Thursday, January 15, 2009

I miss...

Barring the obvious things, like family, friends, etc, I've compiled a short list of the things I miss the most about the United States. I have found these things to be lacking pretty much everywhere I've traveled outside of the United States (excluding Canada, which is basically the same as the US. Don't say that to them though, because they really hate it), and what's more, they are things that can't really be shipped, so you truly do have to be in the US to enjoy them.

Things I miss:

1. Milk
Cold, plain, real, non-UHT (that's the milk that is boiled and sealed so it can last for three months unrefrigerated on the shelf, cow's milk.

2. Real Showers
Two words: Water pressure! Actually those words could also be "hot water", or "clean water", or "consistent water", or any number of different pairs of words to describe what I have found lacking in other countries when I've taken showers. I still have a scar on my foot from where electricity exited my body from touching an electric shower head in Brazil. In the war zone you almost always have to walk a distance to get to the showers from your living space, which if the temperature is below freezing and you are still wet from the shower, it can be a very uncomfortable walk. It's also hard to bring all of your clothes to the shower as well, so you usually are in just your shorts, flip-flops, and a T-shirt.

3. Real Toilets
The US is the only country that seems to take their toilets seriously. I ask a question of you other countries: "What the...?" In Brazil you can't flush toilet paper in the toilet, so they have a trash can next to the toilet to put the paper in. In Afghanistan we have "the shelf". Don't ask.

4. Carpet
Bare feet. No worries. Enough said.

5. Consistent power
Power out here is also consistent. Consistently unreliable.

7. Real Milk
Worth mentioning twice.

8. Grass
They have grass out here but they usually roll it up and light it on fire to inhale the smoke.

9. Washer/Dryer in your house
I know that even a lot of Americans don't have this, but the difference is, they CAN.

10. Drinkable water
You can only bottled water as an American in most other countries. I can't wait, no more getting all the way to the bathroom and realize that you forgot your bottled water for brushing your teeth.

There's a lot of cool things to enjoy when you go to another country, but there are some things that are so nice to come home to!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Greatest Gift

I know it's long after Christmas now, but I feel like I would dishonor an experience I had if I didn’t tell the story. Having said that, I don’t know if I will blog for a few days after this post. All of the things I wanted to say in my other recent posts have sort of led up to this one, and I don’t know if I will want to say much for a while afterward. The reason is that the experience I am about to describe is one I will compare to a moving piece of music or an amazing film. It’s one of those that no one claps after and there is just respectful silence. I wouldn't want to lessen this experience or detract from it by moving on to another topic so soon without giving proper attention and time to the subject. This post is about the greatest gift I got this year.


Bombs were falling instead of snowflakes on Christmas Eve for me this year. Thankfully it wasn’t an attack or anything, but just the regular runs on our aerial gunnery range where the pilots do their practice runs. The familiar hollow sounding explosions of the bombs could be heard as we played Christmas music on my iPod in our team’s office. We were talking about watching a Christmas movie that evening and planning some small festivities in honor of the season and trying to decide what would be the best way to celebrate Christmas in a war zone.


As we chatted, laughed, and ate treats we’d gotten in care packages, we were interrupted by the base loudspeaker. The announcement was that there would be a fallen comrade ceremony that evening. We stopped laughing and just kind of looked at each other for a minute before we quietly went on about our work. “Today of all days”, I thought to myself. Couldn’t we get a break from this for just one evening? I felt bad for thinking it, but I admit that I wondered why they decided to push it for that evening and didn’t wait until a day or two had passed so that everyone could more fully enjoy the holiday.


The day wore on and the time came for the ceremony. We silently went out to the main road where the vehicle carrying the fallen soldier would come by on its way to the airstrip. It was an especially cold evening, which made the mood all the more somber.


As I stood there in the cold, I took a deep breath and thought about my family. I missed home. It’s was my son’s first Christmas and I wouldn’t be there. It would also be the first Christmas that my daughter has been able to really talk and I was missing it. Most of all, I wouldn’t be able to be near my dearest loved one, my sweet wife.


I stamped my foot and shivered until the vehicle carrying the fallen soldier finally came into view. As usual, the crowd silently went to a position of attention. As the vehicle neared each person, they raised a salute and held it until the vehicle was out of their sight. From my vantage point I could see the vehicle come around the last bend and go all the way up to the flight line before it was out of sight, so I had more time to take the whole scene in.


Once the fallen soldier was out of sight, I swallowed hard with a little bit of emotion, dropped my salute, and turned to leave with the rest of the crowd. As I turned to leave, I glanced up and met the gaze of one of the New Zealand soldiers. We held gazes for a moment and then he pursed his lips and nodded in respect, as if to offer his condolences for our fallen countryman. I nodded back in appreciation and went my way, walking past many of our coalition brothers and sisters who also gave friendly nods and Christmas greetings. Even some of my comrades who are Muslim gave me a warm Christmas greeting that evening in respect for our celebration of Christmas.


On a little side note, I’m sure you already know, but Christ wasn’t born in December. No shepherds watch their flocks by night out in the fields in the winter. Christ was born in the spring, which is also when He died. What a symbolic thing that was. The two greatest life-giving events that ever occurred, and ever will occur, both happened in the season where life begins: Spring.


Since its beginning, the celebration of Christmas has become many things. Sadly, only a portion of those many things is the celebration of Christ’s birth. With so many other things going on, like the stresses of getting people presents, old guys running around in fuzzy red suits, busy schedules, parties, etc., it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christmas to certain degrees. That meaning was once again refreshed to me on that cold Christmas Eve.


The true celebration of Christmas is not even just a celebration of Christ’s birth, but His whole life. In John 15:13 it says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Many people think this verse is just about dying for others. I think that more than that, this verse is about living for others. Another name for this is service. That is what service is: laying down your own life, your own wants, your own needs, your own time, for others. Missionaries lay down their own lives for two years to serve others, which is why a mission is called a labor of love. Any time we serve others, we show the greatest love of all, which is charity, or the pure love of Christ.


I think the best part of Christmas time, even in spite of all of the business and chaos (or even war), is that it’s a time when we actually practice what we preach more than any other time of the year. We show brotherly kindness, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and preach peace on earth and goodwill toward man.


A wonderful example of this is the Christmas Truce (click to read about it) of 1914, during World War I. The unofficial truce was called on Christmas Eve and continued on through Christmas day and even escalated into games and gift exchanges. A beautiful song called “Belleau Wood” was written about this event (I encourage you to look up the lyrics or the song if you have never heard it). Coincidentally American Forces Network Radio was turned on and was playing that song as I sat and pondered over the events of the evening.


The scene of the fallen comrade ceremony stuck with me the rest of the evening, through all of our other little festivities, and up until the time that I was alone in my little section of our living quarters, getting ready to go to sleep. I thought about the soldier and how his family must be feeling to get such a call on Christmas Eve. Did he have a wife and kids? Who did he leave behind? Tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes as I thought about how grateful I was for my family and for my safety so far during my time in the two war zones I’ve passed through.


It was then as I was pondering in the darkness that I finally realized what the greatest gift was that I had received this year, or any year: Life. I was so grateful and all of a sudden realized how appropriate it was to have the fallen comrade ceremony on Christmas Eve. That soldier gave us all the greatest gift he could. He gave his life so that others may live, and even more than that be free, which is the same thing that Christ did for us. Now and forever, that reminder of what Christmas is really about will be etched into my memory. It’s about selflessness, service, freedom, and most of all, the precious gift of life.


As you remember back on your holidays, or reflect upon your blessings, I encourage you to also think about our fallen brother that made the ultimate sacrifice on a cold Christmas Eve in Afghanistan. He gave up his greatest gift so that we could keep ours, and we can sleep in our beds tonight safe and warm because of those like him that gave all to serve and protect us. May we honor them by remembering, and may we remember them by honoring our greatest gift and investing that gift in others… just like they did.

The Taste of War

Yes, three posts in three days. A new record! Back when I was a consistent blogger I would usually leave several days to a week between posts so that it had time to hang out there for people to read and comment on. Well, I guess I'm not blogging as much with that end in mind. I just for some reason now feel that I want to speak. Kind of a boring blog in that way. No pictures, just my ramblings. I’ll rectify that in future posts, but I think that in this one, I’ll just put down my thoughts.


I think that I haven't blogged in such a long time because haven't know what to say if I were to say something. Also, much of what was on my mind I didn't want to say. To say he least, it has been a strange time in my life for the past several years, and a time with many transitions, the latest of which has taken me once again to war.


The comment was made "I can't imagine life being normal in any way out there." In some ways it is, in most ways it's not. This post is about the taste of war.


Of course "the taste of war" is relative to the person experiencing it. To some it is sweet and is a time of adventure and gain. To some it is bitter and it is a time that they see as a waste and can't see anything to gain in their situation. For me it is both.


Before I digress though, let me go back to the ways it is normal out here and the ways it isn't. I sat and thought for a minute to try to think of normal, and admittedly I'm stumped actually. I was thinking that even though it is so different there are some tastes of "familiarity" that add a dash of normalcy to life. On my base we have a Pizza Hut, a Popeye's Chicken, two Dairy Queens, to Green Bean's Coffee Shops, and a few other things you can find at home. That's pretty normal, right? Well, I discovered that the thing that makes life so weird is when the normal things are different.


When I lived in Brazil, there was a lot of "new" things that were different. For one, everything was written in Portuguese. There was a few different cultural things, to include clothing styles and such, but the weirdest thing that screamed, "You are in a strange land" came from familiar places. An example is when went to a Pizza Hut there (hmm, Pizza Hut, the common thread of chaos). After so much beans and rice I was looking forward to having a classic meal that was a "taste of home". "Yes, I would like a sausage pizza please. Yeah, you know, like a sausage pizza? What's on a sausage pizza? Tomato sauce, cheese, and sausage. Well, and some green peppers if you are feeling fancy." The waiter just eyes you like you are a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ordering marshmallows and anchovies or something. His suggestion is to try the daily special, which is tomato sauce and corn pizza. Not bad. Just not "normal".


Anyway, although for the most part the pizzas out here seem normal (I must say that I think one time they used goat cheese instead of cow cheese on my pizza. Either that or they danced on it in their bare feet to make it), the process to get one sure is not. When you order it can be quite the challenge to understand what they are saying since they are all from India there. My favorite though is watching a delivery. They have two main methods: mopeds or four-wheelers. The four-wheelers are tiny ones that look like a small step up from the kids little plastic four-wheeler toys (pow-pow-powerwheels!), and the mopeds look like they will tip right over with the insulated box that sits on the back to hold the pizzas. The engine is so small it makes a sound like a Jetson car or a cartoon hover scooter as it goes by.


I guess that another way to say "normal" is "familiar", or "the way you are used to it being". It's hard to find any of that when you move from life with your family in an apartment and a regular job with weekends off and go to a life living in a wooden shed with half a dozen other people of your same gender and you can't even remember what the words "weekend" and "holiday" are supposed to mean.


As far as Les Mis goes, I actually saw it while I was on leave. Mid-Tour Leave: A small injection of humanity in the middle of the strangeness of war. Nothing out here comes close to that. Although I appreciate his support for the troops, I admit that if he came out here for a USO concert like he did while I was in Iraq, I would only go to heckle him.


The biggest thing that war does to eliminate the familiar is that it changes people. Some for the better, some for the worse, but it definitely strips away all facades from people and reveals true character so that even the most familiar people that you have known for a long time become completely different.


In war you learn what you are truly capable of, for good and for bad. You are pushed past all of your own limits and you are forced to set limits you didn't have to set before. You have to defend yourself from people who wish they could kill you. Sometimes you even have to defend yourself from your friends. Sometimes you have to even put up your defenses against yourself.


Some of the new limits I've had to set mostly involve my work. It could easily be a 24 hour a day operation if you wanted it to be. Imagine if you were one of a handful of doctors in an entire city, the only hospital was actually the emergency room, and that is where you and your fellow doctors worked. Would you ever be able to sleep?


If ever you did want to get some sleep, the time would come when you would have to tuck yourself away in a corner, ignore the phone that was ringing off the hook, and learn to live with the fact that you are ignoring someone that is probably in a bad situation at the other end of the line and needs your help. If you truly worked as hard as you could, eventually you would have to arrive at that boundary where you realize, "I am at my breaking point. I have given all I can, and that has to be enough." That is often how I feel.


I ponder a lot about why I am out here. It hardly seems like coincidence that I am. In fact, when I pray about it, I think I was supposed to come out here. But why? Hard to say. I still don't even fully know myself.


I did have an interesting experience though. I have had a very hard time sleeping since my last deployment, and I often lay awake thinking for a while before I finally fall asleep. Sometimes I have small conversations with God in my pondering, and during this time is when I usually have my best or most profound realizations or ideas.


Anyway, one night I was having a particularly hard time being here. I was homesick and wanted to be with my family, who also seemed to no be doing the best. On top of that, my best friends out here had all left, and I was missing hanging out with them. What' more is I was also sick with a bad cough.


In all of that, I asked, "God, what am I doing here? What am I supposed to do that has brought me here?" Surprisingly a very firm response popped instantly into my head: "Stay the Course." I thought for a split second, "what? That's not an answer!" The weirdest thing is that somehow it made sense. I guess we don't always know all the reasons we are put into places and just have to have faith. I find, however, that as long as we see the blessings that come from the Lord, it makes it worth it. All that the Lord asks of us is to "Stay the Course." I can't fully put into words what that meant to me when that thought came to me, but I think another close way to say it would be "Endure to the End”.


There certainly is a lot involved in those things. You have know where you are going. You have to know what the goal is supposed to be like so you know when you reach it. You need to know what the path is supposed to be like so you don't stray from it and get lost. You need to make waypoints and miniature goals to stay on track. And then finally, you have to move. You have to keep going. You have to be steady. You have to Stay that course, endure the forces that want to misdirect you and rip you from the path, and you have to keep enduring, all the way to the end. In our hard times and times of wondering why we are on a certain path, it is often only when we finally get a little further up ahead on the trail and have a better vantage point of the area that we just came out of that we can say, "Oh, I see now. So THAT'S why I was guided that way".


Anyway, so that is a little bit about my taste of war. Thanks for bearing with me, and I miss and love you all, too!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Of Note...

Wow! I have to say that I am genuinely surprised that I got a comment! Somehow this changes things knowing that the microphone is on, so to speak. Kind of like the Starwars kid when he found out that his tape was on the internet. I bet he didn't play with video cameras after that. Nevertheless...

Don't tell, but another reason why I decided to start writing on my own blog more was because I felt a little funny on our family blog. I posted a couple of blogs and it didn't seem like anyone was reading our blog anymore. Then my wife posted and the comments go off the charts. Like an audience there to see a huge rock band while the little opener band is singing away. The audience is like, "man, just get off the stage!" Not that comments matter to me, but I do think that I should just post somewhere else and leave that stage to my Sweetheart.

Well, now on to the "Of Note" in the subject. I thought I would say some of the things of note I have experienced lately. At least the ones I can write about.

In the past 6 months I...

Have been in four earthquakes
--Four that I could feel at least, and two that were over 6.0, I hear.

Have been in several rocket/mortar attacks
--One of the rockets hit so close to me that I was coughing on the dust it kicked up. It smelled like a 4th of July fountain after it has been spent. Yuck! Purple heart for a runny nose maybe? By the way, they really do make that high pitch whistle that moves to a lower pitch as they come in, just like on the cartoons and movies.

Witnessed the Gospel Returning to a Part of the World for the first time in almost 2,000 Years
--I was there when the first district and first branches were formed in the middle east.

Drove through a minefield
--My thoughts: "Stay in those tire tracks, stay in those tire tracks"

Spent New Year's Eve in a Bunker
--Wee! Not that we were under attack and I had to be in there. I just thought it would make a good story. Plus the fact, and I'm dead serious, that it was the most exciting thing going on that I could think to do. Wow, that's lame.

Grew a mighty "beard"
--An inch (in some spots). I grow the classic Brigham Young beard when it comes in. It's all contained under my jaw.

Ran a 10 Miler
--Yup, all at once without walking. Took me about 2 hours or something like that. I've never been so proud to get a T-Shirt. I also ran 9.11 KM on Septemer 11th. When I ran that one, it was the most I'd ever run at any one time. Then I did the 10 miler. What's next?

Went to Les Miserables
--Awesome experience! It was at an outdoor theater, so they could do more, like have real animals, real explosions, fireworks, etc. And between scenes when the lights went out, you could see millions of stars up above, and the milky way truly was milkier than I have seen in a very long time.

Tried Glass Blowing
--Made a couple of flowers. It truly was one of the more interesting things I've done and would like to try again given the opportunity. The most beautiful thing about glass to me is that it really is still a liquid. It's just a VERY slow moving liquid. So I look at the sculpture I made and it reminds me of sculpted water.

Had a Two Star General Act on My Advice
--Well, it was our teams advice. I siphoned a little credit, kind of like a proud messenger who didn't do much more than deliver a note and then takes credit for a turn in the tides of war from that message. But, I will say that my team has done some real good here and has definitely made a different that is worth noting! I can't believe how lucky I am to have worked with the people that I've gotten to work with.

Got to Meet The President
--Sounds better than it was. I was in a group that he visited, so I was among a few hundred people. It was still cool though. I almost shook his hand but he switched to the other side of the walk-way before. Then a Secret Service guy pushed me back.

Won a Horseshoe Tournament
--Hey, come on! It was notable to me! It actually was a proud moment for me, and very fun!

Eh, there's a lot more stuff of note, but I'll leave it out of this entry. The biggest things of note for me is how much my family is changing in my absence. I feel like I'm missing so much. My daughter could barely speak when I left, and now she chatters out sentences. I'll never forget the day I was talking to my wife and my daughter wanted to talk to me. A tiny voice got on the phone and in a sad voice with just a little pout she said, "Dad, I miss you!" Moments like that mean more than any of the other grand and flashy moments, which pale in comparison.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Wow, I haven't written since 2007 and it's now 2009. Oh well. This blog is mostly for me anyway. I once read on my brother-in-law's blog about one of the reasons why he liked to write. He said that he just needed to be heard. I think I feel the same way a lot of times.

I do keep a journal. I haven't written in my journal for a couple of months though. I've written ponderings in other places, but just haven't really wanted to write in my journal. Sometimes there are spots in my life that I don't want to remember all that much and I thought that this was one of those periods of time. I have been so homesick to go home and be with my wife that I have completely buried myself in my work and haven't wanted to take time to reflect on what my life has been like lately. Somehow I felt that losing myself would make it better. I think that a lot of people think that is the best way to deal with things when they have tough times.

I learned, however, that I was wrong. That is the best time to reflect in your life. That is a time for reflection on the good things going on in your life. Instead of focusing on things you don't have or not being where you want to be, reflect on what you do have, and make goals to be better by the time you get back to where it is you want to be. There's a lot of things I can be doing out here to prepare to meet my family, and I've decided to start focusing on that.

Anyway, the rest of my entry will probably just be ramblings if I continue so I think I'll finish for now. The only person that even remembers that I have a blog is my wife, and even if someone else knew, I don't write regularly enough to keep anyone's attention. Maybe that's OK though. I'm not typing to converse or be listened to, but rather just to speak. Sometimes that's the best way to sort thoughts I think. At the beginning of an episode of "The Office" I saw, the secretary, Pam, is shown passing phone calls to the boss, Michael. It shows Michael answering in a really stupid manner, and then Pam passes the call. She said that she doesn't pass him the call right when he answers to give him a practice run and he usually does better the second time. Maybe that's what I'll use this blog for, my practice runs...