On Wednesday June 28th we were scheduled to leave Baltimore on a Rotator at 0030. A Rotator is a commercial flight only for military personnel and their families. As most air travel goes, we didn’t end up leaving Baltimore until 0330. At this point I had already been up for 22 hours. My friend Mariale who I met at NIACT gave me Emergen-ZZZZZ. It was amazing.
Once I took the melatonin I didn’t even remember taking off. I only opened my eyes when the flight attendant woke me for dinner. At least I think dinner. Over these last days I’m not sure what meal I’m eating or if I should be sleeping or working out. After a 7 hour flight we landed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. At this point all the families left the plane. The remainder of us on our way to the Middle East deplaned while they fueled the plane and changed out the crew.
While in the Ramstein terminal something interesting happened. We arrived at 1700 local time. We were in the terminal for about 2 and half hours. When I left the plane my Garmin told me I was only at about 900 steps for the day. I decided to take the time we had to walk around. Mind you this terminal is only 2 gates and I was weaving through rows of seats like Pac-Man. As I walked people started to join me. We continued to walk until we had to re-board. At one point we had as many at 7 Sailors snaking through the limited space. I even managed to reach my step goal of 12K. I had to make the most of my time since a workout was not possible due to travel. I really was surprised that others joined me and very happy to share my steps with them. I almost felt like I was teaching again. This was the closest I’ve come to leading group exercise since I left.
We left Ramstein that evening and were off to Kuwait. I used my melatonin to sleep on that flight as well. We arrived in Kuwait early morning prior to sun rise. The temperature was already 102 degrees fahrenheit even without the sun. There was something unsettling about stepping off the plane in Kuwait. There is so much history there. Arriving in Kuwait really made this trip start to feel real. I had officially arrived in the Middle East in a country the United States had fought a war.
We left Kuwait after only an hour and it was a short flight to Qatar. Once in Qatar my boots on ground counter started. I can say as of June 29th my 365 days started. That feeling is amazing. By landing in Qatar in June I qualify as tax-free for the month of June. Shortly after arriving I made my first Middle Eastern country cultural error. I handed a Qatar native my military ID with my left hand. I was then told very sternly to use my right hand. You have to use your right hand for everything and trust me I won’t make that mistake again. All Middle Eastern countries find the left hand insulting because it is thought of as the hand that wipes your butt. And to think I’m left-handed.
I will stay in Qatar until there is a military flight available to finish the trip to Afghanistan. Fortunately I will be here for about 4 days. While I’m here I have nothing to do but sleep and workout. I am calling this my mini vacation. The heat here is no joke. The days reach close to 120 degrees and are so dry you feel like your head is in an oven. In the shower today I had the water on cold and it took at least three minutes to get cool enough just to stand under. There is a pool and I am taking advantage. Although it’s so hot the water feels like bath water and when I turn my head to breath I choke.
Soon I will be at my final destination, until then I’m going to pretend I’m on vacation.
This morning we got on a bus in Columbia, South Carolina and started our way to Baltimore, Maryland. Once we get to Baltimore we are waiting to get on a commercial military flight. Our flight leaves this evening at 0030. This next leg of the trip will take approximately 72 hours. Those 72 hours only gets us to Qatar. Afghanistan will be a whole another adventure. I will tell you all about it once it is complete. I’m sure I look sad in the photo, and I was. They have a USO here and they let me read to the kids and video tape myself, and all the tough face I’ve had melted away.
Now until I can give you a recap of the entire journey I just want to take the time to write a few positive notes about my upcoming year. If you feel some sarcasm you may not be wrong.
I will never have to decide on an outfit. I will either be in my Army uniform with Navy badges or workout clothes. Nothing else is authorized.
Everything I brought with me fits in 2 pieces of luggage, which means organization will be a breeze.
I will be wearing no makeup. In full disclosure I didn’t even pack any so I have not worn any since June 3rd. So now all the people of Afghanistan will know I have no eye brows.
I only packed sports bras, so complete comfort at all times. Don’t worry about cross contamination. I have one set for wearing to work and one set for working out.
My laundry will be taken care of. Nothing better than to have a stranger washing your under garments.
I have two new best friends, 9mm and M4. I need better names for these friends, but they are still growing on me and I’m not ready to bring the relationship to the next level!
Workout, workout, workout! That will be my cheer. Keeps me distracted and normal.
I will have the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends Plus there are always those characters that just keep you laughing!
Facebook messenger will be the best way to get a hold of me. I will do my best to answer and keep in touch.
And last but certainly not least, I have the opportunity to write this blog. I really enjoy writing these and I love having you read them. This has been very therapeutic for me and I hope you continue to follow along my journey. I’ve surprised myself at how much I’ve enjoyed writing these!
So until next time I’m just another piece of luggage on a long flight to my final stop for the next 365 days!
When I first envisioned this post I was going to write about all the cool Army training we received over the 17 days we were here. Then yesterday I wanted to write and just give you all a pity party. Well I was too tired to finish writing last night and today I decided to change again. What I realized over those two days was as long as I have something to look forward to I can get through the not so pleasant stuff. I needed a lot of personal strength to get through this last week and if I could predict the future I will need it the entire time I’m gone.
The featured picture for this post “The Shit At The End Of The Rainbow” truly sums up NIACT (Navy Individual Augmentee Combat Training Center). I took that picture while running here one evening.
Sleeping arrangements: I am sleeping with 33 of my closest female friends ranking from E4 to O4, and the O4 happens to be me, the senior female. I maybe the senior female, but this is an expeditionary unit and rank matters a lot less. When I first arrived they had me in the male berthing which made me the last to show up to a first come first serve rack picking. I ended up on a top rack by the door under a flourescent light. So not ideal!
Weapons Training: Each day starts around 0400. The mornings we usually spent at the range shooting . We shot the Navy 9mm Hand Gun Qualification Table 1 and 3. I shot a 204 which qualified me as a Sharpshooter (not as proficient as it sounds). For the M4 we shot group and zero, BRM (Basic Rifle Marksmanship) 8, 9, and then qualified on the M4. We also did a barrier exercise with the M4s. On our last day at the range we shot large weapons. I would also like to mention that we shot all of this in full battle gear.
Army Familiarization: The rest of the time we had other Army familiarization training. We did Communications, CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiolagical, and Nuclear), IED (Improvised Explosive Devices), Unexploded Ordinance, Combat First Aid, Survival Training, Cultural Awareness, Convoy Operations, Room Clearing, Humvee Roll Over (we actually rolled the Humvee and had to get out), and Land Navigation. After weapons cleaning the classroom and practical time usually went until 1800.
Evenings: I did manage to squeeze in a workout each evening. I looked forward to it and helped keep some normalcy. I needed my workout therapy. Then it was off to bed by 2200 to start all over again.
Those were the 17 days we spent at NIACT in a nut shell. I would also like to add that everything here is taught by Army Drill Instructors. They certainly don’t treat us like Army recruits, but they do add something to the atmosphere. They were always professional and extremely knowledgeable. I qualified to shoot an M4, and that certainly took some patience on everyone’s part.
So to come full circle. By mid-week the second week I was simple tired of getting up at 0400 and sleeping in open bay barracks. I was looking forward to June 27th when I leave, but that dream was quickly shattered. When I received my travel brief I found out my next leg of travel starts with a 10 hour bus ride to Baltimore to wait in an airport until there is a rotator (military flight out of a commercial airport) that will eventually take us to Qatar. No one can even tell us when the rotator will be ready to take us, so we wait in the terminal until we leave. What I was looking forward to sounded worse than what I was living in. Is it too much to ask for a bed? So for this weekends liberty I decided to get a room out in Columbia. Once I made that decision and had something to look forward to my mood changed. Everything just seemed easier. I learned this week that this year is going to be a lot of ups and downs, but as long as I have something to look forward to I can keep my head up and complete the mission!
After my last post I started to think more about what it takes to be strong. I started by looking up a definition. Webster defines it in 2 ways:
Having the power to move heavy weights or perform other physically demanding tasks.
Able to withstand great force or pressure.
I see the 1st as physically strong and the 2nd as mentally strong. I truly believe both play an equal role in what I am going to call PERSONALLY strong.
So how do you find this personal strength? How can one become personally strong? I know everyone has personal strength, they just need to know how to find it. I started thinking about times when I was perceived as having strength and how did I develop my personal strength. I realized that when I’m put in a situation that requires strength I know what I need to do to make sure I come out stronger than when I started. I realized my strength came from my ability to be self-aware. I know what it takes to keep me physically and mentally strong at all times.
I know that no matter what is going on, if I have these 3 things I will be strong enough to get through and even come out stronger in the end:
I can communicate with my loved ones.
I get to workout.
I eat my broccoli and kale.
These all may seem simple, but simple makes it’s easier. As I go through these weeks missing my family, living out of a suit case, wearing an Army Uniform labeled U.S. Navy, and having to carry my m4 rifle and 9mm handgun everywhere I have to stay strong. I do this by staying self-aware and keeping myself personally strong. (I promise I will get more into the m4 rifle and 9mm handgun later. We haven’t started weapons training yet and I’m still getting used to the fact that I will have to carry these things with me until I get back next year.)
I challenge you to look into yourself and become self-aware. You need to understand what it is in you that will get you to PERSONALLY strong. If you are prepared with your PERSONALLY strong tactics you can get through anything! We are all much stronger than we even know. What I am doing right now doesn’t make me stronger than anyone else. I just have the self-awareness to stay PERSONALLY strong and you have the ability to do the same. You just need to find it!
When I left Chicago on June 4th I separated my transition to real (getting to Afghanistan) into 3 steps.
Get on the airplane and leave Chicago.
Get on the bus to Fort Jackson in South Carolina.
Get on the commercial flight that will eventually land me in Afghanistan.
My last week was spent doing normal Navy things in normal Navy places. The first step in my transition to real. The week was rather uneventful and allowed for time to rest, workout, and to get done any last minutes things before the adventure became more real. Last week was a stepping stone in getting closer to the reality of this next year. On the other hand at home, there were no steps to real. The minute I got out of the car at the airport they were in 100% real deployment status. Where I was only at 33%. Sleep is at a premium at home. If anyone has a suggestion on how to get a stubborn 2 year who is angry and confused to sleep, I’m sure your advice would be welcomed. They may even be willing to just give her up for a while. The queen of stubborn is pictured below after 3 nights of no sleep and well on her way to making it 4.
This morning at 0600 I started step 2. I made sure to get up early and get a 4 mile run in prior to our 6 hour bus ride. Before we left, the American Legion was kind enough to bring us doughnuts and wish us farewell. I made sure to get a picture with them. This whole experience has really touched me to the core. I am proud to get the opportunity to serve my great country in this capacity. The brave men and women of the American Legion who came today served at a time when our service men and women were not honored. They were shunned. It means a lot to me for them to come early, feed us, greet us, and send us on our way with honor. I know we will be welcomed home the same way instead of spit on and scorned. They are the ones we should be thanking. I image it is much easier to leave when there is support not shame.
I was given 2 necklaces before I left. One my latitude and longitude to my home from Brittney Kieres. She wants to make sure I don’t forget my way home. The other is a locket from the Neal Family. I have been wearing the lat and long necklace every second since I left. The locket I didn’t feel comfortable having on in uniform, but I’ve kept it safe and decided to wear it today for the first time. It’s like I’m adding a new reminder as I get closer to real.
With all of this I have been lucky enough to put my feet in the water, then jump in, and soon I’ll have to swim. Until then I’m going to enjoy the next 3 weeks where someone will tell me what to do and when to do it. I will be sure to give you a full update when the time is right. As for having to swim, I’m not going to think about that until I have to actually put my goggles on, put my face in the water and start the strokes. One step at a time. For TJ and Mom who have been doing the front crawl for a week now, THANK YOU! I know for you it will only get better and for me well, let’s hope I remember my rhythmic breathing and can stay calm and swim to the finish line as I approach 100% REAL!
I had a plan for the first post after I left, but once I got to Norfolk I changed my mind. Don’t worry I will share those thoughts another time.
First of all I have to send my love back home. I am floored at how amazing my family and friends are. I know that I have nothing to worry about. I truly have a village helping at home. I will write more about that in another post, but please know I am sincerely honored to have all of you in my life. You love me so much and are certainly playing your part to support this mission!
What I really want is to reminisce on how this journey started. I arrived here in Norfolk, VA on June 4th 2017 as Lieutenant Commander Caces to start my in processing, get my Army uniforms, and finish last admin before I leave the country. What I realized is that this same week in 2002 I also arrived in Norfolk as Midshipman 3rd Class Rueden to start my frist ROTC summer. If I could go back and tell that young lady you will be back in this same place in 15 years on your way to Afghanistan. I would have laughed. I would believe I was happily married, had 3 kids, ran 15 marathons, was working for a fitness company, while training for an Ironman, living in Chicago, but Navy NO! I planned to get through my 4 years I owed post college and then get out as fast as I could. What I didn’t know then was that the Navy would become a part of me I just could never let go. The thing that nags at you, yet you love and can never get rid of. Truthfully the Navy is where I learned to be an adult. I learned to be confident. I pushed myself and did things I could have only experienced being here. I have pride in this work and as awful as the separation is, I need to go and give back to an organization that shaped my adult being.
Today I ran on the base reliving a route I ran all those years ago. It felt good to see something so familiar and unchanged and know that this is still part of me.
Yet so much has changed in 15 years. Yesterday I did my HIIT workout in my room. Or as some call it my evil workouts. It felt good to do a workout so failure, yet it made me miss what I left behind.
I challenge you all to look back on what has shaped you and be honest. Are you the person you thought you would be? Are you challenging yourself? I just got a call from TJ and he is out running with the kids pushing the double jogger. Certainly an example of someone who is pushing himself outside of his comfort zone to make himself better and keep himself busy. I am proud.
I am exactly who I want to be. I said yes to the Navy and learned to be more than I thought I could. I’m happy with how things turned out. I hope you can say the same.
This being the week before I leave, I’m calling it the week of too. Too much everything. First of all I can’t believe what an amazing group of people I work with. I’ve never felt so loved by such a great group. You inspire me and let me do what I love everyday. I need to thank my coworkers I call friends: Mike for putting together an awesome return party; Julie for giving me the books for the kids and the photo book; Ken for the shots, champagne, and taking care of my runs; Brittney for the awesome necklace; Tina for the touching saying and giving out my hugs; Jamie for the cd and hat; James, Andy, Christina, and Brandon for keeping my class going.
The emotions this week are just too much. 14 months away from a 2, 4, and 6 year old is a very long time. We’re staying positive and making memories. My kids are strong and this will only make them stronger. I am extremely proud to be their mom. I’m leaving them in the hands of my mom and she did great raising her own girls. Just keep them busy!
TJ and I were fortunate enough to get away for a few days to just enjoy and relax.
So I’m just getting through the next week until I leave. I’m really not looking forward to the last 48 hours! Staying strong, getting through the week of TOO!
As you know Uncle Sam called me back to active duty military service. I will be away in Afghanistan for a year. I am calling this the year of the PAUSE. There were times in my life when I would have welcomed a change or a reset. However there is nothing in my life right now that I want to change. I love my family, my husband is amazing, the kids are incredible, and I truly enjoy my job. I don’t want to leave any of it. Then the more I thought about it maybe this is the right time to leave. When you are stable and can handle the disruption, that maybe the reason I have to go. I am taking the spot of someone who’s family would crumble under the pressure. I know we will not.
So I’ve started this blog. I am warning you, I’ve never blogged before. I just thought this would be a great way to keep those who want to know informed. I also want to use this space to share workouts and encouraging moments. So if you want to know how things are going stay tuned will do my best to keep this up to date.