Change of Course

That’s a four-mile bridge, ya’ll. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

I took some leave time and drove Martin out to Delaware yesterday. He’s on active duty orders for a month now, working at Dover Air Force Base, one of the Air Force’s busiest transport hubs in the United States. He was originally scheduled back in January to do three months of this hands-on work experience there. His bags were packed, our childcare arrangement was in place. However, the morning of his scheduled departure, he was put on hold because of ‘paperwork issues’ and we hung in a state of suspension ever since.

Of course, after awhile, one gets a little numb from just hanging there, especially being told so many versions of “I’m waiting to hear back from so-and-so … just hang on … the paperwork will get to you tomorrow … I’ll call you back …

Not our first rodeo, of course. But nevertheless, it was still jarring when he got an email — an email –on Monday with his orders requiring him to travel to Delaware on Tuesday for him to begin work today.

That was awesome.

Fortunately, I am blessed with Sarah, my friend and fellow Air Force mom who lives just five minutes away, the same one who used to come over and help me fold clothes when Martin was at BMT. She came over and stayed with the kids while I dropped off Martin. We wanted the minivan to stay with the kids, and I need my car for work, so he took his bike and metal detector because there’s not much else to do in Delaware.

When I returned home, the kids were all fed and ready for bed. And she cleaned my entire first floor. Even the bathroom. That’s a true friend.

No lie, though — even with a super clean house, all my planning in place, and my flexible attitude, this first day was rough and exhausting. Jaz was wired. Lola was a tad bit more dramatic than usual, no doubt a reaction to having her Dad suddenly gone again. Admittedly, I was also a bit more dramatic as well, having had less sleep, and needing to get up earlier.

But we’ll get used to this new routine in no time. And, thank the lord, this is only for a month. I’ll sneeze and it’ll be over. It’s nothing compared to the six-months to a year some of our friends are doing for deployments right now.

Before I know it, Martin will be back and we’ll adjust with a new routine all over again.

 

 

A List (Just Because)

I am pretty awesome at making lists. Any occasion. Any need. I have several lists running in my mind at any given time. Here’s one that I call “Things That Happened on a Monday.”

1) My zebra-print wellies (love that word) arrived in the mail just days after I ordered them. For awhile, I was leaning toward polka-dots, but then I saw these, and the search was over. Though not intentional, I have more than a few zebra prints in my wardrobe. Plus, zebras are known for their stamina, and so am I. However, zebras are also known for their excellent eyesight and I’m blind as a bat. So … moving on … Continue reading

Good Life: Be Thankful

JB and me after his retirement ceremony.

There was a moment a few months ago when JB’s wife, Jessica, paused as she was talking with me and a few others after his retirement ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada.

We were standing at a back table in the room, looking over JB’s military memorabilia, and she was explaining a few of the photos. She had stopped herself after saying, “… after he got hurt.”

She smiled at us.

“You know, there was a time when I couldn’t say that without bursting into tears.”

It’s taken me a few months to write this blog post for much the same reason. I still get teary when I think about it, but it was such a moving and emotional experience, and one that really made me appreciate what it means to be thankful, which is one of the recommendations for living the Good Life.

While I have written often about that day in Iraq, and can talk or write about it without feeling as much of a tug anymore, attending the retirement ceremony for my team’s broadcaster was way more emotional than I expected.

As far as Air Force retirement ceremonies go, it was nice and traditional. There was a summary of JB’s military accomplishments as a broadcaster, and recognition of his family and colleagues. There were laughs, nodding heads, and polite applause at all the right places. You could tell everyone involved and in attendance really admires JB, and put a lot of effort into it.

However, it was after the ceremony when I got a huge emotional wallop straight to the heart.

His mom came up to me.

Until that moment, I never met JB’s family. While he may have mentioned his parents a time or two, I knew more about Jessica and his kids from the stories we shared while deployed together.

And since the deployment didn’t stop for JV and me after JB was evacuated, I wasn’t able to really keep connected to his recovery as much as I would have liked. The most we got were updates through our colleagues and mutual friends until social media allowed us to reconnect some years later.

Of course, I knew that JB’s family would be at the retirement ceremony, but it never occurred to me that they would want to seek me out, but that’s what his mom did. I was leaning over to read some of his certificates when she came up to me and asked, “Are you the young lady who was with JB in Iraq?”

I looked up at her and said, “Yes, I’m Julie. I was the writer on his team.”

She politely put her hand out.

“We’ve heard so much about you, the girl who was with him,” she said.

“Oh, are you a relative?” I asked, still not sure who I was speaking to. She offered me a warm smile.

“Oh, I’m his mother,” she said. “I can’t thank you enough for being there for him.”

I remember repeating, “His mother? His mother!” as it dawned on me who she was, but before I could think or say anything else, she was wrapping her arms around me as I began to cry, telling her I was so glad to finally meet her.

Let me be more honest: I was a shuddering, hiccuping, sobbing mess, totally caught off guard by my reaction. I just never considered that I would be mentioned whenever the events of that day were shared with JB’s family, but then to have his mom there, wanting to meet me?

It was a lot.

She rubbed my back, explaining how she and her husband had no idea where JB was while he was deployed, that they weren’t expecting a call like the one they got when they learned he had been injured, how they traveled to him when he arrived stateside for care at Walter Reed, that they were relieved to learn he wasn’t alone when the attack happened, and how grateful they were for the things everyone did for JB that day.

Between gasps for breath, I blubbered about how bad he looked the last time I saw him, how pale and weak he was, how the last thing I did was kiss his sweaty bald head as they carried him away, and how great it was to see him so healthy again, to see him standing and walking.

And then she said, “You know? He’s okay now. You don’t have to worry now. And you’re okay, too. We are so thankful for that.”

JB’s wife Jessica pinning on a retirement pin.

I’m not sure how long we stood there like that, but eventually, she pulled away and turned to her husband behind her, and said, “Hey, this is the girl who was with JB over there.”

And then her husband approached me, and JB’s older brother (a former Marine), and even though I tried to compose myself, it was just so much to be surrounded by all of that. After we talked some more, I rushed to a corner of the room to check my make-up to make sure my meltdown wasn’t too obvious.

I was fine during the rest of the reception, and even stayed behind to help clean up, but as soon as I returned to my hotel room, I sat on my bed and cried some more.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I cried out six years worth of tears.

For as much as I’ve shared about my deployment experience, there’s so much more I haven’t shared because it’s just so exhausting and draining.

The aftermath of that incident (both immediate and long-term) and the way things were handled by some of the “leadership” (quotes intentional) were about as traumatic as the incident itself, and changed my perspective on many, many things.

For all the wonderful things that happened to me because of my Air Force service, there were very bitter things to happen, too. Time, focusing on all the opportunities ahead of me, and the amazing support of those close to me during that time helped lessen the burden.

Yet, when JB’s mother approached me, and talked to me, she unintentionally opened up some things that are still very raw and emotional … and yet in the process, her words healed my heart in a way I absolutely wasn’t expecting.

There was a reason I was there that day, why I was a part of that team, and why I was moved to do the things I did, and as I thought about these things, and the words she said to me, I felt like an incredible weight was lifted off my shoulders.

I’ve never questioned or doubted my service over there, but she gave me an answer I didn’t know I needed.

And for that I am thankful.

Honoring a Hero

Exactly seven years ago today, I stood with many others at Arlington National Cemetery to honor Maj. Troy Gilbert after his F-16 crashed in Iraq while he was defending soldiers on the ground who were under attack.Today, on the anniversary of his burial, I stood once again at Arlington National Cemetery with many others to honor and welcome a part of him home again.The circumstances of Troy’s death in November 2006 are pretty dramatic. He was providing surveillance and reconnaissance for ground forces north of Baghdad when a coalition helicopter went down. As American forces were securing the helicopter and the people inside it, insurgents attacked them. Troy flew in, strafing the insurgents, and flying less than 200 feet from the ground. Continue reading

Flashback Friday: Greetings From Baghdad and Other Fun Memories

I put my eyes on JB this morning.

His office met up for breakfast, and he invited me to come along. He was walking through the dining area as I was walking in.

Did you get that?

He was walking.

I mean, I know he’s recovered and has been back on his feet again for years.

But the last time I saw him, he wasn’t walking, and he wasn’t going to be walking for some time after that.

Yet this morning, he walked up to me and gave me a huge hug.

Later today, I will be heading back to the base to attend the retirement ceremony, and I’ll share photos and such next week.

But for Flashback Friday, I’m sharing the links from our time there in the Middle East, when it was J-Team 1.0.

Gearing Up For Our First Assignment

Greetings From Baghdad

Surviving Baghdad

Reporting from The Triangle of Death

One Down, Two Remain

 

See You Later

These are sad faces, I swear. (Photo by Kara’s husband, Jason)

My friend Kara left me.

Her husband Jason had to go and get promoted in the Air Force. And what happens when people get promoted in the military? They get moved to a place where they can embrace their newfound rank and responsibilities and all that jazz.

So the Air Force sent him to Utah. Nearly a whole continent away from Washington DC.

And even worse? He decided to take his whole family with him, including his wife Kara!

The nerve.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you recognize Kara. She is my very dear friend who took care of Jaz after he was born. At the time, I was working as a contractor for the Department of Defense, and during my maternity leave, the contract changed and instead of working from home like before, I was required to work in Maryland three days a week.

It just so happened that Kara lived five minutes from my new office, and when she heard about my dilemma, she just said, “You bring that baby over to my house.”

And that was it. I dropped off Jaz in the morning, visited him for lunch, and drove home with him in the evenings. It allowed me to continue nursing him, and it gave me such peace of mind and heart because I know she adores my boy just as much as I do.

And she traveled with us. We met up for lunches and dinners here and there. We celebrated Thanksgiving with her family.

And I was so sad when I stopped working at that job and took my current one because that meant I wouldn’t see my Kara all the time.

Yet there was comfort in the fact that she was just a drive away in Maryland.

But alas, life in the military means life on the move. So this weekend, we all went out for one more dinner and ice cream. The kids acted crazy, and we talked as if we’ll be seeing each other next week. Because, thanks to social media, we can still be in touch all the time.

In fact, she refused to say goodbye. She just said, “See you later!”

And I know we will.

But it’s not the same.

I’m going to miss my Kara.

Ice cream with my kids and Kara’s. We took up half the store! (Another Kara photo!)

***************

Fortunately, the very next day, the kids and I got to spend time at a birthday party for our friends’ son.

The party was held in a building filled with giant trampolines. You walk into a huge industrial room, and there are wall-to-wall trampolines. And you jump around … off the walls, to the side, all over the place. It was exhausting. But also very sweet to watch the kids have such a great time.

Especially Jaz. He loves to hop around!

There was another area in this place that was filled with game machines that spit out tickets, similar to Chuck-E-Cheese, and of course, the kids were all over those, too.

Apparently, Jaz inherited his father’s lucky streak, because he played one game, smacked one button, and won more than 600 tickets.

The girls had so much fun cashing those in for him!

*****

Random: I don’t like new pens that don’t immediately write. How long must I scribble before it is going to take me seriously?

It’s the cheap Alpha Basic from Skilcraft. I think it’s law that every government office has them in stock, but NONE of them work. Ever. Blech!!

Another random: I **NEED** Facebook to accept gifs. I really do.

Super Moon

Photo taken from our back porch.

 

Did you see the “super moon” this weekend?

Martin and I stepped out onto our back porch shortly after midnight to go look up. I considered waking up the girls, as we’ve done in the past during such celestial events, but both of them crashed pretty late and they need their sleep.

Besides, it was nice to step outside and be alone with my husband, illuminated by nothing but the moon.

Continue reading

Martin Graduated

Some final words with one of his tech school instructors.

In the midst of all the excitement with Jaz last week, I didn’t get to share the good news.

Martin graduated.

He officially finished his military training last Wednesday and left technical school as a certified air transportation specialist* for the US Air Force Reserve.

I took off from work that day and drove down to Ft. Lee to attend the ceremony. A few other family members were there as well, and we all got to watch as our Airmen were given their certificates and words of encouragement from class leadership.

And I even got to step up and take the grip-and-grin photos for everyone.

 

After the ceremony, we headed over to the dorm so Martin could collect all his belongings, and within an hour, we were on the road again, heading home.

For good.

Martin is no longer considered a “pipeline” Airman. He’s done with his initial training.

Starting next month, he’ll be putting on the uniform at least one weekend a month, two weeks a year, and doing his work at nearby Andrews Air Force Base. Of course, there may be some travel to other locations here and there, some time apart, some more training down the road.

But now? He’s back to be being a full-time stay-at-home dad.

He’ll be posting soon about his tech school experience, and of course, we’ll be sharing as we follow this new path for all of us, especially as he re-integrates with the household again.

It probably goes without saying that we are so proud of him.

******************

* Here’s an Air Force video showing you what air transportation specialists — or  “Port Dawgs” — do in the Air Force/Air Force Reserve.

The One About Tech School

My roommate Carolyn and me during tech school in the spring of 2000.

This is the blog post about tech school.

The one I meant to write and publish earlier, after Martin’s graduation from Basic Military Training before life and all its distractions got in the way.

As you know, Martin is attending his technical school for his job in the Air Force Reserve right now, but this post is specficially about my tech school experience, when I went through it back in the spring of 2000.

For those who aren’t familiar with this part of military training, technical school is where an Airman (or Soldier, Sailor, Marine, or member of the Coast Guard) learns his/her job. In some ways, it’s like college or a trade school, with all the classes, studying, and exams. (In fact, one can earn several college credits there.)

There are even dorms and instructors and dining facilities, just like a college campus.

But with more rules, and uniforms, and military order, of course.

Everyone who wears a uniform performs a job in the military that falls within certain categories or career fields. Each branch has a different way of calling these jobs. In the Army, these are called Military Occupational Specialties, or MOS. In the Air Force, the categories are called Air Force Specialty Codes, or AFSC.

Based on one’s scores after taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude, or ASVAB, test, there are more than 800 careers one can have in the military.

Because I was Air Force, my AFSC was 3N0X1.

Public Affairs.

It was the only military job I ever wanted.

Within days of graduating from basic training, I was on a plane for Baltimore, Maryland. Unlike the majority of my fellow Airmen, who were headed to other Air Force bases for their training, I was heading to Ft. Meade, Maryland, an Army post that is home to the Defense Information School.

I wrote about DINFOS before on the blog, after I was a guest speaker during one of the graduation ceremonies there. Since then, I’ve spoken there a few times to individual classes related to social media and government work.

A lot of the people I knew and worked with in the Air Force are now instructors there themselves, to include some folks who went through tech school with me.

But I digress.

I was sent to Ft. Meade to attend the basic journalism course for three months.

The day I showed up at Fort Meade, I was assigned a roommate, Carolyn, who attended basic training the same time I did, although we were in different flights and didn’t know each other. She was from Minnesota and I was from Cincinnati, and we both were sort of obsessed with Ralph Fiennes and The English Patient at the time.

We got along just fine.

We shared a room in the Air Force dorms which were housed in a long, narrow building right across from the school. We each had a bed, a nightstand, a wardrobe closet, a book shelf and a desk, and we shared an ironing board and mini-refrigerator.

And while we still shared a bathroom with all the other girls on our floor, there were individual shower stalls for more privacy. While it was different than sharing a huge bay with 50 other ladies, we were still expected to make our beds every day, line up our shoes underneath, and keep everything dust-free.

Not all the Airmen were attending the public affairs course. Some were being trained as photographers. Others were there becoming broadcasters and videographers. A few were learning graphic design. Carolyn was training to become a photographer, which meant I was a frequent subject for her photography assignments.

That first weekend there, all the Airmen were involved in a fitness challenge. All the classes were divided up into flights, and my flight was the newest right out of basic training. So collectively, we maxed out on all the scores since we were all in prime condition. For the final obstacle, our commander — a captain who once played football at the Air Force Academy — challenged everyone to a chin-up contest. If someone from our flight could pump out more chin-ups than he, we would get the top prize: a weekend pass with no restrictions.

You see, there are “phases” during tech school. I wrote about them in an earlier post, but to sum it up, the phases are in place to ease the transition away from basic. Under normal circumstances, my flight would have remained in the first phase — which meant an early curfew, no civilian clothes, no leaving the base — for at least three weeks.

Fortunately, my flight had a few young men who could do chin-ups all day.

That first weekend, all of us got to put on civilian clothes again and head downtown to Baltimore. We went to Washington D.C. the next day.

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during my visit to DC.

That’s when I fell in love with this city. It was my first visit ever, and I just knew I would return to it in some capacity at some point in my life.

But at that moment, I was focused on Europe.

When it came to my classes, tech school was pretty easy for me.

From the age of nine, I knew about the public affairs career field, and my curriculum choices in high school reflected my goal to enlist in that career field. All those years in journalism and writing classes, learning about the media, all those public appearances during my theater years and on my mother’s television show really paid off at DINFOS.

Public affairs was a perfect fit for me.

But where was I going to go after tech school?

My public affairs class photo with my instructors
Like all active-duty Airmen in tech school, I expected to get orders to my first duty assignment sometime in the middle of my schooling there. We all got to fill out a “dream sheet” listing the locations we preferred, and all of my preferences were in Europe – most in Germany. When the instructor said I really should list some stateside bases, too, I explained my reasons for not listing any.
Of course, my ancestors came from Germany, and my dad loved it when he was stationed as a young Airman, but any time there was a major international military event, what location was in the news?
Ramstein Air Base. Germany.
Throughout my high school years, I paid attention.
Ramstein was where distinguished visitors visited and Americans returned from conflict. Notable things happened there. It’s where those injured in the Balkans, or in the 1998 embassy attack in Kenya, were flown.
If I wanted to be in the middle of it, in a place where things happened and media activity was constant, I wanted to be there.
So, long before there was Martin, there was a desire to speak the language and live and work in Germany on behalf of the Air Force. As a sophomore in high school, I signed up for German classes and took it for three years before signing up to be a foreign exchange student in the summer of 1999.
I wanted to be as prepared for the assignment as possible.
The instructor laughed when I explained all this, and said my enthusiasm for an overseas assignment would lead me straight to Korea.
Another student, though, overheard me.
She was a technical sergeant, a Reservist, and was cross-training into the public affairs career field. She didn’t live in the dorms with the new Airmen, but attended classes with us.
During our lunch break that day, she wrote an email address on a slip of paper and handed it to me.
“I heard what you were saying about going to Germany,” she said, “and I think you should write to this person. She’s the one who manages everyone’s assignments. I heard her speak at an event recently, and she seems really invested in people’s careers. I don’t think it’ll hurt you to reach out to her.”
So, in a moment of inspired bravado, I took the sergeant’s advice and wrote to the chief master sergeant in charge of assignments.
I later learned that the email was circulated from Fort Meade to Texas to Germany … throughout my career field’s entire senior leadership, actually.
It’s not every day that an airman basic — the lowest rank in the Air Force — writes to a chief master sergeant — the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force — and explains how the Air Force would benefit by sending that brand new baby Airman to Europe.
But I did.

In Cincinnati after tech school during my two-week visit
 
The weekend after I wrote that email, my family from Ohio came out to visit me during the Cherry Blossom festival in DC, and it was the first time they got to see me in uniform since they didn’t attend my graduation from basic training.
I was in Phase Two at the time — I could go off-base yet I had to wear my blues uniform. During the first day of their visit, we spent the day walking around the Mall to see the monuments.
At the Women’s Vietnam Memorial, a lady approached my father and me. She identified herself as an Air Force senior non-commissioned officer, and wanted to know what I did for the Air Force. When I said public affairs, her face lit up.
“I work as a career field manager down at Randolph Air Base in Texas,” she said. “I don’t handle the public affairs assignments, but the lady who does sits right across from me.”
Needless to say, I started talking.
She took down my name, saying she would put in a good word for me to her colleague.
My dad was flabbergasted.
“I can not believe that just happened,” he said. “I think it’s a sign.”
It was.
About a week or so later, I got my orders to Ramstein Air Base.

To say I was excited is putting it mildly.

I couldn’t wait to head over to Europe.
But I had to finish tech school, of course.
In addition to the classes, there were “GI Parties” every Sunday night, when all of us Airmen were assigned household chores, such as mopping the hallways or dusting furniture in the open areas of the dorm.
There were random fire and evacuation drills in the middle of the night.
Early morning “fun runs” with the squadron.
Physical fitness (PT) in the afternoons in the field next to the dorms.
Curfew. Random room/uniform inspections. Custom and courtesy drills.
But there were fun times, too.
I really did enjoy my journalism and photography classes, completing assignments, and hanging out with the others after school or the weekends, when we ventured off base to the local malls and movie theaters, or to Baltimore or Washington DC again.
I got a belly piercing in a tattoo parlor right off base. (That was interesting.) And a few of us discovered a thrift shop not far from the base: I invested a nice chunk of my new paycheck on some great vintage finds.
I also bought a portable CD player and a huge CD storage case to begin my very own CD collection. (10 Internet points if you even know what any of that means.)
And I celebrated my 19th birthday there, too. A group of Airmen and Marines (who lived in the dorms across from ours) took me out for a birthday dinner that weekend, and brought me a cake and candles that morning.

Cake!
I graduated in the last week of May. 
The ceremony lasted about 20 minutes. I don’t even remember who spoke at it.
Later that day, my dad arrived from Ohio to take me back to Cincinnati so I could start two weeks of the “recruiters assistance program” which allowed for me to visit with family before heading over to Germany.
And the rest, they say, is history.

All That Chat

Chatting during Jaz’s nebulizer treatment

 

It’s been a lot easier keeping the kids connected to Martin now that he’s at tech school.

We no longer have to wait for letters, or the ten-minute phone call every two weeks. Now, during the weekends and evenings, all I have to do is flip open the laptop and sign in to talk with Martin.

It’s pretty nice.

Because our laptop is portable, we’ve been able to incorporate Martin in some of our household activities, and vice versa.

One morning, Lola and I lay in my bed, laughing as we watched Martin shave with a traditional razor and shaving cream. He just propped up his cell phone on the sink and talked with us as he did it. When he’s here at home, he normally uses an electric razor, so Lola found it pretty amusing to see him like that.

Watching Martin shave one morning.

Other times, Martin’s watched as Jaz sits through a nebulizer treatment, asking him questions and getting Jaz to hold up his fingers as they played counting games. I’ve sat our laptop on the kitchen counter and prepared dinner while Martin feasted on cereal or sandwiches in his dorm room, and the girls have held dance competitions in the family room with Martin voting from the laptop.

It wasn’t like this back in 2007 when I deployed.
It wasn’t as simple as sitting down and logging on. Of course, the nature of my work over there — traveling from location to location with my three-man news team — meant we weren’t always near computer/Internet access. But even if I did find some free Wi-Fi or a morale tent with some Internet access, not all the computers had web cams. Our home computer at the time certainly did not: Martin had to go out and purchase one and install it. It was hit-and-miss, depending on the connection and network restrictions. (Back then, all social media sites were blocked from most DOD networks.)
But there were a few times we were able to chat over the web cam using AOL chat — Kandahar being one that comes to mind — and we got to see each other in real time.
In the moments when we could communicate, it was so wonderful. I remember seeing Miss C bouncing around behind her Dad, wanting to show me random items from home (“See, Mom? Here’s our lamp! Here’s my teddy bear! Wanna see this plate?”) and just looking adorable. Sometimes, we just sat and stared at each other without saying anything.
Yet, when it came time to log off and say goodbye, ugh. That was the worst. Martin even wrote about it back then.
We didn’t know when we’d see each other again.
But now?
It’s different. 

Technology is much better and more reliable. I’m home. Martin’s just two hours away and safe, too. And I can expect with reasonable certainty that when the day is winding down, and the kids are ready to say goodnight, I can flip open the laptop and send a note, and Martin’s right there ready to connect.

Thank goodness for that.