Friday, October 9, 2009

Rest and Recuperation

I haven't posted in over a month, mostly because I have been home visiting my family. I have been back for about two weeks now and have been busy getting back into the swing of things. I wanted to post some photos and write a little about my vacation with my family.

First I had to travel from Shank to Bagram in the back of a Blackhawk. Not quite the same as riding up front. After a few days of travel, I arrived in Atlanta.

My wife and I surprised my four children, Samantha, Ethan, Noelle, and Emily by taking them to the airport in Atlanta to pick me up, but we told them that they were going to pick up their grandparents. They were very surprised to see me show up, they knew that I would be coming home eventually, but they didn't know when.
We visited Varasano's in Atlanta, and the pizza was great. They even brought us some doughnuts made out of the pizza dough and covered in sugar for free. They were messy but delicious!

We then drove home, or at least that is what we led them to believe. I know, we are horrible, but we drove to Florida to go to Disney World. Samantha, our oldest, figured it out before we arrived, by paying attention to the signs, but the others didn't realize it until we told them. We rented a house for six nights and it was great. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a pool and jacuzzi. We spent five days at Disney World, visited all of the four major parks and had a great time. When we had extra time we would play in the pool. We enjoyed several of the rides so much that we rode on them multiple times. Some of our favorites were Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Expedition Everest, and Kali River Rapids.

After five days in Florida, we drove back to Fort Campbell. We enjoyed the food at Varasano's so much that we called ahead and ordered a couple of pizzas for take-out. When we got to Tennessee we enjoyed a little over a week at home before I had to return. It was good to relax and spend time with the family. All in all it was a wonderful trip.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Photos from August

Some of the photos I took during August. Just thought I would throw them all up at once to try to keep up. The first one is of me flying; I don't get too many of those, since the other pilot had to take the picture for me.

Flying in formation, stag left.
Crossing a mountain ridge enroute from Jalalabad to Shank. This reminded me of the mountain from Lord of the Rings...Mount Doom or something like that.

The trip to Jalalabad was very beautiful, with a large river providing moisture for the whole valley. It was all very green; unlike most of the rest of Afghanistan that I have seen.

Another photo enroute to J-bad

I really liked this area, with a larger city built around the river.

Same area as above.

Quick fuel stop in between carrying passengers in the Jalalabad area.

Near the entrance of the valley to JBad

Some Bedouins we overflew on a recon near Shank. They are everywhere, and they move from place to place. Looking around you can see signs of their previous encampments; usually rings made of earth or rock that surrounded their tents at one time.

Another photo from our recon.

Northeast of Shank, right before the larger mountain peaks.

Some of the taller peaks northeast of Shank.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Another Funny Story

This is an old one, from way back in February or so when we were still at Kandahar. We were up early for a flight, probably around 5AM, getting everything ready and about to go to our brief. Being as early as it was, the chow hall was not yet open, and so everyone was finding things around our CP(office) to eat. Each morning, someone will usually put on a pot of coffee for anyone who wants some hot coffee. For this reason, I was confused when one of our crew chiefs, SPC Joshua Leppink, was heating his coffee in the microwave. He was drinking it and I asked him, "Do you like your coffee really hot?" He replied, "The coffee was cold." Someone there overheard and mentioned that they had just made coffee and that it should still be hot. We asked him where he got the cold coffee from, and he pointed to a large coffee maker that was not the one that was usually used. It was promptly opened, only to find what you can see in the picture:
That's right, its mold! That coffee had been there for quite a while, especially since no one there could think of ever having used, or seen anyone use that coffee maker. SPC Leppink's only response was a embarrassed smile and the reply, "I thought it tasted funny." We were laughing about that one for quite a while afterward.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Planning for R & R

In about a month I will be home for R & R and have spent some time planning our trip to Disney World. We will be taking advantage of the great deal that they currently have for service members: Service member gets a 5 day pass for free and can buy up to 5 additional 5 day passes for $99 each for friends and family. For an extra $25/ticket you can convert those into park hopper/water park passes. We are excited and will be surprising our four children, they currently have no idea, so no one say anything!

These last two months or so I have been working out more consistently and eating more healthy food to try to whip myself into shape. That means that good food is on my mind constantly, so I have already thought of several places I would like to eat out at when I get home. I have really been craving pizza, so we will be visiting Mellow Mushroom, which we used to eat at quite a bit while I was in flight school, since there is a Mellow Mushroom in Enterprise, AL.

I love pizza and have always heard so much about authentic NY pizza, but have never been able to try it since I have never really lived near or visited NY. We love to make pizza at home, but the dough never turns out the way I want it to. Don't get me wrong, I still love the homemade pizza, but I want it to taste better. A few months before deployment, I ran across a website of a man who has been trying to recreate an authentic NY pizza at his home in Atlanta, GA for the past 10 years. Jeff Varasano has a website, where he details how he came up with the recipe and cooking technique to make a NY pizza. In March he opened a restaurant in Atlanta, Varasano's Pizzeria, and seeing as how our journey will take us right through there, part of our vacation plan now includes a stop at his restaurant.

Once I thought about going to specifically visit an establishment specifically for the food, I started to think about what else I would like to eat while on leave. Something else that I like to make at home is donuts. Homemade donuts are the best, since you can eat them hot and fresh and whenever you want to. I make a mean spudnut, although it has been quite a while since I have taken the time to make them. I started looking on the internet for the best donut shops in the country and ran into a few different sites that have a top 10 donuts list. Unfortunately, some of the best donut shops are not along our route of travel. I found the blog, recently which follows the donut tasting adventures of blognut as he visits some of the most highly-touted donut shops around the country. I like his dedication to donuts; they're delicious. I would someday like to taste a Round Rock donut, as my brother and his family used to live in Round Rock, TX and have been praising those donuts for years. Fortunately, we will probably be visiting Siesta Key beach on the gulf coast of Florida while we are there, and nearby is Yummies Donuts, that has received some very good reviews on several websites; I am excited!

If anyone knows of any other noteworthy stops from Clarksville, TN to Orlando, FL area, please let me know. It could be food or just something worth stopping to see.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Checking out Ghazni

I have been to Ghazni before, but the rest of my crew had not. We took some time to see all of the sites; the little market place with a barber shop, two little electronics stores, a coffee house, a restaurant, and a couple of miscellaneous shops. We went to the Oasis Restaurant today for lunch.

I believe that the owners are Indian, and they have a variety of dishes, from spicy chicken meals to pizzas.

SPCs Marc Raglin and Javier Medrano and I ordered the Chicken Sizzler. It is chicken cooked in a red sauce, with your choice of steamed rice, fried rice, or french fries on the side. It comes on a plate similar to a fajita plate/dish and is served sizzling, just like the name implies. It took a few moments before it was cool enough to eat. It is a spicy dish with plenty of hot peppers added in, but they offer a normal spicy or the "spicy" spicy. Of course when they asked if I wanted it spicy I had to man up and say, "Of course." Of course that meant that Raglin and Medrano ordered it spicy as well; isn't peer pressure cool? I took the first bite and within two minutes I started to sweat. Soon after my nose began to run. Looking across the table I was pleased to see the other guys using tissues to blow noses/wipe foreheads as well. I am no foreigner to hot foods, but when half of what is on your plate is peppers and you can't take a bite without biting into a pepper seed, it is probably going to be hot. CW2 Justin Mix was the smart one; he ordered a pepperoni pizza. All in all it was an "experience" not soon to be forgotten.

Marc Raglin placing the order; two orange slushies.

Afterward we checked out the coffee shop for the slushies that I highly recommended. Unfortunately I was too full to properly enjoy, so I will have to get one at a later date. The taste is great, reminds me of a shaved ice!

A photo of me, Justin Mix, and Javier "Javi" Medrano. I know I'm not photogenic, so what! Plus my stomach was already beginning to feel the effects of lunch.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Medevac Chase Again!

I know it has been a while since my last post, sorry about that. However, I am finding myself with a little more free time since I have been put on medevac chase once again in Ghazni. I believe that I am far in the lead in my company as far as time spent on medevac chase, with a total of approximately 15 weeks under my belt so far. I am here with CW2 Justin Mix, SPC Marc Raglin, and SPC Javier Medrano. There is also a medevac crew here with us as well as a few Pathfinders that came with us to help us out. I was hesitant to come, as I was already used to the day schedule, but I must admit that it is nice to get away from the everyday drudgery at Shank.
We are sharing a building with the other med crew and it is the same living quarters that I posted a photo of approximately two months ago. It is pretty nice and everyone has their own room with a wool Army blanket for a door! There is even internet in our rooms if you shell out $10 a week and are patient and don't mind being unable to get to certain sites, (however, not being able to get to yahoo mail is a deal breaker for me, so I just visit the MWR).
Things are getting more and more busy with the elections coming up in a few days, which generally means that we are more busy, which is unfortunate because of what we are called in to do. Yet we are always ready to launch as fast as possible because we know that every second counts, literally, and the faster we can get to the helicopter and launch, the better the chances the injured have of making a quick recovery. Anytime we are not in our quarters, we are tethered by a radio that is always on, waiting for that, "MEDEVAC, MEDEVAC, MEDEVAC!", that means it is time to launch on a mission. We have been here two days and launched twice, but it would have been several more if they hadn't called in the medevac from Bagram to help us.
Here is a little photo montage of the call we received today. There were two wounded, I am not sure of what cause, but neither was life threatening.

Get in quickly...
Stick the landing...
Waiting for the patients...
Here they come...
Leaving the rotor disk...
Take-off quickly...
Get the patients to the hospital...
Another successful mission! It really feels great to know that we were able to help people get the treatment that they need and quickly. However, as a pilot, I am only one of a team that accomplishes the mission. The crew chiefs keep us safe from obstacles as well as man the weapons in case we start taking fire. The medics in the back begin to treat the patients immediately and ensure that they make it to the field hospital in the best possible condition. The surgical team at the hospital finishes up, and starts the injured on the road to recovery. I have had an opportunity to at least interact with all of these people, and it is great to know that they all take their jobs seriously and give their all every single day, every single time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened...

So, one day a couple of weeks ago I was in our CP (office building), doing some work. There are two doors into the CP, one on either side. I came in the South entrance, finished some of my work, and started to leave out the North entrance, which is closer to our tents. As I am about to exit, I notice the following sign...

I wasn't sure what the sign was talking about so I opened the door and lo and behold, there are no steps, just a two and a half foot drop right onto the gravel below. First, you need to understand that there used to be stairs there, just a couple of hours before I went into the building. Second, there was no reason to believe that the stairs that had been there for two months would suddenly disappear. I went outside to investigate and apparently the deck that was being built between the Chinook CP and our CP was going to extend to the far end of each CP as well. After a little more investigation I found out that Captain Summers, one of our platoon leaders was the one who wrote the note. He did what anyone who entered the South side of the CP would have done when leaving through the North side of the CP; he opened the door, stepped out into space and fell two and a half feet onto his face into the rocks below. CPT Summers is a pretty happy-go-lucky type, so when I heard the story from him he was laughing about it and joking, but it seems that right after the incident he was quite upset, even uncharacteristically so. It may seem cruel to laugh at someone else's misfortune, but hey, it breaks up the monotony and he was actually no worse for the wear. The second photo is of the next day, after they had begun to build the deck outside of the CP exit and added a couple of planks to walk across.

Friday, July 10, 2009

4th of July at Shank

Although the 4th of July here was another work day, we still took the time to celebrate it in our own way. There were a number of competitions starting on the 3rd and continuing on the 4th. Since I was flying both days, I was unable to go see much of what was going on but I hear there were tournaments for chess, Call of Duty 4, cornhole, volleyball, softball and quite a few others.

Softball was a big draw with a multiday tournament and I believe they even flew in a team from Bagram to compete.

I was able to compete on our company's volleyball team. As I was waking up a little after noon, (I am currently flying at night), I heard some of the guys talking about competing in something. I got up to brush my teeth and shave and saw that they had started the volleyball tournament. We won the first game and I was able to play in the second game which we also won. However we fell apart on the third game and ended up losing to the medevac team. It was a blast though and very exciting. I think that everyone who participated in any of these events really enjoyed themselves. It was a nice break from the usual groundhog day routine, (great movie by the way!).

Some of the guys from our company, A Company Comancheros, watching the game before our 3rd volleyball match. Pictured left to right: SPC Raglin, SFC Nelson, CW2 Wilson, SPC Bryer, CW2 Hollandsworth, SPC Powell, CW2 Brillhart, and 1SG Horn. The team consisted of myself, CW2s Hollandsworth and Brillhart, 1SG Horn, and SPCs Powell and Leppink (not pictured).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

One of Our Medevac Missions

I am unable to go into much detail about what types of missions we do and how we accomplish them because of security considerations. Several people have asked me to tell them stories about some of the things we do and we ran across the following story in the Army Times:

This story is one that we took a small part in by launching and retrieving PFC Lucas "D" Dispennette to take him to the FOB Lagman (Qalat) medic station for treatment, where we were stationed on medevac standby.

A photo of the area around Qalat and FOB Lagman.
The Crew: Top left to right: SPC Spencer and SPC Alvis. Bottom: CW2 Mix.

Our crew consisted of myself, CW2 Justin Mix, SPC Anthony Alvis, and SPC Bradley Spencer, along with the crew of the medevac aircraft. It was very interesting to read this article because as we launch, half the time we don't know much about the circumstances of the patient(s) and we never find out what really happened in this much detail. It is great motivation when we find out that we were able to help somebody out to get the care that they needed within the required timeframe.

This is a photo of an Alexander the Great era fortress next to the city of Qalat.
The door inside of the medevac chase tent in which we stayed. We continued the tradition of writing the names of all of the crews that had been there and during what time periods and how many 9-lines they had launched on. This door was just our company, A Company Comancheros 4-101 AVN Regt.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Medevac in Ghazni

I recently got back from a Medevac mission at FOB Ghazni and took a few photos. Ghazni is about a half hour flight to the Southwest of Shank. The medevac aircraft over there needed some repairs so we flew down to cover as the chase aircraft until the other aircraft was back up. The medevac crews live in a nice building that they gutted and rebuilt when they arrived there. The first photo shows the common area that they set up. They built a little bar that has two refrigerators behind it as well as a bunch of food. They are currently using a bed as a couch and setup a projector with a screen that looks like a tv with a bunny ear antenna. They did a great job with the place.

There is also a little marketplace on the FOB. They have a barber shop, coffee shop, a couple of electronics shops and a couple of other little shops with local crafts for sale. They even have a small Indian restaurant on the other side of the barber shop. We went there the first night and the food was pretty good.

The first thing I noticed when I got to Ghazni was this enormous blimp. Every now and then they launch it and it is tethered to a long cable. It was quite surprising to see for the first time as we were coming in for a landing.
After we had been in Ghazni for a couple of days we had aircraft problems of our own. SPC Garvey, one of our crew chiefs was hard at work trying the get the aircraft ready to fly. By that time the medevac aircraft was fixed so they came back and relieved us so that we could continue the mission back at Shank.

The last photo is just a panoramic of the flight line at Ghazni.