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

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.

Continue reading

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.

Mother’s Day Weekend with Martin

Jaz in the schoolroom corner of the Richmond Children’s Museum.

The kids and I drove down to Richmond to spend the weekend with Martin.

Not only was it Mother’s Day weekend, but it was also the first opportunity Martin was able to exercise his new “freedom” from technical school.

Unlike our first visit with him a few weeks ago, Martin was able to wear civilian clothes, drive in a personal vehicle, leave the base, and stay overnight with us.

So, I booked our stay in an extended-stay hotel just outside the city, turned off all our electronics, and made the most of our time together.

The four of us arrived late Friday night with Martin greeting us at the hotel since he was able to get a cab and check in on time for us. He had everything set up for us: the pull-out couch done up for the girls and a crib for Jaz so all we had to do was carry our sleeping kids up to the room and toss them in.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sleep in on Saturday morning because more than half the people in his dorms failed their room inspections and he was required to be back in his dorms for a 6 a.m. room inspection. But that didn’t stop the rest of us from sleeping in!

By late morning, all of us were together again, though, and the very first thing we did was head over to the nearby shopping center to get Martin some new clothes.

Seriously — the man needs new clothes. When I pulled up to his dorms on the post, he was standing outside waiting for us, wearing his old jeans and t-shirt. It’s an outfit he’s worn for years, but it was hanging off of him.

To be honest, I thought he looked sickly. Not that he looked pale and weak: on the contrary. Martin’s probably the healthiest he’s been his whole life right now. But he looked like he was swimming in his old clothes and it just didn’t look right.

So we snagged him some new jeans and tops, and I was so amused as he kept going back and forth, grabbing smaller sizes off the rack.

Next, we went to the grocery store for some food items, and we returned to the hotel to eat lunch and hang out.

We took our afternoon nap all piled up in the king-size bed.

We went swimming in the hotel pool.

We popped popcorn, ate Oreos, and watched a marathon of movies.

And then we threw all three kids into the room’s giant whirlpool tub before getting them in their pajamas and tucking them into bed.

It was so nice just being able to do that simple family routine again.

Fortunately, Martin was able to sleep in on Sunday morning.

Or rather, he was able to stay in bed after the kids woke us up shortly after sunrise. All three of them bounded into our room and leaped into the bed once they realized he was still there in the room.

We took our time with breakfast and getting ready for the day, packing up our things to check out of the hotel.

We decided to head to the Richmond Children’s Museum for the afternoon, which was a very wise decision on our part. That place is perfect for kids, with various learning corners and play areas. There’s a little “town” set up, where the kids could play in a grocery store, a bank, a school, a news station, etc. There was a giant apple tree where the kids could “pick” the apples. At one point, we lost track of Lola while everyone was running around/playing in the center “playground” of the museum.

We weren’t concerned: it’s an enclosed environment with lots of areas to play. But there were many corners and rooms where she could be. We found her in the theater room, up on the stage, performing a puppet show for about ten people (a mix of parents and kids). I’m not even kidding: they thought it was a part of the museum.

She had a storyline, each character had a specific voice, and everything. Martin and I stood in the back, filming part of it and taking photos. It was too funny.

Lola performed a ten-minute puppet show for museum guests.

The girls dressed up in the race car area.

Getting treated by Dr. Lola in the back of the ambulance. Actually, I’m really taking a nap. 😉

As the kids stuffed scarves into this wind tunnel, Martin controlled where the scarves shot out.

After the museum, we ate a late lunch at nearby Galaxy Diner which had a retro/futuristic space theme and really good food. It’s not often that all three kids eat ALL of their food at a restaurant, but they did.

And even Martin and I finished our plates, although we both regretted it later. It was the most both of us ate in one sitting in a long time.

But worth it!

After that, we went to a nearby movie theater to watch The Croods, and by the time that was done, it was time to drive Martin back to Fort Lee.

Yet, we couldn’t give him up right away, so we drove into the family housing area to find a playground. That’s one of the most reliable things about a military base: if you find the housing area, you will find a playground.

We let the kids run around for about an hour, hoping to wear them out for the road trip back up to Northern Virginia. It worked. By the time we really did drop Martin off at his dorm, the kids were very tired.

Which meant they were a little grumpy, too.

Nobody wanted Martin to go.

But fortunately, he only has one month left before he can come home for good with us.

We can’t wait.

Future Presidents


Today, she’s President of her Fourth Grade class. But 30 years from now….

Martin and I accepted an invitation to be a part of a really awesome opportunity.

Matthew Jordan Smith, who discovered our blog while doing research, reached out to us to ask if we’d like to be a part of his upcoming book called Future Presidents. A photographer based out in Los Angeles, he’s worked with a lot of people you’ve probably heard about, and his images have been featured in a lot of places. He himself has appeared on a show you may have watched.

Yet, his work goes beyond fashion shoots. He created a book for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and has volunteered his talent and knowledge all over the country. His current project aims to inspire children of all races and backgrounds to embrace their dreams by expressing what they would do as President of the United States.

After becoming familiar with our family’s story, he wondered if Martin and I, and our three future presidents, would like to be featured in the book.

After doing much research of my own about Mr. Smith and his project, I knew our answer.

Of course we will participate.

I wrote back to Mr. Smith and told him if he hadn’t found us first, I would have chased him down to request participation. There are many things about the book and it’s message that really resonate with our family. Martin and I are doing our best to raise our kids to think big and take advantage of every opportunity available to them to have a positive impact on society and others. This book shares that aspiration.

I like that he’s getting the kids themselves to write about their hopes and dreams. I’m also so impressed by the beautiful images Mr. Smith has captured already. These glimpses of America and American children are just stunning. And so full of hope.

Despite what the headlines say, despite all the frustrating things happening in the world, I know the future is bright for my children and their generation.

My family looks forward to working with Mr. Smith!

And of course, I’ll post updates about this as they come. 🙂

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

 

Thank You For Your Service

Enjoying breakfast on the Riverwalk

That Sunday after his graduation ceremony was the last we saw Martin while down in Texas.

He earned a town pass for the day in two ways. First, he won it by maxing out on the physical fitness standards, earning himself a “warhawk” status for extraordinary fitness. Because of that, he got a certificate, a t-shirt, and a town pass.

This incentive is something new to BMT (or at least, new to me), and when Martin told me about it over the phone, his German accent threw me off, and I misunderstood that he was a warthog.

It was a few days later until I realized my mistake. I just assumed he was referencing something from BEAST week, and didn’t bother to get clarification.

It’s Warhawk: the Air Force God of Fitness.

(I made up that last part.)

The second way Martin earned the Sunday town pass was through his flight, and their designation as the honor flight. All the others in his flight also got to spend one extra day with their families as a reward for earning the most points through their exams, inspections, and fitness tests.

So, Miss C and I picked up Martin early Sunday morning and immediately drove down to the city, where we enjoyed breakfast on the Riverwalk.

Halfway through our meal, an older gentleman approached us, and introduced himself as a former B-52 pilot. He had been eating at the table behind us with his family, and when he saw Martin in his uniform and overheard our conversation, he realized Martin was a recent BMT graduate, and he wanted to treat us.

So he bought our entire breakfast, thanking Martin for his service.

The gentleman wasn’t the first to thank Martin that weekend. In fact, just about everywhere we went, people approached Martin to shake his hand, thank him for his service, and welcome him to the Air Force.

Martin said this made him feel really awkward because not only is he naturally a pretty humble dude, but for so long, it was people coming up to me and thanking me for serving, and occasionally treating me (or us) with some random act of kindness.

But most of all, Martin said he felt weird about it because in his mind, graduating from BMT didn’t really count as a significant contribution of service.

But he is wrong.

Every time someone approached Martin, I wanted to speak up about my husband, to bring them up to speed about how he’s already served and sacrificed. And it’s not even that he gave up his own Bundeswehr career, or offered such unconditional support to my own Air Force career.

It’s just that, in addition to all things that motivates one to join the military, Martin really and truly knows how hard it is, and how much is given and lost when one puts on the uniform … and how mundane and ordinary working for the Air Force can be … and how exciting … and how draining human politics and office politics and DC politics can be in the military, and how much it can change you, and not always for good … and all the other things that make life in the military one of the hardest and most stressful career choices out there.

Most new Airmen do not have that perspective.

But despite having witnessed all of that through my career and those of our good friends, and despite having a comfortable life as a stay-at-home dad with us at home, my warthog STILL decided to serve.

Yes, Martin.

Thank you for your service.

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

The three of us. That’s Miss C sporting the panda mask she got at the San Antonio zoo.

The rest of that Sunday was definitely more low-key. After breakfast, we let Miss C decide our plans. This led us over to the IMAX theater near the Alamo, where we saw a documentary about monarch butterflies.

Afterwards, we drove back to our hotel, where the three of us ordered room service and watched animal reality television shows featuring adorable puppies and psychotic cats while all piled up on the huge bed. The only thing missing were our two babies, Lola and Jaz.

At least, though, we knew that the hardest part — BMT — was over, and we were that much closer to being all together again.

Our goodbye to Martin that day was relatively quick and painless. I pulled into the parking lot next to his dorm, helped him unload his new luggage set, and gave him a quick hug and kiss goodbye. He had an early morning flight out of Texas — the airport bus picked him up at 2 am — and then he would be off to technical school to learn how to become an air transportation specialist.

This meant he was now a lot closer to home, too.

Literally.

For the longest time, I thought his tech school was there at Lackland Air Force Base. But as it turned out … of all the places he could have gone for his training, his school is at Fort Lee, Virginia.

Just two hours south of where we live.

***********

Can you believe that Martin already wrote something for the Air Force’s official blog?

It’s true.

That Sunday, while we were hanging out in the hotel room, Martin typed up some thoughts about his BMT experience.

You can read it here.