of my children run cross country!)

swim team tryouts
She’s in the far lane