Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Cancun!

I love vacation. The weather is so fantastic and the food where I am is just outstanding. Hope everyone is doing well, I will be home in about a week and I promise I will start posting more. I am about to be a lot less busy, so I will be starting to post more here and my dad and I will be starting a new blog for the two of us to voice our own opinions on things and have some debates highlighting some of the unique differences between my generation and his. Should be lots of fun and quite the adventure. Thanks to Andrew Milo for the help in getting things off the ground, we are really excited to be working with him. Other than that, I am going to enjoy some corona on the beach and maybe a nice cigar. Talk to you all soon.
Phil

Monday, March 13, 2006

Home for real!

Hey everyone, sorry for the long time in between posts here. I wanted to let everyone know what I have been up to lately.

I am home! Sweet, huh? It has been really wonderful to be back in the states and to spend lots of time with my family and friends. Susan and I spent most of a week alone together at my new apartment and then we had three different celebrations of Christmas. It was awesome to say the least. I got to see my sister from far far away and her husband and the entire immediate family.

This past weekend I had my coming home party for my family and friends. My mom and dad put up lots of good food and beer and wine for us to celebrate the fun occcasion. It was just fantastic. My first couple weeks home could not have gone much better in a perfect world, and I feel so blessed to have had such a wonderful time.

I also received a coming home gift from everyone. It was started by good friend Jeff and Susan, they collected money from bunch of friends and family and bought me a Wilson Combat CQB! My favorite pistol and wow was I excited. I was absolutely floored and so surprised. They did a great job of keeping it a secret, let me tell you! I have pictures of me opening the present and then lots of pics of me shooting it. It is FANTASTIC! Lucky me I have had some nice days to go shoot it, I will post some good pics soon.

Other than that, it has been busy for the most part. Christmas (times three) had me running around buying and wrapping presents. Lots of time with the fam and with Susan, and I was able to throw some darts with my good friends Luke and Jesse as well. Good stuff. Beer is delicious, btw. I am currently enjoying a Guiness as I type, which is just sweet. I feel a good beer every once in a while would have made my time in Iraq a little easier, but whatever, I am done and home.

I hope all is well with all my friends out there, thank you for all the kind words and comments from everyone. Lately there have been several people comment for the first time and I thank you for saying hello. I love comments and new people dropping by. I hope to start posting a lot more often now that I am more settled in, so stay tuned!

Thanks again for all the comments and for the support I have received from all over the world throughout my time in Iraq.

Phil

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Home sweet home! (well... New Jersey...)

Wow, I cannot believe we are finally in the US. It is unbelievable, very hard to describe how wonderful it is to be back in the states. There are so many things I am enjoying that were not available to me for the last year, it is really incredible. I am currently drinking a real Mountain Dew, eating Chinese food, and using internet that is like lightning, and about to call Susan from my new cell phone. Crazy, huh? Oh, and I am nursing a hangover. :) Yep, I had beer! It was delicious! Last night we were allowed to head down to the local bar and have a few drinks. Aside from the Guiness that I had in Ireland on the way home from Kuwait, this was the first itme I have had any type of alcohol since July - and that was two weeks of being able to drink. Before that, it was February of last year that I had my previous last drink. Needless to say, I had a one too many beers and I am paying for it today. But my unit was well behaved and that is the key.

Tomorrow I will be leaving Ft. Dix and spending some wonderful time with Susan and then my family. The circumstances aren't the greatest thing in the world, I will explain all that in another post in a few days. But the important thing is that I have some quality time to catch up with everyone. It is just awesome. I am going crazy waiting for the hours to tick by, but man am I excited.

I will hopefully have a little time on tuesday to post again and let you know how everything went this weekend. Hope everyone is well, stay tuned!
Phil

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Guess where I am?

I finally landed in Kuwait! Sweet! It is nice here, good food - I had McDonald's for the first time since July, it was delicious! I tell ya, you crazy civilians and all your wonderful little things you take for granted. I will be in NJ in the next few days, assuming nothing goes wrong with our flight out of here. Then it is only a few days of outprocessing there and I am on my way home. I am very excited. I should be having a beer within 72 hours if I am lucky. :)

Anyway, I hope everyone is well. I will post another update when I get to the US.
Phil

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Quick update

Over the next few weeks I am going to be posting very little. I have started the journey home from Iraq, but it takes a long time to get through everything. I am not allowed to tell you where I am, but I will be officially home in the next two weeks after we are finished with out-processing. Unfortunately, the internet is difficult to use where I am for long periods of time, so I wouldn't expect me to post very often. Just know that I am safe and I will be home soon.

There are many thanks to be given to certain individuals for supporting me, but those will have to wait until I have the time to post more. For now, thank you to everyone of my family and friends and readers who have been there for me with prayers and thoughts over the last 14 months. I will see you soon.

Phil

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A heavy heart

For that last few months, I have been mentioning Andrew Milo in my posts and comments. He has become a friend of mine through blogging (I believe through Jason) and has been a great support to me. He is always chimming in with encouraging comments and lately has been helping me with some much needed improvements to this blog and a future blog soon to come.

He has been there for me when I needed him, now I would like to help him out by sending you his way for a little support. Yesterday would have been his mother's birthday, had she not died of a brain hemorrhage at the young age of 54. He posted one of the best posts I have seen on any blog yesterday that hit me so hard, be prepared for a few tears at least - please head over and read it, and if you can, leave a comment for him showing him what great support he has from a great group of friends.

Thanks Andrew for helping to support me and for being a great friend to me. We all know you will meet with your mom again and we pray for your heavy heart today.

Phil

An ode to Susan on Valentine's Day


Well, this is the second Valentine's Day in a row that I have been away from Susan - it has been over a year since I left home and sadly I have missed a lot of holidays with her. It has been a difficult year for both of us and hard on our relationship, but amazingly, through the good times and the bad times, we have stayed strong the whole way through. Today, on the holiday most closely affiliated with Love, I want to recognize my biggest supporter of all and show you just how much I love her. There have been many who have supported me in great ways that have been fantastic, but no one has done anywhere near what Susan has. Allow me to bring you through our journey together through a year in Iraq that is nearly coming to a close.

Susan and I met about two years before my deployment. We became good friends after I subletted an apartment in the same house as her. For various reasons, the time was not right for us to begin dating, but we developed a close friendship and had a great deal of fun together. In the Fall of 2004, I was preparing for this deployment and timing couldn't have been worse for us to even consider taking our friendship into this stage. I had considered the possibility of it on a few occasions, but I knew the chances of a fledgling relationship making it through a deployment were incredibly small, so I didn't attempt to start anything.

Finally, after Christmas I left home and began my deployment just a few minutes from Susan's parents house. She happened to be home even though she was supposed to have been far away, so my first night there I invited her over to the hotel my unit was staying at, and we had a long talk about life in general while cuddled up together. At some point in the night, I for some strange reason asked her, "Why have we never dated?" Neither of us really knew what was happening, but before my normally-rational brain had a chance to stop me, I kissed her. I am not sure if she was totally surprised by this - I am glad she liked it, though, and kissed me back. :) We had a long night talking that night (and maybe exchanging a few more kisses.) I left out something very important here originally. That night, I told Susan that I loved her and told her about my feelings for her. She told me she loved me, as well. Knowing I loved her... She told me she wanted to wait for me. I was very excited, but at the same time very hesitant for several reasons. I didn't know what to say, so I took a few days to think and pray about things.

For the next 6 days, I was staying near Susan's hometown, and she spent a lot of time with me. She was hoping I would jump at the chance to have her wait for me, but I was very concerned - not over trusting her or anything like that at all, but because I knew the stress would be horrible for her and I didn't want to put her through what I knew was going to be a really not-fun 14 months. To her dismay, it took me several days to make my decision. I finally told her that I loved her and I wanted her to wait for me, and I was not willing to risk losing her by telling her no. I knew right then, that if we could make it through something this long and difficult, we could make it through anything. And I certainly knew we would have help, from friends, family and most importantly from God. Amazingly, that was our start - 6 days together, and for two of those days she was far away. Crazy, huh? How in the world did we survive a deployment - one that has been the demise of many strong relationships in my company?

I left for Ft. Dix, NJ just a couple days after I told her yes - this was the easy part. I had a cell phone, so we were able to talk nearly every day for the two months I was there in New Jersey. We had a family day at the end before I left for Kuwait, so I flew Susan in from a lacrosse tournament (she was the trainer for the U of M lacrosse team) in Arizona and we spent about 24 hours together before I had to fly half way around the world to Kuwait. Amazing looking back on how little time we had together.

Meanwhile, Susan and I were developing our relationship, using the foundation of a great friendship as our base in combination with a great relationship with God. We prayed together and read a few books together that enhanced our Spiritual relationship greatly. We read a fantastic book about marriage and started our first steps toward our future marriage together. It was a great way for us to grow together, and I would say without it, we would never have lasted. At the beginning of summer 2005, Susan made a choice to put her life on hold for me. As if she wasn't already giving up enough, Susan decided not to move out to the East Coast like she had planned. She sacrificed so much in this one move - all for our relationship. I cannot stress how big of a move this was - I seriously doubt we would have been able to hold our relationship together if she had taken a full time job on the East Coast. She knew (as I did) that we were worth sacrificing so much for, that we were going to make it through this and we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.

This started a tough time for her - she had to move home, away from her friends, and away from the comforts of working a full time job in order to maintain our relationship. She started classes and worked part time, working around my schedule as best she could so we could have plenty of time for communications. She worked so hard to support me - sending me yummy foods, games, books, letters, emails, and lots of pictures. Her constant support helped me through the tough days, and made the easy days even easier. She gave up many long hours of time for me on the phone and on Instant Messenger. Over the next many months, she put up with weird hours from me, a stressful schedule and life of her own, and the pressures of a long wait for me to come home. Not to mention, just putting up with me in general.

I came home on leave for two weeks in July, but this was far too short. I think in retrospect, it made things harder (for her especially) because our time together was so wonderful. July was early in my deployment, so the end seemed to far away. As soon as I returned back to Iraq, I was placed on the road and my life went from low gear to light speed in a matter of days. Again, Susan stuck through the weird changes in my day as missions came up at the last minute and ruined planned time together. She delt with the stress of knowing I was in far greater danger than I had been before and handled it all admirably. She readjusted her own schedule on many occasions to fit mine as best she could. She continued to send me all kinds of encouragement in any form she could, but she was suffering badly at home. For the last 6 months, life has been very difficult on her due to me being here. I mentioned before I didn't want to put her through the hardship of a deployment, and it was this part of the deployment that I was talking about. The days and weeks dragged on, and her life at home was far from easy. Far away from friends, stuck in a class that is anything but fulfilling or challenging, and living on nearly no income, she fought through each day.

The stress on both her and I brought out hard times for us - the occasional fight, bad days, and the wear of being far away seemed ready to crush us at any moment. Our Spiritual relationship was suffering as well, I had moved to a new camp and the phone situation went drastically downhill, so we were not able to talk anywhere near as much. This has been a terrible thing for us, making our individual lives and our relationship more difficult. We also discovered a very strange phenomenon - being far apart for so long almost makes the other person imaginary - it is a really weird concept unless you have been in the situation, but talking on the phone and through Instant Messenger can only give you so much in a relationship. All I think about is holding her and telling her everything will be ok, but without that simple, every day thing for most couples, life gets very difficult very quick. The memories of the good times fade every once in a while, making it even harder to hold on to the good times promised in the future. I can understand why many couples give up during these months - without God's blessing and hand on a relationship, I cannot imagine a relationship holding together. I would say we have been watched over.

After all the hard times, we are now a mere two weeks apart. We have spent over 400 days apart, but we have made it. Susan's love for me and her confidence in our future has been an incredible blessing to both of us. She has never faltered through 14 months of being apart. She has constantly given up so much for me and for our relationship and placed our future in front of everything that mattered to her so we could survive, even when things got really rough. My words here today do not do her justice - she deserves a Medal of Honor for her sacrifice.

The best part of it all is that I love her more than I did a year ago, a month ago or a day ago. I love her for who she is and for who she sees in me. She is the woman of my dreams and (amazingly) she loves me and thinks of me the same way. I want to spend the rest of my life with her more than anything, though I suppose I can wait until September to officially tie the knot. We will be getting married in September this year, officially beginning our life together, but we have already made it through a lifetime of difficulties as a couple. I have no doubt we will see a purpose in all of this and our relationship and our marriage will be strong because of it.

Happy Valentine's Day, Susan. I wish I was able to be there by your side today, showing you how much I love you. I know it is hard for us to be apart on a day like this, but in two weeks we won't have to think about being apart again. We won't have to miss each other or wonder what it is like to feel a hug or a kiss. You will finally be able to see in my eyes and feel it in my voice how much I mean it when I say I love you. Thank you so much for being there for me these past 14 months. I mean every word I wrote here and more.

As usual, someone else said it better than I did, so I will end with one of Susan and I's favorite songs - it always gives me that wonderful warm feeling inside. (emphasis added because my eyes started getting a little watery about there...)


I set out on a narrow way many years ago
Hoping I would find true love along the broken road
But I got lost a time or two
Wiped my brow and kept pushing through
I couldn't see how every sign pointed straight to you
Every long lost dream led me to where you aree
Others who broke my heart they were like northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
I think about the years I spent just passing through
I'd like to have the time I lost and give it back to you
But you just smile and take my hand
You've been there you understand
It's all part of a grander plan that is coming true
Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart they were like northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
Now I'm just rolling home
Into my lover's arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you.

Susan, I love you so much. Thank you, sweetheart for all that you are and all that you make me. I'll be in your arms in a few more days. Happy Valentine's day.
Ton of Love
Phil

Dodgeball: Iraq 2006


Yesterday, a new and crazy idea from soldiers bored out of their minds turned out to be enormous fun. A nearby pool, empty due to the colder temperatures of the Baghdad winter, was used as a perfect dodgeball arena in the Green Zone of Baghdad. My unit is preparing to head home, so we have had a few days off while packing up our things.

Dodgeball was recently made much more famous in the blockbuster hit Dodgeball: A true underdog story. The rules were kept just like the movie: Get blasted - you're out. Catch a ball throw at you - the other guy is out and a member of your team gets to come back in.

I have to say, this was by far the most fun and entertaining event I have been involved in - even beating the Pirate ship building contest of last summer at the US Embassy. A 4 on 4 best of three tournament was formed with 75% of my company involved including my company commander, my company 1st sergeant and most everyone else from the upper level leadership. The action was fast and furious, amazing feats of strength were performed - incredible dives, throws, catches and team plays caused cheers to rise up from the 50 or so soldiers looking on. Cheers from the fans ranged from, "Hit him in the head!" to "Put him in a body bag, Johnny!" (name that movie for a cookie) It attracted attention from our replacements as well, and they even joined in the fun with a few of their own teams during their downtime.

Call me sadistic, but the best part of watching dodgeball has to be when one poor bastard is all by himself and the other team has multiple players still in. All of the players on one team keep a ball and wait for the right moment - then they all release the ball at the same time in a "shotgun blast" barrage of terror! The poor guy has no choice but to flail around in a usually futile attempt while remembering "the 5 D's of Dodgeball: Dodge, Dip, Dive, Duck, and... Dodge." The cheers rise up even louder if he is able to dance well enough to walk away unscathed.

Soldier's Frustrations

I noticed an article in Stars and Stripes yesterday about a new vehicle designed to destroy IEDs, or roadside bombs. So far, the vehicle has had successes in testing, but it has not been shipped to Iraq for use in the field as of now. Blackfive has some commentary on the frustrations of soldiers in his post "Bureaucracy Kills" that focuses on this story. "One of the things that I've always said about the civilians that work for the Army is that they'll never have to sit in a foxhole (fighting position) with you...perhaps if they had to run Route Irish once in awhile, the Joint IED Neutralizers would have been sent en masse already." I'd be willing to bet they'd be screaming for the program to get a cattle prod in the butt, that's for sure.

Route Irish is the 8 mile stretch of road running between Baghdad's International Zone to Baghdad International Airport. I have been on this road many times, including last week which I talked about in this post here. (The picture is actually from a different road) In my opinion, this is one of the safest roads in all of Baghdad. I have commented briefly on it before, but the press seems to make a big deal about it on the news as if this road is the Wild Wild West when in reality, it is one of the many relatively safe roads in Baghdad. It is patroled like crazy and has many checkpoints both on and off the 4 lane highway that keep it safer than a typical street. I have done patrols only a few blocks from Irish - those roads make Route Irish look like Disney Land. Or did at the time - my familiarity with the level of danger is not nearly what it was when my squad was assigned to "IED hunting," but Route Irish has been relatively quiet for at least the year I have been here.

From what I have been told from the soldiers in my unit who relieved my squad, the roads in general are much safer than they were 5 months ago, but I have no way of showing you the actual level of enemy activity without being thrown in jail. It is too bad I can't - it would do a lot to show everyone the actual level of things and how it has shifted. Things always seem to improve when the Iraqi Army takes over areas and starts kicking ass. They are far better trained now, and knowing the customs, body language and speaking the language is quite the advantage for their troops to have when searching houses, vehicles or suspects.

New member to Milbogs


I finally decided to add my blog to Mudville Gazette's "milblogs." When I get accepted and he puts me on his list, I will let you know. I have been putting it off to avoid attention, but I have been enjoying the fun of watching hits come in (a thousand last week!) to my blog and I figure when I get home I will have a lot more time to take this seriously. We'll see where I decide go from here, and as usual, I will keep you all updated.

Blood for Baghdad


Since November my platoon, lead solely by the effors of my squad leader SSG Fabian, has donated more blood platelets that any other element of any size in either Iraq or Afghanistan! The only unit is Iraq to beat us is the brigade size element who works at the hospital, so I don't count them as competition. After today, we will have donated over 70 bags. That may not sound like a whole lot, but platelets are different than donating whole blood like at the Red Cross - according to the NCO in charge of the platelet draw in Baghdad, one bag of platelets is worth approximately 8 bags of whole blood. So we have donated the equivalent of approximately 580 bags of blood. For his actions, SSG Fabian has been recommended for an award, and my company will be receiving a plaque for recognition of our efforts. There is only one Combat Support Hospital in Iraq that has the capabilities to draw platelets, but it has to support both Iraq and Afghanistan. Anytime there has been a need for platelets in either Iraq or aAfghanistan in the last few months, SSG Fabian has brought in soldiers (mostly my squad and platoon members, with a few others from my company) to meet that need whenever possible. We would have donated more, but we only discovered the platelet draw program in November.

I went in this morning and donated for the last time, adding a few more bags of this much-needed blood. The picture on the right is me actually getting stuck and attempting to pretend it doesn't hurt. :) For more pics of me "getting stuck" (here is my favorite from my first time) or just pics of my time me in Iraq, head here.

**Important Update**
The two soldiers from my squad who gave blood after me had something happen while donating that highlights the importance of donating platelets. Soon after I left, soldiers came rushing into the donor center and grabbed the bags of platelets fresh out of my arm. Several med-evac helicopters flew in a few minutes later with vicitms of a nearby explosion who were in need of immediate medical attention.

Platelets are the sticky substance in blood. "When bleeding from a wound suddenly occurs, the platelets gather at the wound and attempt to block the blood flow." In a normal cut or even severe cuts or wounds, our own bodies usually produce enough platelets to stop the bleeding, but multiple gun shot wounds or amputations are all too common in war zones. Platelets are one way of helping to control massive bleeding. They are also used in patients that have trouble with blood clotting on their own due to difficiences in their blood or a disease.

For information on donating blood or platelets at home, check out this blog or go to the Red Cross homepage.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Skeleton anyone?

I cannot believe people do this voluntarily!! Properly coerced, sure, I can imagine myself going head first down a bobsled track, but otherwise, no thanks! These guys are nuts! It's called "Skeleton" and is a head-first version of the Luge, which is almost as psychotic. Here's the schedule. I look forward to the Olympics for several reasons - Americans kicking butt, and morons pushing the laws of physics to the limit. Go USA!!


(AP Photo/Jeff McIntosh, CP)

Military recruiting numbers

I continue to hear whining on military recruiting numbers being low, but in the military news paper "Stars and Stripes" I get the real news.

"The Army met 103 percent of its goal with 8,337 recruits; the Navy got 101 percent of its goal with 2,726 new sailors; the Marine Corps met 106 percent of its goal with 3,234 Marine recruits; and the Air Force got 101 percent of its goal with 2,195 new airmen, according to the DOD.

The Army National Guard also got 113 percent of its goal with 6,341 recruits, while the Marine Corps Reserve and Air Force Reserve each met 100 percent of their goal with 854 and 2,362 recruits respectively."

The Navy Reserve came up a little short - it's all Jason's fault! Thanks to G.I Korea Blog for pointing me to it.