Sailor's Story: Best
wishes for everyone in 2009!
Jan. 2, 2009
I’d like to start this month’s write up by saying thank you to everyone who has shown support to all the military members serving away from home during the holidays. The overwhelming number of cards, emails, care packages, and gifts has been a huge morale boost over the last few weeks. Those who have served in the military will agree that anything resembling correspondence from home is the most welcomed site ever and even more so during the holiday season.
Outside of Christmas and the New Year, the most noteworthy event of the last month here on Camp Phoenix took place about two weeks ago. On December 19th, the transition of authority between New York’s 27th Brigade Combat Team and the 33rd Brigade Combat Team from Illinois was made official. While a new command group provides a fresh perspective and new leadership styles, this transition is a much welcomed event for me personally for obvious reasons. I now have plenty of people to commiserate with when the Fighting Illini lose a basketball game. Luckily I haven’t had to worry about that much up to this point in the season. In all seriousness, the arrival of the 33rd BCT has actually made life here in Afghanistan feel a lot more like home. Staff Sergeant Shay Westhoff, who I graduated from LHS with in 2000, recently passed through Camp Phoenix on his way to a forward operating base in the western part of the country. This was the first time I had been able to catch up with him in years. It’s ironic that it took a trip to Afghanistan for us to finally cross paths again. It’s a great feeling working side by side with people from Bloomington, Peoria, Springfield, Litchfield, and every other corner of Illinois. The camaraderie of the home state folks almost makes the thousands of miles between here and home disappear…I said ALMOST!
Spending a lot of time away from family and missing meaningful events back home is no way anyone would want to spend their time, but it is just one example of the sacrifices made by our military. Most Americans have not spent a Christmas in Afghanistan, and I have received a lot of questions regarding what it is like being here during this festive season when most people reunite with friends and family to catch up on life events. I feel a lot of mixed emotions when presented with these kinds of questions. I want to take some time to further explain life in Kabul over the last couple of weeks.
When I describe my recent feelings as mixed emotions, I want to make it clear that there has never been a lack of morale here on Camp Phoenix. When so many who serve the country simply describe it as “doing their job”, it is not just a line we are repeating without thought or emotion. No matter what branch of service, whether you are enlisted or a commissioned officer, there is one overriding theme that is instilled in every service member during their training, we are a part of something that is much bigger than ourselves and our personal accomplishments. I know in my own time serving, this belief has helped tremendously during these times of the year when we would love to be safe and sound at home but instead find ourselves in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, or out to sea on board a Navy ship. I wrote an email to family and friends on Christmas day, and I wanted everyone to know that I was in high spirits and filled with a very satisfied feeling this year. That feeling stems from the contributions made by all the men and women serving over here. These contributions and sacrifices have ensured a safe and happy holiday for everyone back home, and that is just one more reason I am extremely proud to be here serving with members from every branch of our military. This is our job, and each of us makes up one small piece in the continuing development of Afghanistan. Seeing life here for the local Afghans has given me a great perspective on life back home. It has helped me better appreciate all the privileges and the great quality of life we experience as citizens of the United States.
Sometimes serving overseas around the holidays can allow some depressing thoughts to enter the mind, however, constant activity helps to fight these feelings. One such activity was the Navy gift exchange in which we all picked names out of a hat and did our best to find a unique gift that person might enjoy. I picked a fellow supply corps officer who graduated from Notre Dame. Not feeling all too creative, I decided some Notre Dame football merchandise would suffice. Like most, I went straight to Amazon.com. There I found a “Greatest Moments in Notre Dame Football History” book to give him. Once he opened it, we had to make the obvious joke that the recent history chapters only made up about one page in the entire 300 page book.
I have received a ton of books, dvds, magazines, food, and even a basketball this year for Christmas. Many of these gifts came from friends and family, while a large portion also came from a variety of support groups who donate their time, money, and energy to making great care packages for the troops over here. Iphones and Nintendo Wiis might have been some of the more popular gifts back home, but here in Afghanistan there is one gift that is the hands down winner this year at Camp Phoenix. A very thoughtful and caring group of supporters sent over thousands of calendars. Almost every office I have walked into over the last week has had “The Girls of Brazil” calendar plastered on the wall somewhere. With that being said, I would just like to take this opportunity to say, “Thank you” to all those who contributed to this calendar and helped make it the runaway favorite for Christmas gift of the year in Afghanistan.
We did take the time to try and celebrate the holidays here, but I also felt like December 25th 2008 was just another day to mark off the calendar from my 365 day tour here in Afghanistan. That day we had numerous reports due to our office from the police mentor teams downrange. It is my responsibility to collect these reports and submit the data to our higher command. In addition to these reports, a monthly brief due to our general on the 23rd of each month was postponed and allowed me some extra time to make changes and prepare the necessary information. This is the reality of what Christmas day entailed this year.
The contractors did another stellar job in setting up a great spread in the dining facility for Christmas lunch and dinner. Later that evening, I spent a good amount of time just relaxing in my room, reading and watching some TV. Unfortunately we do not have a comfortable living room or fire place to sit around during times like this. The extent of our common areas encompasses the gym, our offices, and the dining facility. It made for one of the lonelier Christmas’s that I’ll probably ever have, but it was peaceful and quiet nonetheless.
One thing I have noticed over the course of our time here is the ever expanding length to our meal time. As I mentioned, this is one of the few places where our newly formed military family on Camp Phoenix has the opportunity to hang out and spend time together. The only negative I have experienced from these longer meals/family gatherings is the infinite selections of desserts scattered throughout the dining facility. We usually try to take the strength in numbers approach in battling the temptation, but more often than not, one person makes a trip to get ice cream and just about every other person at the table follows in lockstep behind him. I have shown more discipline recently as my trip to Australia is only four weeks away.
For those who don’t know, one huge benefit of spending a year deployed is the mid-tour R & R leave. All Navy personnel serving a year here are given two weeks off to spend anywhere we choose. The military provides a round trip plane ticket (thank you taxpayers!), and we just have to make sure we make it to the airport on time for our return flight. At the end of January, I will be spending two weeks in beautiful Australia (I think the family is ok with me not coming home) with a couple of other guys I work with here on Camp Phoenix. This will be a much needed break from Kabul, and should be just what I need to recharge my battery and keep the motivation up for the stretch run in 2009.
I’ll go ahead and end this entry on
that high note. I probably won’t be able to write another blog until sometime in
late February, so I will continue to do my best to keep in touch with everyone
via email. Feel free to drop a line anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org or
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