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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.”

Memoirs from a Deployment

memoirs from a deployment


I had my first detainee patient today. 

The "fighting season" has officially begun and the intensive care unit has been slammed with roadside bomb and gunshot wound patients from both sides of the fight. The injuries are crazy; anything from extremity amputations to enucleated pupils to one guy's chest literally being opened up and attached to a wound vac. 

My patient suffered from a gunshot wound to the neck with an exit wound resulting in the loss of his left eye, and severe soft tissue damage from is left thigh down to his calf. He is young, probably in his twenties, although sometimes it is near impossible to tell. When the interpreter asked him his age, he didn't know it. The interpreter said that it was pretty common for people in this part of the world to not know their age. 

When a detainee comes through the hospital, a guard is assigned to watch over the nurse. We use mobile curtain partitions. I kept my partitions completely surrounding my patient's bed and monitors, so that he could not see the exit or other patients who are on the ward. I left a small opening in the partitions to walk in and out of my makeshift room, and positioned it so that the guard could have eyes on me at all times. At one point, some Afghan soldiers came in to visit their fallen comrades, and I completely shut off the partitions so that my patient could not see anyone.

I had heard horror stories of other detainee patients shouting, spitting at their nurses, and being downright hateful to everyone trying to help them. I also knew the rumors that everyone is addicted to heroin (this is the poppy capital of the world, after all, and heroin is probably the number one export for Afghanistan) so many patients who come to the hospital start going through withdrawals.  I heard of one guy yanking his urinary catheter out and then banging out all of his teeth on the metal bed frame.

My detainee patient, however, was neither rude nor going through opiate withdrawals. He mostly slept, waking up occasionally to ask for "ooba" (water) or saying "dard" (pain). After giving him something for his pain, his respirations and oxygen saturation began to dip down a little, a common side effect for this medication. I simply demonstrated taking deep breaths and then pointed at him, and he willingly complied. 

This was not the experience that I had prepared myself for this morning when my shift leader told me that I would have him. My patient is no different than anyone else I have cared for. In fact, I'm having a pretty decent day and can't complain about anything. I spoke to my senior leader, a Lieutenant Colonel who’s been an ICU nurse for years, about it.  This isn't his first rodeo. He basically broke it down for me like this; not every "bad guy" is on that side because they want to be. Some fall into the Taliban when they are children. Some become part of it because they have families to support. It's no secret that members of the Taliban have an easier life than others. These people are already uneducated far beyond my imagination. I mean, who doesn't know when their birthday is?

I'm not saying that the Taliban is ok by any means, but maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge someone when I don't know their circumstances. What would I do if my situation was different? What would you do? 

But I did not have a patient who was spitting at me. My views might be a little bit different tonight if I did. 

I also got promoted to captain today. We did it right there in the ICU. Everyone broke away from their patients' beds so they could watch the promotion ceremony, which lasted about five minutes. The Lieutenant Colonel pinned my rank on. 

Later this afternoon, one of the British nurses called me over to her bed space. Her young Afghan patient, who had just lost both of his legs, was trying to tell me something in Pashtu. He pointed to my chest where my new rank was and then clasped his hands, gave me a thumbs up and smiled. He had seen the promotion ceremony, and although he didn't speak English, he understood what was going on and wanted to congratulate me. I'm not a super emotional person, but that resonated deep in my heart.

This deployment has already been worth it for me. I don't know how I'll feel after six months, but I'm thankful for the experiences I've had thus far. It's helped to break down some of my barriers and perceptions. It's been incredibly humbling, and this is still just the beginning.

Part 5 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

Honoring Our Fallen Heroes

Texas National Guard armories, located in Weslaco and Laredo each hosted a ceremony this week to honor a few of our Texas brothers in arms who made the ultimate sacrifice while supporting operations overseas.
Texas Army National Guardsmen honor the memory of Sgt. Tomas Garces, at a ceremony held in Weslaco, Texas, Sept. 6, 2014.  Garces  was killed in action,Sept. 6, 2004 and was the first Texas Army National Guard Soldier to die in combat since World War II. (Photo courtesy of Texas Military Forces)

Commentary by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

(AUSTIN, Texas) September 11, 2014 - In the military, the possibility of losing a friend is a real possibility. Going into harm’s way to defend the American people and our way of life is what we have all volunteered to do. But it is when we are in harm’s way and the battle buddy or wingman next to us steps up and offers up their life for us, for their family and for the people of our great nation, that we witness what it means to be a hero.

Texas National Guard armories, located in Weslaco and Laredo each hosted a ceremony this week to honor a few of our Texas brothers in arms who made the ultimate sacrifice while supporting operations overseas.

Soldiers, family and friends gathered to honor the 10-year anniversary of Sgt. Tomas Garces’ death in a tribute ceremony at the SGT Tomas Garces Armory in Weslaco, Sept. 6, 2014. 

Garces was the first Texas Army National Guard Soldier to die in combat since WWII. 

“Sgt. Garces demonstrated leadership and encouragement that brought the best out of those around him,” said Maj. Harold Bender, 36th Sustainment Brigade Chaplain, Texas Army National Guard. “His sacrifice will not be forgotten and his legacy of service will live on.”

In Laredo, Soldiers from the 436th Chemical Company participated in the fourth annual “Fallen Soldier Ceremony” Sept. 9, 2014.

The ceremony was created to honor the life of Sgt. Jaime Gonzalez, a 436th Soldier who was killed in Afghanistan while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

This year’s ceremony also honored the lives of four other 436th Soldiers who have passed away – Sgt. Carlos Aguilar, Spc. Sarah Lopez, Sgt. Jesus Rodriguez and Sgt. Jose Mata.

“I’m happy that people keep his memory; just thankful that we can make this happen every year,” said Gonzalez’s daughter, Samantha.

Soldiers and family members released 1,000 balloons in their honor during the ceremony. Cards were attached to many of the balloons with photos of the Soldiers that read, “Never Forgotten.”

Col. Richard Noriega, Assistant Division Commander-Support, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, presented two wooden signs to the Gonzalez family. The signs read “Gonzalez Annex” and “Gonzalez House,” and originally hung at Camp Eggers, Afghanistan where Gonzalez was stationed when he died. The unit renamed the Garrison command headquarters and provost marshal headquarters in his memory. After the family requested the signs, Lt. Col. Les Davis, garrison commander, Camp Mabry, Texas Army National Guard, spent two years working with various leaders in Afghanistan to have the signs shipped to Texas. 

Family members at both ceremonies said how deeply moved they were by the tributes paid to their loved ones. 

For the service members, it was a reminder of the cost of duty, but also an opportunity to pay homage to our fallen.

In the military, it doesn’t matter how much time has passed since we lost our friends, battle buddies and wingmen, because their lives and their sacrifices we will always remember. 

And we take the opportunity to pause once in a while, and honor their lives.

Our heroes - they are gone, but never forgotten.
Soldiers and family members of the 436th Chemical Company, Texas Army National Guard, released 1,000 balloons in honor of five of their fallen soldiers during a ceremony held at the National Guard armory in Laredo, Texas, Soldiers and family members of the 436th Chemical Company, Texas Army National Guard, released 1,000 balloons in honor of five of their fallen soldiers during a ceremony held at the National Guard armory in Laredo, Texas,
Soldiers and family members of the 436th Chemical Company, Texas Army National Guard, released 1,000 balloons in honor of five of their fallen soldiers during a ceremony held at the National Guard armory in Laredo, Texas, Sept. 9, 2014. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Amanda Torres/ Released)




Memoirs from a Deployment




It's funny how our perceptions of a situation or a group of people can be changed in a matter of hours.

Yesterday I was assigned to take care of an Afghan patient who I could barely stand to touch when assisting with a turn a few days ago. I looked at him, with his thick scraggly beard and dark skin, and only felt disgust. I knew he wasn't a part of the Taliban but I still had strong reservations. I had a difficult time seeing them as people. Of course, the fact that he was intubated, sedated, and missing both legs with several inches of femur on one side sticking out of his new stump didn't help. It can be hard to see past that and look at the patient as a person sometimes.

I was taking report from the outgoing shift when I learned that he wasn't just a local. He was part of the Afghan National Police, and had set off an IED while on patrol searching for Taliban. So maybe he's not so bad after all. Maybe he's just trying to make this country a better place for his family, just like our ancestors did years ago in this country for us. And unlike us, he hasn't had the same access to a life of privilege, education, and opportunity. 

Today when I came to work he had been extubated and off of his sedation, so it was even easier to interact with him. He didn't speak any English, and I certainly don't speak Pashtu, but we were able to communicate nonetheless. The look of gratitude in his dark eyes was unmistakable in any language. I fed him a banana and some French toast, and when he got transferred to the med-surg floor, I told him it was an honor and a pleasure to care for him. I don't know if he understood the words, but I'd like to think that he understood the meaning.

Working in this hospital is going to be a challenge. It's advanced yet primitive at the same time. For example, flies should never be buzzing around in the ICU, yet we have a staff of some of the most qualified surgeons in the nation here. The British may speak English, yet they have many different words for things and it can get confusing. Today one of the nurses needed to hang some fluids and asked me for a Gemini. I came back with the Gemini infusion pump. All she needed was the tubing. Oh well, at least we weren't in a code. A lot of the medications we use are the same but have slightly different names as well and not all of their equipment functions like ours. 

I know the day will come when I have to take care of a detainee. I'm not sure how I will feel about that, I guess just take it as it comes. I'm thankful, however, that my first experience with an Afghan patient was with this one. It helped break down some of the unfair and ignorant biases that I had and see them as people. 

Part 4 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier