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Memoirs from a Deployment

 personal memoirs of a deployed soldier


When the Internet and phones go down on Camp Leatherneck, there's a chance that it is because someone has died. They do that so that the family can be notified before people start posting stuff on Facebook. Today, we lost a U.S. Marine.

When a service member dies in combat, there is a special ceremony that takes place at the air field as the body gets loaded onto the plane to fly back to the States. I didn't want to go today as it is very emotional. But I had just transferred my patient out of the intensive care unit and had no excuse not to go.

There were probably a couple hundred of us, service members from not just the U.S but the U.K., Denmark, Estonia and Georgia. We were assembled into a mass formation and stood for what seemed like hours by the airfield. Then, file by file, we marched onto the airfield and stood behind a C-17 or a C-130; I'm horrible at naming air craft.

The sun had just set below the horizon. As we approached the aircraft, I could see that the back end was open, ready to receive cargo. It was empty, except for one large American flag that had a soft light behind it, illuminating it in the falling darkness. 

We were then ordered to present arms, and salute the silver coffin as it passed in front of us to be loaded on the plane. I recognized several of the Marines carrying the coffin; they work in the mortuary affairs department in the hospital and we always joke around when we see each other. It was very different, seeing them today, marching somberly and staring straight ahead as they carried our their fallen comrade.

As the body was being loaded, some rockets went off. I'm not sure if they were part of the ceremony or if we were actually firing at someone. And then we were told to order arms. The whole formation dropped their salutes. It didn't matter if you didn't speak English; you still knew what to do. And then we were dismissed.

I'm glad I attended the ceremony. I don't always do well with emotional things, but I'm glad that I got to help see this young man home.

Part 12 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

Ghosts, ghouls and goblins, Oh my! JFHQ’s FRG hosts Halloween party

The Joint Force Headquarters Family Readiness Group, part of the Texas Army National Guard, hosted its first unit-wide Spook-tacular Fall Festival at Camp Mabry, in Austin.
Texas Army National Guardsmen, family and friends dress up for the Joint Task Force Headquarters’ Spook-tacular Halloween party held at Camp Mabry, Oct. 26, 2014. Te event was organized by the unit’s Family Readiness Group to help promote family and unit fun. (U.S. Army National Guard courtesy photo/Released))

Commentary by: The Texas Military Forces’ UPAR Class

AUSTIN, Texas – On Oct. 26, 2014, the Joint Force Headquarters Family Readiness Group, part of the Texas Army National Guard, hosted its first unit-wide Spook-tacular Fall Festival at Camp Mabry, in Austin. 

"The intent of this event is that everyone has fun," said Joint Force Headquarters commander, Maj. David E. Tyler. “It’s for the families.”

The festival included trick-or-treating, water dunking, pie throwing and other fall festivities.

"This is the very first Halloween party they’ve had," Tyler said. "I told a few enlisted NCOs that this is what I wanted to do, they jumped on board, made some suggestions, had a lot of good ideas and here we are."

The unit’s family readiness group organizers were the ones who set up the event.  Maria Daniels, FRG leader and wife of Sgt. 1st Class Donny Daniels, expressed that this event would not have been possible without her 20 volunteers. 

"A lot of volunteer hours went into this event," Daniels said "I had a lot of good help. I couldn’t ask for better soldiers than here at Joint Force Headquarters."

The FRG exists to support unit troops and families in case of emergencies as well as to increase communication among soldiers. 

"The FRG is so important because we are able to have these events and involve our families," said Tyler. "So many people think we just set up tents and shoot weapons, but that’s not all. I like to have these events to eliminate a bit of stress, boost morale and let the soldiers have a good time with their families."

Rosa Soto, the unit’s FRG co-leader not only helps set up events, but gets personal satisfaction from them as well.

"I get a great, awesome feeling just by seeing everyone smiling and having a good time, enjoying their family and friends," Soto said.

Those contributing to this story include: Story by: 1st Lt. Ira LeRoy, , 1st Lt. Tyler Ahrems, 2nd Lt. Greg Nedell, Sgt. First Class Thomas Jones, Staff Sgt. Santiago Nuno and Sgt. Terry Maldonado.

Ghosts, ghouls and goblins, Oh my! JFHQ's FRG Hosts Halloween party “I get a great, awesome feeling just by seeing everyone smiling and having a good time, enjoying their family and friends,” Soto said. “A lot of volunteer hours went into this event,” Daniels said “I had a lot of good help. I couldn’t ask for better soldiers than here at Joint Force Headquarters.”

Memoirs from a Deployment

Memoirs from a Deployment


It's always exciting when seasons start to change. That first cool breeze puts a nice spring in everyone's step. Normally, I'd be scouring all of my favorite stores, putting together a lovely fall wardrobe in the process.

Here in Afghanistan, I'm just happy to not have sweat dripping down my back when I walk to the bathroom. The days are getting shorter. Instead of the sun blazing up at four am, it's peaking above the horizon around 0530. And at night, it's almost chilly. I've made friends with some of the most unlikely people, learned to bond with those who I did not care for at first, and also to just let things be when there's no hope for common ground.

At the end of the day, we are still a team. Sometimes part of being a team player is just to keep your mouth shut and pick your battles. And most battles aren't even worth it in the long run.

Our new UK team has blended seamlessly with us, which is a blessing. Whether we are horsing around during slow times or landing several trauma patients at once, everyone has been ready to lend a hand or tell a good joke. Today there was a tiny lizard on the unit, crawling around while the doc inserted a central line into a patient. We all had a good laugh about it before someone caught it and let it outside. It makes for a good rest of the tour.

We have 57 days left. The end is in sight!

Part 11 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

Memoirs from a Deployment

Memoirs from a Deployment


My aunt passed away today. 
I found out via email from my mother. It wasn't necessarily unexpected, as she had been sick with lupus for many years, but it did catch me off guard. In the military, you can only go home on emergency leave for certain situations. When my husband got sick during my Iraq deployment, I got to go home. Anyone in your immediate family warrants emergency leave - an aunt does not. I wish I could go be with my family, particularly my cousin, whom I'm very close to, but it's not an option. Even the guys here who are expecting babies back home don't usually get to go home for the birth.

My little stepsister is also expecting her first child. I wish I could be more of a part of that, as well.

While this deployment is not as hard as others, we are not getting mortared every other day like some places, we are cut off from our families and certain conveniences. We learn to rely on each other for support and companionship during hard times and to enjoy the simplest of pleasures. For example, although I can't physically be there with my family, I can email and call occasionally, and I'll be able to send flowers.

We have 71 more days here. The countdown is in full effect. I'm ready to go back to my real life, sleep in my nice bed, and wear cute shoes again, but I also dread how lonely it might feel. As difficult as it has been to get used to living in close proximity with so many people, it will also be difficult to return to my empty apartment. At least I have a dog.

Part 10 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

Memoirs from a Deployment

Memoirs from a Deployment


I don't make a lot of phone calls back home. This is mostly because I don't really like talking on the phone. My roommates spend most of their downtime Skyping with their families. I feel like if I tried to do that, I would spend all my time glued to my computer and not living in the moment. But every now and then, I'll call my family.

The worst thing besides just getting someone's voicemail is for them to tell you that they are too busy to talk right now. Seriously? I'm in Afghanistan and I only call every few weeks! Part of that is my choice, but it's also circumstantial. A lot of times, the phone lines are down due to the loss or injury of a troop, or maintenance. 

So I was very sad last night when I couldn't get through to my mom and my sister had other things going on. It makes me feel more disconnected from my family and even happier that I don't have a boyfriend or husband back home. I know of some girls who have been blown off by their significant others and it must feel devastating. 

It also brings back memories of my own marriage. I remember how, years ago, when my late husband would try to call me while he was deployed. If I missed a phone call, he would inevitably leave me a nasty and hurtful voicemail. I'm not excusing his mean behavior, but it does give me insight on how he must have felt at the time. Sometimes I wish he was still alive so we could talk about these things.

Yet in my sadness I managed to go online and buy a fabulous pair of Cole Haan boots. There's no reason why I can't build up my fall wardrobe while I'm out here, plus I'm a strong believer in retail therapy ☺

Part 9 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

Maj. Gen. Gerald "Jake" Betty Assumed Command of Texas State Guard

On Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, Brig. Gen. Gerald “Jake” Betty took command of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) from Maj. Gen. Manuel “Tony” Rodriguez  at a change of command ceremony at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

CAMP MABRY, Texas (Oct. 10, 2014) – On Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, Brig. Gen. Gerald “Jake” Betty took command of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) from Maj. Gen. Manuel “Tony” Rodriguez  at a change of command ceremony at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

Governor Rick Perry announced last month that Betty would assume command upon the retirement of Rodriguez, who has commanded the TXSG since August 2012. 

“Over the last two years, Gen. Rodriguez, has continued to demonstrate the integral role of the Texas State Guard to the Texas Military Forces and the people of the Lone Star State,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, Texas Adjutant General. “Rodriguez has demonstrated his leadership skills and distinguished himself in mission execution during his time in command.”

Betty joined the TXSG in January 2006, after a distinguished career in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve. Betty received his Bachelors degree from Texas A&M University and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry in 1973. Upon entering active duty he was assigned to the 1st 501st Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, KY. Upon leaving active duty in 1977, he was assigned as Company Commander C-Company, 1st 143 Infantry, 36th Airborne Brigade, Texas National Guard. Additionally, in 1979 Betty transferred to the U.S. Army Reserves and held various leadership positions. In February 2003, he was mobilized to the Defense Intelligence Agency as Chief, Iraq Survey Group, Fusion Center - CONUS, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He retired from the U.S. Army Reserve in 2003 after serving a total of 30 years.

During his time in the TXSG, Betty has held a number of leadership positions to include serving as the Director of Personnel and Administration for the organization headquarters. While commander of the 8th Regiment, Betty served on several State Active Duty missions for Hurricanes Dean, Gustav, Dolly, Edouard, and Ike. In March of 2013, Betty was selected to serve as Commanding General of the Army Component Command.

As commander, Betty will be responsible for the organization, training and administration of the Texas State Guard, reporting directly to the Texas Adjutant General. Currently, more than 2,200 men and women actively service in the TXSG, divided into four operational components: Army, Air, Maritime and Medical. The mission of the Texas State Guard is to provide mission-ready military forces to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies; to conduct homeland security and community service activities under the umbrella of Defense Support to Civil Authorities; and to augment the Texas Army and Air National Guard as required.

Betty and wife, Juli, have been married for 40 years and have two children, Josh and Alison. Their son and son-in-law proudly serve in the U.S. Army as a Major and Sgt. 1st Class. 

Betty was honored to take command from Rodriguez and is ready for the next chapter of his military career.

“I am honored and humbled to be selected for this role by our commander in chief,” said Betty. “I look forward to serving our citizens of Texas.”

Prior to the change of command ceremony, Betty was promoted to Major General.

Memoirs from a Deployment


There are some things about home that I am really starting to miss.

The first one is not having to put clothes on and walk half a mile to go to the bathroom, especially when you have to go in the middle of a deep sleep, which, if you're hydrating properly, is often. That's pretty annoying. Oh well, at least we have toilets that flush.

I also miss not being able to have meals readily available either. I may not stock my fridge very well all the time back home, but I have the sushi restaurant that delivers on speed dial. Here, the chow hall is a good half mile walk away, which is no joke when it’s a hundred and ten degrees. The food is pretty decent, however.

And I miss being able to dress up and do typical girly stuff. I miss dresses and sandals and earrings. So I've devised different looks for work. When I work days, I wear tinted lip gloss and I pin my bangs back. When I'm on nights, I wear my liquid eyeliner and my bangs down and swept to the side. I also bought this super cool leather holster for my 9mm pistol. It's the Michael Kors bag of holsters, and accentuates my figure nicely.

But most of all, I miss being on some sort of schedule. Nursing is already notorious for not having regular hours. That's okay. Put me on days or nights and keep it that way for a while and I'll be fine. But here we work one twelve hour day shift, the next day we work a twelve hour night shift, one day to recover, and repeat. Our bodies never get a chance to fully adjust as we are either sleeping too much or not at all. Add that to the other inconveniences and it makes for some grumpy troops. We are beginning to snap at each other a bit, but we all acknowledge that it is just because we are tired.

However, I am getting into amazing shape. I hit the gym when I’m not working. The gym is usually packed, mostly with Marines. At first, we could barely get sets in as each machine and bench was crowded with three or four dudes. They might ogle us, but they weren't moving over and making room for us. Now that we have been here for a while and it's clear that we are actually there to work out, guys move out of the way for us. Working out, combined with having to walk on gravel almost everywhere we go, has worked wonders on my glutes!

Part 8 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

Memoirs from a Deployment

Memoirs from a Deployment


It’s scary how our intensive care unit can go from nearly empty to a full house in a matter of a couple of hours. And how we can have patients who were in the same firefight, just on opposing sides, in hospital beds just a few feet away from each other.

Yesterday we received one U.S. Marine involved in a roadside bombing, as well as two Afghan detainees. They were all in the operating room at the same time, and they all three got admitted to the ICU together. 

The Marine was a 21- year-old sniper, who even while intubated and sedated, wanted to know exactly what happened to him, and also what happened to the Taliban fighters he was engaging. His older brother, also a Marine, happened to be deployed as well. He let his little brother know that the two Taliban members were dead.

The older brother would not leave his younger brother's bedside all night, even politely refusing when we offered him one of our empty beds to sleep in. I'll never forget the way his eyes watered when I first led him to his brother's bed after diligently waiting outside during the surgeries. And I'll never forget how a mere couple of hours later they were bantering back and forth. The patient, being intubated and unable to speak, had to rely on pen, paper and hand gestures such as flipping the bird to communicate. The next morning, while helping hang some blood, I made the brother a cup of coffee. Often, nursing isn't just about the patient but taking care of the loved ones as well.

The Marine's commander came in for an update, and then asked about the other two patients that came in with the Marine. I assumed he meant other US Marines, so I told him they had probably gone to the ward. I didn't realize he meant the two detainees that we had. It's probably better that I let him believe that. 

We've had detainee patients before, but never at the same time as American or British patients. While we are sworn to give everyone care no matter the circumstance, it was really hard last night. In the end, all of the patients received their medications, baths and were appropriately sedated for comfort. We have to remind ourselves that this is what separates us from them. This is what makes us better.

Although I don't wish any harm on anyone, it felt great to take care of one of our own last night.

Part 7 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

Memoirs from a Deployment

Memoirs from a Deployment


Infidelity is starting to be an issue back home in the States. Unfortunately, some of our friends are beginning to question their loved ones as phone calls and emails go unanswered.

A lot of our friends are experiencing heartache- from the medic who's on his first tour and already having trouble dealing with trauma and death, to a UK nurse who has only seen her new husband a handful of times since their wedding last summer. 

In a world where we can be so connected despite being worlds apart, I feel like social media actually makes things harder. When someone doesn't respond to a message right away, we wonder what they are really up to. When we see pictures posted on Facebook, we obsess about what that picture means. Who is that other person and what are they doing together? It doesn't matter how innocent the situation may be. When you have nothing but time to ponder these things, you can overcome your mind with all sorts of unpleasantries and destructive fantasies.

It's important to take care of each other here. Essentially, we are family, even if we don't always like each other, even if we would not have acknowledged each other back in our home units. 

My friend from home has appointed herself as the "unit's hugger" and hugs everyone who comes by. I'm not quite as affectionate, but I do like to make cards for people. Just give me a blank piece of paper and a Sharpie and I can make anyone's day better!

Part 6 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

TXARNG supports multinational training event

 TXNG supports multinational exercise

Sgt. Marlene Duncan, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Texas Army National Guard, right, role plays as a civilian media reporter during Operation Saber Junction held at Hohenfels in Nuremberg, Germany, Sept. 10, 2014. The 100th MPAD supported 17 countries, including the U.S., with realistic civilian media coverage; giving leadership a better understanding of how to work with civilian media in an operational environment. (U.S. Army National Guard photo courtesy of the 100th MPAD)


  By Army Sgt. Josiah Pugh

 NUREMBERG, Germany (Sept. 12, 2014) - In our first overseas duty training since 2005, we had the opportunity to  stretch our concept about what it means to be military journalists and get a feel for how  civilian media operates on  the battlefield.  We are the Texas Army National Guard’s 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment based in Austin,  Texas.
 We flew to Nuremberg, Germany and made our way to U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, August 23-Sept. 12, 2014.  For three weeks we participated in Saber Junction, a multi-week exercise combining  nearly 6,000 troops from 17  countries to train in a joint and combined environment. 
 Many times, various countries will join together to support military operations and peace-keeping missions. For  example, at the height of Operation Enduring Freedom more than 20 nation’s militaries  worked together to support  operations. This type of training helps prepare for international contingency operations.
 Our part in all this? To role-play civilian journalists working for newspapers and television stations in the fictitious countries Atropia and Ariana.  This type of training helps to mimic the fact that in a warzone,  media often plays a significant role in shaping the direction of a war by swaying the hearts and minds of citizens.
 Each day, we headed into “the Box,” where the multitude of international troops had converged to train side-by-side. Inside the Box our reporters ventured into a number of mock cities populated with role  players. They spoke with these locals to gather material for their stories with the help of German translators who worked alongside us. After we finished editing our stories, they were then inserted into the  exercise to help shape the direction of the war.
 Spc. Michael Giles, a print journalist with the MPAD, found the experience helped him grow professionally. 
 “It’s the best opportunity I’ve had so far in my military public affairs training to improve my skills at writing and taking photos,” he said. “It’s also given me a great opportunity to see how the Public Affairs  structure works and why it’s an important part of military operations.”
 Army Sgt. Suzanne Carter, another print journalist in the MPAD, found interacting with people was exceptionally fulfilling. 
 “They created this world that we got to be a part of and have an impact based on what we reported. The players each had their own character, and many of them fully embraced the scenario,” she said.  “The best part for me was figuring out their characters and who would support my side of the scenario. As I got to know the individuals in character, they would slowly reveal parts of their true selves. This is my favorite part of the job, both in real situations and in scenario-based trainings.”
Annual trainings normally last only two weeks, but because we supported this mission for three weeks, we took the opportunity to have the broadcast and print journalists switch jobs for a day. This gave us the opportunity to become proficient in both public affairs skill sets, which is important because flexibility is crucial to the MPAD’s mission success.
“Now that I know how much goes into creating a video story, I have even more respect for the broadcasters and I am extremely excited to be on the path towards doing what they do,” said Giles.
The accurate representation of media that we portrayed proved valuable to commanders of all levels and helped identify key weaknesses in their unit’s performance. Operational Environment Training Specialist with the U.S. Army – Joint Multinational Readiness Center, James Dorough-Lewis Jr., had good things to say about the products we provided for the exercise.
“It’s greatly contributing to presenting an immersive picture of the operating environment for the Rotational Training Unit,” said Dorough-Lewis.
It was a great experience for us and a great opportunity to help support our military counterparts and allies.
“We love having Reserve and National Guard elements come out to cover these exercises,” said Mark Van Treuren, Media Advisor Joint Multinational Readiness Center Public Affairs Office Operations Team. “We can’t do this without you.”