On Sunday we celebrated Easter. Not only was it Easter, but it was the first day of April…one month closer to home! It’s starting to feel like it really is time to leave. I am here for a year and most people are only here for six to nine months. I am now at the point where everyone I came here with is gone and everyone that was here when I got here is also gone. I’m the LAST woman standing. I continue to make friends and there are still really great people here, but the people who have been here from the beginning are all now officially gone. All this just makes me want to go home even more. I feel like I’ve put in my time and it’s coming to an end. My time to go has come and I’m feeling VERY ready. I do have about another ten weeks in Afghanistan, but I can feel my time coming.
For our Easter Mass we had an Easter Vigil Service. I have not been to Easter Vigil in many years. Our Priest made it a really special Mass. The Mass began at nine p.m. and we started with a fire outside the chapel lighting the Easter Candle and our own individual candles. The Mass was beautiful and the perfect way to celebrate Easter, especially since we couldn’t be with our families during this special time.
There is a group of Sailors here who go to Church together. For Easter we decided to take the Priest out for dinner. He is leaving in two weeks and we wanted to thank him for his service to us. I really enjoy Father Tomas, our Czech Republic Priest. I am making a bold statement, but I believe he is my favorite Priest EVER. His humor mixed with authentic Catholic guilt makes each Mass very enjoyable. There are many moments from Mass that are quotable, but two of my favorite are, “I will never be a Bishop, I will be a martyr first;” and “Lent is now over so you can eat whatever you want, but remember you do need to maintain your beach body for the summer.” Also, US chaplains are not allowed to carry weapons of any kind, but the Czech chaplains do. During dinner we asked him about his heat and he said since the Czech Republic Army is so small he does not travel with a security force so he needs to be able to defend himself. As a matter of fact the first thing he will need to do when he gets home from deployment is go to the range and re-qualify on his weapon.
Our Sunday morning fun run was of course Easter themed. My mom sent me an Easter themed care package meant for our run. She sent Peep Oreos, which we all enjoyed post run. She also sent bunny socks and a night shirt. She was looking for an Easter t-shirt, but in her rush to get the package in the mail, she could only find a bunny night shirt. This is Afghanistan, so I was quick to compromise and make the night shirt work for running. I tied it up 80’s style and it worked great! Thanks mom for the Easter themed running items, they were perfect for our Sunday run!
This was also the last run for a good friend of mine. Like I was saying before, I’m becoming the LAST woman standing. Brandon has been here almost as long as I have been. He was a trusted friend and was there to get me through the fall when I was struggling with my boss. He reliably showed up to each group run. Our first 10k, back in January, was his longest run since college. He was also the one who came with me to visit my rug guy and helped advise on all the colors, styles and was critical in picking out the rug for my mom. He’s going back to an awesome family and a job that was hard earned. I know he will do great things for the Army. Yes, I said Army, he’s one Army Officer I enjoyed spending time with!
My family celebrated Easter at home and enjoyed dinner with my sister and her family. The week prior Taylyn was sick and stayed home with my mom the entire week. Timyra was on spring break, and she said her sister ruined her spring break because she didn’t get any special time with Grandma. I guess my mom will have to take her out shopping another day. The kids enjoyed their treats from the Easter Bunny. My mom forgot to put Taylyn’s present in her Easter basket so she only got a book, PJs, and suckers. Taylyn didn’t seem to mind, she was just happy to have the suckers.
On Monday this week a friend asked if I would pace him while doing a half marathon. This was not an organized event. Back in October he ran a half marathon by himself and ran just under two hours and he asked if I could pace him for under one hour and fifty minutes. Of course I’m always up for a little challenge and a half marathon under one hour and fifty minutes is a rather manageable time for me. So of course I said yes. I shifted around some of my other workouts for the week to accommodate, and I was ready.
We met at nine a.m. to complete the challenge. The weather is getting warmer and if we had waited until the afternoon the heat probably would have gotten the best of us. We started out well paced and on our way to finish under his goal. At mile eight we stopped briefly to get some water and eat a Gu / Cliff Shot (I prefer Cliff, he had Gu). Then we were off again. I was feeling great. We were within five miles of the finish; I had just fueled so I was ready to crush the goal. What I failed to recognize is I have a lot of mental and physical endurance when it comes to running and although five miles is short and goes by quickly for me, this is not the case for most people. I spent the majority of the last five miles and all of the last five kilometers pushing him along. He knew he would finish well under the two hour mark, beating his last time, so he gave up on getting under one hour and fifty minutes. I however, did not. I continued to encourage him to fight through, to find the mental endurance to get through the three miles, then two, then one, and finally the last 400 meters to the finish. I told him he’s ran this long this fast, find it in your mind to get this done. In the end he finished just under one hour and fifty-nine minutes and ran his fastest half marathon. Now there was no great finish line, with a cool finisher’s medal. All he got was a high-five from me, but he did get the satisfaction of finishing and pushing through to the end to accomplish his goal at altitude running many, many circles over and over again.
This week I started a twelve week Full-Ironman base program, which I should finish around when I leave Afghanistan. I’m almost using it as my count down, although I’m trying not to count days. Each time you start a new program using my training app (TrainerRoad), the first workout is always a functional threshold power (FTP) test. The last time I did one was in early December and I actually went down a few watts. This was the first time this happened since I started doing power training and I was discouraged. I didn’t accept the lower FTP, I kept my old one (the higher one) and continued to train the next twelve week block. I’ve really been focusing on my biking and training hard, yet relative to many, my power output (watts) is low. A couple weeks ago at a Navy night a fellow Sailor remarked many times that my FTP, which was 160, was really low and he was so shocked that I would spend so much time biking and be so low. I already lack a lot of confidence on the bike and this just added to it.
On Tuesday morning after the Monday half marathon I needed to do my FTP test to start my next bike program. I went into it discouraged. The last time I tested I went down and I wasn’t getting a lot of encouragement from the folks around me. The program has you warm up for thirty minutes prior to the twenty minute test. As I was warming up I started to think about what I told my friend during the half marathon the day before. I’ve worked hard, and I’ve earned the right to be confident on the bike. I have come a long way since September and I should be proud. I’m not world class, but I’m better and stronger than I was. As I entered the twenty minute test, I dug deep, I pushed hard, and I didn’t let my mind get the best of me. In the end my FTP did go up, it might have been by only ONE watt, but it went up. I am PROUD of that ONE watt. When it comes to biking I have to EARN every WATT and I have to work harder than most, but I’m willing to do the work. I needed to take my own advice and push through to see a small change, but progress none the less.
I earned that Watt…I proudly hit UPDATE!
We also saw progress in our Sunday run. This week we offered an optional 10K in addition to the 5K. About half of the group pushed through to 10K and the other half cheered on the group as we ran the additional kilometers. For many this was their longest run here in Afghanistan and even for some the longest run they’ve run in years or even ever. This week’s run was for epilepsy and we wore purple to raise awareness. When we were done some asked if we could offer the optional 10K more often, so we decided to have an optional 10K every other week. Small mental changes amounting to increased distance and progress.
What I learned this week I learned from myself. I’m often giving advice on how to run faster and longer. I preach about mental endurance and how it’s just as important as physical. When people ask me how I can run so long, or sit on the bike all day I say, it’s all in my mind and I play games to get there. Your mind needs to tell you that you can before your body will do anything. As I am measuring progress on the bike, however small it maybe, I need to dig deep in my mind to keep my legs pushing out power to see improvements.
I know I have a little Irish in me, I mean my dad does have red hair! Everyone else celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day so why would it be any different in Afghanistan. Saint Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday, which I’m sure made for a very interesting night out in the States, however it was much more subdued here in Afghanistan. Saturday night is normal Navy night. Each Saturday, the small contingent of Navy personnel on the base get together to share in Navy comradery. We use each other to stay sane and combat the craziness of the Army. Since it was Saint Patrick’s Day, we did a special dinner. We had Arian, my rug guy, order us Afghan food from off the base and he brought it in for our Saint Patrick’s Day party.
The food was amazing. I really enjoy the spices the Afghans use, especially on their rice. We had rice, lamb and chicken kebabs, bread, and bean cakes (I also love these), and a very delicious mint sauce I put on everything. Since the air quality has improved over the last month we were able to enjoy the meal on the rooftop of the USO. It has gotten a lot warmer, so the locals are burning a lot less trash to stay warm. When we finished eating we enjoyed a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity. Prior to coming to Afghanistan, I had never played Cards Against Humanity. We have a great time playing. I’m excited to play when I get home with my friends and some adult beverages. I imagine the game gets even funnier with adult beverages. I do enjoy the laughs and the downtime with my fellow Sailors.
Our Sunday morning fun run this last week was Saint Patrick’s Day themed. The weather is much nicer which means we don’t have to fight the smog when it’s time to run outside. We dressed up in our themed attire and did a 5K. This time we just ate mint Oreos post-run rather than eating the entire time we were running. The mint fit the theme of green for Saint Patrick’s Day. I really do enjoy the late mornings running outside with friends I’ve made over the last ten months. I may not miss a lot about Afghanistan, but I will miss these runs. Maybe I can start something when I get home?
One day last week Timyra found leprechaun coins on the playground at school. In her mind this was proof that leprechauns do exist. When she got home she told her dad she wanted to make a leprechaun trap. So I ordered a stuffed leprechaun off of Amazon and had it delivered to be the victim for the trap. On Saint Patrick’s Day she decorated an Amazon box (probably the one he came in) and set the trap. Upon completion she set it up and waiting till the morning of March 18th. To her surprise, we think, she found the leprechaun in the trap. Timyra may be getting too old for things like this, but Buddy and Taylyn were certainly surprised. Buddy wanted to put the bait coins out a second night to see what they would catch. Although through it all Timyra said nothing and let the magic continue for the little ones!
This last week I did come across some Irish luck of my own. Since I left home last June I have not had the best of luck with roommates. It started when we arrived in South Carolina for three weeks for our Army training prior to coming over to Afghanistan. The berthing (what the Navy calls your place to sleep) was open bay bunkbeds and there were no rack (what the Navy calls the bed you sleep on) assignments, it was first come first rack. On the list of personnel I was listed as a male so I had to ask which building I needed to go to prior to entering the open bay berthing. By the time I arrived, I was the last one and was blessed with the top rack by the door. The part about this that irritated me the most was that there were only three female officers and about eighty enlisted females. Since there were only three of us we were lumped in with the enlisted. Not only that, but I was the most senior female by two ranks and at least four years. I probably would not have been so upset about the arrangement had the men been treated the same. Of course the male enlisted and the male officers were separated and each had their own berthings. We were told it was because there were only three of us and they didn’t feel the need to open another berthing just for three. In the end I sucked it up, and slept the worst three weeks of sleep probably ever and I’m a surface warfare officer, and we’re known for not sleeping for years. I also found out that the classes after us were separated even when the female officer population was low. At least we paved the way for the classes after us.
So back to my luck, my first seven months here I had a roommate. She occupied the rear part of the room, which is the more desirable location. She was here before me and earned the spot. The problem with her was that she really didn’t have a job. She was sleeping when I left in the morning. She was sleeping when I got back in the evenings. She ate every meal in the room and was just generally dirty and inconsiderate. Although I rarely saw her awake and out of bed I was honored with hearing her alarm go off for at least three hours most days, yet that didn’t get her out of bed. When she left in January, I moved to the rear of the room. I quickly learned how nasty she really was. She left old towels, sheets, and didn’t take out the trash when she left. Since she ate in the room her trash was no gross it spread mold at least a half of an inch think on the floor. Now I had found the source of the lingering smell in the room. After serious disinfecting, I moved to the rear of the room and made my own little sanctuary. The best part is, for now at least I have my own space. I may have a roommate tomorrow, but for now I’m going to enjoy of luck.
I don’t necessarily believe in luck. I’d like to believe everything happens for a reason even if you’re not sure of the purpose initially. Although I have to say I have lucked out lately, especially in the roommate department.
This week’s blog post came to me while I was running, as do many of my brilliant and not so brilliant ideas. There was a group of us who frequently got together to run wearing various themed outfits before I took my mid-deployment leave. While I was gone the group continued to run together every Sunday at 10:00 in the morning. My first Sunday back was the Oreo 5K. We ate an Oreo every kilometer. I can guarantee that at the end of the run we consumed more calories than we burned running, but we did have fun.
While we were running I was chatting with a few of our fellow runners. One of the runners is a submariner. We were talking about women on subs. When I was commissioned women were not allowed on subs. I was not upset in any way that I was not allowed to serve on a sub, I had no desire. As a matter of fact, when I spent my first college summer with the Navy we spend one week with each of the communities we could commission into. For my sub week we spent one week underway on a sub and as I entered the hatch to board the boat I wanted to turn around and leave. There was nothing in the community that appealed to me.
While we were running we were talking about National Women’s Day and women doing jobs traditionally held by men. I have a strong opinion on this. I do believe women should be able to do whatever job they want to and have a passion for. What irritates me about women’s rights and things like National Women’s Day is the motivation behind what you are doing. What are we really celebrating on these days? If you are becoming a submariner (or insert any career) because all your life all you wanted to do was become a submariner, I am very happy for you and I wish you the best of luck on your pursuit to break down barriers. If you are becoming a submariner because you want to prove to someone else that you are capable of doing something, then don’t. Your heart is not in it and you are doing it, of course in my mind, for all the wrong reasons. Just because I didn’t want to be a submarine officer doesn’t mean I can’t; I just didn’t want to. I wanted to apply my skills and passion somewhere else. I didn’t have the drive or desire to make that my career. I have nothing to prove, I know if I wanted to I could have, there was just something I wanted to do more.
Speaking of a woman who paved the way for future women, I have a story to tell you about one very famous woman who made a difference for women aviators around the world. A few days ago Timyra came home from school and said, “Grandma, did you hear the news.” My mom said, “Well I’ve heard lots of news, which story are you speaking of?” Timyra told her they found Amelia Earhart. That week in school Timyra did a group project about Amelia Earhart. The interesting part of this story is that when I was in second grade I also did a project about Amelia Earhart. Now I really was a “cool” kid so for my report I wrote a rap about Amelia. When I performed the rap for my second grade class I wore an airplane I made out of a cardboard box and suspenders. I received a very good grade, but I’m sure everyone in Mrs. Deckers’ second grade class was laughing at me while I performed.
When I work hard and push myself I am not doing it to prove anything to anyone else. I want to finish an Ironman because ever since my teenage years I wanted to take on the challenge of completing an Ironman distance triathlon. There is no way I would train enough if I was doing it for anyone but me. Even if I found the ability to put the training in, I wouldn’t enjoy it. No one says you have to be miserable just to prove something. I know it is probably hard to believe, but I truly enjoy the time I spend training. Of course I enjoy running the most, but I don’t hate my biking and I’ve seen significant improvements in my ability in the last seven months and plan to continue the training technique I’m using up to and through the Ironman. While I was home on leave I purchased a new bike along with Garmin Power Pedals. I’m making the commitment to continue to improve my biking, because I want to do better for myself.
My New Bike and Pedals
I just want to challenge you to look inside and really think about what it is that is motivating you. Are you too motivated by outside influences that you have lost your true motivation? Is it time to stop pursuing something because you are only on that path to prove something to someone else? Have you lost your own motivation and is it time to find that internal spark again? Lastly remember, just because you don’t have the desire to change the world doesn’t mean you don’t have the internal passion to do something great. You just need to find it and that can be anything. Be great at what you love and not what you should love or what someone else thinks you should love. BE YOU, AND BE MOTIVATED, BY YOU!!
I wasn’t sure what to call this post so Hodgepodge with a question mark it is. Usually I have a name before I even have all the content, but this time was different!
Before I start writing about my journey back to Afghanistan, I want to write about a few more things from my trip home. Last post I already had written so much, I was tired, emotional, and I forgot to mention some really awesome things from being home!
On my first day home, after I was reunited with my babies and we had shared our hugs and kisses, I knew I was in desperate need of a hair cut. I am lucky enough that my hair dresser lives in my neighborhood, Breah Miller who owns The Shamp Room (check her out on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/breah.miller ). She was more than willing to squeeze me in at my convenience. Since I had not had my hair cut since May, I was in DESPERATE need of a serious trim. I also had not driven in nine months, so TJ drove me and the entire family came along for the hair cut. We wanted to stay together. Breah was kind enough to give me an amazing complementary cut. My mom will be certain to tip well next time she goes with Timyra to get their hair done!
Before I came home I asked each of the kids to pick one thing they wanted to do together just the two of use. Timyra wanted to get a manicure and pedicure, and since that sounded awesome I couldn’t say no. On Tuesday morning before TJ and I went to Hamilton, Timyra and I went to have our nails done. It was awesome sending time with her and pampering both of us. Timyra also asked if we could swim together while we were on vacation. We never really got alone time to swim, but I did have time to work with her on her strokes. I’m not the best swimmer, but I used to teach toddler swimming lessons and I was able to help her with her breaststroke. As a matter of fact, the Thursday after I left she tested out of her current swim level and has moved up to the advanced swim academy.
Timothy asked to put together police helicopter Legos. He got police car Legos for Christmas and wanted a police helicopter too. The Marine I work for in Afghanistan insisted on buying the Legos for him. It was so kind of Sarah Deal to do this for my son, he really appreciated it. If I ever get back to Afghanistan, I have a thank you for her from him. We really enjoyed putting the Legos together and we even fixed his police car Legos. For two days we all played police with his Lego sets. Although we did have to keep Taylyn distracted because she would steal the Lego pieces and hide them in her mouth. That girl is nuts.
Now for Taylyn she just wanted to play with me at home. We did find plenty of time to play. Not only that, but while we were on vacation we slept together five of the eight nights we were gone. I can’t wait to be back home to play again. Although, I will pass on us sleeping together. I’m not sure how, but this two-year old who is tiny for her age, finds a way to take up the entire queen sized bed!
Also while I was home Robin from Grayslake Rehabilitation found the time to fit me in as well. She gave me back my running a little over two years ago and I can’t thank her enough for everything she’s given me. I told the story in my blog post For Me, For You, For Each Other. I went in for a tune up. I left there with my right side looking like I was in a bar fight and lost, but it felt awesome. The magic she performs in her words, “would make any prisoner talk,” works and keeps me moving and able to do what I love. I will never go see another physical therapist, EVER!! She also had a thank you card for me signed by so many people I couldn’t even count them all. I was so touched that all these people would take the time to write me such sweet notes of encouragement and thanks!
When I left home to journey back to Afghanistan to finish my deployment little did I know it would take me so long to get back. It was very, very hard to leave but, once I started back I wanted to get back to my room, my bed, my friends, and my routine in Afghanistan. I was delayed leaving Heathrow, so my ten-hour layover turned into a thirteen hour layover. While at Heathrow I did pay to take a shower and it was worth every euro I spent. The delay out of Heathrow meant I landed in Kuwait a few hours later than expected. That was just enough for me to miss my guaranteed military flight back to Afghanistan. Well I learned very quickly that without a booked seat on a flight, it’s almost impossible to get out of Kuwait. I immediately put myself on a space available list, but the list is long and the waiting began.
I do want to say my experience in the Kuwait airport was much better than when I left. We have to wait for a shuttle to take us back to the base and while I was waiting I decided to get some coffee from Caribou Coffee. I guess I looked so tired, and it is now Thursday and I’ve been up since Tuesday, that the barista gave me an extra shot in my coffee for free. Not all Kuwaiti men hate women, but I’m sure I also looked really pathetic!
Free shot…of coffee!
I did look pathetic!
To say I was tired, was an understatement. I had slept two days on an airplane. Then the next time I slept on a bus and on a bench in a passenger terminal. I did get a good night’s sleep on Saturday night. I am fortunate enough to be Navy and the Air Force in Kuwait gave me a place to sleep. They were at capacity for Army, but they had room for Navy. I did have to share a room with eight other women, but it was a bed and I was exhausted. I was able to keep that bed until there was a flight back to Afghanistan.
I continued to spend my days checking in at various times throughout the day hoping to get a space available seat. The rest of the time I worked out and read. Thankfully they have free popcorn with cheese salt. I looked forward to my afternoon snack everyday, it brought a small smile to my face.
Finally after seven days of waiting in Kuwait I got on an airplane to Afghanistan. This was ten days after I left the States. I have to send a huge thank you to two members of one of the General’s Personal Security Team. They adopted me over the week I was in Kuwait. If it wasn’t for them I guarantee I would still be sitting there. They were able to work magic and get us guaranteed seats back to Afghanistan. I believe I can say with confidence I will never come back to Kuwait again. When I leave Afghanistan for good I go through Qatar. Although never say never, so instead of being absolute I will be confident. I can honestly say I will miss nothing about Kuwait and I’m thankful to leave!
This is how I feel today. I feel like Snow White and her Dwarfs. I got on a plane on the evening of February 27th and left my babies. I felt like I was wondering into the woods lost again. I know once I get back to Afghanistan I will be back in my routine, but it was so hard to leave again. I had a little taste of being home and it is very difficult to let it go again. I know it’s only four months this time instead of nine, but it just felt so right to be home and be a mom and wife again and its terrible having to give that up again.
We spent most of my time home on vacation. I am so glad we decided to take a big trip. Vacation was awesome and I didn’t get the chance to really get into a routine at home and disrupt what they have working there. If we had stayed home I think I would have gotten too comfortable and it would have been even harder to leave. Instead we spent most of my time home having fun and enjoying each other not at our house. I think this was extra important because I was not coming home for good, it was just a visit. The visit called for a vacation to celebrate time together and energize all of us for the next few months until I am home permanently.
I did do some writing as I was traveling and I’m going to start there and work my way to home and then back to Afghanistan.
On February 10th I took a shuttle from the Army Base in Kuwait to the Kuwait International Airport. Now remember for the last nine months I lived on a little postage stamp of a base and I haven’t gone or done anything outside of that little space. When they dropped us off at the airport and said get out see you in a few weeks, I was completely overwhelmed. First of all I’m in an Arab country and many of the women are in full burqas. There are people everywhere, which really is a new feeling for me. I walked up to the counter to check in for my flight, mind you they dropped me off at 4pm for a 10:30pm flight, but I was told I could not check in until 7pm. I was anxious to drop off my checked luggage and get my tickets, but now I’m stuck outside an airport for three hours. I certainly felt like an outsider. Here I am wearing my hair down in a country where the majority of the women are covered and many of them only show their eyes. I found a frozen yogurt shop and ordered pomegranate and mango froyo with Nutella. I ended up staying in the froyo shop for two and a half hours reading and hoping not to get kicked out. At seven I proceeded to check in and now the check in area is super crowded. Again I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Also what I’m finding is everyone is very rude. I can’t tell if they are rude because I’m an American, a female, or this is just how they are, but I’m going to assume it’s a combination of the three. I get checked in and proceed through security. Of course I do that like an American. As in, I take off my shoes, take out my liquids, and laptop. What I find out is I didn’t need to do anything but take out my laptop and turn it on. Through security I had 2 hours before boarding. I found a pizza place and enjoyed a veggie pizza while just watching. What I observed were some universal truths. 1. No one’s kids listen, they throw fits and run around like crazy people. They do this even for women covered from head to toe, including the little girls. 2. Everyone takes selfies, even women in full burqas.
After a two-hour flight I landed in Abu Dhabi to connect to my flight to O-Hare. I had a little over two hours between flights, but that time was quickly consumed by customs. I was unaware, but some countries have US Customs in their countries. You clear US Customs before boarding your plane to the States. This is really nice, because when you land all you have to do is de-plane and get your luggage. I spent most of those two hours clearing US Customs and finding my gate. I had just enough time to use the rest room, grab some water, and send a few messages to TJ letting him know I’m about to board and my flight was on time. Now all that stood between myself and home was a 16 hour flight.
After watching four movies, eating a few times, and as much sleep as I could manage; I landed in Chicago. I was flying on Ethid Airways, which made the food interesting. After eating Army food for nine months it was a welcome change, but when I bit into one of the meals I ate something so spicy it burned all the way to my stomach.
TJ met me in the terminal and we waited together for my luggage. It was so great to see him. It was seriously like we never skipped a beat. Everything felt natural and completely normal. We spent that first day at a hotel near the airport. TJ brought me a couple of my favorite donuts, Ube donuts from Gurnee donuts. I enjoyed every bite with a great cup of coffee. We ate an early dinner. Then we went back to the hotel and watched a few episodes of This is Us. Now, This is Us fans don’t spoil the ending of season 2, we only watched three episodes and will have to finish the rest sometime this summer.
Timyra had mentioned earlier that she wished I was coming home for good in June and not July so I could surprise her at school. I love surprises, so I decided to surprise her this time. All the kids thought I was coming home a week later on February 19th. I couldn’t go get the kids until they were at school so TJ and I had until about 10 before we could go home. So I decided to visit my co-workers at Life Fitness for a morning workout and bagels. We had a really great time and I miss working with them. Thank you Life Fitness for all the support and I am truly looking forward to the fall when I can be permanently reunited with my Work Family!
The most amazing part of my entire trip home was picking up the kids for the first time. They all reacted in their own ways and each were true to their personalities. For Timyra we had to wait in the office for her teacher to bring her down. I did contact her teacher ahead of time, first of all to let her know I would be taking her out of school for two and a half weeks, but also to let her know I was coming to school to surprise her. The moment she saw me was priceless. She cried tears of joy and there was not a dry eye in the office. Timyra’s teacher took pictures and was very touched (this was the first time I met her) and the school was very supportive of me keeping her home. They just wanted to know when she would be back. Then we went over to Goddard School to pick up Timothy and Taylyn. We went to Timothy first, anticipating Taylyn would get very clingy. Timothy was very surprised and didn’t say a word he just gave me a hug and held on so tight and wouldn’t let go. When we went to Taylyn. When we first went in the room she ran and then just stopped, because she was so confused. She did walk up to me and touched my face to make sure I was real and not just a screen. She was still confused and gave Timyra a hug instead. Once she got over the confusion she warmed up and proceeded to hold onto me for most of the rest of the time I was home.
We spent the rest of the day at home enjoying each other. My mom made my favorite, lasagna, and my sister and her family came over for dinner. By 7pm I was exhausted and ready for bed. February 12th was probably the most emotional day of my life.
The following day, Tuesday, TJ and I went to see Hamilton. We left a little early so we could stop and get me fitted for my new bike and then we were off to our only date night for the year. Dinner was awesome and so was the show. I did find it funny that as we were trying to enter the theater there were so many people outside taking selfies we had to fight our way through the selfie mob to get in. All things I don’t see in Afghanistan (although selfies are taken, just not in mob format). TJ wore a sport coat I had made for him in Afghanistan and I wore a dress I had made. It was great to get out and enjoy each other! I loved every moment back with my partner. Life is just better when we’re together!
I did wake up the day after the show not feeling the best. I thought it was the food, I’m just not used to it anymore. I spent most of Wednesday in the bathroom, but tried really hard to pretend I felt fine. We had to pack and get ready for vacation and I was not going to waste even a second of my time at home. At this point the kids knew where we were going and were getting really excited. After packing and putting everyone to bed, I took an epsom salt bath and went to bed early. I woke up Thursday like a new person, but unfortunately now TJ had whatever I had the day before. He did a great job faking it like I did the day before. Of course as we’re driving to the airport, thank goodness we left a little early, we realize we left the tickets at home. We turned around and still made it to the airport with plenty of time. That is the beauty of flying out of Milwaukee, everything is quick. The flights went smoothly with no issues and we landed in Orlando at 8pm. We did have a transfer in Minneapolis. While we were waiting for our flight my kids found two other children to play with and they made up some game and passed the time playing with each other. While they were doing that, another family came into the seating area, they had 4 boys ranging in ages from approximately 18 months to twelve. The three older boys were walking through the airport with headphones attached to Ipads and were playing games or watching TV. My kids may have been making a little noise, but I was so happy to see them making friends, making up games, and not being literally tied to an Ipad. As a matter of fact, we brought the Ipad, but not once did we use it. Not even on the flights.
We spent the following nine days in Orlando. We were fortunate enough to stay at Shades of Green, the miliary Disney Resort that is part of the Magic Kingdom Resorts. The first night we did have to stay at the La Quinta by the airport, and I’ve been sleeping in some shady places over the last year, but this place was nasty. We told the kids to stay on the bed and not move. If you walked around with no shoes your feet turned black. We slept there, got up early and made our way to Shades of Green. So as not to bore you with details over the week we went to Blizzard Beach 3 days, one day each at Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Universal Studios. Our favorites were Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Both were not super crowded, we maximized our fast passes, stayed busy all day going from on thing to the next with little to no waiting, and we could all enjoy everything. This was my first time to Disney and I was impressed by how clean everything was. Overall it was an amazing week and a trip of a life time for all of us. The kids were over the moon and it was so special to get to spend the time together. It felt natural and just right to be there with them. Not once did we have a huge meltdown, everything just went smoothly, and we all enjoyed our well deserved vacation and recharge.
We flew back really late Friday night the 23rd and arrived in Milwaukee at midnight. Thankfully we all slept on the plane and it was only a two-hour flight with no layovers. When we got home everyone stayed sleeping. We were all exhausted from a week of vacation. On Saturday we had a few people over for lunch. It was nice to see a small sample of the people I’m missing this year. I apologize again if we didn’t get a chance to catch up. Be watching for an invite to a Celebration of Family and Friends Take II, which will be on September 2nd. If you’re reading this you’re invited! I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the day I come home and don’t have to leave again. It was comforting when I was home knowing that next year I won’t miss Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthdays. I know these next four months won’t be easy, and they may even be harder than the last nine, but the feeling of when I’m home again will make it all worth it.
TJ, my mom, and the kids are doing well and it was nice to see they have a routine and stability. I want to share something from the first night I was home. TJ and I were putting the kids to bed and they were saying their prayers. I always said prayers with the kids before bed, but TJ has taken it to another level. I was just so touched by what they say and the time they take each night to say thier prayers. Also Buddy has now turned into the resident prayer leader and he leads the meal prayers every night. I’m very proud of my family and what they are doing to stay strong.
On my last morning the weather was amazing. We took out the double jogging stroller for me and bikes for TJ’s and Timyra’s to go on a family run. We covered five and quarter miles stopping at two different parks along the way to play. The moment was so bittersweet. Those family moments are the most special to me. It was hard knowing it will be at least four months before we get to do it again. At least we were able to make that memory and we have that to hold onto until we are together again.
As I write this I am sitting in London’s Heathrow airport on a ten-hour layover waiting to fly to Kuwait. I was back Facebook chatting with the family and it almost started to feel like it did before. There were still a few tears, but I know once I’m back in Afghanistan the time will start to once again move quickly. I will be back with my friends there that helped me through the first nine months and busy getting ready for the Ironman.
This week has been the longest week I’ve had since I’ve been here. This week I’m working on getting home for my mid-depolyment leave. I have been gone for almost nine months and the time is going by a lot easier and quicker than I expected, but these last seven days have been torture.
My journey started on Sunday February 4th. It started out like any other Sunday for me in Afghanistan. I slept in a little. I enjoyed a coffee in my room while chatting with TJ on Facebook messenger. I went over to the gym and did my warmup run on a treadmill. Then I changed into the themed run of the day. This week we were celebrating Valentine’s Day early since I will be gone for actual Valentine’s Day. I wore heart butt leggings, a sparkly heart head-piece and the best part was my Hart Safe WI t-shirt! We had one or our largest groups and enjoyed our Luv 2 Run 5K which supported The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation which raises money to improve the quality of life for children battling pediatric brain tumors. We ended the run by eating Hostess Valentine treats rather than Oreos. I have a guilty confession to make, I actually enjoyed the Hostess cupcake I ate. I think that is truly a testimonial that I need to get home and eat real food again!
A friend of mine who I met while going through training to come to Afghanistan is now on a year-long deployment to Djibouti. She read about our virtual runs and wanted to join. She ran with us in Djibouti while we were in Afghanistan. They are only an hour and half behind us so it worked out perfectly. Although the weather in Djibouti is MUCH hotter than it is in Kabul. When we ran it was about 40 degrees. When Maria ran it was extremely hot and humid. She did awesome on her run with us, too bad she couldn’t join us for Hostess treats. She plans on running more of our runs and she requested our Run of the Dead.
After all the running I caught a helicopter to Bagram to start my journey home. There started the waiting game to Kuwait. I am lucky TJ’s cousin RJ is stationed there with the Air Force. He hooked me up with a nice room, so I had a great place to sleep while I waited. I went to his office movie night and we watched the new Jumanji. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. Although I would not watch it with children under the age of 13. He also helped me find a place to do laundry. This was the first load of laundry I I had done since June. I seriously forgot how to pour the soap into the washer, or at least I had to think about how to do it and where it should go! We ate together and he made sure I had what I needed while I was here. It was really nice to see family and I’m so thankful RJ was there to make the waiting a little less painful!
Bagram is not my favorite place to be, it’s just a little too Army for me. You have to wear your issued military PT (physical training) gear while working out. As we all know not working out is not an option for me so I sucked it up and wore my issued PT gear. After three days of wearing the same thing, it was so nasty it was standing up. (Again thankful for the laundry). My skin will chafe when I have quality workout gear, in my Navy PT gear both my left and right sides of my upper body were completely chaffed from the amazing fabric. Again no workout is not an option, so I sucked it up and used lotion afterwards (that burned a little too).
A bonus of Bagram is they have a functioning USO. I went most afternoons and used the internet and had a snack. I must have my daily popcorn. One evening they were hosting a churro night and they were practicing making them in the afternoon. When I was asked to be an official taste tester, of course I said yes.
After almost a week, I did finally make it to Kuwait. That was the final leg of flying military air. From here on out I fly commercial. The waiting game continues, but I am getting closer. Soon I will be able to squeeze my babies and it will make all this waiting worth it. In Kuwait I can wear civilian clothes all the time, and other than Christmas Eve, this is the first time I’ve worn jeans and put my hair down since June.
Even as I read over this post I started earlier in the week, it feels like so long ago I was in Kabul and soon I will be home. I know this trip will go too quickly and I won’t want to come back, but it’s still worth the journey. I will do my best to see people as I can, but please understand if we don’t get to say hi. I love and care for all of you deeply, but my babies need me too! TJ and I have planned A Celebration of Family and Friends, Part II. We will be hosting all of you on September 2nd to continue the party started last April. If you’re reading this, of course you’re invited. We will once again have Spotted Cow and this time we’re doing a pig roast!
I probably won’t write while I’m home, but I’ll give you all an update of all the fun we had when I’m on my journey back!
I feel like I have written on a topic similar to this many times, but it just seems to keep coming up which means it’s not getting old and I should continue to write about it. Everything you do has an effect on the people around you. For every action you take there are unintended consequences on your world and these consequences can be good or bad.
Last week in the gym after I finished one of my many workouts, someone came up to me and asked what I was training for. I had never spoken to him before and had only seen him a few times in the gym. He said he noticed me biking and running often and was curious why I was putting in all this effort. We chatted for a few minutes about my training and he told me about how much he enjoys road cycling back home. I didn’t want to talk too long because I was on the edge of super nasty and sweating and didn’t want to gross him out. However we chatted some and shared a few training thoughts and were on our way. My intention that day in going to the gym was to get my workout in, but unintentionally I met someone new and shared some training advice!
Two of my co-workers, Sarah and Yam, encountered an unintended consequence a few days ago. They went to the dining facility for lunch. When they left they took milks with them to store in our office refrigerator for future use. Now the coolers in the dining facility are clearly marked stating each diner is only allowed to take two drinks with them when they leave. After lunch they were on a post meal walk when by surprise the IMPs (International Military Police), pulled them over on their walk. They were asked to show their milks. After a quick count of milks vs. personnel the IMPs discovered they had five milks and there were only two of them. They were one milk over their quota. They were sternly reminded of the rule. We take our milk very seriously here, make sure you are not caught carrying one too many or you will be pulled over by the police in a very threatening John Deere Gator.
When I first got here, the military has a tradition of doing something called hails and farewells. What we do here is each week on Thursday evenings we introduce any new people who came over the last week and say good bye to anyone who will be leaving over the next week. For my hail they mentioned I would be training for an Ironman while I’m here. After the hail, a British Marine Sean Brady (that is not a typo), came up to me and started talking training. He’s done one Ironman before. Our conversations started with biking and he introduced me to Trainer Road, the app I now use for all my bike training. I am very thankful he introduced me to Trainer Road. It has given me a structured program to improve me biking, a great unintended consequence. After a few weeks of chatting, he decided he was going to train for an Ironman as well. For him an unintended consequence of our meeting was motivating him to do his second Ironman. He is racing in July in Britain.
Now that he is training for an Ironman he needs to swim to coincide with his biking and running. Since my arrival I’ve been going over to the U.S. Embassy to take advantage of their pool. Only U.S. citizens are allowed over to the U.S. Embassy, so starting back in November Sean and I started swimming together on Tuesdays and Thursdays over the lunch hour. He pushed me to swim faster and what I’m? saying is actually trying to swim. Prior to that I was just getting in the pool and putting in meters. I didn’t actually try to swim well with any kind of speed, my unintended consequence of our swims together. This last Thursday was our last swim together. I leave, God willing, on Sunday to start traveling home (there is no quick way in and out of Afghanistan), and when I come back he will be back in Britain with his family.
About once a month at church I do one of the readings. There is a very kind older U.S. civilian here who coordinates who will do the readings. Last week he asked me to read and in the email asking me to read he mentioned that last time I read my reading I inspired another girl to volunteer to read. Never when I said yes to read did I think that just standing up there and reading would give someone else the courage to do the same. I was just reading with no other motives and unintentionally motivated someone else.
On Friday, February 2nd the base hosted a 5k called the Frozen 5k (I italicize 5k because as usual the course was short). So there was actually a race, not just a Darchelle made up fun run. I still dressed up and wore green snowflake leggings with a pajama top I already had featuring a snowman! The combination was perfect for a Frozen 5k. The crazy fast lady from the U.S. Embassy didn’t come over and run so I took first place for females. I won a pedicure and full body massage, so certainly worth a run. After the run I changed and did my last long bike ride before my vacation. On vacation I will certainly still workout, but nowhere near as much!
Bottom line this week is I want to encourage all of you to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to be you. You are unintentionally influencing those around just by being the awesome you that you are. You are making a difference in other people’s lives and leaving them with unintentional consequences. Just make an effort that you are leaving them with positive consequences!
I left home on June 4th and spent a week in Norfolk, VA finishing up my paperwork for my mobilization to Afghanistan. That week in June was the last time I wore a Navy Uniform. On Sunday June 11th I put on an Army uniform to start training and eventually, on July 4th, I landed in Afghanistan. The entire time dressed up like a soldier. My Army uniform does say U.S. Navy on it, but it’s a small little strip on a uniform of Army camouflage.
Where I ‘m stationed in Afghanistan we have a Navy Admiral stationed here with us. Back in September, she lobbied to allow it so we could wear our Navy camouflage uniform. She gained permission for us to wear our Navy uniform, but only on Fridays, and as long as we stayed here on our base. It was a small win, but a huge victory. Starting on the Navy’s birthday in October we could wear our new Navy green camouflage. The unfortunate part of this story is, I didn’t have one. Prior to October 1st the only Sailors who had the Navy green camouflage were Sailors who had previously deployed to a land unit outside of the Middle East. I had only deployed on ships and I am currently standing in the Middle East, so no uniform for me. Now the Admiral was able to get the Sailors who entered country after me their uniform issued, so they had it when they arrived. All of this is great for them, but I still don’t have a uniform.
Now the logical thing would be just to buy one, which I would have done if I could have. Unfortunately on October 1st the entire Navy, not just the land deployed sailors, were switching over to the green Navy camouflage. The blue camouflage uniform was replaced with the green camouflage and the Navy is back ordered as they roll out the new uniform to the entire Fleet. So I did what any smart Naval Officer would do, I asked a Chief.
From the beginning of my career in the Navy there has always been a Chief supporting me. When I was a division officer on the USS Essex there was a BMC (Chief Boatswain’s Mate) who made me look good when I certainly had no idea what I was doing. He was there for me allowing me to work on my Surface Warfare qualification, yet gave me the liberty to work on my leadership skills and create my leadership style. My first ship with my first Chief was where my professional career as an adult began.
After two years I transferred to my second ship, a much smaller and very different ship. Now I have my warfare qualification and my focus here is to run my division. I also wanted to obtain my engineering officer of the watch qualification. I was the repair division officer and this time I didn’t have a chief directly working for me, but I did have four highly motivated first class petty officers all wanting to make chief. They were awesome and made my job easy. We had our challenges with inspections, qualifications, deployments, and actual casualties, but through it all we worked tirelessly and persevered. I was fortunate enough to be there when one of those first classes made chief and I was honored to be at his pinning. I also did qualify as an engineering officer of the watch and stood that watch for an entire deployment. I have to thank a very patient GSCS (Senior Chief Gas Turbine Systems Technician) who taught me how to stand that watch. He made sure I was ready for my qualification board and for standing watch by myself.
Fast forward to my days as a reservist, six years ago a met a highly motivated First Class Petty Officer LS1 (Logistics Specialist) Wells. We have been drilling from the same unit since 2012. I sent her packages while she was on her deployment to Djibouti, Africa in 2014. I was there with her when she pinned on Chief Petty Officer in 2015. We were there for each other through our drill weekends and weeks of annual training. She even came over and did Timyra’s hair for her dance recital (she needed a bun and who better to help) when I was stuck at work and then watched Timothy so TJ could take Timyra to her dance recital rehearsal. I will never forget the weekend she came to help with dinner after I had surgery and just needed an extra hand, or the drill weekend she watched all three of the kids so I wouldn’t miss my urinalysis (which would have kicked me out of the Navy) because TJ unexpectedly got called into work and I had no one to watch them!
So I knew who to ask when I needed a uniform I couldn’t buy, My Chief. LSC (Chief Logistics Specialist) Wells boxed up one of her uniforms she wore in Djibouti back in 2014 and sent it my way. She even sent me my name tapes and rank insignia. I was overjoyed when the packaged arrived. I am proud to say LSC Rachel Wells saved the day. I would expect nothing less from a Navy Chief, especially the one I call mine. They are always taking care of their officers. I would never go anywhere without one. Naval Officers NEED their CHIEFS!
We also did another 10K run on Friday. This time we did the We Can Do It! Run. This run raises money for the charity Family Lives On which provides ongoing support tools for children who have suffered the loss of a parent. The race medal included “Rosie the Riveter” and has a wine cork attached, which I think is a great added bonus. It was a small group, but we enjoyed our 10K! As always great company and another day closer to home!
We all have those special people in our lives that are there for us no matter what. They will send you their old uniforms for you to wear (thank goodness we’re the same size) and be there for you for all these crazy requests. Thank you to all the Chiefs in my life, I couldn’t do it without you.
Last year, 2017, was the “Year of the Pause”. This was how I started this blog. I was leaving home and needed to take a pause from my life back in the States to have another one with the Army in Afghanistan. Of course life continued without me after I left; I just wasn’t part of it. I was pausing my involvement at home, while everything kept moving forward. When I officially started this journey on June 4th of 2017, I had no idea what was about to happen, however, I embraced the change and I’m making the best of every moment I’m away.
I am deeming 2018, “Iron-Year”. This is the year I become an Ironman, like the shirt my sister made me for my birthday. This is also the year I come home and reunite with my family and friends. I will once again be part of my Iron-Family I left behind. We won’t have to do life separately, but we will be together once again. A strong Iron-Team.
To celebrate and start my Iron-Year I decided to once again create my own triathlon. I will Stop Pausing, and Start Moving. On the first Sunday of January, I did a half-Iron-Woman (since I made it up I can make up the name too) by myself indoors. I wonder if that has ever been done before in Afghanistan? I was very causal about the entire made up event. I started by walking over to the pool and swimming 1900 meters in a 17 meter pool, which is 55.88 laps. I had to over achieve by a few meters since I wasn’t going to stop at 0.88 of a lap. After the swim, I did a full wardrobe change. I just wore my swimming suit and not a tri-suit so I had to change. I even rinsed off in the shower. There was a local Afghan lady cleaning the women’s locker room and she helped me put my sports bra on over my damp back. We don’t speak the same language and I’m not sure she even knows what a sports bra is, but she could see there was a real struggle going on between me and my bra. Have you ever tried to put a sports bra on while you’re wet? You may never win that fight! I almost felt like I was in transition, known as T1, and the volunteers were helping me through.
After my costume change which included real bike shorts, not the semi-padded tri-bike shorts, I wandered over to the gym to get on the bike. I even stopped along the way to grab a coffee and I sipped that while walking. I told you I wasn’t taking this too seriously. So for the bike, the program I am currently following had me doing a three hour and fifteen minute ride, so I decided to just incorporate that into this half-Iron-Woman adventure. I used the bike to practice some different forms of nutrition and hydration. Oh and hydrate I did. I almost didn’t make it to the bathroom after the ride. My bladder was exploding, and remember I’ve had three kids (this could have gotten embarrassing quickly), however I did make it in time! I did end up having to overachieve on the bike as well. I reached 56 miles at about three hours, but with a three hour and fifteen minute ride scheduled I wasn’t going to come that close and be called a quitter. I was really touched when about half-way through the ride my friend Sarah came over to check on me. She even brought me some running jelly beans, which I did use on the run. Another friend of mine, Chris, stopped by to see if I needed anything. I had only about three minutes left when he arrived, and all I could think about was getting to the bathroom and of course he couldn’t help me with that.
After a much needed bathroom break, I changed from my bike clothes to my running clothes. Again normally you are in tri-shorts and there is no need to change, but I had on real bike shorts and no one wants to run with that padding between their legs. I grabbed a carbohydrate drink, some water, and the jelly beans Sarah so kindly brought me and jumped on my favorite treadmill to knock out a half marathon. I love running and always look forward to it. So far, my nutrition and hydration were on point and there was no pressure so I really enjoyed the run. I even got my favorite Life Fitness treadmill in the gym. I have a view of the outside, not that there is much to see, and a few TVs within viewing range for added distraction.
I finished the half-Ironman strong and I really enjoyed my day of exercise. There were so many things that were nothing like a real race, but I still learned a lot and put in some quality mileage. I listened to music the entire time on the bike and while I was running. I rode a bike inside and ran on a treadmill. I did full wardrobe changes after each event, all things that won’t happen on the day of a real event.
Last Sunday we had another one of our virtual runs. We did a Remember the Fallen run. This run was especially near and dear to our hearts. Instead of our typical 5K, we decided to push ourselves a little farther and ran a 10K. We still ran at a chit chatty pace, but put in a few more miles. For one of our runners, Brandon, this was his longest run since college. When finished we celebrated with red velvet Oreos.
I’m excited to start my Iron-Year. I can’t wait until my Iron-Family is back together permanently.