Friday, May 3, 2013
Sunday, April 10, 2011
I’ve been all over the world, yet I feel that I have yet to see what life really has to offer; that I’ve yet to taste the most exquisite food to cross my palate. How can I feel like I’ve done nothing, when most who know me think that I’ve done everything? Is it our human nature to want more? To think that what we have or what we’ve experience isn’t enough? I don’t really believe I feel this way. I know I’ve been blessed, if that’s the word for it. I know that I’ve done and seen things that so many can only dream about. And I’m grateful every day for my life. But I know there’s so much more I’m missing out on.
It baffles me when I tell people about my adventures and they respond with, “I can’t believe you did that?” Or, “How amazing! Oh, I could never do that.” Why not? That’s the first thing that comes to my mind. Then I actually respond with, “Sure you could. It’s easy. You just gotta go.” I guess I often forget how difficult it is to do the things I’ve done. The time, the money, the freewill. These things aren’t usually found at the local newsstand around the corner. But I also tend to forget about everything I’ve given up doing the things I’ve done.
The Army gives Soldiers thirty days of leave or vacation. Every year I’ve given myself two weeks to travel out into the world; South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Italy. The other two weeks I’ve dedicated to going home. So essentially I get to see the world AND see my family all in the same year. But anyone who thinks two weeks is enough time to go home, they can’t possibly think of it as home. This is a sacrifice I make every year, every month, every week. Every day. To this day I don’t know how I do it. How I can miss out on birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, BBQ’s, Packer and Brewer games. The births of my niece and nephew. The births of my best friends’ children. Weddings I’ve been invited to but can never RSVP to. These are the things I sacrifice by choosing to see the world when the Army cuts me loose. So with every sunset I watched over the Italian country side, I sat there thinking of what I could be missing back home.
Then there’s the money. Traveling isn’t cheap. I was smart when I first joined the Army and opened up a TSP. I have more than enough going into that each month. But I soon realized that if I wanted to travel the world like I do, I’d have to start a travel account. So this is how I make it work. I large sum of my monthly pay goes into this account and it sits there until my next Great Escape. But by doing this, I sacrifice yet again. I rent a duplex. I don’t own. I have an 11 year old pickup truck I have to make me last for years to come. And the last time I shopped at the mall, well, I can’t remember. These are the things I do so I can afford to see the ancient ruins of Japan.
And of course there’s freewill; that what is done of your own accord. Every human being has some form of freewill. It’s whether or not they know they have it and once they do know, are they willing to use it for themselves or for the ones around them. I have no children. I have no husband or even boyfriend for that matter. I have no one else, other than good ol’ Uncle Sam, to answer to. Freewill is mine and mine alone. I can come and go as I please (well unless I'm sitting in Iraq). To some, this may seem like gift; something to celebrate. And I do, please don’t get me wrong about that. To be able to just hit the road and not worry about being home at a certain time to make sure dinner is on the table or to make sure the kids have been picked up at school. It’s freedom. But it can be a lonely freedom.
I have a dream of an outdoor wedding in Crawford County, WI. Standing barefoot in a small patch of grass listening to the wind blow through the fall colored hills, the creek bubbling up as it winds its way towards Sleepy Hollow. I have a dream of children. At first it was three. Now I’d be happy with one. I have a dream of family and friends getting together on the weekends as kids chase dogs around yard. But these things I’ve come to sacrifice. Not forever. But for right now I have. All for the love of adventure, escapes, and sunsets. For the love of a country that I work hard to defend so many miles from home.
I just turned thirty-two last week and I’m just finally figuring out who I am. I am a woman of many travels, many adventures, many stories. But I’m also a woman of many sacrifices. Nothing crazy. Nothing really permanent. But I know it affects those that I love. Those that are not there with me watching the sun set over Florence. I know this. And as much fun as I’m having, there’s a large part of my heart that resides in Wisconsin, wishing I could be there, watching the sun set over Crawford County instead.
[For my parents and my little brother, to whom I miss everyday I’m not with them. I hope that with every adventure I’m on, you know that you are with me.]
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Someone said something to me the other day and I thought it was pretty funny…
I was walking to the dining facility with an officer and in passing I saw one of the Ugandan guards that I know. The guards have been teaching me a few words and phrases in Ugandan, so I said, “Stolachi Siyebo!” (What’s up brother!?!) He laughed and repeated the saying back to me: “Stolachi Niyebo!?!” (What’s up sister!?!). I responded with, “Yindi!” (I’m good!) “Ahyoutiya?” (And how are you?) The guard laughed again and said he was good too. As he walked off in the other direction I yelled out, “Saeba ruingee!” (See you later!)
The officer I was walking with knew that I’m a Thai linguist and made the comment, “Boy, you sure are good with languages.” I had to laugh. I’m really not that good with languages, I explained to him. I just love people and diverse cultures. I have a desire to learn what I can from unique people and take that with me before my time with them is up.
I spent two years and two weeks at the Defense Language Institute (DLI), almost one year more than most DLI graduates. A lot of people don’t know that I was first assigned Arabic as a language. I spent seven months in class before they pulled me for not making the grade. Actually, I was making the grade, just not in all subjects. I was excelling in the speaking and listening areas but not quite cutting it in the reading and writing department. They were going to pull me from class and actually send me out of DLI without a language qualification. After I made my argument and after my class leader and squad leader vouched that I was a hard working student and Soldier, my unit found me a spot in the Thai program. Yeah. Thai. I couldn’t believe it either. After a year of classes, I graduated from the Thai basic program in 2007.
Languages aren’t easy for me. School, period, isn’t easy for me. I have severe test anxiety, a battle I’ve been fighting since grade school; and I have a hard time focusing my attention on something for long periods of time. So you can see why languages, of all subjects, would be difficult to master. But it’s my love for culture, people and travel that keeps me going.
I was hoping that by volunteering to be stationed at Fort Hood, Texas; a place I was most certain to deploy from, that I would get a chance to go to Iraq or Afghanistan and be able to experience a whole new kind of culture and diversity. Well I did in fact deploy and I’m currently stationed in Baghdad, Iraq. But I have yet to leave the base, nor will I ever get the chance to before I head home in October. In my job field, we can do all our mission work from right here on base. But it hasn’t stopped me from learning something new from a different culture than my own.
The Ugandans. Almost every building here on base has armed guards posted outside checking I.D.s and security badges. These guards are Ugandan. They’ve been hired and brought into the country by agencies contracted by the U.S. government for extra security throughout the American bases in Iraq.
I started out by asking them simple phrases: “Hi.” “How are you?” “What’s up!?!” I’m now up to full sentences: “I’m off to eat, see you in a bit. Do you guys want anything?” Now I would not say I am fluent by any means, but what I can say is that I’ve earned the respect, friendship and humor of my Ugandan counterparts. I’ve shown them that not all American Soldiers are as distant as so many seem as they walk through these gates. That even for how different we are from each other, we’re very much alike.
So every day I go to work and have my I.D. checked by the boys from Uganda; I learn a new word or phrase; usually make them laugh with my poor pronunciation; but almost always, I walk away with a smile and a laugh, and for a moment I forget that they, like me, are here for a war…
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
DAY TWO: Friday the 13th!!!!! Nice day to fly to Europe, huh? So I got to sleep in a bit this morning. They put us up in these transition rooms/barracks last night here at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Our next hit time isn't for awhile, so we had plenty of time to rest up and sleep in. By the time I hit the sack last night, it was 1 a.m. So I slept hard until about nine. Since then, I've come over to the Dunkin Donuts with another NCO and our commanding officer for some hot coffee, warm donuts and free Wi-Fi.
We’re about to head out of here, so I need to post this soon. I’ve used the time typing out my journal entries from yesterday. More Soldiers from our team have started showing up, but we're about to take off. I promise to write more later. I got a lot of ocean to put pen to paper before we see Germany. I'm hoping we'll find some internet once we're there so I can post what I got.
STILL DAY TWO: So here we sit. It's the famous Army game of "Hurry Up and Wait." And we're all pros. We've been told our flight isn't for a few hours, so we've all kinda camped out here in the air terminal on base. There's free Wi-Fi, thanks to the USO, and just enough outlets for those of us trying to suck up as much internet as we can before we take to the skies.
We did learn, however, that you cannot move the furniture and situate it so you can actually have a comfortable seat while you surf the web. (All the outlets are of course against the wall, where conveniently, there are no seats.) We were swarmed by four senior Airmen with pistol belts, who heatedly suggested we move the chairs and table quickly back to where they came from.
They then so politely pointed out that there were signs telling us that we weren’t allowed to move the furniture. (Too bad the "one" sign that said that was clear across the terminal. It might have saved the armed Airmen from having to come save the day.) Oh well. Chairs back, table back. Everyone's happy. No one got arrested. Too bad my butt's cold and sore from the floor now. But I guess it's just preppin' me for the long flight to Germany.
I'm currently jamming to a great play list on my iTunes that Jenny sent me. While she was in Iraq, she collected a great mix of CD's over the year. Before she came back she sent them home to me, with one stipulation, I had to download them to my computer and give them to her twin sister, Jessy, passing the love of great punk rock and emo to another music lover. Twenty-five albums later, my iTunes has never sounded better. It's amazing how music can help you get through anything. Without it, I would most likely be lost.
So I sit here enjoying Jenny's great taste in music and quietly observe the large array of Soldiers that are filtering through this small terminal. Many are coming home from their different tours throughout the Middle East. Some are here on medical boards, waiting to go here or there for appointments, telling them if they're still fit for duty or not. But then there are those like us; sitting around anticipating their year-long tour coming their way. But the only thing I'm anticipating right now is a warmer ass; this stone floor is nothing but ice to the cheeks. Write more later. Gonna go wake up the buttocks.
Monday, November 23, 2009
DAY ONE: So I’m at the flight line at Fort Hood, TX. They’ve just started loading the trucks on the plane. It’ll be a few hours before we’re set for wheels-up. Just before I got on the van to come out here, I spent a little time with my best friend, Jenny. She just got back to the states last week. With an Iraq deployment under her belt, she found herself attaching a 3-point sling to my M16. Clueless was I. Whether its ten minutes or ten hours, we’ve always made the most of our time together.
So now I sit here, waiting patiently for the order to load up, and I filter through my thoughts. Part of me can’t believe that this day has come already. I’ve been looking forward to deploying since the 22nd of March, 2005, the day I enlisted. Now four years, seven months and two weeks later, I’m finally off to the desert. Now some might ask, “Why do you want to go so bad?” It’s not that I’m desperate to go. It’s just that I joined to make a difference. And after watching battles sent two, sometimes three, times to the desert, leaving friends and family behind, I can’t help but feel a sense of duty. Most things in this world aren’t fair, I understand that, but it’s just not right that some Soldiers have been sent down range more than once. And then there are others who have yet to go, and most of them have more time and service than the ones with multiple combat patches. So if by sending me, and Uncle Sam can keep a desert weary Soldier home, than I say, send me. Then there’s the teacher in me. One of the main reasons why I joined the Army was to get a good background and knowledge base of this war and bring back what I gain from my worldly travels to the classroom. The best teachers are those with experience. What better way to become a great history/social studies teacher than to go out and experience what’s happening in the world. So I say again, send me.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
With scarce my reason, with my fingers,
with slow waters slow flooded,
I fall to the realm of forget-me-nots,
to a mourning air that clings,
to a forgotten room in ruins,
to a cluster of bitter clover.
I fall into shadow,
the mist of things broken down,
I look at spiders, and graze on forests of secret inconclusive wood,
I pass among damp uprooted fibers to the live heart of matter and silence...
Here am I faced with your color of the world,
with your pale dead swords, with your gathered hearts, with your silent horde.
Here am I with your wave of dying fragrances wrapped in autumn and resistance:
it is I embarking on a funeral journey among your yellow scars...
~ Pablo Neruda
I miss the woods. The smell. The silence. The freedom. There’s something about being out there absorbing everything the forest has to give.
I grew up running the fields and streams not far from my front door; bringing home the critters of the marsh and tree line, only to let them go a few days later. And my vacations as a kid were not spent going to Disney Land or to some exotic beach house on the coast. I spent most at my grandfather’s farm, running the old tobacco fields and playing in the chicken coop; and later when my parents bought land, roaming the woods of Crawford County, Wisconsin.
I used to think I was deprived of so much growing up. I now know this is far from the truth. In fact, I see it now that I had one of the most fulfilled childhoods a kid could have. Climbing trees, running deer trails, collecting turkey feathers, and catching fireflies. So colorful, so full of life. I learned how to sit, quietly, patiently, waiting for the woods to come alive, waking as the sun rose over the hillside. I saw things that others only see on the nature channel. I learned to listen and identify which bird calls were which and how to differentiate the sound of a squirrel rustling in the leaves to the steps of a whitetail walking down the trail. Many of these things I learned from my mother and father. Some I learned from my grandfather and uncles. But most of these things I learned just by sitting alone and being a part of the woods itself.
Later, in my twenties, I lived just a short drive from my family’s cabin in Crawford. I would find myself skipping many Friday classes only to leave Thursday night for the land. I’d spend my three day weekends there, just sitting with a cup of coffee and a good book, feeling the breeze as it swept through the valley. At night I’d spread a blanket out and gaze up at the masterpiece of stars, untouched by any city lights dimming their beauty. I’d count satellites as they passed by and catch a few falling stars when I could.
Now, years later and far from home, I find myself yearning for my Crawford County. Wishing upon those falling stars that I could be back home, roaming the woods I used to as a kid. Its spring, one of the best times to be out under the large canopy of oaks and popples. The May apples are blooming, the morels are pushing up from the undergrowth, and the toms are gobbling in the early morning mist. I sit here in my office at home and I can still smell the life and green in the air.
I miss the woods. I miss the simplicity of it all. I know I chose the life I’m living. Away from home. Away from my Crawford County. And I know I’ll get back there one day, maybe for good; to roam the trails I once did as a kid, free and full of life. But until then I’ll dream of whitetail fawns in the hilltop fields and starry nights filled with the sounds of crickets and tree frogs.