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In honor of Veterans Day I asked Zach if he would write a guest post for my blog of a story from his time in Afghanistan. I would also like to take this time to thank all the Veterans I know for their selfless service to our wonderful country. If you can find the time, please thank a Veteran today and enjoy Zach’s story below.

In preparation for the upcoming elections my platoon had been sent to the Chak business district. We were told that we were there to secure the area and oversee the building of some fortifications for local Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan National Army (ANA). We were also told that this was to be a three or four day mission; a day to clear the route in, a day or two to build, and then a day to ex-fill. But this was not to be and the tone was set early.

The first day we safely found and destroyed six Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), received indirect fire, engaged in several fire fights, and failed to reach our objective as planned. None of us knew it at the time in Chak and we would not be returning back to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Airborne for another 28 days. But I am getting ahead of myself. This particular story is about only one small event that happened during our stay in Chak.

We had become accustom to taking indirect fire, twice a day, from the village down in the valley. It was almost like clockwork, about an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset we would receive three to five well placed mortars inside of our perimeter. The firers were keenly aware of our air assets response time and made sure never to linger around for too long. Armed with this knowledge of their Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) and facilitated by boredom, myself and my Forward Observer (FO) Moody made a practice of making our way to an Observation Point (OP) before hand. We did this for two reasons, one being we could be away from the most likely target and the other being there in hopes of spotting the enemy fire team and call in fire (air support) on their position.

One evening we found ourselves laying in the prone (stomachs) on an overhang looking out over the village. Shortly after the first mortar hit, a French Ranault VAB (armored vehicle) came speeding up the hill to our location stopping about 15 feet from our location. Moody and I had rolled onto our backs to look backward toward the massive armored vehicle that had just occupied our OP. After a few moments the hatch on top of the Renault opens and a smiling French Soldier pops out from inside. He looked down at the two of laying on our backs staring back at him and he starts speaking to us in French. Of course neither of us speak any French and have no clue what he is trying to convey to us. But he was calm and his tone didn’t allude to anything of pressing importance. Moody and I exchanged glances and I replied back to the Frenchman, “Cool man. Whatever you say.” He smiled back at us and disappeared back into his hatch. Moody turned to me and said, “Well, that was pretty weird.”

Without any warning the Renault’s 25mm cannon began firing on a spot down in the valley. The gun was not pointed at us but we were forward of the barrel. The muzzle blast from the cannon made our whole body tense up; paralyzed for a split second during each report from the gun. Immediately, we both pencil roll out from under the cannon as quickly as we possibly could.

To this day, I have no idea why they chose our particular position to shoot from, or why they thought we would understand French, or why they bothered telling us anything at all. What I do know is that from then on if anyone speaks French to me I assume that it is VERY important to my immediate well being.

Zach is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, where he served as a Combat Engineer with the 10th Mountain Division conducting Route Clearance Patrol (RCP). He now serves as an EOD technician.

hear you me…

dog tag installation

Today is September 11th. I know you know this. I think our first reaction on today is to remember where we were and what we were doing 11 years ago. But I don’t like to think about that day. How has what happened 11 years ago impacted your life? Where are you today? How have you changed?

I am different. My life is different. I live nearly 1,000 miles away from my home, just outside a military installation. Eleven years ago I would have never imagined this would be my life. So much has happened. I am now sure that any day you live to tell about is a good day.

I am married to a service member. He used to be in the Air Force and now he is in the Army. At the time of September 11th he was an 15 crew chief. Now he is an EOD tech. A fellow EOD tech from his Battalion was killed in Afghanistan ten days ago. The part of the Battalion not deployed had a memorial service for him on Monday morning. My husband told me his widow was inconsolably sobbing. I can’t stop thinking about her. I wonder how she feels. Does she have someone to be there for her and with her? Will she be ok? Will their son be ok?

Hug your loved ones tightly, if you can.

Hereos Homecoming…

my dad, an Army draftee

We live just outside of Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, NC. The city will be celebrating Vietnam Veterans for the next 10 days. They are calling it a Heroes Homecoming. The Moving Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial will be here on Sunday as well.

I am very impressed with the effort and thought that has gone into this. If you are in the area, check it out and show your support to our Veterans. Also, be sure to check out Tweet Up for Troops.

insert throat clearing sounds here…

I can’t remember where I was exactly, but the other day when I was driving I pulled up to a red stoplight and I forgot where I was. For a few brief moments I could not compute that I was in Fayetteville, NC. How did I get here? Maybe I have said this before, but rarely do I identify as a military wife. I feel like there is a stereotype attached to that title that I am not quite comfortable with. With that said, it is a part of how I got here.

Zach is currently on a TDY. Of course, this is the best worst time for things to go wrong, and what can go wrong undoubtedly will go wrong. Also known commonly as chaos theory. If you are a military spouse/family you probably know exactly what I mean.

I was driving a few weekends ago and my car started to malfunction beyond my somewhat mechanical aptitude. I stopped by a car shop but they had just closed. I was able to drive it home but I felt crippled by the situation. For those of you that don’t know me, I like to have a plan for everything and plan everything. I am somewhat high-strung and have lots of anxiety. Planning is my coping mechanism. When things start to go awry it is possible that I will lose my mind. So, with my car malfunctioning I felt stuck. Zach is gone and I don’t know anyone here.

Last week, I found myself walking three miles to a Pizza Hut, for lunch. I’m sure it was a little excessive and clearly out of the way, but I wanted to feel normal for an afternoon. For several days up to this I was running low on supplies, if you will. I was probably averaging 500 calories a day. So, I put on my ipod, headed out the door, and started walking. A soldier in an SUV pulled over in the middle of traffic to offer me a ride. Of course, I declined. My mama didn’t raise no fool. The trick is to make it look like a choice. It was windy, but warm. By the time I sat down I was sweating. I devoured my food.

Since than, I put my big girl panties on and have literally been driving on. My car is still acting stupid, but I couldn’t take it. I wanted to go to the store. You are probably wondering why I didn’t just take the car to a shop. My car is 20 years old. I have had it for 5 years and we are tired of each other. We have to part ways. To make matters worse, I was driving home this afternoon from an appointment and I heard a snapping noise come from my driver-side door. It was the regulator for my window.

The worst part is, being alone. I’m sure you might be able to picture me, sitting in an empty parking lot, crying quietly, hitting my steering wheel with the side of my fist. Those are the moments you wish you had someone to call, someone to distract you, someone to talk you down and put it in perspective. I know there are people out there living inside circumstances much worse. I don’t need sympathy. I will continue to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

In the last almost 5 years, I have successfully alienated myself from everything I used to know. Much of this time has been dictated by Zach’s military service and we have been moving around the country ever since. The constant moving doesn’t really leave much room for making new friends, and in a way it’s almost easier. So, this is where I find myself, in Fayetteville.

I am a military spouse.

even when the populations sleeping…

i know it seems like no one ever has anything good to say about military living. the only time people talk about it is to complain. why? because when it’s good, it’s good. but when it’s bad, it’s bad. i regret to inform you that i am no different.

clouds near the east pass

it was right after christmas 2009 that i woke up with a stuffy nose, that to this day has never gone away. i had just moved back to the fort drum area. for some reason they never really processed my Tricare (health insurance paperwork) and i was never assigned a PCM (primary care manager). a few months had passed that i had not been feeling well. i broke down and went to the Tricare office. finally, they assigned me to a health care provider. i went home and called to make an appointment, i was told there was a 4 month waiting list to be seen. a few weeks went by and i felt worse and worse. i broke down and went to an urgent care and paid out of my pocket. i saw a PA that told me i had strep throat and a sinus infection. she prescribed me some antibiotics. it changed nothing. at this point i have been gargling salt water every night for months. so, again i go back to Tricare and tell them i need a new PCM.

FINALLY, they assign me to someone at an urgent care. the urgent care doctor checked out my nose and said he thought it was just “springtime allergies.” HAHA. he prescribed zyrtec and nasonex. neither of which helped. the nasonex made it worse. i gave up. we were going to moving in a few months anyway.

pier and waves

its now june, and we are in florida. the tricare system was much different in our area. i was assigned to a military treatment facility (MTF) and would see a military doctor. the first appointment they made for me was for a (cringe) pap smear. anyway, the doctor asked me if there were in other concerns i wanted to address, so i mentioned my nose. he took a look and put in for a referral.

i was referred to a civilian ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor). i go to my appointment. im led back to the exam room by a tech. i imagine it looked exactly the same in 1979. the tech proceeded to spray sanitizer from a filthy bottle onto the chair, the nasal endoscope, and table. she then used kleenex to wipe the sanitizer away. i should have walked out then. i waited an hour before the disgusting doctor walked in. he was making off color jokes and looked dirty and unkempt. i was so desperate. he examined my nose then moved to the endoscope. he didnt put any kind of shield over it, he didnt numb my nose, or use any lubricant. he literally just jammed it into my nose. it was awful. he immediately said he thought all my problem were caused by a deviated septum that could be corrected with surgery. they did some blood work and made a follow up appointment. i would never go back.

waves oi

i went to the tricare office to explain what happened. i wanted to see if i had to go through my PCM to get another referral. and i happened to be talking to one of the nicest most professional tricare customer service reps. she took care of it right away and referred me to a new ENT.

the new ENT was great. he was an excellent listener. in my opinion he and his staff did everything they could to make it a positive experience. after having a CT scan he saw that i had a severe sinus infection. i was put on antibiotics for about a month. that ended up causing a lot of other problems (that i am still dealing with 7 months later). i was also put on every combination of allergy medications allowed. my sinus infection got better but nothing else did. the allergy medication didnt help. he recommended me for immunotherapy (allergy shots). but i was only covered for 5 visits with his office and would now have to follow up with my PCM. and that he would forward his conclusions to my insurance company.

overcast surf

i call my PCM’s office to make the appointment. i specifically said they need to get my records from the other office. i show up to the appointment and the guy had no idea why i was there. he said because we were moving again soon he couldnt really help me. he told me i should just buy some sudafed until i could get it straightened out.

now we are in north carolina. when i re-enrolled in tricare north they gave me a list of providers to choose from. the first five providers i called were either no longer working at the facilities listed or the facilities were closed down. i end up with the 6th one down on the list. a care provider at an urgent care facility that makes no appointment and does walk-ins only.

this past month has been almost the worst i have felt since this started. bloody noses, sinus pain, swollen glads, sore throat, and almost impossible sleep. today, i finally broke down and drove myself to the urgent care. there was a sign on the door saying they have been closed since last week and will reopen next week. i felt so defeated. i called my insurance company to ask if there is anything else i could do temporarily till i could get into to see my PCM. the representative told me that i would have to start over with the list and just find a new provider. there was nothing they could do to help me. i told her it felt more urgent but she repeated herself, as if i didnt hear her the first time. i thanked her for her time and hung up.

first day crest

i think there is a misconception that the army/military takes care of its own. that there are support systems and protocols for any and every situation. but there isnt. if i had to describe it, i would say this life is kind of like trying to navigate through a labyrinth that keeps changing. repeatedly, i have reached out for help, and literally even begged. one time i was literally told that i should just feel lucky that i can say i have insurance. i feel like most family oriented programs in the military community are targeted to families with children, and i certainly will NEVER fit into that category. where does that leave me?

i wish i could believe that someone important would read this and want to help. that someone would hear my voice. but i am not that naive. and frankly, its why i keep my mouth shut so much. i keep asking myself this question, what good is my voice or even the collective voice of military spouses/families if no one is listening? why bother?

im sure you are thinking that its just a stuffy nose, that it cant be that bad. but imagine your worst head cold, and what it would be like to have it for a year and a half. i would also like to note that i dont want anyone to feel bad for me. i wanted to log my experience should i ever need to recall it. also, i want people to want to help change the way things are. not just for me but all military families that cant get their health insurance (that we pay for) to work for them.

if youve read all the way down here, im sorry. if you dont care, thats ok. thanks for reading.