Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Demobilizing at Shelby

As I mentioned previously, I was struck by a wall of humidity when I stepped off the plane and it never went away the 3+ days we were at Shelby. But you know what, I wasn’t wearing body armor, I wasn’t carrying any weapons and for most of the time I was in shorts and a t-shirt, so I didn’t mind as much.

There was certainly a feeling of deja vuz being back at Shelby. The senior officers and NCO’s stayed in the same place we did when we were there the first time. It would have been really weird had I gotten the exact same room but I was in a different one but I couldn’t tell when I walked in as it was the exact same layout, same furniture, same everything.

Shelby was just as beautiful. One evening I took my camera and just walked around the base. There’s a small lake on post, Walker Lake. It’s an incredibly beautiful scene, as you’ll be able to tell from the pictures. There are about 6-7 cabins around the lake that look like they would be pretty nice to stay in. That was the only thing I’d missed about Shelby was the green and beauty.

The first night in the chow hall I realized just how spoiled/blessed I had been. Food is a huge morale booster so the military does a good job of feeding their troops. You’ve already read about Friday night “surf and turf” but I don’t think I’ve mentioned just how much food was available. There were always at least two – three entres to choose from, in addition to the ever present grilled cheese sandwiches, hotdogs and hamburgers. After the entres there were vegetables, a full salad bar, a short order bar (wings, mini-pizzas, corn dogs, fries, onion rings, cheese sticks, etc.), a bar that rotated between being a potato bar, Asian food bar, Mexican, etc. and then dessert – cake, pies and usually 4-5 flavors of Baskin Robbins ice cream to chose from. Yes, the possibility of getting fat was a very real threat but of course, when faced with this kind of food every day for a year you get “tired” of it and can very easily complain. (I tried very hard not to because I knew there were guys down range eating MRE’s, cooking for themselves or eating much worse.) So, coming from all that back to Shelby was quite the shock. The choice was between left over spaghetti and smashed ham sandwiches. I surveyed the slim pickin’s and decided to have salad. I walked over to the salad bar and the only choices were iceburg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. I opted for the leftover spaghetti. All of a sudden, I was missing the chow hall at Phoenix, not missing being there mind you, just missing the vast quantity of food and choices.

Out processing was actually quite painless. I was so grateful to have gotten my hearing test done the day before as that speeded things up quite a bit. I made the smart tactical decision to hit the nursing/records review first. There was no one in line and I got through in about 3 minutes. I then went to immunization and had them sign me off – again, I had the brilliant forethought and had all my shots updated before I left Phoenix. I then went to a couple of other stations and then noticed that the line had grown considerably at the nursing station. In fact, that proved to be the bottle neck for the rest of the day so was infinitely grateful that I had gotten it out of the way.

After medical we went to another building to finish up financial, personnel and the rest of the records review. Again, the “out processing gods” were smiling upon me as I was done by 1400. I had to skip lunch to do that but it was so worth it as some guys didn’t get finished until almost 1800 that night and a few actually didn’t get finished. Because I got done so early I was able to go to the gym and then take my photo safari around the lake.

Because the next day was used to finish all the last minute details and I was done, I was able to do what I wanted. I went to the gym that morning and ran into Aaron. He said that there was a group of guys who were going to the pool later so after I worked up a sweat on the elliptical I went over to the pool for a while.

It was there that I was informed that I wasn’t done after all. Turns out that there was a problem with one of my documents that while an inconvenience was fixed without too much problem.

The rest of the day was spent anticipating the flight home the next day. That night I went out to dinner with a bunch of other guys and had a great time. Since we had to muster at 0330 the next morning I didn’t stay up too late watching TV.

All in all, demobing proved to not be as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Flags on My Street

(Note: this is chronologically out of order but I wanted to get it posted so I could thank Janae and Lisa and everyone else who put this welcome home together.)

A friend of mine from Camp Phoenix, a Navy Lieutenant Commander who is a school teacher in Sandy, Utah, returned home about 8 weeks ago. I was talking with her replacement and I was told that when she drove down her street, the ward had put flags in every yard lining her street, the neighbors were out waving and the Scouts were in uniform saluting her as she drove up. As I heard about this welcome home she received I was so impressed by the thoughtfulness of her neighbors. I thought it would be cool to have something similar happen but never imagined it would, mostly because our ward and Scouts don’t have the flags.

Well you can imagine my surprise when I turned down my street and saw flags lining the street. Every house had a flag in its yard and some had two. As I turned into our cul-de-sac, my house had 15 flags in front; lining the sidewalk, the driveway and across the front. There was a big banner on one of the fences that said “Welcome Home LTC Robert Church.”

I can’t even begin to describe the feelings and emotions that went through me. As I said I never expected anything like this so to have all those flags out was such a wonderful surprise. I felt incredibly honored. To see all those flags rustling in the morning breeze really choked me up. I thought of the past 15 months and the sacrifices I and my family have made. I thought of the freedom that those flags represented. I thought of all the men I had met and worked with in Afghanistan and the freedoms they were fighting to ensure for their families and country. I then thought of all the men and women that I had left behind who are carrying on the mission and I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude to them and the countless others who have served and who will continue to serve.

Janae told me about the flags. She said that she had wanted to get them up but was starting to feel overwhelmed with everything she wanted and needed to get done before I got home. She said that about a week before I got home, her friend, Lisa e-mailed her. She said that Lisa said that she felt like she wanted to do this for her, for me, for us and was e-mailing to ask Janae if it would be alright. Of course that was an answer to Janae’s prayer. So Lisa got permission from the neighboring ward to borrow their flags. She organized a work party to get them put up in time for my arrival back home. So to Lisa and everyone else who helped put them up, Thank you!! I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see all those flags.

Janae had ordered the sign last fall. There was actually another one out on 1600 N. but I was too busy talking to see it when we drove past it.

So here are a bunch of pictures taken shortly after I got home. I didn’t have the neighbors lining the street since it was the middle of the day but I did have a bunch of neighbor children who were home and just getting home from school who came up to greet me. It was a lot of fun to see them and see just how much they had grown over the last 15 months. I must admit I could get used to the "hero worship" thing - kidding!!!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Flight to Shelby

(I've been home for three days now so my desire to "blog" has waned but in an effort to finish out this history of my deployment I will log the events of the trip home.)

Our flight out of Manas took place on the 19th. Once again we had to go into lockdown but fortunately this time, it wasn't for as long as the flight crew was ready to fly before our scheduled departure time.

We flew from Manas to Baku, Georgia. It was about a six hour flight during which I slept the entire time. For you James Bond afficionados, "The World is Not Enough" was filmed there. I was hoping to get off the plane so I could say I've been there. At first we were not going to be allowed to deplane but because it was going to be a 2.5 hour layover they let us off - but only under "guard." They weren't military guards - or maybe they were but were just wearing civilian clothes. Unfortunately the airport was nothing exciting. I did get my picture taken, me and the Super Heroes, in front of a caviar advertisement just so I could prove that I'd been there. I then took pictures of our group in the lobby but one of the "uniformed" guards came over and wagged his finger at me. At least he didn't confiscate my camera.

The next leg took us to Shannon, Ireland. Same place we flew through on our way to Afghanistan. From Shannon we flew to JFK in New York. As soon as we flew into US airspace and flew into Maine, the pilot let us know where we were and you could hear lots of guys cheering. Then when we landed on New York, the cheers once again rose throughout the cabin.

It was so cool to walk around JFK and finally be in America where everything was familiar. I got a bowl of clam chowder and a roll and it was delicious. Disappointingly the food on the plane was pretty bad this trip. Oh, and did I mention that there was no first class seating for the senior officers? I couldn't believe the inconvenience of the whole thing. Ha, ha.

We finally flew into Shelby, arriving around 1100. And just as I knew would happen, as soon as I stepped from the door of the plane was hit by a wall of humidity. Yuck.

BG Wilson and an entourage of officers and senior enlisted had flown to Shelby to greet us and that was cool. SGT Aaron's parents who are serving a mission in the area were also there to greet us and it was nice to meet them.

It took us 26 hours to get to Shelby but it was so worth it to finally be at the final stage before we actually got to go home. As much as I didn't like Shelby the first time around, I was glad to be back.

Photos - KAIA, Traveling, etc.

Pictures From Manas

The "tent" we slept in.

The reason for the orangeishness to the picture is the sunlight coming through the canvas covering.

The chow hall.

Inside the chow hall.

The base chapel.

Inside the gym. The same orange hue is do to the fact that it is inside a tent as well.

The building that housed the computer and phone room.

The Manas International Airport.

Old Friends

Remember how I said that I got to bed around 0515 on Wednesday morning? Well I was woken up around 1100 that morning to the sound of lots of talking. As I lay there listening to the conversations around me it was obvious what was happening. Old friends were being reunited. If I didn'tmention it, the guys from Kandahar, down south in Afghanistan, had arrived in Manas two days before we did. Most of us had not seen these guys the entire year so it was the first time that we had all been together.

It was great to see old friends. Of course the main topic of conversation were the adventures of the last year. Listening to some of these guys tell their stories raised the hair on the back of my neck.

A couple of my friends stopped by my bunk (I still hadn't gotten out of bed yet) and shared their experiences. Since you already know my boring stories let me share the highlights of what I was hearing. I was amazed at the number of fire fights some of these guys were in. I know it wasn't as often as it seemed as I listened to them tell their stories, but it seemed like it was an every day occurrence. It was interesting to listen to them comment how small arms fire directed towards the convoy was not seen as a big deal.

One of my friends said that when the Taliban would start shooting with their AK 47's, he would just get a little bit lower inthe turret. He explained that the Taliban were not very good shots so after time they just figured that the only real precaution was to just hunker down a bit lower. RPG's (rocket propelled grenades) on the other hand, were cause for taking more evasive maneuvers. Apparently the sound they make is much more intimidating than an AK47 - I would imagine so, and as you can imagine, does quite a lot more damage. One of our guys had over 50 confirmed kills. What a sobering thought and to listen to them tell their stories, it was in a days business. War is ugly and death occurs but to listen to someone tell of the firefights, of returning fire, of seeing an enemy fall to the ground as the result of you pulling the trigger, seemed completely surreal, at least for someone who has never had that experience. know that this particular soldier is not alone in having that many confirmed kills. There are a number of our guys with similiar experiences. I can only wonder and imagine what it was like but am grateful not have gone through those experiences.

A friend of mine was telling me that the philosopy of the ANA is that just because the enemey runs out of bullets does not mean that they are surrendering. He said that he asked about that after one particular brutal firefight. He said he knew that the enemy had run out of ammunition first but there were no prisoners taken. He said that's when the ANA made the comment. He said he never personally witnessed the finishing off of the enemy but that it was obviously taking place.

I was told that the Taliban were extremely good at pretending to be dead or wounded. My friend said that you could shoot in the ground near them, kick dirt in their faces, do all manner of things designed to get them to move and they wouldn't. He said that their hope was that you would get too close so they could attack you. I could only imagine the training the Taliban must have gone through to become so disciplined. Scary thought.

I heard lots of stories about ambushes; on both sides. One guy said that they were proceeding up a valley when they ran into an ambush. He said that he and one other gunner were returning fire in two different sectors of fire. He said that he looked in between his and the other gunner's position said that time slowed down, just like in the movies. He said that as he was reorienting his weapon to engage the Taliban he saw the Taliban squeeze the trigger and watched the grenade coming towards his position. The enemy overshot their position, that it flew overhead and impacted quite some distance from their position but like I said before, as I listended to the story, it raised the hair on the back of my neck; not just from the story itself but from the nonchalant way in which the story was told.

In one instance an exchange of observers was taking place. Two uparmored vehicles had remained behind and the rest of the convoy had left. He said they got word that they had come under attack so quickly left their position to support the convoy up ahead of them. He said as they arrived on scene they saw several Taliban run towards their motorcylces in an attempt to escape and once again, very matter of factly described "taking out" the enemy. Again, these stories reflected common occurrences that some of my friends experience all throughout the year.

I'm sure after this gets posted I'll remember other stories and maybe will compile a list to post later but as I listened I realized that my legal stories had nothing on these guys. Of course my mission was completely different than theirs and the success I achieved was very different than theirs but there was a part of me that wished my mission had been a little more exciting. I know there are many of you out there that are grateful that I was not involved in any of these kinds of incidents, me being one of them, but I don't know that you can fully understand the feeling of thinking "I wish that had been me, just once" unless you've been here. I can't explain it but maybe it's the fact that I've been in a combat zone and didn't see a single day of combat. I know, that should be a good thing but still...Call me crazy.

Final Afghan Thoughts

I forgot to mention in the other post about our time at KAIA (KabulAfghanistan International Airport) that we turned in the plates for our IBA(Individual Body Armor). After we turned in our plates we packed our IBA vests and kevlar helmets for shipment home. That was weird.
After carryingaround those 20lb plates it was such a weight off my shoulders, literally. It was almost symbolic as well. We no longer had the weight of the deployment hanging on our shoulders. It was pretty cool.

Well we ended up sitting at KAIA for almost 11 hours before we left. Originally our flight was supposed to leave at 1300 but that got delayeduntil 2045. In the military's infinite wisdom, we had to be back at the departure tent at 1700 where we went into lockdown. Unfortunately chow didn't start until 1715. Heaven forbid that they delay the report time for 30 mintues so we could eat but that would make too much sense. So darn it, I had to order a pizza which actually wasn't too bad. Lock down consisted of sitting in a stuffy tent until it was time to boardthe plane. Remember the 2045 departure time, well that's when the first wave of soldiers was taken to the plane. I ended up in the second wave and it was almost 40 minutes before the bus returned to take us to the plane. As I walked on our pallets hadn't even been loaded yet. Becuase there were over 80 of us travleing there were 10 pallets to be loaded. We each had 1-2 black boxes along with 1-2 duffel bags, hence the 10 pallets. I'm not sure why the plane wasn't loaded before hand but it wasn't. Anyway, it took another hour to get the plane loaded but we finally took off at 2130.

As we were getting close to leaving the tent the thought occurred to me thatwe were in our last hour in Afghanistan. What a cool thought. I thought about all the Afghan's I'd met and wondered what will happen. I hope that the foundation we've laid will get them through the coming years. I know that they have good mentors following us so I'm not too worried.

I sat next to Trooper on the plane. A few minutes later a Navy LCDR boarded. As she walked past us she commented that her boots were no longeron the ground. "Boots on the ground" is just what it sounds like. It's also the phrase used to describe the length of your tour. Ours was one year "boots on the ground." Most units have never made it to a year but by the time we leave Manas we will literally have 12 months "boots on the ground." Lucky us.

About an hour into the flight Tropper turned to me and said, "Do you knowwhere we are?" I immediately responded, "Not in Afghanistan." We both laughed. Since it was so dark out I didn't bother looking our the window in the door but Trooper called me over. He said to press my face up to the window and look straight out. As I did I saw the Big Dipper straight across from us. It was a really cool sight. After about a 90 minute flight we landed in Manas Krygzstan (sp). This is where we flew through on our way here so it seemed fitting to be backtracking the same way that we came. As I stepped off the plane I was struck by the smell of grass. What a great smell. It was also quite cool, at least compared to Afghanistan. It was such a welcome feeling. They are 90 minutes ahead in time from Afghanistan so it was almost 0130 inthe morning. If you're asking why 90 minutes and not 60 or 120 I can't answer that. For some reason Afghanistan is 30 minutes off. I'm sure I could Google to find the answer but never got around to it. It was just one of those quirky things about Afghanistan. It took almost another 2.5 - 3 hours before we got our bags so most of us went to the chow hall to get something to eat.

Remember that Manas is in a"hazardous duty" zone, just like Afghanistan and Iraq which means that those serving here are entitled to the hazardous duty extra pay that I've been getting this last year. Anyway, as we walked into the chow hall, there to meet us was the MWR(morale, welfare and recreation) poster advertising all the off-base excursions people could go on; tours, golf, sight seeing, etc. Aaron pointed it out to me and we just shook our head that the service members serving here were entitled to hazardous duty pay. Life's just not fair.

Finally our bags arrived and we filed off to our tents. We're staying next to where we were last year. Finally at 0515 I crawled into bed to get a few hours sleep.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

We're Going Home

Tomorrow is the day!!! I can't beleive that it's finally here. After 1.5 days of outprocessing we're finally done and ready to go home. We'll be landing at the Air National Guard slab at the SLC airport sometime tomorrow morning before noon. By now all the families should know. I can't believe that after 12 monts in Afghanistan and the 2.5 months before that spent here at Shelby are finally done. Looking back it seems like such a dream. Of course there were moments that the dream was a nightmare but fortunately those moments are fading into the background.

I could go on and on about how great it will be to see my family tomorrow but I'm sure you can imagine what's going through my mind right now. Words really can't adequately express the thoughts and feelings right now.

So with that said, I'm off to put my laundry in the dryer, go to our final formation to get the last minute news and then figure out what to do my last night at Shelby.

See you all tomorrow!!

New Entries

The computers in the computer lab would not let me access my blog page, hence no postings for over a week. However, I sent several entries home via e-mail and will post them over the next few days so check back to seeh what our week at Manas was like as well as our time here at Shelby outprocessing. I'll also be posting pictures so check back in a few days.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Phoenix to KAIA

The first leg of our journey home has been completed. This morning we were tranported to KAIA (Kabul Afghanistan International Airport). Because there are so many of us we had to do it in two movements. The first group went met 0830 and my group met an hour later. We actually didn't leave Phoenix until after 1000 but that's OK because we were at least moving towards home.

There's only been one other time when I've been nervous about driving here in Afghanistan; last winter driving through downtown Kabul in a Toyota Landcruiser and today. We were moved in the back of open 5-ton trucks. A couple of things combined to make me nervous, the primary one being the suicide bomber of two weeks ago and that today was my last movement on the ground. The thought was, "I'm on my way home, please don't let anything bad happen." Thankfully we made it alright.

Now begins the waiting. Our 1300 flight was of course bumped to 2045 tonight. In someone's infinite wisdom we have to go into lockdown at 1700 but of course chow is not served until 1715. Someone wasn't thinking. That means that those of us who want to eat will have to get something from the Air Force One cafe and take it down to the tent. I'm not complaining, too much, because again, we're moving towards home.

We found out this morning that our flight out of Manas has been moved to the right two days which will delay us getting home by a day or so. We're hoping that things will go fast and smooth at Shelby so that we can make up for the two days but we'll see.

I'll post pictures later because I don't have the cable to my camera right now so check back for movement pictures.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Last Days

We’re down to the last stretch here in Afganistan. I can’t believe that it’s actually that close. This last week I’ve been weighed down with other concerns and worries, some of which what I was going to say in Sacrament Meeting but that wasn’t the only thing. I won’t burden you all with those details but they have gotten in the way of me really feeling the excitement of going home. Don’t get it? Neither do I. But, now that my talk is over and I’ve dealt with my own issues, the reality is finally starting to hit. To think I’ve done the “last” of certain things is so cool!

We met this morning to discuss final details and final plans. We still don’t have firm dates when we’ll arrive back in Salt Lake but it’s less than two weeks away. We were told that the guys from Utah that are at Shelby to assist in the demobilization process are trying to compress the number of days we’re actually there. Of course we all hope to be there the minimum number of days possible. Will keep you posted.

I’ve decided that I’m really going to miss the folks in the office here. They have accepted me into their “family” and made me feel like one of them. I have really enjoyed working with them. The kinds of issues this legal office has faced and will continue to face are certainly worthy of a soap opera or some soft-porn movie. It’s been a real eye opener for a not-so-naïve boy from Utah. I thought I’d heard it all but I’ve certainly received an education since working with them. The phrase of the day (actually it’s been the phrase of the deployment) is “You can’t make this stuff up.”

My room is pretty much empty. The only things left are what will fit in my carry-on and a few other things that if I don’t eat or use in the next very short time period will get thrown away. I’ve gotten rid of my fridge, microwave and Stanley is getting my TV. I even swept and mopped the floor for Zeb, since he’s moving in after me. It will be weird to move back into a house that I have to share with other people as well as sleep in a bed with someone else. OK, I lied about that part. It will be wonderful to sleep in a bed with someone else. Can’t wait but again, since this is a family friendly site I won’t go into any more details on that subject.

So I’m not sure what else to tell you about. My computer is ready to be wiped clean as I’ve downloaded all my files and pictures. I’ve packed everything away or else thrown it away. In fact the only reason I even came into the office today was so that I could use the computer. I’ll probably go to they gym later tonight, watch a movie and then prepare to move in the next little while.

But like I said, I still can’t believe that the end is in sight. What a great thing.

Last Sunday

Our last Sunday in Afghanistan. We had a great meeting last night. Merrill and I both spoke and there was a certain poignancy to that since he and I have worked so closely the last year.

There was easily over 30 people there and that's only half our group. The other half flew directly from Kandahar. I imagine next week when we're all together in Shelby we'll have close to 60 people in attendance. It will be pretty cool.

I actually had to turn up the volume on the clavinova to compensate for the thunderous sound of all the male voices. It was great!

Merrill's topic was 1 Nephi 3:7 and he gave a great talk on preparing for life’s challenges. He recounted the trials and struggles that Nephi went through. He then pointed out that Nephi had spiritually prepared himself ahead of time and because of that he was able to succeed whereas Laman and Lemuel could not because they were relying on the arm of the flesh. He also talked about how the Lord could have made their challenges easier; i.e. getting the plates, but part of the learning process is going through the struggle of finding the answers. It was a great talk.

I was assigned the topic of “Return with Honor.” I had been praying all week that I would be able to deliver something that would be of worth to the brethren. All week I really struggled with what to say and up until yesterday morning, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say.

I talked about how are we going to return. We can either go back better than we are right now or we can return to the status quo. I know everyone of us has made commitments to ourselves and to the Lord to do better but the real test will be after we’ve been home for a while to see if we fall back into old habits and routines. I talked about areas of my life that I haven’t done so well on this deployment and what I was going to do to improve. I talked about the areas that I have had success and how I want to continue to succeed in those areas. I talked about returning to my wife and how I want to honor her and treat her like the queen that she deserves to be treated. I know I was not alone in those thoughts and feelings.

Earlier in the week I had read a passage in a book written by Christian authors about overcoming the natural man. Several passages of the book really struck me (in fact I felt a stinging rebuke in some of their words) and wouldn’t leave my thoughts as I prepared this talk so I decided that the Lord wanted me to include them in my comments.

They talked about obedience versus mere excellence in our relationship with God. They posed the question, what is the difference between obedience and excellence? Some may argue that they are the same, that if we strive for excellence we will achieve obedience but they suggested otherwise. They suggested that to aim for obedience is to aim for perfection but that excellence is something else, something less than perfection. They argue that mere excellence allows room for a mixture of standards.

Take American businesses for example. US businesses strive for excellence. It is through excellence that they will obtain and keep your business. However, in the business world, excellence does not equal perfection. US businesses could strive for perfection but it’s too costly in terms of their profits. Rather than be perfect they know it’s enough to seem to be perfect to their customers. By stopping short of perfection they find a profitable balance between quality and cost. They look to their peers to discover the best practices of the industry.

This thought really struck me in particular as in many instances, this is the kind of man I am. It is so much easier to appear to be perfect in my callings at church, in my relationship with my wife, in how I perform my job that I stop short of perfection but still portray the façade of excellence. But in terms of my spiritual development where does that get me? Close to but just short of where I want to be in terms of my relationship with the Lord.

I continued reading.

The authors then posed the following questions.

How far can we go and still seem perfect?

By how far can we stop short but still seem perfect?

I then thought of the question, How far then, does that keep us from the Lord?

We all know someone who we look up to and think that they are perfect, or pretty close and wish we could be more like them. We all portray a certain image of what we want others to think of us, at least I know I do, but then we all say to ourselves, if they only knew the real me what would they really think?

That thought made me think of this scripture.
Matthew 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.

I decided that I wasn’t quite a whited sepulcher, yet, that my real problem was that I wasn’t striving for that perfect obedience to God’s commandments and the other things in my life that would allow me to truly feel like I was living up to the standards that I wanted for myself. I realized that if I was only more obedient then I would not have made the mistakes that I have over the last year.

Christ commanded his disciples to be perfect, even as he and his Father are. (See Matt. 5:48; 3 Ne. 12:48.) But this commandment may seem overwhelming. I know I become discouraged at the thought of becoming perfect. It’s too hard. It’s easier to appear to be perfect, to achieve that appearance of excellence than actually be that way.
Moroni taught that we should “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; … and love God with all your might, mind and strength, … that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.” (Moro. 10:32.)

The scriptures go on to say,
If we love and serve the Lord and keep his commandments, it will be possible for us to become “perfect in Christ.” (See Gal. 6:2; Mosiah 18:8–10; Mosiah 24:14–15, 21; Alma 33:23.)

Stephen E. Robinson has written:

“Perfection comes through the atonement of Jesus Christ. That happens as we become one with him, a perfect being. It is like a merger. If you take a small, bankrupt firm that is about to go under and merge it with a corporate giant, what happens? Their assets and liabilities flow together, and the new entity that is created is solvent.”

“This is similar to what happens spiritually when we enter into a covenant with the Savior. We have liabilities; he has assets. So he proposes a covenant relationship. After the covenant is made, I become one with Christ, and as partners we work together toward my exaltation. I do all that I can do, and he does what I cannot yet do. For now, in partnership we are perfect, through His perfection.”

Brother Robinson goes on to say:

“Sometimes we feel very inadequate when we compare ourselves to others. We may even begin to despair. But when the Lord looks at us, he measures us against ourselves. His expectations are based on our abilities. He simply asks, Are you doing all that you can do at this time? Consider the principle of tithing. The man with ten million dollars is expected to pay one million dollars in tithing. The child with ten cents is expected to pay one penny. Both offerings are a full tithing in the eyes of the Lord.”

“In our home we have what is now called the parable of the bicycle. It dates back to when my daughter Sarah, who was seven years old at the time, came in and said, “Dad, can I have a bike? I’m the only kid on the block who doesn’t have one.”

“Well, I didn’t have the money then for a bike, so I stalled her. I said, “Sure, Sarah.”

“She said, “How? When?”

“I said, “You save all your pennies, and soon you’ll have enough for a bike.” And she went away."

“A couple of weeks later I heard a “clink, clink” in Sarah’s bedroom. I asked, “Sarah, what are you doing?”

“She came to me with a little jar, a slit cut in the lid, and a bunch of pennies in the bottom. She said, “You promised me that if I saved all my pennies, pretty soon I’d have enough for a bike. And, Daddy, I’ve saved every single one of them.”

“My heart melted. My daughter was doing everything in her power to follow my instructions. I hadn’t actually lied to her. If she saved all of her pennies, she would eventually have enough for a bike, but by then she would want a car. I said, “Let’s go look at bikes.”
“We went to every store in town. Finally we found it—the perfect bicycle. She was thrilled. Then she saw the price tag, and her face fell. She started to cry. “Oh, Dad, I’ll never have enough for a bicycle!”

“So I said, “Sarah, how much do you have?”

“She answered, “Sixty-one cents.”

“I’ll tell you what. You give me everything you’ve got and a hug and a kiss, and the bike is yours.” Then I drove home very slowly because she insisted on riding the bike home.

“As I drove beside her, I thought of the atonement of Christ. We all desperately want the celestial kingdom. We want to be with our Father in Heaven. But no matter how hard we try, we come up short. At some point all of us must realize, “I can’t do this by myself. I need help.” Then it is that the Savior says, in effect, All right, you’re not perfect. But what can you do? Give me all you have, and I’ll do the rest.”

“He still requires our best effort. We must keep trying. But the good news is that having done all we can, it is enough. We may not be personally perfect yet, but because of our covenant with the Savior, we can rely on his perfection, and his perfection will get us through.”
So what I took away from this is that I need to quit striving for the appearance of excellence or even mere excellence but strive for obedience.

I love Brother Robinson’s words, that all the Lord requires is our best effort, that after we do all that we can do, it’s enough.

So as I return with honor for me what that means is that I will return home, leaving my past mistakes behind and commit to being a better man, husband and father.

I didn’t mean to actually share my talk with you but as I got going it all just sort of flowed onto the page. Returning with honor is something all of us will do but since last night I’ve decided that the real test will be six or seven months from now to see if we are still holding on to that honor. I hope the answer is yes.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Eagle Scout

Luke is now an Eagle Scout!! Congratulations Luke!! He met with the board on Thursday night and after “hours and hours” of grueling questions, he was awarding Scouting’s prestigious honor. We now have to wait for the paperwork to come from the Scouting Office before we can hold his Court of Honor but hopefully that will come quickly.

As you may recall, he did his Eagle Project collecting school and humanitarian supplies, made hygiene kits, collected toys, clothes, backpacks and other great things for the kids. He organized the Scouts and they collected items from all over our area. Janae can give you the exact number but they easily sent over 60 boxes of supplies over here. For a month or so the guys at the Post Office “hated” me because I received so many boxes.

His donations were distributed in two different missions. I’ll post some pictures from both. I know that lots of kids were benefited by his efforts as well as the efforts of all those who donated.

Thanks Luke and Congratulations!!

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Last Steak and Seafood Night

As many of you know, Friday night is steak and seafood night. The steaks are always grilled over charcoal. Whether it was here or at Blackhorse, around 2:30 - 3:00 in the afternoon you could smell the charcoal being fired up. Then about an hour or so later you could smell the tantalizing smell of grilling steaks.

And then there was always seafood. Most nights it was crab legs, as many as you could eat. I'm not a huge crab fan, mostly because I hate getting the meat out. For some reason the military does not provide the cool utensils you'd get at a true seafood restaurant that facilitates the eating of crab legs. Oh well.

Other nights, it's fried shrimp and since I am not a fan of fried seafood - harkens back to a night of gorging oneself on fried seafood in Myrtle Beach, SC on vacation many, many years ago with the family and then waking up aroud 0300 to puke it all back up. Yummy thought! Anyway, I always pass on the fried shrimp.

And then there are the lobster tail nights. Those are the best. They're not huge lobster tails but you can have as many as you want. And the garlic, melted butter is the added bonus. Well I was hoping and "praying" that tonight would be lobster tail and because I've been such a good boy, it was lobster tail night. I ate four of them along with my steak and chased it all down with mint chocolate chip ice cream. I was a very good boy!!!

So now I'm off to the gym to spend an hour on the elliptical in an effort to work off the few hundred calories I just consumed.

And for those of you who don't think it's fair or right or whatever that we get to eat lobster over here, just remember, I had to come to freakin' Afghanistan, in a war zone just to eat lobster. So I don't want to see any comments about us eating lobster or crab legs or steak as I would have gladly sacrificed all the lobster, crab and steak that I ate this year to have eaten macaroni and cheese with my family back home.

Oh, new phrase going around the office that fits the first part of this entry...

"I'm depressed cuz I'm fat."

"I eat when I'm depressed."

"I need more chocolate sauce."

Of course you have to say it your most sorry, pitiful voice.

This is dedicated to D-Cup!

"Arguably" Part II

As I was looking at some notes that I had made for a different project, I noticed that I had failed to include another of Zeb's "arguablies." Here it is...

Meatloaf is "arguably" the greatest singer/songwriter of his generation.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


There is a new phrase in our office, actually there are several new phrases, some of which are not able to be shared on this “family friendly” blog. Although, if I did share it it would only reinforce the assumption that many people have out there that I’m truly a heathen. But since I want to continue to keep you guessing as to my true nature, I won’t share one of those phrases.

Rather, let me share with you, one of the “arguably” greatest terms in the English language. I know there will be others out there who disagree but “arguably” speaking, no one can deny the power of this term.

Did you know that Thanksgiving is “arguably” the finest of the holidays?

Did you know that “arguably” the greatest part of cheese, “is the cuttin’ of it? (A Bodie quote.)

Zeb is “arguably” the most anti-monky man in the world.

Blue gel pens are “arguably” the finest pens there are.

And the list could go on…

But let me finish by saying that my family is “arguably” the greatest family ever.

And that’s “arguably” the final word on this topic.

Family Reunion

This morning the rest of the “family” that is flying out of KAIA arrived via Chinook. The Kandahar folks will be flying directly from Kandahar. Since the landing field is near my office I got a perfect view of the choppers flying in as well as taste the dust they kicked up.

Since they got here right before chow there was a lot of hugs and hand shaking that took place at lunch. It was great to see everyone.

Up to this point the fact that we leave in a dwindling number of single digit days hasn’t really hit but seeing all our guys in the chow hall and then later, wandering around camp has helped bring that reality home.

The other bit of good news was that if everything goes well I may be walking through my front door in approximately two weeks. Again, no firm dates, but things are starting to solidify.

SGT Aaron is back from Camp Dubbs so it’s been great to see him. Dusty has graced our office this afternoon with his soprano Spanish as well as dug right in and helped us out. Like the heading of this entry, it’s been one big family reunion.

Just can’t wait until I’m reunited with my actual family!!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Here's the JAG staff at Phoenix these days. LTC Zeb Williams, MAJ Chris Barton, CPT Stanley Myers, SGT Martha Dawn Bodie and SPC Emylie Gillian. They have been a great group of professionals to work with and I'm really going to miss them once I leave.

The "open" sign - that's a whole different story.

Super Hero Postage!!!

Over the last year Janae has sent me hundreds of cards and letters and many of them had the coolest stamps - Super Hero Stamps!!! I kept many of them, as you can see, and decided to say thanks to my wonderful wife for all the cards and letters and especially for the coolest of the cool stamps! Thanks!!! I decided that my own DC comics Super Hero's needed to pose with the stamps. So there they are.