Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving ... a little late

I have to admit I have been having so much fun enjoying all I have to be thankful for that I have put off blogging about it! My family descended on our new home a week ago, and everyone has yet to leave. Thankfully, we have been having so much fun that the time has flown by, and the kids and I are bummed that it all has to end this evening! Then, it is back to school and work, with just three short weeks until it all starts again.

I feel as though all I am thankful for this year is so obvious—a loving family, two sweet and happy kids, a job I enjoy and a new church in which all three of us feel so welcome. Then, there's all our new friends and the start of ski/snowboard season! Here is what others said around the table Thursday evening when we sat down to a HUGE spread:

I am thankful for:
  • God, family, friends, a good school and everything. JCH, 12 years
  • My family being together for thanksgiving, good health of everyone in the family and my church's development. JWT, 66 years
  • Love in our family, being together, new starts and being forgiven. BH, 42 years
  • Jesus, family, jobs, good health, being together, Maggie. LMH, 42 years
  • For spending this beautiful Thanksgiving with all my family, for good health, for God giving us this wonderful time together. NKT, 66 years
  • Family, friends, shelter, freedom of religion, food. JAH, 13 years
  • Family, friends, food, clothes, shelter, and that all of you are in my life! SNA, 9 years
  • Cars. CCA, 7 years
  • Everything. JNH, 9 years

I think that says it all!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone (a little late).

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

When words hurt

My daughter’s school is doing a special series on bullying—appropriate as another child recently took her life in what appears to be a bullying-related incident. My girl just finished a book that describes a situation in which each student had to draw a names of a fellow student, and then, after a few weeks, sit face to face with that partner and give him or her a series of compliments. The book’s title character discovered that a “mean girl” was actually very resourceful, brave and dedicated to her family.

This led to a discussion about why it is so easy to believe the negative things people say to us—those hurtful things that keep us awake at night, questioning our self-worth, rather than having faith in all the kind things people say. At age 9, my girl was already aware of this—that mean words hit harder and affect her more than all the kind words she hears every day. We spent some time talking about her positive qualities, and how to handle a bully who can only see the negative in life and in the people around him or her.

After getting my daughter in bed, the conversation stuck with me and today, as we celebrate Veterans Day in the United States, continues to touch me even more. For so many veterans, their service has been sullied by the attitudes of their fellow citizens and, sometimes, even their families. So many people seem to forget we don’t join the military because we have a vision of destroying lives; we do it because of the commitment we have to our country, for the camaraderie with our military family and, sometimes, for the money, the latter not such much but, in a failing economy, it’s a job.

So, today and every day you can, thank a veteran and know it may take lots of kind words and thanks to overcome the negativity they may have suffered over the years. Many service members (and their families) have paid prices we can never imagine in an effort to protect the freedoms we all hold so dear.

Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


So, we are settled in our new home, kids have started school, I am once again seeing patients, and evenings are spent at soccer practice. So, after four years of living in the “buckle of the Bible belt,” my next priority was finding a church.

Week One, we tried out a traditional Methodist church. We had been attending a great Methodist church in Texas, a place of much support to the kids and me before, during and after my deployment to Afghanistan, so that seemed the most logical place to start. It was not a good fit. It was an odd mix of traditional and contemporary. I just didn't leave with that “this is it” feeling.

Week Two, on a whim, I tried out a newly planted Lutheran church that meets in a movie theater a mile from our house. I was a bit nervous, wondering how on earth a movie theater could be turned into a house of God, but I really enjoyed it. The people were few in number—maybe 50 adults—but so welcoming. I was hugged, my name was remembered and several offers were made to assist with my move-in chores. The next week, we went back. The kids really enjoyed it, too although, in their case, it may have been the donuts and just the overall “wow, we are in a movie theater for church” glow. So, although the people were great, the church body is small and there are not very many choices for children or adult Bible studies.

Which brings me to the third try. The kids and I attended a nearby, HUGE nondenominational church this morning. There was a drummer, singers, a couple electric guitars and, I am pretty sure, a spotlight or two lit up the stage. Yes, it was a stage—not a pulpit! I just didn't get that “warm fuzzy.” It was too big, too catchy and too much glitter, without enough mention of God or His Word.

I find it interesting that, with a simple mouse click or two, I managed to find three such very different churches: one very traditional where we could just roll in every week, attend some classes and maybe not be missed if we skipped a couple weeks; one very contemporary where there is a TON of program offerings but I would have to work hard to find a niche and not just be a number on the attendance register each week; and one that is small but friendly, an oasis in a big town.

A friend and I had a good chuckle—she was completely put off by the thought of attending church where she might be missed, where the pastor knows her by name and even (gasp!) contacts her the next day to say thanks for coming! But, for me it felt "just right," a little like Goldilocks!!

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Home sweet home

I have a confession to make. I have been home almost two whole weeks and have not found the time or energy to tell all of you.

Coming home has been a very surreal experience. Some days, it is hard to believe that, just a few weeks ago, I was living in a tent in a war zone, eating tuna for dinner and planning missions. Now, I am sleeping in my very comfy bed, eating curry for dinner and volunteering as much as possible at my kids' elementary school. I have gone from directing the actions of more than 60 soldiers and airmen to driving the kid's shuttle—and usually arriving late, no matter how early I try to leave!

I had a great trip home with a short overnight in Baltimore. We lived for two years in the suburbs of D.C. while I did graduate school, and some friends from there showed up at the airport to welcome me back to the United States. They had signs, balloons and dinner reservations waiting; it was a wonderful way to return home.

The next day, after some difficulty getting a flight from Dallas to home (one of the struggles of living in a one-carrier town), I arrived here to a crowd of family and friends. It was a strange feeling, as most were the same people who saw me off a year ago. It was hard to remember if I was coming or going.

At the airport, I was surprised to see my oldest with her arm in a splint and sling. She had fallen from her swing set a few days before and fractured both of the bones in her arm. Since then, she has been to the operating room for a closed reduction and is now in a highlighter-yellow colored cast. She is none the worse for wear and I keep saying that, if that is the worst thing that happened to them while I was gone, it was a success!

I managed to make it home for our boy's birthday. He is seven years old but still very much a mama's boy! He got a snowboarding game for the Wii for his birthday and the last several nights have been spent in a game marathon where he kicks my tail every time.

I must admit not much has changed in West Texas, which sometimes makes it hard to believe I was really gone for a year. One exciting change: We have orders to move this summer to Denver, Colorado, something we are all looking forward to. That means selling our house, cleaning cupboards and preparing the kids for a new school. Thankfully, this year has proven what troopers they are and their resiliency is amazing.

I will keep writing and will keep you posted as I continue to settle in and return to work, eventually. I am enjoying this life as lady of leisure and chief soccer shuttle driver!


For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Starting for home!

I can’t believe it! Our journey home has officially begun. After several days at Bagram, breathing the dust and wrapping up work, we left yesterday for the States. It is a bit of a convoluted process getting home. We flew to Kyrgyzstan and will spend a few days here awaiting a flight to the United States.

This old Russian base is not exactly somewhere I would want to be much longer than a day. We stay in a huge “circus tent” with a couple hundred other women. They leave the lights on all night and the heat at full blast. They lecture you about not leaving your valuables “unattended,” but you can’t take a backpack anywhere, and they provide
nothing for you to lock your things in.

Oh, well, it is short lived. The gym is nice, chow is open 24 hours and I am at least here with friends—it would be miserable here alone. Oh, and how could I forget? We are allowed two beers a day! Believe it or not, I was so tired last night I didn’t even go have one. I will have to make up for that today.

If all goes well, I will be in Texas by Friday. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that this long year is over. I continue to thank God that our team was spared any major incidents, especially as I sit and talk to friends and hear of their experiences.

Afghanistan is a beautiful country, but there continues to be so much to do to end the conflict there and improve the lives of the population. We joke that we will be back in a few years when our numbers come up again, and I laugh with mixed emotions. I would enjoy seeing progress made, but also know that little will advance as long as the corruption and insurgency continue.

Enough introspection. I am off to find food, maybe browse the PX and turn in my gear. It will be nice to be rid of my body armor and know for certain I am truly out out of the war zone with no need for that heavy vest, anymore!


For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Life goes on ...

When you spend a year deployed, you sometimes forget that the real world is still out there, that war is not everything and life still happens. There are new songs, new TV shows, new laws, babies are born, and people pass on. Today, several things happened to remind me of this.

First, I got an early morning call that one of the engineers we had left in the province to assist the new team woke up with "severe" abdominal pain. After a
HELO ride and quick ER evaluation, he was on his way to the OR for an appendectomy. Why now? Why him? We will never know, but I am very thankful it wasn't a few days from now, when the rest of us were boarding a plane and leaving him here to deal with this alone. He did great, is very proud of his "Afghanistan" scars and already trying to come up with his "so there I was" story.

I also ran into one of our communications technicians, whose wife was expecting their second child. He was anxious to make it home for the birth but it wasn't
meant to be. His new son was born while we traveled to Bagram earlier this week. Mama and baby are doing great and looking forward to Daddy's return. So many men here miss the birth of their children—another price paid for serving their nation.

I frequently joke about the things the Army owes me after a year away—birthdays, holidays, my boy's first lost tooth—but I am so
grateful for the things that didn't happen. I have my fingers and toes, we didn't lose a single soldier and, as much as I regret not doing "enough," we did plenty, and our legacy projects will continue to help the people of Afghanistan.

As the clock ticks down, I am more and more ready to head for home—to see my family, watch some spring soccer (GO TWISTERS!) and readjust to the real world. I want to listen to new music and catch up on all I have missed while being gone for a year. I will keep you all posted as we make the trek back to the States. I have no doubt it will be a
humorous journey as I meet up with friends from training who are also heading home. I look forward to hearing their stories, as I have come to realize there is no single Afghanistan experience, and all have stories to tell.


For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Friday, March 5, 2010

More goodbyes

We have achieved another milestone—our replacements have arrived! We were so excited to see them walk off the plane last week. It brought back memories of that day, so many months ago, when we stumbled onto the tarmac at Bagram, suffering from jetlag but excited to get started with our mission. They have stars in their eyes, eager to implement their ideas and do things their way. I believe our time has been too short, but one benefit is the infusion of fresh blood that re-energizes the mission every nine months.

I have spent the last few days saying more goodbyes. We visited the providers at both the provincial and district hospitals, and thanked them for all the hard work they are doing. It was especially hard to say goodbye to the hospital administrator at the district hospital. He has done an amazing job implementing our Strong Food program for malnourished children, and I wish so much I had a chance to do more with him and his staff. This is us, in front of the administration building at the hospital:

Then, tonight, the rest of our security-forces platoon headed to Bagram for their redeployment. Due to our "hodge-podge" of Air Force and Army members, we have been forced to leave the country at different times, something we had hoped to avoid. We had looked forward to sharing that first cold beer together in Germany on our way home. Much like the last time, we had to say goodbye to our constant protectors. I did get a little teary. These men have taught me much, both about myself and "soldiering," things I could never have imagined needing to know (and, before this, never wanting to know). I respect them immensely and look forward to our paths crossing again.

But, I think I am getting better at this goodbye thing. This time, as they drove away, I didn't cry nearly as hard and I have yet to shed one tear as I write this. Just think, by the time I say goodbye to everyone else at Bagram, it will be "old hat" and I can just smile at the memories as I walk onto the plane! My tears will become the happy kind as I approach home and see those two little humans (and a bunch of big ones, too) waiting there for me!


For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Women in Afghanistan

As we look forward toward our pending transition out of Afghanistan, I continue to revise our list of lessons learned and things we would encourage our replacements to do differently. We had several challenges during our nine months here. We moved our 80-member team from Bagram to austere conditions in the province, transitioned through three different higher Task Forces (the current one being French), and have been limited in our ability to move around the area due to continued threats. With all these challenges on our plate, some things had to get pushed to the side and one that did, much to my regret, was our focus on women’s affairs.

Women are still viewed as property in Afghanistan, second class—maybe even third or fourth—behind the men, boys and, sometimes, even animals. They work in the fields, wash clothes in the rivers or streams and carry water from centralized wells. They share their home with their husbands’ other wives—up to four wives is an accepted practice here—and many were never taught to read or write. It is an eye-opening experience after growing up in the United States with all the freedoms we experience there.

It is interesting to visit various projects and villages in the province. The men and young boys come to greet us, asking for pens and often wanting to show off their English-speaking skills. The women never approach and the young girls hang back, watching the boys and everything that is happening. Even when they realize there are women in the group, the girls still hang back and run away if we attempt to approach.

That said, last week, a representative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) scheduled a mission for us to visit sites where she has funded literacy programs for women. It was so thrilling to see 20 women sitting around their teacher, so proud of themselves for knowing how to write their names! At each site, the women circled around us, talking about how challenging it had been to not know how to read and how much they are enjoying this opportunity. In addition to teaching literacy skills, the program will also teach women technical skills such as carpet weaving or tailoring, another opportunity the women look forward to.

This visit helped me to realize that, although our team was limited in the programs we were able to implement for women, good things are still happening for them throughout Afghanistan. It also emphasized the great work being done by other organizations in the area. As security improves, more programs will be able to transition to these knowledgeable civilians and the military can transition out of Afghanistan, a true measure of success for what we have done over here.


For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The first of the goodbyes

Today, we said the first of our goodbyes. The good news? This means our tour is coming to an end. The bad news? This means our tour is coming to an end.

When this whole thing started last year, someone told me that, at the end of the tour, I would have made some friends for life. This man was so right, and the point hit home tonight as I said goodbye to 14 men who spent the last eight months of their lives protecting mine.

Our team was put together with a hodge-podge of active duty, reserve, National Guard and individual Ready Reserve soldiers and airmen. Some were with us as volunteers and for some it was their turn to deploy. Others had left the Army years before but had received the dreaded letter in the mail calling them back to active service. Yes, you read that right. We do not have a draft but, for most of us, even when we leave active duty, we still have a commitment to the military.

Fifteen of the men assigned to our team were civilians, who were working jobs and living their lives when a letter showed up in their mailbox a year ago telling them they were needed back in uniform. They could have torn it up and pretended it never arrived, but these men answered the call and left their families to spend a year in Afghanistan. They came from various walks of life—policemen, construction workers, businessmen, general laborers and a postal worker.

These men worked for our team as gunners, drivers and dismounts. They cleared buildings before I entered, then stood guard at the door, often for hours in the hot sun, while meetings were conducted. They drove our team through firefights and watched their buddies get injured in an IED (improvised explosive device) explosion. They smiled at the Afghan people, even as they stayed on full alert for the feared suicide bombers. And, thank God, they are all going home with all their fingers and toes to their families.

So, tonight, we all said our goodbyes, the first of many we will have over the next month as we prepare to leave. As I wiped the tears off my face, I thanked each of them for their support and dedication to our mission. If our paths ever cross again, I will be proud to serve with each of them, anywhere, anytime.


For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Full moon over Afghanistan

I came around the corner this evening and saw the full moon above the snowcapped mountains and had to take some pictures. Makes the last couple days of rain and all the mud ALMOST worth it.


For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A cold, dreary day in Afghanistan

I want so much to post something new and exciting but the blogger muse seems to have left me. It is a cold, dreary day here in Afghanistan, better suited for a warm fire, good book and a bottomless cup of coffee. But, the mission goes on—a little like the postal service!

Since I last wrote, so much has happened. We have all relocated to our base up in the province and are well established here. It was tough at first. Initially, we had just a French dining hall, and the food was very different. I was given the choice of liver or tongue one night, and frog legs were on the menu another night. At least, there is always good cheese, and that makes it worth the walk. We now have three American cooks, so mealtime is looking much better.

Our living accommodations are not bad. We live in tents but, honestly, I like my space here better than what I had at Bagram.
It is brighter and is more pleasant. Not that I spend much time there; we work 14- to 16-hour days most of the time.

Our main focus right now is getting ready for our replacement's arrival in a month. We are working hard to make their orientation to the job and the province as smooth as possible. The more work we do now, the easier it will be once they arrive. Our goal is to get on the plane knowing they can do missions the next day, and that will take lots of effort on all our parts.

I did sneak out of the office over the weekend to deliver more supplies for our Strong Food program. In case you don't remember, that is a pediatric supplement for malnutrition. It's made from almonds, sugar, dried milk, oil and vitamins. I so enjoy the time we spend out with the medical providers. They are excited to show us the progress they are making, the success they are seeing. So far, we have served this supplement to more than 800 children in our province, and we have another six months of supplies ready to go.

The medical director was excited to show us some "new" equipment he had received. Apparently, an organization had donated dialysis machines, an OR anesthesia machine, several fetal non-stress test monitors and a pediatric ventilator. The staff has no idea how to use any of it. It underscores one of the issues here. People want so much to help but, often, what happens is not what the Afghans need. This facility doesn't need fancy machines, but more trained staff, medicines to treat the people and opportunities to teach disease prevention with improved sanitation and clean water. That is the challenge for my replacement—how to get those basic things accomplished.

In all honesty, the nine months we are here is almost too short; we are just getting comfortable with where we want to go next, and it is time to leave. But, our families are ready to see us and we miss the "real" world. I will keep you posted on our transition back to it over these next two months.


For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pictures of recent adventures

Jingle trucks pass one of our trucks along the road outside Kabul. Every day, these trucks fill this road, often causing huge traffic backups. We got stopped for a little bit, until some Afghan policemen came by and helped clear a lane for us.

Local women wash clothes in the river below Naghlu Dam in S. TaGab.

Waiting to start a joint mission with the French in the Alasay Valley. We visited a clinic and a mosque project. We drove up the night before and spent the night sleeping in an Afghan National Army outpost, a very surreal experience. The Afghan soldiers were respectful and kept their distance, but wouldn't stop staring at the other female on the convoy and me. They see very few American soldiers and even fewer American women. They took our pictures, which made me a little nervous.


For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

I am still here

Hello, friends! I am so sorry I have been delinquent in posting to my blog. Many of you have written to check on the team and me. We really are doing fine. It has been a busy six weeks since I last posted. Between missions, the holidays and some changes in our senior leadership, it has gone amazingly fast! I promise more in the next week.

So much has happened, I don't know where to start! I confess I have started several postings but work pulled me away. Thank you for checking and for keeping the team and me in your thoughts and prayers.


For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.