Category Archives: On Deployment Now

River of Messages

I am numb at the end of a week of relaying many, many emergency messages. It had been quiet around Thanksgiving. A week later, Julie and I are passing record numbers of messages for our time here.

Each one is unique: the death of an uncle who raised a serviceman in West Virginia. A wife having complications with a pregnancy while trying to care for five young children and two have the chicken pox. A sister scheduled for cardiac by-pass surgery in California. A teenage daughter has run away in Georgia. As I pass each one, I hear the names of the deceased, ill, injured or lost person and the detailed verification that is provided by a nurse, doctor, funeral director, or police officer. Each message is very individual and real.

But by the end of my shift it is like I have been sitting on the bank of a fast, rushing river full of names, diagnoses, hospitals, and funeral homes. I feel badly hours later when the serviceman calls our office to verify that he has received the message, I cannot remember if the message was about a birth, death, or illness.

In the midst of this work, some messages come through requesting that the serviceman or woman leave her post and unit in deployment to return to the States to support a family member having a bunion repaired, a tummy tucked, or a few teeth extracted. I am frustrated in the flurry of passing so many true emergencies that we have to service some messages that technically meet our definition of emergency, but look almost ridiculous in comparison to the severity of most messages.

These messages probably reflect the loneliness families are feeling, especially at the holidays with their loved ones stationed far away. And this isn’t the first deployment for most of these soldiers, most are here on their second or third deployments, and each one has been for a longer term. In the Army, the first deployments were for six months, the second deployments were a year, and now they are being assigned for fifteen months. The Marines started with six month deployments and now are assigned are for a year at a time. These multiple and extended deployments are bound to cause families to stretch out and try to get soldiers home, especially for the holidays. We may be in for a very, very busy next couple of weeks.

I stopped by the hospital this week with coworker Debby to deliver some Comfort Kits to three soldiers injured a few hours earlier by an explosion. The first soldier, Christopher, was a broad shouldered, dark haired young man who looked a lot like my future son-in-law, whose name is also Christopher. A lump grew in my throat as I thought about my Christopher safe at home in southern Minnesota, where he is finishing his teaching degree. The Christopher in the bed with dirt, perspiration, and blood dried on his forehead and arms belongs to a wife and a four year old daughter in Texas. He said he has had hardly spent time with his little girl since she was born. His leg was broken badly enough to require surgery, and he hoped they would send him back to the States to recuperate. He has served five years, and after the day’s explosion and a brush with death that killed the driver in his vehicle, he was ready for a break.

With regard to the holidays, colleague Julie and I went shopping Sunday to a spot along the front gate, which because of its proximity to the perimeter of the base requires wearing armor. So we donned our helmets and vests. And you thought holiday shopping in the states was rough. Check out the picture of us headed to “the store.”

Oh, yes – I almost forgot – we had entertainment on base. Male and female WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) wrestlers performed at COB Speicher. A couple of weeks ago the Washington Redskins cheerleaders were here to boost morale. Before that, a country singer performed. I missed all of these opportunities due to either sleeping, working, or washing my hair. My entertainment choices would be opera, symphony orchestras, a play, or a reading by a famous novelist or poet. I realize that my interests probably wouldn’t draw a large crowd here, but wrestling and cheerleaders?! Where is Bob Hope when you need him?

“If You Didn’t Put It Down, Don’t Pick It Up”

When we accepted our deployment assignment, we knew we would probably be in more danger than living at home in Utah or Iowa. When I first heard I was assigned to COB Speicher near Tikrit, I asked an Air Force Reservist who had deployment experience what it would be like. He replied, “Don’t worry, they’ll probably have someone assigned to take the bullet for you” . . . What bullet?

Red Cross staff are assigned to offices on military bases, and in deployed locations, we are forbidden, absolutely forbidden, to leave under any circumstances. Before we arrived, the only danger I had heard of would come from airborne mortars (referred to as “incoming”) As far as I could tell, these attacks have been few and ineffective in the last couple of years at COB Speicher.

What I didn’t know until we arrived is that an undetermined number of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and UXOs (Unexploded Ordinances) were buried here by the former owner, Saddam Hussein. At Ft. Benning, we received a briefing on these explosives, and even though I knew I would not be going out past the wire — the military expression for leaving the base — I paid close attention and even took notes. Pop cans, watches, and cell phones are often used to lure someone into picking it up. We were instructed to never, ever pick an object up off of the ground – never. The rule from that point on has been, “If You Didn’t Put it Down, Don’t Pick It Up.”

I learned about the existence of these hidden explosives within hours of arriving at COB Speicher. Everyone was talking about the soldier killed by an IED on base the day before. Although the grounds were scoured by bomb detection teams when the base was first occupied by U.S. troops, some devices have emerged over time as the ground is disturbed by weather or construction. Rumors circulated for a few days about what the soldier might have touched and whether he had followed protocol. Had he done it on his own? Was he assigned to clean up an area? I never heard for sure, but again we were warned not to touch anything on the ground that doesn’t belong to us.

For the last two weeks, crews have been digging trenches near our CHUs to lay improved plumbing lines. I am all for enhanced plumbing, but I was nervous about the backhoes working so close to our living quarters. I was reassured that the area had been screened extensively when our troops took over and not to worry.

Last week, as I was walking to the office from our CHU, several Humvees raced past me with their sirens blaring. I didn’t know that Humvees have sirens. Apparently some do. They stopped at our block of CHUs. By this time I was over half a mile away and couldn’t see clearly what was happening, so I continued on to work without giving it much more thought.

My colleague Julie was in her CHU asleep. She is our late night case worker and comes in near the end of my shift. According to her, a soldier pounded on her door and shouted at her to run 150 yards beyond the garbage dumpster. A rather startling awakening, but she did as she was told. No questions asked. She stood there shivering until the all clear was called and she went back to bed.

Julie assumed an explosive of some sort had been found in the garbage dumpster. At work that night, she said she would be apprehensive about throwing anything away after this.

We later heard that two live grenades were uncovered by the back hoe. The EOD (Explosives Ordinance Disposal) team removed the live items without incident. For the most part, no one talks anymore about the incident that killed the soldier before our arrival, and the news of the grenades was only news for a day or two. We move on.

We still laugh a little though, thinking about Julie’s new fear of garbage dumpsters. Until she learned that the explosives were in the trench and not in the dumpster, she was in the process of developing a new approach to taking out her garbage. Step 1 Approach dumpster and lift lid very carefully. Step 2 Toss garbage in. Step 3 Run like crazy. This would look strange enough around here, but imagine people at home observing this behavior when she returns.

All of that was days ago. It rained yesterday for the first time since we arrived. The air smells chalky, and our attention has turned to the advent of the rainy season.

P.S. To my family; Julie’s family; and Carolyn, our supervisor in DC; please do not be worried by this account. We promise: we won’t pick anything up!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Every week, I download pictures taken on the camera I almost always carry with me, look at what I’ve seen and then try to come up with words to explain my experiences. It is like a photo journal. This week, the phrase “the good, the bad, and the ugly” comes to mind.

I have a shot of a beautiful sunset and serveral pictures of the few flowers on base: mums thriving outside the entrance to the main laundry, delicate but fiercely resilient desert flowers blooming along my walk to the office, and a rose in our Garden of Eden courtyard at the office.

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The flowers are a testimony to someone’s desire to create and nourish beauty in an otherwise stark landscape. Seeing a bourgeoning patch of mums or a single pink rose allows us pause and admire, and perhaps, escape our otherwise difficult surroundings for a few moments.

But planting something in the desert is an act of hopefulness, too. When someone plants, they have done it with the expectation that it will bloom at some later date and someone will be there to appreciate the colorful petals or the shade that has grown. A pessimistic person doesn’t plant seeds, especially in the desert.

This week, I also have a picture of dusk that is as disconcerting as the flowers are reassuring. Three green stars painted on a cement pillar — remnants of Hussein’s Air Force –, barbed wires, and debris fill the foreground as a dusty sun lowers itself to the horizon. Willa Cather set some of the most poignant scenes in her novels during twilight, the short window between day and night, a time of transition offering opportunity and vulnerability. We are at such a crossroads here.

“The good, the bad, and the ugly” also reminds me of our work delivering emergency communication messages. Many people think that with the Internet and cell phones, it is easy for service members to stay in touch with their families. This is simply not the case. Cell phones are not available in most locations due to security concerns and access to computers and land phones requires waiting in line. These types of messages can’t wait for the weekly call or email home.

Most of the messages are sad — the death of a beloved grandparent, the hospitalization of a servicemember’s toddler, a fire at a service member’s home. Some are worse: the breakdown in child care or the alleged abuse of a servicemember’s children, or the diagnosis of severe depression or chemical dependency of a spouse at home. The only happy messages are the birth notifications.

The other happiness or “good” on our deployment comes from our relationships with each other and the servicemen and women. We have become close even though four of us are in Baghdad on Camp Liberty, four are about 50 miles north in Balad on Camp Anaconda, and four of us are 50 miles farther north near Tikrit on COB Speicher.

Mike, a team member destined for Balad on Camp Anaconda saved me a seat when they were scarce before a formation at Ft. Benning, even when one of the team leaders wanted the seat. Mike justified his choice by saying that I smelled better than others mingling around looking for a seat– they were all male. This might seem odd and too personal under normal circumstances, but our staff bonded quickly while we were being briefed in DC and processed at Ft. Benning. Nicole, also now at Camp Liberty, calls me and the other women, “Sis.” Here at COB Speicher, Debby with her Southern kindness calls me “Miss Ginny.” And we have picked up each others’ phrases and mottos. Brittany, the recent college graduate, has us all saying, “Seriously!” in a long drawn out and dramatic manner. Jay told me in jest while we were in DC that he has trouble hearing unless he is wearing his glasses. So when our phones are acting up, and he can’t make out what I am saying, I shout into the crackling line, “Jay, for Pete’s sake, put on your glasses!” It occurs to me, with all of these gestures, we are trying to temporarily fill a portion of the void created by being away from our families and friends at home.

So with the few flowers, the generous friendship among colleagues, and each glowing sunset that graces this place, we are fortified to do the best we can delivering emergency messages one day at a time.

Thanksgiving at COB Speicher

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. The day encourages families and friends to gather without the complexities of religion or gift giving, and it isn’t overtly patriotic. Good food and fellowship is the focus.

Thanksgiving has been a special day here on COB Speicher too. Turkey, Cornish hen, ham, and prime rib were the featured meats in the DFAC served complete with dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and array of vegetables and deserts, including the traditional pumpkin pie. It was delicious, tasting amazingly close to home-cooked.

After two weeks here, my life is settling into a routine and everyday is starting to feel like the movie “Groundhog’s Day” where everyone must repeat the same day over and over until they get it right. My routine of working from 5pm until 2am, reading for awhile until I fall asleep, waking up, showering, running errands like dropping off my laundry, going to the PX, and then going to work again began to feel as if my life was like a needle in the groove of an old vinyl LP. This is not a bad thing – even the weather has been beautiful, sunny and in the 70s everyday, a slightly dusty version of California.

I am living on a base that is made of up dilapidated buildings remaining from the Iraqi air force base that operated here before the American invasion. In addition to sand colored cement barracks and office buildings, it includes a stadium, pool, and tennis court, none of which are operational today. Most buildings are surrounded by cement barriers up to 15-20 feet high. Everything is covered with a fine coat of dust, which appears like light brown powdered sugar. It is light and puffs of it rise in the air with every foot step. You image what it looks like when a humvee passes by.

I have adjusted to being one of few people unarmed on the base. The chaplain at the CSH (Combat Support Hospital) is also unarmed, but a talented armed assistant is assigned to him. The assistant can shoot, type, and bake (breads, presumably for communion). All servicemen and women are required to carry their weapons with them at ALL times and they mean everywhere. I have to be careful when I am walking through the dining room with my tray that I don’t trip on an M16 that has been laid on the floor while the soldier eats. Imagine and entire dining facility full of soldiers with weapons on the floor. All of this has become normal for me.

The highlight of my day was calling home and talking with my mother, daughter, sisters, brother, brother-in-law, one of my nieces and three of my nephews. I don’t think it seemed odd at all to my niece and nephews that I was calling from Iraq. When I was little, calls to Canada had to be made through an operator. My sister was busy checking the turkey while the children played energetically. It was snowing lightly outside.

After the short fifteen minute call, I returned to my work and delivered a message requesting that the chaplain be present when a soldier is told of his grandfather’s death and notification to an another soldier about his wife’s illness. Five hours remain in my shift, before I go to midnight chow, return to my CHU to read before falling asleep . . . .

Arriving at COB Speicher

13 November 2007

I was struck with an eerie feeling when I walked past the ruin of a tile fountain in on my way into an office building on base. COB (Contingent Operating Base) Speicher has been built on the remnants of one of Saddam Hussein’s most prized air force bases near Tikrit, his hometown. Hussein himself undoubtedly walked these same hallways and sidewalks. He was eventually captured along the Tigris River less than 20 miles from where I now live.

Until that epiphany, I had been busy finding the DAFC (dining facility), laundry, the PX (Postal Exchange – the military version of Wal-Mart on bases) and the post office on base. I needed to get patches sown on my uniforms, get access to the computers, and obtain my security pass. I had to learn to locate my CHU (Compartmentalized Housing Unit) in the LSA (Life Support Area) in the dark at 2 a.m. when my shift ends. The streets lights have been inactivated and most windows including the ones in my CHU and our office have been covered to prevent light from revealing locations, so it is dark, dark when I leave. The only light comes from the headlights on our white Ford Explorer, occasional flood lights usually being used for a night project, and the moon. I hadn’t had much time to think about where I am until now.

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Two weeks ago, we left Ft Benning on a large commercial aircraft that was contracted for military use. It was strange flying with 230 people armed with M9s and M16s. I can’t imagine what that flight weighed with all of us, our duffels and weapons. The poor plane seemed to strain on take-off. After a six hour flight, we landed in Leipzig, Germany for a short break, which became longer when they discovered the need to replace a valve. Our flight to Kuwait lasted another six hours and after some obligatory military waiting, we took a bus to the military airstrip, where we were “processed” and manifested.

After six more hours and a cheeseburger and fries at the 24 hour McDonald’s on the Kuwait base, we took off on a C150, an open belly plane built and used during the Vietnam War. About twenty of us were strapped into the center of the plane. It was just like in the movies.

During the flight I got up to look out of the tiny porthole window. I knew this was my only opportunity to get a view of Iraq. Once we landed I’d be on the base the entire deployment. After all of the reading I’ve done and all of the news coverage, I wanted to at least get one glimpse of the country. One of the flight crew invited me up to the cockpit. What a view. The sand had been very white when we left Kuwait. In the portion of Iraq I saw, primarily the Tigris River bed, the sand was pale pink or light rust. I couldn’t help but think of all of the blood that has been spilled along that region since the beginning of time.

The Tigris River winds back and forth, sometimes gently but often at sharp angles. It is an ancient river that has been utilized extensively for irrigation. I could see neat, square fields. Still the landscape looked more like sand than soil. The rows in the fields looked like someone had neatly raked the sand like around a golf course green.

I felt euphoric as that plane approached Al Sahra, like an explorer, not that I was seeing something no one else had ever seen, but because it was new and foreign to me. Iraq was no longer the cliché’ it has become in the news, a war-torn street. It was a vast country of sand and two ancient rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. A place of beginnings; perhaps, according to some, the very place of beginning of humankind. And I am there.

At chow (the term for all meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner don’t exist as such), my colleague Julie reminded me that long before Saddam Hussein walked where we are walking, others like Abraham may have. This brings to mind Milton’s Paradise Lost set in the Garden of Eden and thoughts of history repeating itself: our lives in the midst of angels and fallen angels.

Being “Processed” at Ft. Benning

We left Ft Benning GA in white chariots, large white buses with school bus interiors. My adrenaline soared as we drove out of the CRC (Continental Replacement Center) after a week of being “processed” there. I was thrilled to be leaving. As we bumped along the rough roads through the base, it occurred to me that military bases are separate sovereignties. They look like any other place with jack pines, asphalt roads, water towers, and stores, but I came to learn that military bases have unique and separate traditions, laws, and languages.

Perhaps most readily noticeable on the base is the communal living arrangement. I ate, slept, and showered with strangers. Most of them were strangers. My eleven Red Cross colleagues and I were drops in the bucket of 400 military, Department of Defense, Department of Army, and private contractor personnel that arrived at the CRC that week to be processed for deployment to various area of conflict overseas, referred to as “in theater” and “down range.” Most of us were headed for Iraq – Kuwait — Afghanistan.

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Our daily routine included morning and evening formations, meaning we lined up in four rows to hear announcements and to be directed to various processing stations. The cadre, young soldiers in charge of herding us, read off lists of who should go were. We were identified by the last four digits of our social security number. All week, I responded to a number. A cadre would yell the last four digits of my “social” and direct me to go to the SRP to input my ISSOP, then eat an MRE for lunch before reporting to the CIF. And I was supposed to understand that.

At TSIRT (Theater Specific Individualized Readiness Training) we were trained – one day the courses lasted thirteen hours – on first aid, explosive devices, hostage survival, the laws of land warfare, and sexual assault prevention and reporting. Our medical records were reviewed at the Med Shed. We had blood drawn for DNA records, we received vaccinations for a variety of maladies including anthrax, small pox, and the flu. Our vision was checked and females gave a urine sample for pregnancy testing.

We were shuffled through the CIF (Central Issue Facility), a massive warehouse, where staff pulled items off of a pick list for us. When I told my family that I would be issued everything a soldier gets except for the weapon, my brother asked, “Isn’t that the one thing you really need over there?” Our DCUs (Desert Camouflage Uniforms), three pairs of boots, body armor, a Kevlar helmet, a sleeping bags, a fleece jacket, a Gortex jacket, rain gear, socks, thermal underwear, a canteen, and a laundry bag were among the items pushed at us across a counter faster than we could stuff them in our duffels.

I had several questions during the process, but there wasn’t much time for discussion. The DCU’s are desert tans and beiges obviously to blend in with the landscape, but the duffle bags they gave us to store and haul all of this gear were still Army green. Why wouldn’t the bags be camouflage too? All in all, we were given enough gear to fill three bags, probably 120 pounds worth.

At the SRP (Soldier Readiness Preparation) site we received laminated identification cards with a tan checkered background and black lettering with a grainy black and white photo. The result looks like a WWII spy ID card. So far this is going to be my favorite souvenir from this assignment. The days were long as we repeated the same routine: call to formation, divide into groups, and be shuttled or march to the designated destination. I use the term marched loosely. Our mostly nonmilitary group looked more like a dizzy caterpillar meandering down the road than a military unit moving out smartly.

We ate in the DFAC (Dining Facility) which was, as one might expect, like dorm food, or perhaps similar to summer camp. A large flat screen television projected the daily news and it was hard to ignore. While we were there we watched San Diego burning while we ate. Standing in line for breakfast, lunch, and dinner allowed me to met people who were also headed in theater, the military term used for primarily Iraq – Kuwait Afghanistan. One man from upstate New York is headed to Iraq to work for the company that staffs the PX on each base. He signed on so he could add a little to his retirement, maybe go on a cruise, and buy a large screen television set. Another man, David is an Assyrian born in Iraq. He has lived in the U.S. for many years and is an interpreter for one of the generals. He said the work is interesting, “too interesting when the general’s Black Hawk helicopter is being shot at.” The Assyrians are Christians and he said that Islam is not like the other religions because it advocates violence in order to convert people. He warned me to be careful around Tikrit because the people there are anti-American and really only like themselves.

I met another interpreter, a Kurd from Fargo North Dakota. He has lived there for ten years. I met dentists, a neurosurgeon, and a psychologist. Most people deploying out of this center are small replacement units or individuals or they are affiliated with contractors. The larger military units deploy out of another military base.

Much of our time at each processing station was spent writing the same demographic information on form after form: name, social security number, date of birth, category of service, destination, next of kin. The forms looked that they had been typed on a typewriter in the 1970s and never revised since and then copied on an ancient copy machine with a toner cartridge that deposits black speckles across the pages.

One of the highlights of the week was the packing party Red Cross staff held outside under one of pavilions. We dragged our duffels out and repacked the gear in a more organized manner than it was first stuffed in the bags. Three of our team members are former military members and they were a great help teaching us how to assemble certain critical pieces like the body armor. They also gave us a crash course in how to put on the gas masks, a detail not covered in any of the training we received from the CRC. Eventually, shortly before we departed, our packed bags were inspected by a K-9 unit for contraband. Fortunately none was found.

One of the most somber moments of the week occurred when we were given our dog tags. Someone asked why we wear two tags. A former military guy said rather glibly, “When you kick the bucket, they put one in your mouth and tie the other one to your toe.” There was lots of laughing. Someone said, “Not likely to happen.” But I couldn’t help think of the 3,000 servicemembers and civilians who had gone before us and ended up using those tags. I am not really afraid; the odds are really on our side, but still some people don’t come back. What were they thinking when they put those new shiny tags around their necks when they were being processed at the CRC?

The total loss of privacy and control or even influence over my daily schedule was difficult but it was probably necessary to get 400 people processed in a week. The frequent errors like shuttling us to the wrong destination or changing my gender to male on the last day were frustrating but also probably understandable given the small number of cadre and the 1970s sort of system that was employed to manage such large groups week after week.

One of my sisters asked me if I had signed on the wrong line. There were moments during this week when I wondered if I had. After the white buses collected us, we were transported to the airstrip and boarded a plane for Kuwait via Leipzig, Germany. We would be in Iraq 24 hours later.

Check out my pictures of this experience in the album. In a couple of days I will report on our arrival at COB Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq.

Last Days in D.C.

I ate my last meal at Ebbitt Grill, two blocks from the White House, reputedly the oldest pub in DC. White House staffers and tourists dine and drink amidst décor displaying Teddy Roosevelt’s hunting memorabilia: duck decoys, rifles, vests, mounted heads of a wide range of mammals. I had paella, a Spanish rice dish of seafood and sausage, and a delicious slice of peanut butter chocolate pie for desert.

After dinner, I wandered through Barnes & Noble. My biggest concern about deploying missing my family, friends, and dogs while I am in

Iraq
. My second biggest concern is missing wandering through bookstores and libraries. I eyed the shelves like a person destined to be ship wrecked on an island. What should I take? This was my last chance.

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During our three weeks of training, we learned the policies and detailed computer and case work procedures for sending Red Cross emergency messages. Top notch instructors lead us through long days reviewing manuals and practicing on a training system. Eventually we were ready for the real world and we sat in the main Services to the Armed Forces call center next to seasoned veterans, who coached as we received emergency messages from family members at Red Cross chapters and state-side military bases. We verify the birth, illness, and death notifications with doctors, hospital staff, funeral directors, and law enforcement officials before passing the messages on to servicemen and women and their military commands. The amount of information we consumed was mind boggling. Each night I ate dinner and collapsed, thus the reason you haven’t heard much from me.

One of the first messages I took was from a proud mother who called us while she was still in the labor and delivery room. She eager for us to let her husband, a serviceman in

Iraq
, know he had new daughter. I took another message from a new soldier still in basic training. He had gotten word that his new wife had ovarian cancer. Another serviceman called from

Mexico
to tell us his mother had died while he was home on leave. He asked for help getting a request to his commanders to request extending his leave.

It was a lot of work, but not all work. Kris took time out from her busy school and work schedules to share the last weekend with me. We made the most of three gorgeous fall days. We saw the Hope Diamond at the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian and admired the newer American Indian Museum, which is built with Kasota stone from

Minnesota
. The architecture is stunning including the surrounding fountains and gardens. Inside we discovered one of the best kept secrets and the Smithsonian, a cafeteria that showcases delicious, unique American Indian menu: corn tamales, rice and beans, salmon, buffalo burgers, and fry bread. http://www.nmai.si.edu/

A real highlight of our weekend together was a stroll through Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. I had no idea how realistic the figures could be. To be honest, it was creepy at first. I was standing next to Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, and Dwight Eisenhower, and I swear I almost expected them to talk. Kris posed next to Johhny Depp, Will Smith, and the Kennedys. Check out our pictures in the album section.

Our group also had the opportunity to tour the inside of the White House. We had access to the Red, Blue, and Green Rooms as wells as to the large gold State Dining Room. Having been home to

U.S.
Presidents since 1800, I was enamored with the history of the place and to know of all of the people that have walked through those doors. Cameras were not allowed so I don’t have any pictures.

After training concluded, we began several days of deployment briefings. Medical briefings, administrative briefings, public relations briefings, human resources briefings, and security briefings have redefined the word briefing for me. At the end of the week, twelve of us packed our bags and mailed ahead boxes.

In the bookstore, I picked up a map of Iraq, so when places are mentioned while I am over there, I can figure out where they are; a book about two British women living in Northern Iraq; the DVD “Nixon” (My hotel was only a couple blocks from the Watergate and I love anything staring Anthony Hopkins), and ironically a little book called “Journeys of Simplicity: Traveling Light.” The small work consists of the sparse list of belongings that people like Thoreau, John Muir, and Dorothy Day. I, too am limited in the luggage I can take, but it seemed paradoxical to add this book, but I couldn’t resist.

I walked back to the hotel through light rain. I encountered a code zero at the White House grounds that created two detours and caused me to have a less than pleasant encounter with a park police officer who I suspect has higher aspirations. But this is DC, and it emanates a rich history, glorious monuments, divine restaurants, lots of people, and crazy traffic.

Next stop: A week of “processing” at

Ft. Benning

,

GA
where I will set foot on a military base for the first time.

Training Begins —

On September 30th, I arrived at the Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, DC with five other newly hired reservists destined for deployment to Iraq. Two of us will go to Baghdad, two will go to Balad, and two (including me) will go to Tikrit. We hail from NY, PA, TN, NV, NY, OR and MN. There is one alternate among us and three instructors, who were brought in from Ft. Drum, NY; Ft. Bragg, NC; and Headquarters.

We will train here for three weeks, after which we will be joined by six other experienced staff. In total, twelve of us will fly from here to Ft. Benning, GA for a week of “processing” before taking flights to Kuwait and then Iraq. At Ft. Benning, we will be given everything an American servicemember is issued, except the weapon. Can’t wait to see myself in camouflage. This will be a first.