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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle VI

Deployment Sanity Strategy #3...Run, Forrest, Run

I used to hate to was so boring to me as well as painful.  But there is a certain amount of running that must be done in the Army, so I have always had it in my exercise plan somewhere.  In a deployment setting, I find a running routine to be a comfort as well as a darn good stress reliever.  Exercise physiologists will tell you that any form of physical exertion will cause the release of morphine-like substances, known as endorphins, into the bloodstream.  These endorphins cause that bit of "runner's euphoria" that people who routinely engage in that activity can describe.  It's very real, and it can also be quite addictive.

Of all the things a person could become addicted to, running would certainly be one of the healthiest of possibilities.  There is such a thing as overdoing it and causing injury including stress fractures and arthritis, but when done in moderation, it can be life-enhancing more than destructive.  If I run daily, I usually go at the moderate pace of no faster than 7 miles/hour and for no more than 3 to 4 miles.  I have good shoes, and I try to run on non-road surfaces whenever possible to reduce the impact on my joints.  Once I get past the first mile or two, the whole endorphin thing kicks in, and I can honestly say that I enjoy it. 

During the endorphin-enhanced part of the run, I let my mind wander over events of the day and plans for the future.  I try not to focus on stressful or difficult situations that occurred at work, and instead, I meditate on as many positive aspects of the day as I can.  In fact, I usually write a blog or two in my head while padding the pavement.  For whatever reason, the simple act of putting one leg in front of the other "jogs" my creative juices....pretty soon, I forget about the little annoyances of deployment (and the calluses on my feet!).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle V

Deployment Sanity Strategy #2...You've Got Mail

The mail delivery guy looked at me funny...."you've got a lot of mail," he said, with a strange smile across his face. I saw that his hands were empty, but then I looked past him to see a handcart that was completely stacked to the max with boxes and letters....all for me.  No wonder he gave me that look!  It was not all from the same person; it just so happened that it all came at the same time to our desert hospital facility.  I wasn't complaining.
It turns out that mail, in any physical form, is one of the most welcome sights for a deployed soldier.  The electronic mail is still wonderful, but there's something more special about receiving a card, letter, package or just about anything else via the post.  Plenty of soldiers have a steady stream of mail to keep them occupied and excited about what the day's delivery might bring, but others have virtually zero mail from outside...unless they order something from an online retail shop.

It's easy to help those deployed individuals even if you don't have someone specific in mind whose name  you know.  For instance, my spouse found out that one or our local police officers deployed to Afghanistan with his National Guard unit.  My husband didn't know anything much about this soldier particularly or his unit, but he knew the general kinds of things that might be welcomed in a care package from the States.  He filled a couple of Priority Mail boxes with goodies, toiletries, and other fun stuff, and sent it off into the blue.  What he got back was sincere gratitude.

The grandmother of the deployed soldier from our little town found out what my husband had done, and she went out of her way to seek him out to thank him.  He wasn't looking for thanks, but he was happy to know that his packages found their way into hands that needed them and hearts that appreciated their meaning.  It is truly the thought that counts with mail.  It could be a few lines scrawled on a simple postcard or an elaborate "singing" Hallmark just doesn't matter.  As we enter the holiday season, I am hoping that more people will take the initiative as my husband did, and they will keep those cards and letters coming.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle IV

Deployment Sanity Strategy #1...Skype
I'm lucky...I only have to commit to 90 days in any given theater of operations because I am an Army Reserve physician...but many of my soldier colleagues have at least a year to spend at any given time.  That's hard.  It's hard to be away from family and friends, and even the family dog or cat might feel the pain of loss.  In the age of total connectivity, I have found solace in the ability to use voice-over-Internet protocol (VOIP) to keep in touch.

There are many ways to message folks at home including video emails, instant messaging via an email provider like Yahoo or Gmail, but I have found Skype to be the most versatile and reliable means.  My family members can set up their own accounts and "invite" others to their contact list.  I can "see" when one or more are online (unless they choose to block me!), and I can call their computer for a video or voice chat for free.  Setting up a conference video call does have an associated cost with a premium Skype membership, but I have opted to keep it simple with one-at-a-time video calls to a family computer only. 

For a fee, a Skype member can call a cellphone number as well; however, I now use a free smart phone app called NetTalk for VOIP connections to my cellphone using friends and family.  As long as I have a wireless Internet connection, I'm golden.

Deployment always poses communication challenges for families, and that adds to the stress that soldiers must deal with on a routine basis.  The addition of readily available Internet access in deployment settings has gone a long way toward assisting military personnel maintain that vital connection with home.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

Why do we traditionally honor our veterans on November 11th each year?  There is a very good reason indeed because it was supposed to be the end of "the war to end all wars" - WWI.  Well, clearly that did not happen as people had hoped, but when a temporary cessation of hostilities between Germany and the Allied countries went into effect at that hour of that day in the month of November 1918, the basis for honoring veterans on Veteran's Day was born.  The actual end of WWI was months later.

It was President Wilson who first declared that this day be set aside to honor the fallen of WWI, and it was initially known as "Armistice Day."  In 1938, the name was changed through the legislative process to "Veteran's Day."  President Eisenhower championed the national observance of the day by establishing a Veterans Day National Committee to coordinate and bring together all the veteran's organizations and the general public.  Those actions facilitated the national holiday that we observe to this day for all veterans of all wars, living and deceased.

It was my great privilege to honor my father, a WWII Army veteran as well as my father-in-law, a WWII Navy veteran on 11.10.2011 as I pinned on the rank of COL.  It was with their service and sacrifice in mind that I humbly accepted this new responsibility to represent our Nation as a uniformed service member.  It would have been an even greater honor to do so on the day that we traditionally honor our veterans, but they were in my thoughts at that moment.  Today, as I wore the symbol of my new rank for the first full day, Veteran's Day 2011, I felt very proud indeed to participate in the many traditions of our armed forces.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle III

Change of Command
It's kind of a big deal, and people know it...when it's time to send one group home and welcome in another, the military branches all like to incorporate a certain degree of pomp and circumstance.  In the case of the turnover of the Expeditionary Medical Facility Kuwait from the hands of the Navy, the hospital not only received a new commander, it received a new name: the US Military Hospital Kuwait.  The 325th Combat Support Hospital (FWD) took the reins officially in a ceremony with a melding of Navy pomp and Army circumstance.

The Naval tradition for change of authority dates back to the Civil War, and apparently not much has changed over all that time.  The new commander and the outgoing commander walk to the ceremonial area together and are "piped aboard" by the boatswain's mate. There is typically an honor guard to parade the colors, the singing or playing of the national anthem, and an invocation. The outgoing Commander usually makes a speech and then reads the orders that detach the officer and crew from whatever the present duty assignment.  Such was exactly the case with the Expeditionary Medical Facility Kuwait.

For Army change of command (COC), the ceremony dates to the 18th century.  It is usually led by the battalion commander and battalion command sergeant major.  With the soldiers in formation, the master of ceremonies recounts the history of the unit and a bio of the incoming and outgoing commanders. The guidon is exchanged between the first sergeant, outgoing commander, incoming commander, and the battalion commander.  The orders to assume command are read aloud followed by a short speech by the incoming/outgoing commanders and battalion whistles involved. 

The mash-up of the Army and Navy change of command/authority worked well despite the lack of an Army band or the deck of a ship.  The finest traditions of each service branch were observed enough to satisfy all the participants.  In the end, the mission goes on under the same colors of red, white and blue: provide excellent medical care for our warriors.