It’s over. Our training prior to leaving for Afghanistan is over. A very big part of me is excited to finally be through. Once we step foot on the ground in-country, we can begin our countdown to finally going home. But at the same time, we’re now heading into a hostile and dangerous situation. That part of me wants to stay at Shelby. But like I said, I can’t get home until I leave the country. So here we sit. Waiting. Thinking. Praying.
As the days went by here in Shelbystan, they were some of the longest, most miserable days imaginable. Wearing our IBA for the first time and feeling the sweat just pour down your body. There’s nothing quite like the agony of feeling a bead of sweat run down the small of your back, hit your waist line and keep going, feel it pick up speed as it continues down, down, down your leg until it starts to pool in your boot. One bead of sweat combines with others eventually turning into a small river, all heading towards your boots. Then combine that with having to low crawl through the dirt under barbed wire, climb over walls, sit in the hot sun…well you get the picture. Oh I left one out, having to eat MRE’s (meals rejected by Ethopians, I mean, Meals Ready to Eat.) I hate those things but realize that they are a necessary evil. Sitting through hours of death by Power Point, sitting in long lines while we processed paper work, and all the other nonsense have all contributed to the agony.
Anyway, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time about the negative aspects but drive home the point that on a day to day basis, the time here has drug by very slowly.
But, looking back, the time has gone by incredibly fast. I can’t believe that we’ve been here for two months. Looking back, the days have become a blur and it’s hard to pinpoint exact dates as to when we did what. Actually, I lost all track of time. Each day was a Monday. We coined the phrase that every day in the Army is a Monday. We also felt like we were living the movie “Ground Hog Day” as each day seemed identical to the previous. I’m sure it will be the same once we get in-country. There won’t be a lot to distinguish one day from another. What I do hope for though, is that the days will go by just as fast as they have while we’ve been here in Shelbystan.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the only thing I’ll miss about Shelbystan is the green trees and the lushness of the vegetation. Actually, there are two things I’ll miss about Shelbystan; the green and my close contact with the men who I’ve come to regard as very good friends.
About a month ago, it became official that I was being broken off from my team and being assigned to be the JAG officer for the commander of the one of the main areas in Afghanistan. As time progressed, the other teams were being whittled down and divided up. Our team continued to remain intact but as we all expected, even our team started to be broken up. I can’t really go into detail about who’s going where but the team is no longer the team it once was. We’re all saddened by that fact. The one good thing though, several of my team will be in the same area that I’ll be in so I hope to be able to see them occasionally.
I’ve talked a lot about SGT Aaron. I’ll miss working with and associating with him. He’s an outstanding man and soldier. And Aaron, yes, if I wake up one morning and my house has been TP’d, you will be the first suspect.
LTC Steve Esplin has been a good friend for a couple of years. We first met when we went to Japan on the Yama Sakura exercise two years ago. I was “assigned” to be his assistant, the assistant personnel officer since I didn’t go over as a JAG. We hung out, told lots of stories and did just about everything together. We were there reigning karaoke champions. He’s a great guy. He’s a LT in the Utah Highway Patrol so we have a lot in common in that respect as well.
LTC James Slagowski is new to 1 Corps Artillery. He’s our new intelligence officer. He’s become a very good friend as well. He loves to play jokes and I still need to get him. When we were doing our mounted land navigation course, we each got to take a turn being in the turret of the humvee. After my turn, my pistol fell out of the holster and I didn’t realize it. He picked it up and didn’t say anything until 3-4 stops later. He then casually asked if everyone had their sensitive items; weapons, etc. As soon as I felt my holster and realized it was gone, I went into panic mode. I jumped out of the vehicle and started looking around on the ground to see where it could be. I said that we now had to go back to all the previous positions to see if I could find it. After a few minutes of letting me freak out, he laughed and handed it to me. Jerk!! He’s also been a good leader. As we broke up into 4-man stacks to conduct urban operations, he was our team leader. I learned a lot by watching him.
MSG James Stewart filled out our 4-man stack. He was Slag’s battle buddy. He’s our LDS group leader and is a man not taken to loud, boisterousness, but is a man of great spiritual strength.
LTC Ken Mundt is our team leader. For those of you who know Ken know what kind of guy he is. Let me just say, his goal for this deployment is to get me into a strip bar. I won’t share the other exact conversation but he laughs as he says, “Church, I’m going to get you in one yet.” I’m afraid he’s got a losing battle on that one, but we laugh about it. He too has some great leadership qualities. Once you get past the exterior, he’s an amazing leader. I’ve enjoyed spending time getting to know him and trying to emulate some of his truly better qualities.
Ken’s battle buddy was our team’s Sergeant Major, Larry Hansen. I never really knew him before but have enjoyed spending time with him. He’s quick to perform whatever act of service needs to be done, often sacrificing his own needs for those of the team. It’s been great getting to know him.
Our team has gotten along so well. Of course, we have very different personalities but then that’s what’s made it fun. We’ve had our moments of disagreement but we’ve been able to get past those and reach the goals we’ve had set before us. Each brought incredible strengths to the table. From each one, I’ve been able to glean some gem of knowledge or personal growth.
The reason for mentioning just a few of them is because I’m going to miss them. I’ll admit, I’m a sentimental kind of guy. When I first found out about the guys on my team, I was excited by the thought of spending a year with them. Now I’ll only get to see them on occasion and some of them I won’t see until we leave Afghanistan. It makes me sad as our family is being broken up. War is hell.
OK, enough of my drivel.
As I write this I’m sitting in the Gulfport Airport waiting to catch my flight home. We get to go home on leave for 4 days. I’m so excited. It’s been really hard being away. I just hope that having to say goodbye on Monday to come back here won’t be too hard on all of us.
After we get back from leave, we’ll only have a few more days in Shelbystan. We still don’t have an exact date when we leave and even if we do, I can’t post it on my blog. It’s a violation of security to publicly post that kind of information. I may post one more article before we actually leave. We’ll see. Suffice it to say, we should be in-country before the end of August. Then we can start our countdown.
Well leave was great, except for my cold. As I was sitting on the plane leaving Gulfport, I could feel my throat starting to tighten up. I was just praying it was the dry air on the plane, but it was not to be. I was sick.
As we boarded the plane in Atlanta, it started to rain. I was praying it wouldn’t be one of the typical rainstorms we’d been having lately, but those prayers were not to be answered. It began coming down in torrents. We were not moving. The flight attendants started the movie Mission Impossible III and we saw it from beginning to end and hadn’t pulled away from the terminal. After 2.5 hours we were finally cleared to leave. Janae and the boys ended up sitting at the airport for over an hour. I was able to let her know that we would be late, but miscalculated the time.
This is now the third day that I’ve tried to finish this posting. I obviously didn’t finish in the airport. I didn’t finish yesterday when I was in the computer lab (I left my computer at home since I’ll be getting one in country) so I’ll try and finish this up today and get it posted. This will be my last posting from Shelbystan. Take from that what you will about a departure date, but it’s getting closer and closer.
As I was getting my haircut this morning, the lady asked me how I really felt about it. All along I’ve felt at peace. Ever since Janae and I went to the temple in February, I’ve felt that while things will be hard and difficult, things will be OK. I still feel that way.
Heavenly Father has really watched out for me and it’s not always in the big things. Take yesterday for example. I was going to catch the base shuttle into town. That would have involved sitting in the hot sun for who knows how long until the bus came. As I was half way there, I realized I’d left something in my room. I walked back to get it and as I was leaving my room, there was our command bus waiting for someone else to pick them up. I no longer had to wait for the post bus and got to spend the day with some of the guys from our command. I had them let me off prior to their reaching their stop as I had some other things I needed to do. I thought they were going to see a movie so I was heading to WalMart to return an item and to catch the post shuttle. Well, lo and behold, there they were. They had altered their plans so they ended up at WalMart the same time I did.
Now I know, some of you are chalking this up to coincidence, but I’m simply going to say that even in the small things, the Lord is watching out for us.
The last couple of days I’ve been struggling emotionally and spiritually, mostly with our impending departure date, but to have these little reminders that maybe, just maybe, the Lord has a hand in all things helped to rebolster my spirits.
I don’t think I have too much more to say. I’m glad to be leaving Shelby. I hate to leave the country. But to come home we have to leave.
To my wife and sons, I love you. You have been an incredible source of strength. I can feel your love and support on a daily basis. To my friends and family who pray for me and think of me, I can feel of your love and support as well. It’s so reassuring to know that so many of you are “wearing” our Heavenly Father with your prayers on my behalf.
I should have access to the internet once I get settled. It may be a week or more before I’m actually back on line but I hope to be giving you a recap of our travels and adventures in the next week or so.
So until then…