Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Pass In Time: Our Endless Numbered Days

One of the harder things about being in the desert is social interaction. There are two types of people when you deploy: those that accept their situation and just endure, and those that can't stop complaining about how bad they want to go home. I'm in the first group in that when I deploy, I basically turn my brain off. There aren't any major decisions to be made, and I don't really have to supervise anyone, so I just do what I'm told. I refer to it as my "robot mode." I didn't give up my personality for four months, but I just kept a lower profile. The social time I crave was filled mostly by Nick. The night before our day off, we'd usually get pizza and hang out. It was nice to relax and not think about work for a while. The hardest thing to do while deployed is forget that you're deployed.
Since you can't exactly tune in to your local television and radio stations while overseas, the military has a thing called Armed Forces Radio and Television Services (AFRTS) which broadcasts the Armed Forces Network (AFN). There are several AFN channels on television (i.e. AFN Pacific, Atlantic, News, Sports, Movies, etc.) with a pretty good variety of programming from all major stateside networks. They show sitcoms, dramas, talk shows, game shows, and even The Daily Show. I didn't get to watch much TV, but when I did, I could usually find something interesting or entertaining. The radio programming wasn't as fortunate. We could only get two stations. Freedom Radio, as it was called, was broadcast from an AFN studio in Iraq, and played a variety of music in four-hour blocks. The only time I tuned out was the "Country Convoy" from 10 AM to 2 PM. In the afternoon was usually a crazy mix of everything from The Beatles and The Doors to Ray Charles and Air Supply to Britney Spears and Def Leppard. Plus, they seemed to favour certain songs. I don't think a day went by that I didn't hear Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" or "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes. They had several slogans like "The most heavily armed staff on the air!" and "Broadcasting from an undisclosed location." But my favourite was "Music worth fighting for!" Sorry, but if I'm fighting to listen to Rick Astley and Hillary Duff, send me home now.

Carrie Underwood
Originally uploaded by currtdawg.
One of the drawbacks of this particular deployment was the large number of shows I missed in the four months I was gone. They included The Gossip, The Strokes, Rancid, Fiona Apple, The Commitments, We Are Scientists, Blue Man Group, GWAR, Ciara, The Pretenders, The Who, Bloc Party, Panic! At the Disco, Imogen Heap, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Killers, Del the Funky Homo Sapien, My Morning Jacket, and even Lily Tomlin. Thank God for the USO, who tried to make up for it by bringing shows to us. They know what it's like to be away from home, so there always seem to be more tours around the holidays. The first USO show was right after we arrived. It was Drowning Pool, and as cheerful as the "let-the-bodies-hit-the-floor" song makes me feel, I decided to skip it. I also skipped John Popper (the guy from Blues Traveler), but, the week before Christmas, we saw Carrie Underwood. I'm not much of a country music fan, but she was really good and super-hot. Plus, she did a balls-on accurate rendition of "Sweet Child O' Mine" that knocked our socks off. We thought about hanging out to get a picture with her, but the line was hella long.

Al Franken & LeeAnn Tweeden
Originally uploaded by currtdawg.
A few days after that, another show came through with Mark Wills, Darryl Worley, LeeAnn Tweeden, and Al Franken. Nick wanted to go to see all the country music singers, but I wanted to see what Al Franken had to say. They were all entertaining, and Al Franken was really funny. He took extra care not to get too political, and spent most of his time hitting on LeeAnn. A really cool, unique thing about USO tours is that all the performers come at their own expense, and because they know how much it means to us. They're giving up their time and money and risking their lives to come over here, and that, to me, is so meaningful.

Thanksgiving Dinner
Originally uploaded by currtdawg.
Holidays in the desert are strange. You can't really celebrate the way you would at home, but people try to over-emphasise them so much that you really can't avoid being pelted with decorations from every direction. For Halloween, there was a carnival at the rec centre, at which Nick and I stopped to check out, but left after ten minutes. By Thanksgiving, I was back in the shop, and we pretty much took it easy all weekend. As for Christmas, I've spent four in the desert, and haven't been home with my family for Christmas since 1999. But nothing really stops me from trying to spread a little holiday cheer in December. There were tons of decorations all over base, and our shop had a makeshift tree plus plenty of cards from friends and family hung all over. And then there was the candy. There were seventeen people assigned to our shop, and we probably received just as many tons of candy. I got boxes from friends, family, churches, and even random strangers who got my name and address from service organisations. We had so much candy in our shop that it became cluttered, so we decided to bag it up and deliver it to other people around the base. It was our little way of spreading some holiday cheer. The thing that made Christmas most bearable was knowing that we'd be heading home in a few short weeks. New Years was kind of a bust. Everyone at the shop pitched in and we got pizza and watched movies for a while. We had intentions of staying up until midnight, but around 11:30, everyone got really tired and headed home. Kinda strange since we were so close to midnight. I ended up ringing in the new year by taking a shower. Needless to say, I didn't kiss anyone.

Inside a C-17
Originally uploaded by currtdawg.
The trip home was chaotic, but we didn't care. The Kadena crew arrived on January 11th, but we didn't leave Balad until the 15th, so we had four nights of having four people crammed into our tiny little pod. We received our travel itinerary from Baltimore to SLC on the 10th, but the travel in-between was unknown, so there were tons of rumours flying around about when we'd be leaving. From Balad, we flew into Al Udeid, and stayed there for two days until we caught the rotator, which flew to Kuwait. We picked up about twenty troops there, and then stopped in Germany for a couple hours. While there, I realised that one of the guys we picked up in Kuwait was Chaplain Rosenthal, who helped out a lot with the Hospitality House in Japan. We had a beer together and told some great stories. After Germany, we hit Ireland, then Baltimore. There was a little pub in the airport in Ireland, so we all tossed back some Guiness. I don't know if it tasted so good because I hadn't had any in so long, or because we were drinking it in Ireland. When I found out we were going through Baltimore, I called my friend Dan, who was one of my best friends from my days in Vegas, who came and hung out for a few hours. It was great to catch up. Also, my flight from Baltimore to SLC included an eleven-hour(!) layover in Minneapolis. Luckily for me, there were two things in Minneapolis I really wanted to see: Jeni-Bomb and the Mall of America. We had a fun time eating and shopping and chatting. I'm so fortunate to have friends in so many different areas of the world.


Jess said...

Hmmm, holidays in the desert seem as interesting as I would have thought.

Mike C said...

Guinness DOES taste better there. It should be illegal to sell it in cans anyway... but the draft stuff there (and all of the UK is different than the import stuff. Don't know why, it just is...