Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Coffee with Garcia - this time in Afghanistan

Garcia is my very best battle buddy. We met during a snow storm on the way to reception, which is like the in-processing to basic training. It was two weeks long, (thanks to the snow storm) it was freezing cold, and it was definitely no party. 

We went on to basic training together, ending up in two different platoons and would try to cram all of our updates into 3 minute conversations every chance we had, which wasnt often. But no matter how bad it sucked over there, we always found a way to laugh about it all.

Ironically, we ended up at Fort Meade together for AIT, where we were roommates and student leadership. She was becoming a military designer and I was a civilian designer so we stayed up late working on many a projects together and relied heavily on coffee to transform ourselves from our zombie like state into normal human beings before class each morning.

Getting the news - The good and the bad

Just as I was settling in to my new unit at home and got the news of our Iraq deployment, Garcia was sent to Afghanistan. I used to send her silly care packages to make her laugh and remind her of fun times from the beginning of our military careers together. 

When my deployment was canceled without warning, I knew the reason why that day I got the news that I would be heading to Afghanistan too. After all, someone has to go check on her and my little bro.

Here's how our conversation went:

       Me: Im coming to Afghanistan!

       Garcia: What!? Girl, it sucks here, you have to come!

       Me: I don't know where exactly yet. Hopefully we’re stationed in the same place but if not ill make it    over there to see you so we can catch up over coffee.

       Garcia: Yes! That would be great!

       Me: I might have to low crawl all the way across the country so I can get there undetected, but I’ll do it... That would be a good workout anyway.

       Garcia: (laughs) I can imagine you doing that. If you do, the coffee is on me.

       Me: Not the free DFAC coffee either, I want the good stuff, flown in from Columbia, and made in a French press.

       Garcia: (laughs) You are so silly! Done. Now hurry up and get here!

And off I went, on my journey to the desert, that started with a farewell from Smyrna Tennessee. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I Volunteer Sir

It was late June when the knots in my stomach finally started to recede. I don't think I could have prayed with any more passion than I already had, every moment I could. When I got the call from Sgt Lutz, the information almost seemed fake, "your roster number is 123-45" he said, confirming that I was the second newest addition to the 230th Signal Company for their deployment to Afghanistan. He was the first, and we would not be the last from our team to join them.

April was a tough month for the MPAD but we were determined to get our deployment. Eight of us banded together and started the research, finding what we thought was the perfect unit and the perfect deployment for us. Another MPAD out of Georgia who was run by a Special Forces Ranger and was set to go to Afghanistan the summer of 2012.

The excitement of our discovery began to wear off a few days later.

When logistics of transferring got in the way, Ashley Curtis, fellow journalist said to me one drill weekend, "What if their deployment turns out like ours did?" She was right, we were better off staying put and being thankful, Im not sure if we could go through that roller coaster again. Oh but I did get my roller coaster ride a few weeks later.

Late June was the day that I had final confirmation that I was a new member of the 230th Signal Company, heading to Afghanistan to be a journalist. Our elite team of 8 was cut in half and the 4 of us were heading to the desert. The two weeks prior was almost like a competition that no one was guaranteed to win. "Well, you are on the list along with 4 others but im not sure how many they have room to take" SFC Allen told me over the phone one afternoon when I called to get any detail that I could.

We all wanted to go but there were only a few spots.

Back and forth we went, waiting for updates on who would be going and who wouldn't. Even down to the last day in Nashville where 2 MPAD soldiers were geared up but still on standby to go.

Our team of 4 turned into 5 and a few days later we headed to Fort Bliss and then Kuwait where our team was cut to 4 once again. We were split and shuffled and split again until we ended up in pairs, with high levels of stress, new cameras, changed missions, and no time for public affairs.

When we said "I volunteer Sir" that's just what we meant. 

Now we will be spending the next year of our lives trying to figure out what our part of the mission will be. We are getting our deployment, but to get it, we all agreed to fill a spot and do whatever they needed us to do, even if it meant not being a journalist.....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The story that started it all...

It only took five words to change the lives of 27 individuals.

“Our deployment has been canceled,” said Maj. John Parks, commander of the 118th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Tennessee National Guard. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news; I wanted to deliver it over the phone instead of through email, which is the way I found out.”

Warmth instantly surged through my body, like electricity surges through a wire, as I heard those words spoken. It was if my body didn’t know how to react to that news; I know I should be happy that I get to avoid such a dangerous place and such a dangerous mission but what does this mean for the 27 of us who have put our lives on hold in preparation for our deployment?

Some are out of work and have refrained from looking for jobs, some are expecting babies and will now be home for the births of their bundles of joy, and some are able to put life plans in motion a little sooner than expected.

One by one, we found out and called each other, everyone devastated and a little somber.

“I just have no idea what to do now,” said Sgt. Cole Hammons, journalist with the 118th MPAD. “I’ve based everything on this.”

Including an enlistment extension; Hammons joined the 118th MPAD after spending 6 years as a medic. He extended his enlistment contract for one year and spent 12 weeks in journalism school at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, MD in preparation to deploy and document the close of a ten year war.

Will it be documented now? Doesn’t the public need to know?

We knew that we should let our commander break the news but hearing it from a friend, being able to cry on their shoulder a little bit seems to soften the blow. Within the first few hours, I received the calls from my closest friends and I made them.

I know this sounds weird,” said Sgt. Lila Walker, broadcast journalist with the 118th MPAD, “but it’s nice to have heard it from a female.”

What does this mean for the MPAD now? Will we stay together, will we break apart, will we attach to other units for the opportunity to deploy even if it means going with complete strangers?

Only one thing is sure, God has plans for us bigger than we know and He’s putting them in motion, right now. The 118th MPAD is a close knit group of storytellers and we will still tell our story.

Oh, whats this? A new blog? What can I find here?

Well, im pretty random at times, im always laughing, and I have a short attention span, so who knows. Two things you should know from the beginning:   

Im fairly new to this blogging, writing, photography thing but I love it so you get to watch as I slowly refine my skills. 

The second thing you should know (and should give you some re-assurance) is that ive been a creative since birth; so get your popcorn because this is gonna be good!

You will probably find some formal written stories from the times when im in extreme work mode, photos of Afghanistan from my photography practice, and then random silliness like funny conversations, projects to keep us from boredom, and moments from my imagination running wild. 

Its gonna be great, I cant wait to document my year in Afghanistan, I hope you enjoy it!