31 January 2009

Flying High

I was out at the PAD (Patient Administration and Disposition) today for a couple of CSH runs (Blackhawk Helicopters delivering patients to our hospital). Click here for an article about the PAD volunteers and what they do here.

There are a lot more pictures and a cool video on my flickr.


I changed the sheets on my bed and made it all nice and neat. So now I'll show you the inside of my hooch (well, my half).

I'm still in search of some good chocolate. And I need to find it before Feb 14th. The Women's Clinic is 'sponsoring' my presentation called "For the Love of Chocolate".


Internet is down at work - so I'm getting behind on some emails and other online activities. Maybe tomorrow I'll get caught up. I get to sleep in (no alarm) as long as I'm in the hospital by 8a for rounds. Then back at noon to go to lunch with the Iraqi physicians. Plan to swim after lunch, then come back to the compound for R&R and watching DVDs. And get caught up on DMI (DunderMifflinInfinity).

30 January 2009

It's Starting to Hit Me

I'm away from home, friends and family for 6 months.

I had a lonely moment this evening.

For the most part I've been used to entertaining myself - tv, internet, reading. Sometimes walking or jogging. So I can probably handle this. I've never really been much of a social butterfly anyway.

But tonight it really hit me. I miss my best friend.

When he was deployed our schedules meshed. We had almost daily chats online. And sometimes we could watch a sports program at the same time (NASCAR) since it was being broadcast live (and the Olympics). This time it's different. I'm working days, that is when he is sleeping. When I get off work he's already gone into work. He had 8 hr days, I have 12+. Maybe next month we'll be able to connect more (if he goes on swing shift).

I need chocolate.

29 January 2009


The Food Here is Great

Well, could be cooked better, but compared to years ago, we really cannot complain. The DFACs (Dining Facilities) don't really get many items from the US (I'll get a picture of our milk cartons and maybe someone can identify the language). The cooks are definately not American. But we always have a sandwich & salad bar if you don't like the hot entrees. At the main DFACs there are burgers, grilled cheese, and grilled chicken sandwiches. Always fresh fruit available. The hospital is just a Satellite DFAC but our contractors try to get us the best options on special nights.

Wed is "Surf & Turf" (as long as you can tolerate well done beef).

28 January 2009

Don't Step in the Ruts ("Dried" Mud)

The CASF didn't need anyone until after midnight - that's past my bedtime :( I'll try again Saturday night when I know I can sleep in a little on Sunday.

Yesterday I thought the tire rut in the dirt was fully dried. Apparently that is never the case here in Balad. Trying to get the mud off your tennis shoe is like wiping very thick dog poop (but fortunately not as smelly). It could also be described as the consistency of very thick frosting (but don't lick your fingers). A nail brush when washing up afterwards is a necessity.

Moral: At night stay on the side walk as much as possible, even if it means going a little bit out of your way.


Founds an Iraq mission coin and a great T-bar display for it at the BX (Base Exchange - our version of Target/Walmart). I'm going to get one this weekend. Squadron coins are pending. But I promise I will have swag for my friends. Many of you should be getting some paper swag in the next few weeks (please let me know if/when they arrive - not sure how long it takes for snail mail to reach back to the states).


Finally met my roommate. And we talked for a couple of hours. Nice gal. From the D.C. area. We got the a/c deal all worked out. Piece of cake!


I should have wifi this weekend!

27 January 2009

Lost the Wifi (Temporarily)

Looks like our "free trial" is over (and no advanced warning). I waited only 15 min to get 30 min of time in the Moral Center (and thankfully this site isn't blocked).

I'll go check out the paid wifi tomorrow at lunch. But I don't expect to be back here for another day - I'm going to the CASF (Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility) to volunteer after work.

Roommate was sleeping when I got back last night (9p) - I'm sure she had a long day on the plane. What I didn't realize at the time is that she had turned down the air. By the time I woke up at 6a the room temperature had dropped to 64 degrees! Brrrrr. I turned it up slightly so it was about 68 when I got back to the room after work. Maybe I'll actually get to talk to her tonight. After this update I'm picking up my laundry and heading back to the room.

26 January 2009

Mysterious Roommate

She wasn't here when I arrived. The person I replaced said she had left 3 days ago on TDY and was suppose to be back on the 24th. So I've had the room to myself for over a week & a half. I cleaned the floors and did my best attempt at dusting. I shook out the rug and straightened up the place. This weekend I would come back to my room, unlock the door and wonder if she was there. Or as I was laying in bed, watching a DVD, wondered if she was unlocking the door. It was a wee bit nerve-wracking, not knowing.

Today I get back from work and her bed it made, a duffle & backpack are on the floor. So she is back. But I still haven't met her yet. After working out, shower and getting dinner, still no sign of her. I suppose I'll meet her after my wifi tonight.

All I know is her first name is Doris. And she is the same rank as I. But she works in a different squadron (not at the hospital).

25 January 2009

Day Off?

Turned out my day was busier than I expected. But I was pumped to be doing my job as a medical nutrition therapist and as the OIC (officer in charge) of Nutritional Medicine. I guess being in my PT (personal training) gear instead of the uniform counted as my "day off".

I did get to visit the contractor's dining facility with our Iraqi physicians and taste some different cuisine. Most of the meats are cooked in liquids. Right now they have cooks & contractors from many different countries. There was Turkish, Philapino and Indian foods offered. Our docs pointed me to these items as being prepared in a manner more consistent with Iraqi cooking. Stewed meats, vegetables and rice.

I didn't get a chance to photograph the best bread I have ever tasted. I'm going back another few times so I'll include it next visit.

24 January 2009

Balad Burning Pit

The first morning here I smelled something burning and saw the smoke. Then it was there the next day. Why is there a constant fire? Then I was told about the Burning Pit. Apparently it used to be a lot worse, but it gets the blame for the Balad crud that causes the upper respiratory illness & sore throat that most people get by the second week here.

If you haven't heard of this, here are some articles that explain the history and possible health hazards:
Burn pit at Balad raises health concerns
Troops say chemicals and medical waste burned at base are making them sick, but officials deny risk
US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine US Army FACT Sheet
Balad Burn Pit May Pose Health Risk from the Salt Lake Tribune and posted on Military.com
Balad Burn Pit Update: Effects of Toxic Smoke Worry Troops Returning from Iraq - DoD Admits Problem, Then Denies Problem posted on veteransforcommon sense.com


Busy day today. Talked to the head MD in the ICU and he's ready for me to take over writing the TPNs and the TFs (i.e. the Nutrition Support). Which means I'm going in to work on Sunday mornings.

But that's okay.

Not like I have much I can do on my day off. But the nice part will be I won't have to "get dressed" tomorrow, I can go in wearing my PT gear (which is the only clothing you can wear if you are not in your AF uniform).

Tonight I got to chat with the hubby (konashark) and we even saw eachother on our webcams until the local bandwidth got crowded. We're looking forward to the day when I can access the wifi from my room.

I'm slowly getting aclimated to the noise. And the chilly nights. I'm expecting rain any day now (advanced thanks to my BFF Jill who is going to send me some rain boots to keep the mud off my working shoes). And thanks to konashark who sent me applesauce & pudding cups for our patients with chewing/swallowing difficulties (we don't always get these foods from the main kitchen), the earplugs, the rubber door stops, the birthday candles, and some long sleeve workout shirts (and his friend Ron who found them and who also donated the GVR shower gels). I didn't realize how great it would be to get a box from home.

For my ARG friends - if a trailhead somehow shows up here, I promise to share it with you all. Wouldn't that be a hoot - swag in Iraq.

22 January 2009

Headlines: Obama asks Pentagon for responsible Iraq drawdown

By ANNE GEARAN and LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writers Anne Gearan And Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press Writers – Wed Jan 21, 9:38 pm ET

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, in a meeting with his top national security advisers Wednesday, asked the Pentagon to do whatever additional planning is necessary to "execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq."

Obama's statement, issued by the White House after the gathering, opened his much-anticipated effort to withdraw troops more swiftly than the previous administration had proposed. It made no reference to any timeline or his campaign vow to get combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months.

"The meeting was productive and I very much appreciated receiving assessments from these experienced and dedicated individuals," Obama said. "During the discussion, I asked the military leadership to engage in additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq."

He added that he would soon travel to the Pentagon and meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the schedule is not confirmed, said that meeting with the Joint Chiefs — the president's senior uniformed military advisers — would come within a week.

"We will undertake a full review of the situation in Afghanistan in order to develop a comprehensive policy for the entire region," Obama said.

Wednesday's strategy session included Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, both critics of the management of the war. Officials familiar with the meeting declined to disclose details of what was discussed.

"This is a logical first step for a new president that wants to learn about or to speak to the people that are most directly involved," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

The White House meeting was part of a symbolic framing of a new president's agenda on his first full day in office, but it did not completely fulfill Obama's oft-repeated pledge to bring in the Joint Chiefs of Staff on his first day in office and order a close to a war he opposed.

Shutting down the war will be more complicated than that, and the Joint Chiefs are not the only players.

The agenda as announced by the White House included the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker; another State Department representative and Gen. David Petraeus, who is responsible for managing both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, attended along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Both are holdovers from the Bush administration, now getting new instructions.

The top general in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, was participating by video hookup. He has already drawn up one set of withdrawal plans but would have to get things moving faster if he is to meet Obama's timetable.

The agenda for Obama's White House meeting changed several times. At one point it was to include a broader look at the war in Afghanistan, which Obama has said was hobbled by a misguided focus on Iraq.

The Pentagon first said that the top commander in Afghanistan would participate, and then said he would not.

Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, told Associated Press Television News on Tuesday that Iraq is willing to have the U.S. withdraw its troops and assume security for the country "before the end of 2011," the departure date agreed to by former President George W. Bush in November.

Senior military leaders had been wary of any timeline, saying that withdrawal plans should be keyed to continued security improvements, but have said that they could meet either the deadline set with Iraq or the shorter one Obama wants.

There are currently about 143,000 U.S. forces in Iraq, as many as 8,000 more than were there before the troop buildup, which began in early 2007 and contributed in part to the decline in violence. There are about 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 17,000 in the NATO-led coalition and another 17,000 fighting insurgents and training Afghan forces.


Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

21 January 2009

Putting Out Fires

Lots happening at the same time at work today. Can't really get into anything specific. But I'm proud of one activity today. This is something my coworkers (the medical nutrition therapists) at Sunrise Hospital will appreciate. ICU called asking if we had methylene blue (I knew it was going to go into a tube feeding). I asked who it was for and said that it was contraindicated in a patient with sepsis. The nurse said "uh oh, I'll check with the docs". An hour later the ICU doctors came to my office and explained. They were worried a patient had a perforation in the bowel and the copious peritoneal output included tube feeding formula.

If you are a dietitian or medical nutrition therapist, do you know the solution I came up with?


I suggested the use the glucometer. It registered "Lo". If there had been formula, it would have shown a glucose level higher than 20 mg/dl. Everyone happy! Well, except for the patient (but this patient is sedated & medicated so the patient shouldn't be in pain).


Tonight in the Rec Center it is DJ Nite. Really Loud Music (and no one started dancing for the first two hours). But it's REALLY LOUD. I think next Wednesday night I'm going to stay at the hospital and volunteer to help out at the CASF (Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility). I will be helping out a very important mission. And I'll bet it's much quieter.

20 January 2009

Hail to the New Chief

Dozens of us sat in the Rec Center, all three tvs getting the ABC feed through Armed Forces Network. I chatted in IRC with friends from all over the US and Canada during the festivities and after. I don't know why, but I did get goosebumps when they showed President Obama walking down the red carpet towards the podium.

Lots of headlines expected in the next 100 days as new policy is made and new orders are signed. Before you ask, it's not going to have much affect on our mission here in Balad. This hospital is going to be here for years. There are just not enough Iraqi healthcare providers yet.

This morning, for the first time in a very long time, I actually slept until my alarm went off. I was slow to get up and dressed, and was feeling very sluggish all day. Did manage to get my 30 min on the elliptical today, but it didn't help much. I know it's going to take a few more weeks to see some improvement in fitness, and put the spring back into my step. And I still have the Balad Crud (sore throat and runny nose) to look forward to (usually happens the end of the second week here).

Did I mention that yesterday I met the base commander at the Change of Command? Brig General Bishop. Seems like a nice person. Asked if I was adequately prepared for the deployment, if the base was what I thought it would be like. I answered that I was fortunate to have good intel prior to my arrival, and that it's much nicer than what my husband had last year in Afghanistan. I hope I didn't sound like a fool.

Tomorrow is my first meeting with the new EMDSS (Squadron) Commander, Col Dietz. I already like his Superintendent, MSgt Harrington. And I have to bring my shot records to the clinic, someone at Nellis forgot to upload my second Anthrax so my name is on a list as being overdue (but in reality my next shot is not due for another 5 months).

19 January 2009

Welcome to the 332d EMDG

After the Change of Command ceremony this afternoon, I walked around the hospital and took some more photos.

Outside the CASF

Hero's Highway

Outside the ER and "OR 5" on the roof.

18 January 2009

Sunday ("in the Park") on the Base

Tried to sleep in (hid my alarm clock under the covers of the top bunk) but still couldn't stay asleep past 7:30a. I know we really have it way too easy over here (despite the "camping" atmosphere). See below:

Got the last mocha in the coffee shop before the power was cut (working on the generator). Spent the morning in the Rec Ctr and watched a DVD when the wifi went out for an hour.

Found the DFAC (Dining Facility closest to the housing area where I live) and had a reasonably nice meal (baked trout/rice, salad, some sort of chocolate cheese/cookie cake).

I walked to the the base theatre, found the outdoor pool and the stadium (this is where Saddam had the training facilities for the Iraqi Olympic Team). Didn't find the indoor pool yet.

Also went to the BX and the surrounding area. Found the Burger King, Cinnabon and Pizza Hut (so glad they are far enough away to limit the temptation). Walked through the Bazaar - once was enough, nothing there caught my eye for souvenirs.

We have a Beauty Shop. $11 for mani/pedi. I think I know my Sunday indulgance, worth the walk (and will include a piece of pizza). But not today (since I already had breakfast). I ended up getting a set of headphones that help blunt the Rec Ctr noise (but they are not totally silent), and they have a microphone if we decide to try Skype or other voice chat.

17 January 2009


I can't find any place quiet.

Outside there are the planes. Now, that is part of being on an air base, the various planes taking off and landing. I understand that. It's the constant barrage of sound that is hitting me to the core.

We have generators and heaters/fans outside the big buildings in the housing area (the rec center and the gym, for example). There are smaller generators near the cadillacs (the shower & toilet trailers). In the rec center there are two tvs at opposite corners on the AFN (Armed Forces Network) Sports channel, and in a third corner movies will be playing - sometimes that volume gets turned up. On one side are a bank of PS3 and most folks aren't using headphones. Last night the DJ started playing music - nice that it wasn't hard rap or headbanging rock, but it upped the sound factor (and drowned out the ping pong).

In my room is a heater/ac unit. Always on (or it will get too cold at night right now). There might be a week or two in the spring when we can turn it off but I think by then I'll be so used to it that I would not be able to sleep without the sound.

I haven't tried going into the library trailer yet - that might offer some silence. I wonder how this will change my hearing (I can't remember the last time I had it tested but the military might have records).

I'm going to the BX (Base Exchange) today. Maybe there are some noise cancelling headphones I can use to watch my DVDs in the rec center (or just wear when online to give me some quiet).

15 January 2009

Sort of a Broken Finger

I went to the gym yesterday and did a CrossFit class. While throwing the medicine ball against a wall I ended up catching it on the tip of my left middle finger (instead of in my palm). I thought it was just a minor sprain. When I got back to work I did it on ice. But when I woke up this morning it was very swollen (and purple). I can barely bend it (makes getting dressed and braiding my hair a little bit of a challenge). An orthopedic Physician's Assistant looked at the xrays and find a tiny tiny chip on the end next to the knuckle. Just have to wait it out, for the swelling to go down on it's own.

14 January 2009

First Day/Night

I found my room in the dark but this is what it looks like outside in the daylight.

The gift basket and sheets/towels were left for me by the person leaving the bunk. She's a lovely lady and the person responsible for the garden and the cute guard gnome.

Here is my walk to work every day.

13 January 2009

Balad or Bust

For those of you sitting on the edge of their seats, wondering where I am and all that. Yes, I made it here. We landed around 7:30p. About 4 hours for welcome, inprocessing, briefing, busing to housing, finding our bags (about 10 min of searching and worrying and then finally relief), getting our gear to our rooms (my outgoing person made my bed and left a beautiful note & toiletry basket for me), then walking to the hospital for a tour and start my training. Finally gave up at 2:30a and found my way back to the bathroom trailers and my room.
The past 89 hours (from leaving St Louis to getting back to my room) included <9 hours of sleep. Fortunately, I got 7 1/2 last night.

More later (after work) and I'll edit to get pictures up this weekend.

12 January 2009

Early Start Today

Met for our briefing at 9:30p and got the word - we have a 2p call time for our flight to Balad. The bad news? We have to pickup our gear at *4 am*!!!!

And with all the changes and running around, it's after 12mid when I get to bed. So another short sleep. How many more days can I function with so little sleep? Man, I'm so gonna crash soon. One of the PA (Physician Assistants slept 17 hours after we got here).

So today we got our chem gear & vest side plates - that bag is HEAVY. We also got our helmet, vest & First Aid kit - which we wear on the plane. Put it all together and I think I'm lugging around 100 lbs.

Oh, I just found out there are no bathrooms on a C-17. So no drinking for me after noon. Fun times. Hope to get some pictures from inside the plane.

Thanks to everyone reading this. I love seeing the comments!

Some Pictures Around AUAB (Al Udeid, Qatar)

Transient Tents
Cadillacs (Showers/Toilets)

Dining Hall
First Meal

Coalition Plaza
(socializing, wifi, stage)
Coffee Shop
(best wifi spot in the morning)

Yes, there is Fast Food
Lots of Free Water

Wifi in the Morning
Champagne in the Evening

11 January 2009

The Day Was 32 Hours Long

Landed around 1p local time. Sunny. No pictures allowed in this area.
Deplaned and stood on the deck.
Filed over to Immigration (yes, we just immigrated to Qatar). Be very respectful of the officials. Get our orders stamped (don't lose this version of your orders).
Back to our backpacks. Wait. Go in a tent for a briefing. Reminded about the things you are NOT allowed (alcohol, weapons, sex toys, porn or anything showing naked middrift - worry about Brokeback Mountain DVD in my carryon, and about Hawaiian vacation pictures on my laptop).

Go unload our checked luggage. Find your own stuff. I watched it being loaded in St Louis so I wasn't worried. Both bags were easy to find.
Make your "72 hour bag" (mine was already set because it was my checked dufflebag).
Turn in your weapon at the armory.
Put your checked suitcase in the proper outgoing bin based on your flight group (stash your questionable DVD movie in the suitcase, move your vacation pictures to a buried folder on your computer).
Go through customs. They xray your carryon/duffle and you walk through a metal detector. Didn't look at anything in my backpack (not even my DVD collection). All that worry for nothing.
Take a bus to Lodging.
Wait around for your tent/bunk assignment. Get bed linen and your alcohol ration card (3 drinks/day allowed in Qatar - there will be none in Iraq).
Find your rack (I've got a bottom bunk), unpack (some people change into PT gear, some people crash, some people go to the showers). Lock valuables in the footlocker.
Find some food (dining hall open 24 hrs but it's across the compound away from the transient tents). Water bottles are free - pallets all over the compound.

Try to get on the internet - the wifi is very crowded in the evening. Most people are hanging out in the Commons area, the football games will be broadcast on the big screen later (9p local is the first game, 12 mid will be the second game).
Find reading materials in the library instead.
Make a moral phone call home & check email on the censored internet access.
Get your outbound briefing at 9:30p - no flights out for us, maybe in two days (big maybe). Take shower (only lukewarm water at the far end of the "cadillac").
Crash at 10:30p.

It was a long day. Started at 6a St Louis time, Saturday. Ended at 10:30p Sunday Qatar time. That = 32 day.

Pictures to follow.

On My Way!

We finally left St Louis and began our long trip East.

How long?

First meal:

Flew over North America:

Watched "Eagle Eye", "The Mummy III" and "Get Smart", got another meal.

10 hours to the refueling stop in Germany (2 hours on the ground):

Watched "Ghost Town" and "Hellboy 2". Fed breakfast.

Another 5/12 hours of flying:

Here are some pictures. The rest are on my flickr.

09 January 2009

Waiting for the Plane

It's a cloudy, chilly morning in St Louis. The hotel room was like a dorm. Folks talking in the hallway (pretty thin walls), doors slamming (very loud at 5:30a), and I heard they ran out of hot water this morning when everyone tried to take a shower (I was smart, took a nice hot bath last night).

Maybe we will be leaving today afterall?

Edit: Yay! The plane has arrived, the bags and food and fuel are being loaded, and the seats up front are by rank. There are 6 Lt Cols and so I have a small chance at First Class, but at least I should get Business Class (sweet!). It means I get on the plane before the "crowd" and hopefully get a window (easier for napping, sucks for potty breaks).

Flight Cancelled!

The rumor started circulating around the main terminal. We made our way back to find that our flight was cancelled and the airline was putting us up for the night. We were sent to a couple of hotels about 15 minutes away. Washing stuff in the sink. Grabbed a sandwich, some chocolate, and a stick of deoderant at the Gas 'n Go across the street. Fortunately I already had my toothbrush in my backpack.

Internet is spotty (the front desk thinks we're all overloading the system). I'm not going to bother with pictures.

Good news: They have Sci Fi so I'll get to see the series finale of Stargate Atlantis.

We try again tomorrow morning. I suppose this could be worse (there are some folks here since last Saturday). And most all of us will be in the same situation tomorrow - dirty shirts (eeewwwww).

Headlines: US troops in Iraq get to drink beer for Super Bowl

Fri Jan 9, 7:13 am ET
BAGHDAD – American troops in Iraq will be allowed to drink beer without fear of court-martial for this year's Super Bowl — an exception to a strict military ban on drinking alcohol in combat zones.

In what is sure to be a major morale boost, the top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Raymond Odierno issued a waiver Wednesday paving the way for troops to participate in the popular American football tradition.

Super Bowl XLIII will kick off on Feb. 1 in Tampa, Florida, but it will be 2 a.m. in Baghdad when the live broadcast starts in Iraq. Troops will gather in dining halls on military bases nationwide to watch the game.

A copy of the waiver said the consumption of alcoholic beverages will be limited to Feb. 1-2 and service members can only have two, 12-ounce beers each.

Odierno also appeared to acknowledge the sensitivity of drinking alcohol in an Islamic country, particularly considering the game falls during a holy period for Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims.

The waiver orders commanders to "keep in mind all host nation laws and customs regarding alcohol consumption" and "to exercise discretion and good judgment in enforcing these guidelines and restrictions."

U.S. troops have been banned from drinking, possessing or selling alcoholic beverages under a general order that also bans them from possessing pornography and other activities. They can face a reduction in pay or rank or even a court-martial if they violate the rule.

The Washington Post reported that several service members said the only other time the ban was lifted was in 2005, for troops operating under the Baghdad command.

Drinking alcohol isn't illegal in Iraq but is banned under Islam, and extremists have frequently targeted liquor stores.

The exemption comes as the U.S. military faces stricter Iraqi oversight under a new security agreement that took effect on Jan. 1.

Violence has declined dramatically over the past year, and the Americans are involved in less combat, focusing more on their training and advisory roles.

08 January 2009

Start, Stop, Wait

Early call for the bus.

In line at the airport.

Check our bags, get our boarding pass.

And now we wait - because we don't have a plane this morning. Get food vouchers for the airport. New call time is for later tonight. I'm hanging out at the St Louis airport for 10 hours, in a restaurant, paying for internet in order to reach the blog and social networking, trying to not drink too much (going to the bathroom in ABUs is a PITA - I'm not used to buttons), and already missing comforts of home.