Friday, March 26, 2010

Just Saying Thanks Makes It All Worthwhile

I reflected a little this past week on some of the things I’ve done since joining the Navy 15 years ago. My roots are as an Emergency/Trauma nurse and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some of the best doctors, nurses, and corpsmen in the country. As for the patients…that’s a different story. The biggest reason I moved away from nursing in general and the ED specifically, and chose to go to the Naval Postgraduate School for an MBA was because of the patients. They never seemed to be happy with the care we provided them (free care by the way) and complained and criticized much more often than they praised and thanked. So here I am full-circle, back into that ED role, only this time its 8,000 miles from where I started.

We’ve been on FOB Lagman about a month and have yet to take care of a US combat casualty. When we left Fort Jackson CDR Godinez said he would happy if we went the entire deployment and did not see any US forces; we’re off to a good start. The majority of patients we’ve seen have been Afghan National Security Forces (Army and Police) and local nationals. I don’t think I can put into words just how poor the locals are and how little they have. When we get one of them who is a trauma patient I feel guilty cutting their clothes off because it may be the only clothes they own. One of those patients last week suffered an open radial-ulnar fracture (he broke both bones in his forearm and they were sticking out of his skin) playing soccer. Remember, our sole purpose is to provide life and limb saving surgery. So, we did enough with what we had to clean his wound in the OR, but did not have the complex “hardware” he needed to realign his broken bones properly. After his surgery and recovery period I called for the interpreter (Lodin – maybe I’ll tell you about him in another post. He’s a local Afghan and he is a piece of work) because I wanted to make sure the patient was aware of the plan to transfer him to a hospital that was capable of properly realigning the fractures in his arm and make sure all his questions were answered. After Lodin asked the patient if he had any questions, the patient’s response was so long I thought I may be regretting asking. But, after he was through, I could see Lodin’s eyes begin to water and asked what questions the patient had. He told me he didn’t have any questions. He just wanted to thank everyone for the wonderful care he received and he did not think there was any way he could repay us.

I told you the first story so I could tell you this patient’s story and his is no different than any of the other locals for whom we provided care. They have all been so gracious and thankful so it makes it more enjoyable to be able to help them. They really have little else. It also helps me to better understand and accept what we are doing in Afghanistan on a much larger scale. I really believe its stories like this one that help us in our fight against the Taliban. Its a small piece, but an important one nonetheless. It demonstrates to the local Afghan population that we are here to help them and I truly believe most of them feel that way...I have to. I’m not much for politics or public policy and really had no opinion on whether or not we were doing the right thing by being in this country. It didn’t affect me directly, so I never really thought about it. After what I have seen so far, I’m on board.

So, now that I’ve got that out of the way, I got another care package from Judi this week. Here is a picture of one of the two Steelers shirts she sent me.

She always seems to know the perfect way to make me happy. Thanks baby!!!

JF3, sorry about your Panthers.

Take Care,


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Starting the Second Quarter – How Bazaar, How Bazaar

On 18 March the deployment was 25% complete, not that I'm counting.

There have not been many patients coming through the FST; which is a good thing. We did have a day when two traumas came in around the same time, but neither was life-threatening and one actually had to stay the night because the role 3 hospital that we transfer to was full. So, we’ve been passing the time with trauma training and cleaning and reorganizing. Since the Army FST we relieved was only here temporarily they didn’t do much in the way of cleaning, so we had a lot to do in that respect. Any of you who know me and my obsessive-compulsive personality understand how tough it was for me to wait for the Army to leave so I could throw away their crap, clean up their mess and rearrange everything to suit me. Anyway, the place looks much better now and makes coming to work a little more tolerable.

This week was also the start of “Bazaar Season” here at FOB Lagman. The Bazaar is a weekly event, similar to a yard sale, where local Afghans bring their wares to sell. Anything from movies and electronics to carpets and hookahs (see picture). If any of you saw The Hurt Locker, it was spot-on in its portrayal of the young Iraqi boy who sold DVDs to Staff Sergeant James. BTW, if I didn't mention it in a previous post, you can click on the photos to enlarge them.


The Romanian soldiers love to haggle. Its very amusing to watch.

A couple more pics from the Bazaar.

Also of note to football fans, I found out this week that our OIC, CDR Carlos “Charlie” Godinez, played center for Harvard in the late 1980’s. He played against some “big name” players including Gordie Lockbaum from Holy Cross and Mike Ruth from Boston College. He told a great story about his game against Boston College where he was facing Ruth, who played nose tackle. He said on the first play of the game he was so fired up and intent on making a statement against the eventual Outland Trophy winner that he didn’t even remember the play. He just wanted to show Ruth he was not going to have an easy day. He also said the one thing he remembered most was how bad Ruth smelled – like he hadn’t showered in a week. Anyway, after Charlie snaps the ball Ruth blows right by him into the backfield and “tears the quarterbacks head off”. He said he doesn’t think he blocked him all game. Great story for a football fan.

I had trouble sleeping this past Thursday night and went out for a walk around the FOB early Friday morning. While I was out I ran into a puppy (see pictures below). If you’re not aware, there is a general order for US military members that strictly forbids them from having pets or “unit mascots”, and you are definitely not supposed to pet stray animals, but I couldn’t resist. Since I didn’t see anyone else around I played with the little guy for about 5 minutes. I wish I would have been able to feed him something, although it looks like someone on the FOB is taking pretty good care of him. What a morale boost he gave me. I hope to continue to see him around.

Judi, please don’t tell Cowher I cheated on him.

I miss you and love you!!!

Take care,


How freakin' cute is this puppy?!?!?!?!

p.s. JF3, I don't think Pitt is making it to the Sweet 16 this year, but I'll be rooting for them.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

FOB Lagman Hits the Big Time (In Romania)

President Basescu in blue sweater.

The President of Romania, Traian Basescu, visited the FOB last week. As you can imagine, it was a pretty big deal for the Romanian forces here, but I was a little surprised at how excited the US forces were about the visit. He was on the FOB for about 2 hours – he talked with the Romanian/Afghan Army leadership, ate lunch and had a photo-op in the DFAC. I have to tell you, when I see ANY of the Afghan Army or National Police on the FOB I get a little uneasy and NEVER turn my back on them. Sorry about the picture quality, that was as close as I could get to him.

We’ve had a few patients come through the FST, but all were training injuries or local nationals – no combat injuries yet. One was hit in his knee with a pen flare (like a road flare), two others had distal finger amputations, and an 11 year-old boy, who was trapped under a rock in a landslide, suffered a complex facial laceration and an open distal tib-fib (both bones in his lower leg) fracture. I can’t be more specific without violating OPSEC and patient privacy.

Despite the good chow, I’ve been losing weight ever since Fort Jackson – Sunday morning in the gym I was down to 185 from 196 when I left NC. So, I decided to start having dessert. They have cake and ice cream in the chow hall every night, but I’m only going to indulge once a week. My personal goal for the deployment was not so much to lose any weight; I just wanted my pants to fit a little better. We’ll see how that goes; it’s still early in the deployment. I do have a pretty good workout schedule, hopefully I can maintain it. It’s no P90X, but I think it will be effective.

During our “down” time I’ve been researching the Vegas vacation. I forgot how great the Venetian is and how nice their suites are. Judi and I have often talked about retiring in Vegas when I retire from the Navy. We haven’t made a firm decision yet, but it’s definitely high on our list. This will be my 6th trip, Judi’s 7th, to Vegas. Sorry Rezk’s, Sharbaugh’s, Brannock’s and Shero’s, but this trip is all about us, and we’re looking at a 5-dayer.

Judi and I in all our glory at the Venetian in 2003. Can you say Mimimimosa?!?!?!

Some of the Wildlife on FOB Lagman (How scary looking is that cat?)

I’m glad to hear how often Judi is driving the Highlander, and even in the snow, so no more excuses for driving me around. Thanks again to her family for taking such good care of her and Cowher.

Take Care and God Bless,


p.s. I'm getting better at posting pictures with captions, eh?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Forward Operating Base Lagman

The tent in the background is my "temporary" housing. I currently share it with one of our CRNA's, but I'm moving to my own room in mid-March.

Welcome sign at the Landing Zone

I woke up Saturday morning thinking I was going to enjoy a nice, leisurely breakfast and a cup of coffee (btw, I haven’t had a good cup of coffee since the Brannock’s were in NC) when I received a phone call from CDR Godinez, our OIC, informing me that we were leaving for Forward Operation Base (FOB) Lagman within the hour. We traveled by helicopter and, this being my first ride in a helicopter, I was a little nervous. It was a Chinook (H-47) and it, like the airplane, was packed with not only our FST, but also other military members as well as civilian contractors and all their baggage. I got some cool pictures that I posted. Anyway, the flight was uneventful and even smoother than any airline flight I’ve been on. After arriving at the FOB, we got an orientation to our living quarters and then to the FOB itself. The FST spaces are quite modest and currently include only one operating room table that will soon grow to two. We have yet to receive any combat-related casualties. The current plan is to complete turnover with the Army FST that is currently here and then be on our own – probably by early next week. The FOB is much smaller than anywhere we’ve been so far and a little too close to the nearest city (Qalat) for my liking, but we were told the FOB was only “shelled” once in the past 6 months and is “relatively” safe. Since I can’t go into much detail without violating operational security (OPSEC), you can Google FOB Lagman and its nearest city, Qalat, for more details. One good thing is the weather has been pretty nice, 60-70 during the day and 30-40 at night. It has rained a couple of the days, but only in the early morning, then it is sunny. Qalat is at 5000 feet elevation, but I haven’t seemed to notice much difference. Glad I don’t have the sickle cell trait (only hard-core Steelers fans will get that one).

About that cell phone I bought in Kandahar, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that is still works here. The bad news is that the service is shut off at 1700 each day until the following morning. So, that makes my window for calling Judi even tighter since we are 9 and a half hours ahead of EST. They do have a very small USO here with some telephones and computers for Internet, but you need calling cards for those and the wait is typically more than an hour. On the bright side, they also have free used DVDs and I scored LOST Season 1. I didn’t start watching LOST until the second season. Judi got me to start watching after she loved the first season. So I should be able to pass some time watching it. Judi and I plan to have a big LOST blowout party when I get back and watch the final season over one weekend – after our trip to Vegas, of course.

There is no US chaplain here, so no US religious services. That said, one of our surgeons and I attended the Romanian service on Sunday and it was not your typical Catholic mass. I stayed for 30 minutes and during that time the priest (I guess that’s what they call him) never stopped talking, and I’m not exaggerating, he did not pause to breathe for half an hour and I didn’t understand one word he said.

The food is ok (we’ve got an omelet guy for crying out loud) and the gym isn’t terrible, so I’m doing pretty well. I actually think I could do this as a full-time job if I could just come home at night to see Judi and Cowher. Oh, that and there would be no chance I would be involved in a mortar attack by the Taliban.

One last thing, you hear a lot of helicopters here and I mentioned to some of the group this morning that every time I hear one it makes me want to sing the theme song to the TV show MASH (you know…suicide is painless, it brings on many changes….) and someone said, “you mean there’s words to that song? I had no idea”. C’mon man!

Well, I hope all is well back in the states. I saw some pictures on Facebook of the snow that Jacksonville, NC received and I couldn’t believe it. My condolences to family and friends in PA and MD who are getting pounded with snow again. Can someone please convince Raymond that his life would be much easier if he just broke down and bought a snow blower? I mean really?!?!

I’ll write again when business picks up. We are all expecting some heavy combat in our area soon, just not sure when. We all hope to see no combat casualties while we’re here, but also realize that’s not realistic.

Take Care and God Bless,

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pictures from Kuwait, Kandahar and FOB Lagman

My Barracks Room at Lagman. Talk about luxury!

Qalat from the Helo

Me and RK

Camels at Udairi Range

More Camels

I have a bunch more, but it is taking FOREVER to upload them and I'm currently limited to 30 minutes on the computer. Things are going well.