Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What a long, strange trip it’s been

Wow. I’m back in the USA, but until Jennyjo gets here, it’s not really home.

Being back is great, and I’m very thankful for a safe (if extended) trip home. I didn’t make it in time to see mom and dad, since they had to fly out for a Valic conference in Orlando. I missed them by about 12 hours, but I was able to talk with them both, along with Daniel within a few minutes of arriving at Fort Hood (thanks to Johnny Russell’s cell phone).

Anyway, I guess I’d better take it from the top.

The evening of the 10 th was my last night in Baghdad, and Jennyjo was working the night shift pushing redeployment flights out, so I wasn’t sure that I’d get to see her. The palace lights were on for the Transfer of Authority ceremony, so I climbed a guard tower to get a good photo of it.

I made several stops around Camp Victory to say goodbye to a few remaining friends, including my good friend Adam Crossley, then headed over to her trailer around 2300 to see if maybe she had made it back.

She wasn’t there, so I left a note and headed back to the palace. I was able to hang on to my cell phone until right before I left, so I was hoping she’d be able to find a phone and give me a call. I put the phone right by my head so it would wake me up, just in case.

Sure enough, about 0130 I woke up, and after several confusing seconds of trying to get out of my sleeping bag (which was zipped up with only a tiny breathing hole open) I picked up the phone and tried to figure out where I was and what the heck was going on (I was sleeping pretty hard!)

Jj managed to get me to understand who she was and what was going on, and said that she had a break until about 0500, so I got up and headed out to see her. We hung out in her room for the next 3 hours, and we were both very happy for the chance to see each other one last time before I headed out.

I went back to my cot in the palace at 0500, and grabbed another hour and a half of sleep before waking Dan up to meet Don in the mess hall for breakfast (we had to get a photo with the endlessly annoying centerpieces).

We spent the rest of the morning packing our remaining things, and we headed to the manifest site at 1130. Our flight left for Kuwait at about 1630, so we got to hang out with Don again at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport) for a couple hours.

We got into Camp Doha about 1930, grabbed some snacks from the PX, and crashed pretty early. Our manifest time wasn’t until 2130 the next day, so we (Dan and I) hit the gym, jumped on the internet for a few minutes, and did some quality napping. Our new motto was “Sleep till you’re hungry, eat till you’re tired.”

After bag drop at 2130, we were released until 0130, and then the lockdown began. We got all the familiar briefs: don’t smuggle any AK-47s, bayonets, or nail clippers onto the plane, etc.

About this time, the details get a little hazy and the timeline blurs a bit, so bear with me.

We finally took off from Kuwait International around 1100, and arrived in Hahn, Germany in the mid-afternoon. Our layover was supposed to be about two hours, so about 1930 we began to wonder what was going on.

Sure enough, a service vehicle had run into our plane, so we waited around until 2200, when the airline folks determined that we weren’t going anywhere that night. Luckily for us, civilians were running the operation, so we weren’t relegated to sleeping in the plastic terminal chairs for the next 36 hours.

Busses arrived and drove us an hour and a half to the Frankfurt Sheraton, and we were told to report to the lobby at 0600.

0600 turned into 0700, which subsequently turned into 1100, 1230, and finally 1930. At this point, Dan and I had explored the entire Frankfurt airport and train station, and made several laps around the entire hotel; it was time to hit the city.

We ran into a couple other Soldiers who were as bored as we were, and we decided that even if we got caught, they couldn’t send us back to Iraq, so we bought day tickets for the train and almost made it to the tracks when a group of field grade officers recognized us.

After a few minutes of loitering and a couple ambiguous answers to curious questions, we jumped onto the S9, and were downtown 5 stops later.

We spent the next 5 hours walking all over the place, and found several excellent places to sample the local wares. We were not disappointed, and surely had more fun than would have been possible at the hotel. We even spotted no less than 5 Mini Coopers.

After the 1930 formation (at which no new information was dispersed) we were pretty tired and no longer thirsty, but decided to go out one more time, just to make sure.

When the phone rang at 0230, and Dan heard nothing but German on the other end, we spent a few minutes figuring out that apparently the plane was fixed, and we were to report to the lobby. At 1100 we managed to lift off, despite a snow-covered runway and very low visibility.

Our next stop was Bangor, Maine, and the local veterans turned out in force to greet us with cheers, handshakes, cookies, and cell phones to call home. They made us feel like heroes; men wore hats declaring their service in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm, and their wives wore red, white, and blue “USA” sweaters and ensured that we all had homemade cookies and hugs aplenty. What an honor to become part of such a tradition of service to our Nation.

Thankfully, two hours in Maine is much shorter than two hours in Germany, and we were on our way by about noon local time.

About five hours later, a cheer went up as we touched down at Robert Gray Army Airfield, Fort Hood, Texas. We walked from the plane to waiting busses, and stopped to turn in our weapons and do some last minute in-processing before continuing on the gym where our reception was to be.

We got off the busses, dropped our bags, and as we lined up behind the gym a few kids spotted us through the back door and the whole place erupted. Somebody stood in front of the formation and said something, but I don’t think any of us have any idea who it was or what he said.

Before I knew it, we were running into the gym; I had no idea that the spouses, kids, and friends of 200 Soldiers could produce that much noise.

We stood at attention while a general or two welcomed us back, and saluted while the National Anthem was played. The cheering stopped momentarily for an invocation, only to be shattered a second after “amen” with a thunderous “HARTNEYYYY!!!” from over my left shoulder. I knew Johnny Russell was in the crowd, and seconds later we were released to search for our friends and families.

Johnny, Cory, Jen, Matt, Sarah, and Jake all found me quickly, and reminded me of the incalculable value of true friends.

I couldn’t fully appreciate the moment with Jennyjo still in Baghdad, but that will only make her homecoming that much sweeter.

On the way home in Taco (Johnny’s truck) I spoke with mom and dad, and I came home to a delicious meal of chicken pie, rice, beans, (courtesy of mom), and a Shiner Bock (courtesy of Johnny).

Orlando stopped by to see it I’d made it back, and managed to time it just right to grab some supper!

I definitely felt welcome, and I can’t thank all of you enough for keeping me in your prayers. Please continue to pray for Jennyjo. I’ve emailed with her, and she’s doing well, but very ready to come home (and I’m ready to get her home!)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Home, sweet home!

Hellos from Texas!

The trip was long, but definitely worth's great to be back, and when Jj gets back my homecoming will be complete.

Thanks for all your prayers, and I'll post details and photos soon.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


I think it’s an understatement to say that we are all glad that ~rich (Beef Always Wins) is home after a year in Iraq! Some of us have known ~rich for quite awhile and have at times questioned what would ever become of him. Well, I think it is quite obvious that we have a lot to be proud of! ~rich has put quite a few pics of himself on Cord of Three – I thought some of you might like to see how those of us in the baby boomer generation remember him! Also, your prayers for his precious wife, Jj are greatly appreciated, as she still has a few weeks to go in Iraq.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Getting closer to home...

Hellos from Kuwait!

I don't have long on the internet now, but I wanted to say hi...I put up a post at beef with a few more details...I'll post again when I can!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Happy Birthday Aunt Moop!!

Today is a very special day! It is dear AuMoo's HBD!!! Although she is a grown up, no one really know quite how old she is --- she looks so young!!! Anyway, here's to our favorite Moopyjuckus, MAY YOU HAVE MANY, MANY MORE!!!

Monday, February 07, 2005

My crazy roommate

We're getting ready to roll out of here, so here are some final photos of Dan and me:

Chamarra operates the best dessert bar in Iraq! He hooks us up with cake and cookies on a daily basis, and always has a smile and something nice to say. His family lives in Sri Lanka, and thankfully are all alright after the tsunami.

We were issued 2 beers apiece last night, in honor of the Superbowl. We didn't watch the game, but we sure enjoyed the beer!

Here we are with another of our good friends, Napoleon Dynamite. "Luckyyy."

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Woman and a Fork

For those of us old enough to remember family meals at MR's and BD's in PG, the following urban legend reminded me of those fun family also makes a great point!

There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things "in order," she contacted her Pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. Everything was in order and the Pastor was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

"There's one more thing," she said excitedly. "What's that?" came the Pastor's reply.
"This is very important," the young woman continued. "I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand."

The Pastor stood looking at the young woman, not knowing quite what to say. That surprises you, doesn't it?" the young woman asked. "Well, to be honest, I'm puzzled by the request," said the Pastor.

The young woman explained. "My grandmother once told me this story, and from that time on I have always tried to pass along its message to those I love and those who are in need of encouragement. In all my years of attending socials and dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork.' It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance!'

So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder "What's with the fork?" Then I want you to tell them: "Keep your fork, the best is yet to come."

The Pastor's eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman good-bye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the young woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She had a better grasp of what heaven would be like than many people twice her age, with twice as much experience and knowledge. She KNEW that something better was coming.

At the funeral people were walking by the young woman's casket and they saw the cloak she was wearing and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the Pastor heard the question, "What's with the fork?" And over and over he smiled.

During his message, the Pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the young woman shortly before she died He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. He told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork let it remind you, ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Lots of bulbs...

How about this for a crazy photo:

It doesn't look like much at first...just a chandelier. If you look closely though (click the photo to enlarge) , you'll see a man on a lift on the right hand side. Half of his body is inside the chandelier, and the lift he's standing on is extended about 30 feet up.

This chandelier is RIDICULOUS!!

It's in the middle of the Al-Faw palace, where I work. They change the bulbs in it about ever 3 weeks or so, since the electricity is so bad here (it blows the bulbs like crazy). If you look very closely you may also see a cardboard box on the top of the lift - it's full of used bulbs.

The Iraqi people bought their beloved Saddam this chandelier and the immense palace that surrounds it...too bad he's not around to enjoy it anymore (instead, my office is just outside one of his 2nd floor bedrooms).