30 March 2009

Getting Dressed, More Than Once

1. Get into uniform this morning
2. Change blouse for scrub top at work
3. Change from uniform into PT gear for a jog.
4. Change back into uniform & scrub top after job (no time for shower)
5. Change scrub top back into uniform blouse for briefing
6. Change out of uniform into shower PT gear to go take shower
7. Back into uniform to return to work
8. Change blouse for scrub top at work
9. Time to leave, change scrub top back to blouse
10. Back in the room, change uniform for PT gear and head to the Rec Center

I think I'm dizzy now.

Oh, managed 150 pushups and 80 situps today, jogged 1.6 miles without stopping.
And figured out there are about 1000 steps from my door to the hospital door (done 4 times today). I deserve the rest of the night sitting on my arse in front of the laptop, chatting with my husband!

Got a care package from a "coworker" at my "virtual job" (yay for DunderMifflinInfinity). Cheers for JanetLizz.! Thank you!

29 March 2009

New Server?

Seems that our wifi connection is overcrowded or something.
While I can connect to our local router without problem, it has been taking me an hour of refreshing my browser to establish my position on the information superhighway.
Instead of an arabic starting page for blogger, I'm getting dutch!

28 March 2009

Operation Postcard

This idea came out of a chat discussion last week.

For the month of April, I'm looking for people to send us postcards from all over, to post on the wall in the hospital dining facility.

If you are interested in sending us a postcard, here's the address (standard US postage).

Nutritional Medicine
332nd EMDG/EMDSS-Nut Med
APO AE 09315-9997

Yup, that's it. Nothing else needed. We'll get it and put it up. Of course there will be pictures. I wonder how many cities, states and even countries we'll see.

And this expires at the end of April (then I'll have to think of something different to do to keep life interesting around here).

Fresh Milk!

One of the Operating Room nurses got a delivery of fresh milk from Minnesota today. About 10 boxes (styrofoam packed in dry ice when shipped) with 1/2 gallons of fresh milk. I happened to be at the right place at the right time and she offered me a bottle of skim milk.
The boxed milk (HltraHighTemperature Pasturization for a very long shelf life) is great for cereal or coffee, but not quite the same for straight drinking.
I had a big cup of milk after dinner tonight.

26 March 2009

Deep Thoughts

I hope I haven't forgotten how to drive; I'm taking a vehicle over to the West side of the base tomorrow.

23 March 2009

Torah in Iraq

Soon after arriving at Joint Base Balad, we had our Right Start briefing from our wing commander and others introducing us to our new home and what it has to offer. One message I have taken to heart is the part to use this time as an opportunity to better ourselves, do challenge ourselves, to do something new.

So I registered for Air Command Staff College and have started the readings for the first unit. I also found the swimming pool and reminded my muscles what it was like to go back and forth and flip turn (I did competative swimming in high school and college, but haven't swum in over 18 years).

And another thing I decided to do while here was attending Sabbath Services (for the first time in many years). It has brought back so many childhood memories. And a wonderful sense of belonging to an amazing community filled with rich stories, many different opinions (our Friday night dinner conversations are quite eclectic), and warm people.

For the first time in probably more than half a century, there is a Torah in Iraq.

Here is the Press Release from the JCC:
For Immediate Release
Miriam Rinn
JCC Association

JWB Sends Torah to Iraq
Welcomed by Jewish Air Force Chaplain
New York, NY, March 26, 2009: A beautifully refurbished Torah scroll recently arrived at Balad Joint Air Base in Iraq, sent to Chaplain Sarah Schechter by JCC Association's JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. Service men and women at the base proudly carried the Torah in procession to Gilbert Memorial Chapel, where it will add immeasurably to the spiritual richness of religious service. Congregation B'nai Israel of Rockville, Maryland generously donated the Torah to JWB when they purchased a new one. This is the second trip to the Middle East for this Torah; it previously visited the Persian Gulf for the High Holidays in 2007 on board the aircraft carrier Enterprise and the amphibious assault ships USS Kearsarge and the USS Bonhomme Richard.

Torah scrolls, which are handwritten by specially trained scribes, are valued at close to forty thousand dollars each. For each new Sefer Torah, the scribe prepares the parchment sheets, then creates multiple quills and the ink to be used. No errors are allowed to appear in the Torah; if a mistake is made in one of the names of God, the sheet of parchment must be buried, and the scribe must begin that section again. "An actual Torah scroll is the most sacred object in Jewish ritual life," said Rabbi Harold Robinson, director of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. "Being in the presence of a sacred Torah scroll reminds us of our synagogue at home, and is for Jews everywhere, the most powerful link to our fellow Jews, to our tradition, and to God."

The U.S. Armed Forces owns only three Torahs; the other 36 Torah scrolls used by Jewish chaplains have been loaned on a long-term basis by JWB. When a Torah is shipped to a chaplain in the field, it is carefully packed under the direct supervision of JWB, which keeps a record of the location of all its Torahs. "We know the valuable emotional support and spiritual strength added by the presence of a scroll," said Robinson. "The Jewish Welfare Board is honored to support our troops and thankful to those who make our efforts possible."

Joint Base Balad, located about forty miles north of Baghdad, is home to the headquarters of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, and also includes the largest army supply center in Iraq. The base hosts a fully equipped hospital where wounded service people are stabilized before they are flown out to Germany or the U.S. Stationed at Balad, Chaplain Schechter, who is a captain in the U.S. Air Force, provides spiritual support to service men and women and to the wounded while they're in the hospital.

JCC Association is the leadership network of and central agency for the Jewish Community Center Movement, which is comprised of more than 350 JCC, YM-YWHA and camp sites in the U. S. and Canada. JCC Association offers a wide range of services and resources to strengthen the capacity of its affiliates to provide educational, cultural, social, Jewish identity-building, and recreational programs to enhance the lives of North American Jews of all ages and backgrounds. Additionally, the movement fosters and strengthens connections between North American Jews and Israel as well as with world Jewry. JCC Association is also a U.S. government accredited agency for serving the religious, social and morale needs of Jewish military personnel, their families, and patients in VA hospitals through JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. It has served in this capacity continuously since 1917.


22 March 2009

From our Hospital Chaplain

Soldiers pray for each other in battle

As the chaplain at the Air Force Theater Hospital here at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, I often ask wounded soldiers what they are praying for.

Their answers contain some surprises. They usually are praying more for their battle buddies than themselves.

Army Sgt. Robert Stucki from Clarksville, TN., was praying such a prayer when I met him earlier this month at the hospital.

As a member of the 194th Military Police Co. out of Fort Campbell, he was the truck commander in a convoy leaving Fallujah when he saw something thrown toward his truck.
The small "thing" was a grenade, and it packed a punch.

Fortunately for Stucki's crew, they weren't riding in an average vehicle. They were in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle.

Lying in a hospital bed relating his story, Stucki told me the explosion was like a "welding arc in front of my eyes."

" 'We've been hit!' " Stucki remembers thinking. " 'I need to know about my crew.' I started yelling for my driver to push through."

Twenty minutes later, the MRAP pulled into the battalion aid station.

Stucki remembers "praying the whole way for my gunner and my driver to be OK."
Only after Battalion Aid assured him his crew suffered superficial injuries did Stucki turn his attention to his own spiritual aid and requested his chaplain come and pray.

"I put my faith in the Lord and my trust in Him," he told me. "I was just praying, 'Take care of my guys and help me with the pain.' "

However, Stucki's injuries were serious enough for medics to load him on a helicopter for transport to the theater hospital. With rotors turning, a lay minister from his church administered a blessing just before takeoff.

Minutes later, I prayed alongside his gurney as Emergency Room staff worked on both his arm and leg.

The next day, Stucki was making light of those injuries: "Comparatively minor," he concluded, "compared to the potential of this attack."
Minor? Really? I wondered.

"What should have happened?" I asked him.

Stucki looked away. A bit of moisture surfaced in the eye of this 15-year veteran.
"Let's just say," he answered, "that with this type of attack, our survival was a testament to God watching out for us."

As he worked to regain some composure, Stucki explained his crew had traded their humvee for the MRAP two days before the attack. MRAPs are designed to protect occupants against armor-piercing roadside bombs.

"By the grace of God, we were in the MRAP, and the thing passed between my legs."
Then with a glance at his legs -- both intact -- he said all he needed was "a few surgeries with plates and screws."

As we finished our visit, the nursing staff were making preparations to load Stucki on the plane to Germany and then home to Clarksville.

"I don't want to leave my guys," he said. "They're my family.

"I'm so grateful to be watched over like I was and to have my crew saved."

Then, pointing toward the nursing station, with a noticeable break in his voice, he added, "The guys here are doing a wonderful job taking care of me; they are the real heroes!"

See more stories at www.thechaplain.net

21 March 2009

Donating Platelets

We are the busiest platelet collection center in the military (mostly because we are open 7 days a week). They like folks with large veins (which I have on both arms). It's easy, lay there and squeeze a ball when the blood pressure cuff is inflated. Problem happens when too much calcium & other electrolytes are pulled out of your system. I started getting numb. My jaw hurt also. Chewed 5 tums and drank most of a gatorade to help. But my hand still got very sore by the end of the 6 cycles. Fortunately the recover was pretty quick. I'm on the books to donate again in 3 weeks. I'll premedicate with the calcium supplement early in the day.

Man Love Friday Strikes Again

How Much Longer?

20 March 2009

Happy St Patrick's Day & Start of AFTH Olympics

Morale Committee's St Patricks Day Party & BBQ; and the start of the AFTH Olympic Games

Representing EMDSS in the Pushups competition. Personal best at 40!

15 March 2009

Office Prank

What do you do with $60 worth of foil?????

Coughing up a Lung

Welcome to the Dust Bowl.

Spring weather brings wind and lots of dirt in the air. And that means it gets into our lungs (not to mention the coating of dirt that gets into all the nooks and crannies in your room, on your computer, inside your cupboard, on your stuff, in your drawers, etc). I try to dust weekly with antibacterial wipes. I sweep the floor and wet swifter after shaking out the rugs. But the A/C just blows the dirt into the room every day.

So when you are breathing this, your body tries to get it out, by coughing. Over and over again. I'm tired of coughing. How do smokers do it?

14 March 2009

Deep Thoughts

You know you are tired when you are trying to shave in the shower and don't realize you still have the clear plastic blade cover on your razor.

11 March 2009

It's National Nutrition Month

We've started a "tip of the day" wall in the DFAC. The other day Morale Committee folks passed out the "Eat Right" pens I purchased (Swag) along with their little monthly motivational quotes (kind of like getting fortune cookies when you come to or leave work). Last week gave each of my troops green "Eat Right" mugs.

I was invited by the JBB Services/DFAC to present briefings and after some back and forth settled on "Sports Nutrition" this week. I'm making the rounds of the 4 Dining Facilities to give my presentation (in two weeks we go around again for "Behavior Modification"). Yesterday was DFAC1 - had an audience of 8. Today was DFAC2 (the one closest to my housing area and it's sort of small compared to the others). We had 16 folks. Tomorrow is DFAC3 and on Friday will be DFAC4 (over on the West side of the base so it's a bit of a drive to get there). I'll try to get some pictures.

10 March 2009

Headlines: 33 dead in suicide attack on Iraq tribal leaders

By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD – A suicide bomber struck Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders and high-ranking security officials touring a market after a reconciliation meeting west of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 33 people. The attack raised concerns about a spike in violence as the U.S. military begins to drawn down its forces.

Despite the ongoing violence, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said he does not believe the Iraqi government will ask Americans to remain in the country past a 2011 deadline set by a security agreement between the two countries.

The bombing — which left clusters of bodies near the shabby market stalls lining a road — was the third large-scale attack in less than a week.

It was the latest in a wave that has marred an announcement Sunday by the U.S. military that 12,000 American troops and 4,000 Britons will be withdrawn from the country by September — the first step in fulfilling President Barack Obama's pledge to end America's part in the war by the end of 2011.

U.S. troops are to leave the cities by the end of June, but the attacks raise questions about whether Iraqi security forces will be able to cope with persistent violence.

Baghdad and surrounding areas face bombings on a daily basis despite security gains, but the latest attacks were the deadliest in nearly a month — indicating that insurgents retain the ability to mount increasingly effective suicide bombings despite heavy security precautions.

Nobody claimed responsibility for Tuesday's blast, but the spate of bombings echoed previous al-Qaida style attacks, evoking the possibility of a new insurgent campaign to provoke sectarian violence although it was too early to tell.

Tuesday's bomber detonated an explosives belt as the tribal leaders were walking through the market in the town of Abu Ghraib, accompanied by security officials and journalists, according to the Iraqi military.

Two Iraqi television journalists from the privately owned Baghdadiya station were among those killed in the attack. Four staffers of the state television network were also wounded, one seriously, their station said.

The owner of a nearby auto repair shop said he heard somebody shout "God is Great" before the blast and it was followed by heavy shooting by the security forces.

"I hid for a while, but then I raised my head to see scattered bodies, including women and children, and some surviving women and children were screaming out of fear," Ahmed Ali, 33, said.

Shakir Fizaa, the mayor of Abu Ghraib, blamed al-Qaida in Iraq, saying the militants "seized on today's big meeting to carry out the attack."

Most of the tribal leaders had just left his office along with security officials, including a deputy Interior Minister, after the meeting and were chatting with people in the market when the blast occurred, he said.

He also said some of the casualties were caused by the ensuing gunfire from security forces.

"This terrorist attack was aimed at stopping reconciliation and the improvement in the security situation," he told The Associated Press. "But we will not be deterred by the acts of the vicious group."

Last Sunday, a suicide attacker killed 30 people near the police academy in east Baghdad. A car bomb also tore through a livestock market in the Shiite city of Hillah on March 5, killing 13 people.

Abu Ghraib is a mainly Sunni district that also is the site of the prison where U.S. soldiers were photographed abusing inmates, igniting a scandal that was one of the biggest setbacks to American efforts to win the peace in Iraq.

The area was once one of the most dangerous in Iraq but has seen a sharp decline in violence after a decision by local Sunni tribal leaders to turn against al-Qaida in Iraq.

The 2011 deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw was set in a security agreement that took effect on Jan. 1. There has been speculation the Iraqis may ask the U.S. for an extension.

But Gen. Ray Odierno told the AP in an interview that he has received no indication that Iraqi leaders want that to happen.

Odierno left the door open to the possibility, however, saying "never say never."

The reconciliation meeting the Sunni and Shiite sheiks were holding Tuesday before they were attacked was one of many the Iraqi government has been encouraging to heal the rifts between the Muslim sects after years of sectarian violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, last week went so far as to call on Iraqis to reconcile with former supporters of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime who have been shunned by the Shiite government that rose to power after the U.S. invasion.

Iraqi officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information, said 33 people were killed and 46 wounded in Tuesday's attack.

But the Iraqi military spokesman's office put the toll slightly lower, at 28 people killed and 28 wounded.

Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings.

A car bomb parked near the heavily barricaded municipality building in the mainly Christian town of Hamdaniya, near the northern city of Mosul, also exploded on Tuesday, killing two civilians and wounding eight others, according to police.

How's the Weather?

I arrived in Jan after there had been some serious rain. I was introduced to the puddles and the mud (to avoid at all costs).

Then we get mostly sunny days and never gets below 45 degrees at night. Is winter really over? Why do I have rain boots? Well, we did get a few windy days blowing the dust around.

Often the wind brings rain but the past two months it hasn't been more than just dirty sprinkles. We've had some nice sunny days. Sunday it was pretty darn warm.

Then it got very windy.

Which led to a large dump of rain (with thunder) after midnight and lots of deep puddles and thick mud all around the housing area and the hospital today.

08 March 2009

Headlines: US says 12,000 US troops to leave Iraq by Sept.

By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press Writer 3-8-09

BAGHDAD – The U.S. military announced Sunday that 12,000 American and 4,000 British troops will leave Iraq by September — hours after a suicide bomber struck police and recruits lined up at the entrance of Baghdad's main academy, killing 32 people.

The blast — the second major attack to hit Iraqis in three days and the deadliest to strike Baghdad in nearly a month — was a bloody reminder of the ability of insurgents to defy security improvements and stage dramatic attacks as the U.S. begins to draw down its forces.

Maj. Gen. David Perkins said the troop withdrawals will reduce U.S. combat power from 14 brigades to 12 along with some supporting units. The U.S. also plans to turn over 74 facilities and areas under its control to the Iraqis by the end of March as part of the drawdown.

President Barack Obama has decided to remove all combat troops by the end of August 2010 with the remaining forces leaving by the end of 2011. The 4,000 British troops due to leave are the last British soldiers in Iraq.

The U.S. withdrawal will be gradual at first, leaving most troops in place for parliamentary elections at the end of this year. There are currently about 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Remaining American forces will be repositioned in coordination with Iraqi authorities to ensure the most dangerous areas of the country are protected, Perkins said.

Perkins insisted violence has dropped more than 90 percent and was at its lowest level since the summer of 2003, claiming a recent spate of high-profile attacks, including Sunday's bombing, was evidence of an increasingly desperate al-Qaida in Iraq.

"Al-Qaida and other terrorists are still active," he said, adding insurgents appear to be stepping up attacks to derail recent progress by the Iraqi government in holding provincial elections and in reaching a new security agreement with the United States.

"It's indicative that al-Qaida feels threatened. They're feeling desperate. They want very much to maintain relevance," he said.

The bomber on Sunday detonated his explosives as he drove his motorcycle into a group of people waiting near a side entrance of the academy, which is in a mainly Shiite area of eastern Baghdad.

Iraqi and U.S. forces sealed off the scene, allowing only ambulances and fire engines to enter. Nervous Iraqi troops fired in the air to prevent onlookers and reporters from getting too close. They accidentally shot at a fire engine but no casualties were reported, according to witnesses.

Extremists increasingly have targeted Iraqi forces as they take over the country's security so the American troops can go home.

Baghdad's main police academy has been hit by several bombings. Another suicide bombing there killed at least 33 people and wounded dozens on Dec. 1.

Haitham Fadhel said he was standing in one of three lines of recruits arriving for their first day of special guard training courses at the academy.

"We were feeling secure as we were waiting in a well-guarded area," he said. "Before the explosion occurred I heard a loud shout saying 'Stop, stop, where are you going?' Seconds later, a huge explosion shook the area."

The 24-year-old recruit from the mainly Shiite neighborhood of New Baghdad was knocked unconscious and was wounded by shrapnel. He said he was lucky because the bomber struck a different line, but two of his friends were killed.

"I am just wondering how a big security breach can occur in such a secured area," Fadhel said. "I came here to get a job after four years of staying at home even though I graduated from Oil Institute ... but it seems that I have no luck."

Iraqi officials provided conflicting casualty tolls, as is common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings.

Three medical officials and one police officer in the area where the bombing occurred said 32 people were killed, including 19 recruits, nine policemen and four traffic police, and some 60 others were wounded.

Another police officer said 28 were killed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said 24 people were killed and more than 60 wounded.

05 March 2009

Deep Thoughts

"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing—that's why we recommend it daily." Zig Ziglar

It's not the man that interested me, it's the message. This was today's inspirational tome posted on the AFTH entrance board this morning. I found it both poignant and humorous (in a deployed location).

04 March 2009

Combat Dietitian

Arming exercise. Weapons were distributed to all Airmen (as officers we already have our M9s and are suppose to wear them all the time anyway). But today was 24 hours of U2 (Uniform Posture 2) = wearing our vest & helmet when outside. Everywhere.

03 March 2009

The AFTH Before My Time

AFTH in tents and before building the helicopter pad.

H6 housing area in tents, before the trailers, the gym and the rec center.

The helicopter pad is in place, the hospital is in tents (over 120 degrees in the OR during the summer). You can see the original clinic building on the far left - this would later be expanded into the AFTH we're in today.