Sunday, February 28, 2010

Final Destination Reached

This is just a quick update to let you all know that our team arrived safely at our final destination. Hopefully I can post soon.

I miss Judi and Cowher terribly as my opportunities for phone calls continue to decrease.

I can't believe I'm missing the NFL Combine as well. I usually catch most of it.

You think Hutchie is excited about the hockey finals?

I just came back from a Romanian church service. Very interesting. I don't think they stopped to breath and I did not understand a word.

Take Care and good luck shoveling!


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Training at the Role 3 in Kandahar

After arriving in Afghanistan we were given the first day off (Sunday) to catch up on sleep and boy did we need it. Although, we had a scheduled flight from Kuwait to Kandahar it was not a "hard" time and we waited forever to get on the plane - a C-17. Oh yeah, and we had to fly in our body armor, so we were cramped like sardines. Seriously, the only body part I could move was turning my neck - for 4 hours. It was as uncomfortable as I've ever been. Even more than when my mother tells the story about me running away from home at age 5, only to return after 15 minutes because I "pooped my pants". It was terrible!!

We had an orientation brief Monday morning where we met the Role 3 Hospital Commanding Officer (CO) and Executive Officer (XO) – the CEO and COO for you nonmilitary types. For those unaware of what “role” means, combat medical care is divided into roles based on the type of care they can provide. Role 1 is battlefield medicine provided by corpsmen and medics. This includes initial life-saving measures like applying a tourniquets to control bleeding (mostly for amputations), starting an IV to provide fluids for blood loss, placing a needle into the chest cavity for collapsed lung, etc… From Role 1 the patient is transported to a Role 2, which is near the front line, that provides urgent/emergent stabilization of combat injuries and life/limb saving surgical interventions. Typically, patients sent to a Role 2 facility require surgery within anywhere from 60 minutes to 4 hours. Our Forward Surgical Team is a Role 2. The Role 3 facility provides more definitive care and surgical procedures for patients who are more stable and/or who are transferred from the Role 2. Kandahar Hospital is the Role 3 for Kandahar province.

After our initial briefs, our team went to our respective units at the hospital – ER nurse (me) and corpsmen went to the ED, ICU to the ICU and surgeons and surgical techs went to the OR for orientation. It was not long after we arrived in the hospital that they started receiving casualties. Talk about jumping in head-first. In the 4 days we were at the hospital they received about 30 casualties, most of them NATO forces (only one group of 4 were US Army). The others were from Britain, Canada and Romania. After seeing the first couple of patients it was easy to get back into my role as an ER nurse – its kinda like riding a bike. They emphasized in our initial briefings that there is no training you can go through in the US that can prepare you for the types of injuries you will see in “ theater”. Boy are they right. In the short time I was at the Role 3 I was awed by the quality of care these patients receive. As one of the surgeons put it, if some of these injuries occurred in Wyoming or Montana in the US they may not survive, but here they not only survive, but do quite well. Its really amazing and I’m very anxious and excited to be a part of it. I was really tentative about this deployment since I haven't been in a clinical role for so long, but after seeing the care NATO medicine provides I can't wait to get started.

The Role 3 is also staffed my multiple NATO countries. I think I saw staff from Denmark, Britain, Canada and the US. Even at 40 years I old I chuckled under my breath when the Canadians said about (aboot) or out (oot).

I also had my first experience with treating a local national. If you were not aware, the military hospitals here do treat local Afghan's if they are injured as a result of combat or if they are at risk of losing life, limb or eyesight. There was a 5 year old Afghani boy brought to the hospital after sustaining a camel bite to the head. Yep, a camel bite. It fractured his skull in two places. Very sad.

For security reasons I can’t tell you when we will be leaving here and arriving at our final destination, but I’ll post after we arrive.

I was able to get a cell phone, so I have been able to call Judi. Its really nice to hear her voice, even if its just voice mail. I also bought a camera and have a lot of pictures, but I have to wait to get Internet access on my laptop (non government) so i can upload them.

Take care,


Monday, February 22, 2010

Arriving Safely, But Not Comfortably, in Afghanistan

Just a quick post to let you all know that our team arrived in Afghanistan. Here is my mailing address should anyone be interested in sending protein bars or the like.

APO AE 09383

I'm told it takes about 21 days. It also appears that I may be able to acquire cell phone access, more on that to follow.

The Navy is beginning to take its toll on The Rejectafier. He is heavily tasked here and his grays are become more pronounced. Say a prayer for him.

Judi, i miss you tons!!!!!


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Training in Kuwait

This week’s blog comes to you from a Starbucks at Camp Virginia where we are gathered waiting to find out when we fly out. It can always be worse.

Our five days in Kuwait were spent acclimating to the heat; it was in the high 80s, and completing more training. We had several more lectures on convoy operations, recognizing and dealing with IED’s, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle egress training (similar to the earlier humvee egress training but in the vehicle in the picture, a humvee on steroids), and a final “capstone” convoy operation at Udairi range just North of Camp Virginia.

We were up at 0200 Wednesday morning for our drive to Udairi where we spent the next 36 hours. We fired our weapons again in the early morning in Close Quarters Marksmanship (CQM) training. It was a little scary having a bunch of people who don’t normally fire weapons firing them 18 inches from each other. Fortunately, no one was shot. The rest of the morning was PowerPoint presentations on IEDs, counterinsurgency tactics, and prep for the convoy op. In the afternoon we had a convoy practice “run-through” and finished at 1800…..a very long day. The highlight of the day was having to stop the convoy for about 15 minutes while about 100 camels crossed directly in front of us. I am trying to find someone who took pictures, but have been unsuccessful. We slept in sleeping bags on the floor that night. I laid down at 1830 and was asleep in 5 minutes. No hot chow (MREs – which, for me, meant protein bars and the beef jerky Nancy sent), and no running water - so no showers - or even the ability to splash water on your face. Thank God for baby wipes! We completed the convoy op the next morning in about 2 hours. Our group had 8 humvees and I was selected to be the gunner in the 8th vehicle. For those of you unfamiliar, the gunner is the badass dude positioned at the top of the humvee who gets to fire the machine gun (see picture). They use Third Country Nationals to play the insurgent roles which makes this training much more real. They had great simulations of IEDs going off and used green flares for machine gun and RPG firing. It looked eerily real. In the end it went well and the only problem for me was that I had sand in every hole and crevasse in my body…and I’m talking S-A-N-D! I hate getting sand between my toes at the beach so you can imagine how miserable I was. Anyway, our training is complete and reality is beginning to set in. We are (finally) getting some news from the medical personnel we will be relieving and the word is that it is relatively safe.

I spoke to RK and he will be picking our group up at the airport. Nice to have connections in the middle of nowhere.

Here is a link for Udairi:

Hope to post next week from Kandahar. Say a prayer for those fighting this week in Marjah.

Peace out,

Monday, February 15, 2010

Greetings from Kuwait

We were stranded in the Columbia, SC airport for 10 hours waiting for our flight crew to rest and for the 767 plane to get de-iced. Apparently the Columbia airport typically only services planes of 50 passengers or less, so this 300+ passenger plane was a little overwhelming for their de-icer. The coolest part of the wait was the military dogs that flew with us. 4 German Shepherds – 2 that loved people and 2 that did not (they had to be muzzled – it always makes me sad to see that). I spent most of my time during the wait playing with the two friendly dogs. They left me with two thoughts 1.) Boy do I miss Cowher and 2.) Cowher is really, really spoiled. We touched down in Leipzig, Germany at 1830 local time (1230 EST), so we lost all of Saturday in the air. One interesting note about the trip is that after arriving in Germany I mentioned that it was the first time in my life I have been outside of the US. No one could believe it, but it’s true. We were confined to a small area in one of the terminals, so my sightseeing consisted of 2 small gift shops and NO bar. Here’s an important travel trip should you ever have a layover in Germany. The female cleaning attendants don’t knock on the bathroom door and continue to clean even if you are standing at a urinal actively urinating. They mop right under your feet…weird.

The biggest thing I realized is that I really hate travelling without Judi; she just makes everything so much more fun.

We arrived in Kuwait City at 0330 Kuwaiti time and waited until 0700 for our police escort to the base – Camp Virginia. We got there at 0800 and ate breakfast. The dining facility (DFAC) is much bigger and much nicer than the one at Fort Jackson. You have to wonder how you can get better fresh fruit and veggies in Kuwait than you can in South Carolina. Kuwait is not much different than 29 Palms, CA where Judi, Cowher and I lived for three years…lots of sand and dirt, no trees or grass, hot as fu$@, and plenty of spiders, scorpions and snakes. After chow we had an in-brief with the Commanding Officer and then the rest of the day to ourselves so I went to the gym and, OH MY GOD, it was the nicest gym I have ever been in since I joined the Navy. All of the equipment was brand new and they had both free weights AND machines and at least 20 flat screen TVs. I was there for over two hours. Too bad I couldn’t stay here for the entire deployment. Speaking of which, we have three more days in Kuwait and then fly to Afghanistan on Friday evening, although like anything else in the military that could change at a moment’s notice. Monday morning was more briefs and information on financial issues and preparation for our trip to Afghanistan.

Here is link for Camp Virginia if anyone is interested:

I did get to talk to Judi two nights in a row, so that was nice. I miss her more every day. One of the surgeons in our group mentioned at chow today that once we get to Afghanistan the deployment will be 12% over. Now that is optimism!

Thanks to the Shero sister’s and Eb for taking such good care of Judi, she mentioned it to me in an e-mail.

If I don't get back online until next week I want to wish Judi a Happy Anniversary!! It was 13 years ago on February 21st that I came home from work at Naval Hospital Pensacola and said, "Why don't we get married tomorrow?" So we went to the JP and eloped, then went to New Orleans for a weekend Honeymoon - one of the best decisions we made together. The picture I posted is from the Pensacola Court House on the day we were married. Wow, do we look young.

Well, I will leave you on that great memory. Time for bed. I want to get up early and get to that gym!!

Take care,

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Weather Delays Flight

Our flight out was delayed due to weather, so I've been doing a lot of what you see in the picture. We are supposed to fly out tomorrow at 1430. I'll keep you posted. Its just nice to know that this training evolution is over! We celebrated our last night (which turned out to be our penultimate night) with an awesome dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Columbia. Judi will be very surprised to hear that I even had a glass of wine with dinner. One of the dudes with us is a wine connoisseur and ordered an $80 bottle of wine, Orin Swift's "The Prisoner". I told him I'd try anything, but also let him know that I'm just a redneck from PA and the most expensive bottle of wine I ever bought was a $4 bottle of Boone's Farm Strawberry wine - you know, the stuff Pap & Gram served every Thanksgiving. Ahhhh good times, good times.

Take Care,


Monday, February 8, 2010

Training Winding Down

Good evening all. We found out today we will be leaving for Kuwait this Thursday afternoon, so I don't know when I will get a chance to post again. We will be in Kuwait for about 10 days for more training and acclimation to the area before heading to Afghanistan. We are tentatively scheduled to arrive in Kandahar, Afghanistan and spend a week there before being transferred to our final destination - which we are told is "somewhere in Eastern Afghanistan" near the Pakistan border. I have been corresponding with R.K. "Rejectafier" Bills who is the Director for Administration at the hospital in Kandahar and I should get to spend some time with him there. Its too bad I have to go to a war zone to see him. Hopefully I'll get some good pics of him and I to post. Rumor has it he's down about 30 pounds. I bet he's still a monster though. If anyone who knows RK and I would have told me 30 years ago we would both be Lieutenant Commanders in the United States Navy serving our country in a war I would have thought they were nuts. I can't believe how far we both have come. Which reminds me of something that happened to me the week before I left Carrolltown to start this journey. I ran into Joe Bearer one night while I was out at the Legion. For those of you who don't know Joe, he is a rather large gentleman of Italian decent who served in combat in the Army in Vietnam. He was also known as a guy you did NOT want to get into a fight with in a bar. Anyway, when I was getting ready to leave that night - after several hours of me getting well-wishes for a safe return from many of the Legion faithful - Joe approached a group of people near where I was sitting and simply said, "I don't know what all of you are worried about. John will be just fine over there. He's a Carrolltown boy." And that's what I will remember every day until I get home. The same holds true for RK. Just thought I would share.

Peace out.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

More Pictures

The first picture is just one example of the fine lunch cuisine we've been getting here. Sloppy Joe Filling MRE, mmmmmm mmmmmm! The second is me pointing out me and Judi's lucky Roulette number at the rifle range - can't wait to go back to Vegas when I return baby.

Week 3 - Weapons, Weapons and More Weapons

Week 3's blog is being typed from the comfort of my rack thanks to Judi and Aunt Nanny who mailed my laptop and enough beef jerky and Doritos to last me a month. Thanks ladies!! This entire week was spent on weapons training. Monday morning we shot the M9 pistol in "low-light" conditions, which is Army slang for in the dark, at 0500 in 20 degree temperatures - great fun. More classroom stuff in the afternoon. Tuesday was spent practicing for quals with the M16. So, if you practiced on Tuesday you would think you would shoot the real thing on Wednesday, right? Wrong! Wednesday was more practice. This time with pop-up targets, actually kind of fun. Thursday was M16 quals then the most sobering lecture of the course - Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs). I don't want to get into it much, because I hate thinking about it, but it is my greatest concern about going to Afghanistan. I am really hoping when our team has to travel we are flown in a helicopter and not in a convoy. Friday we were all given the opportunity to fire the "big guns" - the 50 cal and M249. I posted a picture of the 50 cal. If you look at the bullets below it, they cover the entire length of your hand. I was not a big fan of this evolution, but there was some serious testosterone flying around with those bullets. Saturday we went back to the M16 simulator and practiced a "shoot - don't shoot" exercise where they played a video of terrorists in crowded areas and you had to determine who to shoot or not shoot. That was it for the training this week, only 3 days left then we are supposed to fly to Kuwait on Thursday.

I did get out to dinner the last two nights. We went to Hooters on Friday. It was nice to have a beer.... or five. Last night we went to a brick oven pizza place, it was no Moon Hotel, but it was pretty good. Tonight we are going out to watch the Super Bowl. One of the Nurse Anesthetists is from NOLA, so I guess I'm rooting for the Saints.

It has been really nice to be able to talk with Judi every night and vent my frustrations with this Army stuff, but it hit me Friday that once I leave for Afghanistan I don't know how often I will get to hear her voice. That's gonna blow! I'm sure her sisters are taking care of her and Cowher, especially with all the snow. And if a certain someone sees her struggling in the snow and instead of stopping to help he takes a picture something should be done to his drink the next time he comes into the Fire Club (got it Becky Bird).

Almost forgot, I need to clarify that the South Beach Diet Bars that one might prefer are the one's with at least 10 grams of protein per bar. I'm sure no one would care if you sent the one's with more than 10 grams of protein.

Take care all,


p.s. Would it be possible for someone in the Eckenrode clan to print these posts and take them to Pap and Gram? Thanks!!